Monday, August 31, 2009

Omarosa: The “Life After” Interview



with Kam Williams

Headline: A Tete-a-Tete with the Top Reality-TV Villain of All Time

Omaroseonee Manigault-Stallworth was on February 15, 1974 born in Youngstown, Ohio where she attended Rayen High School before earning her Bachelor’s degree in Broadcast Journalism at Central State University. She later moved to Washington, D.C. to pursue both a Master’s and Ph.D. in Communications at Howard University. She later served as Deputy Associate Director of Presidential Personnel at the White House under President Bill Clinton, although her subsequent appearance on a television show would come to eclipse all of the above.
That’s why you probably know her from The Apprentice as just Omarosa, the diva with the world-class attitude. The statuesque beauty was recently crowned the #1 Reality-Show Villain of All Time by TV Guide. This was no mean feat, when you consider that she had to beat out some rather reprehensible characters for the title, such as pathological liar Johnny Fairplay from Survivor and wife beater Jonathan Baker from The Amazing Race.
Omarosa only has herself to blame, having cultivated a bad girl image on The Apprentice with lines like, "I'm going to crush my competition and I'm going to enjoy doing it." Still, in no way does that TV persona matches the humble and charming real-life Omarosa whose greatest passion is working with at-risk youth and the homeless. Dedicating most of her free time to community service, she has volunteered her time to the Maya Angelou Public Charter School, in D.C., and to the Positive Vibrations Program and the Fred Jordan Mission in L.A. Furthermore, she serves as a celebrity goodwill ambassador for the Haitian Support Program and is currently enrolled in Divinity School.
Here, Omarosa talks about all of the above and about her appearing on Life After, a new series premiering on TV-One in September. The show features interviews with celebrities about the effects of transformational events on their lives.

Kam Williams: Hi Omarosa, I don’t know if you remember me, but we met in May at the African-American Pavilion in New York. I approached you for an interview, but you gave me a business card with a bogus email address.
Omarosa Manigault: I’m sorry. I didn’t know that they had printed the wrong email address on it. I got home, and I was like, “Why would yawl send these cards with me?”
KW: Well, I did manage to track you down again for this interview anyway. So, what interested you in this new TV series, Life After?

OM: I was interested because TV-One has successfully given African-Americans an opportunity to tell their own stories. I started out on NBC, and I don’t know if major networks do the best job of telling the stories of African-Americans. I was also on Bravo and VH-1, and these networks are not committed to presenting the authentic experiences of African-Americans. So, I just jumped at the chance to work with TV-One.
KW: You know, I’ve been trying to interview you since you first appeared on The Apprentice. I did get to talk to Kwame that season, and to Randal Pinkett when he won the fourth season. But NBC would not let me near you.
OM: Years later, I heard these stories that at the height of The Apprentice they turned down black reporters and black interviewers. I had no idea that they were blatantly preventing me from doing any black press.
KW: The first question I wanted to ask was whether or not you felt you were presented accurately on The Appprentice, because I’ve interviewed a number of reality show contestants on other shows like Survivor who complained that they’d been edited unfairly.
OM: Kam, let me just tell you this, in the boardroom, I’m as tough as they get. You’re not going to find anybody who’s going to negotiate harder than me, who’s more committed to a project or who has higher expectations. I fully expected to be treated the same as my male counterparts. But some people felt that because I was a woman, I should kowtow to the boys and let them run all over me. But I didn’t. There was a lot of truth in terms of how tough I was in the boardroom. However, I left it there, and as soon as I walked out of the boardroom, I was a very kind and loving person. But the only thing that folks got to see were these spats inside the boardroom or inside the war room when we were preparing for projects. And for many Americans, that was the first time they had a glimpse into the process for putting together a high-level ad campaign and into what actually happens behind the scenes at a Fortune 500 company. They were shocked! They didn’t know that that’s par for the course at that level of competition. So, yes, the portrayal of me in the boardroom as a tough businesswoman who doesn’t take any stuff, that’s all accurate. But to suggest that that’s the way I am perpetually, at every moment of the day is inaccurate.
KW: Life After is about the effects of transformational events on people’s lives.
What was yours?
OM: Well, there were several. One occurred when I was very, very young, only 7, when my father was murdered. That’s a milestone you never forget.
KW: I’m sorry to hear that.
OM: Thank you. There were also positive moments in my life that stand out, like being appointed to the White House at 23, or walking into the boardroom with Donald Trump for the first time, or working for Bill and Camille Cosby at the National Visionary Leadership Project. So, I have been privileged to enjoy some exceptional moments that the average person will never have an opportunity to experience. And I realize that most people know nothing about these aspects of my life. So, I saw Life After as a wonderful opportunity to share what my life really was like prior to The Apprentice.
KW: I know you have your Master’s. Have you finished your Ph.D. yet?
OM: I’ve finished the course work for my doctorate, but at some point I have to go back to defend my dissertation. I’ve been at Howard and living in Washington for about 8 years now.
KW: I thought you were based in Beverly Hills?
OM: I have a place in D.C. and a place in Los Angeles, and I commute between the two.
KW: And you have charities in both cities you do volunteer work for.
OM: Anywhere I go, I’m serving. Anywhere I go, I’m doing God’s work. That’s why I ask people to not judge me by your perceptions from TV, but by my work. I dare anybody to put me and any celebrity side-by-side to compare the amount of time I commit to being a change agent, how much time I’m actually in the trenches, not just writing checks, how much time I spend with kids who have no one who believes in them, or who don’t have a place to lay their head or a meal to eat that night. I’m the one there in the trenches, and I’m not looking for glorification from the media, because that’s what I’m really about.
KW: So, how did it feel when you went on Wendy Williams TV show and she lashed out at you, calling you the stereotypical “angry black female.”
OM: I think people who know her were laughing, and thinking “ain’t that the pot calling the kettle black?” It was really unfortunate, because it was a lost opportunity for Wendy and me to have a productive, civil conversation without any name-calling or bickering, but her M.O. is to be provocative, to out you, and to bring up derogatory things about you. That’s how she advances herself. In the interview, she brought up my ex-husband, my plastic surgery and this and that. It was coming from every way but up. I feel very good about how I handled Wendy and that I didn’t let her walk all over me like she does all her other guests.
KW: You worked in the Clinton administration. So, did you support Hillary for president?
OM: Yes, briefly. I wanted to be a part of electing the first female president until Barack Obama threw his hat into the ring. I felt at that moment that race superseded gender. To me, supporting the effort to put an African-American in the highest office of the land was not a choice but an obligation.
KW: I read your book, The Bitch Switch, which was very feminist in tone. Yet most of your squabbles seem to be with other women. Why so?
OM: We, as women, have not come to terms with the fact that we are our own worst enemies, and that we have done more damage to our own movement than any male could have done. So, I wrote the book to help women learn how to deal with that side of themselves that at times is not secure, where their self-esteem has been compromised, where their sense of strength and power just doesn’t seem to be there, so they can learn to rise above it and not denigrate or demean another female.
KW: Vanessa Goldstein asks whether you and Wendy Williams have spoken at all since the run in.
OM: No, I don’t keep the same company as Wendy, and I live in D.C. and L.A. while she’s in New York. I didn’t have a relationship with her prior to the interview. Before I went on her show, she was trying to dig up any dirt on me from TV appearances and from my private life. That’s what she does with celebrities. She finds whatever’s going wrong in their lives and exploits it. That’s not a person I want to communicate with or have any relationship with.
KW: Marcia Evans asks, what did you learn from the Wendy Williams interview?
OM: I learned that I could hold my own with a bully. I learned that there are so many more important things in life than what shoes or what designer label you’re wearing. It’s about the substance of who you are and what you do for others that matters.
KW: Marcia also wants to know, how would you handle that interview differently, if you could do it all over again?
OM: I wouldn’t change anything about it, because that was my authentic reaction to her. That was truly how I was feeling at that moment, and how I responded to a woman who was trying to put me down, demean me, and walk all over me, and use me as a doormat. No one will walk all over me. And I certainly wasn’t going to take that from Wendy Williams.
KW: Marcia says that it appears that you always have your guard up. True?
OM: Absolutely! [Laughs] Do you know how many millions of people wished they were sitting where I sat? How many millions of people were vying for that spot on The Apprentice? How many people wished they were on the red carpets at premieres and award shows, or sitting in pitch meetings with network executives, or jet-setting from one coast to the other just to appear at a party? I realize there are millions of people who feel they can do what I do a hundred times better, and with a lot less effort, and they are still jockeying for my spot. So, yes, I am always attentive and on guard, and ready to defend the career I’ve carved out for myself.
KW: Can you still just walk down the street, and go to the mall or a movie theater like a regular person.
OM: I don’t get to do a lot of the things that I used to do. For instance, I tried to go incognito to the Cherry Blossom Festival, which is my favorite event in Washington. I had on a big hat, but I ended up being a distraction and taking over a hundred pictures with tourists and fans. [Laughs] And it’s the same with grocery store. You’re very vulnerable in these public places, because of the internet age.
KW: Marcia Evans had another question: how are you perceived by other professional women of color?
OM: Ironically, on my book tour, I’ve had a chance to speak to so many other women of color. Unfortunately, I’ve found that my experience has been similar to theirs. They feel isolated and lonely and alienated. And they’re not able to express themselves, because then they’re labeled as a bitch, or as moody, or as having a chip on their shoulder. They’re not able to be sassy, and funny and witty, as African-American women tend to be because they’ll be given these terrible labels and put into a box. I get away with it on reality-TV because it creates ratings and revenue and excitement, but the sad truth is that in real life, most women are hated and persecuted for the same behavior. Black women have been marginalized, and not allowed to be the funny, witty, sassy, edgy women that we tend to be.
KW: Speaking of ratings, how did the ratings fare that first season on The Apprentice after Trump fired you?
OM: I believe it dropped from 25 million to 18 million viewers after I left. So, I understand my value to reality-TV. I know what I bring to the table, and they’re aware of it as well, which is why I’m on my 20th reality show, because that’s what I do, and I do it well.
KW: Is there any question no one ever asks you, that you wish someone would?
OM: I wish people would ask me more about where I’m going next as a person, instead of focusing on this TV journey.
KW: Okay, where are you going as a person?
OM: I’m glad you asked me that. [LOL] I’ve entered the United Theological Seminary, because I believe I have a responsibility as a missionary Baptist, an obligation to emulate the work of Christ. So, I need to prepare for what God has in store for me. The next chapter of my life will be committed to serving Him, not to worrying about what polls I’m on or what designer I’m wearing on the red carpet. My focus is on pleasing the Lord.
KW: The Tasha Smith question: Are you ever afraid?
OM: I was intimidated for the first time when I put my book out. I was worried because books are so forever.
KW: The Columbus Short question: Are you happy?
OM: Absolutely!
KW: “Realtor to the Stars” Jimmy Bayan was wondering, where in L.A. you live?
OM: I live smack dab in the heart of it all, Beverly Hills adjacent.
KW: The bookworm Troy Johnson question: What was the last book you read?
OM: The Bible. I read it everyday.
KW: The music maven Heather Covington question: What music are you listening to nowadays?
OM: Maxwell’s new CD, Pretty Wings.
KW: What has been the biggest obstacle you have had to overcome?
OM: Getting over my father’s murder.
KW: The Rudy Lewis question: Who’s at the top of your hero list?
OM: My mother, Mommarosa.
KW: What type of names are Omarosa, Mommarosa and Manigault? Let me guess, Haitian?
OM: No, Nigerian names.
KW: The Laz Alonso question: How can your fans help you?
OM: By buying my book, and by continuing to visit my site, and by Twittering and Facebooking me. [http://www.omarosa.com/]
KW: When you look in the mirror, what do you see?
OM: I see a woman who’s made an amazing journey from the projects to the White House and who has focused on being the best that she can be.
KW: Teri Emerson would like to know, when was the last time you had a good laugh?
OM: When I bought my nephews the gym shoes with the wheels on the bottom. Wheelies. And while they were trying to learn how to ride them they kept clowning around and falling. It was sooooooo funny! Me, mom and my sister were cracking up.
KW: What is your favorite meal to cook?
OM: In the summer I like to cook a lot of fresh fish and veggies.
KW: Attorney Bernadette Beekman asks: What do you REALLY want in life: marriage, career, kids or just to be famous/infamous?
OM: I want to be a good Christian and to follow God's will. If you are faithful, all else will fall into place.
KW: What advice do you have for anyone who wants to follow in your footsteps?
OMN: God bless!
KW: How do you want to be remembered?
OM: I would like to be remembered as a child of God.
KW: Thanks again, Omarosa, and best of luck with all your endeavors.
OM: Thanks Kam!

Taking Woodstock



Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Historic Rock Concerted Revisited by Bittersweet Bio-Pic

On August 15, 1969, over a half-million young people descended upon the Catskills Mountains in upstate New York for a three-day music festival which would come to define the hippie generation. The renowned rock concert would take place in the tiny town of Bethel on a 600-acre meadow owned by Max Yasgur (Eugene Levy), a dairy farmer approached by the desperate promoters after permission to hold the event in nearby Woodstock had been denied.
The organizers were facing the grim prospect of having to cancel their well-publicized show entirely, when they found a sympathetic bureaucrat in Elliot Teichberg (Demetri Martin), the young President of Bethel’s Chamber of Commerce. Quite by coincidence, Elliot already happened to have a valid permit to stage a relatively-modest, annual outdoor concert featuring a few local bands. So, he happily transferred his rights over to promoter Michael Lang (Jonathan Groff) who had over 30 acts booked and ready to go, including such rock and roll greats as Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, The Jefferson Airplane and The Who, to name a few.
In 2007, Elliot published, Taking Woodstock, a wistful autobiography recounting the pivotal role he played in the weeks leading up to the historic weekend. And that opus’ narrow point-of-view is the limited perspective presented in this bittersweet bio-pic directed by Oscar-winner Ang Lee (for Brokeback Mountain).
So, don’t expect to see any footage of classic performances, because Elliot spends his time here far removed from the music and the limelight. Instead, he’s busy working as a Jack-of-all-trades at the El Monaco, the 80-room motel owned by his immigrant parents, Sonia (Imelda Staunton) and Jake (Henry Goodman), Jewish Holocaust survivors. Their dilapidated “resort,” ordinarily one of the least-popular tourist spots in the Borscht Belt, suddenly finds itself filled beyond capacity, despite just being cited for 47 health code violations.
Most of the humorous exchanges which ensue emanate from the stark contrast between the local yokels and the trippy hippies overrunning the region. Elliot’s parents prove particularly hilarious, as they hurl their Yiddish epithets like “Schmuck!” “Schnook!” and “Meshuggah!” while fleecing hippies by charging for tap water and triple-renting rooms. Their avaricious antics are constantly juxtaposed against the specter of laidback flower children exclaiming “Groovy!” while getting stoned and cavorting in the nude.
Curiously, what bubbles to the surface amidst all the weirdness is a poignant picture of Elliot as awkwardly suspended between two equally-wacky, parallel universes, a sensitive soul never quite feeling comfortable in either. For, he’s a homosexual living in the closet, at least when in Bethel. Therefore, he’s can’t feel free to be his natural self during the liberating festival, unlike the flaming, gun-toting transvestite (Liev Schreiber) he hires to guard the premises. However, that isn’t the case for Elliot down in Greenwich Village where he has a pied-a-terre, a lover (Gabriel Sunday) and participated that very same summer in the Stonewall riots, deemed by many to be the defining moment of the gay rights movement.
Congrats to Ang Lee for so effectively employing iconic Woodstock imagery not to generate a numbing sense of mass nostalgia about a famous concert but rather as a minimalist backdrop against which to amplify the anguished, intimate ordeal of a frustrated individual who wasn’t really there.

Excellent (4 stars)
Rated R for profanity, sexuality, drug use and graphic nudity.
Running time: 120 minutes
Studio: Focus Features

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Bring It On 5: Fight to the Finish DVD



DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Christina Milian Stars in 5th Installment in Cheerleading Franchise

Bring It On was the surprise hit of the summer of 2000, a gritty ghetto-meets-suburbia cheerleading drama which turned Gabrielle Union and Kirsten Dunst into Hollywood stars. Neither has returned for any of the markedly substandard sequels, yet the acrobatic franchise has somehow endured.

In Bring It On 2, Union and Dunst were replaced by Bree Turner and Anne Judson-Yager, while in Bring It On 3, their roles were assumed by Hayden Panettiere and Solange Knowles Smith, younger sister of Beyonce’. In Bring It On 4, the captains of the competing cheerleading teams were suddenly both white, and played by Ashley Benson and Cassie Scerbo.

The latest edition introduces the first Latina lead, namely Grammy-nominee Christina Milian, who squares-off against a Caucasian played by Rachele Brooke Smith. While Bring It On 5 pales in comparison to the original in terms of cinema verite’ and raw intensity, it is still far better than any of the three previous sequels, which didn’t take much, trust me.

The storyline is predictablle, but at least well-enough executed to entertain the tweeners in the desired demographic. Here’s the basic premise in 25 words or more: When her working-class mother marries a well-to-do white guy from Malibu, Lina (Milian) complains about having to move from the barrio to a mansion in Malibu, describing her new digs as “lifestyles of the rich and annoying.”

Then, after being rejected by the popular cheerleaders at her new school, she decides to get even with spoiled-rotten witches by forming her own squad comprised of rhythmically-challenged and other ostracized, social zeros. As the tension inexorably builds up to the big championship flip-a-thon, a romantic sidebar has Lina falling for a shy hunk (Cody Longo) who just happens to be the brother of her new sworn archenemy (Smith).

Don’t expect any deviations from the hackneyed formula and you won’t be disappointed by the picture’s pat resolution. Pop music fans ought to appreciate the pulsating soundtrack featuring songs by Ms. Milian, Lady GaGa, Kat DeLuna and The Veronicas.

A high-energy adventure serving up just enough fun to ensure that the Bring It On franchise survives for installment #6.

Very Good (2.5 stars)
Rated PG-13 for profanity and sexual innuendo.
Running time: 103 minutes
Studio: Universal Studios Home Entertainment
DVD Extras: Deleted scenes, star Christina Milian’s interactive video diary, choreography documentary, “The Making of” featurette and an episode of The Chicas Project.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Michael Jackson: Devotion - An Unauthorized Story DVD

 

 

DVD Review by Kam Williams

 

Headline:  DVD Dishes Dirt on Deceased King of Pop

 

                Winning the race to produce the first posthumous Michael Jackson DVD is this unauthorized biography which spends as much time trashing the recently-departed King of Pop as it does praising him. I heartily recommend the film only to two groups of people: those who believe Michael was a self-hating, child-molesting freak and those who might simply enjoy laughing non-stop at a hastily-edited, low budget flick featuring none of his music and almost no recent interviews with any of his relatives, colleagues or friends other than Motown Records founder Berry Gordy who must have had no idea about the tenor of the documentary he was being filmed for.

The movie does, however, include footage of Jackson’s estranged sister LaToya making her since-recanted statement that “I cannot and I will not be a silent collaborator in his crimes against small innocent children.” In addition we see a clip of his longtime spokesperson Bob Jones, a disgruntled former employee who wrote a damning tell-all book claiming that for years he had to cover up evidence of his boss’ sleeping with little boys.

  Particularly hilarious is the backhanded compliment served up by Walter Williams who says “Sammy Davis, Jr. was the greatest entertainer of all time,” before grudgingly adding “I put Michael up there with him.” Others quoted here include: music editor Nekesa Moody, publicist Susan Blond, and photographer Harrison Funk who praises himself by only talking about how much Michael loved his work. It takes a lot of nerve to put out a DVD, when those are the best celebs you could get on tape.

There are also plenty of testimonials by grieving fans mixed in with info explaining why Michael was referred to as Wacko Jacko, rehashed tabloid stories about his baby dangling incident, plastic surgeries, sleeping in a hyperbaric chamber and pet chimp Bubbles. Meanwhile, the movie omits the man in the mirror’s songs, since they obviously never got permission to include any.

Who wants to watch a Michael Jackson bio-pic where the most memorable tune is Amazing Grace?        

 

Fair (1 star)

Unrated 

Running time: 70 minutes

Studio: Infinity Entertainment Group

DVD Extras: Four featurettes, entitled “The Memorial,” “Charity Work,” “The Media” and “Global Phenomenon.”

Thursday, August 27, 2009

We Live in Public

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Boom and Bust Bio-Pic Revisits the Career of Dot.com Millionaire

Josh Harris arrived in New York City in 1984 with only $900 in his pocket, but harboring a hunch that the World Wide Web was about to explode. Part visionary, part businessman. Josh was a pioneer who not only saw the potential of the internet, but figured out how to cash in on it during the ensuing boom years.
First, he founded Jupiter Networks, a start-up which, among other things, catered to a clientele interested in sex chat rooms. He made $80 million when he took that company public, and subsequently found himself the subject of numerous magazine and TV news reports about the new generation of young media moguls dubbed the Dot.com Kids.
Unfortunately, the windfall burned a hole in Josh’s pocket, as he continued
to launch venture after venture, each more outrageous than the last, such as Pseudo.com, the first internet-based television network. Pseudo was an interactive cable network with multiple channels which sponsored events like aphrodisiac parties where Viagra was distributed to imbibers.
A shameless showman spouting the slogan “Do what you want. No restrictions,” he quickly became known as “the Andy Warhol of web TV.” Josh personified his “anything goes” philosophy, having the temerity to threaten to put CBS out of business while he was being interviewed on 60 Minutes.
His next big project Quietly Live in Public, featured an underground society populated by a hundred pod people living collectively without any privacy. Their every waking (and sleeping) moment was broadcast live to the outside world. However, that ill-executed experiment ended after merely thirty days when the NYPD raided the place based on well-founded reports of bizarre goings-on such as gunfire and Fascistic interrogations.
Josh’s next treat for the virtual voyeur involved just him and his girlfriend, Tanya Corrin. They outfitted their bunker with 32 video cameras equipped with night vision lenses and with 72 highly-sensitive microphones for a self-explanatory TV show called “We Live in Public.” But Tanya tired of feeling like a porn star and moved out after six months of overexposure.
By the time the dot.com bust finally arrived in 2000, Josh had lost not only Tanya but his sanity and most of his money. All of the above is vividly recounted in We Live in Public, a cautionary documentary about the dire prospects of a culture where people feel most validated by a television camera.
The internet indicted as a mind control tool subtly turning humanity into exhibitionistic automatons.

Excellent (4 stars)
Unrated
Running time: 89 minutes
Studio: Interloper Films

State of Play DVD

 

 

DVD Review by Kam Williams

 

Headline: Russell Crowe Political Potboiler Comes to DVD

 

            This is a flick with a transparent, political agenda posing as an edge-of-your-seat thriller. The movie is basically a thinly-veiled indictment of elected officials who put their services up for sale to lobbyists offering the biggest bribes. The story revolves around Congressman Stephen Collins (Ben Affleck) who is carrying on a clandestine affair with a young assistant named Sonia Baker (Maria Thayer).

Events unfold in spectacular fashion with a couple of slayings on the streets of Washington, D.C. by a cold-blooded assassin (Michael Berresse). Right on the heels of these killings, Sonia dies in the subway under mysterious circumstances which the coroner rules a suicide in a rush to judgment.

A local newspaper takes more of an interest in cracking the case than the cops, and they seem to have more resources at their disposal. Editor-in-chief Cameron Lynne assigns seasoned veteran Cal McAffrey and cub reporter Della Frye (Rachel McAdams) to head the investigation.

What na├»ve Della doesn’t know is that her partner was Congressman Collins’ roommate in college. What’s more, the two are still best friends, and Cal’s been double-crossing his buddy by sleeping with his estranged wife, Anne (Robin Wright Penn). More importantly, he is soon hot on the trail of the prime suspect, and the deeper he digs, the more proof he uncovers of a murder-for-hire scheme orchestrated by a company trying to corner the Homeland Security industry.

A lot gets conflated when you condense a TV miniseries to a two-hour adaptation, which is what we have with State of Play, a conveniently-incestuous screen version of the original BBC production. That being said, director Kevin MacDonald definitely has a flair for the dramatic and a knack for keeping his audience perched on the edge of its seat, even if he tends to on distracting red herrings to achieve that cattle-prod, over-stimulation effect.

            A heck of a roller coaster ride, even if the rabbit-out-of-the-hat resolution is likely to leave you feeling a little bit cheated. Sometimes, getting there is all the fun.

 

Very Good (3 stars)

Rated PG-13 for violence, profanity, sexual references and brief drug use. 

Running time: 127 minutes

Studio: Universal Studios Home Entertainment

DVD Extras: “The Making of” featurette.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Gospel Hill



Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Bassett and Glover Co-Star in Civil Rights Saga Set in the South

Giancarlo Esposito makes a decent directorial debut with this multi-layered drama set in Julia, South Carolina, a mythical oasis of intolerance which has never been forced to own up to its ugly legacy of racism. At the point of departure, we learn that civil rights activist Peter Malcolm (Samuel L. Jackson) had been shot dead there in broad daylight 40 years earlier in front of several eyewitnesses. Yet the murder was never solved, primarily because Jack Herrod (Tom Bower), the sheriff then in charge of the investigation, was a bigot with no interest in bringing the perpetrator (Ted Manson) to justice.
Today, Herrod is retired and ridden with cancer, while Malcolm’s son, John (Danny Glover) remains traumatized by the loss of his martyred father. The latter lives with his wife, Sarah (Angela Bassett), in Gospel Hill, the town’s African-American enclave.
The point of departure is the beginning of a school year during which a mind-boggling number of coincidences will messily enmesh about a dozen local yokels into each other’s lives. It all starts when seasoned teacher Sarah befriends novice Rosie Griffith (Julia Stiles) on her first day in the classroom. Rosie is new to town, and oblivious about any of its sordid history.
So, when her automobile breaks down, she thinks nothing of flirting with the helpful hillbilly who gets her car going again. In fact, it’s not long before she’s dating Joel (Taylor Kitsch) who just happens to work as a landscaper for Dr. Ron Palmer (Giancarlo Esposito), the city’s most successful, black businessman.
Joel is also the offspring of Sheriff Herrod’s sons, whose other son, Carl (Adam Baldwin), is having a steamy affair with Mrs. Palmer (Nia Long). It is implied that Ron deserves to have his wife cheat on him since he’s partners with the Valley Corporation, a real estate developer with designs on the black community. For with his considerable influence, the company has been gradually gobbling up all the land to turn the ‘hood into a golf course.
Thank God Sarah Malcolm figures out what’s going down, and she rallies her neighbors to fight city hall before it’s too late. Besides preventing the impending gentrification, the other pressing issue is cracking the cold murder case before the terminally-ill sheriff kicks the bucket.
Despite the convoluted, over-plotted premise, Gospel Hill proves easy enough to follow, because the story has no surprising twists and the characters are such simplistically-drawn archetypes. This one’s pure and virtuous, that one’s dastardly and spineless, and so forth.
By the time the closing credits roll, all the loose ends have been tied in a pat fashion which enables you to exit the theater with a sense of satisfaction. A well-meaning, modern morality play which telegraphs its punches, like a Sunday school parable about the difference between good versus evil.
Can I get an Amen?


Very Good (2.5 stars)
Unrated
Running time: 98 minutes
Studio: Art Mattan

Kam's Kapsules: Weekly Previews That Make Choosing a Film Fun

OPENING THIS WEEK

Kam's Kapsules:      

Weekly Previews That Make Choosing a Film Fun         

by Kam Williams

For movies opening September 4, 2009

 

                    

BIG BUDGET FILMS

 

All about Steve (PG-13 for sexuality) Bradley Cooper stars in the title role of this road comedy as a CNN cameraman who thinks he’s being stalked across the country by a crossword puzzle designer (Sandra Bullock) convinced that they’re soul mates. Supporting cast includes Thomas Haden Church, Keith David, Dr. Ken Jeong, DJ. Qualls, Kerri Kenney and Howard Hesseman.

 

Carriers (PG-13 for violence, profanity and disturbing images) Horror flick about four friends (Piber Perabo, Lou Taylor Pucci, Chris Pine and Emily Vancamp) who start driving across the desert  to escape a deadly virus pandemic threatening the human race with extinction only to discover that they are even more dangerous to each other.

 

Extract (R for profanity, drug use and sexual references) Jason Bateman stars in this ensemble comedy about a sexually-frustrated, flavoring factory owner trying to handle a host of personal and workplace woes ranging from incompetent employees to a frigid wife (Kristen Wiig). With Ben Affleck, J.K. Simmons, Mila Kunis, David Koechner and Gene Simmons.

 

Gamer (R for nudity, sexuality, profanity and pervasive graphic violence) Sci-fi thriller, set in the near future, revolving around the attempt of a human gladiator (Gerard Butler) to free himself from the clutches of a deadly mind-control game invented by a voyeuristic, reclusive billionaire (Michael C. Hall) which pits people against each other. With Amber Valetta, Kyra Sedgwick, Terry Crews, Keith David, Ludacris and John Leguizamo.

 

 

INDEPENDENT & FOREIGN FILMS

 

American Casino (Unrated) The subprime mortgage meltdown is the subject of this documentary investigating the banking industry’s targeting of minority communities which led to the economic crisis and the foreclosure of millions of homes across America. 

 

Amreeka (PG-13 for profanity and teen drug use) Green card dramedy about a Palestinian single-mom (Nisreen Faour) with a teenage son (Melkar Muallem) adjustment to life in suburbia after they move to from the West Bank to a tiny town in Illinois. (In English and Arabic with subtitles)

 

 

Liverpool (Unrated) Meditative character study, set in the mountains outside Tierra del Fuego, about a solitary sailor (Juan Fernandez) who takes a shore leave from his cargo ship to return to his rural hometown for the first time in many years to see whether his estranged mother is still alive. (In Spanish with subtitles)

 

No Impact Man (Unrated) Eco-documentary chronicling the year-long effort of the members of a family living in lower Manhattan to minimize the size of their carbon footprint.

 

Tickling Leo (Unrated) Intergenerational drama, set in the Catskills, about a young Jewish man (Daniel Sauli) who learns of an unspeakable family sacrifice made to escape Hitler when he takes his pregnant girlfriend (Annie Parisse) to meet his Holocaust survivor grandfather (Eli Wallach). With Lawrence Pressman and Ronald Guttman as the geezer’s sons.

 

Unmade Beds (Unrated) Cross-cultural comedy, set in London, about a young Spanish immigrant (Fernando Tielve) who’s sharing a flat with a forlorn French expatriate (Deborah Francois) and about a half-dozen other bohemians while looking for the long-lost father he’s never known. (In English, French and Spanish with subtitles)

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Motherland (SOUTH AFRICAN FILM REVIEW)

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Moving Documentary Chronicles Humanitarian Mission of Women Bonded by Grief

Mary Helena, Anne, Kathy, Debbi, Barbara and Lauren have little in common other than having each experienced the sudden, unexpected death of a family member. Anne’s teenaged daughter Grace slit her own wrists on New Year’s Day during their vacation in Florida. Debbi, Barbara and Kathy’s young adult sons all died in automobile accidents, while Mary Helena’s son and Lauren’s brother, both black, were shot in the head.

Mary Helena’s grief was compounded by the fact that her boy Aaron had predicted at the age of 13 that he would be dead within two years because living was so dangerous for him as a black male in America. She was subsequently so devastated by the loss that she suffered a stroke less than a year later that left her almost mute and walking with a limp.

What brought these six females from such different backgrounds together was an opportunity to heal afforded by a humanitarian mission to minister to unfortunate folks mired in extreme poverty. So, they travel from the U.S. to the remote City of Oudtshoorn, South Africa to do volunteer work for 17 days with a charity headed by Cheryl Nortje, who is herself a bereaved mom.

Directed by Jennifer Steinman, Motherland chronicles the altruistic effort of these still-grieving women to put their own sadness on a back burner temporarily in order to alleviate the suffering of AIDS orphans, and at-risk, abused and physically-challenged children. Not surprisingly, this endeavor proved easier said than done, as they did end up crying on each other’s shoulder and bonding over the course of their stay.

Particularly poignant is the relationship which evolves between Mary Helena and Anne who is empathetic despite the stroke victim’s inability to verbalize her feelings. Anne ostensibly feels that her daughter’s suicide has turned her into a more compassionate person capable of understanding that Mary Helena simply might be too overwhelmed by her host of woes to talk yet.

The movie’s title was inspired by the particularly moving tableau towards the end when Mary Helena does finally find her voice while spreading her son’s ashes into the air, as she wistfully whispers into the wind, ”you made it home to the Motherland, didn’t you?” The cinematic equivalent of a profound expression of condolences aimed at anyone with an aching emptiness in their soul due to the loss of a loved one.

Excellent (4 stars)

Unrated

Running time: 80 minutes

Studio: Smush Media

Distributor: Gigantic Digital


Motherland can be viewed online nationwide at www.giganticdigital.com for $2.99 for a 3-day pass.

The Survival Bible: 16 Life Lessons for Young Black Men

by Jihad

Envisions Publishing Company

Paperback, $14.95

192 pages

ISBN: 978-097061024-9

Book Review by Kam Williams

“On April 13th, 1999, I was released from federal prison after serving 7 years for being ignorant. Yeah, I was a dope dealer… For 22 years, I was a rebel without a cause. Nobody could tell me anything as I went through women, sold drugs, and committed all kinds of negative acts to people who looked like me—all for the almighty dollar, and a few seconds of fame…

For so long, I robbed, stole, and sold drugs. For so long, I was filled with self-hate and didn’t even know it, until I discovered who I was, thanks to some of the most intelligent men who… will never see the light of day from behind America’s penitentiary walls.

I make no excuse for the wrong I did. It is my hope that this book will help at least one misguided young man… In the pages of this book are true to life essays that I hope will educate and inspire our young black men to aspire to be the Kings they were destined to be.”

-Excerpted from the Introduction (pages 3-8)

The road to manhood for most African-American boys is a perilous path

paved with potholes with the specter of prison looming for any misstep. For the criminal justice system has a history of doling out far harsher treatment to black males than whites. Consequently, half of the 2 million inmates currently behind bars are black.

Complicating the picture is the fact that approximately 80% of African-American children are now raised by single mothers. This means that most black boys grow up without a male role model around. Thus, it’s really no surprise that formative years spent under the spell of gangsta’ rap videos might encourage them to hang out on the streets and to participate in a host of misogynistic, anti-social and illegal behaviors likely to mire them in a neverending cycle of dysfunction, if not land them in a penitentiary.

For this reason, Elbert Lee Frazier, Jr., aka Jihad, decided to write The Survival Bible: 16 Life Lessons for Young Black Men. You see, he speaks from experience, since he himself was raised by a single-mom and ended up a troubled youngster who served a long prison sentence. The basic aim of his practical how-to book is to help impressionable young minds avoid making the same mistakes.

So, for example, he discourages wearing saggy, baggy pants because most “lil homies” are unaware that this is an advertisement to homosexuals that they are submissive, so-called “catchers.” And with AIDS so rampant in the black community, the last thing a straight kid probably wants is to be unwittingly flirting with a desperate, HIV+ recently-paroled predator on the down-low.

In a chapter entitled “What Up, Dog?” Jihad suggests that black people stop referring to each other by ethic slurs or by terms reserved for animals, like “bitch” and “dog.” He points out that this practice is a self-hating holdover from slavery when whites used such derogatory epithets to separate Africans from their families, culture, history and traditions.

Written in a down-to-earth style that the average adolescent can understand, The Survival Bible is chock full of sensible advice about everything from STDs to teen pregnancy to drug use to snitching to the importance of getting a good education. A sobering lesson from a successful graduate of the school of overwhelming regret with a tough love massage amounting to, “do as I say, not as I did.”

Monday, August 24, 2009

Flex Alexander: The "Soulaughable" Interview

with Kam Williams

Headline: Flex Time

Born Marc Alexander Knox in the Bronx on April 15, 1970, Flex Alexander got his start in showbiz as a dancer, earning his nickname because of his dizzying display of acrobat skills out on the floor. After being discovered by Spinderella, he toured with Salt-n-Pepa, Mary J. Blige and Queen Latifah before turning his attention to standup comedy.

Flex added acting to his repertoire, making his big screen debut in 1992 opposite Latifah and Tupac in the crime drama Juice, following that up with support roles in such full-length flicks as She’s All That, Snakes on a Plane and The Hills Have Eyes II. Meanwhile, he found steady work on television, starring in several short-lived series, “Homeboys in Outer Space,” “Total Security” and “Where I Live,” and playing Michael Jackson in “Man in the Mirror: The Michael Jackson Story.”

He also appeared on such sitcoms as “Sister, Sister,” “Moesha,” “The Parkers” and “Girlfriends” before finally getting a hit show of his own, “One-on-One,” which enjoyed a five-year run from 2001 to 2006. The versatile performer has four NAACP Image Award nominations on his resume, along with a couple of BET Comedy Award nominations.

Here, he talks about hosting the second season of SOULAUGHABLE, a clean comedy showcase shot in Savannah featuring a rotating lineup of today’s hottest family-friendly comedians, including Mike Washington, Willie Brown, Sean Sarvis, Small Fire, Meshelle, Cleto Rodriguez, and Ms. V.


Kam Williams: Hi Flex, thanks for the time. When we last spoke you were still doing One-on-One. What originally interested you in shooting a clean comedy showcase like Soulaughable?
Flex Alexander: For one, my family. And secondly, I had done something like this before and taken it on the road a number of years ago, so, I knew that it could work. It was a no brainer.

KW: When you do standup, do you ordinarily work clean?

FA: Oh yeah, the last time I did Def Jam was in ’93. I’ve been clean ever since then.

KW: What about the other comedians appearing on Soulaughable? Are they clean just for the show?

FA: No, the majority of them work clean constantly. We stress that, because we don’t want someone to be shocked if they later go to see one of our performers at a club. It just taints everything we’re trying to do. But on the other hand, we can’t absolutely control what people do outside of Soulaughable.

KW: Bill Cosby certainly built an incredible career around strictly clean routines. FA: There’s no reason why we can’t have that again. Things are cyclical, and I think it’s time for that sort of family fare again now.

KW: Which is your favorite medium: TV, film or standup?

FA: I don’t have any one favorite. There’s something about each of them that I love. The best way I can put it is that I love the consistency of television, the truth and the creativity of film, and the freedom of standup.

KW: I know you’re also a great dancer. Do you sing, too?

FA: No, you don’t want to hear me singing. Not even karaoke.

KW: When you played Michael Jackson in his bio-pic, did you do all your own dancing?

FA: Yeah, that was my background, so I was excited to do that. The dancing wasn’t hard. The challenging part of the role was in being believable and not a caricature.

KW: Well, you certainly succeeded, since you landed an NAACP Image award nomination for the performance. How did Michael feel about your portrayal of him?

FA: From what I heard from people close to him, he saw it and said I did a great job.

KW: How do you feel about his passing?

FA: I’m still devastated. I really am. He was the greatest entertainer ever, in my opinion, and he supplied the soundtrack to my life and to many of our lives. So, the world has suffered a great loss. I think his heart was truly too big for this world to comprehend and really treasure.

KW: I have never been able to master the moonwalk. What’s the secret to it?

FA: It’s rhythm, and you have to be patient with it. Some people will just get up on their toes and start going. You just have to stay solid, keep sliding backwards, and stay fluid.

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

FA: That’s a good one there. Yeah, how do you get through the tough times, the times when people you thought were your friends turn against you, and when people you thought supported you, no longer do?

KW: So, how do you get through those tough times?

FA: With prayer, and by staying close to my family, and by realizing that they’re what’s important.

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

FA: Wow! You know what? Sometimes you do get afraid of failing. Even as much as I have worked, you still sometimes question your confidence. You’re afraid of not being on top of your game, and you wonder what people are going to say. I’m not afraid of too much else.

KW: The Columbus Short question: Are you happy?

FA: I’m happy. Yes, I am happy.

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

FA: by just keep praying for me. That’s the best thing they can do. I don’t take that lightly, as I’ve really learned how to pray. Not that playing around pray, but that type of prayer, like where the old mothers put your name in a hat and burn it as an offering. That type of sacrifice can truly lift you up.

KW: Teri Emerson asks, when was the last time you had a good laugh?

FA: Yesterday, with my kids. [Chuckles] My son was breakdancing and my daughter was singing and running around. To watch them just cracked me up.

KW: How old are your children, Imani and Elijah, now?

FA: She just turned 8, and my son is 5. They make me laugh every day.

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

FA: Someone who perseveres through all obstacles.

KW: And what would you say has been the biggest obstacle you have had to overcome?

FA: Surviving a household that was drug-filled, with drug addiction and the selling of dope… seeing friends die… having a gun put to my head… making it through all that and God still saw fit for me to be here.

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

FA: Sidney Poitier’s autobiography. But I read my Bible every day.

KW: What is your favorite meal to cook?

FA: I’d say breakfast: French toast, eggs, and turkey bacon.

KW: How do you want to be remembered?

FA: I tend to shy away from that question, because I still have things to do. God willing, you’ll be able to ask me that question again at 80.

KW: The Rudy Lewis question: Who’s at the top of your hero list?

FA: My late grandmother, Christola Williams.

KW: “Realtor to the Stars” Jimmy Bayan was wondering, where in L.A. you live?

FA: I live out by Magic Mountain.

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

FA: Don’t let anybody tell you that you can’t do it, because I was told that all my life.

KW: Thanks again, Flex, and best of luck with Soulaughable and all your endeavors.

FA: Thank you.