Film Review by Kam Williams
Cash-strapped Katherine McCoy (Vivica A. Fox) is holding down a couple of jobs to make ends meet while praying that her sons stay on the straight and narrow path until they can make it out of the ghetto. Though grown, both boys still live at home, yet neither is helping their struggling single-mom much financially.
At least the younger one, Michael (Robert Ri’chard), is close to graduating from college and works part-time at a diner as a short order chef. But he hasn’t even been able to save enough from that minimum wage position to have his car fixed, so he has to get around Los Angeles by bicycle. By comparison, his 30 year-old brother Chris (DeRay Davis) is a trash-talking hustler who shows more of an interest in hanging out on the streets than in finding gainful employment.
The siblings’ fortunes change the day they decide to patronize the local gentlemen’s club. For, while Michael is relieving himself in the men’s room, he’s approached by the owner (Michael Jai White) about stripping there on Ladies’ Night.
Initially, the handsome hunk hesitates out of concern about how his girlfriend (Imani Hakim) and his Bible-thumping mother might react to his moonlighting in his birthday suit. However, after taking the time to watch girls go wild over buff beefcake (played by Tyson Beckford, Ginuwine and others), he decides to throw caution to the wind.
So, on the advice of his brother-turned-promoter, he’s given the stage name “Sexy Chocolate.” I suppose taking “Magic Mike” might have been a tad too transparent even for this unapologetic rip-off.
Despite soon raking in the big bucks, Michael’s life nevertheless starts to come apart at the seams. His grades plunge from As to Fs. His mother worries about whether her son’s sudden gains are ill-gotten. And his girlfriend gets the surprise of her life the evening she shows up with her BFFs.
Written and directed by Jean-Claude La Marre (the Pastor Jones franchise), Chocolate City is basically a blackface version of Magic Mike that trades shamelessly in the same sort of titillating fare which made that flick a runaway hit a few years ago. A derivative, estrogen-fueled, overcoming-the-odds saga strictly recommended for females interested in seeing sepia-skinned Adonises gyrate while disrobing to mind-numbing disco music.
Good (2 stars)
Rated R for profanity, brief violence, partial nudity and pervasive sexuality
Running time: 91 minutes
Distributor: Freestyle Releasing
To see a trailer for Chocolate City, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=42HA58cBHAM
Vivica A. Fox, Tyson Beckford and Robert Ri’chard
The “Chocolate City” Interview
with Kam Williams
Is Vivica Really Dating the Handsome Hunk Who Plays Her Son in the Movie?
Vivica A. Fox, Tyson Beckford and Robert Ri’chard co-star in Chocolate City which is basically a remake of Magic Mike. Director Jean-Claude La Marre explains that he felt an African-American variation on the male stripper theme was in order, given the absence of black faces in the original.
This version of the tale revolves around a cash-strapped college kid (Richard) who hides from his mother (Fox) the fact that he’s moonlighting as an exotic dancer at a neighborhood nightclub on ladies’ night. The three recently spoke to me via a conference call about the film, and also about the rumors circulating in the tabloids of a steamy set romance between Vivica and Robert.
Kam Williams: Hey, thanks for the interview.
Robert Ri’chard: Hey Vivica, how are you?
Vivica Fox: I’m fine darling. How are you?
RR: When are you going to take me out for a glass of champagne, so I can buy you some chocolate?
VAF: [Laughs] You’re starting way too early, Robert. What, are you in need of a mimosa already? You’re too much! Too much!
Tyson Beckford: [Joins call] Hey, what’s happening everybody?
VAF: Hey, Tyson.
RR: I heard you’re in Vegas.
TB: No, I was in Los Angeles a few hours ago. But now I’m in New York. And I’ll be back in Vegas at this time tomorrow.
RR: I wanna dance tomorrow.
TB: You keep sayng that, but you’ve got to rehearse. You can’t just show up and get onstage. We’ll have to work you out. You’re rusty.
RR: I want to come to a rehearsal tomorrow.
TB: We don’t have one scheduled. I’ll have to bring you in and rehearse you real quick, if I have time for it.
KW: Let me start off the interview with a question from children’s book author Irene Smalls. She asks: What interested each of you in Chocolate City?
TB: I’ll answer first, since I was the first to sign on. What interested me was the script. I loved how the characters showed their emotions. It made me feel for Robert’s character [Michael], because I’ve been through that as a college student trying to make my way through life. And I did the whole topless waiter thing in a male revue before, so I knew I could connect with it. In addition, I found the idea of Jean-Claude [director Jean-Claude La Marre] building an entire cast around me kind of intriguing. I was eager to see what he would come up with. So, that’s why I jumped in.
VAF: I’ll be very honest with you, Kam. I had worked with Jean-Claude before and, when I heard that he was doing this, I went to see Magic Mike. And I went, “Wow! How crazy is it that they don’t have any African-Americans in this?” I felt that whoever makes this film African-American will win. Jean-Claude let me know he wanted me to play the mom and, when he told me about the cast, I said, “I’m so totally in for this.” I’ve seen it, and it’s awesome. It’s a feel-good, girl’s night out film that everybody will enjoy.
KW: And why’d you do the film, Robert?
RR: Because I had a crush on Vivica.
TB: You see, that’s how rumors get started, Robert!
RR: The first time I ever modeled, I walked the runway with Tyson. And he let me walk in front of him. He was the man! I was like, “This is my dude!” So, when I was approached about working with him for a whole movie, I didn’t hesitate for a second. I just said, “Count me in.”
KW: Is there any truth to the rumor that you two are an item since making this movie?
VAF: Yes, Robert Ri’chard is the love of my life!
RR: The rumor’s not big enough.
VAF: [Laughs] We’re having fun, but let me set the record straight. No, it’s not true. It was my first time working with him. And our scenes were so intense that everybody was like, “Wow! They have a major connection with each other.” But it was literally mutual respect as actors. There’s no romance going on.
RR: Yet. I wonder how the tabloids are predicting the future.
KW: Editor/Legist Patricia Turnier for Vivica: I am a big fan and have followed your career since the late Eighties. I probably watched Two Can Play That Game, one of my favorite romantic-comedies, over 40 times. Is there any chance you’ll make another sequel of this movie?
VAF: We actually made one sequel, called Three Can Play That Game. I did co-produce the film, but it didn’t do as well, because they didn’t allow me to have my original cast back. Lord, would I love to get that original cast back together, and do the real sequel that should’ve been done, because it’s a cult classic, and it’s been done by other nationalities. So, I’d love to do a true sequel. Absolutely!
KW: Patricia would also like to know whether you might like to direct in the future.
VAF: Ooh! Directing is a lot of responsibility. In the future, yes, but I probably wouldn’t get into that for another five years or so.
KW: Patricia has a question for Tyson. She says. You have roots in Panama, and I am taking this occasion to say that I went there last year for almost a month. I was very moved by the warmth of the people there. Not one person was impatient towards me when I looked for words in my French-Spanish dictionnary to communicate with them. Given your diverse background, would you be open to play in a foreign film in the future?
TB: Yeah, I would definitely love to do that. Panama is like one of my homes. I have cousins down there that I’d like to bond with. So, I‘d love to make a movie there.
KW: What advice do you have for guys who want to follow into your footstep in modeling and for those who want to be involved in modeling?
TB: That’s tough to answer, because you have to be cut from a certain type of cloth. You have to have be a certain height, build and a have a certain look. You can’t just wake up and decide to model one day. It’s hard to explain, but getting into the business is all about the features.
KW: “Realtor to the Stars” Jimmy Bayan says: Vivica, when you're really feeling naughty, and you just want to let your diet go off the rails, what's your guiltiest pleasure? Is there a place you specifically go in LA to get some really “bad" food? The type that makes you say, “Boy, I'm gonna have to hit the gym tomorrow.”
TB and RR: [LOL]
VAF: Do you hear them giggling in the background? I hear you. They’re so bad! Can you imagine having to deal with this all day? Where do I go? Two places: Casa Vega, because I love some good ole Mexican food, and California Pizza Kitchen, because I also love pizza. Those are my guilty pleasures, and not something else that they’re snickering about.
TB and RR: [Laugh some more]
KW: Jimmy also says: Tyson, you've enjoyed an enduring modeling career. When you started out, did you think this modeling thing would last as long as it has? Did you always have your sights set on the acting thing as a logical extension?
TB: A lot of people don’t know this, but I started out as an actor. Along the way, I was offered a modeling job, and the modeling took off. So, I put the acting off to the side. Still, I always told myself that once I made enough money, I was going to get out of the game. I didn’t intend to stay this long. I figured once my contract with Ralph [Lauren] was over, that I would go right into acting. But it’s taken awhile for Hollywood to recognize me. In fact, I still feel like they don’t recognize me yet, but they’re going to soon.
VAF: I know that’ right!
TB: You know me, Viv. You see how hard-headed I am. I ain’t stopping ‘til I get there.
VAF: I can tell you I’m so proud, because everyone’s really, really loving you at Chippendale’s, and you are just doing your thing. I’m so proud of you!
TB: Oh, thank you, babe.
KW: Reverend Florine Thompson asks: How do you maintain centered spiritually?
VAF: For me, it’s by keeping things simple, as far as the crowd of people that I’m around. I’ve also really learned to focus on family, and on how to be happy with myself from within.
RR: I come from a very religious family and, for me, the key is my family unit which supports me and keeps me grounded when it comes to just giving it up to God, and putting God first.
TB: I might not go to church as much as I should, but I walk with God every day. I speak to Him, I ask Him for things, and what I can do for Him. And we have a fair trade that has worked out for me.
KW: When you look in the mirror, what do you see?
TB: I see someone with drive who is not a quitter.
VAF: A grown woman who’s happy in her skin.
RR: An ordinary American son with extraordinary experience.
KW: Lastly, what’s in your wallet?
VAF: American Express and $200 in cash.
RR: I’ve got a Mastercard and about the same amount of money.
TB: American Express. I never leave home without it! [Laughs]
KW: Thanks again for the time, everyone, and best of luck with the film.
VAF: Alright, thank you, Kam
TB: Take care.
RR: Thanks, Kam.
To see a trailer for Chocolate City, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=42HA58cBHAM
Pitch Perfect 2
Film Review by Kam Williams
The Bellas are back and badder than before! In case you’re unfamiliar with the sassy, all-girl singing group, they’re students at Barden University, a fictional college located in Atlanta, Georgia. In the original, the students overcame a number of frustrating setbacks on the slow road to victory at the national acappella competition.
This semester, the motley crew led by super senior Chloe (Brittany Snow) has its sights set on the world championships in Copenhagen. However, they get off to a horrible start, thanks to an embarrassing, onstage wardrobe malfunction experienced by Fat Amy’(Rebel Wilson) while dangling at the end of a rope during a command performance for President Obama and the First Lady.
The audience lets out a collective gasp when she splits her leotard down the crotch, thereby completely exposing her private parts to the world. By the time the dust finally settles on the ensuing reactions to “Muffgate” by the media, the Barden Bellas find themselves temporarily suspended from competition by the board of governors.
Not to worry, the storyline seizes on that pause in the musical cause as a convenient excuse to develop the back stories of several group members. Amy has an ardent admirer in Bumper (Adam DeVine), but will she ever let her guard down long enough to share her sensitive side? Meanwhile, Beca (Anna Kendrick) secretly takes an internship with a Grammy-winning record producer (Keegan-Michael Key) with hopes of having him listen to the tunes she’s composed.
There’s also drama surrounding an angry black lesbian (Ester Dean), a freshman legacy admission Emily (Hailee Steinfeld) with low self-esteem; and an undocumented alien (Chrissie Fit), afraid of being deported. The pithy banter, here, frequently borders on the politically-incorrect, but it somehow works, perhaps because it’s never too mean-spirited.
As the assorted controversies are gradually amicably resolved, specter of the big showdown with the German defending world champs, The Sound Machine, looms ever larger on the horizon. Curiously, though billed as a celebration of acappella renditions of classic hits and show tunes, all the vocalists are actually accompanied by musical instruments.
Will the Bellas win? What? Are you in a rush? Just sit back and enjoy the irreverent ride. As one-man band Bobby McFerrin would warble, “Don’t worry, be happy.” A road to redemption paved with wisecracks and wonderful harmonies.
Very Good (3 stars)
Rated PG-13 for profanity and sexual innuendo
Running time: 115 minutes
Distributor: Universal Pictures
To see a trailer for Pitch Perfect 2, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6bh4mvJ5jUg
The “Mad Max: Fury Road / Good Kill” Interview
with Kam Williams
Born December 1, 1988, Zoë Isabella Kravitz is the daughter of 5-time Grammy-winner Lenny Kravitz and Emmy-nominated actress Lisa Bonet (for The Cosby Show). The versatile entertainer has followed in the footsteps of both of her parents, between fronting the bands Elevator Fight and Lolawolf and an acting career that has enjoyed a meteoric rise as of late.
This spring alone, Zoë has a half-dozen films released in theaters, including the blockbusters Insurgent and Mad Max: Fury Road, as well as Good Kill, The Road Within, Dope and Treading Water. Here, she talks about life and about her latest movies.
Kam Williams: Hi Zoë, thanks for the interview. I’m honored to have this opportunity.
Zoe Kravitz: No worries, Kam. How are you?
KW: Great, thanks. I don’t know whether you’re aware that I’ve interviewed both your mom and your dad.
ZK: No, I wasn’t aware. Cool!
KW: Also, the headline, when I interviewed your mom, read “Lisa Bonet Ate No Basil,” which I assume you know is a palindrome.
ZK: No, I never heard that before. That’s cool, too.
KW: How do you explain your career taking off this year? You’re in a half dozen new movies this spring: Insurgent, Treading Water, The Road Within, Good Kill, Mad Max and Dope.
ZK: I don’t know, man. I’ve basically been working really hard for the past couple years. And the nature of the film business is that movies come out when they come out, and these all just happen to be coming out at the same time. [Giggles]
KW: How did you enjoy making Mad Max: Fury Road?
ZK: It was good. It was really intense. It was a very long process. It was a six- month shoot in Africa. And it was crazy, Kam. I mean, the stunts were kind of crazy, and they were all shot at real speed. The costumes were insane and the conditions were really harsh. So, it was a very intense film to make, but well worth it.
KW: Is it fair to assume that making Mad Max was more like shooting Insurgent than your other new films?
ZK: In some ways, yes, but I don’t even know if I can compare it to Insurgent. Mad Max is kind of like a beast of its own.
KW: What interested you in Good Kill, which is an excellent film? There, you play drone co-pilot Suarez, who is a pretty complicated character with an intriguing arc.
ZK: Thank you so much. When I read the script, it read like a science fiction film. And Andrew [writer/director Andrew Niccol] is known for sci-fi. But when I spoke to him, he said this picture was 100% factual, which blew my mind. I realized then how little I knew about the drone program. And I felt that, if I knew so little about it, there must be others who should be educated about what’s going on. So, first, I wanted to be a part of the project because I thought it was an important story to tell. On top of that, it’s rare to find roles for strong, young, feisty women, especially in a military film. And I love that Suarez ends up being the moral compass of the story, and that she’s also brave enough to stand up to all these men.
KW: It’s very well-written. The dialogue uses so much military and contemporary cultural jargon that it’s very convincing.
ZK: Like “Good kill!” [Chuckles]
KW: I also thought you were great in Treading Water. What made you decide to play the love interest in that offbeat romantic dramedy?
ZK: I just found that story so bizarre. [Laughs] It’s a very sweet love story wrapped around an outlandish premise.
KW: Yes, it’s definitely unique. Editor Lisa Loving says: Zoe is super-duper cool. Just watching the trailer for her new movie with Dev Patel, The Road Within, made me cry.
ZK: That’s so sweet!
KW: She asks: What’s the secret of your mother, father and stepfather getting along so well?
ZK: I don’t know what the secret is. We’re a family… We all love each other… and we’ve all worked through whatever issues there’ve ever been, and in a healthy way. So, we all get along. Love conquers all, I guess.
KW: Sangeetha Subramanian says: Hi Zoe! They say it takes 90 days to get in the grove of a new job. Do you feel like you’ve been getting enough time to prepare for each new project lately?
ZK: This might surprise you, but I do feel like I have, because the shooting of all these films was spread out, for the most part. They just happen to be coming out at the same time.
KW: Children’s book author Irene Smalls asks: How do you prepare for each new role?
ZK: It kind of varies. I don’t have a method yet. It depends on the script and the character I think I need. I’ve worked with acting coaches, researched roles, and channeled different parts of myself. It’s on a case-by-case for me, right now.
KW: Harriet Pakula-Teweles says: At just 26, you already have a solid background in various fields: acting, singing and songwriting, modeling and designing. Which feels the most comfortable, and what direction do you hope to take in the near future?
ZK: Music and acting are the most prominent. But I don’t like to compare them, since they’re both very, very important to me.
KW: Editor/Legist Patricia Turnier was wondering whether your having mixed ethnic roots might have played a role in your eating disorders. She asks because she knows several people struggling with society’s tendency to narrowly define beauty. Do you think women are unfairly judged by their physical appearance?
ZK: I do think women are unfairly judged by their physical appearance, but I don’t think it had anything to do with being mixed-race. In my opinion, mixed-race people are the most beautiful.
KW: “Realtor to the Stars” Jimmy Bayan asks: What would be your dream spot to live in L.A. and in the world?
ZK: I can’t say about L.A., because I don’t live there. I love the Bahamas. Our family is from there. I also like Berlin and would love to live there for a while.
KW: Is there any question no one ever asks you, that you wish someone would?
ZK: [LOL] No, I might not even know until someone asks me the question.
KW: When you look in the mirror, what do you see?
ZK: It depends on the day.
KW: The bookworm Troy Johnson question: What was the last book you read?
ZK: I haven’t read a book in a long time. I’ve just been reading scripts lately. It’s terrible. [Laughs] I think the last one I read was the entire Divergent series. [Laughs]
KW: The music maven Heather Covington question: What was the last song you listened to?
ZK: I recent to Erykah Badu’s “Mama’s Gun.” That whole album.
KW: What is your favorite dish to cook?
ZK: Squash and quinoa and kale and salmon.
KW: The Uduak Oduok question: Who is your favorite clothes designer?
ZK: I don’t know. I always say Alexander Wang because he’s one of my dearest friends and he’s the one I’m most familiar with. I don’t know a lot about designers’ names.
KW: If you could have one wish instantly granted, what would that be for?
ZK: It sounds like a silly pageant answer, but world peace.
KW: That’s not silly at all, since this is a time when it’s really needed. Harriet also asks: With so many classic films being redone, is there a remake you'd like to star in?
ZK: Ooh! That’s a hard question, because I believe “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” I’d have to think about it.
KW: The Ling-Ju Yen question: What is your earliest childhood memory?
ZK: I remember playing at my grandmothers’ houses when I was about 4 or 5.
KW: The Melissa Harris-Perry question:How did your first big heartbreak impact who you are as a person?
ZK: I think it probably just taught me that you will always heal. That this too shall pass. The first time you feel that sort of pain, you think it’s never going to go away. Once you do survive it, you realize you can survive anything.
KW: The Viola Davis question: What’s the biggest difference between who you are at home as opposed to the person we see on the red carpet?
ZK: Well, , at home, I’m in sweatpants, I’m not wearing any makeup, and I’m not standing with my hand on my hip while smiling. [Laughs] I try to be honest in interviews, but obviously you have to be careful about everything you say and do when you’re being recorded. I’m much more comfortable and quieter at home.
KW: The Teri Emerson question: When was the last time you had a good laugh?
ZK: Earlier today. I like to laugh a lot.
KW: What was your first job?
ZK: I never had a real job. I started acting in high school, and then I started working. So, I never got to have that experience.
KW: The Tasha Smith question: Are you ever afraid?
ZK: All the time.
KW: The Anthony Anderson question: If you could have a superpower, which one would you choose?
ZK: Flight! 100%! Flight!
KW: What advice do you have for anyone who wants to follow in your footsteps?
ZK: Be confident, and just do it. It’s all about not questioning what everyone else is thinking, since they’re probably looking to others to know what is or isn’t cool.
KW: Attorney Bernadette Beekman asks: Do you have a favorite charity?
ZK: No, not one favorite, I’ve worked with a few different charities, including one in Africa dealing with the AIDS epidemic. I also like helping people who need food.
KW: The Judyth Piazza question: What key quality do you believe all successful people share?
ZK: Being genuine.
KW: The Tavis Smiley question: How do you want to be remembered?
ZK: Again, as genuine. I think the best that you can do is stay true to who you are, whatever that is.
KW: Your parents are two of the most grounded and normal celebrities I’ve interviewed. And you strike as just as real and accessible.
ZK: Oh, thank you so much. I appreciate that, since that’s all we really have.
KW: What’s in your wallet?
ZK: A Metro card, a credit card, a few dollar bills, and a chai tea card. After I buy a certain number of cups, I get a free one.
KW: Thanks again for the time, Zoë, and best of luck with all your films. And I hope to speak to you again soon.
ZK: Alright. Take care, Kam.
To see a trailer for Mad Max, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yd7kZaMsPDM
To see a trailer for Good Kill, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y5RBtNCaogU
To see a trailer for Treading Water, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mCpQeywlrV4
To see a trailer for Insurgent, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IR-l_TSjlEo
To see a trailer of The Road Within, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-MYzi2TPRcM
To see a trailer for Dope, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L41xwM8tIRQ
Mad Max: Fury Road
Film Review by Kam Williams
Fury Road reboots the legendary Mad Max franchise which has been sitting dormant for several decades. This fourth installment was again produced, written and directed by Oscar-winner George Miller (for Happy Feet) who tapped Tom Hardy to replace disgraced Mel Gibson in the title role as Max Rockatansky, the highway patrol officer-turned-intrepid road warrior given to dispensing a grisly brand of vigilante justice.
Set in 2060 AD, this post-apocalyptic adventure unfolds in the relentlessly-grim dystopia left in the wake of the series of global calamities that led to a total breakdown of civilization. At the point of departure, we find Max haunted by his tragic past and hunted by desperate scavengers as he drifts around the vast wasteland in a rusty, rattling, off-road muscle car.
The stoic gunslinger’s resolve to go it alone is soon tested when he crosses paths with Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron), a fearless alpha female making a break across the desert with former sex slaves hidden in the hold of her big rig. She’s just freed the traumatized quintet from the clutches of Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne), a ruthless tyrant who wants his breeders back, especially Splendid (Rosie Huntington-Whiteley), since she’s already pregnant and possibly carrying his first male heir.
The enraged warlord has dispatched a caravan of bloodthirsty goons who will stop at nothing to retrieve his so-called “wives.” Fortunately, they’ve found a sympathetic soul in Max who agrees to join forces with Furiosa upon being apprised of their plight.
The plan is to drive non-stop across the desert to “The Green Place,” a Shangri-La rumored to be teeming with water, vegetation and other scarce natural resources. But getting there proves to be all the fun, as our intrepid hero and heroine negotiate a relentless gauntlet of evil adversaries in dune buggies outfitted with a very creative variety of deadly military hardware.
An edge-of-your-seat, adrenaline-fueled, high body-count splatterfest that remains riveting from start to finish despite dispensing with the idea of plot development once the premise has been set.
Excellent (4 stars)
Rated R for disturbing images and relentless intense violence
Running time: 120 minutes
Distributor: Warner Brothers
To see a trailer for Mad Max: Fury Road, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MonFNCgK4WE