Sunday, December 21, 2014

Blacktrospective 2014 (FEATURE)

                     Blacktrospective 2014

                     by Kam Williams

Kam’s Annual Assessment of the Best in Black Cinema

Top Ten Big Budget Black Films

1.                  Selma
2.                  The Equalizer
3.                  Top Five
4.                  Belle
5.                  Get on Up
6.                  Beyond The Lights
7.                  About Last Night
8.                  Think Like a Man Too
9.                  Black or White
10.              Addicted

Best Independent Black Films

1.                   Dear White People  
2.                   Half of a Yellow Sun
3.                   The Retrieval
4.                   From the Rough
5.                   Sucka 4 Luv

Best Black Documentaries

1.            The Trials of Muhammad Ali
2.             America the Beautiful 3
3.            The New Black
4.            Vanishing Pearls
5.            25 to Life
6.            Keep on Keepin’ On
7.            The Barefoot Artist
8.            Tanzania: A Journey Within
9.            I Am Ali
10.        Through a Lens Darkly
Best Actor (Lead Role)

1.        Denzel Washington (The Equalizer)
2.        Chris Rock (Top Five)
3.        Astro (Earth to Echo)
4.        David Oyelowo (Selma)
5.        Chadwick Boseman (Get on Up)
6.        Michael Ealy (About Last Night) 
7.        Nate Parker (Beyond the Lights)
8.        Kevin Hart (About Last Night)
9.        Tishuan Scott (The Retrieval)
10.      Cuba Gooding, Jr. (Life of a King)

Best Actor (Supporting Role)

1.       Jamie Foxx (Annie)  
2.        J.B. Smoove (Top Five)
3.        Ice Cube (22 Jump Street)         
4.        Chiwetel Ejiofor (Half of a Yellow Sun)
5.        Tyler James Williams (Dear White People)
6.        Jeffrey Wright (The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1)     
7.        Common (Selma)
8.        Boris Kodjoe (Addicted)
9.        Terry Crews (Blended)
10.      Ashton Sanders (The Retrieval)

Best Actress (Lead Role)

1.        Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Belle)
2.        Thandie Newton (Half of a Yellow Sun)
3.        Quvenzhane Wallis (Annie)
4.        Regina Hall (About Last Night) 
5.        Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Beyond the Lights)
6.        Joy Bryant (About Last Night)   
7.        Xavia Omega (Sucka 4 Luv)
8.        Taraji P. Henson (From the Rough)
9.        Nia Long (The Single Moms Club)
10.      Sharon Leal (Addicted)

Best Actress (Supporting Role)

1.        Tessa Thompson (Dear White People)
2.         Rosario Dawson (Top Five)
3.        Carmen Ejogo (Selma)
4.        Leslie Jones (Top Five)
5.        Oprah Winfrey (Selma)
6.        Anika Noni Rose (Half of a Yellow Sun)
7.        Gabrielle Union (Top Five) 
8.        Amber Stevens (22 Jump Street)
9.        Paula Patton (About Last Night)
10.      Octavia Spencer (Black or White)

Best Director (Big Budget Film)
1.                  Ava DuVernay (Selma)
2.                  Antoine Fuqua (The Equalizer)
3.                  Amma Asante (Belle)
4.                  Chris Rock (Top Five)
5.                  Gina Prince-Bythewood (Beyond the Lights)
6.                  Tim Story (Think Like a Man Too)
7.                  Tyler Perry (The Single Moms Club)
8.                  Tim Story (Ride Along)
9.                  Nick Cannon (School Dance)
10.              Billie Woodruff (Addicted)

Best Director (Independent Film)

1.                Justin Simien (Dear White People)
2.                Biyi Bandele (Half of a Yellow Sun)
3.                Pierre Bagley (From the Rough)
4.                Patrick Pierre (Sucka 4 Luv)
5.                Mark Harris (Black Coffee)

Best Director (Documentary Film)

     1.        Darryl Roberts (America the Beautiful 3)
2.       Yoruba Richen (The New Black)
3.       Nailah Jefferson (Vanishing Pearls)
4.       Mike Brown (25 to Life)
5.       Thomas Allen Harris (Through a Lens Darkly)


Saturday, December 20, 2014


Film Review by Kam Williams

Present-Day Harlem Provides Setting for Update of Beloved Cartoon Classic

Little Orphan Annie was a syndicated comic strip created by Harold Gray (1894-1968) which debuted in the New York Daily News on August 5, 1924. The cartoon revolved around the misadventures of an adorable 11 year-old with curly red hair who’d exclaim “Leapin’ lizards!” whenever she got excited.

The original strip also featured Oliver “Daddy” Warbucks, the millionaire who rescued her from an orphanage; Punjab, his loyal manservant; and Sandy, her adopted stray puppy. The popular serial was first brought to the big screen in 1932, and was adapted to the stage in 1977 as a Broadway musical.

Directed by Will Gluck (Easy A), this fifth film version is very loosely based on that Tony-sweeping production. But the story unfolds in the present at a foster home in Harlem instead of during the Depression at an orphanage located in lower Manhattan. And a few names have been changed, but the roles and motivations basically remain the same.

At the point of departure, we find Annie (Quvenzhane Wallis) and her fellow wards of the state caught in the clutches of cruel Colleen Hannigan, (Cameron Diaz), an abusive alcoholic with a mean streak who takes delight in exploiting the little girls entrusted to her care. This predicament inspires the mistreated waifs to do what else but sing about how “It’s the Hard Knock Life” for them.

Meanwhile, Annie futilely sits in front of the restaurant where she was abandoned log ago, praying for the return of the parents who’d abandoned her long ago, so the sun’ll come out “Tomorrow.” However, a ray of hope arrives when she crosses paths with mobile phone magnate Will Stacks (Jamie Foxx) who soon invites the grimy street urchin to move into his posh penthouse with a panoramic view and state-of-the-art amenities.

But did the billionaire make the generous overture merely for a photo opportunity to improve his image as a mayoral candidate? Will the cute kid be callously kicked back to the curb once the campaign’s over? 
The outcome won’t be much of a mystery to the average adult, though it will probably prove compelling enough to keep tykes and maybe even tweens glued to the edges of their seats for the full two hours. As for the lead performance, Quvenzhane Wallis is quite endearing as the latest incarnation of Annie, right from the opening scene where she ostensibly takes the proverbial baton from a freckle-faced redhead (Taylor Richardson) resembling the other actresses who’d previously played the part.

Still, the film has a glaring Achilles heel, a mediocre soundtrack. Jamie Foxx has the best singing voice here, by far. The rest of the cast members give it their all, but simply fail to deliver any show-stopping renditions of either the familiar or new tunes.
A 21st Century variation on the age-old theme where an insufferable 1%-er finally gets in touch with his sensitive side with the help of an irresistible ragamuffin representing the downtrodden rest of humanity.
Good (2 stars)
Rated PG for mild epithets and rude humor
Running time: 118 minutes
Distributor: Columbia Pictures

To see a trailer for Annie, visit:  

Friday, December 19, 2014


Top Five
Film Review by Kam Williams

Chris Rock Rolls in Romantic Comedy/Film Industry Satire

            In Birdman, Michael Keaton played a fading star trying to revive a career that had been in decline since he’d become typecast after playing a superhero in a series of blockbusters on the big screen. That plotline wasn’t all that far off from the arc of Keaton’s real-life fate following an outing as Batman back in 1989.
The similarly-themed Top Five features Chris Rock as Andre Allen, a comedian who has become too closely associated with “Hammy the Bear,” the popular protagonist of a humor-driven film franchise. Consequently, he’s been having a hard time making the transition to dramatic roles.
At the point of departure, we find Andre in the midst of promoting his newest movie, Uprize, an historical drama about a slave insurrection on the island of Haiti. He’s allowed New York Times reporter Chelsea Brown (Rosario Dawson) to tag along for the day, since she’s been assigned by the paper to prepare a profile on him.
Sparks fly, the two flirt, and it’s pretty obvious right off the bat that the two are attracted to each other. Trouble is, he’s already engaged and about to marry Erica Long (Gabrielle Union), a shallow, self-centered reality show star.
It’s equally clear that Andre and his high maintenance fiancĂ©e are ill-matched, so anybody who’s ever seen a romantic comedy can figure out where this one’s headed. And while the plot does everything to prevent Andre from wising up until the very end, it simultaneously affords the acid-tongued funnyman ample opportunities to point out show business’ shortcomings.
Besides being peppered with plenty of inside jokes and pithy comments about Hollywood, Top Five is memorable for boasting the most star-studded cast of the year. The dramatis personae includes J.B. Smoove, Kevin Hart, Adam Sandler, Jerry Seinfeld, Cedric the Entertainer, Tracy Morgan, Whoopi Goldberg, Charlie Rose, DMX, Jay Pharoah, Taraji P. Henson, Romany Malco, Gabby Sidibe, Luis Guzman, Sherri Shepherd and Ben Vereen.
As you might imagine, many of the celebs are limited to blink and you missed it cameos, though the production does manage to milk a little magic out of each one’s brief moment in the limelight. Nevertheless, make no mistake, this is a Chris Rock vehicle, and the picture is at its best when the irreverent comic is at his cockiest.
A clever, laff-a-minute adventure worth the investment for the hilarity, even if it telegraphs where the love story might be headed.

Excellent (3.5 stars)
Rated R for sexuality, nudity, crude humor, pervasive profanity and drug use
Running time: 101 minutes
Distributor: Paramount Pictures

To see a trailer for Top Five, visit:    

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Top Ten DVD Releases for 12-23-14

This Week’s DVD Releases
by Kam Williams

Top Ten DVD List for December 23, 2014                      

The Good Lie


1,000 Times Good Night

Richard Pryor: Icon

Frontline: The Rise of Isis

Nova: Why Planes Vanish

Dominion: Season One

American Roadshow: Cold War Roadshow

Peg + Cat: Pirates Ahoy!

Continuum: Season Three

Kam's Movie Kapsules for 12-26-14

Kam's Kapsules:      
Weekly Previews That Make Choosing a Film Fun         
by Kam Williams
For movies opening December 26, 2014


American Sniper (R for graphic violence, sexual references and pervasive profanity) Clint Eastwood directed this adaptation of the best-selling memoir by Navy Seal Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper), the most successful sniper in the history of the U.S. military. With Sienna Miller, Luke Grimes and Jake McDorman.

Big Eyes (PG-13 for mature themes and brief profanity) Revisionist history biopic correcting the record about Margaret Keane (Amy Adams), the painter whose husband (Christoph Waltz) became one of the most celebrated artists of the Fifties and Sixties by passing off her work as his own. Co-starring Krysten Ritter, Danny Huston and Jason Schwartzman. (In English, French and Italian with subtitles)

The Gambler (R for sexuality, nudity and pervasive profanity) Mark Wahlberg stars in the title role of this remake of the 1974 thriller as a college professor whose gambling habit lands him in trouble with loan sharks (John Goodman and Michael Kenneth Williams) and the casino owner (Alvin Ing) who’d extended him a quarter-million dollar line of credit. With Brie Larson, George Kennedy and Jessica Lange.

Into the Woods (PG for action, peril, suggestive material and mature themes) Disney family fantasy interweaving the plotlines of several Grimm Brothers fairytales, including Cinderella (Anna Kendrick), Little Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford), Rapunzel (Mackenzie Maury) and Jack (Daniel Huttlestone) and the Beanstalk. Ensemble includes Meryl Streep, Emily Blunt, James Corden, Johnny Depp, Chris Pine and Tracey Ullman. 

Selma (PG-13 for violence, disturbing images, and brief profanity) Civil Rights Era saga, directed by Ava DuVernay, chronicling the historic march led by Dr. Martin Luther King (David Oyelowo) credited with pressuring Congress to pass the Voting Rights Act of 1965. With Carmen Ejogo, Cuba Gooding, Jr., Tom Wilkinson, Tim Roth, Martin Sheen, Giovanni Ribisi, Common and Oprah.

Unbroken (PG-13 for brief profanity and intense brutality) Angelina Jolie directs this adaptation of the Lauren Hillenbrand best-seller of the same name recounting Olympic athlete-turned-WWII hero Louie Zamperini’s (Jack O’Connell) harrowing internment in a Japanese POW camp after his plane was shot down over the Pacific during a rescue mission. With Takamasa Ishihara, Garrett Hedlund, Finn Wittrock and Jai Courtney.


Barbecue (Unrated) French farce revolving around a trim and fit, diet-conscious health nut (Lambert Wilson) who decides to throw caution to the wind after suffering a heart attack on his 50th birthday. Supporting cast includes Franck Dubosc, Florence Foresti and Sophie Duez. (In French with subtitles)

Beloved Sisters (Unrated) Incestuous romance drama about a couple of aristocratic siblings (Hannah Herzsprung and Henriette Confurius) who opt to share when they both fall in love with the poet, philosopher and playwright Friedrich Schiller (Florian Stetter). With Claudia Messner, Ronald Zehrfeld and Maja Maranow. (In German and French with subtitles)

Leviathan (R for profanity, sexuality and nudity) Legal drama about a humble family man (Aleksey Serebryakov) who retains the services of an attorney (Vladimir Vdovichenkov) to prevent his seaside home with a view from being seized for a pittance by eminent domain by a corrupt mayor (Roman Madyanov). Support cast includes Elena Lyadova, Anna Ukolova and Sergey Pokhodaev. (In Russian with subtitles)

Tale of the Grim Sleeper (Unrated) Keystone Cops documentary revisiting the badly-bungled investigation of the case of Lonnie Franklin, Jr., aka The Grim Sleeper, a serial killer whose reign of terror around South Central L.A. claimed at least ten lives over a quarter-century.

Two Days, One Night (PG-13 with mature themes) Slice-of-life drama about a woman (Marion Cotillard) recovering from a nervous breakdown who has to spend a weekend trying to convince her factory co-workers to reverse their vote to have her fired in return for a big bonus. With Fabrizio Rongione, Catherine Salee and Pili Groyne. (In French and Arabic with subtitles)

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Ten Best Black Books of 2014

            The Ten Best Black Books of 2014
                                    by Kam Williams

1.         Justice While Black: Helping African-American Families Navigate
and Survive the Criminal Justice System
            by Robbin Shipp, Esq. and Nick Chiles  

2.         An Obama's Journey: My Odyssey of Self-Discovery across Three Cultures
by Mark Obama Ndesandjo

3.         Who We Be: The Colorization of America
by Jeff Chang

4.         Blessed Experiences: Genuinely Southern, Proudly Black
by Congressman James E. Clyburn (D-SC)
Foreword by Alfre Woodard
5.         Life in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina
by Misty Copeland
6.         One Nation: What We Can All Do to Save America’s Future
by Dr. Ben Carson and Candy Carson
7.         Finding Your Roots
by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. 
8.         What the Word Be: Why Black English Is the King’s (James) English
by Diane Proctor Reeder
9.         Death of a King: The Real Story of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Final Year
by Tavis Smiley 
with David Ritz
10.       Culture Worrier: Reflections on Race, Politics and Social Change
by Clarence Page

Honorable Mention

Why Vegan is the New Black
by Deborrah Cooper

The Lawyer as Leader: How to Plant People and Grow Justice
by Dr. Artika R. Tyner

Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption
by Bryan Stevenson

Stokely: A Life
by Peniel E. Joseph

Brown Girl Dreaming
by Jacqueline Woodson

The Light of Truth: Writings of an Anti-Lynching Crusader
by Ida B. Wells 
Edited with an Introduction and Notes by Mia Bay
General Editor: Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

The Rise
Creativity, the Gift of Failure, and the Search for Mastery
by Sarah Lewis

Success through Stillness: Meditation Made Simple
by Russell Simmons

The Imperfect Marriage
Help for Those Who Think It’s Over
by Darryl and Tracy Strawberry 

Inside the Hotel Rwanda: The Surprising True Story… and Why It Matters Today
by Edouard Kayihura and Kerry Zukus

Handbook for an Unpredictable Life: How I Survived Sister Renata and My Crazy   
Mother, and Still Came out Smiling (with Great Hair)
by Rosie Perez

The Global Obama: Crossroads of Leadership in the 21st Century
Edited by Dinesh Sharma and Uwe P. Gielen

Black and White: The Way I See It
by Richard Williams

Transforming Pain to Power: Unlock Your Unlimited Potential
by Daniel Beaty

Story/Time: The Life of an Idea
by Bill T. Jones

Place, Not Race: A New Vision of Opportunity in America
by Sheryll Cashin

Old School Adventures from Englewood--South Side of Chicago
by Elaine Hegwood Bowen

The Man from Essence
by Edward Lewis with Audrey Edwards
Foreword by Camille O. Cosby

Nine Lives of a Black Panther: A Story of Survival
by Wayne Pharr

Rainbow in the Cloud: The Wisdom and Spirit of Maya Angelou
by Maya Angelou

Cosby: His Life and Times
by Mark Whitaker

A Black Gambler’s World of Liquor, Vice and Presidential Politics: William   
Thomas Scott of Illinois, 1839-1917
by Bruce L. Mouser
Foreword by Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

The Myth of Race, The Reality of Racism
by Mahmoud El-Kati

Our Ancestors, Our Stories
by Harris Bailey, Jr., Bernice Alexander Bennett, Ellen LeVonne Butler, Ethel Dailey, Vincent Sheppard and Dr. Orville Vernon Burton

Things I Should Have Told My Daughter: Lies, Lessons and Love Affairs
by Pearl Cleage

Yoga, Meditation and Spiritual Growth for the African-American Community
by Daya Devi-Doolin

How the Poor Can Save Capitalism: Rebuilding the Path to the Middle Class
by John Hope Bryant 
Foreword by Ambassador Andrew Young

The Justice Imperative: How Hyper-Incarceration Has Hijacked the American   Dream
by Brian E. Moran, Esq. 

Not for Everyday Use: A Memoir
by Elizabeth Nunez

This Nonviolent Stuff’ll Get You Killed: How Guns Made the Civil Rights Movement Possible
by Charles E. Cobb, Jr.

America’s Music: Jazz in Newark
by Barbara Kukla

240 Ways to Close the Achievement Gap: Teachers Only Workbook (Vol. 2)
by M. Donnell Tenner, Joy Gay and Dr. Marti Dryk

Misdiagnosed: The Search for Dr. House
by Nika C. Beamon

Racial Innocence: Performing American Childhood from Slavery to Civil Rights
by Robin Bernstein

Guiou: The Other Blacks - The Afro-Jamaican Presence in Guatemala
by Gloria J. Arnold

Dollar Democracy: With Liberty and Justice for Some
by Peter Mathews

Pageants, Parlors & Pretty Women: Race and Beauty in the 20th Century South
by Blain Roberts

Unbreak My Heart: A Memoir
by Toni Braxton

Thirty-Three Days of Praise: Seeing the Good in Cancer
by Karrie Marchbanks