Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Maggie Betts

The “Novitiate” Interview
with Kam Williams

Betting on Maggie!

Maggie Betts is a native New Yorker and graduate of Princeton University. In 2011, she completed her first documentary, The Carrier, chronicling the plight of an HIV+ pregnant woman in rural Zambia. After premiering at the Tribeca Film Festival, the film went on to play in numerous other locales on the festival circuit.

In 2014, Maggie finished her first short film, Engram, about the romantic nature of memory. Here, she talks about writing and directing Novitiate, which marks her feature-length narrative debut.

Kam Williams: Hi Maggie. I'm honored to have this opportunity to speak with you.
Maggie Betts: Oh, thank you so much for wanting to speak with me, Kam. Actually, it's a pleasure.

KW: The movie's amazing. And congratulations on winning the Breakthrough Director award at Sundance.
MB: Thank you. Thanks a lot.

KW: What inspired you to write Novitiate? After all, it takes place before you were even born, in the Sixties, during a period of upheaval in Catholicism because of the modernizing changes in the church as a result of the Second Ecumenical Council, better known as Vatican II.
MB: It was all sort of accidental. About six years ago, I picked up this biography of Mother Teresa in an airport, just because I was curious about her. The book was really just a collection of letters she had written over the course of her life. The book is beautiful.

KW: They made it into a movie called The Letters.
MB: I haven't seen the movie yet, but I heard it's great. All the letters were focused on her love relationship with God. It was intense, powerful and, at times, completely debilitating, and at other times, completely uplifting. The book was truly a love story. I had never really conceptualized the fact that someone could have an intense and complicated love relationship with God. And I hadn't even known that nuns were married to God. So, just that one concept, which really moved me, inspired me to do lots and lots of research. I started reading memoirs by ex-nuns.

KW: I would guess they're pretty rare.
MB: No, there are way more than you would ever imagine. Most of the more popular ones were coming-of-age memoirs written by women who left right around the time of Vatican II. Initially, I was just curious about the lives of nuns, so i bought all these books. But then Vatican II emerged as an inescapable element of that history and that story, sort of like the result of the domino effect of the research.

KW: Well, the film certainly feels very authentic, as it offers such a rich and revealing look into this Sister Cathleen's life. It made me think it might be based on a real-life person.
MB: It took all the common elements out of 30 or 40 biographies. The nuns' individual stories are very different, yet there are certain themes that run throughout. So, I kinda compiled all these memoirs and created my own story from their common experiences by exploring the common themes.

KW: How did you manage to craft such a convincing tale?
MB: Although I didn't go through the training to become a nun back in the Sixties, and I'm not even religious, there's something universal about that coming-of-age moment that's no different in this movie than it would be for a young woman who goes off to college or for a year-long trip to a foreign country. It's the age when you're sort of figuring out who you are. That's what transpires in this movie, and it just happens to take place in the context of a convent.

KW: What message do you hope people will take away from the film?
MB: I really just want people to come away from the film thinking, "These are really complicated women." I wanted to present an alternative to the one-dimensional images of nuns presented in pop culture. What I learned from my research was that they're incredibly fascinating women leading complicated lives. There's a whole canon of films that, as soon as you see a nun in a habit, has you conjuring up an image of someone who's really holy, or really mean. In truth, they're dynamic women with a whole range of emotions and personas. I'll never look at nuns the same way again. And when you realize how tough their lives were, your admiration for their commitment to their faith becomes undying. I do hope that people who see the film feel a deep admiration for this lost community of women which is pretty much dying out now.

KW: I certainly have them to thank for my excellent education from kindergarten through 8th grade.
MB: We don't credit their academic achievements enough. But it was really nuns who, from the turn of the 20th Century, advanced the entire Catholic school system which, by the Fifties and Sixties, was the best private education you could get in this country. They were incredible educators and achievers. The parochial school system was pretty amazing.

KW: Editor/Legist Patricia Turnier says: Given that your latest film concerns women, I'd love to raise this issue with a female director: In 2010, at the Academy Awards, Kathryn Bigelow broke the glass ceiling with her movie, The Hurt Locker. She became the first woman in history to win an Academy Award for Best Director. The Canadian filmmaker Deepa Mehta had earned a Best Foreign Language Film Oscar nomination in 2007. Her movie, Water, which focused on women issues. What do you think it will take for female filmmakers to get greater recognition for projects focusing on women’s issues?
MB: Look, 52 or 53% of the population is women. So, first and foremost, women should support films made by women and movies with female narratives. If the Hollywood system sees that it can profit from female-centric stories, then they will start making more of them. There's a confusing belief that movies made by women for women about women aren't going to make money. But there's no basis for that thinking, and everything from Bridesmaids to Wonder Woman to Girls Trip keeps proving otherwise. Women just need to keep going to female-driven films to keep showing Hollywood that these are the pictures that we like.

KW: Patricia also says: I am from a generation that grew up with plenty of biracial people. Beyond the Lights was the first movie I saw where the main character of the film, an African-American woman, had a white mother. I think we do not see enough diversity in movies. Do you have any desire to develop stories related to that in your future projects? If so, is there one in particular dear to your heart?
MB: Yes, I'm actually the product of a biracial marriage. The other project I considered before committing to Novitiate was Loving. I'm sure Patricia's familiar with it. [Director] Jeff Nichols ended up making a beautiful movie. Being biracial in this day and age, when you get to the topic of race, you really want to say something powerful. So, it's a subject that I'm really looking forward to dealing with, but it needs to be exactly right in terms of what I have to share, coming from my unique background.

KW: Was there a meaningful spiritual component to your childhood?
MB: Yes, my mother's deeply religious. My dad's somewhat religious, too, but he didn't want to waste any time he had with his kids, since he worked really hard and only had the weekends with us. But going to church and being active in her religion was so important to my mom that I was well aware of her relationship with God. As a child, I interpreted it as her longing for this other person. In a way, I made Novitiate for my mom, in order to investigate what that loss meant to her. Spirituality was a part of my life from very early on. I was always talking to God, even though I didn't go to church.

KW: Patricia wants to know whether Novitiate will be presented at any more film festivals with cast members in attendance?
MB: I know that we're showing the picture in quite a number of film festivals and that I'm going to one in Poland, but I don't actually have the answer to that question. If you pay attention to Sony Pictures Classics' Facebook page and website, you'll get some answers. They update them pretty regularly.

KW: Ling-Ju Yen asks: What is your earliest childhood memory?
MB: I vaguely remember going to the circus and being so excited and happy when I was about 4. What I remember most about it was playing with this toy that had the Ringling Bros logo on it,

KW: Harriet Pakula-Teweles asks: Is there a classic film you'd like to remake?
MB: [Chuckles] Part of me was remaking my own version of The Nun's Story with Novitiate. It was one of my favorite movies growing up. As a kid, I was obsessed with Audrey Hepburn. I still am. She was my favorite. She was an icon I just fixated on. Halfway through writing Novitiate, I realized I was trying to write my own contemporary version of The Nun's Story. [Laughs some more] But I don't think there's a classic film I'd like to remake because I love the originals so much. What I like about a film the most is the director's vision and viewpoint, which is better than anyone else could do, because it's so specific to them.

KW: Finally, Samuel L. Jackson asks: What’s in your wallet?
MB: Well, there's some money, not much, my driver's license, a lot of business cards, and that's it.

KW: Thanks again for the time, Maggie, and I hope to get you on the phone again soon, because I have a lot more questions for you.
MB: Any time, Kam. You know where to find me. Thanks.

To see a trailer for Novitiate, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8kKexutLfE0

Monday, October 30, 2017


Film Review by Kam Williams

Holocaust Survivors Return to Hungarian Hometown in Poignant Postwar Drama

It is August 12, 1945. Japan is reeling and on the verge of surrender in the wake of atomic bomb attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. With Germany having surrendered to the Allies back in the spring, Europe is already in postwar mode, though not exactly at peace, as we are about to learn. 
For, this bright, summer day is when Samuel Hermann (Ivan Angelus) and his son (Marcell Nagy) disembark from a train that has just rolled into their rural Hungarian hometown. Oddly, their arrival doesn't inspire the locals to celebrate the fact that a couple of their Jewish neighbors carted away by the Nazis had miraculously survived the Holocaust. 
Instead, the easily identifiable Orthodox pair are greeted with suspicion, because their property had long since been appropriated by somebody in the tight-knit town. So, as they load their luggage onto a horse-drawn-carriage, the village notary (Peter Rudolf) directs the driver (Miklos B. Szekely) to go very slowly. 
The delay buys him the time to ride ahead and thereby serve as a latter-day Paul Revere to the rest of the community, warning, "They're here! Jews are back!" Among his ports-of-call is the drugstore the Hermanns had been forced to leave behind which is now in his own son's (Bence Tasnadi) hands. 
That is the compelling point of departure of 1945, one of the most intriguing Holocaust dramas to come along in years. After all, it addresses a question generally swept under the rug by historians, namely, what kind of reception awaited concentration camp internees who opted to repatriate rather than emigrate to Israel.

Directed by Ferenc Torok (Moscow Square), the film is based on "Homecoming," a short story by Gabor T. Szanto. The picture was shot in black & white, which serves to amplify the solemnity of the Hermanns as they walk in silence behind the deliberately-paced buggy.
Their dignified behavior cuts such a sharp contrast with that of the suddenly-alarmed citizens, most of whom respond by closing ranks and wondering how many other "interlopers" might soon assert claims to land they'd taken title to legally. 
A powerful parable of Biblical proportions, illustrating both man's inhumanity to man, as well as his capacity to forgive, if not necessarily to forget.

Excellent (4 stars)
In Black & White
In Hungarian and Russian with subtitles
Running time: 91 minutes
Production Studio: Katapult Film
Distributor: Menemsha Films

To see a trailer for 1945, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HCg3jVRX85A

Sunday, October 29, 2017


Blu-ray Review by Kam Williams

Halle Berry Chases Hillbillies in Revenge-Fueled Thriller

Karla (Halle Berry) is a stressed-out single-mom waitressing in a diner when she'd rather be spending more quality time with her young son, Frankie (Sage Correa). In fact, today, he's patiently waiting right there in the restaurant for her overtime shift to end.

After she finally gets off, the two drive to an amusement park for what promises to be a fun-filled afternoon. Trouble is, she's in the midst of bitter custody battle over Frankie with her vindictive ex-husband (Jason George). That explains why she wanders a few feet away for a little privacy when she gets a call from her divorce attorney. 
Unfortunately, it's enough of a distraction to afford a lurking kidnapper (Chris McGinn) an opportunity to pounce. Next thing you know, Margo's dragging the kid to a waiting getaway car with her husband Terry (Lew Temple) at the wheel.

Karla frantically rushes into the parking lot where she drops her cell phone before spotting a suspicious Mustang GT with tinted windows and no license plates peel rubber. At that point, her maternal instincts kick in, and she decides to pursue the perps despite the fact that she's driving a relatively-sluggish, Chrysler Town & Country.

What ensues is an extended chase scene that lasts the rests of the movie. So unfolds Kidnap, a low-budget variation of Baby Driver directed by Luis Prieto (Pusher). Although the plot arrives riddled with comical holes big enough for Karla to drive her minivan through, the picture nevertheless proves pretty compelling thanks to a combination of heart-pounding action and the protagonists convincing embodiment of pure desperation. 
It's Halle vs. hillbillies in a high-octane showdown where there's never a doubt about whether "Mommy Driver" will prevail.

Very Good (3 stars)
Rated R for violence, profanity and scenes of peril
Running time: 94 minutes
Production Studio: Well Go USA Entertainment /Gold Star/ 606 Films / Lotus Entertainment
Distributor: Universal Pictures Home Entertainment
Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack Extras: A Thrilling Behind-the-Scenes Look inside Kidnap

To see a trailer for Kidnap, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R-Ht8VRPRvU

To order a copy of the Kidnap Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack, visit:

Top Ten DVD List for October 31, 2017

This Week’s DVD Releases
by Kam Williams

Dawn of the Dead [Collector's Edition]

I Called Him Morgan [Jazz Great Biopic]

Land of the Dead [Collector's Edition]

Halo [The Complete Video Collection]

Humans 2.0 [Reboot. Recharge. Rebel.]

Kidnap [Halle Berry Revenge-Fueled Vigilante Thriller]

The Dark Tower [Stephen King Sci-Fi Saga]

The Good Catholic [What Is Your Passion?]

Evil in the Time of Heroes [Zombies in Ancient Greece]

Honorable Mention

American Masters: Edgar Allan Poe [Buried Alive]

Super Why! Sleeping Beauty [And Other Fairytale Adventures]

The Dark Tower

Blu-ray Review by Kam Williams

Hunky Idris Elba and Suave Matthew McConaughey Square Off in Stephen King Sci-Fi Thriller

Laurie Chambers (Katheryn Winnick) is understandably worried about her 11 year-old son's recurrent nightmares. After all, Jake's (Tom Taylor) becoming increasingly convinced of Earth's imminent demise. 
So, she takes him to a shrink who misdiagnoses the visions as delusional and has the kid committed to a mental health facility. Truth be told, Jake is indeed psychic and has accurately forecast an impending extinction level event. 
The planet's only hope of averting an apocalypse rests on the shoulders or, more precisely, on the trigger fingers of Roland Deschain (played by Idris Elba with that trademark gravitas). He's the last in a long line of gunslingers from another dimension who've been locked in mortal conflict with forces led by Walter Padick (capably played by the terminally-suave Matthew McConaughey), an evil sorcerer on a quest for infinite power. World domination is attainable should he reach the Dark Tower, the nexus between time and space located in a parallel universe called End-World. 
It's not long before these mysterious figures from Jake's dream begin to materialize on the streets of Manhattan. After Walter's minions murder his mom, the boy is rescued by Roland. The two soon escape through a portal to Mid-World where the epic battle to preserve life as we know it is set to unfold. 
That is the engaging point of departure of The Dark Tower, an ambitious adaptation of Stephen King's magnum opus of the same name. The sci-fi series was inspired by "Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came," a poem written by Robert Browning back in 1855. King also credits Tolkien's Lord of the Rings trilogy, Clint Eastwood's Spaghetti Westerns, and the Legend of King Arthur as major influences.

The Dark Tower took a rather circuitous route to the big screen. The story was originally optioned by J.J. Abrams in 2007. Ron Howard subsequently acquired the rights in 2010. However, the picture was ultimately written and directed by Nikolaj Arcel, whose A Royal Affair was nominated in 2013 for an Oscar in the Best Foreign Film category. 
This movie marks the great Dane's first foray into English , which helps explain why he sought help with the screenplay from a trio of scriptwriters, including Oscar-winner Akiva Goldsman (for A Beautiful Mind). The final production's pretty skittish, yet engaging enough to establish the franchise and leave you eagerly anticipating a sequel. 
The best sci-fi Western since Cowboys & Aliens!

Very Good (3 stars)
Rated PG-13 for action, gun violence and mature themes
Running time: 95 minutes
Production Studio: Sony / Media Rights Capital / Imagine Entertainment/ Weed Road
Distributor: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Extras: Deleted Scenes; Blooper Reel; A Look through the Keyhole; 5 Featurettes: “Last Time Around,” “The World Has Moved On," “The Man in Black,” “The Gunslinger in Action” and “Stephen King Inspirations.”

To see a trailer for The Dark Tower, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GjwfqXTebIY

To order a copy of The Dark Tower on Blu-ray, visit  


I Called Him Morgan

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Bebop Biopic Recounts Jazz Legend's Murder in Nightclub by Jealous Wife

Legendary jazz great Lee Morgan (1938-1972) was born and raised in Philadelphia where he received his first trumpet as a gift from his sister on his 13th birthday. He soon became a protege of Clifford Brown who would die in a car accident at the tender age of 25.

Lee passed away prematurely, too, though he was murdered by his common-law wife, Helen, in a fit of jealous rage. She blew him away in between sets at a Greenwich Village cabaret because not only was he cheating on her but had the temerity to bring his mistress with him to the club that night. 
Written and directed by Kasper Collin, I Called Him Morgan is a warts-and-all retrospective chronicling the highs and lows of Lee's checkered career. He enjoyed a meteoric rise as a member of Dizzy Gillespie's big band while still in his teens, only to eventually become broke because of a heroin habit that made him so unreliable that nobody in the music industry would hire him anymore.

Upon bottoming out, Lee was lucky to meet Helen, a woman 14 years his senior who put him in rehab and let him move into her Manhattan apartment after he got cleaned up. She subsequently became both his lover and his business manager, negotiating deals and escorting him to gigs.

Initially very grateful, Lee proceeded to make the most of the shot at redemption she afforded him. He resumed performing and churning out albums, and became a very productive and respected member of the jazz community again.

Unfortunately, the accolades and attention accompanying success apparently went straight to his head, and he started taking Helen for granted. Lee had an eyes for the ladies and, when he stopped coming home at night, Helen issued him a warning that she couldn't handle such insulting mistreatment.

Their turbulent relationship came to a head on the night of February 19, 1972 after a heated exchange at Slug's Saloon . First, Lee's new girlfriend confronted Helen. Helen then slapped Lee. Lee tossed Helen out of the bar and into a blizzard without a coat. Helen came back with the gun Lee had given her for protection and shot her philandering man once in the chest. Since it took an ambulance over an hour to arrive due to the heavy snowfall, Lee bled out.

What makes this film so fascinating is that much of it is narrated by Helen herself, albeit posthumously. For, just one month before she died in March of 1996, she sat down to talk with a music professor who recorded her life story for posterity. Besides that audiotape, the documentary features file concert footage, plus the reflections of many of Lee's contemporaries: Ben Maupin, Wayne Shorter, Benny Maupin, Billy Harper and more. 

To paraphrase an age-old maxim, Hell hath no fury like a Helen scorned!

Excellent (4 stars)
Running time: 91 minutes
Production Studio: Kasper Collin Produktion
Distributor: FilmRise

To see a trailer for I Called Him Morgan, visit: https://vimeo.com/181151415

To order a copy of I Called Him Morgan on DVD, visit:


Saturday, October 28, 2017

Thank You for Your Service

Film Review by Kam Williams

Wounded Warriors Readjust to Civilian Life in Adaptation of Heartbreaking Best Seller

In the spring of 2007, the Washington Post's David Finkel accompanied a combat team of American infantrymen deployed to Baghdad at the start of the controversial surge ordered by President Bush. After being embedded for a year, the Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter chronicled the intrepid GIs' heroic efforts to bring stability to the region in a riveting best seller entitled "The Good Soldiers."

In 2013, Finkel published "Thank You for Your Service," an update about the same troops' struggle to readjust to civilian life upon returning to the States. Now, that opus has been adapted to the big screen as a psychological drama telescoping tightly on the mental state of a few members of the battalion.

The movie marks the impressive directorial debut of Jason Hall, who's previously best known for writing and appearing in American Sniper (2014). The picture stars Miles Teller as Adam Schumann, a former sergeant ostensibly suffering from PTSD. 
As the film unfolds, we learn that he has remained close with surviving members of the tight-knit unit once under his command. Unfortunately, all of them have been left damaged, mentally and/or physically. Consequently, all of their relationships are in crisis, and none has managed to hold down a steady job. 
Adam's worried wife (Haley Bennett) starts pressuring him to get help because he not only dropped their newborn baby inexplicably, but he's constantly looking for IEDs whenever they drive down the street, as if he's still in Iraq. Trouble is, there's a nine-month waiting list to see a shrink at the VA hospital, and he's being discouraged from seeking treatment by a callous colonel (Jake Weber) suggesting that all he needs to do is toughen up a little. 
Then, there's Solo (Beulah Koale), a Samoan with amnesia whose fed up wife (Keisha Castle-Hughes) is thinking of leaving him, despite being pregnant. Another buddy, Will (Joe Cole), was dumped by his fiancee (Erin Darke) before he even arrived home. And so forth.

The plot soon thickens, with things getting worse before they get better. But at least this loyal band of brothers can count on each other, if not the VA or their loved ones for support. A heartbreaking tale that's difficult to swallow since its based purely on the hard, cold truth. 
A sobering account of our wounded warriors' tragic misfortunes.

Excellent (3.5 stars)
Rated R for sexuality, drug use, graphic violence, brief nudity and pervasive profanity

In English and Samoan with subtitles
Running time: 108 minutes
Distributor: Universal Pictures

To see a trailer for Thank You for Your Service, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=50LQGcb5knE

Friday, October 27, 2017

Kam's Kapsules for movies opening November 3, 2017

Weekly Previews That Make Choosing a Film Fun 
 by Kam Williams  



A Bad Moms Christmas (R for crude humor, graphic sexuality, drug use and pervasive profanity) Mila Kunis, Kristen Bell and Kathryn Hahn reprise their roles in this holiday-themed sequel which finds the underappreciated and overburdened BFFs struggling to measure up to the expectations of their visiting moms (Christine Baranski, Cheryl Hines and Susan Sarandon) at Christmastime. With Jay Hernandez, Peter Gallagher and Wanda Sykes.

Roman J. Israel, Esq. (PG-13 for violence and profanity) Denzel Washington plays the title character in this crime drama about an idealistic attorney pressured to compromise his values after his law partner (Colin Farrell) suffers a heart attack. With Carmen Ejogo, Shelly Hennig and Nazneen Contractor.

Thor: Ragnarok (PG-13 for violence, intense action and suggestive material) 17th installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe series finds the Norse superhero (Chris Hemsworth) squaring off against The Incredible Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) and in a race against time to save civilization from his new nemesis (Cate Blanchett). Ensemble cast includes Tom Hiddleston, Idris Elba, Jeff Goldblum, Anthony Hopkins, Benedict Cumberbatch, Tessa Thompson and Karl Urban.


1945 (Unrated) Post-World War II drama, set in Hungary, about a Jewish father (Ivan Angelus) and son (Marcell Nagy) treated with suspicion upon returning to their hometown after surviving the Holocaust. Support cast includes Peter Rudulf, Bence Tasnadi and Agi Szirtes. (In Hungarian and Russian with subtitles)

Blade of the Immortal (R for graphic violence and relentless carnage) High body count, samurai saga about a chivalrous warrior (Takuya Kimura) who helps an orphan (Hana Sugisaki) avenge the murder of her parents by a ruthless warlord's (Sota Fukushi) goons. With Hayato Ichihara, Erika Toda and Kazuki Kitamura. (In Japanese with subtitles)

The First to Do It (Unrated) Hoops documentary chronicling the life and times of Earl Lloyd (1928-2915), who grew up in the segregated South, made history in 1950 when he became the first African-American to play in the NBA, and lived long enough to see the country elect its first black president.

Gilbert (Unrated) Poignant retrospective of the career of Gilbert Gottfried, who started out doing standup comedy as a teenager before getting a big break at 20 when he was recruited to join Saturday Night Live's ensemble cast. Featuring commentary by Lewis Black, Whoopi Goldberg and Jim Gaffigan.

Lady Bird (R for profanity, sexuality, partying and brief graphic nudity) Coming of age drama chronicling a year in the life of a headstrong teenager (Saoirse Ronan) rebelling against her equally strong-willed mother (Laurie Metcalf) who's struggling to keep the family afloat after her husband (Tracy Letts) loses his job. Featuring Lucas Hedges, Odeya Rush and Kathryn Newton.

Last Flag Flying (R for pervasive profanity and sexual references) Richard Linklater directed this bittersweet drama about a grieving Vietnam vet (Steve Carell) accompanied by a couple of his marine buddies (Laurence Fishburne and Bryan Cranston) to the funeral of his son killed in Iraq. With Cicely Tyson, J. Quinton Johnson and Deanna Reed-Foster.

LBJ (R for profanity) Woody Harrelson plays Lyndon Baines Johnson in this biopic centering on the early months of his presidency when he took the reins of power in the wake of the assassination of JFK (Jeffrey Donovan). Featuring Michael Stahl-David as RFK, Jennifer Jason Leigh as Lady Bird and Judd Lormand as Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara.

Singularity (PG-13 for action and violence) Sci-fi thriller, set in 2020, revolving around the CEO of a hi-tech company (John Cusack) who invents a robot programmed to end all wars, only to have an army of them turn on humanity. With Julian Shaffner, Jeannine Wacker and Carmen Argenziano.

Wait for Your Laugh (Unrated) Reverential retrospective about Rose Marie, the legendary comedienne who started on radio and in vaudeville at the age of 4 and has enjoyed an enduring career of 90 years and counting. Featuring tributes by Dick Van Dyke, Tim Conway and Carl Reiner.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Invisible Ink

Book Review by Kam Williams
Invisible Ink
Navigating Racism in Corporate America
by Stephen M. Graham
Paperback, $11.95
220 pages
ISBN: 978-1-5411-7117-6

It has always been a struggle for the relatively few African-Americans in corporate America who do exist, and it is made all the more difficult because we tend to operate in isolation. We are nearly always alone, with no one to fall back on... as we deal daily with an unending stream of slights real and imagined.
Even those who do care don't really understand. This is all played out in an environment where we are subjected to a debilitating undercurrent of bias that too many, on both sides of the divide, pretend does not exist...
The point of this book is not that the world is an awful place where things never go right but that institutional racism is a virus that is alive and well and needs to be eradicated if fundamental fairness is to be achieved. Black lives matter, and we must take issue and demand change, whether these lives are literally snuffed out in the blink of an eye or figuratively snuffed out in the polite confines of corporate America.”
-- Excerpted from the Prologue (page xiii) and Epilogue (page 199)

By any measure, Stephen Graham's would be considered a success story. After earning a B.S. from Iowa State University, he went on to Yale Law School en route to an enviable career as one of the country's top attorneys in the field of mergers and acquisitions. 
So, one might expect that when he decided to write a book, it would basically be about how he managed to achieve the American Dream. But he opted to focus more on the impediments he encountered on his rise up the corporate ladder than on the satisfaction of making it to the top of his profession. 
That's because he's black and he doesn't want any African-American attempting to follow in his footsteps to think that the struggle is over once you receive an Ivy League degree. For, as he points out in Invisible Ink, a pernicious pattern of prejudice persists in the business world from the bottom rung all the way up to the rarefied air of the wood-paneled boardroom. 
The author makes the persuasive case that there's no reason for the U.S. to rest on its laurels just because it elected Barack Obama president. He also says that it is shortsighted to worry only about the plight of poverty-stricken blacks stuck in inner-city ghettos. 
No, Graham argues that insidious forms of institutional racism have continued to frustrate members of minority groups, too, long after the demise of de jure discrimination. What he finds troubling is the fact that the favoring of whites is now very subtle indeed, making bigoted behavior often difficult to identify, let alone challenge. 
Overall, an intelligent, eye-opening opus relating a riveting combination of touching personal anecdotes and sobering advice about what needs to be done to finally achieve that elusive ideal of a colorblind society.

To order a copy of Invisible Ink, visit: 


Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Bruce Brown

"The Endless Summer: 50th Anniversary” Interview
with Kam Williams

Legendary Director Reflects on Shooting Classic Surfing Documentary

Born in San Francisco on December 1, 1937, the legendary Bruce Brown is best known for directing, narrating, shooting, editing and producing The Endless Summer, a groundbreaking documentary filmed on beaches all around the world on a shoestring budget back in 1966.
Here, the Oscar-nominee and second inductee into the Surfing Hall of Fame. reminisces about his career and the enduring popularity of his surfing classic, a half-century after its release.

Kam Williams: Hi Bruce. I'm honored to have this opportunity to interview you.
Bruce Brown: Well thanks for having me.

KW: When did you develop an interest in surfing? When did you develop an interest in filmmaking? And how did you come to combine the two?
BB: I was about 12 years old, as a kid growing up in Southern California around the ocean. We started swimming, body surfing then junior lifeguards. Around 14 riding a surfboard. I think I developed an interest in filmmaking about the same time. I didn’t go to film school, but just figured out how to get the job done by doing it. I got some cheap still cameras to take pics of me and my buddies surfing. Back then, we were the only surfers. Then I got an 8mm movie camera to show other people, and to recruit someone to go surfing with. I took it with me everywhere. I combined the two because I needed a job, I guess. We just wanted to find a way to make money and be in the water so we decided to see if we could make a living filming each other surfing. I never thought anyone would want to watch it, let alone still be talking about it 50-years later, but they are. And I am so grateful to everyone who loves the film.

KW: The Endless Summer is a classic with an enduring appeal to generation after generation. Why do you think it's still so popular a half-century after it's release?
BB: I guess it struck a nerve for a lot of different reasons. Before we blew up The Endless Summer to 35mm for the theaters, I showed the film for two years on my regular circuit. I narrated it live during that two-year period. I’d learn things from the audience. If I said something, and the audience groaned, I’d know not to say that again. So, I just sort of worked out the kinks by interacting with the crowd. In fact, we modified all my films from showing to showing. So, it was kind of a trial and error thing because I’d show the thing—and it was hugely popular—and sold out the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium seven nights in a row. Then, we went back for a rerun two months later, and it sold out seven more nights. That’s what prompted us to fix the narration and blow the film up to 35mm to show it at theaters. It was interesting that people outside of the surfing community enjoyed the film as much as the surfers.

KW: What was your approach to shooting the film?
BB: Well, with the surf, you never know what’s going to happen. So, you just hope for the best and make it up as you go along. But make sure you have a good surfer to shoot. A good surfer can make crappy waves look much better.
In the old days, Bill Edwards, Dewey, Butch, all those guys, and Pat O’Connell and Wingnut were great! Today, there are so many guys that are good, it’s just amazing. You used to be able to drive by a surf spot and know who it was, now there are tons of guys. I like to think our films encouraged them to try the sport.

KW: How do you explain the appeal of surf documentaries? Is it a combination of the waves and the humans attempting to conquer them?
BB: Not sure I can answer this question. I don’t know, because I don’t watch surf documentaries. And I never really thought of The Endless Summer as a documentary. It was a journey and our story to share about surfing around the world.

KW: How do you know when you've captured a great shot?
BB: Well, I shot Endless Summer before digital. I didn’t know what the shot looked like until after it got developed. So we just shot a lot and then edited what we thought worked.

KW: How did it feel to have your son and grandson follow in your footsteps?
BB: Great! We all worked together in the editing room during the making of Endless Summer II, and on my motorcycle films as well.

KW: What are you working on now?
BB: [Chuckles] Right now, I’m trying to avoid work.

KW: Which surfing drama is your favorite? Have you seen Blue Crush, The Shallows or Soul Surfer, recent films, all of which feature female protagonists?
BB: I have to admit I haven’t seen any of the movies you mentioned. Actually, the only movies I’ve seen in the past 15 years are my son's and my grandson's.

KW: What is your favorite movie all-time, surfing or otherwise?
BB: The Great Escape. I met [the film's director] John Sturges once at Steve’s [Steve McQueen] who did my On Any Sunday motorcycle film. I asked him, "Do you sit in the editing room for months on end?" and he says, "Oh yeah." He started out as a film editor. That’s what a lot of guys don’t realize, it’s a lot of work.

KW: Ling-Ju Yen asks: What is your earliest childhood memory?
BB: Throwing up on myself. Well, you asked. [LOL]

KW: What was your very first job?
BB: Paper boy.

KW: When you look in the mirror, what do you see?
BB: When I look in the mirror, I see an old man.

KW: What's the craziest thing you've ever done?
BB: The craziest thing I’ve ever done? Make The Endless Summer. We had practically nothing, just our boards, a few clothes, a camera and a plane ticket to fly pretty much around the world. Mike and Robert had to help carry all the equipment around everywhere we went. It was in their agreement. [Laughs]

KW: If you could have one wish instantly granted, what would that be for?
BB: I don’t know. I’ve never thought of it. I have had a lot of wishes granted.

KW: What is your favorite dish to cook?
BB: I like to cook “Chicken Wings”

KW: What is your guiltiest pleasure?
BB: Don’t have any.

KW: Is there any question no one ever asks you, that you wish someone would? And please answer the question.
BB: No, people have asked a lot of questions over the years.

KW: The Tavis Smiley question: How do you want to be remembered?
BB: I would like to be remembered as a nice person

KW: Finally, what’s in your wallet?
BB: Right now there is $126 in cash and one credit card in my wallet.

KW: Thanks again for the time, Bruce.
BB: My pleasure, Kam.

To see a trailer for The Endless Summer, see: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yZsuQXKkPdw
To order a copy of The Endless Summer on Blu-ray, visit: