Although it has yet to celebrate its first anniversary, the much-hyped Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN), has been sharply criticized for its lack of Black programming. However, OWN is about to unveil its first African-American series, a reality show titled “Welcome to Sweetie Pie’s,” premiering on Saturday, October 15 at 9 p.m.
“In the beginning, it was my singing that had soul,” said Robbie “Miss Robbie” Montgomery, owner of the popular St. Louis soul food restaurant dubbed Sweetie Pie’s. Now 71 years old, Montgomery was once a background vocalist for soul luminaries such as Ike & Tina Turner, The Supremes, Stevie Wonder and Patti LaBelle, honing her culinary skills on the road during the segregated 1960s, when she and her band mates were often denied access to “whites-only” restaurants.
A health scare ended Montgomery’s singing career but not her enterprising spirit. Armed with the family recipes handed down by her mother, she sold her soul food sensations from the trunk of her car before opening her first Sweetie Pie’s restaurant 15 years ago, with the help of her family. Eight years later, Miss Robbie opened her second location in the Mangrove neighborhood.
Featured on “Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives” Sweetie Pie’s, which has attracted a high profile clientele that includes Earvin “Magic” Johnson, Academy Award-winning actress Mo’Nique and even President Barack Obama, is truly family affair, with Montgomery’s son, Tim Norman, serving as her business manager and right-hand man. They are ably assisted by Tim’s longtime girlfriend, Jenae, and to a lesser degree by Miss Robbie’s nephew Lil’ Charles, who “works hard at not working,” and can often be found behind the building taking a cigarette break.
Then there’s Pops, the kitchen manager who is always willing to offer sage advice, and Jazzmin, who apparently has a problem with authority — Tim‘s authority in particular.
According to the network, the hour-long debut of the eight-episode premiere season, follows Miss Robbie as she juggles the chaos of running her popular soul food restaurants while dealing with her boisterous family. While helping her to manage the restaurants, Tim also consults friends and family for advice as he gets up the courage to propose to his Jenae, who just happens to be pregnant. Viewers also learn that getting the business loan to allow for her planned expansion of the Sweetie Pie’s empire may not go as Miss Robbie planned.
As if the mouthwatering shots of sizzling fried chicken and catfish weren’t enough, as the season progresses, Montgomery will open herself to the possibility of love and marriage despite her “senior citizen status;” and plan her annual birthday bash, which will include a reunion performance of the Ikettes. The family will also cope with medical emergency and celebrate the birth of a baby boy.
“‘Welcome to Sweetie Pie’s’ features a strong, loving family as they work together to run their St. Louis soul food restaurant. We look forward to viewers welcoming the Montgomery family into their homes,” said Lisa Erspamer, executive vice president, programming and development, OWN.
Reality star Astro, who caused a TV sensation on talent competition “The X-Factor,” makes his acting debut on the CBS drama “Person of Interest,” airing at 9 p.m. on Thursday, February 9.
Astro plays Darren in an episode titled “Wolf and Cub,” in which The Machine identifies a teenager whose brother was just murdered, as the next person of interest (POI). Meanwhile, Finch (Michael Emerson) is growing concerned that the son of his former business partner is dangerously close to finding out about The Machine.
Initially, an “X-Factor” favorite, Astro, a Brooklyn-based rapper whose real name is Brian Bradley, was eventually ousted from the competition when his cocky attitude became offensive. However, the teen phenom recently signed a contract with L.A. Reid’s Epic Records.
Academy Award nominee Taraji P. Henson, who delivered stellar performances in “Baby Boy,” “Hustle & Flow” and “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” stars as Detective Carter, and Malik Yoba, who is possibly best known as Det. James “J.C.” Williams on the wildly popular crime drama, “New York Undercover,” guest stars in the role of Andre.
“Person of Interest” stars Jim Caviezel, Emmy Award winner Michael Emerson and Academy Award nominee Taraji P. Henson in a crime thriller about a presumed-dead former CIA agent who teams up with a mysterious millionaire to prevent violent crimes by using their own brand of vigilante justice. Reese’s (Caviezel) special training in covert operations appeals to Finch, a software genius who invented a program that uses pattern recognition to identify people about to be involved in violent crimes.
Using state-of-the-art surveillance technology, the two work outside of the law using Reese’s adept skills and Finch’s unlimited wealth to unravel the mystery of the person of interest and stop the crime before it happens. Reese’s actions draw the attention of the NYPD, including homicide detective Carter, and Fusco (Kevin Chapman), a cop whom Reese uses to his advantage. With endless crimes to investigate, Reese and Finch find that “the right person, with the right information, at the right time, can change everything.”
In what could prove to be a very popular decision, 1480 WDAS-AM, once commonly known as “The Soul of Philadelphia,” has returned to the airwaves with “the best R&B oldies from the late ’50s, ’60s and early ’70s.” On Nov. 23, the station began the transition by switching to all Christmas music, offering a great selection of holiday hits by popular R&B artists.
After the holidays, 1480 WDAS-AM will begin playing listener favorites such as the Temptations, Archie Bell, Jerry Butler, Sam Cooke, Fontella Bass, Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, The Drifters, Etta James, Isaac Hayes and Little Richard. Ken Johnson, Clear Channel director of urban programming, says working with 1480 WDAS-AM takes him back to his roots.
“My career started at a classic oldies station, and I am truly excited to provide this great music on 1480 WDAS AM for our listeners in Philly.” Johnson adds that beloved longtime ‘DAS disc jockey Joe “Butterball” Tamburro will be an integral part of 1480 WDAS-AM, saying, “It only makes sense that a radio legend is at the heart of this legendary station.”
A statement released by Clear Channel recounted the station’s rich tradition, noting that the station not only played a critical role in the history of broadcasting and music, but also in the history of the city. During a time when Black artists could not get airplay on white radio stations, 1480 WDAS-AM significantly helped advance the popularity of R&B artists. It was the first in the country willing to play records by many of these artists, including Aretha Franklin and Marvin Gaye. Not only did 1480 WDAS-AM give jobs to minorities, but it also put female DJs on the air, which was unprecedented at the time.
The station featured breaking news coverage of every civil rights event, including the Birmingham church bombings and the integration of Alabama University. Malcolm X and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. were both welcomed on the station during their lifetimes. Its dedication to the community in combination with its effort toward a racially just country made it “truly a pioneering force, inspiring movements toward a better future.”
Listen to 1480 WDAS-AM on the air and also online at www.wdasam.com. Listeners will also be able to hear the station simulcast on HD radios at 106.1 HD2.
A fascinating book with a Philadelphia connection is currently causing a stir on social media and in the world at large.
“Fever: Little Willie John, A Fast Life, Mysterious Death and the Birth of Soul,” written by Kevin John and Susan Whitall, chronicles the rise and fall of the charismatic soul singer who spent several years as a Philadelphia resident and once graced the stage of the historic Uptown Theater. As was often the case during John’s era, his earthy rendition of “Fever” reached a much wider audience as a cover by pop diva Peggy Lee.
“This is something that we wanted to do for my father,” said Kevin John, the elder of Little Willie John’s two bright and talented sons. Both Kevin and his brother, Keith, who are extremely close, were born in Philly and attended George Washington Carver Elementary School. Kevin recalls being about eight years old when the family moved to Detroit, but the book, which features a foreword by Motown icon Stevie Wonder, is filled with nostalgic references to the City of Brotherly Love.
“I wanted to do this 20 years ago, but my mother, she did not want to relive, rehash the memories, and it was only after my brother and I talking to her this time that we convinced her that this would be a good time to do it,” Kevin explained during my recent interview with the John brothers.
