Thursday, February 28, 2008

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 March 7, 2008


10,000 B.C. (PG-13 for action violence) Peripatetic prehistoric adventure about a brave young warrior (Steven Strait) who leads a tight-knit band of brothers on an epic journey to the ends of the Earth to rescue the love of his life (Camilla Belle) from the clutches of the warlike tribe who kidnapped her during a raid of their village.

The Bank Job (R for profanity, sexuality, nudity and violence) Jason Statham stars in this action thriller about a struggling car dealer duped by a fetching femme fatale (Saffron Burrows) with a hidden agenda into hatching a plan to burglarize a London bank’s safe deposit boxes containing not only millions in cash and jewelry but a treasure trove of dirty secrets.

College Road Trip (G) Coming-of-age comedy about a high school student (Raven Symone’) whose plans for a girls-only trip visiting prospective colleges are ruined when her overbearing, police chief father (Martin Lawrence) insists on accompanying her instead.


Blindsight (PG for mature themes and mild epithets) Himalayan panoramas serve as the breathtaking backdrop for this mile-high documentary chronicling the daring assault of Mount Everest by a team of blind Tibetan students led by a blind American climber who had previously reached the peak.

CJ7 (PG for mature themes, rude humor, mild epithets and brief smoking) Sci-fi fantasy, set in China, about a cash-strapped widower (Stephen Chow) who gives his son (Xu Jiao) a toy found in a garbage dump, unaware that the mysterious orb is actually an alien with magical powers. (In Mandarin with subtitles)

Fighting for Life (Unrated) Medical miracles are the subject of this documentary presenting the Iraq War from the perspective of American doctors and nurses toiling tirelessly to save the lives of soldiers wounded on the frontlines.

Frownland (Unrated) Edgy comedy, set in NYC, about a stuttering, door-to-door coupon salesman (Dore Mann) going everywhere in a dead end job.

Girls Rock! (PG for mature themes and mild epithets) Female empowerment documentary devoted to the mega-decibel din at the Rock ‘n’ Roll Camp for Girls in Portland, Oregon where pint-sized icons of tomorrow practice, practice, practice power chords on the path to superstardom.

Married Life (Unrated) Romantic triangle thriller, set in the Forties, revolving around a middle-aged adulterer (Chris Cooper) impatient to enjoy his 30 years-younger mistress (Rachel McAdams) who opts to murder rather than divorce his wife (Patricia Clarkson). With Pierce Brosnan as the pal with possibly less than honorable intentions.

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day (PG-13 for sexual innuendo and partial nudity) Frances McDormand stars in the title role of this romantic comedy, adapted from Winifred Watson’s 1938 novel of the same name, about an unfairly-fired British nanny who tries a new line of work as the social secretary of an American starlet (Amy Adams).

Paranoid Park (R for sexuality, profanity and disturbing images) Psychological crime saga, set in Portland, Oregon, about a teenage skateboarder (Gabe Nevins) who compounds his problems by choosing to cover-up the truth about his involvement in the death of the security guard (John Michael Burrowes) he killed accidentally.

Snow Angels (R for profanity, violence, drug use and brief sexuality) Bifurcated bittersweet drama revolving around a small town’s loss of innocence in the wake of some deadly shotgun blasts. Ensemble cast includes Kate Beckinsale, Amy Sedaris, Griffin Dunne, Sam Rockwell and Nicky Katt.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Shelby Steele: The Why Obama Can’t Win Interview

with Kam Williams

Headline: Prophet Shelby Explains Why Black Messiah Obama Won’t Win

Shelby Steele is a controversial public intellectual who often finds himself at the center of controversy because of his conservative stances on such issues as Affirmative Action, reparations, welfare and other government entitlement programs. As an African-American, this makes him a much in demand media darling who Republicans wheel out whenever they need a black man to weigh-in on a hot-button issue.
Consequently, he’s been a popular guest on the TV talk show circuit where he has generally been reduced to speaking in soundbites. For this reason it was very enlightening to see him recently speak at length in “What Black Men Think,” a brilliant documentary by Janks Morton which afforded Shelby a fair opportunity to air his political philosophy. In that context, he seemed sincerely concerned about alleviating the plight of black folks, and not merely a right-wing apologist.
By profession, Steele is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. He is the author of the New York Times bestseller “The Content of Our Character: A New Vision of Race in America,” which won the National Book Critics' Circle Award. He is a contributing editor at Harper's Magazine, and his work has also appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The New Republic, Newsweek, and The Washington Post.
For his work on the PBS television documentary “Seven Days in Bensonhurst,” he was recognized with both an Emmy Award and a Writers Guild Award. In 2004, President George W. Bush, citing Steele's "learned examinations of race relations and cultural issues," honored him with the National Humanities Medal.
Here, Shelby talks about his provocative new book A Bound Man: Why We Are Excited about Obama and Why He Can’t Win.

KW: Hey, Shelby, how are you?
SS: Pretty good, how are you?
KW: Thanks for the time.
SS: Sure.
KW: Well, I found much of what you had to say in your new book thought-provoking. But do you have any second thoughts about your Obama prediction, or about making it the subtitle of your new book?
SS: Well, I don’t know if I did that well, here. [Chuckles] You know, you’re sitting there trying to come up with a subtitle. This wasn’t the best one. Nevertheless, I still think it may be difficult for him to go all the way.
KW: If he gets the nomination, you can be sure that McCain and the Republicans are going to mount a serious campaign.
SS: Right, there’s a long way to go. But that wasn’t the point off my book, obviously, so I regret that title.
KW: “Why Obama Can’t Win” sounds like an attention-grabber dreamed up by somebody in the marketing department. But let me ask you about your first book, “The Content of Our Character.” I actually agreed with much of what you had to say in that book, but it seemed that soon thereafter you became a media darling among conservatives who were quick to co-opt some of your words as a rationale for dismantling Affirmative Action. Did you sense how you might be being used in this fashion?
SS: I take responsibility for what I write. I came to have really strong views about Affirmative Action. In the next book I wrote, “A Dream Deferred,” I took on the issue a lot more directly. But it’s always there, even in “White Guilt.” So, here you are, where people are inviting you to speak about what you really believe. That’s how that went. Certainly, in the media, there have not been many black voices that have argued against Affirmative Action with any decent logic.
KW: I reviewed your book “White Guilt,” where you said “I walked right into stigmatization as an Uncle Tom.” How did that make you feel to be seen this way?
SS: Well, this is interesting, and I think it relates to my Obama book where I talk about “bargaining” and “challenging” and how we, as blacks, entering this great American mainstream wearing a mask because, when you’re a minority, you don’t have the same power as the majority. That’s something that has just been a part of our survival mechanism. Well, I tried not to wear those masks, not to give whites the benefit of the doubt or to hold them on the hook, but to simply speak as an individual. I knew that if you’re going to do that in a society that has this history, this past, and this way of relating through masks and so forth, that you’re going to get some blowback. So, I was not surprised, and I fully accept that you can’t write the way I’ve written and not get blowback. You will. And in fact, you learn from it. It sharpens me and I hope it makes me a better writer.
KW: To be honest, after loving your first book, I was disillusioned by the way that you seemed to become a Republican spokesperson for the anti-Affirmative Action movement. However, I recently came to appreciate you again when I saw you in Janks Morton’s documentary “What Black Men Think.” It really showed you in a new light.
SS: Right. Oh yeah, I think it’s a really great film. One of the points it made for me, both participating in it and then later viewing it, is that you get a chance to see how these ideas that are often labeled conservative actually come out of a great concern for black America and the direction it is headed. And I think Janks’ film established that context.
KW: I agree, even though I see myself as a progressive liberal, politically. What was the extent of your involvement with the project?
SS: Janks came out and conducted the interview. Then he left, and I had no idea what to expect. When I saw it, it blew me away. It was a powerful piece of work. And he did it in such a way that made it palatable. It wasn’t shrill or preachy.
KW: In your Obama book, you say he won’t win because he has to wear masks to win. Don’t the white candidates have to do that, too?
SS: All politicians are going to mask to some degree in order to present themselves in away they think will get them votes. What’s different in Obama’s case is that he’s wearing a racial mask, this “bargainer’s” mask, and I think very effectively, whereby he gives whites the benefit of the doubt. He’s essentially saying, “I am going to presume you are not racist, if you won’t hold my race against me.” So, his mask is a distinctly racial one. This approach is old. It’s been around for a long time. There have been black bargainers all the way back to Louis Armstrong, and I’m sure even far back beyond that.
KW: Well, when you compare Obama to Louis Armstrong that makes me think of Satchmo’s smiling and mugging deferentially with the big handkerchief. Do you think that’s a fair comparison?
SS: Well, Armstrong came from a whole different world 100 years ago. And he had to do things that, obviously, no black has to do today, thank God. Certainly, Obama doesn’t have to adopt those sorts of hideous expressions. Yet, at the same time, he does strike this bargain which makes white people feel this comfort with him because he is in code saying to them, “I’m not going to rub America’s shameful racial history in your face. You can look at me and you can support me with comfort.” And whites are so grateful, they come out in great numbers and they are his basic constituency. My problem with Obama is that he’s not a new paradigm; he’s an old paradigm. A new paradigm would be somebody like Harold Ford [former Democratic Congressman from Tennessee] or Michael Steele [former Republican Lieutenant Governor of Maryland], no relation, both of whom present themselves as individuals, and don’t seem to wear a mask. They don’t “bargain;” they don’t “challenge.” So, I see them as fresh, and as evidence of what I hope will be a new trend. There’s a pathos to Obama in that so much of his power and his political support grows out of this mask as opposed to people responding to him as an individual.
KW: What I’m curious about Obama is, where did he get his black accent, if he wasn’t raised around black people, but by a white mother from Kansas? Does his voice sound authentic or adopted to you? I figured you might have an insight about this since your mother’s white, too.
SS: It sounds a little hollow. Sometimes, he’s Martin Luther King, sometimes, he a black militant from the Sixties, then he’s a Baptist minister. He can be so different. There’s not yet an Obama voice. That troubles me on other levels. It’s hard to know what bag he’s going to come out of when he takes to the podium. You’re making the point that, given his background, he doesn’t have the flava’, that he’s a bit artificial and struggling to get there. Yeah, sure, that is part of what I talk about in the first half of the book. I think this need to belong has trailed him all of his life.
KW: It reminds me of a guy who tried to befriend me in college, saying, “We mulattoes have to stick together.” I didn’t understand why he was trying to bond, because, even though I’m light-skinned, both of my parents were black and I had been raised in a black neighborhood, so I obviously had a different set of life experiences. What was your childhood like having one black parent and one white parent?
SS: I grew during segregation in an all-black segregated neighborhood with segregated schools, etcetera. I was raised by a great father, my hero, who I much admired. So, I never really had anxiety in the way that someone like Obama would have. When he walks down the street alone, since no one knows who his mother is, they’re just going to see him as a black guy. That’s the fact of it. He has to be a black, yet he has an insecurity about it, and maybe overcompensates. I talk about that in the book. Part of it comes from a desire to establish your bona fides as a black.
KW: Did you feel that you had to deny half of who you are, because the world only saw you as black?
SS: I think my situation was probably different from somebody younger than I who came up after segregation and maybe grew up in an integrated or mostly white suburb. I was raised in a completely black world. In those days, if a white woman married a black man, she lived as a black woman, and that was just the end of it. So, I don’t have a feeling of being bi-racial. I don’t have a connection to it. People often come up to me thinking I do have a connection to it, and I kind of let them down because I really don’t. My mother was deeply involved in a black community and when she died, these are the people who came to her funeral. Still, I do empathize with the younger people who may feel torn. I just myself have not had that feeling.
KW: Do you think it’s possible for a black male born in America to transcend the bind of having to choose between being a “negotiator” and a “challenger,” like Jack Johnson did in his day.
SS: Good question. Jack Johnson was famous for not wearing any mask. Yes, I do think it’s possible today, but you will probably pay the kind of price that Shelby Steele has paid. You’ll get some blowback for it, because your own group is going to have some expectations of you. Take me, for example. I decided to live as an individual and as I grew older, and thought more, and read more and experienced more, my views became more conservative. But my group is liberal. Not only that, they say, “If you’re not liberal and not a Democrat, you’re not black. If you’re conservative, you’re a sellout.” Here, then, I’m living with that kind of a pressure against my individuality. I have to throw it off, because my experience in life tells me that the values that are now being labeled “conservative” are the only way that blacks can get ahead. So, my individuality is my gift to my people. I’m sure that, in the long run, it will be taken that way.
KW: Is there, then, a third type of black person, different from the “negotiator” and the “challenger.”
SS: Yes, the individual who doesn’t bargain with whites, but deals with them as an individual. In other words, I’m not going to play a racial game. With me, you’re going to meet a guy named Shelby Steele, and you will have to get to know me as an individual. The color of my skin won’t tell you anything. I think there’s more and more of that in America.
KW: I think Obama started his campaign trying to be neutral in terms of color, but the Clintons have been trying to bait him by playing the race card ever since they lost the Iowa.
SS: Right, they are. But it’s probably redounded against them. I would love to see us, as blacks, get to the place where we say, “I’m not going to play race games with you. Here I am. This is who I am. Take it or leave it.”
KW: I’d go along with your approach in a world where racism and discrimination didn’t still exist.
SS: I don’t let that stop me from being an individual. My honest opinion is that blacks have to fight much harder for their individuality than whites do. That’s still the case, because of this history of masking that’s been with us for so long that the idea of a black individual is still new. So, we have to fight harder for it.
KW: Interesting. In your book you relate an anecdote about a black man who you felt obviously exaggerated the amount of racism he had faced, saying he’d been profile-stopped by the same cops 20 times.
SS: I just wanted to make the point that there’s a poetic truth as well as the literal truth. Part of our identity is the idea that racism is still there and that we are vulnerable to it. So, the question is, “How vulnerable?” In other words, is it really a problem for us, or is it just a small thing. How do you evaluate racism in America on a scale of 1 to 10? My suspicion is that most blacks overrate it a bit. Not to say it’s not there, but we overrate it because this masking is part of our relationship to the larger society. This is a way we keep whites on the hook. We keep them obligated, and we keep ourselves entitled. There’s an incentive, you see, to inflate it a little bit.
KW: I can see what you’re saying, but I also know that discrimination definitely still exists.
SS: Sure, and if you’re getting harassed, it’s not helpful to know that racism has generally declined in America, when you’re still experiencing it. That is a reality that we’re still vulnerable to. However, what I’ve tried to do in my work is point out the underside of it that almost gives you an investment in racism. Also, it stigmatizes us. That’s my biggest problem with it. It steals our thunder. No matter how accomplished we may be, just any little white person can come up and say, “Well, you wouldn’t be here, if it weren’t for Affirmative Action.” You put power in white people’s hands, and then they use it against you. It’s a trick bag.
KW: I’d go along with eliminating Affirmative Action, if the playing field were truly leveled.
SS: We have laws on the books. If somebody’s discriminating against you, I strongly advocate suing them. That’s the most effective thing you can do in terms of fighting racism. People understand that they’re vulnerable to lawsuit
KW: I think it would be even more effective if they made discrimination in housing, employment, or education a criminal offense.
SS: There you go. I’m with you. I wrote a piece in the New York Times back in the Nineties saying that racial discrimination ought to be a criminal offense, not just a civil one. I’m all for the criminalization of discrimination.
KW: Wonders never cease. I never expected to find myself agreeing with Shelby Steele so much.
SS: If you are a minority, it is important that you have legal ways to defend yourself in the society in which you live.
KW: Do you think “negotiators” like Oprah would be enjoying their success, if “challengers” like Reverends Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson didn’t exist?
SS: Probably not. Barack Obama ought to send Al Sharpton a check. It’s precisely the specter of a really aggressive “challenger” such as Al Sharpton, who constantly tries to keep whites off-balance, that makes whites like Barack Obama. He’s saying, “I’m not going to do that. I’m going to be an anti-Al Sharpton.” That’s what so excites whites. Yes, it’s absolutely the presence of these “challengers” that helps make “bargaining” effective.
KW: Bookworm Troy Johnson wants to know: What was the last book you read?
SS: The last book that I read was a novel called “The Bad Girl” by Mario Vargas Llosa.
KW: And Columbus Short asks: Are you happy?
SS: [Laughs] Yes.
KW: Is there any question you wish somebody would ask you, but nobody ever asks?
SS: Yes, about the craft of writing, but I think that might bore your readers.
KW: Not at all. What is your approach to writing?
SS: My background is literature. That’s what my doctorate is in. So, it remains the love of my life. Whatever I’m doing, I try to write well. I try to give the reader a nice, clean well-written surface, where the writing is transparent. It probably takes me longer to write things, but it’s very important to me that the writing itself be good. I know that whatever power Shelby Steele has always comes out of the writing. I’m not the greatest television pundit or the best public speaker, so it’s my writing that’s most important.
KW: Although I may disagree with your politics, I grant that your writing style is excellent. However, I have noticed one recurring grammatical error in your last two books, several split infinitives. Although William Safire pronounced them acceptable over ten years ago or so, they’re still like nails on the blackboard to me.
SS: I split more than you know. I do it now only if I feel that it sounds smoother. I’ll also occasionally end a sentence with a preposition, which is verboten.
KW: You know what? That rule I don’t mind breaking.
SS: Grammar does evolve.
KW: Tony Morrison called Bill Clinton the first black president. Do you agree?
SS: [Chuckles] Yes, the black identity is grounded in “challenging,” not in “bargaining.” What the Clintons have always done is embraced challenging. They can’t have enough photo opportunities with Al Sharpton or Jesse Jackson. They communicate to blacks that they agree with their challenging identity. So, in a sense, Hillary is blacker than Barack. [Laughs] Their alignment with this black identity makes them “black” in a metaphorical sense, I guess,
KW: Do you think Obama lost an opportunity during that debate when he was asked about Bill being the first black president and he just made a joke about dancing instead of answering it seriously?
SS: His strategy is to get away from anything having to do with race as quickly as he can. He might have made a serious comment, but his fear is that that might open a Pandora’s Box. And then he’d be mired in race again. My guess is he wanted to make a joke, which I thought was a funny one, and move on. He doesn’t ever want to get close to race.
KW: Have you endorsed anyone yet?
SS: No, I haven’t.
KW: What will be the subject of your next book?
SS: I hope it’ll be on foreign affairs. I’d like to look at Islamic extremism and terrorism a lot more carefully. I’ll probably move away from race for a while.
KW: If you love literature so much, why not write a novel.
SS: I hope to. My rule is, whatever is the most urgent is what I do next.
KW: Did you read the interview I did with Stephen Carter?
SS: No, but I know he’s done exactly that, started writing novels.
KW: Yeah, he got a $4 million advance to write his first novel after first publishing several very successful non-fiction books. And, they’ve tried to pigeonhole him as a black conservative, like you, but he says he doesn’t mind being seen as religious, but he says he’s not political.
SS: He has every right not to be.
KW: Well, thanks for the time, Shelby, this has been a great conversation.
SS: I’ve enjoyed it very much.
KW: I think people are going to get a kick out of hearing your ideas fully fleshed-out.
SS: Find another pretext to call me. We can chat again.
KW: Will do. Absolutely! Now I feel horrible about some of the things I’ve written about you in the past.
SS: Don’t worry about.
KW: Well, I did enjoy this Obama book, and I loved your first one, “The Content of Our Character.”
SS: Well, thank you. That means a lot to me.
KW: I’ll be in touch.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Wrong on Race: The Democratic Party’s Buried Past

by Bruce Bartlett
Palgrave Macmillan
Hardcover, $26.95
284 pages
ISBN: 978-0-230-60062-1

Book Review by Kam Williams

“It must be acknowledged that in the progress of nations Negroes have shown less capacity for government than any other race of people. No independent government of any form has ever been successful in their hands. On the contrary, whenever they have been left to their own devices they have shown a constant tendency to relapse into barbarism…
Of all the dangers which our nation has yet encountered, none are equal to those which must result from the success of the effort now making to Africanize the half of our country.”
 President Andrew Johnson, State of the Union Address (1867)

Although the Democratic Party has come to be associated with
liberal politics and thus embraced by African-Americans over the past 40 years or so, this hasn’t always been the case. In fact, for most of its history, the party created by Thomas Jefferson has been uniformly racist and right-wing.
Despite being famous for coining the phrase, “All men are created equal,” Jefferson also asserted that blacks “are inferior to the whites in the endowments both of body and mind.” The hypocritical third President of the United States went on to allege that “They secrete less by the kidneys, and more by the glands of the skin, which gives them a very strong and disagreeable odor... They require less sleep… They are more ardent after their female: but love seems with them to be more an eager desire, than a tender delicate mixture of sentiment and sensation… In general… they are dull, tasteless, and anomalous.”
This bigoted Founding Father is credited with formulating “the most intense, extensive and extreme” anti-black thought of the post-Revolutionary Era.” So, it should come as no surprise that in his will he chose to free only 5 of his 200+ slaves after his death. Subsequent Democratic presidents were just as intolerant. For instance, plantation owner Andrew Jackson saw slavery as “the necessary foundation” of American civilization, if whites were to maintain their quality of life economically.
When James K. Polk took over the White House in 1845, he fired the existing domestic and kitchen staff and replaced them with slaves. Politically, Polk declared in his 1848 Statue of the Union Address that Congress had no power to end slavery. This attitude was later only rubber-stamped by fellow Democrat James Buchanan who, in 1857, hailed the Dred Scott Decision with, “Had it been decided that either Congress or the territorial legislature possess the power to annul or impair the right to property in slaves, the evil would be intolerable.”
The very next year, during the famous Lincoln-Douglas debates, Democrat Stephen A. Douglas argued,

“I hold that a Negro is not and never ought to be a citizen of the United States. I hold that this government was made… by the white men, for the benefit of white men and their posterity forever, and should be administered by white men and none others. I do not believe that the Almighty made the Negro capable of self-government… In my opinion, the signers of the Declaration of Independence had no reference to whatever to the Negro when they declared all men to have been created equal… thus, my friends, I am in favor of preserving the government on the white basis as our fathers made it.”

