Monday, December 31, 2007

Danny Glover: The Honeydripper Interview

Interview with Kam Williams

Headline: Danny on Acting, Directing, and His Commitment to the Downtrodden and Disenfranchised

Born on July 22, 1946, Danny Lebern Glover was the eldest of five children raised in San Francisco by James and Carrie Glover, both of whom were postal workers. After graduating from George Washington High School, he attended San Francisco State University where his progressive political perspective was forged as a member of the Black Student Union.
He developed an interest in acting in his late twenties, which is when he started studying at the Black Actors’ Workshop in San Francisco. Danny’s screen debut came in Escape from Alcatraz in 1979, though he found his breakout role as Moze opposite Sally Field’s Oscar-winning performance in Places in the Heart.
His most notorious outing arrived in 1985 as Albert in Steven Spielberg’s screen adaptation of Alice Walker’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Color Purple. However, he is likely to be best remembered for the four buddy flicks he made with Mel Gibson during the run of the Lethal Weapon franchise. Plus, he has handled title roles as Nelson Mandela in Mandela, as Boesman in Boesman and Lena, and appeared in everything from Witness to Predator 2 to The Rainmaker to Beloved to The Royal Tenebaums to Manderlay to Shooter to Dreamgirls.
Danny enjoys his best role in years in his latest film, Honeydripper, a historical drama set in the Jim Crow South. The movie has him re-teamed with iconoclastic director John Sayles and complemented in this endeavor by a very talented ensemble cast which included Charles S. Dutton, Mary Steenburgen, Lisa Gay Hamilton, Vondie Curtis-Hall, Stacy Keach, Keb’ Mo’, Sean Patrick Thomas and Yaya DaCosta.
Here, Mr. Glover talks not only about Honeydripper but about his ongoing commitment to the downtrodden and the disenfranchised.

DG: Hey, Kam, how’re you doing?
KW: Okay, and you?
DG: Good! Good!
KW: Thanks so much for the time. I really appreciate it.
DG: Oh, you’re welcome.
KW: So, what interested you in the script of Honeydripper?
DG: Oh, man, it always starts with the story. This story was just so compelling, plus the period was fascinating, and I liked the way in which John Sayles, the director, was able to integrate the music with all the changes that were happening during that period. So, there’s not only the musical dynamics of it, and using music as a metaphor in some way to talk about change, the piano being superseded by the electric guitar and rock music etcetera, but also the way in which John has layered the story, and layered the characters. They have their own histories which reflect a much broader history of the changes which were about to occur.
KW: What I appreciate about this film is how it recaptures a slice of African-Americana from a period during which black people’s existence was denied by the mainstream culture. As a child of the Fifties, I remember how people would yell for everybody to come when you just saw any black face on television.
DG: Absolutely! And the images then on TV were stereotypes and buffoons. And the images of Africa were of Tarzan. So, I just think that there’s a way in which this film, in some sense, takes another step in terms of presenting people in real time in real life. And as we reflect upon that, we see the embodiment of not only the musical dynamic and changes that occurred within that period of time, but also we see the emergence of the social changes and the political changes that were happening as well.
KW: The musical aspects of Honeydripper resonated with me because I grew up in a black community with a lot of jazz greats: Count Basie, Ella, Lena Horne, Lester Young, Fats Waller, Oliver Nelson, Billie Holiday and others, during a time when their music was being eclipsed in popularity by newcomers to the neighborhood like James Brown. It was an interesting dynamic to observe.
DG: Where’d you grow up?
KW: In St. Albans, New York in the late Fifties.
DG: Then you saw it happen during a different period but, yeah, you hit on the way all forms of music indigenous to black people have resonated, whether it’s blues, or jazz, or gospel music, how that forms a foundation and resonates in our lives. My dad was born in Kansas City, Missouri in 1919, at this moment in time when all this stuff was happening around music. And his life reflected that movement of music. So, music becomes something of a barometer for looking at the world and for looking at our situation through the music itself.
KW: I spoke to John Sayles the other day, and find it interesting that this is his third film with an African-American ensemble, along with Brother from Another Planet and Sunshine State.
DG: What I think is so wonderful about John is his historical relevance and reverence. You see, John really feels that, yeah, individuals may mark a moment, but things really happen with the collective movement of people. So, he’s able to identify, in his movies, this unique transition from the individual, as an individual lives his life, to what his life manifests in terms of the collective movement among a people as well. That’s unique, because he achieves this without being didactic, expository or rhetorical.
KW: So, tell me a little about your character in Honeydripper, Tyrone “Pinetop” Purvis.
DG: He’s an independent black businessman trying to save his business. First of all, this was a rarity in the South that we know in 1950. That’s one aspect. Hey, countless, young African-American men were trained in the navy or the army about radio. Here’s a guy who takes that technology and uses it as part of his artistic expression. How many men is he representative of? John gives him a back story, and one that is consistent with the historical evolution. And then my daughter [played by Yaya DaCosta] who decides that she has aspirations outside of the constraints and limitations that are placed upon young black girls in the South. She wants to go to beauty school… She wants to travel…She wants to see this… She wants to see that. These are little revelations which are manifestations not only of an individual’s identity and personality but are also reflective of a collective movement of people.
KW: One of your movies, Manderlay, was #1 on my Ten Best Independent Films List for 2006. That picture, directed by Lars von Trier, had a fascinating premise and was set in the 1930s on a plantation in Alabama where slavery never ended. Despite the micro-budget, I found the film fascinating and extremely well done.
DG: Well, let’s say that, in substance, Manderlay is a movie is about democracy. Then we have to ask, “What is democracy? What does it mean? What are its elements? How do you digest it in real terms? In real terms?” My character asks, “What does this mean to me?” All you have to do is read W.E.B. Du Bois’ “The Souls of Black Folk” to get a picture that he paints through twelve parables about situations directly after the Emancipation Proclamation and after the end of Reconstruction in the South. There’s an interesting dynamic when we look at it, because there were places in the South in the Thirties that were almost unchanged since the end of slavery. So, my character talks about the idea of safety, and the idea of democracy. What were we all to do? We didn’t know. Here you had an institution that subjugated and determined a people’s sense of themselves for 250 years, and all of a sudden they’re set free. What does that mean? That’s the main issue we never deal with in this country. We’re never capable of dealing with the psychosis, the neurosis and all the pathology around that. Everybody’s afraid to talk about slavery. We never speak about it freely. Nobody wants to talk about it, neither the victims nor the perpetrators. That’s why we’re so incapable of dealing with this whole issue around race.
KW: That’s why I appreciated Honeydripper. It tackles some sensitive social issues in a serious fashion, like how innocent black men used to be sentenced to chain gangs in the South to be exploited for free labor. Ordinarily, movies make light of it, such as that comedy Life, starring Eddie Murphy and Martin Lawrence. There, they treated blacks’ second-class status as a fait accompli and as something to joke about. That’s supporting the status quo, not challenging it.
DG: Exactly. Supporting it, rather than questioning it and bringing to the world’s attention the real impact on us of various transgressions. These feelings and these emotions are repeated, because history is not merely individual stories, but it’s a collective story as well.
KW: Well, I’m very eager to see the biography of Toussaint L’Overture you’re going to direct, starring Don Cheadle, Mos Def and Chiwetel Ejiofor.
DG: We’re trying to put it together and get it done, baby. It’s an important part not only of our history, of people from the African world, but of everyone’s history. It’s something that we hope will punch some holes in the Empire narrative.
KW: There are almost no other black actors who have reached the prominence that you have who have remained very vocally and actively committed to progressive political causes. Where do you find the strength to persevere?
DG: Well, the way in which artists’ careers suffered 55 years ago because of the
House Un-American Activities Committee’s draconian measures and very Fascistic process of attacking creativity and their imaginations. Back then, unions were larger and more powerful. Social movements and ideological struggles were much more prominent, and a part of the social discourse. It doesn’t happen in the same form now, but today there are other subtle ways in which they attack the credibility of artists like Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins.
KW: When you mention the House Un-American Activities Committee, it makes me think of Paul Robeson who was from Princeton, which is where I live. He was blacklisted back then.
DG: We owe so much to Paul. He is definitely one of my heroes. Right at the top with Harry [Belafonte].
KW: Are you ever concerned about the toll that your activism might take on your career?
DG: No. I tell people, “You can’t tell me who I can talk to. You can’t tell me what I can talk about. You can’t pick my friends. And in a democracy, you can’t tell me that I can’t talk about real issues.” They attacked us for being against the war, even though everybody’s against the war now. Today, a cat who’s in favor of the war is an anomaly. My critics have taken to attacking my relationships, but they have nothing to say about the substance of what I’ve had to say about the state of education, or about what’s happening with working people and in New Orleans. They don’t want to talk about that.
KW: Yeah, they’ve been condemning you for your relationship with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.
DG: Look here. Here’s a man who has African blood in him with whom I share things in common, such as how we feel about poor people. How come I can’t talk to him? How come he can’t be my friend? How come he can’t be my brother? Because you say he can’t? Because you don’t like him?
KW: Let me ask you just a couple more questions. The Columbus Short question. Are you happy?
DG: Yeah, I’m happy. I’m a grandfather, and I’m in love with him. He’s almost four and he’s my running partner. I’m trying to insert myself in his life every way I can. And he knows it.
KW: And the Jimmy Bayan question. Where in L.A. do you live?
DG: I live in San Francisco in the Haight-Asbury district. I grew up in the Haight-Asbury.
KW: Thanks again for the time, Danny. Keep giving them hell and the best of luck with this film.
DG: Thank you, baby. Bye now.

Friday, December 28, 2007


DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Martial Arts DVD Features Jason Statham and Jet Li

You already have a good idea what to expect of War when you hear that Jason Statham and Jet Li are the co-stars of this gruesome revenge thriller. For both of these martial arts icons have come to be known for frenetically-paced, action-oriented fare in which they perform their own stunts during elaborate fight sequences.
So, the only question that fans of the genre need to have answered is whether Statham and Li combine, here, for a worthwhile collaboration in which they square-off for a memorable battle royal. Unfortunately, although they portray sworn adversaries, they share so few scenes opposite each other that the picture must be deemed a bit of a disappointment.
The straightforward, revenge-driven plot is based on a shopworn theme we’ve seen a million times before. FBI Agent Tom Lone (Terry Chen), his wife and young child are callously murdered by an Asian assassin named Rogue (Li). Lone’s disconsolate partner, Jack Crawford (Statham), is of course determined to track down the perpetrator in order to exact sweet retribution.
But before he gets his chance to settle the score a few years later, he must first sort out the players in a bloody turf war for control of San Francisco unfolding between a gang of Japanese yakuza mobsters led by the savage Shiro (Ryo Ishibashi) and a Chinese crime family headed by the equally-brutal Chang (John Lone). The body-count escalates as Crawford and his cronies from the Bureau intermittently find themselves mixed up in mayhem which amounts to little more than a mindless diversion for an audience impatient for the impending showdown between Crawford and Rogue.
Regrettably, the anticlimactic finale turns out to be distinctly unsatisfying, since it involves a preposterous rabbit-out-of-the hat reveal, a development which forces you to rethink the entire tale.
War, what is this one good for? Unh! Absolutely nothin’!

Fair (1 star)
Rated R for sexuality, nudity, profanity and graphic violence.
In Mandarin and English with subtitles.
Running time: 103 minutes
Studio: Lions Gate Home Entertainment
DVD Extras: Deleted and extended scenes, audio trivia track, gag reel, audio commentaries by the director and scriptwriters, nine “Behind-the-Scenes” vignettes, and a featurette entitled “Scoring War.”

September Dawn DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: DVD Recounts Mormon Fanaticism Which Led to 19th C. Massacre

On September 11, 1857, a wagon train led by Captain Alexander Fancher (Shaun Johnston) was headed for gold-rich California when it was ambushed by Mormons as it was passing through Utah. 120 men, women and children perished in the little-known incident slaughter now referred to as the Mountain Meadows Massacre. The faith-based slaughter was reportedly ordered by the territory’s Governor, Brigham Young (Terrence Stamp), who had declared martial law after hearing rumors that President Buchanan might be sending the U.S. Cavalry to depose him.
Fearing that the strangers might get some fancy ideas about settling there permanently, Young dispatched Deacon John D. Lee (Jon Gries) to discourage Fancher from stopping. When the weary wayfarers asked only for enough time to rest and recharge their batteries, Bishop Jacob Samuelson (Jon Voight) intervened on their behalf and they were initially granted permission to remain in the valley for a fortnight.
During this interlude, Samuelson’s son, Jonathan (Trent Ford), locked eyes with Emily (Tamara Hope), the cutest female among the newcomers, and the two fell madly in love. This development didn’t sit well with Jonathan’s dad, especially when he got his marching order from above to slay all the strangers as revenge for the Mormon lives lost back in Missouri.
Released on DVD at probably the worst time for presidential candidate Mitt Romney, September Dawn is a graphic Western which sheds light on a shameful stain on the legacy of the controversial sect that later became the Church of Latter Day Saints. Luckily, Mitt can breathe a sigh of relief, since the low budget film is marked by such dubious dialogue, shoddy special f/x and sloppy editing that it doesn’t even measure up, cinematically, to an episode of your typical, cowboy TV show from the Fifties, like The Lone Ranger. Get my drift, Kimosabe?

Fair (1 star )
Rated R for violence.
Running time: 111 minutes
Studio: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
DVD Two featurettes: “True Events: A Historical Perspective” and “Descendants: Remembering the Tragedy.”

Shoot 'Em Up DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: High-Impact Action Spoof Out on DVD

Smith, a homeless drifter (Clive Owen) sitting at a bus stop, comes to the assistance of a pregnant woman (Ramona Pringle) being chased down the street by a couple of hoodlums. Fortunately, the carrot-chomping hobo happens to be a military veteran well-versed in weapons and martial arts combat, a set of skills about to come in very handy since he’s just unknowingly ticked-off Hertz (Paul Giamatti), a ruthless mobster with a gang of cutthroat assassins.
The Good Samaritan starts fighting-off the goons while simultaneously delivering the stranger’s baby during the heat of battle. Then, after the mother succumbs from a shot to the head, Smith realizes he has an orphan on his hands. Knowing that the kid needs milk for nourishment, and pronto, he quickly makes his way to a house of ill repute in search of Donna (Monica Bellucci), a proverbial prostitute with a heart of gold whose specialty is catering to kinky customers with a fetish for lactating mammaries.
Understandably suspicious about why a john would show up with a newborn, Donna is reluctant to assist, until Hertz’s and company burst in guns-a-blazing. Suddenly, both her maternal and survival instincts kick in, and clutching the kid to her bosom, she follows Smith’s lead down into the mean streets on the dead run for a non-stop chase that doesn’t end till the curtain comes down on this heart-stopping roller coaster ride.
This is the unabashedly preposterous point of departure of Shoot 'Em Up, a tongue-in-cheek spoof of the action adventure genre. The picture delivers handily, provided all you’re asking for is a stomach-churning free-fall featuring plenty of gratuitous bloodletting with a little primal carnality tossed in for good measure.
A one-dimensional cinematic treat best savored with one’s brain on pause.

Excellent (4 stars)
Rated R for sexuality, nudity, profanity and pervasive graphic violence.
Running time: 86 minutes
Studio: New Line Home Entertainment
DVD Extras: Feature commentaries by writer/director Michael Davis, deleted scenes, trailers, plus a couple of ”Behind-the-scenes” featurettes.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Blacktrospective 2007: Annual Look Back at the Best (and Worst) in Black Cinema

by Kam Williams

Headline: Tyler Perry Parade

With two excellent offerings in Why Did I Get Married? and Daddy’s Little Girls, 2007 truly belonged to Tyler Perry. Not only did he make the two best black ensemble pictures released by a big studio, but his films also boasted some of the year’s most memorable performances in both the male (Perry and Idris Elba) and female (Tasha Smith, Gabrielle Union and Jill Scott) acting categories.
I’m sure many readers might want an explanation for the relatively-poor showings of Denzel’s box-office hits American Gangster and The Great Debaters. Well, the former was not much more than a big budget variation on the gangsploitation genre in this critic’s estimation. Meanwhile, the latter did feature several inspired performances, but was simply too riddled with comical anachronisms and historical inaccuracies to take seriously.
I hope you take the time to check out some of the lesser-known independent film and documentaries, as you will be well rewarded for investing a couple of hours in labors of love like Banished, What Black Men Think and Diary of a Tired Black Man.

Ten Best Black Films (Studio)

1. Why Did I Get Married?
2. Daddy’s Little Girls
3. Rush Hour 3
4. Honeydripper
5. This Christmas
6. Talk to Me
7. The Great Debaters
8. I Am Legend
9. Feel the Noise
10. The Perfect Holiday

Best Independent Black Films

1. Diary of a Tired Black Man
2. Killer of Sheep
3. Honeydripper
4. My Brother
5. Premium

Best Black Documentaries

1. What Black Men Think
2. Banished
3. Desert Bayou
4. The Hip Hop Project
5. Bastards of the Party
6. Ghosts of Cite Soleil
7. Carmen & Geoffrey
8. Bushwick Homecomings
9. Darfur Diaries
10. God Grew Tired of Us

Best Actors

1. Idris Elba (Daddy’s Little Girls, This Christmas, American Gangster,
28 Weeks Later & The Reaping)
2. Denzel Washington (The Great Debaters & American Gangster)
3. Kene Holliday (Great World of Sound)
4. Danny Glover (Honeydripper)
5. Forest Whitaker (The Great Debaters)
6. Morgan Freeman (The Bucket List & Gone Baby Gone)
7. Will Smith (I Am Legend)
8. Chris Tucker (Rush Hour 3)
9. Tyler Perry (Why Did I Get Married?)
10. Delroy Lindo (This Christmas)

Best Actresses

1. Tasha Smith (Daddy’s Little Girls & Why Did I Get Married?)
2. Gabrielle Union (Daddy’s Little Girls & The Perfect Holiday)
3. Loretta Devine (This Christmas & Dirty Laundry)
4. Jurnee Smollett (The Great Debaters)
5. Vanessa Williams (My Brother & And Then Came Love)
6. Lisa Gay Hamilton (Honeydripper)
7. Jill Scott (Why Did I Get Married?)
8. Aisha Tyler (Balls of Fury & The Brave One)
9. Sharon Leal (This Christmas)
10. Brooklyn Sudano (Rain)

Best Directors (Studio)
1. Tyler Perry (Why Did I Get Married? & Daddy’s Little Girls)
2. Gregory Wilson (The Girl Next Door)
3. Preston A. Whitmore, II (This Christmas)
4. Kasi Lemmons (Talk to Me)
5. Denzel Washington (The Great Debaters)

Best Directors (Independent or Documentary)

1. Tim Alexander (Diary of a Tired Black Man) -Tie
1. Janks Morton (What Black Men Think) -Tie
3. Marco Williams (Banished)
4. Charles Burnett (Killer of Sheep)
5. Pete Chatmon (Premium)

Worst Movies

1. Who’s Your Caddy?
2. Daddy Day Camp
3. Code Name: The Cleaner
4. Norbit
5. Bring It On 4
6. I Think I Love My Wife
7. Constellation
8. Homie Spumoni
9. The Salon
10. Confessions of a Call Girl

Worst Actors

1. Cuba Gooding, Jr. (Daddy Day Camp)
2. Faizon Love (Who’s Your Caddy?)
3. Big Boi (Who’s Your Caddy?)
4. Cedric the Entertainer (Code Name: The Cleaner)
5. Donald Faison (Homie Spumoni)

Worst Actresses

1. Tamala Jones (Confessions of a Call Girl & Who’s Your Caddy?)
2. Niecy Nash (Code Name: the Cleaner & Reno 911: Miami)
3. Rae Dawn Chong (Constellation)
4. Whoopi Goldberg (Homie Spumoni)
5. Halle Berry (Perfect Stranger)

Worst Directors

1. Tim Story (Fantastic Four II)
2. Lawrence Page (Confessions of a Call Girl)
3. Chris Rock (I Think I Love My Wife)
4. Garret Williams (Spark)
5. Mark Brown (The Salon)

Note: Thanks to fellow film critic Wilson Morales of for his very valuable assistance in researching this article, although the picks and pans strictly reflect the opinion of Kam Williams.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

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

Kam's Kapsules:
Weekly Previews That Make Choosing a Film Fun
by Kam Williams
For movies opening January 4, 2008


One Missed Call (PG-13 for mature themes, frightening images, terror, intense violence and some sexual material) Shannyn Sossamon stars in this remake of Chakushin Ari, a high attrition-rate horror flick from Japan about a traumatized young woman who’s afraid to answer her cell phone after several of her ill-fated friends receive messages accurately predicting exactly when and how they are about to die. With Edward Burns as the detective determined to crack the case.


A Bloody Aria (Unrated) Appearances can be deceiving in this gruesome examination of bullying about a perverted music professor (Byeong-jun Lee) who kickstarts an escalating roundelay of revenge after making unwanted advances on his pretty protégé (Ye-ryeon Cha) while driving her to an audition. (In Korean with subtitles)

The Killing of John Lennon (Unrated) Chilling bio-pic presumes to get inside the mind of Mark David Chapman (Jonas Ball), the deranged maniac who claimed to be inspired by the Devil and by the book The Catcher in the Rye to murder The Beatles’ John Lennon before then being instructed by God to plead guilty to the senseless killing.

The Great Debaters

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Inspirational Bio-Bic Beset by Baffling Historical Inaccuracies

When a movie bills itself as “Inspired by a True Story,” to what extent should it be allowed to take liberties with the truth to spin a heartwarming tale which tugs on the heartstrings? That is the question which begs to be answered in the course of appraising The Great Debaters, an inspirational bio-pic about a professor who, in 1935, allegedly forged the fledgling debate team at a tiny black college into a nationally-ranked powerhouse that took on Harvard University in a big showdown aired on radio live all across the country.
The film’s most glaring, factual faux pas is that while Wiley College did, in fact, participate in the championships finals that year, its opponent was not Harvard at all, but USC. This fabrication naturally makes one wonder about other aspects of this recreation. Was the original contest really broadcast live on radio? (Unlikely) Was it even the first time, as implied, that a black college competed against a white school in the debate tournament? (No) Etcetera… etcetera…
Furthermore, the picture propagated plenty of other tall tales. For instance, there’s a scene where Professor Tolson (Denzel Washington) attempts instill some self respect in his pupils by quoting from Willie Lynch’s 1712 speech supposedly delivered to fellow slave owners about how to mold and control the minds of their slaves.
Well, the problem is that the infamous lecture never took place, and has long been dismissed by academics and experts, some African-American, as an urban legend which first surfaced circa 1993. There isn’t any reference to the speech in any literature prior to then. So, how could a professor have lectured about it way back when? Since I’ve criticized references made to Willie Lynch by other flicks, it would be hypocritical for me to give The Great Debaters a pass just because it’s such a well-meaning message movie.
There are considerable additional conceptual obstacles in the way of enjoying this consciousness-raising costume drama. For instance, whenever the Wiley team debates, it invariably is conveniently assigned to argue the politically-correct side of the issue, whether that be about welfare, lynching, integration, child labor, civil disobedience or elsewhat. Isn’t the mark of a skilled debater the ability to make a convincing case for either side, especially unpopular causes you don’t believe in?
All of the above fibs and fabrications aside, there is still much to recommend here. Denzel certainly delivers as the film’s plucky protagonist, as does Forest Whitaker in his co-star capacity as his less-confrontational colleague, James Farmer, Sr. Gina Rivera and Kimberly Elise capably play their wives, respectively, in support roles which aren’t all that demanding.
The cast is rounded out by the quartet of gifted young actors who comprise the Wiley debate team. Only one of these four characters, lovesick 14 year-old James Farmer, Jr. (Denzel Whitaker), is based on a real person. The precocious Farmer would later found the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), and go on to become a leader of the Civil Rights Movement.
So, the other three debaters, feisty Samantha Booke (Jurnee Smollett), her womanizing boyfriend Henry Lowe (Nate Parker), and hefty Hamilton Burgess (Jermaine Williams) are fictional. This makes the closing credits a tad misleading, since it relates Tolson’s and Farmers’ subsequent actual exploits along with alleged later achievements of the others, even though they never existed.
One can only conclude that this movie was designed for youngsters, not adults. If that’s the case, do we want impressionable young minds understanding of history to be misshaped in this fashion? Well-Intentioned and well-executed, and recommended with reservations only because there’s still something terribly troubling even about a feelgood flick packed with so many misrepresentations.
Does the truth matter, or is reality retroactively up for grabs? Let the debating begin.

Good (2 stars)
Rated PG-13 for profanity, ethnic slurs, mature themes, brief sexuality, violence and disturbing images.
Running time: 123 minutes
Studio: MGM

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Denzel Washington: The Great Debaters Interview

Interview with Kam Williams

Headline: Denzel on Directing, Acting, Fathering and Mentoring

Denzel Washington stepped behind the camera for the second time to make The Great Debaters, an inspirational bio-pic about Professor Melvin Tolson, the debate coach at a small black college in the South, whose inexperienced team, in 1935, shocked the world by taking on some seasoned nationally-ranked competition. Here, Denzel, who also plays Tolson in the picture, opines on everything from acting to directing to being a role model.

KW: How do you feel about directing?
DW: I have a new career. In the last seven years, I’ve directed two films, and I’m passionate about that. To get the opportunity to do that, and to enjoy a measure of success, and not just success but to hear people respond in a positive way to the film is a great feeling for me. They say that 80% of a director’s job is casting.
We found four great young actors and gave them the opportunity of a lifetime as far as their acting careers are concerned. There are some brilliant performances by these young actors. They’re well on their way.
KW: What sold you on the script of The Great Debaters?
DW: It was a great read on many levels. I think it’s a really wonderful story about language and education. And, like I’ve been telling people, I also look upon it as a sports movie. They’re the little train that could, and they go up against Goliath. And it’s set at a time in our country when there was a lot of turmoil and racism and poverty and the Depression. But they came through all of that and were able to find a way to focus their energy, come together as a unit, and go up against the big boys and knock ’em off the pedestal.
KW: Do you think that the old-fashioned values that Melvin Tolson instilled in his students will lost on the youth of today?
DW: In my opinion, we live like a fast food society. Get there quick. Do it fast. Everything’s fast-fast-fast. But faster is not necessarily better. There’s a process to reaching a goal and, unfortunately, a lot of kids find that out when it’s too late. In many ways, in our society, it’s our responsibility, if not fault, that we’ve sold our kids a bill of goods for a dollar, basically. I think the way that these young people are being taught by Tolson and Farmer [James Farmer, Sr.] in The Great Debaters is still going on now as well. I don’t know that it’s always news. It’s not always popular, but it is effective.
KW: But how could you expect today’s role models to try to reach kids who embrace gangsta rap and the materialism, misogyny and self-destructive associated with that thug mentality?
DW: Young people join gangs because that’s where they find love and support and people who believe in them. That means somebody dropped the ball, and they look like you and me. We’re adults. We’ve dropped the ball. So, we have to reach out, we have to not give up on our youth. I struggled as a teenager, and got into trouble, but my mother never gave up on me. So, I think they’re our responsibility as adults.
KW: Why did you want to bring The Great Debaters to the big screen?
DW: It’s history, that’s why I wanted to capture it. I said, “We can’t miss this.” There’s a lot there, and we need to pass that on. These things need to be shared and celebrated.
KW: What’s the picture’s storyline?
DW: In 1935, there was a little school with 360 students, Wiley College in Marshall, Texas. They had four young debaters, three guys and one girl. They came together as a team, and beat everybody in America, basically. It’s also the story of one of the kids [James Farmer, Jr.] who’s played by a young actor by the name of Denzel Whitaker, if you can believe that. His character is learning about becoming a man. He sees this one professor, Melvin Tolson, who seems to be the cooler guy. And he sees his father who sometimes seems to kow-tow or shrink in the face of racism. But he begins to understand, as he matures, what his father was doing to actually protect him. So, he’s becoming a man, and learning about love. It’s about a 14 year-old who falls for an 18 or 20 year-old girl. We’ve all been through that. The movie’s also about another character that’s brilliantly played by Nate Parker, Henry Lowe, this drinking and carousing kid who matures in the process of the story. And at the moment when he’s about to achieve the greatest victory in his life, he makes a sacrifice and gives the opportunity to this other young boy. And it’s the story of one of the first female debaters, black or white, played brilliantly by Jurnee Smollett, who overcomes her fear of debating and is able to get up there and stand her ground as a debater and as a young woman. And, of course, it’s about a couple of guys that Forest [Whitaker] and I play who helped them to do those things.
KW: How would you describe your character?
DW: Mel Tolson, he’s the coach. I make the speeches, kick ‘em in their butt, push them out the door. They do what we taught them to do. And I sort of stand back on the side, and watch them achieve their goals. It’s about passing on knowledge, responsibility and power. In 1935, African-Americans understood the importance of education as a way out.
KW: What do you think of today’s black kids having a higher high school dropout rates than those of a generation ago?
DW: I’m a parent. I think we’re responsible for the problems that young people have. I believe that. I don’t blame them for any of it. I blame us for what we haven’t done as mothers and fathers, not sticking together as a unit. I think we’ve done a terrible job, a shameful job. So, I try to take advantage of every opportunity I get to share what I know with young people.
KW: Why did you decide to cast Forest Whitaker as your co-star?
DW: Needless to say, Forest is one of the great actors of our time, and a wonderful human being, so I basically begged him to be in the movie. I’m just grateful that he was willing to play this part, to give the film an anchor. Once I knew I was going to be in the film, I needed someone with an equal strength and weight because, as I was saying, this young boy is torn between these two powerful men in his life. So, I appreciate the presence of an actor who had that weight. Forest could easily have played either part. The only reason I’m playing Professor Tolson is because they made me in order to get the money to do the film. [Laughs] But I also think it’s good casting, and that I’m the right guy for the job.
KW: Sounds like you were a little hesitant about appearing in the film at all.
DW: In the movie, my character says, “You do what you have to do, so that you can do what you want to do.” What I wanted to do was direct, so what I had to do was act in order to do that. Life does not work the other way around. As I tell my kids, “You pay now, or you pay later, but you gotta pay.”

Sunday, December 23, 2007


Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Danny Glover Stars in Saga Set in Segregated South

It is 1950, in Harmony, a hardscrabble Alabama town whose name gives no hint that its color-coded caste system relegates blacks to second-class status. But despite the limitations of living under oppressive Jim Crow segregation, Tyrone “Pinetop” Purvis (Danny Glover) has managed to eke out a decent living, at least till now.
He’s the proprietor of the Honeydripper Lounge, a juke joint which flourished during its heyday by selling cheap booze while catering to the tastes of a clientele which appreciated the blues. However, the establishment has failed to adapt to the changing times. Consequently, the bulk of Pinetop’s business has drifted over to its prime competitor, a shady shack featuring performers of a new genre of music that’s a precursor to R&B.
Finding himself on the brink of bankruptcy, Tyrone decides to book an out-of-town act in a last gasp effort to save the nightclub. Unfortunately, Guitar Sam fails to arrive on the train from New Orleans as arranged. So, the embattled owner comes up with the bright idea of hiring a drifter, Sonny Blake (Gary Clark, Jr.) to impersonate the legendary guitarist, since nobody knows what he looks like, anyway.
This is the overarching premise of the Honeydripper, the latest offbeat offering from the iconoclastic John Sayles. The front story of this music-driven, costume drama is curiously less compelling than the picture’s electrifying score and wince-inducing recreations of tableaus of a bygone era marked by subjugation and intolerance.
For example, we see how the hobo Sonny, upon his arrival in Harmony, is arrested on the spot by racist Sheriff Pugh (Stacy Keach), who charges the stranger with “gawking with intent to mope.” Without benefit of a lawyer or trial, the young vagrant is convicted by Judge Gatlin (Danny Vinson) who takes personal custody of the young man and puts him to work on his farm without pay, and indefinitely.
Sadly, such routine mistreatment and exploitation of blacks represents a generally unacknowledged aspect of America’s legacy. Ordinarily, a subject of nature is only touched upon humorously in cinema, ala Life, the Southern chain gang comedy co-starring Martin Lawrence and Eddie Murphy.
Danny Glover’s engaging turn as the protagonist of Honeydripper is matched by the equally-measured performances by Charles S. Dutton, Lisa Gay Hamilton, Vondie Curtis-Hall, Mary Steenburgen, Kel Mitchell, Sean Patrick Thomas and YaYa DaCosta. Plus, the production has been blessed with country cred courtesy of some gifted blues musicians, such as Keb Mo’ and Mable John, whose talents add immeasurably to the comfy auditory ambience.
Kudos to two-time Oscar-nominee Sayles (for Lone Star and Passion Fish) who has tackled themes of interest to the African-American community previously, both in his comic cult classic Brother from Another Planet and in the relatively cerebral Sunshine State. Here, he’s to be commended for again serving up a thought-provoking slice of African-Americana sans the shucking and jiving which Hollywood typically attaches to black-oriented fare.

Excellent (4 stars)
Rated PG-13 for brief violence and suggestive material.
Running time: 123 minutes
Studio: Emerging Pictures

Kimberly Elise: The Great Debaters Interview

Interview with Kam Williams

Headline: There’s No Debate, Kimberly’s Great

Minneapolis’ Kimberly Elise might be the best African-American actress around yet to generate any Oscar buzz. This, despite receiving rave reviews for her work in everything from Beloved to The Manchurian Candidate to Woman, Thou Art Loosed. The problem could be that she’s just so accomplished at her craft that when she thoroughly disappears into each role she gives the impression that her performances are almost effortless.
Nonetheless, she has landed her fair share of accolades elsewhere on the awards circuit, most notably, the NAACP Image Awards, for which she’s been nominated seven times, winning twice, for Diary of a Mad Black Woman and for Close to Home, the CBS nighttime crime drama where she plays prosecutor Maureen Scofield.
Kimberly released just a couple of movies in 2007, Pride and The Great Debaters, both inspirational bio-pics. Here, she shares her thoughts about appearing in the latter opposite Forest Whitaker, as his character’s wife, Pearl.
As for her personal life, Ms. Elise divorced her husband of 16 years, Maurice Oldham, in 2005. Unfortunately, he passed away on May 17th of this year, leaving their two daughters, AjaBleu, 17, and Butterfly, 9, fatherless.

KW: I don’t know whether you remember this, but I live in Princeton, and have been friends for years with your former mother-in-law, Mamie, who lives here. My condolences to you and your daughters on the passing of Maurice. How are you all holding up?
KE: It’s still pretty raw, thanks.
KW: What interested you in The Great Debaters?
KE: Well, a couple of things. One, I thought it was a fantastic part of our history, of American history, and what an honor it would be to be a part of telling this story. It’s a small part, but it was important to Denzel [director/co-star Denzel Washington] that every part be filled by a strong actor. So, it was a no-brainer.
KW: Casting a mediocre in a minor role can often ruin a film.
KE: I agree, and I think Denzel totally realizes that.
KW: And how was it working with Forest Whitaker for the first time?
KE: It was fantastic. He’s such a great human being, just a wonderful man and, of course, an extraordinary actor. I can’t wait to work with him again in a larger capacity.
KW: How do anticipate audiences responding to the story?
KE: I think it will be really inspiring, because it’s not just about the abuse and suffering that our people endured, but it’s also about the offspring of those people and how they went on to do some great things in and of themselves, and who basically we are. And how we are the offspring, and how we now go on to achieve things in our own right. So, it’s really inspiring, empowering, and exciting.
KW: Did the experience of making the movie move you?
KE: Oh, definitely.
KW: What’s your next film?
KE: With this writer’s strike, there’s nothing going on.
KW: Didn’t you sign to do Red Soil with Tasha Smith? Is that already finished shooting?
KE: No, we actually haven’t started yet.
KW: The director of Red Soil is Charles Burnett, who has enjoyed a renaissance this year with the long-overdue theatrical release of Killer of Sheep, a movie he made 30 years ago, way back in 1977.
KE: I’m very excited to be working with Charles.
KW: I know that story is set in Ghana. Will you be filming on location?
KE: Yes.
KW: You made Pride earlier this year, which was another spiritually-uplifting, historical drama. Are you picking positive pictures like this by design?
KE: I just pick what moves me. It’s very guttural. And also directors call me.
KW: I know you’ve worked with Denzel as an actor before [in The Manchurian Candidate and John Q], but how was it having him as a director?
KE: It was very exciting to see him as a director. I was so happy for him. There was just this light that came out of his eyes every day. He was always running here and there, checking monitors… makeup… rehearsals… Few actors are lucky enough to have the experience of working even once in their lifetime with a director with such passion.
KW: What’d you think of some of the young talent in this movie?
KE: Oh my God, Nate Parker, who played my brother in Pride. I was so happy that he got the part of Henry. And Denzel Whitaker, who played my son, looked like Forest spit him out. And Jurnee [Smollett] is so emotional and powerful with everything she does.
KW: Snoopy Jimmy Bayan wants to know where in L.A. you live.
KE: The Hollywood Hills area.
KW: And this question was inspired by Columbus Short. Are you happy?
KE: Yes, I’m extraordinarily happy.
KW: Thanks again for the time, Kimberly.
KE: Okay, take care.

Charlie Wilson's War

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Bio-Pic Has Hanks as Texas Congressman Single-Handedly Toppling the Soviet Union

Have you ever hear of Congressman Charlie Wilson (Tom Hanks), who served Texas’ 2nd District from 1973 to 1996? Neither had I, despite the fact that he was virtually single-handedly responsible for toppling the Soviet Union. Apparently, it was through his funding of a covert CIA operation in response to the Russian invasion of Afghanistan that the mujahedeen managed to defend themselves successfully while simultaneously bankrupting the U.S.S.R.
What is ironic is that Wilson, the architect of the operation, was not only a liberal Democrat, but a loose cannon who didn’t let the fact that he was married get in he way of his boozing and womanizing. And among his many mistresses was socialite Joanne Herring (Julia Roberts), the sixth richest woman in his home state.
Their lustful liaison was proof of the age-old maxim that politics makes strange bedfellows, literally and figuratively, for she was a conservative, Christian fundamentalist who prevailed upon her well-connected boy-toy to get the CIA to intervene in the Middle East conflict in the name of freedom of religion. What neither of them anticipated, however, was that in the process of sending the Soviets to defeat they would be creating a new monster, a militarily-equipped radical Islam.
This is the arc of Charlie Wilson's War, a relatively lighthearted romp about a real-life James Bond. Fearless, suave and debonair, the film presents its misogynistic protagonist as very likable even though he hired his all-female staff members by breast size, because “You can teach ‘em to type, but you can’t teach ‘em to grow [T-words].”
Based on the best-selling biography of the same name by George Crile, the movie was faithfully adapted by Oscar-winner Mike Nichols (The Graduate), a director who has no problem delivering a warts-and-all depiction which has Charlie cavorting naked in a hot tub with coke-snorting strippers. For the message is clear, specifically, that the patriotic cad’s service to his country outweighs his countless sexual indiscretions.
Philip Seymour Hoffman turns in a typically-sound performance as second banana Gust Avrakotos, the CIA Agent through whom Wilson secretly funneled over a billion dollars to the Afghan freedom fighters. But make no mistake, this is a Tom Hanks vehicle, and the two-time Oscar-winner (for Philadelphia and Forrest Gump) is nothing short of inspired in the title role as a gun-running, skirt-chasing bon vivant.
Unless somebody’s taking liberties with the truth here, history will one day confirm that all it took to bring an end to the Cold War was the valiant efforts of an otherwise unprincipled party animal who knew his way around Washington well-enough to be unburdened by red tape, bureaucrats or democracy. Charlie Wilson, a real American hero, belatedly revealed.

Excellent (3.5 stars)
Rated R for profanity, nudity, sexuality and drug use.
Running time: 97 minutes
Studio: Universal Pictures

Friday, December 21, 2007

The Brothers Solomon DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Marriage-Minded Siblings Forget to Be Funny in Funereal Sitcom

After their mother passed away while they were still very young, John (Will Arnett) and Dean (Will Forte) Solomon were so inconsolable that their father, Ed (Lee Majors) was willing to do anything to see his sons happy again. Because they wanted to live near Santa Claus, he agreed to move to the North Pole.
There, the doting dad ended up home-schooling the boys until each had earned a Ph.D. But being book smart is one thing, while being street smart is quite another. And having been raised in a remote area of the Arctic meant that neither John nor Dean ever developed much in the way of common sense or social graces.
Consequently, the anti-social siblings had no luck with girls, which wasn’t a big deal until their dad shared his dying wish with his doctor (Charles Chun) just before slipping into a coma. Upon learning that his last request was for a grandchild, the romantically-challenged dorks decide to focus on fulfilling their dad’s desire before he expires.
Desperate to mate, John and Dean proceed to make fools of themselves as they approach strangers and make impulsive overtures to mate immediately. This is the straightforward premise of The Brothers Solomon, a readily-forgettable romantic comedy which, unfortunately, fails entirely to be funny along the way.
The problems with the production are plentiful, starting with the fact that the protagonists fail to behave in a nerdy fashion. This is compounded by a farcical script which never makes logical sense. So what’s left? Slapstick abounds, such as the sight of a morbidly obese woman (Suzanne Wright) getting hit by a bus right after exhibiting elation at the prospect of becoming a mother. Hah-hah.
Life’s too short for such juiceless, joyless junk.

Poor (0.5 stars)
Rated R for sexuality and profanity.
Running time: 93 minutes
Studio: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
DVD Extras: Deleted scenes, audio commentary with co-stars Will Arnett and Will Forte, and two featurettes.

The Heartbreak Kid DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Farrelly Brothers’ Raunchy Remake Released on DVD

40 year-old Eddie Cantrow (Ben Stiller) is having second thoughts about remaining a bachelor after attending the wedding of his ex-girlfriend (Ali Hillis). Most of his buddies have already tied the knot, and even his henpecked best friend, Mac (Rob Corddry), appears to be happily married.
Therefore, when he comes to the rescue of a gorgeous damsel in distress (Malin Akerman) being robbed on Valentine’s Day, he takes it as a sign that the leggy blonde might be Ms. Right. After a whirlwind romance, the Good Samaritan proposes, figuring, how bad could life with her be? Only after they set out on their honeymoon, does he begin to uncover reasons to question the wisdom of his impulsive decision.
As the two become better acquainted, a less endearing side of his bride begins to emerge, from her sordid past to her deviated septum to her foul mouth to her insatiable appetite for rough sex to her $26,000 in cocaine debt. By the time the newlyweds arrive at their oceanfront resort in Mexico, the grouchy groom is already fed up.
So, soon after checking in, he ventures down to the hotel’s bar alone where he proceeds to put the moves on Miranda (Michelle Monaghan), an attractive young woman from Mississippi who’s there with relatives for an annual family getaway. Not only does the creep fail to mention that he’s on his honeymoon, but he doesn’t even let on that he’s married.
This recipe for disaster is the point of departure of The Heartbreak Kid, a sorry remake of the 1972 farce starring Charles Grodin and Cybill Shepherd. Like a typical TV sitcom, the plot turns on the continuing concealment of a big lie which would easily resolve the matter if admitted.
Besides the morally-objectionable storyline, the Farrellys are up to their usual tricks. This means they fill the screen with gratuitous nudity, gross-out bodily function humor, graphically-depicted soft porn and meanspirited potshots at assorted ethnic groups.
An unwatchable mess like this is exactly what you ought to expect from anybody with the unmitigated gall to overhaul Neil Simon.

Poor (.5 star)
Rated R for profanity, female frontal nudity, crude humor and graphic sexuality.
Running time: 118 minutes
Studio: Paramount Home Entertainment
DVD Extras: Six deleted scenes, audio commentary by the Farrelly Brothers, four featurettes, bloopers, gag reel, plus Peter Farrelly’s “Greatest Practical Joke Ever.”

Rush Hour 3 DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Three Times a Charm for Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker

Finally, after a six-year hiatus, Chris Tucker and Jackie Chan are back with a madcap adventure which measures up to the prior pictures in every way, from the laff-a-minute hijinks to the genuine chemistry among the characters to the carefully-orchestrated fight sequences. And although LAPD Detective Carter (Tucker) and Hong Kong Inspector Lee (Chan) are just up to their typical tricks, there’s something comfy about watching them in action again, even when you have a good idea what to expect.
The story opens in L.A. where we find the motor-mouthed Carter demoted to directing street traffic while Lee is again guarding Chinese Ambassador Han (Tzi Ma). After an assassination attempt leaves Han seriously wounded, Lee promises the diplomat’s now-grown daughter, Soo Yung (Jingchu Zhang), that he will track down the shooter.
The trail leads to a gang of Asian mobsters in Paris, and the dynamic duo soon reunite and make their way over to France to crack the case. The mismatched partners immediately resume their oil-and-water bickering, a winning study in contrasts in which high-strung Carter’s constant trash-talking, womanizing and general incompetence is offset by Lee’s relatively low-key demeanor and suave savoir fare.
A third stooge is added to the mix after they land in Europe, when George (Yvan Attal), an insolent cabbie with an attitude, becomes their regular driver. He can’t hide his contempt for American culture, and his presence not only infuses the film with some fresh energy but provides some of its most memorable moments of comic relief.
Rush Hour 3 is designed to be savored moment to moment, for this joke, for that car chase, for that death-defying leap, and so forth. Soufflé-light fare with a wafer-thin plot just compelling enough to keep you amused by the comic crime caper until the very end.

Excellent (4 stars)
Rated PG-13 for profanity, sexuality, nudity and action violence.
Running time: 90 minutes
Studio: New Line Home Entertainment
2-Disc DVD Extras: Deleted scenes with commentary by director Brett Ratner, outtakes, theatrical trailer, feature-length audio commentary by the director, and more.

Eastern Promises DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Russian Mob Splatter Flick from David Cronenberg Due on DVD

It’s Christmastime in London, where midwife Anna Khitrova (Naomi Watts) is living at home with her with her mother (Sinead Cusack) after suffering a miscarriage and being abandoned by her doctor boyfriend. That helps explain why she becomes so moved by the death during childbirth of a 14 year-old patient (Sarah-Jeanne Labrosse) who had staggered into the hospital alone and already in labor.
Learning that the young girl kept a diary, Anna surreptitiously pockets the journal with hopes of finding the baby’s father. But because the entries are all written in Russian, she has to enlist the assistance of her Uncle Stepan (Jerzy Skolimowski) for a translation. However, when he flatly declines, the still determined Good Samaritan decides to pursue the only lead she can decipher on her own, namely, a business card left stuck in the book.
The lead takes her to the trendy Trans-Siberian restaurant, an establishment run by a ruthless mobster named Semyon (Armin Mueller-Stahl) with the help of his enforcer son, Kirill (Victor Cassel), and Nikolai (Viggo Mortensen), a chauffeur skilled at cleaning clues off corpses. Unaware that the place is a front for a brutal crime family trafficking in contraband and sex slaves, Anna is naively duped by the proprietor’s affable overtures into leaving the incriminating diary with him for safekeeping.
Consequently, it isn’t long before she finds herself on the run from goons intent on eliminating her and anyone else who might be able link the baby back to the illicit operation. So unfolds Eastern Promises, a primal splatter flick courtesy of David Cronenberg.
The movie might best be described as a relentlessly-haunting saga of Shakespearean proportions, only arriving overlaid with many of the generic elements of the gratuitously-gruesome gangster genre. A mesmerizing thriller designed with a penchant for lingering depictions of utter depravity.

Very Good (3 stars)
Rated R for frontal nudity, profanity, gruesome violence and graphic sexuality.
Running time: 101 minutes
Studio: Universal Studios Home Entertainment
DVD Extras: A couple of behind the scenes featurettes by director David Cronenberg.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

The Kingdom DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: DVD Features Foxx as FBI Agent Out to Crack Saudi Terror Cell

After the bombing of an American compound in Saudi Arabia, the United States is determined to find the radical Muslims responsible. Seeing that a diplomatic solution is unlikely, the FBI opts to intervene via a top secret operation headed by Agent Ronald Fleury (Jamie Foxx) whose best friend (Kyle Chandler) perished in the attack.
With word that he’ll have only five days to infiltrate and bring down the terrorist cell, Fleury quickly assembles an elite team of commandos, each with a different skill needed for this dangerous mission. The crew is comprised of intelligence analyst Adam Leavitt (Justin Bateman), demolitions expert Grant Sykes (Chris Cooper) and forensic examiner Janet Mayes (Jennifer Garner).
Upon their arrival in Riyadh, they are debriefed by Saudi Colonel Faris Al-Ghazi (Ashraf Barhom) who soon vents his frustration with the royal family for blocking his investigation thusfar. Furthermore, it becomes apparent that even the U.S. envoy Damon Schmidt (Jeremy Piven) would prefer to stage a phony raid for a P.R. photo op than to risk destabilizing the region with an actual assault on the jihadist stronghold.
Fortunately, Faris is an honorable soul who cares more about fundamental notions of justice than on a reflexive loyalty based on religion. Thus, he’s willing to incur the ire of his superiors to help the fearless FBI foursome negotiate its way around a maze of obstacles ranging from unreliable informants to political adversaries to the city’s terrain to the searing heat.
Directed by Peter Berg, The Kingdom is a combination flick, part psychological thriller, part pyrotechnic spectacular, which works somehow despite considerable conceptual flaws. So long as one is willing to suspend disbelief, the film inexorably builds to a spectacular showdown reminiscent of Black Hawk Down, except the cowboys wearing the white hats win.
Sweet revenge in the desert.

Very Good (2.5 stars)
Rated R for profanity and graphic violence.
Running time: 110 minutes
Studio: Universal Studios Home Video
DVD Extras: Deleted scenes, director’s commentary, an interactive timeline, plus three featurettes.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007


Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Bohemian Bistro Threatened by Corporate Creep in Quirky Comedy

Neal Downs (Aaron Stanford) dreams of becoming a rock star while his girlfriend, Rachel Irene “Pussy” Katz (Zooey Deschanel), just as badly wants to become a famous artist. But right now, they’re not very close to their goals, given that he spends too much time in a dead-end day job managing a bohemian bistro, and she sells anti-establishment t-shirts and kitschy knick-knacks to tourists in a nearby curio shop.
His restaurant, Flakes, a popular New Orleans hangout, only has one thing on the menu: cereal, though its walls are lined with a hundred different varieties. And for some reason, the concept has caught on, and the establishment has built up a loyal clientele comprised mostly of stoners and other slackers.
The plot thickens soon after Stuart (Keir O’Donnell), a cagey corporate-type, shows up on the premises and casually starts asking probing questions about what’s involved in running the business. What naïve Neal doesn’t know is that this calculating, clean-cut yuppie isn’t just curious but seriously considering opening a competing cereal diner on the corner right across the street. And when he does exactly that, it sets in motion a chain reaction which turns Neal and Pussy’s world upside-down.
For, Stuart will stop at nothing to steal Flakes’ formerly loyal customers over to his antiseptic alternative, despite his place’s having a bright, uptight, fast food chain environment where employees have to wear name tags and rubber gloves and pay strict attention to portion size. In fact, even Pussy takes a job there, which obviously causes tension in the couple’s already stormy relationship.
As intriguing as this scenario might sound, unfortunately, Flakes doesn’t have much going for it in the way of cinematic appeal. A flaw is the fact that the leads are not particularly likable, not even Zoeey Deschanel, who has recently exhibited an abundance of promise in both Failure to Launch and Elf. However, here, her efforts are wasted in service of a script which fills her and the other characters’ mouths with unconvincing dialogue at every turn.
Again and again, the film squanders its every opportunity to make a meaningful statement, whether about post-Katrina gentrification, about the pressure on these wannabe Peter Pans having to make concessions to adulthood, about the crush of a mom-and-pop operation by an avaricious conglomerate, or about any of the worthwhile themes hinted at but studiously avoided. Overall, a disappointingly superficial enterprise, given its undeservedly smug, countercultural airs.

Fair (1 star)
Running time: 84 minutes
Studio: IFC Films

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 25, 2007


Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem (R for violence, gore and profanity) There is no peace on Earth this Christmas for the unsuspecting folks in the quiet Colorado town where this sci-fi sequel unfolds pitting the last surviving predator against an army of aliens in a bloody, bestial showdown. With John Ortiz, Steven Pasquale, Shareeka Epps and Reiko Aylesworth.

The Great Debaters (PG-13 for profanity, mature themes, brief sexuality, and the depiction of violence and disturbing images) Denzel Washington directs and stars opposite Forest Whitaker and Kimberly Elise in this fact-based drama, set in 1935, about a professor at a small black college who inspired students to form the school’s first debate team and to challenge Harvard for the national championship.

The Water Horse: Legend of the Deep (PG for action/peril, mild epithets and brief smoking) Fanciful fable, set during WWII and based on the children’s book by Dick King-Smith, about a lonely Scottish boy (Alex Etel) who finds a magical egg which hatches a curious sea creature he raises till it grows into a towering monster he must release into the Loch Ness where it becomes the subject of an enduring Scottish legend. Cast includes Emily Watson, Brian Cox and Ben Chaplin.


The Bucket List (PG-13 for profanity and a sexual reference) Oscar-winners Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman co-star in this bittersweet end-of-life saga as terminally-ill cancer patients who make a break from the hospital after compiling a checklist of everything they want to do before kicking the bucket. With Sean Hayes, Beverly Todd and Rowena King.

Honeydripper (PG-13 for ethnic slurs, brief violence and suggestive material) Danny Glover stars in this historical drama, set in rural Alabama in the Fifties, as the owner of a nightclub struggling to keep his place afloat by catering to the changing musical tastes of his clientele. Ensemble cast includes Charles S. Dutton, Stacy Keach, Sean Patrick Thomas, Lisa Gay Hamilton, Vondie Curtis-Hall, Yaya DaCosta, and the film’s director, John Sayles.

Imaginary Witness: Hollywood and the Holocaust (Unrated) Expose’ revisits how Hollywood has handled the Holocaust over the past 60 years, from the industry’s initial reluctance to cover the tragedy to its gradually depicting the tragedy’s unspeakable horrors in increasingly explicit fashion. Narrated by Gen Hackman, and with archival footage and commentary by Steven Spielberg, Liam Neeson, Sidney Lumet and Ben Kingsley.

The Orphanage (R for disturbing content) Supernatural suspense flick about a woman (Belen Rueda) who moves with her family into the abandoned, seaside orphanage where she was raised 30 years ago only to discover that the house is haunted when her young son (Roger Princep) is befriended by a ghost. (In Spanish with subtitles)

Persepolis (PG-13 for sexual references, profanity, mature themes, violent images and brief drug use) Feminist animated adventure, set at the dawn of the Iranian revolution in the late seventies, chronicles the resistance to the oppressive, fundamentalist Islamic regime displayed by a defiant young girl (Chiara Mastroianni) followed from the age of 9 to 24. (In French, Persian, German and English with subtitles)

Smiley Face (R for profanity, sexuality and drug use) Anna Faris stars in this comic misadventure about a day in the life of an aspiring, NYC actress who mistakenly eats a batch of her stoner roommate’s (Danny Masterson) Marijuana-laced brownies before setting out for an audition.

There Will Be Blood (R for violence) Daniel Day-Lewis stars in this adaptation of Oil!, Upton Sinclair’s classic, 1927 novel, a turn of the 20th Century epic chronicling the life of a self-made, California oil tycoon. With Paul Dano, Kevin J. O’Connor and Ciaran Hinds.

The Disilgold Way

Countdown 101: From Writer to Self Publisher
by Heather Covington
1st Books Library
Paperback, $22.95
404 pages
ISBN: 978-1-4140-2218-2

Book Review by Kam Williams

“After starting a business proposal that took over 10 years, as long as it took to finally self publish my first book, I knew that I needed to be brave, and tear it to pieces to start all over. There were too many unnecessary steps that I had read in books on becoming a self publisher and a publisher of other authors’ books.
Now my mission is clearer and I have been able to self publish over 10 books in less than 3 years despite conventional methods, and I feel that I have finally freed my soul! It is a feeling I long to share with new writers who want to self publish their books and, most of all, enjoy the process.”
-- Excerpted from the Preface (page v)

Although I’ve attained a certain stature as a syndicated journalist, I must confess to being unable to interest a publisher in either of the two books I’ve completed. Despite dutifully following the suggestions delineated in Writer’s Market, widely accepted as the bible of struggling authors, all I have to show for my efforts to date is a big pile of rejection letters from publishers and agents.
Now, after reading The Disilgold Way, I can quite confidently say that my fate would have been far better had I simply internalized its relatively-practical ideas instead. For this handy how-to guide demystifies self publishing, convincingly presenting this path as an accessible and attractive alternative for those frustrated by failure with big-name commercial houses.
This user-friendly text is the brainchild of Heather Covington, a very successful self publisher in her own right. Out of her own home in New York City, this grade school teacher-turned-author/CEO has built her own publishing and publicity empire, plus a mammoth online network.
From her down-to-earth yet confident tone, it is easy to discern that Heather knows what she’s talking about. Why re-invent the wheel through via trial-and-error, if you can learn what you need to know from an altruistic literary diva’s account of her firsthand experience. She spares you her headaches by describing all the pitfalls of striking out on your own as a writer.
This 400+ page opus is packed with plenty of pep talks and priceless practical advice about everything from how to buy an ISBN # to how to copyright your manuscript to how to market it. Regardless of what area the author’s covering, the approach is influenced by her “5 Principles of Success,” namely, Integrity, Quality, Professionalism, Service and Dedication to One’s Mission Statement.
Because Ms. Covington is a writer at heart, much of what she has to say is likely to resonate with those wishing to follow in her footsteps. For instance, she indicates that one of the benefits of controlling your own career is that you won’t be pressured by a publisher to travel around the country to promote a book.
“Do the math!” she urges. “Once you’ve booked that out of town flight, paid for lodging, food and in town traveling expenses, chances are you’ve just zapped your potential profits.” Furthermore, “Writers want to write, not have to travel all around the world to acquire sales.”
A self-help treatise that might make the perfect stocking stuffer for the aspiring author in your life.

To order a copy of The Disilgold Way, or to check out the poetry, novels and the other non-fiction titles by the prolific Heather Covington, visit:

Monday, December 17, 2007

Will Smith: The I Am Legend Interview

Interview with Kam Williams

Headline: Will Is Legend

Will Smith’s stratospheric stature in showbiz has only been further enhanced by I Am Legend’s record-setting $76.5 million weekend debut for a December release. The sci-fi adventure marked his seventh straight flick that has opened in the #1 slot at the box office, a run which started with Ali and has also included The Pursuit of Happyness, Hitch, Bad Boys II, Men in Black II and I, Robot.
I Am Legend is the third big-screen adaptation (one, starring Vincent Price, the other, Charlton Heston) of Richard Matheson’s post-apocalyptic best seller from 1954 about the desperate struggle of the last man on Earth to survive a scourge that has turned the rest of humanity in a cannibalistic race of zombies. Here, Will shares his thoughts about the demands of playing virologist Robert Neville, a challenging role which placed him alone on screen for very long stretches at a time.

KW: Did you have any hesitation about approving a script that would have you carrying so much of the picture alone?
WS: That was the terrifying part about even taking on this film, the idea that there were probably 80 pages of just me and a dog. I thought that although people had enjoyed me in a movie theater before, this might be a little too much Will for anybody. So, I looked at it, and worked with Akiva Goldsman and Mark Protosevich, the writers of the script. We studied POWs and a guy who had been in isolation in prison, and we found the things that could really create the texture of what that truly means to be by yourself. And the one thing we found that was across the board was schedule. The only way to maintain sanity is that you had to have a regimented schedule. That was the basis of how we tried to create my character in the movie, and then also the idea of his internal monologue. When you have no external stimulus, you lose the stimulus-response concept with your thoughts and feelings. A guy told us you that you forget the names of simple things, when you no longer have the stimulus and response.
KW: Did you think this film might be scary enough to warrant an R rating instead of the PG-13 it got?
WS: Fortunately, the MPAA gets to make that decision. So, you just show them the movie, and they decide what the rating is.
KW: Why did you decide to release a summer blockbuster-type action film during the holiday season?
WS: That involved a difficult decision-making process for me creatively. Akiva Goldsman and I posed some questions to one another. Why do the big movies come out in the summer, and the good movies come out in the Fall? Why are they separated? Is there any possibility that you could take both and marry those ideas? Take a big concept, yet put a person at the center of it, and follow a character through the reality of whatever that situation is. So, it was difficult, because we tried to commit to the small, artistic version that stayed true to the feeling and energy of the source material, and yet have that blockbuster package. We knew that people were going to be a little shocked by it in the theater, but hoped that that’d turn out to be a good thing.
KW: Did you feel that it was financially risky to release a big-budgeted, CGI creature feature at Christmastime?
WS: I’m a student of the patterns of the universe. If I can figure out how something is seemingly risky, but I have the numbers on my side, I get really comfortable taking a leap. When I first came to Hollywood, I said to my manager, James Lassiter, “I want to be the biggest movie star in the world!” He said, “Okay, we should probably figure out what they do, and plot a course.” So, he went and got the top ten movies of all time. We watched them to try to figure out what were the patterns. And ten out of ten of them were special effects movies. Nine out of ten were special effects movies with creatures. And eight out of ten were special effects movies with creatures and a love story. So, Independence Day was not really a hard call to make when you look at the numbers. Therefore, I Am Legend, in concept, is not a hard call to make.
KW: If you really were the last man on Earth like your character, what would be the one item you’d want to have?
WS: A pistol, because I’m out of here [Laughs].
KW: Did you read the book or watch either of the earlier screen adaptations of I Am Legend?
WS: Yeah, I looked at both of them. And there are a couple versions of the book, also. The idea of being alone and the fear of the dark is such a primal concept. Every four year-old has thought about being separated from their family, and being alone, and it being dark, and what comes out of the dark. So, to me, the idea, in general, is in the collective unconscious. We’re all keyed into these fears. As far as the other film versions, I felt we would be able to bring something new with this film because in the past there’s never been this level of technology available to support the weight of this story.
KW: Who inspired you to believe in yourself as a child?
WS: My grandmother thought that I was just the greatest. She always had us playing the piano and kept us in the shows at church. And there was a look of pride that my grandmother would have in her eyes that became the fuel that I need for life.
KW: Would you describe yourself as a spiritual person?
WS: I believe absolutely, unquestionably that there are forces at work in the universe that science can’t explain. And I think that there is an end to human knowledge. And at that end of human knowledge, beyond that into the unknown, we have to call it something in order for us to be able to talk about it. And if people didn’t have to attach specific names to it, and want to argue and fight about it, I think that all across the board we could agree to call the unknown beyond what we know, say, The Higher Power… the X-Factor… God… Allah…. Let’s just agree that there’s something beyond what we know. Things happen that we can’t control. There are things like Karma. Not to anthropomorphize, but there are mysteries that seem to have human qualities beyond what we understand. So, I absolutely believe, and I try to tap in and to become a surfer of the dial, to find that energy, whether it’s prayer, or other things people do to try to connect to an energy that we all know is out there. So, yes, I believe there’s an energy, yes, I try to connect to it, and yes, I try to use it and be in the good graces of that energy to have things in my life go the way I would like them to go.

Illegal Tender DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Latino-American Gangster Drama Released on DVD

American Gangster might have had a $100 million budget, but otherwise that overblown costume drama really doesn’t have much over this Latino version of the quintessential crime saga. There are certain staples one has come to expect of the genre, such as gobs of gratuitous violence, topless women bagging drugs in a backroom, and family loyalty as a rationale for reprehensible behavior.
Well, Illegal Tender features all of the above, as it was designed for fans of splatter flicks like Scarface and The Godfather. And while it falls short of those popular classics in terms of polish, it at least measures up to the typical blaxploits made by gangsta rappers since the early Nineties. If African-Americans deserved to see the cinematic equivalent of Crips and Bloods celebrated in movies, it seems only fair that the Latin Kings would eventually have an opportunity for equal screen time.
This adrenaline-charged tale of revenge and redemption opens in 1985, and revolves around a drug-dealing Puerto Rican named Wilson DeLeon (Manny Perez). At the point of departure, he’s killed by a double-crosser, so his widow, Millie (Wanda De Jesus), flees from New York City to raise her newborn in the safety of the suburbs.
She hides her husband’s sordid past from Wilson, Jr. (Rick Gonzalez) during his formative years, only to have it surface when he’s been groomed to be a model citizen. Seems that a gang of goons led by the backstabber (Gary Perez) who had murdered his dad has finally tracked down his secretly gun-totin’ mom to their home in Connecticut.
They’re prepared to slaughter her, too, so the question is whether Junior, a straight A-student at a prestigious East Coast college, is going to be a goody two-shoes or if he’s prepared to pick up a piece and defend his family’s honor.
Brainless bloodsport, Cholo-style. Can anybody say Latinosploit?

Fair (1 star)
Rated R for profanity, violence and sexuality.
Running time: 108 minutes
Studio: Universal Studios Home Entertainment
DVD Extras: Deleted scenes, a music video, “The Making of” featurette and more.

Bring It On 4: In It to Win It DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Fourth Installment of Cheerleading Franchise Out on DVD

Seven years ago, Bring It On was the sleeper hit of the summer which kickstarted the careers of a couple of relatively-unknown actresses, Gabrielle Union and Kirsten Dunst. The pair squared-off as the captains their high school cheerleading teams, one, all-black and hailing from the ‘hood, the other, lily-white and located in the suburbs.
The film worked by creating a palpable tension between credible characters caught up in a realistic across the tracks drama. And although neither Union nor Dunst would reprise her role, the original was parlayed into a franchise which is presently releasing its third sequel on DVD.
Sadly, this installment is a pathetic rip-off which bears virtually no resemblance to the first, except that it revolves around cheerleading. It actually might have been better titled West Side Story 2, since the two squads have been renamed the Jets and the Sharks, and a boy from the former falls in love with a girl from the latter.
Strangely, despite the fact that during Bring It On 2 the kids entered college, they are somehow back in high school again, here. More curiously, the lead black character has been reduced to a one-dimensional, support role as a stereotypical sassy sister leveling threats like: “I will slice you like government cheese.”
Worse, she boasts about participating in drive-by shootings since she was a child. Then, worst of all, during the denouement, she reveals that she’s “been ‘hood ratting it up” because she’s “really an Oreo, black on the outside, but white on the inside.”
At this juncture, she is offered a shoulder to lean on by her suddenly-sympathetic, patronizing blonde adversary, who advises: “If you want respect that badly, just be a bitch.” I’m not even sure exactly what that exchange is supposed to mean.
The real question is how long will African-American females continue to be portrayed by Hollywood in such an offensive, demeaning, bizarre and degenerate fashion?

Poor (0 stars)
Rated PG-13 for profanity, crude humor and suggestive content.
Running time: 90 minutes
Studio: Universal Studios Home Entertainment
DVD Extras: Deleted scenes, “The Making of” and a few additional featurettes.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Balls of Fury DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Zany Spoof of Bruce Lee Karate Classic Arrives on DVD

Randy Daytona (Dan Fogler) was a promising ping-pong prodigy when, at the age of 12, he was thoroughly humiliated at the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, South Korea by his showboating German adversary, Karl Wolfschtagg (Thomas Lennon). Now it’s been almost two decades since Randy picked up his paddle to play competitively. Ostensibly washed-up, his career has been reduced to performing tricks as a lounge act at a seedy dinner theater in Reno.
So, it’s no surprise that he comes out of retirement when the FBI attempts enlists his assistance in finding a fugitive on its Ten Most Wanted List. For, not only is the diabolical Feng (Christopher Walken) the mastermind of an international criminal enterprise, but he also happens to be the cold-blooded killer responsible for the murder of Randy’s father (Robert Patrick) many years ago.
Agent Ernie Rodriguez (George Lopez) reveals to his recruit that the very elusive Feng is about to stage an invitation-only ping-ping tournament featuring the best players around. The plan is for Randy to work himself back into good enough shape to be among those summoned to the site of the top-secret tournament.
With a plotline suspiciously similar to that of the Bruce Lee martial arts classic Enter the Dragon (1973), Balls of Fury is a zany spoof which substitutes ping-pong for karate while seizing on every opportunity to inject CGI-enhanced slapstick and sight gags every step of the way. Although a few of the jokes simply fall flat, this laff-a-minute adventure is so earnest in its endeavor to keep the humor coming, that you’re likely to find yourself guffawing heartily right on the heels of another bit that just made you groan.
Worthwhile for Dan Fogler’s breakout performance alone, as he comes across like an endearing combination of Johns Belushi and Candy.

Excellent (3.5 stars)
Rated PG-13 for profanity, crude behavior and sex-related humor.
Running time: 91 minutes
Studio: Universal Studios Home entertainment
DVD Extras: Deleted scenes, alternate ending, “The Making of” and another featurette.

I Am Legend

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Will Smith as Last Man on Earth in Adaptation of Apocalyptic Sci-Fi Adventure

Written by Richard Matheson in 1954, I Am Legend was a harrowing tale of survival pitting the last human alive against the horde of bloodthirsty vampires who had taken control of Earth. The book’s hero, Robert Neville, relied on a combination of garlic, mirrors, stakes, sunlight and crosses to keep the cannibals at bay while he simultaneously tried to come up with a the scientific explanation for the plague which had turned everybody else into zombies.
The Last Man on Earth (1964), starring Vincent Price, was the first film adaptation of the apocalyptic best seller. That, in turn, was followed by The Omega Man (1971) with Charlton Heston and, more recently, by I Am Omega (2007), a straight-to-video rip-off released just last month.
Now, we have I Am Legend, a relatively-realistic, modern update of the original which reflects present-day sensibilities by having its apocalyptic scenario result from a man-made virus. The picture is a Will Smith vehicle in the purest sense, given that he spends more than half of the movie on screen alone (ala Tom Hanks in Cast Away), unless you count the omnipresent Samantha, his trusty, tagalong German Shepherd.
Thus, the production represents a true test of Smith’s star power, as its fortunes are fated to rise or fall to the extent that he convinces his audience to invest emotionally in his lonely protagonist’s desperate plight as he perambulates the eerie exoskeleton of a depopulated Manhattan. The point of departure is 2009, which is when one Dr. Alice Crippen (Emma Thompson) announces the discovery of a cure for cancer to the world, not knowing that the vaccine also causes rabies.
Fast-forward three years, and we find New York in chaos. The healthy few are in the midst of being quickly evacuated, while all the infected folks are morphing into ghouls and being left behind. And although Lieutenant Colonel Robert Neville (Smith) has been given a clean bill of health, he gallantly opts to stay in the city to work on an antidote.
You see, he’s a virologist, and has a fully-equipped, state-of-the-art lab in the basement of his brownstone bordering Washington Square Park. So, after he tearfully bids his wife (Salli Richardson) and daughter (Willow Smith) adieu, he proceeds to divide his time between scientific research and blowing away the occasional nocturnal creature he encounters after dark.

Not surprisingly, Will Smith comes across as quite the macho charmer in his familiar role as the hero having to save the planet. Afterall, he’s successfully played this sort of character plenty of times before, most notably in such CGI-driven spectaculars as Independence Day (1996), Men in Black (1997) and Men in Black II (2002). But who knows how a holiday season release of this summer-style blockbuster will be met?
I Am Legend is actually at its best early on, while Will is solo and captured starkly against the breathtaking backdrop of the vast, urban wasteland. Unfortunately, the second-rate special effects leave a lot to be desired, so the arrival of the cheesy mansters he has to wrestle with fails to measure up to the tension built in anticipation.
The movie has a couple of other annoying flaws, neither of which could be discussed without spoiling the fun. Suffice to say that the first involves the introduction of two new characters near the end, and the other revolves around the movie’s revised resolution which delivers a distinctly different message from that of the book.
Nonetheless, it’s got a great performance by Will Smith and just enough edge-of-your-seat entertainment to remain recommended, even if the cinematic house of cards collapses during the third act.

Good (2 stars)
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi action and mature themes.
Running time: 100 minutes
Studio: Warner Brothers

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Once DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Minimalist Musical Makes Most of Boy Meets Girl Theme

A nameless, Dublin street musician (Glen Hansard) is missing his girlfriend who has moved to London. But everything changes the day he crosses paths with an-equally nameless, struggling singer/pianist (Marketa Irglova), a recent immigrant who left behind a husband in the Czech Republic.
At her insistence, they take to the studio to record a demo. There, like a latter-day Lennon and McCartney, their inspired collaborations prove to be magical. Meanwhile, sparks start to fly between them, and the question soon becomes whether a whirlwind romance will blossom, too. Afterall, each is already in a relationship, plus she has an unnamed baby (Kate Haugh) to care for that she brought with her to Ireland.
To no one’s surprise, guy and girl gradually go ga-ga over each other, sharing their feelings more in lyrics and longing looks than in dialogue, generating considerable screen chemistry in the process. Still, one’s appreciation of this gritty overhaul of the musical genre is apt to depend on the degree to which you are fans of these performers’ brand of hearts on our sleeves folk-rock.
Though it’s definitely not everybody’s cup of tea, Once is nonetheless a low-budget cult flick which earns high marks for its refreshingly raw and palpable emotional content alone.

Very good (3 stars)
Rated R for profanity
Running time: 86 minutes
Studio: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
DVD Extras: Audio and musical commentary by the director and co-stars, two featurettes, and theatrical trailers.

The 10 Worst Films of 2007

by Kam Williams

Headline: A Beleaguered Critic Gets Even

When your job is to review movies, you can’t just bolt out of the theater as soon as you can tell that a film is a turkey. No, you have to sit there and endure the dumb dialogue, the horrible editing, the offensive stereotyping, the implausible plot twists and the awful performances from start to finish. Fortunately, at the end of the year, I am afforded this opportunity to even the score by venting on those high crimes against cinema which tended to test my patience.

1. Who’s Your Caddy?

When a new, black-owned Hollywood studio bills itself as being dedicated to making wholesome family films presenting positive portrayals of African-Americans, excuse me for expecting more of the company’s much ballyhooed introductory release than Who’s Your Caddy? The most degrading, minstrel coon show since Soul Plane, this relentlessly-crass exercise in self-hatred is little more than a non-stop attempt to portray black folks in the worst possible light.
From its demeaning dialogue sprinkled with the N-word, the S-word and the P-word, to yet another brother romping around in a skirt, to a sister female proudly referring to herself as a “queen b*tch,” to the celebration of drug abuse, indiscriminate sex and conspicuous consumption, one can only cringe when wondering what quality of fare might be next on Our Stories Films’ agenda. Regardless, its disgraceful debut release was an easy pick as the worst of the worst of the year.

2. License to Wed

Every skit flops in this groan-inducing Robin Williams vehicle where he plays an annoying man of the cloth. Believe it or not, this star vehicle is even worse than Man of the Year, which made my 10 Worst List for 2006.
Who knows whether Williams has lost his talent entirely or has merely lowered his standards to foist as many take-the-money-and-run ripoffs on the public as possible till his fans catch on? Regardless, this picture is so pathetic that an uncredited Wanda Sykes is funnier in a quickie cameo than its star is during his 90 minutes of screen time.
Looks like Robin Williams has replaced Cuba Gooding, Jr. as the kiss of death on the set of any comedy.

3. Daddy Day Camp

Speaking of Cuba Gooding, Jr., he made a persuasive case to keep his crown as the perennial “King of the Bomb” with this sorry sequel to Daddy Day Care. I’m not going to bring up all his bad movies. The problem this time starts with his presuming to fill the shoes of Eddie Murphy, who opted not to reprise the lead role of Charlie Hinton.
It doesn’t help that Cuba has no sense of comedic timing and that he’s only further crippled by an abysmal script consisting of a series of disconnected sketches featuring misbehaving little monsters who keep him up to his eyeballs in feces, cooties, bus crashes, flatulence, projectile vomit, poison ivy, swift kicks to the crotch, urine balloons and wedgies. An utterly predictable, unfunny, infantile test of patience and waste of ninety minutes of my life I can never get back.
Whatever happened to the once-promising who won an Oscar for shouting “Show me the money?” Show me the exit!

4. I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry

Adam Sandler and Kevin James ought to be ashamed to be associated with the cinematic equivalent of gay bashing. Not only are homosexuals repeatedly referred to by such slurs as “faggots,” “queers,” and “fruits,” but this relentlessly hateful and superficial enterprise seizes on any excuse to equate homosexuality with effeminacy and with certain superficial stereotypical tastes and traits.
When not trashing gays, the film goes after Asians with impunity, by associating them with thick accents and thick eyeglasses, and by portraying this ethnic group’s females as subservient sex objects. Overall, this flick is so evilly executed that it deserves to be dismissed as a deliberately meanspirited indulgence in intolerance.

5. Code Name: The Cleaner

This movie was one of those pump-and-dump productions which puts all the best jokes in the trailers, hoping to milk the most it can opening weekend before word of mouth spreads. So, if you caught the commercial where Cedric the Entertainer explains his wearing clogs and lederhosen with “Haven’t you heard of Dutch chocolate?” before yodeling “Ricola!” then you’re already familiar with the film’s funniest scene.
Less amusing is the endlessly demeaning dialogue, like when Jake declines a job offer as an FBI Agent, opting to remain a janitor because ”Somebody needs to keep this place clean. That’s what I do.” Just as bad is Niecy Nash as a harridan heard complaining “A sister’s not happy if her hair’s nappy,”
Made we want to set myself on fire in protest, like a Buddhist monk.

6. Perfect Stranger

Not even the screen chemistry of Halle Berry and Bruce Willis could save this pretentious whodunit with an infuriatingly convoluted plot patently unfair to its audience. Be forewarned that that the movie offers next to no clues to unraveling its mystery before hastily divulging the solution during the denouement almost as an afterthought.
The film’s fatal flaw is that the overplotted production introduces too many characters, especially given that virtually every one of them might be a suspect. Laced with an abundance of rather obvious red herrings, the twists and turns actually could have been laughable, had the picture been packaged as a deliberately mediocre, tongue-in-cheek homage to bad detective flicks of a bygone era.
Your low expectations of this lost cause will be richly rewarded.

7. Because I Said So

Diane Keaton is still relying on that ever less-endearing assortment of addlepated antics which won her an Academy Award for Annie Hall back in 1978. Now that she’s in her sixties, that girlish flustered act is wearing a bit thin. And having her parade around in panties and crinoline party skirts isn’t fooling anybody into thinking she’s a teenager, either.
This May-December romantic comedy might have worked were it not for Keaton’s infuriating dumbing herself down and mugging for the camera in a desperate attempt to prove she’s terminally-cute in a pre-feminism sort of way.
Unfortunately, she was only encouraged by the Oscar nomination she landed in 2004 for Something’s Gotta’ Give, where she played a post-menopausal playwright opposite the ever-impish Jack Nicholson.
But best to avoid this cliché-ridden rip-off of that relatively-pleasant romp. Why? Because I said so.

8. Kickin’ It Old Skool

Jamie Kennedy stars in this fish-out-of-water comedy about middle-aged man who emerges from a 20-year coma still having a boy’s brain after landing on his head while breakdancing as an adolescent. The story revolves around his tracking down the three other members of his pre-teen posse, The Funky Fresh Boys, to see if they’re ready to resume their routines.
Truly an equal opportunity offender, the dialogue repeatedly resorts to ethnic, gender and other assorted slurs, whether referring to blacks by the N-word repeatedly; calling Asians gooks, geisha girls or egg rolls; calling females bitches, hos or pink sushi, calling gays homo, calling the mentally-challenged retarded, or associating Jews with several stereotypes.

Not one scene of this disgusting shocksploit is either entertaining or funny, proof being its failure to elicit even one laugh out of anyone at the screening this critic attended. Another negative is the picture’s profusion of prominent placement ads for Pepsi, Nike, Apple, Pop Rocks, etcetera, and equally-distracting cameos by David Hasselhoff, Erik Estrada, Rowdy Roddy Piper and Emmanuelle “Webster” Lewis who has my permission to return to obscurity after embarrassing himself by calling a woman a “ho” before slapping her right on the rump.

9. I Think I Love My Wife

Can a seemingly-irresistible seductress tempt a happily-married man to break his marriage vows? That was the driving question behind Chloe in the Afternoon, Eric Rohmer’s thought-provoking morality play exploring infidelity. This adaptation was directed by its star Chris Rock, who also overhauled the script into a barely-recognizable, formulaic sitcom.
Forget about the palpable tension created in the original by the protagonist’s predicament, since this transparent tale takes his cues from its spoiler of a title. So, everybody knows from the beginning which of the ladies in this love triangle will ultimately prevail.
Worse is the fact that the picture isn’t funny and consists mostly of vaguely familiar scenes borrowed from a variety of popular screen adventures. This ripoff even has the nerve to recreate the seduction from The Graduate, complete with the famous silhouette of the raised leg featured in that classic’s poster. In sum, an uncreative, unoriginal exercise in the obvious.
I think I hated this movie.

10. Reign over Me

This relentlessly depressing buddy flick focuses on the toll that 9-11 has taken on a defrocked dentist, played by Adam Sandler, whose wife and three daughters died on an airplane that fateful day. The movie begs to be appreciated as a cerebral, character-driven meditation on the psyche of America in the aftermath of the terror attacks, but it resorts far too frequently to the staples of the Sandler formula to be considered of any more substance or consequence than The Waterboy, Happy Gilmore or even Billy Madison.
Instead of relying on a protagonist’s mental retardation to rationalize his familiar lowbrow brand of humor, he exploits a tragedy to free his character to launch politically-incorrect bile in the direction of Latinos, gays and any other easy targets unfortunate enough to cross his path. Just a meanspirited, frivolous, brutally-dull, pretentious indulgence in bigotry and sophomoric behavior in the name of Al-Qaeda.

Dishonorable Mention

Are We Done Yet?
Confessions of a Call Girl
Epic Movie
Fantastic Four 2
Fred Claus
The Heartbreak Kid
Homie Spumoni
Love in the Time of Cholera
The Number 23
The Salon
Smokin’ Aces