Monday, December 29, 2008

Hat Designer, Alakazia Launches Hats Off To Charity Event

As the LA sun smiles brightly in a cloudless blue sky, hundreds of people gather in the parking lot of 1625 N. Schrader Blvd. in Hollywood. There men, women, and children dressed in less than fashionable attire, carrying tightly secured bundles and bags mingle with those in more casual clothing during breakfast supplied by Food on Foot. It's Sunday and at first glance the familiar scene appears to be a catered cast meal or an open call. But those gathered are not actors per se. No, for them the uncoveted, challenging role of homelessness and hunger doesn't require SAG vouchers nor a persistent agent.

Having recently witnessed the scene on N. Schrader Blvd. famed Hollywood hat designer, Alakazia (Alah-kay-zia) was compelled to do more than sorrowfully glance their way. Listen to his inspiring story about why he began Hats Off To Charity to support Food on Foot and get the scoop on his new television venture.



Visit foodonfoot.org to get more about the organization and to learn how you can participate. But before you go, check out his first smashing hat show of gorgeous creations from his Le Chapeau Designs. It's a hat lover's dream!

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Eartha Kitt: A Hollywood Blogger Reflects

There have been so many deaths of our favorite entertainers this year that I told myself I would not write another post concerning them. And then a dear friend informed me a matter of hours ago that Eartha Kitt had died of colon cancer at the age of 81. Associate Press and CNN confirmed it minutes later.

That said, I would be remiss if I didn't post a word or 200 about the life and career of singer, actress, Earth Kitt--a remarkable career that spanned 60 years.



Born on a cotton plantation in South Carolina in 1927, Eartha Kitt began her career as a member of Katherine Dunham's Dance Company. And as a member of the famed dance company she made her film debut in 1948 in "Casbah."
But most of us remember Kitt best as Catwoman. Replacing Julie Newmar on the last season of "Batman" in the mid 60s, Kitt took the role and made it her own. You can't think of Eartha Kitt and not roll your r's when you speak. Her distinctive voice will always be remembered. Released 1953, "Santa Baby" is still her biggest musical hit and is in heavy rotation every holiday season.

Then in 1968, nearing the height of her career, President Johnson blacklisted the petite performer in the US because allegedly her anti-war comments said at a Presidential luncheon made the first lady cry. But that didn't stop her. Kitt still made a name for herself in Europe. Then a decade later, a successful run in Broadway musical "Timbuktu" brought her back to the states in 1978.

I've known most of this since I was kid, but I just learned during my internet research, Kitt had a huge disco following in the early 80s thanks to 1984's hit, "Where Is My Man?"which made it to the top 10 of the Billboard charts and '89 follow-up, "Cha Cha Heels" was a European club favorite and made it to #32 on the UK charts. And of course, old reliable--YouTube--had a performance just waiting to be posted. Based on what I saw in this video and recent performances, Eartha Kitt had an ageless vitality, a certain savior faire, that remained with her until the end.



Personally, I will always remember Eartha Kitt best as Madame Eloise from "Boomerang," the sexy, AARP card carrying cosmetic company founder. "Marrrrcus! I don't have any panties on!" still makes me laugh when I think about it. Really, you can't talk about that classic film and not mention Lady Eloise.

So thanks to her work and contributions left behind, Eartha Kitt will never be forgotten. And as I take a moment to discover more interesting tidbits about her life, I'm willing to bet that someone in Hollywood is writing the screenplay based on interesting her life story. And if no one isn't, they should be. Why not me, you ask? Because, I'd rather help produce it!

BlackNLA Brings Christmas Early to LA Children

It is better to give than receive. Many of you may beg to differ, but for those of us that believe to receive blessings one must first be a blessing, this holiday season provides the ideal time to exercise the spirit of giving. So to rev up my spirit, I recently participated in BlackNLA's annual toy drive for the second year.

Every year BlackNLA collects toys for kids that may not experience a true "merry" Christmas. Through hosted events, movie screenings, and business participation BlackNLA collects hundreds of toys and delivers them in person. This year Urban Compass, the Girls and Boys Town , and Drew Child Development Corporation received the bulk of our efforts.

And this year after handing out presents to eager Urban Compass kids at Verbum Dei High School in South Central LA, we pulled up the truck Santa style at the nearby Nickerson Recreation Center and blessed parents and kids with toys until our supply ran out. Seeing the smiling faces of the kids as they recieved the toys was priceless. And to hear a parent give a heartfelt thanks and "God Bless You" put it all in perspective this holiday season.

Here's a little video of our BlackNLA Toy Drive. It's a bit impromptu. So if you want to learn more about the organization and all the various events you can participate in, subscribe by email at BlackNLA.com. Oh, and if you want to learn everybody's names in the video come out to our events and introduce yourself. We're a fun bunch! Peace & Blessings this holiday season!



Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Blair Underwood, Tananarive Due, Steven Barnes Write Movies People Love To Read

From blockbuster movies and highly rated tv shows to chart topping music hits, Hollywood is all about networking and successful collaborations, i.e. Spielberg and Lucas, M.J. and Quincy Jones. And recently, I got a chance to meet another great collaborating team that is flipping the script in the industry--actor/producer, Blair Underwood, and authors, Tananarive Due and Steven Barnes.  This threesome have joined creative forces to make books into movies with a different approach.


FADE IN:

INT. ESOWON BOOKSTORE - DAY

Adoring fans and fiction readers eagerly line up in crowded book store to get new tome, "In the Night of the Heat" signed by authors, TANANARIVE DUE, STEVEN BARNES, and BLAIR UNDERWOOD. The authors are seated behind a long table busily greeting fans and signing autographs.

BLOGGER'S POV:

THREE BOOK FANS step out away from table and passionately begin discussing previous book, "Casanegra".




CUT TO:

ESOWON BOOKSTORE - HOURS LATER

Every eager request for an autograph and/or picture has been met. Store owners began putting store back in order while authors prepare to leave bookstore. BLOGGER approaches them and nervously asks for an interview. They oblige.



FADE OUT

DISSOLVE TO:


INT. BUSY PRODUCTION OFFICE - DAY

BLOGGER types furiously while at day job. She looks nervously over shoulder for nosy onlookers then views videos for the millionth time (or so it feels). Her worse critic, she sees things she'd like to change but just doesn't have the time at the moment; her self-imposed deadline has passed and gone. She whispers to herself.


BLOGGER
Lord! I hope the authors and the three ladies like it. Told them it would be up last week, but oh well. Good blogs are like good books. They're timeless. Now if I can just get one more thing done before the boss comes in...

FADE OUT

TO BE CONTINUED....


Friday, December 12, 2008

Cadillac Records: Put The Needle On the Record for Columbus Short

The Blues...undoubtedly, the bass line to our musical lives in America, and I don't just mean Black people. It gave birth to rock n roll, contemporary gospel, Hip Hop...we all know the musical story and film, "Cadillac Records" pays homage to it.

Set in 1950s Chicago, "Cadillac Records" is based on the real Chess Record's founder, Leonard Chess (Adrian Brody), and some of the label's legendary artists: Muddy Waters (Jeffrey Wright), Chuck Berry (Mos Def), Etta James (Beyonce Knowles), Howlin' Wolf (Eammon Walker) .

The story is not unique. That's not a criticism, just honest observation. We all know how enterprising Whites cheated Black musicians out of millions in royalties as "race music" made it's way out of the "Chitlin' Circuit" into mainstream, aka White households.  But "Cadillac Records" attempts to soften the blow by portraying Chess as an entrepreneur that really cared about his artists, not just the bottom line. And to reward them for making him richer by the radio spin, he gave his artists allowances and, of course Cadillacs, to keep them distracted from the books and happily singing.  

Since many have already seen the film, I won't bother summarizing it. Just visit the film's website for that and cast details. But what the website won't tell you is who the REAL stand out star in this film is in my opinion. And as I write this post, I'm regretting not telling this artist just how I felt as we passed each other in the hall at a recent screening. 

"Hey Little Walter, Hey Little Walter, listen. Hey Little Walter, something's gonna getcha Little Walter".

Remember that R&B lyric from Tony! Toni! Tone which now is so fitting for this character in "Cadillac Records"? If you've seen the movie then you know that I'm referring to Columbus Short. I gained a whole new respect for this actor and the immeasurable talent he brought to his role as Little Walter.  But don't get it twisted, that's no diss to Jeffrey and other cast members. We all knew the cast would do well, especially Jeffrey, because he does nothing less in every movie. 

Until "Cadillac Records", I saw Columbus Short as the sexy, dancer turned actor thanks to "Stomp the Yard" and "This Christmas." I had never seen any of his work in theater, so I went into this film expecting Short to play a historic character, not become the character. That's a sign of a true thespian which brings me to Beyonce aka "B" aka "Sasha Fierce".

Beyonce plays a feisty, sexy, Etta James very well. However, not once did I forget it was Beyonce. B's got the goods--the look, the voice, the body, and the sheer determination to do big things in the business of show--note her executive producer credit.  So thanks to her marketability she's everywhere--music, movies, magazines, billboards, blog headlines, perfumes, etc..-- and consequently, so is her signature vocal style. We're constantly reminded who's playing who in and out of this movie.  

Still on the "B" side, if Beyonce can inspire a youngster to put a needle on a record and listen to the original recordings of Etta James and the other artist portrayed in this film, then maybe her ubiquity isn't so much a fault. However, that elite few who bestow Oscars may think differently. 

Lastly, the heart of the film beats to the music it features. From the original musicians and the actors that portray them to current artists like Raphael Saadiq and Nas,  the "Cadillac Records" soundtrack definitely provides timeless music for the young and old.  The Deluxe edition features 2 discs with an eclectic mix of jazz, blues, and Hip Hop. Just press play to hear and download it.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Jazz Vocalist Nnenna Freelon: Babysong and The Black Candle



That's one of my favorite performances by multiple Grammy nominated jazz vocalist, Nnenna Freelon. And as you could see it also features the amazing talents of Take 6. But creating wonderful music is not Nnenna's only passion. I personally know she adores children and cooking--thanks to several great get-togethers at her home in Durham, North Carolina.

And out of her love of children and a background in health care administration comes "Babysong", a very unique program she developed at Duke University that utilizes music, voice, and sound in the nurturing of babies.

A few months ago I talked with Nnenna about "Babysong" for another website, "Empower Magazine". During that enlightening conversation she also revealed a new film project that gave her musical talents a new stage to shine called, "The Black Candle"--Kwanzaa's first feature film directed by the award-winning filmmaker and author, M.K. Asante, Jr. See my previous post HERE for more about the film.

Here is the audio from our conversation. Despite my "early morning voice"--7 am to be exact--and a few technical difficulties on my end we had a really good conversation. And as always when reconnecting with old friends, the convo ran long so I've edited it down to a podcast. You can choose which parts to listen to. But of course, it's all worth a listen!


MusicPlaylist


Learn even more about Nnenna and her Babysong workshops at her website, www.nnenna.com and hear more of her special brand of jazz below. Great music is a gift that just keeps on giving!

Monday, December 08, 2008

The Black Candle: Kwanzaa Gets Its Own Movie

"Mazao", "Mkeka", "Kinara", "Muhindi", "Mishumaa Saba", "Kikombe cha Umoja", "Zawadi"--any of these Swahili words look familiar to you? No? Here's their translation respectively: The
"crops", "mat", "candle holder", "corn", "seven candles", "unity cup", and "gifts". These are the seven basic symbols used to observe Kwanzaa, the week long cultural celebration born out of the 60's Black Panther and Civil Rights Movement observed by millions generally Dec. 26th-January 1st.

Kwanzaa literally means "first fruits" and for many cultures is a time to reflect on "Nguza saba", the seven empowering principles of the holiday: unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity, and faith. Visit the official Kwanzaa website HERE to learn more about its principles and its founder, Dr. Maulana Karenga.

But before we get to Kwanzaa, we are bombarded with Christmas movies on the big and small screens. "Miracle on 37th Street", "Claus", "Frosty The Snowman" are traditional American classics during the festive season. And now thanks to award winning author and filmmaker, M. K. Asante Jr., Kwanzaa has it own timeless movie, "The Black Candle" ready to become the new film tradition of the holiday season.

Featuring narration from renown poet, Dr. Maya Angelou, and music from multiple Grammy nominated jazz vocalist, Nnenna Freelon, "The Black Candle" takes us back to the beginnings of the "first fruits" here in America with rare archival footage and insightful commentary then brings us forward with a new cinematic perspective.

But Asante didn't just focus his lens on America, the film was shot around the world including Africa, Europe, and the Caribbean, giving audiences a global understanding of just how inclusive the observance of Kwanzaa can really be.

During his recent visit to LA I talked with Asante, aka "M.K.", about his empowering new project, independent filmmaking,how the principles of Kwanzaa influenced the Obama campaign, and more. Take a listen!

video


Visit "The Black Candle" website to get more information about the film and screenings. And learn more about "M.K." and his other award-winning films on his site, www.asante.info

Friday, December 05, 2008

Blair Underwood, DL Hughley, & P. Diddy

It's another mobile blog brought to you by me, Blackberry, and two busy thumbs.

Just look who I ran into on my way to work in Hollywood. It's not rare to see them in town, but seeing them get prime real estate on Hollywood's most visible billboards and buildings is something different.

My staring at Blair's handsome face almost led to an accident. He's near Vine and Romaine. At CNN DL laughs at all the traffic on Sunset and Wilcox while P. Diddy pours the vodka next door. Check them out:

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Frost/Nixon: Get Ready For The Close-up

I hope it [Frost/Nixon] reminds us of the pleasure and the excitement of a good human drama well-played.--Ron Howard, Director, "Frost/Nixon".

Watergate occurred too long ago--over 30 years ago to be exact; Nixon was never pictured next to Martin on a church fan; there's no black people in the film, and who is David Frost, anyway? That kind of small thinking almost led me to miss one of the best films I've seen this year.

So what made this new Ron Howard movie so good to me? Like the above quote states, it was indeed a "good drama well played out". Micheal Sheen (Frost) and Frank Langella (Nixon) portrayed their individual roles wonderfully turning these almost forgotten celebrity/political figures into people with relatable human flaws and weaknesses. In other words, you won't need an American history lesson to understand the film.

Langella's Nixon is especially engaging as he moves us from the stereotypical, "I will not tell a lie," imitations to a more insightful, thoughtful approach, giving us clues into the man, Richard Nixon, not just the political figure. Of course, that's also thanks to great screenwriting by Peter Morgan ("The Queen" and "Last King of Scotland").

The story revolves around charming British talk show host by day/playboy by night, David Frost--former fiancee of Diahann Carrol for you celebrity gossip fans--and his attempt to be taken seriously in the television industry by regaining his star-power in Hollywood. That I can relate to--not the star power part, but the taken seriously part. Perception is especially key in this industry.

The first and greatest sin of television is that it simplifies....Whole careers become reduced to a single snapshot.--James Reston, Jr., "Frost/Nixon" screenplay.

While watching Nixon on tv make his final exit from the White House, Frost gets the idea that a four-day sit down interview with the shamed former president would take his career to the next level. But would Nixon agree to do it? And where would the money come from to fund the endeavor? It's a lesson in tv producing 101 as Frost and Nixon prepare to face off in the biggest "no holds barred" tv event of 1977, and still the most watched news programs in tv history.

But the more important lesson in this film is just how relevant the television interview has become in our society. Cameras don't lie per se, people do. And with the one-two punch of a well-timed jabbing question and the camera close-up capturing every nuance, Frost gave the world as near to a confession as it would get from a cunning, former president skilled in evading hard questions and manipulation. Truly, the defeated look on Langella's face as the weight of the consequences bore on his mind is simply priceless.

"Frost/Nixon" opens this Friday. Visit www.frostnixon.net to get more information on the cast, movie trailers, and downloads. And don't let small thinking keep you from seeing it in theaters.

And while the media is, to be sure, an industry vying for customers, it can and must somehow also be that instrument of enlightenment for us, the public who so desperately rely on them--Ron Howard


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