with Kam Williams
Headline: The Wild, Wild Dr. West
One of America's most provocative public intellectuals, Dr. Cornel Ronald West has been a champion for racial justice since childhood. His writing, speaking, and teaching weave together the traditions of the black Baptist Church, progressive politics, and jazz.
Though currently the Class of 1943 Professor at Princeton University, Dr. West first burst onto the national scene in 1993 upon the publication of his best seller, Race Matters, a searing analysis of racism in American democracy. In his long-awaited autobiography, BROTHER WEST: Living and Loving Out Loud, he now offers a compelling exploration of his heart behind the human mind.
Here, he answers questions from readers and talks about the book which explores such themes as Faith, Family, Philosophy, Love and Service.
Kam Williams: Hi, Dr. West, nice speaking with you again. I loved your autobiography. But do you know how hard it was for me to track you down for another interview?
Cornell West: I appreciate your deep loyalty and commitment.
KW: Why did you decide to write your memoirs?
CW: Tavis Smiley, my dear brother, raised the question of my writing one when the prostate cancer hit 8 years ago. I thought and thought about it and decided maybe I could tell my story to help somebody, so they could see how the power of love and education in my life had transformed me from a gangster with raw rage.
KW: Where did that thug you refer to in the book as “Little Ronnie” come from, and how did you get past that phase?
CW: I was just mad, a born rebel. I had loving parents, a loving church and loving friends, yet I was mad, and I needed constructive venues to express that rage. I was able to find them owing to the power of love and education. So, it became a righteous indignation against injustice. It became a holy anger against unfairness. And I’ve had it ever since.
KW: Reverend Florine Thompson asks, where should we look to reclaim the prophetic voice regarding the war in Afghanistan? Should the Obama administration send thousands of more troops there?
CW: No, no! Obama can’t get the Nobel Peace Prize and be a war President. He’s got to be able to promote peace in an international, multilateral way. We don’t need an American occupation; we don’t need more American troops there. If he does send more, then we’ve got to take to the streets.
KW: Reverend Thompson also asks, with the rise in black-on-black teen crime, what should the religious community be doing differently to address this issue? Is "The Church" merely irrelevant in the lives of our youth? Many have said that our youth have little or no regard for God, church or religion since prayer was taken out of public schools.
CW: No, I don’t think taking prayer out of schools was the cause of young people being suspicious of religion. That goes back a long way. It has more to do with the fact that older folk did not exemplify the kind of love and justice that the young people would like to see. Therefore, they saw old people as hypocrites more tied to Church-ianity than Christianity. So, a lot of it has to do with the failings of the older generation which led to the younger generation’s going off to look for alternatives. Unfortunately, a lot of times they turned to ugly things like guns and drugs, given the easy access to guns because of lax gun control laws, and to drugs because the government can’t keep them out of the country. In addition, the youth don’t have too many alternatives to the decrepit housing and disgraceful school systems which provide very little opportunities for those in the urban ‘hoods. So, I think the whole issue of young people and churches has much more to do with social forces than it does with just not having prayer in schools.
KW: How do we save our young men, then? Where are the black male role models?
CW: There’s only one way to save young black people, and that’s to love ‘em, love ‘em, love ‘em, care for ‘em, attend to them, embrace them, target them, concentrate on them, and make them feel as if they’re somebody, because that’s the only way they get self-respect and self-confidence, which are the two prerequisites for flowering and flourishing in life.
KW: The good Reverend has a question about healthcare: What should the church be doing to foster healthcare reform?
CW: Hmm… A lot of churches need to bear witness for the least of our brethren… for the weak, for the poor, for the orphaned, for the widowed, for the children. And the only way you get set on fire is you gotta be Born Again. You have to undergo fundamental awakening and conversion and metamorphosis.
KW: Reverend Thompson asks about the outcry of "You lie!" to President Obama by a Republican Congressman Joe Wilson. Was it a slip of the lip or confirmation that race matters?
CW: Well, it certainly was an act of disrespect. The very act of disrespecting the President of the United States in that manner on national television is a very serious matter.
KW: How would you say President Obama is doing on a scale of 1 to 10?
CW: It depends on which issue you’re talking about. On ecology and the environment, I would give him a 7. On war, I’d give him a 3. On the economy, a 2. In terms of his trying to sustain a new atmosphere and new ethos in the country and around the world, I’d give him an 8. So, it goes up and down, relative to each issue.
KW: Children’s book author Irene Smalls says, you recently launched a spoken word or rap career. How does that jibe with your academic pursuits?
CW: Oh, it’s quite consistent, because I’m an educator. When I write books, that’s textual education. When I do spoken word, that’s singing education. When I dance, it’s dancing education. All of it has to do with trying to awaken people to become more courageous to bear witness to love and justice in the world.
KW: Our mutual friend, Ila Forster, who was at Princeton when you were there as a grad student, asks if you like how jazz pianist Robert Glasper recast one of your musical pieces in an inaugural tribute. It included parts of speeches not only by you but also by Obama and Dr. King.
CW: This is the first that I’m hearing about it. Tell Sister Ila thanks so much for letting me know about it.
KW: Although Ila didn’t make it back to campus, she says she heard that your speech at the recent black alumni reunion conference at Princeton was excellent and unusually personal.
CW: Oh, we had a wonderful time.
KW: Jimmy Bajan says he agrees with you that we haven’t turned a corner just because we have a black president. He asks, what will it take to see a level playing field? With so many blacks and whites still living in poverty in this country and so many children without healthcare, how far are we from seeing an equitable society realized where there's coverage for everyone comparable to Europe?
CW: I agree with Brother Jimmy. We certainly haven’t turned a corner. Not at all. And we’re a long way from there being a level playing field, just like we’re a long way from poor people enjoying the same opportunities as the well-to-do. It depends on the quality of our struggle, the quality of our commitment and the quality of our conviction.
KW: Lester Chisholm asks, what can people do to avoid spiritual, emotional, mental, and physical compliancy?
CW: They’ve got to hang around folks who are on fire with a love for justice.
KW: Lester also asks, what movie do you recommend for people to begin empower themselves?
CW: Tell him to watch The Matrix.
KW: How about that film you appeared in this year called Examined Life? That was a very powerful documentary.
CW: I appreciate that. I had a great time working with Astra Taylor on that. She’s a wonderful sister.
KW: Why do you refer to everyone by either brother or sister, even if they’re not black?
CW: All human beings are vanishing creatures and disappearing organisms trying to find a little meaning and love before they die. In that sense, we’re all trying to work it out. And when I say “brother” or “sister” to every person without regard to color, or culture or civilization, I’m just paying tribute to their struggling.
KW: well, Sister Laz Lyles says, I just want to know how he keeps his afro so tight.
CW: [LOL] well, I haven’t had a haircut since 1984. So, it tends to just fall in place every morning. I don’t know how long it’ll last. I might be baldheaded in a coupe of years if the crisis hits me. You never know.
KW: On a more serious note, Laz wants to know if you consider W.E.B. Du Bois’s idea of double consciousness still relevant with the Obama presidency.
CW: Oh, absolutely. It’s deeply relevant, because there’s still a veil between the black and white world when it comes to cultural, religious and other divides.
KW: Laz’s also asks, after healthcare, what is the next area of major reform you’d like to see Obama address?
CW: We need reform in the military, both in terms of military policy, and in terms of its internal dynamics.
KW: Tale grad Tommy Russell asks, do you think Barack Obama is being treated less fairly or with less dignity than previous presidents?
CW: Yes, by Brother Rush [Limbaugh], Brother Sean [Hannity] and Brother Bill O’Reilly. I think they hardly respect him at all. In fact, I think they are very demeaning and disrespectful. On the other hand, the liberal press has been so deferential, that they haven’t engaged in the criticisms that they should. So, it cuts both ways. Barack Obama needs to be protected, and he needs to be respected, but he also needs to be corrected. Criticisms are important when they’re based on principle, man, because in the end, it’s not about Obama, it’s about poor people and working people.
KW: Do you think inheriting the nation in the state it was left behind by Bush is dragging on Obama’s efficiency?
CW: Absolutely! He came in under catastrophic conditions. George Bush had handed him a multi-layered mess. He’s been trying to get out from under that mess. However, the War in Afghanistan will be Obama’s war. And the increasing unemployment will be Obama’s unemployment, owing to his economic team that puts very little emphasis on the plight of working people and poor people. So, yes, Bush handed him a mess, but after a year he’s going to have to begin to take some real responsibility for what he’s headed towards.
KW: Sue Doran asks, if you’ve read anything by Chris Hedges?
CW: Yes, the author of American Fascism. He’s a very important, prophetic voice in the culture.
KW: Postal clerk Ron Clark says, you’re one of his regular customers at the Princeton Post Office, and that you always take one of the Tootsie Pops he gives out.
CW: Brother Ron! He has such a wonderful spirit about him. Just to see him uplifts you, and helps make your day a better day.
KW: Ron asks, where did you develop your oratory skills?
CW: Probably in the church and on the block.
KW: Ron follows up with, have you had any interaction with Angela Davis?
CW: Oh Lord, yes! I was just with Angela not long ago. She introduced me at a lecture at the University of California at Santa Cruz where she’s a distinguished professor. She’s my dear sister.
KW: Tony Noel, a Muslim brother, says that he and you share a common challenge in life besides being of African descent. “We are both survivors of prostate cancer.” He asks, how do you feel that we can best spread the word to our brothers in the human race about this disease?
CW: Well, first let me say a prayer for my dear brother… Secondly, we need to lift our voices. That’s why when I travel to conferences I encourage black brothers to get a PSA exam to catch it early, so they can live longer.
KW: The music maven Heather Covington question: What music are you listening to nowadays?
CW: I start off in the morning with gospel, with James Cleveland, and often end with George Clinton’s “One Nation under a Groove.”
KW: Thanks again, Dr. West, and best of luck with the book and all your endeavors.
CW: I appreciate you’re taking this time, and I deeply apologize about how hard it was for you to find me, but I’ve been on the run lately. You just stay strong, my brother.
KW: No problem, Brother West.
Monday, November 30, 2009
Men Don't Heal, We Ho:
A Book about the Emotional Instability of Men
by Steven James Dixon
Book Review by Kam Williams
“The purpose of this book is to give you multiple relationship examples from all angles and to examine those examples from all angles. This will help you to possibly consider a different perspective or answer questions you’ve always had. That, in turn, can help you have better, stronger and healthier relationships…
Women will get the uncensored, uncut, raw male point of view. Men will get the truth about is, why we are trifling. I am not bashing- WE TRIFLING! The first half of the book is about The Emotional Instability of Men, starring me...
The second half is written by the professor in me… My advice is unconventional, unthinkable and at first glance, may sound ridiculous… Not for the faint at heart, but my advice is tried, tested and true. I make some revelations. I shatter some myths. You will be entertained.”
Excerpted from the Preface (pages ix-x)
I can’t say that this book lives up to the rest of the hype in the
pompous preface, but at least there’s truth in advertising in the last line of the above quote. For, if nothing else, “You will be entertained” by Men Don't Heal, We Ho, which is as frank a primer on the battle-of-the-sexes as one could hope to encounter. Perhaps that’s because its author, Steven James Dixon, divides his time equally between doling out love advice and picking the bones of his failed first marriage and numerous other dating relationships.
So, the way I would describe this opus is as half-heartfelt emotional dump, half practical words to the wise from a guy who has learned from his experience and is great at compiling lists. In fact, he starts with the latter right on the back cover, where he promises the text will definitively answer 5 questions for women (like “Why your boyfriend won’t make you his wife”) and another 5 for men (like “Why your homeboy is cheating on his wife”).
What, you may ask, are the qualifications of Mr. Dixon? Well, although he’s a college grad, to the best of my knowledge he didn’t get a degree in psychology. Still, his website (http://relationshipbeast.com/) indicates that he currently shares his expertise in relationship workshops. But before you rush to register for the brother’s next seminar, you might first want to at least read what he has to say on the pages of his alternately shocking and enumerating tome.
Let’s discuss his assorted laundry lists first. There’s the 5 most important factors in a successful marriage (love, communication, trust, commitment and respect). How about the 10 ingredients for a successful relationship, my favorite being, “If you don’t like her mama, get out of there.”
Particularly hilarious is the top 10 ho topics of conversation which range from “I have to find a hookup on some weave and get my hair rewoven” to “I am so mad at my baby-daddy because he won’t have anything to do with our son because he looks like our best friend.” Speaking of hos, the book’s title is explained during a discussion of the author’s being in denial while sleeping around when he should have been mourning his divorce. He concedes that he needed to “take some time and allow my heart to heal, but men don’t heal, we ho.”
After such an honest admission, what’s next? Why not more lists! The 5 steps to getting your marriage back on track, the 3 problems with single women, the 3 problems with wives, the 3 things men must do to help save our communities, the 3 key things a married man should do to be a successful husband and father. Etcetera. (He’s happily re-married now, by the way)
Even the penultimate chapter contains 11 Questions about men, 3 categories of commitment, the 10 things a man would rather hear from a woman than “I love you,” 5 parameters for when it’s okay to say “I love you,” and 10 ways to know if you are your husband’s fantasy.” Whew!
To be honest, the bulk of the advice delineated in this womanizer-turned-relationship guru’s copious lists is sound, though not nearly as “unconventional” as billed. What is unique, however, is his vulnerability revealed while recounting his personal transformation into marriage material with the help of the Lord and the love of the patient saint who is now his wife.
Highly recommended, but primarily as a tell-all confessional of an ex-
Posted by The Sly Fox at 9:33 PM
Sunday, November 29, 2009
Film Review by Kam Williams
Headline: Wes Anderson Directs Animated Version of Roald Dahl Classic
When you think of Wes Anderson, what ordinarily comes to mind is a sublime sense of humor appealing to a sophisticated cinematic palate, as evidenced by movies like Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums and The Darjeeling Limited. Fantastic Mr. Fox, however, represents a substantial departure for the wry director from his trademark, understated fare for a foray into a readily-accessible, animated adventure ostensibly aimed at kids.
Based on Roald Dahl’s children’s novel of the same name, the film stars George Clooney in the title role with a supporting voice cast featuring Meryl Streep, Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Willem Dafoe and Jason Schwartzman. Superficially, the movie looks a lot like Chicken Run (2000), another stop-motion cartoon set on a farm. But that’s where any similarities end because Fantastic Mr. Fox proves to be not nearly as charming, coherent or comedic as that delightful crowd-pleaser.
The plot is only loosely based on the book, and revolves around a chicken thief (Clooney) who tries to go straight after being caught in a trap while burglarizing a hen house. But after settling down with his wife, Felicity (Streep), to raise their son, Ash (Schwartzman), and nephew, Kristofferson (Eric Chase Anderson), he soon becomes bored with his safer line of work as a journalist.
Missing both the taste of chicken and the excitement of staging daring raids, Fantastic Mr. Fox decides to pull off one last big job before finally retiring for good. So, with the help of Kylie (Wallace Wolodarsky), an opossum, he hatches an elaborate plan to steal poultry and cider from a trio of neighboring agribusinesses owned by a trio of mean, gun-toting fox-haters: Franklin Bean (Michael Gambon), Walter Boggis (Robin Hurlstone) and Nathan Bunce (Hugo Guinness).
In the wake of the heist, during which Mr. Fox suffers the indignity of having his tail shot off, the irate farmers resort to desperate measures to catch him. Unfortunately, neither side looks particularly sympathetic in the ensuing, escalating battle of wits. The owners destabilize the local eco-system, excavating fields and flooding foxholes, to flush out the wily predator, while the four-legged perp selfishly endeavors to devour rather than rescue the livestock caged by the corporate conglomerates.
The movie’s glaring absence of a moral compass might be forgivable if the tale at least elicited a few side-busting belly laughs along the way. Instead it tends to trade in a plethora of pithy comments like, “He’s just another dead rat in a pail behind a Chinese restaurant.”
In essence, what we have here is a creepy cartoon filled with inappropriate inside jokes that are mostly over the head of the desired tyke demographic, exactly what one would you expect of a claymation vehicle crafted by the cerebral Wes Anderson. Too bad adults aren’t apt to be any more engaged by this uninspired variation on the age-old, children’s fairy tale theme of farmers vs. foxes.
Been there, seen that!
Fair (1.5 stars)
Rated PG for action, smoking and slang.
Running time: 88 minutes
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Posted by The Sly Fox at 3:42 PM
Saturday, November 28, 2009
DVD Review by Kam Williams
Headline: Street Musicians Collaborate Trans-Planet in the Name of Peace
The first time Mark Johnson heard Roger Ridley singing “Stand by Me,” he was so moved by the passion in the elderly black man’s voice, he wanted to share it with the world. However, that seemed like an improbable dream, because Roger was obscure even in their hometown of Santa Monica, California where he was just a street musician playing for tips in the public square.
But then Mark thought about the fact that there must many other equally-talented, yet unrecognized individuals performing outdoors, essentially for free, in cities all over the planet. So, he decided to create a mobile recording studio in order to give them a chance to collaborate with each other without meeting. Since music is the universal language, he hoped to deliver a powerful message about its power to unite the human race by weaving a unique tapestry of tunes with folks from a diversity of backgrounds.
Therefore, with the help of co-director Jonathan Walls, he proceeded to prove that the world is indeed a global village via a project which would take them from Brazil to South Africa to Russia to Holland to Italy to Spain to Ireland to France to Israel to Palestine to Nepal to India and back to the United States. The fruit of those labors is Playing for Change: Songs around the World, a soul-stirring DVD and CD which offers its audience one of the most satisfying listening experiences imaginable.
Despite the physical distance and considerable cultural differences among the contributors, they combined to create some beautiful music. For instance, it is nothing short of amazing to hear how Ridley’s lead vocals blend with that of the gravelly-throated Grandpa Elliot, as well as with one-man band Washboard Chaz, Native American drummers, a Russian cellist, a Zulu acappella group, plus numerous additional accompanists for an unforgettable version of “Stand by Me.”
Besides featuring novel renditions of such classic songs as “One Love,” “Talkin’ ‘Bout a Revolution,” and “A Change Is Gonna Come,” to name a few, the DVD captures the colorful essence of each port-of-call, given that each session was shot outdoors and up against a visually-captivating background.
Perhaps the picture’s most poignant moment arrives when Irishman Liam O’ Maonlai pauses from playing the didgeridoo on “Biko” to summarize his basic philosophy of life. “I believe in my brothers and sisters all over the world, and that we will see this Earth to be ours,” he says matter-of-factly. “We have an ability to look after one another, and an ability to share. It’s our place, our world, it’s our planet. It’s ours!”
Here, here! Or should I say, hear, hear!
Excellent (4 stars)
Running time: DVD - 83 minutes, CD - 45 minutes.
Studio: Concord Music Group
DVD Extras: “The Filmmakers’ Journey,” a behind-the-scenes featurette, and “The Playing for Change Foundation,” a documentary focusing on the inspiring work of the project’s non-profit organization. .
Posted by The Sly Fox at 12:01 PM
Friday, November 27, 2009
(Un Conte de Noel)
DVD Review by Kam Williams
Headline: Dysfunctional Family Drama from France Due on DVD
Don’t be tricked by director Arnaud Desplechin’s deceptively benign title, this flick doesn’t spin a heartwarming yarn in the manner of such seasonal classics as It’s a Wonderful Life or A Christmas Story. No miracles lay in wait for any unfortunate orphans in this relatively sobering saga set in France.
If Jerry Springer ever decided to shoot his TV show in Paris, the protagonists of this picture, the Vuillards, would make excellent guests. For this dysfunctional family is filled with more drama than you can shake a stick of French bread at. At the point of departure we find the clan convening at the family manse in advance of the Christmas holidays for a reunion guaranteed to stir up trouble.
The ringmaster of the three-ring circus is matriarch Junon (Catherine Deneuve), a cancer patient suffering from the same strain of leukemia which took the life of one of her sons at the age of 7. Today, she and her husband, Abel (Jean-Paul Roussillon), have three adult children, Henri (Mathieu Amalric), Elizabeth (Ann Consigny) and Ivan (Melvil Poupard) who arrive burdened by considerable emotional baggage as well as unresolved sibling rivalry.
For example, playwright Elizabeth has little patience for ne’er-do-well Henri, because she once had to bail him out of a bad investment for which their father had cosigned. The two haven’t spoken to each other since, so this occasion offers an opportunity for long-simmering fireworks to explode. Ivan, on the other hand, has issues with Simon (Laurent Capuletto), an orphaned cousin raised under the same roof.
It seems that Simon has been hiding a secret crush on Ivan’s wife, Sylvia (Chiara Mastroianni) since they were teenagers, so what better time to let the cat out of the bag than Christmas. All of the above is just the tip of the iceberg, as Junon is urgently in need of a bone marrow transplant. Thus, the burning question which permeates the air at the gathering is whether any of her relatives might be a suitable match.
Despite its relentlessly-grim overarching theme, A Christmas Tale’s absorbing array of richly-developed characters invariably embroiled in incestuous folderol easily outweighs the unpleasant tone of this otherwise depressing escapade. All that’s missing is Jerry Springer refereeing the play-by-play.
How do you say, “Don’t even go there, girlfriend!” in French?
Excellent (3.5 stars)
In French with subtitles.
Running time: 152 minutes
Studio: Criterion Collection
DVD Extras: Interview with the director and co-stars Catherine Deneuve and Mathieu Amalric, a documentary, 2 theatrical trailers and a booklet containing stills and production notes.
Posted by The Sly Fox at 3:16 PM
DVD Review by Kam Williams
Headline: Schwarzenegger Cameo Couldn’t Save Salvation Sequel
When you decide to shoot a Terminator sequel sans Schwarzenegger (sorry, a cameo of Arnold‘s head atop a body double doesn’t count), and with an entirely new cast, you might want to consider devoting some quality time to character development in order to give your audience a chance to become familiar with and, thus, reason to care about the protagonists. Otherwise you’ll probably end up with a superficial, sci-fi saga like Terminator Salvation (T-4), a special effects indulgence in fight sequences, chase scenes, pyrotechnics and techno wizardry at the expense of emotional depth.
This post-apocalyptic adventure is as soulless as the defoliated expanse of barren landscape on which it unfolds. What’s worse, the movie abandons the franchise’s carefully-cultivated trademarks in favor of a lot of nondescript CGI action sequences which feel interchangeable with similar flicks like Transformers and Doomsday.
T-4 takes place in a flattened California in 2018 where we find the few folks still alive cowering in caves and makeshift shelters. That’s because a swarm of invading terminators, Skynet’s T-600s, have practically decimated humanity. With less than four days until total annihilation, it falls to a chivalrous army vet named John Connor (Christian Bale) to organize a resistance movement. Its goal is to get close enough to the cyborgs to shut down their computers by jamming their radio frequency with the help of a top secret weapon provided by General Ashdown (Michael Ironside).
Of course, this is easier said than done, especially since the aliens have a decided military advantage and a “take no prisoners” policy. But Conner is both desperate and game and enlists the assistance of a motley crew in his heroic endeavor. His impromptu posse includes his pregnant wife, Kate (Bryce Dallas Howard), a downed fighter pilot (Moon Bloodgood), his right-hand man, Barnes (Common), a teenage soldier (Anton Yelchin), a mute toddler (Jadagrace) and Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington), a very mysterious stranger whom Connor has good reason not to trust.
But keeping the motivations of the various players on the scorecard straight is never as important as simply sitting back and appreciating all the fireworks which ensue. What we have here, to quote the Bard of Avon, is essentially “A tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”
Mind under matter.
Fair (1 star)
Rated PG-13 for profanity and intense violence.
Running time: 115 minutes
Studio: Warner Home Video
DVD Extras: Digital copy of the film.
Posted by The Sly Fox at 9:09 AM
Thursday, November 26, 2009
(Peurs du Noir)
DVD Review by Kam Williams
Headline: Animated Feature Exploring Everyday Phobias Available on DVD
In 2007, a French film named Paris, je t’aime proved that 20 directors (including the Coen Brothers, Wes Craven, Gus Van Sant and Alfonso Cuaron) could successfully collaborate on one movie. That picture was comprised of 18 independently-produced, loosely-linked five minute-long shorts, each of which related a brief tale set somewhere in the City of Paris.
Here, 10 graphic artists have pooled their talents to make an animated feature highlighting a variety of everyday phobias ranging from a fear of spiders to dogs to an empty house to things that go bump in the night. Fears of the Dark, also coming courtesy of France, is not a cartoon aimed at kids, but rather a half-dozen relatively-sophisticated vignettes for grownups, as it includes a little nudity, sexuality, bestiality and other adult-oriented fare.
Shot in stark black & white, the movie makes effective use of shadows and angles to add to the overall impending sense of dread. The stories ostensibly reflect the worst nightmares of their creators (Charles Burns, Marie Caillou, Romain Slocombe, Richard McGuire, Michel Pirus, Blutch, Lorenzo Mattotti, Jerry Kramsky, Pierre di Sciullo and artistic director Etienne Robial), whose efforts add up to an innovative flick which figures to delight fans of the genre rather easily.
An arresting array of chilling images worth a watch for its scary visual effects alone.
Excellent (3.5 stars)
In French with subtitles.
In black & white
Running time: 80 minutes
Studio: IFC Films
DVD Extras: U.S. trailer, French teaser, exhibition tour of Fears in the Dark, “From the Drawing to the Film,” a diaporama of working documents, and winners videos of the Fears in the Dark MySpace contest
Posted by The Sly Fox at 1:56 PM
by Kam Williams
For movies opening December 4, 2009
BIG BUDGET FILMS
Armored (PG-13 for intense violence, disturbing images and brief profanity) Action thriller about employees for an armored car company whose foolproof plan to steal $42 million from one of their own trucks goes horribly wrong when one of the conspirators (Columbus Short) has misgivings after a cop (Milo Ventimiglia) is shot during the heist. With Laurence Fishburne, Matt Dillon, Skeet Ulrich, Jean Reno, Fred Ward and John Cena.
Brothers (R for profanity and disturbing violence) Jim Sheridan directs this dysfunctional family drama about an ex-con (Jake Gyllenhaal) who gets involved with his big brother’s (Tobey Maguire) wife (Natalie Portman) after his sibling goes missing in Afghanistan, only to have a lot of explaining to do upon the decorated veteran’s rescue and return to the States. Cast includes Sam Shepard and Mare Winningham.
INDEPENDENT & FOREIGN FILMS
Before Tomorrow (Unrated) Final chapter in The Fast Runner trilogy
based on Inuit oral history, with this installment opening in 1840 and chronicling the devastating impact of the arrival of the white man as witnessed by a young boy (Paul-Dylan Ivalu) living with his beloved grandmother (Madeline Piujug Ivalu) in the harsh Arctic wilderness. (In Inuktitut with subtitles)
Big River Man (Unrated) Endurance documentary highlights the exploits of Slovenian swimmer Martin Strel as he attempts to get into the Guinness Book of World Records by swimming the entire 3,375-mile length of the Amazon River.
Breaking Point (R for profanity, drug use, graphic violence and brief nudity) Tom Berenger stars in this crime saga about a defense attorney whose attempt to make a comeback after a struggle with drug addiction is complicated when he takes a murder case which has him wresting with his old demons. Cast includes Busta Rhymes, Sticky Fingaz Frankie Faison and Armand Assante.
Everybody’s Fine (PG-13 for mature themes and brief profanity) Robert De Niro stars in this remake of Stanno Tutti Bene (1990) the Italian drama about a still-grieving widower who embarks on an impromptu road trip against doctors orders in order to reconnect with his grown children (Drew Barrymore, Kate Beckinsale and Sam Rockwell) after they decline his offer to host a family reunion.
Film ist a Movie and a Gun (Unrated) Thought-provoking documentary explores a variety of themes such as sexuality and war via snippets of silent films and talkies made between the 1890’s and the 1940’s, now augmented by a soundtrack exploring the philosophies of Plato, Sappho and other classical thinkers.
The Last Station (R for a scene with sexuality and nudity) Literary bio-pic about Leo Tolstoy’s (Christopher Plummer) later years, highlighting the hedonistic Russian author’s ambivalence about having taken vows of poverty and chastity. With Helen Mirren, Paul Giamatti and James McAvoy.
Loot (Unrated) Buried treasure reality flick about a couple of blind, World War II vets who enlist the assistance of a sighted guide to search for the priceless gems and other contraband they hid over 60 years earlier while stationed in Austria and the Philippines. (In English and German with subtitles)
Mystery Team (R for nudity, profanity, drug use and crude sexuality) Raunchy teensploit about a trio of 18 year-old amateur sleuths (Donald Glover, D.C. Pierson and Dominic Dierkes) who attempt to prove that they’re real detectives by solving a double homicide which has rattled their quiet New Hampshire community.
Serious Moonlight (R for profanity and threatening behavior) Battle-of-the-sexes comedy about a high-powered attorney (Meg Ryan) who duct tapes her adulterous husband (Timothy Hutton) to the toilet to prevent him from leaving her for a younger woman (Kristen Bell) only to have further complications ensue when their home is invaded by burglars. With Justin Long and Andy Ostroy.
The Strip (PG-13 for sexual references) Ensemble comedy, set in an electronics store at a strip mall, where the bored employees break up the monotony with a variety of sophomoric antics. Cast includes Dave Foley, Rodney Scott and Jenny Wade.
Until the Light Takes Us (Unrated) Rockumentary investigating the proponents of Norwegian black metal, an occult subculture associated not only with a bizarre brand of music but with murder and arson.
Up in the Air (R for profanity and sexuality) Jason Reitman directs this screen adaptation of Walter Kirn’s best seller about a peripatetic hatchet man (George Clooney) for a downsizing corporation who suddenly finds himself grounded just when he’s on the brink of accumulating ten million frequent flyer miles and right after he’s also fallen for a like-minded traveler (Vera Farmiga).
Posted by The Sly Fox at 1:55 PM
Tuesday, November 24, 2009
Film Review by Kam Williams
Headline: Fantasy Sequel Finds Bella Torn between Vampire and Werewolf
Despite the fact that all of the principal cast members have returned for the sequel, New Moon pales in comparison (pardon the expression) to the scintillating original which landed on this critic’s Annual Top Ten List a year ago. Since the new production retains the services of the same scriptwriter, the obvious explanation for the difference in quality is the replacement of Catherine Hardwicke with Chris Weitz as director.
After all, most of the movies on Mr. Weitz’s resume’ are comedies, including such hilarious hits as Down to Earth and American Pie. So, it makes sense that he would opt to infuse this flick with lots of lighthearted levity. But a big reason why Twilight 1 worked so well was that rather than break the tension with comic relief, Hardwicke wisely chose to let it to continue to build, thus ratcheting up the intensity in a manner that made for a bone-chilling experience.
By comparison, Twilight 2 arrives not only riddled with jokes but punctuated with distracting pop culture asides, as if desperate to sound contemporary. For instance, there’s the scene where Bella (Kristen Stewart) brushes off Jacob (Taylor Lautner) with, “I’m not into that ‘Cougar’ thing,” because she’s a couple of years older than her solicitous, 16 year-old suitor. Or how about when we hear another character refer to the H1N1 virus by saying, “He probably has that flu that’s going around.”
Equally annoying is when the potentially shocking revelation that Jacob is a werewolf is immediately undercut by the punny quip “Guess the wolf’s out of the bag.” On another occasion, potentially-menacing werewolves are merely dismissed as a harmless “pack of mutts.”
All of the above notwithstanding, Twilight 2 remains a review-proof adventure certain to keep its intended demographic enthralled for a couple of hours, specifically, those teens weaned on Stephenie Meyer’s popular quartet of otherworldly romance novels. This installment revolves around a love triangle in which Bella, a human, finds herself torn between Edward (Robert Pattinson), a vampire, and Jacob, the aforementioned werewolf.
Who am I to quibble with a patently-preposterous, escapist fantasy which never takes itself seriously, yet somehow still resonates perfectly with the overly-sentimental, puppy love inclinations of passionate, prepubescent females?
Good (2 stars)
Rated PG-13 for violence and some action.
Running time: 130 minutes
Studio: Summit Entertainment
Posted by The Sly Fox at 9:35 PM
An Intimate Look at Jazz Greats
by Pannonica de Koenigswarter (nee Rothschild)
Foreword by Gary Giddins
Introduction by Nadine de Koenigswarter
Photographs by Pannonica de Koenigswarter
316 pages, illustrated
Book Review by Kam Williams
“I didn’t know the Baroness Pannonica de Koenigswarter, other than to nod hello on those occasions when I saw her at jazz clubs… Mutual friends told me she was press shy… What little we know of her life tantalizes… I heard stories about the fabled Rothschild heiress and friend to such musical titans as Thelonious Monk, Art Blakey and Charlie Parker…
I revere the memory of the Jazz Baroness (1913-1988), the race blind heiress who championed the rights of sometimes powerless jazz musicians against the powerful establishment, who recognized genius when she heard it, and whose loyalty was by all accounts unstinting… In 1961, Nica began to ask musicians she encountered to name their three pet wishes. This book collects three hundred responses, along with dozens of previously unpublished, often startlingly candid Polaroids.”
-Excerpted from the Foreword by jazz critic Gary Giddins (pages 9-10)
As a journalist who regularly conducts interviews, I am always wracking
my brain for what to ask that might help reveal intimate aspects of a celebrity’s personality. For this reason, I really can appreciate Three Wishes, a marvelous, posthumously-produced opus which manages to achieve that goal with hundreds of jazz greats, and ever so effortlessly, via a combination of private Polaroids and honest answers to just one probing inquiry, namely, “If you were given three wishes, to be instantly granted, what would they be?”
Posing the question, recording responses in her journal and taking photographs of her very famous subjects was the late Baroness Pannonica de Koenigswarter, aka Nica, the enigmatic Rothschild heiress who risked not only her reputation but her life as well as a patron of jazz from the early Fifties until her death in 1988. As one musician recalls, “She often got herself in trouble just for being white and hanging out with us.” For example: “When she happened to take Monk’s arm while accompanying him to a concert in the South, people spit on the sidewalk as they walked by.”
Is it any wonder then that Nica then would have earned their trust, and that they would open up about their dreams when she asked them to share their wishes? Some answers found on the pages of this enlightening tome are quite shocking, such as that of Miles Davis who said he wanted “to be white.” Other icons evidence a sensitive vulnerability, like John Coltrane, who asked for “immunity from sickness” and for “inexhaustible freshness in my music,” admitting “I’m stale right now.”
Eric Dolphy merely wanted his basic subsistence needs met, wanting, “A home and a car in
A priceless collection of personal portraits baring the souls of the titans of jazz!
Posted by The Sly Fox at 1:32 PM
Monday, November 23, 2009
Film Review by Kam Williams
Headline: HBO Bio-Pic Revisits Life of Jazz Patron/Civil Rights Pioneer
Although Baronness Pannonica “Nica” - Rothschild (1913-1988) was born into a very wealthy European dynasty, when she moved to Manhattan in the early Fifties, she gravitated towards another type of royalty altogether, namely, the elite musicians on the New York City jazz scene. She preferred hanging around these African-American innovators, despite the fact that the United States at the time tended to make examples of any whites who dared to fraternize across the color line.
Consequently, she would not only be persecuted in the press because of her associations, but she was even unfairly sentenced to 3 years in prison for possession of just $10 worth of Marijuana. Such odious mistreatment never discouraged the pretty patron of the arts from helping her bebop idols battle their demons ranging from racism to addiction while trying to make a living.
Nica was particularly mesmerized by the work of Thelonious Monk, right from the moment in 1952 that she first heard the haunting strains of “’Round Midnight.” Once she finally had a chance to meet the brilliant pianist/composer, the iconoclastic heiress and the equally-eccentric son of a sharecropper forged an enduring, platonic friendship which would last for the rest of their lives.
That mutually-respectful relationship is the primary focus of The Jazz Baroness, a fascinating documentary directed by Hanna Rothschild. Nica’s gifted great-niece deserves high praise for unearthing reams of riveting archival footage like performances by the Thelonious Monk Quartet of such classics as “Straight, No Chaser,” “Bolivar Blues” and “Nutty.” The tunes have been seamlessly interwoven here with wistful remembrances by Nica’s and Thelonious’ relatives, by noted historians such as Stanley Crouch, Amiri Baraka and Gary Giddins, and by living legends like Sonny Rollins, Quincy Jones and Roy Haynes.
Besides the intimate personal story recounting how Nica and Thelonious became virtually inseparable (including the decade leading to his death when he lived in her home), there is a compelling secondary thread providing explanatory, background information which makes the bio-pic all the more meaningful. For, the Rothschilds were Jewish, and their wealth didn’t save some family members from perishing in the Holocaust. So, one can’t help but think that perhaps that terrible tragedy in part explains why Nica would become such a passionate feminist and civil rights pioneer in the face of the toxic nature of the intolerance permeating the cultural fabric of her adopted country.
A must-see period piece not merely for avid jazz fans, but for anyone interested in a history lesson about what life was like just a couple of generations ago when bigotry was still very much accepted as “The American Way.”
Excellent (4 stars)
Running time: 82 minutes
Studio: Clandestine Films
Distributor: Home Box Office/British Broadcasting Company
Posted by The Sly Fox at 11:19 PM
Film Review by Kam Williams
Headline: Rich Family Adopts Homeless Orphan in True Overcoming-the-Odds Tale
What is it about the holiday season and heartwarming tales revolving around an orphan who’s miraculously saved by some selfless act of charity? This year’s contribution to the tried-and-true genre is The Blind Side, a real-life story based on Michael Lewis’ best seller of the same name.
Superficially, the picture’s plot resembles the typical, Cinderella-themed sports saga with a fairy tale ending. After all, it chronicles the gridiron exploits of Michael Oher (Quinton Aaron) as he pursues a dream of playing pro football from high school through college en route to a promising NFL career which, by the way, he has just begun this season with the Baltimore Ravens.
But Michael’s chances of making it were complicated by the fact that he was not only abandoned by his parents and homeless but also illiterate and practically mute. Those odds improved immeasurably the day the beleaguered black teenager is spotted living on the streets of Memphis in the middle of winter by Leigh Anne Touhy (Sandra Bullock), a wealthy, white socialite who is shocked to learn that he was one of her daughter Collins’ (Lily Collins) classmates.
When she brings Michael home for a bath, he cleans up nicely and gets along well enough the family, that after a good night’s sleep in a warm bed they decide to keep him. So, Leigh Anne hires a tutor (Kathy Bates) to help him get his grades up, while son S. J. (Jae Head) serves as the gentle giant’s personal trainer. .
Written and directed by John Lee Hancock (The Alamo), The Blind Side is best approached as the antiseptic version of Precious designed for the tweener demographic. Where the relentlessly-harrowing Precious is raw and unnerving, The Blind Side presents relatively unthreatening scenarios subtly suggesting that the solution for the host of woes visited upon ghetto dwellers lies in being rescued from their misery by wealthy benefactors.
It’s fun to pretend, ain’t it?
Good (2 stars)
Rated PG-13 for sexual references, drug use and brief violence.
Running time: 128 minutes
Studio: Warner Brothers
Posted by The Sly Fox at 6:38 AM
Sunday, November 22, 2009
Film Review by Kam Williams
Headline: East meets West in Martial Arts Splatterfest Reminiscent of Bruce Lee
As a boy, Raizo (Rain) was abducted by a secret society which kidnaps young kids and turns them into cold-blooded killers programmed to do the bidding of diabolical crime boss Lord Ozunu (Sho Kosugi) by the time they are adults. Over the course of his imprisonment in that yakuza dojo, Raizo was put on a rigorous daily regimen and ordered to master a variety of weapons and martial arts disciplines.
Furthermore, he was expected to internalize a number of mind-control mantras, such as “Pain breeds weakness.” and “To survive, you must learn to feel nothing at all.” However, because of his blossoming romantic relationship with Kiriko (Kylie Goldstein), another captive at the orphanage, he never quite lost his sense of humanity entirely.
Tragedy ensues after the beautiful girl allows herself to be slashed across the face by the cruel Ozunu rather than attack the boy she has a big crush on. For, she is subsequently slain for her stubborn refusal to capitulate to the demanding sensei’s will. Only then does Raizo belatedly wise up in reaction, and run away to Europe where he manages to keep a low profile
Fast-forward a few years and we find him still in hiding in Berlin, a city suddenly plagued by a series of mysterious political assassinations. The hits are being pulled off surreptitiously, leaving the clueless authorities totally confounded. Truth be told, the murders are being performed by a crack team of ninjas dispatched to Germany from the Far East by none other than Lord Ozunu and led by his evil henchman, Takeshi (Rick Yune). And despite the CIA and Interpol agents’ superior firepower, they nonetheless prove no match for these very elusive, shadowy targets.
Luckily, renegade Raizo recognizes the trademarks of his ex-comrades’ work, and he’s still smarting over squandering his last opportunity to save a damsel in distress. Therefore, he’s pumped to spring into action when he realizes forensic researcher Mika (Naomie Harris) has been marked for death for attempting to crack the case.
This is the premise of Ninja Assassin, an old-fashioned, martial arts saga directed by James McTeigue (V for Vendetta). The high body-count adventure might be best thought of as an East meets West splatterfest unfolding like a lethal cross of Crouching Tiger and Sam Peckinpah. The film features both ballet-like fight sequences found in the former and the sort of gratuitous gore one would associate with the latter.
One day, the movie might be best remembered as marking the arrival of Rain as a bona fide Hollywood matinee idol. The handsome, Korean singing sensation cuts a very charismatic screen presence here in the title role, making females swoon when not taking on wave after wave of malevolent bad guys. Yes, he is frequently the beneficiary of state-of-the-art, special f/x and carefully-choreographed stunts, still, don’t be surprised if he soon emerges as the heir apparent to Bruce Lee as a karate star with immense crossover appeal.
Excellent (4 stars)
Rated R for profanity and graphic violence.
Running time: 99 minutes
Studio: Warner Brothers
Posted by The Sly Fox at 5:18 PM
with Kam Williams
Headline: Behold the 9th Wonder of the World!
Born Patrick Denard Douthit in Winston-Salem, NC on January 15, 1975, 9th Wonder is a Grammy Award-winning producer, DJ, college lecturer and social activist. Since his introduction to hip-hop in 1982, 9th has been immersed in the music and the culture of the art form, while gaining experience in music theory throughout middle and high school.
9th attended North Carolina Central University, where he decided to pursue a career in music. In 1998, he, along with Phonte Colerman and Thomas Jones (Rapper Big Pooh), formed the hip-hop trio, Little Brother which released the critically acclaimed album, "The Listening." 9th then got his big break when he was tapped to produce a track on Jay-Z's "Black Album."
Next, he produced 3 songs for the Destiny's Child, before winning a Grammy with Mary J. Blige for her album "The BreakThrough"(Good Woman Down), Erykah Badu's "Honey" on the album New Amerykah, and most recently, Ludacris' "Do The Right Thang", a song featuring Common and Spike Lee.
9th was recently appointed the National Ambassador for Hip-Hop Relations and Culture by NAACP President Ben Jealous to lead a board of Ph.D’s, and hip-hop artists. Here he discusses his life, career and musical philosophy.
Kam Williams: Where does the name from 9th Wonder come from?
9th Wonder: I was a history major in school, so obviously I’m familiar with the 7 wonders of the ancient world. But, my name really comes from a song written by a group from the early Nineties named “Digable Planets.” They were a trio from Howard University and they had a song called “9th Wonder.” I liked the name of the song. The thing about being a hip-hop producer is that you have to find a name that can be shortened, or changed around, and still have a ring to it. I just wrote down a bunch of names and when I wrote down 9th Wonder, I went, “Wow, that works!” It looked good on paper and it sounded good.
KW: Gladys Knight said in her interview with me that hip-hop has been bad as far as the quality of the music and the stories that they tell. Why did her statement rub you the wrong way?
9th: Because I’m a member of the Hip-Hop Generation. Hip-hop is how I feed my children. Hip-hop is something that helped me understand the music of the generations before me. And those are the things that aren’t talked about when the words hip-hop come out of someone’s mouth. There are so many negative stereotypes that are attached to this music, but hip-hop has saved a lot of lives, and has started to decrease gang violence in neighborhoods in NYC. It really banks on the spirit of innovation, when it comes from a jazz improvisation perspective. But similar to jazz, as hip-hop became commercialized, it became something else. And in many aspects I agree with her as far as the hip-hop, if you want to call it that, which is now on the radio and the images we see on TV—it definitely over-dramatized and sensationalized the pure essence of the music. And, I just don’t think that the pure essence of any art form is on TV.
KW: But it seems to me that the most celebrated stars, at least starting somewhere in the 90’s, became people who advocated violence, and the abuse of women. And I wonder whether, in the wake of that, the music now means something different to the kids who grew up watching those stars on BET and MTV.
9th: Well, a lot of things happen by design, as far as the images that are put out there. And I don’t have control over what is played out there on the radio. It’s just like the whole thing about burying the word “nigger.” I think there are many TV shows that call us nigger all day without even using the word. I mean a lot of the usage of words that degrade women and promote the pimp image came from Seventies black exploitation films—that certainly wasn’t started by us. Except, I think the difference between then and now is that mass media is much bigger. And I think a lot of the criticism has to do with the older generation’s not really trying to understand what they see in younger generations.
KW: In terms of your own work—from solo LPs to remixes of older albums to collaborations—which is your favorite thing to do?
9th: My favorite two things to do are DJ-ing and producing. I mean, I’ve been everywhere in the world from across the continental US to Toronto to Paris. And at the same time, I just love producing. I’m a fan of everyone from Holland, Dozier and Holland to Quincy Jones to Jimmy Jam to Teddy Riley. And now I’m starting a new frontier that I’m also starting to really love—teaching at higher levels.
KW: Yeah, I heard you just got an appointment at Duke University?
9th: Right. I got an appointment from Dr. Marc Anthony Neal. We’re teaching a class together called, “Sampling Soul.” It’s a class that will discuss black music from the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s and the effects it had on the African-American community with regards to social revolution. We noticed that in the 20th Century a lot of music was fused with social movements—that a number of songs and albums backed societal change, especially starting in the late Sixties. So that’s what we will be talking about.
KW: I’ve also heard currently that you’ve been hired to teaching at a college that has very few students in it?
9th: Yeah, by William McKee who works for a philanthropic organization. Barber-Scotia College was originally the first all black girls school in the nation. It’s located in Concord, North Carolina. At its height, it probably had a thousand students. But because of mishandling of funds, it’s now in a bad way, losing accreditation and accumulating a lot of debt.
KW: Well how many students are there now?
9th: 12. And 10 are freshman.
KW: How does it stay open?
9th: I don’t know, as of yet. But at least the school has its own buildings. They are under review for accreditation right now. A lot of the smaller HBCU’s are going through the same thing. I think that the business models and the reasons why kids are going to school are changing. Of course, we’re still going to need lawyers, and doctors, but at the same time there is more of a push for kids to be in business for themselves. And not to think like an employee, but like an employer.
KW: What percentage of your success would you attribute to you business savvy and what percentage to your music savvy?
9th: For me, I think they go hand in hand. Much of my success actually lends itself to my schooling and academic savvy because I know how to manage my time and I know how to be my own boss. School taught me how to do that. Yes, my musical knowledge has helped and I treat everyone with respect, but a lot of that all lends itself to the fact that I’m self-disciplined. That comes from the classes I’ve taken and the schools I’ve gone to.
KW: Is there also an identifiable thread that runs through your music? You’ve worked with a lot people whose styles are very different from each other, from Jay-Z to Erykah Badu. Is there a 9th Wonder trademark sound that people can recognize?
9th: Soul! [Laughs] I have worked with a gambit of different people. And most of those artists are cut from different cloths, with regards to the sounds of the music, but I think that something that joins us all together, no matter the artists I work with, is soul. Soul is really more of a feeling than anything else.
KW: And who would you say are your major influences?
9th: Probably my biggest influence is Curtis Mayfield because his music is just so soulful—I hate to be vague. [Laughs] “The Makings of You” is one of my favorite songs ever. And every time I do a solo record I try my best to fuse it together like “Superfly” was made. All of his albums were great all the way through, but that one was just over the top. It was, basically, the soundtrack for life in 1975. I mean I have quite a few influences, especially in hip-hop, but over all, he’s my main one.
KW: So when you sing, do you sing in falsetto like he did?
9th: [Laughs] I don’t sing. I’ve coached and trained people in harmony but I don’t sing at all.
KW: What do you think was the big break in your career?
9th: The Jay-Z record “The Threat” off Jay’s The Black Album. I had done a lot of underground things before that. I had been part of a critically acclaimed group called “Little Brother.” And though we had been covered by a lot of press, from a mainstream standpoint, the record I did for Jay-Z was my biggest break, especially since it was also covered in the movie Fade to Black.
KW: Well, I’ve heard rumors about a Little Brother reunion…what’s happening in terms of that?
9th: I don’t think that’s going to happen. I would love to do it, but Phonte is doing well with his live hip-hop group called Foreign Exchange. Big Pooh is doing his own solo thing, too. I just think our careers are now all going in three different directions. Mine is leaning more and more these days towards education.
KW: And Chris “Play” Martin, of Kid-n-Play is also an artist in residence where you are now, at North Carolina Central?
KW: Have you thought of doing a collaboration with him?
9th: Not from a musical standpoint. Play is now leaning more towards video production. Right now, he’s knee-deep in his own TV show and it’s becoming very successful.
KW: Mentioning him just makes me think again about their movies, which were great, and I thought that their music was great too. What happened to music like that?
9th: In 1988, we had Public Enemy’s album called It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back. In that album I learned about people I had never even heard of in my history classes in school. And between that album and music from artists like A Tribe Called Quest and KRS-One, enrollment in black colleges went up between 1988 and 1993. We were becoming educated. The youth was being enlightened. Just like back when slaves sang spirituals to each other to teach themselves where to run. That was a way we communicated. Black people have always been able to communicate through word of mouth. And what better way to pass messages than through this brand new music that’s educating our youths? But I think that once someone got hip to that, that’s when all the other stuff started to be pushed to the forefront. I think if you really go back to the records being made from ’88 to ’90, there was a lot of Afro-centricity in it, from Queen Latifah to the hip-hop collective Native Tongues. Queen Latifah had a song called “Ladies First.” There were so many songs with positive messages. All of the songs that were, so-to-speak, detrimental to our ears weren’t played on the radio. NWA was not played on the radio at that time. And even though they were called the world’s most dangerous rap group, even they had a political message attached to their music. But negativity was pushed to the forefront, and I don’t think that was by happenstance. We were becoming educated and enlightened at that time. On TV, we had The Cosby Show and A Different World—there were very powerful black shows on television. Even in film, we had Spike Lee directing Do the Right Thing and also putting out soundtracks that had Public Enemy on one end, and jazz musician Stanley Clarke on the other. Hip-hop was a bridge—not just to black history, but also to positive ideas like KRS-One’s safe-sex messages. These rappers were subliminally teaching us. Where do think the term “dropping science” came from? It wasn’t cool to be dumb.
KW: So then how did it evolve from that, to East Coast—West Coast and then to gangsters killing one another?
9th: Commercialism. We didn’t start gang violence. It isn’t just a hip-hop thing. Leonardo DiCaprio starred in the movie Gangs of New York. That took place in the 1800’s. I mean, the media likes to tell us that there are more black men in jail than not. It’s not true. The thing about it is, these are images corporations want to push to the forefront. Gangs and violence in America didn’t start with us. The media is putting messages out there, saying that hip-hop teaches you to kill, but why aren’t they talking about Ozzy Ozbourne coming out on stage and biting off a bat’s head? I will say that I don’t approve of all of the stories that we tell in our music, but at the same time I can’t tell someone who grew up with a drug-addicted mom, or in the poorest part of the country, not to tell his story.
KW: That’s true—there are a lot of negative statistics that people throw around, and assume to be true.
9th: Right, I mean I bet there are meetings at BET and MTV where people pitch great ideas for shows. But this is America—the media thinks we love sex and violence.
KW: Yeah, but there are black film and music producers, defending the content of stations such as BET, saying that we have to dumb it down for black people. Meanwhile, AZN has reality shows that focus on high school students applying to Ivy League schools.
9th: Yeah, and I hate to get so political, but Willie Lynch-ism is a very real, ugly truth. And lots of people say they don’t want to hear about the ugly side of life, but we’re letting people come into our societies and rip us apart through these images.
KW: So, what do you let your kids listen to?
9th: What I grew up on. Just recently, I taught my 9 year-old that black people invented soul music. One of the first songs I played for her was Stevie Wonder and, pretty much all kids like his songs. And now my kids are Michael Jackson nuts, since he passed on and I took them to see “This is It”.
KW: Yeah, wasn’t that film great? I couldn’t believe what a perfectionist he was.
9th: Yeah, Michael Jackson was incredible. I don’t think the world will see another one.
KW: Is there any question that no one ever asked you that you wished someone would?
KW: The Tasha Smith question: Are you ever afraid?
9th: Of course. Number one, I’m a black man in America and history has told me that a lot of intelligent black people are silenced and strategically put in places where we can’t effect the rest of our people. That makes me scared sometimes.
KW: The Columbus Short question: Are you happy?
9th: I’m very happy. The main reason why I’m happy is because I know what I want to do with my life. A lot of people don’t. A lot of people run aimlessly through their lives, not knowing what they want to do, not being happy with their jobs, wondering about what their purpose is. I think I’m coming to grips with what my purpose is in this world…I’m very blessed too.
KW: Teri Emerson asks, when was the last time you’ve had a good laugh?
9th: I laugh everyday—with my kids and my closest friends. I can be one of the most serious people in the world, but on the flip side be one of the silliest. I think laughing is good for the soul. When it’s time to work, it’s time to work—but at the same time I like to have a good time. I think laughter eases a lot of life’s pains. Like my momma always tells me—you’ve got to laugh to keep ‘em cryin’.
KW: Bookworm Troy Johnson asks, what was the last book you read?
9th: The last book I read was called “The Wu-Tang Manual”. It’s a book about the group “The Wu-Tang Clan” and it was written by the RZA.
KW: Music maven Heather Covington asks, what music are you listening to right now?
9th: Right now, a lot of 70’s soul music. I have 15,000 vinyl records.
KW: Wow (laughs).
9th: On my iPod right now, I have a play list that’s got Gwen McCrae, Edwin Starr, George Duke, Barry White, etc.
KW: What would you say is the biggest obstacle you’ve had to overcome?
9th: To balance industry and family. That, I think, is an obstacle for all of us in the music industry. We in the industry are very passionate about our work. A lot of people don’t understand that. We love what we do, but it is still work. All of us are our own bosses. And trying to explain that fact to someone who works for somebody else is a big obstacle. It’s like someone’s telling you that you have to go to work to get paid, but I have to tell myself.
KW: Who’s at the top of your hero list?
9th: My mom, Patricia Douthit.
KW: How do you want to be remembered?
9th: I want to be remembered as someone who tried to help his people. I don’t care about the Grammy or the platinum plaques. I hope to be remembered as someone who helped carry the torch for the people who came before me.
KW: How can your fans help you?
9th: My fans can help me, first, just by documenting and chronicling hip-hop music in general. Right now it’s becoming more and more of a push for the music to be in academia. Second, just stop all the tremendous illegal downloading. When you download it’s not so much of taking money out of peoples pocket, but if you like a person’s music and you want that person to continue to make music for you to like, that person has to eat. Musicians are going to make music because they love it, but at the same time if you want that person to not have to get another job so they can focus on the music you love so much, you have to support that person.
KW: When you look in the mirror, what do you see?
9th: A tired young man [laughs]—tired and weary—but with a lot of fight and a lot of heart.
KW: What advice do you have for someone who wants to follow in your footsteps?
9th: Know who God is. The meek shall always inherit the earth. I’ve got a lot of things I never asked for. Also, be humble in your steps and respect your elders always, even if you don’t always agree with what they have to say. You should also know your history. In order to be good at something, you need to be an expert and know everything about it. Nobody should be able to tell you more about what you want to be.
KW: What is your favorite dish to cook?
9th: Spaghetti. It’s my favorite dish to eat too [[aughs]. I eat it seven days a week.
KW: Flex Alexander asks, how do you get through the tough times?
9th: Music has really always been my sanctuary. I also pray and look towards my kids—they keep me sane.
KW: What do you consider your biggest accomplishment?
9th: My children.
KW: Who was your best friend as a child?
9th: It’s funny you should ask me that today. I have a lot of people who I call my friends and who I call my brothers, but my first friend who I made in kindergarten is a guy by the name of Chad Eric Greene. Chad died this past Wednesday.
KW: Man, I’m so sorry.
9th: Chad was a fireman. He didn’t die in the line of duty, but he had a wife, two kids and a baby on the way. The craziest thing about my friendship with him was that, I think, my generation was the first real generation in which black and white kids could be best friends, especially in the South, with out being looked at as crazy. Chad was white and he was my best childhood friend when I first got to school and we graduated together from High School.
KW: Uduak Oduok asks, how do you think African culture will be affecting America, musically, or in any other way?
9th: Well, African culture has always affected us musically—rock, rap, even country music. They all have one thing in common—a drummer. Obviously classical music has percussion, but especially in genres like Go-Go music, African culture remains prevalent today.
KW: Thanks again, 9th, and best of luck with both your teaching and your music.
9th: Thank you.
Posted by The Sly Fox at 10:48 AM
Saturday, November 21, 2009
with Kam Williams
Headline: Rain in the Forecast
Jeong “Rain” Jihoon was born in Seoul, South Korea on June 25, 1982 where he and his younger sister were raised in poverty by their single mother after their father abandoned the family for Brazil. Rain was a very shy child who developed an interest in dancing while in junior high. He continued to pursue that passion at Anyang School for the Arts, where also added acting and singing to his repertoire.
He began neglecting his studies to go out on auditions during his junior year when his mom could no longer support the family as a street vendor due to a debilitating diabetes condition. Unfortunately, he found himself being repeatedly rejected for supposedly being unattractive, because he didn’t have double eyelids.
When his mother died while he was still a teenager, failure was no longer an option. Dedicating his career to her, Rain persevered, and eventually blossomed into a handsome hunk popular enough to go by just one name. In fact, the striking, 6’ tall actor/dancer/model/singing sensation subsequently landed on both Time Magazine’s “100 Most Influential People Who Shape Our World” list and on People Magazine’s “100 Most Beautiful People” list.
He made his musical debut with the 2002 album “Rain,” and subsequently starred on the TV series “Sang Doo! Let’s Go To School.” His second CD, “How to Avoid the Sun,” was followed by “It’s Raining,” which sold over one million copies in Asia. And his “Rainy Day” concert tour featured sold-out dates in Korea, Japan, China, Taiwan and the United States, including a couple of shows at New York City’s Madison Square Garden. His fourth album, “Rain’s World,” was released in 2006 and kick-started another highly-acclaimed world tour.
So, it’s no surprise that Rain became the first Asian artist invited to perform at the MTV Video Music Awards. His other music industry honors include the MTV Asia Grand Slam, being named Favorite Korean Artist by MTV, and winning the Most Popular Asian Artist Award in Thailand, as well as the Best Buzz Asia Award at MTV Japan’s Video Music Awards and the Best Korean Singer Award at the Mandarin Music Honors in Beijing.
Here, Rain talks about playing the title role in Ninja Assassin, a martial arts action flick likely to turn the versatile pop icon into a bona fide Hollywood box office attraction.
Kam Williams: Hi Rain, thanks so much for the time.
Rain: Hi, how are ya?
KW: Great, and you?
R: I’m fine. Have you seen my movie?
KW: Yes, I loved it, and I thought your performance was great.
R: Oh, thank you.
KW: What interested you in Ninja Assassin?
R: Actually, Andy and Larry Wachowski offered me the role when we were working on Speed Racer, and I said, “Yes!” I just couldn’t say, “No.”
KW: I heard you had a very serious training regimen for this part.
R: Yes, I trained 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, for 8 months to try to make body look like Bruce Lee’s. It was hard, and studied a lot of martial arts: I learned tae-kwon-do, aikido, kung-fu, kickboxing, sword, double-sword, chain and shuriken.
KW: Did you have a special diet?
R: No sugar, no salt, and I ate only chicken breast and vegetables.
KW: The character you play in Ninja Assassin had a difficult childhood. Did you identify at all with Raizo because you had a rough childhood, too?
R: No, it was very different from mine, but I loved playing him.
KW: I saw an interview with the actress Megan Fox where she said she saw you without your shirt on, and that she’d like you to sing to her. She also said that she wants to have a date and that she could see herself falling in love with you? Did you hear about her having a crush on you?
R: Yes, I heard about it from my agent.
KW: So, are you willing to go on a date with her?
R: Of course! [LOL]
KW: Have you ever seen the Japanese, reality-TV series Ninja Warrior? I was wondering whether you’d ever like to compete on the show and see if you could master the obstacle course.
R: Ninja Warrior? I’m not familiar with it.
KW: Maybe the show has a different name in Korea. How did it feel to make People Magazine’s 100 Most Beautiful People in the World List?
R: It was amazing! I couldn’t believe it. That was good news.
KW: Maybe more importantly, you were also named one of the 100 Most Influential People Who Shape Our World by Time Magazine. What did you think about that?
R: I was really surprised because I didn’t think I was that influential.
KW: The Rudy Lewis question: Who’s at the top of your hero list?
R: My mother passed away when I was young, because we were so poor. It is because of her that I’m here. She’s my hero. I love her. I miss her.
KW: Is it true, that you visit her gravesite every time before you leave the country?
R: Yes, always.
KW: You sing, dance, act, model and design clothes. Which is your favorite thing to do?
R: You know what? That’s like asking someone if they prefer their mother or their father. I love all of them, singing, dancing, acting…
KW: Ling-Ju Yen says that you are famous for your dance moves. She was wondering whether you were inspired by Michael Jackson and how you felt about his death.
R: Yes, when I was young, I loved Michael Jackson. He was my idol. I loved him, and I’m still so sad about his passing.
KW: Ling-Ju also asks, do you think that Ninja Assassin will create more opportunities in Hollywood for actors from Asia?
KW: Yale Grad Tommy Russell would like to know: What do you think the likelihood is of a reunification of South and North Korea?
R: I’d very much like to see a reunification.
KW: Tommy has another question: who is your favorite Asian actress?
R: I think Gong Li is the most incredible actress.
KW: Larry Greenberg says that his Korean friends show him great warmth and hospitality. But he has never met any who are like the ninjas he sees in the movies. He asks if ninja assassins are common in Korea?
R: [Laughs] No, that’s just in the movies.
KW: Marcia Evans asks if you are familiar with a Korean jazz singer named Insooni?
R: Insooni? Yes, I know her. She’s a very beautiful and talented diva.
KW: Why did you launch your own clothing line last year?
R: It was always my dream to design a clothing line. So, I did it.
KW: How would you describe it?
R: My clothing line, Six to Five, is very casual.
KW: I know you are pals with a lot of hip-hop icons who also go by one name. Guys like Diddy, Omarion and Tyrese have appeared onstage with you in the U.S. Do you have plans for another concert in America soon?
R: Yes, I have a concert in Las Vegas on Christmas Day. It’ll be huge.
KW: I have to admit that I had been unfamiliar with your music, but preparing for this interview I checked out a lot of your videos, like “The Way to Avoid the Sun,” “I’m Coming,” “I Do” and “Any Dream,” and I was quite impressed. They’re tremendous! Now, I’m a big fan, too!
R: Thank you so much. That is my honor.
KW: No, it is my honor. Is there any question no one ever asks you, that you wish someone would?
R: Yes, do you have a girlfriend?
KW: Okay, do you have a girlfriend?
R: I don’t have a girlfriend, but I need a girlfriend. So, I hope to find one very soon. I’m very lonely.
KW: Well, I might be able to help by spreading the word. I have a lot of female readers. What type of woman are you looking for?
R: I love all kinds of sexy girls.
KW: The Tasha Smith question: Are you ever afraid?
KW: The Columbus Short question: Are you happy?
R: Yes, I’m so happy to be here, traveling all around the U.S.
KW: The Teri Emerson question: When was the last time you had a good laugh?
R: 5 minutes ago.
KW: The bookworm Troy Johnson question: What was the last book you read?
R: A Korean book about sports.
KW: The music maven Heather Covington question: What are you listening to on your iPod?
R: I love rap music. Notorious B.I.G. and Tupac and Eminem.
KW: When you look in the mirror, what do you see?
R: The future… Just the future… a better future ahead.
KW: What is your favorite dish to cook?
R: I never cook. I’m always too busy too cook.
KW: Thanks again, Rain, and best of luck with Ninja Assassin and all your many other endeavors.
R: Thank you, sir.
Posted by The Sly Fox at 9:47 AM
DVD Review by Kam Williams
Headline: Bittersweet Buddy Flick Starring Adam Sandler as Terminally-Ill Comic Arrives on DVD
This bittersweet buddy flick revolves around a terminally-ill, middle-aged, Hollywood icon (Adam Sandler) who decides to give an aspiring, young comic (Seth Rogen) the big break he’s been waiting for. Written and directed by Judd Apatow, the semi-autobiographical adventure marks a macabre departure from the superficial scatology and sophomoric slapstick with which the bottom-feeding filmmaker’s name has come to be associated.
By contrast, this relatively-cerebral indulgence amounts mostly to a maudlin meditation on the meaning of life which simultaneously attempts to pay homage to every comedian who ever tried to make it in Hollywood. The dialogue relies heavily on a flip brand of humor reminiscent of the inside industry banter popularized by the hit HBO series Entourage.
At the point of departure, we find George Simmons lounging around his sprawling mansion where he’s dividing his time between making phony phone calls and perusing script proposals poolside. The shallow Romeo also has his pick of the litter from among the adoring throngs of groupies who throw themselves at him, although it’s clear that he’s only interested in one-night stands.
Everything changes the day he receives a sobering diagnosis of late-stage leukemia from his Swedish doctor (Torsten Voges). With less than a year to live, friendless and estranged from his only sibling (Nicol Paone), George becomes desperate for a shoulder to lean on. So, he offers delicatessen counterman Ira a job as his joke writer and opening act, secretly hoping to find a confidante he can count on in the process.
Together virtually 24/7, George and Ira prove to be good for each other and gradually bond, with the former grudgingly showing his protégé how to hold an audience in the palm of his hand, while the latter helps his boss appreciate what really matters in life. Proof positive that when bad things happen to funny people, they might not be all that funny anymore.
Very Good (2.5 stars)
Unrated with profanity, ethnic slurs, sexuality and pervasive crude humor.
Running time: 146 minutes
Studio: Universal Studios Home Entertainment
2-Disc Unrated DVD Extras: Gag reels, deleted, extended and alternate scenes, feature commentary by director Seth Rogen, Adam Sandler and Seth Rogen, 3 documentaries, music by James Taylor, RZA, Adam Sandler and Jon Brion, plus 4 more featurettes.
Posted by The Sly Fox at 9:44 AM
Friday, November 20, 2009
Film Review by Kam Williams
Headline: Incendiary Israeli Traverses Planet in Search of Anti-Semitism
Being a Jew raised in Israel, Yoav Shamir had never personally experienced any anti-Semitism. Although his people were decimated by Hitler and the Holocaust, he nonetheless wonders, “How does anything that happened 60 years ago have any relevance today?” So, since he was raised in a country where he was shielded from discrimination against Jews, he decided to venture out into the world to try to find out whether the allegations he often hears of the persistence of such practices elsewhere were even warranted
The upshot of his travels is Defamation, as controversial and as thought-provoking a piece of investigative journalism on the subject as you’re ever likely to find. For Mr. Shamir masks his true motivations with an innocuous, nebbishy persona, in order to ingratiate himself with his subjects, mostly fellow Jews, who have no idea he is very suspicious of their claims of mistreatment on account of their religion.
For example, Abe Forman, Chairman of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), cooperated with the project, ostensibly giving the agent provocateur full access to the organization’s NYC headquarters. Little did honest Abe or his employees know that they would be accused of flaring up as much anti-Semitism as it eradicates.
The intrepid filmmaker argues that the ADL operates 27 offices on a $70 million annual budget which might disappear in the absence of hate crimes against Jews. He coaxes one of the charity’s benefactors to concede on camera that “We need to play on that guilt. That’s the American Jewish way.” An ADL staffer assigned to investigate everything from denigrating statements to genocide sheepishly admits that the bulk of the 1500 incidents of the past year have been minor, like the complaints from people not being allowed to take off from work for the Jewish holidays.
Shamir also talks to some Israeli teens who are uiniformly presented as totally paranoid. One says, “Everybody knows that Jews are hated. We were raised that way.” Another asserts, “What makes us special is that no one can stand us. But we are proud of it.” Then, there’s the girl on a high school outing to Auschwitz, who comes off as callous when she says she feels nothing while standing at the spot where more Jews are buried than anyplace on Earth.
Director Shamir undoubtedly gets some of his chutzpah from his shrewish mother, a shrill character who never minces her words while shouting some ugly stereotypes such as “Jews are crooks!” and “Jews love money!” She tries to rationalize her self-hatred with, “I am the real Jew! Money does not blind me” and by explaining that good Jews return to Israel rather than live elsewhere and wait for another Hitler instead of the Messiah.
Her chip off the old block son succinctly summarizes, “I think putting so much emphasis on the past, as horrific as it has been, is holding us back. Maybe it is time to live in the present and look to the future.” An incendiary documentary likely to generate quite spirited conversations about whether Jews remain victims of ongoing persecution or if right-wing Zionists are simply circulating rumors in order to leverage sympathy for the nation of Israel.
Borat hunts for neo-Nazis!
Excellent (4 stars)
In English and Hebrew with subtitles.
Running time: 92 minutes
Studio: First Run Features
Posted by The Sly Fox at 7:10 PM
Thursday, November 19, 2009
DVD Review by Kam Williams
Headline: Straight Guys Do Gay Porn in Homoerotic Comedy Coming to DVD
During their college days, Ben (Mark Duplass) and Andrew (Joshua Leonard) had a reputation on campus as party animals. But that was a decade ago and since then Ben has started a career, settled down and married, while slacker Andrew has remained as wild as ever and never really amount to anything. So, it’s no surprise that the two would have drifted apart and lost touch over the intervening years.
But then Ben and his wife (Alycia Delmore) get the shock of their lives one evening when Andrew shows up at their house unannounced, looking for a place to stay. Understanding Anna agrees to let her husband’s old pal crash at their place, and even encourages them to hang out.
However, Andrew takes Ben to an orgy being run by a lesbian named Monica (Lynn Shelton) where people are into very kinky stuff like a woman who’s letting a dog lick peanut butter off her. Ben knows not only that Anna is home cooking dinner but that they have an after-dinner date since she’s ovulating and they’ve been desperately trying to have a baby. This makes what he does next all the more bizarre.
For, under the influence and egged on by the rest of the degenerates to express their longtime love for each other, Ben and Andrew on a mutual dare decide to co-star in “Tender is the Butt,“ a gay porn flick, and to enter it into competition at the so-called Humpfest. And despite being straight, they kiss each other before making plans to rent a motel room to shoot what they refer to as a homoerotic art film.
Needless to say, Anna is furious when Ben stays out late, so he doesn’t let on that he’s about to cheat on her with another man. This is the wacky point of departure of Humpday, an offbeat farce directed by Lynn Shelton. Riveting, if not exactly realistic, the sitcom’s shocking subject-matter alone makes the picture strictly for the very open-minded.
Provides enough laughs along the way to make the raunchy ride worth it while waiting see whether Ben and Anna’s marriage can survive man-on-man infidelity once he and the truth come out. Gives ‘bosom buddies’ a whole new meaning!
Very Good (2.5 stars)
Rated R for graphic sexuality, pervasive profanity and a scene of drug use.
Running time: 94 minutes
Studio: Magnolia Home Entertainment
DVD Extras: Deleted scenes, commentary by the director and crew, a “Behind the Scenes” featurette and a commentary by co-stars Mark Duplass and Joshua Leonard.
Posted by The Sly Fox at 7:28 PM
DVD Review by Kam Williams
Headline: Disappointing Da Vinci Code Sequel Due on DVD
Between its preposterous storyline and its blasphemous revisionist history, the highly-anticipated screen adaptation of The Da Vinci Code was the most over-hyped disappointment of 2006. Although there was a lot less buzz surrounding this sequel, Angels & Demons, nonetheless, proves to be equally underwhelming.
Based on the Dan Brown best-seller of the same name, the film was directed by Ron Howard and stars Tom Hanks who reprises his role as Harvard symbologist Dr. Robert Langdon. Howard assembled an international ensemble which included Scotsman Ewan McGregor, Prussian Armin Mueller-Stahl, Israeli Ayelet Zurer, Dane Nikolaj lie Kaas, Italian Pierfrancesco Favino and Swede Stellan Skarsgard.
At the point of departure, we learn that the Pope has just passed away and that the College of Cardinals is convening in
With time being of the essence, Dr. Langdon is summoned to
Again and again, the terminally-loquacious Langdon proves to have an uncanny knack for deciphering precisely what every inscrutable mark and message means, as each discovery invariably only confirms another one of his cockamamie conspiracy theories. The only question is whether they’ll be able to crack the case in time to save lives.
A farcical, farfetched, patience-testing, 2½-hour insult to the intelligence.
Poor (0 stars)
Rated PG-13 for violence, mature themes and disturbing images.
In English, Italian and Latin with subtitles.
Running time: 146 minutes
Studio: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
2-Disc DVD Extras: Separate discussions by Dan Brown and the screenwriters, by the filmmakers and by the cast, “The Making of” and several other featurettes.
Posted by The Sly Fox at 12:50 PM