Category Archives: The Smooth List

Smooth List – Bruce Lee

This is a moment when I’m almost at a loss for words. Quite frankly, Bruce Lee was more than just a man. He was a different species altogether. Something about the way he owned the screen, how he brought sheer confidence and energy to everything he did. I can’t deny that Bruce Lee is easily one of my favourite actors of all time.

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I think what separates him from everyone else is the fact he was just so positive. His heart was so pure, unfettered by the superficial. Sure, he was a star with money, and he spent that money well. However, his most prized possession was always his family and his love of his history and culture. There was a light inside him that just seemed to stretch beyond his human cave and penetrate the souls of everyone he met and anyone who ever watched one of his films.

His acting was simple. He wasn’t attempting make grand statements about how brilliant he was. Bruce Lee was a storyteller, always wanting to give form and movement to every scene. Even in the midst of a fighting sequence, he always managed to pour in a bit of philosophy and imagination. One of the most classic examples of this is the fight sequence that was actually not included in one of his most famous films Game of Death. It was a scene in which two of his comrades had already attempted to stop one of the gritty henchmen — and failed miserably. However, Bruce walks in, all swagger and sophistication, carrying nothing but a stick of bamboo. It’s then he begins to not only dismantle his opponent, but also teach him about the power behind fluid movement and “broken rhythm.”


The scene starts at 4:07

It’s this combination of class and confidence that saw Bruce become the catalyst for the expansion and vision of the martial arts genre. Bruce redefined the scope of martial arts, expanding its vocabulary and expressing it with a fluency that very few have managed to have since. As a student of the legendary Yip Man, Lee incorporated the fluidity of the peaceful master’s style with the precision of his own brand of Wing Chun, providing what most would consider the foundation for Jeet Kun Do. It was with this powerful expansion of the classic martial arts style that he bombarded the film industry and created some incredible art. Indeed, his fighting sequences were more than just pauses of drama for the moments of action everyone loves. They were veritable dance sequences, snippets of powerful ballet and jazz that brought the style itself to a new level of grandeur.

But Bruce was more than just an actor. More than a fighter. He had a mind that was as broad and fluid as the water he moulded his fighting style after. It was his philosophies on martial arts and the grander scheme of life that were always so fascinating, always so vibrant. He had a heart and mind that was grounded in beauty, energy, life. I think that’s what puts him in a league above most any other actor I’ve ever witness — his candour and affection for life spilled over into his acting, into his writing. He pushed beyond simply being a gorgeous man with an intriguing fighting style. He was a blessing, a gift.

There’s nothing more potent than a man who’s very aware of himself, very full of knowledge about the world around him and how to interact with it. Bruce Lee was more than simply a master of a very beautifully ethereal form of martial arts, he was a teacher, philosopher, a genuine student and lover of life. For that, he will forever hold a spot in my heart as a rare breed of human who came along to spread his love and then left us with an enormous feeling of peace.

Smooth List – Don Cheadle

As my final Smooth Man of 2012 it makes sense that I’d follow a post about Robert Downey Jr. with a post about one of his costars. Don Cheadle is truly a man of superb talent and stellar intelligence. He manages to take the ordinary and make it something completely different, twisting even his dialect to fit any mood. It’s not so much the fact he can mould his accent to fit perfectly with his character, it’s that he’s bold enough to take on those characters without apology and without attempting to oversimplify it to ensure his particular level of “cool” is intact.

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Though most would point first to his work in the Ocean’s 11 series, my first flirtation with the brilliant thespian was in a biographical role. Earl “The Goat” Manigault was a basketball player who, quite frankly, was probably the greatest man to ever pick up the ball. However, life choices and lacking opportunity saw him fall prey to the annals of should-have-beens that seem to pepper a lot of history. Cheadle’s portrayal of the man was smooth, sexy, confident. He managed to carry all the arrogance of the streetball player, even walking as if the man had taken over his body. However, the most impressive aspect of his performance was his ability to manifest the vulnerability when Manigault was at his most melancholic. It was a wonder to see a man, especially a Black man, able to express emotion with such subtlety, such elegance. It was almost heartbreaking in its rendering.

However, I can’t deny the truth. What made me pay attention to Cheadle’s work was his turn as Basher in the 2001 remake of Ocean’s 11, a role that he, surprisingly, wasn’t credited for. Despite the cast list flub, the fact of the matter is his ability to put on a Cockney accent to portray the sly munitions master warmed my heart and my love for Don Cheadle along with it. Call me silly, but the first time I saw the film in the cinema I honestly thought the man was from North London. I know, I know. But his ability to move smoothly through the character was commendable, if not awe inspiring.

I don’t doubt it’s his work as a stage actor that allows him to adapt to characters and their histories so thoroughly. His portrayal of Paul Rusesabagina, the hotel manager who housed over 1000 refugees during the horrific Rwanda Genocide of 1994, was absolutely astounding. Hotel Rwanda is a undoubtedly one of the post poignant films to come out of the early 2000s. Such a story isn’t one meant for the faint of heart — either as a viewer or as a participant. Cheadle managed to bring so much depth and focus to the character, one almost felt as if he were the saviour of these people and would do anything for the safety of his loved ones and his country [1].

Of course, most would point to his work as Lt. Col. James Rhodes (a.k.a. Rhodey) in the Iron Man series; however, even his wit and patience with his philandering companion pales in comparison to the grander scale of his catalog of work. His portrayal of Petey Green in film Talk To Me pushed his versatility to a grander stage, while such works as Crash [1] showcased how brilliant the man is at zeroing in his grandeur in order to give height to quite moments.

Indeed, what makes this man an integral part of my Smooth List is his attention to detail, his desire to lift the craft and, most importantly, his total abdication of self when throwing himself into a role. Don Cheadle will forever be one of the most remarkable actors it’s been my pleasure to know. Reliving the work that made me fall in love with him is something that will forever bring a smile to my face.

Smooth List – Nate Parker

Sometimes the beauty of another human being comes into your life when you least expect it, taking you away with its underlying elegance. One such instance came in the form of Nate Parker.

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In a darkened cinema I saw him, all brown skin and dark eyes. But once he opened his mouth, the depth of his charisma blind-sided me and left me wishing for more. The Great Debaters is one of those films I wish there was more of, more use of talent and depth. The story is rich with all the things I love — historical perspective, enthralling performances from the cast, including the power of Denzel Washington and the grace of Jurnee Smollett. However, what kept my rapt attention throughout the film was the struggle Parker’s character continued to fight through — the ghosts of a past that seemed to try to constantly predetermine his future and the unconscionable breadth of his intelligence.

And that may be what drew me to him and kept me there. There will, of course, always be gorgeous men who ignite a fire in me. However, they’re beauty is usually left in the dissipating colour of the screen. What held me in Parker’s grasp, from the moment he smiled with an arrogance and slithering charm to this very moment that I’m remembering the cocky grin on his face, was the internal battle his character seemed to be fighting. And it wasn’t an over the top piece of melodrama. Rather it was his brooding subtlety and ability to showcase that struggle with maturity that has had me captivated ever since.

Of course after seeing him take charisma and turn it into seething emotion, anytime I saw him on screen I just had to stop. His portrayal as Alicia Keys’s traditional boyfriend Neil in The Secret Life of Bees [1] showcased the power and strength of the man himself. I found him a welcome distraction to the overwrought emotional stickiness of the female characters of the film (those who know me understand that I’ve never been particularly partial to the sugar and vinegar of “chick flicks.” They do absolutely nothing for me).

But it’s more than just has incredible talent. After all, there are literally dozens of actors who have left a deep impression on me and made me bow down to their sheer excellence. No, Nate Parker captures something that not very many of the new class of actor have managed to do on screen for me. He combines strength and subtlety in a way that hearkens to a time when acting was indeed an invaluable means of expression in America, especially among Black Americans [1]. His candour and his beauty continues to take my breath away and give me something to grab onto in a time when America is struggling to produce brilliance.

Nate Parker gets a spot on my Smooth List because he is an elegant look into the future and a beautiful piece of heaven that even I can’t fathom completely.