Sunday, October 4, 2015
Saturday, October 3, 2015
In My Father's House
Film Review by Kam Williams
Prodigal Parent Documentary Chronicles Grammy-Winning Rapper's Reunion with Long-Lost Dad
Che "Rhymefest" Smith is among the handful of rappers who have actually managed to make it in the music industry. What's even more remarkable is the fact that the Grammy-winning artist also overcame a challenging childhood, having been raised on the rough South Side of Chicago by a single-mom who'd given birth to him while still in her early teens.
Despite his phenomenal success in the music business, one thing that nagged at Rhymefest was why he'd been abandoned by his father, Brian, a man he'd only seen a few times in his entire life, and not at all over the past two decades. He wondered whether his dad ever cared or thought about him? Or might he be dead?
Rhymefest's curiosity was probably piqued because of the guilt he himself felt about having three out-of-wedlock offspring with baby-mamas he'd never committed to.He wanted to understand why he'd perpetuated the cycle of parental neglect, especially since fatherless kids represent 60% of youth suicides, 71% of juvenile incarcerations and 90% of homeless children.
So, first, he proceeded to buy the house that his father grew up in and moved in with his wife, Donnie. Then, after hearing rumors that Brian was a local hobo and an alcoholic, he started scouring the streets of the Windy City for him.
Yes, he did search for and get his dad into rehab right after their tearful reunion. But would the lush find the strength to keep his nose clean with the help of this new lease on life coming in the form of a job, an apartment, and a loving, supportive son?
That is the tension that tugs at your heart while watching In My Father's House, a Prodigal Dad documentary co-directed by Ricki Stern and Anne Sundberg. The picture proves to be very compelling as a sociological examination of profound dysfunction, but it's simultaneously a bitter disappointment for anyone expecting a miraculous, happy Hollywood ending.
Unfortunately, Rhymfest just can't get no satisfaction from the father he's craved and loved from afar for as long as he can remember. But at least he continues to flourish professionally, having recently co-written the 2015 Oscar-winning Best Song "Glory" with Common and John Legend for the film Selma.
The movie's message, if any? If you're a successful rap star, you might want to think twice before returning to the ghetto to track down the deadbeat dad you never knew. .
Excellent (4 stars)
Rated R for profanity and ethnic slurs
Running time: 93 minutes
Distributor: Arc Entertainment
To see a trailer for In My Father's House, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ea4zi-am1m0
Posted by Kam at 3:44 PM
Tuesday, September 29, 2015
Posted by Kam at 6:24 PM
Monday, September 28, 2015
He Named Me Malala
Film Review by Kam Williams
Powerful Portrait of Nobel Prize-Winning Teen Illustrates Indomitability of the Human Spirit
Malala Yousafzai was named after a girl who spoke out and was killed for speaking out. That folk hero was a flag-bearing teenager who perished in 1880 while rallying fellow Pashtun resistance fighters to an unlikely victory over British invaders in a pivotal battle of the Second Anglo-Afghan War.
After settling on the very meaningful moniker, Malala's father inscribed it into his genealogy because no females were mentioned in his family tree stretching back several centuries. Furthermore, Ziauddin Yousafzai resolved to raise his daughter to see herself as the equal of any boy.
While such an approach might be unremarkable in the West, it was downright heretical in the Swat District of Pakistan, a hotbed of Islamic fundamentalism in the late 20th Century. For, over the course of Malala's formative years, much of the country was being terrorized by the Taliban which had taken to blowing up any schools which had the temerity to admit girls.
In defiance of their militant mullah's absolute mandate against any female education, Mr. Yousafzai not only allowed his daughter to matriculate, but even spurred her to speak out online as an equal rights advocate blogger. This only served to infuriate Mullah Fazlullah who issued a fatwa against her over the radio, which led to an assassination attempt on a school bus by one of his followers.
Malala, who was just 15 at the time, was lucky to survive the bullet to the brain. While she languished in the hospital unresponsive and attached to tubes, her worried folks had no idea whether their daughter would ever even be able to walk or talk again.
She did eventually emerge from the coma, though deaf in one ear and in need of months and months of rehabilitation just to master simple bodily functions most people take for granted. Initially, she blamed her dad for her plight, since he was the one who'd cultivated her activist streak. "I am a child," she said, "You are my father. You should have stopped me. What happened to me is because of you."
But eventually her health was substantially restored, and she became a stoic and serene symbol of resistance to radical Islam. With continued death threats hanging over their heads, the Yousafzai family (including Malalal's mom and two younger brothers) was forced to resettle in England where she would become a champion of oppressed females all over the planet.
Directed by Oscar-winner Davis Guggenheim.(for An Inconvenient Truth), He Named Me Malala is an emotionally-engaging biopic chronicling the close father-daughter relationship which enabled Malala to flourish in the midst of sheer intolerance. Their tender interplay is intermittently enhanced by animated interludes which further intensifies the sincere sentiment displayed on screen.
The picture makes an inexorable march to Malala's emergence as an international icon, culminating in her becoming the youngest person ever to win the Nobel Peace Prize. Pack the Kleenex for this powerful portrait ably illustrating the indomitability of the human spirit.
Easily, the best film of 2015 thus far!
Excellent (4 stars)
Rated PG-13 for death threats, mature themes and disturbing images
Running time: 87 minutes
Distributor: Fox Searchlight Pictures
To see a trailer for He Named Me Malala, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cug1-eTOVSk
He Named Me Malala opens in select theaters on October 2nd, and then on over 2,000 screens a week later on October 9th.
Posted by Kam at 5:05 PM
Sunday, September 27, 2015
Born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, Eric Dean Seaton was studying television and movies with the dream of one day becoming a director while most of his friends were running the streets. After graduating from Ohio State University, he moved to Hollywood where he proceeded to climb the showbiz ladder as an Assistant Director [AD] on such television series as Living Single and The Jamie Kennedy Experiment.
Eric Dean Seaton: Thank you, Kam.
KW: You're very well known for directing TV shows. What interested you in comic books?
EDS: Growing up, my dad worked out of town and used to come home on the weekends and take me to a coffee shop that had comic books. I would binge-read them in one day. Years later, when I moved to California, I lived down the street from a comic book shop. Later, one of my first jobs was on the sitcom Living Single. The director was married to the president of Marvel Comics. So, every Tuesday, tape day, I would drill him about all things Marvel. Finally, he invited me down to a company they bought called, Malibu Comics. After a tour, the editor asked me if I wanted to write a Spider-Man, Stop the Violence special. I did, but Marvel went into bankruptcy, so I never received a copy. After that, I knew I had to do my own.
KW: Where did you come up with the idea for Legend of the Manatamaji?
EDS: It was just a mind meld of everything I wanted to see done in a story. I took real things like the Ankh and blended them into a totally imaginative story.
KW: How would you describe your characters?
EDS: All of them are flawed individuals, because that makes for the most interesting stories. I made sure, however, to include strong female characters and a multi-cultural cast; because this reflects the world we live in today.
EDS: Heroes come in every race and gender, and that independent books can offer even greater and more imaginative stories than some of the mainstream companies can.
KW: This series of graphic novels certainly seems timely, given how there's suddenly a profusion of black superheroes onscreen.
EDS: I would agree. There is a profusion of superhero sidekicks and co-stars on screen, but there haven't been many lead superheroes onscreen anywhere, with the exception of Fantastic Four and Michael B. Jordan's role, and Star Wars: The Force Awakens with John Boyega. There won't be a leading role for African-American actors in theaters until Black Panther in 2018. And even then, he will be introduced as a story point for other non-black heroes. The opinion, here, is that we still have long ways to go, but, hopefully, Legend of the Mantamaji is opening doors for other main heroes and reaffirming that the story is just as good, if not better.
KW: What was the biggest challenge in adapting Legend of the Manatamaji to the screen as a live-action as opposed to an animated short?
EDS: Adjusting the look and tone of the books to match a real world. I think we proved that the tone of the books lends well to other media. The suit is exactly the same except the arms, and that is because we ran out of time making it. We had to shoot it in January on a certain weekend because of the equipment we got. But only I, as a creator, notice the arm difference. In making more down the line, we will actually do the arms just like the books.
EDS: We are currently working on Book 4 which will be titled Legend of the Mantamaji: Bloodlines. It continues the story of the characters that survived the original series and introduces a few new ones that may change the history of the series as we currently know it to be
KW: What else do you have on tap?
EDS: We are also looking to shoot more shorts where we can introduce more of the characters. People are always asking if we are going to make a movie. We would love to but in 2015, with the exception of Michael B. Jordan, there isn't a black actor under the age of 40 that can open a movie. Kevin Hart can, but he's a comedian. So, we are looking to find a company willing to invest in the adventure knowing it fills a niche demographic, African-Americans, in an underserved market, while it is also multi-cultural with a universal appeal
KW: Is there any question no one ever asks you, that you wish someone would?
EDS: What my dream cast would be.
KW: The bookworm Troy Johnson question: What was the last book you read?
EDS: Save the Cat by Blake Snyder. He's right when he says it's the last screenwriting book you'll ever need.
KW: The music maven Heather Covington question: What was the last song you listened to?
EDS: Because my three-year-old son loves superheroes, we have to play the theme songs to a few of the movies every day. The Iron Man 3 theme "Can You Dig It" by Brian Taylor is his favorite. It is a catchy song, but I guess anything is when you hear it every single day.
EDS: Sadly, I'm not much of a cook. Luckily, my wife is a wonderful cook. But, I can do scrambled eggs well.
KW: Was there a meaningful spiritual component to your childhood?
EDS: Church. I still go every Sunday and like to give at least one hour a week of my time. It's the least I can do. So, I don't miss a Sunday, unless we are out of town.
EDS: We had a fireplace and, as I was going to bed on Christmas Eve, I asked my mom what that smell was. She said dad had a fire going. I panicked and ran down stairs begging him to turn it off. I told him Santa could not come down the chimney because he would catch on fire and I would not get any toys. My dad assured me that would not happen and put the fire out.
EDS: I'm much quieter at home. I don't talk on the phone much at all. I actually have gone days without talking on the phone. I love going to work and having the opportunity to interact with different people from different walks of life.
KW: What was your very first job?
EDS: Delivering papers for the Cleveland Plain Dealer. I lived in a predominately-Jewish neighborhood filled with concentration camp survivors. Imagine a little black boy with a big German shepherd coming to your door every morning. Everyone was super nice, but I learned at a very young age a lot about the atrocities of World War II and how lucky I was to be young and free, even though racism was alive and strong.
KW: When you look in the mirror, what do you see?
EDS: A big dreamer and proud father.
EDS: Back in 2000, I was not working and my career seemed dead before it even got started. My dad wanted me to come back home and become a teacher. I got so mad I told him I was going to get the first AD job on That's So Raven and that in two years they were going to let me direct and I would go on to become a full-time director. Not only did I not have the job, but also I didn't even have the interview. I was pissed he was giving up on me and my dreams. Yet, everything I said in that conversation came true. And years later, after buying my first townhouse, I flew my father out to Los Angeles First Class and, in the car ride home from the airport, he said, "You did good." That was his way of saying he approved.
EDS: My mom. She still does, although I think she thinks I'm still her little boy, because I left home right after high school.
KW: If you could have one wish instantly granted, what would that be for?
EDS: To find a cure for cancer. One of the bridesmaids in our wedding died from cancer and the disease takes too many lives.
KW: The Sanaa Lathan question: What excites you?
EDS: Movie trailers. That anticipation of seeing two minutes of what could be an amazing experience always gets me going.
EDS: Anything on the CW network. I watch pretty much all of their shows and will download the sad or motivational music they play at the end of every episode.
KW: The "Realtor to the Stars" Jimmy Bayan's question: What's your dream locale in Los Angeles to live?
EDS: I think I'm already in it! I found it on a whim and I love it now. I'm a dozen minutes away from every studio except Sony and Fox.
KW: The Harriet Pakula-Teweles question: With so many classic films being redone, is there one you'd like to remake?
EDS: I don't want to say, because a few of my favorites have been done already. So, if they have not thought of it yet, I don't want to give them any ideas before I get the chance to do it.
EDS: It has to be the drive, because being only nice doesn't cut it. It has to be that single vision that burns and burns inside of you where you just do it, more than you talk about it.
KW: What advice do you have for anyone who wants to follow in your footsteps?
EDS: If it's directing, you have a video camera on your phone, go shoot something. If it's graphic novels and comic books, be prepared for the glass ceiling. People will always say, "It's great for an independent." That is telling you right there that they think it can only go so far. But break that glass! It's the only way to really make a difference in the comic side of the business.
EDS: As a great father and husband who created his own entertainment empire.
KW: Finally, what's in your wallet?
EDS: A small amount of cash, free movie tickets and gift cards.
KW: Thanks again for the time, Eric, and best of luck with Legend of the Manatamaji.
EDS: Thanks, Kam. This was awesome! I'm honored that you took the time to ask so many great questions.
Check out the film version of Legend of the Mantamaji at http://legendofthemantamaji.com/portfolio/liveactionshort/
To purchase copies of Legend of the Mantamaji: Book 1, 2 and 3, the graphic novels the short was adapted from, visit: http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=legend+of+the+Mantamaji
Posted by Kam at 4:44 PM
Saturday, September 26, 2015
Posted by Kam at 9:23 PM