Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Despicable Me

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Adorable Orphans Charm Diabolical Villain in Heartwarming Animated Adventure

Despite the fact that the title character at the center of Despicable Me might sound a little bit like Shrek, don’t let any superficial similarities discourage you from catching this equally-delightful animated adventure. Yes, at first blush, its ugly antihero is reminiscent of the much-beloved ogre, but it doesn’t take long for this variation on the theme to blossom into a thoroughly original persona.
Gru (Steve Carrell) is a hook-nosed hunchback with a vaguely Transylvanian accent who has singlehandedly ruined the otherwise idyllic slice of suburbia where he resides. Everyone on the block has learned to give the gruesome-looking misanthrope a wide berth; after all, his house is not only painted black but surrounded by a dead lawn. Plus, whenever he ventures into town in his road-hogging, jet-propelled tank, he tends to cause minor disturbances, like when he used one of his inventions to freeze everyone on line in front of him at the local coffee shop.
None of Gru’s intimidated neighbors have any idea that he’s secretly a megalomaniac poised to hatch an elaborate heist from his basement laboratory with the help of a loyal army of miniature minions. And why is he bent on world domination? Because he’s frustrated with being only the second most evil villain around, right behind the diabolical Vector (Jason Segel) who has just stolen the Great Pyramid at Giza and replaced it with an inflatable replica. Gru hopes to eclipse his competition and become #1 by using his latest invention, the shrink-ray gun, to make the moon disappear.
However, he meets his match the day that a trio of innocent orphans selling cookies door-to-door naively rings the bell. For Margo (Miranda Cosgrove), Edith (Dana Gaier) and Agnes (Elsie Fisher) are so desperate to be adopted that they manage to ignore the mean man’s gruff exterior, since all they see in him is the potential to be turned into a doting dad. He grudgingly lets the vulnerable girls move in, and their playful nature and wide-eyed requests to be read bedtime stories gradually melt his cold, cold heart.
Still, en route to the happily ever after finale, the plot thickens when the children are kidnapped by the vicious Vector, which affords Gru the opportunity to morph from selfish creep to altruistic benefactor. Meanwhile, co-directors Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud understand exactly how to employ the latest 3-D technology, and the frenetic action keeps you ducking from and reaching out to touch hovering objects as if you’re right in the midst of a virtual reality. Another big plus is the original soundtrack courtesy of Pharrell Williams whose mellow mix of hip-hop and retro R&B makes the experience all the more enjoyable.
The most adorable screen orphans since Annie!

Excellent (4 stars)
Rated PG for mild action and crude humor.
Running time: 95 Minutes
Studio: Universal Pictures

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Porn Star Guide to Great Sex (BOOK REVIEW)

by Mr. Marcus
St. Martin’s Press
Hardcover, $24.99
224 pages, Illustrated
ISBN: 978-0-312-38239-1

Book Review by Kam Williams

“When I first started in porn I knew how to give it to a woman, but what I didn’t know was how the woman wanted me to give it to her. I’ve been successful in the industry for so long for a reason: I listened, learned, and made changes that made a lasting impression on my co-stars, directors, and the public. I became a better lover and performer not only because gave my lovers what they wanted, but because when I failed it only drove me harder to succeed…
So who better to turn to for practical sexual advice than one of the most popular porn actors in American history? Over the past decade I’ve starred in more than a thousand original feature films… My prowess is the envy of many of my peers, and my techniques and stamina are legendary…
I’ve seen it all and I’ve done most of it, s there’s something here for everyone… After you’re done, you’ll want to put everything you’ve read into action.

-- Excerpted from the Introduction (pgs. 3-5)

Unless St. Martin’s the Patron Saint of pornography, he is probably spinning in his grave over the fact that the publishing company which bears his name has put out this book. The author, Marcus Spencer, aka Mr. Marcus, is the porn industry’s biggest, pardon the double entendre, African-American star. It appears that the well-endowed, 40 year-old adult entertainer is now looking to go legit, between a recent role in the Hollywood film Finding Bliss and writing this sex guide. Mr. Marcus leaves little doubt about his confidence in the sack, given his lack of performance anxiety over the course of an enduring career during which he specialized in interracial skin flicks with salacious titles like Sex for Hire, Once You Go Black, Show Me the Money, and the World’s Luckiest Black Man, where he supposedly satisfied 100 different women.
Still, it’s one thing for a stud to be able to copulate on cue, and quite another entirely for him to be doling out advice about lovemaking. After all, you’d think that a compulsive exhibitionist with such a big ego might be a narcissist incapable of exhibiting any sensuality towards the object of his injection.
But no, Mr. Marcus reveals a sensitive side in this comprehensive opus which touches on every area of human sexuality you could think of, and then some. The book is broken up into 16 chapters ranging from conventional behavior like kissing and the missionary position all the way to bizarre practices including group sex and sadomasochism.
Marcus’ literary style might best be assessed as a playful mix of creative and clinical as he sets about describing the path to maximum satisfaction via a variety of increasingly adventurous positions. Leaving nothing to the imagination, he augments his words with fairly-graphic illustrations reminiscent of those contained in The Joy of Sex. And he had the good sense to devote the final chapter to promoting safe sex and AIDS prevention, which is a good idea if you’re considering some of his kinkier suggestions involving multiple partners.
Dr. Ruth might have the academic credentials, but perusing The Porn Star Guide to Great Sex you definitely get the sense that Mr. Marcus deserves a Ph.D. of his own by virtue of sexual street cred earned in the School of Hard Knocks.

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 July 9, 2010





Despicable Me (PG for mild action and crude humor) 3-D computer-animated comedy, set in an otherwise idyllic suburban neighborhood, where a wicked weirdo (Steve Carell) with a black house and a dead lawn is secretly hatching a diabolical plan to steal the moon with the assistance of an army of minions. Hope for averting the disaster rests with three orphans (Dana Gaier, Miranda Cosgrove and Elsie Fisher) in need of a father who see some potential for redemption in the evil villain. Voice cast includes Kristen Wiig, Jason Segel, Danny McBride, Will Arnett, Dr. Ken Jeong, Russell Brand and Julie Andrews.


Predators (Unrated) Sci-fi sequel about a group of elite warriors who discover that they were brought to another planet by a race of bloodthirsty alien creatures to be hunted like prey in a human game reserve. Cast includes Adrien Brody, Topher Grace, Laurence Fishburne, Alice Braga and Danny Trejo.





Around a Small Mountain (Unrated) Serendipitous road saga, directed by French New Wave legend Jacques Rivette, revolving around an Italian Good Samaritan (Sergio Castellitto) who starts stalking the striking motorist (Jane Birkin) he rescued after her car broke down on a deserted highway. (In French with subtitles)


The Girl Who Played with Fire (Unrated) Action thriller, based on the Stieg Larsson novel, about a computer hacker (Noomi Rapace) who joins forces with a journalist (Michael Nyqvist) to try to crack a sex-trafficking ring, only to end up a fugitive after being accused of murder. (In Swedish, Italian and French with subtitles)


The Kids Are All Right (R for nudity, profanity, graphic sexuality, and teen drug and alcohol abuse) Family comedy about the fireworks which ensue when two kids (Mia Wasikowska and Josh Hutcherson) conceived via artificial insemination by a lesbian couple (Julianne Moore and Annette Bening) decide to track down their anonymous, sperm donor father (Mark Ruffalo). Cast includes Yaya DaCosta, Zosia Mamet (daughter of David), Sasha Spielberg (daughter of Steven) and Eric Eisner (son of Michael).



