Sunday, October 31, 2010

Jimmy Carter: The “White House Diary” Interview

with Kam Williams

Headline: Hail to the Chief!

Jimmy Carter, the 39th President of the United States, received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2002. He and his wife of 64 years, Rosalynn, still make their home in their birthplace, Plains, Georgia, a predominantly African-American town with a population of just 637. However, the inseparable, peripatetic couple continues to travel around the world together on behalf causes advancing peace, healthcare and a number of other humanitarian concerns.
President Carter is also a very prolific writer, and the author of over two dozen books. Here, he discusses his latest best-seller, White House Diary, an annotated version of the private journal he kept during his tenure in office.

Jimmy Carter: Hi Kam, good morning.
Kam Williams: President Carter. Thanks for the time. I’m honored to have this opportunity.
JC: It’s my pleasure. I’ve been looking forward to this.

KW: The first time we were supposed to speak, the interview was cancelled because you fell ill and had to be rushed to the hospital. How are you feeling now?
JC: I’m getting along fine. I was just sick for one day, but it got a lot of publicity.

KW: And how’s Rosalynn and the rest of the family?
JC: Oh, everybody’s fine, thanks, and the family’s growing rapidly.

KW: I actually got to shake your hand at a campaign rally in Newark, New Jersey in 1980. So, when I started to read White House Diary, the first thing I did was to look at your journal entry for that day to see whether you mentioned receiving words of encouragement from a bright, young black man with red hair and freckles who stood out in the crowd and made a lasting impression on you. But no such luck.
JC: [Laughs] Well, thank you for coming out. I appreciate that very much.

KW: When I told my readers I’d be speaking with you, I received an avalanche of questions to ask . More than I’ve ever received before.
JC: Really? Then, let’s get going and I’ll try to answer all of them.

KW: Yale grad Tommy Russell says: You have been on missions to North Korea and to Palestine to visit the leaders of countries that traditional politicians and philosophers shun as unpalatable or useless to negotiate with, and have discovered that negotiation is possible. What would you say is the biggest lesson you've learned from meeting with these leaders that others consider to be on the fringe?
JC: Well, first of all, it’s important to meet with the people who can shape future events, and who might be causing a current problem. And to ignore them means that the problem will continue. Secondly, I’ve found that they really appreciate it when someone who is responsible will meet with them, and they really go out of their way to try to be accommodating. On both of my major trips to North Korea, the leaders of the country made it plain that they want to make progress towards doing away with nuclear weapons and towards ending the longstanding, official state of war which persists between North Korea and the United States and South Korea, a war which has continued since the ceasefire over fifty years ago. That sort of thing happens quite often when we meet with people who are kind of international outcasts with whom the government of the United States won’t meet. So, when I get back home, I always give a thorough report to the President and Secretary of State to make sure that they know what the possibilities are.

KW: Tommy also has a much less serious query: Having started out as a peanut farmer, do you love a good peanut butter and jelly sandwich?
JC: [Chuckles] Absolutely, Tommy! We have them quite often in our home. And I think our grandchildren like them even more than we do.

KW: PJ Lorenz asks: Of your many accomplishments, which one is the most meaningful to you?
JC: I think maybe the peace treaty between Israel and Egypt which ended a long series of very challenging wars threatening the very existence of Israel. That would be one. Another that comes to mind right offhand is the peace treaty turning control of the Panama Canal over to Panamanians. The profitability and effectiveness of the Canal is now five times as great as when the United States was in charge of it.

KW: Attorney Bernadette Beekman asks: What do you think of the housing crisis here in America today, given the escalating number of foreclosures and your work with Habitat for Humanity?
JC: It just shows the desperate need and desire of people for homes. But it is also evidence of the greed of those banks which made loans knowing that borrowers wouldn’t be able to repay. The lenders then sold the bad mortgages to unsuspecting investors so that by the time the foreclosures transpired they caused a great deal of distress to all the folks who had been taken advantage of.

KW: Bernadette was also wondering whether you think it will be possible to end the Cuban boycott in the near future given the current political climate.
JC: I hope so. I tried to do it thirty years ago, when I was President. We established diplomatic relations with Cuba to the extent that we have an “Intersection” in Havana for the United States’ diplomats, and one in Washington for Cuban diplomats. So, I believe that the boycott that we have against Cuba is counterproductive, and it also makes the twelve million or so Cuban people suffer unnecessarily just because of a foolish policy of the United States.

KW: Bernadette’s final question is: Have you perceived that race relations have been affected positively by the election of Barack Obama?
JC: I’m afraid not. The election of Barack Obama was a very wonderful step forward for the country, which has unfortunately been tainted by the ugly reaction of some right wing activist who are doing their best to cast aspersions on his character and to question his religion and citizenship

KW: Jimmy Bayan says: The.Iran Hostage Crisis lasted 444 days. In hindsight, is there anything you would have done differently that may have ended it sooner?
JC: I would have sent one more helicopter, which would have meant that we could have brought out all the hostages and also the rescue team. We had an unexpected failure of three of our eight helicopters on that rescue attempt in 1980, so we didn’t have enough to get everyone out.

KW: Jimmy also asks, what is your assessment of the current Iranian President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad? Do you feel that he’s laughing at us?
JC: Ahmadinejad is just a buffoon, sort of a clown on the international scene who tries to be provocative so he can get his name in the paper and his face on television.

KW: Editor/Legist Patricia Turnier observes that you’ve been recognized for your lifelong commitment to human rights. She asks: What did it mean to you to win the Nobel Peace Prize?
JC: It was a great honor for me, and for the Carter Center, which has concentrated its efforts on alleviating suffering among the poorest people in the world afflicted with disease, particularly those from thirty-five nations in Africa. So, it was a great tribute to the great work of the Carter Center.

KW: Patricia adds that you and the late Dr. Martin Luther King are the only two native Georgians to receive the Nobel Peace Prize, and you are the only U.S President to receive the Martin Luther King Nonviolent Peace Prize. And in 2006, you gave a eulogy at the funeral of Coretta Scott King. What did that mean to you?
JC: The King family and I were very close. They gave me their full support when I ran for President, and when I was in the White House, Coretta and Daddy King would come by quite often to give me advice about what I could do to help African-Americans and the poor.

KW: Hisani Dubose says: Thank you for remaining true to the things you believe in. That's in short supply these days. How do you finance your great humanitarian work?
JC: Well, we have about a quarter-million contributors who make modest donations every year to the Carter Center, and we get some large ones as well. So, we are always looking for private donors who believe in what we’re doing to make sure that we have the funds available to carry out our programs.

KW: David “Mr. B” Barradale asks: Do you think about how much less dependent on fossil fuels we would be if you had been reelected in 1980?
JC: [Chuckles] I think about that often, as a matter of fact. While I was in office, we were able to cut down the imports of oil from foreign countries by 50%, from about eight to just four million barrels a day. Now that figure’s up to twelve million. So, yes, David, I often think about how much better off we’d be.

KW: Leisa Hinds-Simpson says: Given the lower than expected popularity rating for President Obama, what strategy do you propose to increase the ratings and to get a feeling of confidence back on track in the Obama administration?
JC: I believe his popularity’s going to increase over the next two years as he comes out swinging after the Republicans take charge of the House of Representatives. I think he’s going to be much more of a fighter in taking his case directly to the people than he has been.

KW: FSU grad Laz Lyles asks, how would you want those of us who weren't yet born during your administration to think of your tenure as president?
JC: I would say two things: One would be human rights, which we’ve already covered. The other would be peace. We not only brought peace to many countries and people around the world, but we never dropped a bomb, we never launched a missile, and we never fired a bullet while I was in office. Yet we protected the interests of the American people in a peaceful, but strong way.

KW: Lester Chisholm says: Knowing what you know about the world’s current state of affairs, with the benefit of 20-20 hindsight, how would you have led this country differently when you were president?
JC: I think I would have been much more attuned to the concerns of people who were desperately in need. I was unfamiliar, for instance, with the plight of those living in the small villages in the deserts and the jungles of Africa. Now, every day, the Carter Center works among those people in a very exciting, fruitful and gratifying way. That’s definitely one of the things I wish had been aware of when I was in the White House.

KW: Larry Greenberg recalls that in 1978, you declared a federal emergency at Love Canal. He asks: How would you characterize progress in our nation’s management of toxic materials since then?
JC: [Chuckles] We passed the Superfund Act the last few months I was in office, which finally made it possible to fine the large corporations which were polluting our streams, our soil and our air, and to make them pay for the cleanup. I’m proud of passing those laws, but I would just hope that Congress and incumbent Presidents will continue to enforce them.
KW: Rudy Lewis says: Many African nations are celebrating a half-century of independence. Are you optimistic or pessimistic about those countries’ ability to deal with matters of poverty and self-governance?
JC: Rudy, the Carter Center spends every day in Africa, and I go over several times a year. We have helped conduct many elections there, for example, in Ghana, just recently, which had a wonderful election process. We also did the election in Liberia when the only African female president [Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf] was elected. So, I’ve witnessed a very strong move towards democracy since leaving the White House. But unfortunately, some of the African leaders employ various nefarious means to remain in office far beyond what their constitutions permit. I’d say it’s a mixed bag, but in general the 53 countries on the continent of Africa have made great progress towards freedom and democracy, and in terms of electing good, sound administrations.

KW: Rudy also says: You have made progressive statements about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Do you think that the parties will sign a meaningful peace agreement on the proposed Two-State Solution within the next five years?
JC: They will, if Israel would agree to withdraw from the occupied territories. I don’t think there’s going to be peace as long as Israel is occupying land that belongs to the Palestinians, to Lebanon and to Syria. So, that’s a decision that Israel will have to make.

KW: Wesley Derbyshire says: I have always appreciated your diplomatic strength. If you were still in office, how would you handle getting us out of this expensive war in Afghanistan?
JC: I’d get us out as soon as possible. We know definitively that Al-Qaida isn’t all over Afghanistan anymore. According to CIA estimates, there are less than a hundred Al-Qaida members in the entire country. Most of them are in Pakistan. So, it’s hard for me to understand why we’re still fighting there and sending in more and more troops. I would get out of Afghanistan as quickly as possible.

KW: Howard Harris asks: Was being President worth it?
JC: It was. For one thing, I enjoyed being President. Secondly, I believe we accomplished a lot of good things while I was in office. We maintained a very good working relationship with both Republicans and Democrats during my tenure. Consequently, we had a very high batting average in dealing with Congress on some very controversial issues. Plus, we kept our nation at peace,
we obeyed the law, and we told the truth.

KW: Harriet Pakula Teweles says: Despite the tremendous accomplishments of your presidency and post-presidency, some people still reflect on the candor of your Playboy interview admissions about having "lust in your heart." If you were to do a Playboy interview today, would you be as forthcoming?
JC: [LOL] No, I don’t think I would. I was a little bit naïve back in those days. All I did was quote a Bible verse from the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus said that people who have lust in their heart as just as guilty as those who commit adultery. But that landed me in serious trouble. As a matter of fact, that almost cost me the election. By the way, it was the best-selling Playboy issue in history.

KW: Children’s book author Irene Smalls asks: What is the most critical issue facing America today?
JC: I’d say the growing chasm between rich people and poor people not only in this country but all around the world. That difference between the rich and poor is growing every month. Giving people equal access to enjoying the benefits of this great country is the biggest problem that we’re not making any progress in resolving.

KW: Irene is also curious about whether you might like to be President again.
JC: No, I’m 86, and too old to be President. Moreover, when I ran, I didn’t have any money. Now, it requires raising hundreds of millions of dollars just to get the nomination, and I don’t care to be involved in that process.

KW: Is there any question no one ever asks you, that you wish someone would?
JC: [Laughs] No, I can’t think of any, you’ve just gone through had an excellent string of them which I’ve enjoyed tackling.

KW: The Tasha Smith question: Are you ever afraid?
JC: Not really. I have a great deal of confidence in myself and in my faith. As far as being in dangerous situations around the world is concerned, I always have a Secret Service detail with me as one of the privileges of a former President. So, the answer is “No.”

KW: The Columbus Short question: Are you happy?
JC: Absolutely

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

KW: Leon Marquis asks: What is your guiltiest pleasure?
JC: [LOL] I have a lot of pleasures but I don’t feel guilty about them. One of my greatest pleasures is being on the farmland that’s been in the family since 1833. I enjoy walking by myself on the same paths where, as a little boy, I delighted in following my father around. I don’t feel guilty about it, but that’s one I don’t care to share with anyone else.

KW: The bookworm Troy Johnson question: What was the last book you read?
JC: Right now I’m reading “Washington Rules,” a book which points out the serious problem which America faces because we are constantly involved in unnecessary wars.

KW: The music maven Heather Covington question: What music do you like to listen to?
JC: I listen to Willie Nelson pretty regularly on my iPod.

KW: What is your favorite dish to cook?
JC: I’m an expert cook when it comes to preparing the quail, ducks, geese and wild turkeys that I hunt on the farm.

KW: When you look in the mirror, what do you see?
JC: I see a person who’s getting older every year.

KW: If you could have one wish instantly granted, what would that be for?
JC: Peace for Israel and for Israel’s neighbors.

KW: The Ling-Ju Yen question: What is your earliest childhood memory?
JC: Moving into a new house, when I was four year’s-old. The front door was locked and we didn’t have a key, so my daddy let me climb through the window to open the door.

KW: The Rudy Lewis question: Who’s at the top of your hero list?
JC: Among Presidents, I’d say Harry Truman, because he was courageous enough to command that racial segregation be ended in the military. I was serving in a submarine in the U.S. Navy at the time he issued the order.

KW: What advice do you have for anyone who wants to follow in your footsteps?
JC: Always tell the truth, and take an interest in serving the people around you as much as possible.

KW: The Tavis Smiley questions. First, how introspective are you?
JC: I’m much more introspective than I was, say, thirty years ago. When I reflect upon my blessings during my very nice lifetime, I am inspired to make sure that I spend the balance of the days of my existence in a productive way.

KW: Secondly, how do you want to be remembered?
JC: I’d like to be remembered as someone who was a champion of peace and human rights.

KW: Well, thanks again for the time, President Carter. And I really appreciate your addressing each question seriously.
JC: Thank you, Kam. I’ve really enjoyed speaking with you.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

For Colored Girls

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Black Feminist Classic Refreshed Courtesy of Tyler Perry

Ntozake Shange’s For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf made a big splash when it debuted on Broadway back in the Seventies. The emotionally-draining “choreopoem” was essentially a series of soul-baring monologues plumbing the depths of the African-American female psyche on sensitive subjects ranging from sexuality to spirituality. Performed by a nameless cast of seven troubled women, this hybrid of drama and poetry met with critical acclaim, although it particularly resonated with sisters.
Ms. Shange subsequently wrote the screenplay for a made-for-TV version of her opus which aired on PBS’ American Playhouse in 1982. And she also appeared in the movie version opposite Alfre Woodard, Sophie Okenedo and Lynn Whitfield.
The unenviable challenge of adapting her much-beloved production to the big screen has now fallen to Tyler Perry, a man who proves himself up to the challenge. He ostensibly began by abbreviating the original’s cumbersome, grammatically-challenged name, which only makes sense, since it had been coined back during a more loquacious era when wordy was fashionable not only in terms of movie titles (Dr. Strangelove: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb) but in advertising slogans (“Vicks’ Nyquil: The nighttime, sniffling, sneezing, coughing, aching, stuffy head fever so you can rest medicine”) as well.
Next, the inventive Perry fleshed out the lead roles, while adding a number of support characters to the ensemble and updating some themes (ala AIDS and the down-low) as concessions to 21st Century cultural sensibilities. More importantly, however, he has preserved the source material’s relentlessly-harrowing tone.
Loyal Tyler Perry fans will appreciate how his enhanced plotline emulates that of his ever-popular morality plays, except for those trademark touches of humor. The stellar cast assembled to execute his vision includes Janet Jackson, Thandie Newton, Kelly Washington, Loretta Devine, Kimberly Elise, Phylicia Rashad, Macy Gray, Anika Noni Rose and Whoopi Goldberg.
The story is set in a seedy, Harlem tenement inhabited by several of the protagonists. Each, we learn, is already deeply enmeshed in some sort of family dysfunction, from promiscuous bartender Tangie (Newton) who brings home a different stud every night, to her pregnant, teenage sister (Tessa Thompson) in urgent need of an abortion, to their clueless mother (Goldberg), a hoarder caught in the clutches a religious cult. Just across the hall, lives the apartment building’s relatively-composed manager (Rashad) whose self-assured manner might be a mask.
On the floor below, we find Crystal (Elise) being battered by the unemployed, alcoholic boyfriend (Michael Ealy) she refuses to marry yet can’t summon up the gumption to dump. Then there’s Juanita (Devine), a free clinic nurse who counsels others about relationships, but remains in denial about the abysmal state of her own. Naïve dance instructor Yasmine (Rose) comes to regret accepting a date from a flirtatious stranger (Khalil Kain) she meets on the street.
More upscale, but no less troubled are Kelly (Washington), a social worker worried about how her police officer husband (Hill Harper) will react to the news that she can’t conceive. Last but not least, there’s Jo (Jackson), a famous fashion magazine editor, whose closet-gay beau (Omari Hardwick) has been using her for a beard. .
Eventually, all of the assorted melodramas serendipitously merge and resolve themselves satisfactorily right on cue for a typically-preachy, Perry denouement during which our heroines take turns expressing their resolve to rise above their overwhelming personal challenges. A fresh interpretation of For Colored Girls which puts to rest the question of whether that black feminist classic was too dated to be adapted to the screen.
All that was missing was a pistol-packing granny in drag, chirrun!

Excellent (3.5 stars)
Rated for sexuality, profanity and disturbing violence including rape.
Running time: 120 minutes
Studio: Lionsgate Films

Friday, October 29, 2010

This Week’s DVD Releases

by Kam Williams

Headline: Top Ten DVD List for November 2nd 2010

Toy Story 3

The Twilight Zone: Fan Favorites

White Christmas

TCM Greatest Films Collection: Astaire & Rogers

Denzel Washington: Triple Feature

Clint Eastwood: 35 Films 35 Years

The Larry Sanders Show

Carmelo’s Way: The Story of Carmelo Anthony

The Bridge on the River Kwai

Cher: The Film Collection

Honorable Mention

TCM Greatest Classic Films Collection: Busby Berkeley

Frank Sinatra Concert Collection

The Sound of Music 45th Anniversary Edition

Leap Frog Learning Set: Volume 2

Hannah Montana: Who Is Hannah Montana?

Winnebago Man

Katt Williams: 9 Lives

Care Bears: The Giving Festival Movie


What Would Jesus Do?

Toy Story 3 DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline Finale of Animated Disney Franchise Debuts on DVD

Directed by Lee Unkrich, Toy Story 3 features a storyline which sensibly reflects a passage of time since the previous episode. Thus, we have an almost-grown Andy Davis (John Morris) who, at 17, is preparing to leave 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 he apparently hasn’t played with any of them for 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, and after a comedy of errors involving his mother and sister, Molly (Beatrice Miller), the others end up 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 help them escape.
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 essentially 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 Studios Home Entertainment
4-disc Blu-Ray Combo Pack extras: DVD and digital copies, “Day & Night” theatrical short, featurettes entitled “Toys,” “Buzz Lightyear Mission Logs,” “Paths to Pixar: Editorial,” “The Gang’s All Here,” “A Toy’s Eye View,” “Studio Stories,” “Toy Story Trivia Dash,” “Cine-Explore,” “Beyond the Toybox,” “Beginnings,” “Bonnie’s Playtime,” “Roundin’ Up a Western Opening,” “Life of a Shot,” “Goodbye Andy,” “Accidental Toymakers” and “Making Day & Night,” and more.

Winnebago Man DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: DVD Features Update on Foul-Mouthed Youtube Sensation

When Jack Rebney was shooting a Winnebago commercial back in the Eighties, he had no idea that the outtakes would one day turn him into a celebrity. Otherwise, he might not have unleashed a series of epithets every time he flubbed a line or whenever he found himself frustrated by his inept intern, Tony.
But that is exactly what transpired in 2005, when a video of Jack’s expletive-laced tirades was first posted on Youtube. Since then, over 20 million people have watched the 4-minute meltdown, making the foul-mouthed pitchman as popular as such other internet sensations as Tay “Chocolate Rain” Zonday and that lady who fell through the trap door.
Personally, I’ve never had much interest in any Youtube curiosities beyond their 15 minutes of fame, but that wasn’t the case with director Ben Steinbauer who was compelled to track down Jack Rebney not only to learn the back story of the filming of the automobile ad, but to make a bio-pic chronicling his subject’s life both before and since.
The upshot of that endeavor is Winnebago Man, a documentary which serves to humanize a guy most would probably presume to be a bully with a very mean streak. Today, however, 78 year-old Jack proves to be quite a sympathetic figure, between being legally blind and living alone in a modest cabin in the woods. Intermittently exhibiting flashes of his trademark temper, he explains that he was actually fired by Winnebago soon after the taping, when someone sent the company some clips of his outbursts.
Among other things, we learn that Jack is very opinionated politically, and that he has a few choice cuss words reserved for the Bush administration. The icing on the cinematic cake arrives when director Steinbauer coaxes the hermit out of hiding to meet some of his rabid fans at an internet convention in San Francisco where he was billed as “The Angriest Man in the World.” They might have been a tad disappointed to discover that the Winnebago Man is now frail and in failing health, however just such sobering touches of reality are what make this tenderhearted bio-pic worth its while.
What’s next, a full-length documentary about the life and times of Chris “Leave Britney Alone” Crocker?

Very Good (3 stars)
Running time: 85 Minutes
Studio: Kino International
DVD Extras: The Lost Winnebago Sales Video (25 minutes of never-before-seen footage), featurette of the NYC premiere with Michael Moore, Jeff Garlin, & Jack Rebney, and the theatrical trailer.

Thursday, October 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 November 5, 2010


Due Date (R for profanity, sexuality and drug use) Robert Downey, Jr. and Zack Galifianakis co-star in this raunchy road comedy about an uptight dad-to-be who hitches a ride across the country with a wacky slacker in order to make it on time to witness the birth of his baby. With Michelle Monaghan, Jamie Foxx, Juliette Lewis, Charlie Sheen and RZA.

For Colored Girls (R for rape, sexuality and profanity) Tyler Perry adaptation of Ntozake Shange’s feminist stage play exploring a variety of themes pertinent to the African-American community, ranging from rape to infidelity to domestic violence to brothers on the down-low. Ensemble cast includes Janet Jackson, Thandie Newton, Kelly Washington, Loretta Devine, Kimberly Elise, Phylicia Rashad, Macy Gray, Anika Noni Rose and Whoopi Goldberg.

Megamind (PG for action and mild epithets) Animated adventure in 3-D about a hapless, evil villain (Will Ferrell) who decides to align himself with the forces of good after the demise of his longtime superhero adversary (Brad Pitt) when he unwittingly creates a diabolical scoundrel (Jonah Hill) bent on world domination. Voice cast includes Tina Fey, Ben Stiller and J.K. Simmons.


127 Hours (R for profanity, violence and disturbing images) James Franco stars in this bittersweet tale of survival recounting the real-life dilemma confronted by a mountain climber who had to amputate his own arm after it got pinned under a boulder while he was hiking alone in Utah. Cast includes Amber Tamblyn, Kate Mara, Treat Williams and Kate Burton (Richard’s daughter).

Cherry (Unrated) Romance drama about the dysfunctional love triangle which develops when an Ivy League freshman (Kyle Gallner) falls for a classmate (Laura Allen) twice his age only to have her 14 year-old daughter (Brittany Robertson) develop a crush on him.

Client 9 (Unrated) Docudrama chronicling the meteoric rise and even faster fall from grace of Eliot Spitzer, from intrepid white-collar crime fighter to New York State Governor with presidential ambitions to satisfied customer at a high-priced escort service offering a steady supply of prostitutes, including Ashley Dupre’, the publicity-hungry call girl who helped him ruin his promising political career.

Fair Game (PG-13 for profanity) The Valerie Plame affair is revisited by this espionage thriller about a CIA Agent (Naomi Watts) whose cover was ostensibly blown because her diplomat husband (Sean Penn) had publicly questioned the veracity of the Bush administration’s “weapons of mass destruction” rationale for the invasion of Iraq. With Sam Shepard, Bruce McGill and Ty Burrell.

Four Lions (R for sexual references and pervasive profanity) Jihad comedy, set in Great Britain, about the hapless antics of an inept, home-grown terrorist cell comprised of a quartet (Adeel Akhtar, Kay Van Novak, Nigel Lindsay and Riz Ahmed) of discontented Muslims bent on wreaking havoc with explosives.

Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench (Unrated) Harvard grad Damien Chazelle makes an impressive writing/directorial debut with this jazz-scored flashback flick, shot in Boston in B&W, deconstructing the failed romance between an aspiring trumpeter (Jason Palmer) and the girlf (Desiree’ Garcia) he dumped for a fling with a flake (Sandha Khin).

A Marine’s Story (Unrated) “Don’t ask-don’t tell” drama based on actual events in the life of a returning Iraq War veteran (Dreya Weber) who encounters intolerance in her conservative hometown when the local yokels learn that she was forced to retire from the military for same-sex conduct unbecoming an officer. With Paris Pickard, Christine Mourad and Anthony Michael Jones.

Ne Change Rien (Unrated) Musical bio-pic painting an intimate portrait of Jeanne Balibar, following the French chanteuse from rehearsals to recording sessions, and from classes to concerts, as she exhibits an enviable versatility by performing everything from hard rock to classical opera. (In French and English

NY Export: Opus Jazz (Unrated) Screen adaptation of “Ballet in Sneakers” a controversial, modern dance production which featured an interracial company back in 1958 when it was first staged by legendary choreographer Jerome Robbins. Cast includes Tiller Peck, Brittany Pollack and Amar Ramasar.

Outside the Law (Unrated) Historical drama revolving around the Algerian struggle for independence, as seen through the exploits of three Arab brothers (Jamel Debbouze, Roschdy Zem and Sami Bouajila) reunited in Paris after the end of World War II. (In French and Arabic with subtitles)

Red Hill (R for profanity and graphic violence) Bloody revenge saga, set in the Australian Outback, about a young sheriff (Ryan Kwanten) who takes a transfer to a supposedly-serene, remote outpost for the sake of his pregnant wife (Claire van der Boom) only to find the town besieged by an escaped con (Tommy Lewis) with a grudge.

Violet Tendencies (Unrated) Mindy Cohn handles the title role in this romantic comedy as a marriage-minded, 40 year-old with only gay pals who distances herself from them in order to attract a straight man (Armand Anthony). With Marcus Patrick, Jesse Archer and Dennis Hearn.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010


Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Participatory Documentary Revisits Historic Presidential Election of 2008

If you want a chance to wax nostalgic about how just two years ago the country came together like on no other occasion since 9/11/01, you might like to check out 11/4/08, a documentary revisiting the events surrounding the historic election of Presidential Barack Obama. Director Jeff Deutchman refers to his movie as a “participatory” venture because it is essentially a cinematic collage cobbled together from numerous video snippets recorded on Election Day.
The numerous contributions come from all over the country, some even from overseas, each preserving treasured moments, whether using professional cameras, cell phones or whatever was handy. And judging from the picture’s closing credits, which specifically stipulate that “this film is incomplete; send us your footage,” it’s pretty clear that director Deutchman still considers the project a work in progress.
Nonetheless, 11/4/08 is actually well-enough executed to stand on its own now, for it does a great job of recapturing, first, the palpable anticipation in the air before the polls closed that day and, then, the feverish euphoria which spread like wildfire across the planet when the realization had sunk in that U.S. had just elected it’s first African-American President.
Shot in such cities as far apart as Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, New Orleans, Austin and St. Louis, as well as Berlin, Geneva, Dubai and Paris, what the flick effectively recreates is that undeniable sense of shared optimism which has sadly since faded away. From an interview with the Obamas’ next-door neighbor, to tete-a-tetes with voters happy to stand in long lines, to patriotic revelers singing the Star Spangled Banner, the event stands as a testament to much more unified times.
There are also some prophetic man in the street interviews where we are treated to predictions for the Obama Era which run a joyful gamut from the elated (“He will lead the country in a direction it’s never been before!”) to the ecstatic (“We’ll never be happier!”)
President Obama himself brings down the curtain on the festivities via his victory speech in the Windy City’s Grant Park. “(“This is your moment. This is your time.” An emotionally-engaging film featuring folks truly moved on what many will undoubtedly mark for posterity as the day they were most proud to be an American.

Very Good (3 stars)
In English, French and German with subtitles.
Running time: 70 Minutes
Distributor: Film Buff

Create Dangerously: The Immigrant Artist at Work (BOOK REVIEW)

by Edwidge Danticat
Princeton University Press
Hardcover, $19.95
202 pages
ISBN: 978-0-691-14018-6

Book Review by Kam Williams

“There are many possible interpretations of what it means to create dangerously, and Albert Camus… suggests that it is creating as a revolt against silence, creating when both the creation and the reception, the writing and the reading, are dangerous undertakings, disobedience as a directive…
Create dangerously, for people who read dangerously. This is always what I’ve thought it meant to be a writer. Writing, knowing in part that no matter how trivial your words may seem, someday, somewhere, someone may risk his or her life to read them.
Coming from where I come from, with the history I have—having spent the first twelve years of my life under both dictatorships of Papa Doc and his son, Jean-Claude—this is what I’ve always seen as the unifying principle among all writers."

-- Excerpted from Chapter One (pgs. 10-11)

In 1818, Victor Cousin, as a visiting lecturer at the Sorbonne in Paris, coined the phrase “Art for art’s sake,” thus introducing the then novel notion that art ought to be appreciated on its own merits, meaning simply for its intrinsic beauty independent of serving any didactic function. This philosophy caught fire, thereby ushering in a redefinition of the prevailing point-of-view to the point where we generally expect that art be divorced from worldly concerns.
Has this attitude been widely-embraced or might it merely reflect the values of members of a leisure class able to ignore pressing issues of survival faced by the bulk of humanity? The question is legit, for flying in the face of that bourgeois aesthetic is Edwidge Danticat, an iconoclast who sees addressing the prevailing political and social questions of the day as a pivotal part of her calling.
A 2009 winner of a MacArthur Genius Fellowship, Ms. Danticat’s contrary approach ostensibly emanates from the fact that she was born in Haiti and had to spend her formative years under the thumb of the ruthlessly repressive Papa and Baby Doc Duvalier regimes. And in Create Dangerously, a collection of essays based on a series of lectures delivered at Princeton University, the American immigrant tackles a variety of universal themes apt to resonate with anyone reflecting about the oppression they left behind in coming to the United States in search of fundamental freedoms, particularly Freedom of Speech.
The book opens with a gripping description of a public execution in the Sixties of a couple of Haitian political dissidents in a crowded Port-au-Prince town square aired live on TV, on a specially-declared national holiday when schools and businesses were closed in order to enable everyone to observe the grisly deaths by firing squad. But Edwidge points out that the true purpose of Duvalier’s turning the event into such a spectacle was to discourage the populace from ever voicing their discontent with the status quo.
Obviously, in the case of Ms. Danticat, such attempts at intimidation ultimately backfired, for the inveterate firebrand grew up to stake her career on exposing injustice and challenging authority. Still, this tenderhearted tome, touching on themes ranging from assassinations to the recent earthquake in Haiti, is not solely political in scope. For, it also contains plenty of personal entries such as one recounting a recent return to the mountainous region where she was raised to visit long-lost relatives and friends.
The magical musings and flowery phrasings of a gifted wordsmith who, it must me noted, writes not in her native French but in the English of her adopted homeland.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Janet Jackson: The "For Colored Girls" Interview



with Kam Williams


Headline: Ready… Set… Action! Ms. Jackson


                Global icon, trendsetter, businesswoman, and multi-talented entertainer, Janet Damita Jo Jackson is a woman who needs no introduction.Her resume reveals an impressive combination of professional achievements and philanthropic endeavors, and she is currently ranked as one of the top ten best-selling solo artists in the history of contemporary music.

Through words and deeds, Janet has set an example of generosity, of empowerment, of tolerance, while leading an array of efforts addressing some of society's greatest challenges. She has raised money for such charities such as the Cities in Schools and America's Promise. She has supported the Watts Willowbrook Boys & Girls Club of America, the Starlight Foundation, the Make-A-Wish Foundation, A Place Called Home (providing after school programs in South Central, Los Angeles), the American Foundation for AIDS Research, S.O.S. Children's Villages in South Africa, Cartier's Love Bracelet Program benefiting OCNA and sponsored an Airlift of Food and Medical supplies to famine-stricken Rwanda.

 Janet established the Rhythm Nation Scholarship with the UNCF, too, and has assisted countless students striving to meet their educational goals. Most recently, she chaired the American Foundation for AIDS Research's gala charity event in Milan that raised more than a million dollars. She also traveled to Abu Dhabi recently to support fresh2o, a charity whose goal is providing worldwide access to clean water for drinking and sanitation purposes.

Janet has been the recipient of many humanitarian awards because of her involvement in charitable and social causes, including the 2008 Humanitarian of the Year award from the Lisa Lopes Foundation, the 2008 Vanguard Award from GLAAD, and the 2004 Touching a Life Humanitarian and Philanthropic Award from the NBA. Janet's admirable efforts have been recognized by AIDS Project LA, the Congress for Racial Equality, and by the NAACP with its Chairman's Award.

                Janet will soon be publishing her first book, “True You,” a memoir offering an intimate look at her life and how she has dealt with issues of self-esteem. Here, she talks about her work as Jo in Tyler Perry’s screen adaptation of For Colored Girls, an ensemble drama co-starring Kerry Washington, Thandie Newton, Kimberly Elise, Loretta Devine and Phylicia Rashad.


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

Janet Jackson: Hi Kam, how are you?

KW: Great, and you?

JJ: Very well, thanks.


KW: FSU grad Laz Lyles would like to know what it is about Tyler Perry that enabled him to assemble such an accomplished cast.

JJ: First of all, he’s a wonderful person and a great director who gets it right when he does an ensemble piece, so naturally everyone’s really dying to work with him. Secondly, what he creates resonates with audiences which all the more makes you want to be a part of that magic.


KW: Reverend Florine Thompson asks: How did you come to play Jo? Did you pick that role or did Tyler pick it for you?

JJ: Her name originally was Carmen when Tyler approached me with this role in mind. I had not read the script. He told me a lot about her, and I asked him “Do you really think I can do this?” He responded, “I wouldn’t be asking you, if I didn’t think so.” Then, when I read the script, I said to myself, “Well, this is really different from anything that I’ve ever done.” I knew it would involve a great deal of hard work, but I felt up to the challenge. And I fell in love with the character in so many different ways. That’s really how it all came about.


KW: Well, you really did a terrific job, further expanding the range you exhibited in Why Did I Get Married, Too. Children’s book author Irene Smalls asks: Do you think this movie will have cross-over appeal, even though it’s about African-American females?

JJ: Of course, the issues that are addressed by this film are relevant to all women, so I’m sure it will have a universal appeal and resonate across all demographics.


KW: Irene was also curious about whether there was one person you drew on in portraying Joanna, a magazine editor?

JJ: No, but in doing research, one of the things that was very helpful to me was watching old movies. One in particular was Adam’s Rib with Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy. And, a friend of mine, Glenda Bailey, the editor of Harper’s Bazaar, actually allowed me to visit her office so I could get a sense of the inner workings of the fashion magazine world. That enabled me to make sure my dialogue was credible. Not that Glenda’s anything like my character. I also spent some time with another friend, Laura Brown, who’s at Harper’s Bazaar as well. They were both very helpful. Besides that, I just dove into what Tyler was trying to bring to life.


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

JJ: I can’t think of one.


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

JJ: Of course. I wouldn’t be human, if I never experienced fear.


KW: The Columbus Short question: Are you happy?

JJ: Very!


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

JJ: [Chuckles] Just a little while ago.


KW: What is your guiltiest pleasure?

JJ: Caramel apples.


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

JJ: A novel by Megan Abbott called “Queenpin.”



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

JJ: Drake…and mellow jazz… and a lot of other things.


KW: What is your favorite type of food to eat?

JJ: I couldn’t pick just one. I love Mexican… Chinese… Japanese… Indian… I had Moroccan recently, and it was really delicious.


KW: Have you ever had Ethiopian? That’s really good, too.

JJ: No, and there’s an Ethiopian restaurant on Fairfax, and every time I pass by I say, I’ve got to try it.


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

JJ: Again, I couldn’t pick just one. But I love Alexander McQueen, John Galliano

Haider Ackermann, Todd Lynn and Rick Owens.


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

JJ: Attending my sister’s wedding when I was two years-old.


KW: Which sister was that?

JJ: Rebbe.


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

JJ: Damita Jo. [Laughs]


KW: Damita Jo , do you go by your middle names a lot?

JJ: Yeah, my friends call me Damita Jo, Damita or just Jo. When I look in the mirror, what do I see? I see someone who has had a wonderful life, who continues to enjoy a wonderful life and to grow because she’s a work in progress. I’ve come a long way, but I still have open arms to learn more.


KW: Well, thanks again for another great interview, Janet, and best of luck with the film.

JJ: Thank you very much.


KW: And I hope to speak to you again when you publish your upcoming memoir, “True You.”

JJ: I would love that, Kam.

Sunday, October 24, 2010


Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Grim Surrealism at Center of Serendipitous Psychic Drama

I thought that the American obsession with psychics had pretty much ended once Miss Cleo was exposed as a fraud from L.A. as opposed to the shaman from Jamaica she posed as on the Psychic Friends Network infomercial. Even though nobody with an IQ above room temperature consults clairvoyants with crystal balls anymore, Clint Eastwood has inexplicably made a movie giving credence to such charlatans.
Hereafter is an otherworldly drama comprised of three discrete tales which eventually serendipitously intersect. The first one opens in Thailand where we find a TV news anchor (Cecile De France) vacationing with her boyfriend (Thierry Neuvic).
A tsunami hits the resort where they’re staying, and Marie seemingly drowns in the tidal wave. But no, she is miraculously resuscitated, and the near-death experience leaves the lucky reporter with ESP.
Upon her return to France with her beau, Marie’s more interested in exploring her newfound powers than in reading a teleprompter anymore. Resentful of the widespread cynicism she encounters whenever discussing her newfound visions, she decides to write a book entitled, “Hereafter: A Conspiracy of Silence.”
Meanwhile, clear across the pond in San Francisco, we find a closet psychic (Matt Damon) reluctantly conducting a séance as a favor to his little brother (Jay Mohr). However, George Lonegan has ostensibly grown very weary with being asked to peer into the future or the past.
Consequently, he’s become quite content to stay under the radar by passing himself off as an Average Joe. He hides his skills by working at a blue-collar factory job and by dating a loquacious airhead (Bryce Dallas Howard) he met at an adult school cooking class.
The third storyline focuses on a British schoolboy (Frankie McLaren) grieving the death of his identical twin (George McLaren) who was hit by a car crossing the street. Since the two had been inseparable, Marcus is desperate to contact the ghost of his dearly departed brother.
The plotlines intersect when a mysterious force summons George from ‘Frisco to England at just the same time Marie travels there to promote the publication of her memoir. While in London, the misunderstood sad sacks cross paths not only with each other but with equally-morose Marcus as well.
Too bad their dopey premonitions about death sound like pure Hogwarts, I mean hogwash. Infantile, Harry Potter-style hocus pocus only aimed at folks who came of age in the era of the Ouija board.

Fair (1 star)
Rated PG-13 for mature themes, disturbing images and brief profanity.
Running time: 126 Minutes
Distributor: Warner Brothers

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Last Day of Summer DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: DVD Features Janitor Going Postal in Offbeat Romantic Comedy

Joe (DJ Qualls) is on edge and right at the end of his rope. He’s the janitor at a fast food joint being run like a boot camp by Mr. Crolick (William Sadler). While all the workers at Burger Heaven find themselves the brunt of their boss’ abuse, the sadist taskmaster really seems to revel in torturing his custodian, teasing the gangly young man about everything from his looks to his intelligence.

Thus, it’s no surprise that Joe might be a prime candidate for “Going Postal” in this era when an automatic weapon is many a disgruntled employee’s answer to discontent on the job. This candidate’s breaking point arrives the day that Mr. Crolick gives him a new toilet brush in front of the entire staff before forcing him to plunge his arm elbow deep into a feces-filled bowl.

Then, to add insult to injury, before he has a chance to quit, Joe’s fired for insubordination. So, he quietly plots his revenge, purchasing a pistol and recording a farewell tape explaining why he’s about to go on a rampage.

But when he enters the restaurant on the day of reckoning, he’s distracted by a cute customer (Nikki Reed) just as he’s about to execute his plan. Convinced that the pretty stranger is flirting with him, he decides to take her hostage instead of following through with shooting Crolick. He then drags Stefanie off at gunpoint to a seedy motel, where he binds and gags her while frantically trying to figure out what to do next.

This is the novel premise of Last Day of Summer, an offbeat comedy which asks you to empathize with a copycat psychopath bent on committing Columbine-style mayhem. Without giving anything away, let me just say that Joe finds a sympathetic ear in Stefanie, a girl who comes with baggage of her own. Thus, don’t be surprised if these lost souls ultimately feel lucky to have found each other, despite the bizarre way in which they met.

A Stockholm Syndrome saga giving new meaning to the term “Shotgun Wedding!”

Very Good (3 stars)
Rated R for violent images, drug use and pervasive profanity.
Running time: 85 Minutes
Studio: E1 Entertainment
DVD Extras: “The Making of” featurette.

Jackass 3D

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Slaphappy Stuntmen Serve-Up Jaw-Dropping, 3D Sequel

No movies have made me squirm in my seat and shout out loud more than those in the Jackass franchise, and this 3D version is no exception. Yes, Johnny Knoxville, Bam Margera, Steve-O and the rest of their merry band of intrepid stuntmen have returned for another round of jaw-dropping, death-defying feats.
Make no mistake, the picture is based on locker room antics apt to offend females despite simultaneously appealing to males in much the same way The Three Stooges inexplicably touch men’s primordial chord while being completely lost on women. I don’t know what it is about just the right combination of comedy and slapstick violence, but Moe, Larry and Curly knew what they were doing, and so do Jackass’ practical jokers.
Among this installment’s highlights is a segment where a blindfolded guy plays “Pin the Tail on the Donkey” with a real donkey until the irritated animal delivers a swift kick to the crotch. Another bit called “Apple of My Ass” features a naked fat guy with an apple hidden deep in the folds of his anal cleft crawling around on all fours until a hungry pig decides to retrieve it.
Then there’s a segment titled “Bad Dog” where Knoxville lets a rabid pit bull-looking hound bite him in the butt before he pulls down his pants to prove it was for real by showing the teeth marks. But not all of the action involves animals. For instance “Duck Hunting” has a scantily-clad human launched into the sky for the benefit of a bunch of marksmen prepared to pepper him midair with painful paintball pellets.
If you care to be grossed-out totally, brace yourself for the sight of flatulent “Will the Farter” playing the trumpet bottomless and inflating a balloon by passing wind. The piece de resistance of that skit has him then popping the balloon by shooting a blow dart out of his butt. Equally-unforgettable is “Helicockter” where a dude’s private parts are tugged at tenaciously after being tied to a remote-controlled, toy helicopter.
“The Blind Side,” an hilarious homage to the film of the same name, involves a victim’s taking vicious hits from an actual pro football player. Hey, if you like the holidays, you might enjoy “The Christmas Tree” where two of the jackasses climb to the top of a 50-foot tall fir before crashing into a snow bank when their crazy compatriots cut it down with a chainsaw. And so forth. You know the drill.
Dozens of eye-popping displays of depravity not for the weak of stomach.

Excellent (4 stars)
Rated R for male nudity, profanity, extremely crude humor and dangerous stunts.
Running time: 94 Minutes
Studio: Paramount Pictures

Friday, October 22, 2010

This Week’s DVD Releases

by Kam Williams

Headline: Top Ten DVD List for October 26th 2010

How to Train Your Dragon

The Halloween Stories Collection

South of the Border

Surviving the Holidays with Lewis Black

Treasury of 100 Storybook Classics 2

The Girl Who Played with Fire

The Best Government Money Can Buy

Sleepwalking Land

Los Angeles Lakers: 2010 NBA Finals Series

The Infidel

Honorable Mention

What a Wonderful World

Monster a Go-Go

Yes, Virginia

Winter’s Bone

Last Day of Summer

Lake Placid 3

The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia

Evening Primrose


Harrison Montgomery