Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Revenge of the Boarding School Dropouts DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Middle-Aged Dudes Play Slackers on the Slopes in Dumb Teensploit

It’s always a little weird when actors try to play characters a lot younger than themselves. It’s even weirder when they look almost middle-aged and are faking it as high school dropouts. But that’s what we have with Revenge of the Boarding School Dropouts, an over the top teensploit starring MTV’s Jackass alums Tom Green and Dave England, along with Jason Bothe and some attractive young actresses who were willing to take off their tops.
The wafer thin plot features the aforementioned long-in-the-tooth slackers chasing tail when not snowboarding as members of a competitive team. Although the film’s title implies a spin-off of Revenge of the Nerds, the truth is the storyline doesn’t resemble that college classic in the least. Instead, this bottom-feeder is set far away from any academic institutions, and simply trades in raunchy romance, infantile slapstick and gross-out fare whether the action is unfolding on the slopes or back at the ski lodge.
It’s a sad sign how far the mighty have fallen, when a former cultural comedy icon like Tom Green is associated with a D-flick this putrid. Less a legit movie, than a series of cheap skits that look like it was shot by a drunk in somebody’s back yard in one afternoon and edited that same night in just as much a rush.
A festering, unfunny cauldron of crudeness and carnality.

Poor (½ star)
Rated R for sexuality, nudity, drug use and profanity.
Running time: 94 minutes
Studio: Peace Arch Entertainment

Monday, March 30, 2009

Red Sox, Yankee and Phillies DVD Collector’s Sets

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Play Ball! Assortment of A&E Boxed Sets Aimed at Loyal MLB Fans

Opening Day of the major league baseball season is a great equalizer, the time when every fan’s favorite team theoretically starts out with an equal shot at winning the World Series. Those inclined to bask nostalgically in glory days gone but not forgotten might want to consider adding one or more of these Collector’s Edition DVDs from A&E Home Video to the memorabilia on their bookshelf.
Typical is the Philadelphia Phillies 2008 World Series, an 18 hour, 8-DVD set which includes all of last year’s champ’s World Series games, games 4 and 5 of the NL Championship series, plus bonus material featuring locker room celebrations, trophy presentation, player interviews and much more. From the previous year’s campaign, we have another 8-DVD set featuring over 20 hours worth of similar coverage of the Boston Red Sox 2007 triumph.
Even more extensive is the coverage of the Bosox’s historic win a few years earlier, since that broke its century-long losing streak. So, the Boston Red Sox 2004 World Series recap contains a dozen discs and is over 35 hours in length. Yet another set for folks from Beantown is the Boston Red Sox Essential Games, a 6-DVD set highlighting 6 of the most famous games ever played at Fenway Park.
Obviously, Yankee fans might not be as enthusiastic as the Red Sox Nation about the aforementioned offerings, however, they might be interested in the New York Yankees Essential Games, given that the House That Ruth Built was recently razed. Ditto Met fans and a 6-DVD set called the New York Met Essential Games, since Shea Stadium also closed at the end of last season.
Any of these or other baseball collections from the A&E library is certain to
be the perfect Father’s Day, Easter or Passover gift, provided you know with which major league team the couch potato in your life’s allegiances lie.

Excellent (4 stars)
Studio: A&E Home Video

Nubiah: Land of African Kings and Queens Bedtime Stories & Coloring Book

by Thomas Jones
Illustrated by Linda Knoll
With poetry by Author Culpepper and William Marlow
Valley Ridge Books
Paperback, $9.95
44 pages, illustrated
ISBN: 978-0-615-27036-4

Book Review by Kam Williams

“Escape back to a time and place when Kings and Queens ruled powerful empires… Welcome to Nubiah, an informative children’s bedtime story series that highlights the best of African Kings and Queens.
Each story pays tribute to an empire led by a powerful Ruler with discussion of their best values, principles, attitudes and traits. The recurring them ‘Listen to the Drum’ directs children to follow their heart to find their passion and true purpose.
Empower your child with positive imaging at bedtime with spoken word stories that showcase the greatest rulers of all time… Happy reading as you are now on your way to strengthening your dynasty.”
 Excerpted from the Preface (page 4)

It is a testament to the omni-directional influence of Barack Obama that
a coloring book about African history would close with a quote from the President and a picture of him and the rest of the First Family. This makes one automatically wonder whether black Americans still need to look to distant ancestors from another continent for heroes, if the leader of the country is already one of their own.
That disclaimer out of the way, Nubiah is, nonetheless, a nice little introduction for primary school children to such African royalty as Queen Asantewa of Ghana, King Hannibal of Carthage, Queen Makeda of Ethiopia, King Shaka of South Africa, and Queen Nefertiti of Egypt. Each chapter combines a black and white illustration ripe for coloring with historical background information and a narrative designed to be read to a child as he or she is falling asleep.
Though only 44 pages in length, the book is just brimming with a variety of content, and also includes drawings of elephants, cheetahs, zebras, giraffes and other indigenous animals to fill in, as well as the lyrics to the Negro National Anthem, a list of black inventors, quotes of luminaries like Maya Angelou, Whoopi Goldberg, Jesse Owens, Alvin Ailey and Marian Anderson, and even The Lord’s and other prayers.
A potpourri of positivity for black parents interested in introducing young offspring to their roots, religion and role models.

Morris Chestnut: The “Not Easily Broken” Interview

with Kam Williams

Headline: A Chat with Chestnut

Born in Cerritos, California on New Year’s Day in 1969, Morris Chestnut was a student-athlete in high school but focused on finance and drama at California State University. Although he made his big screen debut in 1991 opposite Ice Cube in John Singleton’s Boyz n the Hood, he really found his breakout role eight years later as the groom-to-be in Malcolm Lee’s The Best Man.
Since then, the handsome hunk has been a staple of romance-themed, urban-oriented fare, appearing in such hits as The Brothers, Two Can Play That Game, Breakin’ All the Rules and The Perfect Holiday. Chestnut has also displayed his versatility by successfully crossing over into mainstream flicks, appearing in everything from Half Past Dead to Like Mike to Confidence to Ladder 94 to The Game Plan.
A very private family man, Morris keeps a low profile in suburban L.A., where he lives with his wife, Pam, and their son and daughter. Here, he talks about both producing and performing in Not Easily Broken, a romance drama based on a novel by Bishop T.D. Jakes. The modern morality play which co-stars Oscar-nominee Taraji Henson is just being released on DVD after opening in theaters back in January.

MC: Hey, what’s up Kam?
KW: Thanks for the time, Morris.
MC: No problem, man.
KW: How did you like my review of Not Easily Broken? I gave it four stars.
MC: Thank you very much. I appreciate that.
KW: What interested you in making this movie?
MC: It was a couple of things. First of all, I’ve been married thirteen years now, so, I related to my character, Dave. I saw it as a great opportunity to have a platform, at this time in our society when a lot of people have money and marital problems, to make a statement that everything worth having takes some work. When people are courting, many of them think that when they get married, that’s it, and everything will be on Easy Street. But you really have to work even harder once you’re married, because the challenges are that much greater. Another part of my interest was the opportunity to step behind the camera to executive produce.
KW: Well, you made an excellent choice in terms of material, an adaptation of a morality play by Bishop T.D. Jakes which is both entertaining and has several worthwhile messages to deliver.
MC: That’s what we wanted, and Jakes would concur with everything I’m about to say about the picture. We wanted it to be entertaining, because if you’re not entertained, you won’t be engaged, and then you’ll miss the subtle messages. Jakes didn’t want folks watching it to feel like they were being preached to as if they were just getting a sermon. He wanted people to be entertained, and if they also get the messages, then the movie will have fully served its purpose.
KW: I thought it was innovative for this genre of film that the other woman [played by Maeve Quinlan] was white.
MC: Quite frankly, I have white, Asian and Hispanic friends in real life. And in the movie, we didn’t make it a big deal that she was white, just like it wasn’t a big deal that my best friend [played by Eddie Cibrian] was white, either. We tried to make it as seamless as possible.
KW: Yes, the colorblind casting was handled very well, in a way which I think reflects changes in the culture.
MC: The culture definitely has shifted.
KW: How was it working opposite Taraji Henson as your wife? This has certainly been a big year for her with the Oscar nomination for Benjamin Button.
MC: We were so excited for her when she got the nomination. But back when we cast her for this movie, we didn’t know what quality role she had in Brad Pitt’s movie. And that wouldn’t have made a difference anyway. We already knew that she was a very talented actress who just hadn’t been given the opportunity to play those roles yet. We knew that she could play a professional woman, although she had previously played mostly street-type characters. That was part of what was exciting about giving her the opportunity to play Clarice. And she ripped it.
KW: How about the rest of the cast?
MC: Once we had Taraji, we thought teaming her with Jenifer Lewis to play her mother would definitely enable the audience to empathize with what my character would be feeling. As far as casting Kevin Hart, I just called him. Kevin’s a friend of mine, and we’ve done a couple of things together in the past. The deal with Kevin is, you know you’re going to get something funny, you just don’t know what he’s going to pull out of his big bag of tricks. I actually also called Wood Harris on the phone, and asked him, “Hey man, can you come do this?” It was tough to get him, but we were glad we did, because he delivered a standout performance. Same with Eddie Cibrian. I called him and asked, “Can you do this with me?” It was challenging putting it all together and getting it done, but we feel very fortunate about the outcome.
KW: When I interview actresses, I ask them what actor they’d like to act opposite as a romantic lead, and your name comes up more than anybody’s.
MC: Oh really? That’s something. [Chuckles]
KW: Who has been your favorite leading lady from your movies?
MC: Wow! Man, I can’t answer that. [Laughs] I couldn’t pick just one favorite. What I will say is this. Every leading that I’ve worked with has, for the most part, been professional. They came to work on time, knowing their lines, etcetera. Obviously, when you’re working with fine actresses, you’re going to have a few diva moments in there, but all of the women have come to work ready to go, so I’ve been fortunate to have had positive experiences across the board, pretty much.
KW: So, what actresses that you haven’t worked with before would you like to have play your leading lady in the future?
MC: Wow, there are so many great actresses out there. I would love to do something with Angela Bassett. She’s so strong. Or Viola Davis. Her scene in Doubt was phenomenal.
KW: You seem to be cast as an athlete in a lot of your movies. How do you keep in such great shape for that?
MC: You know what? I’m a weekend warrior. I try to come out and play sports and keep as active as I can.
KW: When did you first develop your interest in acting?
MC: It goes back to high school. I wanted to win a scholarship to play football in college. But when that didn’t pan out, I figured I needed to find something else to do. I went to see a friend of mine in junior college who was in a play, and I thought that might be something I could get interested in. From there, I just started pursuing it.
KW: Is there any question no one ever asks you, that you wish someone would?
MC: That’s a good question. I’m kind of a private person, and sometimes it’s like pulling teeth to get me to talk. I actually have to get myself up for these types of situations. So, no, there’s probably not one particular thing that I want people to know that I’m not being asked about.
KW: The Columbus Short question: Are you happy?
MC: Am I happy in life? I think overall, yes, but I’m not satisfied. Obviously, I can’t complain. 99% of the people in the world would say there’s something that they’d like to change about their lives, because nothing’s perfect, and nobody’s perfect. I suppose I could look at the glass half-empty instead of as half-full. Would I like to do bigger budgeted movies, and have more diverse casts? The answer is yes. But by the same token, I have to feel grateful when I look at people who haven’t been as fortunate as I have been. So, there are always things I’d like to improve on, but at the end of the day, I can’t complain.
KW: The Tasha Smith question: Are you ever afraid?
MC: [LOL] Yeah! Of course. Look at the economic situation right now, people have worked their entire lives to amass a nest egg, expecting to retire, only to have someone like Madoff swindle them out of their money, and suddenly they’ve lost it all and have to start over again. That let’s you know that anything can happen in life. So, yeah, I do get afraid.
KW: The bookworm Troy Johnson question: What was the last book you read?
MC: I’m not an avid reader, but the last book I read was How to Play Omaha Poker. I like to play poker, maybe a little too much, but I definitely enjoy it.
KW: The music maven Heather Covington question: What music are you listening to nowadays?
MC: That depends. I’m an R&B and Hip-Hop type guy. When I work out, which I do at least four or five times a week, I love to get the latest Hip-Hop because it really pumps me up and inspires me to get that workout on.
KW: What was the biggest obstacle you have had to overcome?
MC: Ooh, my shyness. That’s something I have to overcome every time I audition for a job or even do an interview. I’m not really an outgoing type person. My friends are always telling me I have to get out of the house more. Just doing an interview with you takes a lot out of me.
KW: The Rudy Lewis question: Who’s at the top of your hero list?
MC: My parents, Shirley and Morris Chestnut, Sr. As a child, I couldn’t really appreciate all the struggles and trials they had to go through in life, and the sacrifices they had to make while raising me. But now, as an adult and parent myself, I do. They’re at the top of my list, because they are the reason I am where I’m at today. I’m a product of their efforts.
KW: Where in L.A. did you grow up?
MC: I was raised in Orange County, which is about 40 miles outside of Los Angeles.
KW: “Realtor to the Stars” Jimmy Bayan wants to know, where in L.A. you live now?
MC: I live in The Valley, which is about 20 miles away.
KW: Teri Emerson would like to know when was the last time you had a good belly laugh?
MC: [Laughs] Last time I had a good belly laugh? When I was on the phone with my boys. Me and my friends have these conference calls at least three times a week where we talk mostly about sports and tease each other when your team loses. A lot of my buddies are a lot more creative than I am, and they come up with some very funny jokes.
KW: Who do you like in the NCAAs?
MC: Well, I’m a USC fan, but we were one and done. There are still some storylines I’m looking forward to. These rules violations by Connecticut are making it a little more interesting. I’ve always liked North Carolina because of their colors, that powder blue and white.
KW: The Laz Alonso question: Is there anything your fans can do to help you?
MC: They can help me by continuing to support me. If I’m in a restaurant, and you see me eating and you want to come up, that’s cool. I get it, I understand, because I have fans who don’t miss a movie and can quote some of my characters’ lines. I appreciate that.
KW: Thanks again for the interview, Morris, and best of luck with all your endeavors.
MC: Thank you.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Bart Got a Room

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Geek Seeks Prom Date in Tenderhearted, Teen Angst Comedy

Danny Stein (Steven Kaplan) is a socially-awkward, straight-A student who plays the trumpet in his high school’s jazz band. He hails from a Jewish community in Florida which seems to be made up mostly of retirees. The gangly nerd has less of a love life than either of his recently-divorced parents (William H. Macy and Cheryl Hines), who almost rub that fact in by inappropriately sharing the sordid details of their romantic relationships with him.
At the point of departure, it’s getting dangerously close to prom night, and the sexually-repressed senior still doesn’t have a date. Unfortunately, he’s oblivious to the fact that his best friend, Camille (Alia Shawkat), would jump at the chance, if he would only ask her. But Danny simply can’t see her as anything but a buddy, despite the not so subtle hints being dropped by his parents and hers.
Instead, he spends his time fantasizing about taking Britney (Tyler O’Campo), the cute blonde he gives a ride home from school everyday. When he finally summons up the nerve to ask her, she laughs in his face and calls him “deranged.” He subsequently approaches a few other classmates, invariably striking out, like he does with the cute Asian coed who accepts on the condition she doesn’t have to be seen with him, since she already has a boyfriend.
What really irks Danny is learning that Bart Beeber (Chad Jamian Williams), a dweeb even nerdier and homelier-looking than he is, not only has a date, but has already booked a hotel room for a little post prom hanky-panky. This prompts Danny to kick his own search into high gear, to avoid being the last of his peers to lose his virginity. Will he wise up and ask Camille, who has been patiently waiting in the wings?
So, unfolds virgin Bart Got a Room, a refreshing romantic comedy which marks the auspicious scriptwriting and directorial debut of Brian Hecker. The picture proves it’s still possible to find funny teen-oriented fare be funny that doesn’t rely on relentlessly crude and profane humor. This charming throwback is disarmingly tame given these shocking times when such relatively-raunchy jaw-droppers as Superbad, Knocked Up, Zack and Miri Make a Porno tend to dominate the cinematic landscape.
A coming-of-age tale that you can actually take the kids to. What a novel idea!

Very Good (3 stars)
Rated PG-13 for sexuality, mature themes and brief profanity.
Running time: 79 minutes
Studio: Anchor Bay Entertainment

Seven Pounds DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Will Smith Tearjerker about Suicidal Widower Makes Its Way to DVD

Will Smith and Rosario Dawson won NAACP Image Awards for their performances as ill-fated lovers in this relentlessly-depressing tearjerker. Smith stars as a suicidal widower wracked with guilt over killing his wife in a car accident while fiddling with his Blackberry, and Dawson comes along later in the story as the new flame he’s agonizing over getting involved with.
The picture plays like a variation of The Millionaire, if you’re old enough to remember that classic TV series about a reclusive philanthropist who, with the help of his loyal manservant, Mr. Anthony, gave away a fortune each week to a needy stranger, anonymously. Here, we have a rocket scientist, Ben Thomas (Smith), passing himself off as an IRS agent to perform seven random acts of kindness as a sort of penance. He still plans to take his own life anyway, because he’s eager to join his dearly-departed spouse in the great beyond.
The only reason this transparent film takes two hours instead of two minutes is that Ben goes to great lengths to make sure his beneficiaries are worthy of his blessing. Another fly in the ointment is the seemingly-inappropriate romance which unexpectedly blossoms between him and Emily (Dawson), the sexiest, terminal heart patient in the history of cinema.
Among the other charity cases are Ezra (Woody Harrelson), a blind telemarketer who keeps his cool when Ben berates him; Connie (Elpidia Camillo), a battered woman too afraid of her violent boyfriend’s outbursts to leave or press charges; Nicholas (Quintin Kelley), a sickly kid in need of a bone marrow transplant; Holly (Judyann Elder), a social worker with cirrhosis of the liver, etcetera. You get the idea.
So, you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out how St. Ben will earn his angel’s wings. Your job is just to sit there and be manipulated by a patience-testing production that drags on long enough to infuriate you well before its warm and fuzzy moments finally arrive.
Between the schmaltz and muzak, this surprisingly-superficial message movie amounts to little more than a feature-length public service announcement on the dangers of text-messaging while driving.

Fair (1 star)
Rated PG-13 for mature themes, sensuality and disturbing content.
In English and Spanish with subtitles.
Running time: 123 minutes
Studio: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
DVD Extras: deleted scenes, director’s commentary, plus several featurettes.

Slumdog Millionaire DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: This Year’s Best Picture Oscar Winner Out on DVD
Jamal Malik (Dev Patel) was just one correct answer away from winning 20 million rupees on India’s version of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” when the police decided to question him about his extraordinary string of luck. After all, no one ever lasted this long on the TV game show before, and the producers doubted that this dirt-poor, uneducated orphan from the teeming slums of Mumbai could have achieved his unlikely feat without cheating.
Therefore, the night before his return for his final appearance on the program, they arrange for the authorities to drag the innocent 18 year-old down to the station for a little Abu Ghraib-level interrogation away from the public eye. But despite being tortured by a couple of sadistic cops (Irfan Khan and Saurabh Shukla), Jamal matter-of-factly explains exactly how he came to acquire the answers to such seemingly obscure trivia questions.
For, all the unfortunate lad has to share is his sorrowful autobiography, an endless tale of woe which he reveals via a kaleidoscope of colorful flashbacks. Surprisingly, it turns out that he’s actually less concerned with taking home the grand prize than with using his TV publicity as a means of finding his long-lost love, Latika (Freida Pinto), a fellow street urchin and fan of the popular quiz show.
This is the engaging premise of Slumdog Millionaire, the independent flick from India which swept this year’s Academy Awards, garnering eight Oscars in all, including Best Picture. Credit co-directors Danny Boyle and Loveleen Tandan for cleverly interweaving the three non-simultaneous strands of Jamal’s life story into an absorbing, genre-defying romantic thriller.
Will the industrious protagonist die behind bars while being interrogated or will he give the right answer to that final question, win the loot and be reunited with his sweetheart? A dizzying and delightful spectacle well worth the investment for the kaleidoscope of colors from the Subcontinent alone.

Excellent (4 stars)
Rated R for violence, profanity and disturbing images.
In English and Hindi with subtitles.
Running time: 120 minutes
Studio: Fox Home Entertainment
DVD Extras: A dozen deleted scenes, two commentaries, “The Making of” documentary, and a music video of the Oscar-winning song “Jai Ho.”

Monsters vs. Aliens

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Blushing Bride-Turned-Glowing Giant Saves the Planet in 3-D Animated Adventure

Despite planning the perfect wedding, Susan Murphy’s (Reese Witherspoon) big day ends-up derailed by a series of disasters. First, her self-absorbed fiancé, Derek (Paul Rudd), asks at the last minute if she would mind honeymooning in Fresno instead of Paris, so that he could schedule an audition for a TV news anchor position there.
But that annoying inconvenience pales in comparison to what transpires when she’s struck by a mammoth meteorite falling out of the sky shortly before entering the church. For, by the time Susan has walked down the aisle, the guest can’t help but notice that the bride isn’t blushing anymore but glowing iridescent green and gradually morphing into a 50-foot tall platinum blonde blessed with superhuman strength.
This development soon comes across the radar of General W.R. Monger (Kiefer Sutherland), the head of a top secret federal agency assigned to hide any proof of paranormal phenomena from the public. So, he dispatches soldiers armed with tranquilizer darts to subdue Susan and to cart her off to a maximum-security government facility where four other genetic anomalies are already housed.
There, Susan, aka Ginormica, bonds with her fellow freaks of nature: B.O.B. (Seth Rogen), a brainless, but indestructible, gelatinous blob; Dr. Cockroach (Hugh Laurie), a brilliant mad scientist; Insectosaurus (Conrad Vernon), a 350 foot-long, silk-spitting worm; and the Missing Link (Will Arnett), an amphibious hybrid which looks like the first creature to crawl out of the sea on the evolution chart. And just when they’re on the verge of giving up any hope of ever seeing the light of day again, a flying saucer lands in California with an army of menacing clones aboard.
After their diabolical leader Gallaxhar (Rainn Wilson) paradoxically announces “I come in peace… I mean you no harm and you will all die,” hawkish President Hathaway (Stephen Colbert) is impatient to exercise the nuclear option in response. However, General Monger talks the commander-in-chief into unleashing his rag-tag team of superheroes on the horde of invaders from outer space.
The spectacular (especially in 3-D) epic battle which ensues up and down the streets of San Francisco, on the Golden Gate Bridge and below in the Bay is the raison d’etre of Monsters vs. Aliens, a CGI-driven animated adventure that’s all about the wow factor. Don’t be put off by the spoon-fed storyline simplistic enough for a five year-old to follow, this is a flick to be appreciated for its technical wizardry alone.
A wholesome family flick that everybody can enjoy, provided mom and dad are willing to turn off their brains when they put on the 3-D glasses.

Excellent (3.5 stars)
Rrated PG for sci-fi action, crude humor and mild epithets.
Running time: 92 minutes
Studio: Dreamworks Animation

Friday, March 27, 2009

Shall We Kiss? (Un baiser s’il vous plait) FRENCH

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Strangers Spend Evening Mulling Illicit Kiss in Platonic Romantic Romp

While in the city of Nantes on business, Emilie (Julie Gayet), a cosmopolitan Parisian, impulsively accepts a ride from a handsome stranger (Michael Cohen). In the close confines of the car, the two feel an instant attraction and, without even exchanging names, decide to take a detour together from their respective destinations.
Over a cozy candlelit dinner in a local restaurant, she soon admits that she has a boyfriend back home, while Gabriel owns up to the fact that he’s in a committed relationship, too. Still, that doesn’t discourage him from asking for a farewell kiss at the end of the romantic evening when they are about to go the separate ways.
She hesitates, explaining that, although their mates might never learn about the indiscretion, a secretly stolen smooch often has unanticipated consequences. And to prove her point, she starts to spin an intricate tale about what happened to a “friend” who made the mistake of thinking she could cheat safely on her spouse as long as she kept the affair strictly physical with no feelings or strings attached.
Thus, with Gabriel impatiently waiting to lock lips, Emilie buys time by morphing into a latter-day Scheherazade, the legendary virgin-turned-Queen of Persia who became the pick of the Arabian king’s harem by telling him a different story for a thousand and one nights. However, this heroine not only keeps her solicitous suitor at bay via a distracting series of flashbacks, but the entire audience as well, since for the next 100 minutes, the only question on the cinematic table we really care about is whether or not she’ll give the guy a kiss.
After chatting away ad nauseam, she even has the nerve to lay out a set of rules, like “no names,” “no feelings,” “no facial expressions” and “no goodbyes.” This drains the passion out of the prolonged seduction to the point that the perfunctory peck proves to be anticlimactic when it finally arrives.
A French chick flick designed to keep soap opera fans on the edge of their seats while watching for a couple of guilt-ridden cold fish anguish over whether to share just one kiss. For the sequel, get a room!

Fair (1.5 stars)
In French with subtitles.
Running time: 100 minutes
Studio: Music Box Films

The Man Who Walked between the Towers DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: DVD Features Animated Account of the Daring Exploits of Philippe Petit

On the morning of August 7, 1974, a street performer named Philippe Petit sucked the collective breaths out of the world’s stomach when he performed a death-defying, high-wire act between the roofs of the Twin Towers. The daring achievement was almost as impressive as the construction of the magnificent World Trade Center itself, given that because it was not only illegal, but had to be pulled off in absolutely secrecy.
Earlier this year, Man on Wire, a riveting biopic revisiting the events surrounding Philippe historic walk, won the Academy Award in the Best Documentary category. Now, an animated version of his story has arrived on DVD, narrated by actor Jake Gyllenhaal. Designed with grade school students in mind, this kid-friendly cartoon eliminates the dangerous aspects of the accurate account in favor of spinning a magical escapist fantasy unconcerned with factual accuracy.
Based on the Andrew Carnegie Medal-winning children best seller of the same name by Mordicai Gerstein, Petit’s feat has been distilled down to its essential elements most likely to capture the imagination of the tykes for whom it is intended. Besides, his inspiring flight of fancy, the DVD includes equally-beautifully illustrated adaptations of three other tales.These include Snowflake Butterfly by Jacqueline Briggs Martin, Miss Ruphius by Barbara Cooney and The Pot That Juan Built by Nancy Andrews-Goebel, featuring distinctive voiceovers by thespians Sean Astin, Claire Danes and Alfred Molina, respectively.
An exhilarating animated adventure offering an enlightening peek inside the mind of an extraordinary individual.

Excellent (4 stars)
Running time: 72 minutes
Studio: Scholastic Video Collection
DVD Extrras: 2 bonus stories, a read along, and more.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Education of Charlie Banks

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Two-Fisted Drama Finds Egghead Reluctantly Enlisting in Ivy League Fight Club

When Charlie Banks (Jesse Eisenberg) was growing up in Manhattan, he witnessed a brutal beating doled out by a pal named Mick (Jason Ritter) that left another kid looking like death sucking on a Lifesaver. Mick was a hot-headed Irishman who was quick to settle differences with his fists.
Because Charlie hailed from a well-to-do family, while the beefy bully came from a blue-collar background, it was reasonable to expect that they’d never see each other once they went their separate ways upon graduating from high school. After all, Charlie was headed out of town to Brown University to enjoy the all the privileges afforded by that exclusive enclave.
The reticent freshman was making his adjustment to life on campus when, lo and behold, who should show up in Providence unannounced but Mick. The creepy criminal decides to stay, like a latter-day Hank, for anyone familiar with that short-lived TV sitcom from the Sixties about a college drop-in. Although this doesn’t sit well with Charlie, he’s still too intimidated by this manster with anger management issues to summon up the strength to ask him to leave.
So, not surprisingly, a similar dysfunctional relationship soon develops to the one they had back in New York. This means Mick not only steals Charlie’s very obliging girlfriend (Eva Amurri) but beats the crap out of any nerds he hangs with.
Since I happen to have attended Brown and this film was shot on location, it had me both feeling nostalgic and wondering how plausible a scenario I was watching. Perhaps times have changed, but it strikes me as highly unlikely that any Ivy League school would put up with such nonsense from a matriculated student, let alone from an intruder with a rap sheet and a violent streak.
Nonetheless, The Education of Charlie Banks is entertaining enough, provided you buy into the idea that even eggheads can relate to a rude rebel without a clue. The movie technically marks the directorial debut of Limp Bizkit front man Fred Durst, whose other flick, The Longshots, was released first, though made second.
In sum, if you’re at all intrigued by the idea of exploring angst and anomie among the entitled upper crust, then this Ivy League variation on Fight Club just might satiate an effete brand of bloodlust.

