Friday, October 31, 2008

The Little Rascals: The Complete Collection DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: All 80 Original “Our Gang” Shorts Remastered and Rereleased on DVD

Between 1929 and 1938, Hal Roach produced one of the most successful series of shorts in cinematic history. Originally called Our Gang, but renamed The Little Rascals when brought to TV in the Fifties, they revolved around the exploits of a lovable bunch of ostensibly unsupervised urchins who invariably landed in mischief.
The shows featured such unforgettable characters as ringleader Spanky (George McFarland), his love interest Darla, (Darla Hood), pals Alfalfa (Carl Switzer), Buckwheat (Billie Thomas), Stymie (Matthew Beard), Dickie (Dickie Jackson), Porky (Eugene Lee), Farina (Allen Hoskins), Wheezer (Bobby Hutchins), Chubby (Norman Chaney), bully Butch (Tommy Bond) and his sidekick Woim (Sidney Kibrick), schoolteacher Miss Crabtree (June Marlowe) and Petey the Dog.
Ernie Morrison, who played Sunshine Sammy, is of interest because he was the first African-American ever signed to a long-term contract in Hollywood, and several other black actors on the series would follow suit. Still, The Little Rascals fell out of favor during the Sixties, specifically because of its stereotypical depiction of blacks as scaredy cats whose hair stood on end, whose eyes bugged out, and who turned white from fear. Furthermore, they were often the butt of jokes involving ebonics and eating watermelon.
Nonetheless, the actors defended their roles, by pointing out that most of the characters were simplistically-drawn, whether as spoiled, rich, Asian, etcetera. Only Buckwheat enjoyed a bit of a revival, thanks to Eddie Murphy on Saturday Night Live.
Watching this remastered, restored and uncut 8-disc collection today, it might make you wince here and there in terms of its political incorrectness, yet you definitely get a sense that the humor was never meanspirited. And every installment is entertaining, endearing and hilarious, though really only recommended for nostalgic purposes for those already familiar with Spanky and company, not for impressionable young minds..

Excellent (4 stars)
Running time: 1332 minutes
Studio: Genius Products
8-Disc DVD Extras: Commentaries from film historians and authors, interviews with former Little Rascals, film introductions, three “our Gang” silent shorts, three featurettes and a 12-page photo booklet with trivia, images and collectible lobby cards.

Kung Fu Panda DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Charming Animated Adventure Starring Jack Black Comes to DVD

Po (Jack Black) is a clumsy panda who works in his family’s noodle shop in an idyllic oasis known as the Valley of Peace. Instead of concentrating on customers, the young Kung Fu fan always seems to be dreaming of studying martial arts alongside the Furious Five, a legendary quintet comprised of the Tigress (Angelina Jolie), the Crane (David Cross), the Praying Mantis (Seth Rogen), the Viper (Lucy Liu) and the Monkey (Jackie Chan). However, Po’s so uncoordinated that he’s embarrassed to share his secret desire with his father (James Hong) who expects his son to take over the restaurant when he retires.
This all changes the day elderly Master Oogway (Randall Duk Kim), a sage sensei, has an eerie premonition about Tai Lung (Ian McShane), a former protégé of his gone bad. He has a hunch that the treacherous leopard has escaped from prison and is headed back to the region with revenge in mind.
So, in accordance with an ancient Chinese prophecy, Oogway stages a formal ceremony to name a Dragon Warrior to defend the kingdom. Everyone expects him to pick from among the Furious Five, but a comedy of errors leads to his settling on Po, a late-arriving spectator who makes an attention-grabbing entrance.
Afforded an opportunity of a lifetime, Po enlists the assistance of Master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman) to prepare for the big showdown. If you’re at all familiar with the overcoming the odds fight genre, you know exactly what’s involved, a rigorous regimen featuring trademark tableaus ranging from Rocky’s one-handed pushups to The Karate Kid’s balancing himself on one foot.
An uplifting animated cross of Rocky and The Karate Kid certain to inspire and delight another generation of impressionable youngsters.

Excellent (4 stars)
Rated PG for martial arts action.
Running time: 88 minutes
Studio: Dreamworks Animated Home Entertainment
DVD Extras: Filmmakers' commentary, “Meet the Cast,” “Pushing the Boundaries,” “Sound Design,” 'Kung Fu Fighting' music video, “Mr. Ping's Noodle House,” “How To Use Chopsticks,” “Conservation International: Help Save Wild Pandas,” “Dragon Warrior Training Academy,” printables, weblinks and DreamWorks’ animated video jukebox.

To see trailers of Kung Fu Panda, visit:

Get Smart DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Disappointing Screen Adaptation of Spy Sitcom Arrives on DVD

Get Smart (1965-1970) was a sidesplitting TV sitcom which was essentially a spoof of James Bond. The show starred the late Don Adams as the bumbling Maxwell Smart, aka Agent 86, and Barbara Feldon as his sultry sidekick, 99. As spies for CONTROL, a CIA-style government agency, their weekly mission was to protect the Free World from their evil, Cold War counterparts working for KAOS.
Here, Steve Carrell plays Max opposite Anne Hathaway as 99 in a two-hour waste of time with fewer laughs than any half-hour episode of the original television series. Inexplicably, the over-the-top television parody has been turned into a dramatic adventure with only intermittent comic relief.
Yes, Smart still employs stock catchphrases such as “Missed it by that much” and “Would you believe…?” periodically, and he also has some of the old gadgetry at his disposal, like the confounding Cone of Silence. In addition, many beloved characters have also been brought back, including The Chief (Alan Arkin), Agent Larabee (David Koechner), stowaway specialist Agent 13 (Bill Murray), Hymie the Robot (Patrick Warburton), and KAOS villains Siegfried (Terrence Stamp) and Shtarker (Ken Davitian). Notable cast additions include The Rock as Agent 23, Terry Crews as Agent 91, James Caan as the President of the United States,
However, because this version places more of an emphasis on action and special effects than on humor, the jokes are few and far between, a fact likely to infuriate the franchise’s diehard fans. Another irritation is the profanity and off color content which will undoubtedly seem inappropriate to anyone familiar with the source material. But the film’s biggest failing is that Steve Carrell doesn’t even try to deliver his lines with the same pithy pizzazz which made Adams’ embodiment of the character so memorable.
Final report card: Get Smart got stupid.

Fair (1 star)
Rated PG-13 for violence, profanity and crude humor.
In English and Russian with subtitles.
Running time: 110 minutes
Studio: Warner Home Video
2-Disc DVD Extras: Alternate scenes, gag reel, digital copy, plus several additional featurettes.

To see a Get Smart trailer, visit:

Tuesday, October 28, 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 November 7, 2008


The Boy in the Striped Pajamas (PG-13 for mature themes) Holocaust drama about the 8 year-old son (Asa Butterfield) of a concentration camp commander (David Thewlis) whose forbidden friendship with a Jewish boy (Jack Scanlon) interned on the other side of the fence leads to devastating consequences.

Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa (PG for mild crude humor) Animated adventure finds the colorful menagerie of domesticated New York zoo animals again struggling to survive in the wilds of the African jungle. Voice cast includes Cedric the Entertainer, Sacha Baron Cohen, Jada Pinkett Smith, Chris Rock, David Schwimmer, Ben Stiller, Will I Am, Tommy ‘Tiny’ Lister and the late Bernie Mac.

Role Models (R for nudity, profanity, sexuality and crude humor) Sean William Scott and Paul Rudd co-star in this shock comedy as slackers sentenced to 150 hours of community service as mentors to a couple of impressionable youngsters (Christopher ‘McLovin’ Mintz-Plasse and Bobb’e J. Thompson).

Soul Men (R for nudity, sexuality and pervasive profanity) Samuel L. Jackson and the late Bernie Mac co-star in this road comedy about a couple of R&B legends who reunite for a memorial concert at the Apollo in honor of their recently-deceased front man. Directed by Malcolm Lee, ensemble cast includes Sharon Leal, Jennifer Coolidge, Sean Hayes, John Legend, Ken Davitian and the late Isaac Hayes.


Eden (Unrated) Romance drama, set in Ireland, revolving around a woman’s (Eileen Walsh) desperate effort to save her disintegrating marriage when her husband (Aidan Kelly) of ten years starts hanging out in pubs where he has his head turned by younger women.

Gardens of the Night (Unrated) Gillian Jacobs and Evan Ross co-star in this harrowing drama about a couple of traumatized 17 year-olds struggling to survive on the streets after enduring years of abuse in captivity as the sex slaves of a child molester (Tom Arnold) Cast includes John Malkovich, Harold Perrineau, Jeremy Sisto and Cornelia Guest.

The Guitar (R for nudity, sexuality and profanity) Nothing left to lose musical drama about a just-dumped, recently-fired, terminally-ill woman (Saffron Burrows) who decides to max out her credit cards while on a self-indulgent spending spree during her last days on Earth.

House (R for terror and violence) Spooky slasher flick, set in rural Alabama, about two couples on the run from a maniac bent on murder who end up fighting for their sanity and survival in a haunted house in the middle of the woods. Cast includes Allana Bale, J.P. Davis, Michael Madsen, Leslie Easterbrook, Julie Ann Emery and Bill Moseley.

JCVD (R for profanity and violence) Jean-Claude Van Damme plays himself in this crime comedy about an aging action star who lands back in the limelight when he ends up in the middle of a real-life hostage drama. (In French and English with subtitles)

Pray the Devil Back to Hell (Unrated) Feminist documentary chronicles the extraordinary efforts of the group of visionary women who spearheaded the peace movement which led to the end of Liberia’s decades-long civil war and the rise to power of Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, Africa’s first elected female head of state.

Repo! The Genetic Opera (R for profanity, sexuality, drug use, graphic violence and gore) Sci-fi horror flick, set in 2056, about an enterprising biotech company which turns from savior to monster during a planetary epidemic when it begins repossessing transplanted organs from patients who can’t pay their medical bills. Cast includes Paris Hilton, Paul Sorvino Joan Jett and Bill Moseley.

Stages (Unrated) Dysfunctional family drama, set in Amsterdam, explores the strained relationship of a divorced couple (Elsie de Brauw and Marcel Musters) who continue to squabble while sharing concerns about their troubled, 17 year-old son (Stijn Koomen). (In Dutch with subtitles)

The World Unseen (PG-13 for sexuality, violence and mature themes) Homoerotic drama, set in South Africa under apartheid during the Fifties, about the forbidden love which unexpectedly blossoms between an East Indian café owner (Sheetal Sheth) and a pregnant, married woman (Lisa Ray) also of Subcontinent extraction.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Hope on a Tightrope: Words & Wisdom

by Cornel West
Smiley Books
Hardcover, $19.95
246 pages, illustrated (Includes a free CD)
ISBN: 978-1-4019-2186-6

Book Review by Kam Williams

“We are now in one of the most truly prophetic moments in the history of America. The poor and very poor are sleeping with self-destruction. The working and middle classes are struggling against paralyzing pessimism and privileged are swinging between cynicism and hedonism. Yes, these are the circumstances that people of conscience must operate under during this moment of national truth or consequences.
We have witnessed the breakdown of the social systems that nurture our children. Our rootless children… have no cultural armor to protect them while negotiating the terrors and traumas of daily life. Young people need a community to sustain them, so that they can look death in the face and deal with disease, dread and despair. These days we are in deep trouble.
The audacity of hope won the 2008 Democratic primary, yet we are still living in the shadow of the vicious realignment of the American electorate, provoked by the media’s negative appeals to race and gender and the right-wing propaganda that bashes vulnerable groups… Real hope is grounded in a particularly messy struggle and it can be betrayed by naïve projections of a better future that ignore the necessity of doing the real work. So what we are talking about is hope on a tightrope.“
Excerpted from the Introduction (pages 1-6)

As the United States stands poised to make history with the impending presidential election, it takes considerable courage for a very public black intellectual like Dr. Cornel West to refrain from jumping headlong onto the Obama bandwagon. But Professor West has opted to remain true to his core values by sharing the sage insight that an African-American occupying the White House will not automatically mean the struggle for equality is over or that we have realized Dr. King’s dream of a post-racial society where one is judged not by the color of his skin but by the content of his character.
In Hope on a Tightrope , an eloquent collection of both audio (on CD) and printed meditations, West indirectly challenges Obama to prove that the “Audacity of Hope” is more than a campaign slogan, asking, “What price are you willing to pay?” And the author goes on to warn that “American politics has a way of grinding the best out of a person” and that “it reduces their prudent judgment into opportunistic behavior.”
Undoubtedly, there will be many folks who feel it is unfair to ask Obama to focus on the plight of the least of his brethren even before he’s had a chance be inaugurated, let alone revel in the euphoria of his stunning accomplishment. Yet, as implied by the Dr. King metaphor he’s been so fond of quoting on the stump, there is a “fierce urgency of now.” So I say, Dr. West must be commended for so lovingly and frankly reminding Barack of the meaning of that phrase while exploring a litany of themes in a heartfelt manner, topics ranging from leadership to faith to family to identity to education to spirituality to service to social justice.
A passionate appeal to Obama about his responsibility to the masses and the millions of modest contributors who helped put him in office, plus a timely message that “You can’t save the people if you don’t serve the people.”

Pride and Glory

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Honest Cop Tested by Blue Wall of Silence in Gritty NYC Crime Saga

The Tierneys are a tight-knit Irish-American clan with a long history of service in the NYPD. Family patriarch Francis (Jon Voight) is a highly-regarded, retired police chief who has preserved his connections to the upper echelons of the department. Frank, Jr. (Noah Emmerich), is an equally-respected precinct commander in Manhattan, while his younger brother Ray (Edward Norton) is a former narc relegated to an inconsequential desk job since an incident in the Mott Haven section of the Bronx that not only stalled his career but cost him his marriage. Their brother-in-law, Jimmy Egan (Colin Farrell), is a covertly-crooked patrolman working under Frank, Jr. whose unlawful ways are about to catch up with him, big time.
Just past the point of departure, the festive Christmas season is abruptly spoiled when four officers are murdered during a drug bust gone bad inside a seedy Washington Heights apartment. Frank, Sr. immediately urges Ray to return to the streets to join the special task force being formed to search for the cop killers, since the men who died were all under his big brother’s command.
Ray does so reluctantly, though reasonably expecting the trail to lead to some sleazy street punks. But when it instead implicates fellow officers including his own brother and brother-in-law, he finds himself facing a crisis in conscience. For the last time he was in a similar situation, he had compromised his moral code by lying under oath to protect a cop on the take. That’s why he lost the respect of his wife (Carmen Ejogo) and now lives alone on a leaky houseboat.
This go-round, the stakes are even higher, for he uncovers a widespread pattern of corruption indicating that the entire precinct might be in cahoots with the mobsters wreaking havoc on the local neighborhood. Then, when he tries to bring the facts to the attention of the department brass, he’s met with the subtle suggestion that they’d prefer for him not to break the Blue Wall of Silence.
So, will Ray play ball and participate in another cover-up, or will he testify truthfully, and thereby risk ripping both his family and the precinct apart? That is the question waiting to be addressed in Pride and Glory, a gritty, inner-city saga directed by Gavin O’Connor (Miracle). This high body-count affair begs to be compared with The Departed but is simply too formulaic and cliché-ridden to measure up favorably with that Oscar-winning Best Picture.
Nonetheless, Pride and Glory was fortunate enough to be blessed with a talented cast, including Noah Emmerich, Colin Farrell, Jon Voight, Rick Gonzalez and Wayne Duvall, that managed to elevate its paint-by-numbers script to an acceptable level. However, Edward Norton is the standout here, turning in yet another inspired performance as the anguished Ray, a complicated soul in search of redemption, and as ready to mix it up with bad guys as to beg his estranged ex for a second chance.
Serpico joins the Fight Club.

Very Good (2.5 stars)
Rated R for pervasive profanity, graphic violence and brief drug use.
Running time: 129 minutes
Studio: New Line Cinema

To see a trailer for Pride and Glory, visit:

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Alicia Keys: The Secret Life of Bees Interview

Interview with Kam Williams

Headline: The Belle of the Black Ball

Alicia Keys burst on the scene in April of 2001 with the release of the single Fallin’ from Songs in A Minor, the critically-acclaimed debut album which launched her meteoric rise. A piano prodigy who studied both jazz and classical composition at the prestigious Professional Performance Arts School of Manhattan, the class valedictorian was admitted to Columbia University at just 16 years of age, but soon took a leave to pursue her musical career. Among the many accolades she’s already collected are 11 Grammys, along with multiple American Music, Billboard, Soul Train, Teen Choice, People’s Choice, NAACP Image, Rolling Stone Magazine, VH1 and BET Awards.
Hailing from Harlem, Alicia was born on January 25, 1980 to Teresa Auguello, a paralegal, and Craig Cook, a flight attendant. The stunning diva is a delicious mix of Irish, Italian, Jamaican and Puerto Rican lineage, and she’s been named one of People Magazine’s 50 Most Beautiful People, FHM Magazine’s 100 Sexiest Women in the World, Maxim Magaizine’s Hot 100 and VH1’s 100 Sexiest Artists.
A true Renaissance woman, Alicia is not only a gifted singer/songwriter/arranger/musician/actress, but also the author of a best-selling book comprised of poetry, lyrics and intimate reflections called “Tears for Water.”
She made her big screen debut in 2006 playing a seductive yet ruthless assassin in Smokin’ Aces, following that well-received outing with a measured performance as Scarlett Johansson’s best friend in The Nanny Diaries.
Alicia’s about to make cinematic history as half of the first duet (with Jack White) ever to perform a James Bond theme on a 007 movie soundtrack, namely, “Another Way to Die,” in the upcoming Quantum of Solace. Despite her incredibly busy schedule, she makes time for philanthropic work with numerous charities, most notably, Keep a Child Alive (, an organization she co-founded which is dedicated to delivering life-saving medicines directly to AIDS victims in Africa. On November 13th, Alicia and some very famous friends will be performing in NYC at her Fifth Annual Black Ball, a benefit dinner/concert for children and families in Africa with HIV/AIDS. (For more details, call (718) 965-1111.
Here, she talks about the Ball and about her latest film The Secret Life of Bees, a touching tale of female empowerment set in the Sixties at the height of the Civil Rights Movement. She turned in what proved to be the movie’s most memorable performance as June Boatwright, despite being surrounded by a stellar cast which included Academy Award-winner Jennifer Hudson, and a couple of Oscar-nominees in Queen Latifah and Sophie Okonedo.

KW: Thanks for the time, Alicia. I’m really honored.
AK: Thank you, sir, I appreciate that so much.
KW: I feel terrible, because it’s so late and I understand you’re in Germany and you just came offstage after performing a big concert. You must be exhausted.
AK: Yes, and you should feel awful! [Laughs out loud] No, I’m good. I’m definitely good. I had a good show, and it takes me a little while to settle down anyway.
KW: Well, I wanted to talk to you about The Secret Life of Bees.
AK: I loved this movie, so I want to do this.
KW: I don’t want to spoil the movie for anyone who hasn’t seen it, but there’s a scene early in the picture where a character silently opens up a tiny, folded piece of paper which says something about the Civil Rights Movement. When I read it, I started crying right then and there, and my eyes remained watery until the very end.
AK: Wow! Well, I’m so glad that it moved you, because it moved me, too.
KW: The film had so many subtle touches like that which delivered an emotional wallop. Its effective use of space and emptiness reminded me of your music.
AK: That is a beautiful image, and thank you for comparing it to my music. I appreciate that so much. I agree that Gina [Director Gina Prince-Bythewood] did an amazing job. And everybody involved loved it from the minute they signed on. She created a very nourishing environment on the set, where we just supported each other and wanted to do an incredible job. So, I’m really, really happy about how Gina was able to be so subtle, yet so strong.
KW: To me, it was the most important film of its type since Eve’s Bayou. Have you seen that film?
AK: Funny you should mention it, because I watched Eve’s Bayou prior to beginning work on this one because I felt it would have a similar vibe. Also, I wanted to watch it for the accents, figuring it would give you a nice feel for the regional dialects, given that it was set in the Bayou. But did you know they didn’t do any dialects in that film?
KW: I never noticed that.
AK: That was really funny, but it was still a great movie.
KW: What did you base your interpretation of June Boatwright on?
AK: On many things. On my own personal emotions and feelings… on my understanding of my character’s complexities and really wanting to bring them forth even without explaining them. I also based her somewhat on these beautiful pictures we had from this book called Freedom Fighters. There was one girl in it in a black and white photograph who just had her arms crossed. The way she was looking at the camera made me feel, “Wow! That’s my June!” There was something about how hopeful and strong she was, yet closed-off emotionally, that I really wanted to take and make a part of June. I also took some inspiration from a really good friend of mine who has a kind of attitude like June has. When you first meet her, you’re terrified of her. You think she’s just the meanest thing, when she’s really a sweetheart, and so vulnerable underneath it all. That’s why she has to be a little tough, because she can’t afford to give all her love away. So, I really took a lot of those firsthand experiences and put them into June, too. She was based on little pieces of a lot of different people and things.
KW: Another thing I was impressed with was that there was an arc, not only to June, but to so many characters in the film. That degree of development added to the richness of the cinematic experience.
AK: Seriously, that’s true what you say. You see each person start one place and end up somewhere else. How many times do you have a film where so many characters can make such significant transitions within it? So, I agree.
KW: I also liked the way the movie made statements about the Civil Rights Movement without hitting you over the head with it.
AK: True, because you wouldn’t quite say it’s a story about the Civil Rights Movement, but it’s definitely about that era. I’m really proud of that aspect.
KW: Any truth to the rumor that you might play Philippa Schuyler in the screen adaptation of her biography, Composition in Black and White?
AK: It’s something that Halle Berry really wanted to bring to life, and that we’ve been working on for a little while. Hopefully, it’ll pan out.
KW: Born in the Thirties, Philippa was also a child prodigy from Harlem who had one black parent and one white parent. Do you think there are many parallels between your life and hers?
AK: Honestly, there are fewer parallels than differences. The most obvious parallel is that my mother is white and my father’s black, and that we both play classical piano. What I love about the idea of playing her is that she’s not me, and I’m not her. And that she was this amazing person that too few people know about. I’m fascinated by the strangeness of that era, and her trying to perform classical music as a black woman back then when she had to, in essence, hide her identity just to play the music she loved. That confusion of “Who am I?” and “Where do I belong?” is just crazy and is the theme of her story that I really relate to because I think we all kind of want to find where we belong.
KW: That reminds me to congratulate you on your five recent American Music Award nominations.
AK: Oh, thank you.
KW: Also, congrats on “Another Way to Die,” the new James Bond theme for Quantum of Solace. I just heard that your co-collaborator on the song, Jack White, hurt his neck. Are you still going to perform it on MTV in conjunction with the movie’s release as planned, or will you have to cancel that appearance. I really love the video, although the song is a change of pace for you.
AK: I really love the song, too. Well, we really wanted to do that song together, so we’re going to pass at this point. Fortunately, he’s definitely going to heal up and will soon be all right.
KW: As a child with one black parent, and one white parent, how do you feel about Barack Obama’s candidacy?
AK: You know I love it, and that I support him. I’m confident that he’s going to be the next president and I refuse to accept the idea of anything else. There you have it.
KW: You not only play piano and sing, but you compose, arrange, act, and write poetry and prose. Do you have a favorite means of artistic expression?
AK: They rotate [Laughs heartily] They really do. Sometimes, after I’ve been on tour for so long, I start looking forward to composing and creating again. And after I’ve been songwriting for a long stretch, I’m kinda looking forward to going outside of myself and exploring someone else. And then sometimes it’s nice to be able to sit quietly and reflect and write without any specific outcome in mind, to just do it. So, it rotates.
KW: The Columbus Short question: Are you happy?
AK: Yes, I’m very happy.
KW: The Tasha Smith question: Are you ever afraid?
AK: Sure, but I try to push fear out of my mind, because I think you attract what you fear.
KW: Bookworm Troy Johnson asked me to ask you, what was the last book you read?
AK: The last book I read was The House on Sugar Beach: In Search of a Lost African Childhood by Helene Cooper. And now I’ve actually just started a novel, Song of the Cuckoo Bird by Amulya Malladi.
KW: Music maven Heather Covington was wondering, what music are you listening to nowadays?
AK: I’m listening to a mixture of Kanye West, Sergio Mendes, Fela Kuti and Common.
KW: Is there a question no one ever asks you, that you wish someone would?
AK: No. I always thought that I could figure out a really good answer to that question, but I haven’t found it yet.
KW: Well, thanks again, Alicia, and best of luck with everything.
AK: Thank you so much. Great to talk with you and I’m looking forward to speaking with you again soon. Oh, and Kam, make sure you tell everybody about my Black Ball on November 13th for my organization, Keep a Child Alive,
KW: Will do.
AK: Thank you Kam. Take care.
KW: Bye, Alicia.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Fears of the Dark (FRENCH)

(Peurs du Noir)
Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: French Animated Feature Explores Everyday Phobias

Last year, a French film named Paris, je T’aime proved that 20 directors could successfully collaborate on one movie. That picture was comprised of 18 independently-produced, loosely-linked shorts, each of which briefly related a tale set somewhere in the city Paris.
Now, 10 graphic artists have pooled their talents to make an animated feature highlighting a variety of everyday phobias ranging from spiders to dogs to an empty house to things that go bump in the night. Fears of the Dark, also coming courtesy of France, is not a cartoon aimed at kids, but rather a half-dozen relatively-sophisticated vignettes for adults, as it includes a little nudity, sexuality, bestiality and other adult-oriented fare.
Shot in stark black & white, the movie makes effective use of shadows and angles to add to the overall impending sense of dread. The stories ostensibly reflect the worst nightmares of their creators (Charles Burns, Marie Caillou, Romain Slocombe, Richard McGuire, Michel Pirus, Blutch, Lorenzo Mattotti, Jerry Kramsky, Pierre di Sciullo and artistic director Etienne Robial), whose efforts have yielded an innovative flick which figures to delight fans of the genre.
An arresting array of chilling images worthwhile for the scary visual effects alone.

Excellent (3.5 stars)
In French with subtitles.
In black & white
Running time: 80 minutes
Studio: IFC Films

To see a trailer for Fears of the Dark, visit:


Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Documentary Recounts Cannibalism among Survivors of Plane Crash

On October 13, 1972, a plane chartered by a Uruguayan rugby team set out for Chile with 40 passengers and a crew of 5 aboard. Unfortunately, after encountering inclement weather and considerable turbulence, the aircraft crashed in a remote region of the snow-capped Andes Mountains.
Less than 30 survived the initial impact, including one player’s wife, and they quickly started attending to each other’s wounds while scrambling to protect themselves from the elements. Someone found a battery-powered radio, so the group was able to hear that a search party had been organized. However, after their would-be rescuers were unable to locate them or the wreckage, it gradually became clear that they simply would have to save themselves.
That ensuing effort is the subject of Stranded: I’ve Come from a Plane That Crashed in the Mountains, a fascinating documentary directed by Gonzalo Arijon. What makes the picture so compelling is the fact that all was apparently not peachy keen among the rugby team during their harrowing ordeal, as a Lord of the Flies scenario unfolded, including incidents of stealing from what little rations they had available. Most shocking was the decision to resort to cannibalism for nourishment when they found themselves facing the prospect of starvation.
Ultimately, 16 men made it out alive, but only after devouring meat from the bodies of those who had either perished in the accident, or later from freezing, injuries or in an avalanche which killed 8. Devout Catholics, the survivors recount here how they rationalized their acts by blessing their friends’ corpses and by thinking of their sanctified flesh as Holy Communion.
Remarkably, today, all 16 remain close, living within a few hundred yards of each other. An uplifting tale of triumph over nature and a moving tribute to the indomitability of the human spirit.

Excellent (4 stars)
In Spanish and English with subtitles.
Running time: 126 minutes
Studio: Zeitgeist Films

To see a trailer for Stranded, visit:

Thursday, October 23, 2008

The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: DVD Features Modern-Day St. Francis Tending to Flock

Mark Bittner was a burnt-out hippie who had never quite found his purpose in life. For years, the bearded bohemian had barely been able to keep a roof over his head as a struggling street musician in San Francisco. Then, everything changed the day he came upon a colorful flock of tropical birds congregating in an area of the city called Telegraph Hill.
Exactly how the lime-green bodied, cherry-headed parrots arrived is simply the subject of speculation, though they are certainly not indigenous to the area. What's important is that Mark found the wild warblers fascinating, and he immediately began feeding and then nursing the sick among them back to health. The new hobby soon turned into a full-time vocation, with this modern day St. Francis scattering huge bags of feed while ignoring his own personal need for food, clothing and money for rent.
Thanks to the kindness of friends, strangers and a very patient landlord, this story has a happy ending, and it's all chronicled quite nicely in Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill, a documentary which captures the eccentric ornithologist communing with his flock with an intimacy that’s almost unimaginable.
He knows each of his dozens of birds by name and personality, noting not only their peculiar markings but also their individual eating, mating, traveling and nesting habits. Though Mr. Bittner also interacts with humans, too, he still comes off as a bit of an oddity. For most of his acquaintances, quite understandably, see him as a tad too taken with his animals.
Nonetheless, this brilliant film, by lingering on its subjects far longer than any casual passerby would dare, enables its audience to appreciate the fact that the world would be far better off with more sensitive souls like Mark.

Excellent (4 stars)
Rated G
Running time: 83 minutes
Studio: New Video Group
2-Disc DVD Extras: California Quail Bonus Short; Urban Legends; Origins of the Flock; Special Homage to Connor; Mark Bittner's Home Movies; Please Don't Feed the Birds; Music Video: Ballad of the Brooklyn Parrots; Behind the Scenes; Parrots Around the World; Flock Updates; Mark Bittner and Judy Irving Update; Original Theatrical Trailer; plus two new films by director Judy Irving 'Christmas at the Bait Shop' and '19 Arrests, No Convictions '; and much more.

To see a trailer of The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill, visit:

Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Irreverent Horror Comedy Arrives on DVD Right in Time for Halloween

General Lee Roy (Robin Watkins), a rank and file member of the Ku Klux Klan, also happens to be the CEO of American Chicken Bunker, a leading chain of fast food restaurants. The General has decided to go forward with plans to build his next franchise atop a sacred Native American burial ground, ignoring some very vocal local opposition.
He proceeds to bulldoze the graveyard, unaware that disturbing the remains of the Tromahawk Nation will trigger freaky fallout no one could have ever anticipated. For, the spirits of the ancestors magically merge with the fowl being served at the restaurant, turning the birds into a revenge-minded horde of man-eating zombies.
This is the point of departure of Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead, an alternately hilarious and shocking, gender-bending, genre-mixing, musical horror flick which defies description at every turn. Thoroughly entertaining via everything from blood-curling screams to gruesome displays of vivisection to a topless lesbian revue to bodily function humor to politically-incorrect ethnic jokes, the movie saves plenty of time to deliver some deadly serious messages about consumerism, sexism, racism and animal rights.
Directed by the legendary Lloyd Kaufman (The Toxic Avenger) the picture stars Jason Yachanin as Arbie, a recent high school grad who can’t afford to go to college. Meanwhile, his girlfriend, Wendy (Kate Graham), promises to remain loyal while away at school, only to fall in love with a gay, activist classmate, Micki (Allyson Sereboff).
The plot thickens after Arbie applies for a job at the cursed new restaurant, and what ensues is a jaw dropping combination of silly, sexy and sadistic skits serving up a never-ending array of imaginative ways to knock off cast members in a high attrition-rate production.
A sophisticated splatter flick as likely to enlighten as to keep you in stitches.

Excellent (4 stars)
Running time: 99 minutes
Studio: Troma Entertainment
DVD Extras: Alternate happy ending, deleted scenes, music videos, trailers, filmmaking lessons, director’s commentary, feature-length behind-the-scenes documentary, and much more.

To see a trailer of Poultrygeist, visit:

Kit Kittredge: An American Girl DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Kid Detective Depression-Era Whodunit Comes to DVD

This kiddie-oriented whodunit, based on the popular, illustrated children’s novel of the same name, stars Abigail Breslin in the title role. The story unfolds in Cincinnati during the Great Depression which is where we find the Kittredge family better off than most only because Kit’s father (Chris O’Donnell) has managed to keep his struggling car dealership afloat.
Initially oblivious of the economic crisis, the precocious 10 year-old visits the offices of the local newspaper, hoping to have her article on the Chicago World’s Fair published. After not being taken seriously by the tabloid’s curmudgeonly editor (Wallace Shawn), she turns her attention to more age-appropriate matters, like swearing in her friend, Florence (Erin Hilgartner), as the newest member of her secret Tree House Club.
Then, reality sets in when Kittredge Motors fails, and Kit’s father has to move to Chicago to look for employment. Meanwhile, just to keep a roof over their heads, Mrs. Kittredge (Julia Ormond) is forced to take in boarders.
There’s Lucinda Bond (Joan Cusack), a loony librarian who can’t drive straight; May Dooley (Jane Krakowski), a down-and-out dance teacher in need of a shoulder to lean on; and Jefferson Jasper Renee Berk (Stanley Tucci), a masterful magician with tons of tricks up his sleeve. So, this motley crew put on a lighthearted sideshow as the Kittredges adjust to life with a houseful of tenants.
The plot thickens when the city falls victim to a string of robberies, and Kit becomes consumed with cracking the case. Overall, this family-friendly adventure is reminiscent of the sort of fare for which Walt Disney was famous during its heyday. Given the pleasantness of the period costumes, the clean dialogue, the timely universal themes with heartwarming messages and the satisfying send-off, you have to wonder why nobody makes movies like this anymore.

Excellent (4 stars)
Rated G
Running time: 100 minutes
Studio: Warner Home Video
DVD Extras: Movie trailer gallery and deleted scenes and other enhanced features via DVD-ROM.

To see a trailer of Kit Kittredge, visit:

Wednesday, October 22, 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 31, 2008


The Haunting of Molly Hartley (PG-13 for violence, terror, teen drinking, brief profanity and mature themes) Haley Bennett handles the title role in this horror flick about a 17 year-old’s desperate effort to escape from Satan after she learns that her parents once entered into a pact with the Devil in order to safe her life.

The Other End of the Line (PG-13 for suggestive material) Globalization romantic drama about a credit card company operator (Shriya) from India who travels from Mumbai to San Francisco to rendezvous with a customer (Jesse Metcalfe) she fell in love with on the telephone. Catch is, he thinks she’s American.

Zack and Miri Make a Porno (R for graphic nudity, pervasive profanity, explicit sexuality and crude humor) Kevin Smith directs this romantic comedy about a couple of cash-strapped platonic friends (Seth Rogen and Elizabeth Banks) who make a pornographic film to solve their money woes only to find themselves falling in love with each other. Cast includes Justin Long, Jason Mewes, Craig Robinson and Traci Lords.


The First Basket (Unrated) Hoop documentary explores the impact of pioneer Jewish athletes on the evolution of basketball from a street game played in inner-city tenement alleys to the phenomenally-popular professional sport loved the world over.

The Matador (Unrated) Toreador documentary chronicling David Fandila’s three-year quest to become the world’s top-ranked matador by besting bulls in rings in Spain and Latin America.

Monks: The Transatlantic Feedback (Unrated) Musical bio-pic about a counter-Beatles rock group, started in the Sixties by five American GIs stationed in Germany during the Cold War, generally credited with creating the industrial, punk, heavy metal and techno sounds.

My Name Is Bruce (Unrated) Bruce Campbell plays himself in this comedy about a B-movie, horror flick star who finds himself forced to play his most famous role in real-life by fighting a monster wreaking havoc in a small town in Oregon.

One Day You’ll Understand (Unrated) Holocuast docudrama, based on Jerome Clement’s autobiographical novel, set in the Eighties, recounting a Frenchman’s (Hippolyte Girardot) obsession with determining what happened to his Jewish grandparents who perished in a concentration camp during World War II. (In French with subtitles)

Splinter (R for violence, gore and profanity) Horror flick about a young couple (Jill Wagner and Paulo Costanzo) on a camping vacation who join forces with their carjackers (Shea Whigam and Rachel Kerbs) when they find themselves being pursued by a voracious parasitic creature.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Sophina Brown: The Numb3rs Interview

with Kam Williams

Headline: Sophina’s Numb3r Is Up

Sophina Brown was born on September 18, 1976 in Saginaw, Michigan where she began acting in the second grade and hasn’t stopped since. She earned a B.F.A in Theatre Performance from the University of Michigan before heading to New York City and landing the lead of Nala in The Lion King.

Today, she’s perhaps best known for as Raina Troy on the CBS drama Shark. Since the show was recently cancelled, she returned to the stage temporarily at The Matrix Theater in Los Angeles to play Emma in a new production of Harold Pinter’s “Betrayal.” Here, she talks about her now joining the ensemble cast of the CBS series Numb3rs in a recurring role as Nikki.

KW: Hi Sophina, thanks again for the time.

SB: Hi, thank you.

KW: Tell me a little about your character?

SB: Nikki is very different from any character I’ve played before. She goes off instinct, rather than intellect. She’s not afraid to get physical either. She’s used to using her fists before her words. Nikki’s a lot rougher around the edges than Raina, that’s for sure!

KW: What surprises can fans of the show anticipate seeing this season?

SB: Well, I can’t give away any of the surprises, but Nikki definitely brings a new element to the FBI team.

KW: The Columbus Short question: Are you happy?

SB: I’m happier than I’ve ever been in my entire life. It is so true, I say it every day.

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

SB: I actually read a lot more plays than books. The last play I read was Gem of the Ocean by August Wilson.

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

SB: Yes, but never for long; any fear dissipates because of my faith. So fear pops up for me, but I don’t ever let it consume me.

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

SB: No one ever really asks me about my faith, because no one ever really seems interested in that, but it’s the most important thing to me; I’m Christian, so it’s my life.

KW: What do you like to do to unwind?

SB: I go see a lot of theater, I love going out to eat and trying out new restaurants, and I’m a pretty awesome bowler.

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

SB: Right now, I’m listening to Prince’s CD that came in his new coffee table book. The book is called 21 Nights, and the CD, Indigo Nights, is of his concerts. It’s a live version of his songs.

KW: Do you finally have a page at MySpace or your own website? You didn’t the last time we spoke.

SB: No, I still don’t, I’m probably the last person on Earth without it.

KW: How do you want to be remembered?

SB: Am I going somewhere?

KW: Not anytime soon. Thanks for another interview, and best of luck with Numb3rs and all your other endeavors.

SB: Thank you.


Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Oliver Stone Chronicles Bush’s Checkered Career with Damning Bio-Pic

Oliver Stone has never been afraid to court controversy, and this bio-pic is no exception. The iconoclastic director has made presidential docudramas before (JFK and Nixon), but W. is the first about one still in office.
This incendiary offering is apt to be appreciated or reviled along party lines for it paints a most unflattering picture of George W. Bush as a spoiled-rotten nincompoop who has been a miserable failure at his every endeavor. For, once it breezes past his early adult years frittered away as a boozing, womanizing embarrassment to his family, it settles down to focus on his copious shortcomings, first, as a businessman, and then as a politician.
Along the way, we’re treated mostly to W’s familiar fiascos, such as his much-publicized, ill-fated forays into the oil and baseball businesses. So, the movie doesn’t really make any new revelations, unless you were unaware that he got a girl pregnant, was arrested for drunk driving and has been a bitter disappoint to his father (James Cromwell), former president George Herbert Walker Bush.
The film is at its best only after a Born Again Junior cleans up his act, marries Laura (Elizabeth Banks), and makes the fateful decision to enter politics. Once he ascends to the presidency, we find him surrounded in the White House by a cast of infamous characters including Karl Rove (Toby Jones), Vice President Cheney (Richard Dreyfuss), Dr. Condoleezza Rice (Thandie Newton), Secretary of State Colin Powell (Jeffrey Wright), Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld (Scott Glenn) and CIA Director George Tenet (Bruce McGill).
What makes the story fascinating at this juncture is that it takes a “fly-on-the-wall” approach to confirm the country’s worst fears about the shady shenanigans among members of the administration. For example, we see Rove as the ever-scheming brains behind the throne while Cheney is exposed as a power-hungry maniac who felt that the Patriot Act didn’t go far enough. Rice, Powell and Tenet are presented as weak-kneed sycophants who consciously compromised their integrity by beating the drums of war, knowing full well that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction.
Still, the worst criticism is reserved for Bush, who is positioned as a clueless chimpleton-in-chief more than willing to hand the reigns of government over to his vice president so he could be free to eat junk food and watch sports on TV. A damning biography magnifying the worst traits of the president with the lowest approval rating in history.
Talk about beating a man when he’s down in the polls!

Very Good (3 stars)
Rated PG-13 for profanity, sexual references, smoking, alcohol abuse and disturbing war images.
Running time: 131 minutes
Studio: Lions Gate Films

To see a trailer for W., visit:

Saturday, October 18, 2008

The Secret Life of Bees

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Carolina Provides Scenic Rural Backdrop for Female Empowerment Flick Set during Civil Rights Era

Lily Owens (Dakota Fanning) has been troubled since the age of 4 when she accidentally shot her mother (Hilarie Burton) to death. Her parents had been in the midst of a violent argument at the time, and the little girl was too young to understand the consequences of her innocent attempt to intervene with the pistol that had fallen right in front of her.
Unfortunately, her father T. Ray’s (Paul Bettany) subsequent unwillingness to talk about the incident has only left Lily so confused that she grew up blaming herself for the tragedy. Everything comes to a head on her 14th birthday, when the only present she asks him for is the truth about whether the mother she resembles but only vaguely remembers really loved her. When her alcoholic dad’s response is to punish her for even broaching the subject, she finds comfort crying on the lap of her nanny, Rosaleen (Jennifer Hudson).
Not long thereafter, Rosaleen is beaten to a pulp for trying to register to vote, for she is African-American and this is South Carolina in the Sixties, during the waning days of Jim Crow segregation. Then, after T. Ray sides with the whites seeking to keep blacks in their place, Lily calls her father a coward and talks Rosaleen into running away to the town of Tiburon, the only clue she has of a link to her mother’s past.
Once there, it’s not long before the pair find themselves deposited off the beaten track in front of the Pepto Bismol-colored home of the eccentric Boatwright sisters: simple-minded May (Sophie Okonedo), cello savant June (Alicia Keys) and family matriarch August (Queen Latifah). The beekeeping siblings run a thriving business bottling a popular brand of honey called Black Madonna.
Lily and Rosaleen find themselves welcomed with open arms, and nourished by a supportive environment neither has experience before. More importantly, the spiritual oasis is able to answers the questions long nagging Lily like who her mother was and what could possibly have been her connection to this modest farm.
So unfolds The Secret Life of Bees, an optimistic tale of female empowerment set against the backdrop the Civil Rights Movement. The film is based on the semi-autobiographical novel by Sue Mark Kidd, a white woman who grew up in the South surrounded by black women and bees. As adapted to the screen by director Gina Prince-Blythewood (Love & Basketball), the story explores a treasure trove of themes ranging from racism to religion to sisterhood to loneliness to love and loss of innocence. But mostly Bees is about the individual urge for self-fulfillment, whether that be found in May’s constructing a Wailing Wall for her late twin, April; in June’s declining the proposal of an ardent admirer (Nate Parker) in order to pursue her dreams of a musical career; Lily’s daring to date a black boy (Tristan Wilds), or in Rosaleen’s determination to exercise her right to vote for the first time.
Heavily-laden with both symbolism and spiritualism, the picture relies on an array of evocative images such as queen bees and the Virgin Mary to deliver a series of subtle, yet very effective feminist messages. Particularly powerful is the silent scene where a piece of paper stuck in May’s wall of woe is unfolded to reveal a prayer for the four little girls blown up in a Birmingham church by the Ku Klux Klan.
Smart and sentimental but not syrupy, with a well-executed script guaranteed to leave you in tears.

Excellent (4 stars)
Rated PG-13 for violence, mild epithets, ethnic slurs and mature themes.
Running time: 110 minutes
Studio: Fox Searchlight

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The Incredible Hulk DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Incredible Adaptation Arrives on DVD

This Marvel Comics adaptation features Ed Norton as Dr. Bruce Banner, a scientist who was conducting research with gamma rays when something went horribly wrong in the lab. Via the magic of flashbacks we learn that he was left with a short fuse which transforms him into an invincible green behemoth whenever he loses control of his temper. We also know that his girlfriend Betty (Liv Tyler) was knocked unconscious in the same accident and that her father, General Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross (William Hurt) blames Banner for his daughter’s injuries.
As the story unfolds, we find Bruce on the lam and working in a Brazilian bottling factory where he’s been quietly trying to find a cure for his condition while keeping a low profile. But then, a cut on the finger leads to a bit of his blood dropping into a container of soda about to be shipped to America. And before you can say “Ay Caramba!” a crack team of Army commandos soon descends on the place. The mild mannered Banner, who had been incommunicado for almost six months, loses his cool and morphs into The Hulk in order to escape.
He returns to the States, and enlists the assistance of Betty, only to have her dad’s henchman, Blonsky (Tim Roth) still on his tail. Worse, Blonsky turns into a superhuman freak called The Abomination after voluntarily being injected with an experimental radioactive serum.
This development inexorably leads to a colorful showdown in Harlem of all places. At that juncture, special effects take over, as the protagonist and his nemesis knock each other up and down 125th Street in a cartoonish battle royal.
Between its uncomplicated plot and high-impact action sequences, this kid-friendly adventure provides a practically-perfect escape for fans of the comic adaptation genre. Can anybody spell sequel?

Excellent (4 stars)
Rated PG-13 for violence, frightening sci-fi images, and brief suggestive content.
In English and Portuguese with subtitles.
Running time: 113 minutes
Studio: Universal Studios Home Entertainment
3-Disc DVD Extras: Deleted scenes, feature commentary, alternate opening, digital copy of the film, a half-dozen featurettes, and more.

To see a trailer of The Incredible Hulk, visit:

Flight of the Red Balloon (FRENCH) DVD

(Le Voyage du Ballon Rouge)
DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Boy Bonds with Asian Nanny in Surreal Drama Now on DVD

Seven year-old Simon (Simon Iteanu) is being raised by a berserk single-mom (Juliette Binoche) so overwhelmed by her assorted responsibilities that she dumps him in the care of a new babysitter (Fang Song) who doesn’t even know where they live. The trouble is that mother Suzanne is a puppeteer who’s consumed with putting the finishing touches on her next show when not fighting with her troublesome downstairs tenant (Hippolyte Giradot).
By contrast, Song, a nanny from Taiwan, is a relatively-mellow soul. She also happens to be a film school student who wants to make a movie with the very imaginative child now entrusted in her care. Seems that she is able to escape to a parallel universe where Simon is followed everywhere he goes by a big red balloon, a development reminiscent of the 1956 French classic “The Red Balloon” about a peripatetic Parisian boy also trailed by, what else, but a red balloon.
This praiseworthy homage, directed by Hsiao-hsien Hou, doesn’t provide much of a linear plotline worth following, unless you care to be distracted by foul-mouthed Suzanne’s annoying caterwaul and her selfish concerns. Rather, this is a flick designed to be appreciated for its more subtle moments, those evocative interludes shared by the virtually abandoned child and his sensitive au pair as they perambulate the urban exoskeleton of an enchantingly-framed City of Light.
A slight, surreal cinematic experiment apt to enthrall the more discerning theatergoer, while leaving the mundane masses scratching their heads and asking, “Is that it?”

Very good (3 stars)
In French with subtitles.
Running time: 115 minutes
Studio: Genius Products

To see a trailer for Flight of the Red Balloon, visit:

To the Limit (GERMAN) DVD

(Am Limit)
DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: DVD Features Squabbling Siblings Scaling Peaks in Mountain Climbing Documentary

Thomas and Alexander Huber are world-class mountain climbers, but otherwise polar opposites. Elder brother Thomas is very laid back and plays in a rock band while two years younger Alexander is a physicist by day. So, it comes as no surprise that the latter would be a methodical planner while the former is an idealistic dreamer with a Laissez-faire attitude.
Ordinarily, this doesn’t matter much, since they lead separate lives most of the time. However, the contrast does cause conflict whenever they reunite for a climbing expedition, such as the ones chronicled here scaling both Patagonia and the thousand foot-high vertical nose of El Capitan, a peak located in Yosemite National Park.
The mountains magnify the squabbling siblings’ differences because neither is content merely to reach the top of a precipice, but they also happen to be speed climbers driven to arrive there in record time. Given their distinctly different orientations, this means there’s frequently tension in the air despite the fact that they’re involved in an undertaking where one false move could prove fatal.
To the Limit is a character-driven documentary dedicated to capturing these bickering daredevils against a variety of breathtaking backdrops.
Their cooperation and competition were caught on camera by fellow German Pepe Danquart, a gifted director who won an Oscar in 1994 for a short called Schwarzfahrer.
Far more memorable for its stomach-churning cinematography and the daring exploits of the risk-taking Hubers than for the boys’ badinage, this is a film which might, in any other context, simply be dismissed as a case study in unresolved sibling rivalry. But when such mouthing off comes while dangling thousands of feet in the air from the face of a cliff, it makes for a fairly compelling cinematic experience.
Mountain-climbing undertaken with a manic sense of urgency.

Very Good (3 stars)
In German and English with subtitles.
Running time: 95 minutes
Studio: First Run Features
DVD Extras: Epilogue, photo gallery, bios and production notes.

To see a trailer for To the Limit, visit:

On the Rumba River DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Tribute to Legendary Congolese Musician Comes to DVD

Born in 1925, Antoine Kolosoy divided his youth between boxing and playing the guitar, and roaming up and down the Congo River on his ramshackle raft. He acquired the nickname Wendo while developing a loyal musical following, despite having his songs banned by the Church and the Belgian bureaucrats who had colonized his homeland.
The Establishment’s fear was that his tunes might contain secret messages intended to foment civil unrest, since the lyrics were in his native Lingala. But Wendo’s verses were actually apolitical, and after his first album was recorded and released in 1948, he became the Congo’s first Rumba superstar, performing in and around Kinshasa with his band. He went on to find fame both as a professional boxer and as a musician, though the latter career would prove to be more enduring.
It would even survive the blighted nation’s decades of post independence suffering marked by poverty and civil war, during which Wendo’s brand of Rumba would serve to sustain the spirits of the people. Ultimately, the venerable cultural icon did fall on hard times, and was temporarily reduced to begging for tips until mounting a successful comeback in the 1990s.
On the Rumba River, a retrospective directed by Jacques Sarasin (I’ll Sing for You), is an endearing mix of reminiscences and impromptu concerts by Wendo and some of his former sidemen, all of whom are by now senior citizens up there in years. Plus, the picture features plenty of compelling cinematography guaranteed to give the uninformed a good idea of what life might be like in a land where over four million souls have perished in a neverending cycles of exploitation and ethnic cleansing.
An overdue tribute to some talented geezers which might as well be called The Kinshasa Social Club, if you get my drift.

Very Good (3 stars)
In Lingala with subtitles.
Running time: 82 minutes
Studio: First Run Features
DVD Extras: Music tracks, photo gallery, biographies and original theatrical trailer.

To see a trailer for On the Rumba River, visit:

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

Kam's Kapsules:
Weekly Previews That Make Choosing a Film Fun
by Kam Williams
For movies opening October 24, 2008


Changeling (R for profanity, violence and disturbing content) Clint Eastwood directs this psychological thriller, set in L.A., inspired by events arising in 1928 during a real life case involving a single-mom (Angelina Jolie) whose hopes for the safe return of her kidnapped nine year-old (Gattlin Griffith) were seemingly answered but then dashed when she realized that the boy brought to her was not her son. Cast includes John Malkovich, Amy Ryan and Morgan Eastwood (Clint’s daughter).

High School Musical 3: Senior Year (G) Disney, kiddie-oriented song and dance extravaganza revolves around a couple of high school sweethearts (Zac Efron and Vanessa Anne Hudgens) and their friends as they face the prospect of graduating and going their separate ways. With Ashley Tisdale, Corbin Bleu and Monique Coleman.

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

Pride and Glory (R for pervasive profanity, graphic violence and brief drug use) New York City crime saga about a detective (Edward Norton) investigating the murders of four police officers in a routine drug bust gone bad who opens a Pandora’s Box when the trail leads to a couple of cops close to him: his brother (Noah Emmerich) and brother-in-law (Colin Farrell). With Jon Voight, Rick Gonzalez and Wayne Duvall (Robert’s cousin).

Saw V (R for nudity, profanity, torture, and graphic violence) Latest installment of the high attrition-rate, slasher franchise finds a forensics expert (Costas Mandylor) hunting for humans during a deadly rampage aimed at protecting the secret that he has been tapped to carry on the grisly legacy of the infamous Jigsaw (Tobin Bell). With Meagan Good, Julie Benz and Betsey Russell.


Ben X (Unrated) Revenge drama about an autistic teenager (Ben Timmermans) being mercilessly bullied at school who hatches a plan to get even with the help of a girl (Laura Verlinden) he meets online while playing his favorite computer game. (In Dutch with subtitles)

God and Gays: Bridging the Gap (Unrated) Faith-based documentary chronicles the challenges faced by Born Again homosexuals trying to find acceptance as Christians in spite of their religion’s general condemnation of their sexual preference as sinful.

I’ve Loved You So Long (PG-13 for smoking and mature themes) “Debt to society” drama about the readjustment to real life of a recently-paroled ex-con (Krisitin Scott Thomas) with the help of her younger sister (Elsa Zylberstein) after spending 15 years in prison for the murder of her 6 year-old son. (In French and English with subtitles)

Let the Right One in (R for profanity, nudity, disturbing images and graphic violence) Horror flick about 12 year-old boy (Kare Hedebrant) who exacts revenge on his bullies with the help of his beautiful next-door neighbor (Lina Leandersson), a girl his age who just happens to be a bloodthirsty vampire. (In Swedish with subtitles)

Noah’s Arc: Jumping the Broom (R for sexuality and profanity) Screen adaptation of the gay-themed TV series revolving around the sexploits of four African-American men (Darryl Stephens, Christian Vincent, Douglas Spearman and Rodney Chester) shifts its setting from L.A. to Martha’s Vineyard for a weekend-long celebration during which plenty of kinky hijinks and relationship drama unfold. Cast includes Phoebe Snow, Gary Gray and Gregory Kieth.

Roadside Romeo (Unrated) Disney collaborates with Bollywood to produce this animated adventure about the plight of a pampered family pet dog (Saif Ali Khan) abandoned on the mean streets of Mumbai where he is forced to defend himself from four goons until he falls in love at first sight with the hound (Kareena Kapoor) of his dreams. (In Hindi with subtitles)

Saving Marriage (PG-13 for brief profanity) Same-sex relationships are the subject of this civil rights documentary about the landmark legal decision making gay marriage legal in Massachusetts.

Stranded (Unrated) “Tastes like chicken” documentary recounts the harrowing ordeal of the 16 survivors of a 1972 plane crash who were forced to resort to cannibalism for sustenance until their wish to be home for Christmas came true when they were rescued on December 23rd after being stuck high in the Andes Mountains for 72 days.

Synecdoche, New York (R for profanity, sexuality and nudity) Philip Seymour Hoffman stars in this dramedy about an unhappily-married theater director’s struggle to balance women and work while recreating a replica of New York City in a warehouse as a set for his latest play. Ensemble includes Catherine Keener, Samantha Morton, Hope Davis, Emily Watson, Dianne Wiest, Michelle Williams (former fiancée of the late Heath Ledger).

The Universe of Keith Haring (Unrated) “Notice me!” documentary revisits the life and times of the attention-grabbing, gay graffiti artist who died of AIDS in 1990 at the tender age of 31.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Omar Benson Miller: The Express & Miracle at St. Anna Interview

with Kam Williams

Headline: It’s Miller Time!

Born on October 7, 1978, Los Angeles native Omar Benson Miller started acting professionally while attending San Jose State University, where he majored in Radio, Television Film and Theater Arts with a minor in African-American Studies. The 6’ 6” gentle giant made his screen debut in the Walt Disney drag comedy Sorority Boys.

Upon completing work on his bachelor’s degree, he landed a lead role in Eminem’s semi-autobiographical bio-pic 8 Mile. He has since appeared in over a dozen movies, most notably opposite 50-Cent in Get Rich or Die Tryin’, Halle Berry and in Things We Lost in the Fire, Richard Gere and J-Lo in Shall We Dance, and Drew Barrymore and Robert Duvall in Lucky You.

He’s even tried his hand at writing, directing and producing, making Gordon Glass, a low-budget family comedy in which he handled the title role. On television, Omar has been on such shows as The West Wing, Law & Order and Sex Love & Secrets.

Here, the versatile young talent talks about his two pictures currently in theaters, The Express & Spike Lee’s Miracle at St. Anna.

KW: Hey Omar, thanks for the time.

OM: Yeah. No doubt! How’re you doing?

KW: Fine, and you?

OM: I’m good.

KW: What interested you in playing Sam Train in Miracle at St. Anna?

OM: What didn’t interest me in playing Sam Train? He’s like a superhero, except in real life. I had read the book when it initially came out, and I felt, “Wow! This is exactly something I’d like to do.” And then the opportunity came up while we were shooting The Express. I got this text message saying Spike Lee was doing a World War II drama and, yeah man, I did everything I could to get in front of that guy. And he picked me. He said, “I want you to do it.” Then he put me on this tight regimen where I had to lose about 50 pounds in 9 weeks.

KW: Whoa!

OM: If you see both movies, you’ll see I’m a blubberous lineman in The Express, and a much less blubbery soldier in Miracle at St. Anna. What’s interesting is that both these films tell stories that needed to be told, in my opinion, because you never learn anything in school or during Black History month about the Buffalo Soldiers or the African-American military campaign during World War II.

KW: I agree. And what attracted you to the role of Rob Brown’s buddy Jack in The Express?

OM: When I read that book, I was embarrassed that I had never heard of Ernie Davis, although I knew about Jim Brown, Floyd Little and the Syracuse University legacy. And the more research that I did, watching film and reading about him, the more intrigued I became. I realized he was a humanitarian and an American hero whose story deserved to be told. And I think it’s going to inspire millions, because people are going to see this film and love it. I’ve seen it with audiences four or five times and not once has it gotten a bad response. People love this movie.

KW: Did you have an interest in acting as a child?

OM: No, none whatsoever. I played sports. The acting thing was just a direct blessing from the Lord, because I lost my discipline to play sports, and I had this really cool professor grab me and kind of take me under his wing, and the ball just started rolling. Another professor introduced me to my first agent, and the next thing you know, I got to start doing films. It was great!

KW: What would you say was your big break, 8 Mile?

OM: Without question. After 8 Mile came out and blew up, the ball has been rolling ever since.

KW: At 6’ 6” tall, what types of roles are you looking for?

OM: The type that aren’t specifically written for guys who are 6’ 6”. Normally, I try to stay away from playing security guard type characters, the stereotypical, big man fare. And I’ve been pretty blessed, man, and successful at getting out of the box.

KW: Bookworm Troy Johnson wants to know, what was the last book you read?

OM: The most memorable book I read recently was Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt by Anne Rice. It was a departure for her from her normal evil vampire type fare. This book delved into the possibilities of what it might have been like to watch Jesus as a child. It was very interesting.

KW: What did you think of the job James McBride did in adapting Miracle at St. Anna, having read the book?

OM: Spike’s vision for the film definitely burst out of the beauty of the book. But I think it’s a different animal. It’s tricky, because it’s very difficult to jam a novel like that into two and a half hours.

KW: Do you think it helped in this case that the author also wrote the screenplay.

OM: Without question. From what I understand, he and Spike would go through it together ten pages at a time.

KW: “Realtor to the Stars” Jimmy Bayan asks: Where in L.A. do you live?

OM: I live in Glendale now. It’s actually a really nice community. I hadn’t been hip to it. I just stumbled upon it by accident because a buddy of mine needed me to pick him up out there. And I was like, “Gee, this is nice.” Around the same time, I was blessed enough to be able to buy a house, so I moved over there.

KW: Where in L.A. did you grow up?

OM: Before I left to go to college, I was living in Orange County, Anaheim Hills. And prior to that I was in Long Beach. That’s where I spent most of my childhood and where my mother and brothers are now.

KW: Music maven Heather Covington is curious about what music you’re listening to nowadays?

OM: I’m listening to the new Beck, Modern Guilt, and to a buddy of mine named Johnny Fair who sings soul, R&B. And I’ve been listening to that Citizen Cope album. I can’t wait for his new one to come out. He’s more of an independent, undergroundy kind of guy.

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

OM: Of course.

KW: The Columbus Short question: Are you happy?

OM: I’m joyous! And that’s more important, because happiness is fleeting.

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

OM: [Laughs] No, you guys are pretty thorough.

KW: What message do you hope people will take away from The Express?

OM: I hope they come away with the inspiration that you can overcome any obstacles in your path. Ernie Davis had the cards stacked against him completely, yet he was able to accomplish great things through perseverance, courage, diligence and his own grounding though his family and his faith. I sincerely hope the film challenges people to take an introspective look at their lives and see how they fit into the world at large, and see what kinds of positive changes they can make, because in researching for this film we didn’t find one person who had met Ernie who hadn’t been positively influenced by him. Not one. And I think this comes out on the screen. So, even in death, he was still triumphant. That’s admirable.

KW: How do you want to be remembered.

OM: As a righteous dude!

KW: Thanks again for the interview, Omar. I appreciate the time and I’m expecting bigger things from you in the future.

OM: Hey, I appreciate that.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Sex Drive

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Desperate Virgin Chases Internet Fantasy in Raunchy Road Comedy

Ian Lafferty (Josh Zuckerman) is your prototypical high school grad with one mission in life: to lose his virginity before heading off to college in the fall. But the 18 year-old nerd’s prospects of quenching his raging hormones aren’t that great for several reasons.
First of all, he’s socially awkward and gets tongue-tied around girls, especially Felicia (Amanda Crew), the cute co-worker he has a big crush on. Trouble is she only sees him as a nice guy she can confide in about her own boy problems.
Secondly, Ian’s job as the mascot of a convenience store called Senor Donut tends to get in the way, since he spends most of the day walking around the mall disguised as a giant piece of pastry under a big sombrero. Needless to say, that look isn’t exactly a chick magnet, in fact, the only attention he attracts is from mischievous kids out to embarrass him by secretly attaching sex toys to his costume.
Things aren’t any better for Ian at home, where he’s mercilessly teased for possibly being gay by his older brother, Rex (James Marsden), a macho stud with a classic Pontiac GTO from 1969. And to add insult to injury, even his 14 year-old brother (Cole Peterson) is already having better luck with the ladies. Consequently, it’s no surprise that Ian spends most of his time in his bedroom, trolling internet chat rooms in search of a date.
This loser’s fate seems to change the day he meets “Ms. Tasty” online, a blonde temptress who’s very impressed by his embellished bio and computer-enhanced photos. She promises to make it worth his while if he shows up in Knoxville behind the wheel of the muscle car he claims to drive. So, Ian “borrows” his brother’s GTO without permission, and sets out for Tennessee from Chicago accompanied by Felicia and his best friend, Lance (Clark Duke), for the 1,000-mile road trip of a lifetime.
Sometimes, getting there is all he fun, and this is the case with Sex Drive, easily the funniest teensploit of 2008 so far. Loosely based on the novel “All the Way” by Andy Behrens, the screen version is a rather raunchy adventure reminiscent not only of Judd Apatow’s recent offerings but also of such shock genre staples as The 40 Year-Old Virgin, Road Trip, American Pie, There’s Something about Mary and The Sure Thing.
En route to Ian’s romantic rendezvous with Ms. Tasty, our hardy trio has hilarious encounters at every turn, whether with a homeless hitchhiker, kinky trailer trash, trigger-happy cops or wayward Amish. Brace yourself for outrageous fare ranging from politically-incorrect epithets to explicit dialogue to scatological humor to male and female frontal nudity. Yet, underneath all the scummy hijinks, there’s a redeeming message about true love waiting to be revealed, allowing for a sweet sendoff which manages to make Sex Drive something that’s very special in the end.

Excellent (4 stars)
Rated R for crude humor, profanity, sexuality, nudity, and drug and alcohol use, all involving teens.
Running time: 109 minutes
Studio: Summit Entertainment

To see a trailer of Sex Drive, visit:

Saturday, October 11, 2008

The Express

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Rob Brown Stars as Late Gridiron Great in Bittersweet Bio-Pic

Ernie Davis (Rob Brown) had to overcome some very humble roots on his way to gridiron greatness, having been raised in rural Pennsylvania by his grandparents until the age of 12. During those formative years, he forged a very close bond with the man he called Pops (Charles S. Dutton), a coal miner who instilled both a solid work ethic and a quiet sense of dignity in his impressionable young grandson. Those character traits would prove to be priceless to Ernie in scaling the obstacles he would encounter just because he was born black in an age when intolerance and segregation were the order of the day.
By the time his widowed mother (Elizabeth Shivers) remarried and regained custody of her son, he had apparently already developed not only the steely resolve to be the best, but also the temperament to test the country’s color-coded discrimination wherever he encountered it. Both his athletic prowess and his yearning for equality are the subject of The Express, a bittersweet bio-pic based on the best-selling biography of the same name by Robert C. Gallagher. The title comes from the nickname Ernie earned in high school in upstate New York, where he was dubbed “The Elmira Express” because of his considerable feats on the football field as a running back.
Following in the footsteps of the legendary Jim Brown (Darrin Dewitt Henson) to Syracuse University, he went on to eclipse his predecessor, leading their alma mater to a national championship while becoming the first African-American to win the Heisman Trophy as the nation’s best football player. Though drafted by the Cleveland Browns, the glory was not to last, as Ernie would succumb to leukemia at the tender age of 23 without ever having a chance to play in the NFL.
Directed by Gary Fleder, The Express does an excellent job of chronicling each of the critical touchstones in the abbreviated life of a role model worthy of emulation, whether he’s being refused accommodations in the South at a “White Only” hotel or being threatened on account of his skin color by fans from an opponent’s school. Considerable credit must go to Rob Brown for his convincing depiction of the film’s ill-fated hero as an endearing combination of integrity, vulnerability and sheer guts. Equally-effective are stellar support performances turned in by Omar Benson Miller as his teammate/buddy, Jack Buckley, and by Dennis Quaid as Syracuse Coach Ben Schwartzwalder.
Another plus is the magical production’s recreation of the period via an appropriately retro musical score along with fitting backdrops, wardrobes, mannerisms and slanguage from the bygone era via painstaking attention to detail which only add to the picture’s palpable sense of realism. In sum, The Express amounts to a fine addition to the recent genre of socially-conscious sports flicks (ala Glory Road, The Great Debaters and Meet the Titans) which highlight individual triumphs not merely in and of themselves, but for the collective meaning of those historic moments to the masses of black people ever in search of civil rights.

Excellent (3.5 stars)
Rated PG for violence, mature themes, ethnic slurs and brief sensuality.
Running time: 129 minutes
Studio: Universal Pictures

To see a trailer for The Express, visit:

Thursday, October 9, 2008

4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (ROMANIAN) DVD

(4 luni, 3 saptamani si 2 zile)
DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Unwanted Pregnancy the Subject of Sobering Romanian Drama Released on DVD

Judging by a recently-released movies, American and Eastern European teenagers must have very different mindsets when it comes to an unwanted pregnancy. Afterall, it was no big deal for Juno, the terminally-sarcastic title character of the hilarious teensploit. With the help of her equally-blasé best friend, that proto-typical American rebel simply decided to find a perfect suburban couple to adopt the baby, then behaving like she’s above it all for the rest of the film till her unplanned bundle of joy arrived.
By contrast, we find relatively-morose Gabita (Laura Vasiliu), the heroine of 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, stuck behind the Iron Curtain in Rumania where abortion has been outlawed. Looking like Borat’s lost wayward sister, this glum college student lives in a grey dorm on a grim campus where practically everybody seems to be dealing in contraband (cigarettes, candy, even showers) or is up to some sort of shady shenanigans.
For, you see, this is the late Eighties, during the last days of Communism, so it comes as no surprise when Gabita turns to the black market rather than have the child. Accompanied by her very supportive roommate (Anamaria Marinca), who handles most of the details, she unwittingly seeks out the services of Bebe (Vlad Ivanov), the callous butcher of Bucharest, an unlicensed monster who could care less about the welfare of his vulnerable clients.
4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days is a relentlessly-depressing, slice-of-life drama which unfolds over the course of 24 hours. Since the picture, perhaps a little too convincingly conveys the harrowing ordeal of a desperate female in Gabita’s predicament, before watching this movie you still might want to make sure you’re in the mood for a feel-bad flick.
The Un-Juno.

Very Good (3 stars)
Rated R for nudity, sexual situations and profanity.
Running time: 113 minutes
In Romanian with subtitles.
Studio: Genius Products
DVD Extras: Interviews with director Cristian Mungiu and actress Anamaria Marinca, and filmographies.

To see a trailer of 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, visit:

The Edge of Heaven (TURKISH) DVD

(Auf der Anderen Seite)
DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Cross-Cultural Melodrama about Turkish Immigrants’ Adjustment to Germany Comes to DVD

In 2004, Fatih Akin’s Head-On brilliantly brought to light the challenges faced by Turks trying to assimilate into German culture. Now Akin has crafted another masterpiece exploring a similar theme. This go-round, he has his protagonists venturing back and forth between Deutschland and Turkey, almost as if they are undecided about exactly where they belong.
This character-driven ensemble piece grows out of the ill-fated relationship of convenience of Ali (Tuncel Kurtiz), a senior citizen on a fixed income, and Yeter (Nursel Kose), a prostitute working in Bremen’s red light district. At the point of departure, he’s just one of her many clients. But the two Turkish immigrants strike an unusual bargain whereby she moves into his apartment and promises to give up hooking on the condition that he pay her a salary equal to what she was making as a streetwalker.
It doesn’t take long for the plot to thicken after prideful Ali suspects Yeter of cheating on him and kills her in a jealous rage. First, he’s convicted of murder and disowned by his son, Nejat (Baki Davrak), a college professor. Then Nejat decides to provide for Yeter’s long-lost, suddenly-orphaned daughter, Ayten (Nurgul Yesilcay), presumably left behind in Istanbul.
So, he moves to Turkey unaware that the she’s already in Germany and seeking political asylum as a dissident. Not to worry. Ayten is soon denied that request and summarily deported and imprisoned in Istanbul. She is followed there by Lotte (Patrycia Ziolkowska), a lipstick lesbian determined to spring her life partner from the slammer.
But before she even gets a chance to approach the authorities, she’s shot to death while walking through the slums by a couple of pint-sized, child muggers with a pistol. The loss inspires grieving Suzanne (Hanna Schygulla) to retrace her daughter’s footsteps which lead to a fortuitous meeting with Ayten. What a dizzying series of events!
With the circle completed, all that’s left for this modern morality play to do is deliver the heartwarming universal message that perhaps you can teach an old dog new tricks after all, especially if they have to do with forgiveness and tolerance.

Excellent (4 stars)
In German, Turkish and English with subtitles.
Running time: 116 minutes
Studio: Strand Releasing
DVD Extras: Director Faith Akin’s video diary and theatrical trailers.

To see a trailer of The Edge of Heaven, visit:

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Indiana Jones Revival Arriving on DVD

The good news is that Harrison Ford is up to the challenge of his physically-demanding role as Indiana Jones after a 19-year hiatus. However, the production is slightly lacking in terms of generating a certain intangible called movie magic. Maybe the problem lies with the fact that the film will automatically be measured against the storied franchise’s earlier installments.
Gone is that palpable sense of urgency which glued you to the edge of your seat, a failing perhaps due to an increased dependency on computer-generated imagery. So, instead of performing stunts, Ford spends his time faking it in front of a blue screen, although still sporting his trademark whip and fedora.
The story unfolds in 1957 in the Nevada desert where we learn that Indy has been kidnapped by Russian spies led by the steely Irina Spalko (Cate Blanchett). Tied up in the trunk of a car, he’s driven to a secret U.S. Air Force base rumored to be holding the mummified remains of a Martian. This is of interest to the KGB which wants the alien’s corpse, for legend has it that it might contain the mysterious Crystal Skull, an ancient artifact said to be capable of unlocking limitless powers.
Of course, ingenious Indy escapes from his captors in spectacular fashion and the race is on to find the priceless icon. Along the way, he teams up with Mutt (Shia LaBeouf), a Harley-riding, rebel, and with Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen), an old flame he hasn’t seen since he was looking for the Lost Ark.
The ensuing expedition to the jungles of Peru is less edgy and dangerous than comfy and nostalgic. Just thank your lucky stars that Harrison Ford still has the charisma to reinvent one of the most-beloved characters in screen history.

Very Good (3 stars)
Rated PG-13 for violence and frightening images.
Running time: 124 minutes
Studio: Paramount Home Entertainment
2-Disc DVD Extras: A dozen featurettes, plus several galleries.

Kabluey DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: DVD Features Lisa Kudrow in Stop-Loss Comedy

This charming screwball comedy generates plenty of laughter while simultaneously ever so subtly addressing several sobering themes. It’s based on a semi-autobiographical tale by Scott Prendergrast whose own brother was stop-loss into a tour of duty in the Middle East. He co-stars opposite Lisa Kudrow who exhibits her trademark charm, perfect comic timing and an endearing emotional range in a role intermittently calling for a certain gravitas.
The story revolves around emotionally and financially challenged Leslie (Kudrow) who has stoically been trying to hold down the fort since her husband Noah’s (Phil Thoden) National Guard unit shipped out to Iraq. Between working full-time and raising their two boys (Cameron Wofford and Landon Henninger) alone, the frazzled mom barely has any downtime to relax, let alone worry about Noah’s safety.
The sort of help she doesn’t exactly need arrives when her unemployed brother-in-law, Salman (Prendergrast), shows up needing a place to crash, having recently been fired from an entry-level position as a clerk at a copy store. He proves to be so pathetic as a babysitter, that she instead finds him a job at her real estate company as its corporate mascot, Kabluey.
Much of the ensuing slapstick emanates from his interacting with strangers while standing on the street passing out flyers at the height of summer in a heat-seeking baby blue outfit covering him from head to toe. Meanwhile, there is a disarming darkness and depth to Leslie’s character, whose evolution hints at the plausible plight of countless similarly-situated Army wives in real life.
A worthwhile “melan-comedy” (a term coined by Prendergast) which delivers a feminist statement merely by questioning the conventional patriotic wisdom that all wars are fought for God, mom and apple pie.

Excellent (4 stars)
Rated PG-13 for sexuality, a crude reference and brief profanity.
Running time: 86 minutes
Distributor: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
DVD Features: 25 deleted scenes.

To see a trailer of Kabluey, visit:

Nights and Weekends

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Earnest Romance Drama Examines Emotional Challenges of Long-Distance Relationship in Flux

Mattie (Greta Gerwig) lives in New York while her boyfriend James (Joe Swanberg) makes his home in Chicago, and the distance between them tends to heighten the intensity of the precious little time they get to spend together, for better or worse. Whether they’re feeling pangs of passion, pettiness, jealousy or doubt, their emotions always seem to remain right on the surface.
Less a fully-fleshed out story, than an impressionistic sketch flick which leaves the rudiments of plot structure to the viewer’s imagination, Nights and Weekends is, nonetheless, an engaging slice-of-life adventure as riveting as a train wreck. This claustrophobic feature zeroes-in microscopically on modern-day battle of the sexes, in a manner most reminiscent to such other low-budget pix as Four Eyed Monsters and Swanberg’s own LOL.
Here, Mr. Swanberg shares writing and directorial credits with his comely co-star, which makes sense since most of the script sounds almost improvised. Fortunately, the talented twosome share a compelling screen chemistry (despite not dating in real life) along with an uncanny knack for convincingly portraying characters wrestling with relationship issues.
The point of departure is the Windy City where we find Mattie just arriving at James’ modest crib. The sex-starved pair lovers are so in heat that they tear each other’s clothes off, with the camera capturing full-frontal nudity, including explicit evidence of arousal, if not penetration. In fact, in the spirit of cinema verite we’re later treated to the sight of Mattie not only relieving herself on the toilet but wiping herself as well.
Eventually, the action fast-forwards a year and we learn that things have deteriorated from a state of pneumatic and romantic bliss to one of deception and distrust. Nights and Weekends turns out to be best during those introspective moments when we catch the protagonists musing aloud.
For example, Mattie worries whether or not they will remain together unless she anchors her man with a baby. Otherwise, she fears she’s fated to be reduced to a distant memory that James will refer to in a simple sound bite. He, on the other hand, exhibits his vulnerability by admitting that he has a mental image of himself as more handsome than the mirror reveals.
A frequent-flyer drama examining 21st Century mating habits.

Very Good (3 stars)
Running time: 79 minutes
Studio: IFC Films

To see a trailer for Nights and Weekends, visit:

Wednesday, October 8, 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 17, 2008


Max Payne (PG-13 for profanity, sexuality, intense violence and drug use) Mark Wahlberg stars in the title role of this revenge thriller about a DEA agent and an assassin (Mila Kunis) who join forces to find the killers responsible for the murder of his family and her sister. Cast includes Ludacris, Beau Bridges, Nelly Furtado, Chris O’Donnell, Donal Logue and Kate Burton (Richard’s daughter).

The Secret Life of Bees (PG-13 for violence and mature themes) Dakota Fanning stars in this Southern saga, set in the Sixties at the height of the Civil Rights Movement, about a motherless teen who runs away with her surrogate mom (Jennifer Hudson) from her abusive father (Paul Bettany) to a tiny South Carolina town where they are taken in by an eccentric trio of beekeeping sisters (Queen Latifah, Sophie Okonedo and Alicia Keys).

Sex Drive (R for crude humor, sexuality, nudity, and drug and alcohol use, all involving teens) Raunchy road comedy about an 18 year-old virgin (Josh Zuckerman) who steals his big brother’s (James Marsden) classic Pontiac GTO in order to drive with a couple of friends (Amanda Crew and Clark Duke) from Chicago to Knoxville where he expects to rendezvous with a temptress (Katrina Bowden) he met over the internet.

W. (PG-13 for profanity, sexual references, smoking, alcohol abuse and disturbing war images) Josh Brolin plays the President in this bio-pic directed by Oliver Stone recounting the checkered career of George W. Bush. With Elizabeth Banks as his wife, Laura, Thandie Newton as Condoleezza Rice, Jeffrey Wright as Colin Powell, Richard Dreyfuss as Dick Cheney and Toby Jones as Karl Rove.


Azur & Asmar (Unrated) Animated fairytale about a couple of boys raised like brothers in a castle, one, a motherless, young aristocrat (Cyril Mourali), the other, the son (Karim M’Ruba) of the family nanny (Hiam Abbass), who grow up to find themselves rivals in a race to find a princess (Thissa d’Avila Bensalah) in a magical, faraway fantasyland. (In French and Arabic with subtitles)

The Elephant King (R for drug use, violence, profanity and sexual content) Intervention drama about a young introvert (Tate Ellington), sent by his domineering mother (Ellen Burstyn) to Thailand to bring his decadent brother (Jonno Roberts) back to America, who finds himself falling in love for the first time with a local girl (Florence Faivre) while wondering whether he’s arrived too late to save his self-destructive sibling. (In English and Thai with subtitles)

Filth and Wisdom (Unrated) Madonna makes her directorial debut with this “Three’s Company” sitcom about the misadventures of a cross-dressing Russian immigrant (Eugene Hutz) who shares a London flat with two roommates: a ballerina-turned-stripper (Holly Weston) and a drug store clerk (Vicky McClure) with a bleeding heart. (In English and Russian with subtitles)

Frontrunners (Unrated) Egghead documentary chronicles the campaign for student body president at Stuyvesant High School, the most competitive public high school, academically, in New York City.

Morning Light (PG for mild epithets and crude dialogue) Seafaring documentary about 15 intrepid young men and women who undergo a rigorous training regimen in order to race a 52-foot sloop across the ocean in a 2,300-mile sailing competition against some of the world’s top professional sailors.

Not Your Typical Bigfoot Movie (Unrated) Missing Link documentary about the effort of a couple of best friends, Dallas Gilbert and Wayne Burton, to flush the ever-elusive Bigfoot from his hideout in the Appalachian Mountains near their Rust Belt hometown located in rural Ohio.

Tru Loved (Unrated) Homoerotic coming-of-age drama about the difficult adjustment a gay 16 year-old (Najarra Townsend) makes to her new school and surroundings after moving with her lesbian parents from San Francisco to a conservative, Southern California community. With Jasmine Guy, Bruce Vilanch, Nichelle Nichols, Jake Abel, Matthew Thompson and Alexandra Paul.

What Just Happened? (R for profanity, sexuality, violence and drug use) Barry Levinson directs this ensemble comedy about two weeks in the life of an unhappily-married movie producer (Robert De Niro) who’s desperate to get his next picture made. With Stanley Tucci, John Turturro, Catherine Keener, Robin Wright Penn and Kristen Stewart, and also Sean Penn and Bruce Willis as themselves.

Who Does She Think She Is? (Unrated) Female empowerment documentary focusing on the lives of five women determined to balance motherhood, career and a host of other concerns on their own terms.