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Reviews
UserpicMan from Reno (FILM REVIEW)
Posted by Kam Williams
26.03.2015

Man from Reno

Film Review by Kam Williams

 

Crime Writer Becomes Embroiled in Real-Life Murder Mystery in Multilayered Neo-Noir

 

Aki Akahori (Ayako Fujitani) is a mystery writer in her native Japan where she is famous for her best-selling “Inspector Takabe” series. But despite achieving phenomenal success and the fanfare surrounding the release of her latest potboiler, the popular novelist is still feeling so empty that she’s contemplating suicide.

Desperate for a change of scenery, she travels from Tokyo to San Francisco where she rents a hotel room, and plays with a razor while sitting in a bathtub. Fortunately, before making a rash decision, she ventures down to the bar where she is propositioned by a handsome Japanese gentleman (Kazuki Kitamura) in town from Reno.

Though initially offended by the crass overture, Aki eventually invites the solicitous stranger up to her room for a delightful evening of no-strings attached sex. The next morning, the strapping hunk vanishes into thin air without saying goodbye, however he does leave a suitcase full of clues behind.

Meanwhile, in nearby San Marco, Sheriff Moral (Pepe Serna) and his deputized daughter (Elisha Skorman) have a dead body on their hands identified as Akira Suzuki. As it turns out, that’s the name of the stud with whom Aki just shared the steamy one-night stand.

Furthermore, besides the authorities, there are a number of unsavory characters who are suddenly suspicious of seemingly innocent Aki. They also want access to her recently-deceased lover’s belongings.

So, instead of quietly committing hari kari, the flustered tourist finds herself embroiled in the middle of a real whodunit, rather than a creation of her fertile imagination. Thus unfolds Man from Reno, a cleverly-scripted neo-noir directed by Dave Boyle (White on Rice). Laced with more twists than a Chubby Checker concert, this inscrutable adventure proves a pure delight to unravel from beginning to end. 

            An utterly absorbing, inspired homage to the Golden Age of Pulp Fiction.       

Excellent (4 stars)

Unrated

In English and Japanese with subtitles

Running time: 111 minutes

Distributor: Eleven Arts

To see a trailer for Man from Reno, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5X0d-2x0NAk


Reviews
UserpicDo You Believe? (FILM REVIEW)
Posted by Kam Williams
26.03.2015

Do You Believe?

Film Review by Kam Williams

 

Strangers Lives Serendipitously Intersect in Transparent Faith-Based Adventure

If you’re familiar with the Best Picture Oscar-winner Crash (2004) and Thornton Wilder’s classic novel “The Bridge over San Luis Rey,” then you have a decent idea of what to expect from Do You Believe? Directed by Jonathan M. Gunn (Like Dandelion Dust), the picture is a heavy-handy faith-based flick which relies heavily on a combination of astounding coincidences and simplistic sermonizing to deliver its message.  

The overplotted adventure litters the screen with more storylines than most would care to keep track of, especially since, regardless of the issue, the tension invariably builds up to the same basic question, namely, whether or not someone is a believer. My guess is that this absence of subtlety is apt to wear on audience members’ nerves after awhile, whether they be Christian or heathens.

To its credit, the film does feature a talented A-List cast which includes Lee Majors, Mira Sorvino, Cybill Shepherd and Sean Astin. Everybody throws themselves into the production with an admirable gusto, despite their ultimately being crippled by a mediocre script.

Among the dozen main characters are a veteran suffering from PTSD (Joseph Julian Soria); a married couple (Shepherd and Majors) mourning the death of their only child; a homeless widow (Sorvino) trying to survive on the streets with her young daughter (Mackenzie Moss); and ghetto gangstas (Senyo Amaoku and Shwayze) ostensibly operating without a functioning conscience.

Unfortunately, the transparent proselytizing employed here is likely to elicit the opposite response of what the director desires. The cinematic equivalent of a Jehovah’s Witness who won’t take “no” for an answer getting his foot stuck in your door. More of an annoying sales pitch than an entertaining, spiritually-oriented feature.                       

Fair (1 star)

Rated PG-13 for mature themes, an accident scene and brief violence.

Running time: 115 minutes

Distributor: Pure Flix Entertainment

To see a trailer for Do You Believe?, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ogIX2Q7tEdc   


Zombeavers
Film Review by Kam Williams

If you like your horror fare with generous helpings of humor and titillation mixed in, ala the Scream and Scary Movie franchises, have I got a film for you. Zombeavers is a campy comedy relying on a combination of low production values and eroticized violence to generate laughs.

The movie marks the feature film directorial debut of Jordan Rubin, who is best known as a scriptwriter for late night talk show hosts like Craig Kilborn, Carson Daly and Larry Wilmore. He also collaborated on Zombeavers‘ screenplay with first-timers Al and John Kaplan.

The high attrition rate adventure unfolds ominously enough, when a 55 gallon drum of toxic waste tumbles into a lake in the wake of a collision between a deer and a pickup truck caused by a pair of local yokels (Bill Burr and John Mayer) recklessly driving while texting. It’s not hard to imagine that a frightening chemical reaction might soon ensue, especially given the movie’s title.

But blissfully oblivious of this development are Mary (Rachel Melvin), Jenn (Lexi Atkins) and Zoe (Cortney Palm), sorority sisters looking forward to unwinding over the course of a college break they’ve decided to take without boyfriends. Their point-of-call is a cozy lakefront cottage belonging to a cousin of Mary’s.

Upon arrival, the trio discover that there’s no cell service in the remote locale, which might very well complicate matters should an emergency arise. It doesn’t help that the only folks around for miles are a couple of creepy neighbors (Brent Briscoe and Phyllis Katz) who look like they step off the set of Deliverance.

Nevertheless, the clueless coeds decide to don bikinis and take a dip in the pond where something evil is a brewing in the swamp where the contaminated water is slowly turning beavers into bloodthirsty zombies. Also unbeknownst to the bathing beauties, their three beaus are en route, which only serves to complicate matters, since a photo of Mary kissing Jenn’s boyfriend Sam (Hutch Dano) was recently posted on Facebook.

So, after Jenn slaps Sam, Zoe sneaks off into a bedroom with Tommy (Jake Weary), while Mary tries to mend fences with her man, Buck (Peter Gilroy). But before you have a chance to take any of that soap opera drama too seriously, the real fun begins when a rabid beaver surfaces in the bathroom.

What ensues is a relentlessly-cheesy B-flick far funnier than it is frightening.

Very Good (2.5 stars)

Rated R for gory violence, crude humor, graphic sexuality, gratuitous nudity and pervasive profanity  

Running time: 76 minutes

Distributor: Freestyle Releasing

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


Growing Up and Other Lies

Growing Up and Other Lies
Film Review by Kam Williams

Jake (Josh Lawson) is finally fed up with New York after years of trying to make it as an artist in the city. So, right before he’s set to move back home to Ohio, he summons his three BFFS, Rocks (Adam Brody), Gunderson (Wyatt Cenac) and Billy (Danny Jacobs), to the northern tip of Manhattan for an impromptu gathering.

The plan is to spend the day reminiscing about their misspent twenties while traversing the entire 260 block-length of the island. The trip starts inauspiciously enough, with one of them vomiting on a train platform at 7 in the morning.

Next, another makes an offensive overture to an elderly woman sitting on a bench, asking whether she’d like to sit on his finger. Later, Gunderson goes out of his way to hurt the feelings (“I thought you’d be dead by now”) of a woman (Lucy Walters) he’d ostensibly seduced and unceremoniously dumped after a one-night stand.

The crude quartet also offers dubious, unsolicited dating advice to teenage girls attending an elite prep school, suggesting they avoid romance at all costs, since it invariably leads to having one’s heart broken. We also witness them dismantling a “Broadway” street sign, and giving a hard time (“How much for everything?”) to a working-class clerk at a farmer’s market. And Rocks (nicknamed for his huge gonads), whose fiancée (Lauren Miller) is nine-months pregnant, risks missing the birth of his baby in order to participate in the interminable, 13-mile trek down memory lane.

Co-written and co-directed by Danny Jacobs and Darren Grodsky, Growing Up and Other Lies is a meanspirited, misogynistic dramedy masquerading as a nostalgic male-bonding adventure. But this meeting of The He-Man Woman Haters Club (ala TV’s Little Rascals) merely takes delight in insulting females at every turn.   

Its lame excuse for a plot presumes to thicken when Jake learns that Tabatha (Amber Tamblyn), the ex he still loves, has just broken up with her boyfriend and is suddenly on the market. Will he still pack up and leave, or will he postpone his plans to return to the Midwest in light of this development? Unfortunately, given how unlikable a protagonist we have here, you’re more inclined to root against than in favor of a romantic reunion.

Who wants to watch four, obnoxious, testosterone-fueled slackers vent their vile on a gauntlet of unsuspecting victims?

Poor (½ star)

Unrated

Running time: 90 minutes

Distributor: E1 Entertainment

To see a trailer for Growing Up and Other Lies, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Fn2vbw0120


Reviews
UserpicEco Expose’ Examines Toll of H2O Misuse
Posted by Kam Williams
23.03.2015

Secret of Water
Film Review by Kam Williams

Between climate change and contamination, potable water is becoming an increasingly-scarce commodity. For instance, you might have heard that California has recently announced consumption restrictions due to a severe drought already affecting most of the state way before the arrival of summer.

If you’re one of those skeptics who still thinks that all the dire warnings about the dangers of pollution and global warming are unfounded, you might want to check out Secret of Water, an eye-opening, cautionary tale illustrating the toll that humans’ misuse of H2O might be exacting on the precious natural resource.

Directed by Jirka Rysavy, this informative documentary takes an alternatively scientific and spiritual approach to the subject, delving into an analysis that is as logical as it is metaphysical. On the one hand, the picture plausibly asserts that water is a living substance that can die if treated poorly. However, it also likens the substance to a malleable computer, going so far as to claim that it has memory and is capable of recording whatever it comes in contact with.

For this reason, it is further argued that water placed in plastic actually suffers, and that an animal will always rather drink from a natural spring than a stagnant container. One expert weighing-in opines on the importance of ionization and Ph factors, while at the other extreme of the academic spectrum we have a religion-oriented figure citing as significant the fact that the Bible never makes reference in Genesis to God’s creating water.

A cautionary, eco-expose’ amounting to a persuasive case that clean, free-flowing H2O in abundance is critical to preservation of life on the planet.

Very Good (3 stars)

Unrated

Running time: 76 minutes

Distributor: Quad Cinema

To see a trailer for Secret of Water, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IOxijQjVBus  


Get Hard
Film Review by Kam Williams

Thanks to a flourishing career as a hedge fund manager, James King (Will Ferrell) is living in the lap of luxury in a sprawling, Bel Air mansion. Furthermore, the pampered multimillionaire’s stock seems about to skyrocket, given his promotion to partner and his impending marriage to the boss’ (Craig T. Nelson) daughter, Alissa (Alison Brie).

By contrast, working man Darnell Lewis (Kevin Hart) is stuck on the other side of the proverbial tracks in South Central L.A. where he has to worry on a daily basis about the welfare of his wife (Edwina Findley) and young daughter (Ariana Neal). He’s eager to move them out of the ‘hood, but first needs to save $30,000 to secure the mortgage on their dream house.

As a regular patron of a valet car washing service, James has regularly crossed-paths with Darnell. Nevertheless, he mistakes him for a mugger the day he’s surprised to see a black man approach him in the office parking lot.

To add insult to injury, instead of apologizing for the hurtful faux pas, tone deaf James insensitively claims ”I would’ve reacted the same, if you were white.” Then, he rubs salt in cash-strapped Darnell’s wounds by suggesting that, “I got to where I am by hard work,” before smugly adding, “Success is a mindset.”

However, the two’s roles are reversed when James is convicted of securities fraud, and sentenced to ten years in San Quentin. With just a month before he has to report to prison, he asks Darnell to prepare him for life behind bars, based on another unfounded assumption, namely, that he’s an ex-con.

