Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Loren Cass DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: DVD Features Rebellious Skinhead without a Clue

Back In 1996, riots broke out in St. Petersburg, Florida following the fatal shooting of an 18 year-old black driver by cops who had incorrectly suspected him to have stolen his own vehicle. During the disturbances which ensued, a police officer was shot and 28 fires were set by rampaging hordes of African-American youths.

Chris Fuller, a white resident of the city who was 15 at the time, started writing a script about the incident back then, but from the controversial perspective of a skinhead. Although it took him over a decade to complete the project, the upshot of his efforts is Loren Cass, a surrealistic Southern drama sympathetic to the plight of young white rebels without a clue.

Using St. Petersburg’s palpable black-white tensions as a bleak backdrop, Loren Cass focuses on the empty lives of three individuals from the Caucasian side of the tracks. But looks can be deceiving, for as the narrator inscrutably notes, “This is their story, and it’s all a mother-[bleeping] lie.”

There’s bald from the ears up Jason (Travis Maynard), a tattooed wonder who likes to contemplate the meaning of life while waiting for a ride from Cale (Fuller), an equally-ignorant pal with a pickup truck. By day, the two have nothing more productive to do than to cruise around their lily-white enclave looking to beat the living daylights out of any African-American pedestrians unlucky enough to be walking alone in the neighborhood. Evenings, they unwind in a nearby nightclub’s mosh pit watching stage diving as noisy punk rock bands perform.

The third wheel to this tacky triumvirate is Jason’s girlfriend, Nicole (Kayla Tabish), a slightly more complicated soul who works as a waitress in a truck stop diner. What the racist Jason doesn’t know is that the object of his affection has a bad case of Jungle Fever. For at the point of departure, we find her secretly sleeping with a brother (Din Thomas) practically right under her parents noses.

But the movie is more of a meditative mood piece than a melodrama about race relations, because it is given to long stretches where Jason just sits on the curb holding his shaved pate in his hands staring at the piece of the street between his feet. Along the way, the daring director drops big hints that his antihero might be depressed, such as by having him hang out in a cemetery and extinguish a cigar on his own arm.

I’m not sure why it’s even in the movie, but for some reason the film includes the disturbing scene featuring the unedited, graphic footage of R Bud. Dwyer committing suicide by shoot himself in the head. I went into shock at that point and could think of nothing else.

So, what’s the movie’s message? Perhaps, that underneath the antisocial veneer, angry white males with suicidal tendencies are people, too. A sobering reminder that we’re all going to have to get along in this inclusive, presumably post-racial Age of Obama.

Very Good (3 stars)
Running time: 83 minutes
Studio: Kino Video
DVD Extras: None

The Hip Hop Project DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: DVD Examines Effort to Reach Troubled NYC Teens via Rap

Chris ‘Kazi’ Rolle was born in the Bahamas where he was abandoned soon after birth by his mother who decided to start over on her own and set out for America. Understandably, Kazi grew up with a hole in his soul, and headed for New York City at the age of 14 to track her down.

But their reunion was to be short-lived and, at 15, the unwanted orphan was kicked out of the house and ended up having to survive by his wits on the hard streets of Brooklyn. He temporarily joined a gang and turned to a life of crime until he hooked up with a program called Art Start.

This self-help group enables troubled teens to channel their frustrations positively by giving them a chance to express their emotions through the rhymes associated rap. The organization even has a recording studio in order to attract aspiring hip-hop artists, though with the goal of getting them to write about the real issues affecting their souls, not ghetto fabulous gangsta fantasies about guns, bling and black-on-black crime.

The upshot is that, with the help of Art Start, Kazi was not only able to heal himself and become a productive member of society, but he then started serving as a mentor to at-risk kids in need of help. This spiritual transformation is the subject of The Hip Hop Project, a warts-and-all documentary which pulls no punches about the prospects of those stuck in poverty while simultaneously making a powerful statement about human potential.

Despite their considerable disadvantages, the triumphant participants in the program prove that, as Kazi claims, “The criminal mind is a creative mind.” For they manage to channel their negative experiences constructively by collaborating on a meaningful CD containing insightful personal narratives which touch on a variety of universal themes. As the closing credits roll, postscripts updating the current status of all the folks we’ve gotten to know leave you with a sense of satisfaction.

With 100% of the profits going to non-profit charities devoted to youth, check with your accountant but The Hip Hop Project might be the first totally tax-deductible DVD.

Excellent (4 stars)
Rated PG-13 for profanity and ethnic slurs.
Running time: 85 minutes
Studio: Image Entertainment

DVD Extras: “The Making of” documentary, deleted scenes, additional performances, “Kazi Meets His Father” featurette, and the theatrical trailer.

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 January 8, 2010





Daybreakers (R for profanity, graphic violence and brief nudity) post-apocalyptic, sci-fi thriller, set in 2019, revolving around a research scientist’s (Ethan Hawke) attempt to save humanity from extinction after a plague turns 95% of people on the planet into bloodthirsty vampires. With Sam Neill, Isabel Lucas and Willem Dafoe.


Leap Year (PG for sensuality and mild epithets) Romantic comedy revolving around a scheming young woman (Amy Adams) who plans a trip with her boyfriend (Adam Scott) to Dublin where, in accordance with Irish tradition, a man must accept a woman’s marriage proposal on February 29th. With Matthew Goode, John Lithgow and Noel O’Donovan.


Youth in Revolt (R for sexuality, profanity and drug use) Raunchy sitcom about an 18 year-old’s (Michael Cera) quest to lose his virginity in the wake of his trailer trash parents’ (Steve Buscemi and Jean Smart) separation. With Portia Doubleday as the object of his affection, and a supporting cast including Zach Galifianakis, Justin Long, Fred Willard and Ray Liotta.





Bitch Slap (R for brutal violence, graphic sexuality, pervasive profanity and brief drug use) Campy crime caper about a trio of curvaceous lipstick lesbians, a stripper with a heart of gold (Julia Voth), a corrupt corporate executive (Erin Cummings) and a man-hating assassin (America Olivo), who hatch a plan to extort $200 million worth of diamonds from a ruthless mobster (Michael Hurst). With Lucy Lawless, Minae Noji, Kevin Sorbo, Zoe Bell and Rene O’Connor.


Crazy on the Outside (PG-13 for sexuality and profanity) Tim Allen makes his directorial debut and stars in this dysfunctional family comedy as a recently-paroled ex-con trying to readjust to society while living with his supportive sister (Sigourney Weaver) and her cynical husband (J.K. Simmons). Ensemble cast includes Ray Liotta, Jeanne Tripplehorn and Kelsey Grammer.     


Flooding with Love for the Kid (Unrated) Rambo redux as reinterpreted by jack-of-all-trades actor/scriptwriter/editor/producer/director Oberzan who shot the film in his own Manhattan apartment for less than $100 by playing all 24 characters. 


Garbage Dreams (Unrated) Coming-of-age documentary examining the toll taken by globalization on the prospects of three teenagers struggling to survive among the 60,000 “garbage people” of Zaballeen, Egypt, a mammoth, trash recycling center located outside Cairo known as the world’s largest dump.


In Search of Memory (Unrated) Biomedical bio-pic chronicling the career of Eric Kandel who won the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 2000 for his contributions to the field of neuroscience.  


The Paranoids (Unrated) Argentinean romantic comedy, set in Buenos Aires, revolving around the love triangle which evolves after a depressed clown (Daniel Hendler) lets his ailing best friend’s (Walter Jakob) broke girlfriend (Jazmin Stuart) move-in with him after an argument. (In Spanish with subtitles)


Pyaar Impossible (Unrated) Bollywood romantic comedy about a nerdy college student (Uday Chopra) who gets a shot with the girl of his dreams (Priyanka Chopra) after a sudden twist of fate. With Dino Morea, Rahul Vohra and Anupam Kher. (In Hindi with subtitles)


Sweetgrass (Unrated) “Big Sky” documentary, set in 2003, follows a couple of aging cowboys on their final summertime trek as they drive a huge herd of sheep to slaughter across treacherous terrain through Montana’s Beartooth Mountains


Waiting for Armageddon (Unrated) Faith-based documentary about America’s 50-million Evangelical Christians who fervently believe the end is near.


Wonderful World (R for profanity, drug use and sexuality) Romance drama about a depressed, divorce and unemployed proofreader (Matthew Broderick) who gets a new lease on life after the arrival of his hospitalized roommate’s (Michael K. Williams) sister (Sana Lathan) from Senegal.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Obama: Guilty of Being President While Black (BOOK REVIEW)


Guilty of Being President While Black

by D.T. Pollard

Book Express

Paperback, $14.95

180 pages

ISBN: 978-0-9824606-2-7




Book Review by Kam Williams


“This book is an inspiration that came to me after witnessing the disrespect and venom expressed towards President Obama... people bearing signs depicting him as Hitler, a socialist or a tyrant. Something much deeper was at play and it centered on race.

One thing I know like the back of my hand is what it is like to be a black man in America. I have been in that position al my life due to the circumstances of my birth, growing up in a small town in the South. Obama: Guilty of Being President While Black takes a unique look at the racism faced by President Obama and how vestiges of Jim Crow laws infest the thoughts of many people today.”

-Excerpted from the Introduction (page 1)


Part of the daily burden of being black in America are the frequent reminders of your second-class status in a racist society. And you don’t have to try to hail a cab in the city or to rent an apartment in a lily-white enclave, you’re humanity can be just as easily diminished in an instant by simply walking into a room full of strangers inclined to judge you based on your color as opposed to the content of your character.

                 This sad truth was ostensibly operating in the mind of D.T. Pollard when he reacted to all the irrational hostility being directed at Barack Obama since becoming President. Besides a 400% escalation in death threats reported by the Secret Service, he observed everything ranging from a website selling an Obama sock monkey to a photo-shopped portrait of the White House lawn filled with watermelons to a U.S. Congressman interrupting the President’s speech by shouting “You lied!”

                 Worse than such insults have been the subtle calls for his assassination, such as the one leveled by Steven Anderson, a Baptist minister in Tempe, Arizona. On the day the President was coming to town, he informed his parishioners from the pulpit that he hated Barack Obama and wanted him dead, adding that “I hope it happens today,” before asking them all to join him in prayer. Yes, the Bill of Rights guarantees the fundamental Freedoms of Speech and Religion, but the incident makes you wonder whether we’re being too open-minded when we let a preacher leverage Christ to send such a theologically-evil message of unalloyed hate?

                 As compelling as the author’s recounting of the resentment of Obama is the chapter dedicated to quoting Jim Crow laws mandating the segregation of theaters, schools, libraries, trains, parks, restaurants, hospitals, bathrooms, cemeteries, mental institutions and even homes for the blind. America is obviously not long-removed from that shameful legacy, when you hear the author testifying so emotionally about the mental scars left by the mistreatment he experienced during his childhood.

                 A powerful reminder that the past isn’t dead. In fact, judging by the color-coded dissing of Obama, it ain’t even past.


Monday, December 28, 2009

Byron Pitts: The "Step Out on Nothing" Interview



with Kam Williams


Headline: Making a “Byron Pitts”-Stop with the 60 Minute Correspondent 


Byron Pitts was born on October 21, 1960 in Baltimore, Maryland where he was raised by a single-mom who saved to send him to Catholic school on a modest seamstress’ salary, despite the fact that they were churchgoing Baptists. Although he would eventually embark on an enviable career on TV as a well-respected news journalist, Byron had to overcome illiteracy and a host of other seemingly-insurmountable childhood challenges en route to turning himself into a great success story. That admirable endeavor was intimately recounted in his revealing memoir “Step Out on Nothing,” a best seller which earned the #2 spot on my annual Top Ten Black Books list.

Earlier this year, he became the heir apparent to Ed Bradley’s coveted spot on 60 Minutes when CBS named him a contributing correspondent to the long-running, television newsmagazine. Byron lives in New Jersey with his wife, Lyne, and their 6 children, and recently sat down to speak with me about his new job, his autobiography, his faith and his family.  


Kam Williams: Hi Byron, thanks for the time.

Byron Pitts: Absolutely! My pleasure.

KW: I’m going to start of with a question from children’s book author Irene Smalls. She says in many ways yours is a true rags-to-riches story. What guidance can you offer young people today?

BP: I think there’s real value in remaining optimistic and in having a plan for your life. I was raised to believe that strength only comes through struggle, and in seeing obstacles as stepping-stones, as teachable moments. By asking, what can I learn to improve myself from this experience? That’s a sphere of optimism I got from my mother.

KW: Attorney Bernadette Beekman notes that you had some learning disabilities as a child. She was wondering, whether your path to success would have been easier if you’d been ready to read before the first grade? She also asks, if you support efforts to invest in early care and education, especially in areas such as East New York, Harlem and Baltimore where there are high concentrations of young African-American males?

BP: Definitely, that would make all the difference in the world for a number of young people. Yeah, it would make a tremendous difference, because the earlier we can teach children to read, the more productive citizens they’ll be, and the fuller lives they’ll live. Would it have made my life easier? I don’t know. Could I have achieved more? I’d like to believe that.

KW: Reverend Florine Thompson asks, how has your faith shaped your life?

BP: It’s the foundation. Every good choice I’ve made in my life has come as a result of prayer and faith, and every poor choice has come when I’ve deviated from that. It certainly sustained me as a child, and sustains me today.

KW: Reverend Thompson also asks, what is your favorite and most profound quote from scripture?

BP: Isaiah 40:31, which is also my grandmother’s favorite inscription, which reads, “But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; so that you can run and not be weary; and walk and not faint,” which speaks to that same “Step Out on Nothing” spirit.

KW: Who has been the most influential person in your life?

BP: My mother.

KW: Also from the good Reverend: How did you overcome the obstacle of illiteracy? What did you do to rebuild your self-esteem?

BP: A remedial reading program in East Baltimore that broke things down for me so I could grasp them in small bites. I think that reinforces the need for the kinds of resources you mentioned in your earlier question which should be made available to young people at an early age. In terms of rebuilding my self-esteem, my mother and immediate family deserve a great deal of credit for that. They were always supportive and kind, and knew the power of laughter as a real ointment to heal what hurts you.

KW: Reverend Thompson observes that it's been said that we are a part of something much greater than ourselves. If this is true, when did you discover this truth and what has it meant to your success?

BP: That’s a great question. I’m sure that I became fully aware of that by my 40s. That’s something that became clear to me as I was working on the book. It took so many people investing in me for me to do the things I’ve been able to achieve. And I’m very mindful of the few gifts that I’ve been given and of the value in sharing them with others. When I think about my journey, learning to read was certainly huge. Learning not to stutter was incredibly important, as was coming to understand the power of prayer and having a family which was incredibly supportive. If you take away any one of those things or one of about 50 others, would I be where I am now? I tend to doubt it.

KW: What interested you in being a war correspondent earlier in your career, and how did your wife handle your being in so many dangerous places?

BP: My wife is a journalist with close to 30 years in the industry. She knows the business as well as I do, so she’s aware of the risks. But she is also a woman of great faith, and she appreciates the value and importance of journalism.

KW: Did you find ever yourself addicted to being in war zones?

BP: No, but I’ve certainly always been willing to go to war zones and to cover disasters, when necessary. I cover struggle, because I remember what meant as a child to feel voiceless. Now, as a journalist, it’s my job to go give voice to the voiceless. And I take that mission very seriously. I’ve also covered the last few presidential campaigns. I just want to cover the news.

KW: College student Laz Lyles says, shows like The Daily Show and The Colbert Report illustrate a convergence and permeability of news, entertainment, politics and marketing called "discursive integration." She wants to know, if you think this confluence will have more of a positive or negative impact on news in the future?

BP: Great question! It concerns me, because there is a generation of people growing up who think that shows like The Colbert Report are news programs. While what they do is entertaining, I wouldn’t consider it covering the news. There’s certainly a place for what they do in our great society, but there should also a place for people to find the sober truth about what happened today. 

KW: Laz goes on to inquire, how we can achieve greater integrity in journalism today?

BP: I think accountability is important, that news organizations should be held accountable by their readers, listeners and viewers. And I believe it speaks to the value of having more diverse voices, of people bringing different life experiences to news organizations.

KW: Aspiring actor Tommy Russell asks, as a black man who is also a very public figure, do you think black male celebrities, entertainers, sports figures and politicians get treated more harshly for their transgressions and mistakes than others?

BP: I was raised to believe that much is required of those to whom much has been given. I think anyone in a position of importance has a responsibility to carry themselves in a certain way.

KW: Tommy continues with, since the election of Barack Obama, do you think America has entered a post-racial period in our history?

BP: No. I think race still matters in our country, although perhaps not as much as it used to. I think race, class and ethnicity are things that still matter.

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

BP: No, but my all-time favorite question is, what’s the one thing in life you know for sure?

KW: Okay, what’s the one thing in life you know for sure?

BP: That God is good.

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

BP: Not anymore. I used to be, quite often. I have moments when I’m frightened, but not afraid.

KW: The Columbus Short question: Are you happy?

BP: Hmm… another great question. That’s not something I spend much time thinking about. I have joy in my life, but I think there’s a difference between joy and happiness. Happiness, I find, often depends on the circumstances, while joy is something that can sustain you in the slow moments and keep you smiling in the happy moments.

KW: The Teri Emerson question: When was the last time you had a good laugh?

BP: This morning, with my wife.

KW: The bookworm Troy Johnson question: What was the last book you read?

BP: What the Dog Saw” by Malcolm Gladwell. I met him a couple of weeks ago. A very bright man.


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

BP: Mostly Gospel. I have no rhythm, no taste in music. My wife, siblings and children have far more sophisticated tastes when it comes to music than I do. But I grew in the church, sang in the choir, and still love church music. What’s on my iPod is mostly religious music.

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

BP: That’s a nice question. Certainly by supporting the book and, if they believe what it says, spreading the word by encouraging other people, especially schoolchildren, to read it. That would really warm my heart. 

KW: The Ling-Ju Yen question: What is your earliest childhood memory?

BP: What stands out in my mind is my mom helping me into a little suit with short pants and a jacket when I was about 5, because she was obsessed with dressing me like John-John Kennedy. I remember feeling very protected.

KW: The Mike Pittman question: Who was your best friend as a child?

BP: My best friend in the neighborhood, after my parents split up, was a guy named Bud who lived a couple doors up the street. He came to my book signing in Baltimore the other day. And my best friend in high school was a guy named Joe Strombowsky.

KW: When you look in the mirror, what do you see?

BP: The power of grace.

KW: What is your favorite dish to cook?

BP: I like to grill out. I’d have to say barbecued chicken.

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

BP: By remembering the previous tough times and what got me through those difficult moments.

KW: What advice do you have for anyone who wants to follow in your footsteps?

BP: Go further. My mother raised her kids with a basic philosophy: if you work hard, pray hard, and treat people right, good things will happen. That certainly worked for me.

KW: What made you decide to go public with your life story?

BP: Because I believe we’re all connected in some way. It relates back to Reverend Thompson’s earlier question about being a part of something much greater than ourselves. I saw it as an opportunity to encourage other people on a large scale.

KW: Thanks again for the time, Byron, and best of luck with the book and with 60 Minutes. 

BP: Thank you, all the best.

Police, Adjective (ROMANIAN)

(Politist, Adj.)
Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Cop with a Conscious Experiences Existential Crisis in Wry Dramedy

Compared to America, a country inclined to dole out stiff sentences to drug offenders, Romania is a place where a police officer might be rather reluctant to bust someone for a narcotics violation. At least that’s what’s suggested by Police, Adjective, the two-time Cannes-winner from writer/director Corneliu Porumboiu, whose previous picture, 12:08 East of Bucharest, also picked up a couple of awards at the famed, French film festival.
This deadpan dramedy stars Dragos Bucur as Cristi, a cop who experiences a crisis in conscience after being ordered by his boss (Ion Stoica) to keep a teenager suspected of dealing under surveillance. But after shadowing Victor (Radu Costin) for days on end, the detective realizes that the kid is just a recreational user whose worst offense is offering to share some hashish with a couple of classmates.
If you buy the Talking Heads’ notion that Heaven’s a place where nothing ever happens, then this deliberately-paced morality play might be your definition of nirvana. Think of Police, Adjective as the direct antithesis of the generic Hollywood crime thriller featuring such staples of the genre as gunplay, fisticuffs and that obligatory chase scene where a careening car plows through a fruit stand and sideswipes a woman with a baby carriage before flying off a cliff and exploding in a fireball. Don’t expect any of that.
Instead, what you’re treated to here are couple of glum gumshoes bordering on existential crisis waxing philosophical in the station house as they parse words like “conscience,” “police,” “moral” and “law” in elusive Clintonesque fashion. So, does the schoolboy scofflaw get brought to justice in the end? Turns out, that depends more on dictionary definitions than on catching the perp red-handed.
A slow to unravel crime saga laced with the trademark super-realism we’ve come to expect of the New Wave of Romanian cinema.

Very Good (3 stars)
In Romanian with subtitles
Running time: 115 minutes
Studio: IFC Films

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Obama’s Fierce Urgency of Now Revisited: The Trouble with Auto-Hypnotic Slogans

by Kam Williams

“Standing in the ruins of another black man’s life
Flying through the valley separating day from night”
‘I am death’ cried the vulture ‘for the people of the light.’
Charon brought his raft and came from the sea that sails on souls
And saw the scavenger departing, taking warm hearts to the cold.
He knew the ghetto was a haven for the meanest creature ever known.”

--Gil Scott-Heron “The Vulture”

In 2006, I named “The Audacity of Hope” the worst book of the year, indicting it as “the transparent game plan of a guileful politician” trying “to be all things to all people.“ See
However, soon thereafter Barack Obama declared his candidacy for the presidency, and like virtually all other African-American and leftist pundits, I drank the Kool-Aid and never again questioned his dedication to progressive political ideals. Until now.
The few who did, like Tavis Smiley and Reverend Wright, paid a steep price, finding themselves ostracized by the black community as traitors, as though Obama couldn’t be held accountable by his most loyal constituency. Consequently, after the election, the pressing African-American agenda has remained on the back burner while the President approved instant billion-dollar bailouts of Wall Street and the auto industry, pork-filled stimulus packages, and an escalation of the Afghan War.
Doesn’t Obama know that the Taliban (which means students, by the way) originally rose to power only because the CIA funneled 65,000 tons of weapons per year to it back in the Eighties. How do you spell war profiteering? Anybody with a brain knows that the enemy is Al-Qaeda, not the Taliban, and that all the 9-11 terrorists entered the U.S. through Saudi Arabia.
So, what are we still doing in Afghanistan? Maybe the answer has to do with the fact that the brother of puppet President Hamid Karzai is the country’s biggest opium dealer and has been business partners with CIA for the past eight years. I am not making this up.
Whatever happened to the Barack Obama we saw on the stump, a seemingly fearless firebrand who routinely repeated “I am running because of what Dr. King called ‘the fierce urgency of now,’” before listing a litany of concerns he would start addressing on day one, including rising unemployment, homelessness, bankruptcies and healthcare costs?
Curiously, after promising to raise the taxes of everyone with an income over a quarter million dollars, instead Obama’s first order of business was a big bailout benefiting the rich at the expense of working-class taxpayers. And his healthcare initiative, if passed, won’t even be implemented for anther four years. And without a public option, former Democratic Party Chairman Howard Dean concedes that the plan amounts to little more than a windfall for the insurance lobby.
Despite the early warning signs, I kept my mouth shut about Obama, primarily because of his roots as a community organizer. But enough is enough. He handed Wall St. billions to save the financial industry. He gave the military billions more to continue looking for Osama bin Laden who’s proving harder to find than Waldo. He could just as easily have designated billions for urban renewal to flatten and rebuild the ghettos of America, godforsaken dens of iniquity which he knows from his tenure as a community organizer to be “a haven for the meanest creature ever known.”

Kam Williams is a syndicated film and book critic, and a member of the NJ, NY, CT, PA, MA & US Supreme Court bars.

Up in the Air

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Mile-High Sitcom Stars George Clooney as Peripatetic Hatchet Man

Ryan Bingham’s (George Clooney) services have been very much in demand during these dire economic times marked by downsizing and the outsourcing of jobs overseas. Although he euphemistically refers to his line of work as career transition counseling, what he actually does for a living is fire people for companies that don’t have the guts to terminate their own employees. In this capacity, the heartless hatchet man finds himself on the road, or should I say “Up in the Air” over 300 days a year, crisscrossing the country on assignments as dictated by his boss, Craig (Jason Bateman), from corporate headquarters in Omaha, Nebraska.
However, all the incessant travel is to rudderless Ryan’s liking. After all, the confirmed bachelor isn’t in a relationship, and he admittedly feels more at home in hotels and on planes than in the tiny apartment he very rarely uses. Furthermore, he puts little stock in worldly possessions beyond an obsession with racking up frequent-flyer miles in order to enjoy the conveniences which flow from upgrades in car rentals, credit cards, and first-class accommodations.
Everything changes for Ryan the day he trades pleasantries with Alex (Vera Farmiga), a kindred spirit he encounters in an airport lounge. For, as it turns out, the striking businesswoman is ostensibly also a peripatetic loner living out of suitcases and equally-fixated on accumulating travel perks. Their ensuing, alcohol-fueled flirtation leads to an impulsive one-night stand, plus plans for further passionate rendezvous whenever their hectic itineraries intersect.
Their star-crossed romance rests at the heart of Up in the Air, the latest offering from Jason Reitman. The film is only loosely based on the identically-titled Walter Kirn best seller which doesn’t really revolve around any steamy affair. The film also introduces a totally new character not in the novel, Natalie (Anna Kendrick). She’s Ryan’s recently-hired colleague who comes up with the bright idea of their firing folks via video conferencing. If her idea is adopted by their boss, it will put an abrupt end not only to Ryan’s field trips but to his budding romance with Alex.
Although this inspired, mile-high sitcom is a delightful romp, it is likely to prove to be a bit of a disappointment for Reitman fans measuring it against either Juno or Thank You for Smoking which earned the #1 spot on this critic’s Top 10 List of 2006. While Clooney and Farmiga are up to the challenge of generating screen chemistry and of exchanging the writer/director’s trademark pithy banter, Anna Kendrick often comes across as unsure of herself, and thus fails to deliver her lines with the requisite terminally-hip tone.
Fortunately, the rest of the support cast, from J.K. Simmons to Sam Elliott to Danny McBride to Zach Galifianakis, executes its dialogue with perfect aplomb, enabling Up in the Air to serve up a down-to-earth look at 21st Century dating habits in this no-strings age of friends with benefits.

Very Good (3 stars)
Rated R for profanity and sexuality.
Running time: 109 minutes
Studio: Paramount Pictures

Friday, December 25, 2009

The 10 Worst Films of 2009

by Kam Williams

To land on this 10 Worst List, a movie has to be more than merely disappointing. No, it must be walk-out bad, except that my job as a film critic is to sit there and watch it anyway, and simply be subjected to the torture. Sometimes, a film turns out to be so awful that it’s actually funny, but that doesn’t count as a miserable enough experience to warrant inclusion here. No, these flicks are the ones with no redeeming qualities which left me savoring this opportunity to get even.

1. Dough Boys

Produced by BET, this ghetto-fabulous saga glorifies the sort of misogyny, materialism and black-on-black crime popularized by the network in gangsta music videos. The film marks the disgraceful directorial debut of Nicholas Harvell, who was undoubtedly aiming for the lowest common denominator by filling his inner-city splatter flick with so much gratuitous sex, violence and substance abuse, and so many expletives, ethnic slurs and scantily-clad women.
While this crude approach undoubtedly will earn the newcomer a certain street cred, if you know what I mean, most folks are apt to find the film relentlessly offensive. To give you an idea of what we’re dealing with, at the picture’s point of departure, the hero explains his dating philosophy with, “If you want a girl to know that you love her, [beep] her in the [beep] and [beep] on her” because “you have to make her your slut.” Charming.
A 21st Century version of Amos ‘n Andy which must have been financed by the Klan.

2.Year One

This sleazy caveman comedy is unfunny from beginning to end, starting with the moment when Jack Black’s character informs us that he’s slept with his own mother. But such behavior is ostensibly okay since he’s a Neanderthal, and so is his sidekick (Michael Cera), whose M.O. involves conking a woman on the head with a club to have his way with her.
What ensues is a cinematically-tragic mix of slapstick and bodily function fare, a horrifying insult to the intelligence, given all the big names connected to the project, including Bill Hader, Horatio Sanz, Hank Azaria, Vinnie Jones, Oliver Platt and that kid who played McLovin’ in Superbad.
Might not be Jack Black’s best film, but it’s definitely his worst.

3. Observe and Report

Seth Rogen stars in this raunchy teensploit, a relentlessly-dark and disturbing celebration of depravity unlikely to resonate with any decent demographic. Director Jody Hill ostensibly decided 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 involve the head of security (Rogen) at the Forest Ridge Mall where a lowlight includes an exchange between the foul-mouthed protagonist and a suspected terrorist named Saddamn Hussein (Aziz Ansari) during which they take turns yelling “[Expletive] you!” back and forth at each other dozens of times. But the movie’s most offensive moment has to be the chase scene featuring lingering, slow-motion shots of a flasher’s family jewels in all their glory.
I suppose this movie could’ve been worse. I’m just not sure how.

4. Da Booty Shop

It looks like we might be witnessing the emergence of “The King of the Bad Black Movies” in Marcello Thedford, a prolific producer/director/scriptwriter/actor with a trio of godawful contributions this year. (See below) This cheesy, insult to the intelligence revolves around a stripper (Trina McGee) who reluctantly decides to hang up her g-string and pasties to run her brother’s (Thedford) beauty salon because he’s headed to prison. What makes this movie so wrong how she complains about making less money as a hair stylist than sponging strangers of doing lap dances at $20 per pop.
The picture’s pathetic excuse for dialogue, such as(“Do you know how much business that booty brought in here? I am so proud of you,” was obviously improvised on the spot. And I noticed the phrase “up in here” being employed over 15 times before I decided to stop counting. Also popular with the verbally-challenged cast were the N, S, B and F-words.
But what’s most objectionable is Thedford’s seizing on any excuse to put scantily-clad women on display, whether they’re wriggling around a stripper’s pole, at the car wash (Don’t get wet!) or staging an impromptu fashion show in the ghetto. Heaven help us.

5. Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li

In 1994, the popular computer game Street Fighter was adapted to the big screen as an incoherent concatenation of poorly-choreographed, martial arts action starring Jean-Claude Van Damme. Since the original bombed at the box office, one must wonder what might have prompted a studio to greenlight a sequel 15 years later, especially when the results turn out to be equally-abysmal. This unmitigated mess is a revenge-fueled affair featuring a series of clumsily-orchestrated fight scenes and sloppily-executed stunts.
As the butt-kicking heroine (Kristin Kreuk) sets about exacting a measure of vengeance, the epic battle of good versus evil is totally undermined by corny special effects and laughable trick photography. And to top it all off, this lame martial arts adventure even has the nerve to end on a cliffhanger, as if to set the stage for yet another sequel.
Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Fool me three times, not a chance.

6. Thug Love

Destiny Charles (Millenia Gay) finds herself single for the first time in years after being unceremoniously dumped by her husband for a younger woman. Although the forty-something advertising executive is busy climbing the corporate ladder, she suddenly shifts her focus shifts from career to romance the day she accidentally crosses paths with Troy (Rich Paul), a handsome hunk half her age who introduces himself as a photographer.
Written and directed by the aforementioned Marcello Thedford, this no-budget soap opera is rather rough around the edges. The film suffers from second-rate lighting and sound equipment and from lots of love scenes where neither party appears particularly happy to be in bed together. Throw in all the profanity, a dumb blonde, dumber Asians, and a dubious denouement, and there isn’t really anything to recommend about this mediocre mess.

7. Miss March

This ill-conceived teensploit focus on the plight of Eugene (Zach Cregger) a nerdy high school senior who falls down a flight of stairs and ends up in a coma. Much has changed by the time he comes around four years later to find his high school sweetheart (Raquel Alessi) naked in the current issue of Playboy Magazine.
Furthermore, Eugene learns that she’s no longer a virgin from a former classmate-turned-gangsta’ rapper who goes by the monicker Horsedick MPEG (Craig Robinson). The foulmouthed MPEG has catchy hit songs at the top of the charts with titles like “I’m going to [f-word] a white bitch” and “Suck my [d-word] while I [f-word] that [a-word]. One of the most reprehensible African-American characters in the history of cinema, he actually celebrates that fans were killed at his CD release party.
Even more disgusting is the scene where, upon learning that Eugene is still a virgin, he orders a sister (Tanjareen Martin) in his entourage to “Get in here and have sex with this dude.” Sadly, the attractive young woman obliges, only to die when an act of God intervenes. A relentlessly-offensive celebration of the debasement of females and the stereotyping of blacks as utterly depraved.
I‘m done.

8. Jennifer’s Body

Diablo Cody succumbs to the proverbial sophomore jinx with this ill-advised attempt to imbue another title character with the identical, flip attitude as her previous one, Juno. Jennifer (Megan Fox) is a boy-crazy coed who loves to leverage her looks by making guys salivate over her while calling her competition crude nicknames like “Vagisil” and “Monistat” right to their faces.
But in this gratuitous splatter flick, Jennifer dies and is reincarnated as a man-eating cannibal. She spends the balance of the movie making major mayhem in the way of projectile-vomiting black bile and luring unsuspecting suitors into the woods in order to devour 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 was before.
Megan Fox needs to set her sights a little higher now that she has some clout in Hollywood.

9. Keepin' the Faith: My Baby’s Getting Married

Just because a sitcom is faith-based, doesn’t necessarily make it family-oriented fare. Case in point, this blackface version of Meet the Parents. With a plot that will surprise no one familiar with that Robert De Niro-Ben Stiller hit comedy, this flick also revolves around an awkward guy trying to win the approval of the father of the woman he wants to wed.
Consequently, all the scenes feel vaguely familiar as though lifted from the original. If keeping the faith includes keeping the Ten Commandments, especially the one about “Thou shalt not steal,” then director Marcello Thedford is going to have to answer to a higher authority for this blatant, blasphemous and ineptly-executed rip-off.

10. Steppin’

This dance-driven drama is set on the campus of a historically-black college in Houston where apparently some of the shallowest human beings on the planet have matriculated. For instance, there’s Vicki (Monicka Allegeier), a student who gets ready to party by putting on what she refers to as her “get your freak on panties” in order to seduce Bryan (Chico Benymon), the funky frat boy of her dreams.
I’m not going to bother to relate the rest of the plot which reads like a derivative rip-off of Stomp the Yard. Suffice to say that the black fraternities and sororities are more concerned with winning the $25,000 in prizes to be awarded at a Greek Show Step Competition than with their studies. While waiting with baited breath for the big showdown, we’re treated to a lowbrow brand of humor which runs the gamut from bodily function jokes to mean-spirited teasing coming at the expense of easy marks like a flamboyant transvestite and a deaf dude whose hearing aid is hidden from him for laughs. How tasteless!
A spiritually-debilitating descent into depravity.