Sunday, September 30, 2007

The Kingdom

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: FBI Secretly Tries to Crack Saudi Terror Cell in International Potboiler

After the bombing of an American compound in Saudi Arabia leaves over a hundred innocent civilians dead, the United States is determined to find the radical Muslims responsible. However, since the Saudis are supposedly allies, a diplomatic solution is in order as opposed to a military intervention.
But with signs that the negotiations are bogging down among the bureaucrats, the FBI opts to intervene via a top secret operation headed by Agent Ronald Fleury (Jamie Foxx) who has a special interest in the assignment. For, among those who perished in the attack was his best friend and colleague, Agent Francis Manner (Kyle Chandler).
With word that he’ll have only five days to infiltrate and bring down the terrorist cell, Fleury quickly assembles an elite team of intrepid agency renegades, each with a different skill needed for this dangerous mission to the Middle East. The crew of commandos is comprised of intelligence analyst Adam Leavitt (Justin Bateman), demolitions expert Grant Sykes (Chris Cooper) and forensic examiner Janet Mayes (Jennifer Garner).
Upon their arrival in Riyadh, Fleury and company are debriefed by the Saudi in charge, Colonel Faris Al-Ghazi (Ashraf Barhom), who soon vents his frustration with the royal family for discouraging him from mounting a legitimate investigation thusfar. Furthermore, it becomes apparent that even the U.S. envoy Damon Schmidt (Jeremy Piven) would prefer to stage a phony raid for a P.R. photo op than to risk destabilizing the region with an actual assault on the jihadist stronghold.
Fortunately, Faris is an honorable soul who cares more about fundamental notions of justice than on a reflexive loyalty based on religion. Thus, he’s willing to incur the ire of his superiors to help the fearless FBI foursome negotiate its way around a maze of obstacles ranging from unreliable informants to political adversaries to the city’s terrain to the searing heat.
Directed by Peter Berg, The Kingdom is a combination flick, part psychological thriller, part pyrotechnic spectacular, which works somehow despite considerable conceptual flaws. The first three-quarters of the movie unfolds like a cat-and-mouse caper, even though it’s riddled with preposterous inaccuracies such as the sight of Janet walking around Saudi Arabia unnoticed in Western clothes, when women over there are required by law to be covered from head to toe in basic black, 24/7.
So long as one is willing to suspend disbelief in favor of a patriotic escape, the film furnishes a satisfying chase worth watching which inexorably builds to a spectacular showdown reminiscent of Black Hawk Down, except the cowboys wearing the white hats win.
Sweet revenge in the desert.

Very Good (2.5 stars)
Rated R for profanity and graphic violence.
Running time: 110 minutes
Studio: Universal Pictures

In the Valley of Elah

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Fallout of Iraq War Examined in Post-Traumatic Stress Drama

When SPC Mike Deerfield (Jonathan Tucker) goes AWOL soon after returning from a tour of duty in Iraq, his father, (Tommy Lee Jones), a retired, career military man, decides to join the search. Bidding adieu to his anguished wife (Susan Sarandon), Hank drives halfway cross the country from Tennessee to New Mexico in a panic, fearful because their only other child, a Marine, previously perished in a helicopter crash while serving in the 82nd Airborne.
Upon his arrival at the base, he’s disappointed to discover that the officer in charge of missing persons (Jason Patric) is an inept pencil-pusher with little street savvy. Looking for clues on his own, Hank finds himself frequently frustrated by the less than cooperative and deliberately misleading members of Mike’s unit.
Ultimately, his rescue mission turns into a recovery effort after a charred body is found chopped to pieces and scattered around an empty lot. Although the military brass assumes jurisdiction and quickly dub Mike’s murder drug-related in a rush to judgment, former MP Hank is savvy enough to smell a bureaucratic cover-up.
Next, he contacts the local police, but they are simply willing to leave the matter in the hands of the Army. Fortunately, he does find one sympathetic ear in the department, that of Emily Sanders (Charlize Theron), a detective generally assigned inconsequential cases by her condescending, sexist colleagues. As a single-mom with a young son, she’s able to identify with a grieving parent’s need to know exactly who killed his boy, and why.
So, the two team-up to fill in the pieces of the grisly puzzle, and that determined effort is meticulously chronicled in In the Valley of Elah, the first feature directed by Paul Haggis since his Oscar-winning outing in Crash. Unusually devoid of urgency for what’s been billed as a crime thriller, the film has actually been crafted more as an indictment of the American invasion of Iraq than as your typical whodunit.
For although our intrepid protagonists retrace Mike’s steps to strip clubs for a little gratuitous nudity and other staples associated with the genre, gradual revelations about Abu Ghraib-level abuses by the suspected soldiers lay blame overseas, since ensuing post-traumatic stress disorder seems to have triggered the attack. It’s hard to argue with the facts in the film, as they are based on a real-life incident involving a vet named Richard Davis who was similarly butchered and burned beyond recognition by buddies from his own unit briefly after their arrival back in the States.
Other than its annoying profusion of red herrings, this tortoise-paced picture is noteworthy only for squandering a talented cast of Academy Award-winners in service of delivering an antiwar message. Susan Sarandon has been reduced here to little more than hand-wringing and putting on a terminally-pained countenance, while Tommy Lee Jones reprises his trademark no nonsense, take charge persona, except he looks a little silly with nobody to order around. Finally, Charlize Theron’s pedestrian performance as a glum gumshoe is so unremarkable as to make you wonder whether you’re really watching the same actress responsible for Monster and so many other memorable screen performances.
Postwar is hell!

Fair (1.5 stars)
Rated R for sexuality, nudity, profanity, violence and disturbing content.
Running time: 121 minutes
Studio: Warner Independent

Thursday, September 27, 2007

I Love New York: The Complete First Season DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Lowbrow Reality Show Arrives on DVD

Tiffany “New York” Pollard was the most charismatic character and a two-time finalist on Flavor of Love, the reality catfight where desperate women competed for the affections of rap group Public Enemy’s clock-carrying womanizer Flavor Flav. Given the sassy siren’s popularity on that program, it only makes ratings sense that VH1 would award her with her own spin-off.
If, by accident, you ever happened to find I Love New York while channel-surfing, you probably found it impossible to take your eyes off the date-themed train wreck, and became hooked for the rest of the seedy series’ first season. With the help of her mother with a world-class attitude, Tiffany devotes each episode to paring her 20 eligible suitors down to Mr. Right.
Except for flipping genders, the show features a format similar to that of ABC’s The Bachelor, being set in a sprawling mansion where the boys bunk while being tested on matters ranging from machismo to moneymaking potential to childcare skills. What makes the production fascinating is the idea that anybody would even be interested in anything more than a one-night stand with its flamboyantly trashy star. Yet, here we have a score of eager beavers, each exhibiting an admirable earnestness as they attempt to sweep Tiffany off her feet.
The only hint that all might not exactly be on the up-and-up is the fact that the lucky guy who eventually won her heart during the finale last April, broke off the budding relationship almost immediately thereafter. This conveniently afforded VH1 the opportunity to sign New York up again, and the network has reportedly already shot the entire second season, which is set to debut on October 8th.
Regardless of whether it’s authentic or all staged, I Love New York remains a jaw-dropping tribute to one of the most narcissistic egomaniacs you’d ever want to meet. And the same goes for her equally-delusional mom.

Excellent (4 stars)
Running time: 495 minutes
Studio: Paramount Home Entertainment

The Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Dull Superhero Sequel Still Disappointing on DVD

How do you take a team of beloved, comic book crime fighters with cool superhuman powers and turn them into absolute bores by the time they hit the big screen? That’s a question which can best be answered by Tim Story, director of The Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, since he’s achieved that improbable feat twice now. For this surprisingly-flat sequel proves to be just as dull as his first adaptation of the Marvel franchise back in 2005.
Inspired by the classic Greek elements, air, fire, water and earth, the quartet is led by the elastic Dr. Reed Richards, aka Mr. Fantastic (Ioan Gruffudd). Then, there’s Sue Storm (Jessica Alba), her brother, Johnny (Chris Evans), The Human Torch, and The Thing (Michael Chiklis), a rock-like mutant with incredible strength.
At the point of departure, we find Reed and Sue making last-minute preparations for their impending marriage, blissfully unaware of extraordinary climate changes unfolding. Only after a blackout ruins the couple’s wedding day, does anybody pause to wonder what’s suddenly causing these atmospheric anomalies.
Of course, it isn’t global warming, but the work of The Silver Surfer, an intergalactic traveler on a mission to Earth on behalf of an evil entity that feeds on life-bearing planets. Soon, it becomes clear that it’s going to take a concerted effort to match wits with and to subdue this virtually-indestructible villain bent on world domination.
So, at the suggestion of U.S. Army General Hager (Andre Braugher), the Fantastic Four reluctantly join forces with their recently-revived archenemy, the diabolical Doctor Doom (Julian McMahon). Unfortunately, the tortoise-paced adventure which ensues is an insult to the intelligence which relies on pseudo-scientific claptrap that probably couldn’t even convince a ten year-old of its merit.
The worst comic book adaptation since, well, since the first Fantastic Four.

Poor (0 star)
Rated PG for sexual innuendo, mild epithets, and action violence.
Running time: 92 minutesStudio: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

Day Night Day Night DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Harrowing Domestic Terrorism Drama Due on DVD

A teenager (Luisa Williams) traveling alone to New York for the first time, is careful not to draw any attention to herself. For this is not your typical tourist, but a suicide bomber on a mission to detonate herself in a crowded Times Square.
Instead of soaking in the sights and sounds of the city, the radical Muslim girl goes straight to her motel. Surrendering her will to Allah, she prays, “I only have one death, and I want my death to be for you.”
Eventually, several hooded confederates appear, who instruct her to not arouse the suspicion of anyone who might engage her in conversation en route to Midtown Manhattan. Then, she’s supplied with a 50 lb. backpack containing plastic explosives, before the other members of her terrorist cell slip back into the night.
While awaiting her final marching orders, the religious zealot with the code name Leah starts contemplating her imminent demise. Evidencing doubt, she seeks a sign of approval, imploring Allah, “How can I know that I’m doing this for the right reason, that my motives are pure?”
This doomsday scenario is the surprisingly-convincing set-up postulated by Day Night Day Night, a taut psychological shrouded by a haunting pall which permeates the picture throughout. For the movie is more interested in examining the murky mindset of a maniacal Muslim with her finger on the trigger than with the plight of any of her potential victims.
As she perambulates Broadway towards her rendezvous with destiny, “Leah” continues to have second thoughts since she encounters nothing but good people everywhere she goes, from friendly faces to Good Samaritans to the persistent brother complimenting her with lame pickup lines, unaware that if he gets too close, she’ll blow his black ass to bits.
An Osama drama drenched in paranoia.

Excellent (4 stars)
Running time: 94 minutes
Studio: IFC First Take DVD Extras: Director’s commentary and a theatrical trailer.


Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Globalization Makes for Strange Bedfellows in Cross-Cultural Comedy

After learning that the customer service department at the novelty products manufacturer where he works is being downsized, Todd Anderson (Josh Hamilton) is faced with the equally-undesirable choices of either leaving the company or relocating from Seattle to India to train his replacements. After all, his boss can hire eight employees at $11,000 per year on the subcontinent for the same price of retaining his services.
Conceding that he’s standing in the way of globalization, Todd agrees to move to Mumbai, where he comes to regret that fateful decision right after landing. For not only does he soon see himself as sewing the seeds for the speedy demise of his own country’s infrastructure, but he finds himself missing familiar staples of his home land, like his favorite, McDonald’s hamburgers.
So, when he starts familiarizing his new recruits with American idioms, he deliberately misinforms them about the fundamental meaning of certain terms. For instance, he says that a schmuck is a nice guy and that a redneck is a farmer, knowing full well that sewing such confusion will only serve to aggravate callers from the U.S. Meanwhile, Todd is being driven crazy by beggars and pickpockets and by local customs calling for eating meals without utensils and treating cows as sacred instead of cooking them.
Consequently, he is eager to return to the States, at least until the day he locks eyes with the alluring Asha (Ayesha Dharker), a raven-haired intern with good looks and spunk to spare. Curious despite their considerable social differences, the two embark on a flirtatiousy kabuki dance daily till they can contain themselves no longer and share a stolen kiss.
Todd falls head-over-heels in love and starts dating Asha secretly, not knowing that she has a big bombshell to drop. Turns out that she’s been engaged since the age of four and that her arranged marriage to the boy picked by her parents isn’t far off. Will she abide by her family’s plans or abandon her fiancé for the white man for whom she feels so much passion?
That is the pivotal question to be answered in Outsourced. Engaging, unpredictable, hilarious and entertaining at every turn, this charming romantic romp offers all you could ever ask of a modern cross-cultural comedy, plus it paints a plausible picture of the logical consequences of sending jobs overseas.

Excellent (4 stars)
Rated PG-13 for sexual content.
Running time: 103 minutes
Studio: Truly Indie

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

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

Kam's Kapsules:
Weekly Previews That Make Choosing a Film Fun
by Kam Williams
For movies opening October 5, 2007


Feel the Noise (PG-13 for sensuality, violence, sexual innuendos and drug use). Omarion stars in this overcoming-the-odds drama about an aspiring rapper who, after a run-in with gangstas, flees Harlem for Puerto Rico where he bonds with his long-lost father (Giancarlo Esposito) while still pursuing his dream of stardom via Reggaeton, a local genre of music enjoyed by his half-brother (Victor Rasuk) and an irresistible dancer (Zulay Henao).

The Good Night (R for profanity and sexuality) Romantic comedy about a once-promising pop star-turned-jingle writer (Martin Freeman) who’s deals with his depression about his fading career and deteriorating relationship by fantasizing about the perfect mate (Penelope Cruz) while in the dream state. Cast includes Gwyneth Paltrow, Simon Pegg and Danny and Lucy DeVito.

The Heartbreak Kid (R for profanity, crude humor and graphic sexuality) The Farrelly Brothers direct this romantic comedy about a confirmed bachelor (Ben Stiller) who finally ties the knot only to fall in love with a woman (Michelle Monaghan) he meets while on honeymooning in Mexico with his suddenly insufferable bride (Malin Akerman).

Michael Clayton (R for profanity) George Clooney handles the title role in this conspiratorial corporate potboiler about a jaded, burnt-out corporate attorney asked to handle some dirty work by his corrupt boss (Sydney Pollack) at a leading NYC law firm. With Tilda Swinton, Ken Howard and Michael O’Keefe.

The Seeker: The Dark Is Rising (PG for fantasy action and scary images) Sci-fi adventure about a young boy (Alexander Ludwig) who discovers that he is among the last of a group of immortal warriors capable of time-traveling for a cataclysmic showdown with evil forces capable of unleashing unimaginable powers of biblical proportions.


Black Irish (R for profanity and violence) Dysfunctional family drama, set in South Boston), revolving around an obedient 15 year-old’s (Michael Angarano) efforts to bond with his emotionally-distant, alcoholic dad (Brendan Gleeson) while dealing with a devoutly Catholic, disciplinarian mother (Melissa Leo), a pregnant and unwed sister (Emily VanCamp) and a troubled elder brother (Tom Guiry).

Broken (Unrated) Heather Graham stars in this psychological thriller about an aspiring singer from Ohio already facing up to her diminishing dreams while working as a waitress in an L.A. diner, when things go from bad to worse with the return to town of a disturbed ex-boyfriend (Jeremy Sisto) who’ll stop at nothing to get her back.

Desert Bayou (Unrated) Post-Katrina documentary, featuring Rabbi Shmuley Boteach and New Orleans native Master P, recounts the ordeal of 600 evacuees airlifted to an abandoned military base in Utah where they had to contend with bureaucratic indifference, ethnic intolerance and the imposition of arbitrary rules in a previously lily-white Mormon enclave.

Finishing the Game (Unrated) Comedy about the efforts of a Hollywood studio to find a stand-in for martial arts star Bruce Lee, who died in 1973 during the filming of Game of Death after shooting just a dozen minutes of action scene.

For the Bible Tells Me So (Unrated) Gay-themed documentary delineates how the Religious Right relies on a twisted interpretation of the Bible to stigmatize the homosexual community. Cast includes Bishop Desmond Tutu and former U.S. Congressman Dick Gephardt.

The Girl Next Door (R for nudity, profanity, graphic violence and sexual abuse involving minors) Horror flick, set in 1958, based on the Jack Ketchum novel of the same name about the torture of a couple of young orphans (Blythe Auffarth and Madeline Taylor) by the sadistic aunt (Blanche Baker) who adopts them after their parents die in a car accident.

Kurt Cobain: About a Son (Unrated) Bio-pic about the late front man for the grunge band Nirvana culled from 25 hours of audiotaped interviews conducted by music journalist Michael Azerrad about a year before the drug-addicted rocker blew his own brains out with a shotgun.

Lake of Fire (Unrated) Roe v. Wade is revisited by this bi-partisan documentary dissecting the abortion debate. Includes commentaries by Noam Chomsky, Alan Dershowitz and Randall Terry.

Nina’s Heavenly Delights (PG-13 for sexuality) Cross-cultural comedy about an Indo-Scottish woman (Shelley Conn) who returns to Glasgow to run her recently-deceased father’s curry house with the help of his partner’s daughter (Laura Fraser) while reuniting with a childhood friend who’s now a flamboyant drag queen (Ronny Jhutti).

Strange Culture (Unrated) Big Brother documentary revisits the curious case of artist/professor Steve Kurtz who was detained by the FBI as a suspected bioterrorist while dozens of agents in Hazmat suits quarantined his home and confiscated his computer and manuscripts within hours after his wife died in her sleep of heart failure.

Weirdsville (R for violence, sexual references and drug use) Horror comedy about a couple of slackers (Scott Speedman and Wes Bentley) who, mistakenly believing a friend (Taryn Manning) has overdosed, end up burying her alive in the basement of a movie theater where a satanic cult performs ritual sacrifices.

The Vixen Diaries

by Karrine Steffans
Grand Central Publishing
Hardcover, $24.99
202 pages
ISBN: 0-446-58226-3

Book Review by Kam Williams

“From the night we met in April 2005, I knew he was the one for me and that I would love him all the remaining days of my life. Our relationship was as close to perfect as one could have. He did all he could to please me, but I was ungrateful.
Our differences in age and culture never seemed to matter until I realized how poorly trained and inexperienced I was in the art of relationships… He is the love of my life, and I know that no matter where we are or who we’re with, our hearts are joined.”
 Karrine Steffans on her failed relationship with Bill Maher (pgs. 143-144)

When Confessions of a Video Vixen was published a couple of years ago, Karrine Steffans wasn’t at all hesitant about revealing the identities of the A-list celebrities, many of whom were married, she had slept with while working in Hollywood as a dancer in gangsta rap videos. That compelling kiss-and-tell memoir proved to be well worth its weight in gold as a cautionary tale for any naïve young females thinking about taking a shot at showbiz. The single-mom’s eye-opening page-turner recounted a frightful spiral to the depths of despair and ended with an optimistic postscript about her subsequent recovery and redemption.
Unfortunately, The Vixen Diaries fails to measure up to Steffans’ first book, as she is apparently no longer inclined to dish the dirt, if she has any dirt to dish. So, although she’s remains a shameless namedropper, virtually each entry is accompanied by a denial of any romantic liaison.
Comparing herself to Flava Flav, an equally-notorious character curiously capable of countless sexual conquests, Karrine claims that her recent suitors have included Halle Berry’s ex-husband Eric Benet, Jamie Foxx, Dennis Rodman and Bobby Brown, to name a few. But while they might have had the hots for her, she apparently is saving herself with hopes of reconciling with her ex-boyfriend, comedian Bill Maher.
Here’s what she does have to say about some of her platonic pals:
On Eric Benet: “The things he shared with me will remain private… I never found Eric sexy.”
On Bobby Brown: “I don’t expect people to believe me, but Bobby Brown and I never had sex when he was here…He had erection issues.”
On Chris Rock: “For the record, Chris and I have spent time together… though none of those moments have ever been romantic or sexual.”
On Dennis Rodman: “This man is an absolute nut… He told me that he actually was in the mood to wear a dress… He invited me out with him and I refused.”
On Eddie Murphy: “ [He’s] been linked to me in intimate ways, and I’m delighted to report that it’s all rubbish.”
So, the woman who once referred to herself as “Superhead” seems determined to distance herself from a status staked on fellating the famous. Yet, it’s also clear that she has sadly slipped back into some of her self-destructive ways, as she admits to sleeping with a series of losers lately. This, in turn, led to her attempting suicide, being institutionalized and losing custody of her eight year-old son to the foster care system temporarily.
Thus, when all is said and done, it’s a little hard to believe Karrine when she asserts, “The fact is I’ve changed since the stories in Confessions were a reality in my life… I cannot write the same book again, because I am evolving into a different person.” The wild and wanton behavior she describes hasn’t changed all that much, except she’s just hanging with Average Joes and has-beens instead of celebs anybody cares about.
Clearly, she’s pining away for Bill Maher, whom she admits to abandoning ill-advisedly out of boredom because she craved the insanity and depravity of her former hip-hop lifestyle. In sum, while revealing its emotionally-vulnerable author as still unstable, The Vixen Diaries is otherwise a 200-page plaintive cry for help that ostensibly only Mr. Maher can answer.

Unapologetic DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: D.L. Hughley HBO Special Already on DVD

Just three days after his stand-up special, Unapologetic, debuted on HBO, D.L. Hughley has released that concert taped in Washington, D.C.on DVD. The irreverent comic’s 60-minute set touches on a variety of hot-button topics, the hottest being the one which inspired the show’s title.
That subject is D.L.’s coming under fire for defending the fired shock jock Don Imus’ “Nappy-headed hos” remark. On the Tonight Show last Spring, Hughley said the females on the Rutgers Basketball Team might not be hos but that they were “some of the ugliest women I've seen in my whole life.”
To no one’s surprise, he doesn’t back down from that comment here, now comparing them to Ben Wallace of the Chicago Bulls. “Sisters’ hair and sweat don’t go together,” he observes, before complaining that the African-American community should be more concerned with its high rates of black-on-black crime, illiteracy and incarceration rather than his quip about kinky hair.
In other bits, he speculates about what it’d be like with Obama in the White House (“chicken wings” and “hot combs”) and supports the use of the N-word (“It describes some people I know perfectly.”). Invariably politically-incorrect, as if deliberately attempting to get a rise out of his audience, D.L. makes equally-incendiary observations about Hillary Clinton, Jesse Jackson and illegal immigration, when not taking potshots at more acceptable targets like Paris Hilton, Michael Jackson and the jealous woman astronaut arrested wearing soiled adult diapers.
Is the material funny? For the most part, yes. D.L. actually comes off better here than he did overshadowed by Bernie Mac, Cedric the Entertainer and Steve Harvey as one of The Original Kings of Comedy where he was the weakest link. So, the basic question you need to ask yourself in approaching Unapologetic comes down to whether you want to set yourself up to listen to meanspirited and crude jokes you might be embarrassed to admit made you laugh in polite company.

Very good (3 stars)
Running time: 60 minutes
Studio: HBO Home Video

Green Chair (Noksaek ujia) KOREAN DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Shades of Mary Kay Letourneau in Cradle-Robbing Romance

In the U.S., Mary Kay Letourneau, a married mother of four, made national headlines when it came out that she was pregnant with a child fathered by Vili Fualaau, a sixth grader in her homeroom class over 20 years her junior. Given a break after confessing to statutory rape, the cradle-robber was only sentenced to time served and allowed to return home.
However, she and Vili were soon caught on camera canoodling again, and the second time around the judge threw the book at the compulsive pedophile. While in prison, fertile Letourneau’s second baby with her boy-toy arrived, and seven years later the disgraced teacher and pupil tied the knot live on national TV.
Though set in South Korea, Green Chair touches on some of the same themes as the Fualaau-Letourneau liaison, as it revolves around an illicit relationship between a 32 year-old housewife (Jung Suh) and a seemingly-naïve, 19 year-old (Ji-ho Shim) virgin. At the point of departure we find the pair just having consummated their union, followed immediately by Kim’s being carted off to jail for seducing a minor.
By the time she’s freed, her husband has left her, which is just fine since young Hyun is waiting right outside the prison gates. With lust trumping reason at every turn, the reunited lovers resume their steamy romance in the first motel room they can find, ignoring the omnipresence of prying paparazzi lurking in the bushes.
The plot thickens when the wanton shut-ins have to make a life for themselves which is when they decide to shack-up with Kim’s only remaining friend, Jin (Yun-hung Oh). At this juncture, the film finally morphs into something more than a mere skin flick about a copulating couple with little in common except that they can’t keep their hands off each other.
For Kim suddenly starts to show evidence of a jealous streak while voyeuristic Jin gives her every reason to be suspicious. An unorthodox triangle of forbidden love, Korean style.

Excellent (4 stars)
In Korean with subtitles
Running time: 105 minutes
Studio: Genius Entertainment/ImaginAsian Pictures

Monday, September 24, 2007

I Like Killing Flies DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Warts-And-All Documentary Profiles Eccentric NYC Restaurateur

Rarely does this critic deem a film worthy of a second viewing, but in the case of this endlessly-entertaining profile, I found myself screening it over and over, a half-dozen times thusfar, and counting. Shot almost entirely inside of a family-run diner called Shopsin’s, the camera follows its irascible proprietor as he goes about micro-manging nearly aspect of the restaurant which bears his name.
Patriarch Kenny Shopsin’s seedy eatery may look like a hole-in-the-wall to the uninitiated, but the place was a much-beloved institution in Greenwich Village for over 35 years. Assisted by a skeleton crew which includes his recently-deceased wife, Eve, and their five kids, Kenny serves as both chef and maitre’ d, running the place with as many arbitrary rules as he has recipes, and there are a mind-boggling 900+ items on the menu.
This irrepressible character seemingly made for the movies treats eating at his establishment as a privilege, not a right. As a consequence, he turns away customers who catch an attitude, or for any number of violations, such as arriving as a party of five. However, a woman willing to flash her breasts is apt to earn VIP treatment. Thus, it is not surprising to see that Shopsin’s is a haunt frequented mostly by local regulars, and that tourists and folks who wander in by accident are likely to be in for the shock of their lives.
Undeniably behaving like the spoiled lord of his humble castle, crude Kenny saunters around with a fly swatter in his hand instead of a staff, which explains the documentary’s title. But besides putting on imperious, intimidating airs, he’s also given to philosophizing about life, and those more meaningful moments are what ultimately make this profile precious.
I like Kenny Shopsin.

Excellent (4 stars)
Running time: 80 minutes
Studio: New Video Group

Jamie Foxx: The Kingdom Interview

Interview with Kam Williams

Headline: Jamie’s Kingdom

Born Eric Marlon Bishop on December 13, 1967, Jamie Foxx has come a long way from his humble beginnings in tiny Terrell, Texas. In the wake of delivering his career performance in Ray in 2004, he collected an Oscar, Golden Globe, Screen Actors Guild, an NAACP Image Award and countless other accolades for that unforgettable impersonation of Ray Charles.
The versatile actor/comedian/singer/musician has since released a Grammy-nominated CD, Unpredictable, while continuing to make more movies, including Stealth, Jarhead, Miami Vice, Dreamgirls, and his latest, The Kingdom, an international potboiler about an elite team of commandos with five days to find the madman behind the terrorist bombing of a Western compound in Saudi Arabia. Here, Jamie talks about his role as FBI Special Agent Ronald Fleury.

KW: Hi Jamie, tell me a little about The Kingdom.
JF: The way the movie opens, it gives you the history of how Saudi Arabia got into money. And once you get into money, all sorts of things happen. All sorts of compromises, all sorts of greed, and so all over the world that becomes the hotbed. Basically, we’re showing this camp where people who are working for the oil companies have this sort of paradise. It’s blocked off, and nobody can get in. But then there’s trouble in paradise. Somebody who’s hiding behind the veil of being a good Muslim is creating chaos by blowing people up. So, when my character’s friend gets killed in one of these explosions, I try to not make it personal, but then I just want to personally go over and see if there’s anything I can do to sort of get closure on losing my friend. And then, doing that, a beautiful thing happens. I meet another guy there who’s the same as me, a Saudi police officer [Ashraf Barhom] whose hands are tied, like how some police officers’ and federal agents’ hands are tied when they’re dealing with big things like this. So, we bond and get this friendship going, and through this friendship we both get the courage to go into that abyss of manipulation to really find out who this person is who’s causing all this havoc. And that’s the movie.
KW: how does Agent Fleury approach cracking the case?
JF: He has to incite the people over there who want these same things stopped in their community. And he does that by showing them that no matter who it is that when someone kills someone, no matter what you believe in, it’s a terrible thing. And it goes on both sides.

KW: And so a cross-cultural trust is developed.
JF: Yeah, and I see in Ashraf’s character that he really does want to do good, but he can’t, because it would be going against The Establishment, in a sense, against the wishes of those who don’t want this crime to be solved. Maybe there are some fear tactics in play. Whatever it is, I’m sensing that he really wants to do something good about it. I really want to do something good about it, and whatever happens to all of us, it just happens. To see it sort of evolve into this “I trust you now, and I’m really here to help you. And I see how we can make this into a positive situation.” is what’s golden about the film.
KW: How’d you like your playing opposite Ashraf Barhom?
JF: Ashraf is incredible. It was incredible to be able to work with him because he comes from a totally different place, and would look at us Americans like, ”You Americans are very different from us. Different.” Those were actual moments that were happening on the set for real. So, to see that also captured in the movie was incredible.
KW: Would you then describe this as sort of a buddy flick?
JF: Yeah, it really is. Of course, dealing with the realness of the situation that’s going on in the Middle East, that’s where it rests. But it’s also beautiful to see how real people interact despite the extreme conditions all around them. Another thing that’s beautiful is how Peter Berg shows the Saudi and Middle Eastern people enjoying their culture, their religion and praying, and just being with their family.
KW: How was it having him as a director?
JF: Pete Berg is incredible, because he’s an actor’s director, because he comes from the acting side. I’ve watched his work on Chicago Hope, I had a chance to work with him before briefly in a film [Collateral], and I’ve seen his movies. When you’re working with him, he has three cameras going, and he just keeps going. Sometimes, he doesn’t even stop the tape, which is great for me, coming from the comic background, since improve is definitely in my arsenal. So, to be able to keep going, to keep rolling and to keep stretching in your character with each take was fun. And he’s a fun dude, too. He likes to keep it light, and that’s what it should be about. When you’re doing something in this business, it should be fun, and you should be having a good time while you’re getting things done.
KW: What was it like working with Jennifer Garner?
JF: It was a pleasure to work with her. You can’t say enough about how much heart she had, because she had to put up with a lot of testosterone. And she was nursing her little baby at the same time she was shooting all these action shots. It was amazing to see that process of how she was giving 110% to this movie and 110% to her daughter. I think she’s the strongest person in the world to get back into shape after having a child and then dealing with those working conditions in the desert.
KW: What was it like shooting on location in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates?
JF: It was great. They opened up the doors to the palace, 855,000 square kilometers of just the most beautiful architecture you’ve ever seen. They treated us like royalty. Any food you wanted was there. Hats off to them. And they even got a chance to see the film. You know that a film is good when even they appreciate it and embrace it. It was just beautiful how they treated us. I can’t wait to go back and experience some more.
KW: How’d you handle the desert heat?
JF: That heat was something else. Luckily, we were able to start shooting early in the morning, and be done by one or two in the afternoon, so it was great.
KW: Did you enjoy shooting the action sequences?
JF: Yeah, that’s what I like, when they get to shooting them guns, and chasing people, and fighting and falling and all that kinda stuff towards the end. I loved that. Basically, what happens is we’re on our way out of the city and we know that we’ve kinda solved the crime and yet we kinda didn’t solve the crime and one of our guys [played by Jason Bateman] gets captured. So, we have to go get him, and that’s when everything goes absolutely haywire. Then there’s a chase and a shootout and fight scenes that are absolutely incredible.
KW: What should audiences expect to get from The Kingdom?
JF: What you can expect to get from this movie is a ride, to really latch onto these characters and to forget about the whole political thing. You’re just riding on this wave of emotions with the characters that doesn’t stop till everybody’s exhausted at the end after the payoff. So come ride with us on The Kingdom.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Eastern Promises

