Saturday, April 30, 2011

Top Ten DVD List for May 3rd

This Week’s DVD Releases
by Kam Williams

Headline: Top Ten DVD List for May 3rd

Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench

A Somewhat Gentle Man

Julian Assange – A Modern Day Hero?

The Dilemma

Basic Sign Language

The Ultimate Wave: Tahiti

Dora the Explorer: It’s Haircut Day

Dinosaurs: Giants of Patagonia

Aries Spears: Hollywood, Look I’m Smiling!

Sex and Black Magic

Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Jazzy Musical Makes Its Way to DVD

Melancholy Madeline (Desiree Garcia) sits alone freezing on a park bench in Boston contemplating what just happened after being dumped by her boyfriend on a chilly, wintry day. Meanwhile, her equally-wistful ex, Guy (Jason Palmer), trudges home through the snow with his trumpet slung lazily over his shoulder. Upon arriving at his apartment, in utter resignation he removes a picture from the wall taken of the two of them during much happier times.
This is the poignant point of departure of Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench, an intriguing flashback flick deconstructing the demise of a young couple’s troubled relationship. Guy is played by Jason Palmer, an accomplished jazz trumpeter in his own right, while triple threat Desiree Garcia proves just as formidable acting, singing and dancing as Madeline.
The movie marks the remarkable writing and directorial debut of Damien Chazelle who exhibits an encyclopedic knowledge of cinematic history here, interweaving a dizzying number of allusions to the work of legendary directors like John Cassavetes, Jean-Luc Godard and Busby Berkeley.
As engaging as the picture’s premise are its original score by Justin Hurwitz and its shadowy cinematography coming courtesy of seductively-grainy, black & white 16mm film. The movie’s magical musical renditions, a delightful blend of jazz and show tunes, range from impromptu improvisations to catchy, carefully-choreographed song and dance numbers.
If all of the above isn’t enough to whet your curiosity, consider the plot which complicates into a compelling love triangle when Guy’s head is turned by flaky temptress Elena (Sandha Khin) while riding the subway. And when he develops existential angst over his ensuing girl troubles, he seeks solace on stage playing his instrument.
A toe-tapping tribute to Boston reminiscent of Woody Allen’s heartfelt homage to his own beloved Manhattan!

Excellent (4 stars)
Running time: 82 minutes
Studio: Cinema Guild
DVD Extras: Deleted scenes, essay by film critic Amy Taubin, “Behind-the-Scenes” and “Song Writing” featurettes, audio commentary by director Damien Chazelle and composer Justin Hurwitz, and the theatrical trailer.

The Green Hornet DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Classic Comic Book Series Comes to DVD

Seth Rogen’s pudgy physique and homely demeanor don’t exactly conjure up visions of a macho superhero like the Green Hornet’s persona. Here, Rogen has reimagined the character as the sort of sarcastic, trash-talking slacker he usually plays, as opposed to the selfless, suave protagonist from the original radio and comic book series.
At the point of departure, profligate playboy Britt Reid (Rogen) learns that his emotionally-estranged dad (Tom Wilkinson) has died under mysterious circumstances, ostensibly from an allergic reaction to a bee sting. The decadent bachelor fires most of his father’s staff and reluctantly assumes the reins of the media empire. More importantly, he decides, to pursue his passion afterhours, namely, roaming the streets at night as a crime-fighting vigilante.
To this end, he enlists the assistance of his loyal manservant, Kato (Jay Chou), who not only knows how to brew a mean cup of coffee, but just happens to be a crack inventor, auto mechanic, chauffeur and martial arts expert, all rolled into one. Donning masks to morph into their alter egos, the Green Hornet and his sidekick proceed to patrol L.A. in the Black Beauty, a bulletproof car outfitted with munitions ranging from machine guns to missiles to shotguns to flamethrowers.
A diabolical archenemy soon emerges in bloodthirsty Benjamin Chudnofsky (Christoph Waltz), a Russian mobster who has cornered the drug market with the help of a crooked District Attorney (David Harbour). When not battling bad guys, Britt and Kato find themselves competing for the affections of Lenore Case (Cameron Diaz), a secretary at the Sentinel with a degree in criminology.
But don’t let the straightforward-sounding plot fool you, for its execution is decidedly underwhelming. The problems with the picture are plentiful, starting with the fact that Britt Reid is an unlikable lout who can’t fight and you don’t really want to root for. He’s easily eclipsed by Kato who always miraculously surfaces to save the day.
However, the film’s fatal flaw is that the two never generate any chemistry, a big failing given that this buddy flick frequently feels like a cheap imitation of the charming Chris Tucker/Jackie Chan Rush Hour trilogy.

Fair (1 star)
Rated PG-13 for violence, profanity, sexuality and drug use.
Running time: 109 Minutes
Distributor: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
DVD Extras: Filmmakers’ commentary, gag reel, and featurettes entitled: “Writing the Green Hornet” and “The Black Beauty: Rebirth of Cool.” 1

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Kam's Kapsules: For movies opening May 6, 2011

Kam's Kapsules:
Weekly Previews That Make Choosing a Film Fun
by Kam Williams
For movies opening May 6, 2011


The Beaver (PG-13 for profanity, sexuality, drug use, mature themes and disturbing content) Jodie Foster directs and co-stars opposite Mel Gibson in this ventriloquist’s dummy dramedy about a depressed CEO who only talks to his wife and sons (Anton Yelchin and Riley Thompson Stewart) through his hand puppet. With Jennifer Lawrence, Cherry Jones and Zachary Booth and featuring cameos by Terry Gross, Jon Stewart and Matt Lauer.

Jumping the Broom (PG-13 for sexuality and profanity) Ghetto-meets-bourgie comedy about the sparks which fly when the families of a bride (Paula Patton) and groom (Laz Alonso) from opposite sides of the tracks converge on Martha’s Vineyard for an eventful weekend wedding. Ensemble includes Angela Bassett, Loretta Devine, Meagan Good, DeRay Davis, Mike Epps, Romeo, Gary Dourdan and Bishop T. D. Jakes.

Something Borrowed (PG-13 for sexuality and drug use) Romantic comedy based on Emily Giffin’s novel of the same name about the complications which ensue after a successful attorney without much of a love life (Ginnifer Goodwin) sleeps with her best friend’s (Kate Hudson) fiancé (Colin Egglesfield) on her 30th birthday. With John Krasinski, Jill Eikenberry and Ashley Williams.

Thor (PG-13 for intense action and violence) Aussie Chris Hemsworth stars as the Marvel Comics superhero from another planet exiled to Earth where he puts his mighty hammer to good use as an intrepid defender of the planet. Cast includes Natalie Portman, Anthony Hopkins, Renee Russo, Idris Elba, Kat Dennings, Stellan Skarsgard, Samuel L. Jackson and Jeremy Renner.


The Colors of the Mountain (Unrated) End of innocence saga, set in the Colombian countryside, about the plight of a 9 year-old boy (Hernan Mauricio Ocampo) who unwittingly lands in the middle of a civil war conflict after he and a couple of buddies (Genaro Aristizabal and Nolberto Sanchez) chase an errant soccer ball into a field booby-trapped by guerillas with lethal landmines. (In Spanish with subtitles)

Daydream Nation (R for sexuality, profanity, violent images and teen drug and alcohol abuse) Romance drama revolving around a precocious, 17 year-old from the big city (Kat Dennings) who moves with her widowed father (Ted Whittall) to a small town where she becomes embroiled in a love triangle with a teacher (Josh Lucas) and a stoner classmate (Reece Thompson).

Extraordinary Stories (Unrated) A trio of mysteries, set in Argentina, weaving a surrealistic, cinematic tapestry involving missing persons, buried treasure and desperate jailbirds. With Hector Diaz, Walter Jakob and Klaus Dietze. (In Spanish and English with subtitles)

Forks over Knives (PG for smoking and mature themes) Vegan documentary endeavoring to substantiate the proposition that most of the degenerative diseases afflicting humanity are a consequence of eating animals and processed foods. Featuring commentary by Junshi Chen, Gene Baur and Dr. Doug Lisle.

Harvest (R for profanity and brief sexuality) Skeletons-out-of-the-closet drama about the tensions which surface among members of a grieving family reunited for the summer in the wake of the passing of its beloved patriarch (Robert Loggia). Cast includes Jack Carpenter, Barbara Barrie, Arye Gross and Victoria Clark.

Hobo with a Shotgun (Unrated) Revenge comedy about a homeless vigilante (Rutger Hauer), recently arrived in a town called Hope, who sets about dispensing double-barreled street justice to corrupt cops, pedophiles and other dastardly evildoers. With Gregory Smith, Nick Bateman and Brian Downey.

An Invisible Sign (Unrated) Jessica Alba stars in this adaptation of Aimee Bender‘s best-seller of the same name about a 20 year-old schoolteacher who uses math as a means of helping students deal with emotional crises. Cast includes J.K. Simmons, Sonia Braga, Bailee Madison and Chris Messina.

Last Night (R for profanity) 7-year itch saga a housewife (Keira Knightley) who goes out for drinks with an old flame (Guillaume Canet) on the same evening that her husband (Sam Worthington) finds himself tempted by an attractive colleague (Eva Mendes) while away on a business trip.

Lord Byron (Unrated) Midlife crisis dramedy about an incurable romantic (Paul Baptiste) living with his ex-wife (Renee King) and kids who fritters away his days pursuing loose women and smoking weed. With Katryn Schmidt, Justin Bickham, Joseph Diaz and Rosco Hall.

Octubre (Unrated) Peruvian morality play, set in Lima, about a lonely loan shark (Bruno Odar) who leans on the shoulder of his pious, next-door neighbor (Gabriela Velasquez) for help with caring for the newborn (Sheryl Sanchez) deposited on his doorstep by a prostitute he used to frequent. (In Spanish with subtitles)

Passion Play (R for sexuality, nudity, profanity, violence and drug use) Mickey Rourke and Megan Fox co-star in this crime thriller about a down-and-out jazz trumpeter who finds salvation with the help of a circus sideshow freak while on the run from a ruthless mobster (Bill Murray). Support cast includes Bud Cort, Rhys Ifans and Charlie Brown.

Under the Boardwalk: The Monopoly Story (Unrated) “Advance to Go” documentary explores the history of the classic board game while profiling some of the colorful players competing for the coveted title of Monopoly World Champ.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Fail Up: 20 Lessons on Building success from Failure

by Tavis Smiley
Smiley Books
Hardcover, $19.95
288 pages, Illustrated
ISBN: 978-1-4019-3390-6

Book Review by Kam Williams

“If they’re being honest, most people who have ever succeeded in any human endeavor will tell you they learned more from their failures than they ever learned from their successes… Failure is an inevitable part of the human condition… Through my scars, I have been blessed to arrive at a place I never imagined. .
When you take the time to learn your lessons, when you use those lessons as stepping-stones to climb even higher than you were before, you transcend failure—you ‘fail up.’ In this book, I detail 20 of the most impactful lessons of my life…I’m a witness. You CAN fail up!”
 Excerpted from the Introduction (pgs. ix-xvii)

Given Tavis Smiley’s lofty status as the host of a hit, nationally-syndicated, TV talk show, one might not suspect that he’d suffered any setbacks over the course of his meteoric rise. But contrary to appearances, the accomplished broadcaster/entrepreneur/publisher/philanthropist/author has definitely taken his share of missteps on his way to the top.
And now he’s decided to mark his 20th anniversary in the business by writing a how-to, or should I say a how not-to book recounting 20 of the biggest blunders he’s made in life. The point of the revealing exercise is ostensibly to give hope to the downtrodden and discouraged by illustrating how much more we can potentially learn from our mistakes than from our successes.
In this warts-and-all memoir, Tavis owns up to a number of embarrassing doozies, ranging from getting arrested for writing bad checks to padding his timesheets at a job to graduating 15 years late from college because he flunked a course the second semester of his senior year. He also admits to mooching off former NFL great Jim Brown when he first arrived in Los Angeles and to almost moving back home to Indiana dead broke when, as Gladys Knight sings it, “L.A. proved too much for the man.”
What I found most fascinating, nevertheless, is hearing Tavis expound on some of his more public falls from grace, such as being fired by BET Chairman Bob Johnson, being called a “House [N-word]” by hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons and, perhaps most painfully, being rejected by much of the black community for his failure to embrace Barack Obama during the 2008 presidential race.
He addresses the Obama controversy in heartfelt fashion in a chapter entitled, “When Everybody Turns against You.” There he reflects upon the tears spilt after being thrown under the campaign bus by fans and colleagues alike, including radio DJ Tom Joyner, a longtime-friend and colleague who all but predicted his professional demise.
But to his credit, Tavis has not only survived but flourished mightily. In fact, the brother proves himself here to be humble enough to air his most-humiliating faux pas so they might serve as cautionary tales for anyone contemplating following in his footsteps.

Dr. Henry Louis Gates: The “Black in Latin America” Interview

with Kam Williams

Headline: Dr. Gates on His Dad and His New PBS Series

Professor Henry Louis Gates dominated the national news for much of the summer of 2009 after being mistaken for a burglar and handcuffed for breaking into his own home. President Obama eventually intervened to defuse the tension by inviting both the professor and the arresting officer to the White House for a glass of beer by Rose Garden.
But prior to the media circus surrounding that “Beer Summit,” Dr. Gates was already well known as a tenured Professor at Harvard University, as well as director of the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African-American Research. He is the author of Faces of America, which expands on interviews he conducted for his critically acclaimed PBS documentary series of the same name, and Tradition and the Black Atlantic: Criticism in the African Diaspora.
In addition, Professor Gates is the author of several works of literary criticism, including Figures in Black: Words, Signs and the ‘Racial’ Self; The Signifying Monkey: A Theory of Afro-American Literary Criticism, winner of the 1989 American Book Award; and Loose Canons: Notes on the Culture Wars.
He is the author of Colored People: A Memoir, which traces his childhood experiences in a small West Virginia town in the 1950s and 1960s; The Future of the Race, co-authored with Cornel West; Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Black Man; and In Search of Our Roots: How Nineteen Extraordinary African-Americans Reclaimed Their Past, which won an NAACP Image Award in 2010.
An influential cultural critic, Professor Gates’ publications include a 1994 cover story for Time magazine on the new black Renaissance in art, as well as numerous articles for The New Yorker. In addition, he has edited several anthologies, including The Norton Anthology of African American Literature, and The Oxford-Schomburg Library of Nineteenth Century Black Women Writers, and is the co-editor of Transition magazine.
For PBS, Professor Gates produced and hosted Wonders of the African World (1999), America Beyond the Color Line (2004), African American Lives (2006), Oprah’s Roots (2007), African American Lives 2 (2008), Looking for Lincoln (2009) and Faces of America (2010). Here, he talks about his latest PBS series, Black in Latin America.

Kam Williams: Hi Dr. Gates, thanks for the time.
Dr. Henry Louis Gates: Thank you, Kam.

KW: I know that your father, Henry, Sr., passed away since we last spoke, so I’d like to express my sincerest condolences on your loss.
HLG: Oh, thank you, man. We just had his memorial service this past Saturday back home in Cumberland, Maryland. All his friends turned out. It was a two-hour service. I spoke, my brother spoke, and our cousin Eddie spoke. Then we buried his ashes next to my mom’s. I loved him.

KW: I almost feel like I knew him because he played such a prominent role in African American Lives. In terms of your new series, Boston-based children’s author Irene Smalls asks: What do you hope to accomplish with Black in Latin America?
HLG: Between 1502 and 1866, 11.2 million Africans arrived in the New World. And of that 11.2 million, only 450 thousand came to the United States. So, in other words, the real African-American experience unfolded south of our borders. And most of us don’t know anything about that. It’s an extension of what scholars call “American Exceptionalism.” We think that everything revolves around the continental United States, including when we think about the slave experience and about race and racism. But obviously, over 10.5 million black people landed in countries throughout the Caribbean and South America. My goal with the series was to unveil that world to the average American. Did you know that the first black president of a multi-racial society was not Barack Obama but Vincente Guerrero, who became president of Mexico in 1829? How come we don’t know that? It’s incredible!

KW: I was a Black Studies major as an undergrad, and after watching all the episodes of Black in Latin America, I felt like I had never learned so much from a TV series about black folks.
HLG: Oh, you couldn’t have given me a nicer compliment than that. I was hoping viewers might experience that aura of discovery.

KW: Teresa Emerson asks: How did you settle on the countries which would be the subject of the series? Which one has the largest presence of Africans outside of Africa: Brazil or Colombia?
HLG: We picked the countries strategically, because we couldn’t cover everything in a 4-hour series. We had different categories, and one was size. For instance, we passed on Columbia, the second largest, because we went with Brazil, the largest. Brazil is also Portuguese, which we wanted to contrast with the Hispanic experience. We picked Cuba, because it’s so fascinating and mysterious to Americans. So, I wanted to bring that country to the fore. The island of Hispaniola was interesting because it’s divided into Haiti, where the people are very proud to be black and they speak Creole and French, and the Dominican Republic, where the national motto was that the country was Catholic, Spanish and white. Finally, we chose Mexico and Peru. Why? Because nobody thinks about their ever having sizable black populations. All anybody remembers are the Aztecs and the Incas. But they had 700 thousand slaves combined, compared to America’s 450 thousand. That’s astonishing! So, the series was designed to offer some amazing revelations and to reeducate the American people.

KW: I found the episode about Haiti very informative, particularly about how President Thomas Jefferson tried to sabotage its independence movement.
HLG: Yeah, America systematically attempted to undermine it. Jefferson called it a terrible republic and referred to the people as cannibals. Man, that’s cold. But Haiti has a long and noble history as a free civilization.

KW: I received more questions from readers than we have time for, so I’m going to have to ask you to keep your answer brief so that we can get to as many as possible.
HLG: Sorry, I’m a professor. I’m used to giving 50-minute lectures, man.

KW: Attorney Bernadette Beekman asks: Do you think Brazil has an opportunity, given the upcoming Olympics, to show the world that it is making progress in the area of the disparate treatment in society based on the color of one's skin?
HLG: Yeah, I think it has an opportunity, but we have to remember that it takes a long time to make profound social changes. What I fear is that any quick fix will just be cosmetic and designed to pretend to racial democracy. We’re talking about the transformation of the identity of the working and middle classes. I want to see black doctors, black lawyers and other black professionals in much greater proportion than exists today.

KW: Dr. Karanja Ajanaku, editor of the Memphis Tri-State Defender, says: You seem to be making the point that in the U.S., we are mostly unaware, substantively, of "blacks" in Latin America. Would you speak to how aware or unaware, substantively, "blacks" in Latin America are of African–Americans?
HLG: Blacks in Latin America are keenly aware of African-American popular culture, entertainers, athletes, Oprah Winfrey, movie stars and musicians. The whole world is enthralled with hip-hop. They’re listening to the same music as our kids. And then there’s Obama! Good Lord! But in terms of a more profound understanding of the black experience in America, I’m not sure. I’d guess that they would have a long way to go.

KW: Dr. Ajanaku also asks: Did you encounter any signs and/or reasons to be hopeful that blacks in Latin America and Africa-Americans could transcend the boundaries of country and culture and forge an economic union of sorts that would be uplifting to both?
HLG: No, I didn’t see any sign of that, because most of those folks’ first identity is a national one, as a Brazilian or a Cuban, not as a black person. For instance, in the Dominican Republic episode, Juan Rodriguez says he never even thought of himself as black until he visited New York. One of the points of the series is that identity is a very complex and ever-shifting matter. We might think that these people are obviously black, but they might not identify themselves that way. During this whole trip, I never met anybody who said they were black first and their nationality second, in the way that African-Americans tend to say, “We’re black first.” That’s another important lesson of the series.

KW: Rod Williams asks: What was the single most common similarity between the blacks in Latin America and those in North America?
HLG: That’s an easy question. The poorest people in each of these societies have the kinkiest hair, the thickest lips, the flattest noses and the darkest skin. Poverty has been socially constructed around degree of obvious Africanity. And that’s quite sad.

KW: Rod’s first follow-up is: What was the most noticeable difference between the blacks in Latin America and those here?
HLG: That no Latin American society has simple black and white categories which is very difficult for Americans to understand. Rather, they have many gradations between who’s black and who’s white. So, race signifies differently there than it does in the United States.

KW: Rod’s other follow-up is: Did the colonizer have a role in these similarities and differences?
HLG: Absolutely! Most of these countries engaged for a period of time in a practice specifically called “Whitening” when they encouraged European immigration in order to dilute the black element. Brazil subsidized 4 million white people to move there because it felt that the country was too black. That’s cold, man. Mexico, Cuba and the Dominican Republic took similar measures. It was a conscious attempt to dilute the influence of black people and black culture.

KW: Irene says: There has reportedly been a great deal of tension between African-Americans and Latino immigrants. Can blacks and Latinos find a common ground to work together in this country?
HLG: Yes, I believe so. I think that all Americans should speak Spanish, just as I also think that all Americans should speak English. If blacks and Latinos begin to form alliances across ethnicity and realize that they should be voting as a bloc, they would have a tremendous amount of power. But we can’t expect them to be like us. Just because their skin is dark and their hair is curly doesn’t mean they’re going to approach issues of race and racism in the same way as someone born in the continental United States.

KW: Judyth Piazza asks: If you were a student getting ready to attend college for the first time, what would you do differently, knowing what you know now?
HLG: That’s interesting. Me? I’d take a lot of classes in math, science and computers, but I’d also take more courses about Africa, Latin America and other Third World cultures, as well as Western Civilization, which is very important, too.

KW: Judyth has another question: What key quality do you believe all successful people share?
HLG: A belief that they can make a difference in the world. All successful people have to believe in themselves and in the future. That’s a very subtle point. You have to believe in deferred gratification, that, “If I do this today, it might not reap a benefit until the next generation, or the generation after that, but it’s still worth it.” Too many black people today have lost the capacity to defer gratification which was one of the qualities which made our ancestors so great. You know what? My father supported us by working at two jobs for 37 years. He worked hard and saved so Paul and Henry, Jr. could become whatever they dreamed they wanted to do. He never bought a Cadillac. In fact, my parents never even owned a car. So, I say don’t be fooled by appearances. Instead, penetrate and try to appreciate what really matters and to understand how things really work. Unfortunately, I gotta go, Kam.

KW: I understand. Thanks again, Dr. Gates.
HLG: It’s been a pleasure, buddy.

“Black in Latin America” airs Tuesdays at 8 p.m. (ET/PT) on PBS (check local listings)

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Madea’s Big Happy Family

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Tyler Perry Back in Drag for More Tomfoolery as Madea

Hold onto your wigs and fat suits, folks, because Tyler Perry is back in drag as America’s sassiest granny. But don’t make the mistake of attributing the Madea franchise’s enduring appeal to the loudmouthed hussy’s bodaciousness alone, since she’s as much beloved for her timely sermonizing as for all that trademark tomfoolery.
While undeniably upping the ante in terms of sheer frivolity, this sixth installment is also grounded by a bittersweet storyline. At the point of departure, we find Madea’s niece, Shirley (Loretta Devine), being informed by her physician (Philip Anthony-Rodriguez) about a resurgence of the cancer that she’s been fighting for the past seven years.
Despite the urgent diagnosis, she declines further treatment, explaining that she’s simply too tired to do another round of chemotherapy. And with just weeks to live, the devoutly-religious Christian resigns herself to the will of the Lord.
What does still matter to her, however, is seeing her three children one last time to break the unfortunate news to them in person. The trouble is that all of them are currently consumed by bad relationships, each more in crisis than the next.
Daughter Tammy (Natalie Desselle) is married to a wimp (Rodney Perry) who lets their smart aleck sons (Stevie Wash, Jr. and Benjamin Aiken) walk all over her. Materialistic middle-child Kimberly (Shannon Kane) cares so much about her high-paying corporate job and the trappings of success that she ignores her toddler and takes her patient hubby (Isaiah Mustafa) for granted.
Elsewhere, 18 year-old Byron (Bow Wow), Shirley’s youngest, is being pressured by his gold digger of a girlfriend (Lauren London) to supplement his modest income by selling drugs on the street again. Adding to the recent-parolee’s angst is the baby-mama drama surrounding his hypercritical ex’s (Teyana Taylor) demands for more child support for their son.
Care to hazard a guess whose help Shirley enlists to slap some sense, both literally and figuratively, into this dysfunctional menagerie? Madea, of course, proceeds to browbeat her misbehaving extended family into shape in her own inimitable style which simply will not be ignored.
Along for the ride purely for comic relief are a couple of embarrassing relatives: Aunt Bam (Cassi Davis) and Mr. Brown (David Mann). The former is a feisty septuagenarian who smokes marijuana and flirts shamelessly (“Are you married?” “Are you straight?”) with younger men. The latter is a garishly-dressed master of the malapropism who somehow convincingly confuses the words “prostitute” with “prostate,” “carbon peroxide” with “carbon monoxide,” and even “colonoscopy” with “Coca Cola.” Such distracting buffoonery notwithstanding, Madea as usual miraculously manages to straighten everybody out, and right in the nick of time for the uplifting, closing credits Kodak moment.
Melodramatic tough love as meaningful group therapy!

Very Good (3 stars)
Rated PG-13 for profanity, mature themes and drug use.
Running time: 106 Minutes
Distributor: Lionsgate Films

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Black in Latin America

PBS-TV Series Review by Kam Williams

Headline: PBS Chronicles Dr. Gates’ Sojourn South of the Border

When you think of slavery in the Americas, I bet you assume that more Africans were brought to the U.S. than anywhere else in this hemisphere. But truth be told, only a tiny fraction were transported to this soil, with ten times as many being taken to Brazil, and even twice as many to Cuba.
This is just one of the fascinating factoids in store for viewers of “Black in Latin America,” the latest PBS special produced by Harvard’s Henry Louis Gates. Professor Gates has previously hosted “African-American Lives 1 & 2,” ” Faces of America,” “Wonders of the African World,” “Oprah’s Roots,” “Looking for Lincoln,” and “America beyond the Color Line.”
A half-dozen countries serve as the focus of this four-part series, namely, Cuba, Brazil, Mexico, Peru, Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Gates travels to each nation to talk to the locals, capturing the flavor of the present-day culture in the light of the lasting legacy of slavery. Despite having majored in Black Studies, I have to admit that I found all of the episodes extraordinarily informative.
For example, I had no idea that supposedly freedom-loving President Thomas Jefferson had not only refused to recognize Haiti after that nation declared its independence but that he derogatively referred to its emancipated inhabitants as cannibals. In terms of Cuba, I was surprised to learn of a recent return of a color-coded caste system on the island, ostensibly as a consequence of an influx of dollars from lighter-skinned relatives in the United States.
Similarly, Brazil, often promoted as a post-racial utopia, is presented here as the undeserving beneficiary of a myth yet to be realized. Who knew that slavery was only abolished there in 1888? And racism is apparently ubiquitous in Peru, too, where for a pittance many blacks still pick cotton in fields on the very same plantations as did generations of their ancestors.
Dedicated to Dr. Gates’ recently-deceased, beloved father (whom you may remember from “African-American Lives”), “Black in Latin America” is a must-see for anyone interested in appreciating the history and continuing fallout of slavery South of the Border.

Excellent (4 stars)
Running time: 240 Minutes
Distributor: PBS

“Black in Latin America” airs Tuesdays at 8 p.m. (ET/PT) on PBS (check local listings)

Friday, April 22, 2011

Top Ten DVD List for April 26th

This Week’s DVD Releases
by Kam Williams

Headline: Top Ten DVD List for April 26th

Life Is Beautiful [Miramax Award-Winning Collection]

Fly Away

Scream [Deluxe Collector’s Series]


Jews in Baseball: An American Love Story

Tikki Tikki Tembo

Blood Out

Summer Eleven

Bob Dylan: Don’t Look Back

Stan Lee’s Superhumans: The Complete Season One

Honorable Mention

Scream 2 [Deluxe Collector’s Series]

Pulp Fiction [Miramax Award-Winning Collection]



Scream 3 [Deluxe Collector’s Series]


Honeymoon with Mom

Straight and Butch


Sex & the Single Mom

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Kam's Kapsules: For movies opening April 29, 2011

Kam's Kapsules:
Weekly Previews That Make Choosing a Film Fun
by Kam Williams
For movies opening April 29, 2011


Dylan Dog: Dead of Night (PG-13 for violence, profanity, sexual references and drug use) Louisiana horror flick based on the comic book series of the same name about a supernatural sleuth (Brandon Routh) who, with the help of his faithful zombie assistant (Sam Huntington), tracks down the mysterious monsters of the bayou. With Taye Diggs, Peter Stormare and Anita Briem.

Fast Five (PG-13 for profanity, sexuality and intense violence) Fifth installment in The Fast and the Furious franchise finds ringleaders ex-cop (Paul Walker) and ex-con (Vin Diesel) reuniting their gang in Rio to plot the proverbial “last big heist” while on the run from the authorities. Cast includes Tyrese Gibson, Jordana Brewster, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Chris “Ludacris” Bridges.

Hoodwinked Too! Hood vs. Evil (PG for action, rude humor and mild swear words) 3-D animated sequel has Red Riding Hood (Hayden Panettiere) teaming with the Wolf (Patrick Warburton) to solve the sudden disappearance of Hansel (Bill Hader) and Gretel (Amy Poehler). Voice cast includes Brad Garrett, Glenn Close, Joan Cusack and Cheech and Chong.

Prom (PG for fighting and coarse language) Coming-of-age comedy chronicling the teen angst of a number of high school students preparing for the senior prom. Ensemble cast includes Aimee Teegarden, Yin Chang, Thomas McDonell, DeVaughn Nixon, Danielle Campbell, Raini Rodriguez and Joe Adler.


13 Assassins (R for graphic violence, disturbing images and brief nudity) Remake of the 1963, black & white classic of the same name, set in feudal Japan, about a band of samurai warriors who conspire to ambush a sadistic mobster (Goro Inagaki) with political aspirations. Cast includes Koji Yakusho, Takayuki Yamada and Yusuke Iseya. (In Japanese with subtitles)

The Arbor (Unrated) Brit bio-pic highlighting the legacy of the late playwright Andrea Dunbar who died of a brain hemorrhage during a drinking binge in the Beacon Pub in Bradford at the tender age of 28. Featuring file footage and reflections by her friends and extended family.

Cave of Forgotten Dreams (Unrated) Stone Age documentary, shot in 3-D by Oscar-nominee Werner Herzog, examining cave paintings from the Paleolithic Era discovered in 1994 by spelunkers exploring in Southern France. With appearances by archaeologists Dominique Baffier, Jean Clottes and Carole Fritz. (In English and German with subtitles)

Earthwork (PG for mature themes, smoking and mild epithets) Carbon footprint drama based on actual events which transpired in 1994 when a crop-artist from Kansas (John Hawkes) was hired by Donald Trump to create an eco-friendly sculpture made of dirt, rocks and plants out of several acres of land located on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. With Bruce MacVittie, Chris Bachand and Everett Dexter.

Exporting Raymond (PG for smoking and brief profanity) “Lost in Translation” documentary chronicling “Everybody Loves Raymond” creator Phil Rosenthal’s efforts to mount a Russian version of his hit sitcom in Moscow. (In English and Russian with subtitles)

Lebanon, PA (PG-13 for sexuality and mature themes) Dysfunctional family drama revolving around a Philly advertising exec (Josh Hopkins) who returns to his hometown for his father’s funeral only to embark on an extramarital affair with his pregnant, 17 year-old cousin’s (Rachel Kitson) teacher (Samantha Mathis). With Mary Beth Hurt, Brea Bee and Roxie Cotton.

