MY FAVORITE AFRICAN-AMERICAN MOVIES

Spike Lee (wearing a Dodgers jersey), flanked by Giancarlo Esposito, Rosie Perez, his sister Joie Lee, and Frankie Fasion during a reunion of his classic film “Do The Right Thing”. Photo courtesy of peopleewnetwork.com

 

FILMS WRITTEN, PRODUCED AND DIRECTED BY BLACKS THAT I HAVE ENJOYED THE MOST

Not too long ago I saw a post on Facebook asking people what their favorite Black movies were.

Imagine my “What the F…!!” level shock when I noticed that not one comment in the post’s thread mentioned anything made by two of the best African-American filmmakers in history, Spike Lee and John Singleton.

Being the movie fan that I am, I thought it was high time that I reveal my list of African-American films that I consider my favorites, along with being among the best ever made in my view.

Of these movies – in chronological order – on this list, four of them were made by Spike Lee, who it’s impossible to have any kind of conversation regarding black movies without giving major attention to.

Some people may notice that I didn’t list any of the “Blaxploitation” flicks of the early to mid-1970s, movies like “Shaft” and “Superfly”, because to be honest, I never could get through those films because of their stereotyping and negative characters; whenever Shaft appears on TV, after Issac Hayes’ classic opening song  I always turn the channel.

Those movies had their place in black cinema, but I just prefer what I consider the “Golden Age” of that genre, the mid-1980s and 1990s.

Let’s not waste anymore time, shall we?

Here’s my list of favorites…

 

 

Tracy Camilla Johns on “She’s Gotta have It”. Photo courtesy of cineentucara.blogspot.com

 

* SHE’S GOTTA HAVE IT (1986)

Spike Lee’s debut film, made for a mere $175,000 – all paid from Spike’s credit cards – which generated over $7,000,000 it was so acclaimed and such a hit.

Like many other guys, I thought that Tracy Camilla Johns was fine, as she played the main protagonist Nola Darling who had, in all essence, three very different boyfriends – one of them a very funny Mars Blackmon who was played by Spike –  and ended up having to choose one.

It was such a great first film from a director, that it set up this next one…

 

 

“School Daze”‘s official movie poster. Image courtesy of pinterest.com

 

* SCHOOL DAZE (1988)

The first Spike Lee film that I saw in the theater, based (I’m sure) on his college days as it was set at a Historically Black College/University (HBCU) and looked at the tensions between the so-called “Jigaboos”, first generation college students who aren’t necessary that well-off who were into issues like ending South African apartheid, and the so-called “Wannabes”, who were in the fraternities and sororities and looked down on anyone not like them.

This musical featured future Oscar nominee Lawrence Fishburne as “Dap”, the leader of the so-called “Jigaboos”, squaring off against “Big Brother Almighty”, the fraternity leader played by Giancarlo Esposito.

I particularly enjoyed it because it reminded me of when I matriculated at UCLA soon after School Daze premiered, I found myself in a group similar to Fishburne’s “Fellas”, non-greeks who hung out and were good friends.

And the music was great, too.

 

 

Image courtesy of pinerest.com

 

* DO THE RIGHT THING (1989)

If I were forced to choose one black film as not only my all-time favorite, but the best of all time, it would be this one.

One of two movies that I consider Spike Lee’s masterpieces, it describes racial tensions simmering on  a scorching hot day on a block in Brooklyn’s Bed-Stuy district to the point where after a young African-American man, Radio Raheem (played by Bill Nunn), was killed by the police – VERY poignant considering what’s been happening on that front these days – a riot breaks out in which an Italian-American owned pizza place was burned down.

Along with everything else, the memorable characters such as Dodger jersey-wearing pizza delivery guy Mookie (played by Spike), pizza joint owner Sal (played by Danny Aiello), his bigoted son Pino (played by John Turturro), “Mother Sister”, played by the legendary Ruby Dee, and “Da Mayor”, played by the equally legendary Ossie Davis,

My favorite part of the film is the closing song, “Never Explain Love” by Al Jarreau, simply the perfect ending.

The quotes by Martin Luther King and Malcolm X describing their views on violence just before that song was a classic move as well.

 

 

Image courtesy of movieposters.com

 

* HOUSE PARTY (1990)

One of the funniest movies, if not the funniest, movies I have ever seen as I remember falling from the couch laughing the first time I saw it.

Starring the hip-hop duo Kid N Play, along with the very funny Robin Harris, who played Kid’s father, House Party illustrates, well, a house party thrown by Kid’s friend Play while his parents are out-of-town.

The part of the movie that I found the funniest?

The bullies that go after Kid trying to “Kick his f’n a**!” throughout the film, played by the members of the R & B group Full Force that were essentially the Black version of the Three Stooges, their humor was so pronounced, especially Pee Wee, whose high pitched squeak of a voice had me in stitches.

 

 

Photo courtesy of buzzfeed.com

 

* BOYZ N THE HOOD (1991)

John Singleton’s debut, which also serves as his masterpiece as it was his first film after his days at USC film school.

It not only portrayed African-American life in Los Angeles in the early 1990s so brilliantly, it also did a perfect job in showing how crucially important a father’s role is in a boy and young man’s life.

Those who noticed how Tre, played by Cuba Gooding, Jr. in what I and many others consider his best role (by far), ended up after the influence of his father, played by Lawrence Fishburne, in contrast to his two non-father influenced friends, drug dealing Doughboy (played by Ice Cube in his film debut) and football-playing teen father Ricky (played by Morris Chestnut), will agree that that was the essence of Boyz N The Hood, showing what to do and what not to do in raising young black males.

That was what I got from this film.

 

 

Image courtesy of pinterest.com

 

*MALCOLM X (1992)

A truly great biopic, with Denzel Washington portraying the iconic African-American leader who takes us on his journey from Harlem street hustler to his prison conversion to the Nation of Islam, to his involvement in such, to his second conversion after his pilgrimage to Mecca before his assassination.

For those who had never read Malcolm’s famous autobiography, this is a master lesson of an important American historical figure who provided an alternative to Martin Luther King’s approach to how blacks can overcome the Jim Crow racism and segregation that was rampant in America in those days – and is seemingly making a comeback now considering what’s been going on.

The cameo that South African icon Nelson Mandela at the end provided an excellent touch.

 

 

Image courtesy of moviepostershop.com

 

* SOUL FOOD (1997)

An excellent illustration of African-American families and how the matriarch, in this case “Big Mama” (played by Irma Hall) is so incredibly essential in that culture.

As is her insistence of everyone getting together at her house for Sunday dinner no matter what is going on in their lives, which even after Big Mama’s death from diabetes continues thanks to her grandson Ahmad.

In some ways this reminds me of my beloved grandmother, who had some spaghetti cooking on her stove the day she passed away and, along with my grandfather, provided such a strong presence and influence on my extended family – and especially myself, being that I lived with them for nine years – that I feel obligated and compelled to tell all my young cousins who never knew them all about them.

 

 

There you have it – my list of favorite black films.

There’s not much else to say about this, except that anyone who vehemently disagrees with the films listed here, or feel that I omitted some, I’m all ears.

Oh, I absolutely have to give a shout-out to these two recent releases…

Not only that, I have to include these among my favorites in this genre…

 

 

Image courtesy of moviepostershop.com

 

* STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON (2015)

The brilliant biopic of “The World’s Most Dangerous Group”, who I consider the Beatles of Gangsta Rap, NWA.

Featuring O’Shea Jackson, Ice Cube’s son, playing his father in what I and millions of others saw as brilliant casting.

 

and…

 

* BLACK PANTHER (2018)

So good, I think it will usher another golden age of black cinema.

I wrote some thoughts and a review of sorts about this blockbuster on this blog a few months ago; here’s the link:

http://www.hartlandchronicles.wordpress.com/2018/02/22/black-panther-a-belated-review-and-musings-about-the-smash-hit-movie/

 

 

Image courtesy of joblo.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

BLACK PANTHER: A Belated Review and Musings About The Smash Hit Movie

Photo courtesy of rogerebert.com

 

MY IMPRESSION OF THE MOVIE DEPICTING THE MARVEL COMICS SUPERHERO

When I read the rave reviews of Black Panther in the Los Angeles Times,

And when I saw on the news that the movie, directed by Ryan Coogler and written by Coogler and Joe Robert Cole and starring Chadwick Boseman as the title character, was an absolute smash hit, breaking box office records,

My prevailing thought was, “Looks like I’m gonna have to see it.”

It was just a matter of finding the time.

The time which I found yesterday as I went to a movie theater a few miles from my house to check out Black Panther for myself.

 

The Verdict (or my official review in other words)?

BLACK PANTHER WAS EXCELLENT.

SPECTACULAR.

OUTSTANDING in all aspects – story, plot, scenery, cinematography, art direction, costuming, acting performances.

 

 

The official trailer from “Black Panther”, courtesy of YouTube.

 

 

And a significant accomplishment in the sense that as Black Panther is, well, Black and from an African country whose technology, advancements, and standard of living matches any so-called “First World” country and then some,

Unlike the unfortunate images we get of emaciated refugees, tyrannical despot rulers, and extremist religious groups that slaughter entire villages and kidnap/enslave/rape scores of young girls and thinking nothing of it (read: Boko Haram in Nigeria) from that continent.

And even more significantly, this movie smashes the notion in mainstream Hollywood once and for all that a “Black” film can’t do well in the box office, particularly overseas.

Though I don’t expect Black Panther to win any large number of Oscars next year due to the fact that superhero movies rarely get any love from the Academy – because of when it was released, it’s not eligible for this year’s Academy Awards – I do expect it to get quite a few nominations, including best picture, director and actor/actress (both lead and supporting),

As well as more or less all the technical stuff; special effects, cinematography, art direction, costuming – which I’ll be surprised if it doesn’t win at least a couple of Oscars in those areas.

My thoughts regarding Chadwick Boseman as T’Challa, Black Panther/the ruler of Wakanda who inherits the throne and, well…I’m not going to spoil the plot for you in case you haven’t seen it yet:

 

 

Lupita Nyong’o (left) with Chadwick Boseman in a scene from Black Panther. Photo courtesy of cnn.com

 

 

First Jackie Robinson in 42,

Then James Brown in Get On Up,

Then the great former Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall,

Now this!

I certainly hope that this actor is enjoying his A-List status, as I consider him in that league now.

Especially since he’ll be playing Black Panther in several more movies in the coming years.

By the way,  I have four words for Coogler and Cole…

Start writing the sequel.

As for the other actors besides Boseman…

 

A VERY cool movie poster! Image courtesy of amazon.com

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vt9UZo32KMk

An extended trailer for Black Panther, courtesy of YouTube (click on the link).

 

 

Michael B. Jordan as the villain/enemy Erik Killmonger was the standout among many standouts such as Lupita Nyong’o as Nakia, Danai Gurira as General Okoye, and Letitia Wright as T’Challa’s ballsy, tech-savvy sister Shuri.

He was a true bad guy (I won’t spoil it and reveal what he does), but you also see the reasons why he’s bad.

And, in a way, you end up understanding the factors going into his evilness.

At least I understood it as I watched the film.

I particularly loved the scenery and the costumes; it has seemed that the beauty of Africa’s mountains, terrain, and the elaborate clothing that is worn there has never really gotten enough attention and due in Hollywood.

That, along with everything else, was busted with this production.

The bottom-line thing that I felt as I watched this movie was that Coogler (in this case) is doing an excellent job continuing what filmmakers like Spike Lee and John Singleton were doing twenty and thirty years ago.

And of course it needs to go without saying that I’m very much looking forward to the sequel in two or three years.

I’ve got four more words to anyone and everyone who has not seen Black Panther…

GO SEE IT.

NOW.

 

The cast of Black Panther, including Chadwick Boseman as  the title character (fourth from right), Forest Whitaker (far left), and Angela Bassett (third from right). Photo courtesy of  bostonreview.net

 

 

 

 

WONDER WOMAN & ME: A Personal History and a Few Thoughts

My all-time favorite superhero, going back over forty years…

 

MUSINGS ABOUT THE QUINTESSENTIAL SUPERHERO, FROM MY CRUSH ON THE TV VERSION TO MY IMPRESSIONS OF THE CURRENT MOTION PICTURE RENDITION

Like every other young boy, I had quite a few crushes growing up, ranging from that girl who wore that extremely tiny pink dress on the children’s TV show The Bugaloos to Kim Richards, now known as a Real Housewife from Beverly Hills but back in the day was Disney’s top girl ingenue,

To Phoebe Cates from the iconic 1980s teen movie Fast Times at Ridgemont High,

To Nia Peeples, who was the perfect goddess in the TV version of Fame,

To Kim Fields, AKA Tootie on The Facts of Life, who I wanted to take to my high school prom.

One female form, however, eclipsed them all by a long way…

 

Some scenes from the TV show featuring my all-time favorite crush, courtesy of YouTube

 

To say that I had a crush on Lynda Carter due to her portrayal of the ultimate super heroine Wonder Woman during my pubescent years in the mid to late 1970s would be arguably the biggest understatement ever.

I particularly liked how Lynda, as alter ego Diana Prince, would do her spinning transformation into the Amazon princess before going to fight the bad guys.

For a young adolescent boy, Lynda – and the character of Wonder Woman in general – was perfect.

So much so that I still watch reruns of the show on the Me-TV Network every Saturday night, and I’m well into middle age.

Of course the fact that Lynda has aged very well hasn’t hurt my current sentiments.

So when it was announced a couple of years ago that something that I had been waiting for roughly two decades to happen – a big screen version of Wonder Woman – was at long last going to happen, I was glad but at the same time was weary that because of Lynda Carter being the ultimate image of the super hero, whoever would inherit the bullet-stopping bracelets and truth-inducing golden lasso would not measure up.

 

 

A fight scene from the already box office record-breaking Wonder Woman movie, courtesy of YouTube

 

 

I remember when a film version was considered in the 1990s thinking that Charisma Carpenter, a tall brunette best known for her portrayal of mean girl Cordelia on TV’s Buffy The Vampire Slayer, would make an excellent Wonder Woman because she had a resemblance to Lynda, but that version never got off the ground.

Nor did an attempt at a new TV series in 2011 featuring Adrianne Palicki from Friday Night Lights in a black wig, wearing pants rather than the famous sleeveless leotard, which failed miserably.

When Gal Gadot was introduced as the one taking over for Lynda in the just released movie, my attitude consisted of three words:

“Wait and See”.

It was no secret that I would be watching this new film version of Wonder Woman with an extremely critical eye, to see if the former Miss Israel would do the character justice.

After checking Gal’s portrayal out the other day, my verdict came in…

Gal was an EXCELLENT choice, along with being the right choice, to portray Wonder Woman as she did an absolutely wonderful job.

 

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VSB4wGIdDwo

One of the trailers for the just-released feature film version of Wonder Woman, courtesy of YouTube (just click on the link).

 

 

 

Besides being the appropriate height as she stands at 5′ 10″, Gal’s version of the heir to the throne of  Themyscira was also different from Lynda’s in one significant sense…

Her fighting skills were reminiscent of Xena, the Warrior princess from that 90s TV series, which was extremely cool; Gal’s Wonder Woman could certainly kick Lynda’s Wonder Woman’s – who didn’t do much more than push the Nazis and other bad guys around – butt in a fight.

And much like Jennifer Lawrence’s Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games, Wonder Woman – both Lynda’s and Gal’s versions – provides young girls something that is SO needed these days;

A strong female role model: Someone who is smart, can kick butt, and can more than take care of herself but who also has the ability to nurture and care for those who need caring.

In short, I was concerned that Gal wouldn’t measure up to Lynda, but those concerns were alleviated as the producers made the right choice.

In fact, as I was unable to finish Wonder Woman due to circumstances beyond my control, I plan to go see the movie again, contributing to a film that I’m sure will end up being the top grossing movie of 2017.

I certainly hope the producers have told Patty Jenkins, who directed this blockbuster, these six words…

“Get ready to direct the sequel.”

Because a sure as I’m writing this, one will be coming within the next three years.

 

 

My number one celebrity crush as a young pubescent and adolescent in the 1970s…

MY LIST OF FAVORITE BASEBALL MOVIES

 

THE BEST FILMS DEPICTING MY FAVORITE SPORT IN MY VIEW

 

I know that one can poll ten people and get ten completely different lists regarding this subject.

I also know that I’ll get many disagreements regarding at least some of my choices.

But these are the movies with our national pastime as the subject that I have enjoyed the most and feel are the best.

For the record, I’ve included documentaries as well.

So here’s my list (in no particular order) – let the debating begin…

NOTE: Click on the YouTube links to view scenes…

 

BULL DURHAM (1988)

 

 

Considered by many to be the single greatest baseball film ever made; it’s number one on my list.

 

 

42 (2013)

 

 

If you need any explanation as why this film depicting Jackie Robinson’s breaking of the color line is on my list, I don’t know what to tell you.

 

 

A LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN (1992)

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6M8szlSa-8o

 

I remember seeing this in the theaters more than once, I enjoyed it so much. Plus it’s an essential film to show girls; to inspire and encourage them to follow their dreams.

 

 

THE BAD NEWS BEARS (1976)

 

 

Along with the Dodgers in the 1977 World Series, the factor that piqued my interest in baseball.

 

 

61* (2001)

 

 

This HBO film by New York Yankee fan #1 Billy Crystal was so good, even Yankee haters become fans for two hours.

 

 

THE NATURAL (1984)

 

 

I remember being in high school when this Robert Redford movie came out; I was SO excited at this final scene when Roy Hobbs (Redford) smashed the lights with his home run.

 

 

SOUL OF THE GAME (1996)

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nZIOU_uW8CU

 

This HBO movie gives a good historical lesson of the Negro Leagues and its two greatest stars, Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson, along with Jackie Robinson and how he was chosen to break the color barrier.

 

 

EIGHT MEN OUT (1988)

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cMxPAkZgoy0

 

Though there’s some recent debate about the viciousness of White Sox owner Charles Comiskey, whose mean stinginess is widely thought to be the reason for the 1919 Black Sox Scandal, this is the definitive story – in my opinion – about how Shoeless Joe Jackson and those other seven guys lost the World Series on purpose for gamblers.

 

 

WHEN IT WAS A GAME TRILOGY (1991, 1992, 2000)

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M0ibKMKAZFI

 

This HBO trilogy, which is simply film footage of Major League Baseball and its players from the 1930s through the 60s, rekindled my fondness for the game.

 

 

BASEBALL – KEN BURNS DOCUMENTARY (1994)

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4dk63Pat5VU

 

Though I know there are folks who feel that this PBS mini-series should be discredited for the way it depicted Ty Cobb (in light of recent evidence of his character) and other things, I remember feeling that this was perhaps the greatest thing I ever saw on television when I first viewed it in ’94.

Plus it was dearly needed due to the World Series-killing baseball strike that was going on at the time; a perfect tonic.

 

OK, there are my choices.

You are now free to say how much you disagree with them if you are so inclined…

 

 

Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles CA – a place I have been to over fifty times, with a gorgeous view of the downtown skyline in the back drop.

The Movie That Inspired Me To Pursue A Writing Career

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The cast of the movie that was the inspiration to what I’ve been doing for the past eight years. Image courtesy of movie.movieggr.com

 

HOW A FILM THAT WAS BASED ON A HIT BROADWAY MUSICAL INSPIRED ME TO CHANGE MY LIFE’S DIRECTION

 

Remember when you were a kid and people asked you this question:

“What do you want to be when you grow up?”

I’m sure that youngsters replied the expected things: doctor, lawyer, teacher, fireman, policeman, or a basketball player for the Los Angeles Lakers (man, they sure need people!)

During those formative years, whenever I was asked that question I always answered writer as I seemed to show a knack for the written word at an early age, like when I ghostwrote a story told by a girl at this summer camp I was in at age eight or when I won an essay contest given by the Daughters of the American Revolution while in 5th grade.

Although I did take a beginning journalism class and a few creative writing courses in college, and wrote a few pieces for my college marching band’s newsletter, save for keeping a journal I didn’t really know how to make a living out of writing as I opted for education and working with young people, which was/is the family business.

After around fifteen years of frustration, disillusion, and disappointment, it became crystal clear that working with kids was ultimately not for me.

The interesting art of all this was that during the time I was working at schools – and even before that – ideas for books kept popping into my head. I particularly remember while in the 10th grade an idea to write a book called “Oh Boy!” about my school’s marching band.

I didn’t go through with it, however, writing being a mere hobby for me until one day in early September, 2006 (gee, has it been ten years already?)

 

 

The official music video to “Seasons of Love” from Rent, courtesy of YouTube.com

 

 

It was on a Sunday; I was watching one of the cable channels – I think it was Starz – when the movie Rent, based on the Broadway musical, aired.

As I was watching those eight people singing about 525,600 minutes and pursuing their passions in film making, music, dance, and performance art while dealing with poverty, drug addiction, relationships, and AIDS, something happened…

The movie’s story line, combined with the songs and the fact that the characters were around my age, making it able for me to relate, moved me with an intensity so pronounced that I found myself crying halfway through the film.

This wasn’t a just-a-couple-of-tears crying; this was a bawling, putting-my-head-in-a-pillow kind of sob, something I hadn’t done since I was single-digit age as being a movie buff, Rent affected me as no other movie ever had.

It was a combination of the issues pertaining to my Generation X that was a big factor in why that movie affected me so.

Then there were the songs…

Not only did the beauty of “Seasons of Love”, “Will I?”, “I’ll Cover You”, “What You Own”, “La Vie Boheme”  and the rest of the soundtrack move me to tears, they also served as an inspiration.

As I watched the Roger character sing about his “One Song Glory” and the rest of the cast musically ponder about having “No Day But Today”, the message came to me like a first grade reading book:

 

 

Be yourself, be proud of being yourself, and don’t put off following your dreams or passion.

Whatever you are going to do, do it NOW – or forever wish you had.

 

 

rent-the-movie1-500x360

A good shot of the “Rent” movie cast; six of them were in the original Broadway production. Photo courtesy of 100musical.com

 

It was that message that I took to heart, especially when it became clear that a career in education and working with kids was ultimately going to result in failure – which it pretty much did as about a year and a half after seeing Rent, after some frustrating last straw experiences at an after school gig that were the latest of several bad episodes the previous few years, I had finally had enough of doing something that I was less than successful at.

And I was sick and tired of being miserable as inspired by Rent and its message, I quit that after school gig and started to pursue a life in writing once and for all.

Being forty years old when that went down and less than a year short of my 50th birthday now, I reckoned that since my life – according to the American male life span – is a little more than half over, if I was going to make a career out of writing and being published, I need to do that RIGHT NOW.

Which is why I’ve been blogging and working on my Asperger’s experiences book, “WALKING ON EGGSHELLS”, ever since.

Though I haven’t achieved millionaire best-seller status ala J.K.Rowling, and I have next to nothing in the bank some of the time, my life in writing has seen some success as I spent a total of seven years posting sports articles for Bleacher Report.com and the Fansided network, plus serving as editor of SoCalSportsHub.com for a time before starting SoCal Sports Annals, my own sports fan blog/site, in January of 2015.

Here’s the link to that site:  http://SoCalSportsAnnals.Wordpress.com

Not to mention having this blog for the past two and a half years after posting articles on other sites.

And though I still live a sort-of bohemian lifestyle, I’ve even gotten a couple of paychecks for my writing.

As for my choice of work being lucrative, I have faith that the financial compensation will come in due time.

I think it’s safe to say that writing – online and elsewhere – has proved to be something that I enjoy as even during the “dark” days, I was told by more than one person that I was good at it.

I also believe that I have God and Jonathan Larson, who wrote Rent and tragically died just before its Broadway debut in 1996, to thank for inspiring me to pursue what I suppose I’m destined to do.

“No Day But Today” indeed; I think that suns it up.

 

rent-2005-movie-poster

A poster from the 2005 film version of the Tony award-winning Broadway musical. Image courtesy of jirashimosu.blogspot.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHARLIE BROWN, SNOOPY & ME: My Lifetime As A “Peanuts” Fan

 

peanuts_characters_gang_wallpaper_01

In my view and many others, these are the characters from the greatest comic strip of all time. Image courtesy of redthanet.blogspot.com

 

A REMEMBERANCE OF MY OBSESSION WITH – AND DEEP APPRECIATION OF – CHARLES SCHULZ’ COMIC STRIP AND ITS ICONIC CHARACTERS

 

I reckon it would be difficult to find someone who was a bigger fan of the “Peanuts” comic strip and its subsequent TV specials, shows, and movies than I was as a young child.

And even today, as the last comic that Charles M. Schulz drew right before his passing in 2000 hangs on my bedroom wall.

My history with that round-headed kid who could never seem to do anything right, his doghouse-flying, Red Baron-hunting beagle, the loudmouthed psychiatrist who couldn’t seem to keep the football still, her security blanket and Great Pumpkin-obsessed brother, the blonde-haired Beethoven piano maestro, and all those other children goes back a long ways and took many forms…

I remember as a less-than ten-year old youngster begging my grandma to buy me Peanuts coloring books at the supermarket, then having her get upset when I cut them out and played with them a-la paper dolls.

I remember pretending to be a teacher in my bedroom, with that Peanuts gang as my students, calling out their names while taking the roll.

I remember my fellow students getting miffed whenever I played catcher in baseball or kickball at school, because instead of throwing the ball back to the pitcher I carried the ball back and tossed it to him like that blonde piano player.

And I remember getting told off by a certain teacher who just plain didn’t like me for what in my mind at that time was no reason whenever I pretended to be hunting the Red Baron like that white beagle with the black spot on his back on top of the slide during recess.

In fact, my first exposures to psychiatry, Beethoven, and baseball were completely due to those “Lil’ Folks”, which was the original name of Schulz’s strip and which he was upset when United Features Syndicate changed the name to “Peanuts”, which I heard somewhere that he hated.

Being an African-American boy, Schulz integrating his strip – the first cartoonist to do so, I believe – by bringing Franklin to the roster in 1968 certainly didn’t hurt my love for the comic.

And of course It’s absolutely impossible to write something like this without mentioning the greatest animated feature ever made, A Charlie Brown Christmas.

 

 

charlie-brown-christmas_1024x768_1733

Nice job those kids did on that little tree at the end of “A Charlie Brown Christmas”. Image courtesy of fondoshd.mx

 

Debuting two years before I was born, I have watched that first holiday special of Schulz’s at least once every year since I can remember, and often more times than that as the only real tradition I have regarding the celebration of Jesus’s birth is putting in my VHS copy of that classic on Christmas Eve night.

Putting it another way,

Some families gather together and read The Night Before Christmas.

Some watch such movies like It’s A Wonderful Life or one of the many versions of A Christmas Carol; I particularly remember watching an animated version featuring Mr. Magoo as Ebenezer Scrooge as a kid.

Some tune in to other Yuletide fare geared toward children like Dr. Seuss’ How The Grinch Stole Christmas (another good one, a solid number two on my list of favorites from this genre behind Charlie Brown Christmas) or the Rankin-Bass specials such as Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, Frosty The Snowman, or what I consider the best of those, Santa Claus Is Coming To Town, which covers the origins of the most famous delivery guy of all time.

Others give in to their kids’ whinings and allow them to open one of their presents on Christmas Eve, which I have never done as Kevin Costner, playing Crash Davis in the baseball classic Bull Durham, stated, “Open your presents Christmas morning, not Christmas Eve!”

Still, others go caroling and sing songs that you’ve heard a billion-zillion times.

I watch my tape of A Charlie Brown Christmas.

 

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Hanging out at the spot where Charlie Brown lost over 900 consecutive baseball games. Image courtesy of slashfilm.com

 

Recently I reminded myself of how my fandom of “Peanuts” was and is a lifetime thing when I was finally able to see The Peanuts Movie.

As a film, it did what it set out to do, bringing Charlie Brown and his (sometimes) friends into the 21st century and exposing today’s kids to them and the antics which I’ve seen them do for over forty years.

As well as show that despite everything, Charlie is a sweet, kind young person with a good heart, who never gives up no matter what.

Which is something you wish that all kids were like.

The biggest thing going through my head by the end of the movie was the same question I always have when checking out anything geared toward the preteen set, “Would I let my children – if I had any – see this?”

The answer? An unadulterated “Yes!”

 

“Linus And Lucy” – from A Charlie Brown Christmas

 

Oh, I almost forgot: How could I spout odes to A Charlie Brown Christmas without giving a big shout-out to its soundtrack, made by jazz pianist Vince Guaraldi and a two-person backup combo.

“Linus And Lucy”, from that soundtrack, is perhaps the greatest song attached to a cartoon ever, but apart from that…

It’s the only set of Christmas tunes that I bother listening to, it’s that excellent.

As you can see, Peanuts and everything about it, including its animated Yuletide classic, holds a big spot in my life.

So much so that I was sad to the point of shedding a couple of tears when Schulz died, a major part of my childhood dying along with him that day.

That last strip entry of his, which he thanks  the fans for fifty great years of drawing Charlie Brown and company, is laminated and has been hanging on my wall for fifteen years.

If that doesn’t signify my appreciation and the role those young kids played in my life, I don’t know what can.

One thing I can absolutely guarantee:

On the evening of December 24th, right before I go to bed, I will put in my copy of A Charlie Brown Christmas as I have done every year for a long time.

It’s not Christmas to me if I don’t.

And never will be.

 

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very familiar image from “The Peanuts Movie”; I’ve always felt that Schulz was wrong to have never let Charlie Brown kick that football. Image courtesy of tribute.ca

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE ODDS IN MY FAVOR: Reflections of “The Hunger Games” Movies From A Fan

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The iconic symbol that will always be remembered. Image courtesy of thereeldealonfilm.com

 

AN APPRECIATION OF SUZANNE COLLINS’ ACCLAIMED BOOK SERIES AND MOVIES

About three and a half years ago, I was talked into seeing a movie starring an actress I had never heard of, who was playing some teenage girl living in some futuristic dystopian and totalitarian society.

Actually, I was virtually dragged into the theater as my attitude was, “I’ll catch it on Direct TV Cinema when it appears on there in a few months,” being told that I’d love this young actress because she was my type; round features with curves, not skinny like far too many ingenues in Hollywood.

After seeing this movie, well, let’s put it like this:

I’m still thanking the person who insisted that I go see it.

The young actress?

Jennifer Lawrence, who was everything I was told and who I developed a crush on.

The film?

The Hunger Games.

 

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 2 – Official Trailer

 

Upon leaving the theater that afternoon, I had already determined that movie as having beaten the Harry Potter series in my book, which considering the significant impact that young British wizard and his friends (and enemies) had on pop culture – and culture in general – that certainly was saying something.

That conviction was only reinforced when I subsequently read the books, having bought them a few weeks after seeing the first film, and saw the subsequent Hunger Games sequels over the next three years: Catching Fire – which is my favorite of the three books and four movies – Mockingjay, Part 1 and Mockingjay, Part 2, which I saw on its opening day and in my official review (which I’ll make very short) wrapped up the story of Katniss Everdeen and her fight to help free Panem from the Hitlerian President Snow quite nicely.

It’s not my intention to give a full review of Mockingjay, Part 2 as tons of newspapers and internet sites have already done so.

I’ll just say these two things:

1.   If you read the book, you know full well what happens and how things end with Katniss, her partner-in-the-Games Peeta Mellark (played by Josh Hutcherson), and her District 12 mate Gale Hawthorne (played by Liam Hemsworth). If you hadn’t, I’m not going to be the one to spoil it for you.

2.   If you hadn’t seen Catching Fire or especially Mockingjay Part 1, I strongly suggest that you do so before seeing Mockingjay, Part 2. Otherwise you will likely be going “huh?” throughout that film as the opening scene literally picks up right where Mockingjay, Part 1 left off; no opening credits, no prologue, nothing.

 

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SS_D109-311515.dng    Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) with her fellow rebels in Mockingjay, Part 2. Still courtesy of obxentertainment.com

 

All right, now that I’ve gotten that little review out-of-the-way…

I was mentioning how in my opinion – and I’m sure in at least a few others – as much as I liked the Harry Potter books and movies, The Hunger Games outdid it.

While Harry started off as a kiddie thing of sorts, it got better and better as the books and movies progressed and as that bespectacled young man grew older; it was one big rise as Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, both the book and its two movie adaptations, was the peak of J.K. Rowling’s series.

The Hunger Games didn’t need to get better and better; it started on top as Collins didn’t start the series as a “kid” thing, but got right to Katniss volunteering for her little sister Prim in that annual Super Bowl-like contest that pitted 24 young folks ages 12 to 18 against each other in a fight which the only way to win is to be the only one still alive.

What particularly appealed to me was the fact that Katniss, and subsequently Jennifer Lawrence in her portrayal of her, provided girls – and women for that matter – with something dearly needed in this day and age:

A true hero.

 

“Atlas”, from The Hunger Games: Catching Fire Soundtrack (Best song from any of the Hunger Games movies IMO)

 

And not merely a garden-variety Supergirl/Wonder Woman-type hero with no fallacies either, as time and again Katniss showed herself to be human, with faults and insecurities that all teens have.

She had balls (check out her shooting an arrow through the apple of that pig in front of the Gamemakers in the first book/movie sometime).

Like many adolescent girls, she was a bit confused with regards to matters of the heart as she kept going back and forth between Peeta and Gale as far who she should ultimately commit her heart to.

She wasn’t stoic as she experienced the various tragedies that the Hunger Games and the Rebellion brought, crying at times and suffering from the post-traumatic stress disorder that’s common in soldiers involved in combat.

And like I said three years earlier when I wrote a review of the first Hunger Games, her archery skills could give Robin Hood a real battle; so much so that I honestly don’t know who would win if Katniss and that Sherwood Forest archer engaged in a contest.

One thing is for certain – it would be the equivalent of those iconic Muhammad Ali – Joe Frazier brawls in the 1970s.

Plus, as I must admit and as I had already mentioned in an article I wrote about a year ago, Jennifer Lawrence is very easy on the eyes.

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Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) aiming her arrow in the last symbolic shot of the rebellion. Still courtesy of redcarpetrefs.com

 

Plus, as everyone seems to agree with, she is very talented, arguably the most talented actor born in 1990 or later as she already has a Best Actress Oscar, won for her role in Silver Linings Playbook, to her credit.

If she doesn’t win two or three more Oscars – she’s been nominated for three so far – in her career, I’ll be surprised. Jennifer is that good.

And on top of everything else, judging from her interviews in print and on-screen, Jennifer seems to be a very cool, down-to-earth person. Not at all like so many actors and entertainers who not only seem like such divas, they give an aura of such despite their efforts to look down-to-earth in interviews.

Simply put, Jennifer gave those Hunger Games movies the appeal that they gave. I can’t think of anyone else who could have done the same thing.

Much like Harry Potter, The Hunger Games series – both the books and the movies – will appeal to people, both kids and adults, for as long as movies and books exist.

In fact, that’s when you know your movie and book geared toward young people is good – when parents and adults want to read them/see the films as much as the kids.

Which in the case of The Hunger Games definitely fits that bill.

 

 

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Katniss with her battle squad in Mockingjay, Part 2, including Liam Hemsworth (as Gale Hawthorne), 2nd from left, Josh Hutcherson ( as Peeta Mellark), 4th from left, and Sam Claflin (as Finnick Odair), far right. Still courtesy of wegeekgirls.com