Monday, January 31, 2011

Skin DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: White Woman Gives Birth to Black Babies in Factual South African Saga

Until 1994, South Africa’s system of Apartheid forbade people of different “races” to use the same stores, to attend the same schools or to reside under the same roof. Those oppressive segregation laws came to rip an Afrikaner family apart after the wife gave birth to a baby with dark skin and nappy hair in 1955.

Abraham (Sam Neill) and Sannie Laing (Alice Krige) raised a lot of eyebrows when they brought a brown newborn back from the hospital. While some neighbors suspected that the wife must have cheated, doctors did a blood test which determined that Abraham was in fact the father.

So, the couple had young Sandra (Sophie Okonedo) declared officially white and did their best to raise her in their lily white neighborhood. But as soon as she started school, the little girl was teased by her classmates and even beaten by teachers until complaints from other parents about the “kaffir” on campus forced the principal to expel Sandra. And when the authorities subsequently reclassified their daughter as “coloured,” the Laings had to register her as a domestic servant just so that she could live at home legally.

This real-life nightmare is the subject of Skin, a heartbreaking bio-pic based on Judith Stone’s best seller “When She Was White: The True Story of a Family Divided by Race.” Adapted to the screen by Anthony Fabian, the picture effectively exposes the silliness of arbitrary groupings based on skin color.

Unfortunately, Apartheid really did exist, and the case of the Laings turned terribly tragic, since Sandra ended up estranged from her parents by the age of 15. She ran away from home pregnant to live on the other side of the proverbial tracks, in a black township with a married man. There, she proceeded to make a series of self-destructive choices, bearing numerous children out of wedlock she had to surrender to foster care.

Penniless, she attempted to reconcile with her folks, only to be told by her mother never to call or visit again. A frightening primer on how untreated racism can make lead someone to abandon, even hate their own offspring.

Excellent (4 stars)
Rated PG-13 for violence, sexuality and mature themes.
Running time: 107 minutes
Studio: Entertainment One
DVD Extras: Deleted scenes, outtakes, script development workshops, and a behind-the-scenes featurette.

Blue Valentine

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Feel-Bad Flashback Flick Deconstructs Failed Marriage

Dean (Ryan Gosling) and Cindy’s (Michelle Williams) marriage was doomed almost from the start. When they met, she was a promising premed student; he was a high school dropout who had to take a dead-end job just to keep a roof over his head. At the time, she was attending a college in rural Pennsylvania while he was eking out a living a world away in Brooklyn.
Their paths crossed quite by coincidence when Dean was assigned by his moving company to help an elderly gentleman (Melvin Jurdem) relocate to a nursing home on the very same day Cindy was there visiting her ailing grandmother (Jenn Jones). For Dean, it was love at first sight, and when he still couldn’t get her out of his mind a month later, he found an excuse to return to Scranton to try to track her down.
The incurable romantic serendipitously spots the object of his obsession on a bus and wins her heart on the spot by serenading her with a song. He had no idea, however, that she not only already had a hunky boyfriend, Bobby Ontario (Mike Vogel), but that she was pregnant by the popular big man on campus.
Nonetheless, Cindy takes Dean home to meet the parents (John Doman and Maryann Plunkett), and they are obviously underwhelmed by their daughter’s dating a chain-smoking underachiever with not much of a future to speak of. But their obvious disappointment does nothing to discourage the hopelessly-smitten suitor from popping the question that very night.
And when Cindy accepts the proposal, the mismatched pair predictably proceeds to embark on a disastrous six-year relationship marked mostly by incessant arguing and a basic inability to communicate effectively. The real victim here is the baby, Frankie (Faith Wladyka), who didn’t ask to be raised by a dysfunctional couple of loudmouthed losers who deserve each other.
Thus, “Can this marriage be saved?” is the burning question at the center of Blue Valentine, a flashback flick directed by Derek Cianfrance. Michelle Williams earned an Oscar nomination for her super-realistic performance as a wife increasingly embittered by both motherhood and the burden of being the breadwinner. Co-star Ryan Gosling is just as convincing in his capacity as Dean, a chuckleheaded slacker with lots of shortcomings.
Unfortunately, this much-ballyhooed movie has a fundamental flaw, namely, that it’s no fun to watch. For regardless of how plausible a picture Blue Valentine might paint, far be it from me to recommend that my readers invest in such a relentlessly-unpleasant experience, no matter how well-acted.
A depressing deconstruction of a marriage that clearly was never meant to be.

Fair (1 star)
Rated R for profanity, nudity, violence and graphic sexuality.
Running time: 112 Minutes
Distributor: The Weinstein Company

Sunday, January 30, 2011


Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Young Muslim Searches for Identity in Coming-of-Age Flick

Since 9/11, Muslims have basically become the N-words of the new millennium, being indiscriminately demonized in much the same way young African-Americans were universally vilified by the FBI during the rise of the Black Power Movement. In the wake of the civil unrest triggered by the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, simply walking the streets with an afro was all the probable cause a cop needed to stop and frisk anyone who resembled a radical figure like Huey Newton, Stokely Carmichael or H. Rap Brown.
Such state-sanctioned mistreatment inflicted harm unlikely ever to be undone on impressionable young minds trying to figure out their place in the world, since it made the U.S. suddenly feel more like an oppressive police state than the proverbial land of the free and home of the brave. And it is a similar sort of predicament which is sensitively explored in Mooz-Lum, a coming-of-age flick by Qasim “Q” Basir.
Mr. Basir makes a memorable writing and directorial debut with this semi-autobiographical character-driven drama chronicling an emotionally-conflicted young Muslim’s struggle for identity. And Q assembled an impressive cast to execute his script, including Evan Ross, Danny Glover, Nia Long and Roger Guenveur Smith, to name a few.
At the point of departure, we are introduced to Hassan Mahdi (Smith), an overbearing patriarch who forces his family to follow an orthodox, Islamic regimen. Wife Safiyah (Long) is unhappily-married because her husband’s too strict on the kids. Still, she won’t divorce him because she feels they need a father figure in their lives.
Consequently, their miserable son, Tariq (Ross), aka T, routinely removes the kufi he’s supposed to wear, as soon as his dad drops him off at school. And he also has to hide the fact that he has an innocent crush on a Catholic girl (Molly Paddock) he met in the woods. Meanwhile, his sister, Taqua (Kimberley Drummond), has her own issues, having to keep her head and body covered in modest Muslim garb that makes her stand out like a sore thumb.
The plot thickens when T’s faith is tested his freshman year of college, between being teased by a trash-talking classmate (Vladimi Versaillies) who lives across the hall and being attracted to a cute coed (Maryam Basir) who turns his head. On the one hand, he does his best to distance himself from his devout roommate, Hamza (Kunal Sharma), yet he’s not really ready to behave like a party animal either.
Elsewhere at the university, a Muslim professor (Dorian Missick) is having his tenure subtly threatened by a dean (Glover) who doesn’t appreciate his proselytizing. But then, all of the above is overshadowed by the events of 9/11 when an ugly mob starts roaming the campus in search of easy targets to take out their frustrations on.
A poignant, cinematic memoir of growing up Muslim in America from the perspective of an anguished soul who just wanted to enjoy a normal childhood.

Excellent (3.5 stars)
Rated PG-13 for violence and mature themes.
Running time: 99 Minutes
Distributor: Peace Film

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Ip Man 2: Legend of the Grandmaster (CHINESE)

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Donnie Yen Reprises Role as Kung Fu Fighter

Everybody knows that the late Bruce Lee (Jiang Dai-Yan) was the greatest karate star ever to grace the silver screen. But have you ever wondered who taught him that “expert timing” and how to be “as fast as lightning,” to borrow a couple of phrases from one-hit wonder Carl Douglas’ “Kung Fu Fighting.”
That would be the legendary Yip Kai-Man, aka Ip Man (Donnie Yen), the proponent of an ancient martial arts discipline known as Wing Chun. Bruce didn’t join Ip’s dojo until 1954, and this installment of the chopsocky franchise ends with a teenage Lee approaching his future sensei for lessons.
So, Ip Man 2 doesn’t revolve around the title character’s forging that historic relationship, but around his opening a Wing Chun school soon after his family’s escape to Hong Kong from Communist China. Still, establishing that business enterprise was easier said than done, given his lack of local street cred, at least until he kicked the butt of a local thug (Huang Xiaoming).
The humbled Wong Leung becomes Ip’s first protégé, and word of the existence of a competing academy eventually reaches the ears of Hong Zhen-Nan (Sammo Hung). This leads to a ballet-like battle between the two martial arts masters, as the action-oriented adventure seizes on any excuse for a skirmish.
However, all the various and sundry Asian adversaries are ultimately willing to bury the hatchet upon the arrival in town of Twister (Darren Shahlavi), the muscle-bound, World Heavyweight Boxing Champ. The Brit behemoth is very dismissive of karate and only becomes more cocky after beating a few challengers to a bloody pulp.
Like David and Goliath, it falls to relatively-modest Ip Man to save the face of both Wing Chun and China by defeating the giant foreign interloper in the ring in a no holds barred showdown which serves as the film’s finale. Any martial arts flick is judged by its acrobatic fight sequences, in this case Donnie Yen proves himself a worth protagonist by convincingly and creatively dispensing wave after wave of sacrificial goons.
Bruce Lee lives! (Or at least his mentor does.)

Very Good (3 stars)
Rated R for graphic violence.
In Cantonese, Mandarin and English with subtitles
Running time: 108 Minutes
Distributor: Variance Films

Friday, January 28, 2011

2011 Oscar Nominations

by Kam Williams

Headline: The King’s Speech Lands a Dozen Nominations
Mo’Nique Miffed by Snub of Halle Berry

The Oscar nominations were announced early Tuesday morning at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Beverly Hills by last year’s Best Supporting Actress-winner Mo’Nique (for Precious) along with Academy President Tom Sherak. The King’s Speech, the inspirational bio-pic about King George VI’s struggle to cure his stutter, has emerged as the early favorite in the annual awards sweepstakes, landing nominations in a dozen categories, including Best Picture, Actor (Colin Firth), Supporting Actor (Geoffrey Rush), Supporting Actress (Helena Bonham Carter), Director (Tom Hooper) and Original Screenplay (David Seidler).
This development should come as no surprise to anyone who recalls how fond the Anglophilic Academy has been of British costume dramas over the years, especially productions revolving around the Royal Family. For example, in 2007 Helen Mirren won for her portrayal of Queen Elizabeth II in The Queen, while Dame Judi Dench won in 1999 for playing Queen Elizabeth I. Judging by such a persistent exhibition of deference, one might think that America had never declared its independence from England.
In any case, The Coen Brothers’ True Grit (10) garnered the second most Oscar nominations, followed by The Social Network (8) and Inception (8), and The Fighter (7). As for surprises, Javier Bardem (Biutiful) ostensibly bumped out Ryan Gosling and Robert Duvall in the Best Actor category, a pair who had benefitted from buzz for their work in Blue Valentine and Get Low, respectively. Also snubbed was Paul Giamatti who just won a Golden Globe for Barney’s Version.
As for Best Actress, Halle Berry had been rumored to be in line for a nod for Frankie and Alice, and that conspicuous omission prompted Mo’Nique to remark right after coming offstage that she was, “truly disappointed” because she had “really wanted to say Halle Berry’s name.” She went on to say she had been blown away by Berry, before saluting her for, “a great performance, sister.”
Julianne Moore was ignored in the Supporting Actress category although her co-stars Annette Bening and Mark Ruffalo were recognized for The Kids Are All Right. And Christopher Nolan (Inception) was overlooked for Best Director, despite the fact that the movie was nominated for Best Picture.
Finally, the much-ballyhooed Waiting for Superman was left out of the Best Documentary category, perhaps because of a backlash against the public school education expose’s fervent anti-union stance. The 83rd Academy Awards will air live on ABC on Sunday, February 27th at 8 PM ET/5 PM PT, and will be co-hosted by James Franco and Anne Hathaway.


Actor in a Leading Role
• Javier Bardem in “Biutiful”
• Jeff Bridges in “True Grit”
• Jesse Eisenberg in “The Social Network”
• Colin Firth in “The King's Speech”
• James Franco in “127 Hours”
Actor in a Supporting Role
• Christian Bale in “The Fighter”
• John Hawkes in “Winter's Bone”
• Jeremy Renner in “The Town”
• Mark Ruffalo in “The Kids Are All Right”
• Geoffrey Rush in “The King's Speech”
Actress in a Leading Role
• Annette Bening in “The Kids Are All Right”
• Nicole Kidman in “Rabbit Hole”
• Jennifer Lawrence in “Winter's Bone”
• Natalie Portman in “Black Swan”
• Michelle Williams in “Blue Valentine”
Actress in a Supporting Role
• Amy Adams in “The Fighter”
• Helena Bonham Carter in “The King's Speech”
• Melissa Leo in “The Fighter”
• Hailee Steinfeld in “True Grit”
• Jacki Weaver in “Animal Kingdom”
Animated Feature Film
• “How to Train Your Dragon” Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois
• “The Illusionist” Sylvain Chomet
• “Toy Story 3” Lee Unkrich
Art Direction
• “Alice in Wonderland”
Production Design: Robert Stromberg; Set Decoration: Karen O'Hara
• “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1”
Production Design: Stuart Craig; Set Decoration: Stephenie McMillan
• “Inception”
Production Design: Guy Hendrix Dyas; Set Decoration: Larry Dias and Doug Mowat
• “The King's Speech”
Production Design: Eve Stewart; Set Decoration: Judy Farr
• “True Grit”
Production Design: Jess Gonchor; Set Decoration: Nancy Haigh
• “Black Swan” Matthew Libatique
• “Inception” Wally Pfister
• “The King's Speech” Danny Cohen
• “The Social Network” Jeff Cronenweth
• “True Grit” Roger Deakins
Costume Design
• “Alice in Wonderland” Colleen Atwood
• “I Am Love” Antonella Cannarozzi
• “The King's Speech” Jenny Beavan
• “The Tempest” Sandy Powell
• “True Grit” Mary Zophres
• “Black Swan” Darren Aronofsky
• “The Fighter” David O. Russell
• “The King's Speech” Tom Hooper
• “The Social Network” David Fincher
• “True Grit” Joel Coen and Ethan Coen
Documentary (Feature)
• “Exit through the Gift Shop” Banksy and Jaimie D'Cruz
• “Gasland” Josh Fox and Trish Adlesic
• “Inside Job” Charles Ferguson and Audrey Marrs
• “Restrepo” Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger
• “Waste Land” Lucy Walker and Angus Aynsley
Documentary (Short Subject)
• “Killing in the Name” Nominees to be determined
• “Poster Girl” Nominees to be determined
• “Strangers No More” Karen Goodman and Kirk Simon
• “Sun Come Up” Jennifer Redfearn and Tim Metzger
• “The Warriors of Qiugang” Ruby Yang and Thomas Lennon
Film Editing
• “Black Swan” Andrew Weisblum
• “The Fighter” Pamela Martin
• “The King's Speech” Tariq Anwar
• “127 Hours” Jon Harris
• “The Social Network” Angus Wall and Kirk Baxter
Foreign Language Film
• “Biutiful” Mexico
• “Dogtooth” Greece
• “In a Better World” Denmark
• “Incendies” Canada
• “Outside the Law (Hors-la-loi)” Algeria
• “Barney's Version” Adrien Morot
• “The Way Back” Edouard F. Henriques, Gregory Funk and Yolanda Toussieng
• “The Wolfman” Rick Baker and Dave Elsey
Music (Original Score)
• “How to Train Your Dragon” John Powell
• “Inception” Hans Zimmer
• “The King's Speech” Alexandre Desplat
• “127 Hours” A.R. Rahman
• “The Social Network” Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross
Music (Original Song)
• “Coming Home” from “Country Strong” Music and Lyric by Tom Douglas, Troy Verges and Hillary Lindsey
• “I See the Light” from “Tangled” Music by Alan Menken Lyric by Glenn Slater
• “If I Rise” from “127 Hours” Music by A.R. Rahman Lyric by Dido and Rollo Armstrong
• “We Belong Together” from “Toy Story 3" Music and Lyric by Randy Newman
Best Picture
• “Black Swan” Mike Medavoy, Brian Oliver and Scott Franklin, Producers
• “The Fighter” David Hoberman, Todd Lieberman and Mark Wahlberg, Producers
• “Inception” Emma Thomas and Christopher Nolan, Producers
• “The Kids Are All Right” Gary Gilbert, Jeffrey Levy-Hinte and Celine Rattray, Producers
• “The King's Speech” Iain Canning, Emile Sherman and Gareth Unwin, Producers
• “127 Hours” Christian Colson, Danny Boyle and John Smithson, Producers
• “The Social Network” Scott Rudin, Dana Brunetti, Michael De Luca and Ceán Chaffin, Producers
• “Toy Story 3” Darla K. Anderson, Producer
• “True Grit” Scott Rudin, Ethan Coen and Joel Coen, Producers
• “Winter's Bone" Anne Rosellini and Alix Madigan-Yorkin, Producers
Short Film (Animated)
• “Day & Night” Teddy Newton
• “The Gruffalo” Jakob Schuh and Max Lang
• “Let's Pollute” Geefwee Boedoe
• “The Lost Thing” Shaun Tan and Andrew Ruhemann
• “Madagascar, carnet de voyage (Madagascar, a Journey Diary)” Bastien Dubois
Short Film (Live Action)
• “The Confession” Tanel Toom
• “The Crush” Michael Creagh
• “God of Love” Luke Matheny
• “Na Wewe” Ivan Goldschmidt
• “Wish 143” Ian Barnes and Samantha Waite
Sound Editing
• “Inception” Richard King
• “Toy Story 3” Tom Myers and Michael Silvers
• “Tron: Legacy” Gwendolyn Yates Whittle and Addison Teague
• “True Grit” Skip Lievsay and Craig Berkey
• “Unstoppable” Mark P. Stoeckinger
Sound Mixing
• “Inception” Lora Hirschberg, Gary A. Rizzo and Ed Novick
• “The King's Speech” Paul Hamblin, Martin Jensen and John Midgley
• “Salt” Jeffrey J. Haboush, Greg P. Russell, Scott Millan and William Sarokin
• “The Social Network” Ren Klyce, David Parker, Michael Semanick and Mark Weingarten
• “True Grit” Skip Lievsay, Craig Berkey, Greg Orloff and Peter F. Kurland
Visual Effects
• “Alice in Wonderland” Ken Ralston, David Schaub, Carey Villegas and Sean Phillips
• “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1” Tim Burke, John Richardson, Christian Manz and Nicolas Aithadi
• “Hereafter” Michael Owens, Bryan Grill, Stephan Trojanski and Joe Farrell
• “Inception” Paul Franklin, Chris Corbould, Andrew Lockley and Peter Bebb
• “Iron Man 2” Janek Sirrs, Ben Snow, Ged Wright and Daniel Sudick
Writing (Adapted Screenplay)
• “127 Hours” Screenplay by Danny Boyle & Simon Beaufoy
• “The Social Network” Screenplay by Aaron Sorkin
• “Toy Story 3” Screenplay by Michael Arndt; Story by John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton and Lee Unkrich
• “True Grit” Written for the screen by Joel Coen & Ethan Coen
• “Winter's Bone” Adapted for the screen by Debra Granik & Anne Rosellini
Writing (Original Screenplay)
• “Another Year” Written by Mike Leigh
• “The Fighter” Screenplay by Scott Silver and Paul Tamasy & Eric Johnson;
Story by Keith Dorrington & Paul Tamasy & Eric Johnson
• “Inception” Written by Christopher Nolan
• “The Kids Are All Right” Written by Lisa Cholodenko & Stuart Blumberg
• “The King's Speech” Screenplay by David Seidler

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

Kam's Kapsules:
Weekly Previews That Make Choosing a Film Fun
by Kam Williams
For movies opening February 4, 2011


The Roommate (PG-13 for profanity, sexuality, menacing, violence and teen partying) Psychological thriller about a naïve, college freshman (Minka Kelly) who moves into her dorm having no idea that she’s been assigned a roommate (Leighton Meester) with a killer personality. With Billy Zane, Cam Gigandet and Alyson Michalka.

Sanctum (R for profanity, violence and disturbing images) 3-D action thriller set in the South Pacific where a team of divers exploring a series of underwater caves suddenly find themselves in a struggle for survival after becoming trapped by a flash flood. Ensemble cast includes Richard Roxburgh, Ioan Gruffudd, Rhys Wakefield and Alice Parkinson.


American Grindhouse (Unrated) Film fan documentary chronicling the history of cheesy exploitation flicks from the early days of cinema to the present. Featuring appearances by John Landis, Fred Williamson and Robert Forster.

Cold Weather (Unrated) Mumblecore whodunit, set in Portland, Oregon, and revolving around an aimless, forensics school dropout (Cris Lankenau) who gets a chance to play amateur sleuth when his ex-girlfriend (Robyn Rikoon) mysteriously disappears. With Trieste Kelly Dunn, Raul Castillo and Jeb Pearson.

Dressed (Unrated) Inspirational bio-pic about Nary Manivong, the Laotian-American designer who overcame a challenging childhood marked by poverty and homelessness to realize his dream of launching his own clothing line in New York City during Fashion Week.

How I Ended This Summer (Unrated) Psychological drama set at a weather station on a desolate island in the middle of the Arctic Ocean where a recently-arrived college grad (Grigory Dobrygin) is reluctant to break the bad news that the wife and child his new boss (Sergei Puskepalis) left behind in civilization have just perished in a tragic accident. (In Russian with subtitles)

Into Eternity (Unrated) Eco-exposé, directed and narrated by Michael Madsen (Celestial Night), calculating the long-term risks associated with the storage of nuclear power plant waste which remains radioactive for 100,000 years. Includes interviews with scientists and government bureaucrats involved with the construction of a repository facility located in Olkiluoto, Finland.

Mooz-Lum (PG-13 for violence and mature themes) Dysfunctional family drama about a devout Muslim-American (Roger Guenveur Smith) who emotionally alienates his wife (Nia Long) and kids (Evan Ross and Kimberley Drummond) by forcing them to follow orthodox religious practices and dress codes. With Danny Glover, Dorian Missick and Summer Bishil.

The Other Woman (R for profanity and sexuality) Natalie Portman stars in the title role of this bittersweet dramedy, based on Ayelet Waldman’s novel “Love and Other Impossible Pursuits,” about a mistress-turned-trophy wife’s strained relationship with her 8 year-old stepson (Charlie Tahan) in the wake of her husband’s (Scott Cohen) messy divorce from a vindictive witch (Lisa Kudrow).

Waiting for Forever (PG-13 for violence, mature themes and brief profanity) Romance drama about a famous TV actress (Rachel Bilson) who rekindles a friendship with a lifelong admirer (Tom Sturridge) when she returns to her hometown to care for her ailing father (Richard Jenkins). With Blythe Danner, Jaime King and Nikki Blonsky.


DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: South African Answer to “The Hangover “Arrives on DVD

Ayanda (Zandile Msutwana) is frantically putting the finishing touches on her impending, dream wedding set to transpire in Cape Town in a couple of days. Unfortunately, the ravishing beauty just can’t help herself, as she acts out like your typical Bridezilla, much to the frustration of her miffed mother (Sylvia Mngxekeza) and her flamboyant event planner.
Meanwhile, her relatively-mellow groom, Elvis (Kenneth Nkosi), is 1,800 kilometers away in Durban, where he is set to embark on what he expects to be an uneventful drive along with his Best Man. However, upon arriving to pick up Tumi (Rapulana Seiphemo), he finds the player in bed with three naked women. And although Elvis declines to participate in the impromptu bachelor party, the tone is set for their ensuing sojourn along the coast.
Thus begins White Wedding, a wacky romantic comedy which might best be thought of as South Africa’s answer to The Hangover (2009). The movie marks the auspicious writing and directorial debut of Jann Turner, who on a modest budget has managed to make the best road flick in the region since The Gods Must Be Crazy (1980).
It doesn’t take long to figure out how the plot is about to thicken, for the focus soon shifts to Rose (Jodie Whittaker), an inebriated British woman they meet in a bar who’s crying about having just broken off her engagement to her philandering fiancé. Over the vociferous objections of Elvis that the disheveled and disoriented white woman is bound to attract nothing but trouble for a couple of brothers driving a late model Mercedes, turned-on Tumi offers her a ride to the airport and ushers her right into the car.
What ensues is a rollicking romp, during which both Tumi and Rose catch a serious case of Jungle Fever. As one might imagine, their mutual affection doesn’t sit well with everyone they encounter, such as the denizens of a redneck watering hole where a telltale Apartheid flag is still draped on the wall.
Between running from a lynch mob and having a car accident, Elvis has plenty of excuses for arriving late to his own wedding, if he only could tell increasingly-impatient Ayanda the truth about all he’s been up to. The Hangover meets The Gods Must Be Crazy, if you catch my intercontinental drift.

Excellent (4 stars)
Rated PG-13 for some sexuality.
In Zulu, Afrikaans, English and Xhosa with subtitles.
Running time: 98 Minutes
Distributor: Image Entertainment
DVD Extras: None

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Like Dandelion Dust DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: DVD Highlights Legal Fight between Birth and Adoptive Parents

Wendy Porter (Mira Sorvino) had no idea she was pregnant the night she had her abusive husband Rip (Barry Pepper) arrested for breaking her arm in a fit of rage during another one of his drinking binges. And when he was sent up the river for a long stint in the state pen, she decided to surrender the baby to an adoption agency, figuring that she would never be able to provide for their child properly.
Enter Jack (Cole Hauser) and Molly (Kate Levering), a well-to-do couple living large down in sunny Jacksonville, Florida, half a country away. After finalizing adoption papers, The Campbells flew to Ohio to take custody of Joey (Maxwell Perry Cotton), and subsequently proceeded to raise him in the lap of luxury. That might have been the end of the story, except for the fact that the infant’s father’s signature had been forged on the consent from.
Fast-forward a half-dozen years, when Rip returns home from prison, rehabilitated and ready to resume a relationship with his wife. Wendy, sensing that her hubby’s really turned a new leaf, informs him first about the fact that he’s a daddy, and then about the falsified document giving Joey away to the Campbells, presumably permanently.
Not surprisingly, the reconciled Porters now want their child back, so they consult an attorney who gives them the good news that the law’s on their side. Therefore, they file a motion in court to reverse the adoption, whereupon the judge issues an order that six-year old Joey be returned to his birthparents because of the underlying fraud.
Needless to say, this decision doesn’t sit well with the Campbells, who hadn’t even yet told the boy that he was adopted. Furthermore, they understandably feel that he’s already been with them so long that it would do irreparable harm to take him away at this point.
This unfortunate scenario sets up the emotional tug of war at the center of Like Dandelion Dust, a heartrending drama directed by Jon Gunn (Mercy Streets). Based on Karen Kingsbury’s best seller of the same name, the character-driven film is blessed by compelling performances by a talented ensemble topped by Barry Pepper and Mira Sorvino.
Never telegraphing which couple will ultimately prevail, this even-handed production makes persuasive cases for both birth and adoptive parents en route to a Solomon-like resolution designed to restore one’s faith in humanity. If only folks were as reasonable in real-life, we wouldn’t be reading about so many adoption nightmares.

Excellent (3.5 stars)
Rated PG-13 for mature themes, domestic violence and alcohol abuse.
Running time: 104 Minutes
Distributor: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
DVD Extras: Deleted and extended scenes, deleted scenes commentary by director Jon Gunn, adoption stories by novelist Karen Kingsbury and by producer Kevin Downes, and a featurette entitled “Like Dandelion Dust Comes to Life.”

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

I Beat the Odds (BOOK REVIEW)

I Beat the Odds:
From Homelessness to “The Blind Side” and Beyond
by Michael Oher
with Don Yaeger
Gotham Books
Hardcover, $26.00
280 pages, Illustrated
ISBN: 978-1-592-40612-8

Book Review by Kam Williams

“I didn’t write this book just to revisit The Blind Side… I want to help separate fact from fiction. After the movie came out, there were a lot of people asking me if my life was exactly how it was shown on screen.
Obviously, the moviemakers have to make artistic choices to tell the story…but some of the details… just aren’t true. I hope that I can help to make a little more sense of it all.
My second goal with this book, and the much more important one, is that I want to talk about—and to—the nearly 500,000 children in America… in foster care. Many people probably know my name from The Blind Side... What no one knows is exactly what happened to me during my years in the foster care system, the years before The Blind Side picked up my story.
The ending of my story is unique, but the beginning of my story is, sadly, far too common…It is my goal with this book not only to tell my story in my own words, but to encourage anyone who is a part of the system or who wants to be a part of helping children out of it.”
Excerpted from the Introduction (pgs. xiii-xviii)

Michael Oher became famous a year ago when his inspirational story was made into a heartwarming Hollywood movie. That overcoming-the-odds sports saga recounted how a traumatized, black teenager went from homeless to National Football League star with the help of the a well-to-do family who rescued him from the streets of Memphis. Sandra Bullock even won an Oscar for her endearing portrayal of matriarch Leigh Anne Tuohy, a compassionate Christian who altruistically invited the gentle giant to move into her house.
But the film also took some liberties with the facts, such as suggesting that Michael only learned to play football in high school and that he was walking around wearing shorts in the middle of a frigid day in November. Furthermore, because the picture basically began with his rescue, it failed to convey exactly how much of a harrowing nightmare his childhood had been previously, when he and his siblings had been shuttled from foster home to foster home on account of their mother’s crack addiction.
For these reasons Michael decided to write I Beat the Odds: From Homelessness to “The Blind Side” and Beyond, a poignant memoir from the perspective of an intrepid survivor who is not too proud to admit how scared, trapped and helpless he felt before finally finding a way out of the cycle of poverty. Given his humblest of origins, it’s nothing short of remarkable that he now plays offensive tackle for the Baltimore Colts, a tribute not only to the intervention of the Tuohys, but to his own amalgam of ambition, dedication and persistence.
Besides relating his personal tale of courage, Michael designed his autobiography to serve as a charitable organization guide for folks motivated to get involved, as well as a how-to primer for children presently stuck in the foster care system. Along the way, he shares some practical advice with kids about the importance of finding role models, daring to dream, setting goals and developing a good work ethic.
In the process, Michael Oher drives home his salient point that “You don’t have to get adopted by a rich family to make it.” Thereby, his elusive, sugarcoated Hollywood fantasy is augmented by the more readily-accessible reality that “You just have to have it set in your brain that you are going to make a better life for yourself and you have to be committed to making that happen.”

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

This Week’s DVD Releases

by Kam Williams

Headline: Top Ten DVD List for January 25th 2011

Still Bill

The Color Purple [Blu-Ray]

White Wedding

Ronald Reagen Centennial Collection


Hey Vern, It's Ernest! The Complete Series

Zorro: The Complete Series

Tupac Uncensored and Uncut: The Lost Prison Tapes


Which Way Home

Honorable Mention

Open Season 3

Like Dandelion Dust

The Universe: The Complete Season Five

No Tomorrow

What’s the Matter with Kansas?

Saw: The Final Chapter

Ernest Triple Feature

My Last Five Girlfriends

Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll

Feed the Fish

The Traveler

Inspector Bellamy

Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer

Monday, January 24, 2011

Erica Hubbard: The “Let’s Stay Together” Interview

with Kam Williams

Headline: Hubba Hubbard!

Talented, gorgeous and “The Girl Next Door” are words used to describe Erica Hubbard. Born in Chicago on January 2, 1979, the versatile actress has been lighting up the big and small screens with her contagious and enticing smile for the past seven years and can now be seen as one of the leads on Let’s Stay Together, the eagerly-anticipated, original comedy produced for the BET Network, which debuted earlier this month.
Erica knew at the tender age of nine that she wanted to be an actress after performing in her first stage play. Never giving up on her dream, she attended Columbia College in Chicago where she majored in Broadcast Journalism, minored in Theater and earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in just three years!
After graduating, Erica landed coveted leads in TV commercials in national campaigns for such companies as McDonald's, MCI, Reebok, Sears and Noxzema, to name a few. Next, she decided to take her talents to Hollywood where she found work almost immediately.
Erica’s motion picture credits include, Save the Last Dance, A Cinderella Story, Light It Up, Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants and Akeelah and the Bee. And her TV credits include guest-starring roles on such hits as “CSI: Miami,” “Everybody Hates Chris,” and “Cold Case.”
She was also a series regular and the voice of Abbey on the animated series “The Replacements.” In addition, she recently wrapped four successful seasons on the NAACP Image Award-winning, critically-acclaimed family drama “Lincoln Heights.”
When not acting, Erica is deeply involved in her philanthropic work, such as volunteering for charitable organizations like the Boys and Girls Club of America and serving as the Executive Director of The Erica Hubbard Foundation, a non-profit which visits schools, community centers and youth organizations to help at-risk, inner-city kids deal with low self-esteem and poverty.
In her free time, Erica loves hanging out with her best friend, her rescued Chihuahua, Winnie. And she enjoys learning sign language, taking dance classes, hiking and traveling.

Kam Williams: Hi Erica, thanks for the interview.
Erica Hubbard: Thank you, Kam. I appreciate you interviewing me.

KW: What interested you in Let’s Stay Together?
EH: I love picking projects that make history such as Let's Stay Together and Lincoln Heights. ABC Family and BET Networks developed a television series based on African-American relationships both for the first time. I love being involved in groundbreaking projects!

KW: Tell me a little about the show.
EH: Let's Stay Together is a comedy set in Atlanta, Georgia that has an ensemble cast following the lives of a married couple, an engaged couple and a single woman. Each of the lives portrayed in Let's Stay Together goes through its ups and downs, being in relationships as well as looking for love.

KW: How would you describe your character, Kita?
EH: Kita Whitmore is a single, sassy, outspoken, and a fun-loving girl who works at the DMV. She lives by herself and is taking a break from men until she finds the right relationship to pursue. In the meantime, Kita is always giving advice to others on what they should do in their relationships.

KW: Are you more like Kita or Cassie Sutton, the character you played on Lincoln Heights?
EH: I have personality traits of both Kita from Let's Stay Together as well as Cassie from Lincoln Heights. I use life experiences of situations I have been through to bring my roles to life. I think a person can have many different ways to express their personality depending on the situation they are dealing with at that moment. Also, I never want to be a one-dimensional actress who portrays the same lifestyle in all her roles because I love being versatile. In the film A Cinderella Story I played a Valley Girl, but then in Akeelah and the Bee I was a single-mom from the city. I studied theater at Columbia College and we were trained to study and to portray all different types of characters and personalities.

KW: What’s it like going from Lincoln Heights, a dramatic series, to a sitcom? What challenges did you face in portraying a DMV Employee?
EH: I really love to do comedy and drama regardless if I 'm in a stage play or in a TV Series. I enjoy all genres of programming. As a matter of fact, when I was doing the pilot for Let's Stay Together, I was also filming the season finale of the CBS-TV series Cold Case in which I was being shot and killed during the episode. I love both working in emotional stories and in stories that make people laugh.

KW: What message do you think people will take away from Let’s Stay Together?
EH: The message I hope everyone will take from watching Let's Stay Together is that we need to stick with each other in the good times and the bad times, and to love each other and truly care about one another in our relationships. There is a saying that I think is so true: "United We Stand, Divided We Fall.”

KW: Is there any question no one ever asks you, that you wish someone would?
EH: I usually have to bring up the fact that I love being involved in my community, volunteering or donating. Recently, I formed The Erica Hubbard Foundation and my charity work is so important to my life. I really encourage everyone to get involved with any charity and please give back to your community.

KW: The Tasha Smith question: Are you ever afraid?
EH: Yes, I am afraid at times about our nature and the world we live in, dealing with Global Warming. This year I have seen and heard stories of tragedy that relate to our climate change. Although it is not good to live in worry, I am concerned about Global Warming and how it is affecting our Earth.

KW: The Columbus Short question: Are you happy?
EH: Yes, the majority of the time I am happy, because I woke me up to bring cheer to someone that day. I love joking around and making people smile as well as laugh. Laughter is medicine for our souls. Life is precious and short so we all should live in joy as much as we can.

KW: The Teri Emerson question: When was the last time you had a good laugh?
EH: I just had a good laugh talking with my friend before the interview. My advice to everyone is try laughing as much as you can every day and watch how much positivity will flow throughout your life. You will be amazed on how great your day will turn out if you laugh a lot throughout your life.

KW: What is your guiltiest pleasure?
EH: My guiltiest pleasure would be any kind of sweets either candy, cookies, pies or cakes.

KW: The bookworm Troy Johnson question: What was the last book you read?
EH: The last book I read was, "The Richest Man in Town: The Twelve Commandments of Wealth” which shares the inside secrets of America's self-made millionaires.”

KW: The music maven Heather Covington question: What are you listening to on your iPod?
EH: I listen to all different types of music from R&B, Soul, Rap, Hip-Hop, Country, Gospel, Jazz to Reggae. If a song has a great upbeat message, I will listen to it to get my day started in a positive fashion.

KW: What is your favorite dish to cook?
EH: My favorite dish to cook is lasagna.

KW: The Uduak Oduok question: Who is your favorite clothes designer?
EH: My favorite clothes designer is Versace.

KW: When you look in the mirror, what do you see?
EH: When I look in the mirror, I see God's love!

KW: If you could have one wish instantly granted, what would that be for?
EH: My one wish, if I could have it granted instantly is that there would be world peace with everyone forever!

KW: The Ling-Ju Yen question: What is your earliest childhood memory?
EH: My earliest childhood memory is from preschool, singing in a Christmas pageant.

KW: The Nancy Lovell Question: Why do you love doing what you do?
EH: I love inspiring everyone to be successful and encouraging people to keep dreaming toward their success.

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

KW: The Laz Alonso question: How can your fans help you?
EH: My fans can help me by writing letters to me, by watching my TV series or movies, by visiting me at Facebook or Twitter to say hello. I truly love the support from fans!

KW: The Zane Question: Do you have any regrets?
EH: I try not to focus on regrets or ponder on them because it drains your positive energy.

KW: The Dulé Hill question. Do you think that the success you’ve achieved in your career is because of you, because of a higher power, or because of a mixture of both?
EH: Most definitely I believe the result of my success I have achieved is from a Higher Power. I know being obedient to God and Him using me to make a difference in my community is why I am successful.

KW: What has been the biggest obstacle you have had to overcome?
EH: The biggest obstacle that I had to overcome is being on unemployment and finding the willpower to put in the work to make a great salary by hard work and dedication.

KW: The Flex Alexander question: How do you get through the tough times?
EH: I pray and meditate a lot to get through tough times.

KW: The Rudy Lewis question: Who’s at the top of your hero list?
EH: #1: Dr. Martin Luther King. #2: Gandhi. #3: Mother Theresa. #4: President Obama. #5: Nelson Mandela. #6: Oprah.

KW: The Dr. Cornel West question: What price are you willing to pay for a cause that is bigger than your own self interest?
EH:I am willing to keep breaking Hollywood barriers to show my community to prove the point that any one of you can be successful with years of perseverance through difficulties and determination. I encourage everyone to be strong no matter what your situation is and remember as the saying goes, "Success is a journey, not a destination."

KW: What advice do you have for anyone who wants to follow in your footsteps?
EH: The advice I give anyone following my footsteps is get advice and support from a mentor who is a working professional in the entertainment industry.

KW: The Tavis Smiley question: How do you want to be remembered? What do you want your legacy to be, and where are you in relation to that at this point in your life?
EH: I want my legacy to be remembered as someone that cared about by their community through my charity involvement as well as my work onscreen, entertaining the masses.

KW: Thanks again for the time, Erica, and best of luck with the new show.
EH: Thank you, Kam, and Happy New Year!

Paper Man DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: “Can This Marriage Be Saved” Dramedy Starring Kudrow and Daniels Comes to DVD

Claire Dunn (Lisa Kudrow), a successful surgeon, is so fed up with her underachieving husband that she kicks him out of their house in Manhattan with the hopes that being in their summer home on Long Island during the off season might be a better place for him to concentrate on his novel. But because Richard (Jeff Daniels) has never had anything published, he wonders aloud whether this break from each other supposedly for just the winter might really be a trial separation.
You see, the slacker’s been suffering from a combination of crippling maladies ranging from a midlife crisis to writer’s block to a disturbing tendency to carry on conversations with Captain Excellent (Ryan Reynolds), his imaginary friend in a superhero outfit. And this already confused and lonely soul is about to add a classic case of arrested development to his host of woes soon after his wife drops him off.
For right after his she leaves, he hires a luscious, local teenager as a babysitter, even though he doesn’t have any children. And by the time oblivious Abby (Emma Stone) catches on that she’s there to watch him, she’s so intrigued by the eccentric newcomer that she still agrees to work for him regularly. As it turns out, she’s just as troubled, having never quite recovered from the death of her twin sister.
Thus, Abby and Richard bond as kindred spirits, doing their best to keep the relationship Platonic in spite of an unspoken mutual attraction. After all, he’s married, while she has a boyfriend (Kieran Culkin) who’s always hanging around.
So unfolds Paper Man, a young girl-old fool dramedy serving up an amusing mix of serendipity and flights of fancy. Written and directed by Kieran and Michele Mulroney, the movie might best be thought of as Montauk’s answer to Lost in Translation.
Eventually, the moment of truth arrives when shrewish Claire shows up unannounced and catches her hubby in a compromising position on the couch with his hot nanny. At that juncture, the miffed spouse throws the proverbial pot of cold water on the cozy arrangement letting Richard’s “It’s not what it looks like, honey!” excuse falls on deaf ears. The only question left to be answered is whether the philanderer will wise up and try to save his marriage, or simply trade in the enraged doctor for jailbait less than half his age?
Love, Long Island style!

Very Good (3 stars)
Rated R for profanity and sexuality.
Running time: 110 Minutes
Distributor: MPI Home Video
DVD Extras: Trailer, and “The Making of” featurette.

Sunday, January 23, 2011


DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Adaptation of DC Comic Book Released -on DVD

Just about the only excitement retiree Frank Moses (Bruce Willis) enjoys nowadays is speaking to Sarah Ross (Mary-Louis Parker), a customer service operator he has a crush. But the two have never even met because she’s located in Missouri while he’s in Ohio, so their relationship has been limited to a harmless flirtation.

As for Sarah’s side of the equation, she hates being stuck in a cubicle in a 9-5 job she finds unsatisfying, so she lives vicariously through the characters of the romantic adventure novels she loves to read. She likes Frank, but has never seriously entertained the idea of rendezvousing with her elderly suitor.

Everything changes for both the day a hit squad attempts to ambush the ex-CIA Agent in the middle of the night. After barely escaping, he makes his way to Kansas City to rescue Sarah who had no idea of his previous career as a spy or that she’s now in peril because of their frequent phone chats.

Frank arrives in town with no time to convince the startled and very reluctant object of his affection that she needs to flee with him immediately. Then, while they’re crisscrossing the country on the run from bloodthirsty assassins, he pays a visit to each of his former partners, Joe (Morgan Freeman), Victoria (Helen Mirren) and Marvin (John Malkovich), to coax them out of retirement.

Once reassembled, the crack team soon determines that they’ve all been framed by a rogue CIA Agent (Karl Urban) who wants them dead because of knowledge they share which might expose him as a traitor. This is the intriguing premise of Red, an action-oriented, espionage thriller based on the series of DC comic books of the same name.

The film features an A-List cast which includes Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman, Helen Mirren and John Malkovich whose badinage is a treat to behold. It’s just unfortunate that the production failed to invest as much in special effects as in the talent and the script.

Still, the acting is so superb you’re willing to forgive the inadvertently funny pyrotechnics which look like they cost about a five bucks to shoot. Instead, just focus on the inspired dialogue, such as the hilarious line “Wanna get pancakes?” delivered oh so matter-of-factly by Malkovich right after he’s blown away a bad guy.

Geezer G-Men Gone Wild!

Very Good (3 stars)
Rated PG-13 for intense action sequences and brief profanity.
Running time: 111 Minutes
Distributor: Summit Entertainment
DVD Extras: Deleted and extended scenes, audio commentary with retired CIA Field Officer Robert Baer, and a couple of featurettes: “ACCESS: RED - Cast Insights” and “CIA Exposed.”

Freakonomics DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Film Adaptation of Best Seller Comes to DVD

Freakonomics is 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 that selling drugs is 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 book’s chapters and structured the picture as a discrete series of vignettes recreating the content.

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’ve taken 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 Home Entertainment
DVD Extras: Extended interviews with authors Dubner and Levitt, commentaries by the producers and directors, and a theatrical trailer.

No Strings Attached

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: “Friends with Benefits” Mate in Crude Romantic Comedy

Adam (Ashton Kutcher) and Emma (Natalie Portman) have been close since they forged an enduring friendship at sleep-away summer camp as adolescents. Back then, she was the shoulder he leaned on during his parents’ divorce, although she did rebuff his advances when he attempted to make an awkward pass.
Emma politely explained that she just wasn’t an affectionate person, since she believed that, “People aren’t meant to be together.” As a result, it’s no surprise that their relationship remained Platonic for the next 14 years, through high school and college, and the launch of their professional careers.
Currently, they both live in Los Angeles, where Emma’s been putting in 80 hours weeks as a resident at Westwood Teaching Hospital. Always on call, the very busy doctor simply doesn’t really have the time to date, even if she were inclined. As for Adam, he’s an aspiring scriptwriter employed by a Hollywood studio.
The plot thickens soon after he’s dumped by his girlfriend, Vanessa (Ophelia Lovibond), who leaves him for his famous father, Alvin Franklin (Kevin Kline), the star of a hit TV show called “Great Scott!” Despondent Adam ventures down to his local watering hole where he cries in his beer about being stuck in his dad’s shadow.
And on the advice of his street-smart bartender (Ludacris), he decides to proposition every female whose number he has stored in his cell phone (“Do you have a place where I can put my boner?”) until one finally invites him over. The next day, he awakens hung over and naked in an unfamiliar apartment, with no memory of what just transpired. Turns out it’s Emma’s place, and she’s less concerned with being respected in the morning than with establishing the ground rules, namely, that they’ll “just use each other for sex at all hours of the day and night, nothing else!”
Can two lifelong friends suddenly start sleeping together without developing deeper feelings? That is the carnal proposition posed by No Strings Attached, a romantic comedy in reverse from the legendary Ivan Reitman, director of such screen classics as Stripes (1981) Ghostbusters (1984) and Twins (1988). For instead of following the genre’s familiar formula where the stars remain chaste until they’re ready to ride off “happily ever after” into the proverbial sunset together, here the question is whether love will blossom in spite of their having already mated repeatedly.
Unfortunately, No Strings Attached suffers from two fatal flaws. First, there’s precious little nudity other than marshmallow-assed Ashton Kutcher’s dimpled derriere (not my fantasy), which seems a tad tame for a flick revolving around a couple of constantly-copulating “Friends with Benefits.”
Secondly, the film trades in a terribly coarse brand of humor ostensibly-designed to shock the audience. From the word “WHORE” emblazoned on the panties of a college coed at a pajama party, to an Asian stagehand (Matthew Moy) inexplicably exposing himself to young actresses on a set, to an East Indian M.D. (Mindy Kaling) referring to herself and her colleagues as “dirty, dirty sluts,” to another doctor’s (Greta Gerwig) describing her period as “a crime scene in my pants,” every joke is cruder than last and fails to elicit any laughs.
A vulgar exercise in depravity radiating such bad karma that you’ll need to take a cleansing shower right after watching it.

