Friday, October 30, 2009

How to Seduce Difficult Women

Film Review by Kam Williams


Headline: Womanizer Teaches Nerds in Battle-of-the-Sexes Comedy


                Philippe (Louis-Do de Lencquesaing), a charming Frenchman living in Manhattan, feels free to have his way with women, since he’s married to a bitchy wife. So, he’s currently carrying on a steamy affair with Betty (Opal Alladin), an attractive black woman who has no idea her husband Tiger is coming home from a business trip earlier than expected. Philippe lets himself out of the couple’s townhouse just as her spouse is about to enter, leaving it to his disheveled mistress to explain exactly who the handsome stranger he just passed was.

            Rather than worry about her awkward predicament, he simply moves on to his next conquest, namely, Mercedes (Ann Hu), his Asian-American dentist. But when she wisely rejects the hopelessly horny philanderer, he next takes a shot at Maureen (Alexa Havins), a sultry Southern Belle. He even has the nerve to fantasize about his shrink during a session with her about his sex addiction problem.

           Convinced that what the world needs now is more creepy womanizers like himself, Philippe decides not only to write a how-to book delineating his modus operandi but also to teach a course on it as well. The text, the course and this movie chronicling his students’ ensuing misadventures are all entitled “How to Seduce Difficult Women,” a battle-of-the-sexes comedy which is basically a sloppily-edited, series of unfunny, disconnected sketches adding up to far less than the sum of its parts.

                     The movie marks the writing/directorial debut of Richard Temtchine, a cosmetologist whose prior claim to fame was having the late Grace Kelly as a client. His flick essentially revolves around the dates and fates of the ten men who enroll in Phillipe’s class, a motley crew of romantically-challenged losers.

            The knuckle-dragging Neanderthal suggests that his socially-awkward pupils adopt an aggressive, cave man approach, as if females are uniformly docile and desire to be dominated. He even supplies a blow-up doll, Sabrina, for them to practice on. His advice subsequently works for them to varying degrees, however the overriding sexist theme doesn’t work for the audience, given that we’ve come a lot farther in terms of relating than merely dragging women off after conking them on the head with a club.

                Memo to Richard: don’t quit that day job as a hair stylist.


Fair (1 star)


Running time: 90 minutes

Studio: Zipline Entertainment

The Betrayal (LAOTIAN) DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: DVD Chronicles Laotian Refugees’ Assimilation in America

Few people knew during the Vietnam War that the CIA was simultaneously financing and backing a puppet government in nearby Laos. In order to eradicate pockets of Viet Cong in the country, the previously-neutral nation proceeded to allow the U.S. to drop more bombs inside Laos than had been used in WWI and WWII combined.
Among the traitors selling out his homeland was the father of Thavisouk Phrasavath, a military man whose job involved directing B-52s on their missions. However, following the fall of Saigon, the GIs high-tailed it out of Southeast Asia, leaving the local collaborators holding the bag.
After Thavisouk’s father was arrested and imprisoned, most of the family emigrated to America including him, his mother and seven of his siblings. When they were brought directly to the Flatbush section of Brooklyn, they actually panicked, fearing that they had somehow been mistakenly relocated to Africa since so many of their new neighbors were black. But they adjusted to life in their new environment, despite having to share a two-bedroom apartment with eight strangers from Cambodia and Vietnam.
Their whole challenging ordeal is recounted in The Betrayal, a documentary that’s difficult to stomach on a lot of levels. For, not only did these lost souls suffer the loss of their beloved patriarch, which led to the crumbling of the family structure, but they had to deal with the cultural shock of the melting pot to deal with, too. And there was no turning back, because they couldn’t return to Laos because of Papa P’s having collaborated with the enemy.
One of those overcoming the odds tales which you could easily see adapted into a touching feelgood saga, if stripped of its sorrowful and sobering elements. No such luck, here, as this warts and all expose’ is designed to leave you outraged about the way America treats naive allies and about the unresolved, ugly fallout of the Vietnam conflict.

Excellent (4 stars)
In English and Laotian with subtitles.
Running time: 92 minutes
Studio: The Cinema Guild
DVD Extras: Director’s commentary, Q&A with the director and co-director, conversation with the director and composer, archival footage and newsreels, montage of Laos, additional scene, theatrical trailer, photo gallery, filmmaker biographies and more.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Jerichow (GERMAN) DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: German Remake of Film Noir Classic Comes to DVD

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

Excellent (4 stars)
In German and Turkish with subtitles.
Running time: 96 minutes
Studio: Cinema Guild
DVD Extras: “The Making of” documentary and theatrical trailers.

Food, Inc. DVD



DVD Review by Kam Williams


Headline: DVD Exposes Dangers of Mechanized Food Industry


                Did you know that the four largest beef producers now control 80% of the U.S. market? Or that mass-produced chickens never have a chance to see sunlight over the course of their abbreviated, 49-day lifespan during which they are so rapidly fattened that many can’t even support their own weight on their undeveloped skeletal structures?

                These are the sort of inconvenient truths shared by Food, Inc., a scary documentary likely to leave you rethinking some of your own eating habits. For what anyone watching this revealing expose’ will unavoidably realize is the fact that agribusiness has turned food production into a highly-mechanized process more like manufacturing than farming.

            The clever mega-corporations controlling the industry know that people prefer to think of their groceries as having been grown in healthy environments, hence all the packaging and advertising suggesting that what you’re about to consume came from a wholesome family farm. But the shocking footage director Robert Kenner somehow shot inside a variety of factories and slaughterhouses around the country tell a chilling story of misleading labeling, disease, pesticides, exploitation, genetic modification, monopolies and greed.

            For example, the film informs us that Monsanto, the same chemical

company which made the defoliant Agent Orange for use in the Vietnam War, has successfully cornered the soybean market. How? By patenting the only genetically-modified seed resistant to herbicides. So, farmers must continually purchase the plant from the manufacturer because it is illegal for them to harvest any seeds themselves.

            Furthermore, we learn that Justice Clarence Thomas used to work for Monsanto and that many others in the Bush Administration had close ties to the company as well. So, it is no surprise to see that the courts repeatedly side with the bullying firm in so many lawsuits against the proverbial little guy.

                Overall, Food, Inc. is to be commended for sounding such a clear clarion call for the consumer to rise up and start demanding natural and healthy alternatives to the processed junk which we’re being fed in the name of profits.   


Excellent (4 stars)

Rated PG for mature themes and disturbing images. 

Running time: 91 minutes

Studio: Magnolia Home Entertainment

DVD Extras: Deleted scenes, celebrity public service announcements and a segment from ABC’s Nightline

This Is It



Film Review by Kam Williams


Headline: Michael Jackson Mesmerizes in Cinematic Swan Song


                Taped during rehearsals for the late Michael Jackson’s London comeback tour which was not to be, This Is It is captures the essence of a Prince of Pop concert, only sans audience. In this regard, the movie actually allows for a much more intimate experience than one taped in front of throngs of loud, distracting and adoring fans. For here, in the empty Staples Center in Los Angeles, you’re able to focus strictly on Michael, and to listen to him interact with his crew and collaborators in between numbers instead of deafening applause.

            For, there’s Michael plus an elaborate menagerie comprised of musicians, backup singers, crotch-grapping dancers, strippers on poles, daredevil tightrope aerialists, costumed actors in masks, pyrotechnics, a blue screen showing a variety of images, human toasters (you’ll see), smoke and wind machines, everything but Mad Dogs and Englishmen. And they all combine to put on quite a show, even if perfectionist Michael periodically interrupts to adjust the lighting, the sound level or the play of one of his accompanists.

            The film features plenty of inspired musical performances, including Billie Jean, Thriller, Man in the Mirror, Smooth Criminal, The Way You Make Me Feel, I Want You Back, The Love You Save, I’ll Be There and the title track. What we repeatedly see here is a multi-talented genius at work, a man perhaps most comfortable in this milieu, namely, on stage, whether he’s complaining about an earpiece (“It feels like someone’s fist is shoved into my ear.”), orchestrating complicated choreography, or doing a soulful duet with Judith Hill, the beautiful African-Asian-American soprano who would later sing Heal the World shortly thereafter at his funeral.

            Again and again, Michael takes charge, for he knows exactly how he wants each tune to sound and look in order to satisfy his fans. And because he was so unguarded and totally oblivious of the rolling cameras, this flick captures him more authentically than any previous footage this critic has witnessed (including that Martin Brashear BBC documentary), and reveals the very likable persona of an icon who was obviously born to entertain.

                Not a ghoulish take-the-money-and-run rip-off, but a surprisingly sweet, sensitive, tenderhearted swan song you will never forget that will have you shedding a tear while tapping your feet. 


Excellent (4 stars)

Rated PG for suggestive choreography and scary images. 

Running time: 112 minutes

Studio: Sony Pictures

Wednesday, October 28, 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 November 6, 2009




The Box (PG-13 for mature themes, violence and disturbing images) Cameron Diaz and James Marsden co-star in this remake of “Button, Button” the Twilight Zone episode about a cash-strapped couple agonizing over whether to keep an anonymous gift of a million dollars which, if accepted, will simultaneously cause the death of a perfect stranger. Cast includes Frank Langella, James Rebhorn and Gillian Jacobs.


A Christmas Carol (PG for scary images) Animated, Disney version of the Charles Dickens classic about a miserly, cold-hearted curmudgeon (Jim Carrey) who has to experience an epiphany in order to be able to appreciate the holiday season. With voice work by Bob Hoskins, Colin Firth, Robin Wright Penn, Gary Oldman and Fionnula Flanagan.


The Fourth Kind (PG-13 for terror, disturbing images, mature themes, violence and brief sexuality) Sci-fi thriller revolving around a curious psychologist (Milla Jovovich) investigating the 40-year pattern of mysterious disappearances from a tiny Alaskan town suggesting abduction by UFOs. With Will Patton, Elias Koteas and Corey Johnson.


The Men Who Stare at Goats (R for profanity, drug use and brief nudity) Screen adaptation of the Jon Ronson best seller about a reporter (Ewan McGregor) covering the War in Iraq who stumbles upon the story of a lifetime when he meets a special forces agent (George Clooney) who claims to be a member of a top secret psychic unit. Supporting cast includes Kevin Spacey, Jeff Bridges and Stephen Root.


Precious (R for rape, child abuse, pervasive profanity and ethnic slurs) Lee Daniels directs this super-realistic screen adaptation of the Sapphire best seller, set in Harlem in 1987, about a teenage mom’s (Gabby Sidibe) attempt to finish school and to find love in the face of a monstrous mother (Mo’Nique) who insists she’ll never amount to anything. With Mariah Carey, Paula Patton, Lenny Kravitz and Sherri Shepherd.    




Act of God (Unrated) Introspective documentary examines the emotional effect of lightning on seven folks who miraculously survived being struck by bolts from the sky.   


Collapse (Unrated) Crystal ball bio-pic about cop-turned-visionary Michael Ruppert, the radical thinker who accurately forecast the current financial crisis in his self-published newsletter.


La Danse (Unrated) Dance documentary featuring seven productions mounted by the Paris Opera Ballet. (In French with subtitles)


Endgame (PG-13 for violence, profanity and disturbing images) South African docudrama revolving around the secret negotiations between the Apartheid regime and the African National Congress which led to a peaceful transition to majority rule. With Clarke Peters as Nelson Mandela, Chiwetel Ejiofor as Thabo Mbeki, Matthew Marsh as F.W. de Klerk and Timothy West as P.W. Botha.


Make the Yuletide Gay (Unrated) Out-of-the-closet comedy about an openly-gay college student (Keith Jordan) who pretends to be straight while home over the holidays by dating his high school sweetheart (Hallee Hirsh) only to run into trouble when his boyfriend (Adamo Ruggiero) shows up unannounced. 


Splinterheads (Unrated) Road comedy about a young slacker (Thomas Middleditch) who falls for a traveling carnival con artist (Rachael Taylor) with a jealous boyfriend (Dean Winters). With Christopher McDonald, Lea Thompson and Frankie Faison.


That Evening Sun (PG-13 for violence, sexuality, profanity and mature themes) Revenge drama featuring a feisty octogenarian (Hal Holbrook) who runs away from his nursing home only to discover that his son (Walter Goggins) has leased the family farm to his arch enemy (Ray McKinnon).


You Cannot Start without Me (Unrated) Musical bio-pic chronicles a year in the life of Moscow-born Valery Gergiev, the principal conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra.


Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Apartheid Poses Problem for White Couple with Black Baby

Until 1994, South Africa’s system of Apartheid forbade people of different “races” to use the same stores, to attend the same schools or to reside under the same roof. Those oppressive segregation laws came to rip an Afrikaner family apart after the wife gave birth to a baby with dark skin and nappy hair in 1955.
Abraham (Sam Neill) and Sannie Laing (Alice Krige) raised a lot of eyebrows when they brought a brown newborn back from the hospital. While some neighbors suspected that the wife must have cheated, doctors did a blood test which determined that Abraham was in fact the father.
So, the couple had young Sandra (Sophie Okonedo) declared officially white and did their best to raise her in their lily white neighborhood. But as soon as she started school, the little girl was teased by her classmates and even beaten by teachers until complaints from other parents about the “kaffir” on campus forced the principal to expel Sandra. And when the authorities subsequently reclassified their daughter as “coloured,” the Laings had to register her as a domestic servant just so that she could live at home legally.
This real-life nightmare is the subject of Skin, a heartbreaking bio-pic based on Judith Stone’s best seller “When She Was White: The True Story of a Family Divided by Race.” Adapted to the screen by Anthony Fabian, the picture effectively exposes the silliness of arbitrary groupings based on skin color.
Unfortunately, Apartheid really did exist, and the case of the Laings turned terribly tragic, since Sandra ended up estranged from her parents by the age of 15. She ran away from home pregnant to live on the other side of the proverbial tracks, in a black township with a married man. There, she proceeded to make a series of self-destructive choices, bearing numerous children out of wedlock she had to surrender to foster care.
Penniless, she attempted to reconcile with her folks, only to be told by her mother never to call or visit again. A frightening primer on how untreated racism can make lead someone to abandon, even hate their own offspring.

Excellent (4 stars)
Rated PG-13 for violence, sexuality and mature themes.
Running time: 107 minutes
Studio: Jour de Fete Films
Distributor: The Little Film Company

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Mrs. O: The Face of Fashion Democracy (BOOK REVIEW)

Mrs. O: The Face of Fashion Democracy

By Mary Tomer

Center Street/Hachette Book Group

Hardcover, $25.99

248 pages

ISBN: 978-1-599-95258-1




Book Review by Kam Williams


 “Celebrated for her style and substance, Michelle Obama has transformed the role of First Lady and become a 21st Century icon, attracting attention from all over the world. The qualities so admired in her—intelligence, strength and charisma—radiate through her personal style, which has united accessibility with high-wattage glamour.

The clothes, like the women, feel both familiar and inspirational. Readily mixing high-end labels with more affordable brands, with a focus on craftsmanship and artistry, Mrs. O has elevated the notion of real value and ushered in a new era of fashion democracy.”

-Excerpted from the Flyleaf.


Do you remember the stunning red and black dress designed by Narciso Rodriguez that Michelle Obama wore in Grant Park on Election Night? Or the tasteful Jason Wu gown she donned to danced with her husband at the Inaugural Balls? Or how about the bright-colored J.Crew coats which kept daughters Sasha and Malia warm while watching mommy hold the Bible while their father took the oath of office?

                Of course you do! Photos of those three iconic events are just a few of the dozens of historic moments preserved for posterity in Mrs. O: The Face of Fashion Democracy. As the title suggests, the book is far more than a collection of snapshots from the campaign, for it focuses on the new First Lady and her family from a fashion point-of-view. Not only does this delightful coffee table tome present Michelle in all of her sartorial splendor, but it also devotes space to interviews with the designers of many of her outfits and accessories.

For example, author Mary Tomer interviews Thakoon Panichgul, the Thai-born creator of Mrs. O’s rose-printed reverse kimono from the final night of the Democratic National Convention. When asked whether Michelle is now America’s style icon, it is not surprising that he answers in the affirmative. Anybody looking for controversy ought to look elsewhere, as this opus, at heart, is a gushy lovefest.

Among the luminaries weighing-in is Andre’ Leon Talley, Vogue Magazine’s Editor-at-Large, who rolls out a string of superlatives stating that Michelle “has redefined what it means to be a First Lady… She has changed and shifted the paradigm of what elegance and beauty are… I like what she stands for: you can be a woman, a good wife, and a modern mother. She has her own identity… She is the most capable woman in the world.”

And an inspiration and graceful role model who is likely to have a profound effect on impressionable young minds for generations to come.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Mo'Nique: The "Precious" Interview



with Kam Williams


Headline: Just Give Mo’Nique the Oscar!


                Mo’Nique Imes was born on December 11, 1967 in Baltimore which is where she started her showbiz career as a stand-up comedienne on a dare a couple of decades ago. From there, she gained visibility and immense popularity with performances on “Showtime at the Apollo,” HBO’s “Def Comedy Jam,” “Apollo Comedy Hour” HBO’s “Snaps,” BET’s “Comic View,” The Montreal Comedy Festival and Uptown Comedy Club.

                Her big break arrived in 1999 when she landed a starring role on the television series, “The Parkers.” During the show’s five-year run, Mo’Nique earned numerous awards, including four NCAAP Image Awards as the Outstanding Actress in a Comedy Series. Her film credits include Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins, Two Can Play That Game, Hair Show, Three Strikes, Baby Boy, Beerfest, Phat Girlz, Soul Plane, Irish Jam, Domino and Shadowboxer.

                As a voluptuous role model for Rubenesque females Mo-Nique wrote the best-selling book “Skinny Women Are Evil,” as well as an equally-funny follow-up entitled “Skinny Cooks Can’t Be Trusted.” She also created, produced and emceed “Mo’Nique’s F.A.T. Chance,” America’s first, full-figured, reality beauty pageant. Struck by the skyrocketing number of women behind bars, she brought her act to a prison to tape a comedy special called “I Coulda Been Your Cellmate” which aired on TV before later being released on DVD. Then, she delved further into the issue as the host of “Mo’Nique: Behind Bars” for the Oxygen television network.

Here, she talks about “The Mo’Nique Show,” her new late-night talk show on BET, and about her Oscar-worthy performance in Precious, Lee Daniels’ eagerly-anticipated screen adaptation of Sapphire’s novel, “Push.”


Kam Williams: Hi Mo’Nique, thanks so much for the time.

Mo’Nique: Hey Kam! Thank you, baby!

KW: Congratulations on the new TV show.

M: Thank you!

KW: How would you describe the format? How are you dividing the time among monologues, interviews, and musical and other performances?

M: I can’t give you those numbers, baby, because the show is so unpredictable. We’re just having a great time.

KW: What interested you in doing a talk show?

M: Well, I’ve always wanted to do a talk show. That was the whole focus from the very beginning. First, I thought it’d be like Oprah Winfrey, but the comedienne in me wouldn’t let me do that. So, when my husband [Sidney Hicks] and I spoke with Loretha Jones [BET’s President of Programming], we said, “We want to do late-night. We want to have a party.”

KW: Speaking of partying, you were recently spotted in Manhattan partying at Nick Ashford and Valerie Simpson’s Sugar Bar with Lee Daniels, Andre’ Leon Talley and some other folks. Did you have fun?

M: I had a blast, Kam. When you go to the Sugar Bar, the kid in you truly comes out.

KW: When you mentioned Oprah, it reminded me that I told my readers I’d be interviewing you. And one of them, Laz Lyles, was wondering how much it means to you to have Oprah personally get behind the film in such a strong way.

M: It was a pleasure. She’s a powerhouse. She’s Oprah Winfrey. You know what that means. So, when she said, “I dig this,” I was very appreciative of it. 

KW: Attorney Bernadette Beekman asks, how do you do it? You’re already a mother, actress, author and comedienne, and now adding late night TV host. So, she wants to know how you keep sane and healthy and how you manage to juggle everything.

M: There is a great group of people that surrounds me, starting with my husband, who is my business partner and executive producer of the talk show. With our assistants and our staff in our home, we have a great team. So please believe me, I’d love to say, “Oh honey, I’m a superwoman!” But I’m so far from being a superwoman. It’s all the people who surround us are what make Mo’Nique work. 

KW: Laz also asks, was it hard for you not to take you character home with you at the end of the day when you were shooting Precious?

M: It wasn’t hard at all. We left it on the stage. When Lee said “Cut!” that’s what it was.

KW: Schoolteacher Erik Daniels says he really enjoyed I Coulda Been Your Cellmate, your stand-up show shot inside a women's prison. He’s curious about whether you’ve stayed in touch with any of the inmates you met.

M: Tell him, that to my surprise, when I was at the Sugar Bar the other night, I bumped into a woman who was in that prison when I was there. We hugged so tight, and she introduced me to her son.

KW: Erik also wants to know if you have plans to do something like that again.

M: I don’t think I’ll do another one, because I think it was special in the moment for all of us.

KW: Marcia Evans says that she wants you to know that this fan of yours gained more respect for you after your opening up to Oprah about the sexual and emotional abuse that happened to you. Just let her know that I'm so proud of her stepping up. She goes on to say, “I want Monique to know that she has probably healed some women by sharing her truth. Monique you are looking beautiful!” I guess she didn’t exactly have a question.

M: Well, tell that baby, thank you very much!

KW: Is there any question no one ever asks you, that you wish someone would?

M: [Laughs] No!

KW: The Tasha Smith question: Are you ever afraid?

M: No.

KW: The Columbus Short question: Are you happy?

M: Have you ever seen a light bulb when it’s at its brightest but getting ready to burn out?

KW: Yeah.

M: That’s how I feel.

KW: I can understand, between the new TV show and the movie. I was totally blown away by your performance when I saw Precious. And I’ve never heard so much Oscar-buzz so far in advance of a picture’s release. Everybody’s been talking about your Academy Award -worthy performance since last January when the film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival. How do you feel about all the buzz?

M: You know what? I’m excited about any buzz. I was excited when Lee Daniels first called me up. Just for the movie’s message to be told, that’s where the real excitement comes in for me.

KW: Bookworm Troy Johnson wants to know, what was the last book you read?

M: Oh my God, I love Troy for that question. I just completed Diahann Carroll’s “The Legs Are the Last to Go.” Kam, after reading that book in three days, I have such respect for that woman. Oh my God! That book will blow you away, because she’s so brutally honest about who she is. It’s incredible!



KW: The music maven Heather Covington question: What music are you listening to? 

M: The last thing I listened to was Whitney Houston at about 6 this morning. I’m also listening to Maxwell a lot, but I’m really excited right now for Whitney.

KW: What is your favorite dish to cook?

M: Kam, my favorite dish to cook is macaroni and cheese.

KW: The Laz Alonso question: How can your fans help you?

M: By realizing that they’re not my fans, but my bosses. I want them to know that I’m just as excited as they are when they ask for an autograph or take a picture with me, because I’m still that little girl who used to practice in the mirror.

KW: Speaking of mirrors, when you look in the mirror, what do you see?

M: [Laughs] I see somebody, baby, that’s full of life. I see somebody that still has a lot more growing to do and is willing to take it on. I see somebody that the universe said to her, “We’re going to give you this and see how you deal with it.”  I see somebody who has an incredible husband, amazing kids and great people around her. So, when I look in that mirror, I be like, “For real?” 

KW: The Flex Alexander question: How do you get through the tough times?

M: Bless my brother Flex’s heart. Fortunately, I don’t have no tough times.

KW: Thanks again, Mo’Nique and I’m expecting to be congratulating you on your Oscar, the next time I speak to you. 

M: Thank you so much, Kam. Bless your heart, sugar.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

A Serious Man

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Job-Like Patriarch Tested in Coen Brothers’ Modern Morality Play

The Book of Job, thought by many theologians to be the oldest set of scriptures in the Bible, relates the story of a generous, prosperous and pious patriarch whose faith in God is tested by a series of calamities orchestrated by Satan. Over the course of his excruciating ordeal, Job remains righteous despite losing his children, his home and all his worldly possessions in a whirlwind, and then his health and even the love of his wife, who tells him to “Curse God, and die!”
Instead, he consults three friends for an explanation as to why the Almighty would allow a devoted follower to suffer so much misfortune, but they are of no help since they believe he must have sinned to incur God’s wrath. In the end, Job’s “Why me?” is left unanswered, although he is at least well rewarded for having kept his faith in the face of adversity.
Written and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen, A Serious Man is a modern morality play revolving around a latter-day Job burdened by a host of woes of Biblical proportions. After the pre-opening credits murder of an elderly rabbi (Fyvush Finkel) by a skeptical peasant couple (Allen Lewis Rickman and Yelena Shmulenson) living in an Eastern European shtetl around the turn of the 20th Century, the setting shifts to Minnesota in 1967 where are introduced to the protagonist, Larry Gopnik (Michael Stuhlbarg), a mild-mannered economics professor.
Larry resides in a modest, middle-class home on a nondescript, suburban tract typical of the era, a defoliated landscape dotted with rows of identical houses devoid of personality. The members of his dysfunctional family, however, bear little resemblance to their sterile environment, as each is a colorfully-comical character with a skeleton in his or her closets.
There’s Larry’s wife, Judith (Sari Lennick), who wants a divorce so she can remarry unctuous, recently-widowed Sy Ableman (Fred Melamed). Meanwhile, their spoiled teenage daughter, Sarah (Jessica McManus), has been stealing money to pay for a nose job, and their son, Danny (Aaron Wolff), is hooked on Marijuana at the age of 12. Finally, we have unemployed Uncle Arthur (Richard Kind), a slacker who keeps landing on the wrong side of the law.
Things aren’t any better for Larry at work where someone’s been anonymously sending letters to his department suggesting that he be denied tenure on the grounds of moral turpitude. Plus, a desperate Korean student (David Kang) who failed an exam has been trying to bribe him for a passing grade.
All of the above trials and tribulations leave Larry overwhelmed, both financially and emotionally. So, he requests an audience with sage Rabbi Marshak (Alan Mandell), only to be told he has to work his way up the spiritual ladder by meeting first with assistant Rabbi Scott (Simon Helberg), and then with Rabbi Nachtner (George Wyner). Neither, of course, is able to resolve the dilemma, thus leaving it up to Larry, like Job, to be buoyed by faith alone.
Its religious pretensions notwithstanding, A Serious Man isn’t as heavy in tone as it might sound since it isn’t designed to be taken very seriously. In fact, the film is first and foremost a sublime comedy given to poking fun at mid-western Jewish mores at the time the Coen Brothers themselves were raised in Minnesota. Perhaps because of their intimate familiarity with the subject-matter, this picture proves to be their most mature, coherent and satisfying offering yet.
A sumptuous cinematic feast, and kosher to boot!

Excellent (4 stars)
Rated R for profanity, sexuality, nudity and brief violence.
In English, Hebrew and Yiddish with subtitles.
Running time: 105 minutes
Studio: Focus Features

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Good Hair

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Chris Rock Takes Lighthearted Look at Black Women’s ‘Dos

If you were raised in an African-American community, then you’re probably very familiar with the notion of “good hair,” a term that’s generally applied to folks born with wavy locks which are less trouble to take care of than the more tightly-curled or nappy variety. Back in the Sixties, at the dawn of the black pride movement, the afro was embraced as an alternative to adhering to the white standard of beauty associated with straight hair. But the peasy natural proved to be a short-lived fad which unfortunately has pretty much gone the way of the dashiki and the dinosaur.

Consequently, black hair care has blossomed over the years into a multibillion-dollar industry opromising sisters silky tresses via a variety of avenues ranging from hot combs and relaxers to wigs and weaves. Regardless of the combination picked, straight hair comes at a considerable cost, given the toll this high-maintenance habit tends to exact not merely financially, but also in terms of one’s time and mental and physical health.

It was this litany of concerns which caused Chris Rock to react when his 5 year-old daughter, Lola, asked, “Daddy, why don’t I have good hair?” Dismayed to think that she might already be struggling with a sensitive self-esteem issue at such a tender age, he decided to do some serious research in order to figure out exactly how to answer her sensibly.

So, accompanied by a camera crew, he embarked on an exhaustive inquiry into the black hair care business from every angle, conducting probing, if periodically comical interviews at beauty salons, barber shops, conventions, factories and scientific labs all across the U.S. and overseas. The product of that peripatetic prying is Good Hair, an alternately jaw-dropping, informative and thought-provoking documentary featuring Rock in a Michael Moore-like role as a witty, but never really mean-spirited master of ceremonies.

Thus, the typically-acerbic comedian wisely tones down his irreverence here to ingratiate himself with his subjects, which included a bevy of attractive actresses with flowing ‘dos, including Nia Long, Meagan Good, Raven-Symone’ and Lauren London, who willingly share the intimate details of their daily hair regimen. We learn from these lovely ladies that they rely mostly on weaves, which range in price from $1,000 to $3,500, plus installation and regular maintenance. While that may be easily affordable for a famous celebrity, it makes one wince to watch working women at a beauty parlor admit to purchasing their extensions on a lay-a-way plan. Then we hear the husbands’ complaints about having to choose between paying the rent or the salon bill, especially since they’re not allowed to run their fingers through their wives’ hair. “Don’t even go there!”

Still, the most alarming aspect of this entire expose’ revolves around the widespread use of a substance known as sodium hydroxide, aka lye, as a hair straightener. Well, this toxic chemical is the active ingredient (used in a 5-10% concentration) in “creamy crack,” the slang term used to refer to all so-called relaxers. But because sodium hydroxide can cause burning, scarring or blindness if it comes in contract with human tissue in solutions greater than 2%, it is no surprise that so many users suffer from scarring, scabs and bald spots on their scalps. Testifying about her own personal nightmare is Sandra “Pepa” Denton of the hip-hop duo Salt-N-Pepa, who recounts how she tried to turn her own chemical accident into a fashion statement by shaving the side of her head scalded by creamy crack.

Equally-intriguing are the scenes shot over in India where the population has no idea that the hair they routinely sacrifice in a religious ceremony called Tonsure is being scooped up, de-loused and sold for a small fortune to exporters. After warning the locals to run the other way if they ever see a black woman, Rock returns to the States to focus on exactly who’s profiting from African-American reluctance to accept their kinky hair, concluding that it’s a sign of “economic retardation” to allow Koreans to corner the hair care market in the black community.

That assessment might not be as important to him as the sobering message he ultimately delivers to his impressionable daughters, namely, “that the stuff on top of their heads is nowhere near as important as the stuff inside their heads.” One of those rare flicks you have to laugh at to keep from crying.


Excellent (4 stars)
Rated PG-13 for profanity, sexuality, drug references and partial nudity.
Running time: 95 minutes
Studio: HBO Films
Distributor: Roadside Attractions

The Wedding Song

(Le Chant des Mariees)
Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Muslim-Jew Friendship Tested in WWII Coming-of-Age Tale of Female Empowerment

16 year-olds Nour (Olympe Borval) and Myriam (Lizzie Brochere), best friends since childhood, grew up in adjoining apartments overlooking the same courtyard in Tunis. As kids, the fact that the former was raised Muslim and the latter as a Jew never really interfered with their intimate relationship. However, it is now 1942, and their respective religions are having a profoundly effect on the course of their lives.

Both have begun developing an interest in boys, but while Myriam was free to attend school and to explore her budding sexual urges, Nour finds herself housebound and resenting the restrictions being placed upon her by her orthodox culture. Plus, her parents have already arranged for her to marry her cousin, Khaled (Najib Oudghiri), even though he’s unemployed with not much on the horizon in the way of job prospects.

Then, in November, the Nazis invade Tunisia, and begin subjecting Jews to all manner of humiliation, ranging from the confiscation of their property to forced labor to execution. When Myriam’s mother (Karin Albou) is hit with a new tax just for being Jewish, she pressures her daughter to marry much-older Raoul (Simon Abkarian), a rich doctor.

Such a complicated scenario provides the setting for The Wedding Song, a character-driven drama directed by Karin Albou. What makes this tale of female empowerment so fascinating is that the story unfolds against the backdrop of the daily tension of World War II combat. So, we see Nour and Myriam struggling with typical coming-of-age issues, one minute, bombings raids or roundup of Jews, the next.

This makes Nour’s narcissistic complaint “Why do I have to wear a veil, while you don’t?” sounds like the superficial whine of a vain, spoiled teen, when you consider that Myriam has no idea whether she might be dragged off to a death camp at any moment. Curiously, Nour still somehow emerges as empathetic after the German occupation gradually subsumes Tunis entirely, turning the disintegrating metropolis into a godless dystopia where bombs can’t discriminate when it comes to color or creed.

Love in the time of Hitler!

Excellent (4 stars)
In French and Arabic with subtitles.
Running time: 100 minutes
Studio: Strand Releasing

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Medicine for Melancholy DVD



DVD Review by Kam Williams


Headline: Award-Winning African-American Sit-Dram Due on DVD


                It’s understandable that Joanne (Tracey Heggins) and Micah (Wyatt Cenac) are a little awkward when they wake up together in the same bed the morning after enjoying a one-night stand. After all, they were so passionate when they met at a party that they never bothered to exchange names before exchanging bodily fluids.

                Joanne has misgivings about sleeping with a stranger, so she introduces herself as “Angela” especially since she already has a boyfriend who happens to be out of town. But then she leaves her wallet behind on the floor of the cab they share before going their separate ways. Consequently, Micah not only learns her real name from her driver’s license, but he’s able to track her down again.

He later shows up unannounced at her doorstep, determined to pursue a relationship. However, other than both being African-American, they soon find out that they have more differences than similarities. For instance, he’s a down-to-earth, blue-collar-type who wears a stingy-brimmed bike hat everywhere he goes, while she’s definitely a pampered princess with more refined tastes.

Micah irritates Joanne by complaining that blacks seem to be disappearing from rapidly-gentrifying San Francisco, leading her to wonder aloud whether he “has a big issue with race.” Despite the contrariness, the two still spend the day together, visiting a museum and riding on a merry-go-round as they get to know each other.

                Can an impulsive indulgence of lust lead to love? That is the burning question at the center of Medicine for Melancholy, an alternatively breezy and sophisticated sit-dram which marks the auspicious directorial and scriptwriting debut of Barry Jenkins.

Considerable credit for making the lead characters’ whirlwind romance riveting must go to the compelling performances delivered by Tracey Heggins and Wyatt Cenac, the talented pair of young thespians playing the protagonists. Their contentious relationship comes to a head when he defines himself as “black” and she reveals that the boyfriend she’s cheating on is white.

Micah asks why she’s involved with “some white dude.” Joanne, insulted by the presumptuous tone of the remark, responds with “That’s your problem. You limit yourself,” frostily punctuating her retort with the reminder that “I don’t even know you.” 

                A candid commentary on the state of the battle-of-the-sexes in a post-racial age of strangers with benefits. 


Excellent (4 stars)


Running time: 88 minutes

Studio: MPI Home Video

DVD Extras: Interview with director Barry Jenkins and the trailer.

Lemon Tree (ISRAELI) DVD



(Etz Limon)

DVD Review by Kam Williams


Headline: Middle East Drama Set in the West Bank Arriving on DVD


                When you think of the Middle East, probably the last thing that comes to mind is anybody settling their differences in a civilized manner. But that is exactly what we find in this gripping drama based on a real-life incident which revolved around a standoff between a Palestinian widow (Hiam Abbass) and the Israeli Minister of Defense (Doron Tavory).

Salma Zidane had been quietly minding her own B.I. business on a modest estate she inherited from her father, tending to the lemon grove located on the property with the help of an elderly caretaker (Tarik Copty). But because the land lay along the border between Israel and the West Bank, everything changed the day that Minister Navon and his family moved into the newly-built McMansion right next-door.

The problem was that the Israel equivalent of the Secret Service was charged with the task of protecting them from terrorists. And the first thing they noticed in reconnoitering the perimeter was the cluster of trees directly across from the house which posed a security risk since it could easily provide cover for an assassination attack.

When they inform Salma of their plans to flatten the field, she hires a handsome, young attorney (Ali Suliman) who just happens to be recently divorced. And while the lonely lawyer does his best to focus on the case, it’s no surprise that his head is turned by his well-preserved client. 

Still, the point of the picture is to highlight the trial which the secret lovebirds appeal all the way up to the Supreme Court, despite the overwhelming odds in the favor of the Israeli military. However, a pivotal witness proves to be the Defense Minister’s wife, Mira (Rona Lipaz-Michael), whose compassion helps lead to an 11th hour compromise that would warm the heart of Solomon.

If only every Arab-Israeli conflict could be resolved simply by resorting to Biblical wisdom rather than with bullets and bombs!  


Excellent (3.5 stars)


In Hebrew, Arabic, French and English with subtitles.

Running time: 106 minutes

Studio: MPI Home Video

DVD Extras: Trailer.