Tuesday, September 30, 2008


Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Mississippi Delta Serves as Setting for Monosyllabic Meditation on Gangbanging by Moped

Early on, new developments arrive fast and furiously in this contemplative character study before it gradually settles down into an examination of the difficult to ascertain motivations of James (JimMyron Ross), a very troubled 12 year-old coming-of-age black, poor and criminally-inclined in a rural region of the Mississippi Delta.
At the point of departure, we meet Lawrence (Michael J. Smith, Sr.), a middle-aged black man despondent over news of the death of his identical twin, Darius, by drug overdose. Larry is then caught in the midst of his own suicide attempt by a kindly neighbor (Johnny McPhail) who has no idea he’s distraught enough to shoot himself in the chest.
Also grieving Darius’ demise are his monosyllabic-bordering-on-mute son, James, and his ex, Marlee (Tarra Riggs) a former substance abuser. Larry survives his self-inflicted gunshot wound, and returns form the hospital only to have his nephew darken his doorstep, literally and figuratively. For James’ unique means of mourning involves asking to hear all the gory details about how his daddy died before robbing Uncle Larry at gunpoint.
The felonious-intentioned kid then hops on his moped and uses his ill-gotten gains to kickstart a career dealing drugs. This doesn’t sit well with Marlee, even though she’s been fired from her job as a maid, which means she’s now free to wonder where she went wrong raising a son who doesn’t have a lick of sense or compassion.
As preposterous as this plot probably sounds, Ballast is actually a perverse pleasure to watch because it morphs into this ethereal mood piece with virtually no dialogue. Mostly, we’re treated to the specter of James buzzing about on his motorbike against the stark backdrop of acre after acre of sparse winter farmland. Otherwise, the picture is punctuated by his mom and uncle working out their issues, and bursts of terrifying violence, like when a couple of teenage gangstas run a car off the road to teach a lesson via a drive-by beatdown in a backwoods version of a bloody turf war.
In sum, Ballast is one of those slice-of-life adventures featuring a principal cast of non-professionals whose gritty naivete manage to imbue the production with a palpable sense of super-realism that allows an audience to forget it’s watching actors. That amounts to movie magic in my book, even if it is in service of a Bill Cosby-infuriating display of black on black dysfunction.

Very Good (3 stars)
Running time: 96 minutes
Studio: Alluvial Film Company

To see a trailer for Ballast, visit: http://ballastfilm.com/trailer

Monday, September 29, 2008

Reverend Al Sharpton: The Murder in Black and White Interview

with Kam Williams

Headline: No Interview, No Peace!

Alfred Charles Sharpton, Jr. was born in Brooklyn, NY on October 3, 1954 to Ada and Alfred, Sr., a descendant of slaves owned by the ancestors of segregationist U.S. Senator Strom Thurmond. Called to the ministry at an early age, young Al started preaching at the age of 4, was ordained at 9, and went on tour as a child with gospel singer Mahalia Jackson.

In 1971, he took a job as James Brown’s tour manager, forging an enduring friendship with the “Hardest Working Man in Show Business.” Rev Al took that work ethic with him when he decided to dedicate his life to civil rights activism. A tireless advocate of the poor and underprivileged, he founded the Harlem-based National Action Network, an organization aimed at alleviating social injustice.

Al’s most recent cause, lobbying the Supreme Court on behalf of the Death Row inmate Troy Davis, resulted in an 11th hour stay of execution. Here, he reflects not only on that triumph, but on everything from his voter registration drive to Barack Obama to the Amadou Diallo and Sean Bell cases. Plus, he talks about his new television show, Murder in Black and White, directed by documentary filmmaker Keith Beauchamp, which is set to premiere on Sunday October 5th, with episodes airing on four consecutive evenings at 10 PM EST on TV One Network. (Check local listings)

KW: Hey, Reverend Sharpton, thanks for the time. I’m honored to be speaking with you.

AS: No problem.

KW: Congratulations on the Troy Davis stay of execution.

AS: Thank you.

KW: What will you be working on next?

AS: Well, the National Action Network is working on several things. Following up on the Troy Davis case… I’ve also been doing a national bus tour doing voter registration and voter protection rallies. We did Kansas City, Missouri, three cities in North Carolina, and Philadelphia, a city a day last week. This coming week, I’m doing Charlotte, Cleveland and Prince George County in Maryland. So, we’re all over the country.

KW: You were on the fence about the election for awhile. Have you come out in support of a presidential candidate yet?

AS: Yeah, I’m supporting Senator Obama, but the National Action Network tour is non-partisan. You can’t do voter registration and be partisan. But I’ve personally endorsed Barack Obama,

KW: What did you think of the first presidential debate?

AS: I thought it went well. I thought Senator Obama held his own.

KW: Let’s talk about your new TV show. What interested you in hosting Murder in Black and White?

AS: A lot of people know the story of Emmett Till. A lot of people know about Medgar Evers. But many don’t understand that there were many other lynchings. These were the prices that were paid for folks like me, and Obama, and [New York State Governor] David Patterson, and [Massachusetts Governor] Deval Patrick to do what we do. I think that by bringing these cases to light, it gives people an understanding of the culture of racial violence, as well as the fact that some of these cases are still unsolved. So, it’s a matter of teaching history in a dramatic way, because this is not the kind of documentary series that puts you to sleep. It’s been done very well. It’s not only riveting but it reminds you that we’re just a generation or two away from lynchings, and that some of the perpetrators are still alive and at large.

KW: I was born in 1952 and raised in the North, but my parents subscribed to black papers like the Pittsburgh Courier which covered all the lynchings and mysterious disappearances in the South ignored by the mainstream press. So, I grew up with a sense that there was a different energy and danger for black folks in the South.

AS: Exactly right. And I was born in ’54 and raised in the North, but I would hear horror stories from my mother. I know what it did for me, a generation removed, to now see it in these episodes. I hope it touches the generation behind me and others, so they can understand the gravity of what the Civil Rights Movement and challenging Jim Crow segregation was all about.

KW: What do you think is the best way for the elders of the Civil Rights Movement to come together with members of the Hip-Hop Generation?

AS: I think in many ways, because of the major media, we’re not looking at this correctly. You have the elders of the Civil Rights Generation, the Joe Lowery to Jesse Jackson group. But then you have a group in between those generations, which includes Martin Luther King III, myself and others in their 40s and 50s. Barack is in this generation. Then you have the Hip-Hop Generation. See, I think the white media acts like we went straight from 1960 to 2008. That’s not true. Those in that middle generation that I’m in understand the elders because we were raised by them. And we understand some of the younger people because they’re our little sisters and brothers. The way we come together is on the civil rights and human rights issues. The other thing the media has done wrongly is confuse hip-hop activism, the term you used in the question, with hip-hop entertainers. The leaders of the Hip-Hop Generation in terms of activism are the students who worked with us on the Martin Lee Anderson case in Florida, the Jena Six case in Louisiana, or the Genarlow Wilson case in Georgia. They’re not the hip-hop artists doing shows and talking about how they want to be new leaders when they’re not involved in any activism, any more than The Temptations and The Supremes led the Selma march, or Luther Vandross led the Amadou Diallo march. I think the white media has very cynically tried to act like the leaders of the Hip-Hop Generation are the entertainers, and not credit the student leaders and others who have become activists and are acting with my generation and with the elders.

KW: Do you feel the same way about civil disobedience as a tactic in cases where cops kill innocent black men after the police were found not guilty in both the Amadou Diallo and Sean Bell cases?

AS: First of all, in the case of Amadou Diallo, we did civil disobedience prior to the indictments. That’s how we got the indictments. There was no civil disobedience after the verdict. Yes, it was effective in that case, because we wouldn’t have even gotten any indictments without it. And we used the same tactic with the Abner Louima case, which we won. With Sean Bell, we used civil disobedience afterwards, but the jury is still out on whether the Feds will come in. But you gotta remember, from the Howard Beach case, where people went to jail, to Bensonhurst case, where people went to jail, to Abner Louima to Jena, where we got Mychal Bell out of jail, you have wins and losses. Dr. King lost in Albany, Georgia, but won in Selma. Yeah, we lost Diallo, but look at all the others that we won. Not only is the tactic effective, but these would not be issues had we not performed civil disobedience. Part of activism lies in bringing attention to the issues, so that legislators and others have to respond. For example, we used civil disobedience and marching to dramatize the New Jersey 4 case. Well, that put the first profiling law on the books. Had it not been for our activism, profiling would not be part of American jurisprudence. Out of that came racial profiling legislation, including what Barack did in Illinois. If you remove all the protests, tell me if they’d even be addressing the issue of police brutality and racial profiling. There have been plenty of people martyred, but unfortunately the only ones you can name are the ones there have been movements around. Dr. King in his day never passed legislation. He demonstrated civil disobedience that led Adam Clayton Powell and others in Congress to pass legislation, and Thurgood Marshall making new law in the courts. We are trying to do in our day what King did. I think some people are confused about the process.

KW: What did you think about Jesse Jackson’s off-camera comments about Barack Obama’s Father’s Day speech?

AS: I thought he was wrong and I was very public in my criticism. I went on CNN and Fox. I have a lot of respect for Reverend Jackson, but he was wrong, and I couldn’t justify his comments. I think that what Barack said about black men that day needed to be said. Barack was correct, Bill Cosby’s been correct. I didn’t agree that Barack was talking down to blacks. And you cannot use the N-word, when you’ve been protesting its use. You must be consistent. Reverend Jackson was dead wrong in this case, but that won’t be his legacy.

KW: In 1991, someone tried to assassinate you because of your marching in Bensonhurst. Why did you ask for clemency of the racist who tried to kill you when if his knife had been an inch or so over, you would have died on the spot?

AS: My proposition was that this young man was troubled, and that this young man should be extended the same mercy that I ask for troubled people in my own community. Yeah, he almost killed me. It was the hardest thing in the world for me to ask for clemency for him, but I did it because I was trying to be consistent. It’s always interesting to me, that when people recount my story, especially the white media, they always bring up Tawana Brawley, do they will rarely bring up the fact that I forgave a white man for trying to kill me. And I not only went to court and asked the judge for clemency, but I visited him in jail. That doesn’t fit the mainstream media’s stereotypical picture of an angry black man who doesn’t like white folks.

KW: What’s it like to live your life in the public eye 24/7, and to have constant requests for help in terms of discrimination or oppression?

AS: It becomes burdensome at times, but it’s the life I’ve chosen. It’s what I felt I was called to do, and I do it. I don’t think I could do anything else. When I was younger, I was very close to James Brown, and I tried for a time to be involved with entertainment, but I couldn’t do it. People have to find their passion in life, and social activism is my passion. And I think in this era we need that kind of force which will continue to expose what’s wrong so that legislators will be challenged to change the laws. If you don’t have that, the laws won’t change on their own. Which is why people call us. Sean Bell’s 22 year-old wife to be, Nicole, called us because she felt that we would make the world know what happened. And we did, because that’s what we do. Absent somebody dramatizing a case and making it public, politicians are not going to deal with it.

KW: You mentioned James Brown. When I was a kid, I lived a couple of blocks from him in St. Albans. Did you know him when he had that house on Linden Boulevard?

AS: No, I was a kid then, too. I got to know him after he had already moved back to Augusta, Georgia. I got close to him when his son, Teddy, a student who had joined my national youth movement in New York, was killed in a car accident.

KW: What would you say has been your greatest accomplishment to date?

AS: Being able, in this generation, to build a consistent movement that has been effective at raising public awareness about the remaining inequities in society. No one can deny that we’ve been successful in making racial profiling, police misconduct, and now, education reform, national issues. And without us, it wouldn’t have been that effective. We’ve remained on the cutting edge of making the conversation deal with the issues of inequality that had been taken off the table. If the generation behind us loses a dedication to raising public awareness, you will end up going backwards in terms of racial progress.

KW: What do you think sank the Diallo case?

AS: Once Johnnie Cochran was no longer on the case, it is my belief that the PBA, District Attorney Robert Johnson and others used that period of time as an opening to abuse the law, to come up with a scheme for the change of venue which I feel led to an injustice for the Diallo family and the community. I think that by the time the new attorneys got in place, D.A. Johnson, the PBA and one of the defendants’ attorneys, which was former Judge Burton Roberts, they had already made their deal, and I believe that that is what led to the injustice.

KW: How do you think an Obama presidency might change race relations in America?

AS: I think it could make things better, but again, and you know Senator Obama and I have a good relationship, there will still be those on the outside pushing the envelope. I think it’s unfair to have unrealistic expectations of Obama. As he always says, “I’m going to need you all to raise issues to get my attention,” because it’ll be competing with every other constituency. He can’t look like he’s going to the White House as a crusader for black people. So, there must be an ongoing movement for him to respond to. So, I think he’s the best choice for the country, but he’s by no means a panacea.

KW: You ran for president just four years ago. Were you surprised by Obama’s success at landing the Democratic nomination?

AS: Not at all. My campaign and his were totally different. I ran in the tradition of a Jesse Jackson, to raise issues. He ran to win, in the tradition of an Ed Brooke or a Doug Wilder. We helped change the tone. But you can’t compare our approaches. I think we do different things that hopefully complement each other.

KW: How do you feel about shaking things up, but not necessarily sharing the spotlight in victory?

AS: We do it all the time. Believe me, we fight a lot more cases than people hear about. I’ll give you an example. When I went down to Georgia for the Troy Davis case. I’d spoken about it for a year on my syndicated radio show. They were the ones who asked me to come out stronger on his behalf. Many times, the victims want us to bring the spotlight, because they can’t get any attention. Yet, people say, “Oh, there’s Sharpton out there again,” but that’s the point. Nobody calls you in to hide their issue. The publicity is exactly what they want. The point is, there have been a lot of other victims. The question is, why haven’t we heard about them? And if the National Action Network has created the infrastructure to get the spotlight, then why are you begrudging us that, unless you don’t really want those issues exposed, or unless you’re envious and you want the spotlight yourself. In that case, you should do the work. Believe me, the end of the work is the spotlight.

KW: Did you feel that the Clinton campaign started “racializing” the campaign in January when they tried to pigeonhole Obama as the black candidate?

AS: Absolutely. I think it was very subtle on some levels, and very blatant on others. And I very publicly criticized it at the time.

KW: The Tasha Smith question: Are you ever afraid?

AS: No. When I came terms with death in ‘91, I got passed fear. The only thing I fear now is that we won’t get all the work done before I die. I’m not afraid to die. I’m going to die. Death is certain. Living is uncertain. Once you have a close brush with death, you make up your mind. I could’ve walked away then to build a big church, and still had my place in history. But I believe in what I’m doing, and I’ve come to terms with the fact that it might cost me my life, and I’ve been doing it ever since.

KW: The Columbus Short question: Are you happy?

AS: As happy as I could be!

KW: Bookworm Troy Johnson’s question: What was the last book you read?

AS: In fact, I’m reading a book right now by Jonathan Rieder called The Word of the Lord is upon Me: The Righteous Performance of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I would highly recommend it because the author is very good.

KW: Is there a question no one ever asks you, that you wish someone would?

AS: No, I’ve been asked just about everything I need to be asked.

KW: The music maven Heather Covington question: What’s music are you listening to nowadays?

AS: I listen to Gospel and a lot of R&B. On my iPod there’s a lot of James Brown and Gospel. I love the song “I Never Would Have Made It.”

KW: How long are you going to keep your hairstyle?

AS: As long as I live. That’s part of my personal bond with James Brown. You know James asked me to do that.

KW: Have you ever seen that duet of James Brown with Pavarotti doing It’s a Man’s World? [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VCIyzNISw1Q ]

AS: Yeah, I remember when he did it. It was very moving.

KW: You lost a lot of weight fasting while serving three months in jail for civil disobedience on Vieques, and kept it off.

AS: Yes, and that was another victory. You know, we did close that U.S. Naval base in the end.

KW: How do you feel about Congressman Rangel’s recent legal woes?

AS: Clearly he has some things to correct, but I thought it was overblown. Come on, the kind of attention the press paid to that over what were relatively small amounts of money, you have read a political agenda into it.

KW: How do you want to be remembered?

AS: I want to be remembered as the guy in his generation who helped keep the social justice movement going. I will not sit in the chamber of power, but be the person on the outside challenging the system. Somebody has to play that role in every generation, and I want to be remembered as being comfortable playing that role in mine.

KW: Well, thanks again for the time, Reverend Al. No justice, no peace.

AS: Take care, man, Bye-bye.

To see a video of Rev Al Sharpton in action, visit: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TUi6IYDBbZY

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Nights in Rodanthe

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Richard Gere and Diane Lane Co-Star in Adaptation of Best-Selling Romance Novel

Besides J.K. Rowling, Nicholas Sparks is the only contemporary novelist to have a book remain on the New York Times best seller lists for longer than a year. While Ms. Rowling has been publishing her phenomenally-successful series of fanciful Harry Potter children’s tales, Sparks made his fortune by cranking out over a dozen romantic tearjerkers, set mostly in the South, each punctuated with rabbit-out-of-the-hat plot twists designed to tug on his readers’ heartstrings.
Three of his works have previously been turned into movies: Message in a Bottle (1999), A Walk to Remember (2002) and The Notebook (2004). Now, Nights in Rodanthe is the latest of his bittersweet soap operas to be brought to the big screen. Fans familiar with the source material, however, are likely to be surprised at how the original storyline has been tweaked by scriptwriter Ann Peacock (Kit Kittredge).
Directed by George C. Wollfe (Lackawanna Blues), the film reunites Richard Gere and Diane Lane who first appeared opposite each other in The Cotton Club (1984), and then again in Unfaithful (2002). Other than crow’s feet caught on close-ups during their steamy clinches, it doesn’t look time has aged either of these matinee idols much, or diminished their ability to generate chemistry.
At the point of departure, we’re introduced to Adrienne Willis (Lane), a married woman in the midst of a meltdown. We learn that just in the past few months, her father has died, her husband (Christopher Meloni) has dumped her and changed his mind, and her spoiled-rotten teenager (Mae Whitman) has become impossible to live with.
Luckily, Adrienne’s best friend, Jean (Viola Davis), owns a bed and breakfast on Hatteras Island located right, I mean, right on the ocean along North Carolina’s Outer Banks. Needing to go to Florida on business, Jean offers Adrienne the comfy place for a little rest and relaxation on the condition that she also serve as caretaker to the only guest she’s expecting, a surgeon arriving from Raleigh for a four-night stay.
Turns out, Dr. Paul Flanner (Gere) has his own emotional baggage, being inconsolable ever since a patient (Linda Molloy) accidentally died on the operating table. He also has some issues to work out with a 28 year-old son (James Franco) he hasn’t spoken to in a year.
What happens when two troubled souls in search of a little solitude find a soul mate instead of isolation? This is Paul and Adrienne’s predicament as they conveniently fall in love at first sight at the idyllic retreat and start whispering sweet nothings in each other’s ears while sharing the proverbial candlelit meals and long walks along the shore. All this unfolds during the off-season, so there shouldn’t be any annoying disturbances on the deserted isle spoiling their heavenly hideaway, provided the approaching hurricane and the disgruntled family of Dr. Feelgood’s deceased patient decide to cooperate.
Visually-enchanting, Nights in Rodanthe is ultimately more memorable for its cinematography than for the myriad relationship dramas hastily introduced and unconvincingly resolved over the course of one very eventful weekend.
That’s the trouble with trying to condense a 250-page novel into a 90-minute movie. You tend to sacrifice character development in order to cram in all the plot points.
Another sappy soap opera for Nicholas Sparks fans satisfied by panoramic seascapes offset intermittently by lingering interludes of dysfunctional strangers locking lips and loins.

Good (2 stars)
Rated PG-13 for sensuality, partial nudity and mild epithets.
Running time: 96 minutes
Studio: Warner Brothers

To see a trailer for Nights in Rodanthe, visit: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7n1QNRDOkn0

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Miracle at St. Anna

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Bravery of Buffalo Soldiers Belatedly Acknowledged by Spike Lee’s WWII Saga

During World War II, the United States Armed Forces were still segregated, and the government directed embedded cameramen not to film or photograph any black soldiers on the front lines. Consequently, African-American GIs were invisible not only in official news footage, but later when it came time to write the history books and to shoot Hollywood movies.
As a Baby Boomer, I distinctly remember being virtually raised on sentimental, patriotic war flicks which invariably suggested that all of the country’s heroes had been white, misleading accounts which stood in sharp contrast to the stories simultaneously being shared with me by my father, my uncles and other honorably-discharged veterans. Regrettably, this slight against them was never corrected during most of their lifetimes.
Even relatively-recent World War II cinematic adventures, such as Clint Eastwood’s Flags of Our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima, have continued to overlook the bravery of the so-called Buffalo Soldiers. This makes Spike Lee’s Miracle at St. Anna an important contribution simply by virtue of its being brought to the big screen at all, for it pays tribute to the service, albeit belatedly, of the long-neglected black members of “America's Greatest Generation.”
The movie was adapted by James McBride from his fact-based best-seller of the same name, a 300+ page-turner chronicling the exploits of the all-black 92nd Division stationed in Italy in 1944. This character-driven tale specifically telescopes on the plight of a quartet of enlisted men separated from their decimated unit and forced to survive by their wits in a tiny Tuscan village located behind enemy lines.
Each of the four protagonists represents a readily-recognizable archetype, starting with Aubrey Stamps (Derek Luke), the prototypical no-nonsense Staff Sergeant and highest ranking officer. Then there’s the preacher-turned-playboy Bishop Cummings (Michael Ealy), gentle giant Sam Train (Omar Benson Miller) and Puerto Rican Hector Negron (Laz Alonso), a Corporal who adds a little Latin flava’.
The movie opens and closes in New York City in 1983, courtesy of a wraparound featuring sixty-something Negron going postal just three months before his planned retirement. Was there perhaps a valid reason for his seemingly inexplicable violent outburst? The bulk of the balance of the picture is devoted to an extended wartime flashback wherein the answer ostensibly lies.
While only indirectly addressing the solution to that mystery, the multi-layered plot instead concerns itself with threading in an array of complicated sidebars. One involves Private Train’s adopting a boy (Matteo Sciabordi) orphaned by a Nazi massacre. Another pits gentlemanly Sgt. Stamps against the womanizing Bishop in a love/lust triangle for the affections of the most attractive lass (Valentina Cervi) in town. The third strand raises the question of the trustworthiness of the leader (Pierfrancesco Favino) of the local cell of the anti-Fascist resistance.
Nonetheless, the power of Miracle at St. Anna repeatedly derives from its plausibly portraying the Second World War from the heretofore unseen perspective of African-American soldiers, whether they’re shown secretly spitting into the canteen of a racist white superior, wondering why they’re risking their lives for a country where they can’t even vote, or reflecting on actually feeling more free in a foreign land than they ever have at home. An overdue history lesson about the indelible stain left by Jim Crow on the conflicted minds of black men forced to wage a white man’s war when they’d really prefer to be fighting for their own civil rights.

Excellent (3.5 stars)
R for graphic war violence, profanity, ethnic slurs, nudity and sexual content.
Running time: 160 minutes
Studio: Touchstone Pictures

To see a trailer for Miracle at St. Anna, visit:

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Forgetting Sarah Marshall DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Latest Apatow Teensploit Arrives on DVD

Judd Apatow has the Midas touch in terms of teensploitation flicks. A year ago, he had a hand in Knocked Up and Superbad, a couple of crowd pleasers which made over a quarter billion dollars at the box-office alone. With Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Apatow ups the ante in terms of shock value by appealing to perhaps the lowest common denominator, starting with an opening scene featuring gratuitous shots of male genitalia.
Unfortunately, the film isn’t as funny as either of the aforementioned adventures. The problem starts with the ill-advised decision to cast first-time screenwriter Jason Segel as the leading man in a flick based on his own script.
The charisma-free protagonist plays Peter, a struggling composer with dreams of finding fame and fortune by writing a puppet rock opera version of Dracula.
At least Peter’s love life offsets his dim career prospects. For the past five years, he’s been in a monogamous relationship, or so he thinks, with Sarah (Kristen Bell), the glamorous star of a hit television series called Crime Scene. Just past the point of departure, she dumps Peter, vigorously denying that there’s anyone new. Half-truth-be-told, she’s already two-timing him with Aldous Snow (Russell Brand), the full of himself front man for a famous British rock band.
Disconsolate, Peter decides to take a vacation in Hawaii to get over his ex, only to discover that she’s staying at the same resort with her golden-tanned hunk. Luckily, the hotel’s gorgeous receptionist, Rachel (Mila Kunis), takes an instant interest in Peter, so it’s obvious that it’s just a matter of time before he wises up and reciprocates.
Too bad the picture’s plot is so transparent and that Jason Segel doesn’t quite have the charm called upon to make self-effacing Peter endearing.

Very Good (2.5 stars)
Running time: 118 minutes
Studio: Universal Studios Home Entertainment
3-Disc DVD Extras: Digital bonus copy of the film, deleted, extended and alternate scenes, gag reel, trailer, extended feature with commentary, rated version of the film with commentary, video chat, music video, and several additional featurettes.

To see a trailer for Forgetting Sarah Marshall, visit: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D9podUETps8

Iron Man DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: DVD Features Downey as “Marvel”-ous Superhero

When first introduced by Marvel Comics in April of 1963, Iron Man is a crime-fighting superhero whose alter ego, wealthy industrialist/ inventor Tony Stark, was ostensibly inspired by eccentric millionaire playboy Howard Hughes.
This live-action adventure features Robert Downey, Jr. in an endearing performance which humanizes the character to a degree rarely seen in comic book adaptations
The film unfolds very much like the first installment of a franchise, acquainting us with the protagonist’s background rather than rushing headlong into elaborate fight sequences. It is established at the outset that Stark, the CEO of Stark Industries, is a filthy rich, womanizing genius.
The plot only thickens when he ventures to Afghanistan to demonstrate his latest invention, the Jericho Missile, for the benefit of the U.S. military brass. En route, the Humvee in which he’s riding is hit by a roadside bomb, and he ends up in the hands of terrorists who want him to put his brain to work on their behalf to build the next generation missile.
What the insurgents don’t know is that Stark’s more worried about the life-threatening shrapnel permanently imbedded in his chest. So, while pretending to help them, he secretly builds himself a suit of armor containing a mammoth electromagnet. This outfit enables him to morph into Iron Man, escape, and return to the States where he makes the shocking announcement that Stark Industries will be shutting down its munitions manufacturing division.
This decision strains his relationships with his right hand-man, Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges), and with Lieutenant Jim Rhodes (Terrence Howard) from the Department of Defense. But Stark remains determined to change his company’s fundamental philosophy, even if that means he must reluctantly don that Iron Man suit again to kill in the name of peace.
A ‘Marvel’-ously cerebral superhero with a functioning conscience.

Excellent (4 stars)
Rated PG-13 for intense sci-fi violence and brief suggestive content.
Running time: 125 minutes
Studio: Paramount Home Entertainment
2-Disc DVD Extras: Deleted and extended scenes, 7-part “The Making of” documentary, 6-part history of Iron Man, Robert Downey, Jr. screen test, still galleries, and additional featurettes.

To see a trailer for Iron Man, visit: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vhgzIM-9lfA

Boogie Man: The Lee Atwater Story

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Late Republican Hatchet Man Remembered in Damning Documentary

Harvey Leroy ‘Lee’ Atwater (1951-1991) was barely out of his teens when he burst on the political scene in South Carolina in the early Seventies. Back then, the guitar-playing wunderkind loved the blues almost as much as he did serving as a consultant to conservatives during election campaigns.
A protégé of Strom Thurmond, he learned the tricks of the trade at the feet of an inveterate racist who once swore that blood would run in the streets of his state before it would allow integration. Thurmond, in fact, was such a hypocrite that he remained a bigot even after fathering a child with the 15 year-old daughter of one of his servants.
As for Atwater, he wasn’t any better, playing the blues with black musicians evenings after having devoted his days to denying African-Americans equal rights. And while he might have repented on his death bed just before succumbing to brain cancer, that 11th-hour confession did little to undo the damage he had inflicted on minorities as the architect of the Reagan revolution who also engineered the ensuing victory which ushered in George H.W. Bush.
For Atwater was a scoundrel who believed that anything goes in politics, so he felt it was okay to lie, cheat, make up fake opinion polls and generally tell the people what they wanted to hear and in order to prevail. He is probably best known for having masterminded the infamous Willie Horton ad which turned the tide in the 1988 presidential race in favor of Bush over Michael Dukakis.
Atwater’s reward for having erased a 17-point deficit en route to the White House was his being named Chairman of the entire Republican National Committee. In that capacity, he was then able to implement his philosophy throughout the Party across the country.
Understanding the power of the visual image, Lee fervently believed that “perception is reality,” so he was not above manipulating folks to vote against their own interests by serving them a pack of lies. Rationalizing that all that mattered was power, he single-handedly transformed U.S. politics into a series of tabloid moments.
His reign came to an abrupt end upon his dire diagnosis in 1990, but the Republicans were lucky that Atwater had mentored Karl Rove in all of his Machiavellian tactics. In the end, Atwater found religion and repented, going out of his way to apologize to every individual whose reputation he’d smeared, including Willie Horton.
Before he passed away, he released this statement as proof that he had undergone a spiritual catharsis: “My illness helped me to see that what was missing in society is what was missing in me: a little heart, a lot of brotherhood. The '80s were about acquiring — acquiring wealth, power, prestige. I know. I acquired more wealth, power, and prestige than most. But you can acquire all you want and still feel empty. What power wouldn't I trade for a little more time with my family? What price wouldn't I pay for an evening with friends? It took a deadly illness to put me eye to eye with that truth, but it is a truth that the country, caught up in its ruthless ambitions and moral decay, can learn on my dime. I don't know who will lead us through the '90s, but they must be made to speak to this spiritual vacuum at the heart of American society, this tumor of the soul.”
Too bad none of that message ever resonated with Rove. A fascinating, warts-and-all documentary about one of the most notorious and influential figures in 20th Century politics.

Excellent (4 stars)
Running time: 86 minutes
Studio: InterPositive Media

To see a trailer of Boogie Man, visit: http://www.boogiemanfilm.com/

Wednesday, September 24, 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 October 3, 2008


Beverly Hills Chihuahua (PG for mature themes) Animated family comedy from Walt Disney about a pampered pet (Drew Barrymore) on vacation in Mexico City who finds herself separated from her owner and having to rely on the help of a street-smart German Shepherd (Andy Garcia) and an amorous pup in heat (George Lopez) to find her way back to California.

Blindness (R for sexuality, nudity, violence, profanity and rape) Harrowing thriller about the effort of a still-sighted woman (Julianne Moore) to help her husband (Mark Ruffalo) and six others to survive in the wake of an epidemic of blindness which has suddenly plagued their city. With Danny Glover, Alice Braga, Don McKellar, Sandra Oh and Gael Garcia Bernal. (In English and Japanese with subtitles)

Flash of Genius (PG-13 for brief profanity) Docudrama based on the real-life dilemma of engineering professor Robert Kearns (Gerg Kinnear) who had to sue the auto industry back in the Sixties for recognition of his invention of the intermittent windshield wiper. Cast includes Alan Alda and Lauren Graham.

How to Lose Friends and Alienate People (R for profanity, graphic nudity and brief drug use) Intercontinental comedy, based on Toby Young’s memoir of the same name, about an intellectual British journalist (Simon Pegg) who takes a job at a NYC tabloid magazine catering to the same sort of superficial celebrities he absolutely despises. With Megan Fox, Kirsten Dunst, Gillian Anderson and Jeff Bridges.

Nick and Nora’s Infinite Playlist (PG-13 for mature themes, sexuality, teen drinking, profanity and crude behavior) Romantic comedy about a high school senior (Michael Cera) who asks a college-bound coed (Kat Jennings) to be his girlfriend for five minutes in order to make his ex (Alexis Dziena) jealous. Cast includes Jay Baruchel, Frankie Faison, Kevin Corrigan, Aaron Yoo, Rafi Gavron and John “Harold” Cho.


Allah Made Me Funny (Unrated) Concert comedy flick follows a trio of touring standup comedians (Mohammed Amer, Preacher Ross and Azhar Usman) as they explore the humorous side of being Muslim in America post 9/11.

An American Carol (PG-13 for profanity, drug use, irreverent humor and crude content) Michael Moore is lampooned in this variation of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol revolving around an unpatriotic filmmaker (Kevin P. Farley) determined to abolish the Fourth of July until he’s visited by three ghosts who teach him the true meaning of America.

Ballast (Unrated) Dysfunctional family drama, set in the Mississippi Delta, about the emotional fallout visited upon an impoverished black widow (Tarra Riggs) and her troubled 12 year-old son (JimMyron Ross) in the wake of the boy’s twin brother’s death by drug overdose. With Michael J. Smith, Sr., Ventress Bonner and Johnny McPhail.

Nobel Son (R for profanity, sexuality, violence and gruesome images) Dysfunctional family comedy about a Ph.D. student (Bryan Greenberg) who finds himself kidnapped for ransom after his philandering father (Alan Rickman) wins the Nobel Prize for Chemistry. Ensemble includes Mary Steenburgen, Danny DeVito, Eliza Dushku, Ted Danson, Ernie Hudson, Shawn Hatosy and Bill Pullman.

The Pleasure of Being Robbed (Unrated) Micro-budget crime comedy about a young pickpocket (Eleonore Hendricks) who plies her trade on the streets of New York City. Offbeat casting includes Batman, The Fly and Lowell the Dog.

Rachel Getting Married (R for profanity and brief sexuality) Anne Hathaway stars in this dysfunctional family drama about a substance abuser who checks out of rehab for the weekend to attend her sister’s (Rosemarie DeWitt) very eventful wedding. With Debra Winger, Bill Irwin and Anna Deavere Smith.

Religulous (R for profanity and sexuality) Anti-dogma documentary starring agnostic Bill Maher who indicts faith in organized religions as beliefs in fairy tales which are to blame for many of the world’s woes. With commentary by Steve Burg, Jose Luis De Jesus Miranda and Andrew Newberg.

Monday, September 22, 2008

The Rape of Europa DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Documentary Now on DVD Details Nazi Plundering of Art during WWII

Besides World War II and the Holocaust, the Nazi legacy includes a systematic looting of Europe’s art treasures as its armies swept across the continent. Ostensibly fueled by a combination of greed and Aryan chauvinism, the 12-year campaign resulted in the deliberate destruction or disappearance of masterpieces by everyone from Rembrandt to Gustav Klimt, and on a scale previously unknown.
According to co-writers/directors Bonni Cohen, Nicole Newnham and Richard Berge, the decision to plunder came from the top, having its roots in Adolph Hitler’s own failures as an art student. Regardless of the source of the Fuhrer’s sick motivations, the upshot is that his orders triggered a mass-scale cultural devastation which curators and collectors are still attempting to undo to this day. For much of the stolen art initially hidden in salt mines and German government storerooms managed to survive the war only to fall into the hands of unscrupulous dealers who sold the pieces on the black market.
The Rape of Europa is a most informative expose’ chronicling the Herculean effort to document exactly just what happened to the art stolen from seven occupied countries during the Third Reich’s reign of terror. Narrated by Joan Allen, the picture is based on Lynn Nicholas’ encyclopedic, 500+ page opus of the same name, an exhaustive account of the ongoing endeavor by experts not only to find and recover lost art items, but to discern their provenance in order to be able to return them to their rightful owners.
A fascinating history lesson about a generally-overshadowed aspect of the Second World War.

Excellent (3.5 stars)
In English, Russian, Polish, French, Italian and German with subtitles.
Running time: 117 minutes
Studio: Menemsha Films

DVD Extras: “Behind the Scenes” featurette.

To see a trailer for The Rape of Europa, visit: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3-9M0TyXbUs

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Ghost Town

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Bittersweet Sitcom Starring Ricky Gervais as a Dentist Who Sees Dead People

What happens to you when you die? Perhaps you remain on Earth a tortured soul unable to rest in peace until you resolve all of your unfinished business. This is the sort of limbo Frank Herlihy (Greg Kinnear) has found himself stuck in for over a year following his untimely demise on the streets of Manhattan.
He and many other disembodied spirits roam around the city invisible to humans but not to each other, utterly frustrated by their inability to communicate with the living. Hope for bridging the gap arrives the day that something goes horribly wrong during Bertram Pincus’ (Ricky Gervais) routine colonoscopy, an anesthesia accident that leaves the dentist dead on the operating table for seven minutes or so.
His surgeon (Kristen Wiig) decides to hide the truth about what happened from him on the advice of the hospital’s attorney (Michael-Leon Wooley). Still, once revived, it doesn’t take the patient long to recognize that something is different, because he can suddenly see ghosts. And this development is not lost on the spirits themselves, either, and they start pestering him to intervene with long-lost loved ones on their behalf.
But to begin with, Bertram is a self-absorbed misanthrope not inclined to do anything for anybody beyond the basic services he and his partner, Dr. Prashar (Aasif Mandvi), provide as part of their bustling dental practice. For instance, when a neighbor burdened with packages asks him to hold the elevator, he deliberately pushes the “CLOSE” button instead of waiting for her to reach the door.
That woman, Gwen (Tea Leoni), happens to be the aforementioned Frank’s widow, and she’s already engaged to remarry an attorney named Richard (Billy Campbell). Frank, who has been lurking around the apartment building hoping to sabotage their impending nuptials, befriends Bertram, and the two soon cut a deal.
Bertram promises to help prevent Gwen from walking down the aisle with a con artist who is supposedly only interested in her money. In return, Frank agrees to keep all the other ghosts annoying Bertram at bay. However, what nobody anticipates is that Bert might develop feelings for Gwen, too, and the novel love quadrangle which ensues is the hub around which Ghost Town revolves.
Directed by David Koepp, this offbeat sitcom might be best thought of as a bittersweet cross of Ghost (1990) and The Sixth Sense (1999), as it combines some of the former’s romantic elements with the latter’s “I see dead people” theme. Moreover, the pleasantly-unpredictable Ghost Town adds a few surprising wrinkles of its own into the macabre mix which make it almost feel like a totally fresh concept.
This Ricky Gervais vehicle is likely to work for you to the extent that you enjoy laughing at the insufferably stuffy Brit cliché he has practically perfected here, a coldhearted cad who ultimately experiences an 11th-hour epiphany right on cue for the flick to deliver a universal message about what really matters in life. I just hope it’s okay if I enjoyed the original Bertram more than his sappy alter ego.

Very Good (3 stars)
Rated PG-13 for sexuality, profanity and drug references.
Running time: 102 minutes
Studio: Dreamworks Pictures

To see a Ghost Town trailer, visit: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XpkN4CbxYYg

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Lakeview Terrace

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Samuel L. Jackson Stars in Disappointing Outing as Racist Cop

This cinematic fiasco rings false from beginning to end, from its patently absurd premise clear through to its unintentionally funny resolution. Unless director Neil LaBute pulled a switcheroo, I’d guess Samuel L. Jackson and Kerry Washington must have known even when they read the script that they had a turkey on their hands, yet they probably decided to sign on the bottom line anyway for one of those take-the-money-and-run paydays.
Get a load of how ridiculous the plot is: Jackson plays Abel “A.T.” Turner, a short-tempered bigot with a very specific prejudice, namely, mixed couples where the man is white and the woman is black. Otherwise, he has plenty of friends of every ethnicity.
Now, on an LAPD cop’s salary, this widower in need of anger management somehow owns a mountaintop home with a view in an upscale section of Los Angeles. At the point of departure, newlyweds Chris (Patrick Wilson) and Lisa Mattson (Washington) buy the house next-door, and wouldn’t you know he’s Caucasian and she’s African-American. Pleasant and attractive, but dumber than dirt, the clueless couple fails to pick up on the fact that A.T. is out to make their lives a living Hell.
Their denseness enables Abel to find meaning in life by secretly torturing them, even though he’s a gainfully-employed, single-dad raising a couple of kids (Regine Nehy and Jaishon Fisher) alone since his wife died three years ago. Nonetheless, the sadist embarks on an ever-escalating reign of terror which includes such Geneva Conventions violations as “accidentally” banging Chris’ hand with a wrench on purpose, training floodlights on his new neighbors’ property, trimming their tress without permission, sabotaging their air conditioner, and hiring a hoodlum (Keith Loneker) to trash their house, to name a few.
But no matter how devious or cruel A.T. gets, the Stepford-like Mattsons merely question themselves rather than suspect that their many misfortunes might be the work of a racist psycho. So, in between Abel’s dastardly deeds, they keep accepting his social invitations, even sometimes apologizing, when they’ve done nothing wrong.
Protagonists this dumb don’t deserve an audience’s sympathy, especially when they recycle lame Rodney King poster-speak like “Can’t we all just get along?” This has the unfortunate effect of turning the movie into a comedy prior to the denouement confessional during which they belatedly wise up.
You don’t have to be a Biblical scholar to figure out what happens to Abel next, although investing your hard-earned cash and a couple of hours in a molasses-paced picture this pathetic is likely to leave you raising Cain.
10 Worst List bad.

Poor (0 stars)
Rated PG-13 for sexuality, profanity, mature themes, violence and drug references
Running time: 110 minutes
Studio: Screen Gems

To see a trailer of Lakeview Terrace, visit:

Friday, September 19, 2008

Run, Fatboy, Run DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Romantic Comedy Pairing Simon Pegg and Thandie Newton Released on DVD

On what was supposed to have been their wedding day, Dennis (Simon Pegg) bolted from the church at the last minute, leaving his pregnant fiancée, Libby (Thandie Newton), standing at the altar. The reluctant groom developed cold feet because he didn’t think he deserved a girl that gorgeous, given that he’s an overweight, chain-smoking slacker.
But now, five years later, he wants a second chance because he’s still in love with her. However, getting her back will be easier said than done, since she’s now involved with Whit (Hank Azaria), a filthy rich American who wants to marry her and whisk her away from London to Chicago. This means Dennis won’t get to see much of their four year-old son, Jake (Matthew Fenton), and there are already signs that the boy has begun to bond with his mom’s fiancée.
So, in his mind, Dennis feels that he has to prove himself Whit’s equal both to win Libby’s heart and the admiration of his child. Trouble is, he can’t begin compete in terms of money or career, since he works for minimum wage at a clothing store.
Then, when he learns that Whit will be running in the upcoming London Marathon, Dennis impulsively announces that he’ll be entering the race as well. Woefully out of shape, he knows he’ll have to adopt a rigorous training regimen just to finish, let alone prevail.
Will Dennis beat Whit in the Nike River Run along the Thames River? And if so, will that feat be enough to impress Libby and little Jake? Those are the questions posed by Run, Fatboy, Run, a hard to pigeonhole romantic comedy which relies mostly on slapstick and sight gags to generate laughs. Dividing its attention equally between the love triangle and overcoming-the-odds theme, Run, Fatboy, Run is well enough crafted to keep you in stitches while on the edge of your seat for the duration, even if this laff-a-minute escape is more mindless than cerebral.

Excellent (3.5 stars)
Rated PG-13 for crude humor, profanity, sexuality, nudity and smoking.
Running time: 100 minutes
Studio: Warner Home Video
DVD Extras: Deleted scenes, Thandie’s goof, and a commentary by the cast and director.

To see a trailer for Run, Fatboy, Run, visit: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gM7dc2Sb_sE

Sex and the City DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Screen Adaptation of HBO Series Arrives on DVD

This bloated blabfest features a few of the most shallow, middle-aged females imaginable, immature material girls commenting about men, money, baubles and designer clothes in a flip and superficial manner. When not celebrating conspicuous consumption and the acquisition of status symbols, the film resorts to the sort of comic relief one would ordinarily associate with a typical raunchy teensploit: fart sound effects, poop and pubic hair jokes, a running-gag about a pet in heat, and the current romantic comedy rage, the gratuitous unveiling of male genitalia.
While this film version of the HBO series failed to measure up to my expectations, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the TV show’s devoted fans are likely to be as disappointed. Afterall, the picture is essentially an extended episode which embroils each of the original cast members in a personal emotional drama.
The primary plotline finds narrator Carrie Bradshaw (Sarah Jessica Parker) and John James Preston, aka Mr. Big (Chris Noth) finally agreeing to marry after having dated off and on for ten years. She then calls gal pal Samantha (Kim Catrall) to share her “big decision,” when the lamebrained bimbo guesses, “You finally got Botox.”
We subsequently learn that sexaholic Samantha, the most promiscuous of the clique, has settled down in L.A. with her neglectful boy-toy, Smith (Jason Lewis), a waiter-turned-Hollywood actor. Her crisis arrives when she finds herself attracted to Dante (Gilles Marini), a tall, dark and handsome hunk next-door with an equally-overactive libido.
It feels like forever by the time this 2½ hour soap opera ties all its assorted loose ends together, especially given that the dialogue is laced with annoying lines like, “It was the best money I ever spent” about buying a Louis Vuitton clutch. An estrogen-fueled salute to the virtues of excess, if that’s your Gucci bag.

Fair (1 star)
Rated R for profanity, sexuality and graphic nudity.
Running time: 185 minutes
Studio: Warner Home Video
2-Disc DVD Extras: A digital version of the film, an extended version of the film, extended commentary, conversations with Sarah Jessica Parker and Michael Patrick King, deleted scenes, Fergie interview and a fashion featurette.

To see a trailer of Sex and the City, visit:

What Black Men Think DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Thought-Provoking DVD Discusses “What Black Men Think”

Harriet Tubman once reflected wistfully, “If I could have convinced more slaves that they were slaves, I could have freed thousands more.“ Director/narrator Janks Morton employs the same sage adage during his introduction to What Black Men Think, his thought-provoking documentary which paints an enlightening and empathetic portrait of African-American males by employing some rather surprising raw statistics to suggest that we all reconsider some commonly-held beliefs about brothers.
Merely relying on data readily available from government agencies, Morton, pointer in hand, uses graphs, charts and a chalkboard to debunk a litany of popular stereotypes like the idea that there are more black men in prison than in college, that most don’t graduate from high school and that most don’t pay child support. Not only does director Morton expose all these widely-disseminated notions as fallacious, but he suggests that, left unchallenged, they have the ability to do an incalculable amount of damage to impressionable young minds.
When not busy busting such misleading myths, he devotes his time to a series of compelling tete-a-tetes with an array of leading public intellectuals like Shelby Steele, Reverend Jesse Lee Peterson, John McWhorter, Juan Williams, Steve Perry, Armstrong Williams and former Lieutenant Governor Michael Steele (R-MD). All it takes is a cursory glance at the above list to notice that most are known for being conservative. So excuse me for bracing myself to hear a lot of that blaming the victim nonsense that tends to come from their lips when they’re guests of right-wing TV talk show hosts.
However, I was pleasantly surprised to find that in this format they have been offered an opportunity to expound fully on their hopes and aspirations for black men, rather than being restricted to addressing only hot-button issues in ten-second sound bites. Consequently, each of these elders has some worthwhile advice to share, here, as they cover timely topics ranging from the AIDS epidemic to the N-word to black-on-black crime to conspicuous consumption to academic underachievement.
In sum, What Black Men Think is highly recommended as an excellent alternative to the mainstream propaganda which would have us internalize the worst beliefs about an unfairly maligned segment of society. Guaranteed to generate quality conversation about the direction of African-Americana.

Excellent (4 stars)
Running time: 87 minutes
Studio: iYAGO Entertainment Group

To see a trailer of What Black Men Think, visit: http://wbmt.wordpress.com/trailers

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Leatherheads DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Clooney‘s Screwball Football Comedy Comes to DVD

It is the height of the Roaring Twenties, the decade which signaled the introduction of professional football in the American heartland. And this is where we meet Jimmy “Dodge” Connelly (George Clooney), the owner/captain/coach of the Duluth Bulldogs.
While most folks fail to see much of a future in a game played on turnip fields by farmers and shell-shocked veterans, Dodge can already envision the fledgling league’s potential as a popular spectator sport.
Plus, the aging star is still a kid at heart, who would rather continue playing indefinitely than make any concessions to Father Time.
But with his Bulldogs enjoying more of a reputation for brawling in speakeasies than for greatness on the gridiron, they find themselves without a sponsor and teetering on the brink of bankruptcy. So, in order to save his team from financial collapse, Connelly comes up with an inspired idea to bolster his flagging franchise’s box-office receipts.
The plan is to offer a record-setting contract to Carter Rutherford (John Krasinski), provided the Princeton University sensation is willing to abandon his plans to attend law school and turn pro. Carter signs up and, the plot thickens when both he and boss fall for Lexie Littleton (Renee Zellweger), attractive reporter.
Written and directed by George Clooney, Leatherheads is an old-fashioned screwball comedy cut from the mold of a Preston Sturges farce. Half slapstick, half romantic romp, the picture is at its best when serving up witty repartee between Clooney and Renee Zellweger.
If only the rest of the script measured up to their inspired exchanges, the movie might have amounted to something more than a momentary diversion. Instead, what we have is a pleasant period piece harking back to days of yore, but one so superficial that it’s likely to be forgotten as soon as it’s over

Good (2 stars)
Rated PG-13 for brief profanity.
Running time: 114 minutes
Studio: Universal Studios Home Entertainment
DVD Extras: Deleted scenes, visual effects sequences, feature commentary by George Clooney and producer Grant Heslov, “The Making of” and a couple of other featurettes.

To see a trailer for Leatherheads, visit: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ik68CWaTx78

Passing Poston DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Japanese Internment during WWII Revisited by DVD

Soon after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the U.S. government ordered the removal of all Japanese citizens and aliens to internment camps. The decree uprooted 120,000 individuals who were summarily shipped them with little more than the clothes on their backs to ten different locations scattered across remote regions around the country.
This picture focuses on what transpired at Camp Poston, Arizona, a dusty desert area surrounded by barbed wire where about 17,000 Japanese had to live in barracks and eat in a mess hall for the duration of World War II. To add insult to injury, they were forced to perform slave labor, building homes, schools, roads and the basic infrastructure for a town they would never be allowed to enjoy themselves.
Furthermore, upon return to the West Coast in 1945, many families found their own homes either trashed or occupied by strangers. Understandably, children who witnessed such mistreatment at the hands of their own country during their formative years might never fully recover from the trauma.
That is the message convincingly conveyed by Passing Poston, a poignant documentary about a shameful chapter in American history. The film relies primarily on the reminiscences of four senior citizens still haunted by the experience 60 years later after the fact: Ruth Okimoto, Leon Uyeda, Kiyo Sato and Mary Higashi.
Who would think that full-fledged citizens, born in the States, could have lost their homes and businesses, never to recover financially or even own another house? Finally, in 1988, the U.S. made a belated gesture acknowledging its exploitation by paying $20,000 apiece in reparations to the 62,000 camp victims still surviving. “For the first time in 46 years, I was proud of America,” one beneficiary wistfully admits.
But no amount of money could really ever compensate her for the utter humiliation.

Excellent (4 stars)
Running time: 105 minutes
Studio: Docurama
DVD Extras: Deleted scenes, theatrical trailer; filmmaker biography and “The Making of” featurette.

To see a trailer for Passing Poston, visit: http://www.passingposton.com/trailer.php

Spike Lee: The Miracle at St. Anna Interview

with Kam Williams

Headline: Miracle of St. Spike

Spike Lee is back with his first full-length feature since Inside Man (2006), the NYC crime caper which netted over $100 million at the box office alone. That picture’s commercial success enabled the Oscar-nominated director to interest Disney in backing Miracle at St. Anna, a big budget WWII saga shot mostly in Europe.

The movie’s script, adapted by James McBride from his own historical novel, is a fact-based adventure revolving around the heroic exploits of four black GIs (Derek Luke, Laz Alonso, Michael Ealy and Omar Benson Miller) who became separated from their unit while fighting behind enemy lines in Italy in 1944. Here, Spike talks not only about his new film, but about the prospect of his beloved Knicks during the upcoming NBA season, and about his feud with Clint Eastwood.

KW: What interested you in making Miracle at St. Anna?

SL: Reading the original source, James McBride’s novel. The man’s a great writer. That’s what drew me to the project.

KW: How was it filming on location in Europe for the first time?

SL: It was a great experience. Practically this whole film was shot in Italy. I’d love to shoot over there again soon, maybe not in Italy, but somewhere else.

KW: What was the most challenging aspect of shooting?

SL: Tuscany is one of the most beautiful places on Earth, and you have to hike that equipment up the mountains and hills to get those shots. But that’s just part of the job. I would love to make another movie there. The light there is wonderful. You can not get that on the back lot in a studio. The small village the soldiers stumble into is 800 years-old. Where we able to shoot at a lot of locations where actual incidents took place, like the massacre. I think it adds something for both the cast and crew when they know they’re standing on the same exact spots as the scenes they’re recreating.

KW: How was it collaborating with James McBride, who also wrote the script?

SL: It was a great working experience, and I think that he would say the same thing. We had disagreements, but we respected each other’s opinion, since we both wanted what was best for the film.

KW: Mr. McBride says Miracle at St. Anna is fiction inspired by real events. Can you tell me some of things in the story that are real?

SL: Well, the 92nd Division, the Buffalo soldiers, they did fight in Tuscany against the Nazis. The massacre in St. Anna di Stazzema on August 12, 1944 where the Nazis’ 16th Division of the SS slaughtered 560 innocent Italian civilians really happened. The statue head, that’s real, too.

KW: Would you say Miracle at St. Anna is more than a war movie?

SL: This film is definitely more than just a war film. Of all the movies I’ve done, this one, by far, has more discussions of religion, faith and hope. That reflects James McBride‘s novel which is all about hope, faith, prayer, belief and God.

KW: What do you expect people to take away from this movie?

SL: I’m not in the business of telling audiences what to think. I respect their intelligence, and they’ll make up their on minds about what they think.

KW: During World War II, America’s armed forces were segregated and the Department of Defense directed embedded cameramen not to film African-American GI’s in action. And no blacks were subsequently featured in any of the early war films from the Forties and Fifties, and none were awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for bravery in World War II until Bill Clinton belatedly corrected the glaring oversight during his presidency. Was your purpose in making this movie an attempt to rectify the deliberately whitewashed version of history?

SL: Well, that was part of it, because at the time these black men were fighting for the United States, the Army was still segregated. And they not only fought the Fascists and the Nazis for the Red, White and Blue, but they had to fight Jim Crow down South once they got home. But the whole movie isn’t about the Buffalo Soldiers. We spent a great deal of time with the Italians, too, and the story is framed within a murder mystery. But nonetheless, there’s been a great omission here, and the surviving Buffalo Soldiers I’ve spoken to are elated that we’re doing this film.

KW: NYU History Professor Yvonne Latty urged Clint Eastwood, even before he began production on Flags of Our Fathers, to include black soldiers in the film since somewhere between 700 and 900 African-Americans had fought on Iwo Jima. She even sent him a copy of her book about these forever unsung heroes, but to no avail. Is this the basis of your ongoing beef about the movie with Eastwood?

SL: I’m glad you’re saying that, because it needs to be known that there were people saying stuff to Clint even before he shot the film. So, this stuff is on record. I was not the first one to voice those sentiments.

KW: As far as I can tell, you’re the only film director who individually credits every musician who plays on his soundtrack. Why do you do that?

SL: Because I grew up in a jazz household, my father [Bill Lee] is a great jazz bassist, and I value the contributions of the musicians and the composer. My father did the scores for my movies in film school, and for She’s Gotta Have It, School Daze, Do the Right Thing and Mo’ Better Blues. And Terence Blanchard did all the scores for my films since. Musicians are great artists. In my opinion, I think they’re the greatest artists. If somebody gets credit for pushing a dolly or holding a boom mike, why should someone who’s playing the violin, the bass, the trumpet, the French horn or the oboe not get credit too? They contributed as much as anybody else. That’s why I give musicians credit in my films.

KW: I appreciate that, being from St. Albans, which was an enclave of black musicians when I was growing up in the Fifties and Sixties.

SL: Yeah, I know it had James Brown… Count Basie… and my man Milt Hinton.

KW: Count Basie lived up the block. We used to swim in his pool as kids. You know who else lived in St. Albans? Coltrane, Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Oliver Nelson, Lena Horne and Illinois Jacquet to name a few off the top of my head. But it was first integrated by Jackie Robinson, along with baseball. Speaking of sports, how do you think the Knicks will do this season?

SL: Well, I hope we have a winning record. [Laughs] Notice I said “hope.”

KW: Where in Brooklyn did you grow up?

SL: We were the first family to move into Cobble Hill, which at the time was primarily an Italian neighborhood. Cobble Hill is right by the Brooklyn docks, and almost all the people that worked the docks were Italian back then when the waterfront was alive and thriving. Funny thing, we got called “nigger” a couple of times, when we first moved in, until they saw that there weren’t anymore black families moving in behind us. We never had any more incidents after that.

KW: The Columbus Short question: Are you happy?

SL: Yeah, very happy.

KW: The bookworm Troy Johnson question: What was the last book you read?

SL: Dreams from My Father by Barack Obama.

KW: Who are you supporting for president?

SL: Barack Obama!

KW: The Tasha Smith question: Are you ever afraid?

SL: Everybody’s afraid.

KW: What has been your biggest disappointment?

SL: My biggest disappoint so far was when I couldn’t get that Jackie Robinson film made. And then, when I couldn’t get the Joe Louis-Max Schmeling film made, or the James Brown bio-pic.

KW: Do you have a bio-pic in the works?

SL: Yes I do. I just optioned the right to the autobiography of a black physicist and professor at the University of Connecticut named Ronald Mallett called The Time Traveler. He’s drawn up the blueprint for a time machine.

KW: Is there a question no one ever asks you, that you wish someone would

SL: Not really.

KW: The Music Maven Heather Covington question: What’s music are you listening to nowadays?

SL: Right now I’m listening to Raphael Saadiq’s new album, The Way I see It, and to Terence Blanchard’s score to Miracle at St. Anna.

KW: How do you want to be remembered?

SL: For my body of work.

KW: Thanks for the time, Spike.

SL: Alright man, thanks.

To see a trailer for Miracle at St. Anna, visit:


Wednesday, September 17, 2008

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

Kam's Kapsules:
Weekly Previews That Make Choosing a Film Fun
by Kam Williams
For movies opening September 26, 2008


Blindness (R for sexuality, nudity, violence, profanity and rape) ensemble drama about the effort of a still-sighted woman (Julianne Moore) to help her husband (Mark Ruffalo) and six others to survive in the wake of an epidemic of blindness which has suddenly plagued their city. With Danny Glover, Alice Braga, Don McKellar, Sandra Oh and Gael Garcia Bernal. (In English and Japanese with subtitles)

Eagle Eye (PG-13 for profanity and intense violence and action sequences) Action thriller about a couple of strangers (Shia LaBeouf and Michelle Monahan) who find themselves both fugitives on the FBI’s Most Wanted List after being manipulated into becoming members of a terrorist cell planning a political assassination. Cast includes Billy Bob Thornton, Anthony Mackie and Rosario Dawson.

Miracle at St. Anna (R for profanity, graphic war violence and some nudity and sexual content) Spike Lee directs this WWII flashback flick, adapted by James McBride from his novel of the same name, revolving around the heroic exploits of four black GIs (Derek Luke, Laz Alonso, Michael Ealy and Omar Benson Miller) separated from their unit while fighting behind enemy lines in Italy in 1944. With John Turturro, Kerry Washington, James Gandolfini and John Leguizamo.

Nights in Rodanthe (PG-13 for sensuality) Richard Gere and Diane Lane co-star in this romance drama about an unhappily-married woman and a physician dealing with an emotional crisis who make the most of a weekend when they meet at a seaside retreat located in a tiny coastal town on North Carolina’s Outer Banks.


The Amazing Truth about Queen Raquela (R for nudity, sexuality and profanity) Raquela Rios handles the title role in this Cinderella tale about a Filipino transsexual prostitute who switches to a career as an internet porn star en route to a Paris rendezvous with a guy (Stefan C. Shaefer) she hopes will prove to be her Prince Charming.

Boogie Man: The Lee Atwater Story (Unrated) Warts-and-all bio-pic about the late Chairman of the Republican Party, a ruthless political assassin who transformed the nature of American elections with his willingness to employ the dirtiest of tactics to make sure his candidates prevailed. Includes interviews with Michael Dukakis, Sam Donaldson, Ishmael Reed, Mary Matalin, and Atwater protégé Karl Rove.

Choke (R for nudity, profanity and graphic sexuality) Offbeat comedy about a sex-addicted con artist who raises money to pay for his senile mother’s (Anjelica Huston) medical bills by pretending to choke on food at trendy restaurants.

Fireproof (PG for mature themes and scenes of peril) Faith-based drama featuring Kirk Cameron and Erin Bethea about a young couple on the brink of divorce whose marriage might be saved with the help of a 40-day experiment challenging them to renew their love with God’s help.

Humboldt Country Bittersweet dramedy about a discontented med student (Jeremy Strong) who spends the summer in Northern California on a Marijuana farm after getting a new lease on life with the help of a struggling Hollywood actress (Fairuza Balk) he shares a one-night stand with. Cast includes Peter Bogdanovich, Frances Conroy and Brad Dourif.

The Lucky Ones (R for profanity and sexuality) Road trip about three Iraq War veterans on a 30-day leave (Tim Robbins, Michael Pena and Rachel McAdams) who bond while driving cross-country in a rented automobile after landing back in the U.S. at JFK Airport.

The Man from London (Unrated) Psychological thriller, set in a small town on the coast of France where a railroad station night watchman’s life is changed forever when he witnesses a murder and finds a suitcase filled with cash in the possession of the victim. (In Hungarian and French with subtitles)

Obscene (Unrated) Freedom of speech documentary chronicles the career of Barney Rosset, publisher of Grove Press and Evergreen Review and defender of the 1st Amendment who fought censorship all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. With commentary by Gore Vidal, Amiri Baraka, Al Goldstein, John Waters and Erica Jong.

Shoot on Sight (R for violence and profanity) Islamophobia is the theme of this suspense thriller, set in London, about a Pakistan-born bobby (Naseeruddin Shah) with a British wife Greta Scacchi) who finds himself caught between the blue wall of silence and his feelings of loyalty towards his fellow Muslims.

Smother (PG-13 for profanity, crude humor, sexuality and drug use) Dysfunctional family comedy about a therapist (Dax Shepard) feeling pressure from his wife (Liv Tyler) to start a family on the same day that he’s fired and his helicopter mom (Diane Keaton) shows up unannounced with her five dogs and needing a place to stay.


Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Dakota Fanning as Elvis Savant in Unconvincing Loss of Innocence Adventure

It’s rural Alabama in the late Fifties, and little Lewellen (Dakota Fanning) is feeling pangs of sexual awakenings. Unfortunately, the prepubescent adolescent is being raised by her Bible-thumping grandmother (Piper Laurie) whose repressive rules has the curious tomboy spending most of her free time out of the house.
One of her escapes is to her alcoholic father’s (David Morse) rundown shack located at the other end of the property. The problem is that her pappy is an abusive, mangy mutt of a man who has never amounted to anything. He mostly mopes around in bed all day, waiting for a visit from his victim-type girlfriend (Robin Wright Penn).
Early on we learn that something bad must have occurred between dad and daughter, because Lewellen informs her pal Buddy (Cody Hanford) of her plans not only to kill her father but to neuter him as well. Another hint that she might have been molested is that she pressures Buddy to expose himself to her for a kiss.
Lewellen’s only healthy outlet seems to be singing, since she’s in love with Elvis Presley (Ryan Pelton) and not at all shy about belting out any of The King’s greatest hits, like Hound Dog, Heartbreak Hotel or Can’t Help Falling in Love, even though that song won’t be released until the next decade. Anachronisms aside, the plot thickens when an offer of a free ticket to an Elvis ends in a violation. The tragedy easily eclipses Lewellen’s other personal setbacks, such as her father’s being struck by lightning and Buddy’s head being turned by the cute rich kid (Isabelle Fuhrman) who just moved into the mansion next-door for the summer.
Thanks to the compassion of a kindly black caretaker (Afemo Omilami) who moonlights in a loft band with Big Mama Thornton (Jill Scott), it isn’t long before Lewellen lands on the road to recovery. Too bad the picture simply isn’t very convincing in selling the idea that an easygoing philosopher’s waxing romantic about the meaning of life and music might be sufficient to heal the psychic scars of a child left traumatized by rape.
An ill-advised variation on Black Snake Moan touting loss of innocence as a source of inspiration.

Fair (1 star)
Rated R for sexuality, ethnic slurs and the rape of a young girl.
Running time: 98 minutes
Studio: Empire Film Group

To see a trailer for Hounddog, visit: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qP0WhguDYTI

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

All of Us

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: HIV+ Documentary Explores Alarming Infection Rate among Black Females.

Despite being born in Ethiopia and the pedigree of undergraduate and medical degrees from Harvard, Mehret Mandefro followed a surprising calling to work among the poor in the South Bronx. The young physician wanted to find an explanation for the Center for Disease Control’s statistics which revealed that African-American women account for 68% of new HIV infections among females when they’re only about 7% of that demographic.
What factors could possibly explain the skyrocketing AIDS rate? Was it simply a case of education alone, or could some social factors be responsible as well? Immersing herself in inner-city culture, and interviewing her patients and their loved ones at length, Dr. Mandefro made several surprising discoveries, particularly that power, domination and control appear to play a crucial role in the transmission of the virus.
For instance, she learned that many of the AIDS victims under her care were well aware of the dangers of unprotected sex, yet they still succumbed to pressure of men, usually older, to mate without condoms. An added complication, she discovered, is the high incarceration of black males, about 11% of them between 20 and 39.
After all, prison is a place where homosexuality and rape are commonplace, therefore many inmates re-enter society already HIV+. Thus, Dr. Mandefro draws the conclusion that ex-cons are the biggest cause of the spread of AIDS in the African-American community.
Besides making these general observations, All of Us offers an intimate look into the lives of three people: Dr. Mandefro, herself, and a couple of her AIDS patients. By allowing the camera to follow them around, Tara and Chevelle put a face on HIV and offer the uninformed an opportunity to see what living with the disease is like day-to-day.
Unfortunately, one of them died before the release of the movie, but I dare not spoil which one doesn’t make it. This poignant picture periodically zooms in on Mehret’s personal life after hours, too, intimate interludes that show the otherwise stoic doctor’s vulnerable side. Three cheers to director Emily Apt for making such a sobering, informative and emotionally-engaging full-length feature debut.

Excellent (4 stars)
Running time: 82 minutes
Studio: Pureland Pictures

To see a trailer for All of Us, visit: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YokxFK9J5f8

Moving Midway

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Film Critic Retraces His Slaveholding Roots in Thumbs-Up Documentary

New York film critic Godfrey Cheshire hails from Raleigh, North Carolina where his ancestors settled in 1739. His slave-owning family kept the sprawling plantation intact for generations, even after emancipation. Then, in 2004, the heirs decided to sell the land to real estate developers who wanted to turn the place into Shoppes at Midway Plantation, a typical strip mall with stores like Walmart and Target.
Not wanting to eradicate their Southern roots entirely, they opted to save the mansion by having it hoisted off the ground in one piece and relocated to a rural piece of property elsewhere. That Herculean effort is the superficial focus of Moving Midway, a documentary actually more interesting for its exploration of tangential issues surrounding the legacy of slavery.
For director Cheshire chose to track down some of the African-American descendants of folks who worked on the former tobacco farm and, not surprisingly, found a marked contrast in how they and his relatives feel about Midway. Fortunately, the discourse between the two sides is not only honest but quite cordial, thus allowing for a productive exchange of ideas and a valuable sharing of emotions.
Lately, there’s been a virtual cottage industry of these reverse-slumming, confessional bio-pics in which Caucasians own up to their shameful connection to slavery while reuniting with blacks related to them either by blood, exploitation or both. Moving Midway measures up to the best of the genre, including the equally-engaging Meeting David Wilson and Traces of the Trade.
Directed by movie historian Cheshire, the flick benefits immeasurably from a discussion detailing how screen classics like Birth of a Nation and Gone with the Wind have shaped public opinion about slavery. Who would think that cinema could be the source of so many harmful myths and misconceptions which persist to this day?
An admirable examination of one family’s belated attempt to come to grips with, if not atone for, its role in America’s original sin.

Excellent (4 stars)
Running time: 98 minutes
Studio: First Run Features

To see a trailer for Moving Midway, visit: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_I0yIGggvPI

Monday, September 15, 2008

Taraji P. Henson: The Family That Preys Interview

with Kam Williams

Headline: Taraji Shares All, Even the Surprising Color of Her Panties

Taraji Penda Henson was born on September 11, 1970 in Washington, DC, where she would one day graduate from Howard University with a degree in Theater Arts. She made her screen debut in Streetwise in 1998, but got her big break a few years later co-starring in Baby Boy opposite Tyrese. Taraji followed that film with critically-acclaimed work in Hustle & Flow and Talk to Me, pictures for which she landed a couple of NAACP Image Award nominations.

She not only turned in a memorable performance as a pregnant prostitute in Hustle & Flow, but made her singing debut on its soundtrack in “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp,” the tune which landed the Oscar as the Best Song of the year. Ms. Henson has also appeared in Smokin’ Aces, Something New, Four Brothers, Animal and Hair Show, and has upcoming outing on the horizon opposite Forest Whitaker in Hurricane Season, Brad Pitt in The Curious case of Benjamin Button, and Morris Chestnut in Not Easily Broken.

The stunning single-mom was voted to Black Men’s Magazine’s 10 Sexiest Women list in 2001. Here, she talks about her latest picture, The Family That Preys, where she plays Tyler Perry’s wife, Pam.

KW: Hi Taraji. It’s been a while since we last spoke, back when you were doing Baby Boy. I remember how seriously you were balancing acting with your responsibilities raising your young son as a single-mom.
TH: Oh my God! A lot has happened since then.
KW: Marcel must almost be a teenager by now.
TH: He’s 14. Can you believe it?
KW: Wow! Time flies. How is he doing?
TH: He’s doing great. I’m a mom first, so I’m making sure he’s getting all the nurturing he needs. He’s a freshman at one of L.A.’s top private schools. After he finishes this program, he’ll be able to go to any school in the country.
KW: That’s excellent. Congratulations! So, what interested you in playing Pam in The Family That Preys?
TH: I play a lot of edgy characters, and it was refreshing to not have to work so hard. She’s actually kind of funny. That’s what drew me to her, and that she was a regular girl.
KW: So you weren’t a pregnant prostitute, a lesbian sniper like you were in Smokin’ Aces, or any of the other over-the-top characters you’re known for like Vernell in Talk to Me.
TH: No. It was great to have a chance to play a regular woman who was actually quite funny. I want to be funny. I’m sick of crying.
KW: How was it playing Tyler Perry’s his wife?
TH: Incredible! That man is something to be reckoned with, a force of nature. It was interesting because I had never worked opposite a director who was also acting in the film. My scenes with him were weird because he was my husband. He’d clear the set, and I’d forget and still be standing there waiting for the director to show up. I’d be like, “Oh my God! You’re the director. Sorry!” So, that was different. But just watching how this man works was like nothing I’ve ever seen in life.
KW: And how was it working again with Sanaa Lathan?
TH: I didn’t really get to work much with her in Something New. This time we really had a chance to get down together and it was wonderful. That was what I was really looking forward to. She and I are both Virgos, so we’re so much alike, and yet so different. It’s a beautiful combination. I often tell her that if you could combine the both of us together, you’d have the perfect human.
KW: And you both have Swahili names.
TH: My first name means “Hope” and my middle name means “Love.”
KW: Hers means “Work of Art.” Is it true you’re related to the Arctic explorer Matthew Henson?
TH: Yes, he’s my great-great cousin. He was the brother of my great-great grandfather. Matthew would send him letters about his travels while out on his expeditions. Somebody in the family had all this great correspondence until one day when their apartment was robbed and the letters were lost, probably thrown away like trash.
KW: What a tragedy. Do you think you get any of your adventurous spirit from your famous ancestor?
TH: Absolutely! I think I get my survival skills from him, and also my belief that nothing is out of my reach, that I can achieve anything, if I apply myself. I never quit. I think that’s something I was born with from his genes.
KW: Did you get an Oscar when “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp” won Best Song?
TH: No, because it went to the songwriters. But Craig Brewer, the scriptwriter and director of Hustle & Flow called me and told me that he wanted me to take it as my quiet victory, because the song was clearly nominated because of the context and how it threaded into a pivotal moment in the movie. So, I feel like I had a lot to do with the song’s success.
KW: Plus, you performed it onstage on Oscar night. The Columbus Short question: Are you happy?
TH: Absolutely!
KW: The Tasha Smith question: Are you ever afraid?
TH: No, I’m never scared.
KW: What’s been your biggest disappointment?
TH: My biggest disappointment? I haven’t run into it yet?
KW: The “Realtor to the Stars” Jimmy Bayan question: Where in L.A. do you live?
TH: Glendale.
KW: Bookworm Troy Johnson question: What was the last book you read?
TH: Dear Lover: A Woman’s Guide to Men, Sex, and Love’s Deepest Bliss by David Deida.
KW: The music maven Heather Covington question: What music are you listening to right now?
TH: I’m a huge jazz fan, because everything stems from jazz, in my opinion. I have over 6,000 songs on my iPod, but that’s not even my entire collection. I started collecting music in college. I would have to say that John Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme” is my favorite of all time. That and “Kind of Blue” by Miles Davis.
But I just love it all, hip-hop, too, because I was around when it was born. I buy music every week. Depending on my mood, it may be old funk, classic soul, R&B, Nine Inch Nails or punk rock. I’m very versatile when it comes to music.
KW: Is there any question nobody ever asks you that you that you wish somebody would?
TH: What color underwear am I wearing. [Laughs] No.
KW: Okay, what color underwear are you wearing?
TH: I’m not wearing any. [Laughs] You know what, no, I don’t know. I can’t really think of a question.
KW: How do you want to be remembered?
TH: As one of the greats.
KW: Thanks so much for the time, Taraji, and best of luck with everything.
TH: Thank you. Take care.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Burn after Reading

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Coen Brothers Assemble A-List Ensemble for Latest Screwball Comedy

Earlier this year, the Coen Brothers were the toast of Hollywood when they won three Academy Awards apiece for No Country for Old Men in the Best Picture, Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay categories. Not ones to rest on their laurels, the gifted siblings are already following-up that sweep with another fine film, Burn after Reading, a spoof ostensibly inspired by Burn before Reading, the autobiography of former CIA director Stansfield Turner.
Reverting from a gruesome modern Western back to the sort of cinematic fare with which they are most closely associated, Joel and Ethan have come up with a screwball comedy which measures up with their best contributions to the genre, including Fargo, Raising Arizona, Intolerable Cruelty and O Brother, Where Art Thou? The top-flight ensemble assembled for the production was comprised of Coen veterans Frances McDormand, George Clooney, Richard Jenkins and J.K. Simmons augmented by newcomers Brad Pitt, John Malkovich and Tilda Swinton.
Burn after Reading, which is probably best described as a combination sex farce and political potboiler, is enjoyable more for its quirky characters than for its multi-layered storyline which proves to be far more convoluted than most audience members might care to follow. What really makes the movie hilarious was the willingness of some A-list talent, especially Pitt and Clooney, to throw themselves so convincingly into unflattering roles which make them look like idiots.
The action opens at CIA Headquarters in Langley, Virginia where we find Agent Osborne Cox (Malkovich) being confronted about his drinking problem by his boss. Ozzie opts to quit the Agency to write his memoirs, rather than accept a demotion to a position with a lower clearance level.
This development doesn’t sit well with his already disenchanted wife, Katie (Swinton), a pediatrician who’s been conducting a clandestine affair with Harry (Clooney). Harry’s a mid-level bureaucrat with the Treasury Department who, in turn, is married to Sandy (Elizabeth Marvel), a best selling children’s book author.
Katie decides to divorce Ozzie, expecting that Harry will choose to leave his spouse, too. What Katie doesn’t know is that he’s also cheating on her with women he’s been wooing over the internet.
Meanwhile, she consults an attorney who advises her to dig up some dirt on her husband prior to filing any papers. The plot thickens when the classified CIA documents she downloads onto a disc off her hubby’s computer accidentally end up in the hands of Linda (McDormand) and Chad (Pitt), co-workers at Hardbodies Fitness Center.
Long-in-the-tooth Linda just happens to be desperate for money to cover the cost of four cosmetic surgery procedures she’s planning to undergo. So, over the objections of her boss (Jenkins), with the help of flamboyant Chad she hatches a plan to blackmail Ozzie But when the jaded ex-agent doesn’t come up with the cash, and Chad mysteriously disappears, Linda proceeds to approach the Russians next.
She thereby places herself under the watchful eyes of the CIA brass (David Rasche and Simmons) who mistake her motivations for something much more sinister than breast implants, a tummy tuck, liposuction and a nose job. The madcap Keystone Cop antics which ensue are every bit as funny as they are shocking and thought-provoking.
Alternatively mirthful and macabre, while poking fun at both modern mating habits and the paranoia of espionage culture, Burn after Reading is a refreshingly-intelligent diversion designed with the more cerebral cineaste in mind.

Excellent (4 stars)
Rated R for sexuality, violence and pervasive profanity.
Running time: 96 minutes
Studio: Focus Features

To see a trailer of Burn after Reading, visit: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N99kv6ojn48

Saturday, September 13, 2008

The Family That Preys

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Skeletons Aplenty in Latest Dysfunctional Family Drama Tyler Perry

First, on the stage, then on screen, Tyler Perry has successfully introduced his unique brand of modern morality plays uniquely flavored with the distinctive refrains of African-American culture. These uplifting, faith-based melodramas tend to explore a variety of timely themes of concern to the black community while mixing in generous helpings of Tyler’s trademark comedy.
His latest offering, The Family That Preys, is a slight variation on the familiar formula in that whites have been added to the principal cast. But the film otherwise relies on the staples of a typical Tyler Perry production, namely, well-crafted female characters summoning up the gumption to deal with dysfunction in real-life crises pitting good versus evil.
This story revolves around Alice Pratt (Alfre Woodard) and Charlotte Catrwright (Kathy Bates), Southern matriarchs presiding over a couple of families about to be embroiled in the same scandal. Socialite Charlotte is the CEO of the multi-million dollar construction company she inherited from her late husband, while relatively-humble Alice owns a down-home diner located across the tracks called A Wing and a Prayer. Despite the difference between their financial fortunes, the widows’ have remained best friends over the years, a relationship about to be sorely tested.
The point of departure is the wedding of Alice’s almost college-graduated daughter Andrea (Sanaa Lathan) to Chris (Rockmund Dunbar), an unemployed blue-collar worker. During the reception, Charlotte’s married son, William (Cole Hauser), who can barely hide his attraction to the bride, promises both her and the groom jobs with the Cartwright Corporation after the honeymoon.
The film then fast-forwards four years, and we discover that Andrea is already unhappy being the principal bread-winner. She neither respects her husband, nor shows much interest in raising their young son, whom she leaves for long stretches at the diner to be cared for by her waitress sister (Taraji P. Henson).
The picture soon starts dropping hints at every turn that Andrea might be sleeping with her boss, too, from her working overtime in the evenings, to her having a secret six-figure bank account, to her driving a Mercedes company car, to her wearing jewelry she couldn’t afford. Cuckolded Chris is either too trusting or too dense to notice anything funny until his brother-in-law, Ben (Perry), finally blurts out the truth.
Meanwhile, equally-clueless Charlotte talks Alice into joining her in a classic convertible for a hedonistic cross-country trip reminiscent of The Bucket List or Thelma & Louise, take your pick. The overplotted production has creepy William not only cheating on his wife (KaDee Strickland), but planning to fleece his mother out of her controlling interest in the family business.
Fortunately, Charlotte and Alice return just in the nick of time to right the wrongs and to tie up the rest of the loose ends oh so satisfactorily. That’s the magic of the Tyler Perry genre. A pat and predictable cautionary tale which nonetheless manages to push the right emotional buttons every time.

Excellent (4 stars)
Rated PG-13 for mature themes, sexual references and brief violence.
Running time: 111 minutes
Studio: Lions Gate Films

To see a trailer for The Family That Preys, visit: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EXt-FzVksfM