Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Summer '04 (German)

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Twisted Thriller Threads Trio of Teutons in Tawdry Triangle

Nils (Lucas Kotaranin) had no idea what he was in store for him when his much younger girlfriend’s parents agreed to let their precocious daughter spend the summer with his family at their spacious place on the coast of the Baltic Sea. Though only 12, Livia (Svea Lohde) was very mature for her age, which is why she soon found herself bored even by her 15 year-old beau.
Consequently, she befriends Bill (Robert Seeliger), a thirtysomething beach boy who recently returned to his native Germany from America following his father’s death in a car accident. He’s a confirmed bachelor who hates himself so much for having slept indiscriminately with over a hundred empty-headed bimbos back in the States that he has turned into a hermit in order to save himself for a meaningful relationship.
When he and Livia start going for those proverbial long walks along the shore, it looks like Bill’s wait might already be over. So, Nils mom, Miriam (Martina Gedeck), intervenes. Afterall, the pre-pubescent adolescent has been entrusted to her care, plus the naughty nymphet has taken to ignoring her son, who’s supposed to be her heartthrob.
However, because 40 year-old Miriam’s own relationship with live-in lover, Andre (Peter Davor), has lost its spark, the question arises in the back of her mind whether she might really wants to separate Bill from his tempting jailbait more out of jealousy than a sincere concern for her welfare. The answer arrives when she ventures over to his house to confront him about his intentions.
At first, he feigns innocence, declaring that of course he wouldn’t think of committing statutory rape, and a relieved Miriam seduces him on the spot. Next, the two plunge into a passionate affair, only to have him break it off abruptly several compromising positions later, confessing that he has fallen head over heels for his little Lolita.
At this juncture, Miriam has less leverage to complain, since she is not without sin and still wants his bod badly. Plus, he holds over her head a thinly-veiled threat to expose her for cheating on Andre.
This is the intriguing romantic roundelay at the center of Summer ’04, as twisted and steamy a psychological thriller as you could hope to find, provided you’re not put off by the pedophilia coursing through the plotline. The film works because each character carries off his or her role with perfect aplomb, and is absolutely convincing in spite of several unseemly scenarios which sound patently preposterous on their face.
Between the sharp contrast of the expansive cinematic capture of the bracing seascapes and the claustrophobic stolen moments of forbidden love, three Oles to director Stefan Krohmer for exploring a shocking taboo without allowing a tawdry tale to dissolve into a predictable morality play about cradle-robbing.
Ole! Ole! Ole!

Excellent (4 stars)
In German with subtitles
Running time: 97 minutes
Studio: The Cinema Guild

Founding Myths: Stories That Hide Our Patriotic Past

Founding Myths:
Stories That Hide Our Patriotic Past
by Ray Raphael
The New Press
Paperback, $15.95
368 pages, illustrated
ISBN: 978-1-59558-073-3

Book Review by Kam Williams

“Whoever controls the narrative controls history. This is a powerful message. Those who ignore it will remain blind to the manipulation of others, but those who get it… will be able to challenge authority and take control of their destinies.”
n Excerpted from page 277.

Every youngster in America is expected to study, memorize, recite and
internalize a collection of generally-accepted folklore about the supposedly selfless and sacrosanct Founding Fathers credited with creating the country. Though passed off as history and re-circulated as such for generations, the truth is that most of this nonsense is actually made-up malarkey strategically designed to serve the agenda of the nation’s power elite.
Think about how quickly the killing of NFL star-turned-Army Ranger Pat Tillman by friendly fire was spun into a valiant death while leading a counterattack against Taliban terrorists in Afghanistan. Or how rescued POW Jessica Lynch, praised as a hero for shooting numerous Iraqis till she ran out of bullets when her company was ambushed during the early days of the Iraq War, later confessed that she had never used her weapon that day.
Well, similarly, the so-called “patriots” who declared their independence in 1776 have benefited from a bounty of equally-outrageous tall tales, many of which are carefully exposed for the outright lies that they are in Founding Myths by Ray Raphael. The author, a professor of history at Humboldt State University, is not one to mince words in the process of toppling a beloved cultural icon.
For instance, he sets the record straight about Paul Revere’s fabled midnight ride, explaining it away as essentially a fabrication dreamed up 85 years after the fact by the poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. According to Professor Raphael, Longfellow “conjured up events that never happened,” including that claptrap about warning “The British are coming! The British are coming!” or signaling “One, if by land, two, if by sea.” Apparently, British soldiers were already stationed all over the colonies, and Revere was arrested by on the spot by loyalists soon after arriving in Lexington on the night in question.
The fanciful legend of Molly Pitcher is another doozy, having mysteriously surfaced some 70 years after Battle of Monmouth, during which she is said to have carried water to soldiers until turning her attention to manning a cannon after her husband had been felled by enemy fire. Now we know that no such person ever existed, yet in 1876, in conjunction with the country’s centennial celebration, a headstone with that name was placed, with much pomp and circumstance, on the unmarked grave of a “vulgar and profane… hard-driving, cursing, old woman with bristles in her nose” who had “died a horrible death from the effects of syphilitic disease.”
Others knocked down off their pedestals, here, are Sam Adams, Thomas Jefferson, George Washington and Patrick Henry. Raphael also indicts typical school textbooks for either ignoring the black perspective during the Revolutionary Period entirely or misrepresenting African-Americans as having been content with their lot in the face of research which reveals that even “more slaves fled from the South during the American Revolution than… the Civil War.”
It’s fun to pretend, isn’t it?

Monday, July 30, 2007

Chris Tucker: The Rush Hour 3 Interview

Interview with Kam Williams

Headline: Chewing the Fat with Chris about Everything from Jackie Chan to Kanye West

Born in Atlanta, Georgia on August 31, 1972, Chris Tucker has come a long way since his days doing stand-up on Def Comedy Jam. Starring in box office smashes that include the #1 grossing comedy Rush Hour 2, as well as Friday, Dead Presidents, Money Talks and the original Rush Hour (which grossed $250 million worldwide), he has clearly proven himself to be one of Hollywood’s hottest talents. Tucker entertains audiences the world over with his motor-mouthed brand of humor and animated facial expressions which always leave a lasting impression.
During his downtime, Chris traveled to Africa with U2’s Bono and Secretary of the Treasury Paul O’Neill on a fact-finding tour to help countries plagued with AIDS, hunger, and unsanitary living conditions. Deeply-affected by the conditions he discovered, Tucker has since returned to the region regularly on humanitarian missions, also functioning as a people’s diplomat, raising cash and awareness to help deal with the crises.
As a consequence, he’s been so busy he hasn’t made a movie in a half-dozen years. Here, he chats about Rush Hour 3, his first film since Rush Hour 2.

CT: Hey, Kam.
KW: Chris, thanks so much for the time.
CT: Oh, you’re welcome, thank you.
KW: How did it feel being teamed up with Jackie Chan for a third time?
CT: Oh, I loved it, man! I loved it! It was just as much fun, or maybe even more fun as the first one and the second one, ‘cause it’s such a fun movie to do and being teamed back up with Jackie was great.
KW: How’d you enjoy the Paris locations?
CT: That was great, too, shooting in Europe, man. We did a lot of stuff outdoors… Riding around the streets and drinking wine for lunch… It was great!
KW: Seems like you and Jackie have perfect screen chemistry. You have very different types of talents which complement each other, so you never end up stepping on each other’s toes. Did you know that was going to happen the first time you go together?
CT: No, the first time we got together, it was just like you see in the first movie. Jackie didn’t speak much English, and I didn’t know Chinese at all. I brought that out in Rush Hour 1, like when I screamed, “Do you know the words that are coming out of my mouth?” That’s basically what I wanted to say to him the first time I met him. So, no, we didn’t know, but the chemistry was perfect. I think that was because it came from a real place. What you see on film is the same friendship and relationship between us you see in real life.
KW: So, was that “Do you know the words that are coming out of my mouth?” line improvised, or was it in the script?
CT: Improvised.
KW: And how many of your lines were improvised in Rush Hour 3?
CT: Oh, a lot of them. A lot of them were written, but I’m always improvising. Once you get into the scene, it just comes to me.
KW: This is your first film in six years. You make fewer films than any other big Hollywood star. Why do you make so few movies?
CT: I don’t know. It’s never planned. I love to travel, and that takes up most of my time, because I’m doing a lot of foundation work. That’s a big part of my life now, and of what I do. But I love making movies, too, so I don’t know.
KW: I know that you’re getting a record $25 million for this picture, which sets the record for a comedy, plus an additional percentage of the gross. So, you’ve got great representation which I guess enables you take long breaks for vacations and your charity work.
CT: Yeah, that definitely does give me a lotta’ room, so I can travel and not have to worry about a lot of things.
KW: I saw that you were in Philly to introduce Destiny’s Child at the Live 8 concert.
CT: Yeah, that cause had to do with raising awareness abut poverty in Africa and elsewhere. I enjoy doing stuff like that, because it means a lot to me.
KW: Are most of your charities connected to Africa?
CT: Most of them are, but now I’m trying to get involved with education in the States and around the world.
KW: Had you been to Africa even before you visited it while tracing your roots during the filming of African-American Lives on PBS?
CT: Yeah, I had been to at least 13 different countries in Africa before that.
KW: Which places in Africa did you enjoy visiting the most?
CT: Every one is different. One of my favorite’s Ethiopia… and also Uganda... and Luanda, the capital of Angola. But every place is so different, really. You’ve got a lot of special parts to all of them.
KW: I remember how on African-American Lives they used DNA to determine your heritage, and you were quite surprised to learn that many of your ancestors came from Angola.
CT: Yeah, I thought I was from Ghana, but I’m definitely from Angola and Cameroon. My father’s lineage went back to Angola, and my mother’s to Cameroon. It was amazing, and it makes you feel good, when you get a better idea of where your ancestors came from.
KW: What was it like going to the actual village in Angola your father’s side of the family was traced back to?
CT: It was very interesting. We traveled from this tiny slave castle on the coast all the way to this tribal region out in the bush where they said my father’s family might have been from. It was amazing.
KW: After Kanye West said, “George Bush doesn't care about black people,” during that Katrina benefit for Hurricane Relief, the camera first went to comedian Mike Myers who had obviously been taken by surprise and looked like the proverbial deer caught in the headlights. He quickly threw it over to you. How did you feel at that moment?
CT: I didn’t know what Kanye’d said. I was just surprised that they went to me so fast, because I wasn’t ready, or on a soundstage. I was like, “What?” and they were saying, “Go! Just go! Do what you can. Get some money.” But I wish I had known what he’d said, because I would have followed up with, “He’s right.”
KW: So, you agreed with what Kanye said when he went off the script.
CT: Yes, I did. I didn’t agree with everything he said, but everybody definitely needed to hear an urgent cry of concern for the people of New Orleans and about what was going on because they needed assistance right then and there.
KW: You’ve been nominated for the NAACP Image Award twice before, for both Rush Hour 1 and Rush Hour 2. I’m on the nominating committee, and I hope that three times a charm and that you win this time.
CT: Yeah, we need one. I don’t think I have an Image Award yet.
KW: Maybe that’s because most awards organizations don’t treat comedians with same reverence they have for dramatic actors.
CT: I don’t know why that is. Some people say that it’s harder than doing drama.
KW: Yeah, I’m convinced that it’s harder, because you see more comedians crossing over to do drama successfully, than vice-versa.
CT: Yeah, that’s because comedy is very difficult. It’s like golf. You have to do it all the time to really perfect it. It takes a lot of practice.
KW: Is that why you continue to do stand-up?
CT: Yeah, because it keeps you sharp, it keeps in touch with the fans, and keeps your timing great, so it’s a good thing.
KW: You’ve handled several dramatic roles quite well. So, what will you do next, a drama or another comedy?
CT: I don’t know exactly what I’m going to do next, but I want to do a stand-up type movie.
KW: A concert film?
CT: Yeah, maybe like a stand-up concert. So, hopefully, I can get it together and do that.
KW: What advice do you have for anybody who wants to follow in your footsteps?
CT: I would say, just believe in yourself, go out there and work really hard, and do it. And when doors open, take advantage of every opportunity you can.
KW: Have you ever been to my hometown, Princeton?
CT: Princeton? Yeah, I been up there with [Professor] Skip Gates. I love it up there.
KW: Well, you gotta come back for another visit. Thanks for the interview. I just hope you do start making movies a little more frequently for your fans.
CT: Oh, I will, I will. That’s my plan.
KW: Six years is too long a wait.
CT: I know. It’s too long.
KW: Much continued success.
CT: Okay, thank you a lot, man. Bye-bye.

Rescue Dawn

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Christian Bale Delivers Again as POW in Vietnam War Saga of Survival

Dieter Dengler (1938-2001) was born in the Black Forest region of Germany where, as a young boy, he watched Allied planes fly over his hometown during World War II. This whetted in him a desire to become a pilot, but by the time he was 18, he realized had no prospects of pursuing that dream in his native Deutschland.
So, he emigrated to America, became a citizen, and enlisted in the Navy. Right after graduating from flight school early in 1966, he was assigned to duty aboard an aircraft carrier headed for the Gulf of Tonkin. Then, on the morning of February 1st, his Skyraider was hit by anti-aircraft fire while flying on a mission over North Vietnam. Lieutenant Dengler crash-landed the single-engine propeller plane in Laos where he was eventually apprehended and marched to a POW camp.
While imprisoned there, he was subjected to unimaginable forms of torture, until he executed a well-planned escape. Emaciated and near death after scavenging in the forest for about two months, Dengler was finally rescued by a squadron of helicopters that had spotted a crude “S-O-S” he had spelled out on a boulder.
A decade ago, this awe-inspiring tale of survival was the subject of a compelling documentary directed by Werner Herzog entitled Little Dieter Needs to Fly. Now, Herzog has turned the same story into an equally-riveting bio-pic with the help of the latest nonpareil performance by Christian Bale as Dengler. Shot mostly on some spectacular Southeast Asian locations around the dense Thai jungle, the production benefits immeasurably from an unrelenting tension generated by its gritty super-realistic setting and maintained for the duration with the help of a well-executed script.
Bale imbues the adventure with a palpable sense of urgency, again going the extra mile in service of his craft, having thrown himself entirely into the role by shedding plenty of pounds to get that gaunt POW look. Plus, by doing all his own stunt work his gung ho enthusiasm ostensibly inspired the rest of the cast, especially co-stars Steve Zahn and Jeremy Davies who deliver perhaps the best outings of their respective careers as Dengler’s disoriented and disillusioned fellow captives.
Further proof that Bale might be the best thespian around never nominated for an Oscar.

Excellent (3.5 stars)
Rated PG-13 for war violence and graphically-depicted torture.
Running time: 126 minutes
Studio: MGM

Sunday, July 29, 2007

The Simpsons

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Bart and Company Brought Belatedly to Big Screen

Created by cartoonist Matt Groening in 1987, The Simpsons originally arrived on TV as the series of one-minute shorts featured on The Tracey Ullman Show. The satirical sketches lampooned modern American culture by viewing it through the perverse prism of the generally anti-social antics of a dysfunctional family named Simpson, including hapless Homer (Dan Castellaneta); his exasperated wife, Marge (Julie Kavner); contentedly underachieving son Bart (Nancy Cartwright); precocious daughter Lisa (Yeardley Smith); and mute infant Maggie (also Nancy Cartwright).
The popular segment made such a splash that it was spun off into a half-
hour, prime-time program of its own three years later, and the rest, as they say, is history. Over the intervening 18 seasons, the caustic comedy has maintained its freshness by continuing to court controversy, never shrinking from its mission of tackling taboos and taking an ever-cynical slant on mainstream society.
Curiously, its readily-recognizable characters have become embraced as beloved icons, especially Bart and Homer, probably because their flaws resonate with their faithful fans as readily-recognizable, universal human frailties. Just as topical and as popular as ever, the show is not only the longest-running cartoon, but also the longest-running sitcom on television.
The only surprise about the screen version of The Simpsons is that it took 20th Century Fox so long to bring it to make it into a movie. Quite frankly, the film feels like an extended episode of the TV series, because the material is no more daring than what we’re already familiar with. Perhaps the producers simply see their primary job as protecting the brand’s franchise, but excuse me for expecting an experience which felt a little different from watching at home.
That being said, the picture does at least serve up an engaging adventure with a timely environmental theme. Early on, we’re treated to a funny skit lifted from Austin Powers, where we find a carefree Bart skateboarding naked with his privates coincidentally being covered by prop after prop as he negotiates his way around town. Meanwhile, Lisa is delivering a lecture entitled “An Irritating Truth” in which she warns her audience about the pressing problem of pollution in Lake Springfield.
The plot and local lake thicken, however, when selfish Homer secretly dumps a silo of pig poop there, anyway, thereby pushing the ecological balance past the tipping point. The government intervenes, and the EPA determines that the level of toxic waste warrants lowering a clear plastic dome over the entire city, trapping all the alarmed citizens inside.
Of course, it then falls to Homer to play hero and ultimately save the day, so that through his contrition, epiphany and transformation we might all learn a valuable lesson about commitment to community and appreciating our loved ones. Betwixt and between, nonetheless, the flick is heavily-layered with scads of trademark Simpson humorous asides, typical being the priceless scene where a bar full of patrons and a church full of parishioners instantly swap places upon hearing the same forecast of certain doom.
Brilliant, if belated, but be forewarned that The Simpsons, the movie, is merely The Simpsons, the television show, only on a much bigger screen and in an extended format. You want more, you got more.

Very Good (3 stars)
Rated PG-13 for double entendres, animated nudity and crude humor.
Running time: 87 minutes
Studio: 20th Century Fox

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Who's Your Caddy?

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Ghetto Goes Golfing in Crass Color-Conscious Comedy

In Caddyshack (1980), arguably Rodney Dangerfield’s finest hour on film, the late comic stole the show as a nouveau riche tycoon who outraged the old-moneyed members of the exclusive country club he was thinking of buying. The running joke in that fish-out-of-water classic revolved around his bull-in-a-china closet boorish behavior and bad taste as he offended relatively-uptight members of polite society.
Who's Your Caddy resurrects the same premise, but basically in blackface, relying on the racist notion that you can take a brother out of the ghetto but you can’t take the ghetto out of the brother. The picture stars gangsta’ rapper Big Boi (aka Antwon Andre Patton) in the Rodney role, only typecast as C-Note, a mythical hip-hop icon from Atlanta who’s “getting his pimp thing together.”
Having made a mint in the music biz, he now has the cash to hang with the upper-class. At the point of departure, we find Mr. Note trying to integrate an all-white golf and polo gentleman’s club in South Carolina. Of course, this doesn’t sit well with the board’s president, Richard Cummings (Jeffrey Jones), since he’s recently rejected the applications of not only Reverend Al Sharpton and Rosie O’Donnell, but even former President Clinton.
Living large, C-Note arrives on the scene with a gaudy entourage in tow, starting with Lady G (Sherri Shepherd), a slutty sister who makes her entrance by propositioning the young valet parking her car with, “You still breast feeding?” The posse also includes kilt-wearing Big Large (Faizon Love), a well-endowed stud who’s not above going public with his privates. First chance he gets, he puts the moves on Cummings’ trophy wife (Susan Ward), who flashes her cleavage in appreciation.
Then there’s Dreadlocks (Finesse Mitchell), a wasted stoner who just wants to get high, and expects everybody else to join in. So, he’s not above spiking the brownies at a party or feeding weed to a horse in the paddock. Rounding out the crew is token-white Kidd Clean (Chase Tatum), the only hanger-on who doesn’t dress or behave like a clown. The beefy bodyguard’s real job seems to be to laugh at the antics of all the blacks, especially his boss, who prances around preening in a throwback golf outfit, complete with knickers, saddle shoes, argyle socks and a garish, test-pattern blouse, all topped off by a tam o’shanter.
The plot thickens when C-Note, with help of that flamboyantly-effeminate, white character (Todd Sherry) cast in virtually every African-American comedy, purchases a piece of real estate with an interest in the country club and starts shooting his next music video on the 17th hole. Offended by the presence of the scantily-clad “video skanks,” Cummings hires Shannon Williams (Tamala Jones), a Harvard-trained attorney, to “wine and dine” the interloper to buy back the property for $3 million.
But rather than being swayed by “Abercrombie and Bitch,” C sees through the ruse and opts for a date with a stripper, “getting off the pole in 15 minutes.” Upping the ante, Cummings next hires a dwarf assassin (Tony Cox) to make him an offer he can’t refuse.
Who's Your Caddy is a relentlessly-crass enterprise that never makes any sense, unless thought of as an ongoing attempt to portray black folks in the worst possible light. Scriptwriter/director Don Michael Paul must shoulder the bulk of the blame for this disgraceful debut release of Our Stories Films, a black-owned studio started by former BET Chairman Bob Johnson.
In fact, Johnson, who makes a cameo in the picture as himself, is just about the only African-American allowed to maintain a modicum of dignity in this overindulgence in insulting stereotypes. From the demeaning dialogue sprinkled with the N-word, the S-word and the P-word, to yet another black man romping around in a skirt, to a black female proudly referring to herself as a “queen b*tch,” to the celebration of drug abuse, indiscriminate sex and conspicuous consumption, one can only cringe when wondering what quality of fare might be next on Our Stories’ agenda, given that this one was proudly promoted as a wholesome family film.
The most degrading, minstrel coon show since Soul Plane!

Poor (0 stars)
Rated PG-13 for sexuality, nudity, profanity, ethnic slurs, crude humor, slapstick violence and drug use.
Running time: 93 minutes
Studio: Our Stories Films/MGM

Friday, July 27, 2007

Hot Fuzz DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Brit Parody of Murder Mystery Genre Out on DVD

With an arrest rate four times that of anyone else on the force, Nicholas Angel (Simon Pegg) is London’s most highly-decorated cop. But instead of appreciating the efforts of their department’s star, his superiors reward the overzealous officer with a transfer to a precinct far away from the city.
Nick’s new beat is in quaint little Sandford, a picturesque village which looks like a relic of a bygone era. The idyllic oasis has remained crime-free by virtue of the tireless efforts of its Neighborhood Watch Association (NWA).
This self-appointed committee of nitpicking town elders micro-manages every aspect of their fellow citizens’ daily life, mandating compliance with regulations which have turned most into Stepford Wives-level zombies.
With the NWA already regulating behavior so successfully, it’s no surprise that the only person to greet Nicholas’ arrival with any enthusiasm is his new partner, Danny (Nick Frost), who dreams of participating in spectacular gunfights and car chases like the heroes of his favorite action flicks. Although a crime hasn’t technically been committed in sleepy Sandford in ages, it doesn’t take Sergeant Angel long to detect that there’s something suspicious about the alarming number of accidental deaths in town.
And as he starts to scratch below the surface, it becomes readily apparent that the killings are the work of a vigilante taking the law into his or her own hands. So, it falls to Nick and Danny to discern which of these seemingly-saintly model citizens might be behind the string of staged murders, and the gumshoes’ employ an array of increasingly gruesome methods to crack the case wide open.
Hot Fuzz is an over-the-top action extravaganza brought to you by the same British blokes behind Shaun of the Dead. But instead of parodying horror flicks, here, they’re lampooning the murder mystery genre.
Kudos to co-stars Simon Pegg and Nick Frost for re-generating the chemistry which made Shaun such a successful cult hit. Bloody funny bloodletting, if that’s your thing.

Very good (3 stars)
Rated R for violence, profanity and graphic images.
Running time: 121 minutes
Studio: Universal Studios Home Video

300 DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: DVD Revisits Epic Battle of Thermopylae

In mid-September of 480 BC, a force of 300 Spartans, led by King Leonidas (Gerard Butler), along with 700 Thespians volunteers, defended Greece against a massive horde of marauders from Persia at the epic Battle of Thermopylae. Though badly outnumbered by adversaries whose strength was said to be in the hundreds of thousands, the Greeks made one of the most famous last stands in the annals of military engagements.
Leonidas’ ingenious strategy was to station his soldiers at the narrowest point in the road of the treacherous terrain through which the Persians would have to pass. As a consequence of this clever tactic, his small, but determined army managed to hold the thundering herd at bay for three days, exacting a heavy toll on rival King Xerxes’ (Rodrigo Santoro) troops in the process. Although the ill-fated Spartans fought to the death, they were nonetheless credited with saving the day, because they created a delay which enabled Athens to prevail ultimately against the savage invaders. Perhaps more significantly, historians generally agree that had Greece fallen, the course of Western Civilization would have been irreversibly altered, since it was considered to be the gateway to a Persian conquest of all of Europe.
Based on the graphic comic book series of the same name written and illustrated by Frank Miller, 300 shares its source material’s unapologetically sadistic bent, littering the screen with scads of computer-generated sprays and spurting of blood with every stab in the chest, chop of a limb and hacking off of a head. Such an incessant assault on the senses is clearly designed with the Joystick Generation in mind, those video gamers raised on wave after wave of grisly displays of gratuitous dismemberment.
A monochromatic, testosterone-sodden cross of Gladiator and Sin City strictly for the bloodlust demographic.

Good (2 stars)
Rated R for sexuality, nudity, and relentless graphic battle sequences.
Running time: 117 minutes
Studio: Warner Home Video
2- Disc DVD Extras: Additional scenes, director’s commentary, webisodes on the set with the cast and crew, plus several other featurettes.

Rock the Bells DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: DVD Chronicles Offstage Antics at Wu-Tang Clan’s Last Concert

Fans of the rap game know that the Wu-Tang Clan was comprised of nine gangstas with menacing monikers like Masta Killah, Ghostface Killah, Ol’ Dirty Bastard (aka ODB), GZA, Inspectah Deck, Method Man, Raekwon the Chef, RZA and U-God. Devotees of the group are probably likewise familiar with the Clan’s reputation as notorious no-shows.
It is for this reason, I suppose, that Rock the Bells might find an audience among those committed to the so-called thug life. For the movie is more about the efforts of music entrepreneur Chang Weisberg simply to reunite the naughty nonet for what would be its final concert in San Bernardino, California during the summer of 2004.
Shot just four months before the late ODB would OD on cocaine, most of the film is devoted to the day-long rap festival’s frantic promoter, a whirling dervish who attends to virtually aspect of the show with the help of a skeleton crew. Besides the Clan, eight other acts were scheduled to appear, including Redman, who emerges from his limo issuing an urgent mandate for marijuana, ordering, “Find some herb! Now! And I ain’t kidding!”
As amusing as that might be, some of the lesser-known performers still steal the show, like a pudgy, college-bred white rapper who boasts about the size of his manhood on stage before proceeding to take his pants off to wave it at the less than appreciative females in attendance. As if hip-hop’s answer to Woodstock, the gathering gets uglier as it unfolds, and it falls to the ethnically-ambiguous Chang to deal with each crisis, whether with cops concerned about contraband, artists upset about the crappy sound system, the often impatient and unruly patrons, or his overwhelmed employees.
Chaotic, yet still somehow a fitting, posthumous tribute to hellraiser ODB.

Very good (3 stars)
Running time: 104 minutes
Studio: Warner Home Video

Thursday, July 26, 2007

This is England

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Rise of the Skinheads Serves as Backdrop for Coming-of-Age Flick

It’s the summer of ‘83, and 12 year-old Shaun Fields (Thomas Turgoose) is in dire need of a surrogate father. Afterall, the school year has just ended leaving the lonely lad to focus on the absence of his dad who has recently died fighting for England in the Falklands War.
He soon finds a few willing role models when embraced by a gang of local skinheads led by the likable Woody (Joseph Gilgun). These rebels without a clue roam around their blue-collar, seacoast neighborhood near Nottingham without much more of an agenda than partying and listening to ska music.
The affiliation means Shaun not only becomes less of a burden on his mourning mum (Jo Hartley), but he gets his cranium shaved along with a cool pair of boots. The new look also enables the sexually-curious pre-teen to share his first kiss with a moll named Smell (Rosamund Hanson), an older girl who gets off on his peach fuzz.
So, everything’s copacetic till ex-con Combo (Stephen Graham) comes back from prison with an ugly agenda, and splits the previously peace-loving posse by grumbling about how the invasion of Asians from the subcontinent is ruining his beloved Britain. Regrettably, Shaun sides with this avowed racist, becoming his protégé more out of vulnerability than an inclination to hate. And the impressionable kid ultimately ends up participating in some unseemly Pakistani bashing.
Dubbed by BIFA the Best Independent British Film of 2006, This Is England is an edgy, engaging and easily believable coming-of-age portrait whose intimacy and plausibility probably derive from the fact that it was in part based on the real-life experiences of its writer/director Shane Meadows. The semi-autobiographical adventure is very unusual for a gangsta’ flick in that its primary focus is on relationships and the development of characters as opposed to the genre’s traditional indulgence on antisocial behavior independent of concern for any consequences.
If only our domestically-produced blaxploits and shoot ‘em ups were imbued with as much emotional depth and introspection as to motivation. Worthwhile for the eclectic, retro reggae soundtrack and the brooding, ocean-side panoramas alone.

Excellent (4 stars)
Running time: 103 minutes
Studio: IFC Films

No End in Sight

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Documentary Sees “No End in Sight” to Iraq War

This even-handed documentary reconstructs the comedy of errors which unfolded in Iraq in the wake of President Bush’s “Mission Accomplished” declaration. The picture reminds us that that there’s plenty of blame to spread around for the mess we’re in, given that so many Republican and military leaders were naively willing to rubber stamp the White House’s ever overly optimistic of the state of affairs over there.
From Vice President Cheney to Secretary of State Colin Powell to Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld to Director of Reconstruction Paul Bremer, all the Administration’s hatchet men are exposed here as inept idiots without a viable plan for winning the peace. Instead, they apparently played a dangerous game of hot potato with the press, taking turns tossing media microphones around to each other to make rosy predictions about the death throes of the insurgency and the prospects for the democracy.
What makes this movie most entertaining is the participation of former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage and several other ostensibly disenchanted ex-insiders who gradually grew disenchanted and are now willing to trash the neo-con’s mismanaged master plan. The only problem with the anticlimactic production is that it arrives belatedly, at a juncture when John McCain is just about the only loyalist left still sipping the Bush Kool Aid.
So, while No End in Sight carefully makes a convincing case via damning news footage and confessional interviews, don’t be surprised if it all feels a little like preaching to the choir. Akin to Frontline devoting an entire episode to the tobacco industry’s cover-up of the link between smoking and cancer, as if everybody didn’t already know. Duh!

Excellent (4 stars)
Running time: 102 minutes
Studio: Magnolia Pictures

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Kam's Kapsules: Weekly Previews That Make Choosing a Film Fun

by Kam Williams
For movies opening August 3, 2007


The Bourne Ultimatum (Rated PG-13 for violence and intense action) Matt Damon reprises the titular role as amnesiac assassin Jason Bourne for the third installment of the franchise inspired by the best-selling series of international political potboilers by Robert Ludlum. This go-round, our peripatetic hero perambulates the planet again, finding himself on the run from inscrutable enemies while still on a relentless quest to determine his own identity. Talented cast includes Oscar-winner Chris Cooper, nominees Joan Allen, David Straithairn and Albert Finney, plus Julia Stiles and Paddy Considine.

