Monday, March 31, 2008

Keith Robinson: The Canterbury’s Law Interview

with Kam Williams

Headline: Keith on Call

Born Kentucky, but raised in Georgia, Keith Robinson is a dynamic and multi-talented actor/singer/songwriter who can be seen on the new FOX drama premiering in April called “Canterbury’s Law.” The show is a courtroom drama starring Julianna Margulies as an iconoclastic defense attorney who's willing to bend the law in order to protect the wrongfully accused. Keith plays Chester Grant, a congressman's son who’s embarrassed by his privileged upbringing and has turned his back on politics. The show premieres on FOX in April 2008.
Keith is probably best known for the role of C.C. White in the screen adaptation of Dreamgirls. Keith also performed “Patience,” an Oscar-nominated song from the film with Jennifer Hudson, Beyonce’ and Anika Noni Rose Patience at last year’s Academy Awards. Earlier, he played Bill Cosby in the 2004 hit film Fat Albert.
On television, he met with success in recurring roles on the NBC drama “American Dreams” and FX's critically-acclaimed Iraq war series, “Over There.” He won a 2006 Camie (Character and Morality in Entertainment) Award for his stellar work in “The Reading Room,” an original Hallmark movie starring James Earl Jones.
Youngsters might recognize him as the Green Ranger of the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. And most recently, Keith enjoyed a supporting role in the new holiday classic film This Christmas for Sony Screen Gems.
When not on the set, Keith can be fund in the recording studio working on his first solo album, Utopia, which will be released sometime this Summer. The passionate crooner is very excited to be bringing his unique brand of R&B to his fans.

KW: Hi Keith, thanks for the time.
KR: Thank you, thanks for having me.
KW: What interested you in Canterbury’s Law?
KR: It was an edgy law drama that had a unique spin on how they solved the cases.
KW: You play the son of a congressman on the series. Tell me a little about your character.
KR: His name is Chester Grant. He’s a young, focused hotshot lawyer who’s eager to make his mark, somewhat like a young Johnny Cochran. His father is a well-off, crooked politician and they bump heads a lot.
KW: How did you prepare for the role?
KR: I did some reading and watched a lot of episodes of “Matlock” and law shows.
KW: How is working on a TV series different from working on a movie?
KR: A movie is a more creative process. You are not as pressed for time. On a TV series you have more time deadlines and it can be routine, a good routine, but routine.
KW: Your breakout role, I suppose, was as the Green Power Ranger. Do little kids come up to you on the street because of the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers?
KR: Little kids do come up to me, but I do not consider that to be my breakout role. I would consider my breakout role to be Dreamgirls.
KW: So are you recognized more as C.C. White from Dreamgirls or as the Green Ranger?
KR: Definitely CC. White.
KW: Were you at all intimidated being surrounded by such a star-studded cast in Dreamgirls, since it included Jennifer, Beyoncé’, Eddie Murphy, Jamie Foxx, Danny Glover, Loretta Devine, Jaleel ‘Urkel’ White and others?
KR: No. I felt like I was just as qualified. I was honored, but not intimidated.
KW: I know that your debut CD is going to drop this summer. How would you describe the music?
KR: Classic soul with a fuze of hip-hop.
KW: Where can fans go to hear a sample of your singing?
KR: To iTunes, where they can download the single “Red Eye.” Or they can visit my MySpace page at HYPERLINK "" \t "_blank"
KW: Which do you enjoy more, singing or acting?
KR: I love them both equally.
KW: The Columbus Short question: Are you happy?
KR: Yes, overall.

KW: The “Realtor to the Stars” Jimmy Bayan question: Where in L.A. do you live?
KR: I live in The Valley, Chino.
KW: The bookworm Troy Johnson question: What was the last book you read?
KR: I just finished Sidney Poitier’s autobiography, The Measure of a Man: A Spiritual Autobiography.
KW: The Tasha Smith question: Are you ever afraid?
KR: Yeah.
KW: Is there a question no one ever asks you, that you wish someone would?
KR: What do you want to be remembered for?
KW: When did you know you know you wanted to be in showbiz?
KR: I think when I was 8 years old. I did a play where I played a rhino and I really dug it. It was on from there.
KW: What advice do you have for anyone who wants to follow in your footsteps?
KR: Never stop believing in yourself, and don’t let anyone discourage you.
KW: Do you answer your fan mail?
KR: Yes, as much as I can.
KW: Thanks again for the interview, Keith, and best of luck with all your endeavors.
KR: Thank you.

Priceless (Hors de Prix) FRENCH

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Gold Digger Mistakes Bartender for Rich Heir in Class-Conscious French Farce

Irene (Audrey Tautou), a shameless gold digger, is staying at a posh resort with Jacques (Vernon Dobtcheff), an elderly sugar daddy who has just proposed to her that very evening. But after the old coot falls asleep next to her, the gypsy-like Jezebel slips out of bed in the middle of the night and heads down to the hotel’s lounge to see if she can find an even wealthier sucker to put a ring on her finger.
There, she starts flirting with Jean (Gad Elmaleh), a shy nerd she mistakes for the grandson of an obscenely rich guest, when in fact he happens to be just a broke bartender about to go off duty. Flattered that this gorgeous young woman finds him attractive, he does nothing to clear up the confusion.
Instead, he uses his connections to gain access to the penthouse suite in order to further impress her. And only after she’s seduced the impostor into a session of passionate lovemaking does the hussy awaken the next morning to realize that for once the tables have been turned on her.
Irene then rushes back to her fiancé Jacques, but he no longer wants her. Meanwhile, the suddenly-confident Jean decides to explore his own potential as a gigolo. It’s not long before he finds his first victim in the very willing Madeleine (Marie-Christine Adam), a wealthy widow accustomed to lavishing attention on boy-toys in return for sexual favors.
This is the messy point of departure of Priceless, directed by Pierre Salvadori (Apres Vous), a complicated, class-conscious French farce which features more coupling and uncoupling than you might care to keep track of. For, as the plot thickens, Irene and Jean not only continue to date each other, but they simultaneously keep pursuing senior citizens for the sake of some easy money.
The picture pairs the talented Audrey Tautou (Amelie) and Gad Elmaleh, the engaging actor who handled the title role in The Valet, another romantic romp predicated on a case of mistaken identity. That crowd-pleaser revolved around a hapless car parker paid to pretend to be dating a married tycoon’s mistress in order to trick the suspicious paparazzi.
Though Gad’s character this go-round is initially less empathetic, there’s enough of an arc that you ultimately feel for the plight of his latest working class-hero. The same can be said for Ms. Tautou’s Irene, a materialistic, sex-industry slut who magically transforms before your eyes into a spiritual soul capable of following her heart and riding off into the sunset on the back of a scooter with a penniless Mr. Right

Excellent (4 stars)
Rated PG-13 for nudity and sexuality.
In French with subtitles.
Running time: 104 minutes
Studio: Samuel Goldwyn Films


Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Postwar Drama Examines Emotional Toll Exacted by Service in Iraq

After serving tours of duty both over in Afghanistan and Iraq, Staff Sergeant Brandon King (Ryan Phillippe) returned from the Middle East a decorated war hero deemed worthy of a welcoming parade. So, immediately upon arriving in his tiny hometown of Brazos, Texas, he was awarded a Purple Heart and the Bronze Star by his Senator (Josef Worrell) in front of his squad and appreciative family and neighbors.
However, all the photo-ops and accolades did next to nothing to ameliorate the deep emotional toll being invisibly exacted on King’s psyche by the months on end spent engaged in deadly battle. Later, when the patriotic hoopla died down, King finds himself plagued by flashbacks of hand-to-hand combat and the faces of the members of his company who perished while under his command.
And while his well-meaning parents (Ciaran Hinds and Linda Emond) might be happy to have their son back seemingly whole, they simply aren’t equipped to recognize the signs of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Fortunately, the about to be honorably discharged soldier does have several sympathetic shoulders to lean on in his best friend, Sergeant Steve Shriver (Channing Tatum), and others from their squad also trying to make the challenging adjustment back to civilian life.
Perhaps prophetically, their clairvoyant commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel Boot Miller (Timothy Oliphant), prior to dismissing his men, had warned them not to drive drunk, physically abuse women, or sleep with underage girls while on furlough. Wouldn’t you know that these are among the host of misbehaviors they subsequently suddenly start exhibiting?
First, we find Eyeball (Rob Brown) ogling jail bait. Then, Tommy (Joseph Gordon Levitt) hits a telephone pole while driving under the influence after sucker-punching the barfly who asked his wife to dance at a nightclub. Next, Steve digs a foxhole in his front yard to sleep in after inexplicably beating his beautiful girlfriend, Michelle (Abbie Cornish).
Whether designed with a pacifist agenda or simply intended to make the case for a return of the draft, Stop-Loss is a compelling saga which compassionately establishes that veterans of the Iraq conflict shouldn’t have to be wounded physically to be considered damaged goods. And as we find ourselves empathizing with the aforementioned GIs because of the absence of treatment for their psychological trauma, director Kimberly Peirce (Boys Don’t Cry) ups the ante by having Brandon informed that he’s just been stop-lossed, and must head back to the frontlines in Iraq because the military is shorthanded.
Understandably, he takes this news badly, given that he’s already served his country and has plans to move on with the next phase of his life. Consulting his parents and pals proves to be no help, since they feel he has no choice but to follow the orders of his superiors.
Instead of reporting back to the base, Brandon impulsively goes AWOL accompanied by his buddy’s girl, Michelle, knowing full well he’s risking both a friendship and a bad conduct discharge. Searching for an avenue of escape to Canada or Mexico, the two descend into an unknown world of Army deserters, a modern Underground Railroad whose murky waters are muddied by black market hustlers with questionable intentions making promises of deliverance they might not be able to deliver.
Will the once-admirable patriot really abandon the US, ostensibly forever, or will he bite the bullet and re-up for another tour of duty in the name of God, mom and apple pie? Well-scripted and convincingly executed, this raw, super-realistic thriller is made all the more riveting by the sense you get that very similar scenarios are likely currently unfolding all across America.

Excellent (3.5 stars)
Rated R for graphic violence and pervasive profanity.
Running time: 113 minutes
Studio: Paramount Pictures

Saturday, March 29, 2008

The Greatest Silence: Rape in the Congo

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: HBO Expose’ Sheds Light on African Country’s Violence against Women

While many people may be aware of the decade-long civil war raging in the Democratic Republic of Congo, most have no idea that one of the by-products of that brutal conflict has been the wholesale kidnapping, rape, torture and mutilation of hundreds of thousands of the nation’s women. Sadly, superstitious soldiers on both sides see females as a sort of spoil of war, and have come to rationalize mistreating them out of a sick belief that they must commit rape to defeat the enemy.
The upshot is that the land is now littered with innumerable mentally and physically traumatized women, walking wounded whose blank faces have the same 1000-yard stare found on army veterans who’ve spent too many hours exposed to battle. Bewildered and still vulnerable, they roam the countryside in search of an elusive oasis of safety in a place which only offers more violence.
Wading into the midst of this scary scenario, we find Lisa Jackson, an intrepid American filmmaker willing to risk her own life to shed light on the ongoing tragedy. Jackson can empathize because she herself had been gang-raped in Washington, DC at the age of 25. So, she understands the lingering effects of what they’ve experienced.
In this powerful documentary, The Greatest Silence: Rape in the Congo, she not only interviews many victims, but ventures into the jungle to confront their perpetrators as well, to see whether any feel remorse about perpetrating crimes against humanity. They don’t. One sicko thinks the practice is okay because, “God says man is superior to woman.” Another arrogantly brags that he never uses condoms when taking a woman against her will and that he thinks an herbal antidote can cure him of being HIV+.
We see that as a result of these sexual assaults, Congolese females are suffering from everything from AIDS to chronic pain to incontinence disfigurement to sleeplessness and fear. A doctor attending to the endless stream of patients says, “Every day there is a new horror.”
Typical is the despondent soul who sorrowfully recounts for the camera how her husband’s head was lopped off right in front of her, and the rest of his body chopped in half. Then, the murderer knocked out most of her teeth with the butt of his rifle before raping her right on the spot. Jackson shows how the problem appears to be intractable, because even when apprehended, attackers rarely spend any time behind bars, since rape has become a culturally-accepted, even encouraged lifestyle.
The expose’ closes by them assessing the Congo’s prospects pessimistically, given that one of the best ways of judging a society is by how highly, or in this case lowly, it regards its women. For, when its women are being systematically raped without recourse, the whole country is being affected.
A chilling reminder of why John Lennon once wrote a song entitled, “Woman is the [N-word] of the World.”

Excellent (4 stars)
Rated TV-MA for profanity, violence, nudity and adult content.
In English, French and Swahili with subtitles.
Running time: 76 minutes
Studio: HBO-TV

Rape in the Congo premieres on HBO at 10 PM (EST/PST) on Tuesday, April 8th (check local listings)

Friday, March 28, 2008

Washington, You're Fired DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Wisdom of Patriot Act Questioned by Consciousness-Raising Documentary

If you’ve seen Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11, you might remember the comical scene where John Conyers (D-MI) freely admits that neither he nor probably any other members of Congress had actually bothered to read the Patriot Act before allowing it to become the law of the land. Well, Washington, You're Fired is a rabble-rousing call to arms which retraces the bill’s legislative history to expose the 11th-hour shenanigans employed by the Bush Administration to get it passed.
For, according to filmmaker William Lewis, narrator of this incendiary documentary, we the people were abandoned by our representatives who irresponsibly gave away an array of our supposedly inalienable rights because they were being pressured in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attack. Lewis says that the 800+ page bill that they voted on had been replaced at the last minute by a version written by Viet Dinh, a Harvard-educated lawyer working at the direction of Attorney General John Ashcroft.
Because the members of Congress had capitulated to intimidation rather than take the time to assess the Patriot Act point-by-point, Mr. Lewis says that they violated their Constitutional oaths and thus deserve to be kicked out of office for selling the electorate down the river. If even half of what he alleges is true over the course of this consciousness-raising expose’, then maybe it is high time we heed his advice and throw the bums out, and replace both Republicans and Democrats alike with ordinary folks willing to restore the panoply of rights lost in the wake of 9/11.
Watch out, Congress, if this grass roots movement does develop traction, you’re fired!

Excellent (4 stars)
Running time: 77 minutes
Studio: Bridge Stone Media Group

Skid Row DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Rapper Goes Undercover to Shed Light on Plight of the Homeless

Prakazrel Michel, better known just as Pras, was one of the founding members of the hip-hop group “The Fugees.” But despite the fame and fortune he has enjoyed since meeting with success as a rap star, he’s never forgotten his humble roots, having been born in Haiti, and raised in Brooklyn, NY and South Orange, NJ.
This helps explains why in 2006 he decided to go undercover for 9 days straight, living amongst the homeless on Skid Row, a 50-block area of Los Angeles teeming with over 100,000 transients. With the help of hidden cameras, Pras filmed the entire ordeal, editing the essence of his experience into Skid Row, an eye-opening documentary which paints a good picture of what life is like for today’s hobos.
Not for the faint of heart, the warts-and-all production features graphic displays of the denizens of this godforsaken environ, whether they’re caught in the midst of private bodily functions, panhandling, avoiding rats, or using drugs and alcohol. There’s even a scene of an addict shooting heroin into his own clenched arm.
And while I suspect that the current explosion of real estate foreclosures might be changing the demographics of your typical street person, this film suggests that most of are either substance abusers or mentally ill. However, recent news reports of tent cities sprouting up in L.A. might mean that a lot of Average Joes have joined the ranks of the homeless.
When not worrying about his own safety, Pras spends his time bonding not only with some of the unfortunates he encounters, but with the cops and counselors assigned to the beat, and with a frantic woman looking for her self-destructive son. The undercover brother conducts revealing interviews at every opportunity, capturing a variety of perspectives that add up to paint a very sympathetic tableau of a sector of the population which generally goes unmentioned in polite society, the proximity of neighboring Beverly Hills notwithstanding.
The case of Mike Rodriguez proves to be the most heartbreaking. He’s an addict whose luck seems to change when he wins $100,000 with a scratch-off lottery ticket. But the closing credit postscript regretfully informs us that he rented an apartment and entered rehab only to relapse and die of a drug overdose.
A sage reminder to count your blessings for, as Phil Ochs wisely warned, “There but for fortune may go you or I.”

Excellent (4 stars)
Rated R for drug use and profanity.
Running time: 93 minutes
Studio: Screen Media Films

The Kite Runner DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Adaptation of Afghani Best Seller Arrives on DVD

Written by Khaled Hosseini in 2003, The Kite Runner is an endearing account of the childhood friendship of two young Afghani boys which unfolds against the backdrop of political turmoil, ranging from the fall of the monarchy to the war with the U.S.S.R. to the rise of the Taliban. But the book has been simplistically adapted here into a safely sanitized tale of camaraderie and betrayal leading to overwhelming regret and, ultimately, a chance at redemption.
Told as a series of flashbacks set mostly in Kabul, the story opens in post-millennial San Francisco, which is where we meet middle-aged Amir (Khalid Abdalla) about to return to his native Afghanistan. The movie then immediately shifts to 1978 where we find him flying kites with his pal Hassan (Ahmad Khan Mahmidzada), the son of his father’s faithful manservant.
Initially, the inseparable playmates generally enjoy each other’s company, and forge a powerful bond, despite the class difference. However, this all changes forever the day that Hassan is beaten and raped by a gang of bullies because a fear-gripped Amir who failed to come to his buddy’s assistance.
Before Amir matures enough to explain his inappropriate response, his family flees to the U.S. to escape the impending Soviet invasion. Half a world away, his guilt gradually grew over the next 20 years, as he came to be haunted by his past betrayal and to yearn for a chance to express his remorse.
Unfortunately, the picture fails to engage the audience on a visceral level, in spite of its earnest endeavor to tug on one’s heartstrings. And by the time the closing curtain comes down, the supposedly touching resolution comes off as an anticlimactic afterthought, a surprising rabbit out of the hat reveal notwithstanding.
The book was better. What else is new?

Fair (1.5 stars)
Rated PG-13 for violence, brief profanity, child rape and mature themes.
In Dari, Pashtu, Urdu, Russian and English with subtitles.
Running time: 127 minutes
Studio:Dreamworks Home Entertainment
DVD Extras: Commentary by the director and the scriptwriters, theatrical trailer, plus “Words” and “Images” featurettes.

Wednesday, March 26, 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 April 4, 2008


Leatherheads (PG-13 for brief profanity) George Clooney directed and stars in this romantic comedy, set in 1925, as the owner/captain of a fledgling pro football franchise who finds himself competing with the decorated World War I hero (John Krasinski) he’s just signed for the affections of a skeptical sports reporter (Renee Zellweger) covering the team.

Nim’s Island (PG for mild action and brief epithets) Fanciful family adventure about a young girl (Abigail Breslin) with an active imagination who enlists the assistance of her favorite author (Jodie Foster) and fictional hero (Gerard Butler) in finding her father, a scientist who has gone missing on a magical island.

The Ruins (R for nudity, sexuality, profanity, graphic violence and gruesome images) Hardcore horror flick about four Americans friends (Jena Malone, Shawn Ashmore, Jonathan Tucker and Laura Ramsey) vacationing in Cancun who are persuaded by a German tourist (Joe Anderson) to join in the search for his missing brother amidst the ruins of an archaeological dig located in a remote Mexican jungle.


The Flight of the Red Balloon (Unrated) Fanciful fairy tale about a 7 year-old boy (Simon Iteanu) who escapes to an imaginary world with his Taiwanese babysitter (Fang Song) while his overwhelmed single-mom (Juliette Binoche) attends to a variety of snowballing obligations. (In French with subtitles)

Jellyfish (Unrated) Female empowerment flick examines the divergent fortunes of three women whose paths cross at a wedding reception in Tel Aviv: the spoiled bride (Noa Knoller), a just-dumped waitress (Sarah Adler), and the deferential Filipino nurse (Ma-nenita De Latorre) of an elderly guest (Zaharira Harifai) with anger management issues. (In Hebrew and French with subtitles)

My Blueberry Nights (PG-13 for violence, smoking, drinking and mature themes)
Grammy-winner Norah Jones makes her screen debut as the star of this road flick about a broken-hearted woman who muses about modern romance while roaming around the country. Cast includes Jude Law, David Strathairn, Rachel Weisz and Natalie Portman.

Meet Bill (R for sexuality, profanity and drug use) Aaron Eckhart plays the title character in this midlife crisis dramedy about an unhappily-married guy who befriends a beautiful cashier (Jessica Alba) after his wife (Elizabeth Banks) starts cheating on him with a TV news reporter (Timothy Olyphant).

Nana (Unrated) Musical melodrama about the relationship which develops between two girls (Mika Nakashima and Aoi Miyazaki) with the same name but very different personalities after they meet by chance. (In Japanese with subtitles)

Sex and Death 101 (R for profanity and graphic sexuality) Romantic comedy about a reformed ladies man (Simon Baker) whose impending wedding plans are complicated by the arrival of an email naming every woman he’s ever slept with and ever will sleep with. The plot thickens after an encounter with a vengeful femme fatale (Winona Ryder) who targets womanizers. With Mindy Cohn, Sophie Monk and Leslie Bibb.

Shine a Light (PG-13 for smoking, drug use and brief profanity) Martin Scorcese directs this concert flick featuring the Rolling Stones, shot in 2006 at New York’s Beacon Theater before an audience which included Bill and Hillary Clinton. With appearances by bluesman Buddy Guy and pop diva Christina Aguilera.

The Unknown Woman (Unrated) Psychological drama about a mysterious Russian nanny (Kseniya Rappoport) for a rich Italian family who remains haunted by the violence and prostitution which marked her past life in the Ukraine. (In Italian with subtitles)

Water Lilies (Unrated) Coming-of-age flick follows the sexual awakenings of a trio of 15 year-old girls (Pauline Acquart, Louise Blachere and Adele Haenel) during an eventful summer spent chasing boys in the suburbs outside Paris. (In French with subtitles)

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Ghetto Nation: A Journey into the Land of the Bling and the Home of the Shameless

by Cora Daniels
Hardcover, $23.95
222 pages
ISBN: 978-0-385-51643-3

Book Review by Kam Williams

“Ghetto no longer refers to where you live, it is how you live. It is a mind-set… a mind-set that thinks the M words -- monogamy and marriage – are bad language… a mind-set that thinks it is fine to bounce, baby, bounce in some video, as if that makes it different from performing such a display on a table, on a pole, on some john’s lap, or on the corner.
Most of all, ghetto is a mind-set that embraces the worst. It is the embodiment of expectations that have gotten dangerously too low.”
Excerpted from the Introduction (pages 5-6)

Have you ever visited the website Hot Ghetto Mess? ( It’s a site dedicated to black bad taste which posts hilarious photos and videos of girls and guys gone ghetto. Now Cora Daniels has written a book about the troubling phenomenon in which she bemoans the fact that ghetto style is no longer limited to folks living in the slums.
Ms. Daniels, who herself lives in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, argues that ghetto is now a state of mind which has been exported to the mainstream with the help of gangsta rap videos. This entertaining tome is as funny as it is cautionary, points out plenty of indications that you know you’ve gone ghetto.
Some samples include wearing a do-rag to school or court, speaking grammatically incorrect English, sporting gold caps on your teeth, driving a pimped-out automobile, and using the N-word or ho. The author argues that the adherents of this lifestyle are selling themselves short, since one’s academic and employment prospects aren’t very good when you don’t aspire to be the best you can be.
Therefore, it’s no surprise to hear Daniels side with Bill Cosby against the Hip-Hop Generation in the African-American culture wars, although she makes a point of never blaming the poor for their plight. Thus, she studiously avoids the trap which snares so many conservative pawns seen as stigmatizing those unfortunates trapped in the neverending cycle of poverty.
Rather, Ghetto Nation’s primary thesis, convincingly articulated, equates ghetto with self hate because it typically inspires those degenerates stuck under its spell to embrace the lowest common denominator and to exhibit the worst of traits found in humanity.


Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Michael Caine and Demi Moore Team for Multi-Layered Whodunit

Laura Quinn (Demi Moore) is the first female executive at the London Diamond Corporation, England’s leading importer of precious gems. Despite being one of the firm’s most deserving employees, the ambitious, 38 year-old American has repeatedly been passed over for a promotion to managing director in favor of lesser-qualified male colleagues.
This slight has not been lost on Mr. Hobbs (Michael Caine), the close to retiring janitor at the company’s headquarters. Because she reminds him of his dearly-departed wife, the elderly widower approaches Laura with felonious intentions, hoping she’s disgruntled enough about hitting the glass ceiling to help him hatch a heist of the vault in the business’ basement.
Although she initially threatens to report the old codger, she cools down sufficiently to entertain the idea. The seemingly foolproof plan sounds simple enough. All she has to do is first find the out the combination, and Hobbs will crack the safe during his overnight shift. And he promises to purloin only a tiny pouchful of priceless stones, so no one will even notice the theft.
But the best laid plans often go awry, especially in as complex a crime caper as Flawless. Directed by Oscar-nominee Michael Radford (for Il Postino), this multi-layered whodunit is masterfully-constructed to keep you confounded and guessing about the next bizarre twist from start to finish.
Set in 1960, the film pairs the gracefully-aging Demi Moore in her best role in recent memory opposite the ever-reliable Michael Caine in an intriguing a cat-and-mouse thriller reminiscent of Sleuth, the 1972 battle-of-wits for which he earned an Academy Award nomination. Here, Quinn hands over the combination to the lock, only to have second thoughts because of a recently installed surveillance system. However, Hobbs says he has already figured out how to defeat it, and ignores her pleas to back out of the conspiracy, determined to proceed regardless.
The plot thickens the morning after the robbery, when it is discovered that the vault has been cleaned out, and the company announces losses in the hundreds of millions. Why did Hobbs change his mind and steal more than agreed upon amount of stones? Did greed get the better of him or did he have a massive robbery in mind all along?
And with the case having all the earmarks of an inside job, how long will he and Laura keep from arousing the suspicion of the investigating detectives? These are just a few of the questions raised en route to the surprising resolution of as intriguing a psychological mindbender as you could hope to wrap your head around.

Excellent (3.5 stars)
Rated PG-13 for brief profanity.
Running time: 110 minutes
Studio: Magnolia Pictures

American Zombie

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Mockumentary Mission to Humanize Zombies

A couple of years ago, Grace Lee made a brilliant directorial debut with The Grace Lee Project, a documentary during which she interviewed dozens of Asian-American females who shared her name. The point of that fascinating multiple subject bio-pic was to show that despite certain cultural similarities in how they were raised, each Grace had her own unique personality.
Ms. Lee’s sophomore effort, American Zombie, is not of nearly as much consequence. For this silly mockumentary is based on the proposition that the undead are people, too. The picture is set in Los Angeles where Grace and her faux co-director, John Solomon, do their best to track down zombies to find out who they are, where they come from and why they exist.
The badinage is actually hilarious early on, when we see Grace complaining that “I don’t make monster movies” and “I don’t usually work with other directors.” John gets her back by asking her why she needs to be on camera, teasing, “Nobody wants to see The Grace Lee Project 2.
The film eventually settles down to focus on the day-to-day lives of four functioning, if socially-ostracized ghouls in their struggle to be accepted as normal. There’s Judy (Suzy Nakamura), who says she’s just like everybody else and just wants to get married. Ivan (Austin Basis), on the other hand, is a convenience store clerk who self-publishes a comic book called American Zombie in his free time.
Activist Joel (Al Vincente), meanwhile, runs ZAG, the Zombie Advocacy Group, an organization which seeks a guarantee of every reanimated creature’s right to vote, marry, healthcare, a job and a driver’s license. Relying on a variation of the Act-Up rallying cry, he and his cohorts demand equality with warm-blooded humans by chanting, “We’re here! We’re dead! Get used to it!” Finally, we have Lisa (Jane Edith Wilson) a florist whose specialty is funeral arrangements.
If the idea here was to have fun while delivering a subtle statement about tolerance and discrimination, that aim is achieved by the end of the first hour. Unfortunately, the story starts to drag a bit at that juncture and virtually runs out of steam until the plot belatedly thickens to make a secondary statement, albeit at the 11th hour, shortly before the closing credits roll.
Overall, a cleverly-comedic, high-concept adventure, artfully-executed, and thought-provoking, too. How else can you describe a flick which presumes to answer everything you always wanted to know about Zombies but were afraid to ask while simultaneously suggesting that our fascination with creature features might merely be a reflection of some sick human desire?

Very Good (3 stars)
Running time: 91 minutes
Studio: Cinema Libre

The Cool School

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: California Beat Era Artists Revisited in “The Cool School”

Back in the Fifties, in the days before TV had hopelessly homogenized America into a place where you could find the same merchandise in the same chain stores in every mall all across the country, the East and West Coast had distinctly different cultures, even counter-cultures. For instance, while New York was the home of beatniks and a frenetic style of jazz known as hard bop, Los Angeles gave birth to a much mellower alternative called Cool.
And though the leading Manhattan galleries on 57th Street were then showing the work of such emerging icons as Jasper Johns, Frank Stella, Andy Warhol and Roy Liechtenstein, the West Coast scene was celebrating their own local artists like Ed Ruscha, Robert Irwin, Wallace Berman and Craig Kauffman. What many may not know is that the Ferus Gallery, started in 1956 by med school dropout Walter Hopps and self-taught, aspiring artist Ed Kienholz, played a pivotal role in launching the careers of “The Cool School” of abstract expressionists among collectors in the L.A. area.
The intriguing story of the rise of the Ferus Gallery is recounted in this documentary comprised of interviews conducted with still surviving principals along with reams of riveting archival footage. Designed more for the devotee of the arts than your average moviegoer, the film is still apt to enthrall even the uninitiated who wouldn’t know a Jackson Pollock from a Willem de Kooning.
For it focuses as much on quirky personalities and the hedonistic lifestyle, as it does on the paintings and sculptures themselves. Thus, we learn that Walter Hopps became hooked on speed and ended up in a mental hospital, while his wife Shirley left him for Irving Blum, the smooth operator who took over the business.
Despite all their success, seems like a lot of this salacious set went mad. We hear one embittered, elderly artist admit that he and his colleagues had “started out idealistic but ended up whores. And Irving was the pimp.” There’s videotape of another’s funeral during which he is buried behind the wheel of his favorite vintage automobile.
Decadent indulgences aside, The Cool School can still be readily appreciated for its valuable lesson that one need not be dependent on the New York Establishment or any Ivory Tower critics for validation. Furthermore, the enduring widespread enjoyment of the work of these modern masters proves the basic maxim that “art offers the possibility of love with strangers.”

Very Good (3 stars)
Running time: 86 minutes
Studio: Arthouse Films

Monday, March 24, 2008

Thandie Newton: The Run, Fatboy, Run Interview

with Kam Williams

Headline: Sweet as Thandie

Born in London on November 6, 1972, Thandiwe Newton spent some of her formative years in Zambia with her Zimbabwean mother, Nyasha, and her British father, Nick. However, political unrest would prompt the family to relocate to England where Thandiwe would attend the University of Cambridge.
After a back injury curtailed her plans for a career in dance, she dropped the “w” from her name when she turned her attention to acting. In 1991, the regal beauty made her screen debut in Flirting, an Australian film featuring another then unknown, Nicole Kidman.
Thandie has since proven herself to be one of the most talented thespians around, delivering very memorable performances in such pictures as Crash, Beloved, Besieged, Jefferson in Paris, Mission: Impossible II and The Pursuit of Happyness. Recently, the versatile actress has even mastered comedy, first as the object of Eddie Murphy’s affection in the $100 million hit Norbit, and now as a pregnant woman left at the altar by Simon Pegg’s character in Run, Fatboy, Run.
As for her private life, Thandie has been married for ten years to writer/director Ol Parker. The couple lives in London where they are raising their two daughters, Ripley, 7, and Nico, 3. Here, she weighs in on everything from family life to her new movie to colorblind casting to the candidacy of Barack Obama.

KW: Hi Thandie, I’m honored to have this opportunity to speak with you.
TN: Really? That’s so lovely.
KW: Absolutely!
TN: Nice. Is Kam short for something?
KW: Funny you should ask. Yes, Kamau, it’s an African name.
TN: Cool!
KW: I was given the name when I was a jazz musician back in the Seventies. We were getting ready to record an album and the leader of the group didn’t want any slave names on the record cover.
TN: Wow!
KW: Over the years, people sort of Anglicized it by dropping the “au” off.
TN: How amazing! “Kam” is gorgeous. I love it. My name, Thandie, is an abbreviation, too, of Thandiwe.
KW: I knew that. And that it means “beloved.” Ironically, Beloved might have been your breakout role.
TN: Yes, I think it probably was.
KW: I also thought you were terrific in your next picture, Besieged.
TN: I loved that film.
KW: Why did you decide to make your second comedy in a row with Run, Fatboy, Run?
TN: Well, I made Norbit, but I still felt that I hadn’t really been involved in a comedy in terms of having the experience of just witnessing comedians at work. Norbit just felt a little claustrophobic. It didn’t have the kind of freedom or camaraderie that I thought a comedy should have. And I was keen to work in England, as I always have been, because my children go to school there. Plus, I’ve been a fan of Simon Pegg’s for a number of years. I love the work that he’s done with Nick Frost, like Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. And I just got a sense of [director] David Schwimmer as a really well-rounded, decent guy from when he did a play with a friend of mine, Saffron Burrows. I like working with first-time directors because it’s often a risk well worth taking. And I loved the material. So, it was fun!
KW: One of the things I love about this film is that it’s hard to pigeonhole.
TN: I feel the same way. It’s not a romantic comedy. It’s not a straight drama. It feels much more true to life than a formulaic comedy. But I also think that Simon has great timing and a unique kind of humor, reminiscent of Peter Sellers or Jack Lemmon. He reminds me of those old school comedians whose brands of humor were much more authentically a part of their personality, not anything generic. Simon’s is a combination of physical, creative and intelligent. His other gift is that he can move from a strongly comedic moment to one of complete earnestness which draws you in much more. Ordinarily, comedy is a detachment from feeling where you turn something into a joke instead of express how you really feel. That kind of protects you from being the one with an opinion, if you know what I mean.
KW: Right.
TN: But Simon can get right into earnest emotion very easily, so the comedy almost allows for the sentiments to go deeper. I think he’s unique in that respect. In England, it’s been a while since we’ve found someone who could cross over and be an international success in movies. And I just think Simon’s it.
KW: I think you’re obviously “it” too. I felt that your performance in Crash was pivotal, and providing that Oscar-winning Best Picture with its most riveting and social significant moment by far. That’s why I said you deserved an Oscar for it.
TN: Well, there were a large number of very strong performances that year. I don’t know, ever since Beloved was snubbed by the industry, and not taken seriously in that respect, I don’t feel impassioned with either joy or sadness by getting or not getting accolades. It’s not part of the way that I value myself.
KW: I also think that many of the challenging, iconoclastic characters that you’ve played, in films like Beloved and Besieged and Crash, aren’t the types of roles ordinarily recognized by the Oscars.
TN: The thing about all of those roles, and The Pursuit of Happyness, as well, is that they make people uncomfortable, because it goes right to the marrow of the truth. That is not a popular place to be. With Beloved, it wasn’t popular to take the lid off denial. But I like to put myself in that area of discomfort, because that’s what truly reveals the essence of what we really are, those areas that you’d rather ignore and get away from. They’re the ones that I just want to stare at as long as I can. So, I don’t mind, even though the Oscar has become the absolute benchmark for filmmaking talent. I think we can sort of promote ourselves as individuals. If we feel privileged to witness a great performance, then that in itself is enough to feel validated.
KW: I agree. Plus, the job that you do as a mother is far more important than acting.
TN: It is and it isn’t though, Kam, because the truth is that if you want to be a movie star, you’ve got to work at it. But I’ve found that in order to ensure longevity, it’s better to avoid the highs and lows of success. It’s sort of like surfing where if you stay in the middle of a wave, you’re going to stick around longer. But if you get into the dizzying heights, you’ve got to maintain, and that’s a tough thing to do. I‘ve got two kids, so I’m quite happy to stay on in the middle, burning my light a bit brighter here and there. But I love what I do.
KW: The Tao teaches that both the very heights and the very bottom are to be avoided.
TN: I think that’s true, but I’ll get the old Oscar for all of us one day.
KW: I’m sure. Given that you have a parent from Africa, and one who’s white, I’d love to hear what you think of Barack Obama’s candidacy.
TN: I think that it’s wonderful for America to have these rich choices in whom they vote for. It feels like there’s evolution happening right in front of us. And I don’t think it’s just about America but an international vote for life to have these exciting choices available. Once a pick has been made, what’s important is to commit to the changes that these people actually want to put in place. I think that how Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama or anyone else is going to benefit the country is far more complex than the color of their skin or their gender. So, in a way, it’s been a distraction from what’s truly necessary which is to get in there and make real changes.
KW: I’ve read that you were born in England, and also that you were born in Africa. Which is correct?
TN: I was born in London during a brief trip back from Africa which is where we all lived at the time.
KW: How do you think growing up in Africa and England, and having both a black and a white parent has shaped you?
TN: Oh, God, that would be an hour-long answer to your question. It provided challenges which have made me who I am…It provided great wealth in terms of having this great-colored skin, and looking exotic, and different. However, it also made for a very lonely disposition as a child, at times. Being an outsider has its good and its bad. There’s a ying and yang to all of it. Having to negotiate that kind of winding road has made me much more inquisitive about psychology, and interested in investigating myself and the parameters that people set up around themselves and others. It’s a privilege, in a way, to have had to question my identity. By virtue of being unconventional, I was exploring that from a very young age. And I feel glad about that. But by the same token, if I hadn’t had the strength of character and some real pluses, like getting involved in the arts, for example, where differences can be celebrated, I could have been a very depressed, a very closeted, and a very unhappy person. But I see these challenges and negative experiences as gifts, at least I do now, anyway. [Laughs] So, I’ve been showered with gifts, and I’m glad of that. Life is about being uncomfortable and about how we deal with those areas of discomfort. I’m sorry I’m not answering your question, but it’s such a gigantic question, and one that I can’t answer briefly.
KW: No, this was an excellent answer, given our time constraints. Another thing I really liked about Run, Fatboy, Run was its colorblind casting.
TN: I love that not one journalist has questioned my son in the movie looking so light. In real life, I have one blonde child, and one dark-haired child. One of my daughters is olive-skinned, like me, and my other is very pale-skinned. Their faces are similar, but they have different coloring. 30 or 40 years ago, it would have been noted, and someone would’ve complained, saying, “She couldn’t have a kid that color.” So, I do love that the casting hasn’t been questioned in England [where it opened last September] and I’m interested in seeing how it is accepted in the United States. I wonder whether black audiences will want to see the movie.
KW: I certainly hope so, not only because it’s very funny, but to support colorblind casting and the idea that you can have you and Simon Pegg paired in a romantic comedy without skin color having to be the theme. So, I’m asking all my readers to support it.
TN: You do it, Kam!
KW: Bookworm Troy Johnson was wondering what’s the last book you read?
TN: Oh my Lord! What was the last book I read? Oh, it was a book by my friend, Justine Picardie, called Daphne. It’s about Daphne du Maurier and the Bronte family.
KW: Lastly. are you ever afraid?
TN: No.
KW: Well, thanks again for the interview, Thandie, and best of luck in the future.
TN: Thanks you so much. Take care, bye!

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Run, Fatboy, Run

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Groom with Cold Feet Seeks Second Chance in British Sitcom

On what was supposed to have been their wedding day, Dennis (Simon Pegg) bolted from the church at the last minute, leaving his pregnant fiancée, Libby (Thandie Newton), standing at the altar. It seems that the reluctant groom had developed cold feet because he didn’t think he deserved a girl that gorgeous, given that he’s an overweight, chain-smoking slacker.
But now, five years later, he wants a second chance because he’s still in love with Libby and realizes the error of his ways. However, that will be easier said than done, since she’s presently involved with Whit (Hank Azaria), a filthy rich hedge fund manager who wants to marry her, too.
What’s worse, the debonair American has plans to whisk his ex away from London to Chicago which means Dennis won’t get to see much of their four year-old son, Jake (Matthew Fenton). Furthermore, there are signs that the boy has already begun to bond with his father’s competitor who has a more easygoing nature.
So, in his mind, Dennis feels that he has to prove himself Whit’s equal both to win Libby’s heart and the admiration of his child. Trouble is, he can’t begin compete in terms of money and career, since he’s a lowly-paid security guard at a lowly clothing store and is behind on paying the rent on his modest basement apartment.
Then, when he learns at Libby’s birthday party that Whit will be running in the upcoming London Marathon, Dennis impulsively announces that he’ll be entering the race as well. Woefully out of shape, he knows he’ll have to adopt a rigorous training regimen just to finish, let alone prevail.
Will Dennis beat Whit in the Nike River Run along the Thames River? And if so, will that feat be enough to impress Libby and little Jake? Those are the questions posed by the premise of Run, Fatboy, Run, a romantic comedy which marks the impressive directorial debut of David Schwimmer, best known as Ross from the long-running NBC series “Friends.”
His hard to pigeonhole picture pairs the delightful Thandie Newton with cult favorite Simon Pegg, star of such offbeat adventures as Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. Most of the jokes come at the expense of Pegg’s character via a combination of the comedian’s trademark slapstick, sight gags and self-effacing humor. But like the best of British sitcoms, ala Notting Hill and Four Weddings and a Funeral, the film also features inspired performances by members of the ensemble’s talented supporting cast, most notably, Dylan Moran as Dennis’ loyal buddy, Gordon, and Harish Patel as his meddlesome landlord, Mr. Ghoshdashtidar.
Dividing its attention equally between the love triangle and overcoming-the-odds theme, Run, Fatboy, Run is well enough crafted to keep you in stitches while on the edge of your seat for the duration, even if this laff-a-minute escape is more mindless than cerebral. Does Dennis get Libby and his son in the end? That would be unfair to divulge, given the completely unpredictable resolutions of some of Mr. Pegg’s prior productions.

Excellent (3.5 stars)
Rated PG-13 for crude humor, profanity, sexuality, nudity and smoking.
Running time: 97 minutes
Studio: Picturehouse

Meet the Browns

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Struggling Single-Mom Seeks Salvation in Tyler Perry’s Latest Morality Play

Tyler Perry has his finger on the pulse when it comes to entertaining an African-American audience in an uplifting fashion which resonates as real with that target demographic. And Meet the Browns is no exception, this being the latest in a string of the prolific playwright-turned-film director’s screen adaptations of a popular stage production.
His modern morality plays invariably touch on timely themes of urgent concern to the black community, though their messages might generally be delivered in conjunction with healthy doses of side-splitting humor. But where Perry himself has generally played a lead role, bringing the comic relief by cross-dressing as the sassy senior citizen Madea, this time, he merely makes a cameo appearance in drag instead opting to introduce a few new equally-colorful characters.
The picture explores such universal themes as abandonment, trust, faith and redemption on its way to resolving the challenges facing Brenda (Angela Bassett), a single-mother of three who’s been struggling to provide for her family while living in the projects on the south side of Chicago. At the point of departure, we find her barely surviving paycheck-to-paycheck with no safety net to fall back on, and having to choose between paying her bills and putting food on the table.
We learn that this sorry state of affairs is due to her being burdened with raising her kids without child support from any of their fathers. She soon bottoms-out when she loses her job the same day she learns of the death in Georgia of the father she never knew.
Fortunately, she heeds the advice of her best friend Cheryl (Sofia Vergara), a loudmouthed Latina who puts Brenda and her brood on a bus in time to attend the funeral. Once they arrive in the tiny Southern town, not only do they “Meet the Browns,” the long-lost, if flamboyant relatives they never knew they had, but also a knight in shining armor in Harry (Rick Fox), a basketball scout. Handsome Harry is a Houdini who has the answer to their every problem, if only the thrice-burnt Brenda will let her guard down long enough to allow this good man to sign her high school phenom son (Lance Gross) to a pro contract, to buy them a house and to ask for her hand in marriage.
In the interim, the movie devotes plenty of time to getting acquainted with the Browns, as clownish a clan as you could hope to meet, starting with Leroy, an egg-head with the most garish wardrobe imaginable. Then there’s his morbidly obese daughter Cora (Tamela Mann), and the shrewish Vera (Jenifer Lewis), a witch with nothing nice to say about anybody. Kudos to a supporting cast which includes Margaret Avery, Frankie Faison, Lamman Rucker and Irma P. Hall
As the plot winds its way inexorably towards its very predictable payoff, it comes as no surprise that rather than hang around her embarrassing kin, Brenda starts to entertain the advances of her perfect gentleman suitor. Too laced with silly slapstick to measure up to the best of Tyler Perry’s previous offerings, yet still hilarious in spots and ultimately satisfying enough to be well worth watching.

Very Good (3 stars)
PG-13 for profanity, violence, mature themes, sexual references and drug use.
Running time: 100 minutes
Studio: Lions Gate Films

Friday, March 21, 2008

Jimmy Carter, Man from Plains DVD

Jimmy Carter, Man from Plains
DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: DVD Defends President Carter’s Controversial Stance on Israel

In 2006, Jimmy Carter wrote Palestine: Peace, Not Apartheid, a best seller questioning Israel commitment to peace in the Middle East, given its erecting a wall and passing laws restricting the movements of Arabs. The former President acknowledges that the blowback from the book has hurt, because he has been called a “liar,” a “coward” and an “anti-Semite.”
He says that he’s tough and can take the criticism, but he regrets that rather than addressing the issues, “the debate has degenerated into an ad hominem attack on my character.” Perhaps for this reason, Oscar-winning director Jonathan Demme (for Silence of the Lambs) decided to make this bio-pic which does its best to restore some luster to the image of its stigmatized subject.
For there is much to admire about this Nobel Peace Prize-winner, including his work all over the world with Habitat for Humanity on behalf of the homeless. We also learn that he donated land to black families in his native Plains, Georgia for a church, and that his life was substantially shaped by his African-American nanny who raised him, Rachael Clark.
Still, this movie focuses mostly on the Palestinian question, and Carter does not budge in his stance that the United States’ news media coverage is unfairly slant in favor of Israel. The film has been cobbled from archival footage of appearances on TV talks shows hosted by the likes of Wolf Blitzer, Charlie Rose, Larry King and Tavis Smiley.
While Smiley adopts a slightly empathetic stance, most of the interviewers, here, are circumspect, if not outright adversarial, asking questions like, “Why do you hate Jews?” Harvard Professor Alan Dershowitz turns out to be Carter’s most impassioned detractor, playing a tape of a quote taken out of context during which the ex-President refers to the “so-called Holocaust.”
Even-handed in tone, this enlightening and thought-provoking documentary is proof-positive that Israel is likely to remain a very sensitive topic of conversation easily capable of triggering controversy.

Excellent (4 stars)
Rated PG for mature themes and brief disturbing images.
Running time: 126 minutes
Studio: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
DVD Deleted scenes, exclusive interviews, plus a commentary with Rosario Dawson and the director.

Showstoppers DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Sister Sorors Get Their Chance to Step Dance in Degrading DVD

A Year Ago, Stomp the Yard, a movie about step dancing competitions among African-American fraternities, was a surprising #1 hit at the box office. In Showstoppers, we have a similarly-themed straight-to-DVD adventure starring Tamala Jones, Clifton Powell and Dorian Gregory. But instead of revolving around brothers’ routines, this flick showcases the choreography of sisters in sororities.
The story is set at the mythical Virginia National District University, where the pat plot pits Destiny (Faune Chambers) against Pam (Angell Conwell) in a bitter rivalry to lead Lambda to the National Step Championship Competition. And a sexy sidebar has Destiny torn between dating a player (Fredro Starr) and nice guy Fabian (Bryce Wilson).
Unfortunately, the execution of the story leaves a lot to be desired. The script is laced with degrading jokes in which the women teasing each other about having nappy hair, and for being “ragheads,” “tramps” and “skanks.” Since Don Imus’ disgusting remarks about the young women on the Rutgers Basketball team, this sort of humor falls flat, even when coming from the mouths of African-Americans.
Even worse than the dialogue is the dancing, especially in the film’s finale, a sloppily-staged showdown against cross-town rival Virginia Downs University. This take the money and run production looks more like a college student project than a completed full-length feature which deserved to be released.
Stomp the DVD!

Poor (0 stars)
Running time: 95 minutes
Studio: Warner Home Video
DVD Extras: A documentary about the more than two million African-American women who are currently members of sororities.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

War Made Easy DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Expose’ of Military-Industrial Complex Comes to DVD

In 2006, Norman Solomon published an incendiary best-seller which indicted the Military-Industrial Complex for its employment of perception management techniques to manipulate the public into reflexively supporting the seemingly neverending series of American conflicts from Korea thru Vietnam and clear up to the current occupation of Iraq. Solomon’s thesis was that in each case the Department of Defense simultaneously mounted a massive propaganda campaign in order to manufacture consent for another war of aggression.
Narrated by Sean Penn, Solomon’s thought-provoking book has now been brought to DVD as an equally-unsettling expose’ entitled War Made Easy. Meticulously-researched, the documentary effectively illustrates an assortment of parallels between the rationales offered for the U.S. interventions in Southeast Asia in the Sixties and the Middle East in the wake of 9/11.
But most chilling are the film’s reams of recent file footage showing how virtually all of the mass media eagerly beat the war drums on behalf of the Bush Administration in anticipation of the invasion of Iraq. For instance, there’s a scene featuring ABC’s Ted Koppel embedded with coalition troops somewhere in the desert where he muses, “I’ve been thinking of something appropriate to say,” and pauses momentarily before exhorting the soldiers’ bloodlust with, “Wreak havoc and unleash the dogs of war!”
By contrast, Phil Donahue, whose talk show was canceled due to his questioning America’s motives at the time, was like a lone voice in the wilderness on the network TV airwaves. Meanwhile the rest of his colleagues can be seen here simply parroting patriotic claptrap claiming that the impending bombing of Baghdad was honorable because it was all in the name of such abstract notions as “freedom” and “democracy.”
Killing for peace as analagous to fornicating for virginity.

Excellent (4 stars)
Running time: 72 minutes
Studio: The Disinformation Company

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 28, 2008


21 (PG-13 for violence, sexuality and partial nudity) Vegas casino caper recalls the real-life exploits of a quintet of card-counting MIT students who, with the help of their math professor (Kevin Spacey), beat the house for millions in winnings. Cast includes Kate Bosworth, Laurence Fishburne, Jim Sturgess and Aaron Yoo.

Run, Fatboy, Run (PG-13 for crude humor, profanity, sexuality, nudity and smoking) David Schwimmer makes an impressive directorial debut with this romantic comedy about a chubby loser (Simon Pegg) looking for a second chance to impress the ex-fiancée (Thandie Newton) he’d abandoned at the altar on their wedding day five years ago after getting cold feet because she was pregnant. Supporting cast includes Hank Azaria, Harish Patel and India de Beaufort.

Stop Loss (R for graphic violence and pervasive profanity) Iraq War saga about the emotional toll exacted on an honorably-disharged veteran (Ryan Phillippe) and his family when he is ordered by the Army to return to Baghdad for another tour of duty. With Rob Brown, Channing Tatum and Ciaran Hinds.

Superhero Movie (PG-13 for profanity, sexuality, crude humor, slapstick violence and drug references) Leslie Nielsen, Tracy Morgan and Pamela Anderson are among the large ensemble cast in this parody of the superhero genre which satirizes a host of comic book screen adaptations including Fantastic Four, X-Men, Spider-Man and Batman.


Alexandra (Unrated) Man’s inhumanity to man is the theme of this introspective road flick revolving around an elderly Russian woman’s (Galina Vishnevskaya) visit to the army base in Chechnya where her grandson’s (Vasily Shevtsov) battle-hardened unit is stationed. (In Russian and Chechen with subtitles)

American Zombie (Unrated) Horror comedy, directed by Grace Lee (The Grace Lee Project) chronicles the efforts of a couple of filmmakers (John Solomon and Grace Lee) to document the challenging daily lives of four zombies facing discrimination in Los Angeles.

Backseat (Unrated) Buddy road comedy revolving around the male-bonding opportunity afforded when a couple of thirty-something slackers (Robert Bogue and Josh Alexander) opt to drive from NYC to Montreal to try to meet actor Donald Sutherland.

Chapter 27 (R for profanity and sexuality) Grim drama reconstructs events unfolding in the life of assassin Mark David Chapman (Jared Leto) in the days leading up to the killing of John Lennon (Mark Lindsay Chapman). With Lindsay Lohan as an obsessed Beatle fan, Mariko Takai as Yoko, Judah Friedlander as Paul, and Lauren Milberger as Gilda Ratner.

The Cool School (Unrated) Beat Generation documentary revisits the rise of California‘s “Cool School” of modern artists who emerged in the Fifties with the help of the legendary Ferus Gallery in Los Angeles.

Flawless (PG-13 for brief profanity) Crime caper, set in London in 1960, about a disgruntled executive (Demi Moore) at a diamond importer who is enlisted by the company’s about-to-retire janitor (Michael Caine) in a scheme to steal a cache of priceless jewels from their employer.

My Brother Is an Only Child (Unrated) Something must have gotten lost in the translation of the oxymoronic title of this dysfunctional family comedy, set in rural Italy in the Sixties, chronicling the relationship of two siblings, one (Elio Germano), a neo-Fascist, the other (Ricardo Scamarcio), a Communist Party organizer. (In Italian with subtitles)

Priceless (PG-13 for nudity and sexuality) Audrey Tautou stars in this French farce as a scheming gold digger in search of a wealthy sugar daddy who seduces a shy bartender (Gad Elmaleh), mistakenly believing him to be a multi-millionaire. (In French with subtitles)

Shotgun Series (PG-13 for violence, mature themes and brief profanity) The death of a patriarch who fathered seven sons with a couple of different women sparks a bloody family feud between his two warring strains of heirs in this Shakespearean tragedy set amidst the cotton fields of a sleepy, Southern Arkansas town.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Love Songs (Les Chansons d’Amour) FRENCH

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Parisian Drama Features Daring Game of Musical Beds

Julie (ludivine Sagnier) and Ismael (Louis Garrel) are a young Parisian couple stuck in a relationship which has seemingly lost its spark. So, to spice things up, they invite Alice (Clotilde Hesme), an attractive bisexual, to share their bed. However, this arrangement works out more for the frisky females who focus on each other sexually while teasing Ismael about being the world’s worst lover and a mini-Jew who isn’t circumcised.
He deals with the situation by breaking into song, something most of the characters in this amusing musical are prone to do periodically in lieu of dealing with their emotional issues in a meaningful manner. In fact, there’s a marked contrast between the storyline’s sobering themes, and the relatively lighthearted show tunes, a baker’s dozen in all, being belted out by various performers.
The plot thickens when tragedy strikes leaving Alice and Ismael unexpectedly alone. After she dumps him for another guy (Yannick Renier), he entertains the idea of going gay for the dude’s seductive brother (Gergoire Leprince Ringuet). Will he or won’t me? That’s the pressing question expected to keep you on the edge of your seat for the duration of Love Songs, the latest offering from Christian Honore.
While this flick fails to measure up to either of Honores’ last two pictures, Dans Paris or Ma Mere, the overambitious project still earns an A for effort, if only a D for execution. The film’s glaring flaw rests with the tameness of the goings-on with precious little in the way of titillation ever making its way to the screen, given all the shameless coupling and uncoupling.
.Why make a movie about bohemian swingers, if all you’re going to serve up is the French equivalent of a Broadway musical?

Good (2 stars)
In French with subtitles.
Running time: 95 minutes
Studio: IFC Films and Red Envelope Entertainment

Planet B-Boy

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Evolution of Breakdancing Examined by Electrifying Documentary

Back in the Seventies, when black and Latino teenagers from the Bronx first began gyrating wildly and spinning on their heads on pieces of cardboard to hip-hop beats emanating from thudding boom-boxes, I doubt if anybody expected the street fad to last. But breakdancing has not only flourished, but it has spread around the planet like wildfire, finding even greater acceptance in Europe, Asia, Africa and the Middle East than in its birthplace.
Over the years, the mesmerizing choreography has become increasingly complex, incorporating eye-popping acrobat feats into its gravity-defying routines. Today, it really ought to be an Olympic sport, since it has spawned numerous competitions, most notably, the “Battle of the Year” which features elimination rounds in 23 countries en route to the big finale.
With breakdancing now mainstream, it only makes sense for it to be the subject of its own documentary, rather than remain a cinematic sidebar seen in snippets the way it was briefly featured in flicks such as Flashdance or Zoolander.. Directed by Asian-American Benson Lee, Planet B-Boy is a joyous celebration which traces the history of freestyling while simultaneously showcasing the talents and personal lives of some modern-day practitioners coming from places as diverse as Korea, France, Germany and Japan.
An exhilarating homage which deservedly elevates the rubber-limbed performers to the level of world-class gymnasts. And to think that this internationally-embraced dance form was started somewhere in the ghetto by a poor kid with nothing more than a radio and an unbridled passion for self-expression.

Excellent (3.5 stars)
Running time: 95 minutes
Studio: Elephant Eye Films

Irina Palm

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Desperate Widow Turns to Prostitution to Pay Grandson’s Medical Bills

Marianne Faithful was a Sixties sensation made famous by her hit single As Tears Go By, a song written for her by the Rolling Stones’ Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. While dating Jagger for several years, she experimented with drugs and eventually became addicted to heroin.
A tragic casualty of the hippie era, she became anorexic, developed laryngitis, lost custody of her son, declared bankruptcy, became homeless and essentially disappeared from the radar by the mid-Seventies. Now, this diva who had been reduced pretty much to a trivia curiosity makes a triumphant return playing the title role as Maggie, aka Irina Palm, the name she adopts while secretly employed at a whorehouse in London.
As a frumpy, overweight member of the geriatric set, Irina isn’t exactly what most johns are looking for when they come to a bordello. Luckily, her clients don’t want to see who they are having sex with. No, they pay to stick their privates through a hole in the wall in order to be satisfied by the hands of whoever happens to be on duty on the other side.
To be honest, the movie is not as salacious as it might sound, as it is less about the goings-on inside the house of ill repute than about what drove Maggie to the world’s oldest profession. Turns out she has a seriously-ill grandson (Corey Burke) in need of a life-saving operation, and his parents simply don’t have the money to pay for the operation.
Desperate times call for desperate measures, so this suburban granny starts leading a double-life to raise the cash. Maggie’s predicament is complicated when her alter ego Irina proves to be one of the more popular “girls” in the club. Meanwhile, she increasingly finds herself the subject of gossip among her suspicious neighbors.
Will she be outed before she makes enough moolah to retire? Or might she not even decide to quit? At heart, this intriguing character study poses the ethical question whether what would ordinarily be considered reprehensible behavior can become acceptable when done for altruistic reasons.
A thought-provoking drama, which arrives in a timely fashion, given these dire days of skyrocketing medical costs and a governor caught consorting with high-priced call girls.

Very Good (3 stars)
Rated R for nudity, sexuality and profanity.
Running time: 103 minutes
Studio: Strand Releasing

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Heartbeat Detector (La Question Humaine) FRENCH

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Corporate Psychologist Troubled by Company’s Possible Nazi Past in
Interminable Social Satire

Simon Kessler (Mathieu Amalric) is the staff psychologist working in the Human Resources Department of the French subsidiary of SC Farb, a German petrochemical corporation. His job description involves employee selection with the aim of amassing an army of “highly competitive subalterns.”
However, when it appears that the company’s CEO, Mathias Just (Michael Lonsdale), has begun behaving erratically, the managing director (Jean-Pierre Kalfon) asks the shrink to psychoanalyze their boss. His delicate assignment is to determine whether the aging captain of industry still has the mental capacity to continue running the multi-national operation.
Since this is to be done surreptitiously, Simon resorts to an elaborate ruse insinuating himself so as not to arouse anyone’s suspicion. Eventually, after a very loooooong lead-in, he finds evidence linking Just to unspeakable crimes committed by the Nazis during World War II.
So unfolds the tortoise-paced Heartbeat Detector, a fatally-flawed film which, unfortunately, takes forever to get around to addressing those shocking revelations. Instead, director Nicolas Klotz first devotes over an hour to distracting intimations of office hanky-panky while substituting what looks like surrealistic improv and interpretive dance for plot development.
If the movie was trying to make any thought-provoking social statements bemoaning a corporate philosophy which has minions marching in lockstep or comparing modern business mores to the Holocaust, those allusions were uncovered in far too deliberate a fashion for this critic to appreciate. For by the time the message finally arrived, I had long since been turned off by its overindulgence in inscrutable asides.
A cinematic flatliner that was dead on arrival.

Fair (1 star)
In French with subtitles.
Running time: 141 minutes
Studio: New Yorker Films

Standing Tall: A Memoir of Tragedy and Triumph

by C. Vivian Stringer
Crown Publishers
Hardcover, $24.95
304 pages
ISBN: 978-0-307-40609-5

Book Review by Kam Williams

“As much as I love basketball… it has always been a vehicle for me to instill values and self-respect in the girls I coach… I am the last stop before the young women I coach take their place in society, and it is a responsibility I take seriously. My goal is to give them the confidence to dream big and the skills to overcome any challenges they face, whether it’s under the basket or in the boardroom.
For thirty years, my mission has been to create the next generation of leaders… My hope is that they will come to share my fundamental and unshakable faith: that each and every one of us has the ability to triumph in the face of adversity, to lift ourselves up and succeed, no matter what trials we encounter. It is a faith that has been tested many times in my own life.” -- Excerpted from the Introduction (pages 2)

When Don Imus referred to the young women on the Rutgers University Basketball Team as “nappy headed-hos” a year ago, it deeply affected their coach, Vivian Stringer. As she relates in her heartbreaking autobiography, she “couldn’t shake the feeling that I had fallen down in my responsibility to protect these girls.”
So, a couple of weeks later, with the media fallout still building in intensity, she called a press conference and then a meeting with Imus in defense of her student athletes who should’ve been celebrated instead of humiliated after their surprising run to the NCAA Championship game. What almost nobody knew is that while Stringer was in the limelight last April, she was also privately ecovering from breast cancer at the time. On top of that, her mother suffered a stroke in the midst of the unfortunate controversy.
Sadly, this was not the first time that Coach Stringer had been tested in this fashion. In 1981, her one year-old daughter Nina’s spinal meningitis had been misdiagnosed by a pediatrician as a common cold. Consequently, the baby would never be able to walk or talk. Then, in her early forties, Stringer was widowed when her husband died unexpectedly, leaving her to raise their three kids alone.
These are just a few of the host of woes visited upon the legendary college coach over the course of a terribly tragic life marked by a seemingly neverending series of tests of faith which reads a lot like the Biblical tale of Job. Poignantly written without a whit of bitterness, Standing Tall is as moving a memoir as I ever remember reading. The tears started flowing from the first page and didn’t stop till I finished the book.
Priceless pearls of emotional wisdom from a real role model eminently worth emulating.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Rick Fox: The Meet the Browns Interview

with Kam Williams

Headline: Rick Fox: Fair and Balanced

Ulrich Alexander Fox was born in Toronto on July 24, 1969 but raised in the Bahamas by his Italian-Canadian mother and father from the Caribbean. At the age of 13, Rick decided to pursue his passion for basketball, and moved to Indiana, since the Hoosier State is so closely associated with the sport.
After high school, he went on to play for four years at North Carolina under the tutelage of the legendary Dean Smith. That apprenticeship served Fox well, as he ended up being the first round draft pick of the Boston Celtics in the 1991 pro draft. The 6’7” forward went on to spend 13 seasons in the NBA, enjoying a storybook career which included a trio of championship rings with the Los Angeles Lakers.
And his private life proved to be just as much of a fairytale, when he eloped with former Miss America Vanessa Williams in 1999. Although the union would not last, it did at least produce an adorable daughter, Sasha who is now 7, and an enduring friendship.
So, between sharing custody and Rick’s enjoying a recurring role as her character’s bodyguard on her hit TV-show, Ugly Betty, the couple has remained on good terms. He also has a son, Kyle, with his college sweetheart, Kari Hillsman.
Since retiring from the NBA in 2004, Fox has turned his attention to acting full-time, appearing in such television series as Love, Inc., One Tree Hill and Dirt, where he played a homosexual on the down-low. Now, on the big screen, he’s landed a breakout lead role opposite Angela Bassett in Meet the Browns, Tyler Perry’s new movie.
Here, Rick reflects on his new movie, the NBA, the NCAAs, Vanessa, fatherhood, Obama and being bi-racial.

KW: Rick, thanks for the privilege of a few minutes with you.
RF: No, my pleasure, man.
KW: What was it like working with Tyler Perry, my pick as the best black director of 2007?
RF: Being a writer/director, Tyler is very hands-on, and very graciously allowed me to play a character he could have played himself. I’m grateful that he entrusted me with the role, and gave me a big opportunity in the process. And having watched his work, and now actually having worked with him during the process of shooting this movie, personally, I don’t think there’s a more dedicated person when it comes to storytelling and having his message delivered to his audience. He’s obviously been tirelessly working for a number of years on the stage, as well as in movies and on TV, and I love his humble approach of consistently challenging himself and wanting to get better as a director.
KW: What would you say is the message of Meet the Browns?
RF: I think that with all of Tyler’s movies, there’s definitely a sense of faith and hope that there’s something greater than ourselves that is out there in terms of support. This particular one deals with a single mother who’s facing a lot of challenges in her life, and who has maybe lost hope that there’s any support out there for her. She finds it in the South in her family that she didn’t even know, along with a man who’s trying to move through his own personal struggles. And on the love relationship side of this, they both step out of their fears of beginning again to each other. So, I think it’s just a message of faith and hope that, regardless of the circumstances you find yourself in, there’s still more out there for you, as long as you continue to push through.
KW: Landing the lead role of Harry is really a breakout opportunity for you. Were you at all awed by the challenge of acting opposite Angela Bassett?
RF: Oh, totally. [Chuckles] There’s definitely a long line of deserving and more talented individuals who are waiting to work with a talent such as Angela. But having taken my hands off the wheel a long time ago, and not thinking I’m controlling this path in life, I was blessed to be in this situation. I was definitely in awe for a period of time, but it’s like getting thrown into the deep end of the ocean. Eventually, you have to start swimming. [Laughs]
KW: So, how was it working with her?
RF: She really was like a life preserver out there for me. She was not only gracious and open, but teaching and sharing.
KW: I like how Tyler is so gifted at creating characters who resonate as recognizably real.
RF: Yeah, Angela and I experienced our characters that way as we continued talking to Tyler and worked through his vision of them and the message that he wanted to bring. There was a certain truth and realism that we wanted to have evolve out of the story. And it was easy to find as we went along, because his voice just rang through so passionately and so clearly.
KW: I have to talk a little about basketball with you, given the Lakers’ resurgence and that Carolina is the favorite to win the NCAA Tournament. I wonder how many people know that as a teenager you played basketball in Indiana. Were you named the state’s Mr. Basketball while in high school?
RF: I was close, runner-up, but I did learn how to play the game there.
KW: Well, you certainly led a charmed life after that, playing at Carolina, being drafted by the Celtics, and then winning three championships Lakers. What was that like?
RF: Honestly, I couldn’t have scripted it any better. To have come from a small island in the Bahamas and to experience all of this is definitely a plan greater than my own imagination. I’ve learned to just accept the blessings and thank God for them, even here where I find myself working with Tyler after he nearly ran me over by accident with his car on Sunset Boulevard. I’d never met him before that incident and shortly thereafter we’re discussing a role in one of his movies. Serendipity seems to be a theme in my life in a lot of ways.
KW: And you married Miss America, too. I interviewed Vanessa for the first time last year and I was just so impressed with how grounded, sane and intelligent she was.
RF: Well, I’d have to say that I definitely have to credit being married to Vanessa with any growth I’ve had in the course of my life. We’re still close friends, sharing and having conversations about our lives and raising our daughter together. She’s been very influential in helping me grow as a friend and former husband. I appreciate and value that so much because, like I said, she’s been a huge reason why I’ve made great strides.
KW: Will your character, Dwayne, remain on her TV-show Ugly Betty long-term?
RF: We’ll have to see. I know I’m still there, alive and kicking for now.
KW: Who are you picking in the NCAA tournament? I’m just about to fill out my brackets and could use a little help. Let me guess, your alma mater, Carolina?
RF: [Laughs] Yeah, what was that, a stab in the dark?
KW: And who do you like to win the NBA championship? Let me guess, the Lakers, even though they lost to Houston which is on a helluva roll.
RF: Well, I’d like for them to get healthier, that’s for sure. And then they’d have a really good chance of creating that Eighties and early Nineties run that their fans got quite used to enjoying, including the Celtics-Lakers rivalry.
KW: “Realtor to the Stars” Jimmy Bayan was curious about where in L.A. you live.
RF: I live in Westwood, in UCLA country.
KW: And bookworm Troy Johnson was wondering: What was the last book you read?
RF: I’m reading a great one right now by John Truby called The Anatomy of Story. But the last one I finished was A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle.
KW: The Columbus Short question: Would you describe yourself as happy?
RF: Am I happy? I’m very happy, yeah.
KW: Is there a question nobody asks you, that you wish somebody would?
RF: Wow, I love that question. That’s a good one. I think I’d regret throwing out an answer to that one without giving it some thought. That’s a powerful question, man.
KW: I’ll ask you that next time. Who are you supporting for president?
RF: Being Bahamian, and having lived here all my life, I’d have to say that I recognize the historical ramifications of a Democratic change, whether it’s a woman or a black man. Personally, I would like to see Obama win, but I don’t think we would lose as long as either of those Democrats wins.
KW: Since you have a black father and a white mother, do you think you might have a special insight into Obama?
RF: Yeah, though I haven’t read his book, I definitely connected with the way he was raised, like I have with a lot of friends who are bi-racial and looking for a way to effect change in general. I’ve known some who’ve felt that the hope for the future of the world rests with the views of kids who’ve grown up in bi-racial marriages. There’s a tolerance that you see in folks who’ve experienced both sides, in some cases many sides, and come from multicultural backgrounds. Their perspective is not so polarizing in a black and white way.
KW: How do you deal with the fact that you have both a black and white background, yet when you walk down the street, people see you as only black?
RF: That doesn’t bother me. I have a comfort zone in whatever setting I’m in. People might perceive it as being naïve, but even when I was the only black kid in high school, I never saw myself as anything but a human being trying to get an education. In the NBA, it was interesting watching the reactions of fans or coaches when my dad would come to visit me. They’d be shocked because he was dark-skinned. Then, they’d see my mom who was as white as the beaches in the Bahamas. It was always intriguing to watch the reactions. My teammates were much more comfortable than some of my coaches when my mother showed up. The different reactions gave me an insight about how various people viewed the world. But, personally, I found myself in the middle and was always comfortable, regardless.
KW: Because you were just you, and your parents are you parents, I suppose.
RF: Yeah, it’s like how Eckhart Tolle discusses in that book, A New Earth. He talks about how people lose the experience of taking-in a human, a bird, a flower or a tree because they’re living on the superficial level of labels. Instead of really stopping to take-in a person fully, they take in the label. I think that what I was blessed with by being raised in a bi-racial family is that I took in people and things as I experienced them as opposed to saying that’s a black man, that’s a white man or that’s an Asian man.
KW: I thought it was pretty moving after the South Carolina primary when the Obama supporters started chanting “Race doesn’t matter!”
RF: There can’t help but be more and more change, because more and more people have grown up around an interracial relationship. From that standpoint, it’s no longer such a rarity in this society, where most people, just a generation before wouldn’t even consider entering one, out of fear.
KW: What’s up next for you?
RF: Spending quality time with my son and my daughter during Spring Break is my focus right now.
KW: Well, Rick, thanks again for the time, and hope to speak to you again soon.
RF: Wonderful. Thank you.

Funny Games

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Naomi Watts Wasted in English Language Remake of German Snuff Flick

Obviously, director Michael Haneke wasn’t satisfied merely with having made Funny Games in German for the kinky S&M enthusiasts in his native Deutschland. No, he was apparently so self-impressed with his disturbing snuff flick that he had to shoot a virtually-identical, English-language version, ala Gus Van Sant’s scene-for-scene, line-for-line remake of Psycho.
But while that Hitchcock classic may have been very worthy of an homage, Funny Games is just a disturbing headscratcher likely to leave an audience feeling more abused than entertained, and also wondering how an Oscar-nominated actress of the caliber of Naomi Watts (for 21 Grams) ever agreed to the project. Equally-ponderous is the question of why it ever got greenlighted in Hollywood in the first place
Nonetheless, the picture has been released in theaters, which makes it my job to warn you of the morally-objectionable content of this inappropriately titled indulgence in bloodlust. For Funny Games has nothing to do with either fun or games, unless you consider lingering scenes of bondage, torture, animal cruelty, splatter, sexual assault and eroticized violence fun and games. If there were truth in advertising, its title would be Gruesome Murders.
This whodunit might best be described as an endurance test during which the director all but directly dares you to walk out of the theater. For instance, he’ll have his villains occasionally break the proverbial fourth wall to comment on their latest diabolical deed. And on one occasion, he even lets a creep rewind a fight scene to change the outcome.
Superficially, the set-up reads like a stock plotline ripped right out of the psychological thriller script book. As the film unfolds, we find the Farber family, Anne (Watts), George (Tim Roth) and George, Jr. (Devon Gearheart) on their way to spending their summer vacation at their sprawling country estate which shares a lake in an upscale community comprised of the idle rich.
Before they get a chance to settle into the house there’s a knock, and the Mrs. is asked by an overly-polite, handsome young stranger (Brady Corbet) if he might borrow a few eggs for their next-door neighbor, Mrs. Thompson. Despite his manners, there’s something odd about Peter, and it’s not just the fact that he’s wearing white gloves.
He creates diversions for a few minutes until his pal Paul (Michael Pitt), also clad in white gloves, arrives and finds further excuses to dilly-dally. When asked to leave, the rude pair finally informs the Farbers that they’re being kidnapped, and apparently for kicks.
The preppy psychopaths then proceed to kill the dog, break George’s kneecap with a golf club, make Anne strip naked in front of her son, and worse. Without divulging any specific subsequent developments, let me say that, at this juncture, the movie defies convention and degenerates into further displays of anti-social behavior, sadly sans consequences for the crooks.
Naomi Watts might want to fire her agent for attaching her to this infuriating fiasco. Walk-out bad.

Poor (0 stars)
Rated R for terror, partial nudity, profanity graphic gore and eroticized violence.
Running time: 107 minutes
Studio: Warner Independent

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Enchanted DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Fairy Tale Comes to Life in Instant Disney Classic

Giselle (Amy Adams) is a budding young beauty who lives in Andalusia, a magical, animated kingdom where humans and the rest of God’s creatures sing and dance together in a perfectly peaceful coexistence. Her simple dream that one day her prince will come is all but realized when she and handsome, if half-witted Edward (James Marsden) cross paths in the forest and fall in love at first sight.
However, after the heir apparent asks for her hand in marriage, his evil stepmother, Queen Narissa (Susan Sarandon), intervenes and throws a monkey wrench into the works. She’s reluctant to relinquish the throne, so she casts a spell which teleports Giselle to a parallel universe known as New York City.
Not only does the fresh-faced idealist suddenly find herself in an unfamiliar world where everybody is made of flesh and blood and no longer cartoons, but she also has to adjust to an unforgiving environment where people are likely to exploit her innocence. Thus, Giselle, lost and like a fish out of water on the streets of Manhattan, is very lucky to make friends with Robert Philip (Patrick Dempsey), a hard-nosed divorce attorney who is jaded about relationships.
The sympathetic, single-dad offers the doe-eyed stranger a place to stay, and brings her home to meet his daughter, Morgan (Rachel Covey), a development which doesn’t sit well with his girlfriend, Nancy (Idina Menzel). Meanwhile, the plot soon thickens since Prince Edward has made his way from Andalusia to America in search of his banished bride.
The pivotal question eventually arises whether, when found, Giselle will opt to marry him and return to her idyllic homeland, or if she might now be inclined to stay, provided she can convince the cynical lawyer to give happily ever after a chance. Chock full of intriguing twists and turns, plus many memorable musical numbers, Enchanted is a pleasant escape that’s fun for young and old.
All the fixins for an instant Disney family classic!

Excellent (4 stars)
Rated PG for scary images and mild sexual innuendo.
Running time: 107 minutes
Studio: Walt Disney Home Entertainment
DVD Extras: Deleted scenes, bloopers, plus a couple of featurettes


Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Team of Specialists Sent to Quarantined Scotland in Post-Apocalyptic Sci-Fi Adventure

Neil Marshall’s previous movie, The Descent, a harrowing horror flick which kept you on the edge of your seat, was good enough to earn the #6 spot on my 10 Best List for 2006. So, excuse me for expecting more from his latest offering than a sloppily-edited rehash of sci-fi clichés which look like they were thoughtlessly slapped together by Edward Scissorhands. But that’s exactly what we have in Doomsday, a soulless rip-off which shamelessly recreates a host of memorable scenes from such post-apocalyptic adventures as Resident Evil, Mad Max, 28 Days, Escape from New York, I Am Legend and others.
The story is set in Great Britain in 2035, a quarter century after the deadly Reaper Virus had contaminated Scotland and turned most of its citizens into a race of cannibalistic zombies. This led to the entire country’s being quarantined behind a giant wall, a precaution which was thought to have worked, at least until the new outbreak that has just been discovered in London.
Urgently in need of an antidote lest he lose England to the scourge, too, Prime Minister Hatcher (Alexander Siddiq) decides to dispatch a rescue squad over the wall to retrieve Dr. Kane (Malcolm McDowell), a scientist who stayed behind to try to develop a vaccine. He’s rumored to have succeeded, since there are still some Scots not infected.
When ordered to send in his best man for the job, Police Chief Nelson (Bob Hoskins) taps a woman, Eden Sinclair (Rhona Mitra), a cool, calm and collected gunslinger every bit as attractive, as she is fearless. She proceeds to lead a hand-picked team of crack commandos into an unrecognizable Scotland which has degenerated into a lawless, desolate environment. The landscape is swarming with gangs ranging from omnivorous ghouls feasting on barbecued human flesh to big-breasted biker chicks with major attitudes to neo-Native Americans with Mohawks and war paint to skull-and-cross boned creeps who look like they wandered in from an Oakland Raider tailgate party.
How these foreign groups have invaded, formed and flourished in the of absence of any infrastructure is never adequately explained, since there’s no time for anything but slaughtering wave after wave of each successive thundering herd. Forget about trying to follow the preposterous plotline, unless you want to laugh.
There are only two reasons to recommend Doomsday. One, that the token black character, Norton (Adrian Lester), doesn’t die first, the only surprise in a flick riddled from start to finish with shopworn screen conventions. Second, Rhona Mitra, the mixed East Indian and British actress, is pleasant to watch playing the invincible heroine, even if in service of a dreadful script.
Still, Neil Marshall should be ashamed for foisting such a disappointing follow-up to The Descent on his fans. For this lame excuse of a movie is an insult to the intelligence of anyone with an I.Q. anywhere above cretin.

Poor (0 stars)
Rated R for profanity, nudity, sexuality and graphic violence.
Running time: 105 minutes
Studio: Rogue Pictures

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Love in the Time of Cholera DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Adaptation of Marquez Masterpiece Steamy but Still Unsatisfying

Compromises are in order whenever a novel is being made into a movie, especially a 368-page saga spanning 50 years, which is the case with this literary classic by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. It is expected that in condensing this imaginative tale of unrequited love into a film some central characters, major themes and pivotal events might have to be conflated, distilled or eliminated entirely in service of the cinematic medium.
However, director Mike Newell had an additional challenge to confront for in interpreting the book’s magical realism, a style of prose marked by plotlines grounded in reality offset by surreal flights of fancy. Unfortunately, Newell’s relatively-mundane overhaul fails to reflect any of the original work’s fusion of the everyday with the otherworldly. The upshot is that, excised of its evocative aspects, Love in the Time of Cholera lacks charm and reads about the same as your typical romance novel with a hunky Fabio look-a-like splashed across the cover.
The story is set in the City of Cartagena, Marquez’s hometown, and revolves around a classic love triangle. This flashback flick’s practical point of departure is 1879, which is when lowly clerk Florentino (Javier Bardem) first encounters Fermina (Giovanna Mezzogiomo), a blooming beauty with a wealthy, overprotective father (John Leguizamo).
Despite the object of his affection’s initial indifference, Florentino professes his undying devotion, and proceeds to wear the poor girl down with his persistencer. Soon, the two start swapping notes and sharing stolen moments together till her mean daddy catches wind of their puppy love liaison.
He forces Fermina to end her fling with Florentino and then pressures her into marrying wealthy Dr. Juvenal Urbino (Benjamin Bratt). But not even the Urbinos moving overseas can discourage our pigheaded protagonist from impatiently awaiting, for decades on end, the return of the woman he’s convinced was really meant for him.
Regrettably, this sorry interpretation of Marquez, substituting serial coupling and uncoupling and gratuitous nudity for spirituality, merely reduces his masterpiece into little more than a titillating, superficial soap opera.

Fair (1 star)
Rated R for sexuality, nudity and brief profanity.
Running time: 138 minutes
Studio: New Line Home Entertainment
DVD Extras: Alternate and deleted scenes with optional commentary, a theatrical trailer, director’s audio commentary, plus “The Making of” documentary