Darnell agrees, charging precisely the $30,000 he needs as a down payment on his ticket out of the ghetto. However, the jokes are all on James, since the supposed “incarceration expert” he’s just hired has never even seen the inside of a jail.

Thus unfolds Get Hard, an unlikely-buddies comedy co-starring Kevin Hart and Will Ferrell. The movie marks the noteworthy directorial debut of Etan Cohen, whose successful mix of over-the-top slapstick and subtle social satire yields a cinematic experience as silly as it is thought-provoking.

So, one moment, we might witness goofy, gratuitous nudity courtesy of exhibitionistic Ferrell who has never been shy about prancing around in his birthday suit, his Rubenesque physique notwithstanding. The next, we’re treated to relatively-sophisticated humor such as the musings of a spoiled rich kid boasting about how he built his company with his own two hands, before also admitting that he had actually relied upon an $8,000,000 loan from his father as seed money.

Provided you’re open to politically-incorrect fare ranging from racist to misogynistic to homophobic, you’re likely to enjoy this inspired pairing of the relentlessly absurd Ferrell and the motor-mouthed Hart at the top of their games.

Very Good (3 stars)

Rated R for full-frontal male nudity, drug use, ethnic slurs, and pervasive profanity, sexuality and crude humor

Running time: 100 minutes

Distributor: Warner Brothers Pictures

To see a trailer for Get Hard, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l5lojEIitNw     


The Gunman
Film Review by Kam Williams

Pierre Morel’s riveting revenge thriller Taken made over veteran thespian Liam Neeson into an action star at 55. Now, the clever French director is ostensibly attempting to repeat the trick for Sean Penn, who turns the same age later this year. In The Gunman, Penn plays Jim Terrier, a hit man for hire surreptitiously operating in the Congo while posing as a bodyguard for a healthcare clinic.

The story’s point of departure is 2006, where we find him serving as a sniper on a team of assassins hatching an elaborate plan to assassinate the country’s Minister of Mining. After pulling it off without a hitch, Jim leaves the country uneventfully before vanishing into the ether, but not before asking a friend, Felix (Javier Bardem), to take care of his gorgeous girlfriend, Annie (Jasmine Trinca), a doctor also working for with the NGO.

Fast-forward 8 years and Jim returns to the Congo only to barely survive an ambush by a trio of goons. Since it’s clear that his cover must have been blown by a confederate, the startled spy abandons Africa for England to determine exactly who wants him dead. He comes out of the proverbial cold in London to confront Terry Cox (Mark Rylance), an ex-partner in crime who claims to have retired his Kevlar vest for a cushy corporate job.

Terry suggests the man Jim might be looking for is Felix, since the duplicitous backstabber married Annie in Jim’s absence. So, our jilted hero’s next port-of-call is Barcelona, the city where the cozy couple has settled down to live high on the hog.

This contentious state of affairs jumpstarts The Gunman, a cat-and-mouse caper that telegraphs its punches while featuring a dizzying mix of fisticuffs, gunplay, international intrigue and old-fashioned romance. The picture is perfectly passable as an action genre offering, yet pales in comparison to Taken, between its Swiss cheese plot and a plethora of distracting sidebars which tend to undercut rather than amp up the tension.

For instance, Idris Elba arrives onscreen late in the adventure in a red herring of a role as an inscrutable Interpol Agent. Equally wasted is Ray Winstone as a cockney-accented, former co-conspirator of Jim’s. Basically, The Gunman boils down to a Sean Penn vehicle affording the surprisingly-buff (if long in the tooth) matinee idol ample opportunities to put his pecs on display in high-impact fight sequences as well as lingering love scenes.

Good (2 stars)

Rated R for profanity, sexuality and graphic violence 

In English and Spanish with subtitles

Running time: 115 minutes

Distributor: Open Road Films

To see a trailer for The Gunman, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=th-xtBzcKFA    


Interviews
UserpicShailene Woodley (INTERVIEW)
Posted by Kam Williams
15.03.2015

Shailene Woodley

The “Insurgent” Interview

with Kam Williams

 

Shailene! Shailene!

Shailene Woodley skyrocketed to fame on the strength of her powerful performance opposite George Clooney in The Descendants. Among the many accolades she landed for her work in that Academy Award-nominated film were the Independent Spirit and National Board of Review Awards for Best Supporting Actress, in addition to Golden Globe and Critics’ Choice Award nominations in the same category.  

Last fall, Shailene starred in the coming-of-age drama White Bird in a Blizzard, directed by Gregg Araki. And she further solidified her stature as a talented and versatile actress in the critically-acclaimed The Fault in Our Stars, the big screen adaption of John Green’s best-selling novel.

Prior to that, she starred opposite Miles Teller in The Spectacular Now. The co-stars shared the Special Jury Prize for Dramatic Acting at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2013. Shailene’s star status was firmly established by response to the big screen version of Divergent, the sci-fi thriller based on the popular Young Adult novel of the same name by Veronica Roth.

She is currently in production playing the female lead opposite Joseph Gordon-Levitt in Oliver Stone’s Snowden, the real-life story of the Edward Snowden, the 28 year-old hacker-turned-whistleblower who leaked classified information from the NSA about surveillance programs run by the U.S.

Shailene began her career at the age of 5 soon after being spotted by an agent who recognized her potential. She cut her teeth in commercials before landing her first TV role in the 1999 made-for-TV movie, “Replacing Dad.”  

Shailene has some rather ethnically-diverse roots, being of British extraction on her father’s side, and a mix of African-American, Creole, French, Spanish, Swiss and German on her mother’s.  When not on a set, she spends as much time as possible outdoors, thinking of ways she can help keep the environment beautiful and healthy for future generations. Here, she talks about reprising the role of Tris in Insurgent, the eagerly-anticipated sequel to Divergent co-starring Kate Winslet, Octavia Spencer, Naomi Watts and Zoe Kravitz.

 

Kam Williams: Hi Shailene, thanks for the interview. I’m honored to have this opportunity to speak with you.

Shailene Woodley: Omigosh, Kam, thank you for talking to me.

 

KW: Well, I’ve been so impressed with your acting abilities over the course of your brief career, from The Descendants to The Spectacular Now to 2014 when you really exhibited your versatility in Divergent, The Fault in Our Stars and White Bird in a Blizzard.

SW: Thank you!

 

KW: Just so you know, I’m going to mix in questions from fans with some of my own.

SW: Great!

 

KW: Children’s book author Irene Smalls asks: How do you prepare for such a physically-demanding role?  

SW: There was definitely some training involved, but there wasn’t anything too gnarly, as far as preparation goes. The most physical thing we had to do in this film was a lot of running.

 

KW: Irene also asks: What do you most want to communicate to the audience about Tris in this installment?

SW: I think in this movie Tris is really able to utilize and showcase the strengths that she gained from being “Dauntless” in the last movie.

 

KW: Larry Greenberg says: From the trailer, Insurgent looks like the kind of sci-fi action I want to fully immerse myself in. I don't just want to see it in 3D; I want to see it in 3D IMAX while floating in an isolation chamber.

SW: Wow!

 

KW: Larry does have a question: Were there any special directions Robert Schwentke gave you that enabled you to be so convincing as Tris?

SW: Special directions. The thing with Robert is that he was very keen on getting a sense of what my opinion was of who Tris is, and how she exists in the world. It was really exciting to work with someone who was so willing to collaborate. 

 

KW: Sangeetha Subramanian says: Shailene, Divergent was one of the best movies I've seen in a long time! Can't wait to see Insurgent. What was it like on set in between serious takes? 

SW: It was great on set. Luckily, nobody took themselves too seriously, so even if there was a serious scene, there were never any stakes that felt very high.

 

KW: Harriet Pakula-Teweles asks: How is your approach to acting altered by whether you’re performing for TV versus the big screen?

SW: I don’t know that it’s any different except that with TV you have a limited amount of time to get certain shots. So, there seems to be a sense of rushing, while with movies you have more time to get the shots that you need.

 

KW: Harriet also asks: How much of the real Shailene is in Tris, and to what extent did you allow yourself to just get lost in the role?

SW: There is a lot of me in Tris, definitely. I really admire her bravery and her courage. But as far as getting lost in the role, it was more about calling upon my own bravery and courage, and reacting based on how Tris would react in any given situation

 

KW: Her last question: With so many classic films being redone, is there a remake you'd like to star in?

SW: I don’t want to star in a remake. I don’t think they should be remaking a lot of classics, because so many of them are great on their own.

 

KW: Environmental activist Grace Sinden says: You've already had a phenomenal career at a young age. Were you nervous about working with George Clooney in The Descendants?  

SW: No, I wasn’t nervous. I was really excited, because I really admired him and admired his work, and was very, very keen on learning from him.

 

KW: You’re presently shooting Snowden with Oscar-winner Oliver Stone. How’s that experience thus far?

SW: It’s amazing!

 

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

SW: Hmm… [Pauses to think] Probably, of my brother being born when I was about 3.

 

KW: What is your favorite dish to cook?

SW: Ooh, any kind of meat. I’m a big stew person, like a meat stew.

 

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

SW: I don’t have one favorite.

 

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

SW: I see a lot of opportunity for growth.

 

KW: If you could have one wish instantly granted, what would that be for?

SW: The eradication of big corporations.

 

KW: The bookworm Troy Johnson question: What was the last book you read?

SW: The last book I read was called “Dear Lover” by David Deida.

 

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?

SW: At home, I never have makeup on.

 

KW: The Teri Emerson question: When was the last time you had a good laugh?

SW: This morning.

 

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

SW: Maybe a bird.

 

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?

SW: [Chuckles] Nope, because becoming famous was never on my mind.

 

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

SW: [Growls] Fly!

 

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

SW: Yeah, I don’t know that every single successful person has this quality, but I think it’s an ability to fight no matter what, to keep going no matter how difficult an obstacle in front of you might seem.

 

KW: The Gabby Douglas question: If you had to choose another profession, what would that be?

SW: I’d love to learn more about the human anatomy.

 

KW: What’s in your wallet?

SW: [Laughs] I don’t have a wallet.

 

KW: The Nancy Lovell Question: Why do you love doing what you do?

SW: I love doing what I do because it’s an art form and I get to tell stories.

 

KW: The Rudy Lewis question: Who’s at the top of your hero list?

SW: My mom.

 

KW: The music maven Heather Covington question: What was the last song you listened to? 

SW: I’ve recently discovered Asaf Avidan, and I’ve become obsessed with his new album.

 

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

SW: When I’m honoring myself.

 

KW: Is there something you wish people would note about you?

SW: Not necessairly.

 

KW: The Toure question: Who is the person who most inspired you to become the person you are today?

SW: My momma.

 

KW: What do you admire about her?

SW: She is somebody who fights really hard for world compassion and empathy for others.

 

KW: What effect did having to wear a back brace as a child for scoliosis have on you? Was it very traumatic?

SW: Not at all. I just thought of it as something to embrace. It was just something I had. I could either be upset by it and be triggered by it, or embrace it and commit to working on it and move forward.

 

KW: The Mike Pittman question: What was your best career decision?

SW: I don’t know whether it’s decisions I’ve made, or opportunities I’ve been fortunate to have. I guess doing The Descendants was a big turn for me but, at the same time, it wasn’t really a decision because I would’ve given anything to be a part of that film. 

 

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

SW: I don’t necessarily get afraid but, yes, you can definitely get nervous before a scene, occasionally, especially if you’re working with someone new that you really admire that you want to not impress, but honor.

 

KW: What is your guiltiest pleasure?

SW: Chocolate.

 

KW: What do you want that you don’t have yet?

SW: I would love to go to massage school, and learn about the way muscles affect bones.

 

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

SW: I’m very fond of an organization called, Food & Water Watch.

 

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

SW: Thanks so much, Kam. Have a wonderful day!

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


Insurgent
Film Review by Kam Williams

Insurgent is the second in the action-oriented series of screen adaptations based on Veronica Roth’s blockbuster Divergent trilogy. This installment represents a rarity for a cinematic sequel in that it’s actually better than the first episode.

In case you’re unfamiliar with the franchise’s basic premise, the post-apocalyptic sci-fi is set amidst the crumbling ruins of a walled-in Chicago where what’s left of humanity has been strictly divided into five factions based on personality types, namely, Abnegation (the selfless); Amity (the peaceful); Candor (the honest); Dauntless (the brave); and Erudite (the intelligent).

Our intrepid heroine, Tris (Shailene Woodley) was deemed a threat to society after testing positive for several of the aforementioned qualities since that makes her a Divergent, one of the handful of nonconformists whose minds the government cannot control. Consequently, the headstrong rebel ended up orphaned and roaming the streets with fellow faction-less rogues by the end of the original.

Insurgent picks up right where Divergent left off, though upping the ante in terms of intensity and visually-captivating special f/x. At the point of departure, we find Tris on the run with her boyfriend Four (Theo James), her brother Caleb (Ansel Elgort) and the duplicitous Peter Hayes (Miles Teller). The fugitives are being sought by Jeanine (Kate Winslet), the monomaniacal Erudite leader who has seized control of the city by commandeering the Dauntless warrior class.

The Machiavellian despot has declared martial law until all threats to her power have been neutralized. Meanwhile, Tris and company proceed to elude apprehension as they search for a sacred talisman supposedly hidden somewhere by her late mom (Ashley Judd).

The ancient artifact is rumored to contain an important message from Chicago’s founding fathers. However, the box can only be accessed by a Divergent who succeeds at surviving an ordeal testing for all five of the commonwealth’s designated virtues. Sure, it’s obvious that Tris is bright, fearless and altruistic. But she could perish in the process of attempting to prove herself a pacifist and truthful, too.

Fans of the source material will undoubtedly be surprised by this complicated box challenge which wasn’t in the book. Nevertheless, the seamlessly-interwoven plot device works in terms of ratcheting up the tension.

The film features an A-list supporting cast that includes Oscar-winners Kate Winslet and Octavia Spencer and nominee Naomi Watts, along with effective performances on the part of Theo James, Ansel Elgort, Zoe Kravitz and Miles Teller. Still, make no mistake. Insurgent is a Shailene Woodley vehicle from beginning to end.

And the rising young star exhibits an impressive acting range in a physically as well as emotionally-demanding role promising to do for her what The Hunger Games did for Jennifer Lawrence.

Very Good (3 stars)

Rated PG-13 for sensuality, pervasive violence, intense action, mature themes and brief profanity

Running time: 119 minutes

Distributor: Lions Gate Films

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


Ben Crump
The “Ferguson” Interview
with Kam Williams

Ben Crump is the attorney of record in many high-profile, civil rights cases, most notably representing the families of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown and Tamir Rice, the 12 year-old boy shot by a Cleveland, Ohio police officer a second after he got out of his patrol car.

Kam Williams: Hi Ben, I appreciate the time. I know how busy you are.

Ben Crump: You’re very, very welcome, Kam.

 

KW: What is your response to the recent shooting of the two police officers in Ferguson, Missouri?

BC: Together with the Brown family, I condemn the shootings and make an immediate appeal for nonviolence, as we have from the inception of this movement. The heinous act of this individual does not reflect or forward the peaceful and non-violent movement that has emerged in our nation to confront police brutality and to ensure equality for all people. An act of violence against any innocent person eludes moral justification, disgraces the millions of Americans and people throughout the world who have united in peaceful protest against police brutality, and dishonors our proud inheritance of nonviolent resistance. We support the imposition of the full extent of the law on the perpetrator, and our prayers are with the officers and their families.

 

KW: What do you make of Attorney General Holder’s recently declining to indict Officer Darren Wilson for the shooting of Michael Brown?

BC: I just think that the Department of Justice has to stop sanitizing all these killings of unarmed people of color. When you look at the Justice Department’s report talking about the Ferguson Police Department’s rampant pattern of discrimination and its excessive use of force against African-American citizens, it’s hard to try to rationalize how this cesspool of racism doesn’t spill over onto the individual officers. For instance, Sergeant Mudd, the first officer on the scene after Darren Wilson killed Michael Brown. He was Wilson’s mentor and supervisor. He was one of the primary witnesses and main advocates for Darren Wilson in front of the grand jury. We now know that this was the individual who sent the racist email that was repeatedly forwarded around the Ferguson Police Department saying that Crimestoppers paid a black woman $3,000 to get an abortion. So you have this cesspool of racism, yet they’re trying to suggest that it’s not going to affect individual officers. The Attorney General says that you have this high standard that you have to show that at the time of the shooting the individual was thinking hateful or racist thoughts. That’s an almost impossible standard. It should be enough to show implicit bias, given all the attendant circumstances. If there’s a pattern and practice of discrimination and excessive force, you should be able to hold these officers accountable for killing unarmed citizens. The reason I say that, Kam, is because, if there are no real consequences for their actions, we won’t get any different results. We need real consequences to get real results. There’s no deterrent to these officers’ behavior when they continue to see the local and federal governments under the Obama Administration sanitizing the killings of unarmed black and brown people.

 

KW: Holder’s also just announced that there will be no arrest of George Zimmerman for violating the civil rights of Trayvon Martin. That shocked me because everyone heard the recording of the 911 operator ordering Zimmerman to stay in his car and to wait for the police to arrive. But he ignored the instructions and killed an innocent teen innocently walking down the street, just yards from home. And even that’s not considered a violation of the child’s rights? How insane is that?

BC: Absolutely! We keep seeing a reoccurrence of their sanitizing these killings. It almost encourages people to conclude that they did nothing wrong, since the government didn’t press any charges. We’ve got to somehow send a message to deter this conduct. Otherwise, we’re going to see it over and over and over again. It’s becoming almost like an epidemic.

 

KW: No kidding. Just since you and I last spoke, we’ve had police shootings of Jerome Reid getting out of a car with his hands up in New Jersey, a homeless man in Los Angeles, 19 year-old Tony Robinson in Madison, Wisconsin, and Antonio Zambrano-Montes in Spokane, Washington.

BC: We’re representing Antonio Zambrano-Montes’ family.

 

KW: Great! And there’s also Sureshbhai Patel, an elderly tourist from India who was left paralyzed by a cop in Alabama who thought he was a black man prowling around a white neighborhood. These incidents are happening about once a week now. What about the Tamir Rice case? The chief of police in Cleveland is a black man, so I was stunned when the city said the boy’s death was directly caused by his own acts, not by police officer Timothy Loehmann. How did you react to that conclusion?

BC: It was literally shocking that, based on what we see in that surveillance video, this 12 year-old child could be called responsible for his own death because he wasn’t being careful, versus what we see and know happened there; how these officers violated all their procedures, training and department regulations, and drove up to the scene recklessly in a way which escalated the situation. Tamir Rice was killed in less than one second which was totally disrespectful. And the pattern of disrespect continued when his 14 year-old sister ran up crying, “You killed my baby brother!” Instead of showing her any compassion, they tackled her, handcuffed her, manhandled her, dragged her through the snow and threw her into the back of the police car where she had to sit helplessly 4 to 5 feet away from where her brother lay kicking as he died. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the pattern of disrespect continued with how they treated their mother when she arrived. They told her she could either get in the police car with her daughter to go to the station or get in the ambulance to go to the hospital with her son. And now the pattern of disrespect to the Rice family continues with blaming Tamir for his own death in the answer to the complaint of wrongful death we filed. That was shocking and sends a loud message not only to the people of Cleveland but to people all over America.   

 

KW: I’d also like to know how you feel about the video that surfaced of that Oklahoma fraternity singing that racist song on the bus.

BC: They may kick the fraternity off campus, but the thing that’s so unfortunate is that, no matter what they do, those students still felt it was okay to say what they said. So, you can’t help but wonder whether that’s how they really feel in their hearts. It reminded me of my personal hero, Thurgood Marshall. I’m reading Gilbert King’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book about the Groveland, Florida rape cases called “Devil in the Grove.” In it, he talks about Marshall, saying he had two fears. First, how big a celebration there was going to be the day racists lynched him and hung him from a tree. But his second and worst fear, after seeing so many young children in pictures of lynchings, was knowing that one day they would grow up to be running society. And that’s what I thought about watching the video on that bus. That in 20 years or so, those fraternity and sorority members will be running corporations, city governments and other institutions. And I wondered, what will their mentality be like? How does this bode for the future?

 

KW: I agree. It’s very scary. Thanks again, Ben, and keep fighting the good fight.

BC: Thanks so much Kam. Call anytime.


It Follows

It Follows
Film Review by Kam Williams

Jay (Maika Moore) had no reason to consider the worst possible consequence the night she impulsively decided to have sex with her boyfriend Hugh (Jake Weary) for the very first time. After all, she found the moonlit lakefront setting romantic enough, even if that meant doing it in the back of his car.

Nevertheless, the carefree 19 year-old was in for a rude awakening, a fate far worse than an STD or an unplanned pregnancy. For, while basking in the afterglow of spent passion, Hugh sneaks up from behind and knocks out the girl he’s just made love to by covering her face with a cloth dipped in chloroform.

When Jay comes to, she finds herself bound and gagged in a strange basement. Hugh proceeds to explain that she’s just been used by him, but not for a thrill. Rather, he had been followed by a demonic force that could only be eluded by having sex with a partner. Before freeing her, he urges her to sleep with someone else in order to pass on the curse before the ghost has a chance to kill her.

Although initially skeptical, it doesn’t take long for the sudden appearance of apparitions to convince terrified Jay that something supernatural is indeed afoot. And the more she’s in fear for her life, she more she actually has to consider seduction for the sake of survival. For instance, there’s Paul (Keir Gilchrist), the nerdy neighbor who has had a crush on her since childhood.

That novel scenario is established at the point of departure of It Follows, a harrowing horror flick written and directed by David Robert Mitchell. The movie marks the sophomore offering from the innovative director, who first made a splash five years ago with The Myth of the American Sleepover.

However, It Follows is a truly groundbreaking thriller that it would be a crime to spoil in a review. Suffice to say it’s as much of a mindbender as the equally-inscrutable Memento (2000).

A creepy, counterintuitive fright fest that puts a perverse spin on the meaning of getting lucky.

Excellent (4 stars)

Rated R for sexuality, profanity, graphic nudity and disturbing violence

Running time: 101 minutes

Distributor: Radius-TWC

To see a trailer for It Follows, visit:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9tyMi1Hn32I


Reviews
UserpicLife Stinks for Smelly Kid in Droll Coming-of-Age Dramedy
Posted by Kam Williams
11.03.2015

Treading Water
Film Review by Kam Williams

Mica (Douglas Smith) had the misfortune of being born with a congenital condition that has him smelling like a fish. His parents (Ariadna Gil and Don McKellar) took him to a doctor who diagnosed the disease as Trimethylaminuria, an incurable body odor syndrome, and basically threw up his hands.

It didn’t help matters that Mica’s father abandoned the family soon thereafter, leaving the boy to be raised by an eccentric mother in a house converted into a museum dedicated to the memory of an obscure Mexican musician. Understandably, the lad grew up very lonely and increasingly dependent upon his empathetic shrink (Carrie-Anne Moss) as a steady tether to reality.

Otherwise, Mica’s formative years were virtually friendless, with a cute girl named Laura (Zoe Kravitz) being the only kid willing to attend any of his birthday parties. For some unknown reason, she wasn’t bothered by his overpowering skunk musk. So, it’s no surprise that traumatized Mica’s secret crush on her might endure past the puppy love stage and well into puberty.

That’s the setup of Treading Water, a droll dramedy marking the intriguing screenplay and directorial debut of Mexico’s Analeine Cal y Mayor. The talented Latina was ostensibly inspired to write the script by a newspaper article she read in Spain, although this escapist fantasy is more akin to magical realism than anything resembling traditional journalism.

The film’s title can be explained by the fact that Mica started spending a lot of his free time in swimming pools after discovering that being immersed in water helped suppress his godawful stench. It is while swimming that he reconnects with Laura for the first time in ages, and he proceeds to make the most of a second chance to make an aromatic impression.

Credit co-stars Douglas Smith and Zoe Kravitz for generating just the right chemistry as endearing oddballs to turn this quirky coming-of-age adventure into an appealing romantic romp.

Very Good (3 stars)

Unrated

Running time: 87 minutes

Distributor: The Orchard

To see a trailer for Treading Water, visit: 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mCpQeywlrV4


Run All Night

Run All Night
Film Review by Kam Williams

Hit man Jimmy Conlon (Liam Neeson) and mob boss Shawn Maguire (Ed Harris) have been BFFs for decades. In fact, the blood brothers from Brooklyn are so close that they routinely recite their loyalty oath, “Wherever we’re going, we’re going together” as a reminder of their enduring alliance.

However, that seemingly unbreakable bond is shattered in an instant after Shawn’s son Danny (Boyd Holbrook) is gunned down in the wake of a drug deal gone bad with a couple of Albanian heroine dealers. Trouble is, Jimmy’s son Mike (Joel Kinnaman), who makes an honest living as a chauffeur with a limo company, just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. For, he had no idea what was up when he was hired to serve as the pair’s getaway driver.

Nevertheless, revenge-minded Shawn decides that his best friend’s kid has to pay with his life. So, he informs Jimmy that he’s sending his assassins after Mike to even the score.

Of course, Jimmy warns his son. Mike then calls the cops, ignoring his father’s advice to avoid the local police since they’re bought and likely in cahoots with the Maguire crime family. When that turns out to be true, father and son end up on the run all over the city from both the authorities and bloodthirsty bad guys.

Thus unfolds Run All Night, the latest high-octane offering from Liam Neeson who’s again typecast in a role that he’s become closely associated with ever since his phenomenal performance as an overprotective parent in Taken. This picture’s premise puts a slight twist on the familiar theme in that Jimmy’s not exactly an empathetic protagonist given his long career as a feared enforcer known as “The Gravedigger.”

Still, he’s sorely in need of a shot at redemption, especially in the eyes of his estranged son who rejected the notion of ever following in his father’s footsteps. Instead, Mike tried to make it as a boxer, and when that didn’t pan out he took the legit job as a limo driver.

Run All Night was directed by Jaume Collet-Serra who previously worked with Liam Neeson on both Unknown (2011) and Non-Stop (2014). Three times is definitely the charm for the pair as this adrenaline-fueled adventure proves to be their best collaboration yet. The film also features an excellent supporting cast which includes Nick Nolte, 2015 Oscar-winner Common (for the Best Song “Glory”) and veteran character actors Vincent D’Onofrio and Bruce McGill.

Liam Neeson delivers afresh in an edge-of-your-seat, high body-count thriller every bit as good as they come!

Excellent (4 stars)

Rated R for profanity, sexual references, graphic violence and drug use

In English and Albanian with subtitles

Running time: 114 minutes

Distributor: Warner Brothers Pictures

To see a trailer for Run All Night, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y-BNyLo-8SU    


Like Sunday, Like Rain

Like Sunday, Like Rain
Film Review by Kam Williams

Eleanor (Leighton Meester) gets so fed up with her struggling musician boyfriend’s (Billie Joe Armstrong) philandering ways, that she tosses his most prized possession, his guitar, out of a second-floor window to the street below where it’s smashed into smithereens. He retaliates by getting her fired from her job as a waitress by making a scene right in the place where she works.

She then impulsively dumps him, packs all her belongings into a single suitcase, and moves out of their apartment. Trouble is that with nowhere to go, she suddenly has to figure out how to survive in Manhattan with only $160 to her name.

Eleanor is lucky to land a gig as a nanny through a temp agency which places her in a posh penthouse where she’ll be paid room and board to care for a precocious 12 year-old with preoccupied parents who are never around. In the absence of quality time, Reggie (Julian Shatkin) has developed into a melancholy misanthrope, whose only saving grace is that he loves to play the cello.

Can a cash-strapped, 23 year-old au pair from a blue-collar background relate to a spoil-rotten rich musical prodigy? That’s the dilemma serving as the driving force behind Like Sunday, Like Rain, an unlikely-buddies drama reminiscent of Harold and Maude (1971).

Written and directed by Frank Whaley (New York City Serenade), the character-driven coming-of-age flick is obviously very dependent on the generation of chemistry between the leads. Fortunately, co-stars Leighton Meester and Julian Shatkin both prove capable and convincing in this regard.

Given his folks’ conspicuous absence, initially-reluctant Reggie is essentially afforded free rein to roam around New York on an unlimited budget, and obliging Eleanor wins his trust by letting him skip day camp and scheduled play dates. He hangs with her instead, and the two gradually bond while visiting museums, dining in fancy restaurants, and even renting a hotel room.

A tenderhearted lesson in how friendship can be forged in spite of a great gulf in age, class and I.Q.

Very Good (3 stars)

Rated R for profanity

Running time: 104 minutes

Distributor: Monterey Media

To see a trailer for Like Sunday, Like Rain, visit:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B28IHhaQXCE


Interviews
UserpicClarence Page (INTERVIEW)
Posted by Kam Williams
09.03.2015

Clarence Page

The “Culture Worrier” Interview
with Kam Williams
Front “Page” News!

Clarence Page is a nationally-syndicated columnist and member of the Chicago Tribune editorial board. Besides those duties, the Pulitzer Prize-winner makes frequent TV appearances, including on The McLaughlin Group as a regular member of the show’s panel of political pundits.

Clarence makes his home in the Washington, DC area with his wife, Lisa, and their son, Grady. Here, he talks about his life, career and his best-selling collection of essay, “Culture Worrier.”

Kam Williams: Hi Clarence, how’re you doing?

Clarence Page: I’m good. How are you today, Kam?

 

KW: Great! First, I wanted to ask, how much of a connection do you still have to Chicago? You write for the Tribune, but live in DC.

CP: That’s right. I work out of our Washington bureau. My column is syndicated nationally, anyway. I have more of a Washington perspective than the other Tribune columnists, but I still love the place and try to get back as often as I can. And I occasionally do a locally-oriented blog item which is only printed in the Tribune.

 

KW: I think of you as the black Mike Royko. How would describe your style?

CP: I think every Chicago columnist considers himself to be a Mike Royko. [Chuckles] His office was next-door to mine at the Tribune Tower for a number of years. I always admired his strong voice… a very ordinary Chicagoan sitting at the bar after work going back-and-forth with his buddies about politics and this or that from a working-class point-of-view. I really appreciated his ability to do that so flawlessly, and in such a strong voice. So, I always tried to cultivate a voice assessing what was good for the average members of the public, and sometimes I succeeded. [Chuckles]

 

KW: You always do a great job. Tell me a little about why you decided to publish a collection of essays?

CP: It occurred to me that after doing this for 30 years, from the Reagan Era to the Age of Obama, that if there was ever an appropriate time for me to publish a collection of columns, this would be it. So, I went back and reread my pieces, and I began to notice the strong trend toward social commentary interwoven with politics played in most of them, and the phrase “Culture Worrier” just jumped out at me.

 

KW: How do you enjoy appearing on the McLaughlin Group with John, Eleanor Clift, Mort Zuckerman and Pat Buchanan?  

CP: I’ve been doing the show since about 1988. McLaughlin’s been a remarkable talent scout over the years when you think about how people like Chris Matthews, Lawrence O’Donnell and Jay Carney used to be regulars on the show.

 

KW: Marie Polo asks: What was the most interesting and the most challenging aspects of being an army journalist back in 1969?

CP: Oh, that’s an interesting question! I will say that the difference was that when you’re an Army journalist, as opposed to a civilian correspondent covering the military, you’re very often either a public relations agent or expected to perform that role, with a few exceptions, such as reporters for Stars and Stripes. I would say that one of the most unexpected benefits of that job was being taught to never try to cover anything up, but rather to get any bad information out right away, so that there would be nothing more to come out later. This was a wonderful lesson to be taught because often the effort to cover up a story becomes a bigger story than the original one.  

 

KW: You suffered from ADD, but it obviously didn't prevent you from having a very successful career as a journalist. How did you overcome this difficulty or turn it into a strength?

CP: I didn’t know I had ADD, because it hadn’t been invented back then. For what it’s worth, like a lot of others with ADD, I’ve been able to succeed simply by trying harder.

 

KW: When I watched Life Itself, the documentary about Roger Ebert, I learned that winning a Pulitzer Prize was a very big deal to him. What did winning a Pulitzer mean to you? 

CP: One thing about winning a Pulitzer, it means you know what the first three words of your obituary will be: Pulitzer Prize-winner. [Chuckles] After winning the Pulitzer, I couldn’t help but notice how people suddenly looked at me with a newfound respect, and would say, “He’s an expert.” On the negative side, I developed a terrible case of writer’s block for awhile, because I felt like readers would expect every one of my columns to be prize worthy. I spoke to a number of other Pulitzer winners who had the same problem, a creative block that had them hesitating. How do you get past the writer’s block? Nothing concentrates the mind like a firm deadline, and a little voice in the back of my mind reminding me that, “If you don’t write, you don’t eat.” Listen, we all want to be respected and appreciated, but when you get a big honor like that, people start to look for your work in a new way with higher expectations. Today, the best thing about having won is when I get a nasty comment from some internet troll I can remind myself of the Pulitzer and say, “Well, somebody appreciates me.”

 

KW: Dave Roth says: As far as I can tell, despite many people's well intentioned efforts over the last 50 years, America still appears to be a racially-divided and culturally-segregated country, as evidenced by, among many other examples, Ferguson, Missouri, any examination of failing public schools and/or prison populations, and the current gerrymandering case being heard by the Supreme Court. What, in your view, is substantially culturally different in the U.S. today versus say March 3, 1991, Rodney King Day? And what do you believe is the single greatest piece of evidence that progress is being made toward a society that provides equality of opportunity and treatment under the law, regardless of race, ethnicity or gender?

CP: Good question. First of all, I would say that our cultural divides are less racial and more tribal. We’re trying to reduce racial barriers to opportunity while at the same time not creating artificial quotas in regards to race. Today’s tribal politics is more attitudes and values-based than back in the olden days when it was something we strictly associated with ethnicity.

 

KW: Environmental activist Grace Sinden says: Thank you for your fine work in illuminating important issues. What do you see as the most critical domestic concern that needs to be addressed by our national government? 

CP: I would say environmental protection is our most important long-range issue. In the shorter term, as well as the longer term, I’ve always said our biggest challenge is in education, which has become even more challenging because of income inequality and wage stagnation. We haven’t confronted the fact that people who get their income from capital investments have benefited while ordinary workers who rely on salary have not. So, the income gap is getting worse. But Washington is in gridlock, politically, and I’m pessimistic about our making any major improvements over the next couple years. 

 

KW: Sangeetha Subramanian asks: When you think about your legacy how would you like to be remembered? 

CP: What a wonderful question! When I posed that question to retiring Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, he looked up as if he were surprised, but he quickly responded, “That he did the best he could with what he had.” It was remarkably humble, but to the point. That’s how I’d like to be remembered, too.

 

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

CP: [LOL] That’s good one, too! What would I have done, if I had not become a political writer? I wanted to become an entertainment writer. I’ve always been fascinated by showbiz as much as I was by politics.

 

KW: What is your favorite dish to cook?

CP: Pasta and salmon.

 

KW: The bookworm Troy Johnson question: What was the last book you read?

CP: Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. She’s dynamite!

 

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

CP: I see a guy getting older. [Laughs] But I always try to keep my mind open or I’d never have figured out Twitter and Instagram.

 

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

CP: I remember being told by my parents when I was 4 that I couldn’t go to an amusement park advertised on TV because colored kids weren’t allowed there. That was a bit of a shock and really stayed with me over the years. That was how I first learned about racial segregation. Fortunately, I took it as a challenge, early on, and it motivated me. You never know how a child might respond to discrimination. It goes both ways. Some kids become embittered.

 

KW: Thanks again for the time, Clarence, I really enjoyed our chat.

CP: Same here. Thanks, Kam



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