Sunday, May 31, 2009

Drag Me to Hell

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Banker Plagued by Customer’s Curse in Recession Era Horror Flick

Everything has been coming up roses for Christine Brown (Alison Lohman) lately. Career-wise, the ambitious banker is one of two employees competing for a big promotion to assistant manager. Meanwhile, her love life is equally promising, since her boyfriend (Justin Long) who adores is secretly planning to pop the question soon.
However, this state of bliss starts to dissolve into a neverending nightmare the day a disheveled, senior citizen on a fixed income enters the branch office to ask for a third extension on her overdue mortgage payments. Ghastly Mrs. Ganush (Lorna Raver), who’s blind in one eye, takes out her false teeth and places them on Christine’s desk while awaiting word on the status of her application.
That gross behavior makes it easier for the disgusted loan officer to decide to foreclose on the house, especially because she wants to impress her eavesdropping boss, Mr. Jacks (David Paymer), with her toughness. Out of desperation, Mrs. Ganush swallows her pride and gets down on her knees to beg Christine to change her mind. But this overture is only met with a call to security to carry the disruptive customer out of the building bodily. Instead of driving away in her dilapidated jalopy, the humiliated Mrs. Ganush hides in the bank’s parking lot for Christine to level a chilling threat: “Soon, it will be you who comes begging to me!” Truer words were never spoken onscreen.
I’m not sure whether a horror flick has ever had a more timely theme, given the record number of sub-prime mortgages in default. So, I suspect some audience members might be rooting for the ghoulish Ganush as she endeavors to exact a measure of revenge. And then some.
Regardless of whether the premise was by coincidence or design, Drag Me to Hell is one of the best horror flicks released in recent years, right up there with two which made this critic’s Annual Top Ten List, What Lies Beneath (2000) and Dawn of the Dead (2004). Credit director/co-writer Sam Raimi of Spider-Man superhero fame who proves himself a master of suspense as well by crafting a spine-tingling adventure guaranteed to elicit blood-curdling screams and to make you jump out of your seat when you least expect it.
Taking a page out of Hitchcock, he accomplishes this feat without resorting to the gratuitous gore we see splattered across the screen in most of the scary genre’s recent offerings. But don’t be deceived by Drag Me to Hell’s deceptively-benign PG-13 rating. For this relentless shockfest is still not for the feint of heart, and is likely to leave youngsters as afraid of evicted, vindictive old ladies as they are of the dark.

Excellent (4 stars)
Rated PG-13 for terror, violence, disturbing images and profanity.
Running time: 99 minutes
Studio: Universal Pictures

Friday, May 29, 2009


Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Outsourcing of Job Fuels Revenge in Downsizing Sitcom

When the recession threatens to sink Fairfax Furniture, owner Helen Fairfax (Leanor Reizen) realizes she has to cut costs in order to save the family business. After all, it’s located in Detroit, one of the places hardest hit by the sagging economy because of its failing auto industry.
So, Helen enters a 10-year deal with Voxx of India to relocate her company’s call center to Bombay, and orders CEO Derek Anthony (Marty Bufalini) to inform his employees that their jobs will be outsourced in a couple of months. To add insult to injury, they’re asked to train their replacements being sent to Michigan from the Subcontinent by Voxx Chairman Devendra Tiwari (Satish Shah).
Not surprisingly, a few of the downsized telemarketers are so offended by that request they decide to make sure the transition is anything but smooth. Thus, when Nikhil (Neil Bhoopalam), Anjali (Ratnabali Bhattacharjee) and Reva (Malaika Shenoy) arrive in America, they find themselves not only ostracized but sabotaged at every turn.
The outraged females from Fairfax instigating the hijinks, Carol Silvers (Deb Tunis), Bridgette Mars (Emily Rose Merrell) and Amanda Chase (Alison Crockett) see themselves as freedom fighters rather than felons, although their pranks eventually escalate into racist remarks and criminal behavior. I’m not sure what director Diane Checklich was going for in this regard, because your characters are no longer sympathetic when behaving in such a mean-spirited fashion.
Given the current unemployment rate, I suppose there are lots of xenophobes who might find this sort of vengeance funny, and consider it almost their patriotic duty to root for displaced workers willing to do anything to prevent foreigners from taking American jobs. But heaven help us if this nation actually ever gets to the point where its citizens can rationalize taking the law into our own hands in opposition to outsourcing.
A cautionary sitcom so realistic about the specter of globalization it’s more likely to leave you with chills than in stitches.

Very Good (3 stars)
In English and Hindi with subtitles.
Running time: 90 minutes
Studio: TMS Universal

Owl and the Sparrow (VIETNAMESE)

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: 10 Year-Old Orphan Plays Matchmaker on Streets of Saigon

Thuy (Pham Thi Han) is a 10 year-old orphan who lives on the outskirts of Saigon with her mean Uncle Minh (Nguyen Hau). Instead of letting his niece attend school, he makes her work alongside him inside a bamboo factory all day, and he takes all of her pay to boot.
Somehow, the precocious young girl senses that she couldn’t be any worse off if she ran away, in spite of her uncle’s stern warning that, “You wouldn’t last one day on your own.” And when she finally gets fed up, she packs her belongings in a pink backpack and travels by taxi boat to Saigon where she quickly learns how to survive by selling postcards and fresh roses.
There, she eventually crosses paths with Lan (Cat Ly), a pretty stewardess staying in town on layover for five days. Thuy can’t believe that the pretty woman doesn’t have a husband or a boyfriend to buy a flower for. Lan, in turn, finds it hard to fathom that such an adorable child could possibly be homeless, so she invites the poor orphan to share her hotel room.
Meanwhile, Thuy makes another pal in Hai (Le the Lu), an animal trainer who lives in a shack right on the grounds of the zoo. He gives the sophisticated street urchin the grand tour of the premises while confiding in her about his personal problems. Not only has he been dumped by his girlfriend but the beloved elephant he’s raised from infancy has just been sold to a zoo in India.
Lan happens to be just as unhappy, because she’s been stuck in an unsatisfying affair for four years with an airline pilot (Trong Hai) who refuses to leave his wife for her. A solution to all three’s woes might turn on whether Thuy can arrange a blind date between the two lonely hearts. For, if they fall head over heels for each other, who knows, maybe they’d adopt the tiny matchmaker who introduced them. But this, of course, is easier said than done, since Hai still pines for his ex, and Lan’s layover lover is expecting to rendezvous with his mistress while in Saigon.
Directed by Stephane Gauger, Owl and the Sparrow is an enchanting fairytale which delights to no end en route to its syrupy sweet resolution. The serendipitous front story aside, it is also a pleasant change of pace to see a film set in Saigon which isn’t a high body-count splatter flick about the ravages of the war in Indochina.
Worthwhile if only for the reminder that the Vietnamese are people, too!

Excellent (4 stars)
Rated PG for smoking and mature themes.
In Vietnamese with subtitles.
Running time: 97 minutes
Studio: Wave Releasing

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Defiance DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: DVD Chronicles Real-Life Case of Jewish Resistance during the Holocaust

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

Very Good (2.5 stars)
Rated R for profanity and violence.
Running time: 136 minutes
Studio: Paramount Home Entertainment
DVD Extras: Director’s commentary, “The Making of Defiance” featurette, a documentary and more.

Revolutionary Road DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: DiCaprio and Winslet Reunite on DVD in Drama as Couple in Crisis

It’s hard to believe that it’s been over a decade since Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet enthralled us as the star-crossed lovers at the heart of Titanic, the romantic epic saga which swept the Oscars in 1998. Now, they’re finally paired together again, this time as a dysfunctional couple seeking salvation from an unsatisfying marriage. And they’re fortunate to be surrounded by a superb supporting cast topped by Kathy Bates and Michael Shannon who landed an Oscar nomination for his performance as their profoundly-disturbed neighbor.
Directed by Winslet’s husband Sam Mendes, Revolutionary Road is a somber examination of the mindset and mores of the Fifties. Although the story’s depressing tone is a tad too downbeat to appeal to a mass audience, there’s nonetheless much to recommend about this feel-bad flick based.
Compared to Titanic, this relatively-pedestrian production has no spectacular mob scenes aboard an ill-fated ocean liner to provide a riveting hook regardless of the quality of the acting, but rather relies directly upon DiCaprio and Winslet to convey the requisite emotional range necessary to keep the character-driven drama compelling. And they do not disappoint as protagonists Frank and April Wheeler whose toxic relationship might best be described as the opposite of magical.
Following an opening scene featuring the Wheelers falling in love at first sight across the proverbial crowded room while still in the bloom of youth, the film fast-forwards a number of years to 1955 where we find them married with young children and already miserably unhappy. They both resent being stuck playing conventional roles in the Connecticut suburbs.
Housewife April regrets having settled for motherhood and performing in community theater when she’d prefer to be pursuing her dream of becoming a legitimate actress. Jaded Frank, meanwhile, feels trapped by his daily commute to New York City to the same sort of unfulfilling sales job which swallowed up his father’s future.
Will Frank agree to April’s 30th birthday suggestion that they revive their relationship by moving to Paris to find themselves? Or will a clandestine affair with a secretary offer enough of a respite from his never-ending nightmare to keep the couple in the States?
Thus, “Can this marriage be saved?” is established early on as the central theme as the Wheelers’ descend into an embittered existence marked mostly by acrimony, adultery, resentment and overwhelming regret. A road to ruin paved more by mindless conformity than by good intentions.

Good (2.5 stars)
Rated R for profanity, nudity and sexuality.
Running time: 119 minutes
Studio: Paramount Home Entertainment
DVD Extras: Director’s commentary, deleted scenes with optional commentary, “The Making of” featurette, and more.

Wednesday, May 27, 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 June 5, 2009


The Hangover (R for sexuality, nudity, drug and alcohol abuse and pervasive profanity) “What Happens in Vegas” comedy about three friends (Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms and Zach Galifianakis) of the groom-to-be (Justin Bartha) who throw a wild bachelor party in a suite at Caesar’s Palace only to have their pal disappear without a trace the day before the wedding. With Heather Graham, Mike Tyson, Jeffrey Tambor and Dr. Ken Jeong.

Land of the Lost (PG-13 for profanity, sexuality, crude humor and a drug reference) Sci-fi comedy abut a trio of explorers (Will Ferrell, Danny McBride and Anna Friel) forced to survive by their wits after being sucked though a space-time vortex into a parallel universe filled with dinosaurs and other strange creatures. Cast includes Jorma Taccone, Douglas Tait and Bobb’e J. Thompson.

My Life in Ruins (PG-13 for sexuality) My Big Fat Greek Vacation. Nia Vardalos stars as a jaded, middle-aged American of Greek ancestry who gets her groove back while working as a tour guide in Athens when she falls in love with a local bus driver (Alexis Georgoulis). Cast includes Richard Dreyfuss, Rachel Dratch and Ian Ogilvy.


24 City (Unrated) Modernization mockumentary, set in Sichuan Province, shot from the diverse perspectives of nine interviewees representing three generations of Chinese whose lives are affected in different ways by the demolition of a military factory in Chengdu to make way for a complex of luxury apartments. Cast includes Joan Chen, Tao Zhao and Liping Lu. (In Mandarin and Shanghainese with subtitles)

The Art of Being Straight (Unrated) Homoerotic comedy about a ladies man (Jesse Rosen) who breaks up with his girlfriend only to end up in bed with his boss (Johnny Ray) after taking an entry-level position at an L.A. ad agency. With Jim Dineen, Rachel Castillo and Jared Grey.

Away We Go (R for profanity and sexuality) Road comedy chronicling the misadventures of an expecting couple (Maya Rudolph and Jon Krasinski) traveling around the country to find the perfect place to put down roots and start a family. Ensemble includes Maggie Gyllenhaal, Allison Janney and Catherine O’Hara.

Ball Don’t Lie (Unrated) Hoop dreams drama about a 17 year-old white kid (Grayson Boucher) raised in the ‘hood by a prostitute (Rosanna Arquette) whose only hope of escaping the ghetto rests with making it to the NBA with the help of his cute girlfriend (Kim Hidalgo). Cast includes Nick Cannon, Melissa Leo, Harold Perrineau and Ludacris for street cred.

Downloading Nancy (Unrated) Romantic thriller about a suicidal housewife (Maria Bello) who hires a hit man (Jason Patric) over the internet to kill her, only to fall in love with the handsome stranger when she meets him in person. With Rufus Sewell as the odd man out.

Herb and Dorothy (Unrated) Salt-of-the-Earth bio-pic about the Vogels, a modest married couple with an eye for art who stupefied the experts by amassing a priceless contemporary collection containing over 4,000 pieces on the salaries of a postal clerk and a librarian.

Kassim the Dream (Unrated) Boxing documentary chronicles the career of Junior Middleweight Champ Kassim Ouma who was pressed into service as a child soldier by rebels in his native Uganda from the age of 6 until he finally sought political asylum in the U.S. at the age of 18.

Seraphine (Unrated) Warts-and-all bio-pic based on the life of Seraphine de Senlis (Yolande Moreau), the French maid-turned-folk artist who came to fame between the First and Second World Wars before dying friendless and penniless in obscurity on the psychiatric ward of an old folks home in 1942. (In French and German with subtitles)

Sugisball (Unrated) Ensemble drama, set in Estonia, explores the lonely existence of six jaded souls all living in the same impersonal housing development built during the Soviet Era. Cast includes Rain Tolk, Taavi Eelmaa, Juhan Ulfsak, Maarja Jakobson, Iris Persson and Mirtel Pohla. (In Estonian with subtitles)

Tennessee (R for profanity) Dysfunctional family drama about two brothers (Adam Rothenberg and Ethan Peck) who pick up a truck stop waitress (Mariah Carey) with an abusive husband (Lance Reddick) while en route from New Mexico to Tennessee where they hope to reconcile with their long-estranged father.

Unmistaken Child (Unrated) “Hello Dalai” documentary, set in 2001, retraces the worldwide search of a Buddhist monk for his new master, a boy under 4 years of age born with the reincarnated soul of his dearly-departed guru. (In English, Tibetan, Nepali and Hindi)

Pressure Cooker

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Uplifting Documentary Chronicles Dedicated Teacher’s Tireless Effort to Inspire Pupils

Philadelphia public schoolteacher Wilma Stephenson is a throwback who reminds me of one of those no-nonsense nuns I feared in grammar school when I was a child. For, this strict disciplinarian is a veteran with 38 years of experience who brings that same rare combination of dedication, know-how and high expectations to her classroom on a daily basis.
Consequently, her students dare not show up late or unprepared, or cut-up, step out of line or fail to focus on the task at hand out of fear of incurring the wrath of this ever-vigilant taskmaster. But it is important to understand that her dead serious approach to education comes out of love and wanting to maximize the potential of each and every one of her pupils.
Stephenson teaches Culinary Arts at Frankford High to underprivileged kids whose only avenue for making it out of the ghetto lies in landing a scholarship to an institution of higher learning. So, she does her best to turn those willing to apply themselves into gourmet chefs by the time that graduation day rolls around.
And because she knows that none of here students parents’ can afford the cost of college tuition, she also gets personally involved in the application process, helping them understand the ins-and-outs of the scholarship application process. In fact, Wilma proudly points out that 11 members of last year’s cooking class landed three-quarters of a million dollars in financial aid.
But now she and her current crop of promising students are the subjects of Pressure Cooker, a riveting, inspiring, heartrending and ultimately triumphant documentary co-directed by Jennifer Grausman and Mark Becker. This uplifting bio-pic, which left me in tears (and is guaranteed to do the same to you), focuses narrowly on the fates of three aspiring chefs inspired to dare to dream big during their senior year despite hailing from humble origins.
Each of the trio has a sadder story than the next. First, we meet fatherless Tyree Dudley, whose single-mom has her hands full between work and caring for him and his sister. Then there’s Fatoumata Dembele, who only arrived in America from French-speaking Mali four years ago. Not only is she struggling to adapt to a new language and culture, but she is being raised by her single-dad. Finally, we have Erica Gaither who was abandoned by her mother. And because her father is overburdened by his job, she has to care for her legally-blind, little sister. Thus, it is no surprise that Erica suffers from anxiety and depression.
Over the course of Pressure Cooker, we watch as Wilma Stephenson sensitively dons whatever hat might be appropriate at the moment. She may be nails during the class hour, but once the bell rings she can quickly turn into a surrogate mother, mentor, psychologist, shoulder to lean on, guidance counselor or even matchmaker for a couple of wallflowers without a date to the prom.
Again and again, Stephenson goes above and beyond the call of duty, determined to keep the kids focused on earning their ticket out of the ‘hood, that full scholarship to the culinary institute of their choice. And by the time the film’s critical moment arrives when they are all finally about to learn their individual fates, the palpable tension in the auditorium’s air is etched in the faces of the proud teacher and her understandably anguished students alike. Just don’t be surprised to find yourself sitting on the edge of your seat and welling up while rooting for these endearing underdogs as well.
A fitting tribute to a selfless role model with an big heart and an indomitable spirit. Let’s face it, they don’t make ‘em like Wilma Stephenson anymore.

Excellent (4 stars)
Running time: 99 minutes
Studio: BEV Pictures

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Dinosaurs, Trucks, Monsters and More DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: DVD Set Features a Potpourri of Scholastic Classics

This 4-DVD set from the good folks at Scholastic is comprised of a veritable treasure trove of 25 classic modern fairy tales appropriate for children between the ages of 3 and 9. These imaginative yarns have been adapted into some very absorbing animated adventures featuring the distinctive voiceovers of such celebrities as Chevy Chase, Danny Glover, B.D. Wong, Patrick Stewart, Michael McKean, Andy Richter, Diana Canova and David de Vries.
Disc 1’s offerings all share the same theme, dinosaurs, a subject which for some reasons fascinates today’s youngsters to no end. Three are by Jane Yolen: “How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight?” “How Do Dinosaurs Get Well Soon?” and “How Do Dinosaurs Get Their Food?” along with “Danny and the Dinosaur,” “Dinosaur Bones,” “Stanley and the Dinosaurs” and “T is for Terrible.”
Disc 2 contains a half-dozen book award-winners, namely, “I Stink,” “Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel,” “Trashy Town,” “The Remarkable Riderless Runaway Tricycle,” “The Beast of Monsieur Racine” and “Arnie the Doughnut.”
Parents who read their offspring to sleep regularly will probably recognize the titles by William Steig on Disc 3: “Pete’s a Pizza,” “Max’s Words,” “Moon Man,” “The Great White Man-Eating Shark,” “The Island of the Skog,” “What’s under My Bed” and “The Five Chinese Brothers.” Finally, Disc 4 has Bev Cleary’s “The Mouse and the Motorcycle” and “Wee Gillis,” the latter a live action version of the famed Scottish fable from Munro Leaf.
A cinematic treat guaranteed to keep the tots and toddlers enthralled for days on end.

