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July 10, 2014

By Kam Williams

Contributing Writer


Nick Cannon is a versatile entertainer known as an actor, comedian, rapper, radio DJ, TV host and as the husband of pop dive Mariah Carey. With School Dance, Nick steps behind the camera to add filmmaker to his extensive resume.


His jaw-dropping directorial debut is a raunchy romantic comedy that might be best thought of as Romeo and Juliet gone completely gangsta’. Set at an inner-city high school in Los Angeles, the irreverent romp revolves around diminutive Jason Jackson (Bobb’e J. Thompson), a modestly-endowed virgin with a crush on a cute and curvy classmate.


Trouble is Anastacia (Kristina DeBarge) has never even noticed the nondescript nerd. A bigger complication is that he’s black, she’s Chicano, and their respective ethnic groups don’t mix, let alone get along. Nevertheless, Jason accepts a dare from the dudes in his posse to get into her proverbial panties by the end of the semester.


To that end, he hatches an elaborate plan to impress the girl of his dreams by winning their high school’s annual talent show which features a grand prize of $2,000. But of as much import as the outcome of that contest is the raucous road the flick en route to that fait accompli.


Director Cannon apparently had no trouble casting his first picture, since the screen is filled with top comedians at every turn, from the man of the year Kevin Hart to the resurrected Katt Williams to “Yo’ Momma’s” Wilmer Valderrama to the irrepressible Luenell to the incomparable Mike Epps to George Lopez and Patrick Warburton. All of the above found the elbow room to do their thing, although the production might have benefited from editing out some of their most offensive remarks.


For example, the blasphemous rap, “F*ck the President, Barack f*cking Obama. F*ck that n*gger” was a bit much for this critic to stomach, even if the euphoria of historic Election Night 2008 is just a distant memory. Equally off-putting was this line uttered by Lopez as Anastacia’s overprotective father. “I don’t want some little black baby with a big penis running around this house touching all my shit.”


Still, I suspect that such shocking fare will find a ready audience in a Hip-Hop Generation weaned on a profusion of profanity and fondness  for  the N-word. A 21st Century update of the beloved Shakespeare classic about a pair of star-crossed lovers from the opposite side of the tracks.


Good (2 stars)


Rated R for crude humor, graphic sexuality, underage drug use, ethnic slurs and pervasive profanity


Running time: 85 minutes


Distributor: Lionsgate Films


To see a trailer for School Dance, visit:

Parent Category: Lifestyle
Category: Arts & Culture

July 03, 2014


By Dwight Brown

NNPA Film Critic


In 18 years, the American Black Film Festival has migrated from Acapulco, Mexico, to Los Angeles to Miami and now New York City. The locations have varied; the mission to bring African heritage films to audiences has not.


The 2014 festival started with the Big Apple’s premier of “Think Like a Man Too,” and ended with the first screening of the new Spike Lee horror movie “Da Sweet Blood of Jesus.” In between, the festival hosted a bevy of panels, acting boot camps, master classes and workshops at the Metropolitan Pavilion on West 18th Street. The screenings took place at the School of Visual Arts (SVA) Theater on West 23rd Street.


“Blackbird” — This well-intentioned coming-of-age gay Black movie is set in rural Mississippi and burdened by an over-dramatic treatment. The sappy all-over-the-place script (Rikki Beadle Blair, Patrick-Ian Polk), with stilted dialogue and preposterous dramatic moments, is an impediment. Its unsettling mixture of religion and gay pride, certainly a new brew, never rings true. Oscar-winner Mo’Nique plays an angst-ridden mother and Isaiah Washington is an understanding pro-gay dad; neither is believable. The savvy young cast (Julian Walker, Kevin Allesee, Gary LeRoi Gray, Torrey Laamar, Nikki Jane) will go on to bigger and better projects; they are the film’s saving grace.


“Da Sweet Blood of Jesus” —Spike Lee, the old guard of Black indie filmmaking, gets his mojo back with this classy, urbane vampire art film that is a beauty to behold (cinematography, art direction, set design, costumes) and a joy to listen to (gospel, jazz, soul, pop). Dr. Hess Greene (Stephen Tyrone Williams) is a blood-addicted rich man who alternates his time between a swank New York apartment and a tony house in Martha’s Vineyard. He’s smitten with the tough-talking British wife (Zaraah Abrahams) of a victim, and the two are obsessed with hemoglobin. Kudos to the very heady, tense and sensual script: edgy dialogue, unique characters, rampant sexuality, romance and an unfathomable storyline. If the film gets cut by 5-15 minutes it would be Lee’s most gripping and evocative – ever.


“Hard Time Bus” — The cast in this soap-operaish British melodrama must be moonlighting from a Shakespearean theater company. They have perfect diction, laser-focus and great acting chops, which are wasted in a meandering relationship film. Mark (Neil Reidman) is having troubles with his lady-friend Denise (Naomi Ryan), whom he would like to marry. He gets caught up in his friends’ lovers quarrels, misunderstandings and other far-fetched machinations – veering off his own course. The script (Owen Mowatt) is very talky with long, drawn-out scenes that are far more suited for a theater piece than a movie. Dean Charles, in his directing debut, displays a promising talent.


“Una Vida” — In New Orleans, a neuroscientist (Joaquim de Almeida), haunted by images of his mother, a victim of Alzheimer’s, transfers his love for her to an old street singer (Aunjanue Ellis, “Men of Honor”) who suffers from the same disease. Viewing the neighborhoods in the Big Easy is far more engaging than the storyline of this heavy-handed, snail-paced message movie. The beautiful cinematography keeps you engaged when the script lets you down. Bill Cobbs, Ruth Negga (“World War Z”) and Andre Royo (“The Wire”) also star, but Ellis steals all the scenes.


“Think Like A Man Too” — This sequel takes an assorted gaggle of friends to Las Vegas to help a couple (Terrence Jenkins, Regina Hall) with a meddling mother (Jennifer Lewis) get married. The best man, played by the increasingly manic and thoroughly likable Kevin Hart, leads the young men on a myriad of wild bachelor party escapades. The females’ bachelorette festivities are equally roguish. The director (Tim Story) uses a very staccato/MTVish editing style to give the film a rapid-fire pace that is daunting at times. However, there is a method to his rushed, jumpy directing style, which comes to fruition during a strip club melee that is totally chaotic and hysterical. The overall feel is hilarious, romantic and sweet.

Parent Category: Lifestyle
Category: Arts & Culture

July 03, 2014


LAWT News Service


On June 27, celebrities mingled with environmental advocates on the roof of the Mondrian Skybar/Pool for an event supporting President Obama’s Climate Action Plan and specifically calling attention to the dangerous impacts of climate change on African-Americans.


TV stars Tatyana Ali, known for her role as Ashley Banks in “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” and the upcoming “The November Rule,” and Lamman Rucker, star of Tyler Perry’s “Why Did I Get Married?” films and the TV series “Meet the Browns,” headlined the event for Los Angeles’ young environmental community. hosted the event on the Mondrian Skybar, called “Young, Black and Green,” in order to raise awareness of the stakes for the community in addressing climate change.


“We have a moral obligation to future generations to leave them a planet that’s not polluted and damaged by carbon pollution,” said Lamman Rucker. “We don’t need our kids to develop asthma or even die from living near a power plant to know that too many of us have already been affected. It's time to set a limit on pollution that affects public health, and that’s why it’s so important that the President is rising to the challenge.”


Last month, The Obama Administration released a plan for the EPA to limit the carbon pollution from power plants. Carbon pollution causes climate change, whose rising temperatures worsen health-harming air pollution.  According to NRDC, fossil fuel-fired power plants are responsible for 40 percent of man-made carbon dioxide emissions.


A myriad of social and economic factors put African Americans at higher risk from climate change and carbon pollution, especially from health hazards such as asthma attacks and other respiratory ailments. Especially vulnerable are African-American kids, who often live closest to the sources of carbon pollution like power plants, highways and factories, and have asthma at rates of one in six, compared to one in ten nationwide.


Frequently, the issue comes down to physical proximity to pollution. The 2013 American Lung Association State of the Air Report found that “[n]on-Hispanic Blacks were… more likely to live in counties with worse ozone pollution.” And a study by the Center for American Progress found that nearly 70 percent of African Americans in California live within 30 miles of a power plant. According to CAP, “An analysis of polluting facilities in California found that 62 percent of residents living within six miles of a petroleum refinery, cement plant, or power plant were people of color. And a startling 68 percent of African Americans live within 30 miles of a coal-fired power plant, compared to only 56 percent of the white population.” [Center for American Progress, 4/20/12]


“President Obama’s climate plan is full of common-sense solutions, starting with his call for the EPA to limit the carbon pollution from power plants,” said Adrianna Quintero of NRDC/Voces Verdes. “While we set limits for arsenic, mercury and lead, we let power plants release as much carbon pollution as they want.”


Throughout the event, several “Green Fact Moments” highlighted different pieces of the President’s climate action plan. For more information about the President’s plan or to pledge to act on climate, visit


Parent Category: Lifestyle
Category: Arts & Culture

July 03, 2014

Aries Mar 21 - Apr 19


Interactions fuel positive friendships and lucrative deals. This is a great time to sell your goods and services and get your message out to the world. But when it comes to domestic affairs there could be a conflict between worldly duties and family matters. Mercury forges ahead from Tuesday, so you can now proceed with any projects that have been on the backburner. The weekend has a sparkly outlook, especially if you're partying and having fun.




Taurus Apr 20 – May 20


You may be tempted by a few luxuries, but with the current focus on hard work you deserve to treat yourself. Enjoy it! Recent delays and frustrations may come to an end as Mercury turns direct from Tuesday to ease your path ahead. There could be one communication issue that develops into a running battle, especially on Friday. Tempers may be frayed, leading to arguments. However, if you know what this is about, try to deal with matters before they get to this stage.




Gemini May 21 - Jun 20


Good news as Mercury now dances ahead in your sign, putting an end to any troubles you might have encountered recently. Interactions and transactions should be less frustrating and more productive. But you might feel a need for change (or be pushed into thinking about one) on the financial front. Try not to let a money situation get out of hand by first talking to the relevant person or organization. Leisure options look good over the weekend, with the chance of an instant attraction.




Cancer Jun 21 - Jul 22


You're in your element this week, although you may notice tension developing between you and another. Do what you can to avert a crisis by encouraging a heart-to-heart talk early on. There will be less chance of misunderstanding when Mercury pushes ahead once again on Tuesday. Delays in communication should ease, and missing documents or files may show up, making it easier for business to resume. Relationships may be a little edgy, and this includes any budding romance. Avoid rocking the boat.




Leo Jul 23 - Aug 22


Social opportunities continue to be upbeat, with regular networking and other events to keep you connected. Whether you're looking for love or touting for business, the days ahead can help further your agenda. All of this is made easier when Mercury dances ahead on Tuesday. This should put an end to mixed messages and misunderstandings that may have plagued your progress lately. Consider a stress-management program if you've been feeling overwhelmed. You are your own best resource, so take care.




Virgo Aug 23 - Sep 22


Career matters seem to be going great guns. Mercury, your personal planet, forges ahead on Tuesday, so you can now proceed with plans and ideas that have been on the backburner. You'll also find business and other interactions a lot smoother, too. Chance meetings with key players in your field can help to further your plans. When it comes to your social life, jealousy or other dark emotions could spoil a friendship. It might be best to confront things directly and make your peace.




Libra Sep 23 - Oct 22


You may experience ups and downs with folks, especially the unpredictable kind. But travel plans look positive as Mercury pushes ahead on Tuesday. If you've been itching to close a deal or sign a contract, you can now proceed. Yet there may be discontent concerning your work/home balance. You might have to stand firm regarding an important goal or career move, even in the face of opposition. Thankfully, edgy feelings blow over by the weekend to bring a chance to relax.




Scorpio Oct 23 - Nov 21


Mercury turns direct on Tuesday, which could put an end to delays associated with shared finances or loan applications. Whether you're single or in a long-term relationship, romantic opportunities look largely positive. Venus is currently in a more intimate sector of your chart, enhancing your love life in all sorts of fun ways. Try to avoid conflict on Friday, though, especially if you can't see eye to eye with someone. If you want to remain friends, it might be best to walk away from arguments.




Sagittarius Nov 22 - Dec 21


f misunderstandings have occurred recently, Mercury's forward dance from Tuesday on offers a chance to make amends. Any frustrations associated with important deals or the signing of contracts begins to melt away, too. Progress can be made at last! However, it doesn't mean that all tensions vanish as finances still need a careful appraisal. Try to avoid impulse purchases, especially if it's a big-ticket item, as you could regret it later. Thankfully, the weekend brings stress relief and an unexpected invite that you might enjoy.




Capricorn Dec 22 - Jan 19


Mercury's forward motion on Tuesday makes a positive difference at work and in everyday affairs. Interactions flow with ease, while delays and frustrations may become a thing of the past. Yet certain relationships could show signs of tension. If you know what this is about, try to nip it in the bud before it develops into an argument. Lifestyle issues also come into focus, particularly if you've been thinking about upgrading your gadgets. A little online research could spotlight some awesome bargains.




Aquarius Jan 20 - Feb 18


Leisure and pleasure options spotlight good times with family, children, and friends. Your fun-o-meter is set to high, so enjoy mingling and any romantic options that might show up. When it comes to your job, feeling energized and on top of your workload may be crucial to a stress-free life. If this is the case, you might want to tweak your routines to give you a little more downtime. A social event over the weekend could encourage a new friendship or instant attraction.




Pisces Feb 19 - Mar 20


If delays have stymied DIY or remodeling projects at home, these should ease as Mercury forges ahead on Tuesday. Whatever complications you may have experienced should now abate, allowing you to make progress. When it comes to your social life, things may not be so hunky-dory. If you and another have been putting off a conversation, you might want to get it over with this week. It's time to sort out issues and make your peace. An impulsive buy could delight you this weekend.


Parent Category: Lifestyle
Category: Arts & Culture

July 03, 2014

The Associated Press


Taye Diggs can claim an actor’s version of scoring a hat trick: He’s worked with a trio of television’s most innovative writer-producers.


Diggs, who visited David E. Kelley’s “Ally McBeal” as attorney Jackson Duper and played Dr. Sam Bennett on Shonda Rhimes' “Private Practice,” is starring in a new drama, “Murder in the First,” co-created by veteran Steven Bochco.


“There’s something to be said for putting out in the universe that which you want to claim. It’s happened to me three times,” he said.


In the latest instance, he was eager to be part of a project “where it's about relationships and not just catching crooks and jumping over buses and whatnot,” said Diggs, who’s casual and candid in a phone interview.


“Murder in the First,” despite the procedural-sounding title, turned out to be just such an opportunity. It debuts at 10 p.m. EDT Monday on TNT.


Diggs’ character is San Fran­cisco police homicide Detective Terry English, who’s paired with fellow detective Hildy Mulligan (Kathleen Robertson). The officers are admirably dedicated but have more to their lives than work.


Terry’s burden is a tragic one, the terminal illness of his wife (Anne-Marie Johnson). Hildy is a single mom who, at least in episode one, appears to have a limited network of support to raise her bright daughter.


The series crisscrosses between the detectives’ off-duty lives and their efforts to crack two killings with a high-profile link, a Silicon Valley whiz kid who takes arrogance to a new level. He’s played by Tom Felton, of Draco Malfoy fame from the “Harry Potter” film franchise.


Richard Schiff, Nicole Ari Parker, James Cromwell and Steven Weber are among the co-stars.


“Murder in the First,” created by Bochco and Eric Lodal, will wrap its investigation within the 10-episode season. If viewers are hooked, the drama will be back with another case to solve.


Bochco took a similar approach with his 1990s series “Murder One,” which focused in its freshman year on a single crime. The ABC series was critically lauded but was ahead of its time, and its low ratings prompted a switch to a multiple-murder story line for its second and final season.


In the new TNT drama, the case focus is narrow but the approach is ambitiously multilayered, said Bochco, whose groundbreaking series include “Hill Street Blues,” “L.A. Law” and “NYPD Blue.”


“Murder in the First” is a “cop show, it’s a legal drama, and then it’s a courtroom drama. And so what we've tried to do is to pretty much encompass the whole of the criminal justice system,” he said.


Diggs, for one, was quickly sold on the concept of “Murder in the First” and agreed to temporarily pull up stakes from New York City.


“Bochco and Lodal were so excited about it they got me excited. I was not excited about the fact it was shot in Los Angeles,” Diggs, 43, said, with exteriors taped in San Francisco. “But hearing their ideas and the future of the character, Terry, I couldn’t help but get drawn in.”


He's back in New York for the summer, spending time with his son (with “Frozen” star Idina Menzel; the couple separated in 2013) and weighing how to get back to his stage roots. Although his resume includes “Rent” and other Broadway productions, he’s toying with the idea of something other than a musical.


“I want to get together a group of other concert singer-actors and see if we can put together a kind of Rat Pack-ish crew,” he said. “Something that harkens back to Sinatra and his friends.”


Would Diggs be Frank, the main man? No, he replied. He has a more modern, inclusive approach in mind.


“It would be a new take, where we’re all a mixture of everybody,” Diggs said.

Parent Category: Lifestyle
Category: Arts & Culture