DVD Review by Kam Williams
How long do you think you could you survive without access to a cell phone or computer? A few hours? A day? A week? How about three months? That’s the degree of deprivation awaiting adolescents diagnosed as addicted to the internet over in China, the first country to officially recognize the burgeoning malady as a clinical disorder.
The Rx for the afflicted is 90 days of rehab at one of 400 paramilitary boot camps where one must adhere to a Spartan daily regimen sans any electronic stimuli. Going cold turkey is not an easy thing to adjust to for kids used to playing video games for hours on end.
But that is precisely the goal of the shrinks in Web Junkie, a cautionary tale making one wonder whether America might not be far behind. The documentary was this critic’s pick as the #1 foreign film of 2014. [See: http://myfilmblog.com/index.php?story=story141227-161659 ] It was directed by Shosh Shlam and Hilla Medalia who were afforded extraordinary access to the intervention and treatment of a trio of teenage boys whose exasperated parents sought help from a facility in Beijing.
The film traces the transformation of Hope, Hacker and Nicky from insufferable, anti-social jerks who barely communicate with their families, teachers and classmates into sensitive souls truly changed by therapy and the period offline. It’s nothing short of miraculous to see the same kid who couldn’t be bothered to talk to his father eventually melt into a touchy-feely hugger who upon reuniting tearfully says, “I love you, Dad.”
Overall, the movie makes a convincing case that cell phone use ought to be limited during a child’s formative years when the social part of the brain is still developing. For, the subjects of this telling expose certainly seem to suffer from stunted development due to too much time spent playing computer games and surfing the ‘net.
A tough love remedy from the Orient designed for impressionable young minds which prefer virtual reality to relating in the flesh.
Excellent (4 stars)
In Mandarin with subtitles
Running time: 75 minutes
Distributor: Kino Lorber
DVD Extras: Deleted scenes; and podcast interviews with directors Shosh Shlam and Hilla Medalia.
To see a trailer for Web Junkie, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AH2yqOhiEj0
Film Review by Kam Williams
In the fall of 1987, Jim White (Kevin Costner) was fired as head football coach of a high school team in Boise, Idaho when he lost his temper and hit one of his players in the face and drew blood. With a wife (Maria Bello) and two young daughters (Morgan Saylor and Elsie Fisher) to support, the hot-headed perfectionist found himself in urgent need of another job.
So, he accepted a demotion to assistant football coach at the public high school in the predominantly-Latino, working-class town of McFarland, California. However, once it became clear on the gridiron that being second-in-command wasn’t working out, the versatile veteran came up with the idea of fielding a cross-country track team instead.
Though initially skeptical, Principal Camillo (Valente Rodriguez) grudgingly agreed, and White immediately started scouting around campus for fleet-footed prospects. As it turned out, many of McFarland High’s Chicano students were already in shape, being accustomed to darting the long distance from the field to the classroom, after picking fruit and vegetables alongside their parents from the crack of dawn.
Upon settling on seven promising protégés, the dilemma yet confronting Coach White was whether or not their cash-strapped clans could afford the luxury of letting them run track in lieu of laboring as farm workers in the wee hours of the morning? If so, the boys might also be afforded an opportunity to expand their horizons, since a standout’s landing an athletic college scholarship was definitely a distinct possibility.
Directed by New Zealand’s Niki Caro (Whale Rider), McFarland, USA is much more than your typical, overcoming-the-odds sports saga, in spite of the fact that it might sound fairly formulaic at first blush. Yes, it’s a classic case of a disgraced coach making the most of a shot at redemption with the help of a motley crew of underestimated underdogs. Nevertheless, this true tale of overcoming-the-odds proves oh so touching because it simultaneously sheds light on the plight on of an invisible sector of society, namely, the masses of mostly Mexican immigrants who harvest our produce in obscurity for a mere pittance.
Kevin Costner has never been more endearing than in this outing as a devoted mentor and family man. And he’s surrounded in that endeavor by a talented supporting cast convincing enough to make it easy to forget you’re watching actors, at least until the closing credits roll. That’s when we’re treated to photos of the real-life people just portrayed, plus positive updates about their present lives which serve to validate all the sacrifices made.
Excellent (4 stars)
Rated PG for violence, mild epithets and mature themes
In English and Spanish with subtitles
Running time: 129 minutes
Distributor: Walt Disney Pictures
To see a trailer for McFarland, USA, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j-VAOlHGE6Q
DVD Review by Kam Williams
If you wanted to end it all, where would you want to do it? For some reason, more people choose the Golden Gate Bridge than any other locale.
And after watching The Bridge one can easily understand the allure of that irresistible icon as a launching pad into San Francisco Bay.
Directed by Eric Steel, this fascinating film transfixes you from start to finish, focusing on 24 individuals who chose to end their lives there in 2004. Remarkably, Kevin Hines somehow survived the plunge, after being saved by a seal that kept him afloat, and ferried him towards shore till help arrived. The others weren’t so lucky, but that doesn’t make their back stories any less compelling.
What these unfortunate souls seem to have in common is a bottoming-out whether due to depression, unemployment, relationship woes, or all of the above. Shifting back and forth between shots of the majestic, rust-colored structure and wistful reminiscences by friends and family who invariably had hints as to what was coming, director Steel cleverly creates an eerie, kinetic experience for the viewer by capturing plenty of pedestrians on camera, whether they’re strolling across the expansion, leaning over the catwalk, or peering into the void from the fog-ensconced bridge.
You never know which one’s about to leap to his or her death, so you have to keep your eyes glued to the screen, guessing who’s next. Two dozen souls, linked by suicide as a seductive and very visible alternative to unrelenting torment and suffering.
Excellent (4 stars)
Rated R for profanity and for disturbing footage of actual suicides.
Running time: 94 minutes
Distributor: Kino Lorber / Alive Mind Cinema
DVD Extras: “Making of” documentary; and the theatrical trailer.
To see a trailer of The Bridge, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZJWJ-GWuews
To order The Bridge on DVD, visit:
Film Review by Kam Williams
Jess Barrett (Margot Robbie) is an aspiring con artist who picked the worst guy to steal a wallet from when she settled on Nicky Spurgeon (Will Smith). She had no reason to suspect that he was a third generation flimflam man descended from a grandfather who ran a crooked poker game in Harlem back in the day.
Nicky was more curious than infatuated when he accepted the seductive stranger’s invite up to her hotel room after sharing drinks at a bar in midtown Manhattan. So, he was ready when an accomplice (Griff Furst) posing as her berserk husband burst in brandishing a fake gun.
Rather than hand over his wallet, Nicky calmly laughs and schools the two in the flaws of their little shakedown, such as not waiting until he was naked to try to rob him. Jess is so impressed that she not only confesses, but begs him to take her on as a protégé, giving him a hard luck story about having been a dyslexic foster kid.
Nicky agrees to show her the ropes, and even invites her to join his team of hustlers about to descend on New Orleans where they plan to pickpocket plenty of unsuspecting tourists. They’re also set to hatch an elaborate plan to fleece a wealthy compulsive gambler (BD Wong) of over a million dollars.
Though Jess proves to be a fast learner and the plot is executed without a hitch, Nicky is reluctant to include her in his next operation after they become romantically involved. Instead, he moves on alone to Argentina, where he hopes to bilk a racing car mogul (Rodrigo Santoro) of a small fortune.
The plot thickens when Jess is already draped on the arm of the playboy billionaire by the time Nicky arrives in Buenos Aires. Is she in love with the handsome Garriga or simply staging her own swindle? Will she expose Nicky as a fraud or might she be willing to join forces with her former mentor?
Co-directed by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa (Crazy, Stupid, Love), Focus is an overplotted, cat-and-mouse caper which ostensibly takes its clues from the cleverly-concealed classic House of Games (1987). But where that multi-layered mystery was perfectly plausible, this frustrating homage unnecessarily ventures from the sublime to the ridiculous, thereby sabotaging any chance that its promising premise might be played out in serious fashion.
Nevertheless, co-stars Will Smith and Margot Robbie generate enough chemistry to steam up the screen and make the farfetched romantic romp just worth the watch, provided eye candy alone can do for you in lieu of credulity.
Good (2 stars)
Rated R for profanity, sexuality and brief violence
Running time: 104 minutes
Distributor: Warner Brothers Pictures
To see a trailer for Focus, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6vY9UPiI4eQ
Black Male Frames
African-Americans in a Century of Hollywood Cinema, 1903-2003
by Roland Leander Williams, Jr.
Book Review by Kam Williams
Syracuse University Press
218 pages, Illustrated
“Black Male Frames charts the development and shifting popularity of two stereotypes of black male masculinity in popular American film: the shaman and the scoundrel… [The book] identifies the origins of these roles in an America where black men were forced either to defer or to defy their white masters.
These figures recur in the stories America tells about its black men, from the fictional Jim Crow… to W.E.B. Du Bois. [The author] argues that these two extremes persist today in modern Hollywood, where actors… must cope with and work around such limited options… These men are rewarded for their portrayal of the stereotypes most needed to put America’s ongoing racial anxieties at ease.”
-- Excerpted from the Bookjacket
In the antebellum era, when minstrel shows took the U.S. by storm as the country’s first popular form of entertainment, African-American males were portrayed by white men in blackface as being either servile or surly. Those polar opposite stereotypes, which served a critical function during slavery, remained the only type of roles available to actual black actors from the dawn of the film industry all the way into the 21st Century.
That is the contention of Roland Leander Williams, Jr. who teaches English at Temple University. In his groundbreaking book, Black Male Frames: African-Americans in a Century of Hollywood Cinema, 1903-2003, Professor Williams sets out to show how black male movie characters have basically been either submissive or subversive to suit the fluctuating needs of the dominant culture.
He sets about proving his thesis by closely examining the careers of five African-American acting icons, starting with Sam Lucas (1839-1916), the first black film star. He was not only the first black to play Uncle Tom onscreen, but he was also the first to portray the deferential character onstage.
Unfolding chronologically, the opus’ entry about Lucas is followed by a chapter devoted to Paul Robeson (1898-1976) entitled “Renaissance Man.” There, we learn that, in sharp contrast to Lucas, Robeson became typecast in a way which strengthened the “impression of blacks as primitives” gaining popularity in the late Twenties.
That image was reversed a generation later, as personified by Sidney Poitier in his Oscar-winning performance in Lilies of the Field. Then, in response to the Black Power Movement came the return of the relatively-assertive rebel as played by Denzel Washington, who won his first Academy Award for Glory in 1990. Meanwhile, waiting in the wings was Morgan Freeman, who languished in the shadows “until the age of multiculturalism arrived, when he took a role (in Driving Miss Daisy) that once again raised the ghost of Uncle Tom.”
As far as the future, the author concludes that only time will tell whether Hollywood will finally stop marginalizing black males as either servants or malcontents and welcome them into the movie mainstream by casting them in a full range of roles without regard to skin color. If not, Professor Williams expresses a sincere concern that history might simply continue to repeat itself.
Oscar Recap 2015
Birdman Soars over the Competition!
Evening Marked by a Profusion of Political Acceptance Speeches
Birdman won Best Picture at the 87th annual Academy Awards on a night periodically punctuated by politically-conscious acceptance speeches. That film and The Grand Budapest Hotel tied for the most wins, 4, followed by Whiplash with 3, and Boyhood with 2.
There weren’t any upsets in terms of the major categories, with Julianne Moore (Still Alice) and Eddie Redmayne (The Theory of Everything) prevailing in the lead acting categories, as expected, as well as J.K. Simmons (Whiplash) and Patricia Arquette (Boyhood) in supporting roles.
The evening was emceed by Neil Patrick Harris, who went out of his way to draw attention to the diversity among the celebrities in attendance, but only after joking that “Tonight we honor Hollywood’s best and whitest, I mean brightest.” This was obviously in response to complaints about Selma being snubbed and all the acting nominees being white. Ostensibly to make amends, Neil awkwardly enlisted the assistance of Oprah Winfrey, David Oyelowo and Octavia Spencer to perform as his straight men, even returning to Octavia again and again as the butt of a running joke which unfortunately fell flat every time.
The Academy took a posthumous potshot at the late Joan Rivers, getting the last laugh by leaving her out of the “In Memoriam” montage featuring photos of recently-deceased showbiz legends. The veteran comedienne might not have had much of a career as an actress, but she certainly established herself later in life on the red carpet where she would flourish as a sharp-tongued, fashion critic.
From the very first acceptance speech by J.K. Simmons who suggested people pick up the phone and call their parents and tell them you love them, it seemed that every winner had a political agenda, with causes ranging from suicide prevention (Graham Moore) to equal pay for women (Arquette) to immigration reform (Alejandro González Iñárritu) to Lou Gehrig’s disease (Redmayne) to Alzheimer’s (Moore) to privacy (Citizenfour director Laura Poitras) to the African-American incarceration rate (John Legend).
A galvanizing moment arrived during rapper/actor’s Common’s heartfelt remarks delivered while accepting the award for Best Song, “Glory,” with John Legend. Common eloquently put a universal spin on the legacy of the historic Selma march, stating:
“I’d like to thank God that lives in us all. Recently, John and I got to go to Selma and perform ‘Glory’ on the same bridge that Dr. King and the people of the civil rights movement marched on 50 years ago. This bridge was once a landmark of a divided nation, but now is a symbol for change. The spirit of this bridge transcends race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, and social status. The spirit of this bridge connects the kid from the South side of Chicago, dreaming of a better life to those in France standing up for their freedom of expression to the people in Hong Kong protesting for democracy. This bridge was built on hope, welded with compassion, and elevated by love for all human beings.”
To hear Common & John Legend’s acceptance speech, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ua1JEW1fhsk
PS: As far this critic’s Oscar predictions, I got 18 of 21 correct, including all the major categories. Not quite the perfect score of a year ago, but pretty impressive nevertheless, if I must say so myself.
Complete List of Oscar Winners
Director: Alejandro González Iñárritu (Birdman)
Actor: Eddie Redmayne (The Theory of Everything)
Actress: Julianne Moore (Still Alice)
Supporting Actor: J.K. Simmons (Whiplash)
Supporting Actress: Patricia Arquette (Boyhood)
Adapted Screenplay: The Imitation Game (Graham Moore)
Original Screenplay: Alejandro G. Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander
Dinelaris, Jr. and Armando Bo (Birdman)
Foreign Language Feature: Ida
Animated Feature: Big Hero 6
Documentary Feature: Citizenfour
Original Score: The Grand Budapest Hotel
Original Song: “Glory” (Selma)
Costume Design: The Grand Budapest Hotel
Makeup and Hairstyling: The Grand Budapest Hotel
Sound Mixing: Whiplash
Sound Editing: American Sniper
Film Editing: Whiplash
Visual Effects: Interstellar
Production Design: The Grand Budapest Hotel
Live Action Short Film: The Phone Call — Matt Kirkby and James Lucas
Animated Short Film: Feast
Documentary Short Film: Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1
“The Lead” Interview
with Kam Willi
Jake on Tap!
In his capacity as CNN’s chief Washington correspondent, Jake Tapper hosts “The Lead.” The one-hour weekday program examines and advances stories from around the globe that reflect his curiosities and interests, ranging from politics to money, and from sports to pop culture.
Jake has been a widely-respected reporter in the nation’s capital for more than 14 years, and his most recent book, “The Outpost: An Untold Story of American Valor,” debuted in the Top Ten on The New York Times’ best-seller list. Prior to CNN, he was employed by ABC News, where he had served as senior White House correspondent since the 2008 presidential election.
In that role, Jake contributed regularly to Good Morning America, Nightline and World News Tonight, in addition to serving as substitute host of This Week. He also had a blog, Political Punch, on ABCNews.com. In terms of accolades, he has earned the coveted Merriman Smith Award for presidential coverage from the White House Correspondents’ Association an unprecedented three consecutive times. And he played a key role in ABC’s Emmy Award-winning coverage of the 2009 inauguration of President Barack Obama, and its Murrow-Award-winning coverage of the death of Osama bin Laden.
Over the course of almost a decade at ABC News, he covered a wide range of stories, visiting remote corners of Afghanistan, covering the war in Iraq from Baghdad, and spending time in New Orleans during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. In 2008, he served as the lead political reporter for the coverage of the presidential election.
Jake began his journalism career at the Washington City Paper before being published in The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times and The Weekly Standard, among others. He has drawn caricatures and illustrations for the Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times, and his comic strip, “Capitol Hell,” appeared in Roll Call from 1994 to 2003.
Jake is the author of a trio of books, including “The Outpost,” “Down and Dirty: The Plot to Steal the Presidency,” and “Body Slam: The Jesse Ventura Story.” A
Phi Beta Kappa, Magna Cum Laude graduate of Dartmouth College, Jake currently lives in Washington, DC with his wife Jennifer, their young son and daughter, and a dog and two cats.
Kam Williams: Hi Jake, thanks for the interview.
Jake Tapper: Sure, my pleasure, Kam.
KW: How did you end up in journalism, as the son of a pediatrician and a psychiatric nurse?
JT: Well, I don’t have their gifts for science and math, so going into medicine was never going to be a path for me. But we were a family of news junkies, and I was born in ’69, so awareness of my parents’ progressive politics was always very much in the forefront of our dinner table discussions, whether about Watergate, Vietnam, the Black Panthers, or Philadelphia’s Mayor, Frank Rizzo. So, from a very early age, my brother and I watched the news every night and were very aware of the political issues of the day. And ultimately, after a few false starts that included going to film school after I finished college, and serving as press secretary for a family friend running for Congress, I finally figured out what I wanted to do. Telling stories about what’s going on, and reporting the news became a very natural fit. Actually, it’s kind of surprising that it took so long to figure it out.
KW: Did you write for The Dartmouth Review while you were there? It might be the most famous college student paper in the country. But I would guess that you didn’t, since it only promotes conservative points-of-view.
JT: No, I didn’t write for the Review, but I did do a daily comic strip for the regular school newspaper, The Dartmouth, where I would comment on the events of the day in comic form. My strip would make fun of everyone: The Dartmouth Review, and liberal campus protestors, frat boys and sorority girls, the football team, and administrators and professors.
KW: You also did a cartoon strip called “Capitol Hell,” after you moved to D.C.
JT: Yeah, that was a weekly comic strip published by Roll Call.
KW: Did you write and draw the strip?
JT: Yes, I was hoping to be a cartoonist, but I succeeded in journalism first, so I just stuck with it.
KW: How do you decide what stories you’re going to cover?
JT: That’s a great question. We devote a great deal of time debating what we think is the most important issue of the day with the goal of providing as much breaking new information as possible while also providing a mix and a balance of stories, so that we’re covering business and international affairs, as well as politics and international news, and some sports and pop culture, if there’s something we think rises to the level.
KW: And how do you decide whether a story’s important enough to cover it on location?
JT: That’s one of those things where, like Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart once said famously about obscenity: “I don’t know how to define it, but I know it when I see it.” One of the great journalistic thrills of this job has been to be able to anchor shows from Boston, Oklahoma, Paris or wherever a story is breaking and seems big enough. Sometimes, it’s really just a need to get there to talk to people who are already there on the scene.
KW: Have you ever had a fear for your own safety while covering a story in a hot spot like Ferguson or Paris where there was a palpable possibility of danger in the air?
JT: I wasn’t scared about my safety in Paris, but I will say that while I’ve reported from there, and from Israel, the West Bank, Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere, the place that seemed the most likely that I might be injured or worse in some sort of accident was Ferguson. That was both in the protests in August, and then much more starkly in October when there was the announcement that there would not be an indictment against Officer Wilson, which was followed by much more violent protests. That was the most hairy situation.
KW: What was the energy like in Ferguson?
JT: I think that a lot of people parachuting in, like me, were coming into a situation that had been tense for decades. It seemed to me that the idea that this was all about one incident was incorrect. People were upset about their own personal experiences, as much, if not more so, as they were about what had happened to Michael Brown.
KW: Why do you think President Obama decided not to attend the unity rally in Paris following the terrorist attacks there?
JT: I was never able to get a straight answer as to what happened, and why they made the glaring decision not to send even a high-ranking official from the administration. Why the White House didn’t remains a mystery to me. It’s likely that they thought of it was a European affair which didn’t necessitate the participation of the U.S. or, frankly, any leader from the Western Hemisphere. To me, when you’re in the last two years of an administration, and you don’t always have the best people giving the best advice at any given moment. But I honestly don’t know what happened. I’m still kind of confused by it. The White House basically said something to the effect of, “We should’ve sent somebody but we’re never going to tell you why we didn’t.”
KW: Did you really go on a date with Monica Lewinsky in 1998?
JT: Yes, about a month before she became a household name. We met at a party, and went on a very innocent date. I didn’t really think anything of it at the time. Then I went on a vacation with my dad, picked up a newspaper on our way back, and was stunned by what I was reading. And I wrote a story about for the Washington City Paper which is where I landed next. That was my first full-time job in journalism.
KW: Have you remained in touch with her or tried to interview her?
JT: We exchange email on occasion. I think she knows that I’m here, if she wanted to do an interview, but I haven’t really been pressing for it.
KW: What do you think of her recent resurfacing?
JT: The truth is, I feel sorry for her. We all do stupid things when we’re 20 or 21. It would be horrible to have for a poor decision you made at that age to haunt you for the rest of your life. But it does happen. She’s a smart and good person who made a bad mistake with somebody who should’ve known a lot better. And it makes me sad as a friend of hers that it still haunts her.
KW: Is there any question no one ever asks you, that you wish someone would?
JT: No, not really, because I think of myself as an interviewer, not as the subject, as I’d guess you think of yourself, too.
KW: The bookworm Troy Johnson question: What was the last book you read?
JT: I started Wally Lamb’s third book, “The Hour I First Believed,” but I haven’t finished that yet. http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0060988436/ref=nosim/thslfofire-20
The last book I finished was “American Sniper” by Chris Kyle, which I read before interviewing his widow, Taya, and Bradley Cooper. http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0062238868/ref=nosim/thslfofire-20
I also just finished reading the first Harry Potter book with my 7 year-old. http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/059035342X/ref=nosim/thslfofire-20
KW: The Ling-Ju Yen question: What is your earliest childhood memory?
