Thursday, October 31, 2013

Hava Nagila (DVD REVIEW)

Hava Nagila: The Movie
DVD Review by Kam Williams

Musical Documentary Celebrates Festive Jewish Folksong

            To most Gentiles, Hava Nagila is just a catchy ditty you get to sing along with at a lot of sporting events. But who wrote the words and the music of this staple of Jewish weddings and bar mitzvahs, and what is the cultural significance of the timeless tune?
            These are the questions tackled in Hava Nagila: The Movie, a very entertaining and informative documentary directed by Roberta Grossman. The film features performances of the festive folksong by everyone from Connie Francis to Danny Kaye to Harry Belafonte to Chubby Checker. Also included are humorous renditions by comedians Allan Sherman and Jo Anne Worley and rock icon Bob Dylan.
            But first, considerable attention is devoted to Hava Nagila’s derivation. Composed in Jerusalem in the early 20th Century, there is debate to this day whether the lyrics, ostensibly inspired by Psalm 118 Verse 24 of the Hebrew Bible, were written by choir director Abraham Zevi Idelsohn or by his 12 year-old protégé, Moshe Nathanson. At least there is no dispute about the melody, which can readily be traced from Palestine back to the Balkans.
            Of far more consequence than the question of authorship is what Hava Nagila has meant to different generations of Jews. Initially, its upbeat message marked a distinct departure from the general tenor of their folk music, which had mostly been nostalgic and sad.
            After World War II, the relatively-euphoric Hava Nagila spearheaded a virtual cultural reboot that was sorely needed in the wake of The Holocaust. Thus, for the postwar survivors, it came to represent the existence and resurrection of the Jewish people.
            However, the picture points out that Hava Nagila lost some of its luster with the one step removed Baby Boomers who came to see the song less as a visceral reclamation of their roots than as a nostalgic reminder of an imagined past. And its being lampooned on TV shows like Laugh-In, The Simpsons and Curb Your Enthusiasm as well as on countless Youtube clips has left sage Jewish elders of today wondering whether the song still has a soul or if it has been reduced to a symbol of assimilation into the American mainstream. 
            Regardless, this once-sacred anthem seems destined to be forever revered as a song that, at a critical moment in Jewish history, provided joy in the face of loss and hope in the face of fear. Everything you ever wanted to know about Hava Nagila but were afraid to ask except, “What’s the deal with the ritual of raising a chair in the air like you don’t care?”
Excellent (4 stars)
Running time: 75 minutes
Studio: Katahdin Productions
Distributor: Cinedigm / Docurama Films
DVD Extras: Extended interviews; historical footage; and musical clips.

To see a trailer for Hava Nagila, visit:    


Top Ten DVD Releases for 11-5-13

This Week’s DVD Releases
by Kam Williams

Top Ten DVD List for November 5, 2013                       

The Big Picture: Rethinking Dyslexia

Home Is Where the Heart Is

American Experience: War of the Worlds

Hava Nagila: The Movie


Mickey’s Christmas Carol [30th Anniversary Edition]

Guess How Much I Love You

Magic City: The Complete Second Season


White House Down

Honorable Mention 

 Clear History

Journey to the Christmas Star

Winnie the Pooh: A Very Merry Pooh Year

Dora the Explorer: Dora’s Ice Skating Spectacular

Angelina Ballerina: Twirling Tales

The Hive: A Very Buzzbee Christmas

The Hive: Buzbee’s Family Adventures

Grown Ups 2

Saving Santa

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Kam's Movie Kapsules for 11-8-13

Kam's Kapsules:      
Weekly Previews That Make Choosing a Film Fun         
by Kam Williams
For movies opening November 8, 2013


The Book Thief (PG-13 for violence and mature themes) Adaptation of the Mark Zusak novel of the same name, set in Nazi, Germany, and revolving around an abandoned 9 year-old girl (Sophie Nelisse) adopted by foster parents (Geoffrey Rush and Emily Watson) hiding a Jewish refugee (Ben Schnetzer) from the SS. With Kirsten Block, Nico Liersch and Sandra Nedeleff.(In English and German with subtitles) 

Thor: The Dark World (PG-13 for suggestive content and intense violence) 8th installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe series finds Thor (Chris Hemsworth) in an epic battle with a primeval race of demonic elves led by a revenge-minded madman (Christopher Eccleston) with a grudge to settle. Ensemble includes Natalie Portman, Anthony Hopkins, Idris Elba, Stellan Skarsgard, Tom Hiddleston, Renee Russo, Kat Dennings and Ray Stevenson.  


The Armstrong Lie (R for profanity) Doping expose’ chronicling the rise and fall of cycling cheat and cancer survivor Lance Armstrong. Featuring commentary by Frankie Andreu, Daniel Coyle and Phil Liggett. 

Ass Backwards (Unrated) Late bloomer comedy about a couple of lifelong BFFs (Casey Wilson and June Diane Raphael) living in NYC who decide at around 30 to return to their hometown to re-enter the kiddie beauty pageant in which they tied for last place as children. With Alicia Silverstone, Jon Cryer and Bob Odenkirk.   

Best Man Down (PG-13 for sexuality, drug use, mature themes and brief profanity) Romantic dramedy about a bride (Jess Weixler) and groom (Justin Long) who are forced to cancel their honeymoon to handle funeral arrangements after their Best Man (Tyler Labine) drops dead during the wedding. With Shelley Long, Frances O’Connor and Addison Timlin.

A Case of You (Unrated) Romantic comedy about an aspiring writer (Justin Long) who embellishes his profile to impress a woman (Evan Rachel Wood) he meets on an internet dating website. With Sienna Miller, Sam Rockwell, Brendan Fraser and Peter Dinklage.

Finding Mr. Right (Unrated) Romantic comedy about a millionaire’s pampered, pregnant mistress (Wei Tang) who flies from Beijing to Seattle to have her baby only to find herself falling in love with a doctor (Xiubo Wu) moonlighting as a limo driver. Cast includes Dante Lee Arias, Trevor Bess and Jason Burkart. (In Mandarin and English with subtitles)

Go for Sisters (Unrated) John Sayles wrote and directed this missing persons thriller about recovering a parole officer (LisaGay Hamilton) who enlists the assistance of an ex-con (Yolonda Ross) she knew as a child and a disgraced, former LAPD detective (Edward James Olmos) when her son (McKinley Belcher III) goes missing in Tijuana. With Isaiah Washington, Harold Perrineau and Tessa Ferrer. (In English and Spanish with subtitles)

How I Live Now (R for violence, profanity, sexuality and disturbing images) Adaptation of the Meg Rosoff novel of the same name about an American teenager (Saoirse Ronan) spending the summer vacation with relatives in the English countryside where she falls in love with a cousin (George MacKay) against the backdrop of the outbreak of World War III. With Natasha Jonas, Tom Holland, Harley Bird and Sabrina Dickens.

Medora (Unrated) Hoop dreams documentary, set in an Indiana Rust Belt town facing extinction, about the effort of Medora High School’s boy’s basketball team to break a 44-game losing streak. 

People of a Feather (Unrated) Eco-documentary examining the threat posed to the Inuit nation’s as well as the eider duck’s ways of life in the Arctic by massive hydroelectric dams powering much of eastern North America. (In English and Inuktitut with subtitles)

Reaching for the Moon (Unrated) Bittersweet biopic recounting the tragic love affair between American poet Elizabeth Bishop (Miranda Otto) and Brazilian architect Lota de Macedo Soares (Gloria Pires). Featuring Tracy Middendorf, Marcello Airoldi and Lola Kirke. (In English and Portuguese with subtitles)

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Ebony & Ivy (BOOK REVIEW)

Ebony & Ivy
Race, Slavery, and the Troubled History
            of America’s Universities
by Craig Steven Wilder
Bloomsbury Press
Hardcover, $30.00
432 pages
ISBN: 978-1-59691-681-4  

Book Review by Kam Williams

            “Ebony & Ivy… delivers a groundbreaking and incendiary exploration of the intertwined histories of slavery, race, and higher education… Many of America’s revered colleges and universities… Harvard, Yale, and Princeton… were drenched in the sweat, the tears, and sometimes the blood of people of color...
            Money from the purchase and sale of human beings built the campuses, stocked the libraries, and swelled the endowments of American colleges. Slaves waited on faculty and students; academic leaders eagerly courted the support of slaveholders and slave traders.
            Ultimately, our leading universities were thoroughly dependent on enslavement and became breeding grounds for the racist ideas that sustained it. In short, the American academy never stood apart from American slavery—it stood beside church and state as the third pillar of a civilization built on bondage.”
-- Excerpted from Foreword (Excerpted from the book jacket)

            Most people hold the Ivy League in high esteem as an exclusive oasis of intellectual thinking where one can acquire an excellent education. What they might not know is that its long-revered universities were also once intimately involved in slavery, depending on that evil institution for everything from funding to free labor.
            Furthermore, places like Princeton served as a proving ground for the sons of plantation owners being trained in classes on slave management that:
“For Sullenness, Obstinancy, or Idleness… Take a Negro, strip him, tie him fast to a post; take then a sharp Curry-Comb, & curry him      severely til he is well scrap’d; & call a boy with some dry Hay, and make the Boy rub him down for several Minutes, then salt him & unlose him.”
            From inciting anti-abolitionist riots, to spearheading the back to Africa movement to teaching courses codifying the notion of white superiority, the Ivy League openly functioned as a subtle affirmation of slavery.” Despite the fact that it had played such a pivotal role in the creation and maintenance of a color-coded society, it would later put considerable effort into “cleansing the stain of human slavery from the story of its prosperity.”
            This is the thesis of Craig Steven Wilder, as eloquently substantiated in Ebony & Ivy: Race, Slavery, and the Troubled History. A professor of history at MIT, Wilder’s painstakingly-researched opus uncovers the ugly underbelly of Ivy League and other Colonial era colleges like Rutgers and Williams.   
            The author goes on to point out how, after the Civil War, “some of the best-educated people in the nation were revising history to romanticize and sanitize their relationship to bondage. They erased their pasts as masters or reimagined their slaves as a lower order of adopted family—trusted, faithful, and beloved servants whom they had treated with dignity and human sympathy.”
            Yankee academia exposed as a former bastion of Southern aristocracy.


Monday, October 28, 2013

Jeremy Lin (INTERVIEW)

Jeremy Lin
The “Linsanity” Interview
with Kam Williams

Oh, the Linsanity!

            Jeremy Lin was born in Los Angeles, California on August 23, 1988 to Taiwanese immigrant parents. Encouraged by his father, he developed a love of basketball at an early age.
            Raised in a Christian family, Jeremy’s faith guided and supported him as he chased his hoop dream of playing basketball in the NBA. Known for his relentless work off court and on, the young phenom led his Palo Alto high school team to a state title against nationally-ranked Mater Dei, an overwhelming favorite.
            Despite his All-State level play, however, no Division 1 college recruited Jeremy. So, he enrolled at Harvard University, which does not offer athletic scholarships.
            Undrafted by the NBA out of college, he nevertheless impressed scouts in the summer league going up against the No. 1 draft pick. He was eventually signed—but later cut—by the Golden State Warriors.
            A brief stint in Houston ended unceremoniously on Christmas Day, 2011. Jeremy was subsequently picked up by the New York Knicks. In early 2012, on the verge of being cut again, he rose to prominence as a starter, unlikely team leader and improbable NBA sensation.
            “Linsanity” was born! He’s been the Houston Rockets’ starting point guard since landing a three-year, $25 million deal. Whether facing racial taunts as a child, or being underestimated on the court, Jeremy Lin consistently points to his faith as his means of dealing with both disappointment and success.
            Here, he talks about Linsanity, the new documentary chronicling both his commitment to Christ and his meteoric rise to superstardom.

Kam Williams: Hi Jeremy, thanks for the interview.
Jeremy Lin: My pleasure, Kam.

KW: Why did you allow a film crew to shoot this documentary, especially since they started following you around while you were still at Harvard, well before you became an overnight NBA sensation? Did you have a hunch about how your story was going to turn out?
JL: I agreed to film after my rookie year in Golden State. I was more used to cameras and felt that my journey to the NBA was a story worth sharing. Little did we know how much bigger the platform and documentary would become after Linsanity. 

KW: I know you were raised by a father who loved basketball and a mother who encouraged you to pursue your dream. But would you nevertheless say that they put even more of an emphasis on faith, family and academics?
JL: Absolutely! Faith, family, academics and then sports was the order of priorities in my family. My parents really stuck to these principles when raising me and my two brothers. As long as we took care of everything, they let us play as much basketball as we wanted.

KW: Harriet Pakula-Teweles says: Thanks for your wonderful stint with the Knicks. We fans miss you. I wish I were with management and could have kept you here. What’s the difference between playing for a New York team and playing for the Rockets, a Texas team?
JL: The biggest difference is the change in culture in terms of the city. New York is fast paced, with enthusiastic fans and lots of media attention. Houston's slower paced and there's more of a southern culture to the city. But both cities have unbelievable food. 

KW: The Mike Pittman question: What was your best career decision?
JL: My best career decision was probably not giving up when I wanted to. God as well as my family and friends were there for me during my toughest times. 

KW: What advice do you have for anyone who wants to follow in your footsteps?
JL: First, get to know who Jesus Christ is, or at least explore a relationship with Him. Second, have fun! Third, pursue your passion wholeheartedly. Never let someone else tell you what you aren't capable of.

KW: Thanks again for the time, Jeremy, and best of luck with the film and in the upcoming season.
JL: Thank you, Kam.

To see a trailer for Linsanity, visit:

To find out whether Linsanity is playing in a theater near you, visit:

Sunday, October 27, 2013


Sweet Dreams

Film Review by Kam Williams

Rwandan Reconciliation Documentary Chronicles Feats of Remarkable Female Drumming Troupe

            The 1994 Civil War left the beleaguered African nation of Rwanda a bloody mess, both literally and figuratively. Not only had the warring tribes, the Hutus and the Tutsis, hacked each other to death with machetes to the tune of about a million bodies scattered across the countryside, but to this day many of the survivors of the ethnic cleansing remain totally traumatized by the slaughter they’d witnessed.
            Consequently, much of the populace still walks around in a daze sporting blank, 1,000 yard stares some refer to as battle fatigue or shell shock which shrinks refer to clinically as post-traumatic stress syndrome. For, it is understandable that it might hard to get over a conflict which pitted neighbor against neighbor, and even relative against relative.
            One survivor, theater director Kiki Katese, determined to do something to alleviate the suffering, asked, “How do you rebuild a human being?” So, she founded Ingoma Nshya (meaning “new drum, new kingdom”), an all-female drumming troupe comprised of both Tutsis and Hutus, with admission being conditioned on checking ones tribal allegiance at the door. Besides affording the 60-strong membership an opportunity to pound rhythmically on congas, the gathering simultaneously served as a support group offering healing and reconciliation.
            In 2010, Kiki came up with another innovative idea, namely, opening Rwanda’s first ice cream parlor. This time, she enlisted the support of Jennie Dundas and Alexis Miesen, proprietors of a place located half a world away in Brooklyn called Blue Marble Ice Cream.
            The game New Yorkers answered the call, traveling to Rwanda to help Kiki realize that dream. Together they created Sweet Dreams, a shop owned and operated cooperatively by a number of the women from Ingoma Nshya.
            All of the above is affectionately recounted in Sweet Dreams, an uplifting documentary co-directed by Lisa and Rob Fruchtman. Kiki and her companions cut a sharp contrast to the bulk of their fellow countrymen peppering the desolate background, lost souls who seem broken in spirit between mourning murdered kin and facing bleak prospects for a better tomorrow.
            A female empowerment flick featuring a blend of ice cream and drumming as a viable path to rehabilitation and reconciliation.   

Very Good (3 stars)
In English and Kinyarwanda with subtitles
Running time: 84 minutes
Distributor: International Film Circuit / Liro Films

To see a trailer for Sweet Dreams, visit: 

The Counselor (FILM REVIEW)

The Counselor  
Film Review by Kam Williams

“Can’t Miss” Crime Thriller Manages to Miss the Mark

            It’s easy to see why this crime thriller got greenlit by Hollywood. First of all, it was written by Pulitzer Prize-winner Cormac McCarthy whose relatively-riveting “No Country for Old Men” won four Academy Awards, including Best Picture.
            Secondly, Oscar-nominated director Ridley Scott (for Gladiator, Black Hawk Down and Thelma & Louise) was brought aboard, as well as an A-list cast topped by Academy Award-winners Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz, nominees Brad Pitt and Rosie Perez, and versatile character actors Michael Fassbender and Goran Visnjic.
            Furthermore, since the story is set in Juarez, Mexico and El Paso, Texas, it made sense to sign several leading Latino thespians in Cameron Diaz, Edgar Ramirez, John Leguizamo and Ruben Blades. Nevertheless, The Counselor turned out to be one of those curious head scratchers that somehow adds up to way less than the sum of its parts.
            The film is crippled primarily by a pair of fatal flaws, namely, a glacial pace and a talky script laced with awkward dialogue. For, while it waits for something, anything of consequence to transpire, the audience is force fed lots of inexplicably stilted lines like, “You are a man of impeccable taste” and “I intend to love you ‘til the day I die.”
            Worse, these corny quips are generally delivered with so little conviction that you never know whether you’re supposed to laugh or take them seriously. The actors’ inscrutably-flat affect invariably comes off as tongue-in-cheek impersonations of characters right out of a typical Damon Runyon yarn.   
            The picture’s farfetched plot revolves around a nameless lawyer, referred to only as “The Counselor” (Fassbender), a guy whose greed is getting the better of him. At the point of departure, we find the avaricious attorney head-over-heels in love with Laura (Cruz), an exotic beauty he plans to propose to with an expensive diamond ring he can’t really afford.
            For reasons that never quite make sense, this man of few words soon seeks to supplement his income by getting mixed up in a dangerous Mexican drug trade known for its ever-escalating body count. He’s offered a start in the business by Reiner (Bardem), a flamboyant dealer with a flashier girlfriend (Diaz).
            Ignoring repeated warnings from a low-key middleman (Pitt) that entering the narcotics underworld is akin to stepping in quicksand, the Counselor decides that the extra cash is worth a one-time risk. The game plan is to deliver a sewage truck with over 20,000 ounces of coke across the border and North to Chicago in return for a big payday.        
            But the pivotal question remains: will he be able to avoid becoming a statistic in a bloody turf war where ruthless gangs don’t give a second thought about beheading a rival? A highly-stylized borefest featuring blasé individuals overindulging in gratuitous violence and a coarse brand of casual sensuality.

Fair (1.5 stars)
Rated R for profanity, sexuality, graphic violence and grisly images
Running time: 111 minutes
Distributor: 20th Century Fox

To see a trailer for The Counselor, visit:  

Saturday, October 26, 2013


The Heat
DVD Review by Kam Williams

Bullock and McCarthy Paired as Unlikely Partners in Good Cop-Bad Cop Comedy

            FBI Agent Sarah Ashburn (Sandra Bullock) has been dispatched to Boston where she’s assigned to apprehend a ruthless drug kingpin. However, her boss is concerned about the uptight, 12-year veteran’s horrible habit of rubbing her relatively-relaxed colleagues the wrong way.
            Sure enough, upon arriving in Beantown, the proper Yale grad manages to irritate her new partner even before they’re formally introduced, when the two have a spat over a spot in a police precinct parking lot. Sarah subsequently meets foul-mouthed Shannon Mullins (Melissa McCarthy), a hard-nosed city cop working a beat on a rough side of town.
            They still grudgingly agree to investigate the narcotics case together, and it doesn’t take long for their contrasting law enforcement styles to generate a lot of friction. Nerdy Sarah tends to play it by the book while Dirty Harry-like Shannon could care less about following the rules or respecting suspects’ rights. Nevertheless, they’re soon following a trail of clues that takes them from a seedy nightclub to a rundown tenement to an abandoned warehouse along the waterfront.
            Thus unfolds The Heat, a good cop-bad cop comedy reuniting director Paul Feig with Melissa McCarthy, the relentlessly-raunchy scene-stealer who upstaged the rest of the ensemble in his equally-hilarious Bridesmaids. Here, McCarthy holds her own in a lead role opposite Sandra Bullock, with the pair generating just the right chemistry as terminally-mismatched partners.
            Though the talented supporting cast includes Marlon Wayans, Michael Rapaport and Jane Curtin, make no mistake, this flick is all about the witty repartee between the protagonists. Typical is this salty exchange coming in close quarters, where Sarah’s complaint “Your breast is invading my space.” is met by Shannon’s fair warning to “Keep your finger off my areola.”
            In another scene, Sarah blushes while Shannon plays a game of Russian roulette with a pistol pointed directly at a perp’s gonads. Despite all the bawdy jokes, The Heat is grounded by a sensitive storyline that actually has you investing emotionally in the characters.
            So, expect to shed a few tears by the end of this two-fisted tale of female empowerment about a pair of polar-opposite lady lawmen who set aside their differences to get their man while forging an enduring friendship worthy of a sequel.

Excellent (4 stars)
Rated R for violence, crude humor and pervasive profanity, plus unrated version
Running time: 117 minutes
Distributor: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
Blu-Ray/DVD Combo Pack Extras: Bloopers; deleted, alternate and extended scenes; 5 commentaries; Acting Master Class; and Mullins Family Fun.

To see a trailer for The Heat, visit: 



DVD Review by Kam Williams

Killed Cop Rises from Dead in Zany Zombie Comedy

            Veteran detective Nick Walker (Ryan Reynolds) is very content between his 15-year career with the Boston Police Department and being happily-married to the love of his life, Julia (Stefanie Szostak). However, his American Dream is irreversibly ruined the fateful day he is assigned to bring down a drug cartel conducting business out of an abandoned factory along the waterfront.
            For, greed gets the best of his partner, Bobby (Kevin Bacon), after the ensuing shootout, when he discovers a stash of gold artifacts. And instead of taking the antique ingots back to headquarters, he decides to shoot Nick dead and blame the murder on the bad guys. To add insult to injury, Bobby not only consoles Julia but he even has the temerity to put the moves on the grieving widow.
            Meanwhile, Nick finds himself neither in Heaven nor Hell, but in a police purgatory where a proctor (Mary-Louise Parker) offers him a chance to return to Earth as a member of a squad of zombie cops called the Rest in Peace Department (R.I.P.D.). He leaps at the opportunity, and is immediately paired with a late, Old West lawman named Roycephus Pulsipher (Jeff Bridges).
            The grizzled gunslinger grudgingly agrees to work with a partner for the first time, and in the blink of an eye the two are teleported back to Beantown to round up renegade dead souls who have somehow evaded the afterlife. There, Nick conveniently also has an opportunity to check in on Julia and plot his revenge on Bobby.
            Like a poor man’s version of Men in Black, R.I.P.D. is a disappointing action comedy both in terms of action and comedy. Think “ghost” instead of “alien” adversaries and you have the basic idea of what director Robert Schwentke was going for.
            Unfortunately, the obsolete special f/x leave a lot to be desired, and the corny jokes just fall flat. Another major structural flaw is the lack of chemistry between the protagonists, a no-no in any unlikely-buddies adventure. Ryan Reynolds looks lost opposite the drawling, generally unintelligible Jeff Bridges who behaves like he’s still on the set of True Grit.
            R.I.P.D. is D.O.A.!

Fair (1 star)
Rated PG-13 for violence, profanity, sensuality and sexual references
Running Time: 96 minutes
Distributor: Universal Studios Home Entertainment
Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack Extras: 2 alternate endings; R.I.P.D. Motion Comics; Nick’s New Avatars; Filming the Other Side; Walking among Us: Deados and Avatars; Anatomy of a Shootout; deleted and alternate scenes; gag reel; and The Making of R.I.P.D. featurette.

To see a trailer for R.I.P.D., visit:    

Top Ten DVD Releasest for 10-29-13

This Week’s DVD Releases
by Kam Williams

Top Ten DVD List for October 29, 2013                       

Twelve Years a Slave: Solomon Northrup’s Odyssey

Norman Rockwell Presents: Coming Home for Christmas

Cook’s Country: Season Six

Out in the Dark

Storm Rider

Monsters University

Family Tree: The Complete First Season

Scoot & Kassie’s Christmas Adventure


All Hallows' Eve

Honorable Mention

Elves in Toyland

Free Samples

A Present for Santa

Bounty Killer