Poor (0 stars)
Rated R for sexuality, profanity and drug use.
Running time: 110 Minutes
Distributor: Paramount Pictures

Friday, January 21, 2011

Takers DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: T.I. Crime Caper Comes to DVD

The “One Last Big Heist” is a theme of the crime caper genre which has proven to be quite popular over the years. Takers employs that tried and true formula in entertaining fashion, recycling vaguely familiar scenes from the likes of The Italian Job, Ocean’s 11, True Romance, District B-13 and, perhaps most obviously, Heat.
When such a cobbling of stock elements creates a uniquely compelling adventure, it’s generally referred to as an homage. But if the movie merely seems like a shameless rehash of other picture’s greatest moments, we tend to dismiss it as an unworthy rip-off. Takers teeters precariously on the dividing line between hit and miss, belatedly getting around to offering just enough edge of your seat excitement to make you stop wondering where you might have seen this or that bit before.
Set in L.A., the film features a talented ensemble headed by hip-hop star T.I. who is typecast as Ghost, a recently-paroled ex-con. As the film unfolds, we are treated to the sight of a smoothly-executed bank robbery which nets the gang (Chris Brown, Idris Elba, Paul Walker, Michael Ealy and Hayden Christensen) a cool $2 million.
However, before they even have a chance to divvy up the take, who should show up unexpectedly, but their former partner in crime, Ghost, looking something like a, eh, well, like someone who just rose from the dead. He’s inclined to overlook the fact that he was dumped for pal Jake (Ealy) by his impatient girlfriend (Zoe Saldana) while he was up the river, so long as the boys are willing to let him mastermind an armored car robbery in five days.
They agree, thereby breaking an unwritten rule calling for a year off between burglaries. Several slightly-developed subplots supply the rationale for this deviation from the norm, such as Gordon’s (Elba) desperately needing more cash to move his substance-abusing sister (Marianne Jean-Baptiste) from a rehab center to the Caribbean.
The pace of this highly-stylized romp picks up considerably once we’ve had a chance to become acquainted with each of the guys. What ensues revolves more around visually-captivating detonations, chase scene and fight sequences than around the sort of cerebral fare one ordinarily associates with a cat-and-mouse caper.
Mindless mayhem perfect for fans of pyrotechnics for pyrotechnics sake.

Good (2 stars)
Rated PG-13 for sexuality, profanity, graphic violence and partial nudity.
Running time: 107 Minutes
Distributor: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
DVD Extras: Filmmaker and cast commentary, and a music video by T.I. entitled “Yeah, ya know.”

Gabi on the Roof in July

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Sibling Tensions Escalate in Sensual, Meandering Mumblecore

20 year-old Gabi (Sophia Takal) has just finished the school year at Oberlin where she’s been majoring in theater. But she’s reluctant to spend the summer at home as usual since she’s upset about her parents’ recent divorce.
So, she heads to New York City to stay with her brother, Sam (Lawrence Michael Levine), reasonably expecting to find a sympathetic shoulder to lean on. However, at 30, he’s long since left the nest, and is not nearly as affected by the marital breakup.
Furthermore, as a struggling artist, he has survival issues to confront, like trying to get a gallery to show his work. Plus, he’s busy juggling a couple of cutie pie girlfriends in Madeline (Brooke Bloom) and Chelsea (Amy Seimetz). In fact, he’s so swamped he’s not even there to meet his sister upon her arrival.
Instead, when Gabi lets herself into the unlocked Brooklyn apartment, she is greeted by the sight of a guy who’s passed out in the bathtub. Yet, she hits it off immediately with the slackers hanging out there, including Sam’s rubbery eunuch of a roommate, Charles (Robert White), and Garrett (Louis Cancelmi), a homeless dude who’s been crashing on the couch for over a month.
Soon, the latter has Gabi naked, too, and is tickling her and spraying whipped cream all over her body. And when Sam comes home, instead of covering up modestly, she seductively invites her brother to lick it off.
But he declines the incestuous offer, and suddenly finds himself having to play the adult, berating the bawdy Bohemians to behave. This has no effect on his out of control sibling who proceeds to engage in rough sex with Garrett.
While Gabi can’t communicate with Sam, she can later confide in Dory (Kate Lyn Sheil), a female about her own age, that she’s just surrendered her virginity to Garrett. Nevertheless, it doesn’t take long for her to develop a bad reputation as a party animal, as other admirers arrive asking her brother, “How come you didn’t tell me how cool your sister was?”
Welcome to the hot bed of debauchery that is Gabi on the Roof in July, a meandering mumblecore that proves every bit as compelling as it is jaw-dropping, since you never know what somebody might do next. Written and directed by Lawrence Michael Levine who also co-stars as Sam, the film features a gifted improv ensemble especially the appealing and dynamic Sophia Takal who steals her every scene as the uninhibited title character.
Good girl goes bad, and then some!

Excellent (4 stars)
Running time: 100 Minutes
Distributor: Little Teeth Pictures

Thursday, January 20, 2011

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

Kam's Kapsules:
Weekly Previews That Make Choosing a Film Fun
by Kam Williams
For movies opening January 28, 2011


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

The Mechanic (R for profanity, nudity, sexuality and pervasive graphic violence) Jason Statham stars in the title role of this remake of the Charles Bronson classic thriller about an elite assassin who forges an ill-fated liaison with an apprentice (Ben Foster) bent on revenge. Cast includes Donald Sutherland, Jeff Chase and Mini Anden.

The Rite (PG-13 for profanity, sexual references, frightening images and disturbing themes) Religious-themed horror flick about a demoralized seminary student (Colin O’Donoghue) who finds his faith restored fighting demonic forces after he learns to perform exorcisms at the Vatican. With Anthony Hopkins, Rutger Hauer, Ciaran Hinds, Toby Jones and Alice Braga.


Blackmail Boys (Unrated) Homoerotic thriller, set in Chicago, about a marriage-minded, same-sex couple (Nathan Adloff and Taylor Reed) who hatch a plan to raise the funds for their wedding by blackmailing a closeted cleric (Joe Swanberg) famous for his anti-gay crusades. With Danny Rhodes, Spencer Parsons and Marc Singletary.

From Prada to Nada (PG-13 for sexuality and brief drug use) Update of Jane Austen’s “Sense and Sensibility” as a romantic comedy, set in L.A., revolving around a couple of spoiled-rotten Latina sisters (Camilla Belle and Alexa Vega) who are forced to live in the barrio with their estranged Aunt (Adriana Barraza) after their father’s (Alexis Ayala) sudden death leaves them penniless. With Wilmer Valderrama, Pablo Cruz, Harry Porter and Tina French.

Ip Man 2 (R for graphic violence) Donnie Yen returns as the legendary kung fu grandmaster in this historical drama chronicling the titular character’s escape in the Fifties with his family from China to Hong Kong with plans for opening a martial arts academy. Cast includes Lynn Hung, Simon Yam Sammo Hung and Siu-Wong Fan. (In Cantonese, Mandarin and English with subtitles)

Kaboom (Unrated) Sci-fi comedy about a set of sexually-adventurous college students whose days of debauchery come to an abrupt end in the wake of a life-altering apocalyptic development. Ensemble includes Thomas Dekker, Juno Temple, Kelly Lynch, Haley Bennett and James Duval.

Lemmy (Unrated) Rockumentary chronicling the career of the legendary Lemmy Kilmister, lead singer and bassist for the heavy metal group Motorhead since 1975. Film features appearances by such fellow musicians as Ozzy Osbourne, Slash, Alice Cooper, Dave Grohl and Dee Snider.

Poetry (Unrated) Deliberately-paced drama about an aging woman’s (Jeong-hie Yun) agonizing over her 16 year-old grandson’s (Da-wit Lee) participation in a gang rape of a classmate which led to the victim’s suicide. With Nae-sang Ahn, Hira Kim and Yong-taek Kim. (In Korean with subtitles)

When We Leave (Unrated) Feminist drama about a woman (Sibel Kekilli) who flees to Germany from Istanbul with her son in tow to escape an abusive marriage only to be met with hostility from most of her Muslim relatives for having abandoned her husband. (In German and Turkish with subtitles)

Every Day

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Helen Hunt and Liev Schreiber Co-Star in Midlife Crisis Saga

Ned (Liev Schreiber) and Jeannie (Helen Hunt) are a middle-aged couple in the midst of a crisis. Not only has their marriage grown sexless, but he is surrounded by temptation at work as an executive for a risqué cable TV series. It doesn’t help matters any that a gorgeous, hedonistic colleague (Carla Gugino) who “really knows how to live” is constantly trying to seduce him in the office afterhours.
But given the 19 years he’s invested with Jeannie, Ned isn’t ready to throw in the towel quite yet. After all, they are still raising two teenaged sons (Ezra Miller and Skyler Fortgang), one of whom has just come out of the closet. It doesn’t help matters that they have reacted differently to Jonah’s openly embracing his homosexuality, with mom being much more supportive than dad.
Upping the ante on this scenario set to implode is the arrival of Jeannie’s incontinent, ailing and very depressed dad (Brian Dennehy) who has flown to New York City to live out his final days with his daughter and her family. Wheelchair-bound Ernie is on 17 different prescription medications, and is ready to put himself out of his misery as soon as he senses he’s become a burden.
Written and directed by Richard Levine (Nip/Tuck), Every Day is a dysfunctional family drama which unfortunately fails to address the assorted tensions in satisfactory fashion or even to tie up the loose ends via an inspirational resolution.
I sat there waiting for that uplifting transformative moment towards the close of the third act, and I’m still waiting. Not inclined to recommend such a relentlessly-morose, feelbad flick any day of the week.

Fair (1 star)
Rated R for profanity, sexuality and drug use.
Running time: 93 Minutes
Distributor: Image Entertainment

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Ong Bak 3 (THAI)

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Tony Jaa Is ”Bak” for Finale of Martial Arts Trilogy

This gruesome revenge flick is the grand finale in a series of high body-count adventures coming courtesy of writer/director Tony Jaa. Mr. Jaa also reprises the lead role of Tien in the Thai franchise which modestly bills itself as the best martial arts trilogy of the past decade. (Gee, were there any other martial arts trilogies in the past decade?)
Set in the year 1431, OB 3 picks up right at the cliffhanger where OB 2 left off. As the film unfolds, we find Tien in the clutches of the dastardly Lord Rajasena (Sarunyoo Wongkrachang) who proceeds to have his goons torture their captive to death. But the movie doesn’t end there. No, our hero is somehow miraculously revived by his sensei, Master Bua (Nirutti Sirijanya), who then proceeds to nurse his student back to health.
Meanwhile, Tien learns that his hometown has been overtaken by an otherworldly villain, Bhuti Sangkha (Dan Chupong), a diabolical dude with decapitation in his bag of tricks. All you need to know about the poor excuse for a plotline is that it predictably sets the stage for tons of combat leading inexorably to a bloody duel to the death by the sworn adversaries.
Unfortunately, the goings-on venture so far into the realm of the supernatural, that it loses touch with the credible. Thus, you feel more like you’re watching science fiction than an action-oriented chopsocky.
So lame it makes Ong Bak 2 look like Ong Bak 1.

Fair (1 star)
Rated PG R for graphic violence and bloody images.
In Thai with subtitles
Running time: 99 Minutes
Distributor: Magnolia Pictures

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

12 Angry Men (BOOK REVIEW)

12 Angry Men:
True Stories of Being a Black Man in America Today
Edited by Gregory S. Parks and Matthew W. Hughey
Introduction by Lani Guinier
The New Press
Hardcover, $24.95
224 pages
ISBN: 978-1-59558-538-7

Book Review by Kam Williams

“This book of stories by black men living in America can serve as a primer to help all Americans understand the dominant roles that history and culture, race and intergenerational poverty all play in defining how we enforce our laws… The twelve angry men remind us of the outsized role that we give to law enforcement in running our lives…
The men are the stopped-and-frisked, the unlawfully detained, the racially profiled… These men’s accounts of their interactions with the police are cinematic in their clarity and pathos.
Their anger is understandable, justifiable. It stems from an often arbitrary, sometimes violent moment of encounter with personified state power, with its attendant embarrassment, helplessness, and fear…
If we ‘read race’ through the eyes and the pain of these twelve angry men, we can begin to see… that the conversation on race has moved from the ‘colored’ water fountain and the back of the bus to the profiling moment and the prison cell.”

-Excerpted from the Introduction by Lani Guinier (pgs. xi-xli)

In “The Rage of a Privileged Class,” Ellis Cose carefully chronicled the
assortment of frustrations experienced by educated blacks upon entering the corporate world. In 12 Angry Men, a dozen brothers are allowed to give full vent to their feelings about another indignity routinely suffered by the majority of African-American males, namely, racial profiling.
Unless you’ve been subjected to such un-Constitutional treatment, you are unlikely to be very sympathetic. After all, it is reasonable to think that if someone’s not breaking the law, they presumably should have no problem cooperating with the cops for what ought to amount to a momentary inconvenience.
But I could write at length from personal experience about the trauma inflicted on my psyche by the time I was 25 by a decade of being routinely stopped and frisked by police about once a month or so, and always on the flimsiest of pretexts. Back then, the prison industrial complex was undergoing a mammoth growth spurt thanks to the so-called “War on Drugs,” which was really just a rationale for feeding the corporate beast with the bodies of millions of non-violent, black offenders.
And judging by the accounts related in 12 Angry Men: True Stories of Being a Black Man in America Today, the situation hasn’t improved much over the interim. Here, a 35 year-old family man recalls how he was recently strip-searched right in front of his neighbors by NYPD detectives who suspected him of possessing narcotics. When they didn’t find any contraband, they left him to pull up his own pants without as much as an apology.
Just as humiliating was the ordeal of the “head of the ACLU’s racial profiling division who was himself profiled at Boston’s Logan Airport coming home from a racial profiling conference.” Then there’s the case of U.S. Congressman Daniel K. Davis, who was ostensibly guilty of driving while black after doing his weekly radio show back in his Illinois district one evening.
When Congressman Davis had the temerity to ask why he had been pulled over, the incensed officer not only gave him a phantom ticket, but inexplicably took away his driver’s license for good measure. Despite his grey hair and advanced age, Davis wasn’t exactly surprised by the incident, since he says that, “Over the years, I have been stopped by the Chicago police so many times I couldn’t count them.”
The solution? Harvard Law School graduate Bryonn Bain, himself a victim of police brutality because of the color of his skin, sarcastically proposes the passage of a Black Man’s Bill of Rights, ten, tongue-in-cheek Amendments to the Constitution. But the rest of this eye-opening tome’s entries adopt a much more serious tone to drive home ever so effectively the salient point that state-sanctioned racial profiling amounts to a painful assault on individual dignity and a serious impediment to the collective American Dream of a colorblind society.

Russell Simmons: The “Super Rich” Interview

with Kam Williams

Headline: Hip-Hop Mogul Expounds on the Transition from Materialism to Meditation

Russell Wendell Simmons was born in Queens, New York on October 4, 1957, the middle of three sons to bless the marriage of Daniel and Evelyn Simmons, a public school administrator and NYC parks administrator, respectively. Russell and Rick Rubin co-founded Def Jam Records, the legendary hip-hop label, in 1984.
Russell parlayed his success in music into several fashion lines, most notably, Phat Farm and Baby Phat. Meanwhile, as Chairman and CEO of his umbrella organization, Rush Communications, he also ran an ad agency, produced movies and TV shows, and published a magazine.
Forbes Magazine recently named Simmons one of "Hollywood's Most Influential Celebrities." And USA Today dubbed him one of the "Top 25 Most Influential People of the Past 25 Years," calling him a "hip-hop pioneer" for his groundbreaking vision that has influenced music, fashion, jewelry, finance, television and film, as well as the face of modern philanthropy.
From creating his seminal Def Jam Recordings to writing his New York Times best-seller “Do You! 12 Laws to Access the Power in You to Achieve Happiness and Success,” Russell is recognized globally for his influence and entrepreneurial approach to both business and philanthropy. Since giving back is of primary importance to him in all aspects of life, he has consistently leveraged his influence in the recording industry, fashion, television, financial services, and jewelry sectors to advance the interests of a host of charitable causes.
A devoted yogi, Russell also leads the non-profit division of his empire, Rush Community Affairs, and its ongoing commitment to empowering at-risk youth through education, the arts, and social engagement. Furthermore, he serves as UN Goodwill Ambassador for The Permanent Memorial to Honor the Victims of Slavery and the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade.
Here, he talks about his new book, “Super Rich: A Guide to Having It All,” a how-to tome which champions meditation over materialism as the path to true wealth.

Kam Williams: Hey Russell, thanks for the time. I don’t know if you remember me, but we met at that party you threw for Soledad O’Brien. I came over and told you I’d been trying to interview you for years. Thanks for finally hooking me up.
Russell Simmons: My man! Of course I remember you. I felt bad. How was that possible?

KW: A lot of publicists have never heard of me.
RS: Well, it’s great to talk to you. What’s going on, baby?

KW: I didn’t get to tell you that I grew up in the same neck of the woods, in St. Albans, which is right next to Hollis.
RS: Yeah, same thing.

KW: What gave you the idea to write the book?
RS: Well, the last time I wrote a book (Do You!), I got a chance to pull together all these teachings and frame them in such a way that I could share them with other people. But honestly, I can look back on it, and admit that my motivation was a little bit selfish, because I needed to do this for my own evolution. It was a sort of a cleansing process. I expected that I could get the stuff out of me, and frame it, so I could understand it. But I didn’t appreciate the book’s potential to touch the lives of others until Oprah praised it. She was my first interview after it came out, and made it go to the top of the best-seller list. After that, people would come up to me and say that the book changed their lives. What could be more gratifying? So, that inspired me to write this book, with a little more selfless intention. This book is about remembering to remember, and the mantra to be a good giver. Good givers are great getters, and I just wanted to share that with people in a way that they could really digest it.

KW: I told my readers I was going to be speaking with you and they sent in plenty of questions. The first is from Attorney Bernadette Beekman, who gives you a big shout out as a girl from Hollis! She says: many people are so busy working they do not have time to breathe deeply or be present on a daily basis. In fact, I was speaking to a friend who is a yoga teacher-in-training yesterday and she said quite often, when she is at her full-time job at a nonprofit, she realizes that a whole day has gone by without her having breathed deeply. Russell, how, from a practical perspective, can people with worries and everyday jobs still seek a higher path?
RS: The whole book is about being conscious, and is filled with practices to bring you to presence. The book is dedicated to that mantra, that state of consciousness. We wish we could live in a state of nirvana, or a state of Christ consciousness, or a state of yoga, or Samadhi. All of them are one and the same: to be awake, to be present. That idea of Heaven on Earth is what I mean by Super Rich, and the ease that comes with needing nothing. Yoga can be defined as a state of needing nothing, and that’s what we’re looking for. So, this book is about moving towards that enlightenment.

KW: I learned a long time ago that happiness doesn’t come from the accumulation of material things.
RS: You can only sit your ass in one seat at a time.

KW: FSU grad Laz Lyles asks: What experience prompted the transformation of your personal ideas about wealth and got you on a spiritual path?
RS: We all want to operate in order. Sometimes we have to go through struggle to realize that. Your birth in the physical form is to teach you to operate in order. I think that’s the experience. Struggle is your great teacher. I’m an older person. I was a drug dealer. I was a gang member and a lot of other things. My evolution has been gradual. When I first started practicing yoga, I remember feeling really free of anxiety momentarily. So, my journey began when I found the easing of anxiety through the physical practice of yoga. Then, the yogi scripture taught me things that I knew in my heart were true, because the study of the scripture is really the study of the self. Then I saw that what’s in the yogi scripture is also in the Bible, the Koran and the Torah, and that these practices do bring us to a more easy place. Yoga is defined as a state of needing nothing. And union with God happens, when the noise is gone.

KW: Children’s book author Irene Smalls asks: When you were growing up what did you want to do?
RS: I didn’t know what I wanted to be. Remember The Message by Grandmaster Flash? [Sings] “You see the drug dealers counting twenties and tens, and you want to grow up to be just like them.” I saw people hanging on the corner. I didn’t know any better. I was lucky enough to go to college and start to feel differently. There, I developed the courage to do something original that I was passionate about, which was music and hip-hop. I started throwing parties, and became an entrepreneur of sorts. It just kinda evolved. I didn’t have a drive to be anything in particular until I found a passion, which is what this book is about. Finding a dharma, a way to really give. But I wasn’t fortunate enough to have something I wanted to be all my life, until I started to achieve it.

KW: Harriet Pakula Teweles says: Jerry Lewis used to sing a song that said, "Money isn't everything ... unless you're very poor." How 'easy' is it to give this kind of spiritual advice when you're rolling in dough?
RS: Well, there’s a story in the book about a guy who lives in a shanty house. He knows he’s got to find some bread and water each day, yet his mind’s at ease. God always provides, and he lived to be 100. Then, by contrast, there’s the anxiety-prone billionaire who’s always worried about the stock market and ends up dying in his fifties. So, you have to ask yourself, “What do we want money for? What does it do for us?” If you say money makes us happy, then examine that. Is it the toys? Is it the simplicity, the ease that money can provide? That’s not the ease that we’re seeking. It has to be to calm the mind. I say this because, when you need nothing, you can operate from abundance. Jesus taught two sermons. One for the masses, which said, if you act in accordance with these laws, then God will take care of you. The second one said, “Operate from abundance if you can.” So, the anxiety-filled followers were able to pay their taxes by listening to Jesus. But His disciples only needed to put their all into service. I have so many illustrative stories I could relate, like Puffy’s, who on the way up wanted to make sure he was doing everybody’s job. He enjoyed the work, but not because he was going to get this or that. That’s the real rap.

KW: Larry Greenberg asks: Do you have any advice for an aspiring film maker living on ramen?
RS: Larry, stay on your hustle. You ain’t gonna starve no matter what happens. Living on ramen! My guess is he’s most likely overweight. We suffer from neediness, when in fact we already have everything. If he’s focused on being a filmmaker, and not anxiety-filled and worried about living on ramen, he will make headway. And in no case will he starve. What is he looking for?

KW: Filmmaker/Author/Professor Hisani Dubose asks: What is the most effective way to raise money for indie movie projects in 2011. What does someone like him look for before investing?
RS: Big buzz. Shoot a good little pilot to get it off the ground. Everything requires that you do the work. And if you do good enough work that people start to be inspired by it, then they join on. No one signs on just because you have an idea.
You have to keep building any business, to make it attractive. If you throw a record out the window and it don’t stick, you gotta keep pushing it. Then, one day, it’s on the radio, listeners start requesting it, and people come looking for you. You can’t chase people down with your idea; you have to turn it into equity first.

KW: Kristopher Seals asks: What are some ways a person can start up a business with little available capital? What are some of the biggest obstacles facing minorities looking to enter the business arena? RS: I can tell you that there’s something about black culture that’s infectious, that crosses all boundaries, that gives you an edge. If he’s open to integrate, then give him a job. No company that markets any product can operate without input from black people. There’s a void, a white space. Fill that. Don’t carry the burden. A lot of time black people only speak to each other instead of to the whole room. We gotta get out of that habit.

KW: Dante Lee, author of "Black Business Secrets," asks: What was your most fatal business decision? And what is the biggest business lesson you've learned?
RS: I learn from every bad decision, so none of them are my worst. When I lost the Beastie Boys, I learned that you have to have patience when you’re developing artists.

KW: Ola Jackson asks: "How does your spirituality and belief in Buddhism conflict with the opulent lifestyle of self-indulgence and materialism associated with rap music.
RS: I think rappers are truth-tellers. I don’t think mainstream American culture is any closer to the simplicity that I’m advocating. I’m not a Buddhist, by the way. Long before there was a Buddhist faith, there were the Yoga Sutras. Those teachings are more prescriptions for happiness, than religious dogma. As you know, I’m not a religious man, although I do work promoting dialogue among all religions as Chairman of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding.

KW: Legist/Editor Patricia Turnier says: In the past, we saw more rap songs about socially-conscious themes, such as MC Lyte’s "Eyes Are the Soul," Tupac’s "Brenda's Got a Baby" and Queen Latifah’s "Ladies First." What needs to be done to bring back this type of hip-hop?
RS: Well, I think the climate changes in society. Themes come and go, and rappers are only reflections of that. Right now, we’re very fearful, because the economy is very bad… People are struggling… and that’s fertile ground for some of the negativity that you’re hearing on some of the records.

KW: Professor Mia Mask asks: Isn't there a contradiction between the messages in your book and the messages in rap music?
RS: Why does she think I’m an ambassador for rap? Jesus hung out with the wine bibbers, but his message wasn’t advocating getting drunk. I have one foot in pop culture and one foot in the real world, which is spiritual. I know what’s real, and I know that pop culture can be frivolous. But I think American culture, in general, is frivolous. And I certainly don’t think that rap culture is any more frivolous than mainstream American culture. I don’t think hip-hop is as unconscious either. Rappers may say things that shock you, but I think they are poets who hold a higher moral ground than the rest of American society. That’s my opinion. Just because Kanye West said “George Bush doesn’t like black people,” doesn’t mean it’s true, but it does mean that a lot of people shared that thought.

KW: Is there any question no one ever asks you, that you wish someone would?
RS: No, I just go to work everyday, and I try to give and be a servant, although I might forget at times. But I know my mission. Through meditation and prayer, I find myself present, awake and giving for some part of the day. The most I can hope for is to become a better servant.

KW: When you look in the mirror, what do you see?
RS: That’s a good question. I’m not quite sure. Different things at different times.

KW: The Tasha Smith question: Are you ever afraid?
RS: Yes, I guess I’m afraid sometimes. But I generally rid myself of it. I don’t carry a lot of fear around with me.

KW: The Columbus Short question: Are you happy?
RS: Yeah, I can say I’m mostly happy. Compared to what? Am I eternally blissful? No. But do I find moments when I’m ecstatic about being alive? Yes! And I have those moments more and more often the more I meditate, practice yoga, and live by these principles.

KW: The Teri Emerson question: When was the last time you had a good laugh?
RS: A few minutes ago being interviewed by Sean Hannity. He says such things. You have to learn to laugh all the time. It’s a practice of life. It’s a practice of happiness. In yoga, you smile and breathe in every pose.

KW: What is your guiltiest pleasure?
RS: I’m on a liquid diet, but I’m going to have some popcorn at the movies.

KW: The bookworm Troy Johnson question: What was the last book you read?
RS: “An Offering of Leaves” by Lady Ruth, who is a yoga teacher.
I also read Soledad O’Brien’s book,

and Decoded.

KW: The music maven Heather Covington question: What are you listening to on your iPod?
RS: Krishna Das’ Greatest Hits.

And I’ve been listening to a lot of Public Enemy.

KW: What is your favorite dish to cook?
RS: I like to put spinach on top of olive oil, and just let it wilt for a second. And then put vegan chicken nuggets on top of it. I’m not a big chef.

KW: The Uduak Oduok question: Who is your favorite clothes designer?
RS: It still is Tommy Hilfiger, even though he’s not hot right now. He still inspires me the most.

KW: If you could have one wish instantly granted, what would that be for?
RS: World peace in spirit.

KW: The Ling-Ju Yen question: What is your earliest childhood memory?
RS: I don’t know. I don’t have one.

KW: The Flex Alexander question: How do you get through the tough times?
RS: I don’t miss my prayers and I don’t miss my yoga. Those things are important to me.

KW: What advice do you have for anyone who wants to follow in your footsteps?
RS: Keep your head down and put one foot in front of the other. That’s how I got where I got.

KW: The Cornel West question: What price are you willing to pay for a cause that’s bigger than your own self interests?
RS: I ‘m not sure. I should say my life, but I don’t know. I can’t say my life right now.

KW: The Tavis Smiley question: How do you want to be remembered?
RS: As a philanthropist, as a giver.

KW: Well thanks for the interview, Russell. I really appreciate it.
RS: It’s been a real pleasure speaking with you. You have my number now, Kam, don’t hesitate to call if you need anything.