Wednesday, December 31, 2008


Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Streep and Hoffman Square-Off in Screen Adaptation of Modern Parable

There has been an explosion of lawsuits filed against the Catholic Church in recent years by parishioners claiming to have been molested and left traumatized by pedophile priests during childhood. Tragically, the Church apparently served as a safe haven for these sickos who had preyed upon the innocent kids entrusted in their care.
Virtually all the cases were settled, with the victims walking with for millions of dollars, even though they might remain emotionally-scarred for the rest of their lives. If you’re wondering how a supposedly holy man might fool his congregations while secretly using a boy as his personal sex toy, check out Doubt, directed by John Patrick Shanley, who has also adapted his Tony-winning play to the screen.
The film stars a couple of consummate actors in Oscar-winners Merry Streep and Philip Seymour Hoffman, who square-off as suspicious Sister Aloysius and the guilty-of-something Father Flynn, respectively. The story is set at a parish in the Bronx in 1964, where Aloysius is the steely principal of a school which has just admitted its first black student, an 8th grader named Donald (Joseph Foster).
Her alarm bells go off when his teacher, Sister James (Amy Adams), hints that Flynn has taken a special interest in the lonely lad and even went so far as to summon the kid from class for a private meeting in the rectory. The two nuns confront the priest who, in turn, takes offense at the suggestion that his intentions toward the needy newcomer could possibly be anything other than honorable.
But the unconvinced Aloysius remains ever-vigilant, and the rest of the picture is devoted to her repeated frustrations at being unable to catch the pair in flagrante delicto. Worse, she gets no help from Donald’s mother (Viola Davis), who’s just happy as a clam to have a father figure come into her son’s life.
As unseemly as such a development sounds, it rings true given the way the Church was conveniently cloaked in secrecy back in those days when words like gay or sexual abuse still had to be whispered in polite company. Thus, it would have been easy for Flynn to hide his kinky transgressions, if any.
As the title implies, Doubt isn’t particularly concerned about clearing up the mystery. Rather, it would prefer to have you scratching your head as you walk up the aisle. Without ever seeing the priest actually crossing a line, we’re left to draw our own conclusions as to whether he belongs behind bars or if Sister Aloysius is simply being overzealous.
Call me crazy for expecting a more tidy resolution of this ultimately unsatisfying parable, in spite of a taut plotline and several inspired performances. Is that it?

Very Good (3 stars)
Rated PG-13 for mature themes.
Running time: 104 minutes
Studio: Miramax Films

To see a trailer for Doubt, visit:

Tuesday, December 30, 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 January 9, 2009


Bride Wars (PG for crude humor, suggestive content and mild epithets) Kate Hudson and Anne Hathaway co-star in this romantic comedy about a couple of lifelong best friends who become bitter rivals after a clerical error leaves both of their weddings scheduled for the same day. Cast includes Candice Bergen, Bryan Greenberg and Chris Platt.

Not Easily Broken (PG-13 for mature themes and sexual references) Bill Duke directs this adaptation of Bishop T.D. Jakes’ novel about an emotionally-estranged couple (Morris Chestnut and Taraji P. Henson) whose marriage ends up in crisis when she is seriously injured in a car accident and he finds himself falling for her physical therapist (Maeve Quinlan). Supporting cast includes Kevin Hart, Jenifer Lewis and Niecy Nash.

The Unborn (PG-13 for profanity, disturbing images, sexual references, mature themes, terror and intense violence) Horror flick about an orphaned young woman (Odette Yustman) haunted by a ghost who enlists the assistance of a rabbi (Gary Oldman) to uncover the source of a family curse that can be traced back to Nazi Germany. With Jane Alexander, Cam Gigandet, Meagan Good, Idris Elba and Carla Gugino.


Che (Unrated) Steven Soderbergh directs this four-hour bio-pic chronicling the political exploits of Che Guevara (Benicio Del Toro), the daring Argentine Marxist who led the Cuban revolution with Castro (Demian Bichir) before inciting guerilla warfare around the rest of Latin America until his assassination by the CIA in 1967. (In Spanish and English with subtitles)

Just Another Love Story (Unrated) Mistaken-identity drama about a married, crime scene photographer (Anders W. Berthelsen) who takes advantage of a car accident victim (Rebecka Hemse) who emerges from a coma with amnesia believing that he’s her boyfriend (Nikolaj Lie Kaas). (In Danish with subtitles)

Silent Light (Unrated) Mexican morality play about a devout Mennonite family man (Cornelio Wall Fehr) tormented by the crisis in faith which arises after he starts cheating on his wife (Miriam Toews) with a neighbor (Maria Pankratz) who’s also a member of their tight-knit religious community. (In German, Spanish, French and English with subtitles)

Yonkers Joe (R for profanity and sexual references) Chazz Palmintieri handles the title role in this crime caper about a con man whose plans to execute the perfect scam are interrupted when he has to take custody of his son (Tom Guiry) with Down Syndrome. With Christine Lahti, Michael Lerner and Linus Roache

Monday, December 29, 2008

The 10 Best, No, the 100 Best Films of 2008

by Kam Williams

Headline: Kam’s Annual Accolades for the Cream of the Cinematic Crop

In a year when four of the best films were big screen versions of comic book adventures (including Wanted, Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk), it should come as no surprise that one would emerge as this critic’s pick as the top picture of 2008. And not only did the late Heath Ledger turn in an Oscar-worthy performance in The Dark Knight as The Joker, but director Christopher Nolan (Memento) might have made the best superhero adaptation ever.
As usual, rather than limit my annual list to just 10 entries, I’ve expanded it to 100, and covered documentaries, independents and foreign flicks, along with the Hollywood blockbusters. So, don’t shy away from such lesser-known gems as Slumdog Millionaire, Sex Drive and Man on Wire, and the risk will be richly rewarded.

10 Best List of 2008

1. The Dark Knight
2. Milk
3. Vicky Cristina Barcelona
4. The Secret Life of Bees
5. Burn after Reading
6. Cloverfield
7. Happy-Go-Lucky
8. Cadillac Records
9. Iron Man
10. Twilight

Honorable Mention

11. Pineapple Express
12. Wanted
13. The Family That Preys
14. The Incredible Hulk
15. Stop-Loss
16. The Express
17. Doubt
18. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
19. Miracle at St. Anna
20. Last Chance Harvey
21. Traitor
22. Run Fatboy Run
23. Smart People
24. Tropic Thunder
25. Frost/Nixon

Best Foreign Language Films

1. Slumdog Millionaire (India)
2. Water Lilies (France)
3. Jellyfish (Israel)
4. The Edge of Heaven (Turkey)
5. Woman on the Beach (Korea)
6. Pray the Devil Back to Hell (Liberia)
7. Let the Right One In (Sweden)
8. Rape in the Congo (Congo)
9. Days and Clouds (Italy)
10. Lost in Beijing (China)

Foreign Language Film Honorable Mention

11. Beauty in Trouble (Czech Republic)
12. The Betrayal (Laos)
13. We Are Together (South Africa)
14. Mister Foe (Scotland)
15. Stranded (Uruguay)
16. A Christmas Tale (France)
17. Without the King (Swaziland)
18. To the Limit (Germany)
19. Youssou N’Dour: Return to Goree (Senegal)
20. Priceless (France)
21. Maria Bethania (Brazil)
22. Reprise (Norway)
23. The Matador (Spain)
24. Che (Cuba)
25. Canary (Japan)

10 Best Independent Films

1. Sex Drive
2. Kabluey
3. I’m Through with White Girls
4. Gardens of the Night
5. The Visitor
6. The Tracey Fragments
7. Poultrygeist
8. In Search of a Midnight Kiss
9. Brick Lane
10. How the Garcia Girls Spent Their Summer

Independent Film Honorable Mention

11. Stuck
12. How She Move
13. I Can’t Think Straight
14. Sex & Death 101
15. Chop Shop
16. American Zombie
17. Wendy and Lucy
18. Nights and Weekends
19. Ping Pong Playa
20. Garden Party
21. What Just Happened
22. Disfigured
23. Ripple Effect
24. All about Us
25. Ballast

10 Best Documentaries

1. Man on Wire
2. Hollywood Chinese
3. A Man Named Pearl
4. Standing Operating Procedure
5. I.O.U.S.A.
6. The End of America
7. The Souls of Black Girls
8. Chicago 10
9. America the Beautiful
10. Passing Poston

Documentary Honorable Mention

11. Meeting David Wilson
12. The Order of Myths
13. All of Us
14. Glass
15. Trouble the Water
16. Boogie Man
17. One Bad Cat
18. Full Battle Rattle
19. The Dhamma Brothers
20. Moving Midway
21. Profit Motive and the Whispering Wind
22. Very Young Girls
23. Kicking It
24. Bigger, Stronger, Faster
25. Faubourg Treme

Slumdog Millionaire

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Dev Patel Delivers as Lovesick Game Show Contestant

Jamal Malik (Dev Patel) was just one correct answer away from winning the grand prize of 20 million rupees on India’s version of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” when the police decided to question him about his extraordinary string of luck. After all, no one ever lasted this long on the television game show before, and the producers doubted that this dirt-poor, uneducated orphan from the teeming slums of Mumbai could have achieved his unlikely feat without cheating.

Therefore, the night before his return for his final appearance on the program, they arrange for the authorities to drag the innocent 18 year-old down to the station for a little Abu Ghraib-level interrogation away from the public eye. But despite being tortured by a couple of sadistic cops (Irfan Khan and Saurabh Shukla), Jamal matter-of-factly explains exactly how he came to acquire the answers to such seemingly obscure trivia questions. And soon, what gradually becomes apparent is that everything is on the up-and-up.

For, all the unfortunate lad has to share is his sorrowful autobiography, an endless tale of woe which he reveals via a kaleidoscope of colorful flashbacks. Surprisingly, it turns out that he’s actually been less concerned with taking home the 20 million rupees than with using his TV publicity as a means of finding his long-lost love, Latika (Freida Pinto), a fellow street urchin and fan of the popular quiz show.

This is the engaging premise of Slumdog Millionaire, a genre-defying romantic thriller from Danny Boyle and Loveleen Tandan. The clever co-directors deftly interweave three non-simultaneous strands of Jamal’s life story into an absorbing triskelion that definitely deserves to be recognized come Oscar time.

One aspect revolves around his climb to the top on Millionaire as he engages in both superficial banter and psychological warfare with the show’s slimy, if unctuous, emcee (Anil Kapoor). That relatively-light badinage stands in sharp contrast with his being mercilessly roughed up by the police who resort to water boarding and electric shocks in quest of a confession. The third part of the picture is devoted to Jamal’s surviving by his wits during his challenging childhood with the help of Latika and his ne’er-do-well older brother, Salim (Madhur Mittal).

Will Jamal die behind bars while being interrogated or will he be allowed his honestly-earned shot at that final question? If back on the air, will he give the right answer and win the loot, will he reunite with his sweetheart, or achieve both goals?

A dizzying, delightful spectacle situated on the Subcontinent well worth the investment for the kaleidoscope of colors splashed across the screen alone. Plus there’s a spellbinding performance on the part of the protagonist Patel, and enough tension to keep you on the edge of your seat from the beginning to the end of this explosive adventure.

Excellent (4 stars)

Rated R for violence, profanity and disturbing images.

In English and Hindi with subtitles.

Running time: 120 minutes

Studio: Fox Searchlight

To see a trailer of Slumdog Millionaire, visit:

Friday, December 26, 2008

Naturi Naughton: The Notorious Interview

with Kam Williams

Headline: Nauturi Au Naturel

Naturi Cora Maria Naughton was born on May 20, 1984 in East Orange, New Jersey where she started singing in the choir at New Hope Baptist Church at just 5 years of age. She turned pro by 14, when she became a member of the girl band 3LW. The group soon signed with Sony/Epic Records and went on a nationwide tour while their debut album, entitled “3LW,” went platinum, selling 1.3 million copies.
Away from the entertainment business, Naturi always remained an honor student, attending Seton Hall University where she majored in Political Science until her career became too demanding. Just before her junior year, she joined the Broadway production of Hairspray as Little Inez. As gifted as gorgeous newcomer may be, she remains humble and grateful to God for her blessings, and praises her parents for supporting her dreams and for raising her with so much love, encouragement, and faith.
Here, Naturi talks about her performance as Lil’ Kim in the much-anticipated motion picture, Notorious, a bio-pic about the late rapper Notorious B.I.G. (a.k.a. Christopher Wallace). In addition, she recently landed a lead role in the re-make of the screen version of Fame, the 1980 musical revolving around students at the New York Academy of Performing Arts.

KW: Hi Naturi, thanks for the time.
NN: No problem, thank you.
KW: What interested you in Notorious?
NN: Well first off, just the fact that it was a biopic about Biggie Smalls. I was a fan of Biggie growing up and I felt it was about time that someone told his life story.
KW: What song of his is your favorite?
NN: Juicy! That’s my song.
KW: What did you think of the East Coast-West Coast turf war? Whose side were you on?
NN: I think it was senseless and I am so glad that we have risen above that East Coast- West coast rivalry. I’m from the East but I never felt like I had to choose a side...Both coasts have made great music.
KW: Who do you think killed Biggie?
NN: I have no idea and that’s why his death still hurts so many people to this day. His murder is unsolved.
KW: How would you assess Jamal Woolard’s work in the title role?
NN: Jamal killed it! He captured Biggie so well, it was scary at times. He was made for this role and I had a great time working with him.
KW: How was it to make your screen debut with such a talented cast which also included Angela Bassett, Derek Luke and Anthony Mackie?
NN: Wow! I still can’t believe it. I feel so honored. These actors are people that I looked up to and admired, and here I am, making my debut in a movie with them. It’s really a dream come true!
KW: How did you prepare to play Lil Kim?
NN: I studied her...HARD! I watched her in videos, stage performances, behind the scenes footage, and listened to her voice in radio interviews. I also read a lot of material that the director [George Tillman Jr.] gave me about Kim’s back story. It helped to understand her struggles as a child growing up in Brooklyn. I even went to Brooklyn and spent time in her neighborhood. Talking to the guys from Junior Mafia, especially Lil Cease, helped me out a lot too.
KW: Has Kim seen the film? What does she think of your portrayal of her?
NN: I don’t know if she has seen the film, but hopefully when she does see it she will be proud of my portrayal.
KW: Is it true that you’re planning to do a duet with her on your debut album? How would describe your sound?
NN: I don’t actually have an album coming out any time soon. A lot of people are referring to my song “Real Chicks” which was a song I wrote and recorded way before I even knew about Notorious. It’s crazy because, back then, I was working with producers from “Full Force” and we thought it’d be hot to get Lil Kim to do a verse on the song. So they made it happen. We never actually did that song in the studio together, though—the song was done and then we put Lil Kim on it. But this all happened over a year before my first audition for “Notorious”. Little did I know that I would soon be playing her in a movie. I am still looking forward to doing solo music. I am just waiting on the right situation and the right team to put it all together. I don’t just want a deal...I want a GOOD deal, so sometimes you have to be patient for that to come around. But when I make my album, it will be R&B with sprinkles of Hip Hop.
KW: You got your start in showbiz in music as a member of 3LW. How hard was the transition from singing to acting?
NN: I must admit, it is challenging and requires a lot of hard work. Growing up, though, I always knew I would be a singer and an actress. I just felt it! To me, singing and acting have always gone hand and hand. Even though my career started off as a singer, there is still a level of acting you have to bring to be an artist. Singers have a lot in common with actors because you have to dig deep into a song and show the audience what you are feeling as you sing. You have to be expressive and vulnerable as a singer which is some of the things you have to do to be a good actor. I’m still learning what it takes to be a great actress, but I don’t feel like I am in completely foreign territory.
KW: Which do you prefer at this point?
NN: I want it all! I love to’s in my heart and it’s a major part of who I am. But I also love to act...its organic. Growing up all my friends used to say “Naturi, you are soooooo dramatic!”.and I would think to myself, “Thank you!” [LOL]

KW: You’ve been on Broadway playing Little Inez in Hairspray for a couple of years. Are you going to have to leave the show in order to be able star in the remake of Fame?
NN: I have been on Broadway for two and one-half years. First off, I am so blessed to have maintained a Broadway gig that long. I loved my experience in Hairspray and I credit a lot of my acting success to that experience. I learned so much. But all good things must come to an end. I left the show on October 12th to take the role of Denise” in MGM’s Fame. I had a great run and I’m excited to start this new chapter of my life. I have recently started shooting for Fame and it’s been a blast. I’m so excited to be a part of such an amazing project.
KW: How do you feel about Barack Obama’s becoming President of the United States?
NN: I feel so inspired because he achieved something that so many people said was unattainable. I feel triumphant! I voted for Obama and as a young person, it feels good to be a part of history. I believe in change and so many other things that he represents.
KW: The Columbus Short question: Are you happy?
NN: Extremely happy, thank God! Both personally and professionally.
KW. The “Realtor to the Stars” Jimmy Bayan question: Where in L.A. do you live when you’re out there?
NN: I just keep it simple. I have a nice apartment right outside of L.A. I’m enjoying my experience out in LA. I am mad they don’t have a “Roscoes” back home in Jersey! [LOL]
KW: You’re originally from East Orange, New Jersey. Do you still have family there or live there yourself?
NN: I was born and raised there and most of my family still lives there.
KW: The bookworm Troy Johnson question: What was the last book you read?
NN: Barack Obama’s Dreams from My Father.
KW: The Tasha Smith question: Are you ever afraid?
NN: A lot of times...this is a scary business.
KW: Is there a question no one ever asks you that you wish someone would?
NN: Umm, I don’t think so.
KW: Music maven Heather Covington’s question: What music are you listening to nowadays?
NN: I love Beyonce’s new album, I Am… Sasha Fierce. The song Halo is great!
KW: What advice do you have for anyone who wants to follow in your footsteps?
NN: My advice is to be prepared for rejection, but never let people tell you that you can’t do something. If you think can achieve BIG!
KW: Rudy Lewis asks: Who’s at the top of your hero list?
NN: Barack Obama!
KW: Do you have a website where fans go to hear a sample of your singing?
NN: Actually, yes. Go check out my MySpace page: The song with Lil Kim, “Real Chicks” is on there and a few others.
KW: Do you answer your fan mail?
NN: Yes, I do, on my MySpace. If it wasn’t for the fans, I would not still be here. They’re dedicated to me and I am dedicated to them.
KW: How do you want to be remembered?
NN: Professionally, I want to be remembered for how hard I worked and how I put my heart and soul into my work. Personally: I want people to remember my heart. I hope they say, “She really loved people!”
KW: Thanks again for the interview, and best of luck with all your endeavors.
NN: Thank you so much. I appreciate it.

Read Kam's interviews with the stars of Notorious:
Jamal Woolard
Derek Luke

Read Kam's review of Notorious.
Read Kam's review of the Notorious DVD.

An American Carol DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Spoof Lampooning Michael Moore Moves to DVD

This shameful spoof takes cheap potshots at Michael Moore ostensibly for the amusement of right-wing zealots. The film features Kevin Farley as Hollywood moviemaker Michael Malone, a thinly-veiled caricature of Mr. Moore. The plot is very loosely based on Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, except that this Scrooge (aka Michael) hates the Fourth of July holiday instead of Christmas. The simplistic premise has him not merely being un-American but the unwitting dupe of a cell of radical Islamists planning to blow up Madison Square Garden.
Narrated by Leslie Nielsen, the story unfolds in post 9/11 Afghanistan where we find Michael naively accepting $10 million in financing for his next project, “Fascist America,” from a trio of Taliban terrorists. Fortunately, he is visited by three ghosts, that of General George Patton (Kelsey Grammer), President John F. Kennedy (Chriss Anglin) and country singer Trace Adkins (himself), who take turns trying to show the Prodigal citizen the light in time to avert the impending disaster.
While the film’s first few might be deceptively palatable, it doesn’t take long for the humor to be subsumed by a heavy-handed political message. Director David Zucker resorts to his trademark slapstick, silly skits and sight gags to poke fun unfairly at not merely Moore but a host of liberal causes, including global warming, nationalized healthcare and gay rights.
Along the way, ACLU attorney are depicted as zombies who deserve to be shot on sight, student demonstrators are demonized for exercising their First Amendment rights, and Moore is repeatedly portrayed as a traitor. Less a legit satire than a scary soap box in service of a mean-spirited agenda. A dead giveaway is the cast which boasts a bevy of arch conservatives including Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly.
Challenging authority as unpatriotic? Bah, humbug!

Poor (0 stars)
PG-13 for profanity, drug use, irreverent humor and crude content.
Running time: 83 minutes
Studio: Vivendi Entertainment

Live and Become (ISREALI) DVD

(Va, Vis et Deviens)
DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Ethiopian Immigrant Adjusts to Israel in Coming-of-Age Tale on DVD

9 year-old Schlomo (Sirak Sabahat) ended up in Israel in 1985 as part of Operation Moses, a humanitarian airlift of about 8,000 Ethiopian Jews fleeing religious persecution. The only thing wrong with this picture is that he didn’t deserve to exercise any right of return like his fellow refugees, given that he was actually a Christian whose starving mother had him take the place of a deceased child.
Nonetheless, upon his arrival in Tel Aviv, he is presumed to be a Jewish orphan by the couple who adopt him, Yoram (Roschdy Zem) and Yael Harrari (Yael Abecassis). While hiding the fact that he is neither Jewish nor orphaned, Schlomo does his best to adapt to the culture and customs of his new homeland.
However, he soon finds that even if he were Jewish, most white Israelis seem to have a problem with his skin color, and don’t real consider him one of the Chosen People. This proves particularly challenging when he hits puberty and takes an interest in girls, especially Sarah (Roni Hadar), whose racist father doesn’t want his daughter dating a black kid.
So, fish-out-of-water scenarios abound in this coming-of-age saga which covers 15 of Schlomo’s formative years. Over that time span we see the lost lad grow into a man while grappling with assorted identity issues. To its credit, the film fleshes out his character, treating him not as a freak or a curiosity but as an ever-evolving human experiencing a full range of emotions.
Consequently, both his enduring relationship with Sarah and his barely-tolerated presence in Israel combine to create a complicated and compelling character study. As much a peek into a tortured psyche as an exploration of an abundance of universal themes, from intolerance to abandonment to the need to belong.
Brother from another temple.

Excellent (4 stars)
In Amharic, Hebrew and French with subtitles.
Running time: 140 minutes
Studio: Menemsha Films

In Search of a Midnight Kiss DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Sitcom Revolving around Lonely Hearts on New Year’s Eve Arrives on DVD

It’s December 31st, and Wilson (Scoot McNairy) is about to finish the worst year of his life. Since moving to L.A. recently, the struggling screenwriter hasn’t been able to sell any of his comedy scripts, plus, he’s been dumped by his girlfriend, Karen (Via Osgood). As a result, he’s lonely and practically broke with no plans for the night.
The miserable 29 year-old’s roommate’s (Brian Maguire) suggests that it’s not too late to find some companionship for New Year’s Eve. So, Wilson places a personal ad on Craig’s List online, and soon sets up a 4 PM rendezvous with Vivian (Sara Simmonds), an inscrutable temptress who describes herself as a 300 lb. dominatrix.
When they meet at a restaurant, it’s lust at first sight for Wilson, since she looks a whole lot better than billed. Still, because he’s only one of a number of strangers she’s invited for a speed date, he has to audition for her affections.
And even after she settles on him, it’s not exactly smooth sailing, as Vivian has a lot of skeletons in her closet. First, she announces that she’s only 17. Then she insists that they pray together, before saying, “This isn’t get laid for free night.” Although it’s obvious Wilson won’t be alone this New Year’s Eve, as you might guess, their ensuing date turns out to be anything but predictable.
So unfolds In Search of a Midnight Kiss, an offbeat romantic comedy written and directed by Alex Holdridge. Shot entirely in black and white, this endearing, low budget indie offers as compelling a combination of character development, credible dialogue and surprising plot twists as you might hope to encounter.
A sobering cinematic treat which puts a whole new spin on Auld Lang Syne!

Excellent (4 stars)
Running time: 89 minutes
Studio: Contender Home Entertainment Group
DVD Extras: Deleted scenes, audio commentaries by cast and crew, theatrical trailer, A “Behind-the-Scenes” featurette.

To see a trailer for In Search of a Midnight Kiss, visit:

Battle for Haditha DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: DVD Docudrama Reenacts Massacre of Innocent Iraqis

Remember when your mother warned that playing all those gruesome video games would desensitize you to violence? Now witness Exhibit A: Battle for Haditha, showcasing Generation Kill’s all volunteer army in all its glory.
On November 19, 2005, a roadside bomb detonated by Iraqi insurgents exploded under a vehicle killing Lance Corporal Miguel Terrazas, while wounding a couple of his comrades. The IED attack so outraged other Marines from Kilo Company riding in the convoy that a dozen of them allegedly went on a rampage later that day, slaughtering 24 innocent civilians living in the City of Haditha.
Though originally covered up, the incident later came to light because part of the massacre had been captured on videotape by a student with a camera. Consequently, several soldiers were court-martialed and charge with murder.
Was their overreaction warranted, given the stress they were under from the day-to-day rigors of patrolling the streets of a village where they were treated as invading enemies? And aren’t all things now fair in war, anyway, given America’s disavowal of the Geneva Conventions?
These are the fundamental human rights questions posed by this super-realistic docudrama which takes a long look at ethnic cleansing from both the perspective of the cleansed and from the point-of-view of the perpetrators of the crimes against humanity. The film stars actual veterans of the Iraq War, and has the authentic feel of footage shot on the front lines of the conflict.
A patriotic rationalization to support the troops, regardless of the transgression, since it’s Bush’s fault that they were sitting ducks in a godforsaken desert where they’re the only available outlet around for every terrorists’ anti-American impulse. What’s next, a picture suggesting that we have to excuse the Abu Ghraib atrocities, too, as reasonable interrogation tactics?

Very Good (3 stars)
In English and Arabic with subtitles.
Running time: 97 minutes
Studio: Image Entertainment
DVD Extras: Commentaries by director Nick Broomfield and by co-star Elliot Ruiz, “The Making of” featurette, a conversation with co-star Eric Mehalacopoulos, casting tapes, an interview with Elliot Ruiz, and a theatrical trailer.

To see a trailer for Battle for Haditha, visit:

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

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

Kam's Kapsules:
Weekly Previews That Make Choosing a Film Fun
by Kam Williams
For movies opening January 2, 2009


Defiance (R for violence and profanity) Oscar-winner Edward Zwick (for Shakespeare in Love) directs this harrowing tale of survival, set in occupied Poland during World War II, recounting the heroic efforts of three brothers (Daniel Craig, Liev Schreiber and Jamie Bell) who escape into the forest where they join forces with Russian resistance fighters to save over 1,000 fellow Jews from the Nazis.


Good (Unrated) Viggo Mortensen stars in this adaptation of the C.P. Taylor play, set in Germany during the rise of Nazism, chronicling the plight of a previously decent college professor who finds himself increasingly compromised after his novel advocating euthanasia is employed as propaganda to advance the government’s evil agenda. With Steven Elder as Eichmann and Adrian Schiller as Goebbels.

Cargo 200 (Unrated) Crime thriller, set in 1984 during the decline of the Soviet Union, revolving around a young woman (Agniya Kuznetsova) kidnapped by the same sadistic police captain (Aleksei Poluyan) assigned to investigate her mysterious disappearance and the murder of her friend (Leonid Bichevin). (In Russian with subtitles)

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Wellington Webb: The Man, the Mayor, and the Making of Modern Denver

by Wellington Webb
with Cindy Brovsky
Foreword by U.S. Senator Ken Salazar
Fulcrum Publishing
Hardcover, $28.95
414 pages, illustrated
ISBN: 978-1-55591-634-3

Book Review by Kam Williams

“I arrived in the Mile High City in 1953 as a sickly, 100-pound, 12 year-old with asthma. Denver had a small, tight-knit black community that comprised 11 percent of the population. So, not only were the odds against me in terms of growing from a skinny kid into a healthy adult, but also in terms of being African-American… in a mayoral [race].
I was the underdog in the campaign… and I ignored the advice of longtime friends to quit the race. Instead, I took my campaign to Denver’s streets and walked more than 300 miles citywide. I slept in the homes of more than 40 city residents… and I brought my own army cot to a homeless shelter when I stopped there one night.
My first act as mayor in 1991 was to convene a Downtown Summit to map out a plan to revitalize the core of our city… During my dozen years as mayor, Denver went from being perceived as a cow town to being in the worldwide spotlight.”

Wellington E. Webb became Denver’s first African-American mayor after mounting a novel “Sneaker Campaign” in which he beat a popular incumbent by walking door-to-door and individually introducing himself personally to thousands of his potential constituents. Not only did this relative unknown ultimately prevail, but he went on to serve the city for 12 years. In Wellington Webb: The Man, the Mayor, and the Making of Modern Denver, the popular Democrat recounts his administration’s considerable accomplishments including the opening of Denver International Airport and the development of the Central Platte River Valley into a thriving community.
This uplifting autobiography opens with Webb sharing his genealogy, tracing his ancestors’ roots back to Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana with the help of his maternal grandmother, Helen. Wellington himself was born in Chicago in 1941 to Wellington Webb, Sr. and Mardina Williams, who had met there on a blind date. His dad was a porter with the railroad while his mom was a housewife. However, their union was not to last, and Wellington was shipped off to Denver to be raised by his grandmother, as much because of his asthma as on account of his parents’ deteriorating relationship.
After delineating the Webb family tree, the bulk of the book is devoted to a warts-and-all look at Wellington’s career, and these political feats are interspersed with a lifetime’s worth of intimate reflections. An inspiring memoir by a revered role model who overcame everything from asthma to racism to prostate cancer and who continues to make significant cultural contributions to this day.

Steve Harvey: The Still Trippin’ Interview

with Kam Williams

Headline: Steve Reflects on His Career and on the Passing of His Pal Bernie Mac

Broderick Steven Harvey was born in Welch, West Virginia on January 17, 1956, although he grew up in Cleveland where he graduated from Glenville High School in 1974. After brief stints as a boxer and an insurance salesman, he paid his dues for several years on the Chitlin’ Circuit honing his craft as a stand-up comedian.
Steve found national fame in 1994, when he was picked to emcee “It’s Showtime at the Apollo.” Soon thereafter, the versatile funnyman landed his own sitcom, “The Steve Harvey Show” and went on to enjoy an enduring career in show business.
In 2000, he crisscrossed the country with Cedric the Entertainer, D.L. Hughley and the late Bernie Mac as one of The Original Kings of Comedy, a sold out tour filmed and turned into a phenomenally-popular concert flick by Spike Lee. A six-time NAACP Image Award-winner, Steve currently hosts a nationally-syndicated radio show broadcast from New York City.
Here, he talks about his career, the passing of fellow King of Comedy Bernie Mac, and about Still Trippin’, a DVD of his latest stand-up act which was recently filmed in front of a live audience in Newark, New Jersey.

KW: Hi Steve, thanks again for the time.
SH: Hey man, what’s happening? How you doing?
KW: I’m fine, thanks. I loved this new concert film, Still Trippin’ and I gave it four stars, but I felt that you were just as funny on your previous DVD, Don’t Trip, which was clean. Why did you add the curse words back into your act?
SH: Well, you know it’s really not that I added them back in. When I did Don’t Trip with Bishop T.D. Jakes, it was really to take me to a place where I’d never gone in my stand-up before, working spotlessly clean before a religious organization. I had to write a lot of material just for that show, and I was very proud of it. It was really a tribute to my mom because she had passed. Since my mother was saved, she never saw me perform because of the profanity. So, I wanted to do something to honor her. That was the one time I worked totally clean, other than on TV and sitcoms and stuff like that. So, I don’t really know that I added it back in, but I dug your review though and I appreciate what you said.
KW: But didn’t you become a Born Again Christian after your association with Bishop Jakes?
SH: The truth is I’ve always been a Christian. What’s amazing, man, is that the flaws that come with Christianity are really weird, because mine have a microphone and a camera attached to them. Most people don’t have to live under that microscope. I’m still very much a Christian and have a great relationship with God. I love Him, but one of my flaws is that I cuss. I’m just being honest with you, man. But I’ll tell you this, the thing I did with Bishop Jakes, Don’t Trip, is to date my absolute greatest piece of work. Even as crazy as I am, I have enough sense to know that.
KW: Yeah, that performance wasn’t just funny, but that finale was very powerful, spiritually.
SH: I’m even thinking of doing another concert like that as my farewell DVD, because I don’t know how much longer I’ve got at this in terms of touring. I’m think 2009 and 2010 could be the farewell tour, because I kinda want to walk out of the business leaving a legacy behind that I was clean but a really, really funny guy, before people stop paying to see me.
KW: You’ve enjoyed so much success in terms of TV, radio, movies and stand-up, that I don’t think you have to worry about your legacy. I think it’s already established as first rate.
SH: I appreciate that. A lot of that is going to be up to you guys in the press and how you write about it.
KW: Speaking of leaving a legacy, you worked with Bernie Mac on The Kings of Comedy tour and on television. How did you feel when you learned about his passing?
SH: Man, that was tough, because I never knew exactly how old Bernie was. On the Kings tour, we played golf, we swapped cigars, and we told the funniest stories in the dressing rooms, stuff that you couldn’t say on stage. But we must have never mentioned our ages. So, it hit me really hard while I was watching a tribute to him by Larry King, which we all were a part of, when I saw 1957-2008 on the screen under Bernie’s picture. It hit home, because I was born in 1957, too, and except for the grace of God, that could easily have been me. It’s too young to pass, I think, but Bernie’s time was up. It struck me very deeply when I saw the dates on the monitor. That’s what hit me the hardest, to realize how fortunate I am to still be here.
KW: And then, the day after Bernie died, Isaac Hayes passed away. And both of you were radio show hosts in New York.
SH: Right. And I saw Sam [Samuel L. Jackson] at Bernie’s funeral. And all three of them were in this movie together.
KW: Soul Men, which opened a couple of months later.
SH: It was kinda weird that Bernie and Isaac Hayes had passed, and Sam was living. It must have been pretty tough for him and it probably had him thinking about a lot of things. I’m pretty sure he didn’t feel like promoting the movie. It was tough, that whole run right there. ’08 was a stressful year, man.
KW: I want to talk a little about your new DVD. I thought that bit you did about the homely women in that polygamous cult in Texas, comparing them to Aunt Bee from Andy of Mayberry and Jane Hathaway of The Beverly Hillbillies was hilarious. How do you come up with your material?
SH: When you do radio, you’re kept abreast of all these news stories. On the air you have the FCC restrictions, but when you get to the concert stage it’s weird, because I have the same subjects, but I’m just free to adjust my timing, and to add facial expressions which reflect my thought processes. In actuality, when you hear these news stories as a stand-up comedian, you see them totally differently. For instance, I see these women, and I’m asking, “Wow! Why would anybody want eight of these as a wife?” I’m looking at their outfits, and I’m going, “Man, these ain’t the most appealing-looking outfits.” Nobody says, man, these chicks are hot. If I had four of them…” Instead, everybody’s looking at them and asking, “Who the hell does their hair like that?” And then, how do you get away with just loading these women’s kids on a bus? Ain’t nobody trying to turn the bus over?
SH: Come on, man! See, my gift is in pulling out the absurdity of a news event.
KW: And how about the riff you did about the female astronaut arrested in adult diapers?
SH: Nobody can actually plan on driving and just urinating. That cannot be your plan. How pissed off are you? When you stop for gas, that might be a good time to unload yourself. Why would you sit there, when you’ve wet your pants? Now we have some other problems because your urine at this age is very different.
SH: See, what I do is take a situation and extract all the absurdity out of it. That’s what makes the bits great, man
KW: How do you feel about Obama’s victory?
SH: I think it’s the greatest thing ever for this country. Even deeper than that, I think it’s big for the world. When I was overseas in France this summer, everybody who came up to me said, “Obama! Obama! Obama! Please!” So, I think his winning has done a lot for the reputation of America. I’m also happy for African-Americans that they get to feel a sense of belonging, finally, and that their vote does count, and just being able to point to our children and say, “Okay, here’s the deal, everything is possible now, for real.” It’s all possible now. This kills the excuses for everybody, and it helps those of us who are parents to be able to say, “Hey, this can happen for you. You can become the President of the United States. Let’s not use our color as a crutch anymore, but rather as a pole vault stick to get over all these barriers.” That’s what I think is great about Obama’s election.
KW: The Columbus Short question: Are you happy?
SH: Am I happy? Yes I am.
KW: The Tasha Smith question: Are you ever afraid?
SH: Uhh… no.
KW: Is there a question no one ever asks you, that you wish someone would?
SH: [Chuckles] No, they’ve asked me everything, man.
KW: The bookworm Troy Johnson question: What was the last book you read?
SH: Ex-Free: 9 Keys to Freedom after Heartbreak by Troy Byer.
KW: The music maven Heather Covington question: What’s music are you listening to right now?
SH: Christmas music.
KW: Thanks again for the time, Steve.
SH: No problem, I sure appreciate you, man.
KW: Same here, bro.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Seven Pounds

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Will Smith as Widower Wracked with Guilt

Christmas is the perfect time to release a relentlessly-depressing drama about a suicidal widower wracked with guilt over killing his wife in a car accident in which he was fiddling with his Blackberry while driving. Not. But what’s to worry, when you’re Will Smith, and your last eight movies have opened up at #1 in the box-office and grossed over $100 million apiece. That must have been the thinking behind foisting Seven Pounds on the unsuspecting public at the height of the holiday season.
The picture plays like a variation of The Millionaire, if you’re old enough to remember that classic TV series about a reclusive philanthropist who, with the help of his loyal manservant, Mr. Anthony, gave away a fortune each week to a needy stranger, anonymously. Here, we have a rocket scientist, Ben Thomas (Smith), passing himself off as an IRS agent to perform seven random acts of kindness as a sort of penance. He still plans to take his own life anyway, because he’s eager to join his dearly-departed spouse in the great beyond.
The only reason this transparent film takes two hours instead of two minutes is that Ben must go to great lengths to make sure his beneficiaries are worthy of his blessing. Another fly in the ointment is the seemingly-inappropriate romance which unexpectedly blossoms between him and Emily (Rosario Dawson), the sexiest, terminal heart patient in the history of cinema.
Among the other charity cases are Ezra (Woody Harrelson), a blind telemarketer who keeps his cool when Ben berates him; Connie (Elpidia Camillo), a battered woman too afraid of her violent boyfriend’s outbursts to leave or press charges; Nicholas (Quintin Kelley), a sickly kid in need of a bone marrow transplant; Holly (Judyann Elder), a social worker with cirrhosis of the liver, etcetera. You get the idea.
And you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out how St. Ben will earn his angel’s wings. Consequently, your job is just to sit there and let yourself be manipulated by a syrupy tearjerker that might be well-meaning but drags on long enough to infuriate before the predictable warm and fuzzy moments finally arrive.
Surprisingly superficial for a sentimental message movie laden with schmaltz and mood muzak. Little more than a feature-length public service announcement on the dangers of text-messaging while driving.

Fair (1 star)
Rated PG-13 for mature themes, sensuality and disturbing content.
In English and Spanish with subtitles.
Running time: 118 minutes
Studio: Columbia Pictures

To see a trailer for Seven Pounds, visit:

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Brad Pitt Stars in Adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald Classic

Very loosely based on the classic tale of the same name by F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is a melancholy meditation on love, mortality and loneliness revolving around a baby (Brad Pitt) born old who grows younger over the course of his life. This melancholy parable was adapted by Academy Award-winner Eric Roth (Forrest Gump) who managed to stretch a 14-page short story into a meandering, 167-minute parable of Biblical proportions.
Directed by David Fincher, the film opens in New Orleans at the end of the First World War where we find Benjamin’s mother (Joeanna Sayler) dying during childbirth being followed by his father’s (Jason Flemyng) wrapping the inexplicably-aged infant in swaddling clothes and secretly depositing him on the back steps of the local old folks’ home. Fortunately, he is soon discovered and adopted by the place’s nurse, Miss Queenie (Taraji P. Henson), a selfless, mammy-like figure who altruistically decides to care for him the best she can.
Although her odd-looking, little octogenarian is initially beset by an assortment of infirmities, Queenie can’t help but notice that there is something which sets Benjamin apart from the rest of the residents of her assisted living facility. For, while they continue to deteriorate and die, he miraculously has his vitality restored, and gradually gets back his hearing, eyesight, hair, and so forth.
Eventually, Benjamin not only feels fairly spry, but independent enough to bid Queenie and company adieu and sets out to explore the world on his own. And with an uncanny sense of timing rather reminiscent of a Forrest Gump, he proceeds to embark on an epic journey which lands him in the middle of a number of events of historical import over the ensuing decades, such as a World War II naval battle and a NASA rocket launch.
And whereas Forrest was fond of repeating the refrain “My momma always said, ‘Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re gonna get,’” Benjamin relies on Queenie’s equally-maternal words of wisdom, a sage warning that “You never know what’s coming for you.” The parallels between the pictures don’t end there, either. Like Forrest, Benjamin has an endearing naivete about him, and he also yearns for an elusive love interest (Cate Blanchett).
All these similarities can easily be explained by the fact that Eric Roth wrote the script for both movies, and he’s undoubtedly attempting to regenerate some of that magic by resurrecting some of the same gimmicks that won him an Oscar for Gump. At least Button’s reverse aging theme is unique, allowing for a sufficiently novel and compelling plotline. Furthermore, Fincher’s painstaking attention to detail during each era is nothing short of spectacular.
A relatively-morose morality play likely to land its share of accolades during award season provided everyone stops comparing it to Gump.

Excellent (3.5 stars)
Rated PG-13 for profanity, sexuality, smoking and brief war violence.
Running time: 167 minutes
Studio: Paramount Pictures

To see a trailer for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, visit:

Blacktrospective 2008

by Kam Williams

Headline: Kam’s Annual Assessment of the Best (and Worst) in Black Cinema

2008 will be remembered as a breakout year for African-American females both in front of and behind the camera, with my #1 picks for Best Feature (The Secret Life of Bees), Best Independent (I’m Through with White Girls) and Best Documentary (The Souls of Black Girls) all being directed by sisters. It also marked the emergence of a number of lesser-known actresses like Lia Johnson (I’m Through with White Girls) and Rutina Wesley (How She Move).
While veteran character thespians Taraji P. Henson (The Curious Life of Benjamin Button) and Viola Davis (Doubt) have generated Oscar buzz for their stellar support work, Alicia Keys (The Secret Life of Bees) proved that she has a big future in Hollywood, should she ever opt to shift her focus from music to the big screen. Most of the best black male performances were delivered by the usual suspects, brothers like Jeffrey Wright and Rob Brown, although Evan Ross and Omar Benson Miller showed themselves as rising stars to be reckoned with.
Of course, I have to include a little coal in the stocking for those folks associated with offensive, lowest-common denominator comedies such as First Sunday and What Up? which portrayed black people in the worst possible light. Let’s just hope that 2009 will signal the end of the recent revival of this genre of disturbing, modern minstrel shows.

Ten Best Black Feature Films

1. The Secret Life of Bees
2. Cadillac Records
3. The Family That Preys
4. The Express
5. Miracle at St. Anna
6. Meet the Browns
7. Never Back Down
8. Seven Pounds
9. Soul Men
10. The Longshots

Best Independent Black Films

1. I’m Through with White Girls
2. How She Move
3. Ballast
4. All about Us
5. Blackout

Best Black Documentaries

1. The Souls of Black Girls
2. A Man Named Pearl
3. America the Beautiful
4. Meeting David Wilson
5. All of Us
6. Trouble the Water
7. One Bad Cat
8. The Dhamma Brothers
9. Very Young Girls
10. Disappearing Voices

Best African Films

1. Pray the Devil Back to Hell (Liberia)
2. Rape in the Congo (Congo)
3. We Are Together (South Africa)
4. On the Rumba River (Congo)
5. Youssou N’Dour: Return to Goree (Senegal)

Best Actor (Lead Role)

1. Rob Brown (The Express)
2. Evan Ross (Gardens of the Night)
3. Anthony Montgomery (I’m Through with White Girls)
4. Djimon Hounsou (Never Back Down)
5. Derek Luke (Miracle at St. Anna)
6. Bernie Mac (Soul Men)
7. Boris Kodjoe (All about Us)
8. Don Cheadle (Traitor)
9. Forest Whitaker (Ripple Effect)
10. Will Smith (Seven Pounds)

Best Actor (Supporting Role)

1. Jeffrey Wright (Cadillac Records, W., Quantum of Solace & Blackout)
2. Omar Benson Miller (Miracle at St. Anna & The Express)
3. Columbus Short (Cadillac Records)
4. Michael Ealy (Miracle at St. Anna)
5. Rick Fox (Meet the Browns)
6. Tyler Perry (The Family That Preys)
7. Eamonn Walker (Cadillac Records)
8. Laz Alonso (Miracle at St. Anna)
9. Lamann Rucker (I’m Through with White Girls & Meet the Browns)
10. JimMyron Ross (Ballast)

Best Actress (Lead Role)

1. Lia Johnson (I’m Through with White Girls)
2. Rutina Wesley (How She Move)
3. Sanaa Lathan (The Family That Preys)
4. Thandie Newton (Run, Fatboy, Run)
5. Angela Bassett (Meet the Browns)
6. Danai Jekesai Gurira (The Visitor)
7. Keke Palmer (The Longshots)
8. Queen Latifah (The Secret Life of Bees)
9. Alfre Woodard (The Family That Preys)
10. Rosario Dawson (Seven Pounds)

Best Actress (Supporting Role)

1. Alicia Keys (The Secret Life of Bees)
2. Taraji Henson (The Curious Life of Benjamin Button)
3. Viola Davis (Doubt & Nights in Rodanthe)
4. Beyonce’ (Cadillac Records)
5. Sharon Leal (Soul Men)
6. Tre’ Armstrong (How She Move)
7. Kellee Stewart (I’m Through with White Girls)
8. Jessica Lucas (Cloverfield)
9. Tasha Smith (The Longshots)
10. Gabrielle Union (Cadillac Records)

Best Director (Studio)
1. Gina Prince-Bythewood (The Secret Life of Bees)
2. Tyler Perry (The Family That Preys & Meet the Browns)
3. Spike Lee (Miracle at St. Anna)
4. Malcolm Lee (Soul Men)
5. George C. Wolfe (Nights in Rodanthe)

Best Director (Independent or Documentary)

1. Jennifer Sharp (I’m Through with White Girls)
2. Daphne Valerius (The Souls of Black Girls)
3. Darryl Roberts (America the Beautiful)
4. David A. Wilson (Meeting David Wilson)
5. Christine Swanson (All about Us)

Worst Movie

1. First Sunday
2. What Up?
3. Nora’s Hair Salon 2
4. Cover
5. Three Can Play That Game

Worst Actor

1. Tracy Morgan (First Sunday)
2. Katt Williams (First Sunday)
3. Mos Def (Be Kind, Rewind)
4. Kadeem Hardison (What Up?)
5. Raz Adoti (Cover)

Worst Actress

1. Tatyana Ali (Nora’s Hair Salon 2)
2. Stacey Dash (Nora’s Hair Salon 2)
3. Malinda Williams (First Sunday)
4. Aunjanue Ellis (Cover)
5. Vivica A. Fox (Three Can Play That Game)

Worst Director

1. David E. Talbert (First Sunday)
2. Dale Stelly (What Up?)
3. Jill Maxcy (Nora’s Hair Salon 2)
4. Bill Duke (Cover)
5. Mody Mod (Three Can Play That Game)

Friday, December 19, 2008




Melvin Van Peebles Recognized With Special Achievement Award
Los Angeles, CA (December 19, 2008) – The African-American Film Critics Association (AAFCA) has named “The Dark Knight” as the Best Picture of 2008. Directed and co-written by Christopher Nolan, the Warner Bros. Pictures release captured a majority vote by the organization, which is comprised of African-American media professionals from across the nation.
Frank Langella was selected as Best Actor 2008 for “Frost/Nixon.” Angelina Jolie earned AAFCA recognition as Best Actress 2008 for “The Changeling.” “Although our organization gives specific consideration to work by artists of African descent, the performances of Mr. Langella and Ms. Jolie are undeniably transcendent and deserving of our recognition,” remarked AAFCA outgoing President Gil Robertson, who will assume the role of East Coast Vice President in 2009.

In addition to Best Picture, “The Dark Knight” was recognized with Best Supporting Actor honors for Heath Ledger. Viola Davis earned Best Supporting Actress recognition for her riveting performance in “Doubt.” Danny Boyle was named Best Director for “Slumdog Millionaire.”

AAFCA bestowed its Special Achievement Award upon director Melvin Van Peebles, whose seminal film “Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song” is a foundation of the African-American independent cinema aesthetic. “Throughout his long and distinguished career, Mr. Van Peebles has earned a hard-fought reputation for pushing the bar creatively and socially,” observed Robertson. “We salute his legacy with this year’s Special Achievement Award.”

Other films in the organization’s Top Ten include “The Secret Life of Bees,” “Slumdog Millionaire,” “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” and “Miracle at St. Anna.” “From independent to commercial films, our selections for 2008 represents a diversity of themes and cultures that are intriguing and worth exploring,” stated incoming AAFCA President Wilson Morales, who serves as the editor of and a columnist for AOL Black Voices.

AAFCA 2008 Film Selections

The African-American Film Critics Association’s Top Ten Films of 2008 are as follows in order of distinction:

1. The Dark Knight

2. Slumdog Millionaire

3. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

4. (Tie) The Secret Life of Bees

4. (Tie) Cadillac Records

6. Miracle at St. Anna

7. Milk

8. Seven Pounds

9. Doubt

10. Iron Man


The African American Film Critics Association (AAFCA) is the only organization of African American film media professional. Founded in 2003, AAFCA’s members represent a geographically diverse cross-section of media covering the cinematic arts. The organization honors excellence in cinema by creating awareness for films with universal appeal to black communities, while emphasizing film about the black experience and those produced, written, directed and starring performers of African descent. The association actively reviews the quality and standard of black talent, content and media coverage. AAFCA also supports the development of future black film critics and filmmakers. AAFCA is based in Los Angeles.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Ghost Town DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

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

What happens to you when you die? Perhaps you remain on Earth unable to rest in peace until you resolve all of your unfinished business. This is the sort of limbo Frank Herlihy (Greg Kinnear) finds himself in following his untimely demise on the streets of Manhattan.
Hope for completing the transition arrives the day that something goes horribly wrong during Bertram Pincus’ (Ricky Gervais) routine colonoscopy, an anesthesia accident that leaves the dentist dead on the operating table for several minutes. Once revived, he can suddenly see ghosts, and this development is not lost on Frank who befriends Bertram hoping to sabotage his widow Gwen’s (Tea Leoni) impending remarriage to a conniving attorney (Billy Campbell).
Although Bertram is a misanthrope not inclined to do anything for anybody, he promises to help prevent her from walking down the aisle. In return, Frank agrees to keep all the other ghosts suddenly annoying Bertram at bay. However, what neither anticipates is that Bert might develop feelings for Gwen, and the love quadrangle which ensues is the hub around which Ghost Town revolves.
Directed by David Koepp, this offbeat sitcom might be best thought of as a bittersweet cross of Ghost (1990) and The Sixth Sense (1999), as it combines some of the former’s romantic elements with the latter’s “I see dead people” theme. Moreover, this pleasantly-unpredictable picture adds a few surprising wrinkles of its own to the macabre mix which make it feel like a totally fresh concept.
A Ricky Gervais vehicle likely to work for you to the extent that you enjoy laughing at the cliché of a coldhearted cad who ultimately experiences an 11th-hour epiphany right on cue for the flick to deliver a universal message about what really matters most in life.

Very Good (3 stars)
Rated PG-13 for sexuality, profanity and drug references.
Running time: 102 minutes
Studio: Dreamworks Home Video
DVD Extras: Commentary by Ricky Gervais and director David Koepp, a gag reel, “The Making of” and special f/x featurettes, plus Dreamworks previews.

Savage Grace DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Melodrama Revisiting Plastics Heir Tragedy Arrives on DVD

In 1907, Dr. Leo Baekeland made a fortune when invented a new type of plastic he called Bakelite. A couple of generations later, his grandson Brooks (Stephen Dillane) didn’t know what he was getting into when he wed a shameless gold digger named Barbara Daly (Julianne Moore).
Worse than the fact that the beautiful redhead married him for his money, was that she was mentally unstable and given to bouts of depression and impulsive angry outbursts. Furthermore, she led a decadent, self-indulgent lifestyle marked by infidelity and substance abuse, so it is no surprise that her marital relationship was unusually stormy.
Some people should never have kids, case in point, the Baekelands. But, unfortunately, they did have a son, Tony (Eddie Redmayne), who turned out to be even nuttier than his domineering mother. No doubt, he was driven crazy by her going to great lengths to change his sexual preference once she realized he was gay.
Not only did she pressure him to date girls, but the incestuous cougar even pounced upon the poor boy to try to turn him straight. But because Tony didn’t share her Oedipal inclinations, theirs wasn’t a story with a happily ever after ending.
The tragic trajectory of this dysfunction family is carefully chronicled by this warts-and-all bio-pic directed by Tom Kalin. Spanning the years of 1946 through 1972, the picture unfolds against assorted glamorous backdrops in cities like New York, Paris, Mallorca and London.
Don’t be deceived by the glitz, for despite the Baekelands being able to afford the finer things in life, their wealth proved to be no defense against such antisocial behaviors as suicide, matricide and grandma-cide. A feel-bad peek at how the other half lives which shows that no one knows what goes on behind closed doors.

Very Good (3 stars)
Running time: 98 minutes
Studio: Genius Products
DVD Extras: “The Making of” featurette.

To see a trailer of Savage Grace, visit:

Burn after Reading DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Coen Brothers Screwball Comedy Comes to DVD

Here, the Coen Brothers serve up a screwball comedy which might best be described as a combination sex farce and political potboiler. What really makes the movie hilarious is the willingness of some A-list talent, especially Brad Pitt and George Clooney, to throw themselves so convincingly into unflattering roles which make them look like idiots.
The action opens at CIA Headquarters in Langley, Virginia where we find Agent Osborne Cox (John Malkovich) being confronted about his drinking problem by his boss. Ozzie opts to quit the Agency to write his memoirs rather than accept a demotion to a position with a lower clearance level.
This development doesn’t sit well with his disenchanted wife, Katie (Tilda Swinton), a pediatrician who’s been conducting a clandestine affair with Harry (Clooney). Harry’s a government bureaucrat married to Sandy (Elizabeth Marvel), a best selling children’s book author.
Katie decides to divorce Ozzie, expecting that Harry will choose to leave his spouse, too. But what Katie doesn’t know is that he’s already cheating on her with women he meets via the internet.
Meanwhile, she consults an attorney who advises her to dig up some dirt on her husband prior to filing any papers. The plot thickens when the classified CIA documents she downloads onto a disc off her hubby’s computer accidentally land in the hands of blackmail-minded Linda (Frances McDormand) and Chad (Pitt), co-workers at Hardbodies Fitness Center. They end up under the surveillance of the CIA which mistakes their motivations as far more sinister than mere greed.
The madcap antics which ensue are every bit as funny as they are shocking. Alternatively mirthful and macabre, while poking fun at modern mating habits and the paranoia of espionage culture, Burn after Reading proves to be a refreshingly-intelligent diversion designed with the more cerebral cineaste in mind.

Excellent (4 stars)
Rated R for sexuality, violence and pervasive profanity.
Running time: 96 minutes
Studio: Universal Studios Home Entertainment
DVD Extras: “The Making of” plus a couple of other featurettes.

To see a trailer of Burn after Reading, visit:

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

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

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


Bedtime Stories (PG for crude humor and mild epithets) Adam Sandler stars in this fanciful fairy tale about a hotel handyman whose life changes when the imaginative bedtime stories he shares with his niece (Laura Ann Kesling) and nephew (Jonathan Morgan Heit) magically start becoming true. Cast includes Courteney Cox, Richard Griffiths, Gut Pearce, Keri Russell and Tessa Palmer.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (PG-13 for profanity, sexuality, smoking and brief war violence) Brad Pitt shares the title role with several other actors in David Fincher’s adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic tale about a man born old who gradually grows younger over the course of his life. Cast includes Cate Blanchett, Tilda Swinton, Taraji P. Henson and Elle Fanning.

Last Chance Harvey (PG-13 for brief profanity) Midlife crisis drama about a down-on-his-luck, divorced jingle writer (Dustin Hoffman) from New York who travels to London for the wedding of his estranged daughter (Liane Balaban) only to embark on a whirlwind romance with a lonely British bureaucrat (Emma Thompson) he meets in a pub. With James Brolin, Kathy Baker and Eileen Atkins.

Marley & Me (PG for mature themes and suggestive language) Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson co-star in this family comedy about a couple of newlyweds who move from Michigan to Florida where they learn a host of life lessons from their mischievous Labrador retriever as he grows from a cute puppy into an uncontrollable,100-pound steamroller. Supporting cast includes Alan Arkin and syndicated columnist Dave Barry.

Revolutionary Road (R for profanity, sexuality and nudity) Titanic’s Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet reunite for this screen adaptation of Richard Yates’ best-seller, set in the Fifties, about a married couple in crisis who move from Connecticut to Paris to escape suburbia while trying to revitalize their relationship.

The Spirit (PG-13 for stylized violence, sexuality and brief nudity) Frank Miller directs this screen adaptation of Will Eisner’s superhero comic book series about a murdered rookie cop (Gabriel Macht) who returns from the dead as a crime-fighting masked crusader. Cast includes Samuel L. Jackson, Scarlett Johansson and Eva Mendes.

Valkyrie (PG-13 for violence and brief profanity) Tom Cruise stars in this true World War II tale about several high-ranking Nazi officers who conspire to assassinate Adolf Hitler (David Bamber) in July of 1944. Ensemble includes Bill Nighy, Terence Stamp, Carice van Houten, Kenneth Branagh, Eddie Izzard and Tom Wilkinson and Thomas Kretschmann. (In English and German with subtitles)


The Secret of the Grain (Unrated) Cross-cultural drama, set in the seacoast town of Sete, revolving around the frustrating adjustment to life in France by a family of Arab immigrants headed by a divorced and depressed, 61 year-old patriarch (Habib Boufares) who dreams of opening his own restaurant. (In French, Arabic and Russian with subtitles)

Theater of War (Unrated) Drama-driven documentary featuring Meryl Streep, Kevin Kline and Tony Kushner takes a look at the life and ideas of playwright Bertolt Brecht (1898-1956) via a NYC Public Theater production of his play “Mother Courage.” (In English and German with subtitles)

Waltz with Bashir (R for grisly violence, disturbing images of atrocities, a scene containing graphic sexuality and brief nudity) Animated bio-pic about an Israeli Army veteran (Ari Folman) left haunted by amnesia about a mission he participated in during the first war with Lebanon back in the Eighties. (In Hebrew, German and English with subtitles)


Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Langella and Sheen Reprise Roles in Adaptation of Broadway Play

On August 9, 1974, Richard Nixon resigned from the Presidency in disgrace after becoming hopelessly implicated in the Watergate cover-up. He retreated from the public eye for two and one-half years, until he agreed to a series of TV interviews with David Frost with the hope of resurrecting his tarnished image.
Frost, a British talk show host whose own career was floundering, paid the former president $600,000 plus a percentage of the profits for the exclusive opportunity. And that investment proved to be worth the risk, as over 45 million viewers tuned in to watch the eagerly-anticipated tete-a-tete. However, anyone expecting to see Nixon make an admission of guilt was ultimately left disappointed, as he remained rather emphatic in his denial of any knowledge of a cover-up during their uneventful chat.
Nonetheless, the truth didn’t get in the way of Peter Morgan’s (The Queen) writing a sensationalized version of the historic showdown which he has culminating in a confession by Tricky Dick. Morgan specializes in such fictionalized character studies of historical figures, with both The Queen (Helen Mirren) and The Last King of Scotland (Forest Whitaker) leading to Oscar win for the actors in the title roles.
Frost/Nixon, which stars Michael Sheen and Frank Langella, premiered in London to critical acclaim before being brought to Broadway where the hoarse-voiced Langella landed a Tony for his uncanny Nixon impersonation. This screen adaptation of the play is heartily recommended provided you aren’t likely to be bothered by the fact that its most compelling moments have been completely fabricated.
One critical contrivance revolves around a phone call a drunk Nixon never made to Frost in the middle of the night, another around the President’s capitulation and acknowledgement that he had committed a crime. Director Ron Howard, here, is basically offering any still-embittered, fellow Baby Boomers a belated opportunity to bask in Nixon’s humiliation.
Unfortunately, while certainly entertaining in terms of its speculation about the awkward, mutually-dependent relationship of its two principal figures, the movie feels a bit anticlimactic since, by today’s standards, Nixon’s alleged high crimes and misdemeanors pale in comparison to the mess about to be left behind by the Bush Administration.

Very Good (3 stars)
Rated R for profanity.
Running time: 122 minutes
Studio: Universal Pictures

To see a trailer for Frost/Nixon, visit:

Monday, December 15, 2008


Slumdog Millionaire took the lion's share of awards, named best picture by New York Film Critics Online (NYFCO), composed of 27 web-based reviewers and 2 print critics with a strong online presence. Sean Penn was named best actor for his role in Milk while Sally Hawkins received best actress honors for her performance in Happy-Go-Lucky. Best director honors went to Danny Boyle and his co-director, Loveleen Tandan for Slumdog Millionaire. Heath Ledger was named best supporting actor for The Dark Knight and Penelope Cruz was selected as best supporting actress for Vicki Cristina Barcelona. 4 Months, 3 Weeks 2 Days was NYFCO's choice for best foreign film, while best documentary honors went to Man on Wire.

The Complete List

Slumdog Millionaire

Danny Boyle w/ Loveleen Tandan - Slumdog Millionaire

Sean Penn - Milk

Sally Hawkins - Happy-Go-Lucky

Heath Ledger - The Dark Knight

Penelope Cruz - Vicki Cristina Barcelona

Slumdog Millionaire - Anthony Dod Mantle

Slumdog Millionaire - Simon Beaufoy

4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days

Man on Wire


Slumdog Millionaire - A.R. Rahman

Sally Hawkins - Happy-Go-Lucky

Martin McDonagh - In Bruges


BEST PICTURES (alphabetical)
A Christmas Tale
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The Dark Knight
Rachel Getting Married
Slumdog Millionaire
The Wrestler

Isaac and the Bah Family Tree

by Adrienne C. Wilson
with illustrations by Benton Rudd
Tate Publishing
Paperback, $9.99
28 pages, Illustrated
ISBN: 978-1-60604-792-7

Book Review by Kam Williams

“There was a tree that stood alone in the Bah family backyard. Thick, brown bark covered the trunk, while the gently swaying branches covered in leaves seemed to laugh from the wind’s playful breeze…
Isaac Bah stood gazing at the tree… ‘Hello, tree! How are you today?’ said Isaac. ’Are you my family tree?’”
-- Excerpted from pages 6 & 8

Genealogy is a sensitive issue for most African-Americans, given the way that black families were torn apart during slavery. Consequently, it can be very awkward indeed for parents trying to figure out exactly how to respond to a youngster’s natural curiosity about his or her roots, when they can only be traced back several generations to somewhere around Emancipation.
Help has arrived in Isaac and the Bah Family Tree, a delightful fairytale by Adrienne C. Wilson sweetly illustrated by Benton Rudd. The book relates the earnest effort of a little boy named Isaac Bah to find his family tree like his friends at school had. However, because he doesn’t quite understand the concept yet, he initially takes the word “tree” literally, and expects to find an answer in the oak, pine and weeping willows he finds in his backyard and a nearby park.
Ultimately, it turns out Isaac isn’t really that far off, for the author cleverly employs tree imagery as a metaphor en route to clearing up the kid’s confusion. For, after finding a photo album in an old “trunk” up in the attic, he enlists his grandfather’s assistance in determining the ancestors and other relatives who make up the “branches” and “leaves” of the Bah family tree.
A touching lesson in lineage and African-American history with a satisfying payoff. Practically the perfect way for black parents to broach the subject of genealogy with inquiring offspring.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Taraji P. Henson: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button Interview

with Kam Williams

Headline: The Curious Case of Taraji Henson

The name Taraji Henson and Academy Award are being whispered in the same breath in the wake of her compelling performance in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button where she holds her own opposite several Hollywood heavyweights, including Brad Pitt and Oscar-winners Cate Blanchett and Tilda Swinton. Previously, Taraji has for some reason remained under the radar despite delivering critically-acclaimed work in picture after picture, from Baby Boy to Hustle & Flow to Smokin’ Aces to Talk to Me to The Family That Preys.
In 2009, the versatile thespian is slated to star in Not Easily Broken with Morris Chestnut, in Hurricane Season with Forest Whitaker, and in Once Fallen with Ed Harris. Here, she talks about her powerful portrayal of Queenie in Benjamin Button, the screen adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic tale about a man born old who gradually grows younger year by year.

KW: Hi Taraji, thanks for the time again.
TH: Oh, no problem.
KW: Who did you base your character Queenie on?
TH: Queenie was pretty much on the page. Eric Roth is a brilliant scriptwriter. All the words were there. I just had to do a little bit of research to make her real. That entailed researching each decade that I live in in the film and studying what happens to the body as it ages and decays.
KW: How about preparing to play Brad Pitt character’s adoptive mother?
TH: The mother stuff I know, because I’m a mom. Nurturing? I got that.
KW: Speaking of mothering, how’s your son Marcel doing?
TH: He’s doing great, thanks, and making me very proud.
KW: What was it like being directed by David Fincher?
TH: Wonderful, because he really pays attention to the smallest of details. He leaves no stone unturned. He goes over every little aspect, each grain of salt. That’s why the film is so brilliant.
KW: After watching it, it’s so rich I sensed that I’ll have to see it at least one more time to catch everything.
TH: Probably so.
KW: Do you think the picture is going to generate a lot of Oscar buzz?
TH: I’m told that it already is, but I leave that up to the big guys.
KW: You’ve been nominated for an NAACP Image Award a couple of times before. Do you think this performance might finally put you over the top?
TH: I don’t even mess with that.
KW: I have to ask you how you feel about Obama’s win.
TH: I am over the moon. Over the moon! I just knew it wouldn’t happen. I’m telling you, in the beginning, a lot of my friends and colleagues were planning to vote for Hilary until we saw he had a shot and how many white people were coming to bat for him. When he won, I was so filled with joy. I can’t even explain the feeling. It’s an amazing time to be alive.
KW: Let me ask you a few of my regular questions again. From music maven Heather Covington: What’s music are you listening to nowadays?
TH: Right now, I’ve been listening to Q-Tip, because I’m about to be interviewed for a documentary being produced by Nas that Michael Rapaport is directing about the group A Tribe Called Quest. I’m a huge A Tribe Called Quest fan, because, to me, they were the first artists to make hip-hop sexy, when they infused it with jazz, which was incredible. I’m a music collector and I have over 6,000 songs on my iPod, but that’s what I’m listening to right now. I can’t get away from them. They’re incredible.
KW: Can you think of another question no one ever asks you, that you wish someone would? Last time you said, “What color panties are you wearing?” which was the funniest answer I ever got to that question.
TH: You know, I’ve been asked so much, I can’t think of anything.
KW: Bookworm Troy Johnson asks: What was the last book you read?
TH: Book? What is a book? [Laughs] If I could read a book right now, that would mean I have time.
KW: Judging from your upcoming films, Not Easily Broken with Morris Chestnut, Hurricane Season with Forest Whitaker, and Once Fallen with Ed Harris, it looks like you’re about to break very big playing leading ladies with your name appearing at the top of the marquee, especially if you land an Oscar nomination.
TH: I hope so.
KW: “Realtor to the Stars” Jimmy Bayan question: Where in L.A. do you live?
TH: Glendale.
KW: Thanks again, Taraji. Best of luck with Benjamin Button, and I hope we can speak again after you’ve collected all your accolades during awards season.
TH: Absolutely! Have a great holiday!
KW: You too!

To see a trailer for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, visit:

Saturday, December 13, 2008


Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Sean Penn Shines in Oscar-Quality Performance as Gay Pioneer

Harvey Milk (1930-1978) was a trailblazing pioneer in 1977 when he became the first openly-gay person to be elected to political office in the State of California. The outspoken activist had represented San Francisco’s Castro District as a City Supervisor for less than a year when he and Mayor George Moscone (Victor Garber) were murdered by Dan White (Josh Brolin), a disgruntled rival and former Supervisor. The assassination turned Milk into a martyr, and to this day he serves as a symbol of courage and hope for homosexuals and lesbians gays everywhere.
Milk, directed by Gus Van Sant, is as much an historical account of the rise and sudden fall of a beloved cult hero as it is an intimate character study of a vulnerable, complicated soul. The film stars Academy Award-winner Sean Penn (for Mystic River), who rises to the challenge, and thus should be a shoo-in for his fifth nomination for his curiously brash yet endearing performance in the title role.
The picture couldn’t be more timely, given the controversy surrounding the recent passing of Proposition 8 banning gay marriage in California. The opening features a black & white collage of archival footage of arrests and intimidation of homosexuals and of police raids of gay bars during less enlightened times, followed by a brief clip of an ashen fellow Supervisor Diane Feinstein announcing the murders of Milk and Moscone.
Harvey then proceeds to narrate his own story in a series of flashbacks, having ostensibly been inspired by a premonition to dictate a memoir into a tape recorder shortly before he was killed. Beginning, “This is only to be played in the event of my death by assassination,“ the setting shifts to New York City on his fateful 40th birthday when he met Scott Smith (James Franco), a handsome, young newcomer from Jackson, Mississippi.
Love blossoms despite the considerable age difference, and in 1972 they decide to move to San Francisco and open a camera shop. Now, out of the closet, a more flamboyant Harvey is shocked by the bigotry he encounters on account of his sexual preference, especially in a town thought of as tolerant. Thus, begins his transition into a gay activist, and into a community organizer wise enough to forge strategic allegiances with labor, blacks and other groups.
Unfortunately, the consciousness-raising takes a toll on his relationship with Scott, who moves out and is eventually replaced by a boyfriend (Diego Luna) more appreciative of the protagonist’s political agenda. Nonetheless, Harvey’s first two election bids (in 1973 and 1975) fail, though he finally gets to enjoy the sweet taste of victory after the hard-fought 1977 campaign, only to incur the wrath of the homophobic White. By the way, he got off with a relative slap on the wrist by employing the infamous “Twinkies made me do it” defense.
Hauntingly, Harvey’s voiceover persists in the picture posthumously, exhorting the masses to continue the movement, and not merely on behalf of gays, but for all the disenfranchised. Expect to shed a few tears during the closing credits montage when real-life photos and updates of the principals portrayed in the movie are juxtaposed against the actors playing them.
A rare bio-pic of sufficient depth and emotional complexity to humanize an icon while simultaneously conveying the significance of his lasting contributions to the culture.

Excellent (4 stars)
Rated R for profanity, sexuality and violence.
Running time: 130 minutes
Studio: Focus Features

To see a trailer of Milk, visit:

Friday, December 12, 2008

Daryl Hall & John Oates: Live at the Troubadour DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Hall & Oates Concert DVD Features Group’s Greatest Hits

Since the early Seventies, Daryl Hall and John Oates have been a veritable hit making machine, producing dozens of dance tunes which reached the top of the pop and R&B charts. Still together after first teaming up in Philly forty years ago, the talented singing/songwriting duo returned to the stage of The Troubadour, the Los Angeles nightclub where they were the opening act when they got their big break there as virtual unknowns in 1973.
Though now a little long in the tonsils to hit the high notes anymore, the pair brought along a back-up band to record 19 new versions of their perennial crowd pleasers in front of a live audience, including “Rich Girl,” “Maneater,” “Out of Touch,” “Kiss on My List,” “Private Eyes,” “She’s Gone,” “Say It Isn’t So,” “I Can’t Go for that,” “One on One” and “Sara Smile” among others.
Be forewarned: this DVD is recommended for ardent fans curious to see what the 21st edition of Hall & Oates sounds like. While the guys certainly are gung-ho and throws themselves wholeheartedly into the concert, they quite evidently are considerably older and quite frankly no longer have either the same stamina or vocal range to deliver as phenomenal a show as they once could.
Still, the DVD is a pleasant enough diversion for a nostalgic walk down Memory Lane. Just don’t be surprised if this film has you breaking out their original CDs so you can enjoy how great the group sounded in its prime.

Very good (2.5 stars)
Running time: 120 minutes
Studio: Shout! Factory

To see a clip of Hall & Oates performing Sara Smile, visit:

The Black Candle DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: DVD Explains Roots of Kwanzaa Celebration

Kwanzaa has come a long way since it was created by Maulana Ron Karenga in California 42 years ago. The now mainstream holiday is observed each year between December 26th and January 1st by over 40 million black folks around the world interested in honoring their African heritage. The U.S. Postal Service has even issued a commemorative Kwanzaa stamp which is why it should come as no surprise to see the arrival of the first feature-length documentary about the annual celebration.
Written and directed by Dr. M.K. Asante, the movie is narrated by former U.S. Poet Laureate Maya Angelou and features contemporary interviews with Karenga, rapper Chuck D, pro football Hall of Famer Jim Brown and numerous other luminaries who weigh in on the value of Kwanzaa and its seven principles: Umoja (Unity), Kujichagulia (Self-Determination), Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility), Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics), Nia (Purpose), Kuumba (Creativity) and Imani (Faith).
Dr. Molefi Asante, father of the director, suggests that the holiday was born more out of a cultural crisis than an identity crisis because, historically, African-American school kids have had “two sets of notes, one for the test, one for the truth.” Malcolm X affirms this notion, courtesy of file footage, indicating, “You can’t help hating Africa and not help yourself.” Similar sentiments are expressed by the late novelist James Baldwin when he wistfully acknowledges that, “There are days when you wonder what your role is in this country and what your future is in it.”
For this reason, Dr. Scot Brown concludes that Kwanzaa as important because it “insists on celebrating our Africaness,” while Ms. Angelou tells future generations, “You owe no racial debt to history.” A most informative DVD aimed at anyone interested in exploring the roots of Kwanzaa or explaining its meaning to young children.

Excellent (4 stars)
Running time: 71 minutes
Studio: Asante FilmWorx

To see a trailer for The Black Candle, visit:

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Traitor DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: DVD Drama Features Don Cheadle as Possible Manchurian Muslim Mole

This international thriller revolves around the 007-like exploits of Samir Horn (Don Cheadle), a U.S. Special Forces Agent serving overseas in a covert, counterespionage operation in Yemen where he’s attempting to imbed himself in a cell of Arab religious fanatics. He is able to gain the gang’s confidence by convincing its ringleader (Said Taghmaoui) that he’s a devout Muslim from Sudan. Soon thereafter, the two bond as blood brothers sworn to perform crimes against humanity in the name of Allah.

Next, the pair mastermind a series of attacks not only in the Middle East, but in Europe and America, too. Samir, as an Army-trained explosives expert, is able to train suicide bombers while outfitting them with detonators. By accident, this development comes to the attention of the interagency task force led by FBI agents Roy Clayton (Guy Pearce) and Max Archer (Neal McDonough).

They, of course, are curious about the identity of this ostensibly-disloyal American, and wonder whether he’s truly a traitor or merely an al-Qaeda infiltrator on a secret mission. Determining the answer without blowing Samir’s cover proves to be easier said than done, and writer/director Jeffrey Nachmanoff is very adept at keeping his audience guessing for almost as long as the investigating officers themselves remain in a quandary.

Also Credit Don Cheadle’s masterful performance for making the movie riveting for its duration. For he ever so convincingly plays Samir as a seemingly-conflicted soul who just might be a Manchurian Muslim mole. Perhaps of more significance is how the movie seeks to serve as a sophisticated appeal to tolerance by its deliberate differentiating between radical Islam and the moderate Muslim majority.

A curious whodunit which has you far more focused on the mindset than the apprehension of what might be a mass murderer.

Excellent (4 stars)

Rated PG-13 for brief profanity, mature themes, and intense violence.

In English and Arabic with subtitles.

Running time: 114 minutes

Studio: Anchor Bay

DVD Extras: Commentary by the director and Don Cheadle, behind-the-scenes footage, plus another featurette.

To see a trailer for Traitor, visit:

AAFCA Celebrates 5th Year

Organization Reaffirms Commitment to Diversity in Film Industry
by Kam Williams

The African-American Film Critics Association (AAFCA) has announced that Wilson Morales, guru of and film blogger for AOL BlackVoices, will serve as the organization’s President for 2009. Mr. Morales, a graduate of Cornell University, is a noted New York movie critic/celebrity interviewer with a wealth of knowledge and experience, having covered the industry from virtually every angle, as a writer, editor and/or producer for radio, television, print and online outlets.

Wilson was one of the original founders of AAFCA back in 2003, along with Shawn Edwards of Fox-TV, Mike Sargent of WBAI and outgoing President Gil Robertson, publisher of The Robertson Treatment. “One of my top priorities during my tenure will be to introduce programs and benefits that will attract new members and increase active participation among our members,” Morales said.

“Another priority,” he continued, “will be to increase awareness of the organization globally among filmmakers and connoisseurs of films about people of African descent. So, expect AAFCA to continue to pursue the founders’ vision of becoming more involved in helping filmmakers and actors of African descent get their projects wider media cover which might be beyond their reach.”

In discussing AAFCA’s origins, Robertson, who will remain with the group as Vice President, adds, “The organization sprang out of necessity... As a group of African-American journalists, we recognized a need for an association that could protect and safe-guard our positioning in the film media marketplace. Of course, there was also the goal of camaraderie and the personal and professional value that comes when journalists with similar goals unite for a common cause.”

As for AAFCA’s progress over its first five years, Gil concludes, “I think we've succeeded on many levels, but still have a long way to go in reaching our goals, which is to provide a real and tangible opportunity for working journalists and aspiring journalists to grow and fulfill their professional goals.” He also weighed in on the question of respect in the industry, observing, “It's been a gradual process but AAFCA has steadily gained a footing of support and acknowledgment from both our media peers and within the film industry. Like anything else it takes time, but I'm pleased about the forward direction our
group is heading.”

Like most other critics guilds, AAFCA will soon be convening to vote for its Ten Best films and favorite screen performances of the past year. An announcement of its winners for will be made sometime before Christmas.

Note: Kam Williams is a member of AAFCA