War Room: Movie Review

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War Room provides an in-depth look at what happens when people pray. Elizabeth Jordan and her husband Tony have great jobs. He’s into selling pharmaceuticals, she’s into real estate. They have a daughter and a great home. But Elizabeth starts to realize all that glitters is not gold. Her marriage is deteriorating and it’s effecting everything around her including how her daughter feels about the family. Elizabeth takes on a new client, Ms. Clara.
While trying to sell her home, Ms. Clara shows Elizabeth all the rooms in the house. But she leaves the best one for last. Her prayer room. This is the room where Ms. Clara has done all of her prayer over the years. She has introduced this “War Room” to Elizabeth in hopes that she will use prayer and ask God for intercession with her husband and home life. Tony is up to no good… and the devil is alive and lurking in the midst. What will Elizabeth do? She must fight for her family and make sacrifices that are necessary in order to save her family.
In its second week at the Box Office “War Room” came in at the #1 spot with around $9 million dollars. This is the fifth film by the Kendrick brothers. They are also known for successes for Courageous and Fireproof. I have heard several stories about a prayer room. But never a “War Room” before. In the Bible it does talk about laying your burdens before God and praying in secret. It makes perfect sense.
I am very encouraged by this film because I have hope for Christian films and have seen that quality films are being made and becoming very successful. I thought the concept of the “War Room” was great. The story about the War Room is one of encouragement for not just African Americans, but for ALL people. This film was humorous, yet dealt with real issues that families deal with on a daily basis. Overall, I would give this film 3.5 stars out of 5.
Ephesians 6:12 King James Version (KJV)
12 For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.

2 Chronicles 20:17New King James Version (NKJV)
17 You will not need to fight in this battle. Position yourselves, stand still and see the salvation of the LORD, who is with you, O Judah and Jerusalem!’ Do not fear or be dismayed; tomorrow go out against them, for the LORD is with you.”

Review: Ant-Man

By Okema “Seven” Gunn

ant-man

Ant Man is a sci-fi superhero action film that is part of the 12th “Marvel Cinematic Universe”. Paul Rudd takes up the helm as Scott Lang, the mischievous Tech thief. Lang’s claim to fame was pulling off one of the biggest heists in history. Lang steals the Ant-man suit from billionare, scientist Dr. Hank Pym (an ex-SHIELD compatriot). Lang is put through a trial to see if he has what it takes to be Ant-Man. Afraid of the suit, Lang returns it to the house where he broke into. The police arrive and Lang goes to jail once more. Pym gives Lang an ultimatum…. stay in jail or use the suit to escape.

Eventually, Dr. Pym (Michael Douglas) uses Scott Lang, turning him into a good guy via the Ant-man suit. Dr. Pym and his daughter, Hope (Evangeline Lilly), train Lang to help them take down Darren Cross (Corey Stroll), infiltrate Cross Industries, and destroy the plans for Project Yellow Jacket. Scott Lang gathers his team of vagabonds and thieves (T.I., Michael Pena, David Dastmalchian) to assist Dr. Pym and Hope, to save the world from the secret of the Pym particle getting into the wrong hands .

Small points of Interest-

1. Who is Ant- Man in Marvel Comics? I hadn’t really heard too much about Ant-Man until now. Maybe they tucked him away for such a time as this. In the film, he is associated with trying to steal from the Avengers. Segway into next film…Falcon (Anthony Mackie) will be looking for Ant-Man…

2. He’s Single Sexy and Smart. Scott Lang has a Masters in Electrical Engineering and specifically chosen by Dr. Pym. He’s divorced and trying to prove to his little girl that he can be a great dad. Ant-man has met his match with Hope Van Dyne, too.

3. Cool Ant-Man Suit…. and boy Michael Douglas; you look great after what you’ve been through. The power and determination behind the suit is ability to be a leader among the ants. Pym (Douglas) developed the suit and used it to spy on the USSR during the Cold War. Consequently, Hank Pym’s wife, Maria (Wasp) was killed when she went subatomic to try to stop a nuclear missile from entering US soil. From then on he never stopped researching to try to find a way to get her back. Learning to shrink and grow is a skill that the wearer of the suit must master. It’s about life or death. But, once you shrink to the subatomic level….you are lost for eternity……

Overall, Ant-Man delivers. I would give it 4 stars out of 5. The plot is simple to the point, entertaining, and action packed without too much divergence. Characters are clearly defined and relevant. Great graphics and special effects, with the right amount of humor. As always stick around after the credits for defining moments for the sneak peek for the next film where Ant-Man will appear!

This film was Distributed by Walt Disney Studios in conjunction with Marvel Studios. Directed by Peyton Reed. Special guest appearance by Stan Lee. Running Time 117 minutes. Release date July 17, 2015.

*This is the original article by Okema “Seven” Gunn*

Interview With Playwright: Lydia Diamond

Lydia Diamond

Lydia Diamond’s phenomenal work shines through, but not without hard work and years of dedication. She has a critical, yet witty analysis of the world and her collection of memories. “Stick Fly” is no exception to the rule. In this play, she peels back layers of her characters and exposes them bare bones. The audience gets a clear glimpse of the reason and motivation, the ‘what makes him or her tick’. Pure genius with the interweaving of  individual African-American perspectives and conflict; while addressing cultural and emotional collective psyche.

1. When did you know you wanted to become a playwright?
I didn’t know right away that I wanted to ‘be’ a playwright. I considered myself an actor and wanted to write roles that I’d enjoy playing. Funny, flawed, complicated, contemporary black women.

2. Who has inspired you on your journey? Family and other artists?
I am so fortunate to have been well supported and mentored through the years. First of course there is my mother, who has cheered me on, and come to every play, from grade school on. Then there are the many mentors and colleagues along the way… Chuck Smith for instance, this kind man and talented director who is committed to mentoring young artists, through the years he has taught me so much. He directed my first play at a Regional theatre (The Gift Horse at the Goodman, in 2001). And of course, he directed the first production of Stick Fly. I won’t name all of the others, I can only leave some out. But I have been well brought up by friends, family, and colleagues and it has made all of the difference.

3. Where did you begin your education in developing characters and building worlds?
My first playwriting teacher was Charles (not to be confused with Chuck) Smith, the wonderful playwright, who was my playwriting professor at Northwestern University when I was an undergraduate. I don’t know that I’d have learned that I have a facility for the craft were it not for him. He gave me the foundation for making plays, on which I’ve built anything and everything else I’ve ever written.

4. What works have you done lately that led to “Stick Fly”? Inspiration for this play?

Well, Stick Fly has been around for so many years, that between writing it and now, I have been busy. Since Stick Fly there have been many others. Voyeurs de Venus (first produced while we were putting up Stick Fly – It won the Joseph Jefferson award for best play that year), An adaptation of Toni Morrison’s “The Bluest Eye” for Steppenwolf for Young Adults, Harriet Jacobs, also for Steppenwolf, and most recently Smart People.

I’m not sure that’s the answer you were looking for here’s a shorter version:

I was inspired to write Stick Fly while working on another play. I wanted to try my hand at a “well-made play” a traditional play, and I wanted to laugh and sort of escape the research I was doing for the other play that was deeply depressing. That other play was Voyeurs de Venus, and it is one of my favorites.

5. How would you describe “Stick Fly”?
I would call Stick Fly a comedy/drama about an a family who spends a weekend at their home on Martha’s Vineyard… and exciting stuff happens! The marketing people do that better…. but it’s definitely a play full of laughs, tears, and revealed secrets.

6. What specific character can you relate to the most and why?
There’s a little bit of me in all of my characters. Taylor is the character who some years ago I most identified with. Now I’m really understanding Kimber better, and now that my son is getting older, I have more compassion for Joe. But yeah, I’m in all of them.

