Monday, June 30, 2008

Lisa Kudrow: The Kabluey Interview

with Kam Williams

Headline: Making “Friends” with Lisa

Lisa Marie Diane Kudrow was born in Encino, California on July 30, 1963 to Nedra, a travel agent, and Lee, a physician specializing in headaches. Lisa came belatedly to acting, having focused more on athletics and academics both in high school and in college. She attended Vassar where she earned a BS in Psychobiology while playing tennis on the school’s varsity team.
After graduating from college, she returned to the West Coast where she contemplated following in her father’s footsteps. In fact, she was working as a medical researcher when her brother’s best friend, the actor Jon Lovitz, suggested she consider showbiz and encouraged her to audition for the legendary improv comedy troupe “The Groundlings.”
The brainy beauty was accepted into the ensemble and proceeded to hone her skills until she started landing bit roles on TV shows like Cheers, Newhart and Coach. Her big break came in 1992 when she was hired to portray Ursula Buffay, a recurring character on Mad about You.
A couple of years later, she parlayed that success into the role she will probably forever be associated with, namely, that of Phoebe Buffay, on Friends. During that landmark series’ ten-year run, Lisa would win an Emmy and more nominations than any of her talented co-stars. Still, all three Friends’ female cast members would make history by signing contracts paying them a record million dollars each per episode.
Meanwhile, Lisa’s screen career heated up, too, in the wake of critical acclaim for memorable performances in everything from Analyze This to Romy and Michele’s High Schoool Reunion to Wonderland. And on top of her acting accolades, she was named one of the 50 Most Beautiful People in the World by People Magazine. The following year, she gave birth to a son, Julian, the focus of her and her husband Michael’s life.
Here, she talks about all of the above and more, and about her new film, Kabluey, a “melan-comedy” co-starring Scott Prendergast where she plays a frazzled mother raising a couple of kids alone while her National Guardsman husband is serving in Iraq.

KW: Hi Lisa, thanks for the time. I’m really honored to be speaking with you.
LK: Sure.
KW: I've got four pages of questions for you, some from fans who I’d alerted that I’d be interviewing you.
LK: Uh-oh.
KW: What interested you in this film and gave you the confidence to go with a first-time director like Scott Prendergast?
LK: Well, I’ve had good experiences with first-time directors, especially with director-writers, because they wrote it and know what the story is since they saw it as they were writing it. In Scott’s case, I could tell from the script that he saw it as he was writing. There was nothing in there that made think, “Gee, that would be impossible to shoot.” And then I spoke with him on the phone and he wasn’t crazy, but just a smart, funny guy. Also, it turned out by coincidence that we had mutual friends since he had been in The Groundlings program.
KW: Who else was at The Groundlings when you were there?
LK: Let’s see, Julia Sweeney, Kathy Griffin, Heather Morgan, Tim Bagley, Patrick Bristow, Mindy Sterlling and Jennifer Coolidge were all there when I was in the company. And I remember voting on Will Ferrell and Cheri Oteri.
KW: I saw that you were recently at an event in support of the new G.I. Bill. Is that something you feel passionately about?
LK: I was there because it was just the right thing to do. It’s crazy that there’s been any hesitation in signing it.
KW: Kabluey touches on similar themes.
K: One thing I liked about Scott’s movie was that it wasn’t really taking a stand on the war, except in that the National Guardsmen were the first to go, and they kept getting extended, and the people at home hadn’t signed up for military careers, none of them had. Meanwhile the benefits are being cut.
KW: Tell me a little about your character, one of those military wives left behind to care for two young kids all alone.
LK: Leslie, who I played, is not one of those extraordinary people who could cope. She’s a regular person who had difficulty coping with something she wasn’t prepared for. The movie doesn’t make her a hero, really, but not everybody is extraordinary.
KW: I was pleasantly surprised by how different the movie was from Stop-Loss and those other heavy-handed dramas exploring similar issues.
LK: Right. No, it doesn’t take a stand on the war. It’s just that the war is so destructive of these people who aren’t really equipped to cope. The whole world that Scott created in Kabluey is a bunch of numb people who aren’t even listening to each other or even thinking two steps ahead. It’s almost like a science fiction movie to me. They’re like Zombies.
KW: Even Scott’s character inside the mascot costume somehow served as a metaphor for a sort of detachment, despite all the slapstick.
LK: Yeah, I liked that, too. And when I watched the movie my reaction was, “Ooh! I’m like the drama.” I’m in the drama portion of the movie.
KW: This is a movie which could have easily fallen apart, but you had the ability to combine the comedic and dramatic elements convincingly and seamlessly.
LK: That’s really a testament to Scott. He wrote it and directed it. And it’s a tricky movie. It’s a comedy and a drama.
KW: Scott calls it a melan-comedy. Despite your being associated with comedy because of Friends, we can see from this film that you can do drama, too, and have an extraordinary emotional range. Which is your preference drama or comedy?
LK: I don’t think I have a preference. I like doing both a lot. I do love comedy, especially these darker comedies. But when I’m doing anything, I often wonder whether I should turn on my version of what the comedy switch is, because it’s always either on or off.
KW: It must be hard for you at times to hold back, given not only your tremendous success but your intelligence. People shouldn’t be fooled by any of the bimbos you’ve played. I know that you have a degree in Psychobiology. In fact I read that your nickname is “Smart.” Is that true?
LK: No, although in college someone did call me Einstein. But I think he was being sarcastic. [Laughs]
KW: After you graduated from Vassar, you returned to Los Angeles. Were you planning to follow in your father’s footsteps?
LK: Yeah, though not exactly following in his footsteps. I planned to do graduate work to have a better understanding of brain chemistry and how it has evolved.
KW: Is it true that Jon Lovitz played a pivotal role in your altering those career plans?
LK: Yeah, he’s my brother’s best friend, so I grew up with Jon, and knew he was always studying acting. And after he finished college it was always exciting watching when he was a guest star on a show. Then, when I graduated, he got Saturday Night Live. That was really inspiring to me because I’d seen him struggling for so long. Before that, I always thought of the actors in movies as almost mystical, as if that never happened to regular people. So, John’s success made realize, “No, no, if you pursue it, then it’s a possibility.” He suggested that I go to The Groundlings, because he said that’s where he learned the most useful stuff of all the acting schools he went to. So, I followed his advice.
KW: Had you studied acting before?
LK: No, not at all. In junior high, I wrote some sketches, but not in high school or college. I was pre-med.
KW: I read that you went to school with Daniel Pearl, the Wall Street Journal reporter who was beheaded by Muslim extremists in Pakistan just for being Jewish.
LK: Yeah, we went to the same junior high school, and a good friend of mine was very, very close to him.
KW: Did your family lose anyone in the Holocaust?
LK: Yeah.
KW: Were either of your parents survivors?
LK: No, my parents were both born here, but they were first-generation American. It’s funny you should ask because we’re currently producing a genealogy show called “Who Do You Think You Are?” which was a hit in Great Britain. Just yesterday, in fact, I was giving my family history to the producers, so they could start their research to see if there are enough documents to support a whole episode.
KW: Sounds interesting.
LK: But it’s so strange that you would ask me that, because I was just thinking and talking about it again this morning. I was wondering, what would I do, if I learned that some of my relatives had been in concentration camps? I know that a lot of my family died over there, but not in concentration camps.
KW: How far back can you trace your lineage now?
LK: I don’t know much more than my grandparents. It all stops there. To me it’s fascinating when you start putting your ancestors’ lives in historical context, and how that forced some big decisions that made the difference between surviving and not surviving. I like the idea of looking at a lot of the little things that I always took for granted which explain why I’m even here.
KW: Especially given what eventually happened in Europe. What will you do if it turns out some of your relatives were in concentration camps?
LK: As part of the show, I’d go visit the places.
KW: In the last ten years or so, there have been a number of powerful Holocaust documentaries, like Fighter in which a couple of 70 year-old survivors return to Europe to return to their roots while debating what Jews could have done to prevent the genocide.
LK: It’s called Fighter? That sounds very good.
KW: It’s excellent. Let me shift gears again and ask you how did it feel to be named one of the 50 Most Beautiful People in the World?
LK: Oh… I guess I should just say, “That was really nice!” Except that… [hesitates] Oh, never mind.
KW: No, go ahead. What were you going to say?
LK: Honestly, mostly what strikes you is, “I’m not really one of the 50 Most Beautiful. It’s just that I had a movie that did well.” [Chuckles] Still, it’s nice, if it brainwashes anyone into thinking it’s true.
KW: I noticed that you’re left-handed. They say that lefties are more creative. Do you think that might have led you to the Arts?
LK: I don’t know. Are there a disproportionate number of left-handed people in the arts?
KW: I don’t have any statistics, but that’s what I’ve always heard.
LK: I think in certain fields, some of the extraordinary ones are left-handed. It always made me feel that lefties are special.
KW: You once said, “You become a celebrity, not because of your work or what you do, but because you have no privacy. I've been careful to keep my life separate because it's important to me to have privacy and for my life not to be a marketing device for a movie or a TV show. It's worth more than that. I'm worth more than that.” How have you managed to stay out of the tabloids?
LK: Oh, I just try to be as uninteresting as possible, even though in some ways it’s not good business, in terms of show business, because this business does really insist that people get to see you. So, you need to go out, and you need to stay interesting. But I made a decision to be a little less interesting and to let the work I do stand on its own. Do you know what I mean? That’ll just have to be good enough because I have a family, and they have to be a priority. Whatever legacy I can hand over to my son has to be as a good parent more than anything else.
KW: That’s admirable. But can you go to the supermarket or the mall or a movie theater?
LK: Yeah, I can go. People stop, and they look. And some might ask for a picture or for you to sign something, but that’s as bad as it gets, in general, especially, L.A. But if you go to touristy places, then you become one of the attractions, because what are the odds of seeing Phoebe? But I understand that, so I do stay away from those places.
KW: After Friends, you created and starred-in a critically-acclaimed, but short-lived show called The Comeback, about a sitcom star trying to resuscitate her career. Was that difficult?
LK: Difficult? No. I thought the whole idea was hilarious. So, it was effortless. What I was making fun of was that notion that celebrity is a career, that it doesn’t matter what you actually do, as long as you get your picture somewhere, that’s success. It’s worth it, even if you have to allow yourself to be followed around and humiliated. That was the joke.
KW: Where do you like to vacation?
LK: Well, we go to the south of France every summer because my husband’s whole family is there. And that’s beautiful.
KW: Do you miss Friends, and your friends from Friends?
LK: Yes I do.
KW: The Tasha Smith question: Are you ever afraid?
LK: Yeah, of different things.
KW: Bookworm Troy Johnson asks: What was the last book you read?
LK: I listen to books on tape. The last one was Barack Obama’s Dreams from My Father.
KW: “Realtor to the Stars” Jimmy Bayan asks where in L.A. you live?
LK: Where in L.A.? L.A. [Laughs]
KW: Tell me a little about your upcoming films, like Hotel for Dogs.
LK: My son saw a preview of it, and he’s excited. That’s good, because that’s kinda who I did it for. That’s the only movie of mine he’s old enough to see.
KW: And how about Powder Blue?
LK: It was great, because all my scenes were with Forest Whitaker, and he loves what he’s doing. That always makes it easier.
KW: Do you want to say anything about Analyze This?
LK: Yeah, wasn’t it good?
KW: Absolutely!
LK: I was lucky that I got to do it. That’s how I feel about that movie.
KW: You worked with Damon Wayans on Marci X, and no matter who I speak to, they always tell me how great the Wayans Brothers are. Did you have that same experience?
LK: I can say the exact same thing. What a family! The best part about doing that movie was get to work with and talk with Damon Wayans, because he’s just really smart. My son was really little at the time. We had just moved to New York and it was very hard on him. I was in a panic and working 17 hours a day on the movie, and Damon was very helpful and supportive. He had life experience from raising four kids, and his priorities were pretty clear. And he’s really grounded about work, too.
KW: How did it feel to be the highest paid actress in the history of television at a million dollars an episode, along with your Friends co-stars?
LK: We were? Great!
KW: Will there be a Friends movie?
LK: Not that I know of. That’s a rumor that I’m asked about by reporters only.
KW: Is there a question nobody ever asked you that you wish somebody would?
LK: Interesting. I’ve never thought about that… No.
KW: How do you want to be remembered?
LK: Like I said, in terms of my family, as a good mother, as a good wife, as a good sister, a good daughter and a good friend. By the general public, I guess “Yeah, she was funny.” [Chuckles]
KW: Lisa, thanks again for the interview, and best of luck with both your family and career.
LK: Great! Thanks so much.

Kit Kittredge: An American Girl

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Abigail Breslin Stars in Screen Adaptation of Depression-Era Whodunit

Kit Kittredge, directed by Patricia Rozema, is the fourth of the American Girl series of illustrated children’s novels (along with Samantha, Felicity and Molly) to be adapted into a movie. However, it’s the first to enjoy a theatrical as opposed to a television release. This kiddie-oriented whodunit is based on a best seller by Valerie Tripp and Walter Rane aimed at 2nd to 4th graders and stars “Little Miss Sunshine” Abigail Breslin in the title role as a spunky, 10 year-old aspiring journalist.
The story unfolds in Cincinnati in May of 1934 where we find the Kittredge family better off than most in the midst of the financial collapse which has already engulfed much of the country. We learn that Kit’s father (Chris O’Donnell) has managed to keep his struggling car dealership afloat thus far, although there’s plenty of evidence that others haven’t been so lucky.
Initially oblivious of the financial crisis, precocious Kit visits the offices of the local daily newspaper, hoping to have her article on the Chicago World’s Fair published. After not being taken seriously as a reporter by the tabloid’s curmudgeonly editor (Wallace Shawn), she turns her attention to more age-appropriate matters, like swearing in her friend, Florence Stone (Erin Hilgartner), as the newest member of her all-girl, secret Tree House Club.
But reality begins to set in when the bank forecloses on the Stones and they end up homeless and waiting on line to eat at a soup kitchen. Next, Kittredge Motors fails, and Kit’s father has to move to Chicago to look for employment. Meanwhile, to keep a roof over their heads, Mrs. Kittredge (Julia Ormond) decides to take in a few boarders, and a more colorful collection of characters you couldn’t hope to find.
There’s Lucinda Bond (Joan Cusack), a loony mobile librarian who can’t drive straight; May Dooley (Jane Krakowski), a down-and-out dance teacher in need of a shoulder to lean on; and Jefferson Jasper Renee Berk (Stanley Tucci), a masterful magician with tons of tricks up his sleeve. So, this motley crew put on a lighthearted sideshow as the Kittredges adust to living with a houseful of tenants.
The plot thickens when the city falls victim to a string of similar robberies, and Kit becomes consumed with cracking the case, ala Nancy Drew or The Hardy Boys. She witnesses one pickpocket in progress and observes that the perpetrator has a telltale tattoo on his arm. Therefore, after the clueless cops finger an innocent hobo, it’s makes her that much more determined that justice prevails.
Overall, Kit Kittredge: An American Girl is a wholesome, family-friendly adventure reminiscent of the best of Disney from the Mouse House’s heyday during the Fifties and Sixties. Given the engaging tale, the period costumes, the clean dialogue, the timely universal themes with heartwarming messages and the satisfying send-off, you have to wonder why nobody seems to make movies like this anymore.
That being said, if anybody can explain to me exactly what adorable Willow Smith (Will and Jada’s daughter) was doing cross-dressing as a male street urchin in what amounted to a throwaway role, that would be very much appreciated.

Excellent (4 stars)
Rated G
Running time: 97 minutes
Studio: Picturehouse

To see a trailer of the film, visit:

Saturday, June 28, 2008


Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Lisa Kudrow Shines as Soldier’s Frazzled Wife in Stop-Loss Comedy

About once a month nowadays, another political drama is released examining the toll being exacted by the war on military veterans and their families. But virtually each of these well-meaning morality plays, from Lions for Lambs to In The Valley of Elah to Stop-Loss has been a heavy-handed, pacifist polemic which hits you over the head with a way too obvious message.
That’s why the relatively-lighthearted Kabluey arrives like a breath of fresh air. For this screwball comedy generates plenty of laughter while simultaneously ever so subtly addressing several sobering themes. The charming low-budget ensemble piece is funny enough to be a surprise sleeper with enduring appeal, ala My Big Fat Greek Wedding and Little Miss Sunshine of year’s past.
The movie is a semi-autobiographical labor of love written and directed by Scott Prendergrast whose own brother was backdoor drafted into a tour of duty in the Middle East conflict. While his sibling was serving overseas, Scott moved in with his sister-in-law to help her care for her two young sons, a challenging experience which provided both fodder and inspiration for Kabluey.
Here, he co-stars opposite Friends’ Lisa Kudrow in her best outing on the big screen since Analyze This. She exhibits her trademark charm and perfect comic timing along with an endearing emotional range in a role intermittently calling for a certain gravitas. The talented cast also includes Terri Garr, Christine Taylor (wife of Ben Stiller) and character actress Conchata Ferrell.
The story revolves around emotionally and financially challenged Leslie (Kudrow) who has stoically been trying to hold down the fort since her husband Noah’s (Phil Thoden) National Guard unit shipped out to Iraq. Between working full-time and raising their two boys (Cameron Wofford and Landon Henninger) alone, the frazzled mom barely has any downtime to relax, let alone worry about Noah’s safety.
The sort of help she doesn’t exactly need arrives when her unemployed brother-in-law, Salman (Prendergrast), shows up in Austin needing a place to crash, having recently been fired from an entry-level position as a clerk at a copy store several states away in Nevada. He proves to be so pathetic as a babysitter, that Leslie orders him out of the house only to relent when he says he’s broke and that his credit cards are maxed out.
Instead, she finds him a job at her real estate company as its corporate mascot, Kabluey. And much of the ensuing slapstick emanates from his interacting with strangers while standing on the street passing out flyers at the height of summer in a heat-seeking baby blue outfit covering him from head to toe. Meanwhile, there is a disarming darkness and depth to Leslie’s character, whose evolution hints at the plausible plight of countless similarly-situated Army wives in real life. A worthwhile “melan-comedy” (a term coined by Prendergast) which delivers a feminist statement merely by questioning the conventional patriotic wisdom that all wars are fought for God, mom and apple pie.

Excellent (4 stars)
Rated PG-13 for sexuality, a crude reference and brief profanity.
Running time: 87 minutes
Studio: Whitewater Films
Distributor: Regent Releasing

To see a trailer of Kabluey, visit:


Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: The Matrix Meets Memento in Mindbending Splatter Flick

Wesley Gibson’s (James McAvoy) life is a mess. By day, the 25 year-old slacker sits behind a desk at a tiny cubicle in a low-paying job, trying to tune out the unreasonable demands of his overbearing boss (Lorna Scott). Evenings, he retreats to the equally-unpleasant confines of the noisy dive he shares with an abusive girlfriend (Kristen Hagen) who‘s openly sleeping with his best buddy from work. So, it’s no surprise that he suffers from panic attacks, especially since he’s too much of a wimp to do anything about his dire straits.
But opportunity knocks for Wesley in a drug store while waiting to refill a prescription for his anti-anxiety medication when he’s approached by Fox (Angelina Jolie), a femme fatale with a take charge attitude. The mysterious stranger calmly informs him that the father he’s never known had been a colleague of hers in a secret society of cold-blooded killers called the Fraternity. She further delivers the shocking news that his Dad was shot to death the night before by Cross (Thomas Kretschmann), a renegade assassin.
Before he even has a chance to digest this information, Cross appears in the aisle pointing a gun in their direction and a shootout erupts which spills into the street and turns into a gravity-defying, adrenaline-fueled car chase clear cross Chicago. When the dust finally settles, Wesley finds himself deposited in front of an abandoned textile mill on the edge of town which serves as the Fraternity’s headquarters.
Inside, he’s soon recruited to join the organization by Sloan (Morgan Freeman), a sage elder statesman who explains that it is his destiny not only to avenge his father’s slaying but to save the planet as well. It doesn’t take much to convince Wes to accept the noble mission, given the miserable existence he’d be leaving behind.
Still, becoming a world-class hit man calls for mastering a variety of fighting techniques, such as being able to shoot the wings off a fly and to bend the direction of a bullet via mental telepathy. So, prior to setting out in search of the ruthless Cross, it is imperative that Wes first embark upon a grueling training regimen with the help of a crack team of taskmasters, including The Butcher (Dato Bakhtadze), The Repairman (Marc Warren), The Exterminator (Konstantin Khabensky) and Gunsmith (Common).
This is the intriguing setup of Wanted, a graphic splatter flick based on Mark Millar‘s comic book miniseries of the same name. The over-plotted superhero adventure might be best described as a compelling cross of The Matrix and Memento, since it shares the former’s reliance on cartoon physics elements and the latter’s love of confounding convoluted twists. But Wanted is also at times reminiscent of The Karate Kid, Sin City, The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight and the video game Grand Theft Auto.
Soviet director Timur Bekmambetov makes an unforgettable, if quite controversial, English-language debut with this relentlessly-amoral exercise in gratuitous violence. For the picture emphatically endeavors to desensitize its audience by adopting an air of indifference about all manner of savagery being committed against animals and humanity.
A cinematic Columbine filled with wanton carnage designed to validate the bloodlust of every ostracized loser stuck in a dead-end job and daydreaming of evening the score by going postal.

Excellent (4 stars)
Rated R for sexuality, pervasive profanity and graphic violence.
Running time: 110 minutes
Studio: Universal Pictures

To see a trailer of Wanted, visit:

Thursday, June 26, 2008

War, Inc. DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Sophisticated Political Satire Starring John Cusack Released on DVD

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 which reads like a logical extension of what cynics say already unfolded in Iraq.
The plot 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. Upon arriving in Turaqistan, Hauser is ushered into Emerald City, a heavily-fortified sanctuary suspiciously similar to the Green Zone where, while waiting for an opportunity to eliminate Omar, spends most of his free time wooing a leftist American journalist (Marisa Tomei).
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. 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 Home Entertainment
DVD Extras: Previews.

Sex and Death 101 DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Romantic Comedy Starring Simon Baker as Reluctant Womanizer Arrives on DVD

Roderick Blank (Simon Baker) never expected to settle down. The confirmed bachelor had been content to parlay his good looks into a neverending string of sexual conquests. But that was before he fell in love with Fiona (Julie Bowen), a beauty for whom he’s willing to end his career as a player.
Then, just when they’re on the verge of marital bliss and set to tie the knot in a week, Rod receives a mysterious email containing a chronological list of the 101 names of every female he has ever or will sleep with.
Curious, he decides to postpone the wedding, sensing that otherwise he might be cheat on his bride with 72 different strangers. And sure enough, he suddenly finds himself embarking on a dizzying string of one-night stands.
Warning, this isn’t just one of those predictable romantic comedies where the guy ride off into the sunset with the girl who was meant for him all along. For writer/director Daniel Waters (Happy Campers) has a trick up his sleeve in the form of a fetching femme fatale who goes by the alias Death Nell (Winona Ryder).
The plot thickens when this self-appointed vigilante starts roaming around town seducing and slaying known womanizers. What Rod doesn’t know is that she is somewhere on his list of upcoming conquests, but not under her nickname. So the question becomes, will he cross paths with this sadistic serial killer while working his way towards number 101, or will he abandon his hedonistic indulgence and return to Fiona before disaster strikes?
That is the burning question threaded through Sex and Death 101, a kinky dramedy that is every bit as eerily chilling as it is irreverently funny. A female empowerment fantasy where a latter-day Casanova meets his match in the reincarnation of Lorena Bobbitt.

Excellent (3.5 stars)
Rated R for profanity and graphic sexuality.
Running time: 117 minutes
Studio: Anchor Bay Entertainment
DVD Extras: Audio commentary with writer/director Daniel Waters, “Behind-the scenes” featurette, and a theatrical trailer.

Meet the Browns DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: DVD of Tyler Perry Romance Drama Features Rick Fox and Angela Bassett

This modern morality play from Tyler Perry explores such universal themes as abandonment, trust, faith and redemption on its way to resolving the challenges facing Brenda (Angela Bassett), a single-mother of three struggling to survive in the projects on the south side of Chicago. At the point of departure, we find her living paycheck-to-paycheck and having to choose between paying her bills and putting food on the table.
She soon bottoms-out when she loses her job the same day she learns of the death of the father she never knew. Fortunately, Brenda heeds the advice of her best friend Cheryl (Sofia Vergara), to attend the funeral in Georgia.
Upon arriving, she and the kids are not only introduced to their long-lost relatives, but also to a knight in shining armor named Harry (Rick Fox). Handsome Harry is a basketball scout who has the answer to their every problem, if only the thrice-burnt Brenda will let her guard down long enough to allow this good man to sign her high school phenom son (Lance Gross) to a pro contract, to buy her a house and to ask for her hand in marriage.
In the interim, the movie devotes plenty of time to getting acquainted with the Browns, as clownish a clan as you could hope to meet, starting with Leroy, an egg-head with the most garish wardrobe imaginable. Then there’s his morbidly obese daughter Cora (Tamela Mann), and the shrewish Vera (Jenifer Lewis), a witch with nothing nice to say about anybody.
As the plot works its way towards its predictable payoff, Brenda starts to warm to her perfect gentleman suitor. Though too laced with silly slapstick to measure up to the best of Perry’s previous offerings, this flick is still hilarious enough in spots to be well worth watching.

Very Good (3 stars)
PG-13 for profanity, violence, mature themes, sexual references and drug use.
Running time: 101 minutes
Studio: Lions Gate Home Entertainment
2-Disc DVD Extras: A digital version of the film plus four featurettes.

Wednesday, June 25, 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 July 4, 2008


Hancock (PG-13 for profanity and sci-fi violence) Will Smith stars in this action
Comedy about a misunderstood superhero out of favor with the public who tries to resurrect his image with the help of the PR executive (Jason Bateman) whose life he saves. Featuring Charlize Theron and cameos by scriptwriter Akiva Goldsman and director Michael Mann.


Diminished Capacity (Unrated) Ensemble comedy about a newspaper editor (Matthew Broderick) who quits his job after developing amnesia and returns to his hometown where he hatches a plan with an old flame (Virginia Madsen) and his senile uncle (Alan Alda) to sell a rare baseball card at a sports memorabilia show.

Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson (R for nudity, sexuality, profanity and drug use) Oscar-winner Alex Gibney (for Taxi to the Dark Side) directs tenth documentary about Hunter S. Thompson (1937-2005), this bio-pic revisiting highlights in the career of the substance-abusing, anarchistic journalist celebrated for thumbing his nose at the Establishment.

Holding Trevor (R for profanity, sexuality and drug use) Homoerotic romance drama, set in L.A., about a jaded telemarketer (Brent Gorski) who dumps his heroin-addicted boyfriend (Christopher Wyllie) aft4er an overdose for a handsome intern (Eli Karnski) he meets at the hospital.

Kabluey (PG-13 for sexuality, a crude reference and brief profanity) Screwball comedy starring Lisa Kudrow as the cash-strapped wife of a National Guardsman stationed in Iraq whose brother-in-law (Scott Prendergast) takes a job as a corporate mascot to help support her and the kids during his stop-lossed sibling’s absence. With Terri Garr and Christine Taylor (wife of Ben Stiller).

Tell No One (Unrated) Crime thriller about a still-grieving pediatrician (Francois Cluzet) who suddenly finds himself a suspect in his wife’s (Marie-Josee Croze) murder when the police decide to reopen the case at the same time that he receives an anonymous email warning him to “tell no one” that she’s still alive. (In French with subtitles)

Very Young Girls (Unrated) Sex trade documentary examines the state of prostitution in the United States where the average hooker now enters the oldest profession at the tender age of 13. Film focuses on the efforts of victim-turned-advocate Rachel Lloyd to help exploited young women escape from their pimps.

The Wackness (R for profanity, sexuality and pervasive drug use) Hip-hop era romantic comedy, set in 1994, about a college-bound teen (Josh Peck) who spends the summer dealing weed on the streets of New York while falling in love with his shrink’s (Ben Kingsley) step-daughter (Olivia Thirlby) Cast includes Mary-Kate Olsen, Method Man and Famke Janssen.

We Are Together (PG for mature themes) South African documentary chronicling the indomitability of the human spirit as exemplified by 12 year-old Slindile Moya and other kids living at an AIDS orphanage where they find a measure of comfort by singing in a choir. (In Zulu and English with subtitles)

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The Last Mistress (FRENCH)

(Une Vieille Maitresse)
Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Controversial Feminist Director Catherine Breillat Explores Female Desire in Historical Drama

Catherine Breillat is known for exploring such themes as loss of innocence, female desire and violence against women in a sexually-explicit fashion which some of her detractors have labeled as pornographic. Although protests have never discouraged the controversial French director from continuing to propagate her unique approach to moviemaking in films like Romance, Fat Girl, 36 Fillette and Sex Is Comedy, she did experience a personal setback in October of 2004 when she suffered a stroke which left half her body paralyzed.
The Last Mistress, Breillat’s first release since recovering from the illness, is a bit of a departure for the inveterate iconoclast. For the picture at least superficially reads like a conventional costume drama. Set in the 19th Century during the reign of King Louis Phillippe, the story revolves a classic love triangle in which Ryno de Marigny (Fu’ad Aft Aattou), an impoverished aristocrat, finds himself torn between his long-term mistress, Vellini (Asia Arguento), and Hermangarde (Roxane Mesquida), his filthy-rich fiancée.
Although he has an undeniable animal attraction for the former, he informs her at the point of departure that he’s breaking off their torrid, ten-year affair because he’s just gotten engaged to a beautiful young virgin. Needless to say, since Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, Vellini doesn’t take that news well, and decides to try to wreck Ryno’s impending marriage by seducing him back.
Thus, the essential question being addressed by The Last Mistress is whether a man might be able to abandon a woman he lusts for one with a trust. En route to the answer, via the magic of flashbacks, we are treated to a retrospective of Ryno and Vellini’s past together, during which we learn that she was once stuck in a marriage of convenience herself, that she and Ryno’s tempestuous relationship had produced a child, and that he was once challenged to a duel by her husband.
It’s clear their only bona fide bond is a carnal codependency which reveals them both to be bottomless pits of desire who merely mirror each other to the point of mutual disgust. Self –indulgent sexaholism as a pre-feminist mantra and mandate.

Very Good (3 stars)
In French with subtitles.
Running time: 114 minutes
Studio: IFC Films

To see a trailer of The Last Mistress, visit:


Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Bio-Pic Revisits the Rise, Fall and Vindication of Blacklisted Hollywood Screenwriter

Dalton Trumbo (1905-1976) was one of the most successful screenwriters in the country when he was subpoenaed in 1947 to testify before the House American Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) investigating citizens suspected of having Communist leanings. The Committee was in the midst of conducting its infamous witch hunt which would derail the careers of anyone who refused to throw somebody else under the bus.
Trumbo and nine other colleagues, dubbed the Hollywood Ten, refused to capitulate, claiming an infringement on their fundamental First Amendment right to Freedom of Speech. Nonetheless, they were all railroaded to prison, and subsequently blacklisted upon being paroled.
In Dalton’s case, this meant he went from being the entertainment industry’s highest paid scriptwriter to having no means of supporting his wife and three kids. He was blocked from writing under his own name until 1960, so he resorted to submitting material under an alias.
You might recognize the titles of some of his 60+ movies, starting with Roman Holiday and The Brave One, both of which won him Oscars in the scriptwriting category. Then there’s Exodus, Spartacus, Papillon, The Sandpiper, Hawaii, Lonely are the Brave, Thirty Seconds over Tokyo and Kitty Foyle.
Adapted from the stage play of the same name by his son, Christopher, Trumbo is a docudrama comprised of staged readings of its subject’s letters combined with archival news footage, family home movies and contemporary interviews. Among celebs making appearances by Kirk Douglas, Danny Glover, Joan Allen, Nathan Lane, Michael Douglas, Paul Giamatti, Brian Dennehy, Donald Sutherland, David Strathairn and Liam Neeson.
A on overdue vindication of a true patriot and a timely reminder to continue challenging authority in the face of the Patriot Act.

Very Good (3 stars)
Running time: 96 minutes
Studio: Samuel Goldwyn Films

To see a trailer of Trumbo, visit:

Elsa & Fred (SPANISH)

(Elsa y Fred)
Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Senior Citizens Seize Last Chance at love in Bittersweet Romantic Romp

Elsa (China Zorrilla) is an 82 year-old incurable romantic with a Bucket List of things she still wants to do before she dies. First and foremost, she’d like to fall in love one more time so as to be able to frolic with her beau in Rome’s famous Trevi Fountain just like Anita Ekberg did in La Dolce Vita.
This is easier said than done, given that Elsa’s in failing health with her kidneys dependent on daily dialysis treatments. Fortunately, she’s one irrepressible bon vivant determined to enjoy life to the very end, despite her medical condition.
As fate would have it, recently-widowed Alfredo (Manuel Alexandre) decides to move into a smaller apartment in Madrid in a building owned by his domineering daughter, Cuba (Blanca Portillo). Wouldn’t you know, his arrival is not missed by his new next-door neighbor, naughty Elsa, who pounces on the grieiving geezer the first chance she gets, like a starving pit bull that just found some raw meat.
But Fred isn’t necessarily inclined to move so quickly, since he’s a nerdy hypochondriac who takes a pile of pills for an assortment of real and imagined disorders. He’s scared by Elsa’s bossiness, which includes an insistence that he stop taking all his medications for a week. Turns out he has good reason to be frightened of her, for she’s a compulsive liar who fibs about everything from fender benders to the reason why she divorced her husband.
However, resistance proves to be futile once she’s sunk her claws into Fred, and it’s not long before she has him behaving dishonestly, too. For example, they run out on the bill at a fancy restaurant, illogically implying that the taking of such liberties by the elderly is proof of vitality.
Anyhow, this shamelessly sentimental tale makes its inexorable march to Rome for a recreation of the above-referenced fountain scene from Fellini’s 1960 screen classic, props like a cat and a cup of milk included. Trouble is we’re supposed to buy the idea that this is all Elsa needs to be able to rest in peace. Talk about life imitating art! Or is this art imitating art?
Regardless, the transparent attempt to tug on the heartstrings didn’t work for me. So it’s hard in good conscience to recommend a sappy flick with a heroine this shallow, her spunkiness in the face of a dire prognosis notwithstanding.

Fair (1.5 stars)
Rated PG for mild epithets and mature themes.
In Spanish, Italian and English with subtitles.
Running time: 108 minutes
Studio: Mitropoulos Films

To see a trailer of Elsa & Fred, visit:

Monday, June 23, 2008

The Chronicles of a Gentleman (The Untold Truth)

by Leroy Sanders
Aardvark Global Publishing
Paperback, $12.95
68 pages
ISBN: 978-1-4276-2062-0

Book Review by Kam Williams

“I’m here to show you a few things that will enable you to have any woman you desire. Race creed and color don’t matter. It’s not complicated… I will show you exactly what to say and what not to say. I will also show you how to approach a woman confidently. I will even show you how to deal effectively with women that have attitudes
While it’s a given that women are not meant to be understood, there are some rules that apply to all women, no matter what race or age group they fall in… In the chapters ahead, I will outline the rules and their importance…
Do not mistake the contents of this book. It’s not meant to teach men how to be layers… My goal is to help men gain a better understanding about the opposite sex, thus allowing them to establish more fruitful relationships.”
-- Excerpted from the Introduction (page i-ii)

Are you a single guy who hasn’t had much luck with ladies? If so, and you’re looking to change your fortunes in a big way, you might like to read The Chronicles of a Gentleman (The Untold Truth) by Leroy Sanders. You might also want to read this book if you’re a single woman and concerned about what types of games guys are running nowadays to get you in bed. In fact, this book is so entertaining I recommend it heartily to anyone just for the laughs. Anyone over 18, that is, because love guru Sanders is prone to peppering his sage sex advice with plenty of salty language.
In the most colorful prose I’ve encountered in years, the author breaks it down in plain language the average street thug can understand. He has five ground rules which must be followed to get your girl, namely, “Always remain a gentleman, learn how to pay attention to a woman, never compare her to another woman, be a man of your word, and never tell a lie.”
While these basic tenets sound simple enough, it is Leroy’s elucidation on each which is nothing short of jaw dropping. On the importance of good hygiene: “How can you expect a woman to take her clothes off and let you touch her if your ass stinks?” On how to pick up a woman at a nightclub: Do not talk about or to her breasts. I don’t care how big them [t-words] are. Look in her eyes.”
Although he curses constantly in this raunchy how-to tome, Mr. Sanders warns, ”Do not curse. Women do not like a man with a foul mouth.” He goes on to suggest getting to know the object of your affection because “if you really want to get this woman then you must tap into her soul before you can worry about tapping that ass.” As for bringing a female back to your crib, he warns that “you better make sure moms ain’t home if you live in your momma’s basement.”
And does Harlem-born Leroy the lover’s system work? Well, I suppose you can’t argue with success, since he and his two sons have recently moved from New York to Atlanta to live with his fiancée.
In conclusion, The Chronicles of a Gentleman might be severely lacking in terms of charm and sophistication, but still earns an A for its earthiness and non-stop humor. Just consider its grooming checklist which includes: “Did you bathe?” “Is your breath fresh?” “Did you put baby powder on your nuts?”
Not exactly a manual designed with metrosexuals in mind.

To purchase a copy of the book, visit:

Ed Gordon: The Daddy’s Promise Interview

with Kam Williams

Headline: Turning the Tables on the Emmy-Winning Interviewer

Edward Lansing Gordon, III was born in Detroit in 1960. Both his parents, Ed and Jimmie, were schoolteachers, although his father is best remembered for winning a gold medal in the long jump at the 1932 Olympics. Ed credits them both with instilling in him his dedication to the tireless work ethic which served him well while earning his B.A. in communications and political science at Western Michigan University and subsequently in his Emmy-winning career as a television journalist.
His name became synonymous with celebrity interviews while with the Black Entertainment Television Network where he hosted Conversation with Ed Gordon along with anchoring BET News and BET Tonight. In that capacity, he is perhaps most famous for landing the first post-acquittal one-on-one with O.J. Simpson. Ed’s impressive resume also includes intimate tete-a-tetes with President Bill Clinton, Oprah Winfrey, Reverend Al Sharpton, Halle Berry, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Jamie Foxx, Minister Louis Farrakhan, South Africa’s President Nelson Mandela, R. Kelly and Senator Trent Lott, just to name a few
Since BET, Ed has enjoyed stints at CBS as a correspondent on 60 Minutes and at NBC as a commentator on Dateline and The Today Show. He is currently hosting a couple of nationally-syndicated programs: Our World with Black Enterprise and NPR’s News and Notes with Ed Gordon.
Besides collecting his fair share of professional accolades such as an NAACP Image Award and the National Association of Black Journalist’s Journalist of the Year Award, Ed has also been named one of the 50 Most Beautiful People in the World by People Magazine.
Though divorced, he remains very much a part of the life of his 14 year-old daughter, Taylor. Inspired by the positive response to an article he wrote for Essence Magazine about his commitment to Taylor, Ed recently launched his latest project: Daddy’s Promise ( ), an initiative celebrating the bond between African-American men and their daughters.

KW: Hey, Ed, I’m honored to get some time with you.
EG: No, my pleasure, I appreciate your taking the time for this.
KW: What inspired you to write the article for Essence?
EG: Just the relationship that I have with Taylor. I had always wanted kids and thought I’d have a boy. But I had this little girl and she’s just been such a joy to me. I really only wanted to say that out loud. And after it was published, the response was overwhelming. I always knew that Essence was the Bible for black women, but I never understood until then just how far-reaching it was. After that response, I felt that I needed to do more, and we came up with Daddy’s Promise, a national initiative. Ironically, we knew we were going to launch it around Father’s Day, but Barack Obama’s recently speaking about the need for men to be fathers makes it even more poignant.
KW: Do you think part of your originally wanting to have a son might have had to do with you’re being Ed Gordon, III and the son of an Olympic gold medalist?
EG: Probably. My brother suggested that that was just my little macho thing, wanting to relive my childhood and high school years by watching a son play basketball and football and date pretty girls. I suspect a lot of men feel like that. But my brother also told me, “You’re about to receive a gift in a woman who will love you like no other. Not like your mother, not like your wife or any girl friend you’ve ever had. This person will love you unconditionally, in a way which you won’t be able to fathom until you experience it.” He was so right. But I also see the importance of men being in their daughters’ lives.
KW: What do you hope the program will accomplish?
EG: We know that sisters are doing such a fine job going to college and entering the corporate world, yet often when you talk to them, many still have a void from not having a father in their lives. And they might make certain decisions which, upon reflection, they might wish they hadn’t made. But they didn’t have a road map. You can often tell a woman who didn’t have a father in her life.
KW: How can fathers get involved with your rogram?
EG: Go to the website, , download the pledge, hand it to your daughter, tell her you love her, and send us a picture of the two of you to show the world that you are a good father. We’re trying to get people to stand up and say, “Hey, I’m a good one, and join me.” The first wave is very symbolic.
KW: Are you at all worried about your message being misconstrued the way some people unfairly labeled Bill Cosby elitist and out of touch after his call for black self-responsibility?
EG: I don’t see that happening because this movement is not doing any finger-pointing. I’m saying that, in general, there are a lot of ills in our society and in our community that we have to fix, period. And we need to be about fixing them. This is a celebration of the brothers who are doing the right thing. And those who aren’t know who they are. We’re trying to make this an initiative where brothers who aren’t doing the right thing will want to come on board and turn things around.
KW: Did you have any problems with Obama’s Father’s Day speech in which he sharply criticized absentee African-American fathers?
EG: No. Look, I think that as a community we have to be willing to step up and examine our ills without being concerned that we might be seen as blaming the victim or telling tales out of school, so to speak. We have problems, as does the rest of the world. We’ve faced a disproportionate share for a myriad of reasons. It’s not just because we’re trifling, there are a number of things that impact us. The point is we can’t continue to let those reasons, which run the gamut from racism to being trifling and everything in between, stop us. The world is moving at a very fast pace now, and we have to make sure that we stay in this race.
KW: Do you think it was fair for Obama to talk about the ills of the ghetto, when he was raised by his white mother and white grandparents in the Midwest, in Hawaii and overseas?
EG: Here’s my issue with that. I think it’s unfair for people to suggest, as you just did, that he didn’t grow up with a black experience. His was a black experience, just a different one. We have to understand that the black experience includes being a mulatto. Nobody complains about Halle Berry who was raised by her mom. And Halle’s been very up front about how she sees herself and who she is.
The reality is that black America comes in all shapes, colors, hair textures… the whole nine yards. And we have to start embracing it all, because that’s who we are. Barack Obama was first criticized for, quote, not being black enough and for not being able to understand the black experience. Now, when he deals with some real black issues, people are still knocking him.
KW: Do you feel at all funny about the popular notion that because Obama won the nomination America is now a post-racial society?
EG: I think it’s important to note that he has never suggested that. Often, the pundits are saying that. But I think we have to be mindful that as wonderful as this Obama wave is we still have to be careful. We are not beyond racism. This could very well be an anomaly, much as after Hattie McDaniel won an Oscar for Gone with the Wind, it took another three decades for another black person to win an Academy Award. So, I think we have to be mindful of what can occur. That being said, I do believe that those of us who are of a certain age have to allow for the baggage to drop. I do think that the younger generation is less burdened by the weight of race. But let’s not assume that the vestiges of racism are gone just because Mr. Obama has the Democratic nomination. It certainly is a milestone that should be saluted. And it speaks to how far this country has come in the last forty years, but it doesn’t eradicate the issues or the problems which still face us in a country so consumed with race prejudice and quite frankly the question of gender as well. We still have a ways to go, so we should celebrate the accomplishment while being mindful that it is not by any means complete.
KW: Have you interviewed Obama?
EG: I’ve interviewed him a number of times. The last time was about a week or two before he declared. But we’re going back and forth with his folks right now about sitting down again with him in the immediate future.
KW: What did you think about the flap between him and Tavis Smiley, which resulted in Tavis’ resigning from The Tom Joyner Show.
EG: I think black America has to realize that this race is bigger than one thing. That’s how I see it. There are certain things this candidate is going to do and rules he has to follow. But it doesn’t mean that he isn’t with us. Barack Obama has been masterful in being middle ground enough for white America to embrace him but black enough for black America to say, “That’s our guy.”
KW: Are you familiar with black conservative Shelby Steele’s new book explains why Obama won’t win the Presidency because of his having to satisfy the competing concerns of black and white constituencies? I had a pretty interesting interview with him about it.
EG: Yeah, I interviewed him as well.
KW: Who are you supporting for President?
EG: Well, as journalists, as you know, because I’m on all of these shows, I do not publicly suggest who I support. But, eh, you know.
KW: Since you’re originally from Detroit, how do you feel about your hometown’s embattled Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick? Do you think he should step down?
EG: I think he has certainly placed himself in a position that does not bode well for trying to hold the mayoral seat because there are so many issues likely to sidetrack him. I will be disappointed because Kwame is smart, charismatic and everything you would want in a leader. I’m sorry that some of the personal has involved itself in the political. And it has made things more difficult for a city that’s already reeling. In terms of resigning, he says that he doesn’t believe he should, so at this point you just let the process play itself out.
KW: What was it like to be named one of the “50 Most Beautiful People in the World” by People Magazine?
EG: Man, they had probably finished picking 49 and were tired, and I just happened to be passing by. Look, Kam, it’s flattering, and I appreciate it, but you can’t take that stuff seriously. Just when you start buying into it, something slaps you back down to Earth.
KW: When you interviewed O.J. Simpson, you asked him right off the bat whether he did it. But in retrospect were there any other questions you wished you’d asked him?
EG: No, I have learned over the years that as long as you’re well prepared, you do the best you can do. It’s funny because sometimes people will say you didn’t ask this or that, when you did ask those questions but the interviewee didn’t answer it in the way the viewer wanted. So, I’ve learned not to beat myself up after these interviews. If I can say I went in prepared, then I know I’ve done my best.
KW: That makes me think of the passing of Tim Russert who was among the very best at preparation.
EG: Tim was one of those anomalies in the business who started off at the other end, as an executive, and found his way in front of the camera. And you can see just by the outpouring of sympathy and well-deserved tributes that he’s receiving that he touched America deeply.
KW: How well did you know him?
EG: During my years at NBC, I was stationed in New York while he was in D.C., so I didn’t get to see him a lot, but we would do a lot of cross-talks on the shows. And he, as everyone has mentioned, always had very nice and supportive things to say to you. Professionally, you could see that he had passion for what he did. That’s key. I don’t know that you could find anything that better suits someone for a career than passion. So, it’s a big loss.
KW: Which of your interviews did you find the most interesting?
EG: Honestly, without sounding too corny, I find almost every interview I do interesting, because everyone has a story. So, if you listen, you’ll see that there is a unique dynamic when dealing with each person. But in terms of the interview which was most special to me, while most people think it must be either O.J. Simpson or R. Kelly, it actually was the first time I had an opportunity to sit down with Nelson Mandela. I am underwhelmed by most interviewees, but I was floored by this man. Floored! I’m really meat and potatoes. I ain’t that deep. But you could feel this man’s presence when he walked into the room before he even uttered a word. I’m probably most proud of that interview because he’s an extraordinary person and because it was conducted in his home in South Africa.
KW: The Columbus Short question: Are you happy?
EG: Most days.
KW: The Tasha Smith question: Are you ever afraid?
EG: Hmm… rarely, but yes.
KW: Is there any question that no one ever asks you that you wish someone would?
EG: No, because I never think I’m that interesting. So, no.
KW: Bookworm Troy Johnson was wondering, what was the last book you read?
EG: The last book I read was [Tom] Brokaw’s book, Boom. I’ve always been fascinated by that era, the Sixties. I was also intrigued by his coverage of race during the Civil Rights Movement, and he dealt with a lot of that in the book. It’s very difficult for me to do a lot of reading for pleasure, only because I do so much for work. When I finally get a chance to relax, I generally don’t want to read another thing. I usually sit down and put a little music on and try to unwind in that way
KW: Troy knew I was going to be speaking with you and he also specifically wanted to know what you think of BET programming and Bob Johnson’s new film studio, Our Stories Films?
EG: I can’t really comment about Our Stories Films, because I haven’t seen their first movie, Who’s Your Caddy. As for the direction of BET, look, BET is what it is. I had concerns when I was there, and often fought about the programming. But I also understood that it wasn’t my ball, and that the person that controls the ball controls the game. So, I tried to represent the news department as best I could. That being said, my disappointment is more with the fact that until TV-One came about, black people only had one television network, because competition spurs better programming and better thought. So, my bigger disappointment was with the industry itself and with the failure of black entrepreneurs to give BET competition when it was more feasible, economically, to get in the game.
KW: How do you feel about your longevity in this business?
EG: I’ve been very blessed and feel very fortunate to be able to work in a number of areas and to make some noise with the interviews and programs I’ve done through the years, and to be able to work continuously, which is not easy in our industry. The fact that I’m hanging on and have some gray hair now, is okay.
KW: How do you want to be remembered?
EG: As Taylor’s daddy, and a good one.
KW: How did it feel to be on the other side of an interview?
EG: Some interviewers-turned-interviewees don’t like not being in control, but I wasn’t really bothered by it.
KW: Thanks again, Ed. I appreciate the time.
EG: Thank you for your interest.

To check out Ed’s website, visit:
To hear Gil Scott-Heron’s classic tribute to his daughter ”Your Daddy Loves You” visit:

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Traces of the Trade: A Story from the Deep North (PBS SPECIAL)

PBS Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Descendants of Slave Owners Retrace Ancestors Triangular Trade Route

When Katrina Browne’s grandmother wrote her memoirs, one chapter revealed a long-suppressed secret, namely, that the DeWolf family had been the most successful slave traders in the entire United States. In fact, one ancestor, United States Senator James DeWolf of Rhode Island, had become the second richest person in America at the time of his death.
And he had been considerably assisted in that endeavor by none other than President Thomas Jefferson who appointed James’ brother-in-law in a critical position as a federal customs official. The family’s vertically-integrated business was run like a modern conglomerate and controlled every aspect of the evil enterprise from the ships to the plantations to the manufacturing of shackles to the barrels for transporting rum.
Katrina learned that long after the importing of slaves from Africa had at least technically been declared illegal, the DeWolf clan was still able to deal in human contraband because of its political connections. Hoping to come to terms collectively with this shameful stain on the family, she invited all 200 of her relatives back to Bristol to participate in a reunion to discuss just what this skeleton in the closet meant.
Unfortunately, 140 of them never even bothered to respond, ostensibly feeling it was best to let sleeping dogs lie. For owning up to having benefited from any ill-gotten gains could lead to a call not only for an apology for slavery but for reparations from the descendants of the victims.
However, 9 more introspective relatives did take Katrina up on the offer, and that group convened in Rhode Island before embarking on an emotional journey retracing the triangular trade route covered by the DeWolfs ships from the U.S. to Ghana to Cuba and then back to the States. Their eventful sojourn was recorded by a camera crew, and the essence of that experience has been preserved by Traces of the Trade, a unique look at slavery from the perspective of Northern white beneficiaries.
Thus, we hear the close-knit kin recite a nursery rhyme passed down for generations, a catchy ditty about a couple of African children given by the DeWolf patriarch to his wife as Christmas presents. On another occasion, they reflect upon how as children they were taught never to talk about three subjects: “sex, politics and Negroes.” Meanwhile, they also acknowledge the advantages attached to being born American bluebloods, given that 9 out of 10 of their fathers attended Ivy League colleges: Harvard (5), Brown (2) and Princeton (2).
An eye-opening caravan undertaken by some refreshingly honest Caucasians willing to take an unblinking look at their slave legacy and the devastation left in its wake.

Excellent (4 stars)
Running time: 86 minutes
Studio: PBS

To see a trailer of Traces of the Trade, visit:

Traces of the Trade premieres on PBS on P.O.V. on Tuesday June 24th at 10 PM ET. (check local listings)

Get Smart

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: “Sorry About That” but Steve Carrell Is No Don Adams

Get Smart, which enjoyed a five-year run on TV from 1965 to 1970, was a reliably-sidesplitting spoof of James Bond and the rest of the international espionage genre. Created by Mel Brooks and Buck Henry, the program starred the late Don Adams in the title role as the bumbling Maxwell Smart, aka Agent 86, and Barbara Feldon as his sultry sidekick, 99. As spies for CONTROL, a CIA-style government agency, their weekly mission was to protect the Free World from their evil, Cold War counterparts working for KAOS.
Now, Steve Carrell has been tapped to play Max in the screen adaptation, a two-hour waste of celluloid with fewer laughs than any one half-hour episode of the original television show. For some unfathomable reason, director Peter Segal opted to overhaul a relentlessly-hilarious, over-the-top parody never intended to be taken seriously into a dramatic adventure with only intermittent comic relief.
Yes, Smart still employs stock catchphrases such as “Missed it by that much” and “Would you believe…?” periodically, and he also has some of the old gadgetry at his disposal, like the confounding Cone of Silence. In addition, many beloved characters have also been brought back, including The Chief (Alan Arkin), Agent Larabee (David Koechner), stowaway specialist Agent 13 (Bill Murray), Hymie the Robot (Patrick Warburton), and KAOS villains Siegfried (Terrence Stamp) and Shtarker (Ken Davitian). Notable cast additions include The Rock as Agent 23, Terry Crews as Agent 91, James Caan as the President of the United States,
However, because this version places more of an emphasis on action and special effects than on humor, the jokes are few and far between, a fact likely to infuriate the franchise’s diehard fans. Another irritation is the profanity and off color content which will undoubtedly seem inappropriate to anyone familiar with the source material. But the film’s biggest failing is that Steve Carrell doesn’t even try to deliver his lines with the same pithy pizzazz which made Adams’ embodiment of the character so memorable.
The nostalgia factor aside, perhaps the picture’s most offensive indiscretion involves a shameless reenactment of Catherine Zeta Jones’ memorable moment from Entrapment (1999). Here, we are treated to the sight of curvy 99 (Anne Hathaway) undulating sensuously in a form-fitting outfit to avoid red laser beams. Is the passage of nine years enough time to plagiarize a famous scene and think no one would notice? How dumb and absolutely unoriginal!
The upshot is that this incarnation of Get Smart neither does justice to the TV show nor to any of cinema classics it borrows ideas from, pictures like True Lies, The Spy Who Loved Me, Moonraker and Dr. Strangelove. Get Smart got stupid.

Fair (1 star)
Rated PG-13 for violence, profanity and crude humor.
In English and Russian with subtitles.
Running time: 110 minutes
Studio: Warner Brothers

To see a Get Smart trailer, visit:

Saturday, June 21, 2008

The Love Guru

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Mike Myers Serves Up Sophomoric Mess as “The Love Guru”

Those familiar with Mike Myers’ work know that he’s a comedic genius quite capable of keeping you in hysterics whether cavorting across the screen as Austin Powers, Shrek, Dr. Evil, Fat Bastard, Goldmember, Wayne Campbell or any of the other unforgettable character he’s portrayed. That impressive track record makes his latest offering all the more disappointing, for The Love Guru barely registers a blip on the audience laff-o-meter over the course of its patience-testing, 90-minute duration.

In 25 words or less, the story revolves around Maurice Pitka (Myers), an American-born orphan raised in an ashram who returns to the States from India hoping to replace Deepak Chopra as America’s #1 self help guru and thereby earn an invite to appear on Oprah. While on this quest, Pitka happens to be hired by the owner (Jessica Alba) of the Toronto Maple Leafs to help her star player (Romany Malco) win back his wife (Meagan Good) from the better-endowed goalie (Justin Timberlake) of her team’s arch rivals in time to win the Stanley Cup.

Every bit as scattered as that synopsis reads, this overambitious picture endeavors to bridge a dizzying number of cinematic genres only to end up doing none of them justice in at desperate attempt to be all things to all demographics. Sloppily combining elements of the pop culture parody, the overcoming-the-odds sports saga, the Bollywood musical, the love triangle melodrama, the loss of innocence tale, the social satire, the gross-out teensploit and the shameless product placement-laden production, The Love Guru looks like someone lazily decided to throw a bunch of bull substance at the screen to see what sticks. Nothing does, trust me.

The bulk of what’s passed off as humor here are double entendres about male genitalia, starting with the names of characters like Tugginmypudha (Ben Kingsley), Jacques Le Coq (Timberlake), Dick Pants (John Oliver) and Satchabignoba (Omid Djialili). Leaving even less to the imagination are the titles of Guru’s Pitka best-selling books, such as BLOW ME (a mnemonic for Be Loving & Openhearted With My Emotions).

One scene featured a scrotum-looking delicacy called “Nuts in a Sling,” an East Indian dish served astride a big pickle to make sure you get it. And groan-inducing lines like “Would you like your nuts crushed?” “Help Uncle Jack off an elephant” and “Did you know a Dickie Withers at 85?” are all right out of a junior high school locker room.

When not making a play on penis words, the slapstick turns sophomoric, as in the gross game where the participants try to swat each other in the mouth with urine soaked mops. Guess who gets a handle shoved right up his rectum?


Otherwise, The Love Guru is generally obsessed with bodily functions, ranging from farts to feces to ejaculation. Perhaps what’s most disturbing is that scriptwriter Myers must be out of ideas, given his borrowing stale ideas from mediocre movies. We could’ve been spared the shots up the skirts of Britney Spears, Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan san panties, the same three celebutantes similarly showcased in Meet the Spartans.

Don’t be suckered by all the celebrities in the cast, including Jessica Simpson, Kanye West, Verne “Mini-Me” Troyer, Stephen Colbert, Val Kilmer, Telma Hopkins, Deepak Chopra and Mariska Hargitay. It’s Mike Myers job to make you laugh, and he fails miserably in what might not be the best performance of his career, but it’s certainly his worst.

Poor (0 stars)

Rated PG-13 for sexuality, profanity, slapstick violence, crude humor and drug references.

Running time: 88 minutes

Studio: Paramount Pictures

To see a trailer of The Love Guru, visit:

Friday, June 20, 2008

Honeydripper DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Image Award-Winning DVD Features Danny Glover in Segregation Era Saga

It is 1950, in Harmony, a hardscrabble Alabama town whose name gives no hint that its color-coded caste system relegates blacks to second-class status. But despite the limitations of living under Jim Crow segregation, Tyrone “Pinetop” Purvis (Danny Glover) has managed to eke out a decent living, at least till now.
He’s the proprietor of the Honeydripper Lounge, a juke joint which flourished during its heyday by selling cheap booze while catering to the tastes of a clientele which appreciated the blues. Lately, however, the bulk of Pinetop’s business has drifted over to a shady shack featuring performers of a new genre of music that’s a precursor to R&B.
Finding himself on the brink of bankruptcy, Tyrone decides to book an out-of-town act in a last gasp effort to save the nightclub. Unfortunately, Guitar Sam fails to arrive on the train from New Orleans as arranged. So, the embattled owner comes up with the bright idea of hiring a drifter, Sonny Blake (Gary Clark, Jr.) to impersonate the legendary guitarist, since nobody knows what he looks like, anyway.
So unfolds Honeydripper, winner of this year’s NAACP Image Award in the Best Independent Film category. The front story of the costume drama curiously less compelling than the picture’s electrifying score and wince-inducing recreations of tableaus of a bygone era marked by subjugation and intolerance.
Sadly, such routine mistreatment and exploitation of blacks represents a generally unacknowledged aspect of America’s legacy. Due to a deep cultural denial, sensitive subject-matter of this nature is ordinarily only touched upon humorously in cinema.
Kudos to two-time Oscar-nominee Sayles (for Lone Star and Passion Fish) who has previously tackled African-American themes, both in his comic cult classic Brother from Another Planet and in the relatively cerebral Sunshine State.

Excellent (4 stars)
Rated PG-13 for brief violence and suggestive material.
Running time: 124 minutes
Studio: Universal Studios Home Entertainment
DVD Extras: Director’s commentary, interviews, and a “Behind-the-Scenes” featurette.

To see a trailer of Honeydripper, visit:

Definitely, Maybe DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Divorcing Dad Spousifies Daughter in Dysfunctional Family Drama Due on DVD

The midst of a divorce probably isn’t the best time for a father to share the intimate details of his messy love life with a pre-pubescent daughter. But that doesn’t prevent Will Hayes (Ryan Reynolds) from spilling the beans to 11 year-old Maya (Abigail Breslin after her curiosity was whetted in sex education class.
“Tell me the story of how you and my mother met,” she demands. However, rather than restrict his ensuing narrative to his soon-to-be ex, divulging daddy decides to reminisce about all three of his great romances, changing names to make Maya guess which one was with her mom.
This flashback flick shifts back to Madison, Wisconsin in 1992 which is where we find Will already involved with one of the trio, Emily (Elizabeth Banks), his college sweetheart. He leaves the blonde behind when he moves to New York to work on Bill Clinton’s presidential campaign.
Good sport Emily suggests Will look up her best friend, Summer (Rachel Weisz), a brunette bohemian living in Greenwich Village with a college professor (Kevin Kline). Will soon learns that the girls once had a steamy lesbian liaison. Then, to complicate matters, Summer pounces on him they day they meet, explaining that it’s all with Hampton’s approval.
Does any of this sound appropriate for an adolescent’s ears? Wait it gets better. At Clinton campaign headquarters, Will develops a crush on co-worker April (Isla Fisher), a ravishing redhead who could care less about the candidate. Trouble is, she’s already in a relationship.
Needless to say, there’s quite a bit of kinky coupling and uncoupling over the course of this tawdry “Who’s Your Mama?” melodrama. Provided you can ignore the inappropriateness of a father spousifying his daughter in this fashion, you’re apt to enjoy this implausible romp’s unpredictable path toward its carefully-concealed resolution.

Excellent (3.5 stars)
Rated PG-13 for profanity, sexuality, smoking and frank dialogue.
Running time: 111 minutes
Studio: Universal Studios Home Entertainment
DVD Extras: Deleted scenes, feature commentary with the director and star Ryan Reynolds, a couple of featurettes and more.

Priceless (Hors de Prix) DVD

Headline: French Farce Revolving around Case of Mistaken Identity Comes to DVD

Gold digger Irene (Audrey Tautou) is staying at a posh resort with Jacques (Vernon Dobtcheff), an elderly sugar daddy who has just proposed to her. But after the old coot falls asleep, the gypsy-like Jezebel slips out of bed in the middle of the night and heads down to the hotel’s lounge to see if she can find an even wealthier sucker to put a ring on her finger.
There, she starts flirting with Jean (Gad Elmaleh), a shy nerd she mistakes for an obscenely rich guest, when in fact he happens to be just a broke bartender. Excited that this gorgeous young woman finds him attractive, he does nothing to clear up the confusion.
Instead, he uses his connections to gain access to the penthouse suite in order to further impress her. And only after she’s seduced the impostor into a session of passionate lovemaking does the shameless hussy realize that for once the tables have been turned on her.
This is the messy point of departure of Priceless, directed by Pierre Salvadori (Apres Vous), a complicated, class-conscious French farce which features more coupling and uncoupling than you might care to keep track of. For, as the plot thickens, Irene and Jean not only remain romantically involved, but they also decide to date any rich retirees willing to let them live in the lap of luxury.
Though these conniving crooks are initially totally unsympathetic, there’s enough character development that you ultimately actually feel empathy for their plight as working-class heroes. Somehow a materialistic, sex-industry slut magically transforms before your eyes into a spiritual soul capable of following her heart and riding off into the sunset on the back of a scooter with an equally-disgusting gigolo.

Excellent (4 stars)
Rated PG-13 for nudity and sexuality.
In French with subtitles.
Running time: 104 minutes
Studio: Panorama
DVD Extras: Deleted scenes, “Behind-the-Scenes” and “The Making of” featurettes, and the original theatrical trailer.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Quid Pro Quo

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Kinky Psychological Thriller Explores a Rare Erotic Compulsion

On April 5, 1989, Isaac Knott (Nick Stahl) survived a horrible automobile accident in which both of his parents (Michal Sinnott and Joshua Leonard) perished. Not only did the grieving eight year-old have to handle the emotional burden of suddenly being orphaned, but he also had to adjust instantly to the prospect of spending the rest of his life in a wheelchair. For the tragedy had left him a paraplegic, and he was now fated to grow up frequently feeling frustrated by the overwhelming urge to stand up and walk again.
Fortunately, Isaac never let the infirmity hold him back, and he went on to become a successful reporter for a public radio station in New York City. In this capacity, he received an anonymous tip about a man who had offered a doctor a quarter million dollars to amputate one of his perfectly good legs. Curious about why anyone would want to be a cripple, the journalist in Isaac was compelled to determine whether there was any truth to the bizarre rumor.
His ensuing investigation leads to Fiona (Vera Farmiga), a curator of Chinese artifacts who confesses to having an erotic compulsion to become physically handicapped. As she explains it, she thinks of herself as a paralyzed person in a healthy body. What’s more, she offers to introduce Isaac to other weirdoes who share her mental disorder. Soon, with her assistance he finds himself immersed in a kinky subculture he had no idea existed, a perverse universe with mind-boggling mysteries just begging to be unraveled.
This is the deceptive premise of Quid Pro Quo, a twisted psychological thriller marking the brilliant, if decidedly macabre, directorial debut of Carlos Brooks. However, the film is far more than a well-crafted conundrum exploring the motivations of confused wannabe cripples, for en route to uncovering the answers sexual tension and other surprises arise between the protagonists, and the two take out time to pursue passion and the past.
An outsider adventure strictly for the very open-minded, presenting the numbness of paralysis, ironically, as a potential source of paroxysms of pleasure.

Very Good (3 stars)
Rated R for sexuality and profanity.
Running time: 82 minutes
Studio: Magnolia Pictures

To see a trailer of the film, visit:

Wednesday, June 18, 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 June 27, 2008


WALL-E (G) Disney/Pixar animation collaboration revolving around a robot left on Earth after it’s evacuated due to pollution. He falls in love with the fembot sent back by humans to retrieve the last plant on the planet. Featuring computer-generated sounds augmented by a voice cast which includes Jeff Garlin, Sigourney Weaver, Fred Willard and John Ratzenberger.

Wanted (R for sexuality, pervasive profanity and graphic violence) Sci-fi thriller about a slacker (James McAvoy) recruited to join a secret society of vigilantes following his father’s murder by a sexy assassin (Angelina Jolie). Cast includes Morgan Freeman, Terence Stamp and Common.


All in This Tea (Unrated) Pekoe documentary traces the efforts of peripatetic tea importer David Lee Hoffman to find the most aromatic leaves available in China given the trend toward the widespread use of chemical fertilizers that’s rapidly turning organic farmers into an endangered species. (In English and Mandarin with subtitles)

Bustin’ Down the Door (Unrated) Edward Norton narrates this “Hang Ten” documentary recounting how the sport of surfing was revolutionized, popularized and corporatized in the Seventies in the wake of the arrival in Hawaii of a half-dozen, brash young beach boys from Australia and South Africa.

Elsa and Fred (PG for mild epithets and mature themes) Romantic comedy, set in Madrid, about a lonely, 77 year-old widower (Manuel Alexandre) who moves into a smaller apartment on the advice of his daughter (Blanca Portillo) only to find himself seduced by his elderly, new next-door neighbor (China Zorrilla), a bon vivant determined to enjoy life to the very end. (In Spanish, Italian and English with subtitles)

Finding Amanda (R for pervasive profanity, drug use, brief nudity and graphic sexuality) Dysfunctional family drama about a TV producer (Matthew Broderick) cured of his drinking and gambling habits who ventures to Vegas to rescue a niece (Brittany Snow) rumored to be on drugs and working as a prostitute. Cast includes Maura Tierney and Peter Facinelli.

Full Grown Men (Unrated) Peter Pan adventure about an immature father (Matt McGrath), kicked out of the house by his wife for refusing to grow up, who tracks down a long-lost friend (Judah Friedlander) to take a nostalgic road trip together to their favorite amusement park from childhood. With Amy Sedaris, Deborah “Blondie” Harry, Alan Cumming and Joie Lee (Spike’s sister).

Gunnin’ for That #1 Spot (PG-13 for profanity) Hoop dreams documentary chronicles the competition among 24 of the best high school basketball prospects as they showcase their skills at Harlem’s historic Rucker Park in front of fans and talent scouts.

The Last Mistress (Unrated) Ever-controversial Catherine Breillat directs this exploration of female desire, set in the 19th Century during the reign of King Louis Phillippe, about a bachelor (Fu’ad Aft Aattou) who has to contend with the wrath of his troublemaking, jealous lover of ten years (Asia Arguento) after announcing his engagement to an angelic virgin (Roxane Mesquida) of noble birth. (In French with subtitles)

Louise Bourgeois (Unrated) Revealing bio-pic offers an intimate portrait of the life and times of sculptress Louise Bourgeois via reflections by the 96 year-old artist herself about her challenging childhood in Paris, her expatriation in New York, and the pleasure she continues to find in pursuing her enduring career.

Red Roses and Petrol (R for profanity and sexual references) Dysfunctional family drama, adapted from the Joseph O’Connor stage play of the same name, examines the machinations inside an Irish clan gathering in Dublin for the funeral of its beloved patriarch (Malcolm MacDowell).

Trumbo (PG-13 for sex-related commentary) Christopher Trumbo adapts his Off-Broadway play about his father, Dalton Trumbo (1905-1976), Oscar-winning screenwriter who was blacklisted, disgraced and imprisoned in the late Forties by the House Un-American Activities Committee for defiantly refusing to discuss political affiliations. Includes appearances by Kirk Douglas, Danny Glover, Joan Allen, Nathan Lane, Brian Dennehy and Liam Neeson.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Brick Lane BENGALI

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Arranged Marriage at Center of Cross-Cultural Drama Set in London

Homely Nazneen (Tannishtha Chatterjee) grew up in Bangladesh experiencing nothing but contentment in her village until the day her parents arranged for her to marry Chanu Ahmed (Satish Kaushik), a man older enough to be her father. But worse than their age difference was the fact that her Bengali hubby-to-be lived in London, and planned to force his young bride to move there and to adapt to a culture with which she was totally unfamiliar.
Even though she’d miss her family, especially her sister and confidante, Hasina (Zafreen), Nazneen complies out of a sense of religious duty. Afterall, she was raised in a strict Muslim environment where women were taught not to question. But despite having the best of intentions to adapt to England and her domineering husband, after wasting 16 years in a loveless marriage she finally gets fed up with being trapped in an East End flat with an insufferable fatso.
By then, she has a couple of equally-discontented daughters (Naeema Begum and Lana Rahman) who infuriate their dad by adopting Western ways like surfing the internet. Their complaints (“I didn’t ask to be born here!”) fall on his deaf ears, and don’t prevent their sexually-frustrated mom from entertaining the overtures of Karim (Christopher Simpson), a strapping, young hunk who happens to be a religious fanatic with an urgent political agenda.
So unfolds Brick Lane, a cross-cultural cautionary tale, set in the Eighties, which warns of the pitfalls of settling for a soul-strangling relationship. Based on the Monica Ali best seller of the same name, the movie is likely to resonate best with closet feminists inclined to question the constraints of orthodox Islam.
A fascinating character study offering insight into a pressing issue, but unfortunately also the sort of empowerment flick that could get a fatwa issued against Sarah Gavron, the intrepid director daring enough to make the picture.

Excellent (4 stars)
Rated PG-13 for profanity and sexuality.
Running time: 101 minutes
Studio: Sony Pictures Classics

Causes Won, Lost & Forgotten

Causes Won, Lost & Forgotten:
How Hollywood and Popular Art Shape What We Know
About the Civil War
by Gary W. Gallagher
University of North Carolina Press
Hardcover, $28.00
284 pages
ISBN: 978-0-8078-3206-6

Book Review by Kam Williams

“Films undeniably teach Americans about the past – to a lamentable degree in the minds of many academic historians. More people have formed perceptions about the Civil War from watching Gone with the Wind than from reading all the books written by historians since [producer David O.] Selznick’s blockbuster debuted in 1939. Even moderately successful movies attract a far larger audience than the most widely read non-fiction books dealing with the conflict.”
-- Excerpted from the Introduction (page 10)

To what extent are your beliefs about the Civil War based upon false myths spun by movies as opposed to the truth? If you think that of the ante bellum South as a place populated by “cheerfully loyal slaves and genteel white people,” then your beliefs have probably been substantially shaped more by Hollywood nostalgia for an idyllic utopia that never existed than by fact.
This is the contention of Gary Gallagher, Professor of History at the University of Virginia. As the author of dozens of highly-regarded books on the subject, he is ostensibly frustrated that his and his colleagues painstakingly-researched texts tend to take a back seat to cinematic characterizations of the conflict.
Acknowledging that he’s not a film critic, Gallagher explains that the purpose of this opus is not to assess the artistic merits of Civil War movies. Nonetheless, he does dissect the genre in terms of historical accuracy. Among the classics thus assessed are such so-called classics as Gone with the Wind and The Birth of a Nation (1915), though he also focuses on a host of relatively-modern offerings, including flicks like Cold Mountain (2003), Glory (1989), Dances with Wolves (1990) and Gettysburg (1993).
We learn that D.W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation was originally titled “The Clansmen” because it was based on an unapologetically-racist novel of the same name. Between its depiction of freed blacks as depraved and their former owners as paternalistic and kindly, the film painted a sympathetic picture of the Confederacy.
Similarly, Gone with the Wind blamed invading Union soldiers and carpetbaggers for upsetting the peace of the longstanding slave-master relationship typified by Old Sam’s assuring Miss Scarlett, “Don’t worry, we’ll stop them Yankees.” In general, these epics present rabid rebels like Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis as beloved heroes while slave revolt leader John Brown and Union General Sherman are treated as cruel for having dedicated themselves to eradicating a benign institution. In the upside-down world created by Cold Mountain, “Virtually all white southern women… are either indifferent or deeply opposed to the war.”
The book also discusses the War between the States from an African-American perspective during a discussion of The Confederate States of America (2004), a feature film directed by Kevin Willmott, a black director. Overall, Causes Won, Lost & Forgotten is an excellent read, likely to leave you rethinking long-held attitudes about the Civil War and wondering how much you might have been manipulated by movies in forming those opinions.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Tim Meadows Interview

with Kam Williams

Headline: SNL Alum Back on TV on TBS Series

Tim Meadows was born in Highland Park, Michigan on February 5, 1961, the son of Mardell, a nurse’s assistant, and Lathon, a janitor. After graduating from Wayne State University, Tim began his assault on show business in Chicago as a member of The Second City comedy troupe alongside Jon Favrerau and the late Chris Farley.
In 1991, he was invited to join the ensemble cast of Saturday Night Live (SNL), a position he would enjoy for ten seasons, the longest tenure ever of anyone on the show, a record which was only eclipsed by Darrell Hammond in 2005. Tim proved to be quite a talented impersonator, doing dozens of celebs over the years, including Will Smith, Tiger Woods, Busta Rhymes, Dennis Rodman, Ru Paul, Snoop Dogg, Don King, Seal, Montel, Diddy, O.J., and Michael Jackson, to name a few.
He is perhaps best known for The Ladies Man, a sketch character he played on SNL. The skit proved popular enough to be spun off into its own movie in 2000. Since then, Tim has appeared in films like Mean Girls, Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, The Benchwarmers, The Even Stevens Movie, and most recently, Semi-Pro.
He’s continued to work in television, too, on such series as The Michael Richards Show, The Colbert Report, One on One, Leap of Faith, The Office, Curb Your Enthusiasm and According to Jim. He is currently enjoying a recurring role as Paul on The Bill Engvall Show, a sitcom starting its second season on TBS this month.
As for his personal life, Tim is divorced, and shares custody of his two sons with his ex-wife, Michelle.

KW: Hey, Tim, thanks a lot for the interview.
TM: No problem, thank you.
KW: I watched the second season’s premiere of The Bill Engvall Show, but you were only in it briefly, on the phone for about ten seconds.
TM: I’m not in the first episode. I’m in the second one.
KW: I know your character, Paul, is Bill’s best friend. And he’s also a hair replacement specialist who is unlucky at love. Tell me a little bit more about him.
TM: Well, he’s recently divorced. And he’s trying to figure out how to meet girls, because he’s been out of the dating scene for awhile. Meeting girls online is something new for him, and he’s just trying to pick up his game again. And I can relate to that because I went through the same thing a few years ago
KW: I’m sorry to hear that.
TM: No, it was for the better, trust me. But I can relate to Paul, because I’ve been dating and all that stuff.
KW: How is it to start dating again after all those years?
TM: It’s as awkward and as horrible as I remember it. I feel like, “Why would anybody want to be single?” If you can meet somebody nice and good, then you should do it.
KW: Do you see yourself in real life as being more uncomfortable like Paul or more suave like The Ladies Man?
TM: I think I’m somewhere between the two. Occasionally, I do well, and I can be myself and relax. And I might get lucky, too. But then sometimes I can be nerdy, dumb, and say the wrong things. I’m not as good as I used to be at it.
KW: How do you like being a regular on a sitcom?
TM: I love it. It’s so much different from SNL and most other things I’ve done. The schedule is a little bit easier. You work more during the day. You have one long day of taping, but I look forward to going to work. I love working with Bill and the rest of the cast. They’re all great. Maybe in a few years we might get jaded and angry with each other, but right now it’s good.
KW: Did you get jaded after ten years on SNL?
TM: No, but I did get a little burnt out, because I was shooting Ladies Man and doing the show at the same time. So, it was a lot of work, and I kinda felt at the end of that run that it was just time to leave and give somebody else a chance. Tracy Morgan was there with me then. We had a couple of seasons together. It was only fair that he had a chance to be the only African-American on the show, and therefore have more parts written for him.
KW: Did you find that the African-American cast members were limited to playing black characters on SNL? Did you feel constrained?
TM: No, not at all. The show represents society. So, there are going to be rare occasions where a white actor is going to play a black character, and even rarer situations where a black character is going to be asked to play a white character. That’s why the cast is so diversified. You want to sort of represent America, basically. Sometimes, I had to be O.J. Simpson, but other times I just had to be a generic teacher who wasn’t necessarily black. I don’t play the race card in my comedy. That’s never been my thing. Even with The Ladies Man, it wasn’t a racial thing. He was just a guy who was sexually-active who the ladies loved.
KW: Reggie Hudlin, who directed you in The Ladies Man, is now the head of programming over at BET. Have you asked him to give you one of those zany reality shows now that he’s running that network?
TM: No, but he wanted to do Ladies Man as a late-night show on BET.
KW: What happened?
TM: I don’t know. We talked about it, and we were waiting for offers, but nothing ever came.
KW: You’ve done tons of impressions. Are you working on Barack Obama?
TM: Yeah, I’ve been working on Barack Obama a little bit. I’m waiting for him to win. I’m not going to waste my time if he’s going to lose.
KW: Are you supporting him?
TM: I’ll support him if he wins. I won’t support him if he loses. [Laughs] No, I don’t support anybody. It’s not my thing. And if I did, I wouldn’t say who it was publicly. I’ll give you a hint who I’m voting for in November. It rhymes with Seder.
KW: Oh, Ralph Nader. You don’t worry about possibly wasting your vote?
TM: No, I sort of disagree with people who blame him for taking votes away from Gore in 2000. Gore still won the popular vote. Nader wasn’t the reason why he lost the election. The Supreme Court cost him the election. Plus, you don’t know that all those people who voted for Nader would’ve gone for Gore. I’ve met Ralph Nader and I like him. And I’ve met John McCain, and he’s a great guy, too. I haven’t met Barack, but I have met Oprah Winfrey. I would love to see some change, and whatever the country decides, I’m behind it.
KW: The Tasha Smith question: Are you ever afraid?
TM: No, I’m never afraid. I have had some scary moments where things have been out of my control, like on a flight that was too bumpy, or when I almost got robbed. But for the most part, day-to-day, I don’t have much fear.
KW: Are you happy? That question I got from Columbus Short.
TM: Am I happy? No, I’m not happy.
KW: Gee, I’m sorry to hear that. You’re the very first person to give me that answer. Do you want to say why?
TM: No, let’s just leave it at that.
KW: The bookworm Troy Johnson question: What was the last book you read?
TM: I’m in the middle of The Lord of the Rings. The last book I completed was Eric Clapton’s autobiography.
KW: “Realtor to the Stars” Jimmy Bayan’s question: Where in L.A. do you live?
TM: I live in Venice Beach.
KW: Is there a question that nobody ever asks you that you wish somebody would?
TM: Yeah, does it make you angry that people you’ve worked with have been more successful than you?
KW: Okay, does it make you angry that people you’ve worked with have been more successful than you?
TM: No, it doesn’t make me angry, because they’re my friends, and I love my friends. There’s enough of the pie to go around for everybody. And I love to see my friends being successful, just like they wish the same thing for me. I don’t have any deep-seated resentment or anger. I want my friends who are more successful than me to know that I’m rooting for them.
KW: How do you want to be remembered?
TM: As a good father, as an excellent father. As an excellent lover, and as a friend of all animals. And I plan to have “I knew this would happen” engraved on my tombstone. [Laughs] I heard Dustin Hoffman say that in an interview on 60 minutes and thought that would make the perfect tombstone.
KW: How old are your sons?
TM: Five and seven.
KW: Great ages. Hey, thanks again for the time. Enjoy the boys and good luck with the show.
TM: Thanks man, it was nice talking to you.