Saturday, May 31, 2008

Sex and the City

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Ballyhooed HBO Series Brought to Screen as a Bloated Blabfest

Strictly for Loyal Fan Base

Since I was never swept up into any of the hysteria surrounding Sex and the City during its six-season run on HBO, this big screen adaptation had to serve as my introduction to the adult-oriented sitcom. As someone only casually familiar with the franchise, I anticipated seeing a sophisticated romantic romp revolving around four best friends who candidly confide in each other about the state of their love relationships.

But what I found instead was a bloated blabfest featuring a few of the most shallow, middle-aged females imaginable, immature material girls commenting about men, money, baubles and designer clothes in a flip and superficially manner. When not celebrating conspicuous consumption and the acquisition of status symbols, the film resorts to the sort of comic relief one would ordinarily associate with a typical raunchy teensploit: fart sound effects, poop and pubic hair jokes, a running-gag about a pet in heat, and the current romantic comedy rage, the gratuitous unveiling of male genitalia (ala Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Harold & Kumar 2, et al)

While this much-ballyhooed film version failed to measure up to my expectations, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the TV series’ devoted fans are likely to be as disappointed. Afterall, the picture is essentially an extended episode reuniting the original cast members and placing their characters in plausible predicaments based on their personalities and the passage of time since the show went on hiatus.

Once we get past the opening credits, the NYC-situated saga proceeds to embroil each of the leading ladies in a personal emotional drama. The primary plotline finds narrator Carrie Bradshaw (Sarah Jessica Parker) and John James Preston, aka Mr. Big (Chris Noth) finally agreeing to marry after having dated off and on for ten years. She then calls gal pal Samantha (Kim Catrall) to share her “big decision,” when the lamebrained bimbo guesses, “You finally got Botox.”

We subsequently learn that sexaholic Samantha, the most promiscuous of the clique, has settled down in L.A. with her neglectful boy-toy, Smith (Jason Lewis), a waiter-turned-Hollywood actor. Her crisis arrives when she finds herself attracted to Dante (Gilles Marini), a tall, dark and handsome hunk next-door with an equally-overactive libido. Will substituting food stifle the carnality she craves, or will that simply pack on poundage?

Meanwhile, back in the Big Apple, Miranda (Cynthia Hobbes), a career-oriented attorney with a five year-old son (Joseph Pupo), has been too busy to notice that she and her husband, Steve (David Eigenberg), haven’t slept together in six months. After he makes an admission of infidelity, she is forced to wrestle with whether she wants to work on or simply abandon the marriage.

The last of the interlocking plotlines involves the disruption of Charlotte’s (Kristin Davis) practically-perfect family life by an unplanned pregnancy. For she and hubby Harry (Evan Handler) had already adopted a Chinese orphan (Alexandra and Parker Fong) after she suffered a miscarriage.

It feels like forever by the time this 2½ hour soap opera ties all these assorted loose ends together, especially given that the dialogue is laced with annoying lines like, “It was the best money I ever spent” from spoiled rotten Carrie about buying a Louis Vuitton. On another occasion, Miranda complains that she can’t get a 917 area code for her new cell phone number, after she narcissistic threw the last one in the ocean in a fit of rage.

Unfortunately, the supporting cast isn’t any more endearing, starting with Jennifer Hudson who plays best-selling writer Carrie’s just-hired assistant, Louise. The Oscar-winner (for Dreamgirls) isn’t given much to do here other than to look relatively frumpy while gushing over her fashion plate boss’ great taste and generosity. Meanwhile, Mario Cantone camps it up as Anthony, a gay wedding planner who seizes on any excuse to steal a scene like a flamboyant queen.

An estrogen-fueled salute to the virtues of excess, if that’s your Gucci bag.

Fair (1 star)

Rated R for profanity, sexuality and graphic nudity.

Running time: 142 minutes

Studio: New Line Cinema

Savage Grace

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Morose Melodrama Revisits Tragedies Visited upon Family with Plastics Fortune

In 1907, Dr. Leo Baekeland invented a new type of plastic he called Bakelite. The formula for the new synthetic proved so popular that it wasn’t long before the Belgian-American chemist found himself sitting atop a considerable fortune. A couple of generations later, his grandson Brooks (Stephen Dillane) didn’t know what he was getting into when he wed a shameless gold digger named Barbara Daly (Julianne Moore).
Worse than the fact that the beautiful redhead married him for his money, was that she was mentally unstable and given to bouts of depression and impulsive angry outbursts. Furthermore, she led a decadent, self-indulgent lifestyle marked by infidelity and substance abuse, so it is no surprise that her marital relationship was so stormy.
Some people should never have kids, case in point, the Baekelands But unfortunately, they did have a son, Tony (Eddie Redmayne), who turned out to be even nuttier than his domineering mother. No doubt, he was driven crazy by her going to great lengths to change his sexual preference once she realized he was gay.
Not only did she pressure him to date girls, but the incestuous cougar even pounced upon the poor boy to try to turn him straight. But because Tony didn’t share her Oedipal inclinations, theirs wasn’t a story with a happily ever after ending.
The tragic trajectory of this dysfunction family is carefully chronicled by Savage Grace, a warts-and-all bio-pic directed by Tom Kalin. Spanning the years of 1946 through 1972, the picture unfolds against assorted glamorous backdrops in cities like New York, Paris, Mallorca and London.
Don’t be deceived by the glitz, for despite the Baekelands being able to afford the finer things in life, their wealth proved to be no defense against such antisocial behaviors as suicide, matricide and grandma-cide. A feel-bad peek at how the other half lives showing that no one knows what goes on behind closed doors.

Very Good (3 stars)
Running time: 97 minutes
Studio: IFC Films

Vince Vaughn's Wild West Comedy Show DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Vince Vaughn's Comedy Showcase Comes to DVD

In the Summer of 2005, Vince Vaughn came up with the novel idea of assembling an ensemble of entertainers in order to put on some old-fashioned variety shows mixing standup, improv and musical routines. The plan was for the troupe to barnstorm across the country by tour bus, performing in 30 cities in 30 days as they made their way from Hollywood into America’s heartland and back.
So, with the help of his best friend, former child star Peter Billingsley, Vince tapped Bret Ernst, John “Cap” Caparulo, Sebastian Maniscalco and Ahmed Ahmed to be his headliners. Then he invited a few of his showbiz pals to participate, including Jon Favreau, Justin Long, Dwight Yoakam and Keir O’Donnell. The upshot of their efforts is this surprisingly cerebral concert flick which divides its time evenly between the highlights of irreverent onstage acts and more sobering moments of introspection captured during downtime.
For instance, Sebastian, who was waiting tables when discovered, comes to tears while expressing his gratitude to Vince about being given this big break.
Bret, by contrast, is almost as emotional when reflecting upon the death of his gay elder brother from AIDS, while Ahmed Ahmed talks earnestly about how 9/11 has forced him to build his act around racial profiling and his being Arab-American.
Still, emcee Vince Vaughn comes off the best, here, as an altruistic icon willing to offer a helping hand to up-and-coming comics because he has never forgotten what it was like to be a struggling actor. He even altered their tight schedule in order to visit with victims of Katrina and to do a benefit, when the hurricane hit during the middle of the tour.
Comedy with a social conscious. How refreshing!

Excellent (4 stars)
Rated R for sexual humor and pervasive profanity.
Running time: 100 minutes
Studio: New Line Home Entertainment
DVD Extras: Feature-length commentary with executive producers Vince Vaughn and Peter Billingsley, second feature-length commentary with director Ari Sandel and comedians Bret Ernst, Sebastian Maniscalco and Ahmed Ahmed, “Behind the Scenes” featurette, “The Tour” featurette, “The Making of Vince Vaughn’s Wild West Comedy Show” featurette, “Wrap up” featurette and a theatrical trailer.

Meet the Spartans DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Silly Spoof of 300 Released on DVD

The film 300 was an epic recreating the bloody Battle of Thermopylae during which King Leonidas led several hundred Spartans in a futile defense of the country against invaders from Persia. Meet the Spartans is a light-hearted spoof of that costume drama which pits a gay army against a horde of hip-hop marauders.
So, instead of macho heroes marching valiantly off to war, we’re treated to the sight of sensitive soldiers affectionately holding hands as they skip two-by-two up the trail to their fate. Although the picture fairly faithfully follows the plot of 300, it obviously does take considerable license with the facts
Seems that everyone is fair game, here, including Britney Spears, Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan, each of whom is impersonated sans panties, the PG-13 rating notwithstanding. Other celebrity look-a-likes include Ugly Betty, American Idol’s Paua Abdul, Randy Jackson, Simon Cowell, Ryan Seacrest and sexually-ambiguous also-ran Sanjaya.
This mean-spirited shock comedy is likely to make you laugh to the extent that you enjoy poking further fun at the vulnerable and the emotionally damaged. Britney definitely gets the most mud tossed in her direction, whether over shaving her head, going public with her privates, or being caught up in a nasty custody battle with K-Fed.
The film’s funniest moment arrives when internet curiosity Chris Crocker appears on screen delivering the “Leave Britney Alone!” rant that landed him his 15 minutes of fame on YouTube. Unfortunately, most of the skits fall flat, since they have nothing of insight to share about the subjects, and often end with characters being pushed into the Pit of Death as soon as the writers run out of ideas of what to do with them
Don’t expect anything of depth and you won’t be disappointed by this predigested pabulum. Mental bubblegum for the brain whose cinematic taste lasts only about as long as the viewing.

Good (2 stars)
Rated PG-13 for profanity, sexuality, crude humor and slapstick violence.
Running time: 87 minutes
Studio: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
DVD Extras: Audio commentary by the cast and crew, “Know Your Spartans Pop Culture” set-top trivia game, a gag reel, “Meet The Spartans: The Music” featurette, “Prepare For Thrusting” featurette, a tour of the set, and theatrical trailers.

