Saturday, May 31, 2014

The Life and Crimes of Doris Payne (FILM REVIEW)

The Life and Crimes of Doris Payne
Film Review by Kam Williams

Dubious Documentary Celebrates Checkered Career of African-American Jewel Thief

            Doris Payne was born black back in 1930 in Slab Fork, West Virginia where she was raised during the Jim Crow era of racial segregation. Besides having to withstand withering bigotry and racial discrimination as a child, she grew up in a dysfunctional family where her father routinely beat her mother right in front of her face.
            That might help explain her turning to crime at an early age, starting with stealing a diamond from a department store, fencing it, and using the funds to help her mom escape the abusive marriage. Unfortunately, Doris didn’t stop there, but took to jewel thievery like a fish to water, gradually escalating to seven figure takes by targeting upscale retailers like Cartier and Tiffany.  
Her modus operandi involved gaining the confidence of a gullible store clerk before resorting to distracting devices such as sleight of hand and dizzying hand jive. That reprehensible behavior kept the sticky-fingered felon forever on the run from authorities as she netted millions in gems over the course of a checkered career spanning six decades and counting.
Specializing in identity theft, Doris was an expert at impersonating wealthy socialites in exotic locales, as she did on Monaco where she passed herself off as the wife of movie director Otto Preminger. Overall, she‘s employed at least 20 aliases, 11 Social Security numbers and 9 passports in pursuit of ill-gotten gems. Brief stints in prison couldn’t cure Doris’ compulsive kleptomania, which is why she’s presently doing time behind bars for purloining a precious stone worth 22Gs just last year.
            Co-directed by Matthew Pond and Kirk Marcolina, The Life and Crimes of Doris Payne is a documentary of dubious intentions which futilely endeavors to paint an empathetic picture of an unrepentant octogenarian who simply fails to earn the audience’s respect. After all, her odious line of work has serious consequences not only for herself but for others, as was the case with a tearful clerk seen here who was fired for being fleeced by the wily old recidivist.
Doris Payne, an unappealing, un-role model who stole millions from the rich and simply frittered it away on herself in decadent fashion.

Very Good (2.5 stars)
Running time: 74 minutes
Distributor: Film Forum

To see a trailer for The Life and Crimes of Doris Payne, visit:      

Top Ten DVD Releases for 6-3-14

This Week’s DVD Releases
by Kam Williams

Top Ten DVD List for June 3, 2014                      

Nova: Inside Animal Minds

What’s in a Name?

Unsung Heroes: The Story of America’s Female Patriots

True Blood: The Complete Sixth Season

Barbary Coast

TINY: A Story about Living Small

TB: Silent Killer

Breaking Through

Nature: Snow Monkeys

Pretty Little Liars: The Complete Fourth Season

Honorable Mention

Axel: The Biggest Little Hero

Lone Survivor

Peter Brook: The Tightrope

Falling Skies: The Complete Third Season

Suits: Season Three

Dragons: Defenders of Berk [Part Two]

New Tricks: Season Ten


In the Blood

Warehouse 13: Season Five

Beyond the Trophy

Covert Affairs: Season Four

Fun in Boys Shorts

The Odd Way Home
Against the Wild

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Lone Survivor (DVD REVIEW)

