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Reviews
UserpicUnfriended (FILM REVIEW)
Posted by Kam Williams
18.04.2015

Unfriended

Film Review by Kam Williams

 

Teens Terrorized over the ‘Net in Found Footage Horror Flick

            On April 9, 2013, Laura Barns (Heather Sossaman) drank too much at a high school classmate’s unsupervised keg party, and promptly passed out and pooped on herself. Time was when such immature behavior might be forgiven as a youthful indiscretion and quietly swept under the rug just as soon as the hangover wore off the next morning.  

            But then came the unforgiving Digital Age during which the slightest faux pas can so easily come back to haunt you forever. That’s precisely what happened to Laura, thanks to the mean-spirited fellow reveler who, instead of coming to the assistance of a damsel-in-distress, whipped out a cell to record an embarrassing video of her sprawled on the ground with her skirt hiked above the waist.

The initial invasion of privacy escalated to cyber-bulling when the movie was posted online followed by a thread of cruel comments. After several days of mercilessly teasing, the tortured teen finally took her own life with a gun.

Now, it’s exactly one year later, and we find Laura’s former BBF Blaire (Shelley Hennig) flirting with Mitch (Moses Jacob Storm) via Skype. Their sensual exchange comes to an abrupt end when they are joined in the chatroom by a trio of friends, Jess (Renee Olstead) Adam (Will Peltz) and Ken (Jacob Wysocki).

Next thing you know, an anonymous intruder claiming to be Laura announces her presence and starts divulging deep secrets about each of them. The spooked quintet assumes the uninvited guest to be their prankster pal, Val (Courtney Halverson), until she pops up on a separate screen. Then, when “Laura” starts knocking them off one-by-one, it becomes clear that they are dealing with a disembodied spirit bent on vengeance.

Directed by Levan Gabriadze, Unfriended is a found footage horror flick ostensibly designed with Millennials in mind. For, this novel genre-bender unfolds on a computer from beginning to its terrifying end. Although most folks over 30 are apt to find the hyperactive adventure visually-disconcerting, the up-and-coming generation weaned on screens is likely to be right at home, given how they’re glued to electronic stimuli, 24/7.

Revenge as a dish best served pixilated!

Excellent (4 stars)

Rated R for violence, sexuality, teen drug and alcohol abuse, and pervasive profanity

Running time: 82 minutes

Distributor: Universal Pictures

To see a trailer for Unfriended, visit:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lgj4GjqCFlY


Alex of Venice
Film Review by Kam Williams

Alex (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) has been such a workaholic attorney that she’s been blissfully unaware of her husband George’s (Chris Messina) discontent with the marriage. Between shuttling their 10 year-old son (Skyler Gartner) to school and making sure his father-in-law (Don Johnson) takes his meds, the stay-at-home dad has grown tired of his role as Mr. Mom.

After all, his original plan was to pursue a career as an artist while caring for the family. But his domestic duties have kept him too busy to do any painting.

So, Alex is caught totally by surprise the day he announces that he wants out and summarily vacates the premises. Suddenly, she finds herself overwhelmed after having to juggle her job and her hubby’s responsibilities.

She’s used to putting in long hours at the office, including on Sunday. But it soon becomes clear that she has to reorder her priorities, despite her sister’s (Katie Nehra) moving in to help pick up some of the slack.

Alex begins to appreciate that there’s more to life than the rat race, and she decides it’s time she step off the treadmill to spend more quality time with her son. Furthermore, George was the only man she’d ever slept with. Now free to date, she impulsively gets involved with a hunky black defendant (Derek Luke) she spots across a crowded courtroom, even though she’s the representing his opponent in a hotly-contested civil case.

Thus unfolds Alex of Venice, a super-realistic slice-of-life adventure featuring Mary Elizabeth Winstead in the title role. The movie also marks the noteworthy directorial debut of co-star Chris Messina, winner of a SAG Award for Argo in the Outstanding Cast category.

This quixotic character study proves to be less poignant than meandering, as it paints a plausible picture of a just-dumped divorcee doing her best to pick up the pieces of her shattered dreams.

Excellent (3.5 stars)

Rated R for profanity, sexual references and drug use

Running time: 86 minutes

Distributor: Screen Media Films

To see a trailer for Alex of Venice, visit:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rtLX_Y5_VG4


The Squeeze
Film Review by Kam Williams

Augie Baccas (Jeremy Sumpter) is a God-fearing golfing sensation who credits his phenomenal success on the links to a combination of hard work, talent and a belief in the Almighty. And the promising prodigy is on the verge of leaving his dysfunctional home for the greener pastures of the PGA Tour so that he’ll no longer be mistreated by his abusive stepfather (Elliott Grey) anymore.

But then he’s approached by an unsavory character who rolls into town in a classic convertible with an attractive blonde (Katherine LaNasa) riding shotgun. Reeves “Riverboat” Boatwright (Christopher McDonald) is a brash gambler sporting a thick Southern drawl and enough cash to seduce the youngster into making a deal with the devil

The plan is to sucker a mark unaware of the kid’s prowess into betting a million dollars against him in a two-man match. Augie’s take will be 10% provided he wins. In Las Vegas, they find what they think is a patsy in Jimmy Diamonds (Michael Nouri), a high-roller with his own golf pro (Jason Dohring).

That is the basic setup of The Squeeze, a pat cat-and-mouse caper marking the writing and directorial debut of Terry Jastrow. Unfortunately, this battle-of-wits’ plot proves way too predictable to hold one’s attention very long.

A moralizing, paint-by-numbers parable lifted right out of the Hollywood hack playbook.

Fair (1.5 stars)

Rated PG-13 for sexuality, profanity, drug use and mature themes  

Running time: 95 minutes

Distributor: ARC Entertainment  

To see a trailer for The Squeeze, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=91f2vHdkAKc


The Human Experiment

The Human Experiment
Film Review by Kam Williams

I suspect that this eye-opening expose’ will probably play out like a case of preaching to the converted, since the only people willing to watch a depressing documentary about the toxins poisoning just about everything in the environment are likely to be well-informed folks already inclined to agree with the picture’s central thesis. That being said, The Human Experiment is nevertheless an excellent flick, even if it might have a hard time attracting a wide audience.

Co-directed by multiple Emmy-winners Dana Nachman and Don Hardy, Jr., the picture indicts the chemical industry for the dramatic increases in cancer, autism, genital deformities, asthma, leukemia, ADHD, infertility, birth defects, early onset puberty and pediatric brain tumors. The problem is that instead of policing the polluters, the Environmental Protection Agency has adopted an innocent ‘til proven guilty approach which makes it nearly impossible to get an unhealthy product off the market.

That point is driven home by reminding us how past EPA ineptitude enabled the tobacco, lead, asbestos and vinyl chloride companies to “get away with murder” via a combination of deception and distraction. Today, it is China that is often the culprit, reflected in how it treats the U.S. like a dumping ground by shipping stuff here containing formaldehyde and other poisons it has banned domestically.

The Human Experiment features interviews with a number of very dedicated activists, such as Jessica Assaf who risks arrest to slap homemade warning labels on hazardous goods sitting on store shelves which read, “Ingredients in this product have been linked to cancer, neurotoxicity and reproductive toxicity.” A cautionary expose’ making a convincing argument that consumers would be very wise to learn all they can about the ingredients in the products they buy.

Excellent (4 stars)

Unrated

In English and Spanish with subtitles

Running time: 91 minutes

Distributor: Area 23a / FilmBuff

To see a trailer for The Human Experiment, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3crXxGSemv4


UserpicKevin James (INTERVIEW)
Posted by Kam Williams
14.04.2015

Kevin James
The “Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2” Interview
with Kam Williams

Watch Out! The Portly Security Guard’s Back on the Segway

Kevin James, star of the hit comedies Paul Blart: Mall Cop and Zookeeper will also be seen late this year in the ensemble, sci-fi comedy Pixels. He began his showbiz career as a stand-up comic on the Long Island circuit. After being discovered at the 1996 Montreal Comedy Festival, he signed a network development deal to create his own sitcom.

“The King of Queens,” which premiered in 1998, ran for nine seasons on CBS with Kevin co-starring and executive producing. The show garnered him an Emmy nomination in 2006 for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series, and has continued to air all around the world in syndication since concluding its run.

On the big screen, Kevin made his feature film debut in Hitch opposite Will Smith. Since then, he headlined Here Comes the Boom, and starred alongside Adam Sandler in Grown Ups, Grown Ups 2, and I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry. Besides his live-action work, he’s done voice work in such animated features as Monster House, Hotel Transylvania, and its upcoming sequel, Hotel Transylvania 2, opening this fall.

Here, Kevin talks about his new film, Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2, a slapstick-driven sequel which finds the hapless hero on vacation in Vegas with his college-bound daughter (Raini Rodriguez) until he instinctively jumps into action when duty calls.

 

Kam Williams: Hi Kevin, thanks so much for another opportunity to speak with you.

Kevin James: No problem, Kam. How’s it going?

 

KW: Great, thanks! The last time we spoke, you were doing Here Comes the Boom?

KJ: Oh, I wish that one did better. I loved that movie.

 

KW: So did I. I gave it a great review.

KJ: That was awesome. Thank you.

 

KW: So what inspired you to put back on the badge on hop onto the Segway again?

KJ: You know, we all loved the character, and after the first film did well, I didn’t want to see him disappear. It was just time, it felt right, and we missed him. We also wanted to bring him back because the world needs a hero now. So, it was nice to bring him to Vegas, make it a bigger platform, and raise the stakes. He’s going through an emotional time with his daughter [played by Raini Rodriguez] who’s about to go off to college. But he can’t separate himself from his calling, and even though he’s on vacation, he’s got to serve and protect. You can’t take him away from his work.

 

KW: How was it co-writing the script with Todd Garner and Nick Bakay, who wrote Zookeeper for you?

KJ: It’s just great, because these guys know Paul Blart so well. So, we’re able to bounce ideas off each other, which makes the process more comfortable. And of course, the character’s more familiar to us, which means we were able to take it to another level.

 

KW: I have some questions for you from fans. Editor Lisa Loving says: There is something about the mall cop as a stock persona in American culture. We've all giggled at mall cops. In our town, the mall cops used to dress up in Canadian Mountie hats like Dudley Do-Right. And yet they are serious law enforcement professionals too, as we have seen in some of the more outrageous acts of mass violence during the past decade. In my home state of Oregon that includes the Clackamas Town Center shooting of a few years ago. Paul, what do you draw on in creating this character?

KJ: Initially, I drew on the stereotype of them as goofy. But then I thought about the fact that these security guards have basically the same job as regular cops but without any of the training or lethal weapons. It was inspiring to me. I was like, “These guys are really heroes!” They’re doing more with less. That’s the key.

 

KW: Sangeetha Subramanian says: Hi Kevin! I'm a huge fan of your stand-up and on-screen work! Is your approach to comedy different for a family-friendly movie like the Paul Blart movies versus your other work?

KJ: They’re certainly different from The Grown-Ups films which aren’t dirty at all. But since I have four kids now, I try to gear my movies towards them, so we can sit down and watch them together. That’s what makes me feel good and drives me to create content for parents who desperately want to have a great time in the theater with their children as a family.    

 

KW: Eleanor Welski asks: What's the special place your song takes you to? I think she might be referring to your character, Paul Blart.

KJ: It takes him to a higher level, to hero status.

 

KW: The Harriet Pakula-Teweles question: With so many classic films being redone, is there a remake you'd like to star in?

KJ: Wow! That’s a good question. A movie I would like to do again is Planes, Trains and Automobiles. I love that movie. That’s the sort of movie I gravitate towards, one where you have an underdog who somehow overcomes the odds. I’m always looking for movies, and I would definitely consider a remake.

 

KW: Did you ever see Baby’s Day Out? That’s another great film by John Hughes.

KJ: I’m a huge John Hughes fan, but that’s one of his I haven’t seen.

 

KW: It’s every bit as funny as Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and Planes, Trains and Automobiles. And you can watch it with your kids.

KJ: I gotta see it. 

 

KW: The “Realtor to the Stars” Jimmy Bayan’s question: What’s your dream locale in Los Angeles to live?

KJ: In L.A., I like Orange County. There also some beautiful spots in San Diego. And I was in Encino for a long time, and enjoyed that as well.

 

KW: The Kerry Washington question: If you were an animal, what animal would you be?

KJ: I’d say a manatee for several reasons. I don’t have long arms… I like to just float… and I eat a lot. [Chuckles]

 

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?

KJ: Get ripped.

 

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?

KJ: On the red carpet, you’re always trying to watch and guide your way through these questions, while at home you free to just be loose and let your kids climb all over you, and you don’t have to throw any makeup on your face.

 

KW: Is there any question no one ever asks you, that you wish someone would?

KJ: Wow! That’s a good question. That would be the question.

 

KW: The Sanaa Lathan question: What excites you?

KJ: The possibility of bringing an unsung hero to the screen.

 

KW: The Judyth Piazza question: What key quality do you believe all successful people share? 

KJ: Humility.

 

KW: Attorney Bernadette Beekman asks: What is your favorite charity?

KJ: I have several different causes I support, but I don’t have one favorite.

 

KW: Let's say you’re throwing your dream dinner party—who’s invited.

KJ: This is gonna sound weird, but it would be the band One Direction.

 

KW: Would you be inviting them for yourself or for your kids?

KJ: For both.

 

KW: The Uduak Oduok question: Who is your favorite clothes designer?

KJ: I think it would be Under Armour.

 

KW: The Tasha Smith question: Are you ever afraid on the set anymore?

KJ: I get butterflies because I’m excited, but not because I’m afraid.

 

KW: The Anthony Anderson question: If you could have a superpower, which one would you choose?

KJ: This is awkward, because I do have a superpower. I have a vertical jump of about 17 or 18 feet.

 

KW: The Laz Alonso question: How can your fans help you?

KJ: By going out with their families and enjoying Paul Blart 2 and the other movies I make.

 

KW: The Pastor Alex Kendrick question: When do you feel the most content?

KJ: When I’m at home with my family, just hanging out and watching a movie.

 

KW: Lastly, Kevin, what’s in your wallet?

KJ: What’s in your wallet? My goodness! A little Pyle [GPS chip] to help me find it, because I lose it all the time.

 

KW: Thanks again for the time, Kevin, and best of luck with the film.

KJ: You’re awesome, Kam. I appreciate the support.

To see a trailer for Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bmD2vogB6yE


Interviews
UserpicPinto's Intro
Posted by Kam Williams
13.04.2015

Freida Pinto

Freida Pinto
The “Desert Dancer” Interview
with Kam Williams

Born in Mumbai on October 18, 1984, Freida Pinto exhibited an interest in acting from an early age. She had participated in community theater as well as school productions by the time she graduated with a degree in English Literature from St. Xavier’s College, rated the top college in India for the Arts.

Freida was signed as a model by the Elite Agency and was hired to anchor a TV travel show prior to making her highly-acclaimed screen debut co-starring opposite Dev Patel in Slumdog Millionaire, which swept the 2009 Academy Awards. She’s since appeared in Woody Allen’s You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger, portrayed the title characters in Trishna and Miral, and played James Franco’s love interest in Rise of the Planet of the Apes.

Here, she talks about her latest outing in Desert Dancer, a biopic about Afshin Ghaffarian, the Iranian dissident who founded an underground, modern dance company in a country where dancing is strictly forbidden.    

 

 

Kam Williams: Hi Freida. Thanks for the interview. I’m honored to have this opportunity to speak with you.

Freida Pinto: Of course, Kam. Thank you so much for doing this for my little, tiny film.

 

KW: A small, but powerful art film. It had everybody at my screening crying.  

FP: Oh my God! Thank you for telling me. We love hearing that there wasn’t a single dry eye in the room. That’s what we aimed for.

 

KW: Yes, it was very moving, as well as uplifting. In this picture, you reminded me of Halle Berry in Jungle Fever, where she also played a drug addict. Have you seen it?

FP: No, I haven’t. But I love Halle Berry, so thanks for the compliment. I’m going to watch it.

 

KW: How did you prepare to play a heroin addict?

FP: I didn’t want to watch any film about heroin addicts, because I didn’t want to imitate or exactly copy someone else’s take on what the individual symptoms were, although I did watch Candy, with Abbie Cornish and Heath Ledger, which was amazing. Instead, what I did was spend a lot of time with my director [Richard Raymond] at A.A. meetings in London, and just listened to people speak.

 

KW: I told my readers I’d be interviewing you. So I’m mixing in some of their questions with mine. Sangeetha Subramanian says: Hi Freida, the movie looks great! What was the process like learning the dances for the film? 

FP: It involved a physically-demanding regimen, because in a movie like this about dance, the actors are expected to look the part. So, first, we had choreographers and trainers come and break us down. If we arrived thinking movement was a certain thing, they were teaching us something brand new. We were being twisted and turned and bent backwards, and under the most challenging of circumstances, as well. We were working really, really long hours, so we had to push ourselves. It was amazing to test your endurance and find yourself motivated to go one step beyond what you thought were your limits. Another aspect was the mental and emotional training, especially with my character, Elaheh. It was very important that I let myself go, and experience things I was afraid of experiencing.

 

KW: Attorney Bernadette Beekman asks: Did your training in classical Indian dance help prepare you for the 8 hours of daily practice for this role?

FP: [Laughs] I wish I really had any training in classical Indian dance. That’s Wikipedia just lying. That is not true. I came with zero experience from the dance world. The only dancing I’d ever done was in clubs. [Laughs some more] 

 

KW: Bernadette also admires that you are so involved in causes respecting girls and education. She asks: Is there any particular subject or course of study you would recommend to young girls considering a career in film? 

FP: In film? I have not been formally trained at an acting school or even a film school. But when I majored in English Literature in college, part of the syllabus covered film in literature, adaptations, and reading poetry and prose from the early 19th Century to the present, all of which was beautiful and opened your mind to so much more. But I also studied Psychology which helped me immeasurably, and continues to help me in terms of the science of accessing emotions and how the human brain functions. I find all of that very intriguing. I’m not saying that’s the answer for other actors, just that I’m a very cerebral and scientific kind of person. More than anything else, if you can spend a great deal of dedicated time observing people without judgment, that can be a great way of learning. 

 

KW: Editor Lisa Loving says: You are such a talented performer, and yet I have been thrilled at the work you have done to support underprivileged women and children around the world. This film, too, shows the power of art in a corrupt society. What do you think are the most pressing political and social issues we should be addressing today? And what do you think we, as citizens of the world, should be doing to make it a better place?  

FP: I’m not going to comment on political issues. America and India both have their issues. One thing I can say is that awareness is very, very important because we’re living in a world which is literally shrinking by the day. We are global citizens. So, for us not to be aware of what’s happening to our neighbor is almost sad. Once you’re aware, then you can decide what cause you want to dedicate your time to. I feel that all of us can contribute something, and it doesn’t have to be money. It can just be service or talent.  

 

KW: Environmental activist Grace Sinden asks: Have you ever felt culture shock in moving between the Indian and American cultures? If so, what have you found to be the biggest differences between the two cultures?

FP: No, not at all. Perhaps growing up in Bombay made me immune to culture shock, in a way. So, culture shock is not part of my DNA.

 

KW: Editor/Legist Patricia Turnier asks: Would you be interested in dubbing your dialogue into Hindi?

FP: I’d love to, if that means opening up the film to another audience. In fact, I did that for Slumdog Millionaire and in Trishna, which was part Hindi, part English. The subject-matter of Desert Dancer is not just limited to Iran. Freedom of expression can be a topic of discussion in India as much as it is in America or Iran. 

 

KW: Patricia also asks: Is there an Indian figure you would like to portray in a biopic, such as Indira Gandhi?

FP:Yes! Quite a few. Indira Gandhi and Jhansi Rani, to name a couple. Jhansi Rani was actually a soldier. You should Google her. She’s phenomenal! There’s also a Pakistani character I’d love to play. But I’d never mention her name right now, because I’d get into so much trouble.   

 

KW: The Harriet Pakula-Teweles question: With so many classic films being redone, is there a remake you'd like to star in?

FP: Oh, I’ve never been asked that… I’m a great admirer of Audrey Hepburn, so I’d love to be a part of a different take on any of her films, like a re-versioning of Breakfast at Tiffany’s. 

 

KW: The Uduak Oduok question: Who is your favorite clothes designer?

FP: Gosh, there are so many. My association and affiliation with a lot of fashion brands goes way beyond the fashion itself, almost into a relationship. Right now, I have a very, very strong relationship with the Ferragamo family. So, I’d have to say Salvatore Ferragamo.

 

KW: The Ling-Ju Yen question: What is your earliest childhood memory?

FP: This was an exercise I had to do in an Actor’s Workshop. It was of me getting lost in a fair in Bombay. I thought I was lost for about 2 hours, but my dad said it was only about 2 minutes.

 

KW: What is your favorite dish to cook?

FP: Anything that is breakfast-related. I love making eggs and avocado toast, but I have no patience for the rest of the day. The only thing I can pride myself on is making a really good breakfast.

 

KW: Lastly, what’s in your wallet?

FP: Money, hopefully. [Laughs] I don’t carry a wallet, per se. I just carry a tiny thing that can hold a credit card, an I.D. and a little bit of cash.

 

KW: Thanks again for the time, Freida, and best of luck with the film.

FP: Thank you, Kam.

To see a trailer for Desert Dancer, visit:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MZC3er0RuVw


Furious 7
Film Review by Kam Williams

The late Paul Walker (1973-2013) was best known for playing Brian O’Conner, a charismatic lead character of the Fast and Furious franchise. During a break in the filming of this seventh installment, he perished in a fiery crash away from the set while being driven in a Porsche by his friend and financial advisor, Roger Rodas.

Putting the production on hiatus, director James Wan (The Conjuring) consulted with Walker’s family before deciding to complete the project. After revising the script, he resumed shooting, using Paul’s younger brothers, Caleb and Cody, as body doubles.

Between the delays and complications flowing from the overhaul, the picture’s budget ballooned to over a quarter-billion dollars. Nevertheless, the rewrite was undeniably well-worth all the effort, since Furious 7 is easily the best offering from the series by far, for it’s the first to convincingly combine sincere sentiment with its trademark swagger and spectacular action sequences.

Yes, it’s remains mostly a muscle car demolition derby featuring an array of sensational stunts, destroying 230 automobiles along the way. But it’s also a touching tribute to the much-beloved Paul Walker, poignant homage carefully crafted to ensure there won’t be a dry eye in the house when the closing credits roll.

At the point of departure, we’re reintroduced to Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham), a trained assassin hell-bent on avenging the death of his brother, the diabolical villain who met his demise during the climax of the previous episode. Deckard’s already killed Han (Sung Kang), so gang leader Dom (Vin Diesel) encourages his wife (Michelle Rodriguez) and the rest of his ragtag crew of mercenaries to regroup in order to avoid the risk of getting picked off one-by-one, since there’s strength in numbers.

However, coaxing brother-in-law Brian out of retirement isn’t easy, now that he’s settled down in suburbia and has already started a family with Mia (Jordana Brewster). By contrast, unencumbered playboys Roman (Tyrese) and Tej (Ludacris) are game for another round of bombastic vehicular warfare, especially given the addition to the team of a cute computer hacker (Nathalie Emmanuel) whose affections they can compete for.

After a bit of obligatory flirting and jive talk by the brothers, it’s not long before the plot plunges the mercenaries headlong into a familiar concatenation of fisticuffs and gravity-defying car chases punctuated by macho exclamations like “I’m back bitches!” and “Time to unleash the beast!” Yet, such simplistic non-sequiturs are effectively counterbalanced by tender exchanges with Brian (“You’ll always be my brother!”) during a denoument where he makes it clear that this dangerous adventure will definitely be his last.

A captivating combination of camaraderie and cartoon physics tempered by just enough nostalgia to tug at your heartstrings.

Excellent (4 stars)

Rated PG-13 for pervasive violence and mayhem, suggestive content and brief profanity

Running time: 137 minutes

Distributor: Universal Pictures

To see a trailer for Furious 7, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yISKeT6sDOg


The Sisterhood of Night

The Sisterhood of Night
Film Review by Kam Williams

Mary Warren (Georgie Henley) was once a popular straight-C student voted most likely to become famous by the student body at Kingston High in upstate New York. But everything changed the day a jealous competitor stole her phone while she was auditioning for a role in a school play.

For, that classmate, Emily Parris (Kara Hayward), proceeded to humiliate Mary by posting some of her very intimate text messages online. Although the cruel ploy did draw a lot of traffic to a blog which nobody had been reading, the victim responded in a way no one could have predicted.

Instead of retaliating in kind, Mary resorted to calling Emily a whore in chalk on the schoolyard wall. Sick of the internet entirely, she also came up with the idea of forming The Sisterhood, a secret society which meets in the woods in the middle of the night. The idea was that instead of behaving like bitchy backstabbers, the members would promise to respect each other’s privacy while providing a shoulder to cry on as they share their personal problems.

The first two recruits are social zeroes, homely Catherine Huang (Willa Cuthrell) and Lavinia Hall (Olivia DeJonge), the troubled daughter of the school librarian (Laura Fraser). Their swearing-in involves taking a vow of silence about what transpires during their confessional sessions around the campfire.

The group’s numbers gradually swell as word spreads about the safe space they’ve created for females. This one admits to having had an abortion; that one says she’s afraid she’ll never be kissed. Another wants to be in love with the boy she surrenders her virginity to; while the next wants her chronically-ill mother to either recover or die. And so forth.

Unfortunately, vicious rumors circulating around campus suggesting that The Sisterhood might be a coven of witches or a sex cult eventually reach the ears of the guidance counselor (Kal Penn), the principal (Gary Wilmes) and even a reporter (Brian Berrebbi) interested in writing sensational stories for the local tabloid. Will the girls stick together when it seems like everyone in town comes down on it like a ton of bricks?

Directed by Caryn Waechter, The Sisterhood of Night is a compelling cautionary tale inspired by Steven Millhauser’s short story of the same name. A daunting test of teen loyalty by an Electronic Age equivalent of a Salem witch hunt.

Very Good (3 stars)

Rated PG-13 for mature themes, suicide, sexuality and prescription drug abuse

Running time: 103 minutes

Distributor: Freestyle Digital Media

To see a trailer for The Sisterhood of Night, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HeR8NLIamcE


The Girl Is in Trouble
Film Review by Kam Williams

August (Columbus Short) would have been better off rolling over and going back to sleep the fateful night he got a call at 2:30 in the morning from Signe (Alicja Bachjleda), an attractive woman he met at the nightclub where he DJs over a month ago. For, although the damsel in distress was in desperate need of a place to rest her head, she had only reached out to him after being turned down by everybody in her phone book.

Nevertheless, the Nigerian immigrant lets her crash at his crib without asking any questions when she shows up naked under her trench coat. Sparks fly, and a few compromising positions later, August is ready to bid adieu to the Swedish temptress he so easily succumbed to as a booty call.

But then he catches her trying to leave the apartment with all the cash from his wallet. And in the ensuing struggle he discovers that she has recorded what appears to be a murder on her cell phone camera.

The apparent perpetrator is Nicholas (Jesse Spencer), a spoiled-rotten rich kid-turned-drug dealer. He’s the son of a very well-connected Wall Street powerbroker who’s made a fortune off a Bernie Madoff-quality Ponzi scheme.

When August asks Signe whether the slaying on the video is real, she curtly responds, “None of your business!” That only serves to whet his curiosity, and before you know it, he finds himself being slowly sinking deeper and deeper into a veritable quicksand comprised of intrigue and innuendo.

Executive produced by Spike Lee, The Girl Is in Trouble marks the feature-length directorial debut of Julius Onah. The movie is narrated by its star, Columbus Short, in an attempt to emulate the tone of the hard-nose hero of your typical pulp fiction novel. Regrettably, that’s where any similarities to the film noir genre ends, as this predictable whodunit proves a tad too transparent for this critic to recommend.

This film is in trouble.

Fair (1 star)

Unrated

Running time: 94 minutes

Distributor: E1 Entertainment

To see a trailer for The Girl Is in Trouble, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SG8uJsCYflY     


Desert Dancer

Desert Dancer
Film Review by Kam Williams

Afshin Ghaffarian (Reece Ritchie) had the great misfortune of being born in Iran in the wake of the Islamist coup d’etat of 1979 which meant he was reared under a repressive religious regime which banned all the arts, from painting to poetry to playing music. So, when little Afshin began to exhibit an insatiable interest in dance as a youngster, he was warned by his mother (Nazanin Boniadi) that the activity was banned in accordance with the dictates of the nation’s authoritarian Ayotollah.

Nevertheless, she enrolled her son in the Saba Arts Academy, a fledgling studio secretly operating in the shadows. Under the tutelage of Mr. Mehdi (Makram Khoury), Afshin exhibited early promise while enjoying the freedom to express himself creatively, at least until the fateful day the place was trashed by morality police enforcing of Sharia law.

Fast-forward a decade or so and we find the promising prodigy now attending the University of Teheran but still holding fast to the impractical pipe dream of becoming a professional dancer. Along with a few curious classmates, he forms an underground company which proceeds to practice regularly in an abandoned factory loft.

Elaheh (Freida Pinto) is the only member of the modern dance club with any formal training, having been surreptitiously schooled in technique and choreography by a mother who’d been a prima ballerina prior to the fall of the Shah. Against the ominous backdrop of the burgeoning, student-led Green Revolution of 2009, Elaheh gradually forges the motley crew into a concert-quality troupe.

But between the tense political climate and the official state sanction against public performances, it looks like the idea staging a concert for an audience is out of the question. Thus unfolds Desert Dancer, an uplifting, overcoming-the-odds drama, recounting the real-life dilemma of defiant Afshin Ghaffarian and his equally-rebellious comrades.

The movie marks the absolutely splendid directorial debut of Richard Raymond who has crafted a visually-engaging spectacular with a compelling plotline leading to satisfying resolution. The story seamlessly interweaves inspired dance sequences, organized resistance and a little old-fashioned romance while touching on a litany of themes like love, loyalty, friendship and betrayal.

A must-see biopic poignantly illustrating the indomitability of the human spirit, even in the most oppressive of circumstances.

Excellent (4 stars)

Rated PG-13 for mature themes, violence and drug use

Running time: 98 minutes

Distributor: Relativity Media

To see a trailer for Desert Dancer, visit:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MZC3er0RuVw


Reviews
UserpicMy Grandfather Would Have Shot Me (BOOK REVIEW)
Posted by Kam Williams
07.04.2015

My Grandfather Would Have Shot Me

by Jennifer Teege with Nikola Sellmair

Book Review by Kam Williams

 

The Experiment Publishing

Hardcover, $24.95

230 pages, Illustrated

ISBN: 978-1-61519-253-3

 

“When Jennifer Teege, a German-Nigerian woman, happened to pluck a library book from the shelf…she discovered a horrifying fact: Her grandfather was Amon Goeth, the vicious Nazi commandant chillingly depicted in Schindler’s list—a man known and reviled the world over.

Although raised in an orphanage and eventually adopted, Jennifer had some contact with her biological mother and grandmother as a child. Yet neither revealed that her grandfather was the Nazi ‘Butcher of Plaszow,’ executed for crimes against humanity…

The more Teege reads about Amon Goeth, the more certain she becomes: If her grandfather had met her—a black woman—he would have killed her.”

Excerpted from the Bookjacket

 

How do you think you’d react if you were black and you inadvertently uncovered evidence that the mother who callously left you at an orphanage at less than a month-old was the daughter of an infamous Nazi who ran a concentration camp? That’s precisely what happened to Jennifer Teege who learned at 38 that her grandfather was Amon Goeth, a monster who not only ordered the extermination of thousands of Jews, but took a certain sadistic pleasure in participating in all the torture, maiming and killing.

For, while serving as warden of the Plaszow death camp in Poland, the coward was very fond of shooting Jews for sport from the balcony of his home overlooking the prison yard. That’s just one example of Goeth’s numerous atrocities recreated in Schindler’s List, the Academy Award-winning Best Picture where his character was played by Ralph Fiennes in a chilling, Oscar-nominated performance.

Understandably, Jennifer became severely depressed upon unearthing her genealogy, especially since she’s of African-German extraction, being the product of a brief relationship between her mother and a Nigerian. Among other things, she found out that her white supremacist forebear was so proud of his mass murder of people he considered subhuman, that his last words before his death by hanging were a defiant “Heil Hitler!”

So, Jennifer’s emotional tailspin made sense seeing how her bubble was burst, given how orphans are more inclined to fantasize that they’re descended from royalty than the scum of the Earth. Now, how was she to square having the blood of an inveterate anti-Semite coursing through her veins when she was adopted and raised by a loving couple who had encouraged her to speak fluent Hebrew and get a college degree from Tel Aviv University in Israel.

My Grandfather Would Have Shot Me: A Black Woman Discovers Her Family’s Nazi Past represents the culmination of a bittersweet quest for closure uncovering some of the most disgusting skeletons imaginable. In fascinating fashion, the author recounts her two-year, intercontinental trek during which she both confronted her long-estranged, biological mother and revisited the concentration camp and Jewish ghetto where her despicable granddad did his dirty work.

Yes, he must be spinning in his grave or perhaps more likely rotating on a spit in Hell about his granddaughter’s skin color, but let’s all give thanks that Jennifer in spite of his genes turned out to be a rather respectable apple that fell far from one very gnarly family tree.

To see a book trailer for My Grandfather Would Have Shot Me: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F6o3S-3Xnz4&feature=youtu.be


Interviews
UserpicA Spirited Tete-a-Tete with the Miniseries’ Star and Director
Posted by Kam Williams
06.04.2015

Aunjanue Ellis and Clement Virgo
“The Book of Negroes” Interview
with Kam Williams

 

Aunjanue Ellis starred as Aminata Diallo in The Book of Negroes, the hit, TV-miniseries based on Lawrence Hill’s award-winning best seller of the same name. Here, she and the picture’s director, Clement Virgo, share their thoughts about the adaptation of the historical novel chronicling the life of an 11 year-old girl kidnapped in Africa and enslaved for decades in the U.S. until she manages to escape to Canada.

 

Kam Williams: Hi Aunjanue and Clement, thanks for the interview.

Aunjanue Ellis: Thank you, Kam.

Clement Virgo: Absolutely!

 

KW: What interested you in The Book of Negroes, Aunjanue?

AE: To be honest, the first thing that interested me was seeing that the CBC [Canadian Broadcasting Corporation] and BET [Black Entertainment Television] were partnering on the project. In my mind, I couldn’t think of two more divergent networks. Then, I found out it was based on this wonderful historical novel about a woman’s story of survival. I love doing that kind of work. 

 

KW: Did you read the book before accepting the role?

AE: Yes, I did.

 

KW: Clement, what inspired you to turn it into a mini-series?

CV: The book was quite a phenomenon in Canada, where it won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize and sold a million copies. I fell in love with Aminata Diallo and enjoyed reading about the period of history that she takes us through. I thought I knew about the American Revolutionary War and about my own and Canadian history. But I didn’t know about people migrating from New York to Nova Scotia, or appreciate that if you were African-American, you really had to choose sides during the Revolutionary War. And I saw Aminata as being a lot like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, where she was caught up in this twister of slavery, and all she wanted to do was get back home. Her determination to survive was so powerful, I felt like I had to tell the story.

 

KW: Given the facts brought out about the Revolutionary War by The Book of Negroes, do you think that the American colonies were on the wrong side of history? The film suggests that the British were lesser of two evils. Have blacks been mis-educated into siding with the Patriots over the British Loyalists in the same way Native Americans talk about being manipulated by movies as children into rooting for the Cowboys over the Indians?

AE: The British kept their slaves while wanting to get rid of America’s, so you can take from that what you will. It’s a lot more complicated than we’re led to believe.

 

KW: Do you think George Washington’s ex-slave, Henry Washington, should be more of a hero to African-Americans than his master, the first president of the United States? After all, he escaped from slavery and then gained his freedom by fighting with the British during the Revolutionary War. 

AE: America is steeped in mythology. The problem is that it’s been living a myth since its inception, starting with The Declaration of Independence. How can you say that all people are created equal, but mean only if they’re white and male? So, we, as its citizens, have continually had to die in the streets to force the country to live up to that promise and be more than a myth, and be a reality for all. That’s why it’s so genius that Clement has Aminata say to George Washington, “If this is what you’re claiming to be, then why do you have slaves?” This picture does a great job of shattering the myths perpetuated in many schoolbooks.

 

KW: This film actually moved me to tears on several occasions, like the very touching scene where Aminata tracks down her baby shortly after it was sold, but was immediately ordered off the plantation by its heartless, new slave owner.  

CV: I’m glad to hear that. It was important to all of us to capture the totality of these characters’ humanity and not just reduce them to their circumstances. Aminata fascinates me, because she reminds me of all that black people have had to overcome. I also appreciated the fact that she was a midwife, since one of the last things she had been told by her mother before being kidnapped and sold into slavery was, “As long as babies are being born, life will go on.” So, her subsequently bringing life into the world is very, very significant.

 

KW: Editor Lisa Loving says: I meet so many people who don't really know, or worse, don’t think about, the racist roots of our country which have grown into this imperfect present day. Do you see the success of The Book of Negroes miniseries as part of a greater awareness in the United States of our racist history and how we should be living now?

CV: I consider it part of my job as a filmmaker to put art out into the world that is positive and affirms life. Yes, it says the roots may be racist and brutal, but it cannot define us and it cannot stop us.

 

KW: Lisa also asks: Who do you feel is The Book of Negroes’ intended audience?

AE: Everybody.

 

KW: Harriet Pakula-Teweles asks: How much of YOU is in Aminata Diallo, and how much did you allow yourself to get lost in the character?

AE: Aminata couldn’t be more different from me than any character I’ve ever played in terms of her temperament, her world view and the way she carried herself with so much wisdom and grace, even as a child. My sense of self is a lot more haphazard. I lost myself with her, when I put my costume on. You can’t go through what she went through as an actor without giving yourself over to it completely. And I did. So, it got very hard and depressing. Who she is, is not me, which is why playing her was so rewarding ultimately. And I’m very grateful when anyone compliments me on my performance, since that means that they didn’t catch on that I was acting.

 

KW: Lastly, what’s in your wallet?

CV: [Laughs] What’s in my wallet? I have a check for $257 that I’ve been walking around with for three weeks that I need to cash.

AE: [Laughs] I have a wallet that I got when we were shooting in South Africa. What’s in it? Some change from Canada and other places, and my expired driver’s license. [Laughs some more]

 

KW: Thanks again for the time, Aunjanue and Clement, and best of luck with all your endeavors.

AE: Thank you so much, Kam.

CV: Bye!

To see a trailer for The Book of Negroes, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QNHG_3-Zad8


Reviews
UserpicBeyond the Mask (FILM REVIEW)
Posted by Kam Williams
06.04.2015

Beyond the Mask

Film Review by Kam Williams

 

Mercenary-Turned-Patriot Redeems Himself in Revolutionary Era Faith-Based Drama

Up until 1775, cold-blooded assassin William Reynolds (Andrew Cheney) never had a problem with his job as a hit man for the East India Tea Company. But the veteran mercenary finally developed second thoughts about his grisly line of work after being double-crossed by his diabolical boss, the conniving Charles Kemp (John Rhys-Davies).

So, he ventures to America where he proceeds to impersonate a recently-deceased vicar upon being fished out of a lake by a fetching, eligible lass named Charlotte Holloway (Kara Killmer). It’s love at first sight as soon as their eyes meet, which makes it unfortunate that this faux man-of-the-cloth’s identity is a total fraud.

The plot thickens when Charlotte’s long-lost uncle arrives in the New World, since he also just happens to be the aforementioned Charles Kemp. He not only outs William, but nips the smitten couple’s budding relationship right in the bud.

Before being run out of town, the disgraced suitor apologizes for the lies but vows to prove himself worthy of her love one day. An opportunity for redemption presents itself when William moves to Philadelphia and becomes an apprentice to none other than Benjamin Franklin (Alan Madlane).

For, it is 1776, and Ben, George Washington (John Arden McClure) and the other Founding Fathers are planning to convene the Continental Congress in the City of Brotherly Love that July. Meanwhile, it comes to light that evil Uncle Charles is a British Loyalist with a diametrically-opposed agenda involving disrupting the convention.

Can William foil the plot, get the girl and gain forgiveness from God? That is the proposition posed by Beyond the Mask, a swashbuckling Revolutionary War saga featuring an absorbing mix of romance, derring-do and patriotism served up as a parable of Biblical proportions.

Directed by Chad Burns (Pendragon), this unabashedly Christian production is a faith-based film which avoids heavy-handed moralizing in favor of a subtle style of sermonizing. The sort of action adventure a Born Again Quentin Tarantino might make.

Very Good (3 stars)

Rated PG for action, violence and mature themes

Running time: 103 minutes

Distributor: Burns Family Studios

To see a trailer for Beyond the Mask, visit:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6pX6Ih7YhQ8


The Living
Film Review by Kam Williams

After being bashed beyond recognition by her alcoholic husband (Fran Kranz) again, Molly (Jocelin Donahue) made a beeline to her regular port of refuge in a storm. So, by the time his hangover wore off the next day, he knew exactly he could find her.

Her mother (Joelle Carter) was so upset when Teddy showed up that she pointed a gun at his chest and ordered him to “Stay away from my daughter!” But the savage wife beater defiantly called her bluff by waiting for his spouse while arrogantly asserting, “Angela, you’re not going to shoot me.”

Emerging from the house with a black eye and bruises all over her body, Molly brushed past her mom before forgiving her sadistic abuser for the umpteenth time. Fed up with this predictable cycle of dysfunction, Angela prevails upon her son (Kenny Wormald) to defend his sister’s honor, like their late daddy would’ve done, if he were still around.

Although Gordon loves his sister, he’s too much of a milquetoast to rise to the occasion by taking the law into his own hands. And after taking a humiliating tongue lashing from his irate mom, he decides out of desperation to enlist help in exacting a measure of revenge.

So, he arranges a meeting in a diner with Howard Blake (Chris Mulkey), a tough guy for hire. The ex-con turns out to be not only a cold-blooded hit man but cheap enough to retain on a modest, grocery clerk’s salary. So, the next thing you know, Gordon finds himself stuck in a conspiracy to commit murder that he can’t back out of even when he starts to have second thoughts.

That is the intriguing point of departure of The Living, a serpentine psychological thriller written and directed by Jack Bryan (Struck). This character-driven drama chronicles the slow descent into depravity of a well-meaning hero who reluctantly takes to the wrong side of the law for the sake of a sister stuck in denial.

A grim, grudging-buddies splatterfest featuring a few surprising plot twists and all the fixin’s for a riveting cinematic experience.

Very Good (3 stars)

Rated R for profanity and violence

Running time: 91 minutes

Studio: Shooting Films

Distributor: Monterey Media

To see a trailer for The Living, visit:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9BEnVJM2NZQ


The Hand That Feeds
Film Review by Kam Williams

In spite of the existence of a law setting the minimum wage at $7.25 per hour, Manhattan’s Hot & Crusty (H&C) bakery only compensated its Latino staff members a measly $5 per hour. That’s because most were undocumented workers who risked deportation if discovered by the authorities.

The owners of H&C were well aware of their employees’ predicament, so they would routinely threaten to turn in any who dared complain about the ongoing exploitation. Besides being underpaid, the apprehensive immigrants were denied vacation and overtime pay by a sadistic boss who took delight in reminding them how worthless they were. Truth be told, however, their services were critical to the survival of the New York City restaurant in a very competitive industry dependent upon steady access to a source of cheap labor.

This became increasingly apparent to mild-mannered Mahoma Lopez a short order cook working the counter at H&C. Eventually the soft-spoken chef got fed up with his predicament, especially with the lack of basic human dignity he was being afforded.

So, he decided to organize his similarly-situated colleagues, regardless of the risk of arrest. And with the assistance of an employment discrimination attorney as well as veteran activists from the Occupy Movement, they proceeded to picket the place and unionize.

Co-directed by Rachel Lears and Robin Blotnick, The Hand That Feeds is an inspirational documentary chronicling an intrepid band of working-class heroes’ demand that their rights be respected by greedy fat cats who’d rather close down the business than raise salaries to just the minimum wage.

So, guess what the disgruntled strikers did? Before they could be locked out, they defiantly occupied the store and ran it on their own until an equitable settlement could be reached. Ultimately, it reopened under new management willing to sign a fair contract with Mahoma and company.

How do you say Norma Rae in Spanish?

Excellent (4 stars)

Unrated

In Spanish and English with subtitles

Running time: 88 minutes

Distributor: Jubilee Films

To see a trailer for The Hand That Feeds, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-d6604tfm-k



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