Very Good (3 stars)
Rated R for sexuality, violence, drug and alcohol abuse, and pervasive profanity.
Running time: 114 minutes
Studio: Anchor Bay Entertainment

Rachel Getting Married DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Hathaway’s Oscar-Nominated Performance Released on DVD

Rachel (Rosemarie DeWitt) and Kym (Anne Hathaway) may be sisters, but they’re as different as night and day. The former, a pregnant Ph.D. student, is about to marry Sidney (Tunde Adebimpe), a musician who adores her. By contrast, the latter is a lonely, embittered drug addict who has just checked out of rehab to attend the wedding.
The siblings hail from a family irreversibly fractured from the fateful day that Kym at 16 had an automobile accident which claimed the life of the brother she was babysitting. The tragedy ostensibly plunged the guilt-ridden junkie further down a self-destructive path she’s now doing her best to beat with the help of a 12-Step Narcotics Anonymous program.
However, recovery has come at a cost, since Kym is so estranged from Rachel that she hasn’t even met fiancée Sidney yet. And despite the fact that they are tying the knot that very weekend, she throws a temper tantrum when she learns that she wasn’t picked to serve as her sister’s maid of honor.
Just as in tatters is Kym’s relationship with her mother (Debra Winger) who she confronts about having let her drive with her brother in the car knowing she had a substance abuse problem. When she also asks her mom why she divorced her father (Bill Irwin), their very contentious conversation escalates into a slap-happy catfight.
Fortunately, the rest of the wedding party is oblivious to their violent antics, so plans for the impending nuptials continue without interruption. Thus unfolds Rachel Getting Married, a dysfunctional family drama which employs a refreshing array of colorblind casting. Directed by Jonathan Demme and based on a wildly imaginative script by Jenny Lumet, the movie is perhaps most noteworthy for Anne Hathaway’s absorbing, Oscar-nominated portrayal of a disturbed soul desperate to control the demons derailing her reality.
Forget about Rachel getting married, Kym’s getting sober.

Excellent (4 stars)
Rated R for profanity, mature themes, drug use and brief sexuality.
Running time: 113 minutes
Studio: Sony Pictures Classics
DVD Extras: Deleted scenes, filmmaker and cast commentaries, cast and crew Q&A, a “Behind-the-Scenes” featurette, and more.

Skills Like This

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Frustrated Writer Finds New Career as Criminal in Wacky Romantic Comedy

When his grandfather (Harry Sterling) has a heart attack while sitting in the balcony during the performance of his latest play, Max Solomon (Spencer Berger) takes it as indication that maybe he’s chosen the wrong line of work. Another hint is that another member of the audience had to ask him afterwards what vegetable was raining down on the stage during the big finale, despite the fact that the name of the production was “The Onion Dance.”
Sick and tired of being a starving writer and having to support himself in a never-ending series of temp jobs, Max decides to mull his options. Later, while being consoled in a diner by his best friends, Tommy (Brian D. Phelan) and Dave (Gabriel Tigerman), he announces “I’m not writing anything anymore,” adding “I’ll never be a writer, because I’m not good at it.”
Then, he impulsively leaves his pals sitting in the restaurant and walks directly across the street to pull off a brazen bank robbery in the middle of the day. Not only does he disarm the guard like a veteran criminal but he’s even cool, calm and collected enough to charm Lucy (Kerry Knuppe), the cute teller whose window he holds up for a bag of loot.
After successfully making his escape, Max is elated to have found his true calling. Not surprisingly, Tommy and Dave don’t exactly agree and aren’t thrilled about becoming accomplices after the fact.
This is the wacky setup of Skills Like This, as charming an offbeat romantic comedy as anybody could hope to make on a micro-budget. The movie marks the remarkable directorial debut of Monty Miranda, who collaborated on the project with first-time actor/scriptwriter Spencer Berger. Their endearing crime caper has already collected several awards at the South by Southwest Film Festival, including Best Narrative Feature, and this critic wouldn’t be surprised if more accolades weren’t in order.
As the picture continues to unfold, the plot only complicates further. First, Max picks up Lucy at a nightclub, then brings her home to meet the parents on his birthday when their lusty liaison blossoms into love. She’s so smitten with the easily-identifiable outlaw that she’s willing to risk her career to be around the bad boy with the exploding Jew fro.
Meanwhile, on his own, Max continues to rob other establishments, including a toy store and a Thai restaurant. The burning question soon becomes whether such a self-destructive path could possibly lead to a happy ending? Certainly, when you consider the fact that the clever screenplay was the brainchild of the star himself, a promising wunderkind clearly quite capable of writing himself out of any corner.
With “Skills Like This,” expect to see bigger things soon from the brilliant young Mr. Berger.

Excellent (4 stars)
Running time: 88 minutes
Studio: Shadow Doistribution

Wednesday, March 25, 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 April 3, 2009


Adventureland (R for profanity, sexuality and drug use) Retro romantic comedy, set in Pittsburgh in 1987, revolving around the plight of a grad school-bound virgin (Jesse Eisenberg) forced by his family’s financial woes to take a minimum-wage job at an amusement park the summer before he’s supposed to start at Columbia. Ensemble includes Kristen Stewart, Bill Hader, Kristen Wiig and Kelsey Ford.

Fast & Furious (PG-13 for violence, sexuality, profanity, drug references and intense action sequences) Fourth installment of the popular muscle car series, featuring a reunion of the original’s principal cast, revolves around a couple of unlikely buddies, a cop (Paul Walker) and a fugitive ex-con (Vin Diesel), who team up to infiltrate and bring down an L.A. heroin cartel. With Michelle Rodriguez and Jordana Brewster and Laz Alonso.


Alien Trespass (PG for smoking and action) Sci-fi adventure, set in California in 1957, revolving around an astronomer (Eric McCormack) and a waitress (Jenni Baird) who join forces to save the planet after a spaceship with a man-eating alien (Jovan Nenadic) lands in the Mojave Desert.

Bart Got a Room (PG-13 for sexuality, mature themes and brief profanity) Coming-of-age comedy about a nerdy high school senior (Steven Kaplan) whose search for a prom date becomes increasingly desperate as the big night draws nearer. With William H. Macy, Cheryl Hines and Chad Jamian Williams.

The Escapist (Unrated) Brian Cox stars in this Celtic tale of regret and redemption about an anguished convict serving a life sentence in an Irish prison who plans an audacious jailbreak with the help of a few fellow inmates after learning that his drug-addicted daughter (Eleanor McLynn) is terminally ill. Cast includes Joseph Fiennes, Damian Lewis, Liam Cunningham, Steven Mackintosh and Dominic Cooper.

Forbidden Lie$ (Unrated) Investigative documentary examines the curious case of literary fraud perpetrated on the public by Norma Khouri, the slippery character eventually exposed as having totally fabricated her best-selling book “Forbidden Love” which she claimed was based on the honor killing of her Muslim best friend for dating a Christian.

Gigantic (R for profanity, sexuality and violence) Offbeat romantic comedy about a mattress salesman (Paul Dano) who falls in love with a foul-mouthed customer (Zooey Deschanel) while awaiting word whether his application to adopt a Chinese baby has been approved. Ensemble supporting cast includes Ed Asner, John Goodman and Jane Alexander.

Lifelines (Unrated) Slice of life dramedy about the fallout visited upon a dysfunctional suburban New Jersey family when its patriarch (Josh Pais) comes out of the closet only to have others start sharing their own explosive emotional secrets. Supporting cast features Joe Morton, Jane Adams, Jacob Kogan, Robbie Sublett and Dreama Walker.

Paris 36 (PG-13 for violence, sexuality, nudity and brief profanity) Historical drama, set in Paris in 1936, about a stage manager (Gerard Jugnot), a union organizer (Clovis Cornillac) and an impressionist (Kad Merad) who enlist the help of recently-unemployed friends in staging a show at a boarded-up theatre where they had all worked just a few months earlier. (In French with subtitles)

The Song of Sparrows (PG for brief adult language) Loss of innocence drama, set in Iran, about a recently-fired ostrich farmer (Mohammad Amir Naji) whose family becomes upset about how the naïve country bumpkin has begun to compromise his values in order to make it as a taxi driver in the city of Teheran.

Sugar (R for profanity, sexuality and drug use) Overcoming-the-odds sports saga, about a promising baseball player (Algenis Perez Soto) from the Dominican Republic’s struggle to make it to the major leagues. (In English and Spanish with subtitles)

Tulpan (Unrated) Fractured fairytale, set in the barren steppe region of Kazakhstan, about a shepherd (Askhat Kuchinchirekov) who finds his quest for a wife frustrated by his Borat-like big ears. (In Kazakh and Russian with subtitles)

Afro Ninja: Destiny DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: YouTube-Inspired Martial Arts Flick Arrives on DVD

I guess it’s not fair to expect much from a movie inspired by a homemade video posted on YouTube, even if the original registered over 80 million hits online. But this is what we have in Afro Ninja: Destiny, a picture calculated to cash in on the success of an internet phenomenon. If this is a new trend, can full-length feature spin-offs of Tay “Chocolate Rain” Zonday and Chris “Leave Britney Alone!” Crocker be far behind?
That being said, Afro Ninja actually looks more like a throwback to martial arts movies from the Seventies, and even includes a cameo by Jim Kelly who co-starred opposite the legendary Bruce Lee back then in Enter the Dragon. Regrettably, where that low budget chopsocky at least featured fantastic fight sequences, this cheesy retread has nothing going for it, despite the fact that writer/director/star Mark Hicks takes a credit for choreographing its sloppy stunts.
Afro Ninja is so bad it’s a challenge to decipher exactly what Hicks was going for here. My guess is that it was designed as a comedy lampooning both the blaxploitation and karate genres. The cast does include a couple of recognizable faces in Marla “Florence” Gibbs of The Jeffersons, and that fast-talking fat guy who plays the delivery man in the latest series of Budweiser commercials.
The picture’s plot is straightforward enough. At the point of departure we find the film’s protagonist, Reggie (Hicks) harboring an unrequited crush on a pretty co-worker and yearning for his first promotion at the Post Office where he’s worked for ten years. His fortunes change the day he opens a mysterious package postmarked 1975 which has just belatedly arrived from Japan. For, the box contains a magic sword which transforms the hapless loser into a butt-kicking hero with an enormous afro.
Anything this badly acted and cheaply produced, belongs on YouTube.

Fair (1 star)
Running time: 88 minutes
Studio: Lightyear Entertainment

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

More than Just Race: Being Black and Poor in the Inner City

by William Julius Wilson
W.W. Norton & Company
Hardcover, $24.95
204 pages, illustrated
ISBN: 978-0-393-06705-7

Book Review by Kam Williams

“This book will likely generate controversy because I dare to take culture seriously as one of the explanatory variables in the study of race and urban poverty—a topic that is typically considered off-limits in academic discourse because of a fear that such analysis can be construed as ‘blaming the victim.’ Nonetheless, I hope I can convince the reader of the urgent need for a more frank and honest discussion of complex factors that create and reinforce racial inequality and to rethink the way we talk about addressing the problems of race and urban poverty in the public policy arena.”
 Excerpted from Chapter One (page 4)

Although this much-ballyhooed book arrived with a lot of fanfare
trumpeting it as introducing a new “holistic approach to race,” quite frankly, I found it to be a rather blah rehash of old wine in new wineskins. Quite simply, in the Age of Obama, you’re actually going to have to come up with truly fresh ideas to earn this critic’s stamp of approval as an innovator.
Written by William Julius Wilson, Professor of Sociology at Harvard University, More than Just Race fails at every turn to offer the reader much meat to sink your teeth into. The author’s basic thesis, introduced early in the opus, is that, traditionally, there have been a couple of competing theories in terms of the ongoing plight of the black masses mired in poverty in the nation’s inner cites.
One explanation blames “structural” forces or institutional aspects of the social networks inside our economic, educational, employment, criminal justice and other systems for the stratification. The other indicts “cultural” factors, looking at dysfunction in African-American culture itself for answers. The latter approach has generally been dismissed by most left-leaning academics for the “blaming the victim” mentality underpinning the philosophy. Wilson has nonetheless decided to employ both avenues, including the cultural which some have labeled “laissez faire racism” because of its eagerness to make slum dwellers responsible for their predicament.
Tepid in tone, this tame tome has just five chapters and focuses fairly
Narrowly on three issues: the financial straits of the black male, the fragmentation of the black family, and the forces contributing to the concentration of poverty in the black community. Wilson’s conclusions are invariably uninspiring. Trust me, it’s hard find a more vague summary on the subject of African-Americana than Wilson’s here, which reads: “We can confidently state… that regardless of the relative significance of structural and cultural factors in black family fragmentation, they interact in ways far too important for social scientists and policy makers to ignore.”
Zzzz… Zzzz… Zzzz…

The Cross: The Arthur Blessitt Story

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Faith-Based Bio-Pic Chronicles Missionary’s 40-Year Pilgrimage across the Planet

Back in 1969, Arthur Blessitt was ministering to drug addicts, strippers, prostitutes, runaways, hippies and other lost souls in a Christian coffee house he had opened near Skid Row in Los Angeles, when he was suddenly partially-paralyzed by a life-threatening brain aneurysm. Ignoring the orders of his doctors who wanted to operate immediately, Arthur instead opted to answer a calling from God to spread The Word all over the planet.
So, on Christmas Day, this humble servant of Christ checked himself out of the hospital to embark on a 38,000-mile walk which, over the next forty years, would take him to every nation and island group in the world, including 52 war zones. What made his spiritual pilgrimage particularly noteworthy was the fact that he didn’t carry a Bible like your typical missionary, but rather a mammoth, 12-foot high wooden cross, which was draped over his shoulder every step of the way. And although he would eventually be inducted into the Guinness Book of World Records for this remarkable feat, it is easy to tell from listening to the man speak for even just a few minutes that this was no publicity stunt but a simple case of sincere surrender to do the work of the Lord.
Directed by Matthew Crouch, The Cross chronicles peripatetic Blessitt’s perilous trek to the ends of the Earth. This endlessly intriguing and enlightening film features a compelling combination of news footage shot in a variety of exotic lands and interviews with folks the energetic reverend encountered on the road.
Among the movie’s more fascinating moments transpires when we see him being stopped with his young son, Josh, at the border of East Beirut at a time when the city was being shelled by Israel. After he explains to the soldiers that he wants to meet with Yassir Arafat, the soldiers respond, “We’re trying to kill him.” Yet, the father and son were waved on into no man’s land by an Israeli tank commander with tears in his eyes who had previously encountered the pair making their way across the Sinai Desert, then en route from Jerusalem to Cairo.
In the very next scene, we find Arthur praying with Arafat, before being kissed on both cheeks by the late PLO leader. I was surprised to learn that Arthur was able to carry the cross openly in every Muslim nation, and that the first place he was arrested was back in his own country, in Jackson, Mississippi, where he was jailed for holding the hand of a black man he was preparing to bless. Ironically, when the cops let him go, they warned him never to return to the state, not knowing that he had been born there.
Another amazing incident occurs in Africa, where he was turned away from a missionary compound where he had anticipated spending the night after camping out for the last 2,000 miles. However, the supposed “Christians” running the place refused because he couldn’t produce any credentials or proof of affiliation with an approved religious order. Not to worry, he was soon welcomed by a couple of atheists who offered to put him up for as long as he needed to recharge his batteries.
Arthur also enjoyed an audience with the Pope, but it is evident that he preferred to spend most of his time among the least of his brethren, because as he puts it, and “Everywhere, there’s an opportunity, someone with a need.” An inspiring bio-pic about a flesh and blood saint who literally sacrificed his own life to put the teachings of Jesus into practice on a daily basis the best he could.
So moving it made me weep three ways: openly, deeply and repeatedly!

Excellent (4 stars)
Rated PG for mature themes, violent images, mild adult language and drug references.
Running time: 93 minutes
Studio: Gener8Xion Entertainment

Monday, March 23, 2009

Response from author to Review of Sovereign Evolution

The following is a response from Ezrah Aharone, author of Sovereign Evolution: Manifest Destiny from “Civil Rights” to “Sovereign Rights” to the review of his book.

See the original review:

Response from Mr. Aharone:
While I respect and appreciate Kam Williams for reviewing my book, the concepts and analysis of Sovereign Evolution are so voluminous, that I’m perplexed as to why he singled-out a few race-related factors and then categorized them as the sum of the book’s 301 pages. Never do I use the word “separation,” which is an antiquated term, steeped in a “segregated” past that no one wants to revisit. His inference of a “clarion call for separation” and a “divisive dream” is not only unfair to the breadth of my scholarship; it diminishes the value of the sovereign content that the book details in a universal context.

Sovereignty and separation are not politically synonymous or interchangeable. Separation does not equate to acclamations of sovereignty. The contemporary and factual beauty of the book cannot therefore be grasped if one reads it thinking that I’m promoting passé separation or a “Black Nationalist Agenda.” What distinguishes this work is that I uniquely apply the concept and consciousness of sovereignty as an academic lens to examine the African-American plight.

Yes, the book unavoidably encompasses racial issues. But people are racist, not the "concept of sovereignty.” If I removed all references to African Americans and then presented the exact same principles and concepts generically, the book would stand-alone as a laudable resource on sovereign ideals that would not be found cover-to-cover in any other single book.

I don’t expect anyone to agree with everything I write. Kam, however, did not carve (pro or con) into the thematic heart of the book to enable readers to benefit from a true sovereign appraisal. Based on the racist connotations he outlined, one would think the book is “outmoded” rather than “evolutionary” as the title, Sovereign Evolution, implies. But in defending the relevance and intellectual integrity of my work, I challenge and assert that the book sets a necessary 21st-century platform for discourse that leaves no place for racism to hide.

Ezrah Aharone

Laz Alonso: The “Fast & Furious” Interview

with Kam Williams

Headline: All That Laz

Laz Alonso was born in Washington, DC, to first-generation immigrants who were refugees from Cuba. Although he developed a passion for acting at an early age, Laz initially pursued a seemingly more practical career in finance after his graduation from Howard University where he had majored in business. However, since he found it impossible to ignore his true calling, it was not long before he began going out on auditions while working in New York City as an investment banker.
After first finding work in TV commercials, Laz began landing bit roles on such TV series as Soul Food, The Practice and CSI: Miami. His big break in movies arrived in 2005, when he had the chance to appear opposite Jamie Foxx in Jarhead. Since then, he’s starred in Stomp the Yard, This Christmas and, most notably, Spike Lee’s Miracle at St. Anna, where he played the picture’s pivotal role as corporal Hector Negron.
Here, he talks both about his performance in Miracle, and about his portraying Fenix Rise in the Fast & Furious. The fourth installment of the muscle car series features a reunion of the original’s principal cast, including Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Michelle Rodriguez and Jordana Brewster.

KW: Thanks for the time, Laz.
LA: Oh, my pleasure. Thank you.
KW: How did you enjoy making Fast & Furious.
LA: Man, everybody who loved the first one, which really built the franchise, is just going to be absolutely ecstatic about this next installment. It brings everybody back from the original cast, only it injects about ten times the amount of testosterone. It’s like the original on steroids, so to speak. The budget is a lot bigger and technology has come a long way since then which together allows for more elaborate stuff. At the end of the day, the hero of the movie is still the cars, so any auto enthusiast is really going to love this movie.
KW: So, is it safe to assume that your character, Fenix Rise, is a car thief.
LA: No, I don’t play a car thief. I play something a little less morally substantial, but the movie ends up being a fun game of cat-and-mouse between Vin [Diesel] and myself. [Chuckles]
KW: What interested you in plying Hector Negron in Miracle at St. Anna?
LA: First and foremost, the historical aspect. I remember growing up seeing The Tuskegee Airmen and what a profound effect that had on me. I didn’t really know at the time that I was going to be an actor or be able to play military roles, but it just really stuck with me. I think part of the reason why was because I was seeing people who looked like me in combat and other situations that were relevant to a kid’s history growing up. When you study black history, you always study the Civil Rights Movement, which encourages you to turn the other cheek. But watching a story about the Buffalo Soldiers, you see that these guys were also fighting for rights, but they didn’t turn the other cheek. They actually bore arms. So, it was a different side of Black History that I didn’t know existed outside of The Tuskegee Airmen. So, it was really interesting for me to be able to be a part of it.
KW: I loved Miracle because I have an uncle who was wounded while fighting in Italy during World War II with an all-black regiment, yet I never saw any war movies with any African-American heroes in it when I was a child.
LA: Yeah, even during Black History Month, rarely do you hear anybody mention the Buffalo Soldiers, how they fought, or what they accomplished, although they existed as far back as the Spanish-American War. So, I think the fact that black people also sacrificed their lives for this country is a story that should be told, in order to give a balanced account of how we’ve contributed.
KW: How was it shooting on location with Spike Lee?
LA: I’m glad Spike was at the helm of this, because he’s not somebody who’s going to pull any punches, so to speak. He’s going to tell the story the way it was. Sometimes, people accuse him of having his own agenda, but seeing from the inside how he operates, I have to say that he was very, very committed to being accurate, historically, on all accounts. He was true to what was going on at the time, not only with the American soldiers, but with the Germans and Italians portrayed in the picture.
KW: I recently interviewed two of your co-stars from Miracle, Derek Luke and Omar Benson Miller. How was it working with them and the rest of the cast?
LA: Oh man, to this day, we’re all still friends. It’s really special when you can leave a film set with some lasting friendships. We still call to congratulate each other and to hang out and go grab a bite to eat. So, from that standpoint, I really enjoyed the experience. It was an environment that, for the most part, was not competitive.
KW: Why do you think the film did so poorly at the box office? The September release? Or because it was so long?
LA: I don’t think there was just one culprit. I know we’re not the only war film that has not done well since the country has been at war. I did Jarhead in 2005 which also didn’t do well. And that was directed by Sam Mendes who had just come off of two Oscars and had Jamie Foxx and Jake Gyllenhaal as its lead actors, both of whom were very hot at the time. I think that during a time of war and economic crisis, people are looking to escape to a happier place, or fantasy. They don’t necessarily want to visit something that might be very close to home when home ain’t looking too good.
KW: Speaking of the economic crisis, you used to work at Merrill Lynch. Are you glad that you left the world of investment banking behind?
LA: Not really, because it’s still affecting us hard. [Laughs] If anything, I wish I could have been in there and hopefully helped curbed some of this stuff, although it’s much bigger than one person. What’s happened on Wall Street, as President Obama said, has affected Main Street. Look at how so many companies like Pfizer and Home Depot are laying off people while others like Circuit City are closing down. And even the movie studios are extremely lean right now. So, you realize that this is a problem that’s bigger than just Wall Street. It’s affected the entire nation and me too, even though I’m no longer working on Wall Street. It has affected me by virtue of limiting the number of movies being made, limiting which projects are greenlit. That’s killing working actors.
KW: There was a provision in the stimulus package designed to help Hollywood that the Republicans forced the Democrats to take out, saying it was just pork.
LA: Here’s what the Republicans don’t understand. Hollywood has had to go to Prague and to other places in Eastern Europe because they’re getting bigger tax breaks overseas than they get domestically. It’s cheaper to take a production to the Dominican Republic or Canada. Runaway production has been killing the economy of Los Angeles. A film is more than just two or three stars. Hundreds of people are out of work when a production goes overseas and uses a foreign crew. The Republicans don’t understand that Obama’s plan was to invest in domestic films. That’s no different than trying to get people to buy American cars instead of imports. So, you see, we have some economic terrorists, right here in the Capitol who, in the name of partisan politics, are sabotaging programs that would make America better.
KW: I remember you from the famous “Whazzup!” ad Budweiser ran during the Super Bowl years ago. What did you think of this year’s crop of Super Bowl commercials?
LA: Man, I hate to sound like everybody else, but I was very disappointed. But I think that’s indicative of the economy and where we are right now. Companies don’t have a lot of money to spend on elaborate ads like they did in the past.
KW: Is there any question no one ever asks you, that you wish someone would?
LA: How can I help you? At least in my world, that question is never asked. My mom is the only person who asks me that and truly means it. And I’ve found that a lot of people run from friendship because they don’t want to be forced to offer help.
KW: I love that question. Okay, how can I help you?
LA: [Laughs] you know what? You are helping me right now, by helping me promote myself and the projects that I’m working on. That’s a very unselfish act that I appreciate. You could be interviewing anybody else right now, but you’re spending your time with me, and I really appreciate that.
KW: The Columbus Short question: Are you happy?
LA: I made Stomp the Yard with him. Am I happy? Happiness is fleeting, like a butterfly. You can have it in your hand, and then it flies away. Even though it does fly away, you can enjoy watching it go, knowing that another one will come back. Happiness, to me, is a collage of moments. I’m happy at times, at others, I’m not. My goal is to always make sure that the times that I am happy outweigh the times that I’m not.
KW: The “Realtor to the Stars” Jimmy Bayan question: Where in L.A. do you live?
LA: I live in the San Fernando Valley. I’m a warm weather climate person. People complain about the heat of The Valley. I love the heat of The Valley.
KW: The bookworm Troy Johnson question: What was the last book you read?
LA: I’m just starting to read a book by Texas oilman T. Boone Pickens called, “The First Billion Is the Hardest.” I want to hear his perspective, because it’s interesting to see how people on that level think and work.
KW: The music maven Heather Covington question: What music are you listening to nowadays?
LA: I go though phases, but right now, I’m listening to some Russian music actually that I got when I spent four months in Moscow while making this film called Captivity. It’s pretty depressing, but I draw inspiration from it. Before that, I had been going through an Eighties phase for about four or five months where I was listening, you name it, to everything from Al B. Sure to DeBarge.
KW: You’re into creating music, too. Any plans to produce an album?
LA: I’m producing. I eventually want to launch independent music production as a part of my business. I haven’t done so yet, because I’m very protective of it until I get up to speed technologically.
KW: The Rudy Lewis question: Who’s at the top of your hero list?
LA: God. To me, God is unconditional love. And the unconditional love that I share with the people closest to me is only possible through God. As much as I love my mother, Sylvia, who is a hero of mine, my love for her can only be materialized through God. He is the link that holds us together, and holds me to my grandmother and to everybody who means something to me.
KW: Sweet. Well thanks for another great interview, Laz, and I’m expecting even bigger things from you down the line.
LA: Cool! Thank you very much.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Gardens of the Night DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: DVD Drama Relates Harrowing Tale of Child Abduction Drama

Donnie (Evan Ross) doesn’t exactly remember how he ended up in the clutches of Alex (Tom Arnold), but he thinks his mentally-unstable mother might have sold him to the middle-aged child molester. Leslie (Gillian Jacobs), on the other hand, was eight years-old when the same sicko abducted her with the help of his teen accomplice (Kevin Zegers).
After nine years in captivity, Donnie and Leslie have been left traumatized by the unspeakable sexual abuse they’ve been subjected to by this pair of perverts. Over that span, the kids have held onto their sanity only by leaning on each other’s shoulders and by exchanging promises to always be there for each other. In fact, they’ve grown so close, they now think of themselves as brother and sister, even though she’s white and he’s black.
Actually, of far more significance than the color of their skin is the bond which they developed while sharing a small bedroom, There, they created a fantasy world into which they could escape the never-ending nightmare. Then, at 17, Donnie and Leslie find themselves suddenly free but lacking the wherewithal to function normally. In order to survive, they turn to the only thing they know, namely, sex, so they end up prostitutes on the streets of San Diego.
So unfolds Gardens of the Night, a meticulously-researched loss of innocence drama written and directed by Damian Harris. Harris started work on the project way back in 1980, after being moved by the photo of a missing girl on a milk carton and reading a Newsweek cover story about stolen children. But it took him 10 years to write the first draft of his sobering script, this after speaking with parents and counselors of young kidnap victims, and with police officers assigned to the child sex crimes unit.
The upshot is a haunting tale which very convincingly conveys the
overwhelming sense of helplessness and dread which undoubtedly afflicts impressionable souls unfortunate enough to be so exploited while still in the bloom of youth. Kudos to Gillian Jacobs and Evan Ross for their powerful lead performances and to Tom Arnold and John Malkovich for equally-effective outings in support roles.
A profoundly disturbing, super-realistic examination of pedophilia not to be screened on an empty stomach.

Excellent (4 stars)
Rated R for profanity, sexuality, drug use, disturbing content, and the kidnapping, rape and exploitation of children.
Running time: 110 minutes
Studio: City Lights Home Entertainment
DVD Extras: Director’s commentary, deleted scenes, photo gallery, “The Making of” documentary, and some surprising statistics.

Saturday, March 21, 2009


Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: More Chemistry than Coherency in Confusing Cat-and-Mouse Caper

Ray Koval (Clive Owen) enjoyed a 12-year tenure with MI6 as a spy for the British government before taking a job in the private sector to help protect the trade secrets of a corporate giant called Equikrom. Curiously, former CIA Agent Claire Stenwick (Julia Roberts) has followed a similar career path, leaving the American agency to work for Burkett and Randle, Equikrom’s primary rival in the cutthroat world of consumer products.
Headquartered in Manhattan skyscrapers located just across town from each other, the two firms are run by competitive CEOs obsessed with being the first to bring any new ideas to market. At the point of departure, we find Burkett and Randle‘s Howard Tully (Tom Wilkinson) on the verge of launching a new creation successfully kept under wraps while in development in the company pipeline. However, Equikrom’s Chairman, Richard Garsik (Paul Giamatti), is very aware of the existence of “Project Sampson” and is intent on stealing the innovation by hook or by crook.
When word of the existence of a mole buried deep inside Burkett surfaces, Ray is given the assignment of rendezvousing with the employee said to be ready to hand over some priceless documents. To his amazement, the traitor turns out to be Claire, the same two-timing temptress who had once seduced and abandoned him after a one-night stand years ago in Dubai when they both were still spies for their respective countries.
With sparks flying between them again, they cautiously rekindle their romance while talking shop about their gigs as corporate sleuths. This leads to the lovebirds hatching a plan to double-cross both of their unsuspecting bosses. The scheme essentially involves selling Burkett’s new top secret formula to a Swiss company for $40 million and then retiring to live happily-ever-after in the lap of luxury together.
This is the intriguing premise underpinning Duplicity, an uneven espionage thriller written and directed by Tony Gilroy who landed a couple of Oscar nominations a year ago for Michael Clayton. Unfortunately, this picture pales in comparison to that relatively-riveting cat-and-mouse caper in terms of coherency and intensity. The film’s fatal flaw is the confusing chronology grafted on the picture’s ambitious plotline which is already laced with a tad too many twists for its own good.
Abandoned by the inscrutable script are seasoned character actors Tom Wilkinson and Paul Giamatti, who deliver decent performances as crooked captains of industry locked in a corporate death match. The best thing going for this needlessly-complex potboiler is the chemistry generated periodically by Clive Owen and Julia Roberts, reunited on screen for the first time since appearing opposite each other in Closer in 2004. But even their romance, riddled with trust issues, seems like a poor man’s version of Mr. & Mrs. Smith, the steamy spy-versus-spy drama starring Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie.
Overall, a disappointing exercise in achingly-familiar irritainment.

Fair (1 star)
Rated PG-13 for profanity and sexuality.
In English and Spanish with subtitles.
Running time: 125 minutes
Studio: Universal Pictures

Friday, March 20, 2009

Quantum of Solace DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Daniel Craig’s 2nd 007 Outing Released on DVD

Daniel Craig is back for another action-oriented, globe-trotting adventure apt to disappoint fans anticipating the suave spy’s sophisticated airs and other staples of the storied franchise. For instance, instead of the peripatetic playboy’s trademark parade of a bevy of beauties, this flick finds him fairly obsessed with understanding why he had been betrayed in Casino Royale by Vesper (Eva Green), his late love interest from that picture. In fact, Bond becomes so desperate in this endeavor that he roughs up as many good guys as bad.
This development frustrates the director of the British Secret Service, M (Dame Judi Dench), who strips him of his license to kill and summarily calls him in from the proverbial cold. So, this incarnation of Bond is a rogue agent who operates sans the futuristic firearms, armored sports car and other state-of-the-art accoutrements ordinarily equipped by M16’s genius inventor, Q, a beloved character conspicuous in his absence here.
Nevertheless, Quantum of Solace does offer about double the amount of gun play, fisticuffs, foot chases and pyrotechnics, plus all the automobile, motorcycle, airplane and speedboat derring-do of the typical 007 installment. The problem is that the movie no longer feels like a Bond film when stripped of its eagerly-anticipated earmarks, but looks suspiciously similar to a high-octane Jason Bourne affair in terms of non-stop stunts and its unflappable protagonist’s inscrutable demeanor.
What does remain intact is Bond’s familiar mission to save the world from a diabolical villain bent on world domination. In this case, the creep is Dominic Greene (Mathieu Amalric) whose benignly-named Greene Planet Corporation has for some reason been quietly acquiring ecological preserves around the planet by any means necessary.
007 discovers that Greene is a member of Quantum, the shadowy brotherhood of thieves implicated in the death of Vesper. Thus, the solution to her suicide conveniently dovetails with cracking the case. Along the way to finding answers, Bond encounters a couple of fetching temptresses in Strawberry Fields (Gemma Arterton) and Camille (Olga Kurylenko), a disenchanted gun moll of Mr. Greene. But he’s far too consumed withy kicking butt from start-to-finish to pause for anything more than a perfunctory appreciation of their pulchritude.
A hyperactive 007 whose attention-deficit antics ought to resonate with the restlessness of the overstimulated Joystick Generation.

Good (2 stars)
PG-13 for sexuality, violence, and intense action sequences.
Running time: 106 minutes
Studio: MGM Home Entertainment
2-Disc DVD Extras: Music video, theatrical and teaser trailers, behind-the-scenes clips, plus 5 featurettes.

Bolt DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Animated Adventure Fun for Whole Family Arrives on DVD

Bolt (John Travolta) is a normal dog who mistakenly thinks that he actually possesses the superpowers he displays as the hero of a TV action series. The cuddly German shepherd is clueless about the truth because, since he’s been raised on a set specially-rigged to trick him into believing that he really has the ability to perform amazing feats like subduing bad guys with his devastating bark and melting steel with his penetrating heat vision.
These delusions of grandeur have never been a problem for the pampered pooch, given that he’s had no contact with the outside world. Consequently, the only reality he’s ever known is the insulated studio environment in which he’s the pet of Penny (Miley Cyrus), the actress who pretends to be his crime-fighting partner.
Everything changes the day Bolt slips out of his cage and, after a comedy of errors, ends up in a box being shipped to New York City where a rude awakening lays in wait. For not only are the streets of Manhattan mean enough to begin with, but they prove to be tougher still for a dog who expects to have an array of extraordinary powers at his paw tips.
Thus unfolds Bolt, an enchanting animated adventure that’s fun for the whole family. This uplifting tale has a bounty of heartwarming messages to share about honesty, loyalty, humility, faith and other virtues. The tykes will learn an early lesson about what matters most in life while watching frustrated Bolt adjust to his diminished status as a mere mortal.
He must grudgingly befriend a lowly alley cat (Susie Essman) and clumsy hot-house hamster (Mark Walton), enlisting their help to find his way back to Hollywood. En route, the unlikely trio bond while overcoming the host of ever-escalating calamities placed in the path between the homesick hound and a teary reunion with the equally-inconsolable Penny.
An instant kiddie classic!

Excellent (4 stars)
Rated PG for mild action and scenes of peril.
Running time: 97 minutes
Studio: Walt Disney Home Entertainment
3-Disc DVD Extras: Super Rhino short, “Behind-the-Scenes” featurette, music video, deleted scenes, Blu-Ray, DVD and Digital copies of the film, and more.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

The Great Buck Howard

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Malkovich Shines in Character Study of Kreskin-Like Mentalist

Even though his name is The Great Buck Howard instead of The Amazing Kreskin, it’s pretty apparent who John Malkovich’s character is based on in this bittersweet, unlikely-buddy flick. For, like Kreskin, Buck is a mentalist long past his glory days when he was a frequent guest on the Tonight Show and other popular TV variety programs. The two also have in common an usually-strong handshake and a stage finale in which they invariably find a wad of money hidden on a member of the audience.
I did say this is a buddy vehicle, and it co-stars Colin Hanks as Troy Gabel, a 2nd year law student who drops out of school at the point of departure without telling his father (Tom Hanks) to pursue his dream of becoming a writer. Soon forced to face the reality of having to earn a living, he applies for a position as the personal assistant to Buck Howard, an entertainment icon who has been reduced to performing in modest, half-filled venues in tiny towns all over the country.
Gone for Buck are the opportunities to appear on late night television and to play posh hotspots on the strip in Las Vegas. Unfortunately, that fact hasn’t humbled him one iota, which means Troy is essentially stuck in seedy motels with this pompous egomaniac 24/7.
Then, when he’s in the midst of rethinking the fateful decision to take this job, who should show up unannounced but his understandably irritated dad. But any chance Mr. Gabel has of talking his emotionally-estranged son off the road and into returning to L.A. ends once Buck hires another assistant in a cutie pie named Valerie (Emily Blunt). She and Troy fall for each other at first sight which makes taking abuse from their delusional boss a hell of a lot easier.
The Great Buck Howard was written and directed by Sean McGinly whose unflattering portrait of his subject makes for a riveting cinematic experience. Its closing credits acknowledge a debt of gratitude owed Kreskin as a source of inspiration.
Of course, Mr. Malkovich deserves considerable credit, too, as he turns in yet another compelling performance worth the price of admission alone as a pathetic has been who has no idea he’s washed up. Among the members of the stellar support cast are Steve Zahn, B.J. Hendricks, Griffin Dunne, Ricky Jay along with amusing cameos by such trivia answers as Gary Coleman, George Takei and Tom Arnold.
When you throw the chance to watch the real-life Hanks as a father-son duo into the mix, you have all the ingredients for sleeper hit that can’t miss in indie art houses.

Excellent (4 stars)
Rated PG for suggestive language and a drug reference.
Running time: 90 minutes
Studio: Magnolia Pictures

Sovereign Evolution: Manifest Destiny from “Civil Rights” to “Sovereign Rights”

by Ezrah Aharone
Paperback, $21.00
324 pages, illustrated
ISBN: 978-1-4389-3858-5

Book Review by Kam Williams

“African-Americans could benefit from a 21st Century approach to freedom and equality, using sovereign principles as its interpretive lens… Sovereignty is an inborn political desire for self-government that is as natural as the change of seasons..
This book shapes the sociopolitical substance of our historical experience into a sovereign consciousness… [A] key factor that distinguishes this work from typical political works of Africans in America, is that it does not regard ‘Civil Rights’ as the standard or goal by which our freedom should be measured or aspired
I rather circumscribe ‘Sovereign Rights’ in a universal and historical context that effectively confers us with just as much integrity and authority as any other people on Earth to espouse and employ sovereign standards for ourselves.
Svereignty, as I exclaim, is the next state in our centuries-old political evolution to regain our true freedom.”
 Excerpted from the Introduction (pages xi-xiv)

The ascension of Barack Obama to the presidency has seemingly put
the political agenda of black America on the back burner. Consequently, many a pundit has come to suggest that this historic moment might simultaneously signal the end of the line for those civil rights advocates whose careers have revolved around petitioning the government for inclusion. This new debate has basically been framed around the question of whether or not the U.S. has matured into a post-racial society where everyone is judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
However, Ezrah Aharone has a very different perspective of the plight of Africans in America. He argues that “the granting of civil rights and voting rights should not be viewed as a marker of a government’s legitimization, since a genuinely moral government would never make its citizenry fight for civil rights in the first place.”
He goes on to point out that the woeful federal, state and municipal response to Katrina proved that black people remain second-class citizens, all the supposed inroads notwithstanding. Ezrah says the problem resides in the question of sovereignty which still “belongs to Euro-Americans who have abused their sovereign powers as a political weapon of control.”
Mr. Aharone’s answers to this dilemma, the assertion of their “Sovereign Rights” by black folks, are all meticulously delineated in Sovereign Evolution, a sequel of sorts to his first book, the equally-incendiary “Pawned Sovereignty.” It takes a lot of gumption for anyone to be proposing what at first blush sounds like a black nationalist agenda in this ostensibly omni-embracive age of Obama.
If not necessarily convincing, the author at least makes a well-articulated, thought-provoking case, pointing to the new president as proof of “our own sovereign potentiality.” As Ezrah puts it, “Black president or no Black president, we need our own political ‘Manifest Destiny’ because their version of ‘Manifest Destiny’ ensures that America will always politically remain majority-owned, fully controlled, and absolutely governed by Anglo-European principles, practices and policies.”
A controversial clarion call for separation just when America finally appears on the verge of actually becoming the melting pot it has long pretended to be. Given that you hear so many black people saying they feel fully American for the first time, pursuing brother Aharone’s divisive dream of black sovereignty is probably as practical aright now as trying to unscramble a bowl of scrambled eggs.
And I wonder on which side of the color line would half-white/half-black President Obama belong anyway?

To contact the author, email: EzrahAharone@Juno.com

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Twilight DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Girl Meets Vampire Adaptation of Romantic Fantasy Arrives on DVD

Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) has decided to live with her father (Billy Burke) to make it easier for her recently-remarried mother (Sarah Clarke) to accompany her baseball player husband (Matt Bushell), on road trips This means that Bella must move from sunny Phoenix, Arizona to perpetually overcast Forks, Washington, a dreary town whose only claim to fame is that it’s located on the rainiest spot in the nation.
At her new high school, the socially-awkward 17 year-old proves to be pretty popular, and finds herself being courted by classmates representing a variety of familiar teensploitation archetypes, from the handsome hunk (Michael Welch) to the nerdy Asian (Justin Chon) to the jive black guy (Gregory Tyree Boyce). But the shy loner opts to keep to herself until the fateful day she spots gorgeous Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson) across the crowded cafeteria.
However, Bella’s warned on the spot by her gossipy girlfriend, Jessica (Anna Kendrick) to steer clear of Ed and his four, equally-pale foster siblings. For, there’s a nasty rumor that they might date each other, and that their father, Dr. Carlisle Cullen (Peter Facinelli), behaves more like a matchmaker than a legal guardian.
Nonetheless, from that moment on, Bella finds the aloof pretty boy irresistible. And Edward’s as attracted to her too, though not exactly for the same reason. What Bella doesn’t know is that he’s a vampire, albeit one trying to go vegetarian. Yet, her alluring scent operates on him like a drug, leaving him torn between treating her like a soulmate and like his next meal. So, when the two start flirting in Biology class, she hasn’t a clue that it takes all his strength to resist sinking his fangs into her neck.
Does this star-crossed romance stand a chance? Will Bella’s dad, the shotgun-toting, local sheriff, solve the mystery of the serial killer who’s been hunting for humans in time? And can the Cullen clan convince Edward that he’d be better off dating his own species?
These are the burning questions at the heart of Twilight, as inspired an overhaul of the vampire genre as you could ever hope to encounter. Based on the phenomenally-popular series of young adult novels by Stephenie Meyer, this visually-enchanting adaptation is full of surprising twists, humorous asides and novel special effects all of which combine to keep the picture quite compelling. Another plus is the convincing chemistry generated by Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson.
Two hours of non-stop, edge-of-your-seat tension, as you never know what to expect next from this endlessly-inventive mindbender. The teen horror flick has certainly come a long way from I Was a Teenage Werewolf.

Excellent (4 stars)
Rated PG-13 for violence and sensuality.
Running time: 122 minutes
Studio: Summit Entertainment
2-Disc DVD Extras: 5 extended scenes, 5 deleted scenes, 3 music videos, a 7-part documentary, audio commentary by director Catherine Hardwicke and stars Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart, a Comic-Con featurette, and more.

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 March 27, 2009


12 Rounds (PG-13 for intense violence) Crime thriller, set in New Orleans, about a police detective (John Cena) who finds his fiancée (Ashley Scott) kidnapped by a revenge-minded escaped-con (Aidan Gillen) whose own girlfriend had been accidentally killed during their apprehension for a multi-million dollar heist.

The Haunting in Connecticut (PG-13 for intense terror and disturbing images) Haunted house tale, based on a true story, recounts the host of supernatural horrors visited upon a family which unsuspectingly moved into a recently-renovated Victorian mansion that had been a mortuary where unspeakable acts had transpired. Principal cast features Virginia Madsen, Kyle Gallner, Elias Koteas and Amanda Crew.

Monsters vs. Aliens (PG for sci-fi action, crude humor and mild epithets) Animated adventure about a girl (Reese Witherspoon) turned into a 50 foot-tall giant by a meteorite who is called upon by the President of the United States (Stephen Colbert) to defend the planet against an army of invading aliens with the help of a rag-tag team of monsters. Voice cast includes Seth Rogen, Hugh Laurie, Will Arnett, Kiefer Sutherland, Amy Poehler, Paul Rudd and Renee Zellweger.


American Swing (Unrated) Wife-swapping documentary revisits the rise and fall of Plato’s Retreat, the New York City sex club which opened in 1977 and catered to its orgy-loving clientele until the specter of AIDS began to take the luster off the hedonistic lifestyle by the early Eighties.

The Country Teacher (Unrated) Romance drama revolving around a homosexual schoolteacher (Pavel Liska) who takes a new position in a rural region of the Czech Republic where he befriends a recently-abandoned housewife (Zuzana Bydzovska) in order to put the moves on her handsome, 17 year-old son (Ladislav Sedivy). The plot triangulates when the closeted gay’s ex-lover (Marek Daniel) arrives in town, ready to reconcile and to resume their relationship. (In Czech with subtitles)

The Education of Charlie Banks (R for sexuality, violence, drug and alcohol abuse, and pervasive profanity) Déjà vu drama about a college freshman (Jesse Eisenberg) whose adjustment to an Ivy League school is complicated by the arrival on campus of a childhood bully (Jason Ritter) he still has nightmares about. With Eva Amurri, Chris Marquette, Sebastian Stan and Gloria Votsis.

Guest of Cindy Sherman (Unrated) Art critic Paul Hasegawa-Overacker directs this bio-pic dissecting his romantic relationship with reclusive artist Cindy Sherman. Includes appearances by Danny De Vito, Molly Ringwald, Eric Bogosian and John Waters.

The Mysteries of Pittsburgh (R for nudity, profanity and graphic sexuality) Crime comedy, set in Pittsburgh in the Eighties, about a recent college grad (Jon Foster) whose plans to begin working on Wall Street are interrupted by a chance encounter with his freshman roommate-turned-drug dealer (Omid Abtahi) leads to a lustful but dangerous liaison with a femme fatale (Sienna Miller) already linked to a felon (Peter Sarsgaard) with evil intentions.

The Perfect Sleep (Unrated) Anton Pardoe wrote and stars in this neo-noir mystery about a man with no name who returns to his hometown for the first time in ten years to protect the elusive femme fatale (Roselyn Sanchez) he’s always loved from afar.

Shall We Kiss? (Unrated) French flashback farce in which a couple of strangers (Julie Gayet and Michael Cohen) who meet en route to Paris and spend a long evening together there weighing the pros and cons of sharing an illicit farewell kiss. (In French with subtitles)

Spinning into Butter (R for profanity) Hate crime saga, set on the verdant campus of a college in Vermony, finds the school’s dean (Sarah Jessica Parker) reexamining her feelings about prejudice when racial epithets threatening lynching are plastered to the dorm room door of a black student (Paul James). Beau Bridges, Mykelti Williamson and Miranda Richardson.