Archive for the 'Entertainment' Category

27
Jun

Good-bye Tony Soprano

Over the course of contributing to Cynics Unlimited, I have written a number of obituaries. I have never, though, written about any actors (or actresses, for any reader not familiar with the gender-neutral term ‘actor’). I generally don’t find the lives of actors particularly interesting – and for those who do, there’s always Kitty Kelley. However, I feel I just have to say something about the recently deceased James Gandolfini. Gandolfini, of course, was the actor who played Mafia chief Tony Soprano in the hit series The Sopranos. He died at a relatively young age (51), perhaps not in the prime of life as Princess Diana at 36, but not at an advanced 92 as did former actress and swim star Esther Williams earlier this month.

Though wildly successful as head of the Soprano ‘family’ (double meaning here!), James Gandolfini came under fire in some quarters for his role. Some accused him of promoting stereotypes of Italians as gangsters. For example, in 2000 the editor of an Ottawa-based Italian-language newspaper urged CTV to cancel their planned broadcast of The Sopranos for that very reason (the station didn’t cancel it, by the way). The editor was disgusted that at a time when Giuliano Zaccardelli had just been appointed Commissioner of the RCMP and Julian Fantino head of the Ontario Provincial Police, Italians were still being depicted as members of the criminal underworld. Of course, not all Italians shared the editor’s opinion. One of my aunts, who was born in Italy, was outraged when she heard that some people wanted to ban the show. ‘But I want to watch The Sopranos!’ she said angrily. ‘We all know there are people in our community who do those things [i.e. crime].’

Being of partial Italian descent myself, I watched the dispute over The Sopranos with amusement more than anything else. I found it hard to see The Sopranos as an anti-Italian plot when so many of the people involved in the show were of Italian origin themselves, not only Gandolfini but Edie Falco, who played Tony Soprano’s wife Carmela, and Lorraine Bracco, who acted as his psychiatrist Jennifer Melfi (I was pleased to discover that the Mafia had socially progressed somewhat since The Godfather, the title character of which told his son Michael that ‘Fooling around is for women and children, not men’). Even the very WASPish-sounding producer David Chase’s real last name was DiCesare.

James Gandolfini defended his choice to play the role of a Mafia boss. ‘Sure, you can have movies about sweet Italian Americans, but do they make money at the box office?’ he asked rhetorically. His remark reminded me a bit of a statement by Black actress Hattie McDaniel, who played (and won an Oscar for) Mammy in Gone with the Wind. When accused of catering to racial stereotypes by taking on servants’ roles in Hollywood, McDaniel replied, ‘I can be a maid for $7 a week or I can play a maid for $700 a week.’ Like it or not, the entertainment industry’s raison d’être is not to defend oppressed minorities; it is, as Gandolfini insinuated, to make money.

It also seems a bit late to get all up in arms about stereotypes of Italians as mobsters after the spate of Mafia films we’ve witnessed over the years. Although The Godfather is still considered THE Mafia movie, it was actually preceded by The Brotherhood four years earlier (1968), starring Kirk Douglas and Irene Papas. (By playing an Italian, Douglas, a Jew, showed his ethnic versatility – a decade before The Brotherhood, he appeared in the title role of the film The Vikings). It’s fair to say, however, that it was The Godfather, and its sequel Godfather II, that spawned a series of Mafia features. Some were well-done and critically acclaimed, like Goodfellas or Scarface; others forgettable but – to their credit – unpretentious, like Married to the Mob; and still others forgettable and pretentious, such as Prizzi’s Honor. The Sopranos is merely part of a long line of such works. And it probably won’t be the last, because again like it or not, the Mafia has obviously gained a stranglehold over the American viewing public.

So rest in peace, James Gandolfini. And maybe 20 years from now the people who criticized you for acting in The Sopranos will be glued to their seats watching a TV show about the Russian Mafia.

12
Feb

Tribute to Whitney Houston – Top 5 Songs of all Time

Tragedy has struck the entertainment world again, as legendary diva Whitney Houston died in Los Angeles at the age of 48.  The exact cause of death is currently unknown as of now (about 11:30pm), though at least one “yellow journalism” website is speculating it was a suicide.

Much criticism and negative speculation will take place in the coming months, focusing on Houston’s fall from grace after her marriage to fellow R&B singer Bobby Brown.  On this site, we’re going to take the (ironically) non-cynical route and focus on what made Whitney great – the music.  Here are (in our opinion) the top 5 Whitney Houston songs of all time:

 

5. Greatest Love of all

4. So Emotional

3. Saving all my Love for You

2. How will I Know

1. I Will Always Love You

11
Jun

The Artwork of Daisy Hsieh

Hello, I would like to introduce the work of my friend Daisy Hsieh, a budding photographer. She takes pictures of everything from animals (a favourite of mine), people (including her very cute son, the little boy doing martial arts), landscapes and buildings. So maybe we could start with some samples of her work.

Daisy’s website can be found at http://www.photomafias.com

28
Jun

Who Was He – The Question of Michael Jackson

In the early evening of June 25, a small headline in the news read that former Charlie’s Angels actress and hairstyle icon Farrah Fawcett had died. Her death was not particularly surprising, as she was after all 62 and had been struggling with cancer for some time. An hour later when I went to the computer, a much bigger headline stated, “Is the King of Pop dead?” with a huge picture of Michael Jackson in the background. The question was answered shortly afterwards: Jackson had indeed passed away in unknown circumstances, and fans were already gathering outside the hospital to which he had been taken.

While Michael Jackson was a celebrity who received an enormous amount of media attention, it has been said that nobody truly knew him. Indeed, questions about the man linger on. For example, did he or did he not sexually molest the young boys with whom he kept company? He was accused of doing so on two separate occasions, but in the first case he reached an out-of-court settlement with the purported victim’s family and in the second he was acquitted. The jury’s decision was somewhat equivocal: though they could not exclude the possibility that he might have sexually abused children in the past, in this particular instance he did not. I strongly suspect that the accusations against Michael Jackson were part of the wave of child sexual abuse hysteria that swept through the United States and that led to many people being charged on dubious grounds.* However, the real truth will probably never be known.

Michael JacksonEven before that Jackson’s sexual identity was always the subject of much speculation. It was sometimes hard to tell by his appearance whether he was a woman or a man. A rumour in the 1980s had it that he was intending to undergo a sex change operation because he could no longer silence the “woman in me,” but either the rumour was untrue or Michael Jackson changed plans because nothing became of it. Similarly his sexual orientation was unclear in the minds of many. In his youth he was said to have romantic relationships with actress Brooke Shields and his co-star in the Thriller video Ola Ray. A number of observers suggested that these publicized romances were just for show and that these women served as a so-called “cover” for his true sexual orientation. No media report, though, was ever able to pinpoint any relationship he may have had with another man. He did marry women twice and father two children, but comments about his actual sexual proclivities continued.

Michael Jackson’s greatest ambiguity lay in his racial identity. To quote one of his most popular songs, was he black or white? Pictures of him as a child and young man show him with clearcut African features: a large Afro hairdo and a typical “Black” nose. By the time Thriller rolled around, however, he had obviously undergone a nose job, and his hair was curly rather than kinky. At the time of his death his hair was completely straight. But the biggest question had to do with his skin colour, which became progressively lighter over the years. Jackson himself claimed that the lightening was the result of a medical condition that made his skin lose colour. Such conditions do exist (the mother of an African-American friend of mine had one), but given Michael’s apparent attempts to “Caucasianize” himself (the nose operation, the hair straightening), doubts on the veracity of his explanation will persist.

Of course like many American Blacks Michael Jackson had non-African ancestry as well. One of his ancestors was a White man, another an American Indian. Nonetheless, according to America’s “one-drop rule” Jackson and his family would definitely be considered Black. Some Black activists lamented his various “Whitening” endeavours, seeing them as a sign of racial self-hatred. Jackson, though, never claimed to speak for the African-American community. Indeed, his music was loved by people of all colours throughout the world, so he might have feared losing or alienating some of his fans by embracing a particular ethnic identity. In his song “Black or White,” he appears to disavow any racial allegiance – although many observers noted that for a man who proclaimed it didn’t matter whether you were Black or White he seemed to do everything in his power to be White himself.

An autopsy done on Jackson’s remains was inconclusive. As of now (June 28) the cause of his demise has yet to be determined. In death, as in life, the man remains an enigma. And perhaps that is how he would have wanted it to be.

* Here I do not mean to imply that the sexual abuse of children does not exist or that it is not a serious crime. However, starting in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s there was a trend of attributing seemingly unusual behaviour in children to sexual abuse and fingering adults with whom they had come in contact with molesting them.

25
Jun

Michael Jackson Dead?


6:10pm

TMZ is claiming so …

We’ve just learned Michael Jackson has died. He was 50.

Michael suffered a cardiac arrest earlier this afternoon at his Holmby Hills home and paramedics were unable to revive him. We’re told when paramedics arrived Jackson had no pulse and they never got a pulse back.

A source tells us Jackson was dead when paramedics arrived.

Here is a screen-shot of what TMZ has written:

TMZ Reporting Michael Jackson Has Died

Continue reading ‘Michael Jackson Dead?’

12
Dec

R.I.P. Ike Turner

RnB legend Ike Turner passed away earlier today:

Turner died at his suburban San Diego home on Wednesday, according to a statement from his manager Scott M. Hanover.
Cause of death has not been released.
Turner, a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, is credited by many rock historians with making the first rock ‘n’ roll record, “Rocket 88,” in 1951. Produced by the legendary Sam Phillips, it was groundbreaking for its use of distorted electric guitar.
But as would be the case for most of his career, Turner, a prolific session guitarist and piano player, was not the star on the record – it was recorded with Turner’s band but credited to singer Jackie Brenston.

Unfortunately, Turner’s public legacy up to his death was “Mr. Tina Turner” – and a violent one at that. Perhaps this reputation was deserved, but people should sill remember that Turner was a pioneer of Rock n Roll music and should not be vilified in an industry that maintains a soft-spot for super bad boys like Ozzy Osbourne, Tommy Lee and Sid Vicious. Rocket 88 remains one of the catchiest Rock n Roll tracks to date.

Having been raised on a steady musical diet rich in RnB, I’ve taken a liking to much of Ike’s work (particularly with Tina) and his impact on modern music cannot be overestimated.

Click on the YouTube link below to listen to Rocket 88

04
Apr

Movie Review – The Last King of Scotland

Title: The Last King of Scotland
Release: 2006
Genre: Drama
Run Time: 121 Minutes
Studio/Publisher: Fox Searchlight
Rating: 75%

In the 1980s the World Wrestling Federation (WWF) featured a character by the name of Kamala the Ugandan Giant. Though the wrestler was in reality an American Black, he bore an uncanny resemblance to Idi Amin, the man who ruled Uganda as president from 1971 to 1979. I’m sure the likeness was no coincidence: the WWF probably thought that one of the world’s most notorious strongmen would serve as a good prototype for a wrestling “bad guy.” So it should come as no surprise that Idi Amin has emerged once again as the villain, this time in the film The Last King of Scotland.

The Last King of Scotland is based on the book of the same name by British author Giles Foden. Foden’s work is a historical novel; that is, it mixes fictional characters with real-life figures from history (some classic historical novels include Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace and Italian writer Alessandro Manzoni’s The Betrothed). Though the actor who plays Idi Amin, Forest Whitaker, is American, both director Kevin Macdonald and supporting actor James McAvoy are from Scotland .

The film tells the story of Idi Amin’s descent into totalitarianism, barbarism, and madness as seen through the eyes of Nick Garrigan, a young Scottish doctor who goes to Uganda on a humanitarian aid mission and ends up becoming the dictator’s personal physician (Garrigan, by the way, is Foden’s invention, though some have tried to link him with Robert Astles, an English soldier and associate of Idi Amin). At first Garrigan, like many Ugandans themselves, welcomes Amin and sees his rise to power as a means for Africans to assert their independence. He begins losing faith, however, after individuals accused of collaborating with Amin’s predecessor Milton Obote are brutally assaulted by police, buildings go up in smoke, and some of Amin’s associates suspected of treason disappear mysteriously. Amin’s paranoia, by definition, renders him irrational.

Continue reading ‘Movie Review – The Last King of Scotland’

04
Apr

Album Review: 4Hero – Play with the Changes

Artist: 4Hero
Album: Play with the Changes
Genre: R&B
Label: Milan Records
Year: 2007
Rating: 86%

Memo to dance music fans: dismiss all your expectations of 4Hero’s latest album. While the UK duo may be responsible for some of the earliest Jungle/Breakbeat hits (e.g. Mr Kirk’s Nightmare) and “deep” Drum & Bass, Dego and Marc Mac have nonetheless been gradually drifting away from electronic funk to explore more traditional sounds. Producers by trade, 4Hero relied heavily on collaborations with a bevy of semi-underground singers, MC’s and poets to implement what could be best described as a 21st century implementation of old-school soul.

4hero.jpg

Continue reading ‘Album Review: 4Hero – Play with the Changes’

28
Dec

Suddenly Sylvia

Sylvia Browne, the famed and controversial psychic, has once again delivered hear yearly predictions on the Montell Williams show. Far from being a simple $20 fortune teller, Brown has parlayed her self-proclaimed expertise into several books, regular television appearances and even a Gnostic Church.

sylvia.jpg

Here are some of Sylvia’s more noteworthy predictions for the year:

  • The USA will have an extremely mild winter, especially on the East Coast. Canada will have a harsh winter
  • There will be lots of extreme weather during 2007. This will include flooding in the south and a possible “Tsunami” on the east coast
  • 8 years until a black American president
  • Spirituality is going to soar in the United States (not to be confused with religion)
  • Evangelicals will have a difficult 2007 as they come to grips with revelations that many of their leaders have been robbing them blind
  • There will be no terrorist attacks on a 9/11 scale, though there is cause for concern about trucks and trains
  • Gas prices will drop sharply in February
  • Overall, 2007 will be a comfortable year

Overall, I found Sylvia’s predictions to be vague or “obvious”, but as always Montell fawned relentless over her as self-conscious audience members covertly sought assurance about their immediate future.

Now, there are a lot of people who don’t believe in psychics and truthfully I’m sitting on the fence myself (having once been intrigued by Ms Brown’s literature before discovering her other business exploits); however Sylvia Browne is questioned even within the psychic community. One statistic that is never discussed on Montell Williams is how often Sylvia gets her predictions WRONG. Incidentally, Browne has many detractors both in and outside the psychic community who are more than happy to point them out. Below is a passage from the Fox News account of her now infamous Virginia Coal Mine blunder:

Controversial TV psychic Sylvia Browne made a major mistake about the West Virginia miners tragedy on a Tuesday night radio show.

I always like it when psychics are asked, ‘If you know so much, how come you haven’t won the lottery or cashed in big in Vegas or in stocks?’

Maybe Browne was thinking the same thing when she was a guest on George Noory’s live syndicated radio show

Noory: “Had you been on the program today, would [you] have felt if — because they heard no sound — that this was a very gloomy moment — and that they might have all died?”

Browne: “No. I knew they were going to be found. I hate people that say something after the fact. It’s just like I knew when the pope was dead. Thank God I was on Montel’s show. I said, according to the time, it was 9-something and whatever Rome time was. And I said he was gone, and he was.”

But the situation was fluid, something Browne — ahem! — obviously didn’t sense despite her claims of being able to speak to the dead, among other things. She couldn’t have imagined that within a short time, the entire story of the miners would change completely — and make her look very foolish indeed.

Noory soon announced that there were new reports that all but one of the miners was dead.

Browne — who was still in the studio taking questions from listeners — had to say something. Now she was just riffing: “I don’t think there’s anybody alive, maybe one. How crazy for them to report that they were alive when they weren’t!” Then she added: “I just don’t think they are alive.” She cleared her throat, and there was a deafening pause.

Noory went to a commercial.

Detailed information can be found at True or False, although the site has an obvious bias against Sylvia Brown. In the meantime, we will wait to see the accuracy of this year’s predictions.


Update:
Sylvia Drops the Ball Again

14
Dec

Reality Outrage with Dr. Phil

Who hasn’t heard the story of Oprah Winfrey kicking Tommy Hilfiger off her show for making incendiary comments? It’s the urban myth that won’t go away – Hilfiger supposedly stated to Oprah that he didn’t want certain ethnic groups wearing his clothes and Oprah flew into a rage, kicking him off the show. The story is typically attached to a chain letter asking people to boycott Tommy Hilfiger clothing in favour of a competing fashion label (possibly indicative of the letter’s source). Of course the story is totally untrue, but it does make for a good drama.

Enter Dr Phil, Oprah’s divisive protégé and TV psychologist. Apparently he thinks that kicking a guest off the show before any serious debate could ensure would be really good publicity and did just that to Bumfights creator Ryen McPherson. (see video below)

To be sure, Bumfights is not easy to watch – most of the documentary-style video depicts inebriated homeless people beating the stuffing out of each other and performing dangerous stunts. The “reality TV” (apparently staging events with non-actors is real these days) video has been blamed for copycat attacks on homeless people in Canada, the United States and Australia.

Still, are we really to believe that Dr Phil had never seen a clip of Bumfights before inviting McPherson onto his show? The moral outrage on display was more contrived than a Fox News “shout” interview.

At the end of the exchange, Phil McGraw had the audacity to state that he refuses to publicize McPherson’s work. Perhaps he should have thought of that before playing Bumfights clips on national TV and inviting its creator on his show. Conversely, Dr Phil probably was legitimately angry about two things -

  1. McPherson was obviously mocking Dr. Phil via shaving his head and wearing Phil’s trademark dark suit. The good doctor is far from humble and tends to take himself quite seriously
  2. The Bumfights creator pointed out rather astutely that Dr Phil is equally guilty of exploiting the less fortunate via inviting emotionally vulnerable people onto his show and berating them relentlessly on national TV

The attached video clip only strengthens the long-standing belief among skeptics (present company included) that Dr Phil is a fraud and a liability to psychology profession. There couldn’t have been any purpose for that grandstanding outside of publicity. “Reality TV” indeed!




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