Bad Cinema: How to Be a Player (Dir: Lionel C. Martin, 1997)

Ideas of “Good” and “Bad” boil down to comparisons. If I had begun writing this review yesterday, I would be shitting from here to Bangkok. But compared to What My Husband Doesn’t Know? – a Tyler Perry knock off play that was filmed for some reason, complete with terrible acting, worse writing, and completely unbelievable situations that Trevor and I suffered through because Michelle “Destiny’s Child” Williams was the star – How to Be a Player is almost a faint memory of passable humor. (I demand to know how and why black people find this type of “entertainment” acceptable. How are you not screaming from the theatres in agony?!)

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Now don’t get it twisted; How to Be a Player is atrocious. It is billed as a comedy, yet there are no laughs. Well, intentional ones that is.

Dray (Bill Bellamy) is a playboy without reproach. His friends worship him; women drip for him. His job is inconsequential because all day every day he is dedicated to scoring even though he has a beautiful, successful girlfriend, played with an I’m-doing-my-best-with-this-crap aplomb by Lark Voorhies (who employed a similar strategy on Saved By the Bell; seriously, gurl. How did you turn in such great work with Dustin Diamond screeching at you?) Well, his sister, Jackie, has had enough! She and Katrina decide to do a project for their anthropology class on How to Reform a Player (“Subject an animal to a hostile environment and he WILL reform.” Gawwwwddd). You see, Jackie is working out her own abandonment issues from her trifling, deadbeat ex. So she and Katrina have planned to invite all of Dray’s girls to the same party and watch the shit hit the fan.

But Dray is a smooth criminal. He is the king of adaptation. And tries to teach us how along the way.

1) Never date a woman who lives in your building.
2) Never beg on no answering machine.
3) Never get busted.

Well, there wouldn’t be a movie if he weren’t caught, but being the king of adaptation, Dray continues – until the last 15 seconds of the film – to walk cock out. And even when he is discovered by hot Voorhies, there is no anagnorisis for this guy! Chances are he will continue on his way with a whole other batch of bitches (and this is exactly what EVERY SINGLE WOMAN IN THE FILM IS; complete props for awfulness and fantasy fornication).

Besides the desperately uncomfortable way that it paints players as heroes; besides the juvenile way that grown men act when they know their friend is having sex as if they have never had it themselves; besides the dumb ways that a woman will wear a bra as a top at a party and then get offended when a man tries to sleep with her; besides such classic neologisms like “Boodussy” (that’s Booty, Dick, and Pussy); HTBAP‘s biggest mistake is casting Bill Bellamy as its titular player.

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Now. Bill Bellamy is attractive. Sexy even. And yes, believe it or not, there was even a time when Bill Bellamy was relevant. But T.I. he is not. Yet we are supposed to believe that Bellamy can have any woman at any moment of any day (including Beverly Johnson!). We are supposed to believe that Bellamy is capable of having sex with three different women within an hour’s time. We are supposed to believe that he has enough swag to keep all of these women not only straight in his own mind, but away from each other! Perhaps this would have worked better with Martin Lawrence; perhaps this was just a stupid idea to begin with.

The only thing the film gets right is the sweet soundtrack of hot 90s R&B. It is no coincidence that the official title is Def Jam’s How to Be a Player.

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Is How to Be a Player a Car Crash, Colonoscopy, or Berkley?
***COLONOSCOPY***

What are your thoughts on How to Be a Player?

* (Unfortunately) Available on Netflix Instant

Bad Cinema: Vamp (Dir. Richard Wenk, 1986)

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How have I gone my entire life and not been in love with Grace Jones?

Of course, I knew she existed in a very basic, peripheral way like I know Sly Stone or Paul Simon. But the fabulous fashions, the androgynous beauty, the charisma, and that perfect mix of New Wave, disco, and reggae – “Pull Up to the Bumper” and “Slave to the Rhythm” may be the greatest song titles of all time – are insanely amazing and singular. The fact that she was not a huge commercial success on the charts is baffling.

When I was looking for a return to the annals of Bad Cinema, I set Trevor on a mission to find a camp classic in the vein of The Garbage Pail Kids Movie. Grace Jones as a vampire? Um, yes please.

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And she does not disappoint. Grace plays Katrina, the owner and lead “dancer” at a strip club. Her performance is exquisite, writhing on a zebra chair in her zebra painted body. As a matter of fact, the only times the film comes alive are when she is onscreen, glaring at us with her seductive eyes, her otherworldly beauty, and her intense presence. Ms. Jones, without a single word, OWNS the film.

Unfortunately, she is only in about 15 minutes of its 93 minute run time. The rest of the movie is littered with some storyline where a couple of hotties (Chris Makepeace and Robert Rusler, in all of their mulletty glory) must ascertain a stripper in order to get into a frat. They find this crazy joint called After Dark where all of the girls turn out to be vampires. One of them gets eaten by Grace Jones (in a verrrry seductive moment) and the other spends the rest of the time trying to escape the clutches of the undead with the only waitress who isn’t infected (played by Dedee Pfeiffer, sister of Michelle). Of course they survive, Grace dies (in a very Raiders of the Lost Ark type meltdown), and they live happily ever after, with the rainbow overhead and the fifties jam to prove it.

I would not recommend this to anyone who is not a Grace Jones’ enthusiast, but even then, you could probably just find her clips on YouTube. Speaking of, if you need a Jones fix, you gotta check this out.

Is Vamp a Car Crash, Colonoscopy, or Berkley?
***COLONOSCOPY***

What are your thoughts on Vamp? Grace Jones?!

*Available on Netflix Instant

I am a God: Kanye’s Downfall

Just ask Kanye. He’ll tell you. He’s the greatest rapper of all time. I don’t know enough about rap to corroborate this statement, but I will say I am a very big fan of Mr. West; in a genre that began as a format to accentuate lyrical content of street life on top of very simple beats, West has taken the sonic production of rap/hip-hop to epic, brilliant, orchestral proportions that could compete with Miles and Duke. (“All of the Lights”? OMG)

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On Yeezus, Kanye’s latest, he takes us into a, well, beautiful dark twisted fantasy; one of those rare albums like Vespertine, Dummy, and Voodoo that you almost have to start from the beginning to get acclimated to its very singular universe. Yeezus finds its most obvious/ironic influences from industrial rock; Trent Reznor must be proud and jealous. And “Black Skinheads” needs a hot remix with “The Beautiful People.” Songs like “New Slaves,” “I am a God,” and “Hold My Liquor” have a horror movie aesthetic; “I’m in It” could have been on Rated R, Rihanna’s own dark twisted masterpiece (incidentally, why has he not produced for her!?); “Blood on the Leaves” is an eerie tale of love lost, sampled with an augmented loop of Nina Simone’s cover of Billie Holiday’s equally eerie “Strange Fruit”; “Guilt Trip” mixes a John Carpenter groove and his continued obsession with the sound of space, sampling Steve Miller’s “Fly Like an Eagle”; and the opening track, “On Sight,” is like rolling on Molly in a haunted house. Yeezus takes the theatricality of MBDF to dirty, David Lynchian, anger-filled alleys; miles from the accessible sounds of “Golddigger” and “Heartless” (perhaps this is the reason he completely eschewed the release of an official single). And yet, Yeezus may sonically be his most rewarding, mature work to date. And, yes, proof that he is the best in the game.

Now. Lyrically, Mr. West has a far cry to go to step outside of the fold.

It is not that his lyrics are not clever, nor interesting, nor substantive (“New Slaves” continues the black polemic he began in “We Don’t Care”). But littered throughout are the very familiar tropes of pomposity and street slang for which rap is infamous.

Use of the word…

Fuck – 25
Nigga – 32
Bitch/Ho – 23
Shit – 15
Pussy – 6

References to…

Cars – 9
BBD/cumming in someone’s mouth – 9
Being better than other people – “I am a God,” “I’m in It,” and the album is called Yeezus...

Here’s the thing. I have absolutely no problem with any of the things above in moderation; I don’t think certain words, thoughts, or life choices are off limits either in art or in practice (not even for Paula Deen), but as someone who consistently touts himself as being the “greatest,” why does he feel the need to play cards that less talented sharks must use to win the game? There are other words, thoughts, and life choices to rap about. The human experience and its lexicon are quite varied. But if you want to convey the sentiment of “bitch,” OK. What about “skank”? “Shrew”? “Ann Coulter”? You are much too creative to rest on cliches.

I am asking you directly, Mr. West! Are you afraid of losing fans? (Uncle Jay-Z must have schooled you during the recording of “Moments of Clarity”: “Truthfully, I want to rhyme like Common Sense/But I did five mil/I ain’t been rhyming like Common since…”). Are you afraid of not selling albums? News flash. No one is selling albums anymore. Yet people will always financially support you; people like me, who don’t buy anything. And the constant bragging! Don’t you know we already know you are genius?! Yes, I know that braggadocio is fun-da-men-tal, hunty. Yes, I understand why. Yes, we know your dick is big. We have all seen it. But Kanye, why do you feel the need to convince us? Perhaps you are trying to convince yourself. Which I hope isn’t true.

I know this is a tall order. I am asking you to literally change the entire face of rap. Which, to be fair, you have already told us you have done. So why not take it another step further! Imagine what the landscape would look like when the greatest, most visible musician in the rap game decided to prove his superiority by, you know, just making great music. If Exodus International can close its doors after 40 years of hate, anything is possible.

The Old Man and the Se(men)

Tonight I am going to a gay club with a boy from work and his man. Anyone who knows me even remotely well knows that going out – particularly to a club, and particularly to a gay club – is not really my thing. The crowds! The noise! The tacky fags twerking to Riri trying to get fucked in the bathroom! Bitch please. I am an old man in a (semi) young body; a misanthrope who would rather not participate in…well…anything.

Wanna know a secret? Ok. Come closer. No, stupid. I said come closer! You ready? The whole misanthrope thing? Totally a cover. A facade. A suit of armor to keep the haters, real and imagined, at bay. A character that I have adapted as my real personality. Some days it’s hard to tell where the real Jonathon starts and the fake one, the “interesting” one, ends. Some days The Character completely usurps the boy who still loves putting together puzzles with his grandmother; the man who actually feels compelled to give a helping hand to a person in need instead of staring from the side with some stank ass roll of the eye. Perhaps (oh, Hell, there is no perhaps. I am too self aware for perhaps, gurl) this is why I adore being alone with Julian. He is the only person with whom I feel I can be a total disaster and will still think I am nifty. I have a while to go to be completely free of the need to put on The Character with him – which is mostly displayed through sarcasm and talking a mile a minute in order to blockade any potential criticism – but out of everyone in my orbit, he comes the closest to getting me to total freedom. We actually hear each other. Probably because we are actually listening.

Various elements of The Character (disgruntled facial expressions, sinking into either hip as if just breathing is an inconvenience, an expansive litany of expletives) morph in and out of focus depending on who I am around. If it is my boss and I like them (which thankfully I do), I am usually closer to Jonathon than The Character; I am eager to pitch in and make it happen for the team (albeit with a groan and a bitch if passersby are inclined to enjoy this type of commiseration…). If I am around straight male friends (which I actually do have a few), I don’t necessarily “butch it up,” but let’s just say I probably won’t be talking about Bette Midler (although there was that one chef who looooooved her…to which of course I responded with a stoic “Yeah, she’s pretty awesome” instead of an arms flailing rendition of “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy.”) If I am around gay male friends/hags/other forms of the feminine persuasion, I take The Character to sometimes epic proportions of stereotype, adopting the black girl swag that all white gay boys learn at the meetings. But there is one group that The Character is without fail in full on Nazi regalia, goose-stepping for attention.

Beautiful boys.

Gay. Straight. Bi. Slightly Comatose. If you are gorgeous, it doesn’t matter. You have paid your admission. You will get the performance of your life.

It may seem counter-productive to play such a douchey part to try and woo the flies to your web, but honey is for pussies. If we learned nothing from the playground, the best way to let someone know you like them is to be an asshole.

This is also indicative to the male persona. Men are taught that to be a “real man” is to be like Hemingway: stoic, narcissistic, and brutish; able to kill dinner with your bare hands and punch out a lion. Ask any rapper. Braggadacio is inherent to the male experience. Which means cutting down others.

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Now, take it one step further and cross-breed that with the Gay Male Persona; one constantly trying to balance society’s perception of weakness by overcompensating for the The Velvet Rage with material and aesthetic riches. Now imagine two gay men constantly going toe to toe for masculine dominance. Now add sexual tension. Gurl, there will either be a boxing match or an orgy.

There is a boy (and I say boy because he is 21 and somewhere along the way that became young…..Lord) at work – let’s call him…Dan… – who is stunning. Ridiculously beautiful. If Shakespeare were alive, he would have pages of sonnets. If I were inclined to cheat, he would almost be worth it. He’s also really goofy and seems to be unaware of the power he holds in his…um…hands. So naturally, The Character is always in full tilt boogie around him. It really doesn’t help that he pushes back when I flirt or decide to throw ‘tude. Either he is completely oblivious and is just learning his version of The Character from a seasoned pro or he is well aware that I want his balls and might actually want mine too. (Which as anyone in a long term relationship will tell you is almost too much to imagine or resist) Anyway you slice it, being around him is…hard. (My apologies for the very obvious joke).

So of course hanging out with him tonight without Julian is a great idea. I have no doubt in my mind that nothing will happen (Marge didn’t raise no fool, y’all) despite the presence of alcohol, the menagerie of eager flesh, and the boom boom pow of that incessant bass line that is practically a demand to grind on anything you can. Which makes me wonder why I am going in the first place. To a gay bar at that. Whose historical purpose in Jonathon’s world has always been to get some D. I can get drunk and listen to remixes of “Where Have You Been?” on my couch for half the price and a quarter of the effort.

Which brings me to the real problem with this whole situation. The biggest reason I don’t go out to gay places in the first place.

The need to look amazing.

It is incredibly well known that we are a vain people. Of course, the reasons for this obsession are well documented and common sense when actually analyzed for two seconds, but it doesn’t make them any less real. Nor any easier to overcome. Especially when you know for a fact you will be in the presence of a boy like Dan.

I know I shouldn’t care. I have a man. Christ, we have a house; neither one of us is going anywhere. But to show up among the others looking anything less than fierce would be breaking one of the only social contracts we have.

I almost backed out of going tonight because – are you ready for this? – I felt I didn’t have anything to wear. This from a man who spends 90% of his life in pajamas, old t-shirts, and even while rocking his work clothes, still finds a way to look unkempt and somewhat slovenly.  Couple this with the fact that (hopefully) Dan has told his friends that I am attractive (dare he think I am actually hot?!), I am almost paralyzed with the fear to disappoint. Again. Why the hell do I care AT ALL!? Julian thinks I am beautiful. I think I am attractive. Why do I care if Dan, his friends, and a bevy of strangers (none of whom I even have the slightest chance of sleeping with) think I am fuckable? I start wondering if I have time to get chest implants, a butt lift, and whiten my teeth. This is somewhat hyberbolic, but underneath it all, very real fears.

I will also be the oldest one in the group tonight. By almost ten years. How do I play it? Do I act young? Or have I reached the point where that seems incredibly pathetic? Do I rock the cut offs and the wife beater trying to be the crunk twink, the one who gets up on the go-go box and runs his fingers through his hair like Britney at her peak? Do I sit on the sidelines, legs crossed, and glare at the foolishness? Or stand in the corner, drink in hand, desperately trying to emanate this Top energy, and eye-fuck the 19 year old goth boy who is dropping it like it’s hot?

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Or maybe, just maybe, I could actually, you know, be myself.

As I approach 30 and “traditional” paths of employment are hopefully on the very near horizon; as my very steady relationship grows stronger with each passing “That’s awesome” and hanging plant; as my values clarify and the conviction to uphold them becomes organic; as the desire to cut through the bullshit and just live becomes the rule and not the exception, so too shall the need for validation from all corners of the triangle.

I hope.

American Idle 3: Candice’s Challenge

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It’s been a little over two weeks since Candice Glover won the twelfth season of American Idol. She has one of the greatest voices to come out of the competition and has enormous potential to become the next big thing. Her sound is old school R&B mixed with a modern punch. Think Jill Scott. Or J Hud.  Go ahead. Have a listen below:

Candice reinvents Paula Abdul’s classic “Straight Up” as a calypso soul slow jam!

Or the performance that Randy Jackson called the “greatest performance in the history of American Idol.”

Or her bring you to your knees, spine-tingling, wipe away the tears duet with Ms. Hudson:

Clearly this girl deserved to win.

And yet, despite her immaculate voice, her charm, and her requisite innocence, Candice Glover, two weeks later, is already old news.

Candice’s debut single, “I am Beautiful,” was released the day after she first sang it on Idol. It debuted on the Billboard Hot 100 at #93 and disappeared as quickly as it came the following week.

Let’s compare this to the previous 11 coronation singles:

Kelly Clarkson – “A Moment Like This” = #1
Ruben Studdard – “Fly Without Wings” = #2
Fantasia – “I Believe” = #1
Carrie Underwood – “Inside Your Heaven” = #1
Taylor Hicks – “Do I Make You Proud” = #1
Jordin Sparks – “This is My Now” = #15
David Cook – “The Time of My Life” = #3
Kris Allen – “No Boundaries” = #11
Lee DeWyze – “Beautiful Day” = #24
Scotty McCreary – “I Love You This Big” = #11
Phillip Phillips – “Home” = #6

On iTunes, neither “I am Beautiful” nor her debut album, Music Speaks, slated for release July 16, are anywhere to be found in the Top 200 purchases; even in the gospel and R&B categories, Candice is MIA. The only place she shows up at all is on the Pop Albums Chart, at #86; for reference, on the same chart, last year’s winner Phillip Phillips is #16, Kelly Clarkson’s Greatest Hits is #25, and a New Kids on The Block compilation rests at #61.

What gives?

Well for one thing, Candice Glover has not been hitting the talk show circuit. As all Idol winners have done, Candice appeared on The Tonight Show the evening after she won; two days later, she sang on Live with Kelly and Mike; and she had an interview with MTV.com.

But let’s assess the other avenues she could and should have taken:

David Letterman
Jimmy Kimmel
Jimmy Fallon
Craig Ferguson
Wendy Williams
Good Morning, America
The View
The Talk
Chelsea Lately
Anderson Live

Of course, I can’t really blame Candice. She can only go on interviews that her people book for her. And on shows where the host thinks she will bring ratings. And given the “terrible ratings” this season of Idol has suffered, it’s not entirely surprising that the red carpet hasn’t been rolled out for her. Yet, the media doesn’t think for a second to report on every piece of drama between Minaj and Mariah or that past contestants have dipped their toes into the pool of porn. We know that the Idol Tour has been scaled back (most likely due to low ticket sales) and that the entire panel has been fired, only to be replaced with J Hud and Friends, but this year’s winner? Meh. Who cares? The whole reason to have the show in the first place – to create music’s new sensation – seems to be secondary to…everything else. Which is a damn shame.

So Candice. If you are reading this, remember. Your career is in your hands. As Mariah told you before shamelessly pimping her own mediocre video to her own mediocre song in which she is somehow the guest vocalist, your image is yours to control. Break free from the Idol people as quickly as you can. Take that voice and make the music you want. And maybe you won’t sell a bunch of records. Look at Jennifer and Fantasia. They have two of the best voices of all time, yet Taylor Swift’s cheesy saccharinity is trumping them both (Fantasia’ Side Effects of You is amazing! Buy it, people!) Hopefully, your album, as promised, is full of the R&B you do so well instead of that horrible lead single you chose (Sorry, gurl. It’s heartfelt, but a little too earnest to be a hit). And who knows. Maybe “I am Beautiful” will have some surprising jump to the top of the pops! But even if your album and it’s subsequent singles don’t blow up the charts like Clarkson, remember that you are fabulous. Here is the proof: