Friday, November 30, 2007

Superbad DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Funniest Comedy of Year Arrives on DVD

High school seniors Seth (Jonah Hill) and Evan (Michael Cera) have been best friends since childhood. Over the years, these dorks have grown close to each other due to their sharing a low status in the social pecking order among their peers. Now, the pals find themselves facing the prospect of parting in the Fall, which is when Seth will be heading to a state college while Evan matriculates at Dartmouth.
But preventing them from experiencing any pangs of separation anxiety over their mutual dependency is their raging hormones. Despite being ostracized, they’re still totally-obsessed with the opposite sex and intent on losing their virginity before graduation.
The odds of that happening seem rather remote since they’re so unpopular, at least until the series of fortuitous events which unfolds via divine intervention during their last Home Economics class of the semester. First, Seth is shocked to be invited to a house party by Jules (Emma Stone), the cutie pie he has a crush on. After boasting that he can bring the booze, he accepts $100 from her, even though he doesn’t know exactly how, as a minor, he’s going to be able to buy any.
To the rescue comes Fogell (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), aka McLovin, a self-assured geek who confidently announces that he’s getting a fake driver’s license that very day. Then, Evan learns that Becca (Martha MacIsaac), a girl he’s long lusted for from afar, will be attending the soiree, too, and with that plot point established, Superbad is set for liftoff.
The series of skits that ensues might best be described as a relentlessly-raunchy cross between American Pie and Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle, a laugh out loud teensploit that’s every bit as funny as either of those classics. Fair warning, with the f-word being employed more than once a minute, you need a strong stomach for cursing to appreciate this picture. Provided you do, however, you will be richly rewarded by this testosterone-fueled fantasy which is easily the funniest movie of 2007.

Excellent (4 stars)
Running time: 119 minutes
Studio: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

2-Disc DVD Extras: Gag reel, unrated additional footage, audio commentary, deleted and extended scenes, a “Behind-the-Scenes” plus nine other featurettes.

Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Disney Releases Finale of Depp Trilogy on DVD

Who cares that this might be an incoherent, overplotted mess, when it comes stocked with an intriguing love triangle, plus enough swashbuckling action and spooky special effects to make you forget the fact that the story is almost impossible to keep straight? That’s exactly what we have with the finale of Disney’s kiddie trilogy featuring Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow.

When last we saw the terminally-eccentric skipper of the Black Pearl, he and his ship had been dragged to the bottom of the ocean by the Kraken, a mammoth sea monster doing the bidding of dastardly Davy Jones (Bill Nighy). In the interim, piracy has turned into a rather perilous profession, due to an unholy alliance between Jack’s tentacle-faced tormentor and Lord Beckett (Tom Hollander), the Chairman of the East India Trading Company.

With Beckett now in control of The Flying Dutchman, Jones’ ghoulish ghost ship, the invincible vessel has been ridding the Seven Seas of pirates. So, as the film unfolds, we are greeted with the spectacle of the mass hanging of hundreds of convicts condemned to the gallows.

Since Pirates 2 and 3 were shot simultaneously, fans of the franchise are forewarned to anticipate a sense of déjà vu while watching this flick. Although the scenes are certainly original, there remains a vaguely familiarity air about it all.

In sum, At World’s End is a CGI-driven, seafaring exploring an assortment of themes such as love and betrayal, good versus evil, and failing and redemption. Unfortunately, it spins a far more convoluted yarn than its target demographic is likely to appreciate, a flaw further complicated by a glut of both good guys and bad guys to keep track of.

Best thought of as a Johnny Depp vehicle to be savored as a mindless, mildly scary escape.

Very good (3 stars)

Rated PG-13 for intense violence and frightening images.

Running time: 168 minutes

Studio: Buena Vista Home Entertainment

2-Disc DVD Extras: Bloopers, filmmaker’s audio commentary, three featurettes, and a short film created exclusively for the DVD


DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: DVD Features Female Hip-Hop, Brazilian-Style

What hath hip-hop wrought? There is an emerging trend worthy of note in foreign films, namely, movies featuring aspiring rappers. America obviously is doing a decent job of exporting the celebrated aspects of ghetto culture and thereby causing an explosion of wannabes elsewhere.
Although Antonia is fictional and set in Brazil, it arrives heavily-laden with a music video sensibility. The film revolves around four black babes from the Sao Paulo barrio fed up with being backup singers. So, they form their own all-girl group called Antonia in order to perform a new brand of music combining elements of pop, soul and rap. However, despite the best efforts of the producer (Thaide) who discovers them and puts them on the banana circuit, their personal lives remain enough of a mess to prevent them from making it over the top.
Whether it’s Barbarah’s (Leilah Moreno) exacting a measure of revenge on the gay basher who murdered her brother’s boyfriend, jealous Preta (Negra Li) opting to raise her daughter by herself because of her suspicions that Maya (Jacqueline Simao) might be after her emotionally-distant husband, or pregnant Lena (Cindy Mendes) dealing with pressure from her baby-daddy to have an abortion, everybody has issues.
Curiously, the lead actresses here are ostensibly actual aspiring hip-hop artists who perform their own tunes. While their rendition of Killing Me Softly won’t make you forget either Roberta Flack or Lauryn Hill’s versions, they’re at least able to hold their own.
Still, Antonia is rather weird for an overcoming-the-odds flick in that the four newcomers cast in the starring roles are obviously attempting to achieve in real-life what the characters they’re portraying are trying to do in the saga on screen. It all adds up to an entertaining adventure, but please don’t quit your day jobs, ladies.

Very good (3 stars)
Rated PG-13 for profanity, violence and mature themes.
In Portuguese with English subtitles.
Running time: 88 minutes
Studio: Echo Bridge Home Entertainment

Naked Boys Singing DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Adaptation of Risque Off-Broadway Revue Arrives on DVD

If you appreciate truth in advertising, and also like looking at nude men, then you’re apt to enjoy the appropriately entitled Naked Boys Singing. Based on the long-running, Off-Broadway play of the same name, this off-beat comedy is essentially a slightly enhanced film version of the stage production of the risqué musical revue.
Directed by Robert Schrock and Troy Christian, it’s a full-frontal celebration of the male form featuring 16 show tunes with suggestive titles such as “Gratuitous Nudity,” “The Naked Maid,” “Nothin’ But the Radio On,” “The Bliss of Bris” and “Perky Little Porn Star.” Most of the pithy, gay-themed songs have raunchy lines which leave even less to the imagination than the actors cavorting around in their birthday suits.
The movie was shot mostly inside an L.A. theater where the live audience was warned of the dire consequences for anyone who fails to turn off a cell phone before the bawdy burlesque gets underway. And sure enough, a loud ring later leads to the culprit being dragged up on stage and stripped butt-naked.
This is a picture which repeatedly seizes on the flimsiest of excuses to enable the cast to go public with their privates. Nonetheless, it’s also easy to elicit from the lyrics that a loftier goal is afoot, namely, to take an honest look at life from a healthy homosexual perspective. For example, “Fight the Urge” describes what it’s like to walk through a men’s locker room when you’re gay, while “Look at What You’ve Missed” is an emotional ode to a late lover who has passed away from AIDS.
Alternately silly and shocking, yet ultimately moving, Naked Boys Singing cleverly reveals the vulnerability of ubiquitous nudity to be a window to the human soul.

Excellent (3.5 stars)
Running time: 95 minutes
Studio: TLA Releasing

DVD Extras: A featurette entitled “Nuts and Bolts.”

Drama/Mex DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Morally-Ambiguous, Acapulco Adventure Out on DVD

Unfolding over the course of one day in the decaying resort town of Acapulco, this film relates a pair of interlocking tales about local ne’er-do-wells frittering away their futures in the tawdry tourist trap. One story revolves around Fernanda (Diana Garcia), a Latino version of Paris Hilton. This daughter of a Mexican hotel magnate is hanging out all alone at her sumptuous family estate when Chino (Emilio Valdes), an ex-boyfriend, shows up uninvited and starts pressuring her to make love.
She reminds the intruder that she already has a new beau, Gonzalo (Juan Pablo Castaneda), a yuppie who knows how to treat her like a lady. Chino’s response is to rip off her clothes and to take her against her will. Yet, when he’s through, rather than call the cops, she opts to copulate with him again, apparently being hopelessly attracted to the bad-boy type.
Meanwhile, Jaime (Fernando Becerril), a suicidal, middle-aged bureaucrat, spits on his boss’ desk after stealing the company payroll. He then heads home where he declines his daughter’s invitation for an incestuous liaison. Instead, he heads to the shore where he rents a motel room with every intention of killing himself.
Once there, however, he encounters 15 year-old Tigrillo (Miriana Moro), a “massage therapist” (Miriana Moro) on the prowl for rich tourists to offer oral relaxation before picking their pockets. Initially, she swipes Jaime’s wallet but later ‘fesses up, proving to be the proverbial prostitute with a heart of gold.
Will Fernanda wake up and dump Chino before Gonzalo finds out she’s cheating on him? Will Jaime pull the trigger on the pistol he’s holding to his head or will he be tempted to start over with the naughty nymphet? This morally-ambiguous adventure contemplates these questions while cleverly keeping you riveted to these loco losers’ predicaments till the bitter end.

Excellent (4 stars)
In Spanish and English with subtitles.
Running time: 93 minutes
Studio: Genius Productions

The Girl Next Door DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: True Tale of Teen Torture Released on DVD

Left orphaned after the untimely deaths of their parents in a car accident, Meg (Blythe Auffarth) and Susan (Madeline Taylor) Loughlin found themselves suddenly adopted by their Aunt Ruth Chandler (Blanche Baker), a single-mom already raising three adolescent boys on her own. Unfortunately, the authorities had no idea the woman had some serious issues, specifically, that she was a severely disturbed sadist whose mind was spiraling towards madness.
Because Chandler looked normal, no one would come to suspect the unspeakable horrors unfolding inside the soundproofed bomb shelter in her basement of her nondescript house on an otherwise quiet dead end street. But Ruth resented her nieces from the moment they moved in, and began taking it out on them immediately, both mentally and physically.
Plus, she involved her sons and one of their friends, David (Daniel Manche), in the torture, which came to focus on 14 year-old Megan, since her sickly younger sibling wore braces on her legs due to polio. Gradually, the mistreatment escalated from verbal abuse to beatings to bondage to rape and disfigurement, with chain-smoking Ruth always orchestrating the action. She would pressure the males to perform whatever atrocity she could dream up daily, first plying them with beer, afterwards threatening them with death if they told a soul about what had transpired.
This kinky scenario underpins The Girl Next Door, a harrowing crime saga adapted from the best seller of the same name by Jack Ketchum loosely-based on an actual case that transpired in Indiana in 1965. Directed by Gregory Wilson, this super-realistic picture is so relentlessly-disturbing it’s likely to trigger debate as to whether the filmmaker might have left too little to the imagination.
So, brace yourself for a daring docudrama featuring practically-pornographic horror fare far more frightening than the Scream trilogy. Not for the squeamish. You wuz warned.

Excellent (4 stars)
Rated R for nudity, profanity, graphic violence and sexual abuse, all involving minors.
Running time: 93 minutes
Studio: Anchor Bay Entertainment

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 December 7, 2007


Atonement (R for profanity, sexuality and disturbing war images) Decades-spanning romance drama, opening in England in 1935, about the budding relationship between a rich girl (Keira Knightley) and the son (James McAvoy) of her family’s maid aborted when he is falsely accused of a crime by her jealous younger sister (Saoirse Ronan). Supporting cast includes Vanessa Redgrave, Brenda Blethyn, Romola Garai and Anthony Minghella.

Dirty Laundry (PG-13 for profanity, sexuality, homophobic slurs and mature themes) Out of the closet comedy about a black man (Rockmond Dunbar), living on the down low with a white boyfriend (Joey Costello) in New York City, whose world is turned upside-down when he learns that he has a son (Aaron Grady Shaw) back in his small Southern hometown where nobody knows he’s gay. Featuring Loretta Devine, Jenifer Lewis and Sommore.

The Golden Compass (PG-13 for fantasy violence) Epic escapist fantasy, based on Philip Pullman’s award-winning novel, about a precocious 12 year-old scholar (Dakota Blue Richards) already attending Oxford who ventures into a parallel universe to save her best friend and other children kidnapped by an evil organization known as the Gobblers. Ensemble cast includes Nicole Kidman, Daniel Craig, Ian McKellen, Kathy Bates, Christopher Lee, Ian McShane, Sam Elliott, Kristin Scott Thomas and Freddie Highmore.


The Amateurs (R for sex and expletives) Bawdy comedy about a bunch of local yokels in a small town in Middle America who come up with the bright idea of making a porno movie. Ecdysiastic ensemble includes Jeff “Starman” Bridges, Jennifer “Stifler’s Mom” Coolidge, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Isaiah Washington, and Tim Blake Nelson.

The Band’s Visit (PG-13 for brief profanity) Cross-cultural comedy about the hijinks which ensue when an Egyptian police orchestra gets lost on its way to a concert in Israel and ends up stranded in a tiny town where everybody learns a touching lesson in tolerance. (In Arabic, Hebrew and English with subtitles)

Grace Is Gone (PG-13 for teen smoking, mature themes and brief profanity) Fractured family drama about a recent widower (John Cusack) who takes his pre-teen daughters (Shelan O’Keefe and Gracie Bednarczyk) on a cross-country trip from Minnesota to a Florida theme park while trying to figure out how to break the news that their soldier mom has perished over in Iraq.

The Holy Modal Rounders (Unrated) Musical documentary recounts the unorthodox career of The Holy Modal Rounders, an obscure folk rock band which maintained a cult following for 40-year despite bickering, addiction and other bad habits.

Juno (PG-13 for profanity, premarital sexuality and mature themes) Coming-of-age dramedy about a pregnant teen (Ellen Page) who divides her time between getting to know the father (Michael Cera) and bonding with the couple (Jennifer Garner and Jason Bateman) about to adopt her unborn baby. Cast includes Allison Janney, J.K. Simmons and Rainn Wilson.

Looking for Cheyenne (R for sexuality and profanity) Bittersweet romance about an unemployed journalist (Mila Dekker) who abandons Paris for the country, leaving behind a bi-sexual lover (Aurelia Petit) who then becomes involved in unsatisfactory relationships with an anarchist (Malik Zidi) and a lesbian (Guilaine Londez) till she realizes that her ex still owns her heart. (In French with subtitles)

Man in the Chair (PG-13 for profanity and mature themes) Drama about a troubled teen (Michael Angarano) trying to turn his life around by gaining admission to film school with the help of senior citizens living at an old folks home for film industry retirees. With Christopher Plummer, M. Emmet Walsh and Robert Wagner.

Revolver (R for nudity, profanity and violence) Guy Ritchie and Luc Besson collaborated on this crime saga about a mobster casino owner (Ray Liotta) who orders a hit on a lucky gambler (Jason Statham) who has beaten him in a private game. With Andre Benjamin, Vincent Pastore and Terence Maynard.

Strength and Honour (R for profanity) Overcoming the odds drama about an ex-boxer (Sean Kelleher) who re-enters the ring and thereby breaks his promise to his dying wife (Norma Sheahan) not to fight again in order to make enough money to save the life of their dying son (Luke Whelton). With Vinnie Jones as his formidable foe, Smasher O’Driscoll.

‘Tis Autumn: The Search for Jackie Paris (Unrated) Bittersweet bio-pic revisits the rise and fall of Jackie Paris (1924-2004), a once-promising singer who burst on the postwar jazz scene to win the Downbeat Critics Poll as the Best New Male Vocalist in 1953 only to labor in obscurity for most of his career following that explosive debut.

Tony N’ Tina’s Wedding (Unrated) Screen adaptation of the long-running, Off-Broadway play, set in the Eighties, about the comedy of errors which ensues for a couple of high school sweethearts (Joey McIntyre and Mila Kunis) tying the knot when both of their Italian-American families try to take control of the wedding plans.

The Violin (Unrated) Intergenerational political potboiler, set in Mexico, about a trio of traveling troubadours, a grandfather (Angel Tavira), his son (Gerardo Taracena), and grandson (Mario Garibaldi), who pose as harmless musicians while secretly helping to arm the guerilla movement of peasant farmers intent on overthrowing the government’s oppressive regime. (In Spanish with subtitles)

The Walker (R for profanity, violence and nude images) Woody Harrelson stars in this political potboiler about a refined male escort who serves as the gay companion to well-connected, Washington, DC society ladies till he unwittingly ends up implicated in a murder. Cast includes Lauren Bacall, Ned Beatty, Kristin Scott Thomas, Mary Beth Hurt, Lily Tomlin and Willem Dafoe.

Exiled (Fong juk) DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: DVD Has Hit Men Chasing Mobster in High-Octane Chopsocky

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

Excellent (3.5 stars)
Rated R for sexuality and graphic violence.
In Cantonese with subtitles.
Running time: 109 minutes
Studio: Magnolia Home Entertainment

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (FRENCH)

(Le Scaphandre et le Papillon)
Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Bittersweet Bio-Pic Based on the Memoir of Paralyzed Stroke Victim

On December 9, 1995, Jean-Dominique Bauby (1952-1997) suffered a massive stroke which left him in a coma for three weeks. When he regained consciousness, he was completely paralyzed except for being able to blink his left eye, a condition diagnosed as locked-in syndrome.
At the time of the devastating disaster, the freewheeling 43 year-old (played by Mathieu Amalric) had been the editor-in-chief of the French edition of Elle Magazine and something of a bon vivant. He had also abandoned his common-law wife (Emmanuelle Seigner) and three kids for the arms of a mistress (Agatha de la Fontaine) who would have no interest in visiting him in the hospital after his accident.
As conveyed from his point of view from behind his one good eye, we hear the inner monologue of a scared soul who’d quite frankly rather be dead than remain feeling trapped inside a useless body. He hates the prospect of being thought of as a vegetable and resents it when his doctor (Patrick Chesnais) sews his right eyelid shut without asking his permission.
So, it’s no surprise, then, that this unfortunate soul would soon be consumed by both self pity and overwhelming regret. This is the dire point of departure of The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, a bittersweet bio-pic based on Bauby’s inspirational memoir of the same name.
Yes, you read correctly, memoir, for, with the support of very dedicated physical (Olatz Lopez Garmendia) and speech (Marie-Josee Croze) therapists, and the encouragement of Claude (Anne Consigny), the woman who dutifully recorded his dictation, he was helped to transcend his seemingly hopelessly straits and to write a best selling book about his feelings and fantasies. He resumed this communication with the outside world by means of a tie-consuming blinking system of spelling out words, letter by letter.
To convey Bauby’s mental metamorphosis cinematically, the movie cleverly widens its visual perspective from narrowly reflecting his physical limitations to one allowing for an assortment of conventional camera angles. By first relying on the restrictive cinematic device director Julian Schnabel that more effectively conveys the contrasting feelings of the protagonist post-transformation.
Recalled by life, and egged on by his support team, Jean-Dominique discovers that he still has access to cherished memories and a boundless imagination, and so he pours himself into the project with abandon. He lives just long enough to see the book published, as he passed away a few days after its release.
The Sea Inside meets My Left Foot.

Excellent (3.5 stars)
Rated PG-13 for nudity, sexuality and some profanity.
In French and English with subtitles.
Running time: 112 minutes
Studio: Miramax Films

Fishing for Love on the Net: A Guide to Those Searching for Love

by Myles Reed, Jr.
Paperback, $14.95
156 pages
ISBN: 978-0-595-42491-7

Book Review by Kam Williams

“Many people have tried online dating with no success. The steps necessary to secure love online still remains a mystery. Many more people are sitting on the sidelines, waiting and wondering if they should try it.
Online dating is a phenomenal avenue to meet that special someone. I am going to share with you six years of experience that will take the mystery out of online dating. I will show you that there is a process that is unique to online dating and is inescapable. The truths of my experience will give hope and clarity to those serious about finding love.”
-- Excerpted from the Introduction (pages xiii-xiv)

Judging by all the lovey-dovey couples you see snuggling in the TV commercials promoting internet dating, it’s easy to assume that finding your lifemate in the 21st Century is as simple as signing up with a matchmaking service like Dr. Neil Clark Warren’s eHarmony. Truth be told, searching for Mr. or Ms. Right is far more complicated than those ads imply.
That’s the contention of Myles Reed, Jr., author of Fishing for Love on the Net. The author, a CPA/MBA with 15 years experience in corporate America working for Fortune 500 companies, spent a half-dozen years using the net as his primary means of meeting women. And now that he’s very happily-married with a newborn baby, he’s written a book to help others avoid the common pitfalls encountered by singles seeking a companion in cyberspace.
Perusing this informative how-to tome, one soon gets the sense that it was written by a highly-organized individual who knows his subject matter thoroughly. In addition, the chapters are well-structured, with each being broken up by subheadings and bullet points which highlight salient points.
Fishing for Love opens by putting the uninitiated at ease about virtual socializing, since just as most of us now send far more email than snail mail, internet dating is now mainstream, and has already replaced face-to-face meetings as the preferred means of auditioning a potential partner. With millions of contacts a keyboard away, the challenge, apparently, is in effectively narrowing down your choices as you negotiate your way around the web without being worn out by option fatigue.
Among other things, Reed suggests being honest, not dating more than four people at once, and not carrying on more than two Instant Message conversations simultaneously. Apparently, it is also wise to subscribe to a service specializing in the type of mate you’re looking for. In his case, his efforts came to fruition after meeting his wife-to-be at
A practical guide stocked with sound advice from a satisfied customer and sage veteran of the cyber singles scene.

The Savages

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Estranged Siblings Care for Senile Dad in Dysfunctional Family Drama

Alzheimer’s patient Lenny Savage (Philip Bosco) was living in an upscale assisted living community with his common-law wife, Doris (Rosemary Murphy), when she suddenly dropped dead. Relying on a non-marital agreement signed years prior, her heartless heirs decide to kick him out of the Arizona condo which was solely in their mother’s name.
Consequently, the burden of finding a retirement home capable of caring for someone whose senility has him smearing excrement on the walls suddenly falls to Lenny’s children living clear across the country. Although Jon (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and Wendy (Laura Linney) are single, they’re not really ready to take on the unanticipated responsibility, since both of them are already dealing with serious issues of their own.
Wendy is an aspiring playwright plunged so deeply into denial that she claims to have won a Guggenheim grant when, in truth, she supports herself by doing temp work. Her love life isn’t any better, as she’s carrying on a self-destructive affair with an older, married man (Peter Friedman) in the midst of a mid-life crisis.
Relatively-successful Jon, on the other hand, a literature professor in Buffalo, is under pressure from his department to finish the book on Bertolt Brecht he’s been working on. Plus, he’s agonizing over whether to wed his Polish girlfriend (Cara Seymour) before her visa expires.
So, when Wendy and Jon venture to Sun City to rescue their ailing their father, they struggle to keep their emotional baggage on a back burner. But then, Jon’s impatience with the situation rubs Wendy the wrong way when he threatens to leave, and unresolved simmering sibling rivalry starts rising to the surface. “Do not leave me alone with this,” she warns. “This is a crisis.”
Arriving at a compromise, they agree to bring Lenny to Buffalo, and to place him in an affordable nursing home. Wendy sticks around town, which means she and her brother will now have ample opportunities to bicker with each other over their respective writing careers and dysfunctional romantic relationships.
So unfolds The Savages, a maudlin, slice-of-life drama written and directed by Tamara Jenkins (Slums of Beverly Hills). You couldn’t ask for a better pair of leads to execute the character-driven script than Laura Linney and Philip Seymour Hoffman. And they never disappoint, disappearing into roles which fit like gloves.
If only the film’s prevailing tone were optimistic and uplifting, rather than pessimistic and funereal, then there might be more of a reason to recommend such a downer of a flick at holiday time. For even if well done, who wants to watch a couple of middle-aged adolescents act out while their father slowly wastes away?

Very Good (3 stars)
Rated R for sexuality and profanity.
Running time: 113 minutes
Studio: Fox Searchlight

Monday, November 26, 2007

Mr. Bean’s Holiday

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Britain’s Most Beloved Mute Behaves Like a Buffoon While Vacationing in France

In England, where Mr. Bean (Rowan Atkinson) is something of a national treasure, his original sitcom ran on TV from 1990 to 1995 before going into syndication. In the U.S., the show aired briefly on PBS, but the character never really made much of a splash here till his eponymous first feature film arrived in theaters in 1997.
A bit of an acquired taste, the rubber-faced half-wit appeals to folks susceptible to his inimitable brand of humor. He’s a nattily-attired, nearly-mute, naïve innocent who routinely wreaks havoc wherever he goes. And all while an increasingly calamitous comedy of errors unfolds around him.
Mr. Bean’s Holiday is lost entirely on this critic, given that I had a hard time figuring out whether this misadventure was supposed to be funny. Perhaps a laugh track could’ve helped. In any case, the story revolves around our hapless hero’s very eventful trip by rail from Paris to Cannes during which he inadvertently separates a young boy (Max Baldry) from his father (Karel Roden), a famous movie critic en route to the film festival.
Bean and the boy lose their luggage and tickets and are booted off the train only to be lucky enough to be picked up while hitchhiking by a beautiful actress (Emma de Caunes) who just happens to be headed all the way to the same destination.
To be honest, it makes little zero sense to recount this picture’s plotline. Either you’re the type of person who’s entertained by the sight of a grown man silently chasing a chicken or lip-synching along with opera, or you ain’t. Lotsa low-rent, mime-like malapropisms, if that’s your taste.

Fair (1 star)
Rated G
In English and French with subtitles
Running time: 90 minutes
Studio: Universal Studios Home Entertainment
DVD Extras: Deleted scenes, plus three featurettes

No Country for Old Men

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Hit Man, Hunter and Sheriff Match Wits in Well-Crafted Coen Brothers’ Whodunit

While hunting antelope in the desert along the Rio Grande border, Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin) stumbles upon the fresh carnage of a drug deal gone bad. Although the ground is littered with lots of bullet-riddled corpses and one badly-wounded Mexican, the intrepid Vietnam veteran wanders rights into the crime scene and pokes around, finding a pickup packed with heroin and a suitcase containing two million dollars.
Seizing the satchel, Llewelyn rushes home to share the windfall with his wife, Carla Jean (Kelly Macdonald). But later, his conscience gets the better of him, and he makes the ill-advised decision to return to the prairie to check on the condition of the gun battle’s sole survivor, only to end-up almost caught in an ambush by some gangsters looking for the loot.
Because Llewelyn has to make his escape on foot, he knows that it’s just a matter of time before both the crooks and the authorities trace the truck he left behind back to him. Out of concern for his wife’s safety, he sends her out of town to stay with his mother-in-law until the smoke clears, while he braces himself for the fallout certain to ensue.
Also aware of the botched operation is Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem), a sadistic sociopath who clearly has no compunction about eliminating anyone standing between him and the money. At the point of departure, we find this unsavory character in police custody, though he soon strangles a deputy and makes his break in the officer’s patrol car.
With Anton now hot on the trail of Llewelyn, close to retiring Sheriff Bell (Tommy Lee Jones) soon joins the chase. He’s bothered by the fact that a sadist with a penchant for torture is on a grisly killing spree, so he wants to crack this onelast case before quietly slipping off into the sunset. But as the attrition-rate continues to mount, it becomes clear that despite all their experience, the elusive outdoorsman Llewelyn and the seasoned lawman Bell are up against more than they bargained for in the trigger-happy hit man.
What ensues is a nerve-wracking cat-and-mouse caper guaranteed to keep you on edge for the duration. Based on Cormac McCarthy’s best seller of the same name, No Country for Old Men is a messy, modern-day Western overlaid with elements of a psychological thriller.
As adapted by Ethan and Joel Coen, the generally claustrophobic whodunit curiously unfolds against the visually-expansive backdrop offered by some sumptuous, big sky panoramas. Nonetheless, what makes the film memorable is the trio of powerful performances turned in by its three principals.
Javier Bardem steals the show as perhaps the most unnerving screen villain of the year, a monster who ups the ante in terms of tension by holding a cattle gun to his victims’ heads while flipping a coin to determine who lives and who dies. Almost as engaging are Tommy Lee Jones’ relatively-reflective, aging gunslinger eager to get out of the game, and Josh Brolin’s morally-compromised rogue on the run enveloped in a harrowing existential Hell.
Expect this flick to be remembered at Oscar time, in spite of an enigmatic ending reminiscent of Blow Up.

Excellent (4 stars)
Rated R for profanity and graphic violence.
Running time: 122 minutes
Studio: Miramax Films

Sunday, November 25, 2007


Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Psychological Drama Examines Toll Iraq War Takes on Returning Vet

Jerry (Jamie Draven) was just a patriotic country boy from the Badlands of Montana trying to serve his country when he naively enlisted in the Marine Reserves as a teenager. But he was never the same after being discharged from the military following the last of several tours of duty in the Middle East, which began with the first Gulf War, then Afghanistan, and ended back to Iraq.
For during that last campaign, he participated in a My Lai- style massacre which has left him haunted by nightmares and nosebleeds ever since his return. This Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) has also prevented him from controlling his rage, holding a job, or functioning again as a husband and father to his wife, Nora (Vinessa Shaw) and three young children.
Feeling more and more estranged from this husband she no longer recognizes, Nora comes to resent his very presence in the home. Things come to head the day he discovers that she’s betrayed him. Of course, it doesn’t help any that she’s so fed up by then that she blurts out, “You should have died over there. You would’ve been better off.”
Unamused and infuriated, Jerry impulsively shoots his wife dead right on the spot, and quickly kills his sons, too. But when the gun misfires instead of blowing nine year-old Celina’s (Grace Fulton) brains out, he experiences a moment of sanity and decides not only to spare his little girl’s life but to make his getaway with her in tow.
So, unfolds the tortoise-paced Badland, the latest in a long line of preachy anti-war anthems. This picture’s primary problem is that it’s way to long, clocking in at almost three years. At least half the celluloid should have hit the editing room floor, since this one-trick road flick revolves around Jerry’s constantly contemplating suicide and belatedly bonding with his daughter while eluding the authorities.
During his escape, he is befriended by Oli (Chandra West), a cute café owner with a heart of gold who has no clue that the vet is deranged capable of going off again. Director Francesco Lucento repeatedly relies on leveraging Jerry’s mental instability to maintain the tension. But this becomes tiring after an hour, boring after two, and torture by Badland’s closing credits.
To top it all off, the film’s resolution turns on a rabbit-out-of-the-hat headscratcher you never see coming. PTSD as more of mind game than reality.

Fair (1 star)
Rated R for pervasive profanity and some disturbing violence.
Running time: 160 minutes
Studio: Copex/Archangelo Entertainment

Nina's Heavenly Delights

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Latent Lesbians Bend It Like Emeril in Formulaic Female Empowerment Flick

When Prodigal Daughter Nina Shah (Shelley Conn) returns to Glasgow for the first time in three years to attend her estranged father’s (Raad Rawi) funeral, it’s apparent that the Westernized young woman has something to hide. But between their mourning and handling the arrangements, her mother (Veena Sood) and siblings are too preoccupied to take any hints from the fact that she’s hanging out with a flamboyant drag queen (Ronny Jhutti).
Plus, they’re trying to save the jewel in their East Indian-Scottish clan’s crown, a famous curry house called “The New Taj.” Seems that the late family patriarch had a gambling problem which left half the restaurant in the hands of Lisa (Laura Fraser), the attractive blonde now dating Kary (Atta Yaqub), Nina’s brother.
When the owner (Art Malik) of a rival eatery expresses an interest in buying the Taj, most of the Shahs are prepared to sell. But not Nina, whose jilted former fiancé (Raji James) is the man’s son and head chef. What nobody suspects is that she’s really a lesbian and would rather lock lips and loins with Lisa than hand the place over to her ex.
So, Nina concocts the perfect plan to save the Taj, namely, to enter and win the annual “Best of the West” cook-off competition. Fortunately, Lisa agrees, and the two new business partners proceed to flirt coyly with each other while whipping up recipes for the big showdown. Don’t be misled by the intriguing premise of Nina's Heavenly Delights, for as promising as it might sound, the movie, unfortunately, is too artlessly executed to measure up to its considerable potential.
Between its plodding pace and predictable plot developments, the production repeatedly fritters away opportunities to address meaningfully any of the assorted themes it dances around, ranging from homosexuality to family to tolerance to assimilation to male chauvinism to sexual preference. You know a cross-cultural, gender-bending dramedy has issues, when its most memorable moment is a blasphemous, bouncy Bollywood musical finale featuring a female impersonator.

Fair (1.5 stars)
Rated PG-13 for sexuality.
Running time: 95 minutes
Studio: Regent Releasing

Friday, November 23, 2007

Waitress DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Murdered Director’s Tour de Force Arrives on DVD Posthumously

Adrienne Shelly’s promising career was cut short on November 1, 2006, when she was robbed and hung in her Manhattan apartment by an illegal immigrant who later confessed to committing the murder. At the time of her death, she had recently completed Waitress, an engaging ensemble dramedy which she had not only written and directed, but had co-starred in as well.
The film focuses on the divergent fortunes of a trio of twangy-accented waitresses working at Joe’s Pie Diner, which appears to be the social hub of their tiny, close-knit community. The picture’s primary plot revolves around Jenna (Keri Russell), a pregnant piemaker, who’s hopelessly stuck in a bad marriage to an abusive jerk (Jeremy Sisto).
Desperate for a way out of her dire predicament, she decides to enter a pie cooking contest with a $25,000 grand prize. If she wins, she plans to use the money to leave her husband. She simultaneously embarks on an ill-advised affair with the town’s newly-arrived gynecologist, the dashing and debonair, but also-married Dr. Pomatter (Nathan Fillion).
Meanwhile, both of Jenna’s confidantes and colleagues, ballsy Becky (Cheryl Hines) and nerdy wallflower Dawn (Shelly), have their own emotional baggage to unload, but nothing quite as self-destructive. The counter girls’ dysfunction doesn’t escape the observant eye of their elderly boss, Joe (Andy Griffith), a sage old soul able to size up a situation without much information.
Equal parts comedy and drama, Waitress is a warts-and-all tale of female empowerment featuring adult-oriented humor as sophisticated as the mature themes it tackles. Posthumous kudos are in order for Ms. Shelly for figuring a way to present her trio of flawed heroines so empathetically, given their behaviors’ crossing over into the outrageous and the unsavory.
It’s just a shame that this multi-talented woman with so much potential who dreamt it all up was taken from us before her time.

Excellent (3.5 stars)
Rated PG-13 for sexuality, profanity and mature themes.
Running time: 108 minutes
Studio: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
DVD Extras: Audio commentaries by the producer and by co-star Keri Russell, a documentary about Adrienne Shelly, a message about the Adrienne Shelly Foundation, plus several other featurettes.

Pixar Short Films Collection – Volume 1 DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: A Baker’s Dozen of Bite-Sized Animated Masterpieces Out on DVD

Originally founded by George Lucas as a division of LucasFilm, Pixar is probably a leading producer of state-of-the-art, computer-generated images which almost single-handedly changed the face of animated features. Since debuting with Toy Story in 1995, Pixar has produced an enviable string of hits, including A Bug’s Life, Toy Story 2, Monster’s, Inc., Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, Cars and, most recently, Ratatouille.
The company was recently acquired by Walt Disney, which all but ensures a continued commitment to the highest quality family-oriented fare. What some might forget is that besides full-length cartoons, it has also made a number of memorable shorts. Now 13 of these have been packaged together on one DVD for the first time, though all but 2, The Adventures of Andre & Wall B. and Red’s Dream, have been previously paired with a Pixar hit flick.
The Adventures of Andre & Wall B (2 minutes ) is not exactly new, but actually quite the opposite, as it resulted from an early experiment in computer animation from 1984. The same can be said of Red’s Dream (4 minutes), a tale from 1987 about a unicycle sitting in the bargain bin of a toy store.
The rest, you’re probably already familiar with if you’re a serious enough Pixar fan to be considering this collection. Tin Toy (5 minutes long) accompanied Toy Story, Geri’s Game (4 minutes) was released with A Bug’s Life, the Oscar-nominated Luxo Jr. (2 minutes) came with Toy Story 2, while Mike’s New Car (4 minutes) and For the Birds (3 minutes) can be found with Monsters, Inc. Then there’s Knick Knack (4 minutes) which went with Finding Nemo, Boundin’ (5 minutes) and Jack-Jack Attack (5 minutes), both with The Incredibles, One Man Band (4 minutes) with Cars and Mater and the Ghostlight (7 minutes), both with Cars, and last but not least Lifted (5 minutes), from Ratatouille.
A bounty of enchanting, bite-sized treats guaranteed to delight young and old alike for years to come.

Excellent (4 stars)
Rated G
Running time: 54 minutes
Studio: Buena Vista Home Entertainment
DVD Extras: A short history of the Pixar Shorts, audio commentaries, and more.

This Christmas

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Skeletons Aplenty in Dysfunctional Family Dramedy

For the first time in years, the scattered Whitfield siblings are returning to their childhood home in L.A. for a family reunion being hosted by their mother, Ma’ Dere (Loretta Devine) with the help of her longtime, live-in boyfriend, Joe Black (Delroy Lindo). But since each of the kids arrives not only with luggage but burdened by emotional baggage, there are some pressing issues which urgently need to be addressed before they can all comfortably share in the anticipated Christmas celebration
Uncompromising Kelli (Lauren Leal) has a very successful professional career in New York City, but no man in her life, because she’s picky and refuses to settle. Meanwhile, Melanie (Lauren London), in from Atlanta, is a free-spirited undergrad in her seventh year at Spelman College where she keeps changing her major to match that of her latest boy-toy. She’s brought along her latest, Devean (Keith Robinson), a pre-law major at neighboring Morehouse College.
Arriving from San Francisco is eldest sister Lisa (Regina King), who has suffered through a bad marriage to unfaithful and abusive Malcolm (Laz Alonso) only for the sake of their children. Now, the philandering creep is pressuring Lisa to ask her mother for money he wants to invest in a business deal with his mistress (Amy Hunter).
As for the Whitfield males, there’s hot-headed Claude (Columbus Short), on leave from the Marines, who’s hiding his white girlfriend, Sandi (Jessica Stroup), in a nearby hotel. He’s hesitant about introducing her to his folks, not only on account of her skin color, but because of some other big secrets they need to come clean about.
Quentin, Jr. (Idris Elba) is a struggling jazz saxophonist who has disappointed his mother by following in his father’s footsteps, given that the man turned out to be an unreliable husband and terrible provider. What Junior doesn’t know is that he’s been trailed all the way from Chicago by a couple of bookies (David Banner and Ronnie Warner) he owes $25,000.
Finally, there’s Michael (Chris Brown), the baby, who’s still living at home. This talented teen has been blessed with a beautiful singing voice, yet, he’s been reluctant to pursue his dream due to his mother’s aversion to show business.
Writer/director Preston A. Whitmore, Jr. does a decent job of interweaving the strands of these six leads’ predicaments in an entertaining fashion, even if the goings-on tend to be more cartoonish than credible. For some reason, he opted to lay on the violence, slapstick and sexuality more heavily than one would expect to find in a holiday film, developments which tend to mar what was ostensibly designed as a wholesome family flick.
Also negatively affecting the ambience are all the prominent ad placements for Cadillac, BMW, Rolling Rock Beer, Kool Aid, Harley Davidson, Louis Vuitton, and so forth. Not only do we see the products, but we often have to suffer through distracting dialogue extolling their virtues, and in one case, even naming the price of a car. For some reason, urban-oriented comedies and kiddie cartoons are the two genres of movies which tend to be overloaded with such obvious commercials.
Otherwise, there’s much reason to recommend This Christmas, starting with powerful performances by nearly every member of the principal cast. They happen to be quite convincing in conveying the feeling of a real family, and in generating the requisite chemistry or antipathy as called for by their dysfunctional characters’ dire circumstances.
Miraculously, all the skeletons are revealed and dealt with satisfactorily, thus enabling the very contented Whitfields to gather around the dinner table for a closing Kodak moment on Christmas day. No, actually that’s the penultimate tableau, as the film ends with the entire cast taking turns dancing down a Soul Train-style line.

Very Good (3 stars)
Rated PG-13 for sexual content and violence.
Running time: 117 minutes
Studio: Screen Gems

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Harlem Crossroads: Black Writers and the Photograph in the Twentieth Century

by Sara Blair
Princeton University Press
Hardcover, $35.00
376 pages
ISBN: 978-0-691-13087-3

Book Review by Kam Williams

“The story I tell begins with an introductory account of how photography came to Harlem- that is, how Harlem became, after the Renaissance and at the inauguration of a new era of the mass image, a signally important proving ground for photographers testing the possibilities of new stylistics and new relations to their subjects...
Certain projects for documenting Harlem in the wake of its ‘first great’ riots predicated themselves on the fraught history of looking in that place, and on the residual histories and afterlives of Harlem as America’s black metropolis, a distinctive site of social encounter. These projects… inaugurated an alternative vector of documentary imaging, site-specific and self-conscious, to which a host of writers were attuned…
[This] book tries to bring this untold story to light and to argue its importance for American literary history, photographic history, and the rapidly shifting cultural field in the 20th C. U.S.”
-- Excerpted from the Preface (pgs. xviii-xix)
Is it possible that African-American literature was heavily influenced by the emergence of photography as an art form? This is the contention being made by Sara Blair in Harlem Crossroads, a groundbreaking book which theorizes that, since the mid-Thirties, leading black literary figures have been rather responsive to the visual image.
As proof, Blair, a Professor of English at the University of Michigan, points out instances where the two disciplines have intersected, including the collaborations of poet Langston Hughes with photographer Roy DeCarava, of James Baldwin with Richard Avedon, the reliance of Richard Wright upon WPA-era archives, Lorraine Hansberry’s being inspired by Civil Rights Movement coverage, and more recently, Toni Morrison’s invocation of iconic imagery from the Harlem Renaissance in her historical novel “Jazz.”
I must warn the curious that this opus that, while a remarkable accomplishment, offers the reader more of an intellectual than an emotional experience. That disclaimer out of the way, the tome remains highly recommended as an informative, thought-provoking academic enterprise. This is because of the author’s reliance on extensive research which enabled her to support her central thesis, not only with words, but with about a hundred fascinating photos.
Worthwhile for these illustrations alone, the snapshots from the now distant past preserved forgotten Harlem tableaus ranging from a chef selling home-cooked meals from a tenement window, to a naked burlesque show stripper performing with a live jazz band, to arrested rioters sitting in the back of a paddy wagon, to the deeply-etched face of an elderly ex-slave. And when you factor in the ingenious fashion in which Sara Blair matches these pictures with the works of African-American literary giants, Harlem Crossroads adds up to a masterpiece making a noteworthy cultural contribution.

Lauren London: The This Christmas Interview

Interview with Kam Williams

Headline: Lovely London

Born in Los Angeles on December 5, 1984, Lauren London developed a taste for acting in junior high, although she would be home-schooled following her freshman year of high school. Nicknamed L-Boogie, the 5’2” cutie got her start in show business appearing in hip-hop videos by Ludacris and Pharrell.
Despite making a big splash as an actress as T.I.’s girlfriend in ATL, Lauren recently returned to her musical roots to jiggle in Common’s music video for his hit single, “Drivin’ Me Wild” (see Here, the earthy beauty with that “girl next door” allure, talks a bit about her new movie, This Christmas, an ensemble dramedy co-starring Delroy Lindo, Loretta Devine, Idris Elba, Laz Alonso, Mekhi Phifer, Columbus Short, Chris Brown, and a host of others.

KW: You’ve really skyrocketed to fame after making such an impressive debut opposite T.I. in ATL. Do you feel at all lucky?
LL: I feel really lucky. It’s like, “What did I do to get this blessed to work with these people so early in my career?” This is only my second film out, so I’m extremely blessed to get to work with such a great cast.
KW: Who did you get along with on the set?
LL: I just bonded with Regina [King] and Sharon [Leal]. It was a good, good family atmosphere.
KW: You probably weren’t even born when Regina got her start in showbiz on 227, were you?
LL: But I did watch reruns of it on TV.
KW: What’s your fondest Christmas memory?
LL: I would say that one of my best Christmases memories was just being with my mom, my aunt, and my little cousin. It was a small Christmas, but it was just shared with us.
KW: What was your worst Christmas?
LL: You know, I haven’t had a worst Christmas that I can think of. If you live to see Christmas, it’s a good one.
KW: So, Santa never left coal in your stocking.
LL: My mom tried the Santa thing, but I was like, “We don’t have a chimney. So, where’s Santa gonna’ come through?” And sometimes Santa wouldn’t bring a lot of presents.
KW: What’s your favorite film comedy featuring a black cast?
LL: I would say all the House Party movies, because I grew up watching them. Kid ‘N Play cracked me up, just looking at Kid’s hi-top.
KW: This Christmas revolves around secrets. Why do you think people keep secrets?
LL: We keep secrets from people that we love because we’re afraid of our own truth. I think sometimes we’re afraid to hurt people, because you never know. I think we’re afraid of what is, and what can’t be.
KW: Will the film have a universal appeal?
LL: I think that in any family… black, white, Chinese, Spanish, whatever… family is family. You know that there’s dysfunction, and that there’s this cousin who doesn’t like this auntie. But, at the end of the day, like I say, love brings everybody together. I think anybody from anywhere can relate.

August Rush

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Musical Prodigy Plays Manhattan in Enchanting Variation on Oliver Twist

Although Charles Dickens isn’t credited, Oliver Twist obviously served as the source of inspiration for this hyper-romanticized, musical overhaul of his beloved literary classic. To refresh your memory, the novel’s protagonist is an innocent young lad raised in an orphanage who runs away after being ostracized by the other kids.
Oliver then makes his way from the country to London where he’s befriended by a street urchin nicknamed the Artful Dodger who, in turn, brings him to a den of pint-sized thieves under the thumb of the diabolical Fagin. The naive newcomer is welcomed into the lair and is unwittingly manipulated by the duplicitous ringleader into partaking in the gang’s shady shenanigans. Although Oliver eventually wises up, he still finds it hard to extricate himself untl his plight comes to the attention of a relative in a position to help.
August Rush, by contrast, is set in America instead of England. This variation on the theme revolves around 11 year-old Evan (Freddie Highmore), a music-loving wind whisperer who hears the harmony in all of nature. Institutionalized since birth at the Walden County Home for Boys in upstate New York., he sneaks off to Manhattan in search of his mother and father when he can’t take his bunkmates’ teasing about having been abandoned anymore.
Evan ends up in Greenwich Village, where he encounters not the Artful Dodger, but Arthur (Leon G. Thomas, III), a black street musician his own age performing for tips. Arthur takes Evan home with him to the abandoned theater which once housed the Fillmore East. Presently, the place is inhabited by an army of adolescent beggars being exploited by a Fagin-like figure known as Wizard (Robin Williams).
There, Evan picks up a guitar for the first time and, without needing any lessons, discovers that he can already play like a virtuoso. In fact, he doesn’t need an actual instrument, for he has been blessed with the uncanny ability to elicit beautiful sounds out of any everyday objects he simply concentrates on. This development isn’t lost on Wizard, who dubs the prodigy August Rush and puts him to work in Washington Square Park. (Was Oliver Twist named after a 19th C. England British beverage?)
But as much as the blossoming boy enjoys exploring his just-unearthed talents, he never forgets that his true mission is to find his long-lost parents. During the film’s opening scene, which is set a dozen years prior, the audience gets a hint that Evan/August might be the product of a rooftop one-night stand between Lyla Novacek (Keri Russell), a Juilliard-trained classical cellist, and Louis Connelly (Jonathan Rhys Myers), the singer/lead guitarist of a struggling rock group.
Sadly, August’s parents parted company without exchanging numbers, and when his mom turned out pregnant, her intermeddling father (William Sadler) duped his daughter into believing the premature baby had perished during child birth. Truth be told, Evan obviously had been made a ward of the state, and only through a serendipitous series of coincidences (augmented by the assistance of Terrence Howard as a concerned caseworker with Child Protective Services) will he manage to be reunited with the folks responsible for his being born with such magnificent musical genes.
All in all, a fanciful fairytale blending elements of Oliver Twist, Ferris Bueller, Peter Pan and The School of Rock likely to entertain and enthrall preteens for a couple of hours.

Very Good (3 stars)
Rated PG for slight violence, mild profanity and mature themes.
Running time: 114 minutes
Studio: Warner Brothers

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Love in the Time of Cholera

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Adaptation of Marquez Masterpiece Marred by Absence of Magical Realism

Compromises are in order whenever a novel is being brought to the big screen, especially a 368-page saga spanning 50 years, which is what we have in the case of Love in the Time of Cholera. Written by of Nobel Prize-winner Gabriel Garcia Marquez in 1985, this imaginative tale of unrequited love is a literary toured force which likens an enduring crush to a crippling disease on the order of cholera.
It is expected that in condensing a broad best seller into a movie some central characters, major themes and pivotal events might have to be conflated, distilled or eliminated entirely in service of the cinematic medium. However, director Mike Newell (Harry Potter 4) had an additional challenge to confront when it came to adapting Marquez here. For the Colombian author is closely associated with magical realism, a style of prose popular with Latin American writers, and marked by plotlines grounded in reality offset by surreal flights of fancy.
Unfortunately, Newell’s relatively-mundane overhaul of the book fails to reflect any of the original work’s fusion of the everyday with the otherworldly. The upshot is that, excised of its evocative aspects, Love in the Time of Cholera lacks charm and reads about the same as your typical romance novel with a hunky Fabio look-a-like splashed across the cover.
The story is set in the City of Cartagena, Marquez’s hometown, and revolves around a classic love triangle. The fun starts at a funeral which transpired about a half-century or so after the picture’s actual beginning. The practical point of departure of this otherwise chronological adventure is 1879, which is when a lowly clerk/would be poet Florentino Ariza (Javier Bardem) first encounters Fermina Daza (Giovanna Mezzogiomo), a blooming beauty with a wealthy, overprotective father (John Leguizamo).
Despite the object of his affection’s initial indifference, Florentino professes his undying devotion (“I have discovered the reason for my existence.”), and proceeds to wear the poor girl down with the persistence of a telemarketer. Soon, the two start swapping notes and sharing stolen moments together till mean daddy Daza catches wind of their puppy love liaison.
He forces Fermina to end her fling with Florentino before pressuring her into first entertaining the overtures of dashing Dr. Juvenal Urbino (Benjamin Bratt), a much-preferred suitor from the upper-class. She does accept the doctor’s proposal, but this development only turns Florentino into a scary stalker.
Not even the Urbino family’s moving overseas can discourage the pigheaded protagonist from impatiently awaiting, for decades on end, the return of the woman he’s convinced is really meant for him. Over the intervening years, he always considers himself still a virgin because he never gives his heart to any of the 622 sexual conquests he carefully seduces, abandons, and records in his little black book.
Love in the Time of Cholera is almost laughable, since it asks the viewer to buy into Florentino’s patently ridiculous rationalization and into the idea that he somehow remained ever faithful to Fermina as the number of notches on his busy bedpost mounted. Consequently, this sorry interpretation of Marquez, substituting serial coupling and uncoupling and gratuitous nudity for spirituality has merely reduced his masterpiece into a titillating, superficial soap opera.

Fair (1 star)
Rated R for sexuality, nudity and brief profanity.
Running time: 139 minutes
Studio: New Line Cinema

Columbus Short: The This Christmas Interview

Interview with Kam Williams

Headline: Discovering Columbus

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

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

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Hairspray DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Watered-Down Musical Version of Cult Classic Comes to DVD

When first released in 1988, Hairspray was a socially-conscious satire which delivered a fairly potent political message about the evil of ethnic intolerance. Set against the backdrop of a strictly-segregated Baltimore back in the Sixties, the campy cult classic followed the efforts of some idealistic teenagers to integrate a popular TV dance show.
That edgy original was directed by John Waters, an inveterate iconoclast who has never been afraid to tackle any controversial issue head-on, or in a manner which might cause his audience to squirm in their seats. In 2002, the film was overhauled and revived on Broadway where it won eight Tony Awards, including Best Musical.
Now, Adam Shankman has adapted that play back to the big screen as a bubbly but emotionally-eviscerated production which bears only a superficial resemblance to its source material. The remake stars Nikki Blonsky as Tracy Turnblad, a light on her feet, plus-sized teen who has been dreaming of a chance to strut her stuff on The Corny Collins Show with cast regular Link (Zac Efron), a classmate she has a huge crush on. John Travolta (in drag) and Christopher Walken play her working-class parents, Edna and Wilbur, while Amanda Bynes appears as her best friend Penny Pingleton, and Brittany Snow as Link’s girlfriend, Amber von Tussle.
The plot thickens after Tracy’s disastrous audition during which she is rejected not for her dancing but because she says she’d have no problem swimming in a pool with black people. To add insult to injury, she ends up in trouble when she returns to school, because she had to cut class for the tryout.
Detention turns out to be a blessing in disguise, as it’s filled with cool African-American kids who share Tracy’s taste in music. So, she and Penny cross the color line, befriending Seaweed (Elijah Kelly) and his sister, Little Inez (Taylor Parks).
Everything comes to a head when the TV station’s manager (Michelle Pfeiffer) cancels the once a month “Negro Day” dance program hosted by Motormouth Maybelle (Queen Latifah). Of course, Tracy comes to the rescue by leading a conscious-raising march demanding integration at WYZT.
This vapid edition of Hairspray is a safe, self-congratulatory fantasy which revisits the civil rights era not for a valuable history lesson but for an escapist, syrupy sweet, sing-a-long trip down memory lane to an unrecognizable, Hollywood utopia that never existed.

Fair (1 star)
Rated PG for teen smoking, mild epithets and suggestive content.
Running time: 107 minutes
Studio: New Line Home Entertainment
2-Disc DVD Extras: Audio commentary by the director, deleted scenes, an all new musical number, a documentary, a theatrical trailer, plus several featurettes.

Ghosts of Cite Soleil DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Haitian Gangsta Documentary Out on DVD

If you want to get an idea of how much gangsta rap has influenced cultures elsewhere around the world, check out Ghosts of Cite Soleil, a revealing documentary about a bloody turf war inside a notorious Haitian slum. What makes this movie compelling is that the leaders of the competing posses, Tupac and Bily, are also blood brothers. And on top of that they are both in love with the same girl, Lele, a French missionary with an incurable case of Jungle Fever for these bad boys.
The film unfolds against the backdrop of the impending fall of the Jean-Bertrand Aristide regime, which is of considerable significance because the gangs are ostensibly operating with the tacit approval of the outgoing president. In fact, these sadistic goons openly brag on camera that they’ve been armed by Aristide to intimidate and eliminate his political enemies, which might explain why the Marines later land to restore a little law and order.
The screen is filled with unoriginal wannabes sporting nicknames right out of rap videos, such as Tupac and 50 Cent. Where have I heard those before? And like the icons they adore, they dream of shooting their way out of the ghetto and leaving the life of crime behind to become famous hip-hop stars. Meanwhile, their behavior mimics that of their heroes which means mostly murder, misogyny, weed, profanity and the N-word. At one point, Bily even says of his own sibling, “If Tupac weren’t my brother, I’d kill him already.” Charming.
By the end, most of the people you’ve been watching have either died or disappeared, except for gun moll Lele, of course, who had the sense to hightail it back to France. This gritty flick was produced with the help of the most famous Haitian hip-hop entertainer around, Wyclef Jean.

Excellent (4 stars)
In Haitian, French and English with subtitles.
Running time: 85 minutes
Studio: ThinkFilm/Velocity
DVD Extras: Theatrical trailer and a trailer gallery.

Postscript: After I first reviewed this film when it was released in theaters, I received several letters to the editor from folks with a political agenda defending the gangstas in the film, suggesting that they were freedom fighters taking on American imperialism. However, after re-screening the movie and consulting with Haitians who have seen the flick, I saw no reason to alter the tenor or tone of my original assessment, since these hoodlums are no better than American ghetto gangstas who terrorize their own neighborhoods by glamorizing black-on-black crime.

Rescue Dawn DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Vietnam War POW Bio-Pic Released on DVD

Dieter Dengler (1938-2001) grew up in Germany during World War II which is where he whetted his lifelong desire to become a pilot. However, by the time he was 18, he realized had no prospects of pursuing that dream in his native Deutschland.
So, he emigrated to America and enlisted in the Navy. And right after graduating from flight school in 1966, he was assigned to duty aboard an aircraft carrier headed for Vietnam. Soon, Lieutenant Dengler’s Skyraider was hit by anti-aircraft fire while flying on a bombing mission, and theplane crash-landed in Laos where he was eventually apprehended and marched to a POW camp.
While imprisoned, he was subjected to unimaginable forms of torture, until he executed a well-planned escape. Near death after scavenging in the forest for a couple of months, Dengler was finally spotted and rescued by a squadron of helicopters.
A decade ago, this awe-inspiring tale of survival was the subject of a compelling documentary directed by Werner Herzog entitled Little Dieter Needs to Fly. Now, Herzog has turned the same story into an equally-riveting bio-pic with the help of the latest nonpareil performance by Christian Bale as Dengler. Shot on location in a lush region of a remote Thai jungle, the visually-engaging production benefits immeasurably from the unrelenting tension enabled by relying on authentic Southeast Asian settings.
Credit Bale with stamping the adventure with a palpable sense of urgency by throwing himself wholeheartedly into his role by shedding plenty of pounds to get that gaunt POW look. Plus, he did all his own stunt work with a gung ho enthusiasm which ostensibly inspired co-stars Steve Zahn and Jeremy Davies to deliver their personal best performances as Dengler’s fellow captives.
Further proof that Christian Bale might be the best actor around never nominated for an Oscar.

Excellent (3.5 stars)
Rated PG-13 for war violence and graphically-depicted torture.
Running time: 126 minutes
Studio: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
DVD Extras: Alternate and deleted scenes, audio commentary with the director, MGM previews, still photo gallery, and “The Making of” featurette.

Live Free or Die Hard DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Bruce Willis Franchise Revived by Die Hard 4

It’s hard to believe that it’s been a dozen years since Die Hard 3, but nobody can complaining about the wait when a sequel’s as scintillating as this. Bruce Willis is back and larger than life as NYPD Detective John McClane, an anachronistic, analog crime fighter in a hi-tech, digital age. The point of departure is the Fourth of July weekend, on which we find the grizzled gumshoe taking on a routine assignment to bring Matt Farrell (Justin Long) in to the FBI for questioning.
But soon after he picks up the smart aleck kid, it becomes quite clear that this computer hacker has enemies who will stop at nothing to prevent him from reaching the Bureau’s headquarters. What ensues is a roller coaster ride filled with non-stop, pulsating action which rarely relies on computer-generated imagery for special effects.
The plot isn’t anywhere as complicated as it might sound. Cyber terrorist Thomas Gabriel (Timothy Oliphant) is trying to bring the U.S. to its knees via what he calls a “Fire Sale,” because everything must go. His diabolical plan is to maximize chaos and confusion by shutting down the country’s entire infrastructure electronically with the help of an army of goons, including his high-kicking henchwoman, Mai Lihn (Maggie Q),
McClane and Matt grudgingly become buddies, the former supplying the brawn, the latter the brains, as they match wits with this army of far better equipped, evil adversaries. Our heroes encounter a close brush with death every other minute or so, each one an eye-popping spectacle, whether it’s cars hurtling through the air, machine gun-fire from a helicopter, a hovering Harrier jet, or hand-to-hand combat in an elevator shaft.
A satisfying throwback which reminds us exactly how a big-budget action flick is supposed to be made.

Excellent (4 stars)
Running time: 130 minutes
Studio: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
DVD Extras: Audio commentaries by Bruce Willis, the director and the editor, a music video, theatrical trailers, additional Fox trailers, and a “Behind-the-Scenes” featurette.

Manufactured Landscapes DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Mammoth Junkyards as Modern Art in Documentary on DVD

Remember that Keep America Beautiful PSA campaign featuring an Indian wiping away a tear because somebody in a passing car threw a piece of trash out of the window? Well, he’d go absolutely bonkers if he got a load of what’s going on in China, now that the Industrial Revolution is in full bloom in the Orient.
To document the toll that “progress” is taking on the planet, director Jennifer Baichwal carted her camera to a number of dumping grounds around the People’s Republic, capturing in breathtaking detail the fallout being visited upon the region due to the headlong rush to Westernize. With the help of award-winning, stills photographer Edward Burtynsky, she visited everything from recycling junkyards to hollowed-out strip mines to depleted rock quarries to soul-sapping mega-assembly lines and any other sites which might drive home the salient point that there is a steep price to be paid for runaway consumption.
Manufactured Landscapes is a powerful picture primarily because it never proselytizes but simple allows its visually-overwhelmed audience to draw its own conclusions about the unconsidered downside of living beyond our ecological means. For how else might one react except with a combination of awe and guilt, say, to the sight of a narrow path carved through a man-made mountain of discarded tires piled high into the sky?
A timely meditation on one country’s carbon footprints which subtly suggests we all pause to consider redefining the meaning of civilization.

Excellent (3.5 stars)
Running time: 90 minutes
Studio: Zeitgeist Films
DVD Extras: Additional scenes with audio commentary by director Jennifer Baichwal, photo gallery with audio commentary, video discussion, video interview with the cinematographer, theatrical trailer, and a featurette entitled “Al Gore at the Nashville Film Festival.”

What Would Jesus Buy?

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Super-Size Jesus

In 2004, Morgan Spurlock exposed the fast food industry by eating only at McDonald’s for a month while his doctor monitored the disastrous toll that junk diet was taking on his beleaguered body. Now, Spurlock has stepped behind the camera to produce “What Would Jesus Buy?” a documentary which questions the degree to which America has commercialized Christmas.
The tongue-in-cheek road flick features Reverend Billy Talen, a colorful character who travels the country accompanied by the Church of Stop Shopping Gospel Choir confronting frantic shoppers in malls right at the height of the holiday season. Declaring Mickey Mouse the anti-Christ, this flamboyant man of the cloth mounts a soap box to inform anybody who’ll listen that “The Disney Company still presides over sweatshops all around the world.”
Conducting impromptu man on the street interviews, he asks folks to have a conscience about their purchases. For example, he indicates that jobs in the U.S. are disappearing overseas because we can’t compete against products being manufactured in Third World nations by people forced to work 19-hour shifts and only being paid slave wages.
Sadly, Reverend Billy’s passionate pleas fall mostly on deaf ears and do little to discourage the determined consumers he encounters, despite his dire warning of the coming Shopocalypse. Instead, he’s mostly treated as a nuisance by mall security and local police who routinely either arrest him or escort him off the premises.
Nonetheless, the movie does drive home a powerful point, namely, that Christmas has lost most of its religious significance and come to revolve around gift-giving. Pointing out that most Christians spend more time worshipping retail items in malls than Jesus in church, he challenges believers to find something more meaningful to do than shopping.
He’s supported in this endeavor by several experts, including Harvard Professor Dr. Alvin Poussaint who laments how since birth we’ve been “conditioned to associate material goods with the symbol of love.” Ditto Reverend Andrew Young who makes a cameo appearance in which he reminds us of Christ’s teaching to “Feed the hungry, clothe the naked and heal the sick.”
But the real star of this show is the irrepressible Reverend Billy who, like a trim, bleached blond Michael Moore in a collar, makes scenes in front of stores such as Starbucks and the Banana Republic, and even ventures to Walmart’s Headquarters to confront the mega-giant’s CEO. A film as hilarious as it is thought-provoking, thus apt to keep you in stitches as you contemplate spiritual alternatives to material satisfaction.
Merry Capitalism!

Excellent (4 stars)
Running time: 90 minutes
Studio: Warrior Poets Releasing

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 23, 2007


August Rush (PG for slight violence, mild profanity and mature themes) Freddie Highmore stars as the title character in this escapist fantasy about a promising musical prodigy who runs away from an orphanage to New York City to find his parents (Keri Russell and Jonathan Rhys Myers) only to end up living with a Fagin-like wizard (Robin Williams) and lots of other kids in a makeshift shelter in an abandoned theater which was once the Fillmore East. With Terrence Howard as the missing street urchin’s concerned social worker.

Enchanted (PG for scary images and sexual innuendo) Modern-day fairytale, mixing animation and live action, about a beautiful princess (Amy Adams) banished from her magical kingdom by an evil queen (Susan Sarandon) to New York City where she finds herself charmed by a divorce lawyer (Patrick Dempsey) despite the fact that she’s already been promised to a prince (James Marsden) back home.

Hitman (Unrated) Action-oriented political potboiler about a cold and calculated, genetically-engineered assassin (Timothy Oliphant) being pursued across Europe by Interpol and the Russian military who suddenly discovers that he not only has a conscience but feelings for a mysterious femme fatale (Olga Kurylenko).

The Mist (R for profanity, terror, gore and gruesome violence) Frank Darabont adapted and directed this Stephen King horror story about a thunderstorm which leaves a tiny town in Maine enshrouded in a thick fog and under attack by an army of unseen creatures. Cast includes Thomas Jane, Andre Braugher and Marcia Gay Harden.

This Christmas (Unrated) Family skeletons aplenty come popping out of the closet during this holiday drama set during a dysfunctional African-American family’s first reunion in years. Ensemble cast includes Loretta Devine, Delroy Lindo, Lauren London, Idris Elba, Regina King, Columbus Short and Laz Alonso.


Christmas in Wonderland (PG for crude language) Holiday comedy about a couple of kids from L.A. who find a million dollars of fake money in a Canadian mall and go on a shopping spree while being chased by a hapless gang of counterfeiters and a Canadian Mountie. Cast includes Patrick Swayze, Chris Kattan, Carmen Electra and Tim Curry.

Everything’s Cool (Unrated) Cautionary documentary exposes the efforts of the fossil fuel industry lobby and conservative think tanks to manufacture an artificial debate about global warming in the face of irrefutable proof of the phenomenon provided by responsible members of the scientific community.

I’m Not There (R for nudity, sexuality and profanity) Experimental bio-pic employs a half-dozen different actors (Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett, Richard Gere, Heath Ledger, Ben Whishaw and Marcus Carl Franklin) to portray Bob Dylan at different stages of the enigmatic icon’s life. Cast includes Oscar-nominees Julianne Moore and Michelle Williams.

It is Fine! Everything is Fine! (Unrated) The late Steven C. Stewart wrote and starred in this semi-autobiographical drama about a Cerebral Palsy victim’s struggle to reconcile his vivid sexual fantasies with his physical limitations caused by the disease.

Looking for Cheyenne (R for sexuality and profanity) Bittersweet romance about an unemployed journalist (Mila Dekker) who abandons Paris for the country, leaving behind a bi-sexual lover (Aurelia Petit) who then becomes involved in unsatisfactory relationships with an anarchist (Malik Zidi) and a lesbian (Guilaine Londez) till she realizes that her ex still owns her heart. (In French with subtitles)

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

Starting Out in the evening (PG-13 for sex, expletives and brief nudity) Adapted from the novel of the same name by Brian Morton, this drama revolves around the May-December relationship of a 24 year-old grad student (Lauren Ambrose)
And the aging author (Frank Langella) whose works are the subject of her master’s thesis.

Regina King: The This Christmas Interview

with Kam Williams

Headline: Regina’s Command Performance

Born in L.A. on January 15, 1971, Regina King started her showbiz career on the stage with the Crossroads Theater which is where she impressed Marla “Florence” Gibbs enough to land a role as the TV star’s teenage daughter on the sitcom “227.” Five years later, Regina made the jump to the big screen, playing Shalika in fellow USC alum John Singleton’s Boyz n the Hood.
The versatile actress has since appeared in virtually every genre of flick, as indicated by a resume’ which reveals appearances in such diverse offerings as Ray, Down to Earth, Enemy of the State, How Stella Got Her Groove Back, Jerry Maguire, Friday, Legally Blonde 2, Miss Congeniality 2, Daddy Day Care and Poetic Justice. In 2005, Regina earned an NAACP Image Award for her spirited performance as Ray Charles’ backup singer/mistress Margie Hendricks in Ray.
A year ago, she filed for divorce from her husband of ten years, Ian Alexander, Sr. The couple have one child, Alexander, Jr. Here, Regina talks about her latest role as Lisa Whitfield in This Christmas, a holiday ensemble drama written and directed by Preston Whitmore.

KW: What interested you in making this movie?
RK: When they asked about my interest, Loretta [Devine], Delroy [Lindo] and
Idris [Elba] were already attached to the project. So that was the initial draw for
me. And then, once I read the script, I thought it would be a challenge for me to
play a submissive role.
KW: How would you describe Lisa?
RK: She’s a submissive woman whose husband [Laz Alonso] wants to start up a
company. He’s not faithful, and she’s aware of these things, but she continues to
stay in the relationship as, I think, a lot of women do.
KW: Did the fact that Rain Forest Films was making the film a factor in your
choosing to sign on?
RK: The success that they had with Stomp the Yard definitely was something
that fielded the possibility that their next film could have the same, if not better,
KW: How was it working with Loretta Divine?
RK: She’s awesome. I’ve known her prior to working with her on this film and she
just has one of those infectious personalities. You just love to be around her, to
talk to her and to hear her giggle.
KW: What message do you want audiences to take away from this film?
RK: I hate to use the term message because I don’t think it’s just a message. I
don’t think it’s so much of a message film, but I think it might be a reminder of
how important family is. When the girlfriends and the boyfriends are gone and
the friends are gone, at the end of the day, all you have is your family. You can’t
change a sister; you can change a boyfriend or a friend, but you can’t change a
sister or a brother or a momma.
KW: Did you like the fact that this was a holiday film about a black family?
RK: Yes, that was attractive to me, but the thing that was more attractive than
that is that this happens to be a black family. That’s the subject of this film, but
there’s nothing about the issues that we’re dealing with that are specifically
black. Everything in this movie are things that translate – religion, color,
language, creed, all of that. These things are universal, so that more than it
being a black film is what attracted me.
KW: How did you find it working with crooner Chris Brown?
RK: It was really a treat working with Chris because when you go into a project
where you’re working with a music person that’s trying their hand at drama, you
always kind of approach it with a raised eyebrow because you want it to be good
because your name goes on that, too. He’s such a charming young man and he
really took advantage of an opportunity that I think a lot of people his age would
take for granted. And he was able to have scenes that were emotional and bring
tears to your eyes almost, with a heavyweight like Loretta. And that’s not an easy
feat. Also, it was just great that he was allowed the opportunity in this movie to
prove himself as a real singer. Most people, when you say Chris Brown, think
of him as just a performer, a dancer with teenage songs. They aren’t really
aware of how powerful his voice is. And he was able to really showcase that in
this movie.
KW: What types of future projects are you looking for?
RK: I would like to continue to tell stories that aren’t just comedic or violent. Just
as women, we’re so much more colorful than what is depicted on the big screen,
so I would like to continue to pursue those types of stories. And my sister [Reina]
and I started a production company, Royal Ties Productions, so we’re
developing projects, so that we can do exactly that.
KW: What projects do you have in development?
RK: Right now, we’re working on a Shirley Chisholm story, and we are doing a
black remake of The Big Chill.
KW: How do you see the industry changing in terms of opportunities for
RK: It’s definitely changing, maybe for the better in some places, and for the
worse in others. So maybe it balances off, so there’s not much change. One
offsets the other. But I’ve seen a lot more movies with Latina actresses, so I feel
that we are moving towards seeing women of color represented on film more,
which is always good.
KW: Do you think that Hollywood has a preference for lighter-skinned
actresses of color over darker-skinned ones?
RK: Actually no, not really. I think it’s more of a pretty versus not-as-pretty thing,
and what a studio head’s perception is of pretty.

KW: Would you accept a role that required nudity?
RK: I never want to be the one who says, “I’ll never do this.” I’ve never done
nudity, but I couldn’t sit here and say, “I’ll never do nudity.” Right now, there
hasn’t been a project that’s come up that I feel it’s necessary for nudity. And I do
think that there are some projects where nudity is necessary. But personally I
have more of an obligation to my son, to art, when it comes to nudity. And I’ve
seen other actresses have to deal with it or I’ve seen their children actually have
to deal with someone saying, “I saw your momma’s titties.” It’s hard enough
being 11 years-old than to have some extra, added stuff that your mom threw in
it. It’s hard enough. I don’t feel that I should have to expose him to that. But like I
said, I wouldn’t say that I would never do nudity.
KW: What advice do you have for aspiring actresses?
RK: I am not the type of person that offers advice. I’ve seen that backfire way too
many times. And when you offer it when it’s not asked, I think sometimes you
come off as you’re putting yourself on a pedestal. So when I am asked, I guess
the main advice that I give or most consistently give is to stay true to yourself,
because if you don’t stay true to yourself, you look up later and see the most
unhappy person in the world.
KW: What has been the secret of your success?
RK: I don’t know if it’s a secret. I think it starts with my mom. It starts with having
a really strong mother, grandmother that just secured a really strong foundation
for me. First and foremost, I was her daughter. I wasn’t her friend. I know a lot of
mothers and daughters have the friend thing, but my mother always demanded
the respect that a mother deserves and the regard that a mother deserves. I
never wanted to disappoint my mother. I think her just being a great role model
and just being an elegant woman was pretty awesome, is pretty awesome.
KW: Are you going for that same type of relationship with your son?
RK: Yes, but I think the dynamic between a son and mother is different than a
mother/daughter relationship. I wouldn’t say I definitely keep it friends, but I do
talk to my son more openly about things than my mother did with me and
my sister.
KW: How are you being affected by the writer’s strike?
RK: It’s affecting me first and foremost with this film because we’re not able to do
any nighttime shows. So it kind of cuts the press that we would normally do
leading up to the real hard, major press that you’d normally do a week before a
movie comes out. We’re not going to be able to do that because of the strike.
So that is an immediate effect right there. Having my own production company
and having projects in development, they’re all on standby right now because the
writers can’t finish. So, yes, it affects us all. It affects everybody.
KW: What would people be surprised to learn about you?
RK: Something that people don’t know about me that would be surprising…
Everyone knows I’m an ‘80s kid, so I love hip-hop. I probably can recite the lines
to every Rakim song. I thought I was a female Rakim at one time. Oh, that I’m a
huge sports fanatic, maybe that might be a surprise, that I probably can go toe-
to-toe with any guy when it comes to my knowledge of football and basketball.
KW: Thanks for the time, Regina, and good luck with all your endeavors.
RK: Thank you very much, have a great week.