Sunday, June 30, 2013

Herman's House (DVD REVIEW)

Herman's House
DVD Review by Kam Williams

Artist and Inmate Forge Unlikely Friendship in Angola Prison Documentary

72 year-old Herman Wallace has been imprisoned at Louisiana’s infamous Angola penitentiary since he was found guilty of committing bank robbery back in 1967. His sentence was later lengthened to life after he was convicted of stabbing a prison guard to death solely on the testimony of a fellow inmate.

Was he a political prisoner who’d been railroaded on account of his membership in the Black Panther Party, or had he actually committed the murder? Unfortunately, that question is not the focus of Herman’s House, an unlikely-couple documentary directed by Angad Singh Bhalia.

Mr. Singh instead devotes his attention to the friendship forged between Herman and a woman half his age. “Jailbirds and the naïve girls who love them” has served as the theme of many a TV talk show, but rarely have any gangsters’ molls had the pedigree, sophistication or undying dedication of Jackie Sumell.

Sumell, an activist who once presented anti-abortion President Bush a quilt woven from hundreds of pro-choice feminist’s pubic hair, was a grad student in the Art Department at Stanford when she took an interest in Herman. What really rankled her was the fact that he held the record for solitary confinement in the country, currently at 40+ years and counting.

Over that period, he’s been cooped up in a 6 x 9 foot cell, which Jackie felt was a violation of the 8th Amendment’s sanction against cruel and unusual punishment. So, she struck up a long-distance correspondence with Herman via a combination of letters and phone calls.

And that led to a decision to draw attention to his plight by mounting an art exhibition featuring a full-scale replica of his prison cell. But this is where it gets weird. She also asked Herman what his dream home would look like, prior to then moving down to New Orleans, buying some land, and consulting architects to draw up plans for a place the two would ostensibly share should he ever be paroled.

Listen, this biopic basically revolves around Jackie’s earnest effort to turn Herman into a cause célèbre, but it carefully tiptoes around the more compelling elephant in the tiny cell, namely, whether there’s a romantic aspect to their relationship? A fascinating flick as much about a possible miscarriage of justice as about a case of arrested development who looks like a little girl playing house with an imaginary mate.

Very Good (3 stars)
Running time: 81 minutes
Distributor: First Run Features

To see a trailer for Herman's House, visit:

Fana Mokoena (INTERVIEW)

Fana Mokoena
The “World War Z” Interview
with Kam Williams

A Fan of Fana

            Born in on May 13, 1971, veteran South African actor Fana Mokoena garnered worldwide acclaim for his powerful portrayal of General Augustin Bizimungu opposite Oscar-nominees Don Cheadle and Sophie Okonedo in Hotel Rwanda. He previously worked with World War Z director Marc Forster on Machine Gun Preacher where he played John Garang, leader of the Sudanese People’s Liberation Army.
            Fana’s other film credits include supporting roles in Safe House, Inside Story,  State of Violence and Man on Ground, for which he received an Africa Movie Academy Award. Here, he talks about his latest outing opposite Brad Pitt in World War Z where he reunites with Forster as U.N. Deputy Secretary General Thierry Umutoni.

Kam Williams: Hi Fana, thanks for the interview.
Fana Mokoena: Thank you.

KW: How is Madiba’s [Nelson Mandela] health holding up?
FM: I’m seriously worried about him but I've learned to let him go. It's hard.

KW: What interested you in World War Z?
FM: That it was a brave stab at the Zombie genre. We haven't seen one at this scale, and I immediately saw how it was going to work.

KW: How was it working with director Marc Forster?
FM: He trusted me with the work, and I found that refreshing. It helps you grow.

KW: What was it like acting opposite an icon like Brad Pitt?
FM: Awesome! Awe-inspiring! Awe-striking! It was incredible to watch him work.

KW: How would you describe your character, Thierry Umutoni?
FM: As a measured character. Hard-driven, but kind and compassionate. No drama.

KW: How did you prepare for the role?
FM: I first had to read the book to cover my basics. Then I had to understand the world of the zombie, and familiarize myself with what the end of the world means to my character personally.

KW: What message do you think people will take away from the film?
FM: I hope they take away the overarching message that the end of the world is all our responsibility.

KW: The bookworm Troy Johnson question: What was the last book you read?
FM: I’m still reading my birthday gift, 'Speeches That Changed the World.’ It’s a compilation of speeches by some of the greatest men and women in history.

KW: Belated happy birthday! The music maven Heather Covington question: What was the last song you listened to? 
FM: I’ve been going retro on Ephraim Lewis and the last song I listened to was “Captured.”

KW: What is your favorite dish to cook?
FM: I like our traditional dishes, but I can cook a mean pasta, too.

KW: When you look in the mirror, what do you see?
FM: A sign: “Work in Progress.”

KW: If you could have one wish instantly granted, what would that be for?
FM: Happiness and longevity.

KW: The Ling-Ju Yen question: What is your earliest childhood memory?
FM: The chicken and the doves we used to have at home.

KW: The Judyth Piazza question: What key quality do you believe all successful people share? 
FM: Tenacity and integrity.

KW: The Gabby Douglas question: If you had to choose another profession, what would that be?
FM: Art and graphics.

KW: The Harriet Pakula-Teweles question: With so many classic films being redone, is there a remake you'd like to star in?
FM: Citizen Kane, the second greatest movie ever made.

KW: The Tavis Smiley question: How do you want to be remembered?
FM: Just as a guy who worked hard.

KW: Thanks again for the time, Fana, and I will be keeping Mandela in my prayers.
FM: Thanks, Kam.

To see a trailer for World War Z, visit:  

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Kevin Hart: Let Me Explain (FILM REVIEW)

Kevin Hart: Let Me Explain  
Film Review by Kam Williams

Hottest Stand-Up Comic Wows Sold-Out Garden in Concert Tour Finale  

            Move over Chris Rock, Eddie Murphy, Steve Harvey and Katt Williams, the hottest black comic around right now is Kevin Hart. The diminutive, 5’ 2” funnyman has skyrocketed to the heights of showbiz ladder lately, making myriad memorable performances on both TV and film.
            This year on TV alone, he’s hosted Saturday Night Live and launched a sitcom spoofing reality shows called Real Husbands of Hollywood. On the big screen, he can currently be caught in the ensemble comedy This Is the End, which comes close on the heels of hits like Think Like a Man and The Five-Year Engagement.   
            Kevin Hart: Let Me Explain is a concert flick featuring the best of his recent concert tour across North America and Europe, with stops at ports-of-call as far afield as Vancouver, Toronto, Oslo, Copenhagen and Amsterdam and Birmingham, England. The film opens at a Mix and Mingle party where a frustrated Kevin finds himself accused of letting success go to his head.
            That confrontation eventually dissolves into a series of post concert shots all over the world of fawning foreign fans with thick accents gushing about how much they enjoyed his performance. But the bulk of the material was captured on camera in front of a standing room only crowd at a sold-out Madison Square Garden, the final stop on the circuit.
            Kevin’s irreverent brand of observational humor involves opening up his private life for public scrutiny. Employing the recurring theme, “Don’t judge me, let me explain,” he reflects upon subjects ranging from being happily-divorced (“I cheated. Do I regret it? No!”), to whether he likes dark-skinned girls (Yes), to humping a bean bag while on Ecstasy, to dating advice (“The only thing you don’t want in your house is a female who doesn’t trust you.”).
            Be forewarned, Kevin curses liberally and gratuitously sprinkles in the N-word occasionally for further dramatic effect. The personal anecdotes he relates are routinely engaging with satisfying payoffs, the only disappointment being that the picture only lasts less than an hour if you subtract all the time devoted to audience reaction shots.
            Nevertheless, you know a comedian has indeed arrived when his punch lines are periodically punctuated by pyrotechnics on stage. And you know he’s still humble enough to remember where he came from when tears can be seen streaming down his face as he takes bows at Madison Square Garden.   

Very Good (3 stars)
Rated R for sexuality, ethnic slurs and pervasive profanity
Running time: 75 minutes
Distributor: Summit Entertainment  

To see a trailer for Kevin Hart: Let Me Explain, visit:      

Who Owns the Future? (BOOK REVIEW)

Who Owns the Future?
by Jaron Lanier
Simon & Schuster
Hardcover, $28.00
416 pages, Illustrated
ISBN: 978-1-4516-5496-7  

Book Review by Kam Williams

“The rise of digital networks led our economy into recession and decimated the middle class. Now, as technology flattens more and more industries—from media to medicine to manufacturing—we are facing even greater challenges to employment and personal wealth.
But there is an alternative to allowing technology to own our future. In this ambitious and deeply humane book, [Jaron] Lanier charts the path toward a new information economy that will stabilize the middle class and allow it to grow.”
Excerpted from the inside dust jacket

            How do you explain the nagging, unusually-high unemployment rate in the United States? Is it merely that millions of manufacturing and white-collar positions have been outsourced overseas, or might there be another explanation? According to author Jaron Lanier, automation is a big part of the problem.
            He points out, for example that Kodak, which once employed 145,000 people, went bankrupt and has ostensibly been replaced by Instagram, a billion-dollar company with an operating staff of just 13. He argues that “technology is making jobs obsolete—but not replacing them,” a trend which does not bode well for humanity’s prospects.
            We would do well to heed the words of this sage visionary, a Renaissance Man in the truest sense of the term. For besides being a philosopher, he’s a musician, composer and, perhaps most notably for these purposes, the computer scientist credited with coining the term “Virtual Reality” back in the Eighties.
            As an architect of the internet, Lanier co-created start-ups now better known as Oracle, Adobe and Google, accomplishments for which he was named one of the 100 Most Influential People in the World by Time Magazine in 2010.
But like a latter-day Dr. Frankenstein, he has come to regret how the fruits of his and fellow innovators’ labors have been appropriated by corporate America in a way which is making most of us extinct.
            In this groundbreaking book, Lanier describes in detail how digital networks like Google and Facebook are destroying the middle class while simultaneously concentrating wealth and power in the hands of a few. Furthermore, he lays out a viable blueprint for reversing that frightening trend, a solution revolving around the novel notion that everyone deserves to be compensated with royalties for sharing their personal information online.
            After all, “the value of companies like Instagram and Facebook comes… from the millions of unpaid users who contribute their… creativity to them.” Food for thought, for the next time you tune in to the latest Youtube sensation generating millions of hits for nothing more than 15 minutes of fame.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Top Ten DVD Releases for 7-2-13

This Week’s DVD Releases
by Kam Williams

Top Ten DVD List for July 2, 2013                       

The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis: The Complete Series

The Up Series

Best of Warner Brothers: 20 Film Collection Comedy

Venus and Serena

The Dick Van Dyke Show: Season Four

Herman’s House

An American Girl: Saige Paints the Sky

Last Resort: The Complete First Season

Tai Chi Hero

6 Souls

Kam's Movie Kapsules for 7-5-13

Kam's Kapsules:      
Weekly Previews That Make Choosing a Film Fun         
by Kam Williams
For movies opening July 5, 2013


Despicable Me 2 (PG for crude humor and mild action) Action-oriented animated adventure finds reformed evildoer Gru (Steve Carell) grudgingly leaving his recently-adopted daughters (Miranda Cosgrove, Dana Gaier and Elsie Fisher) to spy for the Anti-Villain League in order to apprehend a diabolical criminal (Benjamin Bratt) bent on world domination. Voice cast includes Kristen Wiig, Russell Brand and Dr. Ken Jeong.

Kevin Hart: Let Me Explain (R for sexuality, ethnic slurs and pervasive profanity) Concert flick featuring highlights of the irreverent comedian’s 2012 stand-up tour across North America and Europe and culminating with a sold-out performance at Madison Square Garden.   

The Lone Ranger (PG-13 for violence, intense action and suggestive material) Armie Hammer handles the title role in this screen adaptation of the classic Western TV series about a legendary lawman who fights greed and corruption with the assistance of his trusty, Native American sidekick (Johnny Depp). With Helena Bonham Carter, Barry Pepper and Tom Wilkinson.   


A Girl and a Gun (Unrated) Constitutional rights documentary exploring 2nd Amendment issues relating to self-defense, power and violence via frank interviews with red-blooded, pistol-packing mamas.

Hammer of the Gods (R for nudity, profanity, sexual references and graphic violence) Norse fantasy revolving around a muscle-bound Viking warrior (Charlie Bewley) who embarks on an epic journey in search of the long-lost brother (Clive Standen) banished from the kingdom years earlier by their monarch father (James Cosmo). With Elliot Cowan, Glynis Barber and Ivan Kaye.

Just Like a Woman (R for profanity and sexuality) Tale of female empowerment about a couple of miserably-married women (Sienna Miller and Golshifteh Farahani) who travel from Chicago to Sante Fe to enter a belly dancing competition. With Bahar Soomekh, Tim Guinee and Roschdy Zem.

The Look of Love (Unrated) Rags-to-riches biopic about Paul Raymond (Steve Coogan), the reclusive British businessman who became the United Kingdom’s wealthiest citizen before his death in 2008. Co-starring Anna Friel, Imogen Poots and Shirley Henderson.

Stuck in Love (R for profanity, sexuality and teen drug and alcohol abuse) Midlife crisis drama about a year in the life of a famous novelist (Greg Kinnear) suffering from writer’s block since being dumped by his wife (Jennifer Connelly). Cast includes Kristen Bell, Lily Collins, Stephen King and Patrick Schwarzenegger.  

The Way, Way Back (PG-13 for mature themes, profanity, sexuality and brief drug use) Coming-of-age dramedy about a 14 year-old introvert (Liam James) befriended by the gregarious manager (Sam Rockwell) of a water park. Ensemble cast includes Steve Carell, Toni Collette, Maya Rudolph, Amanda Peet, Allison Janney and AnnaSophia Robb.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Michael B. Jordan (INTERVIEW)

Michael B. Jordan    
The “Fruitvale Station” Interview
with Kam Williams

Emerging Actor Discusses His Breakout Role as the Late Oscar Grant

            Born in Santa Ana on February 9, 1987, Michael B. Jordan is one of Hollywood's brightest young actors. In 2012, he starred in 20th Century Fox’s box office hit CHRONICLE, a supernatural thriller that follows three Portland teens as they develop incredible powers after exposure to a mysterious substance. He also had a supporting role in George Lucas’ film RED TAILS, a World War II saga recounting the story of the legendary Tuskegee Airmen.
            Michael recently completed shooting ARE WE OFFICIALLY DATING?
opposite Zac Efron, Imogen Poots and Miles Teller. Before embarking on his film career, he was best known for his work in two of the most significant television dramas of the past decade.
            First, he received critical acclaim for his portrayal of the hard-shelled, soft-hearted, young urbanite Wallace in the HBO hit dramatic series THE WIRE. He then went on to star as quarterback Vince Howard on the NBC’s Emmy-winning FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS.
            He also portrayed recovering alcoholic Alex on the third season of the NBC series PARENTHOOD. Blessed with the opportunity to begin a professional acting career early in his life, Michael caught the eye of Bill Cosby and was
cast in the recurring role of Michael on the series COSBY in 1999. Almost simultaneously, he appeared on the HBO series THE SOPRANOS opposite the late James Gandolfini.  
            In 2001, he was selected from hundreds of hopefuls to play Jamal in the feature film HARDBALL starring Keanu Reeves. A couple years later, he became the youngest African-American actor contracted with ABC’s daytime drama series ALL MY CHILDREN where he played Reggie, Susan Lucci’s character’s adopted son.
            Michael later moved to Los Angeles where he soon landed a lead in the independent film BLACKOUT, co-starring Melvin Van Peebles, Jeffrey Wright, and Zoe Saldana. In the fall of 2007, he was cast in the faith-based feature film PASTOR BROWN.
            He has enjoyed guest appearances on CSI, COLD CASE, LIE TO ME, WITHOUT A TRACE, and LAW & ORDER, and garnered NAACP Image Award Nominations for Outstanding Male Actor in a Television Daytime Drama Series in 2005, 2006 and 2007. Here, he talks about starring as the late Oscar Grant in FRUITVALE STATION, a critically-acclaimed picture which has wowed audiences at both the Cannes and Sundance Film Festivals earlier this year. The movie recounts the shooting of the 22 year-old Grant in the back by a police officer on a train station platform on New Year’s Day 2009.    

Kam Williams: Hi Michael, thanks for the interview.
Michael B. Jordan: What’s up, buddy? Thank you for taking the time.

KW: That’s quite a powerful performance you delivered as Oscar.
MBJ: Thank so much, Kam.

KW: Congratulations on this picture’s winning at Sundance in January and then again at Cannes in June. Did you attend both film festivals?
MBJ: Yes sir, I did.

KW: Where did it get the longer standing ovation?
MBJ: At Cannes. It went on for about 7 or 8 minutes. It was overwhelming. I got chills all over. It was very intense. 

KW: What interested you in Fruitvale Station?
MBJ: Honestly, I remember hearing about the incident when it happened, and feeling very angry, upset and frustrated about not being able to do anything about it. I felt very helpless. I was coming off a project at the time, and I really wanted to do an independent film that was more of an intimate, character-driven piece. And it just so happened that what I wanted to do, Ryan’s vision [director Ryan Coogler] and the timing of his project worked out in my favor, man. All of the pieces seemed to fall right into place.

KW: Did you feel any pressure to deliver a great performance given that it’s the biopic of a person who has passed away and who left behind family, including a young daughter who barely got to know him?
MBJ: Of course, and I put a lot of that pressure on myself. I knew that Oscar’s daughter was going to see this film someday, and that was the only pressure I needed to do her father justice. But I felt a huge responsibility not only to his family, but to the whole Bay community, since the story is so important to them, too.
KW: Did you meet with his mother or any of Oscar’s friends and family members in preparing for this role?
MBJ: Yes, I spent time with his mother, his daughter, his girlfriend, Sophina, and his best friends. So, I got a chance to get to know Oscar a little bit better and to understand each of their relationships with him. It was very beneficial to the film.  

KW: Is there anything the family wanted people to know about Oscar?
MBJ: That he was a person, a flawed human being who made some mistakes just like anybody else. That was about it. They really trusted Ryan’s vision and what he wanted to do.

KW: Did you identify with this character at all, given how often young black males are subjected to profile stops and police brutality? 
MBJ: Yeah, I’m from Newark, New Jersey, so I’ve been in that sort of situation before. I could relate, since I used to catch the train back and forth between Newark and Manhattan all the time. You’d see transit cops interacting with intoxicated passengers during the holiday season in response to distress calls. It could just as easily have been me, or somebody else with a group of friends going to the city who might have gotten a little rowdy. Oscar was a product of his community. The problem is that people from outside of that community can be quick to judge us based on the way we look, talk and dress.

KW: How was it being directed by Ryan Coogler?
MBJ: He’s an incredible director, extremely talented and a natural born leader. And he was the ideal coach for me, because we’re so close in age. We speak the same language, being from the same generation. The story meant a lot to him because he’s from the Bay area. He’s very close to this project. Everything worked out. It was a perfect storm.  

KW: What was it like acting opposite an Oscar-winner in Octavia Spencer?
MBJ: That ain’t bad, either. Not too shabby. I learned a lot from her. She’s one of the most giving actresses I know in terms of getting you there. Whatever you need, she’s very selfless, no ego, and I think it shows.

KW: Is it weird that the cast has actors named Michael Jordan and Kevin Durand? Are you worried that people might mistake the picture for a movie about basketball?
MBJ: Oh man, that was the crazy thing.

KW: What message do you think people will take away from the film?
MBJ: I hope people feel angry, upset, or something that sparks a conversation about how we can be better people. A better father… a better brother… a better mom… a better sister… We have to start with the individual. So, I want people to leave the theater and think, “How can I be a better person?” That’s the only way things are going to improve. It may not happen in my lifetime, but if I can play a part in moving things along, then I feel I’ve done a good job.   

KW: The Teri Emerson question: When was the last time you had a good laugh?
MBJ: Scaring my little brother who is deathly afraid of birds. It’s ridiculous because he’s 6’ 7” and weighs 290 pounds. But he hates birds. If you really want to have a good laugh, all you have to do is send him pictures of geese, ducks and stuff like that randomly. His responses are pretty funny and make me laugh out loud.   

KW: What are your favorite dishes to cook?
MBJ: My grilled lamb chops and homemade mashed potatoes. And my barbequed salmon, that’s pretty good, too. I love cooking! The first dish I ever learned to make was rainbow trout with couscous and raisins. It’s pretty incredible. I can cook that with my eyes closed now. 

KW: What is your guiltiest pleasure?
MBJ: My Japanese animation.

KW: Is there any question no one ever asks you, that you wish someone would?
MBJ: [LOL] You’ve got some great questions, dude… No.

KW: The bookworm Troy Johnson question: What was the last book you read?
MBJ: Snow Crash.

KW: The music maven Heather Covington question: What was the last song you listened to? 
MBJ: Memories Back Then by T.I.


KW: The Sanaa Lathan question: What excites you?
MBJ: Being around like-minded creative people. Watching a really good movie excites me, because it makes we want to get up off the couch and go shoot something and act in a scene. And music excites me because it puts me in a mind state, whatever that may be.

KW: When you look in the mirror, what do you see?
MBJ: A man trying to figure it all out.

KW: The Mike Pittman question: What was your best career decision?
MBJ: Doing the movie Chronicle.

KW: If you could have one wish instantly granted, what would that be for?
MBJ: For more wishes.

KW: The Ling-Ju Yen question: What is your earliest childhood memory?
MBJ: I been waiting for that question. That’s one nobody has ever asked me. It was one day when my dad was outside washing the car. My older sister tricked me into sitting in the bucket. I remember getting stuck in the bucket, soggy diaper and all, and not being able to get out. That’s my earliest childhood memory.   

KW: Thanks again for the time, Michael, and I look forward to speaking with you again in January when you get that Oscar nomination.
MBJ: I appreciate that, Kam [Chuckles] But don’t jinx me, dude.

To see a trailer for Fruitvale Station, visit:

Monday, June 24, 2013

A Band Called Death (FILM REVIEW)

A Band Called Death
Film Review by Kam Williams
Reverential Rockumentary Amounts to a Very Good Movie about a Very Bad Band

            After hearing some heavy metal in the early Seventies, Dannis, Bobby and David Hackney decided to make a big change in the type of music they were performing. Up until then, the African-American siblings from Detroit had been playing a blend of R&B and rock as the Rock Fire Funk Express.
            Then, the guys came up with a new name, Death, and a new sound perhaps best described as an atonal precursor of punk, although the genre hadn’t yet come into existence as of yet. They signed a record deal with a prominent local promoter (not Motown), but the album was deep-sixed before it ever got pressed into vinyl. No surprise to this listener, judging by the demos.
            Searching for a viable alternative career path in music, the trio eventually moved to Vermont where they did get to release a couple of gospel albums as The 4th Movement. But when that dream of superstardom failed to materialize, David moved back home, while Dannis and Bobby remade themselves as a reggae group, Lambsbread, with Bobbie Duncan replacing their brother on guitar.
            Lambsbread failed to capture the fans’ imagination, too. In 2000, chain-smoker David passed away of lung cancer, and that might’ve been the end of the story, given that Hackneys had barely registered a bleep on Rock & Roll’s radar.
            However, Death is now belatedly being put on the map with the help of such rock icons as Henry Rollins, Alice Cooper, Kid Rock, Questlove along with actor Elijah Wood. Are you a big fan of punk? Neither am I. Nor was I during my formative years when the atonal genre came of age.
            Listen, the personal anecdotes in A Band Called Death are extremely entertaining, and often touching, especially when Dannis and Bobby express their irrepressible fondness for their dearly departed sibling. I suppose music is in the ear of the behearer, but as for the suggestion that this average garage band were somehow visionaries ahead of their time, I just don’t think so.
Very Good (3 stars)
Running time: 98 minutes
Distributor: Drafthouse Films

To see a trailer for A Band Called Death, visit: