Wednesday, April 30, 2008


Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Sixties Revisited in Steamy Satire of Sleazy Sexploits

The Sixties gave rise to a practically plot-free form of sexploitation film which amounted to little more than a lame excuse to have curvy coeds cavort across the screen in assorted states of undress. Perhaps the king of this sleazy genre was Russ Meyer a purveyor of low-budget smut with suggestive titles such as “Eve and the Handyman,” “Naked Camera,” “Erotica,” “Wild Gals of the Naked West,” “Europe in the Raw,” “Heavenly Bodies,” “Skyscrapers and Brassieres,” and “Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill!”
Viva pays homage to that sordid chapter in the annals of cinema in much the same way that Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez recently tipped their director’s caps to cheapo scary movies from the Fifties with their nostalgic double feature “Grindhouse.” The picture is the brainchild of Anna Biller, who not only wrote and directed her alternately hilarious and hedonistic adventure, but stars in it as well.
The story is set in Los Angeles in 1972, which is where we find perky best friends Barbi (Biller) and Sheila (Bridget Brno), bored suburban housewives stuck in stale, unsatisfying marriages. Not long past the point of departure, the former is left by her husband, Rick (Chad England), while the latter and her hubby (Jared Sanford) agree to go their separate ways.
This gives the curious girls free rein to indulge their every sexual fantasy, from swinging to orgies to nudism to free love to prostitution. What’s best about Viva is the way in which the production faithfully conforms to the sensibilities of the aforementioned skin flicks, except perhaps for adding an anachronistic dash of refreshing female empowerment to the mix.
Otherwise, our exhibitionistic heroines incessantly involve themselves in nearly naked antics against a campy backdrop of appropriately gaudy color schemes reminiscent of the period. With the kinky action underscored by an appropriately seedy, soft-porn soundtrack, it all adds up to a trippy, tongue-in-cheek peep show.

Excellent (3.5 stars)
Running time: 120 minutes
Studio: Anna Biller Productions

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Breaking Free: My Life with Dissociative Identity Disorder

Breaking Free:
My Life with Dissociative Identity Disorder
by Herschel Walker
with Gary Brozek and Charlene Maxfield
Foreword by Dr. Jerry Mungadze
Touchstone Books
Hardcover, $24.95
256 pages
ISBN: 978-1-4165-3748-9

Book Review by Kam Williams

“For most of my life, from childhood onward, I had a form of mental illness that enabled me to be simultaneously a fierce competitor…and a quiet unassuming man who let his actions do the talking. When I was diagnosed with Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) shortly after I ended my playing career, I wasn’t certain if what I was being told about myself was true…
When my doctors explained to me that I had developed other personalities (aka “alters”) to help me cope with and survive the pain, alienation, and abuse I experienced as a child and adolescent, I was skeptical.
This book… is a part of my coming to terms with this diagnosis... I want to be sure that readers understand how difficult this is for me [because] I wasn’t aware of the multiple personalities who existed in my mind… I now understand that there may have been as many as twelve distinct alters enabling me to cope with my reality.”
Excerpted from the Author’s note (pages xiv-xv)

In 1982, Herschel Walker won the Heisman Trophy for being the best college football player in the country while only a junior at the University of Georgia. The gifted running back then left school early to turn pro, going on to enjoy gridiron greatness during a 15-year career, first in the fledgling USFL, and then in the NFL.
What neither Herschel or anyone else around him knew, however, was that he’d been suffering since childhood from Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), what is commonly referred to in layman’s terms as multiple personalities. With 20-20 hindsight, this helps explains how he could be so brutally violent on the football field, yet behave like a pussycat away from the game.
But after he retired from the sport, he found it harder and harder to integrate his assorted personas, presumably because he no longer had an outlet for his more aggressive and anti-social alter-egos. As a result, he bottomed-out by not only cheating on but putting a loaded gun to the temple of Cindy, his college sweetheart and wife of 16 years. That ruined the marriage, and the couple divorced, agreeing to share custody of their son, Christian.
Fortunately, Herschel sought out therapy for his inexplicable mood swings, and was eventually diagnosed as having DID by Dr. Jerry Mungadze. Apparently, experts disagree about whether the disease really exists, especially since it seems to affect only people in North America.
Nonetheless, in Breaking Free: My Life with Dissociative Identity Disorder, Walker claims his affliction was triggered by the stress from being teased as a child for stuttering and being fat. But I would hazard a guess that even a casual reader of this revealing autobiography would wonder why he doesn’t pin the blame on an incident he witnessed at the age of six when one of his friends was carted off by noose-wielding Ku Klux Klansmen in sheets.
I suspect that perhaps it was either the influence of his shrink or his two collaborators on the book which led Herschel to play down the near lynching. Regardless, the memoir is worthwhile for the shockingly-honest look it offers inside the troubled mind of a revered sports icon.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Keyshia Cole: The Way It Is… (Season Two) DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: BET’s #1 Rated Reality Series Released on DVD

Picture a cross between The Beverly Hillbillies and Jerry Spitzer and you have a good idea of what to expect from Keyshia Cole: The Way It Is, the highest rated series on the BET Network. The popular reality show offers viewers an unblinking look inside the dysfunctional family life of Keyshia Cole, the Grammy-nominated R&B diva who burst on the scene in 2005 with her platinum-selling debut album, also entitled The Way It Is.
There’s a reason why this TV program is #1 with viewers, namely, it appeals to an even lower common denominator than I Love New York and The Flavor of Love combined. The only reason to watch this jaw-dropping train wreck is if you enjoy laughing at trashy nouveau riche putting on airs while making absolute fools of themselves.
Keyshia’s kin are so impulsive, ignorant and self-destructive that giving them their 15 minutes of fame in this fashion borders on a cruel form of exploitation. First, there’s family matriarch, Frankie, a toothless, reformed crack whore and recently-paroled ex-con with seven children by lots of different men. (“We don’t like none of her Baby Daddies.”) She has no idea whether Ken, a stranger claiming to be Keyshia’s father, is telling the truth, so she asks him to take a DNA test.
Then there’s sister Neffe, an alcoholic with three young daughters. She’s married, technically, but her hubby left her for her first cousin a year ago. At the start of the series’ second season, Keyshia essentially rescues her relatives by relocating them away from their toxic environment in Oakland to a sprawling mansion in suburban Atlanta.
But bad habits die hard, despite unequivocal house rules, such as “no conjugal visits.” So, it is no surprise when Neffe somehow ends up pregnant again. Too bad kindhearted Keyshia can’t bring herself to listen to her financial advisor who suggests that she worry about herself and forget about everyone else.
Slumming for couch potatoes!

Excellent (4 stars)
Running time: 154 minutes
Studio: BET/Paramount Home Entertainment
DVD Extras: Deleted scenes, plus two featurettes, “Frankie Reveals” and “Meet Keyshia’s Glam Squad.”

Zoë Saldana: The Blackout/Vantage Point Interview

with Kam Williams

Headline: Zooming in on Zoë

Zoë Yadira Zaldaña Nazario was born in New Jersey on June 19, 1978, but raised in Queens till her father died in a car accident when she was ten. At that point, her immigrant mother moved the family back to the Dominican Republic where Zoe enrolled in an elite ballet academy.
She returned to America for her junior year of high school, which is when she developed an interest in acting, although she also had to take a part-time job at Burger King. After making a well-received screen debut in a Center Stage, a ballet-driven ensemble drama, Zoe landed lead roles opposite the likes of Kirsten Dunst in Get Over It, Britney Spears in Crossroads, Nick Cannon in Drumline, Tom Hanks in The Terminal, Johnny Depp in Pirates of the Caribbean and Bernie Mac in Guess Who.
Here, the rising young star shares her thoughts about Blackout, Vantage Point and some of her upcoming films.

KW: Hey, Zoë, thanks so much for the time.
ZS: Of course, absolutely!
KW: What interested you in Blackout and in playing Claudine?
ZS: Well, as a New Yorker, I’d been there during the blackout. So, when I read Jerry’s [writer/director Jerry LaMothe] script, I just felt like it was pretty much right on with all the things that had happened. And it felt like a grounded script where the characters were very real and tangible. The story between Claudine and James itself, about two people trying to make it work after being left traumatized by 9/11, and experiencing setbacks, seemed so normal to me. So, it felt really good.
KW: What was it like for you during the actual Blackout of 2003?
ZS: I was caught with my entire family in the City [Manhattan], and the girls and I were going to go on like a spa day, and all of a sudden everything just turned off. We were uptown, at like 55th and Park, and we had to walk from there all the way to Forest Hills. It was kinda crazy.
KW: What do you see as the basic idea behind Blackout?
ZS: It was inspired by real events that happened, so it’s designed to show how people deal with pressure in different ways. How some people just break, some take advantage of other human beings, and others are helpful and become completely sympathetic to the less fortunate.
KW: Would you consider Center Stage as your breakout film?
ZS: Well, it was my first movie. It gave me a taste of what it was I could be doing in this business. And I really saw myself doing it, and I kinda liked it.
KW: How did so many great roles immediately start coming to you one after the other in blockbusters like Drumline, Pirates of the Caribbean, The Terminal and Guess Who?
ZS: I think it’s a combination of having a good team behind you, fighting for you, and continuing working on your craft. I like to study, even when I’m not preparing for a role. I think it’s very important. It just keeps you on your toes.
KW: I think even some of your smaller movies, like Premium have been great. I thought that was a charming little love story.
ZS: I’m glad you liked it.
KW: How did you enjoy making Vantage Point surrounded by such a stellar cast?
ZS: What do you think? I was blown away by [director] Pete Travis and by the opportunity to work with all these amazing actors, primarily Forest [Whitaker], William Hurt, Dennis Quaid and Sigourney Weaver. But I was so looking forward to working with this director after seeing a film he did called Omagh. I was so impressed with his touch, how he’s able to make things feel so real without altering anything.
KW: Yes, I loved Omagh, a very moving Irish film about the aftermath of an IRA bombing. I gave it four stars. I see that you’ll be playing Lieutenant Uhura in the next Star Trek movie. Did you discuss the role with Nichelle Nichols, the actress who originated the role?
ZS: Yes, I did meet her, and I was so humbled to have met such an icon. She’s an amazing woman and a strong human being. That was very interesting, as was working with Leonard Nimoy [the original Mr. Spock]. I felt like the entire cast and myself were honored to be filling in the shoes of the original [Starship] Enterprise [cast]. We really hope we don’t disappoint.
KW: Given all the loyal Trekkies, I’d guess that you’ve got a guaranteed hit on your hands. What about The Skeptic which you made with Tom Arnold?
ZS: Oh, yes, that was fun. I made that almost three years ago. I kinda wish for the movie to come out, but we’re still keeping our fingers crossed.
KW: You’ve worked with Spielberg in the past, and now you’re working with another Oscar-winning director, James Cameron, in Avatar. Are you in the process of filming that one now?
ZS: We actually filmed it all last year, and yes, we’re going to come back and do some pick up shots later on this Spring. But it’s going marvelously. He such an amazing director. It’s been a great experience.
KW: Do you still make your home in New York or have you moved to Los Angeles?
ZS: I live in L.A. now.
KW: Where in L.A. do you live?
ZS: [Giggles] I’d rather not say.
KW: Nosy Jimmy Bayan, “Realtor to the Stars” wants to know just the general neighborhood.
ZS: I’m a very private person. You know that. I live in an area where there are too many New Yorkers, and I’m so happy about that.
KW: Can you still go to the mall or the movie theater like a regular person?
ZS: Of course I can.
KW: The Columbus Short question: Would you describe yourself as happy?
ZS: Yeah. I like that question.
KW: Well, thanks again for the interview. I’ve loved your work thusfar, and I’m eager to see what’s in store.
ZS: Thank you so much. Have a good day.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Baby Mama

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Barren Businesswoman Seeks Services of Surrogate Mom in Fish-Out-of-Water Comedy

Despite proudly rising to the rank of Vice President of Development at Round Earth, a growing chain of organic supermarkets, Kate Holbrook (Tina Fey) isn’t totally emotionally fulfilled. It’s readily apparent that the 37 year-old workaholic’s successful career has come at a considerable personal cost.
For she now hears her biological clock ticking and is desperate to start a family, although she doesn’t even have a man in her life. To top it all off, she’s just learned from her gynecologist that she only has a one-in-a-million chance of becoming pregnant anyway.
Fearing that she might never have that kid she craves, Kate decides to enlist the assistance of Chaffee Bicknell (Sigourney Weaver), the owner of Philadelphia’s most reputable surrogate mother service. And after receiving adequate assurances that the agency has the perfect candidate lined up, she pays the $100,000 fee to have her fertilized eggs implanted in the womb of Angie Ostrowiski (Amy Poehler).
Then, after receiving word that her supposedly model surrogate is, in fact, pregnant, Kate starts preparing for the impending arrival of her little bundle of joy by reading all the right childcare books and by baby-proofing her apartment. Soon, however, when Angie shows up at the door unannounced needing a place to live, the truth about her begins to emerge.
Turns out that she isn’t happily married as billed, but has just broken up with her slacker boyfriend, Carl (Dax Shepard). Relatively-refined Kate lets Angie move in and belatedly gets to know the gum-snapping, fast-food junkie carrying her infant.
The ensuing yuppie-meets-blue collar tensions which arise provide the bulk of the yucks in Baby Mama, a fish-out-of-water comedy marking the directorial debut of Michael McCullers. The film pits Saturday Night Live’s Amy Poehler against the show’s former star/head writer Tina Fey in a surprisingly-subdued, estrogen-fueled class war.
The picture’s only weakness is that the pair’s antics pale in comparison to those exhibited by the low-class trash you can find making fools of themselves any day of the week on the average episode of the Jerry Springer Show. Amy’s lame portrayal of Angie proves to be an unconvincing example of art imitating life, so consequently, Baby Mama is a flick without any real baby mama drama.
Gratefully, this deficiency is slightly offset by several inspired performances sprinkled among a stellar supporting cast, including Steve Martin as Barry, Kate’s aging hippie boss; Greg Kinnear as her love interest; Romany Malco as her affable doorman; and Maura Tierney, as her concerned sister. Still, about the best that can be said for this formulaic, instantly-forgettable romp is that it’s above average for an SNL alum vehicle.

Very Good (2.5 stars)
Rated PG-13 for profanity, sexuality, crude humor and a drug reference.
Running time: 99 minutes
Studio: Universal Pictures

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Sleazy Sequel Pales in Comparison to Laff-a-Minute Original

When Harold (John Cho) and Kumar (Kal Penn) burst onto the screen four years ago, we found the nerdy stoners careening all across the State of New Jersey in a weed-fueled haze on a munchies-craving quest to find a White Castle restaurant which was open all night. That irreverent road flick was a laff-a-minute riot funny enough to land on this critic’s Ten Best List for 2004.

Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for Harold & Kumar 2, a pointless downer which fails to measure up to the first either in terms of humor or taste. This is an excellent case study in a sequel’s simply increasing the sleaze factor while pay scant attention to virtually every other aspect of the production.

The picture’s troubles start with the replacement of director Danny Leiner with a pair of first-timers, John Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg. While Messrs. Hurwitz and Schlossberg did create the title characters and write the script for the original, they were very obviously in over their proverbial heads in taking on this new challenge.

Against their better judgment, they opted to skimp in terms of the casting, failing to ask such seasoned comics as Anthony Anderson, Fred Willard, Jamie Kennedy and Bobby Lee, and veteran crowd pleasers like Ryan Reynolds and Luis Guzman to reprise their roles. Another flaw lies in their editing which fails to replicate the first adventure’s madcap pace, almost as if they expect the production to pass muster on the strength of the screenplay alone.

But these haphazardly cobbled together skits prove to be less than compelling. Consequently, Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay reads like little more than just a really raunchy variation on Cheech and Chong.

At the point of departure we find the pot-loving protagonists boarding a plane for Amsterdam where they plan to imbibe legally while looking for Maria (Paula Garces), the heartthrob Harold has been admiring from afar. However, when Kumar impatiently decides to get high in the bathroom, an already suspicious passenger mistakes his bong for a bomb.

So, he and Harold are immediately subdued by federal air marshals who figure them for Al Qaida and North Korean terrorists working in concert. They are then shipped off to the infamous Guantanamo Prison, though they make a break for it when forced to fellate their guards. And the chase is on.

Next, they make their way back to the U.S. with the help of a boatload of Cuban refugees, and the balance of the practically-pointless plot puts the freewheeling fugitives in a series of sordid situations dreamt up by the mind of a demented degenerate. The humiliation endured by our hapless heroes ranges from finding goat poop on a pillow to having ejaculation shot into a face to being urinated on by Ku Klux Klansmen to something called a cock meat sandwich.

The film also features prolonged male and female full frontal nudity, a President Bush impersonator smoking weed and that Neil Patrick Harris (aka Doogie Howser) in another cameo.

A crass, classic, take-the-money-and-run ripoff which squanders a golden opportunity to make a statement about racial profiling, the Patriot Act and the Geneva Conventions in favor of serving up a mindless teensploit laced with shockingly-graphic images.

Fair (1 star)

Rated R for profanity, male and female frontal nudity, ethnic slurs, sexuality, crude humor, and drug and alcohol abuse.

Running time: 102 minutes

Studio: New Line Cinema

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (Le Scaphandre et le Papillon) DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: DVD Features Adaptation of Stroke Victim’s Memoir

On December 9, 1995, Jean-Dominique Bauby (1952-1997) suffered a massive stroke which left him in a coma for three weeks. When he regained consciousness, he was completely paralyzed except for being able to blink his left eye.

At the time of the devastating disaster, the freewheeling, 43 year-old editor-in-chief of Elle Magazine (played by Mathieu Amalric) had left his wife (Emmanuelle Seigner) and three kids for the arms of a mistress (Agatha de la Fontaine) who would abandon him soon after his accident. So, it’s no surprise, then, that this unfortunate soul would soon be consumed by both self pity and overwhelming regret.

This is the dire point of departure of The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, a bittersweet bio-pic based on Bauby’s inspirational memoir of the same name. We see that with the support of very dedicated physical (Olatz Lopez Garmendia) and speech (Marie-Josee Croze) therapists, and the encouragement of Claude (Anne Consigny), the woman who dutifully recorded his dictation, he was helped to transcend his seemingly hopelessly straits and to write a best seller about his feelings and fantasies.

To convey Bauby’s mental metamorphosis cinematically, the movie cleverly widens its visual perspective from narrowly reflecting his physical limitations to one allowing for an assortment of conventional camera angles.

By initially relying on this cinematic device, director Julian Schnabel conveys all the more effectively the plight of the protagonist post-transformation.

Recalled by life, and egged on by his support team, Jean-Dominique discovers that he still has access to cherished memories and a boundless imagination, and so he pours himself into the project with abandon. Unfortunately, he only lived just long enough to see the book published, as he passed away a few days after its release.

The Sea Inside meets My Left Foot.

Excellent (3.5 stars)

Rated PG-13 for nudity, sexuality and some profanity.

In French and English with subtitles.

Running time: 112 minutes

Studio: Buena Visa Home Entertainment

DVD Extras: Director Julian Schnabel’s commentary and interview with Charlie Rose, “The Making of” featurette and more.

Wetlands Preserved DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Rockumentary about Green NYC Nightclub Released on DVD

In 1989, Larry and Laura Bloch opened Wetlands Preserve in a rat-infested dive on Hudson Street in lower Manhattan. What made the groundbreaking nightclub different from others in the seedy section of the city was its eco-friendly orientation and commitment to activist causes ranging from the environment to animal rights. Reviving the spirit of the Sixties’ Woodstock Generation, the Blochs set an anti-corporate social agenda which put people and the planet before profits.

As a result of the owners seeing humans as more than objects to be exploited, the unorthodox rock club cultivated a counter-cultural clientele while also attracting an eclectic array of performers. Regulars included Blues Traveler, Macy Gray, Dave Matthews Band, Phish, Erykah Badu, Branford Marsalis, Pearl Jam, Hootie & the Blowfish, Jill Scott, Spin Doctors and The Roots. In addition, Wetlands served as a proving ground for up-and-coming unknown bands like Screaming Headless Torsos and The Murder Junkies.

Over the dozen years the place was in business, a portion of its nightly proceeds were donated to various groups aligned with its progressive ideas. Unfortunately, the popular haunt began to slide into a decline when it was targeted for harassment by the Giuliani Administration. During that reign of terror known as “zero tolerance,” the club was ticketed for the slightest of transgressions, even receiving a $50 summons for each poster placed around town by acts booked to appear.

The coup de grace was delivered on 9/11, when the terrorist attack on the nearby World Trade Center altered the landscape of and access to the neighborhood. Part nostalgic remembrance, part rebellious rallying cry, Wetlands Preserved is a fitting tribute to those intrepid souls who dared to try to carve out an altruistic utopian escape right in the midst of the hustle and bustle of a most materialistic metropolis.

Excellent (3.5 stars)


Running time: 97 minutes

Studio: First Run Features

DVD Extras: Outtakes, two live jam performances at the club, photo gallery and a list of everyone who ever played at the club.

How She Move DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Preppie Returns to Ghetto Roots in Dance Drama Out on DVD

Raya Green’s (Rutina Wesley) dreams of becoming a doctor seem to be dashed when her elder sister dies of a drug overdose. Sadly, the tragedy leaves her overworked West Indian parents so strapped financially that they can no longer afford their surviving daughter’s prep school tuition.

This means Raya will have to return home and attend the local public high school. Worse, she’ll have to try to survive the streets of the same crime-infested neighborhood that took her sibling’s life.

Back in the ‘hood, Raya puts her ambitions on hold temporarily and focuses more on fitting-in than on excelling, so she won’t be ostracized as an egghead. However, when she’s exposed for dumbing herself down at the blackboard by her math teacher, her punishment is to tutor a truly struggling classmate twice a week after hours.

Trouble is, like oil and water, the personalities of hard-edged Michelle (Tre Armstrong) and relatively-refined Raya don’t mix. What’s worse, Michelle doesn’t appreciate it when the newcomer suddenly starts hanging out with her “Step” crowd.

Rava’s curiosity about the elaborately-orchestrated dance routines was piqued when she learned about the upcoming Step Monster Competition with a $50,000 grand prize. She figures that if she can find a team that will allow her to join, she just might win the seed money to get her out of the ghetto again.

Although its premise might sound suspiciously similar to that of Stomp the Yard, How She Move is superior in almost every way, especially in terms of character development, chemistry and choreography.

Be prepared to root for Raya for the duration of this satisfying saga, as she sheds tears, studies and stomps her way to the big stage, all while handling an array of pressing teen dilemmas in a refreshingly intelligent fashion for an inner city melodrama.

Excellent (4 stars)

Rated PG-13 for profanity, sexuality and drug use.

Running time: 91 minutes

Studio: Paramount Home Entertainment

DVD Extras: Three behind-the-scenes featurettes and a theatrical trailer.


Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Career of Modern Classical Composer Revisited by Reverential Retrospective

I first became aware of Philip Glass when I saw Koyaanisqatsi (1982), the otherwise silent cinematic tribute to nature for which he wrote the perfect score. Now in his seventies, this master modern classical composer remains as driven as ever to crank out his experimental operas, symphonies, movie and dance scores and more.

This eponymous bio-pic exposes the man to be a recluse who compulsively divides his time between music and meditation, which might not be a problem except for the fact that he has a couple of young kids with his fourth wife, Holly Critchlow, a cutie pie who’s about half his age. She has a meltdown about midway through the movie over the realization that they want different things out of life.

It seems that she’d like for him to be more involved with the family, while he can’t pull himself away from the piano and sheet music, which are obviously not merely his passion but serve as his therapy as well. At least the couple have a summer home in Nova Scotia, so the children don’t have to stay cooped up in an apartment in New York City, although even while on vacation, their daddy continues to work non-stop.

We do learn that, once a year, he takes a day off for an annual trek to Coney Island to ride the Cyclone, the ancient amusement park’s mammoth roller coaster. We also see that like a lot of self-absorbed geniuses, he’s given to eccentric (hates overhead lighting) and misanthropic (could careless whether he’s appreciated) tendencies. This means he’s adamant about using desk and table lamps and is perfectly content if those who don’t like his music pass on it and go listen to someone else.

Too bad he just can’t spare sufficient quality time to satisfy his offspring and troubled spouse. An intimate peek into an elite mind, warts and all.

Very Good (2.5 stars)


Running time: 112 minutes

Studio: Koch Lorber Films

Wednesday, April 23, 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 May 2, 2008


Iron Man (PG-13 for intense sci-fi violence and brief suggestive content) Screen adaptation of the Marvel Comics series features Robert Downey, Jr. in the title role as a billionaire industrialist/genius inventor turned crime-fighting superhero intent on saving the planet from evil villains bent on world domination. Cast includes Gwyneth Paltrow, Terrence Howard, Samuel L. Jackson and Hilary Swank, with a cameo by the character’s creator, the legendary Stan Lee.

Made of Honor (PG-13 for profanity and sexuality) Romantic comedy about the predicament of a womanizing bachelor (Patrick Dempsey) who decides to propose to his platonic best friend and confidante (Michelle Monaghan) only to have her return from a European business trip already engaged to a rich Scotsman (Kevin McKidd). With Kelly Clarkson, Sydney Pollack and Kadeem Hardison.


The Favor (Unrated) Bittersweet drama about a lonely photographer (Frank Wood) who rekindles a romance with the recently-divorced childhood sweetheart (Paige Turco) he hasn’t seen in 25 years only to end up raising her troubled teenage son (Ryan Donowho) alone after she suddenly dies in a car accident.

Fugitive Pieces (R for sexuality) WWII flashback flick, adapted from Anne Michaels’ novel of the same name, chronicles the harrowing tale of survival of a Polish boy (Stephen Dillane) who escapes to Canada by way of Greece after witnessing the slaughter of his parents at the hands of the Nazis.

Hollywood Chinese (Unrated) Documentary examines cinematic portrayals of Asian-Americans from the Silent Film era to the present, revealing Hollywood’s disgraceful history of stereotypes and discrimination.

Mister Lonely (Unrated) Offbeat comedy about a Michael Jackson impersonator (Diego Luna) working in Paris who is invited by a Marilyn Monroe look-alike (Samantha Morton) to move into a seaside Scottish castle with her and a host of other celebrity wannabes, including Charlie Chaplin, Madonna, the Pope, the Queen of England, Abraham Lincoln, James Dean, Shirley Temple, Sammy Davis, Jr., Little Red Riding Hood and the Three Stooges. Cast includes magician David Blaine and director Werner Herzog.

Redbelt (R for profanity) David Mamet directs this martial arts saga about an honorable jiu-jitsu master (Chiwetel Ejiofor) who finds himself losing face when forced by financial circumstances to go on the prize-fighting circuit reluctantly in order to pay off his debts. Ensemble cast includes Emily Mortimer, Tim Allen, Joe Mantegna, Rebecca Pidgeon, Alice Braga and Ricky Jay.

Son of Rambow (PG-13 for violence and reckless behavior) Coming-of-age comedy, set in England in the Eighties, about a fatherless boy (Bill Wilner) raised in an Amish-like religious cult who decides to serve as a stunt man in a home movie made by a worldly-wise school bully (Lee Poulter) after being exposed to a pirated copy of Rambo.

Viva (Unrated) Anna Biller wrote, directed and handles the title role of this salacious satire of soft porn, set in the Seventies, revolving around the kinky exploits a couple of bored suburban housewives who opt to join the Sexual Revolution by experimenting with an array of swinging bohemian lifestyles.

XXY (Unrated) Uruguayan melodrama about a sexually-ambiguous 15 year-old hermaphrodite (Ines Efron) who faces some serious psychological and medical questions with the help of her parents (Ricardo Darin and Valeria Bertuchelli) and a plastic surgeon (German Palacio). (In Spanish with subtitles)

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Without the King

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: The Misadventures of Mswati in Swaziland

King Mswati III is a benevolent despot ruling the tiny African nation of Swaziland with a velvet-gloved iron fist. This last absolute monarch on the continent governs just about the only sub-Saharan country somehow untouched by civil war or ethnic cleansing over the last 30 years. In contrast to such war-torn lands as Uganda, Rwanda, Congo, Liberia, Sierra Leone and The Sudan, Swaziland has enjoyed a relatively-peaceful existence.
This, despite the fact that its citizens have a 42% AIDS rate and the world’s lowest life expectancy at 31. Plus, most of the population has to survive on about 63 cents a day, and are thus very dependent on donations from international charities just to survive.
Meanwhile, the royal family lives in the lap of luxury, starting with the king. He has 14 wives, and picks another new one to add to his harem from the 75,000 topless young virgins participating in the annual Reed Dance, a weeklong celebration of chastity.
He also owns 7 palaces, a fleet of luxury cars, the media and sugar industries, and most of the developed real estate. Plus, he has $45 billion stashed away in a Swiss bank for safekeeping. Political parties are banned in Swaziland, so the miserable plight of the people isn’t about to change any time soon in the absence of a revolution.
Besides Mswati, the film focuses on the decadent behavior of his spoiled-rotten eldest child, an airhead attending college in California. Well aware of the exploitation of her father’s subjects, this future queen sarcastically appraises the situation shortly before the curtain comes down, vaguely promising to make some changes while rolling her eyes.
We’re supposed to buy the idea that the Swazis will be saved by Africa’s answer to Paris Hilton? Yeah, right. Proof-positive that despotism and decadence comes in all colors.

Excellent (4 stars)
In English and Siswati with subtitles.
Running time: 84 minutes
Studio: First Run Features

American Bullfighter DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Overweight American Alcoholic Finds Redemption via Bullfighting

Alex Lemay was born in Indiana but raised in Spain where his father, Albert, taught as a college professor. Consequently, as a child, instead of going to baseball games with his dad, he accompanied him to the bull ring, to enjoy that country’s national pastime.
By the time he was an adult, Alex had moved back to America but had already developed a sad Spanish soul. He saw less and less of his father, eventually bottoming out back in Barcelona at the age of 34.
Rudderless, overweight and an alcoholic, he entered rehab to try to turn his life around. Then, after being sober for several months, he decided to return to the bullring, not as a spectator, but as a matador.
The idea was to prove something not only to himself but to get the respect of his dad. So, Alex enrolled in a bullfighting academy designed to whip novices into suave toreadors capable of hypnotizing mammoth savage beasts with little more than a red cape and several well-placed swords.
Listen, as an animal lover, I have some serious reservations about a bio-pic conveniently downplaying the abuse aspects of this death-defying so-called bloodsport, especially when an “Ugly American” is using it as a means of male-bonding. However, because of the deep cultural roots of bullfighting in Spain and Latin America and because Albert was terminally ill at the time, I was willing to give the documentary a Mulligan.
And provided you have a strong stomach for bovine torture, the film is likely to prove entertaining, for it relates an otherwise admirable overcoming-the-odds saga. Plus, daredevils can learn where to stab in the neck to hit the aorta during a pass, something that could come in handy if you ever decide to run with bulls in Pamplona and find yourself about to be gored.
No animals were harmed during the writing of this review.

Very Good (3 stars)
In English and Spanish with subtitles.
Running time: 82 minutes
Studio: Cinema Libre Studio

Faith under Fire: Betrayed by a Thing Called Love

A memoir by LaJoyce Brookshire
Karen Hunter Publishing
Hardcover, $24.00
270 pages
ISBN: 978-1-4165-6645-8

Book Review by Kam Williams

“God has given me the opportunity to reach scores of women, connecting with their spirits to bring understanding to the ‘down low phenomenon. I am amazed at the number of women who have found themselves in the same types of relationships that I had.
For years, I truly felt as if this was only my plight, as if I was the only one whose husband cheated with men… This journey has broadened the scope of my vision of this unbelievable reality.
LaJoyce, like me and the growing number of women who refuse to stand by silently allowing the stigmas and dangers of HIV/AIDS to continue, is sharing her story to take back the control and take back the power that HIV/AIDS has stolen from lives, relationships and families.”
-- Brenda Stone Browder (author of The Survival Guide for Women Living with Men on the Down Low) in The Foreword (pages xxi-xxii)

Everybody knows about the escalating AIDS rate which has been devastating the black community. African-Americans now account for the majority of HIV infections in the U.S., with black women representing over two-thirds of the new diagnoses among females, and black teens over two-thirds of them in their age group.
For this reason, inner city schools all over the country ought to consider adding LaJoyce Brookshire’s Faith under Fire: Betrayed by a Thing Called Love, to their curricula as a precaution. Her eye-opening memoir shows just how easily even a successful professional like her could be duped by a duplicitous brother on the down low and thereby put herself at risk of dying from the preventable disease at an early age.
In LaJoyce’s case, she was very lucky that she learned the truth about her man before she contracted the illness, not that he was inclined to let her on his dirty little secret. Although he already had been HIV+ for about ten years when they met, he courted, married and impregnated her with no intention of revealing why he periodically suffered from bleeding ulcers and array of other maladies.
Only well into their marriage did a bell go off in LaJoyce’s head, after a hospital doctor asked her why her husband refused to allow him to administer an HIV test. Turns out Steven by then had full-blown AIDS, and his monogamous wife was pretty shocked by the carousing, carelessness and sexual preferences of what she had incorrectly assumed to be a straight, homophobic and faithful spouse.
However, there were many warning signs, if she had just been willing to take notice. And she delineates how to makes sure your partner isn’t also on the down low in a helpful chapter about avoiding becoming another statistic. She suggests starting by inquiring whether he’s HIV+, then taking an AIDS test together. And while waiting for the results to come back, she supplies a list of 200 additional probing questions that must be answered honestly and thoroughly before the relationship becomes intimate.
Not exactly my idea of romantic, but I suppose sisters can’t be too careful nowadays, given the spread of AIDS by convicts, by intravenous drug users and by brothers simply too afraid to admit they’re gay or bisexual due to the macho nature of an African-American culture marked by a general intolerance of homosexuality.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Pact, The DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Three Black Boys from Newark Overcome Odds to Become Doctors

Rameck Hunt, Sampson Davis and George Jenkins grew up in a Newark ghetto where only about 3% of the kids went on to college. And their own prospects probably weren’t any better, given that they were each raised by a single mom in a broken home in a neighborhood blighted by gang violence, drugs, poverty, unemployment and crime.
Yet, this enterprising trio of best friends had the wherewithal to sense that a ticket out of their bleak surroundings might only be an education away. So, before the streets could gobble up their future, they made a mutual pact, promising to support each other in their shared dream of becoming doctors.
Against the odds, all three succeeded in that quest, Sampson and Rameck, as MDs, and George, as a dentist, and this uplifting bio-pic highlights the considerable hurdles they had to overcome on the road to success. For both of Rameck’s parents were crackheads, and he recounts how he’d pray to God everyday asking that just one of them be able to kick the habit.
Sampson, we learn, did a stint in juvenile prison for armed robbery, and had a sister who was HIV+. And George talks about how the absence of a male role model meant he never learned how to do many things most boys take for granted, such as how to shave or tie a tie.
But ultimately, all three came through with flying colors and, despite their busy medical practices, remain very committed to creating academic opportunities for kids still stuck in the slums. In this regard, the film frequently focuses on the fortunes of Malique, their 12 year-old protégé who also serves as narrator.
Overall, an inspiring affirmation of the power of friendship, courage, determination, hard work and faith to sustain even those seemingly trapped in the most dire of circumstances.

Excellent (4 stars)
Running time: 84 minutes
Studio: Spark Media

Justice Smith: The American Gladiators Interview

with Kam Williams

Headline: Gladiator Justice

Jesse “Justice” Smith can be caught kicking butt and taking names on the revitalized, classic reality series “American Gladiators.” One of the show’s most feared competitors ever, he looms at 6’8” tall while weighing-in at almost 300 lbs with 22” biceps.
Justice is the only Gladiator to use his or her real name on the program which airs Mondays at 8 PM (ET/PT) on NBC. As with the original, the spectacular features such familiar events as The Joust, The Wall, Hang Tough and the Eliminator, although adding splashy twists, special effects, water skills and some state-of the-art technology.
Justice will also be seen in a supporting role in two independent features in 2008. One is The Mannsfield 12, a story about a dozen black inmates who go into business with their warden by bringing drugs and contraband into their prison. The second, Beyond the Ring, is based on the true story of Andre Lima, a Brazilian fighter on a mission to save his daughter’s life. Justice plays Zulu, the reigning Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) champion.
When not acting or gladiating, Justice enters MMA contests in the Super Heavyweight division. A black belt in Tae Kwon Do, which he has been studying for the last 15 years, he is known for his trademark move, the “Flying Knees.” While he loves MMA, he doesn’t want to fight for a living. What he loves about it is the focus and passion it brings to his life in a mental and fitness capacity.
Born in Detroit, Michigan, Justice was an Army brat raised in Columbia, South Carolina until the age of ten when his father was transferred to Germany. It was also around this time when he first saw Arnold Schwarzenegger in the movie Conan the Barbarian. He asked his mother for weights for Christmas and the rest is muscle beach history.
After the family returned to Columbia, Justice became one of the nation’s most highly-recruited college basketball prospects. But tragedy struck before he committed, when his cousin, Rodney, died taking a gangsta’s bullet meant for him. Shell-shocked, he was unable to focus on his budding basketball career or anything else for a long time.

On the home front, Justice loves to spend quality time with his wife Daisey, his 7 year old son, also named Justice, their French Bulldog, Bruno, 6 fish and 4 frogs. He also loves to fish and to ride his mountain bike. Because he loves to donate his time to any causes that help kids, it’s no surprise that high on his agenda is to give back to the community.

KW: Hi Justice, thanks for the interview.
JS: Hey What’s up bro!
KW: What interested you in doing American Gladiators?
JS: The money and fame. Ha-ha! Just kidding! It was a show that I watched as a kid, and I wanted to be a part of it.
KW: What type of diet and exercise regimen do you have to follow to stay in this great shape?
JS: I really don’t follow a strict diet, I just watch my fat intake and stay away from fried foods.
KW: How much wear and tear does the weekly tapings take out on your body?
JS: Well, me being a superhero, it does not do too much wear and tear on my body, ha-ha! Naw, sometimes I will get my fingers jammed or twist my ankle, but other than that I keep it moving.
KW: Do you enjoy this better than acting?
JS: They both are different, challenge-wise. The competitive side of me is really enjoying it, but there are two different sides to me. The acting is more of a challenge for me because it is something that I have to develop, whereas being a Gladiator comes more natural, and I love the physical challenge. But ultimately, acting and being a Gladiator are definitely two different animals.
KW: Have you ever gotten hurt while filming the show?
JS: I have gotten hurt, but pretty much I do the hurting! [LOL]
KW: Are you surprised by the show’s popularity?
JS: Definitely, I am. I was not thinking about the show’s success when I started, I was only thinking about the honor to be a part of it. I am still stunned by the fact that people will tune in every week to watch me compete. I am still shocked when people come up to me and tell me that I am their favorite.
KW: Have you ever watched the Japanese television show, Ninja Warrior?
JS: Yes I have.
KW: Would you consider tackling the Ninja warrior obstacle course?
JS: Yes! But it would be a piece of cake for an American Gladiator.
KW: Were you a fan of the original American Gladiators?
JS: Yes.
KW: Who was your favorite gladiator?
JS: Gemini
KW: I read about how at 6’8’ your had some promise as a basketball phenom while in college, but that you lost interest when your cousin was shot and killed while saving your life in an ambush Tell me about the incident.
JS: Well, my cousin was my best friend and we were very close and I looked up to him. I admired everything about him. I think about him everyday, and he is one of the reasons that I do what I do. He saved my life.
KW: Is the perpetrator behind bars?
JS: He did 18 months and was freed on good behavior because he had a family member in the judicial system in Columbia, South Carolina.
KW: How long were you traumatized by the tragedy?
JS: At least 10 years, being haunted by nightmares. I was unable to watch any type of violent programming.
KW: The Columbus Short question: Are you happy?
JS: Very happy.

KW: “Realtor to the Stars” Jimmy Bayan wants to know where in L.A. you live.
JS: I live in Torrance, CA
KW: Bookworm Troy Johnson is curious about the last book you read.
JS: Don’t’ Start the Revolution Without Me! written by Jesse Ventura
KW: I got this question from Tasha Smith: Are you ever afraid?
JS: Sometimes…what am I afraid of? [Laughs]
KW: Is there a question no one ever asks you, that you wish someone would?
JS: What motto do you live by?
KW: Okay, what motto d you live by?
JS: “Freedom or death!” and the truth shall set you free.
KW: What do you do to unwind?
JS: Watch movies, play video games, meditate, research online.
KW: Who are you supporting for President?
JS: Barack Obama.
KW: When did you know you know you wanted to be in showbiz?
JS: Ever since I was a kid. Everything that I am doing now is what I wanted to do as a kid.
KW: What advice do you have for anyone who wants to follow in your footsteps?
JS: Stay focused and stay determined. Don’t look to anyone else to be your determination, have self determination; it will take you very far.
KW: Do you have a website?
JS: Yes,, but it’s under construction.
KW: Do you answer your fan mail?
JS: I haven’t seen any fan mail yet. Please send some!
KW: How do you want to be remembered?
JS: I want to be remembered as someone like Mohammad Ali. He was not just a fighter he was a freedom fighter.
KW: Thanks again for the interview, and best of luck with all your endeavors.
JS: Thank you.

Forgetting Sarah Marshall

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Latest Apatow Teensploit Fails to Measure Up to Recent Offerings

Judd Apatow certainly appears to have the Midas touch when it comes to teensploitation flicks. Last year alone, he had a hand in a couple of the most successful, albeit relentlessly-raunchy, romantic comedies in recent memory. One was Knocked Up, which he wrote, directed and produced; and the other was Superbad, which he merely produced. Together, the two crowd pleasers netted in excess of a quarter billion dollars at the domestic box-office alone, to say nothing of its international take theatrically or via DVD distribution.
Apatow’s latest offering, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, ups the ante in terms of shock value by appealing to perhaps the lowest common denominator yet, starting with an opening scene featuring gratuitous shots of male genitalia. Unfortunately, the film fails to measure up to either of the aforementioned adventures as far as pushing the needle on the Richter laff meter.
The problem starts with the ill-advised decision to cast first-time screenwriter Jason Segel as the leading man in a flick based on his own script, a mistake only further compounded when the project was also entrusted to a first-time director, Nicholas Stoller. And while the picture might make for an impressive feature debut, it still pales in comparison to the body of work revealed by producer Apatow’s resume’.
The charisma-free Segel plays Peter Bretter, a struggling composer with dreams of finding fame and fortune by writing a puppet rock opera version of Dracula. While waiting for his ship to come in, the twentysomething slacker pays the bills by way of a mindless job adding generic musical scores to TV shows
At least Peter’s love life offsets his rapidly-diminishing career prospects. For the past five+ years, he’s been in a monogamous relationship, or so he thinks, with Sarah Marshall (Kristen Bell), the glamorous star of a hit television series called Crime Scene. If the premise of a loser dating a celebrity sounds familiar, that’s because it’s the same set up employed in Knocked Up.
Here, however, just past the point of departure, Sarah dumps Peter, vigorously denying that there’s anyone new. Half-truth-be-told, she’s already been two-timing him for over a year with Aldous Snow (Russell Brand), the terminally-full of himself lead singer for a British band called Infant Sorrow.
Disconsolate, Peter decides to take a vacation in Hawaii to get over his girlfriend, only to discover that she’s staying at the same resort with her golden-tanned hunk. Luckily, the hotel’s receptionist, Rachel (Mila Kunis), not only takes an instant liking to Peter, but she even generously lets him stay in the penthouse free of charge after hearing his sob story.
And although he’s determined to win back his ex’s heart, it’s obvious that it’s just a matter of time before he’ll wise up and notice the gorgeous girl behind the counter in the lobby. In the interim, Forgetting Sarah Marshall indulges in an array of the expected testosterone-fueled antics with the help of a few members of the Apatow acting company, including Jonah Hill (Superbad and Knocked Up) as an unctuous waiter, Bill Hader (ditto) as Peter’s step-brother, and Paul Rudd (Knocked Up and the 40 Year-Old Virgin) as a stoner surfer dude.
Too bad that the plot is so transparent and Jason Segel doesn’t quite have the charm called upon to make the self-effacing protagonist he created endearing.

Very Good (2.5 stars)
Rated R for profanity, graphic sexuality, and male and female frontal nudity. profanity.
Running time: 112 minutes
Studio: Universal Pictures

Savages, The

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: DVD Features Laura Linney’s Oscar-Nominated Performance in Dysfunctional Family Drama

Alzheimer’s patient Lenny Savage (Philip Bosco) was living in an upscale assisted living community with his common-law wife, Doris (Rosemary Murphy), when she suddenly dropped dead. Relying on a non-marital agreement signed years prior, her heartless heirs decide to kick him out of the Arizona condo which was solely in their mother’s name.
Consequently, the burden of finding a retirement home capable of caring for someone whose senility has him smearing excrement on the walls suddenly falls to Lenny’s children living halfway across the country. Neither Jon (Philip Seymour Hoffman) nor Wendy (Laura Linney) is really ready to take on the unanticipated responsibility because both of them are already dealing with serious issues of their own.
Wendy is a struggling Greenwich Village playwright who supports herself by doing temp work. Her love life isn’t any better, as she’s stuck in a self-destructive affair with a married man (Peter Friedman). Jon, meanwhile, a literature professor, is agonizing over whether to wed his Polish girlfriend (Cara Seymour) before her visa expires.
So, when they venture to Sun City to rescue their ailing their father, they struggle to keep their emotional baggage on a back burner. Arriving at a compromise, they agree to bring Lenny to Buffalo where Jon teaches, and to place him in an affordable nursing home. Wendy sticks around town, which means she and her brother will now have ample opportunities to bicker with each other over their respective writing careers and dysfunctional romantic relationships.
So unfolds The Savages, a maudlin, slice-of-life drama for which Laura Linney landed her third Oscar nomination. If only the film’s prevailing tone were optimistic rather than funereal, then there might be more of a reason to recommend this downer about a couple of middle-aged adolescents acting out as their father slowly wastes away.

Very Good (3 stars)
Rated R for sexuality and profanity.
Running time: 114 minutes
Studio: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
DVD Extras: Extended scenes, cast and filmmaker interviews, “Behind the Scenes” photo gallery and Fox previews.

What Would Jesus Buy? DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Super-Size Jesus

This tongue-in-cheek documentary questions the degree to which America has commercialized Christmas. The film features Reverend Billy Talen, a colorful character who travels across the country accompanied by the Church of Stop Shopping Gospel Choir, confronting frantic shoppers in malls right at the height of the holiday season.
Declaring Mickey Mouse the anti-Christ, this flamboyant man of the cloth mounts a soap box to inform anybody who’ll listen that “The Disney Company still presides over sweatshops all around the world.” He conducts impromptu man on the street interviews, asking folks to have a conscience about their purchases.
Unfortunately, his passionate pleas fall mostly on deaf ears and do little to discourage the determined consumers he encounters, despite his dire warning of the coming Shopocalypse. Instead, he’s mostly treated as a nuisance by mall security and local police who routinely either arrest him or escort him off the premises.
Nonetheless, the movie does drive home a powerful point, namely, that Christmas has lost most of its religious significance and come to revolve around gift-giving. Pointing out that most Christians spend more time worshipping retail items in malls than Jesus in church, he challenges believers to find something more meaningful to do than shopping.
He’s supported in this endeavor by several experts, including Harvard Professor Dr. Alvin Poussaint who laments how since birth we’ve been “conditioned to associate material goods with the symbol of love.” Ditto Reverend Andrew Young who makes a cameo appearance in which he reminds us of Christ’s teaching to “Feed the hungry, clothe the naked and heal the sick.”
But the real star of this show is the irrepressible Reverend Billy who is as hilarious as he is thought-provoking, and thus apt to keep you in stitches as you contemplate spiritual alternatives to material satisfaction. Merry Capitalism!

Excellent (4 stars)
PG for mature themes and mild epithets.
Running time: 91 minutes
Studio: Arts Alliance America
DVD Extras: Deleted scenes, printable lyrics to the choir’s unique Christmas carols, and an 8-minute public access show featuring Reverend Billy and the choir.

88 Minutes

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Pacino Stars as Shrink on Run from Sadistic Serial Killer

About ten years ago, Dr. Jack Gramm (Al Pacino) was the key prosecution expert witness whose testimony helped send rapist/serial killer Jon Forster (Neal McDonough) to Death Row. As the notorious “Seattle Slayer” was being led out of the courtroom, he looked the FBI forensic psychiatrist responsible for his conviction straight in the eye and whispered, “Tick-tock, Doc,” a veiled threat that it was just a matter of time before he would exact his revenge.
Fast forward to the present and we find Forster behind bars and all out of appeals. His impending execution is likely to provide a measure of closure to Janie Cates (Tammy Hui), the twin sister of one of his victims (Vicky Huang), plus some comfort to Gramm, now teaching med school, boozing it up and chasing anything in a skirt.
But then, on the eve of Forster’s scheduled execution by lethal injection, the tweedy, tipsy professor finds himself suddenly shaken after receiving a chilling call on his cell phone repeating the familiar “Tick-tock, Doc” refrain. In addition, the electronically-altered voice informs Gramm that he only has 88 minutes to live.
Thereupon, the sinister stalker immediately embarks on a frenetic crime spree, slicing and dicing folks close to the womanizing Dr. Jack in order to implicate him in a series of copycat murders. The enterprising sicko proceeds to wreak additional havoc across the city, eluding a conspicuously-absent police force while blowing up cars, setting fires and running over pedestrians with a motorcycle. Oh, and he also keeps Gramm on speed dial to be able to gloat periodically.
Patently preposterous at every turn, 88 Minutes is more action-packed than the average Bugs Bunny-Road Runner hour, and features cartoon physics which is about as credible. Al Pacino, with the help of a bouncy, blowing, world-class bouffant hairdo, still has the charisma to turn a turkey into a flick that’s almost watchable, if only for the laughs.
Regrettably, a splendid supporting cast topped by Leelee Sobieski, Amy Brenneman. William Forsythe and Alicia Witt finds itself frequently abandoned by a silly script laced with implausible dialogue, lots of illogical plot developments and more smelly red herrings than the Fulton Fish market. I mean, really, how can virtually every character be a prime suspect, including the potential victim himself?
A comical crime thriller where you’re likely to find yourself more amused by the unintentionally funny goings-on than trying to solve the underlying whodunit.

Fair (1 star)
Rated R for profanity, disturbing violence and brief nudity.
Running time: 108 minutes
Studio: Columbia Pictures

Charlie Wilson's War DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: DVD Revisits Exploits of Texas Congressman Who Single-Handedly Toppled the Soviet Union

Texas Congressman Charlie Wilson (Tom Hanks), who served from 1973 to 1996, is apparently an unsung hero responsible for toppling the Soviet Union virtually single-handedly. For it was through his funding of a covert CIA operation in response to the Russian invasion of Afghanistan that the mujahedeen managed to defend themselves successfully while simultaneously bankrupting the U.S.S.R.
What is ironic is that Wilson, the architect of the operation, was not only a liberal Democrat, but a loose cannon who didn’t let the fact that he was married get in he way of his flagrant boozing and womanizing. Among his many mistresses was a wealthy socialite named Joanne Herring (Julia Roberts), and their lustful liaison was proof of the age-old maxim that politics makes strange bedfellows, literally and figuratively.
She was a conservative, Christian fundamentalist who pressured her boy-toy to get the CIA to intervene in the conflict in the name of freedom of religion. What neither of them anticipated, however, was that in the process of sending the Soviets to defeat they would be creating a new monster, a militarily-equipped radical Islam.
This is the arc of Charlie Wilson's War, a relatively lighthearted romp about a real-life James Bond. The movie was adapted from the best-selling biography of the same name by legendary director Mike Nichols who had no reservations about depicting his protagonist’s depraved side, such as an occasion when we find Charlie cavorting naked in a hot tub with coke-snorting strippers.
Unless somebody’s taking liberties with the truth here, history will one day confirm that all it took to bring an end to the Cold War was the valiant efforts of a party animal who knew his way around Washington well-enough to be unburdened by red tape, bureaucrats or democracy. Charlie Wilson, a real American hero, belatedly revealed.

Excellent (3.5 stars)
Rated R for profanity, nudity, sexuality and drug use.
Running time: 102 minutes
Studio: Universal Studios Home Entertainment
DVD Extras: “The Making of” and “Who Is Charlie Wilson?” featurettes

Nina's Heavenly Delights DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: DVD Features Latent Lesbians in Formulaic Female Empowerment Flick

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

Fair (1.5 stars)
Rated PG-13 for sexuality.
Running time: 94 minutes
Studio: Genius Products
DVD Extras: Trailer.

The Orphanage (El Orfanato) SPANISH DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Supernatural Suspense Flick from Spain Released on DVD

In 2007, Pan’s Labyrinth, a magical blend of surrealism and WWII saga won three Academy Awards, plus nominations in the Foreign Film and Original Screenplay categories. Now, that masterpiece’s writer/director, Guillermo del Toro, has served as producer of a horror picture rather reminiscent of his own escapist fairy tale.
The Orphanage revolves around Laura (Belen Rueda), a woman with mostly fond memories of the seaside orphanage where she lived some 30 years earlier. Today, we find her married to a doctor (Fernando Cayo) with whom she is raising an adopted son, Simon (Roger Princep).
The couple has decided to purchase the now abandoned, run-down estate with plans to turn the premises into a home for sick kids. However, soon after moving in, seven year-old Simon’s fantasizing begins to get the better of him as he starts talking to imaginary friends.
Laura supports the boy’s belief in the supernatural, sensing that some otherworldly spirits might have invaded the place during the period it was vacant. This causes tension between her and her husband, Carlos, who doesn’t believe in ghosts, and he is more inclined to think that his wife has become deranged.
This is the eerie premise of The Orphanage, a film which marks the directorial debut of Juan Antonio Bayona. More suspenseful than scary, the movie is apt to disappoint anyone expecting to scream out loud in the theater. Nonetheless, it’s effective at casting a creepy pall over the proceedings which permeates the picture for the duration.
An unnerving meditation on loss of innocence.

Very Good (3 stars)
Rated R for some disturbing content.
In Spanish with subtitles.
Running time: 105 minutes
Studio: New Line Home Entertainment
DVD Extras: Stills gallery, theatrical trailers, video segments about the filmmakers, footage of the director and cast during rehearsals, plus a couple of featurettes.

Cloverfield DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Hair-Raising Horror Flick Arrives on DVD

Reminiscent of The Blair Witch Project, this cleverly-conceived screamfest was shot entirely with a shaky hand-held camera operated by one of the film’s central characters. A similarly limited-perspective proved compelling in Blair, which had been billed as based on a videotape supposedly found at the site of a slaughter.
Cloverfield opens with a cryptic statement that the top-secret tape you are about to watch is the property of the Department of the Defense. However, the initial half-hour looks more like a soap opera than a spine-tingling thriller. The fun starts in Jason Hawkins’ (Mike Vogel) spacious New York apartment with a bird’s eye view of the city’s skyline. With the help of his girlfriend, Lily (Jessica Lucas) Jason is greeting guests arriving for the surprise going away party he’s throwing for his brother, Rob (Michael Stahl-David) who’ll soon be moving to Japan.
Jason directs their buddy, Hud (T.J. Miller), to film the festivities, and to record individual farewells as a keepsake. Then, just when you’ve forgotten that this is supposed to be a horror movie, the building shakes and the power goes out. The partygoers rush to the window to witness chaos and devastation unfolding as far as the eyes, or should I say camcorder, can see: from flattened cars to flying projectiles to crumbling skyscrapers to fleeing pedestrians unleashing bloodcurdling screams while looking over their shoulders.
At this juncture, the movie morphs into a harrowing tale of survival featuring seasick cinematography, and it becomes pretty clear that some destructive unseen force has been released and is about to cause major mayhem all around Manhattan. And the only record of the desperate struggle which ensues is a chilling videotape, a spellbinding masterpiece also known as Cloverfield.

Excellent (4 stars)
Rated PG-13 for violence, terror and disturbing images.
Running time: 84 minutes
Studio: Paramount Home Video
DVD Extras: Deleted scenes, alternative endings, outtakes, director’s commentary, “The Making of Cloverfield” and other featurettes.

Leelee Sobieski: The 88 Minutes Interview

with Kam Williams

Headline: Leelee’s Back!

Liliane Rudabet Gloria Elsveta Sobieski was born in NYC on June 10, 1983 to American writer Elizabeth Salomon, and French painter Jean Sobieski. Soon after being discovered by a casting director in her grammar school cafeteria, she got her start at the age of ten in the made for TV movie Reunion. After a well-received outing in the feature film Jungle 2 Jungle, Leelee was catapulted to superstardom as a teenager on the strength of memorable performances in such blockbusters as Deep Impact, Never Been Kissed, A Soldier’s Daughter Never Cries and Eyes Wide Shut.
In 2000, she landed a Golden Globe nomination for her critically-acclaimed work in the title role as Joan of Arc. And she subsequently starred in Here on Earth, My First Mister, Joy Ride and Glass House before taking a break from showbiz to attend Brown University.
The brainy beauty bears a striking resemblance to Helen Hunt, which explains why the two were pitted against each other on the claymation TV series Celebrity Deathmatch. Leelee has recently returned to acting in grand style, landing lead roles opposite Jason Statham in In the Name of the King, Nicolas Cage in The Wicker Man, and now Al Pacino in 88 Minutes.
Here, she talks about life, career and her latest film.

KW: Hey, Leelee, thanks for the interview.
LS: Sure, how’re you doing?
KW: I don’t know if you remember that I’m friends with Peter and Janet who helped me get my first time interview with you.
LS: Yes, I know.
KW: At the time, you were a very rebellious teenager, probably a junior in high school. And you kept repeatedly challenging me with, “Ask me anything! Ask me anything!” But your being so young, I wasn’t going to cross any lines.
LS: Oh, really? Maybe I’m conservative now. We’ll have to see.
KW: You know, my son is a freshman at Princeton, and he lives in the same dorm as your brother, Robert. I heard you were on campus last week to see him perform in a play.
LS: Yeah.
KW: I also heard that you’re a big fan of Nina Simone. Is that true?
LS: I am. I even named my dog Nina Azie Simone Sobieski.

KW: What are some of your favorite songs of hers?
LS: Here Comes the Sun… Sugar in My Bowl… Mosquito's Tweeter… Pretty much every single one of her songs I find so touching. I just heard a Nina Simone rendition of I Get Along without You Very Well, which is one of my favorite tunes by Chet Baker. I didn’t know how I’d feel about her version, even though I love Nina Simone unconditionally, since I liked Chet’s so much. But then I fell in love with Nina’s, as well. It’s beautiful.
KW: Sounds like you’re heavily into jazz.
LS: I do like jazz.
KW: Too bad you weren’t in town long enough too see the Princeton Jazz Band’s joint concert with Juilliard. Your friend, piano prodigy Julia Brav, was tremendous, and the group even played one of her original compositions.
LS: I would love to have heard that.
KW: How did you enjoy Brown University?
LS: I loved it. I had a wonderful time when I was there.
KW: I graduated from Brown in ’75, but I doubt that any of the professors I studied English with are still there.
LS: I thought you went to Princeton. Did you have any classes with Forrest Gander?
KW: No, he wasn’t there yet. Let me ask you about the movie. How’d you enjoy making 88 Minutes?
LS: I had a great time. I play an interesting character, so I was kind of focused on that.
KW: Did you model your character, Lauren, after anyone?
LS: No, I didn’t model her after anybody. I just went to strange places in my brain.
KW: And how was it working with Al Pacino?
LS: It was a great honor. I don’t know who wouldn’t want to work with Pacino.
KW: It’s a twisty mystery. What would you liken it to?
LS: I wouldn’t liken it to anything? I don’t know. What would you liken it to?
KW: I agree. It’s unique and tough to pigeonhole.
KW: What type of audience do you think the picture will find?
LS: It’s a suspense popcorn movie. I think you should like go with your friends, and have fun.
KW: Last year, when I saw you in In a Dark Place, it sort of took my breath away, because you definitely made the jump from girl to woman with all the nudity in that picture. And now I see that you’re playing a dominatrix in Walk All Over Me.
LS: I’m actually more of a girl in this than I was in in In a Dark Place. I’m just really innocent. I’m not good at being a dominatrix. It’s more goofy with kind of fun sexy bits in it, but they’re not serious or at all risqué.
KW: From just reading a capsule, it sounded risqué.
LS: There’s no nudity in it, really, except for a male tush, I think. The only reason it’s rated R is because of a few curse words. Otherwise, it could be PG-13.
KW: I see that the movie you made with Jason Statham, In the name of the King, just came out on video this week. How did you enjoy doing that one?
LS: Oh, I had a great time making that. Afterall, I was playing a princess with magic powers.
KW: Do you have any plans to make another film in France, since you’re fluent in the language, and enjoyed so much success over there with A Soldier’s Daughter Never Cries.
LS: Yeah, I would love to. It just hasn’t happened at the exact moment, but I definitely want to do more work in France, for sure.
KW: What movies do you have on the horizon?
LS: Night Train is with Danny Glover and Steve Zahn. It’s going to be creepy with a Hitchcock kind of vibe. I think it’s going to be really cool, but I haven’t even done the ADR [Additional Dialogue Recording] for that one yet. And I got a call from my director [Julie Davis] last night on Finding Bliss which is a romantic comedy that I just finished. She told me that she saw the first rough cut of the film, and that it looked so great. So, I’m super excited about that.
KW: Sounds good. Bookworm Troy Johnson wants to know: What was the last book you read?
LS: What was the last book I read? I read a script only yesterday, but I can’t even remember the title. I’m just awful with names. This is my problem. I think the title of the last book I read was Miss Lonelyhearts, but I’m not sure.
KW: Is there a question no one ever asks you, that you wish someone would?
LS: A question that nobody asks me… No, there are all different types of reporters, and they usually ask fairly good questions. There are some questions that get repeated a lot, but I’m asked really good things most of the time. I feel like I’m perceived as being much more serious than I am. I’m more of a goofball. I’m sillier, not sillier in a bad way, but sillier in a good way. I think that when I do interviews, I always try to be cautious about what I’m saying, because I’m so silly that my words can be spun around so easily and sound totally the wrong way when I really just mean something harmless. So, I think I’m cautious when I’m doing interviews, which makes me seem much more serious, but that’s just because I’m being careful.
KW: That triggers my memory. The last time I interviewed, you were writing poetry and I published one of your poems along with the interview. Are you still writing poetry?
LS: Not as much. I’ve just been focusing on my work lately, work and life. And I’ve started painting again, and that’s been really wonderful. I’d stopped for a little while.
KW: Oils or acrylic?
LS: In acrylic.
KW: What style?
LS: Totally abstract, kind of like Kandinsky, maybe.
KW: Interesting. Did you see the documentary, The Cool School, about the L.A. school of modern artists who emerged in the Fifties. It’s great. It just came out a couple of weeks ago.
LS: No I didn’t. I’ll go check that out.
KW: The Columbus Short question: Are you happy?
LS: Yes. That’s a great question. I think that happiness is a very strange thing. And we really feel that we have a right to this happiness. But I feel like it’s constantly fluctuating, and that you can make yourself happy. I think it’s an outlook. Having a positive attitude probably sounds like a corny thing to say, but a positive attitude really helps, and respecting your job really helps, and having the support of your family and friends really helps.
KW: Is working on a movie set a lot easier for you as an adult than it was for you as a child actress, especially if the real you was a little goofy, and not so serious?
LS: I’m still not very serious on the set. I mean, I can be very serious, but I can also be very silly on the set, because I work really well when people around me are relaxed. Sometimes, there has to be a certain amount of tension to carry a film, but it’s important to me that the crew that’s working around me feels happy. And for that to happen, I need them to feel appreciated. Sometimes, that just involves being like one of the kids and hanging out and laughing with the crew. It depends on the character I’m playing. Last time, I did this romantic comedy, and I need this upbeat energy, and I kind of kept that energy going all day long. Then I would get home and be serous and crash. But on set, I was super light and goofy.
KW: Are you living more in L.A. or in New York now?
LS: I’m back and forth.
KW: Are you willing to say where in L.A. you live?
LS: Sure, I live in the Hollywood Hills?
KW: I’m asking on behalf of “Realtor to the Stars,” Jimmy Bayan.
LS: Is he a good realtor?
KW: Absolutely! Do you need one? The Tasha Smith question: Are you ever afraid?
LS: Yes, all the time. But “afraid” is such a big word. I feel like fear sometimes comes from caring. When you care about something so much, then you’re afraid to fail, to not do well, to not do your best. But all that just comes from caring. Do I get scared of things that go “Boo!” in the night, too? Yeah, I like scream so loud. When I go to a horror film, I’m the one that screams so loud that everybody jumps. I think they should pay me to sit in the theater, because I either make the movie seem five times scarier or five times funnier, one or the other, because my screams are so ridiculous. So, I get scared like that easily.
KW: It reminds me of when I saw The Producers starring Nathan Lane. The guy sitting behind me had such a booming, infectious laugh that he had me laughing all through. I ended up giving it four stars and putting it on my Top Ten List because it came out in December. Meanwhile, the rest of the critics were calling it a big flop.
LS: [Laughs] That’s so funny. That really affects you so, so much. I find that, unless they’re drunk, people generally don’t laugh out loud, because your laugh can sound pretty silly or strange if you really just let it go. Yet when you hear somebody else laugh, you automatically feel really warm and good, and so I’ve liberated my laugh. [Laughs] It’s really loud and annoying, but I do it all the time. Laughter and smiling… those things are important. One of my best girlfriends is a clown, and she goes all over the place, to Africa and Mexico, and just tries to bring people joy, and it’s really beautiful.
KW: Laughter is very healing.
LS: Yeah, it puts the center of your body in your heart. If you’re having a bad day, and you feel like your head is leaning far ahead of your body because your brain feels so heavy or so full, if you kind of readjust and move your center down a little tiny bit, and switch it to in your chest and move your shoulders back and put it in your heart, that changes your disposition.
KW: That sounds pretty spiritual. Are you into meditation or something?
LS: Not really. I’m a modern meditator. I meditate with really loud hip-hop on an elliptical machine.
KW: Well, I appreciate the time, Leelee. I know you’re very busy.
LS: Yeah, I’m in a crazy situation right now. I’m at the Planet Hollywood in Las Vegas. My premiere is in a few hours, so I’m kind of stressed, actually.
KW: I didn’t realize that. Sorry for holding you so long. I’ll let you go.
LS: No, no, no, that’s fine. You know, the keys to the hotel rooms here have Al Pacino and the 88 Minutes poster on them. So, when you put your key into the door, they have Al’s face on it.
KW: My niece, Adrienne Augustus, is a TV reporter for CBS in Las Vegas. She might be covering the premiere. Tell her I said hi.
LS: I will. Adrienne Augustus. How could I forget that name?
KW: Thanks again and good luck tonight!
LS: Thank you so much.

Thursday, April 17, 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 25, 2008


Baby Mama (PG-13 for profanity, sexuality, crude humor and a drug reference) Class-conscious comedy about a single career woman (Tina Fey) who wants to have a baby but ends up hiring a crass surrogate mom (Amy Poehler) from the other side of the tracks after learning that she only has a one-in-a-million chance of getting pregnant herself. Supporting ensemble includes Greg Kinnear, Sigourney Weaver, Maura Tierney, Romany Malco and Dax Shepard.

Deal (PG-13 for profanity, sexuality and brief drug use) Burt Reynolds is back in this casino caper as an aging poker hustler who comes out of retirement to show the ropes to a cocky college student (Alex Harrison) only to have his young protégé prove to be his stiffest competition in the World Poker Championship. With Shannon Elizabeth, Vince Van Patten and Charles Durning.

Deception (R for sexuality, profanity, brief violence and drug use) Ewan McGregor stars in this whodunit about an accountant who finds himself the prime suspect in both a woman’s disappearance and multi-million dollar heist after he frequents a kinky sex club at the suggestion of his attorney pal (Hugh Jackman). With Maggie Q, Natasha Henstridge and Michelle Williams.

Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo (R for profanity, sexuality, crude humor and drug references) John Cho and Kal Penn reunite to reprise their title roles for another politically-incorrect adventure. This go-round, the nerdy stoners find themselves on the run after being mistaken for terrorists while aboard an airplane. Cast includes Neil Patrick Harris, Roger Bart, Eddie Kaye Thomas and Beverly D’Angelo.

Rogue (R for profanity and horror violence) Australian horror flick about a sightseeing cruise through an Outback wildlife reserve which turns into a terrifying nightmare after the captain (Radha Mitchell) accepts a dare from an American passenger (Michael Vartan) to steer the boat into unchartered waters where they find themselves stalked by a man-eating crocodile.


Roman de Gare (R for brief profanity and sexual references) Romance mystery about a popular crime novelist (Fanny Ardant) whose best sellers might have been ghostwritten by an escaped serial killer (Dominique Pinon) posing as the fiance’ of a just-dumped hairdresser (Audrey Dana) in need of a beau. (In French with subtitles)

Standard Operating Procedure (R for profanity and disturbing images involving torture and graphic nudity) Oscar-winner for Best Documentary Errol Morris (for Fog of War) Man’s dissects the Abu Ghraib scandal in an effort to make sense of man’s inhumanity to man and the failure of the U.S. military to abide by the Geneva Conventions.

Stuff and Dough (Unrated) Mobster drama about a cash-strapped street punk (Alexandru Papadopol) who agrees to drive a package from Constanta to Bucharest for the neighborhood crime boss (Razvan Vasilescu) only to find himself being shadowed by a mysterious jeep. (In Rumanian with subtitles)

Then She Found Me (R for profanity and sexuality) Helen Hunt makes her scriptwriting and directorial debut and stars in this dramedy about a NYC schoolteacher who, saddened by the death of her adoptive mother (Lynn Cohen) and abandoned by her immature husband (Matthew Broderick), gets a new lease on life when she’s courted by the father (Colin Firth) of one of her students and also tracked down by the birth mother (Bette Midler) she never knew. Featuring a cameo by Salman Rushdie.

Up the Yangtze (Unrated) The effects of the rush to modernization on a rapidly-changing China are examined by this enlightening documentary shot from the perspective of young people employed by a cruise ship on the Yangtze River. (In Mandarin and English with subtitles)

Without the King (Unrated) Swaziland is the subject of this shocking documentary about Africa’s last reigning absolute monarchy. The impoverished nation is ruled by King Mswati III, a despot who treats himself to a lavish style which includes numerous palaces, a fleet of expensive cars, designer wardrobes and 14 wives, while his subjects are suffering from starvation, a 42% AIDS rate and a life expectancy of only 31.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Blackout DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Straight-to-DVD Drama Revisits the Great Blackout of 2003

On August 14th, 2003, a power plant in Eastlake, Ohio failed, thereby suddenly triggering the worst blackout in North American history. The massive outage left over 50 million people in the U.S. and Canada without electricity for the next two days, forcing folks to fend for themselves.
Blackout, written and directed by Brooklyn native Jerry LaMothe, is based on actual events which unfolded in a predominantly African-American section of a tight-knit, East Flatbush community. This engaging, ensemble drama paints a poignant picture of struggles against poverty further compounded by the looting and violence which erupted when night falls.
The film, which features a talented cast that includes Jeffrey Wright, Zoe Saldana and Melvin Van Peebles, sensibly, takes the time to familiarize us with the intersecting lives of its assorted characters before the impending calamity strikes. Thus, we meet Nelson (Wright), the affable owner of the local barbershop; Ali (Nehal Joshi), the Muslim manager of a busy bodega; and slumlord Sol (Saul Rubinek) who’s planning to fire his superintendent, George (Van Peebles).
Other principal players include Sol’s tenant, Mrs. Thompson (LaTanya Richardson) who is relieved that her teenage son, C.J. (Michael B. Jordan), has just earned his ticket out of the ghetto, a scholarship to Penn State. Unfortunately, C.J. is presently being pressured by an ex-con (Jamie Hector) plying the drug trade on the corner.
Then there’s promising publishing executive Claudine (Saldana), who’s just about fed up with her boyfriend (Sean Blakemore) who’s been unemployed since 9-11, and what’s about to transpire isn’t going to make things any better. Finally, we have Fatima (Susan Kelechi Watson), a poetry slam performer who has an interest in Ali ever since discovering that her man has been cheating on her.
A well-crafted, slice-of-life saga which amply illustrates how easily matters might go from bad to worse in the already-overburdened inner-city when disaster strikes in the ‘hood.

Very Good (3 stars)
Running time: 95 minutes
Studio: BET/Paramount Home Entertainment
DVD Extras: Interview with director Jerry LaMothe, deleted scenes, interviews with survivors of the 2003 Blackout, Meet the Cast, and a “Behind-the-Scenes featurette.

Constantine's Sword

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Ex-Jesuit Priest Takes Critical Look at Violence Committed in the Name of Christianity

There was a precedent to Vice President Cheney’s remark made to Tim Russert on Meet the Press five days after September 11th that he would happily accept the head of Osama bin Laden on a platter. For over the course of several centuries, starting in about 1095, legions of Catholics had ventured from Europe to the Middle East with the intention of conquering the Holy Land in the name of Christianity, and all with the blessing of the reigning pope.
It was not unusual for soldiers participating in the Crusades to consider themselves virtuous for returning home with the head of a Muslim or a Jew on the end of a stick. Given that fanatical religious legacy, one can understand why someone might be inclined to examine America’s involvement in the region in a new light.
And just such an inquiry is the focus of Constantine's Sword, an informative look at the violent side of Christianity. The picture is narrated by James Carroll, a former Catholic cleric who abandoned the priesthood when he found himself plagued by nagging doubts about the historical links of his Church to papal-sanctioned ethnic cleansing.
He asks, “How did the Cross become a rallying symbol for persecution?” “How does one man who loves the Church confront its history of crusade and conquest?” “Why are intolerance, violence and war so deeply ingrained in religion?” It seems that he didn’t feel comfortable continuing to serve as a recruiter for a faith with so much blood on its hands.
Carroll, now married with two children, tackles these thorny issues by honestly reviewing the behavior of evangelical Christians from the time of Constantine all the way up to the present. He finds that proselytizing was popular not only in the Middle Ages but is still flourishing today in the U.S. Air Force Academy where pressure is being routinely applied to cadets to swear allegiance to both the United States and to Jesus.
With God as your co-pilot, especially “The right God,” it’s probably a lot easier to rationalize bombing godless heathen civilians back to the Stone Age without a second thought. A powerful documentary which makes the case that the faith-based fanaticism that has destabilize the planet has been fueled as much by the West as by radical Islam.

Excellent (4 stars)
Running time: 96 minutes
Studio: First Run Features

Tuesday, April 15, 2008


Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Career of Modern Classical Composer Revisited by Reverential Retrospective

I first became aware of Philip Glass when I saw Koyaanisqatsi (1982), the otherwise silent cinematic tribute to nature for which he wrote the perfect score. Now in his seventies, this master modern classical composer remains as driven as ever to crank out his experimental operas, symphonies, movie and dance scores and more.
This eponymous bio-pic exposes the man to be a recluse who compulsively divides his time between music and meditation, which might not be a problem except for the fact that he has a couple of young kids with his fourth wife, Holly Critchlow, a cutie pie who’s about half his age. She has a meltdown about midway through the movie over the realization that they want different things out of life.
It seems that she’d like for him to be more involved with the family, while he can’t pull himself away from the piano and sheet music, which are obviously not merely his passion but serve as his therapy as well. At least the couple have a summer home in Nova Scotia, so the children don’t have to stay cooped up in an apartment in New York City, although even while on vacation, their daddy continues to work non-stop.
We do learn that, once a year, he takes a day off for an annual trek to Coney Island to ride the Cyclone, the ancient amusement park’s mammoth roller coaster. We also see that like a lot of self-absorbed geniuses, he’s given to eccentric (hates overhead lighting) and misanthropic (could careless whether he’s appreciated) tendencies. This means he’s adamant about using desk and table lamps and is perfectly content if those who don’t like his music to pass and go listen to someone else.
Too bad he just can’t spare sufficient quality time to satisfy his offspring and troubled spouse. An intimate peek into an elite mind, warts and all.

Very Good (2.5 stars)
Running time: 112 minutes
Studio: Koch Lorber Films


Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Detectives Track Copycat Serial Killer in Grisly Crime Caper

From the opening scene, this snuff flick hits you over the head with the idea that NYPD Detective Stan Aubray (Willem Dafoe) is damaged goods. He’s a moody loner who looks like he has something to hide, but that doesn’t prevent the department from bringing him out of mothballs to team with an ambitious, young greenhorn (Scott Speedman) when a maniacal serial killer starts terrorizing the city.
For only five years before, Stan had successfully tracked down and supposedly killed another sicko with a suspiciously similar modus operandi. Now corpses mutilated beyond recognition are turning up hacked apart and left hanging from rafters in odd configurations, such as with a decapitated head stuffed inside a torso spilling its guts.
Needless to say, this makes Anamorph a movie for those with a strong stomach. Unfortunately, even if you’re willing to endure the intermittent visual violations, the plot isn’t all that satisfying for amateur sleuths. Consider the moment when the detectives are looking for evidence at a fresh crime scene, and decide that the name “Gerri Harden” left besides the body is a clue, a message from the murderer in the form of an anagram of “Red Herring.” Trouble is the letters don’t match up. Where’s the “A”?
Though director Henry Miller does a decent job of creating and maintaining an ominous air, the picture really has far more to offer in the way of shock than suspense. While focusing on indulging the bloodlust of the splatter crowd, the services of a first-rate cast are frittered away, a motley ensemble which includes Clea Duvall, Peter Stormare, Michael Buscemi (Steve’s brother), Tandy Cronyn (daughter of Jessica Tandy and Hume Cronyn), Debbie “Blondie” Harry and ex-pro wrestler Mick “Mankind” Foley.
Though the movie takes its title, Anamorph, from an asexual stage of reproduction in the life of a fungus, don’t expect to find any fungi, I mean fun guys in this lame excuse for graphic displays of vivisection.

Fair (1.5 stars)
Rated R for violence, profanity and grisly images.
Running time: 103 minutes
Studio: IFC Films

The Real McCain

The Real McCain:
Why Conservatives Don’t Trust Him
And Why independents Shouldn’t
by Cliff Schechter
PoliPoint Press
Paperback, $14.95
200 pages
ISBN: 978-0-9794822-9-8

Book Review by Kam Williams

“Race is one of the hot-button social issues of our time. As someone whose ancestors owned slaves and fought on the side of the Confederacy, McCain might have gone out of his way to stake out a clear and progressive position. Instead… he voted against making Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday a federal holiday…
As recently as September 1999, McCain said that choosing whether to fly the Confederate flag ‘should be left to the states,’ and that ‘personally, I see the flag as a symbol of heritage.”
-- Excerpted from Chapter Eight (pages 118-119)

Ever since the campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination turned ugly, all the attention has focused on the nasty, protracted battle between Obama and Clinton, with the candidates’ every misstatement, association and peccadillo being dissected and examined under the media microscope. Meanwhile, the presumptive Republican nominee has been enjoying a free pass.
However, people shouldn’t assume that, just because no one’s critically assessing John McCain’s resume’, his voting record and checkered past don’t deserve every bit as much scrutiny. Fortunately, political commentator Cliff Schecter agrees, and he’s written a revealing expose’ about the hot-headed senior senator from Arizona.
In the interest of equal time, his book, The Real McCain, deserves serious consideration by any citizen who believes in the Fairness Doctrine, because it reveals numerous rather disconcerting factoids about the war hero with designs on the White House. For instance, speaking of his stint in the Hanoi Hilton, are you aware that he cooperated with the enemy while being held in a POW camp? George Bush let that cat out of the bag when running against him back in 2000.
We learn that during that same campaign the Bush camp claimed that McCain had a black love child with a mistress. If true, the infidelity wasn’t the big news, since he’d already taken full responsibility for the failure of his first marriage, admitting to cheating on his wife after she was seriously injured in an auto accident.
But he didn’t say with whom. McCain having Jungle Fever would be noteworthy primarily because “his great-grandfather was a slaveholder who fought and died for the Confederacy,” and he had followed in his forefather’s steps by faithfully voting against African-American interests. So, just like segregationist Senator Strom Thurmond, a mulatto skeleton in the closet would mean McCain was another racist hypocrite masking his having the hots for black women.
Chock full of shocking indiscretions ranging from all of the above to allegations of bribe-taking, war profiteering, backstabbing, flip-flopping and even angry calling his wife a [C-word] in front of the press, The Real McCain is a book likely to take the bloom off the rose of a man whose past might otherwise remain unchallenged between the present and the general election.