Friday, December 31, 2010

Easy A DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: 21st Century Interpretation of The Scarlet Letter Arrives on DVD

Olive Penderghast (Emma Stone) was a social zero who barely registered a blip on the radar at Ojai North High until the fateful Monday morning she inadvertently started a rumor about herself. Too embarrassed to admit to her best friend, Rhiannon (Aly Michalka), that she’d just spent another entire weekend home alone, she impulsively makes up a story about losing her virginity to a college boy.
What Olive didn’t know, as she shared the lurid details of her imaginary deflowering, was that eavesdropping in a bathroom stall was school prude Marianne Bryant (Amanda Bynes) who began circulating the lie all over campus, leaving Olive saddled with a bad reputation. Curiously, instead of trying to resurrect her tarnished image, ostracized Olive opts to embrace her new slutty persona.
Ostensibly inspired by Hester Prynne, the adulterous protagonist of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Scarlet Letter,” she even sews a red “A” on the corset she wears to a house party thrown by a classmate. And it isn’t long before all sorts off nerds and losers are lining up to establish their macho street cred with the help of Olive, as word spreads that she’s willing to let any guy say he’s slept with her, at least for the right price.
Directed by Will Gluck (Fired Up!), Easy A is actually a lot easier to swallow than suggested by its disgusting-sounding premise. That’s thanks to a script which is frankly so funny it never gives you a chance to come up for air to reflect about the political incorrectness of the brand of humor you’re laughing at.
Additional credit goes to Emma Stone for bringing so much spunk to the lead role of Olive as to make the character credible and very memorable, if not exactly empathetic. A feminist variation on a literary classic which triumphantly announces that in the 21st Century it’s a woman’s prerogative to be the town tramp if she darn well wants to.

Excellent (4 stars)
Rated PG-13 for profanity, mature themes, drug use and teen sexuality.
Running time: 92 Minutes
Distributor: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
DVD Extras: Gag reel, Emma Stone audition footage, and a commentary by Emma Stone and the director.

Double Take DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Hitchcock Mockumentary Mixes Suspense with Cold War Paranoia

Sir Alfred Hitchcock (1899-1980) set a stratospheric bar rarely reached by other filmmakers in terms of the suspense genre. Now, the legendary director gets a chance to star in a psychological thriller, albeit posthumously, courtesy of archival footage interwoven with a dizzying montage of snippets from movie classics, TV commercials and newsreels shot during the height of the Cold War.
This marvelous, multi-media mockumentary is the brainchild of Belgian Johan Grimonprez, a faculty member at the School of Visual Arts in New York City. He has cobbled the assorted elements into a chilling feature draped with dread and sheer paranoia which practically defies description.
At the point of departure, Hitchcock announces in his trademark droll fashion that “If you meet your double, you should kill him, before he kills you.” After all, “Two of you is one too many, by the end of the script, one of you must die.”
He subsequently crosses paths with his own spitting image, played by Hitchcock impersonator Ron Burrage, and the tension is gradually ratcheted-up in the intriguing game of cat-and-mouse which ensues. Thus, the picture’s title is a clever play on words which lends itself to a couple of interpretations, given that a “double take” for these purposes can be either a delayed reaction or the response of identical strangers to encountering each other, or both.
Ostensibly inspired by an actual incident which happened to Hitchcock during the production of The Birds, the bifurcated storyline simultaneously revisits the events surrounding the so-called Kitchen Summit Conference, a series of televised impromptu exchanges staged in Moscow in 1959 between Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev and then Vice President Richard Nixon. And yet another strand of the often mind-boggling mosaic is made up of bits from comical Folger’s coffee ads in which American housewives have been edited to look like blithering idiots.
An impossible to pigeonhole production certain to generate a sense of nostalgia about a bygone era while only adding to the already lofty stature of a revered cinema icon.

Excellent (4 stars)
Running time: 80 Minutes
Distributor: Kino International
DVD Extras: Casting audition footage, audio interview with actress Karen Black, a gallery of behind-the-scenes stills, script notes and trailers.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: DVD Paints Empathetic Portrait of Legendary Comedienne

Nowadays, Joan Rivers has basically been reduced to the butt of cruel jokes about face-lift disasters as opposed to being the one dishing the dirt on other divas. “It comes back at you, doesn’t it?” she wistfully reminisces in this riveting bio-pic. Still, at 77, the legendary, standup comedienne continues to ply her trade, never turning down a booking, however humbling the venue.

As Joan explains in this alternately hilarious and dead serious documentary, she persists out of a combination of financial need and competitive drive. For when her husband/inept personal manager Edgar Rosenberg committed suicide in 1987, he left her broke and with a mountain of debt.

Luckily, Joan is a Type-A personality with an incomparable work ethic. So, she’s managed to survive, even thrive, in the wake of the tragedy. And since she has a taste for limos and other trappings of wealth, she remains driven to perform in part to be able to afford to keep living in the lap of luxury.

Co-directed by Ricki Stern and Anne Sundberg, Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work offers an unusually-intimate peek at a celebrity most of us have come to dismiss as a plastic surgery freak. However, this empathetic portrait thoroughly humanizes her by revealing the sensitive side hidden under that permanently frozen countenance no longer capable of showing any emotion.

Joan repeatedly exposes her feelings, whether referring to her daughter Melissa as “A stupid, effing [c-word],” informing her staff that, “I’m lonely, who’s going to [f-word] me tonight?” or hinting at the source of her unfortunate addiction to elective surgery with “No one wants an old woman” and “No one ever told me I was beautiful.”

Sometimes it’s hard to tell whether or not she’s joking here, given how she freely admits that, “The only time I’m truly, truly happy is when I’m on stage.” Thus, the tendency to cover the vulnerability and pain in evidence during downtime with punch line after punch line.

A sobering deconstruction of an enduring showbiz career by an introspective icon who has been at it non-stop since ’66.

Excellent (4 stars)
Rated R for profanity and sexual humor.
Running time: 84 Minutes
Distributor: IFC Films
DVD Extras: Deleted scenes, audio commentary by Joan and the directors, Sundance Festival Q&A, theatrical trailer and TV spots.

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 January 7, 2011


Country Strong (PG-13 for sexuality, mature themes and alcohol abuse) Road flick about a fading country music star (Gwyneth Paltrow) whose marriage ends up in crisis after she and her husband (McGraw) go out on tour with an up-and-coming singer/songwriter Garrett Hedlund) and a beauty queen (Leighton Meester) just breaking into the business.

Season of the Witch (PG-13 for violence, mature themes and disturbing content) Supernatural medieval fantasy set in the 14th Century and revolving around the exploits of a couple of knights (Nicolas Cage and Ron Perlman) commanded by the Church to escort to a monastery the witch (Claire Foy) suspected of casting a spell causing the outbreak of the Black Plague.


Americatown (Unrated) Spoof about an idyllic suburban oasis whose peace is ruined by a spilled cup of coffee that sets in motion an unfortunate chain of events. Cast includes Jonathan Guggenheim, Cory Howard, Jon Stafford and Barbara Weetman.

Go Go Tales (Unrated) Screwball comedy, set at a cash-strapped strip club in Manhattan, where its beleaguered owner (Willem Dafoe), with the help of his accountant (Roy Dotrice) is doing his best to fend off his creditors, including dancers (Bianca Balti and Shanyn Leigh), his landlady (Sylvia Miles) and his own brother (Matthew Modine). With Bob Hoskins, Pras, Asia Argento and Burt Young.

If I Want to Whistle, I Whistle (Unrated) Coming-of-age drama about a juvenile delinquent (George Pistereanu) just a couple weeks from being paroled after serving four years in a youth correctional facility who, against his better judgment, impulsively decides to hold hostage the cute social worker (Ada Condeescu) he has a crush on. (In Romanian with subtitles)

Phil Ochs: There But For Fortune (Unrated) Reverential profile of Phil Ochs (1940-1976), a prolific folksinger and political firebrand whose incendiary anthems helped fuel the passion of antiwar and civil rights activists during the turbulent Sixties. Featuring appearances by Joan Baez, Tom Hayden, Pete Seeger, Sean Penn, Peter Yarrow and Christopher Hitchens.

The Time That Remains (Unrated) Black comedy chronicling the creation of Israel from a Palestinian perspective, written by, directed by and starring Elia Suleiman who was inspired by the 1948 diaries of his father, a resistance fighter. With Saleh Bakri, Avi Kleinberger and Menashe Noy. (In Hebrew, Arabic and English with subtitles)

12-28 Top 10 DVD Releases

by Kam Williams

Headline: Top Ten DVD List for December 28th 2010

The American

And Soon the Darkness

Legends of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole

Jersey Shore: Seasons 1 & 2


Baseball's Greatest Games: 1960 World Series Game 7

A Charlie Brown Valentine

Bob the Builder: The Golden Hammer—The Movie

Yoga Journal: Yoga for Total Back Care with Annie Carpenter

WWE: Bobby “The Brain” Heenan

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Tavis Smiley: The “Gustavo Dudamel: Conducting a Life” Interview

with Kam Williams

Headline: Tavis Talks about His Latest Special Report

Due to nationwide budget cuts, music education programs are being eliminated from school curricula nationwide at a rapid pace. However, many concerned individuals, including Los Angeles Philharmonic conductor Gustavo Dudamel, are adamant about ensuring that kids continue to be exposed to the enriching world of music.
The fourth installment of TAVIS SMILEY REPORTS, “Gustavo Dudamel: Conducting a Life,” profiles the young conductor and asks the question: What price will the country pay for abandoning music education for our children?  Here, Tavis talks about his inspirational, primetime special which premieres Wednesday, December 29 at 8pm ET/PT and 7pm CT on PBS. (Check Local Listings)
Kam Williams: Hey, Tavis? How are you?
Tavis Smiley: I’m doin’ the best I can. I’m headed to my momma’s house with my dear brother Tom for a couple days. How about you?

KW: Everything’s great. First, let me congratulate you on your upcoming 20th anniversary in broadcasting.
TS: Thanks.

KW: I really enjoyed watching this primetime special. What inspired you to devote the show to Dudamel and his mission to preserve music programs in schools?
TS: Dudamel is obviously a rock star in the world of classical music. But for me, he’s also a way of opening up a broader conversation about the price we are ultimately going to pay, as a country, for abandoning music education in our schools. Every study ever done underscores the value of music education to young children, and the benefits that come from being exposed to music early on. And yet, one of the first things on the chopping block, when we talk about public education, are the music programs. I just think that, long term, there’s a heavy price we’re going to pay for abandoning music education. Dudamel is also passionate about this, because as a child he benefitted from a publicly-financed music program in his native Venezuela called El Sistema, which is precisely the type of program we need in this country. So, there’s no downside to doing a piece about Dudamel who Quincy Jones referred to as “The Next Leonard Bernstein.” When Quincy calls you “The Next Leonard Bernstein,” that’s huge. In sum, Dudamel is deserving of a special in his own right as a great classical conductor, but he can also serve as a segue to the larger issue we wanted to address, namely, what’s happening to music education in this country.

KW: Wesley Derbyshire says: I am on your side. We certainly need this. How do you think America can move away from a predominant focus on sports and provide equal funding for music and the arts? And what is the cost to society in the long run of eliminating funding for music and the arts?
TS: Let me answer the second part of Wesley’s question first. The cost, long-term, is too high. What we’re abandoning is the one part of the school day devoted to encouraging kids to be creative, to think outside of the box, and to connect with their emotions. I believe that any generation that doesn’t embrace music will be a lost generation. As far as what can be done about it, that’s what the special is all about. Dudamel has a very ambitious plan to replicate the El Sistema program that he is a product of in big cities and small towns all across the United States. I think it starts, at a rudimentary level, with putting music back in the classroom. That’s the least we can do as a starting point.

KW: Wesley has a follow-up. He says: It concerns me that the focus of your special seems to be classical music; but when I think of the age and maturity level of a typical student, I know that in most cases they aren't going to jump on the classical bandwagon before the music they hear on the radio.  How can the program you’re recommending address this? 
TS: That’s a very good question. One of the greatest artists ever, Stevie Wonder, was listening to classical music and playing jazz, like John Coltrane, when he was 13. I’m always amazed at how many artists in all sorts of genres started out taking piano lessons and playing classical. But I do understand Wesley’s concern, and I even asked Dudamel in the special. “How do you get young folk interested in Beethoven and Brahms, when they’d rather listen to Beyonce’?” His response was basically that it doesn’t have to be either/or. It can be both/and. They don’t have to choose Beyonce’ over Brahms or vice-versa. The kids should be exposed to both.

KW: Children’s book author Irene Smalls says: The music education of El Sistema focuses on classic European music for the most part. What about the music of indigenous peoples?
TS: The short answer is: I think there’s room for everything. Dudamel himself is an advocate of exposing the kids to everything. But the reality is that at the moment they’re being exposed to nothing.

KW: Irene has a follow-up: Should music education also include music business education given the history of artists of color signing bad contracts and getting ripped-off?
TS: Yes. I think that as people get deeper into the music, especially if they’re contemplating a career in music, they certainly should be taught about those business issues. That being said, there is still so much music has to offer, whether or not we ever go into the music business.

KW: Harriet Pakula Teweles asks: Since our country does not have the kind of state system we see in 'Mao's Last Dancer,' a bio-pic set in China where children are recruited at an early age and trained at state expense, how can we find our talented young artists, especially among the youth whose parents can't afford private lessons?
TS: As you know, in this special, we profile a school in Boston where students get music education along with the regular curriculum. Their school day is a little longer, but the kids love it because they get to play music everyday. That’s the sort of program where you discover the prodigies, the gifted ones with potential. That’s how Dudamel was discovered.

KW: Harriet also says: While testifying at a hearing to determine whether art and art therapy would stay in a school's curriculum, I was asked, "Don't you think art is fluff?” With newspaper banner headlines announcing how far behind we are in math, science and reading, how can we continue to demonstrate that the arts--not just music--are part of the educational empowerment of America's best and brightest, often unseen, until the spotlight shines on their artistic talents.
TS: Like I said before, all of the research indicates that when kids are exposed to music early in life, it positively impacts their comprehension and performance in every other area of their studies: math, the sciences, and so forth.

KW: In another vein, Harriet asks: What's it like being an interviewee rather than an interviewer?
TS: Harriet, that depends on whether Kam is asking the questions or somebody else. [LOL] When it’s Kam, it’s a good thing. With others, the questions can be mundane, insane and arcane.

KW: Editor/Legist Patricia Turnier says: Give us three words which define Tavis Smiley.  
TS: Good question. Passionate, committed and hard working.

KW: Patricia also wants to know if you have another book project in mind.  
TS: It’s funny you should ask that. I do. In fact, I have it sitting on my lap. I’m editing it right now. It’s called “Failed Up: 20 Lessons on Building Success from Failure.” The book is about the biggest mistakes I made in my life and how I learned from them. The publication date is May 1st.

KW: Patricia asked me to let you know about a bio about you she wrote in French for one of the most popular Afro-European websites based in France:,portrait_de_l_un_des_plus_grands_animateurs_de_talkshow_americain_tavis_smiley,14161.html.
TS: I appreciate the acknowledgement, Patricia, and I look forward to reading the article.

KW: Reverend Florine Thompson asks: Who is your primary source of motivation? And what role does spirituality play in your life and who most shaped and informed your spirituality?
TS: Jesus is the primary source of my motivation. Spirituality and my abiding faith are more important than anything else in my life. The three things that have sustained me are what I call the three f’s, in this order, faith, family and friends. My mother, Joyce Smiley, is the person most responsible for motivating me. She’s a minister herself.

KW: Reverend Thompson’s first follow-up is: How would you define your purpose in life as it pertains to communication and media?
TS: As I’ve told you before, Kam, I think information is power, and I see my platform as one which gives me the opportunity to challenge people to reexamine the assumptions they hold, and to help them expand their inventory of ideas. Right along with that, I love being able to introduce Americans to each other. I’m blessed being able to cross-pollinate, culturally.

KW: Batala-Ra McFarlane asks: What grade would you give President Obama after his first two years in office?
TS: Obviously, he’s enjoyed some major political victories the last couple weeks. But the things that concern me are yet to be addressed, including the issue of poverty and all the hell that people, especially black people, are catching in this economy. I’m reluctant to give grades, but I’m concerned that the White House still has not focused enough on the issue of economic opportunities for everyday people. That’s the banner that I’m still flying.

KW: Well, good luck with the special, Tavis, and I look forward to reviewing your book in the spring.
TS: Thanks for the time, as always, Kam

Tavis Smiley’s primetime special “Gustavo Dudamel: Conducting a Life” premieres Wednesday, December 29 at 8pm ET/PT and 7pm CT on PBS. (Check Local Listings)

For more information, visit:

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Little Fockers

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Grandkids Added to Mix in “Meet the Parents” Franchise

It’s been a half-dozen years since we last saw Greg (Ben Stiller) and Pam Focker (Teri Polo), and over the interim the couple has been blessed with fraternal twins, Samantha (Daisy Tahan) and Henry (Colin Baiocchi). The terminally-cute kids are five years-old and already driving their parents crazy with hijinks ranging from projectile vomiting to posing precocious questions about whether women can poop out of their vaginas.
Their age-appropriate antics, however, are merely a sideshow to daddy’s ever-strained relationship with his father-in-law, Jack (Robert De Niro). If you recall, the bulk of the humor in the original, Meet the Parents, revolved around the tension between overprotective Jack and the unworthy suitor seeking his daughter’s hand in marriage. In the first sequel, Meet the Fockers, the addition of Greg’s eccentric folks, Roz and Bernie (Barbara Streisand and Dustin Hoffman), to the mix meant half the humor took a turn towards tawdry double entendres.
This installment is more of a kitchen sink comedy, with a little of something for everybody. For instance, you have nurse Greg being pressured at work by a seductive pharmaceutical company rep (Jessica Alba) to promote Sustengo, the latest erectile dysfunction drug. Unfortunately, the transparent script telegraphs that someone might accidentally ingest a pill or two, so that by the time that finally transpires, it’s all oh so anticlimactic.
Meanwhile, on the home front, Pam wants to send the twins to the exclusive and expensive Early Human School. As for the grandparents, Jack has developed heart problems, and love guru Roz is having a blast hosting her own hit TV show called “Sexpress Yourself.”
The extended clan convenes in Chicago for the twins’ birthday celebration, which gives the flick the semblance of a structured storyline. Still, it’s essentially a collection of loosely-connected skits, most of which fall flat. Consequently, the laughs come few and far between, with the one-dimensional characters predictably finding excuses to behave in accordance with their limited personas.
A lackluster effort and a preposterous plot which add up to a flagging franchise that just “jumped the shark.”

Fair (1.5 stars)
Rated PG-13 for profanity, drug use and pervasive sexual humor.
Running time: 98 Minutes
Distributor: Universal Pictures

Saturday, December 25, 2010

True Grit

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Bridges and Brolin Square-Off in Remake of John Wayne Classic

True Grit (1969) is a curious choice for a remake, since John Wayne won an Academy Award for the classic Western with a stellar cast featuring the likes of Robert Duvall, Dennis Hopper and Glen Campbell. But that impressive pedigree did nothing to discourage the Coen Brothers from assembling their own A-list ensemble to mount a second screen adaptation of Charles Portis’ scintillating serial novel.
In True Grit 2.0, Jeff Bridges recreates the iconic role of U.S. Marshal Rooster Cogburn, a fearless, former Rebel who lost his right eye to a bullet during the Civil War. The weather-beaten veteran boasts of having ridden with William Quantrill, a real-life Confederate Captain famous for the 1863 massacre of a couple hundred citizens of Lawrence, Kansas in a pre-dawn raid on an abolitionist enclave.
This mythical tale of retribution and redemption unfolds in Fort Smith, Arkansas in the 1870s, where we find the film’s young narrator, Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld), eager to hire the meanest bounty hunter around to apprehend Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin), the killer who has just murdered her father in cold blood. Upon learning of Rooster’s reputation for ruthlessness, the spunky, 14 year-old immediately seeks to retain his services, matter-of-factly introducing herself with the titular line, “They tell me you’re a man with true grit.”
She goes on to explain to the grizzled gunslinger that she has good reason to believe the fugitive has joined a gang led by Lucky Ned Pepper (Barry Pepper) and fled on horseback into Choctaw territory. Eventually, Rooster, who’s ostensibly battling booze, grudgingly agrees to track down Chaney with revenge-minded Mattie in tow.
Before setting out, quite by coincidence, they cross paths with LaBoeuf (Matt Damon), a Texas Ranger already on Chaney’s trail for another slaying. Then, behind Mattie’s back, the two lawmen strike a separate deal to join forces, and they secretly start across the desert without her. But the headstrong heroine will have none of it. She catches up, and insists on accompanying the would-be double-crossers on the perilous trek into Oklahoma.
The trio’s ensuing sojourn intermittently allows for lighthearted interludes of levity as a little comic relief, such as a tension-breaking spanking of Mattie’s bottom. Still, the plot does sober significantly, as it makes its inexorable march to a fateful showdown with Chaney.
Jeff Bridges must be commended for his fresh interpretation of the roguish Rooster Cogburn as an endearing contradiction of machismo and vulnerability which actually enables you to forget about John Wayne after the film’s first five minutes or so. Kudos are equally in order for eight-time Oscar-nominated cinematographer Roger Deakins, whose sweeping, big sky panoramas are nothing short of spectacular.
My only quibble, here, is with the Coen Brothers’ who have simply served up too tame an homage to the Western genre which fails to up the ante in terms of intensity, a disappointing contrast to the relatively-riveting 3:10 to Yuma. Now that bloody shoot ‘em up was truly no country for a young cowgirl.

Very Good (3 stars)
Rated PG-13 for intense violence and disturbing images .
Running time: 110 Minutes
Studio: Paramount Pictures

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Town DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Ben Affleck’s Beantown Crime Saga Comes to DVD

Ben Affleck directs and stars in this crime saga as Doug MacRay, a gangster from Charlestown, a tight-knit, blue-collar community connected by bridge to Boston proper. As narrator, he informs us at the outset that his Irish stronghold’s claim to fame is that it has produced more bank robbers, present company included, than any other neighborhood in the world.
In fact, he’s just now about to hatch a heist in nearby Cambridge with the help of his loyal, lifelong friends Jem (Jeremy Renner), Gloansy (Slaine) and Des (Owen Burke). They all don masks before bursting into the bank and forcing the manager Claire Keesey (Rebecca Hall) to open the vault at gunpoint.
However, her momentary hesitation affords one of her colleagues an opportunity to trigger an alarm. Realizing that the cops are en route, the crooks decide to take Claire hostage into the getaway vehicle. Later, to make sure she won’t cooperate with the police, they keep her driver’s license before releasing her on the street.
As it turns out, she’s from Charlestown, so ringleader Doug assumes the job of intimidating the attractive eyewitness. But against his better judgment, when he follows her to a laundromat, he proceeds to ask her for a date instead of threatening to break her kneecaps.
Clueless Claire has no idea that gentlemanly Doug is the dude who had recently abducted her, so she unwittingly allows herself to be swept off her feet and falls passionately in love with the protective hunk. However, this development doesn’t sit well with her sweetheart’s homeys who know that the authorities are probably carefully monitoring her every movement.
Meanwhile, the noose gradually tightens around Doug’s neck due to the omnipresence of a team of nosey FBI agents. To make matters worse, he’s being pressured to mastermind an armored car robbery by a local mob boss (Pete Postlethwaite) to whom he is indebted.
As you might guess, especially if you’ve seen a few of these high body-count sagas set in Boston, such complicated scenarios rarely end on an upbeat note after the gun smoke clears. Still, it’s very entertaining waiting to see who’ll be the last man standing in this gripping, gritty sample of cinema verite.
A riveting, immorality play establishing Ben Affleck as a director to be reckoned with.

Excellent (4 stars)
Rated R for sexuality, drug use, graphic violence and pervasive profanity.
Running time: 125 Minutes
Studio: Warner Home Entertainment

Restrepo DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: DVD Chronicles Grim Reality of Afghan War

This riveting documentary about the Afghan War was shot by co-directors with a death wish Sebastian Junger and Tim Hetherington. The pair embedded themselves with a 15-man, U.S. military unit stationed at a remote outpost in the Korengal Valley from May 2007 to July 2008.
Chinook helicopter was the only way in or out of their godforsaken encampment which was located in Eastern Afghanistan near the border with Pakistan, a safe haven for terrorists. Thus, the region was teeming with Taliban who attacked the American camp on a daily basis from the 10,000’ high mountain peaks surrounding the GIs.
Among the soldiers in the platoon was medic Juan “Doc” Restrepo who seemed almost giddy during an interview at the outset of their dangerous deployment. “We’re going to war!” he’s shown chirping almost gleefully. Sadly, he was also the first to be killed by the enemy, and soon after their arrival. So, his buddies renamed their makeshift fort Restrepo in honor of their fallen comrade.
Tragically, Doc would not be the last to perish before the troops’ tour of duty ended, and this gritty picture captures not only the sadness, but the fear gradually etched into the faces of the survivors as they days wore on. The fighting gets pretty fierce, with fire often being exchanged at distances close enough to look into the eyes of the enemy and to engage them in hand-to-hand combat.
Understandably, some of the exasperated Americans seemed a little spooked by the Taliban launching wave after wave of seemingly-suicidal zealots desperate to scalp the Yankee infidel. “I feel like a fish in a barrel,” concedes Sergeant Brendan O’Byrne, in assessing their “sitting duck” predicament. But others, like hard-boiled Steiner, seem to relish the kill or be killed aspect of war, calling it “Fun!” and adding, “You can’t get a better high. It’s like crack!”
Such bravado, however, tends to be tempered by sobering moments such as the insomniac who admits to taking five types of sleeping pills. Worse is when Riegel, considered by everybody to be the best soldier in the group, gets his head blown off in the midst of a battle royal. Without pausing to grieve, the guys continue to take it to the Taliban until that all-out attack is finally repelled. “We’re going to die here,” one worried grunt then grunts.
Easily, the most realistic documentary about the War in Afghanistan to date.

Excellent (4 stars)
Rated R for violence and pervasive profanity.
Running time: 93 Minutes
Distributor: Virgil Films and Entertainment
DVD Extras: Deleted scenes, extended interviews, updates, PSAs, trailers and a photo gallery entitled “Sleeping Soldiers.”

Wednesday, December 22, 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 31, 2010




Another Year (PG-13 for profanity) Six-time Oscar-nominee Mike Leigh wrote and directed this British sit-dram revolving around four seasons in the life of a happily-married, middle-aged couple (Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen) who find themselves surrounded by relatively-morose friends, relatives and colleagues in emotional crisis. With Lesley Manville, Oliver Maltman and Peter Wight.

Biutiful (R for profanity, nudity, disturbing images, drug use and some sexuality) Bittersweet redemption drama, set in Barcelona, about the effort of a tormented, terminally-ill, career criminal (Javier Bardem) with a couple months to live to reconcile with his philandering, bipolar ex-wife (Maricel Alvarez) and to provide for his kids’ care in the wake of his demise. With Hanaa Bouchaib, Guillermo Estrella and Eduard Fernandez. (In English and Spanish with subtitles)

Blue Valentine (R for profanity, a beating and graphic sexuality) Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling co-star in this slice-of-life drama deconstructing the disintegration of the once-blissful marriage of an increasingly-contentious couple with a young child (Faith Wladyka). With Ben Shenkman, Jen Jones and Mike Vogel.

The Red Chapel (Unrated) Behind the Bamboo Curtain documentary about a couple of subversive Danish comedians (Jacob Nossell and Simon Jul Jorgenson) who get permission to tour of North Korea on the pretense of performing their peripatetic vaudeville act as a gesture promoting cultural exchange. (In Danish, English and Korean with subtitles)

The Way Back (PG-13 for violence, a nude image, depictions of physical hardships, and brief profanity) Fact-based bio-pic, based on Slavomir Rawicz’s memoir chronicling his undertaking a grueling 4,500 mile trek from Siberia to India following an escape with a half-dozen fellow prisoners from a Russian gulag in the Forties. With Colin Farrell, Ed Harris, Jim Sturgess, Dejan Angelov and Yordan Bikov.

The 10 Best Black Books of 2010 (Non-Fiction)

by Kam Williams

1. The Grace of Silence: A Memoir
by Michele Norris

Quite frankly, this heartbreaking memoir in which the author wistfully recounts her family’s quiet and dignified way of dealing with racism and discrimination, moved me to tears. NPR’s Michele Norris describes lives painfully limited by the color line, including a litany of humiliations endured by relatives well before she was born, such as the indignities suffered by her maternal grandmother while employed by Quaker Oats as a traveling Aunt Jemima.
Particularly poignant is the painstaking lengths Michele goes to resurrect the besmirched name of her late father. For following his honorable discharge from the military after serving in World War II, he’d returned to his hometown of Birmingham, Alabama, reasonably believing he’d earned the right to vote by fighting for his country.
So he and other black veterans began making treks to the courthouse downtown to attempt to register. However, in an incident which was subsequently covered-up by a falsified police report full of lies, her father was shot while wearing his Navy uniform by a police officer who charged him with attempted robbery and resisting arrest. The truth just unearthed by his intrepid daughter during a recent return to Birmingham belatedly clears his name, even though his innocence had been impossible to prove back in the Jim Crow South.
A very intimate, riveting and revealing cultural keepsake apt to resonate deeply with any African-American family inclined to reflect honestly on the oft-unspoken legacy of generation after generation of ancestors who had to cope in a world where bigoted whites could get away with anything.

2. Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority
by Tom Burrell

Ever since the dawn of the nation when the Founding Fathers deliberately rationalized slavery by spreading the big lie that black people were inferior, African-Americans have suffered from serious self-esteem issues. But why has this phenomenon continued to persist so long past emancipation and the elimination of the Jim Crow system of segregation?
This is the nagging thought which inspired Tom Burrell to write Brainwashed. After all, as an advertising executive with 45 years in the business, he was well aware of the power of propaganda. So he knew that American society has done such a good job on the minds of blacks that they have not only internalized but have willingly participated in the perpetuation and further dissemination of nearly every negative stereotype propagated about them by the media.
Mr. Burell explores his subject-matter at considerable length and depth with the hope of helping to eradicate self-destructive behaviors. He believes that people have to heal from the inside-out, so his solutions start with each individual’s recognition that you’ve been brainwashed, and that you can reprogram your mind because it is ultimately under your control.
A potentially-transformative, seminal treatise provided readers are receptive to contemplating commonly-accepted cultural practices like the use of the N-word, corporal punishment and hair relaxers as possibly the vestiges of a deep-seated self-hatred implanted in the brain by white supremacist notions.

3. Extraordinary, Ordinary People: A Memoir of Family
by Condoleezza Rice

Given all that Condoleezza Rice went on to accomplish in life, it’s hard to
believe that she was born in Birmingham, Alabama in the Fifties during the repressive reign of Jim Crow segregation. But somehow, despite spending her formative years in a city where state-sanctioned discrimination served to frustrate the aspirations of most other African-Americans, she miraculously managed to overachieve with the help of her doting parents.
The former Secretary of State pays tribute to their herculean effort in this remarkably-revealing memoir by a very private, public figure who has until now played her cards pretty close to the vest. But you had a sense something might be up when she was spotted playing piano behind Aretha at a concert in Philadelphia last summer. And after reading this intimate autobiography it’s clear that underneath that seemingly-steely veneer beats the heart is an introspective sister yearning to recognize and return to her roots.
An evocative opus fully humanizing a once-inscrutable Madam Secretary. I just have one question: May I call you Condi at the homecoming party?

4. The Next Big Story
by Soledad O’Brien
with Rose Marie Arce

In this engaging autobiography, CNN’s Soledad O’Brien revisits her challenging formative years in order to illustrate how overcoming childhood adversity perhaps served to shape not only her personality but her compassionate approach to her career as an award-winningtelevision journalist. Whether it was being asked “Are you black?” by a portrait photographer at the age of 11, being teased “If you’re a [N-word] why don’t you have big lips?” by an 8th grader in the hallway at school, or having to hear “Why do I have to sit next to the black girl?” coming from the sister of a friend, Soledad suffered a host of indignities on the path to the peak of her profession.
Fortunately, once in a position to make a difference while covering disasters like the Great Tsunami, Hurricane Katrina or the Haitian Earthquake, this intrepid reporter has kept the pedal to the medal in an indefatigable quest to shed light on the plight of the least of her brethren. As for her private life, we learn that the freckle-faced, dedicated mother of four was an ugly duckling who never dated in high school before blossoming in Boston where she met her husband, Brad.
A moving memoir which does justice to the effervescent spirit and unbridled intellectual curiosity of a truly empathetic soul my faithful readers already know just might be the brightest person I’ve had the privilege of interviewing.

5. Black Faces in White Places: 10 Game-Changing Strategies to Achieve Success and Find Greatness
by Randal Pinkett and Jeffrey Robinson

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 “J.R.” Robinson, Randal has written a viable blueprint for blacks trying to make it in corporate America. Here, he 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.

6. The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness
by Michelle Alexander

Now that the bloom has fallen off the rose of the Obama Administration, most black folks are beginning to wake up to the fact that his election isn’t about to turn the country into a post-racial utopia any time soon. To the contrary, attorney Michelle Alexander argues that in recent decades America has increasingly, and ever so subtly, adopted a color-coded caste system where minorities are targeted, stigmatized and marginalized by the criminal justice system.
Alexander, a Professor of Law at Ohio State University, makes her very persuasive case in this scathing indictment of the widespread practice of selective enforcement of draconian drug laws. Ostensibly, the aim of the U.S. government has been not only to warehouse masses of African-American males behind bars, but to relegate them permanently to a subordinate stratum of society even after they’re paroled.
If the author holds out any hope for our future, it rests in raising the country’s collective consciousness about the role the Apartheid-like legal system plays in perpetuating oppression along the color line. Her goal, as delineated in this sterling text, is to work towards that end by generating some frank dialogue leading to a social movement on behalf of the vast underclass of unfairly-criminalized social pariahs.

7. Black Business Secrets: 500 Tips, Strategies, and Resources for the African-American Entrepreneur
by Dante Lee
Foreword by Randal Pinkett

During these dire economic times when the overall unemployment rate in the U.S. has dipped to 9.8%, you can be sure that that figure is at least double in the African-American community. And after the Democrats took what even President Obama referred to as a “shellacking” on Election Day, they’ve already capitulated to the Republican demand that the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy be extended.
Therefore, if you’re presently out of work, I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for the supposedly-stimulative effect of that windfall for the rich to trickle-down to you in the form of a job. Instead, may I suggest perusing this invaluable how-to tome designed with ambitious self-starters in mind.
The book was written by Dante Lee, the CEO of Diversity City Media and a bona fide success story in his own right. He shares a cornucopia of practical advice based on his experiences about what’s involved in getting a profitable money-making operation off the ground.
A plausible primer for financial success aimed at any aspiring entrepreneur equipped with a viable business plan and the requisite amalgam of guts, determination and common sense to make their dream a reality.

8. Create Dangerously: The Immigrant Artist at Work
by Edwidge Danticat

This inspirational opus is a collection of essays based on a series of lectures tackling a variety of universal themes apt to resonate with any immigrant reflecting about the oppression they left behind in coming to the United States in search of fundamental freedoms, particularly Freedom of Speech. A 2009 winner of a MacArthur Genius Fellowship, author Edwidge Danticat’s focus is explained by 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.
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. The magical musings and flowery phrasings of a gifted wordsmith who, it must be noted, writes not in her native French but in the English of her adopted homeland.

9. A Game of Character: A Family Journey from Chicago’s Southside to the Ivy League and Beyond
by Craig Robinson

This heartfelt homage by Craig Robinson credits his parents, Marian and the late Fraser Robinson, III, with making countless selfless sacrifices on behalf of him and his little sister Michelle while instilling them both with “fundamental values like love, discipline and respect.” What makes the book so compelling to his critic is that after having read so many mediocre unauthorized biographies about the Obamas, we finally have a legit opus by a person who you tend to believe when he says he grew up sharing the same bedroom with his little sis who is now the First Lady. Sorry, nobody can question the cred of anyone that close to her.
And when you factor in that Chicago witnessed 40 gang-related shootings on the Southside over a recent weekend, the deteriorating state of affairs in the Windy City makes this uplifting success story about how a couple of kids miraculously made it out of that very same ‘hood all the more remarkable, refreshing and eminently worthwhile.

10. The Presumption of Guilt: The Arrest of Henry Louis Gates, Jr.
and Race, Class and Crime in America
by Charles Ogletree

Everybody remembers how President Obama invited both Harvard Professor Dr. Henry Louis Gates and the police sergeant who arrested him for breaking into his own home down to the White House to bury the hatchet over drinks in the Rose Garden. That photo-op was dubbed Beer-Gate, but the nagging question left unanswered was whether what had transpired back in Cambridge was really an isolated incident unlikely to reoccur or merely a reflection of a longstanding, police pattern of profiling African-American males all across the country.
Shedding considerable light on the issue is Harvard Law Professor Charles Ogletree in this dissection of the matter from a predominantly legal perspective. Granted, as Dr. Gates’ attorney of record, Ogletree definitely had a horse in the race, so one might question his impartiality when he makes mincemeat here of Sgt. Crowley’s rationale for jailing his client.
However, what’s of far more interest and ultimately dispositive are the anecdotal accounts offered in the book by over a hundred well-educated, highly-accomplished brothers about their own run-ins with the law. It seems that everyone has a nightmare to share, from civil rights pioneer Julian Bond to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to actor Blair Underwood to Bay State Banner Editor Howard Manly to Baseball Hall of Famer Joe Morgan to former Clinton aide Keith Boykin.
Proof-positive that, yes, Obama may be in the White House, but a post-racial utopia remains yet to be realized.

Honorable Mention

11. The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration
by Isabel Wilkerson

12. Losing My Cool: How a Father’s Love and 15,000 Books Beat Hip-Hop Culture
by Thomas Chatterton Williams

13. The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates
by Wes Moore

14. The History of White People
by Nell Irvin Painter

15. Children of Fire: A History of African-Americans
by Thomas C. Holt

16. Damn Near White: An African-American Family’s Rise from Slavery to Bittersweet Success
by Carolyn Marie Wilkins

17. SistahFaith: Real Stories of Pain, Truth and Triumph
Edited by Marilynn Griffith

18. Decoded
by Jay-Z

19. The First: President Barack Obama’s Road to the White House
by Roland S. Martin

20. Do I Have to Be a Starving Artist in the 21st Century?
by Hisani Dubose

21. The Brand Within: The Power of Branding from Birth to the Boardroom
by Daymond John

22. Of Thee I Sing: A Letter to My Daughters
by Barack Obama

23. Before Truth Set Me Free
by Vanessa “Fluffy” Murray-Yisrael

24. America I AM: A Journal
Edited by Clarence Reynolds

25. Why Do I Have to Think Like a Man?
by Shanae Hall

This Week’s DVD Releases

by Kam Williams

Headline: Top Ten DVD List for December 21st 2010

Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps

Easy A

The Films of Rita Hayworth

Soul Kitchen

The Andy Griffith Show 50th Anniversary: The Best of Mayberry


The Big Shot-Caller

The House of Steinbrenner

D.C. Sniper

Step Up 3

Honorable Mention

The Heavy

Beautiful Kate

Sweethearts of the Prison Rodeo

Rivers Wash over Me

Billy the Exterminator: Season One

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Dulé Hill: The “Psych” Interview

with Kam Williams

Headline: “Psych”-ing Out Dulé

Dulé Hill stars as Burton ‘Gus’ Guster on the USA Network series Psych which airs on Wednesdays at 10 PM ET/PT and at 9 PM CT. Best known for his work as Charlie Young on “The West Wing,” Hill first came to prominence as The Kid opposite Savion Glover and Jeffrey Wright in the Broadway production of "Bring in 'Da Noise, Bring in 'Da Funk."
His stage credits also include "Black and Blue," "Shenandoah" and "The Little Rascals." In 2007, he returned to the stage where he starred in “Dutchman,” Amiri Baraka’s Obie award-winning play about a white woman who seduces a naïve, bourgeois black man on a subway train with terrifying results.
Born to Jennifer Garner and Bertholomu Hillshire in Orange, New Jersey on May 3, 1975 and raised with his elder brother, Bert, in nearby Sayreville, Dulé began attending dance school when he was 3 and received his first break in 1983 as the understudy to Savion Glover in “The Tap Dance Kid" on Broadway. He went on to perform the lead role in the musical’s national tour alongside Harold Nicholas.
In 1999, he joined the cast of the acclaimed NBC series "The West Wing," playing the personal aide to the President (Martin Sheen) and, subsequently, deputy special assistant to the chief of staff (Allison Janney). During his 7 seasons on the series, Hill garnered an Emmy Award nomination and 4 NAACP Image Award nominations for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series, as well as receiving 2 Screen Actors Guild Awards as part of the ensemble in a drama series.
On the big screen, Hill appeared opposite William H. Macy in an adaptation of David Mamet's “Edmond,” and Andrew Davis' “The Guardian.” His film credits also include “Holes,” an adaptation of the award-winning children's novel by Louis Sachar, plus “Sugar Hill,” “She’s All That” and the independent film “Sexual Life.”
Here, he talks about Psych, a lighthearted, crime-solving series where he plays a private eye whose partner (James Roday) pretends to be clairvoyant.

Kam Williams: Hey, Dulé, thanks for the time.
Dule Hill: Oh, it’s my pleasure.

KW: I’d like to start right in with questions sent in for you by my readers. Attorney Bernadette Beekman asks: Do you believe people have psychic powers? Have you ever experienced anything psychic in real life?
DH: I do believe that there are a few of those rare folks out there with a sixth sense who really do have psychic powers. But I think the majority of people who claim to be psychics are frauds. As for myself, I’ve never experienced anything personally, except on one occasion when I was a kid with a friend of mine who has passed away since. He was spending the night over at my house and tried to wake him up because he was mumbling to himself in his sleep. I asked him what he was talking about and he said, “Oh, man, I had this dream that your little cousin was here and bothering me by climbing on my back.” It turned out that later that day one of my cousins did come over and start messing with him. That was definitely strange. But besides that, I haven’t had any psychic experiences.

KW: I guess Miss Cleo of Psychic Friends Network infomercial fame ruined it for real psychics once she was exposed as a fraud.
DH: Yeah, any Jamaican could’ve told you from the first time they saw the commercial that she was a fake, because her accent was terrible. [Laughs]

KW: FSU grad Laz Lyles says: I love Psych. I just really want to know how they've been able to keep it so darn funny and fresh for this long. The show is hilarious!
DH: For one, you have to take your hat off to Steve Franks, the show’s creator, and to the writing staff that he’s assembled. They’re very good at seeing where we’re going both onscreen and as actors, and getting in that lane and taking it further. They also give us a lot of freedom, which is good. They’re not so strict about sticking to the script. If we come up with something really funny to do while we’re on the set, they’ll allow us to go off on that tangent, and 80% of the time it’ll end up on the show. Having that freedom to move within the structure helps a lot. It’s kind of like jazz or any kind of improv. It’s a great collaborative effort, which helps the show to be so funny. But it’s impossible to say exactly what makes it all click. When lightning strikes, you just have to enjoy it and hope it continues a while longer.

KW: I’d guess that the key is the chemistry and comic timing of the stars, you and James Roday, because you guys seem very natural and give the feeling that you really like each other.
DH: Well, James and I have been good friends ever since we joined the cast. There’s a mutual respect there for each other’s talent, artistry and humanity. Plus, we have a good time on the set, and enjoy being around each other. We don’t take ourselves too seriously. That goes a long way, because we don’t have to manufacture a sense of camaraderie when the cameras start rolling. We come to work looking to have a great time everyday. We get our job done, but the set is a fun place to be.

KW: Children’s book author Irene Smalls asks: Has your role on Psych evolved, and how do you see it evolving further?
DH: The role has definitely evolved since the pilot season. Steve Franks had always promised that it was going to expand. If you compare the first few episodes from the first season to recent ones, you’ll see that the quality of Shawn and Gus’ interaction is richer, and that Gus stands up for himself a little more. It’s a fuller friendship at this point. As for where the development of my character is headed, I can’t say. But I’d really like to see Gus date more. He doesn’t necessarily have to succeed at dating, but just step out there, especially now that Shawn and Juliet’s relationship is really kicking off. Gus has to start asking, what am I going to do with my life?

KW: Nick Antoine asks: Are James Roday and Maggie Lawson dating in real life?
DH: I believe that’s public knowledge, now, so I think it’s safe for me to say, “Yes, they are.”

KW: Nick also asks: How much would you say you’re like your character, Gus?
DH: I don’t think I’m like Gus at all, really. I don’t store lots of trivia in my brain. He knows something about everything, like all these random facts about the Eighties. I think I’m not as hyped as Gus is. I’m smoother and more laidback. I do like to have fun and to play games; otherwise, I don’t think I’m too much like him.

KW: Editor/Legist Patricia Turnier says: I did tap dance for over 12 years which is one of my passions. Tap dance was very popular in the past with people like Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly and the Nicholas Brothers. Later, Paula Abdul and Gregory Hines were among the few people who modernized tap. As an expert in tap dance, what would you say needs to be done to put this genre of art back on the map?
DH: That’s an excellent question, although I wouldn’t call myself an expert tap dancer. [Laughs] Something I’m constantly turning over in my head is a way of getting tap back into the public eye. I tried to take some baby steps by doing a tap episode on Psych this year. But I don’t think it’s going to be an overnight revival. It’s probably going to be something that starts small and builds into a multi-faceted groundswell. It might have to begin on the theater side, on the stage, before working its way to television more widely. The internet can play a big role, too, in educating the masses as a whole about what really good tap dancing is.

KW: Patricia also says: Your parents are from Jamaica. Marcus Garvey is one of the greatest heroes from your parents' country. If Garvey were alive today, what do you think he would have said about the fact that we now have an African-American president?
DH: Wow! I would hope that he would be proud of the country’s taking that major step forward. But I think he might also say that the race doesn’t stop there. We still have further to go to open the floodgates and create more opportunities for our people to achieve that same level of success in other fields so they can fully realize the American Dream.

KW: Harriet Pakula Teweles says: Psych reminds me of the TV series I Spy, with Bill Cosby and Robert Culp. Have you ever gotten that before and what do you think of the comparison?
DH: I have heard that before, but I don’t know much about I Spy. I’ve figured out that they were detectives, and that there’s a black and white connection, but I’ve never seen a full episode. So, I can’t say whether I see any similarities. Maybe I should try to download it.
KW: Harriet also says she read that you were recently denied membership on a Screen Actors Guild (SAG) committee because you couldn't prove residency. Do you think someone might one day object to your running for president on this basis?
DH: That information she received may be a little off. I don’t think that’s true, because I served on several SAG committees just last year. I actually asked to be pulled off some committees this year because of my schedule. I didn’t want to serve, if I couldn’t devote my time to it. So, I pulled myself off the committees.

KW: Is there any question no one ever asks you, that you wish someone would?
DH: I would say something about falling short of the bar I set for myself, or about my faith, because I’m a Christian.

KW: So, how important is faith to you, and how often do you fall short of the bar you set for yourself?
DH: Faith is the number one priority in my life, above all, and trying to live up to my potential. At the same time, I know that in my personal life, I fall short often. To me, it’s always about not repeating my mistakes and about trying to improve each day. That’s what I work on in quiet moments of reflection.

KW: The Tasha Smith question: Are you ever afraid?
DH: Yes, there are times when I’m afraid, but I don’t allow myself to dwell there. Whatever the situation is, whether emotional or physical, I don’t react to it, I just rest in it. I don’t reside in that area of fear. I try to rise above it and keep moving forward.

KW: The Columbus Short question: Are you happy?
DH: Yes, very happy.

KW: The Teri Emerson question: When was the last time you had a good laugh?
DH: I laugh every day, but I’d probably say I had my last really good one about three days ago.

KW: What is your guiltiest pleasure?
DH: My guiltiest pleasure? Video games and the spa. [Chuckles]

KW: The “Realtor to the Stars” Jimmy Bayan’s question: Where in L.A. do you live?
DH: I live in the Valley.

KW: The bookworm Troy Johnson question: What was the last book you read?
DH: Right now, I’m reading “The Enough Moment,” a book by John Prendergast and Don Cheadle about all the atrocities going on in Africa in places like Darfur, Uganda and the Congo.
And the last book I finished was “Desperate Networks.”

KW: The music maven Heather Covington question: What are you listening to on your iPod?
DH: Mostly reggae, gospel and some jazz. But I’d say about 85% reggae music.

KW: What is your favorite dish to cook?
DH: [LOL] That’s a loaded question, because you’re implying that I can cook. When I do cook, I make French toast and scrambled eggs. That’s my wife [actress Nicole Lyn] in the background who’s saying “Don’t lie!” [Laughs some more] The key word there is “when” and those occasions are few and far between.

KW: What is your favorite dish to eat then?
DH: I love sushi, and two Jamaican entrees: Escovitch fish and jerk chicken.

KW: The Uduak Oduok question: Who is your favorite clothes designer?
DH: Off the top of my head, I’d say I like Ben Sherman and Mark Ecko a lot.

KW: When you look in the mirror, what do you see?
DH: I see a good brother who’s trying to make it happen. I may not be the greatest man, but I’m a good guy.

KW: How do you feel about being nominated for an NAACP Image Award seven times but never winning one?
DH: I’m sort of like the Susan Lucci of the NAACP Awards. {Laughs] So, whenever I get a nomination, I never take it too seriously. It’s all good, though.

KW: If you could have one wish instantly granted, what would that be for?
DH: One wish… Oh man… It would be for everyone to be met at the place of their greatest need.

KW: The Ling-Ju Yen question: What is your earliest childhood memory?
DH: I think it was going with my parents to look at the house I grew up in. I must have been about 2½ or 3. We were living with my aunt and uncle at the time.

KW: Larry Greenberg says: I read that you grew up in Sayreville, NJ. I was recently at the Starland Ballroom in Sayreville for the first time. Did you
ever perform there when you lived there?
DH: No, I never even heard of the Starland Ballroom. [Chuckles] It probably was called something else back then.

KW: The Rudy Lewis question: Who’s at the top of your hero list?
DH: That’s a good question. [Pauses to think] Hero’s a strong word. I’d have to say my maternal grandmother, Ivy Hayes, who has passed away, because she was always there, always about her family, and she sacrificed for her family. And Berris Hill, my grandfather on my dad’s side. Unfortunately, he’s deceased too.

KW: What has been the biggest obstacle you have had to overcome?
DH: When my family lost the house in Sayreville after 14 years. That time period taught me a lot.

KW: Can you come up with a good generic question I can call the Dulé Hill question when I interview other celebrities?
DH: Yeah, do you think that the success you’ve achieved in your career is because of you, because of a higher power, or because of a mixture of both?

KW: That’s a good one, thanks. What advice do you have for anyone who wants to follow in your footsteps?
DH: I’d say, set a vision and go for it, because there’s power in commitment. And you have to be disciplined, and willing to take risks and to put in the effort. I stayed the course when I was struggling in L.A. even after my dough got low and my agent had dropped me. I only had enough money to cover about another month and a half of my bills at that point. I remember sitting in my living room and saying that I was determined to be an actor, that I was either going to be successful at it, or spend the rest of my life trying.

KW: The Flex Alexander question: How did you get through those tough times?
DH: It’s really about having faith in yourself. The mind is a powerful thing. You really have to challenge yourself to stay the course, even when everything seems to be saying, “Pack up shop.” When God told me to go to L.A., he didn’t say there wouldn’t be any struggles. He told me to keep pressing through. So, I had to get my mind right.

KW: The Tavis Smiley questions. First, how introspective are you?
DH: I think I’m pretty introspective. There are those moments when I’m spontaneous, but I generally think things through, especially during my quiet time.

KW: You know who you remind me of interviewing you? Ang Lee. You have a similar energy. Have you ever met him?
DH: No I haven’t, but now I definitely would like to.

KW: The second Tavis Smiley question: How do you want to be remembered?
DH: As a man who cared about others, who really put himself out for others.

KW: Well, thanks again Dulé, and best of luck with the season finale this week. And I’m already looking forward to next season and seeing your character further developed on Psych.
DH: Thanks a lot, Kam. I really appreciate it.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Fighter

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Wahlberg Stars as Real-Life Rocky in Overcoming-the-Odds Bio-Pic

Veteran boxing fans are undoubtedly familiar with the exploits of “Irish” Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg), the light-welterweight pugilist from Lowell, Massachusetts best remembered for a trio of memorable matches against the late Arturo Gatti. In fact, two of the gladiators’ epic battles (one in 2002, the other in 2003) were dubbed “The Fight of the Year” by Ring Magazine.
But don’t expect to see any of those classic showdowns in The Fighter, an overcoming-the-odds bio-pic which culminates a couple of years earlier with Micky’s first world championship bout in London against the division’s then reigning titleholder, Shea Neary (Anthony Molinari). For cinematic purposes, director David O. Russell (Three Kings) was far more interested here in recreating the rampant dysfunction marking his protagonist’s personal life than with merely chronicling the aspiring contender’s rise inside the ring.
Consequently, the character-driven plotline proves particularly compelling, thanks to its examination of Micky’s angst as he contemplates cutting the ties to the albatross hanging around his neck, namely, his smothering tight-knit family. Reminiscent of the cast of Jersey Shore, except with thick New England accents, the trashy clan is run with an iron fist by his domineering mom, Alice (Melissa Leo), a meddling matriarch who doubles as his business manager.
Meanwhile, she’s directed her other son, Dicky (Christian Bale), to serve as Micky’s trainer. But that hasn’t been working out at all because he’s a washed-up boxer with a crack pipe dream of mounting a comeback, despite a bad drug habit and regular run-ins with the law. The boys also have seven sisters, gum-smacking, couch potatoes sporting mullets who function as a veritable Greek chorus inclined to rubber stamp their momma’s every wish, however unreasonable.
Micky finally summons up the gumption to do something about his family’s always frustrating his potential after he falls in love at first sight with Charlene (Amy Adams), a college-educated bartender offering him the kind of encouragement and support that he really needs. The proverbial straw that breaks the camel’s back arrives when he brings her home to meet the folks only to have them tarnish her name with unsubstantiated gossip designed to wreck their budding romance before it even has a chance to blossom.
That unwarranted attempt at sabotage has a salutary effect on Micky who steels his resolve to find a capable corner man to replace Dicky in order to begin his inexorable assault on the boxing crown. A fitting tribute to a real-life Rocky and Adrian featuring a quartet of inspired performances by Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale, Melissa Leo and Amy Adams.

Excellent (4 stars)
Rated R for violence, sexuality, drug use and pervasive profanity.
Running time: 115 Minutes
Studio: Paramount Pictures

Blacktrospective 2010

by Kam Williams

Headline: Kam’s Annual Assessment of the Best (and Worst) in Black Cinema

Ten Best Black Feature Films

1. Just Wright
2. Why Did I Get Married Too?
3. Prince of Broadway
4. Brooklyn’s Finest
5. Lottery Ticket
6. For Colored Girls
7. Night Catches Us
8. Blood Done Sign My Name
9. Frankie and Alice
10. Takers

Best Black Documentaries

1. We Need to Talk
2. Biracial, Not Black, Damn It!
3. Neshoba
4. The Other City
5. Waiting for Superman
6. The Lottery
7. A Place Out of Time
8. Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child
9. Ghettophysics
10. To Live and Die in Amerikkka

Best African Films

1. Africa United
2. White Wedding
3. Soul Boy
4. Bouncing Cats
5. Soundtrack for a Revolution

Best Actor (Lead Role)

1. Nate Parker (Blood Done Sign My Name)
2. Prince Adu (Prince of Broadway)
3. Bow Wow (Lottery Ticket)
4. Don Cheadle (Brooklyn’s Finest)
5. Common (Just Wright)
6. Anthony Mackie (Night Catches Us)
7. Tyrese (Legion)
8. Denzel Washington (Unstoppable)
9. Terry Crews (The Expendables)
10. Jaden Smith (The Karate Kid)

Best Actor (Supporting Role)

1. Diddy (Get Him to the Greek)
2. J.B. Smoove (Date Night)
3. Samuel L. Jackson (The Other Guys)
4. Chiwetel Ejiofor (Salt)
5. Wesley Snipes (Brooklyn’s Finest)
6. T.I. (Takers)
7. The Rock (The Other Guys)
8. Ving Rhames (Piranha 3D)
9. Keb’ Mo’ (Who Do You Love)
10. Morgan Freeman (Red)

Best Actress (Lead Role)

1. Queen Latifah (Just Wright)
2. Sonequa Martin (Toe to Toe)
3. Kerry Washington (Mother and Child, Night Catches Us)
4. Thandie Newton (For Colored Girls)
5. Tasha Smith (Why Did I Get Married Too)
6. Letoya Luckett (Preacher’s Kid)
7. Janet Jackson (Why Did I Get Married Too?)
8. Kimberly Elise (For Colored Girls)
9. Halle Berry (Frankie and Alice)
10. Jill Scott (Why Did I Get Married Too?)

Best Actress (Supporting Role)

1. Paula Patton (Just Wright)
2. Loretta Devine (For Colored Girls)
3. Sharon Leal (Why Did I Get Married Too)
4. Keyali Mayaga (Prince of Broadway)
5. Kerry Washington (For Colored Girls)
6. YaYa DaCosta (The Kids Are All Right)
7. Zoe Kravitz (It’s Kind of a Funny Story)
8. Phylicia Rashad (For Colored Girls)
9. Janet Jackson (For Colored Girls)
10. Tessa Thompson (For Colored Girls)

Best Director (Feature Film)
1. Sanaa Hamri (Just Wright)
2. Tyler Perry (For Colored Girls, Why Did I Get Married Too?)
3. Erik White (Lottery Ticket)
4. Antoine Fuqua (Brooklyn’s Finest)
5. Tanya Hamilton (Night Catches Us)

Best Director (Documentary)

1. Janks Morton (We Need to Talk, Guilty Until Proven Innocent)
2. Carolyn Battle Cochrane (Biracial, Not Black, Damn It!)
3. E. Raymond Brown (Ghettophysics)
4. Arthur “Silky Slim” Reed (To Live and Die in Amerikkka)
5. Nabil Elderkin (Bouncing Cats)

Worst Film

1. Harlem Aria
2. Grown Ups
3. Our Family Wedding
4. Death at a Funeral
5. The Losers

Worst Actor

1. Damon Wayans (Harlem Aria)
2. Chris Rock (Grown Ups, Death at a Funeral)
3. Forest Whitaker (Our Family Wedding, Repo Men)
4. Lance Gross (Our Family Wedding)
5. Martin Lawrence (Death at a Funeral)

Worst Actress

1. Zoe Saldana (Death at a Funeral, Losers)
2. Maya Rudolph (Grown Ups)
3. Anna Maria Horsford (Our Family Wedding)
4. Regina Hall (Death at a Funeral)
5. Eyde Byrde (Harlem Aria)

Friday, December 17, 2010

Holiday DVD Gift Guide

by Kam Williams

Headline: A Potpourri of Suggested Stocking Stuffers

Christmas Themes

The Night before Christmas and More Classic Holiday Tales

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year: Natalie Cole
Live in Concert with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir

Coopers’ Christmas

Yes Virginia

Bikini Bloodbath Christmas

Super Why: ‘Twas the Night before Christmas

Barbie in a Christmas Carol

The Dog Who Saved Christmas

Educational for Younger Kids

Treasury of 100 Storybook Classics

Sing-Along Travel Kit

Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus

A Pocket for Corduroy

The Rosemary Wells Collection

Assorted Adult

Humphrey Bogart: The Essential Collection

Get Him to the Greek

NBA A-Z Bloopers

Scott Pilgrim vs. The World

The Bing Crosby Collection

Robin Hood

Charlie St. Cloud

Welcome to Earth