Monday, May 31, 2010

People Buy Brands, Not Companies

by John Tantillo, Ph.D. – The Marketing Doctor
Five Titles Press
Paperback, $9.99
124 pages
ISBN: 978-098443670-5

Book Review by Kam Williams

“Once I was like a lot of people who think that marketing is just a way of convincing people to buy a whole bunch of things they don’t need… Yes, I was in the marketing-is-about-creating-need camp… But, you know what, the buyer can’t be misled forever. You can’t create need no matter how hard you try. You can only discover the need and then find a way to meet it.
When Fed Ex launched its now legendary, ‘When it absolutely, positively, has to get there overnight’ campaign, they weren’t creating a need, they were filling one. Marketing at its best is about making things happen through creativity, intelligence and adaptability that would never have happened had someone not had the vision or the drive to market…
[Once] you’ve got a successful brand, things just happen. A brand is one of the closest things to magic on Earth. It’s not that you don’t have to work hard to make it successful and keep it successful, it’s just that in many ways a great brand sells itself.
So, that’s the context for this book and our marketing mission, but the essence of this book is clear from the title: people buy brands.”

-- Excerpted from the Introduction (pgs. 2-7)


It’s been said that good things come in small packages, as is the case with this succinctly-stated amalgamation of marketing insights. When I attended law and business school, a popular method of teaching was via the case method, meaning that the professor would have us study case histories in order to learn not only from perfection but from failure, too.
This is the sensible approach employed by John Tantillo, Ph.D., aka The Marketing Doctor, in dispensing bite-sized morsels of wisdom in People Buy Brands, Not Companies. I’ll tell you right off the bat why I heartily recommend this book. Honestly, it’s because after reading it, I came away from it with a few solid ideas about how to improve the “Kam Williams” brand. And if any one of them helps me gain a competitive edge, the modest investment in the opus in terms of money and time will have easily been made worth the while.
In easy-to-read layman’s terms augmented by a glossary, Dr. Tantillo examines branding and marketing strategies from a variety of angles, including the individual, the corporate and the political. One of his most fascinating analyses is that of the previous presidential campaign during which he claims that “the Democratic Party was as much or more of a stumbling block than John McCain.” for brand Obama. The author also praises the President as a brilliant politician who “knows the difference between his brand and the Democratic party.” So, he wouldn’t be surprised to see Obama rise to the challenges posed by a re-election effort in 2012.
But this how-to tome is really about you, the reader, and the fact that, “Like it or not, you’ve already got a brand,” whether it’s a business or merely your name. For the point driven home here repeatedly is the importance of appreciating the value of building that brand and of channeling your resources in the direction most likely to maximize your return on any financial, emotional and sweat of the brow investments in yourself.
This brings to mind the sage lament of Iago in Shakespeare’s Othello,
“Who steals my purse, steals trash... But he that filches from me my good name robs me of that which not enriches him, and makes me poor indeed.” In sum, methinks those wise words make as much sense today as they did when scripted by The Bard of Avon.

Whiz Kids

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Eggheads Enter National Science Bee in Inspirational Documentary

Nowadays, more students drop out than graduate from inner-city public high schools all across the country, so it’s no surprise to learn the U.S. lags behinds so many other industrialized nations in terms of literacy and overall academic achievement. You don’t really have to hear the statistics to get the sense that the American educational system is in a state of shambles. Recent news reports about teenagers gang-raping a 7 year-old in Trenton and about 40 gang-related shootings in Chicago over the course of just one weekend leave you with the feeling that all hope might be lost when it comes to this generation.
That’s because the uplifting success stories never seem to enjoy equal time, which is what makes Whiz Kids such a welcome breath of fresh air. Directed by Tom Shepard, this inspirational documentary chronicles the exploits as well as the daily lives of a trio of 17 year-old aspiring researchers competing for the $100,000 Grand Prize awarded by Intel’s Science Talent Search, the nation’s most prestigious competition of its kind.
Each of these ambitious eggheads hails from a modest background, so they want to win the competition not only for the honor but to help defray the cost of their impending college educations. Shot during their junior and senior years of high school, this touching triskelion paints intimate portraits of adolescents so likable that it makes it impossible to pick out one to root for.
Born in Pakistan, Harmain Khan and his four siblings were raised in New York City by a welfare-mom who had to rely on food stamps and public assistance after the family was abandoned by her husband. Still, Harmain developed an avid interest in paleontology at an early age, and as a teen started conducting some groundbreaking fossil dating at a college willing to share its state-of-the-art facilities.
Ana Cisneros’ parents were born in Ecuador and only speak broken English, so what she’s managed to accomplish is also nothing short of amazing. In a basement lab built by her dad, Ana’s embarked upon some fascinating genetic experiments in which she successfully trained plant roots to grow straight down rather than spread horizontally.
Finally, we have West Virginia’s Keydra Welcker, whose project turns out to be the most timely, given the ecological disaster presently unfolding in the Gulf of Mexico. Outraged by her father’s former employer DuPont’s polluting of the nearby Ohio River, this budding environmentalist invented a way to remove cancer-causing chemicals from the local water. And her early test results have been so encouraging that she’s already applied for a patent on the process to boot.
Although director Shepard does a masterful job of winding the tension during the movie’s inexorable march to the Science Talent Search finals staged in Washington, DC, all of the entrants were winners in my book regardless of the outcome. That undeniable fact is easily proven by the closing credits postscript which updates Harmain, Ana and Keydra’s eventual choices of what college to attend.
A heartwarming bio-pic about three brilliant, young brainiacs guaranteed to restore your faith in America’s future while bringing tears to your eyes.

Excellent (4 stars)
Unrated
In English and Spanish with subtitles.
Running time: 82 Minutes
Distributor: Shadow Distribution

Ice Cube: The “Are We There Yet?” Interview

with Kam Williams

Headline: Chilling with Ice

O’Shea Jackson was born on June 15, 1969, and adopted the cool alias “Ice Cube” before founding N.W.A. in the late 1980s. As the lyrical mastermind behind the legendary group's Straight Outta Compton album, he literally launched the gangster rap revolution. And his subsequent solo material, including such early Nineties classic CDs as AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted and Death Certificate, solidified his place in the pantheon of the genre's more socially-aware artists.
Next, the versatile talent began his meteoric ascent in Hollywood as the star in, producer of and catalyst for the Friday, Are We There Yet? and Barbershop film franchises. He established himself as one of the most bankable actors around, thanks to his charismatic turns in such box-office hits as The Longshots, First Sunday, Anaconda, The Players Club, Three Kings, All About the Benjamins, XXX2 and Boyz 'N the Hood.
In 2007, Ice Cube partnered with the prestigious McNally Smith College of Music in St. Paul, Minnesota to establish The Ice Cube Scholarship, a fellowship awarded annually for creativity, talent and songwriting ability to a student in the music technology department. Here, he reflects on his latest venture, producing and playing a support role on the new TV sitcom Are We There Yet?, which is based on his movie of the same name. The show premieres with back-to-back episodes airing on TBS on Wednesday, June 2nd at 9:00 and 9:30 PM.

Kam Williams: Hey, Ice Cube, thanks so much for the time.
Ice Cube: Oh, no problem.
KW: What inspired you to turn “Are We There Yet?” into a TV sitcom?
IC: It was really the idea of Executive Producer Joe Roth who owned the property over at Revolution Studios and said he was thinking about taking it to TV. And after he said that he already had [writer/director] Ali Leroi on board, and that he was going after Terry Crews, to me it was a no-brainer. I said, “Let’s put this together!”
KW: But didn’t you want to star in it, since you had originated the role of Nick on the big screen?
IC: No, because I wanted to go in a different direction, artistically. But having somebody like Terry in it was your ace in the hole. That makes it very strong, so I definitely had to jump in with both feet.
KW: So, how heavily involved are you with the production?
IC: While I had done the movies through Revolution Studios, we own the sitcom. It was a situation where, once the team was assembled, I knew we could create something really, really good.
KW: Did you have a debate about the title, since the movie sequel had been called “Are We Done Yet?”
IC: No, “Are We There Yet?” was the perfect title, because it’s such a common saying. And having made the movie with the same name kinda locks it all in.
KW: Attorney Bernadette Beekman was wondering whether you think that the focus of the show on successful African-American professionals marrying and creating a blended family with a strong father figure will have a larger impact on the television-viewing public now that we have an African-American President.
IC: I don’t know, but I hope so. [Chuckles] I hope everything works in our favor. The show is cool. It’s family fare. We ain’t aiming at the cheap seats. Instead, we’re making something with a broad appeal that people of any color or creed and from all walks of life can enjoy and maybe learn something from.
KW: Documentary filmmaker Hisani Dubose was wondering how you made the transition from rapper to actor to producer.
IC: Well, for the transition from rapper to actor, I was fortunate that director John Singleton pursued me for about two years to be in Boyz ‘N the Hood. I really wasn’t even thinking about acting at the time, since I was singularly focused on being the best rapper in the world. So, that was really a blessing, because I wasn’t really taking him seriously. Therefore, I can’t really attribute my success onscreen to any formula and suggest you “do this or that” to make it as an actor. However, as far as producing, once we started shooting, I soon realized where the critical decisions about the movies were really being made, and it wasn’t on the set. They were being made in the production meetings. That’s where producing a movie happens. And that’s where I wanted to be. I didn’t just want to be a piece, a pawn being played. I wanted to take part in the creative process, and that’s how I sort of got introduced to the idea.
KW: Children’s book author Irene Smalls says, “You are a performer who seems to have figured out show business rather than show business figuring him out. So many rappers are here today and gone tomorrow? When did the insights of how the business really works hit you? What advice can you offer young people about how to be successful in the real business of show business and have a career like yours?”
IC: When I was in N.W.A. and didn’t get paid all the money I was owed, that’s when the business side of showbiz hit me. I thought, “Half of this is workin’. I’m famous, but now I need to be famous with some money.” That got my brain started at trying to figure out the business end. And once I figured out the business side, I next came to understand that success really comes down to the product, not to me, my personality, or what club I’m seen going into or coming out of. None of that matters. What’s important is whether or not people feel like they wasted their time or money when they pay for a movie or a CD. Once I appreciated that, it became all about the project. It ain’t about me.
KW: Bobby Shenker asks, are you going to be doing another Friday film?
IC: I get that question a lot. I’ve vowed not to do another one, unless Chris Tucker was in it. He still hasn’t accepted the offer, so…I can’t say. I don’t know whether we should, if we can’t really do the movie that people have been waiting for.
KW: How about another Barbershop movie?
IC: Yeah, I would hope to do another one. If a third one comes together, I’ll jump on it. Or are we already on the fourth one? I’ve lost count.
KW: It would be the third. Is there any question no one ever asks you, that you wish someone would.
IC: No, not really. I could do an interview or just as well not do one. It’s not like I’m looking for extra publicity. So, the questions that are asked are cool. And so are the one’s that’s not asked.
KW: The Columbus Short question: Are you happy?
IC: I’m always happy. I’ve just got a mean face. [Laughs]
KW: The Tasha Smith question: Are you ever afraid?
IC: Yeah, definitely.
KW: When you look in the mirror, what do you see?
IC: A man.
KW: The bookworm Troy Johnson question: What was the last book you read?
IC: I can’t remember the last one I read cover to cover. My problem is that I never get through the whole book. I skim through this one, that one, and then the other one.
KW: The music maven Heather Covington question: What music are you listening to?
IC: I’m working on a record, so I don’t listen to nothing while I’m in the studio, because I don’t want to be influenced by anybody else.
KW: Can you reveal what type of album you’re working on?
IC: To me, it’s a California summer record.
KW: The Ling-Ju Yen question: What is your earliest childhood memory?
IC: Falling out the bed. I was really little, less than two years-old. My sister was watching me, and I just remember falling and not being able to climb back into the bed without help.
KW: The Uduak Oduok question: Who is your favorite clothes designer?
IC: I guess Levi’s Dickies. [Chuckles]
KW: If you could have one wish instantly granted, what would that be for?
IC: Come on, I gotta say “World Peace!”
KW: What is your favorite dish to cook?
IC: Steak.
KW: What advice do you have for anyone who wants to follow in your footsteps?
IC: It’s all about the work. Don’t worry about being a star, worry about doing good work, and all that will come to you.
KW: Thanks again for the interview Cube, and best of luck with everything.
IC: Thank you


The Wild Hunt

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Medieval Reenactment Serves as Backdrop for Romance Drama

Erik (Ricky Mabe) and Evelyn (Kaniehtiio Horn) are a Quebec couple in crisis. The pretty young woman has become so bored with her slacker boyfriend that she’s decided to participate in a weekend-long, medieval-themed masquerade being staged somewhere in the forest outside of Montreal. Truth be told, Erik isn’t really a loser with no redeeming qualities, after all, he does at least dote on his aging father who is slowly slipping away into senility.
Such behavior strikes a sharp contrast with that of his emotionally-detached brother, Bjorn (Mark Antony Krupa), who is in denial about their dad’s deteriorating health. Bjorn would rather escape to a parallel universe, so he accompanies Evelyn to the site of the live-action role-play reenactment where he dresses up like a Viking.
This development doesn’t sit well with Erik, since he feels that such fanciful recreations are for geeks who need to get a life. He broods about his predicament after being left behind, until he’s finally upset enough to make his way to the gathering to retrieve Evelyn. However, upon his arrival, he is met by gatekeepers who insist that he adopt appropriate “decorum,” meaning he must don a period costume and stay in character to search the grounds for his girlfriend.
Not surprisingly, it doesn’t take Erik long to break the rules, given that he has little respect for the group of pompous posers in elaborate outfits suddenly surrounding him. He feels that they, including his estranged sibling, take the game way too seriously, as they speak in stilted Old English accents (“I implore you,” and “’Tis I, Hammer of Thor!”), and only occasionally revert to their everyday personas to argue over whether or not someone has just been slain on the field of battle.
Such silly folderol proves increasingly upsetting to Erik who just wants to find Evelyn and leave, ASAP. But this is easier said than done since lovely Princess Evelynia’s been kidnapped by Shaman (Trevor Hayes), King of the Celts. Not to worry, a competing army comprised of Vikings, Anglo-Saxons and elves hatch a plan to rescue the fair maiden.
But after Evelyn remains ambivalent when confronted by exasperated Erik about where he loyalty lies, the goings-on in the festivities take a gruesome turn as the faux fighting morphs into actual violence. A psychological thriller highlighting how hell hath no fury like a frustrated knight in shining armor, even if he only has a plastic sword at his disposal!

Very Good (3 stars)
Unrated
Running time: 96 minutes
Distributor: Hannover House

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Survival of the Dead

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Ghouls Wreak Havoc on Remote Island in Latest Romero Zombie Flick

The legendary George Andrew Romero is still making monster movies some forty-plus years after his unforgettable directorial debut with Night of the Living Dead (1968). While none of his subsequent pictures has ever measured up to that groundbreaking, black & white classic, he has continued to crank out a variety of micro-budgeted horror flicks, although always remaining best known for the “Dead” franchise, with this latest offering being the sixth in the grisly series.

This installment will not disappoint diehard Romero fans who know what to expect of a campy production from the B-movie maven. Thus, the garishly videotaped adventure features cheesy makeup and cheap trick photography that leaves a lot to be desired, considering the state-of-the-art effects generally employed by the genre nowadays.

Nonetheless, Survival of the Dead’s technical failings are more than offset by its novel screenplay and by decent acting jobs turned in by a capable cast. The story is set on Plum Island, a remote isle off the coast of Delaware where, you guessed it, a horde of man-eating ghouls are causing major mayhem. The action unfolds just after the conclusion of Diary of the Dead, which means in a post-apocalyptic world where zombies now outnumber the living.

However, that dire predicament does nothing to entice the two warring clans inhabiting Plum Island to put aside their difference for the sake of survival. For generations, the O’Flynns and Muldoons, presided over by patriarchs Patrick (Kenneth Welsh) and Shamus (Richard Fitzpatrick), respectively, have been locked in a mortal feud on the order of the legendary Hatfields and McCoys.

So, we find the families fighting each other as much as the demons, especially since they disagree about how to deal with the plague. The Muldoons are inclined to capture and quarantined the zombies with the hope of finding a cure, while the O’Flynns approach is to kill any of the monsters they see on sight. True to form, Romero has injected his high attrition-rate splatterflick with just enough social commentary and gallows humor to elevate the tale above your typically senseless gore fest.

A more cerebral means of cinematically satiating one’s wanton bloodlust craving!

Very Good (2.5 stars)
Rated R for violence, gore, profanity and brief sexuality.
Running time: 90 Minutes
Distributor: Magnet Releasing

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Sex and the City 2

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Shallow Sirens Venture to Abu Dhabi for Another Vapid Adventure

Perhaps not being female or not being privy to the original HBO series seriously limits one’s ability to appreciate the adaptations of Sex and the City. Regardless, this critic came away feeling the same about the sequel as I did about the original screen version. This installment is set a couple of years after the end of their first adventure, and again revolves around the camaraderie, carnality and conspicuous consumption of the shallowest quartet of spoiled, matronly New Yorkers you ever could hope to meet.
The story is narrated by Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker) whose marriage to John James Preston (Chris Noth), aka Mr. Big, brought down the curtain on the previous episode. This time, the fun starts at the same-sex wedding of her relatively-elegant pal Stanford (Willie Garson) to a flamboyant queen (Mario Cantone) who crudely announces at the reception that he plans to cheat on his spouse.
Carrie’s three BFFs (Best Friends Forever) are also on hand, and we are soon treated to updates about the state of each of their lives. Despite being kept in the lap of luxury by her wealthy hubby, Carrie’s already jaded abut the state of their no longer exciting relationship. Meanwhile, high-powered attorney Miranda (Cynthia Nixon) is miserable at the law firm due to her chauvinist boss, and stay-at-home mom Charlotte (Kristin Davis) is being driven crazy by her two young daughters, despite having plenty of help from a live-in nanny (Alice Eve). And slutty Samantha has found the Fountain of Youth thanks to a daily regimen of vitamins and hormone therapies which enable the shameless cougar to continue to seduce a steady stream of younger men.
The scatterplot finally coalesces when Samantha’s PR work calls for her to fly to Abu Dhabi, an assignment she accepts only on the condition that her client (Art Malik) extends the “all expenses paid” invite to her girlfriends, too. By the time the filthy-rich oil sheik agrees, Miranda has quit her job, Charlotte has caught her husband flirting with the babysitter, and Carrie has temporarily moved back into her bachelorette pad, developments which conveniently serve to grease the skids for a girls-only overseas getaway.
Upon their arrival in the decadent, jet-set playground, the four find themselves limo’d to the penthouse in the exclusive Sahara Hotel where they are pampered by a bevy of deferential butlers. At this juncture, the movie morphs into a tasteless celebration of Western hedonism during which our heroines defiantly indulging themselves in activities almost deliberately intended to shock and offend the sensibilities of their Middle Eastern hosts. Let’s see, Samantha gets arrested for having sex on the beach, Carrie shares a kiss with an ex-boyfriend (John Corbett), and they all shop ‘til they drop in skimpy outfits while cattily belittling the modesty of the local females hidden under headscarves, veils and heat-seeking burkas.
A 2½ hour test of patience featuring four embarrassingly-entitled Ugly Americans agonizing over trivia and assorted soap opera drama that is, quite frankly, so patently superficial, you almost wish they’d be cursed with some real problems.

Fair (1 star)
Rated R for profanity, partial nudity and graphic sexuality.
Running time: 146 Minutes
Distributor: New Line Cinema

Thursday, May 27, 2010

This Week’s DVD Releases

by Kam Williams

Headline: Top Ten DVD List for June 1st

Alice in Wonderland


The Wolfman


The Three Stooges Collection, Volumes 1-8


Bad Boys [Blu-ray]


The Red Baron


New Orleans Saints: Road to Super Bowl XLIV


Undisputed III: Redemption [Bluray]


Blue Streak/National Security Combo Pack [Blu-ray]


For My Father


The Gospel/The Gospel Live Combo Pack

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Alice in Wonderland DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Depp Does the Mad Hatter in Disney Overhaul of Lewis Carroll Classic

Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (1832-1898), aka Lewis Carroll, was the prolific author of numerous children’s fantasies written in a surreal style known as literary nonsense. But he only wrote two books about his most popular character, Alice, namely, “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” and its sequel, “Through the Looking Glass.”
Since 1903, there have been over a dozen fairly-faithful screen adaptations of these beloved classics, but leave it to a cinematic maverick like Tim Burton to overhaul the once sacrosanct franchise. This reinterpretation revolves around a post-pubescent, 19 year-old rebel as opposed to the original’s innocent, 7 year-old tyke with an insatiable curiosity and a vivid imagination.
The story is set in Victorian England where we find Alice (Mia Wasikowska) being raised like a refined lady by her recently-widowed mother. Alice Kingsleigh (Lindsay Duncan) is concerned about her strong-willed daughter’s feminist tendencies, especially since the blossoming beauty has a well-heeled suitor in Hamish Ascot (Leo Bill). However, when the pompous aristocrat pops the question in a gazebo at a lawn party in front of hundreds of people, a flustered Alice asks her ardent admirer for a little time to think about the marriage proposal.
Then, she darts of into the woods where she falls down a rabbit hole only to be unceremoniously deposited in Underland, a vaguely-familiar, parallel universe she doesn’t remember having visited a dozen years earlier. There, she is soon reintroduced to the colorful menagerie still inhabiting the magical kingdom, old friends including the White Rabbit (Michael Sheen), the Cheshire Cat (Steven Fry), Tweedledum and Tweedledee Matt Lucas) and, of course, the Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp), to name a few.
Seems that Alice has arrived in the midst of a crisis, and the motley crew enlists her assistance in ending the reign of terror of the evil Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter) in favor of the relatively-benign sister she’s rudely deposed, Mirana (Anne Hathaway). All that’s involved is slaying the Jabberwocky (Christopher Lee), the dragon defending the Red Queen’s castle.
Not surprisingly, Johnny Depp easily upstages the rest of the cast, here, between his affected, gap-toothed British accent and that natural flair for the dramatic. Throw in his zany costume, hyperthyroid eyes and frizzy hair ostensibly turned bright orange by an excess of mercury in the brim of his chapeau, and the talented thespian has fashioned yet another unforgettable character for the ages.
21st Century Alice matures and enters The Matrix!

Excellent (4 stars)
Rated PG for fantasy, action, violence, scary images and smoking.
Running time: 108 Minutes
Studio: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment
3-Disc Combo Pack Extras: “The Mad Hatter,” “Finding Alice,” “Effecting Wonderland,” “Wonderland Characters” and “Making Wonderland” featurettes.

For My Father (ISRAELI) DVD

(Sof Shavua B’Tel Aviv)
DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Arab Suicide Bomber Falls for Jew on Way to Detonation

Tarek (Shredi Jabarin) is a young Palestinian man who has reluctantly decided to serve as a suicide bomber after being pressured by his radical Muslim neighbors in Nazarene. So, after having enough plastic explosives strapped to his chest to blow himself and all the shoppers at an outdoor market to smithereens, he sets out for the city of Tel Aviv.
After arriving in town, Tarek finds a plaza packed with Jews, but ends up frustrated when he squeezes the trigger and nothing happens. Following several attempts, he ventures to a repair shop where he is befriended by its cantankerous, but soft-hearted proprietor, Katz (Shlomo Vishinsky). Katz, unaware of the planned use for the malfunctioning switch, offers to order the part, and tells Tarek to come back in a couple days.
To kill time before his date with destiny, the walking IED saunters over to the kiosk of Keren (Hili Yalon), a 17 year-old rebel who’s been disowned by her Hassidic family. She’s being shunned for refusing to dress modestly, wear a wig and generally abide by the dictates of their orthodox traditions.
Their chance meeting leaves Keren smitten with Tarek and eager to get better acquainted. As they start spending some quality time together, he hides the truth about why he’s in town. Sparks fly, and a lazy bike ride through the countryside leads to the proverbial long walk along the shore at sunset. However, just when romance is on the verge of blossoming, Tarek is reminded by increasingly urgent phone calls that he’s there to wreak havoc not to make whoopee.
Will these star-crossed lovers ditch their respective repressive religions and intolerant associates to prove to the world that Jews and Palestinians are capable of not merely coexisting but of copulating as well? This is the question which For My Father urgently attempts to address with the specter of an imminent blast always hanging over our shamelessly-flirtatious protagonists’ heads.
A melodramatic morality play which sends the sobering message that suicide bombing does not pay, especially when you could just as easily seduce as splatter the sexy object of your detonation.

Very Good (3 stars)
Unrated
In Hebrew and Arabic with subtitles.
Running time: 100 Minutes
Distributor: Film Movement

Kam's Kapsules: Weekly Previews That Make Choosing a Film Fun

OPENING THIS WEEK
Kam's Kapsules:
Weekly Previews That Make Choosing a Film Fun
by Kam Williams
For movies opening June 4, 2010

BIG BUDGET FILMS

Get Him to the Greek (R for graphic sexuality, and pervasive sexuality and drug use) Intercontinental road comedy about the hijinks which ensue when an ambitious intern (Jonah Hill) is assigned to escort an over-imbibing, womanizing rock star (Russell Brand) from London to L.A. for a comeback concert. Spinoff of Forgetting Sarah Marshall features Rose Byrne and Sean Diddy Combs, with cameos by Christina Aguilera, Pink, Pharrell, Meredith Viera and Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman.

Killers (PG-13 for sexuality, profanity and violence) Ashton Kutcher and Katherine Heigl co-star in this action comedy about an international spy who retires from the CIA to settle down in suburbia with the girl of his dreams only to discover they’re being trailed by vicious assassins intent on killing them. With Tom Selleck, Martin Mull, Catherine O’Hara and SNL’s Casey Wilson.

Marmaduke (PG for crude humor and mild epithets) Live action adaptation of the popular comic strip features Owen Wilson as the voice of the clumsy, if lovable, Great Dane. Road comedy revolves around the pet and his owners’ misadventures as the family relocates from Kansas to California. Cast includes William H. Macy, Judy Greer and Anjelah Johnson, with voiceover work by George Lopez, Marlon Wayans, Sam Elliot and Christopher Mintz-Plasse.

Splice (R for nudity, profanity, violence, disturbing images and graphic sexuality) Sci-fi horror flick about a couple of renegade scientists (Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley) whose ethically-questionable experimentation splicing together human and animal DNA results in the creation of a beautiful but dangerous winged mutant (Delphine Chaneac).

INDEPENDENT & FOREIGN FILMS

Burzynski (Unrated) Medical documentary chronicling the 14-year court battle waged by controversial biochemist Dr. Stanislaw Burzynski in a lawsuit against the FDA on behalf of cancer patients eager to try Antineoplastons, his life-saving, alternative gene therapy, in lieu of chemotherapy, surgery and/or radiation.

Cropsey (Unrated) Urban legend documentary shot by a couple of first-time filmmakers from Staten Island determined to find out whether there’s any truth to the haunting rumor circulated during their childhood that an escapee from a nearby insane asylum had been responsible for the mysterious disappearance of five kids from their neighborhood.

Double Take (Unrated) Hitchcock mockumentary mixing found footage featuring musings by the master of suspense with archival Cold War news footage to paint a chilling picture of sheer paranoia.

Finding Bliss (R for nudity, profanity, sexuality and explicit dialogue) Romantic comedy about an aspiring, young filmmaker (Leelee Sobieski) who settles for a job as an editor for a porn director (Matthew Davis) only to have her morals compromised when she surprisingly falls in love with her sleazy boss. With Denise Richards, Kristen Johnston and Jamie Kennedy.

Ondine (PG-13 for violence, sensuality and brief profanity) Oscar-winner Neil Jordan (for The Crying Game) directs this modern fairy tale, set in County Cork, about an Irish fisherman (Colin Farrell) who becomes convinced that the woman (Alicja Bachleda) caught in his net is a mermaid. With Stephen Rea, Tony Curran and Alison Barry.

Raajneeti (Unrated) Political potboiler, set in Bhopal, India, about a fiercely fought election campaign where influence-peddling and corruption are the norms, and where treachery and manipulation are routinely used as weapons. Ensemble cast includes Naseeruddin Shah, Ajay Devgan, Nana Patekar, Arjun Rampal, Manoj Bajpai, Ranbir Kapoor and Katrina Kaif. (In Hindi with subtitles)

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Undead (Unrated) Horror comedy about a stage director (Jake Hoffman) who hires his ex (Devon Aoki) and best friend (Kris Lemche) to co-star in an offbeat adaptation of Hamlet only to find the production plagued by the arrival of some sexy, 2,000 year-old vampires.

Valhalla Rising (Unrated) Historical saga, set in 1000 AD, revolving around a mysterious mute warrior (Mads Mikkelsen) with superhuman strength who discovers his true self aboard a Viking ship headed for Jerusalem which ends up diverted to the gates of Hell instead. With Gary Lewis, Jamie Sives and Callum Mitchell.

Whiz Kids (Unrated) Brainiac documentary about a trio of 17 year-old eggheads competing to win the nation’s most prestigious science competition.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Losing My Cool (BOOK REVIEW)

 

 

Losing My Cool:

How a Father’s Love and 15,000 Books Beat Hip-Hop Culture

by Thomas Chatterton Williams

The Penguin Press

Hardcover, $24.95

240 pages

ISBN: 978-1-59420-263-6

               

Book Review by Kam Williams

 

“Since the dawn of the hip-hop era in the 1970s, black people have become increasingly freer and freer as individuals, with a wider range of possibilities spread out before us now than at any time in our past. Yet the circumstances of our collective life have degenerated in direct contrast to this fact, with a more impoverished vision of what it means to be black today than ever before. If these exciting new circumstances we now find ourselves in, of which our president is the apotheosis, are to mean anything of lasting value, the zeitgeist… is going to have to change, too—permanently…

Will we, at long last, allow ourselves to abandon the instinct to self-sabotage and the narcissistic glorification of our own failure? Will the fact of daily exposure to a black president in turn expose once and for all the lie that is and always has been keeping it real?”

-- Excerpted from the Epilogue (pgs. 213-214i)

 

                From its title, Losing My Cool sounds like it might be about by a guy with a short temper. But that’s not the case. In fact, it’s quite the opposite, since Thomas Chatterton Williams is a rather erudite and introspective academic with a degree in philosophy from Georgetown University. What Losing My Cool actually refers to is the maturation process he went through while in college which enabled him to shed the anti-intellectual veneer he had embraced growing up in Northern New Jersey as a card-carrying member of the Hip-Hop Generation.

                Williams, whose mother is white and father is black, credits his dad’s emphasis on education with ultimately enabling him to appreciate the value of a college degree as a ticket out of the hood, as opposed to music, sports or illegal activities. This would prove to be no mean feat, however, for as a teenager the author found the materialist trappings and anti-social attitudes of the thug lifestyle ever so seductive. Thus, he cared little about grades and attending classes, while considering the conspicuous consumption and general degeneracy celebrated in gangsta’ rap videos worthy of emulation.

                This very gifted writer recounts his perilous route from rebellion to redemption in Losing My Cool: How a Father’s Love and 15,000 Books Beat Hip-Hop Culture, a thought-provoking memoir which suggests we redefine exactly what it means to be black. What ought to make the iconoclastic ideas shared in this engaging autobiography of value to impressionable young minds is that the words are coming not out of the mouth of an older person who always hated rap music, but from a former diehard fan who has seen the error of his ways.

                After all, it takes an admirable maturity for one to admit that a self-defeating, ghetto fabulous culture had “exerted a seriously negative influence on my black peers and me, and it did so in a way that we tended to approach hip-hop seriously and earnestly, striving to ‘keep it real’ and viewing a lifestyle governed by hip-hop values as some kind of prerequisite to an authentically black existence.”

                A sobering deconstruction of the harmful hip-hop mindset by a brother who very easily could’ve ended up a casualty of that dead-end path instead of a role model.

Owl and the Sparrow DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: DVD Features Romance Drama Set on Streets of Saigon

Thuy (Pham Thi Han) is a 10 year-old orphan who lives on the outskirts of Saigon with her mean Uncle Minh (Nguyen Hau). Instead of letting his niece attend school, he makes her work alongside him inside a bamboo factory all day, and he takes every penny of her pay to boot.
Somehow, the precocious young girl senses that she couldn’t be any worse off if she ran away, in spite of her uncle’s stern warning that, “You wouldn’t last one day on your own.” And when she finally gets fed up, she packs her belongings in a pink backpack and travels by taxi boat to Saigon where she quickly learns how to survive by selling postcards and fresh roses.
There, she eventually crosses paths with Lan (Cat Ly), a pretty stewardess staying in town on layover for five days. Thuy can’t believe that the pretty woman doesn’t have a husband or a boyfriend to buy a flower for. Lan, in turn, finds it hard to fathom that such an adorable child could possibly be homeless, so she invites the poor orphan to share her hotel room.
Meanwhile, Thuy makes another pal in Hai (Le the Lu), an animal trainer who lives in a shack right on the grounds of the zoo. He gives the sophisticated street urchin the grand tour of the premises while confiding in her about his personal problems. Not only has he been dumped by his girlfriend but the beloved elephant he’s raised from infancy has just been sold to a zoo in India.
Lan happens to be just as unhappy, because she’s been stuck in an unsatisfying affair for four years with an airline pilot (Trong Hai) who refuses to leave his wife for her. A solution to all three’s woes might turn on whether Thuy can arrange a blind date between the two lonely hearts. For, if they fall head over heels for each other, who knows, maybe they’d marry and adopt the tiny matchmaker who introduced them. But this, of course, is easier said than done, since Hai still pines for his ex, and Lan’s layover lover is expecting to rendezvous with his mistress while in Saigon.
Directed by Stephane Gauger, Owl and the Sparrow is an enchanting fairytale which delights to no end en route to its syrupy sweet resolution. The serendipitous front story aside, it is also a pleasant change of pace to see a film set in Saigon which isn’t a high body-count splatter flick about the ravages of the war in Indochina.
Worthwhile, if only for the reminder that the Vietnamese are people, too!

Excellent (4 stars)
Rated PG for smoking and mature themes.
In Vietnamese with subtitles.
Running time: 98 minutes
Studio: Image Entertainment
DVD Extras: Director’s audio commentary, deleted scenes, behind-the-scenes featurette, theatrical trailer and still galleries.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Sheila Johnson: “The Other City” Interview

with Kam Williams

Headline: A Heart-to-Heart with America’s First Black Billionaires

Entrepreneur and philanthropist Sheila Crump Johnson is the only African-American female to enjoy ownership in three professional sports teams: the WNBA’s Washington Mystics, the NBA’s Washington Wizards and the NHL’s Washington Capitals. Furthermore, as CEO of Salamander Hospitality, a company she founded in 2005, Ms. Johnson oversees a growing portfolio of luxury properties, including Woodlands Inn, in Summerville, SC, which is one of only a handful of properties to receive both a prestigious Forbes Five Star rating and a AAA Five Diamond rating for lodging and dining.
In 2007, she acquired Innisbrook, a Salamander Golf & Spa Resort. Set on 900 acres, this 72-hole Florida getaway hosts the PGA Tour’s annual Transitions Championship and the LPGA Legends Tour Open Championship. The company is also building the eagerly-anticipated Salamander Resort & Spa, nestled in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in charming Middleburg, VA.
In addition, Johnson is a partner in ProJet Aviation, a company specializing in aviation consulting, aircraft acquisitions, management, and charter services based in Winchester, VA. And she is a partner in Mistral, a maker of fine bath, body and home products.
Ms. Johnson has long been a powerful influence in the entertainment industry as a founding partner of Black Entertainment Television (BET) and, most recently, as a film producer. In partnership with other investors, her first film, Kicking It, premiered at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival. She executive produced her second film, A Powerful Noise, which premiered at the 2008 TriBeCa Film Festival in New York, as well as her third film, She Is The Matador.
In 2006 she was named global ambassador for CARE, a leading humanitarian organization fighting poverty worldwide by empowering women since they are in a pivotal position to help their communities escape poverty. “Sheila’s I Am Powerful Challenge” was instrumental in raising funds for this important work.
A fervent supporter of the arts and education, she was recently appointed by Barack Obama to the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities and serves as Chair of the Board of Governors of Parsons The New School for Design in New York. She sits on the boards of Americans for the Arts, the Jackie Robinson Foundation, the Tiger Woods Foundation, the University of Virginia Curry School of Education, Howard University, the University of Illinois Foundation, and is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.
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An accomplished violinist, Ms. Johnson received a Bachelor of Arts in music from the University of Illinois, as well as honorary degrees from numerous other institutions. Ms. Johnson, who lives in Middleburg, VA, is a mother of two, and remarried to the Honorable William T. Newman, Jr.
Here, she talks about her new film, The Other City, an expose’ about the HIV/AIDS crisis in Washington, DC which recently premiered at the 2010 TriBeCa Film Festival.

Kam Williams: Hi, Ms. Johnson, it’s an honor to speak with you.
Sheila Johnson: Thanks, Kam, how are you?
KW: Fine thanks. I saw The Other City and loved it, and I told my readers I’d be interviewing you, so I have plenty of questions to get to.
SJ: Oh, great!
KW: Reverend Florine Thompson asks, what is it about HIV/AIDS that prompted you to produce the film?
SJ: I really wanted to do this film in order to ignite the discussion, and to reeducate. What has been happening, that is so wrong right now is that AIDS has disappeared from the radar screen. It’s no longer a celebrity-driven cause anymore, so I wanted to bring it back to the people. I also wanted to give dignity to the victims now suffering with AIDS, so that people can see not only that the disease hasn’t gone away, but is spreading at an alarming rate and disproportionately affecting African-American women. So, I think we need to get out and start educating young people, and especially the black churches need to be talking about it from the pulpit. And we, as a society, need to stop hiding behind the stigma in order to be able to give the disease the platform we need to start the reeducation process and halt the increase in the transmission rate.
KW: 2010 Florida State University grad Laz Lyles would like to know what was the most surprising thing you’ve discovered about the epidemic?
SJ: How it has increasingly become a heterosexual disease. The thing I wished the movie had emphasized more was how many married women we now have coming down with it. Their husbands are bringing it home to them. I had three women come up to me and say that the only sin they committed in life was getting married. That’s very sad. The other surprising thing we’re finding is that AIDS is hitting at a younger age, as young as 13 among gay males.
KW: Lester Chisholm says that Urban Prep, an African-American male charter high school in Chicago has a 100% college acceptance rate, and it’s aiming for a 100% college graduation rate. He wonders whether we might accomplish a 100% success rate in the fight against AIDS, if we adopted this same attitude for a given population.
SJ: I think that we really could stop this disease, if we seriously educate our young people, starting in junior high, and continue delivering the message in high schools and across college campuses. I really do. Meanwhile, scientists and doctors are still working on finding a cure, and some say they’re getting closer and closer. Between education and research, we can stop it.
KW: Larry Greenberg says, “I know that in addition to your enormous accomplishments in business and philanthropy you are a virtuoso violinist.” He asks, “Do you still find time to play?”
SJ: I don’t. I’m very ashamed about that. My mother’s on me all the time about that, and so, is my husband. He always says, “You’re such a great violinist. Why don’t you keep playing?” I guess what has happened is that between raising a family and trying to keep businesses afloat I just do not have the time to practice, because I’m such a perfectionist. I suppose I could make the time, even if I sat down for just an hour every day, but I’ve lost the discipline of practice.
KW: Rev Thompson asks, “Who has been your role model along your journey? Who or what has been your source of inspiration in life?”
SJ: I’d have to say there have been many, many people. Basically, educators have been my role models. There are two teachers in particular, from high school and college, who I stay in touch with and talk to on about a monthly basis. And as I’ve gotten older, there have been more and more people I’ve met in life who’ve become role models. Four years ago, I remarried, and my husband is one of the most inspiring men I’ve ever met. He’s a Chief Judge, and I just love to watch him on the bench to observe how he tries to find a silver lining in the most hardened of criminals in order to give them a second chance. Another person I admire is the President of the University of Illinois, Joe White, who I think is brilliant. He’s always giving me terrific advice on different issues. I am lucky to have a lot of extraordinary friends who really do help me including, of course, my mother, who’s living with me now. She was there from the beginning, and even at the age of 87, she’s still constantly pushing me forward, encouraging me with, “You can do it!” and “Don’t give up!”
KW: Reverend Thompson asks, “What would you like to accomplish that you haven’t already?”
SJ: I’m in the third act of my life with this hospitality company, Salamander. The one thing I really want to do is to continue to build this resort that I’ve been working on in Middleburg, Virginia. My goal is to get it finished and open. It’s been a seven-year battle for me, because I very naively built south of the Mason-Dixon Line. I didn’t realize that there was still this much racial tension in the country. I was very na├»ve about it. Racism smacked me right in the face while doing this project, but I did not want to lose this war.
KW: So, I guess the rumors I’ve heard about what you’ve encountered are true.
SJ: It was unbelievable… the death threats… you have no idea.
KW: Did you regret endorsing Republican Bob McDonnell for Governor of Virginia, given that after he won the election he issued a proclamation declaring April Confederate History Month?
SJ: Yep, I think I’ve been thrown under the bus. It was quite an embarrassment. My husband had warned me, too. The one thing I learned from this experience is that I will never get involved in politics again on either side. I’m declaring myself an independent. I was just shocked. A group of us, including the President of Hampton University plan to meet with the Governor soon to discus it.
KW: Yale grad Tommy Russell says, "Since you're a former media executive, what do you think about Comcast's move to buy a controlling stake in NBC/Universal--good move or bad move from NBC's perspective?"
SJ: Well, I will tell you that not only print, but all media are struggling right now. These are business decisions that only the people running the company can really answer. Those on the outside shouldn’t be too judgmental about these mergers. There are reasons why they’re happening, and it’s really for the survival of the market.
KW: From Reverend Thompson again: What most informs your spirituality?
SJ: I have always been a strong Christian? Growing up, I never missed church. I’m not as good about going right now, because I’m always travelling so much. But I pray every day… before I get out of bed…and when I go to bed at night. I have a very strong spiritual core.
KW: Finally, the Rev asks, what advice would you give a young lady who seeks the level of success you've attained?
SJ: Stay humble. Don’t ever, ever take anything for granted in life. Don’t assume anything. It’s is very important to have love and passion for whatever you do.
KW: Is there any question no one ever asks you, that you wish someone would?
SJ: [Chuckles] I wish someone would ask me to be an ambassador someday.
KW: The Tasha Smith question: Are you ever afraid?
SJ: Yes, there are times when I’m afraid. Just building that hotel in Middleburg made me fearful on many different levels. Sometimes, I get anxious. One of my biggest problems is that I tend to get very impatient, especially during this recession. I’m a little bit afraid about the economy, because it really does affect everyone, and you just don’t know what’s going to happen.
KW: The Columbus Short question: Are you happy?
SJ: I am very happy. I have reached a point in my life where I feel safe for the first time. In my personal life, I have lots of friends, and I’ve learned to be comfortable with myself, and I don’t feel the need to prove anything. I’m following my passion, and I wake up everyday wanting to do more.
KW: The bookworm Troy Johnson question: What was the last book you read?
SJ: Game Change.

KW: The music maven Heather Covington question: What are you listening to on your iPod?
SJ: It depends on my mood. I tend to listen to a lot of jazz. If I’m going to bed at night, I might listen to classical music, but I do like jazz.
KW: What is your favorite dish to cook?
SJ: Anything that is Italian. Pasta is my favorite food in the world.
KW: The Teri Emerson question: When was the last time you had a good laugh?
SJ: [LOL] I laugh every day. Let me think f the funniest thing that happened recently... My husband is a very funny man for a judge. He just told me a joke that I can’t remember, but he keeps me laughing all the time.
KW: The Ling-Ju Yen question: What is your earliest childhood memory?
SJ: It would my first day of school in kindergarten. I was sitting in the classroom, and the little boy across the table made pee-pee on my foot, and I’ll never forget that. [Chuckles]
KW: When you look in the mirror, what do you see?
SJ: Oh, I see a woman that is aging gracefully, who’s happy, and seems to be at peace with herself.
KW: If you could have one wish instantly granted, what would that be for?
SJ: To recover from this recession and have my hotel opened.
KW: The Uduak Oduok question: Who is your favorite clothes designer?
SJ: Donna Karan.
KW: The Laz Alonso question: How can your fans help you?
SJ: By, instead of asking for a handout, offering to help me help others.
KW: How do you want to be remembered?
SJ: As a woman who was always generous, not only with her pocketbook, but with her heart.
KW: Well, thank you for being so generous with your time, thoughts and feelings here. I really appreciate it.
SJ: You are so welcome.

Shrek Forever After

 

 

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Ogre Matches Wits with Rumpelstiltskin in Uninspired Franchise Finale

 

                As first adapted to the screen in 2001 from William Steig’s popular children’s book, Shrek was an enchanting fairy tale with a marvelous moral about appreciating each other’s inner beauty. While delivering that heartwarming message, the picture kept you in stitches via the hilarious antics of the title character (Mike Myers) and his trash-talking companion, Donkey (Eddie Murphy). Although that animated adventure spawned a couple of engaging-enough sequels, judging by Shrek Forever After it is clear that the scriptwriters have run out of ideas for the expiring franchise.

                This uninspired finale is set soon after the conclusion of the original film, thereby inexplicably ignoring the developments of Shreks 2 and 3. At the point of departure, we find the once-feared, ugly green ogre presently living in the swamp with Fiona (Cameron Diaz) and their three kids. However, he’s already grown discontent with married life and with the fact that he’s beloved rather than feared by the local villagers.

So he enters a pact with Rumpelstiltskin (Walt Dohrn), a diminutive con man who promises to transform him back into his former scary self for a day. But Shrek signs without read the contract’s fine print first, which says that after the 24-hour period expires he will disappear as if he had never even existed. Consequently, Shrek is suddenly transported back in time to but before he ever met Donkey and his other pals, or even his wife. Saddled with overwhelming regret, Shrek learns that his only hope to reverse the curse rests in the agreement’s escape clause is triggered only if he kisses Princess Fiona.

                Of course, this proves easier said than done, since he must first locate and then convince her that he’s not a stranger but already her husband in a parallel reality. Furthermore, Rumpelstiltskin, just like the villain of Shrek 1, is a dwarf with designs on the throne of the land of Far, Far Away. Another similarity has Shrek again befriending Donkey before embarking on a quest to rescue both the fair maiden and her family’s peaceable kingdom.

                Unfortunately, the dialogue, which was formerly marked by witty repartee and clever allusions to classic cartons and nursery rhymes, has been replaced by unimaginative exchanges lifted out of the hack screenplay handbook. In particular, Ebonics-accented Donkey has become an offensive caricature trading in a number of best-forgotten stereotypes.

Besides being afraid practically of his own shadow, ala StepinFetchit, the cowardly creature trades in malapropisms that would make Pigmeat Markham and Kingfish sound like they were speaking the Queen’s English. To top it off, he is an irresponsible baby-daddy who is either so dumb or so irresponsible that he doesn’t know whether or not he’s a father. And then, when he belatedly acknowledges paternity, he apologizes that his offspring might be so ugly as to make other people feel uncomfortable.

It’s no surprise that Dreamworks Animation has reportedly already cancelled plans to shoot a planned spinoff revolving around Antonio Banderas’ character Puss in Boots. A dumbed-down ripoff strictly for the tyke demographic too young to notice that the flick’s a thinly-veiled retread.

 

Fair (1 star)

Rated PG for crude humor, action and brief mild epithets.

Running time: 93 Minutes

Studio: Paramount Pictures

 

 

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Two in the Wave (FRENCH)

(Deux de la Vague)
Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Documentary Deconstructs the Turbulent Friendship of Godard and Truffaut

Jean-Luc Godard (born in 1930) and Francois Truffaut (1932-1984) were at the forefront of the group of emerging film directors who founded the New Wave Movement in Paris back in the Fifties. Both of these iconoclasts started out as critics in the wake of WWII when French cinema had become so stale, that Truffaut roundly lambasted it in print as “artificial and uptight.” And after subsequently being banned from Cannes for indicting the annual festival as academic and corrupt, the brash young upstart decided to try his hand at making movies himself.
Since Godard felt the same way about the state of his country’s film industry, he and Truffaut easily bonded and became the best of friends, even backing and writing for each other’s early productions. During that renowned renaissance period, the fact that they came from very different backgrounds was never an issue.
Francois, who had been born out of wedlock, never knew his Jewish biological father. Instead, he was raised Catholic by his maternal grandmother in rather humble surroundings, and ended up not only dropping out of high school but frequently in trouble with the law, including doing a stint in prison as an army deserter.
By contrast, Jean-Luc hailed from a wealthy, Protestant family. Still, he and Francois found a sort of similar salvation in cinema despite neither having any experience beyond having watched thousands of movies. These so-called “Young Turks” proceeded to subvert the dominant paradigm with such flicks as “The 400 Blows” (Truffaut) and “Breathless” (Godard).
However, their paths began to divert in 1968 when Truffaut remained indifferent to the student and civil rights uprisings at the same time that Godard would embrace the rise of radical politics. The pair finally parted ways for good following a series of heated exchanges in which Jean-Luc called Francois “bourgeois” and the latter responded by referring to his ex-pal as a “propagandist.”
This tempestuous relationship plus a most informative chronicling of their substantial cinematic contributions are the subject of Two in the Wave, a brilliant, bifurcated bio-pic directed by Emmanuel Laurent. The discussion here is amply augmented by illustrative snippets from some of their classic pictures, and by rare footage of these icons in the company of legendary colleagues like Hitchcock and Chabrol.
A fascinating and informative, must-see documentary for any serious cinephile

Excellent (4 stars)
Unrated
In French with subtitles.
Running time: 93 Minutes
Distributor: Lorber Films

MacGruber

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Will Forte Stars in Latest Woeful Adaptation of SNL Skit

MacGruber is a recurring sketch which has been running on Saturday Night Live (SNL) since January of 2007. Each episode is designed as a thinly-veiled spoof of MacGyver, the popular ABC-TV series from the Eighties that revolved around the daring exploits of a resourceful secret agent who’d served in Vietnam as a bomb defusal expert. In the SNL parody, however, Will Forte plays the title character as a butterfingered bungler who invariably gets distracted from his assignment and fails to deactivate the explosive in time to prevent himself and his comrades from being blown to smithereens.

Whoever decided it might be a good idea to try to flesh out this two-minute skit into an hour-and-a-half long feature film, must be the same genius who thought that what the world needed was another SNL-inspired, stretch-o-matic spinoff like such abysmal offerings as The Ladies Man (2000), Superstar (1999), A Night at the Roxbury (1998), Stuart Saves His Family (1995), It’s Pat (1994) and Coneheads (1993). Other than the first two, The Blues Brothers (1980) and Wayne’s World (1992), these ill-advised endeavors have uniformly proven pretty disastrous.

In the case of MacGruber, what we’re dealing with is a particularly-reprehensible, one-trick pony which relies on incessant profanity and crude appeals to baser instincts as its primary brand of humor. For instance, there’s a running joke which gets stale fast in the pronunciation of the villain Dieter Von Cunth’s (Val Kilmer) surname, since the “h” is silent.

This affords MacGruber countless opportunities to spout offensive double entendres on the order of “It’s time to pound some Cunth.” That’s not the only curse word the hapless hero’s fond of either, as the expletive-laced dialogue has him saying everything from, “[Beep] you! [Beep] head!” to “You’re a piece of [Beep]” to “I will [Beep] your [Beep]-ing {Beep]. How did it take a trio of scriptwriters, namely John Solomon, Forte and director Jorma Taccone, to create such unwatchable garbage? They must’ve all been on stupid pills.

Nonetheless, fans of infantile gross-out gags might appreciate being treated to the sight of MacGruber’s pimply posterior as he prances across the screen buck naked with a stalk of celery stuck in his anal cleft for no apparent reason beyond comic relief. From what, I have no idea.

Still, there are the rudiments of plotline to follow for those still considering checking out this insult the intelligence. If you must know, it’s of the formulaic “soldier of fortune coaxed of retirement and reassembles a crack team of commandos in order to save the world from his diabolical nemesis in possession of a nuclear warhead” variety. To the surprise of no one, the film’s fulcrum predictably pivots around whether or not they’ll be able to defuse the missile before the madman has a chance to launch the weapon at the White House.

A “sleazy does it” production that looks like it was improvised on the spot with a lack of conviction by a bunch of 12 year-olds desperate for attention.

Poor (0 stars)
Rated R for violence, profanity, nudity, crude humor and graphic sexuality.
Running time: 88 Minutes
Distributor: Universal Pictures

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Entre Nos

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Immigration Drama Recounts Abandoned Mom’s Real-Life Struggle to Survive in U.S.

Mariana (Paola Mendoza) had every reason to be optimistic when she arrived in New York City from Colombia with her 6 year-old daughter (Laura Montana Cortez) and 10 year-old son (Sebastian Villada Lopez) in tow. After all, she was rejoining her husband who had immigrated to the U.S. ahead of the rest of the family in order to get a solid foothold in the land of opportunity.
However, the sweet reunion proves to be short lived, after Antonio (Andres Munar) comes home very late from work one night with some good news and some bad news. The good news is that he’s just got a better job in Miami. The bad news is that his wife and children can’t relocate there with him, although he does promise to support them the interim until he’s sufficiently settled for them to move down, too.
But the creep simply skips town, and never bothers to send a penny or even offer any explanation. And by the time that the truth finally sinks in that Antonio has ostensibly abandoned her for a mistress, Mariana only has about $50 left to her name with rent due and mouths to feed. Since she barely speaks English, the desperate woman starts selling meat patties on the streets of Queens to keep a roof over their heads. When that proves disastrous, she and the kids have to resort to dumpster diving for recyclable cans and bottles to redeem.
Unfortunately, the tale of woe spun here isn’t merely a fictional drama but an actual account of an American Dream deferred. For Entre Nos is a thinly-veiled autobiography written by, directed by and starring Paola Mendoza, a Bogota-born beauty who now plays her own mother, although she was the young daughter at the time the real-life events in the picture transpired.
The film unfolds as a series of relentlessly-grim scenarios which add up to paint a plausible picture of the enormous challenges encountered by foreigners endeavoring to adjust to this country’s unforgiving inner-city environs. Miraculously, against all odds, the hardy trio not only survives but ultimately flourishes, with the audience being informed via telling, closing credits postscripts that matriarch Mariana eventually remarried and had another daughter, that her stoic, young son grew up to become a successful college administrator, and that little Paola became a brilliant filmmaker who fashioned this uplifting bio-pic as a cinematic tribute to her beloved mother.
A bittersweet saga chronicling both the rough lot of the recent immigrant and the indomitability of the human spirit.

Excellent (4 stars)
Unrated
In Spanish with subtitles.
Running time: 80 Minutes
Distributor: IndiePix Films

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Extraordinary Measures DVD

 

 

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: DVD Recounts Parents’ “Extraordinary Measures” to Save Sick Kids

 

                Two of John (Brendan Fraser) and Aileen (Keri Russell) Crowley’s three children were born with Pompe Disease, a condition which prevents the body from digesting sugar. At the time, infants diagnosed with the rare genetic disorder typically died before two years of age. That’s why, when their daughter, Megan (Meredith Droeger), and son, Patrick (Diego Velasquez), reached their 6th and 8th birthdays, respectively, doctors suggested that they should be content with the fact that both had managed to survive beyond their life expectancy.

Nonetheless, John, a Harvard MBA employed by the pharmaceutical company Bristol Myers, decided to dedicate himself to saving his kids’ lives. So, he traveled to the University of Nebraska to meet face-to-face with Dr. Robert Stonehill (Harrison Ford), the leading scientist doing research on Pompe Disease.

Next, both John and the brilliant, if unorthodox professor both quit their jobs in order to create a biotech foundation with the sole purpose of finding a cure for Pompe. Thus, while the highly-motivated father relied on his business background to raise $100 million dollars, Dr. Stonehill focused on discovering a drug which would do the work of the Pompe patients’ missing enzyme.

                Directed by Tom Vaughan, Extraordinary Measures is based on “The Cure: How a Father Raised $100 Million –and Bucked the Medical Establishment—in a Quest to Save His Children,” a best seller by Pulitzer Prize-winner Geeta Anand. This tender tearjerker basically revolves around the strained relationship of Mr. Crowley and Dr. Stonehill during the agonizing wait to see whether Megan and Patrick will be blessed with their much needed medical miracle.

Harrison Ford, shines though cast against type, as do Brendan Fraser and Keri Russell in a syrupy saga which somehow proves moving, in spite of a fairly formulaic, Hollywood approach to the execution of the Crowleys’ truly inspirational story.       

 

Very Good (3 stars)

Rated PG for mature themes, suggestive material and mild epithets.

Running time: 106 Minutes

Studio: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

 DVD Extras: Deleted scenes and go behind the scenes with interviews with both the cast and the family whose true story inspired the film.

American Radical DVD

 

 

DVD Review by Kam Williams


Headline: DVD Features Controversial Jewish Intellectual Questioning Israel’s Legitimacy

 

                The subtitle of this bio-pic might be a bit of a misnomer, since Norman Finkelstein is never on trial during this riveting documentary, at least not in the legal sense. But the incendiary professor and Palestinian apologist does go mano-a-mano for the duration of the movie against an attorney, namely, Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz.

                If Finkelstein weren’t Jewish and the son of Holocaust survivors, he would undoubtedly be labeled an anti-Semite by his detractors. For, employing the most strident of tones and in relentless fashion, he has built his career as a public intellectual around indicting Israel for committing crimes against humanity.

                While he’s apparently too controversial a figure to land a permanent teaching position anywhere, Finkelstein has enjoyed brief stays at a number of leading universities. Plus, the peripatetic prof ostensibly gets a kick out of making the rounds on the college lecture circuit where he routinely outrages Jewish students while being cheered by Muslim sympathizers.

                Judging from this film, ever-beleaguered and self-righteous Norman ain’t exactly normal. For instance, in debating Dershowitz, he hammers away by making petty allegations of plagiarism having nothing to do with the Arab-Israeli conflict, instead of directly addressing his adversary’s stance on the political issues. Nonetheless, co-directors Nicolas Rossier and David Ridgen suggest that most of the fearless firebrand’s colleagues quietly support his right to exercise his freedom of speech, although few are willing to do so as openly as MIT’s Noam Chomsky.

Overall, American Radical manages to paint Finkelstein very empathetically, sort of as a well-meaning, if loony loudmouth whose rants deserve respect if only because virtually all of his relatives were exterminated by Hitler. The question begged but left unanswered by this even-handed treatment of the Middle East standoff is whether or not academia might be ready to give tenure to a more-palatable, pointy-headed chin-puller with better-reasoned objections to the existence of the State of Israel.

 

Excellent (4 stars)

Unrated

In English, Hebrew and Arabic with subtitles.

Running time: 89 Minutes

Distributor: Typecast Releasing

DVD Extras: Deleted scenes, theatrical trailer and other Typecast Releasing trailers.