Bratz (PG for mature themes) Based on a popular product line of fashion-oriented dolls, this female empowerment flick revolves around the camaraderie among a quartet of inseparable cute freshmen (Nathalia Ramos, Janel Parrish, Logan Browning and Skyler Shaye) who vow to remain best friends for life in the face of the pressures exerted by exclusive cliques at their new high school.

Hot Rod (PG-13 for crude humor, profanity, violence, and drug use) Andy Samberg stars as the title character of this action comedy about a self-proclaimed stuntman who plans a death-defying motorcycle jump over 15 buses to raise $50,000 to pay for his ailing stepfather’s (Ian McShane) heart operation. With Sissy Spacek, Will Arnett and Isla Fisher.

Underdog (PG for action, crude humor and mild epithets) Disney, live-action adaptation of the popular kiddie cartoon TV series about a watchdog (voiced by Jason Lee) that morphs into a superhero after a lab accident. With Jim Belushi, Peter Dinklage and Alex Neuberger.


Becoming Jane (PG for brief nudity and mild epithets) Anne Hathaway handles the title role of Jane Austen (1775-1817) in this fanciful bio-pic focusing on the British author’s amorous relationship with an Irish rogue (James McAvoy), much to the chagrin of her parents (Julie Walters and James Cromwell) who had hoped their daughter would take an interest in a rich aristocratic suitor (Laurence Fox) more to their liking.

El Cantante (R for sexuality, drug use and pervasive profanity) Marc Antony and Jennifer Lopez star in this bittersweet bio-pic about the life and times of Hector Lavoe, salsa singer from Ponce, Puerto Rico who skyrocketed to fame as front man for trombonist Willie Colon only to turn to a suicidal path marked by drug addiction, depression and AIDS due to his being unprepared to handle his overnight success. (In Spanish and English with subtitles)
If I Didn’t Care (Unrated) Neo-noir, situated in The Hamptons, chronicles the curious case of a trophy husband (Bill Sage) who murdered his rich witch wife (Noelle Beck) with the help of his mistress (Susan Misner). Features Roy Scheider as the investigating detective having a hard time linking the two to the crime.

Summer ’04 (Unrated) Dysfunctional Deutsche family drama, unfolding during summer vacation along the Baltic coast, about a frustrated, middle-aged housewife (Martina Gedeck) who has no problem with a precocious 12 year-old (Svea Lohde) dating her 15 year-old son (Lucas Kotaranin), but gets jealous when the nymphet starts to put the moves on a dashing, thirtysomething American expatriate (Robert Seeliger) who she happens to have the hots for, too. (In German with subtitles)

The Ten (R for nudity, profanity, drug use, and pervasive crude sexual content) Blasphemous biblical comedy takes an irreverent look at each of the Ten Commandments in a series of loosely-linked, modern morality plays. Cast includes Jessica Alba, Adam Brody, Bobby Cannavale, Paul Rudd, Famke Janssen, Gretchen Mol, Winona Rider, Oliver Platt, Ron Silver, Kerri Kinney and Live Schreiber.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

The Camden 28

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Vietnam Era Entrapment of Activists by FBI Revisited by Revealing Documentary

By 1971, the sentiment of the majority of Americans had swung to the side of the burgeoning antiwar movement, given the great number of boys returning home in body bags from Vietnam. Among those moved to civil disobedience was a group of Catholic conscientious objectors based in New Jersey.
Led by four priests who were as outraged by the human toll the conflict was taking on the non-combatants as on our soldiers, the clergymen and company asked themselves, “What do you do when you see a child on fire in a war that was a mistake? Write a letter?”
Taking to heart God’s commandment that “Thou shalt not kill,” the group decided that they needed to do something more than picket or sign a petition. The tactic they settled on was to break into a Selective Service office in order to shred any draft documents they could find.
Even though they joked about the possibility of there being a Judas in their midst, what they did not know, however, was that a member of their cell was, in fact, an FBI mole named Bob Hardy. Thus, when they hatched their plan in the wee hours of August 22nd, a dragnet of agents descended on them before they could do any damage.
Nonetheless, the intruders and all the members of their support team were arrested and charged with conspiracy to commit Federal crimes which would saddle them with sentences of up to 47 years each, if convicted on all counts. Dubbed the Camden 28, the accused mounted a spirited defense which appealed for a jury nullification of the charges based on the theories that the Vietnam War was both illegal and immoral and that the plot would never have been attempted without the involvement of the FBI, since its infiltrator had provided practically all the tools they were relying on to carry it out.
Directed by Anthony Giacchino, The Camden 28 combines archival footage with wistful remembrances by some of the surviving participants to yield a surprisingly timely picture, given the erosion of civil rights today in the wake of the Patriot Act. Edited in a fashion to recreate the mounting tension which undoubtedly permeated the courtroom over the course of the two-month trial, this gripping documentary might be best thought of as a reminder that peace is as every bit as patriotic an option as is war.
Furthermore, in revisiting the oppressive measures employed by the FBI via its COINTELPRO program during that era’s reign of terror, the viewer is simultaneously treated to a welcome message about the right, if not the duty, to challenge authority, especially in the face of corruption, intransigence and utter arrogance. Bring back the Sixties, man!

Excellent (4 stars)
Running time: 83 minutes
Studio: First Run Features

Zodiac DVD Review

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: DVD Revisits Unsolved Case of California Serial Killer

Beginning in the late Sixties, the San Francisco Bay Area was kept on edge by a brazen serial killer who called himself Zodiac. For not only did this maniac murder many people during his bloody reign of terror, but he teased and terrorized the public by sending cryptic coded messages bragging about his exploits to the local newspapers.
While the police were absolutely able to verify only seven of his victims, the sicko slasher nonetheless claimed credit for another thirty corpses. Based on a best seller of the same name by Robert Graysmith, Zodiac is a gripping docudrama chronicling the infamous case in painstaking detail. Thus, it should come as no surprise that the director is none other than David Fincher, who has given the same sort of attention to minutiae in such thrillers as Panic Room and Seven.
Still, this flick represents a bit of a departure of sorts for Fincher, since this saga is surprisingly understated in tone in comparison to some of his earlier, highly-stylized productions. The film stars Mark Ruffalo and Anthony Armstrong as a couple of cops hopelessly confounded by the killer’s clues. And the support cast includes Robert Downey, Jr, as a reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle and Jake Gyllenhaal as the aforementioned Graysmith, a cartoonist at the same paper who became consumed with cracking the case.
Though the movie speculates about several suspects who might be responsible for the godless spree, the perpetrator was never brought to justice and the crime remains unsolved to this day. Thus, this picture’s resolution is a combination of unsatisfying and chilling, since the devious mastermind might still be alive and at large with every opportunity to strike again without notice.

Excellent (3.5 stars)
Rated R for profanity, drug use, graphic violence and brief sexual images.
Running time: 158 minutes
Studio: Paramount Home Entertainment

Bob Johnson, founder of BET: The Who’s Your Caddy Interview

Interview by Kam Williams

Headline: First Black Billionaire Gives His Two Cents on Everything from Making Movies to Making Money

Robert L. Johnson was born in Hickory, Mississippi on April 8, 1946, the ninth of ten children born to Edna and Archie Johnson who later moved the family to Freeport, Illinois. Bob attended the University of Illinois where he earned a bachelor’s degree in history before heading to the prestigious Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton University to pursue a master’s in International Affairs.
After graduating from Princeton, he embarked on a career in media which began with stints with the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the National Urban League, and the National Cable Television Association. Then, in 1980, he took a loan of $15,000 to launch Black Entertainment Television (BET), the first cable network aimed at African-Americans.
Over the years, BET would blossom to become the first black-owned company to be listed on the New York Stock Exchange, though in 1999, Johnson sold the company to Viacom for $3 billion, thereby becoming the only black male billionaire in the world, according to Forbes Magazine. Rather than rest on his laurels, Bob has since gone right back into business and begun RLJ Companies whose holdings include the Charlotte Bobcats, an NBA franchise; numerous Hilton, Marriott, and other upscale hotels; an assets management hedge fund; Urban Trust Bank; casinos and gaming operations across the Caribbean, Rollover Systems, a financial services corporation; and the recently-created Our Stories Films, a $175 million movie studio.
Johnson has also served on the board of such organizations as Lowe’s, Johns Hopkins University, US Air, General Mills, Hilton, Wal-Mart’s Diversity Committee, and the Deutsche Bank advisory Committee. Here, he talks about Our Stories Films’ first release, Who’s Your Caddy, a ghetto goes golfing ensemble comedy starring Big Boi, Sherri Shepherd, Terry Crews, Tamala Jones, Jeffrey Jones, Faizon Love and Tony Cox.

BJ: Hey, Kam how are you?
KW: I’m fine, and you?
BJ: Just fine, thank you.
KW: So, what motivated you to launch Our Stories Films?
BJ: What motivated me sort of got put into its name. When I started BET, the one thing I would always hear when I would go out to L.A. or anyplace where the entertainers would gather was their complaints about the fact that there’s no way to tell our story, that there was no studio that would consistently tell our stories as African-Americans. So, I decided that the only way we’re going to be able to greenlight it and get the right to make movies about our stories, if you will, is if someone put up the money and hired the talent and created a business as a black film studio to make black films. And that’s why I decided to start Our Stories and to hire Tracey Edmonds to run it.
KW: Tell me a little about your first release, Who’s Your Caddy?
BJ: Who’s Your Caddy? is a story that was brought to us by Queen Latifah’s production company. And we put together just a talented team of really funny people headed by Big Boi as the star, and Faizon Love and Sherri Shepherd. It’s a simple film, in a funny way, because it tells the story of this hip-hop guy who tries to join an all-white golf and country club where his dad was a caddy. Now, he’s trying to join the club and, of course, the white members don’t want him in the club. So, he goes about buying one of the holes on the course which gives him the upper hand. It’s all about how he’s able to get into the club and change attitudes, and all the antics that go along with that are really funny.
KW: Sounds a little like Caddyshack to me.
BJ: Yeah, like in Caddyshack, you have a guy from the wrong side of the tracks trying to hang out with the golf elite. But this time it’s sort of updated to have hip-hop guys, rap guys, walking into a pristine, all-white, country club in South Carolina.
KW: What other films do you have planned?
BJ: Well, we’ve got a number of projects on the drawing board. Tracey’s team has just found all kinds of scripts and ideas. They’ve got a project called Courtroom. It’s about a guy who acts as a public defender when he’s really not a lawyer, and just making it up as he goes along. There’s another project called Don’t Date Him Girl about a group of female investigators hired by other women who think their men might be doing them wrong. All we’re going to do are comedies: romantic comedies… buddy comedies… family comedies…
KW: Why all comedies?
BJ: That’s the genre that’s most appealing to African-American viewers.
KW: If that’s your targeted demographic, I guess you’re banking on being supported by the black community.
BJ: I think that’s absolutely critical. We need African-American viewers to go to this film in big numbers to demonstrate that African-Americans can greenlight films, run a studio, and turn out good entertainment. So, the more folks that attend this film, particularly on the opening Friday, the 27th, the more it will simply mean that we’re going to have a chance to continue making films and continue telling our stories.
KW: How will you be able to gauge the success of the company?
BJ: I think you measure the success of a movie company in two ways, really. One is box office, obviously. That’s the biggest driver. If the box office is big, it determines the success of the pay-TV. And if the pay-TV is big, it determines the sale of the movie on DVD, and then on into regular television and basic cable. So, the box office is going to be the determinant, and the one thing that makes that happen is people waking up on Friday the 27th and saying that’s the movie I want to go see this weekend and telling their friends about it.
KW: What impact do you think the Imus firing is going to have on the black entertainment industry, especially when you hear people calling for gangsta’ rappers to clean up their act and you see the NAACP holding a ceremony to bury the N-word?
BJ: Well, it’s certainly creating a dialogue about the N-word and other kinds of words that are negative, whether it’s about women, or about race, or about individuals. But I think the real question is going to be how we as a people handle it, and not simply buy into the simplistic notion that if we fired Imus for saying that then we have to fire so-and-so for saying it, even if they’re black. I think that’s a little simplistic. Yet clearly, there are issues within our own black family, if you will, that we need to debate about how we handle creativity and how words and images are depicted in the black community. So, it’s worth a debate, but how it will come out, I don’t know. On the one hand, I hate to even think of the notion of stifling creativity, but sometimes, if creativity or just words cross the line, you’ve got to sort of step back. It’s certainly a dialogue that’s already started.
KW: Do you regret selling BET? How do you feel about the job that Debra Lee has been doing since you stepped down as chairman a couple of years ago?
BJ: Oh, she has done a magnificent job. There’s no hesitation on my part about saying that BET is probably in better hands now than when I was running it, because she’s brought a whole new vision, a whole new energy, and some innovative programming ideas. You’ve got a talented team of executives over there. So, I have no regrets. I started BET more than 25 years ago, and I created what I think is a brand in much the way that Berry Gordy created Motown. I think BET will be around for a very, very long time, and it will always be a legacy I will cherish. And under Debra’s leadership, it just gives me more confidence that that legacy is in great hands.
KW: During the last Democratic debate, Senator Obama was asked if he’s black enough and he responded by talking about his not having to explain how black he is when trying to hail a cab. I know that despite all your success, you’ve been mistaken for a stable hand on your own farm and as the chauffeur of your own car. What does that tell you about racism?
BJ: The NAACP may have buried the N-word, but they didn’t bury racism, and racism will be around for a very long time. I don’t let it bother me, and I don’t think Barack will let it bother him. But it exists. It’s something you’ve just got to recognize as being there, keep on pushin’ to move it aside, and try to make the society better in everything you do by making the point that we deserve and have every right to be anywhere in this society, to compete in this society, and to have an equal opportunity to enjoy the fruits of this society. Over time, I think we will conquer it, but it’s here now, and I don’t let it worry me.
KW: I know you got your Master’s degree from Princeton, which is where I live. Have you ever come back to visit?
BJ: Yeah, I’ve gone back to Princeton on several occasions to speak to the black students there. I did it when I was at BET, and again when I took BET public.
KW: Do you ever feel a burden as the first black billionaire?
BJ: No, I don’t feel a burden at all, because everything I did, I did the old-fashioned way. I worked hard for it. I earned it. The money is just a measure of some success. It’s not the reason you do what you do. It’s just the results from doing it. What I find the most exciting, having created BET, is that I simultaneously created an opportunity for lots of people to get jobs and positions that they wouldn’t have gotten otherwise. And the RLJ Companies which I’m running now also has some very talented people in private equity real estate. We have a bank, we’re providing student loans, and I own the Charlotte Bobcats in partnership with my good buddy Michael Jordan. The way I look at it, it’s an opportunity, an opportunity to do things with people and hopefully have a positive impact. So, to me, it’s not a burden. It’s really a joy to do things that I like to do with people I like to do them with.
KW: Did the Bobcats have a good draft?
BJ: When Michael came in, he said, “I want to look at this team and put together what I think will be a playoff team.” So, we traded the eighth pick in the draft for Jason Richardson. Now, we’ve got a veteran scorer who we think will mix well with the guys we have coming back. We’re excited about what’s going to happen down in Charlotte.
KW: Yeah, Jason Richardson was a very dynamic force with the Warriors.
BJ: He can put some points on the board, he’s exciting, and we think he’s going to make a big impact on the Bobcats.
KW: Being born black in Mississippi, the ninth of ten children, and becoming a billionaire. That’s quite a story. Are you going to write your autobiography?
BJ: [Laughs] No, no, no. I don’t believe in reading my press releases, so I certainly don’t believe in writing them. No, I haven’t done anything like that.
KW: How about making a movie abut your life, like they just did for another innovator in the entertainment industry, Petey Greene, with Talk to Me. Did you know Petey?
BJ: I knew Petey Greene well. In fact, we put Petey on national television on BET. He was first on local TV in DC, and I said, “This guy’s funny enough to be seen all across the country.” I remember standing in line at the church for his funeral when he passed away, and I guarantee you it was 5,000 deep. It was a real cold night, but people came out to pay their last respects to him. Petey Greene was a dynamic personality, and a heck of a funny guy, too.
KW: I know that in 1995, you covered the Million Man March. Did you catch any flak for that from your advertisers?
BJ: No, we didn’t. We basically thought that it was an important enough event to African-Americans that we turned the network completely over to covering it. So, we simply didn’t run any advertising that day. We told our advertisers that it wasn’t going to be interrupted by commercials, and we went with it. None complained, and they all came back when the regular advertising came back.
KW: What advice do you have for youngsters looking to follow in your footsteps?
BJ: I think there’s no substitute for hard work. Prepare yourself… Get an education… Be willing to work hard at whatever you do. Martin Luther King was quoted as saying, “If you’re going to sweep the streets, sweep the streets like Michelangelo painted pictures.” In other words, be the best at everything you do. Believe in yourself, and have the faith and confidence that you can achieve, and never let anything stand in your way as an obstacle. Because if you believe in it, and exhibit the passion that proves that you believe in it, you’ll find people who are willing to back you and help you along the way.
KW: Is there any question you’ve always wanted to be asked but have never been asked?
BJ: [Chuckles] I’ve actually been a press secretary, and the one thing I learned early on, is if you can end on a question that you’ve just answered, don’t ask for another one, because it may not be one you want to answer.
KW: Well, I really appreciate the time, and good luck with Who’s Your Caddy? and all your other ventures.
BJ: Well, if people go see Who’s Your Caddy? I think that’ll translate into an opportunity for a lot of people to tell stories that aren’t being told at all today.
KW: Thanks again.

BJ: You got it.

I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Firemen Fake Being Gay for Benefits in Gender-Bent Romantic Comedy

For years, Brooklyn firefighters Larry Valentine (Kevin James) and Chuck Levine (Adam Sandler) have been best friends, at least on the job, even though they lead very different private lives. Away from work, Chuck behaves like a wanton womanizer with no intentions of ever settling down, while Larry is a grieving widower who’s too concerned about the welfare of his kids, Eric (Cole Morgen) and Tori (Shelby Adamowsky), to start thinking about dating again.
Despite their differences, these buddies are absolutely committed to being there for each other, and Larry proves his loyalty the day he saves his pal’s life during the collapse of a burning building. In return, Chuck promises to return the favor at the first opportunity, unaware how soon that pledge will be tested.
For when bureaucratic red tape prevents Larry from naming his children as the beneficiaries of his life insurance policy, he learns that the snafu could be corrected instantly, if he only were married or had a domestic partner. So, to expedite matters, he asks Chuck to sign a document saying they’re gay life mates, never expecting that a nosy inspector (Steve Buscemi) from the city’s Fraud Detection Department might show up at his house unannounced periodically to make sure they’re not lying.
With the prospect of prison hanging over their heads, Chuck grudgingly moves in with Larry, rather than risk going to jail. And it doesn’t help that he has to hide the fact that he’s straight from their knockout of a lawyer (Jessica Biel), since he finds himself falling head-over-heels in love with her.
The ensuing awkwardness and embarrassment over having to pretend to be strange bedfellows probably sounds like a zany enough premise to make for a potentially hilarious sitcom. However, I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry is so evilly executed that it deserves to be dismissed as a deliberately meanspirited indulgence in homophobia.
Not only are gays repeatedly referred to by such slurs as “faggots,” “queers,” and “fruits,” but this relentlessly hateful and superficial enterprise seizes on any excuse to link homosexuality with effeminacy and with certain specific tastes and traits, such as an appreciation of show tunes and American Idol runner-up Clay Aiken.
What makes this movie most potentially damaging is Larry’s relationship with his young son whom he suspects to be gay, because the boy prefers the arts to sports. Instead of being supportive, he berates Eric, yelling “Play baseball!” into the child’s ear, as if to suggest that there are no gay athletes and that you can change a person’s sexual orientation simply by shouting at them very loudly. When that doesn’t work, he hands him some heterosexual pornography to look at, now implying that a peek at naked females could nip any contrary inclinations in the bud.
Furthermore, Eric is teased mercilessly as the butt of degrading double entendres about things like “baton swallowing” and is subjected to threats like “sticking a pole up his ass to turn him into a lollipop.” Nor does the bottom-feeding script pass on any opportunity to trade in infantile plays on words, so “Wedding Bells” becomes “Wedding Balls,” “Till death do us part,” becomes “Till dick do us part,” and “Lollapalooza” becomes “Homopalooza.”
When not trashing gays, the film goes after Asians with impunity, by making fun of their thick accents and eyeglasses, and by portraying Asian females as empty-headed sex objects. Adam Sandler and Kevin James ought to be ashamed to be associated with the cinematic equivalent of gay bashing.

Poor (0 stars)
Rated PG-13 for nudity, profanity, homophobic slurs, sexuality, drug use and violence.
Running time: 115 minutes
Studio: Universal Pictures

Corey Reynolds: The Closer Interview

Interview with Kam Williams

Headline: Reynolds Wrapped

Corey Reynolds was born on July 3rd, 1974 in Richmond, Virginia where he was raised till he decided to head west to take a shot at showbiz. But his career took a detour and instead of sticking around Los Angeles, he ended up in a traveling production of Smoky Joe’s Café.
Eventually, he settled in New York where he was cast in the role of
Seaweed in the original Broadway production of Hairspray. After landing a Tony nomination for that dynamic performance, he returned to Hollywood, appearing in The Terminal, directed by Steven Spielberg, and on several TV series, including Eve, The Guardian, Without a Trace, and CSI: Miami, before being invited to become a regular member of the ensemble on The Closer, the TNT dramatic police series co-starring Kyra Sedgwick, J.K Simmons and Gina Rivera.
Here, he talks about his career, and about playing Sergeant David Gabriel on the show, which recently started its third season.

KW: Had you hoped to be able to play Seaweed in the new screen version of Hairspray, given that you had originated the role on Broadway and landed a Tony nomination for it?
CR: I had some availability issues because of my prior commitments to the show, but to be honest, it never was something that I was really gunning for, because I really feel that you can’t just go back and recreate something. Hairspray was really special, such a big smash, and we were all so very young, just kids, and then this whirlwind happened. So, I thought I’d just keep my magic in a bottle. Still, I was a little disappointed to see that there’s no one from the Broadway show involved onscreen. I actually sang a song for the soundtrack.
KW: That must feel weird to see someone else in your role.
CR: It’s like seeing someone else dating your ex-girlfriend. But the truth of the matter is that I’ve worked very hard since leaving the show in 2003 to move into the realm of leading man and young adult, versus kid. So, I think that that type of project may not have been the type of springboard that I was looking for to use to continue my ascension in Hollywood. I’ve moved on, and I’m looking in a new direction career-wise, but I’m very grateful that something I was a part of creating continues to feed people and to provide them an outlet to do what they love. I think that’s just great.
KW: How did it feel to get a Tony Award nomination for Hairspray?
CR: That was pretty exciting. It was my first Broadway show, so to have that happen out of the gate, I was pleasantly surprised.
KW: That sort of stamped you as an accomplished actor right of the bat.
CR: Yeah, but I’ve got to get that trophy, though. I want to take that walk.
KW: Well, The Closer is getting a lot of critical acclaim, so maybe an Emmy’s on the horizon for you.
CR: Who knows? If I play my cards right, and continue to do what I consider good work, and let the chips fall where they may.
KW: How do you like playing Deputy Chief Johnson‘s [Kyra Sedgwick’s character] protégé, Sergeant Gabriel?
CR: I love it, hands down. I loved my character in Hairspray, but when it comes to theater, you’re a little bit more restricted in what you can do, because you have the same show over and over again. But with this, being able to develop this character, and let him grow, and to allow myself to grow as an actor at the same time, really is wonderful. I couldn’t have asked for a better role on a television show. You don’t see many minority men my age playing college-educated, well-spoken, articulate, good guys. So, that was something that was really important to me as an actor, to try to find something that would present me in a light that I want to be seen in. And this show presented that opportunity.
KW: Yeah, and even when you do see that positive role model-type character, they often inject a lot of humor which undercuts…
CR: …their own legitimacy as what ever professional they are.
KW: Right.
CR: I agree with you 100%. I see that in some other television series, a couple of medical shows. On one, there’s a doctor who went to college and med school, twelve years of intensive education after high school, and he’s still saying, “Whazzup?” You would think that at some point that educational experience would bleed into how they present themselves. What that does, in my opinion, is it kind of discredits the whole idea of being the professional. But for me, in playing Gabriel, it’s win-win across the board as far as how I like to act, and the type of person I want to portray.
KW: On The Closer, you’re surrounded by a talented cast, such as J.K. Simmons, who got the biggest laughs, stealing all his scenes in Spider-Man 3 as J. Jonah Jameson.
CR: Absolutely! He loves those Spidey checks. He was telling me that in the new Spiderman DVD…
KW: Spiderman 2.1
CR: Yeah, in 2.1 there’s a deleted scene of him in the Spider-Man costume in his office running around. And he said, “You know the worst part about it was they gave me Tobey’s suit, and it didn’t exactly fit me.” [Chuckles] Yeah, we have a great group with him, G.W. [Bailey], Kyra, Jon [Tenney], Tony [Denison]… And for me, it’s important to be able to have this be the foundation of my television career.
KW: How is the daily grind of shooting a series?
CR: We shoot an episode every seven days, so we go Monday through Friday, and then Monday and Tuesday of the next week. If you’re in every scene, you’re probably looking at about a 65-70 hour week. But when you’re doing what you love, it may get tiring, but it never gets bad.
KW: Kyra’s from New York in real life, but has a Southern accent on the show, while you’re from the Virginia, but don’t have the accent. Did you deliberately try to lose yours?
CR: I wouldn’t say I’ve worked to lose it, but I’ve always been told by others that I’m well spoken, and that they’re surprised I’m from Virginia. But if you hear me on the phone with my family, you’ll get a totally different sound, I can assure you.
KW: Former L.A. District Attorney, Gil Garcetti, who prosecuted the O.J. Simpson case, is a consultant on the show. What’s he like?
CR: I gotta tell you, man, Gil is surprisingly one of the coolest people I know. You’d think that somebody in his position, and who had done what he’s done for a living, would be very uptight. Not at all… not at all.
KW: Jimmy Bayan told me to ask you where in L.A. you live.
CR: I live in Los Feliz. I just bought a house there, so I’m excited.
KW: Who would you like to see yourself acting opposite in a feature film?
CR: Ooh, that’s a really good question. There are lots of people I’d love an opportunity to work with. One of them was Tom Hanks, and I got to work with him on The Terminal. That experience really blew my mind to be honest. That was my first movie ever, and I’m on the set with Spielberg and Tom Hanks.
KW: How was it working with them?
CR: They are truly masters, and to be honest, they are two of the nicest people you could ever meet in your life. And for me, that was great to see people I admire, and to see how they treat other people. That helped me to understand that if you truly want to experience success on the scale that these guys are experiencing, there is a positive aura that must surround you. You must be a positive person to have staying power. Lots of people can get there, but longevity is what it’s all about.
KW: Did you observe anything about how they each approach their craft from being around them on the set every day?
CR: Steven has a very concise and clear understanding of his vision, and what I think Tom had was a very clear and concise understanding of Steven. So, he was able to translate Steven’s vision instantly.
KW: What advice do you have for anyone who might want to follow in your footsteps?
CR: Stay realistic, know exactly what it is that you’re going for, and then stay determined, because determination is the deciding factor between success and failure.
KW: Corey, thanks for the interview, and I hope I can get another one with you after you break real big.
CR: You got one whenever you want, all right?
KW: Thanks.
CR: Take it easy.

Monday, July 23, 2007


Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Socially-Conscious Cult Classic Revived as Watered-Down Musical

When first released in 1988, Hairspray was a socially-conscious satire which delivered a fairly potent political message about the evils and harm of culturally-codified ostracism and ethnic intolerance. Set against the backdrop of the simmering tensions of a strictly-segregated Baltimore during the early Sixties, the campy cult classic followed the efforts of some idealistic teenagers to integrate a popular TV dance show.
That edgy original was directed by John Waters, an inveterate iconoclast who has never been afraid to tackle any controversial issue head-on, or in a manner which might cause his audience to squirm in their seats. His movie recreated an authentic ambience via a combo of period décor and retro choreography set to a catchy soundtrack featuring such hit songs as Town without Pity, You’ll Lose a Good Thing and It’s Madison Time.
In 2002 Hairspray was overhauled and revived on Broadway, winning eight Tony Awards, including Best Musical. Now, Adam Shankman has adapted that play back to the big screen as a bouncy and bubbly, but emotionally-eviscerated production which bears only a superficial resemblance to its source material. This should come as no surprise since Shankman has previously directed such mass appeal comedies as Cheaper by the Dozen 2, The Pacifier, Bringing Down the House and The Wedding Planner.
Hairspray stars Nikki Blonsky as Tracy Turnblad, a light on her feet, plus-sized teen who has been dreaming of a chance to strut her stuff on The Corny Collins Show with cast regular Link (Zac Efron), a classmate she has a huge crush on. John Travolta (in drag) and Christopher Walken play her working-class parents, Edna and Wilbur, while Amanda Bynes appears as her best friend Penny Pingleton, and Brittany Snow as Link’s girlfriend, Amber von Tussle.
The plot thickens after Tracy’s disastrous audition during which she is rejected not for her dancing but because she says she’d have no problem swimming in a pool with black people. To add insult to injury, she ends up in trouble when she returns to school, because she had to cut class for the tryout.
Detention turns out to be a blessing in disguise, as it’s filled with cool African-American kids who share Tracy’s taste in music, mostly mediocre Broadway show tunes, judging by the score. So, she and Penny cross the color line to befriend them, especially Seaweed (Elijah Kelly) and his sister, Little Inez (Taylor Parks).
Everything comes to a head when WYZT’s steely station manager, Velma Von Tussle (Michelle Pfeiffer), cancels the once a month “Negro Day” dance program hosted Motormouth Maybelle (Queen Latifah). Of course, Tracy comes to the rescue by leading a conscious-raising march demanding integration at WYZT and just in time for Inez to enter the Miss Teenage Hairspray Contest.
This vapid edition of Hairspray is a safe, self-congratulatory fantasy which revisits the civil rights era not for a valuable history lesson but for an escapist, syrupy sweet, sing-a-long trip down memory lane to an unrecognizable, Hollywood utopia that never existed. Look for blink-and-you-missed-it cameos by John Waters as a flasher, and Ricki Lake, who first introduced the role of Tracy, as a talent scout.

Fair (1 star)
Rated PG for teen smoking, mild epithets and suggestive content.
Running time: 107 minutes
Studio: New Line Cinema

Sunday, July 22, 2007

After the Sunset

Review by Kam Williams
Headline: No Surprises in This Uninvolving Cat-and-Mouse Caper

Jewel thieves Max Burdett (Pierce Brosnan) and Lola Cirillo (Salma Hayek) quietly retired to Paradise Island in the Bahamas after successfully swiping two priceless baubles from a set of three gems known as the Napoleon Diamonds. The contented couple enjoy their ill-gotten gains at an exotic beachfront cottage where they reminisce about having pulled-off perfectly-planned heists which left them set for life.
Though they have never been tempted to abandon their idyllic oasis for another big score, an irresistible opportunity comes a-knockin' when the last Napoleon Diamond arrives in port aboard a highly-publicized "Diamond Cruise." However, also new to town is Stan Lloyd (Woody Harrelson), the frustrated FBI Agent who has been stalking Max and Lola for the past seven years.
Stan works closely, both literally and figuratively, with solicitous Sophie (Naomie Harris), the chocolicious detective assigned to look after the remaining Napoleon. Max and Lola, on the other hand, are soon in cahoots with an altruistic underworld kingpin (Don Cheadle) who wants the rare stone in order to alleviate the suffering of the island's impoverished, indigenous population.
As interesting as this intricate set-up might sound, its artless execution by Brett Rattner leaves a lot to be desired. This is particularly disappointing since he's the acclaimed director of the endlessly entertaining Rush Hour 1 and 2. But he must be paying more attention to his next film, Rush Hour 3, due out next August. Because by comparison to his other offerings, After the Sunset is more tired than inspired.
The insulting repartee is repeatedly witless, the jokes fall flat and the inane plot thins instead of thickens. The production substitutes cleavage for character development, scattering scads of scantily-clad, empty-headed models around who look like they'd wandered in off the set of a gangsta’ rap video. When not trading in titillation, the movie is given to a litany of homophobic "It's not what it looks like" jokes.
More like watching a neverending music video than a feature film.

Fair (1 star)
PG-13 for sex, expletives and action violence.
Running time: 100 minutes
Distributor: New Line

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Christmas with the Kranks

Review by Kam Williams
Headline: Tim Allen and Jamie Lee Curtis as Holiday Holdouts in Uninspired Dud

On paper, Christmas with the Kranks reads like a "can't miss"comedy with a lot more potential than the lame lump of coal that's been dumped in our cinema stocking this holiday season. For openers, it stars Tim Allen (The Santa Clause 1 & 2) and Jamie Lee Curtis (Freaky Friday), both of whom are known for this sort of family fare.
Plus the production is stocked with such consummate comedians as Dan Aykroyd, Cheech Marin, Caroline Rhea and Tom Poston. And rounding-out the supporting cast are well-respected character actors like M. Emmet Walsh and Jake Busey.
The movie was even directed by Joe Roth, whose previous picture, America's Sweethearts, was a hilarious hit, and its screenwriter was Christopher Columbus, who wrote and/or directed a string of wholesome hits, including Home Alone 1 &2, Harry Potter 1 & 2, Only the Lonely and Mrs. Doubtfire. Perhaps the problem had to do with the source material, as the story is based on the book Skipping Christmas, an uncharacteristic departure from legal potboilers by best-selling novelist John Grisham.
This transparent tale takes place in suburban Chicago, where Luther (Allen) and Nora (Curtis) Krank are facing the prospect of spending their first Christmas without their daughter, Blair (Julie Gonzalo), who is off in Peru, serving in the Peace Corps. Rather than get swept up in all of the obligatory rituals of the frenzied season, such as rushing around shopping malls, exchanging fruitcakes and hosting their annual holiday party, the couple opts to avoid all the insanity by treating themselves to a Caribbean cruise.
But when word of their blasphemous plan spreads around their completely Christian cul-de-sac, their nosy neighbors, led by busybody Vic Frohmeyer (Aykroyd), decide to intervene. For unless the Kranks reconsider, their darkened house's exterior will ruin the block by being the only one on Hemlock street unadorned by festive lights and without a Frosty the Snowman on the roof.
So, for the balance of this misfiring misadventure, everybody in town takes turns trying to embarrass Luther and Nora into changing their minds. This includes not just friends, but local cops looking for a donation and a prudish parish priest offended by the idea of their patronizing a tanning salon. The picture's defective premise rests on the debatable notion that there is something wrong with anyone inclined to celebrate the season with anything other than the socially-sanctioned traditions.
For laughs, it resorts to second-rate slapstick and cornball sight gags like Jamie Lee in an unflattering bikini and Tim trying to talk after Botox injections. The movie might have been more interesting had it gone the route of a sophisticated social satire, questioning commercialism rather than simply endorsing society's slavish capitulation to runaway consumption.
Of course, some pathetically predictable plot twists and syrupy sentimentality which could only amuse a five year-old lead the Kranks back to their materialistic senses in time for a Kodak moment which shouts a rather shallow Merry Capitalism to all!

Poor (0 stars)
Rated PG for slightly salty language and for some sexually suggestive material
Running time: 100 minutes
Distributor: Columbia Pictures

Friday, July 20, 2007

Being Julia

Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Aging Stage Actress Takes Younger Lover in Brit Costume Drama

Set in London in 1938, Being Julia is a multi-layered costume drama revolving around an aging stage actress who, at the height of her career, takes refuge from her stale marriage in an illicit affair with a fan half her age. Annette Bening stars in the title role opposite Shaun Evans as Tom Fennell, her ardent American admirer.
This beguiling, sinuously-building picture is based on Theatre, a novella by W. Somerset Maugham and was directed by Hungarian Istvan Szabo whose Mephisto landed the Best Foreign Film Oscar back in 1982. And its enveloping script was adapted by another Academy Award-winner Ronald Harwood, who was responsible for The Pianist.
Though Being Julia's has been tweaked to leave its heroine more embittered than exultant, the tale is otherwise intact. At the point of departure we find Julia jaded and resentful of her impressario husband, Michael (Jeremy Irons), who sees his wife as more of a meal ticket than a mate.
To maximize profits, he's callously booked her into a grueling routine, a demanding play which calls for seven performances a week. So, all it takes is the overtures of a hunk in heat to turn the 45 year-old diva into a flattered, irresponsible philanderer.
Although she showers Shaun with baubles and bucks, this impulsive behavior fails to prevent her ungrateful boy toy from two-timing her with another actress, Avice (Lucy Punch), the up-and-coming blonde-of-the-moment. To add insult to injury, this already incestuous arrangement gets even messier when her producer hubby invites the ingenue to the casting couch.
Ultimately, Julia’s only recourse is to square the score with Avice on stage, all adroitly executed by Ms. Bening with a flourish which the Academy ought remember come Oscar season.

Very Good (3 stars)
Rated R for sexuality.
Running time: 108 minutesDistributor: Sony Pictures Classics

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Around the World in 80 Days DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Jackie Chan Stars in Rancid Remake

England was at the height of its glory back in 1873 when Jules Verne wrote Around the World in 80 Days. At the time, this peripatetic adventure probably appealed to the wanderlust of Brits who saw the world as an oyster awaiting their arrival. So, when this Victorian novel was first adapted to the screen in 1956, it reflected these imperial inclinations. And it also swept the Oscar's, including Best Picture.
The late David Niven headed the star-studded original cast as Phileas Fogg, a proper Brit gent who, on a dare, decides to try to circumnavigate the globe in less than 80 days. Accompanied by his Mexican manservant, Passepartout, he ends up encountering everything from savage Sioux Indians in America to other presumably primitive peoples in Bombay, Hong Kong and elsewhere.
Since that politically-incorrect storyline would no longer fly, the plot has been revised considerably, here, to revolve around Passepartout, who is now played by stunt actor Jackie Chan. Besides suddenly being Asian, the character has been transformed from a loyal butler into an untrustworthy, inscrutable jewel thief.
Steve Coogan appears in a support role as Fogg, while eye candy has been inexplicably added in Monique (Cecile de France), Phileas' frisky, French love interest. The film also features colorful cameos by Governator Arnold Schwarzenegger as a Turkish Prince, Sammo Hung as a Ninja, Owen and Luke Wilson as the Wright Brothers, singer Macy Gray as a sleeping beauty, John Cleese as a British bobby, and Kathy Bates impersonating Queen Victoria.
But despite the politically-correct overhaul, the production still seems dated, and is only briefly entertaining during the fight sequences when Mr. Chan's fists and feet and props starts flying. A family-oriented flick which only kids under the age of 8 will have the patience to sit through.

Fair (1 star)
Rated PG for action violence, crude humor and crude language.DVD extras include deleted scenes, a music video by Dave Stewart accompanied by a children's choir, commentaries by co-star Coogan and the director, and a couple of "Around the World" featurettes

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason

Review by Kam Williams
Headline: Renee' Zellweger Back As Beefy Brit Bachelorette

Three years ago, Renee' Zellweger put on a few pounds and adopted a London accent to fill the pudgy but pleasingly-plump title role in the entertaining adaptation of Bridget Jones' Diary. The film was a resounding hit, primarily due to the endearing vulnerability she exhibited in bringing the quintessential Brit bachelorette from the book to the big screen.
Though the baby fat and English inflections are back, the Bridget we get in this slightly disappointing sequel is not nearly as charming as the lovable loser we grew so fond of the first time around. Sure, she's still smoking and cursing and watching her weight, but she's in some ways not all that recognizable.
No longer shy and retiring, the new and improved Bridget has morphed from a nerd into an international jet-setter who skis in the Alps, skydives and travels to Thailand on assignment. However, for the sake of the sitcom, she remains prone to land in embarrassing situations.
Equally-conveniently, cad Daniel Cleaver (Hugh Grant), her ex-boss in the literary business, is now a fellow reporter at the same TV station. The inveterate lech still wants her body, which allows for more of those awkward, unwanted advances.
The story starts out just four weeks after the first ended, yet nothing feels familiar about the point of departure. We learn that Bridget's fairy tale love affair with dashing barrister Mark Darcy (Colin Firth), which marked the happily-ever-after ending of the original, might already be on the rocks.
She's suspicious as to why he's been burning midnight oils with his attractive assistant and obsessively jealous about his relationship with Rebecca (Jacinda Barrett). So, all the tension, here, revolves around her fear that these cozy co-workers are up to no good, a presumption which might be one helluva red herring.
And while we're wondering whether Mark will dump Bridget, we're treated to a string of disconnected skits. A few are funny, but most miss the mark. The best is the case of mistaken identity where Bridget bursts into a room at the Inns of Court, impulsively pronouncing her undying love by mistake to an astonished, if appreciative, old geezer instead of her boyfriend. She immediately retracts her passionate, "I love you, I always have, and I always will," with the needlessly meanspirited, "I don't love you, I never have, and I never will."
Sprinkled with an array of such superfluous stick figures, Bridget 2 never amounts to anything more than mental chewing gum, offering less in the way of character development and more in the way of senseless silly slapstick.

Good (2 stars)
R for sex and expletives.
Running time: 106 minutes
Distributor: Universal

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Brother to Brother

Review by Kam Williams
Headline: Trauma of Being Black and Gay Examined in Homo-Erotic Flashback Drama

Native New Yorker Perry (Anthony Mackie) is young, gifted and black. Oh, and gay, too. And when his homophobic father catches him in a compromising position with another guy, the promising artist gets the boot and has to add "struggling" to that string of descriptive adjectives.
But being kicked out of the house might be the best thing that ever happened to Perry, for it serendipitously leads to a unique avenue for coming to grips with his homosexuality. For in order to subsidize his college education, he takes a job at a homeless shelter where he befriends Bruce Nugent (Roger Robinson), the same mysterious stranger who had recently recited a rhyme for him on the street outside of a poetry slam.
It just happens that this down-on-his-luck old codger had enjoyed a measure of success as a writer way back in the Twenties. Now, their unlikely liaison induces Bruce to start reminiscing about his hey-days during the Harlem Renaissance. He nostalgically proceeds to recall, via vivid flashbacks, rubbing more than elbows with the likes of Langston Hughes, Wallace Thurman and other well-known gays of the era. In turn, Perry is ultimately able to transform his embarrassment and shame about being gay into a palpable sense of pride and self-esteem.
Thus, Brother to Brother, a black equivalent of "In and Out," is a refreshingly-honest empowerment flick which defiantly delivers the message, "We're here, we're black and queer, get used to it." Because it is also set against an historical examination of African-American homosexuality, this remarkable picture ought to serve as a long-overdue wake-up call to the black community where macho intolerance and suicidal denial has left it with America's highest HIV-infection rate.
Consciousness-raising aside, the movie was written and directed by Rodney Evans, who garners high grades for deftly resorting to the helpful cinematic device of shooting the present-day sequences in color, the flashbacks in black-and-white. Kudos, above all, for his simply having the courage to persevere in making such an impressive, if controversial, feature film debut on a subject many would prefer be kept in the closet.

Excellent (4 stars)
Running time: 90 minutes
Distributor: Miasma Films

Monday, July 16, 2007

Callas Forever

Review by Kam Williams
Headline: Marria Callas Recalled in Fictionalized Account of Opera Diva's Last Days

Maria Kalogeropoulos was born in New York City in 1923 to parents who had immigrated to America from Greece. But after her parents' divorce in 1937, the child prodigy moved with her mother to Athens where she continued her classical music training at the National Conservatoire.
Upon her return to the U.S. in 1944, she changed her surname to Callas before embarking on a storybook career as the foremost opera star of her generation. Today, besides being remembered for her magical voice and that meteoric rise, many recall Maria's torrid, extra-marital affair with Aristotle Onassis which began in 1957 and ended when the Greek shipping magnate turned his attention to Jackie Kennedy.
Writer/director Franco Zeffirelli decided to not revisit any of the above in Callas Forever, opting instead to focus narrowly on the diva's declining days in the months before her unexpected demise. For as an opera impressario who mounted lavish productions in the Seventies at both the Met and Milan's La Scala Opera House, Zeffirelli had enjoyed unusual access to the petulant prima donna during that period of her life.
What we have here, in essence, is a fictionalized bio-pic, set primarily in Paris in 1977, revolving around the strained relationship between the temperamental Callas and her selfless manager. Fanny Ardant, who bears a striking resemblance to the post-menopausal Callas, reprises the title role she first brought to the stage in a play entitled The Master Class, directed overseas by fugitive from justice Roman Polanski. Meanwhile, Jeremy Irons co-stars as Larry Kelly, a thinly-veiled version of Zeffirelli, himself.
Ms. Ardant's aristocratic bearing and inexplicable mood swings certainly conjure up the convincing image of a washed-up recluse in the tragic throes of a depression exacerbated by substance abuse. And Irons is equally effective as a flamboyant sycophant so deep in denial that he can't recognize that his once-peerless soprano's voice is too shot to mount a credible comeback.
Regrettably, the picture is otherwise not at all compelling. Lip-synched sequences of Callas' performances fall flat as presented devoid of context. More disturbing are the careless production’s glaring anachronisms like the omnipresence of late-model automobiles in scenes supposedly taking place over 25 years ago. This means the movie amounts to little more than the rantings of an embittered 'has-been' at the last person left in her dwindling entourage.
A show that's oh so over before the fat lady sings.

Fair (1 star)
Running time: 108 minutes
(In English and Spanish but without subtitles)
Distributor: Regent Releasing

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Dawn of the Dead DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams
Headline: New and Improved Remake of Zombie Classic Now Available in DVD

This apocalyptic screamfest not only eclipses the George Romero original but it even measures up well against the very best of the horror genre. A fairly-faithful remake, Dawn of the Dead follows the first's plotline, but employs A-list actors and state-of-the-arts special f/x, while relying on a script updated to take present-day mores into account.
The story is still essentially the desperate struggle for survival of a motley crew of frightened strangers, forced by dire circumstances to cooperate or perish. They take refuge inside of a mall, where they stave off a a race of resurrected, flesh-eating zombies.
The ensemble cast is comprised of recognizable archetypes. There's Ana (Sarah Polley), the cool, calm, collected nurse; Kenneth (Ving Rhames), the beefy, brave and burly cop; Andre (Mekhi Phifer), the street-wise ghetto gangsta'; Luda (Inna Korobkina) the expectant young wife; Michael (Jake Weber), the loser with a last chance to prove himself a hero; CJ (Michael Kelly); the itchy-fingered, mistrusting, mall security guard; Steve (Ty Burrell), the sarcastic wisecracker; Nicole (Lindy Booth), the altruistic animal lover; Andy (Bruce Bohne), the isolated loner; and so forth.
Their insatiable adversaries, meanwhile, are cannibalistic cadavers that crave flesh. The kicker is that anyone these zombies bite dies and comes back to life as a member of their ever-increasing army of the undead. And the only way to eliminate the creatures permanently is by either cremation or a bullet to the brain.
Dawn of the Dead puts the pedal to the metal from its unforgettably gruesome, terror-filled, roller coaster ride of an opening sequence clear through to its shocking conclusion. A relentlessly-harrowing, four-star horror flick, an experience guaranteed to induce nightmares.

Excellent (4 stars)
Rated R for pervasive, graphic and gory violence, very disturbing images, profanity, brief nudity and some sexuality.
DVD includes deleted scenes, a couple of commentaries, two bonus features and a featurette.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

The Day After Tomorrow DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Global Warming Disaster Flick Out on DVD

Anyone who's a sucker for eye-popping special effects ought to enjoy this visually-captivating, end-of-the-world extravaganza served up with side orders of selfless heroics and political intrigue. Who cares that the film's premise rests on pseudo-scientific claptrap, when you've got spectacular cinematography and a plotline which keeps you on the edge of your seat?
Nearly every scene of The Day After Tomorrow revolves around Jack Hall (Dennis Quaid), a dedicated climatologist doing field research in Antarctica who narrowly escapes ground zero when a chunk of the Ice Shelf breaks off. He hightails it back to Washington, D.C. to warn the White House of the impending catastrophe.
But Jack’s appeal falls on deaf ears, global warming ensues, and that, paradoxically, triggers another Ice Age. This means we're treated to scenes of weather anomalies like a snow storm in New Delhi, pomegranate-sized hail in Tokyo, typhoons across Australia and a cyclone in Los Angeles that topples the "HOLLYWOOD" sign.
And there's absolute panic in the streets of New York City where Jack's son, Sam (Jake Gyllenhaal) is stuck because of frigid temperatures which make it too dangerous to evacuate. With the rest of the nation headed south to Mexico's relatively-livable environment, our intrepid hero embarks on a harrowing trek northward to save Sam, entombed in the iced-over N.Y. Public Library. Though the film frequently flirts with implausibility, its inaccuracies are outweighed by its thinking-man’s approach to storytelling which offers an apocalyptic perspective for just about every persuasion.
An avowed atheist finds God, astronauts watching from outer space wax romantic, doomed scientists share a last toast, a dedicated doctor stays with a cancer patient, a contrite Vice President finally cares about the environment, and most importantly, a father full of love ignores the odds to find his kid.

Very Good (3 stars)
Rated PG-13 for disaster flick violence featuring scenes of intense peril.
DVD extras include deleted scenes, commercials and a half-dozen different commentaries.

Friday, July 13, 2007


DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Heartwarming Comedy with Will Ferrell as Santa's "Elf"

Saturday Night Live alum Will Ferrell enjoys the best outing of his career in the title role of Elf, a heartwarming tale for young and old. The craggy-faced funnyman plays Buddy, an orphan put up for adoption in New York who was raised at the North Pole after accidentally crawling into Santa's (Ed Asner) big bag of toys on Christmas Eve.
Reared by kindly Papa Elf (narrator Bob Newhart) as if one of his own, Buddy gradually grew to dwarf everyone around him. And although he was welcomed as the only baritone in the Elf Choir, clumsy Buddy is a failure as one of Santa's little helpers.
Finally, after thirty years of hiding the truth, Papa Elf decides it's time to tell him he's human. So, Buddy says good-bye to the only friends he's ever known, cracks off an ice floe and paddles his way back to the Big Apple to find out if he has any family.
This is the point of departure for Elf, a delightful, slapstick adventure about a naive innocent woefully ill-equipped to handle big city life. Lucky for Buddy, it's holiday time, so he lands a job at a department store as what else, but an elf.
He proceeds to develop a romantic interest with an adoring blonde co-worker, Jovie (Zooey Deschanel), who never notices what a dork he is. But after a comedy of errors, he ends up in jail and puts his one free call to good use. It turns out Buddy's mother has died, but that his dad (James Caan) is alive and well.
Will his Scrooge of a father catch the Christmas Spirit, bail his long-lost son out for a bonding opportunity and an important lesson in life? Or will he leave buddy behind bars? Remember, think heartwarming.
An instant holiday classic.

Excellent (4 stars)
Rated PG for crude humor and mild epithets.
DVD Extras include 9 deleted scenes, director's and Will Ferrell commentaries, plus a couple of interactive features,: Buddy's Adventure Game and Karaoke Read Along.