“It’s always been therapeutic for me. To this day, my mom can’t listen to my dad’s music, and when my brother and I were growing up we listened to it, but I was the one who listened to it most of the time because for me it was a connection. It was very therapeutic for me.”
Kevin states that the emotionally-charged project took about six years to complete, and that Susan Whitall, also a Philadelphia native, was the perfect choice as his co-author.
“Years ago, she wrote a story about my dad in the paper, and I was kind of interested because here’s a person writing something about my dad, and people had forgotten about him,” he said. “So I called her to thank her for the article that she’d written, and then I met her some years ago at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. We were visiting there and she happened to be there that weekend, and (celebrated Motown studio musicians) the Funk Brothers were there. So somebody introduced us and I asked her — especially when I found out who she was, and I made the connection, ‘What do you think about writing a story about my father’s life and his music?’ And she was ecstatic!
“Once we talked about that, we had a few more phone calls, and I actually invited her over to our house. My wife and I sat down and we talked to her. I don’t want to say we vetted her, but we talked to her, and we told her that if we’re going to do this, the person that writes this has to have a sensitivity where they can talk about all the things that happened — negative and positive — but they have to do it in a classy way. They can’t focus on the negative. That was very important for us.”
Kevin believes that the captivating yet candid biography will go a long way in dispelling the misconceptions about his father and stated, “People often say — and they quote this as if it’s in the Bible — they say, ‘He was little, he was short, he had a Napoleon complex, he was always on edge.’ And if you talked to anybody who we interviewed that knew him, like Norman Thrasher, like the late Levi Stubbs, who we spent the whole afternoon at his house interviewing him, he told (us) he was a fun-loving person. In fact, that was probably his downfall.
“He got along with people very well. He was a prankster, but he got along with people. I’ve been told I look just like my dad. Keith acts just like him. But for me, it’s just understanding the person, his personality. Not the persona — not the person onstage, but who he really was.”
From early indications, “Fever,” which was released in June, is being very well received, although commercial success would appear to be a mere by-product of telling Little Willie John’s compelling story. “My goal was not so much that it was going to be a bestseller, though that’s always a nice thing,” Kevin said. “My goal was that people would find out the truth about my dad, and we’re flabbergasted by the response that we’re getting.”
Depending on the success of “Fever,” the John brothers have considered the possibility of bringing their father’s story to the big screen. The obvious question? Who could possibly play the talented and intriguing Little Willie John?
“If the person has to sing, it has to be Keith,” big brother Kevin said without hesitation. “Nobody sounds like my dad like my brother. So even if he doesn’t play him, the voiceovers need to be him.”
However, Kevin mentioned Larenz Tate, who portrayed Frankie Lymon in “Why Do Fools Fall in Love” as a possibility stating, “He’s got the body build — he’s short, and he’s a good actor. But I think to pull the singing off, it’s got to be Keith.”
The engaging Keith John, who was responsible for eliciting the foreword from Stevie Wonder, was a longtime backing vocalist for the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, as well as a featured vocalist in the Spike Lee films “School Daze” and “Do the Right Thing.” “If the opportunity presented itself, I would jump in head first!” said Keith. “The thing that I want people to know about my father is how he had a gift — he used his gift to make people happy, and that all of his peers, even if they didn’t love it, they respected his gift, and he inspired them.” In conclusion, Kevin added, “I would like for them to remember that he was one of the innovators.”
They captivated audiences in the Tyler Perry feature films “Why Did I Get Married?” (2007) and “Why Did I Get Married Too” (2010), and now the outrageous Tasha Smith and the suave Michael Jai White, who once shared a real-life romance, are reunited on the small screen in “Tyler Perry’s For Better or Worse,” premiering on Friday, Nov. 25 with back-to-back episodes at 9 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. on TBS.
Produced by Tyler Perry Studios and based on the “Why Did I Get Married?” films, “Tyler Perry’s For Better or Worse” follows the ups and downs of marriage and dating. According to the network, the show centers on Angela (Tasha Smith), the owner of a successful beauty salon, and Marcus (Michael Jai White) her husband of 13 years. Marcus is a former professional football player who has recently partnered with Richard Ellington (Kent Falcon) and Joseph Jetson (Jason Olive) on a new sports news program called “C-Sports Now.”
Marcus’ business relationship with Richard and Joseph is complicated by the fact that Richard is dating Keisha (Kiki Haynes), Marcus’ ex-girlfriend and the mother of his teenaged daughter. In addition, Joseph’s girlfriend, Leslie (Crystle Stewart), a successful real estate agent, is Angela’s best friend, which sometimes makes it difficult to keep their business and private lives separate.
Co-stars Tasha Smith and Michael Jai White were recently in Philadelphia to promote the show, and Smith returned to her hometown of Camden, New Jersey to address the students at Camden High School as well as the city’s Creative and Performing Arts High School before stopping by the Philadelphia Tribune offices to discuss their involvement in Perry’s latest project.
The two actors, who are obviously very close, could not be more different from one another, with Smith, who happens to be an identical twin, being quite animated and demonstrative, while the serene White is a man of relatively few words.
“I had known Tyler Perry from ‘Daddy’s Little Girl.’ I worked with him on that, and then he had created ‘Why Did I Get Married?’” Smith explained. “I wasn’t supposed to be in ‘Why Did I Get Married?’ He had other plans for the Angela character, and then by the grace of God, it came around to me. He was trying to figure out the whole cast thing and he called me up one day and was like, ‘Oh my God! I know who Marcus is! Do you know Michael Jai White?’ And I was like, ‘Do I know Michael Jai White? Do I know Michael Jai White?’ He ended up having Michael Jai come in as Marcus, and it was the best decision he could have made for both of us.”
White added, “I had worked with him on the original pilot of ‘House of Payne.’ He had financed ten of his own episodes, basically to get that deal, and so I was part of that. That’s the first time Tyler and I worked together. I was in a couple of episodes, but those were never seen by the public. Once the series got picked up, I came back and reprised the character in the airing episodes.”
Smith states that the success of the “Why Did I Get Married?” series inspired Perry to continue the theme on the small screen. “I think he just fell in love with Marcus and Angela, and he wanted a show based on the movie ‘Why Did I Get Married?’ He just chose to spin it off of those two characters,” she said. “I had talked to him first actually and he had said, ‘Do you think you and Michael would want to do this?’ And I was like, ‘Can I call Michael right now?’ And I called Michael, really hoping and praying that Michael wasn’t off in China somewhere filming a movie, ‘cause he’s always in Bangladesh, China or Romania — all over the place! I called him and he was like, ‘Okay.’ He thinks about stuff and I be ready to go!”
The drama begins in the series premiere with a physical confrontation between Angela and Keisha, and White promises varying degrees of the same in upcoming episodes. “You can expect a whole lot of truth and familiarity. Those of us that have those baby mamas out there, and you’re trying to make it all work, you gotta expect some fireworks.”
Smith, who is clearly in love with her character and her new TV family added, “She’s loud and she may be in your face, and some people may have assumed that Marcus may have been a weak man because she’s always kind of running things. But in reality, Marcus is really the stronger of the two because he’s the one that’s not reactive. He knows how to keep control over his emotions and not fly off the handle every time he gets a hunch about anything. I really celebrate Marcus’ character because he’s a man that knows how to show restraint and balance and calm. If everybody was going off the handle, what would that be? And we don’t want to see no man that’s all emotional and losing control every five minutes. Who would respect that?”
While “For Better or Worse” definitely has its comedic moments, White hopes that his portrayal of Marcus will impart a powerful message to viewers saying, “Here’s the thing for me with Black males. You don’t see behavior of a father and husband being necessarily rewarded. It’s just a pervasive thing in the Black community, especially within males, in our own tribal solidarity, the player, the lady’s man — that is the thing that is so encouraged. I feel until other men step up and say, ‘Hey. That’s not the way. Maybe you shouldn’t get this chick on the side. Just because you can get away with it, don’t mean it’s right, or right for your life.’ And I think that’s something that has had a snowball effect in our relationships for so long. A lot of times it’s only until men get much, much older that they realize that it’s just a lot of wasted time and dysfunctional behavior. So I would like for men to see the alternative to honor, and what real manhood — being a Black man is about. And it’s not necessarily how many women you get. This is something that the Marcus character really is learning — that family is the most important thing.”
Having been on hiatus since last January, “The Karamu,” a popular “infotainment” program hosted by Dr. Richard Cooper, returns to 900AM WURD on Friday, Sept. 16 from 7 p.m.–9 p.m., with a live simulcast airing weekly at www.900WURD.com. The enlightening news and entertainment program is part of the station’s new “WURD After Dark” format, and the topic of Cooper’s first show will be the highly successful but controversial feature film, “The Help.”
Based on a novel by Kathryn Stockett, “The Help” is inspired by the southern tradition of Black women working as domestics — cooking, cleaning and caring for white families, particularly the children. These women would stay with the families for generations, with the children growing up and ultimately supervising the women that raised them.
Stockett politely declined an invitation to appear on the show, but Cooper will present an in-depth panel discussion on the film. “I have read every op-ed piece in the universe,” said Cooper, who is on the faculty of the Center for Social Work Education at Widener University. “I’ve read about 30 of them, and some of these folks, many of whom are Black women or scholars or activists or thinkers or whatever — many of whom didn’t like it, and my sense is that the academic community, either in Black History or Women’s Studies or just Black women, are not taking to it the same way as I’m seeing in popular culture.
“The national criticism by many of the so-called ‘thinkers’ and writers is that what you simply have is the liberal white woman — kind of like ‘The Blind Side.’ You know, taking care of the Black people. The frustration is ‘do-gooder white woman rescues the poor Black disenfranchised.’”
Cooper’s guests will also include members of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, an organization founded in 2007 to organize domestic workers in the United States for “respect, recognition and labor standards.” Through “leadership development, strategic campaigns and alliance building,” they seek to help build a vibrant movement for social and global justice.
“There is a union of women that are organizing as domestics, both in New York and on the West Coast, where they’re trying to increase pay and do these other things,” said Cooper. “They’re running a campaign that says, ‘Wait a minute. If you like the movie, there are real women today struggling to get better wages, better jobs and a state law that says fair pay.’ I’m going to get some of them to be on the show, several of whom are Black or Latino. They’re trying to educate the populace about their struggle.”
The word “karamu” means “a feast, party or communal celebration” and Cooper explains, “The show has always been an attempt to use popular culture, Africanist themes and diverse genres, but to link it to society, social ills, social problems and more importantly, things that we can actually do individually and collectively. So it may not always be about protesting. How does this information help you and what can you do differently by knowing what goes on behind the scenes? It’s a niche that isn’t covered in the same way on an NPR (National Public Radio), but we try to model the program on good radio.”
The Temptations, now genuine American icons, are celebrating 50 years in show business, bringing their smooth sounds of silky soul to Atlantic City with a polished performance at the Borgata’s Music Box Theatre on Friday, Nov. 11 at 9 p.m.
Established by Otis Williams in 1961, The Temptations are now comprised of founding member Williams, Philadelphia native Ron Tyson, Terry Weeks, Joe Herndon and Bruce Williamson.
“I had no idea I’d still be having fun 50 years later!” Williams said in an exclusive interview from Minnesota. “It’s work, but it’s pleasurable, wonderful work. The only rough part of what we do is the traveling, but the performing, 99.9 percent of the time, is fun. We take time off to rest and rejuvenate the body, then we go back at it again.”
Williams celebrated his 70th birthday on Oct. 30, and recording and performing with The Temps is the only “job” that he’s ever had in his adult life. To commemorate their milestone anniversary, the group released the aptly titled “Still Here” in 2010, and excerpts can be heard at www.temptationssing.com.
“It was an endeavor of our own, because it’s on the Temptations’ label, 1030 International,” Williams explained. “It was the first one on our own label, stepping out of the shadows of Motown, and it was the same procedure that we’ve been doing for all these years — making sure that we could align ourselves with great songs, and we used the same premise for ‘Still Here.’”
The classic Temptations lineup, which was in place from 1964 to 1968 consisted of Otis Williams, Melvin Franklin, David Ruffin, Paul Williams and Eddie Kendricks, and captured hearts around their world, beginning with their first #1 hit, the timeless Smokey Robinson composition “My Girl.” This was followed by classics such as “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg,” “Beauty’s Only Skin Deep” and “I Wish It Would Rain.”
However, it was upon Ruffin’s sudden departure in 1968 that the ruggedly handsome and talented Dennis Edwards joined the group and led The Temps to their first Grammy Award with the Norman Whitfield-penned “Cloud Nine.”
The Temptations have a strong local connection through tenor Ron Tyson, who joined the group in 1983, and is a former member of Philly-based vocal groups the Ethics and Love Committee. “Tyson brings loyalty and stability aside from talent, so he’s been right there with me through the many ups and downs and changes. He’s been a very good asset,” Williams said.
That connection extends to Philadelphia’s legendary Uptown Theater, where both Williams and Tyson once engaged in Georgie Woods’ much-hyped and fiercely contested “Battle of the Groups” during the venue’s exciting heyday.
“I have a lot of fond memories of the Uptown Theater,” Williams said. “Georgie Woods and Jimmy Bishop bringing us there, and bringing headlining shows with various heavyweight acts. I always will remember meeting my friend Kenny Gamble of Gamble & Huff backstage at the Uptown. Philly is a wonderful city and they’re loyal to a fault, so they would turn out for us. I have a lot of wonderful memories of being onstage with Patti LaBelle & the Bluebells, the Vibrations, Jerry Butler, Curtis Mayfield and the Impressions … great times at the Uptown!”
This year, the Heroes and Legends (HAL) Awards Scholarship Foundation acknowledged The Temptations for their “unending and tireless work extended over five decades in the music industry,” causing Williams to hearken back to his days in Detroit.
“It was just a wonderful, magical time being at Motown,” he said. “Like I said a couple of weeks ago when they gave us our HAL Award for 50 years, I love reading about history, and you read about King Arthur and Maid Marian –that was their Camelot. JFK and Jackie Onassis, that was their Camelot at that time. Well Motown was our Camelot. It was wonderful times there at Motown, so I love being part of something that is still being recognized and cherished and loved 50-plus years later.”
Indeed the music is still being celebrated worldwide and Williams is quite excited about the release of “The Complete Motown Singles,” a three-CD set of Temptations singles and their corresponding “B-sides,” which includes “Oh Mother of Mine,” the very first single that the group recorded for Motown.
For years, the words “Temptations Forever” have been a mantra for the group, and even after a decorated 50-year career, which includes induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1989, Williams remains as committed as ever.
“That was a statement that Melvin and I made back in ’69 when we were going through it with personnel changes,” he recalled. “We were in Westbury, Long Island, and Melvin and myself went out in back of the Island Hotel, which is where we were staying. We made a vow then that we were going to continue the Temptations regardless of what or whomever we’d be in the midst of. Mr. (Berry) Gordy has been real supportive, and we just had the feeling that we don’t let nothing but ourselves stop us. So Melvin and myself made that pact, and here it is — I’m still carrying it on after losing my friends. Berry always wanted us to be around, so we have a whole lot of different reasons to continue on. Our fans have always been there, and just a strong belief that The Temps should continue on.”
This belief is so strong that Williams wants the group to continue, even in the event of his own retirement — although that scenario seems highly unlikely. As he happily departed for an appearance at the Mall of America he said in conclusion, “I plan on riding the hair off the horse. When I get off the horse, the horse will be bald!” For tickets to The Temptations concert at the Borgata, visit www.theborgata.com.
“Tyler Perry’s House of Payne” returns for a new season on TBS, premiering with two back-to-back half-hour episodes beginning at 9 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 21. The season debut of the popular comedy series is titled “A Mother’s Payne,” followed at 9:30 p.m. by an episode titled “Up from the Ashes.”
“Tyler Perry’s House of Payne,” now in its seventh season, focuses on a multi-generational working class family that “experiences all of life’s struggles with faith, love and most importantly, humor.”
LaVan Davis stars as Curtis “Pops” Payne, an Atlanta firefighter who believes that his home is his castle. The engaging Allen Payne plays his nephew, CJ, who has moved in “temporarily” with his kids, while Curtis’ son Calvin (Lance Gross), a slacker who shows up at meal time and on laundry day, adds to the family confusion. Fortunately, Curtis has his loving but no-nonsense wife, Ella (Cassi Davis), to help him keep it together. Former “Cosby” kid Keshia Knight Pulliam recently joined the cast.
“House of Payne” premiered in June 2007 with ad-supported cable’s #1 sitcom telecast of all time among key adult demos, households and viewers. The show has won numerous NAACP Image Awards and ranks among the top sitcoms on cable. The show’s creator, playwright, director, media mogul and self-made millionaire Tyler Perry, ranked #25 on the recently announced Forbes “Celebrity 100,” serves as executive producer on the program.
“The Dark Knight Rises,” the highly anticipated finale to Christopher Nolan’s “Dark Knight” trilogy, hits theaters Friday July 20, and despite its lengthy 2:45 running time, the film should keep even the most casual Batman fan completely engaged from beginning to end.
In this final chapter, Christian Bale returns as the Batman a.k.a. Bruce Wayne, who took the blame for crimes committed by Harvey Dent in “The Dark Knight,” and has been in exile for eight years. A broken man, physically, emotionally and financially, he has been holed up in Wayne Manor with his faithful friend and assistant Alfred (Michael Caine) with no intention of ever leaving the sprawling estate.
In the meantime, Dent, now deceased, is being hailed as a hero on “Harvey Dent Day,” and Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman), has done a commendable job of maintaining order in Gotham City — until now. As the metropolis is celebrating the “legacy” of Harvey Dent, an unknown foe by the name of Bane (Tom Hardy) emerges, hell bent on destroying Gotham and everyone in it. Bane proves to be even more sick and sinister than the villains before him, and when it becomes clear that Gordon can’t handle him, Wayne, who believed that he would never again don the Batsuit or embrace his Batman persona, is forced out of exile.
Unfortunately, time and injuries have taken their toll, and with so many years since his last confrontation, Wayne’s physical capabilities are severely diminished, and his super hero skills are a bit ... rusty.
To make matters worse, Bane is a beast! A definite departure from the evil, yet campy villains of the past, such as The Joker, The Riddler and The Penguin. There is nothing even remotely amusing about Bane, who could be any titanic individual walking down any street in America and just goes insane.
As Wayne keeps an eye on Bane and struggles to work himself back into crime-fighting condition, he finds an unlikely ally in Catwoman (Anne Hathaway), who by day is the cunning Selina Kyle. He also gets a brilliant assist from Det. Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), with whom he has quite a bit in common. Can the Caped Crusader & Company defeat the crazy and deranged Bane and finally take his rightful place as the savior of Gotham City?
While the mandatory pyrotechnics, special effects and technological toys are in place, principal writers Jonathan Nolan and Christopher Nolan have also crafted an ambitious, thought-provoking screenplay that features a surprising revelation at the end. Bale is compelling as the brooding Bruce Wayne, who is clearly at a crossroads. The devoted Alfred continues to encourage his friend and employer, who is still battling his personal demons, to basically get a life, while the brilliant and stoic Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman) desperately tries to hold things down at Wayne Enterprises.
I initially had my doubts about the ethereal Anne Hathaway as Catwoman, and while she lacked the sassy edge of Eartha Kitt and the sex appeal of Julie Newmar, who both played the feline felon in the “Batman” TV series, Hathaway handled herself in the role, adding her own brand of quirky sarcasm. She still looked a bit skinny in the form-fitting cat suit though. My only criticism is that the low, raspy speaking voices of both Bane and the Batman sometimes made it difficult to understand what either of them were saying.
With captivating performances, engrossing storyline and a little something to keep you wondering at the end, “The Dark Knight Rises” is proof positive that heart-stopping action and a compelling story can co-exist. (Rated PG-13)
Jeffrey Gaines to perform at Tin Angel
When he was a little boy, everyone loved his voice and encouraged him to keep on singing.
“My cousins and I would imitate the Jackson 5 and sing for the whole family,” says singer/songwriter Jeffrey Gaines, about to take the stage at the Tin Angel on June 29.
“I think that was the beauty of it. Because everybody was so encouraging, in some ways I feel that maybe I didn’t have to fight to make music my career. However, once I got into the music business I realized there was a lot of fight you have to have in order to make it.”
Born and raised in Harrisburg and now living in the Philadelphia area, Gaines said his musical interest was sparked at a very young age, owing largely in part to his parents’ collection of soul records — and the fact, he adds, that they gave him the freedom to seek his own identity.
But, he adds, it was his discovery of Ziggy Stardust-era David Bowie that truly sealed his fate, leading to his participation in local bands.
Mostly self-taught, Gaines explains that he took whatever music classes he could in public school because they were free. “But I never had strict lessons as such,” he explains. ”So what I do is natural in many ways.”
After high school, Gaines was offered the singer slot for a New York rock and roll band, but turned it down to move to Philadelphia, where he signed with Chrysalis Records, the thing that many young artists wait for.
“Things started happening so fast, and unfortunately, I had never learned why what I was involved in was called a business. Everyone around me got caught up in the excitement of it all. Even the people who were supposed to be helping me figure it all out didn’t always point out what was best for me.”
Fortunately, Gaines came through it all in one piece. In fact, over the years he has been heralded for his soul-searching lyrics and his powerful live performances. He was once described as “the man who sounds like Otis Redding, Elvis Costello and David Bowie, wrapped up in one amazing package.”
His newly-released CD, titled “Live in Europe,” was recorded during his 25-day tour of Europe with Joe Jackson in the autumn of 2010. The CD features Gaines’ classics and fan favorites, including the hit ballad “Beyond the Beginning” and the powerful anthem “Headmasters of Mine.”
Gaines writes his own music, and bases much of it on his own experiences and what he sees around him. He says of the song “Fear,” the first song on his CD, “I can get very personal about things. The idea for ‘Fear’ came to me when I was looking at some file footage of integration in the school system in the l960s.”
The footage was in black and white and concentrated on the townspeople screaming at little kids being escorted by the military. “The kids just wanted to go to school to get an education. And with all the screaming, the kids had the calmest look on their faces when all around them there was nothing but anger. They didn’t want to ignite the situation anymore so they had to play possum in a sense, going against their natural instincts because they knew they could not react.”
While not facing such problems himself, Gaines does say that he often faces white audiences who are trying to figure him out. “The come to my shows with stereotypical thoughts of what they’re going to hear. Hopefully, by the time they leave, they’ve not only enjoyed my music, but I’ve managed to expand their conventional wisdom. I know I have to convince the crowd I’m good every time I go up on stage. But usually it works.”
For times and ticket information, call (215) 928-0770.