Thursday, July 29, 2010

my movie watching progress so far...

This is the IMDB Top 250 movie list. I thought it would make me a less ignorant film actor if I watched more movies, so I figured this list would be a good start. I’ve seen everything that’s in bold letters. Wow. I really don’t have too far to go with this one. Time to crank Netflix a little harder. If I do, I’ll be done with this list before the end of the summer.

1. The Shawshank Redemption
2. The Godfather
3. Inception
4. The Godfather: Part II
5. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
6. Pulp Fiction
7. Schindler’s List
8. Toy Story 3
9. 12 Angry Men
10. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
11. Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back
12. The Dark Knight
13. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
14. Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope
15. Seven Samurai
16. Casablanca
17. Goodfellas
18. Fight Club
19. City of God
20. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
21. Raiders of the Lost Ark
22. Rear Window
23. Psycho
24. The Usual Suspects
25. Once Upon a Time in the West
26. The Silence of the Lambs
27. The Matrix
28. Se7en
29. Memento
30. It’s a Wonderful Life
31. The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
32. Sunset Blvd.
33. Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb
34. North by Northwest
35. The Professional
36. Citizen Kane
37. Apocalypse Now
38. Forrest Gump
39. American Beauty
40. American History X
41. Taxi Driver
42. Terminator 2: Judgment Day
43. Vertigo
44. Lawrence of Arabia
45. Alien
46. Amélie
47. Saving Private Ryan
48. WALL·E
49. The Shining
50. A Clockwork Orange
51. Paths of Glory
52. The Departed
53. The Pianist
54. To Kill a Mockingbird
55. Aliens
56. Spirited Away
57. The Lives of Others
58. M*
59. *Double Indemnity

60. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
61. Chinatown
62. Requiem for a Dream
63. L.A. Confidential
64. Reservoir Dogs
65. The Third Man
66. Das Boot
67. The Treasure of the Sierra Madre
68. Monty Python and the Holy Grail
69. City Lights
70. Pan’s Labyrinth
71. The Bridge on the River Kwai
72. Raging Bull
73. The Prestige
74. Back to the Future
75. Inglourious Basterds
76. 2001: A Space Odyssey
77. Life Is Beautiful
78. Modern Times
79. Singin’ in the Rain
80. Some Like It Hot
81. Amadeus
82. Downfall
83. Full Metal Jacket
84. Up
85. Cinema Paradiso
86. Braveheart
87. The Maltese Falcon
88. Once Upon a Time in America
89. All About Eve
90. Rashômon
91. The Green Mile
92. Metropolis
93. Gran Torino
94. The Elephant Man
95. The Great Dictator
96. Sin City
97. The Apartment
98. Rebecca
99. Gladiator
100. The Sting
101. The Great Escape
102. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
103. Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi
104. Slumdog Millionaire
105. Unforgiven
106. Bicycle Thieves
107. Jaws
108. Avatar
109. Batman Begins
110. Die Hard
111. Blade Runner
112. On the Waterfront
113. Oldboy
114. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
115. Hotel Rwanda
116. No Country for Old Men
117. Touch of Evil
118. The Seventh Seal
119. Fargo
120. Princess Mononoke
121. For a Few Dollars More
122. The Wizard of Oz
123. Heat
124. District 9
125. Strangers on a Train
126. Cool Hand Luke
127. Donnie Darko
128. High Noon
129. The Sixth Sense
130. The Deer Hunter
131. Notorious
132. There Will Be Blood
133. Snatch
134. Annie Hall
135. Kill Bill: Vol. 1
136. The General
137. The Big Lebowski
138. The Manchurian Candidate
139. Platoon
140. Yojimbo
141. Ran
142. Into the Wild
143. Ben-Hur
144. The Wrestler
145. The Big Sleep
146. The Lion King
147. Million Dollar Baby
148. Toy Story
149. Witness for the Prosecution
150. It Happened One Night
151. Life of Brian
152. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
153. The Bourne Ultimatum
154. Finding Nemo
155. Wild Strawberries
156. Trainspotting
157. Gone with the Wind
158. The Terminator
159. Stand by Me
160. Groundhog Day
161. Scarface
162. The Graduate
163. The Thing
164. Kick-Ass
165. Amores Perros
166. Dog Day Afternoon
167. Star Trek
168. Ratatouille
169. Gandhi
170. V for Vendetta
171. The Wages of Fear
172. Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels
173. Twelve Monkeys
174. The Secret in Their Eyes
175. The Grapes of Wrath
176. How to Train Your Dragon
177. Casino
178. The Gold Rush
180. Grave of the Fireflies
181. Diabolique
182. The Night of the Hunter
183. Judgment at Nuremberg
184. The Incredibles
185. The Princess Bride
186. The Killing
187. The Wild Bunch
188. Kind Hearts and Coronets
189. Children of Men
190. The Exorcist
191. Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans
192. In Bruges
193. The Best Years of Our Lives
194. The Kid
195. Dial M for Murder
196. Nights of Cabiria
197. The Hustler
198. Good Will Hunting
199. Rosemary’s Baby
200. Ed Wood
201. Harvey
202. Big Fish
203. King Kong
204. Let the Right One In
205. A Streetcar Named Desire
206. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
207. Sleuth
208. Rocky
209. Magnolia
210. Letters from Iwo Jima
211. Kill Bill: Vol. 2
212. Shadow of a Doubt
213. Mystic River
214. Stalag 17
215. Network
216. Brief Encounter
217. The African Queen
218. Rope
219. Crash
220. Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl
221. Bonnie and Clyde
222. The Battle of Algiers
223. Planet of the Apes
224. Duck Soup
225. The 400 Blows
226. Manhattan
227. Patton
228. La strada
229. Toy Story
230. The Conversation
231. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
232. Barry Lyndon
233. Changeling
234. The Truman Show
235. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
236. Little Miss Sunshine
237. Anatomy of a Murder
238. The Nightmare Before Christmas
239. All Quiet on the Western Front
240. The Adventures of Robin Hood
241. Mulholland Dr.
242. Spartacus
243. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
244. Monsters, Inc.
245. My Neighbor Totoro
246. Ikiru
247. Shaun of the Dead
248. Rain Man
249. The Philadelphia Story
250. Arsenic and Old Lace

