Sunday, February 28, 2010

Lord, Save Us from Your Followers

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Faith-Based Documentary Questions Whether Christianity Has Lost Its Way

How is it that Christianity has come to be so closely associated with the Religious Right and conservative political causes? This is the fundamental question being asked by director Dan Merchant in Lord, Save Us from Your Followers an alternately humorous and sobering look at how far the practice of Christianity has deviated from the teachings of Jesus.

“You can tell you’ve created God in your own image,” suggests one of his interviewees, author/activist Anne Lamott, “when it turns out God hates all the same people you do.” Her tongue in cheek assessment of the state of religion in the U.S. reflects the perspective shared by Mr. Merchant, who proves himself something of a Michael Moore here, as he perambulates the country, microphone in hand, deliberately provoking outrage amidst an array of self-righteous Bible Thumpers.

But his goal, ostensibly, is not to generate controversy for controversy’s sake, but to raise the consciousness of what he sees as a well-meaning, if narrow-minded Christian community. For again and again, he asks worshippers whether their Lord and Savior Jesus Christ would be as intolerant of gays and other groups that the Born Again demographic seems so dead set against.

Dan thinks Christ would be appalled by what has evolved in His name, since “We’re raising consumers, not people committed to the mission of God in the world.” Still, by the end of his peripatetic projecy, he is heartened by a charity in Oregon where volunteers not only help feed the homeless, but even wash their feet as well. “If this outpouring of love can happen in the least religious state, then I have hope,” he concludes.

An extraordinarily-insightful endeavor urging Evangelicals to examine their own morality in relation to Jesus’ words instead of conveniently pointing fingers at folks they’ve long since dismissed as heathens.

Excellent (4 stars)
Rated PG-13 for profanity and mature themes.
Running time: 100 minutes
Distributor: Thunderstruck Films

Oscar Predictions 2010

Headline: The Envelope Please:
Who Will Win, Who Deserves to Win, Who Was Snubbed
by Kam Williams

Although Avatar and The Hurt Locker landed 9 Academy Award nominations each, I foresee the former and director James Cameron enjoying a clean sweep. Breaking all box-office records, Avatar is a juggernaut that nobody will be able to stop on Oscar night. This means that The Hurt Locker, which was directed by Cameron’s ex-wife, Kathryn Bigelow, might very well be shut out entirely, unless the Academy decides to split their votes between the two in the Best Director and Best Picture categories.
The most hotly-contested of the major categories is Best Actress, where the least deserving, Sandra Bullock, is the sentimental favorite. However, I anticipate that perennial-nominee Meryl Streep (16) will prevail in the most difficult contest to handicap. That’s not the case for the other three acting categories where nominees Jeff Bridges, Christoph waltz and Mo’Nique may as well be making room on the their mantels for a new trophy.
The 82nd Annual Academy Awards, co-hosted by Alec Baldwin, are set to be broadcast on Sunday, March 7th from the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood.
Without further adieu, allow me to predict the winner in each category. I also indicate which among the nominees, in my humble opinion, is actually the most deserving. And because so many great movies and performances are invariably overlooked, I also recognize several among the snubbed which were certainly worthy of Oscar consideration.

Best Picture

Will Win: Avatar
While some say Avatar is only a slight favorite over The Hurt Locker, common sense says a flick which made over billion dollars is a shoo-in.
Deserves to Win: Precious
Overlooked: Taken, Drag Me to Hell and My Sister’s Keeper.

Best Director

Will Win: James Cameron (Avatar)
Since this category is ordinary coupled with Best Picture, that makes James Cameron this critic’s, although the oddsmakers have installed his ex, Kathryn Bigelow as a slight favorite for The Hurt Locker.
Deserves to Win: Lee Daniels (Precious)
Overlooked: Pierre Morel (Taken), My Sister’s Keeper (Nick Cassavetes) and Sam Raimi (Drag Me to Hell)

Best Actor

Will Win: Jeff Bridges (Crazy Heart)
This is an easy category to handicap, even though it’s not Bridges’ best performance, because the Academy is inclined to reward never-recognized actors late in their career for their body of work.
Deserves to Win: Jeremy Renner (The Hurt Locker)
Overlooked: Liam Neeson (Taken) and Joseph Gordon-Levitt (500 Days of Summer)

Best Actress

Will Win: Meryl Streep
It’s great that Sandra Bullock (The Blind Side) got all the early accolades, but Academy-darling Streep’s delightful impersonation of Julia Child is apt to prove irresistible when it comes time to cast ballots.
Deserves to Win: Gabby Sidibe (Precious) will be ignored because she’s a newcomer, despite being absolutely mesmerizing in her acting debut.
Overlooked: Tilda Swinton (Julia), Charlotte Gainsbourg (Antichrist) and Gwyneth Paltrow (Two Lovers) and Zoeey Deschanel (500 Days of Summer)

Best Supporting Actor

Will Win: Christoph Waltz (Inglourious Basterds)
Not much competition here for Waltz’s nonpareil performance, other than Woody Harrleson (The Messenger) who will run a distant second.
Deserves to Win: Christoph Waltz
Overlooked: Anthony Mackie (The Hurt Locker)

Best Supporting Actress

Will Win: Mo’Nique (Precious)
I said, “Just give Mo’Nique the Oscar!” the same day I saw Precious back in October, and nothing I’ve seen since has made me regret making that premature call.
Deserves to Win: Mo’Nique (Precious)
Overlooked: Cameon Diaz (My Sister’s Keeper) and Famke Janssen (Taken).

Predictions in Secondary Categories

Original Screenplay: Quentin Tarantino (Inglourious Basterds)
Adapted Screenplay: Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner (Up in the Air)
Animated Feature: Up
Art Direction: Avatar
Cinematography: Avatar
Costume Design: Nine
Documentary Feature: The Cove
Film Editing: Avatar
Makeup: Star Trek
Original Score: Avatar
Original Song: Crazy Heart (“The Weary Kid”)
Sound Editing: Avatar
Sound Mixing: Avatar
Visual Effects: Avatar

Note: I only passed on four categories: Foreign Language Film (which I have an abysmal history of handicapping) and the three short categories: Live-Action, Animated and Documentary.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

2010 NAACP Image Awards

by Kam Williams

Headline: Precious Dominates Image Awards via Virtual Sweep of Film Categories

A year ago, newly-elected President Barack Obama dominated the NAACP Image Awards. But this go-round, the movie Precious enjoyed that honor, walking away with a half-dozen trophies in the movie categories, including Best Picture, Director (Lee Daniels), Independent Film, Actress (Gabby Sidibe), Supporting Actress (Mo’Nique) and Screenplay (Geoffrey Fletcher).As for television, Tyler Perry’s House of Payne proved the voters’ favorite, netting four awards.
Among the evening’s highlights were an array of gracious acceptance speeches, especially those by Mo’Nique and her teary-eyed co-star Gabby Sidibe, and by their director/producer Lee Daniels who brought down the curtain by continue to speak until the closing credits began to roll. Tyler Perry dedicated his accolade to his late mother who just passed away last December.
Daryl “Chill” Mitchell, who’s been wheelchair-bound since the 2001 motorcycle accident that left him paralyzed from the waist down, choked up while expressing how much winning for his work on the comedy series “Brothers” meant to him. Meanwhile, comedian Chris Rock might have gotten off the funniest joke when he feigned presenting an award “for the best light-skinned actress in a mini-series,” especially given that when his own picture, Good Hair, won for Best Documentary, he called it “the blackest movie of all time.”

Complete List of NAACP Image Award Winners

Outstanding Comedy Series: "Tyler Perry's House of Payne" (TBS)

Outstanding Actor in a Comedy Series: Daryl "Chill" Mitchell, "Brothers" (FOX)

Outstanding Actress in a Comedy Series: Cassi Davis, "Tyler Perry's House of Payne" (TBS)

Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series: Lance Gross, "Tyler Perry's House of Payne" (TBS)

Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series: Keshia Knight Pulliam, "Tyler Perry's House of Payne" (TBS)

Outstanding Drama Series: "Lincoln Heights" (ABC Family)

Outstanding Actor in a Drama Series: Hill Harper, "CSI: NY" (CBS)

Outstanding Actress in a Drama Series: Jada Pinkett Smith, "HawthoRNe" (TNT)

Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series: Delroy Lindo, "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" (NBC)

Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series: S. Epatha Merkerson, "Law & Order" (NBC)

Outstanding Television Movie, Mini-Series or Dramatic Special: "Gifted Hands" (TNT)

Outstanding Actor in a Television Movie, Mini-Series or Dramatic Special: Cuba Gooding Jr., "Gifted Hands" (TNT)

Outstanding Actress in a Television Movie, Mini-Series or Dramatic Special: Kimberly Elise, "Gifted Hands" (TNT)

Outstanding Actor in a Daytime Drama Series: Cornelius Smith Jr., "All My Children" (ABC)

Outstanding Actress in a Daytime Drama Series: Debbi Morgan, "All My Children" (ABC)

Outstanding News/Information - (Series or Special): "The Inauguration of Barack Obama, 44th President of the United States" (BET)

Outstanding Talk Series: "The Mo'Nique Show" (BET)

Outstanding Reality Series: "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" (ABC)

Outstanding Variety - (Series or Special): "The Michael Jackson Memorial: Celebrating the Life of Michael Jackson" (ABC, BET, CNN, MTV, NBC ...)

Outstanding Children's Program: "Dora the Explorer" (Nickelodeon)

Outstanding Performance in a Youth/Children's Program - (Series or Special): Keke Palmer - "True Jackson, VP" (Nickelodeon)

Outstanding New Artist: Keri Hilson (Mosley Music Group/Zone 4, Inc./Interscope Records)

Outstanding Male Artist: Maxwell (Columbia Records)

Outstanding Female Artist: Mary J. Blige (Matriarch/Geffen)

Outstanding Duo, Group or Collaboration: The Black Eyed Peas (Interscope Records)

Outstanding Jazz Album: "He and She" - Wynton Marsalis (Blue Note Records)

Outstanding Gospel Album - (Traditional or Contemporary): "Still" - BeBe & CeCe Winans (B & C Records)

Outstanding World Music Album: "Black President" - Sila and the Afrofunk Experience (Visila Records)

Outstanding Music Video: "I Look To You" - Whitney Houston (Arista Records)

Outstanding Song: "God In Me" - Mary Mary (Columbia Records)

Outstanding Album: "Stronger With Each Tear" - Mary J. Blige (Matriarch/Geffen)

Outstanding Literary Work - Fiction: "The Long Fall" - Walter Mosley (Riverhead Books)

Outstanding Literary Work - Non-Fiction: "In Search of Our Roots: How 19 Extraordinary African Americans Reclaimed Their Past" - Henry Louis Gates Jr. (Crown)

Outstanding Literary Work - Debut Author: "A Question of Freedom" - R. Dwayne Betts (Avery Books)

Outstanding Literary Work - Biography/Autobiography: "Michelle Obama" - Deborah Willis (W. W. Norton)

Outstanding Literary Work - Instructional: "Act Like A Lady, Think Like A Man" - Steve Harvey (Amistad)

Outstanding Literary Work - Poetry: "Bicycles" - Nikki Giovanni (William Morrow)

Outstanding Literary Work - Children: "Our Children Can Soar: A Celebration of Rosa, Barack, and the Pioneers of Change" - Michelle Cook (Author)(Bloomsbury Children's Books)

Outstanding Literary Work - Youth/Teens: "Michelle Obama: Meet the First Lady" - David Bergen Brophy (Collins - An Imprint of HarperCollins Children's Publishing)

Outstanding Motion Picture: "Precious: Based on the Novel "Push" by Sapphire" (Lionsgate)

Outstanding Actor in a Motion Picture: Morgan Freeman - "Invictus" (Warner Bros. Pictures)

Outstanding Actress in a Motion Picture: Gabourey Sidibe - "Precious: Based on the Novel "Push" by Sapphire" (Lionsgate)

Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture: Adam Rodriguez - "Tyler Perry's I Can Do Bad All By Myself" (Lionsgate)

Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture: Mo'Nique - "Precious: Based on the Novel "Push" by Sapphire" (Lionsgate)

Outstanding Independent Motion Picture: "Precious: Based on the Novel "Push" by Sapphire" (Lionsgate)

Outstanding Foreign Motion Picture: "The Stoning of Soraya M." (Mpower Pictures)

Outstanding Documentary (Theatrical or Television): "Good Hair" (Roadside Attractions)

Outstanding Writing in a Comedy Series: Halsted Sullivan and Warren Lieberstein - "The Office" - Café Disco (NBC)

Outstanding Writing in a Dramatic Series: Shonda Rhimes - "Grey's Anatomy" - What a Difference A Day Makes (ABC)

Outstanding Writing in a Motion Picture (Theatrical or Television): Geoffrey Fletcher - "Precious: Based on the Novel "Push" by Sapphire" (Lionsgate)

Outstanding Directing in a Comedy Series: Ken Whittingham - "30 Rock" - The Funcooker (NBC)

Outstanding Directing in a Dramatic Series: Chandra Wilson - "Grey's Anatomy" - Give Peace a Chance (ABC)

Outstanding Directing in a Motion Picture (Theatrical or Television): Lee Daniels - "Precious: Based on the Novel "Push" by Sapphire" (Lionsgate)

Cop Out

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Tracy Morgan and Bruce Willis Co-Star in Mismatched Cops Comedy

Some of the funniest cop comedies ever made have revolved around a pair of mismatched partners. Such memorable, madcap adventures as Rush Hour and Bad Boys immediately coming to mind in this regard. But the genre has suffered its share of misfirings, too, and unfortunately the readily-forgettable Cop Out falls in that category.
Directed by Kevin Smith, the film stars Bruce Willis and Tracy Morgan as NYPD detectives, with the former playing a wily veteran in contrast to the latter’s more mercurial, trash-talking village idiot. We learn that despite seemingly incompatible personas, Jimmy Monroe (Willis) and Paul Hodges (Morgan) have somehow been sharing the same police cruiser for nine years.
Set in Brooklyn, the arc of this uneven offering retraces the trademark, unlikely-buddy blueprint wherein the protagonists are called on the carpet back at the precinct following a badly botched stakeout. In this case, the incident cost an informant his life. And because Paul’s flamboyant antics during the operation ended up on Youtube, their hard-boiled boss (Sean Cullen) not only strips them of their badges and guns, but suspends them both without pay as well.
This development is very daunting to Jimmy, who sorely needs his salary to pay for his daughter Ava’s (Michelle Trachtenberg) impending $48,000 wedding. With no cash coming in, the desperate dad decides to sell his most prized possession, an Andy Pafko baseball card from 1952. However, the priceless collector’s item is subsequently stolen from him during the robbery of a sports memorabilia store.
Not to worry. His partner Paul has real guns and fake badges ready for an emergency like this. Going rogue, they give chase and eventually arrest a street hustler (Seann William Scott) who, in turn, fingers Poh Boy (Guillermo Diaz), a rabid baseball fan. Still, retrieving Jimmy’s pilfered card proves easier said than done, since Poh Boy also happens to be the maniacal patriarch of a Mexican drug cartel.
What ensues is an infantile combination of the sort of crudity, carnage and crass sexual humor we’ve all come to anticipate from a bottom-feeder like Kevin Smith. Thus, his diehard fans are apt to be satisfied by the gratuitous indulgence in the prurient, the profane and potty humor, while others are likely to be left scratching your head and asking, “Is that it?”
You know you’re in trouble when a film’s funniest moments come courtesy of a tertiary character’s knock-knock joke and that echolocution prank from grammar school where you repeat everything somebody else says. Meanwhile, lead actors Willis and Morgan simply fail to exhibit the basic camaraderie critical to conveying that authentic sense of chemistry fundamental to a buddy vehicle. And if they ain’t feeling it, it’s not fair to expect the audience to either.
Silent Bob strikes out!

Fair (1.5 stars)
Rated R for pervasive profanity, sexual references, violence and brief sexuality.
Running time: 110 Minutes
Distributor: Warner Brothers

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Kit Kittredge: An American Girl DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: DVD Features Kid Detective in Depression-Era Whodunit

This kiddie-oriented whodunit, based on the popular, illustrated children’s novel of the same name, stars Abigail Breslin in the title role. The story unfolds in Cincinnati during the Great Depression which is where we find the Kittredge family better off than most only because Kit’s father (Chris O’Donnell) has managed to keep his struggling car dealership afloat.
Initially oblivious of the economic crisis, the precocious 10 year-old visits the offices of the local newspaper, hoping to have her article on the Chicago World’s Fair published. After not being taken seriously by the tabloid’s curmudgeonly editor (Wallace Shawn), she turns her attention to more age-appropriate matters, like swearing in her friend, Florence (Erin Hilgartner), as the newest member of her secret Tree House Club.
Then, reality sets in when Kittredge Motors fails, and Kit’s father has to move to Chicago to look for employment. Meanwhile, just to keep a roof over their heads, Mrs. Kittredge (Julia Ormond) is forced to take in boarders.
There’s Lucinda Bond (Joan Cusack), a loony librarian who can’t drive straight; May Dooley (Jane Krakowski), a down-and-out dance teacher in need of a shoulder to lean on; and Jefferson Jasper Renee Berk (Stanley Tucci), a masterful magician with tons of tricks up his sleeve. So, this motley crew put on a lighthearted sideshow as the Kittredges adjust to life with a houseful of tenants.
The plot thickens when the city falls victim to a string of robberies, and Kit becomes consumed with cracking the case. Overall, this family-friendly adventure is reminiscent of the sort of fare for which Walt Disney was famous during its heyday. Given the pleasantness of the period costumes, the clean dialogue, the timely universal themes with heartwarming messages and the satisfying send-off, you have to wonder why nobody makes movies like this anymore.

Excellent (4 stars)
Rated G
Running time: 101 minutes
Studio: New Line Home Video
DVD Extras: A fun activity book.

2012 DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Roland Emmerich’s Apocalyptic Adventure Arrives on DVD

Roland Emmerich’s latest overblown apocalyptic adventure fails to measure up to his earlier offerings, despite its being filled with his trademark bombastic special effects. Stripped of its pretense, the picture is basically a stock disaster flick which relies on trite dialogue while recycling a host of the genre’s groan-inducing clichés.
On top of that, the production features frame after frame of blatant prominent ad placements, shamelessly hawking everything from Fruit Loops to Jack Daniels to Rice Krispies to Sony to Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer to Marriott Hotels to Virgin Atlantic Airways to Bentley to Caesar’s Palace to Sugar Frosted Flakes to Kellogg’s All Bran.
Still, those crass commercials are a minor annoyance compared to the preposterous plot. The story was ostensibly inspired by a mythical Mayan prophesy predicting that the world will end during the winter solstice of 2012. At the point of departure in 2009, we’re introduced to Jackson Curtiss (John Cusack) the underappreciated author of a book which forecast the coming global crisis. And by no means is Jackson the only person aware of the impending catastrophe.
There’s Charlie Frost (Woody Harrelson), a burnt-out hippie issuing dire warnings over the airwaves from a makeshift radio station. Although his broadcasts are being dismissed as the unsubstantiated rant of the lunatic fringe, there are plenty of scientists and politicians secretly taking the problem seriously.
For instance, Dr. Adrian Helmsley (Chiwetel Ejiofor) ventures 11,000 feet below sea level down an abandoned copper mine only to discover that “the Earth’s crust is destabilizing.” Soon after he urgently reports back to President Wilson (Danny Glover), bizarre events start the countdown to Armageddon, including every disaster imaginable from tsunami-triggering earthquakes to mass suicides in Guatemala.
Fortunately, Jackson is wise enough to jump into action, grabbing his kids (Liam James and Morgan Lily) and his ex-wife (Amanda Peet). With the help of her amateur pilot boyfriend (Tom McCarthy) they fly off in the nick of time as the runway crumbles beneath the wheels of their rickety, rented propeller plane.
No hackneyed line proves too stale for these intrepid survivors’ lips as the take on one death-defying challenge after another. Brace yourself for inane banter uttered against the backdrop of incessant, blue screen pyrotechnics.
An eye-popping, insult to the intelligence strictly for the kiddies and crackpot doomsday enthusiasts.

Poor (0 stars)
Rated PG-13 for profanity and intense disaster sequences.
Running time: 158 minutes
Studio: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
DVD Extras: Deleted scenes, alternate ending, Adam Lambert music video, a documentary about director Roland Emmerich, commentary by the director and scriptwriter, and a Discovery Channel featurette.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority (BOOK REVIEW)

by Tom Burrell
Smiley Books
Paperback, $15.95
310 pages, Illustrated
ISBN: 978-1-4019-2592-5

Book Review by Kam Williams

“These pages examine the roots of why, more than 140 years after the Emancipation Proclamation, so many of us still think like slaves... In Brainwashed, we will question why we still think so little of ourselves, why our grandmothers still put their savings in a special offering plate to help pay for the pastor’s new luxury automobile, why our children answer when called ‘ho’ and ‘nigga’… and why we, all too often, avoid critical thinking about any of this…
Even at this unprecedented and powerful point in American history, friends, colleagues, and well-wishers still express their frustration with black America’s ever-worsening dependency on handouts, corporate sponsorships, and our kids’ lack of respect for anything and anyone, especially themselves. They finally convinced me that my advertising-based discoveries about the brainwashing of my people, and my ideas about how to finally reverse its effects, could fill a book.
Well, here it is.”

-- Excerpted from the Introduction (pg. xvi)

Ever since the dawn of the nation when the Founding Fathers deliberately rationalized slavery by spreading the big lie that black people were inferior, African-Americans have suffered from serious self-esteem issues. But why has this phenomenon continued to persist so long past emancipation and the elimination of the Jim Crow system of segregation?
This is the nagging thought which inspired Tom Burrell to write Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority. After all, as an advertising executive with 45 years in the business, he is well aware of the power of propaganda. So he knows that American society has done such a good job on the minds of blacks that they have not only internalized but have willingly participated in the perpetuation and further dissemination of nearly every negative stereotype propagated about them by the media.
Blending the best elements of “Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television” by Jerry Mander and “The Post-Traumatic Slave Syndrome” by Dr. Joy DeGruy Leary with some rather novel ideas of his own, the author raises ten tough, but critical questions, each addressing a problem area presently plaguing the African-American psyche. “Why can’t we build strong families?” “Why do we perpetuate black sexual stereotypes?” “Why are ‘black’ and ‘beauty’ still contradictions?” “Why do we keep killing each other?” “Why are we killing ourselves?” “Why can’t we stop shopping?” Etcetera…
Devoting an entire chapter to each of the above inquiries, Burell explores his subject-matter at considerable length and depth with the hope of helping to eradicate self-destructive behaviors. He believes that people have to heal from the inside-out, so his solutions start with each individual’s recognition that you’ve been brainwashed, and that you can reprogram your mind because it is ultimately under your control.
A potentially-transformative, seminal treatise provided readers are receptive to contemplating commonly-accepted practices like the use of the N-word, corporal punishment and hair relaxers as possibly the vestiges of a deep-seated self-hatred implanted in the brain by white supremacist notions.

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

Kam's Kapsules:
Weekly Previews That Make Choosing a Film Fun
by Kam Williams
For movies opening March 5, 2010


Alice in Wonderland (PG for fantasy, action, violence, scary images and smoking) Tim Burton directs this animated sequel to the Lewis Carroll children’s classic revolving around now 19 year-old Alice’s (Mia Wasikowska) return to the whimsical kingdom for a reunion with the White Rabbit (Michael Sheen) and other childhood friends, and to end the Red Queen’s (Helena Bonham Carter) reign of terror. Ensemble voice cast includes Johnny Depp, Anne Hathaway, Alan Rickman, Christopher Lee and Crispin Glover.

Brooklyn’s Finest (R for nudity, graphic sexuality, pervasive profanity, drug use and gory violence) Gritty, NYC crime saga, directed by Antoine Fuqua, about three NYPD cops (Don Cheadle, Richard Gere and Ethan Hawke) stationed in three different outer boroughs whose paths cross serendipitously while working the same case. With Wesley Snipes, Ellen Barkin, Will Patton and Vincent D’Onofrio.


Harlan: In the Shadow of Jew Suss (Unrated) WWII documentary examining Jew Suss, an anti-Semitic feature film produced by Nazi Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels in 1940 and directed by Veit Harlan who was later tried for crimes against humanity but exonerated after raising the “I only followed orders” defense. (In German, Italian and French with subtitles)

Harlem Aria (R for crude and profane language) Unlikely-buddy comedy about a trio of panhandlers, a mildly-retarded aspiring opera singer (Gabriel Casseus), a trash-talking homeless man (Damon Wayans) and a classically-trained pianist (Christian Camargo), entertaining passersby in Greenwich Village’s Washington Square Park, who get a big break when they attract the attention of one of the world’s leading tenors (Paul Sorvino). With Nicole Ari Parker, Malik Yoba and Eyde Byrde.

The Secret of Kells (Unrated) Oscar-nominated animated feature, set in the 9th Century, about a 12 year-old, aspiring artist (Evan Maguire) who runs away from home to embark on a magical journey through the forest as the protégé of a master illustrator ((Mick Lally). With Brendan Gleeson, Michael McGrath and Paul Young.

We Live in Public (Unrated) 15 minutes of fame documentary revisiting the rise and fall of dotcom pioneer Josh Harris who with his girlfriend broadcast their every move over the internet 24/7 for half a year until he suffered a nervous breakdown and collapsed into mental illness after she dumped him and moved out of the surveillance camera-flooded apartment.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Providence Effect (TV REVIEW)

TV Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Inspirational Documentary about Chicago Prep School Set to Air on TV One

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

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

The Providence Effect airs on TV ONE on Sunday, February 28th at Noon ET/PT (Check local listings)

Examined Life DVD



DVD Review by Kam Williams


Headline: Philosophical Documentary Featuring Cornel West Comes to DVD


                     According to Socrates, “An unexamined life is not worth living,” and that quote ostensibly served as the inspiration for this documentary deeply exploring the mindset underpinning American culture. To that end, this readily-accessible discourse on philosophy relies on the novel insights of nine leading academics, beginning and ending with Princeton Professor Dr. Cornel West.

                     West was interviewed in Manhattan on his way to Penn Station while sitting in the back of a car being driven by director Astra Taylor. He wonders aloud about “What happens when you begin to call into question your tacit assumptions and unarticulated presumptions,” suggesting that you begin to become a different person. He goes on to talk about the challenge to survive in this society in the face of a “patriarchy, white supremacy, imperialism and state power,” and “a structure of domination not accountable to the people affected by it.”

                     Another Princeton Professor, ethicist Peter Singer, is shot strolling along Fifth Avenue in front of some of the most expensive stores in the world, like Bergdorf Goodman. There, in the midst of unalloyed decadence, he indicts conspicuous consumption by suggesting that we have a moral obligation not merely to do no harm but to help reduce “the amount of unnecessary pain and suffering in the world.”

                     Other subjects weighing-in include Berkeley feminist Judith Butler, Duke’s anti-corporate firebrand Michael Hardt, University of Chicago’s Law Professor Martha Nussbaum, avuncular NYU deconstructionist Avital Ronell, disabled artist Sunaura Taylor, Princeton’s cosmopolitan Kwame Anthony Appiah and cultural critic Slavoj Zizek, the subject of Ms. Taylor’s first film.

                     Endlessly thought-provoking at every turn, Examined Life offers one of the most cerebrally-satiating and potentially-transcendental experiences one might hope to have while watching a movie. .        


Excellent (4 stars)


Running time: 88 minutes

Studio: Zeitgeist Films

DVD Extras: Additional interviews, post-screening Q&As, onscreen bios, selected bibliographies, theatrical trailers and a booklet.

Toe to Toe

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Coeds Lock Horns and Lacrosse Sticks in Cross-Cultural Drama


                For my money, the British flick Fish Tank was easily the best movie released in the first month of 2010. And if I were handing out another accolade for February, that would have to go to this compelling, super-realistic indie, a character-driven affair written and directed by Emily Abt. Ms. Abt, an award-winning filmmaker previously known for such documentaries as Take It from Me and All of Us, makes her first foray into dramatic fare here.

This film made a big splash at Sundance a year ago, when it was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize. Set in the Washington, DC area, it revolves around an unlikely love triangle which comes to test the already tenuous bond of friendship forged between a couple of high school classmates, one black, one white, who play on the lacrosse team.

African-American Tosha (Sonequa Martin), who hails from Anacostia, can only afford to attend the exclusive prep school because she’s on a full scholarship. She’s and her two siblings are being raised in the ‘hood by their doting grandmother (Leslie Uggams) while their overworked single-mom (Dionne Audain) works double shifts to keep a roof over their heads on her security guard salary.

Tosha is the hope of the family because her younger brother, Miles (Thulis Dingwall) is weak and sickly, and her older brother, Kevin (Gaius Charles) is unemployed and lazy. Despite already being a father, the latter lays around the crib getting so high he lets his baby daughter (Jonnie Marie Home) crawl out onto the street unattended.

Somehow, Tosha keeps her nose to the grindstone, ignoring the dysfunction at home and the daily taunts coming from jealous girls on the block. They love teasing her mercilessly as she walks down the street to catch the bus for everything from acting white to having once allowed the boys to see her panties for a couple of bucks.

Tosha doesn’t find much relief at school either, where she finds it hard to fit in with the spoiled-rich kids. Because of all of the above, she focuses intently on her goal of being admitted to Princeton, which she sees as her ticket out of the ghetto.

Jesse, at least by outward appearances, has a relatively-easy go of it in life. After all, she lives in a sprawling mansion in the suburbs and has her own sports car. However, because her absentee single-mom is always away on business, the unsupervised teen suffers from loneliness and the consequences of a series of poor choices that have led to promiscuity, substance abuse and STDs.

 For Jesse spends the bulk of her free time slumming, since she has a thing for Go-Gomusic and Jungle Fever for brothers, which explains why she gravitates towards hanging out with Tosha. But the plot thickens when she falls for the charms of a smooth-talking DJ (Silvestre Rasuk) already involved with Tosha. At that point, all bets are off, and the two go “Toe to Toe.”

 Hell hath no fury like a sister scorned, especially for a wigger.


Excellent (4 stars)


Running time: 104 Minutes

Distributor: Strand Releasing

Monday, February 22, 2010




(Død snø)

DVD Review by Kam Williams


Headline: Nazis Zombie Flick from Norway Finds Its Way to DVD


                When a group of med students make plans to spend their Easter break together in a mountaintop cabin far removed from civilization, they never expect to find themselves in a fight for their lives against an army of Nazi zombies. Only after arriving at the isolated ski lodge and learning that they don’t have any cell phone reception does it occur to them that their predicament sounds a lot like your typical, high attrition-rate horror flick.

                So, they start joking about scary movies, even though they’re in Norway, not some rural American setting normally associated with such grisly goings-on. But that is precisely what ensues in Dead Snow, a low-budget splatter flick which tends to follow the genre’s conventions, except that the black guy doesn’t die first because there aren’t any brothers for miles around this lily-white enclave.

At the point of departure, we’re introduced to the members of the ill-fated ensemble. Each of the males fits a familiar archetype. There’s squeamish Martin (Vegar Hoel) who feints at the sight of blood, nerdy Erlend (Jeppe Laursen), horny Roy (Stig Frode Henriksen) and macho Vegard (Lasse Valdal) whose girlfriend Sara (Ane Dahl Torp) owns the cottage.

 We don’t meet her until later, because she chose to travel by skis through the snow instead of by car like the rest of the revelers. The rest of the females are nondescript damsels-in-distress. Soon, while unwinding with beer and playing a game of Twister, the partying is interrupted by a grizzled geezer (Bjorn Sundquist) who warns that these very same hills are said to be cursed ever since it was the site of a slaughter during the Second World War.

 Needless to say, the newcomers ignore the local lore at their peril which soon arrives in the person of the late Colonel Herzog (Orjan Gamst) and his ghoulish henchmen. Directed by Tommy Wirkola, Dead Snow is a derivative affair with nothing special to offer besides the novel sight of Nazis as zombies. Still, it’s well enough executed to recommend for fright fans, provided you have a strong stomach for gratuitous gore.

                Hitler of the dead!


Very Good (3 stars)


In Norwegian with subtitles.

Running time: 92 minutes

Studio: MPI Home Video

DVD Extras: Outtakes, trailers, “Behind the Scenes” and “The Making of” featurettes, and much more.


Tracy Morgan: The "Cop Out" Interview



with Kam Williams


Headline: Tracy Morgan as the New Black


                     Brooklyn-born Tracy Morgan started out in showbiz in his teens, doing standup until he was invited to join Saturday Night Live’s ensemble cast in 1996. During his seven seasons on SNL, the colorful comedian played such memorable characters as Brian Fellows, Astronaut Jones and Woodrow while also doing impersonations of everyone from Al Sharpton to Star Jones to Aretha. Currently, Tracy is co-starring opposite Tina Fey and Alec Baldwin on the Emmy-winning NBC series “30 Rock.”

                     Meanwhile, on the big screen, he’s made such movies as G-Force, Head of State, How High, The Longest Yard, Little Man, Are We There Yet, First Sunday and Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back. Last fall, he published his autobiography, “I Am the New Black.” Here, he talks about that memoir and about collaborating again with director Kevin Smith to make Cop-Out, a buddy comedy co-starring Bruce Willis.


Kam Williams: Hey, Tracy, thanks so much for the time.

Tracy Morgan: What’s up, brother?

KW: Nothing much. What interested you in making Cop Out?

TM: Come on! It’s Bruce Willis! Bruce Willis, Kevin Smith and Tracy Morgan, what an awesome combination.

KW: Kevin Smith was just in the news because he was booted off an airplane for being too heavy. What did you think of that?

TM: That’s great stuff, man! That’s good stuff. I love it! In fact, Kevin’s the one that told me that when things like that happen, it happens for us.

KW: It may be good for publicity for the movie, but it must have been humiliating to Kevin when it happened.

TM: No, not Kev, you can’t humiliate Kev. Not Kev Smith. Kev is tougher than that.

KW: What was it like working opposite Bruce Willis?

TM: It was a joy. It was a pleasure. It was definitely fun and interesting. That man has been doing this for a long time, and he taught me a lot about camera angles and about how to be professional in the work.

KW: Children’s book author Irene Smalls asks, how is this movie different from other buddy cop movies?

TM: The actors are different, although I didn’t set out to be different. My inspiration came from people like Eddie Murphy, Martin Lawrence and Will Smith. The genre is what it is. My inspiration was drawn from great movies like 48 Hours, Bad Boys and Rush Hour.

KW: Irene was also wondering whether you based your character, Paul Hodges, on anybody?

TM: Yeah, man. I’m from Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn. So, you grow up around police officers. Some of them are in your family, some of them you have encounters with. I had a young police officer we were friends with in our group. He was a little older than me and he became a cop. So, I just channeled him.

KW: I’m originally from Bed-Sty, too. You know where Medgar Evers College is, at the corner of Nostrand Avenue and President Street?

TM: Are you serious? So, you going Downtown! You from Nostrand. I’m from Tompkins. So me and you come from the same ‘hood!

KW: Yep!

TM: That’s wassup! You said Medgar Evers, right?

KW: Yeah, that’s where I went to high school. It’s a college now, but it was a high school back in the day.

TM: So, like my pops, you were probably around when Power Memorial existed.

KW: Oh yeah, I saw Power Memorial play when Kareem Abdul Jabbar was on the team. Of course, he was still Lew Alcindor back then. So, how did this brother from Bed-Stuy get interested in making Hollywood movies?

TM: When I was a young kid, my pops introduced me to it. He took me to Harlem, 145th and Edgecombe, to watch the filming of Claudine with James Earl Jones and Diahann Carroll. That was my first taste of seeing a set and the cameras, and I was bit by the acting bug at a young age, man.

KW: Attorney Bernadette Beekman asks, whether you looked up to Colin Powell, another native New Yorker, as a role model?

TM: Yeah, I looked up to Colin Powell, absolutely! But I was really busy looking up to my father, because he was also a righteous man. My father was the role model I looked up to. My dad was an entertainer, too. I patterned my life after him. He wanted me to do better than he did. He never sold a record in his life, but to me he was still a rock star.

KW: Jimmy Bayan asks, are your kids interested in showbiz?

TM: You’d have to ask them. They’re grown men. One is 24, one is 22 and one is 18. They have their own lives and they’re going in their own directions. They might not know what they want to do yet. Right now they’re very decent, respectful people, and I love them for that. They don’t have to be rich or funny, but they are better men. The thing that I love is that they are better than me.

KW: Jimmy also asks, where in L.A. do you live, and where is your favorite place to hang out there?

TM: I don’t have a place in L.A. I used to live at the Palazzo on West 3rd Street. And when I go to Los Angeles, I like to go to the SkyBar and just hang out. I don’t drink or anything. It’s been two-and-a-half years since I had a drink. But when I’m in the mood to listen to music, I do like to go to the SkyBar. But I’m 41 years-old, and so busy with work, that I like to just stay home and get my sleep now. I try not to burn both ends of the candle.

KW: Larry Greenberg says he loved that hilarious Maya Angelou Hallmark Cards SNL skit you did. He wants to know if you’re planning to turn that into a movie.

TM: Oh, absolutely not. The things I did on Saturday Night Live are going to stay as Saturday Night Live. You’ve never seen Eddie Murphy do a Gumby movie. There’s a lot more new material inside of me.

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

TM: I see me. I see Tracy Morgan. It’s been a journey. I see the ups and downs. I see the mistakes I’ve made. I see a funny person. I see a serious person. I see a diamond. I see the good times. I see the bad times. And I see knowledge of self. I see knowledge of self. I know who I am. When I look in the mirror, I see me.

KW: If you could have one wish instantly granted, what would that be for?

TM: World peace.

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

TM: I was 4 years-old, in the park in my neighborhood in Tompkins. I was with my father who was telling jokes and snapping on all the guys on the basketball court. And he told me one to say about somebody’s mother, and everybody laughed.

KW: Aspiring actor Tommy Russell would like to know, how long did it take you to get to where you are as an actor, and whether you still struggle internally about your career path?

TM: I’m not really struggling about my career. The struggles are in my personal life. I can’t really pinpoint how long it took me to get where I’m at, and I didn’t care how long it was going to take, because it’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey. Tell Tommy he has to stay in the moment and focus on that, because when all is said and done, and there’s no more to say or do, you want to be able to look back and say, “Wow! What a ride!” Fame doesn’t matter. Money doesn’t matter. Those things are forever fleeting. I just want to have a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, so that when I’m long gone my great-great-grandchildren can walk up to it and say, “That’s my ancestor.” That will be my legacy.

KW: Jimmy also asks, what do you give Obama as an approval rating on a scale of 1 to 10?

TM: I give him a 10 because he’s not God, and he inherited a couple of wars, and a financial mess. Nobody could fix all that in 9 months. But he’s gotta step up his game now. I want to see him curse somebody out on TV. You can’t finesse a bull. He’s gotta throw down. He’s in the shark tank.

KW: Tommy has a political question, too. What do you think about the Obama administration using nuclear energy as part of their overall energy policy plan? Can we achieve France's level of success with nuclear energy and cleanup, or, will politics ruin our chances of moving forward?

TM: Well, I’m not really much into politics, because it’s rarely discussed in my line of work, but I know that he’s trying his best, and that at some point down the road, he’s going to get it right.

KW: The Uduak Oduok question: Who’s your favorite clothes designer?

TM: The jeans I wear are Lee, and I like Rocawear and Sean Jean.

KW: The Zane question: Do you have any regrets?

TM: No, absolutely not.

KW: The last time I asked you, what was your favorite dish to cook, you said Cowboy food: pork and beans and franks. What’s do you like to have with it?

TM: Grape Kool-Aid on ice with a slice of lemon. I also like to have cheese biscuits on the side.

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

TM: I’m listening to classic stuff like Rakim, old school hip-hop.

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

TM: I had a good laugh yesterday just talking about stuff. I’m always around jovial people .

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

TM: Yeah, I’d like Maury Povich to ask me, are you the baby’s daddy? [Laughs]

KW: How would you describe yourself in one word?

TM: I would like to say “generous.” I’m very giving. Even if it’s for nonsense, I’ll give it to you.

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

TM: In the Seventies, my best friend was Warren. In the Eighties, my best friend was Smitty.

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

TM: I got to say the last book I read was the one I wrote, “I Am the New Black,” which was inspired by my experiences as a black man, as an American, and as a human being.

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

TM: Don’t follow in my footsteps. Be original, and create your own path. Be a trailblazer! Do you! Be better than me. Do you! Be happy and have joy in your life.

KW: The Boris Kodjoe question: What do you consider your biggest accomplishment?

TM: Raising my kids to be respectful adults.

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

TM: Just keep laughin’.

KW: Well, thanks for another great interview, Tracy, and good luck with the film. And I look forward to speaking with you again soon.

TM: Thank you. Right on!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Shutter Island

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: DiCaprio Stars in Disappointing Scorcese Mindbender

Leonardo DiCaprio has been Martin Scorsese's favorite leading man in recent years, starring in Gangs of New York (2002), The Aviator (2004) and The Departed (2006), which won the Academy Award for Best Picture while simultaneously finally landing the legendary director an elusive Oscar. Unfortunately, the pair’s latest collaboration, Shutter Island, fails to measure up to their last, for it simply peters out after establishing a very promising premise.
The movie was adapted from the best seller of the same name by Dennis Lehane, the New England novelist known for his Boston-based murder mysteries like Mystic River and Gone Baby Gone. Shutter Island, by contrast, is a psychological thriller set in 1954 off the coast of Massachusetts at Ashecliffe Mental Hospital for the Criminally-Insane.
As the film unfolds, we’re introduced to Federal Marshals Teddy Daniels (DiCaprio) and Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo) as they head by ferry to the high-security facility to help handle a crisis situation. This deliberately-paced opening tableau is rather evocative of the Gothic horror genre, atmospherically, as the boat slowly breaks through a thick mist to reveal the eerie specter of an imposing edifice sitting high atop the tiny isle, ala the fog-shrouded mansion or castle of so many classic haunted house flicks.
The two lawmen are met at the dock by Deputy Warden McPherson (John Carroll Lynch) who insists over their objections that in accordance with proper protocol they must surrender their weapons before being allowed onto the grounds, whose high walls and electrified fence make the place look more like a prison than a hospital. The tension is then ratcheted a notch higher when they are directed to the office of Dr. John Cawley (Ben Kingsley) who explains exactly why they’ve been summoned there.
A patient named Rachel Solando (Emily Mortimer) somehow escaped from her locked cell the night before, and she could be hiding anywhere on the island. The deranged woman is considered extremely dangerous, since she was committed for the deliberate drowning of her own three children.
In the wake of the briefing, a hurricane hits the island which quite conveniently not only knocks out all the electricity but prevents any further ferry service to the now totally-isolated institution. Of course, this only serves to make increasingly-uncomfortable Teddy and Chuck’s frantic search for the murderess even more urgent.
I’m guessing that this scintillating setup probably reads like an appealing edge-of-the-seat thriller. Not so fast, Kimosabe, for I dare not divulge any of the ensuing, unpredictable developments which turn a compelling whodunit into a surreal and patently preposterous mindbender. Suffice to say that in the end this critic felt cheated to have the complicated mystery resolved by a rabbit-out-of-the-hat revelation that had little to do with the misleading series of red herrings that I’d invest over two hours in.
The cinematic equivalent of a bait and switch scam.

Fair (1.5 stars)
Rated R for profanity, nudity and disturbing violence.
Running time: 138 Minutes
Distributor: Paramount Pictures