Flawless DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Michael Caine and Demi Moore Whodunit Due on DVD

Laura Quinn (Demi Moore) was the first female executive at the London Diamond Corporation, England’s leading importer of precious gems. However, the 38 year-old American is still a disgruntled employee because she’s been repeatedly passed over for a promotion to managing director.
This slight has not been lost on Mr. Hobbs (Michael Caine), the company’s janitor. Hoping Laura’s angry enough about hitting the glass ceiling to take revenge, the elderly widower suggests they rob the jewel-filled vault in the basement.
The foolproof scheme sounds simple enough. All she has to do is give him the combination, and he will crack the safe during his overnight shift. And he promises to purloin only a tiny pouchful of priceless stones, so that no one will even notice the theft.
Everything is set when Laura has second thoughts because of recent upgrades in the site’s surveillance system. Hobbs ignores her pleas to abandon the conspiracy, and proceeds as planned.
The plot thickens the morning after the robbery, when it is discovered that the place has been totally cleaned out, and the company has to announce losses in the hundreds of millions. Why did Hobbs lie and steal more than agreed upon amount of stones? Did greed get the better of him or did he have a massive robbery in mind all along?
With the case having all the earmarks of an inside job, how long will he and Laura keep from arousing the suspicion of the investigating detectives? These are just a few of the questions raised en route to the surprising resolution of as intriguing a psychological mindbender as you could hope to wrap your head around.
A masterfully-constructed, multi-layered whodunit certain to keep you confounded and guessing about each succeeding twist from start to finish.

Excellent (3.5 stars)
Rated PG-13 for brief profanity.
Running time: 109 minutes
Studio: Magnolia Home Entertainment
DVD Extras: Audio commentary, deleted scenes and a featurette.

Semi-Pro DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Hijinks and Hoops Featured in Ferrell Retro Comedy

Will Ferrell brings his bawdy brand of tomfoolery to the world of basketball with this retro comedy, set in the Seventies. He stars as Jackie Moon, the player/coach/owner of the Flint Tropics, a fledgling ABA franchise.
As the film unfolds, his cellar-dwelling team looks like a horrible investment, given that attendance is down due to an economic recession. A ray of hope arrives when the league’s commissioner (David Koechner) announces an impending merger with the NBA.
The catch is that only the four best teams will be included in the deal, and the rest of the struggling clubs will simply be dissolved. So, what passes for tension revolves around whether the Tropics will manage to finish in fourth place by the end of the season.
True to the Ferrell formula, going for the joke trumps plot and character development at every turn, with much of the humor coming courtesy of nonsensical sight gags, slapstick and non-sequiturs, and via period fashion statements as cotton-candy afros, garish color schemes and loathsome leisure suits. Each Tropics team member is patterned after a familiar caricature, from the trash-talking showboat (Andrew Benjamin) to the aging veteran (Woody Harrelson) to the Eastern European import (Peter Cornell).
Kent Alterman makes a decent directorial debut here, though he underutilized a cast packed with comedians (Tim Meadows, DeRay Davis, Charlyne Yi, Rob Corddry and Andy Richter) plus pop diva Patti LaBelle. Not much is asked of them except for wide-eyed reaction shots to Moon’s manic misbehavior. See Jackie urinate on himself in a dumpster! Watch him wrestle a bear, shoot someone else while playing Russian roulette, or almost successfully jump on rollerblades over a long row of cheerleaders! Ouch!
Another goofy spoof strictly for the Ferrell faithful who ostensibly never tire of such bottom-feeding fare.

Good (2 stars)
Rated R for profanity and crude humor.
Running time: 100 minutes
Studio: New Line Home Entertainment
2-Disc DVD Extras: Deleted scenes, improv, “Love Me Sexy – The Story Behind the One-Hit-Wonder” featurette, “Recreating the American Basketball Association (ABA)” featurette, “Four Days in Flint” featurette, “The Man Behind Semi-Pro” featurette, behind the scenes footage with Bill Walton, Bob Costas and movie character Dick Pepperfield, “Love Me Sexy” music video, and theatrical teasers and trailers.

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 June 6, 2008


Kung Fu Panda (PG for martial arts action) Animated comedy about a clumsy, panda bear (Jack Black) working as a waiter in his family’s noodle restaurant who is called upon to fulfill an ancient Chinese prophecy by defending his idyllic, peaceful homeland from a menacing snow leopard (Ian McShane) threatening the kingdom. Voice cast includes Dustin Hoffman, Lucy Liu, Jackie Chan, Angelina Jolie, Michael Clarke Duncan and Seth Rogen.

The Promotion (R for profanity, sexual references and drug use) Workplace comedy pits a couple of Chicago grocery store assistant managers (Sean William Scott and John C. Reilly) against each other as they vie for a coveted managerial position at the chain’s new location. Cast includes SNL’s Fred Armisen, Masi Oka and Spo.

You Don’t Mess with the Zohan (PG-13 for nudity, profanity, sexuality and crude humor) Action comedy starring Adam Sandler in the title role as an Israeli secret agent who fakes his own death to pursue his lifelong dream of becoming a beautician in NYC. Famous-faced cast includes John Turturro, Rob Schneider, Kevin James, Henry “The Fonz” Winkler, Talia “Adrian” Shire, George “Lt. Sulu” Takei, r&b diva Maria Carey, pop singer Dave Matthews, Lainie Kazan, Charlotte Rae and legendary comedian Shelley Berman.


Dreams with Sharp Teeth (Unrated) Retrospective bio-pic chronicles the storied career of prolific science fiction writer and iconoclastic Renaissance Man

Harlan Ellison who proves to be as cantankerous as ever at the age of 74.

The Go-Getter (R for profanity, sexuality and drug use) Bittersweet road flick about a teenager (Lou Taylor Pucci) who steals a car to travel across state lines to inform his long-lost half-brother (Jsu Garcia) about the death of their mother. En route, he develops an increasingly flirtatious relationship with the automobile’s owner (Zooey Deschanel) via cell phone. (In English and Spanish with subtitles)

The Grocer’s Son (Unrated) Return to roots saga about a 30 year-old man (Nicolas Cazale) who moves from the city back to the tiny town of his birth to run the family grocery store after his father (Daniel Duval) suddenly dies of a heart attack. (In French with subtitles)

Miss Conception (R for profanity and sexuality) Biological clock comedy, set in London, starring Heather Graham as a single businesswoman who waits too late to start a family and embarks on a desperate search for the perfect sperm donor after learning that she has just one month left before the onset of menopause.

Mongol (R for graphically-depicted battle sequences) Bloody bio-pic revisits the transformation of a lowly slave named Temudgin (Tadanobu Asano) into Genghis Khan (1162-1227), the legendary warrior who would unite numerous, nomadic, northeast Asian tribes en route to conquering half the world and creating the largest empire in history by 1206. (In Mongolian with subtitles)

On the Rumba River (Unrated) Overdue tribute to legendary African recording artist Wendo Kolosoy who released his first album in 1948 and whose music continues to sustain the Congolese people in spite of decades of suffering market by poverty, oppression, ethnic cleansing and civil war. (In Lingala with subtitles)

Operation Filmmaker (Unrated) “New lease on life” documentary examines the shifting fortunes of aspiring, Iraqi movie director Muthana Mohmed who was invited in 2003 by Liev Schreiber to participate in the production of a feature film following the bombing of his film school during the fall of Baghdad.

RFK Must Die (Unrated) Conspiracy theory documentary questions the conventional thinking about the Bobby Kennedy assassination case by suggesting that Sirhan Sirhan had an accomplice seen fleeing the murder scene in a polka dotted dress screaming “We shot him!” Plus, a Columbia University professor hints that Sirhan might have been a hypnotized, Muslim Manchurian candidate, while Munir Sirhan breaks his self-imposed silence to vouch for his brother’s character.

To the Limit (Unrated) “Because it is there” documentary, featuring breathtaking cinematography, paints a compelling portrait of a couple of very competitive mountain climbing siblings, Thomas and Alexander Huber, as they attempt to set a speed record while scaling the thousand foot-high vertical nose of El Capitan, a peak located in Yosemite National Park. (In German and English with subtitles)

The Wedding Director (Unrated) Romance drama, set in Sicily, about a famous filmmaker (Sergio Castellitto), already embroiled in a tawdry scandal, who now falls in love with the Princess (Donatella Finocchiaro) whose wedding he’s been hired to shoot.

(In Italian with subtitles)

When Did You Last See Your Father? (PG-13 for sexuality, mature themes and brief profanity) Twilight-of-life drama, based on Blake Morrison’s candid memoir of the same name, about a doctor (Colin Firth) who reflects upon his relationship with his terminally-ill father (Jim Broadbent) while at his side in the hospital.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008


Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Real-Life Crime Saga Adapted to the Screen

On Friday, October 26, 2001, 27 year-old Chante Mallard, an African-American employed as nurse’s aide, was driving under the influence of both booze and illegal drugs following a night of partying when she hit Gregory Biggs as he was crossing the street. The 37 year-old, homeless white man became wedged in the windshield, and no amount of shaking could roll him off the hood.
Biggs was bleeding but alive, and although his injuries were not yet life threatening, Chante decided to drive home without ever calling an ambulance or reporting the accident to the police. Instead, she invited her boyfriend, Clete Jackson, over, and for the rest of the weekend they continued to drink alcohol, smoke pot, do Ecstasy and make love, while intermittently checking on the deteriorating condition of the guy in the garage.
When Mr. Biggs finally bled to death a couple of days later, they dumped his body in a park in Fort Worth, Texas with the help of Clete’s cousin and set the car on fire elsewhere to hide the evidence. The only reason the trio got caught is because Chante was overheard laughingly recounting the incident to friends several months later. She was subsequently convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison, while her boyfriend got 10 years, and their accomplice after the fact got 9.
Stuck, a crime story only loosely based on the above events, stars Mena Suvari (American Beauty) as Brandi, a white girl sporting corn rows and dating an overbearing black drug dealer named Rashid (Russell Hornsby). Soon after the point of departure we find the pair in a noisy nightclub where he pressures her to trust him and take an unidentified pill although she’s obviously already inebriated.
Not long thereafter, she leaves alone and while talking to Rashid on her cell phone runs into a hobo (Stephen Rea) pushing a shopping cart. His head on resting the dashboard, the bum begs Brandi for help, and at first she heads for the hospital, only to panic and turn around. “You should’ve watched where you were going,” she blames the victim, though still promising to get help.
The screen version of the saga departs considerably from the known facts in order to present Brandi as a somewhat sympathetic and emotionally-conflicted figure. Instead, it’s her Svengali-like boyfriend is portrayed as the more culpable monster. While these two mate like rabbits in a controlled substance-fueled frenzy, the picture introduces an array of colorful passersby who come close to discovering their semi-comatose hood ornament. There’s a kid chasing an errant soccer ball, curious illegal aliens, a dog walker and nosy neighbors.
Surprisingly taut and absorbing, even if you’re already familiar with the famous case, Stuck is a harrowing tale which maintains a palpable tension for the duration. Just don’t watch it on an empty stomach

Excellent (4 stars)
Rated R for nudity, profanity, explicit sexuality, drug use, graphic violence and disturbing images.
In English and Spanish with subtitles.
Running time: 86 minutes
Distributor: THINKFilm

To see the trailer for Stuck, visit:

Sweet Release: The Last Step to Black Freedom

by Dr. James Davison, Jr.
Prometheus Books
Hardcover, $24.95
275 pages
ISBN: 978-1-59102-558-0

Book Review by Kam Williams

“The racial struggle, for many of us, is over. Our struggles are now centered around schools for our children, career opportunities, and development of self. Racial struggles are increasingly becoming secondary or tertiary concerns in our everyday discourse… As a group, we’ve attained physical and political freedom: now on to psychological freedom and mental health outside the group.
Our black identity is a by-product of slavery and racism – an affectation, assumed rather than natural. Ideally, there should exist no such thing as black identity. It is part of our oppression, a notion propagated by those motivated to provide anchor to a people set adrift by slavery. I contend that that same anchor now ties us down, retarding our free movement…
We must move beyond race… Are you ready?”
-- Chapter 26 “Black Identity beyond the Struggle” (pg. 224)

Is it detrimental for African-Americans to continue to think of their struggle for advancement as a collective as opposed to a solitary enterprise? This is the controversial contention put forward by Dr. James Davison, Jr. in Sweet Release: The Last Step to Black Freedom? Davidson, a psychologist in private practice in California, argues that blacks still viewing reality through a pre-Civil Rights Era prism are only standing in the way of their own freedom.
Delivering a series of self-help lessons in the blistering language of tough love, the book unapologetically blames poor folks for their plight, while simultaneously stating emphatically that those fortunate enough to have escaped the slums need not feel any responsibility “to give back.” At first blush, Davison may simply sound like the latest in that ever-lengthening line of leading black conservatives which includes social scientist Shelby Steele, economist Thomas Sowell, businessman Ward Connerly and linguist John McWhorter, among others.
However, Davison deserves serious consideration, if only because more and more African-Americans who share his point-of-view are gaining access to the mainstream media and having their ideas published by top publishers. Furthermore, as a shrink, his unique analysis amounts to the functional equivalent of an emotional diagnosis of the mental state of the black psyche.
His basic contention is that African-Americans need to break the psychological bonds to their racial past by asserting their individuality, a step which he claims “has little to do with racism, prejudice, or discrimination.” He goes on to indict revered icons like Reverends Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson, Minister Louis Farrakhan and their kind as hate mongers and entertainers who feed off the poor by selling them false pride.
By contrast, Dr. Davison deems the oft-maligned black middle-class to be the real role models worthy of emulation, since “success and failures are the result of effort and ability, not luck or ingratiating behavior.” Consequently, he suggests that people distance themselves from the ghetto gangsta “fraternity of failure” where such practices as “partying, having constant sex, getting high, working on my jump shot and being a criminal” take precedence over developing the skills and qualifications for a successful career.
In incendiary street vernacular, he addresses these thugs directly, saying, “Your game has been peeped and I’m calling you out… You are our worst enemies and our worst liabilities, our worst representatives. Your smug recalcitrance has become bothersome. You are bums, plain and simple.” So, it is no surprise that barely pausing to take a breath, he calls jive brothers on the societal carpet for their refusal “to stand up and take responsibility for their children, their community or even themselves” which he sees as “the greatest calamity visited upon black America today.”
Sweet Release, a bitter pill to swallow, but so shockingly confrontational that its prescription for black sanity is a must read, despite the doctor’s apparent right-wing political allegiances.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Jennifer Hudson: The Sex and the City Interview

with Kam Williams

Headline: Jennifer in the City

Jennifer Kate Hudson was born in Chicago on September 12, 1981 to Darnell Hudson and Samuel Simpson. At the age of seven, she started singing in her Baptist church’s gospel choir where she honed her vocal skills with the help of her late maternal grandmother, Julia. After graduating from Dunbar Vocational Career Academy in 1999, the 5’9” beauty began in show business in community theater and then on a Disney cruise liner before unveiling her four-octave range in front of a national TV audience on American Idol during the show’s third season.
Though Jennifer only finished seventh, many still consider her to be the most talented person ever to enter the competition. So, it was no surprise when she brought down the house delivering a spirited rendition of “And I Am Telling You I Am Not Going” as Effie White in the screen adaptation of the Broadway musical Dreamgirls. Based on the strength of that Oscar-winning performance, she was signed to play Carrie’s (Sarah Jessica Parker) assistant, Louise, in Sex and the City, a character writer/director Michael Patrick King created with Jennifer specifically in mind.
On the musical front, her yet to be titled debut CD is set to be released by Arista Records in the Fall, although her first single, “Spotlight,” was leaked on May 16th, and can be found online. (Visit: ) As for her love life, Jennifer is back with her high school sweetheart, James Peyton, though the couple is in no rush to tie the knot just yet.

KW: Hey, Jennifer, thanks for the time.
JH: How are you doing?
KW: Fine, thanks. Have things calmed down for you since winning an Academy Award?
JH: I have had a break. That was crazy with the whole Dreamgirls thing and the Oscars and all that. I was glad to get to come down a bit because it was like riding a roller coaster.
KW: How do you feel about following up Dreamgirls with Sex in the City?
JH: I love it! Dreamgirls and Sex and the City… that’s hot! I like the idea.
KW: Would you have preferred doing another musical?
JH: No, I’ve been looking for a role in which I didn’t have to sing. I don’t want every role to involve singing. I don’t mind singing in a film, but I want to act, too.
KW: Do you have any songs on the soundtrack?
JH: Yes, “All Dressed in Love.” Cee-Lo [Green of Gnarls Barkley] wrote it, and then I got to sing it. And I think it’s the perfect song, because they took fashion and love and tied them together and made a Sex and the City song.
KW: Were you a fan of Sex in the City when it was on HBO?
JH: I had never watched the show, but once I read the script and then started watching the DVDs for the audition, that’s when I fell in love with it.
KW: Was it hard fitting into an established cast as a newcomer?
JH: I was a little nervous during my audition, of course. After that, everybody made me feel very welcome and right at home. It was like one, huge happy family. I felt like the baby of the family.
KW: Did you ever have a job as a personal assistant in real life, like your character Louise?
JH: [Laughs] Oh no. I think it was fun playing a personal assistant, but I can’t work no computer and I’m not that organized at all.
KW: Did you find the role challenging?
JH: It was quite hard, although I switched roles with my assistant, answering the phone etcetera, so I could get the feel of being an assistant. I would assist him, which I don’t think I did too good of a job of.
KW: Did working on this movie give you a better appreciation of fashion?
JH: Definitely! I’m more into fashion now, because their level of it is exciting and more interesting, and made me want to experiment with my style.
KW: Which of the film’s four lead characters could you relate to the most?
JH: I’d say Charlotte [played by Kristin Davis], because she’s the wholesome, traditional girl, and that’s more like me.
KW: There’s been a lot of secrecy surrounding the picture’s plot. Did friends pester you to find out what’s going to happen?
JH: Everyone did. I had to duck and dodge everybody. So, I would just tell them, “If you’re a fan of the series, you’ll be a fan of the movie, because it’s true to the series. Wait on it. It’s coming.”
KW: Were you a guest at the wedding of your Dreamgirls co-star, Beyonce’, to Jay-Z?
JH: Is that true? Did she really get married? If so, I’m going to have to send her a gift. Beyonce’s an extremely private person, and I respect that.
KW: Do you have any plans to get married?
JH: No, I’m too young to get married.
KW: There seems to be a lot of it going around lately.
JH: And having babies, too. I’m going to wait on that.
KW: What happened to that guy, your childhood sweetheart, James?
JH: What happened to him? [Laughs] He’s at home. He has to work.
KW: What other movies are you working on?
JH: I just finished The Secret Life of Bees in the past two months. That’ll be out on October 17th. And Winged Creatures, which I’m not sure when it’s gong to be released. I don’t have any other roles lined up right now, but we’re working on that. Meanwhile, I’m trying to focus on finishing the album which comes out September 30th.
KW: Why has it taken you so long to release your debut CD? Is the process of making an album different from what you expected?
JH: I didn’t know what to expect. Everything is so new to me. Alicia Keys talked to me about it and told me not to worry because it took her at least a year to record her first album.
KW: Who did you like on American Idol this season?
JH: [Runner-up] David Archuleta was my favorite.
KW: when you were on the show, judge Simon Cowell once said to you, “I think you’re out of your depth in this competition.” Have you heard from him?
JH: I haven’t heard from Simon since he apologized to me on Oprah.
KW: Well, he had to eat his words in the end, so you definitely got the last laugh. Thanks again, Jennifer.
JH: Thank you.

Jennifer’s MySpace homepage:
To hear her new single, “Spotlight,” visit:

Sunday, May 25, 2008

I'm Through with White Girls (The Inevitable Undoing of Jay Brooks)

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Brother Cured of Jungle Fever Decides to Settle Down with a Sister

Although he himself is African-American, Jay Brooks (Anthony Montgomery) doesn’t date black girls, basically because every one he’s met has been more interested in the athletic, alpha-male, Talented Tenth type of guy. And this thirty-something, nerdy underachiever not only wears glasses, but can’t dance, chain smokes through a cigarette holder and isn’t exactly good in bed. Worse, his pay as an illustrator of graphic novels isn’t enough for him to own a car, which makes it almost impossible to wine and dine women in a city like Los Angeles.
Still, these failings haven’t prevented the roaming Romeo from finding one white girl after another eager to sleep with him. The only problem is that none of those serially monogamous liaisons ever lasts because Jay always sabotages them at the first sign that a partner wants to get serious.
He’s recently dumped his latest conquest in his usual fashion, namely, by leaving behind a note as he went out the door, because the Rubenesque redhead (Jennifer Hogan) said he reminded her of the actor Gary Coleman. Reflecting upon his series of failed relationships with Caucasians, Jay decides it’s time to try to see if he can find a suitable match from among his own people afterall. So, he puts into motion Operation Brown Sugar, running a personal ad seeking a sister.
He proceeds to audition a string of losers without any luck, until by chance he is introduced by a mutual friend (Kellee Stewart) to Catherine Williamson (Lia Johnson), a best-selling author with a new book on the market prophetically-entitled, “The Inevitable Was Bound to Happen.” Catherine is a free-spirit sporting colorful hair extensions, which prompts Jay to remark, “I didn’t know black girls grew blue hair.”
Not one to be intimidated, the feisty fiction writer snaps back, “I didn’t know you could smoke through a straw.” There’s an instant attraction which Jay has a hard time trusting because his thoroughly enjoying the company of a black woman feels utterly unfamiliar. But once these soul mates start dating, the only question is whether fear of commitment will cause him to ruin the best thing he’s ever had.
So, unfolds I'm Through with White Girls, a battle-of-the-sexes comedy marking the delightful directorial debut of Jennifer Sharp. Equally-impressive is the gifted young cast employed to execute Courtney Lilly’s endlessly inventive script, especially co-stars Lia Johnson and Anthony Montgomery, as well as Lamman Rucker, Marcus Patrick, Kellee Stewart, Ryan Alosio and veteran Johnny Brown (who you may remember as Bookman the Janitor on the classic TV series “Good Times.)
Alternately entertaining and enlightening, this hilariously funny flick is proof positive that it’s possible to shoot a sophisticated romantic romp on a shoe-string budget.

Excellent (4 stars)
Rated R for profanity, an ethnic slur and sexual references.
Running time: 94 minutes
Studio: Turn Soul Films/Image Entertainment

Then She Found Me

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Helen Hunt Makes Decent Directorial Debut with Bittersweet Romantic Comedy

Ten years after she won an Academy Award for As Good As It Gets, Helen Hunt has now decided to take a shot at directing. Her debut offering, Then She Found Me, is based on the best seller of the same name by Elinor Lipman. Hunt also wrote the screen adaptation and co-stars opposite Colin Firth and Bette Midler in this bittersweet romantic comedy exploring a litany of themes, including love, loss, rebirth and redemption.
The story is set in Brooklyn where we find newlywed April Epner (Hunt) hearing her biological clock ticking and eager to start a family. Unfortunately the 39 year-old schoolteacher’s immature husband and colleague Ben (Matthew Broderick) doesn’t share her feelings. In fact, he’s been having second thoughts about even having tied the knot, and is about to break the news that he’s decided to leave her after only 12 months of marriage.
The morning after being dumped, a Prince Charming fortuitously comes waltzing into her life in the person of Frank (Firth), the father of one of her students. He’s recently separated from his wife and can barely hide his attraction to April. But before their love has a chance to blossoms a few flies land in the ointment.
First, April’s adoptive mother (Lynn Cohen) dies. Second, she finds out she’s pregnant by her ex. Third, her birth mother (Bette Midler), a flamboyant talk show host, shows up out of nowhere, in need of quality time and wanting to bond. So, as April practically simultaneously sets about grieving, divorcing, getting acquainted with her long-lost mom, and preparing for the arrival of a baby, she also starts dating the man of her dreams.
No need to spoil any of the picture’s array of surprising developments, suffice to say that the plot is anything but predictable. As for grading Hunt’s overall effort, other than perhaps being a little long in the tooth to have Colin Firth’s character convincingly going gaga over her (“You’re gorgeous!”), she did a decent job of directing a chick flick which ought to be a hit with the distaff demographic.
Just remember to pack the hankies.

Very Good (3 stars)
Rated R for profanity and sexuality.
Running time: 100 minutes
Studio: THINKfilm Company

Saturday, May 24, 2008

The Edge of Heaven (TURKISH)

(Auf der Anderen Seite)
Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Cross-Cultural Melodrama Explores Turkish Immigrants’ Adjustment to Germany

In 2004, Fatih Akin’s Head-On brilliantly brought to light the challenges faced by Turks trying to assimilate into German culture. That female empowerment flick revolved around a free-spirited young woman’s desperate attempt to escape her orthodox Muslim family’s pressure to abide by traditional Islamic principles at a time when she was eager to Westernize and integrate into mainstream society.
Now director Akin, who is himself of Turkish-German extraction, has crafted another thought-provoking masterpiece exploring the same theme but almost in reverse. For now he has his protagonists venturing back and forth between Deutschland and Turkey, almost as if they are undecided about exactly in which country they belong.
The picture is called The Edge of Heaven, although its German name, Auf der Anderen Seite, is actually more appropriate since that translates to “on the other side.” The movie is a character-driven ensemble piece which grows out of the ill-fated relationship of convenience entered into between Ali (Tuncel Kurtiz), a senior citizen on a fixed income, and Yeter (Nursel Kose), a prostitute working in Bremen’s red light district.
At the point of departure, he’s just one of her many clients. But the two Turkish immigrants strike an unusual bargain whereby she moves into his apartment and promises to give up hooking on the condition that he pay her a salary equal to what she was making as a streetwalker.
It doesn’t take long for the plot to thicken after prideful Ali suspects Yeter of cheating on him and kills her in a jealous rage. First, he’s convicted of murder and disowned by his son, Nejat (Baki Davrak), a college professor. Then Nejat decides to provide for Yeter’s long-lost, suddenly-orphaned daughter, Ayten (Nurgul Yesilcay), presumably left behind in Istanbul.
So, he moves to Turkey unaware that the she’s already in Germany and seeking political asylum as a dissident. Not to worry. Ayten is soon denied that request and summarily deported and imprisoned in Istanbul. She is followed there by Lotte (Patrycia Ziolkowska), a lipstick lesbian determined to spring her life partner from the slammer.
But before she even gets a chance to approach the authorities, she’s shot to death while walking through the slums by a couple of pint-sized, child muggers with a pistol. The loss inspires grieving Suzanne (Hanna Schygulla) to retrace her daughter’s footsteps which lead to a fortuitous meeting with Ayten. What a dizzying series of events!
With the circle completed, all that’s left for this modern morality play to do is deliver the heartwarming universal message that perhaps you can teach an old dog new tricks afterall, especially if they have to do with forgiveness and tolerance.

Excellent (4 stars)
In German, Turkish and English with subtitles.
Running time: 116 minutes
Studio: Strand Releasing

Friday, May 23, 2008

Meeting Resistance DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Postwar Documentary Examines Iraqi Insurgency

For the past five years, we’ve been bombarded with Western press speculation about what fuels the Iraqi insurgency. The pointy-headed, chin-pulling pundits have placed the blame on everything from Al-qaida to Saddam loyalists to Iranian intervention to outside agitators to Shia versus Sunni civil unrest.
Now, thanks to a couple of intrepid filmmakers, Harvard grad Molly Bingham and British army veteran Steve Connors, we have a rare opportunity to hear from the participants in the resistance movement themselves exactly who they are and why they have chosen to take up arms to fight the U.S. occupation. Bingham and Connors embedded themselves with the enemy, being careful to mask faces while conducting dozens of candid interviews with so-called terrorists.
The subjects turn out to be surprisingly forthcoming about both their motivations for their attacks on American GIs, describing in intimate detail how they conduct guerilla warfare. For instance, we hear from a woman from Baghdad who freely admits to volunteering to serve as a scout and to deliver weapons because her burka can hide them and because as a female she is less likely to be stopped and frisked.
Most of the men are locals, too, and invariably see themselves as patriotic freedom fighters. None were even particularly political or religious prior to the occupation, but their consciousness was raised by the condescending treatment they received at the hands of the Coalition forces.
One guy said that before the war he never prayed and didn’t even know his way to the mosque. Yet, he has now decided to dedicate his life to radical Islam and to driving the infidel out of his homeland.
Probably the jihad’s best recruiting tool has been the Abu Ghraib prison pictures. The film features some new disgusting snapshots never released in the States, such as one with MP Lynndie England laughing while pointing at a naked detainee’s erection, as if making fun of the size of his manhood. No wonder again and again Iraqis cite restoring their pride and dignity as their reasons for planting roadside bombs, firing RPGs and lobbing mortars into the Green Zone.
Hell hath no fury like a Muslim humiliated.

Excellent (4 stars)
In Arabic and English with subtitles.
Running time: 85 minutes
Studio: First Run Features
DVD Extras: Commentary by directors Molly Bingham and Steve Connors, film notes and a theatrical trailer.

The Three Stooges Collection: Volume Two, 1937-1939

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: DVD Features 24 Classic Adventures All with Moe, Larry and Curly

Generally speaking, I’ve found that The Three Stooges are a guy thing that most females just don’t get. And that’s okay, since men tend to have the same trouble understanding the appeal of TV soap operas. So, permit me to say at the outset that I understand if my lifelong love of these consummate comedians might be lost on members of the opposite sex.
I just hope that my boundless enthusiasm for the slap-happy trio doesn’t diminish my stature in anyone’s eyes, since the pleasure derived from watching them pummel each other probably derives from something primordial in male DNA which simply cannot be helped. Yes, these clowns manage to make me double over at the sight of a grown man having his pants set on fire, getting hit in the head with a hammer, having a pie thrown in his face or having his eyes poked out.
Loyal fans of the Stooges brand of comedy are apt to appreciate this hilarious collection of shorts because all 24 feature Moe, Larry and Curly, with no substitutions of Shemp, Joe Besser, Curly Joe or Joe Palma as a poor man’s replacement for Curly. Furthermore, the digitally-remastered prints offer better quality viewing than any reception I can remember being broadcast over the airwaves when I was a child.
Among the more memorable episodes included are ”Dizzy Doctors,”
“Playing the Ponies,” “Healthy, Wealthy and Dumb,” “We Want Our Mommy,” “Oily to Bed, Oily to Rise” and “Yes, We Have No Bonanza.” But none of the wafer-thin plots matter as much as the well-orchestrated comic violence designed to build in intensity to a grand finale while the proceedings are being peppered with such trademark exclamations as “Nyu, nyuk, nyuk,” “Certainly!” and “I’m warning you!”
With Father’s Day just around the corner, consider this DVD the perfect gift guaranteed to keep Dad in stitches for days on end.

Excellent (4 stars)
Black & White
Running time: 412 minutes
Studio: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Rambo DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: DVD Features Sly Stallone Reviving Signature Role as Rambo

Sylvester Stallone may be in his sixties, but he proves he hasn’t lost a step in this revival of John Rambo, a misunderstood Vietnam veteran suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. As the latest installment opens, we find him living alone along the Salween River in northern Thailand.
He seems finally to have made peace with his tortured past, content to live out his days fishing, despite the fact that civil war is raging just across the border in Burma. Everything changes the day Christian missionaries arrive from Colorado, announcing their plan to bring Bibles and much needed medical supplies to the victims of the ongoing ethnic cleansing.
Having heard that Rambo is the best river guide around, these naïve volunteers ask for a ride to Burma aboard his rickety longboat. After repeatedly warning them in no uncertain terms to “Go home!” he succumbs to the womanly wiles of Sarah (Julie Benz), a Bible-thumping beauty gets him to ferry them into the war zone against his better judgment.
A couple of weeks later, her panicky Pastor (Ken Howard) shows up saying that they’ve all been taken hostage by the Burmese army and that the U.S. embassy has refused to get involved. Fueled by a fear that some harm might come to Sarah, Rambo reluctantly picks up a gun again and leads a rag-tag team of mercenaries on a bloody rescue mission.
At this juncture, the movie morphs into a testosterone-sodden, high body-count affair, replete with hand-to-hand combat, automatic weaponry, and visually-captivating pyrotechnics. Critical to appreciating this revenge-fueled flick is a willingness to buy into the dehumanization of the Asian bad guys presented as disposable sadists and godless rapists lusting over the only hot blonde to be found for miles around.
Not to worry, geriatric Rambo is guaranteed to save the day!

Very Good (3 stars)
Rated R profanity, sexual assaults, grisly images and graphic violence.
Running time: 91 minutes
Studio: Lions Gate Home Entertainment
2-Disc DVD Extras: Deleted scenes, audio commentary by Sylvester Stallone, bonus digital copy of the film, plus a half-dozen featurettes.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Harrison Ford Returns for Close Encounter in Revival of Indiana Jones Franchise

Like the Beatles’ melancholy refrain in the song “When I’m 64,” Harrison Ford was probably wondering whether his fans would welcome back an “older” and “losing my hair” Indiana Jones after a 19-year hiatus. For that’s exactly how old the veteran actor was when Steven Spielberg started filming the fourth installment in the fabled adventure series.

The good news is that Harrison has aged gracefully and is up to the challenge of his physically-demanding role. However, the overall production is slightly lacking somewhat in terms of generating a certain intangible we’ll call movie magic. Maybe the problem lies in the fact that the film will automatically be measured against the three earlier installments, and that it pales in comparison to those vintage screen classics.

Most folks associate the storied franchise with carefully-choreographed, death-defying stunts you can’t get out of your mind long after you’ve left the theater. Although this endeavor does feature several escape and chase scenes, none in this critic’s opinion would be considered unforgettable.

Gone is that palpable sense of urgency which kept you glued to the edge of your seat, a failing perhaps due to an increased dependency of the special effects on computer-generated imagery. So, instead of seeing our hero actually running headlong in front of a careening boulder, riding under a truck, or swaying on a ripped rope bridge over a swarm of hungry crocodiles like before, he spends a lot more time making believe in front of a blue screen. At least he’s still sporting his trademark whip and fedora.

The story is set in 1957 at the height of the Cold War, unfolding in the Nevada desert where we learn that Indy has been kidnapped by Russian spies led by the steely Irina Spalko (Cate Blanchett), an Eastern European villainess cut from the familiar mold of Austin Powers’ Frau Farbissina and From Russia with Love’s Rosa Klebb. Tied up in the trunk of a car, Jones is driven to Area 51, a top secret U.S. Air Force base about to be commandeered by the Commies.

Area 51 served as the site of numerous nuclear bomb tests, but even today many UFO conspiracy theorists believe that the location contains the corpse of an alien removed from a spaceship rumored to have crashed in Roswell, New Mexico in 1947. This is what is of interest to the KGB which wants Dr. Jones to lead them to the Martian’s mummified remains. For legend has it that it might contain the mysterious Crystal Skull, an ancient artifact said to be capable of unlocking limitless powers, provided it is taken to El Dorado, a lost city made of solid gold.

Of course, ingenious Indy escapes from his captors in spectacular fashion (including surviving an atomic blast inside of a refrigerator) and the race is on to find the priceless icon. Along the way, he teams up with Mutt (Shia LaBeouf), a Harley-riding, rebel without a cause, as well as with Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen), an old flame he hasn’t seen for several episodes, since he was looking for the Lost Ark.

The ensuing expedition to the jungles of Peru is less edgy and dangerous than it is comfy and nostalgic, partially because the transparent plot is telegraphs its punches and is outfitted with a complement of the franchise’s usual suspects, from the maniacal henchman (Igor Jijikine) to the back-stabbing, effete double-agent (Ray Winstone) to the obsessed field researcher (John Hurt) to the weak-willed, bureaucratic academic (Jim Broadbent) who plays it by the book.

Just thank your lucky stars that Harrison Ford has the charisma to reinvent one of the most-beloved characters in screen history. Indiana Jones, AARP edition: too spry for a rocking chair, but too ossified for much more excitement than a close encounter with E.T.

Very Good (3 stars)

Rated PG-13 for violence and frightening images.

Running time: 124 minutes

Studio: Paramount Pictures

Wednesday, May 21, 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 30, 2008


The Foot-Fist Way (R for profanity and sexuality) Martial arts comedy about a macho Tae Kwon Do instructor (Danny R. McBride) who sets out on a sojourn in search of his undefeated karate idol (Ben Best) after being left by his wife (Mary Jane Bostic) for her new boss.

Sex and the City (R for profanity, sexuality and graphic nudity) Screen adaptation of the popular HBO series picks up four years after the show ended, with all the leading ladies (Sarah Jessica Parker, Kim Cattrall, Cynthia Nixon and Kristin Davis ) as well as four objects of their affection (David Eigenberg, Evan Handler, Chris Noth and Jason Lewis) reprising their original roles in a candid romp updating their relationships. Supporting cast includes Candace Bergen, Jennifer Hudson and comedian Mario Cantone.

The Strangers (R for violence, terror and profanity) Hair-raising horror flick about a young couple (Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman) whose vacation retreat to a remote country cottage turns into a bloody battle for survival after a home invasion by three sadistic, masked strangers. With Gemma Ward, Kip Weeks and Laura Margolis.


Bigger, Stronger, Faster (PG-13 for mature themes, profanity, violent images, drug references and sexual content) America’s steroid addiction is the subject of this eye-opening expose’ in which director Chris Bell examines the country’s love affair with performance enhancing drugs by zeroing in on the toll they have taken on his own two brothers.

Mukshin (Unrated) Malaysian puppy love drama about a 12 year-old, new kid in town (Mohd Syafie Naswip) who befriends and then develops a crush on a headstrong, 10 year-old tomboy (Sharifah Aryana) from a bohemian family. (In Malay, Mandarin and English)

Savage Grace (Unrated) Bittersweet bio-pic chronicles the tragic life of Barbara Daly (Julianne Moore), a woman who overcame her humble roots by marrying Bakelite plastics heir Brooks Bakeland (Stephen Dillane) only to descend down an ill-fated path marked by incest, suicide and murder after entering an Oedipal relationship with her troubled son (Eddie Redmayne). (In English, French and Spanish with subtitles)

Stuck (R for nudity, sexuality, profanity, drug use, graphic violence and disturbing images) Fact-based, suspense thriller about a drunk driver (Mena Suvari) who hits a homeless man (Stephen Rea) and drives home with him impaled in her windshield where she waits for him to die slowly rather than call an ambulance or report the accident to the police.

The Tiger’s Tale (Unrated) Psychological thriller, set in Dublin, about a successful real estate developer (Brendan Gleeson) being stalked by the penniless and homeless identical twin he was separated from at birth, a murderous creep who now covets both his brother’s money and wife (Sinead Cusack).

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

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

War, Inc.

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: John Cusack as Mercenary on Mission to Kill Middle East Oil Minister

In the not too distant future, if it hasn’t already transpired, mega-corporations might replace nations as the world’s most powerful political entities. This is the state of affairs contemplated by War, Inc., a sophisticated satire directed by Joshua Seftel (Queer Eye for the Straight Guy).
The story reads like a logical extension of what some cynics say we have unfolding in Iraq, as it revolves around the efforts of a former U.S. Vice-President (Dan Aykroyd) to monopolize the economy of a mythical war-torn country, Turaqistan, on behalf of Tamerlane, an American company to which he has close ties. This scenario amounts to a thinly-veiled allusion to Dick Cheney’s ostensibly engineering lucrative no-bid contracts in Iraq on behalf of Halliburton and its subsidiaries.
The fun starts soon after the ex-VP hires a mercenary, Brand Hauser (John Cusack), to kill Omar Sharif (Lyubomir Neikov ), no, not the actor, but a Middle East oil minister representing Tamerlane’s primary competitor. Hauser is a burnt out hit man in need of a break, having just come from an assignment where he had to waste a bunch of beer-swilling Germans in a bar.
Upon arriving in Turaqistan, he is ushered into Emerald City, a heavily-fortified sanctuary suspiciously similar to the Green Zone. There, he is given a position with Tamerlane and a secretary (Joan Cusack) to provide a cover for his real reason for his being in the region. While awaiting an opportunity to eliminate Omar, he divides his time between wooing a leftist American journalist (Marisa Tomei) and planning the wedding of Central Asia’s current singing sensation, Yonica Babyyeah (Hilary Duff).
Like a campy cross of Dr. Strangelove and Wag the Dog, this celluloid anti-war screed serves up a mesmerizing mélange of action, romance, slapstick, intrigue, gore, sentimentality, sensuality and sleight of hand when not offering pointed insights about the dire prospects for a corporatized planet. Fortunately, front man John Cusack’s face has finally matured to the point that it no longer has that boyish look about it. His ever-underrated sister, Joan, turns in one of her trademark nonpareil performances, and not to be outdone are either Marisa Tomei or the barely-recognizable Hilary Duff in her capacity as a musical Muslim moll.
As humorous as it is thought-provoking, War, Inc. is chock full of memorable moments, perhaps the best being the hand-to-hand showdown in the belly of a garbage truck between our reluctant hero and a worthy adversary (Ben Kingsley). Ever seen a villain trash compacted into submission?
A preposterous, impossible to pigeonhole spoof which somehow satisfactorily adds up to more than the sum of its seemingly incompatible parts.

Excellent (4 stars)
Rated R for violence, profanity and brief sexuality.
Running time: 107 minutes
Studio: First Look Studios

The Race Card: How Bluffing About Bias Makes Race Relations Worse

by Richard Thompson Ford
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Hardcover, $26.00
400 pages
ISBN: 978-0-374-24575-7

Book Review by Kam Williams

“Almost all Americans agree that racism is wrong… But a lot of people also worry that the charge of racism can be abused. We can all think of examples: Tawana Brawley… Clarence Thomas… and of course there’s O.J. Simpson… Ever since the acquittal of O.J, the idea that race is a ‘card’ to be played for selfish advantage has become commonplace…
The Race Card will examine the prevalence of dubious and questionable accusations of racism and other types of bias… The term ‘racism’ is in a state of crisis… Self-serving individuals, rabble-rousers, and political hacks use accusations of racism, sexism, homophobia and other types of ‘bias’ tactically, to advance their own ends [while] people of goodwill may make sincere claims that strike others as obviously wrongheaded.”
-- Excerpted from the Introduction (pages 6-7, and 36)

Was it fair for a billionaire like Oprah Winfrey to cry racism when an upscale store refused her admittance, unaware that she was a celebrity? How about Michael Jackson’s undergoing a series of cosmetic surgery procedures to turn himself white only to later conveniently reclaim his blackness when he wanted to allege that his record company had treated him like a slave?
Clarence Thomas successfully squelched further inquiry into his fitness for the Supreme Court during his confirmation hearings by publicly alleging that the proceedings amounted to little more than a “high-tech lynching.” And hip-hop mogul Jay-Z called for a black boycott of a pricey brand of champagne after an executive with the company complained about having their product associated with gangsta rap.
According to Richard Thompson Ford, author of The Race Card: How Bluffing About Bias Makes Race Relations Worse, these incidents suggest that some relatively well-to-do and well-connected African-Americans might be willing to make inappropriate accusations of prejudice for purely selfish reasons. The problem is that in the process they are subverting the honorable ideals of the Civil Rights Movement to eradicate Jim Crow segregation and the more egregious evidence of the vestiges of slavery in society.
The author laments that such manipulation has backfired, because “it distracts attention from larger social injustices” and “encourages vindictiveness and provokes defensiveness when open-mindedness and sympathy are needed.” He goes on to say that whites were disheartened to observe African-Americans celebrating the O.J. verdict, which they saw as “a frightening indication that many blacks would rejoice in retaliatory injustices.”
For whites often feel they are themselves the victims of a demeaning racial stereotype that would have everyone believe they are ”plain vanilla” and “dull milquetoasts” whose virtues can only be narrowly assessed “by grades and test scores.” Regardless of whether white men can’t jump or have rhythm, leveling charges of either racism or reverse-racism for unmerited advantage are more likely to engender responses of cynicism than empathy nowadays.
Ford concludes that opportunists who resort to the tactic of playing the race card “are the enemies of truth, social harmony, and social justice.” His solution? “For all decent and honest people” to join in condemning any such perpetrators. Certainly, food for thought at the dawn of what has been dubbed by some a post-racial age.

Monday, May 19, 2008


Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Osama Buddies-Up to Bush in Raunchy Political Satire

I suppose since almost seven years have passed since 9/11, America might finally be ready to laugh at the tragedy. If so, submitted for your approval is Postal, a politically-incorrect social satire based on the farfetched notion that President Bush might have been in bed with Osama bin Laden, at least figuratively.
This suggestion has been the subject of widespread speculation on the internet among paranoid conspiracy theorists. So, they wouldn’t be surprised to see Bush and bin Laden holding hands and skipping off into the sunset as an ominous mushroom cloud forms on the horizon just as the curtain comes down on this relentlessly raunchy, expletive-laced adventure.
But I’m getting way ahead of myself. Postal was written and directed by Uwe Boll, who probably had no problem being irreverent about the 2001 terrorist attack since he’s from Germany. Take the hilarious opening scene which unfolds aboard a commercial airliner about to hit the World Trade Center. At the point of departure, we find two hijackers (Paulino Nunes and Merik Tadros) piloting the plane but having second thoughts about following through with the plan.
Doubting the veracity of the assurances that they will each be rewarded with 99 virgins in heaven for committing the heinous deed, they decide to land in the Bahamas instead. However, this change of heart comes too late to inform the passengers who are rushing the cockpit at that moment and cause the jet to hit one of the towers. Director Boll’s sick sense of humor even shows a close-up on the frightened face of a window washer right before impact as he dangles from the buildings roof. Ha-ha.
Those characters and about 3,000 innocent souls incinerated, the film fast-forwards to the present to the tiny town of Paradise where we’re introduced to our hero, an unnamed loser (Zack Ward) who’s on the brink of losing both his self-respect and self-control. He’s unemployed with no prospect of a job and stuck living in a trailer park with a wife (Jodie Stewart) that’s openly cheating on him. Is there any wonder that he’s about to go postal?
In desperation, he approaches his Uncle Dave (Dave Foley), the guru of a local, libidinous free love cult called DOOM (Denomination of Organic Monotheism). Dave takes him in on the condition that he help burglarize an amusement park. What neither of them knows is that Osama bin Laden (Larry Thomas) and the Taliban are also in the area and about to unleash some major mayhem.
What ensues is likely to amuse you, if and only if, you’re inclined to contemplate the lighter side of the radical Islam and the War on Terror. Brace yourself for the Taliban TV Network, trigger-happy cops killing innocent civilians, Bush conspiring with Muslim extremists to sabotage a pipeline to increase the price of oil, and the sight of a female suicide bomber blowing herself to smithereens at a convenience store.
Ensemble cast includes J.K. Simmons, Verne “Mini-Me” Troyer, Seymour Cassel and director Boll. Tasteless, profane and farfetched, but undeniably funny, too!

Very Good (3 stars)
Rated R for crude humor, drug use, explicit sexuality, graphic nudity, violence, ethnic slurs and pervasive profanity.
Running time: 93 minutes
Studio: Event Film/Vivendi Visual Entertainment

Romeo: The College Bound Interview

with Kam Williams

Headline: Romeo, Romeo, Wherefore Art Thou Romeo? Headed to USC!

Percy Romeo Miller, Jr. was born in New Orleans on August 19, 1989, the eldest of Sonya and hip-hop mogul Master P’s seven children. Initially dubbed Lil Romeo, he followed his father’s footsteps into the rap game, where he met with phenomenal success at the age of 11 when he broke Michael Jackson’s record for being the youngest person to have a #1 hit with his very first record, “My Baby.”
As he matured, he would drop the “Lil” and like his dad, diversify in terms of his entrepreneurial interests. Besides his five albums (if you include his upcoming “High School Romance”), Romeo is the CEO of the P. Miller Shorties clothing line which netted over $50 million in sales the year it was launched.
Though only 18, he has already compiled quite an impressive list of acting credits both on television and in film. He’s had his own TV show on Nickelodeon, called what else, Romeo! and appeared on such sitcoms as The Hughleys and One on One.
On the big screen, he’s co-starred opposite Jessica Alba in Honey, and Jamie Kennedy in Max Keeble’s Big Move. Plus, he has four movies currently in production: Internet Dating, a romantic comedy with Katt Williams and Liana Mendoza; Down and Distance, a football adventure with Gary Busey; The Pig People, a horror flick co-starring his father; and Sweetwater, a bio-pic where he’ll handle the title role as Sweetwater Clifton, the black player who integrated the NBA.
Romeo happens to be quite a basketball player in his own right, and the 6’ tall point guard has signed a letter of intent to attend and play for the University of Southern California in the fall. Here, he talks about all of the above and more.

KW: Romeo, you’ve got so many irons in the fire, I can’t decide where to start. How about the clean rap CD you made with your father, Hip-Hop History. Why’d you decide to release that?
R: The reason we did Hip-Hop History was to show the world that ever rapper is different, and that anything is possible if my dad could see the bigger picture and change his career by putting out something positive.
KW: What about your next album? Is that going to be clean, too?
R: My albums are always clean.
KW: Given that you have so much going on, between your various business and entertainment ventures, do you think you’re going to have time to go to college and play basketball there?
R: Yeah, one of the things people don’t know about me and my dad is that before I started my career, we had a serious talk about what I was going to do in terms of school, because so many child stars never really have a chance to enjoy their childhood. He just made it clear that he wanted me to have a normal childhood. Even when I had my Romeo! TV show, I shot that during the summertime. I always put school first. So, while I’m at college, that’s what I’ll be focused on.
KW: What will you be majoring in?
R: Film.
KW: Acting or directing?
R: Directing.
KW: So, what high school do you attend?
R: Beverly Hills High.
KW: Is that a public school?
R: Yeah.
KW: I’d guess there must be a lot of other celebrities, and kids of celebrities there. Who are some of your classmates?
R: They have a lot of people’s kids there, like Nicolas Cage’s.
KW: So, I guess you don’t get mobbed everyday.
R: No, just the first three months I was mobbed, some girls went crazy. But they kinda like got used to it after awhile.
KW: Can you go the mall or a movie theater like a regular person?
R: Yeah, well, I’m a kid, so I love doing things kids do like going to the mall and the movies. The mall can sometimes be really hard for me. That’s where I had some of the craziest moments of my life. The mall is always trouble, so I try to keep from going to malls.
KW: I spoke to your dad after Hurricane Katrina and he told me about how for days on end he had no idea where your grandparents had been evacuated to. He filmed a scary documentary while searching for them called Desert Bayou, which showed better than any other picture I’ve seen just how poorly the victims of the disaster were treated.
R: That documentary is something that the world needs to see, because it contains a lot of things that people never heard about.
KW: That’s true. My jaw dropped watching it. I kept asking myself “How come I never even had a hint from the mainstream media that stuff like this had gone on?” In terms of basketball, who’s your favorite point guard?
R: My favorite? I have a few. Nate Archibald of the old Boston Celtics, Chris Paul of the New Orleans Hornets, and I love Allen Iverson because he’s one of the smallest players on the court and he has so much heart.
KW: Well, the Hornets have certainly surprised a lot of people this year.
R: Not me. They were underestimated because they suffered a lot of injuries last season. But they definitely have a very talented team.
KW: How involved are you with your clothing line?
R: I’m 100% involved with my clothing line.
KW: What’s up with your musical group the Rich Boyz?
R: Right now, everybody’s working on solo projects.
KW: What advice do you have for kids who want to follow in your footsteps?
R: I just tell them to work hard, but always be yourself and have fun because it’s important to enjoy yourself.
KW: Is there a question no one ever asks you, that you wish someone would?
R: No, I’d say you’re really good at covering everything. A lot of journalists just focus on one area.
KW: The Columbus Short question. Are you happy?
R: With a big smile, yes.
KW: Well, thanks, and good luck at USC, Romeo.
R: It’s always a pleasure
KW: And say hi to your pops for me.
R: Will do. Take care.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Praiseworthy Sequel Sends Pevensie Siblings on Second Magical Adventure

Between 1949 and 1954, C.S. Lewis penned a captivating series of illustrated children’s novels referred to collectively as The Chronicles of Narnia. The first book, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, was brought to the big screen in 2005, grossing close to $300 million at the box-office, domestically, a sign that Disney had the makings of a franchise on its hands.
That initial adaptation, began in Great Britain shortly after the outbreak of World War II, and introduced us to the Pevensies -- Lucy (Georgie Henley), Peter (William Moseley) Susan (Anna Popplewell) and Edmund (Skandar Keynes) – a tight-knit quartet of siblings evacuated from London to the country to avoid being bombed by the Nazis during the Blitz.
While exploring their new surroundings, they find a magical closet through which they travel to a faraway realm known as Narnia. And before they finally return to England, the kids embark on an eventful adventure which has them fulfilling an ancient prophecy by breaking the spell cast over the peaceable kingdom by an evil witch (Tilda Swinton).
Set a year later, Chronicles 2 opens with the nattily-attired Pevensies standing on the Strand subway platform in their school uniforms waiting for a train when they are suddenly transported to Narnia again. Upon their arrival, they are dismayed to learn that their beloved utopia’s Golden Age has been disrupted by the rise to power of merciless King Miraz (Sergio Castellitto), a madman who rules with the help of a race of warriors called the Telmarines.
Furthermore, because Queen Prunaprismia (Alicia Borracherro) has just given birth to a son, the King hatches a plan to kill his nephew, the unassuming Prince Caspian (Ben Barnes). Apprised of the crisis, the Pevensies pledge themselves to another noble enterprise, namely, the perilous effort to bring harmony back to Narnia again by helping the exiled rightful heir ascend to the throne.
This is far easier said than done, but at least our intrepid heroes are ably assisted in that endeavor by the ingenuity of Trumpkin the Dwarf (Peter Dinklage) and a coterie of anthropomorphic animals, including Aslan the Lion (Liam Neeson), Trufflehunter the Badger (Ken Stott), Reepicheep the Mouse (Eddie Izzard), Pattertwig the Squirrel (Harry Gregson-Williams) and Bulgy the Bear (David Walliams).
Reminiscent of such storied, cinematic epic fantasies as Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings, the saga inexorably builds to a familiar, cataclysmic battle royal that’s simply a marvel to behold. It may lack the element of surprise, but it more than makes up for that failing with the visually-enchanting treat of eye-popping panoramas plus the seamless interaction of the human and animated characters.
Along the way to a satisfying sendoff, this Biblically-themed morality play pauses periodically to deliver a litany of universal messages about faith, courage and the ultimate triumph of good over evil. In sum, Chronicles 2 proves to be a praiseworthy sequel aided immeasurably by the continuity and chemistry of the return of all the principal cast members, and above all by the sort of special effects spectacles the tykes are likely to want to see again and again.

Excellent (4 stars)
Rated PG for violence and epic battle scenes.
Running time: 144 minutes
Studio: Walt Disney Pictures

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Our House DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Kids of Gay Couples Talk about Their Challenging Childhoods

What’s it like to be the child of a homosexual couple? During all of the heated debate about whether or not to legalize gay marriage, we never hear from kids who being raised by parents of the same gender. Now, thanks to Meema Spadola, director of such groundbreaking documentaries as Breasts and Private Dicks, we have a very good idea of how the offspring of same sex unions are faring.
In Our House, Ms. Spadola, herself the daughter of a lesbian, sensitively interviews youngsters from a diversity of ethnic groups (black, white and Latino), religious affiliations (Jewish, Protestant, and Mormon) and geographical regions (East, West, South and Middle America). The reflections they share are often achingly heartbreaking.
For example, there’s the girl who regrets that, “I’ve spent my whole life explaining my family to people who don’t get it.” She wishes that people could understand that she’s not a freak. Ryan, a 15 year-old from Fayetteville, North Carolina, recounts being so relentlessly teased and physically harassed by classmates over her mother’s same-sex marriage that she’s dropped out and has been home-schooled for two years.
Ry, 17, and Cade, 19, the product of artificial insemination, talk about the horror of being dragged into court during a four-year legal battle between their lesbian mom and the sperm donor who sued for visitation rights. Then there are two African-American boys, Sandor and Saveon, whose homophobic father is intolerant of his ex-wife’s gay lifestyle.
Despite the emotionally-draining conflicts which apparently forces most of these unusually mature adolescents to deal with a variety of adult social concerns, it is also obvious that all of them love their gay parents dearly, and only wish the rest of the world wouldn’t make sexual preference an issue. A wealth of wisdom out of the mouths of babes.

Excellent (4 stars)
Running time: 56 minutes
Studio: Icarus Films
DVD Extras: Interview with the director Meema Spadola and interviewee Ry Russo-Young, follow-ups, discussion and resource guides.

National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: DVD Features Nicolas Cage Back for Another Round as World-Renown Treasure Hunter

Like a poor man’s version of Indiana Jones, Benjamin Franklin Gates (Nicolas Cage) is a globetrotting treasure hunter who careens back and forth across the screen in a high-octane race against time to find a priceless artifact before a diabolical villain with evil intentions. In National Treasure 1, the adventure revolved around deciphering clues hidden by the Founding Fathers in the Declaration of Independence rumored to lead to a buried treasure.

Sticking with the American history motif, the action-packed sequel is mostly more of the same sort of fare, now having our intrepid hero searching for 18 pages reportedly ripped from the diary of John Wilkes Booth several days after the end of the Civil War. Here, red, white and blue-blooded Ben is motivated mostly by a desire to clear the smeared name of his presumably patriotic great-great-grandfather who has recently been implicated as the mastermind of the conspiracy behind the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. But the missing entries are also said to contain encrypted messages which will ultimately direct the decoder to the boundless riches of Cibola, the legendary cave city of gold.

Ben is fortunate to receive considerable assistance in his peripatetic endeavor from his pal, Riley Poole (Justin Bartha), his ex-girlfriend, Abigail Chase (Diane Kruger), and his parents (Jon Voight and Helen Mirren), especially since he has a worthy adversary in Booth’s great-grandson Mitch Wilkinson (Ed Harris). This creep will stop at nothing to find the so-called “Book of Secrets” first.

The manic pace of the picture is designed with the joy stick generation in mind, because it unfolds frenetically, more like a mind-numbing computer game than a plot-driven feature film offering a story of substance worth pausing to care about. Over-stimulating brain bubblegum guaranteed to take kids under ten straight to adrenaline heaven.

Very Good (3 stars)

Rated PG for action and violence.

Running time: 125 minutes

Studio: Walt Disney Home Entertainment

2-Disc DVD Extras: Audio commentary by the director and actor Jon Voight, deleted scenes with introductions by the director, bloopers, outtakes and eight featurettes.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Mad Money DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Keaton, Katie and the Queen Team for Madcap Crime Caper

A year after her husband (Ted Danson) was laid-off due to downsizing, Bridget Cardigan (Diane Keaton) is shocked to learn that they are in debt and on the verge of losing their home and the lavish lifestyle to which she had become quite accustomed. In desperation, the once-pampered housewife finds herself having to enter the labor market. But without any skills or experience, the only job she can find is as a janitor inside the Federal Reserve in the department responsible for the disposing of old dollars about to be taken out of circulation.

On her first day of work, she appraises the situation and comes up with the bright idea of sneaking a small fortune out of the place, even though the airtight building is equipped with state-of-the-art surveillance devices monitored by the ever vigilant Mr. Glover (Stephen Root). In need of accomplices to pull off the heist, she approaches Jackie (Katie Holmes), whose task involves carting the currency, and Nina (Queen Latifah), who actually puts the money through the shredder.

She entices these initially reluctant co-workers by rationalizing that they’ll merely be recycling, not really stealing any money. Single-mom Nina agrees since she is raising a couple of young sons she can’t afford to get out of the ghetto, while free spirit Jackie goes along because she has nothing to lose.

The felonious-minded threesome proceeds to hatch a seemingly foolproof plan whereby Bridget will retrieve cash tossed into the trash by Jackie just before it reaches Nina in the shredding room. There’s still the little matter of getting the loot past the guards who routinely subject everyone exiting the bank to thorough body searches.

Fortunately, one of them (Roger Cross) has a crush on Bridget, and he can be depended upon to look the other way when inspecting her unusually hard and suddenly rectangular breasts. Provided you can get past its improbable premise and groan-inducing plot twists, this madcap crime caper’s trio of talented leading ladies manage to provide enough moments of mirth to make the rest of this raucous romp worthwhile.

Who knew ripping off the Federal Reserve could be so much fun?

Good (2 stars)
Rated PG-13 for profanity, sexuality and drug references.
Running time: 103 minutes
Studio: Anchor Bay Entertainment
DVD Extras: Director’s commentary, a “Behind-the-Scenes” featurette, and a theatrical trailer.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Flying: Confessions of a Free Woman

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Feminist Explores Self and Sisterhood in Soul-Baring Biopic

Jennifer Fox intermittently repeats the melancholy refrain “I never wanted to be a girl,” over the course of this soul-baring bio-pic, even though she seems to be doing just fine as a female. The 45 year-old, NYC filmmaker devotes the bulk of her intriguing documentary to introspective ruminations by her and her friends about their love relationships.
Suffering from low self-esteem in terms of her looks, Fox frequently refers to herself as “ugly” and a “tomboy,” and wonders aloud whether she’ll ever have kids or get married. But she is pleasant enough to watch, which is important, given that she’s in virtually every scene of this six-hour gabfest. She’s also intelligent, insightful, likable and brutally honest about the intimate details of her unconventional lifestyle, which makes her a rather worthwhile and compelling subject for cinematic examination.
Inter alia, the free-spirited feminist informs us of her ongoing affair with Kye, a 36 year-old, former freedom fighter from South Africa. She somehow doesn’t let it bother her that the guy lives half a world away and happens to have a spouse and kids. So, when she later falls for Patrick, she lets her new Swiss lover know that she can’t commit to monogamy, but plans to enjoy them both.
Broken up into six hour-long episodes, each installment of Flying has been cleverly constructed to end on a bit of a cliffhanger. Will she dump her adulterous, absentee beau for patient, present Patrick? Will she opt to overcome her ambivalence about motherhood when she not only hears her biological clock ticking but finds herself unexpectedly pregnant? And who’s the daddy? Will Kye’s wife’s learning of her existence put the kibosh on their lusty liaisons? All intriguing questions, and with some very surprising answers.
A real-life cross of Annie Hall and Erica Jong.

Excellent (4 stars)
Running time: 351 minutes
Distributor: Easy Film and Zohe Film Productions
2-Disc DVD Extras: Interview with star/director Jennifer Fox and a theatrical trailer.

How the Garcia Girls Spent Their Summer

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Sexual Awakenings Abound in Intergenerational Dramedy

Dona (Lucy Gallardo) is the elderly matriarch presiding over the Genoveva family which is also comprised of her daughter, Lolita (Elizabeth Pena), and her teenage granddaughter, Blanca (America Ferrara). It is the start of a sweltering summer in their sun-bleached, Arizona border town where more than the weather is set to get steamy.
For each of these lonely ladies is experiencing the pangs of erotic awakenings in her own unique way. For Dona, her nostalgia-driven desire is triggered by memories of her first love a half-century or so earlier. This inspires her to buy a junked jalopy similar to the one driven by her high school sweetheart.
Trouble is, Dona isn’t a mechanic and never even learned to drive. Lucky for her, Don Pedro (Jorge Cevera, Jr.) happens to be handy and has a lot of time on his hands. And the retired gentleman is hot-to-trot, too, so it isn’t long before sparks start to fly between these frisky senior citizens.
Meanwhile, middle-aged Lolita, who works the counter at the local butcher shop, has two guys interested in her. One is a secret admirer, an unassuming co-worker (Rick Najera) she barely notices and just considers a friend. She finds herself more attracted to a suave but sleazy married customer (Steve Bauer) who has shamelessly been putting the moves on her. But between being a devout Catholic and living in a tiny community where gossip spreads fast means there’s little chance she’d dare embark on an adulterous affair.
Not to be outdone by her suddenly aroused elders, Blanca sets about seducing Sal (Leo Minaya), a shy boy her own age. He’s obviously interested, but too inexperienced to know how to approach a girl. However, once she takes the bull by the horns, so to speak, and shows him the ropes, their puppy love goes from innocent to intimate so fast she has to buy an early pregnancy test.
These three relationships share the limelight equally in How the Garcia Girls Spent Their Summer, a deliberately-paced, intergenerational dramedy. Via a winning mix of understated elegance and unexpected intimacy, the film reels you in and holds your attention for the duration.
The movie marks the sensational, feature-length directorial debut of
Georgina Riedel, who exhibits an admirable confidence behind the camera in serving up such a daring depiction of lusty libertines whose most carnal of urges stand quite independent of their search for a soulmate. Perhaps the picture’s most frustrating moment arrives when the guilt-ridden heroines, like good Catholic girls, confess their every indiscretion to the parish priest (Ricky Lopez).
That concession to patriarchy notwithstanding, this female empowerment flick nonetheless affirms the notion of satisfaction as a woman’s prerogative. Bless me father for I have fornicated, and loved it!

Excellent (4 stars)
Rated R for nudity, sexuality and profanity.
In English and Spanish with subtitles.
Running time: 128 minutes
Studio: Maya Releasing

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

Kam's Kapsules:
Weekly Previews That Make Choosing a Film Fun
by Kam Williams
For movies opening May 23, 2008


Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (PG-13 for violence and scary images) Harrison Ford returns for a fourth feature-length adventure as the famed archeologist, this set in 1957 in the jungles of Peru where he lands in a desperate race against Russian spies to find an ancient artifact said to hold the key to a host of magical powers. Spielberg-directed cast includes Cate Blanchett, Shia LaBeouf, Ray Winstone, Jim Broadbent, John Hurt and Karen Allen.


The Children of Huang Shi (R for violence and disturbing images) Historical drama, set in China in 1937, chronicles the real-life exploits of George Hogg (Jonathan Rhys-Meyers), a British journalist who, with the help of an Australian nurse (Radha Mitchell) and a leader (Chow Yun Fat) of the resistance movement, saves sixty orphans from the clutches of the Japanese invaders by leading them on a perilous trek through the mountains to the Mongolian border. Suspiciously similar to the 1958 screen classic “The Inn of the Sixth Happiness.” (In English, Mandarin, Japanese and Russian with subtitles)

The Edge of Heaven (Unrated) Cross-cultural melodrama about a Turkish-German professor (Baki Davrak) who travels from Bremen to Istanbul to track down the half-sister (Nurgul Yesilcay) his elderly father (Tuncel Kurtiz) had years ago with a recently-deceased prostitute (Nursel Kose). (In German, Turkish and English with subtitles)

Insidious (Unrated) Coming-of-age saga of trust and betrayal about an aspiring young filmmaker (James Schram) who finds himself mixed up with Russian mobsters after trying to collect some money owed him.

A Jihad for Love (Unrated) Out of the closet documentary examines the plight of devout gay, lesbian and transgendered Muslims around the world as they attempt to practice their religion in societies where their sexual preferences are not tolerated. (In English, Arabic, Urdu, French, Persian and Hindi with subtitles)

Postal (R for crude humor, drug use, explicit sexuality, graphic nudity, violence and pervasive profanity) Raunchy social satire about a couple of days in the life of an unemployed slacker (Zack Ward) who teams up with his cult-leading uncle (Dave Foley) to burglarize an amusement park unaware that Osama bin Laden (Larry Thomas) and the Taliban are also in town and about to unleash some major mayhem. Ensemble cast includes J.K. Simmons, Chris Coppola, Seymour Cassel and Uwe Boll, the film’s director.

War, Inc. (R for violence, profanity and brief sexuality) Political satire about the efforts of a former, American Vice-President (Dan Aykroyd) to monopolize the economy of the mythical, war-torn nation on behalf of a corporation by hiring a hit man (John Cusack) to kill a Middle Eastern oil minister. With Joan Cusack, Marisa Tomei, Hilary Duff and Ben Kingsley.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The New Paradigm for Financial Markets: The Credit Crash of 2008 and What It Means

by George Soros
Hardcover, $22.95
192 pages, illustrated
ISBN: 978-1-58648-683-9

Book Review by Kam Williams

“We are in the midst of a financial crisis the likes of which has not been seen since the Great Depression of the 1930s… This crisis is not confined to a particular firm or a particular segment of the financial system; it has brought the entire system to the brink of a breakdown, and it is being contained only with the greatest difficulty. This will have far-reaching consequences. It is not business as usual but the end of an era.” -- Excerpted from Chapter 5 “The Super Bubble Hypothesis” (page 81)

Was the bursting of the housing bubble just a momentary correction or the tip of the iceberg of an economic crisis about to envelope the entire country? George Soros believes we’re looking at the latter, and goes to great lengths to explain why, in his words, “This is the first time since the Great Depression that the international financial system has come to close to a genuine meltdown.”
While the left-leaning billionaire might be best known for his criticisms of the Bush administration and for underwriting the efforts of, many forget that he is also a brilliant businessman who amassed his great fortune speculating in the currency and stock markets. Now, with the publication of The New Paradigm for Financial Markets he shares with anyone who will listen exactly how we got into this mess, and where to invest your cash and dwindling resources to best weather the impending the collapse.
Though a bit dense at times in terms of statistical analysis, being awash in charts and graphs, the text is nonetheless the most fascinating contribution to the field of money management since the equally-absorbing best-seller Freakonomics. Interweaving politics with economics, Soros shows the role that greed and power have played in placing us in the current predicament.
For one, he rejects the classical economic theory which teaches that supply is a function of demand and vice-versa. Instead, he makes the radical argument that the supply and demand curves do not determine market prices at all; otherwise, we would generally witness greater price fluctuations.
Of far more consequence is power, which might explain why the cost of oil has skyrocketed since the election of a president who filled his administration filled with executives from that industry. “The primary purpose of political discourse is to gain power and to stay in power,” Soros states. “Those who fail to recognize this are unlikely to be in power.”
This is why Bush was more than willing to manipulate the truth in any way he saw fit to deceive the public while furthering the interests of big oil and other corporate conglomerates he is beholden to. This arrogant attitude is reflected in the Orwellian comment of a White House aide quoted as asserting, “We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality… We’re history’s actors… and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”
The 77 year-old Soros survived living under Hitler, and then survived living under Communism, and is presently unafraid to speak out forcefully when he recognizes the signs of the emergence of another such totalitarian regime. A sobering blend of financial and political analysis which incorporates the pivotal role of shady shenanigans and corporate corruption in the rapidly-approaching decline of a supposedly free market.