Sunday, July 25, 2010

I love boxing and I don't know why

I love boxing and I don’t know why.

I love to hit my trainer and I love to hit other people in the class and I love to hit that bag. I completely and utterly LOVE it. So on the surface, I suppose it looks as though I’m physically attacking someone else. And I am, which is kind of a kick because that’s a felony in most states. And yes, it's fun. Big fun. But to me, it’s as though we are two opposing sides of a chess game and I am using my body to think my way through every move that the other side makes. If I’m crafty, I could anticipate their move before they do, based on the moves they’ve made before – just like chess. After a certain point, you can see how they think. And if you study their thought processes closely enough, you can see why they think the way they do. You can go as far and as deep as you want, one swing at a time.

Boxing, as it turns out, is a thinking man’s game.

There’s a lot of strategy involved. I suppose this is me blatantly stating the obvious but I’ll say it anyway: once you’ve mastered technique, it’s all mental. Or sometimes, it’s emotional. You can apply this rule to anything. Take singing, for example. The technique I’ve mastered allows me the freedom to let go and pretty much let God – or what some call inspiration – take over. The thing is, there are definitely a lot of mind games that happen before anyone gets in the ring and takes a swing at anyone else. And the movement, the swinging, the aggression – it’s constant.

Boxing, as it turns out, is dancing.

I can’t use my body for much of anything with this sport if it’s not strong enough to give a punch or take one and if I don’t have any endurance. Or coordination. As it turns out, I have all three of those things. I just didn’t know it. I am much stronger than I think I am – physically and mentally. Whenever I box, all of this becomes a little more apparent and a little more of that strength is revealed to me. And of course, all of that strength and self-discipline spills out onto every other part of my life. It's a way better workout than aerobics. At least I'm learning a skill I can actually use.

Okay. Maybe I do know why I love boxing.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

a NYC free-for-all

so last night i’m hanging out with the artist/activist richard bell, who loves to casually announce in the most arbitrary moments imaginable that he’s the luckiest man in all of north america. he’s an aborigine from australia, by the way. we’re in an aussie bar called 8 mile creek in soho, surrounded by his ex-pat buddies and a few negroes who’ve shown up to say good-bye to him. sadly, his artist’s residency has come to an end. he leaves on friday.

suddenly, beautiful beaming lovely elaine – a printmaker from melbourne who’s been in the city for a month or so – breezes in, looking sunkissed and relaxed. she’s spent the day at the beach, and she looks it. she’s got a stack of books that she says she “found” in a bag on the sidewalk on the way there, just a few doors down. they are beautiful blank books, some of them moleskin, a few filled with sketches. and then she reaches into her bag and pulls out a handful of rubberbanded pencils and pens that she can barely get her hand around. she holds it up like it’s a torch, a beacon in the night. you should go see, she nearly squeals. it’s amazing stuff. and then, as if to prove it to me, she gives me a blank book. it’s red. and it’s lovely. i decide to call the book elaine and tell her that i’ll use it to write lyrics for my songs. i’ll do a gig later and i’ll say, this came from the elaine book and only she would know what i meant. she laughed and gave me that rubberbanded clutch of pens to pick through. something to write lyrics with. kismet, beautiful kismet. and that was that.

still and all, i sat there, chewing on my sausage roll in disbelief. (had to try some aussie food—and frankly, it’s a little too english for me. but more on that later.) but my curiousity got the better of me, so out i went and sure enough, there were not one but 4 bags full of art supplies, cushions, you name it. i was bent over one of the bags so completely, it looked like i was about to tip over and take a nosedive. much of the stuff had not been used. yikes, i thought. someone will see me out here and think that i’m trying to steal something and call the cops on me. after all i am black. i pulled two pristine beige soft cover blank books out with a quickness, shoved them under my arm and and headed back with my find.

we marvelled over all the books as we sat at the table, decided that the person who wrote and sketched these things was a woman and wondered why such nice things were on the sidewalk. when we saw some guy at the bar walk in with one of the bags, that did it. overwhelmed by curiousity (and yes, disbelief), elaine (my new bff) and ralph (the coolest guy ever) went back out there to see what was left and if anything else had been added to the pile.

sure enough, there was more stuff.

as we stood there, looking over the clothes (italian merino wool?) the heavier stuff (a scanner?!) and books (ginsburg’s howl?!), a blonde woman appeared in the doorway with a box, harried and completely out of breath. as it turns out, she had to leave the country the next day because of visa constrictions. she was canadian and had lived in the building for 7 years. now she was being forced to leave – or eventually face deportation. she had an apartment full of stuff that she couldn’t sell on craigslist because she simply didn’t have time. she tipped the door open with one weary arm and sighed. did we want to see any of it?

did we ever.

we marched up five flights of stairs to this cute little place. she had bagged what she could – friends were coming the next day to help her move that stuff – but the rest was up for grabs. and it was a LOT.

we picked through some amazing stuff. what did i get in my free-for-all? a pinhole camera. a beautiful elegant large umbrella. a wooden bath mat. a white 70s looking lomo colorsplash camera. a handful of beautiful ink pens. more blank books. a stunningly beautiful and well-tailored man’s italian overcoat. a woolen scarf. a woolen wrap. probably more stuff than that, actually. i’m still too groggy and out of it to inventory all of it.

we were like a bunch of little kids, all of us. she seemed genuinely relieved that her things were going to good use and that weren’t going to end up in the garbage. exhausted but relieved.

as we drifted through the rooms of her cute little place, chatty and upbeat and full of wonder, looking at all the cool stuff, taking in her fun downtown new york city life, feeling her melancholy, giddy with excitement over everything we found, and even more excited when she said we could have it, i felt such a rush.

i’m still not exactly sure what that rush was made of. the presence of the divine, perhaps.

we kept reassuring her. she kept begging us to take more stuff. there were some things that were so nice, we insisted that she keep them. what about our friends at the bar, she asked. was there anyone else who would want any of this stuff? just tell them to ring her buzzer, or come back in the morning, even.

you should have seen the reaction we got when we went back to the bar. priceless.

Saturday, July 03, 2010

why do i love dolly parton?

when i was a kid, dolly parton was everywhere.

she had her own variety show, she was on magazine covers, she wrote books, she was constantly popping up on tv shows here and there, she was all over the radio and she was a bona fide movie star. bizarrely enough, she was a real doll, as far as i could tell. a little too big, a little too blonde, a little too pasty, a little too much make-up -- just like barbie!

as a kid, i had play clothes and i had school clothes and i had church clothes. but it was dolly who taught me what stage clothes were. they weren't necessarily costumes, by the way, and they were always beautiful. it seemed as though they were meant to augment some inner part of who she was. she made me wonder what my stage clothes would look like. i honestly think i started assembling those gowns and such, in my head, as i was watching her.

i didn't know much about her personally, except that she came from a big southern family. i liked that, because i did, too.

i'd like to say that i kept up with dolly over the years, wondering what she was up to or hearing about some oldies tour she was doing or something like that. but she was always there like always, and like always, she was everywhere. she never faded into the where are they now? bin. she was never a has been. she just kept going. she was always there. even when she wasn't there, she was there -- as a songwriter, as a producer, as a philanthropist. it wasn't until much later that i realized the true nature of her creative impact.

her trajectory is an interesting one. once she achieved success, she simply maintained it. no simple feat at all, to be sure. i think she's been able to pull it off because she's so grounded. she got married at 18 -- and stayed married. no alcohol/drug problems whatsoever. she didn't have any children to take up the lionshare of her time and energy and her husband had his own life. so she kept working, and as opportunities came her way -- producing movies, for example -- she took them. she used all that glitz, a closet full of blonde wigs and those gigantic ta-tas to distract everyone from the fact that she's actually a supersmart businesswoman and a gifted songwriter. no one is exactly as they appear to be.

think about it: would she really have gotten that far if she'd been a flat-chested brunette?

nevermind the 45 grammy award nominations or the 7 grammys, the 42 country music association nominations or the 10 cmas, the academy of country music's 39 nominations and 7 awards, the two oscar nominations, the tony nomination. ignore the grand ol' opry induction in 1969, the star on the hollywood walk of fame in 1984, the star on the nashville walk of fame, the honorary doctorate. recieving the kennedy center honor in 2006. that theme park, the one that employs thousands. yeah, nevermind that stuff.

get this: she's a multi-instrumentalist (guitar, banjo, autoharp, piano, fiddle, harmonica, drums, appalachian dulcimer and pennywhistle). she's sold more than 155 million albums worldwide. she's written more than 3,000 songs. she's got 41 top 10 country albums and 25 number one singles. she's had a top 5 country hit in each of the last five decades. as of a few years ago, she has her own record label. she's had her own publishing company ever since her days of performing and writing songs with porter waggoner, and needless to say, she owns all of her publishing. actually, she's always owned her publishing -- something that most recording artists/songwriters toss to the wind just as soon as they get signed.

at this juncture, i'd like for you to think about your favorite performer and ask yourself if they play any instruments, if they write any songs, or if they own any of what they're creating (if they actually create anything at all). most of the recording artists in this industry wake up one day and realize that all of a sudden, they're out of fashion and everyone has moved onto the next. they usually have no assets, no homeownership and no money. if their relatives didn't clean them out, a nasty divorce ravaged them financially. or it's drugs and alcohol that caved them in. that old chestnut.

what do you think kris kross is doing or the rest of those little kiddie hip-hop send ups like abc - another bad creation? (hey, they were from the atl!) where in the world is sinbad? he had is own talk show! and he hosted that vibe late night talk show! and he was emcee for the ms. universe pageant! remember how big kid n' play were? what do you think they're up to now? look at the jackson 5. (ew.)

why didn't that happen to dolly? probably because she doesn't do r&b. (heh.) let's face it. r&b is producer-driven, trendy and mostly disposable. on the other hand, country music fans are infamous for their rabid loyalty. not being in a band and having to deal with those group dynamics couldn't have hurt, either. oh yeah. and she's not a corporate tool.

for me, it really boils down to her songs -- she wrote them, she owned them and she used that financial base to do whatever she wanted creatively.

i don't think i could ask for a better role model.