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Russian Mobsters Run Amok in Primal Splatter Flick from David Cronenberg

It’s Christmas season in London, and midwife Anna Khitrova (Naomi Watts) is living back at home with her with her mother (Sinead Cusack) after suffering a miscarriage and being unceremoniously abandoned by her doctor boyfriend. That ordeal helps explain why she subsequently becomes so deeply affected by the death during childbirth of her 14 year-old patient (Sarah-Jeanne Labrosse) who had staggered into the hospital alone and already in labor.
Learning that the young girl kept a diary, Anna surreptitiously pockets the journal with hopes of finding the otherwise orphaned baby’s father, in order to save the newborn from foster care or adoption. But because the entries are all written in Russian, she has to enlist the assistance of her still-fluent Uncle Stepan (Jerzy Skolimowski) for a translation. However, when he flatly declines, the still determined Good Samaritan decides to pursue the only lead she can decipher on her own, namely, a business card left stuck in the book.
The lead takes her to the trendy Trans-Siberian restaurant, an establishment run by a ruthless mobster named Semyon (Armin Mueller-Stahl) with the help of his enforcer son, Kirill (Victor Cassel), and Nikolai (Viggo Mortensen), a chauffeur skilled at cleaning clues off corpses. Unaware that the place is a front for a brutal crime family trafficking in contraband and sex slaves, Anna is naively duped by the proprietor’s affable overtures into leaving the incriminating diary with him for safekeeping.
Consequently, it isn’t long before she finds herself on the run from goons intent on eliminating her and anyone else who might be able link the baby back to Semyon and his illicit operation. Lucky for her, there’s dissension in the ranks, with Kirill feeling his independence oats while Nikolai proves vulnerable to her womanly wiles.
So unfolds Eastern Promises, another primal splatter flick courtesy of David Cronenberg (A History of Violence) who has enjoyed mostly a cult following since the Seventies. Here, the perennial purveyor of offbeat horror fare works with a blockbuster budget which probably explains the considerable concessions made to mainstream Hollywood. Nonetheless, loyal fans are unlikely to be disappointed as many of the maverick director’s trademarks remain in evidence.
The movie might best be described as a relentlessly-haunting saga of Shakespearean proportions which reads superficially like a curious cross of The Transporter (2002) and Borat (2006), only overlaid with many of the generic elements of the gratuitously-gruesome gangster genre. Ala The Transporter, the film revolves around a modest antihero who constantly claims to be just a driver and who opts to turn the tables on an employer dabbling in white slavery. And like the latter, it’s overly laden with thick Russian accents and a memorable fight scene featuring full-frontal male nudity.
Exploring an array of themes ranging from love and betrayal to morality and mortality, Eastern Promises is a mesmerizing thriller designed for folks with a penchant for lingering depictions of utter depravity. Sheer brutality as cinematic beauty.

Very good (3 stars)
Rated R for frontal nudity, profanity, gruesome violence and graphic sexuality.
Running time: 100 minutes
Studio: Focus Features

The TV Set DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Offbeat DVD Takes Satirical Look at the Birth of a Sitcom

Mike Klein (David Duchovny) is a struggling, Hollywood screenwriter with a pregnant wife (Justine Bateman) and two kids. For this reason, he’s initially elated when the PDN Network decides to purchase his semi-autobiographical script for a TV series called “The Wexler Chronicles.”
Inspired by events in Mike’s own life, the show is supposed to be a character-driven dramedy about a grieving man’s efforts to cope with his brother’s suicide. However, even before the production of the pilot has begun, the creator starts to get hints that the studio has its own plans for the project which are inconsistent with his original vision.
First, Lenny (Sigourney Weaver), the headstrong president of PDN, finds the material too depressing for prime time, and is inclined to tweak the program to satisfy the tastes of her daughter. For she knows that the 14 year-old’s pre-approval will ensure success in the ratings with the widest possible demographic.
As a result, Mike finds himself sliding down a slippery slope as he makes compromise after comprise, first with the casting, then with fundamental elements of the plotline. By the time the first episode is set to be shot, the creative team has even eliminated the suicide while adding comic relief in the way of farts and slapstick humor. With his original idea rendered unrecognizable, Mike is left to wonder whether he’s right to be making this many concessions in order to pay his bills.
This ethical quandary sits at the heart of The TV Set, a plausible, behind- the-scenes peak at the intriguing process by which a sitcom gets greenlighted. Perhaps such a super-realistic slice-of-life flick feels so authentic because it was written and directed by the well-connected Jake Kasdan, whose father (Lawrence), uncle (Mark), mother (Meg) and brother (Jon) are all industry insiders.
An eye-opening satire which makes a powerful statement about television’s tendency towards very calculated, mass manipulation.

Excellent (3.5 stars)
Rated R for profanity.
Running time: 87 minutes
Studio: Fox Home Entertainment
DVD Extras: Alternate and deleted scenes, “The Making of” featurette, audio commentaries, trailers, plus Fox previews.

Ten Canoes (Australian) DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: DVD Features Australian Aborigine Fairy Tale

Once upon a time, about a thousand years ago, and well before the arrival of the white man Down Under, ten aborigines made their way into the forest to find just the right tree bark to build themselves some canoes. En route, it came to the attention of Minygululu (Peter Minygululu ), the elder leading the expedition, that his younger sibling, Dayindi (Jamie Gilpilil), had a crush on the prettiest of his three wives.
Even in this polygamous society, there’s a cultural commandment that thou shalt not covet thy brother’s wife. So, Minygululu decides to handle the situation a little like Scheherazade of 1001 Arabian Nights. You may remember Scher, the loquacious concubine in the harem of the Persian King, who avoided a beheading by beguiling her highness nightly with a neverending tale of romance which was a precursor to the modern-day soap opera.
Well here, Minygululu has opted to deal with his predicament by spinning an intriguing yarn which will extend for the duration of their expedition, not merely for the boat making, but also as they paddle through the swamps in search of magpie goose eggs. His goal is to get his bachelor brother’s mind off adultery by relating a cautionary tale which ought to teach the post-pubescent lad to be more respectful of the tribe’s ancestral ways.
This is the basic idea behind Ten Canoes, the first, Australian full-length feature shot in an indigenous tongue. The characters’ dialogue has been augmented with the voice an English-speaking narrator, which has the effect of imbuing the production, periodically, with the feel of an issue of National Geographic come to life, given the absence of modesty among the cast of carefree natives who cavort naked in every scene.
Provided you’re not Puritanical about frontal nudity, this powerful picture based on a myth is otherwise a delight, and a cinematic preservation of a so-called primitive people’s oral tradition.

Excellent (4 stars)
In Yolgnu Matha and English with subtitles.
Running time: 92 minutes
Studio: Palm Pictures
DVD Extras: “The Making of” featurette, theatrical trailer, photo gallery, interviews with the directors, and an aerial map of Arnhem Land.

Black Book (Zwartboek) DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: DVD Depicting Holocaust Saga as Erotic Espionage Thriller Arrives on DVD

Prior to the outbreak of World War II, Rachel Stein (Carice van Houten) was a famous singer in Europe. But because she also was Jewish, she became totally dependent on the kindness of strangers during the Holocaust, and had to take refuge in a safe house in Amsterdam.
Then, although only weeks away from liberation by the approaching Allied forces, she was forced to flee when her hiding place was destroyed by a bomb from above during an airplane dogfight. And she was the only one of her family to survive a subsequent attempt to escape, when the boat they hired to ferry them out of the country was ambushed by Nazi soldiers.
Rather than run, Rachel chose to join the Resistance movement with hope of avenging the ruthless murder of her parents. However, the embittered beauty soon found herself making an unthinkable compromise just to save herself. For, when her first mission for the Dutch Underground went horribly wrong, her only means of avoiding discovery was to charm the pants off the local Gestapo leader (Sebastian Koch), literally and figuratively.
Then, the plot thickens when he offers her employment as his assistant in order to embark on a full-blown affair, and she finds herself actually falling for him as well. So, the pressing question becomes, “Exactly where do the obviously-conflicted young lady’s loyalties lie?” And this query supplies the raison d’etre of Black Book, a labor of love from Holland’s Paul Verhoeven.
From Basic Instinct, we already know that the daring director is not above having a leading lady flash some skin, and here we have another femme fatale flashing away with the best of them. Reportedly based on actual characters and events conflated as a concession to cinema, this is ostensibly the first Holocaust flick to reinterpret a survivor’s story as an erotic espionage thriller.

Excellent (4 stars)
Rated R for profanity, nudity, sexuality, and graphic violence.
In Dutch, German, Hebrew and English with subtitles.
Running time: 146 minutes
Studio: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Knocked Up DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Unplanned Pregnancy Comedy Comes to DVD

Alison Scott (Katherine Heigl) and Ben Stone (Seth Rogen) are polar opposites with nothing in common. She’s an ambitious, aspiring journalist who just landed her big break as an on-air reporter for the E! Television Network. He’s an unemployed underachiever who’s sharing a bachelor pad with four equally-immature couch potatoes.
So, she’s on the fast track to the top of the showbiz ladder, at least until the fateful moment that this flirtatious, curly-headed stranger approaches her in a pickup bar. Against her better judgment, she invites him back to her apartment, where she compounds that mistake by assuming a compromising position without first making sure he’s using protection.
The next morning, as their hangovers wear off, they instantly grate on each others nerves, making it abundantly clear that their ill-advised abandon had been the result of an alcohol-fueled, temporary insanity. So, they part company never expecting to set eyes on one another again.
Eight weeks later, however, after Alison has missed a couple of periods, she determines that she’s expecting and tracks down her sperm donor to let him know he’s going to be a daddy. Needless to say, Ben, a sleazy slacker who would rather be chasing his next conquest than changing diapers, takes the news of his impending fatherhood very badly.
This contentious premise provides plenty of opportunities not only for further acrimony but also sows the seeds for potential post-coital romance in Knocked Up, a coarse yet curiously charming battle-of-the-sexes comedy which offsets lowbrow humor with enough convincingly tenderhearted moments to make for a picture with universal appeal. A thinly-veiled family values flick which somehow which manages to convince you that it’s possible to transform a misogynist into a doting father on the guilt of an unplanned pregnancy.

Excellent (4 stars)
Running time: 129 minutes
Studio: Universal Studios Home Video
DVD Extras: Commentaries by the director, the executive producer and by co-stars Seth Rogen and Bill Hader, deleted, extended and alternate scenes, gag reel, Loudon Wainwright music video, plus four featurettes.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

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

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

For movies opening September 28, 2007


Feast of Love (R for nudity, sexuality and profanity) Ostensibly inspired by Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, this multi-layered meditation on relationships revolves around assorted romantic liaisons among members of a tight-knit Oregon community. Ensemble cast includes Morgan Freeman, Greg Kinnear, Selma Blair, Jane Alexander, Radha Mitchell and Fred Ward.

The Game Plan (PG for mature themes) The Rock stars in this Disney kiddie comedy about a famous and fun-loving NFL quarterback who finds his playboy lifestyle suddenly sacked by his having to raise the seven year-old daughter (Madison Pettis) he never knew he had. With Kyra Sedgwick, Morris Chestnut and Gordon Clapp.

The Kingdom (R for profanity and graphic violence) Jamie Foxx stars in this international potboiler as an FBI Special Agent who assembles an elite team of commandos (Chris Cooper, Jennifer Garner and Jason Bateman) with only five days to find the madman behind the terrorist bombing of a Western compound in Saudi Arabia.


Banished (Unrated) Marco Williams directs this damning documentary visiting still lily-white enclaves around the U.S. from which entire black communities were run out of town during the post-Reconstruction Era.

The Darjeeling Limited (R for profanity) Road comedy about three estranged brothers (Own Wilson, Jason Schwartzmann and Adrien Brody) whose plans to bury their differences during a spiritual quest across India go awry when they’re ejected from a train and left stranded in the middle of the desert where their sibling rivalries only intensify.

Freshman Orientation (R for nudity, profanity, sexuality and drug use) Gender-bending teensploit about a college freshman (Sam Huntington) who pretends to be gay in order to befriend the gorgeous sorority girl (Kaitlin Doubleday) who won’t give him the time of day.

I’ll Believe You (Unrated) Sci-fi comedy about the host (Dalvid Alan Basche) of an overnight radio talk show catering to a kooky combination of conspiracy theories and the paranormal who becomes obsessed with determining the identity of a mysterious first-time caller speaking in an unknown tongue. Cast includes Patrick Warburton, Fred Willard, Chris Elliot, Ed Helms, Mo Rocca and Siobhan Fallon.

Lust, Caution (NC-17 for explicit sexuality) Ang Lee directs this WWII saga, set in Shanghai during the Japanese occupation, about a beautiful young actress (Tang Wei) who joins the resistance movement and agrees to impersonate a rich heiress in order to seduce and assassinate a leading collaborator (Tony Leung) with the enemy.

The Man of My Life (Unrated) Out-of-the-closet drama about a happily-married man (Bernard Campan) who comes to rethink not only monogamy but his sexual orientation after befriending his openly-gay, new next-door neighbor (Charles Berling). (In French with subtitles)

My Kid Could Paint That (PG-13 for profanity) Expose’ revisits the curious case of four year-old Marla Olmstead, a precocious, pint-sized phenom whose abstract paintings sold In New York art galleries for thousands of dollars till suspicions were raised about the authenticity of her work.

Outsourced (PG-13 for sexuality) Globalization comedy about a telemarketer (Josh Hamilton) for a cheap novelty products manufacturer who agrees to relocate from Seattle to India to train his replacement when his entire department is outsourced to the sub-continent.

The Price of Sugar (Unrated) Paul Newman narrates this documentary about the efforts of Father Christopher Hartley to alleviate the plight of over 100,000 Haitian immigrants to the Dominican Republic being subjected to modern-day slavery there as they toil in the fields harvesting sugarcane for the benefit of exploitative, international corporate interests. (In English and Spanish with subtitles)

Raising Flagg (PG-13 for brief drug use) Alan Arkin and Austin Pendleton co-star in this “Keeping up with the Joneses” comedy as a couple of next-door neighbors who have been competing with each other forever. Cast includes Lauren Holly, Glenne Headly, Matthew Arkin and Richard Kind.

Death Proof DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Horror Double-Feature for Fans of B-Flicks from the Fifties

Originally released in theaters as part of a twin bill entitled Grindhouse. Death Proof was deliberately designed to look like a low-grade B-flick from the Fifties.. For in their heyday, trashy “grindhouses” catered to a clientele with an appetite for any of a variety of sensational, shocking or salacious fare, ranging from the sexploit to the screamer to the shockumentary to the chopsocky to the blaxsploit to the splatter genres.
Now film enthusiasts somehow nostalgic for that brand of mediocre moviemaking can be magically transported back to the era era via this slasher adventure from Quentin Tarantino which revolves around a psychopathic stuntman (Kurt Russell) with a muscle car and murder on his mind. Be forewarned, in order to recreate an authentic B-movie aura, the director has gone out of his way to degrade the quality of the production.
So, don’t be surprised to see deliberately choppy editing, seasick cinematography, obviously excised scenes, cheesy dialogue, unrelated filler sequences and low-budget special effects, along with obvious scratch marks etched into the screen to convey the idea that you’re watching a well-worn print.
As for the plot, Death Proof is yet another female empowerment flick, this featuring a trio of two-fisted cuties (Rosario Dawson, Zoe Bell and Tracie Thoms) who decide to turn the tables on their maniacal tormentor.
While this film fails to sustain itself in terms of intensity, that’s beside the point. Boasts a talented ensemble which includes Josh Brolin, Freddy Rodriguez, Nicky Katt, Sydney Poitier (Sidney’s daughter) and Tarantino, himself, along with cameos by Nicolas Cage and Bruce Willis.
A guaranteed treat for fans of the worst in cinema.

Very good (3 stars)
Running time: 120 minutesStudio: Genius Products

The Condemned DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: DVD Action Drama Stars Stone Cold Steve Austin in Survival-of-the-Fittest Saga

TV producer Ian Breckel (Robert Mammone) has come up with a novel idea for a reality show. Take ten Death Row inmates from prisons scattered around the Third World and drop them onto a deserted island outfitted with hundreds of hidden cameras for a fight to the death. Broadcast the grisly goings-on live over the internet, charging pay-per-viewers $50 apiece to tune in. And as an added incentive to insure enthusiastic participants, attach a time bomb set to detonate in 30 hours to everyone’s leg, and promise the victor his freedom and a bundle of cash to start a new life.
This is the intriguing point of departure of The Condemned, a high attrition-rate flick featuring former WWE Wrestling Champ Stone Cold Steve Austin. Fortunately, the film is visually riveting and wastes little time in plunging you right into the action.
The cast is comprised of a colorful menagerie of murderers. There’s a Nazi (Andy McPhee), a Russian strongman (Nathan Jones), a Japanese martial arts master (Masa Yamaguchi), a husband-wife team of serial killers (Manu Bennett and Dasi Ruiz) from Guatemala, an African girl gone wild (Emilia Burns), a ghetto gangsta’ (Marcus Johnson) gone gaga over the sister, yada yada, you get the idea.
But any idiot can figure out from the beginning that this no-holds-barred smackdown is inexorably leading to a big showdown between the noble Jack Conrad (Austin) and the dastardly Ewan McSorley (Vinnie Jones), ala your typical WWE spectacular. Despite the transparent plotline, the dumb dialogue, the cheesy special f/x, the cornball comic relief and the self-righteous sermonizing, this campy B-movie adds up to a slumming cinematic experience so godawful, it’s great, in a reverse chic sort of way.
What’s good for a tongue-in-cheek homage like Grindhouse, is even better for a shameless embarrassment like The Condemned.
Excellent (4 stars)
Rated R for profanity and pervasive graphic violence.
Running time: 113 minutes
Studio: Lions Gate Home Entertainment
DVD Extras: Audio commentary with Steve Austin and the director, another director’s commentary, exclusive footage of Stone Cold at Movie World, Capital Carnage reunion, a look at Steve Austin and Vinnie Jones’ first meeting in 1998, storyboard sequences, "the Making of" featurette, and a theatrical trailer.

D.L. Hughley: The Unapologetic Interview

Interview with Kam Williams

Headline: A Dialogue with D.L. on Everything from Nappy-Headed Hos to His HBO Special
Born on March 6, 1963, Darryl Lynn Hughley was the second of four children raised in South Central, Los Angeles by his adoptive father, Charles, a janitor, and his stay-at-home mom, Audrey. For about a half-dozen years, D.L. was a member of the Bloods, but then the high school dropout decided to turn his life around following the shooting of a cousin.
He broke his ties with the gang, earned a G.E.D., and got a job with the L.A. Times. There he met his future wife, Ladonna, with whom he would have his three children, Ryan, Tyler and Kyle. Ladonna was the one who convinced him he was funny enough to try his hand at stand-up. And he went on to enjoy phenomenal success as a comedian, perhaps peaking at that endeavor during The Original Kings of Comedy Tour, alongside Bernie Mac, Cedric the Entertainer and Steve Harvey.
D.L. has also had quite a career as an actor on TV, not only with his own sitcom, The Hughleys, but also appearing on such shows as The Fresh Prince, The Parkers, Sister, Sister and Scrubs. Most recently, he co-starred on Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, a short-lived series which was cancelled by NBC after 22 episodes.
He’s made his mark on the big screen, too, with memorable performances in Scary Movie 3, Soul Plane, Chasing Papi, The Brothers, and more. However, a few months ago, Hughley created quite a controversy during an appearance on the Tonight Show when he qualified Don Imus’ "nappy-headed hos" comment by affirming, "They were some of the ugliest women I've seen in my whole life." (
Here, Hughley discusses that remark, as well as his new comedy special, Unapologetic, which debuts on HBO on Saturday, September 22nd at 10 PM (check local listings). On October 4th, he’ll be kickstarting a nationwide stand-up tour in Trenton, NJ which will take him to over 25 cities by the end of the year.

DL: Hey, Kam, how are you?
KW: Fine, thanks so much for the time.
DL: What’s happening?
KW: I just checked out an early copy of your HBO special, Unapologetic, which I found hilarious, but of course, before we get to that, first I have to ask you about your controversial Tonight Show appearance. What type of feedback have you been getting from it?
DL: I think there are people who get that it’s a joke, and there are people who take it a little further than that. It kind of varies, but I think most people understand that that’s kind of the way I see things, and that I don’t believe I said anything that was untrue, and that it was just a joke.
KW: I’ve noticed this as a critic: a comic can get away with anything, as long as it’s funny. But if it falls flat, then everybody will focus on the fact that the material was also politically incorrect. If I walk out of a movie that had me howling, I can’t give it a bad review, even if I’m embarrassed about what I was laughing it.
DL: Exactly. I think that what I’ve come to realize is that we have a dual kind of existence in our society now. One, where we are open and honest, and that’s usually in our heads. And another, that we play out for everybody else. But if you look at what I said, I still hold to the fact that I personally don ’t know a lot of attractive female basketball players. I just don’t. I was watching ESPN recently and they were talking about why the WNBA isn’t doing well, and ways to improve it. One of the ways was to make it sexier, because sex sells. So, I don’t think I said anything that a lot of people couldn’t obviously see. But because we live in a politically-correct society, we have to almost filter our thoughts. And if you do that, that’s almost kind of antithetical to being a comedian. So, my purpose or intent is never to make people go, "Wow!" or shock them, but it’s just to say the things I see. And that’s what I’ve always tried to do.
KW: Well let me say for the record that I have a first cousin who played on the U.S. Olympic Team who is very beautiful and feminine, and I met some of her teammates who were also very attractive. But I understand how you feel. For the audience watching you, there ’s a dual reaction. They might initially laugh impulsively at what you said, but then there’s a secondary reaction where they can’t admit that they first found it funny, because Imus got fired for saying something similar.
DL: Right, right, right. Imus got fired, ultimately, because he told a bad joke on a slow news week. That’s the real reason why he got fired.
KW: So, I guess you don’t think it was an important issue for the black community to organize around.
DL: I take exception to the fact that when in our community we’ve got people dying in the streets, especially in your area, New Jersey and Philadelphia, one of the most violent in the country, kids are dying left and right, and this is the issue we’re wasting time on. It’s ironic, the things we think are important as a society. The governor of your state almost got killed rushing to an apology for a dumb joke. He literally almost lost his life. That’s the height of irony. In the end, if he’d have died, would that have been worth it? Over an apology for a stupid joke? Is that where we’ve come? That’s dumb.
KW: Do you have anything special planned for New Jersey when you ki ck off your stand-up tour here in Trenton?
DL: Because it’s the first day of the Unapologetic tour, it’s something I’m going to be really focused and concentrating on. But to me, wherever I go, I want people to have a good time and to know that I came to be honest with them.
KW: Are you going to conduct yourself differently due to the fallout from you remarks?
DL: I’m going to tell you how I see it, and accept the fact that some people are going to take umbrage.
KW: How do you write your material, then? How do you decide what jokes to include in your act?
DL: You can’t write Imus, or Michael Vick, or O.J. I’m just blessed with a perspective to be able to notice them. Almost everything I did in the HBO Special was going on at that particular time.
KW: Yeah, I noticed that it’s all observational humor touching on a lot of hot-button topics like Paris Hilton in jail, Hilary Clinton and Barack Obama running for president, Hurricane Katrina, Alec Baldwin’s parenting issues, and the female astronaut arrested in adult diapers.
DL: Yeah, even today, as I watch what’s going on with O.J., I’m thinking, if you killed two people, maybe you should lay low. That’s kind of obvious to me. I think stand-up is one of the last places left where people can expect to hear a level of truth. Newspapers, TV shows and radio stations are all controlled by corporations that are homogenizing everything so they can sell it. That how I see it. That may not be everybody else’s perspective, but I think I kind of have an obligation to have enough courage and conviction to say things as I see them accurately.
KW: Were your comments on Jay Leno an orchestrated strategy to help you kick off your upcoming tour?
DL: No. I’ll be on the Tonight Show again tomorrow, and you’ll see that my act will be about what’s going on right now.
KW: What advice do you have for anyone who wants to follow in your footsteps as a comedian?
DL: If you lack the courage of your convictions, sell shoes.
KW: Any plans for another Kings of Comedy tour?
DL: I don’t know. A lot of people have been asking me that lately. So, it’s kind of percolating. I’m not going to say anything more, but it sure would be a nice situation to get back into, because it was one of the best times I’ve had professionally.
KW: What else is going on with you?
DL: We just finished Studio 60, and that took so much out of me, by the time I finished with it I was drained. And it took me away from stand-up. I think we wrapped the season on the 23rd of April, and then right after that I only had about 30 days to prepare for this HBO Special. So, I was exhausted.
KW: Why did you take that gig in the first place?
DL: To wash the taste of Soul Plane out of my mouth. I really needed that.
KW: And what was it like working with writer/producer Aaron Sorkin on that show?
DL: He’s a genius. But like most geniuses, when they make them big, they make them bigger than everybody else.
KW: Would you say that you’re happy?
DL: I think I’m as happy as a person like me can be. I’m not one of those cats who thinks he’s happy as a constant state. I think every human being gets 20 great days in his life, and I’ve had 6 of them so far.
KW: The reason I asked is because I recently interviewed Columbus Short and…
DL: I love Columbus!
KW: Yeah, well I asked him, "What question are you never asked that you’d like to be asked?" And he said, "Are you happy?" And I thought it was a good enough question to ask everybody I interview for now on.
DL: The funny thing is, I’ve got a wife, so I’m asked that question often. I think that happy might work for people in corporate America, but if you’re an entertainer on the stage, I don’t think that you can be happy and comfortable in your career. I just don’t.
KW: Doing stand-up has got to be one of the toughest things in the world. It’s just you and a mike in front of a live crowd.
DL: You know why that is? It’s because all of your sensibilities, your most natural inclination is to be liked and accepted. That’s a natural inclination. And that’s antithetical to what you have to do as a comedian. Take Kathy Griffin…
KW: Who made a crack about Christ during her Emmy acceptance speech the other night.
DL: It’s so funny that the Catholic Church came out against her the same week that the San Diego Archdiocese paid $600 million to settle a child molestation suit. And they can’t take a joke? Come on now! You wouldn’t spend that much money on hookers and cocaine. But you can’t take a joke? Come on!
KW: But I wonder whether she’d have made the same joke about Muhammad or Islam, given the assassination of filmmaker Theo Van Gogh.
DL: This takes us back to Imus and Michael Richards. At least they were honest. Everybody has the right to feel how they feel. The most dangerous thing about corporations creating the appearance of a homogenized society is that it makes us think that we’re further along than we are as a society, which is why we’re always shocked when something happens.
KW: Yeah, like when we heard about that black woman who was just kidnapped by racist rednecks and raped for a week.
DL: Right! The fact that we’re still shocked by stuff like that tells you that we ’re not depicting our society accurately. We’re shocked when violence occurs, yet we’re the most violent country in the world. My gig is to observe all that stuff and take it in without ever forgetting that I’m here to make people laugh, not to preach. The payoff, hopefully, is that I’ve constructed the joke well enough to get a laugh.
KW: Do you expect a change in your live audience demographic on tour due to the Tonight Show?
DL: I couldn’t know. I don’t write jokes to gain or lose fans. Mt gig is just to do my job the best I can. Some people will be angry, but I’m a big boy.
KW: Do you read your fan mail?
DL: I don’t read good or bad.
KW: I’m the same way. I hate reading letters to the editor because you want to be liked, but you don’t want to be influenced in your opinions by what’s popular.
DL: I think we’re in the same position. You’re actually taking a stand on things that you haven’t taken a consensus on. And I don’t know how we can get to a consensus about what’ s funny. Who are these people who presume to be the arbiters of what’s appropriate conversation? I’m a nightclub act. I tell jokes where people go to drink and eat chicken wings. And they’re there for a release.
KW: When I reflect on my childhood, I remember we could be pretty cruel. You had to develop a thick skin early to survive. Everybody was teased, everybody had a nickname. Mine was Joe Kraut, because it was right after World War II, I guess, and I was the only kid on the block with red hair and freckles in an all black neighborhood.
DL: You remember when we grew up, our mothers taught us to say, "Sticks and stones can break my bones…" because they knew that growing up in the ‘hood was a cruel place. If you didn’t know how to defend yourself physically or verbally, you couldn’t go outside. So, pardon me if I’m not as affected by someone telling a joke that doesn’t go over that well. Pardon me if I don’t think that’s signaling the downfall of civilization. Pardon me if I go, "Learn how to take a joke."
KW: Still, I wonder if there’s any special message you might have for sisters who might have been offended by what you had to say about the Rutgers basketball team?
DL: People who know me, know what I’m about. People who know me, know who I am. And people that are fans, will be fans. People that aren’t, aren’t. I just can’t truck in apologies for a perspective that is clearly all mine, and for something that was clearly a joke. I like to think that I’m pretty good at what I do, so I hope people will laugh, have a good time and enjoy themselves.
KW: Jimmy Bayan was wondering where in L.A. you live.
DL: In Calabasas.
KW: Calabasas? Where’s that?
DL: Actually, it’s a place called Woodland Hills.
KW: Is there a question you always wished someone would ask you, but no one ever does?
DL: No, man, but thanks for taking the time to talk to me. I appreciate it.
KW: Same here, D.L. Good luck with the HBO special and with the tour.
DL: Thank you very much.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Blade: House of Chthon DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: DVD Features Sticky Fingaz in Title Role of Sci-Fi TV Series

After enjoy a theatrical run as a trilogy featuring Wesley Snipes, the Blade franchise was brought to television with rapper-turned-actor Sticky Fingaz entrusted with the title role. This DVD is an extended version of the pilot of the short-lived, Spike-TV series which was canceled after a dozen episodes.
Half-breed Blade is a people-friendly vampire hunter who has dedicated his life to wiping that blood-sucking species off the planet and thereby save humanity. Surprisingly graphic for the small screen, this installment is set in Detroit where the motorcycle-riding avenger teams up with Krista (Jill Wagner), an Iraq War veteran whose twin brother (David Kopp) was murdered by the House of Chthon, an evil sect of vampires led by Marcus Van Sciver (Neil Jackson), a diabolical overlord bent on world domination.
At the point of the departure, Krista doesn’t know from vampires, since her interest is initially just in cracking what she thinks is an ordinary case of homicide. But to her credit, she remains game even after learning about the supernatural powers of her adversaries, though she is obviously fortunate to be assisted in her endeavor by Blade, given his extensive knowledge about the use of garlic, silver and sunlight in combating the rabid breed of predators.
Though Snipes is too associated with the role to be forgotten, Sticky certainly holds his own here, and generates just enough chemistry with his co-star to hold one’s interest. Most importantly, the flick also has a compelling plotline and plenty of gore to satiate the bloodlust of fans of the genre. When all is said and done, don’t gruesome displays of vivisection explain the appeal of this sort of horror flick?

Very good (3 stars)
Running time: 88 minutes
Studio: New Line Home Entertainment
DVD Extras: Director’s commentary, screenwriters’ commentary, and a documentary entitled “Turning Blade.”

If I Did It: Confessions of the Killer by O.J. Simpson

Beaufort Books
Hardcover, $24.95
256 pages
ISBN: 978-0-8253-0588-7

Book Review by Kam Williams

“I’m going to tell you a story you’ve never heard before, because no one knows this story the way I know it. It takes place on the night of June 12, 1994, and it concerns the murder of my ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her young friend, Ronald Goldman. I want you to forget everything you think you know about that night, because I know the facts better than anyone.
I know the players. I’ve seen the evidence. I’ve heard the theories. And, of course, I‘ve read all the stories: That I did it. That I did it but I don’t know I did it. That I can no longer tell fact from fiction…
Well, sit back people. The things I know, and the things I believe, you can’t even imagine. And I’m going to share them with you. Because the story you know, or think you know- that’s not the story. Not even close.”
-- Excerpted from Chapter One (pg. 1)

Why O.J. Simpson would spend millions on a Dream Team of defense attorneys only to turn around and confess to killing his ex-wife a decade after being acquitted is beyond me. And if he hadn’t recently been arrested for robbery, I would never have believed that his motive might be money. Afterall, he has reportedly created dummy corporations and offshore bank accounts and other shady shenanigans to avoid paying a penny of the judgments levied against him by the courts in wrongful death civil cases brought by the estates of Nicole Brown and Ron Goldman.
Now, however, murder makes for strange bedfellows, as O.J. has collaborated with ghostwriter Pablo Fenjves to write If I Did It, a memoir which essentially amounts to a chilling confession. What is ironic is that Fenjjves had testified as a witness for the prosecution during the celebrated Trial of the Century, since he was a neighbor of Nicole’s and had heard the plaintive cries of her pet dog at about the time that she and Ron expired. Equally odd is the participation of the Goldman Family on the project, which is explained by the fact that they were successful at wresting both the profits and editorial control of the book away from Simpson.
Is it a worthwhile read? Yeah, for those curious about what really happened or still on the fence about Simpson’s guilt or innocence. But it all boils down to one chapter, entitled “The Night in Question,” which recounts a fairly detailed blow-by-blow of the day’s events right up until the point where Ron attempted to use karate to defend himself and Nicole from O.J. and a friend named Charlie (a pseudonym). At that point, the author conveniently says he blacked out and came around a minute later with a knife in his hands and covered in blood.
Okay, O.J. essentially admits he did it, but spares us all the gory details. What a guy!

Columbus Short Interview

Interview with Kam Williams

Headline: Discovering Columbus

Born in Kansas City, Missouri on September 19, 1982, Columbus Keith Short, Jr. started entertaining at the age of three by putting on shows for his folks’ enjoyment. Whether impersonating relatives, dancing or just making people laugh, everyone sensed something special about the boy. Fortunately, his family later relocated to Los Angeles where, by his early teens, Columbus had landed work in such television commercial campaigns as Mountain Dew, Denny’s Restaurant, NIKE and Pizza Hut, to name a few.
As a senior in high school, he was offered an opportunity to graduate two months early in order to see the world with the traveling production of the Broadway show STOMP! And after a couple of years on the road with that famed dance troop, he would parlay his professional success into a stint as the choreographer of Britney Spears’ In the Zone tour.
However, when rumors of his conducting a clandestine affair with the pop icon surfaced, the tabloids were quick to make much of the illicit liaison. For, by then, Columbus was not only married but his wife was expecting. This didn’t sit well with Britney’s mother who didn’t like her daughter being labeled a home-wrecker. So, mom dealt with the case of Jungle Fever by firing him and finding another dancer.
Though a very versatile Renaissance Man who is also a writer, musician and director, Columbus came off the road to pursue his primary passion, namely, acting. His motion picture credits include You Got Served, War of the Worlds and, Save the Last Dance 2. In addition, he has guest-starred on TV shows like “ER,” “Judging Amy,” and “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip.”
But his big break arrived earlier this year when he played the lead role of “DJ” in Stomp the Yard which was #1 at the box office two weeks in a row and grossed over 73.4 million dollars. Now one of the most sought emerging talents in Hollywood, Columbus can next be seen in a lead role alongside Lauren London and Mekhi Phifer in a holiday film called This Christmas. Furthermore, he recently wrapped a starring role in the Warner Brothers thriller Whiteout opposite Kate Beckinsale.
When not working, Columbus loves football, basketball and snowboarding. Here, he discusses all of the above, and Britney’s lackluster performance at the MTV Awards.

KW: Thanks for the time, Columbus. What have you been up to?
CS: I’m writing a pilot for a TV show that I’m trying to get off the ground. I’ve been diligently working on that about 12 hours a day for the past couple of weeks.
KW: Are you going to star in it?
CS: No, no, I’m really keen on producing, and doing projects with my company. And this is one that I really wanted to create.
KW: You act, dance, choreograph, write, play music, etcetera. How do you decide what to focus on when you’ve been blessed with so many talents?
CS: I’ve learned that I can’t do it all at once. So, you have to figure out your angle of attack. Coming in on the acting front, acting is a passion of mine. It’s a true love. Dancing, I kind of just fell into. Choreographing, the same thing. But making films, producing and directing, that’s the heartbeat of my existence.
KW: How did you come to choreograph Britney Spears?
CS: Honestly, I don’t know, Kam. It’s just one of those things in my life like, “How did that happen?” First, I got hired as a dancer for her by another choreographer who was later let go, and one thing led to another. Here I was 20 years-old, and I was running the tour for the biggest pop artist at the time. Jumping into that was overwhelming, but I learned so much, and it was great to have that experience. I’ll never forget it.
KW: What did you think of Britney’s recent performance at the MTV Awards? Judging from her performance, it looks like she could use your help again as a choreographer.
CS: Oh man, I felt bad.
KW: Who’s to blame for such a disaster?
CS: In terms of that, it’s not the choreographer’s fault. It’s not the label’s… It’s not her management’s… It’s not her team’s… I guess MTV can take part of the blame for exploiting her like that, but it’s basically Britney’s fault. She knows the drama that would be surrounding a highly-anticipated, return performance in front of the masses. Yet, she wasn’t ready to do her job. So, I blame no one, because there’s no one else to blame. I say my prayers for her, and hope that she can pull it together.
KW: Yeah, it seems like she’s been spiraling out-of-control for a couple of years now. From not putting her kid in a car seat to divorcing her husband to not wearing panties in public to substance abuse to attacking the paparazzi to shaving her head impulsively to having to re-enter rehab.
CS: All I can say is, this business is tough, Kam. You never know who or what’s real. That’s why you’ve seen it with everybody. It’s tough when you get in this business, if you have no grounded foundation other than Hollywood, because this business isn’t real. We’re getting paid to do what we love, but it isn’t real. If everybody could remember that, they might not take it for granted, and hold strong.
KW: What was it like for you when you were in the tabloids and romantically linked to Britney?
CS: At first, I thought that was the dream, to be chased by paparazzi. I thought that was the life, to be jet-setting around the world with a pop star. But once I was immersed in it, I honestly didn’t have a moment of happiness, Kam. I don’t think I was happy even one day when I worked for Britney, simply because it was all too much. It was my family calling me, editors calling my family members and friends I hadn’t talked to in years. It was so much, it almost completely broke me.
KW: How did you get involved in the first place?
CS: The scandal was manufactured by these magazine publications that have to make money, so I can’t be mad at them.
KW: But I remember seeing photos of the two of you kissing.
CS: I don’t know why they singled me out, because all the dancers were giving her hugs after rehearsals. And there were ten other dancers. So, when that first photo came out, it made me laugh, because they made it look like we were kissing. But there’s no way that would be happening during a rehearsal. Then, it kind of spiraled out of control from there, because I was hanging out with her all the time. I didn’t realize that it was going to be scandalous when you hang out with someone who’s followed by thousands of cameramen, especially when, my friend, you’re a black man, and she’s the hot blonde princess. It was a recipe for $50,000 photos. That’s all that was. I kind of laugh at it now.
KW: How do you feel about her today?
CS: I’m so far removed from that past, thatI look at Britney like everyone else does. I don’t know her.
KW: How has the experience change you?
CS: Going through that thing with Britney showed me what’s real. But it was tough. I won’t even lie. Now, I’m just interested in doing good work, and in earning the respect of my peers.
KW: Did your marriage survive the controversy and constant exposure?
CS: No, my marriage was already finished before that.
KW: How’s your relationship with your son?
CS: My son’s four now, and my relationship with him is what keeps me grounded.
KW: Jimmy Bayan reminded me to ask you where in L.A. you live now.
CS: I live in the Valley, but after that triple-digit heat wave this summer, I’m out of here. I think I’m going to moving to Santa Monica, and maybe get a place in New York.
KW: How’s your upcoming release, This Christmas?
CS: It’s a great movie. It’s one of those classy, black family films we haven’t had in a long while. It’s the embodiment of class. Remember what the Cosby Show was like back in the day? It makes you feel good to see an affluent African-American couple doing well and having regular problems.
KW: Tell me a little about your character, Claude.
CS: Claude, I hate that name. I’m actually playing a marine who goes AWOL from the Coast Guard just because they weren’t going to let me go home for Christmas which is my family’s tradition. The story unfolds when I arrive home with a little surprise. And each character in the film has so many layers that it makes for a rich, wonderful experience.
KW: What do you think of your co-star Lauren London? I thought she was marvelous in ATL.
CS: She’s so beautiful and so talented, I could talk about her all day. I think she’s the future of African-American leading ladies. She’s a raw talent and someone to keep your eye on. Mark my words.
KW: Well, tell her I’d love to interview her.
CS: She’s a close, dear friend of mine, so I can hook you up.
KW: I’d appreciate that. What was it like for you starring in Stomp the Yard and having it hit #1 at the box office last January?
CS: It was really shocking. I mean, I knew it was going to do well, but it was still, A, overwhelming, and B, life-changing. Man, my life changed after January 12th. The response has been overwhelming how people embraced it.
KW: Are you everl in fear of being typecast as a dancer?
CS: Yep, and I’m fighting against it with the fervor of a thousand-man army, my friend. Kam, it’s so hard in this business to convince studio heads to give me a chance to show my other abilities.
KW: Is this due to racism?
CS: No, this is not a race card at all.
KW: In your case, it’s a dance card.
CS: Exactly. It’s hard for minorities, not because studios don’t want to give African-Americans a chance, but because they’re making movies for the masses, and it’s kind of hard to change that mold.
KW: Do you think Hollywood’s getting close to adopting colorblind casting?
CS: I think that the landscape is changing, but they only let a few of us in at a time. Good talent can’t be kept a secret for very long, and eventually it’ll break through. So, it is still a fight, and it can be disheartening, at times. However, if we want complete freedom to play any role, then we have to be prepared to afford the same option to other actors, like what happened with Angelina Jolie playing Mariane Pearl in A Mighty Heart.
KW: John Singleton told me you signed on to make the movie Tulia with Halle Berry.
CS: Yeah, when that goes forward, because Halle’s pregnant. Congratulations to her.
KW: Has that picture been shelved?
CS: No. We were supposed to start in October, and now we’re going to shooting in the Spring, so I’m trying to line up a couple of other things. And the delay also gives me enough time to focus on this TV show I’m trying to get off the ground.
KW: What do you do to unwind?
CS: I just can’t relax. That’s my problem. Everybody who knows me is like, “Dude, you’ve got to chill out.” I can’t not work, given where I want to be. I can never settle. I have the mentality of a great athlete. I have to train harder, get up before everyone, and stay up later. And that’s going to be my attitude towards this business, till I win.
KW: Is there any question you always wish somebody would ask, but they never ask you?
CS: You know what I really never hear anyone ask is, “Are you happy?”
KW: Are you happy?
CS: I can say with full sincerity that I am happy. I’m happy because I’m doing what I love and I’m not selling out. And I can sleep at night because I’m at peace with it.
KW: That’s a great question. I think I’m going to start using that one with everybody for now on. Thanks, Columbus. And thanks for the interview.
CS: Anytime. Cool, man.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Banished: How Whites Drove Blacks Out of Town in America

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Jaw-Dropping Documentary Revisits America’s Ethnic Cleansing of Blacks between Emancipation and Early 20th Century

Have you ever noticed how many 20th Century African-American trailblazers are referred to as the first to achieve this or that feat “since Reconstruction.” For instance, Edward Brooke (R-MA) is known as the first black elected to the U.S. Senate “since Reconstruction.” Douglas Wilder (D-VA) is celebrated as the first black to serve as governor of a state, again, “since Reconstruction.”
Why was that “since Reconstruction“ qualifier so frequently attached to modern African-American accomplishments? Simply because blacks had briefly made significant inroads after the Civil War only to have everything taken away in the wake of the rise of the Ku Klux Klan. For between the late 1860s and the 1920s, black people were subjected to a form of ethnic cleansing that Hitler would later use as a precursor for the Holocaust.
The reign of terror which transpired partially helps explain the geographical demographic pattern that left black people packed into the country’s urban centers. The heartbreaking documentary Banished: How Whites Drove Blacks Out of Town in America blows the sheets, pardon the expression, off this long-hidden aspect of U.S. history.
The picture was directed by Marco Williams, an intrepid researcher who has crisscrossed The South and Midwest, often putting himself in harm’s way, to ask the tough questions and to unearth proof of a widespread pattern of purging blacks from rural communities which persists to this day. Typically, the evictions began with a lynching, followed by a threat being leveled against every remaining African-American in the county at gunpoint. They were forced to flee before sunrise with little more than the clothes on their backs, often abandoning homes, businesses and farms they owned.
Told never to set foot on their own property again, unless they also wanted to be lynched, these refugees left, feeling lucky just to be alive. The expulsions were invariably followed by the adoption of a whites-only residential policy, and in the movie Marco accompanies some still frightened descendants of the disenfranchised back to visit their ancestors’ estates.
We see that many of these counties remain lily-white, such as Forsyth County, Georgia. There, Williams interviews Phil Bettis, an unsympathetic attorney who admits to helping Caucasians take legal title to the lands once owned by black citizens. “They slept on their rights,” he rationalizes, blaming the victims. Ironically, this same man is the head of the local “Biracial Committee” which is looking into whether the relatives of the banished blacks ought to be eligible for any reparations. I wouldn’t hold my breath.
They say The South has changed, but you wouldn’t know it from this jaw-dropping shocker you have to see to be believe.

Excellent (4 stars)
Running time: 87 minutes
Studio: Working Films

Location: 209 W Houston St, New York City
For more info, visit:
Or call: Box Office: (212) 727-8110

Gracie DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Grieving Girl Mimics Soccer-Star Sibling in Inspirational Family Flick

After the big brother (Johnny Lee Soffer) she so admires dies in an untimely accident, 15 year-old Grace Bowen (Carly Schroeder) has a hard time coping with the loss. Initially, her grieving in the wake of his passing is marked by an uncharacteristic juvenile delinquency. This doesn’t sit well with her parents (Dermot Mulroney and Elisabeth Shue) who are concerned that their daughter’s sudden rebelliousness might spiral into some serious self-destructive behaviors.
Fortunately, before Gracie bottoms-out, she finds a renewal in life when she is inspired to follow in her soccer phenom sibling’s footsteps. The problem is that it’s 1978, and she lives in South Orange, New Jersey in the days before high schools even fielded a girls’ team. So, the spunky sophomore’s only option is to try out for the all-male varsity squad.
This is easier said than done, for not only will she have to embark on a demanding, Karate Kid-quality regimen just to get in the shape necessary to compete against boys, but she’ll also have to endure their hazing, and petition the school board for official permission to participate. And that Herculean effort to overcoming all of these hurdles is at the center of Gracie, a heartwarming family flick loosely based on events which transpired in the lives of the picture’s writer/producer Andrew Shue and his co-producer sister, Elisabeth (who made her screen debut as Ali in Karate Kid), both of whom appear here in support roles.
Like the Bowen family, the Shues lost a brother, William, in a childhood accident and both developed an interest in soccer, with Andrew pursuing it all the way to the professional ranks. However, in Gracie their story has been simplified into a wholesome female empowerment adventure, and one very likely to resonate with youngsters of both sexes in the pre-teen crowd.

Very good (3 stars)
Rated PG-13 for brief sexual content.
Running time: 95 minutes
Studio: New Line Home Entertainment
DVD Extras: Commentary with Elisabeth and Andrew Shue, commentary with director Davis Guggenheim, “Bringing Gracie to Film” featurette, and a theatrical trailer.

The Brave One

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Jodie Foster Takes to the Streets as Vigilante in Graphic Revenge Flick

David (Naveen Andrews) and Erica’s (Jodie Foster) impending wedding plans are irreversibly altered the night they’re robbed of their pet, money and jewelry by a gang of thugs while walking their dog in Central Park. David dies from the sadistic beating doled out by the creeps, while his fiancee’ is left comatose.
After recovering from her wounds in the hospital, Erica is initially too paralyzed by fear to return to her work as a talk show personality on WNKW, an NPR-equivalent radio station in New York City. In fact, weeks later, she remains so totally devastated by the tragedy, emotionally, that she can’t leave her apartment.
When she finally does summon up the courage to venture outside, she heads down to the police station just to find out whether her assailants have been apprehended yet. While sitting in the precinct’s waiting room, it becomes readily apparent that she’s little more than a statistic and that cracking the case is not high on the department’s agenda.
Scared at the prospect of encountering the criminals again, Erica opts to purchase a pistol at a gun shop to protect herself. But to add insult to injury, she finds that she can’t exercise her Second Amendment right because of a 30-day waiting period to run a background check. At her wit’s end, she makes the fateful decision to resort to the black market, which is where she finds a 9mm semi-automatic, no questions asked.
Armed and emboldened, Erica proceeds to devote her evenings to roaming the seamy underbelly of the city in search of the perpetrators. And she gradually morphs into a monster with no qualms about dispensing a deadly brand of instant justice to muggers, molesters, rapists, spouse abusers or any other outlaws who cross her path. Meanwhile, by day, she resumes her duties on the airwaves as host of “Street Walk,” though subtly changing the theme of her program to reflect a simpatico with the anonymous vigilante who has all of New York abuzz.
This is the familiar-sounding premise of The Brave One, a raw-edged revenge flick which takes most of its cues from the Charles Bronson classic Death Wish (1974). Directed by Oscar-winner Neil Jordan (for The Crying Game), the movie also has elements evocative of a couple of radio-driven psychological thrillers, Choose Me (1984) and Play Misty for Me (1971).
Jodie Foster turns in her best performance since Panic Room (2002), here, imbuing her cold and calculating killer with a contemplative side seldom seen in such tales of vengeance. Of equal import to the picture’s success is Erica’s cat-and-mouse relationship with Oscar-nominee Terrence Howard (for Hustle & Flow). He plays a recognizable character associated with the genre, the conflicted NYPD Detective tempted to look the other way as Erica takes the law into her own hands.
Given that the flawed script is riddled with lines which would sound false coming from the mouths of less gifted leads, Jordan should thank his lucky stars for the presence of Foster and Howard and the rest of his gifted ensemble. His gifted support cast includes Oscar-winner Mary Steenburgen (for Melvin and Howard), Nicky Katt, ex-NBA star Dean “The Dream” Meminger, and Zoe Kravitz (daughter of Lisa Bonet and Lenny Kravitz).
New York as a metropolis where you have a close brush with death every five minutes. Hence, the presence of a gun-toting heroine indulging in a cerebral bloodsport guaranteed to get you roaring approval during the denouement as she exacts the ultimate retribution.

Excellent (3.5 stars)
Rated R for profanity, sexuality and graphic violence.
Running time: 122 minutes
Studio: Warner Brothers