Saturday, April 19, 2014

Tanzania: A Journey Within (FILM REVIEW)



Tanzania: A Journey Within
Film Review by Kam Williams

African and American Travel to Tanzania in Transformational Documentary

            After finishing high school, Venance Ndibalema made the most of an opportunity to leave Tanzania to study physics and philosophy at the University of Miami. Now, he’s ready to visit his homeland for the first time in years, a trip likely to prove traumatic, given the changes both he and the country have undergone during the interim.
            Accompanying him on the eventful return to Dar es Salaam is Kristen Kenney, a fellow Miami alumnus who’s never been to Africa. A child of privilege, she must brace herself for the culture shock involved in adjusting to modest accommodations sans most of the modern conveniences she’s always taken for granted.
            The subsequent sojourn is the subject of Tanzania: A Journey Within, a documentary chronicling Venance and Kristen’s emotional and physical challenges long the way. Directed by Sylvia Caminer, the picture is worth watching for the spectacular visuals and anthropological insights alone, given the off-road trekker’s point-of-view it affords the audience of everything from Mount Kilimanjaro to the Serengeti Plains.                
            However, proving just as compelling is the badinage between Venance and Kristen, as well as their chats with everyone they encounter. He enjoys a reunion with his BFF William, and searches for a sibling he hasn’t seen in over a decade. Meanwhile, Kristen experiences a sense of exhilaration at exploring new places and at being so close to nature, at least until she becomes deathly-ill during a bout with Malaria.
            Nevertheless, she has to admit that she’d grown up in the lap of luxury, so spoiled, in fact that she never even had to cook her own food. By contrast, Venance reflects upon the harshness of formative years spent fatherless in abject poverty exacerbated by his HIV+ mother’s being shunned by her neighbors until the day she finally lost her battle with AIDS.
            Lessons? “We learn through hardship,” Ven rhapsodizes, adding, “If there were no fathers on the planet, I would never have known I needed a father to be a man.” As for Kristen, she finds it hard to leave Africa, “because you get so close to the people so fast.” She also comes away appreciating that “they don’t care about status. They just care about you.”
            “I was soulless before this trip,” the grateful debutante concedes. “This is the real world I was searching for.” Africa from the perspectives of a “Native Son” returning to his roots and of a blue-eyed sister transformed by an unexpected catalyst for spiritual growth. 

Excellent (4 stars)
Unrated
Running time: 103 minutes
Distributor: Heretic Films

To see a trailer for Tanzania: A Journey Within, visit:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZRjlvCLFR_w  
  

Top Ten DVD Releases for 4-22-14



This Week’s DVD Releases
by Kam Williams


Top Ten DVD List for April 22, 2014                       

The Address

Sleep, My Love

The Mr. Magoo Theatrical Collection

The Suspect

Black Nativity

Easy Yoga: The Secret to Strength and Balance

Chances Are [25th Anniversary Edition]

Russia’s Open Book: Writing in the Age of Putin

Bang! Bang! You’re Dead!

Nova: Killer Typhoon


Honorable Mention

Lies We Tell, but the Secrets We Keep

Martial Arts Double Feature: Lady Whirlwind / Hapkido

Tracy Morgan: Bona Fide

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

Tyler Perry  Play: Madea’s Neighbors from Hell

Cowgirls 'N Angels 2: Dakota's Summer

Friday, April 18, 2014

Kam's Movie Kapsules for 4-25-14



OPENING THIS WEEK
Kam's Kapsules:      
Weekly Previews That Make Choosing a Film Fun         
by Kam Williams
For movies opening April 25, 2014


BIG BUDGET FILMS   

Brick Mansions (PG-13 for profanity, sexual menacing, gunplay, drug use and pervasive violence) Remake of the French action-thriller District B-13, now set in a dystopian, walled-in Detroit, and starring the late Paul Walker as a detective determined to rid the city of a drug kingpin (RZA) in league with corrupt cops. With David Belle, Carlo Rota, Catalina Denis, Ayisha Issa and Gouchy Boy.

The Other Woman (PG-13 for profanity, sexual references and mature themes) Romantic comedy revolving around the wife (Leslie Mann) of a shameless womanizer (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) who befriends his two mistresses (Cameron Diaz and Kate Upton) before hatching a plan with them to even the score. With Nicki Minaj, Don Johnson and Tatlor Kinney.

The Quiet Ones (PG-13 for profanity, sexuality, mature themes, smoking, and scenes of intense violence and terror) Supernatural thriller, set in the Seventies, about an Oxford University professor (Jared Harris) heading a team of student researchers which unwittingly unleashes demonic forces while experimenting on a woman (Olivia Cooke) possessed by a Poltergeist. Cast includes Sam Claflin, Erin Richards and Rory Fleck-Byrne.

Walking with the Enemy (Unrated) Fact-based World War II saga, set in Hungary during Nazi occupation, about a young Jewish man (Jonas Armstrong) who, with the help of his girlfriend (Hannah Tointon), masqueraded as an SS officer in order to find his family. With Ben Kingsley, Simon Dutton and William Hope.


INDEPENDENT & FOREIGN FILMS 

Blue Ruin (R for profanity and graphic violence) Macabre thriller about a beach bum (Macon Blair) who returns to his hometown to carry out an act of vengeance only to botch the assassination attempt and end up having to defend his suddenly-imperiled family. With Devin Ratray, Amy Hargeaves and Eve Plumb.  

For No Good Reason (R for profanity, drug content and sexual images) Reverential documentary about Ralph Steadman, the British cartoonist best known for his collaborations with the late, gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson. Featuring file footage plus appearances by Johnny Depp, Terry Gilliam and Jann Wenner.



From the Rough (PG for mature themes and mild epithets) Taraji P. Henson stars in this biopic about Catana Starks, the African-American trailblazer who made history in the mid-Eighties by becoming head coach of Tennessee State’s golf team. With Letoya Luckett, Tom Felton and the late Michael Clarke Duncan. 
  
Gambit (PG-13 for suggestive material, partial nudity and a rude gesture) Crime comedy about an art curator (Colin Firth) who conspires with a Texas rodeo queen (Cameron Diaz) to trick his abusive, filthy-rich boss (Alan Rickman) into buying a fake Monet. Cast includes Stanley Tucci, Cloris Leachman and Togo Igawa. (In English and Japanese with subtitles)

The German Doctor (PG-13 for mature themes and brief nudity) True tale, set in Patagonia in 1960, about an Argentinean family who had no idea it was living with Nazi fugitive Josef Mengele (Alex Brendemuhl), the wanted war criminal known as the Angel of Death. Co-starring Natalia Oreiro, Diego Peretti and Florencia Bado.

Jeune et Jolie (Unrated) Coming-of-age drama about a 17 year-old virgin (Marine Vacth) who turns to prostitution after being deflowered by a German boy (Lucas Prisor) she meets while on vacation with her parents (Frederic Pierrot and Geraldine Pailhas) in the south of France. With Charlotte Rampling, Nathalie Richard and Akela Sari. (In French with subtitles)

Last Passenger (R for profanity) Suspense thriller about the struggle for survival by passengers on a hijacked, London commuter train whose emergency brake doesn’t work. Starring Dougray Scott, Kara Tointon and Iddo Goldberg. 

Locke (R for pervasive profanity) Distracted driving drama, set in England, about a construction foreman (Tom Hardy) whose life is irreversibly altered by a series of phone calls he receives while driving from Birmingham to London. With Olivia Colman, Ruth Wilson and Andrew Scott. 

The Machine (R for violence and profanity) Sci-fi thriller about a couple of Artificial Intelligence researchers (Caity Lotz and Toby Stephens) who successfully implant a human brain in a robot only to have it turned into a weapon by the British military which had funded their experiment. Featuring Sam Hazeldine, Denis Lawson and Pooneh Hajimohammadi.     

Tanzania: A Journey Within (Unrated) Road documentary chronicling a vacation shared by a couple of University of Miami grads, one, an African returning to his humble roots, the other, an American debutante visiting the continent for the first time.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Vanishing Pearls (FILM REVIEW)



Vanishing Pearls: The Oystermen of Pointe a la Hache
Film Review by Kam Williams

Gulf Oil Spill Pits Black Fisherman vs. BP in David vs. Goliath Documentary

            On April 20, 2010, the Deepwater Horizon, a drilling rig owned and operated by British Petroleum (BP), exploded, spilling over 50 million barrels of oil in the Gulf of Mexico before it was finally capped weeks later. In June, President Obama announced that the company had set aside $20 billion in cash designated to help those deleteriously affected by the ecological disaster.
            Kenneth Feinberg’s law firm, which had previously handled the distribution of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund, was retained at a rate of $850,000/month to handle the BP one also. Although the TV commercials running in the company’s highly-saturated PR campaign would have you believe that it was contrite and committed to undoing any damage, truth be told, that carefully-cultivated corporate image bore little relation to how it was actually treating many of the victims seeking restitution.
            Take, for example, Pointe a la Hache, an African-American enclave located in Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana. For generations, the men of that Gulf shore village of less than 300 had supported their families by plying their trade as oyster fishermen. However, the BP spill put the brothers out of business and by 2012 the tiny black community had effectively been turned into a ghost town.
            Its little-known ordeal is the subject of Vanishing Pearls, a heartbreaking documentary directed by Nailah Jefferson. The film retraces the blight visited upon Pointe a la Hache by focusing primarily on the plight of a local leader named Byron Encalade.
            Mr. Encalade was the owner of Encalade Fisheries, a family business which employed his brother, his nephew and five of his cousins. In the wake of the spill, he filed a claim and very patiently awaited a check from BP.
            But when he finally received a letter stating, “Your file is denied,” his whole world was turned upside-down. Now, a proud provider who had never in his life looked to the government for a handout suddenly found himself dependent on food stamps. His relatives also needed help from friends, charities and subsidies to survive, and had trouble understanding why no one cared about their predicament.
            Meanwhile, Attorney Feinberg, ostensibly running interference for the profit-driven polluter, publicly stated “I see no evidence of anything other than fair treatment by BP. I think they wanted to do the right thing, and they did.”
            His conclusion was a far cry from that of embittered Byron who lamented, “They’ve destroyed us… The world must know what BP did to this community.” Sadly, the devastation visited upon Pointe a la Hache is most likely a microcosm of a scenario being played out again and again in working-class communities all along the Gulf Coast.  


Excellent (4 stars)
Unrated
Running time: 80 minutes
Distributor: AFFRM

To see a trailer for Vanishing Pearls, visit: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kv_fSdu_tI8 

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The China Study: All-Star Collection (BOOK REVIEW)



The China Study: All-Star Collection
Whole Food, Plant-Based Recipes from Your Favorite Vegan Chefs
by LeAnne Campbell, Ph.D.
Foreword by T. Colin Campbell, Ph.D.
BenBella Books
Paperback, $19.95
316 pages, Illustrated
ISBN: 978-193952997-8

Book Review by Kam Williams

“In many ways, the world has changed dramatically since The China Study was released in 2005. Ten years ago, more doctors thought the idea that diet might solve serious health problems was fantasy. Now I hear more and more doctors actually recommending a plant-based diet to their patients…
In over five decades of biomedical research, I have learned, in so many ways, that a whole food, plant-based diet promotes optimal health and the prevention even reversal, in many cases, of heart disease, diabetes, obesity, cancer, autoimmune diseases, and brain disorders.
I’ve received overwhelming feedback from people who’ve seen incredible health results… But I’m still often asked… ‘What do I eat?’ In this follow-up, [my daughter] LeAnne has gathered some of the most popular and influential plant-based chefs to share their best dishes, all following the nutrition principles laid out in The China Study.”
-- Excerpted from the Foreword (pages 9-10)

            When I interviewed Russell Simmons last month, I asked him what the last book he read was. His answer was The China Study, which took a comprehensive look at the relationship between diet and disease based on 20 years of research conducted in 100 Chinese villages.
            That illuminating opus by Dr. T. Colin Campbell basically extolled the virtues of vegetarianism while warning of the risks associated with eating meat and chemical-laced, industrial products manufactured by agribusiness. Well, now his daughter LeAnne has published The China Study: All-Star Collection,
a companion cookbook for folks interested in adopting a vegan regimen.
            Its 150+ recipes come courtesy of a number of celebrated, natural food chefs, including Ani Phyo, Christina Ross, Christy Morgan and Tracy Russell, to name a few. Each of the entries is accompanied by a mouth-watering color photo refuting the notion that a strict vegetarian diet has to be boring.   
            The offerings range from breads and breakfast food to appetizers and entrees to soups and salads to sandwiches and sumptuous desserts. Among the exotic dishes which piqued my interest were Aloo Gobi, an Indian concoction containing potatoes and cauliflower, and Daikon Kimchi, a Korean side order.
            Converted ex-carnivores might enjoy such faux substitutes for flesh favorites as chickpea burgers, spaghetti and wheatballs, mock tuna and b-b-q Portobello sandwiches. And gourmets with a sweet tooth are apt to be enticed by the pumpkin chia pudding, coconut pillows and sweet potato and black bean brownies with dark chocolate.
            A tasty collection of healthy, easy-to-make recipes designed for anyone interested in making the shift to plant-based meals.

To order a copy of The China Study: All-Star Collection, visit: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1939529972/ref%3dnosim/thslfofire-20

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Ken Burns (INTERVIEW)



Ken Burns
“The Address” Interview
with Kam Williams


Gettysburg Revisited!


Ken Burns has been making documentary films for more than 30 years. Since the Academy Award-nominated BROOKLYN BRIDGE in 1981, he has gone on to direct and produce some of the most acclaimed historical documentaries ever made.

Burns was the director, producer, co-writer, chief cinematographer, music director and executive producer of the landmark television series THE CIVIL WAR. This film was the highest-rated series in the history of American public television, prior to BASEBALL, and attracted an audience of 40 million during its premiere in September 1990.

The New York Times called it a masterpiece and said that Burns “takes his place as the most accomplished documentary filmmaker of his generation.” Tom Shales of The Washington Post wrote, “This is not just good television, nor even just great television. This is heroic television.”

The columnist George Will said, “If better use has ever been made of television, I have not seen it and do not expect to see better until Ken Burns turns his prodigious talents to his next project.” The series has been honored with more than 40 major film and television awards, including two Emmy Awards, two Grammy Awards, a Producer of the Year Award from the Producers Guild, a People’s Choice Award, a Peabody Award, a duPont-Columbia Award, a D.W. Griffiths Award and the $50,000 Lincoln Prize, among dozens of others.

Some of Burns’s other films include THE CENTRAL PARK FIVE (2013), THE DUST BOWL (2012), PROHIBITION (2011), THE NATIONAL PARKS: AMERICA’S BEST IDEA (2009), THE WAR (2007), co-directed with Lynn Novick, JAZZ (2001), LEWIS AND CLARK: THE JOURNEY OF THE CORPS OF DISCOVERY (1997), and BASEBALL (1994).

Burns was born in Brooklyn, New York on July, 29 1953, and graduated from Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts in 1975. Here, he talks about his latest film, THE ADDRESS, a current-day documentary chronicling the herculean effort by students at a school for boys with severe learning disabilities to memorize the Gettysburg Address in order to recite it at an assembly of parents, friends and teachers.     


Kam Williams: Hi Ken, thanks for another interview. Like last time, I’ll be mixing in question from readers with my own.
Ken Burns: Fine, fire away, Kam.

KW: What was the source of inspiration for The Address?
KB: I live in Walpole, New Hampshire and, for the past 35 years, made all the films there. And across the Connecticut River, which divides New Hampshire from Vermont, is the tiny town of Putney. Over a decade ago, the Greenwood School, which is located there, invited me to be a judge in their annual contest judging the recitation of the Gettysburg Address. I just wept at the fortitude and inspiration that these boys and their struggles represent.

KW: The movie made me cry.
KB: It made me cry, too, just the other day when we had the premiere in Brattleboro which is the quote-unquote “Big City” nearby, with a population of maybe 8,000 people. I kept saying, “Somebody else should be making this movie. This is cinema verite, not the kind of thing that I do.” But I came back each year as my schedule permitted, and the more I came back, the more I felt that I just had to put my money where my mouth is and just do it. So, we embedded for abut three months, and it was a life-changing experience to watch these kids undergo their own life-changing experience. And then we had the idea to share it and say, “Hey, everybody can memorize the Gettysburg Address.” If you go to www.LearnTheAddress.org, you’ll find all the living presidents reciting it, as well as a lot of other figures in government, in the media and in Hollywood. And thousands of citizens and school kids from all over have memorized it... Alabama… Utah… Hawaii… from all around. It’s really wonderful!

That’s what the tears are for, from seeing the faculty lovingly teach and take care of these kids while the boys also assist each other. Each child has his own limitation, but that doesn’t stop them from trying to help each other. Seeing them overcome them makes our day-to-day problems seem kind of puny. Then, of course, this is all set against the context and backdrop of arguably the greatest speech every given in the English language, one that was doubling-down on the Declaration of Independence, the 2.0 version of it. And we haven’t had a new version since. It’s the one we still operate on today. Lincoln needed to write the 2.0 version, because Jefferson’s 1.0 had that inherent contradiction of tolerating slavery while proclaiming that all men are created equal. Jefferson himself was a slave owner. I think what the Gettysburg Address does is yank us into the future, however painful the moment might be, while commemorating the dead in the greatest battle on American soil.

KW: Your film has certainly inspired me to memorize it.
KB: I want you to. I’d love you to add your recitation to the website. You’ll feel so great. It’ll be very moving. A lot of people have broken down during their first attempt to record it because of the sheer emotion and power of the words. Just today, I was asked to recite it on camera by a reporter, and I was moved to tears not by my accomplishment but by my trying to invest those words with some meaning.    

KW: Environmental activist Grace Sinden asks: What is it about the Gettysburg Address that makes it stand out to you as one of nation's most powerful and memorable speeches?
KB: There are no proper nouns… It’s really short… It’s presidential poetry… Lincoln uses the word “here” many, many times. He moves it around in an attempt to rivet you to the place to make you appreciate what it is. And yet, with “Four score and seven years ago” he’s acknowledging the past, meaning the Declaration of Independence. He’s telling you where we are, “We’re engaged in a great Civil War,” but he’s also pushing us forward, saying we could have a new birth of freedom, and we did, just as we did at the first anniversary of 9/11 when among the very few speeches delivered was the Gettysburg Address, as if the words were medicine, which is precisely what they were.       

KW: Grace also asks: Do you think that the children who had to memorize the Gettysburg Address really understood the underlying issue of slavery and the necessity of the Civil War to keep our nation together? 
KB: Yes, Grace. I think you’ll see this quite clearly in the dynamics in the classroom in the film as it unfolds. Two of the youngest students, Kevin and Geo, have one of the most sophisticated conversations I’ve ever heard by kids that young about secession and slavery. It’s very clear that they’ve used the Address as a tool not only to overcome the difficulties of whatever diagnosis they have… dyslexia… executive function… dysgraphia… ADHD… the whole alphabet soup of stuff, but it’s a way to bind together their entire educational experience… History… English… Remedial Class… I have no doubt in my mind that, all across the board, the Gettysburg Address takes up a lot of space and gives a lot of meaning for a tiny speech. Then I learned that the school had never been to Gettysburg in its 35-year history. So, I built into my budget the renting of a bus and hotel rooms for the entire school, and I gave them a tour of the battlefield for an entire day.  

KW: I don’t remember the film mentioning that the school had never visited Gettysburg before?
KB: No, I left that out. I didn’t want to toot my own horn. We took them there as a kind of epilogue.

KW: Editor/Legist Patricia Turnier asks: Can you share the students’ sentiments when they accomplished the goal of mastering the speech?
KB: There was a wide range of reactions. For some, it was relief. Many of the boys knew the speech cold, but only felt comfortable reciting it in front of a couple people. The notion of saying it in front of an audience of 250 was terrifying In fact, some of them had issues connected to anxiety and what’s called executive function. So, there was often a release, followed by a sense of accomplishment. There was great pride and joy. Sometimes, there was the utmost confidence. One boy read it with such passion that I think all of us in attendance cried because he had imbued it with so much meaning, as I think you and your readers will feel as you take on this task. If you tape it up next to your mirror, where you can see it every morning, you might curse me for a few days until you get it. But then, it’ll be on your hard drive permanently and a source of great benefaction and meaning for the rest of your life. You’ll have both your own unique response to the Address and at the same time it will bind you to everybody else.        

KW: Patricia also asks: What is the most important thing you learned from the kids?
KB: As the Greenwood School’s psychologist, Tom Ehrenberg says in the film, “We’re a country that thinks we celebrate individuality, but it really celebrates conformity.” And when we see different, other, we don’t deal with it. We just avert our eyes. And these kids have been bullied and marginalized and worse. They’ve been driven to schools like Greenwood as their last refuge of hope. What I found each boy taught me was the preciousness of each individual life. Each boy taught me how smart they actually were. Each boy taught me that perhaps it is unfair to apply the same general metrics to everybody. When you look at the boys that way, my heart was enlarged. I tell you, Kam, I already had four daughters, but I now feel like I have 50 adopted sons.      

KW: Patricia would like to know what Abraham Lincoln means to you.
KB: He’s the greatest president in our history. He was the guardian of our republic at its greatest crisis, our Civil War. Lincoln was there to guide the struggle, to take on the weight of it, to keep the country together, and to do it with such extraordinary charity that his goodness and thoughtfulness about who we were and what our potential was goes hand in hand with that melancholy and sense of moral outrage about slavery’s still existing in a country which had declared that all men are created equal. He had a sort of Old Testament fervor, as though he was throwing lightning bolts. I refer you to his second inaugural where he’ll turn around and then give you a kind of New Testament “sea of enveloping love” which reminds you of the much more important things in life than nations.         


KW: Harriet Pakula-Teweles asks: What are the essential ingredients for the recipe for a great documentary?
KB: I think it’s always a good story, a good story, a good story, first, second and third. The word “history,” which is what I do, is mostly made up of the word “story.” That’s what we’re responding to. We tell stories to each other all day long. That’s what we’re looking for when we say, “Honey, how was your day?” We edit and superimpose. What you’re looking for is the best of a good story that appeals on so many levels, as I think the story of the Greenwood School and these boys does. Yes, it’s about the Gettysburg Address, but it’s also about something that mirrors it in a very profound and human way. And I’m just grateful to be caught up in the whirlwind of the Greenwood School.

KW: Harriet also asks: Is there another series of yours that you'd like to revisit the way you did with Baseball when you did The 10th Inning?
KB: No, I’m very happy to be working on a big series about Theodore, Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, another big series about the History of the War in Vietnam, and one on Country music, as well as biographies of Ernest Hemingway and Jackie Robinson. Baseball is the only one I want to keep coming back to. I hope there’s an 11th Inning and a 12th Inning down the line, God willing and funding willing.   

KW: Jim Cryan says: I really enjoyed Prohibition. Did making that documentary have any effect on your alcohol consumption?
KB: [LOL] I am periodically a teetotaler, Jim, but I definitely drank during the production just to offset the absurdity of the only Amendment to the Constitution that limits human freedom rather than enlarging it.

KW: Documentary filmmaker Kevin Williams asks: Why do the government archives in Europe charge money and a lot of it for archival footage and photographs, whereas our National Archives and Library of Congress do not? It is really disheartening for independent documentarians without big budgets. 
KB: I couldn’t agree with you more, Kevin, and all I can say is “God bless the United States of America!” These are the people’s archives, and so the people get free access to them.

KW: Lisa Loving asks: Have you ever dreamed of becoming a futurist?
KB: You know what, Lisa? The best indicator of the future is the past. If you don’t know where you’ve been, you can’t know where you are or where you’re going. You’ll find that people who understand history are the best futurists you can imagine. 

KW: Thanks again for the time, Ken, and best of luck with The Address and all your other projects.
KB: Thank you, Kam. Take care.

The Address premieres on PBS on Tuesday, April 15th @ 9 pm ET/PT (check local listings)

To see a trailer for The Address, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sR2MIxjB_4c  

To learn more about the Gettysburg Address and to video record yourself reading or reciting it, visit: http://www.learntheaddress.org/

Black Nativity (DVD REVIEW)



Black Nativity
DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Adaptation of Langston Hughes Holiday Musical Arrives on DVD

            Naima (Jennifer Hudson) is a single-mom struggling to pay the rent on the apartment she shares with son Langston (Jacob Latimore), 15, who’s the same age she was when she had him. Back then, she was as headstrong as he is now, which explains why she ran away from a good home in Harlem to raise him alone in Baltimore.
            Today, upon receiving an eviction notice, cash-strapped Naima reluctantly sends the rebellious adolescent in need of a father figure to New York to live with her parents, Aretha (Angela Bassett) and Reverend Cornell Cobbs (Forest Whitaker), prominent members of the black community. But Langston lands in trouble even before they have a chance to pick him up at the bus station, so they end-up having to bail him out of jail.
            Is it too late for anyone to make a difference in the rebellious juvenile delinquent’s life? Can the Cobbs mend the fractured relationship with their long-estranged daughter? Will Langston belatedly bond with the absentee father he’s never known?
            These are the pivotal questions raised in Black Nativity, a modern morality play based on the Langston Hughes musical of the same name. Adapted and directed by Kasi Lemmons (Eve’s Bayou), the film features an engaging soundtrack sprinkled with evocative onscreen performances by cast members including Mary J. Blige, Nas and Tyrese, though all pale in comparison to those by Jennifer Hudson.
            The incomparable diva kicks off the festivities with an unforgettable opener, “Test of Faith,” a showstopper every bit as memorable as her heartfelt rendition of “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going” as Effie in Dreamgirls. A timeless parable as memorable for its uplifting spirituals as for its moving message about the importance of faith and family.

Excellent (4 stars)
Rated PG for menacing, mature themes and mild epithets
Running time: 93 minutes
Distributor: Fox Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Extras: Deleted scenes; promotional featurettes.

To see a trailer for Black Nativity, visit: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yfhupIQ1JnE

To order a copy of Black Nativity on Blu-ray, visit: