Friday, August 29, 2008

Jellyfish (ISRAELI) DVD


DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Serendipitous Feminist Adventure from Israel Released on DVD

Some of the most intriguing, feminist dramas continue to come from Israel, including this surreal adventure which whimsically intertwines the lives of several women whose paths crisscross in present-day Tel Aviv. The fulcrum of the plot is provided by the plight of heartsick Batya (Sarah Adler), a waitress working at the wedding of Karen (Noa Knoller) and Michael (Gera Sandler).

Just past the point of departure, the couple’s plans for a Caribbean honeymoon are ruined when the bride accidentally breaks her ankle. So, they opt to take a room right on the ground floor of the beachfront hotel hosting their reception.

Elsewhere, we find Joy (Ma-nenita De Latorre), a Filipino nurse missing her five year-old son she had to leave behind in Manila. It doesn’t help any that although she asked for a childcare assignment, her agency hired her out to Malka (Zaharira Harifai), an elderly woman who is not only grouchy, but bigoted to boot. Despite Joy’s exhibiting the patience of a saint, Malka would prefer to live with her daughter, an actress busily preparing to appear in a production of Hamlet directed by an Arab.

These assorted threads are woven together ever so subtly via the meanderings of Batya, a forlorn soul who besides being left by her boyfriend has had the rent recently raised on her dilapidated apartment. The carefree slacker reacts by drinking water dripping from a hole in the ceiling, and by adopting a naked, freckle-faced, five year-old (Nikol Leidman) she finds frolicking alone along the Mediterranean shore.

Always of more consequence here than the give-and-take of any of the superficial personal dramas are the complicated cultural and psychological issues simmering just under the surface. Like Amelie with an attitude, the sinister Jellyfish links strangers serendipitously, but with an almost shocking absence of naivete.

Excellent (4 stars)


In Hebrew, French and English with subtitles.

Running time: 78 minutes

Studio: Zeitgeist Films

DVD Extras: New anamorphic master enhanced for widescreen TVs, video interview with filmmakers Etgar Keret and Shira Geffen, filmmaker statement, plus the U.S. theatrical trailer.

To see a trailer for Jellyfish, visit:

Redbelt DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Disappointing Mamet Martial Arts Adventure Arrives on DVD

A mediocre movie like this is a major disappointment coming from David Mamet. The picture represents his first foray into the martial arts genre, although his character-driven script still boasts the basic trademarks for which the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright’s is known.

This means the screen is littered with an ensemble of street-savvy con artists delivering raw dialogue staccato-style, And among the actors are some familiar faces from the Mamet repertory company, including his wife Rebecca Pidgeon, Joe Mantegna, Ricky Jay and David Paymer.

The story revolves around Mike Terry (Chiwetel Ejiofor), the cash-strapped sensei of a jiu-jitsu dojo located in downtown Los Angeles. He’s a purist who has thusfar staunchly resisted any temptation to fight on the mixed martial arts circuit, preferring to rely instead on financial help from his Brazilian wife’s (Alice Braga) fabric business to keep his fledgling studio afloat.

A disturbing chain of events is triggered the day that a distraught attorney (Emily Mortimer) shows up at the academy unannounced. For Mike’s most promising student, an off-duty police officer named Joe (Max Martini), inadvertently invades the fidgety female’s personal space, not knowing that she’s a recovering rape victim. The paranoid woman reflexively grabs his gun lying on a counter and shoots out the place’s pricy plate glass window. Already behind in rent, now Mike has this added expense to deal with.

As his money woes mysteriously mount and he finds himself indebted to loan sharks the question is no longer if, but merely when, he will break his code of honor and enter the ring to raise some much-needed moolah. Like an unnecessarily confusing and convoluted cross of Rocky and The Karate Kid, Redbelt is a flick that’s a tad too smart for its own good, given the simple message it is designed to deliver.

Fair (1 star)

Rated R for profanity and violence and drug use.

Running time: 99 minutes

Studio: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

DVD Extras: Fighter profiles, Q&A with director David Mamet, commentary by Mamet and Randy Couture, plus several additional featurettes.

To see a trailer for Redbelt, visit:

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Tasha Smith: The Longshots Interview

with Kam Williams

Headline: Tasha’s Back in Town

Tasha Smith, this critic’s pick as the best African-American actress of 2007, toned down her trademark act for her new movie, The Longshots, a wholesome family flick featuring Ice Cube and Keke Palmer, and based on a young girl’s real-life triumph as a quarterback who led her team to the Pop Warner Superbowl. As Claire Plummer, the mother of the history-making football phenom, Tasha got a chance to prove her versatility by exhibiting a relatively-subdued side of her emotional range.
Rising to the occasion, she proved herself to be every bit as compelling in this capacity, which means we have every reason to expect to see this rising cinematic star in more pure dramatic roles. Here, the statuesque beauty shares her thoughts about this refreshing change of pace from playing her typical sassy sister with an attitude.

KW: Hey, Tasha, thanks for another interview.
TS: Kam, are you kidding me? What’s up? How’re you doing?
KW: I’m great. How’s life been treating you?
TS: Wonderfully! I’m great, thank God. I’m so good, and I just moved into a new house.
KW: Well then, on behalf of “Realtor to the Stars” Jimmy Bayan, I have to ask you where your place is located.
TS: In the Woodland Hills area.
KW: How’s your equally-stunning twin sister, Sidra?
TS: She’s great! She’s busy.
KW: How’s your acting school doing?
TS: It is so good, Kam. I have been touring it, going to different cities. I was in Atlanta and New York. And I’m going to Chicago in October, and then D.C., and Miami. And I have my ongoing classes in Los Angeles. It’s just been amazing and such a blessing. That is my heart. I love all the actors and doing the three-day workshop-seminar.
KW: How would you describe your teaching style?
TS: I like to be really transparent with my students, so they can know the true experience of an up-and-coming actor. Sometimes, they only see the finished product and have no idea about the reality of the journey, because a lot of celebrities like to hide and to keep their journey a mystery. But I feel that that approach doesn’t help anyone else, especially since part of my calling is to my community. I hope that my transparency will help inspire and encourage the next person.
KW: How did you enjoy playing Claire Plummer in The Longshots? The character was certainly a change of pace for you.
TS: You know how people always have a certain expectation of what you’re going to do in every role?
KW: Yep.
TS: Well, I enjoyed being able to create something different, and showing a different part of myself. But at the same time I missed that energy. You follow me?
KW: Yeah, your trademark explosiveness.
TS: [Laughs] Yes. This character is definitely not like that. She’s a type of parent that we do see in the world, and I thought it was very important to show that kind of human spirit. Still, I’m definitely looking forward to giving people who admire my explosiveness, as you say, something that they enjoy watching me do as well.
KW: Do you ever feel like you’re being typecast?
TS: I don’t feel like that. When you have a fan base, you like to give them something that they want. It’ll be interesting to see how people respond to this character, because I know it’s not what people normally like to get from me.
KW: You know how I always ask people: Is there a question no one ever asks you, that you wish someone would? Last time, your answer was, Are you ever afraid. Well, I liked your question so much that I ask everybody that now.
TS: My publicist [Joseph Babineaux] showed it to me and I was so shocked. How have people been responding?
KW: It’s interesting because it forces them to reflect and to be real.
TS: Who do you feel you got one of the best answers from?
KW: Recently, from Philippe Petit, the man who made history in 1974 by walking on a tightrope between the roofs of the Twin Towers. He admitted that he’s deathly afraid of spiders. Who would’ve ever figured that?
TS: Cool.
KW: Is there any other question no one ever asks you, that you wish someone would?
TS: Yes, Are you ever disappointed? And here’s another one: How important are your friends to you?
KW: Those are both deep emotionally questions. Why do you think reporters don’t ask questions like that?
TS: Maybe it’s because entertainers don’t usually like to get too personal. So, the journalists tend to keep things on the surface and not really get to deep into the heart of the individual that they’re dealing with by asking about discouragements, disappointments or internal roadblocks, maybe. For example, they never ask, what’s been some of your obstacles in life? You know what I mean?
KW: Yep.
TS: Maybe it’s just me, but I always like the kind of communication which could possibly touch the life or heart of someone reading, especially because the world is going through so much right now in terms of gas prices… imprisonment… drug addiction,,, finances… teenage pregnancy… and HIV in the black community. The world is definitely going through a lot. People are really discouraged, and are suffering from a great deal of internal turmoil. Even our industry is going through changes. The only African-American shows on TV right now are House of Pain, The Game and Lincoln Heights. Think about that. Remember, there was a time when we had so many shows on television. Black actors and casting directors were working. But now, it is so scary. Most black actors are unemployed. And not only are they unemployed, but their mortgages and finances are in trouble. Do you know how discouraging it is for a celebrity who used to work regularly to have to host at a restaurant? And it’s that kind of stuff that we don’t talk about.
KW: Bookworm Troy Johnson wants to know again, what was the last book you read?
TS: I don’t read many novels. I’m more into self-help books. I’m reading two right now. They’re both by Dr. Creflo Dollar. One is called, “8 Steps to Create the Life You Want.” And the other is, “Lord, Teach Me How to Love.” They’re very good. I picked up “Lord, Teach Me How to Love” because I was having some personal problems, and I didn’t want unforgiveness to set into my heart. You know how it’s easy for seeds of unforgiveness to sit there when you’ve been disappointed with people? And if you don’t pay attention to it, it can kind of grow into something else. So, I read this book to try to consistently be active in forgiving and walking in love. I was doing that for myself, because unforgiveness is worse for you than the person that you’re mad at.
KW: The music maven Heather Covington question: What’s music are you listening to nowadays?
TS: Wow! I have different stuff that I like to listen to at different times. I like quiet gospel music, if I’m just chilling in the house. I probably need to be a little bit more diverse musically, because I can get stuck listening to the same songs over and over again. I have more of a movie collection than I do music. I’m still on Mary’s [Mary J. Blige] album. I’m still on Jill’s [Jill Scott] old album. And I’m loving Alicia [Keys] , Rhianna, and Anthony David who’s this guy out of Atlanta who’s really good. And I love old school, too. I could listen to the Isley Brothers and Marvin Gaye forever. Forever!
KW: How do you want to be remembered?
TS: As someone who loved her community, loved her students, loved her family, and would try to just please God on this Earth realm.
KW: Thanks Tasha, and good luck with The Longshots.
TS: Thank you for all your support.
KW: We’ll talk again soon, I hope.
TS: That sounds great. You take care of yourself.
KW: You too.

To see a trailer for The Longshots, visit:


Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Don Cheadle Stars in International Potboiler as Possible Manchurian Muslim Mole

Provided you haven’t seen the trailer for Traitor, you’re likely to enjoy this edge-of-your-seat political potboiler immeasurably. However, if you have already caught the commercial, then you are already aware of the picture’s otherwise cleverly-concealed plot twist revealed only towards the end of the picture.
Left unspoiled, the film is a taut, international thriller revolving around the 007-like exploits of Samir Horn (Don Cheadle), a U.S. Special Forces Agent serving solo overseas on a covert, counterespionage operation. The point of departure is a flashback to the moment in his childhood when he witnessed his father being blown up by a car bomb.
Fast-forward to present-day Yemen, where Samir is attempting to imbed himself inside a cell of Arab religious fanatics. He is only able to gain their confidence after being arrested in a round-up of suspected terrorists.
While behind bars, the bilingual poser manages to convince the gang’s ringleader, Omar (Said Taghmaoui), that he is a devout Muslim born and raised in Sudan. The two bond after embarking on a spectacular death-defying jailbreak which leaves them blood brothers sworn to perform crimes against humanity together in the name of Allah.
Then, it’s not long before the pair is masterminding a series of attacks not only in the Middle East, but in Europe and America, too. Samir, as an Army-trained explosives expert, is able to train suicide bombers while outfitting them with detonators. This development is not lost on the interagency task force led by Roy Clayton (Guy Pearce) and Max Archer (Neal McDonough), crack FBI agents who just happen to be monitoring his every movement.
They, of course, are curious about the identity of this ostensibly-disloyal American, and wonder whether he’s truly a traitor or merely an al-Qaeda infiltrator on a secret mission. Determining the answer without blowing Samir’s cover proves to be easier said than done, and writer/director Jeffrey Nachmanoff is very adept at keeping his audience guessing for almost as long as the investigating officers themselves remain in a quandary.
Also Credit Don Cheadle’s masterful performance for making Traitor riveting for the duration. For he ever so convincingly plays Samir as a sympathetic, seemingly-conflicted soul who just might be a Manchurian Muslim mole afterall. Perhaps of more significance is how the movie simultaneously seeks to serve as a sophisticated appeal to tolerance by its deliberate differentiating between radical Islam and the moderate version of the faith practiced by the overwhelming majority of Muslims.
A curious whodunit which has you far more concerned with the mindset than the apprehension of a mass murderer.

Excellent (4 stars)
Rated PG-13 for brief profanity, mature themes, and intense violence.
In English and Arabic with subtitles.
Running time: 113 minutes
Studio: Overture Films

To see a trailer for Traitor, visit:

Jack Smith and the Destruction of Atlantis DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Bio-Pic Revisiting Cinematic Career of Unrecognized Genius Released on DVD

Jack Smith (1932-1989) was an uncompromisingly experimental innovator in the field of cinema whose name might not be known to the general public despite the fact that he has been credited as an influence by such fellow avant garde filmmakers as Federico Fellini, Jean-Luc Godard, Jim Jarmusch, Andy Warhol and John Waters. This unrecognized genius is finally receiving a measure of respect, even if belatedly, with the release of this uncritical bio-pic which mixes snippets of his flicks in with the reflections of colleagues, actors and friends who were fond of him and his work.

We learn that Smith was born in Columbus, Ohio where he passed a decidedly unhappy childhood, perhaps due to his being gay in the breadbasket of America. As a young adult, he made his way to New York City’s Greenwich Village where he embarked on a career in the fields of photography, performance art and film.

There, the irreverent iconoclast made daring movies deemed pornographic in their day, such as Flaming Creatures which was banned in 22 states. Watching some of his censured scenes now, it is apparent that times have certainly changed. Yes there’s plenty of male and female nudity, especially homoerotica featuring flamboyant drag queens, but nothing hardcore that would warrant the implementation of drastic legal sanctions.

In fact, the most alarming aspect of the production might not be any of the images, but the intermittent voiceover of Jack Smith himself. In a rambling rasp, he can be heard railing against the mercenary nature of capitalism and bitterly raising a litany of other complaints about the state of American society.

Alternately bizarre and inspired, but an appropriate tribute to a visionary impossible to pigeonhole.

Excellent (4 stars)


Running time: 95 minutes

Studio: Arts Alliance America

DVD Extras: Nine interviews and two featurettes.

To see a trailer for Jack Smith and the Destruction of Atlantis, visit:

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Chicago 10 DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: DVD Revisits Historic Free Speech Trial of Anti-War Activists

During the summer of 1968, thousands of protesters descended on the Democratic Convention in Chicago in order to voice their displeasure with America’s involvement in the Vietnam War at the. But Mayor Richard Daley, determined to discourage the assembled activists by any means necessary, ordered the police to arrest the organizers of the demonstration on trumped-up charges of conspiracy and crossing state lines with intent to riot.
The tactic ultimately backfired, because the jailed leaders became something of a sympathetic cause celebre since they were essentially only attempting to exercise their right to Freedom of Speech. Dubbed the Chicago 8, their ensuing trial was covered by the national press on a day-to-day basis. The indicted political activists behind bars included such well-known figures as Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, Tom Hayden and Black Panther Chairman Bobby Seale.
Chicago 10, a novel docudrama directed by Brett Morgen, revisits the events surrounding the case via archival footage augmented by word-for-word, animated recreations culled from the transcripts of the contentious courtroom proceedings. Perhaps the movie’s most memorable moment arrives when an exasperated Judge Julius Hoffman, in a highly-unusual measure, orders Seale, the only African-American defendant, gagged, bound, shackled, and held in contempt of court on account of his repeated outbursts.
Later, a couple of defense attorneys, William Kunstler and Leonard Weinglass were slapped with same charge, hence the change to the Chicago 10. Though it would take years, all were ultimately vindicated. However, the state had ostensibly achieved its aim, namely, to discourage youth at the dawn of the hippie era from feeling free to voice their discontent with society.
Director Morgen earns high marks for finding a most innovative way to illustrate a regrettable chapter in American history.

Excellent (4 stars)
Rated R for profanity and brief sexuality.
Running time: 90 minutes
Studio: Paramount Home Entertainment
DVD Extras: Chicago 10 remix video contest winner and Paramount Pictures previews.

To see a trailer for Chicago 10, 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 September 5, 2008


Bangkok Dangerous (R for violence, profanity and sexuality) Action thriller about an anonymous assassin (Nicolas Cage) sent to Thailand to execute four contract killings who ends up both bonding with a local street urchin (Shahkrit Yamnarm) and being intoxicated by the beguiling beauty of a young deaf girl (Charlie Yeung).

Passengers (PG-13 for mature themes, sensuality and scary images) Horror flick starring Anne Hathaway as a grief counselor to survivors of a plane crash who falls in love with one (Patrick Wilson) of her patients just before the others start disappearing mysteriously, one by one. Ensemble cast includes Andre Braugher, David Morse, Clea DuVall and Dianne Wiest.


August Evening (PG-13 for brief profanity) Immigration drama about an aging, undocumented farm worker (Pedro Castaneda) from Mexico who finds himself forced to retire and increasingly dependent on his widowed daughter-in-law (Veronica Loren) for support after the sudden death of his wife.

Everybody Wants to Be Italian (R for sexuality) Romantic comedy, set in Boston’s North End, and revolving around a case of mistaken ethnicity where a Polish guy (Jay Jablonski) pretends to be Italian because he thinks that his blind date (Cerina Vincent) would otherwise never give him the time of day.

Mister Foe (R for nudity and sexuality) Dysfunctional family comedy, set in Scotland, about an anguished teenager (Jamie Bell) who runs away from home after being seduced by the stepmother (Claire Forlani) he comes to suspect of killing his birth mom. The lad then takes a job working in a hotel where he becomes obsessed with his boss (Sophia Myles) who resembles his dearly-departed mum.

Ping Pong Playa (PG-13 for profanity, sexual dialogue and drug references) Sports comedy about an irresponsible, Chinese-American slacker (Jimmy Tsai) who dreams of becoming an NBA star until he finds his true calling playing table tennis. Cast includes Roger Fan, Shelley Malil, Khary Payton and Andrew Vo.

The Pool (Unrated) Coming-of-age drama, set in the East Indian city of Panjim, and revolving around a boy (Venkatesh Chavan) working at a hotel who becomes obsessed with a nearby swimming pool never used by its wealthy owners. (In Hindi and English with subtitles)

Save Me (Unrated) Sexual-preference drama about a gay drug addict (Chad Allen) who falls in love with a male counselor (Robert Gant) at a Christian rehab where he was supposed to be cured of both his substance abusing and homosexuality.

A Secret (Unrated) Dysfunctional family drama, set in Paris in 1955, about a lonely 15 year-old boy (Quentin Dubuis) with a vivid imagination whose guilt-ridden Jewish parents (Patrick Bruel and Cecile de France) successfully spared their sickly son the details about how they survived the Holocaust until the day he starts to uncover their deep, dark secret while digging around in the attic. Cast includes Julie Depardieu, Mathieu Amalric and Ludivine Sagnier. (In French with subtitles)

Monday, August 25, 2008

Maria Bethania: Music Is Perfume

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Brazilian Bio-Pic Takes Loving Look at Musical Career of Legendary Samba Singer

Maria Bethania is a legendary samba singer whose siren call has stirred the souls of her fellow Brazilians for generations. Now in her sixties, the full-throated diva proves here that she is still capable of delivering a ballad in heartrending fashion. The performance-driven picture features plenty of concert footage, offset by interviews with friends, family (including her brother, composer Caetano Veloso) and Maria herself.
Her career began in 1964 and has endured enough for her to release 30 albums thusfar. The movie amounts to the cinematic equivalent of a fanzine, a delightful musical montage during which Maria meanders through the classic hits from her extensive repertoire.
Offstage, Maria is at her best while sharing her feelings about music, such as when she describes samba as “sadness dancing. That is the very essence of samba.” Equally evocative are the moments when she talks about the genre’s history, describing it as “a black people’s lament.” Acknowledging a debt owed to African slaves, she goes on to say that “We were colonized by the Portuguese, but our heritage, the richness of our music, is black.”
And to think I always blamed it on the bossa nova.

Very Good (3 stars)
In Portuguese with subtitles.
Running time: 82 minutes
Studio: ArtMattan Productions

To see a trailer of Maria Bethania: Music Is Perfume, visit:

Youssou N'Dour: Return to Goree

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Afro-Jazz Documentary Retraces Slave Trade Route

Described by Rolling Stone Magazine in 2004 as “perhaps the most famous singer alive,” Grammy award-winner Youssou N'Dour has been touring the world playing his genre-defying brand of jazz since the Seventies. The Senegalese tenor is a self-described griot/storyteller/percussionist/composer/emcee and bandleader of a group which effortlessly blends elements of African, Latin, gospel, rock and pop.
Youssou is also a dedicated social activist who has been involved over the years with a variety of human rights causes, including Amnesty International, Live 8, UNICEF, and the anti-Apartheid movement. Return to Goree is a performance flick which mixes music with a history lesson about the slave trade. The movie is essentially comprised of a series of recording, rap and jam sessions in America, then Europe, and finally Africa, where the closing credits roll during a concert staged at a scenic, seaside slave castle in Dakar.
Though frequently unfocused in spots, the film accurately captures the freewheeling feeling of the lifestyle of a roaming troubadour capable of calling anyplace he hangs his fez home. As he perambulates the planet, Youssou gradually amasses a multi-ethnic ensemble of accompanists. By the time of the big finale, among his sidemen are drummer Idris Muhammad and vocalist Pyeng Threadgill.
However, as important as the tunes are the contributors’ (including poet Amiri Baraka’s) insights about the Middle Passage and the toll that slavery took on displaced Africans throughout the diaspora. Fortunately, despite the tragedy which decimated the continent’s population for several centuries, the music in Return to Goree stands as a testament to the fact that folks figured a way to nourish their souls and thus somehow survive in the face of a cruel system of absolute subjugation determined to crush their spirits at every turn.
Listening to a tour guide positioned before the infamous “Door to the Journey of No Return” talk about how black families were deliberately separated at that spot, with the mother being sent, say, to Brazil, the father to Louisiana, and the children scattered among Haiti, Cuba and the Antilles, this profound picture chillingly conveys a palpable sense of what being a direct victim of the evil institution might have felt like and why the fallout persists to this day like the proverbial ripples on a pond.

Excellent (3.5 stars)
In French and English with subtitles.
Running time: 108 minutes
Studio: ArtMattan Productions

To see a trailer of Youssou N'Dour, visit:

Keke Palmer: The Longshots Interview

with Kam Williams

Headline: Kicking It with Keke

Lauren Keyana Palmer was born on August 26, 1993 in Harvey, Illinois to Sharon, an elementary school teacher, and Lawrence, a salesman. The second of four children, Keke showed such promise at an early age that her parents decided to relocate the family to Los Angeles when she was just nine years-old. And that same year, she made her screen debut as Ice Cube’s niece in Barberbershop 2: Back in Business.
Then, after bit roles on such TV series as Cold Case, Law & Order, ER, she found international fame as the title character in the critically-acclaimed Akeelah and the Bee for which she won an NAACP Image Award and a host of other accolades. Also, in 2006, she played Tyler Perry’s feisty foster child in Madea’s Family Reunion. Since then, the versatile actress/singer has released her own CD on Atlantic Records, So Uncool, and she’s appeared in the Ludacris/Mary J. Blige video for the song Runaway Love.
Here, she talks about her new movie, The Longshots, a bio-pic about Jasmine Plummer, the first female quarterback to lead her team to the Pop Warner Superbowl.

KW: Hey, Keke, thanks for the time.
KP: No problem.
KW: I was just telling your father that your performance in Akeelah and the Bee was very powerful, and had me in tears.
KP: Oh, thank you very much.
KW: Where did you think all that talent came from at such a young age?
KP: I started singing regularly in the choir with my mom. I think it comes from the encouragement my parents and my church gave me to follow my dreams and they’re telling me that I could achieve anything. So, I’ve always felt confident and secure, and was able to be myself and to have a good time. And when the acting came up, I just applied that same approach to movies and television.
KW: I imagine you received a lot of positive feedback after playing the inspirational role of Akeelah.
KP: Yes I did. And because of that movie’s message, I was approached by lots of community organizations like the Girls Scout, It’s Cool to Be Smart and Urban Farming.
KW: I know your mom’s a schoolteacher. Are you home schooled by her?
KP: She was my teacher for a little while, after we first moved to Los Angeles. But now I work independently, except for when I’m shooting a film. When I’m on set, I have a tutor.
KW: After the success of Akeelah and the Bee, were fans always asking you to spell words?
KP: People would sometimes ask me to spell stuff, but I didn’t really feel any pressure.
KW: What interested you in The Longshots?
KP: What mainly interested me in the role was that it was so inspirational. And not only that, but because it’s a true story, I thought it would really motivate young girls to pursue their dreams
KW: After playing Jasmine Plummer, are you going to feel pressure to prove yourself as a football player?
KP: Well, I think the movie speaks for itself, because that was really me playing.
KW: How did you prepare for the role?
KP: I practiced for about four months, getting my arm ready, and then learning the footwork.
KW: Had you ever played football before that?
KP: Oh no, I didn’t have any experience in it at all.
KW: Are you a football fan, now?
KP: Not watching it, but I like playing.
KW: How did you like working with Ice Cube?
KP: It was a lot of fun. I was really excited to work with him one-on-one, because he gave me my first break in Barbershop 2. It was a small role, but it was the second I had ever auditioned for, and the first one I ever got.
KW: How did you get along with Tasha Smith who plays your mother?
KP: Great! I worked with her on the TV show Second Time Around when I first came to California, and I was happy to work with her again because she’s so nice.
KW: What message do you hope kids will take away from this movie?
KP: That you can achieve anything, as long as you put your mind to it, whatever it is, even if it’s supposed to be only for boys, or only for girls, for that matter. You can go as far as you want to go.
KW: Did you ever meet Jasmine Plummer, the girl The Longshots was based on?
KP: Yes, I did. I met her towards the end of the filming. She’s a very nice girl. And luckily, I portrayed her as she was. And I think she was glad about that.
KW: Are you planning to record another CD soon?
KP: No, I just departed from the record label that put out my first album in ’07. So, I’m just going to be doing little stuff here and there, and maybe some soundtracks.
KW: Well, music maven Heather Covington wants to know who you’re you listening to right now.
KP: Hmm… I’m listening to a lot of people. I love Rhianna.
KW: You’re turning 15 soon. How do you plan to celebrate your birthday?
KP: I don’t know what I’m going to do. Maybe something small.
KW: Bookworm Troy Johnson wants to know, what was the last book you read?
KP: The last book I read was a novel by Jerry Spinelli called Stargirl.
KW: If you were old enough to vote, who would you vote for for President?
KP: Obama.
KW: The Columbus Short question: Are you happy?
KP: Yes.
KW: Is there any question nobody ever asks you, that you wish somebody would?
KP: No, I think I’ve been asked everything.
KW: How do you fell about the passing of Bernie Mac and Isaac Hayes?
KP: I was so shocked when I heard that Bernie Mac had passed. I know he’d been sick for awhile, but I was still really, really sad that he’d died. He was so talented and had worked so hard. I felt the same way about Isaac Hayes. It was so sudden, that I was just shocked. They’re in a better place now, but I’m still sad and we miss them down here.
KW: Are you able to live like a regular teenager? Can you still go to the mall or a movie theater without being followed by fans?
KP: I can most of the time. There are certain situations where they come up to me. I only get noticed if I stand around for a long time.
KW: Do you have a website?
KP: Yes I do, it’s .
KW: Do you answer your fan mail yourself?
KP: Yes I do.
KW: Nosy “Realtor to the Stars” Jimmy Bayan asks: Where in L.A. do you live?”
KP: In Altadena, about 20 minutes from L.A.
KW: I see you’ll be playing the title character on a new TV show this fall on Nickelodeon.
KP: Yeah, it’s called True Jackson, V.P. It’s about a 15 year-old girl who gets a vice president’s job at a fashion company.
KW: Well, thanks again for the interview, and I wish you the best of success as you continue to blossom into a beautiful young lady.
KP: Thank you very much.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

The Longshots

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Keke Palmer Plays Another Underdog in Sentimental Family Flick

In 2003, Jasmine Plummer made history as the first female ever to play quarterback in the Pop Warner Football League. However, the competitive 11 year-old, not content just to cross the gender line, went on to lead her team all the way to the Pee Wee Division Superbowl.
Now, the talented tomboy’s real-life exploits are the subject of The Longshots, a sentimental bio-pic directed by Limp Bizkit frontman Fred Durst, of all people. The singer-turned-director brings Jasmine’s life story to the big screen as an against-the-odds sports saga which seeks to tug on your heartstrings at every opportunity.
The film features Keke Palmer in a very familiar role as the same sort of spunky underdog she played in Akeelah and the Bee. But instead of spelling her way to the National Bee in Washington, DC, here her character accomplishes a series of equally-unlikely feats on the gridiron.
Jasmine also has innumerable personal obstacles to overcome off the field, starting with the trauma of abandonment by a father (Malcolm Goodwin) she hasn’t seen in five years. His conspicuous absence has, in turn, translated into less quality time with her exhausted mom (Tasha Smith) who has to work long hours at the diner to make ends meet.
Things are no better for Jasmine in the halls of Minden Middle School where she tries to make friends with members of the fashion club. The lonely social zero only finds herself mercilessly teased by mean girls who hand her a plunger to unclog bathroom toilets since her surname is a homonym for “plumber.”
A blessing in disguise arrives in Jasmine’s Uncle Curtis (Ice Cube), a smelly, down-and-out alcoholic who walks around their blue-collar community cradling a football every where he goes. The former high school standout’s need to clean up his act conveniently dovetails with his niece’s for a father figure and an after-school activity.
Of course, it isn’t long before Curtis is teaching her to play quarterback, and putting her on an austere training regimen, ala the Karate Kid’s Mr. Miyagi. When his promising protégé is ready, he encourages her to try out for the Browns, much to the dismay of the misogynist boys who respond to her presence with wisecracks like, “I’m going to knock her out of her training bra.”
Nonetheless, in fast order, Jasmine’s ability soon wins first their respect, then the starting job, followed by a string of wins that takes the team to the title game. While The Longshots doesn’t have nearly the charm of Akeelah and the Bee, at least this well-intentioned variation on the theme offers as wholesome and moving a message likely to be appreciated by minors.
A pleasant, if predictable, tale of female empowerment ideal for the under ten set.

Good (2 stars)
Rated PG-13 for mild epithets, mature themes and crude humor.
Running time: 94 minutes
Studio: MGM/The Weinstein Company

To see a trailer for The Longshots, visit:

Friday, August 22, 2008

What Happens in Vegas… DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Kutcher and Diaz’s Battle-of-the-Sexes Comedy Comes to DVD

New Yorker Joy McNally (Cameron Diaz) has just been unceremoniously dumped by her fiancé at a surprise birthday party she threw for him. Meanwhile, somewhere across town, slacker Jack Fuller (Ashton Kutcher) is being fired from the family business by his bitterly disappointed father (Treat Williams).
Both of these sad sacks venture to Vegas to lick their wounds, Joy accompanied by her best friend, Tipper (Lake Bell), Jack by his buddy, Hater (Rob Corddry). Fate conspires to have the four cross paths when their hotel accidentally assigns them to the same room.
And although misogynistic Hater and man-hating Tipper instantly dislike each other, Joy and Jack hit it off so well that they impulsively decide to get married after a night of imbibing and debauchery. However, by the time their hangovers wear off the next morning, they realize they have nothing in common. So, saner heads prevail and the newlyweds agree to get a quickie divorce.
But just as they are about to go their separate ways, Jack deposits one of his bride’s quarters in a slot machine, and wouldn’t you know he hits a $3,000,000 jackpot. Because they can’t agree on how to divvy up the cash amicably, the greedy couple ends up in divorce court where the judge (Dennis Miller) sentences them to live together for six months before he’ll render a decision.
Joy reluctantly moves into Jack’s apartment and the two proceed to drive each other crazy in a standoff with nothing new to offer to anyone familiar with the battle-of-the-sexes genre. He gets under her skin with alpha-male antics like urinating in the sink and leaving the toilet seat up, and she’s no angel either, relying on shrewish Tipper for advice about how to torture her hubby.
A recycled romantic comedy best left in Vegas.

Fair (1.5 stars)
Rated PG-13 for sexuality, profanity, crude humor and a drug reference
Running time: 99 minutes
Studio: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
2-Disc DVD Extras: Director’s commentary, a bonus digital copy of the film, behind the scenes featurettes, deleted scenes, theatrical trailers and additional trailers for other upcoming Fox releases.

To see a trailer for What Happens in Vegas, visit:

Thursday, August 21, 2008

CNN Presents: Black in America DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: CNN Wastes No time in Releasing Over-Hyped Special on DVD

Just a month after its over-hyped special aired on TV, CNN is already releasing “Black in America” on DVD. Hosted by Soledad O’Brien, the disappointing series originally aired in two parts, the first entitled “The Black Woman and Family,” the second, “The Black Man.”
Unfortunately, each half was less a cohesive study of its subjects than a string of loosely-connected segments each introduced by lame raps by a brother in a cap. Serving up everything but the kitchen sink, it opens with the reunion of an African-American family named Rand that can trace its roots back to a white man who in the 19th Century had seven kids with his white wife and another six with his black mistress.
This storyline builds up to a first-time meeting of the black and white sides of the Rands. What a so called “white patriarch” has to do with “The Black Woman” is beyond me.
After that weird start, the slapdash investigation turns 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? Nothing about this supposedly landmark series struck me as particularly innovative.
My biggest overall problem had to do with the program’s periodic factual inaccuracies, such as when Soledad refers to the riot which erupted in L.A. after the Rodney King decision as the most deadly U.S. riot in 100 years. She conveniently ignores other more bloody incidents like the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921 when over 300 blacks were slaughtered by white militiamen. What’s up with that?
Such infuriating mistakes which I was well aware of left me wondering how accurate CNN was when citing statistics I was unfamiliar with, especially since so much anecdotal evidence about rap music, AIDS, skin color, mixed-marriages etcetera sounded awfully subjective.

Fair (1 star)
Running time: 160 minutes
Studio: CNN

A/K/A Tommy Chong DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: DVD Chronicles Case of Pot Comic Imprisoned after Passing of the Patriot Act

Cheech & Chong were a celebrated comedy duo whose sophomoric brand of humor appealed to stoners because it basically revolved around behaving like their brains had been burnt out fom smoking pot. They came to fame in the Seventies, appearing in a seemingly neverending series of Marijuana movies in which they were typecast as goofy hippies.
After the comedy well ran dry, Chong chose to continue to milk the theme that had made them famous by selling a line of bongs and other drug paraphernalia over the Internet. The business flourished until President Bush came into office and decided to make an example of the 66 year-old head shop supplier.
Attorney General John Ashcroft set up a sting operation in Pennsylvania, one of only two states where it’s illegal to sell pipes and rolling papers. From there, federal agents called Chong in California over 20 times, trying to entrap him into sending some contraband across state lines.
Because Chong repeatedly refused, the frustrated agents finally traveled to West to place a huge order in person, promising to return to pick up the merchandise. But then they began nagging Tommy to mail the goods to an address outside Pittsburgh. After eight months, against his better judgment, he capitulated, since the boxes were taking up half his valuable storage space.
Well, that technical infraction was all that Ashcroft needed, and immediately, helmeted DEA agents with guns drawn swooped down on the house, arresting the entire Chong family. This frightening nightmare ended with Tommy behind bars after pleading guilty only to save his wife and son from a long stint in Federal prison.
A very scary documentary considering the carte blanche accorded Big brother by the Patriot Act.

Excellent (4 stars)
Running time: 80 minutes
Studio: Infinity Entertainment
DVD Extras: an interview with Cheech and Chong, and a featurette showing Tommy at home.

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 29, 2008


Babylon A.D. (PG-13 for profanity, sexuality, action sequences and intense violence) Sci-fi thriller about a mercenary (Vin Diesel) escorting a young woman (Melanie Thierry) from Russia to Canada unaware that her body is host to an organism from which a cult plans to produce a genetically-engineered Messiah. Cast includes Michelle Yeoh, Charlotte Rampling and Gerard Depardieu.

College (R for pervasive sexuality and crude humor, nudity, profanity, and drug and alcohol abuse) End-of-innocence comedy revolving around three high school seniors (Drake Bell, Kevin Covais and Andrew Caldwell) who enjoy a wild weekend at a raucous fraternity house during their visit to a prospective college.

Disaster Movie (PG-13 for profanity, drug references, slapstick violence, crude humor and sex content) Disaster flicks gets the same treatment already accorded the horror (Scary Movie), teen (Date Movie) blockbuster (Epic Movie) and historical (Meet the Spartans) genres in this zany spoof about a bunch of twenty-somethings who encounter a series of calamities over the course of one very eventful night. Ensemble cast includes Kim Kardashian, Carmen Electra and Tony Cox.

Traitor (PG-13 for brief profanity, mature themes, and intense violence) International political potboiler about a former U.S. Special Operations Officer (Don Cheadle) who finds himself subjected to close scrutiny by both FBI (Guy Pearce and Neal McDonough) and CIA (Jeff Daniels) Agents after being implicated in a series of terrorist attacks.


Another Gay Sequel: Gays Gone Wild (Unrated) Jonah Blechman is the only lead actor to reprise his role in this freaky follow-up to the raunchy gay-themed teensplurt ostensibly-inspired by American Pie. The sequel is set over Spring Break in Fort Lauderdale, Florida where the plan is to participate in “buttlove” and “wet package” contests. Principal cast includes Jake Mosser, Aaron Michael Davies and Jimmy Clabots, and features the flamboyant Lady Bunny and RuPaul in support roles.

I Served the King of England (R for nudity and sexuality) Flasback comedy about a social-climbing Czech busboy (Ivan Barnev) who inherits the millions his Nazi wife (Juia Jentsch) had stolen from Jews during WWII only to end up impoverished again and in prison when his fortune is confiscated by the Communists.

Maria Bethania (Unrated) Musical bio-pic chronicles the career of Brazil’s legendary Maria Bethania via a combination of concert footage and interviews with fans, family, friends and the sultry samba singer herself. (In Portuguese with subtitles)

My Mexican Shiva (Unrated) Cross-cultural comedy about the skeletons that come flying out of the closet of a dysfunctional family over the course of the week during which it gathers to mourn the passing of its patriarch (Sergio Kleiner). (In Hebrew, Spanish and Yiddish with subtitles)

Sukiyaki Western Django (R for graphic violence, including a brutal rape) Japanese, spaghetti-style Western, set during the Genpei Wars near the end of the 12th Century, revolving around a lone gunslinger (Hideaki Ito) who rides into town just in time to tame two rival gangs locked in a bloody a turf war. With a couple of quickie cameos by Quentin Tarantino.

Year of the Fish (Unrated) Animated update of Cinderella revolving around a young Asian immigrant (An Nguyen) who, upon her arrival in New York City, is forced by an evil madam (Tsai Chin) to work in a seedy Chinatown massage parlor.

Youssou N’Dour: Return to Goree (Unrated) Roots documentary retraces the route of the slave trade while simultaneously chronicling numerous recording, rap and jam sessions conducted by Youssou N’Dour as the peripatetic, Senegalese singer/percussionist and his jazz band (which includes Idris Muhammad and Pyeng Threadgill) travel from New Orleans back to Africa for a seaside concert in Dakar before a castle’s infamous door of no return. With commentary by Amiri Baraka. (In French and English with subtitles)

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Life Is a Game

by Jim Copeland
Living Waters Publishing Company
Paperback, $15.95
64 pages
ISBN: 9780981453279

Book Review by Kam Williams

“The choices we make determine our destiny and whether success or disaster is achieved. We either elevate to greatness or descend to obscurity... The game of life can be played in several ways. Some spend their life chasing dreams. Others spend their life making dreams a reality. Which one will you be?
In life, it is important to use our strengths as assets in achieving our goals. If we focus too much on our weaknesses, we can and will end up average. Focusing on your strengths will allow you to an opportunity to achieve your goals at a faster rate.”
n Excerpted from the Forethought (page 9)

If you know anyone in need of a little inspiration to get their act together, then let me suggest Life Is a Game, an easy-to-read motivational piece offering some simple, straightforward and sound suggestions. Although only 64 pages long, this handy how-to treatise could help a lost soul kickstart a floundering career or find a more appropriate one.
Its author, Jim Copeland, who works as a Special Ed Coordinator for the U.S. Department of Justice inside the Federal Prison System in Texas, has a Bachelor’s in Speech Communications as well as a Master’s in Education from Texas A&M. Despite the degrees, Mr. Copeland doles out his worthwhile advice in plain language.
Each chapter heading essentially functions as a bullet-point which he then proceeds to break down in further detail, with ideas ranging from “Establish a Plan” to “Your Success Lies within You” to “What Kind of Legacy Will You Leave?” For example, he summarizes a talk on taking risks with “Sometimes you have to go where no one has gone or do something no one has done to become something no one has been.”
As for exactly what line of work one ought to pursue, the book leaves that up to you to choose. In a section entitled “Fill a Need” he suggests that you “Do a self-inventory of your gifts and talents. Find a need in society for them, and now market them.”
Believe it or not, a lot of folks don’t have the basic common sense they were born with. And it is for such ungrounded, misdirected members of society that Life Is a Game might serve as a blessing.

Trouble the Water

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Shocking Katrina Documentary Created from Real-Time, Home Movies Shot by Storm Victim

On August 28, 2005, with Hurricane Katrina bearing down on the New Orleans, Scott and Kimberly Rivers Roberts made the fateful decision to weather the storm instead of evacuate. Armed with a video camera, Kim started wandering around their Lower Ninth Ward neighborhood, interviewing friends and relatives who had also chosen to stay in the city.
It is readily apparent from watching the pre-landfall footage that none of them anticipated the dire struggle for survival which was about to unfold. Not only did they expect the levees to hold like they had for every storm since the Great Flood of 1927, but they had no reason to suspect they’d be utterly abandoned by local, state and federal authorities in the event of a massive natural disaster.
But as we all know, that’s precisely what happened, and thousands of suddenly-homeless citizens ended up stranded for days on end without any sustenance. They were forced to fend for themselves during a triple-digit heat wave, while awaiting the proverbial cavalry which never arrived.
Trouble the Water is an eye-opening documentary, which enables the audience to be a fly on the crumbling levee walls as Kim and her husband shift from carefree observers into survival mode. In virtually the blink of an eye, the atmosphere goes from ominous to desperate as the water level rises so precipitously that no one has a chance to make a dash for higher ground on foot.
Although the Roberts lived to tell the tale, the same can’t be said for all the subjects of their home movie. For example, the camera captures the shock and dismay in their eyes two weeks after the hurricane passed, when they enter the house of Kim’s uncle, who had been interviewed earlier, only to find his decomposing corpse lying in the living room. Other horror stories follow, such as the sight of an acquaintance’s aging mother whose body had been left behind with dozens of other patients in a hospital now turned morgue.
Also effectively chronicled is the constant frustration the couple encountered in dealing with FEMA bureaucrats who had the nerve to ask for documents obviously washed away. No wonder so many of the victims ended up broke, depressed, unemployed and no longer able to trust their own government.
There’s a telling scene towards the end of the picture, where a woman talks about how she’s counseled her son who wants to enter the military. “You’re not going to fight for a country that doesn’t give a damn about you,” she declares matter-of-factly. “No way!”
Raw, unfiltered and expletive-laced, but a brutally-honest flick guaranteed to give you an unsanitized picture of what life was like for the least fortunate folks in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

Excellent (4 stars)
Running time: 96 minutes
Studio: Zeitgeist Films

To see a trailer of Trouble the Water, visit:

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

I.O.U.S.A. (One Nation. Under Stress. In Debt.)

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Documentary Explains America’s Financial Crisis in Layman’s Terms

Irrational exuberance to the contrary, all you have to do is look around to see that America is in the midst of a worsening recession. From the precipitous devaluation of real estate to bank failures to the credit collapse to runaway inflation to the price of gasoline to the high unemployment rate to the devalued dollar to the exorbitant cost of waging two wars simultaneously to the bear market, it’s clear that the country has a host of money woes.
But listening to the experts and political pundits weigh-in on the subject is likely to leave you confused about why we’re in this mess. Democrats and Republicans predictably resort to blaming each other, while economists tend to explain the situation using jargon too complicated for the Average Joe to comprehend.
For this reason, director Patrick Creadon is to be commended for making I.O.U.S.A. (One Nation. Under Stress. In Debt.), a nuts and bolts documentary which seeks to explain the burgeoning financial crisis in layman’s terms. The film opens by stating the basic proposition that the most serious threat to the U.S. is our own irresponsibility when it comes to spending. America’s present predicament is then put in perspective via telling analogies of the Roman Empire shortly before its fall.
Next, Creadon cleverly sets about proving his premise by relying on a combination of archival footage and some surprisingly frank interviews with concerned, if not fed-up folks like billionaire Warren Buffett, fired Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill, the late Tim Russert, CNBC’s Jim Cramer, presidential candidate Ron Paul, and former Comptroller General of the U.S. David Walker.
The conservative Congress which ran Washington until recently is referred to as schizophrenic, since it repeatedly lowered taxes while irresponsibly continuing to encourage runaway government spending. The result is an ever-escalating national debt and a record trade deficit which together threaten to burden unborn citizens for generations to come, if the country doesn’t fall apart at the seams first.
Secretary O’Neill whose words fell on the deaf ears of President Bush when he was a member of the current administration, warns that, “When you get extended to the point that you can’t service your debt, you’re finished.” Ron Paul is shown sounding an equally-dire alarm in a videotape from a House hearing in 2000 during which the Congressman tells then Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan to his face that he had so mismanaged the economy that he should start looking for another job.
Greenspan’s replacement takes it on the chin, too, his hit coming courtesy of animated Jim Cramer who shouts that “Ben Bernancke is an academic who has no idea” how bad the crisis is. “The Fed is asleep,” an exasperated Cramer concludes.
Apparently, America’s basic problem boils down to the fact it is a nation which has become addicted to credit in the wake of outsourcing so much manufacturing overseas. To balance the budget we either have to raise taxes or cut spending, because a country which consumes more than it produces is unsustainable.
Tough talk for tough times.

Excellent (4 stars)
Rated PG for mature themes.
Running time: 85 minutes
Studio: Roadside Attractions

To see a trailer for the movie, visit:

Gloria Reuben: The Raising the Bar Interview

with Kam Williams

Headline: Gloria Reuben, Sandwiched between Performing and Philanthropy

Born in Toronto on June 9, 1964, Gloria Reuben is the second youngest of a half-dozen children born to her Jamaican, gospel singing mother and her architect father. The pretty prodigy was taught piano at an early age, and would grow up to study theory, technique, ballet and jazz at the Canadian Royal Conservatory.
At 18, she won the Miss Black Ontario beauty pageant, although the crown did not come without controversy, as some people questioned whether she was deserving because one of her parents was white. However, Gloria would be vindicated a decade later when People Magazine named her one of the 50 Most Beautiful People in the world.
Following the pageant, Ms. Reuben began an impressive career in film, on television, in theater and even on tour as a back-up singer to Tina Turner. She is probably best known from her work on the NBC nighttime drama ER where she played Jeanie Boulet, an HIV+ physician’s assistant.
She has also appeared on such shows as Law and Order, Numb3rs, The Agency, The District and Homicide, and in movies like The Sentinel, Shaft and Timecop. Here, she talks about her new series, Raising the Bar, which is set to premiere September 1st on TNT, and will air on Mondays at 10 PM EST (check local listings). Her character on the weekly legal drama is attorney Roz Whitman, the head of the New York City Public Defender’s Office.

KW: Hi, Gloria, I’m honored to be speaking you. What interested you in Raising the Bar?
GR: Three things. First and foremost, [7-time Emmy-winning writer] Stephen Bochko. Secondly, the book that the show was based on, called Indefensible, written by David Feige, who’s one of the writers on the show. He had been a public defender in the Bronx. And thirdly, that the story is structured in such a way as to show three different aspects of the judicial system: the viewpoints of the public defenders, of the district attorneys, and of the judges. I like how, more often than not, these three groups have different perspectives and go after things pertaining to the same human being from different angles. And I also appreciate how it sheds light on the inner workings of the criminal justice system and the corruption that sometimes goes on behind closed doors.
KW: Did you ever have an interest in becoming a lawyer?
GR: No, but I’ve always been drawn to law shows, and I’ve always been drawn to watching programs that have to do with attorneys and the judicial system.
KW: How did you prepare for the role?
GR: I live in New York, and so does David Feige, and the director, Jesse Bochco. A couple of the other cast members came out from L.A. for a research trip. We all actually spent some time up in the Bronx and down at the Centre Street Courthouse in lower Manhattan to observe exactly what happens, not only in the courtroom but during the whole process from someone getting booked, on. My character, Roz, is based on a woman named Robin [Steinberg] who runs the Bronx Public Defender’s Office. So, I spent some time with her. Of course, you want to get down the fundamentals of how she works, and what her work entails, but to me, it’s all about what’s going on emotionally.
KW: Why do you choose to live in New York instead of Hollywood?
GR: Because I lived in Hollywood for 11 years and had my fill. I’m from Toronto, so prefer the East Coast and I missed the change of seasons. I may sound crazy, but I love winter.
KW: I watched the premiere and saw that a lawyer named Richard [played by Teddy Sears] was flirting with you. Is a romantic relationship in the works for your characters?
GR: Well, if I told you the answer and spoiled it, then nobody would watch. When it comes to relationships on television shows, personally, I feel that sometimes things are defined too quickly. Then, where do you go? Nothing is really set in stone in terms of Roz’s personal life, which I like.
KW: When you have an ensemble cast and an open plotline with plenty of possibilities, do you find yourself lobbying for more screen time or certain developments?
GR: I think it’s wise to wait to see how things play out, especially when it’s a show’s first season and it hasn’t even been on the air yet. It’s kind of like shooting in a vacuum. Hopefully, there will be a next season, and we’ll get to develop storylines further or venture off into other arenas. Besides, I’m really not one to lobby, unless I feel that it’s something that very critical for my character. Plus, I have so many other things going on outside the show that I’m grateful for any free time. I wasn’t even there the last nine weekends that they were shooting in Los Angeles. I was always on a plane going somewhere.
KW: I saw that you’re going to Cape Town, South Africa to do a play about human rights, and to do some organizing around the issue of pediatric AIDS in Johannesburg. You’re known for your very extensive philanthropic work. What are some of the other causes you’ve been busy with lately?
GR: If you go to my website, , it gives a synopsis of the myriad of charities I’m involved with.
KW: What came first for you, AIDS activism or playing a person who’s HIV+ on E.R.?
GR: Playing Jeanie Boulet definitely came first. And by the time I left the show, I thought my work had been done in a way. But when I recently read that AIDS was the #1 killer of black women between the ages of 25 and 34 here in the United States, I asked, “What the hell is going on?” That kind of spring-boarded me to take action again to raise awareness in our communities all around the country.
KW: Is it true that you left E.R. because you were burn out emotionally by the role?
GR: Yes, absolutely. If you look back, you’ll see that she really didn’t have a lot of fun. Because of the success of the show, which was great, it wasn’t the kind of part that you could leave behind at the end of the day. It was there all the time, which was a lot.
KW: You left the series to sing backup for Tina Turner. How was that?
GR: Amazing! Phenomenal! Fantastic! [Laughs] The best time of my life.
KW: What was the controversy surrounding your being crowned Miss Black Ontario?
GR: Gee, that was so long ago. It’s funny that you asked that. Actually, the timing is kind of perfect, because there was this thing about Obama, “Is he black enough?” That’s all I need to say about that issue.
KW: Did you feel vindicated when you were later named one of 50 Most Beautiful People in the world by People Magazine?
GR: [LOL] That’s so funny. No, I didn’t feel vindicated at all. [Laughs some more] That, too, was a long time ago. I don’t know if they would have me in it now.
KW: I don’t see why not. Time hasn’t diminished your beauty. How did you feel when you were named?
GR: Let’s put it this way, it was certainly a nice compliment.
KW: Bookworm Troy Johnson asks: What was the last book you read?
GR: The last book I read was called On Writing by Stephen King.
KW: Tasha Smith asks: Are you ever afraid?
GR: Well, yeah, just like anybody else is.
KW: The Columbus Short question: Are you happy?
GR: [Pauses] 100% of the time? No. I think I would have to be on some kind of drugs to be happy all the time. But I’m very content and filled with gratitude for the most part. Yes.
KW: The Heather Covington question: What music are you listening to nowadays?
GR: Coldplay.
KW: is there any question that nobody’s ever asked you, that you wish someone would?
GR: [Pauses] That’s a good question. I don’t know how to answer that. [Pauses] The only thing that pops into my mind is: How can I persuade my friends to get tested for HIV?
KW: Okay, how can I persuade my friends to get tested for HIV?
GR: Go with them, and get tested at the same time. It only takes 20 minutes.
KW: How do you want to be remembered?
GR: Just as someone who maybe made a difference in at least one person’s life?
KW: Thanks for the time Gloria, and best of luck in all your endeavors.
GR: Thanks, and the same to you.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Vicky Cristina Barcelona

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Spain Provides Breathtaking Backdrops for Romantic Romp from Woody Allen

Although Woody Allen will forever remain most closely associated with his beloved hometown, the New York City native has proven to be a cinematic expatriate as of late, shooting his last four films over in Europe. Vicky Cristina Barcelona, his first set in Spain, proves to be his most impressive offering since Match Point. In fact, this delightful romantic comedy is easily on par with the best battle-of-the-sexes classics he made in the prime of his career, movies like Annie Hall (1977), Manhattan (1979) and Hannah and Her Sisters (1986).
Now well into his seventies, the legendary actor/writer/director has opted to stay behind the camera, turning to this year’s Oscar-winner, Javier Bardem (for No Country for Old Men), to fill his familiar role as the highly-neurotic leading man in the midst of a relationship crisis. And Allen doesn’t even provide his trademark voiceover here, instead tapping Christopher Evan Welch to serve as an omniscient narrator.
The film revolves around a messy love quadrangle, no pentangle, which unfolds against a variety of visually-bracing Barcelona backdrops. At the point of departure we’re introduced to Vicky (Rebecca Hall) and Cristina (Scarlett Johansson), a couple of American tourists in town for the summer. It is immediately established that these best friends are as different as night and day, especially when it comes to men.
Conventional Vicky is engaged to Doug (Chris Messina), a reliable provider she already finds a bit boring. Relatively-irresponsible Cristina, on the other hand, is an adventurous free-spirit more interested in finding passion than commitment.
So, it’s no surprise that they have diametrically-opposed initial reactions upon being approached by the proverbial tall, dark and handsome stranger who spotted them from across a crowded room. Juan Antonio (Bardem), a local artist and notorious womanizer, simultaneously invites them to join him aboard a private plane for a romantic, overnight escape to Oviedo, proposing that they both might like to share his bed at the end of the evening.
While Vicky reflexively recoils in disgust at the explicit overture, Cristina is flattered and finds herself attracted to all the drama seemingly surrounding the dangerous, Latin bad boy, especially because he’d once been stabbed by his unstable wife. Assured that hot-headed Maria Elena (Penelope Cruz) is now living contentedly with an architect in Madrid, the two accompany Juan Antonio to Oviedo, though with no intentions of being seduced by him.
Shockingly, Vicky lets down her defenses and sleeps with Juan Antonio the first night, though keeping their liaison a secret, since she’s about to be married. Cristina soon follows suit, and even shacks up with him back in Barcelona when their torrid affair takes off.
The plot thickens when crazy Maria Elena shows up unannounced, suicidal and desperately in need of a place to stay. Juan Antonio still has a weak spot for his ex, and lets her move in, too. It’s easy to imagine the sort of hilarious hijinks Woody Allen might script for a trio of frustrated females vying for the attentions and affections of a hapless hunk whose trying to please all three at once. And just when you think the situation couldn’t possibly get any more complicated, fifth wheel Doug decides to fly to Spain to see his fiancée.
Featuring sublime support performances by Patricia Clarkson and Kevin Dunn, Vicky Cristina Barcelona is vintage Woody Allen not to be missed. For it’s not merely a madcap misadventure, but also a thought-provoking cautionary tale juxtaposing blind adherence to American Puritanical values against some more open-minded alternative ways of relating.

Excellent (4 stars)
Rated PG-13 for sexuality, smoking and mature themes.
In Catalan, English and Spanish with subtitles
Running time: 96 minutes
Studio: MGM/The Weinstein Company

To see a trailer of Vicky Cristina Barcelona, visit:

Friday, August 15, 2008

Freshman Orientation DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: DVD Drama Features Frosh Faking Being Gay to Date Girl of His Dreams

Clay Adams (Sam Huntington) is a freshman from Oshkosh, Wisconsin who has just matriculated at a large state university. The hot-to-trot 18 year-old arrived on campus naïvely expecting to party, drink beer and pick up girls. But he soon finds that coeds won’t give him the time of day, since they sense that he’s on the make and only interested in fulfilling his sexual fantasies.
This proves especially frustrating when it comes to Amanda (Kaitlin Doubleday), the sorority girl Clay soon sets his sight on. So, he comes up with a novel way of worming his way into her heart, namely, by making believe he’s gay. The idea is that girls have no qualms about hanging around homosexuals, because they won’t be pressuring them romantically.
Therefore, Clay comes out of the closet and joins the school’s gay support group, thereby gaining Amanda’s confidence. He even starts frequenting the local gay bar downtown, where he takes lessons on looking the part from Rodney (John Goodman), a genderbending bartender.
The problem is that he does such a great job posing that Amanda can only see him as a friend. To add insult to injury, he finds himself having to fend off unwanted passes, and he even turns into something of a campus cause celebre after claiming to be the victim of a gay bashing by frat boys.
So unfolds the subtly-titled Freshman Orientation, a teensploit turning on a clever twist of the genre’s trademark theme. For while most makeover movies feature a female making herself more attractive, this flick has a male deliberately doing the opposite.
Despite an engaging premise, the promising picture turns out to be surprisingly tame for all its iconoclastic pretensions.

Good (2 stars)
Rated R for sexuality, profanity, female frontal nudity and drug use.
Running time: 91 minutes
Studio: Screen Media Films

To see a trailer of Freshman Orientation, visit:

Street Kings DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: High-Impact Splatter Flick Arrives on DVD

It’s never a good sign when a movie makes you laugh out loud at dialogue intended to be taken seriously. But this is exactly the reaction elicited by this unintentionally funny, shoot ‘em up loosely based on a crime yarn by James Ellroy.

The story is set in Los Angeles, and revolves around the goings-on inside a trigger-happy police department so crooked that cops don’t think twice before shooting a perp or even a fellow officer about to break the blue wall of silence. For, they can always count on the head of Internal Affairs (Hugh Laurie) to look the other way.

Such is the case with Detective Tom Ludlow (Keanu Reeves), an alcoholic widower on the vice squad who considers himself above the law. Drinking heavily since his wife’s murder, he has no qualms about unleashing a torrent of racial epithets in the direction of suspects before blowing them away before planting weapons on their bodies with the help of his boss (Forest Whitaker).

Everything comes to a head the day that Ludlow bumps into his estranged former partner (Terry Crews), at a convenience store just as a couple of machine gun-toting thugs (Common and Cle Shaheed Sloan) are about to rob the place. When the smoke clears, the gangstas have escaped and Washington and the cashier lay dead.

Ludlow’s subsequent quest for the truth uncovers a pattern of corruption all the way to the top of the department. Unfortunately, Street Kings is a disaster for several simple reasons: a preposterous premise, less credible plot twists, too much gratuitous violence, too many ethnic slurs, an absence of likable characters plus another wooden performance from Keanu Reeves.

When you have trouble reading a hero’s motivations at every turn, the result is a comical headscratcher like this unmitigated mess.

Fair (1 stars)

Rated R for graphic violence, ethnic slurs and pervasive profanity.

Running time: 109 minutes

Studio: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

DVD Extras: Commentary by director David Ayer.

To see a trailer for Street Kings, visit:

Quid Pro Quo DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Psychological Thriller Coming to DVD Explores a Bizarre Erotic Compulsion

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

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

To see a trailer of Quid Pro Quo, visit:

Tropic Thunder

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Controversial Action Comedy Is Ben Stiller’s Brainchild

You know you’re asking for trouble when you make a movie with a white actor in blackface wearing a lower lip extension who’s always talking jive jibberish, and with a mentally-challenged character who’s repeatedly teased about his disability. After all, in these more-enlightened times, it’s not exactly politically-correct to refer to a dimwitted boy as “the dumbest [expletive] that ever lived” or to have a modern-day minstrel mimicking African-American street vernacular.
Consequently, it’s no surprise that all the advance buzz for Tropic Thunder, written and directed by Ben Stiller, has focused on picket lines and boycotts, instead of on the basic question of whether or not the film is otherwise worthwhile. Regrettably, the teen demographic which finds such crass fare so irresistible probably could care less about the picture’s mean-spiritedness provided it keeps them in stitches. Therefore, at the end of the weekend, Tropic Thunder’s take at the box-office is likely to depend more on the degree to which kids enjoy its irreverent brand of humor than on if its redeeming qualities outweigh any insensitivity in its depiction of minorities.
Superficially, the storyline sounds innocuous enough. It revolves around a Vietnam War buddy flick being shot on location. Early on, we learn that each of the film’s five co-stars has his own selfish reason for participating in the project. Tugg Speedman (Stiller) is trying to rebound from a poorly-received outing as the intellectually-stunted Simple Jack. Heroin-addicted Jeff Portnoy (Jack Black) wants to overhaul his image after a kiddie hit filled with fat and fart jokes.
Australian Oscar-winner Kirk (Robert Downey, Jr.) likes the challenge of playing an African-American, while Alpa Chino (Brandon T. Jackson) is a hot hip-hop artist out to parlay his musical success into a screen career. Finally, there’s Kevin Sandusky (Jay Baruchel), a virtual unknown who’s just happy to get his big break in a summer blockbuster.
However, disaster strikes soon after their arrival in Southeast Asia, when the director (Steve Coogan) is blown to bits by a land mine. It turns out that they’ve been mistaken as enemy invaders by bloodthirsty guerillas running a drug-smuggling operation. So suddenly, these clueless, pampered Hollywood actors suddenly have to fend for themselves in the jungle.
This, of course, proves to be easier said than done and, more importantly, provides plenty of fodder for a surprisingly clever satire of the war movie genre. For the aforementioned actor archetypes replace such classic army flick staples as the sage sergeant, the gung-ho grizzled veteran, the nerdy medic and the frightened raw recruit.
Yes, Tropic Thunder is an intelligent and frequently funny film with some profound points to make about the shallowness of the movie industry. Unfortunately, those relatively-subtle insights are destined to be lost on audiences too busy laughing at all the slapstick and cruel humor coming at the expense of minorities to bother appreciate any deeper message.
Next time, maybe Ben Stiller won’t feel a need to pander to the lowest common denominator by resorting to a profusion of profanity and the “R” and “N” words.

Very Good (3 stars)
Rated R for violence, drug use, sexual references, ethnic slurs, coarse humor and pervasive profanity.
Running time: 107 minutes
Studio: Paramount Pictures

To see a trailer of Tropic Thunder, visit:

Wednesday, August 13, 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 22, 2008


Death Race (R for profanity and graphic violence) High-adrenaline, sci-fi thriller, set in 2020, revolving around a NASCAR champion (Jason Statham) imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit who is forced by the warden (Joan Allen) to drive a monster car equipped with machine guns and flamethrowers through a gauntlet of bloodthirsty inmates in a grisly, nationally-televised game of kill or be killed. Cast includes Tyrese, Ian McShane and Natalie Martinez.

Hamlet 2 (R for profanity, nudity, sexual references and drug content) Over-the-top comedy, set in Tucson, about the efforts of a failed actor-turned-drama teacher (Steve Coogan) to stage a politically-incorrect sequel to Hamlet over the objection of the high school’s administration. Cast includes Catherine Keener, Melonie Diaz, Elisabeth Shue, David Arquette and SNL’s Amy Poehler.

The House Bunny (PG-13 for profanity, partial nudity and sex-related humor) titillating teensploitation flick about a Playboy bunny (Anna Faris) kicked out of the mansion by Hef on her 27th birthday for being too old who takes a job as a sorority housemother before proceeding to makeover some of the homeliest coeds on campus.

The Longshots (Unrated) Overcoming-the-odds sports saga chronicles the real-life tale of a pigtailed, 11 year-old tomboy (Keke Palmer) who, with the help of her uncle (Ice Cube), became the first girl in league history to play Pop Warner football. Cast includes Tasha Smith, David Banner and Earthquake.

The Rocker (PG-13for nudity, profanity, drug use and sexual references) Rainn Wilson stars in this musical comedy about a drummer booted out of a big-hair band back in the Eighties who makes the most of a second chance to indulge his rock & roll fantasies 20 years later when he joins his nephew’s (Josh Gad) group to play at a high school prom. Ensemble cast includes Christina Applegate, Jeff Garlin, Jane Krakowski, Howard Hesseman, Will Arnett, Fred Armisen and fifth Beatle Pete Best.


Dare Not Walk Alone (Unrated) Desegregation documentary revisits St. Augustine, Florida in 1964 during the height of the Civil Rights Movement, a time when the city was forced to face the dehumanizing effects of racial discrimination.

I.O.U.S.A. (PG for mature themes) Devalued-dollar documentary explores America’s burgeoning financial crisis and how its ever-escalating national debt is threatening to bankrupt the country.

Momma’s Man (Unrated) Dysfunctional family drama about a jaded, thirty-something businessman (Matt Boren) who abandons his wife (Dana Varon) and newborn in L.A. to move back in with his parents (Ken and Flo Jacobs) in NYC where he nostalgically attempts to recreate the magic of his childhood.

Richard Serra: Thinking on Your Feet (Unrated) Art for art’s sake documentary chronicles sculptor Richard Serra’s creation of “The Matter of Time,” a mammoth steel piece commissioned by the Guggenheim for $20 million. Includes interviews with composer Philip Glass and other colleagues.

The Sensation of Sight (R for profanity) David Strathairn stars in this mid-life crisis drama about an English teacher who tries another line of work as an encyclopedia door-to-door salesman in the wake of a personal tragedy that’s left him plunged in the depths of despair. With Ann Cusack, Scott Wilson and Jane Adams.

Trouble the Water (Unrated) Hurricane Katrina documentary retraces the efforts of a young couple, Tia Lessin and Carl Deal, to survive on their own in New Orleans during the absence of any relief effort in the wake of the disaster.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

A Girl Cut in Two (FRENCH)

(La Fillee Coupee en Deux)
Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Weathergirl Forecasts Stormy Love Triangle in Romance Drama from Claude Chabrol

Gabrielle (Ludivine Sagnier) is a television weathergirl in France whose star is rapidly rising. Afterall, the popular blonde-of-the-moment has just landed a plum position as host of her own talk show called “Icing on the Cake.”
Unfortunately, her career takes a backseat to her love life soon after she crosses paths with the dashing Charles Saint-Denis (Francois Berleand), a famous novelist she meets when he comes to the station as a guest to plug his latest best seller. What she doesn’t know is that although he’s been married for over 25 years, his long-suffering wife (Valeria Cavalli) has learned to put up with her philandering husband’s flagrant womanizing.
Consequently, Gabrielle allows herself to fall under the aging playboy’s spell, unaware that she means no more to him than another notch on his belt. And after a whirlwind romance during which she’s wined and dined, the naïve newscaster is ill-prepared to be seduced and abandoned. So, she’s shocked to find herself soon dumped summarily by the cruel player, who is heartless enough to change the locks on the pied-a-terre to which he’d given her a key.
Fortunately, Gabrielle has an ardent admirer (Benoit Magimel) waiting in the wings in Paul Gaudens, and he just happens to be not only much younger than Charles but also the filthy rich heir to an industrial fortune. Strategizing, the jilted jet-setter starts entertaining the advances of Mr. Moneybags just to make her ex jealous, and when that doesn’t work she escalates matters by accepting his marriage proposal.
The way Gabrielle figures it, she’ll still be able to sleep with her true love, Charles, and now they will both be cheating. What she forgot to factor in was the possibility that Paul’s finding out might lead to a crime of passion.
So, unfolds A Girl Cut in Two, the latest offering from the legendary
Claude Chabrol, a master talespinner who hasn’t lost anything off his fastball at the age of 78. This intriguing character study relies on the trademarks of the French romance genre, namely, dialogue, coupling, smoking, uncoupling followed by more of the same.
An ill-fated love triangle with an alarming twist leading to a sobering message for shameless gold-diggers and suave Casanovas alike.

Excellent (3.5 stars)
In French with subtitles.
Running time: 115 minutes
Studio: IFC Films

To see a trailer of A Girl Cut in Two, visit:

Be a Father to Your Child: Real Talk from Black Men on Family, Love and Fatherhood

by April R. Silver
Soft Skull Press
Paperback, $17.95
218 pages, Illustrated
ISBN: 978-1-59376-192-9

Book Review by Kam Williams

“I will be completely candid here and say that I have carried around a great deal of resentment toward older Black men since my father disowned me when I was eight years-old. Indeed, I have had little tolerance, little respect, and very little interest in what most of them have to say for themselves.
It is the worst form of cowardice to bring a child into the world and then abandon that child either because you cannot cope or because you and the child’s mother are not able to get along. How many Black boys and Black girls have had their emotional beings decimated by that father void?
How does one break the vicious cycle, begun on the plantations, of Black man as stud? [And] what of slavery… which lingers still in the collective bosom of Black men in America? So how could I really be mad at my father… that no-good do-for-nothing, as my mother often referred to him?
I may never see the man again in my lifetime, don’t care to, really, but I know… he is wounded… like older Black men and like a lot of younger Black men in a state of arrested development.”
Excerpted from “What Is a Man?” by Kevin Powell (pages 34-35)

How does the Hip-Hop Generation view fatherhood? Depending on whose statistics you believe, anywhere from 70 to 85% of black kids are now being raised by single-moms. This suggests that African-American males raised during the heyday of misogynistic gangsta rap might be unwilling to shoulder their fair share of the burden when it comes to parenting.
But before you jump to conclusions, you might want to read Be a Father to Your Child: Real Talk from Black Men on Family, Love and Fatherhood. Edited by April Silver, the book is a collection of empowering essays by black men born between 1965 and 1989 who have not abandoned their children.
Each contributor shares his unique perspective, some of which you are bound to find a little surprising. For instance, Bakari Kitwana, author of such seminal cultural touchstones as The Hip-Hop Generation and Why White Kids Like Hip-Hop, readily admits to being “old-fashioned” and that the bulk of the music he writes about is off-limits for his own eight year-old son.
Then there’s hip-hop artist Talib Kweli, a father of two, who says, “Education is the key of a wonderful life.” He also acknowledges that rap has served as a surrogate father, filling in for absentee dads. But he warns that the music only “teaches you how to appear like a man.” Also among the two-dozen young sages weighing-in are professors William Jelani Cobb, James Peterson and Alford A. Young, Jr., filmmakers Aaron Lloyd and Byron Hunt, DJ Davey D, rapper Rhymfest and playwright Shaun Neblett.
Be a Father to Your Child amounts to a heartening mix of poetry, prose and pictures which combine to reassure skeptics about the prospects for the black family, the daily dire predictions of the mainstream media notwithstanding. For if these dedicated brothers were able to overcome the odds and avoid the self-destructive paths glorified in the materialistic, violent and misanthropic music videos on which they were weaned during their formative years, there is indeed plenty of promise for this and future generations of African-American dads.

Monday, August 11, 2008

One Bad Cat: The Reverend Albert Wagner Story

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Documentary Chronicles Born-again African-American’s Salvation via Sermonizing and Painting

Albert Wagner (1924-2006) freely acknowledges that he frittered away his first half-century on Earth chasing skirts to the point that his wanton ways left him on the brink of ruin. A slave to wine and women, he fathered 20 children between his wife and his mistresses.
He would bottom out while spending time behind bars when he was accused of sexually molesting one of his own kids. He admitted committing the act of incest, and considered himself lucky not to have received a stiff sentence of five years instead of just five days.
Blaming his profligate behavior not only on lust, but on a combination of racism and narcissism, Albert turned a new leaf after God spoke to him through a piece of wood on his 50th birthday. From that point forward, the shameless sinner reformed, dedicating his life to Jesus and seeking salvation by creating Christian-themed paintings and by preaching as an ordained minister.
Having spawned such a large extended family, Reverend Wagner discovered that he had a ready-made congregation in his own relatives. Meanwhile, he also met with success as a prolific, self-taught folk artist, first in his hometown of Cleveland, and then all across the country, as word of his colorful masterpieces started to spread.
The arc of Albert’s life from heathen to hero is chronicled by One Bad Cat, a compelling documentary narrated by stentorian-throated Delroy Lindo. The biopic was shot mostly on location at the subject’s home/studio shortly before the ailing octogenarian’s death, although director Thomas Miller also mixes in some interesting archival footage.
The charismatic Wagner proves to be as controversial a figure as you’re going to encounter onscreen, as he somehow comes off as simultaneously likable and despicable. Yes, he strikes you as sincerely Born Again, but this belated conversion came only long after his having apparently wreaked enough havoc to leave lots of females’ fragile psyches emotionally-shredded.
Yep, this was definitely one bad mother (shut your mouth!) who could have written a Bible for today’s ghetto gangstas on how to be a player.

Excellent (4 stars)
Running time: 81 minutes
Studio: Tesseract Films
Distributor: IFC Center

To see a trailer of One Bad Cat, visit:

Brandon T. Jackson: The Tropic Thunder Interview

with Kam Williams

Headline: Brandon on Breakout Role in Tropic Thunder

Brandon T Jackson was born in Detroit on March 7, 1984 to preachers Bishop Wayne T. and Dr. Beverly Y. Jackson. One of seven siblings, he credits his father for his sense of humor, and says some additional inspiration comes from such icons as Sinbad, Martin Lawrence, Will Smith and Chris Tucker.
Ever the class clown, Brandon’s passion for comedy led to his doing talent shows and going onstage during youth nights at his family’s church. By age 14, his career as a stand‑up comic had already evolved from local school shows to community projects such as the Motor City Youth Festival.
After graduating from West Bloomfield High School, he headed to Hollywood to take a shot at showbiz as a standup comedian. Not long thereafter, he was discovered while performing at the Laugh Factory.
As his stature gradually grew, Jackson received offers to open for such stars as Chris Tucker and Wayne Brady. And he subsequently appeared on “Showtime at the Apollo” and BET’s “Comic View.” Critical acclaim eventually led to film roles in Ali, 8 Mile and Envy, as well as being cast as Bow Wow’s best friend, Junior, in “Roll Bounce.”
Recently, he launched the “Teens of Comedy Tour” presented by BET which featured Lil JJ’ and some of the nation’s funniest teenage comedians. He also hosted the “Up Close and Personal Tour” headlined by Chris Brown, Ne-Yo, Lil Wayne, Juelz Santana and Dem Franchize Boyz, and he can currently be seen as a cast member on MTV’s “Wild ‘N Out.”
Communicating with and motivating youth is a mission etched in Brandon’s heart, so when not working he spends his time reaching back to help kids take their lives to the next level. Here, the 24 year-old role model talks about his latest picture, Tropic Thunder, an action comedy co-starring Ben Stiller, Jack Black and Robert Downey, Jr.

KW: Hi Brandon, thanks for the time.
BJ: Whazzup?
KW: Congratulations on Tropic Thunder!
BJ: Thank you, man.
KW: What interested you in this role?
BJ: You know what? I read the script and it was really funny. So, I decided to go audition for it. And after auditioning for the role about a dozen times, Ben [director Ben Stiller] finally said, “You’re the one for the part.”
KW: That’s a lot of call backs.
BJ: Yeah, it was a lot of work.
KW: How was it being directed by Ben after that?
BJ: When we got on the set, all this magic just started happening from there. It was great, man, because he’s so intense, and he knows how to get what he needs out of you. As an African-American comedian, I was used to playing more to the punch line, and he showed me how to stay within the character instead of going for the joke. It was all magic.
KW: So, did you have to stick closely to the script?
BJ: No, I had to stick closely to the character. Any deviations or ad-libs had to be consistent with the character.
KW: You co-starred with Ben and a couple of other big-name actors in Jack Black and Robert Downey, Jr., who was in blackface. How was that/
BJ: It was crazy! Robert would stay in character the whole time. Ben would yell “Cut!” and Robert would say things like, “I’m a go back to the trailer to get some barbecued chicken. You want to come with me Brandon?”
KW: Did you feel like you were making an action film, a comedy, or both?
BJ: Both. Unfortunately, a lot of the action sequences didn’t survive the final edit. I understand that a movie can only be a certain length, but why have us shoot so much stuff just to cut it out. It was very taxing on my body
KW: It’ll all probably be on the DVD. Did you have to adopt a special diet or training regimen for the rigorous role?
BJ: Yeah, I ate plenty of potatoes and fish. I was only 22 at the time, and needed to get bigger to hang with the big dogs. So, I was lifting weights, and working out in Ben’s gym.
KW: How did you do when you appeared on Showtime at the Apollo?
BJ: I killed.
KW: What’s it like trying to be a comedian when you’re the son of two preachers?
BJ: Hard. It’s tough. You have to try to balance both worlds. But it’s a job, and what I do in my personal life and my business life are two different things. It’s like how if you’re a lawyer and have to represent criminals, that doesn’t mean you don’t have certain core values. My personal beliefs are different from what I do for a living. In the final analysis, my job is to bring joy to people’s lives. If they’re laughing, then it’s not a bad thing. That’s how I feel about it. I’m a comedian.
KW: Do you ever feel pressure to work clean because of your folks?
BJ: I did at first when I was kid. Now, it’s a little weird when I perform in front of my father, and he sees me cussin’. I’m not really used to that, but at the same time, this is what I do for a livin’. You know what I mean?
KW: Yep. Everyone calls you Chris Tucker’s protégé. Who would you say are your main influences?
BJ: Will Smith and Chris Tucker.
KW: Are you thinking of doing your own TV sitcom?
BJ: No, I want to stick to film.
KW: Is there any question no reporter has asked you, that you wished someone would?
BJ: That one right there. That’s a good question.
KW: Bookworm Troy Johnson wants to know, what was the last book you read?
BJ: The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene.
KW: That’s the same book Mike Epps said he read last. The Columbus Short question: Are you happy?
BJ: Yeah, I am. It’s a good time in my life right now.
KW: “Realtor to the Stars” Jimmy Bayan’s question: Where in L.A. do you live?
BJ: The Valley.
KW: Are you ever afraid?
BJ: Yeah, I’m afraid of failure.
KW: Do you have website where fans can reach you?
BJ: Yeah, and you can even put my phone number in the article, (323) 622-8110, if anybody wants to talk to me on my fan line.
KW: How do you want to be remembered?
BJ: As one of the greatest comedians who ever walked the Earth.
KW: You’re from Detroit. What do you think of the city’s embattled Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick? Should he step down at this point?
BJ: He has to stop the b.s. now. It’s too much. Come on, dog, you can’t be doing all that. It’s too hot, If he’s going to step up and be a good mayor, then he should stop playing around. We need hope right now. The country has many serious problems which need to be addressed and too many politicians have failed us. Enough! Stop b.s’ing.
KW: Do you consider yourself religious?
BJ: How come only black reporters ask me that? Black and white people have a totally different view of religion. Of course, I believe in God, and I’m definitely a Christian, but at the same time, I’m in this business. So I find the question annoying, because I’d prefer to be able to keep my spirituality to myself.
KW: The only reason I ask is because your parents are preachers.
BJ: I hate to cut you short, but I have to go.
KW: Well, thanks for the time, and good luck with everything.
BJ: Cool man, I apologize. I never do people like this, but I’m really late for this other thing.
KW: No problem, just promise me another interview with your next movie when you’re a big star.
BJ: I will. You got it.

To see a trailer of Tropic Thunder, visit: