Thursday, September 30, 2010

Afterschool DVD



DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: DVD Mystery Revolves around Twins’ OD at Upscale Prep School

Robert (Ezra Miller) is having a hard time adjusting to his new life at Brighton, an exclusive prep school located in New England. It’s the start of his first semester there, and the 15 year-old freshman finds himself being teased by bullies about still being a virgin and for not trying out for any sports teams. When he calls home to complain, his mom just tells him to be patient because things will get better.
In the interim, the socially-awkward geek retreats to the alternate reality offered by the internet, where he divides his time between watching kinky pornography and violent videos of real-life beatdowns. Socially, he has to settle for ogling the cleavage of his teacher (Rosemary DeWitt), despite the fact that some of his more macho classmates are already bragging about their sexual conquests.
Eventually, Robert finds an afterschool activity that captures his imagination when he joins the Audi-Visual Club where he is assigned to make a movie with Amy (Addison Timlin), a flirtatious, precocious coed who seems to be attracted to him. Soon, raging hormones gets the better of them as petting in the woods escalates to penetration.
But before love has a chance to blossom, a tragedy transpires one day while Robert’s roaming around looking for something to shoot with his video camera. By chance, he comes upon twins Anne and Mary Talbert in a hallway as both are flailing on the ground and gagging after what turns out to be a drug overdose.
Unfortunately, rather than calling for help, Robert opts to stand there and film their slow demise. This inappropriate response, however, is not necessarily much of a surprise, given the YouTube Generation’s voyeuristic tendencies. The twins’ deaths devastate the student body as a silent pall is cast over the campus begging the questions: Why didn’t Robert react responsibly? Is he merely an emotional-cripple or was there something more sinister afoot? This is theme explored in Afterschool, a very timely movie marking the auspicious writing and directorial debut of Antonio Campos, a gifted wunderkind who effortlessly ratchets up the tension like a latter-day Hitchcock. Along the way, he keeps his cinematic finger on the pulse via an assortment of trademarks of 21st Century teen staples ranging from Skype teleconferencing to text messaging to “friends with benefits” making booty calls.
Whatever happened to the analog days when kids found contentment by cramming phone booths, sitting on flagpoles or simply going steady?

Excellent (4 stars)
Unrated
Running time: 107 minutes
Studio: MPI Media Group/IFC Films
DVD Extras: Deleted and alternate scenes, outtakes, trailers, posters, unused video, storyboards, interview with star Ezra Miller, and a short film by director Antonio Campos.

Mercy (DVD REVIEW)

 

 

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: DVD Features Novelist and His Harshest Critic in Unlikely Romance

 

                Johnny Ryan (Scott Caan) is a very successful romance novelist living in Los Angeles who, ironically, has never actually experienced love himself. Instead, the handsome hunk has contented himself with a series of shallow one-night stands which have never evolved into a substantial relationship.

Everything changes the night of the launch party for his latest best seller, when he has his head turned by Mercy (Wendy Glenn), a gorgeous brunette with a clipped British accent. For as he exchanges pleasantries over wine and cocktails with the mysterious stranger, Johnny finds himself feeling a warm and fuzzy sensation he’s never known before. That would be a crush.

But what Johnny doesn’t know is that Mercy’s a leading critic from New York City who has already published a scathing review of his new book. However, the truth coming out does nothing to discourage him one iota from pursuing the sudden object of his affection. Even in the face of her caustic comments like, “You write about love, but don’t know how to spell it,” he remains resolved to win her heart before she heads back to the East Coast.

Nonetheless, Mercy is not one to be so easily convinced, so she ignores Johnny’s begging to stay in L.A. In her absence, he initially reverts to his womanizing ways only to encounter erectile dysfunction issues for the first time in his life. Next, he consults with his father (James Caan), an English professor whose best advice is trite poster speak such as “Love is a myth.”

Thus unfolds Mercy, an engaging character-driven drama directed by Patrick Hoelck but written and produced by Scott Caan. Mr. Caan must be credited for fashioning a vehicle which fits him to a T, and for surrounding himself with a decent cast to execute his vision, especially Wendy Glenn in the title role.

                This sentimental sitdram seeks to answer whether a long-distance liaison between an artist and his worst critic has a fighting chance of blossoming into love? A question satisfactorily answered by this bittersweet romantic romp about growing up, albeit belatedly.

 

Very Good (3 stars)

R for profanity and sexuality.

Running time: 87 Minutes

Distributor: MPI Media Group/IFC Films

DVD Extras: Deleted scene, behind-the-scene photos, commentary and trailer.

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 October 8, 2010

 

 

BIG BUDGET FILMS

 

It’s Kind of a Funny Story (PG-13 for sexuality, drug use, profanity and mature themes) Psych ward comedy based on Ned Vizzini’s novel of the same name about a clinically-depressed, 16 year-old (Keir Gilchrist) who gets a new lease on life after checking himself into a mental health clinic. Cast includes Zach Galifianakis, Emma Roberts, Viola Davis, Zoe Kravitz and Lauren Graham.

 

Life as We Know It (PG-13 for profanity, drug use and sexuality) Katherine Heigl and Josh Duhamel co-star in this romantic comedy about a couple of acquaintances who can’t stand each other until they have to live under the same roof to care for their suddenly-orphaned goddaughter (Alexis Clagett) after her parents perish in an untimely accident. Cast includes Josh Lucas, Hayes MacArthur and Christina Hendricks.

 

My Soul to Take (R for sexual references, pervasive profanity and graphic, gory violence) Scary movie maven Wes Craven directs this grisly slasher flick about a serial killer (Christopher Place) who returns to his hometown to stalk seven teenagers born on the night he was thought to have died. Ensemble includes Max Thieriot, Frank Grillo, Emily Meade, Denzel Whitaker, Shareeka Epps and Zena Grey.

 

Secretariat (PG for mild epithets) Overcoming the odds horseracing saga, reminiscent of Seabiscuit, recounting how the inexperienced owner (Diane Lane) of a cash-strapped stable somehow miraculously raised the first Triple Crown-winner in a quarter century with the help of a wily horse whisperer (John Malkovich) and a jockey (Otto Thorwarth) in need of redemption. With James Cromwell, Scott Glenn and Senator Fred Thompson.

 

 

INDEPENDENT & FOREIGN FILMS

 

As Good as Dead (R for violence, profanity and drug use) Mistaken identity drama about members of a racist, religious cult who kidnap and torture an innocent man (Cary Elwes) they think is responsible for the murder of their late minister (Brian Cox). With Andie MacDowell, Matt Dallas and Frank Whaley.

 

Bombay Summer (Unrated) Coming of age drama, set in Mumbai, about the disintegration of the fragile, forbidden friendship of three youngsters (Tannishtha Chatterjee, Samrat Chakrabarti and Jatin Madan) in the face of loss and betrayal. (In Hindi and English with subtitles)

 

Budrus (Unrated) Middle East documentary about a pacifist Palestinian who, with the help of his 15 year-old daughter, led a nonviolent campaign to unite the Hamas, Fatah and Israeli factions of their West Bank community in order to save their village from violent destruction at the hands of the rival parties. (In Arabic, Hebrew and English with subtitles)

 

GhettoPhysics (R for profanity and sexual references) Street smart documentary takes a novel look at the world by suggesting that everyone’s either a pimp or a ho’. With appearances by rapper Ice-T, Princeton Professor Cornel West, Cynthia McKinney and writer/director E. Raymond Brown.

 

Going Blind (Unrated) Diminished vision documentary offering a glimpse at the challenges faced by folks dealing with the loss of their sight.

 

Inside Job (Unrated) The worst recession since the Great Depression is the subject of this documentary chronicling the causes of the global financial meltdown of 2008 which led to over $20 trillions in losses on Wall Street while causing millions to lose their jobs and homes.

 

I Spit on Your Grave (Unrated) Remake of the 1978 revenge thriller about a writer (Sarah Butler) raped at her country retreat in the woods and left for dead who survives to exact a measure of vengeance on her attackers. With Chad Lindberg, Tracey Walter and Daniel Franzese.

 

It’s a Wonderful Afterlife (PG-13 for violence and drug use) Dark comedy, set in London, about a vengeful, East Indian widow (Shabana Azmi) who goes on a killing spree slaying the blind dates who rejected her Rubenesque daughter (Goldy Notay). (In English, Hindi and Punjabi with subtitles)

 

Jim (Unrated) Sci-fi drama about a cash-strapped widower (Dan Illian) contemplating suicide who is prompted by his wife’s ghost (Vanessa Morris-Burke) to instead impregnate one of her frozen eggs with the help of a biotech company with a weird agenda.

 

Letters to Father Jaakob (Unrated) Scandinavian tale of redemption about a recently pardoned convict (Kaarina Hazard) who learns a lesson about self-forgiveness after taking a position at a secluded parsonage helping a blind cleric (Heikki Nousiainen) answer the pile of letters he receives from the needy. (In Finnish with subtitles)

 

Marwencol (Unrated) documentary about Mark Hogancamp, a married man from upstate New York who built an elaborate 1/6th scale replica of a World War II battle scene while recovering from brain damage suffered during a bar fight which left him with amnesia and impaired hand-eye coordination.

 

Nowhere Boy (R for profanity and sexuality) Pre-Beatles bio-pic chronicling John Lennon’s (Aaron Johnson) turbulent teenage years prior to his forming a rock and roll band with Paul McCartney (Thomas Brodie Sangster) and George Harrison (Sam Bell).

 

Rachel (Unrated) Middle East documentary revisits the circumstances surrounding the death of Rachel Corrie, the 23 year-old American activist who was flattened in 2003 while serving as a human shield between an Israeli bulldozer and a home on the Gaza Strip suspected as serving as a hideout for of Palestinian guerillas.

 

Stone (R for violence, graphic sexuality and pervasive profanity) Crime caper about a convicted arsonist (Ed Norton) who has his wife (Milla Jovovich) seduce a member (Robert De Niro) of the parole board in order to secure an early release.

 

Tamara Drewe (R for profanity and sexuality) Makeover comedy about a high school ugly duckling’s (Gemma Atherton) reversal of fortune into Ms. Popularity when she returns to her hometown as an adult after having cosmetic surgery. With Luke Evans, Dominic Cooper and Roger Allam.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Freakonomics (FILM REVIEW)

 

 

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Controversial Economics Best Seller Adapted to Screen

 

                Freakonomics was a best-selling primer on Economics written by University of Chicago professor Steven Levitt in collaboration with journalist Stephen Dubner. Together, the talented twosome endeavored to make an inscrutable subject accessible for the average individual by breaking ghetto demographics and financial transactions down into layman’s terms even a street hustler could comprehend.

                For instance, they exploded the myth of selling drugs as a viable means of making it out of the ghetto by showing that the average dealer’s income is less than minimum wage. A more controversial conclusion arrived at by the authors and propagated by controversial pundits like conservative Bill Bennett was the notion that the U.S. crime rate could be significantly reduced by sterilizing all African-American females.

Now, a film based on this incendiary tome has been brought to the screen by a half-dozen different directors, including Academy Award-winner Alex Gibney (for Taxi to the Dark Side), Oscar-nominees Morgan Spurlock (for Super Size Me), Rachel Grady (for Jesus Camp) and Heidi Ewing (also for Jesus Camp), along with Seth Gordon and Eugene Jarecki. They divvied up the chapters and structured the picture as a discrete series of vignettes recreating the assorted content.

Unfortunately, I have to report that, as is usually the case with adaptations of books, the flick fails to measure up to the source material. However, that bad news is counterbalanced by the fact that it is still likely to be very well received by anyone unfamiliar with the print version.

Among the topics addressed are the aforementioned correlation between black criminality and the abortion rate, as well as such intriguing questions as whether 9th graders can be bribed to get good grades, whether Japanese Sumo wrestling is fixed, whether government incentives work, and how Bernie Madoff, pedophile priests and other disgraced “pillars of the community” managed to mask their crimes for so long.

An iconoclastic expose’ featuring fresh cultural slants apt to leave the average armchair economist reevaluating a lot of conventional wisdom they’vetaken for granted.

 

Very Good (3 stars)

Rated PG-13 for violence, sexuality, nudity, drug use and brief profanity.

In English and Japanese with subtitles.

Running time: 93 Minutes

Distributor: Magnolia Pictures

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

White House Diary (BOOK REVIEW)

 

 

White House Diary

by President Jimmy Carter

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Hardcover, $30.00

612 pages, Illustrated

ISBN: 978-0-374-28099-4

               

Book Review by Kam Williams

 

“During my four years in the White House, I kept a personal diary by dictating my thoughts and observations several times each day… When dictating entries to my diary… I intertwined my personal opinions and activities with a brief description of the official duties I performed.

Readers should remember that I seldom exercised any restraint on what I dictated, because I did not contemplate the more personal entries ever being made public… Despite a temptation to conceal my errors, misjudgments of people, or lack of foresight, I decided when preparing this book not to revise the original transcript…

Throughout this book, I wrote explanatory notes to help the reader understand the context of the entries, bring to life the duties of a president, offer insights into a number of the people I worked with, and point out how many of the important challenges remain the same… In presenting this annotated diary, my intention is not to defend or excuse my own actions or to criticize others, but simply to provide, based on current knowledge, an objective analysis.”

 -- Excerpted from the Preface (pgs. xiii-xv)

 

                Jimmy Carter, the 39th President of the United States, ran the U.S. Ship of State from 1977 to 1981, four perilous years marked by crises in everything from the Middle East to human rights to the economy to the Cold War to the environment to nuclear power. To his credit, Carter in retirement can proudly reflect that during his tenure, “We obeyed the law, we told the truth, and we kept the peace.” This turn of events proved to be a breath of fresh air for a country which had emerged from the Vietnam War and Watergate scandal extremely cynical about its political leaders.

And thanks to a tip from President Nixon who made the suggestion the first time they met, Carter decided to start keeping a journal while he was in office. If you remember, Jimmy had a certain, down-home folksy charm which had endeared him to the electorate, and that same tone is reflected in White House Diary, a 600-page opus condensed from what was originally over 5,000-pages in length.

The former president augmented the chronologically-arranged text with a sprinkling of present-day commentary where necessary to help elucidate the material. Basically, the book offers both a broad look at the scope of the Chief Executive’s exhausting daily schedule as well as an intimate peek inside the workings of the man’s mind.

Personally, I most enjoyed the humanizing entries, such as the one that starts, “Mama fell and broke her right hip” as he frets about the health of First Mother Miss Lillian. I could even appreciate the minimalism he employed while on vacation when “Fishing all day” says it all.

A delightful, eye-opening memoir which reveals Jimmy Carter as still a simple peanut farmer from Plains, Georgia who never compromised his faith, integrity or commitment to family while tackling the responsibilities of what might very well be the most demanding job on the face of the Earth.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Michele Norris: "The Grace of Silence" Interview

 

 

with Kam Williams

 

Headline: On Breaking the Silence Gracefully

 

Born on September 7, 1961, Michele Norris was the youngest of three sisters raised in Minneapolis, Minnesota by Betty and Belvin Norris, Jr. Since studying Communications at the University of Minnesota, Michele has embarked on a stellar career in journalism.

Best known as the current co-host of NPR’s All Things Considered, she was recently honored with the Alfred I. duPont–Columbia University Award for The York Project: Race and the ‘08 Vote. In 2009, she was named the Journalist of the Year by the National Association of Black Journalists.

Ms. Norris has written for a variety of publications, including The Washington Post, the Chicago Tribune, and the Los Angeles Times. As a correspondent for ABC News from 1993 to 2002, she earned Emmy and Peabody awards for her contribution to the network’s 9/11 reporting.

Michele lives in Washington, D.C., with her husband, Broderick Johnson, and their three children. Here, she discusses “The Grace of Silence,” a poignant memoir exploring unspoken family skeletons revolving around the race.

 

Kam Williams: Michele, thanks for the time. I loved the book.

Michele Norris: Thank you. I took a look at your review of it, and it’s clear that you had dived right into it. And it sounds like I had a surprise for you. [Laughs]

 

KW: Yeah, although I’ve listened to you for years on the radio I never knew you were black. So, that made the content of your memoir all the more surprising, since it revolves so much around racial issues. My readers came up with such great questions for you that I’d like to get right to them. FSU grad Laz Lyles says, “I'd like to know what gave you the courage to write the book, considering that your family dealt with tragedy and adversity in a very private and quiet way.”

MN: This was a difficult journey… It was my mother who initially signaled subtly that she was ready to talk about this, and then sent further signals that she might be ready to let me write about it. Eventually, she actually said out loud that she wanted me to write this book when she was gone. Once I got that green light from her, once she stepped in the boat, I knew I had to do it to honor our family history, and I knew I had to do it right. And once I started down that road, there

was no turning back for me. I had a voracious appetite to learn all I could, not just about my grandparents’ individual experiences and what had happened to my father in Alabama, but about the world they’d lived in. I needed to know how that had impacted me, because it was clear that I’d been shaped not just by the things they did talk about, but also by what they didn’t dare talk about.

 

KW: I know what you mean. My father undoubtedly encountered a great deal of discrimination while serving in the segregated U.S. military during World War II, and again as one of the first blacks to integrate the NYC Fire Department. Yet he never complained about any of it to his kids during our childhood.

MN: Think about that…Think about your father... There’s so much in that thought you shared. It would have been so easy for him to come home and let it all out, and grouse until bedtime, because he had to keep it all bottled up inside while he was at work. Imagine if that had been the house you’d grown up in, if that had been what you heard. That’s what I was trying to get at when I titled this book, “The Grace of Silence.” A generation of Americans who had so many reasons to be angry at the world, and who could’ve instructed their children to brace themselves for a torrent of hatred and low expectations, instead set high expectations and armed their offspring with ambition instead of rage. That was incredible, for a generation to suffer all that they did and yet to choose to order their priorities so that their children would not be weighed down by their pain. They understood that if you really want your kids to fly, you don’t put stones in their pockets.

 

KW: Something I like about your book is how besides discussing black silence it also explores the corresponding skeletons in white folks’ closets.

MN: I very much wanted to understand how life was lived on the other side of the color line, particularly in my father’s Alabama in the Forties and Fifties. Part of what I want people to take away from the book is that white America had its secrets, too. It is quite obvious that they had also had stopped talking about them. So, because people on both sides of the color line decided not to speak about that period, we don’t have a really good understanding of what preceded the Sixties’ Civil Rights Era.

 

KW: I was struck by the frank reflections of the white woman who admitted hearing her father say, “We have to have a good lynching every once in a while to keep the nigger in his place.”

MN: And she recalled how shocking it had been for her to hear it coming from her father, because he had forged friendships across the color line, and wasn’t a member of the Klan or even a redneck racist. There are a lot of people who grew up around that sort of sentiment. So, if we really want to talk honestly about race, then that conversation is probably going to get a little bit prickly. It may make your stomach churn. It may make you a lot more than merely uncomfortable.

 

KW: Reverend Florine Thompson asks, “How were you affected by the revelation of the family secret that your father had been shot in his Navy uniform by a white police officer right after returning to Birmingham at the end of World War II?"

MN: It affected me deeply, and in ways that I’m still discovering… [Pauses] Sorry, I can’t really find words that can fully encompass the depth my pain about what transpired. I was so surprised to realize that my father, who had a sunny disposition and such a warm and kind temperament, must have nonetheless been dragging around this huge weight which we just couldn’t see. It’s really hard to reconcile his emotional burden with the fact that I never had an opportunity to talk to him about it. [Sighs] That’s really hard to reconcile… and still affects me on a personal level in many ways. I don’t know if I will ever get used to saying that my father was shot.

 

KW: Reverend Thompson would also like to know, “How important is spirituality in your daily life?”

MN: Very. It was very important in the household growing up, and it is a rock that I reach for many times a day. It is a gift that I try to give my children with the knowledge that there is something larger than them that will guide them and protect them and give them strength at moments when things perhaps don’t make sense.

 

KW: Children’s book author Irene Smalls says, “’The Grace of Silence’ is in many ways every black person's story. My family moved from I don't know where South Carolina. To this day my family does not talk about their lives in The South. Is there grace in silence? Should we, as the next generation of blacks, be unearthing the skeletons and pain of what our grandparents endured under Jim Crow? Or should we let sleeping dogs lie? What lessons can we learn?”

MN: There are a lot of questions there. I’ll try to answer a few. I believe there IS grace in silence. Still, I think it is worth trying to go back to unearth some of those secrets. To use Irene’s metaphor, it’s time to awaken those sleeping dogs, but to do it respectfully. It is incumbent upon those of us raised by the generation that had to endure the indignities of Jim Crow to demonstrate a certain grace in the silence that accompanies being a good listener, and thus providing the space for a great unburdening. I feel keenly that, at some point, the elders who locked away their stories will suddenly want to talk about them. My father left this Earth in 1988, and my great regret in life is that I will have to go to my own grave wondering whether I failed to create a space for him to share his story. So, when those of his generation remaining are ready to talk, we have to make sure that we’re willing to listen. But we have to lead them there.

 

KW: Attorney Bernadette Beekman says, “I always wondered about the pronunciation of her name. [“Mee-shell”] Why the emphasis on the first syllable?”

MN: I don’t exactly quite know why my father stepped on the first syllable like that, but I proudly honor him now by insisting that people pronounce it the way that he did.

 

KW: Bernadette notes that the title of your book was originally going to be "Say What." She says, “I love the new title. It's especially poignant since you relate your family's story of silence. I heard only for the first time certain stories of my own parents living through what we would consider appalling acts of racism. Why did you change the title?”

MN: Originally, I really liked that title because it was a double entendre which could be interpreted in several ways. But when the anecdotes in the book started to take an intimate, personal and very revealing turn, “Say What” seemed too flippant, and didn’t match the gravitas of the project anymore.

 

KW: Yale grad Tommy Russell says, “Holy Shamoly! I listen to NPR every day and only recently realized that Michele Norris was black... Amazing!” He asks, "What do you think the biggest threat to media is nowadays? Biased reporting? The decline of traditional revenue models for print, TV and radio companies?"
MN: There are many threats. I don’t know which one’s the biggest. Part of the problem is the instant news culture. So many people are looking for news on the go. If you really want to understand the world, you’re not going to by consuming news in the form of bite-sized haikus. I’m sorry to step up on a soapbox, but I have strong feelings about this.

 

KW: Tommy is curious about whether you ever watch Fox News?
MN: I do, on a regular basis.

KW: And he’d like to know whether you get chills at work when you hear the opening of for All Things Considered?

MN: [Chuckles] I don’t exactly get chills but every day, at around 3:30 in the afternoon, I get this little adrenaline rush, even if I’m not on the air, like weekends.

 

KW: Harriet Pakula Teweles notes that When Charles Osgood signs off on 'Sunday Morning,' he says, "I'll see you on the radio." She says, “For those who haven't been able to see you, but now can, what do you hope they will see that they may not have seen before?”

MN: Wow, that’s an interesting question! I hope they see someone who’s curious and open to hearing all kinds of things. It’s been nice to have been somewhat anonymous being in radio, but I’m not anymore. Although it’s called “The Grace of Silence,” my hope is that this book will start small conversations in intimate settings like kitchen tables, workplace break rooms and college dormitories.

 

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

MN: Did you get lunch today? [LOL]

 

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

MN: I am often afraid. I’m not Wonder Woman. But I was lucky enough to have been taught as a child by nuns to stare down my fears every day by doing something that absolutely terrified me. It was good advice then, and it’s good advice now.

 

KW: The Columbus Short question: Are you happy?

MN: I am… I’m blessed.

 

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

MN: A minute ago in the course of this conversation. [LOL] A good sense of humor is something I try to hold onto. My father always said, “You have to laugh to keep from crying, and boy was he right about that.”

 

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

MN: I just re-read “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.” It was required summer reading for all the parents at my children’s school. It’s a wonderful book which is great for generating some interesting conversation.

 

 

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

MN: My iPod is always on shuffle. But if you want to know what artist really has got my juices going, I am just a stone-cold Janelle Monae addict. The girl is sassy and smart, and she’s got the dance moves and the attitude. I defy you to sit still listening to her. I just can’t wait to see what she does next.

 

 

KW: What is your favorite dish to cook?

MN: Oh, I cook all the time. But my favorite dish to cook is gumbo at Christmas. The Christmas gumbo is special, it takes two days to make and it’s really good.

 

KW: Just last week, Raven-Symone’ told me gumbo was her favorite dish to cook, too. The Uduak Oduok question: Who is your favorite clothes designer?

MN: [Laughs] Target has to be my favorite because I have kids to put through college. I’ll tell you who I like, though, Tahari. And I love Tracey Reece but, like I said, I seem to spend a lot more time in Target than in any designer boutiques.

 

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

MN: That my children be happy.

 

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

MN: A work in progress.

 

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

MN: The twinkly lights at Christmas, when I was 4.

 

KW: The Flex Alexander question: How do you get through the tough times?

MN: I breathe deeply, and I pray.

 

KW: Have you ever wished you could have your anonymity back?

MN: I feel like I still have it, but you can check back with me on that.

 

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

MN: Work hard, write often.

 

KW: The Tavis Smiley questions. First, how introspective are you?

MN: Very. I don’t think anybody could walk the journey that I just did without being duly introspective.

 

KW: Secondly, Tavis asks, how do you want to be remembered? What do you want your legacy to be?

MN: That she did well by her family. I’m going to borrow a line from Thurgood Marshall, “She did the best she could with what she had.”

 

KW: Michele, thanks again for the interview, and for writing a very important book which, in my estimation, might have a salutary effect on the culture.

MN: Thanks Kam, and all the best to you.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Speed-Dating

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Players Scheme to Seduce and Abandon in Battle-of-the-Sexes Comedy

Best friends Too Cool (Wesley Jonathan), Beaver (Leonard Robinson) and Dog (Chico Benymon) are confirmed bachelors in search of nothing more meaningful out of life than the selfish satisfaction of enjoying a different sexual conquest every night. Each brings his own brand of swag to the singles scene, starting with millionaire playboy TC whose basic philosophy is “I don’t do love.”

By contrast, Beaver is a brother who the others suspect might be on the down-low, judging by how relatively clean-cut and well-spoken he is. As for Dog, he’s a freeloading pervert whose favorite porno flick is the infamous R. Kelly sex tape with an underage teen.

TC is rich only because he’s acquired control of the finances of his senile Aunt B (Roxanne Reese), a genius who made a fortune as a computer game developer before developing Alzheimer’s. Courtesy of the windfall, the trifling Romeo has purchased a nightclub with plans to turn it into a pick-up bar primarily to attract lonely females for himself and his pals.

Trouble is, the building is a bit dilapidated, and persnickety City Inspector Red Green (Chris Elliott) has given him just 30 days to bring the place up to code. So, TC and company put their heads together and come up with an erotic way of making the place pay for itself, namely, by hosting speed-dating parties where guys and girls can participate in what is essentially a game of musical chairs during which they audition potential mates for three minutes each.

The goal is to make an instant lust connection with a stranger. And soon we find these jive dudes testing out lame pickup lines such as, “My name is Dog, and I like to bite” and “Why don’t we make a Barack,” the latter being leveled at a Caucasian customer.

This is the morally-repugnant premise of Speed-Dating, a crude comedy written and directed by Joseph A. Elmore, Jr. The picture successfully makes light of indiscriminate copulating as the misogynistic protagonists proceed to seduce and abandon a pretty parade of na├»ve suckers. Then there’s its bizarre treatment of gay sex, with the ostensibly confused Beaver being in and out of the closet.

About the only reason to recommend this politically-incorrect production is that it arrives blessed with a brazenly, bawdy brand of humor aimed at folks who can appreciate your average booty call music video on the order of Nelly’s “Tip Drill.” It’s not this critic’s taste, but if seeing a credit card being swiped down a curvaceous anal cleft is your idea of quality entertainment, then Speed-Dating is a lowest common denominator adventure apt to be right up your alley.

A titillating tribute to the novel notion of strangers with benefits.

Good (2 stars)
Unrated
Running time: 98 Minutes
Distributor: Rockstone Releasing

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Stone and Douglas Reunite for Shakespearean Sequel Well Worth the Wait

Michael Douglas won an Academy Award in 1988 for his captivating performance as Gordon Gekko, the ruthless corporate raider-turned-cultural icon best known for contributing the avaricious credo “Greed is good!” to the popular lexicon of the Me Generation. Although a couple decades have elapsed in the interim, he and director Oliver Stone have thoroughly refreshed the Wall Street franchise with this timely sequel designed as much with the concerns of today’s troubled Ninja Generation (“No Income, No Jobs or Assets”) in mind as those of us aging Baby Boomers. But where Gordon was a fairly contemptible character in the original, this go-round he operates as more of an empathetic antihero in search of deliverance.
The movie unfolds in flashback fashion, with narrator Gekko reflecting upon his parole in 2002 after serving an eight-year sentence for insider trading. This amusing sequence effectively establishes how the disgraced, white collar criminal had not merely fallen from grace but no longer had a finger on the pulse.
For among the personal effects returned to him upon his release is a cumbersome, obsolete cell phone thick as a brick. And when he subsequently exits the prison a little later that day, the stretch limo idling outside the gates is not waiting for him but for a flamboyant gangsta’ rapper. How the mighty have fallen!
Fast-forward to the present, and we find Gordon on a promotional tour for “Is Greed Good?” his new best seller forecasting doom for the deregulated financial services industry, because of its capitulation to a culture of corruption. “The mother of all evil is speculation,” the rehabilitated crook announces during a lecture at Fordham University, adding, “like cancer, it’s a disease, and we have to fight back.” That line actually proves to be a goose bump-inducing distraction, given Michael Douglas’ well-publicized, real-life battle with a malignant throat tumor.
Sitting in the audience is Jake Moore (Shia LaBeouf), an ambitious trader at ill-fated Keller Zabel, a thinly-veiled version of the beleaguered Bear Stearns brokerage house. He just happens to be the boyfriend of Winnie Gekko (Carey Milligan), an anti-capitalist tree hugger who still blames her father for her only sibling’s suicide.
After the speech, Jake approaches Winnie’s old man not for investment tips but to inform him of their impending engagement. Gordon counters by asking his future son-in-law to help orchestrate a reconciliation with his long-estranged daughter. Ever the dealmaker, Gekko also talks a little shop, suggesting a formula to figure out exactly who had gutted Keller Zabel.
All evidence conveniently points to competing hedge fund manager Bretton James (Josh Brolin), a readily-contemptible uber-villain whose maniacal manipulation of the market pushed Jake’s late mentor (Frank Langella) to leap in front of a subway train. Not to worry, Jake has found a suitable replacement, provided Winnie is kept unaware of his making an unholy alliance with the father she sees as the devil incarnate.
What ensues is a fictionalized account of the 2008 stock market crash, revisited as an intimate tale of Shakespearean proportions told from the diverging perspectives of the pivotal players, and touching on a host of universal themes ranging from love and betrayal to revenge and redemption. Crime might not pay, but greed is still good!

Excellent (4 stars)
Rated PG-13 for brief profanity and mature themes.
Running time: 127 Minutes
Studio: 20th Century Fox