Lone Survivor
DVD Review by Kam Williams

Oscar-Nominated Adaptation of Afghan War Memoir Arrives on DVD

            On June 28, 2005, a team of Navy SEALs based in Afghanistan were issued orders in accordance with Operation Red Wings to locate and terminate a Taliban leader whose militia had been targeting coalition troops in the Kush Mountains of Kunar Province. The four were then dropped by helicopter line into rugged terrain outside the tiny village suspected of harboring Al-Qaida sympathizers.
            Soon, the soldiers crossed paths with several shepherds and, against their better judgment, allowed the seemingly innocuous civilians to continue on their way in accordance with the U.S. military’s rules of engagement. Unfortunately, about an hour later, the SEALs found themselves ambushed by over a hundred Taliban fighters who had apparently been tipped off as to their whereabouts.
            The ensuing, epic battle is the subject of Lone Survivor, a gruesome war flick based on Marcus Luttrell’s (Mark Wahlberg) memoir of the high attrition-rate, harrowing ordeal. Adapted and directed by Peter Berg (Battleship), the picture was nominated for Academy Awards in the Best Sound and Best Sound Mixing categories.
            Given this movie’s spoiler of a title, there isn’t any suspense about how the disastrous misadventure is going to end. Consequently, the viewing experience amounts to little more than squirming in your seat while watching members of Luttrell’s unit perish, as well as over a dozen of the reinforcements sent to try to rescue them.
            A practically-pornographic tribute to fearless, fallen heroes strictly for patriots with a strong stomach for gratuitous violence, however accurate. 

Good (2 stars)
Rated R for graphic violence and pervasive profanity
Running time: 122 minutes
Distributor: Universal Studios Home Entertainment
Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack Extras: Will of the Warrior; Recreating the Firefight; Learning the Basics; The Pashtun Code of Life; Bringing the Story to Light; and The Fallen Heroes of Operation Red Wings. 

To see a trailer for Lone Survivor, visit:

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Kam's Movie Kapsules for 6-6-14

Kam's Kapsules:      
Weekly Previews That Make Choosing a Film Fun         
by Kam Williams
For movies opening June 6, 2014


Edge of Tomorrow (PG-13 for profanity, intense violence and brief sensuality) Infinite loop sci-fi starring Tom Cruise as the recently-deceased soldier called upon to travel back in time repeatedly to defend the planet against a bloodthirsty race of aliens bent on world domination. With Emily Blunt, Bill Paxton and Brendan Gleeson.

The Fault in Our Stars (PG-13 for sexuality, brief profanity and mature themes)    
Screen adaptation of John Green’s #1 best-seller about the bittersweet romance which blossoms between a terminally-ill teenager (Shailene Woodley) and a patient in remission (Ansel Elgort) she meets at a cancer support group. With Willem Dafoe, Laura Dern, Nat Wolff and Mike Birbiglia.


2 Autumns, 3 Winters (Unrated) Romantic dramedy about a 33 year-old bachelor (Vincent Macaigne) who divides his time between wooing a cynical woman (Maud Wyler) he meets while jogging in the park and caring for his BFF (Bastion Bouillon) after a stroke. With Thomas Blanchard, Audrey Bastien and Pauline Etienne. (In French with subtitles)

Borgman (Unrated) Jan Bijvoet stars in the title role of this psychological thriller as a hobo who destabilizes the upper-class family that befriends him. Support cast includes Hadewych Minis, Jeroen Perceval and Alex van Warmerdam. (In English and Dutch with subtitles)

Burning Blue (R for profanity, sexuality and graphic nudity) Out of the closet drama about a couple of Navy pilots (Trent Ford and Morgan Spector) whose lives and careers are turned upside-down when their forbidden love affair becomes public knowledge. Featuring Rob Mays, William Lee Scott and Tammy Blanchard.

Citizen Koch (Unrated) The Koch brothers are the focus of this eye-opening expose illustrating the expanding influence of rich individuals on American elections in the wake of the Supreme Court decision in Citizens United liberalizing the amount of money corporations can contribute to political campaigns.

The Moment (Unrated) Psychological thriller about a photographer (Jennifer Jason Leigh) in a tumultuous affair who lands in a mental hospital following the mysterious disappearance of her troubled boyfriend (Martin Henderson) only to be befriended there by a fellow patient who bears an uncanny resemblance to her missing beau. With Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Alia Shawkat and Meatloaf.

Obvious Child (R for profanity and sensuality) Romantic comedy, set in Brooklyn, about an aspiring comedienne (Jenny Slate) who’s left reeling by being fired, dumped and knocked up until she meets a perfect gentleman (Jake Lacy) on what promises to be either her best or worst Valentine’s Day ever. With Gaby Hoffmann, Richard Kind, Polly Draper and Cindy Cheung.

Ping Pong Summer (Unrated) Coming-of-age comedy, set in 1985, revolving around a 13 year-old kid (Marcello Conte) who becomes obsessed with hip-hop and table tennis during a vacation spent with his family in Ocean City Maryland. Co-starring Susan Sarandon, Amy Sedaris and Judah Friedlander.

Rigor Mortis (Unrated) Haunted house horror flick set in a Hong Kong tenement tower whose creepy occupants include zombies, ghosts and vampires. Ensemble includes Anthony Chan, Siu-Ho Chin, Kara Hui, Hoi-Pang Lo and Richard Ng. (In Cantonese with subtitles)  

The Sacrament (R for profanity, violence, disturbing images and brief drug use) Macabre horror flick about a fashion photographer (Kentucker Audley) whose search for his missing sister (Amy Seimetz) leads to a supposedly utopian commune with a charismatic guru (Gene Jones). Featuring Joe Swanberg, Kate Lyn Sheil, AJ Bowen and Derek Roberts.     

Supermensch (R for nudity, profanity, sexual references and drug use) Mike Myers makes his directorial debut with this reverential documentary highlighting the career of Shep Gordon, the legendary super agent-turned-Buddhist who managed the careers of such music icons as Pink Floyd, Luther Vandross, Alice Cooper and Teddy Pendergrass.

Trust Me (R for profanity) Hollywood satire chronicling the cutthroat competition between two agents (Clark Gregg and Sam Rockwell) to sign a budding young starlet (Saxon Sharbino). With Felicity Huffman, Allison Janney, William H. Macy, Niecy Nash, Amanda Peet and Molly Shannon. 

Panathenee (EP MUSIC REVIEW)

EP by Jim Cassady & Pablo
Review by Kam Williams

 Talented French Tech Duo Releases Ethereal EP of Mesmerizing Electronic Music  

            Sounding like a compelling cross of the Kraftwerk and Bryan Ferry, a couple of young Frenchmen based in Berlin, Jim Cassady & Pablo, have collaborated to produce an album of mesmerizing electronic music. Recently released on the European label Humble Musique, the ethereal EP contains a quartet of instrumentals augmented by just enough human backing vocals to ground the otherwise otherworldy tracks with a sultry, softening human touch.
The smooth grooves are definitely danceable, yet reflect the complexity of the talented combo’s eclectic influences, ranging from Mozart to Monk to Coltrane to Hendrix. Keyboardist Jim’s job is to endlessly explore pleasant melodies while also maintaining the rhythm. Improvisation is the ostensibly the passion of Pablo, a self-taught guitarist who breaks all the rules he’s better off having never learned.
Since beauty is not only in the eye of the beholder, but in the ear of the behearer, may I simply suggest you click on the links below to check out these talented, hi-tech troubadours. I hope that you enjoy them as much as I do, so that they might be venture to these shores to stage their first concert in the  U.S.   
Appreciate Jim Cassady & Pablo now and avoid the rush!

To hear a sample of Jim Cassady & Pablo’s music, visit:

To see a live performance by Jim Cassady & Pablo, visit:
To order a copy of singles from Panathenee or the entire EP, visit:

Tuesday, May 27, 2014


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Amma Asante (INTERVIEW)

Amma Asante
The “Belle” Interview
with Kam Williams

Amma’s Good Karma

Writer/director Amma Asante made an unusual entry into filmmaking. As a child, she attended the Barbara Speake stage school in London, where she trained as a student in dance and drama. 
She began a television career as a child actress, appearing as a regular in the popular British school drama “Grange Hill.” She fronted the ‘Just Say No” campaign of the 1980s and was one of nine “Grange Hill” children to take it to the Reagan White House. Amma went on to gain credits in other British television series including “Desmond's” and “Birds of a Feather,” and was a Children's Channel presenter for a year.
In her late teens, Amma left the world of acting and made the move to screenwriting with a development deal from Chrysalis. Two series of the urban drama “Brothers and Sisters” followed which she wrote and produced for the BBC.
Amma’s made her feature film directorial debut in 2004 with A Way of Life which won her 17 international awards including The BFI London Film Festival's inaugural Alfred Dunhill UK Film Talent Award, created to recognize the achievements of a new or emerging British writer/director who has shown great skill and imagination in bringing originality and verve to filmmaking. Additionally Asante collected The Times ‘Breakthrough Artist of the Year’ at the prestigious South Bank Show Awards for writing and directing the film.
At the BAFTA Film Awards in February 2005, Asante received the BAFTA Carl Foreman Award for Special Achievement by a Writer/Director in a Debut Film. On the same night, she scored a double triumph at the 2005 Miami International Film Festival, winning the award for ‘Best Dramatic Feature in World Cinema’ and the FIPRESCI (International Federation of Film Critics) prize for ‘Best Feature Film.’
Amma was born in London in 1969 and is married to Soren Kragh Pedersen, the Europol Chief of Media and Public Relations. Here, she talks about her new film, Belle, a fact-based, historical drama starring Gugu Mbatha-Raw about the daughter of an African slave and a British ship captain who was raised in England as an aristocrat.

Kam Williams: Hi Amma. I’m honored to have this opportunity.
Amma Asante: Thank you very much, Kam. It’s my pleasure.  

KW: I told my readers I’d be speaking with you, so I’ll be mixing in their questions with some of my own.
AA: Okay, cool.

KW: Children’s book author Irene Smalls asks: Where did you find this story and what motivated you to turn it into a movie? 
AA: Well, the story comes from the painting that emerges at the end of the film.
[ ] My producer [Damian Jones] sent me a postcard of the picture. I knew immediately that this was an unusual painting and that there was something very special about it, because I had recently been to an art exhibition in Amsterdam that was looking at the history of people of color in art from the 14th Century. What I learned from the show, without knowing that this postcard was ever going to fall into my lap, was that people of color were generally used as accessories in paintings. We were there to express the status of the main subject of the canvas. We’d always be positioned lower than and looking up in awe at the protagonist and never looking out at the painter. But in this postcard, everything was the opposite. There was Dido Belle staring out at the painter, positioned slightly higher than Elizabeth [her white cousin] whose arm was reaching out to Dido, and thereby drawing your eyes towards Dido. So, I saw an opportunity to create a story that would be a combination of race, politics, art and history. And it went from there, with lots and lots of research.

KW: I don’t agree with the assumption of Irene’s next question. Why did you focus on the love story instead of the historical significance?
AA: I disagree with her as well. I think the historical significance was to bring the two people in the love story together. What I tried to do was to use the legal case of the Zong Massacre and the painting itself as tools to explore Dido Elizabeth Belle’s journey. They feed into her being able to find her voice and into her coming to a place where she experiences self-love. So, I would say that that’s at the center of the film, the love story between Dido and herself. Everything else kind of sits around that idea of a young woman coming into her own.

KW: Irene was also wondering whether there might be a sequel in the works.
AA: [Chuckles] No, there isn’t. I feel like this painting fell into my lap because this story needed to be told by me. I believe I was blessed to have the opportunity to be able put this story together and bring it to the screen. But I feel that my role is completed now, and I’d have to leave a sequel to someone else.

KW: Editor/Legist Patricia Turnier says: I was very impressed that this elaborate costume drama/historical biopic was just your second feature film. 
AA: Thank you, Patricia. I knew that I wanted my second film to be big and lush and important, and that I wanted it to make a statement. That’s why it took those eight years to get from my first to my second feature. I always knew I had it in me. I just had to persuade the financiers as well. I think feature films are about the confidence you have in bringing your vision to fruition. 

KW: When I interviewed Gugu, she gave me the idea that you definitely had a vision of what you were trying to achieve, and also that she felt very comfortable in your hands.
AA: Oh, that’s nice of her to say. It was important to me for the cast to feel safe in my hands. I was very open to collaborating with them, but they also knew that I had a very, very strong vision for this story that I wanted to tell.

KW: She goes on to say: Given that I speak French, I am curious to know where the French last name of Dido Elizabeth Belle comes from?
AA: Dido was born to a West African woman who was sold into slavery. I named the film Belle to honor both Dido and her mother, Maria. But we don’t know how she came to have the surname Belle.

KW: Patricia says: I saw the movie in Quebec in English but I hope the movie will be translated soon into French and other languages to allow the Francophony and other cultures to discover it.
AA: Absolutely! The film has been translated ad is being released in France in a few months’ time.  
KW: Patricia also asks:  Why do you think that the story of Belle remained unknown, despite the painting of her?
AA: That’s a very interesting question. I’m 44 years-old now, and I grew up not knowing anything about it. But young girls and boys in England today are being taught about Dido Belle. You can read about elements of her life in various books that have been published. What there wasn’t until our film was the quintessential story that pieced together Dido’s life. Since the film does contain some elements of fiction, Damian and I decided to commission Paula Byrne to write an absolutely historically-accurate version of Dido’s life in book form, also called “Belle.”  

KW: Harriet Pakula-Teweles asks: How do you feel about the compliment that “The movie Belle has a woman’s touch and is a woman’s movie.”
AA: I like that compliment! And I thank whoever gave it. What I wanted to do was put a woman of color, front and center, in this movie combining a lot of themes that were relevant to both men and women. I actively wanted her to carry the weight of this movie because I’m a woman. And I actively wanted to explore many of the issues that affected her as a woman of color. That was very important to me. And although these issues affect some women of color, I don’t think they’re only of interest to women of color. They’re of universal interest. In addition, I’m a girl, and I celebrate being a girl, and it was really important to me to celebrate the beauty that I could create in a movie like this, aesthetically, in terms of the costumes and the production design. I wanted something big and lush and beautiful and unashamedly feminine. So, I take that as a big compliment, Harriet.

KW: The Uduak Oduok question: Who is your favorite clothes designer?
AA: Oh my God! You’d be forcing me to really nail my flag to the mast. But I have a few. Chanel! I love and adore Chanel. I’m a huge Christian Dior fan. And I’m also a huge Yves St. Laurent fan.  

KW: Three classics!
AA: I’m just a classic gal!

KW: Editor Lisa Loving asks: What is your take on the blossoming genre of films about the African Diaspora during the Trans Atlantic Slave Trade? Do you expect to see more films about this aspect of history made?
AA: I think we will because, every so many years, a filmmaker returns to the subject. Interestingly, I also sense that a wider feed is coming through in these stories. I cried watching The Butler, because I understood that with all these wonderful films like Mandela, 12 Years a Slave and Half of a Yellow Sun that a beautiful tapestry of our history was in the process of being woven all over the world. I found that very inspiring and started to weep because I realized that Belle would be a part of that tapestry. What I hope is that this wider pattern that’s emerging isn’t just a fad but evidence that we’ve turned a corner as filmmakers of color and that we’re moving forward in our confidence and in the film industry not being afraid of our telling these stories and in giving us the opportunity to bring our vision to the screen.

KW: Lisa also asks: Did you find Tarantino’s Django Unchained gratuitously violent?
AA: I don’t think it’s for me to comment on how other directors choose to bring their visions to fruition. You can watch Belle to see what I think my film needed to communicate its message about slavery. For me, I found it unnecessary to show any great violence. However, Quentin Tarantino did find it necessary for his film, and I have to respect his decision as one filmmaker respecting another. I’ll leave it at that.

KW: The Harriet Pakula-Teweles question: With so many classic films being redone, is there a remake you'd like to direct?
AA: Well, there is. And I just bought the rights to the project two days ago. It’s a remake of a fabulous French film. I can’t give it away, but stay tuned.

KW: The Ling-Ju Yen question: What is your earliest childhood memory?
AA: My earliest childhood memory I actually injected into Belle. It’s of me sitting on my dad’s lap. I remember him saying to me, “You don’t understand what I’m saying to you right now, but know that you are loved.” That’s where that line comes from in the movie where Dido’s biological father leans down to say the same thing to her. Belle is also dedicated to my father who died unexpectedly during the making of the film. It’s a movie that means a lot to me because I made it not only for little girls around the world who grew up to see themselves reflected in a film like this, but also for my father because it was the kind of picture he would love, even if his daughter had nothing to do with it. So, my earliest memory of him is in the movie.

KW: My condolences, Amma. Is it true that your father was an accountant, your mother was a housekeeper, and that they also opened a deli?
AA: Yes, that’s correct. After my parents arrived in England, it took them a decade to get a foothold. It meant that they had to work non-stop. My mother would do two cleaning jobs in the morning before opening her deli, and then do two more cleaning jobs in the evening. Her whole day, from 4:30 AM until 9 PM was spent working, as was my father’s, between the office and the shop.

KW: You became a TV star as a teenager. How did you avoid the problems that destroy the lives of so many child actors?
AA: Again, I would honestly have to credit my parents, Kwame and Comfort, who ensured that my feet as well as my siblings stayed firmly on the ground. So, I was very well-rooted. I also learned the value of money from a very young age. I thank God for that.

KW: What is your favorite dish to cook?
AA: Jollof rice, a very popular Ghanain dish I learned from my mother. It’s a mixture of rice and vegetables that you can make with either chicken or beef. It’s great because it was designed to give a child or an adult all the nutrients they need in one dish. And it is my absolute favorite!

KW: When you look in the mirror, what do you see?
AA: I see the woman I knew I wanted to be as a child. When I was a young girl, I had a vision of the woman I wanted to be. And I often reached out to women of color in America for inspiration. My mother would regularly buy Essence and Ebony. I would look at those magazines filled with images of professional, intelligent women of color who knew who they were, who enjoyed who they were, and who were surrounded by other people who enjoyed who they were. When I look in the mirror, I’m really glad that that’s what I see today, but it took awhile to get here.

KW: Is there any question no one ever asks you, that you wish someone would?
AA: I would have to say “No.” But before Belle, I would have answered “Yes.” The great thing about this movie is that I’ve put so much of myself on the table, and put so much of my guts into the movie that I’ve really worn my heart on my sleeve, and everybody has really gotten access to my heart and my head. Many of the questions from your readers have been great. But I would like to turn the question around and ask you: Is there any question you have for me that you might be too shy to ask?

KW: Funny you should ask. I do have a few I’d decided against. Here’s one: Would you mind saying something controversial that would get this interview tweeted?
AA: [LOL] Yes, I would mind.

KW: Another one I was planning to pass on was the Sanaa Lathan question: What excites you?
AA: I really can answer that one. Sitting in the back row of a full audience watching one of my movies, and hearing them cry and hearing them laugh in the right moments, particularly when they laugh at a line I’ve stolen from one of my family members and put in the film. That excites me a great deal. And that’s an honest answer.

KW: I also hesitated to ask you the Melissa Harris-Perry question: How did your first big heartbreak impact who you are as a person?
AA: My first big heartbreak has made me an irrepressible romantic. I was lucky enough to date my first love for five years. We had a very romantic, very dramatic teenage love affair. And it has impacted me because I have married a man who is simply the grownup version of my first love. So, I believe my first love was just preparing me for the man I’m married to today. And it has also impacted the way I write, because there will always be a love story in every movie I write. Always! I think having a positive first love experience before the heartbreak made me a more confident in who I am, a more confident female today. That might be controversial. 

KW: If you could have one wish instantly granted, what would that be for?
AA: A child. I’ve been trying for a child with my husband for a long time, for over eight years. And if I could have one wish instantly granted, it would be to be pregnant with a healthy baby.

KW: I know his name is Soren. What type of name is that? Swedish?
AA: Close. He’s Danish.

KW: The Kerry Washington question: If you were an animal, what animal would you be?
AA: A panther! Dangerous and beautiful.

KW: The Judyth Piazza question: What key quality do you believe all successful people share? 
AA: The ability to inspire, to transfer our passion to other people and to bring them along with us in pursuit of our vision. I have to be able to inspire investors, actors and crews on a daily basis. What I recognize in other successful people is a similar ability to make their passion infectious.

KW: Thanks again for the time, Amma, and best of luck with Belle.
AA: Thank you, Kam. It’s been great to talk to you.

To see a trailer for Belle, visit: