Sunday, August 31, 2014

Don Lemon (INTERVIEW)



Don Lemon
The “Ferguson, Missouri” Interview
with Kam Williams

Anchoring the National Conversation on Race

CNN’s Don Lemon has anchored and reported many breaking on-the-scene news stories, including the George Zimmerman trial, the Boston marathon bombing, the Philadelphia building collapse, the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, the Colorado Theater Shooting, the death of Whitney Houston, the Inauguration of President Barack Obama, the death of Michael Jackson, Hurricane Gustav in Louisiana, and the Minneapolis bridge collapse. 

In 2009, Ebony Magazine dubbed Don one of the 150 most influential Blacks in America. Furthermore, he has won an Edward R. Murrow award for his coverage of the capture of the Washington, D.C. snipers, and an Emmy for a special report on real estate in Chicagoland.
Don earned a degree in broadcast journalism from Brooklyn College where he currently serves as an adjunct professor, teaching and participating in curriculum designed around new media. Here, he talks about CNN’s coverage of the recent shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.

Kam Williams: Hi Don, thanks for another opportunity to interview you.
Don Lemon: Hey, Kam, thanks for asking me.

KW: I appreciate your taking the time to speak with me, since you seem to be on CNN 24/7lately. It’s been wall-to-wall Don Lemon from Ferguson, Missouri.
DL: [Chuckles] I don’t know about that. It’s been a tough go, but it’s an important story. I wanted to make sure I got it on and got it right.

KW: I have a ton of questions sent in for you by viewers. Attorney Bernadette Beekman asks: Do you think your ability to report from Ferguson, Missouri was adversely affected by your almost becoming a part of the story like when you got shoved or punched by that racist cop [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cDyOvrwYo5Q] or when rapper Talib Kweli [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ktv6IcDaozk ] put you in the awkward position of having to defend CNN’s coverage on the air?
DL: Well, I don’t know if I became part of the story. I just think we had so many resources devoted to it that we were way ahead of the competition. So, everyone tuned in to CNN, and they were watching us. [Regarding Talib Kweli] I’m not the only one on the air who’s been put in a position of defending our reporting. If someone comes on and criticizes it, we’re there to tell them the truth. [Regarding Officer Dan Page] I got pushed by an officer live on television, but that was just me doing my job. He pushed me, so it wasn’t as if I’d injected myself into the story. We were standing where we’d been instructed to stand, and he came around the corner and shoved me when I just happened to be doing a live shot on The Situation Room. I don’t think that made me part of the story. It was more that everyone was watching when news was breaking live around me.

KW: Do you still teach as an adjunct? What grade would you give yourself on the reporting of this story overall? 
DL: Yes, I still teach occasionally at Brooklyn College, but I’m now more than an adjunct. I’m on the board of trustees. I would have to give CNN an A+. I think we did a really good job. No one compared to us, resource-wise. We had every angle of that story covered. That’s why people saw it and felt it as if they were there. We did a great job bringing people there. And that’s that.  

KW: Editor Lisa Loving asks: Were there any teachable moments for you as a journalist covering the aftermath of the Michael Brown shooting?
DL: I think there’s always a lesson you can learn from any situation. In this case, I learned how tightly people hold onto their beliefs. And, here, people had really strong beliefs about this story on both sides. People supporting the officer felt Michael Brown did something wrong. Those supporting Michael Brown said the cop did something wrong. There was very little that you could do to convince either side otherwise, or simply to be objective and not jump to conclusions. So, if you were just reporting the facts, and said “Michael Brown did this…” you’d be challenged by his supporters asking, “How do you know that?” By the same token, if you said, “Witnesses say the cop did this…” the officer’s supporters would challenge you with “Well, how do you know that?” It reconfirmed that I have to be objective in my reporting and allow viewers to read into it whatever they want. So, the teachable moment for me was a reminder that I just have to state the facts.    

KW: Aaron Moyne asks: Are you satisfied that CNN has covered the Michael Brown case objectively, devoid of bias and sensationalism?
DL: Absolutely! My answer is “yes” and I’m so happy that Aaron asked this question because that means that people are paying close attention. So, it’s incumbent upon us not only to be objective but to be passionate about our reporting… meaning wanting to be there… wanting to tell the truth… and wanting to tell the story from all sides.

KW: A crowd control police officer overtly referred to protesters as “animals” on CNN. [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AQuo5-ewDR8] Is that sound bite an accurate reflection of the state of relations between Ferguson’s police officers and the African-American community?
DL: I can’t answer that because I’m not a resident of Ferguson. I can only tell you what, from being there, people are saying to me. And I know that there are some good officers in the Ferguson Police Department, and then there are some bad ones, just as in any police department around the country. But I don’t know if someone calling protesters “animals” is an accurate reflection of the Ferguson Police. You’d have to ask the police and the people of Ferguson. I know they have issues with the department. That’s what you saw playing out on television. They are passionately distrustful of the police. Many people are. There’s a disconnect between the police and the community. And so that’s a question that’s better answered by those who live there.   

KW: Has the court of public opinion already outweighed any opportunity for Officer Wilson to voice his rationale for shooting Michael Brown so many times?
DL: No, I don’t think it’s outweighed his rationale. The officer is yet to tell the public and the media what he did. I’m sure he’s already spoken with investigators. What everyone else is really waiting on is to hear his side of the story. But he can do that at any point. So, if anyone feels there’s been some bias in the reporting of the story that’s because only one side is telling their story. The officer hasn’t told his story in the first person. In the beginning, the Ferguson Police gave a version. Then they turned it over to St. Louis County. And then there’s an alleged friend of the police officer who called a radio station to tell her side of the story. But that’s really been it. So, you haven’t heard much from the officer’s side. However, you have heard from witnesses on the scene who have a lot to say about what they saw happen to Michael Brown. So, if you don’t have the officer or someone speaking on his behalf, how do you tell his story? You can’t.    

KW: In your opinion, was there a sufficient threat against the police for them to don riot gear, use teargas and make such a show of deadly force?
PH: I don’t know about a sufficient threat, but I do know there were agitators in the crowd. We saw some of them. Come on! We saw people get shot in front of us. I wasn’t at every scene that turned into a violent situation, but I did see protesters instigating in some instances. Still, the overwhelming majority of people said they were doing nothing but exercising their right to protest and to march on the street when all of a sudden they came up against a heavy police presence pushing them out of the way. I take them at their word that this was true. The police said to us that we didn’t see everything that’s going on... that people were throwing bottles of water and urine at them, and that when something’s flying through the air they have no idea whether it might be a Molotov cocktail. So, while I might tend to agree with the conventional wisdom that it looks like an overly-militarized presence, just judging from the optics of it, I would nevertheless take both sides at their word, because I’m not the police and I wasn’t in the crowd 100% of the time. I think there was some instigating by police, and I think there was some instigating by some of the people who were out in the crowd.  

KW: How has all the looting affected the public perception of the Mike Brown case? Did the optics of that serve to divide the country along color lines?
DL: I think in a way it distracted us from the real issues: first, the killing of Mike Brown and, secondly, the police’s relationship with certain members of the community. When you saw people stealing, that changed the narrative of the story. But it also showed how upset people are. I think you’d be hard-pressed to go back in history and find any sort of major change achieved without some sort of upheaval. Even during the peaceful, non-violent Civil Rights Movement, something would break out. There are often people in a crowd who will do things they’re not supposed to, even during the celebration of winning the Stanley Cup, the World Cup or the NBA championship. We see it all the time. It was no different in Ferguson. But it doesn’t suggest that the people there are different from anyone else. It’s just that there were a few agitators in the crowd. And yes, I do think it did take our focus off of what’s really important.    

KW: Do you have any qualms about the black community making Michael Brown the poster child for police brutality, assuming he had robbed a store and roughed up its owner just minutes before his confrontation with Officer Wilson?
DL: Listen, I can’t make people act or react a certain way. They’re going to do whatever they’re going to do. As with any situation, I would just urge caution and that people reserve judgment until all the facts are out. But I do know that, regardless of what happens with Michael Brown, it’s important that we get to the truth. That doesn’t take away the distrust of the police and the way certain people are treated by them in our society. This has really opened up that line of conversation. So, if anything comes out of this, hopefully it’s a conversation that encourages police departments around the country to look at themselves and to figure out ways to serve their communities better.    

KW: Ray Hirschman asks: Based on the evidence surrounding the case now, do you have a gut feeling whether the police officer will walk or be charged with homicide and found guilty?
DL: You never know how these things are going to turn out. But, and I say this knowing people are going to get upset, if you look back at the history of similar cases, it’s very tough to convict a police officer in a situation like this. Juries often decide that it’s easy for people to armchair quarterback when they don’t know what a cop has to deal with out there on the streets. I think the grand jury will have that in the back of their minds. But I just want justice, whatever that is, whether the Michael Brown or the police officer is right. And I think that’s what most people want. However, history has shown that it’s very hard to convict a police officer under circumstances like this. That’s not to say it’s not going to happen, but it’s going to be tough.

KW: Steve Kramer asks: Is there any chance CNN would consider devoting an equal amount of coverage to the horrific black-on-black killings being committed by gangs against other gangs and innocent bystanders that occur daily in so many inner-cities in places like Chicago, Detroit, Philly and Newark?
DL: Steve may have a short memory, because we do devote a lot of attention to that. We cover Chicago, black-on-black crime, and violence in big cities a lot. The only reason people probably bring it up is because this is a flashpoint, so you see it on the news now. Ordinarily, we spend more time covering daily violence in big cities than we do covering a story like this. I devote entire newscasts to what happens on the streets in major cities all the time. It’s just that people might not have tuned in to see it, or it might not draw the attention, because you don’t see any rioting or teargas. But we do it all the time.

KW: Have you been the victim of a profile stop by police?
DL: I have had interaction with police officers, yes. What man of color hasn’t? That’s the reality. I was also detained for “shopping while black.” Listen, I live in America. If I live in this country, things are going to happen to me, especially as a black man. I’ve talked about my experiences before, but I don’t really want to be the story.

KW: Thanks again for the time, Don, and keep up the good work.
DL: You’re welcome. Sorry, if I sounded tired.

KW: You must feel exhausted. You’re on the air every time I turn on CNN. But no need to apologize. This was another great interview. Get some rest.
DL: Will do. Thank you very much, Kam. I appreciate talking to you.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

As Above, So Below (FILM REVIEW)

As Above, So Below
Film Review by Kam Williams

Catacombs Create Claustrophobic Setting for Harrowing Horror Flick

            The late alchemist, Dr. Marlowe (Roger Van Hool) lost his mind and then committed suicide over a futile quest for the Philosopher’s Stone supposedly hidden somewhere in the cryptic maze of catacombs beneath Paris. Now, his headstrong young daughter, Scarlet (Perdita Weeks), has decided to follow in daddy’s footsteps by mounting her own search for the sacred talisman said to turn metal into gold.
The determined Brit has prepared herself for the dangerous trek by earning not only Ph.D.s in archeology and symbology, but a black belt in karate to boot. She’s being assisted in this dangerous endeavor by a team comprised of her linguist ex-boyfriend (Ben Feldman); an African-American cameraman (Edwin Hodge); a graffiti artist familiar with the caves (Francois Civil); plus a couple of other local yokels (Marion Lambert and Aly Marhyar).   
            The motley crew’s descent starts out unremarkably enough, despite a little gallows humor and worries about whether they might encounter any bats or rats. The most concerned participant is George whose little brother Danny (Samuel Aouizerate) drowned in the cave at a young age. Adding fuel to the fear is the fact that the last time George accompanied Scarlet on an expedition he ended up in Turkish prison.
            This is the ominous point of departure of As Above, So Below, a found-footage horror flick written and directed by John Erick Dowdle (Quarantine). The film has all the hallmarks of the genre inaugurated by The Blair Witch Project back in 1999, from the claustrophobia created by incessant, extreme close-ups to the seasick cinematography coming courtesy of handheld cameras.
            Credit Perdita Weeks as the intrepid protagonist for keeping her audience enthralled even after the production morphs into a farfetched cross of Tomb Raider (2001) and The Da Vinci Code (2006). Whether crawling across piles of skeletons, deciphering ancient Aramaic messages, or fearlessly repelling down uncharted shafts, spunky Scarlet has the ‘tude and charisma to keep you rooting for her as others meet their fate, one-by-one.    
            A harrowing tale of survival revolving around an endearing heroine every bit as brainy as she is resourceful.

Very Good (2.5 stars)
Rated R for terror, graphic violence and pervasive profanity
Running time: 93 minutes
Distributor: Universal Pictures

To see a trailer for As Above, So Below, visit:

Moms Night Out (DVD REVIEW)



Moms' Night Out
DVD Review by Kam Williams

Faith-Based Family Flick Finds Its Way to DVD

            Allyson Field (Sarah Drew) really can’t complain. After all, her life is the epitome of the American Dream. She has a handsome husband who adores her and is an excellent provider, too. She has a beautiful home in suburbia and her own minivan for shopping and shuttling around their hyperactive children, Beck (Zion Spargo), Bailey (Shiloh Nelson) and Brandon (Michael Leone).
            Yet, she’s still overwhelmed by her domestic duties sometimes, especially when Sean’s (Sean Astin) work takes him out of town. Consider Mother’s Day, for example, which Ally recently spent cleaning up messes rather than being pampered like a princess.
            Not alone in feeling frazzled, Ally hatches a plan with her BFFs, Sondra (Patricia Heaton) and Izzy (Andrea Logan White) to treat themselves to an evening of bowling and fine dining in a fancy restaurant next Saturday, assuming that their hubbies can babysit for a few hours without incident. That erroneous assumption jumpstarts the comedy of errors which ensues soon after Sean and the other hapless spouses (Alex Kendrick and Robert Amaya) do their best to fill-in.
            Yet, when a baby turns-up missing, guess who’s recruited to join the frantic search party. With the help of a buff biker with a heart of gold (Trace Adkins) and an impatient cabbie (David Hunt) with a British accent, the girls put their getaway on hold as their maternal instincts kick-in.
            Co-directed by Jon and Andrew Erwin, Moms’ Night Out is a wholesome, PG-rated comedy that you can actually watch with the kids. It’s also a faith-based film, though not heavy handed, ostensibly-designed with the Christian Evangelical community in mind.
            By the madcap misadventure’s happy resolution, sanity and safety are satisfactorily restored. More importantly, the wives are no longer taken for granted, but elevated to the lofty status envisioned by William Ross Wallace in the appreciative refrain “The hand that rocks the cradle is the hand that rules the world.”
            A family-friendly testament to motherhood.      

Very Good (3 stars)
Rated PG for mild action and mature themes
Running time: 98 minutes
Distributor: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
DVD Extras: Deleted scenes; bloopers reel; Commentary with co-directors Jon and Andrew Erwin and producer Kevin Downes; The Heart of Moms' Night Out; Casting Moms' Night Out; The Art of Improv; and The Art of Action.

To see a trailer for Moms' Night Out, visit:    

To order a copy of Moms' Night Out on DVD, visit: 

Jersey Shore Massacre (DVD REVIEW)


Jersey Shore Massacre

DVD Review by Kam Williams

N.J. Pine Barrens Provide Perfect Setting for High Body-Count Horror Flick 

            When Teresa (Danielle Dallacco) and her girlfriends arrive at their rental house on the Jersey Shore, they’re shocked to learn that their sleazy stoner landlord (Ron Jeremy) already let someone else have the place for the weekend.  Luckily, Teresa’s mobster Uncle Vito (Dominic Lucci) happens to have a summer home sitting empty in the nearby Pine Barrens, since he’s stuck in Staten Island under house arrest with an ankle bracelet.
After picking up five hot-looking guys on the beach, the six cute coeds get back into their convertible and make their way to a clearing in the godforsaken the forest. Turns out Uncle Vito has a pretty posh mansion with a built-in pool.
The bimbos slip into their bikinis and begin flirting with the buff boy-toys, blissfully unaware that a couple of Mafia hit men were just murdered in the same neck of the woods by a deranged maniac. If you’re familiar with high body-count slasher flicks, you have a good idea what’s in store for the unsuspecting revelers.  
The killer soon starts picking them off one-by-one, dispatching each victim in very grisly fashion, whether that death be by baking in a tanning bed, by decapitating with a bicycle chain, by stabbing in a shower Psycho-style, by whipping, hanging, wood chipper, or run through by sword. Much of the violence is highly eroticized ostensibly to satiate the bloodlust of fans who like their slaughter with a little titillation on the side.
            Written and directed by Paul Tarnopol, Jersey Shore Massacre is a gruesome horror flick not for the faint of heart. And the picture also paints a pretty pathetic picture of Italian-Americans, since the principal players are the sort of vapid, vain characters featured on the reality-TV series Jersey Shore.
            While the film fails to break any new ground in terms of the splatterflick genre, it’s still entertaining enough to recommend, provided you have a strong stomach for vivisection and Italian stereotypes.

Good (2 stars)
Rated R for sexuality, nudity, profanity, drug use, ethnic and homophobic slurs, and graphic violence
Running time: 88 minutes
Distributor: Attack Entertainment 
Blu-ray Extras: Bigfoot Unmedicated; Italian Ice music video “Melt”; and Behind-the-Scenes of Jersey Shore Massacre.
To see a trailer for Jersey Shore Massacre, visit:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uDcw8L_M3S4

To order a copy of the Jersey Shore Massacre on Blu-ray, visit: 

Friday, August 29, 2014

Top Ten DVD releases for 9-2-14



This Week’s DVD Releases
by Kam Williams


Top Ten DVD List for September 2, 2014                      

American Promise

Whitewash


Draft Day



Line of Duty: Series Two

Chicago Fire: Season Two


For No Good Reason


Lovejoy: Series Two

Chicago P.D.: Season One

14 Blades


Dinosaur Train: Buddy’s Halloween Adventure


Honorable Mention

Nature: Fabulous Frogs


Mostly Ghostly: Have You Met My Ghoulfriend?


The Originals: The Complete First Season


Sanctuary: Quite a Conundrum


Mom’s Night Out


Baby Blues


Cabin Fever 3: Patient Zero


The Possession of Michael King

Thursday, August 28, 2014

The Strange Color of Your Body's Tears (FILM REVIEW)



The Strange Color of Your Body's Tears
Film Review by Kam Williams

Husband Searches for Missing Wife in Surreal Erotic Thriller

            Dan Kristensen (Klaus Tange) could find no sign of his wife Edwige (Ursula Bedena) when he returned home from a business trip. Moreover, the communications executive’s suspicions were aroused by the fact that the chain was across the door when he unlocked their apartment, suggesting that someone ought to be inside.
            Inquiring of neighbors only served to compound the mystery, between his landlord who suggested that his wife had a reason to disappear, and the provocatively-dressed elderly senior who tries to seduce him after saying that her husband had disappeared, too. As he makes his way around the building, Dan gradually discovers that the place is a den of iniquity where people participate in all sorts of bizarre sexuality.
With each flat he enters, the sadomasochistic displays revealed are increasingly kinky, eventually even rising to the level of a bloodbath replete with decapitation. Co-directed by Helene Cattet and Bruno Forzani, The Strange Color of Your Body's Tears is not so much a mystery with a linear plotline as a surreal thriller designed for cinephiles with a taste for abstraction and eroticized violence.
            Undeniably artistic, yet gruesome and harrowing, this atmospheric adventure has a dark, ominous air about it which keeps you braced for something bad for the duration of the entire endurance test. A difficult to decipher whodunit guaranteed to have you still scratching your head even after its confounding resolution.
 
Good (2 stars)
Unrated  
In French, Danish and Flemish with subtitles
Running time: 102 minutes
Distributor: Strand Releasing

To see a trailer for The Strange Color of Your Body's Tears, visit:

Second Opinion (FILM REVIEW)



Second Opinion
Film Review by Kam Williams

Medical Expose’ Revisits Cover-Up of Promising Cancer Cure  
If you’ve ever wondered whether the cancer industry is truly interested in developing a cure for the disease, you might want to check out this eye-opening expose’ confirming your worst fears. Directed by Eric Merola, the shocking documentary blows the covers off a shameful chapter in the history of Sloan-Kettering hospital, a revered institution long-trusted to have the best interest of its patients at heart.
Apparently, that wasn’t the case back in July of 1974 when one of its top researchers, Dr. Kanematsu Sugiura, announced that an experimental drug named Amygdalin, also known as Laetrile, had proved highly effective in treating certain types of cancers in laboratory mice. Instead of heralding the discovery as a major inroad in the fight against malignancies, the Sloan-Kettering brass, ostensibly at the direction of the American Cancer Society, moved swiftly to discredit Dr. Suguira’s findings.
Not only did they issue a “Second Opinion” disputing the notion that Laetrile might reduce tumors, but they even went so far as to suggest that its side effects were much worse than chemotherapy, which was “an out and out lie.” That is the contention of Dr. Ralph Moss, a colleague of Suguira who was also on the Sloan-Kettering staff at the time.
Moss was so offended by the disinformation being disseminated in the press by his bosses that he eventually decided to turn whistleblower. Truth be told, Laetrile was “better than all the known cancer drugs” then available.
However, Sloan-Kettering came down on Moss like a ton of bricks, too. He was summarily terminated, losing both his job and career in the process.
Furthermore, he was unable to interest any mainstream media outlets in the cover-up, despite the overwhelming data in favor of Laetrile. In fact, the New York Times proceeded to publish a front-page story denigrating the drug.
Dr. Moss’ only satisfaction is that the three hypocritical superiors who fired him, Dr. Robert Good, Dr. Lewis Thomas and Dr. Chester Stock, all MDs, all died of cancer, ironically. Whatever happened to the Hippocratic Oath to “First, do no harm?”

Excellent (4 stars)
Unrated
Running time: 75 minutes
Distributor: Merola Productions

To see a trailer for Second Opinion, visit:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GcCyawsaWZQ