JT: That’s a question I’ve never been asked. I remember my parents dropping me off at my friend Eric Dudley’s house on their way to the hospital for my mom to have my brother. So, I was 4. And I also remember my brother being brought home. He and I are very close to this day.
KW: Was there a meaningful spiritual component to your childhood?
JT: I was brought up in a Conservative Jewish household. I went to a Hebrew school and to a Jewish sleep away camp. But I wouldn’t describe my childhood as particularly spiritual. My parents divorced when I was 7, which was almost trendy at the time. All my friends’ parents were getting divorced. I identified as a Jew, but much more so as a kid growing up in Philadelphia in the Seventies. It was an era of change.
KW: When you look in the mirror, what do you see?
JT: I see someone a lot older than I expect to see. I feel like I’m about 27, so I’m surprised to see the gray and the bags under my eyes. But, I still have my hair, so I can’t complain. Let’s just say I did okay, follicly-speaking, with the genes I was handed. People don’t necessarily think I’m 46.
KW: The Tavis Smiley question: How do you want to be remembered?
JT: You really have to stand out to be remembered in this field. I don’t think very many journalists do get remembered. In terms of this profession, I would like to be remembered as a journalist who told the truth, who confronted people in power making questionable decisions, and who tried to do some good. But the truth of the matter is I only expect to be remembered by my kids, and I hope they think of me as a good dad.
KW: Lastly, what’s in your wallet?
JT: My wallet’s a lot more exciting than its contents. I have a great wallet that everybody remarks about because it looks like one of those Aerogram letters. I got it at a toy store, and every year my wife buys me a new one because I’m one of those guys whose wallet looks like a corned beef sandwich after awhile. I’d be carrying around things like club cards for bookstores that don’t exist anymore. But right now, mine is pretty bareboned. It’s got credit cards, driver’s license, health insurance information, car information and a $50 traveler’s check that I never got around to cashing.
KW: thanks again for the time and keep up the great work, Jake. I think you have good energy and you exude a certain calmness and confidence that makes for a pleasant experience watching you.
JT: That’s really nice of you to say, Kam. Thanks.
To see Jake Tapper’s coverage of the unity rally in Paris, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1FJME4bD6jQ
Kung Fu Elliot
Film Review by Kam Williams
Elliot “White Lightning” Scott supposedly won 7 different kickboxing titles in Canada before deciding it was time to parlay his success into an acting career. That’s a little hard to believe given the aspiring thespian’s flabby physique and underwhelming fight and acting skills.
Nevertheless, the Halifax, Nova Scotia native’s goal was to become his country’s first, homegrown, screen action hero. Unable to interest a Hollywood studio in underwriting his assault on showbiz, he turned to his gainfully-employed fiancée, Linda Lum, to bankroll his self-made kung fu films on a modest day care center salary.
Elliot not only performed in but wrote and directed the micro-budget action adventures. He also did his own stunts and added the pictures’ special effects. Besides paying for the projects, Linda served as cameraman, editor and scored the soundtracks. She even had to chauffeur the cast and crew around since her flaky beau didn’t have a car (or a job).
If all of the above sounds like a recipe for disaster, that’s only because it was. The struggling couple’s ill-fated endeavor is humorously recounted in Kung Fu Elliot, a documentary which contrasts impatient Linda’s increasing frustrations with her delusional hubby-to-be’s selfish ambition for superstardom.
Co-directed by Matthew Bauckman and Jaret Belliveau, this spellbinding biopic revolves more around whether their strained relationship will last than whether their latest martial arts production, “Blood Fight,” has a ghost of a chance of being completed and released in theaters. For, besides exploiting Linda financially, questions eventually surface about Elliot both in terms of fidelity and the legitimacy of his kickboxing record.
A cautionary tale about how love might blind you to the actual agenda of a very slippery character.
Excellent (4 stars)
Running time: 89 minutes
Distributor: The Orchard
To see a trailer for Kung Fu Elliot, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HWN_IMZ1vvI
The “Hot Tub Time Machine 2” Interview
with Kam Williams
Craig Robinson is arguably best known for his role as acerbic Dunder-Mifflin employee Darryl Philbin on NBC’s Emmy-winning The Office. Regardless of what role you know him from, he is definitely a world away from his original career intentions.
Before deciding to pursue his comedy career full time, Craig was a K-8 teacher in the Chicago Public School System. He earned his undergraduate degree from Illinois State University and his Masters of Education from St. Xavier University.
It was while he was studying Education that he also discovered his love of acting and comedy when he joined the famed Second City Theatre.
As a stand-up comic, Craig first made a splash at the 1998 “Just for Laughs” Festival in Montreal. That year, he also won the Miller Genuine Draft Comedy Search.
He soon went on to perform on The Jimmy Kimmel Show and on Real Time with Bill Maher. Now, headlining venues and festivals across the country, he does both solo acts as well as sets with his seven-piece band, The Nasty Delicious, thereby tying together his lyrical comedy with his finesse at the piano.
Success on The Office and his stand-up prowess quickly brought Craig to the attention of Judd Apatow who cast him as the sensitive bouncer in Knocked Up. He subsequently kept audiences glued to their seats as one of the henchman hunting Seth Rogen and James Franco’s bumbling stoner characters in Pineapple Express, and made fans squirm when he co-starred with Seth Rogen and Elizabeth Banks in Zack and Miri Make a Porno.
More recently, Craig has starred in Escape from Planet Earth, Peeples and This Is the End. And later this year, look for the premiere of Mr. Robinson, a TV show loosely based on his life as a teacher in Chicago.
