From the Rough
Film Review by Kam Williams
Catana Starks was serving as the female swim coach at Tennessee State University (TSU), when she learned that the school’s Athletic Director, Kendrick Paulsen, Jr. (Henry Simmons), was planning to form a golf team. Since golf had always been her first love, she approached him about becoming the new squad’s head coach.
Her first hurdle, however, was convincing him that despite being female, she’d be able to field and manage an all-male squad. Second, she’d have to fill the roster with some promising prospects.
The latter might prove to be quite a challenge, since TSU, as an HBCU (Historically-Black College/University), had an overwhelmingly African-American student body. That might make it hard to recruit good golfers. Try naming me a good black one besides Tiger Woods.
So, Catana had her work cut out for her when A.D. Paulsen did decide to give her a shot. She began by widening her search beyond the school’s normal pool of African-American candidates.
She looked near and far, even overseas, and by the beginning of the season she‘d assembled a motley, international quintet comprised of an African-American, a Frenchman, a South Korean, an Australian and a Brit. While they all were talented, each arrived on campus carrying some sort of emotional baggage.
Ji-Kyung (Justin Chon) is a wannabe gangsta who wears his pants and speaks Ebonic slang. Meanwhile, Bassam (Ben Youcef), an Algerian from Paris, is bitter about the fact that he had to matriculate in America because of discrimination against Arabs back in his homeland.
Then there’s Edward (Tom Felton), an English juvenile delinquent with a criminal record. Rounding out the crew are Cameron (Paul Hodge), an Aussie with allergies, and Craig, a black kid suffering from the soft bigotry of low expectations.
Of course, Catana proceeds to whip the boys into shape, intermittently turning to the sage school janitor (the late Michael Clarke Duncan) for advice whenever she feels the weight of the world on her shoulders. The flick also features an interracial romance between bad boy Ed and a Goody Two-Shoes (Letoya Luckett) on her way to medical school.
So, unfolds From the Rough, an inspirational overcoming-the-odds biopic co-written and directed by Pierre Bagley. The tale of female empowerment unfolds in fairly formulaic fashion, which means it’s designed for youngsters unfamiliar with the shopworn sports genre.
A well-deserved, if syrupy sweet, overdue tribute to an African-American role model and trailblazer.
Very Good (2.5 stars)
Rated PG for mild epithets and mature themes
Running time: 97 minutes
Distributor: Freestyle Releasing
To see a trailer for From the Rough, visit
Taraji P. Henson
The “From the Rough” Interview
with Kam Williams
You Gotta See Taraji!
Taraji P. Henson earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress opposite Brad Pitt in David Fincher’s THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON. She is a 2011 Emmy-nominee for Best Actress in a Movie or Miniseries for Lifetime’s TAKEN FROM ME. Taraji also starred as Detective Joss Carter in the highly-rated CBS crime drama PERSON OF INTEREST. She was a series regular on BOSTON LEGAL and enjoyed a recurring role on ELI STONE
On the big screen, she starred in the #1 box office hit THINK LIKE A MAN, as well as in its upcoming sequel, THINK LIKE A MAN, TOO. And in September, she’ll be starring opposite Idris Elba in NO GOOD DEED.
Taraji’s additional credits include LARRY CROWNE, THE KARATE KID, DATE NIGHT, I CAN DO BAD ALL BY MYSELF, PEEP WORLD, THE GOOD DOCTOR, SOMETHING NEW, NOT EASILY BROKEN, HURRICANE SEASON, THE FAMILY THAT PREYS SMOKIN’ ACES and ONCE FALLEN. In addition, she received rave reviews for her work in TALK TO ME and HUSTLE & FLOW, making her singing debut performing the Academy Award-winning song “It’s Hard out Here for a Pimp” on the Oscar telecast.
Taraji is well remembered for her role as Yvette opposite Tyrese in BABY BOY, and collaborated with director John Singleton a third time on FOUR BROTHERS. Plus, she was featured in Jamie Foxx’s music video “Just Like Me” and also appeared in Estelle’s “Pretty Please.”
Born and raised in Washington, DC, the Howard University graduate resides in Los Angeles with her son, Marcel. She dedicates much of her spare time to helping disabled and less fortunate children.
Here, she talks about her new film, FROM THE ROUGH, an inspirational biopic where she portrays Catana Starks, the African-American trailblazer who became the first female to coach an NCAA Division-1 men’s team when she accepted the reins of the golf squad at Tennessee State.
Kam Williams: Hi Taraji, thanks for the interview.
Taraji P. Henson: Oh, no worries, Kam.
KW: What interested you in this film?
TPH: Well, first of all, I’d never seen a movie about a female coach before, outside of that Goldie Hawn comedy from years ago, Wildcats. And I had certainly never seen an African-American woman portrayed this way in a drama. That was the first thing that interested me. Then, when I read the script, I went, “Wow! What an amazing story!” She had all the odds stacked against her, yet she and her team won. And it was all because of the tenacity and belief and passion that she instilled in her players.
KW: I had never heard of Catana Starks before seeing this film. Why do you think she’s so unheralded?
TPH: Honestly, I don’t know. Maybe, because she didn’t coach at an Ivy League or big name school, but at an historically-black university. That’s another reason why I did the film. I felt the world needed to know about this woman, which is what we’re trying to do now.
KW: Editor/Legist Patricia Turnier asks: Are you an athletic person? In other words, what are the similarities and differences between you and Catana Starks?
TPH: [Chuckles] I’m not really an athlete, though I’m quite capable of playing one on TV or film. [LOL] I’ve been to the driving range, and I do have good hand-eye coordination, but that’s about it. I’m not going to try to play basketball.
KW: Patricia also asks:What does Catana Starks mean to you and how did you prepare for the role?
TPH: She means the world to me, because she proved that you can accomplish anything in life as long as you believe, have faith and work hard. How did I prepare for the role? I spent a lot of time at the driving range and talking to Dr. Starks before filming. Because she wasn’t a recognizable figure, I wasn’t worried about walking or sounding like her, I just wanted to bring her essence to life. And that’s all she was concerned about too.
KW: Has she seen the film? What did she think of it?
TPH: Yes she has, and I think she’s quite happy about it.
KW: Patricia closes by saying: I really enjoyed your performance and your character, Lauren, in Think like a Man. I can't wait to see Think like a Man Too this summer. Is there anything you can share about the sequel without spoiling it?
TPH: We go to Vegas, and one of the couples is getting married, but I can’t say who it is. It is hilarious! Some people say it’s funnier than the first one. But you be the judge, Patricia.
KW: Environmental activist Grace Sinden says: You've had a successful career in movies and television. What aspect of your work has given you the greatest satisfaction?
TPH: What gives me the greatest satisfaction is the number of people I can affect with my gift, with what I do. That’s the most important thing to me, more important than any trophy or award.
KW: Grace has a follow-up. Do you want your son to have a life in show business?
TPH: I want him to find his own passion, whatever that is. I just want him to be happy and successful in whatever he decides to do.
KW: Robin Beckham of PittsburghUrbanMedia says: It was recently reported that Jaden Smith and Jackie Chan are making a sequel to Karate Kid. Will you be rejoining the cast as Jaden’s mother?
TPH: I hope so, if that rumor’s true.
KW: Harriet Pakula-Teweles says:I'm really sorry you got killed off on the TV show Person of Interest. You work with ease in movies, music and TV. Which of these media is your favorite and how does it best show your talents?
TPH: I would have to say movies are my favorite. I love doing TV, too, but it’s always rush, rush, rush. With a feature film, those moments and scenes get a chance to breathe, because you don’t have to accomplish as much in one day.
KW: Documentary filmmaker/professor and author Hisani Dubose says: Not many African-American actors have the juice to greenlight a project. She’s wondering whether you are in a position to get a project that you like greenlighted?
TPH: I’m getting there. Hopefully, the success of From the Rough will help, because you first have to prove that you’re bankable at the box office, before you can greenlight anything. So, I hope to have that kind of leverage after this film.
KW: Could you say something controversial that would get this interview tweeted?
TPH: I don’t know. I could say a lot of things.
KW: When I asked Marlon Wayans that, he said, “Yeah, I could, but it might end my career.”
TPH: Yeah, totally. [Chuckles]
KW: The Sanaa Lathan question: What excites you?
TPH: Life! Just waking up everyday, and having another chance to get it right.
KW: The bookworm Troy Johnson question: What was the last book you read?
TPH: “I Declare” by Joel Osteen.
KW: The Kerry Washington question: If you were an animal, what animal would you be?
TPH: Probably a bird. I like anything with feathers that can fly.
KW: The Anthony Anderson question: If you could have a superpower, which one would you choose?
TPH: I think I’d like to be able to control the weather, like Storm [the character from the X-Men].
KW: The Anthony Mackie question: Isthere anything that you promised yourself you’d do if you became famous, that you still haven’t done yet?
TPH: Yes, visit Africa. I haven’t done that yet.
KW: Attorney Bernadette Beekman asks: What is your favorite charity?
TPH: A charity that my best friend since 7th grade started called Art Creates Life. [ http://www.artcreateslife.org/ ] She raises money to take inner-city children to Africa. Isn’t that crazy? I donate and I support that organization, but I’ve never been to Africa myself. I’ve sent a lot of kids there, though.
KW: That’s funny! The Melissa Harris-Perry question:How did your first big heartbreak impact who you are as a person?
TPH: It proved to me that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.
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?
TPH: I’m pretty much the same. I’m consistent. There aren’t two me’s. There is only one me. I can only be myself, and that’s who I always am whether I’m at home or on the carpet.
KW: Thanks again for the time, Taraji. I really appreciate it. Good luck with the film.
TPH: Thank you so much, Kam.
To see a trailer for From the Rough, visit: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lKYfKidQnOQ
Tanzania: A Journey Within
Film Review by Kam Williams
After finishing high school, Venance Ndibalema made the most of an opportunity to leave Tanzania to study physics and philosophy at the University of Miami. Now, he’s ready to visit his homeland for the first time in years, a trip likely to prove traumatic, given the changes both he and the country have undergone during the interim.
Accompanying him on the eventful return to Dar es Salaam is Kristen Kenney, a fellow Miami alumnus who’s never been to Africa. A child of privilege, she must brace herself for the culture shock involved in adjusting to modest accommodations sans most of the modern conveniences she’s always taken for granted.
The subsequent sojourn is the subject of Tanzania: A Journey Within, a documentary chronicling Venance and Kristen’s emotional and physical challenges long the way. Directed by Sylvia Caminer, the picture is worth watching for the spectacular visuals and anthropological insights alone, given the off-road trekker’s point-of-view it affords the audience of everything from Mount Kilimanjaro to the Serengeti Plains.
However, proving just as compelling is the badinage between Venance and Kristen, as well as their chats with everyone they encounter. He enjoys a reunion with his BFF William, and searches for a sibling he hasn’t seen in over a decade. Meanwhile, Kristen experiences a sense of exhilaration at exploring new places and at being so close to nature, at least until she becomes deathly-ill during a bout with Malaria.
Nevertheless, she has to admit that she’d grown up in the lap of luxury, so spoiled, in fact that she never even had to cook her own food. By contrast, Venance reflects upon the harshness of formative years spent fatherless in abject poverty exacerbated by his HIV+ mother’s being shunned by her neighbors until the day she finally lost her battle with AIDS.
Lessons? “We learn through hardship,” Ven rhapsodizes, adding, “If there were no fathers on the planet, I would never have known I needed a father to be a man.” As for Kristen, she finds it hard to leave Africa, “because you get so close to the people so fast.” She also comes away appreciating that “they don’t care about status. They just care about you.”
“I was soulless before this trip,” the grateful debutante concedes. “This is the real world I was searching for.” Africa from the perspectives of a “Native Son” returning to his roots and of a blue-eyed sister transformed by an unexpected catalyst for spiritual growth.
Excellent (4 stars)
Running time: 103 minutes
Distributor: Heretic Films
To see a trailer for Tanzania: A Journey Within, visit
A Haunted House 2
Film Review by Kam Williams
A Haunted House, an irreverent spoof of Paranormal Activity, co-starred Marlon Wayans and Essence Atkins as Malcolm and Kisha, a couple whose home was invaded by demonic forces. Along the way, she became possessed by the devil and turned on her man, despite the best efforts of an exasperated exorcist (Cedric the Entertainer).
All of the above are back for A Haunted House 2, a jaw-dropping sequel which ups the ante in terms of gratuitous gore, sexuality, nudity, profanity and use of the N-word. Nevertheless, the review-proof teensploitation flick is apt to appeal to the same folks who made the original such a runaway hit.
At the point of departure, Kisha perishes in a car accident, which Malcolm and his cousin Ray-Ray (Affion Crockett) survive. Fast-forward a year and Malcolm’s married to Megan (Jaime Pressly) and moving into a new home, along with her kids, Becky (Ashley Rickards) and Wyatt (Steele Stebbins), and his dog, Shiloh.
The shopworn cliché of a safe literally falling from the sky and flattening the pooch is the first sign that something suspicious might be afoot on the premises. The mysterious goings-on only escalate after an inconsolable Malcolm tries to join his dearly departed pet in the grave.
Turns out jealous Kisha’s ghost is determined to wreck the newlyweds’ relationship. Spells subsequently provide the convenient cover for disgusting skits ranging from Malcolm’s mating with a doll, to flatulent Wyatt’s farting in his sister’s face, to projectile vomiting, to promiscuous Becky’s having a penis lodged in her throat.
Eventually, the priest is summoned again, leading to another finale serving as a set up for a sequel. A kitchen sink comedy more shocking than funny and strictly recommended for rabid fans of the bottom-feeding franchise.
Fair (1 star)
Rated R for violence, graphic sexuality, frontal nudity, drug use, ethnic slurs and pervasive profanity
Running time: 87 minutes
Distributor: Open Road Films
To see a trailer for A Haunted House 2, visit
Vanishing Pearls: The Oystermen of Pointe a la Hache
Film Review by Kam Williams
On April 20, 2010, the Deepwater Horizon, a drilling rig owned and operated by British Petroleum (BP), exploded, spilling over 50 million barrels of oil in the Gulf of Mexico before it was finally capped weeks later. In June, President Obama announced that the company had set aside $20 billion in cash designated to help those deleteriously affected by the ecological disaster.
Kenneth Feinberg’s law firm, which had previously handled the distribution of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund, was retained at a rate of $850,000/month to handle the BP one also. Although the TV commercials running in the company’s highly-saturated PR campaign would have you believe that it was contrite and committed to undoing any damage, truth be told, that carefully-cultivated corporate image bore little relation to how it was actually treating many of the victims seeking restitution.
Take, for example, Pointe a la Hache, an African-American enclave located in Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana. For generations, the men of that Gulf shore village of less than 300 had supported their families by plying their trade as oyster fishermen. However, the BP spill put the brothers out of business and by 2012 the tiny black community had effectively been turned into a ghost town.
Its little-known ordeal is the subject of Vanishing Pearls, a heartbreaking documentary directed by Nailah Jefferson. The film retraces the blight visited upon Pointe a la Hache by focusing primarily on the plight of a local leader named Byron Encalade.
Mr. Encalade was the owner of Encalade Fisheries, a family business which employed his brother, his nephew and five of his cousins. In the wake of the spill, he filed a claim and very patiently awaited a check from BP.
But when he finally received a letter stating, “Your file is denied,” his whole world was turned upside-down. Now, a proud provider who had never in his life looked to the government for a handout suddenly found himself dependent on food stamps. His relatives also needed help from friends, charities and subsidies to survive, and had trouble understanding why no one cared about their predicament.
Meanwhile, Attorney Feinberg, ostensibly running interference for the profit-driven polluter, publicly stated “I see no evidence of anything other than fair treatment by BP. I think they wanted to do the right thing, and they did.”
His conclusion was a far cry from that of embittered Byron who lamented, “They’ve destroyed us… The world must know what BP did to this community.” Sadly, the devastation visited upon Pointe a la Hache is most likely a microcosm of a scenario being played out again and again in working-class communities all along the Gulf Coast.
Excellent (4 stars)
Running time: 80 minutes
To see a trailer for Vanishing Pearls, visit