The Robber (Unrated) Crime blotter bio-pic recounts the real-life exploits of Johann Rettenberger (Andreas Lust), a marathon runner who took up bank robbery as a hobby. With Peter Vilnai, Franziska Weisz and Florian Wotruba. (In German with subtitles)

Sympathy for Delicious (Unrated) Oscar-nominated actor Mark Ruffalo (for The Kids Are All Right) makes his directorial debut with this con artist comedy about a desperate paraplegic DJ (Christopher Thornton) who gets the surprise of his life when he turns to faith healing. Co-starring Ruffalo, Laura Linney Orlando Bloom and Juliette Lewis.

We Go Way Back (Unrated) Surrealistic adventure about a 23 year-old, aspiring actress (Amber Hubert) who finally lands her first lead role only to end up haunted by voices and visions of her disappointed, decade-younger self (Maggie Brown). With Kate Bayley, Sullivan Brown and Basil Harris.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Eye of the Hurricane: My Path from Darkness to Freedom (BOOK REVIEW)

by Dr. Rubin “Hurricane” Carter
with Ken Klonsky
Foreword by Nelson Mandela
Lawrence Hill Books
Hardcover, $26.95
350 pages,
ISBN: 978-1-56976-568-5

Book Review by Kam Williams

“You may have heard of me, Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter, as having been a professional prizefighter. That, along with having been a wrongly convicted person who had to spend twenty years behind bars for a crime he did not commit, is a fact...
I am not angry or bitter about my past or present circumstances. I do not worry about money or about not being able to pay my bills… I KNOW that I will be all right because I am connected to the source from which all life arises…
Whatever is taken from you by those who abandon principle, you will ultimately win back through your priceless understanding that life has meaning. You will understand that nothing is more valuable than the love of the Spirit, and that each individual possesses that Spirit.”

-Excerpted from the Introduction (pgs. 1, 22 & 23)

Rubin “Hurricane” Carter was rising up the ranks of the middleweight division in 1966 when he was arrested for a triple murder he didn’t commit. His once-promising boxing career ended abruptly upon his conviction, and he proceeded to serve the next 19 years in prison, 10 in solitary confinement.
He was finally able to clear his name after becoming the subject of hit song by Bob Dylan which in turn helped turn his case into something of a cause célèbre. Denzel Washington subsequently earned an Oscar nomination for his dignified portrayal of Carter in “The Hurricane,” a bio-pic chronicling Rubin’s legal ordeal from being framed through his ultimate vindication.
But it’s been over a quarter-century since Hurricane was exonerated in 1985, and people might like to know that he has devoted most of his life since to overturning the convictions of similar victims of the criminal justice system. He is currently the CEO of Innocence International, although he has also worked with The Innocence Project and served as Executive Director of the Association in Defence of the Wrongly Convicted.
However, his new autobiography, “Eye of the Hurricane: My Path from Darkness to Freedom,” might strike some as a bit of a departure for a man so closely associated with prisoners’ rights. For here, the 73 year-old Carter focuses his attention on the notion of breaking the mental as opposed to the physical bonds which might limit anyone.
It’s not that he’s backing off one iota from his indictment of the nation’s economic and racial biases which have lead to the incarceration of over two million of the nation’s ignorant and poor. Rather, he simply shares the compassionate insight cultivated during his own experience while in the state pen that one can actually achieve a priceless form of freedom via spiritual enlightenment even while still locked up.
Introspection and meditation as the 21st Century equivalents of sneaking the proverbial file in a cake to a buddy behind bars.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Isaiah Mustafa: The “Madea's Big Happy Family” Interview

with Kam Williams

Headline: Old Spice Pitchman on Breakout Role in Tyler Perry Picture

NFL player-turned-actor Isaiah Mustafa became famous almost overnight in 2010 as the result of starring in a series of Emmy-winning Old Spice TV commercials. Serving as pitchman for the phenomenally-successful "The Man Your Man Could Smell Like" campaign also transformed Isaiah into an internet sensation when the ads and several spinoffs subsequently went viral, enjoying hundreds of millions of hits on Youtube.
Soon thereafter, he was named one of People Magazine's "Most Beautiful People of 2010,” and Tyler Perry announced on Oprah that Isaiah would be playing a lead role in “Madea’s Big Happy Family." Additionally, he will be seen in July in “Horrible Bosses” opposite Jennifer Aniston, Jason Bateman and Kevin Spacey.
He currently resides in Los Angeles and when not acting enjoys sports, fitness, gaming, comic books and his two Rhodesian Ridgebacks. Here, Isaiah reflects upon his meteoric rise and his performance as Calvin in the latest Tyler Perry morality play.

Kam Williams: Hi Isaiah, thanks for the interview.
Isaiah Mustafa: Hi, how are ya?

KW: Very well, thanks. What interested you in Madea's Big Happy Family?
IM: Other than the fact that I’m in it? [LOL] Everything! What wouldn’t interest me about it? People really love Madea movies and get a kick out of them. They’re phenomenally successful. People get excited when a new one’s coming out. So, for me to be in that also, can you imagine?

KW: Tell me a little about your character, Calvin?
IM: He’s just a genuinely good guy. If it needs to be done, ask Calvin.

KW: How was it like being directed by Tyler Perry?
IM: For me, it was probably the best possible intro into playing a lead in a movie. The process was very educational for me, and he made it flow naturally. He was both easy to work with and to get along with. So, it was awesome for him to be so patient with me. All in all, it was a really great experience.

KW: And how did you like working with such a big-name cast?
IM: It was an honor. I was like, “Wow!” and just grateful to have the opportunity to play with so many people whose work I’ve admired for so long.

KW: Harriet Pakula Teweles says: The Old Spice commercials are pretty fast paced and upbeat. How many takes to get it perfectly done and how is it possible for you and the crew to not crack up laughing during the shoots?
IM: In terms of the takes, we normally rehearse several times over the course of 4 or 5 days so that by the last day it’s like a well-oiled machine. And as far as cracking up, if I laugh halfway through, it would ruin the take and everybody would have to reset. And that reset is about 15 to 25 minutes. So, there’s a lot of pressure to nail it. You don’t want to mess up.

KW: Harriet also asks: Where did you take harder "hits" – on the football field as a wide receiver or on the set shooting those Old Spice ads as an actor?
IM: In acting, the hits you take are in doing the same thing over and over and over again. Football is different, but at some point you’re going to need a hot bath and a massage after any sort of grueling activity.

KW: What’s it like to become famous overnight from a TV commercial?
IM: At some point you just have to give thanks to whatever’s out there controlling the pace, and enjoy the process while it’s happening.

KW: Marcia Evans asks: I became an admirer of yours after viewing an Old Spice commercial for the first time! It's apparent that you are health conscious.
Do you have any aspirations to bring health and fitness to our community, particularly to our youth?
IM: I’m not on a council and I haven’t started a non-profit, but being that I have a child in elementary school, I’m always encouraging kids to stay active. My daughter’s doing gymnastics.

KW: Larry Greenberg says: My son and I use Old Spice mainly because you are so funny. I have kind of a personal question. What deodorant do you use?
IM: Old Spice After Hours.

KW: Judyth Piazza asks: How has smelling like a man changed your life?
IM: [LOL] That’s an interesting question because that implies that I haven’t always been a man. Well, considering that I’ve always been a male, it hasn’t changed all that much. Maybe it’s a little more dynamic. How about that?

KW: How has life in general changed for you since Old Spice? Do you get stopped in public a lot?
IM: It’s not that different. Sometimes people come up and talk to me and say they like my work. And I smile back and say, “Thank you.” People are very polite.

KW: Did you have any sense when you were shooting the first add how big they were going to be?
IM: No, not at all. I don’t think anybody could predict a phenomenon like that.

KW: Editor/Legist Patricia Turnier asks: When did you discover that you had an interest and talent for acting?
IM: When I was about 5.

KW: Patricia has a follow-up: Which actors inspired you when you were a kid?
IM: I really liked Eddie Murphy and Bill Murray. They could entertain me for hours on end. Also Chevy Chase.

KW: Finally, Patricia says: There are many kids who want to become celebrities without getting an education first. Can you share with the youth how it was useful for your career to get a solid college education?
IM: That’s a tricky question, because I don’t personally know what it’s like not to have an education. And I’ve also seen plenty of people who never attended college become successful in the arts. I think an education is beneficial, but whether it takes an education to be successful in the arts is a whole other question.

KW: Since you have an Arabic name, Tony Noel was wondering whether you’re a Muslim, how that has affected your career choices, and if you’ve been impacted personally by the negative sentiment in the U.S. about Islam?
IM: I don’t answer questions that have religion involved in them, so we can move on to the next one.

KW: What was it like to make People Magazine "Most Beautiful People” list last year?
IM: [Chuckles] It was an honor that someone would categorize me as a beautiful person.

KW: Is there any question no one ever asks you, that you wish someone would?
IM: No, because I’m really happy about any question that’s not being asked.

KW: The Tasha Smith question: Are you ever afraid?
IM: Not about stuff I can’t control.

KW: The Columbus Short question: Are you happy?
IM: At this particular moment, yes.

KW: The Teri Emerson question: When was the last time you had a good laugh?
IM: About 10 questions ago when you asked me that crazy question about smelling like a man.

KW: What is your guiltiest pleasure?
IM: The TV show iCarly. I watch it with my daughter all the time.

KW: The bookworm Troy Johnson question: What was the last book you read?
IM: “The Answer” by John Assaraf.

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

KW: What is your favorite dish to cook?
IM: [Laughs heartily] Sorry, I’m not much of a cook. I make a lot of shakes, and eat some fruit, but I generally keep it moving. I don’t sit down and have meal too often, unless I go out for dinner. Right now, I’m on a vegan diet.

KW: What type of exercise regimen are you on to stay in such great shape?
IM: It’s really basic. Lots of push-ups, pull-ups and sit-ups. But I’m doing something athletic all day long. [Laughs]

KW: The Uduak Oduok question: Who is your favorite clothes designer?
IM: John Varvatos and Vivienne Westwood.

KW: When you look in the mirror, what do you see?
IM: My reflection through glass that has been pelted with toothpaste, along with a few affirmations that I’ve written on it.

KW: If you could have one wish instantly granted, what would that be for?
IM: Come on! That’s such a potentially polarizing question. I’d wish for a bag of extra wishes.

KW: The Ling-Ju Yen question: What is your earliest childhood memory?
IM: Wow! I can’t remember.

KW: The Rudy Lewis question: Who’s at the top of your hero list?
IM: The comic book character Luke Cage.

KW: The Tavis Smiley question: How do you want to be remembered?
IM: I just want to be remembered.

KW: Thanks again for the time, Isaiah, and best of luck with the film and the ads.
IM: Alright, my man.

Scream 4

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Slasher Franchise Revived with High Body-Count Shriekquel

It’s been a decade since the homicidal maniac known as Ghostface (voiced by Roger L. Jackson) last embarked on a harrowing reign of terror around the City of Woodsboro. Over the uneventful interim, calm has returned to the tight-knit community where the only visible reminder of what once transpired are the replicas of the sadistic slasher’s mask (ostensibly-inspired by Edvard Munch’s “The Scream”) which some perverted pranksters nailed to telephone posts as a macabre tribute to the tragedy.
Such insensitive attempts at gallows humor notwithstanding, proud survivor Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) feels that it’s finally safe to return to her hometown for the first time in years. So, despite having been Ghostface’s primary target, she schedules a visit as the last leg of a promotional tour for her recently-published memoir about the sensational killing sprees.
Unfortunately, right after her arrival, Sheriff Dewey Riley (David Arquette) interrupts the book signing to announce that the disemboweled remains of a couple of teenagers (Brittany Robertson and Aimee Teegarden) have just been discovered, and that it looks like it might be the work of a reincarnated Ghostface. Then, when he subsequently finds a blood-stained hunting knife in the trunk of Sidney’s rental car, he orders her to stick around Woodsboro until her name is cleared.
This double-murder jumpstarts the fresh round of senseless slaughter serving as the raison d’etre for Scream 4. Directed by Wes Craven and written by Kevin Williamson, the high body-count shriekquel is designed for devotees of the franchise who appreciate its effective combination of spine-tingling suspense with clever, self-reverential parody of the scary movie genre.
The casting for this installment also reflects that creative team’s continued commitment to top-flight talent, between returnees David Arquette, Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox and Heather Graham, and series newcomers Anna Paquin. Emma Roberts, Kristen Bell, Anthony Anderson, Hayden Panettiere and Rory Culkin. Having seasoned professionals in minor roles, even ill-fated cameos, adds immeasurably to the overall quality of the production.
As for the unremarkable plotline, Scream 4 revives the fairly formulaic “crazed madman with a penchant for stalking attractive teens home alone or in wooded areas” theme. Nonetheless, it is tautly-enough edited to keep you on edge and guessing the villain’s identity for the duration. Plus, the picture features plenty of welcome comic relief via “Stab 7,” a film within the film which periodically enables characters to poke fun at horror flick conventions and clichés.
A worthy sequel certain to scare the bejesus out of Scream franchise fans with a strong stomach for gratuitous gore.

Excellent (4 stars)
Rated R for profanity, underage drinking and graphic violence.
Running time: 111 minutes
Distributor: Dimension Films

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Rabbit Hole DVD

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Adaptation of Pulitzer Prize-Winning Morality Play Arrives on DVD

How long does it take to get over the death of a child? Maybe forever, suggests Rabbit Hole, a poignant meditation on mourning based on David Lindsay-Abaire’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play of the same name.
Directed by John Cameron Mitchell, the film revolves around the crumbling relationship of a grief-stricken couple struggling to find meaning in their shattered lives following the loss of their four year-old son. They both blame themselves for Danny’s (Phoenix List) untimely demise even though he was hit by a car after chasing his dog out into the street.
The point of departure is eight months after the accident, which is where we find once happily-married Becca (Nicole Kidman) and Howie Corbett (Aaron Eckhart) not only still inconsolable but now emotionally estranged to boot. The Corbetts’ problems emanate from their incompatible coping mechanisms, as her desire to eradicate any painful trace of Danny’s existence flies in the face of his inclination to take some solace in nostalgic, if bittersweet reminders.
Consequently, Howie is bothered by Becca’s removing Danny’s photos from the fridge and by her donating his clothes to charity. Furthermore, he’d like to have another baby, but she has no interest in intimacy. In fact, she’s ready to sell the house.
Even the bereavement support group they join just drives another wedge between them. For, as an atheist, Becca can’t stand the organization’s holier than thou moderator’s presumptuous references to religion. Embittered, she believes that, if there is a God, then he must be a ”sadistic prick.”
So, she stops attending sessions, oblivious to the fact Howie has developed the hots for the married member (Sandra Oh) whose shoulder he’s been leaning on. But Becca has her own secret liaison blossoming, an unlikely friendship with the teen driver (Miles Teller) of the auto which killed Danny.
As strange as the above scenarios must sound, credit Nicole Kidman, Aaron Eckhart and their talented support cast for handling such potentially melodramatic material in an appropriately subdued fashion. Though relentlessly-grim and undeniably bizarre, this character-driven drama does convincingly convey a real sense of how easily a rock-solid marriage might be irreversibly ripped asunder by an unthinkable tragedy.
A plausible portrait of what transpires when bad things happen to good people in the absence of a lucky rabbit’s foot or faith in God.

Excellent (3.5 stars)
Rated PG-13 for profanity, drug use and mature themes.
Running time: 92 Minutes
Studio: Lionsgate Home Entertainment
DVD Extras: Deleted scenes, theatrical trailer, audio commentary with the director, writer and director of photography.

Ip Man 2: Legend of the Grandmaster (CHINESE DVD)

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Kung Fu Sequel Comes to DVD

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 rather 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 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 worthy 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: Well Go USA
DVD Extras: Deleted scenes, interviews, trailers, shooting diary, “The Making of IP Man 2” documentary, and “Behind the Sets” featurette.

Top Ten DVD List for April 19th

by Kam Williams

Headline: Top Ten DVD List for April 19th

The King’s Speech

Rabbit Hole

Ip Man 2: Legend of the Grandmaster

Gas Hole

A Royal Romance: William & Kate

If God Is Willing and da Creek Don’t Rise

Sharpay’s Fabulous Adventure

Gulliver’s Travels

Born to Raise Hell


Top Ten DVD List for April 12th

This Week’s DVD Releases
by Kam Williams

Headline: Top Ten DVD List for April 12th

Tracy & Hepburn: The Definitive Collection

Behind the Burly Q

The Third Reich

Antarctic Mission: The Complete Series

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

The Last Continent

The Inheritance


The Incredibles [4-Disc Combo Pack]

A Summer in Genoa

Honorable Mention

Country Strong


Goodnight for Justice

Dallas: The Movie Collection

The Speed of Thought

Blood Junkie

Let’s Talk about Sex

The LXD: Seasons 1 & 2

Whitney Cummings: Money Shot

Blood Oath

Friday, April 15, 2011

The King's Speech DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Best Picture Oscar-Winner Arrives on DVD

When England’s King George V (Michael Gambon) passed away in 1936, he was first succeeded by his eldest son, Edward VIII (Guy Pearce). But Edward would abdicate less than a year into his reign, capitulating to the mounting public pressure to pick between the throne and his scandalous plans to marry his mistress, Wallis Simpson (Eve Best), a two-time divorcee’ and an American to boot.
This development left Prince Albert (Colin Firth) positioned as the next in line, but the heir apparent was reluctant to replace his brother because of his own inability to control a crippling stutter. After all, he was well aware of radio’s rising importance as a means of communication, and that periodically addressing the masses on the air would be among his critical duties as a high-profile figurehead.
Furthermore, having embarrassing himself in front of a large crowd in Wembley Stadium over a decade earlier, Albert had already consulted a world-renowned speech therapist for help with his condition. However, Dr. Bentham’s (Roger Hammond) best scientific efforts had failed, leaving the beleaguered Prince’s saddled with a lack of self-confidence and a disinclination to serve as monarch.
Finally, a ray of hope arrives when word of an Australian rumored to be curing speech impediments reaches Albert’s supportive wife, the Duchess of York (Helena Bonham Carter). Adopting an alias, she surreptitiously goes slumming around a seedy side of London in search of the highly-recommended Dr. Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush).
As animated as he is eccentric, the self-assured therapist confidently lays out his non-negotiable ground rules prior to agreeing to take on “Mrs. Johnson’s” mysterious husband as a client, including an understanding that all the sessions will be conducted right there on the premises in his modest home studio. And even after learning the identity of his new pupil, Logue insists on referring to Prince Albert by “Bertie,” His Majesty’s lofty stature outside the office notwithstanding.
Although initially infuriated as much by the cheeky commoner’s presumptuousness as by his unorthodox methods, Albert gradually develops a grudging fondness for the foreigner when his stammer starts showing signs of dissipating. The arc of their strained relationship serves as the fascinating focus of The King’s Speech, the winner of four Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Actor (Colin Firth), Best Director (Tom Hooper) and Best Original Screenplay (David Seidler).
The film is reminiscent of The Queen (2006) in that it offers a plausible peek at the intimate affairs of members of the Royal Family during a defining moment of emotional and political upheaval. In this instance, the period in question covers the turbulent years after Albert’s coronation leading up to England’s entry into World War II in 1939.
The movie is at its best when highlighting the delightful badinage between Colin Firth as the recently-crowned King George VI and Geoffrey Rush as his not so humble servant, a charming rogue if there ever was one. Still, the sobering specter of Hitler looms over Europe, making Logue’s appointed mission to prepare Albert to deliver a rousing declaration of war without stuttering as much a patriotic duty as an individual achievement.
Firth and Rush are nothing short of magnificent here, delivering inspired performances in a moving masterpiece made for the ages.

Excellent (4 stars)
Rated R for profanity.
Running time: 119 Minutes
Distributor: Anchor Bay Entertainment
DVD Extras: Audio commentary with director Tom Hooper, “The Making of” featurette, Q&A with the director and cast, speeches by the real King George VI and highlights of the real Lionel Logue.

Kam's Kapsules: For movies opening April 22, 2011

Kam's Kapsules:
Weekly Previews That Make Choosing a Film Fun
by Kam Williams
For movies opening April 22, 2011


African Cats (G) Disney nature documentary, narrated by Samuel L. Jackson, chronicling events in the lives of a trio of felines running free on the savannah: a little lion cub learning to imitate its mother, a momma cheetah patiently teaching her five mischievous newborns how to survive, and a fearless lion protecting his pride from a rival.

Madea’s Big Happy Family (PG-13 for profanity, mature themes and drug use) Tyler Perry’s back in drag for the 6th time as the trash-talking, pistol-packing granny. This installment of the morality play franchise revolves around a niece (Loretta Devine) in failing health who has just received a distressing diagnosis. Ensemble includes Bow Wow, David and Tamela Mann, Cassi Davis, Lauren London, Cheryl “Pepsi’ Riley, and popular, Old Spice pitchman Isaiah Mustafa.

Water for Elephants (Unrated) Robert Pattinson stars in the screen adaptation of Sara Gruen’s Depression-era novel of the same name about a vet student who drops out of school to join the circus after his parents perish in a car accident. With Reese Witherspoon and, Christoph Waltz and Hal Holbrook.


The Bang Bang Club (Unrated) South African saga recounting the daring exploits of a quartet of intrepid combat photographers (Taylor Kitsch, Ryan Phillippe, Frank Rautenbach, Neels Van Jaarsveld) determined to document the fall of the country’s Apartheid regime. With Malin Akerman, Patrick Lyster and Russel Savadier.

Cougar Hunting (R for nudity, profanity, drug use, crude humor and pervasive sexuality) Buddy comedy revolving around three losers at love (Robin Blazak, Matt Prokop and Randy Wayne) who try to improve their odds by dating desperate, older women at an Aspen resort. With Vanessa Angel, Jillian Murray and Lara Flynn Boyle.

Dumbstruck (PG for suggestive humor) Dummy documentary featuring the highlights of the annual ventriloquists’ convention staged in Fort Mitchell, Kentucky. With appearances by Bob Ashman, Willie Brown and Jennifer Burdette.

Exodus Fall (Unrated) Dysfunctional family drama, set in Texas in 1974, about three teenage siblings (Jesse James, Adrien Finkel and Devon Graye) grieving the death of their father (Christopher Atkins) who decide to run away from home when their abusive mom (Rosanna Arquette) mistreats her son with autism. With Dee Wallace, Leo Rossi and Duane Whitaker.

The Greatest Movie Ever Sold (PG-13 for profanity and sexuality) Morgan Spurlock (Super Size Me) wrote, produced, directed and stars in this documentary exposing the widespread corporate financing of movies via prominent product placements and other forms of advertising.

Incendies (R for profanity and graphic violence) Oscar-nominated, return to roots drama about a twin brother (Maxim Gaudette) ands sister (Melissa Desormeaux-Poulin) born in the middle East who travel from Canada back to their homeland to fulfill their late mother’s (Lubna Azabal) last request that they find the presumed-dead father they’ve never met and a sibling they never even knew existed. With Remy Girard, Allen Altman and Mohamed Majd. (In French, Arabic and English with subtitles)

Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen (Unrated) Martial arts adventure, set in Japanese-occupied Shanghai in the Twenties, and revolving around a mysterious stranger (Donnie Yen) who infiltrates a gang of mobsters in order to assassinate everyone collaborating with the enemy. With Shu Qi, Anthony Wong, Huang Bo and Kohata Ryu. (In Mandarin, Japanese and English with subtitles)

Stake Land (Unrated) High body-count horror flick about a vampire hunter (Nick Damici) accompanied by an orphaned teen (Connor Paolo) on a perilous trek across a post-apocalyptic America in search of a monster-free sanctuary. Cast includes Danielle Harris, Kelly McGillis and

St. Nick (Unrated) Survival drama about sibling runaways (Tucker and Savanna Sears) who take refuge in an abandoned house in the woods to escape from the elements during harsh Texas winter. With Riley Cole, Monique Byars and Brooke Devenney.

Tied to a Chair (Unrated) Screwball comedy about a miserable housewife (Bonnie Loren) who leaves her husband (Richard Franklin) of 25 years to resume the acting career she gave up to marry him. The plot thickens at her first audition when she’s left bound to a chair in a hotel room by a kinky cult film director (Mario Van Peebles) who subsequently turns up dead. With Robert Gossett, Kim Cristo and Daniel Farag.

What on Earth (Unrated) Whodunit documentary examining the mystery of crop circles as debated at an annual convention in England by scientists, farmers, philosophers and paranoid conspiracy buffs baffled by the phenomenon.

Fear of a Black Republican DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: DVD Asks: Does the GOP Even Want the Black Vote?

Have you ever noticed how few African-American Republicans there are? At any Grand Old Party gathering you see on TV, there are generally so few blacks in attendance that they tend to stand out like a sore thumb.
That sorry state of affairs inspired Tavis Smiley to remark that “You can fit all the black Republicans with any clout into a phone booth.” And they’re probably also about as hard to find as a phone booth is nowadays.
This phenomenon was not lost on Kevin Williams, a white Republican from Trenton, New Jersey, who felt frustrated by the fact that the Democrats had a stranglehold on all the political positions in his predominantly African-American hometown. So, as a filmmaker, he decided to shoot a documentary getting to the bottom of why blacks aren’t represented in the Republican Party.
Is it that the GOP would prefer to remain lily-white or are African-Americans simply short-changing themselves by remaining so loyal to the Democratic Party? That fundamental question rests at the heart of Fear of a Black Republican, an eye-opening expose’ supplying a variety of intriguing answers.
In order to unravel the mystery, Williams approached some of the black Republicans crammed into the aforementioned phone booth, from recently-deposed RNC Chairman Michael Steele to former U.S. Senator from Massachusetts Ed Brooke who warns of “corruption where there’s no two-party system.” Yes, there’s that danger in districts where a Democratic nomination assures a candidate of victory. Still, there’s probably truth to Tavis’ suggestion that once the Republican Party figured out that it could win national and statewide elections without blacks “then the needs of that constituency never rose to the top of its agenda.”
Among the other pundits weighing-in here are Princeton Professor Dr. Cornel West, right-wing journalists Michelle Malkin and Ann Coulter, and possible Presidential candidates Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee. Yet, the most meaningful interviews are with rank and file black Republicans, average folks who make heartfelt pitches for their fellow African-Americans to abandon the Democrat Party which they indict for taking the black vote for granted.
Whether it’s up to white Republicans or jaded black Democrats looking for an alternative to make the first overture, Fear of a Black Republican might serve as a great conversation breaker to encourage both camps to bury the hatchet and to give each other serious consideration as a viable political partner. However, I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for the GOP to reflect the all-inclusive rainbow the Party envisioned during more enlightened times when Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves and a plethora of black Republican candidates ran successful campaign for political office.

Excellent (4 stars)
Running time: 111 Minutes
Studio: Shamrock Stine Productions

Fly Away

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Autistic Teen at Center of Poignant Coming-of-Age Drama

As the mother of a rapidly-maturing child with autism, Jeanne (Beth Broderick) finds herself torn between being overprotective and encouraging Mandy’s (Ashley Rickards) independence. Presently, the rambunctious 15 year-old attends a regular public school with a program for special needs kids.
However, her principal recently suggested that Mandy might be better off institutionalized in the wake of a game-changing outburst which simply couldn’t be ignored. For throwing a desk at a classmate during a temper tantrum means that she isn’t just a danger to herself, but to others as well.
Even though it’s clear that Mandy’s becoming a greater and greater burden, Jeanne is reluctant to surrender the responsibility of raising her daughter to strangers. After all, as a single-mom she’s made compromises in terms of her career, working at home in order to be available 24-7.
It doesn’t help matters that her ex-husband Pete (J.R. Bourne) fails to engage with Mandy emotionally during visitation, and that he is already inclined to have her institutionalized. The trouble is that Jeanne has to admit that the right program could actually do her daughter a world of good, especially since there will ultimately come a day when her parents will no longer be around.
Thus, when to let go is the theme of Fly Away, a poignant coming-of-age drama directed by Janet Grillo. The mother of a child with disabilities, Ms. Grillo approached the semi-autobiographical adventure more as a consciousness-raising labor of love than as a money-making enterprise.
What makes the film special is its delicate handling of such sensitive subject-matter in realistic fashion without ever pandering via cheap sentimentality. The net result is a sobering slice of cinema verite which paints a plausible picture of a family dealing with the dilemma of how to care for a loved one when it’s clear they’re in over their heads.
An authentic tale of survival offering insight, hope and wings!

Excellent (3.5 stars)
Running time: 80 minutes
Distributor: New Video

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

A Reason to Believe: Lessons from an Improbable Life (BOOK REVIEW)

A Reason to Believe:
Lessons from an Improbable Life
by Governor Deval Patrick
Broadway Books
Hardcover, $21.99
238 pages, Illustrated
ISBN: 978-0-7679-3112-0

Book Review by Kam Williams

“My life is often described as ‘improbable’ because I grew up in a broken home and in poverty… Of course, I acknowledge the unlikelihood of my good fortune. I also recognize the hard work and discipline that have made it possible.
But above all, I cherish and celebrate the many people who have taken moments to enlighten me, to renew my ideals, and to spur me to action. There have teachers and preachers, supervisors and colleagues, friends and family… who through their words or deeds have delivered transcendent messages about life, faith and friendship… They have made all the difference.
This book is a tribute to them.”

-Excerpted from the Preface (pgs. 3-4)

Deval Patrick and his sister Rhonda were raised on the South Side of
Chicago by a mom who’d been abandoned by their deadbeat dad for the proverbial “other woman” and a “love child.” Life is tough enough for a young boy growing up in the ‘hood without a father, but it must been even more challenging when he’s a famous jazz musician (saxophonist Pat Patrick) always on tour who rarely visits or sends any child support.
This was precisely Deval’s plight during his formative years, a predicament which undoubtedly lowered his odds of ever making it out of the ‘hood. Nonetheless, thanks to his applying himself academically combined with the support of a devoted mother, grandparents and teachers, he managed to earn a scholarship to a prestigious boarding school by the time he graduated from junior high.
Deval subsequently attended Harvard College and then Harvard Law School, before working as an attorney for the NAACP and in the Clinton Administration. In 2006, he ran for political office for the first time when he entered the race for Governor of Massachusetts.
Although a virtual unknown, he emerged victorious at the end of a hard-fought campaign. And he repeated that unlikely feat just last fall when he made history by becoming the first African-American ever reelected the governor of any state in the union.
All of the above achievements and many more are recounted in glowing detail in A Reason to Believe: Lessons from an Improbable Life, an autobiography which essentially amounts to an exercise in humility. For at every turn, the appreciative author credits this or that relative, teacher, mentor or benefactor for playing a pivotal role at each step as he scaled the ladder of success.
Along the way he also married and had a family, carving out the sort of quality time for his daughters that he had himself never enjoyed with his estranged dad. The icing on the on the cake is that, ultimately, Deval not only forgave his father before he died but took him into his home when he was down on his luck.
A moving memoir by an unassuming overachiever-turned-altruistic role model well worth emulating!