Saturday, March 31, 2012

Chasing Madoff (DVD REVIEW)

Chasing Madoff
DVD Review by Kam Williams

DVD Chronicles Whistleblower’s Effort to Expose Madoff Ponzi Scheme

By the time Bernie Madoff was finally arrested in December of 2008, Harry Markopolos had already been trying to expose his investment firm as a billion-dollar Ponzi scheme for years. Starting way back in the spring of 2000, the Boston-based securities analyst had begun approaching the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) with proof that the former NASDAQ Chairman was perpetrating a mammoth fraud on investors.
It had only taken mathematical brainiac Markopolos less than five minutes of statistical analysis to figure out that there was something fishy about Madoff’s astronomical performance charts. Yet, the Federal watchdog agency charged with protecting the public declined to investigate, ostensibly because Bernie was such a prominent and well-respected figure in the financial services industry.
Not one to be dissuaded easily, Markopolos reiterated his request at the SEC the following year, and again in 2003, with each inquiry falling on deaf ears. Because the incriminating evidence he had provided essentially amounted to an open and shut case, he realized that the government might be deliberately looking the other way.
So, he decided to try to interest business-oriented media outlets like Forbes Magazine and The Wall Street Journal in taking a look at the file, but the incendiary story was killed in every case. Even hand-delivering a copy to then New York State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, a fearless, Wall Street white-collar crime-fighter, ultimately proved futile.
Meanwhile, Madoff was well aware that he had a formidable enemy in this lone whistleblower whose testimony, if believed, would bring down his illegal operation. Thus, it gradually dawned on an increasingly-paranoid Markopolos that his life was in danger, since Bernie was likely in league with mobsters capable of carrying out a hit. Therefore, he purchased a pistol to protect himself and his family, instructing his wife to fire from the top of the stairs until the gun was empty, should an intruder should ever enter the house while she was home alone.
So unfolds Chasing Madoff, an eye-opening documentary exposing the SEC as an inept outfit, at best, and as thoroughly corrupt, at worst. Given that the lead attorney assigned the Madoff case left the regulatory agency to marry Bernie’s niece and that powerful cronies in high places were running interference for him every step of the way, it’s no surprise that his politically-protected Ponzi scheme only crumbled when the unsustainable house of cards collapsed of its own weight.
A fascinating account of an unassuming hero’s harrowing ordeal during a futile, decade-long effort to bring the truth about Bernie Madoff to light.

Excellent (4 stars)
Running time: 91 minutes
Distributor: MPI Home Video
DVD Extras: Director’s commentary; deleted scenes; alternate ending; and theatrical trailers.

Friday, March 30, 2012

4-3 Top Ten DVD List

This Week’s DVD Releases
by Kam Williams

Headline: Top Ten DVD List for April 3rd

Chasing Madoff

War Horse

JB Smoove: That’s How I Dooz It


Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey

Great Expectations

El Bulli: Cooking in Progress

Dysfunctional Friends

Del Shores: My Sordid Life

We Bought a Zoo

Honorable Mention

JoKoy: Lights Out

Wrath of the Titans (FILM REVIEW)

Wrath of the Titans
Film Review by Kam Williams

3D Sequel’s Spectacular Showdown of the Gods Improves upon the Original Episode

I wish somebody would help me understand why the characters in movies set in ancient Greece invariably speak with British accents, since the English language didn’t even come into existence until centuries later. Other than that glaring anachronism, I have no complaints about Wrath of the Titans, a 3D sequel which is a rarity in that actually eclipses the original in quality.
Directed by Jonathan Liebesman (Battle: Los Angeles), this visually-captivating action-adventure revolves around another epic battle between the forces of good and evil. Sam Worthington, Liam Neeson, Danny Huston and Ralph Fiennes have returned to reprise their lead roles as Perseus, Zeus, Poseidon and Hades, respectively.
The story unfolds a decade after the initial installment which ended with hero Perseus’ defeat of the Kraken. Since slaying the monstrous sea monsters, the widowed demigod has been passing an unassuming existence as an ordinary fisherman, quietly raising his now 10 year-old son, Helius (John Bell), in obscurity.
But Perseus suddenly has a good reason to take his mighty sword back out of its scabbard when he learns that Hades and Ares (Edgar Ramirez) have imprisoned his father, Zeus, in an underworld dungeon. For, after killing Poseidon, the two renegade titans entered into a diabolical pact with world domination in mind.
Accompanied by the lovely Andromeda (Rosamund Pike) with the goofy Agenor (Toby Kebell) tagging along for comic relief, altruistic Perseus and an intrepid band of warriors descend into a subterranean hell on behalf of humanity. While searching for Zeus, they encounter a host of mythological creatures, including one-eyed Cyclops (Martin Bayfield), half man-half bull Minotaur (Spencer Wilding), an addlepated fallen god (Billy Nighy) and fire-breathing dragons.
Of course, the quest inexorably culminates in a spectacular showdown which takes full advantage of advances in 3-D technology. Be prepared to find yourself frequently ducking or squinting to avoid boulders or flaming embers which appeared to be aimed straight at your head.
Graphic, high body-count bloodsport born of man’s imagination, harking back to the days before modern science provided plausible explanations for thunder, lightning, volcanoes, earthquakes, tsunamis and other seemingly-supernatural phenomena. The gods must be on steroids!

Very Good (3 stars)
Rated PG-13 for action and intense violence.
Running time: 99 minutes
Distributor: Warner Brothers

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Kam's Movie Kapsules for 4-6-12

Kam's Kapsules:
Weekly Previews That Make Choosing a Film Fun
by Kam Williams
For movies opening April 6, 2012


American Reunion (R for nudity, profanity, drug use, teen drinking, pervasive crude humor and graphic sexuality) 4th installment in the American Pie franchise finds the four former classmates (Jason Biggs, Eddie Kaye Thomas, Chris Klein and Thomas Ian Nicholas) again up to their old tricks over the course of their high school reunion weekend. Ensemble cast includes Eugene Levy, Seann William Scott, Jennifer Coolidge, Alyson Hannigan, Mena Suvari, John Cho and Natasha Lyonne.

Titanic (PG-13 for nudity, sensuality, violence, peril and brief profanity) 3D rerelease of Oscar-sweeping disaster epic about the whirlwind romance of two star-crossed lovers (Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio) who meet aboard the RMS Titanic during the ill-fated ocean liner’s maiden voyage. With Kathy Bates, Billy Zane, Frances Fisher and Gloria Stuart.

We the Party (R for profanity, sexuality and teen drug use) Coming-of-age, hip-hop driven dramedy, written and directed by Mario Van Peebles, revolving around the angst of five high school students confronting their feelings about sex, bullying, romance and materialism. With Mandela Van Peebles, Simone Battle, Moises Arias and Patrick Cage II.


The Assault (R for violence) Fact-based thriller recounting the Christmas Eve hijacking in 1994 of Air France Flight 8969 from Algiers to Marseilles by four Islamic terrorists determined to crash the plane into the Eiffel Tower. Starring Vincent Elbaz, Gregori Derangere, Melanie Bernier and Aymen Saidi. (In French with subtitles)

ATM (R for violence and terror) Psychological thriller about three co-workers (Brian Geraghty, Alice Eve and Josh Peck) who end up in a desperate fight for their lives after being barricaded in a bank vestibule by a creep with an unknown agenda.

Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope (Unrated) Documentary filmmaker Morgan Spurlock uncharacteristically stayed behind the camera to take an intimate peek at the quirky comic book fans who attend the industry’s annual convention in San Diego. With appearances by director Kevin Smith, actor Seth Rogen and Marvel Comics legend Stan Lee.

Damsels in Distress (PG-13 for sexuality and mature themes) Female empowerment comedy about three college coeds (Greta Gerwig, Carrie MacLemore and Megalyn Echikunwoke) who decide to do something about the chauvinistic environment on campus. With Analeigh Tipton, Ryan Metcalf and Jermaine Crawford.

The Hunter (R for profanity and brief violence) Willem Dafoe stars in the title role of this action adventure about a mercenary hired by a biotech company to track down the last Tasmanian tiger living in the Australian wilderness. With Sam Neill, Frances O’Connor and Sullivan Stapleton.

Keyhole (R for sexuality, violence, profanity and graphic nudity) Surrealistic crime saga about a Prodigal mob boss’ (Jason Patric) nostalgic return home where he proceeds to reminisce while slowly searching the premises for his wife (Isabella Rossellini), much to the chagrin of his impatient henchmen waiting downstairs with a drowning victim (Brooke Palsson) and a bound-and-gagged hostage (David Wontner). Cast includes Udo Kier, Kevin McDonald and Daniel Enright. (In English and French with subtitles)

MIS – Human Secret Weapon (Unrated) World War II documentary belatedly crediting the contributions made by patriotic Japanese-Americans translating intercepted messages and cracking enemy codes, despite the fact that their families were caged like animals in desert internment camps. Narrated by Lane Nishikawa, and including interviews with Norm Mineta, Tamlyn Tomita and Senator Daniel Inouye.

Player Hating: A Love Story (Unrated) Brooklyn-based documentary about hip-hop artist Half-a-Mill’s attempt to rap his way out of the ‘hood to superstardom with help of his talented crew.

Surviving Progress (Unrated) De-evolution documentary suggesting that supposed technological advances such as materialism and mass consumption might merely be an unsustainable trap sealing the fate of the polluted planet and clueless humanity. Featuring physicist Stephen Hawking, conservationist Jane Goodall and environmental activist Margaret Atwood.

We Have a Pope (Unrated) Psychological drama about a newly-appointed pope (Michel Piccoli) who consults a shrink (Nanni Moretti) after experiencing panic attacks at the start of his tenure as pontiff. With Jerzy Stuhr, Renato Scarpa and Camillo Milli. (In Italian, German, Latin, English, Spanish, Polish and French with subtitles)

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Mirror Mirror (FILM REVIEW)

Mirror Mirror
Film Review by Kam Williams

Snow White Saves Prince in Refreshing Overhaul of Beloved Classic

Everybody knows that the story of Snow White is about an expiring damsel-in distress who’s ultimately revived by a handsome Prince’s kiss on the lips. But the world has changed considerably since the Grimm Brothers first published the fairytale in 1812, so why not tweak it a tad to reflect 21st Century sensibilities?
That is ostensibly the idea behind Mirror Mirror, a novel overhaul of the original into a female empowerment flick featuring a spunky heroine capable of saving herself rather than having to rely on a knight in shining armor. Directed by Punjab-born Tarsem Singh, this incarnation even includes a Bollywood dance number during the closing credits.
Furthermore, it renames the seven dwarfs to Napoleon (Jordan Prentice), Half Pint (Mark Povinelli), Grub (Joe Gnoffo), Grimm (Danny Woodburn), Wolf (Sebastian Saraceno), Butcher (Martin Klebba) and Chuckles (Ronald Lee Clark). But before you suggest that it might be blasphemous to take such a liberty with the supposedly-sacrosanct source material, consider the fact that the septet had previously been popularized as Blick, Flick, Glick, Snick, Plick and Whick by a 1912 Broadway production before subsequently being dubbed Bashful, Happy, Sleepy, Sneezy, Grumpy, Dopey and Doc in Disney’s 1937 animated version.
Here, despite several superficial changes, the essence and message of the fable remain intact. It revolves around the attempt of a wicked stepmother (Julia Roberts) to become queen by preventing her beautiful stepdaughter (Lily Collins) from ascending to the throne following the disappearance of the King (Sean Bean).
So, the evil Clementianna not only banishes the grieving orphan to the forest to die, but soon sets her sights on replacing her hubby with Snow’s suitor, Andrew Alcott (Armie Hammer), a wealthy prince from a neighboring kingdom. However, after placing the young nobleman under a spell, the vain monarch still finds herself frustrated by her magical mirror’s answer to “Who’s the fairest of them all?”
For instead of perishing, the enterprising, exiled princess survives her ordeal by bonding with a band of diminutive men living in the woods. And, with their help, it’s just a matter of time before the rightful heir returns to reclaim her inheritance, flipping the script in the process by breaking the Queen’s spell with a peck on the Prince’s lips.
Between the elaborate costumes and splendid principal cast performances by Lily Collins, Julia Roberts, Nathan Lane and Armie Hammer, Mirror Mirror adds up to an enchanting update of a much-beloved classic guaranteed to delight kids of any age.

Excellent (4 stars)
Rated PG for action and mild crude humor.
Running time: 106 minutes
Distributor: Relativity Media

Inspiration (BOOK REVIEW)

Profiles of Black Women Changing Our World
by Crystal McCrary with Nathan Hale Williams
Photography by Lauri Lyons
Stewart, Tabori & Chang
Hardcover, $40.00
256 pages, Illustrated
ISBN: 978-1-58479-959-7

Book Review by Kam Williams

“Inspiration allows 30 exceptional people to tell their unique stories. Each of these women takes us on her life journey, describing the people, the teachings and the circumstances that shaped her. We see the role that family, culture, community and mentorship play, as well as the influence of dreams, ambitions and ideas.
These women have achieved extraordinary success in the face of seemingly insurmountable circumstances. Even more important, each one has attributes of character--integrity, courage, energy, commitment, faith, drive--that illustrate how talent and character come together to create a rich and fulfilling life.
The results are astonishing… and I hope you enjoy and find inspiration in their stories.”
-- Excerpted from the Preface (pg. 6)

As a journalist, I’ve had the privilege of interviewing a number of the talented trailblazers profiled in this book. But while I might have done a decent job of capturing, say, Laila Ali’s dogged determination, Raven-Symone’s admirable maturity, or Soledad O’Brien’s sheer brilliance, those tete-a-tetes still seem to pale in comparison to the emotional depth of the material captured on the pages of Inspiration.
Perhaps that’s because the author, Crystal McCrary came up with the idea of having her contributors relate their life stories in their own unique voices. Consequently, other than First Lady Michelle Obama’s, the bios in this intimate opus are written in the first person, and each sister sounds ever so authentic whether reflecting upon what really matters most to her or about how she managed to reach the pinnacle of success in her chosen field.
For example, Children’s Defense Fund founder Marian Wright Edelman devotes much of her memoir to bemoaning the breakdown of the family. “The rituals and structure of childhood have been torn asunder,” she says, citing their pivotal importance in terms of teaching values.
“When I was a child,” she continues, “most people didn’t have a whole lot, but they shared what they had. They valued children, and they valued education… Family members and community elders knew that education was important.”
Coincidentally, Mellody Hobson, President of Ariel Investments, pays tribute to Ms. Edelman in her entry, identifying the inveterate child advocate as one of her heroes. Mellody recalls literally bursting into tears during a conversation between them when the altruistic Edelman matter-of-factly stated her only regret, namely, “I haven’t done enough.”
After beginning with Michelle Obama, the balance of Inspiration is arranged alphabetically, with each entry being accompanied by striking photographs of the subject. Among the other icons offering priceless pearls of wisdom are singer Mary J. Blige, environmentalist Majora Carter, prima ballerina Misty Copeland, actress Ruby Dee, comedienne Whoopi Goldberg, supermodel Iman, choreographer Judith Jamison, ex-Essence editor Susan L. Taylor, and tennis star Venus Williams, to name a few.
An ideal Mother’s Day gift of sufficient substance to continue to grace a coffee table for generations to come.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Trinity Goodheart (DVD REVIEW)

Trinity Goodheart
DVD Review by Kam Williams

Eric Benet and Erica Gluck Co-Star in Inspirational Family Flick

Trinity Goodheart (Erica Gluck) is inconsolable from the moment her mother (Kellin Watson) vanishes into thin air through the fateful day she finds half of a heart-shaped pendant lying on her bed. Convincing herself that the precious keepsake was delivered by a guardian angel on behalf of her long-lost mother, the desperate 12 year-old seizes on the discovery as a promising sign of a possible reunion. After all, the saying inscribed on the back of the torn locket prophesies, “Every broken heart longs to be whole again.”
Such wistful thinking is understandable given how immature her father, Jeremy (Eric Benet), has been. The aspiring musician has barely been able to keep a roof over their heads since quitting his steady job at a bank. Consequently, he’s been reduced to playing his saxophone for tips on the streets of Boston.
The stressful situation has taken a toll on Trinity’s performance at school where the once straight-A student finds herself at risk of suspension because of a declining attendance record. The problem is that the precocious adolescent is smart enough to understand that she and her panhandling dad urgently need someone to lean on, despite the fact that he is too proud to approach his parents for help.
They consider Jeremy the black sheep of the family since he failed to follow in their footsteps by attending law school like his brother did. Meanwhile, Jeremy is even more estranged from his well-to-do in-laws, The Hawthornes, who never gave him a chance just because they didn’t like the idea of a black man marrying their white daughter. Sadly, they even continued to refuse to reconcile after the birth of their only grandchild.
Over her father’s objections, Trinity secretly tracks down both sets of her grandparents, reasonably expecting them to let bygones be bygones, if only for the sake of solving the mystery of her missing mother. However, when her surprisingly surfacing only stirs up old controversies, she decides to run away from home out of frustration, hitchhiking from Beantown to Buffalo, the place she suspects holds the key to her missing mom’s disappearance.
Thus unfolds Trinity Goodheart, a wholesome family flick based on a script by Rhonda Baraka. Though shot on a shoestring budget, Joanne Hock makes an impressive directorial debut with this modern morality play with an uplifting, if bittersweet message about forgiveness and the importance of family.
Much of the credit for the movie’s success must be attributed to the chemistry generated between its talented co-stars, Erica Gluck and Eric Benet, given that the story primarily revolves around their characters’ dysfunctional father-daughter relationship. A present-day parable delivering a powerful reminder that much wisdom often still comes from the mouths of babes.

Excellent (4 stars)
Running time: 90 Minutes
Distributor: Image Entertainment

The Hunger Games (FILM REVIEW)

The Hunger Games
Film Review by Kam Williams

Teens Forced to Compete in Fight to the Death in Futuristic Sci-Fi

Picture a post-apocalyptic North America left devastated by a combination of fire, famine, drought and wars. The U.S. has collapsed only to be replaced by a centralized, totalitarian regime run with an iron fist by the President (Donald Sutherland) with the approval of effete elites barricaded inside the wealthy Capitol.
That pampered class remains blissfully insulated from the ongoing suffering of the citizens trapped in any of the country’s dozen outlying districts. For, since an attempted coup 74 years earlier, the government has been punishing the proletariat by staging an annual fight to the death in the wilderness in which each district is represented by a boy and a girl.
The 24 participants are chosen by lottery and, as the story unfolds, we find 16 year-old Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) consoling her younger sister, Primrose (Willow Shields), who has had the misfortune of having her name picked to represent District 12. However, Katniss altruistically volunteers to take her terrified sibling’s place, and soon finds herself shipped off by train to the site of the nationally-televised Hunger Games.
En route, she and fellow District 12 entrant, Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), are supposed to be mentored by former-winner Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson). But the fatalistic alcoholic only has discouraging words to share, warning them to, “Embrace the possibility of your imminent death, and know there’s nothing I can do to save you.”
Nonetheless, Katniss is determined to survive the ordeal, knowing just how much her sis and widowed mother (Paula Malcolmsen) might mourn her demise. Fortunately, the spunky tomboy already has a host of survival skills at her disposal, being adept at archery and camouflage.
Based on the first installment of Suzanne Collins’s popular trilogy of the same name, The Hunger Games is a riveting, if gruesome adventure which definitely will not disappoint its legions of loyal fans, a demographic every bit as rabid as readers of the Harry Potter and Twilight series. While this eagerly-anticipated cautionary tale of Orwellian dimensions does address a litany of timely themes ranging from greed to loyalty to exploitation to corruption, it nevertheless remains, at heart, a high attrition-rate, splatter flick designed to satiate the bloodlust of kids weaned on gory computer games.
How else would you describe a futuristic sci-fi revolving around a reality show where humans hunt humans they don’t even know purely for sport, spectacle and survival? The Most Dangerous Game meets Lord of the Flies.

Excellent (4 stars)
Rated PG-13 for intense violence and disturbing images.
Running time: 142 minutes
Distributor: Lionsgate Films

Friday, March 23, 2012

Jasmine Guy (INTERVIEW)

Jasmine Guy
The “October Baby” Interview
with Kam Williams

Jasmine in Bloom

Born in Boston on March 10, 1962, Jasmine Guy is a Renaissance woman with dancer, actress, singer, director, and writer on her resume. She performed in the Broadway productions of The Wiz, Leader of the Pack, Grease, and Chicago, and she has also served as a stage director and choreographer on numerous occasions.
Still, the versatile entertainer remains best known for her work in television, especially for creating the iconic character Whitley Gilbert on A Different World. Her other TV credits include recurring roles on The Vampire Diaries, Fame, Touched by an Angel, Melrose Place and Dead Like Me.
On the big screen, Jasmine appeared in such movies as School Daze, Harlem Nights and Stomp the Yard 2. She is the author of "Evolution of a Revolutionary," a book about the life and journey of Afeni Shakur, and she released an eponymous record album on Warner Brothers Records in 1990.
She is currently producing director of Kenny Leon's True Colors Theatre Company in Atlanta, where she resides with her daughter. Here, she talks about her new movie, October Baby, a faith-based morality play inspired by the true story of a troubled teenager who discovered she survived an attempted abortion as a 24 week-old fetus.

KW: Hi, Jasmine. Thanks for the time.
JG: Thanks.

KW: Did you do anything different to prepare for this role?
JG: I knew Nurse Mary. There was little to prepare, just my own
experience lent myself to the character.

KW: Was there anything different about working on October Baby from
other films you've done?
JG: The cast and crew were very positive, warm, and inviting. I felt
comfortable and embraced in set.

KW: Children’s book author Irene Smalls says: This very dramatic role
is very different from the comedies you are known for? What attracted
you to October Baby?
JG: I was attracted to Nurse Mary because she was older and alone, full
of stories to share and secrets she had harbored for many years.

KW: What's your secret to embodying memorable characters?
JG: I always try to honor a character by being honest and truthful to
who they are, in spite of my own personality and beliefs. I also like
to embody them physically and remove my own thoughts, walk and
mannerisms from their portrayal.

KW: What message do you think people will take away from October Baby?
JG: I think people will be reminded to be safe and thoughtful in their
intimate relationships and not just use sex for recreational purposes.

KW: Larry Greenberg asks: How did co-directors Jon and Andrew Erwin
protect the subtle emotional drama from the politics that surround the
movie’s incendiary topic?
JG: In my one scene in the movie I felt Jon and Andrew left me to
interpret Nurse Mary as I saw her. They created a freedom on the set
that was uplifting and created a confidence that was contagious.

KW: Editor/legist Patricia Turnier says: I loooove your work. I am an
Afro-Canadian who used to dream of attending an African-American
college when I watched A Different World. Studies mention that when
the show was on TV in the late 80s and 90s, it created a positive
impact on the African-American community in terms of college
enrollment. In addition, it was the first time in American TV history
that young African-Americans were showcased in a college environment.
What is your assessment of today's images representing the
African-Americans in the media? Do you think that there is a need to
have more TV shows and movies which present black people in
intellectual settings?
JG: I've always known the greatness of black people. We come from
intellectuals, philosophers, educators and activists. We are not a
monolithic group of people bound by color. It is up to us as individuals, parents, teachers and communicators to teach that to our people and our broader community. I think it's dangerous to depend on the media or the entertainment industry to facilitate that knowledge.

KW: Patricia also says: You directed the musical I Dream and the play
The Colored Museum. Would you consider directing a movie in the
JG: I would love to direct a movie, something I really like with a
great cast. What a dream!

KW: Thanks again for the time, Jasmine.
JG: Thank you, Kam.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Top Ten DVD List for 3-27-12

This Week’s DVD Releases
by Kam Williams

Top Ten DVD List for March 27th

The Bodyguard – 20th Anniversary Edition [Blu-ray]

Corman's World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel

The Real Story of the Tuskegee Airmen [Red Tails]

Romantics Anonymous

South Park: The Complete Fifteenth Season

Trinity Goodheart

The Seminarian

Betty White: Champion for Animals

Eureka - Season 4.5

Camel Spiders

Honorable Mention

Breaking Wind

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close (DVD REVIEW)

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close
DVD Review by Kam Williams

Best Picture Oscar-Nominee Released on DVD

Oskar Schell (Thomas Horn) was left traumatized when his father (Tom Hanks) perished in the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center. After being dismissed early from school that morning, the anguished, 11 year-old had rushed home only to see the Twin Towers collapse as he listened to a half dozen, increasingly-urgent phone messages from his dad trapped on the 106th floor.
Fast-forward a year, and while rummaging through his father’s belongings, the still-inconsolable youngster discovers a mysterious key hidden in a tiny envelope marked “Black.” Desperate to remain connected, Oskar starts to fantasize that the key can unlock a secret treasure chest of messages and keepsakes deliberately left behind by his dad in the event of his early demise.
After a search of their Manhattan apartment proves fruitless, he concludes that “Black” must be the surname of the person aware of the box’s whereabouts. So, he starts crisscrossing New York City by foot to visit every “Black” listed in the telephone directory until he finds the right one.
Although this doesn’t sit well with his mom (Sandra Bullock), she opts to not interfere with her son’s grieving process. Luckily, Grandma Schell’s (Zoe Caldwell) elderly, mute tenant (Max von Sydow) has plenty of time on his hands and is willing to accompany Oskar on his appointed rounds.
Thus unfolds Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, a morbid, meditation on mortality chronicling a 9/11 orphan’s peripatetic quest for closure. Based on Jonathan Safran Foer’s best-seller of the same name, the movie was nominated for Academy Awards in the Best Picture and Supporting Actor (Max von Sydow) categories.
Despite the accolades, the film was doomed by the fatal flaw of casting a Kids Week Jeopardy-winner in the pivotal role as the picture’s narrator/protagonist. Ostensibly-blessed with a brilliant memory but crippled by a lack of any emotional range, Thomas Horn flatly spits out his every line in staccato fashion, as if he’s not making his acting debut but in a race against fellow game show contestants to answer trivia questions.
Consequently, precocious Oskar ends-up coming off as unlikable and unsympathetic which is the polar opposite of what was intended. The upshot is that the movie does a disservice to 9/11 survivors by suggesting that a child orphaned by the disaster might be an insufferable little monster.
Furthermore, the production suffers from a relentlessly-grim storyline and a tendency to lift ideas from iconic screen classics. For example, the film’s final line, “Now, it’s time to go home.” sounds suspiciously similar to the unforgettable last line also uttered by Tom Hanks in Steven Spielberg’s The Terminal. Even this flick’s “boy with hands over mouth” marketing campaign poster was borrowed from the one featuring Macaulay Culkin for Home Alone.
Extremely tacky and incredibly unimaginative.

Fair (1 star)
Rated PG-13 for profanity, disturbing images and mature themes.
Running time: 129 minutes
Distributor: Warner Home Entertainment Group
Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack extras: The Making of Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close; Finding Oskar; and Ten Years Later.

Kam's Movie Kapsules for 3-30-12

Kam's Kapsules:
Weekly Previews That Make Choosing a Film Fun
by Kam Williams
For movies opening March 30, 2012


Mirror Mirror (PG for action and mild crude humor) Overhaul of beloved classic fairytale has exiled Snow White (Lily Collins) returning to the kingdom to wrest both the throne and a handsome prince (Armie Hammer) from the clutches of the evil queen (Julia Roberts) with the help of seven dwarfs. With Nathan Lane, Mare Winningham and Michael Lerner.

Wrath of the Titans (PG-13 for action and intense violence) Fantasy sequel, set a decade after the conclusion of “Clash,” finds demigod Perseus (Sam Worthington) embarking on a perilous descent into the underworld for an epic showdown with the Titans in order to save humanity and to rescue his father, Zeus (Liam Neeson). Cast includes, Ralph Fiennes, Edgar Ramirez and Bill Nighy.


The Beat Hotel (Unrated) “Cool, Daddy-o!” documentary revisiting the dive located in the Latin Quarter in Paris which became the haunt and home of literary American expatriates in the late Fifties, beatniks like Allen Ginsberg, Greg Corso and William Burroughs.

Bully (R for profanity) Award-winning filmmaker Lee Hirsch (Amandla!) directed this escalating wedgies expose’ following the diverging fates of five students pushed to the brink of suicide by their classmates’ merciless bullying.

Four Lovers (Unrated) Bawdy sex romp revolving around the complications which ensue for two couples after they decide to swap partners. Principal cast includes Roschdy Zem, Elodie Bouchez, Marina Fois and Nicolas Duvauchelle. (In French and English with subtitles)

God Save My Shoes (Unrated) Fashion documentary examining the psychological, cultural, erotic and emotional aspects of women’s fixation with their footwear. (In French and English with subtitles)

Goon (R for drug use, graphic sexuality, brutal violence and pervasive profanity) Seann “Stiffler” Scott stars in this overcoming-the-odds hockey comedy about a halfwit bouncer who leads a ragtag, semi-pro team of misfits to glory on the ice. With Eugene Levy, Jay Baruchel and Alison Pill.

I Kissed a Vampire (Unrated) Gory, Goth musical about a teenager Lucas Grabeel) who develops fangs and an insatiable lust for blood after being bitten in the neck by an exchange student (Tahlena Chikami) from Transylvania. With Drew Seeley, Adrian Slade and Chris Coppola.

Intruders (R for terror, violence, sexuality, nudity and profanity) Haunted house horror flick about a father’s (Clive Owen) desperate effort to protect his daughter (Ella Purnell) from the faceless monster that visits their home every night. Cast includes Carice van Houten, Daniel Bruhl and Kerry Fox. (In English and Spanish with subtitles)

The Island President (PG for violence, smoking and mature themes) Climate change documentary chronicling the effort of Maldives President Mohamed Nasheed to save his low-lying island nation from being sinking into the Indian Ocean as a consequence of global warming.

Turn Me on, Dammit! (Unrated) Coming-of-age comedy about the sexual awakenings of a 15 year-old girl (Helene Bergsholm) with raging hormones who fantasizes not only about the classmate (Matias Myren) she has a crush on but about practically every guy she encounters. With Malin Bjorhovde, Henriette Steenstrup and Beat Stofrin. (In Norwegian with subtitles)

Womb (Unrated) Deliberately-paced romance drama about a grieving woman (Eva Green) confronting an ethical dilemma after allowing herself to become impregnated with a clone of her dearly-departed childhood sweetheart (Matt Smith) after a tragic accident. Featuring Lesley Manville, Peter Wight and Hannah Murray.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Girl with the Dragon Tatto (DVD REVIEW)

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
DVD Review by Kam Williams

Best Editing Oscar-Winner Arrives on DVD

Mikael Blomqvist (Daniel Craig) resigns from his position as editor of Millennium Magazine after being unable to substantiate the incendiary allegations he’d made about a corrupt billionaire (Ulf Friberg). Fortuitously, the disgraced journalist is soon secretly approached by an intermediary representing recently-retired industrialist Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer) to investigate the mysterious murder of his beloved niece, Harriet (Moa Garpendal), back in 1966.
Mikael jumps at the job offer, since his desire to escape the media circus surrounding him in Stockholm conveniently dovetails with the aging patriarch’s need to reopen the case right on location at the family’s secluded estate where Harriet had disappeared into thin air. An additional incentive is Henrik’s promise to provide the proof necessary to overturn the libel conviction.
So, straightaway, Mikael moves up to the remote island of Hedestad in northern Sweden, and starts sifting through the boxes of 40 year-old evidence. After unearthing an array of sordid skeletons in the Vanger family closet ranging from anti-Semitism to sadomasochism, he realizes that he sure could use the help of an assistant, and takes Henrik’s suggestion that he collaborate with Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara), a brilliant, if bizarre-looking, computer whiz.
Mikael is willing to pardon the young hacker’s tattoos, multiple piercings and punked-out hairstyle because of her passion for catching any creep who’d harm a female. And her technical skills do prove to be the perfect complement to Henrik’s uncanny ability to interview surviving witnesses despite their putting on aristocratic airs. Still, not surprisingly, the closer they come to solving the mystery, the more dangerous a situation they find themselves embroiled in.
So unfolds The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, a worthy remake of the Swedish-language thriller of the same name just released in 2009. Directed by David Fincher (The Social Network) this English-language version was nominated for five Academy Awards, although it only won in the Best Editing category.
Based on the first installment of the trilogy of novels by the late Stieg Larsson, the film features the Oscar-nominated performance of Rooney Mara who is nothing short of riveting as the ever-edgy Lisbeth. Meanwhile, her co-star Daniel Craig disappears into his role as Mikael so well you forget about the fact that he also plays James Bond.
An intricately-woven, edge-of-your-seat whodunit as graphic and grisly as it is cerebral and mind-bending.

Excellent (4 stars)
Rated R for rape, torture, brutal violence, profanity, frontal nudity and graphic sexuality.
Running time: 158 minutes
Distributor: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
DVD Extras: Director’s commentary.

Monday, March 19, 2012


DeRay Davis
The “21 Jump Street” Interview
with Kam Williams

DeRay Vision

A born hustler from Chicago’s South Side, DeRay Davis began his career on the comedy club circuit and was first noticed by Hollywood while onstage at Atlanta’s Laffapalooza Festival. Shortly after moving to LA, he won the Comedy Central Laugh Riots Competition and was subsequently a standout on the Cedric the Entertainer Tour and at the Montreal Just for Laughs Festival.
DeRay’s film credits include Jumping the Broom, Get Him to the Greek, Semi-Pro, Barbershop, Barbershop 2, Johnson Family Vacation, Old Dogs, Life as We Know It, Imagine That, License to Wed, School for Scoundrels and Scary Movie 4. And on the small screen, he has appeared in HBO's Entourage, Comedy Central's Reno 911, Comedy Central Presents DeRay Davis, Comedy Central's Premium Blend and BET's ComicView, along with doing various voices on The Boondocks.
In terms of record albums, he wrote and performed the comedy skits on Kanye West’s “Late Registration” and “The College Dropout” LPs, and he also performed at the 2006 Grammy Awards with Kanye and Jamie Foxx. Here, he talks about his latest screen role in 21 Jump Street, where he plays a Dominican drug dealer named Domingo, opposite Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum.

Kam Williams: Hi DeRay, thanks for the interview.
DeRay Davis: No problem, Kam.

KW: What interested you in 21 Jump Street?
DD: My initial interest had to be the hype of the show. I’m from the generation that watched it growing up. So, I was pretty happy and excited that they were even making the TV show into a movie. Plus, I wanted to see what kind of spin they were going to put on it. And to hear that they were going to turn it into a comedy was pretty intriguing to me.

KW: How did you feel about your character Domingo’s wearing shades the entire film, given that your green eyes are almost your trademark?
DD: They were really only covered towards the end of the film.

KW: Editor/legist Patricia Turnier says: I loved you in Jumping the Broom. Did you watch episodes of the TV series to prepare for your role in 21 Jump Street?
DD: No, because my character was created for the film. When they told me that he was a biker and a bad guy, I looked at some Eighties biker videos on Youtube. And because he’s Dominican, I also listened to some accents. And even though it’s a comedic film, I had to tone down the “funny” in order to play this bad guy. I started thinking about all my bills to get in touch with my angry side.

KW: You definitely looked bigger, buffer and more intimidating than usual.
DD: I was glad I was playing opposite Channing [Tatum]. Two tall actors. That’s pretty unusual in Hollywood.

KW: I’m always surprised to learn how short some actors are.
DD: Yeah, I heard Al Pacino’s about 4’ 7”. [Chuckles] I’m joking.

KW: Patricia also says: In your life, you probably met naysayers who tried to deter you from pursuing your dreams. What message do you have for young people who are surrounded by individuals who do not believe in them, and who would like to follow in your footsteps by becoming a comedian?
DD: I think the role of comedy in your life should supersede anything and everything negative. Just by virtue of the fact that you have to be funny, you can’t afford to focus on the negative. As a comedian, your challenge is to turn negative stuff into positive energy. You should be able to hear anything that sounds bad, that people normally wouldn’t laugh at, and make it feel funny to you. No one should be able to deter you, once you have your mind set on comedy. Your survival as a comedian should be as natural as breathing. I need to breathe and I consider my career my air.

KW: Harriet Pakula Teweles asks: How much fun was it making this movie?
DD: It was a lot of fun and a lot of work. We had to hit the notes and hit the points, but we did plenty of ad-libbing in the midst of it, once we had the script down. There was also a lot of crazy, high-speed stuff that I wasn’t used to, but that was fun, too. It was like riding a roller coaster.

KW: Harriet also asks: What’s the difference between doing standup comedy and acting in movies. How does each challenge you as an entertainer and how does each play to your strengths?
DD: I believe they parallel each other as far as the strengths. The difference is that when I’m onstage doing standup, no one yells “Cut!” or tells me what to do. I’m DeRay, and I use my own words. With acting, you’re portraying a character with someone else’s words. Still, you definitely want to inject a little of yourself into every role, the way that Samuel L. Jackson does. Following the script is one thing, but the unique way in which you deliver your lines is what makes them your own.

KW: Film student Jamaal Green asks: Are you currently writing any projects that you hope to bring to the screen?
DD: Yeah, we’ve actually been working on three or four for a few years. It takes a while for a movie to get on its feet. That’s when believing in yourself really matters, when people start giving you money to fund a project. But I definitely have a lot of ideas and original thoughts I’d like to see up on the big screen.

KW: Attorney Bernadette Beekman asks: Are you going to expand your T-shirts with hashtags beyond the “S.A.L.T.S.” one which is already available on your website? []
DD: Yeah, I definitely plan to expand well beyond the hashtags T-shirts. I’m very creative when it comes to apparel.

KW: Is there any question no one ever asks you, that you wish someone would?
DD: Yeah, “How are you doing?” [Chuckles]

KW: Is there something about you that no interview ever addresses.
DD: I’d like the world to know that I would do what I do for no money. If I could trade my comedy for food, I’d walk into a grocery store and give them 15 minutes for $100 worth of groceries. My passion is beyond the financial. I don’t think people are aware of that about me. I’m not a flashy guy, and I want people to know that whatever they do is just as important as my craft.

KW: The Tasha Smith question: Are you ever afraid?
DD: Yep, I’m terrified of failure.

KW: The Columbus Short question: Are you happy?
DD: Half the time. When I’m with my daughter, I’m elated. That’s what makes my work pay off, knowing that she’s here, and she’s healthy, and that regardless of how I’m received by anybody else, I’m funny to her.

KW: The Teri Emerson question: When was the last time you had a good laugh?
DD: 20 minutes ago.

KW: What is your guiltiest pleasure?
DD: I can’t tell you that.

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

KW: The music maven Heather Covington question: What was the last song you listened to?
DD: Young Jeezy.

KW: Which song of his.
DD: It doesn’t matter. They all have pretty much the same message: that I should stop doing comedy and sell drugs. [LOL]

KW: What is your favorite dish to cook?
DD: Hmm… I love soup, and my homemade chicken noodle soup is my favorite.

KW: The Sanaa Lathan question: What excites you?
DD: This is going to sound weird, but I’m excited by quiet. When it’s quiet, I get a rush because I start wondering what’s about to happen, like in a horror film.

KW: Have you ever made a horror film?
DD: Yes, The Fog, and I apologize for it. [Laughs]

KW: That’s right. Were you the first to die? In most horror flicks, the black guy dies first.
DD: No I wasn’t. I’m mixed, so they let me live a little longer.

KW: The Uduak Oduok question: Who is your favorite clothes designer?
DD: Target! [Laughs]

KW: Dante Lee, author of "Black Business Secrets,” asks: What was the best business decision you ever made, and what was the worst?
DD: The best, basically, was investing in myself. The worst was putting my acting money into my comedy shows. It was like robbing Peter to pay Paul.

KW: When you look in the mirror, what do you see?
DD: I see hope… I see my family… I see growth… I see past the things I’ve been through.

KW: If you could have one wish instantly granted, what would that be for?
DD: Hmm… To star in an action movie with Denzel as my sidekick and with Will Smith as the villain. And during a fight scene, I get to knock Will to the ground as he begs, “Please, don’t beat me up anymore.” And Samuel L. Jackson would be standing next to me going, “That’s right, dammit!”

KW: The Kerry Washington question: If you were an animal, what animal would you be?
DD: A shark, because when I smell blood, meaning success, I head straight for it, and tear right into it.

KW: The Ling-Ju Yen question: What is your earliest childhood memory?
DD: Hearing the door slam one day after my parents were arguing when I was about 3. I remember my father yelling, “You can do it on your own!” I just remember that moment.

KW: The Melissa Harris-Perry question How did your first big heartbreak impact who you are as a person?
DD: I think it shaped about a third of who I am because up till then, the only people who had ever hurt me were family, and there was always an apology, and you knew you would see them again. But my first heartbreak was different. She had a piece of me that I had given her, and she took that gift, which was really still inside me, and tore it apart. That first heartbreak created armor around me, so it had a big effect. You don’t think that could happen to you until it happens. It’s like a car crash. But there’s no insurance for love.

KW: The Judyth Piazza question: What key quality do you believe all successful people share?
DD: The ability to ignore rejection. They don’t take a “no” the same way other people do. They react to it like it’s fuel instead of burning down their dream.

KW: Attorney Bernadette Beekman asks: What is your favorite charity?
DD: My daughter.

KW: The Taboo question: What’s the best thing about being a parent?
DD: Being able to see a mirror of yourself with a better reflection looking back at you.

KW: The Tavis Smiley question: How do you want to be remembered?
DD: As the meanest nice guy in the world.

KW: Thanks again for the time, DeRay, and best of luck with 21 Jump Street.
DD: Oh, thanks for the questions, Kam. I appreciate it.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (DVD REVIEW)

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
DVD Review by Kam Williams

Triple Oscar-Nominee Arrives on DVD

Dateline: Budapest, 1973. It is the height of the Cold War, and British spy Jim Prideaux (Mark Strong) has been dispatched behind the Iron Curtain on a covert, anti-Communist mission. But when the operation is badly botched, and blood is shed, there are consequences back in London at MI6 headquarters where both the head of the organization (John Hurt) and his right-hand man, George Smiley (Gary Oldman), are forced to resign in disgrace.
Yet, it isn’t very long before the latter is secretly rehired by Undersecretary Oliver Lacon (Simon McBurney), the member of the Prime Minister’s cabinet responsible for overseeing the intelligence agency. For, there is good reason to believe that a Soviet mole has managed to infiltrate the “Circus,” the government moniker for MI6’s highest echelon. As it turns out, Prideaux was in Hungary in search of the double agent whose identity has been narrowed down to one of four suspects referred to by the surreptitious codenames Tinker (Toby Jones), Tailor Colin Firth), Soldier (Ciaran Hinds) and Poor Man (David Dencik).
Now, it falls to the wily Smiley to match wits with an equally-savvy, inscrutable adversary. What makes the protagonist’s task particularly perilous is that he dare not risk suspicion by confiding in any of his contacts inside MI6. Instead, as a lone wolf, he must rely on a combination of a career’s worth of experience and his finely-tuned personal radar to attempt to ensnare his elusive prey.
Is the traitor the ambitious Percy Alleline (Tinker), the unflappable Bill Haydon (Tailor), the rough-edged Roy Bland (Soldier) or the officious Toby Esterhase (Poor Man)? That is the proposition posed by Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, a spellbinding espionage thriller which was nominated for Academy Awards in the Best Actor (Oldman), Screenplay and Score categories.
That the multi-layered mystery proves so intriguing should be no surprise, given that it’s based on a labyrinthine best-seller many fans of the genre consider to be the best spy novel of all time. FYI, author David John Moore Cornwell, aka John Le Carre, who wrote under a pseudonym as required by England of its former agents, makes a cameo in the picture as a guest at a Christmas party.
This adaption is considerably compacted compared to the 1979 BBC miniseries starring Sir Alec Guinness. Nonetheless, director Tomas Alfredson has effectively distilled the 400-page opus down to its essential elements while remaining ever so faithful to the source material.
A well-crafted, harrowing whodunit of Hitchcockian proportions!

Excellent (4 stars)
Rated R for violence, profanity, sexuality and nudity.
Running Time: 128 minutes
Distributor: Universal Studios Home Entertainment
Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack Extras: Deleted scenes; interview with author John Le Carre; BD-Live; First Look; pocket Blu app; uHear; interviews with director Tomas Alfredson, screenwriter Peter Straughan, and actors Gary Oldman, Colin Firth and Tom Hardy; and feature commentary with Alfredson and Oldman.

Melancholia (DVD REVIEW)

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Sisters Deal with Impending End of the World in Apocalyptic Adventure

Justine (Kirsten Dunst) isn’t enjoying her wedding day, much to the chagrin of her flustered, but supportive groom Michael (Alexander Skarsgard). The clinically-depressed bride’s spirits aren’t even lifted by the fact that her sister, Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg), and brother-in-law, John (Kiefer Sutherland), have thrown her a glamorous reception at their mountaintop mansion.
And when Justine takes a break from the festivities to lie on her back and peer into the night sky, it doesn’t register that the unusually bright star overhead might be a rogue planet on a rendezvous with Earth. Instead, she just rejoins the party, only to be so overwhelmed with unhappiness that she soon decides to break off the marriage.
That gloomy scenario sets up the unsettling second act of Melancholia, a morose meditation on mortality directed by Lars von Trier. The Danish director follows that opening segment “Justine,” with a closing tableau named after her sister, “Claire.”
As part two begins, we find Justine single again and living with her sister’s family. She takes little comfort in astronomer John’s assurances that the approaching, oversized asteroid Melancholia won’t make impact, since the leading scientists agree that it’s on a collision course with Earth.
However, the script is subsequently flipped with Claire becoming depressed due to an inability to handle the idea of annihilation, especially because she has the responsibility of allaying her young son’s (Cameron Spurr) anxiety. Then, when her hubby inexplicably disappears, that all but confirms her worst fears, and it falls to Justine to summon up the courage to comfort the boy while facing her fate with an admirable grace and stoicism.
It’s impossible to guess what the end of the world might actually look like, but this alternately surreal, seductive and sobering descent into dystopia is as good a guess as anybody else’s.

Excellent (4 stars)
Rated R for sexuality, profanity and graphic nudity.
Running time: 130 Minutes
Studio: Zentropa
Distributor: Magnolia Pictures
Blu-ray Extras: About Melancholia; A Look at Melancholia; The Universe; visual effects; and trailers.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Kam's Movie Kapsules for 3-23-12

Kam's Kapsules:
Weekly Previews That Make Choosing a Film Fun
by Kam Williams
For movies opening March 23, 2012


The Hunger Games (PG-13 for intense violence and disturbing images) Screen adaptation of Suzanne Collins’ futuristic sci-fi novel about a 16 year-old girl (Jennifer Lawrence) who volunteers to take her unlucky younger sister’s (Willow Shields) place in a nationally-televised fight to the death featuring 24 participants picked by a government lottery. Cast includes Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Lenny Kravitz, Stanley Tucci and Donald Sutherland.

October Baby (PG-13c for mature themes) Faith-based morality play about a college freshman (Rachel Hendrix) who embarks on a spiritual sojourn of self-discovery upon learning from her adoptive parents (John Schneider and Jennifer Price) that she’s an abortion survivor. With Jasmine Guy, Jason Burkey and Joy Brunson.


4:44 Last Day on Earth (Unrated) Apocalyptic sci-fi adventure about a Manhattan couple (Willem Dafoe and Shanyn Leigh) coming to terms with the fact that world is ending in 24 hours. With Natasha Lyonne, Paz de la Huerta and Paul Hipp.

All In: The Poker Movie (Unrated) Card shark documentary chronicling the resurgence in popularity of poker as a means of achieving the American Dream.

Brake (Unrated) Political potboiler about a Secret Service Agent (Stephen Dorff) who is kidnapped and tortured in the trunk of a car by bloodthirsty terrorists with a sinister agenda. Cast includes Tom Berenger, Chyler Leigh and J.R. Bourne.

Come on Eileen (Unrated) Bittersweet Brit dramedy about a reformed alcoholic (Finola Geraghy) who falls off the wagon when she starts dating a pot-smoking, ex-cricket player (Stephen Taylor). With Mercedes Grower, Noel Fielding and Felix Malcolm Still.

The Deep Blue Sea (Unrated) Romance drama, set in London in the Fifties, revolving around the self-destructive wife (Rachel Weisz) of a judge (Simon Russell Beale) who embarks on a scandalous affair with a young Royal Air Force pilot (Tom Hiddleston). Support cast includes Karl Johnson, Barbara Jefford and Ann Mitchell.

An Encounter with Simone Weil (Unrated) Biopic about French philosopher Simon Weil (1909-1943), an intrepid social activist who was willing to die for her heartfelt convictions. (In English and French with subtitles)

Losing Control (Unrated) Quirky romantic comedy about a Harvard Ph.D. student’s (Amanda Kent) search for a scientific method of discerning which of the many guys she’s dating might be Mr. Right. Cast includes Reid Scott, Kathleen Robertson and Theo Alexander.

Musical Chairs (PG-13 for profanity, sexuality and a drug reference) Romance drama about a janitor from the Bronx (E.J.Bonilla) who convinces his boss (Lea Pipes) to resume ballroom dancing despite being confined to a wheelchair following a crippling accident. With Priscilla Lopez, Jaime Tirelli and Laverne Cox.

The Raid: Redemption (R for profanity and pervasive graphic violence) Gruesome crime thriller, set in Jakarta, about a SWAT team which finds itself trapped in a tenement under the control of a ruthless mobster (Ray Sahetapy) with an army of assassins. Cast includes Iko Uwais, Joe Taslim and Yayan Ruhian. (In Indonesian with subtitles)

The Trouble with Bliss (Unrated) Midlife crisis comedy about an unemployed slacker (Michael C. Hall), living at home with his widowed father (Peter Fonda), whose life starts to unravel when he becomes involved with the 18 year-old daughter (Brie Larson) of a high school classmate (Brad William Henke). With Lucy Liu, Rhea Perlman and Sarah Shahi.

October Baby (FILM REVIEW)

October Baby
Film Review by Kam Williams

Abortion Survivor Searches for Birth Mom in Modern Morality Play

Hannah (Rachel Hendrix) has suffered from a host of afflictions over the course of her childhood, including asthma, seizures and multiple hip surgeries. Besides her physical ailments, the poor girl has unfortunately been haunted mentally by a nagging sense of feeling unwanted, despite being raised by a couple of very loving parents (John Schneider and Jennifer Price).
Everything comes to a head during her freshman year in college, after she collapses on stage while performing in a school play. Her parents rush to campus where they inform her doctor (Lance E. Nichols) in the infirmary that their daughter has considered committing suicide.
Hannah’s dismay upon learning that her folks had invaded her privacy by reading her diary is forgotten as soon as they proceed to make an even more shocking revelation. For not only do they subsequently announce that she had been adopted, but that she had miraculously survived an attempted abortion when her mother was only 24 weeks pregnant.
That bombshell triggers an explosion of emotions inside Hannah ranging from bewilderment to desperation to rage. But at least she finally has an idea why she’s been so sickly and saddled with emotional trauma all her life.
Next, the understandably-anguished teenager demands a copy of her birth certificate before deciding to track down her biological mother over Spring Break. And, accompanied by her supportive best friend, Jason (Jason Burkey), she sets out on a spiritual sojourn via Volkswagen bus to Mobile, Alabama in quest of self-discovery and perhaps closure.
This is the compelling point of departure of October Baby, a modern morality play co-directed by Jon and Andrew Erwin. The brothers, who admittedly “never knew there was such a thing as an abortion survivor,” were inspired to make the movie after learning about the real-life ordeal of Gianna Jessen.
While I suspect that the Erwins aren’t the only ones previously unfamiliar with the phenomenon, their moving tearjerker will undoubtedly go a long way towards spreading the word. The principal cast is comprised mostly of relative unknowns, as well as a couple of familiar faces from TV in John Schneider (The Dukes of Hazzard) and Jasmine Guy (A Different World).
Though unabashedly pro-life in point-of-view, October Baby is nonetheless an apolitical coming-of-age adventure apt to touch the hearts of audience members on either side of the abortion issue. A faith-based parable bringing to mind Psalm 139:16’s sobering message: “You saw me before I was born.”

Excellent (3.5 stars)
Rated PG-13 for mature themes.
Running time: 107 minutes
Studio: Provident Films
Distributor: Samuel Goldwyn Films

Friday, March 16, 2012

Louder Than a Bomb (DVD REVIEW)

Louder Than a Bomb
DVD Review by Kam Williams

Rhyme Doc Chronicles Chicago Poetry Slam

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 Louder Than a Bomb, a documentary chronicling the Slam Poetry competition of the same name staged annually in the Windy City.
Its 600+ entrants from 60+ schools are an ethnically-diverse array of high school students who share a passion for the spoken word format. Co-directed by Greg Jacobs and Jon Siskel (nephew of the legendary, late film critic Gene Siskel), the film telescopes narrowly on the fortunes of four teams and their talented standouts.
Nate Marshall hails from Whitney Young Magnet School, Adam Gottlieb from North College Prep, Nova Venerable 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 rap.
However, the absence of musical accompaniment makes it easier for an audience to focus on the rich content of the writers’ evocative verses which tend to reflect issues in their personal lives. Given how deeply teenagers tend to feel about their troubles, the staccato rants will probably sound like emotional dumps to the average adult, whether they’re weighing-in on absentee fathers, drug-addicted parents, or even just doting Jewish parents.
Although I thoroughly enjoyed watching this flick, my only worry is whether or not these accomplished poets will ever learn to speak grammatically. Sorry, but I couldn’t help but be concerned upon hearing “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: 100 minutes
Distributor: Virgil Films and Entertainment

Top Ten DVD List for 3-20-12

This Week’s DVD Releases
by Kam Williams

Top Ten DVD List for March 20th

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

The Muppets

Lost Keaton: 16 Comedy Shorts [1934-1937]

Teen a Go Go

Victorious – The Complete Second Season

Best of Caillou: Caillou’s Outdoor Adventures

Louder Than a Bomb

Wild Kratts: Predator Power

Adventures in Lalaloopsy Land: The Search for Pillow

Honorable Mention

Jane by Design – Volume One

National Lampoon’s The Legend of Awesomest Maximus

The Ring [Blu-ray]

Battle Royale


Thursday, March 15, 2012

21 Jump Street (FILM REVIEW)

21 Jump Street
Film Review by Kam Williams

Polar Opposite Partners Infiltrate H.S. in Unlikely-Buddies Comedy

Popular jock Greg Jenko (Channing Tatum) and social outcast Morton Schmidt (Jonah Hill) had nothing in common back when they were in high school, besides their both missing the senior prom. And even that was for very different reasons, since the former didn’t attend because of poor grades while the latter simply couldn’t find a date.
But seven years later, the pair’s paths have crossed again while attending the Police Academy. This time around, academically-challenged Greg and out-of-shape Mort bond helping each other pass the written and physical portions of the final exam.
Upon graduating, these polar opposites launch their law enforcement careers as partners, patrolling a downtown park on bicycles uneventfully until the day they fail to read a perpetrator his Miranda rights. They are called on the carpet and ordered to report to 21 Jump Street, a clandestine detective unit run out of an abandoned church with a dusty, Korean Jesus crucifix dangling over the altar.
There, short-fused Captain Dickson (Ice Cube) reassigns baby-faced Schmidt and Jenko to work undercover at Sagan High School in order to crack a drug ring disseminating deadly narcotics. The disgraced officers leap at the opportunity to make amends for the bust gone bad, unaware of how hard it will be to pass themselves off as students.
For not only do they look older, but the culture has substantially changed since they left school. So, they soon discover that, nowadays, macho misbehaving and bullying are out, while studying, drama club, and caring about the environment are in. Even being gay is considered very cool thanks to the television show “Glee.”
This upside-down reality sets the stage for the awkward scenarios which abound in 21 Jump Street, a hilarious and charming action comedy co-starring Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum. What makes the film so endearing is the camaraderie the leads cultivate once the script is flipped, in the wake of the role reversal which has the handsome hunk suddenly relying on the goofy geek to figure out how to fit in at school.
While the movie might technically be a screen adaptation of the Eighties cop drama of the same name, this raunchy teensploit actually amounts to more of a reboot of the franchise than a remake. To its credit, the picture does pay homage to the classic TV series, as it features cameo appearances by three of the original cast members: Johnny Depp, Peter DeLuise and Holly Robinson-Peete.
Nevertheless, provided you approach this laff-a-minute, slapstick adventure as a franchise overhaul rather than as an homage, you won’t be shocked by its relentlessly-irreverent brand of humor. Think Superbad meets Revenge of the Nerds!

Excellent (4 stars)
Rated R for violence, drug and alcohol abuse, coarse sexuality, crude humor and pervasive profanity.
Running time: 109 minutes
Distributor: Columbia Pictures

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Tuskegee Love Letters (BOOK REVIEW)

Tuskegee Love Letters
by Kim Russell
702 Entertainment
Paperback, $8.00
38 pages, Illustrated
ISBN: 978-0-615591544

Book Review by Kam Williams

“My father was a pilot with the all-Negro Tuskegee Airmen; my mother a steno-typist… Separated by war and duty, they shared the events of their lives through letters. They wrote about their joys, their dreams and their individual struggles.
Thankfully, each preserved their letters…. This collection is a glimpse of their lives between 1942 and 1956… These letters are my parents’ legacy. They tell about a difficult but wondrous journey filled with obstacles and opportunities… [and] remind us that all young Americans begin their lives with dreams.”
-- Excerpted from the Introduction (pg. 5)

If you saw the recent World War II film Red Tails, you were treated to a riveting reenactment of the heroic exploits of the Tuskegee Airmen over the skies of Europe. But a glaring omission from the movie was any mention of the African-American pilots’ pining for their loved ones back in the States.
In fact, the only romance featured in the film revolved around an ill-fated, interracial liaison between an airman and a local girl he met while stationed in Italy. For that reason, a book like Tuskegee Love Letters couldn’t have come along at a more timely moment.
This bittersweet memoir is essentially conceived as a play constructed from the notes which Bernard and Luana Knighten exchanged by mail while he was serving his country as a member of the Tuskegee Airmen. The passages were culled by their daughter, Kim, from a collection of over 400 missives she found after her father passed away in 2000 at the age of 79.
The initial entries were written when the Knightens were still newlyweds in the full bloom of youth, and exhibiting an endearing combination of bravado, exuberance and vulnerability. Though their subjects of conversation ranged from safety to racism to ambitious plans for making their mark on the world upon reuniting, every message invariably included a passionate reaffirmation of their love.
For instance, Luana signs one note with a heartfelt, “Please, please, please be careful and come back to me,” well aware that some members of her hubby’s squadron had already perished in action. Bernard, in turn was just as ardent, not only naming his plane after his wife, but admitting that “I dream of you all night long.”
He also describes his reaction to Nazi POWs ‘enjoying better accommodations than black GIs. “It is really disgusting. It makes my blood boil to see how nice they treat the German prisoners… It really hurts.” But discrimination didn’t discourage him after the war from publishing with the help of “a talented young writer named Alex Haley” the debut issue of Essence Magazine, a short-lived precursor of the popular periodical for black females.
Meanwhile, equally-talented Luana started pursuing her acting career, only to die of a heart attack two days before she was set to make her Broadway debut co-starring in Take a Giant Step opposite a teenager named Lou Gossett, Jr. Because Kim was only a couple months-old at the time, she never really got to know her mother.
That makes her all the more grateful to her parents for having the inclination to save their intimate love letters and to her long-widowed dad for preserving them for posterity, knowing just how much they might mean to his darling daughter the day she discovered them in a dusty trunk in the attic after he was no longer around. A priceless slice of African-American history that can’t be read without crying and which undoubtedly deserves to be on display in the Smithsonian.

To learn more about Kim Russell, visit:

Monday, March 12, 2012

Len Elmore (INTERVIEW)

The “March Madness” Interview
with Kam Williams

From Hoops Star to Lawyer to Broadcaster

A man long associated with March Madness, Len Elmore is currently appearing on CBS for his 12th season as an analyst during the network’s NCAA Men's Basketball Championship coverage. In addition, he has served as a basketball analyst for ESPN for the past 13 consecutive years, calling ACC and Big East games, including the Big East Tournament.
Mr. Elmore is an eight-year NBA veteran, having played with the Indiana Pacers, Kansas City Kings, Milwaukee Bucks, New Jersey Nets and New York Knicks. He spent two seasons with the ABA's Indiana Pacers in 1975-76 before the franchise joined the NBA.
Len is a 1974 graduate of the University of Maryland where he was a three-time All-ACC player as well as an All-American his senior year. In 2002, the 50th Anniversary of the ACC, he was chosen as one of the ACC's Top 50 Players of all time.
Elmore also earned a Juris Doctor from Harvard Law School in 1987 and began his law career as an Assistant District Attorney in Brooklyn, N.Y. He presently serves on The Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics Reform, on the University of Maryland Foundation Board of Trustees, as well as on the Board of Directors of both and Lee Enterprises, Inc. Plus, Len has served as President of the National Basketball Retired Players Association.
Born in the Big Apple on March 28, 1952, Len still resides there and was inducted into the New York City Basketball Hall of Fame in 2001. Here, he talks about March Madness and about his extraordinary careers on the court, behind the microphone, and as an attorney.

Kam Williams: Hi Len, thanks for the interview. I’m also born in 1952 and grew up in New York, so I’ve followed your career since high school when you led Power Memorial to the city championship and the #1 ranking in the nation.
Len Elmore: Thank you, Kam.

KW: With everyone filling out their March Madness brackets in office pools right now, let me start by asking who you think has what it takes to win the NCAA Tournament this year?
LE: Boy, there’s not just one team. Obviously, there are the favorites like Syracuse, and certainly Kentucky, a good young team. We could also look at a team like Duke which has enjoyed a resurgence. After being up and down during the season, the Blue Devils finished strong enough to be considered for a #1 seed. Then, there are those teams that people haven’t really spoken about much, like Kansas, which has played very well, as has Missouri. And there are others with plenty of potential, such as Michigan State which worked its way into a #1 seed. Most people didn’t have this level of expectation for them after they finished .500 in the Big Ten last year. But The Spartans have really redeemed themselves with a lot of youth, although they also have a terrific veteran in Draymond Green. Ohio State sort of has to overcome some of their issues, but they’re very capable of going all the way in a six-game series. And North Carolina is definitely built to go the distance in the tournament. So, those are the teams I think we should be looking at, but in the end, I really believe that Syracuse and Kentucky are the two teams that have shown very few weaknesses.

KW: When filling out my brackets, I tend to consider coaching, point guards, injuries and momentum.
LE: Syracuse is uniquely set up in terms of all those variables, especially the point guard situation. But we’ve seen them in that position the last couple of years, and they still went out early, because of a tough matchup against teams who were able to handle them really well. So, your strategy might work some of the time, but you may as well throw stats out the window if some magic dust has been sprinkled on a Cinderella team.

KW: I think March Madness makes for the most exciting and compelling spectacular in all of sports. Why is that?
LE: The beauty of the NCAA College Basketball Tournament is in its structure, a one and done situation, which includes so many teams not considered serious contenders who nevertheless have the potential to overcome their shortcomings and rise to the occasion. You also have the fallibility of a heavy favorite who might make a few fatal mistakes in a game and find itself facing elimination. Those are the components of the drama that make March Madness.

KW: This question is from the Michael Reichwald, President of Yorkson Legal, who is a great March Madness fan: Do you feel a special bond to Jeremy Lin, as you both attended Harvard?
LE: Not necessarily a Harvard bond. I went to Harvard Law school, not the undergrad, so I can’t say I’m as capable as he is. The bond I do feel with him has to do with his persevering in developing the fundamental basketball skills he’s displayed. It’s almost an indictment of NBA players how fundamental skills can become an equalizer of great talent. Lin approaches the game with an unselfish attitude, wanting to play with and for his teammates. That’s where his success lies. Yes, he might not be as talented as many of his opponents. Yet his teammates are better and play harder with him out there on the floor because of his unselfishness. By comparison, we’ve all too often witnessed NBA stars who attain a certain level and only play for themselves. We’ll have to see whether Lin can sustain this level of play long term, but I think his will always be a success story regardless, simply because he’s demonstrated an attitude that ought to be adopted by more players.

KW: Gail Marquis says that back in the Seventies, you were teammates at Maryland with John Lucas, Tom McMillen and Tom Roy. All of them had been top high school players in their respective states. She would like to know how your coach, Lefty Driesell, blended those diverse talents, and how you got along as a team, race relations-wise? LE: That’s a pretty interesting question. Coach Driesell was the architect of a system designed to get the most out of our individual talents. And he made sure that everybody had a chance to room with each other to break down barriers. But as far as our actually meshing as a team, that was up to us. That was based upon both how we were raised as individuals and on our desire to become a unit. In terms of race relations, we were looking for unity, to coalesce, and to cross cultural bridges. We were so close that we’d find ways to socialize together. We lived, hung out and ate together. And our love for each other and development of bonds was so deep that we’re all still friends to this day.

KW: Rod Williams says: In your day, the NBA only drafted college underclassmen as hardship cases. I think what is overlooked in the success of Jeremy Lin is that he had stayed in college which afforded him an opportunity to study the game while his mind and body matured.
LE: The term “hardship” was a fallacy and a work of art, since there was no filter through which the league would determine whether or not someone was really a hardship case. You wouldn’t believe how many guys from middle-class backgrounds left school early because they wanted the money. That being said, I do believe staying in college for 4 years obviously allows one to develop fundamental skills. What’s lost on so many of the young kids who come out early nowadays with tremendous athletic talent, with what the pros call a big “upside,” is that they still need to develop the fundamental base in order to build into an extraordinary talent. As extremely talented as Lebron James is physically, he still lacks certain fundamentals that might be exposed when his body starts to betray him, if ever. The flip side of that is Kobe Bryant who is so fundamentally sound. He’s more of an anomaly.

KW: That might because he was taught by his dad who played in the NBA. Did you go up against Joe Bryant back in the day?
LE: Yeah, I played against Jellybean.

KW: Rod was also wondering what you thought of Secretary of Education and Harvard Alum Arne Duncan's recent performance in the NBA Celebrity Game?
LE: Unfortunately, I missed it, but my wife and younger son watched it and they were impressed. Arne was a great player in college. As a matter of fact, I was in law school at the same time he was playing for Harvard as an undergrad. I got to scrimmage with him a little bit back then, since I was trying to stay in shape during my retirement. So I know firsthand just how good a player he is. He still plays with President Obama, and I’m sure the game of basketball remains his first love.

KW: What does Jeremy Lin mean to the NBA?
LE: He’s a terrific story for the league at a time it’s trying to recover its fan base and viewership in the wake of the lockout. He’s generating a lot of excitement and bringing new people in who might not have been following the NBA. But whether this level of excitement will last, remains to be seen.

KW: Lowery Gibson says: Mr. Elmore, you played at a time when the game was bigger that the sum of its players, even with the superstars of your time. He asks: does the sport still feel the same to him?
LE: In all honesty, I’m not nearly as much of a fan of the NBA as I was maybe 10 or 15 years ago, or certainly as I was when I was a player. It’s become more entertainment focused, and less focused on the purity of the game. That’s not necessarily a bad thing; it’s just not my cup of tea. One of the reasons why I enjoy college basketball a little more is because of its team orientation as opposed to individual orientation. I’ve always been taught that basketball is a team game and greater than the sum of its parts. So, Lowery, you hit on something.

KW: Patricia Turnier: A lot of kids think that they can become a superstar athlete without an education. Very few are aware of the financial problems many pros encounter after they retire. You managed successfully to have other careers after your NBA days. How did college prepare you for your post-graduate career? What message do you have for today’s youth about financial security?
LE: Getting a well-rounded education and developing a love of learning that hopefully will continue to last my lifetime certainly helped prepare me to understand what’s coming at me in this world and to adapt. I can’t say there was one thing in particular that helped prepare me for life beyond basketball except for the exposure to college and that laboratory, if you will, that allows us to learn who and what we are, and to be able to utilize that knowledge in real life. I’m concerned that young people today, far too often, abdicate their responsibilities of learning and adapting and give that over to people who may not always have their best interests at heart. And without a well-rounded education, they get into trouble if they don’t have the skills or the resources to overcome the issues that present themselves. That’s a big problem today. I also recognize that when I played, we didn’t get paid anything close to what these guys get paid today. So, I knew, despite playing in the NBA, that I would have to prepare for another career or vocation for when my playing days were over, in order to maintain relevancy. I didn’t want to become known for what I used to do.

KW: When you look in the mirror, what do you see?
LE: I see a person who has achieved many goals that he set for himself, and who didn’t allow a few setbacks to interfere with his love of life. And I see a person who is a good husband and a good father, and who will hopefully leave a legacy for my sons to be the same.

KW: The Ling-Ju Yen question: What is your earliest childhood memory?
LE: How my mother and father stressed education and always made sure we had a place to study and books to read.

KW: The Tavis Smiley question: How do you want to be remembered?
LE: I’d like to be remembered as somebody who persevered, who in many ways overcame, who recognized the importance of giving back, particularly to our youth, and as someone who tried to reach back and to catapult the next generation beyond him.

KW: Well, thanks again for the interview, Len. Much appreciated.
LE: Thanks, Kam. Take care.

Sunday, March 11, 2012


Film Review by Kam Williams

Maori Michael Jackson Fan Pines for Father in Bittersweet Baby-Daddy Drama

Dateline: New Zealand, 1984. A Maori village on Waihau Bay which is where we meet an 11 year-old orphan nicknamed Boy (James Rolleston). There, he and his brother Rocky (Te Aho Aho Ekotone-Whitu) are both being raised in humble circumstances by their beleaguered grandma, Nan (Mavis Paenga), along with a bunch of other deserted cousins.
Sounds a lot like inner-city slums, huh? Boy spends hours a day drawing at the grave of his mother, who passed away while giving birth to Rocky. Besides that, he copes by obsessing on Michael Jackson whose Thriller album is currently giving hope to lots of ragamuffins living in the region.
Boy also prays for the return of the deadbeat-dad (Taika Waititi) he barely remembers but has nevertheless placed on a pedestal, by alternately fantasizing that his father is a war hero, a deep sea diver or a friend of his one-gloved idol, Michael. That dream of a reunion becomes a reality shortly after sperm donor Alamein shows up for the first time in seven years.
Truth be told, the Prodigal outlaw is back in town not to bond with his boys but to dig up some ill-gotten gains he’d buried before splitting. How will Boy handle this revelation? Will Alamein finally feel a few pangs of parental responsibility?
Those are some of the central questions explored by Boy, a bittersweet baby-daddy drama written, directed and co-starring Oscar-nominee Taika Waititi (for Two Cars, One Night). The cautionary tale proves to be quite a charmer, primarily due to the abandon exhibited by the carefree, unschooled adolescent actors innocently cavorting across the screen.
Anthropologically speaking, Boy essentially amounts to a sobering meditation on the erosion of family values among aborigines halfway around the planet. Specifically, the picture depicts fatherhood’s falling out of favor in the case of a wannabe more inclined to keep it real by behaving like a macho ghetto gangsta.
Cinematically speaking, think Whale Rider meets Superfly, except mama’s dead instead of Freddy.

Very Good (3 stars)
Running time: 87 minutes
Distributor: Paladin/Unison Films