What are pros and cons of Broadway vs. Off-Broadway? (In your opinion)
Having been raised in Chicago, it’s a hard question to answer. Chicago is a town that values the art above the venue. First of all, there are no Broadway cons. It’s an honor to be able to have had a play produced there, and it’s the same with off-broadway. A production is a production, you hope for talented people who bring the talent and not the drama, you hope that you’ll all make something beautiful together, and you hope that audiences will appreciate what you have made. The rest is just real-estate. I suppose that if I had to critique any of it, I’d say that the American Theatre still needs to figure out how to put on plays that represent the racial, economic, and sexual diversity that makes our country what it is. Right now theatre, particularly in the more established houses, can look very homogenous. I’m happy to see that changing…it could change faster.

7. Is it still difficult to be an African American playwright? Is there more tolerance to blacks and females in the theater, now?
It’s difficult to be a playwright, period. It’s challenging to be a person of color in this country that still has so many racial issues, and denies that it does so vigorously. Theatre is no different. It’s gotten a little better, but if you look at the statistics for who gets productions in this country, the reality is still very grim for women of color, and women in general.

8. Where do you go when you create? (Your own writing space)
Right now I have a specific table, near an outlet, at the Starbucks on Sherman Avenue in Evanston. I also have a nice spot at the bar at the restaurant Farm House in Evanston. (it has electricity too, good fries, and if I’ve had a good a day of writing, it’s nice to have a glass of wine at the end of the day.) I do have an office at home, but I find that if I try to write there I get too easily distracted, and tend to feel a little confined.

*This interview is by the original author Okema “Seven” Gunn*

Straight Outta Compton: Movie Review

 

straight_outta_compton_800_2015_0When I was a student at Hampton University in the late 90’s, I went to the Student Council Building and met Dr. Dre. He had signed a piece of paper that I had taken out of my backpack. I told him it was for my brother and to tell him to not give up and stay in school. I don’t know where that piece of paper is today, but I’ll never forget how he was when I saw him. I think he had just come back from Africa. He looked as if he had already lived 2 lifetimes. I had remembered that he was a part of NWA (Niggaz Wit’ Attitudes), which was one of the most influential groups of American culture.
“Straight Outta Compton” begins with Eric “Easy E” Wright trying to escape from a drug deal gone bad. He’s running from the law…and running to stay alive. A young Dre was looking for something better for his life and had great vision about the kind of music that he wanted to do as a DJ. Fed up with his monotonous, R&B slow-jam DJ job, Dre decided to meet up with Ice Cube and Easy E to join a group. MC Ren and DJ Yella joined the group also in 1986-87. They made their own label called “Ruthless Records” and created a single called “Boys in the Hood”.
These young boys were determined to change their fate and knew that if they stayed in Compton they would never make it. A man named Jerry Heller found NWA and signed them to Priority Records exposing them to the tour life and other promotions, while taking them on a ride by seducing them with lavish parties, big concerts, and women. Under Jerry’s management, NWA creates their first album “Straight Outta Compton”.
NWA gets threats from the government and the police for playing the song “F*** the Police”. This song generated a major media frenzy and outraged the authorities. The song was created by NWA because of the unwarranted disrespect by the police toward people of color. Later, Ice Cube became restless with “Ruthless and Priority” Records for not giving him and the other artists their due share of royalties. Not long afterwards, Dr. Dre follows suit leaving NWA and creating Death Row Records.
Suge Night the “Bully”, Tupac Shakur, Snoop Dogg, Warren G, The D.O.C. and Bone Thugs N Harmony come into the picture at crucial points in this NWA narrative. When Easy E finds that he has HIV it’s not long after that they must say their goodbye’s to an old friend…..
When the smoke has cleared Ice Cube and Dre begin again on a long journey of self-discovery, reflection, and recreation…..looking back on all they had accomplished and changed the lives of millions. NWA had just started out as young boys that wanted to make a better life for themselves and their families, to take a stand for civil rights and freedom of speech. Although, NWA was considered violent by some because of their emotionally charged lyrics. However, they stood for realism, creativity, and self-expression representing a people that had been ignored, victimized, and highly oppressed. NWA decided nothing was going to stop NWA from telling the world the truth.
“Straight Outta” the story line points
1. Who knew that some black kids out of Compton would go platinum and sell millions of records?

2. Observing the story was like reliving the past. I remembered where I was when certain events happened. Many lives were lost due to violence and ignorance. There are lessons to be learned from this. Yes. But black lives are still being lost and mistreated. So what have we accomplished? NWA’s words are still poignant today. We are still revisiting these issues. Police violence and brutality, humiliation of minorities…when will it end? Civil Rights violations of every kind….

3. We must remember who we are. Telling the truth isn’t easy. Standing up for what’s right and being who you are will make you better. What if there was no NWA? The face of Hip Hop would have been different. There is a long legacy of music to reflect upon, the culture was contagious. Eric Wright died from Aids. This was the beginning for many of a long struggle for this disease. He made us all aware that there are consequences for even the people that we love and look up to. The rules are the same. Aids does not discriminate of creed or color.
To date Ice Cube has written and performed several platinum albums, acted and done music for TV, movies, commercials, produced and directed many projects.
Dr. Dre has also written, produced, and performed several platinum albums, as well as finding/creating platinum and gold artists, and becoming the first African American male billionaire with his audio technology “Beats”.

by Seven “Okema” Gunn

The Mysterious Case of Sandy Bland

sandra-blandsandrablandpic

****This is not an entertainment article like my usual posts, but this is definitely news worthy and worth being paid careful attention to.****

Naperville, Illinois resident, Sandra Bland was a blogger, activist, youth mentor, a daughter, a sister, and an active, vibrant Dupage AME Church member. All of these things plus more. The weekend of July 10th Sandra visited Prarie View A&M for a interview job to help black youth. She was also an outspoken person with a vlog #SandraSpeaks and called for change, supporting #Black Lives Matter. Her passion and zeal for life spilled over into everything she did. A member of Dupage AME spoke about remembering her as energetic, hardworking, passionate, and had a love for God. She was a leader with great potential to change the world. Bland was supportive of causes that she believed in whole-heartedly; and was excited to be a part of the youth ministry network. She  was always polite and mannerable, but never afraid to speak her mind. Bland was also an active member in her black sorority, Sigma Gamma Rho, Inc.

Her life ended when she was taken into custody over the weekend of July 10-13th. A bystander took a video of Sandra Bland being handcuffed by police right outside Prarie State A&M. Allegedly, Sandra  “needed” two police officers to restrain her, although she was a small woman. The video showed Bland yelling about the police brutality towards her and that her rights were being violated. Eventually, Bland lost her life over the same inhumane issues that she spoke passionately about.

Family and friends that were interviewed, stated that Bland was targeted as an African American. They believed that after a stop by Waller County Police (Texas), she was taken into custody (on Friday) and assaulted again while in jail. Bland called home to talk to her family about her poor condition (pain from a suspected arm fracture) and bail. By the time the family arrived Monday, Sandra Bland had died allegedly from “strangulation and self-asphyxiation”.

This needs to be addressed at the Federal Level. Why are some people calling Sandy Bland a militant negro? What’s a “good negro” supposed to do? Is it militant to stand against police brutality and civil rights issues against people of color? I would have liked to know Sandy….She did everything right…living proud while being black….

There are many stories like this. But this one in particular strikes a hard nerve. Police brutality has no boundaries. This has been proven time and time again. Not ALL police officers are bad. And some encounters with policeman have been normal. But again, this specific (common) incident, does leave a bitter taste in my mouth and sometimes I do instinctually cringe when the police are near.

Research and reportings prove, Waller County has been known for racial profiling and voter intimidation/suppression against Prarie A & M students/county residents.
Race-based targeting by “People for the American Way” reports that:
“Earlier this year (2015) in Texas, a local district attorney claimed that students at a majority black college (Prarie View A &M) were not eligible to vote in the county where the school is located. It happened in Waller County the same county where 26 years earlier, a federal court order was required to prevent discrimination against the students.”

Where am I going with this? As a black woman, (minority)….where does that put me? Does my life really matter? What NOW are the statistics of me being stopped, being arrested and being killed? What should I be thinking about when I get pulled over? When do black lives matter? Because CLEARLY there is still a problem. IS this 1965 OR 2015? In some cases I still can’t tell the difference. Where does it end? What will come of this? Will it be swept under the carpet? Stand up for what is right. Make a difference. Do something. Say something…. Jim Crow is alive and well…
Chicago: ABC Channel 7- I team investigation reports:

“Bland’s friends say she had been with her family in suburban Chicago over the July 4th holiday, and drove to Texas for a job interview at her alma mater, Texas Prairie View A & M. Family members say she got the position and was to begin working in student outreach today. In the video of the arrest, an officer is heard telling the bystander taking the video to leave.

In the video the bystander shot, Bland is heard saying, “You just slammed my head into the ground. Do you not even care about that? I can’t even hear!”

Then, as she is taken into custody, she repeats, “You slammed me into the ground and everything.”

Waller County Sheriff Glenn Smith says Bland “had been combative on the side of the road.”

Smith says that jailers saw Bland at 7 a.m. Monday when they gave her breakfast and again at 8 a.m. when they spoke with her over the jail intercom. Smith says she was found dead an hour later. In a press release from the sheriff’s department, authorities say they applied CPR, but that Bland was pronounced dead shortly after she was found.

The Willowbrook High School graduate died by “self-inflicted asphyxiation,” according to sheriff’s deputies, who have turned the investigation over to Texas Rangers. Some family members and friends say Bland was found hanging in the jail cell, but authorities have not confirmed the exact circumstances around her death.”
Also Go to Heavy.com for more details about/for the 5 Facts of Sandy Bland incident:
“1. Bland was in Texas to start a new job at Prarie View A&M
2. She was stopped on Friday for Improper Signaling & Allegedly Assaulted a police officer
3. Her death has been ruled a suicide by hanging, friends say she wouldn’t have hung herself (also she sustained major injury to her arm)
4. The Waller County Sherriff was fired from a previous job over racism allegations
5. Bland often spoke out against police brutality and racial injustice. “

#JusticeForSandy #SandySpeaks

I leave this quote by Maya Angelou for Sandy Bland

Still I Rise (excerpt)

“You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may tread me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise…..”

We need to petition for this to be represented in federal court. For signing of this petition go to change.org.

https://www.change.org/p/the-united-states-department-of-justice-attorney-general-loretta-lynch-take-over-the-investigation-into-the-death-of-sandra-bland-from-the-waller-county-texas-police-department?

Sandyquotejpg

Sandy Bland quote above.

Also for other sources about the Sandra Bland Case..Go to The Root.org, Watch The Yard.com, Jet Mag, Ebony.com, NBC.

Kansas Band-Speaking with New Lead Vocalist Ronnie Platt

DSC_0961-2 photo credit Mark Schierholz

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(left to right.Rich Williams, Billy Greer, David Ragsdale, Ronnie Platt, Phil Ehart, Dave Manion)

Kansas Band- Speaking with New Lead Vocalist Ronnie Platt

Kansas is a progressive rock band that’s recently had it’s 40th anniversary in 2013. Songs like “Carry on My Wayward Son” “Dust in the Wind” and “Point of No Return” are a few of their most influential songs. They have produced “8 gold albums, 3 sextuple-platinum albums , 1 platinum live album and a million-selling single.” A documentary came out in early 2015 (Miracles Out of Nowhere), chronicling Kansas from its origins in Topeka, Kansas.

In the fall of 2014, Ronnie Platt replaced lead singer Steve Walsh. Ronnie Platt grew up in Bellwood and still lives in the suburbs of Chicago today. We sat down with Ronnie to talk about how he came to be a part of the legendary band “Kansas”. (Kansas performed on July 7, 2015 in  Elk Grove, IL)

How long have you been a musician and what was an early influence?

RP: My sister brought home a guitar; I was about 10 or 11. I can remember singing and being part of a musical family. Both of my grandmothers were gifted musicians, grandfather played professionally, and most of my family was musically inclined. When I was young that’s what everybody did, music. In grade school, they asked who wanted to be the band. This is when I started playing the trombone, guitar, bass guitar and more singing. In high school, I was in a rock band and totally consumed; focusing on listening to music and vocals. I felt most comfortable playing the keyboard-accompaniment with filling in the parts. I still play a lot of bass guitar. When I’m having a bad day, I’ll pick it up and play.

Who inspired you as a musician growing up in the Chicago suburbs?

RP: I was always into progressive rock especially in the 70’s, Kansas, Genesis, Styx, Rush. On the radio, there was a different variety of music, Jackson 5, Led Zepplin, Rare Earth..etc. I was a freshman in high school ‘76, ’77. I’d always been a huge fan of Kansas: LeftOverture…”Carry On My Wayward Son” and “Dust in the Wind”. I had a turntable. There was a great feel and depth to the music in which I connected and gravitated towards. In the 80’s the hair got even bigger, and rock changed (Motley Crue and Poison)What did you do before singing in “Kansas”?

RP: I played in the bands, ARRA and Shooting Star. My musical ambition was just to get better. I did a wide variety of singing, performing over the years. I did drive a truck for 25 years..it helped to pay the bills. But I never deviated from what I wanted…my progressive style of music and playing. One day while performing with Shooting Star, I had the chance to meet Kansas, Cheryl Crow, and Journey. We opened for them. Steve Walsh was planning to retire as the Lead Singer. Rich Williams and Phil Ehart were watching Shooting Star. I friended Rich on FB. Ironically I heard about the retirement of Steve about this time. I set up a meeting and flew to Atlanta. After few meetings and deliberations, I became the new lead singer for Kansas! It seemed like a good fit and the guys welcomed me in. Dave Manion came in around the same time as I did.

What were you thinking your first time on stage with Kansas? What was running through your mind?

RP: My very first show was Oklahoma City, Oklahoma in Fall 2014. I remember thinking “Where’s my heater?” It was cold and windy, not what I had expected. It made me preoccupied with warming up and keeping my fingers moving. It was exhilarating! My first show in Chicago was Nov. 1 of 2014. My sister, mother, and other family members were able to come. The rehearsals were intense and we practiced like every day long hours. I had been practicing for something like this my whole life. I was ready when the opportunity came. This year has flown by quickly….we’ve done Brazil 3 times, Chile and Mexico and many other cities.

What are some differences between groups from the “60’s to the 90’s” and “millennium bands”?

RP: The marketing structure has changed drastically. From LP’s to Itunes, Spotify, Sound Hound, etc. Professional acts (touring) are more refined and precise. Every move and note is calculated/choreographed. Back in the day, there was more room for improvisation. Now everything is pre-recorded, this restricts the artist from venturing into the unknown. I miss bands having room to breathe on stage….more of a live feel when no 2 shows are exactly the same. It enabled artists to hone their craft more by discovery. It was more authentic and more organic.

Who are you in the group?

RP:One day…this big dude came up and wanted autographs from the group. Unexpectedly, he called me a “Beast” after the concert the next day. After that, the guys joked about this. It felt great to be part of a group of guys that knows what is important. Great friends, good times, and laughter. We are cut from the same cloth. We are family. No one is above the other.

What can the fans expect from the next album from Kansas? The last record was 2000!

RP: This is so surreal for me! We started back in the studio within the last couple of weeks. Performing new material will be an awesome experience for all of us. It’s mind blowing. I never would have conceived of this. I can’t compare this to anything in my life!

Any last comments?

RP: I feel like I won the “Rock and Roll Lottery.” I’m blessed and honored for this great opportunity to be a part of a legendary band called “Kansas”. You have to be worthy and really have a passion for what you do. Recently, I watched America’s got Talent. There was a little girl that played beautifully, but she got nervous and stopped. Howie Mandel encouraged her to continue because she was gifted. My point is that if you love something so much, you can’t stop. Desire to get better. I’ve had this mindset my entire life. Sing better, hit the next highest note. Play guitar better. Never stop. Not picking up where you left off..because you’re actually going backwards  and losing ground. Be productive and never stop moving forward. Be persistent and Don’t be complacent. If you love what you do, hone your craft and do it to the best of your ability.