Friday, August 31, 2007

Freshman Orientation

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Frosh Fakes Being Gay to Date Girl of His Dreams

Clay Adams (Sam Huntington) is a freshman from Oshkosh, Wisconsin who has just matriculated at a large state university. The hot-to-trot 18 year-old arrived on campus naïvely expecting to party, drink beer and pick up girls. But he soon finds that coeds won’t give him the time of day, since they sense that he’s on the make and only interested in fulfilling his sexual fantasies.
This proves especially frustrating when it comes to Amanda (Kaitlin Doubleday), the sorority girl Clay soon sets his sight on. So, he comes up with a novel way of working his way into her life, namely, making believe he’s gay. The idea is that girls have no qualms about hanging around homosexuals, because they won’t be pressuring them romantically.
Therefore, Clay comes out of the closet and joins the school’s gay support group, thereby gaining Amanda’s confidence. He even starts frequenting the local gay bar downtown, where he takes lessons on looking the part from Rodney (John Goodman), a genderbending bartender.
The problem is that Clay does such a great job posing that Amanda can only see him as a friend. To add insult to injury, he finds himself having to fend off unwanted passes, and turns into something of a campus cause celebre after claiming to be the victim of a gay bashing by frat boys.
So unfolds the subtly-titled Freshman Orientation, a teensploit turning on a clever twist of the genre’s trademark theme. For while most makeover movies feature a female making herself more attractive, this flick has a male deliberately doing the opposite.
Besides the romance at the center of the story, the film is littered with a smattering of distracting sidebars, with colorful characters played by the likes of SNL alum Rachel Dratch as a “very drunk chick,” Heather Matarazzo as Jessica, a Jew mating with a Muslim, and Ashley Sherman as Bessie, a black bull dyke with a bad attitude.
Occasionally amusing, but otherwise a surprisingly tame tale for all its iconoclastic pretensions.

Good (2 stars)
Rated R for sexuality, profanity, female frontal nudity and drug use.
Running time: 92 minutes
Studio: Regent Entertainment

Thursday, August 30, 2007

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


by Kam Williams

For movies opening September 7, 2007


3:10 to Yuma (R for violence and profanity) Christian Bale and Russell Crowe co-star in this remake of the 1957 classic Western about the dangerous gauntlet across the desert negotiated by a broke rancher out to collect a bounty for escorting an outlaw man to a train waiting to transport the wanted man to justice. Cast includes Gretchen Mol, Peter Fonda and Kevin Durand.

The Brothers Solomon (R for sexuality and profanity) Dysfunctional-family comedy about a couple of romantically-challenged brothers (Will Arnett and Will Forte) in search of a woman willing to mate with one of them in order to fulfill their dying father’s (Lee Majors) wish for a grandson. Supporting cast includes David Koechner, Chi McBride, Jenna Fischer and the film’s director, Bob Odenkirk.

Fierce People (R for nudity, profanity, sexuality, drug use and violence) Dysfunctional family drama about a coke-addicted single-mom (Diane Lane) struggling to survive in NYC who decides to try to get her life back on track by showing up with her 16 year-old son (Anton Yelchin) at the sprawling, suburban estate of a wealthy, elderly client (Donald Sutherland) of hers. With Paz de la Huerta, Kristen Stewart and Chris Evans.

Hatchet (R for nudity, sexuality, profanity and graphic violence) Horror flick, set in New Orleans, where a vacation turns deadly for a group of tourists who find themselves stranded in a haunted swamp. Ensemble cast includes Joel Moore, Tamara Feldman and Deon Richmond.

Shoot ‘Em Up (Unrated) Clive Owen stars in this high-impact adventure about a mysterious loner who teams with a proverbial hooker (Monica Bellucci) with a heart of gold and lactating mammary to protect a stranger’s newborn he’s just delivered from a gang of hit men led by a bloodthirsty mobster (Paul Giamatti).


The Hunting Party (Unrated) Fact-based drama about the return to Bosnia of three journalists (Richard Gere, Terrence Howard and Jesse Eisenberg) five years after the ethnic cleansing to track down the most wanted war criminal (Ljubomir Kerekes) still at-large. (In English and Serbo-Croatian)

The Inner Life of Martin Frost (Unrated) Sci-fi fantasy about a novelist (David Thewlis), unwinding alone at a friend’s country home, who falls in love with the beautiful woman (Irene Jacob) who magically materializes in his bed when he wakes up one morning.

In the Shadow of the Moon (PG for smoking, mild epithets and brief violence) Out of this world documentary revisits all nine NASA missions to the moon, interweaving archival footage with contemporary interviews with all the still surviving Apollo astronauts, including Buzz Aldrin, Eugene Cernan, Jim Lovell and Alan Bean.

I Want Someone to Eat Cheese With (Unrated) Jeff Garlin wrote, directed and stars in this romantic comedy, set in Chicago, about a just-dumped, overweight, unemployed actor who wants three things: a lifemate, a lead role and to lose weight. Cast includes Bonnie Hunt, Sarah Silverman, Amy Sedaris, Tim Kazurinsky, Elle Fanning and Dan Castellaneta.

Musician (Unrated) Brainiac bio-pic examines the unorthodox musical career of avant garde jazz saxophonist Ken Vandermark, the Chicago-based recipient of a MacArthur genius grant who has released over a hundred albums, about one per month, comprised of non commercial tunes he’s composed, arranged and performed with dozens of different ensembles.

Romance & Cigarettes (R for sexuality and profanity) John Turturro wrote, directed and appears briefly in this musical about an ironworker (James Gandolfini) who’s having a torrid affair behind his wife’s (Susan Sarandon) back with an irresistible, red-headed temptress (Kate Winslet). Ensemble includes Steve Buscemi, Amy Sedaris, Mandy Moore, Mary-Louise Parker, Bobby Cannavale, Christopher Walken, Elaine Stritch and Aida, Diego, Katherine and Amedeo Turturro.

Salvador Allende (Unrated) Documentary chronicling the life of the socialist Chilean president from childhood to his 1973 suicide following the CIA-assisted coup d’etat which signaled the rise of military strongman Augusto Pinochet. (In Spanish and French with subtitles)

The Unknown Soldier (Unrated) Damning documentary from Deutschland provides shocking photographic and film evidence of widespread participation by Nazi soldiers in war crimes and ethnic cleansing during World War II. (In German with subtitles)

Self-Medicated DVD

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Mom’s Tough Love Backfires in Semi-Autobiographical Bio-Pic

Andrew Eriksen (Monty Lapica) has been spiraling out of control since the death of his father. The troubled 17 year-old has taken to hanging with a bad crowd that drinks alcohol, does drugs and shoots strangers with BB guns while joyriding around Las Vegas. Not even intermittent run-ins with the law or having cops reading him the riot act seem to bother the boy.
At the end of her rope, his exasperated mother (Diane Venora) opts to try a tough love approach to save her son’s life. So, she hires a couple of goons to kidnap him and whisk him away to a private hospital out of the country to detox. Though she can get away with this tactic legally, since he’s still a minor, the ploy ultimately backfires because the institution’s militaristic approach only grates on Andrew’s nerves.
And the more he continues to rebel, the more mental and physical abuse he has to endure, and the overall experience only adds to his already substantial host of emotional woes. For, not only is the sensitive kid addicted and in mourning, but now he also hates his sadistic captors and his mom for condemning him to such an inflexible environment.
This scary scenario sets the table of Self-Medicated, a semi-autobiographical bio-pic written, directed and starring Monty Lapica. The multi-talented wunderkind apparently endured an ordeal similar to that of his protagonist, and has carefully crafted an absorbing tale he was obviously well-qualified to relate.
The movie has been making the rounds of film festivals around the world, gobbling up awards at every stop, about 40 in all thusfar. This is understandable, as Lapica certainly grades out highly for a first-time filmmaker. He shot Self-Medicated on 35mm as opposed to video, so it looks like the real deal, not like the student flicks you usually get in debut offerings nowadays.
Still, the movie suffers from one serious flaw, namely, Mr. Lapica’s choice of himself to star in the picture. Now 24, he’s simply a little long in the tooth to try to pass for a teenager. And as you watch him petulantly acting out or flying into a rage, you’re constantly having to remind yourself that you’re supposedly watching a minor, not an adult.
That’s a man, baby!

Good (2 stars)
Rated R for sexuality, profanity, violence, mature themes and drug abuse.
Running time: 107 minutes
Studio: ThinkFilm

Stephanie Daley DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: DVD Drama Devoted to Teen Who Murders Her Own Newborn

Forensic psychologist Lydie Crane (Tilda Swinton) is seven months pregnant and apprehensive because she is still haunted by the stillborn birth of her baby only a year ago. The loss has left her not only grief-stricken and brooding about the meaning of life but fearful about her current fetus and burdened by doubts about her emotionally-distant husband’s (Timothy Hutton) fidelity.
These feelings are only intensified when a DA assigns her the curious case of the equally-morose Stephanie Daley (Amber Tamblyn) who’s just been arrested for the murder of her newborn. Though her infant was found abandoned in a public bathroom, the 16 year-old sticks to a phony alibi that she didn’t know she was pregnant.
After issuing Stephanie her Miranda warnings that anything she says can and will be used against her in a court of law, Dr. Crane coaxes the accused to come clean about what happened. Then, in a series of revealing flashbacks, we gradually learn the whole story of how the naïve teen had been statutorily raped by an older boy and the role that her religious beliefs might have played in the inaction which led to the tragedy.
While listening to her patient, the shrink simultaneously starts to reflect and to do some soul searching, too. And the pair’s periodic commiserating during their sessions provides the vehicle for the claustrophobic meditation on the sundry mysteries explored over the course of Stephanie Daley.
Ignoring the picture’s preposterous premise that an expert witness for the prosecution would ever exhibit such sensitivity towards a defendant in a criminal case, the film nonetheless works because of the way in which two females manage to mind-meld and make peace on a middle ground. A cerebral, female empowerment flick which takes its cues from empathy and understanding as opposed to testosterone.

Very good (3 stars)
Rated R for sexuality, profanity, teen pregnancy, and disturbing themes.
Running time: 92 minutes
Studio: Liberation Entertainment

The Wind That Shakes the Barley DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Historical Epic about Birth of the IRA Out on DVD

It is Ireland in 1920, a time when freedom was in the air, and the working class was agitating for independence. So, England sent over brutal goon to intimidate the suffering proletariat.
To put the unfolding scenario in proper historical perspective, the British had first invaded the Emerald Isle back in the 12th Century, establishing at that time a feudal system which ensured that avaricious noblemen could enrich themselves at the expense of the local populace. These absentee land barons dispatched emissaries to govern on their behalf, implanting a system of taxation and rents designed to keep the Irish forever indebted.
However the famines and poverty eventually visited upon the land left the population with no options other than to leave the country or to fight for their freedom. Though savagely suppressed by the Brit ruling class, by the turn of the 20th Century, a revolutionary movement had coalesced into a force which could no longer be denied.
Winner of the Best Film at the 2006 Cannes Film Festival, The Wind That Shakes the Barley is a powerful political saga which chronicles the rise of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) as seen from the perspectives of two brothers (Cillian Murphy and Padraic Delaney) participating in the insurrection. The picture unfolds in the County of Cork where we find the siblings initially at odds with each other.
One is a doctor, and not at all inclined to become a guerilla, despite dramatic evidence of atrocities on the part of the occupiers. But enough is enough, and after 700 years it falls to their generation to throw off the yoke of oppression in a bloody insurrection.
Not merely a cinematic masterpiece from start to finish but a righteous rallying cry for disenfranchised masses anywhere with nothing left to lose but their chains.

Excellent (4 stars)
Running time: 127 minutes
Studio: Genius Products
DVD Extras: Commentary by director Ken Loach and a featurette looking at his body of work.

Delta Farce DVD

Delta Farce
DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Unfunny Mistaken Identity Comedy Makes Its way to DVD

Larry (Larry the Cable Guy), Everett (DJ Qualls) and Bill (Bill Engvall) are best friends who ordinarily welcome the periodic male-bonding opportunity afforded them by their service as National Guard reserves on the base where they’re stationed in Chattahoochee, Georgia. For once a month, they make the most of a chance to shoot guns, drink beer, and leer at the waitresses at the local Hooters.
Everything changes, however, the day that the pencil pushers in the Pentagon decide to call up their unit. Hard-boiled Sergeant Kilgore (Keith David) soon arrives to whip them into shape, and before you can say “Be all that you can be!” they’re shipped to for Fallujah.
But a funny thing happens on the way to Iraq, for this ill-equipped trio of misfits unit is accidentally ejected from the plane over a desert in Mexico, where it takes them forever to realize that they haven’t landed in a battle zone. Don’t be duped, if this premise sounds at all appealing, for Delta Farce is easily one of the worst films released this year.
The transparent plot of this action comedy revolves around the heroes’ hapless effort to save a tiny town from the clutches of a bloodthirsty gang. Their awkward antics are reminiscent of The Three Stooges, only not funny.
Don’t even consider this dud, unless you’re the type inclined to laugh at an insufferable sergeant incessantly insulting his men, homophobic “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” jokes or offensive cliches about Arabs and Latinos. Equally disappointing in terms of bodily function humor, Delta Farce is stocked with fart, spit, digestive, feces and urine gags, my favorite being when Kilgore unwittingly drinks a glass of fluid excreted from Everett’s bladder.
One of those movies that’s great until the movie starts.

Poor (0 stars)
Rated PG-13 for sexuality and crude humor.
In English and Spanish with subtitles.
Running time: 89 minutes
Studio: Lions Gate Home Entertainment
DVD Extras: Director’s commentary plus four featurettes

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Slow Burn DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Assistant DA Admits to Killing in Self-Defense in Unoriginal Whodunit

Based on the debut novel of the same name by Euro-Filipina Sabina Murray, Slow Burn is an intriguing whodunit about a big city Assistant DA, Nora Timmer (Jolene Blalock), who admits that she’s just confessed to killing a man (Mekhi Phifer) she claims raped her. This development comes at the worst possible time for her boss (Ray Liotta), since he’s been carefully plan to run for mayor.
Now, the politically-ambitious prosecutor has quite a problem on his hands, because not only is his beautiful protégé behind bars, but he needs to get to the bottom of the case without letting it come out that he’s been carrying on a secret affair with her. Then, a witness (LL Cool J) comes forward who contradicts the accused’s story, stating that she and the deceased weren’t strangers, but had been dating for months.
With only one evening to pull the assorted pieces of the jigsaw puzzle together, DA Cole’s embarks on an investigation in which he crosses paths with an array of potential material witnesses, including an ex-con (Taye Diggs), a journalist (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and the chief of police (Bruce McGill). It seems that
the ethnically-ambiguous Nora, who sports flowing dreadlocks, was known to hang out on both sides of the tracks, in both the white and African-American communities.
Unfortunately, this poor-man’s version of The Usual Suspects is so convoluted and poorly scripted that this flawed film noir’s only compelling theme is the recurring question of whether its femme fatale is black or white. But because the Genome Project has conclusively proven that there’s only one race, the human race, the mystery about Nora’s roots is too outdated to care about.
Slow Burn = Slow Death.

Fair (1 star)
Running time: 93 minutes
Studio: Lions Gate Home EntertainmentDVD Extras: Director’s commentary, deleted and alternate scenes, and a featurette entitled “Fire in the Streets.”

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Exiled (Fong juk) (CHINESE)

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Hong Kong Hit Men Chase Macao Mobster in High-Octane Chopsocky

It is Macao in 1998, just before the former Portuguese colony is about to be transferred back to Chinese rule. When a gangster named Wo (Nick Cheung) tries to turn over a new leaf by settling down with his wife (Josie Ho) and newborn, the boss (Simon Yam) of his former crime family dispatches a couple of hit men (Suet Lam and Anthony Wong) from Hong Kong to execute the renegade mobster.
Meanwhile, a couple of Wo’s equally-jaded colleagues (Francis Ng and Roy Cheung) learn of their pal’s predicament and opt to come to the rescue. Subsequently, the tension builds during a deliberately very pregnant pause as the adversaries anticipate a big showdown while waiting in an ominous atmosphere thick enough to carve with a ginsu knife.
This is the gripping point of departure of Exiled, a cliché ridden chopsocky directed by Johnnie To. If you are familiar with Breaking News, his high-octane adventure from 2004, then you already have a good idea of what to expect here from the Honk Kong chopsocky veteran.
Once you’ve got To’s cliché-ridden plot figured out, all that’s left for you to do is sit back and relish the ballet-like bloodsport unabashedly served up by this flick’s stylized fight sequences, reminiscent of the eye-pleasing, if gratuitous, gore of such over-stimulation mavens as John Woo and Sam Peckinpah. Taut testosterone-sodden titillation, if graphic gunplay’s your pleasure.

Excellent (3.5 stars)
Rated R for sexuality and graphic violence.
In Cantonese with subtitles.
Running time: 113 minutes
Studio: Magnolia Pictures

Do Me Twice: My Life after Islam

A Memoir
by Sonsyrea Tate
Strebor Books
Paperback, $15.00
288 pages
ISBN: 978-1-59309-122-4

Book Review by Kam Williams

“The story I must tell in order to be transformed is the story of my coming out -- out of Islam, out of my parents’ house, out of traditional choices, out of conventional thinking – in a way, out of my mind… This is a story I need to tell as much as the world suddenly needs to know more about Muslim women behind the veil…
I began questioning Islam by the time I was twelve, and by the time I was twenty-one I was sure Islam was not for me. My transformation out of Islam coincided with my coming of age as an African-American woman, and the story of that transition is a story I feel compelled to share…
I need to tell the story that shows I’m no forsaken sinner because I turned from Islam. Thank God in America, so called apostates aren’t executed or imprisoned as they are in some Muslim countries. But for years I was afraid Allah would reach down from heaven and strike me dead for leaving Islam.”
-- Excerpted from the Introduction (pages 1-3)

Until the age of 18, Sonsyrea “Ray-Ray” Tate was essentially raised in the Nation of Islam, although the Black Muslim sect would change its name and philosophy several times over that time span. This could prove to be very confusing for a child who first had it ingrained in her head that all white people were devils, before being taught that they’re not devils, and then, oops, they are in fact devils after all. Her mandated clothing and spiritual rituals also underwent revisions intermittently, which might understandably take a toll when one is expected to follow a flip-flopping path on faith alone.
But apparently far more damaging than the dogma was the hypocrisy young Ray-Ray witnessed in her family members and others whose behavior bore little resemblance to what was dictated by the Koran. For example, her father got arrested, did drugs and wasn’t much of a provider. Furthermore, he failed to protect his daughter at a critical stage in her development, instead allowing her to date and ultimately marry an ex-con who had converted to Islam behind bars.
There’s a saying, “The convert tends immediately to revert,” and this is precisely what Sonsyrea discovered in her louse of a spouse, Ronald Bates. Like a typical teenage girl, against her better judgment, she initially found herself attracted to this bad-boy who not only had robbery and attempted murder on his rap sheet but already had fathered a child with another woman.
The problem was that as a Muslim female, Ray-Ray had been trained to be deferential, and that, at 18, she ended up marrying this loser who didn’t even have a job. And by the time she finally wised up and dumped him she was also totally disillusioned with her religion. Making a break from her hubby and everything familiar, Sonsyrea struck out on her own, putting herself through college and landing a job at the Washington Post.
Meanwhile, she simultaneously began acting out rebelliously, smoking weed and indulging indiscriminately in recreational sex, as if belatedly making up for time frittered away under veils and long dresses during the repressive days of her lost youth. Ultimately, however, she did get her act together, and is now happily remarried and the editor-in chief of the Washington Informer.
This is the engaging arc of Do Me Twice: My Life after Islam, as revealing a memoir as you’re ever going to get from a sister who’s abandoned the Nation of Islam. What makes talented Ms. Tate’s warts-and-all autobiography so riveting is that she’s both a gifted writer and willing to be brutally honest in revisiting a rough life marked by perhaps more downs than ups.
Whether discussing her doubts about Islam, her resentment of Muslim women’s second-class status, losing her virginity, getting high, visiting a male strip club, having a lustful liaison with a stranger, being raped by her first husband, visiting him in jail or learning that his mistress is nine-months pregnant, the author is always in touch with her feelings and unafraid to recount her rawest emotions with the reader.
All the fixins for a poignant page-turner.

Do Me Twice can be ordered at:

Monday, August 27, 2007

Michael Vick Finds Jesus: Disgraced QB Still Needs Serious Help

Op-Ed by Kam Williams

"This is going to be a hard-fought trial… Michael Vick is innocent."
Attorney Billy Martin, July 26th

“He would not have been persecuted that much if he had killed somebody… Yes, there are any dog lovers...but there are also many, many other people who just love Mike Vick and these people, too, are significant in numbers."
Atlanta NAACP President R.L. White, August 22nd

“I’ve found Jesus and asked him for forgiveness and turned my life over to God, and I think that's the right thing to do as of right now."
Michael Vick after entering a guilty plea

After he was named in a very-detailed, 84-count Federal indictment for hosting dogfights in his home, for funding the entire operation, and for executing losing pit bulls by means of lynching, drowning, electrocution and body slams, MichaeI Vick retained a Dream Team of five, very high-priced attorneys, masterminded by Billy Martin, the same hired gun who recently represented former Dick Cheney hatchet man Scooter Libby.
What else would you expect the highest paid football player in the NFL to do, other than mount a million-dollar defense with his liberty, his reputation, his assets, his job and his endorsement deals on the line? And not until after all his co-defendants had already cooperated with the prosecutor and agreed to testify against him, did Vick even consider copping a plea himself.
Then, immediately after admitting to just one count of gambling on dogfights, he staged a well-orchestrated press conference to announce that he’d asked Jesus for forgiveness. Anybody buying this? I hope not. Just as Libby successfully lobbied his Republican base to pressure the President to have his sentence commuted, Michael’s Born-Again gambit is clearly designed to appeal to the African-American soft spot for spirituality.
Personally, I resent the suggestion being circulated by the mainstream press that the black and white communities are monolithic entities which feel very differently about this case. The subtle implication, here, is that African-Americans are feeble-minded and inclined to forgive the mistreatment of man’s best friend, since that’s supposedly not as bad as harming humans.
But it’s obvious that Michael Vick is a very mentally disturbed sadist who got his kicks from killing completely defenseless creatures unable to reason with their master and too innocent to comprehend the reason for his sudden inexplicable cruelty. The only people I can think of who share this kinky inclination are on the long list of serial killers who started out torturing animals, psychopaths with names like Jeffrey Dahmer, David Berkowitz and John Wayne Gacy.
Now that the disgraced Atlanta Falcon QB has confessed, the focus has erroneously shifted to how soon he ought to be allowed to return to the league after paying his debt to society. Maybe we all instead ought to pause for a moment of sanity, because the sobering truth is that Michael Vick is still sorely in need of some serious counseling and rehabilitation, not a slick PR campaign selling the notion that his shedding crocodile tears and converting to Christianity on the courthouse steps means that his high crimes and misdemeanors are already behind him.
Forget football and fame, Mike, just focus on trying to save your soul before it’s too late.

Lloyd Kam Williams is an animal lover, syndicated film critic, attorney, and a member of the bar in NJ, NY, CT, PA, MA & US Supreme Court bars.

Billy Dee Williams The General Hospital: Night Shift Interview

Interview with Kam Williams

Headline: Legendary Sex Symbol Now on Nighttime Soap Opera

William December Williams, Jr. was born on April 6, 1937 in Harlem where he was raised by his parents, William, Sr., a janitor, and Loretta, an elevator operator. Billy Dee, who exhibited considerable promise both as an artist and as an actor early in life, attended Manhattan’s prestigious Music and Art High School.
The strikingly-handsome thespian’s big break came in 1971 in the acclaimed television movie “Brian’s Song” where he played Gayle Sayers opposite James Caan. He immediately followed up that impressive performance with another as Billie Holiday’s husband in “Lady Sings the Blues” which co-starred Diana Ross. The two would appear together again years later in “Mahogany.”
Arguably, Billy Dee’s most memorable role has been as Lando Calrissian in George Lucas’ epic movies “The Empire Strikes Back” and “Return of the Jedi.” His other feature film credits include “Batman,” “Undercover Brother,” “The Ladies Man,” “Moving Target,” as well as the upcoming “Fanboys.” Plus, he’s already attached to “Barry Munday” starring Luke Wilson.
The Emmy-nominated legend’s extensive television work includes guest appearances on “Lost,” “Scrubs,” “Clubhouse,” “Half & Half,” “That ‘70s Show,” “The Hughleys,” “A Different World,” “227,” “Mission Impossible” as well as daytime series “Another World” and “The Guiding Light.” Plus, he’s enjoyed recurring roles on “Dynasty” and “Gideon’s Crossing.”
Currently, he’s returned to TV as Toussaint Dubois, a hospital worker with a haunted past, on SOAPnet’s first serialized drama for primetime “General Hospital: Night Shift” which airs Thursdays at 11PM (ET/PT). The steamy series ventures beyond what you see on the daytime program to explore the lives and loves of “General Hospital’s” favorite characters during the hospital’s night shift.
On the show, his character shares sage insights with various members of the hospital staff as they encounter assorted pitfalls and problems, essentially suggesting that they dream big dreams, even if life has passed him by.

KW: Hey, Billy, finally we get together after just missing each other a couple of times. We were first scheduled to talk the same day you were on The View with Barabra Walters and company. How’d you like doing that show?
BDW: That wasn’t my first time on it, but I always enjoy it with those crazy ladies.
KW: And how are you enjoying General Hospital: Night Shift?
BDW: Oh, I’m having a good time with that. It’s a whole different experience and format. It’s a lot faster than anything I’ve ever done, but it’s great practice. And the characters are involved in some very interesting situations.
KW: Do you get fewer takes on a soap opera, fewer opportunities to re-do a scene?
BDW: Yeah, whenever I’m ready to do another take, they’re already off to the next set which always amuses me. That’s why I say, “It’s great practice.” After you’ve done a soap opera, you can do anything. You’ve got to get all this dialogue down, and then you have to give life to the dialogue. Plus, you get to practice your improvisational skills. I love it, and I love the people I’m working with. So, I’m having a good time.
KW: What was it like to suddenly be a heartthrob when your career took off in the Seventies?
BDW: I think being a celebrity is at the essence of that, because I’d been doing romantic stuff even on stage in New York City in the 1960s.
KW: Wasn’t your mom originally from the Caribbean?
BDW: Yes, my mother’s side of the family, they’re from Montserrat in the Leeward Islands.
KW: I know you went to Music and Art High School. What did you do after you graduated?
BDW: Next, I went to the National Academy of Design for the Fine Arts where I spent two years painting on a scholarship
KW: So, when did you develop your passion for acting?
BDW: Acting, I started when I was six and a half years-old, on Broadway with Kurt Weill.
KW: Wow, the composer of The Threepenny Opera including the classic tune Mack the Knife.
BDW: Yeah, I was on stage with his wife, Lotte Lenya.
KW: And although she won a Tony for The Threepenny Opera, was nominated for an Oscar, and left behind an impressive body of work, she is probably fated to best remembered as the villainess in From Russia with Love who tried to kick James Bond in the crotch with a poisoned tip knife protruding from her shoe. I see that besides General Hospital, you’re very busy making movies, including Fanboys, a comedy about some Star Wars fanatics.
BDW: Oh, yeah, yeah. I haven’t seen that. Is that already out?
KW: No, but it’s in post-production.
BDW: I’m only doing a cameo in that. The only reason I’m in that movie is because of my association with Star Wars.
KW: And then you have This Bitter Earth, which you’re shooting with Nichelle Nichols?
BDW: I was just in Arizona working on that yesterday. I did a cameo in that, too.
KW: How about Barry Munday? That has an intriguing premise. It’s about a guy who wakes up missing a certain part of his anatomy…
BDW: His testicles.
KW: Yeah, and suddenly he’s facing a paternity suit. Which of your movies are your favorites? Brian’s Song? Lady Sings the Blues? The Empire Strikes Back?
BDW: You just named three. Also, The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars & Motor Kings was one of my favorites. That was a classic, actually.
KW: Yeah, I remember that one with Richard Pryor and James Earl Jones. I loved it.
BDW: And I did a movie in Canada which I loved called Giant Steps.
KW: Aren’t you a jazz fan? I know you’ve served as chairman of the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition?
BDW: Yeah, jazz is very much a part of my life. I work with the Thelonious Monk Institute and do the artwork for their program every year.
KW: How much time do you find to paint?
BDW: Oh, I paint all the time.
KW: Working with oils or acrylics?
BDW: Mostly acrylic, sometimes oil.
KW: The Jimmy Bayan question. Can you share what general area of L.A. you live in?
BDW: I’d rather not.
KW: I understand. What advice do you have for anyone who wants to follow in your footsteps?
BDW: I don’t know about following in my footsteps. You mean as far as acting is concerned?
KW: Yeah.
BDW: I think it’s a good idea, a good trade, but it takes a lot of work, a lot of perseverance, and a belief in your capabilities. If you don’t have that belief in yourself, it’s not something that will work for you.
KW: Is there any question you always wished someone would ask, but nobody’s ever asked you?
BDW: No.
KW: In that case, thanks so much for the time, Billy. I really appreciate it.
BDW: Well I appreciate it, too, and you have a nice day.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Offside (La Tourneuse de pages) DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Oppression of Women in Iran Depicted in Female Empowerment Docu-Drama

In recent years, the best movies emanating out of the Middle East have been those exploring the subjugation of women under Islam. Often risking severe reprisals, assorted intrepid filmmakers have summoned the courage to relate a variety of tales, each invariably demanding that the world take note of females’ desperate plight.
The latest, Offside, was somehow shot in Iran, which might be the last country any member of the opposite sex would want to have to live in. This intimate story unfolds against the backdrop of Azadi Stadium in Teheran, which is where the country’s soccer team is participating in a World Cup qualifying match against Bahrain.
Written and directed by Jafar Panahi, this poignant picture was inspired by his daughter who had tried to gain entrance to a game despite the fact her gender is banned by law from attending such events. Panahi admits to resorting to deception to get permission to film on location during the competition, which enabled him to achieve a pseudo-documentary feel in his film he describes as neo-realism.
The plot is simple enough, as the story revolves around about a half-dozen, young female fans willing to risk life and limb for an opportunity to see a critical soccer game. Although disguised as boys, the girls’ are spotted at the entrance, arrested and herded to a holding area where they can hear the cheers and groans of the all-boy crowd, but are otherwise unable to observe a thing.
To their credit, the feisty heroines never give up and resort to every trick in the book to get past their guards. From the Western perspective, the feisty protagonists’ predicament might seem silly, until it gradually sinks in that this treatment is business as usual in a backward land that seems to have gotten stuck in the Middle Ages.
Alley Oop lives!

Excellent (4 stars)
Rated PG for mature themes and mild epithets.
In Persian with subtitles
Running time: 93 minutes
Studio: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
DVD Extras: Interview with director Jafar Panahi.

The Darwin Awards DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: DVD Features Fictionalized Accounts of Dumb Ways to Die

Anyone familiar with the endlessly amusing Darwin Awards knows that they have been presented posthumously since 1991 to individuals who have found the dumbest ways to kill themselves. It’s sad to see that a movie sporting the same name and purporting to present fictionalized accounts of the same incidents could be so unengaging and such an unmitigated flop.
The picture pairs San Francisco Homicide Detective Michael Burrows (Joseph Fiennes) with insurance adjustor Siri Tyler (Winona Ryder) as intrepid investigators of these curious fatal accidents. And their efforts at deconstructing each fateful turn of events are monitored by a fledgling filmmaker (Wilmer Valderrama) who tags along to make a documentary.
The Darwin Awards is essentially a series of disconnected skits having in common only the fact that each episode ends with the subject’s demise. Unfortunately, this macabre movie is marked by a fatal flaw, specifically, the fact that it’s based on more unsubstantiated urban legends than authentic Darwin Awards cases. This absolutely undermines the movie’s authenticity right off the bat, since you never know which reenactments really occurred and which were merely dreamed up for the sake of a Hollywood spectacular.
Even such an offense probably would’ve been pardonable had writer/director Finn Taylor at least created a plausible plotl to thread the tragedies together. But because he never bothered to come up with a credible sensible storyline, this flashback-driven snuff flick comes off as just a voyeuristic excuse to watch people die in different ways.
From the British couple who misunderstand the meaning of their RV’s cruise control button to the ice fishermen whose dog fetches a lit stick of dynamite to the loser who decides to test the strength of his high rise’s floor to ceiling glass window, The Darwin Awards is likely to find an audience only in those sickos titillated by gratuitous depictions of fatalities.

Poor (0 stars)
Rated R for profanity, sexuality, drug use and violence.
Running time: 94 minutes
Studio: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
DVD Extras: “The Making of” featurette, cast and crew interviews, plus several trailers.

Resurrecting the Champ

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Reporter Befriends Hobo in Unconvincing Bio-Pic

Hollywood has never been known to let the facts get in the way of an uplifting, overcoming-the-odds bio-pic, and Resurrecting the Champ is no exception. Based on the Los Angeles Times article of the same name written by J.R. Moehringer in 1997, the film revolves around an aspiring journalist who stakes his teetering career on a feature about a homeless ex-boxer while simultaneously learning a valuable lesson about father-son relationships in the process.
The picture stars Josh Hartnett as Erik Kernan, a sports columnist for the Denver Post who has a hard time avoiding invidious comparisons with his late father, a fondly-remembered radio personality from the Mile High City. Not only is he getting grief from his boss (Alan Alda) who complains that his submissions’ “lack personality,” but his wife, Joyce (Kathryn Morris), the paper’s star reporter, has just asked him for a divorce.
Though disturbed by this state of affairs, Erik is motivated by a fear of being separated from his six year-old son, Teddy (Dakota Goyo), to do whatever it takes to establish himself in the profession. An unlikely opportunity at redemption arrives the day he crosses paths with Champ (Samuel L. Jackson), an alcoholic hobo rumored to be Bob Satterfield, a former heavyweight contender whose heyday was way back in the Fifties.
Seeing the story as the scoop which could establish him as a writer to be reckoned with, Erik pleads with his reluctant subject to cooperate, explaining that “This article is my title fight.” Bribed with beer and ringside seats to a local boxing bout, Champ miraculously transforms into a spiritual soul-baring sage sharing life lessons about marriage, child-raising and fulfillment, even though he’s apparently been unable to follow his own advice or do anything about his own dire straits.
Tinseltown has enjoyed a long love affair with this sort of down-and-out black character blessed with an endearing selflessness before, such as in The Green Mile and The Legend of Bagger Vance. However, here, we have a slight variation on that familiar theme, and it is that deviation which fatally dooms the Resurrecting the Champ.
[Spoiler to follow, so stop reading this review now, if you plan to see the movie.]
For, only after Erik publishes his piece does he learn that he had been hoodwinked because the real Bob Satterfield had died in 1977. Nonetheless, the picture has been packaged as a feelgood flick, as the audience is expected to be tweaked emotionally by the notion that Champ has still somehow provided a noble service by inspiring Kernan to focus on mending fences with his estranged son.
However, the preposterous hoax is portrayed in an utterly unconvincing fashion, and leaves one wondering how a big city paper could fail to fact check whether the subject of a cover story was dead or alive? For this reason, it is not surprising to learn that the movie script bears little resemblance to what actually transpired.
In real life, author J.R. Moehringer was not duped and disgraced by any impostor, but quite the opposite. His Resurrecting the Champ article was a Pulitzer Prize finalist. Furthermore, he had no famous father’s shadow to worry about, since his dad had abandoned the family when he was just seven months-old.
Plus, instead of ever being a struggling writer, Moehringer was a very-promising boy-most-likely who, after graduating from Yale, enjoyed a meteoric rise and won a Pulitzer early in his career. Even the touching father-son plot point was purely a dreamed-up fabrication, as the unmarried author apparently has no offspring.
Pardon me for being offended when a flick revolving around the question of journalistic ethics takes so many liberties with the truth simply to spin a tall tale designed to tug on unsuspecting heartstrings. If this were a championship bout, the ref would have stopped it in the first round.

Poor (½ star)
Rated PG-13 for violence and brief profanity.
Running time: 113 minutes
Studio: Yari Film Group


Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Jason Statham and Jet Li Square-Off in Martial Arts Misadventure

You already have a good idea what to expect of War when you hear that Jason Statham and Jet Li are the co-stars of this gruesome revenge thriller. For both of these martial arts icons have come to be known for frenetically-paced, action-oriented fare in which they perform their own stunts during elaborate fight sequences.
Statham, a steely Brit sporting a grizzled look courtesy of a carefully-cultivated five o’clock shadow, has enthralled audiences throughout such high-octane offerings as Snatch, Crank and The Transporter 1 & 2. Meanwhile, the Beijing-born Li, who won five gold medals in China’s karate national championships, got his start in a string of Hong Kong chopsockies before venturing to Hollywood to make English-language blockbusters like Lethal Weapon 4, Romeo Must Die, Cradle 2 the Grave and Kiss of the Dragon.
So, the only question that fans of the genre need to have answered is whether Statham and Li combine, here, for a worthwhile collaboration in which they square-off for a memorable battle royal. Unfortunately, although they portray sworn adversaries, they share so few scenes opposite each other that the picture must be deemed a bit of a disappointment.
The straightforward, revenge-driven plot is based on a shopworn theme we’ve seen a million times before. FBI Agent Tom Lone (Terry Chen), his wife and young child are callously murdered by an Asian assassin named Rogue (Li). Lone’s disconsolate partner, Jack Crawford (Statham), is of course determined to track down the perpetrator in order to exact sweet retribution.
But before he gets his chance to settle the score a few years later, he must first sort out the players in a bloody turf war for control of San Francisco unfolding between a gang of Japanese yakuza mobsters led by the savage Shiro (Ryo Ishibashi) and a Chinese crime family headed by the equally-brutal Chang (John Lone). The body-count escalates as Crawford and his cronies from the Bureau intermittently find themselves mixed up in mayhem which amounts to little more than a mindless diversion for an audience impatient for the impending showdown between Crawford and Rogue.
Regrettably, the anticlimactic finale turns out to be distinctly unsatisfying, since it involves a preposterous rabbit-out-of-the hat reveal, a development which forces you to rethink the entire tale.
War, what is it good for? Unh! Absolutely nothin’!

Fair (1 star)
Rated R for sexuality, nudity, profanity and graphic violence.
In Mandarin and English with subtitles.
Running time: 91 minutes
Studio: Lions Gate Films

Blades of Glory DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Genderbent Comedy Makes the Most of Two Males as Ice Skating Partners

World-class figure skaters Chazz Michael Michaels (Will Ferrell) and Jimmy MacElroy (Jon Heder) are not only arch rivals but also have polar opposite personalities. Chazz is macho with a lot of bravado, while effeminate Jimmy is generally given to displays of flamboyance.
The two detest each other so much that one day they come to blows on the podium while receiving co-gold medals, an infraction which leaves them both banned from the sport seemingly for life. But due to a loophole in the rules, they learn a few years later that they can resume their careers, provided they’re willing to bury the hatchet and perform as partners in the pairs’ competition.
Coaxed back to the ice by Jimmy’s coach (Craig T. Nelson), they grudgingly agree to the novel arrangement and start training to take on the reigning champs, the brother-sister team of Stranz (Will Arnett) and Fairchild (Amy Poehler) Van Waldenberg. That patently preposterous premise provides the fodder for the plentitude of gay panic slapstick which sits at the center of Blades of Glory.
For, the carefully-coordinated stunts in their new routine call for fairly explicit crotch cupping, crotch smelling, crotch rubbing and crotch raising opportunities, sight gags likely to elicit cheap laughs from heterosexuals who feel uneasy about the continuous close proximity of the boys’ bodies. The movie might have been deemed homophobic were it not for the fact that flaming Jimmy turns out not to be gay, a surprising development designed to put the audience at ease when he takes a romantic interest in the Van Waldenberg’s younger sister, Katie (Jenna Fischer).
So, after enjoying a boatload of genderbending jokes, everybody gets an 11th hour dispensation since Jimmy was really straight all along. A no harm-no foul feelgood flick featuring cameo appearances by Olympic skating greats Scott Hamilton, Brian Boitano, Peggy Fleming, Dorothy Hamill, Nancy Kerrigan, and Sasha Cohen, but not Tonya Harding.

Very good (3 stars)
Rated PG-13 for profanity, crude humor, sexuality, violence and drug use.
Running time: 93 minutes
Studio: Paramount Home Video
DVD Extras: Bloopers, alternate takes, deleted scenes, “The Making of” featurette, a music video, MTV spots, theatrical trailer, a Q&A with real-life skating champion Scott Hamilton, and much more.

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


by Kam Williams

For movies opening August 31, 2007


Balls of Fury (PG-13 for profanity, crude behavior and sex-related humor) Dan Fogler stars in this revenge comedy as a washed-up ping-pong champion coaxed out of retirement by an FBI Agent (George Lopez) to enter a tournament hosted by the Asian crime lord (Christopher Walken) who murdered his father. Cast includes Maggie Q, Aisha Tyler, Kerri Kenney, David Koechner and Jim Lampley.

Death Sentence (R for graphic violence and pervasive profanity) Kevin Bacon stars in this gruesome revenge thriller about a mild-mannered businessman who moonlights as a vigilante after his son is murdered by a brutal gang. Cast includes John Goodman, Aisha Tyler and Kelly Preston.

Halloween (Unrated) Rob Zombie directs this remake of the 1978 horror classic which jumpstarted the storied slasher franchise about a maniac (Tyler Mane) who embarks on a murderous rampage after escaping from the mental institution where he’d been held since killing his sister. Supporting cast includes Malcolm McDowell, Brad Dourif, Adrienne Barbeau, Mickey Dolenz and Dee Wallace.


Bordertown (R for sexuality, nudity, profanity, and violence, including a brutal rape) Jennifer Lopez stars in this fact-based thriller about an American journalist who goes undercover to investigate the murders of hundreds of women near U.S.-owned factories located in a Mexican town just across the border. Featuring Antonio Banderas, Martin Sheen and Sonia Braga. (In Spanish and English with subtitles)

Exiled (R for sexuality and graphic violence) Set in Macau in 1998, this highly-stylized mobster saga revolves around a couple of hit men (Francis Ng and Anthony Wong Chau-Sang) dispatched from Hong Kong to execute a renegade member (Nick Cheung) of their gang who’s just trying to leave his life of crime behind to settle down with his wife (Josie Ho) and newborn. (In Cantonese with subtitles)

Ladron Que Roba a Ladron (PG-13 for profanity and sexuality) Crime caper about a couple of career crooks (Fernando Colunga and Miguel Varoni) who come out of retirement to rob a TV infomercial guru (Saul Lisazo) who has made millions by selling worthless health products to poor Latino day laborers. (In Spanish with subtitles)

The Monastery (Unrated) Faith-based documentary, filmed over six-years, chronicles the efforts of octogenarian Jorgen Lauersen Vig, a spiritually-oriented virgin, to convert his Danish castle into a monastery for an order of Russian nuns led by the headstrong Sister Ambrosija. (In Danish, Russian and English with subtitles)

The Nines (R for profanity, sexuality and drug use) Three different tales, each starring Ryan Reynolds, Hope Davis and Melissa McCarthy, eventually become intertwined in this multi-layered mystery written and directed by John August.

Self-Medicated (R for sexuality, profanity, and drug abuse) Monty Lapica makes his scriptwriting, directorial and acting debut in this drama about a mother’s (Diane Verona) desperate efforts to save her drug-addicted, 17 year-old son whose life has been spiraling out of control since the death of his father.

Vanaja (Unrated) Class-conscious melodrama, set in Southern India, revolves around the tensions which arise after a 14 year-old fisherman’s daughter (Mamatha Bukhya) takes a live-in position working for a woman from a higher caste (Urmila Dammanagari) in order to pursue her dream of studying Kuchipudi dancing. (In Telugu with subtitles)

Friday, August 24, 2007

House of Games DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Con Artists Ply Their Trade in 20th Anniversary DVD Edition of Classic Whodunit

House of Games just might be the best multi-layered mystery ever made. Originally released in 1987, this intriguing whodunit marked the directorial debut of Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright David Mamet (for Glengarry Glen Ross), who had already made quite a name for himself in theater before turning his attention to film.
Set in Seattle, the movie stars Joe Mantegna as Mike, the brains behind an elaborate scheme to fleece Dr. Margaret Ford (Lindsay Crouse) of a small fortune. Ford, a public intellectual, is a famous psychiatrist with a self help book entitled “Driven” currently sitting atop the best seller list.
She becomes ensnared in the trap of his gang of con men when she decides to help Billy (Steven Goldstein), a patient who informs her during a session that his life is being threatened by mobsters he owes money to. Margaret takes a personal interest in the compulsive gambler’s predicament feeling he shouldn’t die over a few thousand dollars.
So, she makes her way to a bar on the seedy side of town to confront Mike. However, when she finds him in the midst of a high-stakes poker game, he takes her aside and offers to forgive Billy’s debt provided she first poses as his girlfriend to help him win a big pot by cheating.
Her adrenaline flowing, she agrees, obviously intrigued by the idea of participating in a scam. But what Margaret doesn’t know is that everyone there is in on it, and that, in fact, she’s the only person sitting around the card table being duped.
This cleverly-concealed trick is only the first of many mind-bending twists which ensue, as the well-meaning doctor gradually ends up hopelessly ensnared with a criminal element intent on taking her for all she’s worth. Since it would be unfair to spoil even a moment more of this perfectly-plotted masterpiece, all you need to know is that it landed on this critic’s Best Movies of the Millennium List in 2000.

Excellent (4 stars)
Rated R for profanity, sexuality and violence.
Running time: 102 minutes
Studio: The Criterion CollectionDVD Extras: Commentary by the director and by co-star Ricky Jay, new interviews with Lindsay Crouse and Joe Mantegna, a documentary shot on location during production, an essay by critic Kent Jones, excerpts from the director’s introduction to the published screenplay, storyboard detail and a theatrical trailer.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Kickin’ It Old Skool DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Jamie Kennedy Dud about Dude Destined to Breakdance Due on DVD

Justin (Jamie Kennedy) was left in a vegetative state after landing on his head while breakdancing as an adolescent. Fast forward twenty years and we find his parents (Christopher McDonald and Debra Jo Rupp) pulling the plug on their son’s life support system due to their mounting debt.
Miraculously, the kid recovers, though he is now 32 but still with the mind of a 12 year-old. So, he tracks down the other members of his pre-teen posse, The Funky Fresh Boys, to see if they’re interested in entering a dance contest with $100,000 grand prize.
First, he finds his best friend Darnell (Miguel Nunez, Jr.) who is married but unemployed and gets no respect from his sassy wife, Roxanne (Vivica A. Fox). Though her husband denies that he’s the father of her three kids, she warns him as he leaves, “I don’t want to see your black ass again till you get a whole lot of money or a whole lot of diapers.”
There’s also morbidly obese Hector (Aris Alvarado), and Aki Terasaki (Bobby Lee) whom the others ask to say “booby traps” just so they can laugh at his Asian accent. This sort of bad taste humor is par for the course in Kickin’ It Old Skool, one of the most offensive gross-out comedies in recent memory.
Not one scene of this disgusting shocksploit is either entertaining or funny. The film features a variety of graphically-depicted sanitation issues, ranging from urination to feces to projectile vomiting. And its disgusting dialogue repeatedly resorts to ethnic, gender and other assorted slurs, with blacks, Asians, females, gays and Jews taking turns as the brunt of the joke.
In the future, Jamie Kennedy ought to let a bomb-sniffing dog check out scripts for him.

Poor (0 stars)
Rated PG-13 for profanity, ethnic slurs, sexuality and crude humor.
Running time: 108 minutes
Studio: 20th Century Fox Home EntertainmentDVD Extras: Previews and a theatrical trailer.

The Bothersome Man (Den Brysomme Manne) (NORWEGIAN)

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Amnesiac Adjusts to Soulless Utopia in Wry Social Satire

Suppose you were suffering from amnesia and suddenly found yourself inexplicably welcomed to an unfamiliar city you don’t recognize by soulless strangers who inform you that you’re an accountant before escorting you to your new home. That is precisely the predicament that 40 year-old Andreas (Trond Fausa Aurvaag) lands in after disembarking from a bus at the point of departure of The Bothersome Man.
The antiseptic metropolis’ stark, desert environs are a perfect match for the personalities of its emotionally-barren inhabitants. This carefully-planned utopia is a world without kids where food has no taste and alcohol can’t get you drunk. In fact, you can’t even hurt yourself, as Andreas learns when he accidentally chops off a finger only to have it magically grow back.
Surrounded by somber automatons who appear content with their zombied lifestyle, Andreas feels isolated, despite an arranged relationship with a cute, if cold, interior decorator (Petronella Barker) with not much of a personality. Then, when he can’t generate any passion in a co-worker (Birgitte Larsen) who’s a little too willing to be his mistress, our frustrated fish out of water gets fed up and simply wants out of his harrowing nightmare.
But that is easier said than done in this surreal dystopia, where even if a Norwegian would, he couldn’t commit suicide. A deliberate, thought-provoking, existential meditation on the curse of creating of a neverending heaven on Earth.

Very good (3 stars)
In Norwegian with subtitles.
Running time: 95 minutes
Studio: Film Movement

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Ugly Betty –The Complete First Season DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Comedy Series Features Plain Jane in Fashion World

Overachiever Betty Suarez (Angel Ferrara) is a smart go-getter employed as an assistant to Daniel Meade (Eric Mabius), editor-in-chief of Mode Magazine. Trouble is, she’s also overweight, has braces on her teeth, wears unflattering eyeglasses and is working in the superficial New York fashion world where looks are much more appreciated than brains.
Betty’s sweet personality is wasted on most of her colleagues, such as shrewish creative director, Wilhelmina Slater (Vanessa Williams), who’s upset about being passed over for a deserved promotion to the top job because of nepotism. Then there’s receptionist Amanda Tanen (Becki Newton), a witch willing to do Wilhelmina’s dirty work. Yet, despite the venom unleashed in her direction, Betty somehow figures out a way to flourish in the shallow setting.
After hours, Betty’s retreats to the modest Suarez abode in Queens, where she leads a less than glamorous life with her father (Tony Plana), big sister (Ana Ortiz) and nephew (Mark Indelicato). The show is based on a Colombian TV sitcom called “I Am Betty, the Ugly One” brought to America by co-producers Salma Hayek and Ben Silverman. In the U.S., the series proved to be something of a surprise hit for ABC, taking the country by storm and landing a handful of Emmy nominations, most notably, Best Comedy Series, and Outstanding Lead (Ferrara) and Supporting Actress (Williams).
The program’s winning charm can be credited to the chemistry among the cast members and to the charm exhibited by its nerdy title character whether she’s negotiating her way around the publishing industry, by day, or juggling dating and the demands of her family in the evening. This six-disc DVD covers the entire first season, from such memorable episodes as “Lose the Boss,” “Queens for the Day,” “Sofia’s Choice,” and the finale, “East Side Story.”
There’s hope for humanity, afterall, when a sitcom like this which recognizes inner beauty is a big hit.

Excellent (4 stars)
Rating TV-14
Running time: 16 hours, 32 minutes
Studio: Buena Vista Home Entertainment
Six-Disc DVD Extras: Deleted scenes, audio commentaries, “Behind the Scenes,” “Becoming Ugly” and “Green Is the New Black” featurettes, and more.

Women of a New Tribe: A Photographic Celebration of the Black Woman

by Jerry Taliaferro
Jerry Taliaferro Publishing
Hardcover, $49.95
208 pages
ISBN: 097973090-2

Book Review by Kam Williams

“African-American females have had a very difficult history: from slavery to racism to poverty. Although slavery has been abolished in this country, and we are working on eradicating racism and poverty, in the 21st Century, African-American females face one of the most difficult hurdles we have ever had to face: a severe lack of self-respect.
We have allowed the media to make us believe that we must have straight hair, light skin, thin bodies and ’European’ features to be considered beautiful. This book is not only an opportunity to reaffirm to all black women that we are ‘fearfully and wonderfully made’ by God, but also an opportunity for everyone to see the emotions and beauty Jerry Taliaferro wrought through his camera lens.”
-- Cheryl A. M. Waymer, mother and model,
as excerpted from the Foreword (pg. 7)

“These beautiful women have always been around us. They are our wives, mothers, sisters, daughters and friends. We can see the beauty in them if just try. Perhaps in seeing their beauty, we will come to see what makes a woman truly beautiful… Just maybe we will come to understand that real beauty is more than that which can be seen. Real beauty is that which lifts us, real beauty touches our hearts.”
-- Jerry Taliaferro in the Preface (pg. 10)

Jerry Taliaferro is a West Point graduate who turned to photography full-time after leaving the military in 1988 following a decorated career in the service as a Special Forcers Officer. Over the intervening years, he has met with considerable success at his true calling, though devoting most of his attention to commercial assignments.
Recently, however, after preparing a single portrait of an African-American female originally intended simply to serve as a sample in his portfolio, Jerry was struck by the fact that “Very little attention had been paid to the beauty of the black woman. The black woman was almost invisible.” So, he came up with the novel idea of portraying sisters in a glamorous style from the Forties reminiscent of the classic, black and white fashion shoots of such classic Hollywood actresses as Greta Garbo and Katherine Hepburn.
The upshot of his efforts is an enchanting, emotionally-engaging and spiritually-stimulating masterpiece entitled “Women of a New Tribe: A Photographic Celebration of the Black Woman.” Taliaferro proves himself to be quite a gifted artist behind the camera with this eclectic collection of over 100 photos. For the images contained on the pages of this oversized, coffee table book achieve far more than merely capturing each model’s physical beauty. No, the pictures also magically reveal an intimate aspect of the subjects’ souls as well.
It is noteworthy that this groundbreaking tome features a rainbow of African-American females in terms of color, shape, size and age, and not just ones who meet a shallow Eurocentric standard of beauty. “What about the jet black goddess with skin like glass, the caramel toned Amazon or the Great-Grandmother whose beauty defies time?” the author asks in the Introduction. “This book is an attempt to see them too.”
Indeed, a timely and overdue homage which wonderfully elevates and illustrates both the inner and outer beauty of all sisters, a segment of society generally taken for granted, if not denigrated by the mainstream culture.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Kamp Katrina

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Documentary Examines Plight of Po’ White Folk in Post-Katrina New Orleans

Because of the indelible images of masses of black people abandoned on rooftops, under highway overpasses and at the Superdome, many people might think that only African-Americans were adversely affected by Hurricane Katrina. But the disaster has taken a terrible ongoing toll on po’ white folk, too, as chronicled in a compelling documentary entitled Kamp Katrina.
Directed by Ashley Sabin and David Redmon, the film follows the efforts of Ms. Pearl, an altruistic Native-American woman who, with the approval of her husband, David Cross, converted their backyard in to a tent village for locals left homeless in the wake of the flood that devastated the region a couple of years ago.
David operates a construction company and is willing to employ anyone camping out on the premises in order to help them get back on their feet. In fact, he establishes certain house rules, including no drugs and a mandate that everyone there find work of some kind, even if not with his company.
Unfortunately, the rent-free offer turns out to be flypaper for the disturbed, and what begins as a utopian oasis gradually turns into a neverending nightmare. One guy snaps and tries to strangle his girlfriend because she asked him to find her a pot to pee in, literally. Another man is asked to leave because he was pressuring a pregnant woman to get high.
Unsavory characters are attracted to the area by a resident who starts dealing crack, while a delusional mental patient who calls himself The Prophet roams around mumbling to himself incoherently about this being the Apocalype. A couple is kicked out after stealing a Tiffany lamp from the bedroom of the owners, and a rape victim warns another female to sleep with one eye open. So, it’s clear that what David and Ms. Pearl are dealing with here are the dregs of humanity, but the question is whether the squatters were already like this before Katrina or only bottomed-out after losing all their earthly possessions in the blink of an eye.
This picture is often touching, such as when the hosts play Santas at Christmastime and try to fill each person’s wish list. Surprisingly, most of the requests are for mundane, everyday items, like toilet paper or a tool bag. Unfortunately, the movie doesn’t exactly end on an upbeat note, since the toll takes a heavy emotional toll on everyone, including Ms. Pearl.
Plus, the mother of the newborn surrenders the baby for foster care, and another young woman suffers seizures from snorting coke. Mayor Nagin makes a cameo appearance to crush these displaced folks’ hopes for a helping hand by ending free meal and mental health programs and generally championing corporate interests over those of the longtime locals.
An eye-opening expose’ welcoming white Americans to the Third World.

Excellent (4 stars)
Running time: 108 minutes
Studio: Carnivalesque Films

Confessions of a Call Girl DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Tamala Jones Plays Conflicted Title Character in Kinky Blaxploitation Flick

On the surface, Tory Adams (Tamala Jones) seems to be leading the perfect life. By day, she’s a doctor with a successful practice in Manhattan. Off hours, she retreats to the lavish, $3 million Harlem brownstone she shares with her loving, lawyer husband, Miles (Bokeem Woodbine), and their six year-old daughter.
But what nobody knows, except for her shrink (Lynn Whitfield) is that Tory’s is hiding a big secret, namely, that she’s suffering from a compulsion which has her moonlighting as Candy, a high-priced call girl who caters to the fantasies of the rich and famous. The nymphomaniac feels that her addiction is more about the power than the money, which might explain why among her clients is the Mayor of New York (Munro M. Bonnem) and other pillars of the community.
This is the provocative point of departure of Confessions of a Call Girl, a skin flick which is really little more than an excuse to get Tamala Jones nearly naked in a series of compromising positions with guys and lipstick lesbians. My problem with picture is not with its kinky premise or that it borders on soft porn, but that writer/director Lawrence Page tries to pass it off as a ghetto-fabulous melodrama.
As a result, the film’s dialogue is laced with the n-word and the f-word, and women are routinely referred to by terms like “bitch” and “ho.” And in this post Imus era, such misogynistic epithets grate on one’s nerves like nails on a blackboard.
If the sisters are all sluts, almost as irritating are the generally unflattering portrayals of brothers as shallow and shiftless buffoons, such as Chauncey (Clifton Powell), an unemployed alcoholic who boasts “I’m a mother-bleeping man” while being fellated, only to be stabbed in the chest during the act by the ex-girlfriend (Angell Conwell) providing the oral favors. Another player, when asked if he has any kids, arrogantly answers, “None I know about” with a wink.
There’s also a black MD who makes house calls, but comes on to his patients, and a dude separating from his wife who bitterly complains, “Only in America could a black bitch put a black man out of his bleeping house with a gun.” Nonetheless, Confessions of a Call Girl lands in this critic’s “It’s so bad it’s good” file because the characters are so laughably cartoonish and because Tamala Jones never gets tired of baring her curvaceous booty and cannonball implants for the camera.
The cinematic equivalent of slumming.

Good (2 stars)
Running time: 105 minutes
Studio: Code Black Entertainment/Universal Music & Video Distribution

September Dawn

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Western Recounts Religious Fanaticism Which Led to Mormon Massacre

September 11, 2001 wasn’t the first time that religious fanatics launched a bloody terrorist attack in the name of God on that day of the year. On September 11, 1857, a wagon train led by Captain Alexander Fancher (Shaun Johnston) was headed for gold-rich California when it was ambushed by Mormons as it was passing through Utah. 120 men, women and children perished in the little-known incident slaughter now referred to as the Mountain Meadows Massacre.
The faith-based slaughter was reportedly ordered by the territory’s Governor, Brigham Young (Terrence Stamp), who had declared martial law after hearing rumors that President Buchanan might be sending the U.S. Cavalry to depose him. For the Mormons had relatively recently taken refuge in Cedar City after being run out of Missouri a decade earlier, victims of religious persecution including the murder of their Prophet, Joseph Smith (Dean Cain).
So, Young dispatched Deacon John D. Lee (Jon Gries) to discourage Captain Fancher and company from stopping on their way out of fear that the strangers might get some fancy ideas about settling there permanently. When the weary wayfarers asked only for enough time to rest and recharge their batteries, Bishop Jacob Samuelson (Jon Voight) intervened on their behalf and they were initially granted permission to remain in the valley for a fortnight.
Then, during this interlude, Samuelson’s son, Jonathan (Trent Ford), locked eyes with Emily (Tamara Hope), the cutest available female among the campers, and the two fell madly in love and made a commitment to each other. However, this development didn’t sit well with Jonathan’s dad, especially when he got his marching order from above to slay all the strangers as revenge for the Mormon lives lost back in Missouri.
Released at perhaps the worst time for presidential candidate Mitt Romney, September Dawn is a graphic Western which sheds light on a shameful, long-suppressed stain on the resume’ of the controversial sect that later became the Church of Latter Day Saints. Not only does the movie remind us that Mormons have, historically, practiced polygamy, but now it adds to the mix the notion that they were once very violent religious zealots capable of committing ungodly atrocities.
Luckily, Mitt can breathe a sigh of relief, since the film was slapped together on the cheap, being marked by such dubious dialogue, shoddy special f/x and sloppy editing that it doesn’t even measure up, cinematically, to an episode of your typical, cowboy TV show from the Fifties like Roy Rogers or The Lone Ranger. Get my drift, Kimosabe?

Fair (1 star )
Rated R for violence.
Running time: 111 minutesStudio: Black Diamond Pictures/Slow Hand Releasing

Sunday, August 19, 2007

John Singleton: The Illegal Tender Interview

Interview with Kam Williams

Headline: Singling Out Singleton

Boy from the hood John Singleton was born and raised right in South Central, Los Angeles on January 6, 1968. In 1992, the USC film school alumnus became both the youngest person and the first African-American ever to land an Academy Award nomination in the Best Director category for Boyz N the Hood. He also earned another nomination for the picture’s screenplay.
He went on to write, produce and direct Poetic Justice (1993), starring Janet Jackson and Tupac Shakur; Higher Learning (1995), starring Laurence Fishburne and Omar Epps; Shaft (2000), starring Samuel L. Jackson; and Baby Boy (2001), starring Tyrese Gibson, Ving Rhames and Snoop Dogg. Singleton’s additional credits as director include Rosewood (1997); 2 Fast 2 Furious (2003), starring Paul Walker, Tyrese and Ludacris; and Four Brothers (2005), with Mark Wahlberg, Tyrese and Andre 2000.
In 2003, he received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. John has also enjoyed tremendous success as a producer, financing the independent feature Hustle & Flow (2005) which landed an Oscar for Best Song and a Best Actor nomination for Terrence Howard.
Earlier this year, Singleton produced another critically acclaimed film from Craig Brewer, Black Snake Moan, this one starring Samuel L. Jackson and Christina Ricci. Here, he shares his thoughts about producing Illegal Tender, a revenge thriller featuring Rick Gonzalez and Wanda De Jesus.

KW: John, thanks for the time.
JS: Hey, how’re you doing?
KW: So, what interested you in Illegal Tender?
JS: It was a great story. Franc Reyes pitched it to me, and I just thought it was a really cool project. That’s why I wanted to do it.
KW: Did you have any reservations about trying to tell a Latino tale?
JS: It’s not a Latino tale. Is Baby Boy a black story? You know what I mean?
KW: Yep.
JS: It’s really just a good story with a bunch of Latinos in it. And a lot of the Latinos in it look like us. So, it’s in keeping with what I do. It may be culturally specific, but everybody’s going to want to see it, because it’s the hot thing to see. It’s like how if you’re Jewish, you’ll go see Woody Allen’s earlier movies, like Manhattan, and you’ll really get it on another level. It’s like how with Baby Boy, people can watch it from afar, voyeuristically, and go, “Wow! I can’t believe people are doing that.” But if you know that culture, and you’re of it, you’re like, “Oh my God, that’s my cousin.” Or, “I’m like that.”
KW: Yeah, I think there’s a certain gravitas and authenticity to your films that make them feel a lot more realistic than most other examples of the ghetto genre.
JS: That’s what I go for.
KW: How was it shooting Illegal Tender in New York and Puerto Rico?
JS: It was cool. It was just great to be out there on the streets with all these people who added a lot of flavor. Puerto Rico was hot. The culture there is four or five hundred years old. They used to have real pirates of the Caribbean around that place.
KW: What’s it like for you when you’re on the set as a producer as opposed to a director?
JS: It’s more hectic, because I’m helping write the checks.
KW: Are you itching to get back in the director’s chair?
JS: Yes, I’m about to direct a movie right now with Halle Berry.
KW: You mean the crime drama Luke Cage?
JS: No, Tulia. Tulia, Texas.
KW: Halle’s already signed on and you’re making that movie before Luke Cage?
JS: Yes.
KW: What’s it about?
JS: It about a small town in Texas where all these black people were arrested and railroaded for drug-dealing.
KW: Oh, I remember that real-life case. They all were framed. It’s good that you’re telling their story, like another Rosewood. Are you worried about Illegal Tender’s R rating?
JS: Why would I worry about it?
KW: Weren’t you shooting for a PG-13?
JS: With this movie? Heck no, it wasn’t even a consideration.
KW: Has the backlash that brought down Don Imus influenced you now as you go about making movies?
JS: No, not at all. Why should that effect me?
KW: Well, when I’m watching a movie, and I hear someone refer to a black female as a “ho”, I definitely flinch and feel distracted and think about Imus’ remark.
JS: But why does it take Don Imus to make anybody watch what they say in terms of how they talk about their own people. I don’t give a damn about Don Imus. I think black people need to check themselves. He said what he said because he was trying to be hip and cool, and he learned that language from us. It wasn’t from a whole bunch of white people sitting around talking about “nappy-headed hos.” He got too familiar.
KW: Did you feel comfortable casting Rick Gonzalez and Wanda De Jesus, a couple of relative unknowns, as your leads in what could prove to be breakout roles for them?
JS: Yes I did. Look at my other pictures. That’s what I do. I use new people. And after I use them, they become stars.
KW: Like you did for Tyrese in Baby Boy. Now, he’s in blockbusters like Transformers. Is he attached to Luke Cage?
JS: Not yet.
KW: What’s the plan for that picture?
JS: Well, we have a script, but we’re really trying to work it out with the studio. The studio hasn’t made a deal for it yet.
KW: Is there anything else I should be asking you about Illegal Tender?
JS: I’m always about what’s new and what’s next, not about what’s happening.
I try to go to the next level, and I don’t think that a lot of African-American filmmakers are really doing anything interesting in film right now.
KW: Who’s Your Caddy? was certainly a big disappointment.
JS: There’s nothing but comedies, and I’m tired of all these black men in dresses. Every other movie has a black man in a dress, from the Madea movies to Norbit to Big Momma. How come nobody’s protesting that? They call them family movies, and nobody’s telling the little kids that it’s kind of different for a man wear a dress. I’m just saying that it comes to a point where, if that’s the only types of images they’re seeing, how is that informing upon black men in America? It’s as if all we can do is make people laugh and play basketball.
KW: What about the fact that you set so many of your movies in the ghetto?
JS: Nobody can get on me for making ‘hood movies because I’m from the hood. And I’m the only one who has made ghetto movies that are classy, and that inform upon what people are going through. My films are not just excuses to make a rap soundtrack. And they’re not these chitlin’ movies either. Baby Boy and Boyz N the Hood, as far as I’m concerned, are classics. Those movies have our relatives in them, and for better or worse, I’m showing a different side of reality, of how people are living. And I’m not doing it in a nihilistic fashion, showing dysfunctionality for the sake of dysfunctionality. I’m showing why things are this way.
KW: Yes, in your films, you find fully developed characters exhibiting a range of emotions and are held accountable for the consequences of their behavior.
JS: Exactly.
KW: Well good luck with Illegal Tender.
JS: Alright, bye.

The Invasion

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Kidman and Craig Co-Star in Remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers

The original Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), starring Kevin McCarthy, was based on The Body Snatchers, a serialized novel by Jack Finney
published by Colliers Magazine. That black and white, sci-fi classic was set in a California town where citizens were being murdered and mysteriously replaced by identical pod people.
A faithful remake was released in 1978, followed by a 1993 version, entitled Body Snatchers, which also remained true to the tenor of the source material. However, this 2007 edition, The Invasion, overhauls the franchise, despite crediting Finney as its source of inspiration.
The film stars Nicole Kidman as Dr. Carol Bennell, a psychiatrist living in Washington, DC, one of many cities where people have begun behaving strangely after the explosion of the Space Shuttle Patriot during reentry from outer space. Seems that the debris, which was scattered across a 200-mile wide alley from Dallas to DC, was somehow contaminated with an intelligent alien life force capable of reprogramming DNA.
Soon, this otherwordly catalyst starts causing a metabolic reaction in anyone who comes in contact with it, turning people into polite automatons willing to sacrifice their individuality for the sake of a mind-numbing conformity. So, it falls to Dr. Bennell, her boyfriend, Dr. Driscoll (Daniel Craig) and another colleague, Dr. Galeano (Jeffrey Wright), to figure out how to reverse the epidemic before everybody is turned into a sea of easily-managed, insufferably well-behaved robots.
The film features a silly subplot revolving around Carol’s frantically text-messaging her missing young son, Oliver (Jackson Bond), a spunky kid who had been left in the care of her possibly infected ex-husband (Jeremy Northam). While this sidebar might accurately illustrate the current fad in electronic communication, here, it proves to be more of an annoying distraction than a compelling cinematic device.
Not that the front story is any more credible. Can someone explain to me exactly how a horror flick about a scourge that’s making humanity more civilized is supposed to be scary? Intermittently amusing, tautly-edited and very well-acted, but hopelessly crippled ab initio by a fatally-flawed script.
Not exactly edge of your seat excitement.

Good (2 stars)
Rated PG-13 for violence, terror and disturbing images.
Running time: 93 minutes
Studio: Warner Brothers


Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: College-Bound Dorks Looking to Lose Virginity in Raunchy Teensploit

Despite their differences, high school seniors Seth (Jonah Hill) and Evan (Michael Cera) have been best friends since childhood. The former is fat, outgoing and foul-mouthed, and the latter is sweet and smart, but painfully shy.
Over the years, these dorks have grown close to each other due to their sharing a low status in the social pecking order among their peers. Now, the pals find themselves facing the prospect of parting in the Fall, which is when Seth will be heading to a state college while Evan matriculates at Dartmouth.
But preventing them from experiencing any pangs of separation anxiety over their mutual dependency is their raging hormones, the one thing the two do have in common. Despite being ostracized, they’re still typical heterosexual teens in that they’re totally-obsessed with the opposite sex and intent on losing their virginity before graduation.
The odds of that happening seem rather remote since they’re so unpopular, at least until the series of fortuitous events which unfolds via divine intervention during their last Home Economics class of the semester. First, Seth is shocked to be invited to a house party by Jules (Emma Stone), the cutie pie he has a crush on. After boasting that he can bring the booze, he accepts $100 from her, even though he doesn’t know exactly how, as a minor, he’s going to be able to buy any.
To the rescue comes Fogell (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), aka McLovin, a self-assured geek who confidently announces that he’s getting a fake driver’s license that very day. Then, Evan learns that Becca (Martha MacIsaac), a girl he’s long lusted for from afar, will be attending the soiree, too, and with that plot point established, Superbad is set for liftoff.
The series of skits that ensues might best be described as a relentlessly-raunchy cross between American Pie and Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle, a laugh out loud teensploit that’s every bit as funny as either of those classics. Like Pie, Superbad’s premise revolves around latent protagonists swapping dreams of ending their celibate state. And ala Harold & Kumar, the screwball comedy is also a road flick focusing on the boys’ frustration in their quest to purchase some liquor.
But where Superbad improves upon the recipe of those relatively-superficial offerings is in the attention it devotes to character development which, in turn, allows for the cultivation of an emotional arc, some warm and fuzzy moments mixed in with the mirth, and ultimately a satisfying denouement. So, what we have here is more than the genre’s trademark indulgence in misogyny and scatology.
Directed by Greg Mottola (The Daytrippers), this semi-autobiographical adventure was co-written by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg. The pair say they began collaborating on the sophomoric script at the age of 13, which explains why they share the names of the lead characters.
Fair warning, with the f-word being employed more than once a minute, plus plenty of additional profanity in profusion, you have to have a strong stomach for cursing to appreciate this picture. Provided you do, however, you will be richly rewarded by this “He’s gotta have it!” testosterone-fueled fantasy irreverent enough to make the 40 Year-Old Virgin look like Leave It to Beaver.

Excellent (4 stars)
Rated R for profanity, vulgarity, teen sexuality, underage alcohol abuse, illegal drug use, violence, and pervasive crude content.
Running time: 114 minutes
Studio: Columbia Pictures

Friday, August 17, 2007

Boy Culture DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: DVD Features Gay Version of Jungle Fever

X (Derek Magyar) has been a male escort since he was a 16. Currently, the high-priced callboy has been building up a sizable bank account by selling his body to a dozen reliable clients. But when he decides to share his Seattle apartment with a couple of other gay guys, he is surprised to find himself suddenly interested in more than money or momentary sexual satisfaction.
Turns out he’s attracted to one roommate, Andrew (Darryl Stephens), a black man who had been on the down-low, but now admits to having stayed with his girlfriend, Jill (Peyton Hinson), for three years just to be able to date her brother, Matthew (Laprell Nelson) secretly.
While X waits for Andrew to decide whether he’s really straight, gay or bi, their other roommate, 18 year-old Joey (Jonathon Trent) starts to put the moves on X. And as if this love triangle isn’t complicated enough, along comes Gregory (Patrick Bauchau), an aging queen who pays X for his company, but refuses to consummate carnally until the hunky hooker has the hots for him, too.
How will this situation resolve itself? That is the burning issue at the bottom of Boy Culture, a refreshingly realistic, homoerotic adventure based on the novel of the same name by Matthew Rettenmund. What makes this movie appealing is that it features gay characters actually acting gay, not behaving in some sanitized fashion intended to appeal to straight audiences.
This picture ought to be of particular interest to African-American audiences, given the fact that the black community is the only one where the HIV infection rate is skyrocketing. The film features a fascinating scene where X accompanies Andrew to Portland to attend his ex’s wedding.
On the drive there, Andrew asks X whether he’ll be able to handle being the only white person at an all-black function. But the critical question is whether Andrew will keep his sexual preferences under wraps or come out of the closet at long last.
The gay version of Jungle Fever.

Excellent (4 stars)
Running time: 88 minutes
Studio: TLA Releasing
DVD Extras: Deleted scenes, commentary by the director and the producer, interviews with all four lead actors, and footage from the Tribeca premiere party.

Perfect Stranger DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Convoluted Crime Caper Starring Halle Berry and Bruce Willis Out on DVD

Until she quit her job, Rowena Price (Halle Berry) was an investigative journalist at the New York Courier. But she left the daily newspaper to preserve her integrity right after her boss (Richard Portnow) decided to kill a shocking story she was about to break about Senator Sachs (Gordon MacDonald), a “family values“ Republican she’d caught in a compromising position with a male intern.
The intrepid reporter’s retirement to her spacious, Christopher St. apartment in trendy Greenwich Village turns out to be short-lived, since she’s soon summoned to the morgue to help identify the body of Grace Clayton (Nicki Aycox), her best friend since childhood. Posthumously, their life-ling bond now proves stronger than any beau, because Rowena opts to investigate the grisly killing without even involving the police.
Instead, she enlists the assistance of Miles (Giovanni Ribisi) in this endeavor, a computer whiz who can barely hide the secret crush he has on his brainy and beautiful colleague. The two quickly discern that Grace was having an affair with Harrison Hill (Bruce Willis), a married advertising tycoon with a wandering eye and a very jealous spouse, Mia (Paula Miranda).
Certain that the solution to the mystery is hidden somewhere inside the Hill empire, Rowena adopts an alias and takes some temp work at the ad agency. Her plan is to seduce the weak-willed CEO into making an incriminating admission by sending him flirtatious instant messages from the other side of the office.
If only the balance of Perfect Stranger measured up to this promising premise, but unfortunately, it falls apart soon after this captivating point of departure. The essential problem is that the overplotted production introduces too many suspects, is laced with an abundance of rather obvious red herrings, and takes tons of laughable twists and turns actually which might make you think you’re watching a comedy.
A perfect stinker.

Poor (0 stars)
Rated R for profanity, nudity, sexuality, and disturbing violent images.
Running time: 109 minutes
Studio: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
DVD Extras: “The Making of” featurette.

Sacco and Vanzetti DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Controversial Case Revisited by Documentary on DVD

Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti were executed in Boston, Massachusetts on August 23, 1927 for the robbery and murder of two men carrying a factory payroll of $15,776 dollars on a street in downtown South Braintree, MA. Although the prosecutor had convinced a jury to sentence the pair to death based on questionable circumstantial evidence, the nagging doubts about their guilt or innocence which had turned the case into something of a cause celebre have remained unresolved to this very day.
For not only was there already an air of prejudice against the defendants due to their being Italian immigrants, but they were also admitted anarchists and advocates of violent revolution by any means necessary. Still, there was precious little to connect Sacco and Vanzetti to the crimes for which they’d been charged, and the world was watching to see whether such unpopular characters would get a fair shake in court, given the Constitutionally-protected presumption of innocence till proven guilty.
The answer suggested by this damning documentary is that the defendants had been railroaded in a rush to judgment because of their Communists leanings. Relying on a combination of archival footage, the prison letters of the doomed dead men walking (as read by impersonators Tony Shahloub and John Turturro), the reflections of sympathetic lefties like Professor Howard Zinn, and the folksinging of Arlo Guthrie, the movie does a decent job of convincing any open-minded viewer that Sacco and Vanzetti were indeed framed.
Thus, the picture stands as an informative primer on the uniquely American denial that its criminal justice system’s has historically been stacked in favor of the rich, the white, and the well-connected.

Excellent (3.5 stars)
Running time: 82 minutes
Studio: First Run Features

The Ultimate Gift DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Heir Learns Valuable Lessons in Life in Inspirational Faith-Based Flick

When Red Stevens (James Garner) passed away, all of his likely heirs were summoned to the billionaire tycoon’s corporate boardroom by Ted Hamilton (Bill Cobbs), his long-time, trusted friend. The reading of the will dashed the hopes of the collection of greedy relatives who arrived with expectations of receiving big inheritances, as each was sent away with relatively-modest bequests.
Yet, for some reason, Red retained a special interest in his grandson, Jason (Drew Fuller), an irresponsible playboy who had been frittering away his future, just living off a trust fund. So, before his demise, the family patriarch recorded a videotape in which he specifically addressed the spoiled brat directly, offering the lazy lad a dozen “Gifts” leading to an “Ultimate Gift.” To receive that grand prize which he anticipates are his grandfather’s millions, the underachieving ne’er-do-well is ordered to follow a set of detailed, step-by-step directions.
But what Jason doesn’t know is that these so-called “Gifts” are actually a set of spiritually-oriented tasks designed to help him become a responsible and caring man who understands what really matters in life. Thus begins the very meaningful journey of self-discovery which comprises the core of The Ultimate Gift, a touching tale of empowerment based on the best-seller of the same name.
As the plot thickens, Jason is sent out into the world on a series of assignments, whether to make one true friend, to save a person with a real problem, or to perform other selfless acts. This modern morality play is wholesome, family-oriented fare for those interested in instilling old-fashioned values in their kids.
Perhaps predictable, sentimental and sappy, but who cares, when it also oh so effectively delivers the salient message that much is expected of those fortunate enough to have been born blessed with so much.

Excellent (4 stars)
PG for mature themes, language and violence.
Running time: 118 minutes
Studio: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
DVD Extras: Introduction by Jim Stovall, author of the novel the movie was based upon, two music videos, a theatrical trailer, a public service announcement, a sneak peak at a Fox Faith film entitled “The Redemption of Sarah Cain,” plus “Behind the Scenes” and another featurette.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Strange Fruit in Jena: Louisiana Case Looks a Lot Like Duke Lacrosse Frame-Up

by Kam Williams

“Southern trees bear a strange fruit,Blood on the leaves and blood at the root,Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze,Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.”
-- Strange Fruit lyrics by Lewis Allen

On August 31st of last year, a small group of black freshman at Jena High School approached the assistant principal to ask whether it was okay for them to enjoy the shade under a big tree located in what had come to be considered the “white only” section of the schoolyard. His response was that they could “sit wherever they wanted.” Relying on those words, they did just that, trusting that, should any controversy arise, the administration would support their effort to eradicate this offensive vestige of de facto segregation.
But Jena, population 3,000, is a backwards, backwoods Louisiana town, and when three nooses were found swaying from the tree the very next day, the African-American community complained to anybody who would listen that the hanging ropes amounted to a hate crime given The South’s sinful legacy of lynching. And although the culprits were caught, the city’s school superintendent excused the racist attempt at intimidation by saying “Adolescents play pranks. I don’t think it was a threat against anybody.”
So, on September 5th, the black students organized a peaceful sit-in under the “white tree” in protest of the slap on the wrist doled out to the perpetrators. The next morning, an impromptu school assembly was convened during which District Attorney Reed Walters icily stared in the direction of the African-Americans, all sitting together, warning them not to stage any further demonstrations. Furthermore, he concluded by leveling this thinly-veiled threat, “I can make your lives disappear with a stroke of my pen.”
Starting on September 7th, the halls of Jena High were patrolled by the police, and on the 8th the school was placed under complete lockdown. Several dozen black parents attempted to address the next meeting of the school board, on the 10th, but all were refused an opportunity to speak because the board considered “the noose issue” to have been addressed satisfactorily and fully resolved.
Nevertheless, over the Fall, confrontations continued to escalate, mostly a reign of terror on the part of white vigilantes, including an incident in which black students had to wrestle a white adult wielding a shotgun to the ground. But rather than arrest the assailant, the prosecutor reportedly winked and returned the weapon to the latter-day Klansman. In fact, the officer of the law saw no reason to intervene until December 4th when he charged a half-dozen African-American students dubbed the Jena 6 with attempted murder after they allegedly got the better of some whites in a fight in the school cafeteria.
Mychal Bell, 17, the first of the classmates to go on trial, was quickly convicted in a kangaroo court by an all-white jury presided over by a white judge in less than three hours. Now, he’s facing 22 years in prison. Before DA Walters follows through on his promise to ruin the lives of his co-defendants, too, let’s just pray that CBS’ 60 Minutes and the rest of the mainstream media intervene to question Walters’ motivations and embark on as earnest an effort to make mincemeat of his career as they did to disgraced Durham DA Mike Nufong for his overzealous prosecution of the Duke Lacrosse case.
Stay tuned, for a showdown that is shaping up as a landmark decision on whether justice in America can be colorblind or if Southern trees will continue to bear strange fruit.
Lloyd Kam Williams is a film and book critic, and an attorney and a member of the NJ, NY, CT, PA, MA & US Supreme Court bars.