Wednesday, September 30, 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 October 9, 2009


Couples Retreat (PG-13 for profanity and sexuality) Battle-of-the-sexes comedy revolving around four couples vacationing on a tropical island who come to regret booking themselves at the therapy getaway when they learn that participation in the retreat’s relationship counseling sessions is not optional. Ensemble cast includes Vince Vaughn, Jason Bateman, Kristin Davis, Faizon Love, Jon Favreau, Malin Akerman, Kali Hawk, Kritsten Bell, Tasha Smith and Jean Reno.

Good Hair (PG-13 for profanity, sexuality, drug references and partial nudity) Chris Rock emcees this documentary taking a lighthearted look at African-American hair, including styles, straightening, wigs, extensions, salons and self-esteem issues. With appearances by Maya Angelou, Eve, Meagan Good, Ice-T, Nia Long, Paul Mooney, Al Sharpton and Kerry Washington.

Night of the Demons (R for sexuality, nudity, drug use, profanity and graphic violence) Grisly remake of the 1998, high attrition-rate horror flick about a decadent Halloween party at a haunted house in New Orleans where teenaged revelers suddenly find themselves stalked by bloodthirsty demons. Cast includes Shannon Elizabeth, Edward Furlong and Tiffany Shepis.


Adventures of Power (PG-13 for profanity and sexual references) Ari Gold wrote, directed and handles the title role of this musical comedy about a copper miner who takes to the road in search of other air DRUMMING enthusiasts after being fired for tomfoolery that triggers an industrial accident. With Jane Lynch, Michael McKean and Chi Ling Chu.

Bronson (R for sexuality, profanity, violence, graphic nudity and disturbing content) Bio-pic not about Charles Bronson the screen legend, but about Michael Gordon Peterson (Tom Hardy), a British convict who has spent so many years beefing up in solitary confinement since 1974 that he’s lost his mind and thinks he’s the late Hollywood icon.

The Damned United (R for profanity) Two-time Oscar-nominee Peter Morgan (for The Queen and Frost/Nixon) wrote the screenplay for this adaptation of David Peace’s best seller recounting Brian Clough’s (Michael Sheen) catastrophic, 44-day reign in 1974 as coach of the legendary Leeds United soccer team.

An Education (PG-13 for sexuality, smoking and mature themes) Coming-of-age drama, set in London in the Sixties, adapted by Nick Hornby from Lynn Barber’s memoir about a bright 17 year-old (Carey Mulligan) who abandons her plans to attend Oxford in order to entertain the advances of a suave gentleman (Peter Sarsgaard) more than twice her age. With Alfred Molina, Olivia Williams and Cara Seymour.

Free Style (PG for sensuality, mature themes and coarse language) Corbin Bleu stars in this sports adventure chronicling an 18 year-old biker’s quest to win the Amateur Motorcross Championship with the help of his mother (Penelope Ann Miller), his little sister (Madison Pettis) and his new girlfriend (Sandra Echevarria).

From Mexico with Love (PG-13 for profanity, violence, brief sensuality, and drug references) Against-the-odds boxing saga about the effort of a grizzled, veteran trainer (Bruce McGill) to whip a homeless, penniless, orphaned, illegal immigrant contender (Kuno Becker) into shape for a prize fight against an undefeated champ (Alex Nesic).

Peter and Vandy (Unrated) Flashback drama devoted to a jaded couple’s (Jason Ritter and Jess Weixler) deconstruction of their troubled relationship. With Zak Orth, Noah Bean and Tracie Thoms.

St. Trinian’s (PG-13 for sexuality, profanity, mature themes, and drug and alcohol use) Sixth installment in the British comedy series set at the famed school for troubled girls finds the mischievous heroines hatching a plan to steal a priceless painting in order to save their financially-troubled alma mater from bankruptcy. With Talulah Riley, Rupert Everett, Gemma Arterton and Juno Temple.

Trucker (R for sexuality, profanity, drug use involving minors and sexual assault) Michelle Monahan stars in this dysfunctional family drama about a carefree truck driver forced to mature when her terminally ex-husband (Benjamin Bratt) can no longer care for their 11 year-old son (Jimmy Bennett).

The Yes Men Fix the World (Unrated) Guerilla-style documentary about a couple of investigative reporters (Andy Bichlbaum and Mike Bonanno) who infiltrate corporate America by masquerading as businessmen in order to expose politicians, lobbyists and other people profiting from Hurricane Katrina and other natural disasters.

Chelsea on the Rocks



Film Review by Kam Williams


Headline: Documentary Deconstructs Demise of Legendary Hotel as Haven for Bohemians


                The Chelsea Hotel, located on West 23rd Street in Manhattan, opened its doors in 1883. At the time, the 12-story structure was the tallest building in New York City, and even retained that distinction past the turn of the 20th Century. In 1905, it was converted into a residence hall catering to bohemians and aspiring artists, including musicians, writers, painters, actors, composers, filmmakers and clothing designers.

                Over its lifespan, the Chelsea has served as a home for hundreds of prominent celebrities, including Mark Twain and O. Henry in its early days, and Janis Joplin, Bob Dylan and Jimi Hendrix during the rock revolution of the Sixties.

Sir Arthur C. Clarke wrote 2001: A Space Odyssey while staying there, poet Dylan Thomas passed away there, and Sid Vicious stabbed his girlfriend to death there. And among the luminaries who launched their careers as guests of the establishment are Christo, Mapplethorpe, Joni Mitchell, Viva, Edie Sedgwick, The Grateful Dead, The Rolling Stones, Uma Thurman and Alice Cooper. 

Despite this rich, if sometimes checkered, history, the Chelsea was recently sold to a real estate company which could careless about preserving the place’s character. The new management is ostensibly on a mission to overhaul the legendary landmark into a streamlined, profit-oriented venture by ridding it of the colorful mavericks who have always given it so much personality.

For this reason, director Abel Ferrara decided to move into the Chelsea for six months to interview longtime residents and to shoot inside the lobby and some apartments before the place was rendered unrecognizable as a consequence of gentrification. The result of this last hurrah is Chelsea on the Rocks, a riveting mix of documentary and drama featuring reminiscences of some former tenants like Ethan Hawke, R. Crumb and Dennis Hopper. 

                Not exactly art for art’s sake, more like a case of film for historic preservation’s sake! 


Excellent (3.5 stars)

Rated R for profanity, sexuality, drug use and brief violence. 

Running time: 88 minutes

Studio: Aliquot Films

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

African American History in the United States of America: An Anthology (Volume 1)

Compiled and Edited by Tony Rose

Amber Books

Paperback, $21.95

430 pages

ISBN: 978-0-9824922-0-8


Book Review by Kam Williams


“It is obvious -- from the evidence of the names, habits, religious practices and music of African Americans – that Africa’s golden past is crucial to an understanding of African Americans. What is equally true and equally important is that Africa’s past is crucial to an understanding of European Americans.

For it is impossible to understand European Americans, it is impossible to understand Thomas Jefferson or George Washington or the U.S. Constitution without some understanding of Africa’s gift to the New World. And what that means, on the level of history as well as on the level of reality, is that America, contrary to the generally accepted view, is an African as well as a European invention.”

-Excerpted from the Preface (page xli)


The average public school curriculum devotes precious little attention to the considerable cultural contributions made by African-Americans. Typically, history books divide U.S. citizens into blacks and whites before focusing only on whites to the exclusion of blacks and other minorities.

Now, Tony Rose, Publisher and CEO of Amber Communications, has come up with a novel approach to teaching the history of the U.S. which dispenses with the terms “black race” and “white race” altogether. This only makes sense, given that the nation has elected as its president, a man of mixed ancestry.

As Rose astutely observes in the Foreword to his innovative opus, “There is only one race, the Human race… everything else is culture. As far as ‘white and black people’… there is no such thing.” The author further explains that the notions of different colored “races” was concocted by Europeans to rationalize the enslavement of Africans, the extermination of Indians and the exploitation of Asians.

Such designations enabled Europeans to designate Africans as “savage, inferior and sub-human” while simultaneously associating themselves with “superior, civilized and human.” This flies in the face of the fact that Africa had for centuries enjoyed a very advanced civilization well in advance of the arrival of the European.

Similarly, the Chinese would never have been subjugated by Europe, had they opted to maximize the militaristic potential of the gunpowder they’d invented. And the Native Americans would undoubtedly be far better off today, had they simply slaughtered instead of welcomed the explorers searching for India who landed in the so-called “New World” instead.

African American History in the United States of America (Volume 1) is a comprehensive anthology edited by Tony Rose featuring priceless contributions by the likes of Lerone Bennett, Jr. Jim Haskins, Brenda Wilkerson, Clinton Cox, Eleanora E. Tate and Otha Richard Sullivan. It even opens with a chapter penned by President Barack Obama, as excerpted from his autobiography “Dreams from My Father.”

This initial installment in the series revolves around ante-bellum America, including such esteemed early pioneers as Crispus Attucks, Harriet Tubman, Benjamin Banneker, Sojourner Truth, Phillis Wheatley and David Walker. Still, most of the figures highlighted here are relatively unknown pre-emancipation role models who excelled in a variety of professions ranging from writing to politics to the military to healthcare to business to the arts to science and technology.          

Well-written and informative from beginning to end, African American History in the United States of America is an engaging read which proves to be every bit as entertaining as it is a worthwhile educational tool. Kudos to editor Tony Rose for creating a seminal work which helps the nation take a significant step towards his ultimate hope and dream “that we can all call one another who we truly are — Americans.”


Truth Hall DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Jade Jenise Dixon’s Directorial Debut Out on DVD

Like an outrageous cross between The Best Man and Waiting to Exhale, Truth Hall is a daring melodrama revolving around the very eventful reunion of five best friends who had been inseparable in college when they pledged the same sorority and lived in the same dorm, Truth Hall. Now, this once tight-knit quintet of accomplished and attractive black women is getting back together for the wedding of one of their sorors.
However, as soon as they assemble in L.A., skeletons start popping out of the closet which threaten to rip their cohesion to shreds. Amber (Tamara ‘Gingir’ Curry) admits to being HIV+, yet that’s not stopping her from flirting with guys who have no idea of her medical status. Colette (Nicole Prescott) has come down with a dose of Jungle Fever, and is tempted to get her groove back with a 22 year-old, white bartender serving her a drink soon after arriving.
Not to be outdone is Lashon (Karimah Westbrook) who has been carrying on a clandestine affair with Brandon (Nicholas Demps), the blushing bride-to-be’s (Celeste A. Sullivan) cheating fiance. Finally, there’s Jazae (Jade Jenise Dixon), a lesbian who seduces another bridesmaid right before the wedding so they both ending up missing the ceremony entirely.
Truth Hall marks the writing/directorial debut of Jade Jenise Dixon who certainly knows how to keep an audience entertained. For, she has her over-the-top soap opera serving up another shocking revelation ever five minutes or so. The problem is that she never gives you much of a chance to digest what you’ve just heard, before she drops the next preposterous bombshell.
Another flaw is that four of the actresses spend much of the film wearing the identical bridesmaid’s dress, which makes it difficult at times to keep the characters straight. Nonetheless, I give Ms. Dixon credit for tackling the taboo subject of AIDS in a serious manner, a reminder that the disease continues to run rampant in the African-American community.
Truth Hall? “Rude Awakening Reception” might have made a better title for this tragicomic reunion where nobody’s really well-equipped to handle the truth.

Good (2 stars)
Rated R for profanity and sexuality.
Running time: 88 minutes
Studio: Image Entertainment

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Whip It

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Drew Barrymore Makes Directorial Debut with Female Empowerment Flick

17 year-old Bliss Lavendar (Ellen Page) is a small-town girl who has reluctantly entered the Miss Bluebonnet Beauty Pageant by her domineering mother (Marcia Gay Harden). Sadly, her henpecked father (Daniel Stern) is of no help, since he’s so afraid of his wife that he secretly watches football games in his van.

What we have here is a tragic case of a parent attempting to live vicariously through a child, since Mrs. Lavendar sorely wants to see her daughter win a competition she never could herself at that age. She’s even desperate enough to spend $800 of her hard-earned pay as a mail carrier on a custom-made rhinestone-encrusted gown just for the occasion.

In reality, however, Bliss is a rough-and-tumble tomboy who’d rather be a jammer on the Hurl Scouts, the all-girl roller derby team that competes in an arena in nearby Austin, Texas. But she seems already too busy to fit anything else into her schedule, between preparing for college and her after school job as a waitress at the Oink Joint, Home of the Squealer.

Nonetheless, curiosity gets the better of Bliss, so one day she surreptitiously hitches a ride from Bodeen to the big city on a Bingo bus full of senior citizens. She attends a tryout for the Hurl Scouts, where she makes fast friends with Maggie Mayhem (Kristen Wiig), a veteran who shows her the ropes.

Bliss can’t help but notice that the rest of her teammates have equally-punny monikers, including Smashley Simpson (Barrymore), Eva Destruction (Ari Graynor) and token black Rosa Sparks (Eve), to name a few. So, it’s no surprise when Coach Razor (Andrew Wilson) gives his raw recruit a nickname of her own, Babe Ruthless.

Despite all the bumps and bruises, Bliss takes to the sport, though deciding to tell her mother she’s enrolled in an SAT prep course instead of the truth. This sets up the classic “one big lie which must be hidden at all costs” premise which underpins Whip It, an estrogen-fueled, female empowerment flick based on Shauna Cross’ novel of the same name. The movie marks the directorial debut of Drew Barrymore who had the wherewithal to assemble a very talented cast to play an array of colorful characters, from the smarmy emcee (Jimmy Fallon) to the tattooed butch (Juliette Lewis).

The cliché-ridden plot thickens predictably when the Hurl Scouts’ make the playoffs and the championship game against their cross-town rivals, the Holy Rollers, is scheduled for the same night as the Bluebonnet Pageant. At that juncture, the tension builds around whether Bliss will follow her heart or capitulate to her mother’s wishes?

Pleasant, if formulaic, Whip It is mostly a mindless diversion designed to hold your interest via a profusion of such teensploit staples as the gratuitous hot tub party and the cafeteria food fight. Juno on roller skates!

Very Good (2.5 stars)
Rated PG-13 for sexuality, profanity, crude humor and drug use.
Running time: 111 minutes
Studio: Fox Searchlight


Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Bruce Willis Back in Futuristic Sci-Fi Thriller

It’s Boston in 2017, a time when people live in near total isolation from one another. Instead of ever leaving their homes, they send remote-controlled robots out into the world as their virtual emissaries. In this scenario, you are legally allowed to rely on a surrogate that looks like a younger version of yourself, although it’s a felony to control a computerized clone registered to someone else.

With nothing but cyborgs out on the streets, it’s no surprise that the world has been transformed into a virtual utopia where crime has become a thing of the past. However, the peace of Beantown is suddenly shattered when the city suffers its first murder in years. What’s curious about the slaying is that the victim is Jarid Canter (Shane Dzicek), the son of Dr. Lionel Canter (James Cromwell), the inventor of surrogates.

Assigned by FBI Chief Andrew Stone (Boris Kodjoe) to crack the case are Agents Greer (Bruce Willis) and Peters (Radha Mitchell). Initially, the baffled partne wonder why anyone might want the kid dead. Then, more killings occur, and the investigation reveals that the murder weapon is a high-tech gadget capable of destroying a surrogate while simultaneously liquefying its corresponding human’s brain.

Soon, the trail leads to the Dread Reservation, a sanctuary for rebels who have refused to surrender their autonomy to Dr. Canter’s race of robots. After it becomes apparent that The Prophet (Ving Rhames) must be masterminding the revolution, Greer opts to bring his aging body out of mothballs in order to take on the leader of the resistance movement, mano-a-mano. Next, his boss strips him of his badge and gun for this infraction of the Bureau’s rules. Nonetheless, this does nothing to discourage Greer from continuing the pursuit as a rogue cop.

So unfolds Surrogates, a futuristic Dirty Harry directed by Jonathan Mostow. Adapted from Robert Venditti’s graphic novel of the same name, the film unfortunately fails to live up to its promising premise. The problems start with the screen being cluttered with way too many characters (two of everybody) and the futility of asking an audience to invest emotionally in robots. Ultimately, the twists turn preposterous, and it doesn’t help that the cast can’t sell the ludicrous script.

Yetta nudder cautionary tale issuing dire warnings about the pitfalls of technology run amuck.

Fair (1.5 stars)
Rated PG-13 for profanity, disturbing images, sexuality, drug use and intense violence.
Running time: 88 minutes
Studio: Touchstone Pictures

Saturday, September 26, 2009

More Than a Game

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Inspirational Bio-Pic Chronicles LeBron James’ Formative Years

Most people only know LeBron James as a basketball phenom who went straight from high school to the NBA, where this year he was named the youngest MVP in the history of the league. However, few are aware of how challenging a childhood he had to overcome en route to the pros, being raised by a single-mom who had a hard time just keeping a roof over their heads.

In fact, Lebron moved about a dozen times between the ages of 5 and 8, living in some of the worst projects around Akron, Ohio. Fortunately, his chronically-unemployed mother Gloria had the good sense to let her son stay with his coach’s family until she was able to provide him with a stable home situation.

LeBron ended up forming what would prove to be lifelong bonds during his formative years, first while playing in an AAU league and later while attending St. Vincent-St. Mary High School. For over that period, he had the same teammates: Dru Joyce III, Romeo Travis, Willie McGee and Sian Cotton. Consequently, as LeBron reminisces, “It was basketball, but it was more like friendship than anything.”

Furthermore, they were coached by Dru’s father, a practical role model who impressed upon them from the outset that basketball was “more than a game,” to help them see it was a vehicle to be used “to get from Point A to Point B.” LeBron and company took that message to heart, cultivating not only character, individually, but a chemistry and cohesiveness, collectively, which would stand the test of time.

Yes, that tight-knit squad enjoyed unparalleled success on the court, including the national championship title, but this moving documentary focuses as much on their achievements away from the sport to drive home more important points about the value of loyalty, persistence and integrity in overcoming any adversity. Although LeBron was obviously the star of the team, the picture devotes equal time to all the members, each of whom had his own cross to bear. Along the way, we learn that Willie was raised by his big brother, because both of his parents were drug addicts; that diminutive Dru had a short kid’s complex; that Romeo had anger management issues; and that Gentle Giant Sian struggled to outgrow his clumsiness.

More Than a Game marks the auspicious directorial debut of Kristopher Belman, who was afforded unusual access to the Fab Five for seven years, from junior high through their high school graduation. The footage he shot of LeBron back then proves priceless now, as it is an absolute treat for an avid NBA fan to be able to watch the gifted man-child’s potential gradually materialize right before your very eyes. Nonetheless, More Than a Game remains, at heart, an inspirational bio-pic about the transcendent magic of friendship forged in pursuit of hoop dreams.

Excellent (4 stars)
Rated PG for mild epithets and smoking.
Running time: 105 minutes
Studio: Lions Gate Films

Friday, September 25, 2009

The Blue Tooth Virgin

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Friendship Tested by Brutal Honesty in Offbeat Buddy Comedy

Sam (Austin Peck) and David (Bryce Johnson) are best friends who have been pursuing the same profession since college. But while the former is a struggling screenwriter, the latter has hit it big as the editor of a trendy magazine.

Since Sam only briefly met with success with a short-lived TV series back in the beginning of his career, he has to deal not only with self-doubt but with increasingly caustic comments from his wife, Rebecca (Lauren Stamile), who resents having to be the breadwinner. She hints that now that he’s in his thirties, maybe it’s time to grow up and get a real job. Plus, she suspects that her husband is writing more for the validation than for the potential remuneration.

So, Sam continues to churn out script after script, never letting the last rejection discourage him. He asks David to critique his latest offering, “The Blue Tooth Virgin,” a character-driven thriller. But he wasn’t really prepared for the brutally-honest feedback he gets from his pal, who really doesn’t care for the screenplay at all. This reaction throws Sam for a loop, between his problems at home and the fact that Hollywood studios generally consider guys his age too old to have their finger on the pulse anymore.

Needless to say, David’s scathing review leads to a clash of egos, and the buddies’ relationship is subsequently tested whenever they get together, whether on the golf course or elsewhere. Crushed, Sam ends up crying on the couch of his less than sympathetic shrink, Dr. Christopher (Roma Maffia), and even enlisting the dubious assistance of Zena (Karen Black), a zany script consultant (Karen Black), to the tune of $1,500.

The Blue Tooth Virgin, the movie, is ostensibly far more delightful than the fictional script penned by Sam and denounced by David as a horrible nightmare. As hilarious as it is insightful, this contemplative comedy is likely to resonate most with anyone who has ever been an aspiring artist torn between conformity and chasing his or her dreams.

A primer on keeping the pedal to the proverbial medal when your whole world seems to have lost faith in you.

Excellent (3.5 stars)
Rated R for profanity and brief drug use.
Running time: 80 minutes
Studio: Regent Releasing

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Monsters vs. Aliens

DVD & Blu-Ray Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Giant Bride Saves the Planet in Animated Adventure on DVD

Despite planning the perfect wedding, Susan Murphy’s (Reese Witherspoon) big day ends-up derailed by a series of disasters. First, her self-absorbed fiancé, Derek (Paul Rudd), asks at the last minute if she would mind honeymooning in Fresno instead of Paris, so that he could schedule an audition for a TV news anchor position there.
But that annoying inconvenience pales in comparison to what transpires next when she’s struck by a mammoth meteorite falling out of the sky shortly before entering the church. And by the time Susan walks down the aisle, the guests can’t help but notice that the bride isn’t blushing anymore but glowing iridescent green and gradually morphing into a 50-foot tall platinum blonde blessed with superhuman strength.
This development soon comes across the radar of General W.R. Monger (Kiefer Sutherland), the head of a top secret federal agency assigned to hide any proof of paranormal phenomena from the public. So, he dispatches soldiers armed with tranquilizer darts to subdue Susan and to cart her off to a maximum-security government facility where four other genetic anomalies are already housed.
There, Susan, aka Ginormica, bonds with her fellow freaks of nature: B.O.B. (Seth Rogen), a brainless, but indestructible, gelatinous blob; Dr. Cockroach (Hugh Laurie), a brilliant mad scientist; Insectosaurus (Conrad Vernon), a 350 foot-long, silk-spitting worm; and the Missing Link (Will Arnett), an amphibious hybrid which looks like the first creature to crawl out of the sea on the evolution chart. And just when they’re on the verge of giving up any hope of ever seeing the light of day again, a flying saucer lands in California with an army of menacing clones aboard.
After the aliens’ diabolical leader Gallaxhar (Rainn Wilson) announces “You will all die,” General Monger unleashes the rag-tag team of superheroes on the horde of invaders from outer space. A spectacular epic battle ensues up and down the streets of San Francisco, on the Golden Gate Bridge and below in the Bay in this CGI-driven animated adventure that’s all about the wow factor.
A wholesome family flick that’s fun for kids from 4 to 104.

Excellent (3.5 stars)
Rated PG for sci-fi action, crude humor and mild epithets.
Running time: 94 minutes
Studio: Paramount Home Entertainment

DVD Extras: Modern Monster Movie Making, 3 deleted scenes, Monger's Plan, War Room Turns on Monsters, If You Don't Know, DWA Music Video Juke Box, director’s commentary, The Tech of MONSTERS VS. ALIENS, sneak peeks, How To Train Your Dragon, Shrek The Musical, Kung Fu Panda World, The Penguins of Madagascar, Shrek The Halls, Secrets of the Furious Five, MONSTERS VS. ALIENS and an Activision Game trailer.

Blu-Ray Extras: B.O.B.'S BIG BREAK in Monster 3D & 2D, Paddle Ball Game in Monster 3D, Modern Monster Movie Making, 3 deleted scenes, Monger's Plan, War Room Turns on Monsters, If You Don't Know, DWA Music Video Juke Box, director’s commentary, The Tech of MONSTERS VS. ALIENS, sneak peeks, How To Train Your Dragon, Shrek The Musical, Kung Fu Panda World, The Penguins of Madagascar, Shrek The Halls, Secrets of the Furious Five, MONSTERS VS. ALIENS Activision Game trailer, Karaoke Music Party, Animators' Corner - Picture-In-Picture, and a trivia track

Away We Go

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Rudolph and Krasinski‘s Road Comedy Arrives on DVD

Verona (Maya Rudolph) is six months pregnant, but it doesn’t look like she put any thought bringing a baby into the world, since she’s repeatedly informed her slacker boyfriend, Burt (Jon Krasinski), that she’ll never marry him. The 33 year-old college dropout is not exactly great father material, being unemployed and wasting away his days between whittling wood and taking a self-defense class.
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 place to raise a child, 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: 98 minutes
Studio: Universal Studios Home Entertainment
DVD Extras: Commentary by the screenwriters and by director Sam Mendes, plus “The Making of” and “Green Filmmaking” featurettes.

Brief Interviews with Hideous Men

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Dumped Doctoral Student Does Dissertation on Dudes

Anthropology Ph.D. student Sara Quinn (Julianne Nicholson) was heartbroken after being inexplicably dumped by her boyfriend. In fact, she’s so upset she’s decided to shift the focus of her doctoral dissertation from the Feminist Movement to the male mind.
Because she doesn’t really understand men, she decides to study what makes them tick. Her research method is simple enough, if not exactly scientific in nature. She simply sits in a practically bare room across a table from each of her subjects, one at a time, with a tape recorder, not asking questions or being judgmental, but just letting them vent about their relationships with women in any way they wish. Among the guys participating in the project are strangers, colleagues and even her academic advisor (Timothy Hutton).
The interviewees are given numbers instead of names to protect their privacy, and they obviously feel safe enough with this arrangement to share their kinkiest of fantasies and fetishes. Meanwhile, Sara, who is supposed to be compiling data to get her degree, is ostensibly gleaning info for her own personal future dating reference.
Adapted by its director/co-star John Krasinski from a collection of short stories by the late David Foster Wallace, Brief Interviews with Hideous Men plays like a series of improvised stand-up routines. This explains why Krasinski had the sense to stack his ensemble cast with a combination of seasoned comedians (like Will Forte and Will Arnett) and character actors (like Bobby Cannavale, Frankie Faison and Joey Slotnick), performers capable of holding their own on stage alone sans props and scenery.
Alternately bizarre and hilarious, Brief Interviews ultimately proves more shocking than revealing of the male psyche. A funny flick apt to be most appreciated by the very open-minded.
The Penis Monologues.

Very Good (3 stars)
Running time: 80 minutes
Studio: IFC Films

Wednesday, September 23, 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 October 2, 2009





The Invention of Lying (PG-13 for profanity, sexuality and drug use) Romantic comedy set in a mythical world where everyone is truthful and gullible except for the one person (Ricky Gervais) who has learned how to lie his way to fame and fortune while manipulating his way into the heart of the woman of his dreams (Jennifer Garner). With Tina Fey, Jeffrey Tambor, Jonah Hill, Rob Lowe and Louis C.K.  


More Than a Game (PG for mild epithets and smoking) Overcoming-the-odds documentary recounting the hoop exploits and tight-knit friendship of LeBron James and the four pals he played on the same basketball team with from junior high through high school graduation. 


A Serious Man (R for profanity, sexuality, nudity and brief violence) Semi-autobiographical comedy set in Minnesota in 1967, written and directed by the Coen Brothers, about a college professor (Michael Stuhlbarg) whose life falls apart when he is left by his wife (Sari Lennick) for one of his colleagues (Fred Melamed).  


Toy Story I & II 3D (G) The much-beloved, animated children’s classics return to theaters in 3-D format. With voicework by Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, John Ratzenberger and “Mr Warmth” Don Rickles. 


Whip It (PG-13 for sexuality, crude humor, profanity and drug use) Drew Barrymore makes her directorial debut and also appears in this adaptation of Shauna Cross’ best seller about a reluctant beauty pageant contestant (Ellen Page) who rebels against her mother (Marcia Gay Harden) by joining a rough-and-tumble roller derby team. Cast includes Kristen Wiig, Jimmy Fallon, Eve, Daniel Stern, Juliette Lewis and Har Mar Superstar.


Zombieland (R for profanity and gory violence) Horror comedy about a hardy band of survivors (Woody Harrelson, Abigail Breslin, Jesse Eisenberg and Emma Stone) who seek sanctuary in an amusement park after America is overrun by man-eating zombies. Supporting cast includes Billy Murray, Amber Heard and Derek Graf.





Afterschool (Unrated) Youtube generation drama about an internet-addicted, prep school student (Ezra Miller) who dispassionately videotapes the deaths of a couple of classmates instead of trying to save them after an accidental drug overdose. With Rosemarie DeWitt, Emory Cohen and Addison Timlin.


As Seen through These Eyes (Unrated) Holocaust documentary, narrated by Maya Angelou, examines works of art created by Holocaust survivors imprisoned at Auschwitz, including the personal portraitist of Nazi madman Josef Mengele.


A Beautiful Life (Unrated) Screen adaptation of the stage play “Jersey City,” a romance drama about a runaway teen Angela Sarafyan) who falls in love with an illegal immigrant (Jesse Garcia) sharing shelter at an L.A. strip club. With Ling Bai, Dana Delany and Debi Mazar. 


Chelsea on the Rocks (R for profanity, sexuality, drug use and brief violence)

Director Abel Ferrara moved into Manhattan’s Chelsea Hotel for six months to shoot this documentary about the historic artists’ residence which over the ages has served as a home for everyone from Mark Twain and O. Henry to Jimi Hendrix and Bob Dylan.   


The Horse Boy (Unrated) Road documentary chronicling a Texas couple’s travels by horseback with their two year-old son across Outer Mongolia in a desperate search for a spiritual shaman who could cure the child’s autism miraculously.


Intimate Enemies (Unrated) Algerian war saga, set in 1959, focusing on the strained relationship of a battle-hardened sergeant (Albert Dupontel) and an officer (Benoit Magimel) new to the front who is reluctant to participate in any barbaric atrocities or crimes against humanity. (In French, Arabic and Kabyle with subtitles)’


St. Trinian’s (PG-13 for sexuality, profanity, mature themes, and drug and alcohol use) Sixth installment in the British comedy series set at the famed school for troubled girls finds the mischievous heroines hatching a plan to steal a priceless painting in order to save their financially-troubled alma mater from bankruptcy. With Talulah Riley, Rupert Everett, Gemma Arterton and Juno Temple.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Blended Nation: Portraits and Interviews of Mixed-Race America

Photographs and Interviews by Mike Tauber
Co-produced by Pamela Singh
Introduction by Rebecca Walker
Foreword by Ann Curry
Essay by Allan H. Goodman, Ph.D.
Channel Photographics
Hardcover, $34.95
140 pages, illustrated
ISBN: 978-0-9773399-2-1

Book Review by Kam Williams

“America’s children of mixed race are evidence that love is overcoming even racism, which once seemed insurmountable. ‘We come from open-minded lovers,’ I like to tell people about my siblings, to maybe get a laugh and ease the feeling that we are different from everyone else.
It can be lonely sometimes to see people stare and struggle to figure out your ancestry. Since I was a child I have been asked, ‘What are you anyway?’ The question used to hurt, but as you can see in Mike Tauber’s photos, we are the new face of America and its noble ideas of equality and freedom.”
 NBC News Anchor Ann Curry in the Foreword (page 3)

It’s not exactly a fluke that America elected Barack Obama in a landside in last year’s election. After all, according to the last census, people identifying themselves as of mixed heritage happen to be “the fastest growing demographic in the United States.” Perhaps, historians one will day look back on Obama not as the first African-American President, but at Bush as the last lily-white one.
For while some bigots certainly still cling desperately to outmoded notions about racial purity, most of the country has come around to an understanding that there’s only one race, the human race, and that we come in an infinite array of beautiful hues and features. Black folks have certainly known this for generations, being blessed with family trees reflecting the full spectrum of the rainbow. Meanwhile, Caucasians have sealed their fate as an ever-dwindling minority with their narrow self-definition of who gets to be white.
If you’d like to see tangible proof of how the U.S. is actually evolving into the proverbial ethnic melting pot of lore, may I suggest you check out Blended Nation: Portraits and Interviews of Mixed-Race America. This attractive, oversized, coffee table book is comprised of dozens of snapshots of the offspring of intermarriage, a wonderfully-motley mosaic representing the emerging face of a fully-integrated American population. Each headshot is accompanied by a personal essay in which the subject intimately reflects upon what it’s like to walk a mile in his or her moccasins.
A groundbreaking book which makes a persuasive case “that race is primarily a social construct that helps us categorize people.”

The Providence Effect

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Inspirational Documentary Chronicles Success of Inner-City Chicago Prep School

Paul J. Adams, III was the principal of Providence St. Mel, a parochial school in an impoverished section of Chicago, when he was in formed by the Catholic diocese of its plans to close the institution. Instead of updating his resume’ to look for a new job, Adams started a fundraising campaign in order to be able to continue to serve the community, where most of the kids attending public schools didn’t have much of a future.
Well, he not only saved Providence St. Mel but turned it into an elite, K-12 prep school where the aim was not merely to graduate students but to send them on to college. Hiring only competent, dedicated teachers who saw their job almost as a ministry or calling, Adams implemented a rigorous academic regimen with high expectations.
And that approach has paid off, as Providence St. Mel has achieved remarkable success, with 100% of its graduates gain admission to college for over 30 years in a row. This uplifting story is recounted in engaging detail in The Providence Effect, an inspirational documentary directed by Rollin Binzer.
The film is set mostly in and around the school, which Founder Adams runs with a combination of empathy and tough love because of gangs and other potentially-attractive maladies of the ghetto waiting just outside the door. To help discourage students who might be tempted by the idea of making easy money on the street, he even rewards those who make the honor roll with stocks and bonds.
A moving bio-pic about an unsung hero with a winning formula which ought to be replicated in inner cities all across the country.

Excellent (4 stars)
Rated PG for mature themes.
Running time: 92 minutes
Studio: Slowhand Cinema releasing

Monday, September 21, 2009

Paris (FRENCH)

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Ensemble Drama Revolves Around Melancholy Heart Patient

Pierre (Romain Duris) was enjoying a flourishing career as a chorus line dancer until he was diagnosed with advanced heart disease. He turns to his sister Elise (Juliette Binoche) for support, and the selfless social worker rushes to his side to assist however she can. Soon, the divorced, 40 year-old decides to move in with her brother, bringing along her three rambunctious children, energetic souls who help inject a joie de vivre back into their ailing uncle.
For the relatively-young man’s world has become restricted to the confines of his Paris apartment while he waits for word of a transplant donor. And although he is understandably dejected about his doctor’s dire prognosis, at least Pierre has loved ones around and a spacious, upper-floor flat with a balcony offering breathtaking, bird’s eye views of the city below.
Moreover, his plight makes him more appreciative of the little things in life, and he starts observing both neighbors and strangers from a fresh perspective. So unfolds Paris, an ensemble drama directed by Cedric Klapisch, ever so reminiscent of Amelie (2001), the similarly-serendipitous Oscar-nominee in the Best Foreign Film category.
But instead of a naïve waif, we have melancholy Pierre serving as the link to a motley cast of colorful characters. For instance, we find emotionally-vulnerable Elise flirting with a macho fishmonger (Albert Dupontel) she meets in the market. Then there’s the pretty neighbor (Melanie Laurent) who becomes the object of her college professor’s (Fabrice Luchini) obsession. Elsewhere, a racist snob (Karin Viard) only reluctantly hires an African immigrant (Kingsley Kum Abang) to work in her shop.
These loosely interlocking tales ultimately lead an envious Pierre to the conclusion that none of the above “know how lucky they are to be walking… breathing… running… arguing… to be just like that, carefree in Paris!” A sage insight from a housebound invalid that we all have a lot to be thankful for and that we should never take our health for granted.

Excellent (3.5 stars)
Rated R for profanity and sexual references.
In French with subtitles.
Running time: 124 minutes
Studio: IFC Films

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Naturi Naughton: The “Fame” Interview

The “Fame” Interview
with Kam Williams

Headline: Naturi by Nature

Fresh on the heels of her steamy screen debut earlier this year in Notorious as Lil’ Kim, Naturi Naughton is back with Fame, a remake of the 1980 Academy Award-winner for Best Score and Best Song. Now, the New Jersey native is enjoying a starring role showcasing an array of her considerable talents, including solo performances of a couple of hits from the original, the title track “Fame” as well as “Out Here on My Own.”
Fans of 3LW (ala 3 Little Women) will remember the curvaceous cutie as a founder of that popular singing sensation. Since then, Naturi has studied Political Science at Seton Hall University and has appeared as Little Inez in the Broadway production of Hairspray.
Here’s she reflects on being a member of the ensemble of Fame, a music-driven drama revolving around the aspirations of students at the New York Academy of Performing Arts.

Kam Williams: Hi, Naturi, thanks for another interview.
Naturi Naughton: Thank you.
KW: What interested you in doing Fame?
NN: You know what’s so great about Fame is that it’s one of those classic re-inventions, one of those movies everybody wants to see come to life because it’s about young people fighting and striving for their dreams. Plus, I’ve been there. I was a young person who had a dream and wanted to be successful, and that’s kinda what Fame is all about. So, I think I was just attracted to the struggle and the realness of the story.
KW: You play Denise, but I don’t remember there being a Denise in the original.
NN: She’s similar to Coco, but not really the same personality, because we revamped the characters and changed some of the main storyline. However, I do feel very honored that I get to sing some of the original songs first done by Irene Cara. It was really exciting to bring those classics back to life in a new way. Even though I’m not playing exactly the same character, I feel like I’ve had a chance to recreate Coco in a fresh way.
KW: You’ve met with tremendous success as both a singer and an actress. Which is your preference?
NN: I’ll always love singing no matter what, but I’m very attracted to acting because it gives me a chance to show my range and to transform into a totally different character.
KW: What was it like working alongside veteran actors like Kelsey Grammer, Charles S. Dutton, Debbie Allen and Bebe Neuwirth?
NN: I loved the fact that I got to work with so many well-respected actors. It was both an honor and a learning experience watching how smoothly they do their job. I also learned from the other young people in the cast, and we really supported each other. But the veterans truly inspired me to believe that if they can have a long career, I can have a long career. So, it was great!
KW: And how was director Kevin Tancharoen? After all, this is his directorial debut.
NN: He had this wonderful vision, yet he was very open-minded, letting us all innovate and kinda create our characters. It was great having a young director, because he didn’t shut our opinions out. He wanted our input to make sure that it was a team effort, which made it fun. I loved that!
KW: Is there any question no one ever asks you, that you wish someone would?
NN: I wish they would ask me about what I was like growing up or what kind of student I was in high school and college, because most people don’t know that I was actually very, very focused on my academics, and that I am a big advocate of that. I think a lot of people don’t realize that I’m not just an entertainer, but an entertainer who loves Political Science.
KW: What is your favorite meal to cook?
NN: I don’t have the time to do much cooking, but I do the best that I can in the kitchen. I like making fried chicken and mashed potatoes, but I would like to learn to cook some new dishes.
KW: The bookworm Troy Johnson question: What was the last book you read?
NN: Barack Obama’s Dreams from My Father, a great book.
KW: The Rudy Lewis question: Who’s at the top of your hero list?
NN: My parents, Ezra and Brenda, because of the way they raised and supported me. Even though we didn’t have a lot when I was coming up, they still made sure I had the same opportunities as everybody else.
KW: When you look in the mirror, what do you see?
NN: When I look inside myself, I see a passionate, young, woman who really is beautiful and deserving of her success because she’s so hardworking.
KW: The Flex Alexander question: How do you get through the tough times?
NN: I have to think that over, because I’ve been through some tough times… I think I usually rely on my faith. I started out singing in church. So, I go back to my roots, and believe that God will give me the strength to get through those tough times. Also, I lean on my family and other people who are a part of my life for advice and encouragement.
KW: I see you that the next movie you’ll be making is Lottery Ticket, a comedy where you’ll be starring opposite Ice Cube.
NN: I’m very excited about that film. It’s very funny and has a great moral. I’ve loved Ice Cube’s work for so long, and I know it’s going to be great to have the opportunity to work with him.
KW: What is the secret of your success?
NN: My faith in God for giving me the talent… my parents support … and my friends pushing me not to give up on my dreams. I don’t think I could do what I do, if I didn’t have all of these working together to make it happen.
KW: The Teri Emerson question: When was the last time you had a good belly laugh?
NN: I laugh every day, but I had a really good laugh with Asher Book who is also in Fame. He cracked me up with the great British accent he fooled everybody with while we were doing a promo tour for the movie in London.
KW: The music maven Heather Covington question: What music are you listening to nowadays?
NN: Well, right now, all I listen to all day long on my iPod is Miss Whitney. Whitney Houston was my inspiration growing up. “I Look to You“ is an absolutely amazing CD. I’ve listened to it every day since it came out. I’m very happy and proud and glad that she’s back, because I grew up wanting to be the next Whitney Houston. From the time I was six years-old, I used to sing her songs at every event, wedding and talent show.
KW: What has been the biggest obstacle you have had to overcome?
NN: It probably would be going through the break up of my girl group [3LW]. Dealing with the entertainment business in general is pretty hard, just jumping over those hurdles and trying to stay alive in the industry.
KW: What would you say is the message of Fame?
NN: To work extremely hard for your dream. You cannot expect to achieve success overnight. It’s not easy and all about the glamour.
KW: Can you still go the mall or the movie theater like a normal person?
NN: Sure, but I get spotted all the time. Fans come up to me and ask to take a picture, but it’s never anything threatening. They’ve been so supportive. I’ve been getting nothing but love everywhere I go. It’s all good.
KW: Thanks again, Naturi, and best of luck with Fame and your upcoming projects.
NN: Thank you.

The Informant!

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Damon Stars in Real-Life Case of Corporate Whistleblower Who Flim-Flammed FBI

In 1992, Mark Whitacre (Matt Damon) was a highly-regarded president of a division of Archer Daniel Midlands (ADM), an agri-business conglomerate headquartered in Decatur, Illinois. That was the same year he shared with his wife, Ginger (Melanie Lynskey), his misgivings about an international, price-fixing scheme he was helping to orchestrate on behalf of the Fortune 500 firm. Inside ADM, the company’s motto was “The competitors are our friends, and the customers are our enemies,” which explains why it had entered a conspiracy to inflate the cost of the processed food additives it manufactured.
Well, at his wife’s urging, Whitacre contacted the FBI which asked for his cooperation in building an anti-trust case against ADM and the other participants. He did agree to spy for the Bureau, which made him the highest level corporate executive ever to turn whistleblower. And over the next several years, he secretly gathered plenty of evidence, covertly taping hundreds of incriminating conversations with his colleagues.
During this period, he worked closely with FBI agents Brian Shepard (Scott Bakula) and Robert Herndon (Joel McHale) who never did an extensive background check on their potential star witness. These gullible gumshoes had no idea Whitacre would prove worthless in Federal court.
For while his credentials might have been legit, such as his degrees in biotechnology from Ohio State and Cornell University, other aspects of his life story were pure fabrication, such as his claim that he had been orphaned at three and subsequently adopted by a couple who owned an amusement park. Worse, it turned out Mark Whitacre was not only a compulsive liar with delusions of grandeur, but a manic depressive with suicidal tendencies.
Furthermore, at the same time he was spying for the FBI, he was defrauding ADM of over $9 million. The flim-flam left the Bureau with egg on its face and Whitacre ultimately ended up serving far more time in prison for that crime than any of the targets of the badly-bungled investigation.
Based upon the Kurt Eichenwald best-seller of the same name, The Informant has been adapted to the screen by Steven Soderbergh. Regrettably, the Oscar-winning director (for Traffic) saw fit to interpret what might have made a compelling corporate espionage thriller (ala Michael Clayton) into a lighthearted romp revolving around Whitacre’s cat-and-mouse relationship with the FBI’s incompetent Keystone Cops who served as his contacts, instead of focusing squarely on the pricing scandal.
Matt Damon seems an ill-match for his role as the mentally-unstable title character, a tragic-comic figure deserving of more complicated treatment than as an addlepated fuddy-duddy. Even more annoying is Marvin Hamlisch’s goofy, retro score which sounds like it was borrowed from a Sixties TV game show like The Newlywed Game or The Dating Game.
Sadly, what gets all but lost is the fact that, even in the absence of Whitacre’s ethically-compromised court testimony, the government was still able to get convictions of several top executives and to eradicate the financial chicanery in the agri-business industry. Rather, what’s served up is superficial, cinematic folderol leaving the impression that ADM was the innocent victim of a smear campaign by a larcenous loon who had taken leave of his senses.

Fair (1 star)
Rated R for profanity.
Running time: 108 minutes
Studio: Warner Brothers

Jennifer's Body

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Megan Morphs into Monster in Tasteless Zombie Flick

Megan Fox’s Transformers 2 may have been the biggest box-office hit of the summer, but her new film, Jennifer's Body, has a better chance of becoming the biggest flop of the fall. This relentlessly-offensive horror film is based on a screenplay by Diablo Cody, the stripper-turned-scriptwriter who won an Oscar last year ago for her debut offering, Juno. Unfortunately, Ms. Cody succumbs here to the proverbial sophomore jinx, despite an obvious attempt to imbue her latest title character with the identical, above-it-all attitude of her previous one.

The story is set in the tiny town of Devil’s Kettle where terminally-flip Jennifer (Megan Fox) and nerdy Needy (Amanda Seyfried) have been best friends since childhood. Both are a little boy crazy, but while the former is gorgeous and tends to sleep around, the latter is homely and grateful just to have a steady boyfriend (Johnny Simmons). Jennifer loves to leverage her looks at the high school by making boys salivate over her and by making mean-spirited comments about her less-comely competitors, calling them crude nicknames like “Vagisil” and “Monistat.”

The atmosphere abruptly shifts from shallow teensploit to eerily ominous the fateful evening a fire accidentally burns the crowded Melody Lane Tavern to the ground while a heavy metal rock group is playing on stage. This instantly-recognizable scenario is essentially a disturbingly-tasteless recreation of the 2003 nightclub conflagration which actually killed 100 people in a place called The Station in West Warwick, Rhode Island. To mount a thinly-veiled reenactment for a horror film is not merely uncreative, but terribly ghoulish and totally inappropriate.

But I digress. Although eight of her classmates and a teacher are among the dead, Jennifer barely escapes herself. Yet, instead of showing any sympathy for the recently-departed, she callously refers to the incident as a “white trash pig roast.”

The plot thickens when she is escorted away from the scene by the equally-blasé band members of Low Shoulders on the pretense of their wanting to comfort her. Truth be told, they are secretly devil worshippers and in search of a virgin to butcher as a sacrifice to Satan. However, since she isn’t exactly chaste, an unforeseen “demonic transference” occurs. In other words, Jennifer doesn’t die, but rather morphs into a man-eating monster.

Then, reincarnated as a cute cannibal, she proceeds to spend the balance of this gratuitous splatter flick making major mayhem, projectile-vomiting black bile when not luring unsuspecting males into the woods in order to eat them alive.

The film’s fatal flaw is that there’s not much of an arc to Jennifer’s character. For she remains as unlikable after becoming a zombie as she already was before, and she never even bothers to go after the creeps responsible for her transformation, which at least would be understandable.

No, we have to watch her seduce and devour dudes guilty only of finding her attractive or, at worst, of hitting on her. Consequently, the audience would just as soon root against Jennifer, which is the opposite of director Karyn Kusama’s intent. At the screening I attended, we frequently burst into laughter in unison at moments intended to be tense or taken seriously, not good.

Megan Fox needs to set her sights a little higher now that she has some clout in Hollywood.

Poor (0 stars)
Rated R for profanity, sexuality gory violence and brief drug use.
Running time: 101 minutes
Studio: 20th Century Fox

Friday, September 18, 2009

Blood and Bone DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Michael Jai White Stars in Straight-to-Video Street Fight DVD Drama

After Isaiah Bone (Michael Jai White) is paroled from the penitentiary he has a hard time finding a legit line of work so he can provide for his loyal and patient wife, Tamara (Nona Gaye). So, given that he’s buff and good with his fists and feet, he descends upon the underground street fighting scene where rumor has it that a purse can be as much as $5 million. Of course, even in back alley brawling, you still have to work your way to the top before you can get a piece of the reigning champ.
Just like when he was behind bars, Bones proves to be invincible. And it isn’t long before he’s wiped out all the other contenders, leaving a trail of crumpled bodies littered around and writhing on the ground in his wake, much like a black Bruce Lee. Still, his march to the big showdown with Pretty Boy Bryce isn’t without complications, as the local mob boss, Franklin McVeigh (Julian Sands), wants a cut of the action. Plus, the dastardly McVeigh has a damsel-in-distress in need of rescue, angelic Angela (Michelle Belegrin).
Directed by Ben Ramsey, Blood and Bone is a decent, low-budget splatter affair for folks who care more about body counts and orchestrated martial arts stunts than a coherent storyline. Michael Jai White (Spawn) makes a convincing case here that he deserves future consideration as an action star on the order of a Vin Diesel or a Sylvester Stallone.
A take no prisoners flick featuring plenty of balls-out action for the bloodlust demo.

Very Good (2.5 stars)
Rated R for profanity, ethnic slurs, sexuality, drug use and graphic violence.
Running time: 93 minutes
Studio: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
DVD Extras: Commentary with director Ben Ramsey and the cast, and a “Behind-the-Scenes” featurette.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Observe and Report DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Seth Rogen Shockfest as Crude Mall Cop Comes to DVD

Superficially, Observe and Report’s storyline sounds practically identical to that of Paul Blart. After all, both movies revolve around a bumbling but dedicated security guard who wants to become a real cop, who still lives at home with his mom and who has a crush on a cute clerk at the mall.
Unfortunately, the two pictures have precious little in common beyond that similar-sounding premise. For, where the relatively-clean Blart is a lighthearted romp that’s appropriate for the whole family, Observe is the direct antithesis, a relentlessly-dark and disturbing celebration of depravity unlikely to resonate with any decent demographic.
This raunchy teensploit is ostensibly-designed to up the ante in terms of the shock genre’s profane, prurient and politically-incorrect index. The subject-matter mined for laughs here includes drug addiction, date rape, stun gun tasering, stalking, bullying, stealing, sexual assault, abusive relationships, ethnic, gender and sexual preference slurs, and prolonged, full-frontal nudity. And despite pushing the envelope, the film breaks a cardinal rule of comedy by failing to be funny.
Most of the offensive antics unfold around the Forest Ridge Mall where we find head of security Ronnie Barnhardt (Seth Rogen) as obsessed with crassly courting a cosmetics consultant (Anna Faris) as with apprehending the flasher who’s been exposing himself to female patrons. For instance, consider the exchange between the intrepid protagonist and a suspect who feels he’s been racially profiled named Saddamn Hussein (Aziz Ansari) during which they take turns yelling “[Expletive] you!” back and forth at each other ad infinitum until the scene peters out.
Other lowlights make light of substance abuse, like the running joke about Ronnie’s foul-mouthed alcoholic mother (Celia Weston) and another about a co-worker (Michael Pena) hooked on heroin. The worst scene has to be the bloody finale featuring lingering, slow-motion shots of the pervert’s swaying private parts.
I suppose this movie could’ve been worse. I’m just not sure how.

Poor (0 stars)
Rated R for sexuality, pervasive profanity, gratuitous violence, drug use and graphic frontal nudity.
Running time: 86 minutes
Studio: Warner HomeVideo
DVD Extras: None

4 Hit Kiddie DVDs from Disney (DVD REVIEW)

Jonas Bros, Hannah Montana, Sonny Munroe, and Zach & Cody
DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: 4 Hit Kiddie DVDs from Disney

If you have never heard of the Jonas Brothers, Hannah Montana, Sonny Munroe or Zach & Cody, then you must not have any youngsters in the house, because these are four Disney Channel favorites of the tweener demographic. Hannah Montana and the Jonas Brothers are also musical phenoms with CDs and concert tours besides their TV shows and network specials.
Jonas Vol. 1, Rockin’ the House, features 5 episodes from the siblings’ hit series, while Wizards on Deck is a full-length adventure involving characters from a trio of Disney shows: Hannah Montana, The Suite Life of Zach & Cody, and Wizards of Waverly Place.
The Suite Life on Deck: Anchors Away contains four episodes from Season 4 when the producers decided it was time to shift the setting of the show from a hotel to luxury cruise liner. Finally, Sonny with a Chance is a relatively new program which just debuted in June, but has already been renewed and has made its way to DVD. The show within a show revolves around a Midwestern girl who gets her big break in Hollywood when she’s invited to join the cast of a sketch comedy series.
This quartet is pretty much review proof, so if you like to put a big smile on the face of a kid grumbling about the end of summer, a gift of any of these DVDs oughta do the trick.

Sonny with a Chance (Details)
Running time: 89 minutes
Rated TV-G
Studio: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment
DVD Extras: A bonus episode, star Demi Lovato’s audition and Mackenzie Falls season finale.

The Suite Life on Deck: Anchors Away (Details)
Running time: 90 minutes
Rated TV-G
Studio: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment
DVD Extras: 2 bonus episodes, 10 minutes of footage from the star-studded premiere, and an interview with Debby, the newest member of the cast.

Jonas Vol. 1, Rockin’ the House
Running time: 113 minutes
Rated TV-G
Studio: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment
DVD Extras: 2 bonus episodes and “You’ve just Been Jo Bro’d” featurette.

Wizards on Deck with Hannah Montana
Running time: 68 minutes
Rated TV-G
Studio: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

One Bad Cat: The Reverend Albert Wagner Story

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: DVD Chronicles African-American’s Salvation via Sermonizing and Painting

Albert Wagner (1924-2006) freely acknowledged that he frittered away his first half-century on Earth chasing skirts. A slave to wine and women, he fathered 20 children between his wife and his mistresses.
He bottomed out while spending time behind bars after being accused of molesting one of his own kids. He admitted committing the act of incest, and considered himself lucky not to have received a stiffer sentence than the five days behind bars the judge gave him.
Blaming his profligate behavior not only on lust, but on a combination of racism and narcissism, Albert turned a new leaf after God spoke to him on his 50th birthday. From that point forward, the shameless sinner reformed, dedicating his life to Jesus and seeking salvation by creating Christian-themed paintings and by preaching as an ordained minister.
Having spawned such a large extended family, Reverend Wagner discovered that he had a ready-made congregation in his own relatives. Meanwhile, he also met with success as a prolific folk artist, first in his hometown of Cleveland, and then all across the country, as word of his colorful masterpieces started to spread.
The arc of Albert’s life from heathen to hero is chronicled by One Bad Cat, a compelling documentary narrated by Delroy Lindo. The bio-pic was shot mostly on location at the ailing octogenarian’s home/studio shortly before his death, although director Thomas Miller also mixes in some interesting archival footage.
The charismatic Wagner proves to be as controversial a figure as you’re going to encounter onscreen, as he somehow comes off as simultaneously likable and despicable. Yes, he strikes you as sincere, even if his belated conversion came only long after his having apparently wreaked enough havoc to leave lots of females’ fragile psyches emotionally-shredded.
Like Shaft, this was definitely one bad… [shut your mouth!] who, if he hadn’t been Born Again, could easily have written a handbook for gangstas on how to be a player.

Excellent (4 stars)
Running time: 83 minutes
Studio: Vanguard Cinema
DVD Extras: Slideshow of Reverend Wagner’s work and a trailer.

Wednesday, September 16, 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 September 25, 2009


Fame (PG for mature themes, teen drinking, sexuality and mild epithets) Remake of the 1980 classic revolving around the aspirations of students at NYC’s School for the Performing Arts as they prepare for professional careers in dance, music and acting. Ensemble cast includes Naturi Naughton, Kay Panabaker, Debbie Allen, Kelsey Grammer, Bebe Neuwirth and Charles S. Dutton.

I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell (R for nudity, profanity, sexuality, crude humor and graphic dialogue) Debauchery comedy about a hedonist (Matt Czuchry) who throws a raunchy bachelor party for a pal (Geoff Stults) only to have the groom-to-be land in hot water with his furious fiancée (Keri Lynn Pratt) and to have his own invitation to the wedding revoked. With Traci Lords, Jesse Bradford and Meagen Fay.

Pandorum (R for profanity and graphic horror violence) Sci-fi horror flick about a couple of stranded astronauts (Dennis Quaid and Ben Foster) with amnesia who gradually realize they’re no longer alone on their spaceship and that the survival of mankind is dependent upon them. With Cam Gigandet, Cung Le and Eddie Rouse.

The Pool Boys (R for nudity, profanity, sexuality and drug use) Titillating teensploit about an enterprising Harvard dropout (Matthew Lillard) who enlists the help of his Harvard-bound cousin (Brett Davern), a recent high school valedictorian, to turn an empty L.A. mansion into an upscale house of ill repute. With George Takei, Tom Arnold and Jay Thomas.

Surrogates (PG-13 for profanity, disturbing images, sexuality, drug use and intense violence) Bruce Willis stars in this futuristic, sci-fi crime thriller as an FBI agent forced to investigate the first murder in what was presumed to be a crime-free, utopian society filled with robotic clones. Supporting cast includes Radha Mitchell, Boris Kodjoe, Ving Rhames and James Cromwell.


Blind Date (Unrated) Stanley Tucci directed and co-stars opposite Patricia Clarkson in this remake of the late Dutch director Theo van Gogh’s bittersweet drama about an estranged couple’s attempt to reconcile by going on a series of blind dates as strangers following the death of their daughter.

The Blue Tooth Virgin (R for profanity and brief drug use) Buddy comedy about a magazine editor (Bryce Johnson) whose friendship with an aspiring scriptwriter (Austin Peck) becomes strained after he offers frank feedback about his pal’s latest screenplay. With Karen Black, Amber Benson and Tom Gilroy.

The Boys Are Back (G-13 for mature themes and sexual dialogue) Clive Owen stars in this adaptation of Simon Carr’s moving memoir about a sportswriter who suddenly finds himself overwhelmed by the responsibility of raising two sons (Nicholas McAnulty and George MacKay) alone after his wife (Laura Fraser) succumbs to cancer.

Brief Interviews with Hideous Men (Unrated) John Krasinski wrote, directed and co-stars in this relationship drama about a just-dumped doctoral student (Julianne Nicholson) working on her dissertation in anthropology who decides to conduct a series of tete-a-tetes with strangers in order to understand what makes men tick. Cast includes Timothy Hutton, Ben Shenkman, Will Arnett, Will Forte, Frankie Faison and Bobby Cannavale.

Capitalism: A Love Story (Unrated) Iconoclast Michael Moore examines the toll exacted on the American Dream by the country’s unquestioned allegiance to the free market economic system.

Chelsea on the Rocks (R for profanity, sexuality, drug use and brief violence)
Director Abel Ferrara moved into Manhattan’s Chelsea Hotel for six months to shoot this documentary about the historic artists’ residence which over the years has served as a home for everyone from Mark Twain and O. Henry to Jimi Hendrix and Bob Dylan.

Coco before Chanel (PG-13 for sexuality and smoking) Audrey Tautou handles the title role in this bio-pic about the rise of Coco Chanel from headstrong orphan to the legendary fashion designer. (In French with subtitles)

In Search of Beethoven (Unrated) Encyclopedic bio-pic takes a comprehensive, chronological look at the life of Ludwig van Beethoven via a blend of his music and his letters. With over 60 performances, including appearances by Emanuel Ax, Juliet Stevenson and Lars Vogt.

Irene in Time (PG-13 for Sexuality and mature themes) Dysfunctional family comedy from legendary indie director Henry Jaglom chronicles how the fallout of a troubled father-daughter relationship subsequently influences the marriage of daddy’s little girl (Tanna Frederick). Cast includes Karen Black, Victoria Tennant and Lanre Idewu.

The Providence Effect (PG for mature themes) Inspirational documentary about Providence St. Mel, a K-12 private school, located in an impoverished, high-crime Chicago neighborhood, with a 30-year record of sending 100% of its graduates to college.

Men II Boys

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Groundbreaking Documentary Features Words of Wisdom about Black Manhood

A sobering statistic quoted at the outset sets the tone for this groundbreaking documentary: “69.7% of black kids are born out of wedlock.” Since most of these children are being raised by single-moms or grandmothers, this means that most African-American boys grow up nowadays without a positive male role model around. Is it any wonder, then, that so many might mimic the materialistic, misogynistic and self-destructive behaviors they see glorified on TV in rap videos or gravitate to the dead end path where gangs serve as surrogate parents?
For this reason, director Janks Morton, Jr. ostensibly decided to make Men II Boys, a worthy sequel to his award-winning What Black Men Think. This equally thought-provoking documentary opens by posing the question “Can a woman teach a boy to become a man?” before getting some answers from African-American luminaries like Congressman Elijah Cummings (D-MD), University of Maryland President Dr. Freeman Hrabowski, BET talk show host Jeff Johnson, former NFL star Daniel Wilcox and radio personality Butch Jamieson.
Besides these well-known figures, Mr. Morton also enlists the assistance of sage elders from all walks of life in his endeavor to amass a body of practical advice which every black boy ought to internalize. His approach, essentially, was to ask his subjects what they would tell a youngster coming of age, if they only had a minute to speak. And then he preserved their concise responses on camera for posterity.
The upshot of that effort is this priceless collection of insightful pearls of wisdom touching on everything from education to dating to religion to basic hygiene. For instance, Ryan Adams, who was paralyzed at 22 in a drive-by shooting, says “Don’t surround your self with the wrong people.”
A representative sample of other ideas include: “Know how to respect our women,” “Show me your friends and I’ll show you your future,” “Know that change begins with you,” and “Don’t make any babies that you’re not going to support.” President Hrabowski defines “character” as “what you will do when nobody can see you,” while Wilcox warns to “think for yourself” and “not believe everything that media tells you that you are.”
Much of what you hear in this film probably sounds obvious to anyone raised in an intact nuclear family. But it is easy to discern that common sense is lacking during a telling scene when Janks heads to a high school to find out how much time black boys get to spend with their dads.
There, one macho teen proudly proclaims that all the gangstas he hangs with were raised by single-mothers because “fathers make niggers soft and prissy.” What more proof do you need that time is of the essence, if the next generation is to be saved?
An urgent clarion call for absentee black fathers to become intimately involved in their sons’ lives.

Excellent (4 stars)
Running time: 44 minutes
Studio: Iyago Entertainment Group