February 28th, 2012, by

For someone who takes film pretty seriously, I enjoy a good cheeseball action flick as much as the next guy. Particularly when said cheeseball action flick stars “the thinking man’s badass” Liam Neeson.

You may remember Neeson from such highbrow roles as Oskar Schindler in Schindler’s List, Rob Roy McGregor in the titular Scottish historical drama, or Alfred Kinsey in the American biopic Kinsey. Neeson, who was nominated for a Best Actor Academy Award for Schindler’s List, is an unusual kind of leading man. He’s tall and angular and handsome in the way that many headlining actors are, but he also has this other quality, a deep, smoldering subtext that comes out through his eyes and lends him to playing deeply conflicted characters like Oskar Schindler and Ethan Frome (if you haven’t seen it, this one’s well worth a watch on a snowy evening). He’s also turned out to be a surprisingly hilarious straight man, thanks to some help from Ricky Gervais.

While Neeson’s resume is peppered with classic films like those mentioned above, as well as a few unfortunate ones like The A-Team, he has in the last few years proven an adept action hero. In films like Taken, Unknown and most recently, The Grey, Neeson kicks ass and takes names, while creating something of a personal action genre. While the Van Dammes, Segals and Stallones of generations past were wise-cracking brawlers with questionable depth of character, Neeson’s style is far more intellectual and precise. Rather than a working class dude with a chip on his shoulder and a black belt in street fighting, he tends towards playing white collar professionals with real emotional depth–and often a black belt in street fighting, too.

In The Grey, Neeson plays a killer for hire, one who’s employed to cull wolves at a remote northern oil-drilling camp. When he and a group of roughnecks are stranded in the arctic wilderness, and stalked by a pack of vicious grey wolves, he is forced to use his wits and brawn to survive. Any Neeson fan will already be sold by that synopsis (if not by the shot of Neeson fending off wolves with a fistful of broken minibar bottles above), but I’ll seal the deal by reporting that the film, while not particularly strong in dialogue, characters or narrative, is compelling, suspenseful and unpredictable to the end. Also, it’s Neeson bad-assery at its finest.

Check out the trailer for proof. And if you’re still not sold, read this. The Grey probably won’t win any major awards, but it’s highly entertaining.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hfb0-U0ydj8&w=560&h=315]


February 27th, 2012, by


This post is cross-published at Good Supply.

“Poverty is not a character flaw. It is a lack of money.”

Hearing this quote by Barbara Ehrenreich, while attending the “Remaking America” event at George Washington University, really struck a chord in my mind and heart. I immediately asked myself, how can we construct a proper policy prescription for attacking the multifaceted challenges of poverty when we approach the problem with a preconceived notion that there is something already wrong with the personhood of the poor?

Unwarranted assumptions about the quality of the character of the poor, or lack thereof, are part of the long-standing war on the poor. In general, society has created imagery to villainize the poor based on their character, and, many times, this imagery is reinforced with overt racial themes and substantiated by more subtle undertones. Recently, there have been numerous attempts and several successes with drafting legislation to drug test welfare recipients. Legislation like this provides an example of how laws are enacted that support the widely misguided practice of making assumptions about the character of the poor, from stereotypes of the Black “Welfare Queen” and stories of welfare recipients living high off the hog on their welfare payments.

In 2011, the average Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) recipient received $133.70 a month. The average payment for a family of four was $496 a month. To be eligible for SNAP, a recipient must make no more than $24,100 a year to support a family of 3 and must be 130% below the poverty line. If making $24,100 a year and receiving an additional $496 a month is considered living the high life, then what do we consider a family who makes $100,000 per year? By our government’s standards, surely the $100,000 family shouldn’t be considered rich. Let’s face it, I don’t know too many people who would sign up for a $24,000 a year deal willingly and happily. Part of creating better policy for addressing the challenges of poverty is to get rid of the stereotypes associated with or reinforcing the notion that the poor are  “getting over” on the rest of society.

After years of villainizing what seemed to be a fringe group of our society, we have now gotten to a point, since our most recent recession, that the ranks of poor have grown. We have all–the rich, the middle class and the lower class–had to come to terms with how close we all are to becoming one of “the poor.”

“Remaking America” used “At Risk: America’s Poor During and after the Recession,” published by Indiana University, as the statistical backdrop for the panel discussion. According to the white paper, 46.2 million (15.1%) people in America live in poverty. As a society, are we willing to believe that 15% of our population is poor based on flawed character? I am not.  What has to be considered is how close all of us are to joining the ranks of the poor. Whether it is a lay-off, reduction of hours at work, a medical emergency, salary decrease due to budget cuts or a car breakdown, many of us are closer to poverty than we acknowledge.

We must deal with the perception of the poor before we can make substantial strides in creating proper policy that addresses the plight of the poor. In order to create policy to help lift more Americans out of poverty, we must align our policy with objectives that sustain, elevate and educate the poor.  Doing this may help our society identify the root causes of poverty. Anti-poverty policy must first be able to support the poor for the moment and, even further, extend into sustaining territory by helping the poor stay above water in regards to meeting their basic human needs. In order to increase their human capital value in the American economy, policy and funding must be created to further educate and train the poor. With future policy being made, these aims will be able to elevate the poor from poverty to prosperity and ultimately, as a whole, we will have a more prosperous society.

Sean Breeze is the political content and pop culture contributor for Good Supply. He has covered events featuring Michael Eric Dyson, Tavis Smiley, Touré, Cornel West and Steve Stoute.

February 26th, 2012, by

Upon seeing this book for the first time, I was skeptical. Surely, the world does not need another book about Twitter. But since it’s Steve Martin, and he’s donating all of the proceeds to charity, I’m willing to give The Ten, Make That Nine, Habits of Very Organized People. Make That Ten: The Tweets of Steve Martin.

I’ve recently joined the Twitsphere myself and am slowly becoming accustomed to sharing the daily minutiae of my life with the Internet. Although, for the moment, I’m mostly interested in tweeting pictures of things I am about to eat.

Steve Martin, on the other hand, actor, comedian, writer, novelist–and now–prolific tweeter, is an old hand at this. In a recent appearance on the show, Martin discussed the book and Twitter and proved that he’s still a very funny and engaging man. He’s also a pro at the banjo.

Martin’s book contains some very witty things, but if you’re like me, you may wonder what exactly is the point of publishing a book filled with tweets. One of Martin’s Twitter followers did, anyway, as noted in a story on PCWorld.com:

While Martin received kudos for his endeavor from many of his Twitter followers, one gadfly, Benjamin Mora, of Toronto, declared: “I don’t get it. Why would I want this lame book when I could just look at your Twitter history?”

“Because I’ll edit out all the garbage,” replied Martin.

To which Mora, displaying some wit of his own, countered, “Well surely there will be no pages to this book!”

Perhaps Mora was a bit hard on the world’s favorite wild and crazy guy. There are some real gems in the book. Besides, if the words don’t do it for you, the pictures of him and Martin Short cavorting on the beach surely will.



Watch Actor-musician Steve Martin on PBS. See more from Tavis Smiley.

February 25th, 2012, by

Zimbabwe president Robert Mugabe spends an estimated $1M for a lavish party. Photo: Wikimedia Commons; Specialist 2nd Class Jesse B.

Just when you thought a totalitarian dictator couldn’t do any worse, he goes off and does something to incite a little more anger–again.

Zimbabwean president (read dictator) Robert Mugabe turned 88 years old recently. And, while that isn’t breaking news for any of us, what is shocking is how he celebrated it.

The Guardian writes that the country spent an estimated $1 million on celebrating Mugabe’s birthday. Considering the country’s troubling economic past and inflation rate, the price tag certainly raised a lot of eyebrows.

The level of despair in Zimbabwe is devastating. With the country at impoverished levels, a 50% unemployment rate and a medical emergency on their hands, you would think a serious leader would jump into action. But, apparently all Mugabe wants to do is party.

Among the extravagant festivities included were a soccer tournament and beauty pageant (yes, a beauty pageant). And while Mugabe wined and dined, the citizens of the country were still scrounging for scraps and working desperately for survival.

Mugabe’s actions underscore the tragic conditions the people of Zimbabwe are enduring. The international community must continue to apply pressure to both him and the members of his stronghold ZANU PF party.

In the meantime, as citizens and demonstrators throughout the Diaspora continue to protest against Mugabe’s regime, one can only hope that this year for his birthday Robert Mugabe has a serious crisis of conscience. It’s the one gift that would actually do him and the people of Zimbabwe some good.

February 25th, 2012, by

One of my favorite things is discovering new music that’s actually old music. Especially when I’ve actually heard the music in question before, probably a few times, and never made the specific connection to it until the present moment. For the last few days, that has been the case with “Goodbye Horses,” written by William Garvey and performed by Q Lazzarus.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X_DVS_303kQ&w=420&h=315]

The song was written in the late 1980s and first appeared in popular culture in the soundtrack to Jonathan Demme’s 1988 film Married to the Mob. A few years later, Demme included the song in the soundtrack to Silence of the Lambs, in a memorable scene featuring that film’s antagonist, the serial killer “Buffalo Bill.”  Due to the popularity of that film, and the particularly skillful use of the song in it, Q Lazzarus released it as a single in 1991, along with a B-Side called “White Lines.”

As far as Lazzarus’ musical career goes, there’s very little known about her beyond that, except a cameo in Philadelphia and scattered rumors that she was once a New York taxi driver.

The song, meanwhile, lives on in popular culture, mostly in relation to Silence of the Lambs, and was referenced notably in Family Guy and Clerks 2 (both links slightly NSFW).

While Q Lazzarus remains mysterious, Garvey has been more public about the song, its lyrics and what it means to him, with some explanation posted on his website.

“It has a rather grisly association with the serial killer in The Silence of the Lambs,” Garvey wrote in 1998, “but really the song is about transcendence over those who see the world as only earthy and finite. The horses represent the five senses from Hindu philosophy (The Bhagavad Gita) and the ability to lift one’s perception above these physical limitations and to see beyond this limited Earthly perspective.”

So there you have it. A great song with a cool story behind it. If anyone knows what Q is up to these days, let me know!

February 22nd, 2012, by

It’s no secret that the Oscars are in trouble of late. Shrinking attention spans, marathon runtimes and the ubiquitous of everything on the YouTubes have pushed the annual celebrity lovefest into sagging, bloated obsolescence.

It looked like things were off to a good start initially, when Eddie Murphy was tapped to host by event producer Brett Ratner. Although Murphy hasn’t made anyone laugh this century without “doing a voice,” there was a chance he could bring back just a teensy bit of that foul-mouthed irreverence that so endeared him to us in the good ol’ days. A sort of Ricky Gervais effect. Ratner’s big mouth put an end to that when he uttered a gay slur at the premiere of Tower Heist, and the ensuing furor forced him to step down. Murphy followed, which is appropriate, considering his affinity for gay slurs back in the Delirious days.

Anyway, scary-looking super-producer Brian Grazer is in, and he’s bringing Billy Crystal–who will be unfrozen and carefully spraypainted to resemble a live human–with him. Because, really, what better way to enliven a franchise on the brink of sagging, bloated obsolescence than with a sagging, bloated, obsolete comedian. Speaking of not making anyone laugh in the 21st century.

In the interest of full disclosure, I have enjoyed Billy Crystal’s work in the past. When Harry Met Sally? Gold. Throw Momma from the Train? Classic. Morty The Mime, too. But considering Crystal’s last noteworthy performance was pre-Internet age, one must question the logic of this move. There’s also the man’s affinity for shuffling around onstage as his “Jazz Man” character, saying things like “Can you dig it?” and pronouncing “toilet” “terlet,” which it seems fewer people know about than really should. Seriously, you need to listen to this. Ted Danson‘s got nothing on Billy here.

In light of all this, I think the best we can hope for this year is that the Oscars will be short, somewhat amusing and free of racial stereotypes. Which in 2012 does not seem like an unreasonable request.


February 21st, 2012, by

It’s been 16 months without a new episode, after Don Draper up and married his secretary and since series creator Matthew Weiner reached a deal with AMC for another two seasons of everyone’s favorite 1960s nostalgia-fest, Mad Men. Now, the advent of season 5 approaches, with just over a month left before we’re plunged again into the world of skinny-tie-wearing Madison Avenue creatives, workplace drinking and casual sexism that so many of us have grown to love.

A new teaser from AMC gets the ball rolling this week. While it doesn’t include any new footage, it has just enough style, swagger and Jon Hamm looking cool to get any fan into an anticipatory frenzy. I’ve started making my way through season four again, and was immediately drawn back into the world that Mad Men‘s creators have so painstakingly assembled.

The aforementioned teaser is below, but those in need of a larger dose can revisit the series here. I’d also highly recommend listening to previous interviews with Weiner and articles about the series’ mostly-female writers like this one.


[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hAfcYuLbMa8&w=560&h=315]

February 20th, 2012, by

There are very few albums that appeal to me on the same level of Paul Simon’s “Graceland.” When it came out in 1986, I was only four years old, but to my parents, South African expats who had come of age listening to Simon and Garfunkel, it was a revelation. As a result, the album was in heavy rotation at our house for most of my formative years.

Last fall, Simon announced that to mark the CD’s 25th anniversary, he would be re-releasing a special boxed set, including a new documentary on the making of the album by Joe Berlinger. I’m a bit skeptical of re-issues, which are normally exercises in getting people to buy something they’ve already bought in different packaging, but I’ll withhold judgment until the details of what else is included in the set are available. The big deal for me, however, is that Simon has promised to not just tour the album again, but bring along the African musicians who collaborated with him on the original recording.

One of the most remarkable things about “Graceland” was its blending of pop and world music, a perfect marriage of Simon’s American roots in dixieland, zydeco and folk, with African sounds from the likes of Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Hugh Masekela and Miriam Makeba. In its rise to become one of the best albums of the decade, “Graceland” also succeeded in introducing the world to these artists, who have since achieved legendary status in their own right.

Of course, Simon doesn’t deserve all of the credit here–in a sense, he was using their unique sounds to improve his own–but by doing it at a time when South Africa and its music were boycotted by the rest of the world, this was a bold step to empowering these musicians, and the cultures from which they came, on the global scene.

Tour dates have not yet been announced, but it’s expected to happen sometime this spring/summer. Check here for updates in the meantime.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-I_T3XvzPaM&w=420&h=315]

February 19th, 2012, by

This can’t be the solution. After last year’s production failed to free the Academy Awards ceremony from its declining ratings (despite the help of good-looking hipster James Franco and Anne “tasteful nudity” Hathaway…or perhaps because of them?) the boffins in Hollywood have spent the last year trying to come up with ways to rejuvenate the Oscars. Their solution: No more songs.

Time constraints were cited as the reason for the change, which is understandable given the length of the telecast (shockingly long at 4-plus hours, particularly considering the gnat-like attention spans of most these days), but there must be a better way. Especially since one of the best original song nominees is the delightful “Man or Muppet” from Jason Segal’s The Muppets.

Call me weird, but I can think of no better way to enliven the Oscars than getting Segal, composer (and one half of Flight of the Conchords duo) Bret McKenzie, and a chorus of muppets up on that stage. It would be hilarious! And family-friendly! And appeal to the attention spans of hipster youth!

But no. Instead we get Billy Crystal. Who will probably sing. Which is not an adequate replacement. Actually, it’s pretty much the opposite. They’d never do this to Randy Newman. I think I’ll just watch YouTube instead.




February 13th, 2012, by

Newt Gingrich was one of the first political guests to be featured on Tavis Smiley when the program launched nine years ago.

The author, political consultant and 58th Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives cited Ronald Reagan’s 1976 primary as the inspiration for his candidacy as the Republican Party presidential nominee. In the February 7, 2012 presidential primaries, Gingrich raked in 12.8% of voter support in Colorado and 10.8% in Minnesota, but, as of February 8, Gingrich is expected to fall behind contenders Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney.

In this 2010 conversation, he discusses the public perception that the Republican Party was not the only opposition to its Democratic counterparts, but also an obstruction to passing bills on the Hill. He also discusses the possibility of throwing his hat in the 2012 presidential race.

Watch the 2010 conversation and share your thoughts.

(View full post to see video)
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