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American Masters: The Boomer List
PBS-TV Review by Kam Williams

The United States witnessed a population explosion in the wake of World War II which came to be called the Baby Boom. Stretching from 1946 to 1964, the period was marked in such a surge of live births that by the time it ended 4 out of 10 Americans were under the age of 20.

This year, the youngest members of the massive generation are turning 50, a development that was not lost on Timothy Greenfield-Sanders, director of a trio of award-winning documentaries: The Black List, The Latino List and The Out List. And with about 8,000 now retiring a day, Timothy decided to mark the milestone by making a film recognizing the contributions of cultural icons, one born in each year of the Baby Boom.

Among the subjects of the show is best-selling novelist Amy Tan, author of The Joy Luck Club, who was born in my year, 1952. At the age of 15, she was deeply affected by the loss of her father and a brother a half-dozen months apart. Here, she reflects upon how she felt abandoned by her dad.

She also talks about what it was like growing up Chinese-American. Sadly, she recalls that, as a teenager, “I felt that I didn’t have dates because I was ugly, and that I was ugly because I was Chinese.” Unfortunately, that insecurity about her appearance was only reinforced by a mother who told Amy she wasn’t beautiful and to work hard in school since she’d “never get by in the world on her looks.”

She admits to actually having felt shame about her ethnicity, which she overcame in college with the help of Black Studies courses. Since there weren’t any in Asian-American Literature at her school, she felt drawn to African-American Literature since it appreciated alternative aesthetics to the mainstream. The world is grateful that she was in turn inspired to write fiction, which she sees as a way of meditating on a question.   

Other luminaries representing their respective years are Deepak Chopra (1947), Samuel L. Jackson (1948), Billy Joel (1949), Maria Shriver (1955) and Erin Brockovich (1960), to name a few. A poignant collection of personal remembrances amounting to a profound tribute to a memorable American era.          

Excellent (4 stars)

Rated TV-PG

Running time: 90 minutes

Studio: Perfect Day Films

Distributor: PBS

The Boomer List premieres on PBS from 9-10:30 PM ET/PT on Tuesday, September 23rd (check local listings)

To see a trailer for The Boomer List, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jz0icyUEQtc




The Equalizer
Film Review by Kam Williams

On the surface, Robert McCall (Denzel Washington) is a perfectly-pleasant, hail fellow well met. By day, the affable widower is employed as a sales associate at a hardware superstore where he jokes with co-workers who call him “Pops.” Evenings, he retires to a modest apartment in a working-class, Boston community, although bouts of insomnia often have him descending to a nearby diner to read a book into the wee hours of the morning.

The dingy joint looks a lot like the dive depicted by Edward Hopper in the classic painting “Nighthawks.” Among the seedy haunt’s habitués is Teri (Chloe Grace Moretz), a provocatively-dressed prostitute who hangs out there between clients.

Robert takes a personal interest in the troubled teen, a recent immigrant whose real name is Alina. He soon learns that she’d rather be pursuing a musical career than sleeping with stranger after stranger. Trouble is she’s under the thumb of Slavi (David Meunier), a sadistic pimp who’ll stop at nothing to keep a whore in check.

A critical moment arrives the night she arrives in the restaurant and hands Robert her new demo tape while trying to hide a black eye. But he becomes less interested in the CD than in the whereabouts of the creep who gave her the shiner.

What neither Teri nor anybody else in town knows is that Robert’s a retired spy who had cultivated the proverbial set of deadly skills over the course of his career. At this juncture, the mild-mannered retiree reluctantly morphs into an anonymous vigilante more than willing to dole out a bloody brand of street justice on behalf of Teri and other vulnerable crime victims with seemingly no recourse.

Thus unfolds The Equalizer, a riveting, relatively-gruesome adaptation of the popular, 1980s TV-series. Directed by Antoine Fuqua, this version is actually more reminiscent of Death Wish (1974), as this picture’s protagonist behaves less like the television show’s British gentleman than the brutal avenging angel portrayed on the big screen by Charles Bronson.

Considerable credit must go to Oscar-winner Mauro Fiore’s (Avatar) visually-captivating cinematography for capturing Boston in a way which is somehow both stylish and haunting. Nevertheless, the eye-pleasing panoramas simply serve as a backdrop for Denzel who is even better here than in his Oscar-winning collaboration with Fuqua for Training Day.

Revenge as a dish best served cold by a sleep-deprived, diner patron equalizer!  

Excellent (4 stars)

Rated R for graphic violence, sexual references and pervasive profanity

In English and Russian with subtitles

Running time: 131 minutes

Distributor: Sony Pictures

To see a trailer for The Equalizer, visit:   

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BP_FwE0Z7no




Pump
Film Review by Kam Williams

Why is the price of gasoline in the Untied States so artificially high? Much of the explanation lies in a corporate conspiracy to deny us access to alternative fuel sources. A few years ago, the documentary “Who Killed the Electric Car?” illustrated how the auto industry had successfully lobbied politicians to discourage its development.

Now, this eye-opening expose’ shows how big oil has conspired to deny Americans fuel choice for the past century. This state of affairs has persisted in the face of a Supreme Court decision which forced John D. Rockefeller to break up the Standard Oil Company by declaring it a monopoly way back in 1911.

What alternative fuels might a car run on? Well, besides electricity, there’s solar power, methanol, ethanol and hydrogen, to name a few. Who knows what other new ideas might have been encouraged if Congress hadn’t discouraged development of competing energy options by granting the gas-guzzling car manufacturers a stranglehold on research and development via tax breaks and other measures.

This wholesale sellout of the American public is the subject of Pump, an eye-opening expose’ co-directed by Joshua and Rebecca Harrell Tickell. It is the husband-and-wife team’s sobering thesis that, “We have to come to grips with the fact that this is the end of the Oil Age.”

What more proof do you need than the sight of the devastation visited upon Detroit, a latter-day ghost town where, “the hope of the average person for a better life has disappeared” in the wake of its being abandoned by the car conglomerates for greener pastures? And the Motor City might just be the tip of the iceberg, if you believe the dire warnings issued intermittently during this powerful documentary by John Hofmeister, the former President of Shell Oil.

Today, as founder of Citizens for Affordable Energy, he indicts an unnecessary addiction to oil as the root cause of everything from political instability and war to climate change and environmental crises. His organization’s aim? A simple one, merely to make fuel choice a viable reality.

Food for thought the next time you cavalierly instruct the gas station attendant to “Fill ‘er up!”

Excellent (4 stars)

Rated PG for mature themes 

Running time: 88 minutes

Distributor: Submarine Deluxe

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




Take Me to the River
Film Review by Kam Williams

A lot of great soul music came out of Memphis in the Sixties and early Seventies. Stax Records launched the careers of acts like Otis Redding, Isaac Hayes and Booker T. and the MGs while its cross-town rival Hi Records had Al Green, Ann Peebles and O.V. Wright. Take Me to the River is a reverential retrospective which is a combination tribute to the city’s impressive legacy and a tip of the cap to some up-and-coming artists still recording in the region.

The movie marks the directorial debut of Martin Shore, who tapped Terrence Howard to narrate the documentary. The Oscar-nominated actor also raps and sings in the picture which features the reflections of hip-hop icon Snoop Dogg who pays tributes to the trailblazers that paved the way for him.

But what makes the movie worth its while is hearing such soul greats as Booker T., Mavis Staples, David Porter and Charlie Musselwhite wax romantic about the good ole days. We learn that the bands were often integrated at a time the rest of Memphis was still strictly segregated.

Some of the reminiscing relates how the local cops would deliberately profile and harass them as they exited the studio after late-night sessions, being not only racist but jealous of the groups’ newfound fame and fortune. We also hear about how the assassination of Martin Luther King in Memphis cast a pall over the entire town that ultimately took a toll on the music business, too. Stax executive Al Bell refers to his company’s early demise as an economic lynching.

An overdue homage to a city that for close to a decade was home to the second largest black business in America.   

Very Good (3 stars)

Rated PG for smoking, mild epithets and mature themes

Running time: 98 minutes

Distributor: Abramorama

To see a trailer for Take Me to the River, visit:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iZzqsvV_Oyk     




Hector and the Search for Happiness
Film Review by Kam Williams

Hector (Simon Pegg) is a funny duck, as they say. The eccentric neat freak is lucky to have a gorgeous girlfriend like Clara (Rosamund Pike) who’s willing to put up with his odd requests, such as arranging everything in perfect order, from his socks to his sandwiches. He’s even more fortunate to have a thriving psychiatric practice, given the barely-contained contempt he routinely exhibits for the folks lying on his couch.

A moment of truth arrives the day one of them (Veronica Ferres) finally summons up the courage to tell him to his face that he’s transparent, inauthentic, and just going through the motions. Conceding that he’s become so jaded that he isn’t helping his equally-miserable patients anymore, Hector decides to embark solo on a globe-spanning, spiritual quest for the fulfillment that has somehow escaped him.

After all, how could he not have joy, when surrounded by all the trappings of success? Hector’s plans have Clara concerned about whether the relationship is on shaky ground, since she’s been reluctant to start a family and she’s also aware that he has an ex (Toni Collette) in the U.S. he still cares about.

Unfolding like the alpha male answer to Eat Pray Love (2010), Hector and the Search for Happiness is an alternately introspective and action-oriented travelogue played mostly for laughs. Simon Pegg exhibits an endlessly-endearing naïvete as the peripatetic protagonist, whether misreading the flirtations of a prostitute (Ming Zhao) in China or taking a while to realize that his cab has been carjacked by the underlings of an African crime boss (Akin Omotoso).

Such perils notwithstanding, our intrepid hero persists in posing his pressing question “What is happiness?” at each port-of-call as he circumnavigates the globe. Taking copious notes on a writing pad, he records the answers he receives, like “Being loved for who you are,” “Answering your calling,” and “Feeling completely alive.”

Eventually, Hector experiences that elusive “Eureka!” epiphany he needs so dearly, which allows him to rush home revitalized to Clara and a career and clients who might not be so annoying after all. A feel-good meditation on the meaning of life, guaranteed to leave you counting your many blessings as you walk up the aisle.

Excellent (4 stars)

Rated R for profanity and brief nudity

In English, French and German with subtitles

Running time: 114 minutes

Distributor: Relativity Media

To see a trailer for Hector and the Search for Happiness, visit



Interviews
userpicEqualizers ‘Я’ Us
Posted by Kam Williams

Denzel Washington & Antoine Fuqua
“The Equalizer” Interview
with Kam Williams

Denzel Washington is a man constantly on the move. Never content to just repeat his successes, the two-time Academy Award-winner (for Glory and Training Day) is always searching for new challenges through his numerous and varied film and stage portrayals. 

From Trip, the embittered runaway slave in Glory to South African freedom fighter Steven Biko in Cry Freedom; from Shakespeare's tragic historical figure Richard III to the rogue detective Alonzo in Training Day; to his recent critically-acclaimed performance as the addicted airline pilot Whip Whitaker in Flight, Denzel has amazed and entertained audiences with a rich array of characters distinctly his own.

The talented thespian has also starred in 2 Guns, Safe House, Unstoppable, The Book Of Eli, The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3, American Gangster, Inside Man, Déjà Vu, Man on Fire, The Manchurian Candidate and Out Of Time, to name a few. And his next film as director was The Great Debaters, where he co-starred opposite Forest Whitaker.

Here, Denzel and director Antoine Fuqua discuss their reuniting to collaborate again on The Equalizer. 

 

Kam Williams: Hi Denzel and Antoine, thanks for the interview. I’m honored to have this opportunity to speak with the two of you.

Denzel Washington: Our pleasure!

Antoine Fuqua: Yeah, thanks Kam.

 

KW: I want you to know that I loved this film and also your previous one, Antoine, Olympus Has Fallen. Thanks for using my quote on the DVD. I hope I get blurbed for this one, too. 

AF: Of course! You’re welcome.

 

KW: I have more questions for you two from readers than you could ever answer, but I hope we can get through a lot of them.

DW: Go!

 

KW: Film Student Jamaal Green doesn’t have a question, but says: You are both an inspiration to me and many of my peers who are pursuing a career in filmmaking. Thank you for your dedication to your craft.

AF: Thank you Jamal!

 

KW: Children’s book author Irene Smalls says to Antoine: Thank you for giving us a Black hero. Do you see the Equalizer as blossoming into a franchise?

AF: I hope so, but that’d be up to the audience.

 

KW: Larry Greenberg says: Antoine, I have only seen the trailer for The Equalizer, but I was blown away by the cinematography. How were you able to achieve that look?

AF: With the help of a great cinematographer, Mauro Fiore [Oscar-winner for Avatar].

 

KW: Pittsburgh publisher Robin Beckham asks As an Academy Award-winning actor, what is it like to work again with one of the few African-American directors, Pittsburgh born, Training Day director Antoine Fuqua? Is there some special “brother” chemistry in action while working together?

DW: [LOL, speaks while Antoine also laughs heartily] Yes, we have the ”brother” meeting every weekend, at the Brotherhood of Black Directors and Black Actors’ meeting. No, Antoine is obviously very talented, and we’ve had some success in the past, and I also look forward to our next opportunity.

 

KW: Director Rel Dowdell says: Denzel, you have set the standard of excellence for African-American actors for so long. Is there any type of film that you haven't had the chance to act in yet that you would like to?

DW: No. [Laughs again, then pauses to think] I don’t know... There’s no wish list, but thanks for asking, Rel.

 

KW: Editor Lisa Loving asks Denzel: Have you ever taken on a role that, when you were in the middle of it, made you think – wait, this is impossible?

DW: What does Lisa mean by impossible? Impossible to do or to be or in some other way?  

KW: I have no idea. I’m just reading what was sent in.

DW: Don’t shoot the messenger, right? [Chuckles]

KW: Yeah.

 

KW: Lisa also says: Antoine, based on your childhood, would your mom have been surprised to know all that you were going to accomplish in your professional career?

AF: Absolutely! Absolutely! I played sports. She would never think I was going to be a director. That wasn’t part of our daily conversations.

 

KW: Hirangi Patel asks Denzel: What can you reveal about your character Robert McCall’s mysterious back story?

DW: It wouldn’t be mysterious anymore, if I revealed it. [Antoine chuckles in background] You have to go to the movie and see.

 

KW: Dr. Joy Ohayia would like to ask Denzel: What is your secret to staying in fantastic shape for your action movies?

DW: There’s no easy way. Going to the gym, and a good diet and exercise. Well, I guess there are some magic pills available these days, but I don’t take any of ‘em. I may start, though. [Laughs]

 

KW: Harriet Pakula-Teweles: What message about this action hero do you hope viewers take away from the film?

DW: Maybe Antoine will answer that question, butI never do because it all depends upon what each viewer brings to the film. The idea is just to have a good time. It’s not a big deal. Is there a message, Antoine?

AF: No, just doin’ the right thing. He’s a guy who does the right thing, what’s necessary to help others.

 

KW: David Roth asks Antoine about The Equalizer: Why would a black man attempting to disappear choose to live in a predominantly white community?

AF: [While Denzel bellows in the background] who says it’s a white community?

DW: Actually, it’s a black and Hispanic community.

 

KW: Aaron Moyne: If you had the power to equalize social injustices in real-life, what would be the first one you'd tackle?

DW: Who’s that one for?

KW: He didn’t say.

DW: You got that one, Antoine?

AF: That’s a tough one. There’s a lot of things that need equalizing.

DW: Yeah. Just getting along, Aaron, and having respect for your fellow man.

 

KW: Kate Newell asks: Denzel, would you ever consider a career in politics?

DW: [Emphatically] No!

 

KW: Claudia Thorne asks Denzel: I would love it if you were the commencement speaker at my graduation from Howard University next year.

DW: Thank you, Claudia.

 

KW: Editor/Legist Patricia Turnier asks: What advice do you have for aspiring minority actors and directors, and did either of you have a protégé?

DW: Don’t look at yourself as a minority.  

AF: Yeah. Yeah, that’s right.

 

KW: Tony Noel asks Denzel: How have you managed to avoid having your life splashed across the tabloids?
DW: You can’t, unless you stay in the house. [Belly laughter from both]

 

KW: Tony asks Denzel: Is there an outcome or theme of a movie of yours that you would change if you could?  

DW: I don’t know. We actually changed the ending in Training Day. In the original one, he lived. He walked away into an airport or something.

AF: Yeah.

DW: We changed the ending since, in order to justify Alonzo Harris’ living in the worst way, he had to die in the worst way, which he did.

 

KW: Steve Kramer says: I played the piano for "The All Nite Strut" and worked with your then girlfriend…

DW: [Denzel cuts me off] Get outta here! Pauletta?

KW: Yes, with Pauletta in Boston and Toronto. I was a skinny white guy with a big Jew-fro back then.

DW: [LOL] A skinny guy white guy with a big Jew-fro?

KW: Yep.

DW: Okay, I’ll ask my wife.  

KW: Steve was wondering whether you remember walking the streets of Boston with him right before the release of your first movie, Carbon Copy, when he told you there was no greater woman than Pauletta?  

DW: Well, I’m glad I listened to him. [Chuckles]

 

KW: Denzel, city bus driver Kevin Kenna would like to know whether you have any fond memories of Philadelphia?

DW: Yeah, my son went to the University of Pennsylvania, so I have a lot of great memories from visiting him and working there… Cheese steaks and going to the Palestra to watch basketball games.

 

KW: Richie von der Schmidt asks Denzel about Philadelphia: Do you agree that “A bologna sandwich is a satisfactory meal, whereas caviar and champagne, roast duck and baked Alaska, that might be considered a delightful meal,” which is a line of your characters from the film Philadelphia.

DW: You gotta ask [director] Jonathan Demme.

 

KW: Documentary filmmaker Kevin Williams is curious about how working on A Soldier's Story and For Queen and Country improved your craft as an actor? You were so great in those early films.

DW: Well, A Soldier’s Story was a Pulitzer Prize-winning play first. I was one of the original cast members with Sam Jackson, among others in the play. We had great success off-Broadway even before we did the movie. It was a tremendous experience.

 

KW: Attorney Bernadette Beekman asks Denzel: Will you ever retire from acting? 

DW: We’ll all retire from life at some point, but no. The great thing about acting is you don’t necessarily have to retire. 80 seems to be around the age that people seem to ease out of it. Gene Hackman… Sidney Poitier… So, I have a whole ‘nother quarter to go.

 

KW: Sangeetha Subram asks: Denzel, how did you come to produce this film?

DW: It’s just a title. It really was a collaborative process. We all got involved as soon as we were given the script. I’m not a numbers cruncher. I just helped make sure we put the best film we could onscreen. 

 

KW: Bernadette, Antoine, What was it like directing Denzel again?

DW: Oh, I’m going to walk away while you answer that one. [Laughs]

AF: Amazing. He’s simply amazing! You can’t ask for better.

 

KW: Professor/Fillmaker/Author Hisani Dubose asks: How has the Hollywood studios becoming part of conglomerates affected your ability to work? Do you think it’s feasible for independent productions to go after theatrical release these days?

AF: It’s always been big business. It doesn’t affect it any more now than it did 30 or 40 years ago. You just have to do the work.

 

KW: When you look in the mirror, what do you see?

AF: Myself! [Laughs]

DW: The room behind me. [Laughs very heartily]

 

KW: Well, thanks again for the interview,

AF:  Thank you, Kam.

DW: Take care.

 

To see a trailer for The Equalizer, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BP_FwE0Z7no




The Roosevelts: An Intimate History
Film Review by Kam Williams

Between Theodore (1901-1909) and Franklin (1933-1945), a Roosevelt was in the White House for 20 years of the 20th Century. It is not surprising, then, that they, in conjunction with FDR’s wife Eleanor, would reshape not only Americans’ relationship with the federal government but even the U.S.’ own standing in the rest of the world.

You probably think of Teddy as the tough-talking President whose foreign policy was reduced to, “Walk softly and carry a big stick!” And his cousin Franklin had his own iconic catchphrase, namely, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself!” which was generally credited for buoying the country’s spirits during the Great Depression.

Meanwhile, Eleanor might be best remembered for having publicly resigned from the Daughters of the American Revolution when the organization prevented Marian Anderson from staging a concert at Constitution Hall in Washington, DC because of her skin color. The First Lady subsequently took it upon herself to invite the snubbed opera singer to perform both at the White House (the first black ever to do so there) and on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on Easter Sunday in front of  a crowd of 75,000.

What you might not know is that Eleanor Roosevelt was a staunch African-American advocate who insisted that housing, employment and equal education were basic human rights that this society had a moral obligation to provide to all its citizens. Fortunately, Ken Burns 14-hour series, The Roosevelts, fully fleshes out Eleanor, FDR and Teddy into the complex human beings they really were, including their triumphs, their transformations, their flaws, and their failings.

For example, we see how Franklin suffered from polio for most of his adult life, and how he went to great lengths to hide from the nation the toll the debilitating affliction was taking on his body. Covering over a century, from Theodore’s birth in 1858 to Eleanor’s death in 1962, this revealing biopic paints a fascinating portrait, not to be missed, of perhaps America’s most influential political dynasty.

 

Excellent (4 stars)

Rated TV-PG

Running time: 14 hours

Studio: Florentine Films

Distributor: PBS

The Roosevelts airs on PBS from 8-10 PM ET/PT from Sunday, September 14th through Saturday September 20th (check local listings)

To see a trailer for The Roosevelts: An Intimate History, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tcmGpZppPwA

To order a copy of The Roosevelts on DVD, visit: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B00JKJ0XJU/ref%3dnosim/thslfofire-20

DVD Extras: 13 bonus videos; The Making of The Roosevelts; and deleted scenes with an introduction by Ken Burns.  




This Is Where I Leave You
Film Review by Kam Williams

When Mort Altman (Will Swenson) passes away, his children return home reasonably expecting to remain in town briefly. After all, despite being raised Jewish, they have no reason to expect to sit shiva, since their dad was an avowed atheist and their psychologist mom (Jane Fonda) is a gentile.

However, after the funeral, Hillary Altman informs her offspring of the dearly-departed’s dying wish that they mourn him for a week in accordance with religious tradition. And then, she announces that they’ve all just been grounded for seven days, as if they’re still children.

This development doesn’t sit well with any of the siblings, since they don’t get along and this is the first time they’ve all been sleeping under the same roof in ages. Furthermore, their dad’s death couldn’t have come at a more inopportune moment, since each is in the midst of a midlife crisis.

Judd (Jason Bateman) has just learned that his wife (Abigail Spencer) is having an affair with his boss (Dax Shepard). Meanwhile, brother Paul’s (Corey Stoll) marriage is in jeopardy because his wife’s (Kathryn Hahn) biological clock is ticking very loudly but she’s been unable to get pregnant.

Then there’s playboy baby brother, Philip (Adam Driver), a narcissist with unresolved oedipal issues, judging by the fact that he’s dating a shrink (Connie Britton) old enough to be his mother. He’s such a self-indulgent womanizer, he doesn’t think twice about shamelessly flirting with an old flame (Carly Brooke Pearlstein) right in front of his mortified girlfriend.

Finally, we have only-sister Wendy (Tina Fey). Superficially, she seems to be the most stable of the four as a doting mother of two with a devoted, if emotionally distant, husband (Aaron Lazar) who at least is a great provider.

Barry’s obsession with his career on Wall Street has come at the cost of preserving the passion and intimacy in the relationship. So, the last thing Wendy needs now is the temptation of a duplicitous dalliance being dangled in front of her eyes in the form of Horry (Timothy Olyphant). However, her hunky high school sweetheart is still single, still in shape, and still right across the street, even if he’s brain-damaged and lives with his mother (Debra Monk).

All of these sticky situations serve primarily as fodder for a sophisticated brand of humor in This Is Where I Leave You, an alternately droll and laugh out loud dramedy directed by Shawn Levy (Date Night). Adroitly adapted to the screen by Jonathan Tropper, author of the best seller of the same name, this relentlessly-witty film features some of the funniest repartee around as it simultaneously explores a laundry list of sobering themes ranging from religion and mortality to love and betrayal.

A character-driven examination of a dysfunctional Jewish family about as wacky as they come.

Excellent (4 stars)

Rated R for profanity, sexuality and drug use

Running time: 103 minutes

Distributor: Warner Brothers

To see a trailer for This Is Where I Leave You, visit




No Good Deed
Film Review by Kam Williams

It is usually a bad sign when a movie studio decides not to preview a picture for film critics. In the case of No Good Deed, Screen Gems claimed that it was refraining from doing so in order to prevent the spoiling of a surprising plot twist. Well, the butler did it! (Just kidding.)

Skeptical, I had to wait until opening day to see it. And while the movie is by no means a masterpiece, I’m happy to report that it’s nevertheless a tautly-wound nail-biter which keeps you on the edge of your seat from beginning to end. And yes, there is a humdinger of a revelation during the denouement, not a totally preposterous development but rather a plausible one which was merely cleverly-concealed.

The movie marks the theatrical directorial debut of Sam Miller, who is best known for Luther, the brilliant BBC-TV series featuring Idris Elba in the title role for which he won a Golden Globe in 2012. The two collaborate again here, with Idris playing Colin Evans, a serial killer who, at the point of departure, slays a couple of prison guards during a daring escape from a Tennessee prison.

He makes his way to his girlfriend Alexis’ (Kate del Castillo) house in Atlanta only to murder her, too, when he learns she’s already involved with another man. Colin remains so blinded with rage as he drives away that he crashes his stolen car into a tree along a suburban country road.

He subsequently knocks on the door of Terri Granger (Taraji P. Henson), an attorney-turned-stay at home mom whose husband (Henry Simmons) has conveniently just left town with his father away for a weekend golf getaway. Against the former prosecutor’s better judgment, she lets the tall, dark and handsome stranger enter the house, and it isn’t long before there’s trouble in paradise.

After all as the proverb suggested by the title warns, “No good deed goes unpunished.” Accordingly, Terri and her two young kids find themselves in the clutches of a desperate maniac until the protective mother’s maternal and survival instincts kick into high gear.

No Good Deed was ostensibly inspired by The Desperate Hours, a suspiciously-similar Broadway play starring Paul Newman which was first adapted to the big screen in 1955 starring Humphrey Bogart, and remade in 1990 with Sir Anthony Hopkins. Thanks to Mr. Elba’s menacing intensity, a potentially mediocre variation on the theme ends up elevated into a tension-filled gutwrencher his loyal fans won’t want to miss.

The urban-oriented audience at the screening I attended talked back at the screen a lot in the way that engaged black folks do, and they even applauded heartily as the closing credits rolled, surefire signs that the studio has a hit on its hands, conventional critics notwithstanding.

Very Good (3 stars)

Rated PG-13 for violence and profanity

Running time: 84 minutes

Distributor: Screen Gems

To see a trailer for No Good Deed, visit: 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G5VeowxERwM    




I Am Eleven
Film Review by Kam Williams

11 is that awkward age when most boys are bashful and self-conscious about their cracking voices while the girls are gangly and getting their first period. If you’re wondering what today’s kids are thinking about as they negotiate their way through that stage of life, you can easily find out from I Am Eleven, a delightful documentary marking the directorial debut of Genevieve Bailey.

The peripatetic Australian circumnavigated the globe to talk to children about everything from family to teasing to romance to war to intolerance to poverty to nature to their hopes for the future. Ms. Bailey found 22 young subjects to focus on over the course of her travels which took her to 15 countries.

Art Linketter coined the phrase, “Kids say the darnedest things,” ages ago and that hasn’t changed much, judging from the quotable bon mots served up in this film. Among the movie’s stars are Remi, an introspective boy from France who doesn’t mince words. “I don’t like racists,” he announces sternly, adding, “To know that there are still some people who differentiate between humans depending on race, that’s completely absurd.”

Relatively-innocent, but equally-endearing, is Remya, an orphan from India who freely admits that she didn’t even know what an interview was before being approached to participate in the project. In fact, Bailey is the first foreigner she ever met. Nevertheless, it doesn’t take long for the vulnerable waif to open up how she feels hurt whenever “someone is bullying me or shouting at me or telling lies about me.”

One adolescent I found particularly fascinating was Jack, an elephant whisperer from Thailand. He explains how the behemoths he works with are capable of healing. “Elephants can change the chemicals in your brain,” he suggests matter-of factly. “If you have a headache, all you’ve got to do is put your head to an elephant’s head and, within seconds, your headache just goes away.”

Pearls of wisdom from the mouths of babes uttered with such heartfelt conviction that you want to believe them, even when you’re a little skeptical.

Excellent (4 stars)

Unrated

In English, French, Japanese, Mandarin, German, Swedish, Berber, Thai, Malayalam, Hindi, Dutch and Bulgarian with subtitles.

Running time: 94 minutes

Distributor: International Film Circuit

To see a trailer for I Am Eleven, visit




Wetlands
(Feuchtgebiete)
Film Review by Kam Williams

Helen Memel (Carla Juri) has had hemorrhoids for as long as she can remember, an unfortunate affliction she probably developed as a result of a combination of probing herself and practicing very poor hygiene. For the headstrong rebel has made a habit of ignoring her mother’s (Meret Becker) sensible advice, such as to not sit on a public toilet seat.

Instead, Helen tends to go to the opposite extreme, taking a kinky pleasure in coming in contact with whatever bodily fluids might have been left behind by strangers in the ladies’ room. The sexually-insatiable 18 year-old also enjoys experimenting with everything from cucumbers to carrots to pulsating shower heads in a neverending quest for the next climax.

She even flirts shamelessly with her BFF, Corinna (Marlen Kruse), who’s straight and already has a boyfriend, Mike (Bernardo Arias Porras). But Helen is so curious and driven by lust that she fantasizes about seducing him as well.

What’s behind all the bizarre behavior? It might be explained by the trauma the poor child suffered as a consequence of her parents’ divorce. She’s desperate for the two of them to reconcile, and has been acting out since the separation, filling the void by deliberately seducing boys with a whiff of her very carnal feminine scent.

Directed by David Wnendt, Wetlands is a surreal, coming-of-age adventure which keeps you guessing whether what you’re watching is real or merely the product of the horny heroine’s fertile imagination. The picture is based on Charlotte Roche’s erotic thriller, “Feuchtgebiete” which was the best-selling novel in the entire world for the month of March, 2008. 

A non-stop sexcapade revolving around a literally and figuratively filthy hedonist who puts a whole new spin on the term “dirty girl.”

 

Very Good (3 stars)

Unrated

In German with subtitles

Running time: 104 minutes

Distributor: Strand Releasing

To see a trailer for Wetlands, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g3PRY13WiwM




The Identical
Film Review by Kam Williams

What if Elvis Presley’s stillborn twin had survived his mother’s pregnancy rather than passed away during delivery back in January of 1935? That is the alternate reality contemplated by The Identical, a faith-based musical marking the underwhelming directorial debut of Dustin Marcellino.

Unfortunately, Dustin tapped an Elvis impersonator to star in his revisionist version of events, a dubious decision that comes back to bite him whenever Blake Rayne isn’t singing and shaking his hips onstage. The first-time actor plays both Ryan Hemsley and his identical sibling, Drexel (Elvis), in this fictionalized account of the life of the King of Rock and Roll.

The speculative endeavor’s point of departure is Decatur, Georgia during the Depression, which is where we find poverty-stricken sharecroppers Helen (Amanda Crew) and William Hemsley (Brian Geraghty) fretting about how they’re going to provide for their twin newborns. The answer to their prayers arrives soon thereafter, at a revival meeting pitched under a big tent by Reverend Reece Wade (Ray Liotta), a Pentecostal preacher with a soulful of hope and a barren wife (Ashley Judd).

The Wades’ desire to start a family conveniently dovetails with the Hemsleys’ having one more baby than they can reasonably afford. So, with God as their witness, Reece and Louise agree to adopt Ryan before surreptitiously slipping out of town and back to Tennessee. Meanwhile, Helen and William announce the missing boy’s death to friends and relatives, and stage a faux funeral, complete with an empty casket.

Reece proceeds to raise Ryan in the church with a career in ministry in mind although, given his great vocal chords, the kid proves more comfortable in the choir than the pulpit. He finally rebels in his teens entirely by enlisting in the military, leaving not only his domineering dad but a budding sweetheart (Erin Cottrell) behind. By contrast, Drexel, who was also blessed with powerful pipes, is allowed by the Hemsleys to pursue his passion, and naturally blossoms into the nation’s next singing sensation.

Will the twins ever learn of each other’s existence? If so, will they be able to forgive their folks for having separated them at birth? And will Ryan ever enjoy an opportunity to take his own shot at fame and fortune?

These are the probing questions posed by a production so flawed in terms of plot, dialogue and performances that it ends up unintentionally funny at practically every juncture. Regrettably, The Identical flunks the basic plausibility test, whether in terms of its farcical reimagining of race relations in the Jim Crow South or its equally-silly staging of sophomoric car chases straight out of The Dukes of Hazzard.

To paraphrase a Presley classic: Wise men say, only fools rush in to see a one-trick pony revolving around an annoying Elvis look-a-like.

Fair (1 star)

Rated PG for smoking and mature themes

Running time: 107 minutes

Distributor: Freestyle Releasing




Altina
Film Review by Kam Williams

Altina Schinasi (1907-1999) was lucky enough to be born with the proverbial silver spoon in her mouth. The youngest of three girls, her parents were Sephardic Jews of humble origin who immigrated to the U.S. from Turkey in the late 19th Century.

Thanks to the tobacco fortune soon amassed by their industrious father, the sisters were raised in the lap of luxury on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Although headstrong Altina wanted for nothing, she proved to be something of a rebel, opting to study art in Paris after graduating from a prestigious prep school, rather than follow the conventional path of a pampered debutante.

That was just the first of many unorthodox choices on the part of the free-spirited trendsetter en route to making her mark on the world not only as an artist and inventor, but as a feminist and civil rights advocate who would march with Dr. Martin Luther King. She was also a bit of a Bohemian in terms of her private affairs, being admittedly driven by insatiable urges stronger than the societal taboo against adultery.

Tawdry scandals aside, Altina accepted four proposals of marriage over the course of her life, the last from the Cuban artist Tino Miranda, a handsome hunk less than half her age. Though then well into her golden years, she had her Latin lover marveling at her “stamina of a 25 year-old.”

Besides a healthy libido, Altina was perhaps best known for designing the harlequin eyeglass frame, a cultural contribution for which she won the 1939 American Design Award. Still, the talented Renaissance woman‘s accolades for her innovations and sculptures brought her less satisfaction than doting on her two sons, Dennis and Terry.

All of the above is recounted in entertaining fashion in Altina, a reverential biopic directed by Peter Sanders (The Disappeared). The fascinating documentary’s only flaw is that it leaves you wanting to learn more about its intriguing subject.

A frustrating tease of a tribute that seems to merely scratch the surface of an overprotected child of privilege-turned-irrepressible bon vivant.

Very Good (3 stars)

Unrated

In English and Spanish with subtitles

Running time: 80 minutes

Distributor: First Run Features

To see a trailer for, visit:

http://www.altinathefilm.com/trailer/




Rocks in My Pockets
Film Review by Kam Williams

Rocks in My Pockets Still Image

Signe Baumane hails from a dysfunctional Latvian family whose females have historically been haunted by suicidal thoughts and bouts of depression to a disturbing degree. Signe traces the inherited predisposition back to her grandmother who tried to drown herself in a river in Riga but failed because she forgot to put rocks in her pockets.

That aborted attempt explains the title of this animated misadventure written, directed and narrated by Ms. Baumane in her heavy Latvian accent.

Intriguingly illustrated courtesy of an arresting mix of drawings and paper mache, the production is basically a captivating group portrait of weird women, each with a definite death wish

“Her body had a stronger will to live than her mind had a will to die,” Signe reflects about one relative’s unsuccessful attempt on her own life. Later, during a lesson on the etiquette of hanging oneself, the director suggests donning a pair of adult diapers because you‘ll otherwise poop and pee in your pants and leave a heck of a mess for loved ones to clean up.

Such gallows humor is par for the course in this relentlessly-dark comedy, and this offbeat departure into depravity is engaging enough, provided you’re in the mood to look at the lighter side of suicide. At least the story ends on a high note, namely, with Signe expressing gratitude to her mother for forcing her to socialize instead of just sitting around the house and listening to the self-destructive voices inside her head.

Who knew that hara-kiri was such a hilarious subject?

Very Good (2.5 stars)

Unrated

Running time: 89 minutes

Distributor: Zeitgeist Films



Reviews
userpicDon Lemon (INTERVIEW)
Posted by Kam Williams

Don Lemon

The “Ferguson, Missouri” Interview

with Kam Williams

 

Anchoring the National Conversation on Race

CNN’s Don Lemon has anchored and reported many breaking on-the-scene news stories, including the George Zimmerman trial, the Boston marathon bombing, the Philadelphia building collapse, the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, the Colorado Theater Shooting, the death of Whitney Houston, the Inauguration of President Barack Obama, the death of Michael Jackson, Hurricane Gustav in Louisiana, and the Minneapolis bridge collapse.

In 2009, Ebony Magazine dubbed Don one of the 150 most influential Blacks in America. Furthermore, he has won an Edward R. Murrow award for his coverage of the capture of the Washington, D.C. snipers, and an Emmy for a special report on real estate in Chicagoland.

Don earned a degree in broadcast journalism from Brooklyn College where he currently serves as an adjunct professor, teaching and participating in curriculum designed around new media. Here, he talks about CNN’s coverage of the recent shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.

 

Kam Williams: Hi Don, thanks for another opportunity to interview you.

Don Lemon: Hey, Kam, thanks for asking me.

 

KW: I appreciate your taking the time to speak with me, since you seem to be on CNN 24/7 lately. It’s been wall-to-wall Don Lemon from Ferguson, Missouri.

DL: [Chuckles] I don’t know about that. It’s been a tough go, but it’s an important story. I wanted to make sure I got it on and got it right.

 

KW: I have a ton of questions sent in for you by viewers. Attorney Bernadette Beekman asks: Do you think your ability to report from Ferguson, Missouri was adversely affected by your almost becoming a part of the story like when you got shoved or punched by that racist cop [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cDyOvrwYo5Q] or when rapper Talib Kweli [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ktv6IcDaozk ] put you in the awkward position of having to defend CNN’s coverage on the air?

DL: Well, I don’t know if I became part of the story. I just think we had so many resources devoted to it that we were way ahead of the competition. So, everyone tuned in to CNN, and they were watching us. [Regarding Talib Kweli] I’m not the only one on the air who’s been put in a position of defending our reporting. If someone comes on and criticizes it, we’re there to tell them the truth. [Regarding Officer Dan Page] I got pushed by an officer live on television, but that was just me doing my job. He pushed me, so it wasn’t as if I’d injected myself into the story. We were standing where we’d been instructed to stand, and he came around the corner and shoved me when I just happened to be doing a live shot on The Situation Room. I don’t think that made me part of the story. It was more that everyone was watching when news was breaking live around me.

 

KW: Do you still teach as an adjunct? What grade would you give yourself on the reporting of this story overall? 

DL: Yes, I still teach occasionally at Brooklyn College, but I’m now more than an adjunct. I’m on the board of trustees. I would have to give CNN an A+. I think we did a really good job. No one compared to us, resource-wise. We had every angle of that story covered. That’s why people saw it and felt it as if they were there. We did a great job bringing people there. And that’s that.  

 

KW: Editor Lisa Loving asks: Were there any teachable moments for you as a journalist covering the aftermath of the Michael Brown shooting?

DL: I think there’s always a lesson you can learn from any situation. In this case, I learned how tightly people hold onto their beliefs. And, here, people had really strong beliefs about this story on both sides. People supporting the officer felt Michael Brown did something wrong. Those supporting Michael Brown said the cop did something wrong. There was very little that you could do to convince either side otherwise, or simply to be objective and not jump to conclusions. So, if you were just reporting the facts, and said “Michael Brown did this…” you’d be challenged by his supporters asking, “How do you know that?” By the same token, if you said, “Witnesses say the cop did this…” the officer’s supporters would challenge you with “Well, how do you know that?” It reconfirmed that I have to be objective in my reporting and allow viewers to read into it whatever they want. So, the teachable moment for me was a reminder that I just have to state the facts.    

 

KW: Aaron Moyne asks: Are you satisfied that CNN has covered the Michael Brown case objectively, devoid of bias and sensationalism?

DL: Absolutely! My answer is “yes” and I’m so happy that Aaron asked this question because that means that people are paying close attention. So, it’s incumbent upon us not only to be objective but to be passionate about our reporting… meaning wanting to be there… wanting to tell the truth… and wanting to tell the story from all sides.

 

KW: A crowd control police officer overtly referred to protesters as “animals” on CNN. [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AQuo5-ewDR8] Is that sound bite an accurate reflection of the state of relations between Ferguson’s police officers and the African-American community?

DL: I can’t answer that because I’m not a resident of Ferguson. I can only tell you what, from being there, people are saying to me. And I know that there are some good officers in the Ferguson Police Department, and then there are some bad ones, just as in any police department around the country. But I don’t know if someone calling protesters “animals” is an accurate reflection of the Ferguson Police. You’d have to ask the police and the people of Ferguson. I know they have issues with the department. That’s what you saw playing out on television. They are passionately distrustful of the police. Many people are. There’s a disconnect between the police and the community. And so that’s a question that’s better answered by those who live there.   

 

KW: Has the court of public opinion already outweighed any opportunity for Officer Wilson to voice his rationale for shooting Michael Brown so many times?

DL: No, I don’t think it’s outweighed his rationale. The officer is yet to tell the public and the media what he did. I’m sure he’s already spoken with investigators. What everyone else is really waiting on is to hear his side of the story. But he can do that at any point. So, if anyone feels there’s been some bias in the reporting of the story that’s because only one side is telling their story. The officer hasn’t told his story in the first person. In the beginning, the Ferguson Police gave a version. Then they turned it over to St. Louis County. And then there’s an alleged friend of the police officer who called a radio station to tell her side of the story. But that’s really been it. So, you haven’t heard much from the officer’s side. However, you have heard from witnesses on the scene who have a lot to say about what they saw happen to Michael Brown. So, if you don’t have the officer or someone speaking on his behalf, how do you tell his story? You can’t.    

 

KW: In your opinion, was there a sufficient threat against the police for them to don riot gear, use teargas and make such a show of deadly force?

PH: I don’t know about a sufficient threat, but I do know there were agitators in the crowd. We saw some of them. Come on! We saw people get shot in front of us. I wasn’t at every scene that turned into a violent situation, but I did see protesters instigating in some instances. Still, the overwhelming majority of people said they were doing nothing but exercising their right to protest and to march on the street when all of a sudden they came up against a heavy police presence pushing them out of the way. I take them at their word that this was true. The police said to us that we didn’t see everything that’s going on... that people were throwing bottles of water and urine at them, and that when something’s flying through the air they have no idea whether it might be a Molotov cocktail. So, while I might tend to agree with the conventional wisdom that it looks like an overly-militarized presence, just judging from the optics of it, I would nevertheless take both sides at their word, because I’m not the police and I wasn’t in the crowd 100% of the time. I think there was some instigating by police, and I think there was some instigating by some of the people who were out in the crowd.  

 

KW: How has all the looting affected the public perception of the Mike Brown case? Did the optics of that serve to divide the country along color lines?

DL: I think in a way it distracted us from the real issues: first, the killing of Mike Brown and, secondly, the police’s relationship with certain members of the community. When you saw people stealing, that changed the narrative of the story. But it also showed how upset people are. I think you’d be hard-pressed to go back in history and find any sort of major change achieved without some sort of upheaval. Even during the peaceful, non-violent Civil Rights Movement, something would break out. There are often people in a crowd who will do things they’re not supposed to, even during the celebration of winning the Stanley Cup, the World Cup or the NBA championship. We see it all the time. It was no different in Ferguson. But it doesn’t suggest that the people there are different from anyone else. It’s just that there were a few agitators in the crowd. And yes, I do think it did take our focus off of what’s really important.    

 

KW: Do you have any qualms about the black community making Michael Brown the poster child for police brutality, assuming he had robbed a store and roughed up its owner just minutes before his confrontation with Officer Wilson?

DL: Listen, I can’t make people act or react a certain way. They’re going to do whatever they’re going to do. As with any situation, I would just urge caution and that people reserve judgment until all the facts are out. But I do know that, regardless of what happens with Michael Brown, it’s important that we get to the truth. That doesn’t take away the distrust of the police and the way certain people are treated by them in our society. This has really opened up that line of conversation. So, if anything comes out of this, hopefully it’s a conversation that encourages police departments around the country to look at themselves and to figure out ways to serve their communities better.    

 

KW: Ray Hirschman asks: Based on the evidence surrounding the case now, do you have a gut feeling whether the police officer will walk or be charged with homicide and found guilty?

DL: You never know how these things are going to turn out. But, and I say this knowing people are going to get upset, if you look back at the history of similar cases, it’s very tough to convict a police officer in a situation like this. Juries often decide that it’s easy for people to armchair quarterback when they don’t know what a cop has to deal with out there on the streets. I think the grand jury will have that in the back of their minds. But I just want justice, whatever that is, whether the Michael Brown or the police officer is right. And I think that’s what most people want. However, history has shown that it’s very hard to convict a police officer under circumstances like this. That’s not to say it’s not going to happen, but it’s going to be tough.

 

KW: Steve Kramer asks: Is there any chance CNN would consider devoting an equal amount of coverage to the horrific black-on-black killings being committed by gangs against other gangs and innocent bystanders that occur daily in so many inner-cities in places like Chicago, Detroit, Philly and Newark?

DL: Steve may have a short memory, because we do devote a lot of attention to that. We cover Chicago, black-on-black crime, and violence in big cities a lot. The only reason people probably bring it up is because this is a flashpoint, so you see it on the news now. Ordinarily, we spend more time covering daily violence in big cities than we do covering a story like this. I devote entire newscasts to what happens on the streets in major cities all the time. It’s just that people might not have tuned in to see it, or it might not draw the attention, because you don’t see any rioting or teargas. But we do it all the time.

 

KW: Have you been the victim of a profile stop by police?

DL: I have had interaction with police officers, yes. What man of color hasn’t? That’s the reality. I was also detained for “shopping while black.” Listen, I live in America. If I live in this country, things are going to happen to me, especially as a black man. I’ve talked about my experiences before, but I don’t really want to be the story.

 

KW: Thanks again for the time, Don, and keep up the good work.

DL: You’re welcome. Sorry, if I sounded tired.

 

KW: You must feel exhausted. You’re on the air every time I turn on CNN. But no need to apologize. This was another great interview. Get some rest.

DL: Will do. Thank you very much, Kam. I appreciate talking to you.




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