Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Love Ethic

The Love Ethic: The Reason Why You Can't Find and Keep Beautiful Black Love
by Kamau and Akilah Butler
Foreword by Chuck D
Twinlineal Institute
Paperback, $14.95
176 pages
ISBN: 978-0-615-27519-2

Book Review by Kam Williams

“I think the notion of Black love in this book is an answer to the hatred that has taken place between Black men and Black women. Something has been poured in the waters of the Black community that has made hate and animosity more understood than love itself...
Reading this book will hopefully spark the necessary conversation needed to find the love within ourselves to connect to one another again… Any community dialogue involving healing, relationships, or renewal will find this book an essential tool, thus making it possible to find and totally unlock the love that has been missing between the Black man and woman.
 Rapper Chuck D of Public Enemy in the Foreword (page 13)

I have read a lot of love advice books in my lifetime, but never one that
Offered such a compelling history lesson in the process of talking about how to have a successful relationship. When it comes to African-Americans, this approach might make sense, provided you buy the idea that the fallout from the trauma of slavery continues to radiate like a ripple on a pond and to have a profound effect on how black men and women interact with each other.
Those who would say that’s just an excuse since black folks have been emancipated for generations would do well to heed the sage words of William Faulkner, a white Southerner, who freely acknowledged: “The past isn’t dead. In fact, it isn’t even past.” This is the crux of the argument postulated by Kamau and Akilah Butler in The Love Ethic, a compassionate examination of the black battle-of-the-sexes viewed through the prism of the oppressive African-American ordeal in the U.S.
The authors bring a plethora of personal and academic insight to the project, for not only are they a happily-married couple raising a young son together in Chicago, but they are also each in the process of completing a Ph.D., Akilah in Sociology, Kamau in Social Service Administration. These skills add immeasurably to their ability to deconstruct and discuss in often vivid detail the ramifications of the dehumanization of Africans and the systematic breakup of the black family for centuries on end.
Thus, we see how the sexualization and rape of sisters by plantation owners and their being forced to mate with strangers for breeding purposes rather than for love when added to the inability of emasculated brothers to protect their females have contributed to a distance and distrust still in evidence. But not to worry, for The Love Ethic does provide the answer to the unfortunate standoff in 13 principles to be implemented by anyone eager to heal themselves in order to experience “the magnificent possibilities that Black love holds.”

Entourage: The Complete Fifth Season DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Fifth Season of Hit HBO Series Released on DVD

If you every want to get a good idea of what it’s like to try to make it in show business, for better or worse, you might like to check out Entourage. For this Emmy, Golden-Globe and Peabody Award-winning slice-of-life drama offers a super-realistic, albeit often lighthearted look at the fortunes of a young Hollywood actor on the rise.
That fictional character, Vince Chase (Adrian Grenier), negotiates his way around the murky waters of Tinseltown with the help of his tough as nails agent, Ari Gold (Jeremy Piven), and surrounded by three childhood friends: his manager Eric (Kevin Connolly), his half-brother Drama (Kevin Dillon) who is also an aspiring thespian, and party animal Turtle (Jerry Ferrara). And rounding out the support players in Vince’s entourage are his publicist Shauna (Debi Mazar) and Ari’s long-suffering assistant Lloyd (Rex Lee).
Season Five also featured an impressive array of guest appearances, including by Giovanni Ribisi, rapper Bow Wow, Fran “the Nanny” Drescher, Oscar-winner Martin Landau, Lukas Haas and comedian Kevin Pollak. In addition, plenty of celebs made cameo appearances as themselves, such as since incarcerated gangsta’ rapper T.I., crooner Tony Bennett, golfer Phil Mickelson, actors Mark Wahlberg and Eric Roberts, and film critic Richard Roeper.
Faithful followers of the show will remember that the season opener picked up right where the previous one had left off, with an episode entitled Fantasy Island chronicling the aftermath of Vince’s movie Medellin’s bombing at the Cannes Film Festival. In subsequent installments we find him ironing out relationships issues with his girlfriend (Julia Levy-Boekin), hunting for a job just to pay the bills, and doing a photo shoot with a supermodel (Daniella Van Graas) he has a history with.
Overall, an alternately hilarious and plausible peek at life in L.A.’s fast lane.

Excellent (4 stars)
Rated TV-MA
Running time: 325 minutes
Studio: HBO Home Entertainment
3-Disc DVD Extras: Behind-the-scenes interviews with the cast and crew, and three audio commentaries by the show’s writers, producers and cast members.

Monday, June 29, 2009

The Last Airbender

Paramount Pictures and Nickelodeon Movies Present
A Blinding Edge Pictures/ Kennedy/Marshall Company Production
An M. Night Shyamalan Film
“The Last Airbender”
Co-Producer Jose L. Rodriguez
Executive Producers Kathleen Kennedy Scott Aversano
Michael Dante DiMartino Bryan Konietzko
Produced by Sam Mercer Frank Marshall
Based On the Series “Avatar: The Last Airbender”
Created by Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko
Written, Produced and Directed by M. Night Shyamalan

Cast: Noah Ringer, Nicola Peltz, Dev Patel, Jackson Rathbone, Shaun Toub, Aasif Mandvi and Cliff Curtis.

Synopsis: Air, Water, Earth, Fire. Four nations tied by destiny when the Fire Nation launches a brutal war against the others. A century has passed with no hope in sight to change the path of this destruction. Caught between combat and courage, Aang (Noah Ringer) discovers he is the lone Avatar with the power to manipulate all four elements. Aang teams with Katara (Nicola Peltz), a Waterbender, and her brother, Sokka (Jackson Rathbone), to restore balance to their war-torn world.

Based on the hugely successful Nickelodeon animated TV series, the live-action feature film “The Last Airbender” is the opening chapter in Aang’s struggle to survive.

Release: July 2, 2010

This film has not yet been rated.


“The Last Airbender” is a Paramount Pictures release

The teaser trailer for “THE LAST AIRBENDER” is now available for viewing at http://www.thelastairbendermovie.com

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 July 3, 2009





Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs (PG for crude humor and scenes of peril) Third installment in the animated family franchise finds Woolly mammoth Manny (Ray Romano) and the rest of his prehistoric pals on a mission to rescue Sid the sloth (John Leguizamo) from a mysterious underground world where they have a close encounter with dinosaurs and a one-eyed weasel (Simon Pegg). Voice cast includes Queen Latifah, Denis Leary, Bill Hader, Karen Disher and Jane Lynch.  


Public Enemies (R for profanity and gangland-style slayings) Michael Mann directs this grisly crime saga, set in the Thirties, revolving around the efforts of the FBI to bring mobsters John Dillinger (John Depp), Baby Face Nelson (Stephen Graham) and Pretty Boy Floyd (Channing Tatum) to justice. With Christian Bale as the lawman leading the chase, Billy Crudup as J. Edgar Hoover, and Marion Cotillard as the gangsters’ gun moll.      





The Beaches of Agnès (Unrated) 81 year-old, legendary director Agnès Varda chronicles her own career as a member of French cinema’s Rive Gauche movement in this revealing auto-bio-pic. (In French with subtitles)


The Girl from Monaco (R for sexuality and profanity) Romantic comedy about a criminal defense attorney (Fabrice Luchini) who travels to Monaco to handle a murder trial only to end up competing for the affections of a perky, TV weather girl (Louise Bourgoin) with his own bodyguard (Roschdy Zem). (In French with subtitles)


I Hate Valentine’s Day (PG-13 for sexuality) My Big Fat Greek Wedding’s Nia Vardalos and John Corbett reunite for this romantic romp revolving around a Manhattan florist who finds herself falling in love with a handsome guy opening a new restaurant right down the block. Support cast includes Judah Friedlander, Rachel Dratch and Zoe Kazan.


Lion’s Den (Unrated) Argentine crime saga about a pregnant, 25 year-old college student (Martina Gusman) who ends up raising her baby (Tomas Plotinsky) behind bars and falling in love with a fellow inmate (Laura Garcia) after murdering the father of her child and his gay lover (Rodrigo Santoro) in a jealous rage. (In Spanish with subtitles)


Local Color (R for profanity) Genius-protégé drama, set in 1974, about the mutually-beneficial relationship forged between a troubled 18 year-old art student (Trevor Morgan) and a retired Russian widower (Armin Mueller-Stahl) who lost his joy not only for painting but for living, too, following the death of his wife. With Ray Liotta, Ron Perlman and Charles Durning.


Nollywood Babylon (Unrated) “Lights! Camera! Action!” in Africa is the subject of this documentary examining Nigeria’s booming movie industry, now the third largest in the world after that of L.A. and Bombay.


Tony Manero (Unrated) Crime drama, set in Chile in 1978, about a fifty year-old serial killer (Alfredo Castro) whose hobby is impersonating John Travolta’s character from Saturday Night Fever. (In Spanish and English with subtitles)


Jonas Brothers: The 3-D Concert Experience

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Teen Sensations’ Concert Flick Finds Its Way to DVD

Walt Disney developed phenoms the Jonas Brothers seemed destined for the same phenomenal superstardom enjoyed by another one of the Mouse House Channel’s multi-level marketed pop idols: Hannah Montana. However, this 3-D concert flick flopped at the box office, showing that the siblings have a vulnerability not yet evidenced by the golden-touched Miley Cyrus.

Personally, I don’t blame their legions of young fans for failing to support this soulless enterprise during which they play to the camera as much to the adoring throngs in attendance. Honestly, the movie fails to measure up not only to the best of the genre like the Beatles’ Help, but even to similarly superficial vanity enterprises such as the Spice Girls’ Spice World.

Slick to the point of making me gag, Nick, Joe and Kevin’s transparent act is designed to melt the hearts of tweenyboppers in that first crush phase of life.

With vocal tones ranging from whiny to wounded quail, the Jonas’ stunningly-irrelevant, mega-decibel, heavy metal love ballads are so syrupy they’d make the average adult gag. Typical of their insipid lyrics are lines like: “I don’t want to hurt you, I want to kiss you.” Another ditty goes: “You’re the voice here inside my head, the reason why I’m singing. I need to find you.” Then there’s “She went away, leaving me stranding here, singing all these songs.”

In case you haven’t figured it out, the recurring “I am a relationship loser licking his wounds” theme is emotional red meat patently designed to keep all the pre-pubescent estrogen in the audience salivating. Even the chat between tunes is more of the same, lame lines like: “This song is for every person who’s ever felt alone.”

Fascinating only for the opportunity to observe the mesmerizing effect of a well-rehearsed, mass seduction on an auditorium filled with willing, adoring girls.

Fair (1 star)

Rated G

Running time: 89 minutes

Studio: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

3-Disc DVD Extras: Blu-ray, digital and an extended version of the film including songs not seen in theaters, a backstage featurette and more.

To purchase a copy of Jonas Brothers: The 3-D Concert Experience, visit Amazon.com

Do the Right Thing DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: 20th Anniversary Edition of Spike Lee Classic Out on DVD

It’s hard to believe that it’s already been 20 years since the summer of ’89 when Do the Right Thing made such a splash upon arriving in theaters. Arguably Spike Lee’s best film (although some might make the case for She’s Gotta Have It, Four Little Girls, Bamboozled, School Daze or The Original Kings of Comedy), this refreshingly-frank exploration of black-white relations earned Spike his first Academy Award nomination (in the Original Screenplay category).

The incendiary tale unfolds in the Bedford Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn over the course of the hottest day of the year in New York City. The searing heat and high unemployment rate has some self-appointed leaders in the African-American community confronting the Italian owner (Danny Aiello) of a pizzeria about why he should have a restaurant in a neighborhood with so few black-owned businesses. And the simmering tensions eventually erupt into a sobering, thought-provoking finale.

Watching Do the Right Thing afresh in this presumably “post-racial” Age of Obama, one can’t help but wonder whether the issues raised remain relevant or if they can now only be appreciated for their nostalgic value. After all, the new debate as the euphoria over having the first black president subsides is the question if Obama is suddenly serving for self-satisfied whites as a symbol of integration and homogenization yet to be realized for the bulk of black folks.

Footnotes: Danny Aiello landed an Oscar-nomination for his stellar work as Sal, although the picture also features quite a number of powerful performances, most notably Spike’s as Mookie, Giancarlo Esposite as Buggin’ Out, Bill Nunn as Radio Raheem and Samuel L. Jackson as Mister Senor Love Daddy. The same can be said about John Turturro and Richard Edson who play Aiello’s sons.

Rosie Perez made her screen debut here as Mookie’s nasal baby mama, Tina, as did Martin Lawrence s Cee. And a couple of since-deceased legends are among the cast, namely, the venerable Ossie Davis and comedian Robin Harris.

A riveting drama which remains just as intense as when it debuted a generation ago.

Excellent (4 stars)

Rated R for profanity, violence and ethnic slurs.

Running time: 120 minutes

Studio: Universal Studios Home Entertainment

2-Disc DVD Extras: 11 newly-discovered deleted and extended scenes, director’s commentary, feature commentary with Spike Lee, cinematographer Ernest Dickerson, actress Joie Lee and production designer Wynn Thomas, retrospective documentary with the cast and crew, storyboard gallery, 1989 Cannes press conference, interview with film editor Barry Brown, trailers, and “Behind the Scenes” and “The Making of” featurettes.

To order a copy of Do the Right Thing, visit Amazon.com

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Daryle Jenkins: The One People’s Project Interview

with Kam Williams

Headline: Intrepid Klanbuster Discusses State of Hate Groups in the Age of Obama

When Barack Obama was running for President, an unspoken fear in the mind of the black community was the possibility of an assassination attempt by a deranged bigot. And even since he won, there have wider concerns about some sort of backlash, given the rumors of a rise in the ranks of the Ku Klux Klan, neo-Nazi and other white supremacists terror groups. Given the recent attack at the Holocaust Museum by an avowed racist, I figured it was time to track down the brother known as “The Klanbuster” for another interview. Writer/videographer Daryle Lamont Jenkins, a former columnist for the Bridgewater Courier-News in New Jersey, is the co-founder and spokesperson for One People's Project (OPP), a Philadelphia-based watchdog organization which monitors and reports on the activities of right-wing hate groups located all around the country. Established in 2000 in the aftermath of a racist rally in Morristown, NJ, OPP maintains records and databases of information not only on the groups themselves but on their individual members as well.
Mr. Jenkins has been the subject of feature stories in a number of newspapers, and has appeared on TV as a guest on Montel Williams, A Current Affair and the Fox News Channel.

KW: Hi Daryle, thanks for another interview.
DLJ: You’re very welcome. It is good to talk to you again.
KW: What made me want to speak to you again was the recent shooting at the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. by white supremacist James von Brunn. Were you already familiar with him?
DLJ: Not so much him, but rather his crowd. I was in D.C. for two days prior, and I had left the day before the shooting. The D.C. unit of OPP and I went to Williamsburg, Virginia on that Monday, June 8th, to do some research, and we are a little angry with ourselves because some of us should have stayed in town. June 8 was the 42nd anniversary of the attack on the USS Liberty during the Six-Day War between Israel, and the armies of Egypt, Jordan and Syria. An anti-Israel group called the Council for the National Interest (CNI), whose members have a history of associating with Holocaust deniers, was hosting events all over D.C. to observe the anniversary. The short story is this: Israel says they attacked the Liberty thinking it was an enemy vessel. Unfortunately, it was a U.S. ship and they ended up killing 34 crewmembers, injuring 171, and almost sinking the ship. While this has more or less been officially accepted as a friendly-fire incident, there are activists that feel otherwise. Being that Israel is involved, anti-Semites have been using the incident as a rallying cry. James Von Brunn was one of those anti-Semites. When the FBI searched his car, they found business cards advertising his website and another one claiming the Liberty was "brutally attacked" by Israeli forces. Also, the Holocaust Museum shooting happened on the anniversary of the last day of the Six-Day War. Being that he was from Maryland, we are all wondering if he participated in any of those events that CNI put on. This is just pure speculation, since there is nothing that has come out that puts von Brunn in any of those events. I am sure there is going to be a number of folks from the USS Liberty activist crowd that will make a lot of hay out of me suggesting such a thing, but let’s face it. They associate with the Von Brunn types too often for anyone not to wonder. The last time OPP went to a USS Liberty rally sponsored by the CNI, Ingrid Zundel, the wife of imprisoned Holocaust denier Ernst Zundel was a participant. If they are so worried about their image, it’s not us that’s making it look bad.
KW: Have you noticed an up-tick in the activities of the Klan and neo-Nazis since President Obama took office?
DLJ: This is going to be a rather long answer. See, I try not to lend credence to the regular posturing of that crowd because you knew they were going to try and get some mileage from the first black president being elected. We always hear some story about how the number of hate groups rose – when in truth, many of them are just some chump who started a blog calling himself a group – or that such-and-such recent event is going to “wake up white people”. Today’s white racist activists are nowhere near as strong or even as dedicated as the ones you might have seen maybe twenty years ago. They are always rather young, and where the hate mongers of generations past still had a connection to those older ones who were active and successful, the young activists of today don’t have that solid foundation their predecessors had. The older ones are now dying or just giving it up, so without that “guidance,” if you will, the young ones show themselves to be more of a psychological train wreck looking for an outlet, than some dedicated White Aryan soldier trying to create a whites-only homeland. And it doesn’t help matters much that those older activists that are doing things today have in the past few years tempered their activities to be a little more mainstream-friendly. The groups trying to gain respectability now will stay away from Nazi and Klan symbols, they prefer to hold meetings and conferences as opposed to public rallies, and the rhetoric has been tempered. In fact, to make reference to the Klan is rather antiquated because anyone who says they are in the Klan in this day and age is seen as a buffoon even among white supremacists. Some white supremacist groups have even had people of color within their ranks! Needless to say, that is part of a rather fierce debate amongst them, but it gives you an idea of the climate out there. Having said that, these groups still have managed to create a greater threat in regard to that aforementioned “psychological train wreck,” lashing out and killing people. That is where you have seen the up-tick. It was a rather interesting thing during the last administration to hear conservatives beat their chest about how there hadn’t been a terrorist attack on our shores since 9-11, which was meant to be some sort of endorsement of President Bush. Well, what’s curious about that is the fact that with the exception of the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993, most if not all of the terrorist attacks have been by right-wing extremists. The abortion clinic bombings of the 80s, the abortion shootings of the 90s, the Oklahoma City bombing, Eric Rudolph’s bombings, the shooting sprees of white supremacists Buford Furrow and Benjamin Smith in 1999 – all of those solidly right-wing. They quieted down while Bush was president, but as soon as Obama is elected we hear reports of all these loons across the country shooting people. The DC shooting was the second in as many weeks, and maybe the fourth or fifth since Election Day. Also, we can only imagine what we might be talking about today were it not for an abused wife killing her husband in Maine back in December. He was a racist who was reportedly building a dirty bomb at the time.
KW: Explain to my readers what your organization is and exactly what you do.
DLJ: One People’s Project has been around since 2000, and our mission is to research and report on the goings-on of those on the right, mainstream and fringe. We identify the players and let people know who they are, what they are about, and what to do about them. We believe that in order to solve a lot of our problems, those that are creating the worst of them need to have their ability to function diminished – effectively.
KW: About how many hate groups are you currently monitoring?
DLJ: I don’t have an actual number, so I guess the best answer to that is: all of them!
KW: What sorts of activities are they involved in?
DLJ: It ranges from simple internet blogging and activism, to protests and campaigns, to terrorism. It runs the gamut. There is a curious thing that happened while Bush was president that is now revealing itself with Obama’s tenure. For the record, I will not say that Bush was a racist. He was an elitist, which by default often lends itself to racism, but I don’t believe Bush could be considered someone that hated a person because of his or her ethnicity. But Bush was an incompetent, and he allowed those conservatives around him that did have a racist agenda to further themselves through him. We have seen white supremacists basically run the anti-immigration campaigns over the past few years. I have been to a number of anti-immigration rallies and conferences in that time, and there has never been one that didn’t have someone I couldn’t identify as being a member of a white supremacist group. And if that didn’t inject them into mainstream politics enough, they most certainly found an outlet in Ron Paul’s presidential run. Paul even received $500 from Don Black, the owner of Stormfront, and he didn’t see fit to either send it back or at the very least donate it to some non-profit like the Red Cross or United Way. Add that to the fact that he published a newsletter that was well-known in militia circles and included a number of racist articles, one slamming Martin Luther King, Jr., add that to him in 2004 being the lone dissenter of a bill observing the 40th anniversary of the Civil Rights Bill on the grounds that “the forced integration dictated by the Civil Rights Act of 1964 increased racial tensions while diminishing individual liberty,” and you will have reason to wonder about Representative Paul. So the past eight years gave the wrong people a lot of license, and now that Obama is president some well-known people are saying interesting things. Ann Coulter dedicates three pages of her new book to defending the white supremacist Council of Conservative Citizens (CCC), saying “There is no evidence on its Web page that the modern incarnation of the CCC (she says “modern” because the precursor of the CCC was the White Citizens Councils that attacked civil rights activists in the Sixties) supports segregation,” when the group’s Statement of Principles clearly states that they “oppose all efforts to mix the races of mankind”. We have the New York Post, which has been known to stoke racial fires in the past, with the cartoon of the ape being shot. And while Pat Buchanan and Tom Tancredo are calling Supreme Court Nominee Sonia Sotomayor a racist (as Tancredo ignorantly put it, a member of a “Latino KKK”), both of them employ a guy named Marcus Epstein. It was One People’s Project who learned that Epstein will be in D.C. Superior Court on July 8 to be sentenced after pleading guilty to getting drunk, assaulting a random black woman in the street and calling her the n-word back in 2007. Epstein, who by the way is of Korean and Jewish decent, is one of those persons of color I mentioned that you can find within white supremacist circles. He has a number of racist writings online that have raised more than an eyebrow to those who have read them.
KW: What typically happens when you show up at a Klan rally?
DLJ: We actually have a particular article about how those things go titled “Anatomy of a Hate Rally”. It has become so formulaic that even when it breaks from routine you can predict what happens! At rallies, those representing OPP play the role of observers. We don’t get into the fray that often. Sometimes, I get called out by name because the boneheads know me, but that’s about as far as it goes. But as I said before, the rallies are few and far in between. What we have been doing in recent years is exposing the conferences, meetings and other events they might be holding, or putting them on blast at any mainstream rallies they inject themselves into. There is a video going around where I am dealing with a group of neo-Nazis at a Ron Paul campaign rally in Philadelphia. I think it is important to show people who they are amongst us more so than when they willingly put themselves on display at one of their rallies.
KW: Are you intimidated by the Klansmen and neo-Nazis you’re confronting and outing?
DLJ: Nope. Ultimately, they are more afraid of me and other antifa (short for anti-fascists) than we are of them. Our beliefs enhance our lives. Theirs will destroy them. Our presence speeds up that process.
KW: How do you measure your success?
DLJ: When those who promote and further hate politics are stymied in any size, shape or form, or when they decide that it isn’t the best approach to their concerns and give it up, that’s success to me.
KW: Do you have to live with death threats?
DLJ: Oh, I have been the recipient of a few, to say the least! Still, I remain under the radar enough to not be a primary target. Hal Turner even said as much on his radio show once, saying “If I killed Daryle Lamont Jenkins from One People’s Project, they’re gonna put me in jail for the same amount of time as if I kill Frank Lautenberg, US Senator, so why not get the most bang for the buck.” I met Lautenberg a few years back, and I don’t have any problems with him, but I have to admit, I felt a little dejected there.
KW: What steps do you have to take to ensure your own personal safety?
DLJ: Without getting into too much detail, let’s just say I am about as insane as those I go after.
KW: Are they still sabotaging your website, periodically?
DLJ: They are, but we have been able to get to them a lot easier. I seem to be destroying the site more than any of my detractors do with all my upgrades and modifications that keep turning off the thing.
KW: How do you feel about Barack Obama’s becoming President of the United States?
DLJ: It’s like you have a friend of yours running things. There is always going to be something that a politician does that gets your goat, and I don’t expect any less from Obama. Then again, I can say the same about my friends. Let me also say for better or worse, if you can’t get anything positive out of this administration, you are not a positive person to begin with. This is the first president born in the Sixties. He is of the generation that will establish the first half of the 21st Century. The political game is going to be restructured in a significant way, and truth be told, it was expected. The only thing I hope to see one day is a third party or independent candidate in the White House. We hold ourselves hostage with some rather limited notions about who should lead this country, but at least the race and also the gender factor is crumbling. After Obama was elected, someone noted that never again in a presidential campaign will you see just four white guys in the running. You will now see people of color, you will see women, and Lord knows what else we will come up with. Our political mindset until this year was stagnant, and did not evolve even though we as a nation did.
KW: Do you think neutralizing these racist terrorist groups will be on the top of the Obama administration’s agenda?
DLJ: That’s a bit of an understatement. When Eric Holder made the remark that we were a “nation of cowards” when dealing with racial matters, and the Department of Homeland Security put out the report on right-wing extremists, conservatives started a whole hue and cry about it, saying they were trying to stir up racial tensions. They didn’t pick up on the fact that they weren’t making these statements and putting out these reports for their health. It was their intent to do something about the situation. Just this week, Hal Turner, an internet radio host and a onetime friend of Sean Hannity who had made a name for himself with his penchant for threatening those he is against with death on his program, was picked up by the feds for leveling such threats against federal judges in Chicago. Just a few weeks ago he had turned himself in to Connecticut authorities for threatening state legislators there. He has been making these threats for years, but now the authorities see fit to deal with him about it. Meanwhile, Tom Metzger, a longtime racist activist had his home in Indiana raided. The next day, Dennis and Daniel Mahon, two members of his group, White Aryan Resistance, were arrested for the mail bombing of a diversity center in Scottsdale, Arizona where three people were injured. Meanwhile, another neo-Nazi, Bill White has been in federal prison since October awaiting trial which will begin Aug. 11 for obstruction of justice. Like Hal, he liked threatening people over the internet, including a juror in a trial of a fellow white supremacist convicted of conspiring to kill a federal judge.
KW: Are you lobbying the Justice Department to get involved?
DLJ: Attorney General Holder has called for the strengthening of hate crime laws, so it sounds like they are going to take this a lot more seriously than other administrations have, both Democratic and Republican. We have to do our part in fighting hate crimes as well – as well those who enable them. Last year, an immigrant named Luis Ramirez was beaten to death by five, white high school students in Shenandoah, Pennsylvania. Local anti-immigrant activists came out to support the killers, even holding rallies where they actually tried to blame Ramirez, saying, if he hadn’t been in the country, he would be alive today. A few months ago, two of the five were convicted only of simple assault, and the outrage is so bad, Gov. Ed Rendell himself is appealing to the Justice Department to pursue federal civil rights charges. I hope he is successful, but ultimately, something in the climate out there has gone awry if a jury thought they can pull an Emmett Till, and we need to do something about that. We just showed Jena, Louisiana that they can’t have two sets of justice. On Friday, five of the Jena Six pled no contest, but only have to serve seven days of probation and pay a $500 fine. That’s a lot better than the attempted murder charges they faced two years ago, which they would still be facing if 20,000 people hadn’t marched on the town two years ago. That kind of vigilance by the public is needed constantly.
KW: Do you think the Obama administration will devote some of the stimulus package to the fight against white supremacist hate groups?
DLJ: If it does, it should be as part of other concerns that need to be dealt with, such as in conjunction with an education program. These groups thrive in bad economic times, however, so the best way to fight them is to make the economy a priority
KW: How can people contact you, if they’re interested in donating to the anti-Fascist movement or joining you on the frontlines?
DLJ: You can contact One People’s Project by mail at PO Box 42817, Philadelphia, PA 19101, by email at dlj@oppforum, or by phone at (267)970-5889. Some of our members have set up accounts for One People’s Project on Twitter and Facebook, too.
KW: When did you know you know you wanted to grow up to be a Klanbuster?
DLJ: My thing has always been journalism. I always wanted to be someone that could effect social change, but that was because I was really into reading about the civil rights era and the abolitionist movement. But while being an activist is important, you have to be more than your activism. The thing that made those activists successful is the fact that before they were activists, they were the people you went to school with, worked and lived with. They were doctors, teachers, shop owners, what have you. If someone were to ask me what I am, I would say I am a writer. That’s what I am in the end. Being a person who chases neo-Nazis all over the place is secondary, no matter how prominent it may be in my life.
KW: The Tasha Smith question: Are you ever afraid?
DLJ: If you are never afraid, then when you find something you are afraid of, it will destroy you.
KW: What has been the biggest obstacle you have had to overcome?
DLJ: There are many obstacles. The biggest one is one I still have to overcome and that is the indifference I see from people when racial issues come up. Eric Holder was right when he said we were a nation of cowards on this issue, because it is the only one that can raise tensions simply by mentioning it. Getting past the cowards is a rather frustrating task. They try to pretend there is no issue, and when they can’t ignore it, they get mad at you for bringing it up and actually take the side of those we are going after only because they don’t want to deal with it. If we do indeed get past them and are successful in what we are trying to do, those same people thank us for “being around to deal with this problem!” Let me tell you, it would be less of a problem if folks stop with the games.
KW: The Columbus Short question: Are you happy?
DLJ: That’s not an easy question to answer. There are times when I am on top of the world, but more often than not there is much that gets to me. I honestly don’t know how to respond, but I can say I enjoy my life.
KW: The Teri Emerson question: When was the last time you had a good belly laugh?
DLJ: I watch the Daily Show a lot, so I think sometime last week.
KW: The bookworm Troy Johnson question: What was the last book you read?
DLJ: The last book I read was Guilty by Ann Coulter. Hate to sound provocative, but that’s the nature of the business. One read, and you come away wondering how the Right ever got into power with dingbats like her promoting them.
KW: Is there any question no one ever asks you, that you wish someone would?
DLJ: Not really. If I am ever in a situation like that, I usually offer the answer anyway.
KW: The music maven Heather Covington question: What music are you listening to nowadays?
DLJ: I love it all, but it’s that music you don’t hear on the radio that blows my system up. Stuff by Ozomatli, Toshi Reagon or a seriously underrated band like Chicago’s Sonia Dada. I love hyping people up to the stuff they overlook, so if you never heard any of those acts, trust me, you might want to.
KW: The Rudy Lewis question: Who’s at the top of your hero list?
DLJ: If it weren’t for my parents and their wisdom, me and my siblings could be just another part of that statistic that plagues the black community. What they did for their family as well as others in their lives is what drives me.
KW: What do you think about the passing of Michael Jackson?
DLJ: There was a line in the last Indiana Jones about how we were reaching that age where life stops giving us things and starts taking them away. That’s what was going through my mind when Hot 97 made the announcement. It hit me like a ton of bricks. I can’t even bother with those who want to play up the tabloid nonsense of the past few years. He is getting in death what he didn’t get in life. The past few days just brought us back to what it is that made Michael the most influential artist in our time. Every black artist of the past 25 years - and a good sizable number of white artists for that matter – owe their careers to him. Hell, my group’s initials are OPP! What’s the sample being used in that Naughty by Nature song? When a beloved celebrity passes on, we recover eventually. It will be a while with this loss.
KW: What advice do you have for anyone who wants to follow in your footsteps?
DLJ: Always remember that the path those you admire may go on might not be the one that fits you. Don’t follow in the footsteps. Walk beside them. Bypass the trips and falls I made the mistake of falling into. And remember that one day those footsteps will come to an end. That is not the end of the journey, only the beginning of yours.
KW: When you look in the mirror, what do you see?
DLJ: Aside from the 120 lbs., I need to lose, a pretty fit cat, mentally and spiritually!
KW: How do you want to be remembered?
DLJ: I really don’t know. All I know is that I had to do my part in this world. I will leave it up to the ages.
KW: Thanks again for the time, Daryle, and keep up the great work fighting the good fight for all of us!
DLJ: You’re very welcome.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

My Sister's Keeper

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Fed-Up 11 Year-Old Sues Parents for Independence in Gut-Wrenching Saga

When their daughter Kate (Sofia Vassilieva) is diagnosed with acute promyelocytic leukemia (APL) at the age of 2, Sara and Brian Fitzgerald (Cameron Diaz and Jason Patric) are willing to do whatever it takes to save her life. And once her doctor explains that her best chance at beating the disease lies in finding a stem cell donor who’s an exact genetic match, they decide to have another child, knowing that they can achieve their goal via in vitro fertilization.
From birth, the test tube baby’s life becomes intertwined with that of her sickly sibling when tissue is taken from her umbilical cord. As time goes on, Anna (Abigail Breslin) is subjected to a series of increasingly-invasive procedures as she is stuck, poked and prodded for assorted extractions of platelets, blood and bone marrow.
By the time she’s 11, Little Miss Stem Cells is asked to donate one of her kidneys because by then both of her big sister’s are failing. However, the surgeon also states that after this operation she’ll have to be careful for the rest of the life, which means she will never be able to be a cheerleader or play soccer again.
Fed up with being expected to make so many sacrifices, Anna consults an attorney (Alec Baldwin) who sues her parents for Medical Emancipation. The pending lawsuit creates a rift between her parents which pushes them to the brink of divorce. For her mother, who abandoned her own legal career to care for Kate 24/7, suddenly sees Anna as selfish, and slaps the youngster right in the face. By contrast, her father, a hard-working fireman, proves far more understanding.
He knows that the family has focused so narrowly on Kate that their son Jesse’s (Evan Ellingson) dyslexia went undiagnosed for years. Now, seeing the toll that the situation is taking on Anna, he can’t help but be sympathetic, if torn.
Based on the Jodi Picoult best-seller of the same name, My Sister's Keeper is a character-driven drama of deceptive emotional depth. This remarkably-rich screen version was directed by Nick Cassavetes who went to great lengths to develop each of the principal player’s perspective of the fundamental, ethical life-or-death question at hand. Faithfully adapted (except for the ending) by Cassavetes with the help of scriptwriter Jeremy Leven, this gut-wrencher heralds the maturation of Cameron Diaz into a consummate thespian capable of handling the most challenging of material.
Her powerfully-grounding performance is matched in intensity by those of Abigail Breslin as the taken for granted Anna; Sofia Vassilieva as the wasting away Kate; Jason Patric as the stoic family patriarch; Evan Ellingson as the brooding big brother; Alec Baldwin as a vulnerable crusader for the underdog; and Joan Cusack as a judge concerned about the best interest of the plaintiff. Don’t forget to pack a box of Kleenex, because the floodgates will be open by the end of this heartrending saga.
Easily the most poignant picture of the year, and without resorting to manipulative soap opera devices.

To purchase a copy of the novel “My Sister's Keeper,” visit Amazon.com

Excellent (4 stars)
Rated PG-13 for profanity, sensuality, mature themes, disturbing images and underage alcohol consumption.
Running time: 109 minutes
Studio: New Line Cinema

Michael Jackson: The Man Behind the Mask: An Insider's Story of the King of Pop

by Bob Jones
with Stacy Brown
Select Books
Hardcover, $21.95
174 pp., illus.
ISBN 1590790723

[This is a reprint of a 2005 review of this book.]

Review by Kam Williams

"As the 'Bad' tour moved to St. Louis, a 13 year-old boy named Peter joined the entourage. This kid had been with us in New York and was now coming along for the entire tour. The tabloids had a field day with their questions about the boy and his parents. One tabloid reported that Michael had purchased the kid by giving the parents a Rolls Royce.
At Paris' DeCrillon Hotel, Michael had drawn a picture of Peter and himself [on a bed sheet]. Also written on the sheet was what amounted to a love note to the boy. Worried that if a hotel housekeeper got a hold of the sheet, it could end up in the hands of the media or law enforcement, we had our secretary pack it, taking it with us. That was my first tangible clue that Michael Jackson, the King of Pop, was up to no good..."
-- Excerpted from Chapter 3

If pop culture is the politics of the 21st Century, then Michael Jackson might be considered this emerging age's consummate politician. For politico wacko Jacko's lifestyle has remained the subject of our fascination regardless of how sick, sordid, or bizarre his behavior.
For instance, although he boasts about sleeping with boys, he still has millions of rabid fans who refuse to believe he is a pedophile. And they also never abandoned him after the radical blackendectomy and the series of elective surgeries which left him looking like one weird white woman.
In order to weather media storms successfully, any celebrity needs a good PR person who could carefully choreograph press and photo opportunities to their client's advantage. For over 34 years, Bob Jones was Michael Jackson's right-hand man. This brilliant publicist ran interference for his employer, always putting a good spin on whatever embarrassing predicament his boss found himself in, from being caught on camera canoodling with a boy, marrying Lisa Marie Presley as a publicity stunt, or writing anti-Semitic song lyrics.
Emerging from every escape unscathed, Michael must have come to see himself as a Teflon icon to whom no negative story could stick. So, for some dumb reason, he fired his dependable hatchet man, and without notice or any severance pay, despite the decades of loyal service. Jones was lucky he had never beeen asked to sign a confidentiality agreement, for hell hath no fury like an apologist scorned.
The upshot is the publication of the ultimate disgruntled employee's tell-all, namely, Michael Jackson: The Man Behind the Mask. This book answers, once and for all, every question you've ever debated the self-proclaimed King of Pop. Like, does he suffer from self hatred? Yes. Apparently, he refers to his own people as "Splaboos"and uses any "excuse for not going with a black candidate" when hiring an assistant.
Does he like girls? No. Does he like boys? Yes, and has reportedly threatened to kill himself if he could no longer sleep with them. It is fascinating to hear Jones recount just how plenty of parents of 8 to 12 year-olds were bribed with bling and Benjamins to allow Michael to take their sons away from them on extended trips during which he would spend long unchaperoned nights alone with each in hotel rooms while on tour. Apparently, Jackson even has a kinky fascination with feces, saving soiled underwear as mementos.
The book never gets boring for a moment, with the author gleefully dishing behind-the-scenes dirt on everything from Michael's sham marriages, one for money, one to buy some babies who aren't even his, to his fear of flying to his playing the race card strategically to his personal hygiene and cosmetic habits. Still, the most compelling tales told here are the inside peak at his tender courtships of well-known child actors like Macaulay Culkin and Emmanuel Lewis.
Though Bob Jones never expressly says Michael Jackson is a pedophile, he paints enough of a picture that all any idiot has to do is connect the dots.

Away We Go

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Couple Searches for Place to Raise Child in Unorthodox Road Comedy

Verona (Maya Rudolph) is six months pregnant, but it doesn’t look like she put much thought into whether she was ready to bring a baby into the world. After all, she’s repeatedly informed her slacker boyfriend, Burt (Jon Krasinski), that she’ll never marry him.
The aspiring DJ is not exactly great father material, being an unemployed, 33 year-old college dropout who fritters away his days in such unproductive pursuits as whittling a piece of wood and taking a self-defense classes. Being older, African-American, and with a loudly-ticking, biological clock, Verona doesn’t entertain the idea of an abortion, since Burt does adore her, even if the feelings ain’t exactly mutual.
Besides, because the couple had moved to Colorado to be near his parents (Jeff Daniels and Catherine O’Hara), she reasonably expects to get their full support. Unfortunately, upon informing them of the impending arrival of their grandchild, Burt’s racist mom rudely asks “just how black” the infant will be, while her equally-insensitive husband impulsively announces that they’re moving to Belgium and have already put the house on the market.
With no reason to remain in the region, Verona and Burt decide to embark on a cross-country journey to find the perfect oasis to give their kid a wholesome “Huck Finn” childhood. And that wacky endeavor provides plenty of opportunities for levity in Away We Go, a screwball comedy directed by Oscar-winner Sam Mendes (for American Beauty).
The ensuing adventure reads like a rudderless road version of Juno, as it revolves around a wisecracking mom-to-be and the unfit sperm donor she doesn’t really know or need. The difference with this baby mama drama is that the couple is approaching middle-age and planning to keep their little bundle of joy.
The peripatetic pair’s ports-of-call include Phoenix, Madison, Montreal and Miami. And along the way they encounter a menagerie of colorful characters ranging from Verona’s loose-lipped, Tourette’s syndrome afflicted ex-boss (Allison Janney) to Burt’s uptight, New Agey cousin (Maggie Gyllenhaal) with an Elektra complex. Meanwhile, they also confront the source of their own dysfunction only to discover that they are in fact meant for each other and to find the sweetest solution to their where to raise the baby dilemma.
Although the resolution feels far too rushed to be convincing, the wry ride there is nonetheless delightful enough to make the trip worthwhile.

Excellent (3.5 stars)
Rated R for profanity and sexuality.
Running time: 97 minutes
Studio: Focus Features

Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Abysmal Action Sequel Arrives on DVD

In 1994, the popular computer game Street Fighter was adapted to the big screen as an incoherent concatenation of poorly-choreographed, martial arts action starring Jean-Claude Van Damme. Since the original bombed at the box office, one must wonder what might have prompted a studio to greenlight a sequel 15 years later, especially when you see that the results are equally-abysmal. This unmitigated mess of a movie was directed by Andrzej Bartkowiak who decided to overhaul the cast entirely, starting with Kristin Kreuk in the title role of Chun-Li.
At the point of departure, we learn via flashback narrated by Chun-Li that, when she was a little girl, her father (Edmund Chen) was kidnapped by some creeps in the Shadalao (pigeon English for “Shadow Law”) crime syndicate. Fast-forward to the present when we inexplicably find Chun-Li somehow an accomplished karate master and en route to Thailand where, rumor has it, her daddy has remained kidnapped in the clutches of the diabolical Bison (Neal McDonough) and his cohorts all these years.
Her arrival proves to be timely, since the merciless madman recently hosted a “Last Supper” during which he beheaded the boss of every competing crime family in Bangkok. With the Shadalooo gang on the verge of gaining complete control of the waterfront, it falls to Chun-Li, in league with Interpol Agent Charlie Nash (Chris Klein), local detective Maya Sunee (Moon Bloodgood) and a secret society of ninjas led by a mysterious man named Gen (Robin Shou) to save the day.
The revenge-fueled plotline subsequently seizes on the flimsiest of excuses to embark on a series of clumsily-orchestrated fight scenes punctuated by sloppily-executed stunts, chase sequences, pyrotechnics and detonations. Unfortunately, only diehard fans of the legendary video franchise are likely to keep track of the body-count in the high attrition-rate enterprise.
For as the butt-kicking heroine sets about exacting her vengeance, the epic battle of good versus evil is so undermined by cheesy special effects and corny dialogue that the spectacle adds up to an experience that is best described as laughable. And to top it all off, this insult to the intelligence even has the nerve to end on a cliffhanger setting the stage for yet another sequel.
Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Fool me three times, not a chance.

Poor (0 stars)
In Mandarin, Japanese, Thai, Russian, Gaelic and English with subtitles.
Running time: 97 minutes
Studio: 20th Century Fox
2-Disc DVD Extras: Unrated version of the film, audio commentary by producers and cast members, 14 deleted scenes, Fox trailers, sneak peek of Marvel vs. Capcom 2 video game, storyboard and production galleries, animated Street Fighter feature, plus four featurettes.


Thursday, June 25, 2009

Afghan Star

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Aspiring Afghani Pop Stars Risk Wrath of the Taliban in Uplifting Documentary

If you want to know why we’re fighting in Afghanistan, all you have to do is watch this uplifting documentary distilling one season on the country’s equivalent of American Idol down to a nail-biting hour and a half. Forget the fact that the contestants on the reality series Afghan Star are far less talented than even the also-rans routinely humiliated by judge Simon Cowell stateside, losers like William Hung and Sanjaya.
No, this film is as much about off-camera survival strategies as about onstage performances. Because of the resurgence of the Taliban in the region, the entrants risk life and limb simply by appearing on the show. This predicament persists even though the season finale is so popular that over a third of the nation’s population tunes in.
For remember, under repressive Taliban rule, singing and dancing were outlawed, and women were denied any education and required to cover themselves in basic black from head to toe. But once America deposed the religious zealots, some semblance of normalcy returned, in part prompted by the Western-style programming introduced by the Tolo TV network.
Directed by Havana Marking, Afghan Star focuses on the diverging fates of four of the finalists from among the thousands of hopefuls who initially auditioned. Rafi, 19, and Hameed, 20, are intrepid young crooners whose desire for fame outweighs their fear of a fatwa, aka a death sentence. But the guys’ bravery is easily eclipsed by that of Lima, 25, and Setara, 22, since what apparently really gets under the skin of the still-powerful Taliban mullahs is the idea of women as entertainers.
The plot thickens when Setara summons up the gumption not only to dance during her act but to uncover her hair to boot. This daring decision prompts Muslim fanatics to issue a fatwa. I wonder what would happen if they showed those nutty Neanderthals a couple of BET booty calls music videos. I bet they’d drop dead from apoplexy right on the spot.
Anyhow, Setara gets evicted by her landlord, is shunned by friends, and has to go into hiding while still on the show. And all this for hopes of landing a paltry $5,000 grand prize. I won’t dare reveal who emerges victorious, but I’m not sure there are any winners in a land where females lives are ruined just for exercising God-given freedoms as fundamental to the human condition as walking and breathing.
Proof positive you can’t bomb people back to the Stone Age, if they’re already there. A flick likely to leave you grateful and counting your blessings.

Excellent (4 stars)
In English, Pashtu and Dari with subtitles.
Running time: 87 minutes
Studio: Zeitgeist Films

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Special Effects Overshadow Cast in Bay’s Bigger-Budgeted Sequel

This summer blockbuster has hit written all over it, given that Michael Bay freely admits that he makes movies aimed at teenaged boys. At the very least, his testosterone-sodden spectacular won’t disappoint that targeted demographic either in terms of its eye-popping special f/x or its gratuitous displays of appealing eye candy.
Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen generally amounts to a worthy sequel for several reasons. First of all, Bay has upped the ante (increasing the budget from $150 to $200 million) in terms of all the bombastic bells and whistles which have become his trademark. The explosions have become bigger, the locales more exotic, the morphing machines more imaginative.
Of equal importance is the fact that he brought back all of the principals, including Shia LaBeouf, Megan Fox, John Turturro, Tyrese Gibson, Josh Duhamel, Kevin Dunn and Julie White. For it’s the task of the human cast members to give the audience a reason to care about an otherwise impersonal showdown between sentient robots from the planet Cybertron: the good Autobots and their evil adversaries, the Decepticons.
At the point of departure, we find Sam Witwicky (LaBouef) headed east for a normal life at college, but regretting having to leave his girlfriend Mikaela (Fox) behind. But not long after meeting his new roommate, Leo (Ramon Rodriguez), an alien conspiracy buff, our unassuming hero already finds himself being pursued by Alice (Isabel Lucas), an ardent admirer who might be after something other than his bod.
Soon, Mikaela shows up and catches her boyfriend in a compromising position, but not to worry. Turns out Alice is just a Decepticon who is after the shard of the “All Spark,” the precious Transformer lifeblood that Sam had inadvertently brought with him to campus. This confrontation kickstarts a globetrotting adventure during which Sam, Mikaela and Leo team with both Autobots and the U.S. military. .
Since the pyrotechnics and CGI are givens in an action-driven saga such as this, what makes Transformers 2 work, mostly for better, but sometimes for worse, are its humorous asides. Early on, a lot of these arrive courtesy of Sam’s loudmouthed mom (White) who accidentally ingests Marijuana-laced brownies. Later, however, the jokes turn troubling when we’re introduced to Skids and Mudflap, a couple of twin robots who resemble apes.
Not only do these African-American-voiced characters played by a white actor (Tom Kenny) speak street jive, but they boast about being unable to read and one sports a gold tooth. Because they are aliens and not technically black people, perhaps it is an overreaction to complain about what appears to be a case of modern minstrelsy.
Regardless, Revenge of the Fallen earns hig marks as a high-octane, 2½ hour diversion certain to stimulate, titillate and satiate the blood and other lusts of the raging-hormone set.

Very Good (3 stars)
Rated PG-13 for violence, profanity, crude behavior, sexuality and brief drug use.
Running time: 150 minutes
Studio: Paramount Pictures

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Education of Charlie Banks DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Ivy League Fight Club Drama Due on DVD

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

Very Good (3 stars)
Rated R for sexuality, violence, drug and alcohol abuse, and pervasive profanity.
Running time: 101 minutes
Studio: Anchor Bay Entertainment
DVD Extras: Audio commentary with director Fred Durst and actor Jason Ritter, “Conversation behind The Education of Charlie Banks” featurette, the theatrical trailer and sneak peeks.

Nursery University DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Documentary on DVD Suggests Early Start on College

If you think the competition is fierce to gain entrance to the country’s elite colleges, then you oughta check out the cutthroat tactics employed by parents of toddlers trying 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, especially when 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: Docurama Films
DVD Extras: Audio commentary by the co-directors, Q&As with the parents, admissions officers and filmmakers, deleted scenes, tips from the experts on getting into nursery school, the theatrical trailer and filmmakers’ biographies.

Kamp Katrina DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Documentary Examines Plight of New Orleans’ Po’ Whites Post-Katrina

Because of the indelible images of masses of black people abandoned on rooftops, under highway overpasses and at the Superdome, many people might think that only African-Americans were adversely affected by Hurricane Katrina. But the disaster took a terrible ongoing toll on po’ white folk, too, as chronicled in this compelling documentary directed by Ashley Sabin and David Redmon.
The film follows the efforts of Ms. Pearl, an altruistic Native-American woman who, with the approval of her husband, David Cross, converted their backyard in to a tent village for locals left homeless in the wake of the flood that devastated the region a couple of years ago. David operates a construction company and is willing to employ anyone camping out on the premises in order to help them get back on their feet. In fact, he establishes certain house rules, including no drugs and a mandate that everyone there find work of some kind, even if not with his company.
Unfortunately, the rent-free offer turns out to be flypaper for the disturbed, and what begins as a utopian oasis gradually turns into a neverending nightmare. One guy snaps and literally tries to strangle his girlfriend because she asked him to find her a pot to pee in. Another man is asked to leave because he was pressuring a pregnant woman to get high.
Unsavory characters are attracted to the area by a resident who starts dealing crack, while a delusional mental patient who calls himself The Prophet roams around mumbling to himself incoherently about this being the Apocalypse. A couple is kicked out after stealing a Tiffany lamp from the bedroom of the owners, and a rape victim warns another female to sleep with one eye open. So, it’s clear that what David and Ms. Pearl are dealing with here are the dregs of humanity, but the question is whether the squatters were already like this before Katrina or only bottomed-out after losing all their earthly possessions in the blink of an eye.
This picture is often touching, such as when the hosts play Santas at Christmastime and try to fill each person’s wish list. Surprisingly, most of the requests are for mundane, everyday items, like toilet paper or a tool bag. Unfortunately, the movie doesn’t exactly end on an upbeat note, since the toll takes a heavy emotional toll on everyone, including Ms. Pearl.
Plus, the mother of the newborn surrenders the baby for foster care, and another young woman suffers seizures from snorting coke. Mayor Nagin makes a cameo appearance to crush these displaced folks’ hopes for a helping hand by ending free meal and mental health programs and generally championing corporate interests over those of the longtime locals.
An eye-opening expose’ welcoming white Americans to the Third World.

Excellent (4 stars)
Running time: 76 minutes
Studio: Carnivalesque Films
DVD Extras: Over an hour of additional material including follow-ups on people in the film.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Hiptionary

by Mahmoud El-Kati
Papyrus Publishing
Paperback, $12.00
214 pages
ISBN: 978-0-9675581-7-2

Book Review by Kam Williams

“Throughout the cultural evolution of the United States, Black people have consistently contributed a huge stock of colorful words, phrases, sayings, phonics, and other linguistic devices, some of which were brought from Africa… Since the dawn of the 20th Century, descendants of Black folks have set the pace in the rise of popular American culture, leading every major point of departure in music, dance, and creation of the hip lifestyle.
To be hip is to speak the sometimes code-switching language of Black Americans… Hiptionary refers to well-established traditions of African-American speech patterns, with changes and adaptations as the years go by. They are, strictly or grammatically speaking, non-dictionary words. The attempt in this volume is to collect representative samples of this ongoing and influential part of American English, and give due recognition to it as a major force in shaping the way American English is spoken.”
-- Excerpted from the introduction (pages 1-3)

Way back in 1941, Professor Melville J. Herskovits published The Myth of the Negro Past, an exhaustive, anthropological research study which debunked the prevailing notion that Africans brought to America in chains were savages with no cultural traditions worth preserving. In fact, his seminal work proved that, quite to the contrary, black folks arrived with a rich heritage which remained readily reflected in the many Africanisms which had somehow survived the Middle Passage and centuries-long ordeal of slavery and subjugation.
Herskovits’ findings are critical in the debate about the use of Ebonics, which many simply misread as ungrammatical English in need of correction while others recognize the so-called “slanguage” as the product of the clash of African and European languages. Regardless, one thing we can all agree on is that blacks have made significant artistic contributions to America in an ongoing fashion, and one way this is reflected is in all the colorful words and phrases which they have coined generation after generation.
In The Hiptionary, Mahmoud El-Kati, Professor Emeritus in American History at Maclester College in St. Paul, Minnesota, legitimizes black dialect with alphabetical lists of both vocabulary words and phrases straight from the vernacular. His informative text also devotes a considerable amount of space to explaining the derivation of African-American speech patterns, thereby making the most of a teachable moment.
Perusing what is essentially a black dictionary, I was struck by how many different entries there were for buttocks (badunkadunk, boody, booty. boom-boom, junk in the trunk and stacked), Marijuana (blunt, bud, dope, grass, joint, pot and reefer), hairstyles (flattop, process, conk, do and Geri curl), coolness (copacetic, fresh, funky, groovy, hip, swinging and solid) and white people (Chuck, grey, honky, Mr. Charlie, ofay, peckawood, The Man and whitey).
Obviously, a lot of these terms now sound antiquated, having long since entered the mainstream and been replaced by variations on the theme intended to enable African-American culture to remain unique by frequently refreshing itself. Kudos to Professor El-Kati for crafting an endlessly entertaining and informative treatise which simultaneously provides a bonus service by helping some of us squares update our linguistically-challenged lexicons with a little fresh swag.
You feelin’ me, dog?

Monday, June 22, 2009

Tyrese Gibson: The “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” Interview

with Kam Williams

Headline: Always Tyrese!

Tyrese Darnell Gibson was born in Los Angeles on December 30, 1978. He and his three siblings were raised in the Watts section of the city by his single-mom after his father abandoned the family in 1983.
A certified triple-threat who started singing professionally at the age of 14, modeling at 17 and acting at 19, he first found fame singing the slogan “Always Coca-Cola” in a series of commercials for a nationally-televised campaign. He also appeared in ads for designer Tommy Hilfiger before releasing his first album, “Tyrese,” which went platinum in March of 1999.
A couple of years later, he made a memorable, big-screen debut as the title character of Baby Boy, John Singleton’s riveting, inner-city saga set in the ‘hood. Since then, he’s received critical acclaim for his work in everything from 2 Fast 2 Furious to Flight of the Phoenix to Four Brothers to Death Race to Transformers.
Among Tyrese’s many accolades are an American Music Award, a couple of Grammy nominations, several NAACP Image Award nominations and being name one of the Sexiest Men of the Year by People Magazine. Here, he reflects on reprising the role of Sergeant Epps in Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, a sci-fi sequel directed by Michael Bay and co-starring Shia LaBeouf and Megan Fox.

Kam Williams: Hi Tyrese, thanks so much for the time.
Tyrese Gibson: [Exuberantly] Oh, come on now, we got to make it happen, baby. It’s for the team! For the team!
KW: How was it the second go-round on Transformers?
TG: You know what? When you see this movie, it’s going to blow your head off. Listen, I know you write reviews talking about films regularly, but let me tell you this right now. You are not going to be able to compare this movie to anything you’ve ever seen, man. And what an honor it is for me that [director] Michael Bay and [producer] Steven Spielberg would have me in mind to be a part of this franchise along with the rest of such a great group of actors. I love it! I love it! This isn’t even about me. I’m a fan of Transformers, as if I’m not even in it, because I grew up watching Transformers, for real. I got the Transformers toys, for real. I got an Autobot tattoo on my right forearm, for real.
KW: Wow!
TG: Yeah, I’m a real fan.
KW: Were you on location for the scenes shot in my hometown, Princeton?
TG: No, my character wasn’t in any of those scenes, so I didn’t go out there. But I did the nearby Bethlehem, Pennsylvania run, plus some other cities elsewhere in the U.S. and also outside the country.
KW: I got a lot of questions for you from my readers. Let’s start with Renee Patterson who says she’s heard that you’re the highest-paid black male model. She wants to know, what was your most memorable modeling gig?
TG: My most memorable modeling gig was being the first ever, exclusive African-American, male model for Guess and the Marciano brothers. That was a very big moment, historically, for my career and for everybody on my team who was involved in getting that deal done. It was just one of those things where it’s like, “Whoa!” So, what an honor it is to be a part of it.
KW: Laz Lyles wants to know what it’s like working with Michael Bay. She asks, “Is he as hyper and neurotic and anal retentive as everyone says?”
TG: He’s definitely hyper. He’s very structured, not all over the place. And he runs his set like the military. He definitely should be doing these movies with the military’s involvement, because he runs his set with that sort of discipline. I mean, it’s full throttle. But listen, he’s a genius… he’s way ahead of his time… and as far as I’m concerned, he’s going to raise the bar and set a new standard for how action movies and movies with special effects should be done.
KW: Laz also asks, was doing this Transformers much different from doing the other one in terms of what was expected of you as an actor?
TG: Absolutely! The first go-round, mentally, we were all hoping that the fans showed up and could appreciate the Transformers that we were bringing to the table. But there was no guaranteed audience just because it had been a successful cartoon and line of toys. Now, after they did show up for the first film, the pressure was on for us to deliver something big, better and badder, with more action and better chemistry amongst the cast. I read comments like that all the time online, where you can learn a lot about what people are thinking and what they want to see more of. I know Michael Bay does the same thing, and that’s what it’s all about, being in touch, stepping up, and giving the people what they want.
KW: What are the pros versus the cons of doing an effects-driven film?
TG: I don’t really see any cons.
KW: Do you have another dramatic role coming up?
TG: Yeah, a few. Some, I can’t speak on, but I want to make everyone aware of one project I’m very excited about. I’ve got my first comic book ever coming out. It’s called Mayhem. I did a huge deal over at Image Comics with Rober Kirkman, Eric Stephenson and Todd McFarlane. For me, it’s so amazing. We came up with an original image title, had a meeting with them, and they bought the comic book on the spot.
KW: Are you going to the Comic-Con comic book convention in San Diego next month?
TG: Oh, absolutely! That’s where it all started. I was out there promoting Death Race with Jason Statham. After I was exposed to all that passion and that energy, I was like, “Yo, I have to be a part of this world.” So, we’re bringing Mayhem.
KW: Are fans excited about it. How’s the early buzz?
TG: Here’s the statistics so far. It’s only been available in pre-sales for two weeks and it’s already through the roof. We’ve sold over 10,000 copies at just one store, Meltdown Comics. Plus, I’m on Twitter all the time talking about it.
KW: Do you have a website where people can order it?
TG: Yeah, they can go to www.BuyMayhem.com. And I have a special that I’m going to offer to your readers. If they call the store and order 15 or more copies of Mayhem, I’m gonna personally call them back.
KW: Really? You’re going to get a lot of people buying comics but expecting that call.
TG: We love it. It doesn’t matter where I am, I’m going to call them back with a personal thank you. They can call to order Mayhem at (323) 851-7223. That’s the store’s direct number.
KW: What else do you have on the horizon?
TG: I have a new TV show coming out on BET called First In. It’s a reality show like Cops, but about firefighters. We follow the fire trucks on calls, and go home with a few of the firemen to get to know a few of them and to see what their family life is like. The whole first season was shot in Compton. And we’re probably going to move to New Orleans or Baltimore for the second season.
KW: What gave you the idea for this series? I like it because my father was a fireman.
TG: I appreciate that. Well, me and my partner came up with it. I felt like I can play a hero in films, but to me the real heroes are the firemen, police and soldiers who put their lives on the line everyday. We wanted to highlight that. When we started in Compton, there were about 12 shootings a day there. And we captured some really graphic, but heroic moments there.
KW: What do you consider your best role to date? Let me guess, my favorite, Baby Boy.
TG: Yeah, that’s the one? That’s the one. It’s a film that everyone can relate to because there are a lot of single parents.
KW: Is there any question no one ever asks you, that you wish someone would?
TG: I can’t think of one off the top of my head.
KW: The Tasha Smith question: Are you ever afraid?
TG: No.
KW: The Columbus Short question: Are you happy?
TG: All the time.
KW: The Teri Emerson question: When was the last time you had a good belly laugh?
TG: A couple of hours ago.
KW: “Realtor to the Stars” Jimmy Bayan’s question: Where in L.A. do you live?
TG: I live in a community called Hancock Park.
KW: The bookworm Troy Johnson question: What was the last book you read?
TG: As a Man Thinketh by James Allen.
KW: The music maven Heather Covington question: What music are you listening to nowadays?
TG: I’ve got this single that just came out called Mayhem: Take Me Away Remix. You can download it for free all over the internet. I just want to make the world dance. It’s a house techno type of record, and it’s full throttle.
KW: Which is your preference: acting, modeling or singing?
TG: Music will always be my first love, because when you write songs, they come from your own heart, versus acting, where you’re delivering someone else’s words and trying to make them your own.
KW: What has been the biggest obstacle you have had to overcome?
TG: I think my biggest obstacle was my childhood, growing up in South Central L.A., Watts. Nothing about my childhood was easy. I always think about that. Who I am today has been defined by my childhood. So, my work ethic, my focus, my drive to want more and to achieve more all stem from my being so frustrated as a child and not having access to money, food, clothes or being able to go anywhere. Just that feeling of being stuck. Some people complain about it, but I decided to do something about it and make sure that this is not a part of my story anymore. I have a big heart. I like doing things for people. When I get hungry, I want to eat. I want to travel, I can travel. Money hasn’t made my life special. But if I get a flat tire, I can afford to pay for a tow truck, instead of being stuck on the side of the freeway. These are the sort of things that money has done for my life. You know what I mean? [Chuckles]
KW: Yep. The Rudy Lewis question: Who’s at the top of your hero list?
TG: Will Smith… Denzel Washington… Barack Obama… Richard Gere… Diane Lane…
KW: Diane Lane?
TG: Oh, absolutely, love her. She’s great. And my man Clint Eastwood. He’s amazing.
KW: The Laz Alonso question: How can your fans help you?
TG: My fans can help me by praying for me and my family, because what I do is not easy. There’s a lot of politics and a lot of drama involved. And a lot of things that people will never know about because I don’t talk about them. So, I just hope they’ll pray to keep me encouraged.
KW: What advice do you have for anyone who wants to follow in your footsteps?
TG: I live my life by a few quotes that sort of shape my whole mindset. The first one is: “You can often tell how far your life and career will go based on the five people you spend the most time with.” Another is, “If you have a problem with your life, you should have a problem with the people in your life.” Add to that, “If you don’t reach beyond what you’ve already mastered, you’ll never grow.” People say that it’s a jungle out here, but the problem is most folks are always swinging from the same vine. You’ve got to go from one vine to the next, take that leap of faith, stretch your arms as far as you can and know that the next vine is going to be there, if you give it your best effort. And my last thought is, “You can’t get points today for yesterday’s game.”
KW: When you look in the mirror, what do you see?
TG: I see a man who is looking to achieve more, a man who won’t settle for what he’s already accomplished. I’ve only just begun.
KW: What do like to cook?
TG: I love cooking sea bass, mashed potatoes and breakfast foods. But I love being cooked for, too, when a woman can get up in the kitchen and work her way around and up and down.
KW: How do you want to be remembered?
TG: I want to be remembered as a man who was selfless, who gave everything of himself to try his best to make a difference in other people’s lives. Most people associate charities with just cutting checks and handing them out. But me, I like personally passing on information and knowledge so the people can figure out a way to get it done.
KW: Thanks for putting all your energy into such a great interview, Tyrese.
TG: No problem. Thank you.