Thursday, July 31, 2008

All about Us DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Boris Kodjoe and Ryan Michelle Bathe Co-Star in Semi-Autobiographical Family Flick

Edward (Boris Kodjoe) and Stacey Brown (Ryan Michelle Bathe) are a young African-American couple trying to make it as filmmakers in Los Angeles. However, they haven’t met with much success, primarily because they’ve been pitching the studios with their script for a wholesome family flick.
The feedback they’ve received thusfar from potential investors is that “black people don’t care about good content.” Since they haven’t been inclined to compromise their values by dumbing-down the plotline, the Browns find themselves struggling financially.
This is fine until a baby comes along, when suddenly their infant son (Luke Swanson) becomes their priority. After agreeing that the Hollywood rat race is no place to raise a child, they decide to move to Clarksdale, Mississippi with hopes of not only producing their picture independently but of asking local celebrity Morgan Freeman to appear in the picture.
So unfolds All about Us, a semi-autobiographical love story chronicling the similar options once weighed in real life by the husband/wife team of producer Michael Swanson and scriptwriter/director Christine Swanson. Their tenderhearted morality play, set in the Delta Region, offers an array of valuable insights along the way about what really matters most in life while simultaneously delighting you for the duration.
The supporting cast includes LaTanya Richardson (wife of Samuel L. Jackson), Ruby Dee (widow of Ossie Davis) and, yes, Morgan Freeman in a quickie-cameo. The Oscar-winning actor proved to be a good sport, even graciously allowing the crew to shoot inside his restaurant and blues club.
Seems like the Swansons got the last laugh, given that in the end they were able to tell exactly the sort of high-quality tale the execs said no one would be interested in.

Excellent (4 stars)
Rated PG for mature themes.
Running time: 90 minutes
Studio: CodeBlack Entertainment
DVD Extras: Commentary by the husband-wife team of writer/director Christine Swanson and producer Michael Swanson, theatrical trailer, cast interviews and a “The Making of” featurette.


DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: DVD Drama Explores Both Obesity and Anorexia

Lydia (Deidra Edwards) is a queen-sized sales clerk who lives and works in Venice Beach, a trendy section of L.A. where it’s fashionable for women to be thin. Unable to measure up to that unreasonable, hourglass ideal despite dieting, she joins a fat acceptance support group dedicated to fighting prejudice against the obese. In meetings, the members share their fears and frustrations about everything from dating to being teased to weight-loss surgery, while encouraging each other to love themselves just the way they are.
Darcy (Staci Lawrence), on the other hand, is an emaciated anorexic with a body dysmorphic disorder who thinks of herself as too fat. So, when she shows up saying she wants to join the group, people don’t know what to make of her. After they take a vote and decide to reject her application, only Lydia offers a shoulder to cry on.
Although physically polar opposites, chubby and skinny still manage to bond because they are both lonely and have many issues in common revolving around hunger, fear, fashion and femininity. And their unlikely friendship is the focus of disFIGURED, a female empowerment flick filled with painfully-dramatic moments offset by periodic comic asides.
This slice of life adventure paints a picture so realistic you often wince while wondering whether the talented cast was acting or just encouraged to be themselves in a series of improvised scenarios. Regardless, director Glenn Gers deserves raves for his refreshingly-honest exploration of such a sensitive subject.
A novel buddy vehicle contrasting the unique perspectives of two segments of society ordinarily either marginalized in movies or treated almost as if they didn’t exist at all.

Excellent (4 stars)
Running time: 96 minutes
Studio: Cinema Libre Studio
DVD Extras: Director’s commentary track, trailers, extended interviews and deleted scenes.

To see a trailer of disFIGURED, visit:

Young & Restless in China DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Documentary Explores Effect of Capitalism on China’s emerging Generation

How have Chinese just coming of age adjusted to their country’s embrace of capitalism? That question is the focus of this revealing expose’ which offers an intimate peek inside the lives of nine young adults followed for four years by director Sue Williams.
The subjects of this informative documentary all seem to be a bit overwhelmed by the nation’s frenetic rush to modernize and newfound addiction to status and materialism. Ironically, it appears that considerable quality of life compromises are being made in this quest for the almighty dollar.
For example, Ben Wu wonders why he gave up a six-figure salary and left his wife and kids behind in America in order to return home to open an internet café. But 21st Century China is a land of opportunity, especially for any well-connected males with a good education.
However, if you’re a woman, life might not exactly be a bed of lotus blossoms. Female interviewees relate nightmares, like having to drop out of school to work in a rice paddy to help pay for a brother’s education.
A public interest lawyer talks about being dumped by her boyfriend for being too devoted to a class action case she brought on behalf of the over a million citizens summarily dispossessed by eminent domain to make room for the site of the 2008 Olympics. Then there’s the reluctant bride who can’t summon the strength to break off her arranged marriage and simply choose her own mate.
The coolest dude/biggest loser is Wang, an aspiring hip-hop artist who sent what little savings he had to his name a cute girl who sent him some photos of herself over the internet. Poor sucker had no idea he was probably exchanging sweet nothings with some heartless hustler in Nigeria.
What a world! What a world!

Excellent (4 stars)
Running time: 106 minutes
Studio: Zeitgeist Films
DVD Extras: New anamorphic transfer of the theatrical version of the film, created from Hi-Def materials and enhanced for widescreen TVs, original promotional reel featuring footage not included in the final film, and a statement from writer/director/producer Sue Williams.

To see a trailer for Young & Restless in China, visit:

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 August 8, 2008


Pineapple Express (R for violence, drug use, sexual references and pervasive profanity) Over-the-top teensploit about a lazy stoner (Seth Rogen) who purchases a new strain of weed from his drug dealer (James Franco) only to find himself on the run from sadistic mobsters after he witnesses a murder by a crooked cop (Rosie Perez). Ensemble cast includes Dr. Ken Jeong, Nora Dunn, Bill Hader and Amber Heard.

The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2 (PG-13 for sensuality and mature material) America Ferrera, Amber Tamblyn, Alexis Bledel and Blake Lively return for sequel set during the summer following their freshman year of college, which finds the tight-knit friends living in four different cities yet still committed to being there for each other emotionally, despite the distance. Supporting cast includes Blythe Danner, Michael Rady and Jesse Williams.


Beautiful Losers (Unrated) Art imitates hard knock life in this documentary about a generation of anti-establishment young rebels who hung out at a NYC storefront gallery in lower Manhattan in the early Nineties, experimenting with skateboards, hip-hop, graffiti and street fashion, unaware that their innovations would ultimately profoundly influence mainstream popular culture.

Bottle Shock (PG-13 for sexuality, profanity and drug use) Fact-based docudrama recounts the real-life exploits of a couple of California vineyard owners (Bill Pullman and Chris Pine) from Napa Valley whose Chardonnay shocked the world’s connoisseurs in 1976 by beating the best that France had to offer in an international wine-tasting competition. With Alan Rickman, Freddy Rodriguez and Eliza Dushku.

Elegy (R for nudity, sexuality and profanity) Romance drama starring Ben Kingsley and Penelope Cruz, based on The Dying Animal, the Philip Roth novella about a freewheeling college professor who initiates a no-strings affair with a cute Cuban student only to find himself uncharacteristically turning into a possessive, jealous stalker. With Patricia Clarkson, Dennis Hopper and Deborah “Blondie” Harry.

Hell Ride (R for graphic violence, nudity, sexuality, profanity and drug use) High body-count revenge flick about a bloody turf war between a couple of lawless rival biker gangs with unfinished business. Cast includes Dennis Hopper, Larry Bishop, Michael Madsen and Vinnie Jones.

Passing Poston (Unrated) The fallout of discrimination is examined in this documentary revolving around the reflections of four Japanese-Americans left traumatized for life after being shipped to an internment camp for the duration of World War II.

Patti Smith: Dream of Life (Unrated) Intimate bio-pic narrated by Patti Smith herself chronicles the career of the Seventies cult punk rocker, while exploring her paradoxical personality and other sides of the eclectic singer/musician/poet/artist. Featuring testimonials by Sam Shepard, Flea and Philip Glass.

Red (R for violence and profanity) revenge thriller about a recluse (Brian Cox) who turns vigilante and takes the law into his own hands after three twisted teenagers shoot his dog for no reason. Cast includes Amanda Plummer, Tom Sizemore and Robert Englund.

What We Do Is Secret (Unrated) “It’s better to burn out than to fade away” Rockudrama revisits the rise and fall of The Germs, a short-lived L.A. punk band whose lead singer, Darby Crash (Shane West), deliberately OD’d on heroin at the age of 22 in search of his 15 minutes of fame. My my… Hey hey… With Bijou Phillips, Rick Gonzalez and and Azura Skye.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Creating the Intrapreneur: The Search for Leadership Excellence

by Victoria C. DePaul
Synergy Books
Paperback, $15.95
270 pages, illustrated
ISBN: 978-1-934454-18-3

Book Review by Kam Williams

“In this age of road rage, and now desk rage, if you are employed, your safety is at risk. As stress levels escalate, employees are increasingly fueled by anger, resentment, pessimism, frustration, anxiety, distrust, and other negative emotions. As a manager employed by a major telecommunications company, I am no stranger to workplace violence. Some years ago, a disgruntled employee with a history of instability called the office to report his intention to kill a manager...
That same year, our office was subject to bomb threats, employee breakdowns, out of control absenteeism, extensive turnover rates, and an overall climate of chaos… If you want new and different results, you need new and different ideas…
To be profitable, and therefore competitive, the business of the future must adopt a strategy based on corporate entrepreneurship -- intrapreneurship. The successful organization of the third millennium will embrace and encourage intrapreneurship.”
-- Excerpted from the Introduction (pages 1 & 10)

Have you noticed that the rate of spree killings has escalated to the point that the society has become desensitized? Another case of multiple killings due to school, church or workplace rage occurs at least once a week, but the incidents are now so commonplace that they only warrant local TV coverage. And if such a story does happen to make a blip on the national radar, it’s merely mentioned in passing as the latest statistic, not as anything worth covering in depth.
Given that employees, students and parishioners going postal are a dime a dozen and have become as American as apple pie, anyone with a highly-visibility position, especially a boss, might want to rethink his or her management philosophy. This is what inspired Victoria DePaul to write Creating the Intrapreneur: The Search for Leadership Excellence, a book designed to help you not just think outside the box but to bust loose from the box entirely.
Ms. DePaul, who has a 24 years-worth of experience working in corporate America to draw on, has an array of forward-thinking, spiritually-oriented ideas to offer about how best to handle office politics in these troubling times at the dawn of the 21st Century.
Putting people first, she starts with notion that “the basic motivation is the person’s desire to be happy,” and she therefore tosses the age-old “my way or the highway” approach to employees out the window. But will this “kindler, gentler” you lessen your odds of being shot by a deranged maniac hunting for humans? Who knows, but I suppose it’ll at least give your office a more pleasant overall atmosphere till you find out.

To purchase a copy of Creating the Intrapreneur, email:

Stealing America Vote by Vote

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Post-Democracy Documentary Questions the Sanctity of the Ballot Box in U.S. Elections

Up until about ten years ago or so, public opinion pollsters were capable of accurately forecasting the results of political elections in America. But with the country’s increasing reliance on unverifiable electronic balloting and the employment of shady shenanigans, the outcomes of the contests have become more and more unpredictable.
According to the exit polls, George Bush actually should have lost each of the last two presidential elections. For instance, in 2004, they had him trailing in 10 of 12 critical swing states, yet by evening’s end he had somehow miraculously prevailed in 7 of them.
So, is the voting process tainted or sacrosanct? That is the question addressed from every conceivable angle by Stealing America Vote by Vote, a chilling expose’ which paints a disgraceful picture of the nation as a land where power-hungry manipulators will do whatever it takes to ensure that their candidates prevail.
Directed by Dorothy Fadiman and narrated by Peter Coyote, the film doesn’t just focus on problems with computerized voting, but with a host of other tactics employed to subvert the desire of the electorate. Thus, we hear the anecdotal testimony of black folks and college students forced to wait on line in Ohio for as long as 12 hours in order to cast their ballots, while the average wait for whites in suburbia was about 18 minutes.
It is ironic that African-Americans ostensibly comprise the segment of society most frequently victimized by various vote suppression schemes, given their long, hard-fought civil rights struggle for enfranchisement. However the movie sheds light on a popular Republican trick employed in the last election involved sending registered letters to the homes of over a hundred thousand black soldiers serving overseas in order to have their names removed from the voting lists when they were unable to sign the return receipt.
The film also furnishes evidence that equipment malfunctions have occurred in 42 states, with problems ranging from vote switching to frozen electronic screens to touch screens going blank to machine shortages to computer breakdowns to inaccurate tallies. This leaves one wondering, if the technology is so unreliable, why not revert to the old system?
The answer might lie in testimony offered by a Princeton professor who deftly demonstrates how easy it is to hack into a Diebold Voting Machine in less than a minute, if you come equipped with a pre-programmed memory card designed to install malicious software. Big Brother might very well prefer not leaving a paper trail.
Remember, the Supreme Court is still leaning to the right, which might mean the only chance Obama has of a fair shot at the White House is if United Nations monitors the polling places in the Battleground States.
America revisited as a post-democratic Banana Republic.

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

To see a trailer of Stealing America Vote by Vote, visit:

Sixty Six

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Coming-of-Age Comedy Chronicles British Bar Mitzvah Boy’s Nightmare

In the Summer of 1966, Great Britain became swept up in soccer fever, as the country attempted to win the World Cup. After all, the competition was being hosted by England, so the national team was able to play all of its games at famed Wembley Stadium in front of 98,000 rabid fans.
The competition began in early July with the championship match set for the 30th of the month. While the rest of his friends were patriotically rooting for England to survive all the early rounds, 12 year-old Bernie Reubens (Gregg Sulkin) had his own selfish reason for wanting it to lose.
You see, Bernie was born on July 30th and his parents (Helena Bonham Carter and Eddie Marsan) were planning to throw the perfect bar mitzvah celebration for him that day. But if England were simultaneously playing in the World Cup finale, he sensed that his rite of passage would easily be overshadowed.
Based on the real-life experience of the film’s director Paul Weiland, Sixty Six is a lighthearted, coming-of-age comedy which revisits the events of that fateful day. Unfortunately, for him, England did win the World Cup, which meant that many of his guests and relatives ended up paying more attention to the historic sports event that day than to him.
Apparently he was left sufficiently traumatized by the experience to make a movie about it now, some forty years later. This predictable costume drama might have a certain nostalgic appeal for soccer fans and folks familiar with Judaic culture and religious traditions. Otherwise, it’s just a pleasant one-trick diversion offering a few laughs but little of depth to sink one’s teeth into.
The Bar Mitzvah Boy gets the boot.

Good (2.stars)
Rated R for profanity and some sexual references.
Running time: 93 minutes
Studio: First Independent Pictures

To see a trailer of Sixty Six, visit:

America the Beautiful

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Scathing Documentary Explores America’s Unhealthy Obsession with Beauty

Did you know that Americans spend more money on cosmetics annually, $45 billion, than all of the developing countries combined do on healthcare? What’s up with that? Are we really that ugly and in need of makeovers, or is something sinister afoot? According to Darryl Roberts, women have been duped by Madison Avenue into setting unrealistic expectations for themselves.
Darryl is the director of America the Beautiful, a scathing indictment of the beauty industry which systematically dissects the issue from both inside and out.
This shocking expose’ not only offers insights from the perspective of impressionable teenage girls, some of whom freely admit to hating their own appearance, but also from the point-of-view of actresses, academics, talent scouts, photographers, fashion designers, TV personalities and runway models, all of whom, it seems, have long since capitulated to the narrowly-defined appreciation of only one idealized body type.
The picture is designed to drive home the point that the airbrushed and digitally-altered standard of beauty popularized by advertisers and the mainstream media are unattainable, because not even the models in the magazine ads and TV commercials look like that. Nonetheless, the manipulation instills a sense of dissatisfaction which in turn leads to a craving for ever more makeup, diet aids and plastic surgery in the elusive quest to measure up.
Like a black version of Michael Moore, Mr. Roberts appears on camera, annoying everyone he meets by posing some variation of the probing question of the day, namely, “Does America have an unhealthy obsession with beauty?”
Most of the responses he elicits from celebrities, unfortunately, are vapid remarks which reflect a superficial shallowness or simply shrugs which might best be interpreted as, “This is the way things are. Get used to it.”
But what would you expect from the likes of a Paris Hilton or a Jessica Simpson? Ditto CosmoGirl! Editor-in-Chief Susan Schulz and the E! Channel’s Ted Casablance, each of whom has a vested interest in maintaining the status quo. Other interviewees include Aisha Tyler, Martin Short, Mena Suvari, Julianne Moore and Tisha Campbell.
However, the contributions of all of the above are easily overshadowed by those of Gerren Taylor, a statuesque former supermodel who skyrocketed to fame a half-dozen years ago at the tender age of 12. Although the 5’11” tall, African-American teenager has continued to blossom into quite an attractive young woman, she no longer is hired to strut her stuff up catwalks in New York, L.A. and all over the world, but now sends her days in a classroom as a high school senior.
She and her mother, Michele, allowed Darryl to follow them around during their last desperate effort to revive Gerren’s career. Today, she’s virtually-unemployable, because a size 4 is apparently too curvy for the leading designers. America the Beautiful is at its absolute best when sensitively illustrating the emotional toll the rejection has taken on Gerren’s fragile psyche.
If a still gorgeous supermodel can so easily lose her confidence, just imagine what the effect the pressure to attain perfection must be like on the self-esteem on girls with ordinary looks.

Excellent (4 stars)
Rated R for profanity and some sexual references.
Running time: 105 minutes
Studio: First Independent Pictures

Monday, July 28, 2008

Robert Gossett: The Closer Interview

with Kam Williams

Headline: Gossett Goes for the Gusto

Born in The Bronx on March 3, 1954, Robert Gossett landed his first professional gig soon after graduating from high school in One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest at the Mercer Arts Center in Greenwich Village. From there, he went on to perform in Lloyd Richard's Broadway production of Fences, Hal Scott's A Raisin in the Sun and Donald McKayle's The Last Minstrel Show. His other notable theater performances include Manhattan Made Me, Sons and Fathers of Sons, A Soldier's Play and Colored People's Time, all of which were performed with the famed Negro Ensemble Company of New York.
Gossett's accolades include an NAACP Theater Award for The Best Performance by a Male and the Dramalogue Best Actor Award for his stellar work in Indigo Blues, directed by his wife, Michele. In film, he has starred with Jeff Bridges in Arlington Road and with John Travolta in White Man's Burden.
And on television, he has appeared over the years on such series as The Cosby Show, Amen, Cheers, L.A. Law, Bones, Charmed, and ER, and opposite his first cousin, Oscar-winner Lou Gossett, Jr., in a made-for-TV movie, Ray Alexander. But today, Robert is best known as Commander Taylor on The Closer, TNT’s hit crime drama starring Kyra Sedgwick.
Here, he shares his thoughts on his career and on about the show which recently started its fourth season.

John Travolta in White Man's Burden
KW: Hey, Robert, thanks for the time.
RG: Thank you for taking the time.
KW: Congratulations on The Closer’s being renewed for its fourth season and on the show’s receiving such high ratings and so many accolades. Has the success of the series come as a surprise?
RG: At the risk of sounding arrogant, let me say “No,” only because I read the scripts, I know the show and the people involved. You see Kyra Sedgwick. She’s a consummate actress at the top of her craft. The success validates it, but it’s not a surprise, because when you take the caliber of writers we have and put Kyra at the top of a talented cast, you’re going to have something to reckon with.
KW: Is your personality in real-life at all like that of your character, Commander Taylor?
RG: I don’t think so, but my wife might say, “Yes.” [Chuckles] I don’t know. Don’t we all have those parts in us that can be petulant, petty and jealous? At times we all can be churlish, rude and obnoxious, too. I think Taylor is like that because his powerbase was threatened, usurped actually, when Brenda [Sedgwick’s Character] came on board from outside the police department, and got the job that he had really campaigned for. When power is challenged, it reacts. Power and the absence of power are going to be the overarching themes this season.
KW: Where in The Bronx did you grow up?
RG: The South Bronx.
KW: What high school did you attend?
RG: The High School of Performing Arts.
KW: So you knew you wanted to be an actor at an early age.
RG: No, I went there as a music major. But I was certainly exposed to acting there. At that time, not many people in the South Bronx thought of acting as a viable career choice. I started acting when I got a summer job at the Everyman Theater Company with the Neighborhood Youth Corps.
KW: I have a cousin, Maurice Sneed, who became an actor who got his start in a similar type program with the Har-You Act, which stood for Harlem Youth.
RG: I remember Har-You. I worked in the office there on 125th Street. Small world. Isn’t that something?
KW: And you got acting work soon after high school?
RG: From Everyman Theater Company, I got a role in the off-Broadway hit One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest down in The Village. I worked that for a year. Then I went to the American Academy of Dramatic Arts for two years. After I graduated with honors, I joined the Milwaukee Repertory Company, and then went back to New York where I spent five years with the Negro Ensemble Company. Theater is really my base.
KW: Is your wife, Michele, still working in theater?
RG: Yes, she teaches at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in Los Angeles.
KW: Bookworm Troy Johnson is curious to know, what was the last book you read?
RG: The very last book I read was The Prophet by Khalil Gibran.
KW: The Columbus Short question: Are you happy?
RG: Yes!
KW: The Tasha Smith question: Are you ever afraid?
RG: Yeah. [Laughs]
KW: How do you want to be remembered?
RG: I want to be remembered as a loving, understanding father.
KW: How many children do you have?
RG: I have three kids altogether. One from my first marriage, a daughter who’s an adult. And two kids with Michele, ages 10 and 12.
KW: Great ages.
RG: And they’re great kids. I would hope not to mess them up. That’s why I said “loving, understanding father.” I hope I have the patience to allow them to have their thoughts and to be who they are, and not try to pressure them to be like me. I’d be happy with that.
KW: “Realtor to the Stars” Jimmy Bayan question: Where in L.A. do you live?
RG: I live in The Valley, the Sherman Oaks area.
KW: How’s your cousin, Lou, doing?
RG: I just spoke to him, in fact. I was doing a TV interview here in the hotel and the phone rang and I was interrupted by Lou. He’s shooting a movie in Pittsburgh. He was calling to invite me to a Barack Obama event in California.
KW: Are you going to attend?
RG: Oh yeah! You know I want to see the man.
KW: How are you and Lou related?
RG: We’re first cousins. Our fathers are brothers.
KW: Did Lou influence you in terms of your interest in acting?
RG: Lou definitely influenced me, as I’m sure he has influenced many other actors. He’s one of our pioneers, as far as I’m concerned, alongside Sidney Poitier and that ilk.
KW: And he’s one of just a handful of African-Americans ever to win an Oscar [for An Officer and a Gentleman].
RG: Exactly! That in and of itself establishes him as an icon, but of course I’ve still been able to call him anytime, so he’s been a tremendous resource in terms of decision-making.
KW: What advice do you have for anyone who wants to follow in your footsteps?
RG: I tell people, “If you want to do what I do, go find a community theater, and volunteer. Go find an acting class and enroll.” If you really love acting, you’ll want to act. That’s what I did. You don’t look for any payday, because the likelihood of a payday is slim to none. I’m 54 years-old, and I’m just now working at a high-profile job. The same acting I do now, I did for free. [Laughs] If you love what you do, then it’s not work. So, I’ve never really worked. I can honestly say I’ve never worked a day in my life. That is cool.
KW: Is there a question nobody ever asks you, that you wish somebody would?
RG: What effect am I having on this world?
KW: Okay, what effect are you having on this world?
RG: [Pauses]
KW: Now you have to answer it.
RG: You are bad. I’ll get you for this. Oh my God. Let me see… I conserve energy. I just got a Prius. For three years I’ve been mentoring a kid, a child whose name is Kenneth. We’ve embraced him with love in our family. What effect am I having on this world? I’m not sure yet. I have my worries, doubts and fears, but the way I’m trying to effect the world is with positive, right action.
KW: That sounds good. Well, thanks again for the interview, Robert, and best of luck with the fourth season.
RG: Thanks for your support. I’ll see you out there.

To see a trailer for The Closer, visit:

The Cool School DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: DVD Revisits California Beat Era Artists

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

Very Good (3 stars)
Running time: 85 minutes
Studio: Arthouse Films
Distributor: Arts Alliance America
DVD Extras: Three featurettes: “The World of Ed Kienholz,” “Ferus Artist Reunion” and “Walter Hopps on Walter Hopps.”

Philippe Petit: The Man on Wire Interview

with Kam Williams

Headline: Tete-a-Tete with the Flying Frenchman Who Once Walked between the Twin Towers

Born in France on August 13, 1949, Philippe Petit fell in love with magic and juggling at an early age. Not much of a student, he was expelled from five different schools and ended up teaching himself everything. Consequently, he became adept at horseback riding, fencing, pantomime, carpentry, rock-climbing, drawing, and even bullfighting.
Supporting himself by performing on the sidewalks of Paris, he developed a wild, witty and silent street persona, character traits which continue to beguile all who encounter him to this day. And because his travels took him around the world, Philippe also learned numerous languages, including Spanish, German, Russian and English. Plus, he developed a deep appreciation of architecture and engineering.
Over the years, his interests extended into the realms of theater, music, writing, poetry, drawing and filmmaking, although he will forever be remembered as the intrepid high-wire artist who at 24 years of age pulled off the death-defying feat of the millennium when he went on a walk between the Twin Towers at 1368 feet in the air, and without the benefit of a harness or formal training.
Here, Philippe talks about Man on Wire, a breathtaking documentary revisiting the events of the morning of August 7, 1974, the historic day that he stepped off the roof of the World Trade Center, and proceeded to entertain New York City in the sky for the next 40 minutes.

KW: Hi Philippe, I feel honored to be speaking with you. Thanks for the time.
PP: You’re welcome.
KW: What ever possessed you to attempt to walk between the Twin Towers?
PP: I was 18, and had taught myself the year before to walk on the high wire. So, I was looking for an incredibly beautiful place to impose, without permission, my theatrical aerial performance. Then, when I discovered in a newspaper that the Towers would be built one day, and saw a picture of a model, I immediately thought that’s the best place to perform on a wire. And that’s how the dream started.
KW: Were you at all formally-trained in tightrope-walking?
PP: No, no, I learned on my own, because I was not born in the circus or from that world. I taught myself at around 16 or 17 which was a very late age.
KW: Were any of your friends telling you not to do it?
PP: No, to the contrary, my real friends were encouraging me, which is what close friends should do.
KW: But you would be taking your life in your hands!
PP: No, I was not taking my life in my hands. I was very careful with the rigging of the wire and careful to use all my knowledge of wire-walking, which, in retrospect, was limited at the time. But I would never have risked my life.
KW: I find that surprising. So, you never felt that you were risking your life by walking illegally between the roofs of the Twin Towers?
PP: No, I never risked my life, and I think it’s disgusting to risk your life. Life is something very precious and very beautiful, so I have no respect for people who risk their lives.
KW: Obviously you don’t have a fear of heights, or walking a thousand feet in the air without a net or a harness. Is there anything you do have a fear of, like spiders?
PP: Exactly, spiders! You said it!
KW: Lucky guess. Did you plan ahead of time to try to profit from your walk between the Towers?
PP: No, I didn’t plan to ahead of time, and I actually didn’t try to afterwards either. I said no to all the endorsements and TV commercials proposed to me, and to all the movies and book deals offered to me, although I could have become very rich and famous two hours after my walk. But I said no to every offer.
KW: Why was that? Were you a hippie or a bohemian?
PP: No, I was just an artist who knew what he wanted to do. I never wanted to use my art to sell beer or a pair of sports shoes. So, it was very easy for me to say no. And plus, my goals in life are not to see a bunch of money grow bigger. I never had any money in my life, so it was very simple to say no to lots of dollars.
KW: Then what would you say you did value in life?
PP: My goals in life at the time were the same as they are today. I am fighting for my visions in many fields. This means not only on the high wire, but as a moviemaker, as a writer, as a lecturer, as a street juggler… I continue to try to do what I think is meaningful and beautiful to do. It is very difficult for an artist to create. But I’m trying to do that, and that’s what goals are. To continue to express myself and hope that it will inspire people.
KW: I heard that you’re building your own home up in Woodstock, New York.
PP: No, I am building a barn. It is already up, but it’s not finished. I have a few windows and a few details to complete. I built it over many years using the tools and the methods of the 18th Century.
KW: Have you seen that TV show on PBS where they build things using old tools?
PP: I wouldn’t know. I don’t have a television.
KW: Wow! You don’t watch TV?
PP: No.
KW: How do you think you’re different because of that?
PP: Well, I am not trying to be different, but I have so many passions that I do not wish to spend five hours a day watching a little screen that has nothing interesting to offer me. I look at life instead. I read, I perform, I progress in my art, I travel and look, and that is much better than looking at a little screen where everything is distorted and silly and inhuman. [Laughs] I don’t know… I don’t watch TV. I never did. It’s not a part of my life, but that comes naturally, not as a conscious choice. At the same time, I love to travel.
KW: I heard that you slipped the watch off a police officer and pocketed it as he arrested you, and that you felt the most dangerous moment came not during but after your Twin Towers walk when a cop knocked you down a flight of stairs with your hands bound behind your back.
PP: That’s true.
KW: How did you feel seeing the Twin Towers collapse on 9-11?
PP: I felt eviscerated…
KW: Today, would you describe yourself as happy?
PP: Well, it’s a mix. I devour life with an impetuous joy, and I’m trying to be happy. But I am sometimes very unhappy, because many things don’t go the way I want, and I am very critical of my own work. It would be great to go through life always happy, but it’s probably better to have a shifting. That’s more life-like. So, I am not perpetually happy, but I am a joyful energy of living, and that is with me all the time.
KW: Bookworm Troy Johnson wants to know, what was the last book you read?
PP: The last book was Paperboy by Petroski. It’s about his childhood, when he was distributing newspapers on a bicycle. It wasn’t my favorite book, but you asked, what was the most recent book I read.
KW: Who is Petroski?
PP: Henry Petroski is an engineer who writes about very simple things. For instance, he wrote an entire book about the pencil.
KW: Is there any question no reporter ever asks you that you wished someone would ask?
PP: Yes, basically the questions that I am asked reveal the point of view of the interviewer, like when you asked me what it was like to risk my life. But I would like to be asked why I do what I do, or what advice I would give to someone who wanted to learn how to walk on a high-wire. That would enable me to go into my own world.
KW: Okay, what advice I would give to someone who wanted to learn how to walk on a high-wire or do something that I might find dangerous?
PP: Oh, so you couldn’t come up with your own question. I think you have to know yourself, instead of imposing standards you want to conquer upon yourself. It’s like somebody building a barn with hand-tools. You can not just grab the tools and start working. You have to understand the tools, and learn how to sharpen them and how to hold them correctly. All that is almost a humble way of starting to understand the media that you have settled on. So, if you wanted to be a wire-walker, I would start by learning about ropes, cables and rigging on your own. You don’t have to wait to find teachers.
KW: I would guess that to walk between the Twin Towers, you’d have to be a very spiritual person. Are you very spiritual?
PP: Off the top of my head I would say, “Yes, of course, I’m a spiritual person.” I believe in the human spirit and that it takes a kind of complex chemistry to do something beautiful and with passion. But I don’t know what your definition of spiritual is.
KW: Do you appreciate the fact that in walking between the Twin Towers you did something unique that no one else on Earth will ever duplicate?
PP: Yes, I am able to do that. And in watching the movie about it I am able to go back to that time and to relive the adventure and how I felt at that time.
KW: When I watched Man on Wire, it made me cry.
PP: Oh, that’s beautiful! That’s a compliment!
KW: I didn’t expect it to be so moving, between your death-defying feat, and the fact that the Towers are now gone.
PP: Yes, many people have that reaction, and say that it inspired them. That’s a very nice compliment.
KW: How do you want to be remembered?
PP: I don’t have any desire to be remembered. I don’t care at all. I just hope that my books will be read and my films will be seen, that my art will inspire people, and that people will remember that I used the high wire in a very different way than it had been used for thousands of years in the circus. But I don’t have any desire to be remembered one way or the other. I’m not working towards immortality.
KW: What are you working on now?
PP: I have a feature film in the making… I continue to perform on the high wire and as a street juggler… I continue to give lectures about creativity around the world… I continue to do magic… I continue to build with wood… I continue to travel… It’s non-stop.
KW: So, you’re still a street performer?
PP: Well, it was my first love, and as you see in the film it was part of the adventure. That’s how I supported myself at the time. And I continued to street juggle. I’ve never stopped. I draw a circle of chalk on the sidewalk somewhere in the city, and I start performing. I’m completely silent. I have this comic character that doesn’t speak. I chuckle and play with the people, and in the end I pass my hat, and then I disappear on my unicycle before the police can catch me.
KW: Amazing!
PP: One of my dreams is to make a documentary of my performing on the street in Russia, China, India and other countries around the world.
KW: You were born in France, but you’ve lived in the U.S. for many years now. Do you feel American, French, or both?
PP: I really don’t feel French at all, and I really don’t feel American. No, I feel like I belong to no flag. I really feel that I am a citizen of the world.
KW: That makes me think of an eco-friendly T-shirt I saw recently which read: Planet Earth: Love It or Leave It!
PP: That’s great!
KW: Well, thanks again for the interview and for having captured the world’s imagination and for having somehow humanized the World Trade Center with your historic spacewalk.
PP: Thank you, bye.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Black in America (CNN SPECIAL)

Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Over-Hyped CNN Special Fails to Measure-Up to the Buzz

The CNN special report “Black in America” was such a disappointment that it’s not really worthy of a detailed review. The only reason I’m even bothering to do a post mortem on the program is because it had been so hyped by the network that it enticed millions of viewers to tune in on successive nights.
Hosted by Soledad O’Brien, the series was aired in two parts, the first entitled “The Black Woman and Family,” the second, “The Black Man.” However, each half was less a cohesive study of its two subjects than a string of very loosely-connected segments each introduced by lame raps by a dude in cap who always sounded like he was going into a commercial rather than just coming out of one.
Serving up everything but the kitchen sink, it opened with the reunion of an African-American family named Rand which we learned trace its roots to a white man who in the 19th Century had seven kids with his white wife and another six with his black mistress. This story built up to a first-time meeting of the black and white sides of the Rands. What a so called “white patriarch” had to do with “The Black Woman” was beyond me.
After that weird start, the slapdash investigation turned to the question of education. Here, we’re informed that half of all black kids don’t graduate from high school (What else is new?) before being introduced to Harvard Economics Professor Roland Fryer. He talks about a pilot program in four cities: NY, Atlanta, Baltimore and Dallas, where kids are being paid to get good grades.
But then the family he focuses on has much bigger financial problems to deal with, being headed by a single dad who can’t afford the rent. In fact, a disproportionate number of interviewees seem to be facing eviction, almost as if it’s a recurring theme of black life.
My biggest overall problem had to do with the program’s periodic factual inaccuracies, like when Soledad referred to the 1992 riot which erupted in L.A. after the Rodney King decision as the most deadly riot in the U.S. in 100 years. What’s up with that? She conveniently ignored several other more bloody incidents such as the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921 when over 300 blacks were slaughtered by white militiamen.
The infuriating mistakes that I was aware of left me wondering how accurate CNN was when citing statistics I was unfamiliar with, especially since all the anecdotal evidence about rap music, AIDS, skin color, mixed-marriages and elsewhat sounded awfully subjective.

To see a trailer for Black in America, visit:

Never Back Down DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Shades of Karate Kid in Mixed Martial Arts Drama Coming to DVD

After her husband dies in a car accident while driving under the influence, Margot Tyler (Leslie Hope) decides to relocate from Iowa to Orlando, Florida for a fresh start with her two teenage sons. Plus, there’s the added incentive of enrolling her younger one, Charlie (Wyatt Smith), in a tennis camp catering to promising prodigies.

Unfortunately, the grieving widow failed to factor in the toll the move might take on her elder boy, Jake (Sean Faris), a sensitive soul who has been beset by unaddressed anger management issues ever since the tragedy. It isn’t long before his sensitivity reaches the ears of Ryan McCarthy (Cam Gigandet), the ringleader of a sadistic gang of ne’er-do-wells at his new school who like to fight for fighting’s sake.

So Ryan has his girlfriend, Baja (Amber Heard), feign a romantic interest in Jake and invite him to a party, never letting on that he’s coming over just to take a bloody beat down. Soon after he arrives, Ryan callously plays the “Your dead dad was a drunk” card, and Jake predictably pops his cork, unaware that his opponent has a black belt in brawling.

A rescue squad arrives in the person of 98-pound weakling Max Cooperman (Evan Peters). He who peels Jake off the floor and directs him to the Combat Club, a mixed martial arts dojo run out of a rundown warehouse by Jean Roqua (Djimon Hounsou), a spiritually-oriented sensei from Senegal. Like a latter-day Mr. Miyagi, he allows the lad to enroll with the understanding, “No fighting outside of the gym, no matter what.” Yeah, right.

While Never Back Down has few surprises for anyone familiar with The Karate Kid, it does add a few 21st Century elements to the mix (like the use of YouTube) which at least serve to make the familiar formula feel refreshed.

Excellent (3.5 stars) Rated PG-13 for mature themes, intense violence, profanity, teen partying and premarital sexuality.

Running time: 113 minutes

Studio: Summit Entertainment

2-Disc DVD Extras: 11 deleted and extended scenes, commentary by the director, the scriptwriter, and co-star Sean Faris, plus 5 featurettes.

To see a trailer of Never Back Down, visit:

Step Brothers

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Ferrell and Reilly Co-Star as Slackers in Disgusting Dysfunctional Family Comedy

This sorry shocksploitation flick elicited exactly one unforced laugh from the audience at the screening I attended, and that was from a scene already spoiled by the commercial. It’s the one where John C. Reilly jumps on the top of a bunk bed causing it to collapse onto Will Ferrell on the lower mattress. So, if you’ve watched the trailer, then you’ve already witnessed the comedic high point of Step Brothers, a sitcom which breaks the genre’s fundamental law by failing in its ever endeavor to be funny.
Not that it isn’t gross from beginning to end. Sleazy does it in this one-trick pony about a couple of middle-aged adolescents who refuse to grow up. At the point of departure of this sophomoric adventure we find 39 year-old Brennan “Nighthawk” Huff (Ferrell) unemployed and still living at home with his divorced mom, Nancy (Mary Steenburgen). And the same can be said about 40 year-old slacker Dale “Dragon” Doback (John C. Reilly), a parasite who is sponging off his widowed dad, Robert (Ricard Jenkins).
Brennan is a couch potato content to fritter away his days eating junk food in front of the TV while Dale divides his time between managing a fantasy baseball league online and playing the drums in a room he refers to as his “beat laboratory.” The only reason these lazy slobs ever cross paths is because their parents lock eyes and fall in love across a crowded auditorium at a medical conference.
After a whirlwind romance, Nancy and Robert decide to marry and move in together. This means that their spoiled sons must not only live under the same roof but also share the same bedroom. The new step brothers’ instant dislike for each other initiates an escalating turf war marked by infantile antics like Brennan rubbing his private parts on Dale’s sacred drum set, and the latter getting even by threatening to sleep with his mother.
The pranksters prove to be particularly fond of fart jokes and sexual preference slurs, in case you find either of those brands of humor particularly appealing. When not appealing to the lowest common denominator, Step Brothers devotes most of its energy to a steady stream of product endorsements, including Mountain Dew, Heinz Ketchup, Oreo Cookies, Izod Clothing, Doritos Corn Chips, Pepsi, Callaway Golf Clubs, Kitchen Aid Appliances , Bekins Van Lines, Wells Fargo Bank, Range Rover, Outback Steak House, Enterprise Rent-a-Car, Hallmark Cards, Hustler Magazine, Zildjian Cymbals, Ampeg Amplifiers, Star Wars, CBS’ Cold Case, Metallica and Corona Light Beer, to name a few.
In between all the shameless ads, the plot revolves around the newlyweds getting fed up with the sibling rivalry and giving their sons a month to find a job and another place to stay. Too bad this re-teaming of Ferrell and Reilly failed to generate any magic, as did their prior outing in Talladega Nights.
And with exhibitionist Ferrell finding excuses to expose himself in numerous movies, he’s leaving himself in danger of going down in cinematic history as the man who nude too much.

Poor (0 stars)
Rated R for crude humor, sexuality and pervasive profanity.
Running time: 98 minutes
Studio: Columbia Pictures

To see a trailer of Step Brothers, visit:

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Racial Profiling Kickstarts Sleazy Sequel Released on DVD

When Harold (John Cho) and Kumar (Kal Penn) burst onto the screen four years ago, we found the nerdy stoners careening all across the State of New Jersey in a weed-fueled haze on a munchies-craving quest to find a White Castle restaurant which was open all night. That irreverent road flick was a laff-a-minute riot funny enough to land on this critic’s Ten Best List for 2004.
Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for Harold & Kumar 2, a pointless downer which fails to measure up to the first either in terms of humor or taste. This is an excellent case study in a sequel’s simply increasing the sleaze factor while pay scant attention to virtually every other aspect of the production.
At the point of departure we find the pot-loving protagonists boarding a plane for Amsterdam where they plan to imbibe legally while looking for Maria (Paula Garces), the heartthrob Harold has been admiring from afar. However, when Kumar impatiently decides to get high in the bathroom, an already suspicious passenger mistakes his bong for a bomb.
So, he and Harold are immediately subdued by federal air marshals who figure them for Al-Qaida and North Korean terrorists working in concert. They are then shipped off to the infamous Guantanamo Prison, though they make a break for it when forced to fellate their guards. And the chase is on.
Next, they make their way back to the U.S. with the help of a boatload of Cuban refugees, and the balance of the practically-pointless plot puts the freewheeling fugitives in a series of sordid situations dreamt up by the mind of a demented degenerate. The humiliation endured by our hapless heroes ranges from finding goat poop on a pillow to having ejaculation shot into a face to being urinated on by Ku Klux Klansmen to something called a cock meat sandwich which leaves little to the imagination.
A crass, classic, take-the-money-and-run ripoff which squanders a golden opportunity to make a statement about racial profiling, the Patriot Act and the Geneva Conventions in favor of serving up a mindless teensploit laced with shockingly-graphic images.

Fair (1 star)
Rated R for profanity, male and female frontal nudity, ethnic slurs, sexuality, crude humor, and drug and alcohol abuse.
Running time: 100 minutes
Studio: Warner Home Video
DVD Extras: PG version, deleted scenes, worker’s diary and clips from upcoming Carnivalesque films.

To see a trailer of Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay, visit:

Doomsday DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Post-Apocalyptic Sci-Fi Adventure Arrives on DVD

Doomsday is a sloppily-edited rehash of sci-fi clichés which looks like it was thoughtlessly slapped together by Edward Scissorhands. Furthermore, this soulless rip-off shamelessly recreates a host of memorable scenes from a host of popular, post-apocalyptic adventures like Resident Evil, Mad Max, 28 Days, Escape from New York and I Am Legend.
The story is set in 2035, after a deadly virus has contaminated Scotland and turned most of its citizens into a race of cannibalistic zombies. This led to the country’s being quarantined behind a giant wall, a precaution which was thought to have worked, at least until the new outbreak that has just been discovered in London.
Urgently in need of an antidote, Prime Minister Hatcher (Alexander Siddiq) decides to dispatch a rescue squad over the wall to retrieve Dr. Kane (Malcolm McDowell), a scientist rumored to have successfully developed a vaccine. When ordered to send in his best man for the job, Police Chief Nelson (Bob Hoskins) taps a woman, Eden Sinclair (Rhona Mitra), a cool, calm and collected gunslinger every bit as attractive, as she is fearless.
She proceeds to lead a hand-picked team of crack commandos into an unrecognizable environment which has degenerated into lawlessness. The landscape is swarming with aggressive adversaries ranging from ghouls feasting on barbecued human flesh to a gang of big-breasted biker chicks with major attitudes to skull-and-cross boned creeps who look like they wandered in from an Oakland Raider tailgate party.
How these foreign groups have invaded, formed and flourished in the of absence of any infrastructure is never adequately explained, since there’s no time for anything but slaughtering wave after wave of each successive thundering herd. Forget about trying to follow the preposterous plotline of this insult to the intelligence, unless you want to laugh out loud.

Poor (0 stars)
Rated R for profanity, nudity, sexuality and graphic violence.
Running time: 109 minutes
Studio: Universal Studios Home Entertainment
DVD Extras: Unrated version, feature commentary by the director and four cast members, plus two featurettes.

To see a trailer of Doomsday, visit:

Mardi Gras: Made in China DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Powerful Documentary Contrasts Globalization with American Decadence

If you’ve ever witnessed the annual New Orleans ritual of wanton women baring their breasts for beads at Mardi Gras, you probably were too engrossed by the sordid spectacle to stop to think about where all those shiny necklaces came from. Well, Mardi Gras: Made in China traces the gaudy jewelry back to the source, factories in China where very young women are virtually enslaved, forced to work extremely long days literally for pennies an hour while being virtually imprisoned in gated dormitory-style compounds they’re only allowed to leave once every two weeks.
Director David Redmon (Intimidad) deserves accolades galore for crafting this damning expose’ which brilliantly contrasts the plight of obviously impoverished and utterly subjugated Asian females with the embarrassing behavior of all those drunks and bimbos floozies floating up Bourbon Street on Fat Tuesday. Perhaps now proverbial Ugly Americans will be persuaded to reflect upon the role which their decadence plays in an exploitation simply for the sake of disposable trinkets.
Girls Gone Wild meets globalization.

Excellent (4 stars)
In Mandarin and English with subtitles
Running time: 75 minutes
Studio: Carnivalesque Films
DVD Extras: PG version, deleted scenes, worker’s diary and clips from upcoming Carnivalesque films.

To see a trailer of Mardi Gras: Made in China, visit:


Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Terrorism as Pre-Teen Bonding Op in Japanese Road Flick

This impressionistic fantasy was inspired by a real-life act of bioterrorism, namely, the release in 1995 of poisonous sarin gas in the Tokyo subway system by members of a religious cult called Nirvana. (That’s some name for a murderous mob, huh?). Their cowardly act resulted in the deaths of a dozen innocent people and injured over a thousand other commuters.
Oddly, this coming-of-age road flick focuses not on the fallout visited upon any of the victims’ families, but on Koichi Iwase (Hoshi Ishida), a 12 year-old who had been raised inside the apocalyptic sect. Abandoned after the atrocity by his irresponsible, nut case of a single-mom, the boy ended up in the clutches of a bureaucratic, child welfare system.
He makes a break from the orphanage in order to track down his little sister in Tokyo, and en route encounters the equally- traumatized Yuki Niina (Mitsuki Tanimura), a runaway his age who’s escaping an abusive father. The socially-ostracized urchins somehow bond, despite her being a precocious prostitute and his still being pre-pubescent and left a bit of a zombie by all the brainwashing during his dogma-driven upbringing.
Their ensuing misadventures together lie at the heart of Canary, a difficult to peg picture which might best be thought of as chronicling the poignant endeavor to reclaim innocence lost. This proves to be easier said than done because the kids are already pretty damaged goods, and they encounter further adult situations in their meanderings, like the advances of the solicitous lesbians who pick them up hitchhiking.
As you can imagine, getting there is all the fun in this patiently-paced, immorality play. So, by the time they finally rescue Koichi’s sister and return to the road, the question left unanswered is whether they have the wherewithal to survive on the city’s mean streets.
The Orient’s relatively-eloquent answer to Eminem’s 8-Mile and 50-Cent’s Get Rich or Die Tryin’, replete with gangsta’ rap on the soundtrack. A sobering, universal message that it’s even hard out there for the Hip-Hop Generation in Japan. .

Very Good (2.5 stars)
In Japanese with subtitles.
Running time: 132 minutes
Studio: ImaginAsian Pictures

To see a trailer of Canary, visit:

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

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

Kam's Kapsules:
Weekly Previews That Make Choosing a Film Fun
by Kam Williams
For movies opening August 1, 2008


The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor (PG-13 for adventure and action violence) Brendan Fraser returns for a third go-round as intrepid explorer Rick O’Connell who is now joined by his son (Luke Ford), wife (Maria Bello) and her brother (John Hannah) in an epic adventure to the Far East to combat a recently-resurrected, 2,000 year-old, shape-shifting entity (Jet Li) bent on world domination. With Michelle Yeoh, Isabella Leong and Russell Wong.

Midnight Meat Train (R for sexuality, nudity, profanity, eroticized graphic violence and grisly images) Gruesome horror flick about a struggling photographer (Bradley Cooper) who ends up putting his and his girlfriend’s (Leslie Bibb) lives in danger after being egged on by a prominent art gallery owner (Brooke Shields) to get grittier shots for his show by following the trail of the serial killer (Vinnie Jones) who’s been butchering late-night commuters on the NYC subway.

Swing Vote (PG-13 for profanity) Civic duty comedy about an apathetic, alcoholic loser (Kevin Costner) who suddenly finds himself the center of attention after his mischievous, 12 year-old daughter (Madeline Carroll) sets in motion a chain of events which means his vote will decide the outcome of the presidential election. Star-studded cast includes Nathan Lane, Kelsey Grammer, George Lopez, Willie Nelson, Paula Patton, Dennis Hopper and Stanley Tucci, with cameos by political pundits James Carville, Chris Matthews, Larry King, Arianna Huffington, Bill Maher, Tucker Carlson and Campbell Brown.


America the Beautiful (R for profanity and some sexual references) Body image documentary explores America’s unhealthy obsession with beauty via an examination of subjects ranging from airbrushed ads to cosmetic surgery to skin color to makeup ingredients to self-esteem. With appearances by Jessica Simpson, pre-teen supermodel Gerren Taylor and celebutante Paris Hilton.

Frozen River (R for profanity) Cross-cultural, Christmastime tale about a recently-abandoned, white housewife (Melissa Leo), struggling to support her sons on a Mohawk reservation in upstate New York, who is pressured by a Native American single-mom (Misty Upham) to start smuggling illegal immigrants across the Canadian border into the U.S. Cast includes Michael O’Keefe, Mark Boone, Jr. and Charlie McDermott.

In Search of a Midnight Kiss (Unrated) New Year’s Eve adventure, shot in black and white, about a 29 year-old slacker (Scott McNairy) with no plans to celebrate the holiday until at the suggestion of his best friend (Brian McGuire) he places a personal ad online which leads to a rendezvous with a beautiful woman (Sara Simmonds) determined to find Mr. Right by midnight.

Profit Motive and the Whispering Wind (Unrated) Whistling through the graveyard documentary, inspired by leftist professor emeritus Howard Zinn, chronicling a “Peoples’ History of the United States” as revealed by headstones and plaques located in American cemeteries.

Sixty Six (PG-13 for profanity, nudity and sexuality) Bio-pic, set in 1966, revisiting real-life events of almost 13 year-old Bernie Reubens (Gregg Sulkin) an asthmatic, bar mitzvah boy whose big day appears ruined when it falls on the same day as the World Cup final. Cast includes Helena Bonham Carter, Stephen Rea and Eddie Marsan.

Stealing America Vote by Vote (Unrated) Post-democracy documentary questioning why exit polls are no longer able to accurately predict the results of elections in America while painting a chilling picture of a possibly tainted voting process.

All You Need to Know about the Music Business

Sixth Edition
by Donald S. Passman, Esq.
Free Press
Hardcover, $30.00
462 pages, Illustrated
ISBN: 0-7432-9318-5

Book Review by Kam Williams

“In the music business, the key to success lies in knowing how to protect yourself. To do that, you need the best and most up-to-date advice available… This latest edition of what the L.A. Times called ‘the industry bible’ will lead novices and experts alike through the fundamental practices as well as the new, uncharted territory of one of this country’s most dynamic industries…
For fifteen years, All You Need to Know about the Music Business
has been universally regarded as the definitive, essential guide to the music industry. Now in its sixth edition, it has been completely revised and updated with crucial, up-to-the-minute information on the industry’s major changes in response to today’s rapid technological advances and uncertain economy…
It’s a book that no musician, entertainment lawyer, agent, promoter, publisher, manager, record company executive – anyone who makes their living from music – can afford to be without.”
-- Excerpted from book jacket cover

Although I no longer practice law, there are two types of people who still routinely approach me for legal advice: convicts behind bars and aspiring musicians. Unfortunately, I’m simply too busy to take on any clients, however, I do have good news for the latter group, a state-of-the-art handbook which breaks down every aspect of the business in relatively-plain language.
Author Donald Passman is a Harvard-trained attorney with over 30 years of experience in the field. His impressive client roster includes such A-list acts as Janet Jackson, Green Day and R.E.M., to name a few. His user-friendly, how-to tome is apt to be of most use to up-and-coming unknowns trying to kickstart their careers, a time when naïve performers are most likely to be exploited and make critical mistakes out of an eagerness for fame and fortune.
Passman addresses virtually every question you can think of, structuring his invaluable advice in the logical order in which it will be needed by the neophyte. He suggests that you start your assault on the industry by assembling a team of advisors which ought to include a personal manager, a lawyer, a business manager and an agent.
The next section breaks down every aspect of a record deal, from advances to royalties to albums to videos to marketing to touring to merchandising. Next, he focuses on an often overlooked area, intellectual property, which is comprised of copyrighting, publishing and songwriting. And the text subsequently answers an array of ancillary inquiries about creative control, bootlegging, fees and financing.
If you know anyone dreaming of making it in the music world, I implore you to insist that they read this priceless treatise from cover to cover before they even think about entering into any agreements.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Order of Myths

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Deep South Documentary Discovers Segregated Mardi Gras Celebrations in Mobile, Alabama

Judging from The Order of Myths, recent pronunciations of America as a post-racial society are a bit premature. For this eye-opening documentary, directed by Margaret Brown (Be Here to Love Me), matter-of-factly examines the still-segregated celebration of Mardi Gras staged in Mobile, Alabama in 2007.
The city was ostensibly picked because it is steeped in tradition, being the site where the annual ritual was first introduced to this country way back in 1703, a full 15 years before New Orleans was even founded. The event has continued to be observed to this day, ostensibly oblivious to the inroads achieved by the Civil Rights Movement elsewhere in terms of integration.
Consequently, Mobile simultaneously mounts two elaborate Mardi Gras
Carnivals: one for blacks, one for whites. Ms. Brown never presumes to take an editorial stance on Mobile’s enduring color line, opting to allow the citizens’ words speak for themselves.
Not surprisingly, the Caucasians are rather comfortable with the arrangement, and generally suggest that the affairs are essentially “separate but equal.” They see the situation as simply a case of people choosing to associate with their own kind. As one salty cracker puts it, “Nobody’s going to tell me who’s going to come into my house. Black people have their own Mardi Gras and want it that way.”
Most of the African-Americans who appear on camera avoid controversy and certainly seem content with the status quo, but one can’t help but wonder whether they might be too intimidated to share their true feelings. Dr. Cain Hope Felder, a Professor at Howard University, is a glaring exception in this regard. He speaks freely about Mobile’s ugly legacy, including a lynching by a 19 year-old by the Klan as recently as 1981. He also notes that there’s a neighborhood known as Slave Town, which is where Africans brought by a slave ship settled in 1859, well after the trade was supposedly illegal.
At least the picture ends on an upbeat, with the black Mardi Gras King and Queen being announced and greeted by the white King and Queen and their Royal Court at their gathering. A nice gesture, but in the sequel I’d like to see these refined rednecks really shaken out of their comfort zone.
Next time, how about taking these folks north of the Mason-Dixon Line to see how the other half of the country lives before they miss out on the 21st Century entirely?

Excellent (4 stars)
Running time: 77 minutes
Studio: Lucky Hat Entertainment
Distributor: The Cinema Guild

To see a trailer of The Order of Myths, visit:

Man on Wire

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Documentary Revisits Philippe Petit’s Death-Defying High-Wire Walk between the Twin Towers

On the morning of August 7, 1974, a street performer named Philippe Petit sucked the collective breaths out of the world’s stomach when he performed a death-defying, high-wire act between the roofs of the Twin Towers. The daring feat was an achievement almost as impressive as the construction of the magnificent World Trade Center itself, given that because it was not only illegal, but had to be pulled off in absolutely secrecy.
Just think, not only did he have to gain access to the top of the buildings, but he had to figure out a way to string a 200 feet-long, 450-pound cable between them. And he had to factor in that by design the Towers were constantly swaying slightly, more so on windy days. Therefore, any attempt to cross between them without a harness or parachute would seem almost suicidal to any sane person.
Obviously, Petit is a special case, since the fearless Frenchman became consumed with attempting the stunt in 1968, right after reading an article about the erection of the Twin Towers while waiting in his dentist’s office. So, for six years he methodically planned every aspect of his historic walk in meticulous detail, knowing full well that he still could lose his life in a fraction of a second from a momentary slip or loss of balance.
Man on Wire is a riveting documentary which revisits the events surrounding Philippe’s secret mission, including his enlisting the assistance of a handful of accomplices. From flying over the Towers in a helicopter, to securing fake badges to bypass WTC security, to smuggling heavy equipment inside, he and his intrepid band of co-conspirators recount the particulars of their espionage-like operation.
One confesses that he wasn’t quite sure whether Petit was a nut or a con man, yet he opted to persevere in helping his pal realize his dream. It is fascinating to learn that Philippe was essentially a self-taught aerial artist with little experience who had previously supported himself doing pantomime and magic tricks as a street performer.
The film is guaranteed to bring tears to your eyes, when August 7 finally arrives, and we are treated to the breathtaking spectacle of Petit poised to take that first step off one of the Towers. He then proceeds to make 8 crosses back and forth between the buildings at 1368 feet in the air, teasing the exasperated cops imploring him to return to the roof.
Instead, he lies on his back soak in the view, kneels as if in prayer, salutes the heavens, and even peers down into the crowd which had formed far below. Curiously, Philippe says his scariest moment came back on terra firma after he was handcuffed by police and almost broke his neck when an officer shoved him down a flight of stairs. Ain’t that just like New York?
An exhilarating film for the ages not to be missed, either for its enlightening peek inside the elite mind of an extraordinary individual or for its ethereal tribute to the Twin Towers.

Excellent (4 stars)
Rated PG-13 for sexuality, nudity and drug references.
In English and French with subtitles.
Running time: 94 minutes
Studio: Magnolia Pictures

To see a trailer of Man on Wire, visit:

Monday, July 21, 2008

Boris Kodjoe: The All about Us Interview

with Kam Williams

Headline: All about Boris

Boris Frederic Cecil Tay-Natey Ofuatey-Kodjoe was born in Vienna, Austria on March 8, 1973 to Eric, a physician from Ghana, and Ursula, a psychologist from Germany which is where he was raised along with his siblings, Patrick and Nadja.
While attending Virginia Commonwealth University on a tennis scholarship, the striking, 6’3” student-athlete was spotted by a talent scout and signed to a contract with the Ford Modeling Agency. After appearing in ad campaigns for Ralph Lauren, Perry Ellis, Yves Saint Laurent and The Gap, Boris blossomed into a rarity, one of the world’s few male supermodels. So, it’s no surprise that he would one day be named one of the 50 Most Beautiful People in the World by People Magazine.
In 2000, he turned his attention to acting, making his big screen debut in Love & Basketball, following that up with well-received appearances in everything from Brown Sugar to The Gospel to Madea’s Family Reunion. On Broadway, he’s worked opposite James Earl Jones and Phylicia Rashad in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.
On TV, he was cast in the hit series ‘Soul Food’ as Damon Carter, a role for which he would land a trio of NAACP Image Award nominations. While doing the hit show, he fell head over heels in love with his attractive co-star, Nicole Ari Parker, and by 2005 the inseparable pair would marry back in his hometown, Gundelfingen, Germany. They now have two kids, Sophie Tei-Naaki Lee Kodjoe, 3, and Nicolas Neruda Kodjoe, 1. Despite being quite the power couple, they’ve decided to make their home away from the hustle and bustle of Hollywood in relatively-sedate Atlanta.
Here, Boris talks about all of the above and his latest movie, All about Us, a romantic dramedy about a Hollywood couple who decide to settle down in Mississippi after shooting a movie there, rather than return to L.A.

KW: Hi Boris, thanks for the interview. How are Nicole and the kids?
BK: They’re good. They’re on their way back from L.A. She was doing a pilot for ABC, called Never Better.
KW: What interested you in doing All about Us?
BK: First and foremost was the script, because I rarely, to that point, got a chance to consider playing a role like that, a regular family guy who is basically trying to balance his career goals with his obligations to his family. It’s a very heartwarming story with some really interesting, fleshed-out characters. And when I had a meeting with the director, Christine Swanson, and her husband, Michael, I admired their passion for what they were doing. I think it’s always a
blessing to get to work with people who have that fire about what they’re doing.
KW: What was it like filming All about Us on location in Mississippi?
BK: It was great. I encountered tremendous heat and lovely people.
KW: The script was semi-autobiographical. So, it must have been interesting to be acting out the filmmakers’ life story.
BK: Yeah, it was interesting. I talked with Michael about the character, and about his path and his journey. And it was fun to sort of associate certain things that he went through with things that I’ve been through in my life. For instance, I had a young daughter, too, so there were many parallels that I could draw on. It was funny, because we were different people, yet all young fathers obviously go through some of the same stuff, and have some of the same concerns and anxieties. So, the process was really cool to me.
KW: And you and Nicole left L.A. yourselves, in your case for Atlanta.
BK: [His cell phone rings] Speak of the devil. [Talks with Nicole on phone for a minute]
KW: How did you decide to settle in Atlanta?
BK: We never wanted to raise the kids in Hollywood. We wanted to be in an environment that spoke to us, culturally. That’s how we chose Atlanta and found our dream home. Also, I have family coming from Europe, and her family is in Baltimore, so the choice was very practical at the same time.
KW: I know you are quad-lingual: German, English, French and Spanish. What languages are you going to teach your children?
BK: Well, they speak three, right now: obviously English, plus German and Spanish. Our nanny is Guatemalan, and she only speaks Spanish to them. And we speak German to them.
KW: I heard that your mother’s Jewish. Is that true?
BK: Well, by blood, yeah. My grandmother’s part Jewish, which makes my mother and myself Jewish, by blood. But we weren’t raised in the Jewish faith. I remember my mother teaching me from the age of about 3 or 4 that we had to find our own way based on many different religions, that there were many different doctrines but that they all had the same purpose. I always remember that, because it was so simple, and so poignant and deep at the same time. I try to apply that now and expose my kids to many different ideas and philosophies, so they can find their own way.
KW: Did you lose any relatives in the Holocaust?
BK: Yeah, on my mother’s side, my maternal great-grandmother. It was ironic in a way, because my grandmother wasn’t pure-blooded Aryan, and therefore she wasn’t considered a member of the master race. But she got pregnant by my grandfather who was 200% German. So, it was quite a tumultuous time for her, because they had to hide her for her to survive the Second World War.
KW: Did she have any close calls?
BK: Yeah, she told me that someone once reported her, but she was lucky that when the SS came to investigate and found her hiding in a back room, one of the officers was in a good mood and didn’t arrest her. She said those kind of experiences occurred frequently. It was a time of sheer terror and no one knew what was going on, and everyone knew somebody who had suddenly gone missing for no reason. And apparently you didn’t talk about it over the dinner table at night. They were just paralyzed with fear. You didn’t utter a word about what could possibly be going on or about what they had heard. It was a very scary time.
KW: I hope she’s writing her memoirs.
BK: Yeah, I’m going to help her write it. She had some quite interesting experiences. And then later in her life her daughter brought home an African from Ghana, which didn’t go over so well with my grandfather. He kicked them out of the house until I was born. They went back with me when I was a couple months old, and said, “Look, either you accept us, or you’ll never see us again.” And at that moment he made a 180 degree turn and accepted me from that moment on.
KW: Wow, you’re going to have to write an autobiography, too.
BK: We all lived under the same roof. He had lost both of his arms in the war from a Russian hand grenade. From when I was 4, I would shave him in the morning and feed him breakfast every day.
KW: Did you have to deal with racism as a child? You must have been one of very non-white kids in the neighborhood?
BK: Me and my brother were always the only black kids. Racism is universal, but it’s very different in different cultures. Where I grew up, racism was more about ignorance and a lack of knowledge than a controlled and focused prejudice. So, I was subjected to the type of racism where people called me names, but I had a lot of great friends, too. Overall, it was a great environment to grow up in. The place I was raised was in the Black Forest and looks like The Sound of Music. We had a great childhood, full of fun and outdoor adventure. It was very sane and well-rounded. My mother always told us we were perfect the way we were, and that we wouldn’t have to worry about what people said because there are just a lot of ignoramuses in the world, and that you will encounter them until the day you die. That was her approach, and now when I look back, I can really appreciate it.
KW: Barack Obama also had a white mother and an African father. What do you think of him?
BK: That’s just one of the aspects of him that I find intriguing. I think that he’s an incredible and powerful man, very charismatic and intelligent. He also has great integrity and pride, and loves the country. I believe he’s someone who will not only improve America internally in terms of the economy, healthcare, education, the environment and Social Security but also repair the country’s reputation which has suffered around the world over the past eight years. He’s someone who I believe can sit down with potential allies on the international level and try to make the world a better place for everyone. So, I’m supporting him wholeheartedly. I hope that people will wake up and take the country back. It’s hard to believe that we have a president who could officially deny the fact that the world is being affected by global warming. It’s embarrassing.
KW: What’s it like being named one of the 50 Most Beautiful People in the World? Has it changed your life?
BK: [Laughs] That’s hilarious. No, it hasn’t changed my life at all. It’s one of those things, like the tabloids, that you can’t really take seriously.
Obviously, I’m very flattered, but that’s as far as it goes. It’s a nice thing, but I can’t take any credit for it. I don’t wake up and go, “Woo-hoo! I’m one of the 50 Most Beautiful! Yeah!” There are a lot of things that are much more important, like being a husband and father. I’ve been blessed with a great wife and amazing children who have changed my life. It’s not necessarily a walk in the park every day, but it’s absolutely the most rewarding gift ever.
KW: How was it playing Brick on Broadway in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof?
BK: It was a dream come true, getting to play one of the significant roles in one of the most significant classics. I was honored and humbled by the experience. Everybody was so supportive, James Earl Jones, Phylicia Rashad, Debbie Allen, Anika Noni Rose and Giancarlo Esposito. And the crowd response was great, everything was amazing.
KW: Tasha Smith wants to know if you’re ever afraid.
BK: Oh, absolutely? I’m terrified sometimes, not for myself, but for my kids.
That’s one of the things they don’t tell you when you become a father, but along with unconditional love comes unconditional fear.
KW: The Columbus Short question: Are you happy?
BK: Extremely.
KW: Bookworm Troy Johnson wants to know, what was the last book you read?
BK: Right now I’m on a spiritual trip. I read a lot of that type of book. The last one I read was The Art of Power by Thich Nhat Hanh.
KW: Yeah, I’ve read some of his stuff. He’s great.
BK: He summarizes what we all know, like that the power is within you, and that as long as you can visualize it you can achieve it. Things along those lines.
KW: Is there any question nobody asks you that you wish somebody would ask?
BK: What nobody ever asks me is how difficult it was to come to sound like this, probably because they all assume I’m African-American.
KW: True, your American accent has no traces of German. So, how difficult was it to sound like this? Did you study English in Germany?
BK: I learned it here. I took classes, had a dialect coach, and watched a lot of MTV. When I prepare for a part, I still have to figure out the appropriate accent and cadence.
KW: How do you want to be remembered?
BK: I want to be remembered as a great father, and as someone who inspired people to have integrity and drive.
KW: What’s up next for you?
BK: I’m shooting a movie right now with Bruce Willis called The Surrogates.
KW: Well, good luck with that, and I hope to speak to you again when that gets released.
BK: Cool. Peace.

To see a trailer of All about Us, visit:

Sunday, July 20, 2008

The Dark Knight

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: The Joker and Batman Match Wits and Muscle in Heath Ledger’s Swan Song

You heard it here first: the late Heath Ledger will win an Academy Award for his defining, spine-tingling performance as The Joker. Forget Cesar Romero’s hamming it up on the campy Sixties TV series. Ditto, Jack Nicholson’s equally-over the top rendition in the first screen adaptation of Batman back in 1989.
Ledger easily eclipses each of his predecessors via an inspired interpretation of the character as a maniacal misanthrope much more menacing than mirthful. Not that he doesn’t also have a full complement of laugh-inducing lines like “Whatever doesn’t kill you simply makes you stranger,” “I love this job,” and “You know, you remind me of my father. I hated my father.” Still, what makes this incarnation of The Joker unforgettable is that under that garish clown makeup is a philosophical and downright scary psychopath with mayhem at the top of his agenda.
The accolades for The Dark Knight don’t stop with Ledger, as the picture itself happens to be not only the best blockbuster of the summer, but perhaps the best comic book adaptation ever brought to the big screen. And although it’s awfully early to be talking Oscar buzz, nominations also ought to be in order for director Christopher Nolan (Memento) and for oft-overlooked Christian Bale who delivers again as The Caped Crusader.
As for the plot, at the point of departure, we find Gotham winning its battle against the underworld, thanks in no small part to the efforts of Batman. Everything changes the day The Joker shows up in town and pulls off a brazen bank robbery of a fortune of laundered mob money during which he strategically knocks-off each of his accomplices at the moment he no longer needs their services.
Next, the double-crossing clown approaches the city’s loose confederation of crime bosses and offers, for a price, to kill the vigilante on the brink of shutting down their embattled syndicate. They reluctantly agree, which means Batman must match wits as much as muscle with this most-worthy adversary.
Fortunately, his alter ego, billionaire Bruce Wayne, with the help of his loyal butler, Alfred (Michael Caine) and genius inventor Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman), is capable of outfitting himself with a new line of state-of-the-art Bat gadgetry, including a Batmobile, a Batsuit, a Batpod, Batdarts, Batsonar, and so forth.
Yet, despite all the bells and whistles and eye-popping special f/x, The Dark Knight is fated to be remembered unavoidably as Heath Ledger’s chilling swan song. At least he saved his best performance for last.

Excellent (4 stars)
Rated PG-13 for menacing and for intense violence.
Running time: 152 minutes
Studio: Warner Brothers

To see a trailer of The Dark Knight, visit:

Friday, July 18, 2008

Heartbeat Detector (La Question Humaine) DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Social Satire Coming to DVD Examines Nazi Influence on Current Corporate Culture in Europe

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

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

To see a trailer of Heartbeat Detector, visit:

Duck DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Senior Citizen Bonds with Duck in Unlikely-Buddy Drama Due on DVD

It’s 2009, Jeb Bush is president and the U.S. has become no place for those societal castoffs unfortunate enough to have to subsist on fixed incomes or insufficient government subsidies. Retiree Arthur Pratt (Philip Baker Hall) is just one such poor soul, having landed homeless and alone on the streets of Los Angeles after using up all his savings.
Broke and despondent, the grieving widower is contemplating suicide in the park where his wife’s and son’s remains lay, when he encounters a duckling who mistakes him for its mother. Instead of following through, Arthur’s paternal instincts kick in, and he adopts the waddling orphan and names him Joe. The two soon bond and become inseparable, wandering all around the city, trying to survive and find their place in a world which considers them extraneous.
Ala Amelie (2001), the naïve waif who won everyone’s hearts in the Oscar-nominated French film, they magically enrich the lives of similarly-situated strangers they encounter on their peripatetic sojourn. For instance, they befriend a blind man (Bill Cobbs) with a seeing-eye dog, an Asian manicurist (Amy Hill) whose clients never look her in the eye, and a little girl separated from her nanny (Annie Burgstede)
Some are hostile, however, such as the callous construction workers, bus driver, mental health workers and members of a hobo support group. This bittersweet flick works only because its star, Philip Baker Hall, throws himself into the role ever so convincingly opposite his anthropomorphized companion in a manner reminiscent of Jimmy Stewart with his imaginary 6-foot tall rabbit in Harvey (1950) and of Tom Hanks talking to a volleyball he called Wilson in Cast Away (2000).
A geezer and his pet pal performing random acts of kindness till they find salvation at the ocean shore.

Very good (3 stars)
Rated PG-13 for brief profanity.
Running time: 98 minutes
Studio: Westlake Entertainment
DVD Extras: Audio commentary by Philip Baker Hall and the director, interviews, cast bios, desktop downloads, theatrical trailer, photo gallery and movie poster.

To see a trailer of Duck, visit:

Without the King DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: DVD Features the Misadventures of Mswati in Swaziland

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

Excellent (4 stars)
In English and Siswati with subtitles.
Running time: 84 minutes
Studio: First Run Features
DVD Extras: Deleted scenes and a theatrical trailer.

To see a trailer of Without the King, visit:

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Mad Detective (HONG KONG)

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Clairvoyant Cop Cracks Cases with Unorthodox Methods in Crime Caper from Hong Kong

Despite a knack for solving crimes with his intuition, Inspector Bun (Ching Wan Lau) was forced to take an early retirement after he pulled a Van Gogh and sliced off his own ear as a going away gift to his boss. Now five years later, the clairvoyant cop is being recruited back onto the police force by young Inspector On (Andy On) who needs help in solving the mysterious disappearance of a fellow officer (Kwok-Lun Lee) who has been AWOL for a year and a half.
Teetering between inspired and insane, Bun has his new partner do things like zip him up in a suitcase and throw him down the same flight of stairs as a murder victim only to emerge knowing who the perpetrator was. “Seeing Things” (1981-1987) was a PBS-TV series which successfully employed a similar gimmick, though such supernatural contrivances invariably feel a little hokey to all but the most gullible.
In the case of Mad Detective, the device is more comical than compelling, given that the whodunit is a collaboration of Hong Kong action mavens Johnny To Ka-Fai Wai. So brace yourself for a trademark low-budget, high body-count, blood and guts affair resting on an implausible plot which doesn’t always make logical sense.
But what do you expect of a chopsocky revolving around a head case of a hero asking to be buried alive in order to channel his psychic powers?

Very Good (3 stars)
In Cantonese and English with subtitles.
Running time: 90 minutes
Studio: IFC Films

To see a trailer of Mad Detective, visit: