Thursday, April 29, 2010

Boogie Man: The Lee Atwater Story DVD



DVD Review by Kam Williams


Headline: Damning DVD Recalls Rise and Fall of Legendary GOP Hatchet Man


                Harvey Leroy ‘Lee’ Atwater (1951-1991) was barely out of his teens when he burst onto the political scene in South Carolina in the early Seventies. Back then, the guitar-playing wunderkind loved the blues almost as much as he did serving as a consultant to conservatives during election campaigns.

A protégé of Strom Thurmond, he learned the tricks of the trade at the feet of an inveterate racist who once swore that blood would run in the streets of his state before he would allow integration. Thurmond, in fact, was such a hypocrite that he remained a bigot even after fathering a child with a 15 year-old black servant.

As for Atwater, he devoted most of his days to denying African-Americans equal rights. And while he might have repented shortly before succumbing to brain cancer, that 11th-hour confession did little to undo the damage he had inflicted on minorities as the architect of the Reagan revolution.

For Atwater was a scoundrel who believed that anything goes in politics, so he felt it was okay to lie, cheat, make up fake opinion polls and generally tell the people what they wanted to hear and in order to prevail. He is probably best known for having masterminded the infamous Willie Horton ad which turned the tide in the 1988 presidential race in favor of Bush over Michael Dukakis.

Atwater’s reward for having erased a 17-point deficit en route to the White House was his being named Chairman of the Republican National Committee. Understanding the power of the visual image, Lee fervently believed that “perception is reality,” so he was not above manipulating folks to vote against their own interests by serving them a pack of lies. Rationalizing that all that mattered was power, he single-handedly transformed U.S. politics into a series of tabloid moments.

 His reign came to an abrupt end upon his dire diagnosis in 1990, but by then Atwater protégé Karl Rove was already well versed in all of his Machiavellian tactics. On his death bed, Atwater found religion and repented, going out of his way to apologize to every individual whose reputation he’d smeared, including Willie Horton.

Before he passed away, he released a statement which proved he had undergone a spiritual catharsis: “My illness helped me to see that what was missing in society is what was missing in me: a little heart, a lot of brotherhood.” Too bad that message was totally lost on Rove.

 A fascinating, warts-and-all documentary about one of the most notorious and influential figures in 20th Century politics.


Excellent (4 stars)


Running time: 86 minutes

Studio: InterPositive Media/Passion River Films

DVD Extras: Deleted scenes, MSN and other additional interviews, unpublished photographs, theatrical trailer, discussion guide and additional biographical info.

Preacher's Kid DVD



DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Prodigal Daughter Drama Starring LeToya Luckett Out on DVD


                As the only child of an overprotective, widowed father, Angie King (Letoya Luckett) almost couldn’t help but feel smothered. But when you factor in her dad’s being both a preacher and a pillar of the community in their tight-knit Augusta, Georgia neighborhood, you’ve got a serious recipe for rebellion. Thus far, the 23 year-old virgin has devoted herself to the needs of her asthmatic father, between singing in the choir and ministering to the needy.

                However, everything changes the day Angie decides to run away not to join the circus but a Tyler Perry type travelling troupe passing through town, a supposedly spiritually-oriented outfit putting on a faith-based fable featuring Aunt Bebe, a trash-talking character played by a big dude (Carlos Davis) in a dress. For she develops an instant crush on the show’s suave star, Devlin (Durrell Tank Babbs), a Romeo well versed in the art of seduction.

When informed of this, Bishop King (Gregalan Williams) disowns his daughter on the spot. Yet, she still leaves town with dreams of not only winning Devlin’s heart but of landing a role in the theater group’s next musical production.

Needless to say, a very rocky road lies ahead of Angie, starting with her failing her audition with an impatient director who calls her deaf, dumb and stupid. This makes her more dependent on devilish Devlin, who soon proves to be a two-timing, physically-abusive creep.

                So, unfolds Preacher's Kid, a cautionary tale written and directed by Stan Foster. It’s not very hard to anticipate the arc of this Christian-oriented message movie which tends to telegraph most of its punches. Nonetheless, it’s well-enough executed, especially for a flick on a modest budget, to forgive the low production values and a tendency towards melodrama.

The payoff arrives after Prodigal Daughter Angie has learned some tough lessons and returns to ask her father for forgiveness, allowing for a moving moment of mutual redemption.


Very Good (2.5 stars)

Rated PG-13 for mature themes, sexuality, violence and brief drug use.

Running time: 110 Minutes

Distributor: Warner Home Video

Blu-ray/DVD/Digital Copy Combo Pack Extras: Additional scenes and 4 featurettes.


Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Writer Falls for His Worst Critic in Bittersweet Romance Drama


                Johnny Ryan (Scott Caan) is a very successful romance novelist living in Los Angeles who, ironically, has never actually experienced love himself. Instead, the handsome hunk has contented himself with a series of shallow one-night stands which have never evolved into a substantial relationship.

Everything changes the night of the launch party for his latest best seller, when he has his head turned by Mercy (Wendy Glenn), a gorgeous brunette with a clipped British accent. For as he exchanges pleasantries over wine and cocktails with the mysterious stranger, Johnny finds himself feeling a warm and fuzzy sensation he’s never known before. That would be a crush.

But what Johnny doesn’t know is that Mercy’s a leading critic from New York City who has already published a scathing review of his new book. However, the truth coming out does nothing to discourage him one iota from pursuing the sudden object of his affection. Even in the face of her caustic comments like, “You write about love, but don’t know how to spell it,” he remains resolved to win her heart before she heads back to the East Coast.

Nonetheless, Mercy is not one to be so easily convinced that a Neanderthal she considers “a walking contradiction” might have changed his stripes. And when she ignores Johnny’s begging to stay in L.A., he gets so desperate that he threatens to kill her if she follows through with her travel plans, but to no avail.

With Mercy gone, he initially attempts to revert to his womanizing ways only to encounter erectile dysfunction issues for the first time in his life. So, he consults with his English professor father (James Caan), who is no help, since the best advice he can muster up is trite poster speak such as “Love is a myth.” Obviously, Johnny just have to have that girl who’s gone back to the Big Apple.

Thus unfolds Mercy, an engaging character-driven drama directed by Patrick Hoelck but written and produced by Scott Caan. Caan must be credited for fashioning a vehicle which fits him to a T, and for surrounding himself with a decent cast to execute his vision, especially Wendy Glenn in the title role.

                A sentimental sitdram which seeks to answer whether a long-distance liaison between an artist and his worst critic has a fighting chance of blossoming into love? A question satisfactorily answered by this bittersweet romantic romp about growing up, albeit belatedly.


Very Good (3 stars)


In English and Korean with subtitles.

Running time: 87 Minutes

Distributor: IFC Films

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

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 May 7, 2010


Iron Man 2 (PG-13 for profanity and intense sci-fi violence) Robert Downey, Jr. reprises his role as the genius, billionaire inventor with a superhero alter ego. This installment finds him resisting pressure from the government, the press and the public to share the secrets to his state-of-the-art armor with the U.S. military out of fear that the technology might fall into the wrong hands. Cast includes Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle, Mickey Rourke, Scarlett Johansson, Samuel L. Jackson and Sam Rockwell.


Babies (Unrated) The world as a global nursery documentary chronicling the first year in the lives of four infants, one each from Mongolia, Namibia, Japan and America. (In French with subtitles)

Badmaash Company (Unrated) Bollywood crime thriller, an international musical set in Mumbai, Bangkok, New York and Las Vegas in the Nineties, and revolving around a quartet of young friends (Shaid Kapoor, Anushka Sharma, Vir Das and Meiyang Chang) who start an import business which quickly makes them millionaires at the expense of their ethics. (In Hindi and English with subtitles)

Casino Jack and the United States of Money (R for profanity) Oscar-winning, documentary filmmaker Alex Gibney (Taxi to the Dark Side) directs this bio-pic recounting the shady shenanigans of DC lobbyist Jack Abramoff who undermined American democracy with the help of some of the best politicians money could buy.

Floored (Unrated) Obsolescence expose’ examines automation’s impact on workers at the Chicago Board of Trade as the commodity market’s primary method of operation shifts from frenzied, man-a-mano action in the pits on the floor of the exchange to impersonal electronic trading on computers. With appearances by CNBC’s Rick Santelli and Pete Najarian.

Happiness Runs (Unrated) Coming-of-age drama about a neglected kid (Mark L. Young) raised on a polygamous hippie commune in Malibu who becomes wise enough to start looking for another path than his parents’ one which was marked by promiscuity, drugs and a slavish devotion to an exploitative guru (Rutger Hauer).

The Lightkeepers (PG for smoking, mature themes and brief profanity) Romantic comedy, set on Cape Cod in 1912, where a misogynistic lighthouse keeper (Richard Dreyfuss) finds his vow of celibacy tested when a young heiress (Mamie Gummer) with an attractive assistant (Blyhe Danner) moves into a nearby cottage for the summer. Cast includes Bruce Dern, Tom Wisdom, Julie Harris and Ben Dreyfuss (Richard’s son).

Mother and Child (R for sexuality, profanity and brief nudity) Adoption is the central theme of this ensemble drama juxtaposing an embittered 50 year-old’s (Annette Bening) search for the daughter (Naomi Watts) she gave away at 14 against a barren black woman’s (Kerry Washington) desperate quest for a child of her own. Cast includes Samuel L. Jackson, S. Epatha Merkerson, Amy Brenneman, Tatyana Ali, Carla Gallo, David Morse, Shareeka Epps, Jimmy Smits, Latanya Richardson, Lisa Gay Hamilton and Eileen Ryan (Sean Penn’s mother).

Multiple Sarcasms (R for profanity and sexual references) Midlife crisis comedy about a successful but unhappy architect (Timothy Hutton) who quits his job to write a semi-autobiographical play which becomes a hit, but at the expense of his marriage and other relationships. Ensemble includes Mira Sorvino, Dana Delany, Stockard Channing, Mario Van Peebles and Chris Sarandon.

The Oath (Unrated) Al Qaeda documentary about two terrorists: Guantanamo-detainee Salim Hamdan, bin Laden’s chauffeur, and his brother-in-law Abu Jandal, Osama’s former bodyguard, who remains on the lam and is currently driving a taxi in Yemen. (In Arabic with subtitles)

Ocean of Pearls (PG-13 for brief profanity and mature themes) Cross-cultural drama, about an ambitious Sikh surgeon (Omid Abtahi) who takes of his turban and shaves off his beard for the sake of his career at an American hospital only to come to question abandoning his traditions in the wake of the death of a patient. With Heather McComb, Ron Canada and Frank Zieger.

OSS 117: Lost in Rio (Unrated) This sequel, another spoof of the spy genre, set in 1967, a dozen years after the original, and again starring Jean Dujardin in the title role as a hapless secret agent now en route to Brazil to track down a high ranking Nazi fugitive (Alex Lutz) living in exile in South America. (In French with subtitles)

Trash Humpers (Unrated) Geriatric set’s answer to The Blair Witch Project, a “found tape” horror flick about a bunch of deranged, senile old coots on the loose and roaming around rural Tennessee while engaging in an array of deviant behaviors including, as the title suggest, mating with garbage cans.
Welcome (Unrated) Illegal alien drama about a 17 year-old Kurdish refugee’s (Firat Ayverdi) arduous, inter-continental, three-month trek from Iraq to England to reunite with his girlfriend (Derya Ayverdi) whose family has already settled in London. (In French, Kurdish and English with subtitles)

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Why We Laugh DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Reverential Documentary Pays Homage to Black Pioneers of Comedy

This alternately hilarious and enlightening documentary is designed to pay homage to the trailblazing pioneers of black comedians while simultaneously recounting the evolution of the art form in light of the prevailing African-American political and cultural experience. The film was directed by Robert Townsend who compiled a most impressive cast to contribute to the project via a combination of present-day interviews and archival footage, including the posthumous performances and reflections of such late great entertainers as Red Foxx, Mom’s Mabley, Richard Pryor, Flip Wilson, Mantan Moreland, Stepin’ Fetchit, Bernie Mac and Robin Harris.
The film winds its way to the present in chronological fashion, so it opens with a discussion of minstrel performers like Bert Williams, a black man who darkened his face with cork to work in blackface. Former Congressman Walter Fauntroy says that during the ugly days of Jim Crow segregation, humor was relied upon as “tools of the spirit through which we cut a path through the wilderness of our despair.”
Plenty of other academics and politicians weigh-in here with insights of equal gravity, including Professors Michael Eric Dyson, Cornel West and Todd Boyd, Congresswoman Maxine Waters and former NAACP Chairman Julian Bond. But the project is mostly a vehicle for the thoughts of the comics themselves, with Bill Cosby, Paul Mooney, Dave Chappelle, Franklin Ajaye and Chris Rock proving particularly valuable.
A worthwhile walk down Memory Lane as likely to keep you in stitches as appreciating the long line of African-American geniuses who have made it their business to challenge the status quo, but always eliciting lots of laughter in the process.

Excellent (4 stars)
Running time: 86 minutes
Studio: Codeblack/Vivendi Entertainment
DVD Extras: Extended interviews with Chris Rock, Bill Cosby, Sherri Shepherd, Katt Williams and Steve Harvey.

The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates

by Wes Moore
Spiegel & Grau
Hardcover, $25.00
252 pages, Illustrated
ISBN: 978-0-385-52819-1

Book Review by Kam Williams

“This is the story of two boys living in Baltimore with similar histories and an identical name: Wes Moore. One of us is free and has experienced things that he never knew to dream about as a kid. The other will spend every day until his death behind bars for an armed robbery that left a police officer and father of five dead.
The chilling truth is that his story could have been mine. The tragedy is that my story could have been his. Our stories are obviously specific to our two lives, but I hope they will illuminate the crucial inflection points in every life, the sudden moments of decision where our paths diverge and our fates are sealed...
It is my sincere hope that this book does not come across as self-congratulatory or self-exculpatory… Rather, this book will use our lives as a way of thinking about choices and accountability, not just for each of us as individuals, but for all of us as a society.
This book is meant to show how, for those of us who live in the most precarious places in this country, our destinies can be determined by a single stumble down the wrong path, or a tentative step down the right one. This is our story.”

-- Excerpted from the Introduction (pgs. xi-xiv)

In December of 2000, Wes Moore saw his name in the newspaper when the Baltimore Sun ran a blurb about how he’d just been awarded a prestigious Rhodes scholarship to do post graduate work at Oxford. But overshadowing that brief mention of him as a “local product done good” was a sensational, front-page story about a brother with the identical name who had been arrested for shooting a police officer to death during the aftermath of a botched armed robbery of a jewelry store.
Wes Moore, the college grad, was struck by the coincidence and wondered exactly what set of circumstances might have led his namesake to commit such a heinous act for the sake of some bling. After all, he knew at the very least that they were both young African-American males from the City of Baltimore. He continued to be nagged by that curiosity to the point that when he returned from England a couple of years later, he decided to contact Wes the lesser, now a convicted murderer serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole.
An exchange of correspondence led to a series of face-to-face visits, and the two forged an enduring friendship, since they had a lot in common, their contrasting fates notwithstanding. As it turned out, they had both been raised by a single-mom in a rough neighborhood where they had frequent run-ins with the police. Both had also dropped out of school to hang out on the street corners with a fast crowd. But where one Wes would benefit from an intervention that would send him to military school for a serious attitude readjustment, the other, in the absence of a mentor, was simply allowed to slip between the cracks.
Their parallel and ultimately sharply diverging paths in life are recounted in fascinating fashion in The Other Wes Moore, as engaging, illuminating and touching a memoir as one could hope to encounter. Studiously avoiding the temptation to put on any “holier than thou” airs, the author instead altruistically embraces a “There but for fortune” tone, suggesting that he and his jailed alter ego’s lots could just as easily have been reversed.
Wes even goes out of his way to pay tribute to the slain police officer who left behind a widow and kids. “Let me be clear,” he states, emphasizing the point that any empathy for the other Wes Moore “is not meant in any way to provide excuses… The only victims that day were Sergeant Bruce Prothero and his family.”
This imperceptibly-interwoven double-biography is a brilliant primer on the discouraging odds of making it out of the average, inner city ghetto nowadays. For those unforgiving environs remain likely to prune the potential of any misguided, unprotected or impressionable youngster unfortunate enough to take even one false step en route to adulthood.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Omari Hardwick: The “Kick-Ass” Interview

with Kam Williams

Headline: Hardwick Has Arrived!

Born in Savannah, Georgia on January 9, 1974, Omari Hardwick was the second of four children blessing the union of Clifford and Joyce Hardwick. The family moved to Decatur where Omari excelled in athletics and established himself as a standout, eventually earning himself a college football scholarship.
Although he had demonstrated a certain flair for the dramatic early in life, it wasn't until his junior year at the University of Georgia that Omari that he began his formal training in acting. While there, he joined the Athens Theater Company and eventually starred in a number of plays including August Wilson’s "Fences."
Soon after graduation, a knee injury cut short his plans for a pro football career. Omari then decided to focus on acting full-time and headed to New York City to hone his skills on the stage before making the move to Los Angeles.
After years of perseverance, Omari finally landed a breakout role when Spike Lee cast him as Dante' in Sucker Free City.
Omari's showbiz career has benefitted from a steady rise ever since, with the versatile thespian exhibiting an enviable acting range in such films as Miracle at St. Anna, Next Day Air, The Gridiron Gang, The Guardian and Beauty Shop. And among his upcoming offerings are The A-Team, For Colored Girls, Bolden and I Will Follow. Meanwhile, he’s also appeared on TV shows like CSI: Miami, Crossing Jordan and Saved, and he currently co-stars opposite Dylan McDermott on TNT’s gritty, cop series Dark Blue.
Here, Omari talks about his controversial new movie, Kick-Ass, the adaptation of the Marvel Comics series which opened up in the #1 spot at the box office.

Kam Williams: Hey, Omari, nice to meet you, and thanks for the time.
Omari Hardwick: Same here.
KW: What interested you in doing Kick-Ass, such a controversial film?
OH: It was the controversy itself which interested me. I already was a fan of [director] Matthew Vaughn from his collaborations with Guy Ritchie on Snatch and Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels. I met with him early on in the process and appreciated his creative vision. My interest definitely revolved around how an 11 year-old girl would be a superhero and potentially train my character in the sequel. So, of course, I salivated at the opportunity. It was definitely a bold pick, but I had a lot of fun working with a young genius in [co-star] Chloe Moretz. Plus, she’s from Georgia, I’m from Georgia, so everything lined up.
KW: What was your main challenge in doing this film, the action sequences?
OH: I wouldn’t say it was the physicality, having come to acting from the world of sports. The main challenge was just the scheduling, really, because my TV show, Dark Blue was taking off at the same time, and this was being shot in London for the most part, and then also in Toronto. There was a lot of travel involved and scheduling conflicts, but I had to do it, so I figured a way to get it done.
KW: Were you surprised when the picture was #1 at the box office? I loved it, and said in my review that it’s the best comic book adaptation since The Dark Knight. It’s also the best blockbuster I’ve seen this year so far.
OH: Man, that’s very humbling for me to hear you say that, Kam. I knew that it would do well, but I didn’t expect this kind of initial reaction. It’s definitely the Pulp Fiction of its day, only with kids.
KW: Laz Lyles was wondering whether you had any pre-conceived notions about what Kick-Ass would be like, and if going into a project with ideas about it tends to prepare you or hinder you?
OH: That’s a great question. I’d have to say it’s a little bit of both. For this kind of film, there was enough vagueness in the script that it left me a little baffled about where I’d fit in and what I’d mean to the film. There were some challenges for me in trying to figure out how to play this guy because, honestly, my character was the only one that was quote-unquote “real.” The rest were sort of fantastical. The major challenge was in figuring out, how do I maintain Marcus’ subtlety and realness while supporting the superhero theme of the movie? But of course I jumped in full steam ahead.
KW: Larry Greenberg says that you have an amazing acting range, and he wants to know how you go back and forth from shooting a non-stop action film like this to the TV show and then to making For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide without getting whiplash.
OH: I appreciate the compliment. It’s very humbling to hear someone recognize the range that I have, but the whiplash definitely happens. Travel in between work helps, and maybe getting away after a project’s done.
KW: Laz says, since you’re going to be in A-Team, she'd like to know what you think of this resurgence of Eighties action films and if there any you’d like to see the dust blown off of and remade today?
OH: Like anybody who grew up in the Eighties, I cringe at the thought of these movies being remade, because of the corniness and cheesiness of the originals. I hope that in the 21st Century, they’ll be able to eliminate the cheese factor when they redo them. If I could remake any Eighties project, it would be less an action flick than a character-driven drama with a rich story to tell.
KW: Children’s book author Irene Smalls asks, what are your goals as an actor, and where do you want your career to go?
OH: Just to tell the truth in whatever role I do, and not got lost or swallowed up by the scope when I’m in a blockbuster. And I want to avoid being typecast and any obvious comparisons to other actors.
KW: You don’t want to get pigeonholed.
OH: Right. If I can just be thought of as Omari Hardwick who had a really, really solid career, and whose work is appreciated in its own right, I think that would be a great legacy to leave behind.
KW: Irene has a follow-up. What were the factors and who were the people who made you who are? OH: My mom and pop, and my four grandparents who I’m blessed to still have. As an African-American male born with a couple of strikes against you because of your skin color, I think it’s very, very important to have some positive role models around, especially male influences. Fortunately, for me, one was never that far away. I could always just turn to the lefty or to the right, and I had positive grandparents, uncles and coaches. So, I was lucky that I didn’t have to search far for my heroes.
KW: Yeah, when I interviewed LeBron James, who was raised by a single mom, he credited his coach for serving as an important male influence in his life. Did you see his movie?
OH: LeBron actually invited me to the premiere to play in a celebrity game. We talked and found out that we have a lot in common. That dude was going on 45 at 14 years of age. He’s a great guy and ridiculously mature.
KW: Is there any question no one ever asks you, that you wish someone would? OH: I thought of one the other day, but I can’t remember it now. It had to do with exposing yourself as an actor, and then having to go back into the world as myself.
KW: I recently asked Don Cheadle whether there were any parts of his psyche he had not yet explored on camera. And he responded, “If there’s anything I haven’t revealed yet, it’s probably best kept under wraps.”
OH: Wow! I’m not anywhere near Don’s stature, and haven’t put in that much time yet, so I’d say I have a lot more to share and to reveal. But I think Don Cheadle’s definitely onto something. I would guess that there’s a risk of ending up feeling pained and lonely while walking in a world full of people.
KW: The Tasha Smith question: Are you ever afraid?
OH: Yeah, I would say my biggest fear, since experiencing a major tragedy in the family, is that I count my days left on this Earth. I now look at life as fleeting, not a marathon.
KW: The Columbus Short question: Are you happy?
OH: Yeah, although I feel weighty and some inner turmoil at times. But overall, I’d say I’m optimistic, if not happy on a daily basis.
KW: The Teri Emerson question: When was the last time you had a good laugh?
OH: Watching Kick-Ass!
KW: The bookworm Troy Johnson question: What was the last book you read?
OH: The one I’m working on right now is the biography of James Dean.

Prior to that, I read The Alchemist for about the sixth time.

KW: The music maven Heather Covington question: What are you listening to on your iPod?
OH: I’ve been listening to Usher’s new album, and also some Stevie Wonder. But I like everyone from Bjork to Tupac.
KW: What is your favorite dish to cook?
OH: Salmon with carmelized crushed pecans on top. I like fish a lot, but I’m addicted to apples.
KW: When you look in the mirror, what do you see?
OH: Someone who’s trying to grow. It’s rare for artists to really stare deeply at themselves in the mirror, literally, because there’s constantly a mirror on you. But figuratively speaking, I’m really into growth, so when I look in the mirror, I see somebody who’s just trying to get better everyday.
KW: The Ling-Ju Yen question: What is your earliest childhood memory?
OH: [LOL] Being laughed at by my big brother and his friends. I was wearing Oshkosh B’gosh overalls while riding a duck tricycle very fast down a hill in Nashville. At the time, my father was in law school at Vanderbilt.
KW: The Uduak Oduok question: Who’s your favorite clothes designer?
OH: That’s a good question, Kam. That’s a good question... I think classic Ralph Lauren is my favorite. It’s timeless.
KW: What is your guiltiest pleasure?
OH: Krispy Kreme donuts.
KW: The Rudy Lewis question: Who’s at the top of your hero list?
OH: Mother Teresa.
KW: The Laz Alonso question: How can your fans help you?
OH: By staying interested. Their interest alone humbles and flatters me.
KW: What do you want to be remembered for?
OH: For my consistency.
KW: Thanks again, Omari, and I look forward to speaking to you again soon about some of your upcoming projects.
OH: That sounds good, man. Take care of yourself and your family.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Behind the Burly Q

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: “Revealing” Documentary Revisits Golden Age of Burlesque

With roots in 19th Century vaudeville and minstrel shows, burlesque enjoyed its heyday in the United States in the 1930s when it emerged as the country’s most popular form of live entertainment until the advent of television, porno films and the women’s movement would signal its demise. The genre originally featured both comedians and dancers backed by a live band, although eventually the striptease acts came to be the only things the audiences wanted to see.

The curvaceous cutie pies who plied their trade as ecdysiasts are proud members of “America’s Greatest Generation,” that rapidly-disappearing set whose ranks are thinning at an alarming rate as they pass away due to old age. But thanks to actress-turned-director Leslie Zemeckis their contributions to the culture have been preserved for posterity, recounted in fascinating fashion in Behind the Burly Q, a revealing documentary cobbled from a combination of file footage and dozen of interviews with historians, surviving strippers and may of their offspring.

Although these aging senior citizens may just be a shadow of their former selves physically, the life stories they share here show that time has not diminished their inner beauty one iota. Most, we learn, adopted colorful stage names like Blaze Starr, Tempest Storm, Evangeline the Oyster Girl, Little Egypt, Sally Rand, Lady Midnight, Alexandra the Great, White Fury, TNT Red, Kitty West, Gilded Lili, The Sexquire Girl, The Ball of Fire, Gypsy Rose Lee and Bingo. But sadly, behind the glamorous facades were mostly sad tales about how they had basically been driven into the profession by dysfunctional families and/or money woes caused by the Great Depression.

Evangeline the Oyster Girl says she turned to the relatively-easy money of burlesque after watching her mother work herself to the bone in the cotton fields. Coal miner’s daughter Blaze Starr started taking her clothes off after her dad developed Black Lung disease. With the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, Tempest Storm can now see that in her case she pranced around in her birthday suit because she was looking for the father she never knew.

Regardless, it seems that one of the occupational hazards of the job was unstable relationships, as some subjects bemoan never tying the not while others report marrying four or five times. Then there were those who had mental problems, drank or were addicted to pain killers, the ostensible fallout of a career spent on the road traveling from town to town to get next to naked for perfect strangers.

Apparently, each woman tried to include something memorable in her routine to attract repeat customers. For example, one says she got skin poisoning from dyeing her hair green. Another did yoga on stage, while Sally Keith’s claim to fame was having such control over her pectoral muscles that she could send her tassels swinging in opposite directions and in perfect time to the musical accompaniment.

A fun-filled tribute which elevates the Golden Age of Burlesque to its rightful place in history while belatedly restoring a little dignity to its under-appreciated, socially-ostracized performers.

Excellent (4 stars)
Running time: 98 Minutes
Distributor: First Run Features

The Losers

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Zoe Saldana Back in the Flesh for DC Comics Adaptation

Zoe Saldana was basically unrecognizable playing the lead role of Neytiri in Avatar because her character was covered from head-to-toe in gobs of blue makeup when not a completely computer-generated, digital creation. So, if you want to see Zoe in the flesh, she currently has two movies in theaters, the dreadful remake Death at a Funeral and this equally-disappointing screen version of a DC comic book series.

The ill-timed release of The Losers comes right on the heels of the surprise hit Kick-Ass, a groundbreaking Marvel Comics adaptation which opened up #1 at the box office only a week ago. On top of that, both pictures revolve around a female heroine, a coincidence certain to lead to further comparison.

Where the genre-refreshing Kick-Ass’ introduces you to a spunky 11 year-old superhero you can’t get enough of, Zoe’s Aisha feels more like a worn-out retread right out of the Hollywood action flick recycle bin. The same can be said for the rest of this tired production, from the lame-brained plot to the cheesy f/x to the sloppy stunt work to the profusion of cartoonish, one-dimensional characters.

The story opens in the jungles of Bolivia where a crack team of U.S. Special Forces commandos led by hard-boiled Colonel Clay (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) are on assignment to bring a drug kingpin (Peter Francis James) to justice. The other members of the elite squad include getaway car driver/daredevil pilot Pooch (Columbus Short), ruthless, money-hungry Rogue (Idris Elba), computer hacker Jensen (Chris Evans) and sharpshooting sniper Cougar (Oscar Jaenada).

The operation goes horribly wrong when their helicopter is hit by a rocket-propelled grenade and explodes into smithereens while hovering in midair. Fortunately, instead of Clay and his unit riding inside, the chopper was filled with 25 orphans they had altruistically arranged to airlift to safety.

Realizing that they’ve just been betrayed by a mole inside the CIA, the quintet opts to make believe they actually did perish in the air disaster. Trusting no one, other than Aisha (Saldana), the mysterious temptress who materializes out of nowhere to seduce Clay, they proceed to track the shadowy figure (Jason Patric) they suspect was behind the attempted hit.

That trail takes the gun-toting globetrotters from Bogota to such ports of call as Miami, Puerto Rico, Houston, Mumbai and Los Angeles. The film indulges in an array of high body-count shootouts and poorly-shot pyrotechnic displays en route to the totally predictable finale.

You know how Zoe’s multiple Oscar-winning film, Avatar, has been lauded for its breathtaking, state of the art of technical wizardry? Well, don’t expect to see anything like that in this under-budgeted homage to bad B-movies. Unfortunately, the outdated special effects employed here, like an exploding, green screen fireball everybody manages to keep one step ahead of, render the movie more laughable than suspenseful.

I’m done with this cinematic pabulum, now get out of my brain!

Fair (1 star)
Rated PG-13 for profanity, sensuality and intense violence.
In English and Spanish with subtitles.
Running time: 98 Minutes
Distributor: Warner Brothers

Saturday, April 24, 2010

The Back-up Plan

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: J-Lo Too Old to Play Ingenue in Stock Romantic Comedy

Before becoming a mommy in 2008, Jennifer Lopez had practically perfected the romantic comedy genre, always in the role of a damsel-in-distress waiting for a dashing knight in shining armor to rescue her from dire circumstances. Whether playing the lowly housekeeper in Maid in Manhattan, the underemployed temp worker in Monster-in-Law or the perennial bridesmaid in The Wedding Planner, J-Lo had a knack for generating the right combo of chemistry and vulnerability to be convincing opposite any leading man.

At 40, Lopez frankly looks a little long in the tooth to resurrect that innocent, coquettish character when there’s obviously a lot of maturity etched into her now middle-aged face. Nonetheless, she throws herself into The Back-up Plan with an admirable gusto, even if the flick ought to be featuring a considerably younger actress.

Still, worse than the miscasting is the script, which is laced with too much in the way of expletives and slapstick, especially groan-inducing, bodily function humor to qualify as sophisticated adult fare. And the worse culprit in this regard is annoying SNL alum Michaela Watkins who ruins every scene in which she appears as J-Lo’s terminally-crude best friend.

The story unfolds in New York City on the very day that Zoe (Lopez) has given up on ever finding a mate, getting married and having a baby. She’s decided to implement her “Back-up Plan” which involves being artificially inseminated with sperm from an anonymous donor with the help of Dr. Harris’ (Robert Klein).

Then, on her way home from the infertility clinic, she serendipitously locks eyes across an empty taxi with the man she’s always been waiting for, when they try to hail the same cab. Despite the fact that she calls Stan (Alex O’Loughlin) “Stupid head!” in the ensuing fight over the car, it is painfully obvious, at least to the viewer, that it’s only a matter of time before the two will meet again and fall madly in love with each other.

The film follows the tired sitcom “one big secret” formula from this point forward, you know, the one whereby the protagonist tries to hide a simple secret which, if owned up to, would instantly clarify matters. But no, when they start dating, Zoe doesn’t want to let on that she’s expecting, although her gradually expanding waistline will soon prove impossible to explain.

Stan, a down-to-earth goat farmer from upstate, is the doting, sensitive sort which makes Zoe's furtive, Three’s Company-style hijinks seem extremely silly. Consequently, it’s a little anticlimactic when the moment of truth arrives after the cat comes out of the bag (or should I say after the twins come out of the womb). Too bad there was never a doubt from the day these lovebirds met that Stan would eventually get down on one knee to propose.

Brace yourself for an ending that puts the audience out of its misery as opposed to generating that warm and fuzzy “happily ever after” feeling. J-Lo’s worst outing since Gigli.

Fair (1 star)
Rated PG-13 for profanity, crude humor and sexual references.
Running time: 106 Minutes
Distributor: CBS Films

Lord, Save Us from Your Followers DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: DVD Asks 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 project, 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: 101 minutes
Distributor: Virgil Films and Entertainment
DVD Extras: “Bumper Sticker Man Goes to Church,” “Bumper Sticker Man Goes
to College,” Music Video: “We Are All the Same,” and Conversation Starters.

Friday, April 23, 2010

District 13: Ultimatum DVD



DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Disappointing Sequel Fails to Measure up to Original


                 In 2006, District B-13 arrived from France riding a wave of well-deserved critical acclaim. In fact, I was so impressed that I named that action-oriented directorial debut by Pierre Morel the #1 foreign film of the year. So excuse me for anticipating more of the same from the sequel, especially since co-stars David Belle and Cyril Raffaelli would both be reprising their roles.

However, Morel, who made the equally-intense Taken, was not signed to shoot the sequel. Instead, he was replaced by Patrick Allesandrin who had no experience in the high-impact thriller genre. And it shows.

                The best thing about the original was its acrobatic fight sequences, starting with that eye-popping, opening chase scene. So, as District 2 unfolds, you’re naturally expecting another spectacular series of stunts right after the credits. But we’re forced to wait so long that by the time it finally arrives it feels a tad anticlimactic.

The story is set in Paris in 2013, in a slum area deeply divided along ethnic lines, with African, white and Asian gangs vying for control of the local narcotics trade. Soon after the point of departure, Police Captain Damien Tomaso (Raffaelli) is seemingly inexplicably framed by crooked colleagues and winds up behind bars. So, it falls to anti-drug crusader Leito (Belle) to spring the honest cop from jail; so the two can clean up the district by employing a combination of martial arts and parkour moves, the latter being a ballet-like, flight discipline emanating from France.

However, the plot thickens considerably when our heroes catch wind of a diabolical government plan to bomb the ghetto and turn the land over to avaricious real estate developers with gentrification in mind. At that juncture, Damien and Leito enter an unholy alliance with the local hoodlums to save the dilapidated district.

The rabid rainbow coalition proceeds to take on the corrupt politicians and gendarmes behind the evil scheme. Finally the action picks up, especially with the help of Tao (Elodie Yung), a ravenous beauty capable of dispatching dudes with a twirl of her deadly, waist-length mane.

Is District 13 II a bomb? Not by a long shot. Just disappointing, if you’re expecting this adventure to measure up to the mesmerizing first installment.


Very Good (2.5 stars)

Rated R for profanity, violence and drug use.

In French with subtitles.

Running time: 101 Minutes

Distributor: Magnolia Home Entertainment

DVD Extras: Deleted and extended scenes, production diary, music video, “The Making of” featurette, and an HDNet look at the film.

William Kunstler: Disturbing the Universe DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Bio-Pic Chronicling Career of Celebrated Civil Rights Lawyer Comes to DVD

William Kunstler (1919-1995) was one of the most reviled figures of the 20th Century. For he was an attorney who not only represented controversial causes and unpopular people, but his approach in the courtroom involved exposing the racism and classicism permeating the legal justice system.
Always ahead of his time, Kunstler’s lifelong commitment to civil rights began when he went to Mississippi to defend Freedom Riders being arrested for trying to integrate lunch counters and other public accommodations. No hypocrite, he cared just as much about equality in his hometown of Rye, New York, where he successfully sued on behalf of a black couple trying to move into the lily-white enclave in 1960.
Over the course of his career, his services were retained by everyone from Malcolm X to Dr. Martin Luther King to H. Rap Brown to Stokely Carmichael to Abbie Hoffman to the American Indian Movement to Adam Clayton Powell to the Berrigan brothers. But he really first became a household name in his own right during the trial of the Chicago 8 who were arrested in the wake of the 1968 Democratic National Convention. That’s when he grew his hair long to match the manes of the hippies being railroaded, and when he was held in contempt of court for calling the judge a bigot.
Kunstler hated racism, and fundamental to his political philosophy was the notion that “lawyers shouldn’t be immune from the oppression” affecting their clients. Consequently, he gave his all, and was willing to put his own life on the line. Unfortunately, this approach took a toll on his family, especially his daughters, Emily and Sarah, the co-directors of William Kunstler: Disturbing the Universe.
In this bittersweet bio-pic they not only recount their father’s exploits, but how they had to grow up with the specter of daily death threats and demonstrations in front of their home. Sadly, their father would only be posthumously vindicated for his spirited representation of innocent Harlem teens accused of raping the Central Park jogger.
A very moving tribute to an underappreciated hero who spent his life as a tireless defender of the defenseless.

Excellent (4 stars)
Running time: 85 minutes
Studio: New Video Group
DVD Extras: Kunstler family home movies, Emily and Sarah Kunstler on “Democracy Now!”, archival audio files and video footage.

The End of Poverty? DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: DVD Discusses Paradox of Poverty in Era of Unparalleled Wealth

Why have so many Third World countries remained impoverished and underdeveloped even after gaining their independence from the European nations which had conquered and colonized them? This is the basic question addressed by The End of Poverty, a damning documentary offering a history lesson about the ugly underbelly of Western Civilization from 1492 up to the present.
For not long after Columbus “discovered” America, European countries began descending on the so-called New World, using both the bullet and the Bible to bend assorted indigenous peoples to their will. The Dutch focused primarily on Asia while the English assured themselves that the sun would never set on the ever-expanding British Empire. Even the Pope got into the act, awarding Africa to Portugal and South America to Spain by papal decree.
The basic thesis of the luminaries lending their insights to this thought-provoking project is that for 500+ years, white people have extracted the resources and oppressed the natives living in lands located in the planet’s Southern hemisphere. And that unfair economic relationship never changed substantially at the end of the era of colonization, since in most countries a handful of families continued to own the bulk of the business interests and the majority of productive real estate.
Former CIA consultant Chalmers Johnson indicts that Agency for serving as the private army of a succession of American presidents. He specifically alleges that the CIA was behind the assassination of a long list of populist leaders. Similarly, John Perkins, author of “Confessions of an Economic Hit Man,” owns up to his role in the overthrow of numerous Third World rulers in order to replace them with corrupt puppets handpicked by the U.S.
The situation has degenerated to the point where over a billion people around the world are currently trying to survive on less than a dollar a day, and their prospects are only getting worse, given that the ownership of natural resources has become increasingly concentrated in fewer and fewer hands. So, why does poverty persist in the midst of unparalleled wealth? In a word, greed!

Excellent (4 stars)
In English, Spanish, Portuguese and French with subtitles.
Running time: 104 minutes
Studio: Cinema Libre Studio
DVD Extras: Extended interviews and a DVD-Rom with a timeline, a complete transcript, resources and actions, and a new remedy for poverty.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Paper Man

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Writer Trades Wife for Teen in Midlife Crisis Comedy


                Claire Dunn (Lisa Kudrow), a successful surgeon, is so fed up with her underachieving husband that she’s decided to kick him out of their home in the city on the pretense that a beach house on Long Island during the off season might be a better place for him to work on his novel. But because Richard (Jeff Daniels) has never had anything published, he wonders aloud whether this break from each other supposedly for just the winter might really be a trial separation.

You see, the slacker’s been suffering from a combination of crippling maladies ranging from a midlife crisis to writer’s block to a disturbing tendency to carry on conversations with Captain Excellent (Ryan Reynolds), his imaginary friend in a superhero outfit. And this already confused and lonely soul is about to add a classic case of arrested development to his host of woes soon after his wife drops him off.

For right after his she leaves, this Peter Pan inexplicably hires a luscious, local teenager as a babysitter, even though they don’t have any children. By the time oblivious Abby (Emma Stone) catches on that she’s there to watch him, she’s so intrigued by the eccentric newcomer that she agrees to return regularly. As it turns out, she’s just as troubled, having never quite recovered from the death of her twin sister.

Thus, Abby and Richard bond as kindred spirits, doing their best to keep the relationship Platonic in spite of an unspoken mutual attraction. After all, he’s still married, at least technically; meanwhile, she has an immature boyfriend (Kieran Culkin) who’s always hanging around.

So, unfolds Paper Man, a young girl-old fool dramedy serving up an amusing mix of serendipity and flights of fancy. Written and directed by Kieran and Michele Mulroney (brother and sister-in-law of Dermot, respectively), the movie might best be thought of as Montauk’s answer to Lost in Translation.

Eventually, the moment of truth arrives when shrewish Claire shows up unannounced and catches her hubby in a compromising position on the couch with the not-needed nanny. At that juncture, the miffed spouse throws the proverbial pot of cold water on the cozy arrangement letting Richard’s “It’s not what it looks like, honey!” excuse falls on deaf ears. The only question left is will the philanderer wise up and try to save his marriage, or simply trade in the enraged doctor for jailbait less than half his age?

Love, Long Island style!


Very Good (3 stars)

Rated R for profanity and sexuality.

Running time: 110 Minutes

Distributor: MPI Media Group

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

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 April 30, 2010


Furry Vengeance (PG for crude humor, mild epithets and smoking) Eco-friendly, revenge comedy, set in rural Oregon, about a greedy real estate developer (Brendan Fraser) who gets what’s coming when the creatures living in the forest learn about his heartless plans to pave over their peaceable kingdom in order to make way for a mammoth housing development. Cast includes Dr. Ken Jeong, Brooke Shields and Angela Kinsey.

A Nightmare on Elm Street (R for profanity, terror, disturbing images, and graphic bloody violence) Jackie Earle Haley assumes the role of disfigured Freddy Krueger in this remake of the classic slasher flick about a serial killer who stalks a group of suburban teens in order to kill them one-by-one in their sleep. With Rooney Mara, Katie Cassidy and Thomas Dekker.


Dirty Hands (Unrated) Redemption documentary revolving around Korean-American, con man David Choe, the schizophrenic graffiti artist who bottomed out behind bars before turning his life around to sell paintings to corporate sponsors like Nike for millions of dollars.

Ghost Bird (Unrated) Endangered species documentary chronicling how ornithologists flocked to a tiny town in Arkansas in the wake of a supposed sighting there of a giant, ivory-billed woodpecker thought to extinct.

Harry Brown (R for sexuality, drug use, pervasive profanity and graphic violence) Revenge flick about a recently-widowed, law-abiding senior citizen (Michael Caine) who morphs into a crime-fighting vigilante after the street gang that murdered his best friend (David Bradley) gets off with a slap on the wrist. Cast includes Emily Mortimer, Iain Glen and Charlie Creed-Miles.

The Human Centipede: First Sequence (Unrated) Euro-horror flick about a couple of spoiled American girls (Ashley Williams and Ashlynn Yennie) vacationing alone in Germany whose rental car breaks down in the forest where they fall into the clutches of a retired surgeon (Dieter Laser) who once specialized in separating Siamese twins. Now, the diabolical doc hatches a plan to make a human centipede by sewing his helpless kidnap victims one behind the other together in mouth-to-anus fashion. (In English, German and Japanese with subtitles)

Mercy (Unrated) Scott Caan wrote and stars in this romance drama as a writer who doesn’t believe in love until he falls for a critic (Wendy Glenn) he meets at the launch party of his latest novel, despite the fact that she trashed the book. Cast includes Dylan McDermott, Bre Blair and Troy Garity.

Please Give (R for nudity, profanity and sexuality) New York City comedy about the a couple in crisis (Catherine Keener and Oliver Platt) trying to work on their relationship while dealing with the demands of the cranky tenant next-door (Ann Morgan Guilbert) being looked after by two grown granddaughters (Rebecca Hall and Amanda Peet). With Elisabeth Keener, Elise Ivy and Lois Smith.

Divas on Screen: Black Women in American Film (BOOK REVIEW)



Divas on Screen:

Black Women in American Film

by Mia Mask

University of Illinois Press

Paperback, $25.00

320 pages, Illustrated

ISBN: 978-0-252-07619-0


Book Review by Kam Williams


“By examining the persona of five African-American women celebrities, Divas [on Screen] seeks to push the discussion of African-American celebrity beyond the ‘good, politically progressive role model’ versus ‘bad, regressive black stereotype,’ binary that stifles dialogue and divides scholars. Instead, the ensuing chapters address how African-American celebrity functions as a social phenomenon. This is not to minimize the prevalence of racial stereotypes in the 21st Century…

But the focus of Divas is slightly different. It asks: what can we learn from the complex and contradictory careers of successful black women? Where do we find African-Americans in the performative, ‘other-directed,’ narcissistic culture? What does African-American stardom as a social phenomenon reveal about the aspirations of black folks in the 21st Century? How have African-Americans—in their struggle for inclusion in commercial entertainment—complied with dominant culture?”

-- Excerpted from the Introduction (pg. 4)


                 Vassar Professor Mia Mask has both a bigger vocabulary and a higher IQ than I do, judging by how often she had me reaching for the dictionary and by the many, marvelous insights about cinema she makes that had never occurred to this film critic before. So consider this a fair warning: this sage sister’s book, “Divas on Screen: Black Women in American Film” is not light reading but an academic enterprise of considerable substance. That being said, those willing to make the intellectual effort are likely to find themselves richly rewarded by the author’s fresh perspective, priceless pearls of wisdom and impressive background in terms of the cultural, biographical and historical contexts.

                The title might strike you as a bit of a misnomer, for it suggests more expansive coverage of African-American actresses than the five icons focused on here, namely, Dorothy Dandridge, Whoopi Goldberg, Pam Grier, Halle Berry and Oprah. Yet, Professor Mask’s unorthodox approach to the subject still feels comprehensive for, along the way, she manages to incorporate bon mots about many of their accomplished contemporaries.

As for that primary quintet, each enjoys her own chapter. Blaxploitation era idol Pam Grier is given her props for playing macho roles which placed an “emphasis on her body in such a way as to create an image of phallic femininity.” At the other extreme, early pioneer Dorothy Dandridge is credited with cultivating “a public persona of respectable, black bourgeois womanhood, feminine beauty, and domesticity.”

Dr. Mask describes Whoopi as an actress excluded from typical romantic screen liaisons whose repertoire instead reflects an inclination to disrupt “the dominant social order” which explains why she has so frequently defied conventional notions about race, gender and sexuality. Of course, Halle and Oprah’s careers are deconstructed, too, and in a thought-provoking fashion that will prevent you from thinking of them in the same way ever again.

                A fascinating, feminist examination of a struggle for self-definition in the face of a dominant culture and an entertainment industry perfectly comfortable with serving up stereotypical images of black women designed for mass consumption.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Tasha Smith: The "My Black Is Beautiful" Interview

with Kam Williams


Headline: Tasha’s Back, and Black and Beautiful as Ever!


Tasha Smith and her identical twin, Sidra, were born on February 28, 1971 in Camden, New Jersey. Being raised by a single-mom in a crime and drug infested neighborhood proved to be almost too much of a hurdle for Tasha to overcome as her life spiraled down a self-destructive path marked by promiscuity, Marijuana and cocaine addiction, chain-smoking and a stint as a stripper.

Fortunately, she eventually embraced Christianity, cleaned up her act and moved to L.A. where she tried her hand at standup comedy before settling on an acting career. The versatile scene-stealer has since appeared in such movies as Couples Retreat, The Longshots, Daddy’s Little Girls and Why Did I Get Married, to name a few.

When not working, Tasha gives back to the community, dividing her time between making motivational speeches and teaching actor’s workshops all across the country. Here, she talks about reprising the role of Angela in Why Did I Get Married Too, as well as her new TV series, My Black Is Beautiful, a reality series premiering this month on BET. (Check local listings)


Kam Williams: Hey Tasha, thanks for the time again.

Tasha Smith: Hey, Kam Williams! [Shrieks] Whassup! How ya doing?

KW: Very well, and you?

TS: I am doing awesome! I was hoping to interview with you when I was in New York for the premiere [of Why Did I Get Married Too].

KW: This is probably better because I’m sure you were mobbed and I would have had to elbow my way just to get a few minutes one-on-one with you.

TS: Hey, you can have as long as you need now. How’s that?

KW: Tremendous, thanks.

TS: So, what’s happening? Hi!

KW: Nothing much, how about you?

TS: I have just been s busy, and I’m so excited. I have been doing soooooo much. Speaking engagements… producing… developing a half-hour sitcom… working on a movie… leading acting workshops all over the world…and hosting My Black Is Beautiful, an empowerment TV show I’m doing on BET for women. Do you hear me, Kam?

KW: Yeah, so what’s the new TV show going to be like?

TS: We’re doing makeovers, giving financial classes, answering questions about black women’s imaging in the media, and much more. It’s so good! We encourage women to become mentors within their communities in order to teach young girls how to thrive in this society. It’s a good thing, so, I’m excited about having the platform and this opportunity because you know me, I love my folk.

KW: Let’s talk a little about Why Did I Get Married Too. You were as phenomenal as you were in the original which led me to name you the best actress of 2007. How was it seeing everybody again?

TS: Thank you. It was fun. Honestly, we are like a family. We really are. The chemistry for the sequel was even better. It almost felt like we were actually on vacation together, organically. I got to tell you, it was like a family reunion. It was like, “Hey, girl!” and we just had us a good time.

KW: You can’t beat shooting in the Bahamas.

TS: To be honest, the Bahamas wasn’t fun. [Whispers] Kam, it was horrible. Not only was the shooting schedule insane, but there were so many bugs on that island that it was nerve-wracking. It was infested with these big moths called “money bats” Imagine if every time you walked outside hundreds of them were all over the place and landing on you. It was so stressful and irritating. I’m not exaggerating. They also had these mosquitoes called “no see ‘ems” because you couldn’t see ‘em.Those things just ate us up. We had welts and bites all over our bodies. Ugh! I could go on and on. And then there were these other bugs like flying cockroaches that made a loud buzzing sound every time we tried to shoot a scene.

KW: Gee, that sounds very different from Couples Retreat, your previous film, which was filmed in Polynesia on Bora Bora, another exotic location.

TS: Let me tell you honey, they should have picked Bora Bora. Bora Bora was a dream! It was truly paradise.

KW: Attorney Bernadette Beekman asks, who do you admire most in your profession and have you sought out that person as a mentor?

TS: Wow! Angela Bassett is a friend of mine and someone who I truly admire tremendously in terms of her work and her choices.

KW: Reverend Florine Thompson asks, how has your life changed as a Christian, and who in the scriptures speaks most to who you are and how you've developed spiritually? 

TS: I’d say Paul. I just love how he went from being an unbeliever persecuting Christians to one of the most powerful people in the Bible. And how has my life changed as a Christian? Once you have the light of God within you, you see things within yourself that you did not know existed. Things that were hidden in darkness are now in light. I see myself as able to forgive… to love… I even see talents in myself that I didn’t see before.

KW: Reverend Thompson also asks, how do you express the Christ you serve in the glamorous Hollywood milieu in which you work?

TS: Your atmosphere does not change you, if are rooted and grounded in who you are. I do what I believe the Lord did, and that is walk in love with all mankind, which I don’t see a lot of Christians doing. Christians can be so judgmental, that it can turn off people who are considering converting. It makes me a little embarrassed, to tell you the truth, when I hear Christians criticizing others. I have to fight against being discouraged, because I don’t want to be connected with people who are so intolerant of much of mankind like that. God loves us all. He really does. And I want to walk in love with people.

KW: I know you’re from Camden, New Jersey, and your character Angela even brags about it in the film. Have you heard of the Center for Transformation [], an organization that’s doing some tremendous charity work there, including overseeing a greenhouse, community gardens, neighborhood cleanups, a family resource clinic and other projects?

TS: No I haven’t.

KW: Their mission states “we area people called to be a Christian community and to stand on the side of life with all the struggling people of Camden and the world.”

TS: That sounds beautiful.

KW: I can get some information to you about it, if it sounds like a group you’d be interested in working with.

TS: Yeah, that would be great.

KW: I recently met someone from Camden who says he knew you as a child. Eric Lewis, the jazz pianist. I met him backstage after a concert promoting his new album.


TS: Yes, isn’t he talented? I’m so happy for him.

KW: Laz Lyles would like to know what it was like for you to revisit the character Angela.

TS: It was exciting and empowering, because although Tyler always jokes around saying, “Tasha’s just like Angela,” I’m not really. I’m loud and I communicate, but I’d never think of doing half the things Angela does. She’s an over the top character who just lives and speaks honestly without worrying about being politically correct. So, playing her, you get a sense of freedom to do whatever you want and to live vicariously through her.

KW: Laz has a follow up question. What's the most common feedback you get from your acting workshops?

TS: People come to my workshop expecting just to learn about acting, but at the end many say they’ve learned something about life. They leave as better mothers, better wives, better husbands and better siblings.

KW: After watching your acting studio video, [] Larry Greenberg wants to know whether a white guy can enroll in your acting course.

TS: Tell him “Yes!” and please bring his whole family. I’m giving a $20 discount to anyone who brings along a white person to my class. Tell him I want white people in my classes and to send an email blast to every white person he knows to come and visit me. [Laughs]

KW: Larry also says he loved your work in "Glass House: The Good Mother." He asks, “Is there any chance I could see you in another thriller?”

TS: Wow! Tell him to pray. I want to do another thriller. [Laughs]

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

TS: Hmm… I see a beautiful black woman who has overcome and who is pressing into her future and forgetting about the past.

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

TS: Wow! I remember being 6 or 7 years-old and always begging my sister to act out scenes with me while we were in our bunk beds. I would be like, “Can you be Chaka Khan while I be Diana Ross? And let’s act like we’re at a party at Stevie wonder’s house and looking fabulous.” But she would always just fall asleep.

KW: How’s your twin, Sidra, doing?

TS: She’s great, thanks.

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

TS: I love Catherine Maladrino, Angela Dean and Nicole Miller. Catherine Maladrino designs that beautiful, high-class red carpet stuff. Nicole Miller makes beautiful dresses you can wear everyday. And when you just want to go and shut it down, you turn to Angela Dean. She made my dress for this premiere, as well as for the opening of Tyler Perry’s studio, that red sequined number.

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

TS: Wow, I was just telling my boyfriend that I want to be like Solomon, and instead of asking for riches ask for wisdom and creativity.

KW: What is your favorite dish to cook?

TS: I make a garlic cracked crab that will shut everything down. First, I roast fresh garlic in olive oil. Then, I sauté onions, peppers and basil in Old Bay seasoning with butter, heavy cream, wine and beer until it gets thick. Then, I let the fresh crabs cook in that sauce for about 10 or 15 minutes before roasting them. Woooo! Believe me when I tell you that my garlic cracked crab is soooo good. It’s dynamic! 

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

TS: “Understanding Your Potential” by Myles Munroe. That book is really, really, really good, and empowers you to appreciate your full potential, and God as the source of that potential.


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

TS: Honey, I’m on Sade’s “Soldier of Love” right now. Loving it, loving it, and loving it! That whole album is just crazy.


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

TS: Today. [LOL] You wanna know what happened? While I was filming “My Black Is Beautiful” I had my DNA traced and found out that I’m linked genetically to the Bubi people of Bioko Island. So, I eagerly asked, “Am I descended from kings and queens?” But I was told, “Sorry, your ancestors were definitely not kings and queens, but probably gatherers in the field.” [Laughs more] That was hilarious. I just laughed so hard.

KW: The Columbus Short question: Are you happy?

TS: Thanks for asking. A lot of times people don’t really seem to care about that. How do I sound?

KW: Elated, and you’ve got a boyfriend since we last spoke.

TS: [Shrieks] I got a man, baby! A man! He is so absolutely wonderful. I am so in love. And I’m planning on getting married and having a bay by the end of 2011.

KW: Congratulations! Who’s the lucky guy?

TS: His name is Keith.

KW: Best of luck to you both, Tasha, and thanks for another terrific interview.

TS: Thank you. It’s so good to talk to you.

KW: Same here.