Category: Sunday Soapbox


Oh yes…

So, other than giving me bittersweet flashbacks of the young Moroccan girl who was the first one to call me habibi, I can’t say enough good things about the new Hulu series ‘Ramy’.

The premise is super simple, Ramy is a young Muslim American living in New Jersey trying to find his place in his own culture and his place in the world while making his way in modern day society. ‘Master of None’ came to mind for some obvious reasons but you quickly have to put that comparison away. Aziz’s story was/is about a young New York actor with only passing references to his Muslim heritage.

‘Ramy’ goes all in.

All in to the point where I know there are words and phrases and customs used for in jokes here that killed me that many of you may not realize why it’s funny. All in to the point that the personal life history of the character (the Muslim girl whose maybe ‘too’ traditional for you, the Jewish girl you connect with because, ‘not celebrating Easter’ for example, is a better bonding point than you would think, the white person whose a little too attracted to your ‘otherness’ and not interested enough in you as a person (the sister’s story), there was a lot of ‘Oh damn’ as I worked through the ten half hours. Let’s leave it at that.

The cliffhanger at the end of episode ten…I don’t know where we go from here. But I want to find out.

High recommend, even with my obvious bias.

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I was worried I was catching this exhibit at the end of its L.A. run, but as it turns out, it’s here til September 1st.

For the L.A. folks, if you haven’t made it down to the Broad lately, I can’t recommend enough ‘Soul of a Nation’. The exhibit covers several decades of black art (up to the present), and how artists specifically have tried to use their platforms to express their own feelings of isolation and rebellion.

There are pieces that reference Dr. King of course. I was naturally drawn to the pieces that referenced Malcolm, Angela Davis and Fred Hampton. Even the photographs and some of the Black Panther materials are interesting to see for those of us too young to have lived through that time (even if you don’t think of them as ‘art’ in the traditional sense.)

I still feel fired up just thinking about it. Again, the exhibit will be here til September 1st; if you get a chance and you’re in town, must see.

I’m not here to argue with any of you about the company he keeps, or if he’s truly ‘redeemed’ from past indiscretions.

I’m acknowledging the athletic accomplishment and the man’s kids being old enough now to appreciate in person how good their dad is at what he does.

I knew Nike wasn’t go waste any time.

Enjoy.

You know the rules by now; no spoilers but maybe some constructive criticism…

Horror is probably my least favorite genre but ‘Jordan Peele’ is a genre I love (like a lot of people, check those opening weekend receipts). I liked ‘Get Out’ more for a variety of reasons, but I didn’t hate this.

The legacy is deep, but at least for black actors, the Yale Drama School is definitely having a moment. Lupita, Winston Duke, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II has a minor but important role to play. There have been a thousand and one paths people have taken to become ‘movie stars’; it feels like it wasn’t that long ago the complaint was out there black British actors were taking all of ‘our parts’ because they were ‘better trained’. Hopefully we can put that foolish myth behind us.

Personally, I was all in for the first half hour, and as the story twisted and expanded, I didn’t lose interest, but my ‘suspension of disbelief’ started to get pushed. I can’t expand too much there without spoiling it, but I started asking questions (and somewhat ironically getting answers) before the credits rolled. Sometimes the best suspense is letting the audience not know why things happen.

Trying to think of more to expand upon without spoiling but I really can’t, so let’s cut it there. Great cast, enjoyable film, absolutely ridiculous this is the first time Lupita has been the clear number one on the call sheet.

It’s not an exaggeration to say I idolized Michael Jackson as kids. There’s no movie star, athlete or musician even close to his level now. So I’ll start there and add, my head hurt watching this, and I’ve seen/heard enough of the stories calling the centerpiece of this documentary an opportunist and a liar. I can’t prove anymore than you what did or didn’t happen so I’ll take the Oprah route and try to talk about this ‘one step removed’…

The artistry is one thing obviously, but for us reclusive, creative types, the way Michael carried himself was in some ways equally as appealing (for a while). Depending on where your biases lie, you have fun with some of the rumors you hear about yourself. Is he gay? No? Well, is he interested in black women? (I’ve had my own dances with these ‘false but no harm really done’ misdirections.)

But if you have people asking ‘Is he a pedophile?’ See… that’s WAY too far over the rumor line. That should never be something the people who like you/love you/want to believe you should have to wrestle with.

Next…

I’ve had over the course of my life, more than a handful of women confide in me their own stories of sexual assault.

(Taking a moment to let that number and that statement sink in.)

Every story is unique but there are some definite patterns. The power play taking complete precedence over the actual need for pleasure. Someone very familiar as the perpetrator (although the ‘complete stranger in a dark alley’ scenario does happen, but by percentage maybe not nearly as much as we (men) think). And because the perpetrator is familiar and more powerful, the no win situation: people don’t believe you and your self-value is crushed, or people believe you and multiple relationships are permanently altered in a negative way (and the guilt that comes with that.)

Washington and Me Too and Corporate America. I think most of us who are self aware have a better vocabulary for this now. Again, I don’t know what happened either way, just speaking to patterns I recognize.

Now the music. We’re talking the Jackson 5, the Jacksons, all of the solo stuff. I think Michael is just way too big and too iconic to ‘cancel’. If I had to make an educated guess, I’d say we’re looking at a Roman Polanski/Woody Allen situation: this is some of the best art of a generation but now there’s a moment where we wince or at least have to think about things we didn’t want to think about it before when we experience it.

So no one wins.

‘Finding Neverland’ is hard to watch but worth the conversation we’re having…

So who’s ready for ‘Endgame’?

There are plenty of major and minor twists in ‘Captain Marvel’ so as usual I’ll try to stay away from talking about those for anyone who hasn’t seen this yet. But I liked pretty much every turn the story took.

A few other highlights:

Mendelsohn is, my guy. It’s not even Character Actor Envy, it’s admiration. Maybe our best ‘That Guy’ working right now. Even (especially) the humor they gave him worked.

The third act fight scene is par for the course now, but for the millionth time in the past twenty five or so years I thought, ‘And we still can’t get another entertaining Superman film?’ Hell, even ‘Shazam’ is tracking to be fun. What a shame…

Annette Bening, Djimon, Gemma Chan… you could make a damn good smaller film with those three as the leads, they’re all further down the call sheet on this one. Marvel really is the gift that keeps on giving.

Recommend of course. The hits keep coming with this Universe.

My annual wrestling post takes on a new form this year; there’s actually a decent movie in theaters right now.

‘Fighting with My Family’ dramatizes the real life story of WWE wrestler Paige (whose been forced to retire at 26 since the production of the film). Born into a family of indie wrestlers, real name Saraya is the baby of a family that falls deeply into the stereotype of wrestlers and their fans as a group of gypsies. Lena Headey from ‘Game of Thrones’ plays her mother, it’s fun to see her play a character that’s probably closer to her real life personality than the Queen we all love to hate right now.

The Most Electrifying Man in Sports Entertainment is the force that brought this project to the big screen. The product of a wrestling family himself, it’s easy to understand why the Rock was drawn to this. He plays himself in the most literal way here: both as Dwayne Johnson, the amiable big guy everyone loves, and the outsized personality the Rock (and his explanation for finding the way into your wrestling character is one I’ve always loved and found accurate).

Genuinely enjoyable small flick. The film’s story doesn’t connect with WWE storylines until the last ten minutes, so you legitimately do not have to be a wrestling fan at all to enjoy this.

Recommend.

Soderbergh’s latest, ‘High Flying Bird’ is now streaming on Netflix. A few quick points:

Directed by Soderbergh is usually an automatic plus one. The ensemble is rounded out by Bill Duke, Zazie Beets, and Sonja Sohn. And when features usually take their time, this one clocked in at 90 minutes. That’s like a plus seven before the story started.

For the second time, Soderbergh shot a feature on an iPhone. And I mean, I don’t consider the technical side of things my forte, but if you can shoot on an iPhone, you understand lighting during production, and you understand color correction in post production… we all should be making features at this point if we really want to.

The story itself, about a young black agent trying to hold onto his job and his clients during a lockout; not a story you see everyday, but in our current generation where sports documentaries have killed the drama of sports fiction films other than ‘Creed’, I don’t know if it ‘pops’.

Still definitely worth seeing though. Recommend.

Last week ended with a bittersweet memory of my Frat brother who passed, let’s start this week on a happier note.

My Captain’s birthday was over the weekend. For all the obvious reasons, the number of times we talk in a year you can count on one hand at this point. But birthdays is one of them.

We caught up of course. He’s doing well, family is doing well. He asked about me and I shared a recent personal story with him.

His response was to give me the Official Caker’s Seal of Approval. We laughed for a good five minutes.

If you’re in the circle that gets that joke, you’ll probably laughing. If not, the larger point here is that he nailed me with a comeback, literally twenty years in the making.

We should all be lucky to have relationships that last that long. I hope you do (or are working on it).

Let’s get it people.

I think all the outside stories (Viggo using the n word, Mahershala apologizing to Don Shirley’s family) have already killed any gold ‘Green Book’ might have been up for. I’ll just pick out a few things I thought about while watching this one.

While this exact true story is new, the formula (black guy and white guy start at odds in ‘the old racist days’ and learn to appreciate each other) is very familiar. That’s not to say the film doesn’t work (I think it does), but I do think, in this exact moment in time, the people just weren’t going to be feeling it. The hostility and distrust and hyper politics are too raw right now for this type of entertainment.

On a lighter note,and I completely blame Eddie Murphy for this, ‘Moulignan’ is still my number one ‘Wow, you despise us so much you can’t even use the go to word. I might be more astonished than offended.’ Calling us shines ranks a distant second in this category.

Finally, and I feel like I say this every award season now: Viggo Mortenson. I feel like a lot of character actors have figured this out (even if the opportunities aren’t the same): do one ‘Lord of the Rings’ to take care of your family financially, then every year find a completely different character to dive into. ‘Eastern Promises’. ‘Captain Fantastic’. ‘A History of Violence.’ This year, ‘Green Book’. Must be nice.

Anyway, ‘Green Book’ isn’t a game changer but it’s not a bad film. Nice two hander for Viggo and Mahershala.