Here, he talks about reprising the role of Nick in Hot Tub Time Machine 2, a sci-fi comedy co-starring Rob Corddry, Clark Duke and Adam Scott.
Kam Williams: Hey Craig, thanks for another interview.
Craig Robinson: My pleasure, Kam. How’re you doing?
KW: I’m doing great. How about yourself?
CR: I’m good. Thanks for getting the word out.
KW: Of course. As usual, I’ll be mixing in my questions with some from readers. Let me start with: What was the primary challenge you faced in getting back into the hot tub?
CR: With the addition of Adam Scott to the principal cast, the primary challenge was whether there would be chemistry. But that worry quickly changed to “Oh, it’s on!” So, the initial concern was about what was going to happen. Besides that, the heat was an issue at times, since we shot in New Orleans for a couple months.
KW: What was it like getting back together with director Steve Pink and your co-stars Rob and Clark?
CR: There’s nothing but love and trust there, so it was great. It was like being with friends, with people you already know. So, you have a sense of what makes each other tick and what makes each other laugh. Plus you bring along what you’ve learned since last time. The familiarity was wonderful!
KW: Larry Greenberg says: You mentioned sharing a special moment with Jessica Paré while shooting the original Hot Tub Time Machine, and that you enjoyed watching that scene over and over again. Did you have another memorable moment like that in Hot Tub Time Machine 2?
CR: Yes, except this time it was with Rob Corddry.
KW: Sangeetha Subramanian says: Craig, sequels can be great for reviving themes and running jokes from an original movie. Was that the case with Hot Tub Time Machine 2, or does the sequel focus more on breaking new ground?
CR: That’s a great question, Sangeetha. We definitely tip our hat to the original, but we also break new ground. It’s a marvelous mixture!
KW: Harriet Pakula-Teweles asks: Did you worry about running the risk of being typecast by agreeing to do the sequel?
CR: Not at all. I’ve been typecast already. [Chuckles] I was first typecast after playing a bouncer in Knocked Up. Right away, I had four or five offers to play another bouncer. People kept saying, “Hey man, I got this role for you as a bouncer.” But in my mind, I was thinking, “Well, I’ve done that.” Then, when I was playing Darryl on The Office, some people started hating on me, saying I was best in small doses after a publication announced that I had landed a lead in a movie. So, I’m not going to worry about being typecast, I’m just going to continue doing what I do.
KW: Eleanor Welski asks: What is your upcoming film Zeroville about? I see that it has a lot of the same cast as This Is the End.
CR: Yeah, well Franco [James Franco] is directing that, so he called us in, and we were like, “Yeah, yeah, of course!” Once you’re familiar with someone’s track record, you know immediately whether or not you want to work with them. He has that kind of juice. I’m not aware of everyone else who’s in Zeroville, since I only had a couple of scenes.
KW: The Teri Emerson question: When was the last time you had a good laugh?
CR: Just today, flying on a plane to New Orleans with Steve [director Steve Pink], Josh, [scriptwriter Josh Heald] and Clark and Rob, we were all laughing really heard listening to Josh pitch some ideas he has for Hot Tub 3.
KW: Yeah? I’d love to hear them.
CR: Sorry, we don’t want to put the cart before the horse, so I can’t talk about that.
KW: You made a pilot for a TV series called Mr. Robinson. When’s the show coming on?
CR: We don’t have an air date yet, but we’ve already taped the premiere and the second episode in front of a live studio audience. We’re having a blast! It’s about me as a substitute music teacher whose first love is playing with my band. We use my actual band, The Nasty Delicious. And you get introduced to my childhood sweetheart from many, many, many years ago. She’s now a teacher at our old high school. I start subbing there just to be near her, but I fall in love with the school and I’m so good with the kids that I’m offered a permanent position. I take the job, and hijinks ensue.
KW: Sounds good!
CR: Speaking of good, Meagan Good’s my co-star. We’re very excited about that.
KW: Speaking of jobs, what was your first job?
CR: After high school, the summer before I started college, I worked as a gofer at an attorney’s office in downtown Chicago. I would make copies, buy bagels, go pick up checks, and do whatever they needed. My godfather, Eddie Jackson, rest his soul, got me that job. Sometimes, I’d have to deliver a million-dollar check and I’d hold it right up against my chest like it was going to blow away or something. [Laughs]
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?
CR: I’m a Scorpio. I’m very quiet. In real life, I’m usually observing the situation. But the red carpet’s a circus where you’re expected to be talkative, work the room and be larger than life. I’d be perfectly comfortable to just sit there and observe, and pick my moments, which is what makes improvising with ensembles so much fun for me. I prefer to be able to soak the scene all in before launching on you.
KW: Lastly, what’s in your wallet?
CR: [Chuckles] I don’t really carry cash. Let’s see… my license… a valet ticket…a business card… and a credit card for incidentals.
KW: Thanks again for the time, Craig, and best of luck with the film.
CR: Hey, I appreciate it, Kam, and we’ll be in touch, man.
To see a trailer for Hot Tub Time Machine 2, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ojuLwwASMaU
The Envelope Please: Oscar Predictions 2015
Who Will Win, Who Deserves to Win, Who Was Snubbed
by Kam Williams
While Selma’s Academy Awards stock plummeted in the wake of allegations of historical inaccuracies, that of American Sniper simultaneously skyrocketed, thanks to both booming box-office returns and very positive word of mouth. However, Sniper probably had too much ground to make up to catch Birdman, the early favorite in the Best Picture sweepstakes.
I see Birdman garnering 4 awards overall, followed by The Grand Budapest Hotel, with 3. The only other multiple winners will likely be Boyhood, Whiplash and The Theory of Everything, at 2 each.
Faithful readers will remember that a year ago, yours truly accurately predicted the results in 21 of 21 categories (I skipped the short films), so anyone who used my picks in their office pool fared pretty well. However, past performance is no guarantee of future results.
Besides forecasting the winners below, I also suggest which nominees are the most deserving. Furthermore, because some great performances are invariably overlooked by the Academy entirely, I also point out those who should’ve been nominated.
The 87th Academy Awards will air live on ABC this Sunday, February 22nd at 8:30 PM ET/5:30 PM PT, and will be hosted by Neil Patrick Harris.
Will Win: Birdman
Deserves to Win: Selma
Will Win: Alejandro González Iñárritu (Birdman)
Deserves to Win: Ava Duvernay (Selma)
Overlooked: Damien Chazelle (Whiplash)
Will Win: Eddie Redmayne (The Theory of Everything)
Deserves to Win: Michael Keaton (Birdman)
Overlooked: Jake Gyllenhaal (Nightcrawler)
Will Win: Julianne Moore (Still Alice)
Deserves to Win: Marion Cotillard (Two Days, One Night)
Overlooked: Jennifer Aniston (Cake)
Best Supporting Actor
Will Win: J.K. Simmons (Whiplash)
Deserves to Win: J.K. Simmons (Whiplash)
Overlooked: Rick Garcia (Nightcrawler)
Best Supporting Actress
Will Win: Patricia Arquette (Boyhood)
Deserves to Win: Emma Stone (Birdman)
Overlooked: Jessica Chastain (A Most Violent Year)
Best Original Screenplay
Will Win: Alejandro G. Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Jr. and Armando Bo (Birdman)
Deserves to Win: Dan Gilroy (Nightcrawler)
Overlooked: Paul Webb (Selma)
Best Adapted Screenplay
Will Win: Graham Moore (The Imitation Game)
Deserves to Win: Damien Chazelle (Whiplash)
Overlooked: Peter Landesman, Gary Webb and Nick Schou (Kill the Messenger)
Predictions for Secondary Categories
Animated Feature: How to Train Your Dragon 2
Foreign Language Film: Ida
Documentary Feature: Citizenfour
Costume Design: The Grand Budapest Hotel
Production Design: The Grand Budapest Hotel
Film Editing: Boyhood
Makeup and Hairstyling: The Grand Budapest Hotel
Original Score: The Theory of Everything
Best Song: Glory (Selma)
Sound Editing: American Sniper
Sound Mixing: Whiplash
Visual Effects: Interstellar
The Business of Disease
Film Review by Kam Williams
The healthcare industrial complex spends billions of dollars on packaging and branding brainwash us into believing that there are no viable alternatives to Western medicine’s approach to curing this or that illness. In fact, doctors and pharmaceuticals have been so successful in this endeavor that it is now mandatory that every citizen purchase insurance to cover conventional types of medical treatment.
But it is the contention of advocates of holistic healing that we’re being manipulated to resort reflexively to drugs and/or surgery when a less drastic or invasive path to wellness might be readily available. As Dr. Bradley Nelson, author and chiropractor, asserts, “Most people have no idea how to be healthy, or what the underlying cause of a symptom is.” Nevertheless, like lemmings, most of us simply follow whatever regimen a physician prescribes for the condition we’re presenting.
If you are concerned about your health and are at all inclined to question authority, you might want to check out The Business of Disease, a damning documentary written, directed, produced and narrated by Sonia Barrett. With the assistance of a number of New Age luminaries, Ms. Barrett makes the case for naturopathic medicine.
Among the experts she interviewed for this project, is Dr. Jacob Liberman, Ph.D. who claims that the medical profession is based on a very limited model in terms of remedies. “The misperception that most people have is that there’s a drug that can help them,” he says. “And if a drug can’t help them, then maybe surgery can.”
Also weighing-in is Dr. John Virapen, Ph.D., a pharmaceutical executive-turned-whistleblower. He believes if there were truth in advertising, “Life Insurance” would be called “Death Insurance” and “Health Care” would be referred to as “Disease Care.”
The Business of Disease doesn’t just criticize The Establishment, but suggests that such offbeat therapies as yoga, music, art and even light might be all you need to reverse a malady. Low production values aside, this iconoclastic expose’ has a wealth of information to offer the very open-minded.
Excellent (4 stars)
Running time: 88 minutes
Distributor: Dreamspell Productions
To see a trailer for The Business of Disease, visit: http://www.thebusinessofdisease.com/index.php?option=com_k2&view=item&layout=item&id=51&Itemid=176
Fifty Shades of Grey
Film Review by Kam Williams
Fifty Shades of Grey marked the remarkable writing debut of TV executive-turned-romance novelist Erika Mitchell. Publishing under the pen name E.L. James, the British author has enjoyed unparalleled success, selling over 100 million copies worldwide in just a few years.
Her erotic thriller chronicles the kinky relationship of a college coed and a handsome, young billionaire with a sordid sexual appetite for sadomasochism. Unfortunately, this relatively-tame screen version, directed by Sam Taylor-Johnson (Nowhere Boy), teases more than it titillates, as it devotes plenty of time build up prior to petering out in terms of delivery.
At the point of departure, we meet vestal virgin Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) as she’s about to drive from Vancouver to Seattle to the corporate headquarters of Grey Enterprises to interview CEO Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) for her college newspaper. The English major’s only been allotted ten minutes with the busy captain of industry slated to deliver the keynote commencement address at her school’s upcoming graduation.
Upon being introduced, obviously intimidated Ana awkwardly asks “To what do you owe your success” and “Are you gay?” before her subject confesses to being a control freak. Turning the tables, Christian proceeds to pose probing personal questions to the nervous journalist, as a palpable sexual tension between the two starts to simmer just beneath the surface.
He reveals his fondness for a particular fetish, however nothing is consummated for a long stretch. Instead, the first half of the film is devoted to a frustrating Kabuki dance where foreplay invariably leads to coitus interruptus.
In lieu of the whips, chains and other staples of bondage debauchery, we’re treated to cautious exchanges during which a whimpering, wide-eyed Ana repeatedly says how scared she is of Christian while he insists she sign a non-disclosure agreement allowing him to torture her. Yes, they eventually do get around to entering his dungeon but, by then, their bland, anticlimactic sessions prove to be a classic case of too little-too late.
A monochromatic misfire featuring only one shade: blushing pink.
Fair (1.5 stars)
Rated R for profanity, violence, sexuality and graphic nudity
Running time: 125 minutes
Distributor: Universal Pictures
To see a trailer for Fifty Shades of Grey, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SfZWFDs0LxA
Film Review by Kam Williams
Keith Michaels (Hugh Grant) was at the top of the Hollywood food chain after writing the Academy Award-winning screenplay for a picture called Paradise Misplaced. But that was years ago, and it’s been a slow descent back into obscurity because the one-hit wonder’s has been unable to recapture any of that magic again.
To add insult to injury, his wife Tina (Kate Cullen Roberts) left him for his film’s relatively-successful director. And he even became alienated from their young son when the boy began bonding with his rich and famous stepdad.
Discouraged by his diminishing career prospects, Keith decides to follow his agent’s (Caroline Aaron) suggestion to take a temporary teaching position as writer-in-residence at Binghamton University in upstate New York. This way, he’ll at least be collecting a salary and, who knows, he might even find the inspiration for another Oscar-worthy script.
That is the promising premise of The Rewrite, a delightful romantic romp written and directed by Marc Lawrence (Miss Congeniality). The movie marks the fourth collaboration between Lawrence and Hugh Grant, following Two Weeks Notice (2002), Music and Lyrics (2007) and Did You Hear about the Morgans? (2009). The picture pairs Grant with Marisa Tomei as the lovebirds fated for one another, and it features a colorful supporting cast of characters played by J.K. Simmons, Allison Janney, Bella Heathcote and Chris Elliott, to name a few.
The plot thickens soon after Keith arrives on campus. First, he makes the mistake of allowing himself to be seduced by a student (Heathcote) willing to do anything to land one of the ten spots in the visiting celebrity’s class.
Against his better judgment, Keith embarks on a lust-fueled affair with the star-struck teen before he has a chance to date a more age-appropriate mate. That would be Holly (Tomei), a well-preserved, middle-aged mom also about to matriculate in his coveted course.
The illicit student-professor liaison comes to the attention of Mary Weldon (Janney), the imperious head of the school’s Ethics Committee. The disapproving bureaucrat gives Keith the hairy eye every time they pass each other in the halls, and is eager for an opportunity to kick him off campus.
Luckily, Keith has a couple of colleagues in his corner, Jim (Elliott) and Dr. Lerner (Simmons). These peers are willing to run interference since they’d prefer him putting down permanent roots in the region. Meanwhile, the more contrite Keith and cash-strapped Holly get to know each other, the more Binghamton looks like the ideal setting for a happily-ever-after ending.
How come Hugh Grant and Marisa Tomei waited this long to make a romantic comedy together?
Excellent (3.5 stars)
Running time: 106 minutes
Distributor: RLJ Entertainment
To see a trailer for The Rewrite, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cL-tP03XoH4
The International Business Times and others covered Kino Lorber's acquisition of Daniel Leconte's 2008 documetnary, "It's Hard To Be Loved By Jerks." Read more below:
An American film distributor (Kino Lorber) has purchased the rights to a documentary about Charlie Hebdo, the French satirical magazine that was attacked on Jan. 7 by extremists who killed 12 people, including some of the magazine's most prominent cartoonists. Kino Lorber, the company, bought the rights from French company Pyramide International, which holds the rights to the documentary, "It's Hard Being Loved by Jerks" ("C'est dur d'être aimé par des cons").
The documentary, released in France in 2008 and directed by Daniel Leconte, is named after the caption of a popular Charlie Hebdo cartoon. In 2006, the magazine sparked an uproar in France when it reprinted a set of highly controversial cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad originally published in a Danish paper. The documentary examined the legal battle that ensued in France after Charlie Hebdo was charged with defamation, is considered sympathetic to the cause of freedom of expression for which the magazine championed. Some of those interviewed in the documentary were killed in the January attacks. When the documentary was first released, it sold about 40,000 tickets, according to Eric Lagesse, president of Pyramide.
The day after the January attack, the film was re-released in France, eventually playing in 110 theaters and selling about 10,000 tickets, according to Variety magazine. Pyramide is offering the film again to distributors at the Berlin Film Festival, which ends Feb. 15.
Lagesse told AFP he thinks the film will succeed in American universities and arthouse cinemas. Kino Lorber is expected to release the film in universities and major U.S. cities this spring. Elizabeth Sheldon, a senior vice president at Kino Lorber, said the film would be "a catalyst for conversation."
"As a distributor, freedom of speech concerns me at first range and today it is more important to keep defending those ideas," Pyramide's Lagesse said. "More than ever."
I am very proud to be involved in this truly worthwhile project, a boxset of rare or never-before-seen vintage films from early African American directors called PIONEERS OF AFRICAN AMERICAN CINEMA. The distributor, Kino Lorber, has launched a Kickstarter campaign; not only to help finance the expense of the restoration but also to help raise awareness of how important film restoration & preservation is to get this historic work out into the world.
Support the campaign here:
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