Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Best of 2009: Hollywood As I Live & Work Looks Back

2009 will always hold some great blog memories. So I wanna take a moment and look back on my experiences on this eve of 2010. Listed below are my favorite blog moments, events, and most popular posts of 2009!

I really have no good excuse for not posting this when it occured. I kept meaning to but was distracted by other things and never completed the post. I know shame on me!

Anyway, in 2007, I interviewed Grammy winning artist and producer, Wyclef Jean exclusively for this blog backstage at his Yahoo music performance. The audio is down but the post is still up. See it HERE! Who would think two years later Wyclef and I would meet again at IHOP of all places!

Me and a few Wyclef Jean Twitter followers were invited by the Wyclef himself for a meet and greet in LA, right before the BET Awards. During that meeting Wyclef discussed with us how he planned to really connect with fans using social media and use the power of the internet to change the way music is marketed and promoted in the industry. Those willing to help him in his plan were named "Warriors." And from that initial meeting Wyclef Warriors was founded.


Joining Twitter and Facebook really brought Hollywood As I Live & Work before new eyes and new opinions in 2009. Here are the top 5 posts that had people talking:

1. Halleeee Berraaay, Halle Berry! New Crunk Song, New Dance?

2. Guest Blog: 7 Tips of Low Budget Filmmaking from Joyful Day Productions

3. Interview with Emmy Award winning actor, Adewale Akinnouye-Agbaje aka Triple A about his role in G.I. Joe

4. Tribute to Michael Jackson in Liemert Park

5.Why Hollywood Won't Tell the Real Black Hair Care Story

I saw A LOT of movies this year and reviewed most. Here's a list of my top 5 films this year and links to what I had to say about them.

1. This Is It

2. Precious

3. Hangover

4. Angels & Demons

5. Princess & The Frog

Avatar definitely gets an honorable mention. Despite the criticisms, you gotta give it up to James Cameron for the visuals and special effects in this movie. Now on to the next category....

Videos...I produced a lot of them this year, 27 to be exact! Me, Canon, and Tyrone (that's my computer for you newbies) were really getting in 2009. Here are MY 6 favorites.

1. Michael Jackson Tribute in Liemert Park

2. Norwood Young's Birthday Party and Michael Jackson Tribute

3. Pole Dancing 101

4. Janet Flash Mob Performances and Janet's Special Appearance

5. He Say, She Say: Me and Jermaine Dupri Blog it Out! This one snuck by folks!

And here are the crowd favorites according to YouTube. See more of my vids on my YouTube Channel:

1. Real Housewife of Atlanta's NeNe Leakes on New Book and Hit Reality Show

2. Interview with Adewale Akinnouye-Agbaje

3. Janet Number Ones Flash Mob Rehearsal

4. Interview with Adewale Part 2

5. Tyson Documentary LA Premiere

Maaaan! 2009 was a busy year! I suspect 2010 will be no different and I'm looking forward to every moment!

Monday, December 28, 2009

Avatar: Racist or A Just Hollywood Story of Race?

This isn't a review! This is a response to those complaining James Cameron's new sci-fi film, "Avatar", is racist. I read the tweets, blogs, and commentors from whites and blacks and everything in between and finally decided to see it today. It was on my list to see anyway, but with all the hoopla I thought, "Why wait?"

And now that I've seen it, I DO NOT believe the film is racist as how we typically define it--"typically" meaning those in the minority are portrayed as inferior, ignorant, inept, and as minstrels while those in power, not always the majority, are the intellectuals, the inventors, the elite, the best. Those are blatant signs. Subtle racism is a little harder to define.

Yes, there are UNDENIABLE similarities between Africans, African-Americans, Native Americans, or tribal, aboriginal people in general and "Avatar's" humanoid Na'vi--a.k.a "native" people of Pandora. And yes, the actions of the pure humans, mostly white, mirror the European rape and colonialism of Africa, and the Native American "Trail of Tears." No coincidence there! This film is meant to open a "Pandora's Box" on issues of race and environmental abuse.

That said, "Avatar" is a super visual retelling of similar historical occurrences with a sci-fi twist and a general Hollywood approach, just like this summer's racially themed "District 9". It's them versus us, and "us" depends on which side of the bulldozer you're on. But one of "them" will either betray us or help us, or in this case, both for a greater cause.

And technically, I don't believe Cameron is trying to guilt white viewers into feeling or doing anything as some commenters have said. "Avatar" isn't a propagandist film it's a sci-fi movie. That's it! Trust black people or Native Americans, especially, are not going to think any worse of white people after seeing the film than they did before seeing it. Blue people on the other hand may be mad as hell!

So does "Avatar" really paint all whites in a bad light? No, but according to some white bloggers, yes! However, as with most Hollywood flicks with a "Tarzan" slant, the white guy seemingly saves the day and truly becomes "down with the people". Shouldn't that make white people feel better? No! Then welcome! For a mere three hours you felt a pinch of how people of color feel for a lifetime when we see ourselves portrayed stereotypically and incorrectly.

However, in "Avatar", in my opinion the REAL hero of the day is a blue woman, portrayed by black actress Zoe Saldana. That said, what irks me about "Avatar" and films like it is that Hollywood always finds a way to hide black actors behind mainstream characters. This is especially true in animated films such as "Lion King", "Madagascar", and even in "Transformers". Really, if the studio promoted the REAL faces and names of Zoe Saldana, Laz Alonzo, and C.C. Pounder as the leads on the "Avatar" poster how many whites would have rushed out to see this movie? And honestly, how many black people? Exactly!

And considering the money this film has already made, you think either of these black actors can now demand a few more millions, if that, per pic, or get a little on the back end? Truth is Sam Worthington (Jack Sully) may not get it either, but his chances are a lot greater. Consequently, will the black actors get the press coverage they deserve or will the cameras always turn to Worthington, the Justin Timberlake of this movie? Yeah, I went there! If the correlation fits, blog it!

Every press outlet knows what Worthington looks like. His natural face is on the posters, billboards, and what not! That's Zoe Saldana's "masked" face you see above in this post. And sadly, having done years of red carpet coverage and press junkets, most white photographers and reporters for Getty, Wire Image, E! and the like won't know who Saldana, Alonzo, or Pounder are unless you tell them. That doesn't make them racist, just too busy to give a damn. But, it's also a reflection of society at large. Truly, that's no diss to the actors, just a truism in the Hollywood. "We Wear The Mask", for real in this entertainment game.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

2009 Norwood Young Christmas Party

I can sum this event up in three words: WON-DER-FUL! Good time, good food, and good people! And once I put the camera down, I REALLY had a good time inside! And no, there's no evidence of it but if you hear someone was doing the James Brown at Norwood's Party like she was really having a "funky good time", trust it was me!

But before the party began inside, guests were having some fun outside as they arrived to Norwood's version of "Walking in a Winter Wonderland." Roll the YouTube videotape! LOL

Natalie Cole's arrival marked for me the end of being a Hollywood blogger and the beginning of my time as a party guest. Inside the house was decorated just as elaborately as the outside. Once everyone had gotten their first liquid Christmas spirits and serving of food the singing began. Norwood performed his heartfelt single, "Back to My Me", then convinced Ms. Natalie to do an impromptu performance. She sang everyone's holiday favorite, "A Christmas Song," then performed a suprising duet of "Unforgettable" with Norwood. Now that's a memory that will stick with me a long time!

Then the party moved to the adjacent room as R&B; singer, Jesse Powell, did a wonderful rendition of "O Holy Night," my favorite Christmas song. After that the party continued until the early morning as we grooved to hits from the 70s to the present. By 1 am I claimed the party officially a success, and by 2 am I was home thanking God I was still around to fully experience it.

BlackNLA 6th Annual Toy Drive loves the kids and again I participated in's annual Toy Drive. It is truly is better to give than to receive especially when those who receive are in real need. See my video from last year by clicking HERE!

This year I brought along my "big" camera, aka the "Canon" literally, to capture again some of the true spirit of Christmas. Donating the toys to organizations like the Foundation For Second Chances and to others really makes a difference as one grateful parent will tell you.

The food this year was prepared by chef to the stars, Chef Brian. So long customary hot dogs and welcome juicy STEAK! Thanks for the upgrade Chef Brian! See what else this star of Bravo's "Top Chef" has cooking on his website, AFTER you roll this beautiful gift giving video!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Sherlock Holmes: New Approach To A Classic Sleuth

This ain't your high school detective story! In Warner Bros. 2009 "Sherlock Holmes" gone are the traditional deerstalker cap, matching cloak, and magnifying glass. In their place, an 1891 bohemian/artsy, nontraditional style that paints the English crime solver as more of a rogue than a detective.

While Robert Downey Jr. portrays the eccentric, astute Holmes, Jude Law portrays Holmes' sidekick, John Watson. In total contrast to each other, the deducing odd couple squabble over everything from their living situation to women to clues. Obviously they are close, but how close? Will you sense an underlying "bromance"? Maybe!

Set in the 1890s, Holmes and Watson's new case involves a cunning villain from the occult world named Lord Blackwood (Mark Strong). Sentenced to death for ritually sacrificing women, Blackwood employs his supernatural powers to rise from the grave and continue his killing spree.  Once his "resurrection" is witnessed by a local and reported by press, fear spreads through London and even into Scotland Yard. Enter the dynamic duo of deduction, Holmes and Watson, to save the day!

Distracting Holmes from the case is "Jersey" girl Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams). With a pretty face and bad character, she's not to be trusted and Holmes knows it, but can't resist her charms. Is she working for him or against him? The answer is held by her mysterious co-conspirator.  His face, just their agenda, is hidden in the shadows.

The story plays out in "Angels & Demons" fashion and as with both films you must pay close attention to the details. But Holmes figures out clues and observes details more quickly with a twist of anthropology and other sciences. And though he thinks out loud, you may find him difficult to understand with the English accent. He talks fast so you're forced to listen carefully or be left behind as he and Watson move on to the next scenes.

But not only is he quick on his feet, he's deadly fast with his hands too in a fist fight. If you're unfamiliar with the character details, this side of Holmes may come as a surprise. But for fans of Conan Doyle's literary series it's a only slight change from the original Holmes skilled in martial arts. And of course, there may be other differences too but that's to be expected between the original work and the film adaptation.

Remember director Guy Ritchie's "Sherlock Holmes" isn't necessarily the one you grew up with but the core elements are still in place. There's a good blend of action, fight scenes, suspense, and explosions to keep you interested for at least two hours. It's definitely worth adding to your "must see" list this holiday season and opens Christmas day! So put on your thinking caps and head to the theater after dinner!

And lastly, for you literary heads who like the movies but love the original works. Add this to your collection or share it with your "youngins" as a reminder of where all this hype originated from: The Complete Sherlock Holmes: All 4 Novels and 56 Short Stories OR download the soundtrack to the new version by Hans Zimmer!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Pole Dancing 101 At LA's Allure Dance & Fitness Studio

It's physical, sexy, and oh so visual....POLE DANCING! Thanks to strip club culture becoming mainstream, pole dancing has become a very popular exercise alternative for women. And as an art form, it's just amazing to see how many ways you can wrap your body around a long...hard...pole. Is it getting hot in here? Lol!

So if the blogging, social networking, tv producing thangs don't work out, a woman's gotta explore her options! Not to mention, pole dancing is hella fun! Ladies don't be scurrred! Size doesn't matter, yours nor the pole's--and I'm talking the one measured by feet not in inches. So roll this sexy, PG-13 pole dancing video and watch me earn my "Pole Diva" status from "Pole Diva Extraordinaire" Nicole Williams, owner of Allure Dance & Fitness Studio in LA.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Invictus: It Came, It Saw, Didn't Conquer

"Invictus" is the story of how South African President, Nelson Mandela (Morgan Freeman), unifies his racially polarized country with the help of rugby team captain, Francois Piennar (Matt Damon). At its essence it's a sports film but underlying the athleticism is the traditional "can't we all just get along" that we've seen often in sports movies.

"Remember the Titans" (football) and "Glory Road" (basketball) are similarly themed yet set in America during the Civil Rights Movement. "Invictus"(rugby) is set in post-apartheid South Africa and all the world is watching, waiting to see how the newly elected president will calm fears of the white ruling class, yet instill hope in the black majority robbed of basic human rights. In all three films sports or one sporting event seems to close the great racial divide for the length of the game. But once the players leave the field or court then what?

Another interesting comparison "Invictus" brought to mind as the film showed Mandela moving into his new elected office was that of our own President Obama. With both presidents issues of security were heightened not merely because of their high profile jobs but because of the painful history that followed them there. Could Mandela's black security team trust the spoken loyalty of their assigned white co-workers, men that once helped to oppress them? Would they take a bullet for a president they didn't vote for? The film answers the questions.

That said, what compelled Mandela to reach out to Pienaar in the first place outside of his position as rugby team captain? His father is quite vocal in his negative views of black South Africa and his fear of political retribution, but Piennar not so much. Damon plays him as a man focused solely on the game, his teammates, and how they will make it to the world finals.

As he learns more about the man, Nelson Mandela, his vision of a unified South African, and the team's role in it, we see Piennar evolving from a mere athlete to a sports ambassador. But it's handled rather softly, almost like a visual press release. Considering the weighty role he was chosen to play on and off the field, I would have liked to have seen deeper emotion from him. Was there no inner conflict with what he was being asked to do?

Overall, the film moves a little too slow. Freeman is convincing as Mandela, but my attention was often pulled away from his character to the actor himself. He moves stiffly in some scenes, not from old age, but due to his injuries from the highly publicized car accident last year. His left arm was seemingly on the mend during production and it shows as he attempts to work around the injury.

I can't say the film is not worth seeing at all. But is it worth seeing at the theater? I say DVD or pay-per-view. "Invictus" just didn't conquer my movie viewing senses emotionally as I had hoped. The poem of the same name is more inspiring. It did however, give me a whole new respect for the sport of rugby and its players. No helmets, no pads! Those men ain't nothing to "play" with on the field!

And lastly, one quick observation. If this film is about Mandela, a political figure known around the world, and a sports figure not necessarily known the world over, why is the image representing Mandela turned away from us. Who doesn't know that you never turn your back to the audience? So with Matt Damon facing his fans, film marketers which audience are you REALLY trying to appeal too, pray tell?

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

The Princess And The Frog

Image Source: Walt Disney Pictures

At long last, about 75 years to be exact, Disney has created a fairy tale that centers around African-Americans that you can see, not just hear! The highly anticipated "The Princess and the Frog" is finally here! That means enough brown paint and pencils were acquired to give little black girls a Disney character that looks like them. "Oh happy day!"

No diss to Mulan, Pocahantas, Jasmine, Ariel, Snow White, and the others, but there ain't nothing like having your own! Princess Tiana fills the obvious void and thanks to great promotion, "The Princess and the Frog" will be a successful part of the Disney princess franchise forever.

The Story

Tiana dreams of one day having her own restaurant in the heart of New Orleans' Jazz Quarter. Everyone in town knows she's got a culinary gift, but few believe she'll turn her dream into a reality. So she diligently works two jobs, sacrifices time with friends, and saves her money to buy her first property.

Her childhood friend is the spoiled, exuberant Charlotte (Remember Sandra Dee?). Her father, "Big Daddy" LeBouff, is the wealthiest man in town and hires Tiana's mother, Eudora, as a seamstress. When they were little girls Eudora read the fairy tale of a princess kissing a frog and turning him into a prince to them while she worked. Little Charlotte loved the story, Tiana not so much, especially the kissing the reptile part.

Fast forward some years. When news spreads that the handsome Naveen, Prince of fictitious Maldonia, is coming to town to enjoy the jazz scene, Charlotte thanks her lucky stars. However, what Charlotte doesn't realize is that her shining prince is not exactly what he seems. The prodigal heir has been cut-off from his family's wealth and once in town gets involved with Dr. Facilier, the local voodoo practitioner.

Seeing an opportunity to worm his way into the LeBouff fortune, Facilier turned the Prince into a frog and his manservant, Lawrence, into the Prince. In order to break the spell, Naveen must kiss a princess. Seeing Tiana at Charlotte's costume party dressed beautifully as a princess, he convinces her to kiss him with the promise that once he's human he'll buy her a restaurant. What results is something a trip to the clinic won't cure. Pretty, brown Tiana is now a green, slimy, frog. Can you say "rrrrribbit"?

There's nothing more beautiful than green love, but how will Naveen & Tiana become human again? The answer lies with the old, blind conjure woman, Mama Odie, who lives deep in the Louisiana Bayou. Strangers to the Bayou the green couple acquire two friendly guides, a toothy, horn playing alligator named Louis, and a near toothless firefly with an illuminating derriere, named Ray. Together they face the dangers of the Bayou to reach Mama Odie's.

What happens next you'll have to see for yourself! "The Princess and the Frog" is a wonderful animated movie experience if you're a youngster or just young at heart. The musical performances especially capture the essence of New Orleans flavor along with Firefly Ray, whose Cajun accent is as thick as your favorite gumbo. The producers, actors, and animators did a wonderful job in keeping everything authentic to the city.

"The Princess and the Frog" opens December 11th. Earlier this week I went to a special screening on the Disney Lot with Digital LA. SeeEnjoy the slide show.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Update: Alicia Keys Live Concert for Keep A Child Alive & New Album

Man! I so impressed with Alicia Keys and how she uses her "celebrity" and her music to impact the world. Truth is, even if Alicia wasn't famous, I get the sense she would still be making a major impact in people's lives through some contribution.

And recently she wielded her star power on World AIDS Day for her foundation, "Keep A Child Alive" by giving a live concert in New York that was streamed on YouTube at at 8pm EST, 5pm PST. You can read my older posts concerning Keep A Child Alive, Alicia's foundation, HERE.

Now while your grooving to Alicia's music don't forget the reason for this special performance. December 1st was World AIDS Day. Though you nor I are famous, we still can impact a life. Contribute what you can--money, time, expertise, whatever-- to "Keep A Child Alive" or related AIDS charities. But before you go, listen to Alicia explain how she was moved to take action when confronted with dire circumstances surrounding children in Africa impacted by the disease.

Great interview but it didn't move you, huh? Well, if you're unwilling to get out your comfort zone to help someone else, then help yourself. Get informed on how AIDS is spread and treated, then get tested. And yes I've practiced what I'm preaching. I've been tested recently and was happy to be able to donate blood to the Red Cross last week.

Black folk, and especially my sistas, the statistics are staggering in the number of new HIV cases in our community. Yes, numbers and data can be twisted to say anything, but the FACT is, ignorance ain't never been blissful for anyone, take responsibility for your body and your actions. What you don't know can hurt you. In fact, it can kill you and the ones you love. This epidemic of fear and silence in our community must come to an end.

Proceeds from the sale of Alicia's new albumalso help support Keep A Child Alive so help save a life and enjoy some great music in the process! Listen to the ELEMENT OF FREEDOM for yourself!

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