Excellent (4 stars)
Running time: 4 hours, 53 minutes
Studio: Scholastic/New Video Group

New in Town DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Formulaic Zellweger and Connick Sitcom Finds Its Way to DVD

Lucy Hill (Rene Zellweger) is a high-powered, big-city businesswoman climbing the corporate ladder in Miami who agrees to relocate temporarily to rural Minnesota in order to oversee the restructuring of one of the company’s manufacturing plants. Upon arriving in snowbound New Ulm, she is initially oblivious to the fallout about to be visited upon the Christian community as a consequence of her planned downsizing.
Instead, she mostly focuses on trying to adjust to the frigid weather and on finding appropriate apparel to survive in the harsh environment in lieu of her totally inappropriate stiletto heels and designer clothes. Subsequently, it doesn’t take long for Lucy to make fast enemies of union rep Ted Mitchell (Harry Connick, Jr.) and factory foreman Stu Kopenhafer (J.K. Simmons), even if the former is both handsome and available.
This is the setup for the magical transformation which eventually transpires in New in Town, a transparent fish-out-of-water romantic comedy which marks the English-language debut of Danish director Jonas Elmer. One would think that Oscar-winner Zellweger could have pulled on Jonas’ jacket sleeve to let him know that the picture’s basic premise wouldn’t work with an American audience.
For, taking a page out of Fargo, the film first goes out of its way to paint the local yokels as being a bunch of colorful but backward hicks. Yet, lo and behold, Lucy is charmed by their naïve innocence rather than see it as a weakness to be exploited just as anyone with her training and taste obviously would. Predictably, as the heart of this spoiled, self-absorbed overachiever starts to melt, she turns a new leaf, falls for the blue-collared hunk and decides to settle down in town to live there happily-ever-after.
Yeah, right. It’s fun to pretend.

Fair (1 star)
Rated PG for mild epithets and suggestive material.
Running time: 97 minutes
Studio: Lionsgate Home Entertainment
DVD Extras: Deleted scenes, audio commentary with cast and crew, “The Making of” documentary and a couple of other featurettes.

Something Torn and New: An African Renaissance

by Ngugi wa Thiong’o
Basic Civitas Books
Paperback, $25.00
160 pages, illustrated
ISBN: 978-0-465-00946-6

Book Review by Kam Williams

“Linguicide is the linguistic equivalent of genocide. Genocide involves conscious acts of physical massacre; linguicide, conscious acts of language liquidation. This is precisely the fate of African languages in the diaspora… If history is replete with the death of languages, there have also been cases where languages have been resurrected from the dead. Israel, for instance, needed the resurrection of Hebrew to reconnect with the ancient memory…
The African continent’s relationship to the world has thus far been that of donor to the West. Africa has given her human beings, her resources, and even her spiritual products… African languages are essential for the decolonization of African minds as well as for the African renaissance… All this calls for a very different attitude toward our languages on the part of African governments and the African intelligentsia.”
 Excerpted pages 17,65, 127 & 128

The colonization of Africa and the Atlantic slave trade has left most people of
African descent with a nagging sense of inferiority. This is the thesis of Ngugi wa Thiong’o who believes that Europeans over the past six centuries or so succeeded in stripping the continent of its culture, natural resources, inhabitants and spirituality, while simultaneously spreading the belief throughout the world that Africans were godless savages and that blackness was “a mark of inferiority.”
In his intriguing new book, Something Torn and New: An African Renaissance, Mr. Thiong’o argues that separating Africans from their native language played a critical in not only their exploitation but in their continued capitulation to being regulated to second-class status today. The author goes on to say that black folks today suffer from an unrequited “quest for wholeness,” a thirst for knowledge of self which can never be satiated so long as they speak and write solely in the languages of their former slave masters and colonizers. For English, Spanish, Dutch, Spanish and Portuguese are rife with subtle color-coded symbols and messages which will only continue to reinforce racist notions of white supremacy for generations to come.
At times, Thiong’o certainly sounds like an impractical dreamer, given the
abject state of the African diaspora. For instance, in America, the bulk of black children never bother to master English. So, what makes anybody think they’d suddenly be the least bit interested in studying Swahili? That being said, Something Torn and New does nonetheless make a passionate, if not ultimately persuasive case for the restoration of dignity to the black man via the serious study of lost languages and a cultural roots renaissance.

Monday, May 25, 2009

David Mann: The “Meet the Browns” Interview

with Kam Williams

Headline: Meet the Manns

Born on August 7, 1966 with a beautiful singing voice, Texas-native David Mann began honing his skills in his grandfather’s church at an early age. The music world took note after he tunefully teamed up with three-time Grammy-winning gospel sensation Kirk Franklin and the Family.
Mann added acting to his impressive repertoire when he joined forces with Tyler Perry, introducing the flamboyant Leroy Brown to audiences in stage productions of I Can Do Bad All By Myself, Madea’s Class Reunion, Meet the Browns, What’s Done in the Dark and Madea’s Family Reunion. He subsequently reprised the role in the screen adaptations of Meet the Browns and Madea Goes to Jail before bringing the shameless scene-stealer to mainstream America via the TBS sitcom Meet the Browns.
His partner both professionally and in real-life has been his equally-talented wife, Tamela, who has co-starred as his daughter, Cora, in all of the aforementioned Tyler Perry offerings. The spiritually-oriented couple has been married for 21 years, a sacred union which has been blessed with four fun-loving children and three adorable grandchildren. Here, David talks about their hit television series which is set to start its second season with back-to-back episodes on May 27th starting at 10 PM on TBS.

KW: Thanks for the time, David.
DM: Thank you.
KW: How does it feel to be starting the second season of Meet the Browns?
DM: I’m definitely excited about it. I’m just kind of sitting back and going “Wow!” because I realize that this is not an opportunity that everybody gets.
KW: Tyler Perry, being the genius that he is, certainly has recognized your talent and figured how to bring it to TV.
DM: When they told me it was for 70 episodes, I asked somebody, “Are you kidding me?” But then after the audience response to the first season, I was like, “Oh, they’re loving it.” I just couldn’t believe it, because you never know with these types of shows whether they’re going to love it or hate it. But hey, thank God they’re loving it.
KW: Do you dress in loud, tight outfits in real life, like your character, Leroy Brown, does on the show?
DM: No, I’m very conservative. My wife would not have it, and neither would I.
KW: Congratulations to you and Tamela on already being blessed with three grandchildren. How have the two of you managed to raise four children while simultaneously pursuing such successful singing and acting careers?
DM: It’s a juggling act, but it beats the alternative of not having anything to do. It’s a lot to juggle, but you know what? I’m enjoying it.
KW: I know Tyler shoots the show t his studio in Atlanta. Have you moved the family there?
DM: We have an apartment, but he we haven’t really moved there yet. We’re still based in Texas. Click your heels, there’s no place like home.
KW: Does it ever feel strange to be playing your wife’s father?
DM: It can be awkward because when we’re on set, and I have the Mr. Brown gear on, she tells me, “You’re not my husband, now. You’re my father, so no kissing or intimate stuff.” That makes it funny, because I’m always trying to kiss her, and she’s like, “Nooooo, unh-uh, not until you take that off.”
KW: What is your favorite form of entertaining, the stage, movies, TV or singing?
DM: I like the instant gratification of the stage, because you know immediately whether the audience is enjoying it or hating it. But I also like how with television, if you’re not satisfied with the first take, you can go back and redo it right then.
KW: What challenges did you encounter in making the move from acting onstage to in front of the camera?
DM: One of the hardest transitions involved in coming from the stage to TV was that I was very animated. With TV, less is more, so I had to dial it down from 10 to about 6. That was kinda hard for me at first. The movements have to be smaller, and more contained, although sometimes, they’ll say, “Hey, go ahead, just do it.”
KW: I guess you have a lot more leeway with a character as colorful as yours.
DM: Definitely.
KW: Does Tyler Perry direct any of the episodes?
DM: He’ll come in in the morning, we’ll do a read through and then he also directs most of them. And if he thinks of a better joke while we’re shooting, he’ll say, “Try this…” And it works! I don’t know how he does it. He’s everywhere. I guess they unplug him and take his batteries out at night.
KW: Is there any question no one ever asks you that you wish someone would?
DM: No, I think they’ve hit everything.
KW: The Tasha Smith question: Are you ever afraid?
DM: Tasha’s been on a couple episodes of Meet the Browns. I get more nervous than afraid. I think when I’m nervous, for some strange reason that makes me more alert about what I’m doing. So, right before anything, I’m nervous. But once they say “Action!” or I hit the stage, I’m good.
KW: How much of your character, Mr. Brown, was on the page, and how much did you contribute to creating it?
DM: It’s about 50-50. They kinda give me the skeleton, and I’ll put the meat on it. A lot of it is ad-libbed. They’ll give me my lines, and I’ll take them and just go from there. Sometimes, an episode might be running a few minutes short, so they’ll just give me that room to go in and add my little brand of comedy.
KW: What can we expect new from season two of Meet the Browns.
DM: You get to learn a lot more about the different characters. The first season, we didn’t dive into their personal lives, their back stories or histories. We pretty much just got to meet Mr. Brown. Now, we get to go deep into a lot of the other characters’ business.
KW: The Columbus Short question: Are you happy?
DM: Very. I’ve been happier with less. So, now, with more coming in, I’m definitely not going to be miserable. 21 years of marriage… my children and grandchildren are healthy… my own television show… everything’s good. What more could you ask for?
KW: The Teri Emerson question: When was the last time you had a good belly laugh?
DM: I had one this morning. But that’s just the way my life is. I have one every day. I just told my wife, “I’m going to have to start charging you, if I’m making you laugh every day.” You can’t keep getting them for free.
KW: The bookworm Troy Johnson question: What was the last book you read?
DM: It was called, “His Needs, Her Needs: Building an Affair-Proof Marriage” by Willard Harley. []
KW: The music maven Heather Covington question: What music are you listening to nowadays?
DM: Tamela Mann. My wife has a new CD coming out in July or August called The Master Plan, so I’ve been listening to it over and over.
KW: What has been the biggest obstacle you have had to overcome?
DM: I don’t know if this counts as an obstacle, but not taking “No!” as your final answer. That was true for both me and Tamela, because we were both often told “No!” in this industry. It may be “No” for now, but it won’t always be that way.
KW: The Laz Alonso question: How can your fans help you?
DM: Wow! How can my fans help me? Some people’s answer to that would be by leaving me alone. But my fans don’t have to leave me alone. I realize that it’s because of the fans the show is doing so well. How can the fans help? I don’t know. By watching the show.
KW: How do you feel about Barack Obama’s becoming President of the United States?
DM: I love it, although it made me a little teary-eyed because my grandfather passed away a couple of years ago, and he and some other ancestors who struggled and helped build this country didn’t get a chance to share that historic moment. I consider it such a privilege and an honor to see something like this.
KW: When you look in the mirror, what do you see?
DM: I see a guy who’s grateful, not because he’s the most talented guy or the best actor, but because of nothing but the grace of God and God’s favor. I know that might sound a little deep, but that’s just the way it is.
KW: How do you want to be remembered?
DM: For my word, because your word is one of the only things you have that’s yours. And as a good husband and a good father.
KW: What advice do you have for anyone who wants to follow in your footsteps?
DM: Like I said before, don’t take “No” for an answer. Don’t let that be your final answer.
KW: Well, thanks again for the interview David, and best of luck with the new season.
DM: Thanks so much. I look forward to talking to you again.

Terminator Salvation

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Emotionally-Barren Sequel Plagued by Lack of Character Development

When you decide to shoot a Terminator sequel sans Schwarzenegger (sorry, a cameo of Arnold‘s head atop a body double doesn’t count), and with an entirely new cast, you might want to consider devoting some quality time to character development in order to give your audience a chance to become familiar with and, thus, reason to care about the protagonists. Otherwise you’ll probably end up with a superficial, sci-fi saga like Terminator Salvation (T-4), a special effects indulgence in fight sequences, chase scenes, pyrotechnics and techno wizardry at the expense of emotional depth.
This post-apocalyptic adventure is as soulless as the defoliated expanse of barren landscape on which it unfolds. What’s worse, the movie abandons the franchise’s carefully-cultivated trademarks in favor of a lot of nondescript CGI action sequences which feel interchangeable with similar flicks like Transformers and Doomsday.
Blame for this departure in tone rests squarely on the shoulders of Joseph McGinty Nichol, aka McG, who has made a rocky transition to movies after directing award-winning music videos for both Smash Mouth and Sugar Ray.
McG’s stock has gone done since his promising feature film debut with Charlie’s Angels in 2000. Seems he has trouble just controlling his crew, judging by Christian Bale’s having to apologize publicly about going ballistic to maintain decorum on the set.
Bale, by the way, heads a star-studded ensemble which also includes Sam Worthington, Helena Bonham Carter, Jane Alexander, Common, Terry Crews and Bryce Dallas Howard. T-4’s point of departure is 2003, the year in which T-3 was released, but the story soon shifts to a flattened California in 2018 where we find the few folks still alive cowering in caves and makeshift shelters.
That’s because a swarm of invading terminators, Skynet’s T-600s, have practically decimated humanity. With less than four days until total annihilation, it falls to a chivalrous army vet named John Connor (Bale) to organize a resistance movement. Its goal is to get close enough to the cyborgs to shut down their computers by jamming their radio frequency with the help of a top secret weapon provided by General Ashdown (Michael Ironside).
Of course, this is easier said than done, especially since the aliens have a decided military advantage and a “take no prisoners” policy. But Conner is both desperate and game and enlists the assistance of a motley crew in his heroic endeavor. His impromptu posse includes his pregnant wife, Kate (Howard), a downed fighter pilot (Moon Bloodgood), his tight-hand man, Barnes (Common), a teenage soldier (Anton Yelchin), a mute toddler (Jadagrace) and Marcus Wright (Worthington), a very mysterious stranger whom Connor has good reason not to trust.
But keeping the various players straight on the scorecard is never as important here as simply sitting back and appreciating all the fireworks which ensue in this mindless, explosion-driven blockbuster. In sum, T-4 is at best an over-stimulating concatenation of bells and whistles amounting to the cinematic equivalent of bubblegum.
To quote the Bard of Avon, “A tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” I couldn’t put it better myself.

Fair (1 star)
Rated PG-13 for profanity and intense violence.
Running time: 130 minutes
Studio: Warner Brothers

Dance Flick

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Unsubtle Wayans Brothers More Shocking Than Funny

Times sure have changed when a film featuring a character wearing tights which emphasize the outline of her oversized private parts can be rated PG-13. But that’s what we have with Dance Flick which, just to make sure you get the dirty double entendre, further hits you over the head by having Ms. Cameltoe (Amy Sedaris) utter lines like “I bet you’ve heard I have a big [C-word].” And “I’ve inserted tampons bigger than you.” The unsubtle Cameltoe teaches at mythical Musical High School where her overexposure works hand-in-crotch with Thomas Uncles (Damon Wayons, Jr.), a prized pupil who announces his plans to become a “vaginacologist.”
Such bad taste is par for the course in this Wayans Brothers production superficially patterned after Scary Movie, their hilarious spoof of horror films that inspired a host of take-the-money-and-run parodies of other genres, including Not Another Teen Movie, Date Movie, Epic Movie, Superhero Movie, Meet the Spartans and Disaster Movie. Unfortunately, Dance Flick fails to measure up to the Wayans’ original, being more in league with the litany of mostly-mediocre also-rans.
At least the picture does follow a rudimentary plotline, although it’s real reason for being is to satirize familiar scenes from such movies as Save the Last Dance, Fame, Step Up, Stomp the Yard, Roll Bounce, Dreamgirls, Black Snake Moan, Hairspray, Singing in the Rain, High School Musical, ATL, Twilight, Flashdance, The Little Shop of Horrors, Edward Scissorhands and Final Destination.
In 25 words or more, Dance Flick revolves around Megan (Shoshana Bush), a white girl from the suburbs who moves to the slums to live with her slacker father (Chris Elliott) following her mother’s fatal car accident. After transferring to Musical High, the Juilliard-bound ballerina is befriended by a classmate, Charity (Essence Atkins), who leaves the infant in her locker during the school day. Somehow, the single-mom does have plenty of time to show the newcomer how to survive in the ‘hood, and to introduce Megan to her big brother, Thomas.
We know that Megan finds him handsome, when she admits, “I like his big fat butt.” However, the dialogue again goes way over the top when Charity’s inappropriately incestuous response is, “Well, you should see his dick!” Needless to say, lust, if not love, blossoms between Megan and Thomas as the subsequent series of skits inexorably build up to a couple of big finales: the senior dance showcase and the senior prom.
En route, however, bottom-feeding Dance Flick repeatedly crosses a line
whether it’s by calling a basketball team comprised of black females the “Nappy-Headed Hos,” by depicting a black toddler catching a sexually-transmitted disease because he didn’t wear a condom, or by showing the same baby packing a pistol. Ditto for the skit where Megan dons blackface to enter the Violence Club, a place which is popular because “all the ballers get shot there.”
In case you haven’t noticed, the movie basically relies on a running joke linking African-Americans with a variety of depraved behaviors. To get away with such an outrageous theme, the material had better be so relentlessly funny that nobody stops to think about what they’re laughing at, which, sadly, is rarely the case with Dance Flick.
A good indication as to how general audiences are actually likely to respond to this film is the fact that 6 out of the 10 people at the screening I attended walked out early. Granted, some were probably shocked parents who first covered their youngsters’ eyes in response to the sight of Ms. Cameltoe and then had to drag the kids out of the theater when the crude antics only escalated.
Coarse, adult-oriented fare guaranteed to induce more groans than guffahs.

Fair (1 star)
Rated PG-13 for profanity, ethnic slurs, sexuality and crude humor.
Running time: 83 minutes
Studio: Paramount Pictures

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Valkyrie DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: DVD Stars Tom Cruise as Disgruntled Nazi Who Tried to Assassinate Hitler

Although there were reportedly 15 attempts on the life of Adolf Hitler, unfortunately none of them succeeded. So, don’t expect a whole lot of suspense from this tortoise-paced thriller about the last of those ill-fated coup attempts, the one hatched by Claus von Stauffenberg (Tom Cruise) on July 20, 1944.
As a trusted colonel in the German army, the disenchanted aristocrat had an opportunity to get close enough to the Fuhrer to kill him. And the devout Catholic was inclined to assassinate him because of his disgust for the Holocaust.
This slow as molasses story establishes that von Stauffenberg returned from the front a war hero after taking a bullet to his left eye and losing his right hand and three fingers on his left while fighting in Tunisia in 1942. While recovering from his wounds, he was approached by members of the Resistance who wanted him to participate in an intricate plot code-named Operation Valkyrie. Klaus agreed to sneak a time bomb into a meeting in Hitler’s bunker before hightailing it out of there, but guess who would survive the blast while four of his officers did perish?
Directed by Bryan Singer, the film suffers from an absence of tension for two reasons. #1: You know the ending, and Hitler committed suicide nine months later, anyway. #2: Actors playing Nazis sporting English and American accents are hard to take seriously. (Hey Bryan, the last time I checked the Yanks and the Brits were the good guys.) What’s wrong with the much-preferred approach taken by Hogan’s Heroes, which had the bad guys speaking in a very guttural German pidgin patois?
If a Sixties TV sitcom can afford a decent voice coach, why not a supposedly serious historical bio-pic? That mystery is far more compelling than waiting two hours for a fait accompli that is common knowledge. An interminable costume drama strictly for Tom Cruise fans and for World War II buffs.

Fair (1.5 stars)
Rated PG-13 for violence and brief profanity.
In English and German with subtitles.
Running time: 121 minutes
Studio: Fox Home Entertainment
2-Disc DVD Extras: Commentary by Tom Cruise and director Bryan Singer, “The Valkyrie Legacy” documentary, “The Making of Valkyrie” featurette and a digital copy of the film.

Paul Blart: Mall Cop DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Kevin James’ Kiddie Vehicle Comes to DVD

Paul Blart is a perennial loser. For ten years now he’s been employed as a security guard when he’d really rather be a real cop. But after recently being rejected by the New Jersey State Police Academy because of his hypoglycemia, he’s pretty much resigned himself to making do as a security officer at a suburban mall in West Orange.
Unfortunately, his love life isn’t any better, having been abandoned by his illegal immigrant wife who disappeared as soon as she got her Green Card. Consequently, Paul has to rely on his mom (Shirley Knight) for help with raising his young daughter, Maya (Raini Rodriguez).
And because he’s overweight, clumsy and the butt of every joke among his friends and co-workers, he has lost all of his confidence when it comes to the opposite sex. So, although the tongue-tied nerd has a secret crush on Amy (Jayma Mays), a cute cosmetic clerk whose kiosk he regularly passes while patrolling the mall on his trusty, two-wheeled Segway, he can’t summon up the nerve to share his feelings with her.
The plot thickens one fateful evening while Paul is slacking off on the job, playing games in a video arcade when a gang of crooks hatch a plan to rob all the stores he’s been sworn to protect. Since Amy just happens to be among the hostages herded into a bank, this sets up a sort of obvious opportunity for him to be the hero and get the girl.
About ten times funnier than the similarly-themed Observe & Report, Paul Blart: Mall Cop is a silly, slapstick adventure aimed more at kids than adults. Still, despite the PG rating, the violent scenes are apt to frighten tykes under the age of five. Otherwise, this flick doles out an hour and a half of nearly non-stop, infantile hilarity, all of which leads to a predictably-sweet resolution that you have to wait for the closing credits to see.
A babysitter’s delight!

Very Good (3 stars)
Rated PG for violence, mild epithets, and crude and suggestive humor.
Running time: 91 minutes
Studio: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
DVD Extras: Deleted scenes, outtakes, stunt 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 May 29, 2009


Drag Me to Hell (PG-13 for terror, violence, disturbing images and profanity) Recession era horror flick about an ambitious loan officer (Alison Lohman) looking for a promotion who instead finds herself plagued by a supernatural curse after she forecloses on an old woman (Lorna Raver) begging for another extension on her mortgage payment. With Justin Long, David Paymer and Dileep Rao.

Up (PG for peril and action) Family-oriented, animated comedy about an adventurous 78 year-old (Edward Asner) who finally pursues his lifelong dream of traveling to the wilds of South America by attaching thousands of balloons to his home, unaware that he’s being accompanied by an 8 year-old stowaway (Jordan Nagai). Voice cast includes Christopher Plummer, Delroy Lindo and John Ratzenberger.


Departures (PG-13 for mature themes) Foreign Film Oscar-winner revolving around the plight of an unemployed cellist (Masahiro Motoki) who moves back to his hometown where he discovers the true meaning of life when he takes a job as an undertaker over the objection of his wife (Ryoko Hirosue) and friends. (In Japanese with subtitles)

The Lonely Maiden (PG-13 for profanity, nudity and brief fantasy violence) Crime comedy, set in Massachusetts, about three museum security guards (Morgan Freeman, Christopher Walken and William H. Macy) who hatch an inside job to steal several masterpieces in order to prevent a new curator (Todd Weeks) from transferring their favorite works of art to another institution.

Munyurangabo (Unrated) Ethnic cleansing drama about a war orphan (Jeff Rutagengwa) who travels from Kingali to the countryside in search of justice, 15 years after the gruesome genocide which consumed close to a million lives in just 100 days. (In Kinyarwanda with subtitles)

Offshore (Unrated) Globalization comedy about a couple of telemarketers (Emily Rose Merrell and Deb Tunis) who decide to take revenge when their jobs are outsourced and they are asked by their company’s CEO (Marty Bufalini) to train their East Indian replacements. (In English and Hindi with subtitles)

Owl and the Sparrow (PG for smoking and mature themes) Bittersweet drama, about a ten year-old orphan (Pham Thi Han), living on the streets of Saigon, who plays the role of matchmaker for a lonely zookeeper (Le The Lu) and a cosmopolitan flight attendant (Cat Ly). (In Vietnamese with subtitles)

Pontypool (Unrated) Psychological thriller, unfolding from the perspective of the staff of an Ontario radio station who barricade themselves in a basement broadcast booth when they realize that the violence is sweeping the region is being spread by a virus triggered by the use of the English language. Ensemble cast includes Stephen McHattie, Lisa Houle, Georgina Reilly, Hrant Alianak and Rick Roberts.

Pressure Cooker (Unrated) Uplifting documentary chronicles the efforts of Wilma Stephenson, a demanding Culinary Arts teacher at an inner city, Philadelphia public high school, as she inspires underprivileged students to apply themselves in her class in order to earn college scholarships to some of the most prestigious cooking institutes around the country.

What Goes Up (R for teen sexuality, profanity and drug use) Slice-of-life drama, set in 1986, about a reporter (Steve Coogan) sent from New York to New Hampshire to write a story about the hometown of ill-fated, teacher-turned-astronaut Christa McAuliffe who finds himself unexpectedly in charge of a classroom of dysfunctional students, including a shameless flirt (Hilary Duff), a repressed Peeping Tom (Josh Peck) and a scheming baby mama-to-be (Olivia Thirlby).

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

In the Red and Brown Water (THEATER REVIEW)

Theater Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Innovative Play Explores the State of African-American Emotional Relationships

In the Red and Brown Water is the initial offering in a trilogy written by Tarell Alvin McCraney, a 2007 graduate of the Yale School of Drama. Judging from the splash his imaginative tale is making en route to opening in Manhattan in the near future, the promising young playwright has a very bright future ahead of himself indeed.
Before I even start to talk a little about the plot, I am compelled to discuss the highly-stylized stage device Mr. McCraney employs here, namely, having each of the nine cast members mention what he or she is feeling or about to do prior to speaking or moving. For instance, a character named Joe might announce to the audience, “Joe is hungry” just before reaching for something to eat. You get the idea. This breaking of the fourth wall is a risky trick which could easily backfire, but McCraney has a way with words and is fortunate to have assembled a gifted cast capable of convincingly executing his unorthodox vision.
The story is set in the “distant present” (cute) in the mythical City of San Pere, Louisiana where an enveloping tale is about to be spun around a recent high school grad named Oya (Kianne’ Muschett). At the point of departure, we find the talented track star torn between attending an out-of-town college and sticking around to care for her terminally-ill single-mom (Heather Alicia-Simms).
Besides that pressing life-and-death issue, the duty-bound daughter also has to deal with the equally-urgent romantic overtures of Shango (Samuel Ray Gates), a jive player who’s not the type to stick around post-conquest. Oya has a more ardent admirer in Ogun (Marc Damon Johnson), but nice guys never seem to inspire reciprocal passion in a girl attracted to danger.
Since it would be unfair for me to divulge further any of the amusing developments, suffice to say that getting there is both delightful and thought-provoking every step of the way as I addresses a variety of universal themes but in a distinctly African-American fashion. Besides the aforementioned leads, kudos are in order for fellow cast members Alano Miller, Marc Damon Johnson, Nikiya Mathis, Kimberly Hebert Gregory, Brian Tyree Henry, and Barnaby Carpenter. Ditto for In the Red and Brown Water’s daring director Tina Landau and its imaginative costume designer Karen Perry, since the minimalist set sans props make the characters’ outfits of that much more significance.
What a refreshing, rare treat it was for this film critic to see thespians perform in the flesh as opposed to on celluloid, especially when the company was comprised of such an impressive group from top to bottom. So, you can be sure I’m headed back to the theater to catch the second and third installments of McCraney’s inspired, innovative triskelion, which together he’s dubbed The Brother/Sister Plays.

Excellent (4 stars)
Unrated, with profanity, sexuality and ethnic slurs.
Venue: McCarter Theater, Princeton, NJ

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Hollywood Chinese

TV Review by Kam Williams

Headline: PBS-TV Special Set to Explore Asian Stereotypes in Cinema

Asians have been portrayed just as unfairly as blacks by filmmakers, and also right from the inception of the movie industry. While many might think of D.W. Griffith’s “The Birth of a Nation” (1915) as the starting point of the dissemination of such racist images, the Chinese had by then already been smeared by an earlier silent picture entitled “Massacre of the Christians by the Chinese” (1900).
Over the intervening years, Asians have been generally presented in a
very limited fashion in accordance with several recognizable stereotypes popularized and perpetuated by Hollywood. The females tend to be very deferential and sexually available for white men, who they adore and place upon pedestals. Meanwhile, their males are shown to be either desexualized and submissive, or as dangerous and demonic, if they’re at all assertive.
The history of systematic cinematic mistreatment of yellow-skinned people is carefully recounted in Hollywood Chinese, an enlightening, encyclopedic expose’ which is set to premiere at 9 PM on Wednesday, May 27th on the PBS television series American Masters. Carefully chronicling the screen characterizations of Asians over the past century, decade by decade, the film shows how harmful and widespread the fallout from these movies has been.
Besides damning film footage, this groundbreaking documentary features the revealing reflections of luminaries like author Amy Tan, directors Ang Lee, Justin Lin and Wayne Wang, actors Nancy Kwan, James Hong and Joan Chen, and academic Stephen Gong. Mr. Gong points out that movies are more than entertainment, for the have the potential to damage with the images they create.
Others speak about growing up hating themselves because of the way they were marginalized by the media. It is important to note in this regard that in the early days of cinema many of the most famous Asian roles, such as Fu Manchu, Mr. Moto and Charlie Chan, were played in “yellow-face” by whites. So, you had Caucasian thespians totally misrepresenting a culture by speaking in an insulting, monosyllabic, pidgin English dialect that suggested they were capable of no deeper reasoning than your average fortune cookie.
The problem is that when Hollywood was finally ready to hire Asians to play themselves in lead roles, the industry still demanded that they mimic the previously-established prevailing archetypes. Thus, it is no surprise to hear one actress recount here how she had to depend on an acting coach to learn the unfamiliar mannerisms of the one-dimensional, cinematic version of the Chinese, and how to speak “Chinglish.”
The bulk of the interviewees regret that Asians, until relatively recently, never had the opportunity to tell their own stories. Consequently, they fear that they might never be seen as complex human beings with a full range of fears, feelings and emotions. Sadly, the simplistic message still delivered by Hollywood is that the West is masculine, and the Orient is feminine, almost as if the East wants to be dominated.
An eye-opening documentary delineating how motion pictures have negatively impacted affected the Asian community, and how they are like to continue to affect impressionable young minds for generations to come.

Excellent (4 stars)
Running time: 90 minutes
Studio: PBS

Hollywood Chinese is set to premiere at 9 PM on Wednesday, May 27th on the PBS television series American Masters.

The Much Too Promised Land: America’s Elusive Search for Arab-Israeli Peace

by Aaron David Miller
Bantam Books
Paperback, $16.00
416 pages
ISBN: 978-0-553-38414-7

Book Review by Kam Williams

“The 9/11 attacks demonstrated with a terrifying clarity that the security of the continental U.S. was now attached to the affairs of the Arab and Muslim East, including the disposition of the much too promised land; and that in that relationship we are more vulnerable to danger than at any other point in our history… We cannot consent to giving Israel a veto over our negotiating positions, when the practical effect is to force us to ignore Arab interests or even our own.
Here is one special, albeit unsolicited, piece of advice to future presidents contemplating getting involved in Arab-Israeli diplomacy… If you can’t take a lot of heat from the Arabs as well as from the Israelis and the organized pro-Israeli community, find another conflict to mediate or broker. And frankly, if you’re not prepared to stand up for your own country’s interests on an issue now more critical to our security than ever before, to lead rather than assuage domestic -- Excerpted from Chapter Ten (pages 365, 376- & 377)

President Obama’s recent face-to-face meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Oval Office is a signal that the United States is prepared to mediate the Middle East peace process. But before he commits the country to finding a solution for that millennia-old conflict, he might like to check out this revealing memoir by Aaron David Miller, who served as an advisor to a half dozen secretaries of State during both Bush Administrations as well as under Bill Clinton.
He starts his controversial opus by stating that the Holy Land, Palestine, aka The Much Too Promised Land, was given by God first to the Jews, then to the Christians, and finally to the Muslims. Who said God doesn’t have a sense of humor?
Later, England staked its claim to the same territory in the process of building the British Empire, and for the past 60 years the partitioned parcel has been known as Israel. So, it’s no wonder that the place remains a hotbed of controversy, when you have so many folks feeling entitled to it based on their faith, while others covet it for strategic political reasons.
What makes this book fascinating is that the author recounts the evolution of American diplomatic policy in terms of Israel over the course of his 20-year career at the State Department. And because he was privy to so many confidential conversations, he is able to make the reader feel like a fly on the wall as he recalls critical moments in American history.
For example, he relates how Colin Powell felt he “had no real authority” to broker a settlement when he was sent to the region after tensions between Jews and Muslims had erupted into violence. His contradictory orders were to “go solve it, but don’t do anything.” Is it any wonder then that Powell would say to the author, “Aaron, they got me… They’re [expletive]-ing telling me which way to take a piss and for how long.”
And exactly who were the mysterious “they” he was referring to? You guessed it: Cheney, Rumsfeld and the rest of the Bush junta who had implemented a “hands-off” attitude towards Israel. In fact, Miller says, “Powell was the only advocate in the administration for doing anything on the Arab-Israeli issue.” Apparently, the President simply preferred to defer to Israel, giving it “significant input” in shaping our foreign policy, even allowing it to edit his speeches and to provide specific language.
A sobering tome which serves to highlight why everyone will be watching to see whether Obama opts to continue the U.S.’ long-standing tradition of uncritical allegiance to Israel and to rubber stamp its every political move, regardless of how it might impact America.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Jerichow (GERMAN)

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Chauffeur Dates the Boss’ Wife in Grim, German Remake of Film Noir Classic

After Thomas (Benno Furmann) inherits his mother’s house, he decides to return to his hometown to live. However, tiny Jerichow is located in a desolate region of northeastern Germany presently plagued by economic plight. So, as a dishonorably-discharged soldier, the almost broke bachelor finds it next to impossible to find any employment.
Salvation arrives in the person of Ali (Hilmi Sozer), a Turkish businessman Thomas who owns a chain of snack bars. Although Ali is generally suspicious of people, for some reason he takes a liking to the strapping young stranger. And against his better judgment, he offers him a job as his chauffeur and personal assistant. This means that Thomas now must not only spend a lot of time around his middle-aged boss, but will often be in the company of his benefactor’s restless, neglected and considerably-younger wife, Laura (Nina Hoss).
Needless to say, this proves to be a recipe for disaster, as sparks fly between Thomas and the fetching femme fatale. Naïve Ali unwittingly trusts them both, even going so far as encouraging them to dance romantically with each other at the beach. Subsequently, the two secretly rendezvous and embark on a steamy affair before they start contemplating ways of moving Ali out of the picture entirely.
This is the ominous premise established in Jerichow, a well-crafted crime caper directed by Christian Petzold (Yella). Although Petzold also takes a writing credit for the picture, the picture might be better thought of as a German remake of The Postman Always Rings Twice.
Even if you’re familiar with the plotline of that 1946 classic, this variation on the theme is nonetheless worthwhile for the visual capture of the cinematography alone. For the compelling action unfolds against an array of bracing backdrops, a sumptuous mix of natural settings. From a verdant forest to the empty expanse of the rolling plain to a scenic seashore topped by a cliff that could provide the perfect launching pad for the feloniously-inclined.
How do you say “Three’s a crowd” auf Deutsch?

Excellent (4 stars)
In German and Turkish with subtitles.
Running time: 88 minutes
Studio: Cinema Guild

Shawn and Damien Wayans: The Dance Flick Interview

with Kam Williams

Headline: Shawn and Damien Weigh-In on Latest Wayans Family Production

In 2000, the Wayans Brothers made a big splash with Scary Movie, a hilarious spoof of horror flicks. Since that phenomenal franchise has raked in about a billion dollars at the box office, it’s no surprise that it also spawned a cottage industry of imitators, including such similar parodies as Not Another Teen Movie, Date Movie, Epic Movie, Superhero Movie, Meet the Spartans and Disaster Movie.
Now the Wayans have returned to the genre with Dance Flick, a spoof of dance films featuring plenty of their relatives both in front of and behind the camera. Directed by Damien Wayans, the picture is based on a script he co-wrote with his Uncles Shawn, Keenan Ivory, Marlon and Cousin Craig. Plus, the movie stars ten Wayans: Damon, Jr., Kim, Shawn, Marlon, Craig, Keenan, Chaunte, Michael, Cara Mia and Gregory.
Recently, Shawn and Damien shared their thoughts with me not only about making the movie but about being members of a family which has become as associated with acting as families with pedigreed thespian lineages like the Barrymores, the Phoenixes, the Fondas, the Bridges, the Baldwins, the Arquettes and the Redgraves.

KW: Shawn, Damien, thanks for the time.
SW: Hey, what it do, Kam?
DW: Hi.
KW: Shawn, the first time I ever interviewed you was at the Four Seasons for Scary Movie. You might remember it because I brought my young son along who was in the fourth grade at the time. He was dying to meet you and Marlon because he watched your TV show, “The Wayans Bros,” every day after school. And you guys were great with him, signing autographs and taking pictures with him.
SW: That’s right. I remember. How’s he doing?
KW: Very well, thanks. He’s a sophomore at Princeton.
SW: Wow, that’s great! Time sure goes by fast, huh?
KW: What took you so long to parody another genre? After all, the Wayans revived the whole interest in spoofs with Scary Movie. But then everybody started ripping off your idea with Date Movie, Epic Movie, Superhero Movie, Disaster Movie and Not Another Teen Movie.
SW: You mean, “Not a Wayans Movie.” Yeah, we did start something, but we took time off to pursue some other projects. Then, when we missed having that kind of fun, we picked a genre that we wanted to lampoon and went back at it.
KW: Damien, this movie marks you feature film directorial debut. How challenging did you find it?
DW: Well, as a first-timer, there’s always going to be challenges. But I had my family around, and that’s always good, since they’re funny guys and add to the process. If they were unfunny, that would probably be a problem. They’re also producers who understand that they have a brand, who know how to execute that brand and to make sure that comes across. And I think they did a good job.
KW: Did you have a hard time commanding the respect of your veteran actor relatives in the cast, being younger than them?
DW: Nah, they all listen. They’re uncles, and at the end of the day, they want that respect. And they earned it.
SW: We all respected each other. We thought he was the guy for the job because we knew he had the talent to be able to do this. It was a really fun, family project, and we had a good time.
KW: Why is it so many actors and actresses I interview credit a Wayans brother for helping them get their start?
SW: Yeah, we’ve helped a lot of folks. [Chuckles] But we had help. My brother Keenan helped us. So, we try to help other people who share that passion and are serious about comedy.
KW: I see that five of you worked on the script for Dance Flick. What was involved in that process?
SW: We just went into a room, drank some green tea, began feeling jittery, and started being funny. [Laughs]
KW: When coming up with ideas, do you think about how expensive it will be to shoot a particular stunt?
SW: Yeah, as you get closer to the actual time when the movie’s going to be shot, the more challenging the stuff you wrote hopped-up on green tea becomes to execute.
DW: [Laughs] Exactly!
KW: Attorney Bernadette Beekman asks, who do you think would make a good Supreme Court Justice?
SW: Who do I think would make a good Supreme Court Justice? Michelle Obama.
DW: I’m a go with Judge Mathis, or Oprah. [Chuckles]
SW: Hold on, he’s got more questions. You might want to save Oprah.
KW: You might answer Oprah to The Rudy Lewis question: Who’s at the top of your hero list?
DW: Keenan.
KW: The bookworm Troy Johnson question: What was the last book you read?
SW: “Eat Right for Your Metabolism” by Felicia Drury Kliment.
DW: Mine was Donald Goines’ ”Black Girl Lost.”
KW: Bobby Shenker wants to know whether that hilarious “Men on Film” sketch from “In Living Color” will ever be adapted in to a movie.
SW: Will it ever? I can’t say whether it might ever make its way to film, but I can’t say never either.
KW: The Tasha Smith question: Are you ever afraid?
SW: I guess of flying.
DW: If he didn’t say that, I was just about to say it. That man is nervous about flying.
SW: I don’t really like flying, and I ain’t down with getting in the ocean either. Sharks!
DW: Me, I was a little nervous about this movie until Keenen calmed me down when he came in and said, “You’re doing a good job. You rock!”
KW: The Columbus Short question: Are you happy?
SW: Yes, very happy!
KW: The Teri Emerson question: When was the last time you had a good belly laugh?
SW: Watching this movie.
DW: Yeah, watching David Alan Grier play Sugar Bear. [Laughs]
SW: And watching that scene from Superbad where they were drawing penises.
KW: The music maven Heather Covington question: What music are you listening to nowadays?
DW: Ooh, that’s a good one. I rock that Jay-Z all the time, and Diddy.
SW: I have to listen to older music because I don’t feel like we’re getting great new music right now. I like Kanye… Common… Little Wayne…
DW: Yeah, I like Kanye. I love what he’s doing. I’m a big Dre fan, and Eminem.
KW: The Laz Alonso question: How can your fans help you?
DW: By coming out to see Dance Flick, and bring everybody you know.
SW: And don’t bootleg our movies.
KW: When you look in the mirror, what do you see?
DW: I know what Shawn sees. You see Grandpa, because you look just like him.
SW: What do I see? A hard worker.
KW: Is there any question no one ever asks you, that you wish someone would?
SW: That question.
KW: What advice do you have for anyone who wants to follow in your footsteps?
DW: I would say, to keep the hustle alive, never take “No” for an answer.
SW: And stay close to your family, and teach those younger than you how to do it.
KW: How do you feel when Barack Obama became President of the United States?
SW: It was an unbelievable feeling.
DW: Yeah, it was incredible.
KW: “Realtor to the Stars” Jimmy Bayan’s question: Where in L.A. do you live?
SW: I’d rather not say.
DW: I stay down the block from where you don’t want to go.
KW: Do you still have ties to New York?
SW: Yeah, New York will always be a big part of our heart and our soul.
KW: What’s the target audience for Dance Flick?
SW: Anyone who wants to laugh.
KW: How do you want to be remembered?
SW: As guys who did some quality work and who were good people.
KW: Is there any message that people can take away from this movie?
SW: That even during a recession, you can laugh.
KW: Well, I really appreciate the interview, and best of luck with the film.
DW: Thank you.
SW: I’m glad to hear your son’s doing well. Tell him I said, “Hi!”
KW: Will do, definitely.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Angels & Demons

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Da Vinci Code Sequel as Disappointing as Original

Between its preposterous storyline and its blasphemous revisionist history, the highly-anticipated screen adaptation of The Da Vinci Code was the most over-hyped disappointment of 2006. Although there’s been a lot less buzz surrounding this sequel, Angels & Demons, nonetheless, offers a cinematic experience which is equally underwhelming.
Based on the Dan Brown best-seller of the same name, the film was directed by Ron Howard and stars Tom Hanks who reprises his role as Harvard symbologist Dr. Robert Langdon. Howard assembled an international ensemble which included Scotsman Ewan McGregor, Prussian Armin Mueller-Stahl, Israeli Ayelet Zurer, Dane Nikolaj lie Kaas, Italian Pierfrancesco Favino and Swede Stellan Skarsgard. Skarsgard, by the way, recently trashed the book while on tour supposedly promoting the movie. Not a good omen.
Anyhoo, at the point of departure, we learn that the Pope has just passed away and that the College of Cardinals is convening in Vatican City to pick his successor. However, before the conclave can arrive at a consensus, the four favorites to ascend to the papacy are abducted by a madman who announces plans to execute them one-by-one, beginning at 8 PM.
With time being of the essence, Dr. Langdon is summoned from Cambridge to Rome by the Vatican because of a cryptic note left by the Cardinals’ kidnappers. Interpreting the hieroglyphics, he identifies the crime to be the work of the Illuminati, a vengeful, secret society of heretics who have been at odds with the Church for hundreds of years.
Meanwhile, a team of scientists at CERN (European Organization for Nuclear Research) collaborating on an atomic collider in Switzerland successfully harnesses anti-matter capable of unlocking the secret to the moment of creation in three separate containers. However, an intruder immediately breaches security, kills a member of the research team, and escapes with a vial slated to explode at the stroke of midnight.
Soon, Professor Langdon lands in Europe, where he teams up with veteran Inspector Olivetti (Favino) and the beautiful, if vapid, Vittoria Vetra (Zurer), a colleague of the man murdered at CERN. The intrepid trio proceeds to unravel a multi-layered mystery which, of course, has the two incidents they’re investigating conveniently dovetail together.
Again and again, the terminally-loquacious Langdon proves to have an uncanny knack for deciphering precisely what every inscrutable mark and message means, as each discovery invariably only confirms another one of his cockamamie conspiracy theories. Lucky for him, the constant claptrap never annoys the wide-eyed Vittoria (only the audience), even if he has a bad habit of uncovering clues too late to save the cardinals. But the question remains whether they’ll be able to recover the canister of anti-matter before it detonates and lays waste to the Vatican. Too bad, this dud is so inadvertently funny, there’s absolutely no tension in the theater when the moment of truth arrives.
A farcical, farfetched, patience-testing, 2½-hour insult to the intelligence. And I had assumed President Obama had signed a law banning torture!

Poor (0 stars)
Rated PG-13 for violence, mature themes and disturbing images.
In English, Italian and Latin with subtitles.
Running time: 138 minutes
Studio: Columbia Pictures

Friday, May 15, 2009

New York Yankees Perfect Games and No-Hitters DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: DVD Set Harks Back to Yankees’ Salad Days

2009 is shaping up to be a loooooong season for the New York Yankees, given their slow start. The outlook isn’t exactly brilliant between injuries to key players and the underperformance of some of their new high priced free agents. Fortunately, the team has a rich legacy for its frustrated fans to fall back on if they need to get a little relief from the current fiasco.
For instance, this 6-DVD set revisits the Yankees at their very best, as it focuses on a half-dozen no-hitters from the storied franchise’s salad days. The first disc contains Don Larsen’s perfect game thrown during the 1956 World Series against the Brooklyn Dodgers, and features play-by-play called by a couple of legendary announcers: Mel Allen and Vin Scully.
Next, we have Dave Righetti’s no-hitter over the Yanks arch rivals, the Boston Red Sox, a contest which took place on the Fourth of July in 1983.
Then there’s Jim Abbott’s inspirational no-no over the Cleveland Indians in September of 1993, a feat which was doubly noteworthy because Jim was born without a right hand.
A couple of discs chronicle games pitched by former New York Mets, which is interesting because the Yanks’ cross-town rivals still have never had a no-hitter in the history of the organization. But their former All-Star, Dwight Gooden, bested the Seattle Mariners for the Yankees in the spring of 1996, thereby igniting the squad which would develop sufficient momentum to prevail in the World Series that October. Three years later, ex-Met David Cone would pitch a perfect game versus the Montreal Expos, an achievement also coupled with a fairy tale ending of a World Series trophy following the regular season.
Finally, we have David Wells’ sensational perfect game against the Minnesota Twins in 1998, interesting because Wells himself was well-known as a lover of baseball statistics, lore and memorabilia. Overall, consider this DVD set an incomparable collection of historic performances which ought to help take beleaguered Yankee fans’ minds off their hurting heroes’ present plight.

Excellent (4 stars)
Running time: 12 hours 33 minutes, including extras.
Studio: A&E Home Video
DVD Extras: Interviews with Don Larsen, Dave Righetti, Dwight Gooden, David Wells and David Cone, radio calls of Don Larsen’s perfect game, Dwight Gooden Day, David Wells Day, and Abbott/Righetti and Wells/Larsen/Cone features.

Thursday, May 14, 2009


Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Russian Documentary Paints Chilling Portrait of Life behind the Iron Curtain

If you’re wondering what life was like behind the Iron Curtain during the Cold War, you might want to check out Revue, a revealing documentary directed by Sergei Loznitsa. You may remember Mr. Loznitsa for his brilliant film Blockade which completely reconstructed the 900-day Battle of Leningrad WWII from silent archival footage augmented by modern sound effects.
His new picture paints a chilling portrait of the U.S.S.R. simply by stringing together a motley mix of Communist propaganda from the Fifties and Sixties. The politically-tinged materials range from fiery speeches by Soviet Premier Nikita Khruschev to farm reports to stage plays to television shows to patriotic pledges by everyday citizens.
One of the movie’sfunniest moments involves a man-on-the street interview with a steelworker pledging to produce an extra 80 tons by Election Day, since I didn’t think they even bothered to hold any over there. But there’s even a subsequent scene of folks filing in and casting their ballots, followed by an announcement that the Communist Party won by a landslide. Why am I not surprised?
Equally-amusing are a clip of a choir harmonizing about plowing and planting, another of a comrade narrating a poem extolling the virtues of mass production, and one of a radio program dedicated to the announcement of train deliveries. Guess those rumors about shortages and bread lines during the Cold war were true.
Despite all of the anti-Western indoctrination, Soviet entertainment seems to have been somewhat influenced by America. For instance, there’s a TV show that looks like Lawrence Welk featuring a singing group of blonde siblings who may as well have called themselves the Lennon Sisters, or should I say, the Lenin Sisters. How about a show of hand puppets dressed like a rock band who whirl like dervishes to Chubber Checker’s “Let’s Twist Again.”
However, Sergei saw fit to include plenty of traditional cultural flourishes, such as a segment in which Russian men do that squat dance where they fold their arms and kick their legs out a lot. What’s most fascinating is how the totalitarian government managed to control every aspect of the media, making a concerted effort to deliver the same message throughout the nation. It essentially amounted to, “If we work harder we’ll have enough food for all” and to “destroy capitalism.”
Yeah, right.

Very Good (3 stars)
In Russian with subtitles.
Running time: 72 minutes
Distributor: Icarus Films

Crips and Bloods: Made in America DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: L.A. Gang Wars Documentary Comes to DVD

How many young lives would you guess have been claimed in gang-related warfare in Los Angeles over the past four decades? 100? 200? 500? Try 15,000 and counting. What makes a poor kid pick up a gun and shoot another poor kid for something as seemingly meaningless as a pair of sneakers or for passing through his neighborhood?
To get at the roots of such profound dysfunction, you really have dig rather deeply, as does director Stacy Peralta in Crips and Bloods: Made in America. Narrated by Forest Whitaker, the film opens with actual footage of gang-bangers being blown away in drive-bys and being left lying dead in the street. Apparently, some of these demented killers are so proud of their slayings that they get a kick out of filming their dirty work so they can watch it later at their leisure.
Such sensational and sobering moments aside, the picture more importantly offers a serious discussion of exactly how the gangs in L.A. came to be. Apparently, it is not unusual for a kid from the ‘hood to go from the cradle to the grave without ever seeing the suburbs, the ocean at Malibu, the mansions in Beverly Hills, or other alternatives to the thug life.
According to former gang member Ron Wilkins, the Crips and the Bloods were originally formed as benign, street-front fraternities which offered rudderless youngsters a sense of status, family, power and acceptance in a world which was showing them little in the way of love. But they gradually morphed into felonious associations, since there weren’t many legal outlets for all that unbridled testosterone.
The crack epidemic of the Eighties didn’t help matters much, nor did the dwindling manufacturing base or an educational system way too willing to graduate functional illiterates. As the curtain comes down on this daunting documentary, expect to well up while watching emotional tableaus of grieving mothers burying their babies at funerals or simply staring blankly into the camera with tears streaming down their pained faces.
The tragic side of the thug lifestyle that they never show in gangsta videos.

Excellent (4 stars)
Running time: 95 minutes
Studio: New Video Group
DVD Extras: “The Making of” featurette, deleted scenes and interviews with hip-hop artists Snoop Dogg and Lil Wayne.

Wednesday, May 13, 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 22, 2009


Dance Flick (PG-13 for profanity, sexuality and crude humor) The Wayans Brothers parody plenty of popular dance films in this series of sketches revolving around the romantic relationship of a rich girl from the suburbs (Shoshana Bush) and a streetwise kid (Damon Wayans, Jr.) from the other side of the tracks. Cast includes Amy Sedaris, Chris Elliott, David Alan Grier, and Marlon, Shawn, Kim, Craig and Keenen Ivory Wayans.

Night at the Museum II (PG for action, crude humor and mild epithets) Ben Stiller is back for another round of hijinks with historical figures as a hapless night watchman Larry Daley, with the slapstick taking place this time at the Smithsonian. Star-studded ensemble includes Robin Williams, Amy Adams, Owen Wilson, Bill Hader, Jonah Hill, Hank Azaria, Eugene Levy, Mickey Rooney, Dick Van Dyke, Ricky Gervais and Thomas Lennon.

Terminator Salvation (PG-13 for profanity and intense violence) Fourth installment in the fabled sci-fi franchise unfolds in a post-apocalyptic scenario where the fate of what’s left of humanity is dependent upon a chivalrous soldier’s (Christian Bale) efforts to organize the resistance against an army of invading cyborgs bent on annihilation. Cast includes Sam Worthington, Helena Bonham Carter, Common and Bryce Dallas Howard. And Arnold Schwarzenegger is back, but courtesy of a body double and computer-generated imagery.


Burma VJ (Unrated) Question authority documentary recounting the valiant effort of an outlawed association of underground photojournalists who risked their lives to show the rest of the world Burma’s military regime’s ruthless repression of political protests led by Buddhist monks in 2007. (In Burmese and English with subtitles)

Easy Virtue (PG-13 for smoking, sexuality and brief partial nudity) Remake of Alfred Hitchcock’s silent classic adapted from the Noel Coward play of the same name. Set during the Roaring Twenties, this class-conscious comedy chronicles the challenges faced by a proper British aristocrat (Ben Barnes) when he brings his free-spirited American bride (Jessica Biel) home to meet his stuffy, aristocratic parents (Kristin Scott Thomas and Colin Firth).

The Girlfriend Experience (R for nudity, profanity and sexuality) Steven Soderbergh directs this revealing, erotic drama examining five, fun-filled days in the life of a high-priced call girl (Sasha Grey) during the period leading up to the 2008 U.S. Presidential Election.

Kabei: Our Mother (Unrated) Dysfunctional family drama based on Teruyo Nogami’s childhood memoir about coming-of-age in Japan during the turbulent times of the late1930s. Cast includes Sayuri Yoshinaga, Mirai Shida and Rei Dan. (In Japanese with subtitles)

Milton Glaser: To Inform and Delight (Unrated) Bio-pic revisits the illustrious career of venerable, native New Yorker Milton Glaser, founder of New York Magazine and designer of the ubiquitous I Love New York logo.

O’Horten (Unrated) Droll Norwegian dramedy about a melancholy, 67 year-old train engineer’s (Baard Owe) attempt to adjust to a solitary existence after being forced to retire because of his age from the only job he has held for the past four decades. (In Norwegian with subtitles)

Down Home with the Neelys: A Southern Family Cookbook

by Patrick and Gina Neely
with Paula Disbrowe
Alfred A. Knopf
Hardcover, $27.95
288 pages, illustrated
ISBN: 978-0-307-26994-2

Book Review by Kam Williams

“Hey, everyone, first of all, I want to thank you for reading our book and watching our show. We had no idea what we were getting into when we let television cameras into our house, but—you know what?—it’s been fun. The show has allowed us to share our recipes with a lot of people, many of whom now come and visit us at the restaurants. It’s also allowed us to tell some of our story.
We decide to put it all down on paper because folks kept asking. They’d send us letters, asking for our recipes. They’d send us e-mails, asking how we met. So we figured, give the public what they want. And that’s pretty much how this book was born.”
 Gina Neely in the Introduction (page 3)

It’s impossible to say what’s more appealing about this opus, the authors’
sweet love story, or their succulent recipes for barbecued food and all the fixins. The back story is that Patrick and Gina Neely had been high school sweethearts, but didn’t actually marry until after reuniting in their native Memphis after attending different colleges out of town.
Today, the blissful couple has not only been blessed with two beautiful daughters, Spenser and Shelbi, but they also own one of the most successful barbecue restaurant chains in the country, Neely’s Bar-B-Que, with locations in both Memphis and Nashville. In 2008, they started co-hosting their own cooking show on the Food Network, “Down Home with the Neelys,” and in response to the series’ popularity they decided to share their trade secrets in this practical cookbook of the same name which arrives attractively illustrated with 75 mouth-watering photographs.
Here’s one thing I noticed right off the bat about these recipes: they tend to go heavy on bacon fat and butter. No wonder the food tastes so delicious. So, do me a favor and just don’t go overboard and rely on this tasty tome 24-7 or your arteries are likely to be clogged in a week.
That disclaimer out of the way, among the scrumptious recipes revealed here are ones for Crusty Cornbread (contains bacon fat), Gina’s Perfect Rice (with butter), Pimento Cheese Melts (with strips of bacon), Spinach Salad with Bacon, Two Potato Salad (with strips of bacon), Southern Creamed Corn (with bacon fat, butter and heavy cream) and Sauteed Kale (with bacon). Even the Caribbean Rum Nuts recipe calls for butter.
Listen, you can’t argue with success, and I’m certainly not complaining, simply asking you not to go hog wild, pardon the expression. To be fair, the Neelys include plenty of healthier alternatives, like Fried Green Tomatoes (What came first, the movie or the dish?) which calls for vegetable oil instead of lard. But I suspect that any gourmet interested in Southern cuisine will go right to the pages on such down home delicacies as Ham Hocks, Spicy Fried Chicken, Old-Fashioned Glazed Ham and, of course, the Neely’s trademark dish, Memphis-Style Barbecued Pork Ribs.
With Father’s Day’s around the corner, I couldn’t think of a better way to drop a hint that it might be time for him to fire up the grill.