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Straight Outta Compton: A review (spoilers possible)

August 24, 2015 Leave a comment

So I’m going to start this with a little personal history.

I was in junior high when I first heard N.W.A. It was a hard, angry subset of what I used to listen to in Hip Hop land, nowhere near the Beasties in their ill flow, and even darker and more political than Public Enemy. This was full on gangsta rap at its inception, and the more I heard everyone from my Mom to politicians to teachers talk about how bad it was for me, it made this tweenager want to listen to it more.

MTV would play their stuff late at night once in a while on Yo! MTV Raps, but that was pretty much the only outlet I had to find out what the fuss was about. Until I heard the album Straight Outta Compton, that is. Blew my mind with the beats, and the message about life in the ‘hood. The real life gang-banging get your head smacked in by the po-pos kind of life, not what you saw on House Party (although I still love that movie). It was a lot to process, but it was the most real statement of life I’d heard by that point.

There were drawbacks. Even then, I was cognizant of the fact that the genre was very alpha-male oriented. Women were seen as playthings, so as much as I wanted to embrace the message, I couldn’t get right with that even at that young age.

So saying all that, let’s get into the movie review. Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, and Eazy-E’s widow Tamika Wright were involved in producing this film, so the accuracy is pretty real. I’m sure some things were changed for dramatic effect, but as Ed Lover said during his show (I like to listen to him on Sirius XM’s Backspin during afternoon drivetime), lots of people can confirm the accuracy of what went down because they were there when it did. Eazy was a drug dealer, Cube was a high school student writing lyrics all the time, Dre and Yella were part of the World Class Wreckin’ Cru, wearing marching band tops and spinning late 80s R&B the club manager wanted. Then one day Dre convinces Eazy to put up some money and get on the mic, and N.W.A. was born.

There wasn’t much they had to think about for inspiration, as life getting hassled by the cops and just trying to survive gave them loads of material. Art as a reflection of reality.

Eazy brought in Jerry Heller to manage the group forming Ruthless Records, and while Heller and E lived up the high life, Cube, Dre, Yella and MC Ren were kickin’ it Fatburger style on the road. The movie portrays Heller as a shyster, never wanting to come up with contracts and when he finally did, they were very lacking. Cube never signed and left the group to do his own thing, and Dre (with the help of Suge Knight, a straight up thug to this day) finally got out of his contract with Ruthless Records to release “The Chronic”. All of the members pretty much went their seperate ways (Dre producing Snoop and Tupac on Death Row Records which he founded with Suge Knight) and Cube writing Friday and working on his own material.

Eazy stayed with Jerry Heller until his girlfriend shows him proof that Heller played him dirty. Eazy finally got in touch with Dre and Cube to let them know he was no longer with Heller so they could cut an album together and bring the old group back. Unfortunately by then Eazy’s hard partying ways came back to haunt him, as he fell ill to HIV and eventually dying of AIDS at the age of 31.

The actors who portrayed the group members did a great job. Jason Mitchell played Eazy-E, and his mannerisms and way of speaking were on point. And of course, O’Shea Jackson, Jr. had his pops down cold.

Unfortunately in this movie, women are portrayed in a very negative light or barely seen at all. Obviously there is no mention of the physical abuse Dre inflicted on his ex-girlfriend and lablemate Michel’le as well as television host Dee Barnes. And, in the many scenes of the party life women are just sex objects, to be played with and then tossed aside as the tour rolled on.

Dre has addressed the controversy recently, and I’ll give him credit for doing that. But to mention something about those situations as negative as they were would have given more realism to the film than only showing the positive. That’s life after all, it ain’t all positive all the time.

Anyway, I thought the movie was well acted and well written. One scene in particular really got me nostalgic for a pretty weird reason. Their first show is at a local Skateland. Young bloods may not know the significance of the place, but to this author it played a big role in my childhood. I spent many a Saturday and birthday parties for classmates at Skateland, and was so sad when they closed in favor of bingo parlors. That was messed up.

Why the right shoes are important for the right activity (like Zumba and Turbo Fire)

August 11, 2015 Leave a comment

Lately I’ve gotten back into taking Zumba classes. I originally started with them about 10 years ago when they were first offered at my local gym, along with other types of dance like Hip Hop and Bellydance. I had an amazing teacher who would teach them all, but then she moved away and I couldn’t get my dance fix anymore. Total bummer.

If you don’t know what Zumba is, it’s a mix of Latin styles along with a little hip hop thrown in here and there. Very fun, very energetic, but you have to be careful not to torque your knees with the constant shifting and turns. I’d been having some knee issues lately so this was something that was very much on my mind, not to mention the fact that my knees were 10 years older than my last sessions.

An example:

So let’s start with what I started with… running shoes. Obviously they’re great for doing any type of running, but I noticed that when I tried to shift suddenly on the hardwood class floor, it wasn’t very easy to move. And there’s good reason for that: running shoes are designed to propel you forward, not side to side. My knee wasn’t happy with me at all that time.

Then I tried cross trainers. They were better for sure than running shoes, but i still felt some resistance in certain moves. Knee was getting happier though.

I finally broke down and decided to try dance sneakers. Some are very similar to cross trainers, but the key difference is the inclusion of a pivot point on the ball of the sole. So I got a pair of Ryka Exertions online during a sale to try out.

I was not disappointed.

Wearing a dance sneaker takes getting used to, but I actually feel lighter on my feet and my knee hasn’t complained once since I started with the Rykas. I can jump, twist, slide, and get funky with no issues now. I also use them for Turbo Fire at home because even on carpet I can make sudden, explosive movements easier now with them. Even Les Mills Pump has a dance sneaker line out. Interesting how that works, yes?

The Ryka Exertion. Not a top of the line type of shoe, but a great starter.

The Ryka Exertion. Not a top of the line type of shoe, but a great starter.

All in all, a good find. Zumba has their own sneaker line out, but I read the reviews and a lot of customers weren’t happy with them for various reasons (low stability, not much cushioning, high price point). I opted not to get those, but that’s just a personal preference.

Movie reviews: The Drop and Locke (spoilers)

August 3, 2015 Leave a comment

I went on another Tom Hardy binge over the weekend, but for good reason. The following movies were two that I’d been meaning to see for months but hadn’t had a chance. So onward we go:

Movie: The Drop

Starring: Tom Hardy, James Gandolfini, Noomi Rapace

Available on: HBO Go and Amazon Prime

The Drop is a pretty typical Noo Yawk movie in some respects in that it is set in a pretty blue collar neighborhood where the characters meet and interact, usually at the local bar where Bob Saginowski (Hardy) and his cousin Marv (Gandolfini, who passed away about a month after filming wrapped) work. Cousin Marv used to own the bar, but through some gambling and debt issues, had to sell to some Chechen mobsters. Their bar is one of many that is used as a “Drop” where money from shady business goes to for collection in the wee hours of the morning.

Bob is a pretty laid back dude, perhaps a wee bit on the slow side. He finds a puppy in a trashcan belonging to Nadia (Rapace), a neighborhood girl who’s got some skeletons in her closet as well, notably a sociopathic ex-boyfriend named Eric (Matthias Schoenaerts). People get shot, drinks are drunk, and Bob keeps slinging the drinks, cleaning up limbs, and welcoming his new puppy pal into his home.

However typical the movie sounds though, the performances of the actors sets it apart from other mob movies. Hardy gets into his character in his methody way (never change, Tom), and Gandolfini as always steals every scene he’s in. What’s interesting in this film is that the only American in the primary cast is Gandolfini, everyone else is either British, Swedish, or Russian.

Movie: Locke

Starring: Tom Hardy

Available on: Amazon Prime

Tom Hardy is literally the only person who shows up onscreen in this movie. He spends the entire length of the film in his BMW X5, driving from his workplace to a London hospital where his one night stand is giving birth to a baby (he’s married, by the way). Every interaction he has is a phone call he answers through Bluetooth. What makes the movie interesting is the content of the calls. His life’s path changes from the minute he steps foot in the car to when he makes it to his destination, and he’s not exactly a saint in the audience’s eyes by the end. Still, it’s a formidable performance by Hardy, and I highly recommend it.

If Tom Hardy doesn’t get nominated for an Academy Award this year, I’ll be very surprised.

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