Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Rhythm for Sale (BOOK REVIEW)



Rhythm for Sale
by Dr. Grant Harper Reid
Amazon Digital Services
Paperback, $14.95                                                                     
300 pages
ISBN: 978-0615678283

Book Review by Kam Williams
           
“I went into the Countee Cullen library… and saw a book titled: The Harlem Renaissance: A Historical Dictionary for the Era… I peeked inside to see if [it] had any information about my grandfather, Leonard Harper…
I asked the librarian… and was told to walk around the corner to the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture… I rushed to the Schomburg Center and was able to find so much material about my grandfather that it took me decades to complete my research.
The discovery of my family heritage by way of my grandfather was like opening up a treasure chest of precious metals.”   
Excerpted from the Introduction (page ix)

Have you ever heard of the late Leonard Harper? Neither had I, before reading this reverential biography chronicling his fascinating life. A seminal contributor to the Harlem Renaissance, the versatile talent once dubbed the “Father of Cabaret” belongs right up there in the pantheon of the era’s icons along with the likes of Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston.
            Rhythm for Sale was written by his grandson, Dr. Grant Harper Reid, who dedicated decades of his life to this labor of love. We learn from its pages that Leonard was born in 1889 in Birmingham, Alabama where, by the age of 4, he was already performing for pennies on the street dressed as a pickaninny. 
And by the time he passed away prematurely of a heart attack during rehearsals for a show set to debut in Times Square early in 1943, he had amassed an impressive resume that any entertainer might envy. However, this encyclopedic is much more than just a litany of Harper’s considerable achievements, for it also recreates in vivid fashion, the periods he participated in.
Perhaps more importantly, in a straight no chaser style, it delves deeply into the psyches of both its subject and many of his African-American colleagues. For, while other history books merely stick to the surface by focusing just on the singing and dancing, here we have a sobering exploration which examines their feelings about racism.
Kudos to Dr. Reid for this overdue tribute belatedly recognizing his truly remarkable grandfather.  

To order a copy of Rhythm for Sale, visit:

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Haley Joel Osment (INTERVIEW)



Haley Joel Osment
The “Sex Ed” Interview
with Kam Williams

 I See Haley, People!

Haley Joel Osment skyrocketed to fame at the age of 11 with his unforgettable, Academy Award-nominated performance in M. Night Shyamalan’s ghost thriller, The Sixth Sense. His portrayal of Cole, the little boy who uttered the iconic line, "I see dead people," left an indelible impact on audiences, as the picture grossed over $672 million worldwide.
In 2000, Osment went on to co-star alongside Kevin Spacey and Helen Hunt in the Warner Brothers drama Pay It Forward. And a year later, he starred opposite Jude Law in Steven Spielberg’s 2001 sci-fi drama, A.I. which earned over $235 million worldwide.
Here, he talks about his life and career, and about his upcoming movie, a comedy called Sex Ed. 

Kam Williams: Hi Haley, thanks for the interview.
Haley Joel Osment: Hey, how’s it going, Kam?

KW: Great! I really enjoyed Sex Ed. Before we start, I just wanted to say that I think you and my son have some mutual friends. He’s your age and went to Princeton. He said you were on a campus a lot when he was there.
HJO: Yeah, one of my closest friends went to Princeton, so I would come out to visit him occasionally, which was kinda nice because it was such a short train ride away from New York City. It was always great to get out to a non-urban environment.

KW: I’ll be mixing my own questions in with some from readers. Harriet Pakula-Teweles asks: How did attending the Tisch School at NYU help you prepare for your adult career in film and theater? Is going to college something you would recommend to other child stars?
HJO: I think college is a good idea for most everybody, but it depends on the person and on what you want to be doing when you turn 18, whether you want to go away to school or if acting’s something you want to jump on immediately.

KW: Harriet also asks: With so many classic films being redone, is there a remake you'd like to star in?
HJO: No, I would like to see more original films than remakes at this time. [Laughs]

KW: Children’s book author Irene Smalls asks: What interested you in Sex Ed?
HJO: It’s a film that [director] Isaac [Feder] and [screenwriter] Bill [Kennedy] have been trying to make since about 2007. I loved the script when I first read it in 2010, a funny fish-out-of-water comedy. Over the next four years we had a couple of near misses trying to get it made. Then, out of the blue, we got some money to shoot the movie in Florida, which turned out to be a blessing in disguise, since the location added a lot of flavor to the film.

KW: Irene also asks: What do you want people to get from your performance? Are you trying with this comedic turn here to get out from under the shadow of your iconic performance in The Sixth Sense?
HJO: I’m always just interested in whatever the best scripts are. This was just a bit of fortunate, coincidental timing. I really enjoy doing comedies, although I didn’t get to do a lot of them as a kid. I was on some network sitcoms. But it’s a really fertile time for comedy right now on a variety of platforms.

KW: Did you base your character, Ed Cole, on anybody?
HJO: Not on anyone in particular. He was originally based on a friend of Isaac and Bill’s who had been teaching English in Korea. But I never met that person, and wanted to create Ed from the ground up as his own man.

KW: What message do you think people will take away from the film?
HJO: Well, we didn’t set out to make a polemic. Where we sort of land is a mixture of respect for those parents who know what they want their children’s sex education to be like, and the reality that the information should be available for other kids whose parents are unable to inform them about the subject. 

KW: Aaron Moyne asks: At what age will you tell your kids about the proverbial birds and the bees?
HJO: Oh gosh, I don’t know. Kids are, at the very least, a long way off for me. I don’t know that there’s a set age. I guess it depends on the maturity level.

KW: Sangeetha Subramanian asks: How do you cope with those hard days on the set?
HJO: It can be grueling, particularly with an independent film like Sex Ed, when you have really long work days because you’re shooting the whole film in a short amount of time. It can get a bit tiring when you’re in virtually every shot of every scene. But having done some theater in New York, where you have to keep yourself fresh for eight performance a week, helps with endurance and keeping your energy up.

KW: Environmental activist Grace Sinden asks: Aside from your own work, what are you enjoying watching nowadays?
HJO: Well it’s a great time for television, along with Amazon Prime, HBO Go, and other ways we catch our shows. ! I’m a big fan of Veep, Game of Thrones, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, and Breaking Bad, which ended last year. As far as movies, I’m excited about Inherent Vice which opens in December, and I’m also looking forward to seeing Birdman which is supposed to be pretty cool.

KW: Grace was also wondering whether there are any particular actors or directors you have not worked with yet but would like to?
HJO: Certainly, Paul Thomas Anderson, in terms of directors. I’m a big fan of all his films. When it comes to actors, it’s hard to pick just one.  

KW: Finally, Grace says: Early acting success often leads to a distorted perception of what a good life is. Do you feel you learned any important life lessons in this regard from your own early success in movies and television? 
HJO: I think one thing that was really important, particularly in this industry which is so unpredictable and changing in profound ways, and I guess is contracting on the film side, was never to expect that it would always be a boom time. I was really lucky to be in such high-profile movies early in my career. But part of the reason for going to college was to make sure that my motivation for being in the industry was to do quality work, and not to be counting on giant blockbusters. In that regard, I am prepared for whatever the future holds. 

KW: What was it like to be nominated for an Oscar at 11 years of age?
HJO: The Academy Awards season was crazy! But what was kinda nice and reassuring was how Steven Spielberg warned me about two months before Oscar night that the best part of the experience would be how all these famous people would be nervously running around trying to meet each other during commercial breaks in the telecast. He was absolutely right about that. It was cool to see that everybody else was also in this excited place.

KW: Have you ever had a near-death experience?
HJO: No, and I hope that good fortune continues. 

KW: Is there any question no one ever asks you, that you wish someone would?
HJO: No, Kam, I’ve been doing press for so long that I’ve heard it all.

KW: Would you mind saying something controversial that would get this interview tweeted?
HJO: [LOL] No, and I’ve been pleasantly surprised that the subject-matter of Sex Ed hasn’t ruffled any feathers so far.

KW: The bookworm Troy Johnson question: What was the last book you read?
HJO: I’m in the middle of “The Shadow of Great Rock” by Harold Bloom.  
 
And I just finished “The Hot Zone: The Terrifying True Story of the Origins of the Ebola Virus” by Richard Preston. Getting more information about Ebola did sort of help quell my panic. 

KW: I know Richard. He lives nearby, and I interviewed him about “The Hot Zone” back then.
HJO: Oh, that’s right! He’s a Princeton guy. Well, it’s an interesting book to read now. All the science behind it is fascinating, from the standpoint of doctors who had no idea what it was they were dealing with during the initial outbreak.

KW: What’s was just as interesting as “The Hot Zone” was that at least five years before 9/11 he confided in me that the FBI was very worried about a possible terrorist attack by Islamic fundamentalists with a weapon of mass destruction.     
The music maven Heather Covington question: What was the last song you listened to? 
HJO: I just got Ty Segall’s new CD, “Manipulator.” I’m a really big fan of that album.
KW: What is your favorite dish to cook?
HJO: That’s a tough one. One of my closest friends has a big backyard in Brooklyn. We like to grill brisket for hours and hours on Sundays for the football games. I’ve also been trying to perfect a really simple marinara sauce with good quality tomatoes you can find in the city.

KW: When you look in the mirror, what do you see?
HJO: I don’t know… I can’t think of a creative response to that one. [Chuckles]

KW: If you could have one wish instantly granted, what would that be for?
HJO: To put an end to the Ebola outbreak.

KW: The Ling-Ju Yen question: What is your earliest childhood memory?
HJO: My mom playing kids’ books on tapes for me as I was falling asleep in the crib.

KW: The Viola Davis question: What’s the biggest difference between who you are at home as opposed to the person we see on the red carpet?
HJO: Part of the reason I enjoy doing press is because I don’t have to modulate my personality too much. I think I just speak louder on carpet, which is important when you’re doing interviews. [Laughs]

KW: The Judyth Piazza question: Is there a key quality you believe all successful people share? 
HJO: I think curiosity and open-mindedness are important in our business. But success is a hard thing to predict or pin down.

KW: What advice do you have for anyone who wants to follow in your footsteps?
HJO: I’d say, just make sure that the work is your primary interest. It’s a really tough industry. I know a lot of really talented, good people who don’t succeed. So, I’d say find a way to do your craft in a way which satisfies you, and let the rest of the stuff, the success and recognition, come as a bonus.

KW: The Tavis Smiley question: How do you want to be remembered?
HJO: For a wide variety of roles over a great many years.

KW: And finally, what’s in YOUR wallet?
HJO: [Laughs] A post-it note with my “To Do” list.  

KW: Thanks again for the time, Haley, and best of luck with Sex Ed.
HJO: Thanks a lot, Kam. It was nice talking to you.  

To see a trailer for Sex Ed, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q-lauONf9F4

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Plot for Peace (FILM REVIEW)



Plot for Peace
Film Review by Kam Williams


Revisionist History Chronicles Frenchman’s Secret Role in Toppling Apartheid

            In 2009, I reviewed a movie called Endgame, a political potboiler which divulged, for the first time, the pivotal role a British professor named Will Esterhuyse played in the end of Apartheid. I remember feeling a little skeptical about the veracity of the alleged well-kept secret.
But here it is five years later, and we now have a Plot for Peace, a documentary staking a similar claim on behalf of another supposed critical figure who also ostensibly operated under the radar. This picture purportedly recounts how Jean-Yves Ollivier, a French businessman surreptitiously referred to as “Monsieur Jacques” in classified correspondence, orchestrated the dismantling of South Africa’s racist regime as well as the release of Nelson Mandela from prison.
Granted, Mr. Ollivier has many luminaries lining up to testify on his behalf, including Winnie Mandela, who says, “He never said one word about his contribution.” Then, there’s attorney and African National Congress activist Mathews Phosa who points out that Jean-Yves “wouldn’t have received a medal from Mandela if he hadn’t played a role.” Curiously, he’s the only person to be so honored by both the new and previous presidents.
What interested Ollivier in South Africa? He explains that he was a young expatriate living in Algeria during that nation’s independence movement. So, he saw the outcome as inevitable when civil war erupted in South Africa despite efforts of the United States and other Western countries to delay the inevitable by advocating the dubious “policy of constructive engagement.”
My only complaint about “Johnny Come Lately” productions like this and Endgame is the way in which they subtly minimize the contributions made by the revolutionaries who put their lives on the line in a very bloody, freedom struggle. These versions of revisionist history tend to marginalize such sacrifices while suggesting that the true hero was a lone wolf in a suit safely negotiating a resolution of the conflict from half a world away.
            Regardless, the grassroots’ rallying cry remained, “Amandla!”

Very Good (2.5 stars)
Unrated   
In English, French, Portuguese, Afrikaans and Spanish with subtitles
Running time: 84 minutes
Distributor: Indelible Media

To see a trailer for Plot for Peace, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2A7EJUg1dSY        

Private Peaceful (FILM REVIEW)



Private Peaceful
Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Siblings Fall for Same Lass in Incestuous Romance Drama

            Tommo (George MacKay) and Charlie Peaceful (Jack O’Connell) had a healthy sibling rivalry while growing up in Devon at the dawn of the 20th Century. The brothers were raised on a sprawling country estate owned by a family of aristocratic Brits.
Their father (Stephen Kennedy) was employed there as both gamekeeper and forester. In that capacity, he was able to afford to send his sons to a private school run with an iron fist by a sadistic headmaster (Richard Griffiths), a retired military colonel.
Everything changes when their dad dies in a logging accident. Since their homemaker mother (Maxine Peake) can no longer afford the rent or tuition, they soon lose the only life they’ve ever known. More importantly, the pubescent adolescents have to leave behind Molly (Alexandra Roach), a beautiful classmate both have a crush on.
Despite moving away, Tommo and Charlie venture back as teens to frolic in the forest with the irresistible object of their affection. A bit of a tease, Molly initially refuses to pick between her ardent admirers, instead only promising to marry one “Mr. Peaceful” while assuring that “We’ll be happy until the day we die.”
This is the premise underpinning Private Peaceful, a bittersweet love story based on Michael Morpurgo’s young adult novel of the same name. The book was previously adapted into a play which debuted at the Royal Theater in 2004.
Directed by Pat O’Connor (Sweet November), the screen version is an intriguing romance drama which takes a sharp turn about midway through when Tommo and Charlie enlist in the army and ship off to serve their country in Flanders’ fields. However, there remains concern about Molly who’d announced her unplanned pregnancy shortly before the outbreak of World War I.  
Who’s the daddy? Will the Peacefuls survive? These are the pivotal questions left to be addressed between bombs bursting in air. Trench warfare as the backdrop for a tawdry love triangle about as incestuous as it gets.

Very Good (3 stars)
Unrated   
Running time: 102 minutes
Distributor: BBC America

To see a trailer for Private Peaceful, visit: http://www.privatepeacefulthemovie.com/

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Advanced Style (DVD REVIEW)


Advanced Style

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Fashion Documentary Focuses Lens on Ageless Ladies

We live in a culture which unfortunately equates beauty with youth. Why else are so many women to make a joke of their own faces so long as the skin remains as tight as a ten year old’s? As the late Joan Rivers, a big fan of cosmetic surgery, might ask: Can we talk?
For, flying in the face of this conventional wisdom is Ari Seth Cohen, a street photographer who roams around Manhattan looking for flamboyant elderly females to capture with his camera. He even has a blog, Advanced Style (http://advancedstyle.blogspot.com/) dedicated to portraits of these classy ladies ranging in age from 60 to 95.
The website generated so much interest that we now have Advanced Style, the movie, a documentary featuring some of his most attractive subjects. The picture marks the “Fabulous!” directorial of Lina Plioplyte who makes quite the splash simply by shedding light on seven, ageless fashion plates.
There’s Jackie Tajah Murdock, 81, who was a dancer at the Apollo during the famed theater’s heydays, and Lynn Dell Cohen, 80, the self-proclaimed “Countess of Glamour.” The baby of the group is Tziporah Salamon, 62 who rides around the city on a pimped-out bicycle. And at the other extreme we have the group’s elder stateswoman, Zelda Kaplan, 95, who has a good sense of humor about being a little addlepated.
Rounding out the crew are Ilona Royce Smithkin, 93; Joyce Carpati, 80; and Deborah Rapoport, 67. What they all seem to share is an infectious zest for life and for looking their best that they can’t help but share with anyone they meet. Ostensibly for the sake of a plot, the picture inexorably works its way to the ladies being feted, whether they’re landing a contract with Lanvin, making an appearance on Ricki Lake’s TV talk show, or just strutting their stuff during Fashion Week.
But it all seems secondary to the obvious fact that natural aging lines can look every bit as good if not better than Botox and face lifts. The best antidote around to America’s unhealthy obsession with youth!

Excellent (3.5 stars)
Unrated
Running time: 72 minutes
Distributor: Bond360
DVD Extras: Packed with tons of extra footage including conversations with the ladies about the aging process and about sex, and with some fun scenes that will make you want to dress up and approach each day a little more vibrantly.

To see a trailer for Advanced Style, visit:

To order a copy of Advanced Style on DVD, visit: 

St. Vincent (FILM)



St. Vincent
Film Review by Kam Williams


Misanthrope Rises to Role Model in Bittersweet Character Portrait

            Almost nothing is right in Vincent MacKenna’s (Bill Murray) life. The aging, Vietnam War vet is still suffering from PTSD. Plus, he’s fighting a losing battle against with booze, cigarettes and gambling, which has left him deeply indebted to a vicious loan shark (Terrence Howard).
In fact, Zucko is threatening to break Vincent’s kneecaps if he doesn’t come up with the cash in a couple weeks. Trouble is the miserable misanthrope doesn’t have a friend in the world, unless you count Daka (Naomi Watts), the pregnant prostitute he befriended at a neighborhood strip club. Unfortunately, Vincent can come up with no better solution to his money woes than wagering on long shots at his favorite haunt, Belmont race track.
Meanwhile, he’s also concerned about his wife, Sandy (Donna Mitchell), who’s been suffering from Alzheimer’s for the past eight years. He still visits her regularly at the elderly care facility, despite the fact that she no longer recognizes him.    
The last thing you’d think Vincent might need would be a new, next-door neighbor who’s more of a burden than a help. But, that’s just what he gets in Maggie (Melissa McCarthy) a single-mom desperate enough for a babysitter that she’s willing to let him babysit her latchkey kid.
Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher) attends Catholic school where the pint-sized 12 year-old is picked on by bullies. This makes the boy a prime candidate for the sort of toughening Vincent has to offer, lessons on everything from boxing to betting.
Written and directed by Theodore Melfi, St. Vincent is a bittersweet, unlikely-buddies flick which works more in terms of comedy than drama. There’s something a tad unconvincing about the ambitious adventure’s sentimental side.
The film has one glaring flaw, a rushed feeling resulting from the introduction of more plotlines than it has time to develop fully. So, when it asks us to empathize with this or that character’s plight, or to buy into the heartwarming resolution, there’s simply not much of a wellspring of emotion forthcoming.
Nevertheless, St. Vincent does work when going for the joke, especially Bill Murray’s tongue-in-cheek brand of humor. He’s in rare form, here, as an irascible curmudgeon who exhibits an endearing vulnerability for the sake of an at-risk tween in need of a father figure.

Very Good (3 stars)
Rated PG-13 for sexuality, profanity, smoking, mature themes and substance abuse
Running time: 102 minutes
Distributor: The Weinstein Company

To see a trailer for St. Vincent, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r5BVn-eyAxA    

Friday, October 24, 2014

Begin Again (DVD REVIEW)



Begin Again
DVD Review by Kam Williams


Enchanting Musical Adventure Set in NYC Arrives on DVD

Greta (Keira Knightley) followed her college sweetheart (Adam Levine) to Manhattan when he was signed to a lucrative record deal with a major music label. However, the overnight fame went to Dave’s head and he soon started to stray. This development signaled not only the end of their romantic relationship but the demise of their promising partnership as songwriters, too.
Nevertheless, Greta is still very talented in her own right, which she readily proves when pushed by a pal to perform at a Greenwich Village dive on open mic night. The haunting strains of “A Step You Can’t Take Back” catch the ear of Dan Mulligan (Mark Ruffalo), a legendary talent scout who happens to be sitting in the audience.
He proceeds to imagine how great Greta would sound accompanied by a full band instead of simply by her acoustic guitar. So, right after the diamond in the rough steps offstage, he offers to help turn her into the next singing sensation.
But Greta is initially reluctant for a couple of logical reasons. First of all, she’d just decided to abandon her silly pipe dream of superstardom and was on brink of moving back to England. Secondly, the solicitous stranger standing in front of her reeks of alcohol and looks homeless, and nothing like a veteran A&R exec.
Truth be told, disheveled Dan is in the dumps because he was recently fired from Distress Records by the Harvard classmate (Mos Def) he’d co-founded the company with. Furthermore, he’s being missing his estranged wife (Catherine Keener) and daughter (Hailee Steinfeld) since being kicked out of the house a year ago.
In fact, he was actually contemplating suicide until Greta’s voice gave him a new reason to live. Well, will he be able to revive his career and launch Great’s simultaneously, or will the ambitious endeavor fail miserably? And, will the two fall in love, despite the age difference, or might they merely return to their respective exes? Those are the alternate scenarios contemplated by Begin Again, an absorbing, character-driven, musical drama written and directed by John Carney.
The movie is most reminiscent of Carney’s earlier offering Once, which won the 2008 Academy Award for Best Song (“Falling Slowly”) en route to the Broadway stage where it subsequently swept the Tony Awards, including Best Musical. Begin Again similarly revolves around a pair of losers down on their luck whose close collaboration yields a cornucopia of mellifluous melodies.
Who knew that Keira Knightley could carry a tune let alone in such a dulcet tone? Or that she was capable of generating palpable screen chemistry? Kudos are also in order for her top-flight, supporting cast, especially Mark Ruffalo, Adam Levine, Mos Def, James Corden, Catherine Keener, Hailee Steinfeld and CeeLo Green.
A most-enchanting musical adventure!
 
Excellent (4 stars)
Rated R for profanity
Running time: 104 minutes
Distributor: Anchor Bay / The Weinstein Company 
DVD Extras: Four music videos; The Making of Begin Again; and The Weinstein Company trailers. 

To see a trailer for Begin Again, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CwLuDO_Cxfc   

To order a copy of Begin Again on DVD, visit: