The Reviewer: MILK

MILK, the latest feature film starring Sean Penn, sets out to inspire audiences with a biographical tribute to activist Harvey Milk. The story of the man, Harvey Milk, is a compelling one; the kind of memory America is built upon. Harvey Milk was the first openly homosexual government official, a representative in the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. Filled with the passion of many 1960s and 70s social activists, Harvey Milk was another human being willing to live and die for a cause, leaving a legacy behind that will last long after he is gone. Would the achievements of our current president have occurred if not for people like Milk?

Unlike Milk the man, MILK the film was somewhat of a disappointment. One of the functions of truly great art is to convey true human emotion even in acting. This is one of many instances where I must disagree with the Oscar nomination committee – Penn was recently nominated best actor for his performance in MILK – and cite Penn and James Franco’s performances as lackluster, mediocre at best. The entire movie did a disservice to the story of Harvey Milk. While it represented the time and the culture of the 1970s gay rights movement, it wasn’t at all as compelling as I imagined the life of Harvey Milk to be, before I saw the film.

Interestingly, I experienced a similar disappointment when I first visited San Francisco. And I think the problem was the same then as it is now – expectation. As a young girl, I remember I always wanted to visit San Francisco. I romanticized it endlessly. The spirits would be free, the activists passionate, the people more creative, and weather that rivaled anywhere else in the world. Arriving with impossibly high expectations, San Francisco was destined to disappoint – the weather was probably the only thing that didn’t let me down. I had envisioned a mere dream world, exclusive of the death and drug abuse that confronts visitors of San Francisco. With freedom and expression, comes a certain Utopian reputation, but such idealism often delivers an unwanted reality. And so comes the parallel to the movie MILK. With such critical acclaim, and such an important, culturally relevant story to tell, I was anticipating this movie much in the same fashion.

History lovers will appreciate the setting and costume choices of MILK, as the film truly does achieve that Northern California 1970s vibe. The cinematography is interesting, there were lessons of tolerance, passion, and social values to be learned, but the actors were no James Dean or Jack Nicholson.


College Football Lagging Behind In Diversity

Who knew sports and politics had so much in common. In America, both are rooted deep in our social fabric and possess a certain irony. In fact, a bizarre connection is evident. The nation’s first African American president was inaugurated Jan.20. If you think that alone is a telling sign of the times, then you should focus on the sidelines of college football fields across the U.S. If you focus hard enough, it will become very clear.

It’s unfortunate that the giant step occurring in American politics isn’t true of college campuses across the United States — primarily at Division 1-A schools with football programs. At least in terms of perceived value, the sport is larger than the institutions which house them.

Frankly, it is astounding that a black man is ready to lead a nation in a state of economic decline, but black men are perceived to be incapable and unqualified to lead some of the nation’s top college football programs. The election of Barack Obama as our 44th president certainly serves as a sign of progress at the highest level, but there’s a lot of work to be done below the executive branch, where irony exceeds logic.

Over a month ago, only three of the men who served as head football coach at 119 Division 1-A schools were of African-American descent. That number increased to seven. It was not an attempt to catch up with other sports, but rather to save face by exercising a certain degree of political correctness. Furthermore, those seven have been reduced to coaching jobs at lesser schools, signifying the long overdue trend still has not made its way to a larger platform.

Not even college football’s governing body can offer a watershed moment. Although the NCAA cannot select head coaches, it can legislate change beginning with a rule that requires teams to interview a black candidate before hiring a coach. But the real power lies within the institution itself – one even more powerful than the NCAA that governs it. School presidents and athletic directors are pressured by wealthy boosters and a board of directors alike. Thus, those in power are forced to make their subordinates a priority, rather than much needed diversity.

Will college football ever change its rigid ways based on old traditions? Essentially the issue and politics are one in the same. Both involve a society seeking change in the current white-dominated system. Both bring large masses to congregate and unite. Citizens’ views comprise the approval rating of politicians, while college football uses a grading system to evaluate the aspect of fairness in the hiring process. Politics and sports are parallel even in their end results. Both try, to a certain degree, to succeed in reaching change.

If America can do it, college football can too.

Athletes Condemned for Leaving School Early, Being Individuals

Quarterback Mark Sanchez left the University of Southern California the same way he came in: Great expectations, highly touted with talent and loaded with both a mind and arm capable of wreaking havoc on opposing defenses. While he might be an elite breed of quarterback, Sanchez is like all other high-profile college athletes who came before him – as well as those who will come after – who skip out on school to enter the ranks of America’s professional sports leagues.

Following in the steps of Florida’s Percy Harvin and Georgia’s Matthew Stafford, Sanchez, a fourth-year junior, is the latest underclassman to enter the upcoming NFL draft in April. After a year and a half of taking the calls from head coach Pete Carroll on the sidelines, Sanchez made his own call when he decided to forego his senior season to fulfill his dream of someday being an NFL quarterback.

Sanchez held a press conference last Thursday announcing his decision to the public, in which his head coach most likely embarrassed himself more so than his quarterback. The biggest day of Sanchez’s life – a happy day – quickly became more about Pete Carroll and the USC program than the future of a potentially great quarterback. The coach displayed his disapproval by stating his desire for Sanchez to return for his final season, claiming the added year would greatly benefit the quarterback.

Even in these tough economic times, college student-athletes continue to be persuaded by the dollar, as much as it is a personal goal to take their game to the next level. The American dollar, however, is not recession-proof unlike education. Betting one’s future on the fluctuating value of currency is essentially a gamble with one’s life. Some of those who have left school early – Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade – have fared pretty well and even those who never attended college – Lebron James, Kevin Garnett, Kobe Bryant – have done even better. Consider them lucky. They not only made it in professional sports, but they became superstars. All were fortunate and smart enough to build up their bank accounts and secure a bright future for life after sports.

Then there are those less fortunate. Former Ohio State running back Maurice Clarett spent one year as a Buckeye before attempting to become eligible for the NFL. When the league denied his request, Clarett turned to a life of crime with neither an academic diploma nor a professional contract in hand. Former USC star-wide receiver Mike Williams can relate.

As the two previous athletes can attest, deciding to leave school early is a personal decision and risk. Everyone has their reasons. Some make an early exit to avoid getting injured in their final year of college and their stock drastically plummets as a result. Others do it because they need the money to provide for their families, as Oakland Raiders running back Darren McFadden did. Critics, as Carroll knows, view leaving school early as an abomination, but the real horror behind this growing trend is condemning athletes for making decisions that are purely their own.

Football Players Reach Out in an Unconventional Way

Few cultural trends in sports last long. Some, like the boastful and notorious “jersey pop” fade away when players and the fans who emulate them finally realize that these antics are no longer cool. Others, such as end-zone celebrations, are simply outlawed by professional sports leagues and constitute a multi-thousand dollar fine plus a 15-yard penalty. Consider Terrell Owens and his habit of carrying Sharpie markers in his socks a thing of the past. The same can be said for Joe Horne pulling a cell phone out of the padding of the goal post and calling collect.

There once was a time, about a decade ago, when sports offered fans an added entertainment bonus for attending games. Sure, grown men and their sons are still able to find themselves in awe when watching the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders perform the halftime show at Texas Stadium. But what they can’t find are those marvels of choreography simply known as the touchdown dance. By the looks of some, it seems they are constructed and performed as precisely as running a post pattern or blitzing a quarterback. The Dirty Bird made popular by the Atlanta Falcons during their 1998 Super Bowl run? The St. Louis Rams’ Bob and Weave? Britney Spears should be jealous.

Today, those fads are but a distant memory. No longer in existence, except in our memories. Perhaps athletes collectively have progressed. Maybe some have even emotionally matured. Either way, the change is apparent at all levels of competition. The aspect of entertainment has now been reduced to the game itself. Performance, intended for the delight of audiences, has transformed into the personal, intended for the players who perform.

Black eye smear used by football players to block the sun’s rays has been around for nearly 30 years. But innovation paired with the technology of the 21st century has converted what was once a messy cream into a neat and convenient adhesive strip. The fact that players wear them in today’s game is old news, but now they are being adorned with personal messages that serve as inspiration. Unlike other trends that have graced the sports world in years past, the custom black eye strips are comparable to playoff beards and backwards hats in that they have stuck and are here to stay.

During the 2005 BCS FedEx Orange Bowl, Matt Leinart and Lendale White led USC to a national championship, but as much talk was made about up and coming star Reggie Bush’s eye strips as the Trojans’ victory. Under one eye, Bush had written “619” and beneath the other, “SE.” After analysts and commentators were left puzzled, Bush revealed that the messages were symbolic of his hometown of Spring Valley, California – a city whose area code is 619 and is located in the southeast portion of San Diego County.

Bush paved the way for what is now the most popular method of giving shout outs to loved ones and instilling confidence in one’s self. The nation got a glimpse of eye strips’ popularity during this year’s national title game between Florida and Oklahoma. Gators quarterback Tim Tebow’s strips featured “John” and “3:16” under his eyes, a rare deviation from his trademark biblical verse of “Phil” coupled with “4:13” which he wore during every regular-season game in 2008.

The nationwide audience also saw the emotional purpose that the strips have, as injured Gator Louis Murphy was helped off the field by trainers after injuring his leg. Although 101 words could have been used to describe the agonizing expression on his face, only those legible were “I (heart) U” and “Mom,” written underneath his eyes. Former USC quarterback Mark Sanchez wrote the name of a teenage boy with bone marrow cancer under his eyes, while teammate Rey Maualuga gave some love to his father. Athletes have found an appropriate way to bring a team game to a more personal level. The meaning is in the message.

The Reviewer: Doubt

Every subjective conclusion – no matter how slightly questionable – is its prey. It’s that thing that lurks behind every bad decision, and even every good one. You ask yourself: What if I would have chosen a different path? What if what I believed to be true, the very core values of my existence, are merely an illusion? Then, the horror sinks in as you realize a fate worse than knowing your error, is failing to know at all. The true assault on the human spirit? Doubt.

A film with penetrating performances from both leads – Meryl Streep and Philip Seymour Hoffman – Doubt progresses from first displaying the simple suspicion that accompanies a mystery unsolved, to the most compelling uncertainty. The movie’s central conflict is between Streep, a frighteningly strict headmaster of a traditional Catholic preparatory school, against Hoffman, a liberal priest with more than his fair share of vices. In a priest dinner scene, Hoffman chases his gluttonous meal with a large glass of beer, then puffs on a cigarette as he makes fat jokes about the school’s nuns, causing his fellow priests to explode into the kind of laughter that only accompanies pure adoration. A flash to the nun’s dinner setup shows Streep at the head of the table of silent nuns, all scared to make a sound as they chew each bite with caution.

Streep’s character wants to maintain the things Catholic School nightmares are made of: endless homework, strict behavior regulation and severe punishment for even the slightest act of rebellion. Hoffman threatens her system with his modernity, by defying every traditional ideal about the priesthood. Doubt is just a tad overzealous in its attempt to tackle one social commentary after the next, whether segregation, dogma or even child molestation.

But Doubt is one to see. As viewers attempt to figure out whether or not Hoffman is in fact guilty of Streep’s extreme accusations against them, they will become engrossed in the characters, the performance and a deeper question. While the mystery of Hoffman’s guilt remains the unkown, a more valuable truth is realized in Streep. A nun intensely devoted to her religion and her vision of its intention, even she questions the entire premise of God, Catholicism and the system. Doubt begs viewers to consider uncertainty a force just as, if not far more powerful than undying faith.

-Doubt is showing this week and next week at Muvico Baywalk 20, 101 3rd Ave. N. in downtown St. Petersburg.

Quality Produce in St. Petersburg

$12.82. That is how much I paid for produce this morning at my local Saturday Morning Market. In downtown St. Petersburg we are lucky enough to have a farmer’s market at our fingertips. Today I bought bananas, mushrooms, asparagus, bell peppers, strawberries (Plant City style), apples and onions all for $12.82. Normally at Publix I would be paying $15 or more for all those goodies.

This was the first time I have purchased produce from this market, or any market for that matter and I’m cursing myself for waiting so long! I was motivated to buy today from the book I recently purchased, Eat This Not That: Supermarket Survival Guide. I am a huge fan of this book and this is author and Men’s Health Editor-In-Chief, David Zinczenko’s best yet. Just from the produce I bought today, I’ll give you a few facts and benefits of each.

Bananas: available year-round, store green, unripe fruit away from direct heat and sun. If you want to speed up the riping process put those green bananas in a paper bag. The benefits include B6 (USDA says this fruit helps prevent cognitive decline)

Mushrooms: Avoid dark spots or brittle caps. Best from Nov.-April. To store cover fungi with a moist towel and refrigerate for 3-5 days. Great to boost your immune system and tumor-suppressing.

Asparagus: Best when they are bright green from top to bottom with purple-tinged buds. Best to consume March-June. Trim the ends and stand upright in a little water, cover tops with plastic bag, good for 3-5 days. These spears have folate and a B vitamin that reduced inflammation and protects the heart.

Strawberries: Bright red color with no mushy spots. Best from June-Aug. (unless you live in Florida). These berries will last 2-3 days in the fridge. Packed with Vitamin C.

Bell Peppers: Bright and solid green color. Great to eat July-Dec. Can be refrigerated up to 2 weeks. Loaded with antioxidants, vitamin C and vitamin A.

Onions: Crisp skin, no dents or dark spots. Great to use year-round. Store this veggie in a cool, dark place for up to 3-4 weeks. GPCS is a peptide known for reducing bone loss in experimental rates plus has the benefit of the cancer-fighting compound quercetin.

Apples: Firm skin, bright in color with no brusing. Best to eat Sept.- May. Keep apples in a plastic bag away from other veggies to ensure freshness. Contains quercetin which is linked to better heart-health, plus soluble fiber pectic which helps control cholesterol.

Whew. After all that, I think you know what is best. Use your search engines and find your local farmer’s market, or if you’re near St. Pete check it out every Saturday from 9 a.m.- 2 p.m.

The Piano Man

“Guess what I got?” My mom had the grin of a child on Christmas day. Before I could guess she shouted, “Two tickets for Billy Joel! You want to come home for the concert?” The look on her face was so youthful, so excited I couldn’t have said no even if I wanted to. “Of course I’ll go,” I said with a similar grin. As the concert drew nearer I completely forgot about it. It wasn’t until I arrived home that I remembered why I had come home in the first place. Sure I wanted to go to the concert, but it wasn’t lingering on my mind. I didn’t have any expectations about Billy Joel, but upon arriving to the concert I realized I was in for a surprise, a big one.

I watched as thousands of people pile into the Seminole Hard Rock Live in Hollywood, FL on Jan. 16. There was a familiar buzz in the air: A buzz of anticipation. A buzz of excitement. I expected an opening act but to my surprise the headline performer came right on. Unlike many concerts I have been to, this one blew me away. I never expected this to be the best performance I’d ever seen. I never expected this to be the only concert I would remember in vivid detail. From beginning to end the sounds of his voice filled the arena and I was brought back to my childhood when my mom first played his music for me. Billy Joel, a voice of the past and present. The only “piano man.”

From beginning to end Joel used humor and wit to draw in the audience on a personal level. The crowd swayed and sang to his classic songs for the entire two and a half hours he played. His wit and connection weren’t his only impressive skills. Besides his unique vocals, Joel played the piano, harmonica and guitar throughout the entire concert. His talent was there for everyone to enjoy and marvel at. Without expecting to, I began to familiarize myself with songs and singing along. Toward the middle of his performance I began noticing the fans. There was my screaming, jumping mother, shouting, “I REMEMBER WHEN I SAW HIM FOR THE FIRST TIME WHEN I WAS 18. HE WORE THE SAME OUTFIT!” She made friends with the just-as-excited jumping woman standing next to her. I noticed the people on the floor. Everyone was standing and embracing the songs, the music, the words. Thousands of people brought together by one performer. For a few short hours we all had the same thing in common: happiness.

Some fans were in a “New York State of Mind.” Others waited for “Captain Jack” to get them high that night. And some were simply “Keeping the Faith.” And we were all enjoying “The Entertainer.” But it didn’t matter which song was reaching which fan. We were united as one. No one was thinking about economic downfall, gas prices or the hourly wage for their babysitter. Everyone was brought together by the music, and everyone was happy. After singing two encores the piano man finally played his song. Half way through it I realized Joel wasn’t even singing anymore. We were singing to the Piano Man and he was playing his piano for us. There wasn’t a voice that couldn’t be heard. And there wasn’t a person not singing to the piano man. He pointed his microphone toward us and we sang in unison until the end. Joel gave a captivating performance, one I will never forget. Because he’s the only performer who gave everyone a chance to “Forget about Life for Awhile.”