Many forget how Republican Abraham Lincoln’s ill-advised choice of a Democrat as a running mate in 1864 gave John Wilkes Booth a good excuse to assassinate him For upon assuming the presidency, Andrew Johnson immediately began doing his best to ruin the Reconstruction effort by vetoing the Civil Rights Act and by repealing the Freedmen’s Bureau legislation guaranteeing each ex-slave 40 acres and a mule.
Worse, he allowed the Southern states to pass the repressive Jim Crow laws prohibiting blacks from voting, holding office, marrying whites, and so forth. With African-Americans denied the vote, this signaled the demise of the Republican Party in the region, leading to the notion of the Solid South, meaning solidly Democratic. With no checks or balances, the next 100 years would be marked by widespread lynching, vigilantism and the rise of the Ku Klux Klan.
Speaking of the Klan, did you know that Harry Truman joined it in 1924? Wrong on Race: The Democratic Party’s Buried Past by Bruce Bartlett is stocked with tons of such shocking tidbits. And while this illuminating tome might not make you shift your allegiance to the Republicans this election season, at the very least it ought to make you question the wisdom of remaining reflexively loyal to a party which has never officially apologized for its checkered past.

Chop Shop

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: End of Innocence Flick Features Orphans Surviving on a Vast Industrial Wasteland

Siblings Ale (Alejandro Polanco) and Isamar (Isamar Gonzales) are orphans forced by circumstances to fend for themselves around a vast, 75-acre wasteland in an industrial section of New York City known as the Iron Triangle. Located in the shadow of Shea Stadium, this sprawling Queens neighborhood is comprised of nothing but acre after acre of junkyards, scrap heaps, garbage dumps and auto-body repair garages.
Kids grow up fast and living in such a godforsaken environment and, even though he’s only 12, Ale works full-time in a chop-shop, a front where stolen cars are purchased, quickly disassembled to be sold for parts. He’s also sees himself as the man of the family, and is very protective of his 16 year-old big sister.
Not long past the point of departure, he secures a place for them to live from his boss, shady Rob Sowulski. The one-room dive sits above the shop where he’s employed. It ain’t much, but it’s home. He even finds a job for Isamar as a cook in a mobile food canteen catering to folks employed in the area.
Despite their dire circumstances, Ale still has a dream, namely, to save up enough cash to go into business with his sis as the owners of their own deli van. However, Isamar, a budding beauty, is already attracting men interested in her for the wrong reasons. She discovers a way to make some fast money, although Ale is unprepared to handle it emotionally when he and his pal, Carlos (Carlos Zapata), catch her in a compromising position.
So unfolds Chop Shop, an engaging end-of-innocence flick directed by Ramin Bahrani (Man Push Cart). What makes this film fascinating is that it’s hard to know whether what you’re watching is acting or just a slice-of-life documentary. Turns out the cast members all use their real names and that Rob Sowulski is the actual proprietor of the auto garage where most of the action unfolds.
Warning: the language stays pretty salty from start to finish and the subject-matter turns fairly mature as the plot thickens around this seamy underbelly of the Big Apple. Thus, it doesn’t take long before you might start to feel uncomfortable to see children with such a hard knock life involved in so much antisocial and immoral adult behavior, whether they be thespians or hooligans.
Little Orphan Annie Latino-style, with an Oliver Twist.

Excellent (3.5 stars)
Running time: 84 minutes
Studio: Koch Lorber Films

Monday, February 25, 2008

Academy Awards Recap

by Kam Williams

Headline: Four Oscars for “No Country” But None for This Country’s Thespians

The Coen Brothers and No Country for Old Men walked away with four major Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Supporting Actor (Javier Bardem). Curiously, the movie with the next most Oscars was The Bourne Ultimatum, which took home statuettes in a trio of technical categories.
There Will Be Blood, Juno and La Vie en Rose won two each, while much ballyhooed flicks like Sweeney Todd, Atonement and Michael Clayton had to settle for one. Probably the biggest surprise was that none of the acting awards went to Americans. If foreign thespians are going to enjoy an edge, why not simply create Best Foreign Actor and Best Foreign Actress categories, the way that they already have one for Best Foreign Film?
Few will question the picks of Daniel Day Lewis or Javier Bardem, but some will certainly scratch their heads over the choice of Marion Cotillard, the Edith Piaf look-a-like who merely lip-synched her way to her Academy Award. And one can only wonder why the Anglophilic Academy tapped Brit Tilda Swinton not only over the Amy Ryan but also over 83 year-old Ruby Dee who deserved to be recognized for her body of work which began back in the Thirties and includes almost 100 screen credits.
Do you know how frequently aging actors and actresses have been belatedly voted their very first Oscar towards the end of a legendary career, and for a performance that clearly wasn’t among their most memorable? Let’s see, just last year we had Alan Arkin (72) for Little Miss Sunshine. Prior to that, we had George Burns (80) for The Sunshine Boys, Henry Fonda (76) for On Golden Pond, Jessica Tandy (80) for Driving Miss Daisy, Ruth Gordon (72) for Rosemary’s Baby, Geraldine Page (61) for A Trip to Bountiful, (Don Ameche (77) for Cocoon, Paul Newman (62) for The Color of Money, Jack Palance (72) for City Slickers, Sean Connery (58) for The Untouchables, John Wayne (62) for True Grit, Sir John Gielgud (77) for Arthur, James Coburn (70) for Affliction and Shirley MacLaine (49) for Terms of Endearment, to name a few.
So, given the long tradition of honoring thespians in this fashion, it’s unfortunate that Ruby Dee wasn’t also treated accordingly. It’s important to note in this regard that only four black females have ever won an Academy Award, Halle Berry (Monster’s Ball) in the Best Actress category, and Jennifer Hudson (Dreamgirls), Whoopi Goldberg (Ghost) and Hattie McDaniel (Gone with the Wind) for support roles.
The 80th Annual Academy Awards were emceed by acerbic comedian Jon Stewart who played it uncharacteristically polite all evening, never using any of the biting satire you’d expect of the iconoclastic Comedy Central talk show host. Looks like the recently returned to work writers needed more than nine days to prepare, because the program was rarely clever, funny or imaginative, unfolding uneventfully. Even the camera-shy Coen Brothers seemed unprepared for their close-ups, reluctantly approaching the mic to deliver decidedly uncharismatic acceptance speeches.


Picture: "No Country for Old Men"
Actor: Daniel Day-Lewis, "There Will Be Blood"
Actress: Marion Cotillard, "La Vie en Rose"
Supporting Actor: Javier Bardem, "No Country for Old Men"
Supporting Actress: Tilda Swinton, "Michael Clayton"
Director: Joel Coen and Ethan Coen, "No Country for Old Men"
Foreign Language Film: "The Counterfeiters" .
Adapted Screenplay: Joel Coen and Ethan Coen, "No Country for Old Men"
Original Screenplay: Diablo Cody, "Juno"
Animated Feature: "Ratatouille"
Art Direction: "Sweeney Todd the Demon Barber of Fleet Street"
Cinematography: "There Will Be Blood"
Sound Mixing: "The Bourne Ultimatum"
Sound Editing: "The Bourne Ultimatum"
Original Score: "Atonement," Dario Marianelli
Original Song: "Falling Slowly" from "Once," Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova
Costume: "Elizabeth: The Golden Age"
Documentary, Feature-Length: "Taxi to the Dark Side"
Documentary, Short: "Freeheld"
Film Editing: "The Bourne Ultimatum"
Makeup: "La Vie en Rose"
Animated Short: "Peter & the Wolf"
Live Action Short: "Le Mozart des Pickpockets (`The Mozart of Pickpockets')"
Visual Effects: "The Golden Compass"

Sunday, February 24, 2008

State of the Black Union 2008

by Kam Williams

Headline: Obama’s Conspicuous Absence Overshadows Annual Gathering

Senator Barack Obama opted to remain on the campaign trail in Ohio rather than accept an invite to address the convention of African-American intellectuals who had gathered to participate in the 9th Annual State of the Black Union. Curiously, despite the fact that Senator Hillary Clinton did attend, Obama had enough advocates on hand to counterbalance any potential blowback generated by his conspicuous absence.
In fact, some of the speakers opted to lobby openly on his behalf, such as Reverend Jesse Jackson, Sr. who warned the audience not to “miss this moment,” which he euphorically referred to as “Obamarama!” The event was staged in New Orleans at the Convention Center, the site where Hurricane Katrina refugees were stranded without food, water or any essential services for days on end.
Mayor Ray Nagin was on the dais during the morning session, alongside such luminaries as Reverend Jackson, Congresswomen Stephanie Tubbs Jones (D-OH) and Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), Memphis high school student Darrin Keith Boyce, Bush administration rep and EEOC Chairman Naomi Churchill, Former Congressman Cleo Fields (D-LA), New Orleans Pastor Melvin Jones, Professor Michael Eric Dyson, Xavier University President Dr. Norman Francis and PolicyLink’s Angela Glover Blackwell.
The afternoon portion of the program featured Princeton University Professors Dr. Cornel West and Dr. Eddie Glaude, comedian Dick Gregory, Democratic National Committee member Donna Brazile, Florida State University Professor Na’im Akbar, Morehouse College President Robert Franklin, former Maryland Lieutenant Governor Michael Steele, Congresswoman Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-TX), Dillard University student Stephanie Woodward, Katrina Survivor Herreast Harrison and TransAfrica Forum Executive Director Nicole Lee.
Besides Obama generally getting a pass, Mayor Nagin seemed to be treated with kid gloves, too, in light of the ostensible gentrification of what he once promised would remain a “Chocolate City.” Dick Gregory vehemently defended Ray’s embrace of the controversial nickname, pointing out that nobody ever complained when New Orleans was called “Sin City,” yet everybody unfairly got bent out of shape over the relatively benign sobriquet “Chocolate City.”
In fact, Mr. Gregory enjoyed the most memorable moments, primarily because he repeatedly went for the joke, this in sharp contrast to his colleagues who were soberly focusing on the social, political and economic concerns of the black community. As for Hillary, she appeared onstage alone with host Tavis Smiley at the very end of a very long day. However, her brief comments amounted to an anti-climatic uphill battle, because she had to follow a long line of inspirational speakers who had long since whipped the probably already pro-Obama crowd into a frenzy over her opponent. More a Barack pep rally than a critical assessment of African-American issues.
The State of the Black Union? Impatiently anticipating the arrival of the Black Messiah.

Be Kind, Rewind

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Jack Black and Mos Def Miss Mark as Fledgling Filmmakers in Ambitious Buddy Comedy

Mike (Mos Def) is the only employee at Be Kind, Rewind, a video rental store located in a rundown section of Passaic, New Jersey slated to undergo urban renewal. His boss, Mr. Fletcher (Danny Glover), has just been ordered by the city to bring the place up to code in 60 days or else face eviction, in which case the building will be condemned, demolished and replaced by upscale condominiums.
Fletcher knows he needs to modernize in order to catch up with his cross-town rival, the West Coast Video chain, if his business is to survive. So he decides to leave town for a few days to do some research on the competition. Unfortunately, this means he must leave Mike in charge for the first time, which is problematical for several reasons.
First of all, Mike isn’t the brightest bulb in the batch, and he tends to mumble when he talks. A bigger issue is the prospect of his best friend, Jerry (Jack Black) hanging around the store. This paranoid loser has a lot of time on his hands and lives in a trailer at a nearby junkyard. Furthermore, he’s convinced that a neighboring electrical plant is controlling his mind.
In Mr. Fletcher’s absence, Jerry soon pressures the readily-suggestible Mike to participate in a cockamamie scheme to short circuit the power station by tossing an anchor into the works. Of course, the plan goes horribly wrong and Mike ends receiving a shock of several thousand volts. This incident leaves him not only dazed and confused, but magnified to the extent that his body now starts sticking to everything from metal street lamps to galvanized steel fences.
The plot thickens the next time he enters Be Kind, Rewind, when his body immediately demagnetizes and erases every videotape on the shelves. It’s not long before people start complaining that the movies they’ve rented are blank. So, the buddies come up with another crazy idea, namely, to re-shoot each film a customer requests. Armed only with a hand-held camcorder, the two are soon on their way to co-starring in low-budget versions of about 200 screen classics, everything from Ghostbusters to King Kong to Men in Black to Driving Miss Daisy to Boyz ‘N the Hood to Lord of the Rings.
Unfortunately, as promising as this premise might read, Be Kind, Rewind fails to measure up to expectations. The poorly-executed recreations of familiar scenes from hit films simply fall flat, since we’ve been too spoiled by the spoof genre to expect much more than this sloppily-mounted mess that wouldn’t measure up favorably to The Little Rascals.
Even the teaming of Jack Black with Mos Def leaves a lot to be desired, as they’ve been abandoned by a rudderless, humorless script written by director Michael Gondry that isn’t funny and seems pointless. The miscast supporting ensemble includes Mia Farrow as an addlepated store regular who stumbles in and out occasionally and eye candy Melonie Diaz as an aspiring actress who is given nothing of interest to do in the picture.
Sadly, nothing can save this overambitious enterprise embarked upon by a couple of idiots, full of sound and fury but ultimately signifying nothing, the flick’s moral pretentions notwithstanding.

Fair (1 star)
Rated PG-13 for sexual references.
Running time: 101 minutes
Studio: New Line Cinema

Friday, February 22, 2008

What's Done in the Dark... DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Videotape of Stage Version of Tyler Perry Musical Released on DVD

There’s a fundamental difference in the way in which actors perform onstage as opposed to onscreen. In a play, they tend to over-enunciate and to exaggerate their body movements for the benefit of members of a live audience who might not be sitting near enough to read their facial expressions.
However, no such amplification is in order in front of a camera, since the lens is able to zoom in and capture even the most subtle of nuances.
For this reason, don’t be surprised to find this version of Tyler Perry’s What's Done in the Dark... problematical. For the DVD is essentially a simple recording of the stage production which treats us to close-ups which make the characters appear a tad cartoonish. That being said, the film is still recommended, provided you are willing to make a mental adjustment and understand that the thespians are playing the roles so broadly to engage the folks in the theater.
Set in a hospital emergency room, the musical soap opera revolves around a couple of nurses, each of whom has a little drama going on in her life. Head nurse Kerry (Shawna Vinson) is having an affair with Dr. Bowman (Terrell Carter) who’s promising to leave his wife (Chantelle Christopher), even though she’s pregnant. Meanwhile, her new assistant, Brenda (Chandra Currelley) is a single-mom who just wishes her deadbeat ex (Dino Hanson) would take an interest in spending some quality time with his teenage son (Ahmad Jamal McGhee).
The tension generated by these relationships is broken up intermittently by spirited renditions of gospel songs and by comic relief which comes courtesy of Mr. Brown (David Mann), an eccentric hypochondriac who seizes on any excuse to have his doting daughter, Cora (Tamela Mann), bring him in to see a physician. Family-friendly entertainment with a pointed message intended to remind us that What's Done in the Dark... will always come to light.

Good (2 stars)
Running time: 140 minutes
Studio: Lions Gate Home Entertainment
DVD Extras: “Mr. Brown Goes Shopping” and “Mr. Brown Introduces the Cast” featurette.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

The Darjeeling Limited DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: This Critic’s #1 Film of 2007 Released on DVD

The Whitman brothers haven’t spoken to each other since their dad died a year ago. This isn’t surprising, given the sibling rivalry which survived well past childhood. The tension emanates from a deep-seated dysfunction which has the eldest, control freak Francis (Owen Wilson), always dominating Peter (Adrien Brody) and Jack (Jason Schwartzman).
So, of course, it would be Francis who’s orchestrated every detail of their joint sojourn across India in search of spiritual enlightenment, a trek simultaneously designed to function as a bonding opportunity. Each planned port of call has been printed out by Francis’ able assistant, Brendan (Wallace Wolodarsky), on laminated sheets which set out exactly what benefits to expect, thus taking a consumer’s materialistic approach to the contemplated metaphysical experiences.
These brothers’ goal is to settle their differences while traveling across the subcontinent’s desert aboard the Darjeeling Limited, a train outfitted with little in the way of modern amenities. Besides spending quality time with each other, the Whitmans also want to track down their Born Again mother who has changed her name to Sister Patricia (Anjelica Huston) and lives in a convent in the foothills of the Himalayas. They need to know why she refused to attend their father’s funeral.
But getting there is all the fun in The Darjeeling Limited, the latest quirky character-driven dramedy coming courtesy of Wes Anderson. The film is the droll director’s best since Rushmore, and earned the #1 spot on this critic’s Top Ten List of 2007.
It helps immeasurably that Anderson depends on the services of the cinematic equivalent of a theater company, as he enjoys collaborating with a pool of regulars he’s worked with before. This is that rare cerebral comedy which offers sophisticates a refreshing alternative to the brainless bodily-function fare which has come to typify the comedy genre.

Excellent (4 stars)
Rated R for profanity.
Running time: 91 minutes
Studio: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
DVD Extras: Deleted scene, a short prequel entitled “Hotel Chevalier” and “The Making of” featurette.

Tasha Smith: The Why Did I Get Married Interview

with Kam Williams

Headline: A Tete-a-Tete with the Talented Tasha

Tasha Smith is a larger than life actress who brings an endearing combination of chemistry, raw intensity, vulnerability and sheer sensuality to every character she portrays on the big screen. In other words, she’s a consummate thespian who is just loved by the camera. And her memorable performances in two Tyler Perry pictures last year, “Why Did I Get Married” and “Daddy’s Little Girls,” led this critic to name her the best African-American actress of 2007 in my annual film Blacktrospective.
Previously, the beguiling beauty has played a wide range of roles in such feature films as “ATL,” “The Good Mother” and “The Whole Ten Yards.” Tasha is also well-known for her critically-acclaimed portrayal of the drug-addicted Ronnie Boyce in HBO’s Emmy Award-winning mini-series, “The Corner,” directed by Charles S. Dutton.
She has guest starred on such popular television shows as “Nip/Tuck,” “America’s Next Top Model,” “Girlfriends,” “Without a Trace,” and “Strong Medicine,” among others. Plus, she’s served as the executive producer and host of her own talk show for the Oxygen Network, “Tasha Vision,” guest hosted, “Later with Greg Kinnear,” and recently appeared as a field correspondent on “The Tyra Banks Show.”
Away from the set, she divides her time between sharing her inspirational life story as a motivational speaker and mentoring aspiring actors at the Tasha Smith Actors Workshop in Los Angeles. See:
Here, Tasha talks from the heart about both her career and her fears.

KW: Hey, Tasha, thanks for the time.
TS: Kam, are you kidding me? I am so honored and excited to talk to you. How are you doing?
KW: No, I’m honored to be speaking with you. In my opinion, you were the best actress last year, hands down. I’m just surprised your work wasn’t widely acknowledged during awards season. But I guess, like the way it was for Philip Seymour Hoffman and some other great actors and actresses, it takes awhile to get recognized. Afterall, Christian Bale still has never been nominated for an Oscar.
TS: Yeah, I understand that. I really do. I just thank you for all your wonderful comments.
KW: Those were simply my honest appraisal of your performances. What did you rely upon to create the characters, Angela and Jennifer, that you played in those Tyler Perry movies?
TS: Well, sometimes other actors do or don’t agree with my process in terms of the approach that I use and teach to my students. [Chuckles] But I feel that once you look at and discover what a character’s need is within a script, every character is already in us based on their need, whether that need be for power, love, acceptance, forgiveness or something else. You follow me? So, after I discover that for the character within the script, then I find things within myself that I can activate that could help me to tell the story of the character.
KW: Do you research a character, too, or is it all an internal process?
TS: I did do research for Daddy’s Little Girls, because of Jennifer’s belief system in terms of selling drugs. So, I spoke to a bunch of different drug dealers who really didn’t want to reform. They didn’t want to change. I was just trying to understand the mentality. We all have a psychological reason why we have adopted the belief systems which determine our perspectives and directions in life, and our actions. I try to understand that mental part of the character in order to figure out how I might relate it to myself and to similar people I’ve seen and experienced. I end up with layers of things, but overall, and I don’t know how people will feel about this statement, overall, I think that there is a part of us in every character we play, a desperate part of all of us that we could utilize. Not that, if someone plays a murderer, there’s a murderer within that person, but there’s a seed to get power back within that person.
KW: That makes me think of Javier Bardem’s frightening portrayal of the killer in No Country for Old Men. That was quite a despicable character.
TS: Yes, but, as an actor, you have to stay true to the character. We can never judge our characters. All we can discover is why they so badly need to do what they’re doing. And everyone has a reason why, even a murderer. For example, when I did The Corner, everyone may not necessarily be a drug addict, but everyone has a vice that’s in the life of a drug. You follow me?
KW: Yep.
TS: Everyone has something that they desperately need that makes them feel good, that they don’t want anything to get in the way of. Whether it’s a man’s golf game… whether it’s a woman’s cooking… I have a friend who has to clean. She’s addicted to cleaning. That’s her drug. When she becomes upset and frustrated that she’s not getting enough sex from her husband, she has to clean. So, everyone has their addiction.
KW: I think you also did an excellent job as Angela in Why Did I Get Married.
TS: Thank you. I tell you that role was interesting for me in that it helped me get freedom, because I was going through my own divorce at the time, and I think that we can live vicariously through our characters. So, the stuff that I might not have been able to say or do in real life, I could live all that as Angela. And I joke with women a lot, because they come up to me and say, “I love the way you spoke up and got him. My intention was for her to be every black woman’s hero. I wanted her to be that woman who would put every ho in check. You know how we’ve all had that kind of woman come into our lives? Well, we needed a spokesperson, and I wanted Angela to be that for us.
KW: What I liked about your treatment of Angela was the richness you brought to the character. She wasn’t merely the stereotypical, sassy, superficial, one-dimensional sister we usually see on the screen.
TS: You know what was the best thing to me about Angela? That she got a chance to say everything she needed to say, because sometimes, as women, we don’t get a chance to do that. She got a chance to say everything she needed to say, and to allow herself to be frustrated, angry and hurt, but she still was able to get her man back. That was a blessing. I love that I was able to do that, because personally, for myself, divorce was really sad. I felt bad to have to get divorced. I wasn’t proud of that. But, in that role, I got a chance to see what it feels like to win. It was great to see that these two could have all their differences, and all the drama… Hello! Yet, then they had the restoration. It was wonderful! I was so happy about that, I couldn’t tell you.
KW: I see that you’re playing another character named Angela in Something Like a Business, an ensemble comedy with Keith David, Kym Whitley, David Alan Grier, Clifton Powell, Kevin Hart and a bunch of other folks.
TS: You know what? Something Like a Business, I’m going to tell you Kam, was my “fun” movie. That was kind of like me going to the amusement park with a bunch of my friends. It is a funny, silly comedy. I play a completely different character. She’s a broke escort who moves from New Orleans to Washington, DC. Her escort company doesn’t have any money, so they’re trying to figure out ways to make some money. It’s a little spoofy and very different, but I think it’s entertaining and people will get a good laugh.
KW: What are you filming now?
TS: Comeback, with Ice Cube. It’s a wonderful movie. Keke Palmer plays my daughter. This film is absolutely fantastic. It’s such an uplifting story. And I’m enjoying it so much because I don’t have any children, and everything is about my daughter. I just love it because I want to have children one day. So, I enjoy playing this woman Claire who’s trying to help make her daughter’s dream come true. It’s beautiful. I think you’ll get a kick out of it.
KW: You’re originally from Camden, right?
TS: Born and raised.
KW: When did you leave New Jersey?
TS: I moved out of Camden when I was 18, turning 19.
KW: Do you still go back?
TS: We went back and got the key to the city. I did a little tour there and spoke at the high schools and at the performing arts schools, and took a bunch of friends from the ‘hood to the opening day of Why Did I Get Married.
KW: I know you have an identical twin, Sidra. Usually, one twin has a more dominant personality. Let me guess, it’s you in this case.
TS: Yeah, probably me. [Laughs] But she’s strong, too. I’m probably more vocal.
KW: Is she an actress, too?
TS: No, she works behind the scenes. She’s a terrific producer/director/writer. She doesn’t want to have anything to do with acting.
KW: Is she producing anything with you in mind?
TS: Yeah, we have a few projects we’re working on right now. She’s actually producing one of E. Lynn Harris’ books, Not a Day Goes By. We’re also working on an amazing film of hers called A Luv Tale, based on a short that she wrote and directed about a lesbian relationship between an older woman and a younger woman, and how it affects everyone around them. And we got another fun script called Who’s Got C-Dog’s Money.
KW: Jimmy Bayan, “Realtor to the Stars,” wants to know where in L.A. you live?
TS: I live in Sherman Oaks.
KW: The Columbus Short question, would you describe yourself as happy?
TS: Wow, well how about this: Not only am I happy, but I’m excited. I’m so excited Kam, I can’t even tell you.
KW: Is there a question that interviewers never ask that you wish one would ask?
TS: Yes, “Are you ever afraid?”
KW: Okay, are you ever afraid?
TS: Yeah. I talk about this a lot to my students. I remember how I had to confront the fact that I had fears in my life. There was a time when I just felt like a superwoman. I was like, “I got Jesus! I ain’t afraid!” But, the truth is, I want to do things right, and sometimes I am afraid that I’m not good enough, or that I’m not going to handle something right. And sometimes I’m afraid and asking, “Am I going to get married again? Am I going to have children?” You follow what I’m saying?
KW: Yep.
TS: It’s not that I walk around with gripped by fear, but when you sit with yourself and look in your heart, you sometimes ask yourself, “Wow, what were you worried about?” The root of worry is fear. If I’m ever stressed out, what’s the root of stress? Fear! Do you follow what I’m saying? If I ever have a little anxiety, what’s the root of that? Fear! You feel me?
KW: Yep.
TS: So, I think sometimes we’re not transparent enough. We in this entertainment industry try to act like we’re so super powerful. We’re not being honest, because we’re human, and in our humanity there’s a little fear.
KW: I recently reviewed a new book by Terrie Williams called Black Pain which says that in African-American culture there’s pressure on the brothers to adopt a macho swagger and on the sisters to be supportive superwomen who often deny their own needs. She says black people need to let down their defenses and to show some vulnerability.
TS: I agree with that.
KW: Speaking of books, bookworm Troy Johnson wants to know what was the last book you read?
TS: Well, actually, one that I’m still reading is called Developing the Leader within You by John C. Maxwell. I love a lot of self-help books, and this one has been wonderful. The one I read before this was Becoming a Person of Influence, also by John C. Maxwell. I feel that with these opportunities I have, I want to not just be a celebrity, but to be an influence. I’d like to help empower and encourage other people to pursue their purpose, whether it’s through me telling the truth of my life, like what I just shared with you about fears, or just being open and transparent and encouraging and compassionate towards humanity in general.
KW: Just the other day, I asked Sean Combs what book he read last, and he impressed me when he said it was Good to Great by Jim Collins. That’s a powerful self-help book that I’ve read and reviewed and highly recommend.
TS: Well, I’ll have to pick that book up.
KW: And I’ll check out yours. Now, I see that you were Gayle in ATL. Remind me which character was that?
TS: Gayle was the mother to the twins, like my own mother in real-life.
KW: I remember now, the girls who were always on skates. Yeah, that’s funny, since you’re a twin.
TS: They were always in trouble, and I had to snatch them out of the club.
KW: I didn’t really know you when I saw ATL. I’m going to go back and check it out again and focus on your performance. I bet you stole all your scenes.
TS: [Giggles] It was fun. I tell you, afterwards, everybody kept yelling at me, “Hey, Mama, where’s the twins at?” [Laughs]
KW: Tell me a little about your school. How can aspiring actors enroll to take a class with you?
TS: It’s called Tasha Smith Actors Workshop. They can check out the website at It’s been going on for almost six years now. It’s been a blessing for our community, that’s all I have to say, because I’ve seen so many actors with the dream, young people who haven’t had a chance to cultivate their gift. And now I see them on TV shows, and with agents, and really moving in their dream. And that’s awesome.
KW: Where’s it located?
TS: In Los Angeles. We have about ninety people taking three classes a week. It’s wonderful. You’ll have to visit one day when you come out.
KW: Absolutely. And do you actually teach there?
TS: We have three teachers. If I’m not working on a set, I’m there every Monday and Tuesday. I’m very dedicated to that school. You’ll never catch me at home on a Monday night. I will be at that class.
KW: Tasha, thanks so much for the time and for being so forthcoming. And obviously, I’m anticipating even bigger things from you in the coming years.
TS: Well, I thank you. My prayer is that more opportunities will come and that I will continue to make people like you proud. You enjoy your day.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Get Real, Get Rich: Conquer the 7 Lies Blocking You from Success

by Dr. Farrah Gray
Hardcover, $24.95
270 pages
ISBN: 978-0-525-95044-8

Book Review by Kam Williams

“News flash: There’s no such thing as automatic wealth -- at least not in the real world. Of course some people will have you believe that wealth starts with a way of thinking and then moves effortlessly toward real wealth.
In this book I challenge you to move beyond the conversation and really grab at your accomplishments. I’m not only going to share the mindset you need to achieve all that you dream of, but also the specific strategies that accompany that state of mind...
What’s holding you back? The answer to that question is what this book is about… You might be oblivious to the fears and fallacies that are thwarting you financially, spiritually, emotionally, and even physically… I want to help you marshal out your own wealth potential, which relates to everything about you – not just your bank account.”
 Excerpted from the Introduction (pages xxii-xxiii)

Thanks in part to Oprah Winfrey’s stamp of approval, The Secret has been enjoying a phenomenally run and is still sitting high on most best seller lists a couple of years after its 2006 release. That popular self-help book’s basic thesis is that positive thinking alone is enough to attract all the wealth, health and happiness you want. If only it were just that simple.
As a skeptic who questions the wisdom of relying on that philosophy, I’d guess that a lot more is probably involved in achieving one’s dreams than a mere attitude readjustment. So, I suspect that there are many devotees with buyer’s remorse who find themselves frustrated that the money hasn’t simply come pouring in after they adopted the mindset dictated by The Secret.
I digress at the outset only to contrast the approach of The Secret with that of Get Real, Get Rich. I call this refreshing alternative The Un-Secret, since its strategies are grounded in a reality-based recipe for success which is a combination of not only attitude but also skills and commitment.
Written by “Reallionaire” Dr. Farrah Gray, this relatively-feasible how-to guide is designed to empower individuals to maximize their potential, whatever that may be. However, in Dr. Gray’s opinion, this involves much more than chanting positive affirmations. So expect to do some serious work along the path to fulfilling your goals.
You might be wondering, Why should I listen to this author as opposed to the countless others offering advice about how to get rich? Perhaps because he speaks from experience. Afterall, he was raised in the ghetto on the South Side of Chicago by a single-mom, yet he still overcame the odds and made his first million dollars by the age of 14.
And as fascinating as this admirable wunderkind’s personal story is, it’s the practical ideas shared in Get Real, Get Rich which make the book worthwhile. For Farrah, now 23, exhibits a wisdom beyond his years, and an infectious eagerness to inspire others to outdo him in terms of achievement.
For example, in a chapter entitled, The Money Lie, he emphasizes the importance of living below your means, in order to avoid going broke. While that sage insight might seem to some like common sense, taking the notion to heart is likely to make all the difference in your life.
What can I say about this exceptional role model except “I’m a believer!”


Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Duplicitous Life on the Down-Low Theme of Murder Mystery

Valerie Maas’ (Aunjanue Ellis) world comes apart at the seams the day she catches her husband, Dutch(Raz Adoti), in the shower naked with another man. She doesn’t buy his “It’s not what it looks like defense,” and realizes she’s been living a lie for years, with a man who didn’t even use protection while on the so-called down-low.
But before she can figure out how to break the news that daddy is bisexual to their young daughter, Nicole (Tomorrow Baldwin Montgomery), Valerie finds herself behind bars and facing a murder rap. Fortunately, this churchgoing Christian has a strong enough faith to help her bear the burden of being wrongfully accused.
On the way to clearing her name, we’re treated to such silliness in Philly that one has to wonder exactly what’s going on here. For Cover, directed by veteran director Bill Duke, is an unintentionally funny, flashback flick which is practically impossible to take seriously at face value.
For example, one character calls homosexuality a “white disease.” Another, who has AIDS, boasts about secretly “sharing the gift,” meaning having unprotected sex with people who don’t know he’s HIV+, illogically explaining that he’d rather be a monster than honest.
As confusing as it is improbable, this mess of a movie wastes a talented cast which includes Vivica A. Fox, Lou Gossett, Jr., Leon, Patti LaBelle, Paula Jai Parker, Clifton Davis, Roger Guenveur Smith and Mya. However, the goings-on bear such little resemblance to reality, that I was often unsure what genre of movie I was even watching.
A blaxploit? A sci-fi adventure? An out of the closet drama? A whodunit? A genderbending romance? A slapstick sitcom? Likely, a little of all of the above. The only thing of consequence I learned was to be wary of any guy who comes up to me and offers to blow a piece of dust out of my eye. Apparently those are code words used by black gays to proposition strangers, wink-wink.
A disaster which attempts to address a pressing social issue, but only fails miserably in the process.

Fair (1 star)
Rated PG-13 for mature themes, profanity, sexuality, violence and drug use.
Running time: 96 minutes
Studio: American Cinema International

In the Valley of Elah DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: DVD Features Tommy Lee Jones’ Oscar-Nominated Performance

When SPC Mike Deerfield (Jonathan Tucker) goes AWOL soon after returning from a tour of duty in Iraq, his father, (Tommy Lee Jones), a retired military man, decides to join the search. Bidding adieu to his anguished wife (Susan Sarandon), Hank drives from Tennessee to New Mexico in a panic, fearful because their only other child already perished in a helicopter crash while serving in the 82nd Airborne.
Upon his arrival at the base, he’s disappointed to discover that the officer in charge of missing persons (Jason Patric) is an inept pencil-pusher with little street savvy. Looking for clues on his own, Hank finds himself frequently frustrated by the less than cooperative members of Mike’s unit.
Ultimately, his rescue mission turns into a recovery effort when a charred body is found chopped to pieces on an empty lot. Although the military brass assumes jurisdiction and quickly dub Mike’s murder drug-related in a rush to judgment, former MP Hank is savvy enough to smell a bureaucratic cover-up.
So, he enlists the help of the local police and finds a sympathetic ear in Detective Emily Sanders (Charlize Theron). The two team-up to fill in the pieces of the grisly puzzle, and that determined effort is meticulously chronicled in this whodunit crafted as a subtle indictment of the American invasion of Iraq.
For although our intrepid protagonists retrace Mike’s steps to strip clubs for a little gratuitous nudity and other staples associated with the genre, gradual revelations about Abu Ghraib-level abuses by the suspected soldiers lay blame overseas, since ensuing post-traumatic stress disorder seems to have triggered the attack. Other than its annoying profusion of red herrings, this tortoise-paced picture is noteworthy only for squandering the services of Susan Sarandon, Charlize Theron and Tommy Lee Jones, his Oscar nomination notwithstanding.
Postwar is hell!

Fair (1.5 stars)
Rated R for sexuality, nudity, profanity, violence and disturbing content.
Running time: 121 minutes
Studio: Warner Home Video
DVD Extras: A deleted scene and two featurettes.

A Raisin in the Sun

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Sean Combs Stars in ABC-TV Adaptation of African-American Classic

Lorraine Hansberry’s (1930-1965) “A Raisin in the Sun” was the first play written by a black woman ever to open on Broadway. It takes its title from the opening line in “Harlem,“ a poem by Langston Hughes which poses the question “What happens to a dream deferred?”
The original theatrical production debuted on March 11, 1959 and starred Sidney Poitier and Ruby Dee. Its semi-autobiographical storyline was loosely based on real-life events which unfolded in Hansberry’s own family back in the Thirties. At the time her parents had been met with pure hatred after purchasing a home in a lily-white, Chicago enclave.
In her memoir, “To Be Young, Gifted and Black,” she recounted how her dad, determined to integrate, ended up spending a small fortune in legal fees trying to remain there, despite the fact that, on a daily basis, “hellishly-hostile… howling mobs surrounded our house… My memories of this ‘correct way’ of fighting white supremacy in America include being spat at, cursed and pummeled in the daily trek to and from school.” Hansberry also describes her “desperate and courageous mother” staying up all night with a loaded gun, “doggedly guarding her four children, while my father fought the respectable part of the battle in the Washington court."
That case, Hansberry v. Lee, would make it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which struck down restrictive covenants when it ruled on November 13, 1940 that whites could no longer rely on restrictive covenants to bar African-Americans from living in their communities. But despite the landmark decision in their favor, without police protection, the Hansberrys would remain subject to continued mistreatment by racist neighbors determined to make their lives miserable.
“A Raisin in the Sun” focuses on a fictional family named Younger with dreams of moving out of the ghetto but still living in a dilapidated tenement on Chicago’s South Side. A Broadway revival in 2004 featured Sean “Diddy” Combs surrounded by Phylicia Rashad, Audra McDonald, Sanaa Lathan and Bill Nunn. That talented ensemble has been reassembled for this moving made-for TV version.
At the point of departure, we meet Walter, Jr. (Combs) a hard-working 35 year-old chauffeur in the process of assuming the role of patriarch of a family comprised of his pregnant wife, Ruth (McDonald), his son, Travis (Justin Martin), his exhausted, domestic servant mother, Lena (Rashad), and his sister, Beneathea (Lathan), following the death of his father. The plot revolves around the question of how Walter. Sr.’s life insurance proceeds ought to be spent.
Grandma thinks they should use the $10,000 to buy a home in a white neighborhood, since the five of them are currently cramped in a rundown, roach-infested apartment. College student Beneathea wants some of the money to pay for med school, while ambitious Walter would like to invest in a liquor store with his pal, Bobo (Nunn), and smooth-talking Willy (Ron C. Jones). And when Lena hands the check over to her son as the new man of the house, it’s just a matter of time before she comes to regret that ill-advised decision.
Helped immeasurably by his principal cast of his talented co-stars, Diddy comes of age as an actor here, delivering a memorable performance in an African-American literary classic of Shakespearean proportions which proves to be every bit as relevant today as the day it was first staged.

Excellent (4 stars)
Running time: 131 minutes
Studio: ABC-TV

A Raisin in the Sun will premiere on ABC-TV at 8 PM (EST) on Monday, February 25th. (Check local listings)

Monday, February 18, 2008

Oscar Predictions 2008

The Envelope Please:
Who Will Win, Who Deserves to Win, Who Was Snubbed
by Kam Williams

This year’s Oscars aren’t all that hard to handicap, except for the Best Supporting Actress category where there’s a trio of viable contenders: Ruby Dee, Cate Blanchett and Amy Ryan. Conventional thinking would lead you to believe that Ms. Dee should be the favorite, because the Academy loves to reward elderly thespians for their body of work if they’ve never won before.
However, what Ms. Blanchett has going for her is that she’s also nominated as Best Actress where she’s likely to lose out there to Julie Christie. So, it’s possible that the voters will give Cate the Best Supporting nod as a consolation prize of sorts. While I’m guessing that Ruby will take home the trophy, it’s too close to call confidently, since with any name recognition lesser-known Amy Ryan would be rewarded for her powerful performance in Gone Baby Gone.
Overall, expect a big evening for No Country for Old Men, with the Coen Brothers’ modern Western prevailing in the Best Picture, Director, Supporting Actor and adapted screenplay among the major categories. If there is to be a serious challenge to Old Country that will probably come courtesy of Juno, which has benefited from late buzz and box-office staying power.
In each category below, first I predict the winner. Next, I say which among the nominees is actually the most deserving. And because so many great movies and performances are invariably overlooked, I also recognize several among those snubbed who were certainly worthy of Oscar consideration, such as Christian Bale who has to be the best actor never nominated for an Academy Award.

Best Picture

Will Win: No Country for Old Men
Deserves to Win: No Country for Old Men
Overlooked: The Darjeeling Limited, Superbad, Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead, Gone Baby Gone.

Best Director

Will Win: Joel and Ethan Coen (No Country for Old Men)
Deserves to Win: Joel and Ethan Coen (No Country for Old Men)
Overlooked: Wes Anderson (The Darjeeling Limited), Ben Affleck (Gone Baby Gone), Mira Nair (The Namesake), Tyler Perry (Why Did I Get Married), Sidney Lumet (Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead).

Best Actor

Will Win: Daniel Day-Lewis (There Will Be Blood)
Deserves to Win: Viggo Mortensen (Eastern Promises)
Overlooked: Christian Bale (3:10 to Yuma, Rescue Dawn), Denzel Washington (The Great Debaters), Michael Cera (Juno, Superbad), Josh Brolin (No Country for Old Men), Owen Wilson (The Darjeeling Limited).

Best Actress

Will Win: Julie Christie (Away from Her)
Deserves to Win: Ellen Page (Juno)
Overlooked: Naomi Watts (Eastern Promises), Tang Wei (Lust, Caution), Katherine Heigl (Knocked Up), Carice van Houten (Black Book), Sienna Miller (Interview).

Best Supporting Actor

Will Win: Javier Bardem (No Country for Old Men)
Deserves to Win: Javier Bardem (No Country for Old Men)
Overlooked: Ben Foster (3:10 to Yuma), Ed Harris (Gone Baby Gone), Christopher Mintz-Plasse (Superbad), Tommy Lee Jones (No Country for Old Men), Kal Penn (The Namesake).

Best Supporting Actress

Will Win: Ruby Dee (American Gangster)
Deserves to Win: Amy Ryan (Gone Baby Gone)
Overlooked: Marisa Tomei (Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead), Tasha Smith (Why Did I Get Married), Jurnee Smollett (The Great Debaters), Kristen Johnston (Music & Lyrics), Sarah Silverman (I Want Someone to Eat Cheese With).

Best Original Screenplay

Will Win: Diablo Cody (Juno)
Deserves to Win: Tony Gilroy (Michael Clayton)
Overlooked: Wes Anderson (The Darjeeling Limited), Kelly Masterson (Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead), Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg (Superbad), Marc Lawrence (Music & Lyrics).

Best Adapted Screenplay

Will Win: Joel and Ethan Coen (No Country for Old Men)
Deserves to Win: Joel and Ethan Coen (No Country for Old Men)
Overlooked: Into the Wild (Sean Penn), Sooni Taraporevala (The Namesake), Tyler Perry (Why Did I Get Married).

Best Documentary

Will Win: No End in Sight
Deserves to Win: Sicko
Overlooked: The 11th Hour, Into Great Silence, Crazy Love, What Black Men Think, Banished, Manufactured Landscapes.

Best Animated Feature

Will Win: Ratatouille
Deserves to Win: Ratatouille
Snubbed: None

Friday, February 15, 2008

Redacted DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Disappointing Brian De Palma Iraq War Drama Out on DVD

Brian De Palma is the latest moviemaker eager to foist a heavy-handed anti-war picture on the public, and frankly some of these shrill screeds are starting to look silly. Shot pseudo-documentary style, but based on actual events, the film is essentially a loosely-connected series of montages revolving around a squad of six GIs manning a roadside checkpoint in Iraq.
The explanation for our being afforded an intimate peek at the soldiers’ mental mindset is that one of them, Angel (Izzy Diaz), has taken to videotaping their day-to-day lives with a hand-held camcorder. This dirty half-dozen is comprised of familiar war flick archetypes, ranging from the grizzled sergeant (Ty Jones) to the bespectacled nerd (Kel O’Neill) to macho dudes in a loose mood (Daniel Stewart Sherman and Patrick Carroll) to the tortured soul (Rob Devaney) with a still-functioning conscience.
The plot thickens when two GIs (guess who?) become horny and depraved enough to rape a 14 year-old. However, the sexual assault goes horribly wrong and leads to their not only murdering the girl but her entire family as well. Of course, the good ole boys responsible cover up the atrocity and prove quite capable of returning to the posts, business as usual, thereby delivering the sobering message that America’s Generation Kill sees the Iraqis they came to save as somewhat less than human.
Unfortunately, Redacted is so laughably unconvincing at every turn that it looks more like a student film in progress than a legit feature. Perhaps De Palma was too blinded by his undoubtedly fervent feelings about the Bush Administration’s bungling of the invasion and occupation to make an honest appraisal of his message movie’s abundance of technical flaws.
Regardless, this unfortunate outing is destined to leave an embarrassing blemish on the legendary director’s generally stellar body of work.

Fair (1 star)
Rated R for disturbing images, violence, rape, pervasive profanity, ethnic slurs and sexual references.
In English and French with subtitles.
Running time: 90 minutes
Studio: Magnolia Home Entertainment
DVD Extras: Refugee interviews, photo gallery and a “Behind-the-Scenes” featurette.

Michael Clayton DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Convoluted Clooney Potboiler Comes to DVD

Although attorney Michael Clayton (George Clooney) has been with Kenner, Bach and Ledeen for 17 years, he’s never made partner. Ironically, he still enjoys a certain grudging status, since the nature of his work makes his services invaluable to the prestigious Manhattan law firm.
As the office’s fixer, his job involves mopping up everybody else’s messy situations, even if that might sometimes mean breaking the law. But nothing in his checkered career has prepared him for the chain of events about to unfold in the wake of the mental breakdown of Arthur Edens (Tom Wilkinson). Edens is the colleague in charge of defending a billion-dollar class action suit against an agro-chemical company accused of manufacturing cancer-causing chemicals.
After six years as the lead lawyer on the case, Edens inexplicably did a striptease while mumbling incoherently during a deposition being conducted in Milwaukee. So, the firm’s managing partner (Sydney Pollack) rushes his reliable “fixer” to Wisconsin to do damage control.
However, Clayton soon discovers that he’s in over his head because Edens hasn’t merely gone off his meds as suspected, but has had a crisis in conscience and plans to go public with some of his client’s incriminating internal memos. Plus, the rogue attorney has developed a crush on one of the plaintiffs, a cute, young, milk-fed farm girl (Merritt Wever).
Thus, corporate ethics is at the center of the intricate web woven by this modern morality play. Employing a clever wraparound as a cinematic device, the flashback flick opens with some visually-captivating pyrotechnics provided by the deliberate detonation of Michael’s late model Mercedes by saboteurs. He survives the explosion, before the plot rewinds to four days earlier, only to build back up, inexorably, to the familiar “Do I look like I’m negotiating?” showdown featured in the commercial.
Vintage Clooney.

Excellent (4 stars)
Rated R for profanity.
Running time: 120 minutes
Studio: Warner Home Video
DVD Extras: Additional scenes, commentary by director Tony Gilroy and editor John Conroy.

Definitely, Maybe

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Dad Shares Checkered Past with Daughter in “Who’s Your Mama?” Melodrama

The midst of a divorce probably isn’t the best time for a father to share the intimate details of his messy love life with a pre-pubescent daughter. In fact, there might never be an appropriate moment for such a confession of one’s checkered past. But that doesn’t prevent Will Hayes (Ryan Reynolds) from spilling the beans to 11 year-old Maya (Abigail Breslin) in Definitely, Maybe right after the little girl’s curiosity has been whetted by her first sex education class.
When he picks her up from school that day, she greets him with “We need to talk,” demanding, “Tell me the story of how you and my mother met.” However, rather than restrict his ensuing narrative to his soon-to-be ex, divulging daddy decides to reminisce about all three of his great romances, only changing their names to keep Maya intrigued and trying to guess which one was with her mom.
This flashback flick shifts back to Madison, Wisconsin in 1992 which is where we find Will already involved with one of the trio, Emily Jones (Elizabeth Banks), his college sweetheart. He soon leaves the blonde in the care of his best friend Charlie (Daniel Eric Gold) in order to movie to New York City for a few months to work on Bill Clinton’s presidential campaign.
Emily asks Will to deliver a diary to her best friend, Summer Hartley (Rachel Weisz), a brunette beauty living on University Place in Greenwich Village with Hampton Roth (Kevin Kline) a very open-minded professor. Before returning the journal, he peeks inside and learns that the girls once had a steamy lesbian liaison. Then, to complicate matters, Summer pounces on him they day they meet, explaining that it’s all with Hampton’s approval.
Does any of this sound appropriate for an adolescent’s ears? Wait it gets better. At Clinton campaign headquarters, Will develops a crush on co-worker April Hoffman (Isla Fisher), a ravishing redhead who is apolitical and could care less about the candidate. Trouble is, she’s already in a relationship.
So, Will takes to confiding in his roommate, Russell McCormack (Derek Luke), a black guy worried that his dating a white woman (Liane Balaban) might deleteriously effect his presidential aspirations. Luckily, Russell is a brother who can be counted on to cover for a buddy if his girlfriend should show up unexpectedly.
Needless to say, there’s quite a bit of kinky coupling and uncoupling over the course of Definitely, Maybe, a “Who’s Your Mama?” melodrama written and directed by Adam Brooks. Brooks is previously best known for having adapted best sellers Practical Magic and Beloved to the big screen with scripts which were strikingly similar to each other in certain salient respects. This was embarrassing because the movies ended up being released in theaters on the same weekend in the fall of 1998, one almost the blackface version of the other.
The only thing embarrassing this go-round is that the tawdry tale is being recounted for the benefit of a suddenly-spousified 11 year-old who understandably interrupts her father to complain, periodically, saying things like, “I can’t believe you smoked and drank and were such a slut.” Provided you can ignore the inappropriateness of that underlying aspect of the narrative, you’re apt to enjoy the unpredictable hijinks along the path to this implausible romp’s carefully-concealed resolution.
Who’s Maya’s mommy? Who cares, when her daddy’s a playboy dating up a storm.

Excellent (3.5 stars)
Rated PG-13 for profanity, sexuality, smoking and frank dialogue.
Running time: 110 minutes
Studio: Universal Pictures

39th Annual NAACP Image Awards

by Kam Williams

Headline: Great Debaters Dominate Image Awards

“The Great Debaters” dominated the movie categories at the 39th Annual NAACP Image Awards, being named Best Picture, with its stars, Denzel Washington, Denzel Whitaker and Jurnee Smollett, all winning for their performances in the film. Meanwhile, Alicia Keys prevailed in the field of music, earning four trophies, while “House of Payne,” “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Life Support” each took home a trio in the area of television.
Besides the winners in the nominated categories, a trio of lifetime honorees also gave gracious acceptance speeches: Aretha Franklin (The Vanguard Award), Ruby Dee (The Chairman’s Award) and Stevie Wonder (inducted into the NAACP Hall of Fame). The show, which was held at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, was broadcast live by Fox-TV on February 14th.
Curiously, it was hosted by D.L. Hughley, who had seemingly been in hot water along with Don Imus for his comments on the Tonight Show a year ago in support of the briefly-disgraced DJ, stating that the young women on the Rutgers basketball team were in fact nappy-headed and “some of the ugliest women I've seen in my whole life." Apparently, that water is all under the bridge now, for Imus is back on the air, and D.L. cleaned up his act considerably in his capacity here as emcee.
The evening’s most bizarre moment arrived when presenter Tracy Morgan ignored the teleprompter to wish Happy Valentine’s Day to all his baby-mamas, specifically including fellow-presenter Tichina Arnold whom he revealed to be the mother of his eldest daughter. Ms. Arnold, a single-mom, does have a little girl, Alijah Kai, born in 2004 previously thought to have been fathered by an ex-boyfriend, Carvin Haggins. Who knows whether this was just a joke or if a paternity test might be in order?
Otherwise, the program unfolded in a fairly dignified fashion, and was striking in its embrace of a multicultural orientation, going out of its way to include Asians and Latinos in stage numbers. Even the audience got into the act, when Wayne Brady passed around the mic during a Stevie Wonder medley during which we learned that Judge Mathis can hold a tune and that America “Ugly Betty” Ferrera can’t.


Best Picture: "The Great Debaters."
Best Actor: Denzel Washington, "The Great Debaters."
Best Actress: Jurnee Smollett, "The Great Debaters."
Best Supporting Actor: Denzel Whitaker, "The Great Debaters."
Best Supporting Actress: Janet Jackson, "Tyler Perry's Why Did I Get Married?"
Best Director: Kasi Lemmons, "Talk To Me."
Best Scriptwriter: Michael Genet and Rick Famuyiwa, "Talk To Me."
Best Independent or Foreign Film: "Honeydripper."
Best Documentary: "Darfur Now."

Best Comedy Series: "Tyler Perry's House of Payne."
Best Actor, Comedy Series: LaVan Davis, "Tyler Perry's House of Payne."
Best Actress, Comedy Series: America Ferrera, "Ugly Betty."
Best Supporting Actor, Comedy Series: Lance Gross, "Tyler Perry's House of Payne."
Best Supporting Actress, Comedy Series: Vanessa L. Williams, "Ugly Betty."
Best Director, Comedy Series: Ken Whittingham, "The Office: Phyllis's Wedding."
Best Scriptwriter, Comedy Series: Ali LeRoi, "Everybody Hates Chris: Everybody Hates Guidance Counselor"
Best Dramatic Series: "Grey's Anatomy."
Best Actor, Dramatic Series: Hill Harper, "CSI: NY."
Best Actress, Dramatic Series: Regina Taylor, "The Unit."
Best Supporting Actor, Dramatic Series: Omar Epps, "House."
Best Supporting Actress, Dramatic Series: Chandra Wilson, "Grey's Anatomy."
Best Director, Dramatic Series: Seith Mann, "Friday Night Lights: Are You Ready For Friday Night?"
Best Scriptwriter, Dramatic Series: Shonda Rhimes and Krista Vernoff, "Grey's Anatomy: A Change is Gonna Come."
Best TV Movie, Miniseries or Dramatic Special: "Life Support."
Best Actor in a TV Movie, Miniseries or Dramatic Special: Wendell Pierce, "Life Support."
Best Actress in a TV Movie, Miniseries or Dramatic Special: Queen Latifah, "Life Support."
Best Actor in a Daytime Dramatic Series: Kristoff St. John, "The Young And The Restless."
Best Actress in a Daytime Dramatic Series: Christel Khalil, "The Young And The Restless."
Best News/information, Series or Special: "In Conversation: The Senator Barack Obama Interview."
Best Talk Series: "Tavis Smiley 'Crisis in Darfur'"
Best Reality Series: "Run's House 4."
Best Variety Series or Special: "Celebration of Gospel '07"
Best Children's Program: "That's So Raven."
Best Performance in a Youth/Children's Program, Series or Special: Raven-Symone, "That's So Raven."

Best Album: Alicia Keys, "As I Am."
Best Song: "Like You'll Never See Me Again," Alicia Keys.
Best Male Artist: Chris Brown.
Best Female Artist: Alicia Keys.
Best Duo or Group: Eddie and Gerald Levert.
Best New Artist: Jordin Sparks.
Best Jazz Artist: Herbie Hancock.
Best Gospel Artist: Kirk Franklin.
Best World Music Album: Angelique Kidjo, "Djin Djin."
Best Music Video: "Like You'll Never See Me Again," Alicia Keys.

Best Fiction: "Blonde Faith," Walter Mosley.
Best Nonfiction: "Not on Our Watch: The Mission to End Genocide in Darfur and Beyond," Don Cheadle, John Prendergast.
Best Debut Author, "The Women Who Raised Me: A Memoir," Victoria Rowell.
Best Biography/Autobiography: "Obama: From Promise to Power," David Mendell.
Best Instructional: "The Covenant in Action," Tavis Smiley.
Best Poetry: "Acolytes: Poems," Nikki Giovanni.
Best Children’s Book: "Nothing but Trouble: The Story of Althea Gibson," Sue Stauffacher, author; Greg Couch, illustrator.
Best Youth/Teens’ Book: "More Than Entertainers: An Inspirational Black Career Guide," Charles B. Schooler, author; Gary Young, illustrator.

Excellent Cadavers DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Gruesome DVD Documentary Replays Mafia’s Greatest Hits

If you happen to be one of those people who considers Godfather 1 and 2 the best movies ever made, then you’re likely also to deem Excellent Cadavers the best documentary ever made. This very informative flick, set primarily around the Sicilian city of Palermo in the Seventies and Eighties, carefully chronicles the history of the Cosa Nostra, revealing it to have been a savage crime syndicate which had infected the Italian political infrastructure.
The film focuses on the ill-fated efforts of a couple of prosecutors, Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino, to end the mob’s stranglehold by bringing hundreds of mobsters to justice. At the time that Falcone and Borsellino began their highly-publicized trials, hits for hire were transpiring about once every three days. And the deadly attacks continued during the court proceedings, because many a defendant had an interest in eliminating judges, prosecutors and eyewitnesses.
Nonetheless, 344 crooks were eventually convicted of crimes, although this development did not sit well with mob bosses who were determined to get even with the two attorneys who had decimated their ranks. Sadly, despite a round-the-clock escort of armed bodyguards, the clearing of streets plus a police helicopter overhead wherever they traveled, and living 16 hours a day in a steel bunker reinforced with concrete capable of withstanding a missile attack, the Mafia finally figured out how to get to this pair of intrepid national heroes.
Besides the ill-fated front story, Excellent Cadavers also features actual crime scene photos shot by Letizia Battaglia, a journalist assigned to cover the killings by her newspaper. Though not a feelgood flick by any means, this bittersweet biopic does pay tribute to two a couple of dudes crazy enough not only to take on the mob, but to win for a while, even if they were finally taken out in 1992.

Excellent (3.5 stars)
In English and Italian with subtitles
Running time: 92 minutes
Studio: First Run Icarus

Desert Bayou DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Master P Provocative Post-Katrina Documentary Out on DVD

In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, the mainstream media flooded the airwaves with reports about how the displaced residents of the Gulf Region were being welcomed with open arms by fellow Americans all across the country. One of those feelgood stories involved Utah, where some 600 evacuees from New Orleans were supposedly being integrated into the mostly-Mormon Salt Lake City community.
Now, we’re belatedly learning the rest of the story, and the sad truth is that this contingent of refugees were treated horribly upon their arrival. First of all, they had been herded onto a plane without being informed of their destination.
Upon landing, they were not ushered to a functioning metropolis but to Camp Williams, an abandoned National Guard base in the desert used only as an artillery range. And the mayor of the closest city, Salt Lake, hastily announced the imposition of a nightly curfew, but only on the recent arrivals, ostensibly to ensure that his new African-American neighbors would be out of his lily-white town after sundown.
This unfortunate nightmare is painstakingly recounted in Desert Bayou, a picture produced by New Orleans native Master P. The hip-hop impresario discovered the situation while searching in Utah for his parents who were among the missing Katrina victims.
He suspected that they’d been taken there without their consent or any understanding of what they were getting into. Too bad the folks he found there didn’t have kin with the money to rescue them from racist treatment reminiscent of the country’s dark days of Jim Crow segregation.
A damning documentary which exposes FEMA’s wholesale failings while depicting a nation still deep in denial and willing to look the other way despite the ongoing suffering of a long-marginalized segment of society.

Excellent (4 stars)
Running time: 90 minutes
Studio: Cinema Libre

Zebraman DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Japanese Superhero Adventure Arrives on DVD

Back in the Fifties, Japan was the source of a seemingly endless supply of badly-dubbed B-movies, mostly sci-fi adventures about mutant creatures doing a number on the city of Tokyo. Cineastes nostalgic for that bygone genre, might like to check out Zebraman, a picture about an underdog-turned-superhero who saves the day when his homeland is attacked by creatures from outer space. The point of departure is Yokohama in 2010 which is where we meet Shinichi Ichikawa (Sho Aikawa), a nerdy elementary school teacher and family man. His pupils make fun of him, his wife is cheating on him, his daughter sleeps around, and his son is a wimp.
So, it’s no surprise that the miserable loser maintains his sanity by retreating into a parallel universe watching tapes over and over of an action TV series called Zebraman. Nights, he takes his fantasy a step further, by donning a costume of his favorite television character and venturing out to the streets to fight crime.
After a UFO crashes in the city, a bizarre sequence of events ensues: birds begin to die mysteriously, bearded seals swim upriver and a mammoth mutated crayfish is found. When the cause of these mysterious occurrences turns out to be an invasion of aliens bent on world domination, Shinichi gets his chance to save the planet.
While the Japanese military finds its self flummoxed by their evil adversaries, increasingly intrepid Shinichi has an idea how to deal with them as his alter ego, since the terrifying scenario is unfolding exactly the same as in the plot of one of the Zebraman episodes. Though featuring cheapo special effects, phony-looking fight scenes and cornball dialogue, this throwback is readily recommended for anyone who might enjoy a campy cross of Mothra and The Mighty Morphin Power Rangers.

Very good (3 stars)
In Japanese with subtitles.
Running time: 115 minutes
Studio: Tokyo Shock