Friday, January 30, 2009

Djimon Hounsou: The Push Interview

with Kam Williams

Headline: Djimon a Daddy?

During an interview with me last year, Djimon Hounsou prematurely broke the news that he planned to pop the question to his girlfriend, Kimora Lee Simmons. The casual comment might have landed the Benin-born actor in a little hot water because the model-turned-fashion magnate wasn’t yet divorced from hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons. That might explain why Djimon remained button-lipped about the rumor currently circulating in the tabloids that Kimora is now expecting their first child.
Despite my polite prodding about the pregnancy, the two-time Oscar-nominated actor (for Blood Diamond and In America) with the help of his publicists directed the focus of this tete-a-tete back to his new movie, Push. The riveting flick is a harrowing mindbender which successfully blends elements of X-Men, The Matrix and Memento while adding some of its own unique sci-fi flava.
Set in Hong Kong, it revolves around a group of psychic American expatriates on the run from a U.S. government agency seeking to harness their superpowers for its own nefarious purposes. The film co-stars Dakota Fanning, Camilla Belle and Chris Evans.
FYI, besides making movies, Djimon is famous for parading his hot chocolate bod in tightie-whities as the pitchman for Calvin Klein underwear.

KW: Hey Djimon, thanks again for the time.
DH: My pleasure, man. How is your son doing?
KW: Very well. Thanks for rasking. He’s a sophomore at Princeton.
DH: That’s cool. I remember the first time we talked he was still in junior high school and he knew so much about my country. And not too many people know about Benin.
KW: Yeah he had done a project about it in grammar school.
DH: Tell him I said, “Hi!” and I wish him well and a very successful year, and that I hope all his wishes will come true.
KW: Well, what about you? I understand congratulations are in order for you and Kimora.
DH: [Hesitates] Well, er…
KW: Are you free to talk about it?
DH: Not really.
KW: The rumor’s flying all over the place. You gotta give me something for my readers.
DH: [Sings] There’s a lot of love in the air! [Laughs]
KW: The headline for my last interview with you was: “Djimon Announces Plans to Pop the Question.” I had no idea that she wasn’t divorced yet.
DH: [Laughs]
KW: Let me ask you this. If Kimora were pregnant, do the two of you have any names picked out for the baby?
DH: Shhhhh! Sorry, I have a group of nervous publicists behind me shaking their heads saying that question’s a no-no. But we’ll tackle it another time.
KW: Can you tell me when you’re going to pop the question?
DH: [Hesitates] Hmmm… sometime soon. I mean, it’s been done already, in a different fashion.
KW: Congrats! Okay, let’s talk about Push. What interested you in making this movie? It reminded me of a mix of X-Men, The Matrix, Memento and a movie you were in, The Island.
DH: Yes! And also Constantine. The premise is obviously the one thing that’s bringing all those references you mentioned together. And it was probably that same thing that attracted me to the project, the signs of an occult world that we don’t seem to grasp or comprehend at all.
KW: How would you describe your character, Henry Carver?
DH: He’s a government operative who basically hunts down anyone with the psychic ability to see into or alter the future, and then he helps them weaponize that trait for tomorrow’s war.
KW: You had a similar sort of role in The Island, right?
DH: Yeah, I did some bad things working for the sake of the government.
KW: What was it like working with Dakota Fanning, Camilla Belle and Chris Evans?
DH: It’s always a pleasant journey when you’re working with an actor who takes all the elements of the production to heart. Here, Chris Evans was always watching out to make sure the story flowed and that all the dots were connected. To come to a setting where a fellow actor is so dedicated only enhances your overall understanding of the project and inspires you to do your very best, too.
KW: Sounds like he’s a future director.
DH: Yeah, I really think this kid has all the ingredients to be a great director. So, I hope it takes a shot at it.
KW: Coincidentally, one of my readers, Laz Lyles, wants to know whether you have any plans to direct.
DH: I’d love to, but I’m so aware of everything involved in directing that it discourages me from seriously considering it. There are so many elements in making a movie which have nothing to do with directing. That would be too much of a headache for me. I don’t think I have enough patience for that. But I like the idea of producing stories that move me.
KW: What would you say was the biggest obstacle you have had to overcome in your career?
DH: There’ve been so many. [Laughs] Which one was the biggest? My coming to America, moving here all by myself, just me, myself and I, with no background in the language and having to learn it on the spot in order to work in English.
KW: Attorney Bernadette Beekman was wondering how you improved your English after making Amistad?
DH: The same way I was doing even before Amistad, which was by a combination of watching documentaries on television and reading books. I would keep watching and reading even when I couldn’t understand a word. With documentaries, depending on what you’re watching, what is described is pretty much what is happening in front of you. That can really help you grasp the language on some level. And then you go out and mingle with crowds to learn the everyday language used on the street, which is different.
KW: Speaking of mastering English, I heard you’re doing Shakespeare soon, appearing in a screen adaptation of The Tempest.
DH: We just wrapped that.
KW: How did it go?
DH: It was quite a production. That’s the least I can tell you. [Chuckles] Caliban was an intriguing character to play, and it was very challenging going through four hours of makeup daily. But I loved working with a cast of such a high caliber: Helen Mirren, Alfred Molina, Chris Cooper, and so many other great actors.
KW: It’s usually impossible to assemble such an impressive cast like that simply because of conflicting schedules. How did director Julie Taymor pull off that miracle?
DH: She was smart. She got everybody at the right time.
KW: The Tasha Smith question: Are you ever afraid?
DH: Yes.
KW: The Columbus Short question: Are you happy?
DH: Sometimes.
KW: The bookworm Troy Johnson question: What was the last book you read?
DH: Things Fall Apart.
KW: By Chinua Achebe.
DH: Hey, you got it!
KW: Yeah, in fact, my wife’s book club is reading both Things Fall Apart and The Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad this month. So, at the meeting next week they’ll be comparing the two authors’ characterizations of Africa.
DH: Wow! Please let me know how the discussion goes. I really want to call you and find out.
KW: Will do. Is there a question no one ever asks you that you wish someone would?
DH: Yes, but how do I put this. It really has to do with the way how people view Africa, when Africa is addressed. Because I think the generic way of looking at Africa is like it’s just a bunch of people in loincloths running around chasing gazelles and stuff. That’s the issue, but I don’t exactly know how to phrase that as a question.
KW: No, that was good enough. Rudy Lewis asks: Who’s at the top of your hero list?
DH: Nelson Mandela, although I have a few other people in different domains.
KW: The music maven Heather Covington question: What music are you listening to nowadays?
DH: A combination, really. Tribal music… hip-hop… reggae… I’m sort of cosmopolitan as far as music is concerned.
KW: Djimon, thanks for a great interview, as usual,
DH: It’s been a pleasure! Thank you very much. Give my best to your family and Happy New Year!
KW: Same to you!

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Zack and Miri Make a Porno DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Raunchy Kevin Smith Sex Romp Released on DVD

Given its prurient theme, this titillating teensploit proved critic-proof in terms of its targeted raging-hormones demographic. The picture was written and directed by Kevin Smith, a reliable purveyor of bottom-feeding fare, and he definitely does not disappoint his rabid fans here in that regard.
From an N-word laced opening sequence to a steady diet of profanity to its graphic dialogue to gratuitous frontal nudity to its much-anticipated sex scenes, Zack and Miri Make a Porno leaves even less to the imagination than its suggestive, testosterone-teasing title. More shocking than funny, the film revolves around a couple of lifelong platonic friends (Elizabeth Banks and Seth Rogen) who have been roommates since graduating from high school. Both of these slackers are stuck in minimum wage jobs which pay so little they can barely pay their rent or utility bills.
Inspired by a former classmate’s success in the adult film industry, they seize on the bright idea of co-starring in their own xxx-rated film. They agree to mate onscreen, but with mutual promises not to let the momentary intimacy change their otherwise non-physical relationship. All goes well until to Zack and Miri’s surprise (but not the audience’s) they develop deep feelings for each other.
Never amusing, exciting or even funny, but a pathetic attempt to pass off as mainstream entertainment shallow smut that the censors just a generation ago would certainly have rated NC-17. What changed? Have our standards sunk this low?

Fair (1 star)
Rated R for graphic nudity, pervasive profanity, ethnic slurs, explicit sexuality and crude humor.
Running time: 101 minutes
Studio: Genius Products
2-Disc DVD Extras: Deleted and extended scenes, ad-libs, blooper reel, “The Making of” documentary, “Money Shots” webisodes, and more

To see a trailer of Zack and Miri Make a Porno, visit:

Love Comes Lately DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Romance Drama on DVD Features Octogenarian Looking for Love

80 year-old Max Kohn (Otto Tausig) is an Austrian émigré whose world view was substantially shaped by the Holocaust. Still, he overcame the trauma to become a celebrated fiction writer and now lives in Manhattan with Reisele (Rhea Perlman), his very jealous girlfriend of a dozen years.
Even at his advanced age, the accomplished author remains very busy between traveling to speaking engagements and cranking out steamy, semi-autobiographical tales about the sexploits of a geezer suspiciously similar to himself. But the virile octogenarian’s nomadic lifestyle tends to get him into trouble, for his erotic fantasies have a strange way of playing out in a surreal fashion given his active imagination and healthy libido.
An offbeat blending of Max’s wistful myths and actual conquests is the subject of Love Comes Lately, a bittersweet romantic romp based on three short stories by Nobel Prize-winner Isaac Bashevis Singer. Superficially, the scenarios which unfold reflect the perspective of an elderly Jew, yet, they are simultaneously somehow universal in nature, since the essence of what he experiences remains commonly human.
His amorous adventures begin at a Miami hotel where he has a couple of close encounters, one with a seductive widow (Caroline Aaron) and another with a Latino maid (Elizabeth Pena) with a limp who likes Max because he treats her with respect. Next, he ventures to Hanover, New Hampshire to deliver a lecture only to end up in the arms of an ex-student (Barbara Hershey) who now teaches Hebrew Literature at Dartmouth. Later, he entertains the advances of his still-grieving, new neighbor (Tovah Feldshuh) who informs Max that he reminds him of her recently-departed husband right before she uses her balcony as a launching pad.
Proof galore that Viagra has enabled a whole generation of frisky seniors to turn the clock way back. Eighty is the new Forty!

Very Good (3 stars)
Running time: 82 minutes
Studio: Kino International

The Secret Life of Bees DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Female Empowerment Flick Set during Civil Rights Era Comes to DVD

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 supply answers to 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 directed by Gina Prince-Blythewood. The story explores a treasure trove of themes ranging from racism to religion to sisterhood to loneliness to love and loss of innocence, though Bees is mostly about the individual urge for self-fulfillment.
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: 109 minutes
Studio: Fox Home Entertainment
DVD Extras: Commentary With director/writer Gina Prince-Bythewood, producers Lauren Shuler Donner and Joe Pichirallo, actresses Dakota Fanning And Queen Latifah, commentary with Gina Prince-Bythewood and Editor Terilyn Shropshire,
director's extended cut with never-before-seen footage, eight deleted scenes,
and featurettes entitled “The World Premiere,” “The Women And Men of The Secret Life of Bees,” “Adaptation: Bringing The Secret Life of Bees To The Big Screen” and “Inside The Pink House With Sue Monk Kidd.”

To see a trailer for The Secret Life of Bees, visit:

Days and Clouds (ITALIAN) DVD

(Giorni & Nuvole)
DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Dysfunctional Family Drama from Italy Arrives on DVD

When Michele (Antonio Albanese) was fired from his own company, he was too embarrassed about having been stabbed in the back by his partner to tell his pampered wife, Elsa (Margherita Buy), or their 20 year-old daughter, Alice (Alba Rohrwacher). Wallowing in a state of denial, he allowed them to continue enjoying the lavish lifestyle to which they had become quite accustomed.
But as the bills began to mount, it was only a matter of time before he would have to ‘fess up about the family’s dire economic straits. This development is particularly upsetting to her because she had recently gone back to college to pursue her love of art history.
Now, she’ll have to drop out of school and take a job as a telemarketer at a call center. Meanwhile, Michele, frustrated by having to take on odd-jobs like delivering messages and hanging wallpaper, ends up depressed by this sorry state of affairs. When he quits even looking for minimum-wage, make-do positions, Elsa becomes emotionally distant over his failure as a provider.
Next, she starts coming home late in order to entertain the advances of her solicitous boss. Eventually, Michele gets the message, moves out of the house and is humbled when he has to crash on the couch of his daughter.
“Can this marriage be saved?” is the timely theme explored by Days and Clouds, a compelling, dysfunctional family drama from Italy by Silvio Soldini. Plausibly-scripted and well-acted, the telling tale proves to be decidedly universal, given the world economy’s currently teetering on the brink of a widespread recession.
Undoubtedly, plenty of previously comfortable middle-aged middle-managers must be struggling with the same sort of marital and money issues in the wake of the toll taken on that beleaguered demographic by downsizing and globalization. Dude, where’s my job?

Excellent (4 stars)
In Italian with subtitles.
Running time: 115 minutes
Studio: Film Movement
DVD Extras: A four-minute film from Germany entitled “Lebenslauf.”

To see a trailer of Days & Clouds, visit:

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

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 February 6, 2009


Coraline (PG for mature themes, scary images, suggestive humor and mild epithets) Stop-action, animated fantasy about an 11 year-old girl (Dakota Fanning) who unlocks a secret door in her family’s new home only to discover an eerily similar alternate version of her own life. Voice cast includes Teri Hatcher and John Hodgman as her parents, plus Keith David and Ian McShane.

Fanboys (PG-13 for profanity, drug use, sexuality and crude humor) Road comedy, set in 1998, about four friends (Sam Huntington, Dan Fogler, Jay Baruchel and Kristen Bell) who drive their terminally-ill pal (Chris Marquette) across the country so that he can see a stolen, pre-release copy of The Phantom Menace before he dies. Includes cameos by William Shatner, Carrie Fisher, Billy Dee Williams, Jason Mewes, Will Forte, Kevin Smith and Seth Rogen.

He’s Just Not That into You (PG-13 for sexuality and brief profanity) Battle-of-the-sexes comedy based on the self-help best seller of the same name chronicles the misadventures of a variety of young couples in crisis. Cast includes Jennifer Aniston, Drew Barrymore, Ben Affleck, Scarlett Johansson, Connelly and Justin Long.

The Pink Panther 2 (PG for suggestive humor, action and mild epithets) Steve Martin reprises the title role as the bumbling Jacques Clouseau for a comic crime caper which has the hapless inspector traversing the globe in search of the international jewel thief who has purloined the priceless Pink Panther diamond. Ensemble cast includes Emily Mortimer, John Cleese, Aishwarya Rai, Jean Reno, Andy Garcia and Alfred Molina.

Push (PG-13 for profanity, teen drinking and intense violence) Sci-fi adventure, set in Hong Kong, about a group of psychic American expatriates who band together to elude the clutches of the top secret U.S. government agency seeking to bring them back to the States to put their powers to work for its own nefarious purposes. Cast includes Djimon Hounsou, Dakota Fanning, Camilla Belle and Chris Evans.


Free Style (PG for epithets, sensuality and mature themes) Against-the-odds sports drama about a motorcross bike rider (Corbin Bleu) who has to balance his family responsibilities with his quest to win the Amateur National Championship.

Life. Support. Music (Unrated) Medical miracle documentary recounting the road to recovery of guitarist Jason Crigler who suffered a life-threatening brain hemorrhage while performing on stage in Manhattan in 2004, at a time when his wife was pregnant.

Our City Dreams (Unrated) Female empowerment documentary profiles five flourishing New York artists between the ages of 30 and 80 who migrated to the Big Apple from Germany, Belgrade, Cairo, Cleveland and Florida.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009


Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Slumdog Pornographer

The Pineda’s are a dysfunctional family which is coming apart at the seams even as they try to keep their fledgling porno theater afloat. At the point of departure, we find them living above the xxx-rated movie house located in a seedy section of the City of Angeles in the Philippines.
Matriarch Nanay Flor (Gina Pareno), we learn, is in the midst of a messy divorce from her philandering husband who left her for his mistress. Since she has to head off to court, it falls to the rest of the clan to pitch-in to keep the place running smoothly. Daughter Nayda (Jacklyn Jose), son-in-law Lando (Julio Diaz) and adopted daughter Jewel (Roxanne Jordan) take turns in the ticket booth, while nephew Ronald (Kristoffer King) serves as the projectionist and another nephew, Alan (Coco Martin), handles the billboard.
Despite their assorted duties, the Pineda’s somehow find time to get involved in activities almost as degenerate as what’s showing onscreen. Alan’s upset that he knocked up his girlfriend Merly (Mercedes Cabral). Nayda and Ronald are obviously attracted to each other and contemplating inbreeding, and budding beauty Jewel can be caught cavorting naked.
The kinky activities of this colorful cast of characters still pale in comparison to that of their establishment’s patrons, for the place is frequented by male prostitutes offering “serbis” or service to johns in the seats and the shadows of the dimly-lit theater. Director Brillante Mendoza’s scattershot approach to storytelling is mostly a shocking mix of scatology and sexplicit titillation which leaves little to the imagination.
The Filipino answer to Slumdog Millionaire, this variation on the Third World squalor theme plays like a sordid peep show where the principals have precious little to offer in the way of redeeming qualities.

Very Good (2.5 stars)
In Filipino and Tagalog with subtitles.
Running time: 85 minutes
Studio: Regent Releasing

To see a trailer for Serbis, visit:

Medicine for Melancholy

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Sit-Dram Asks: Can One-Night Stand Lead to Love between Strangers?

It’s understandable that Joanne (Tracey Heggins) and Micah (Wyatt Cenac) are a little awkward when they wake up together in the same bed the morning after an alcohol-fueled one-night stand. First of all, the strangers got so hot and bothered that they spent a night in a room right at the party where they had just met. Furthermore, they never even got around to exchanging names before exchanging bodily fluids.
Upon waking, Joanne decides to lie and introduce herself as “Angela” since she already has a boyfriend who happens to be out of town. But then she leaves her wallet behind on the floor of the cab they share before going their separate ways. Consequently, Micah not only learns her real name from her driver’s license, but he’s able to track her down again.
Smitten, he shows up unannounced at her doorstep, determined to pursue a relationship. However, besides being African-American, the twenty-somethings start to find they have more differences than similarities. For instance, he’s a down-to-earth, blue-collar-type who wears a stingy-brimmed bike hat everywhere he goes, while she’s definitely a little bourgie with more refined tastes.
In conversation, he irritates Joanne by complaining that blacks seem to be disappearing from rapidly-gentrifying San Francisco, leading her to wonder aloud whether he “has a big issue with race.” Despite the passionate, then rocky start, the two decide to hang out, visiting a museum and riding on a merry-go-round as they get to know each other post intimacy.
Can an impulsive indulgence of lust lead to love? That is the burning question at the center of Medicine for Melancholy, an alternatively breezy and sophisticated sit-dram which marks the auspicious directorial and scriptwriting debut of Barry Jenkins.
Considerable credit for making whirlwind romance riveting must go to the compelling performances delivered by Tracey Heggins and Wyatt Cenac, the talented pair of young thespians playing the protagonists. Their contentious relationship comes to a head when he defines himself “black” and she reveals that the boyfriend she’s cheating on is white.
Micah asks why she’s involved with “some white dude.” Joanne, insulted by the presumptuous tone of the remark, responds with “That’s your problem. You limit yourself,” frostily punctuating her retort with the reminder that “I don’t even know you.”
A candid commentary on the state of the battle-of-the-sexes in a post-racial age of strangers with benefits.

Excellent (4 stars)
Running time: 88 minutes
Studio: IFC Films

To see a trailer for Medicine for Melancholy, visit:

Monday, January 26, 2009

32 Ways to Be a Champion in Business

by Earvin “Magic” Johnson
Crown Business
Hardcover, $25.95
316 pages
ISBN: 978-0-609-60828-9

Book Review by Kam Williams

“While I spent 14 years in the NBA playing basketball, I always had bigger dreams of building a business empire… It was not an easy transition, however. I stumbled now and then as I began… More than a few skeptics told me that I was wrong to focus on underserved urban communities… They were wrong. Where they saw only problems, I created abundant opportunities. Today, Magic Johnson Enterprises is a multimillion dollar company.
There were many people who felt that my life was over when I discovered that I had HIV. Again they were wrong on all counts. I am grateful to be as healthy, strong, and every bit as energetic as in my NBA days… I hope that you will learn from my experiences and benefit from the lessons I’ve shared. My goal is to help you fulfill your business dreams while bettering your life and the lives of those around you.”
 Excerpted from the Preface (pages xiii-xiv)

I’ve generally been very disappointed by how-to books by successful
businessmen claiming to be sharing their knowledge with aspiring titans hoping to follow in their footsteps. For instance, Donald Trump’s Think Like a Billionaire: Everything You Need to Know about Success, Real Estate and Life turned out to be little more than a misleading exercise in name-dropping and self-promotion which devoted precious little attention to the subject at hand.
By contrast, Magic Johnson’s 32 Ways to Be a Champion in Business lives up to its billing, even if its cute title conveniently trades on the number he wore when he was with the Los Angeles Lakers. For the NBA Hall of Famer-turned-Captain of Industry has distilled his business philosophy down into some sound practical advice for folks wiling to roll up their sleeves to try to pull themselves up by their bootstraps.
The book is broken down into four parts: Business Strategies, Business Plays, Business Options and Business Leadership, with each of those sections containing between seven and ten chapters each. Magic’s sub-headings give you a good idea of what to expect, as his suggestion include everything from “Create a guiding vision” to “Buy a good business and make it better” to “Zealously protect and build your brand” to “Think of your employees as fellow entrepreneurs” to “Focus on the customer and you will never go wrong.”
Informative and inspirational, and written in an easy-to-read accessible style, 32 Ways to Be a Champion delineates sensible strategies for every stage of doing business, including financing your start-up, marketing, building your customer base, entering partnerships, expanding the company, and giving back to the community through philanthropy. A solid primer on overachieving from a brother who has enjoyed not one but two world-class careers, while simultaneously miraculously winning the battle of his life against HIV.

2009 Screen Actors Guild Awards

by Kam Williams

Headline: Slumdog Continues to Shine in Oscar Tune-Up

Slumdog Millionaire continued its impressive march towards the Oscars by landing the equivalent of the Best Picture honor at the Screen Actors Guild Awards on Sunday. Other repeat winners from the Golden Globes include Kate Winslet and the late Heath Ledger in the supporting actor categories, positioning them as solid favorites in the Academy Awards Sweepstakes. The lead categories are quite another matter entirely, since Sean Penn win for Milk sets up a showdown with Mickey Rourke who took the Globe for The Wrestler.
Ditto on the distaff side, where Meryl Streep’s Actress win for Doubt turned out to be the night’s big surprise. This leaves everything up in the air for Oscar night when she’ll oppose Winslet, Anne Hathaway, Angelina Jolie and Melissa Leo in what promises to be the most hotly-contested major category. During her acceptance speech, Ms Streep proved that even she didn’t expect to prevail by showing the audience that she was wearing pants instead of an evening gown.

Complete List of Screen Actors Guild Award winners
Movie Categories:
Cast: "Slumdog Millionaire."
Actor in a Leading Role: Sean Penn, "Milk."
Actress in a Leading Role: Meryl Streep, "Doubt."
Supporting Actor: Heath Ledger, "The Dark Knight."
Supporting Actress: Kate Winslet, "The Reader."
Stunt Ensemble: "The Dark Knight."

Television Categories:
Drama Series Cast: "Mad Men."
Actor in a Drama Series: Hugh Laurie, "House."
Actress in a Drama Series: Sally Field, "Brothers & Sisters."
Comedy Series Cast: "30 Rock."
Actor in a Comedy Series: Alec Baldwin, "30 Rock."
Actress in a Comedy Series: Tina Fey, "30 Rock."
Actor in a Movie or Miniseries: Paul Giamatti, "John Adams."
Actress in a Movie or Miniseries: Laura Linney, "John Adams."
Stunt Ensemble: "Heroes."

Lifetime Achievement Award: James Earl Jones.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Derek Luke: The Notorious Interview

with Kam Williams

Headline: The Gospel According to Luke

Derek Luke was born in Jersey City, New Jersey on April 24, 1974, one of three boys who blessed the holy union of his parents, Marjorie and Maurice. After graduating from Snyder High School, Derek headed to L.A. where, as legend has it, he was discovered while working in a gift shop on the lot of Sony Pictures. He was plucked from obscurity by Denzel Washington to play the title role in Antwone Fisher.
An overnight sensation, Derek has gone on to enjoy a storybook career, appearing opposite some of the best in the business in everything from Pieces of April to Spartan to Catch a Fire to Lions for Lambs to Miracle for St. Anna. Here, Derek discusses his latest outing as Sean “Puffy” Combs in Notorious.

KW: Hey, Derek thanks for the time. I was at a wedding recently where I sat next to Gayle Ford who says she met you over the holidays through Carl Dixon.
DL: Yeah, she knows my Uncle Carl.
KW: The Derek Luke legend is that you were discovered working in a gift shop. Is that true?
DL: Actually, I had stopped going to acting classes, and was supporting myself while pursuing my dream of acting. I got wind of an audition, and that audition went okay, and I ended up auditioning again. But then the film was shelved for a couple of years. Overall, I ended up auditioning for Antwone Fisher about five times before I got a chance to meet Denzel Washington. After I was back at work folding clothes and selling videos, Denzel came into the store while the real Antwone Fisher happened to be a customer. And as I was bagging him up, Denzel came in and said, “Yo, Antwone! I’m talking to you Derek Luke. I hired you. You’re my Antwone Fisher.”
KW: What interested you in Notorious?
DL: I think it was the swag. I once heard Richard Gere say, “When I did Chicago, it was fun and reminded me about what acting was.” When you do anything, it should be fun. And that’s why I actually chose to be a part of this.
KW: What do you mean by swag?
DL: Swag is sort of your personal memorabilia. It’s like the shadow of who you really are. It can be your walk, your talk…
KW: Oh, like swagger.
DL: Yeah. I did the film because there aren’t a lot of times where the brand for the film is swagger, and I was excited about that.
KW: What did Puffy think of you playing him?
DL: My getting the role was based on his recommendation after his seeing me in Friday night Lights. He thought that the character was kinda similar to who he was and shared a lot of his aspirations. I didn’t have to audition for the role because that movie auditioned for him, and he told me, “If anybody ever played me, I would want you.” From there, we developed a bond, and today we’re friends.
KW: I heard Lil’ Kim isn’t too happy about how she’s portrayed in Notorious.
DL: I would just say that the movie shows a lot of empathy for her character, and she might be surprised once she sees it. I think Naturi Naughton did a wonderful job with the material that she was given.
KW: Who do you think killed Biggie?
DL: Oh man, maybe you can ask Chris Rock. He joked that they can find Saddam Hussein, but they can’t find a killer who committed a murder on one of the busiest streets of one of our busiest cities. I would just say that God knows. I firmly believe that the film will comfort the hearts of those who have been mourning some of hip-hop’s greatest to date. As the scripture says, “It ain’t about the soul, it’s about where your spirit rests.”
KW: When you were a kid, did you pick a side in the East Coast-West Coast gangsta’ rap war?
DL: Fans are sometimes the last to know you’re being deceived. There was no East Coast-West Coast beef originally. What transformed love into hate? That has to be asked. This is the first time that it’s come out of my mouth as analyzing who we are as a generation. This is why I wanted to be a part of this film, because the voice has to be bigger than the opinion. That’s why I wanted to play Puff. I didn’t owe him anything, and he didn’t owe me anything. But as a fan, I had to become very neutral, and put aside my personal opinion. I refused to hate a coast. That’s ridiculous! I found out that it was a media-generated controversy.
KW: Tasha Smith asks: Are you ever afraid?
DL: Tasha Smith… Do I know a Tasha Smith?
KW: Yeah, the actress in the Tyler Perry movies.
DL: Oh, my goodness! Right. Am I ever afraid? No matter what project, I’ve always had to bind up and wrestle fear, because acting is really about faith. And faith and fear can’t really stay in the same room. So, in order for you to be more than a conqueror, you’re going to have to defeat fear with faith. If you’re in a present body, you will be dealing with that spiritual aspect, since fear is present.
KW: The Columbus Short question: Are you happy?
DL: Am I happy? Why’d you ask me that?
KW: I ask everybody that.
DL: The only times that I haven’t been happy is when I haven’t connected my purpose with my career because fame is lonely without purpose.
KW: The bookworm Troy Johnson question: What was the last book you read?
DL: God’s Big Idea: Reclaiming God’s Original Purpose for Your life by Dr. Myles Monroe.
KW: “Realtor to the Stars” Jimmy Bayan asks: Where in L.A. do you live?
DL: I don’t want to tell everybody that.
KW: How about just a hint.
DL: I live kinda off in The Valley.
KW: Rudy Lewis asks: Who’s at the top of your hero list?
DL: Mostly the women in my life, because they pray for me.
KW: The music maven Heather Covington question: What’s on your iPod?
DL: It’s diverse. I listen to everything from Miles Davis’ Sketches of Spain to 50 Cent and Jay-Z.
KW: Did you attend the inauguration?
DL: I‘m very excited about President Obama but I could only be there in spirit because all the hotels were sold out.
KW: Is there a question no one ever asks you, that you wish someone would?
DL: I’d just like it if people would ask questions finding out who we actors are as individuals and finding out what we have to say. Every movie that I’ve been in is a part of a plan and a message. It’s not just happenstance.
KW: Thanks again Derek and best of luck.
DL: Thank you very much.

Read Kam's interviews with the other stars of Notorious:
Jamal Woolard
Naturi Naughton

Read Kam's review of Notorious.

Read Kam's review of the Notorious DVD.

The Wrestler

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Mickey Rourke Resuscitates Career as Comeback Kid in Search of Redemption

Rarely does the trajectory of an actor’s life parallel that of a person he’s portraying on screen as closely as Mickey Rourke’s does in this intriguing character study highlighting how easily self-abuse can lead to lost opportunities and overwhelming regret. After a spectacular start in Hollywood back in the Eighties, the oft-troubled bad boy spent most of the next couple of decades battling the host of demons which effectively torpedoed his meteoric rise.
Consequently, while watching The Wrestler, it’s hard to ignore the similarities between the title character’s quest for redemption and Rourke’s own career comeback bid. So, one can’t help but wonder whether his recently landing an Oscar nomination for the role might be as much for this impressive tour de force as for finally getting his act together away from the camera.
In the film, he plays Randy “The Ram” Robinson, a pro wrestler well past his prime who, at the peak of his fame, had once sold out Madison Square Garden in a championship match. Now in his fifties and living in a trailer park in Elizabeth, New Jersey, Randy’s been reduced to stocking shelves at a supermarket just to pay the rent, although he still harbors a dream of somehow recapturing the magic of his glory days.
That humbling road back has him dividing his weekends between wrestling in front of small crowds in modest arenas and signing autographs for fans at memorabilia shows. Finally, a potential big payday arrives when a promoter offers to arrange a rematch against The Ayatollah (Ernest Miller), the arch-rival he hasn’t faced in twenty years.
Unfortunately, the Rocky-like road to resurrection is paved not only with good intentions and a rigorous training regimen but with plenty of potential potholes, too. First, Randy’s evicted for falling behind in rent, and has to move into his car. Then, he whips himself into game shape with the help of steroids, free weights, a bleach rinse and a tanning machine, only to suffer a heart attack during a warm-up bout. After life-saving bypass surgery, the surgeon warns him that it’s time to hang up his stretchy pants for good.
Disconsolate, unemployed and homeless, the ailing fighter finds a shoulder to lean-on in Cassidy (Marisa Tomei in an Oscar-nominated performance), the proverbial stripper with a heart of gold. However, because of her club’s strict, “No contact with the customers” rule, she’s afraid to fraternize and suggests that he search for his estranged daughter (Evan Rachel Wood) since, “This kind of thing brings people together.”
But when even that attempt at reconciliation aborts, Randy bottoms out, conceding “I’m a broken down old piece of meat, and I’m alone.” With nothing left to lose, the only question left unanswered is: Will “The Ram” return to the ring for the scheduled rematch with his nemesis, or will he heed his doctor’s orders and fade disgracefully into the sunset?
Though undeniably raw, realistic and relentlessly-grim, The Wrestler is also a riveting and emotionally-engaging mood piece which never hits a false note. Don’t allow yourself to be put off by the pedestrian backdrop, for the movie is likely to resonate even with folks who feel pro wrestling is phony. Credit goes to Mickey Rourke for the deep psychic pain etched in his face in every frame that makes it easy to forget that the story is revolving around a “sport” where every contest is orchestrated and the outcomes are fixed.
Rourke, in turn, shall remain forever indebted to director Darren Aronofsky who had the good sense to typecast him as a washed-up has-been desperate for a last shot at redemption, even if the role wasn’t exactly much of a stretch.

Excellent (4 stars)
Rated R for violence, nudity, sexuality, profanity and drug use.
Running time: 115 minutes
Studio: Fox Searchlight

To see a trailer for The Wrestler, visit:

Friday, January 23, 2009

Woman on the Beach (KOREAN) DVD

(Haebyonui yoin)
DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Korean Romantic Romp Arrives on DVD

Frustrated by writer’s block, film director Joong-rae (Kim Seung-woo) retreats to the ocean to find some inspiration for his next movie script. Not wanting to go alone, he begs his production designer, Chang-wook (Kim Tae-woo), to accompany him on his getaway to the Shinduri Beach resort on South Korea’s scenic west coast.
His married pal agrees, but on the condition that he can bring along his female friend, Mun-suk (Go Hyun-jung). However, it turns out that the gorgeous young composer is a big fan of Joong-rae’s movies. She starts dropping hints that Chang-wook is only a platonic friend, and it isn’t long before she and Joong-rae sneak off alone for the proverbial long walk on the beach.
Sparks fly, and when the odd man out calls on his cell phone, they give him the slip. Then, since they can’t keep their hands off each other in public, the couple does the sensible thing and get a motel room.
Unfortunately, following their one-night stand of unbridled passion, Joong-rae quickly loses interest in Mun-suk because she freely admitted to sleeping with white men when she lived in Europe. So, the fickle filmmaker impulsively goes back to Seoul only to return to the coast a couple of days later.
The second time around, he gets deeply involved with another woman, Sun-hee (Song Seon-mi), a coffee shop manager who’s the spitting image of the beauty he’d just seduced and abandoned. The already triangulated plot thickens further when Mun-sik catches wind that the guy she still has a crush on is already shacking up with someone else.
This is the incestuous course of events which unfolds in Woman on the Beach, an enveloping examination of modern-day relating directed by Hong Sang-soo. The elliptical scenario has the feel of your typical French romantic romp, given the roundelays of coupling and uncoupling, broken up by chain smoking and heart-to-heart dialogue.
Yet, this flick certainly stands on its own as South Korea’s kooky and kinky contribution to the battle-of-the-sexes genre.

Excellent (4 stars)
In Korean with subtitles.
Running time: 127 minutes
Studio: New Yorker Video
DVD Extras: Interviews with the cinematographer and composer, “The Making of” documentary, a theatrical trailer and a booklet with an interview with the director.

To see a trailer for Woman on the Beach, visit:

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Tell No One (FRENCH) DVD

(Ne Le Dis à Personne)
DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Convoluted French Crime Thriller Comes to DVD

Margot (Marie-Josee Croze) and Alexandre Beck (Francois Cluzet) were celebrating their anniversary at their favorite spot to rendezvous along the shore of a secluded lake when she was brutally murdered by a serial killer. That was eight years ago and today the disconsolate widower continues to mourn the loss of his childhood sweetheart
Meanwhile, Dr. Beck has continued to practice medicine but he has only been able to function with the help of his younger sister’s (Marina Hands) lesbian lover, Helene (Kristin Scott Thomas). Everything changes the day mysterious messages begin to arrive via email suggesting that Margot might somehow still be alive, despite the fact that her body was presumably cremated. Furthermore, he is warned to “Tell no one” because “we’re being watched.”
Desperate to get to the bottom of what must be either a cruel joke or a lead to the best reunion he could have ever imagined, Alex begins to follow clues which have him interacting with a criminal element on the seamy side of Paris. But what he doesn’t know is that the police have decided to reopen the case after finding another couple of bodies buried back at the lake, along with new evidence.
He suddenly becomes the prime suspect, and there are question aplenty waiting to be answered in Tell No One, a cleverly-concealed whodunit directed by Guillaume Canet. Is Margot dead or alive? If deceased, was her husband involved?
Clocking in at a tedious 2+ hours, this over-plotted crime caper could’ve easily have had an excess half-hour of filler hit the cutting room floor and thereby offered a more riveting experience. Nonetheless, those blessed with patience are likely to deem the surprising denouement well worth the wait.

Very Good (3 stars)
In French with subtitles
Running time: 125 minutes
Studio: Music Box Films
2-Disc DVD Extras: Deleted scenes with commentary, outtakes, “The Making of“ documentary, “Last Shots of the Actors” featurette, Guillaume Canet interview, Kristin Scott Thomas interview, “I Can't Sleep,” a- Short Film by Guillaume Canet, and a theatrical trailer.

To see a trailer of Tell No One, visit:

Pride and Glory DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Blue Wall of Silence at Center of NYC Crime Saga on DVD

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 field 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. Frank, Sr. immediately urges Ray to return to the streets to join the special task force being formed to search for the cop killers.
Ray does so reluctantly, and when the trail implicates fellow officers including his brother and brother-in-law, he finds himself facing a crisis in conscience. 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.
Will Ray participate in a cover-up, or will he risk ripping both his family and the precinct apart? That is the question at the heart of this gritty, inner-city saga. This high body-count affair was fortunate enough to be blessed with a talented cast which managed to elevate a paint-by-numbers script to an acceptable level. 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: 125 minutes
Studio: Warner Home Video
2-Disc DVD Extras: A digital copy of the film and “The Making of” documentary,

To see a trailer for Pride and Glory, visit:

Lakeview Terrace DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Samuel L. Jackson Dud as Racist Neighbor Due on DVD

This cinematic fiasco rings false from beginning to end, from its patently absurd premise clear through to its unintentionally funny resolution. Unless director Neil LaBute pulled a switcheroo, I’d guess Samuel L. Jackson and Kerry Washington must have known even when they read the script that they had a turkey on their hands.
Get a load of how ridiculous the plot is: Jackson plays Abel “A.T.” Turner, a short-tempered bigot with a very specific prejudice, namely, mixed couples where the man is white and the woman is black. Otherwise, he has plenty of friends of every ethnicity.
Now, on an LAPD cop’s salary, this widower in need of anger management somehow owns a mountaintop home with a view in an upscale section of Los Angeles. At the point of departure, newlyweds Chris (Patrick Wilson) and Lisa Mattson (Washington) buy the house next-door, and wouldn’t you know he’s Caucasian and she’s African-American. Pleasant and attractive, but dumber than dirt, the clueless couple fails to pick up on the fact that A.T. is out to make their lives a living Hell.
Their denseness enables Abel to find meaning in life by secretly torturing them in an ever-escalating series of Geneva Conventions violations. But no matter how depraved A.T. gets, the Stepford-like Mattsons merely question themselves rather than suspect that their many misfortunes might be the work of a racist psycho. Protagonists this dumb don’t deserve an audience’s sympathy, especially when they recycle lame Rodney King poster-speak like “Can’t we all just get along?”
You don’t have to be a Biblical scholar to figure out what happens to Abel next, although this pathetic picture is likely to leave you raising Cain.

Poor (0 stars)
Rated PG-13 for sexuality, profanity, mature themes, violence and drug references
Running time: 110 minutes
Studio: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
DVD Extras: Audio commentary, deleted scenes, a “Behind-the-Scenes” featurette, and theatrical trailers.

To see a trailer of Lakeview Terrace, visit:

2009 Oscar Nominations

by Kam Williams

Headline: Benjamin Buttons Down a Baker’s Dozen Nominations

With 13 nominations, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button emerged as the early favorite in the Academy Awards race, a big surprise given that the picture was recently completely shut out at the Golden Globes. Meanwhile, Slumdog Millionaire, which did sweep the Globes, garnered the second most Oscar nominations, 10, followed by Milk and The Dark Knight at 8 apiece.
The Best Picture nominees include The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,
Slumdog Millionaire, Frost/Nixon, Milk and The Reader and the directors of these five films were nominated as well.
Most of the entrants in the acting categories are repeat nominees, including Meryl Streep, Sean Penn, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Angelina Jolie, Kate Winslet, Robert Downey, Jr., Brad Pitt, Marisa Tomei, Amy Adams, Penelope Cruz and the late Heath Ledger. Beside those usual suspects, we have a number of newcomers, most notably, Richard Jenkins, Anne Hathaway, Taraji Henson, Melissa Leo and Viola Davis.
The 81st Annual Academy Awards will be hosted by Hugh Jackman and are set to air from the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood on Sunday, February 22nd on ABC-TV at 8 PM.

BEST PICTURE The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The Reader
Slumdog Millionaire

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, David Fincher
Frost/Nixon, Ron Howard
Milk, Gus Van Sant
The Reader, Stephen Daldry
Slumdog Millionaire, Danny Boyle

Richard Jenkins in The Visitor
Frank Langella in Frost/Nixon
Sean Penn in Milk
Brad Pitt in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler

Anne Hathaway in Rachel Getting Married
Angelina Jolie in Changeling
Melissa Leo in Frozen River
Meryl Streep in Doubt
Kate Winslet in The Reader

Josh Brolin in Milk
Robert Downey Jr. in Tropic
Philip Seymour Hoffman in Doubt
Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight
Michael Shannon in Revolutionary Road

Amy Adams in Doubt
Penélope Cruz in Vicky Cristina Barcelona
Viola Davis in Doubt
Taraji P. Henson in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Marisa Tomei in The Wrestler

Frozen River - Written by Courtney Hunt
Happy-Go-Lucky - Written by Mike Leigh
In Bruges - Written by Martin McDonagh
Milk - Written by Dustin Lance Black
WALL-E - Screenplay by Andrew Stanton, Jim Reardon, Original story by Andrew Stanton, Pete Docter

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button - Screenplay by Eric Roth, Screen story by Eric Roth and Robin Swicord
Doubt - Written by John Patrick Shanley
Frost/Nixon - Screenplay by Peter Morgan
The Reader - Screenplay by David Hare
Slumdog Millionaire - Screenplay by Simon Beaufoy

The Baader Meinhof Complex - Germany
The Class - France
Departures- Japan
Revanche - Austria
Waltz with Bashir- Israel

The Betrayal (Nerakhoon) - A Pandinlao Films Production, Ellen Kuras and Thavisouk Phrasavath
Encounters at the End of the World - A Creative Differences Production, Werner Herzog and Henry Kaiser
The Garden - Scott Hamilton Kennedy
Man on Wire - A Wall to Wall Production, James Marsh and Simon Chinn
Trouble the Water - An Elsewhere Films Production, Tia Lessin and Carl Deal

Bolt - Chris Williams and Byron Howard
Kung Fu Panda - John Stevenson and Mark Osborne
WALL-E - Andrew Stanton

Changeling - Art Direction: James J. Murakami, Set Decoration: Gary Fettis
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button - Art Direction: Donald Graham Burt, Set Decoration: Victor J. Zolfo
The Dark Knight- Art Direction: Nathan Crowley, Set Decoration: Peter Lando
The Duchess - Art Direction: Michael Carlin,
Set Decoration: Rebecca Alleway
Revolutionary Road - Art Direction: Kristi Zea, Set Decoration: Debra Schutt

Changeling - Tom Stern
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button - Claudio Miranda
The Dark Knight - Wally Pfister
The Reader - Chris Menges and Roger Deakins
Slumdog Millionaire - Anthony Dod Mantle

Australia - Catherine Martin
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button - Jacqueline West
The Duchess - Michael O'Connor
Milk - Danny Glicker
Revolutionary Road - Albert Wolsky

The Conscience of Nhem En - Steven Okazaki
The Final Inch - Irene Taylor Brodsky and Tom Grant
Smile Pinki - Megan Mylan
The Witness: From the Balcony of Room 306- Adam Pertofsky and Margaret Hyde

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button - Kirk Baxter and Angus Wall
The Dark Knight - Lee Smith
Frost/Nixon - Mike Hill and Dan Hanley
Milk - Elliot Graham
Slumdog Millionaire - Chris Dickens

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button - Greg Cannom
The Dark Knight - John Caglione, Jr. and Conor O'Sullivan
Hellboy II: The Golden Army - Mike Elizalde and Thom Floutz

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button - Alexandre Desplat
Defiance- James Newton Howard
Milk - Danny Elfman
Slumdog Millionaire - A.R. Rahman
WALL-E - Thomas Newman

Down to Earth from WALL-E - Music by Peter Gabriel and Thomas Newman, Lyric by Peter Gabriel
Jai Ho from Slumdog Millionaire - Music by A.R. Rahman, Lyric by Gulzar
O Saya from Slumdog Millionaire - Music and Lyric by A.R. Rahman andMaya Arulpragasam

La Maison en Petits Cubes - Kunio Kato
Lavatory - Lovestory - Konstantin Bronzit
Oktapodi- Emud Mokhberi and Thierry Marchand
Presto - Doug Sweetland
This Way Up - Alan Smith and Adam Foulkes

Auf der Strecke (On the Line) - Reto Caffi
Manon on the Asphalt - Elizabeth Marre and Olivier Pont
New Boy - Steph Green and Tamara Anghie
The Pig - Tivi Magnusson and Dorte Høgh
Spielzeugland (Toyland) - Jochen Alexander Freydank

The Dark Knight - Richard King
Iron Man - Frank Eulner and Christopher Boyes
Slumdog Millionaire - Tom Sayers
WALL-E - Ben Burtt and Matthew Wood
Wanted - ,Wylie Stateman

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button - David Parker, Michael Semanick, Ren Klyce and Mark Weingarten
The Dark Knight - Lora Hirschberg, Gary Rizzo and Ed Novick
Slumdog Millionaire - Ian Tapp, Richard Pryke and Resul Pookutty
WALL-E - Tom Myers, Michael Semanick and Ben Burtt
Wanted - Chris Jenkins, Frank A. Montaño and Petr Forejt

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button - Eric Barba, Steve Preeg, Burt Dalton and Craig Barron
The Dark Knight - Nick Davis, Chris Corbould, Tim Webber and Paul Franklin
Iron Man - John Nelson, Ben Snow, Dan Sudick and Shane Mahan

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Crips and Bloods: Made in America

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Gangsta’ Documentary Graphically Recounts History of L.A. Turf War

How many young lives would you guess have been claimed in gang-related warfare in Los Angeles over the past four decades? 100? 200? 500? Try 15,000 and counting. What makes a poor kid pick up a gun and shoot another poor kid for something as seemingly meaningless as a pair of sneakers or for passing through his neighborhood?
To get at the roots of such profound dysfunction, you really have dig rather deeply, as does director Stacy Peralta in Crips and Bloods: Made in America. Narrated by Forest Whitaker, this heartrending expose’ opens with actual footage of gang-bangers being blown away in drive-bys and being left lying dead in the street.
Apparently, some of these demented killers are so proud of their slayings that they get a kick out of filming their dirty work so they can watch it later at their leisure. Obviously, this is a flick not to be taken on an empty stomach.
However, such sensational and sobering moments aside, the picture more importantly offers a serious discussion of exactly how the Crips and the Bloods came to be. It makes no bones about indicting a segregated L.A. culture which discouraged black boys from joining Cub Scout or Boy Scout troops located in lily-white communities, leaving the generally-fatherless African-American adolescents to fend for themselves in the ghetto.
And the folks from South Central interviewed here make it abundantly clear that the LAPD perceived all black males as criminals and thus saw it as their duty to keep them from ever crossing the invisible borders into white enclaves. Consequently, it was not unusual for a kid from the ‘hood to go from the cradle to the grave without ever seeing the suburbs, the ocean at Malibu, the mansions in Beverly Hills, or other alternatives to the thug life.
According to former gang member Ron Wilkins, the Crips and the Bloods were originally formed as benign, street-front fraternities which offered rudderless youngsters a sense of status, family, power and acceptance in a world which was showing them little in the way of love. But they gradually morphed into felonious associations, since there weren’t many legal outlets for all that unbridled testosterone.
The crack epidemic of the Eighties didn’t help matters much, nor did the dwindling manufacturing base or an educational system way too willing to graduate functional illiterates. No wonder inhabitants of the ‘hood exhibit the same level of post traumatic stress syndrome as people living in a war zone.
Before the curtain comes down on this daunting documentary, expect to well up while watching emotional tableaus of grieving mothers burying their babies at funerals and simply staring blankly into the camera with tears streaming down their pained faces. That’s the tragic fallout of the gangsta lifestyle they never show in music videos.

Excellent (4 stars)
Running time: 93 minutes
Studio: Verso Entertainment

To see a trailer for Crips and Bloods, 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 January 30, 2009


New in Town (PG-13 for brief profanity) Romantic comedy about a high-powered, big-city businesswoman (Rene Zellweger) who reevaluates her life priorities after falling for a local yokel (Harry Connick, Jr.) in the rural Minnesota community where she has been ordered to close down a company factory. Cast includes J.K. Simmons, Frances Conroy and Siobhan Fallon. (In English and Spanish with subtitles)

Taken (PG-13 for profanity, violence, sexuality, disturbing themes and drug references) International action thriller about a former CIA Agent (Liam Neeson) who comes to the rescue after his 17 year-old daughter (Maggie Grace) is kidnapped in Paris by brutal sex-traffickers. With Famke Janssen and Leland Orser. (In French, Arabic, Albanian and English)

The Uninvited (PG-13 for violence, disturbing images, mature themes, profanity, sexuality and teen drinking) Remake of Korean horror flick revolving around the desperate efforts of two sisters (Emily Browning and Arielle Kebbel) to warn their father (David Strathairn) about his fiancée’s (Elizabeth Banks) sinister agenda after being visited by the ghost of their recently-deceased mother (Maya Massar).


As Seen through These Eyes (Unrated) Holocaust documentary, narrated by Maya Angelou, analyzes works of art created by concentration camp victims at Auschwitz.

Blessed Is the Match (Unrated) World War II resistance bio-pic chronicles the exploits of Hungarian heroine Hannah Senesh, a poet-turned-freedom fighter martyred by the Nazis while trying to rescue Jews during the Holocaust.

The Class (PG-13 for profanity) Junior high school teacher Francois Begaudeau plays himself in this uplifting drama based on his memoir about a year spent trying to inspire an ethnically-diverse class of poor kids from a rough Parisian neighborhood. (In French with subtitles)

Medicine for Melancholy (Unrated) Romance drama set in a gentrifying sector of San Francisco and revolving around an African-American couple (Wyatt Cenac and Tracey Heggins) who awake in bed after a one-night stand with no recollection of each other’s name or how they ended up sleeping together.

Serbis (Unrated) Sexplicit, intergenerational comedy highlighting the host of woes, including incest, bigamy, divorce and an out-of-wedlock pregnancy, being visited upon a dysfunctional Filipino family operating a gay porno theater in a seedy section of the City of Angeles. (In Filipino and Tagalog with subtitles)

Shadows (Unrated) Horror flick about a young doctor (Borce Nacev) who survives a devastating car accident only to have his life turn into a living Hell when he starts being tormented by restless ghosts yet to find peace in the afterlife. (In Macedonian with subtitles)

The Sky Turns (Unrated) Deliberately-paced documentary amounting to a serene meditation on the quality of life inside the quaint village of Aldealsenor located in Spain’s sparsely-populated Province of Soria. (In Spanish with subtitles)

Still I Rise: A Graphic History of African-Americans

by Roland Laird with Taneshia Nash Laird
Illustrated by Elihu “Adofo” Bay
Foreword by Charles Johnson
Sterling Publishing
Paperback, $14.95
240 pages, illustrated
ISBN: 978-1-4027-6226-0

Book Review by Kam Williams

“One of the invaluable features of Still I Rise, the first cartoon history of black America, is the wealth of information it provides about the marginalized -- and often suppressed – political, economic and cultural contributions black people have made on this continent since the 17th C… Using pictures, it transports us back through time, enabling us to see how dependent American colonists were on the agricultural sophistication of African slaves and indentured servants; how blacks fought and died for freedom during the Revolutionary and Civil Wars; and how, in ways both small and large, black genius shaped the evolution of democracy, the arts and sciences, and the English language in America, despite staggering racial and social obstacles.
As a contribution to illustrated history from a black point of view, Still I Rise is a unique achievement, one that will be valued by students, educators, collectors and general readers for a long time to come.”
 Excerpted from the Foreword (page viii)

One of the challenges of raising a child for African-American parents is
that most history books are written from a Eurocentric perspective, and there isn’t enough time during Black History Month to undo the damage inflicted upon impressionable young minds the rest of the year. And it is easy to underestimate the cumulative toll exacted by semester after semester of syllabus suggesting that Africans were uncivilized heathens and thus deserving of their lot first as slaves and later as second-class citizens.
A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn is an excellent alternative to that conventional claptrap. However, Zinn’s politically-correct encyclopedia is almost 800 pages in length and thus not exactly easy reading. Another viable option is Still I Rise: A Graphic History of African-Americans by Roland and Taneshia Laird. Originally published by the couple a dozen years ago, the text has been updated to include recent developments, including the election of Barack Obama.
The book, which borrows its title from Maya Angelou’s most famous poem of the same name, covers a surprising amount of ground despite the copious illustrations. Warning, don’t deceive yourself into thinking it’s just for kids because of all the cartoons. To the contrary, it might actually be more for adults, given the subtlety of the humor and the sophistication of the salient points it endeavors to drive home.
Arranged in chronological order, the entries start with the Jamestown settlement and winds its way to the present, cleverly touching on everything from Nat Turner’s slave revolt to the Civil War and Emancipation to lynching and Jim Crow segregation to the Civil Rights Movement, the Million Man March and the Obama’s ascendancy to the presidency. An engaging, moving and informative means of unlearning and rectifying miseducating wrongs while being thoroughly entertained and even occasionally laughing out loud.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

King: A Filmed Record… Montgomery to Memphis DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Best Martin Luther King Bio-Pic Finally Released on DVD

Two years after Dr. Martin Luther King (1929-1968) was assassinated King: A Filmed Record… Montgomery to Memphis was released in theaters, but for one day only, on March 24, 1970. After that abbreviated theatrical run, the film landed an Academy Award nomination and aired on television before pretty much disappearing into obscurity.
Nonetheless, to this day, the bittersweet bio-pic remains the definitive account of the Civil Rights Movement, subsequent admirable efforts which arrived in its wake, most notably, the PBS series “Eyes on the Prize,” notwithstanding. Shot entirely in black & white, the film combines chronologically unfolding news footage with wistful remembrances by luminaries like Harry Belafonte, Paul Newman and Ruby Dee. The story starts, quite appropriately, with the Montgomery Bus Boycott which was inspired by Rosa Parks’ refusal to surrender her seat to a white man.
From there, the flick follows the rise of the little-known, young Baptist minister who took up her cause. Relying on Gandhi’s philosophy of non-violence, Dr. King proceeded to inspire thousands across the South to join him on a path of passive resistance in an attempt to topple the racist Jim Crow system of segregation.
Prophetically, he was felled by a bullet in Memphis the day after warning his followers that he might not get to the Promised Land with them, a thinly-veiled allusion to Moses’ last address to his flock in the Bible. And after wandering lost in the cinematic equivalent of the desert for almost 40 years, King: A Filmed Record… Montgomery to Memphis proves to be a very welcome sight for sore eyes, finally arriving on DVD at this critical moment in American history.
A most memorable testament to Dr. King which stands the test of time, and is worth the investment for Nina Simone’s haunting rendition of “Why (The King of Love Is Dead)” alone, heard as Dr. King’s mule-drawn casket led over 100,000 silent mourners from Ebenezer Baptist Church on a 3½ walk through the streets of Atlanta.

Excellent (4 stars)
Black & White
Running time: 185 minutes
Studio: Richard Kaplan Productions
DVD Extras: Producer’s notes, dramatic readings and a featurette entitled “Legacy of a Dream.”

To hear Nina Simone’s Why (The King of Love Is Dead), visit:

To order a copy of King: A Filmed Record… Montgomery to Memphis, visit:

Meagan Good: The Unborn Interview

with Kam Williams

Headline: On Her Way from Good to Greatness!

Born in Panorama City, California to Tyra Doyle and Leon Good on August 18, 1981, Meagan Monique Good was raised along with her three siblings mostly by her mom. The precocious tot got her early start in showbiz at the age of four with the help of her mother who served as her agent.
After appearing in countless TV commercials, the photogenic cutie pie started landing bit roles on TV series like Gabriel’s Fire and On Our Own until she made her screen debut in Friday in 1995. A couple of years later, her big break arrived when she got to play Cisely Baptiste in Eve’s Bayou with Samuel L. Jackson, Jurnee Smollett and Debbi Morgan.
Since then, her familiar face has become a staple of television on such shows as Cousin Skeeter, Touched by an Angel, My Wife and Kids and Moesha, to name a few. Meanwhile, in film, she made Roll Bounce and Waist Deep before enjoying a starring role as a romantic lead opposite her childhood friend, Columbus Short, in Stomp the Yard.
In 2008 alone, the versatile thespian appeared in the horror flick, One Missed Call; the Mike Myers comedy, The Love Guru; and the slasher flick, Saw V. And this year promises to keep Meagan just as busy, since she’s slated for three more releases, Sundays in Fort Greene, Sweet Flame and The Unborn, which is already in theaters.
Here, the striking actress shares her thoughts about everything from the election of Barack Obama to how she has successfully avoided the pitfalls of early fame which so many former child stars seem to fall prey to.

KW: Thanks so much for the time, Meagan.
MG: Thank you.
KW: Since you’ve been friends with Columbus Short for years, I think I ought to start by asking you the Columbus Short question which is: Are you happy?
MG: I’m very happy! It’s an important question which I don’t think people ask enough in the midst of the glitz and the glamour and all the other things that go on.
KW: How did you and Columbus meet?
MG: We’ve known each other since we were 10. He lived right across the street from my baby cousin’s. So, we used to play together, and we also went to school together around that age. We actually hadn’t seen each other for several years when we ran into each other when we were like 18 or 19. We became friends again then and we’ve stayed close ever since, and we got to make Stomp the Yard together.
KW: What interested you in making The Unborn?
MG: First of all, when I was a kid, what really got me wanting to act was Halloween 4 and 5. I wanted to be the little girl in those movies so badly. Ever since then, I always wanted to make a scary movie that’s really like a classic thriller. I don’t think we’ve had a great one since Scream 1. So, to me, it seemed like a great opportunity to do everything that I had wanted to do as a little girl.
KW: But this wasn’t your first horror flick, was it?
MG: No, I also did Venom, One Missed Call and Saw V.
KW: What did you think of the storyline of The Unborn?
MG: I believe in ghosts and spirits, and I believe that they can possess you.
KW: What I found a little strange was the idea of a rabbi performing an exorcism.
MG: Spiritually, if something like that needed to be performed, I don’t think it would matter if you weren’t Catholic. I think it’s about believing in God and that you can be saved and healed.
KW: Because of the demonic subject-matter and the physical intensity, this looks like it could have been a very emotionally-challenging film to make.
MG: Oh, yeah! Because of the content, I had to do a lot of praying even before I accepted the role. Then, once I got on set, I prayed every single morning before we started shooting. And I’d pray again in the afternoons.
KW: Why so much?
MG: Even though it’s just a movie, you really are opening yourself up to a lot of things spiritually. People still talk about how the little girl in Poltergeist [Heather O’Rourke] passed away at the age of 12 of some mysterious disease and the actress who played the eldest daughter [Dominique Dunne] in the same movie was murdered a few months after the film opened. So, it was intense for me and I pretty much prayed for everyone on set. You definitely have to take it seriously, spiritually.
KW: I first recall seeing you in a very spiritual film, Eve’s Bayou, a masterpiece directed by Casey Lemmons.
MG: Oh, thank you.
KW: What are you memories of making that movie?
MG: I remember being very nervous, because it was my first leading role as a child. More so than anything I was nervous about having to kiss Samuel L. Jackson, since I was only 14. I also remember being excited and enjoying myself, even in that situation. Although I was young, I prayed while in Louisiana, too, because as you know there’s a lot of voodoo down there and you always need to be covered and protected and aware. Even if it’s just a film, it’s still real life while you’re there shooting it.
KW: What TV commercials did you do when you were a kid?
MG: Everything from Barbie to AT&T to Pringles to Burger King to Cheerios to J.C. Penney’s to Macys. Everything you could think of commercial-wise, I’ve probably done.
KW: What were some of the first sitcoms you appeared on?
MG: Doogie Howser and Amen, and from that I graduated to speaking lines.
KW: Is your dad still a police officer?
MG: Yes, I think he’s retiring this year, but he’s still with the LAPD.
KW: And is your mom still your manager?
MG: No, she stopped managing me when I was a teenager, but she still helps me out a lot. But I try not to have her work for me anymore, because she raised us on her own and pretty much gave up everything so my sister [actress/singer La’Myia Good] and I could have our careers. On top of that, my 36 year-old brother has disabilities, and she’s been caring for him since she was very young. So, I try to make it as easy for her as possible.
KW: What type of disabilities does he have?
MG: I don’t know exactly how it would be classified, but he has some brain damage. He stopped breathing when he was 8, and some medication they gave him left him with a learning disability.
KW: I’m sorry to hear that. I suppose he helped keep you grounded.
MG: Yeah.
KW: What else helped you avoid the pitfalls of early fame which so many former child stars seem to fall prey to?
MG: For one thing, my mom wasn’t a stage-mom. She isn’t very aggressive, and she never tried to force me to do anything I didn’t want to do. She’s just a very laidback person who was very protective of her kids. And she had no interest in taking our money, controlling the situation, or living vicariously through us. She’s really been a great mom who I’ve always had a lot of respect for even as teenagers because she always respected us and treated us like young adults. Some people got on her for being too permissive, but we never rebelled. We never got into drugs and we were the last ones to lose our virginity. We never ran around with the bad boys or hid anything from our parents.
KW: That’s admirable. The Tasha Smith question: Are you ever afraid?
MG: Oh, I love Tasha. She’s an amazing person. Am I ever afraid? Yes, you have times when you work so hard and put so much into it, and things feel… I don’t want to go so far as to say hopeless… but you’re trying hard not to lose your faith. Moments like that are where I get afraid and I really need to pray and put everything back into perspective. I have to realize it’s not me, it’s God, and I just have to be confident in my ability and focus on the positive regardless of people who say negative things and don’t want me to succeed, or who won’t give me an opportunity. Those are the times when I get a little afraid, because your faith may waver a little bit. But I think now that I’m a little bit older, my mindset is that being afraid is a waste of energy because there are some things that are out of you control that you may just have to accept. So, I put all my energy into making the things I can control go the way I know in my heart they should. My attitude is to keep fighting and try not to be afraid.
KW: Bookworm Troy Johnson was wondering: What was the last book you read?
MG: The Bible.
KW: “Realtor to the Stars” Jimmy Bayan asks: Where in L.A. do you live?
MG: In Studio City.
KW: Rudy Lewis asks: Who’s at the top of your hero list?
MG: First, Jesus; then, my mom; then Barack.
KW: How do you feel about Obama’s becoming president?
MG: I’m ecstatic! It’s amazing! Gosh, I don’t even know what to say. I’m just happy that Bush is over, and that the way things have been is over. Now the troops can come home and that we can work towards putting ourselves back together. I’m glad for what it represents, and I hope that people don’t make it into a racial thing, because it’s really not about that. It’s about creating unity, and if we needed to use a different colored face to achieve that, so be it. But let’s not make it a racial thing, but a people thing, because we come in all sorts of shapes, sizes and shades. Let’s unify and be happy!
KW: Speaking of shapes, sizes and shades, you have a very exotic look. What’s your background?
MG: My mother’s mother is Jewish and African, so I guess that would be considered Creole. My mother’s father was Cherokee Indian and something else. My dad’s mother’s Puerto Rican and black, and his father was from Barbados.
KW: My father was from Barbados?
MG: Oh really?
KW: Yep. While you are obviously very mature and intelligent, I’m still curious about why you didn’t you go to college?
MG: I always knew I wanted to be an actress, and I had the attitude that I would learn more under people like Samuel L. Jackson, Laurence Fishburne or Mike Myers than from someone who had never starred in a movie. I just didn’t think that someone who had never been in a movie could teach me how to act in one.
KW: Do you at all regret not going to college?
MG: I do wish that I had gone to college, just for the simple fact that knowing more than one approach makes you more well-rounded. But I still can’t say knowing what I know now, that I would have done it any differently.
KW: The music maven Heather Covington question: What’s music are you listening to nowadays?
MG: I’m a late Eighties, early Nineties baby. I will always be listening to Journey, Foreigner, Pat Benatar, Aerosmith and Guns & Roses. I love R&B without a doubt, but I’m a Rock & Roll girl. And I like a little bit of Pop. You can’t forget about Prince and Madonna.
KW: Is there a question no one ever asks you, that you wish someone would?
MG: Yeah, what would you like to leave behind?
KW: What would you like to leave behind?
MG: Something that’s more than a memory. I’d like to be a part of the new movement, some of which is in film. I’d like to see more different colored faces playing leads in movies and doing art house films. I’d like to be remembered as someone who was on the front line of a movement changing the world and people and how they were perceived. And as someone who used whatever God put her in to offer a positive outlook and to make a positive influence and to change some of the things that are in boxes they shouldn’t be in.
KW: Well, Meagan, I’ve been very impressed with your work thus far and expect even bigger things from you in the future.
MG: Thank you, I’m looking to follow in Julia Roberts’ and Meryl Streep’s footsteps.
KW: Thanks again for the interview, and best of luck .
MG: Thank you and God bless you!

Monday, January 19, 2009


Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Fact-Based Holocaust Film Chronicles Case of Jewish Resistance in Poland

In 2006, Black Book put a provocative new spin on the Holocaust genre by featuring Jews as resistance fighters rather than in the generally-depicted role of passive victims of genocide. Now, with Defiance, director Edward Zwick, is upping the ante further by recounting the heroic exploits of a courageous band of guerillas who not only escaped from the ghettos of Poland but subsequently staged daring raids back into Nazi-occupied territory to rescue other imperiled Jews.
Led by the Beilski brothers, Tuvia (Daniel Craig), Asael (Jamie Bell), Zus (Lieve Schreiber) and Aron (George Mackay), the group established a base camp deep in the Nalibocka Forest of Belorussia, where 1,230 refugees from Hitler wrath would endure over two years of incredible hardship until they were liberated by the Russian Army in 1944. During its existence, only about 150 of the partisans participated in combat, since 70% of them were women, children and the elderly.
Based on the best seller of the same name by Nechama Tec, Defiance is an epic tale of Biblical proportions which explores a variety of universal themes ranging from vengeance to salvation. Although we find the intrepid protagonists primarily pitted against the enemy and the elements in their desperate day-to-day struggle simply to survive, the picture also amply illustrates that they somehow never lost touch with their humanity. So, we see the Beilskis involved in relatively-mundane matters involving questions about family, love, loyalty and philosophy.
Unfortunately, despite decent acting jobs by the principal cast,
the director’s decision to inject so much distracting personal drama into the production means the film suffers from an absence of the cinematic momentum necessary to generate the sort of palpable tension which made Black Book a hit. The upshot is that in Defiance we have a belated tribute to some unsung heroes which turns out to be of considerably less entertainment than historical value.

Very Good (2.5 stars)
Rated R for profanity and violence.
Running time: 137 minutes
Studio: Paramount Vantage

To see a trailer for Defiance, visit:

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Silent Light (MEXICAN)

(Stellet Licht)

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Mennonite Faces Crisis of Faith in Visually-Arresting Morality Play

Johan (Cornelio Wall) is a devoutly-religious family man who lives close to the land with his wife, Esther (Miriam Toews), and their big brood of about a half-dozen children in a sparsely-populated desert region of Northern Mexico. After a visually-enchanting, Koyaanisqatsi-like, opening featuring time-lapse photography of dawn gradually breaking over the horizon, we’re introduced to our guilt-ridden hero who is already embroiled in a messy love triangle.

For, though he still professes to care for Esther, Johan has nevertheless thrown himself headlong into a steamy affair with Marianne (Maria Pankratz), an available neighbor in their tight-knit Mennonite sect. However, the anguished philanderer is obviously experiencing a crisis of faith over his thorny predicament. And he finds himself torn and asking whether God really wants him to stay in a marriage that has lost its zest just for the sake of the children, or would The Almighty rather he find fulfillment with a mistress who might be the love of his life?

Unfolding at a pace slower than drying paint, Silent Light invites you to contemplate the pained protagonist’s predicament while soaking in the modest skyline of his low-tech Mennonite community. Dragging his ass back and forth across the town like a dog with worms, the ostensibly-depressed Johan seeks spiritual help from both his father (Peter Wall) and his best friend (Jacobo Klassen), but their conflicting advice proves to be of little consequence.

Will the tormented sinner really leave his spouse for another woman who seems just as stuck in the 19th Century? Somehow, given all the time to reflect, you can’t help but suspect that Johan wouldn’t be so hesitant if a pal introduced him to the trappings of modern civilization waiting across the border in Texas. Neither his wife nor that equally-homely mistress would stand a chance against a potential upgrade once he got a load of the Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders.

Dogma day afternoons in the desert!

Excellent (4 stars)


In German, Spanish, French and English with subtitles.

Running time: 136 minutes

Studio: Tartan Films

To see a trailer for Silent Light, visit:


Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Warts-and-All Bio-Pic Recounts Rise and Fall of Biggie Smalls

Christopher Wallace (1972-1997) aka Biggie Smalls aka Notorious B.I.G. was a Brooklyn-born gangsta’ rapper who passed away at just 24 years of age, a casualty of the infamous East Coast-West Coast turf war which first claimed the life of his primary rival Tupac Shakur (Anthony Mackie). Tupac had dissed Biggie by claiming in a song to have slept with his wife, fellow hip-hop star Faith Evans (Antonique Smith). Neither Biggie nor Tupac were exactly altar boys, with both boasting about their street cred and yay-long rap sheets.

But the bloody feud was much bigger than these two icons. On one side, you had L.A. producer Suge Knight (Sean Ringgold) and his stable of artists at Death Row Records; on the other, there were the upstarts from New York who Sean “Puffy” Combs (Derek Luke) had recently signed to his new label, Bad Boy. And although everybody knew that their crews were packing heat and hated each other, the murders went unsolved, probably because of the “no snitch” mindset adhered to by these thugs as a code of honor.

Unfortunately, Notorious sheds little light on the mystery of who killed Biggie and Tupac. Nonetheless, director George Tillman, Jr. has crafted a very absorbing, cradle to the grave bio-pic which does vividly recount exactly how a latchkey kid being raised by an immigrant single-mom (Angela Bassett) in the slums of Bed-Stuy could have overcome the odds only to be slain at the height of his fame in a seemingly senseless drive-by shooting in Hollywood.

Much credit for the success of the flick must go to Jamal Woolard who makes an impressive screen debut in the title role. The talented rapper-turned-actor achieves no mean feat in fully humanizing a fatally-flawed figure who could’ve easily come off as a one-dimensional monster instead of a charmer. After all, except for the fact that he made it in the music business, there isn’t a lot about Biggie worth emulating.

For instance, he is depicted here as having spent most of his teen years as a cold-hearted drug dealer willing to sell crack to pregnant women by rationalizing “I didn’t get in this game to become no social worker.” The mammoth misogynist also mistreated the females he supposedly cared about, impregnating not only his baby mama, Keisha (Julia Pace Mitchell), but the sexually-insatiable Lil’ Kim (Naturi Naughton) and Faith, whom he married after only knowing for nine days.

This riveting cautionary tale, which flies by despite being two-hours in length, revolves around the portly Romeo’s juggling his homegirls and groupies while indulging in the sort of conspicuous consumption celebrated in the typical rap video. Sadly, given the title of his first CD, “Ready to Die,” he must have had had a decent hunch about the fate which awaited him beyond the bling and booty calls.

Neither approving nor judging, Notorious simply presents the gluttonous Biggie in all his materialist glory, allowing the audience to decided what to make of his train wreck of a personal life. Professionally, one can only wonder what potential might have been squandered, since he was cut down in a hail of bullets before the release of his second album.

Grounded by a host of superb performances, especially on the part of Jamal Woolard, Naturi Naughton, Antonique Smith, Anthony Mackie and Derek Luke, this relentlessly-unapologetic immorality play about a bona fide ghetto gangsta’ is apt to entertain even Joe Six-Pack to the extent Middle America is inclined to buy into the Hip-Hop Generation’s mantra, “Don’t hate the playa, hate the game.”

Excellent (4 stars)

Rated R for nudity, drug use, graphic sexuality, ethnic slurs and pervasive profanity.

Running time: 122 minutes

Studio: Fox Searchlight

Friday, January 16, 2009

The Express DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Bittersweet Bio-Pic about Gridiron Great Comes to DVD

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.
Both his athletic prowess and his yearning for equality are the subject of this bittersweet bio-pic based on the best-selling biography of the same name by Robert C. Gallagher. Following in the footsteps of the legendary Jim Brown (Darrin Dewitt Henson) to Syracuse University, Ernie 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.
Overall, a fine addition to the recent genre of socially-conscious sports flicks highlighting 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 Studios Home Entertainment
DVD Extras: Director’s commentary, deleted scenes with optional commentary, and four featurettes.

To see a trailer for The Express, visit:

Thursday, January 15, 2009

The End of America DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: DVD Documents the Death of Democracy under Bush

In the wake of the 9/11 attacks, the Bush Administration rushed the Patriot Act into law without giving members of Congress much of a chance to read the final draft. That repressive statute included many Draconian measures denying citizens an array of privacy rights previously considered sacrosanct. For instance, the government is now allowed to conduct wiretapping and electronic surveillance and to examine medical, bank and credit card records, all without a warrant or probable cause.
Observing how many similarities America has since come to share with Nazi Germany, award-winning author Naomi Wolf wrote The End of America, a chilling best-seller warning that the U.S. was in danger of becoming a Fascist state. This cautionary documentary is based on that book, and features Ms. Wolf lecturing with the help of video footage in a format reminiscent of Al Gore in an Inconvenient Truth.
But instead of talking about the dire state of the environment, her enlightening expose’ delineates the ten steps taken by dictators historically to destroy a democracy. A few of these include scaring the nation about both an internal and external threat; arbitrarily detaining citizens; creating secret prisons where torture is permitted; controlling the press; and treating political dissident as traitors.
Wolf goes on to make a persuasive case that America came close to totalitarianism under the Bush/Cheney regime. In sum, The End of America is a worthwhile film to the extent that it can serve a permanent watchdog function as a reminder of the possible erosion of Constitutional rights and the citizenry’s need to remain vigilant about the tendency of power to corrupt, and of absolute power to corrupt absolutely.

Excellent (4 stars)
Running time: 74 minutes
Studio: IndiePix Films
DVD Extras: Extended interviews.

To see a trailer of The End of America, visit: