Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Of Thee I Sing: A Letter to My Daughters

by Barack Obama
Illustrated by Loren Long
Knopf Books for Young Readers
Hardcover, $17.99
36 pages
ISBN: 978-0-375-83527-8

Book Review by Kam Williams

“In this tender, beautiful letter to his daughters, President Barack Obama has written a moving tribute to thirteen groundbreaking Americans and the ideals that have shaped our nation. From the artistry of Georgia O’Keefe to the courage of Jackie Robinson, from the strength of Helen Keller to the patriotism of George Washington, President Obama sees the traits of these heroes within his own children, and within all of America’s children…
This beautiful book is about the potential within each of us to pursue our dreams and forge our own paths. It celebrates the characteristics that unite all Americans, from our nation’s founders to the generations to come.”

-Excerpted from the inside cover

Sasha and Malia Obama are now 9 and 12, respectively, which actually
makes the First Daughters a little older than the 4-8 demographic contemplated as the target audience for this children’s book designed as a letter to them from their doting dad. Of Thee I Sing is basically a baker’s dozen, brief biographies of important figures in American history, from Father of the Country George Washington up to Maya Lin, the artist/architect who, while still an undergraduate at Yale, designed the Vietnam Veterans Memorial located on the National Mall.
Each subject’s entry is accompanied by an evocative airbrush portrait by Loren Long, an award-winning illustrator who has previously collaborated with the likes of Madonna and Walt Whitman. For example, the drawing of Jackie Robinson’s captures the late baseball great at bat in his Brooklyn Dodgers uniform, while that of artist Georgia O’Keefe shows her in the midst of painting one of her trademark flowers in full bloom.
My only quibble with President Obama’s picks here is with his predecessor Washington, a wealthy plantation owner who never emancipated his 300+ slaves at Mount Vernon, not even upon his death. This opus conveniently makes no mention of that glaring moral failing, opting to focus instead on the first President’s “principles” and on his patently hypocritical belief “in liberty and justice for all.”
Although I’m willing to give the author a Mulligan since he presently has many more pressing issues on his plate, I was nonetheless pleased by the inclusion of the likes of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Sitting Bull and Albert Einstein. There was a method to Obama’s madness, here, as each choice is hailed for a prevailing trait, ranging from creativity to intelligence to bravery and beyond.
The literary equivalent of a “Yes We Can!” rally led by our charismatic Commander-in-Chief for the benefit of the Sesame Street set.

This Week’s DVD Releases

by Kam Williams

Headline: Top Ten DVD List for November 30th 2010

Knight and Day

Beyonce' I Am… World Tour (DVD/CD)

Cairo Time


The Twilight Saga: Eclipse

Jillian: 6 Week Six-Pack

Dancing with the Stars: Ballroom Buns & Abs

Madea’s Big Happy Family: The Play

Jane Fonda Prime Time: Fit & Strong

President’s Photographer: 50 Years inside the Oval

Monday, November 29, 2010

Kerry Washington: The “For Colored Girls and Night Catches Us” Interview

with Kam Williams

Headline: Kerry on Everything from Films to Family to President Obama

Winner of the 2005 NAACP Image Award as the “Outstanding Actress in a Motion Picture” for Ray, Kerry Washington is a versatile, talented and fearless actress who has built an impressive list of credits over the course of her relatively brief career. She has also garnered critical acclaim for recent roles in Mother and Child, The Last King of Scotland, The Dead Girl and Lakeview Terrace.
Kerry made her feature film debut in Our Song in 2000, and has since co-starred in Fantastic Four and its sequel Rise of the Silver Surfer, I Think I Love My Wife, Little Man, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, She Hate Me, Against the Ropes, The Human Stain, and Save the Last Dance for which she received a Teen Choice Award for Best Breakout Performance.
She will soon be seen opposite Eddie Murphy in A Thousand Words and then in We the Peeples, an ensemble comedy featuring Craig Robinson, David Alan Grier, Tyler James Williams and S. Epatha Merkerson. She currently has two films in theaters, For Colored Girls and Night Catches Us.
Kerry is an active member on the Board of Directors for The Creative Coalition, a group dedicated to raising awareness of First Amendment Rights and to the support of the arts in education. Plus, she’s a member of the V-Counsel, a group of advisors to V-Day, the global movement to end violence against women and girls (www.vday.org). As for endorsement deals, Kerry is a spokesperson for both L’Oreal Paris and Movado.

Kam Williams: Hi, Kerry, nice to speak with you again.
Kerry Washington: Hey, Kam, how are you?

KW: Very well, thanks. My son said he came to see your lecture at Princeton University last semester. He’s a junior there now.
Kerry: Cool! Congratulations! That’s exciting.

KW: Thanks. I told my readers I’d be interviewing you, so I think we should get right to their many questions. Children’s book author Irene Smalls asks: What attracted you to the role of Kelly in For Colored Girls?
Kerry: I really just wanted to be a part of the production. I had heard a rumor that Tyler [Perry] was directing it, I so I approached him at one of these industry parties, and said, “If it’s true, I want in, because it’s such an important piece of literature.”

KW: Irene says: This play was written some time ago. Do you think it is still relevant to today's black woman?
Kerry: I do. I do. I think the play is still relevant to all human beings, not just black women.

KW: FSU grad Laz Lyles asks: What is it about Tyler Perry that enabled him to assemble such an accomplished cast?
Kerry: He’s a very inspiring person, when you look at the empire that he has created and built on his own. He wasn’t born into it.

KW: FSU grad Laz Lyles asks: With a text this powerful, what was the self-discovery factor like? Were there any dormant traits that unexpectedly came to the surface?
Kerry: It was really fun for me to do this because I was coming off doing the David Mamet play “Race,” on Broadway. And that character was so forceful and angry and smart and sharp and verbally articulate. Kelly is almost the opposite. She’s very vulnerable and soft in a good way. Her role is to be a witness of these women and their journeys. It was a wonderful challenge for me as an actor to have to immediately exhibit the opposite qualities of those that I had been cultivating for almost a year.

KW: How was it having Hill Harper play your husband?
Kerry: It was great to have the opportunity to work with Hill, since he’s a friend, and we’ve traveled together along this political/artistic path. It was also nice to be able to tell this story of supportive, positive love between a black man and woman. I know that was important to Tyler and we felt very blessed to take on that responsibility.

KW: Reverend Florine Thompson asks: Even though the film is specifically about "Colored Girls," would you say it explores themes which resonate with all women?
Kerry: Absolutely! On the set, we even talked to each other about how universal the journeys of these characters are. So, the spectrum of colors that we’re referencing really reflects a rainbow of human emotions. We’re talking about being sad and blue, or red with rage, or green with envy. Those are the colors that we girls are embodying.

KW: Editor/legist Patricia Turnier is wondering: What African-American icon would you like to portray in a movie?
Kerry: Angela Davis is somebody I have my eye on. Also Diahann Carroll.

KW: Yale grad Tommy Russell asks: What do you struggle with as an actress: honesty in your roles, diving into the depth of your characters, or just navigating the crazy landscape of Hollywood and auditioning?
Kerry: D, all of the above! [Laughs]

KW: Marcia Evans asks: How do you feel about the recent backlash against President Obama? Why hasn’t there been a massive pushback by the Democratic Party against all the recent unfair rhetoric?
Kerry: It’s exciting to me that people know that I’m someone who’s very political. For full disclosure, it’s important for me to say that I’m a member of the administration now because I’m on the President Obama’s Committee for the Arts and Humanities. So, I’m not unbiased. I’m really proud of everything that he’s accomplished in his first couple of years. I think it’s great that all of us Americans were inspired to work so hard get him elected. But now, the most important thing people can do in this representative democracy is to stay active and interested, if we want to continue the momentum of change.

KW: Is there any question no one ever asks you, that you wish someone would?
Kerry: No, not really.

KW: The Tasha Smith question: Are you ever afraid?
Kerry: Yes.

KW: The Columbus Short question: Are you happy?
Kerry: I think I am, for the most part. But everybody has ups and downs, right? I have bad moments, but not many bad days.

KW: The Teri Emerson question: When was the last time you had a good laugh?
Kerry: About 15 minutes ago. I loooooove to laugh! [Chuckles]

KW: What is your guiltiest pleasure?
Kerry: Popcorn and massages.

KW: What is your favorite dish to cook?
Kerry: Baking and decorating cakes, but I don’t even eat them, because I try to stay away from wheat. I just made my own icing from scratch the other day, but it didn’t come out very well. I’m working on refining that.

KW: The bookworm Troy Johnson question: What was the last book you read?
Kerry: Jane Alexander’s memoirs called “Command Performance.”

KW: The music maven Heather Covington question: What was the last song you listened to?
Kerry: Hot Tottie by Usher and Jay-Z.

KW: The Uduak Oduok question: Who is your favorite clothes designer?
Kerry: I have so many it would be impossible to say.

KW: The Boris Kodjoe question: What do you consider your biggest accomplishment?
Kerry: I don’t know. I really don’t know. If I ever have a family one day, everything else will pale in importance to that.

KW: When you look in the mirror, what do you see?
Kerry: I see an ever-unfolding process.

KW: If you could have one wish instantly granted, what would that be for?
Kerry: For a million more wishes.

KW: The Ling-Ju Yen question: What is your earliest childhood memory?
Kerry: Being in my stroller in the elevator in the building where I grew up in the Bronx.

KW: What advice do you have for anyone who wants to follow in your footsteps?
Kerry: Study! Study ! Study! Get an education.

KW: Have you ever wished you could have your anonymity back?
Kerry: No.

KW: The Laz Alonso question: How can your fans help you?
Kerry: It would be super if people visited my new website, www.KerryWashington.com.

KW: The Zane question: Do you have any regrets?
Kerry: I do. I do. I think everything in life happens for a reason. I always think there’s room for me to improve as a person.

KW: The Flex Alexander question: How do you get through the tough times?
Kerry: Through prayer and meditation. And I have really good friends and family, and a great therapist.

KW: The Tavis Smiley question: What do you want your legacy to be, and where are you in relation to that at this point in your life?
Kerry: I’m not really sure. I don’t think in those terms, exactly. I just want to keep having the courage to raise the bar for myself, and to keep striving for excellence in artistic integrity and public service. And to continue to challenge myself to move outside of my comfort zone, personally and professionally.

KW: Thanks again, Kerry, and I look forward to speaking to you again soon.
Kerry: Likewise, Kam, bye.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Going the Distance DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Drew Barrymore Romantic Comedy Released on DVD

Among the fundamental elements critical to the enjoyment of a romantic comedy are an engaging plot, authentic chemistry between a couple of likable characters, and enough laughs-per-minute to make you forget that it’s all leading to a predictable “happily ever after” resolution. There are none of the above in Going the Distance, a mirthless indulgence in narcissism which fails to deliver any of the basics of the genre.
The movie marks the first foray into drama by Oscar-nominated, documentary director Nanette Burstein (On the Ropes). Unfortunately, this insipid offering, co-starring Drew Barrymore and Justin Long, is exactly the opposite of exceptional. The story revolves around the long-distance relationship of the equally-insufferable Erin (Barrymore), a Stanford grad student majoring in journalism, and Garrett (Long), a jaded, NYC talent scout disenchanted with his unimaginative record company which only allows him to sign bands with commercial potential.
The protagonists meet serendipitously at a trendy singles bar while she’s interning at a prestigious newspaper in Manhattan, and their mutual attraction leads to a passionate fling that remains inflamed for the duration of the summer.
However, despite a parting exchange of promises at the airport to remain faithful to each other, there’s trouble in paradise soon after Erin returns to California to complete her degree.
The phone sex just doesn’t do it after awhile, nor can they afford to take turns flying across country every weekend. Worse, Garrett becomes irrationally jealous of her hunky, Platonic pal (Oliver Jackson-Cohen), while she worries about what he might be up to hanging out with his bawdy bachelor buddies (Jason Sudeikis and Charlie Day).
Still, the most frustrating conundrum facing the lovebirds is whether one will put the other’s needs first in order to be able live in the same city. For, career-oriented Erin will only move back to the Big Apple if she lands a full-time gig there. And he isn’t inclined to quit his job just to be with her either.
While such selfish attitudes might reflect the practical reality of mating habits in the 21st Century, it’s not exactly the sort of film fare apt to generate any old-fashioned chemistry. The only reason to root for a reunion of these two jerks is because they really deserve each other.

Fair (1 star)
Rated R for sexuality, profanity, crude humor, drug use and brief nudity.
Running time: 102 Minutes
Studio: New Line Home Video
Blu-Ray Extras: Director’s audio commentary, deleted scenes, music video, a “Behind-the-Scenes” and several other featurettes, and DVD and digital versions of the film.

Knight and Day DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Diaz and Cruise’s Delightful & Dizzying Spy Spoof Out on DVD

This high-octane, espionage thriller’s got all the basic to keep you thoroughly entertained for the duration, from a multi-layered mystery to international intrigue to breathtaking cinematography to 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 Vanilla Sky (2001), and are ably assisted 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.
Sitting across the aisle from each other as the jet cruises at mile-high altitude, the two proceed to flirt shamelessly over drinks until she 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,” before crash-landing 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 priceless invention, a perpetual energy battery from falling into the wrong hands. Before the authorities or more adversaries arrive, he quickly explains to June 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, she 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!

Excellent (4 stars)
Rated PG-13 for violence and brief profanity.
Running time: 109 Minutes
Distributor: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
DVD Extras: “Wilder Knights and Crazier Days” featurette, Knight and Someday featuring the Black Eyed Peas and Tom Cruise, viral videos: “Soccer” and “Kick.”

The Twilight Saga: Eclipse DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline Twilight 3 DVD Features Bella Embroiled in Supernatural Love Triangle

This third (of four) installments in the review-proof Twilight series, opens with the end of senior year fast approaching at Forks High School. But where valedictorian Jessica (Anna Kendrick) is concentrating on practicing her graduation speech, her good friend Bella (Kristen Stewart), our human heroine, still finds herself torn romantically between vampire Edward (Robert Pattinson) and werewolf Jacob (Taylor Lautner).

After un-grounding his daughter, ever-clueless Police Chief Charlie Swan (Billy Burke) gives his blessing for her to date the latter, but she instead flies to Florida with the former in order to visit her mother. The messy love triangle starts to take an emotional toll Bella on after she secretly accepts Edward’s marriage proposal while subsequently allowing her relationship with Jacob to escalate from platonic to physical.

The plot thickens when it comes to light that vindictive, Bella-hating Victoria (Bryce Dallas Howard) will soon be descending upon Forks from nearby Seattle with an army of newborn vampires intent on avenging the death of her dearly-departed boyfriend. This urgent state of affairs leads to a temporary truce and some comical sniping between Edward and Jacob as they join forces to protect the fair maiden whose hand they both seek.

“Doesn’t he own a shirt?” Edward asks Bella about his buff, bare-chested competitor. “Let’s face it, I’m hotter than you,” Jacob retorts, in a remark meant to be taken both literally and figuratively. Needless to say, they bury the hatchet to fight the newborns, a bloody battle which merely serves as a distraction from the palpable pressure ratcheting-up on Bella to decide which guy will get her heart.

So, what’ll be Bella? A bloodsucking vampire or a rabid werewolf? That’s a tough choice when they’re both packaged in the hot bod of an adorably cute teen. Overall, a compelling enough sequel certain to enthrall the target demographic, though still not nearly as enchanting as the original.

Very Good (3 stars)
Rated PG-13 for intense violence and some sensuality.
Running time: 124 Minutes
Studio: Summit Entertainment
2-Disc DVD Extras: Audio commentary by Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart, audio commentary by Stephanie Meyer & Wyck Godfrey, deleted and extended scenes, photo gallery, 6-part “Making of” documentary, “Edward Fast Forward” and “Jacob Fast Forward” featurettes, music videos and more.

Night Catches Us

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Prodigal Panther Returns to the ‘Hood in Search of Second Chance

Anyone familiar with the history of the Black Panther Party knows that it self-destructed during the Seventies after the FBI strategically created dissension in its ranks via a combination of infiltration, disinformation and assassinations. In fact, by the time of the informant-riddled organization’s collapse, its members were so mistrustful of each other that its leaders were reduced to accusing each other of being government agents.
That feeling of paranoia permeates the air in Night Catches Us, a period piece about the Panthers set in Philadelphia in ‘76. The story revolves around the return to town of one Marcus Washington (Anthony Mackie) to attend the funeral of his father following four years spent in a self-imposed exile.
The ex-Panther is not exactly welcomed back with open arms because most people in the ‘hood still believe he might have been the snitch who fingered a suspected cop killer for the police. He even gets the cold shoulder from his own brother, Bostic (Tariq Trotter), who refuses to let him stay in the family house.
The only sympathetic shoulder Marcus finds to lean on is that of Patricia (Kerry Washington), an old flame who has become an activist attorney since they were last an item. But rekindling passion nonetheless proves easier said than done.
For, first of all, Patty is currently dating a bourgie Oreo who’s been pressuring her to move out of the ghetto and to forget about her revolutionary, leftist leanings. Secondly, she has a nine year-old daughter, Iris (Jamara Griffin), who’s growing increasingly curious about how her late daddy died. The little girl has no idea that the new man in her mom’s life might be the stool pigeon responsible for her father’s apprehension and mysterious demise.
Written and directed by newcomer Tanya Hamilton, Night Catches Us is an unabashedly nostalgic Black Power Movement saga of Shakespearean proportions touching on a litany of classical themes ranging from love and betrayal to honor and loyalty to disgrace and redemption. The film features an original soundtrack by The Roots, and marks a most auspicious debut by Ms. Hamilton who deftly spins a palpably-authentic tale in impressive fashion.
A Prodigal Panther pays the price to make peace with a turbulent past.

Excellent (3.5 stars)
Rated R for violence, profanity and some sexuality.
Running time: 89 Minutes
Studio: Magnolia Pictures

Saturday, November 27, 2010

127 Hours

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Survival Flick Features James Franco as Slumdog Mountaineer

James Franco is a marvelous character actor who has exhibited an enviable range in a string of memorable support performances in everything from Spider-Man to Pineapple Express to Milk to Date Night. In 127 Hours, the subtle scene stealer was afforded not merely a rare opportunity at a lead role but the luxury of basking in the limelight all by himself for the bulk of the picture. That’s because this is a stranded in nature vehicle reminiscent of such survival flicks as Tom Hank’s Cast Away and Emile Hirsch’s Into the Wild.
Directed by Oscar-winner Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire), the harrowing adventure recreates mountain climber Aron Ralston’s real-life ordeal during the spring of 2003 in a desert region of Utah far removed from civilization. While there for a Saturday hike, the young outdoorsman ended up trapped in a ravine when his arm became pinned to a wall by a dislodged boulder.
Because Aron hadn’t informed anyone of his itinerary before setting off alone, he knew there wouldn’t be any rescue party organized to look for him. In fact, no one even noticed his absence until he failed to show up for work after the weekend.
So, the desperate 28 year-old had to pin his hopes on the possibility of another climber’s coming along by chance. But neither his prayers nor bloodcurdling screams were to be answered over the next five days, leaving the unfortunate lad simply stuck between a rock and a hard place in the middle of nowhere.
Thus, from about 15 minutes in virtually right up to the conclusion, this 2½ hour saga basically features James Franco delivering a protracted soliloquy. The versatile thespian more than meets the challenge to convey convincingly the gradually deteriorating physical, mental and emotional states of a person forced by circumstances to reflect upon his life while simultaneously resigning himself to an untimely demise.
After running out of food and water, we witness Aron using his free hand to carve his name and date of birth into the rock. He also videotapes heartfelt farewells to his friends and family, before he becomes delirious due to dehydration.
Far be it from me to spoil the ending for anyone who never read the newspaper account as it originally appeared in the papers. Suffice to say that when Aron finds himself facing certain death, his only option lies in a proverbial Hobson’s choice as unthinkable as it is gruesome.
What do you get when you let Danny Boyle put his spin on a fact-based cross of Cast Away and Into the Wild? An exhilarating episode of ‘Who Wants to Be a Slumdog Mountaineer?’

Very Good (3 stars)
Rated R for profanity, violence and disturbing images
Running time: 94 Minutes
Distributor: Fox Searchlight

Thursday, November 25, 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 December 3, 2010


The Warrior’s Way (R for graphic violence) Western action fantasy, set in the Badlands, about a martial arts master (Jang Dong Ton) who emigrates from Asia to America to retire in peace, only to have to pick up his sword again to defend his adopted hometown and a beautiful local gal (Kate Bosworth) from the returning gang of marauders who had made her an orphan many moons ago. With Danny Huston, Tony Cox, Oscar-winner Geoffrey Rush.


All Good Things (R for drug use, violence, profanity and some sexuality) NYC crime saga, set in the Eighties, about the real-life case of the son (Ryan Gosling) of a real estate tycoon (Frank Langella) who falls in love with and marries a tenant (Kirsten Dunst) over his father’s objections only to have his wife subsequently disappear under mysterious circumstances. Support cast includes Philip Baker Hall and SNL’s Kristen Wiig.

Bhutto (Unrated) The definitive documentary chronicling the life and times of Benazir Bhutto (1953-2007), the polarizing political figure and two-time Prime Minister of Pakistan who was poised to return to power in the face of terrorist threats when she was felled by an assassin’s bullet. With appearances by Arianna Huffington, David Frost and Condoleezza Rice.

Black Swan (R for graphic sexuality, disturbing violent images, profanity and drug use) Darren Aronofsky (The Wrestler) directs this psychological thriller, set in NYC, revolving around a couple of ballet dancers (Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis) competing to land the lead role in a production of Swan Lake. With Vincent Kassel and Oscar-nominees Barbara Hershey and Winona Ryder.

Come Undone (Unrated) Romance drama about a sexually-frustrated accountant (Alba Rohrwacher) who, against her better judgment, becomes embroiled in a torrid, clandestine affair, rendezvousing once a week at a cheap, cheaters’ motel with a married colleague (Pierfrancesco Flavino) with a wife and two kids. (In Italian and French with subtitles)

Dead Awake (R for profanity, drug use and brief sexuality) Romance thriller about a morose mortician (Nick Stahl) who finds himself reassessing his dark view of the world after being reunited with the love of his life a decade after she mysteriously disappeared. With Rose McGowan, Amy Smart and Ben Marten.

I Love You Phillip Morris (R for sexuality, profanity and graphic dialogue) Ewan McGregor handles the title role in this homoerotic comedy about a happily-married police officer (Jim Carrey) who comes out-of-the-closet after a motorcycle accident and subsequently falls in love with his cellmate when he lands behind bars. With Lesley Mann, Rodrigo Santoro and Nicholas Alexander.

Mars (Unrated) Animated sci-fi comedy, set in the near future, revolving around the race between a robot and manned missions to Mars in the wake of the discovery of life on the Red Planet. Voice cast includes Kinky Friedman, Mark Duplass and Zoe Simpson.

Meskada (R for profanity, violence and one scene of sexuality) Crime thriller about a small-town detective’s (Nick Stahl) effort to bring to justice the killers of the son of a powerful, local socialite (Laura Benanti).With Norman Reedus, Kellan Lutz and Jonathan Tucker.

Night Catches Us (R for violence, profanity and some sexuality) Prodigal Son drama, set in Philly in 1976, about a former Black Panther (Anthony Mackie) who returns to his ‘hood after a four-year absence only to be met with suspicion by his former comrades except for an old flame (Kerry Washington) who has become a lawyer in the interim. With Tariq Trotter, Jamie Hector and Wendell Pierce.

Queen of the Lot (R for profanity and some sexuality) Romantic comedy about a conniving, aspiring actress (Tanna Frederick) under house arrest who attempts to leverage her drunk-driving convictions and her relationship with a matinee idol (Christpher Rydell) into a tabloid feeding frenzy. With Noah Wyle, Peter Bogdanovich and Sabrina Jaglom.

Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (Unrated) Holiday fantasy, set in Scandinavia, where children start disappearing mysteriously right after Santa Claus is unearthed at an archaeological dig. Cast includes Peeter Jakobi, Tommi Korpela and Jorma Tommila. (In Finnish and English with subtitles)

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Black Faces in White Places (BOOK REVIEW)

Black Faces in White Places
10 Game-Changing Strategies to Achieve Success and Find Greatness
by Randal Pinkett and Jeffrey Robinson
with Philana Patterson
Amacom Books
Hardcover, $24.95
288 pages
ISBN: 978-0-8144-1680-8

Book Review by Kam Williams

“What do we mean by Black Faces in White Places? It is more than just a numbers game and being the only person of color in a predominantly white environment. It is more than being subjected to racism and discrimination based on the color of your skin.

It is even more than being a ‘Black first.’ It is, in fact, about pursuing greatness in ways that leverage your culture and ethnicity as assets, not as liabilities.“

-- Excerpted from the Introduction (pg. 9)

In his groundbreaking book, “The Rage of a Privileged Class,” published in 1993, Newsweek Contributing Editor Ellis Cose eloquently illustrated how the American Dream has remained a dream deferred for many black college grads, even those with advanced degrees. The problem is that academic achievement is no guarantee of career success when it comes to one’s chosen profession, given the existence of the “Old Boy Network” which continues to frustrate the aspirations of so many endeavoring to climb the corporate ladder.

As a journalist privileged to have access to many celebrities, a question I often like to ask in interviews with African-American captains of industry is how they managed to flourish in a predominantly white environment where so many other talented blacks have simultaneously failed to do so. Now, we finally have a satisfactory answer to that query thanks to Dr. Randal Pinkett, winner of Donald Trump’s reality show The Apprentice.

For in conjunction with his longtime business partner, Dr. Jeffrey Robinson, Randal has written a viable blueprint for blacks trying to make it in corporate America. The book opens with a discussion of what the authors call the four dimensions, by which they mean the critical workplace issues African-Americans are apt to find themselves grappling with, namely, matters having to do with identity, meritocracy, society and opportunity.

Next, it goes on to delineate the “10 Game-Changing Strategies to Achieve Success and Find Greatness.” Here, Randal and J.R. serve up sage advice culled from a combination of their own experiences and those of dozens of equally-accomplished black contemporaries they interviewed for the project. In a nutshell, their sacred 10 Commandments range from a stress on excellence to seeking out the wisdom of mentors to maximizing synergy and scale.

A helpful handbook designed for the average African-American armed with credentials yet in a quandary about how to flourish in the midst of a corporate culture tainted by intolerance in terms of skin color.

Edwidge Danticat: The “Create Dangerously” Interview

with Kam Williams

Headline: The Owl and the Danticat

Edwidge Danticat was born in Haiti in 1969 and moved to the United States when she was twelve. She is the author of two novels, two collections of stories, two books for young adults, and two nonfiction books, one of which, Brother, I'm Dying, was a finalist for the National Book Award and winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award for autobiography. In 2009, she received a MacArthur Genius Fellowship.
Here, Edwidge talks about her latest opus, Create Dangerously, a collection of essays based on a series of lectures she delivered at Princeton University last year.

Kam Williams: Hi, Edwidge, thanks for the time.
Edwidge Danticat: I hope you don’t mind that I have my baby daughter with me. Usually, I make some sort of arrangements.

KW: No need to apologize. I once interviewed Soledad O’Brien while she was surrounded by her kids in the kitchen, and the children’s distractions only added to the experience. First, let me say I enjoyed Create Dangerously immensely. When did you arrive at an understanding that your aesthetic coincided with that of Albert Camus in his essay of the same name which served as the inspiration for your book’s title?
ED: [Laughs] You ask that question in such a very, very serious way. I’ve always enjoyed the work of Camus, and found it very thought-provoking, especially his novels. But less universally read are his essays which are very beautiful. I read that one when I was in college and starting to think seriously about writing. He always seemed to express more ambivalence than certainty. That’s certainly how I feel, that this is all a kind of quest, and that things change in terms of what you’re trying to accomplish as you go along. I like the fact that he talks about both sides and the ambivalence of artists.

KW: FSU grad Laz Lyles says: I heard a New Yorker Magazine podcast that mentioned you and Junot Diaz in tandem as the frontrunner "immigrant" writers. I'd like to know if there are any other writers we should be looking out for who are creating and writing in this tradition.
ED: [Laughs] I don’t know if it’s true that we’re at the forefront. I think we are just part of a big and emerging group. Two of the people I‘m most actively reading right now are Dinaw Mengestu and Jhumpa Lahiri. Also, Tiphanie Yanique who wrote an absolutely amazing novella and collection of short stories called “How to Escape from a Leper Colony.”

KW: Rudy Lewis says: I have read several of your books and think that you are the finest and most courageous writer living today, on par with the late South African poet Dennis Brutus. Do you think it a waste of energy to protest for the return of President Aristide to Haiti when it is almost certain that the United States, Canada, and France will not allow his return?
ED: Rudy is right that it would be very difficult for Aristide to return as a leader because the larger powers won’t allow it, but I don’t think the people in Haiti who support his return would consider it a waste of energy because he is a citizen of Haiti.

KW: Rudy also says: South Africa was a cause célèbre. Why do you think that Haiti has not risen to that level in the African-American political imagination, in their churches and other social and political arenas? Is it the problem of language or some other factors?
ED: There has long been an ideological and intellectual engagement with Haiti as the first black republic by people like Harry Belafonte, Danny Glover, Randall Robinson, Zora Neale Hurston, Langston Hughes, Katherine Dunham, Frederick Douglass and Ntozake Shange. And since the earthquake, we’ve witnessed a very visceral reaction and a new wave of engagement on the part of many African-American communities all across the country.

KW: Speaking of the earthquake, Heritage Konpa Publisher Rene Davis wants to know if there’s an earthquake relief charity you recommend,
ED: There are two. Haitian Women for Haitian Refugees (http://haitianwomen.wordpress.com/) has been on the ground since the beginning. The majority of Haitian households are female-headed because of politics and migration. The other is the Lambi Fund of Haiti. (http://www.lambifund.org/) Both work primarily in areas outside of Port-au-Prince which get less aid.

KW: Rene also wants to know whether you have any political aspirations in Haiti, ala Wyclef Jean?
ED: No, no, no, no, no! The only thing I will ever run for is a bus. [LOL]

KW: Harriet Pakula Teweles says: First of all, I want to say how very much I appreciated "The Dew Breaker.” How has winning a MacArthur Award and being dubbed a genius affected your writing process?
ED: It hasn’t made it easier, strangely enough. [Chuckles] Writing is the same, no matter what else happened with your previous book, because ultimately you have to sit down with a blank page and wrestle with an idea. It hasn’t changed that process in terms of the anxiety. Once you’re involved in the work, it’s really just you and the characters and the words. What does change is that the more you do it, the more practice you have, the less stressful writing is. You know how that is, Kam

KW: Yeah. What did being named an Oprah Book Club selection do for you?
ED: It gave me a lot of time. What it did was allow me the time to concentrate on writing so I did not have to do so many other jobs. The greatest gift anyone can give to a writer is time, as you very well know.

KW: Attorney Bernadette Beekman says: I am always so incredibly moved by your writing, especially “Krik Krak,” “The Farming of the Bones” and “The Dew Breaker.” I see that your new work is once again about life's challenges respecting immigrants. I wonder if one day you will write an extended work which will examine happiness instead of suffering.
ED: [Laughs] I think I’m just melancholy by nature, and a lot of that gets into my writing. But on a practical level, I think it’s hard to write a book about happiness because fiction requires tension and complication.

KW: Bernadette asks: When was the last time you were in Haiti?
ED: I was there towards the end of the summer to visit family and to work at a camp called “Li Li Li” (http://www.lililiread.org) lwhich means “Read Read Read.”

KW: Yale grad Tommy Russell asks: Were you surprised at the outpouring of support after the earthquake? Are things getting better? And what more needs to be done down there?
ED: I was surprised at how broad the recovery was. Every one was doing something. On another level, I probably shouldn’t have been surprised because there is something human about the way people react to and identify with suffering. There’s a lot more empathy in the world than we perhaps realize. The response to the earthquake proved that. Unfortunately, many of the donations haven’t been used, and we still have a million and a half people homeless, plus the recent cholera outbreak shows the vulnerability of the situation. So, I think there needs to be a renewed urgency.

KW: Marcia Evans is a person who grew up in the Cambria Heights section of New York City. She asks: Why is this lovely neighborhood never discussed by the media when covering the Haitian community?
ED: Marcia’s right about that, although since the earthquake there’s a reporter from The New York Times, Anne Barnard, who’s been writing a very extensive series about that particular community in Queens. I think it’s hard for an outsider to capture the flavor of a community and all its nuances, so ultimately Haitian-Americans need to start sharing intimate accounts of their stories. But, Marcia’s right, there are many wonderful stories waiting to be told. We also have to support Haitian-American media, like Heritage Konpa and The Haitian Times, because they not only link Haitian communities to each other, but they are the portals from the Haitian community to the greater community.

KW: Is there any question no one ever asks you, that you wish someone would?
ED: [LOL] No.

KW: The Tasha Smith question: Are you ever afraid?
ED: Yes, I’ve been afraid a few times, especially now that I have kids. I’m more afraid for them than for myself.

KW: The Columbus Short question: Are you happy?
ED: Yes, most of the time. [Chuckles]

KW: The Teri Emerson question: When was the last time you had a good laugh?
ED: Just now, with you.

KW: What is your guiltiest pleasure?
ED: That reality show Basketball Wives.

KW: The bookworm Troy Johnson question: What was the last book you read?
ED: Dinaw Mengestu’s new book, “How to Read the Air.”

KW: The music maven Heather Covington question: What are you listening to on your iPod?
ED: “The Suburbs,” the new album from an indie rock group called Arcade Fire.

KW: What is your favorite dish to cook?
ED: Diri Ak Djon-Djon. It’s Haitian rice with mushroom.

KW: The Uduak Oduok question: Who is your favorite clothes designer?
ED: My mama. She sews. [Laughs]

KW: When you look in the mirror, what do you see?
ED: A 40+ year-old woman.

KW: If you could have one wish instantly granted, what would that be for?
ED: A true rebuilding of Haiti.

KW: The Ling-Ju Yen question: What is your earliest childhood memory?
ED: My mother cooking. I think I was about two years-old.

KW: The Nancy Lovell Question: Why do you love doing what you do?
ED: Because it’s fun.

KW: The Flex Alexander question: How do you get through the tough times?
ED: By praying and reading.

KW: The Rudy Lewis question: Who’s at the top of your hero list?
ED: Barack Obama.

KW: What has been the biggest obstacle you have had to overcome?
ED: That’s a tricky one.

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

KW: The Tavis Smiley questions. First, how introspective are you?
ED: You know I have to be very introspective to do the work that I do, so I’ll say quite a bit. [LOL]

KW: Finally, how do you want to be remembered? What do you want your legacy to be, and where are you in relation to that at this point in your life?
ED: [Laughs] That’s funny, because that was also Tavis’ last question when I was on his show recently. I have young daughters, and I want my legacy to be more connected to them. I hope to be a good role model for my daughters. I’m only at the beginning of the process, because they’re young.

KW: Thanks again, Edwidge, and best of luck with the book.
ED: Thank you, Kam. It was a lot of fun talking to you.

Monday, November 22, 2010

This Week’s DVD Releases

by Kam Williams

Headline: Top Ten DVD List for November 23rd 2010

The Expendables


NY Export: Opus Jazz

The Six Million Dollar Man: The Complete Collection

Love Shack

I’m Still Here

Fire & Ice: The Dragon Chronicles

The Disappearance of Alice Creed


The Winning Season

Honorable Mention

Countdown to Zero

Mad Men: Seasons 1-3

Eat, Pray, Love

Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore

The Last Airbender

Five Tyler Perry Films on Blu-Ray for the First Time:

Why Did I Get Married

Madea Goes to Jail

Diary of a Mad Black Woman

Madea’s Family Reunion

The Family That Preys

Sunday, November 21, 2010


Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Ethereal Feminist Fantasy from Belgium Exudes Primal Sensuality

Amer is a taut, three-part thriller from Belgium heralding the visually-captivating directorial debut of Helene Cattet and Bruno Forzani. Difficult to pigeonhole, except perhaps as an homage to Italian horror flicks from the Seventies, this endlessly-imaginative, escapist adventure presents a surreal exploration of sensuality from the perspective of the same female at three stages in her life. The stories unfold in chronological order, with protagonist Ana played by Cassandra Forêt as a child, Charlotte Eugène-Guibbaud as an adolescent, and Marie Bos as an adult.
In the opening installment, our young heroine is portrayed as a wan, waif-like creature given to wandering around her family’s sprawling, mountaintop mansion located high above the seacoast. This evocative tableau is comprised of a primary colored collage of Ana roaming around her familial grounds encountering everything from the bed-ridden corpse of her recently-deceased grandfather to a dangling crucifix to water dripping to her parents copulating as caught by the tyke through a tiny keyhole.
Between some suggestive images and Ana’s emotionally-distant mother’s declaration that her daughter is a witch, by segment one’s end, you are left with the sneaky suspicion that something incestuous might have transpired on the premises.
A turn of the cinematic page reveals Ana reincarnated as a ‘tweener whilst experiencing the pangs of pubescence as she parades around town with her overprotective mom. Nonetheless, assorted males ogle the budding beauty, though it is abundantly clear that none of these would be suitors is appropriate for the fair maiden.
The final tale features Ana as matriarch yet still vulnerable to the unsolicited advances of a predatory male. In this case, it’s her limo driver who unabashedly leers at her in the rearview mirror when the line of her cleavage is emphasized by the seatbelt separating her breasts. Here, we see the lascivious driver fantasize about ripping off her dress, and the only hint of a response on his boss’ part arrives later as she seductively licks the teeth of her comb while bathing alone by candlelight.
A female empowerment flick celebrating both coyness and carnality as a woman’s prerogative.

Excellent (4 stars)
In French with subtitles.
Running time: 90 Minutes
Distributor: Olive Films

Tiny Furniture

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: College Grad Returns to Roost in Coming-of-Age Comedy

Aura (Lena Dunham) is a recent college grad (Lena Dunham) who’s depressed about being dumped by her boyfriend and by the realization that her degree in film appreciation is pretty much worthless. So, she reluctantly returns to New York City where she has to move back in with her mother (Laurie Simmons) and 17 year-old sister (Grace Dunham) to live in a trendy TriBeCa loft which doubles as the former’s photography studio.
At the suggestion of her British best friend, Charlotte (Jemima Kirke), she takes a dead-end job as a hostess at a local eatery, a decision which predictably proves unsatisfactory. Worse, she starts looking for love in all the wrong places, exhibiting bad judgment by having unprotected sex with a promiscuous colleague (David Call) in a back alley and by not only dating a homeless guy (Alex Karpovsky) but letting the hobo move into the house with asking permission.
Written and directed by and starring Lena Durham, Tiny Furniture is a sometimes humorous but more often sobering meditation on what life might be like for many young adults trying to survive in the big city in the 21st Century. Earlier this year, this delightfully-fresh indie flick won the Jury Prize for Best Narrative at the SXSW Film Festival in Austin, Texas.
Credit Ms. Dunham for taking a novel approach to casting, enlisting the services of her own mother and sister to play themselves plus a number of other non-professionals to make their acting debuts. The upshot is a scintillating slice of cinema verite that never feels very far removed from reality.
Dunham’s unorthodox ideas are not limited to the dramatis personae, but extend to the frank dialogue and graphic goings-on in this thoroughly unpredictable yet perfectly plausible romantic dramedy. And because the self-deprecating protagonist frequently presents herself in unflattering fashion, that vulnerability easily endears her with the audience, her considerable personal failings notwithstanding.
Sex and the City for the Millennial Generation!

Excellent (4 stars)
Running time: 99 Minutes
Distributor: IFC Films

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Harry Matches Wits and Wands with Voldermort and His Minions

It stands to reason that Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows will be the next-to-last offering in what is already the most lucrative film franchise in history, unless author J.K. Rowling succumbs to fan pressure to extend her best-selling series of children’s novels. This installment covers the first half of the seventh and presumably last book, with the final adaptation slated to be released in July of 2011.
The review-proof production was again directed by David Yates (HP-5, 6 & 8) and adapted to the screen by Steve Kloves, who wrote the script for all but the fifth episode. As for the cast, the principals reprise their lead roles, as do critical support players in Alan Rickman as Severus Snape, Robbie Coltrane as Hagrid, and Helena Bonham Carter as Bellatrix Lestrange, while noteworthy newcomers include Bill Nighy as Minister of Magic Rufus Scrimgeour, and Carolyn Pickles as Muggles Studies teacher Charity Burbage.
The formulaic film is basically another special effects-driven adventure featuring an epic showdown between righteous and rogue wizards. At the point of departure, we find Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) and his best friends, Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson), dropping out of Hogwarts since the school and the Ministry of Magic have fallen into the hands of the evil Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) and the diabolical Death Eaters.
Voldemort convenes a meeting with his minions during which he conspires to kill Harry using a powerful wand borrowed from Lucius Malfoy (Jason Isaacs). Meanwhile, Potter and his pals hatch a plan to seek and destroy the Horcruxes, said to contain the key to their adversary’s immortality.
As usual, the dialogue is laced with lots of sui generis terms like the aforementioned “Horcruxes” which give an advantage to audience members familiar with the source material’s peculiar lexicon. Nonetheless, the simplistic good versus evil theme makes it abundantly easy for the uninitiated to keep score.
The intrepid trio’s ensuing quest takes them into an enchanted forest where, without the guidance of their professors, they are forced to mature quickly in order to survive a host of supernatural ordeals testing not only their wits but their bonds of loyalty. Speaking of maturing, director Yates makes minor concessions to his protagonists’ repressed sexuality by allowing for some sensual interludes and eroticized violence.
Still, the movie is more about watching wave after wave of encounters with dark forces unfold relentlessly in the manner of a violent video game. Engaging and entertaining, yes; yet, for all the spells and potions and eye-popping CGI, in the end not much of consequence ever transpires to advance the storyline any closer to resolution.
A water-treading sequel with no emotional momentum ostensibly serving as a setup for next summer’s grand finale.

Very Good (3 stars)
Rated PG-13 for intense violence, frightening images and brief sensuality.
Running time: 146 Minutes
Distributor: Warner Brothers

Friday, November 19, 2010

Harlan: In the Shadow of Jew Suss (GERMAN) DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Damning DVD Revisits Career of Notorious Nazi Filmmaker

Veit Harlan (1899-1964) was a notorious Nazi director whose vitriolic films helped immeasurably in the effort to send Jews to the ovens during the Holocaust. Despite greasing the skids for his pals Hitler and Minister of Propaganda Goebbels, Harlan somehow managed to beat the rap when he was put on trial after World War II for crimes against humanity.
The prosecutors claimed that his movies amounted to the cinematic equivalent of a murder weapon, given how they had been deliberately designed to inflame anti-Semitic passions among the Aryan masses. After all, Harlan’s most popular picture, Jew Suss, revolved around hateful stereotypes, including one of a Jewish rapist.
Plus, it featured German citizens chanting “Kill him! The Jew has got to go!” while chasing the perpetrator through the streets with torches in a manner reminiscent of the bloodthirsty mob scene in Frankenstein. In 1943, Jew Suss swept the Deutsch equivalent of the Oscars, further evidence that Harlan was a favorite of the Fuhrer.
On the witness stand, the unrepentant anti-Semite rationalized that he had only followed orders and that some of his best friends were Jews, including his first wife, Dora Gershon. He had divorced her due to social pressure during the rise of the Third Reich, and replaced her an Aryan, actress Hilde Korber, a blonde who went on to star in most of his popular Nazi sagas.
Lucky for Harlan, who shot 20 features for Hitler, the jury bought his “The devil made me do it!” defense. Thus, he was able to resume his career and to live out the rest of his days in the lap of luxury in South America and on the exclusive Isle of Capri.
Harlan: In the Shadow of Jew Suss, chronicles this infamous monster’s life from rise though retirement via snippets of his films, home movies, and interviews with surviving relatives, such as niece Christiane, the widow of Stanley Kubrick. Sadly, a few of his jet-setting grandchildren appear to have been blissfully unaware of the sins of their ancestor until now.
Worse, they quite frankly seem a little annoyed at the suggestion that they should feel any shame upon learning of their ugly family legacy and the truth about the blood money that enabled them to be raised to be such clueless, spoiled-rotten rich kids. Exhibit A as to why every generation needs to be reminded about the horrors of the Holocaust afresh. Never again!

Excellent (4 stars)
In German, Italian and French with subtitles.
Running time: 99 Minutes
Distributor: Zeitgeist Films
DVD Extras: Booklet with a director’s statement and interviews with some of subjects of the documentary, 48-minute interview with filmmaker Alexander Kluge and Q&A with Harlan’s granddaughter Jessica Jacoby.

Eat, Pray, Love DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: DVD Features Julia Roberts’ in Adaptation of Best-Selling Travelogue

This assessment of Eat, Pray, Love comes from someone who never read Elizabeth Gilbert’s globetrotting memoir. Capably directed by Ryan Murphy (Glee), the film unfolds in fairly-formulaic fashion, all its pretentious New Agey notions notwithstanding. Just think of it as another makeover movie where a female protagonist undergoes a major transformation before riding off into the sunset with Mr. Right.
Julia Roberts turns in an engaging, if less than endearing, performance in the lead role of Liz, a terminally-introspective playwright/journalist stuck in an unhappy marriage. Her hubby, Stephen (Billy Crudup) is a nice-enough guy.
The problem is that the couple has simply grown apart because she has an insatiable wanderlust to visit exotic places, while he’s an underachieving stick-in-the-mud who’s considering going back to law school.
Heavens to Murgatroyd! What to do? What to do? Crying on the shoulder of her best friend (Viola Davis) doesn’t help. Nor does a temporarily-therapeutic fling with the hunk (James Franco) starring in her latest Off-Broadway production. So, Liz files for divorce, crushing her befuddled husband’s heart in the process.
Awkwardly consulting God for advice for the first time in her life (“I’m a big fan of Your work.”), she is blessed with the Divine inspiration to embark on a year-long, world-around sojourn in search of self-fulfillment. Like a woman on a mission, Liz starts with Italy to “eat” sumptuous feasts and soak in the sights.
After a four-month stay, she’s off to India for a little of the opposite, namely, to “pray” and deny herself sensory delights. Finally, she heads to Indonesia where, if everything goes according to plan, who knows, she might find true “love.”
Along the way, Liz conveniently bonds with a buddy at each port of call: a sweet Swedish tourist (Tuva Novotny) in Naples, a troubled Texan (Richard Jenkins) at an ashram outside Delhi, and a tall, dark and handsome, Brazilian multi-millionaire (Javier Bardem) with a boat in Bali. In the end, perhaps the pat plot sounds more like a fairytale than an earnest, feminist quest for enlightenment.
But that’s probably about the best you can expect from a 21st Century Cinderella with a book deal who had probably already optioned the rights to turn her story into a Hollywood bio-pic.

Very Good (3 stars)
Rated PG-13 for brief profanity, sexual references and male rear nudity.
Running time: 133 Minutes
Distributor: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
DVD Extras: Ryan Murphy’s Journey with Eat, Pray, Love.

The Expendables DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Star-Studded Stallone Action Flick Arrives on DVD

To his credit, writer/director Sylvester Stallone miraculously assembled a cast for the flick containing many of the greatest legends of the action genre. Consequently, this high-impact adventure is worth the investment just to see them sharing the same screen.
For starters, there are matinee idols Stallone, Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis. Then we have bona fide box-office draws in Mickey Rourke, Jason Statham and Jet Li, with tough guys Dolph Lundgren, Terry Crews, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin and three-time UFC Heavyweight Champion Randy Couture rounding out the ensemble.
The storyline revolves around a band of mercenaries recruited by a mysterious figure (Willis) for a dangerous assignment, namely, to overthrow General Garza (David Zayas), the cocaine-dealing dictator of a Banana Republic. Mastermind Barney Ross’ (Stallone) handpicks a team comprised of knife-wielding Lee Christmas (Statham), martial arts master Yin Yang (Li), crack sniper Gunner Jensen (Lundgren), heavy weapons specialist Hale Caesar (Crews) and demolitions expert Toll Road (Couture). The men are outfitted with weapons by a black market arms dealer (Rourke), although they happen to be pretty good with their fists in a pinch.
The plot thickens once these killing machines arrive on the fictional South American island of Vilena, surreptitiously entering the country under the imprimatur of the “Global Wildlife Conservancy.” There, with the help of Garza’s estranged daughter, Sandra (Gisele Itie), they soon realize that they’ve been setup by Munroe (Eric Roberts), a rogue CIA Agent with designs on wresting control of the lucrative drug trade after staging a coup d’etat.
Despite the fact that the diabolical Munroe also plans to use the army to eliminate his unit of “Expendables,” Ross nonetheless opts to follow through with what now looks like a suicide mission, in part because his heartstrings have been touched by the perilous plight of the suddenly-compromised Sandra. What ensues is an old-fashioned, pyrotechnics and stunt-driven spectacular, harking back to the summer blockbusters of Sly, Bruce and Arnold’s heydays back in the Seventies and the Eighties.
Vintage Stallone!

Excellent (4 stars)
Rated R for profanity and graphic violence.
In English and Spanish with subtitles.
Running time: 103 Minutes
Distributor: Lionsgate Home Entertainment
Blu-Ray Combo Pack Extras: Deleted scenes, gag reel, audio commentary with Sylvester Stallone, DVD and digital version of the film, and much more.

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 Thanksgiving, 2010


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).

Burlesque (PG-13 for sexuality, profanity, mature themes and partial nudity) Musical drama about an aspiring singer (Christina Aguilera) from the Midwest who moves to L.A. where she’s given a big break to perform on stage by the stripper-turned-owner (Cher) of a failing burlesque theater. With Kristen Bell, Stanley Tucci and Alan Cumming.

Faster (R for profanity, drug use and graphic violence) High body-count crime saga featuring Dwayne Johnson as a recently-paroled ex-con determined to avenge the murder of his brother who died during the botched bank robbery that landed him behind bars. With Billy Bob Thornton, Mike Epps, Carla Gugino and Maggie Grace.

Love and Other Drugs (R for nudity, drug use, pervasive profanity and graphic sexuality) Academy Award-winner Edward Zwick directs a couple of Oscar-nominees (Anne Hathaway and Jake Gyllenhaal) in this romantic comedy based on Jamie Reidy’s memoir “Hard Sell: The Evolution of a Viagra Salesman” about a free spirit who meets her match in a charming ladies man. Support cast includes Oliver Platt, Hank Azaria and recently-deceased Jill Clayburgh, a two-time Oscar-nominee.

Tangled (PG for brief violence) Animated adventure, based on the classic Grimm Brothers’ fairy tale Rapunzel, about an extraordinarily long-haired Princess (Mandy Moore), imprisoned all of her life in a 70 foot-high tower by an evil witch (Donna Murphy), who finally escapes with the help of a handsome bandit (Zachary Levi) . Voice cast includes Brad Garrett, Jeffrey Tambor and Ron Perlman.


Break Ke Baad (Unrated) Coming-of-age romantic dramedy about a couple of lifelong friends (Deepika Padukone and Imran Khan), pals since the age of 4, and sweethearts since they were 15, who find themselves facing separation for the first time when one decides to move from India to Australia in order to study abroad. (In Hindi with subtitles)

The King’s Speech (R for profanity) Costume drama, set in the Twenties, recounting the rise to power of shy and retiring King George VI (Colin Firth) with the help of the therapist (Geoffrey Rush) who helped his majesty to suppress his stutter. With Claire Bloom as Queen Mary, Michael Gambon as King George V and Oscar-nominee Helena Bonham Carter as Queen Elizabeth.

The Legend of Pale Male (Unrated) Bird watching documentary about a Belgian ornithologist who became obsessed for years with a rare Red-Tailed hawk which built a nest on a perch atop a posh 5th Avenue apartment building in the middle of Manhattan.

The Nutcracker in 3D (PG for mature themes, scary images, action and brief smoking) Musical fantasy, set in Vienna in the Twenties, revolving around a lonely little girl (Elle Fanning) with a vivid imagination who goes on a magical journey after her Uncle (Nathan Lane) gives her a wooden doll (Shirley Henderson) as a present on Christmas Eve. With John Turturro, Richard Grant and Charlie Rowe.

Open Five (Unrated) Mumblecore romantic comedy about a couple of groupies (Shannon Esper and Genevieve Angelson) from New York City who venture to Memphis where they spend a very eventful weekend with a struggling musician (Jake Rabinbach) and his aspiring filmmaker sidekick (Kentucker Audley).

Undertow (Unrated) Out-of-the-closet drama revolving around a Peruvian fisherman (Cristian Mercado) torn between his pregnant wife (Tatiana Astengo) and the ghost of his gay lover (Manolo Cardona) that only he can see. (In Spanish with subtitles)

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Russell Simmons Hosts Soiree for Soledad O’Brien

by Kam Williams

Over the weekend, hip-hop entrepreneur-turned-philanthropist Russell Simmons opened up his home to host a star-studded party for Soledad O’Brien in his lavish two-story penthouse located in lower Manhattan. The occasion marked the release of Soledad’s autobiography, “The Next Big Story,” which she co-wrote with Rose Marie Arce.
Besides the authors, celebrity guests in attendance included CBS news anchor Katie Couric, HLN host Jane Velez-Mitchell, actor Jamie Hector (“The Wire”), CNN reporters Alino Cho and Susan Candiotti, syndicated columnist Keli Goff, educator Dr. Steve Perry and PR maven Terrie Williams.
Also at the gathering was Soledad’s husband, Brad, her father, Edward, and several of her siblings, as well as Corinne Vargas, who grew up on Long Island not far from the O’Brien family. Ms. Vargas’ legal battle with the Village of Smithtown for affordable housing is recounted in the memoir, a section which serves to highlight the degree of discrimination there against minorities.
Given that Russell Simmons is a strict vegan, it was no surprise that the affair was catered by a chef specializing in vegetarian culinary fare, plus scrumptious desserts such as brownies, pumpkin pie, lemon tarts and chocolate mousse.
The only interruption of the otherwise informal festivities marked by imbibing of freely flowing wine and champagne arrived mid-evening when Russell took a moment to introduce Soledad (still on crutches recovering from a knee injury suffered while horseback riding), who in turn credited Rose and others who had helped turn the project into a success.
Always working the room, upon this reporter’s introduction to Mr. Simmons, I immediately asked for an interview, and he assured me that we could do one soon, either to discuss his upcoming book (Super Rich), his new reality show (Running Russell Simmons), or both. So, watch this space.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010


by Jay-Z
Spiegel & Grau
Hardcover, $35.00
336 pages, Illustrated
ISBN: 978-1-4000-6892-0

Book Review by Kam Williams

“My life after childhood has two main stories: the story of the hustler and the story of the rapper, and the two overlap as much as they diverge. I was on the streets for more than half of my life from the time I was thirteen years-old... The feelings I had during that part of my life were burned into me like a brand…
I lost people I loved, was betrayed by people I trusted, felt the breeze of bullets flying by my head… I went dead broke and got hood rich on those streets. I hated it. I was addicted to it. It nearly killed me.
It was the site of my moral education, as strange as that may sound. It’s my core story, and… that core story is the one that I have to tell.”

-Excerpted from the Introduction (pg. 18)

Shawn Corey Carter, aka Jay-Z, wasn’t always a cultural icon married to
Beyonce’ who had parlayed his success as a rap artist into a multi-millionaire empire with a host of diverse holdings ranging from a record label to a music publishing company to a clothing line to a nightclub chain to an NBA team. No, he spent his formative years in the Marcy Housing Projects in Bed-Stuy, before moving to Trenton where he dropped out of school to sell crack on the streets while pursuing a hip-hop career.
Jay-Z went on to maximize his potential by keeping it real via raw rhymes which reflected his rough roots in the ‘hood. Now, the gifted wordsmith has decided it’s time to expound upon the deeper meaning of those evocative lyrics which have so resonated over the years with his legions of fans from the Hip-Hop Generation.
The upshot of that yeoman’s effort is Decoded, a mixed-media memoir delineating the derivation of 36 of Jay-Z’s greatest hits. An entertaining collage of personal reflections, political philosophy, photographs, drawings, slam poetry-style stream of consciousness, the illuminating opus reads like a serious lecture on pop culture being delivered by a sagacious historian off the present who as done time in the trenches.
For example, there’s an incendiary line, “F*ck government, n*ggers politic themselves” from the song, “Where I’m From” which Jay-Z analyzes with “A lot of our heroes, almost by default, were people who tried to dismantle or overthrow the government—Malcolm X or the Black Panthers—or people who tried t make it completely irrelevant, like Marcus Garvey, who wanted black people to sail back to Africa. The government was everywhere we looked, and we hated it.”
Relatively-sophisticated musings making sense of rants about a “Hard Knock Life” coming from an insightful 40 year-old ostensibly no longer full of the angst which had helped skyrocket him to the heights of super-stardom.

The Next Three Days

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Desperate Hubby Resorts to Desperate Measures in Jailbreak Remake

When Lara Brennan (Elizabeth Banks) met her husband (Russell Crowe) and in-laws for dinner after a particularly difficult day at work, she seized the opportunity to vent about how much she disliked her boss (Leslie Merrill). She was clearly still visibly agitated over an argument the two had earlier during which she had referred to Elizabeth as a “useless cow.”
So, when the woman’s lifeless body was found bludgeoned to death in their office building’s parking lot later that evening, it didn’t take the police long to finger the disgruntled employee as a person of interest who might have gone postal. And Lara subsequently became the prime suspect and arrested as soon as the cops found her fingerprints on the murder weapon, as well as traces of the victim’s blood on the coat she had worn to the restaurant that night.
Given the overwhelming evidence, the accused was easily convicted by a jury of her peers and sentenced to a long stint in prison. Since not even her lawyer (Daniel Stern) believes Lara’s lame alibi, it’s no surprise that she loses all of her appeals.
Facing the prospect of having to raise their young son (Ty Simpkins) alone while a wife he believes to be innocent rots behind bars, John Brennan is at his wit’s end. After all, he is convinced that Lara is incapable of having committed such a heinous act, even if the legal system has concluded otherwise, and far beyond a reasonable doubt.
Desperate times call for desperate measures, therefore, the ordinarily-law-abiding college professor consults an ex-con (Liam Neeson) who has broken out of jail seven times for advice about how to spring Lara. “Escaping is easy,” the wily felon warns. “The hard part is staying free.”
John heeds those wise words as he proceeds to hatch an elaborate plan, focusing as intently on the details of how family will flee the country as on first liberating Lara. This is the intriguing storyline spun by The Next Three Days, an edge-of-the-seat morality play which builds in intensity every step of the way en route to its exciting conclusion.
Based on the French film Pour Elle, this worthy remake ratchets up the tension while posing thought-provoking ethical questions ever so delicately. The picture was directed by Paul Haggis, winner of a couple of Academy Awards for Crash.
What makes this film riveting is how it keeps you guessing not only whether John’s scheme will succeed but whether or not Lara is guilty. For, it’s almost impossible to tell if John is just plunged too deep in denial to see the truth, or if it’s a case of justice being blind.
A high-octane thriller that plunges you headlong on a thrill-a-minute roller coaster ride where a desperate man’s conscience is your only guide.

Excellent (4 stars)
Rated PG-13 for violence, profanity, sexuality, drug use and mature themes.
Running time: 133 Minutes
Distributor: Lionsgate Films

Monday, November 15, 2010

This Week’s DVD Releases

by Kam Williams

Headline: Top Ten DVD List for November 16th 2010

The World at War: 30th Anniversary Edition

They Came to Play

Lottery Ticket

Click, Clack, Moo - Cows That Type

Best Worst Movie

The Lightkeepers

The Boy Who Cried Wolf

Fly Us to the Moon

Locked Down


Honorable Mention

Opposite Day

RZA: “The Next Three Days” Interview

with Kam Williams

Headline: Renaissance RZA

While best known as the founder, producer, and mastermind behind the Wu-Tang Clan, RZA has built an incredibly diverse and successful career as a musician, a composer of film scores, a producer, an actor, a businessman, a player and advocate of chess, and as the author of the best-selling The Tao of Wu and The Wu-Tang Manual.
He was born Robert Fitzgerald Diggs in Brownsville, Brooklyn on July 5, 1969 and first surfaced on the hip-hop scene during the early Nineties. After brief stints as a member of the group All in Together Now and as a solo artist under the name Prince Rakeem, he formed the Wu-Tang Clan in 1992. Based in Staten Island the band went on to become one of the most successful and influential hip-hop groups of all time.
Their debut LP, 1993's Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), driven by RZA's unique, groundbreaking beats and signature gritty production style, has become a definitive hip-hop classic and is revered as one of the greatest hip-hop albums ever. Meanwhile, he has released several solo albums under his own name, under that of his hedonistic alter ego, Bobby Digital, and also as Digital Bullet, Birth of a Prince, and, most recently, Digi Snax.
An avid chess player, RZA created WuChess.com, the world's first online hip-hop chess community. At the website, hip-hop fans can learn to play from chess masters, compete for scholarships and square-off against him and other hip-hop celebrities.
RZA is a Grammy Award-winning music producer, with a distinguished body of work scoring movies for filmmakers such as Ridley Scott, Jim Jarmusch and Quentin Tarantino. His acting credits include Due Date, Repo Men, Ghost Dog, The Killers, Funny People, American Gangster, Life is Hot in Crack Town and Derailed.
Here, he talks about his latest outing playing Mouss in The Next Three Days, an action-thriller directed by Academy Award-winner Paul Haggis and co-starring a couple of other Oscar-winners in Russell Crowe and Liam Neeson.

Kam Williams: Hi RZA, thanks for the time.
RZA: Peace, man. What’s up? You having a good day?

KW: Can’t complain. I really enjoyed The Next Three Days, an edge-of-the-seat thriller that takes you on an exciting roller coaster ride.
RZA: I loved it, too. Those last 40 minutes were adrenaline-filled.

KW: What was it like to work with a trio of Academy Award-winners in Paul Haggis, Russell Crowe and Liam Neeson?
RZA: Oh, man, it was a pleasure and a great learning experience. When you’re dealing with the cream of the crop, all that does is make me sharper. My having a chance to work around those gentlemen has helped me become better at what I do. I couldn’t have asked for a better acting credit to add to my resume.

KW: Harriet Pakula Teweles asks: What's it like to play a drug dealer?
RZA: [LOL] It was cool, because I played a cop in the last film I did with Russell Crowe [American Gangster]. So, to be on the other side of the law this time was a lot of fun, and a nice challenge for me.

KW: Harriet also says: Some soundtracks try to manipulate the viewer's feelings by having a heavenly chorus suddenly start singing when your emotions are being played upon. How do you use music when scoring a film? To shape and frame the action? To manipulate the viewer's emotions?
RZA: I do incorporate those elements into my scoring. When scoring, empathy is the key. And it is just as important to use music to express the actors’ emotions as it is to move the audience.

KW: Larry Greenberg says: You've got a lot of AKA names. Do any of them come with their own persona or swag?
RZA: The answer to that is “Yes!” Actually, most people have many different personalities. I’ve just learned to identify them and to name them.

KW: When is your next album, The Cure, finally coming out?
RZA: That’s something I haven’t been able to answer for ten years. [Laughs] I know my fans who are interested in this subject are getting tired of hearing it, but all I can say is, “I got it!”

KW: You’re a Renaissance Man who does acting, directing, producing, performing, recording, scoring movies, and more. Which is your favorite?
RZA: I guess I feel more inclined towards this or that form of artistic expression at different times. Right now, I feel very hyped-up about the work I’m doing in front of the camera on the silver screen. It brings me joy to hear that people are laughing at my scene in Due Date. And I had some buddies with me at the premiere of The Next Three Days, and they were happy to see me get aggressive, because they remember me being like that when I was younger. However, I’d say that directing is in my heart. And that’s where my focus is, like a laser beam. That’s what I’ve been studying for a long time, and I think that everything that I’ve done before has contributed to the development of my craft as a director.

KW: Who would you like to act opposite as a love interest in a romantic comedy?
RZA: Hmm… Hollywood is full of some of the most beautiful people in the world. I wouldn’t mind being in a movie with any one of those pretty girls. It would take me an hour to answer that question, but I would love to star in a romantic comedy. [LOL]

KW: I know you love movies, especially karate movies. What is your favorite movie of all time, and what is your favorite martial arts movie of all time?
RZA: You can’t ask a movie buff like me that kind of question. I’d like to ask you that type of question and see if you can answer it.

KW: No, I couldn’t either. I have a hard time just picking my favorite film of the year. Most critics put out an annual Ten Best List, but I put out a Hundred Best List because I like so many movies.
RZA: See? I understand exactly! I can say this, though. The one kung fu film that has inspired me the most is called The 36th Chamber of Shaolin. It’s been a great inspiration to me.

KW: Somebody told me that you’re from a very large family. Is that true?
RZA: That’s super-duper true! [Chuckles]

KW: How many people?
RZA: At least a 1,000 in my extended family, easily. My mother had 11 kids. ODB’s [The late Ol’ Dirty Bastard] father and my grandmother are brother and sister. His mother had 8 children, and they all had a lot of babies. And all of these people live right here in the 5 boroughs of New York.

KW: Is there any question no one ever asks you, that you wish someone would?
RZA: Yeah, are you having a good time?

KW: The Tasha Smith question: Are you ever afraid?
RZA: Rarely, but yes, of course.

KW: The Columbus Short question: Are you happy?
RZA: Yes.

KW: The Teri Emerson question: When was the last time you had a good laugh?
RZA: You made me laugh a few minutes ago. [Chuckles]

KW: What is your guiltiest pleasure?
RZA: It has to be women, but I’ve learned to curb my appetite.

KW: The bookworm Troy Johnson question: What was the last book you read?
RZA: 50 Genetics Ideas You Really Need to Know.

KW: The music maven Heather Covington question: What are you listening to on your iPod?
RZA: I’m listening to Kanye’s new music, and to my buddy John Frusciante of the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

KW: Who’d you like to collaborate with musically, that you’ve never worked with before?
RZA: I would love to get a chance to rock with Stevie Wonder.

KW: What is your favorite dish to cook?
RZA: My signature dish? I have a special style of frying tofu that even the most carnivorous meat and potatoes eaters enjoy. I will give you a taste of some tofu that I could open a restaurant and get rich off of.

KW: The Uduak Oduok question: Who is your favorite clothes designer?
RZA: The clothes that I’m wearing right now were actually designed by some buddies of mine who have a company called Resist. They have the coolest T-shirts. But as far as a classic designer, I’m gonna stick with Gucci, because Gucci has never let me down.

KW: When you look in the mirror, what do you see?
RZA: I see a chance for a better world.

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

KW: The Ling-Ju Yen question: What is your earliest childhood memory?
RZA: Having a piece of cake at my great-grandfather’s birthday when I was 3. I remember taking off a hunk of the icing with my hands because I didn’t think that flowers belonged on a cake.

KW: The Nancy Lovell Question: Why do you love doing what you do?
RZA: Because it helps my family, and so many other people in the process.

KW: The Flex Alexander question: How do you get through the tough times?
RZA: I feel like the tough times are behind me.

KW: The Rudy Lewis question: Who’s at the top of your hero list?
RZA: My moms, Linda G. Hamlin. She was a great rode model.

KW: The Tavis Smiley question: How do you want to be remembered?
RZA: I haven’t decided. I’ll leave that to the world. Besides, I ain’t ready to leave this planet yet, man. [LOL]

KW: What advice do you have for anyone who wants to follow in your footsteps?
RZA: Do the knowledge, meaning: look, listen, observe, and also respect. If you do that, you’ll have a strong foundation to build anything you want to do in life upon. Know before you do. Look before you leap. And if you want to follow in my footsteps, make sure you step in the ones that went in the right direction.

KW: Thanks again for the time, RZA, and best of luck with everything.
RZA: Thanks, Kam, and I look forward to speaking with you again in the future.