Saturday, October 27, 2007

Dan in Real Life

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Relationship Guru Lands in Love Triangle in Sordid Sitcom

Sometimes a film’s premise is so farfetched that it’s impossible to suspend one’s disbelief long enough give to give its conceit a chance to take root. This I found to be the case with Dan in Real Life, a tawdry tale of betrayal masquerading as a heartwarming story about a widower’s finding a second chance at romance.
Steve Carrell stars in the title role as Dan Burns, a guy who’s had his hands full trying to raise three daughters on his own since his wife passed away four years ago. By trade, he’s a relationship advice expert with a popular column that’s about to be nationally syndicated. So, one would think that as an expert on love he’d know better than to become embroiled in an incestuous love triangle by falling for a sibling’s gorgeous girlfriend. But precisely such a sordid, Jerry Springer-esque scenario does unfold at the Burns clan annual reunion being hosted by family matriarch and patriarch, Nana (Dianne Wiest) and Poppy (John Mahoney), at their spacious compound on the Rhode Island shore.
The plot thickens right after the long car ride up from New Jersey, during which Dan was driven crazy by little Lily (Marlene Lawston), and his rebellious teens Cara (Brittany Robertson) and Jane (Alison Pill). Leaving the girls with their grandparents, he ventures into town for a break from all the estrogen.
At a local bookstore, he locks eyes from across the shelves with Marie (Juliette Binoche), a fey beauty with an ethereal air about her. Mistaking Dan for the shop’s proprietor, she asks him for a recommendation, and the two strike-up a conversation which ends up lasting hours. Despite the obvious chemistry, the two reluctantly part company, unaware that they will be spending the weekend in the same house. Turns out she was invited to the huge gathering by her new beau who just happens to be his brother, Mitch (Dane Cook).
When they are then formally introduced, neither lets on that they’d already met. And the tension starts to build as they secretly share stolen moments while compounding their initial lie with an increasingly deceitful cover-up, much in the way of your typical TV sitcom episode. The problems with this morally-reprehensible development are plentiful, starting with the fact that Dan is stealing a woman he’s only known for a few hours, and from right under Mitch’s nose. Plus, there’s the question of what sort of example this he’s setting as a role model for his daughters, and what type of relationship guru would behave like such a hypocrite.
Cruel and contrived, Dan in Real Life’s fatally-flawed script is vulgar, but never funny, and simply squanders the services of Steve Carrell who delivers his every line with an utter lack of conviction. The fastest way to clear a theater.

Poor (0 stars)
Rated PG for some sexual innuendo.
Running time: 99 minutes
Studio: Buena Vista Pictures

Planet Terror DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Robert Rodriguez Homage to Zombie Genre Released on DVD

This Robert Rodriguez tour de force was originally released in theaters paired with Quentin Tarantino Death Proof as the better half of Grindhouse, a double feature of deliberately low-grade throwbacks designed as an homage to the B-flicks from the Fifties. Cineastes nostalgic for that brand of mediocre moviemaking will find themselves magically transported back to that era via this hilarious, high attrition-rate horror parody.
Planet Terror is a gruesome homage to every awful zombie adventure ever made. But be forewarned, in order to recreate an authentic ambience, 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.
The shopworn storyline resurrects the cannibalistic ghouls gone amuck theme once again, and revolves around Cherry Dancer (Rose McGowan), a stripper whose diminished dream of becoming a doctor has her just hoping to take a shot as a stand-up comedienne.
The inconsequential plot thickens when, ala Night of the Living Dead, the deceased come back to life in order to feast on their fellow humans. However, after losing a leg to the flesh-eating monsters, our heroine Cherry gets a chance to save the day in a bloody finale after she has an automatic weapon mounted onto her stump.
Merely mindless, improbable mayhem, yes, yet a guaranteed treat for fans of that trashy genre a couple of generations gone.

Excellent (4 stars)
Running time: 105 minutes
Studio: Genius Productions
2-Disc DVD Extras: Director’s audio commentary, five featurettes, the international trailer, a photo gallery, and more.

El Cantante DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: DVD Features J-Lo and Marc Antony in Bio-Pic about Ill-Fated Salsa Singer

At the age of 17, Hector Juan Perez Martinez (1946-1993) dropped out of high school and emigrated to the U.S. from Ponce, Puerto Rico in pursuit of the American Dream. Upon his arrival in New York City, the aspiring singer moved in with his sister, Priscilla (Romi Dias), who had an apartment in the Bronx.
Because he was blessed with such a gifted voice, Hector was able to land a gig as the front man for a sextet within a week. But it would be for another four years before he would change his last name to Lavoe (aka “The Voice”) and collaborate with trombonist Willie Colon on some groundbreaking salsa albums for Johnny Pacheco’s new Latino record label, Fania Records.
The association would catapult them to superstardom in Nuyorican circles, however, Hector was ill-prepared to handle his newfound status as an overnight sensation. Despite marrying Nilsa Rosado, the mother of one of his young sons, he kept up his boozing and womanizing behind her back.
Worse, he began to shoot drugs intravenously which speeded the trajectory of his downfall. Ultimately, he became so unreliable, that Willie Colon abandoned the band and retired. It wasn’t long after the arrival of AIDS in the early Eighties, that Hector discovered that he was HIV-positive. Meanwhile, he went broke and his son was shot to death by a friend. So, it’s no surprise that he eventually attempted to commit suicide by leaping off a ninth floor terrace. What is shocking is that he was such a loser he even failed in that endeavor.
One would think that Hollywood would have a hard time successfully turning his life into a romantic love story, but that’s exactly what we have with El Cantante, a bittersweet bio-pic starring Marc Antony as the ill-fated Salsa pioneer. Marc’s real-life wife, Jennifer Lopez, co-stars as Nilsa, aka Puchi.
The film flourishes because of the outstanding performances on the part of Lopez and Antony, who throw themselves into the roles wholeheartedly in what was obviously a labor of love. The picture serves as a reminder of all the great Latin sounds created in the Seventies and is touching enough to evoke a few tears from Fania fans with feelings of nostalgia for the bygone era.

Excellent (4 stars)
Rated R for sexuality, drug use and pervasive profanity.
In Spanish and English, but only partially subtitled.
Running time: 116 minutes
Studio: New Line Home Entertainment
DVD Extras: Deleted scene, audio commentary by the director and scriptwriters, and a theatrical trailer.

Spider-Man 3

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Touchy-Feely Spidey Sequel Out on DVD

Director Sam Raimi has upped the ante in terms of just about every aspect of his latest installment of the storied Marvel Comics franchise. This translates into plenty of twists, more intense fight sequences, more implausible cartoon physics, the next-generation of dazzling computer-generated special effects, increasingly inscrutable adversaries, a new romantic interest, an evil Spidey alter ego, a couple of love triangles, zanier comic relief, and even several singing performances.
The upshot is that what we’re dealing with here is a scatterplotted production which cost close to a quarter-billion dollars to make and needed 140 minutes to introduce, develop and mesh all the additional material. Yet, what’s most remarkable about this unorthodox adventure is the inordinate amount of attention it devotes to the ensemble’s emotional states.
At the point of departure, we find Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) and Mary Jane (Kirsten Dunst) right where we last left them, blissfully in love. She has just landed the starring role in a Broadway musical, while he’s dividing his time between fighting crime and his freelance job as a photographer for the Daily Bugle.
The critics pan MJ’s opening night performance, and tensions between the couple arise after well-meaning Peter fails to offer the shoulder she needs to lean on. So later, his secret plan to propose to MJ at a fancy restaurant goes awry.
Meanwhile, a new archenemy, Sandman (Thomas Haden Church), materializes after police chase a perpetrator into a demollecularization sand pit during a scientific experiment gone horribly wrong. Of course, it falls to Spider-Man to deal this menace, when not addressing any of several other sidebars or wrestling with his demons.
Just remember, Spidey is agonizing, introspective and second-guessing himself every step of the way, like Woody Allen in a mask and stretchy pants. Your friendly neurotic Spider-Man.

Very good (3 stars)
PG-13 for intense action sequences.
Running time: 140 minutes
Studio: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
2-Disc DVD Extras: Audio commentary, outtakes, a music video, a half-dozen featurettes and more.

No End in Sight DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

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

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

Excellent (4 stars)
Running time: 102 minutes
Studio: Magnolia Pictures
DVD Extras: Interviews with Richard Armitage, Aida Ussayrian and Omar Fekeiki, plus 11 featurettes.

Pierrepoint: The Last Hangman DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Drama Now on DVD Chronicles Career of British Executioner

Between 1933 and 1955, Albert Pierrepoint (Timothy Spall) was a hangman who perfunctorily pulled the lever on the trap door beneath the feet of 608 condemned souls sentenced to death. He had inherited the grisly family business from his father and uncle, both of whom had previously performed the same duty in service of the British legal system.
Unmoved by begs for mercy, Albert was so efficient at doling out the death penalty that he quickly rose through the ranks to become the country’s number one executioner. Yet, he also performed this morbid task with a certain air of nobility, always allowing the condemned to die with dignity.
Pierrepoint: The Last Hangman presents an empathetic portrait of this complicated figure, chronicling the mounting toll which his work in the gallows gradually took on his psyche and private life. Because he had a day job as a delivery boy for a grocery store, few initially knew he also moonlighted as a state-sanctioned angel of death.
His wife, Annie (Juliet Stephenson), had only agreed to Albert’s taking the gruesome gig in the gallows on the condition that he never talk to her or anyone else about it. Of course, this meant that he had no constructive outlet for all the emotional baggage building up inside of him.
Everything came to a head when he lost his anonymity with the celebrity which accompanied his assignment to kill 200 Nazi war criminals. The distaste that most of his friends felt about his profession left him a very lonely figure.
Ultimately, Al lost his enthusiasm entirely after having to hang a pal, and he resigned from the post entirely. Overwhelmed with regret, he would later state, “The fruit of my experience has this bitter aftertaste…. Capital punishment, in my view, achieved nothing but revenge.”

Excellent (4 stars)
Rated R for nudity, disturbing images and brief sexuality.
Running time: 90 minutes
Studio: Genius Products
DVD Extras: Deleted scenes, director’s audio commentary, and a theatrical trailer.

License to Wed DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Rancid Robin Williams Romantic Comedy Released on DVD

Sadie Jones (Mandy Moore) always had her heart set on getting married in St. Augustine’s like her parents (Peter Strauus and Roxanne Hart). So, when her boyfriend, Ben (John Krasinski), proposes to her at their 30th anniversary party, she not only says “Yes” on the spot but immediately asks the church’s pastor, Father Frank (Robin Williams), who is present, to perform the ceremony.
He agrees, but informs the lovey-dovey couple that the only open date available is just three weeks away and that they must satisfactorily complete a marriage preparation course as proof that they’re really ready to marry. His unorthodox test involves everything from caring for a couple of robot babies to role-playing exercises in which they have to pretend to be each other.
Nights, the meddling minister, accompanied by a chubby child assistant (Josh Flitter), monitors the pair’s mating behavior, eavesdropping via a bug strategically hidden in their bedroom. If this sort of voyeurism strikes you as unbecoming of a man-of-the-cloth, especially with a pre-pubescent boy sitting at his side, you’re not alone, since the creepy scenario automatically conjures up images of pedophile priests.
Unfortunately, such groan-inducing skits are par for the course in License to Wed, the latest bomb from Robin Williams. Who knows whether the erstwhile comic has lost his talent entirely or merely lowered his standards to foist as many take-the-money-and-run ripoffs on the public till his fans catch on?
Regardless, Williams’ performance is so pathetic that the picture’s funniest scene features Wanda Sykes in a quickie cameo. Looks like Robin Williams has replaced Cuba Gooding, Jr. as the kiss of death on the set of any comedy.

Poor (0 stars)
Rated PG-13 for profanity and sexual humor.
Running time: 91 minutes
Studio: Warner Home Video
DVD Extras: Additional scenes with optional commentary by director Ken Kwapis, plus a featurette entitled “Ask Choir Boy.”

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 November 2, 2007


American Gangster (R for nudity, sexuality, profanity, violence and pervasive drug content) Oscar-winners Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe square off in this mob saga, set in the Seventies, about the efforts of a rogue cop to bring down a drug lord who’s been smuggling heroin to Harlem in the coffins of soldiers who died in Vietnam. Cast includes Cuba Gooding, Jr., Chiwetel Ejiofor, Ruby Dee, Josh Brolin, Carla Gugino, Roger Guenveur Smith and Joe Morton, with street cred coming courtesy of rappers T.I., Common and RZA.

Bee Movie (PG for suggestive humor and brief smoking) Animated family about a bumblebee (Jerry Seinfeld) in search of a new line of work who befriends a florist (Renee Zellweger) who helps him sue humanity for stealing his species’ honey for centuries. Voice cast includes Chris Rock, Matthew Broderick, Patrick Warburton, Kathy Bates, Ray Liotta, John Goodman and Sting, plus talk show hosts Larry King and Oprah Winfrey.

Martian Child (PG for mature themes and mild epithets) Otherworldly dramedy about a grieving science fiction writer (John Cusack), mourning the death of his fiancee’ who befriends a six year-old boy (Bobby Coleman) whose claims that he’s from Mars might be true. With Amanda Peet, Oliver Platt, Sophie Okonedo and Joan Cusack.


A Broken Sole (Unrated) Ensemble drama, set in Manhattan on 9/11, examines the fortunes of six souls that fateful day: a cabbie (Bob Dishy) with a passenger (Laila Robins), a shoemaker (Danny Aiello) whose customer (Judith Light) wants him to keep his shop open, and a woman (Margaret Colin) dating a dyslexic (John Shea).

Confessions of a Superhero (Unrated) this is your life documentary chronicles the fledgling careers of a quartet of struggling actors aspiring for fame and fortune who are presently employed to portray Batman (Maxwell Allen), Superman (Christopher Dennis), The Hulk (Joseph McQueen) and Wonder Woman (Jennifer Gerht) on the sidewalks of Hollywood Boulevard.

Darfur Now (PG for mature subject-matter) Ethnic cleansing unfolding in The Sudan is examined by this documentary demonstrating how the efforts of a handful of individuals can make a difference in halting crimes against humanity. With Don Cheadle, George Clooney, Terminator-turned-Governator Arnold Schwarzenegger, and U.S. Senators Hillary Clinton, John McCain and Sam Brownback.

Fat Girls (R for drug and alcohol use, profanity, and graphic sexual content) Coming-of-age comedy about a couple of ostracized Texas teenage friends, one, just chubby (Ashley Fink), the other, gay (Ash Christian), and dreaming of unleashing his inner diva on Broadway.

Joe Strummer, The Future Is Unwritten (Unwritten) Bio-pic celebrates the life and times of The Clash’s front man Joe Strummer (1952-2002), revisiting the colorful punk rocker via archival footage and the fond recollections of fans and friends. Includes commentary by Steve Buscemi, John Cusack, Johnny Depp, Matt Dillon and Jim Jarmusch.

Black Irish

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Drama Chronicles Coming-of-Age of 16 Year-Old inside Dysfunctional Boston Family

16 year-old Cole McKay (Michael Angarano) is a kid with a lot of promise. Not only is he an academic standout at his Catholic prep school in Boston, but he’s also planning for the priesthood. Plus, he’s a pitcher on the baseball team and dreaming of playing in the state championships.
But all of the above is about to be derailed due to the deteriorating state of the dysfunctional family he’s stuck with. For his folks are Black Irish, the designation commonly applied to those of his lineage with lower-class roots generally associated with drinking, fighting and underachieving.
Cole’s siblings could easily serve as the poster children for white trash, given that his teenage sister, Kathleen (Emily VanCamp) is knocked-up and clueless, while his big brother, Terry (Tom Guiry) is a ne’er-do-well with a drug habit and a rap sheet.
And Cole’s parents aren’t much better. His sickly father, Desmond (Brendan Gleeson), is an emotionally-unavailable alcoholic stuck in a loveless marriage to his disciplinarian mother, Margaret (Melissa Leo). As the film unfolds, we find pro-life mom ranting about how “No child of mine is going to have an abortion.” This translates into Kathleen’s having to disappear to a convent before she shows so as not to bring any further dishonor upon the McCay name.
Sadistic Terry is the type of sibling who beats up his little brother in public for borrowing a pair of pants without asking. In fact, he’s not above making Cole taking them off on the spot. Talk about embarrassing the family!
Such cringe-inducing antics are par for the course during Black Irish, a drismal drama rather reminiscent of Angela’s Ashes, especially in terms of maintaining a relentlessly pessimistic and morose tone. The big difference is that this smaller story stays put in Southie compared to that grand saga which ventured across the pond to the Emerald Isle. And, more importantly, this coming-of-age tale does ultimately offer a glimmer of hope.
Cole’s ashes.

Good (2 stars)
Rated R for profanity and brief violence.
Running time: 93 minutes
Studio: Anywhere Road Entertainment

Come on People

Come on People:
On the Path from Victims to Victors
by Bill Cosby and Alvin F. Poussaint, M.D.
Thomas Nelson
Hardcover, $25.99
288 pages, illustrated
ISBN: 978-1-5955-5092-7

Book Review by Kam Williams

“For the last three and a half years, I have been holding community call-outs in cities around the country... This book will cover selected topics that mirror the concerns of the different people-- rich and poor, young and old, educated and uneducated, married and single—who attended the call-outs. The trials of black people are at the core of Come on People.
In this book, we look at the issues with an eye on what we need to do to help our youth and re-energize our neighborhoods to move in positive directions… We can change things we have control over if we accept personal responsibility and embrace self-help.”
-- Excerpted from the Introduction by Bill Cosby (pg. xvii-xviii)

Ever since Bill Cosby delivered what might be called the historic Ghettoesburg Address in Washington, D.C. during the NAACP’s commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the landmark Brown vs. Board of Education decision, there’s been a big brouhaha brewing in the black community over his controversial remarks. On one side, you have those folks who applaud the successful entertainer/role model for having the courage to send a no-nonsense tough love message, while others resent the general tenor of what they feel was a diatribe by a bourgie brother who has lost touch with his roots and is now allowing himself to be used by right-wing conservatives simply to blame the victim.
Certain public intellectuals, like pro-hip-hop Professor Michael Eric Dyson, have wondered aloud whether Cosby and the black middle class might have lost their collective minds. However, in Come on People: On the Path from Victims to Victors, Bill manages to mount an admirable defense in collaboration with Dr. Alvin F. Poussaint while elaborating further on just what he meant.
Like latter-day Booker T. Washington, the authors call for African-Americans to embrace self-help while shedding self-destructive behaviors. Never mincing their words, they state their positions on any number of subjects, unequivocally.
For example, when it comes to Ebonics, they say, “Shaky grammar can project ignorance, even hostility. This means it can make your kids look dumb to many people.” They also argue against the use of the N-word, explaining that it “is a vile symbol of our oppression by slave masters” whose meaning can’t be changed by altering its spelling or pronunciation slightly, ala rapper Nas who recently announced that the title of his new album about to drop in December will be “Nigga.”
This timely opus reserves perhaps its harshest criticism for the purveyors of this musical genre, stating, “The enemy—namely the bad guys in the gangsta rap industry and their white enablers—is calling this a culture.” It then proceeds to question the wisdom of calling anything a culture that promotes misogyny, immorality, anti-intellectualism, irresponsibility, black-on-black crime and the breakdown of the family.
The Cosby’s agenda here, though powerfully persuasive, might still fall on deaf ears due to its non-negotiable tone and because his adversaries are equally enthusiastic in their embrace of the diametrically-opposing values. Clearly, he and Dr. Poussaint are honestly more concerned with rescuing youngsters at risk than with making peace with the defenders of the antisocial, patently suicidal alternative.
Ultimately, in a cultural war, you have to pick a side, and I suspect that most parents who truly love their children will consider straight talk of this nature not only appropriate but downright necessary in the face of the degeneracy directed daily at African-American youth in the battle for their bodies and minds.

Into Great Silence (Die Grosze Stille)

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Monastery Serves as Subject for Atmospheric Mood Piece

Who would ever think that you could make a movie about an order of self-effacing monks who’ve taken not only a vow of celibacy, but also of silence? Philip Groning, the director of Into Great Silence would, that’s who. It was over 20 years ago when he first approached the Carthusians, an ascetic sect about shooting a documentary at the Grande Charteuse, a modest monastery nestled in amidst the majestic French Alps.
Finally, some 16 years later, Groning got his answer, a “Yes,” though it was contingent on his complying with certain conditions. He would have to work without a crew, and film by natural light. He agreed, and moved into the monks’ quarters, capturing every aspect of their lives for a year, from prayer and meditation and other religious rituals, to spiritual study, to the drudgery of everyday tasks, to cooking and gardening, to weekly walks around the picturesque grounds of the hermitage.
The upshot of the gifted director’s efforts is Into Great Silence, an exquisite, mesmerizing mood piece which immerses the viewer in the humbling hush of monastic life. Deliberately-paced and clocking in at almost three hours, it features neither a soundtrack nor a voiceover to interfere with one’s appreciation. Thus, this simple, if super-realistic, film offers its audience the ultimate experience in cinema verite’.
Groning focuses on just a few of the 30 or so abbots abiding at the Grande Charteuse, including a nameless blind elder,and a couple of novices, Etienne and Benjamin, the latter, a recent arrival from Africa. But the primitive setting and the quietness of the inhabitants enable ordinary natural sounds to take center stage, from the creaking of floorboards to the chopping of vegetables to the babble of a brook.
If the point of the picture is to challenge each viewer to steep oneself in the stillness while reflecting upon one’s relation to God versus the trappings of technology and the rampant materialism of modern society, it must be considered an unqualified success. One couldn’t hope to find a more potentially transformative meditation on the meaning of life in a movie theater.

Excellent (4 stars)
In French and Latin with subtitles.
Running time: 162 minutes
Studio: Zeitgeist Fims

Monday, October 22, 2007

Holla DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Black Cast Horror Flick Turns Fright Formula Upside-Down

Fans of horror fare are undoubtedly familiar with certain fright flick conventions such as the notion that the black guy is generally afraid of his shadow and is also the first person to die in the picture. As one might suspect, these familiar traditions could easily be turned upside-down when you have a movie made by a black director.
Case in point: Holla, a film directed by H.M. Coakley and featuring a cast comprised mostly of African-American actors, but with a few token Caucasians aboard to play uncharacteristic roles in a production which flips the traditional script. So, don’t be surprised to find a white person perishing first, singing “we Shall Overcome,” calling a sister by the B-word or looking spooked and scared as if he’s about to jump out of his skin.
The basic plotline of this high attrition-rate screamer is straightforward enough, as it revolves around a bunch of attractive twenty-somethings who find a way to end up stuck in a cabin in the forest for a weekend during a driving thunderstorm. Besides the aforementioned fraidy cat, the crew contains your typical mix of readily identifiable archetypes.
This gathering, referred to as “a bunch of bourgie-ass N-words on a camping trip,” is being hosted by Monica (Shelli Boone), a TV sitcom star, and her boyfriend, Dwayne (Charles Porter). It’s not long before the first victim is stabbed to death and all eyes focus on the obvious suspect, the only uninvited guest, Dwayne’s recently-paroled cousin, Troy (Young Sir).
That obvious red-herring has the seasoned cinematic sleuth looking at everyone else closely, but this well-conceived mystery cleverly conceals which person is behind the series of slashings which threatens to take all of their lives. Look for lots of the genre’s staples such as the erotically-charged sight of cute, curvy coeds cavorting about in fear in their underwear.
A serial killer with jungle fever.

Very Good (3 stars)
Rated R for violence, profanity and ethnic slurs.
Running time: 85 minutes
Studio: Lions Gate Home Entertainment
DVD Extras: Commentary with director H.M. Coakley, screenwriter Camillle Irons Coakley and co-star Shelli Boone, “The Making of” featurette, plus trailers.

Karrine Steffans: The Vixen Diaries Interview

Interview with Kam Williams

Headline: From Superhead to Supermom

Born on St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands on August 24, 1978, Karrine Steffans was a naive ingénues who, as a tender teenager, made her way to Hollywood in search of fame and fortune. Unfortunately, the best that she could do was to parlay her looks into working for scale as a scantily-clad dancer in gangsta rap videos. As a result, her bootylicious bod came to upstage a bevy of other beauties appearing in such video as Mystikal’s Danger ( where she went topless except for wearing a pair of sheer, star-shaped pasties over her cannonball implants.
This notoriety came at a cost, however, as she was expected, in turn, to provide oral favors not only for hip-hop stars but for members of their entourages and assorted hangers-on. Nicknamed “Superhead,” Karrine became so popular that Vivid Entertainment eventually released an X-rated video ( of her performing her specialty on a porn star.
A couple of years ago, she got the last laugh by publishing “Confessions of a Video Vixen,” a tell-all memoir in which she shared the names of many celebrities she’d slept with, and also hinted about some she suspected of being on the down-low. Here, the former groupie talks about her relatively-tame sequel, “Vixen Diaries,” which is comprised primarily of journal entries about her current platonic showbiz friendships plus a love note to comedian Bill Maher who she refers to as “The love of my life.“

KW: Hey, Karrine, thanks for the time again.
KS: Thank you.
KW: In reading “Vixen Diaries.” I was sorry to see that you had relapsed into substance abuse and some of the same stuff that things that had troubled you before.
KS: [Chuckles] You think so? I don’t think so. Not at all.
KW: Didn’t the book say you made another suicide attempt? Or did I misread that?
KS: That was just a chapter on self-mutilating and cutting. That’s what that was about, not a suicide attempt.
KW: Oh, okay. This book seems, more than anything, to be a love note to Bill Maher, who you call the love of your life. Is that how you feel?
KS: No, not at all. I’m getting married to somebody else. That’s not what it was about. As far as the Bill situation is concerned, he and I have grown closer as friends. Initially, when we were together, we promised each other to be together for the rest of our lives. I don’t think we understood then in what capacity that would be. We’ll always be together, but not romantically. Now, it’s better than it was before. We’re more suited for each other in this type of relationship than being romantically involved.
KW: Well, congrats on getting engaged! Who’s the lucky guy?
KS: My fiancé’s name is Darius McCrary.
KW: You mean the actor who played Eddie on Urkel? Congratulations!
KS: Thank you.
KW: This book has a lot less confessing than your first. Why is that? Were you more hesitant to burn bridges, or did you just have less dirt to dish?
KS: This book is different because it’s based in Hollywood, which is where I live, and those are the bridges that you don’t want to burn, because you’ll never be able to get anywhere. And it’s important for me to protect the people that I need to protect, people that can make or break my future in that town and all that I plan to do there. So, yeah, I’m very careful, but I was very careful the first time also. There were plenty of people I’ve never mentioned at all. This book isn’t about people; it’s about the last two years of my life.
KW: But you do drop a lot of names here, Eric Benet… Chris Rock… Eddie Murphy… Bobby Brown… etcetera… But each passage ends with your saying there was nothing romantic between you and each guy.
KS: [Laughs] Because nothing happened. I can only write about what’s happening. I know a lot of men, and most of my friends are men, 99%, but I don’t have romantic relationships with every man that I know. I’m in a committed relationship, and I’m getting married. So, what I’m doing is giving you my life today.
KW: Do you understand if your fans might feel a little cheated by this book, especially given the provocative photo of you on the cover?
KS: I’m 29 now. So, I hope that you and audiences in general would expect me to grow and to evolve. There aren’t a heap of romantic relationships in there, because I haven’t had a heap of them over the past two years. I enjoyed a year of celibacy. And I enjoyed getting back into the dating pool again after Bill and I broke up, which was difficult until earlier this year when I realized who I really wanted to be with, and settling down to be with that person.
KW: I don’t remember seeing Darius being mentioned in either of your books.
KS: No, he isn’t. Not at all. Nor do I talk about everybody I know. I give you guys what I want to give you, nothing more. You have no idea who I know. You really don’t. And you just won’t. I only give you what I want to give you and what’s relevant to the story that I’m trying to tell. And I leave a lot of my current, very, very personal things out of it.
KW: How’s your son, Naiim doing, and how’s his relationship with Darius?
KS: Those are my two boys. I can’t separate them. They’re home together, right now, doing boy stuff like football and baseball. Darius also takes my son to school and drops him off, helps him with his homework, gets dinner ready, and generally takes care of the home front while I’m on the road. They have a great relationship.
KW: Jimmy Bayan was wondering what area of L.A. you’re living in now?
KS: I’m adjacent to Beverly Hills.
KW: How do you enjoy being in the public eye again after two years?
KS: I’d rather be home. I cried all the way here. I love to write books and tell stories, but I wish I was famous enough to cancel all my interviews and still sell books. This is the part of my job that I hate, so I’m just kind of grinding my way through it.
KW: Are you interested in parlaying your fame into a TV show?
KS: No, I’m not. I just want to be home, and not have to talk to anybody. I know everybody has a show in this pop culture. I’ll never say never, because you never know what opportunities will come up that might be in your best interest. But I’m presently not interested. That’s not my plan. I just want to go home to the way my life was before this book dropped.
KW: The Columbus Short question: Are you happy?
KS: I’m extremely happy at home. I feel very uncomfortable in the world. Being at home with family is such a beautiful thing because that’s the only place where you’re actually safe. When you step out of your home, you encounter all these different energies. I don’t like all those different energies. I like the people at my house. [Giggles]
KW: Are you burdened by people reacting to you as if you’re still the model they see dancing in the videos?
KS: I’m not burdened by that. I’m not burdened by much of anything at this point. After a while, you just realize some people are stupid. Sometimes, I feel sad, or maybe frustrated, for them. I feel bad for people who can’t move forward. Because what it does, and this is something that I’ve learned from talking to my psychologist a lot, and by going into psychology myself, when someone has a hard time getting over me it’s because of something within themselves. Maybe they have a hard time moving on in their own lives, and God forbid I should be the one to move forward and do better than they are. So, it’s like they’re projecting. I get a lot of projections. I’ve been careful now to call it out and tell people not to project their nonsense onto me. I’ll say, “I’ve never met you before. Why do you have such strong feelings about someone you’ve never met?” And even some people I have met, I don’t have any feelings for. I’m a content individual. So, the only thing I can project is my happiness and structure and blessings. I just feel sorry for those people.
KW: Think you’ll go back to acting and make another movie like the one you did with Vin Diesel?
KS: No, I have no interest in television or film.
KW: What do you want fans to know about you?
KS: What I wish is that when I tell people that I’m okay and that I’m happy that they would accept it and not fight it. And that my son is fine. I feel almost that people were wishing that he and I were damaged and unhappy, because when they ask questions, they ask them in accusatory ways. My son is fine. He’s nine years old. He has no idea what’s going on. As far as he knows, everything’s great. He doesn’t pay attention to adult things. And yes, he’s well read, and well spoken. He speaks three different languages. This is my kid and we have a great relationship. So, it’s kind of disheartening for me when people respond, “Well, yeah, but he’s going to be messed up later.” He’s not. He’ll be great. I feel sad for people who can’t accept the fact that others are doing well.
KW: And how’s your relationship with your mom? You wrote about your reunion after many years of estrangement from her.
KS: Um, it’s as good as it’s going to get, because I don’t want it to get any better. I like it just the way it is, because I think it’s the way it’s supposed to be. I’ve realized that you don’t have to go around fixing all the wrongs in your life. You know what I mean?
KW: Yep.
KS: She calls often, but I won’t even answer the phone, because she has nothing of importance to say to me whatsoever. But I think most moms are like that. I love it just the way it is because she’s not my mother to me. She’s never been. I don’t know what it’s like to have your mother love you. So, I’m not missing my mother’s love. You know what I mean?
KW: Yep.
KS: I have no feeling for her. I think it’s the same for my son with his father [gangsta rapper Kool G. Rap]. He’s never known his father, but he doesn’t miss his father, because he’s never seen the man. He doesn’t even know what a father would look like at this point. I’m fine with that. I like it just the way it is.
KW: Are you and Darius thinking of having kids?
KS: Yes we are. But we have to get married first. We’re getting married New Year’s Eve. I’m planning on settling down from that point on and just having kids and writing books.
KW: Well, thanks again for the time and best of luck with both the book and your marriage.
KS: Things are great. And thanks again for talking to me. It’s always a pleasure.
KW: Same here.
KS: Have a good day. Bye-bye.

Gone Baby Gone

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Child Kidnapping Case at Center of Crime Saga Set in Blue-Collar Boston Neighborhood

Seems that there’s a renaissance of quality crime sagas set in blue-collar Boston neighborhoods afoot, most notably, this year’s Academy Award-winning Best Picture, The Departed, and Mystic River, for which Sean Penn and Tim Robbins each earned Oscars. Gone Baby Gone is the second such adventure based on a best-seller by Dennis Lehane.
The movie marks the promising directorial debut of Beantown native Ben Affleck who cast his baby-faced brother Casey in the lead role of Patrick Kenzie and doe-eyed Michelle Monaghan as the private eye’s sidekick/girlfriend, Angie Gennaro. While the whodunit still revolves around this pair’s collaborating on a case, loyal Lehane fans deserve to be apprised of the fact that the film is only loosely based on the original source material.
For instance, where the novel’s primary suspect is a Scandinavian named Cheese who weighs 430 pounds, in the flick Cheese has been transformed into a nearly emaciated Haitian (Edi Gathegi). However, the considerable liberties taken with the plot are less a problem than Ms. Monaghan’s inability to exhibit any emotional range.
Scene after scene, the stone-faced actress offers no clue as to what’s on her character’s mind, as she is ostensibly content to serve simply as window-dressing. Thus, her ubiquitously flat reaction to the flick’s every shocking revelation and grisly discovery proves to be an infuriating distraction for the duration of an otherwise intriguing, multi-layered mystery.
At the point of departure, we learn that four year-old Amanda McCready (Madeline O’Brien) is missing from the rundown row house she shares on a seedy side of Dorchester with her drug-addicted single-mom, Helene (Amy Ryan). Aware that time is of the essence in any child kidnapping, it falls to the little girl’s Aunt Beatrice (Amy Madigan) and Uncle Lionel (Titus Welliver) to intervene swiftly on her behalf. They retain the services of local detectives Kenzie and Gennaro, anticipating that potential witnesses will be more willing to speak to members of their tight-knit community than to cooperate with the city cops.
This unorthodox approach does not sit well with Amanda’s mother, but the narcissistic crackhead is too worried about where her next high is coming from to protest. So, Police Chief Doyle (Morgan Freeman) reluctantly agrees to let them work in tandem with his officers already assigned to handle the search, Remy Bressant (Ed Harris) and Nick Poole (John Ashton).
Following a misleading tip, Kenzie and Gennaro first confront drug dealer Cheese, and gradually discover that they cannot always trust their sources. Undeterred and determined the two press on, though the deeper they dig, the more perilous a path they have to tread.
Laced with an abundance of logical red herrings, Gone Baby Gone is a marvelous, meticulously-twisted thriller guaranteed to keep you guessing and on the edge of your seat right up to its shocking conclusion. Monaghan’s disastrous effort aside, the movie features stellar work from reliables Morgan Freeman and Ed Harris, along with what ought to be considered career performances coaxed by director Affleck out of his sibling Casey, as well as from Amy Ryan and Titus Welliver.
After a string of groan-inducing outings from Daredevil to Gigli to Jersey Girl, it looks like Ben Affleck has stepped to the other side of the camera and finally found his true calling.

Excellent (3.5 stars)
Rated R for pervasive profanity, ethnic and sexual preference slurs, drug use and violence.
Running time: 114 minutes
Studio: Miramax Pictures

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Things We Lost in the Fire

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Halle Berry and Benicio Del Toro Co-Star in Implausible Melodrama

Audrey (Halle Berry) and Steven Burke (David Duchovny) are living the American Dream after eleven years of marital bliss. The successful architect and stay-at-home mom are still in love, and sitting in the lap of luxury in a suburban Seattle McMansion with their adorable, identically mop-topped kids, Dory (Micah Berry) and Harper (Alexis Llewellyn).
However, this picture-perfect family’s fortunes are irreversibly dashed the day that Good Samaritan Steven rushes to the assistance of a domestic violence victim and is slain on the spot by the woman’s incensed husband. Given the unanticipated loss of her partner and provider, Audrey suddenly finds herself facing the prospect of both raising the children and meeting the monthly mortgage alone.
Hope arrives where the emotionally-fragile widow least expects it, in the person of Steven’s best friend, Jerry Sunborne (Benicio Del Toro), a ne’er-do-well she almost didn’t even invite to the funeral. For, ever since this disgraced attorney had become a homeless heroin addict, Audrey had not allowed him anywhere around the house.
But there was something charming enough about this chain-smoking junkie to cause Audrey to let her guard down against her better judgment, and impulsively suggest that this Latino version of Brad Pitt move into the vacant apartment above the garage. Then, on the condition that he promises to attend Narcotics Anonymous meetings and find a job, she also lets him serve as a surrogate dad to Dory and Harper, who miss their father terribly.
A month or so later, we find Jerry cleaned up quite nicely, thank you, and gainfully employed by an affable neighbor (John Carroll Lynch) in the mortgage business. By now, he’s bonded with the kids and has Audrey swooning and cooing, “You look good” as she peers into his bedroom eyes.
As one might suspect, it couldn’t possibly be that easy for the Burkes to get over their grief or for Jerry to kick his drug habit. Otherwise, Things We Lost in the Fire All would’ve lasted less than a half hour. No, complications do ensue, and the balance of the picture is devoted to dealing with the fallout of assorted relationship issues and personal failings.
The subsequent sequence of events presented by this implausible melodrama unfolds more like a TV soap opera than a drama you’d expect to see in full-length feature. Danish director Susanne Bier (After the Wedding) ought to thank her lucky stars that she landed a couple of Oscar winners like Halle Berry and Benicio Del Toro to play her lead roles, given that their impassioned performances are all that prevent the production from looking absolutely laughable.
Nonetheless, the dumb dialogue occasionally elicits unintentional laughs. For instance, there’s the point in the film where, after Jerry has relapsed, Audrey pressures him to share some dope with her, asking “What’s heroin like? I want to know what it feels like.” This development is ridiculous because nothing previously prepared us to think the doting mom might be inclined to imbibe. The story hits similar false notes when Earth Mother Audrey inexplicably encourages her boarder to smoke cigarettes in the house, and when she appears to take it in stride after finding him nodding off in the shower, fully-clothed.
How about this exchange which reads like it was torn out of a corny romance novel? Vulnerable and very needy Audrey: “Am I ever going to feel beautiful again?” Suave and debonair Jerry: “You’re the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen.” Excuse me, but wasn’t this movie supposed to be about the loss of a husband, not about losing your looks?
It doesn’t get any more shallow than this.

Fair (1 star)
Rated R for profanity and pervasive drug use.
Running time: 119 minutes
Studio: Paramount Pictures

The Jena Blowback: Symbolic Use of the Noose as the New N-Word

by Kam Williams

Ominously, there’s been a frightening backlash building in reaction to the
mammoth demonstration in September supporting the Jena 6, those Louisiana teens charged with felonies during a raging local controversy which arose over the use of a noose by white high school students to intimidate their African-American classmates. The fallout started soon after the New York Times (which, by the way, has never considered even one of the dozens of op-eds submitted by me “Fit to Print”) gave D.A. Reed Walters all the space he wanted to spew his racist rationalization for his selective “all-black” prosecution.
Walters only fueled the simmering fires by reiterating his basic contention that “the placing of the nooses on the schoolyard tree… broke no law.” The Times, by giving Walters a forum without allowing equal time to any attorney with a well-reasoned counter-position, effectively decriminalized as just a harmless prank what was in this lawyer’s legal opinion a patently heinous, hateful and illegal act. This coded cultural message has, in turn, only served to embolden bigots with evil in their hearts, leading to an explosion of threatening chatter at white supremacist websites.
One neo-Nazi outfit posted the names and addresses of the Jena 6 on its homepage, exhorting followers to “drag them out of the house,” ostensibly to lynch them. “If these blacks want a race war, they will get one. Bring it on!” warned a poster at Stormfront, an online community catering to Ku Klux Klansmen.
Next, noose incidents started being reported all across the country... hanging on a black professor’s door at Columbia University… at other college campuses… in a black Coast Guard cadet’s bag… in a police station locker room… on a sanitation truck’s rearview mirror… ad infinitum… ad nauseam…
Remembering his utter ineptitude during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, I have to wonder why Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff is sitting on his hands again. Why hasn’t there been a rush by Federal authorities to arrest the homegrown terrorists behind this rash of hate crimes, and to take down their websites dedicated to inciting violence against blacks? I just pray he acts before the burgeoning Jena tensions metastasize, because if there’s any lesson we learned from New Orleans is how easily official apathy can translate into misery on a mass scale.
Finally, I would be remiss if in my remarks I didn’t take a moment to castigate comedian Katt Williams (no relation) who recently strolled up the red carpet at the BET Awards proudly sporting a noose around his neck. Needless to say, that tasteless display is in no way a fashion statement worthy of emulation, but the shameless, self-hating behavior of an attention-craving media whore who deserves to be shunned before he encourages the substitution of the noose as the symbolic equivalent of the just-buried N-word.

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

Home of the Brave DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Iraq War Drama Starring Samuel L. Jackson and 50 Cent Released on DVD

In 2003, Samuel L. Jackson announced he would no longer make movies co-starring rappers-turned-actors, because they’d been taking too much work from legitimate, classically-trained thespians. Despite his gallant defense of the profession, Sam has since appeared opposite plenty of hip-hoppers including such films as S.W.A.T. (LL Cool J and Eve) and xXx 2 (Ice Cube and Xzibit).
Here, he buddies-up with 50 Cent in an ensemble drama revolving around the challenging readjustment of Iraq War vets back to private life in the States. But first, the story opens overseas during a furious firefight in the desert in order to convey a sense of the daily ordeal which the soldiers have had to endure.
The film subsequently telescopes in on four physically and/or emotionally-fragile GIs with just two weeks left in their tour of duty. There’s Vanessa (Jessica Biel) who lost a hand to an improvised explosive device and was treated on the battlefield by Dr. Will Marsh (Jackson). Meanwhile, Jamal (Cent) has killed an innocent civilian and Tommy (Brian Presley) has been wounded and watched a pal die.
So, it’s no surprise that upon their platoon’s return to Spokane, Washington, it’s just a matter of time before signs of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder start to kick in. Friends and relatives notice that their loved ones aren’t acting normal, and it falls to fatherly Dr. Marsh to offer some sage counsel, despite his own issues.
Unfortunately, Home of the Brave handles a serious subject with all the subtlety of a superficial John Wayne World War II flick. Will is given to delivering macho soliloquies romanticizing America’s role in the Middle East via simplistic analogies to the Revolutionary War like, “We’re trying to build a country. We did the same thing here a couple of hundred years ago.”
Patriotic claptrap masquerading as a touchy-feely salute to the troops.

Fair (1 star)
Rated R for profanity and war violence.
Running time: 105 minutes
In Arabic, English and Spanish with subtitles.
Studio: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

Into Great Silence (Die Grosze Stille) DVD

Into Great Silence
(Die Grosze Stille)
DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: DVD Offers Rare Peak at Monastic Life

Who would ever think that you could make a movie about an order of
self-effacing monks who‚ve taken not only a vow of celibacy, but also of
silence? Philip Groning, the director of Into Great Silence would, that‚s
who. It was over 20 years ago when he first approached the Carthusians, an
ascetic sect about shooting a documentary at the Grande Charteuse, a modest
monastery nestled in amidst the majestic French Alps.
Finally, some 16 years later, Groning got his answer, a „Yes,‰
though he would have to work without a crew, and could only film by natural
light. He agreed, and moved into the monks‚ quarters, capturing every aspect
of their lives for a year, from prayer and meditation and other religious
rituals, to spiritual study, to the drudgery of everyday tasks, to cooking
and gardening, to weekly walks around the picturesque grounds of the
The upshot of the gifted director‚s efforts is Into Great Silence,
an exquisite, mesmerizing mood piece which immerses the viewer in the
humbling hush of monastic life. Deliberately-paced and clocking in at almost
three hours, it features neither a soundtrack nor a voiceover. Thus, this
simple, if super-realistic, film offers its audience the ultimate experience
in cinema verite‚.
The primitive setting and the quietness of the inhabitants enable
ordinary natural sounds to take center stage, from the creaking of
floorboards to the chopping of vegetables to the babble of a brook. If the
point of the picture is to challenge each viewer to steep oneself in the
stillness while reflecting upon one‚s relation to God versus the trappings
of technology and the rampant materialism of modern society, it must be
considered an unqualified success.
One couldn‚t hope to find a more potentially transformative
meditation on the meaning of life.

Excellent (4 stars)
In French and Latin with subtitles.
Running time: 162 minutes
Studio: Zeitgeist Films
2-Disc DVD Extras: An hour of additional scenes, Night Office‰ (a 53-minute
video excerpt of the monks‚ nightly rituals), „The Carthusians (an extensive
guide to the order of monasteries), audio and photo galleries of the Grande
Chartreuse, video statement from the Vatican by Cardinal Poupard, „The
Making of‰ featurette including the shooting diary, behind-the-scenes
footage, and handwritten notes from the monks, and a theatrical trailer.

Commune DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Retrospective of Hippies’ Free Love Lifestyle at California Ranch Out on DVD

During the hippie movement back in the Sixties, many young people retreated from the cities to the wilderness. Whether visionary or merely naïve, these discontented souls sought to reshape the cultural landscape by creating a utopian society based on free love and shared property.
Commune examines what life was like at one such idealized oasis, Black Bear Ranch located in an abandoned gold mine in Siskiyou County, California. The film is fascinating because it features an abundance of archival footage showing exactly how they lived, and also because many of the original Black Bear members (including actor Peter Coyote) participated in the project, allowing themselves to be interviewed on screen to reflect upon how their lives were subsequently shaped by the unique experience.
This revealing documentary shares that at Black Bear the men were macho and wielded Bowie knives, while the women were very submissive. And in order to prevent the formation of any nuclear families, orgies were the order of the day, and no one was allowed to mate with the same person for more than two nights in a row.
At its peak, 36 adults and 11 children lived there, but in an atmosphere apparently permeated by pain and jealousy. The proverbial bull substance hit the fan, however, when a cult of child worshippers arrived and ugly rumors about pedophilia reached the FBI which launched an investigation.
Sadly, a lot of the Black Bear alumni don’t seem very well-adjusted today, especially the kids raised in an atmosphere which must have been confusing to impressionable young minds. One recounts how her mother handed her over to hippies headed for The Philippines, where she was soon abandoned to be raised in a tree house by a family of aborigines.
Not exactly groovy, or anybody’s idea of nirvana, dude.

Excellent (4 stars)
Rated R for sex, expletives, and frequent nudity.
Running time: 78 minutes
Studio: First Run Features
DVD Extras: Black Bear family album and history, extended Peter Coyote interview, secret FBI file on Black Bear Ranch, filmmakers’ biography, original theatrical trailer, trailer gallery and “Uncensored – The Bare Truth of Communal Living” featurette.

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 26, 2007


Dan in Real Life (PG-13 for sexual innuendo) Steve Carrell assumes the titular role in this romantic sitcom about a widowed relationship advice columnist struggling to raise three daughters (Alison Pill, Brittany Robertson and Marlene Lawston) alone who suddenly finds himself in a quandary after unknowingly falling in love with his brother’s (Dane Cook) gorgeous girlfriend (Juliette Binoche).

Music Within (R for profanity, sexual reference and drug use) Docudrama chronicles the true story of Richard Pimentel (Ron Livingston) a severely hearing-impaired Vietnam vet who returns from the war to dedicate his life to speaking out on behalf of Americans with disabilities. Cast includes Melissa George, Michael Sheen Leslie Nielsen, Rebecca De Mornay and Hector Elizondo.

Saw IV (R for profanity and pervasive torture and gruesome violence) Despite the apparent demise of the infamous Jigsaw (Tobin Bell) and his apprentice (Shawnee Smith), we find the slasher franchise revived for a fourth installment of grisly fare when a couple of FBI profilers (Scott Patterson and Athena Karkanis) are assigned to the depleted police precinct only to find themselves and the surviving SWAT team members (Lyriq Bent and Costas Mandylor) suddenly facing a sinister series of deadly traps perhaps set by the serial killer’s ex-wife (Betsey Russell).


Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead (R for profanity, nudity, violence, drug use and graphic sexuality) Legendary director Sidney Lumet (12 Angry Men, Network, The Verdict) assembles a talented ensemble for this suspenseful crime thriller about two brothers (Philip Seymour Hoffman and Ethan Hawke) whose perfectly planned heist of their parents’ (Albert Finney and Rosemary Harris) jewelry store goes horribly wrong when their accomplice improvises with disastrous results during the botched robbery. Cast includes Marisa Tomei as one sibling’s spouse who’s secretly sleeping with the other, too.

Bella (PG-13 for mature themes and disturbing images) Serendipitous romantic romp, set in Manhattan, revolving around a pregnant waitress (Tammy Blanchard) who finds a ready shoulder to lean on in the former international soccer star (Eduardo Verastequi) who has just taken a job as a chef at his brother’s (Manny Perez) Mexican restaurant. With former Miss USA Ali Landry of the award-winning Doritos Super Bowl commercial fame.

DarkBlueAlmostBlack (Unrated) Dysfunctional family drama about a janitor (Quim Gutierrez) who has trouble finding a decent job after spending several years caring for his invalid father (Hector Colome) while working his way through college. The plot thickens when his recently-paroled, sterile sibling (Antonio de la Torre) requests that he impregnate his girlfriend (Marta Etura) for him. (In Spanish with subtitles)

The Island (Unrated) Psychological drama, set in the mid-Seventies at a monastery in Northern Russia, revolves around a disconsolate WWII veteran-turned-priest (Pyotr Mamonov) still haunted by Nazis’ atrocities who suddenly experiences a crisis in faith upon the arrival of an Admiral (Yuri Kuznetzov) and his possessed daughter (Viktoria Isakova) in dire need of an exorcism. (In Russian and German with subtitles)

Jimmy Carter, Man from Plains (PG for mature themes and disturbing images) Jonathan Demme directed documentary follows the globetrotting 39th President on a book tour promoting his controversial Middle East opus, “Palestine: Peace, Not Apartheid.” Co-starring his ever-present Rock of Gibraltar, wife Rosalynn.

The Living and the Dead (Unrated) Harrowing horror flick about a mentally-unstable young man (Leo Bill), left in charge while his father (Roger Lloyd-Pack) is away on business, who barricades himself and his terminally-ill mother (Kate Fahy) inside their English manor, keeping her nurse (Sarah Ball), the cops and any visitors at bay.

Lynch (Unrated) Bio-pic presents an intimate portrait of David Lynch, iconoclastic director of such unorthodox adventures as Eraserhead, Mulholland Dr., Twin Peaks and Blue Velvet.

Mr. Untouchable (R for brief nudity, violent images, pervasive profanity and continuous drug content) Uncritical documentary revisits the rise and fall of Nicky Barnes, the notorious Harlem heroin dealer whose million-dollar empire collapsed soon after he was featured on the cover of Time Magazine for being above the law.

The Signal (R for brief nudity, pervasive profanity and brutal bloody violence) Experimental, sci-fi adventure flick shot in three parts by a trio of directors (David Bruckner, Dan Bush and Jacob Gentry) and set on New Year’s Eve in a mythical city where mysterious electronic transmissions being broadcast via TV, radio and cell phones are sending the citizens who receive them on a homicidal rampage. Cast includes Anessa Ramsey, Justin Welborn and A.J. Bowen.

Slipstream (R for profanity and some violent images) Sir Anthony Hopkins wrote, directed and stars in this sci-fi fantasy about an aging scriptwriter who’s having trouble keeping separate his real life and the characters he’s creating for his latest murder mystery. Cast includes Michael Clarke Duncan, Fionnula Flanagan, Camryn Manheim, Christian Slater, Jeffrey Tambor, John Turturro, Sharon Epatha Merkerson and Stella Arroyave, Hopkins’ wife.

Black White + Gray

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Wagstaff and Mapplethorpe Remembered by Cinematic Retrospective

This bio-pic turned out to be informative, if relatively tame for a retrospective about the relationship of a gay patron of the arts and his famous photographer lover best remembered for graphic, homoerotic snapshots featuring shocking sights like a bullwhip in a tight place and genitals on a hot dog bun. Nonetheless, Black White + Gray is a decent documentary for anyone wishing to become superficially reacquainted with the ambience of the downtown New York art scene of the Seventies and Eighties.
Samuel J. Wagstaff (1921-1989) was apparently proud of his aristocratic roots including his boarding school upbringing, Ivy League education and serving in the Navy during World War II. This led to his toiling away on Madison Avenue during the Fifties, in an unfulfilling job in advertising.
Lucky for him, by 1973, he had inherited millions which enabled him to come out of the closet, start collecting both art and people, and generally get his freak on. He also began indulging in mind-altering drugs because of how they inspired him to shed his every inhibition.
Eventually, Sam found a kindred soul in Robert Mapplethorpe (1946-1989), even though this youngster some 25 years his junior came from the other side of the tracks. Robert, who had grown up in a blue collar corner of Queens, had studied at Pratt Institute for awhile before dropping out to try his hand at taking portraits with a Polaroid camera.
With Sam serving as his well-connected and deep-pocketed benefactor, Robert’s career skyrocketed, as did that of their close friend, poet/punk rocker Patti Smith. And by the time both guys would succumb to AIDSs in 1989, Mapplethorpe would be an icon with shows at the Whitney and other leading museums, this despite the continual controversy caused by criminal allegations and confiscations of his pieces which would dog him to the end of his days due to subject-matter involving children and sadomasochism.
Black White + Gray actually is more a homage to Wagstaff than to Mapplethorpe, as it openly bemoans the fact that the former is all but forgotten when the latter probably wouldn’t have had much of a career without Sam. But the narrator’s protestations to the contrary, this pair seemed perfectly suited for each other, one, a much-needed moneyed muse, the other, an irreverent iconoclast.
Gay kismet!

Very good (3 stars)
Running time: 72 minutes
Studio: Arthouse Films

Saving the Race: Empowerment through Wisdom

Daily Affirmations for Young Black Males
by Anthony Asadullah Samad
Kabili Press
Paperback, $15.00
406 pages
ISBN: 978-0-9723880-3-0

Book Review by Kam Williams

“Manhood is a journey to define one’s self, family and community within a certain reality. For black men, manhood is a constant pursuit to establish credibility and respect.
For young black males, adolescence is a trying endeavor... Most will have an encounter with law enforcement before they are 15, have a sexual experience before they are 14, be approached by gangs before they are 13, and have no male in the home (if they ever had one) by the age of 12.
Their biggest barrier to attaining manhood will be the constant attempts to emasculate them before they reach manhood… [They] must be wise enough not to fall into the traps that society has laid for them…
Our young men need our help to help them make the right decisions. Yes, they need education. Yes they need work. But more than anything, they need wisdom from the ancestors.”
 Excerpted from the Introduction (pgs. ii-vi)

Everyone is aware of the well-publicized plight of the black male in America. If one is to believe the dire statistics, this at-risk segment of the population is in acute crisis due to skyrocketing incarceration, dropout, unemployment, HIV infection, drug addiction and homicide rates.
Obviously, intervention is in order, and help in one form has arrived in Saving the Race: Empowerment through Wisdom by Anthony Asadullah Samad, Professor of Political Science at East Los Angeles College. The book is a collection of inspirational affirmations aimed at young black males, culled by the author from a variety of sources, including the Bible, African proverbs, and dozens of different luminaries like Martin Luther King, Gandhi, Malcolm X, Bill Cosby, Oprah Winfrey, and Muhammad Ali.
Designed to be read chronologically over the course of the year, starting with January 1st, each entry opens with a theme for the day, and is followed by four sage insights, the first of which is by Mr. Samad himself. Among the subjects addressed are self-control, faith, love, growth, patience, friendship, humility, ego, learning from mistakes, pursuing your passion and respecting your elders, to name a few.
The basic goal, here, is to offer guidance to adolescents during their formative years when they are most in need of good role models as they make choices at critical crossroads in life. Permit me to close with a telling quote contained in the text by Malcolm X which has ostensibly withstood the test of time: “America’s greatest crime against the black man was not slavery or lynchings, but that he was taught to wear a mask of self-hate and self-doubt.”
In sum, Saving the Race is a worthwhile opus which ought to serve as a regular reminder to impressionable young minds to resist negative influences as they strive for success in their every endeavor.

To order a copy of Saving the Race, visit:

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Roots: The Next Generations DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Emmy-Winning Sequel to Alex Haley’s Roots Re-Released on DVD

Two years after Roots (1977) captivated TV audiences with the heartbreaking saga of Kunta Kinte (LeVar Burton) who was seized by slave traders and shipped to America from Africa, the series was followed up with an equally riveting sequel. Picking up where the original left off, the show traced creator Alex Haley’s genealogy from the Civil War through Reconstruction, Jim Crow and the Civil Rights Movement.
This program landed a couple of Emmys, including one for Best Mini-Series and the other for Best Supporting Actor to Marlon Brando. The A-list cast was comprised of many leading movie stars of the era, such as Academy Award-winners Brando, Henry Fonda and Olivia de Havilland, Oscar-nominees Paul Winfield, James Earl Jones and Beah Richards, plus Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, Pam “Foxy Brown” Grier, Rosey “The Thing with Two Heads” Grier, Dorian Harewood, Ernie Hudson, Debbie Allen and Barbara Barrie.
The ensemble includes plenty of famous faces from television, too, including Janet “Willona” DuBois (Good Times), Robert “Kelly” Culp (I Spy), Greg “Barney” Morris (Mission Impossible), George “Terry” Stanford Brown (The Rookies), Richard “John Boy” Thomas (The Waltons), Roger “T.C.” Moseley (Magnum, P.I.), Kene “Tyler” Holliday (Matlock), Andy “Andy of Mayberry” Griffith, Diahann “Julia” Carroll. Kim “Tootie” Fields (The Facts of Life), Philip Michael (Detective Tubbs) Thomas (Miami Vice), Norman “Mr. Roper” Fell (Three’s Company), Howard “Virgil Tibbs” Rollins (In the Heat of the Night), and Damon “Lionel” Evans (The Jeffersons), to name a few.
Besides these thespians, also aboard were singers like Carmen MacRae, Bobby Short, Telma Hopkins (of Tony Orlando and Dawn) and Linda Hopkins, Olympic champion Rafer Johnson, and even author Haley himself. Worthwhile for the nostalgic walk down Memory Lane alone, as you play spot the celebrity cameo as you enjoy each episode.

Excellent (4 stars)
Running time: 688 minutes
Studio: Warner Home Video
DVD Extras: An interview with Alex Haley conducted by David Frost, ”Roots: The Gift” – a two-hour holiday movie new to DVD, a behind the scenes documentary plus more.

Jill Scott: The Why Did I Get Married Interview

with Kam Williams

Headline: Great Scott! It’s Jill!

Born on April 4, 1972, Jill Scott, an only child, was raised in North Philly by her mother and grandmother. After graduating from the Philadelphia School for Girls, she worked two jobs while attending Temple University where she studied teaching for three years before dropping out after being disillusioned about the profession.
Next, she bounced around in a variety of odd jobs until she met with overnight success as an R&B singer. Her very first album, Who Is Jill Scott, which was released in 2000, went double platinum, and the rest, as they say, is showbiz history.
Now, she not only has a new CD, The Real Thing, but can also currently be seen in theaters making her impressive big screen debut in the nation’s #1 movie at the box office, Tyler Perry’s Why Did I Get Married. Here, she talks about her role as Sheila, a woman stuck in a loveless marriage with an abusive husband.

KW: What interested you in this project?
JS: I couldn’t stop reading the script. It was funny, and it was truthful. And being a married woman, you get an opportunity to see yourself on paper, or onscreen. So, I thought, “This is good. I want to be involved.”
KW: How would summarize the plot?
JS: Why Did I Get Married is about four couples who, every year, take a retreat together. And they’re there, basically trying to save each other’s marriages, as well as their own. It’s honesty and counseling through friendship and camaraderie. And this year, the stakes go way high, because there’ve been some secrets going on, and it’s all coming to a boiling point.
KW: Tell me a little about your character.
JS: I play Sheila. Sheila is unhappily married, although she doesn’t know it, I don’t think. She’s married because that’s what she believes God wants for her. She does love the man, but it’s not necessarily reciprocated.
KW: How did you feel about wearing a fat suit for this role?
JS: That’s been really interesting. I’ve never, well I won’t say never, but it’s been a long time since I was a small girl myself. I’m on average about a size 14. My character is about double my size, about a size 28, so I wear a lot of padding over the course of the film. And it’s been interesting the difference in the way that people look at and talk to me when I put Sheila’s costumes on. It was very interesting to see that.
KW: How would you describe Sheila’s relationship with her husband?
JS: Mike [Richard T. Jones] is harsh. Mike is cruel. Mike is a very mean-spirited guy towards his wife who loves him. When the scenes are over, I know that he’s definitely trying his best to hurt Sheila’s feelings. Or maybe he’s not even trying. He just doesn’t care. I’ll say that. He just doesn’t care about Sheila’s feelings at all. Richard’s such a great actor that when he says things, it feels like he means it. Afterwards, he always hugged me or kiss me, or crack a joke and say, “You know I don’t mean it.” But it was really great for the film, because every time he said something, I felt affected by it, which was great for my character as well.
KW: How would you compare acting to singing on stage?
JS: Acting and singing aren’t that different, at least to me, anyway. When I’m singing, I have to be really honest with the music and with what I’m feeling. I want every word to come out as truthful as possible. And it’s the same way with acting. I just want to be honest with what is written, and try to make it come to life as you do with a song.

Michael Clayton

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Convoluted Potboiler Pits Law Firm’s Fixer versus Crooked Corporate Client

Although attorney Michael Clayton (George Clooney) has been with Kenner, Bach and Ledeen for 17 years, he’s never made partner. Ironically, despite being low man on the totem pole, he still enjoys a certain grudging status, since the nature of his work makes his services invaluable to the prestigious Manhattan law office.
You see, as the firm’s fixer, Michael’s job involves mopping up other’s messy situations by any means necessary, even if that might sometimes mean breaking the law. For example, when a wealthy client is involved in a hit-and-run accident, he’s quickly called-in to in order to devise the best strategy to keep the story out of the press.
But nothing in his checkered career has prepared him for the chain of events about to unfold in the wake of the apparent mental breakdown of Arthur Edens (Tom Wilkinson), a colleague defending a billion-dollar class action suit against U-North, an agro-chemical company accused of manufacturing cancer-causing chemicals. After six years as the lead lawyer on the case, Edens inexplicably did a striptease while mumbling incoherent flibbity-jibbity to himself during a deposition being conducted in Milwaukee.
So, the firm’s managing partner, Marty Bach (Sydney Pollack), rushes his reliable “fixer” to Wisconsin to do damage control. However, Clayton soon discovers that he’s in over his head because Edens hasn’t merely gone off his meds as suspected, but has had a crisis in conscience and plans to go public with some very incriminating U-North internal memos. Plus, the rogue attorney has developed a crush on one of the plaintiffs, a cute, young, milk-fed farm girl he hopes to seduce during a rendezvous in the Big Apple.
“I’m not a miracle worker. I’m a janitor,” an exasperated Clayton complains about a situation that even he can’t cover up completely. This doesn’t sit well with steely Karen Crowder (Tilda Swinton), U-North’s chief in-house counsel who reports directly to CEO Don Jeffries (Ken Howard). With so much money at stake and no longer trusting anybody at Kenner, Bach and Ledeen, behind closed doors the company’s upper management devises its own dastardly plan to make the problem go away.
Thus, corporate ethics is at the center of the intricate web woven by Michael Clayton, a modern morality play marking the directorial debut of Tony Gilroy, a seasoned scriptwriter best known for the Bourne trilogy. Here, Gilroy has assembled a most talented cast capable to execute his convoluted potboiler, a chilling tale which subtly suggests that the criminal behavior of U-North might be par for the course among power-crazy captains of industry in today’s globalized economy.
Employing a wraparound as a cinematic device, this flashback flick opens with some visually-captivating pyrotechnics provided by the deliberate detonation of Michael’s late model Mercedes by saboteurs. He survives the explosion, then the plot rewinds to four days earlier, subsequently devoting itself to delineating how the hunter had come to be the game.
By the closing meta-tableau, which is actually a repeat of the film’s beginning, it’s now no surprise why Clayton’s been reduced to crying out to his employers-turned-tormentors, “I’m not the guy you kill. I’m the guy you buy off.” Erin Brockovich (2000) meets A Civil Action (1998), but featuring a flawed hero with blood on his hands and an ace up his sleeve.
Vintage Clooney.

Excellent (4 stars)
Rated R for profanity.
Running time: 120 minutes
Studio: Warner Brothers

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Why Did I Get Married?

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Tyler Perry Ensemble Drama Explores an Assortment of Marital Issues

Every year, four married couples, best friends since college, take a break from their hectic schedules to share a weeklong vacation together. This go-round, these affluent African-Americans’ annual getaway is to a luxurious lodge nestled in the snow-capped Rocky Mountains. But none of them probably anticipates just how eventful a reunion is about to unfold, with shocking skeletons coming out of the closet at every turn to reveal a quartet of failing relationships acutely in crisis.
Providing the flashpoint for the sordid festivities are Mike (Richard T. Jones) and Sheila (Jill Scott in a fat suit), the only couple with obvious issues. At the point of departure, we observe the cruel abuser opting to proceed to Colorado aboard a commercial flight with his mistress (Denise Boutte) despite his wife’s being escorted off the plane for being too heavy. This means that he and Trina show up at the soiree way ahead of his spouse who has to drive herself to the tiny town of Pemberton through a swirling snowstorm.
Understandably, this development does not sit well with the other wives, especially outspoken Angela (Tasha Smith) who not only feels loyal to Sheila but also a bit threatened by the presence at the chalet of a shameless hussy. Angela doesn’t need any additional drama, as her handsome hubby, Marcus (Michael Jai White), a former pro athlete, has already brought some baggage into her life via a baby-mama.
Used to speaking her mind, this trash-talking, eye-rolling finger-snapper has no problem telling Trina exactly what she thinks of her. However, she soon learns that people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones, as it spitefully comes out that Marcus has VD and might have gotten it from his ex, Kiesha (Kaira Whitehead).
For, in dire need of relief from his burning sensation, upon arriving, he had approached Terry (Tyler Perry) for a much-needed dose of penicillin. Meanwhile, pensive pediatrician Terry’s own simmering marital tensions with workaholic attorney Diane (Sharon Leal) threaten to come bubbling to the surface when he makes a demand for more quality time and to expand their family. And it’s not long before Patricia (Janet Jackson) and Gavin (Malik Yoba), a psychologist and architect, respectively, finally break the silence about the accidental death of their toddler which had left them emotionally-estranged and plunged deep in denial.
Thus, “Can these marriages be saved?” is the recurring theme raised by Why Did I Get Married, an alternately enlightening and entertaining adaptation by Tyler Perry of his stage play of the same name. Perry again exhibits his unique ability to create African-American characters with considerable depth who relate to each other in a realistic manner likely to resonate with black audiences thirsty for such sophisticated fare, even if his one-dimensional portrayal of whites and gays leave a lot to be desired.
The females featured in the ensemble provide the film’s most-compelling moments, starting with songstress Jill Scott scintillating screen debut as Sheila, a lonely soul in search of self respect. Then there’s scene-stealer Tasha Smith, who’s in danger of finding herself forever typecast following another unforgettable outing as a sassy sister, one similar to her role in Daddy’s Little Girls. Even Janet Jackson delivers a powerful performance that won’t leave a dry eye in the house as a mother consumed with overwhelming regret.
The Best Man (1999) meets The Big Chill (1983), only with more flava.

Excellent (4 stars)
Rated PG-13 for profanity, sexual references and mature themes.
Running time: 118 minutes
Studio: Lions Gate Films

Friday, October 12, 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 19, 2007


30 Days of Night (R for profanity and graphic horror violence) Josh Hartnett and Melissa George head an ensemble cast in this high attrition-rate horror flick about a sheriff who, with the help of his estranged wife, confronts a horde of bloodthirsty vampires that descend on a tiny Alaskan town during the pitch black month when the sun slips beneath the horizon.

The Comebacks (PG-13 for drug use, crude humor and sexual content) Spoof of inspirational sports flicks revolves around a down-and-out college football coach (David Koechner) who inspires his rag-tag team of losers to overachieve in their quest for the championship.

Gone Baby Gone (R for violence, drug use, and pervasive profanity) Ben Affleck makes his directorial debut with this crime thriller about a couple of private eyes (Casey Affleck and Michelle Monaghan) who end up risking their sanity and their lives to crack the case of a missing four year-old girl (Madeline O’Brien). With Morgan Freeman, Ed Harris and Karen Ahern.

The Nightmare Before Christmas (PG for scary images) Disney, digital 3D re-release of Tim Burton’s animated classic about a Halloween Pumpkin King (Chris Sarandon) who decides to try to take control of the Christmas holiday away from Santa Claus. Voice cast includes Catherine O’Hara, Paul “Pee Wee Herman” Reubens and Danny Elfman.

Rendition (R for profanity and violence, including torture) Political potboiler about a CIA Agent (Jake Gyllenhaal) who comes to question the unorthodox methods being employed by the Agency in the war on terrorism while he’s participating in the detention and interrogation of an Egyptian-born engineer (Omar Metwalley) married to an American citizen (Reese Witherspoon). A-list support cast includes Meryl Streep, Alan Arkin, J.K. Simmons and Peter Sarsgaard.

Reservation Road (R for profanity and disturbing images) Revenge flick, based on the best-selling novel of the same name, revolving around an anguished college professor’s (Joaquin Phoenix) desperate search for the driver (Mark Ruffalo) of the car which claimed the life of his 10 year-old son (Sean Curley) in a hit-and-run accident. Ensemble includes Jennifer Connelly, Mira Sorvino and Elle Fanning.

Things We Lost in the Fire (R for profanity and drug use) Oscar-winners Halle Berry and Benicio Del Toro co-star in this bittersweet drama about a recently-widowed mother of two young children finds a shoulder to lean on in her husband’s drug-addicted best friend since childhood. With David Duchovny and Alison Lohman in support roles.


Black White + Gray (Unrated) Bifurcated bio-pic examines both the intimate and professional relationships of a couple of art icons from the Seventies, curator Sam Wagstaff and homoerotic photographer Robert Mapplethorpe. Via archival footage and present-day interviews, the documentary features reflections by Dominic Dunne, Truman Capote, Henry Geldzahler and rocker Patti Smith.

Fat Girls (R for drug and alcohol use, profanity, and graphic sexual content) Coming-of-age comedy about a couple of ostracized Texas teenage friends, one, just chubby (Ashley Fink), the other, gay (Ash Christian), and dreaming of unleashing his inner diva on Broadway.

Gandhi, My Father (Unrated) Bitter bio-pic chronicles the troubled relationship of India’s spiritual leader Mahatma Gandhi (Darshan Jariwala) and his embittered eldest son, Harilal (Akshaye Khanna), who rebelled against his father by becoming an alcoholic and womanizer before converting to Islam. (In Hindi and English with subtitles)

Klimt (Unrated) John Malkovich channels Gustav Klimt (1862-1918) in the titular role of this bio-pic about the iconoclastic Viennese artist and notorious womanizer who fathered 30 children with the models featured in his erotic paintings. With Saffron Burrows, Veronica Ferres and Irina Wanka. (In French, German and English)

Lagerfeld Confidential (Unrated) Uncritical portrait of cultural icon Karl Lagerfeld features commentaries by Nicole Kidman and Princess Caroline of Monaco about the pony-tailed fashion designer.

Meeting Resistance (Unrated) The resistance movement to the American occupation serves as the subject of this documentary shot by a couple of Western photojournalists who spent ten months embedded with Iraqi insurgency in Baghdad. (In Arabic and English with subtitles)

Moondance Alexander (G) Wholesome family drama about a teen horse whisperer (Kay Panabaker) who takes an interest in turning a pony which escaped from its paddock into a champion jumper. Cast includes Don Johnson, Lori Loughlin and Olympic skater Sasha Cohen.

O Jerusalem (R for graphic battle scenes) Historical epic revisits the creation of Israel in 1948 as seen through the eyes of two friends from New York, one a Jew (J.J. Field), the other, an Arab (Said Taghmaoui) who make their way to the Middle East to contribute to their respective causes. Cast includes Sir Ian Holm, Tom Conti and Tovah Feldshuh.

Trigger Man (Unrated) Harrowing thriller, based on a true tale, about a trio of drinking buddies (Reggie Cunningham, Ray Sullivan and Sean Reid) on a hunting getaway in the woods who have the tables turned on them when they find themselves being stalked by a mysterious sharpshooter.

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.

Crazy Love DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Documentary about Lunatic Lawyer Who Blinded His Mistress Due on DVD

Back in the Fifties, Burt Pugach was an ambulance-chasing attorney who made enough money via shady fee-splitting schemes to open up his own nightclub in Manhattan. He even had plenty left over to lavish a jet set lifestyle on Linda Riss, the attractive receptionist he fell in love with at first sight. Without letting on that he was married, he had swept the impressionable 20 year-old off her feet with private plane rides and by wining and dining her at hot spots like the Copacabana.
But while the 32 year-old adulterer was scheming to take the virginity of his naïve mistress, his poor wife was stuck at home, attending to the needs of their severely retarded daughter, 24/7. When Linda learned that her duplicitous suitor already had a family, she broke off the whirlwind relationship.
This didn’t sit well with Burt, who became insanely jealous and started stalking her. And he went ballistic upon the announcement of Linda’s engagement to a guy her own age. Promising, “If I can’t have her, nobody will,” the lunatic lawyer hired some tough brothers from the ‘hood to throw acid in her face. The lye blinded Linda, who told the police that Burt had to be behind her disfigurement.
The cops tapped his phone line and heard him hatching a plan to cover his tracks by having a hit man “kill those three niggers.” Needless to say, he was arrested, tried and convicted, and sent up the river to Sing Sing in 1959 to rot behind bars for 30 years. Ordinarily, that would have slammed the door on this shocking tale for the tabloids, except for a bizarre twist following Pugach’s early parole for good behavior.
Upon his parole, the creepy psycho tracked her down and proposed. As riveting as a train wreck, Crazy Love is a documentary which recounts all of the above, plus some of the sordid details of the couple’s ensuing, stormy 28-year marriage. Along the way, the picture serves up an array of mind-boggling updates, like the fact that Burt has continued his womanizing ways, even landing back in jail temporarily after one girlfriend accused him of breaking her wrist for dumping him after she became fed-up with his empty promises to leave Linda.
A fascinating flick for anyone looking for a new reason to hate lawyers.

Excellent (4 stars)
PG-13 for profanity, sexual references, and mature themes.
Running time: 93 minutes
Studio: Magnolia Home Entertainment

My Best Friend (Mon meilleur ami) DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: French Farce from Legendary Director Released on DVD

Over the years, Patrice Leconte has proven himself quite adept at plumbing the depths of the human psyche by placing two people with nothing in common in an emotionally-explosive predicament. In Intmate Strangers (2004), it was an unhappily-married woman who started sharing confidences with a tax attorney she mistook for her new psychotherapist.
The Man on the Train (2002) paired a straitlaced professor with a bank robber he befriended at a pharmacy. Girl on the Bridge (1999) revolved around the relationship of a 21 year-old nymphomaniac and the middle-aged circus performer who talked her out of committing suicide. You get the idea.
With My Best Friend, the Oscar-nominated director (for Ridicule) has served up another fascinating double character study, this starring Daniel Auteuil as Francois, an arrogant, antique dealer who’s phenomenally successful, except for the fact that he no one likes him. When Catherine (Julie Gayet), his business partner, points out this failing, he claims to have plenty of friends.
Skeptical, she challenges him to produce his best friend by the end of the month or else surrender possession of his prized Greek vase. Francois immediately accepts the dare, but soon finds none of his acquaintances considers him a friend.
After being rejected by everyone he already knows, he sets his sights on manipulating Bruno (Dany Boon), his regular cab driver, into helping him win the bet. So, unfolds My Best Friend, a sinuously intriguing French farce set in and around a Paris often presented from the perspective of a perambulating taxi.
Down on his luck Bruno, maintains an upbeat demeanor despite the fact that his wife recently left him for another man. And he freely shares with Francois his secret of why he’s so beloved by all his customers, namely, the three S’s, being sociable, smiling and sincere.
Sadly, strategic Francois can’t take this advice to heart, but only sees his cheery chauffeur as a naïve, lower-class loser to be exploited, which doesn’t bode well for his hopes of holding on to his cherished vase when he tries to pass off Bruno as his best friend during the denouement. A satisfying, cinematic masterpiece with an invaluable message about the meaning of real relating.

Excellent (4 stars)
Rated PG-13 for strong profanity.
In French with subtitles.
Running time: 95 minutes
Studio: Genius Productions
DVD Extras: “The Making of” featurette, plus theatrical trailers.

The Trials of Darryl Hunt DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Documentary Vindicating Convict via DNA Evidence Out on DVD

Back in 1984, Debbie Sykes was brutally raped and slain and left scantily clad in a wooded area of her hometown, Winston-Salem, NC. Because she was a popular reporter there, the police were under considerable pressure to crack the high-profile case.
Based on the positive identification by a Ku Klux Klansman, a 19 year-old black kid named Darryl Hunt was soon fingered as the perpetrator. In spite of a lack of any evidence linking him to the crime scene, Hunt was arrested and charged with the murder.
While behind bars, he was jailed briefly with a white convict who was promised parole in return for damning testimony against his cellmate. Not surprisingly, the man soon swore under oath that Darryl had confessed to killing Sykes.
After a trial which might best be described as a rush to judgment, Hunt was found guilty by an all-white jury which took the word of a couple of shady characters over that of an innocent African-American kid with a solid alibi. Sentenced to life imprisonment, he would languish in prison for ten years till his plight came to the attention of the Innocence Project.
At the behest of attorney Barry Scheck, a former member of O.J. Simpson’s infamous Dream Team, the case was reopened and it was subsequently determined that Darryl’s DNA did not match any of the semen left on the body of Sykes. And although it was apparent that he was indeed innocent, it would take another decade to get the corrupt Carolina court system to agree to right the wrong.
That tireless effort to set a wrongfully-convicted man free is the subject of The Trials of Darryl Hunt, a disturbing bio-pic chronicling a mammoth miscarriage of justice which can only be explained as resulting from deep-seated racism. Despite its feelgood resolution, the film offers little in the way of reassurance that the next black man framed in the Deep South won’t have to wait just as long to be vindicated.

Excellent (4 stars)
Running time: 107 minutes
Studio: Velocity/ThinkFilm
DVD Extras: Bonus interviews, deleted scenes, theatrical trailer, plus a featurette.

Transformers DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: CGI-Driven Robot Adventure Arriving on DVD

First introduced by Hasbro in 1984, Transformers are robots disguised as everyday items, such as cars, planes and animals. The morphing action figures have proven to be so popular that the company has added to the product line every year since. Plus, the toys have been spun-off into a TV cartoon series and Marvel comic books.
Transformers were first brought to the big screen in 1986, but that animated version did little more than cash-in on the television show’s success. This 2007 edition, by contrast, is a live-action Michael Bay spectacular, and arrives considerably augmented by an array of rather impressive, computer-generated special effects.
The film is likely to be best appreciated by those who played with Transformers as kids who have remained fans familiar with the franchise, since the picture features far too many automatons for the uninitiated to bother to keep track of. In addition, the screen is cluttered with an abundance of human characters, too, each of whom the script, to its credit, takes the time to imbue with a little personality.
Fortunately, a simplistic, good-versus-evil plotline makes it easy to keep score. In 25 words or less, it reads like this: two competing races of robots, the virtuous Autobots and the evil Decepticons, have arrived on Earth from the planet Cybertron in search of the Allspark, a powerful cube which can unlock the secrets of the universe. One side is bent on world domination, the other on preserving the planet.
Unwittingly-enlisted to assist the latter in that endeavor is Sam Witwicky (Shia LeBeouf), a geeky teen with a car and a cute girlfriend, Mikaela (Megan Fox). Overall, this flick gets this critic’s seal of approval for convincingly animating a cornucopia of robots in overblown epic battles worthy of a bombastic Michael Bay blockbuster.

Excellent (3.5 stars)
Rated PG-13 for profanity, brief sexual humor, and intense sci-fi violence.
Running time: 143 minutes
Studio: Dreamworks Home Entertainment
2-Disc DVD Extras: Commentary by director Michael Bay, cast and crew interviews, stunt training footage, exclusive access to on-set locations, production design, military advisors and digital special f/x, plus “The Making of” featurette, including concept boards.