Friday, February 24, 2012

Movie Review: Tyler Perry's "Good Deeds"

I wanted to love this movie. I really did. I love Tyler Perry: I think he's a fabulous writer and brilliant businessman. I love Gabrielle Union: I think she's a classy lady and amazing actress. I love Thandie Newton: she's gorgeous, and can act her ass off! I love Phylicia Rashad (who doesn't), and I love to see a majority-black cast in movies (it's still rare, what can I say?) But THIS particular movie...I didn't love it.

I had to see it on opening day for a few reasons: 1) To support the box-office cause (and yes, I still purchase CDs in the store too). 2) To avoid being tainted by the reviews and feedback of others...kinda like I'm doing to you right now. 3) Because Tyler Perry has the ability to inspire, and tell a hell of a story...usually. And I was ready for it!

But when the movie ended and the credits began to roll...I did the 1-minute-look-at-the-screen-with-a-blank-stare like..."oooooook?" Now what. Unfulfilled. I was expecting some fireworks! Some secret-dropping, face-slapping, wife-cussing, tears-flying, nose-running, hearts-breaking, crowds-cheering...you know. The good old fashioned Tyler Perry DRAMA! Helllur??

You've seen the other movies. For Colored Girls. Why Did I Get Married. Daddy's Little Girls. Don't make me call Madea's name and bring up her crazy ass. But Tyler Perry usually comes with it! Hard!

This time...average.

That being said, the acting itself was wonderful. Thandie Newton is no joke. The woman can act. Gabrielle is always on point. Always great to see "Claire Huxtable" on the big screen, in any role. The little girl in the film (Jordenn Thompson) basically made the story worthwhile to me. So cute.

The other stars were cool: Rebecca Romijin, Eddie Cibrian, and wait...Jamie Kennedy was in this movie? Wow. (I just discovered that when looking up the IMDb spelling of "Romijin.") Who knew? Guess he's unidentifiable without the jokes.

Brian White...so not feeling him. I don't know if it's the characters he plays, but something about him is ultra-annoying. While his character provided the over-the-top dramatic antics, his uber-acting and "evil-villain" glares were too distracting. I know Tyler Perry is a firm believer in recycling actors in his movies...this is one guy he needs to take off the loyalty roster (shuddering as I remember him in I Can Do Bad All By Myself).

The plot? Decent. Honestly. And if I was Tyler Perry, I'd come out with a movie or two a year JUST BECAUSE too. Because aside from Oprah and U2, he's the highest grossing entertainer on the Forbes list. Because he's got a ready-made guaranteed audience from the stage to the big screen. Because any mainstream motion picture featuring an a prominently black cast is worth supporting, and worth circulating. Because he's keeping the faces visible, the black actors working, the story lines pleasant and motivating, and keeping himself current. Because he always has a story to tell. Always.

So by default, I give Tyler a bly. I have to love him. I have to support him, and I have to appreciate that even though the movie didn't have the WOW factor with babies dropping out of windows and audiences stomping feet to cheer like we've seen from Perry in the past...it was still essentially a good story. I guess what's happened here is that Mr. Perry has set the bar soooo high...that he can't always top it.

This one wasn't his best (and neither was Meet the Browns, for the record...yikes!) but I have enough faith in the longevity and continued impact of Mr. Perry's career that I will still continue to be an admirer of his. In fact, I'm still debating checking out his upcoming Madea tour in the closest American city I can get to (and believe me, I once flew to Chicago just to see him perform live. I'll do it again!)

It was just another movie, with a lovely and endearing conclusion. Some character epiphanies. Smiles and good cheer. I get where he was coming from. I get the characters, and their intentions, their flaws, their struggles, their self-understanding, and their inevitable redemption. All of the fundamentals of a good story were there.

God bless him. And God bless the wonderfully inspiring tribute he did at Whitney's funeral.

I'm sure his next movie will be a hit. And believe me, the next one has probably already been filmed, and is just waiting to drop. And THIS is why I love Tyler Perry and will watch anything he does (except for his TV shows...yikes!). Because he's a hustler.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Narrative of Basketball & The Raptors Reporters

I am a writer and communicator at heart, and am always seeking to see what is written about a particular event, individual, or phenomenon, how it is communicated, and then I essentially base my experience on the delivery and execution of the surrounding media. I see almost everything through a journalist lens, by default.

I enjoy basketball. I admittedly haven't always been a hardcore fan, but this year I am closer than I've ever been. It all started with the NBA lockout in the summer, discovering that I had NBA TV, and then listening to updates from Derek Fisher and David Stern and the subsequent reporting of the breaking news as it unfolded.

From NBA TV, I was drawn to TSN, and SportsNet, and to the web, and to the blogs, and to the Fan 590, and then I realized that I had officially become interested in what would happen next! It was a daily curiosity. I became fascinated by the side story of the players, the negotiations, the speculation, the union, the press conferences, and I was drawn into the game of basketball...not by the basketball itself, but by those who had built a career around the reporting of basketball.

Enter the Raptors reporters, then I discovered the Score Mobile app for my BlackBerry and it was a wrap. The lockout ended, the games began, and I was without a doubt drawn whole-heartedly into the story of the NBA.

I'm an entertainment junkie and pop culture enthusiast by nature, so I have always known about the players. I know my Dwight Howards from my Kobes and D-Wades. I know the big names, the mid-level guys, and a few of the abstract players. I am familiar with the corporate culture and the cities in which the team are established. I recognize the personal stories, and see the YouTube videos and other antics that the guys sometimes produce.

But much like any other fiction novel or modern-day narrative, the lows and highs and expectations and unpredictability of the NBA lockout drew me into the hype and fanfare of the new short season. There were quick trades and aquisitions, and then before I knew it...it was time to play ball and I was beyond ecstatic!

How could I not get sucked in? There was a new energy! It was almost psychological how the looming "strike" and fear of not having any basketball at all made me crave it even more. After a summer of watching endless documentaries, and watching the NBA veterans like Chris Webber and Charles Barkley sit around and discuss their experiences, successes, and hopes for the future of the game, it was the narrative of basketball that ultimately seduced me.

Don't get me wrong...I enjoy the game. What's not to love? Young men, graceful physicality, team dynamics, coupled with the media coverage, celebrity fanfare, and thrill of competition. Basketball is the bomb!

I started off the Raptor's season at their home opener and was motivated by hometown pride. Jamaal Magloire. Drake. Mark Strong. 4 Korners. Kardinal Offishall. This was specifically MY culture! Literally, the very people that shared my common experiences of growing up as a first-generation Canadian, and they were integrated into this franchise. So endearing! (See blog and video from home opener).

And then I researched our players, spanning the globe in heritage, and coming together to play for this Canadian team in an otherwise American league: fabulous! So add a bit of patriotism and warm acknowledgement for my city and country, and I immediately became a Raptors fan, a basketball follower, and sports media addict when I realized the network of reporters and ball experts that are dedicated to telling the story that is the Toronto Raptors.

Paul Jones & Eric Smith ~ always on point, always have great commentary, and although I can't always catch them on radio when watching the games, I am definitely a Twitter follower, reader of their blogs, and spectator of their online video reports. (Shout out to my good friend Ancil London for snapping this great pic of them at the NBL draft last year!) I love the way they interact with the basketball community one-on-one, and how respected their perspectives are. Paul used to play for York University, and was also the assistant coach for the University of Western Ontario's basketball team. After years with the TDSB as a principal, he joined the Raptors' coverage on the Fan 590 in 2004. Eric has been a sportcaster for Global Sports, as well as CBC Newsworld, along with hosting a weekly show "Hoops" on 590.

Jack Armstrong ~ He's a Brooklyn native, and he's kinda hilarious to me. I enjoy the very sound of his voice (and have become oddly curious about Miller Genuine Draft as a result). The one-liners and emphatic remarks during the game keep me smiling and really amplifies the experience for me. Whatta personality! Jack is a former coach at Niagara University, who's been a sportscaster for TSN, Rogers Sportsnet, and Raptors NBA TV.

Sherman Hamilton ~ An analyst for NBA TV, as well as The Score, Sherman is a former member of the Canadian Men's National Team, and also previously played with the Canadian olympic team, as well as in Lithuania. I watched a lot of him during the lockout, and came to depend on his updates and expertise.

Leo Rautins ~ Always providing an informative perspective as an NBA analyst, Leo has an obvious wealth of knowledge and experience. You can often hear his personal passions for the players and coaching perspectives, as the former head coach of the Canadian National Men's Basketball Team (2005-2011). A member of the Canadian Basketball Hall of Fame, Leo was the first Canadian drafted in the first round NBA draft in 1983, and spent years playing in Europe as well.

Matt Devlin ~ A New York native, the Raptors' play-by-play TV announcer, Matt spent 6 years doing the same for the Memphis Grizzlies, and 3 with the Charlotte Bobcats. He's a likeable guy, and a consummate reporter, with experience spanning from olympic coverage with NBC, to announcing on TNT, and for the NFL on Fox.

And this is just the basics after a few months of observation. This is just the beginning of what will now be a livelong appreciation of basketball.

As a communications graduate, it is the introduction to these journalists that really made my experience as a "new" basketball follower complete. While I do enjoy watching the game itself, it is the multi-media experience that truly fulfils me. The real-time Twitter updates, the clever commentary, the video blogging, and behind-the-scenes photos. Player interviews, post-game summaries, and even the pre-game banter. This is the packaging that MADE sports come alive for me...the fact that the game doesn't exist in isolation, but that there is a sick network of interactivity, entertainment, and journalist brilliance that supports it.

As a writer, I love a good story! I love the plots, the character development, the lows and the well-deserved highs. The sadness, and the triumph, the interpersonal connectivity, and the uber-exaltation of the players to an untouchable hero status. The combination of elements are fascinating, and the rapid unfolding of the shortened season has been great.

I see the genuine passion and love for basketball that these reporters have, and it reminds me how important it is to do what you love, live what you love, and to share and inspire others through your work. How wonderful to be able to dwell in your favourite things, make a living, be entertained, and interact with the community on a regular basis, all in the name of sports! When the Nets were in town, I remember sitting in the ACC and watching the rows of reporters before me with their laptops and headsets, and being distracted by their activity rather than the game. Awesome jobs!

Usually All-Star Weekend is when I officially tune into the NBA and catch the end of the season as the stakes rise...this year I'm glad I'll be heading into the break with full knowledge of what's going down. I am, indeed, proud of myself for discovering a new passion, just when I thought I had seen and appreciated all that the world of entertainment had to offer!

So this is my thank you to the voices, words, and faces that have made my official introduction to the world of basketball and extremely informative and entertaining one. I will enter the 2012-2013 NBA season like a true connoisseur.

Written by Stacey Marie Robinson for Kya Publishing's "Urban Toronto Tales" blog.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Exploring BBM Culture & BlackBerry Addiction

Someone I know recently said (via BlackBerry status update) that BBM culture can easily be taught as a university course. I agree: the basic sociology of this relatively new phenomenon has so many levels that can be analyzed. This one innocent messaging system has become a standard. A habit. A daily routine. An addiction.

It's amazing how far cell phones have come, from everyone's first Nokia phone. Amazing how 5 years ago you were using your state-of-the-art flip phone, texting with 3 letters per one key, and impressed by your new camera. You had personalized ring tones for each friend, and would download songs to play when the phone rang. The flip phone was hype! Or what about the Razor! The Crazor! The Sidekick! And then phones kept getting smaller and smaller, and thinner, and lighter...you were cutting edge. You changed your phone all the time, and had a wide range of options based on your personality and preferences. You would change your faceplates every now and then, and you were nice!

And then one day, somewhere around 2008-2009 I'd say, you discovered BlackBerry. You didn't want to bother with the iPhone, and you didn't want to give in to the hype, but you did. You didn't think you needed to check your email on your phone...but you still bought one. In fact, you didn't even get a data plan right away...you just liked the accessible keys for texting, and the large screen. The calendar. Increased storage for music. You eventually gave in just because...everyone else seemed to have one and enjoy it, and they seemed practical.

The iPhone was too much work, and you weren't into Apple culture and apps, and waiting in line for upgrades. Sure, your BlackBerry rollerball was a problem, but you learned how to clean it. And it was bigger than that old phone, so you could actually hold it and not worry about snapping it. And then you added your email account and realized it was great to stay up-to-date on messages while on the road, instead of waiting until you got home or to work to check. And you felt like a real professional because up until then, only the true busy business people had need for a BlackBerry. But you were up to the times now. Emailing. Texting. Going on-line for little things here and there, taking great telephone pictures...and then came BBM.

Gone were the days of switching cell phone brands. Now there's only one option. Because once you started that BlackBerry journey, you didn't realize that there was no getting out. Email, Twitter, YouTube, AppWorld, and all other programs aside, BBM has taken on a life of its own!

BBM is a culture in itself. It has it's own social organization, customs and traditions, beliefs, behaviours, values, and language. It is like any other cultural group that is defined by a set of common practices, tools, and sustained by conformity.

It is a way of life!

PROFILE PIC - Forget Facebook albums, face-to-face interaction, or emailing pictures. Your profile pic can serve many purposes, depending on who you are and how you're feeling. It can be used to promote a party or event (works best when everyone on the team is down), and it can be used to join strangers across the globe by posting political images in a moment of "BBM unity." Within minutes. It can be used to show your friends and associates where you're at, how you look today, or used to pay hommage to a friend, fallen soldier, or favourite athlete/entertainer who's in the news at that moment. Some people change their pic once every week, if they remember. Others change it every few hours, when the mood hits them. Some people don't change it at all, and have the ominous "BBM silhouette" for a picture (mysterious and rebellious all at once)! Some leave profound messages of hope, strength, and change...others liven it up with some porn and miscellaneous ass shots stolen from the internet. When you're really upset, you give a middle finger or a black screen. When you're really happy you find the perfect image to reflect that mood. Your profile pic is your visual interpretation of your moment-to-moment vibe and activity. It is just the face of your personal BBM government.

STATUS UPDATE - Your update can either support the profile pic, or stand alone with its own message. It can be a list of your latest upcoming events (for the entreprenuerial BBM users), or a quote from your favourite intellect or singer. It can be an inside joke between you and your friends, or a cryptic subliminal message that you're sending to one specific individual (or a collective of individuals) that need to know how you feel...without knowing how you feel. Some people use it to make a statement, to crack two jokes, or simply just to entertain their other friends on BBM. The status update is the daily/hourly, or monthly declaration of where your cell phone head is at. Either you're into the ongoing communication...or you could give a shit. But your status is often a great indication of what side of the spectrum you fall on. It is a BBM social definition of yourself, often indirectly outlining your beliefs, and behaviours.

PING - Only the most annoying BBM users regularly resort to this method of alert. In fact, I do believe that excessive ping-ing should be immediate grounds for BBM dismissal, or the ever-dramatic "DELETE" from your list. The ping is BBMs way of telling someone, I know you're getting these messages, but hurry up and pay attention to me. It is a rule of behaviour in BBM society that thall shall not over-do the ping-ing.

BROADCAST MESSAGES - Also on an equal level of annoying-ness, the ever-popular purple broadcast message. You think someone has something really important to say to you....only to realize it's something they're saying to everyone, which (more often than not) might be better suited for email. Reminding your friends and family that Jesus loves them, and threatening re-sending against your spiritual well being...or even sending a joke that you swear is hilarious, and must share with everyone you know...immediately. There are times when the broadcast message is effective and entertaining...but it's often so effective and entertaining that you'll get the same exact message from half of your "friends" within minutes. From Scarborough to the West Indies to Florida, there are numerous people who all decide that you have to see the Jamaican radio show host tell the woman how to "quint it" (for example). Funny the first time...not so funny the next 7 times you receive the same link. A careful road to trod, these broadcast messages. Excessive use may also get you banned.

DELETING PEOPLE FROM BBM - The ultimate diss. Almost worse than deleting from Facebook or email. To delete from BBM is the electronic slap in the face, when your new enemy looks at their list and realizes someone is pissing. It's usually followed by a "I think I accidentally deleted you from my BBM" text message at which point you sigh in relief, realizing they may never know your true intentions. Sometimes you re-add them...most of the time, you force them to call you if they need you. A dramatic understanding, nontheless. Sometimes the people you delete in immediate anger/irritation are the most rewarding. A little thing, but a satisfying thing.

PROMOTIONS - Along the lines of broadcast messages, you have to know who the promoters on your list are, and expect that there'll be some promotion. Not horrible, especially if you are selective about the events you attend, and genuinely interested in what's going on. Not horrible if you like the promoters and appreciate their hard work. Definitely horrible if this is the only way they communicate, and they refuse to contact you for anything but the next party, event, or other notification. It's effective because "everyone" is on BBM and can get the word ASAP...but again, walks a fine line of having BBM for business...and having it for pleasure. Depending on your preference, it may not be a bad thing either way.

EMOTICONS - Who knew that 20-something tiny yellow faces could convey emotions and messages so strongly. Have you ever had a good stretch of a BBM conversation with just smiley faces alone? It's totally possible. And BlackBerry users are so in tune with the icons that there is always a perfect expression to throw in at the end of a conversation, or to soften the blow of a message that could otherwise misinterpreted. Thank goodness for the smiley face at the end. The "thumbs up" and the other symbols are great conversation enders...when you don't want to not respond...but you also don't have anything else to say. (Although a simple "K" can also do this as well.)

ACRONYMS - Speaking of individual letters, there are dozens of short-forms that BBM users resort to to express extreme emotions. Particularly when related to laughter. A regular "lol" is always standard, however adding a few more adjectives to your virtual laughter (which is rarely actually "real" laughter on the other end of the phone, by the way) also shows you JUST how much laughing you are pretending to do. It is BBM etiquette to respond to an "lol" with an "lol" (you can't be rude after all!) And it is also almost preferred at times to use the "SMH" or "DKM" or others to convey your feelings. Every now and then you'll get a long list of acronyms that are trying to get on. Sometimes they catch on, but usually they don't. LOL stands the test of time.

WHATS YOUR PIN? - You ever try to hide your BlackBerry when you're around another BlackBerry user for fear that they're going to ask you for your PIN...and you can't reasonably say no? You ever get asked for your PIN by a virtual stranger, and realize that you don't want them up in your mix, looking at your pictures and reading your statuses. You wouldn't ask someone "What's your phone number?" or "What's your email?" so blatantly...that's the kind of information you should wait to be offered. But somewhere in the BBM rules, it's "OK" to ask for someone's PIN because somehow it's less invasive, and less bold than asking for other methods of contact. It's also a major detour when someone's trying to holler and you and you don't want to give your phone/email address. "Add me" is like the polite diss...like I want to keep in contact with you, but not that badly. Some people are bold and give their PIN out on flyers, online, on the radio, and really don't mind having hundreds of friends. Others prefer to keep it intimate.

FILE SHARING - Awesome feature, because you can send songs, pictures, and other digital treats instantly. You don't have to wait to show someone your photos...you can just send it right away. You don't have to go home and upload and transfer a song or CD, you can download and listen, and share from the phone. Great tool to have and very practical.

Oh, the BlackBerry-isms. It's a network of like-minded individuals. Those who choose not to use the iPhone...or those who already have an iPhone but know the power of "Team BlackBerry" and keep a BlackBerry just to stay up-to-date of what's going on in the BBM world. It's a community in itself, and I "hear" that those without BBM are sometimes left in the dark on pictures, jokes, and a multitude of other information sharing that goes on in an average BBM day. iPhone has many things, but it may never have a messaging system to compare to BBM.

To explore all of the BBM behaviours and activities is a neverending task...but fascinating when you think about how one small tool has such a huge social impact. OR......maybe I'm sure the loonie one, and have written this dissertation on BBM-ness to justify and validate my own addictive behaviour. What can I say? Admitting you have a problem is the first step to recovery. My name is Stacey....and I have to go because I just heard the phone notification, the red light is now flashing, and I'm pretty sure there's a very important message waiting for me that must be viewed (or secretly "not" viewed) immediately.

Please share any additional BBM rules, values, or behaviours with me in the comment section...

Written by Stacey Marie Robinson for Kya Publishing's "Urban Toronto Tales" blog.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Bob Marley and The I-Threes

Like millions around the world, I love the music of Bob Marley. The message, the mood, the instruments...it is as timeless, relevant, and pure as music gets.

Despite the elements of perfection that combine to create the musical legacy of this Jamaican singer--who would have celebrated his 67th birthday today--February 6, I have always been in awe of his backup singers: the I-Threes.

Bob's late wife Rita Marley, along with Judy Mowatt, and Marcia Griffiths, make up the background vocalists the I-Threes that supported Bob Marley and the Wailers (Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer) from 1974 until Bob's death in May of 1981.

I've always loved their style. I've always admired how cool they were. Funky. Full of life. Although Bob's music could stand alone with one vocal and an acoustic guitar accompaniment, the full vocals and harmonies of the I-Threes always added a necessary touch of soul to the compositions.

Rita Marley (born 1946), who was married to Bob in 1966, and had 3 children with him (6 in total), continues to carry on his legacy through converting his home until the Bob Marley Museum, and serving as founder and chair fo the Robert Marley Foundation, Bob Marley Trust, and Bob Marley Group of Companies. She's also founded her own organization, the Rita Marley Foundation in 2000 to carry forth work in eliminating povery in developming countries, and supporting young musicians to attend college in Ghana. Rita has adopted over 30 children in Ethiopia.

Not without controversy, but Rita has continued to be the visual ambassador of the Marley legacy. Philanthropic and business contributions aside, she has also released 13 albums over the span of her singing career and penned an autobiography entitled "No Woman, No Cry: My Life with Bob Marley" (2004).

Judy Mowatt (born 1952), also an accomplished vocalist, began her career writing for Bunny Wailer in the early 70s before joining the I-Threes. She is the first female reggae artist to record an LP and self-produce it ("Black Woman" 1980) and was also the first female nominated for a Grammy award in the reggae category, in 1985. Judy, now a Christian, is a dedicated gospel singer.

Marcia Griffiths (born 1949), the Empress of Reggae, has recorded 16 studio albums to date, and continues to tour the world with artists like Beres Hammond and Freddie McGregor. Her 40-year career began when Marcia was a vocalist for Byron Lee and the Dragonaires, and exploded in 1982 when her chart-topping hit "Electric Boogie" started the now popular Electric Slide dance.

Individually, these ladies have recorded and shared decades of reggae music, and defined a legacy of female Jamaican artists with class, grace, and consistently powerful vocals.

Collectively, they represented a moment in time where the travelled and shared the essence of reggae music around the world, led by Bob and the Wailers, and set a standard for female vocalists that would be difficult to challenge. They are reggae music royalty. Queens of the genre.

And while we celebrate and remember the great Bob Marley today, I particularly would like to honour the women that stood behind him and his band. Their contributions to his music, although often overlooked, were essential, and impeccable.





Written by Stacey Marie Robinson for the Urban Toronto Tales blog, for Kya Publishing.