Thursday, April 30, 2009

Last Chance Harvey DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson’s Romantic Romp Released on DVD

When you’re working with a script as superficial as this love story’s, you’re lucky to land actors of the caliber of Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson. So, director Joel Hopkins owes a debt of gratitude to these talented Oscar-winners for generating the requisite chemistry to imbue what would have otherwise merely been a readily-forgettable sitcom with enough gravitas to make it actually worth watching.
Hoffman handles the title role here as Harvey Shine, an aging New Yorker facing last chances at love, career and fatherhood. As the story opens, we find him having a hard time holding on to his day gig as a TV-jingle writer. Despite a stern warning from his boss (Richard Schiff) that his job is in jeopardy, he flies to London for the impending wedding of his estranged daughter, Susan (Liane Balaban), to a chap named Scott (Daniel Lapaine).
Harvey soon comes to regret his decision to attend when, shortly before the ceremony, she informs him that she’s already asked her step-dad (James Brolin) to walk her down the aisle. Devastated by the snub, he rushes back to Heathrow but arrives too late to catch a flight back in time to prevent his being fired.
Next, he dejectedly drags himself into a pub where, while crying in his beer, he becomes instantly smitten with Kate (Emma Thompson), a shy and retiring spinster. She’s also down-in-the-dumps. between blind dates from hell and the constant smothering from her hovering helicopter mom (Eileen Atkins).
It is therefore no surprise when sparks start to fly between these two sad sacks, and Kate grudgingly agrees to accompany Harvey to his daughter’s wedding. After the reception, Harvey puts his plans to return to the States on hold indefinitely to pursue the whirlwind romance which ensues.
Will the affair blossom into full-blown love? That is the unanswered question at the center of the Last Chance Harvey, an emotionally-restrained adventure which conveniently devotes more attention to shooting its cuddly protagonists against a variety of spectacular London backdrops than to having them explore their feelings in any meaningful depth. Don’t expect anything more than a pleasant, if predictable, deliberately-paced diversion of this lonely hearts saga, and you won’t be disappointed.
Worth it just to watch Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson effortlessly weave movie magic via vintage screen performances.

Very Good (3 stars)
Rated PG-13 for brief profanity.
Running time: 93 minutes
Studio: Anchor Bay Entertainment
2-Disc DVD Extras: Audio commentary by director Joel Hopkins and co-stars Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson, “The Making of” featurette, and the theatrical trailer.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Most Oscar-Nominated Flick of the Year Arrives on DVD

Very loosely-based on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 14-page short story of the same name, this melancholy meditation on love, mortality and loneliness revolves around a baby (Brad Pitt) born old who grows younger over the course of his life. Brought to the screen by director David Fincher who interpreted the tale as an elaborate parable of Biblical proportions, the movie landed 13 Academy Award nominations, although it only won a trio of Oscars in minor categories.
The film opens in New Orleans at the end of the First World War where we find Benjamin’s mother (Joeanna Sayler) dying during childbirth being followed by his father’s (Jason Flemyng) wrapping the inexplicably-aged infant in swaddling clothes and secretly depositing him on the back steps of the local old folks’ home. Fortunately, he is immediately adopted by Miss Queenie (Taraji P. Henson), a selfless, mammy-like figure who altruistically decides to care for him the best she can.
Although her odd-looking, little octogenarian is initially beset by an assortment of infirmities, Queenie can’t help but notice that there is something which sets Benjamin apart from the rest of the residents at her assisted living facility. For, while they continue to deteriorate and die, he miraculously has his vitality restored, and gradually gets back his hearing, eyesight, hair, and so forth.
Eventually, Benjamin not only feels fairly spry, but independent enough to bid Queenie and company adieu and sets out to explore the world on his own. And with an uncanny sense of timing rather reminiscent of a Forrest Gump, he proceeds to embark on an epic journey which lands him in the middle of a number of events of historical import over the ensuing decades, such as a World War II naval battle and a NASA rocket launch.
The similarities to Gump can be easily explained by the fact that Eric Roth wrote the script for both movies. Nonetheless, Button’s reverse aging theme is unique, allowing for a sufficiently novel plotline which proves compelling when you factor in Fincher’s extraordinary special effects and the Oscar-nominated performances of Brad Pitt and Taraji Henson.

Excellent (3.5 stars)
Rated PG-13 for profanity, sexuality, smoking and brief war violence.
Running time: 167 minutes
Studio: The Criterion Collection/Paramount Home Entertainment
2-Disc DVD Extras: Director’s commentary, a 4-part “Behind-the-Scenes” documentary, photo gallery, trailers 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 May 8, 2009


Next Day Air (R for violence, drug use, pervasive profanity and brief sexuality) Action-oriented crime caper about the comedy of errors which ensue after a couple of hapless hoodlums (Mike Epps and Wood Harris) are mistakenly delivered a large package filled with bricks of pure cocaine. Cast includes Donald Faison, Mos Def, Debbie Allen, Darius McCrary and Lauren London.

Star Trek (PG-13 for action, violence and brief sexuality) 11th installment of the much-beloved, sci-fi franchise features a prequel plotline chronicling the younger years of Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) and crew, and the maiden voyage of the Starship Enterprise. Co-starring Zachary Quinto as Spock, Zoe Saldana as Uhura, John Cho as Sulu, Anton Yelchin as Chekov, Karl Urban as Bones and Simon Pegg as Scotty.


Adoration (R for profanity) Atom Egoyan directs this coming-of-age tale about an orphan (Devon Bostick) being raised by his uncle (Scott Speedman) who finds far more than he bargained for when searching the internet for the truth about the mysterious circumstances of his parents’ (Rachel Blanchard and Noam Jenkins) fatal car crash.

Audience of One (Unrated) Faith-based documentary recounting divinely-inspired, Pentecostal preacher-turned-film producer Richard Gazowsky's ill-fated attempt to shoot a Biblical epic, a sci-fi version of the story of Joseph.

The Garden (Unrated) Oscar-nominated documentary about the ugly legal battle being waged over a 14-acre plot in a South Central L.A. ghetto sold by the City to a real estate developer over the objections of the hundreds of local residents who had turned the blighted piece of property into a productive farmland. With Daryl Hannah, Danny Glover and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

Julia (R for violence, pervasive profanity and brief nudity) Tilda Swinton stars in the titular role of this thriller about a down-and-out alcoholic desperate enough to be talked into kidnapping an 11 year-old boy (Aidan Gould) by a troubled, Mexican woman (Kate del Castillo) she meets at an AA meeting.

Little Ashes (R for profanity, sexuality and a disturbing image) Historical bio-pic, set in Spain in 1922, and revolving around the relationship forged by aspiring art student Salvador Dali (Robert Pattinson) with a couple of his professors at the University of Madrid: filmmaker Luis Bunuel (Matthew McNulty) and writer Federico Garcia Lorca (Javier Beltran).

Love N’ Dancing (PG-13 for sexual references) Romance drama about a deaf Swing Dance Champion (Tom Malloy) who finds himself falling for his new student (Amy Smart) despite the fact that she’s engaged to a workaholic (Billy Zane) and his ex-girlfriend (Nicola Royston) is rethinking her decision to dump him. With SNL alum Rachel Dratch, Leila Arcieri and Golden Girl Betty White.

Objectified (Unrated) Industrial arts documentary takes an in-depth look at mass-produced items from the perspective of their designers.

Outrage (Unrated) Sci-fi horror flick about a young woman (Katie Fountain) forced to face her fears when she has to return to the site of a childhood trauma in a remote region of rural Georgia in order to sell her family’s hunting lodge. Cast includes Michael Madsen, Natasha Lyonne and Ace Cruz.

Powder Blue (R for nudity, sexuality, profanity and drug use) Ensemble drama, set in L.A., chronicles the fate of four strangers—a stripper (Jessica Biel), a mortician (Eddie Redmayne), a revenge-minded mobster (Ray Liotta) and a suicidal ex-priest (Forest Whitaker) whose paths cross on Christmas Eve. With Sanaa Lathan, Kris Kristofferson, Lisa Kudrow and Patrick Swayze.

Rudo y Cursi (R for sexuality, pervasive profanity and brief drug use) Sports comedy, set in Mexico City, about a couple of soccer-playing half-brothers (Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna) whose sibling rivalry is exacerbated when they’re informed by a pro scout that the two of them must compete for one spot on his team. (In Spanish with subtitles)

The Window (Unrated) Intergenerational drama, set in Argentina, about a bed-ridden, elderly country gentleman (Antonio Larreta) with heart disease who escapes from his nurses (Maria del Carmen Jimenez and Emilse Roldan) into the fields surrounding his hacienda to reminisce rather than follow his doctor’s orders and enter the hospital. (In Spanish with subtitles)

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Legends: Rare Moments and Inspiring Words

Rare Moments and Inspiring Words
By the Editors at Smiley Books
Foreword by Tavis Smiley
Smiley Books
Paperback, $24.95
192 pages, illustrated
ISBN: 978-1-4019-2405-8

Book Review by Kam Williams

“’Would America have been America without her Negro people?’ W.E.B. Du Bois wrote those words shortly after the turn of the last century. More than 100 years after Du Bois’ question was posed, there is only one emphatic and unconditional answer. No!
America could not and would not be the America we have come to know… without the deep and inseparable imprint of those people stolen from Africa and brought here on slave ships so many years ago. The individual genius and collective resilience of African-American people has shaped and nurtured American democracy, ensuring a more diverse, successful, creative society.”
 Excerpted from the Foreword (page ix)

What would America be without back folks? That is the underlying theme
of America I AM, a traveling museum celebrating the contributions of blacks to the U.S. which will be touring the country for four years. Legends: Rare Moments and Inspiring Words is one of two companion books published by Tavis Smiley to augment the exhibition.
As much an educational tool as an oversized, coffee table keepsake, Legends features an array of visually-captivating photographs of 78 African-American icons of the 20th Century, with each one’s image being accompanied by a memorable phrase which embodies his or her spirit. These remarkable luminaries come from all walks of life, including the fields of politics, music, dance, literature and sports.
Among the honorees is the poet Maya Angelou, whose entry captures her at work writing alongside the quote “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” Then there is the evocative shot of Thelonious Monk which has the late jazz great composing at the piano next to the saying, “Wrong is right.”
Equally-penetrating are the pictures and reflections about the rest, from Rosa Parks to Jackie Robinson to Dr. Martin Luther King to Muhammad Ali to James Baldwin to Thurgood Marshall to Quincy Jones to Barack Obama. Besides the portraits, Legends fleshes out of these groundbreakers further via brief biographies.
A valuable reminder about some brilliant black folks gifted and daring enough to make seminal cultural and social contributions to the nation in spite of their potentially-crippling, color-coded, second-class status.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Circus (RUSSIAN)

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Russian Retrospective Features 1936 Film Indicting American Racism

For my money, Circus (1936) is the standout in a Russian retrospective of five films each featuring Lyubov Orlova (1902-1975), The First Lady of the Soviet Screen. This series of what some might call Communist propaganda pictures is being hosted by The Film Society of Lincoln Center in Manhattan and will run from May 1st to 4th. The collection is entitled Red Diva because they were made in the U.S.S.R. where Ms. Orlova was something of a cultural icon.
Besides Circus, the offerings include Moscow Laughs (1934), The Shining Path (1940), Volga Volga (1938) and Spring (1947). I was fortunate to watch several of the films with friends who speak Russian and their explanation of each one’s cultural context certainly served to enhance my appreciation of the stories.
Circus opens in the United States with a harrowing chase scene in which a popular circus performer named Marion Dixon (Orlova) is literally being run out of town on a rail with a baby (Jim Patterson) in her arms by a bloodthirsty lynch mob. Why? Because she’s white, and the father of her child is black.
With chants of “nigger lover” filling the air, she barely escapes with her life by jumping on a moving train. Forced to flee from her own country alone, the disgraced single-mom ultimately finds political asylum in Moscow where she is able to resume working as The Human Bullet, a vaudeville act in which she sings, dances before the big finale during which she is shot out of a cannon into a trapeze net.
In the Soviet Union, Marion is managed by Von Kneishitz (N. Massalasky), a racist foreigner whose mind is unfortunately already infected by Hitler’s sick notions of white supremacy. But when she rebuffs his romantic advances in favor of Ivan (Sergei Stolyarov), a younger, more handsome and more open-minded local lad, the jilted German decides to ruin her career by embarrassing her in a very public fashion.
Von interrupts the circus in the middle of Marion’s performance to announce to the crowd that she “was the mistress of a Negro and gave birth to a black child,” whereupon he produces the toddler as proof. But while blacks and whites mating might have been both taboo and illegal in the U.S. and Deutschland back in the Thirties, the bigoted buffoon gets the surprise of his life when he is booed out of the arena by the entire audience which responds with catcalls like, “So what!” and “What’s the tragedy?”
Meanwhile, the women in attendance take turns singing a lullaby to Marion’s frightened baby whose tears are soon replaced by a big smile. To drive home the movie’s salient message, a proud Russian patriot proceeds to explains to the Nazi in no uncertain terms that, “In our country, we absolutely love kids. You may have a kid of any color here: a black kid, a white kid, a red kid, or even a kid striped like a zebra, or polka-dotted. Whatever’s your pleasure!”
A touching tale of tolerance that doesn’t deserve to be dismissed as propaganda but rather elevated as a refreshing and more-enlightened alternative to the racist depictions of blacks that Hollywood was cranking out at the same time.

Excellent (4 stars)
In Russian and English with subtitles.
Running time: 94 minutes
Distributor: The Film Society of Lincoln Center

A Wink and a Smile

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Revealing Documentary Chronicles Semester at Striptease School in Seattle

On the few occasions I’ve been to strip clubs to attend bachelor’s parties, I’ve always left depressed over how unappetizing the dancers were. Invariably, they’ve struck me as godawful actresses rather than the nymphomaniacs they pretended to be in order to separate me from my money as fast as possible. Furthermore, I could see right through their lame acts to the sad truth that many of these desperate drug addicts needed to sleep with customers to support their habits. Not my fantasy.
Those hardened whores cut a sharp contrast to the relatively-refreshing females to be found in A Wink and a Smile. Directed by Deirdre Timmons, this revealing documentary follows ten students as they learn the art of striptease over the course of a semester at Seattle’s Academy of Burlesque. Who knew there was even a school for this?
What makes this film fascinating is that the class is comprised of ordinary-looking, attractive women if you know what I mean, appealing but not the airbrushed models you would expect to find in Playboy. Most of these girl-next-door types are in their twenties and come from all walks of life, including a housewife, a college student, an opera singer, a physician and a taxidermist.
So, anyone watching A Wink and a Smile would naturally want to know, what makes the stars of the movie interested in exposing themselves. Director Timmons does an outstanding job at allowing each to explain both her motivations and her reservations in this regard, as they get closer to graduation. Surprisingly, their reasons turn out to be as diverse as their professions.
Casey explains that she’s not orgasmic and needs to feel luscious and voluptuous. Meanwhile, Tami is at the other extreme, recounting how prepubescent sexual awakenings had her running around the house naked as a child. Vicky says she signed up for the training because she doesn’t want to be ordinary anymore, while well-preserved, fifty year-old Diane endeavors to feel more desirable.
One of their teachers, The Shanghai Pearl, who comes from a traditional Taiwanese family, got her start out of a determination to try something out of her comfort zone. She admits that her parents would be shocked and appalled at her lewd and lascivious antics onstage, but she seems intent on evening the score for their years of pressuring her “to assimilate and be white.”
Besides the deep psychological analysis, the film does feature a lot of instruction about stripping, showing the girls learning everything from how to dance dirty (“Make believe you’re trying to draw on the ground with a pen stuck in your crotch.”) to what to do if a pasty falls off (“Never break the illusion.”). These students prove to be quick, if occasionally hesitant, learners of the bump and grind. The film culminates with their final exam which involves performing a carefully choreographed routine at a local burlesque house in front of a very appreciative audience.
Hurray to these lovely ladies for summoning up the courage to serve up an evening’s worth of genuinely erotic, yet somehow simultaneously wholesome, adult entertainment. But enough is enough. I just pray none of them are tempted to quit their day jobs.

Excellent (4 stars)
Running time: 90 minutes
Studio: First Run Features

Monday, April 27, 2009

Will.i.Am: The X-Men Origins: Wolverine Interview

with Kam Williams

Headline: Will Expounds on Everything from X:Men to “Yes We Can”

William James Adams, aka Will.i.Am, was born on March 15, 1975 in the City of Los Angeles where he attended the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising. But by the time he got around to launching his own clothing line (“”) in 2005, the talented Renaissance man had already found fame as front man for Black Eyed Peas, the multiple Grammy-winning hip-hop group with hits like “Let’s Get It Started” and “My Humps.”
A versatile musician, Will not only plays various keyboards, the bass and drums, but also sings and raps as well. Besides Black Eyed Peas, he’s produced several successful solo projects, plus he has collaborated with a number of other artists, including Sergio Mendes, Usher and Flo Rida.
Perhaps his most important cultural contribution came during the run-up to the presidential election, when he released “Yes We Can,” [], the Emmy-winning song which ostensibly served as the Obama campaign’s unofficial theme song. Will made his first foray into acting last fall when he provided the voice of Moto Moto in the animated feature Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa. Here, he talks about all of the above, and about X-Men Origins: Wolverine where he co-stars opposite Hugh Jackman as John Wraith.

WiA: Hi Kam.
KW: Thanks for the time, Will. By the way, is this you or just a hologram of you?
WiA: No, this is really Will.
KW: I remember when you were interviewed by Anderson Cooper as a hologram on Election Night. []
WiA: Yeah, it’s wild being a hologram back then and now being teleported in X-Men Origins.
KW: I believe that your song “Yes We Can,” played a pivotal role in getting young voters excited about Barack Obama and that it helped him become President of the United States. How do you feel about his first 100 days in office?
WiA: So far, he’s done great! People are enthusiastic about America like they haven’t been in a very long time. He’s passed the Stimulus Bill… the Stem Cell Research Bill… he’s closed Guantanamo Bay. Base on that, this dude has overachieved already. It’s really too early to be judging him, but I’m super thrilled that he won, and I think he’s doing a phenomenal job so far. The people judging him now are the doubters who think there’s a possibility that he’s going to fail. We can’t afford that. It’s all psychological. If he fails, that means we’ve failed, too, to since he’s in the White House because of us. If we’re going to judge him now, then we have to judge ourselves also, and ask, what have we done since his inauguration?
KW: Attorney Bernadette Beekman asks what inspired you to write “Yes We Can?”
WiA: My passion. I was inspired by his speech, and by all the invisible freedom fighters from the past who you never read about in school.
KW: Did you think it would help Obama become president?
WiA: No, I wrote it basically so teachers could teach his speech in school. I wasn’t thinking, “I’m going to write this song to make Obama our president.” That’s not logical. I was thinking, “I’m going to write this song so we would have a politician’s words being taught in schools.” That was something I could do that would have an immediate effect.
KW: That’s brilliant, Will!
WiA: Thank you. That was the real reason I did it, although there was the possibility that this dude could become our president once he was already being taught to the kids.
KW: As for X-Men, what a spectacular screen debut you’re getting to make by being a part of such a popular film franchise.
WiA: Yeah, it’s more than spectacular. It’s unbelievable, and kind of crazy, if you ask me.
KW: Did you base your approach to playing John Wraith on anybody?
WiA: I modeled him after my cousin, Earl. He used to be a very, very bad, bad man. He’s done some bad, bad things, but he’s also a very approachable, likable, huggable kind of guy. He has some bad friends who’ve done bad things, too, but he has a conscience.
KW: How would you describe your character’s relationship to Logan, aka Wolverine?
WiA: He and Wolverine are close buddies. They go off into the world, and mess up things, but he has a heart, and knows when enough is enough.
KW: What was working with director Gavin Hood like?
WiA: Working with him was incredible. First of all, I love his movies. He’s very talented and very endearing as far as making you feel comfortable about tapping into all the emotions you need to deliver. He pulls the best out of you, and that’s awesome.
KW: And how was it acting opposite Hugh Jackman?
WiA: Hugh Jackman is the nicest guy on Earth. I was like, “Dang, dude,” he was so super nice.
KW: Are you planning to make more movies?
WiA: I would love not only to do more work as an actor, but to write and direct.
KW: You’re an incredibly accomplished Renaissance man who has made a mark in a number of fields. But you started out in fashion. Is it still your first love?
WiA: Yeah, I love fashion. It is my love.
KW: I know you were born in Los Angeles, but where are your parents from?
WiA: My folks are from Mississippi.
KW: “Realtor to the Stars” Jimmy Bayan wants to know, where in L.A. do you live now?
WiA: [Sings to the tune of Hollywood Swinging] Hollywooooooooooood!!!!!
KW: Is there any question no one ever asks you, that you wish someone would?
WiA: It’s more the opposite. I’ve been asked a lot of questions I wish people wouldn’t.
KW: The Tasha Smith question: Are you ever afraid?
WiA: Afraid about what?
KW: The Columbus Short question: Are you happy?
WiA: I’m happy every day of my life.
KW: The Teri Emerson question: When was the last time you had a good belly laugh?
WiA: Last night.
KW: The bookworm Troy Johnson question: What was the last book you read?
WiA: Can I be honest.
KW: Of course.
WiA: I’ve never really read a book.
KW: Why not?
WiA: I can read pretty well, but my attention span is really short. When I read, the first paragraph is great, the second is great, but by about the third paragraph or so, I’m just reading the words and it’s no longer sinking into my mind.
KW: What has been the biggest obstacle you have had to overcome?
WiA: I’m going through that right now.
KW: The Rudy Lewis question: Who’s at the top of your hero list?
WiA: I have many heroes. When it comes to molding my character, my grandma, Sarah Cain, is my biggest hero. We call her Nanny. And my mom, Debra, of course, too. But aside from my family, my biggest hero is Quincy Jones, by far.
KW: A big fan of yours, Marcia Evans, loves those CDs you made with Sergio Mendes. [] She wants to know, how you liked working in Brazil.
WiA: I loved working there. Brazil is one of my favorite places on the planet.
KW: Marcia was also wondering what you think of the Brazilian culture.
WiA: I love the culture because black people in Brazil are Brazilian, whereas in America, black people are black. The Brazilians have graduated and have accepted pigment, so they all just celebrate Brazilian-ness. I’m not saying we need to abandon our origins, but Brazilians are from Africa, too. America is almost there. Most of us don’t know what part of Africa we’re from anyway.
KW: I recently read a book by a sister who went back to Africa to find her roots and came back feeling more American than African.
WiA: Interesting. Brazil has faced the same issues we have, but the difference is that they were conquered by the Portuguese. Sergio Mendes taught me a whole lot about African culture and how we’ve evolved from slavery. He pointed out that the Portuguese didn’t strip their slaves of their culture, so the Brazilian people were able to grow together as a nation, avoiding what America is suffering from.
KW: What advice do you have for anyone who wants to follow in your footsteps, like my son who is majoring in music in college?
WiA: I would say just to continue to make music and to share it on the internet. That’s the future, in just making it and sharing it.
KW: Thanks again for the interview Will, and best of luck with all your endeavors.
WiA: Thank you so much, dude.

Sunday, April 26, 2009


Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Temp Stalks Happily-Married Boss in Harrowing Psychological Thriller

Derek Charles (Idris Elba) is on top of the world, having recently been promoted to Executive Vice President at Gage Bendix, a leading, Los Angeles investment house. Furthermore, the coveted asset manager, who couldn’t be more in love with his beautiful wife, Sharon (Beyonce’), and adorable young son, Kyle (Nathan and Nicolas Myers), has just purchased a sprawling, suburban McMansion for his picture-perfect family.
However, Derek has no idea that their American Dream is about to morph into a never-ending nightmare the fateful morning he crosses paths with Lisa Sheridan (Ali Larter), an attractive stranger who flirts with him on the elevator on his way to work. They exit together on his floor where, to his surprise, he soon discovers that she has already been assigned by her temp agency to fill-in for his secretary, Patrick (Matthew Humphreys), who’s out with the flu.
Derek knows that this arrangement won’t sit well with Sharon, since he’s promised her he’d never hire another female assistant because their love had blossomed out of an office romance. Yet, against his better judgment, he not only lets Lisa stay for the rest of the day but even allows her to remain with the firm indefinitely after Patrick returns from sick leave.
Meanwhile, Lisa’s inappropriate behavior gradually escalates from crying on Derek’s shoulder over martinis to cornering him for a kiss under the mistletoe at the company Christmas Party to following him into the men’s room to trying to seduce him in the parking garage and more. Inexplicably, Derek proves to be either too polite, too flattered or too dense (or maybe a combination of all of the above) to fire Lisa on the spot. Instead, he recklessly risks both his career and his marriage by failing to mention to his wife or his boss (Bruce McGill) that he’s being stalked by a delusional employee who craves his body.
Superficially, the plotline of Obsessed reads like a thinly-veiled remake of Fatal Attraction, as it features so many similarities to that classic thriller that the original’s scriptwriter, James Dearden, deserves to share a credit for the screenplay. Whether it’s the suicidal sexpot, the kidnapping of Derek’s son, his fed-up wife’s being forced to take the law into her own hands, or the femme fatale having nine lives in the climactic finale, the story often looks like a line-by-line rip-off.
Nonetheless, that being said, the three principal cast members throw themselves into their respective roles with such gusto that they manage to generate a palpable tension which makes this B-version feel genuinely fresh and exciting. Idris Elba rises to the challenge of playing his clueless character convincingly, while Beyonce’ is just as good as the doubting spouse with serious trust issues. But it is Ali Larter as home wrecking Lisa who steals the movie by serving up a scary screen monster so despicable you’ll be cheering with relief by the time she finally gets her comeuppance.
A cautionary reminder that Hell still hath no fury like a woman scorned, especially when she’s a crazy, two-faced psycho.

Very Good (3 stars)
Rated PG-13 for sexuality, violence, suggestive dialogue and mature themes.
Running time: 105 minutes
Studio: Screen Gems

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Stranded DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Documentary on DVD Recounts Crash Survivors’ Cannibalism

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

Excellent (4 stars)
In Spanish and English with subtitles.
Running time: 126 minutes
Studio: Zeitgeist Films
DVD Extras: “The Making of Stranded,” a 52-minute featurette with behind-the-scenes footage of the cast and crew, and additional interviews with the Andes crash survivors, director's statement and a note on Academy Award-nominated cinematographer César Charlone, plus the U.S. theatrical trailer

Treeless Mountain (KOREAN)

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Korean Kids Fend for Themselves in Dysfunctional Family Drama

Bin (Hee-yeon Kim) is really taken aback the fateful day her mother (Soo-ah Lee) yanks her out of school early to send her and her little sister (Song-hee Kim) to live with their alcoholic aunt (Mi-Hyang Kim). Although she’s only six years-old, the precocious kid has sense enough to protest.
But children that age don’t have final say over their affairs, so they can only listen helplessly to their irresponsible mom’s instructions to be good while she’s away, for which they will be rewarded by their auntie’s placing a coin in a piggy bank whenever they behave. On her way out the door, the mother promises to return by the time the bank is filled, before disappearing forever, supposedly in search of her daughters’ deadbeat dad.
As a result, by the time the piggy overflows, there’s still no sign of mom,
and even abusive auntie has had just about enough of her nieces and the entire charade. So, she dumps the burdensome tykes on the doorstep of their grandmother’s (Boon-tak Park) farm in the country, but that rural arrangement ultimately doesn’t work out either.
Thus unfolds Treeless Mountain, a surprisingly-mellow meditation on what would ordinarily be a frightening ordeal. Sensitively shot from the perspective of these tiny victims of child neglect, this engaging tale spans the course of a tough summer during which the spunky sisters overcome a host of challenges with practically-perfect aplomb.
Unless you believe that such Little Rascals-like scenarios sans adult supervision are plausible, on some level you know that kids this size couldn’t really successfully fend for themselves on their own. Yet, the picture does feel authentic, probably because the adventure is semi-autobiographical in nature, ostensibly being based on the unfortunate childhood of its writer/director So-yong Kim.
The movie marks the sophomore offering from Ms. Kim (In Between Days), who was born in South Korea, but grew up in L.A. Perhaps being raised near Hollywood explains what enabled her to transform Seoul into a magical land of make believe where a couple of cute orphans might manage to survive by their wits.
A surrealistic charmer blessed with some breathtaking cinematography.

Very Good (3 stars)
In Korean with subtitles.
Running time: 89 minutes
Studio: Oscilloscope Pictures

Lemon Tree (ISRAELI)

(Etz Limon)
Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Palestinian and Jews Settle Differences in Court in Middle East Drama

When you think of the Middle East, probably the last thing that comes to mind is anybody settling their differences in a civilized manner. But that is exactly what we find in Lemon Tree, a gripping drama based on a real-life incident which revolved around a standoff between a Palestinian widow (Hiam Abbass) and the Israeli Minister of Defense (Doron Tavory).
With her children grown, Salma Zidane had been quietly minding her own B.I. business on a modest estate she inherited from her father, tending to the lemon grove located on the property with the help of an elderly caretaker (Tarik Copty). But because the land lay along the border between Israel and the West Bank, everything changed the day that Mr. Navon and his family moved into the newly-built McMansion right next-door.
The problem was that the Israel equivalent of the Secret Service was charged with the unenviable task of protecting the Minister from terrorists. And the first thing they noticed in reconnoitering the perimeter was the cluster of 300 trees directly across from the house which posed a security risk since it could easily provide cover for an assassination attack.
When they inform Salma of their plans to flatten the field, she urgently summons her son (Loai Nofi) back from America where he has been working as a busboy in a restaurant in the nation’s Capital. But the pissed-off Palestinian doesn’t ask Nasser to strap on a vest of plastic explosives and blow himself up on a bus filled with Jews, but to return home to help her fight the arbitrary order in court.
She also retained his services of a handsome, young attorney (Ali Suliman) who just happens to be recently divorced. And while the lonely lawyer is trying to focus on getting an injunction and preparing for a tough trial, it’s no surprise that his head might be turn by the well-preserved cougar who hired him.
Still, the point of the picture is to highlight the legal case which the secret lovebirds appeal all the way up to the Supreme Court, despite the overwhelming odds in the favor of the Israeli military. However, a pivotal player proves to be the Defense Minister’s wife, Mira (Rona Lipaz-Michael), whose compassion helps lead to an 11th hour compromise that would warm the heart of Solomon.
If only every Arab-Israeli conflicts could resolved with Biblical wisdom rather than with bombs and bullets!

Excellent (3.5 stars)
In Hebrew, Arabic, French and English with subtitles.
Running time: 106 minutes
Studio: IFC Films

Wednesday, April 22, 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 May 1, 2009


Battle for Terra (PG for violence and mature themes) Animated sci-fi adventure about the peaceful inhabitants of a distant planet who face annihilation when desperate human invaders declare war in the wake of the destruction of Earth. Voice cast includes Evan Rachel Wood, Luke Wilson, Amanda Peet, Dennis Quaid, Danny Glover, Rosanna Arquette, James Garner and Chris Evans.

Ghosts of Girlfriends Past (PG-13 for profanity, sexuality and drug use) Romantic comedy about a confirmed bachelor (Matthew McConaughey) who finds himself confronted by the disembodied spirits of the women he’s seduced and abandoned on the eve of his brother’s (Breckin Meyer) wedding. Cast includes Jennifer Garner, Michael Douglas, Lacy Chabert, Robert Forster, Emma Stone and Anne Archer.

X-Men Origins: Wolverine (PG-13 for intense violence and partial nudity) Latest installment in the Marvel Comics franchise focuses on Wolverine’s (Hugh Jackman) search for Sabertooth (Live Schreiber) in order to exact a measure of revenge for the death of his girlfriend, Silver Fox (Lynn Collins). With Will i. Am, Ryan Reynolds and Danny Huston.


Eldorado (Unrated) Unlikely-buddy comedy about a Belgian auto dealer (Bouli Lanners) who befriends the young burglar (Fabrice Edde) he catches in the act of robbing his house. (In French with subtitles)

Home (PG-13 for disturbing images) Female empowerment flick, set in the Sixties, about a breast cancer survivor (Marcia Gay Harden) stuck in a bad marriage to an emotionally-unsupportive jerk (Michael Gaston) who makes the most of a bonding opportunity with her 8 year-old daughter (Eulala Scheel) during a life-transforming road trip the two take together over the summer.

Ice People (Unrated) South Pole documentary, directed by Anne Aghion, chronicling four months of the day-to-day lives of explorers who have dedicated their careers to the scientific study of climate-change in Antarctica’s extremely challenging environment.

The Limits of Control (R for profanity and graphic nudity) Jim Jarmusch directs this surrealistic crime thriller about a mysterious loner (Isaach De Bankolé) with trust issues making his way across Spain to pull off a job. Cast includes Jarmusch veterans Bill Murray, Tilda Swinton, Alex Descas, John Hurt and Youki Kudoh, along with Gael García Bernal and Paz De La Huerta.

The Merry Gentleman (R for profanity and violence) Michael Keaton makes his directorial debut and handles the title role in this romance drama about a young woman (Kelly MacDonald) who flees to Chicago to escape an abusive marriage only to become involved with a suicidal hit man (Keaton) on the run from the law. With Bobby Cannavale, Darlene Hunt and Tom Bastounes.

Revanche (Unrated) Crime saga, set in Austria, revolving around an ex-con (Johannes Krisch) determined to avenge the shooting of his prostitute girlfriend (Irina Potapenko) by a cop (Andreas Lust) during a bank robbery. (In Russian and German with subtitles)

The Skeptic (Unrated) Horror flick about a cynical lawyer (Tim Daly) who finds a big surprise when he moves into his recently-deceased aunt’s (Sara Weaver) house which is rumored to be haunted. With Zoe Saldana, Tom Arnold and Edward Herrmann.

Three Monkeys (Unrated) Stuck in denial drama about a family of four who would rather play deaf, dumb and blind than confront the serious problems that are splitting them apart. Ensemble includes Yavuz Bingol, Hatice Aslan, Rifat Sungar and Cafer Kose. (In Turkish with subtitles)

A Wink and a Smile (Unrated) Ecdysiast documentary about ten ordinary women from different walks of life (including a doctor, a housewife, an opera singer and a college student) who take a six-week course in striptease at Seattle’s Academy of Burlesque before trying their hand, I mean feet, at exotic dancing onstage.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Family Properties: Race, Real Estate, and the Exploitation of Black Urban America

by Beryl Satter
Metropolitan Books
Hardcover, $30.00
510 pages, Illustrated
ISBN: 978-0-8050-7676-9

Book Review by Kam Williams

“Despite fair housing laws, prospective black home buyers are still ‘steered’ away from white neighborhoods. Low-income African-Americans in segregated neighborhoods remain subject to what Contract Buyers League attorneys called a ‘race tax’ and what my father referred to as the ‘million dollars a day cost of being black.’ As one recent study demonstrates, this ‘ghetto tax’ means that the urban poor pay considerably more for goods and services ranging from food to auto insurance.
The most striking evidence of the ongoing need to fight exploitative credit practices is the recent tidal wave of predatory lending known as the sub-prime mortgage crisis… ‘Ghetto-lending practices of the 1960s have metastasized… We are all in the ghetto now.””

  • Excerpted from the Conclusion (pages 372-374)

On April 3, 1964, in one of his most famous speeches, “The Ballot or the Bullet,” Malcolm X said African-Americans didn’t end up stuck and suffering in the nation’s ghettos by accident, but because of a government conspiracy to “deprive you of your economic opportunities, deprive you of decent housing, deprive you of decent education.” The late civil rights leader went on to conclude that the government was “responsible for the oppression and exploitation and degradation of black people in this country.”
45 years later, we now have a book chock full of evidence confirming many of Malcolm’s allegations, especially in terms of the real estate concerns. Family Properties: Race, Real Estate, and the Exploitation of Black Urban America was written by Beryl Satter, the daughter of a liberal Jewish lawyer who had dedicated his career to representing poor black folks being ripped off by a rigged housing market which favored whites while discriminating against blacks.
The basic problem was that the Federal Housing Administration (FHA), from its creation in 1934, had a policy of refusing to insure mortgages in any African-American or integrated communities. Consequently, aspiring black homebuyers were routinely denied mortgage assistance and ended up dependent on unscrupulous lenders who resorted to a host of predatory practices knowing that the government wasn’t doing business with African-American customers.
Encyclopedic in scope, but narrowly-focused on the City of Chicago where her father had his law office until his untimely death at the age of only 49, Family Properties exposes as lies the conventional wisdom which would blame black folks for their inability to escape the ghetto and all of its pathology. Instead, here we have proof positive that the slums were created and maintained by design by a racist federal government.
A brilliant expose’ belatedly uncovering the ugly underbelly of another shameful, color-coded chapter of American history.

Nursery University

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Head Start Documentary Proves It’s Never Too Early to Start Planning for College

If you think the competition is fierce to gain entrance to the country’s elite colleges, then you oughta get a load of the cutthroat tactics employed by parents of toddlers to get their little monsters into the country’s exclusive pre-schools. That’s right, pre-schools.
Nursery University, directed by Marc Simon and co-directed by Matthew Makar, follows four couples and a sixty-something single-mother of twins as they endeavor to get their tykes admitted to one of New York City’s top preschools where tuition can be as high as $40,000 a year, matching the cost of an Ivy League education. Why so expensive? $40,000 may seem like a lot to pay so your kid can have the privilege of finger-painting around other privileged tykes, until you realize that these nurseries are now seen as feeder schools for the Ivies.
Furthermore, the alternative is clearly unacceptable in the minds of the members of this stuffy set. Typical of their attitude were the words of a well-heeled white woman who looks like she has never set foot in the ‘hood who, without a shred of shame, whines, “We’re not going to have him go to a public school in Harlem” when speaking about her precious, 3 year-old.
There are about 15 applicants for every available spot, and as one proud papa puts it, “Pre-school is the first step into getting your child into the college of your choice.” The tension mounts during the family interviews when the directors, principals, teachers and administrators size up each candidate to determine whether he or she exhibits sufficient promise to cut the mustard in their program.
The parents’ anxiety levels peak in anticipation of March 6th, the day on which all the pre-schools simultaneously send out their acceptance and rejection letters. And just as with the college process, you don’t want to get any thin envelopes in the mail.
Still, there’s something a little disgusting about pitting toddlers versus other toddlers academically, even if they’re too young to understand what the fuss is all about. What’s next, an SAT test for newborns? A riveting expose’ of what looks an awful lot like child abuse in the name of quality education.

Excellent (4 stars)
Running time: 90 minutes
Studio: Variance Films

Oblivion (PERU)

(El Ovido)
Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Peruvian Panhandlers Find 15 Minutes of Fame in Offbeat Documentary

Remember what New York was like before Mayor Giuliani cleaned up the streets? Driving into the city back in the pre-Rudy days, I would invariably be besieged by beggars offering to wash the windows of my car, and on the return trip in the evenings my car would often be approached by topless prostitutes everyone referred to as tunnel bunnies. And in between, during the day, I would encounter all manner of panhandlers hustling in a variety of ways just to survive.
Anybody nostalgic for that sort of scary, local color might like to check out Oblivion, a picture directed by Heddy Honigmann about the bleak environs to be found around her beloved hometown of Lima, Peru. The film plays like a Spanish language version of American Idol on the first two days of a new season, when the show focuses mostly on pathetic also-rans who don’t stand a chance like William Hung.
Here, we have a smorgasbord of the world’s worst performers attempting to do everything from breakdancing to juggling to gymnastics to singing while scraping an afro-pick on the side of a tin can to balancing balls on their noses like seals to flag-waving, which I never knew was a form of entertainment. I am not making this up.
Besides these wannabe stars of tomorrow, the picture focuses on folks resigned to their miserable lot in life, such as 14 year-old Henry, an undeucated shoeshine boy with no education who when prompted by Ms. Honigmann admits that he has no dreams, and no nice memories. I think what the director is going for in this scene is a class-conscious contrast of the rich and poor, for sitting right next to Henry are some decadent, rich kids equipped with modern technology we take for granted like cell phones and iPods.
Slumming, South American-style.

Very Good (3 stars)
In Spanish with subtitles.
Running time: 93 minutes
Studio: Icarus Films

Monday, April 20, 2009

Jamie Foxx: “The Soloist” Interview

with Kam Williams

Headline: Kam Goes Solo with Jamie

Texas native Jamie Foxx was born Eric Marlon Bishop on December 13, 1967 and raised by his grandparents from the age of seven months following the failure of his parents’ marriage. Although he was a star athlete at Terrell High on both the school’s football and basketball teams, he majored in classical music and composition in at the U.S. International University in California.
The versatile actor/comedian/singer/musician/writer/producer/director got his start in showbiz in 1989 when he went on stage on a dare on open mic night and tried his hand at standup. After spending time on the comedy circuit, he joined Keenan Ivory Wayans, Jim Carrey, Damon Wayans and Tommy Davidson in the landmark Fox sketch comedy series "In Living Color," creating some of the show's funniest and most memorable moments.
In 1996, he launched his own series, "The Jamie Foxx Show," which was one of the top-rated programs on the WB Network during its five-year run. Jamie not only starred on the series but also was the co-creator and executive producer, and directed several episodes.
He made his big screen in Toys in 1992, followed by appearances in Booty Call and The Players Club. He received critical acclaim for his riveting work and in Any Given Sunday and as Bundini Brown in Ali, breakout roles which inexorably led to 2004, the Year of the Foxx, when he delivered a trio of powerful performances in Ray, Collateral and Redemption.
He won an Academy Award for his portrayal of the legendary Ray Charlesas well as the Golden Globe, Screen Actors Guild (SAG), BAFTA and NAACP Image Awards. Jamie simultaneously garnered Oscar, Golden Globe, SAG Award, BAFTA Award, and Image Award nominations in the category of Best Supporting Actor for his work in Collateral. And he landed Golden Globe and SAG Award nominations and won an Image Award for his portrayal of condemned gang member-turned-Nobel Peace Prize nominee Stan "Tookie" Williams in Redemption. That amazing feat marked the first time that a single actor has received three Golden Globe nominations and four SAG Award nominations in the same year.
Foxx has since appeared in Dreamgirls, Miami Vice, Jarhead and The Kingdom, and will next star in the drama Law Abiding Citizen directed by F. Gary Gray. Besides his outstanding work in front of the camera, Jamie has also achieved a thriving career in music. His eagerly-anticipated J Records debut, "Unpredictable," was nominated for eight Billboard Music Awards, three Grammy Awards, one Soul Train Music Award and two American Music Awards, for which he won Favorite Male Artist. And his second album, "Intuition," was just released last December to rave reviews.
Here, he talks about his new movie, The Soloist, a true story in which he plays Nathaniel Ayers, a Juilliard-trained child prodigy, who ended up homeless after developing schizophrenia. In the film, Ayers is befriended by Steve Lopez (Robert Downey, Jr.), an L.A. Times reporter who hears him playing the violin in the park.

KW: Jamie, I loved The Soloist and I’m so honored to get this time with you.
JF: Thank you, bro.
KW: My first question is, did you get to meet Nathaniel Ayers on the streets in preparing to portray him?
JF: Yes I did. As a matter of fact, I snuck downtown with a little bit of a disguise and a security cat, and I just hung out right next to Nathaniel. He had no idea that I was watching him. I got a chance to see him speak to the world, and get excited, and be happy, and sad, and play his music. And I saw him preach. Watching that I was able to gather a lot of great information about who this guy was that I was about to play, without hearing anybody’s opinion of him, but just from my firsthand look at him. Later, I was formally introduced to him, and he was on his best behavior. He smiled because he gets it that they were going to do a movie about his life. And then you see him not get it, and wondering, “What’s going n here?” And then he’d swing back around and get it again. So, it was very interesting. And while all that was happening, I had a video camera on my phone that I used to record him the whole time. So, I came home, watched that footage, the footage I filmed when he wasn’t watching, and the footage I filmed when he was aware.
KW: How did you prepare for the role after that?
JF: It was a matter of putting him together. Losing the weight… getting the hair right… getting the makeup right… and going to that place that I have feared going to for a long time, that is, losing your mind.
KW: What made you afraid of that?
JF: As a child I always feared losing my mind. There was a guy in my neighborhood who always walked up and down the street talking to himself. I won’t say his name, but I would always go, “Ooh, that’s scary.” And then, when I was 18, I had a horrible experience when somebody slipped something into my drink. It was a college prank that really went bad, and I hallucinated for 11 months. The doctors said that sometimes people go and they never come back. I was lucky enough to get back, but the way I recovered was by playing music all the time, because I was in a music school. Isn’t it interesting that Nathaniel Anthony Ayers had a similar situation?
KW: Very.
JF: So, at one point while preparing for this movie I woke my manager at like three in the morning, saying, “I got it, I’m him, I know exactly what’s going on. Nathaniel says this, that and the other, because he feels this way and that way. I used to do the same thing when I was in college. I played music, and the reason we play music is so we can soothe ourselves. I’m him!”
KW: How did your manger respond?
JF: He goes, “Foxx, I’m on way over to your house, because this is a little strange.” And when he gets there, I’m telling him all these different things which to him sounded like I was losing my mind. But to me, it made perfect sense, and that’s who Nathaniel Anthony Ayers is. Everything that he’s doing makes perfect sense to him. That’s why when Steve Lopez says, “You need help,” Nathaniel responds, “No, you don’t get it. This is what it is. This is what makes me feel comfortable. This is not your mind. This is my mind.” So, there were a lot of different parallels going on.
KW: After seeing The Soloist, I spoke to the film’s director, Joe Wright, because I was upset that it hadn’t been released last fall during Oscar season like originally planned. It struck me as a cross of A Beautiful Mind and One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest. But I think you did a better job at conveying the feeling of insanity than either of those other pictures, which were both excellent, too.
JF: Thanks.
KW: Joe told me that you filmed on location on Skid Row and hired a lot of the homeless as extras. What was that like?
JF: It was interesting. I learned to have a different outlook on Skid Row. I arrived with my bravado, being an urban kid from the country, and thinking that there were people there out to get you. There’s gangbanging going on on Skid Row… people selling drugs… people on the come up… So, I went down there with an attitude like, “Yo, I’m going down here, but I’m watching my back.” But I quickly learned that that wasn’t what it was all about. They were mostly people who were really just trying to survive and to hold onto the little bit of human dignity they had left. I met actors down there, lawyers, and people who had been released too early from mental institutions that had turned their backs on them. People who had been living a couple of paychecks from being homeless, and then something bad happened, they lost everything, and now they don’t know how to get back. I learned a lot of lessons, so when I look at them now, I don’t think of them in the same way that I used to. I have to thank Joe Wright for that.
KW: It reminds me of how when I was watching the State of the Black Union recently, I saw former TV talk show host Iyanla Vanzant talking about recently becoming homeless. And she had been an attorney and a best-selling author.
JF: Yeah, it blows your mind, man, because you never know where you might be. That was another thing I said to my manager that night, “And this is what’s going to happen: I’m going to lose all my money. I’m going to lose this house, and I’m going to end up homeless.” And to me, it really felt like that could happen. And sometimes, in those situations, it really can.
KW: When you mentioned videotaping Nathaniel, it reminded me of a video I saw of you on the internet at the presidential inauguration where you were using your phone to tape a student from the Naval Academy, Chidiebere Kalu, singing acappella in his dress uniform. []
He actually happens to be a friend of my son, who’s producing some tracks with him. Were you really impressed with Kalu?
JF: Yes, he just text-messaged me. I let him know to have some patience. I’m trying to get it all together, so when I come to him it’s real legit. [Jamie starts singing the same song Kalu sings on youtube]. Whatever that song was, I called him on his answering machine, and said, “Young man, I’ve got some great ideas for you, I’m just trying to put it all together.” I think we could really do something special with him. When I listened to his music, I just didn’t think that was the way he should go. I think that he could stay clean. He could be a real beacon coming from the military, doing some great inspirational music that would also sell. I don’t want him to feel like he’s corny, because I know he’s got his thing going. But with some of the music I heard, I was like, “That’s cool,” but we need to find the right music for him and then capitalize on where he’s coming from. This video footage I have of him is just amazing!
KW: Is there any question no one has ever asked you, that you wish someone would?
JF: Yes, there’s a question. How come they don’t ask me about how great I play ping-pong?
KW: Okay, how great do you play ping-pong?
JF: I’m bad! I will challenge anybody. Don’t even think about it. Unless you’re left-handed and from China, you don’t have a chance.
KW: The Tasha Smith question: Are you ever afraid?
JF: All the time.
KW: The Columbus Short question: Are you happy?
JF: Yes!
KW: The Teri Emerson question: When was the last time you had a good belly laugh?
JF: Every day, man. [Chuckles] If you hang out with me, you’d see. I hang out with all comedians.
KW: The “Realtor to the Stars” Jimmy Bayan question: Where in L.A. do you live?
JF: I live on a farm outside of L.A., about an hour away. On a 40-acre avocado farm.
KW: Jimmy also wants to know, when did you think that an Oscar was attainable? When you left Texas? When you were on In Living Color?
JF: When we attained it.
KW: The bookworm Troy Johnson question: What was the last book you read?
JF: To be honest, Dr. Seuss’ Green Eggs and Ham. []
KW: The music maven Heather Covington question: What music are you listening to?
JF: Intuition. []
KW: What has been the biggest obstacle you have had to overcome?
JF: Ooh… The biggest obstacle? The mental obstacle of thinking that just because I was African-American that I couldn’t have it all.
KW: The Rudy Lewis question: Who’s at the top of your hero list?
JF: Barack Obama.
KW: The Laz Alonso question: Is there anything your fans can do to help you?
JF: By always telling me if it’s good, bad, or all right.
KW: Reverend Florine Thompson asks, if someone produces is a movie about the life of President Obama would you consider playing him?
JF: [Answers doing an impressive Obama impersonation that sounds just like the President] If there’s any indication, that America is not the most incredible country in the world… [Chuckles] Yes I would.
KW: And the good Reverend had a follow-up, who would you like to see cast in the role of Michelle Obama?
JF: Hmm, who would it be? Halle Berry.
KW: Reverend Thompson also says grandmothers have played an exceptional role in the black experience, and that in your song, "I Wish You Were Here," you pay tribute to and share about your grandmother. She asks what role did your grandmother play in your life and how did she influence your spirituality?
JF: She gave me everything. She gave me the tools to be who I am, from music to athletics to knowing how to be a gentleman. She did it all.
KW: Attorney Bernadette Beekman wants to know whether you still get royalties from Booty Call?
JF: [LOL] Yes, but they’re very small checks.
KW: Marianne Ilaw was wondering whether you would consider recording an old school R&B album updating hits from the Seventies.
JF: [Pauses to think about it] Umm…. No.
KW: Keith Kremer asks if you’re Ugly Girl character from In Living Color going to make a cameo appearance in one of your future movies?
JF: Yes.
KW: Finally, aspiring scriptwriter Chris Carden says he’s got a great screenplay he wants you to read.
JF: That’s okay.
KW: Well, thanks again for a great interview, Jamie and good luck with the film.
JF: Thanks, bro.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

State of Play

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Crowe and Mirren Co-Star in Action-Oriented, Political Potboiler

Since Barack Obama has decided to take the high road by not holding any members of the outgoing Bush administration accountable for war profiteering via no-bid contracts, for torturing terror suspects in violation of the Geneva Conventions, for outing a CIA agent or for other high crimes and misdemeanors, shouldn’t Hollywood be prepared to forgive all those transgressions, too? This is the question likely to cross your mind while watching State of Play, a flick with a fairly transparent, political agenda posing as an edge-of-your-seat thriller. The movie is basically a thinly-veiled indictment of elected officials who put their services up for sale to the lobbyists offering the biggest bribes.
At first blush, the plot sounds like a rehash of the Chandra Levy affair, the case of the intern murdered while she happened to be the mistress of married, Democratic Congressman Gary Condit. For here, we have Congressman Stephen Collins (Ben Affleck) who has been secretly carrying on a clandestine affair with a young assistant named Sonia Baker (Maria Thayer).
The film unfolds in spectacular fashion with a couple of slayings on the streets of the Capital by a cold-blooded assassin (Michael Berresse) wielding a pistol outfitted with a silencer. Right on the heels of these killings, Sonia dies in the subway under mysterious circumstances which the coroner rules a suicide in a suspicious rush to judgment.
For some reason, a Washington Post-like newspaper called the Globe takes more of an interest in solving the whodunit than the police, and they certainly seem to have better sources and more resources at their disposal, which makes no sense. Anyhow, editor-in-chief Cameron Lynne assigns seasoned veteran Cal McAffrey and cub reporter Della Frye (Rachel McAdams) to head the investigation.
What naïve Della doesn’t know is that her partner was Congressman Collins’ roommate in college. What’s more, the two are still best friends, and Cal might be double-crossing his buddy by sleeping with his estranged wife, Anne (Robin Wright Penn). A big hint being in this regard arrives when Cal ruefully “Sex is the best way to ruin a friendship.” Well, at the very least, she’s been crying on his shoulder.
When Stephen is forced to own up to the illicit liaison with the late Sonia, he suddenly needs his spouse to “stand by her man” at every available photo-op. Of course, she’s reluctant, since she’s already over him and would rather be spending her free time with Cal.
Cal, however, is hot on the trail of the man he suspects to be behind all three deaths. For the deeper he digs, the rough and tumble reporter uncovers evidence that these were murders for hire to cover-up the connection of a company called Pointcorp’s efforts to get a monopoly on the impending $40 billion privatization of the Homeland Security industry.
If you haven’t noticed by now, a lot gets compacted when you attempt to distill the events contained in a BBC miniseries down to two-hours, which is what we have with State of Play, a conveniently-incestuous screen adaptation which crams in more than you probably care to chew cinematically. That being said, director Kevin MacDonald (The Last King of Scotland) definitely has a flair for the dramatic and a knack for keeping his audience perched on the edge of its collective seat, even if he tends to rely as much on distracting red herrings as on relevant plot developments to achieve that cattle-prod, over-stimulation effect.
As for the cast, Aussie Russell Crowe and Brit Helen Mirren steal the show, with Robin Wright Penn, Rachel McAdams, Harry Lennix, Jason Bateman, Viola Davis and Jeff Daniels turning in some decent support work. Only Ben Affleck hurts the production with another one of his trademark wooden performances which make it impossible to figure out what his character is thinking or feeling.
A heck of a roller coaster ride, even if the rabbit-out-of-the-hat resolution is likely to leave you feeling cheated. Sometimes, getting there is all the fun.

Very Good (3 stars)
Rated PG-13 for violence, profanity, sexual references and brief drug use.
Running time: 127 minutes
Studio: Universal Pictures

17 Again

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Zac Efron Stars in Yet Another Time-Travel Adventure

Hollywood loves nothing more than time-machine comedies. Witness the Back to the Future and Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure franchises. Proving particularly popular are those flicks where through some fluke accident an adult gets a chance to be a child again (ala Big), vice-versa (ala 13 Going on 30), or featuring both themes simultaneously (ala Freaky Friday).
From the title alone, you have a decent idea of what to expect from 17 Again, a silly sitcom about a miserable, middle-aged man who gets a new lease on life when he is miraculously turned back into a teenager after accidentally falling into a river. The lead role of Mike O’Donnell is shared by Matthew Perry (as adult) and Zac Efron (as teen), a couple of actors who don’t really look like each other. This bit of casting might which be by design, because the plot depends on almost no one recognizing Mike after his transformational dunk in the proverbial Fountain of Youth.
At the point of departure, in 1989, our hero is a senior at Hayden High School where he’s the star of the basketball team. But he quits at the height of a big game after his girlfriend informs him that she’s pregnant. Mike does the right thing and marries Scarlet (Leslie Mann) with whom he subsequently has two children. However, this also means he doesn’t go to college and never has much of a career to speak of.
Fast-forward to the present when his wife kicks him out of the house, and he moves in with his childhood friend, Ned (Thomas Lennon), a nerd who has made millions despite his lack of popularity with the ladies. The plot thickens once Mike morphs into a 17 year-old, since he goes back to Hayden High, the same school that his son Alex (Sterling Knight) and daughter Maggie (Michelle Trachtenberg) are presently attending.
This second time around he has a chance to avoid the pregnancy pitfalls he encountered there before. This proves easy since the only girl who makes a pass at him, Maggie, doesn’t know that the new kid in town is her father. Meanwhile, Mike makes the most of the opportunity to come to the assistance of Alex who he finds taped to the toilet by bullies, and Ned starts putting the movie on Principal Hardin (Melora Masterson).
Other than the aforementioned father-daughter sexual tension, there’s nothing particularly novel or memorable about this cliché-ridden variation on a familiar theme. At least it’s well-acted by a game cast which does its best to sell a script riddled with implausible twists and turns.
How many different ways can idea-bereft Tinseltown remake the same movie? It’s déjà vu all over again.

Good (2 stars)
Rated PG-13 for profanity, sexuality and teen partying.
Running time: 102 minutes
Studio: New Line Cinema

The Soloist

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Jamie Foxx Riveting as Homeless Savant in Best Role since Ray

Despite being raised in the ‘hood by a single-mom, child prodigy Nathaniel Ayers (Jamie Foxx) exhibited such promise on the cello that by the time he graduated from high school in 1970 he had earned a scholarship to Juilliard. But unlike other classmates such as Yo-Yo Ma, Nathaniel would never get a chance to realize his full potential, because during his sophomore year he began exhibiting symptoms of the schizophrenia which would derail his dream of a career in classical music.
Soon, he had to drop out of school and return home to Cleveland where he was cared for by his mother until she passed away in 2000. At that juncture, he headed west, prompted by a delusion that his long-lost father resided in Los Angeles. Instead, Nathaniel only ended up on the infamous Skid Row, leading a hand-to-mouth existence in obscurity alongside thousands of the equally destitute and less-fortunate.
There, the only hint of his musical past was revealed when he periodically played the violin in the park while standing beneath a statue of Ludwig Van Beethoven. Nonetheless, Nathaniel generally went unnoticed by passersby until the fateful day, Steve Lopez (Robert Downey, Jr.), a writer for the L.A. Times, was struck by the virtuosity being exhibited by this homeless man on a battered, old instrument with only two strings.
The intrigued reporter introduced himself, and was shocked to hear semi-lucid Nathaniel, during rare moments of clarity, assert that he had once studied at Juilliard. After confirming that rarified pedigree with the school’s administration office in New York, Lopez decided to write a series of feature stories about how someone so talented could end up a street musician begging for tips. However, he gradually found himself crossing the line from dispassionate journalist to friend and benefactor as he became increasingly involved with rehabilitating his subject, not only finding him an apartment, but arranging for violin lessons and mental health treatment as well.
Thus, “Can this lost soul be saved?” is the burning question posed by The Soloist, a bittersweet bio-pic based on Mr. Lopez’s best-seller of the same name. Directed by Joe Wright (Atonement), the film features Jamie Foxx who does a magnificent job in his most challenging outing since Ray. Here, he convincingly conveys the tragic plight of a man still capable of flashes of brilliance who is more often than not betrayed by his own brain. Narrator Robert Downey, Jr. is just as effective playing the would-be Good Samaritan forced by his estranged wife (Catherine Keener) to question his own motivations when his every overture is ostensibly thwarted by the very person he’s hoping to help.
Was Lopez truly altruistic, or just motivated by the potential book and movie deals that Nathaniel’s sensational tale might enable him to land? And was it fair of him to presume to know what was best for a schizophrenic without walking a mile in the man’s moccasins or medulla oblongata? Judge for yourself. There are no easy answers here, so don’t expect a Hollywood ending, even though the picture was shot on location right on Skid Row (and employed hundreds of homeless as extras), virtually in the shadow of Tinseltown.
A compelling cross of a couple of Academy Award-winning Best Pictures, A Beautiful Mind and One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest, capable of holding its own up against those similarly-themed, screen classics.

Excellent (4 stars)
Rated PG-13 for mature themes, drug use and profanity.
Running time: 109 minutes
Studio: Dreamworks Pictures

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Frost/Nixon DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Oscar-Nominated Adaptation of Broadway Play Arrives on DVD

On August 9, 1974, Richard Nixon resigned from the Presidency in disgrace after becoming hopelessly implicated in the Watergate cover-up. He retreated from the public eye for two and one-half years, until he agreed to a series of TV interviews with David Frost with the hope of resurrecting his tarnished image.
Frost, a British talk show host whose own career was floundering, paid the former president $600,000 plus a percentage of the profits for the exclusive opportunity. And that investment proved to be worth the risk, as over 45 million viewers tuned in to watch the eagerly-anticipated tete-a-tete. However, anyone expecting to see Nixon make an admission of guilt was ultimately left disappointed, as he remained rather emphatic in his denial of any knowledge of a cover-up during their uneventful chat.
Nonetheless, the truth didn’t get in the way of this version of the historic showdown which culminates with a confession by Tricky Dick. Despite relying on revisionist history, the movie earned five Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, Director (Ron Howard), Actor (Frank Langella), Script Adaptation (Peter Morgan) and Editing.
The film is heartily recommended provided you aren’t likely to be bothered by the fact that its most compelling moments have been completely fabricated.
One such critical contrivance revolves around a phone call a drunk Nixon (Langella) never really made to Frost (Michael Sheen) in the middle of the night, another around the President’s capitulation and acknowledgement that he had committed a crime.
A belated opportunity for any still-embittered Baby Boomers to feel vindicated and to bask in Nixon’s humiliation.

Very Good (3 stars)
Rated R for profanity.
Running time: 122 minutes
Studio: Universal Pictures
DVD Extras: Deleted scenes, audio commentary by director Ron Howard, and “The Making of” plus two other featurettes.

Friday, April 17, 2009

The Wrestler DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: DVD Features Mickey Rourke’s Oscar-Nominated Performance as Comeback Kid

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 Oscar-nominated performance. 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.
In the film, he plays Randy “The Ram” Robinson, a pro wrestler well past his prime 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.
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.

Excellent (4 stars)
Rated R for violence, nudity, sexuality, profanity and drug use.
Running time: 115 minutes
Studio: Fox Home Entertainment
DVD Extras: “Within the Ring,” a no holds barred one on one with real wrestlers and filmmakers, “The Wrestler” music video performed by Bruce Springsteen, and Fox trailers.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Notorious DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Biggie Smalls Bio-Pic Arrives on DVD

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 openly about their 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 here. 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.
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. A relentlessly-unapologetic immorality play about a bona fide ghetto gangsta’ apt to entertain even Joe Six-Pack.

Excellent (4 stars)
Rated R for nudity, drug use, graphic sexuality, ethnic slurs and pervasive profanity.
Running time: 129 minutes
Studio: Fox Home Entertainment
3-Disc DVD Extras: Widescreen theatrical feature film, unrated director's cut, Wolverine theatrical trailer, Valkyrie, S. Darko, The Wrestler, Seth MacFarlane's Cavalcade of Cartoon Comedy, commentary by director George Tillman, Jr., screenwriters Reggie Rock Bythewood and Cheo Hodari Coker, and editor Dirk Westervelt, commentary by with Biggie’s mom Voletta Wallace, and his manager Wayne Barrow, Behind the Scenes: The Making of Notorious, I Got a Story to Tell: The Lyrics of Biggie Smalls, Notorious Thugs: Casting the Film, Biggie Boot Camp, Anatomy of a B.I.G. Performance, Party & [Expletive] (never before seen footage), The B.I.G. Three-Sixty, Directing the Last Moments, It Happened Right Here, The Petersen Exit, The Shooting, The Impala, The Unfortunate Violent Act, The Window, 9 Deleted Scenes, 4 extended/alternate concerts, trailers from: Secret Life of Bees, Gospel Hill and Slumdog Millionaire, digital copy.

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

House of Sleeping Beauties DVD (GERMAN)

(Das Haus der Schlafenden Schonen)
DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Lonely Widower Turns to Hookers in Macabre Drama on DVD

Edmond (Vadim Glowna) has been down in the dumps since the day his wife and daughter died in a car accident which he suspects might have been a suicide. Now, the grieving widower is merely going through the motions, for he doesn’t see much meaning in life anymore.
The deteriorating state of Edmond’s psyche has not been lost on his best friend, Kogi (Maximilian Schell), who tries to boost his pal’s spirits by recommending a discreet whorehouse he’s heard rumors about. Glum Ed has his chauffeur drop him off at the upscale escape which happens to cater specifically to lonely senior citizens.
The place is run by an officious, imperious madam (Angela Winkler) who explains that johns get to spend the night with a drugged, naked young thing on the condition that they never attempt to arouse the girls from their very deep sleep. Edmond agrees, and soon realizes that a warm attractive body is just the comfort he’s subconsciously been craving. So, he becomes a regular customer, and the visits seem somehow to offer him at least an intermittent escape from his intractable depression.
Unfortunately, all is not on the level, and a big surprise lays in wait in House of Sleeping Beauties, a macabre mystery based on the Japanese language novella by Yasunari Kawabata. For, while economist Milton Friedman might have warned that there’s no such thing as a free lunch, Mr. Kawabata seems to be suggesting that there’s also a bigger price than money to pay for taking pleasure in feeling up semi-comatose coeds.
Despite the fact that its premise sounds like it was dreamed up by a pervert who depends on that date rape drug for a social life, the picture’s surprising twist leads to a resolution which makes the molestation easier to swallow. Viva Viagra!

Very Good (3 stars)
In German with subtitles.
Running time: 99 minutes
Studio: First Run Features
DVD Extras: Photo gallery, director's biography, film notes and trailer gallery.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Glass DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: DVD Chronicles Career of Modern Classical Composer

I first became aware of Philip Glass when I saw Koyaanisqatsi (1982), the otherwise silent cinematic tribute to nature for which he wrote the perfect score. Now in his seventies, this master modern classical composer remains as driven as ever to crank out his experimental operas, symphonies, movie and dance scores and more.
Directed by Oscar-winner Scott Hicks (Shine), this eponymous bio-pic exposes the man to be a recluse who compulsively divides his time between music and meditation, which might not be a problem except for the fact that he has a couple of young kids with his fourth wife, Holly Critchlow, a cutie pie who’s about half his age. She has a meltdown about midway through the movie over the realization that they want different things out of life.
It seems that she’d like for him to be more involved with the family, while he can’t pull himself away from the piano and sheet music, which are obviously not merely his passion but serve as his therapy as well. At least the couple have a summer home in Nova Scotia, so the children don’t have to stay cooped up in an apartment in New York City, although even while on vacation, their daddy continues to work non-stop.
We do learn that, once a year, he takes a day off for an annual trek to Coney Island to ride the Cyclone, the ancient amusement park’s mammoth roller coaster. We also see that like a lot of self-absorbed geniuses, he’s given to eccentric (hates overhead lighting) and misanthropic (could careless whether he’s appreciated) tendencies. This means he’s adamant about using desk and table lamps and is perfectly content if those who don’t like his music pass on it and go listen to someone else.
Too bad he just can’t spare sufficient quality time to satisfy his offspring and troubled spouse. An intimate peek into an elite mind, warts and all.

Very Good (2.5 stars)
Running time: 119 minutes
Studio: Koch Lorber Films
2-Disc DVD Extras: Over three hours of bonus material including musical performances, interviews, deleted and extended scenes, director’s commentary plus a booklet with production notes.

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 24, 2009


Fighting (PG-13 for profanity, sexuality and intense action sequences) Gritty, New York City saga about a tough small-town kid (Channing Tatum) new tto town who is introduced to the world of bare-knuckle, street-fighting by a con artist (Terrence Howard) who offers to be his manager. With Zulay Henao, Luis Guzman and Brian J. White.

Obsessed (PG-13 for sexuality, violence, suggestive dialogue and mature themes) Psychological thriller about a happily-married asset manager (Idris Elba) whose tranquil life is turned upside-down when a mentally-unstable temp worker (Ali Larter) starts stalking him. With Beyonce’, Jerry O’Connell and Christine Lahti.

The Soloist (PG-13 for mature themes, drug use and profanity) Jamie Foxx stars in this moving bio-pic about an L.A. Times reporter (Robert Downey, Jr.) who is stunned to discover that the violin-playing homeless man he befriends in the park is a Juilliard-trained, former child prodigy. With Catherine Keener, Stephen Root and Lisa Gay Hamilton.


Earth (G) Disney nature flick, narrated by James Earl Jones and Patrick Stewart, chronicles the efforts of several families of wild animals, including polar bears, ducks and cranes, not only to elude predators but to adjust to atmospheric warming trends.

Empty Nest (Unrated) Argentinean slice of magical realism about a man (Oscar Martinez) in the midst of a midlife crisis who takes refuge from his crumbling marriage in a parallel fantasy universe of his own creation. With Cecilia Roth and Ines Efron. (In Spanish and Hebrew with subtitles)

Il Divo (Unrated) Mafia saga explores the checkered career of Giulio Andreotti (Toni Servillo), the seven-time Italian Prime Minister who went on trial in 1992 over his alleged connections to the mob. (In Italian and English with subtitles)

The Informers (R for nudity, graphic sexuality, pervasive profanity, drug use and disturbing images) Ensemble drama, set in L.A. in the Eighties, examines the exploits of a motley collection of characters over the course a very eventful week. A-list cast includes Academy Award-winners Billy Bob Thornton and Kim Basinger, Oscar-nominees Mickey Rourke and Winona Ryder, plus Amber Heard, Rhys Ifans and Chris Isaak.

Mutant Chronicles (R for graphic violence and pervasive profanity) Futuristic sci-fi adventure revolving around a couple of soldiers (Thomas Jane and Sean Pertwee) serving as corporate mercenaries who assemble a band of intrepid warriors to defend the planet when Earth is invaded by an evil race of necromutants. Cast includes John Malkovich, Devon Aoki, Ron Perlman and Pras.

Nursery University (Unrated) Head start documentary explores the cutthroat competition among anxious parents trying to place their Ivy League-bound toddlers in one of Manhattan’s most exclusive preschools, where tuition is as much as $40,000 a year.

Treeless Mountain (Unrated) Dysfunctional family drama, set in Seoul, about a six year-old girl (Hee-yeon Kim) taken out of school to care for her two year-old sister (Song-hee Kim) by their financially-struggling mother (Soo-ah Lee) who leaves them in the care of their selfish, alcoholic aunt (Mi-hyang Kim) so she can search for their deadbeat father. (In Korean with subtitles)

Tyson (R for profanity and sexual references) Oscar-nominee James Toback directs this revealing bio-pic chronicling the rise and fall of Iron Mike Tyson via a combination of the former heavyweight champ’s thought-provoking reflections, photographs and archival news and fight footage.