[Rec] 2 (R for graphic violence, disturbing images and pervasive profanity)

High attrition-rate horror flick, set in Barcelona about 15 minutes after the conclusion of [Rec] 1, finds a SWAT team now entering the quarantined apartment building to try to contain the terrifying virus has been changing the tenants into a violent race of raging beasts. Cast includes Manuela Velasco, Ferran Terraza, Jonathan Mellor and Claudia Silva.(In Spanish with subtitles)


Winnebago Man (Unrated) Viral video documentary about Jack Rebney, aka Winnebago Man, the foul-mouthed, corporate pitchman who became something of an internet sensation when the outtakes he shot in 1988 for a car commercial later ended-up on Youtube.


Beautiful Islands

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Climate Change Documentary Chronicles Effect of Global Warming

Do you believe in global warming? If not, you probably shouldn’t move to Venice, Italy, Shishmaref, Alaska or Tuvalu, Polynesia, the islands which are the focus of this daunting documentary chronicling the fallout of climate change. The visually-captivating movie marks the directorial debut of Tokyo’s Kana Tomoko, who mostly lets the pictures do the talking in a film featuring precious little in terms of dialogue. In fact, rather than having experts weigh-in, most of the speaking here is done by the indigenous people living in each of the affected areas, especially children, the future generation about to inherit mammoth ecological challenges.
For instance, Tuvalu, a Polynesian paradise located in the South Pacific,
is a virtually flat country which is apparently literally sinking. As one local observes, water is encroaching from every direction, even from below the soil, so nobody knows where to reinforce the soil. The way of life is threatened in Venice, too, where everything from public piazzas to shopping malls routinely get swamped during high tide. There, we’re introduced to 13 year-old Claudio, the forlorn son of a gondolier who frets that he won’t be able to follow in his father’s footsteps.
The situation is far more dire up in Shishmaref, where not only is ground disappearing but so are people, such as the son of an Eskimo who perished when he fell through a crack in the rapidly melting Arctic ice. The problem is that rising temperatures have led to a thinning of the permafrost which in turn has resulted in dozens of oceanfront homes being claimed by the encroaching seacoast.
A heartbreaking expose’ which leaves no doubt that dramatic environmental change is unfolding at every latitude, whether they be the consequences of human overconsumption of fossil fuels or merely the hand of God.

Very Good (3 stars)
Rated PG for violence, mild epithets, smoking and brief nudity.
In Tuvaluan, Italian and Inuit with subtitles.
Running time: 106 Minutes
Distributor: Eleven Arts

Monday, June 28, 2010

Craig Robinson: The “A Game of Character” Interview

with Kam Williams

Headline: Fraternizing with the First Brother-in-Law

Craig Robinson was born in Chicago on April 21, 1962, to Fraser and Marian Robinson and raised in a modest home where he had to share a room with his younger sister, Michelle. With help of devoted parents, who made major sacrifices on their behalf, both children were inspired to excel academically and were admitted to Princeton University.
6’6” Craig was also a basketball phenom who was twice voted the Ivy League Player of the Year during his college tenure. This meant that Michelle grew up in the shadow of her protective big brother. But today, those roles are reversed with Craig in the shadow of his world famous sibling, since she’s now the First Lady of the United States.
After playing basketball professionally in Europe, he earned an MBA from the University of Chicago, and entered the world of finance where he enjoyed a meteoric rise until another dream beckoned, namely, to coaching. Craig spent two years as the head coach at Brown, where he spearheaded a revival of the school’s flagging program, winning more games in his first two years than any other head coach in the school’s basketball history before being named the Ivy League Basketball Coach of the Year. Currently, Craig, his kids and wife, Kelly, live in Oregon where he coaches Oregon State University’s men’s basketball team. Here, he discusses his autobiography, “A Game of Character,” and reflects about his career and about how his life has changed since his brother-in-law, Barack, became President.

Kam Williams: Hey, thanks for the time. Much appreciated.
Craig Robinson: Oh, my pleasure, man. Thank you for reading my book.
KW: I really enjoyed it. How should I refer to you, as the First Brother-in-Law?
CR: [Laughs] You can call me Craig, Coach, or whatever you like.
KW: How does it feel, as a two-time Ivy League Player of the Year, to find yourself suddenly overshadowed by your sister for the first time?
CR: It’s ironic, but it’s kind of fun for me. As I mentioned in the book, for most of her life, until just a few years ago, she was always known as Craig Robinson’s little sister. It’s much more fun being Michelle Obama’s big brother.
KW: In reading the book, you emphasized the importance of both family and basketball in shaping your character. Which would you say played a bigger role?
CR: I’d say the split is really about 70% family, 30% basketball. The foundation I learned from my parents. It just so happened that my father was into athletics, so he often used sports to reiterate some of the lessons he had already taught me at home.
KW: Children’s book author Irene Smalls’ asks, “How does it feel to be the First Lady's brother?” And, “Seeing politics up close and personal, do you have political aspirations of your own?”
CR: I’ll answer the second question first. I don’t have any political aspirations. I so much enjoy coaching. I feel so rewarded having the opportunity to help shape the lives of young people. As to how it feels to be the First Lady's brother, it’s really been an eye-opener for me to work on the Presidential campaign, and to get an insider’s view of Washington and politics. It was humbling and quite an honor to be able to go around the country and talk about my family. And to see the inner workings of the White House, just from my own inquisitive point of view, has been really interesting. It’s been almost all positive.
KW: What did you think of the issue of the New Yorker Magazine that came out during the campaign with the cover suggesting that your sister and Barack were terrorists?
CR: It didn’t bother me, because I knew who my sister and brother-in-law were. While it might have been disturbing to some people, it really didn’t upset me. Whenever trailblazers are trying to break through a ceiling into uncharted territory, they have to be prepared for pushback and challenges, and for it not be pretty.
KW: Have you ever read the book, “The Rage of a Privileged Class,” by Ellis Cose?

He’s also from Chicago. The book talks about the frustrations encountered by many black professionals upon entering the corporate world. I know plenty of folks like the ones he describes whose careers never fully flourished despite impressive credentials and their showing dedication. Why do you think you, your sister and President Obama have fared so differently?
CR: I haven’t read the book, but I’m going to run out and try to find it. I certainly understand the point it sounds like he’s making. Having worked in corporate America, the only thing I can say is that growing up in our house Michelle and I were taught to do our best, to be content with that, and not to gauge our success by how much money we made. And we saw that ethic demonstrated every day, watching our father getting up and going to work, despite his being disabled, and my mom working so hard, too. My parents’ prevailing mantra was self-confidence. They taught us not to let anybody else define us, and to not worry about what other people thought. What that does is instill the confidence and determination that you need to compete when things are so much against you.
KW: It makes me think of PBS anchorwoman Gwen Ifill’s memoir, where she recounted being greeted on the first day of work at a Boston newspaper by a note on her desk which read, “[N-word] go home!”
Luckily, she wasn’t crushed by the insult like the racist undoubtedly hoped. The incident only served to strengthen her resolve. But not everybody is blessed with the combination of intelligence, grace and intestinal fortitude needed to survive and even flourish in a toxic environments like that.
CR: You have to have the type of personality that doesn’t care about that sort of intimidation. It helps to feel in every fiber of your being that, “I’m here to do something that I’d love to do. And if you think this is going to scare me away, then you don’t know who I am.”
KW: Attorney Bernadette Beekman asks, “How has the family dynamic changed since your mother and sister moved to the White House?” Also, “Are all family events now at your sister's?”
CR: No, all family events are not at my sister's, although things obviously have changed a little. Now, it’s a bit of a logistical nightmare to get together, but I still talk to my mother and sister at least once a week. And the things we speak about haven’t changed. It’s family stuff: parenting, the kids, and how they’re doing.
KW: I forgot that you and your wife just had a baby. Congratulations!
CR: Yep, in January, thank you.
KW: Are you getting any sleep?
CR: No, but I’m at the point where I don’t need a lot of sleep.
KW: Bernadette has a couple of follow-ups. “Do you have Secret Service following you around all the time?” And, “How often each week do people reach out to you just to get to Barack?”
CR: I can’t comment about our security. As for the second question, people reach out to me incessantly to get through to Barack. Because I’m a coach, my contact information is easily accessible, and people write, call and send things to me constantly.
KW: Hot Rod Williams wants to know, who was best player you ever played against? Having read the book, I’d guess your answer is gonna be Michael Jordan.
CR: Right. That was in a summer league game.
KW: He also wants to know, what was your greatest basketball moment as a player?
CR: The NCAA Tournament my senior year, when we won two games, including an upset of Oklahoma State, is my fondest memory from my playing days..
KW: FSU grad Laz Lyles would like to know your thoughts about the Gulf oil spill.
CR: Well, my thoughts are that this is an awful tragedy that sounds like it could have been avoided. My heart just goes out to the families of the people who lost their lives, and to the people of the Gulf who are going to feel the effects of it for years to come.
KW: Yale grad Tommy Russell wants to know if you think your brother-in-law is doing enough in response to the crisis in the Gulf.
CR: That’s a loaded question that I’d prefer not to answer.
KW: Tommy also asks, when you visit the White House, do you stay over? And if so, in what room?
CR: I’ve only spent the night there once, and I stayed in the Lincoln bedroom. I imagine I would stay there any time I’m invited, because it’s got the biggest bed.
KW: Reverend Florine Thompson says, “I read that your mother refers to you as Philosopher-in-Chief. This being the case, what is the wisest quote that you are known for in the family?”
CR: [LOL] I don’t know that I’ve been quoted yet.
KW: She also asks, when life seems most challenging, who gets you through those difficult times?
CR: I would have to say my family, specifically, my wife, my mom and my kids.
KW: Another one from Reverend Thompson: What leadership/management style do you commit to and why?
CR: As a coach, it involves a lot more teaching and instructing than it did when I was in the business world. I try to get my players to do things that they wouldn’t be able to do on their own.
KW: Her follow-up is, “What is your primary goal as coach of the Oregon State Beavers?”
CR: The primary goal is to compete for the national championship. That’s the ultimate goal. But I’d say that right now we’re just trying to compete for the Pac-10 championship every year.
KW: Is recruiting easier or harder, being the First Brother-in-Law?
CR: We’re still trying to figure that out, but being related to the President and First Lady of the United States certainly gives me some brand awareness.
KW: Is there any question no one ever asks you, that you wish someone would?
CR: No, although every now and then I get a question I’ve never been asked before. This is the first time I’ve ever been interviewed where the reporter has had questions from readers. That’s different.
KW: The Tasha Smith question: Are you ever afraid?
CR: For my life, probably not. I haven’t been afraid in a long time. But I’m definitely a worrier.
KW: The Columbus Short question: Are you happy?
CR: Yes.
KW: The Teri Emerson question: When was the last time you had a good laugh?
CR: This weekend.
KW: The bookworm Troy Johnson question: What was the last book you read?
CR: John Adams by David McCullough.

KW: The music maven Heather Covington question: What are you listening to on your iPod?
CR: I listen to a little bit of everything: hip-hop, R&B, reggae and jazz. And I’ll even tune-in to a Top-40 station on the radio.
KW: When you look in the mirror, what do you see?
CR: When I look in the mirror, I hope I’m doing the right thing. I see someone who’s trying to do his best to leave a mark which helps rather than hurts people.
KW: Guess what? Just this second I got an email marked “URGENT!” warning me not to open any email with the subject heading “Blacks in the White House,” because it might be a virus.
CR: [Chuckles] That’s ironic, huh?
KW: Yeah, but I’m sure it’s not true. They never are. The Ling-Ju Yen question: What is your earliest childhood memory?
CR: Oh, man, it was when I was 3, before we moved out of our first apartment. I remember my mom holding me up to the window so I could see my dad coming home from work.
KW: What was it like sharing a room with Michelle as a child?
CR: It was a lot of fun. We were very close. My parents never pitted us against each other, so it was a really easygoing childhood. Because she became First Lady, people want me to say that I predicted it back then. But I didn’t.
KW: What is your favorite dish to cook?
CR: Fried chicken.
KW: If you could have one wish instantly granted, what would that be for?
CR: That my dad could have lived to see all the stuff that’s going on for us right now.
KW: The Uduak Oduok question: Who is your favorite clothes designer?
CR: I don’t have one. Being 6’6” and 260 pounds, I like any designers who can make clothes look good on me.
KW: What is your guiltiest pleasure?
CR: Krispy Kreme donuts. They’re a real test of willpower.
CR: Do you ever wish you could get your anonymity back?
KW: [Laughs] Yeah, sometimes, for my daughter’s sake. When we go out to dinner, she would love to make sure we share some quality time together. But sometimes, that’s just not possible, between my being a basketball coach, and my sister being the First Lady.
KW: How do you want to be remembered?
CR: As somebody who gave more than he took.
KW: Thanks again, Craig, good luck in the Pac-10 next season, and give my best to your sister and brother-in-law.
CR: Alright, man, I appreciate it. This was fun.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

I Am Love

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Swinton Stars as Cheating Cougar in Bittersweet Saga of Forbidden Love

Tilda Swinton won an Oscar for the blockbuster Michael Clayton in 2008, but informed fans of the talented actress know that she has delivered plenty of comparable performances over the years in such lesser-known pictures as The Deep End, Burn after Reading and Julia, to name a few. Now, you can add I Am Love to that long list of underappreciated outings, for the versatile thespian again tests the limits of her enviable acting range here, speaking in Italian with a Russian accent in this bittersweet saga of forbidden love. And although almost 50, she shows no hesitation about sharing explicit nude scenes opposite a hunk about half her age.
Written and directed by Luca Guadagnino, the story is set in Milan around the turn of the millennium at the sprawling estate of the Recchis, a wealthy Italian family which makes its money in textiles. At the point of departure, we find aging patriarch Edoardo, Sr. to entrust with control of his considerable empire.
However, for our purposes, all that really matters is that Emma (Swinton), the Russian wife of Edoardo’s son, Tancredi Pippo Delbono), is unhappy, despite having lived in the lap of luxury since the day they were married. Nonetheless, she has come to feel neglected by her always otherwise occupied spouse, So, with their three children grown and out of the mansion, the grand dame decides, ala Teri Garr in Tootsie, to take responsibility for her own orgasm.
Then, while vacationing at a villa in Sanremo, the sexually-frustrated cougar has her head turned by Antonio (Edoardo Gabbriellini), a handsome young chef she’d just met through one of her sons (Flavio Parenti). He’s equally attracted to the well-preserved sugar momma, and a few compromising positions later that wan look of detachment and frigidity has been wiped off the face of the suddenly lust-crazed adulteress.
Next, the reckless pair proceeds in heat down a perilous path of increasingly-dangerous, if equally-passionate liaisons offering little chance of a safe landing, considering the difference in their ages and class. Meanwhile, Emma finds a shoulder to lean on in daughter Elisabetta (Alba Rohrwacher), a lesbian about to come out of the closet for the sake of the love (Maria Paiato) of her life. Too bad the Recchi men don’t prove to be as understanding that much like the heart, the labia wants what the labia wants.
How do you say, “I am lust” in Italian?

Excellent (4 stars)
Rated R for nudity and sexuality.
In Italian, Russian and English with subtitles.
Running time: 120 Minutes
Distributor: Magnolia Pictures

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Grown Ups

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Blacks Serve as Brunt of the Jokes in Insensitive Buddy Comedy

In the opening scene of Grown Ups, a black kid (Jameel McGill) who has very obviously double-dribbled during a basketball game unreasonably calls the referee a racist for blowing the whistle on him. That scene sets the tone for the rest of a movie which is essentially a series of offensive one-liners coming mostly at the expense of African-Americans.
Unless you enjoy laughing at outdated stereotypes suggesting that blacks are loud, stupid, lazy, smelly, promiscuous and criminal, you might like to pass on this insensitive exercise in bigotry masquerading as a buddy flick. Don’t be fooled by the fact that Chris Rock is one of the movie’s stars, what’s served up as humor here is cruel, hateful, and anything but funny.
Let me offer a few examples, so you can judge for yourself. Rock’s character, Kurt, is chronically unemployed, a situation that doesn’t sit well with his resentful, expecting-again wife (Maya Rudolph) or with her terminally-sassy mother (Ebony Jo-Ann).
Still, the shiftless slacker returns their stinging barbs by telling his overweight mother-in-law “You look like Idi Amin with a propeller on his head.” Meanwhile, she’s supposedly so ignorant that she says, “I think I just sat on your adding machine,” when she actually crushed a cell phone. Granny is also oversexed, which is proven by how she insists on French kissing Kurt’s friend, Lenny (Adam Sandler) as a greeting, at a funeral, no less.
Kurt can’t contain his carnal urges either, as he’s caught putting the moves on his pal’s young nanny. Plus, he’s able to have intercourse with his nine-months pregnant wife “because the baby thinks he’s getting a Tootsie Roll.” Even Kurt’s prepubescent son (Nadji Jeter) is depicted as lusting after a friend’s breastfeeding mom (Maria Bello) by asking, “Can I have some of her milk?”
Furthermore, granny is relentlessly classless and crude, whether she’s releasing one annoying fart after another, or exposing her unsightly bunions in public. And when she demands a big meal, she’s asked whether it’s her last before she gets the electric chair. Then, in the end, she gets what she apparently deserves, when she trips and falls face first into a pie comprised entirely of whipped cream.
Young black females fare no better, such as Kurt’s daughter (China Anne McClain) who wonders whether “we get to hang ourselves” at the sight of a tree swing she mistakes for a lynching rope. Then there’s this dubious exchange between Kurt and a friend (Tim Meadows) over who is more intimidating to Caucasians. “When white people see me come into a store, they get scared,” Malcolm boasts. “Yeah, when white people see me coming into a store, they run,” Kurt retorts.
When not poking fun at African-Americans, Grown Ups takes aim at other minority groups, and at the mentally and physically-challenged. “I don’t know if you’re looking at me,” is a mean-spirited line leveled at a guy who’s cross-eyed. And there’s a running joke involving a deferential Asian-American (Di Quon), so dumb she probably couldn’t count to two if you let her take off her bra.
The principal plot revolves around the 30-year reunion of members of a championship basketball team (Sandler, Rock, Kevin James, Rob Schneider and David Spade) in honor of their recently-deceased coach (Blake Clark). Despite bringing along their wives and children to the lakefront retreat, they degenerate into a bunch of self-indulgent, potty-mouthed brats over the course of an irreverent 4th of July weekend.
A midlife crisis disaster more akin to Billy Madison in search of a second childhood than anything evocative of The Big Chill. Grow up already!

Poor (0 stars)
Rated PG-13 for profanity, male rear nudity, crude humor and suggestive material.
Running time: 102 minutes
Studio: Columbia Pictures

Thursday, June 24, 2010

South of the Border

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Oliver Stone Examines Banana Republics in Documentary

If you’ve read “Confessions of an Economic Hitman” by John Perkins, then you are well aware of the lengths to which CIA and other agents operating on behalf of the U.S. government and Fortune 500 corporations have gone to install puppets as heads of state in countries all across Latin America. But those unaware of America’s role in countless coups in the region, might enjoy the history lesson offered by South of the Border, as informative a history lesson as anybody could hope for.
This damning documentary was directed by three-time Oscar-winner Oliver Stone (for Platoon, Midnight Express and Born on the Fourth of July), a man who has never been afraid to tackle controversial aspects of presidential politics in thought-provoking fashion, whether JFK, Nixon or W. What makes this piece unique is its documentary format, as the aforementioned entries were docudramas, criticized by some for indulging in speculation and paranoid conspiracy theories.
Here, Stone sticks to the facts, and makes it quite clear where his loyalties lie, namely, with Chavez in Venezuela, with Castro in Cuba, with Morales in Bolivia and with other South American leaders of populist movements. Why? Because he ostensibly admires how these freedom fighters have somehow managed to break the cycle of exploitation of their countries’ people and natural resources for the benefit of white Western nations.
Over the course of the film, Stone not only narrates, but interviews 7 democratically-elected presidents in order to highlight how they ascended to power as a consequence of a mandate from the majority. Ad infinitum, he drives home the point that we aren’t dealing with dictators or strongmen as is often suggested by the mainstream media so fond of vilifying these working-class heroes.
An optimistic, cinematic outing of America’s predatory exportation of capitalism in a manner which has ravaged the Rainforest while leaving the indigenous peoples of the continent with bleak prospects for survival.

Excellent (3.5 stars)
In English, Spanish and Portuguese with subtitles.
Running time: 78 Minutes
Studio: Cinema Libre Studio

The Eclipse DVD



DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Atmospheric Irish Drama Released on DVD


                Recent widower Michael Farr (Ciaran Hinds) has resigned himself to raising his 10 and 14 year-old kids alone. The grieving clan lives along Ireland’s seacoast in a verdant, fog-enshrouded town whose only claim to fame is hosting an annual literary festival.

A schoolteacher by profession, practical Michael put his dream of becoming a writer on hold in order to be able to provide for his family. However, he still harbors the hope of one day pursuing his true passion. Meanwhile, the only brushes he enjoys with the publishing industry is when he works as a volunteer at the aforementioned festival.

This summer, he’s been assigned to serve as a chauffeur for a best-selling author Lena Morelle (Iben Hjejle). Her specialty, the supernatural, dovetails conveniently with the fact that Michael’s been seeing ghosts ever since his wife’s passing. The plot gradually thickens as he develops a crush on Lena because she’s the first person to give credence to his claim of feeling the presence otherworldly apparitions.

However, although Lena lends a sympathetic ear, she’s doesn’t think of him romantically. For she already has plans to rendezvous with Nicholas Holden (Aidan Quinn), a colleague she slept with at this same gathering the previous year.

But she had been too passionate back then to have the patience to learn much about her lover like the fact that he was married. When the truth comes out, the miffed mistress ends torn about continuing their illicit liaison. As the days go by, the question becomes whether ardent admirer Michael might actually have a shot with this woman way above his station. So unfolds The Eclipse, an atmospheric adventure which proves to be as worthwhile for its breathtaking cinematography as for the intriguing love triangle it spins ever so deliberately, delectably and delightfully.

A literary lass gets more than she bargained for while looking for love on the Emerald Isle.


Excellent (3.5 stars)

Rated R for profanity and disturbing images.

Running time: 88 Minutes

Distributor: Magnolia Home Entertainment

Don McKay DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: DVD Features Janitor Mired in Emotional Quagmire

This indie flick isn’t half-bad, for a taut, neo-noir thriller that inexplicably transforms into a screwball comedy around its midway point. What salvages the production, which at times also isn’t half-good, is the fact that it was blessed by such a talented cast capable of convincingly executing the zany screenplay with perfect aplomb.
Let’s face it, when you’re spotted a trio of Oscar-nominees for the lead roles right, namely, Thomas Haden Church (for Sideways), Melissa Leo (for Frozen River) and Elisabeth Shue (for Leaving Las Vegas), it’s reasonable for your audience to expect to witness something special. Church plays the title character, a jaded janitor who’s been working at the same job for the past quarter century, after being dumped by his high school sweetheart, Sonny (Shue). He left their tiny hometown in Western Massachusetts, and has forever since pined away for her from afar.
Meanwhile, she never answered any of his letters until she developed terminal cancer and needed a shoulder to lean on. That’s the intriguing point of departure of this slowly-revealed whodunit which is secretly laden with an abundance of shocking twists lying in wait.
As the action unwinds, we find Don hurriedly returning to rustic Mount Raven by bus in response to Sonny’s urgent appeal for assistance. Upon his arrival at her place, he’s met at the door by her steely, live-in nurse, Marie (Leo) who warns of his ex’s weakened condition. Later, Sonny’s doting doctor, Lance Pryce (James Rebhorn), fills Don in further about his patient’s dire prognosis.
Despite the illness and the intervening years, the former lovebirds manage to rekindle the flames. Sonny apologizes for the way it all ended, and would now like to make amends by tying the knot on her deathbed. Of course, all is not as it appears, and the plot thickens when Doc Pryce exhibits a jealous streak in response to their resurrected romance.
It’s difficult to say what transpires at this juncture of the picture, regardless, I dare not deconstruct the film any further, since that would involve spoiling some delightful developments. Suffice to say, Don McKay does remain an entertaining enough diversion, though in this critic’s opinion it veers sharply from the sublime to the ridiculous.

Very Good (2.5 stars)
Rated R for profanity and violence.
Running time: 90 minutes
Distributor: Image Entertainment
DVD Extras: Deleted scenes, audio commentary by director Jake Goldberger and producer Jim Young, and a theatrical trailer.

Hot Tub Time Machine DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Raunchy Time-Travel Comedy Arrives on DVD

This relentlessly-vulgar exercise in depravity easily outdoes many of the earlier examples of the shock genre, such as There’s Something about Mary (1998) where Cameron Diaz mistakes semen for hair gel? Here, you better brace yourself for the sight of a guy messily ejaculating all over the face of one of his buddies.
Or how about the Oedipal overtones of Back to the Future (1985), where Michael J. Fox found himself fending off his own mother’s advances. By contrast, in this case we have a character who travels back in time to watch himself being conceived by his naked mom during a drunken one-night stand.
The movie also makes an allusion to more recent teensploits, such as The Hangover (2009) which featured a convicted sex offender molesting a missing infant. Here, we have incest instead of pedophilia, with a man erotically massaging his grown son’s private parts.
This sort of tasteless fare proves to be par for the course in Hot Tub Time Machine, a cinematic sign of the imminent collapse of Western Civilization. The movie stars John Cusack, Craig Robinson and Rob Corddry as best friends, each in the midst of a midlife crisis.
At the point of departure, we learn that Adam’s (Cusack) just been dumped by his girlfriend; Nick’s (Robinson) controlling wife (Kellee Stewart) is cheating on him; and clinically-depressed Lou (Corddry) feels he has nothing to live for, between his alcoholism and erectile dysfunction.
So, they plan a vacation to the same ski resort which served as the site of their sordid sexual conquests during the lost glory days of their misspent youth. Upon their arrival at the Silver Peaks Lodge, the buddies find themselves magically deposited in 1986 for a second go-round as bawdy bachelors, courtesy of an electrical short circuit of the hot tub they’re marinating in. The story doesn’t bother to offer a plausible scientific explanation for this astounding development, nor as to why our heroes suddenly look young again to everyone other than each other.
At heart, this sleazy flick is a titillating, homoerotic fantasy masquerading as a nostalgic, male-bonding opportunity. A kinky cross of Caligula and Back to the Future!

Poor (½ star)
Rated R for nudity, graphic sexuality, crude humor, drug use and pervasive profanity.
Running time: 100 Minutes
Distributor: MGM Home Entertainment
DVD Extras: Original and unrated versions, 9 deleted scenes, and theatrical trailers.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010


Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Embed Documentary Offers GI-View of Afghan War

This riveting documentary couldn’t have asked for a more timely release, given the breaking brouhaha over General Stanley McChrystal’s caustic comments about the Obama Administration’s handling of the war in Afghanistan. The President has relieved McChrystal of his duties, despite the disgraced general’s previously pivotal role as commander of the Afghan theater of operations. The movie was shot by co-directors with a death wish Sebastian Junger (A Perfect Storm) and Tim Hetherington (The Devil Came on Horseback) who embedded themselves with a 15-man, U.S. military unit stationed at a remote outpost in the Korengal Valley from May 2007 to July 2008.
Chinook helicopter was the only way in or out of their godforsaken encampment which was located in Eastern Afghanistan near the border with Pakistan, a safe haven for terrorists. Thus, the region was teeming with Taliban who attacked the American camp on a daily basis from the 10,000 ft. high mountain peaks surrounding the GIs.
Among the soldiers in the platoon was medic Juan “Doc” Restrepo, who seemed almost giddy during an interview at the outset of their dangerous deployment. “We’re going to war!” he’s shown chirping almost gleefully. Sadly, Doc was the first to be killed by the enemy, and not long after their arrival. So, they renamed their makeshift fort Restrepo in honor of their fallen comrade, and the filmmakers followed suit in terms of the title of this graphic, super-realistic example of cinema verite’.
Tragically, Doc would not be the last to perish before the troops’ tour of duty ended, and this gritty picture captures not only the sadness, but the fear gradually etched into the faces of the survivors as they days wore on. The fighting gets pretty fierce, with fire often being exchanged at distances close enough to look into the eyes of the enemy and to engage them in hand-to-hand combat.
Understandably, some of the exasperated Americans seemed a little spooked by the Taliban launching wave after wave of seemingly-suicidal zealots desperate to scalp the Yankee infidel. “I feel like a fish in a barrel,” concedes Sergeant Brendan O’Byrne, in assessing their “sitting duck” predicament. But others, like hard-boiled Steiner, like the kill or be killed aspect of war, calling it “Fun!” adding, “You can’t get a better high. It’s like crack! Better than bungee jumping or skydiving!”
Such bravado, however, tends to be tempered by sobering moments such as the insomniac who admits to taking five types of sleeping pills. Worse is when Riegel, considered by everybody to be the best soldier in the group, gets his head blown off in the midst of a battle royal. Without pausing to grieve, the guys continue to take it to the Taliban until that all-out attack is finally repelled. “We’re going to die here,” one worried grunt then grunts.
Not so. By the time the year was over, it was clear as they disassembled the bivouac to evacuate that everybody left at Restrepo was by then a hardened vet with the proverbial 1,000 yard stare. Hey, even if the U.S. never conquers the country, this movie makes it clear that the prospect of being outnumbered 10-to-1 can turn any kid with a sense of self-preservation into a fine-tuned killing machine.
Easily, the best documentary on the War in Afghanistan yet.

Excellent (4 stars)
Rated R for violence and pervasive profanity.
Running time: 93 Minutes
Distributor: National Geographic Entertainment

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

H.O.L.Y. B.I.B.L.E.: A Compliment to Your Daily Bible Study

by Wesley J. Malcolm
Paperback, $19.99
286 pages, Illustrated
ISBN: 978-1-4490-4049-9

Book Review by Kam Williams

“I only hope that the simple but insightful Principles captured in this book will allow for you, the reader, to first get within yourself and be guided in a positive way by the instructions given out by God for a healthy, quality, and satisfied life. Secondly, I hope that others will be stimulated and encouraged by you to get within themselves by studying and meditating on the Word of God.”
-- Excerpted from the Preface (pgs. xi-xviii)

Did you ever try reading the entire Bible cover to cover? If so, then you know that some of it is so boring (“So-and-so begat so-and-so who begat so-and-so” and so forth) that your eyes tend to glaze over after a couple of pages. And a lot of what’s not sleep-inducing is so dense that you could use a help discerning the messages being imparted by God in particular passages.
For this reason, Christians might make good use of H.O.L.Y. B.I.B.L.E.: A Compliment to Your Daily Bible Study. If you notice, there’s a period after each letter in the title, that’s because each one stands for the first letter in the mnemonic: Humble Obedience Leverages Your Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth.
The book was written by Wesley J. Malcolm, a man of humble origins hailing from Simsboro, Louisiana who over the course of his career worked his way up from janitor to assistant vice president of a major financial institution. But this opus was inspired less by any of the author’s worldly accomplishments than by a love of God whose name he promises to praise forever.
The text might best be thought of as an unpretentious, plain English interpretation of the Bible which breaks down each book by chapter and verse, starting with Genesis clear through to Revelation. To give you an idea of what to expect, here’s how Mr. Malcolm explains the scriptures relating the story of Adam and Eve: “Giving in to temptation only weakens our faith.” Then, after all the entries for all the individual chapters, he summarizes Genesis with, “We should always put God first with less value on wealth, comfort and success.”
A practical companion to the Good Book for anybody who’s been Born Again, and it would probably prove probably come in handy at home for folks with kids too fidgety to pay attention during Sunday School.

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 July 2, 2010





The Twilight Saga: Eclipse (PG-13 for intense violence and some sensuality) Episode three in the fantasy saga opens with high school graduation fast approaching, and Bella (Kristen Stewart) being forced to choose between her love of a vampire (Edward Pattinson) and her friendship with a werewolf (Taylor Lautner). Meanwhile, the Pacific Northwest again finds itself plagued by a string of mysterious slayings. With Anna Kendrick, Dakota Fanning and Bryce Dallas Howard.


The Last Airbender (Unrated) M. Night Shyamalan directs this initial offering in a live- action trilogy based on the popular, animated TV show “Avatar.” First installment in the sci-fi fantasy series opens with the world at war and on the brink of destruction and revolves around the attempt of a young boy (Noah Ringer) to restore peace with the help of a couple friends (Nicola Peltz and Jackson Rathbone) and a flying bison (Dee Bradley Baker). With Dev Patel, Ali Khan and Rohan Shah.





The Agony and Ecstasy of Phil Spector (Unrated) BBC-produced bio-pic chronicling the rise and fall of the legendary songwriter and music producer who worked with everyone from The Ronettes to The Righteous Brothers to The Beatles until he received a life sentence last year for the 2003 murder of Lana Clarkson, a down on her luck actress he picked up at a bar.


Beautiful Islands (PG for violence, mild epithets, smoking and brief nudity) Climate change documentary chronicling the dramatic effect of global warming on three isles located at different latitudes: Venice, Italy, Shishmaref, Alaska and Tuvalu, Polynesia.


Great Directors (Unrated) Filmmaking is the focus of this documentary comprised of conversations with ten of the best living directors: John Sayles, David Lynch, Bernardo Bertolucci, Richard Linklater, Stephen Frears, Ken Loach, Catherine Breillat, Todd Haynes, Agnes Varda and Liliana Cavani.


Love Ranch (R for violence, sexuality and pervasive profanity) Fact-based drama, set in Reno in the Seventies, revolving around the tempestuous marriage of the couple (Helen Mirren and Joe Pesci) who opened Nevada’s first legal brothel. Directed by Taylor Hackfford (Ray) with a support cast featuring Gina Gershon, Sergio Peris-Mencheta, Ling Bai, Bryan Cranston and Scout Taylor-Compton.


Only When I Dance (Unrated) Inspirational documentary examines the exploits of a couple of black teenagers, Irlan Santos da Silva and Isabela Coracy Alves Nascimento Santos, whose dedication to ballet enables them to enter international competitions and thereby escape the barrio of Rio de Janeiro. (In Portuguese and English with subtitles)

Monday, June 21, 2010

Norah Jones: The “Wah Do Dem” Interview

with Kam Williams

Headline: Norah Knows Why

Norah Jones was born Geethali Shankar in Brooklyn on March 30, 1979 to Sue Jones and Ravi Shankar, the legendary Indian sitar player. At the age of 4, she and her mom moved to groovy Grapevine, Texas where she started singing in the church choir at an early age, while learning to play the piano, guitar and alto saxophone.
At 16, she changed her name to Norah Jones while attending Booker T. Washington High School. After graduation, she majored in piano at the University of North Texas until she decided to return to New York City to form a band. In 2002, she made a mellow debut with “Come Away with Me,” a universally-acclaimed CD which won 8 Grammy Awards and is the best-selling jazz album of all time at over 20 million copies and counting.
Norah’s next couple of records, “Feels Like Home” and “Not Too Late,” also went platinum, and she’s currently on tour for her fourth, “The Fall.” Besides singing, songwriting and playing multiple instruments, this gifted Renaissance woman is also an actress who has enjoyed a starring role in My Blueberry Nights and appeared as herself in Two Weeks Notice and Life Support Music. Here, the sultry siren talks about life, music and her latest screen outing in Wah Do Dem, a road comedy where she cameos as the ex-girlfriend of a just-dumped slacker who gets mugged while vacationing in Jamaica.

Kam Williams: Hi Norah, thanks for the time.
Norah Jones: Hi Kam, everything cool with you?
KW: Yes, thanks. What interested you in Wah Do Dem?
NJ: Well, I had taken some time off, and wasn’t really doing much at the time, just sort of hanging out in New York. I get lots of random requests, which might be cool, but just don’t make sense at the time for a lot of different reasons. With Wah Do Dem, I was free, and it was a really interesting concept. They didn’t have a script, just an outline of where they wanted the story to go and a plan too improvise, but with an underlying storyline. It sounded easy enough to do, so I spoke to them on the phone, and they seemed like good people and really cool.
KW: I really enjoyed the film although I was a little disappointed by the ending which I don’t want to give away except to say I was hoping for a more clear-cut resolution of your character Willow and Max’s [played by Sean Bones] relationship.
NJ: I know what you mean, but I think the film isn’t about the relationship, but about Max’s figuring his stuff out, and kind of growing up a little bit. I think for him to do that there shouldn’t be a girl around in the end, even though audiences might find it more satisfying. This way, it’s more like real life.
KW: I guess I wanted you to have a bigger role.
NJ: No, that’s the other reason I liked it. First of all, I wasn’t prepared to commit to a large project at the time, because I was tired. So when they said they only needed me for a small part, I thought that would really be a lot of fun for me, because I don’t make or break the film, and I liked the way the directors [Ben Chace and Sam Fleischner] approached shooting it.
KW: Guerilla style.
NJ: Yeah, they didn’t have any permits, and they used a lot of real people in Jamaica. It was crazy. They were very ambitious, and I was a little worried about whether they’d be able to pull it all off, but they did.
KW: Do you have another acting gig planned?
NJ: Not right now, although I really enjoy it when I actually have the time to do it.
KW: What about your music? Where can people see you play?
NJ: I just finished a U.S. tour, and we’re leaving tomorrow for Europe for a month or so.
KW: Who’s in the band? The same people playing on your latest album?
NJ: A great group. Sasha Dobson on guitar, banjo, percussion and backup vocals, Smokey Hormel on guitar, Joey Waronker on drums, Gus Seyyfert on bass, and John Kirby on keyboards. Except for Sasha, they all played on the record.
KW: How would you describe your new sound?
NJ: I have a hard time describing it. I’d rather just play it. But I’d say it’s definitely taken a little bit of a shift, and I like where it’s going. I’m excited about trying out a lot of different sounds. It’s nice to change and explore.
KW: You strike me as an irrepressible artist who’s always inclined to be faithful to her true nature.
NJ: That’s cool with me. I like that. [Chuckles]
KW: You play more guitar on this album. What’s your favorite instrument?
NJ: I love the piano. I’m more familiar with the piano. But I think for that reason, I enjoy playing the guitar, because I’m a little bit more limited on it. The main reason I play the guitar is that I like it, it has a different sound, and it’s also portable. It’s way easier, since I can’t carry a piano around with me. So, it’s become a good outlet for me to write on.
KW: You could try a melodica.
NJ: I could play a melodica, but I can’t imagine traveling with a melodica somehow. [Laughs]
KW: I have some questions for you from fans. Larry Greenberg, says “I am a huge fan, I love everything with your voice in it. What is your favorite flavor of Chex Mix?
NJ: [LOL] That’s funny. [Laughs some more] I guess original. Don’t give me no lo-fat. Do you know why he asked that?
KW: No.
NJ: It’s from a song “I Got Chex Mix” that I sang on an album with those Lonely Island guys from Saturday Night Live.
KW: Attorney Bernadette Beekman asks, which culture do you identify with most closely?
NJ: Probably American, since I grew up here. I’m living in New York, and I grew up in Texas. I have a real love of Texas culture, and I always love visiting, but I don’t know if I’d move back. It’s a different thing down there. And it’s so hot. [Chuckles]
KW: Plus, the Gulf of Mexico is going to be turned into a giant tar pit if they can’t figure out a way to plug the hole. Wesley Derbyshire asks, how do performances in small versus larger theaters effect your connection between you and the audience?
NJ: They’re different. I like both. I play in a lot of bars in New York with smaller bands, and I really enjoy it. But I’ve also enjoyed playing larger arenas on this tour recently, because the audiences have been so loving. So, they’re different, but both are very rewarding.
KW: What was it like becoming an overnight sensation after the release of your first album?
NJ: It was crazy for a few years, but it’s settled in now. I have a lot of good people who’ve stuck with me, and I feel like I know who my friends are now. I just try to take the good, and let go of all the stressful bad stuff.
KW: Is there any question no one ever asks you, that you wish someone would? If so, please answer it.
NJ: I guess not. I can never think of that one.
KW: The Tasha Smith question: Are you ever afraid?
NJ: Afraid? Sure! I’m human.
KW: The Columbus Short question: Are you happy?
NJ: Yeah, usually.
KW: The Teri Emerson question: When was the last time you had a good laugh?
NJ: [Giggles] This morning. My mom is here and we had a big fight, and then a big laugh. [LOL]
KW: The bookworm Troy Johnson question: What was the last book you read?
NJ: I’m reading A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith, but I’m not finished yet. It’s really long.
KW: The music maven Heather Covington question: What was the last thing you listened to on your iPod?
NJ: Mule Variations by Tom Waits.
KW: My favorite song by him is New Coat of Paint.
NJ: I don’t think I know that one.
KW: It’s off that Heart of Saturday night album. When you look in the mirror, what do you see?
NJ: I see me.
KW: The Laz Alonso question: How can your fans help you?
NJ: By just being themselves. [Chuckles]
KW: If you could have one wish instantly granted, what would that be for?
NJ: Oh, that’s a hard one. There’re too many things. [Giggles]
KW: What is your favorite dish to cook?
NJ: Spaghetti.
KW: The Boris Kodjoe question: What do you consider your biggest accomplishment?
NJ: I feel like I’ve just stayed true to myself which I think is a big accomplishment in this business. Whether you like me or not, I’ve stayed pretty true to my art. I also feel good about having worked really hard to establish myself as an artist.
KW: The Ling-Ju Yen question: What is your earliest childhood memory?
NJ: It’s of a dream I had where I was playing in a playground and I bit my lower lip off. I was in daycare and 2 or 3 at the time. I woke up so shocked by the dream that I’ve remembered that moment ever since.
KW: The Uduak Oduok question: Who is your favorite clothes designer?
NJ: I don’t know. I don’t think I have one.
KW: What is your guiltiest pleasure?
NJ: Bacon and eggs, although I don’t feel that guilty about it. I’m not old enough to have to worry about it yet.
KW: What’s been the happiest moment of your life?
NJ: I don’t know. I’ve had a lot of them. I can’t pick just one.
KW: Do you ever wish you could have your anonymity back?
NJ: I’m pretty lucky. I can kinda be anonymous easier than a lot of other people who are very successful. And I’m not sure why that is.
KW: My guess is that you don’t travel with a big entourage or try to cultivate that celebrity energy.
NJ: Yeah, I don’t disguise myself when I go to the grocery story, and I don’t dress up, either. So, I just look like a little kid, usually, because I’m pretty short.
KW: How do you want to be remembered?
NJ: With a smile.
KW: Thanks for a great interview Norah, and have fun in Europe.
NJ: Cool, thanks a lot, bye.

Knight and Day

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Diaz and Cruise Crisscross the Planet in Dizzying Spoof of Spy Genre

This high-octane, espionage thriller is the epitome of escapist summer fare. It’s got all the basic ingredients the blockbuster recipe calls for to keep you thoroughly entertained for the duration, from a multi-layered mystery to international intrigue to breathtaking cinematography at exotic locales to death-defying stunts to generous helpings of screen chemistry served up by a couple of matinee idols. Co-stars Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz make the most of their first pairing since the relatively-surreal Vanilla Sky (2001), and they are ably assisted in that endeavor by a talented support cast topped by Viola Davis, Maggie Grace and Peter Sarsgaard. .
At first blush, Knight and Day’s premise reads like that prototypical potboiler where a suave spy galavants around the globe fighting bad guys with a good-looking gun moll draped on his arm. But this iconoclastic adventure contains a number of cleverly-concealed twists which bubble to the surface only after you’ve probably already made some fundamental misassumptions about the lead characters.
The film opens in Wichita, Kansas, where we find CIA Agent Roy Miller (Cruise) literally bumping into small town gal June Havens (Diaz) just before they both board the same plane to Boston. “This might be a rough flight,” he warns with an ominous air.
Subsequently sitting across the aisle from each other as the jet cruises above mile-high altitude, the two proceed to flirt shamelessly over drinks until June excuses herself to powder her nose. That’s when an army of assassins comprised not only of every other passenger but of the crew members, as well, seizes on the opportunity to attack Roy. The seasoned sleuth proves to be up to the challenge, however, and after June returns to her seat from the ladies’ room, he matter-of-factly explains that “We lost the pilots,” and crash lands the aircraft in a cornfield.
FYI, the reason Roy’s been attracting so much attention is that he’s ostensibly been assigned by the Agency to prevent a perpetual energy battery, the invention of teen genius Simon Feck (Paul Dano), from falling into the wrong hands. Before the authorities or more adversaries arrive, he quickly explains that her life, too, is now in danger and that her odds for survival are far better if she sticks with him than attend her little sister’s (Grace) Beantown wedding as planned. Although this development is disconcerting, June swallows the bait out of a combination of curiosity and physical attraction. What ensues is madcap mayhem with so many bodies hitting the floor that it leaves her totally frazzled and begging her protector to, “Please stop shooting people!”
Just consider yourself forewarned that not much is plausible or as it appears in this over-the-top, hilarious spoof of the spy genre. “Mission Improbable,” but who cares!

Excellent (4 stars)
Rated PG-13 for violence and brief profanity.
Running time: 110 Minutes
Distributor: 20th Century Fox

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Toy Story 3

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline Woody & Pals Reunite in Revival of Beloved Animated Franchise

Toy Story 1 and Toy Story 2 are such beloved screen classics that fans of the franchise were understandably worried whether the latest installment would measure up, given the decade which had intervened in the interim. But everyone can breathe a collective sigh of relief, for this eagerly-anticipated sequel is every bit as enchanting as the earlier offerings. The movie is the product of another inspired collaboration between Disney and Pixar Animation Studios, and is well worth the additional investment to enjoy their latest generation of CGI technology in 3-D.
Directed by Lee Unkrich (Toy Story 2, Finding Nemo and Monsters, Inc.), the film features a storyline which sensibly reflects a passage of time since the previous episode. Thus, we have an almost-grown protagonist in Andy Davis (John Morris) who, at 17, is preparing to leave home for college. As he packs, he’s prompted by his mom (Laurie Metcalf) to pick which of his personal belongings he wants to keep, and which he wants her to toss in the trash.
This process generates considerable anxiety in the lad’s motley menagerie of toys, because Andy apparently hasn’t played with any of them in years. Among the anthropomorphic army are astronaut Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen), cowgirl Jessie (Joan Cusack), Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head (Don Rickles and Estelle Harris), Slinky Dog (Blake Clark), Rex the dinosaur (Wallace Shawn), Hamm the piggy bank (John Ratzenberger), the Squeeze Toy Aliens (Jeff Pidgeon) and cowboy Woody (Tom Hanks).
Andy’s decides to take only Woody with him to school, while placing the rest in a garbage bag he intends to store in the attic. But after a comedy of errors involving his mother and sister, Molly (Beatrice Miller), they end up deposited at Sunnyside Daycare Center, a seemingly-benign institution which secretly shreds and incinerates old, unwanted toys.
Luckily, Woody becomes aware of his pals’ predicament, so he sneaks into Sunnyside to inform them of their plight and to help them escape before they’re exterminated. However, en route to that daredevil breakout we’re treated to such delightful diversions as the hysterical sight of Barbie (Jodie Benson) being seduced and betrayed by a sexually-ambiguous Ken doll (Michael Keaton), and the equally-hilarious serenading of rough-and-tumble Jessie by the suddenly-suave Buzz who’s accidentally been reprogrammed to a Spanish-speaking mode.

Still, Toy Story 3 is primarily an edge of your seat roller coaster ride which gradually ratchets up the escalating tension by racing headlong from one crisis to the next. Of course, this heartwarming, modern fable is ultimately resolved in a manner designed to deliver a shamelessly-sentimental lesson about the value of true friendship, loyalty and cooperation.
A fitting finale for a Disney trilogy guaranteed to resonate with kids of any age for generations to come.

Excellent (4 stars)
Rated G
In English and Spanish with subtitles.
Running time: 103 Minutes
Studio: Walt Disney Pictures

Thursday, June 17, 2010

William Kunstler: Disturbing the Universe (PBS-TV REVIEW)



PBS-TV Review by Kam Williams


Headline: Kunstler Bio-Pic Set to Premiere on PBS June 22nd at 10 PM


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.

But it is of little comfort to the African-American defendants that their names were belatedly cleared only after they’d already served lengthy prison terms. There had been a rush to judgment at the time of the trial which had the boys tried and convicted in the court of public opinion by everyone from Mayor Koch to Donald Trump who called for the death penalty in a full page ad in the New York Times.

A very moving tribute to an underappreciated hero who spent his life as a tireless defender of the defenseless.


Excellent (4 stars)


Running time: 87 minutes

Studio: Arthouse Films

Distributor: PBS


William Kunstler: Disturbing the Universe will air on the PBS series POV on Tuesday, June 22nd at 10 PM. (Check Local Listings)

The Killer inside Me



Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Hudson, Alba and Affleck Co-Star in Remake of 1976 Crime Thriller


Hollywood has a knack for quickly cranking out knockoffs of Academy Award-winning movies which is why I’m wondering what took somebody this long to make a flick similar to No Country for Old Men. Directed by Brit Michael Winterbottom (A Mighty Heart), The Killer inside Me is actually a remake of a 1976 crime caper starring Stacy Keach.

But where the original was set in Montana, this version takes place in a tiny town in West Texas ostensibly to mimic the desert locations of the Coen Brothers’ Best Picture. It also is consistent with the plot of the 1952 pulp fiction novel of the same name upon which both movies are based.

Winterbottom assembled an impressive cast, starting with Casey Affleck in the title role as Lou Ford, a small-town deputy sheriff. However, Lou is no Barney Fife, but a sociopath with a dark side and a big secret, so his terrorized hamlet is nothing like Mayberry.

His dark side is that he gets his kicks by having rough sex with his fiancée, Amy (Kate Hudson), and Joyce (Jessica Alba), a prostitute who can really take a punch. His big secret is that he committed a murder in his teens yet managed to evade justice by fingering his adopted brother.

After the opening credits, we find Lou combining his addiction to kinky sex with a compulsion to kill again. But between his boyish charm and his stature in the local community, no suspicions are aroused by the Teflon lawman. Instead, the body count only escalates in accordance with both his bloodlust and his need to cover his tracks.

 Unfortunately, where Javier Bardem’s villain in No Country was an alternately charming and chilling creep, Affleck’s relatively-blasé monster isn’t either scary or intriguing, just basically bored. Who knows, maybe it’s the fault of the script for making it difficult to ascertain his character’s motivation, and thus invest in any of the grisly goings-on.

Regardless, this is no movie for old men, or any other demographic for that matter.


Fair (1 star)

Rated. R for bizarre sexuality, graphic nudity and disturbingly-brutal, eroticized violence.

Running time: 109 Minutes

Distributor: IFC Films