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.

February 13th, 2012, by

Taking a quick stroll down memory lane isn’t a bad thing.

In a world where breaking news changes faster than the blink of an eye, “A Look Back” will offer a chance to revisit past Tavis Smiley conversations. From politicians and entertainers, to athletes, authors and other newsmakers, we’ve got it all. As current events unfold, we will feature relevant guest interviews–straight from the vault.

First from the vault: Newt Gingrich.

February 10th, 2012, by

Check out images of and quotes from Connie Rice, Michel Hazanavicius, Wael Ghonim, Viola Davis & Octavia Spencer and Suze Orman.

Click on an image below to open the gallery.

All images by Van Evers, Tavis Smiley Media, Inc.

January 30th, 2012, by

Russian protestor and activist Alexei Navalny Photo: Alexey Yushenkov

In the politically repressed country of Russia, many citizens are in social and political unrest due, in part, to the less than perfect policies of Vladimir Putin. The former president-turned-prime minister-turned political puppet master is at the center of the country’s unrest. His thirst for control over the Russian government has resulted in an acquisition of power that has now spanned more than a decade.

Seeking to restore stability and democratic change in the region through a firebrand crusade against Russia’s strong arm tactics is Alexei Navalny, an anti-corruption lawyer and blogger. This Russian lawyer-turned-online whistle blower began to draw a following as he exposed the shady dealings and fraudulent activity at the hand of state-owned utilities and companies on the web for all to see.

While many see him as a modern day folk hero, he’s no angel. Some say his nationalistic views and ideology are too extreme, with others pointing out his ability to stir the spirit of civil protest while calling on others to take a stand. As a result of his activism, he’s seen as a threat to the Russian government. He’s been the target of character attacks, investigated by officials and was recently put in jail for his resistance at a protest rally.

Navalny’s actions are indicative of the new area of activism for rights that’s taking place globally. Whether in Tunisia, Egypt, parts of the Middle East or the Occupy movements of North America and around the world, issues of economic mobility, the police state and social unrest are at the forefront of people’s lives in these modern times.

Navalny’s efforts in shedding light on the corruption in Russia, along with his ability to channel the anger of the citizens that made his own government take notice, make him not only a force to be reckoned with, but, on a global scale, the newest protestor and blogger you should know.

January 30th, 2012, by

Image: Matthew Wedgewood via Wikimedia Commons

Occasionally, despite my best efforts to the contrary, I miss out on cool stuff when it happens. It is among my new year’s resolutions to minimize this still further, but such is the nature of the cool-hunt: sometimes you don’t get there first.

On that score, someone cooler than me recently brought to my attention an hilarious series of videos satirizing actress, model, former “it” girl and infamous hater of Canada, Chloe Sevigny.

“But, why is this funny?” you may be asking. Fair enough. Sevigny has a reputation for being the ultimate fashion scenester and, for reasons mysterious to me (and, evidently, many others), continues to be held aloft as some kind of 21st century super-muse. “So what’s wrong with that?” you ask. Nothing, really, except the fact that Chloe Sevigny is very serious about fashion, and people who take fashion really seriously are (and always have been) fertile ground for satire (see: Bruno et al.). Also, I don’t trust anyone who doesn’t like Canada. I mean, what’s not to like?

Exhibit A:

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

Now, please consider for comparison, Opening Ceremony x Chloe Sevigny. See? Funny, right?


January 29th, 2012, by

As I’ve no doubt said more than once in my bloggings, Deadwood was one of the best programs ever to grace the small screen. This is largely the doing of David Milch, the creator of NYPD Blue, who also wrote and executive-produced the show, imbuing it with incredible characters, inspired casting and singular, Shakespearean dialogue.

Milch’s latest project for HBO is the new series Luck, which premieres this week. Luck is set within the world of horse racing and packs some serious punch in its cast, led by Dustin Hoffman and including Nick Nolte, Dennis Farina and Richard Kind, among other notables. Hoffman plays Chester “Ace” Bernstein, a convicted felon who re-enters society in the show’s first episode and immediately begins settling scores.

Milch himself is no stranger to the world of racing. He has owned several thoroughbreds over the years, and, as he recently told Fresh Air‘s Terry Gross, has been a devotee of the track since the age of five, when his father took him to his first race. From that interview:

“The first thing [my father] informed me was that he knew that I was a degenerate gambler…but it would be impossible for me to gamble because you had to be 18 to make a bet. On the other hand, he had arranged with the waiter, Max, to run my bets for me, and, therefore, I would be able to bet. And with that set of mixed messages, I was off.”

Milch’s follow up to Deadwood was the short-lived John from Cincinnati, a story about surfers and extra-terrestrial visitors, which while not without its merits (the opening music, courtesy of Joe Strummer, for one), was a bit too abstract for most, especially those expecting something akin to Deadwood. With Luck, however, between its stellar cast, subject matter close to Milch’s heart and producing help from Michael Mann, I’d wager he’s got a hit on his hands.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t0G48f_kDik&w=560&h=315]

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