Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Bow Wow: The “Madea’s Big Happy Family” Interview

with Kam Williams

Headline: Bow Wow’s Big Happy Bark Better than His Bite

It was clear from an early age that Shad “Bow Wow” Moss was destined for the spotlight. At just 5, he was discovered by Snoop Dogg and featured on the rap icon’s groundbreaking “Doggystyle” album. Renamed Bow Wow for his solo debut, he teamed up with chart-topping/hit-making producer Jermaine Dupri to release “Beware of Dog” in 2000, the kickoff to a string of platinum and gold albums that spawned a half-dozen #1 singles and platinum songs.
Bow Wow is the “Youngest Solo Rapper to Ever Hit No. 1,” as recognized by the Guinness World Records. All told, he’s sold more than 10 million CDs and 14 million digital assets to date.
Last year, he starred in the hit motion picture “Lottery Ticket,” and he also enjoyed a recurring role on the HBO hit series “Entourage.” His impressive list of screen credits includes: “Hurricane Season” (2009), “The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift” (2006), “Roll Bounce” (2005), “Johnson Family Vacation” (2004) and “Like Mike” (2002).
Here, Bow Wow talks about playing Byron in Madea’s Big Happy Family.

Kam Williams: How you been, Bow Wow?
Bow Wow: I’m alright, Kam, just working.

KW: The last time we spoke, you had all your fans interacting with you on Skype at the same time I was interviewing you about Lottery Ticket.
BW: Yeah, man, that was crazy. I remember it like it was yesterday. We’re right back at it now.

KW: What interested you in Madea’s Big Happy Family?
BW: What interested me was the opportunity to work with Tyler [Perry], which had always been an objective of mine because of his being a top Hollywood director. I remember walking up to him at a Janet Jackson concert and going like, “Yo, man, you gotta put me in one of your movies,” as if he’d be crazy if he didn’t. I thought he’d probably forget, because I have people come up to me trying to talk business all the time, but I guess he kept me in mind. It was like a blessing from God when I heard he wanted me to play Byron.

KW: Editor/Legist Patricia Turnier asks: What was it like working with Tyler Perry?
BW: It was dope! I had a lot of fun working with him. He’s a hard worker. And he works extremely fast, which is how I like to operate, because he comes to the set knowing what shots he wants to get. He’s very professional and doesn’t waste any time. I definitely can’t wait to do another Tyler Perry movie, especially since I liked the moral of the story.

KW: What would you say is the movie’s message?
BW: That tomorrow is never promised and that family is very important. So, make sure you tell your family you love them each and every day because you don’t know when it might be your last opportunity.

KW: Tyler certainly has a knack for crafting morality plays which touch folks deeply.
BW: Most definitely. He does a terrific job with those dramatic moments. I think it comes from his own life experiences and from making it after everything he had to overcome.

KW: How was it acting opposite Lauren London who played your girlfriend, Renee, and working with the rest of the ensemble?
BW: I’ve known Lauren for a while, I had just worked with Loretta Devine on Lottery Ticket, and I’d worked with the majority of the cast before, so it was really comfortable for me on set.

KW: Larry Greenberg says: Tyler Perry plays so many parts in this film. Were you worried that he was going to take your role?
BW: [LOL] No, I wasn’t worried about that at all. [Laughs some more]

KW: Brian Stimson says: I’d like to know whether you faced any difficulties making the transition from childhood to adulthood. Most of us not in the spotlight can easily shed those childhood personas, but I wonder if it’s the same for someone who is both a music and film star?
BW: I always say, “It’s all about the work.” That’s one thing I’ve done. I’ve just committed to my work, which I think is what has enabled me to make it over that hurdle that a lot of other child stars don’t. You can become greater than what you already are. That’s what I’m always about.

KW: Children’s book author Irene Smalls asks: How has show business changed since you started?
BW: Dramatically! In music, everything’s digital now. But I think change is normal. There’s always a natural progression. Even in Hollywood, where you see many more independent films being shot.

KW: Irene also asks: What achievement in your career makes you proudest?
BW: I’m too young to say at this point in my career. I have way too much more to accomplish.

KW: Irene’s last question: Acting or rapping, which is your preference?
BW: Acting in movies.

KW: Harriet Pakula Teweles says: When you got older, you removed the 'Lil' from your name. As you age and mature, might you shorten it again?
BW: No, I think if I ever changed my stage name again, I’d just start using my real name, Shad.

KW: Is there any question no one ever asks you, that you wish someone would?
BW: That’s crazy! [Chuckles] Yeah, one question people rarely ask me is whether I’m happy doing what I do?

KW: Okay, are you happy doing what you do?
BW: Honestly? Sometimes. When it comes to movies, I love it. No complaints. But with music, I’m only happy 75% of the time because there’s a lot of nonsense you have to deal with in the industry, although I still give it 110%. It’s a constant struggle for artists in the music industry.

KW: Do you ever wish you could have your anonymity back?
BW: In my eyes, I feel like I’m still a regular dude. For instance, I went to the movies last night. I can go to the busiest places and not get noticed, even in Manhattan.

KW: Well, thanks again Bow Wow, and I look forward to speaking to you about your next project?
BW: Definitely, man, definitely!

Tied to a Chair

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Frustrated Housewife Abandons Hubby for Acting Career in Midlife-Crisis Comedy

After 25 years of incessant mental abuse, housewife Naomi Holbroke (Bonnie Loren) has finally had it up to here with being berated by her insufferable husband (Richard Franklin). Not only does the British bureaucrat continually complain about her cooking, but he’s never appreciated the fact that she abandoned her dream of becoming an actress when she married him and moved to England.
Naomi handles her midlife crisis by leaving the creep for the Cannes Film Festival where she attempts to kickstart her career by auditioning for the lead in a film just being cast by Billy Rust (Mario Van Peebles), a one-hit wonder who’s trying to revitalize his own after a long dry spell. Trouble is the role calls for a voluptuous, young ingénue, not a flat-chested cougar who’s looking a little long in the tooth.
Not one to be discouraged easily, Naomi nonetheless persuades Billy to take her up to his hotel room and tie her to a chair as called for by the script’s sadomasochistic theme because “It’s every woman’s fantasy!” (Who knew?) Unfortunately, instead of finding her performance the least bit provocative, blasé Billy merely drifts off into a very deep sleep. Humiliated, Naomi lets herself out somehow still bound, and she subsequently shows up in the States several days later to stalk the director for another screen test.
That is the intriguing enough point of departure of Tied to a Chair, a screwball comedy written and directed by Michael Bergmann. Despite a truth in advertising title which does the best job of living up to its billing since Snakes on a Plane, the picture turns out to be a tad too screwy for its own good.
For, once New York native Naomi arrives in the Big Apple, the movie morphs dramatically from the improbable to the preposterous, starting with Billy’s decapitation. Soon, she’s implicated in the crime, and it’s not long before she’s commandeering a cab and careening around town and running a gauntlet comprised of cops, mobsters and radical Islamists.
Shot between 2007 and 2009, the film feels even more dated than that due to its featuring cartoonish suicide bombers hatching a cockamamie terrorist plot, caricatures which maybe might have worked immediately in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. Regardless, the rapid disintegration of Tied to a Chair’s promising plot into nonsense looks like Michael Bergmann might have merely quit directing midway through the movie after having established a compelling premise.
He must have forgotten to include a screenplay in the flick’s budget.

Fair (1 star)
Running Time: 95 minutes
Distributor: Process Studio Theatre

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Top Ten DVD List for May 31st

by Kam Williams

Headline: Top Ten DVD List for May 31st

Stanley Kubrick: The Essential Collection

Psych – The Complete Fifth Season


Everybody Loves Raymond – The Complete Series


True Blood – The Complete Third Season

Prime 9: MLB Heroics

Bands on the Run: The Rubber Band Movie

Ben Bailey: Road Rage and Accidental Ornithology

Hijos del Carnaval – Seasons One & Two

Honorable Mention


Blue: The Complete First Season

Passion Play

Swamp People - The Complete Season One

The Kids in the Hall: Death Comes to Town

Hello Lonesome

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Lovelorn Find Unlikely Bedfellows in Melancholy Mood Flick

Eleanor (Lynn Cohen) is an attractive and active senior citizen who lives alone in a sprawling suburbia where an automobile is critical to maintaining a connection to the rest of civilization. For this reason, she’s beside herself the day the Department of Motor Vehicles refuses to renew her driver’s license on account of her failing eyesight.
Unfortunately, Eleanor compounds the sudden transportation problem by impulsively selling her classic Thunderbird, forgetting how much it still serves as a nostalgic reminder of a lifetime of pleasant adventures alongside her dearly-departed husband. Nevertheless, she manages to continue running her daily errands by relying on the charity of the handsome next-door neighbor (James Urbaniak) she’s barely interacted with before.
Soon, however, the well-preserved widow finds herself leaning on the very-accommodating young man’s shoulder not merely for rides but emotionally, too, subtly hinting at a desire for a degree of intimacy by admitting how much she misses hugging and spooning in bed. And Gary reciprocates by expressing his regret that his icy ex-wife was never inclined to cuddle.
Despite a playful exchange of “I could be your mother!” and “You could be my grandmother!” the acknowledged difference in their ages does nothing to discourage this pair. Thus, it isn’t long before the two lonely hearts are sharing nightly sleepovers, even if perhaps initially more out of convenience than passion.
The same can’t be said about Gordon (Nate Smith) and Deb (Sabrina Lloyd), a couple of strangers who meet on the internet and rendezvous to use each other for what was just supposed to be a wanton, one-night stand of acrobatic carnality. They unexpectedly fall head-over-heels for each other and continue to date, although a fly later lands in their lubricating ointment when a lump in her breast is diagnosed as a cancerous tumor. Will Gordon bail on the budding relationship or stick around to help his terrified partner battle the disease?
While awaiting the resolution of that intriguing scenario, this absorbing triskelion sets up one other storyline. Bill (Harry Chase) has just been dumped by his wife, and his emotionally-estranged daughter is no longer taking his calls. As a voiceover actor working out of his home studio, he’s already been something of a recluse. Now in need of more human interaction, the normally taciturn hermit reaches out to his express package deliveryman (Kamel Boutros) in friendship, but the overture is first mistaken for a romantic pass.
This trio of discrete tales revolving around unlikely bedfellows fuels the fires of Hello Lonesome, a palpably-realistic, melancholy mood flick marking the auspicious script and directorial debut of Adam Reid. Congrats to rookie Reid for crafting such an endlessly-amusing, slice-of-life screenplay, for finding the right cast to execute that vision, and for adding the rest of just the right ingredients to the recipe for a satisfying, cinematic stew best served steamy, sentimental and sobering!

Excellent (4 stars)
Running Time: 93 Minutes
Distributor: Bodega Studios


Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Ostracized Teen Overcomes Teasing in Coming of Age Musical Comedy

In some ways, 14 year-old Spork (Savannah Stehlin) is your typical adolescent trying to negotiating her way through those awkward years. Her being frizzy-haired, overweight and hailing from the wrong side of the tracks makes her easy prey for Cherry Lane Middle School’s exclusive clique of popular blondes led by the insufferable Betsy Byotch (Rachel G. Fox).
But Spork has considerable additional burdens to bear, being an orphan whose mother died after her father abandoned the family. Since then, she’s been raised in a trailer park by her big brother, Spit (Rodney Eastman). He’s the one who came up with her sibilant nickname inspired by that infernal hybrid of a spoon and a fork, due to the fact that she has both male and female sex organs.
Spit’s publicly outing his sister as a hermaphrodite has only added to her sense of social isolation, as her tormentors have taken to referring to her as everything from “Fagatron” to a “He-She.” Consequently, Spork now hangs with the African-American crowd, basically because of the support of her best friend, Tootsie Roll (Sydney Park). And even though she has no rhythm, with the black kids’ blessing, encouragement and coaching, she decides to enter her school’s Annual Dance-Off Competition.
That, in a nutshell, sets up the eventual big showdown around which Spork revolves, as quirky a coming-of-age comedy as you are ever apt to encounter. Written and directed by J.B. Ghuman, Jr., the picture might be best thought of as a cross of Kick-Ass and Napoleon Dynamite; or better yet as Mean Girls meets The Revenge of the Nerds.
It’s admittedly fun to root for such an abject underdog, although while watching this screwball adventure, I couldn’t help but wonder whether students in junior high are really quite as precocious nowadays as these sexually-active characters. Fair warning: some of the ethnic humor is of questionable taste, like when the white dance team performs in blackface or when a fat Chinese kid is called a “Chunk,” ostensibly a slur emanating from a blend of “Chink” and “chunky.”
Spoiler alert: Spork not only ultimately prevails, but she even manages to win the heart of a cute and sensitive, gender-ambiguous admirer (Michael William Arnold). Proof positive that hermaphrodites are people, deserving of Hollywood endings, too!.

Very Good (3 stars)
Running time: 86 Minutes
Distributor: Wrekin Hill Entertainment

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Kam's Kapsules: For movies opening June 3, 2011

Kam's Kapsules:
Weekly Previews That Make Choosing a Film Fun
by Kam Williams
For movies opening June 3, 2011


Beginners (R for profanity and sexuality) Out-of-the-closet drama about a terminally-ill, 75 year-old widower (Christopher Plummer) who finally summons up the courage to inform his son (Ewan McGregor) about his gay lover (Goran Visnjic). With Melanie Laurent, Lou Taylor Pucci and Mary Page Keller. (In English and French with subtitles)

X-Men: First Class (PG-13 for violence, sexuality and brief profanity) Prequel to the popular Marvel Comics franchise, set in the early Sixties before mutants Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and Erik Lehnsherr (Michael Fassbender) became archenemies and adopted their respective alter egos, Professor X and Magneto. Cast includes Kevin Bacon, Rose Byrne, January Jones, Oliver Platt, Zoe Karvitz and Hugh Jackman.


Beautiful Boy (R for profanity and sexuality) Dysfunctional family drama about a couple (Michael Sheen and Maria Bello) contemplating divorce whose marriage becomes further strained by the media circus which envelops them after their only son (Kyle Gallner), a college freshman, embarks on a killing spree on campus before committing suicide. With Meat Loaf, Moon Bloodgood and Deidrie Henry.

Bride Flight (R for sexuality and graphic nudity) Romance drama chronicling the diverging fates of three Dutch refugees: a fashion designer (Anna Drijver), a farm girl (Karina Smulders) and a barren spinster (Elise Schaap), all of whom emigrate from Holland to New Zealand after World War II to enter arranged marriages. (In Dutch and English with subtitles)

Empire of Silver (Unrated) Fact-based flashback flick, set in China at the dawn of the 20th Century, revolving around the disinterested heir (Aaron Kwok) to a banking fortune who only reluctantly follows in the footsteps of his domineering father (Tielin Zhang). Support cast includes Jennifer Tilly, Lei Hao and Jonathan Kos-Read. (In Mandarin and English with subtitles)

Film Socialisme (Unrated) Jean-Luc Godard directed this cinematic symphony in three movements painting a surreal portrait of life from a variety of equally-enigmatic, points-of-view. (In French with subtitles)

The Last Mountain (PG for mature themes and brief profanity) Eco-documentary recounting the protracted effort of a tiny, tight-knit community to preserve the last Appalachian Mountain in Pennsylvania still standing untouched after decades of strip mining by the coal industry.

Love, Wedding, Marriage (PG-13 for profanity and sexuality) Dermot Mulroney directs this romantic comedy about a newlywed shrink (Mandy Moore) forced to reassess her beliefs about relationships after learning about her parents’ (James Brolin and Jane Seymour) impending divorce. With Kellan Lutz, Michael Weston and Richard Reid.

Mr. Nice (Unrated) Crime saga revisiting the rise and fall of drug smuggler Howard Marks (Rhys Ifans), based on the Welsh outlaw’s tell-all autobiography. Cast includes Crispin Glover, Chloe Sevigny and David Thewlis. (In English and Spanish with subtitles)

Rejoice & Shout (PG for some smoking and mature themes) Sanctified documentary celebrating the 200-year history of Gospel music features appearances by Smokey Robinson, Mavis Staples and Andrae Crouch.

Some Days Are Better than Others (Unrated) Character-driven drama about the human condition exploring such themes as fulfillment, connection, abandonment and abundance. Ensemble cast includes James Mercer, Carrie Brownstein, David Wodehouse and Renee Roman Nose.

Submarine (Unrated) Coming-of-age comedy about a frustrated 15 year-old (Craig Roberts) with only two things on his mind: losing his virginity before his next birthday and, discouraging his mother (Sally Hawkins) from cheating on his father (Noah Taylor) with a new age guru (Paddy Considine). Supporting cast includes Gemma Chan, Yasmin Paige and Ben Stiller.

Turkey Bowl (Unrated) Gridiron comedy focusing on a bunch of college buddies’ annual reunion to play a game of touch football. Starring Morgan Beck, Adam Benic, Kerry Bishe’, Troy Buchanan, Zeke Hawkins and Zoe Perry.

!Women Art Revolution (Unrated) Female empowerment documentary highlighting the groundbreaking achievements of those women who have transformed the art world since the Sixties. Featuring Miranda July, Yoko Ono, Barbara Kruger, Cindy Sherman, Judy Chicago and The Guerilla Girls.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

35 & Ticking

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Couples Deal with Relationship Drama in Biological Clock Comedy

When you think of African-American romance flicks featuring an ensemble cast, films like The Best Man, Love Jones and Brown Sugar immediately come to mind. You can add 35 & Ticking to that rare genre, although the movie doesn’t quite measure up to any of the aforementioned black classics.
Directed by Russ Parr, 35 & Ticking revolves around a quartet of lifelong friends, Victoria (Tamala Jones), Zenobia (Nicole Ari Parker), Cleavon (Kevin Hart) and Phil (Keith Robinson). The picture’s point of departure is 1983, when the four were still in grade school. Back then, the boys were fond of teasing Zenobia, a gangly girl who was tall for her age.
The story soon fast-forwards to the present, where we find Zenobia dreading her 37th birthday celebration because she hears her biological clock ticking and she’s still looking for her life mate. Despite her high-profile job as a TV sportscaster, she hasn’t exactly been dating appropriate men. The latest in her long line of losers is Zane (Clifton Powell), an ex-con who objects to her wearing a red dress to a party because it’s the color of a rival gang.
Nerdy Cleavon is single, too, primarily because he lacks the confidence to approach women. Plus, he doesn’t have a job, unless selling his semen to an infertility clinic counts.
He tries to make a love connection with the help of Zenobia who coaches him on what to say to a woman he wants to approach. “Tell her you’re name, tell her she’s pretty, and don’t tell her you’re unemployed.” Cleavon successfully employs that strategy with Falinda (Meagan Good), but then has to worry about whether the gorgeous stranger will lose interest once she learns that the “bank” he works at is just a sperm bank.
As for Phil, he’s married with children, but his immature wife Koko (Jill Marie Jones) is considering leaving him for a womanizing NBA star (Darius McCrary). At the other extreme, Victoria would like to start to a family, but her reluctant hubby (Dondre Whitfield) doesn’t want any kids.
The tension builds in each of these emotional scenarios en route to their eventual resolutions. Yet betwixt and between are myriad moments of levity which serve as gentle reminders not to take it all too seriously. All the loose ends are tied satisfactorily by the time the curtain comes down, making 35 & Ticking an amusing look at the state of black-on-black romance in the 21st Century.

Very Good (2.5 stars)
Running time: 104 minutes
Distributor: Image Entertainment

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Where's the Birth Certificate? (BOOK REVIEW)

Where's the Birth Certificate?
The Case That Barack Obama Is Not Eligible to Be President
by Jerome R. Corsi, Ph.D.
WND Books
Hardcover, $25.95
420 pages, Illustrated
ISBN: 978-193648829-2

Book Review by Kam Williams

“Is the 44th President of the United States of America, Barack Hussein Obama, illegally occupying the Oval Office? This book will demonstrate conclusively that no legal authority has ever verified Barack Obama’s legal eligibility to be president, that glaring inconsistencies and blackouts in his life narrative have caused widespread doubts among the American populace, and that, in fact, a compelling body of evidence exists that Obama is not a natural-born citizen as is required of all presidents by Article 2, Section 1, of the Constitution.
This book further establishes the case that Barack Obama, aided by the media collaborators, has conducted one of the most audacious cover-ups ever perpetrated at the highest level of American politics. By the time you finish reading, you will understand the need to block Obama’s bid for re-election in 2012...”

-- Excerpted from the Preface (pg. v)

Four years ago, black conservative Shelby Steele took a calculated risk when he published a book explaining why Barack Obama wouldn’t win the Presidential election of 2008. But in spite Shelby’s ending up with egg on his face, there’s been no shortage of so-called “birthers” again willing to predict the demise of Obama’s 2012 campaign even before it begins.
With the help of Donald Trump, the notion that Barack was born outside of the U.S. began to catch fire this spring, at least until the President finally called a press conference on April 27th, the very same day that a book called “Where's the Birth Certificate?” was being published by Skylar Blue. So, by releasing his original birth certificate, Obama ostensibly headed that opus off at the pass while simultaneously torpedoing Trump’s political aspirations.
I think most folks considered the birther issue put to rest once and for all, but now along comes another tome with the same title as Blue’s. This “Where's the Birth Certificate?” was written by Jerome R. Corsi, author of Unfit for Command, which questioned the veracity of Senator John Kerry’s service record during the war in Vietnam.
However, Corsi’s 400+ pages of copiously-detailed insinuations read more like the desperate ramblings of a mental patient or a paranoid conspiracy theorist than the product of years of sound, well-reasoned research. Nonetheless, all is for naught, given the President’s dispositive production of the missing document in question.
Where's the valid birth certificate? On file in Hawaii, fool!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Ken Jeong: “The Hangover Part II” Interview

with Kam Williams

Headline: The Funniest Doctor in America Makes a House Call

The son of Korean immigrants, Ken Jeong was born in Detroit on June 15, 1969 but raised in Greensboro, North Carolina. He graduated from high school there at the age of 16 after playing violin in the orchestra and being elected to the student council. Next, he attended Duke University, earning a bachelor’s degree before studying medicine at the University of North Carolina.
However, while completing his residency in New Orleans, Dr. Jeong was moonlighting as a standup comedian, and he moved to L.A. after winning “The Big Easy Laff-Off.” He has since delivered unforgettable performances in such movies as The Kims of Comedy, Knocked Up, Pineapple Express, Couples Retreat and The Hangover.
On TV, he’s appeared in a number of series and currently enjoys the recurring role of angry Spanish teacher Señor Chang on the NBC sitcom "Community." He has also done a number of television specials, most recently hosting this year’s Billboard Awards.
As for his private life, Ken’s wife, Tran, is a physician, too, and they have twin daughters, Alexa and Zooey. Here, he talks about reprising his role as the flamboyant Mr. Chow in The Hangover Part II.

Kam Williams: Hi Dr. Jeong. I’m honored to have this opportunity.
Ken Jeong: Oh, thank you for interviewing me. How’re you doing, Kam?

KW: Just great, thanks. I told my readers I’d be interviewing you and they sent in a lot of questions, so I’d like to get right to them. Ken Emerson says: I have been one of your biggest fans ever since I saw you climb naked out of the trunk of the car in The Hangover. What do I have to do to get an autographed picture of you?
KJ: [Laughs] Just forward his request to my publicist and I’d be very happy to send a picture to him. Absolutely!

KW: How did you enjoy shooting The Hangover Part II over in Thailand?
KJ: I loved it! It was just great. Being invited to go back to the big dance for the sequel to the movie that made my career was like a dream come true for me. It was an amazing opportunity to revisit the character that put me on the map and to revisit with family. These guys are my favorite crew to work with. I just had a blast!

KW: All the biggest laughs this go-round revolve around your character.
KJ: [Chuckles] Thank you. That’s very kind of you.

KW: Larry Greenberg says: You're cooler than Buckaroo Banzai. I read that your comedy career took off when Brandon Tartikoff saw you perform in New Orleans. Another reader, Fred Plunkett, Jr., who is from New Orleans, thinks that it was Bud Friedman who told you that you've got what it takes. Care to settle the debate by sharing who it is you credit with telling you to head for Hollywood?
KJ: Yes, sir. It was a standup comedy contest in New Orleans called “The Big Easy Laff-Off,” and the judges of the contest were both Bud Friedman, the founder of The Improv, and Brandon Tartikoff, the former President of NBC and ex-Chairman of Paramount Pictures. I won the competition and got to perform at The Improv in Los Angeles. This was fifteen years ago. When I finished my residency in New Orleans, I went to L.A. where I would work as a doctor during the day, and then at night I would actually go to The Improv and do standup, all the while kind of cultivating my comedy resume.

KW: Fred remembers seeing you perform with the Brown Improv group, which just celebrated their 17th year anniversary in New Orleans. He wants to know whether you still keep in touch with any members of the troupe.
KJ: Of course! That was the improv group I worked with every Saturday for three years while I was doing my residency. I credit Brown with really helping me find my comedic voice. And there are many talented actors and comedians I worked with there who I still keep in touch with today. I look back upon Brown as my training ground, my Second City, if you will.

KW: Fred also reminisces about catching you at True Brew Café on Open Mic Night. Does that ring a bell?
KJ: Yes! True Brew was a great venue located in New Orleans’ business district. It was a place where they had standup comedy once a week. It was great because it gave me an opportunity to develop my act. I have very, very fond memories of New Orleans.

KW: Will Cooper says: Given the number of years you invested in becoming a doctor, from med school to residency, before switching careers, do you ever wish you had spent that time pursuing your comedy career?
KJ: That’s a great question. My answer is, no. I’m real glad I studied medicine. I truly believe that without my medical background, I wouldn’t have the career I have right now. Medicine really matured me as a person because, as a physician, you’re obviously dealing with life and death issues, issues much more serious than what we’re talking about in entertainment. You can’t get more serious than life and death. And if you can handle that, you can handle anything. So, to me, to have the discipline in comedy to always do the best you can, is a work ethic I credit as coming from my being a physician. And I apply it all the time in my work as an actor.

KW: Harriet Pakula Teweles asks: Have you ever had to treat someone who became ill on the set?
KJ: Yeah, when I was doing All about Steve with Sandra Bullock and Bradley Cooper. We were shooting in 105-degree weather, and I remember catching one of the extras who was just about to collapse from heat exhaustion and taking them to the medic. So, yeah, I get asked medical advice all the time and, being a doctor, I don’t mind. It’s par for the course for me.

KW: Judyth Piazza says: You have been very successful. What key quality do you believe all successful people share?
KJ: Working hard. There’s really no substitute for working hard. I think that’s my biggest talent. There are always people who are funnier and more talented than I am, but I don’t take anything for granted and I commit myself 100% to each of my roles.

KW: Like when you climbed out of the car trunk naked in The Hangover. Was those your private parts or were you wearing a prosthetic?
KJ: That was all me. In fact, it was my idea, my initiative, to come out naked.

KW: Did you do any improv in The Hangover Part II?
KJ: Not as much. The script was so good that you didn’t need to improvise that much. Since the script for the second was funnier than the first, I found it easier to do, because I really couldn’t top any of the lines already written on the page for Mr. Chow. It was one of my easiest jobs, creatively.

KW: Tommy Russell, actor and former medical student, wants to know how long it took before you really felt like you achieved some regular success in the entertainment world.
KJ: I think Knocked Up was my biggest break. Up until then I was still working at my day job as a physician. That first movie really opened the doors for me, and it gave me the confidence to pursue acting full-time. [Director] Judd Apatow basically discovered me at an audition. That movie really changed my life in so many ways. And it led to The Hangover which changed my life yet again.

KW: Congratulations on doing a great job hosting the Billboard Awards.
KJ: Thank you.

KW: Do you see it as an audition for the Oscars?
KJ: Oh, no, no, no. To me it was just an honor to host my first awards show, and to have a chance to do an opening number, to show my love of music, to demonstrate some musical ability that maybe people were unaware, and to rub elbows with some of the best musicians and biggest stars on the planet… Nicki Minaj… Lady Gaga… Keith Urban… I had the best seat in the house. It was pretty amazing!

KW: Lastly, is there any question no one ever asks you, that you wish someone would?
KJ: Not really. I think I’ve been asked just about every question under the sun. I’m just really honored that people are even interested in asking me questions. Keep ‘em coming!

KW: Thanks again for the time, Ken, and best of luck with the film.
KJ: Thanks, Kam. Take care.

The Hangover Part II

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: The Boys Are Back for Bawdier Bachelor Party in Bangkok

When we first encountered the self-proclaimed Wolf Pack a couple of years ago, the four buddies were secretly driving across the desert by convertible to throw Doug (Justin Bartha) a bachelor party in Las Vegas. However, they got far more than they bargained for when they awakened in a totally trashed hotel room the following morning, not only missing the groom but being unable to recall what had transpired during their ostensibly-wanton night of debauchery.
With just hours until the wedding, Phil (Bradley Cooper), Stu (Ed Helms) and Alan (Zach Galifianakis) began frantically retracing their steps to determine Doug’s whereabouts without alarming his fiancée, Tracy (Sasha Barrese), who was waiting impatiently at the altar back in L.A. Ultimately, they did find their pal right in the nick of time for him to tie the knot, but only after embarking on an unbelievably wacky series of misadventures.
In The Hangover Part II it’s dentist Stu’s turn to getting married, but because his bride, Lauren (Jamie Chung), is from Thailand, that’s where they’re planning to exchange their vows. So, the Wolf Pack reunites in that exotic locale for what proves to be an even bawdier bachelor party in the City of Bangkok.
Again directed by Todd Phillips, the sequel slavishly resurrects the original’s storyline almost to a fault, as if the new scriptwriters were afraid to tinker with a winning formula. Consequently, it’s not exactly a surprise this go-round when the guys somehow end up with amnesia after sneaking off to partake in a pre-marital, male-bonding ritual.
The plot has been tweaked slightly to have the bride’s teenage brother, Teddy (Mason Lee), disappear into thin air instead of the groom. And somehow, Doug also gets separated from the others, leaving it again up to Phil, Stu and Alan to search for the kid in a frenetic race against time. Along the way, they even cross paths with some of the same colorful characters they encountered in Vegas, such as Mike Tyson and the shady con man Leslie Chow (Ken Jeong).
Upping the ante in terms of shock value, the film trades in its trademark tasteless humor ranging from Stu’s being raped by a pre-op transsexual (Yasmin Lee) to a miniature primate simulating fellatio on a Buddhist monk (Aroon Seeboonruang) on a bus. The latter tableau inspires terminally-inappropriate Alan to deliver the flick’s most memorable line: “When a monkey nibbles on a penis, it’s funny in any language.”
When all is said and done, Hangover 2 triggers fewer belly laughs-per-minute than the original, yet it nevertheless still generates more than enough yucks to satisfy fans of the gross-out genre. Just remember to check your brain at the box office as you enter the theater because, “What happens in Thailand, stays in Thailand!”

Very Good (3 stars)
Rated R for brief violence, full-frontal nudity, pervasive profanity, drug use and graphic sexuality.
Running time: 102 Minutes
Distributor: Warner Brothers

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Captain Jack Is Back for Voyage in Search of the Fountain of Youth

Pirates of the Caribbean has proven to be an enduring, review-proof franchise, thanks to the derring-do and roguish charm of Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) and the way in which his swashbuckling adventures manage to capture the imagination of ‘tweeners. On Stranger Tides, the fourth installment in the popular series, does not disappoint in this regard, as it again immerses the peripatetic protagonist in the sort of special effects-driven, seafaring saga the kids in that target demographic relish.
This episode opens in a London courtroom, where we find Jack hatching an elaborate plan to save his loyal First Mate, Gibbs (Kevin McNally), from the hangman’s noose. After a daring jailbreak, however, the pair are apprehended and dragged before King George II (Richard Griffiths) who spares their lives on the condition that they participate in an expedition to find the fabled Fountain of Youth for England before explorer Ponce de Leon can do so for Spain.
The hitch is that since Jack’s ship, the Black Pearl, was lost at sea, he will have to set sail on the HMS Providence, a privateer frigate under the command of his archenemy, Hector Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush). Rather than suffer such an indignity, Jack mounts another escape, only to end up in league with the legendary Blackbeard (Ian McShane) aboard Queen Anne’s Revenge after falling under the spell of the ruthless outlaw’s daughter, Angelica (Penelope Cruz).
At this juncture, On Stranger Tides morphs into a cutthroat competition pitting Barbossa and Blackbeard’s vessels against each other in a race for the aforementioned Fountain of Youth. En route, the participants must deal with a host of ordeals ranging from seductive mermaids to magical chalices, distractions rather reminiscent of the tests of Ulysses in Homer’s epic poem The Odyssey.
Of course, jaunty Jack prevails in the end, just be sure to sit through the closing credits for a hint about what to expect from the next sequel.

Very Good (3 stars)
Rated PG-13 for violence and intense action-adventure sequences.
Running time: 137 Minutes
Distributor: Walt Disney Pictures

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Top Ten DVD List for May 24th

This Week’s DVD Releases
by Kam Williams

Headline: Top Ten DVD List for May 24th

Platoon [25th Anniversary Edition]

The Unknown War – WWII & the Epic Battles of the Russian Front

Picasso Braque Go to the Movies

Transcendent Man

The Scrambled States of America

The Kids in the Hall – The Complete Series

Gnomeo & Juliet

MLB Bloopers: Deluxe Doubleheader

I Am Number Four

Fanboy & Chum Chum

Honorable Mention

Caillou's Summer Vacation

A Small Act

The North Star & More Stories about Following Your Dreams

Lemonade Mouth

Seconds Apart

Mad World

The Scenesters

Ice Road Truckers: Deadliest Roads - Season One

Capadocia: A Place without Forgiveness – Season One

The Big Bang

Children’s Hospital – The Complete First & Second Seasons

Violet Tendencies

Fertile Ground

Dino-Mighty Music

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Hard Breakers

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Fed-Up Females Turn the Tables in Date-Rape Comedy

Alexis (Cameron Richardson) and Lindsay (Sophie Monk) are fed-up with men. First, the former’s father (Tom Arnold) left her mom for a 22 year-old bimbo (Mircea Monroe). Then, a sleazy film producer (Chris Kattan) tried to pressure the attractive, aspiring actress into appearing naked in a porno film.
When the frustrated best friends finally found some perfect gentlemen while out on the town, it turned out they were in a gay bar. Otherwise, most of the guys they’ve been dating lose interest in and respect for them once they’ve made love.
The straw that breaks the proverbial camel’s back arrives the night that Lindsay is left unsatisfied by a beefy black guy (Sticky Fingaz) who’s impressed with himself at the same time that Alexis sleeps with a flamboyant Asian (Bobby Lee) in a feathered boa offering to augment his modest endowment.
Giving up on love entirely, the girls decide to behave more like the jerks who have been using them, so they start searching for “meat that needs to be played and laid,” meaning handsome hunks they plan to date-rape. This is the point of departure of Hard Breakers, a female empowerment flick marking the writing, producing and directorial debut of Leah Sturgis.
Provided you are gullible enough to swallow the shallow and may I
suggest patently-preposterous premise featuring females turning the tables in such a self-destructive fashion, this campy comedy supplies just enough in the way of eye candy and mirth to amount to a worthwhile diversion. The plot predictably thickens when Alexis meets Mr. Perfect right when she’s finally inclined to stop playing musical beds. But will Lindsay let her partner in crime opt out of the game and settle down?
Besides co-stars Cameron Richardson and Sophie Monk constantly cavorting across the screen in skimpy outfits, the capable supporting cast (including Tom Arnold, Tia Carrere, Alexis Arquette, Stephen Tobolowsky and SNL alum Chris Kattan) allows one to ignore the multiple flaws of the problematic low-budget production. A battle-of-the-sexes farce where vindictive females force their unsuspecting prey to be friends with benefits, whether they want some or not!

Good (2 stars)
Running time: 98 Minutes
Distributor: Ocean Front Productions

Forks over Knives

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Diet Documentary Advocates Virtues of Vegetarianism

Why is that most Americans are overweight nowadays? And why are we sicker and spending more on healthcare than ever before? It’s all in the diet, according to Dr. T. Colin Campbell and Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, medical pioneers who have staked their careers studying the skyrocketing increase in the so-called “Diseases of Affluence.”
These iconoclastic physicians find themselves at odds with the bulk of their colleagues because they believe that most of the degenerative diseases afflicting humanity are a consequence of our eating animals and processed foods. This is the proposition which they set about proving in Forks over Knives, a documentary indicting agribusiness for the aforementioned sorry state of affairs.
Directed by Lee Fulkerson, this incendiary expose’ shows how corporations have successfully exploited our biological urges for generations, often with the help of government-sponsored propaganda. For example, the film features clips from an old newsreel where it is suggested that cow’s milk is better for a baby than mother’s milk.
Similar approaches have been employed to dupe the populace into believing in everything from having eggs and bacon for breakfast daily to the notion that meat is the only way to get enough protein. Fundamental to such mind control is the ensnaring of consumers in “The Pleasure Trap” whereby advertisers cleverly leverage the natural instinct for food and sex.
Fortunately, reversing the trend simply involves reeducation and opting to step off the self-destructive treadmill which has most of us on a diet dominated by meats, salt, fat, sugar and refined foods of little nutritional value. Judging by the glowing testimonials of Dr. Campell’s and Dr. Esselstyn’s patients here, apparently all it takes is merely adopting a whole foods, plant-based regimen not only to see the pounds come off but to end one’s dependency on pills for blood pressure, hypertension, diabetes and many other medical maladies.
Back to nature and rejuvenation just by refusing to be brainwashed by Madison Avenue any longer!

Excellent (4 stars)
Rated PG for smoking and mature themes.
Running time: 96 Minutes
Distributor: Monica Beach Media

Under the Boardwalk

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Monopoly Documentary Celebrates Parker Brothers Popular Board Game

In 1935, Charles Darrow, au unemployed salesman from Philadelphia, got a patent on Monopoly, a board game ostensibly inspired by another named The Landlord. The original had been invented over three decades earlier by a Quaker named Lizzie Phillips as a means of illustrating capitalism’s tendency to enrich property owners at the expense of impoverishing renters.
But Darrow’s version of the game was more a celebration than an indictment of an evil economic system. It even featured Rich Uncle Pennybags as is mascot, an exuberant, tuxedoed character sporting a top hat, cane and handlebar mustache reportedly modeled on filthy-rich financier J.P. Morgan.
The rights to Monopoly were acquired by Parker Brothers which started mass producing the game. Soon thereafter, the game caught fire among millions of the discouraged desperate to rekindle the American Dream as they struggled to survive the Great Depression. Its popularity has persisted uninterrupted over the intervening years to the point where it has been translated into dozens of languages and is presently being distributed in over a hundred countries around the world.
Furthermore, Monopoly today is as much a brand as it is a game, with the name being licensed for use by McDonald’s, gambling casinos, lotteries and so forth. Meanwhile, it has also become a part of the nation’s very cultural fabric, as witnessed by the countless references to the game made in movies and on television shows.
All of the above is chronicled in Under the Boardwalk, a delightful documentary directed by Kevin Tostado which is certain to delight any Monopoly fan. For besides disseminating some fascinating historical info, the movie is kept lively by chronicling the goings-on at both the United States and World Monopoly Championships of 2009.
Coming from all walks of life, the only thing the colorful entrants have in common is an obsession with playing the endlessly-entertaining board game that has captured their imaginations since childhood. As for the key to winning, the participants seem to agree that despite the incredible amount of strategy necessary for a serious shot at the title, a lucky roll of the dice might ultimately decide the outcome.
Advance token to Boarwalk!

Very Good (3 stars)
Rated G
Running time: 88 minutes
Distributor: Rhino Films

Louder Than a Bomb

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Documentary Chronicles Windy City Poetry Slam

Right-wing pundits such as Karl Rove and Sarah Palin recently had a field day trashing Common when the Chicago-born rapper was invited to the White House to participate on poetry night. That elitist reaction raises an interesting question: does the hip-hop style of rhyming and its down-to-earth subject-matter about life in the ‘hood deserve the same respect as the classical couplets of Keats and other lofty lyricists whose work benefits from ivory-towered academia’s stamp of approval?
The answer to that question might lie in simply screening Louder Than a Bomb, a documentary chronicling the Slam Poetry competition of the same name staged annually in the Windy City. The 600+ entrants from 60+ schools are an ethnically-diverse array of high students who share a passion for the spoken word format.
Co-directed by Greg Jacobs and Jon Siskel (nephew of the legendary film critic Gene Siskel), the film telescopes narrowly on the fortunes of four teams and their talented standouts. Nate Marshall is from Whitney Young Magnet School, Adam Gottlieb’s from North College Prep, Nova Venerable’s from Oak Park High, and “Steinmenauts” Lamar Jorden, Charles Smith and Kevin Harris represent defending champion Steinmetz High.
To the uninitiated, most of their uniformly-strident, high-energy performances highlighted here might be reminiscent of rappers, only sans music. However, the absence of accompaniment makes it easier for the audience to focus on the rich content of the writers’ evocative verses which tend to reflect issues in their personal lives.
Granted, given how deeply teenagers tend to feel about their troubles, their staccato stanzas are apt to sound like emotional dumps to the average adult, whether they’re weighing-in on absentee parents, drug-addicted parents, or even doting Jewish parents. Although I thoroughly enjoyed watching this flick, my only worry upon completion was whether or not these accomplished slam poets will ever bother to learn to speak grammatically. Sorry, but I couldn’t help but be concerned upon hearing some of the same youngsters saying things like “When we was on the stage…” and “I plan to go to college and be like a professor.” in post-performance interviews.
Louder than a bomb blasting the King’s English to smithereens leaving Ebonics as the last language standing!

Very Good (3 stars)
Running time: 99 minutes
Distributor: Balcony Releasing

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Top Ten DVD List for May 17th

This Week’s DVD Releases
by Kam Williams

Headline: Top Ten DVD List for May 17th

Beverly Hills Cop [Blu-Ray]

Sophia Loren Award Collection



Wartorn 1861-2010


The Other Woman

The Mechanic

The Orgasm Diaries

The Rite

Honorable Mention

Broken Hill

Kam's Kapsules: For movies opening May 27, 2011

Kam's Kapsules:
Weekly Previews That Make Choosing a Film Fun
by Kam Williams
For movies opening May 27, 2011


The Hangover Part II (R for brief violence, full-frontal nudity, pervasive profanity, drug use and graphic sexuality) The members of the Wolf Pack (Zach Galifianakis, Bradley Cooper and Justin Bartha) reunite for a raunchy bachelor party in Bangkok for another gullible groom-to-be (Ed Helms). What happens in Thailand, stays in Thailand! Ensemble includes Dr. Ken Jeong, Sasha Barrese, Jamie Chung, Jeffrey Tambor and Mike Tyson.

Kung Fu Panda 2 (PG for mild violence and martial arts sequences) Animated 3-D sequel finds Master Po (Jack Black) teaming with the Furious Five (Angelina Jolie, Lucy Liu, Seth Rogen, Jackie Chan and David Cross) kung fu legends to defend the Valley of Peace from a diabolical albino peacock (Gary Oldman) armed with a secret weapon. Voice cast includes Dustin Hoffman, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Dennis Haysbert, Michelle Yeoh, and James Hong.


Hello Lonseome (Unrated) Ensemble drama examining the diverging fates of a trio of unlikely couples: a just-dumped voiceover actor (Harry Chase) befriended by a cynical deliveryman (Kamel Boutros); an elderly widow (Lynn Cohen) who finds comfort in the arms of her young, next-door neighbor (James Urbaniak) after becoming stuck in the suburbs when she loses her driver’s license; and a sports fan (Nate Smith) who falls in love with a woman (Sabrina Lloyd) he meets online after what was just supposed to be a one-night stand.

Puzzle (Unrated) Argentinean drama about a bored housewife (Maria Onetto) who unexpectedly develops a new zest for life upon solving the puzzle she receives as a 50th birthday present. With Gabriel Goity, Arturo Goetz and Henny Trayles. (In Spanish with subtitles)

Spork (Unrated) Bit-punk musical comedy starring Savannah Stehlin in the title role as an ostracized junior high student mercilessly teased by mean girls who tries to improve her social standing by entering a school dance competition. With Sydney Park, Rachel G. Fox, Michael William Arnold and Halston Autumn McMurray.

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.

The Tree of Life (PG-13 for mature themes) Impressionistic meditation on the meaning of life, set in the Fifties, as contemplated by a sensitive soul (Sean Penn) who hasn’t been the same since losing his innocence at the age of 11. Directed by Terrence Malick and co-starring Brad Pitt, Jessica Chastain, Kari Matchett and Joanna Going.

Tuesday, after Christmas (Unrated) Midlife crisis drama about a jaded banker (Mimi Branescu) forced to pick between his marriage and his mistress by Christmas after confessing to his boring wife of ten years (Mirela Oprisor) that he’s been carrying on a primal affair with their daughter’s (Sasa Paul-Szel) orthodontist (Maria Popistasu) for the past five months. (In Romanian with subtitles)

Incognito: An American Odyssey of Race and Self-Discovery (BOOK REVIEW)

by Michael Sidney Fosberg
Incognito, Inc.
Paperback, $20.00
330 pages, Illustrated
ISBN: 978-0-615-41396-9

Book Review by Kam Williams

“I grabbed the phone and punched in the number… my heart pounding… My dad… Thirty years later. ‘My name is Michael Sidney Fosberg, and I’m your son!’ I blurted out.
‘Son? Well, first of all, I want you to know that no matter what you were told, or what you thought happened, I have always loved you… There’s one other thing I’m sure your mother never told you.’
‘What’s that?’
‘I’m African-American,’ he said.
My body went numb. I felt light-headed and my legs began to give way. I braced myself against the bureau… I sat down slowly on the bed in stunned silence, trying to breathe without trembling. My throat was dry I struggled to respond, but all I could say was, ‘Wow!’”

-The author learning his father was black. (pgs. 71-74)

Michael Sidney Fosberg was raised in a lily-white, Chicago suburb at the height of the Civil Rights Movement by his Caucasian mother and stepdad. Consequently, he grew up blissfully unaware of the fact that the real father he’d been separated practically at birth from was black.
A Jew-fro and a slightly swarthy complexion were all that made Michael stand out in family photos taken with his parents and two younger siblings. His mom explained away the differences in their appearance by saying that he was part Cherokee, an excuse which her emotionally-conflicted son bought until he bottomed out in his Thirties while trying to make it as an actor in L.A.
It was then, after almost dying of a drug overdose, that he resolved to turn his life around, despite having thus far frittered away his adulthood in rudderless fashion, between substance-abusing and serial womanizing. With the help of Alcoholics Anonymous, Michael soon sobered up and came to understand the role that “the loss and absence of my biological father at such an early age” had played in his self-destructive patterns.
So, he pressured his mother for info about his paternal roots, and she provided him with a name, John Woods, and a hometown, Detroit, without divulging anything about her ex’s ethnicity. Therefore, it’s easy to imagine Michael’s utter shock upon learning that his long-lost father was African-American.
He soon shared the big development with his half-sister, Lora, who took the news in stride, matter-of-factly remarking, “Damn! My brother’s a brother.” And that was only the first of numerous jaw-dropping disclosures about to come out of the closet. As it turned out, Michael’s dad had remarried after divorcing his mother but had then another mixed child with a Jewish mistress of many years.
Worse, Woods was unemployed, on the run from the law, and doing his best to avoid a stiff prison sentence for bribery. So much for Michael’s dream of an idyllic father-son reunion and making up for lost time.
With his dad first evading authorities and then behind bars, Michael instead immersed himself in African-American culture, even becoming engaged briefly to a sister who unfortunately turned out to be a gold digger. Alternately hilarious and heartbreaking, Incognito is a riveting and revealing autobiography of self-discovery with a message most reminiscent of that age old maxim, “Be careful what you wish for!”

Tavis Smiley: The “FAIL UP” Interview

with Kam Williams

Headline: Tavis Reflects on Life Lessons

From his celebrated conversations with world figures to his work to inspire the next generation of leaders as a broadcaster, author, publisher, advocate and philanthropist, Tavis Smiley continues to be a leading voice for change. He is currently the host of his late-night television talk show on PBS as well as the host of a couple of radio programs syndicated by Public Radio International: “The Tavis Smiley Show” and “Smiley and West” alongside Dr. Cornel West.
This year, Tavis is celebrating his 20th year in broadcasting, and in conjunction with that anniversary he’s just published, “FAIL UP: 20 Lessons on Building Success from Failure.” In this revealing memoir, he recounts 20 instances of perceived “failures” which were, in fact, valuable “lessons” that shaped the principles and practices he employs every day.

Kam Williams: Hi Tavis, thanks for the interview.
Tavis Smiley: My pleasure, man.

KW: I loved FAIL UP. I have to start by asking, who is the celebrity you refer to as “Mr. X“ in the book?
TS: Mr. X is Mr. X! I can’t tell you who he is, but the whole point of that story is a lesson I learned about how mistakes you make early in life can follow you. I wasn’t even in the broadcast business at the time. So, be careful about gossiping because loose lips really do sink ships. Now that I’m in the business, and people talk about me, I know what it feels like to be the victim of gossip. Mr. X is a major Hollywood player, but he won’t even come on my show. I had to learn those two lessons the hard way.

KW: Who was the other mysterious figure in the book who sent you that 8-page letter criticizing you about Obama? Let me guess. Was it Oprah?
TS: Ha-ha-ha! That’s another person I can’t reveal, only because I do still regard her as a friend. She was wrong and what she wrote hurt me and brought me to tears. I included it in the book to make the point that sometimes even your friends don’t understand your calling, your purpose, your vocation. But you have to stand in your truth anyway, and they will eventually come around to understanding you, if you do it lovingly.

KW: How hard was it for you to open up about your failures?
TS: Very! This is my 15th book. None of the others required me to be this transparent, this open, this honest or this authentic. It was a very painful process, yet I thought it was important, because I feel blessed to be in the broadcast business for 20 years. I believe that when you’re this blessed, you have an obligation to pay it forward. That’s what life is all about ultimately. What better way to celebrate 20 years than by sharing the lessons I learned from my 20 biggest failings!

KW: Jimmy Bayan asks: Looking over your life with a searchlight, if you had a chance to live five minutes of your life over, which ones would it be?
TS: Wow! I don’t think I’d live anything over, even though I’ve made a lot of mistakes. As I say in the book, while I didn’t understand it at the time, in retrospect I have learned how to see failure as a friend. So, I’m not one to live a life of regrets. I try to learn from my mistakes, but I’ll take my life the way it is.

KW: Robin Beckham asks: What are your thoughts about President Obama's re-election campaign? It is being reported that you are not an Obama supporter. Is that true? What are your expectations of and hopes for the Obama Administration as it relates to opportunities for black people?
TS: I believed that President Obama was a good choice a couple of years ago because I felt that, as a black man, if he could win, it would open up progressive possibilities in this country for a lot of people. That was my major reason for believing his candidacy was a good thing. However, I don’t endorse candidates, given the type of work that I do. My job is to hold people accountable. I held him accountable when he ran in 2008, and I’m going to do it again this time. I respect the President because I know he has a lot on his plate. But at the end of the day, for me it fundamentally all comes down to whether he’s going to side with the strong or with the weak. When Wall Street needed his help, he responded. Black folks need his help in a major way, but he’s afraid to speak out forcefully on the issue of unemployment, even though African-Americans supported him the most, and are now hurting the most. I don’t want the Obama era to be more about symbolism than substance when it comes to black people. I love him, but I love black people even more. So, I’m going to keep raising issues to hold him accountable. I just want the President to stand up and fight more forcefully for the least among us, the poor folks and the black folks, in the way that he has for his more powerful constituencies.

KW: I want to know, when is he going to end these wars? The money invested in guns and bombs and destruction only serves to spread pain and devastation. Just think what good we could be doing if we spent as many billions on housing, education and healthcare.
TS: I couldn’t agree with you more.

KW: Editor/Legist Patricia Turnier asks: What message do you want the readers to take away from your latest book?
TS: The simple message that the great Nobel laureate Samuel Beckett delivered years ago: “Try again! Fail again! Fail better!” I love that. I believe there is nothing we endure in life that you can’t recover from. Failure is not fatal. Everyone has the capacity to fail up.

KW: Judyth Piazza asks: How important is it to have a mentor, and who are some of yours?
TS: I believe mentors are terribly important. My two best mentors, one dead, one living, are Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Dr. Cornel West. Even though he died when I was a young child, I regard Dr. King as a mentor and I consider him the greatest American we’ve ever produced. Dr. West is my living mentor, and a dear and abiding friend. Much of what I’ve learned about loving and serving people, and about appreciating humanity, comes from my relationship with Dr. West.

KW: Attorney Bernadette Beekman asks: What do you have to say to encourage all the men in jail, so that they can take away a message of hope from your sharing your life experiences?
TS: That even behind bars, even on Death Row, you can fail up, because life is about committing ourselves on a daily basis to the best in us. Freedom is a state of mind. Freedom is an attitude. Freedom is a spirit. You may be behind bars, but you still have the capacity to be free. I’ve visited some people behind bars who are freer than Negroes I see running around every day. Being in jail, or poor, or uneducated doesn’t determine how free you can be. There are really only two types of people. Either you’re running scared or you’re running free. I choose to run free, and you can, too, no matter what your circumstances in life.

KW: Nick Antoine asks: Who was your favorite interview of all time?
TS: My short answer is: My favorite interview is always the next one. And that’s not a way of avoiding the question. It’s a way of saying that I so love what you and I do, Kam, that I can’t wait to get to the next one. So, that’s my honest answer.

KW: Harriet Pakula Teweles asks: When an interview’s not face-to-face, do you think a person can more easily evade a question because of the lack of eye contact?
TS: They could, if I let them. But after 20 years, I’ve gotten pretty good at preventing people from dodging questions. [Laughs]

KW: Thanks for another great interview, Tavis.
TS: Kam, you’ve always been so nice to me, and so kind to me. I always love talking to you, and I especially enjoy reading the interviews you do with other people. Thank you for the work you do, and thanks for interviewing me again.

KW: Maybe we can get together the next time you’re in town visiting Dr. West at Princeton.
TS: We’ll make it happen.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

The Roommate DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Thinly-Veiled Remake of Single White Female Released on DVD

Single White Female (1992) was an intriguing psychological thriller revolving around a young woman’s unhealthy attempt to ingratiate herself with her new roommate to the exclusion of all others. Her increasingly-bizarre behavior gradually escalated over the course of the film from dressing alike and adopting the same hobbies to killing their pet puppy and sabotaging the object of her obsession’s romantic relationship.
Ultimately, the disturbing compulsion was attributed to the deranged psycho’s having witnessed her identical twin’s drowning when they were 9. So, this belated attempt to bond so closely with a perfect stranger was explained as a perverted desire to recreate the closeness she had formerly felt with her late sibling.
The reason for such a detailed digression at the outset of this review is because The Roommate is basically a brazen rip-off of Single White Female, and a godawful one at that. Instead of being set in New York City’s fashion world, the story unfolds in L.A. where we find freshman Sara Matthews (Minka Kelly) making a smooth adjustment to college life, especially in terms of flirting and partying.
The attractive fashion major from the Midwest is already dating a popular upperclassman (Cam Gigandet) and turning the head of a well-connected professor (Billy Zane) she wants as a mentor. The fly in the fun ointment is her profoundly-disturbed roommate, Rebecca (Leighton Meester), a one-woman wrecking crew who chillingly announces “I always wanted a sister” upon learning that Sara’s twin had died at, you guessed it, the age of 9.
Next, with manic abandon, Rebecca proceeds to monopolize Sara’s time while embarking on a transparent reign of terror aimed at ruining all of the poor girl’s relationships, whether that involves telling a suitor never to call Sara again, killing her cat Cuddles, or ripping a ring right out of the belly of her best friend, Tracy (Alyson Michalka).
As if the purloined plot isn’t infuriating enough, proving far more problematical than the thinly-veiled plagiarism is the atrocious acting, the slapdash editing, the absence of character development and the cringe-inducing dialogue. The film’s biggest flaw of all is its failure to generate any tension, since a suspense thriller sans the element of suspense is apt to disappoint even an audience arriving with low expectations.

Poor (0 stars)
Rated PG-13 for profanity, sexuality, menacing, violence and teen partying.
Running time: 91 Minutes
Distributor: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
DVD Extras: Director’s commentary and an alternate opening sequence.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Kam's Kapsules: For movies opening May 20, 2011

Kam's Kapsules:
Weekly Previews That Make Choosing a Film Fun
by Kam Williams
For movies opening May 20, 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.

Midnight in Paris (PG-13 for sexual references and smoking) Romantic comedy, directed by Woody Allen, about the troubles of a couple (Owen Wilson and Rachel McAdams) who find themselves reevaluating their elusive dreams while in France on business. With Kathy Bates, Michael Sheen, Marion Cotillard, Adrien Brody, Alison Pill, Tom Hiddleston and Carla Bruni.

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (Not Yet Rated) Fourth installment of the seafaring franchise finds Captain Jack (Johnny Depp) forced to search for the Fountain of Youth aboard the ship of the legendary Blackbeard (Ian McShane) after falling for the notorious outlaw’s daughter (Penelope Cruz). With Geoffrey Rush, Judi Dench and Keith Richards.


The Big Uneasy (Unrated) New Orleans resident Harry Shearer wrote, directed and narrates this damning expose’ uncovering the truth behind why the levees failed during Hurricane Katrina.

Bloodworth (R for violence, profanity and drug use) Kris Kristofferson stars in the title role of this dysfunctional family drama about a Prodigal patriarch whose return to his tiny Tennessee hometown forty years after walking out on his wife (Frances Conroy) is met with the resentment of his ex and their three maladjusted sons (Val Kilmer, Dwight Yoakam and W. Earl Brown). With Hilary Duff, Reece Thompson and Brent Briscoe.

Cost of a Soul (R for violence, pervasive profanity and brief nudity) Brotherly Love crime saga about a couple of wounded war veterans (Chris Kerson and Will Blagrove) who return from Iraq only to end up back in the same Philly slums they joined the military to escape. With Mark Borkowski, Judy Jerome and Nakia Dillard.

Hard Breakers (Unrated) Date-rape comedy revolving around a couple of best friends (Sophie Monk and Cameron Richardson) embittered by the battle-of-the-sexes who turn the table on men by knocking them out in order to have their way with them. Cast includes Tom Arnold, Chris Kattan, Sticky Fingaz, Tia Carrere, Alexis Arquette and Stephen Tobolowsky.

Life 2.0 (Unrated) Virtual reality documentary examining how fantasy relationships have transformed players of Second Life, an internet computer game where one assumes an avatar identity to immerse oneself in an online digital universe.

Lost Bohemia (Unrated) Gentrification documentary about the protracted legal battle to prevent the conversion to office space of the century-old, studio apartments above Carnegie Hall which have been home to such artists as Marlon Brando, Isadora Duncan and Paddy Chayefsky.

Louder than a Bomb (Unrated) Greg Jacobs and Jon Siskel (Gene’s nephew) co-directed this performance-driven documentary following the fortunes of four teams of high school students competing in Chicago’s annual poetry slam.

Blue Valentine DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: DVD Features Drama Deconstructing Failed Marriage

Dean (Ryan Gosling) and Cindy’s (Michelle Williams) marriage was doomed almost from the start. At the time that they met, she was a promising premed student at a college in rural Pennsylvania; while he was a high school dropout barely eking out a living a world away in Brooklyn.
Their paths crossed quite by coincidence when Dean was sent to Scranton 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 finds an excuse to return to town to try to track her down.
The incurable romantic serendipitously spots the object of his obsession on a bus and wins her heart 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 also was pregnant by the popular big man on campus.
Nonetheless, Cindy takes Dean home to meet the parents (John Doman and Maryann Plunkett) who are obviously underwhelmed by their daughter’s dating a chain-smoking underachiever with not much of a future. 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 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 such a dysfunctional couple.
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. And her 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, far be it from me to recommend that anyone invest in a relentlessly-unpleasant deconstruction of a marriage that was never meant to be.

Fair (1 star)
Rated R for profanity, nudity, violence and graphic sexuality.
Running time: 114 Minutes
Distributor: Anchor Bay Entertainment & The Weinstein Company
DVD Extras: Commentary by director Derek Cianfrance and co-editor Jim Helton, “The Making of” documentary, deleted scenes, and a home movie.

Hey, Boo

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Intriguing Documentary Revisits “To Kill a Mockingbird”

In 1961, Harper Lee, an unknown white woman from a small town in Alabama, won a Pulitzer Prize for her groundbreaking novel, “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Released at the height of the African-American struggle against Jim Crow segregation, the book played a pivotal role in raising the country’s awareness of racism while simultaneously serving to shame the South about its disgraceful legacy of lynching, oppression and discrimination.
A couple of years later, the screen adaptation of the best seller earned several Academy Awards, including Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Actor. Gregory Peck delivered his career performance as Atticus Finch, an attorney defending a black man unfairly accused of rape.
Unfortunately, Harper Lee basically became a recluse after 1964, which is when she granted her last interview with the press. She also never published another novel, which has led to considerable speculation about the reasons for her silence and for her failure to write again.
After all, she and Truman Capote had been best friends as children, and it is apparent that the characters Scout and Jem in “To Kill a Mockingbird” are based on the two of them. Their relationship would endure into adulthood, and it was even the subject of a recent bio-pic about Capote.
All of the above and more fascinating factoids are unearthed in Hey, Boo as intriguing a documentary as you could ever hope to encounter. Since Ms. Lee did not cooperate with the project, director Mary Murphy depended on the reflections of luminaries like Oprah, Tom Brokaw, Andrew Young Jon Meacham and Scott Turow for insight into the reasons for the very private author’s uncompromising withdrawal from the public eye.
What turns out to be perhaps most compelling is how closely “To Kill a Mockingbird” mirrors events which transpired in Lee’s own life. For instance, she was a tomboy and the same age as Scout, 6, at the time that her father, a lawyer like Atticus, was representing a black man accused of a crime he didn’t commit.
A fitting tribute to a true American icon, a half century after she subtly helped shape the course of history and left an indelible mark on the country’s conscience.

Excellent (4 stars)
Running time: 82 Minutes
Distributor: First Run Features