Monday, December 31, 2012

Leopard's List of Top 10 Movies of 2012

The Leopard saw armloads of movies this year, and NO doubt about it. 2012 was an extraordinary year for film. Last year, picking out even 10 pictures that I could recommend to everyone was a chore. This year, though, I struggled to produce a list of 10 titles without excluding some really wonderful films.

As usual, I don't like competitions or ranking. These movies are all great within their genre and they are exceptionable in their execution of  storytelling and performances. One isn't necessarily better than the other. I loved 'em all.

Here they are in no particular order:

1. The Turin Horse (A torinói ló)  Directed by Béla Tar

2.  Once Upon a Time in Anatolia  Directed by Nuri Bilge Ceylan

3.  Amour  Directed by Michael Haneke

Emmanuelle Riva in Amour

4. Argo  Directed by Ben Affleck 

5. Django Unchained  Directed by Quentin Tarantino

6. Lincoln Directed by Steven Spielberg

7. Moonrise Kingdom Directed by Wes Anderson

8. The Master Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson

9. Beasts Of the Southern Wild  Directed by Benh Zeitlin

10. Skyfall Directed by Sam Mendes

Honorable mentions:
The Grey Directed by Joe Carnahan
Dark Knight Rises Directed by Christopher Nolan
Flight Directed by Robert Zemeckis
Haywire Directed by  Steven Soderbergh
Bernie Directed by Richard Linklater

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Junot Díaz

Though it didn't make The New York Times' 10 Best Books Of 2012, Junot Díaz' latest, This Is How You Lose Her, made The Leopard list for one of the most enjoyable read of the year. Yunior, Díaz' protagonist, is a young Dominican -American man who goes through life's trials and tribulations in these cleverly written and winning stories bringing to mind the old Langston Hughes' Simple tales - an everyman of his culture,  just doing what comes natural.

A short collection of stories, Lose Her doesn't have the heft and ambition of his Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award winning novel The Brief Wondrous Life Of Oscar Wao, but in it's own way just as satisfying in it's own neat, compact way. Call it portable Díaz. 

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Time Run Out: Dave Brubeck


Among the first jazz records The Leopard ever listened to in a semi-serious way was Miles Davis'  seminal Kind of Blue,  John Coltrane's My Favorite Things and Dave Brubeck's Time Out. Miles' album made me appreciate the sensual intricacies of improvisational music, Coltrane the fiery expression, and with Brubeck, the seemingly limitless possibilities of the medium.
Tunes such as "Blue Rondo A La Turk", " Kathy's Waltz" and the massively popular "Take Five"  expressed what jazz could be, and where it was going. it could be crazy popular (Time Out was the first jazz recording to sell over a million copies), but also challenging. Brubeck was a visionary.
 As Donald Fagen Of Steely Dan immortalized in his tune "New Frontier":

I hear you're mad about Brubeck
I like your eyes, I like him too
He's an artist, a pioneer
We've got to have some music on the new frontier".

Click here for the Dave Brubeck composition "Blue Shadows In The Street". 

Monday, December 10, 2012

Black and White Comics

The first article the Leopard ever published was for a comic book fanzine called Amazing Heroes.  Back in 1989, comics were still not mainstream - it was before the Spider-ma n movies, before the Summer blockbusters adapted from comics like The Avengers. It was still a world of kids and fanboys. We actually read the things and talked about the stories, the artists, the writers. 

 I was trying to break in to the comic business at the time as a cartoonist, and still read superhero stuff.   I loved comics –especially as a child, but one thing that always bothered me was how they depicted minorities, particularly African Americans.

The portrayals were usually stereotypical and often offensive. Superheroes almost by definition were were square-jawed uber-muscled white men. There was almost no portrayal of them as anything else, except the odd sidekick.

So I wrote an article about how I felt they were depicted in comics. I even drew the Editorial illustration.
It may have been among the first of its kind.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Amazin' Zadie

One of the most exciting novels to come out of the late 90’s was the Dickensian epic White Teeth. The then 25 year-old British novelist Zadie Smith burst forth into the literary world as a new Talent To Watch.
Born in a London working class family and daughter of a Jamaican mother and a British father, Smith was also a physically striking woman, which made her the subject of countless articles and photo spreads. She won numerous awards (The Orange Prize for fiction for one) for her incredibly smart, multi-layered works. This month, Smith unleashed her fourth and newest novel, NW.
The jury is still out, but The Leopard will be among those first on line for a copy.

The New York Review of Books review by Joyce Carol Oates can be seen here:

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Happy Birthday, John Coltrane

The Leopard does not like to speak in absolutes, and I don't like to compare art. Yet, when I'm really honest with myself, the one whose music has mattered to me the most is that of John Coltrane.  His method of communication, jazz, and more specifically, his expressive tool, the saxophone, cuts straight to my heart and closes around it, like a fist, or a hug. He is everything I strive to be as an artist, and everything I admire.

Today, John William Coltrane would be 85 years old (younger than my own father). He was born in Hamlet, North Carolina on September 23, 1926.

Thank you, Mr. Coltrane. Your music lives on. 

Click here to listen to the Coltrane composition "Tunji".

Friday, September 14, 2012


The first time the Leopard saw a dragonfly was when I was about 7 years old.  I'm a city kid, but in the summer my family and I would go visit relatives down south. My grandmother used to take us fishing in a small pond. I remember hot, humid summers sitting in silence by her side, waiting for a bite as mosquitoes buzzed around us.

One day a huge insect that looked to me like a tiny helicopter hovering just a few inches above the water rushed toward me like a torpedo. It shot right past my ear. I was horrified! I grabbed onto one  of grandma's large, ample arms and cried out. It seemed to swing around the pond and come back towards us, making a terrible zzzzz sound as it swept past. I had never seen an insect that big and I screamed, holding her tighter. Grandma said, "Aww baby, they ain't gonna hurt you. They eat the mosquitos. They helpin' us."

After that, I fell in love with dragonflies. They may be my favorite insect. Streamlined and beautiful, they may be one of nature's most perfect creations.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Brad Mehldau

Because of my interest in this music, The Leopard is sometimes asked who are some of the best artists around these days.

Even though at 41 I wouldn’t call the brilliant musician Brad Mehldau a “young lion”, his experience and pianistic prowess is quite remarkable for his age.

Mehldau has often (unfairly, I think) been compared to Bill Evans and Keith Jarrett, and even though there may be some validity to that as far as primary influences, Mehldau has  a  sound all his own. Drawing from classical , pop and jazz idioms, Mehldau is a trailblazer. He’s played with only the most exemplary of musicians – Joshua Redman, Charles Lloyd, Pat Metheny,  Jon Brion, and many more. He’s also responsible for the recent custom of bringing in more contemporary music to jazz, such as Radiohead and Neil Young with great success.   

Friday, August 10, 2012


In a pivotal scene in the comedy Pineapple Express, James Franco as a fuzzed up marijuana dealer and Seth Rogen as his erstwhile customer meet in a cluttered apartment for a transaction.  In the weed-clouded room, the boys wax poetic about the wonderfulness of chronic while a strange, slithery jazz plays in the background.
I was immediately attracted to the oddly surreal music, and a quick stop on IMDB brought me the desired information: It was the work the brilliant blind composer/musician/inventor Moondog.

Moondog (real name: Louis Thomas Hardin) was the epitome of the outside artist.  He was born in Kansas in 1916 an moved to New York in the 1940s where he became a street musician. He was a fixture on 53rd street and 6th avenue for over 30 years and was well known to the community  for his eccentricities: he sported a flowing white beard and homemade viking outfit complete with a horned helmet. He played his strange music on curious self-invented instruments, but counted among his admirers and friends established musicians like Leonard Bernstein and Philip Glass. 

Even though Moondog’s music is often characterized as avant-garde, it is strangely accessible. Though wholly original, there’s humanism to his style that, even in the soundtrack of a Judd Apatow movie, commands attention.   

Click hear Lament I: Bird’s lament

Monday, August 6, 2012

Gabby & The Gold

The Leopard has had few occasions recently where I have felt incredibly proud in that strange way when you feel good about something that isn't quite personal, actually outside yourself, but just as moving.

I was watching the recent Olympic games, which I never do, and my attention was grabbed by a tiny gymnast with a big talent. After watching competing China and Russian gymnasts - both incredibly skilled & professional, there was something about the cute black girl with the giant grin that set her apart. Her routine had heart, but also precision.

So when this talented young lady from somewhat humble beginnings won the gold, the hairs in the back of my neck sprung up and took notice. Gabby Douglas could not exist in any other place under any other circumstances. I felt proud of her and what she achieved as if she were a sister or a daughter. 

Monday, July 23, 2012

Dating Online

Yes, the Leopard recently entered the world of online dating, (even a jungle cat needs love) and this world is a cold, dark place.

I won't divulge the final outcomes, but I do report that the journeys are bloody. Of course, dating online makes lots of sense. In today's busy world, who has the time to go out to meet people? And where? Bars, clubs? Now you can do it all in your own home. You can look at photos of potentials, you can chat, and you can meet. But as the Bard would have it - "Therein lies the rub".

Those first awkward moments can be exciting or they can be excruciatingly awkward. You hope things go well, and that there will a second date, and then a third, but the whole thing can go crashing down at any moment and you can end up back at your computer looking again. Happily, the Leopard jumped off the merry-go-round before it broke down. A word of advice to all those who wish to join the new Dating Generation: proceed with caution - and patience. 

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Louis CK is my God

One of the happiest discoveries The Leopard has had in the last few months is the work of the brilliant comedian  Louis C.K. Rarely have I been as excited to see a television show. Why? Because it's funny? Hell's yes. Because it's smart? Hell's yes. Because it's the most wildly innovative show on the tube?  A Hell's yes and (as Louis himself might have it) a big "Fuck yeah"! to that, too.

Mr. CK is the only true auteur on the idiot box these days. Writing, starring and directing and sometimes even editing every episode himself.  The result? A personal vision that is enlightening while also unfailingly entertaining.

Louis plays himself, a moderately successful comedian, father of two daughters, and a lonely guy looking for love. But mostly he's unabashedly a flawed, funny human being. Lord knows we need more of them.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

The Leopard List: 2011 Movies

Rooney Mara in The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo
As The Leopard has written in other installments, I don't believe in "best of" lists. Being an artist myself, I have always disliked competition when it comes to art. It all comes down to aesthetics.

Still, I enjoy sharing films that I really liked. So this is not to say the following movies were the "best" of 2011, but certainly the ones I personally recommend.  For aesthetic reasons.

Directed by Wim Wenders
The only 3D movie I've seen that seems worthy of the format (and yes, that includes "Avatar"). Wenders' masterful documentary portrays modern dance in a new vital way-- the closest experience I've had to experiencing live performance. What's more, Pina Bausch's (1940-2009), choreography can be sexy,  violent, and most of all funny. The dancers themselves function like great actors, capable of intense emotion and humor in tiny dramas. Mesmerizing and memorable.

The Woman 
Directed by Lucky McKee
At the base of it, a pretty straightforward horror film complete with scares in all the right (and wrong) places that also has an intriguing subtext on contemporary American life. Not for the faint of heart, but if you can stomach a bit of gore, worth the effort.
Dancer from Pina

Martha Marcy May Marlene 
Directed by Sean Durkin
Incredibly subtle and elegant examination of a young woman seduced by a cult. Elizabeth Olsen, nearly unrecognizable, is excellent in the title role.

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo  
Directed by David Fincher
Despite the superb star making turn by Noomi Rapace in the original Swedish Dragon Tattoo films, Rooney Mara makes the character her own, in part by creating a more sympathetic, tragic character. David Fincher is completely in his element.

Midnight In Paris 
Directed by Woody Allen
A pleasant surprise. The romantic atmosphere in the city of lights seemed to energize the director to make something that feels more inspired, creative and funny than what we've come to expect in recent years.

A Separation 
Directed by Asghar Farhadi
One of the most complex films about divorce I've seen. Despite an Iranian setting, the film feels spontaneous and alive, and easy to relate to. It's strength is the wealth of detail, and before long, you feel involved in the story in a way that is rare in movies.

The Descendants
Directed by Alexander Payne
I am a huge fan of Payne's last film, Sideways. But nothing could have prepared me for this film starring a slightly rumpled, pitch perfect George Clooney. Set in modern Hawaii, this funny/sad story about a man having just lost his wife while facing as series of life-changing events has more than its share of truly touching moments.

Other films I saw & recommend:
Melancholia Directed by Lars Von Trier 
Contagion Directed by Steven Soderbergh 
Kill List Directed by Ben Wheatley
A Dangerous Method Directed by David Cronenberg
Warrior Directed by Gavin O'Connor
We Need To Talk About Kevin
 Directed Lynne Ramsay

Carnage Directed by Roman Polanski
The Future Directed by Miranda July
Drive Directed by Nicholas Winding Refn
Bridesmaids Directed by Paul Feig


Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Me'Shell Ndegéocello

In 1992, flushed with success, the  pop star Madonna did what any zillionaire phenomenon would do: start her own label, Maverick Records. There was quite a bit of speculation as to what artists Ms. Ciccone planned to sign, and when it was announced that a female sexually ambiguous African American bass playing songwriter who was formerly a member of New York’s Black Rock Coalition who had a nearly unpronounceable name would be the first artist to be released on her new roster, it was met with a collected “who?”
But that was a quick fix. Meshell Ndegeocello’s first CD, Plantation Lullabies, though wasn’t a breakthrough sales success, was a critical one that heralded a new, distinctive voice. She appeared on many best of the year lists 9 in 1993 and has since been nominated for 10 Grammys.
A master musician, Ndegeocello has gone on to write, produce, and play on many consistently superb discs since then. The Leopard’s personal favorite is Bitter, a musical confessional so personal if the songs weren’t so beautiful you’d think you were listening in on a lovers’ private conversation. (Click To hear "Bitter".)

Gene Ammons

Despite the Leopard's never-ending search of discovery for all things jazz, the name Gene Ammons has not perked up my furry ears until fairly recently. A friend hipped me to a funky date from 1971, You Talk That Talk, that partners Ammon's huge saxophone tone with the ultra - elastic big boss tenor of Sonny Stitt one of their many recorded collaborations.

Other than being a remarkable player with formidable chops, Ammons boasted two claims to fame: one, although he came from a bebop background, he was also equally adept at R&B, and was one of the original architects of what is now called soul jazz, and two, the big man was twice incarcerated for drug possession in his career, from 1958 to 1960 and  from 1962 to 1969.

Checking out his catalog has shown that we suffered a huge loss when Ammons passed away of cancer in 1974. He was funky and cerebral at the same time -- a lethal combination.

(Click to hear cut Jungle Strut from Ammons' album "Brother Jug")

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Good Ol' Charlie Brown

Of all characters in literature, one I have always felt the most personally connected to is Charlie Brown. There was always something in his persona that I related to, from childhood all the way to my early 20's - and still do, in away. when I see his image, I can feel myself quietly nodding in recognition.

In his voluminous biography on Charles M. Schulz, Schulz and Peanuts, David Michaelis describes Charlie Brown as not an alter ego of Schulz, but Schulz himself. Most of the Peanuts characters were in fact manifestations of people whom the cartoonist knew, funneled through his brilliant minds' - eye,  like the Little Red Haired Girl, the one that got away, and Snoopy, based on an actual childhood pet. 

But as accurately as he rendered these relationships, Charlie Brown was the most realistic of all. the eternal optimist, always bracing for failure. Like his creator eventually would, you knew somehow, some way he'd succeed. He would kick that football, he would eventually untangle that kite from the tree.  

That's why he was the kind of guy you called by his full name.  So you wouldn't forget it.