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Reviews
UserpicConstructing Albert Review
Posted by Myfilmblog
15.01.2018

"Within just a year of establishing 41°, Albert announces its closure in 2014, anticipating the launch of his high-concept dining experience Enigma the following year. Defining a viable business model and finalizing the space’s modernist design prove as puzzling as the restaurant’s name, however. Before long, planning extends into a second year with no opening date in sight, putting both Albert’s investment in the project and his personal reputation at stake."

Read full review at The Hollywood Reporter

Distributor: Juno Films (US)

    


Felt
FilmReview by Kam Williams

Amy (Amy Everson) has been left so haunted by demons after years of unspecified sexual abuse that today she dreams of crushing a rapist to death with her thighs. She also fantasizes about gouging out his eyes and sticking a pin in a penis.

Good luck to anyone who gets involved with the traumatized survivor, since she's obviously still dealing with the fallout of whatever happened to her. Some of Amy's suitors are oblivious of the warning signs, such as the cad who cavalierly suggested that the date rape drug, Rohypnol, doesn't even exist.

Such callous behavior plays right into Amy's belief that most men are exploitative jerks who think they have the right to grope her just because she's female. She laments that they don't understand that there are other forms of violence besides punching or stabbing or shooting with a gun.

Rather than retreat into her shell, Amy copes by creating elaborate costumes which make a feminist statement about the patriarchal state of the culture. For instance, she'll strap on a fake penis and cover her face with a mask before taking a walk in the woods; or she might don a giant chicken mascot costume in order to follow a dude around.

Yet, despite her apparent disgust with the opposite sex, Amy hasn't given up on finding Mr. Right. She hangs out at a pool hall where she peppers possible partners with probing questions like: “Do you prefer docile chicks?”

Inspired by its star Amy Everson's real-life experiences, Felt is a surreal, semi-autobiographical adventure with a patently political agenda. Directed by Jason Banker (Toad Road), this unsettling experimental indie is simultaneously a psychological thriller which never affords the audience an opportunity to get comfortable in their seats.

A cattle prod of a picture which incessantly provokes and pushes the cinematic envelope while taking no prisoners in a very freaky battle-of-the-sexes.

Very Good (3 stars)

Unrated

Running time: 80 minutes

Distributor: Amplify Releasing

To see a trailer for Felt, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rr59LitGL1k

    


Inside Out
Film Review by Kam Williams

Riley (Kaitlyn Dias) was understandably unhappy when she learned from her mother (Diane Lane) and father (Kyle MacLachlan) that the family was relocating from Minnesota to San Francisco. After all, she'd be leaving behind her home, her hockey team and all her BFFs.

So, it's no surprise that the uprooted 11 year-old might be very lonely after moving to the Bay Area. And, unfortunately, that solitary condition leads to an inordinate amount of introspection as she attempts to sort out her emotions, literally and figuratively.

For, her feelings aren't merely metaphysical experiences but five actual little figurines living inside her brain. This anthropomorphic quintet, composed of Joy (Amy Poehler), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Fear (Bill Hader), Anger (Lewis Black) and Disgust (Mindy Kaling), are constantly contending for control of rattled Riley's moods as she navigates her way around a new house, city and school.

That struggle is the subject of Inside Out, the best animated offering from the talented team at Pixar since the equally-affective balloon adventure Up (2009). Don't allow the the awkward-sounding premise revolving around a melancholy kid who's a bit of a head case turn you off, as the material is handled delicately enough to be appropriate for a child of any age.

A touching tale illustrating how a dramatic life change might, temporarily at least, exact a terrible toll on a frail human psyche.

Excellent (4 stars)

Rated PG for action and mature themes

Running time: 94 minutes

Distributor: Pixar Animation / Walt Disney Studios

To see a trailer for Inside Out, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7ZLOYXKmIkw

    


Dope
Film Review by Kam Williams

17 year-old Malcolm (Shameik Moore) was raised by a single-mom (Kimberly Elise) in a rather rough section of L.A. where he's turned out to be more of a milquetoast than a menace to society. He's actually so nerdy he's formed a funk band called Oreo with a couple of fellow geeks, Diggy (Kiersey Clemons) and Jib (Tony Revolori). The tight-knit BFFs carefully negotiate their way through the perilous gauntlet lining their path to school, doing their best to hide the fact that they do “white sh*t” like getting good grades in hopes of going to a good college and making it out of the ghetto.

Malcolm has his heart set on Harvard, which just might happen, given his high SAT scores. In terms of his application, he still has to finish his personal essay and then do a decent job in his upcoming interview with esteemed alumnus Austin Jacoby (Roger Guenveur Smith), the check-cashing magnate.

However, what might prove more of a challenge is simply keeping his nose clean the rest of senior year. After all, he encounters danger on a daily basis, whether it's bullies trying steal his sneakers or neighborhood gangstas pressuring him to join the Bloods.

Malcolm's unraveling starts when, against his better judgment, he accepts an invite from a girl he has a crush on (Zoe Kravitz) to a drug dealer's (Rakim Mayers) birthday party at an underground nightclub. His first mistake is even entering the seedy, subterranean rave. His second is asking Nakia to dance, because she's also the object of the macho birthday boy's affection.

Then, when a gunfight suddenly breaks out, Malcolm grabs his backpack and runs for his life, unaware that his rival in romance has hidden a stash of contraband there. So, the next thing you know, Malcolm's on the run from a number of unsavory characters who covet the carefully-packed powdery substance.

Thus unfolds Dope, a cleverly-scripted, coming-of-age comedy reminiscent of the equally-sophisticated Dear White People. Narrated by Forest Whitaker, this laff-a-minute, fish-out-of-water adventure mines most of its humor at the expense of an emboldened 98-pound weakling who's used to having sand kicked in his face.

The picture was directed by Rick Famuyiwa (Brown Sugar) who keeps you entertained by turning more than a few conventions on their heads. The film also features a very pleasant soundtrack which includes a couple of crowd-pleasing tunes by 11-time, Grammy-winner Pharrell Williams.

A rollicking roller coaster ride around the 'hood that's basically a hilarious cross between Kid and Play's House Party (1990) and Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle (2004).

Excellent (4 stars)

Rated Rfor profanity, nudity, sexuality, ethnic slurs, drug use and violence, all involving teens

Running time: 115 minutes

Distributor: Open Road Films

To see a trailer for Dope, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=strEm9amZuo

    


3½ Minutes, Ten Bullets
Film Review by Kam Williams

On November 23, 2012, 45 year-old Michael Dunn attended his son's wedding in Jacksonville, Florida with his girlfriend Rhonda. After the reception, the couple stopped at a gas station where they pulled in next to a red Dodge Durango blasting rap music.

Dunn asked the teenagers sitting inside to lower the volume. When they refused, a heated exchange ensued. According to Dunn, one of them in the back seat opened the door and leveled a shotgun directly at him. So, in fear for his own life, he pulled out his own pistol and emptied it into the car, mortally wounding 17 year-old Jordan Davis.

Instead of immediately calling the police, Dunn fled the scene. But he was eventually apprehended with the help of a bystander who had scribbled down his license plate number and reported it to the authorities.

The trial drew nation attention because it revolved around another incident involving the shooting of an unarmed, young black male by a white man in Florida where trigger-happy aggressors tend to avoid prosecution by relying on a Stand Your Ground rationale. Why just the year before, George Zimmerman had successfully invoked the statute as giving him the right to ignore a 911 operator's explicit order to stay in his car and not pursue Trayvon Martin.

Thus, the burning question in this instance became whether Dunn might also somehow prevail in the face of damning testimony from Jordan's three friends who survived the attack that none of them had threatened Dunn and that there was no gun in the Durango.

Furthermore, Jordan couldn't have opened the back door even if he wanted to, since the car's kid- proof lock would have prevented him. And the icing on the cake was that Dunn's own girlfriend would testify for the prosecution, admitting that he fabricated a bunch of alibis after the fact, like the claim that Jordan had brandished a weapon.

Still, to be found not guilty, all Dunn needed to do was convince the jury that his fears were well-founded and that his response was reasonable. But because it was also clear that Jordan and his friends had not broken the law, the case would ostensibly serve as a test of whether black lives mattered in the eyes of the supposedly colorblind criminal justice system.

Directed by Marc Silver, 3½ Minutes, Ten Bullets is a powerful documentary revisiting the critical issues in the landmark legal proceeding. Besides painstakingly examining the evidence, the picture devotes considerable time to humanizing Jordan Davis via a combination of home movies and heartfelt reminiscences by his parents and friends.

A riveting courtroom drama chronicling an emotionally-draining showdown played out on the national stage between the Black Lives Matter and Stand Your Ground movements.

Excellent (4 Stars)

Unrated

Running time: 85 minutes

Studio: Candescent Films Distributor: Participant Media

To see a trailer for 3½ Minutes,Ten Bullets, visit:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DGl1IwNwSgo

    


Reviews
UserpicSelf-Reverential Sequel Revives Prehistoric Horror Franchise
Posted by Kam Williams
14.06.2015

Jurassic World
Film Review by Kam Williams

How do you revive an expiring film franchise that was ostensibly put out of its misery over a dozen years ago after audiences became jaded with over-saturated visual effects they no longer found spellbinding? In the case of Jurassic World, you mount a self-reverential sequel laced with allusions to earlier episodes in which you even go so far as to point out how dinosaurs don't capture people's imaginations to the degree they once used to.

This is the fourth installment in the sci-fi series based on novels by the late Michael Crichton. Jurassics 1 and 2 were directed by Steven Spielberg and adapted from a couple of Crichton's best-sellers (“Jurassic Park” and “The Lost World”). Jurassic 4's creative team includes director Colin Trevorrow (Safety Not Guaranteed) and a quartet of writers who came up with a script which basically remains faithful to the feeling of the source material.

The story revolves around siblings Zach (Nick Robinson) and Gray Mitchell's (Ty Simpkins) Christmas vacation gone bad off the coast of Costa Rica. As the film unfolds, the adventuresome adolescents bid their folks a fond farewell, but not before their prophetic mother (Judy Greer) shares an ominous piece of parental advice:, “Remember, if something chases you, run!”

You see, they're headed to Isla Nublar, the same tropical resort where, in Jurassic 1, raptors ran amok during the christening of a dino-themed amusement park. Today, the place has been renamed “Jurassic World” and it's set to reopen under management just as greedy and inept as in the original, a deadly combination.

Helicopter mom Karen Mitchell isn't all that worried about her sons' welfare since she assumes they'll be under the watchful eye of her sister (Bryce Dallas Howard), the theme park's operations manager. However, upon their arrival, instead of spending quality time with the nephews she hasn't seen in seven years, Claire issues them a VIP all-access pass.

Their subsequent roaming around the premises in a gyro-sphere made of bulletproof glass inconveniently coincides with the escape from containment of Indominus Rex, a prehistoric hybrid bred in a test tube. Unfortunately, no one in a position of authority is inclined to destroy the creature before it goes on a rampage: not its mad scientist inventor (BD Wong), not the war profiteer (Vincent D'Onofrio) with secret plans to sell it to the military, and not Jurassic World's avaricious owner (Irrfan Khan).

This not only means that each of these dastardly villains will have to get their comeuppance but also that thousands of tourists will have to run for their lives. Most importantly, Aunt Claire must search for her nephews with the help of a chivalrous love interest (Chris Pratt). Overall, a riveting roller coaster ride with eye-popping effects and a satisfying resolution.

Still, not quite a Spielberg-quality blockbuster, but it'll do.

Very Good (3 stars)

Rated PG-13 for peril and intense violence

Running time: 124 minutes

Distributor: Universal Pictures

To see a trailer for Jurassic World , visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RFinNxS5KN4

    


Reviews
UserpicBoys Befriend Ailing Classmate in Bittersweet Bildungsroman
Posted by Kam Williams
12.06.2015

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
Film Review by Kam Williams

High school seniors Greg Gaines (Thomas Mann) and Earl Johnson (RJ Cyler) are not only best friends, they're each other's only friend, unless an empathetic history teacher counts. Mr. McCarthy (Jon Bernthal) has taken pity on the pair, letting them eat their lunch in his office to spare them the humiliation of being teased in the cafeteria on a daily basis .

Terminally-insecure Greg rationalizes their “carefully-cultivated invisibility” with the insight that, “Hot girls destroy your life.” So, instead of looking for love, the ostracized social zeros spend most of their free time shooting clownish parodies of memorable screen classics. But the 42 spoofs, sporting titles like “Eyes Wide Butt,” “A Sockwork Orange,” “Brew Velvet,” “A Box of Lips... Wow!” and “2:48 PM Cowboy,” suffer from such low-production values, that the amateur filmmakers are too embarrassed to share them with anybody.

At the start of the semester, we find Greg being pressured by his mother (Connie Britton) to visit the suddenly cancer-stricken daughter of one of her girlfriends (Molly Shannon). He agrees to do so rather reluctantly because he barely knows Rachel (Olivia Cooke), even though, until recently, she also attended Schenley High.

However, the two soon hit off, since they're both artsy types given to an ingratiating combination of introspection and gallows humor. Greg returns to her house again and again, doing his best to prop up her spirits during a valiant battle with leukemia in which she loses her strength and her hair as a consequence of chemotherapy.

Eventually, he enlists the assistance of his BFF in making their first documentary, a biopic dedicated to the now bed-ridden Rachel. Throwing himself into the project with an admirable zeal, he marks the production with meaningful touches like get well wishes from the patient's family and friends, including his own repeated assurances that she's going to beat the disease. The only problem is that the attention paid to Rachel leaves little time for academics; and Greg's plummeting grades have a negative effect on his college prospects.

Adapted from the Jesse Andrews young adult novel of the same name, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is a bittersweet coming-of-age adventure directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon (The Town That Dreaded Sundown). The film was very warmly received at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year where it landed both the Audience and Grand Jury Awards.

A refreshingly exhilarating, emotional and ultimately uplifting examination of youngsters forging an unbreakable bond in the face of a malignant force far beyond their control.

Excellent (4 stars)

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

Running time: 104 minutes

Distributor: Fox Searchlight

To see a trailer for Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2qfmAllbYC8

    


Farewell, Herr Schwarz
DVD Review by Kam Williams

Although Yael Reuveny was born in Israel 35 years after the end of World War II, her formative years were nevertheless substantially shaped by events that had transpired half a world away during the Holocaust. For, she and her mother had both been raised around an embittered concentration camp survivor who had never been able to forgive the Nazis.

After all, her grandmother Michla’s entire family had perished in a death camp in Poland, or at least so she thought. However, there had been a rumor that her brother Feiv’ke might have survived; but Michla lost hope when he failed to materialize at a rendezvous at the Lodz train station that had been arranged by an intermediary.

So, Michla made her way to Tel Aviv where, despite being plagued by nightmares, she would marry and have three kids. Unfortunately, she was also widowed at a young age, and eventually went to her grave still harboring a grudge against Germany.

Meanwhile, her brother changed his name to Peter Schwarz, and married a German gentile with whom he had three children. And not only did he hide the fact that he was Jewish from his offspring, but he continued to live in Schlieben, the town where he’d been imprisoned in a Nazi death camp.

When Ms. Reuveny caught wind of the existence of another branch of her family tree, she became obsessed with tracking down her long-lost relatives. That five-year quest is the focus of Farewell, Herr Schwarz, a bittersweet documentary detailing an attempt to reconcile a pair of siblings’ polar opposite response to the Holocaust.

After examining the divergent behavior of siblings Michla and Peter, director Reuveny devotes attention to how the pair’s second and third generations have adjusted to life. It is quite a surprise to learn that Peter’s grandson Stephan’s dream has been to move to Israel ever since learning that he is a quarter Jewish. And by contrast, filmmaker/narrator Reuveny opts to settle in Europe, feeling perfectly at home there upon completion of her labor of love.

A fascinating, generations-spanning genealogical journey!

Excellent (4 stars)

Unrated

In Hebrew, German and English with subtitles

Running time: 100 minutes

Distributor: Kino Lorber

DVD Extras: None

To see a trailer for Farewell, Herr Schwarz, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cKZ1tPunFvw      

    


Bass Clef Bliss
Film Review by Kam Williams

Before Terrence Partridge turned 2, his parents first noticed an arrest in his development of age-appropriate social skills. In fact, he actually started regressing soon thereafter, as words he had already been using began to disappear from his vocabulary.

But it would still be a couple more years before they would receive the devastating diagnosis that their son was autistic. Unfortunately, the marriage would not last, as is so often the case with families touched by this affliction, and the burden of raising Terrence alone would end up falling entirely on his mother Therese’s shoulders.

Since early intervention can be critical in a kid’s prognosis, he was lucky she committed herself to giving him the love and support of even more than two parents. And she resolved to become an expert in autism, since it can manifests in myriad ways, making what might be a viable protocol for one child, totally inappropriate for another.

In Terrence’s case, he exhibited an early interest in music, being among the 1 in 10,000 people blessed with perfect pitch. His attentive mom recognized his talent which she proceeded to cultivate with the help of Louise Titlow, his trombone instructor. Under his patient teacher’s tutelage, the boy blossomed into a promising prodigy to the point where he would one day play in San Diego’s New Youth Classical Orchestra as well as jazz in a combo led by trumpeter Gilbert Castllanos.

Louise modestly explains away her student’s seemingly miraculous achievements with, “All it takes with Terrence or any autistic child is a little bit more love, a little more time, and a little more faith.” Perhaps of greater significance is her further assertion that, “He can be an angel of healing self-expression through music, and heal others as he’s uplifting himself.”

Directed by Patrick Scott, Bass Clef Bliss is an alternately heartrending and uplifting biopic chronicling the tight bond between a mother and son as together they confront an assortment of daunting challenges associated with autism. Scott makes a most impressive debut here, as he oh so delicately balances the access he was afforded to his subjects ‘daily lives with their plausible concerns about personal privacy.

Besides focusing on Terrence and Therese’s trials, tribulations and ultimate triumphs, this informative documentary features a cornucopia of facts and figures about autism, courtesy of both experts and anecdotal evidence. Did you know that in 1985, 1 in 2,500 babies developed the disorder, and that today the number is about 1 in 68?

Thus, autism is now, effectively, universal in nature which makes a labor of love like Bass Clef Bliss certain to resonate deeply with any spiritually-inclined soul compassionately attuned to other than self.

Excellent (4 stars)

Unrated

Running time: 70 minutes

Distributor:  Dance House Productions / Passage Productions / BKLYN2LA Productions / Drama House Productions

To see a trailer for Bass Clef Bliss, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RiWffnyp1so

    


Chocolate City
Film Review by Kam Williams

Cash-strapped Katherine McCoy (Vivica A. Fox) is holding down a couple of jobs to make ends meet while praying that her sons stay on the straight and narrow path until they can make it out of the ghetto. Though grown, both boys still live at home, yet neither is helping their struggling single-mom much financially.

At least the younger one, Michael (Robert Ri’chard), is close to graduating from college and works part-time at a diner as a short order chef. But he hasn’t even been able to save enough from that minimum wage position to have his car fixed, so he has to get around Los Angeles by bicycle. By comparison, his 30 year-old brother Chris (DeRay Davis) is a trash-talking hustler who shows more of an interest in hanging out on the streets than in finding gainful employment.

The siblings’ fortunes change the day they decide to patronize the local gentlemen’s club. For, while Michael is relieving himself in the men’s room, he’s approached by the owner (Michael Jai White) about stripping there on Ladies’ Night.

Initially, the handsome hunk hesitates out of concern about how his girlfriend (Imani Hakim) and his Bible-thumping mother might react to his moonlighting in his birthday suit. However, after taking the time to watch girls go wild over buff beefcake (played by Tyson Beckford, Ginuwine and others), he decides to throw caution to the wind.

So, on the advice of his brother-turned-promoter, he’s given the stage name “Sexy Chocolate.” I suppose taking “Magic Mike” might have been a tad too transparent even for this unapologetic rip-off.

Despite soon raking in the big bucks, Michael’s life nevertheless starts to come apart at the seams. His grades plunge from As to Fs. His mother worries about whether her son’s sudden gains are ill-gotten. And his girlfriend gets the surprise of her life the evening she shows up with her BFFs.

Written and directed by Jean-Claude La Marre (the Pastor Jones franchise), Chocolate City is basically a blackface version of Magic Mike that trades shamelessly in the same sort of titillating fare which made that flick a runaway hit a few years ago. A derivative, estrogen-fueled, overcoming-the-odds saga strictly recommended for females interested in seeing sepia-skinned Adonises gyrate while disrobing to mind-numbing disco music.

Good (2 stars)

Rated R for profanity, brief violence, partial nudity and pervasive sexuality

Running time: 91 minutes

Distributor: Freestyle Releasing

To see a trailer for Chocolate City, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=42HA58cBHAM

    


Pitch Perfect 2
Film Review by Kam Williams

The Bellas are back and badder than before! In case you’re unfamiliar with the sassy, all-girl singing group, they’re students at Barden University, a fictional college located in Atlanta, Georgia. In the original, the students overcame a number of frustrating setbacks on the slow road to victory at the national acappella competition.

This semester, the motley crew led by super senior Chloe (Brittany Snow) has its sights set on the world championships in Copenhagen. However, they get off to a horrible start, thanks to an embarrassing, onstage wardrobe malfunction experienced by Fat Amy’(Rebel Wilson) while dangling at the end of a rope during a command performance for President Obama and the First Lady.

The audience lets out a collective gasp when she splits her leotard down the crotch, thereby completely exposing her private parts to the world. By the time the dust finally settles on the ensuing reactions to “Muffgate” by the media, the Barden Bellas find themselves temporarily suspended from competition by the board of governors.

Not to worry, the storyline seizes on that pause in the musical cause as a convenient excuse to develop the back stories of several group members. Amy has an ardent admirer in Bumper (Adam DeVine), but will she ever let her guard down long enough to share her sensitive side? Meanwhile, Beca (Anna Kendrick) secretly takes an internship with a Grammy-winning record producer (Keegan-Michael Key) with hopes of having him listen to the tunes she’s composed.

There’s also drama surrounding an angry black lesbian (Ester Dean), a freshman legacy admission Emily (Hailee Steinfeld) with low self-esteem; and an undocumented alien (Chrissie Fit), afraid of being deported. The pithy banter, here, frequently borders on the politically-incorrect, but it somehow works, perhaps because it’s never too mean-spirited.

As the assorted controversies are gradually amicably resolved, specter of the big showdown with the German defending world champs, The Sound Machine, looms ever larger on the horizon. Curiously, though billed as a celebration of acappella renditions of classic hits and show tunes, all the vocalists are actually accompanied by musical instruments.

Will the Bellas win? What? Are you in a rush? Just sit back and enjoy the irreverent ride. As one-man band Bobby McFerrin would warble, “Don’t worry, be happy.” A road to redemption paved with wisecracks and wonderful harmonies.

Very Good (3 stars)

Rated PG-13 for profanity and sexual innuendo

Running time: 115 minutes

Distributor: Universal Pictures

To see a trailer for Pitch Perfect 2, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6bh4mvJ5jUg

    


Mad Max: Fury Road
Film Review by Kam Williams

Fury Road reboots the legendary Mad Max franchise which has been sitting dormant for several decades. This fourth installment was again produced, written and directed by Oscar-winner George Miller (for Happy Feet) who tapped Tom Hardy to replace disgraced Mel Gibson in the title role as Max Rockatansky, the highway patrol officer-turned-intrepid road warrior given to dispensing a grisly brand of vigilante justice.

Set in 2060 AD, this post-apocalyptic adventure unfolds in the relentlessly-grim dystopia left in the wake of the series of global calamities that led to a total breakdown of civilization. At the point of departure, we find Max haunted by his tragic past and hunted by desperate scavengers as he drifts around the vast wasteland in a rusty, rattling, off-road muscle car.

The stoic gunslinger’s resolve to go it alone is soon tested when he crosses paths with Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron), a fearless alpha female making a break across the desert with former sex slaves hidden in the hold of her big rig. She’s just freed the traumatized quintet from the clutches of Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne), a ruthless tyrant who wants his breeders back, especially Splendid (Rosie Huntington-Whiteley), since she’s already pregnant and possibly carrying his first male heir.

The enraged warlord has dispatched a caravan of bloodthirsty goons who will stop at nothing to retrieve his so-called “wives.” Fortunately, they’ve found a sympathetic soul in Max who agrees to join forces with Furiosa upon being apprised of their plight.

The plan is to drive non-stop across the desert to “The Green Place,” a Shangri-La rumored to be teeming with water, vegetation and other scarce natural resources. But getting there proves to be all the fun, as our intrepid hero and heroine negotiate a relentless gauntlet of evil adversaries in dune buggies outfitted with a very creative variety of deadly military hardware.

An edge-of-your-seat, adrenaline-fueled, high body-count splatterfest that remains riveting from start to finish despite dispensing with the idea of plot development once the premise has been set.

Excellent (4 stars)

Rated R for disturbing images and relentless intense violence

Running time: 120 minutes

Distributor: Warner Brothers

To see a trailer for Mad Max: Fury Road, visit:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MonFNCgK4WE

    


Reviews
UserpicDrone Warfare Takes Toll on Pilot in Afghan War Saga
Posted by Kam Williams
10.05.2015

Good Kill
Film Review by Kam Williams

Tom Egan (Ethan Hawke) is a U.S. fighter pilot who was grudgingly grounded to fight the War on Terrorism via drone technology. The good news was that the reassignment meant his life would no longer be in jeopardy, since he’d now be stationed in New Mexico on a base located in the desert where he’d engaged the enemy 7,000 miles away from the theater of conflict. He was also guaranteed to see his wife, Molly (January Jones), and daughter, Jessie (Sachie Capitani), every day after work; and they no longer needed to worry about his safety.

Nevertheless, orchestrating remote attacks still took an unexpected toll on Tom, given the dispassionate fashion in which he was expected to bomb the Taliban and even accept the occasional killing of innocent civilians with friendly fire as mere collateral damage. Because he’s developed the proverbial 1,000-yard stare of a soldier who’s seen too much combat, Molly started accusing him of being emotionally distant.

His complaint to her that “I am a pilot; I am not flying,” only falls on deaf ears. He doesn’t like the fact that he has to wear a flight suit either. Consequently, he only finds solace in a bottle of alcohol, and in crying on the shoulder of his co-pilot, Vera Suarez (Zoe Kravitz). She’s just as disillusioned about the grisly business of dropping warheads on foreheads.

By comparison, their relatively-cavalier colleague, Danny (Michael Sheets) claims to be “Living the dream!” He’s the gung-ho type who doesn’t lose any sleep following orders from their immediate superior (Bruce Greenwood), despite the periodic presence of non-combatants in the kill zone. After all, he’s more concerned with providing critical support for the American boots on the ground.

Thus unfolds Good Kill, an Afghan War saga directed by Andrew Niccol (Gattaca). The purpose of this modern morality play is ostensibly to question the wisdom of the widespread use of military drones. In the end, it rather effectively drives home the point that there is no such thing as a surgical strike and that a soldier doesn’t have to be deployed overseas to develop PTSD.

The film features a number of noteworthy performances, especially those by Ethan Hawke, Zoe Kravitz, January Jones and Bruce Greenwood. In sum, a sobering, anti-war parable designed to remind the Playstation Generation, desensitized to violence, of the grim consequences of joysticks haphazardly delivering deadly payloads.

Excellent (3.5 stars)

Rated R for violence, rape, profanity and sexuality

Running time: 102 minutes

Distributor: IFC Films

To see a trailer for Good Kill, visit: http://www.ifcfilms.com/videos/good-kill

    


1001 Grams
Film Review by Kam Williams

For years, Marie (Ane Dahl Torp) served as her father, Ernst Ernst’s (Stein Winge), assistant in his capacity as the head of Norway’s Institute of Weights and Measures. The low-visibility government position enabled the homely spinster to toil away in the shadows and thus hide her obsessive-compulsive tendencies.

But then everything changed the fateful day her father had a heart attack and had to be hospitalized. That catastrophic development has now forced Marie to assume a more public role, including representing the nation at the upcoming convention being held in France by members of the International Bureau of Weights and Measures.

The organization’s hot button topic involves the impending conversion of the standard kilo from a solid into a state-of-the-art electronic form ostensibly ensuring a higher degree of accuracy. And while such a concern might make the Average Joe’s eyes glaze over, it’s the sort of topic which absolutely enthralls Marie and her equally-nerdy colleagues.

Before departing for the seminar, she takes Norway’s official kilo out of the safe where it’s stored and bundles it up carefully for the possibly perilous trek to Paris. Nothing earth-shattering is expected to transpire there, unless you’re the type of geek who gets excited by a spirited debate about redefining mass units.

That’s the solemn point of departure of 1001 Grams, the latest offering from filmmaker Bent Hamer (Kitchen Capers). The enigmatic Norwegian has a knack for creating droll dramedies apt to enthrall or infuriate depending on the degree of one’s tolerance for tortoise-paced productions.

In this case, 1001 Grams unfolds so slowly that, at first blush, the tale comes off as a practically-pointless slice-of-life indulgence. As it turns out, however, there is actually an interesting arc to Marie’s character, reflected in an attraction which blossoms at the 11th-hour into romance with a fellow scientist (Laurent Stocker).

An intriguing object lesson highlighting how hard it is not only to realize you’re in a rut but to find the strength to abandon self-destructive habits that have long-since outlived their usefulness.

Very Good (3 stars)

Unrated

In Norwegian, French and English with subtitles

Running time: 87 minutes

Distributor: Kino Lorber

To see a trailer for 1001 Grams, visit:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FVIAtIHcehM

    


Hot Pursuit
Film Review by Kam Williams

Vincente Cortez (Joaquin Cosio) has orchestrated over a hundred hits as the notorious kingpin of a drug cartel terrorizing Texas. However, he’s always beaten the rap, because the prime witnesses invariably disappear mysteriously before they have a chance to testify.

Therefore, the authorities decide to take special precautions with the Rivas, the Cortez confederates set to turn state’s evidence in the latest case against him. But then, when the police escort arrives to place them in the Witness Protection Program, the husband perishes in an ambush, while his widow Daniella (Sofia Vergara) and a policewoman (Reese Witherspoon) barely escape with their lives in a hail of bullets.

As the two drive away in the Rivas’ classic Cadillac convertible, they figure out that they’ve been targeted not only by vicious mobsters but by crooked cops to boot. So, with no one but each other to lean on, the officer and outlaw grudgingly join forces to survive the drive to a safe sanctuary in Dallas.

Of course, sharing space proves easier said than done, given how they’re polar opposites in almost every way. Daniella is a striking, statuesque chatterbox as compared to Cooper’s relatively plain, diminutive and straitlaced presence. Nevertheless, the pair gradually bond over the course of a rollicking road trip where they have a close brush with death every five miles or so.

Directed by Anne Fletcher (The Proposal), Hot Pursuit is a mindless diversion chock-full of the staples of the unlikely-buddies genre, like car chases, and accidental drug use. Though the action romp fails to break cinematic ground, it certainly provides enough laughs to recommend, most coming courtesy of the over-enunciating, larger-than-life Vergara at the expense of co-star Witherspoon in her capacity as a straight man.

Sofia successfully stakes her claim as the heir apparent of Brazilian bombshell Carmen Miranda. All she needs now is a fruit-filled sombrero.

Very Good (3 stars)

Rated PG-13 for sexuality, profanity, violence and drug use

In English and Spanish with subtitles

Running time: 87 minutes

Distributor: Warner Brothers

To see a trailer for Hot Pursuit, visit:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=86nRuz4YuPY

    


Welcome to Me
Film Review by Kam Williams

Let’s say you’re a diehard Oprah fan who has always wanted nothing more than to have your own television series just like your idol’s. What would you do if you hit it big in the lottery and suddenly had the money to turn that dream into a reality?

That’s precisely the quandary confronting Alice Klieg (Kristen Wiig) when she has the good fortune to win $86 million in the California Stacks Sweepstakes. Trouble is she’s also a manic-depressive suffering from bipolar disorder who deludes herself into believing she no longer needs drugs now that she’s rich.

So, she informs her shrink (Tim Robbins) that she’s going off her meds before offering him a bribe to give her a clean bill of health. Next, she approaches the general manager (James Marsden) of a TV station specializing in infomercials about buying air time for the talk show about herself she hopes to host.

Concerned only about his struggling network’s bottom line, Rich gives his okay as soon as Alice comes up with the $15 million needed to underwrite the project. His brother/business partner (Wes Bentley) is less enthusiastic about taking advantage of the reckless mental patient until she unleashes her powers of seduction in his direction.

Alice appropriately names the program “Welcome to Me,” since she’s the topic of every episode. The themes range wildly, featuring titles like “Jordana Spangler – a Liar,” “Matching Colors to Emotions,” “Lucky Foods,” “I Can Still Smell You,” and “Regulating Your Moods with a High-Protein Diet.” All they have in common is that they invariably focus on some aspect of the narcissistic emcee’s life.

The emotional exhibitionist proves compelling enough to improve ratings and is allowed to self-destruct in front of couch potatoes who just can’t get enough Alice whether she’s nattering on about her orgasms or Irritable Bowel Syndrome. But with a burn-rate of $150,000 per episode, it’s obvious that she’s in for a devastating crash-landing, eventually.

Directed by Shira Piven (Jeremy’s sister), Welcome to Me is a droll character-driven dramedy tailor-made for the tongue-in-cheek comedy style of Kristen Wiig. Alternately vulnerable and bizarre, but always endearing, the Saturday Night Live alum enjoys her best outing since Bridesmaids, here, as an anguished soul allowed, against her better judgment, to purchase a terribly-embarrassing, 15 minutes of fame.

Kudos to Kristen for baring herself, literally and figuratively, in deliverance of a poignant performance which could very easily have degenerated into the sort of slapstick she did on SNL.  

Excellent (4 stars)

Rated R for sexuality, profanity, graphic nudity and brief drug use

Running time: 87 minutes

Distributor: Alchemy

To see a trailer for Welcome to Me, visit: https://www.youtube.com/embed/z251mQl-OLI

    


Days of Grace
Film Review by Kam Williams

Days of Grace is the title of Arthur Ashe’s moving memoir about his remarkable tennis career as well as his stoic battle with AIDS after receiving a contaminated blood transfusion. By contrast, Days of Grace, the movie, is a gruesome gansta’ saga set in Mexico City.

The intricately-plotted crime thriller takes place in 2002, 2006 and 2010 during the weeks when the World Cup is being played. Apparently, that’s a great time to break the law, since both citizens and the police are so focused on the games that they unwittingly lower their guard.

The film is constructed as a trio of discrete storylines, although all paint Mexico as a godforsaken environ run by mobsters and crooked cops. Because they unfold simultaneously instead of chronologically, it’s a little difficult to keep the casts of characters straight, especially if you don’t speak Spanish and need to read the subtitles.

One thread revolves around the frustrations encountered by a socialite (Dolores Heredia) desperate to free her husband (Juan Carlos Remolina) who’s been abducted for a $2 million ransom. Apparently there’s a lot of that going around south of the border.

Trouble is the detectives handling the case are so corrupt she’s even more afraid of them than the kidnappers. A second thread focuses on another kidnapped businessman’s (Carlos Bardem) ordeal while the third chronicles the friendship forged between an honest cop (Tenoch Huerta) and the at-risk 9 year-old (Jose Alberto Solorzano) he’s mentoring with tough love.

Written and directed by Everardo Valerio Gout, Days of Grace features gratuitous violence, graphic vivisection and slo-mo displays of senseless slaughter reminiscent of such masters of the genre as John Woo and Sam Peckinpah. If lingering looks at torture gets your juices going, this indulgence of bloodlust is probably right up your alley.

The best Mexican splatterfest since Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia.

Excellent (4 stars)

Unrated

In Spanish and English with subtitles

Running time: 121 minutes

Distributor: Cinema Libre Studio

To see a trailer for Days of Grace, visit:

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

    


Ex Machina
Film Review by Kam Williams

Caleb Smith (Domnhall Gleeson) works as a computer programmer for Blue Book, the most popular internet search engine in the world. As the winner of a staff lottery, he is summoned to the secluded, hilltop retreat of the company’s reclusive CEO, Nathan Bateman (Oscar Isaac).

Only after being brought there by corporate helicopter does the nerdy 26 year-old discover that his billionaire boss has a hidden agenda. As it turns out, the place is less a home than a high-tech facility dedicated to conducting research in artificial intelligence.

But before Caleb is allowed to stay, he’s forced to sign a non-disclosure agreement promising to keep secret what he’s about to witness. Nathan next explains that it’s an invention, an android he wants Turing tested, meaning examined for any software flaws revealing it as non-human.

He then introduces his curious guest to Ava (Alicia Vikander), the fetching fembot he wants studied over the course of a week. Caleb is surprised by her level of sophistication, since her brain is complex enough to discern the connotation of idioms like “breaking the ice.” He’s even more impressed by her non-deterministic nature, as she appears to have been successfully programmed with free will.

The plot thickens several days into the project when Ava senses Caleb has developed feelings for her. At that point, the attractive automaton quietly confides her fears about being expendable in the eyes of Nathan who wouldn’t have a second thought about wiping her memory banks clean once she’s no longer considered state-of-the-art. After all, that’s what he’s done to each of her mothballed predecessors in his relentless quest to build a better cyborg.

Where does Caleb’s loyalty lie? With the callous employer he suddenly sees as a heartless tinkerer? Or with the flesh-covered machine exhibiting a full range of emotions, including a seductive vulnerability? That is the dilemma confronting the anguished protagonist in Ex Machina, an intriguing sci-fi adventure marking the splendid directorial debut of Alex Garland.

Best known as the scriptwriter of 28 Days Later, the gifted Brit more than proves his mettle as a filmmaker, here, with a thought-provoking thriller guaranteed to keep you enthralled while reassessing the meaning of consciousness.

Excellent (4 stars)

Rated R for profanity, violence, sexual references and graphic nudity

Running time: 108 minutes

Distributor: A24

    


Blackbird
Film Review by Kam Williams

Randy Rousseau (Julian Walker) claims to be straight, even though everybody thinks he’s gay basically because he’s effeminate, sings in the church choir, and is a member of Christian High’s drama club. The repressed 17 year-old has even confessed to his BFFs, Effie (Gary Leroi Gray) and Crystal (Nikki Jane), to waking up “soaked in sin” after nightly wet dreams in which he makes love to other guys.

Nevertheless, he’s so deep in denial, that he’s willing to take Crystal’s virginity to prove his masculinity. But that brief experimentation with heterosexuality is only momentary, while his choosing to co-star in Romeo and Julian, a gay-themed, school production of Romeo and Juliet, proves a tad more telling.

Perhaps Randy’s reticence to come out of the closet has to do with his horrible relationship with his parents, between an absentee dad (Isaiah Washington) he can barely recognize (“Who the eff are you?”), and a Bible-thumping mother (Mo’Nique) who calls him an “effing punk”. In addition, she blames her son for the mysterious disappearance of her daughter (Hannah Moye), and has faith that God will send her back home once Randy is purged of his gender-bending demons once and for all.

Directed and co-written by Patrik-Ian Polk, Blackbird is a coming-of-age musical adventure which walks the fine line between drama and comedy. That failure to commit is an unfortunate flaw which serves to undercut any serious message the picture intends to deliver about tolerance.

Another problem is that the overplotted production has too many sidebars distracting our attention away from the compelling question of Randy’s sexual orientation. There’s the return of his Prodigal sister, his mama proselytizing in the supermarket, a pal infected with an STD, a married man cruising at a gay Lover’s Lane, the suicide of a preacher’s (Tirell Tilford) daughter (D. Woods), and an exorcism.

Despite its failings, I’m still willing to give Blackbird a little credit for tackling a subject that remains taboo in the black community. A gospel-driven cross of Precious and Rent, only set in a sleepy Southern town that time forgot instead of New York City.

Good (2 stars)

Rated R for teen sexuality, profanity and drug use

Running time: 99 minutes

Distributor: RLJ Entertainment

To see a trailer for Blackbird, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U3KEVWeHPg8

    


Helicopter Mom
Film Review by Kam Williams

Lloyd’s (Jason Dolley) life has been made miserable by his compulsively-hovering mother, Maggie (Nia Vardalos), who can’t help but monitor his every move. The frustrated teenager’s only hope for relief rests with getting accepted to a college clear across the country, since that would make it impossible for her to meddle in his business day in and day out. Until then, he’s doing his best to avoid her while making plans to attend the impending senior prom.

But that proves easier said than done, given how the lonely divorcee has no shame about peppering her beleaguered little boy with probing personal questions like “Are you seeing anyone?” “When was your first kiss?” and “What do you think about when you masturbate?

So, it’s no surprise that Lloyd isn’t at all forthcoming, even about his sexual preference. That hasn’t prevented Maggie from coming to the conclusion that he must be gay, because of such supposedly telltale signs as sensitivity and writing poetry.

Another big clue she’s seized on is the fact that he prefers to have a platonic relationship with the gorgeous cheerleader (Skyler Samuels) who’s gone gaga over him. Consequently, Maggie has not only attempted to coax Lloyd out of the closet, but she’s applied for scholarships that are reserved for homosexuals.

Is he or isn’t he? That’s the question at the heart of Helicopter Mom, a dysfunctional family comedy directed by Salome Breziner (The Secret Life of Dorks). Thanks to a cleverly-conceived, well-concealed script the movie actually keeps you guessing whether or not Lloyd is straight right up to the very end.

The film features Oscar-nominee Nia Vardalos as the title character in her best role since My Big Fat Greek Wedding (2002). She and co-star Jason Dolley generate the requisite negative chemistry to convince you that they really might be mother and son locked in a battle over the right to privacy.

An alternately humorous and sobering cautionary tale chronicling the woes of an exasperated kid smothered by a well-meaning mom in an era of omnipresent parenting.

Very Good (3 stars)

Unrated

Running time: 84 minutes

Distributor: E1 Entertainment

To see a trailer for Helicopter Mom, visit: https://vimeo.com/97173719

Or: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NUAyEPeHXow

    


Brotherly Love
Film Review by Kam Williams

Twins Jackie (Keke Palmer) and Sergio Taylor (Eric D. Hill, Jr.) already had it tough enough growing up in the ghetto before the untimely demise of their dad a few years ago. But then their mother (Macy Gray) stopped functioning and started hitting the bottle.

That’s when their big brother, June (Cory Hardrict), became the family breadwinner, and it’s been a struggle for him to keep a roof over their heads ever since. So, he started dealing drugs hoping that his becoming an outlaw would at least enable his siblings to keep their noses clean and continue pursuing their dreams. After all, Sergio is one of the top high school basketball players in the nation, while Jackie is an aspiring singer in need of a big break.

By comparison, the living is easy for kids like Chris Collins (Quincy Brown) from “The Hilltop,” the upscale enclave located just across the proverbial tracks. He’s a classmate of Jackie’s at Overbrook High, where students from his ‘hood don’t mix with those from “The Bottom,” especially in the wake of the gang warfare that recently claimed the life of one of his cousins.

Chris has a crush on Jackie, and she likes him, too. Under normal circumstances theirs would be a match made in heaven, since his father is a famous record producer capable of launching a promising talent’s musical career.

However, complications arise reminiscent of Romeo and Juliet when the competing clans suggest that the pair separate. Will the star-crossed lovers follow their hearts or capitulate to the pressure from friends and relatives?

Written and directed by Jamal Hill (Autumn), Brotherly Love is a gritty, inner-city saga of Shakespearean proportions shot on location in West Philadelphia. Provided you have a strong stomach for Ebonics laced with lots of cursing and the N-word, you’ll likely find this super-realistic adventure quite compelling.

As far as performances are concerned, Keke Palmer is terrific in the lead role as Jackie. She also belts out a couple of tunes on the soundtrack, including a mesmerizing, closing credits rendition of the Harold Melvin R&B classic, “Wake Up Everybody.” And the rest of the cast, especially Cory Hardrict, Romeo Miller, Macy Gray, Eric D. Hill, Jr., Quincy Brown and Faizon Love, does a great job creating the requisite edgy atmosphere that imbues the production with a very authentic feel for the duration.

Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art though Romeo? I be hanging with my homeys, mama!

Very Good (3 stars)

Rated R for violence, profanity and ethnic slurs

Running time: 111 minutes

Distributor: Liquid Soul Media / Freestyle Releasing   

To see a trailer for Brotherly Love, visit: http://brotherlylovethemovie.com/#trailer

    


Unfriended
Film Review by Kam Williams

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

    


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

    


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

    


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

    


Man from Reno
Film Review by Kam Williams

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

    


Do You Believe?
Film Review by Kam Williams

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
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    

    


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

    


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

    


Reviews
UserpicIt’s Back to the Subcontinent for Pleasant, if Pat, Sequel
Posted by Kam Williams
08.03.2015

The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
Film Review by Kam Williams

When we last saw Sonny Kapoor (Dev Patel), he had just proposed to his thoroughly-modern girlfriend Sunaina (Tina Desai), much to the chagrin of his meddling, more traditional mother (Lillete Dubey). The ambitious young entrepreneur had also landed the funds to renovate his ramshackle hotel with the help of Muriel Donnelly (Maggie Smith), one of the residents of the retirement community.

At the point of departure, we find Sonny (accompanied by Mrs. Donnelly) en route to San Diego where he hopes to interest an executive (David Strathairn) with the Evergreen Corporation in investing in the second old folks home he hopes to open. After all, the first is now flourishing and practically filled to capacity.

Meanwhile, back in India, Sunaina is squarely focused on their impending engagement ceremony, also known as a Sagai. In the groom-to-be’s conspicuous absence, she’s asked Kush (Shazad Latif), a friend of the family, to fill in as a dance partner, so she can practice the elaborately-choreographed routine she plans to perform at the party with Sonny. It is subtly hinted that this handsome hunk might pose a threat, given Sonny’s continued preoccupation with business matters upon his return to the Subcontinent.

That is only one of several storylines in a romance-driven sequel which unfolds more like a daytime soap opera than a fully fleshed-out feature film. Scene after scene is simply a setup for another transparent love triangle.

As she checks into the hotel, Lavinia Beach (Tamsin Grieg) has her head turned by a fellow new guest (Richard Gere), but Guy only has eyes for Sonny’s widowed mom. Madge Hardcastle (Celia Imrie), a pretty British pensioner, can’t decide between the two, filthy-rich Indian suitors she’s dating simultaneously. And Doug (Bill Nighy) has grown fond enough of Evelyn (Judi Dench) to commit, though he hasn’t yet divorced his estranged wife (Penelope Wilton) waiting in the wings. And so forth.

The irrepressible Sonny serves as a master of ceremonies of sorts supposedly tying all these loose strands together. Unfortunately, because he’s more of a clown this go-round, the film feels like a joke-to-joke farce not intended to be taken seriously.

A pleasant, if predictable, romantic romp laced with far more mirth than sophistication or substance.

Very Good (2.5 stars)

Rated PG for mild epithets and suggestive material

In English and Hindi with subtitles

Running time: 122 minutes

Distributor: Fox Searchlight

To see a trailer for The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, visit:    

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3REYWGRmLnQ

    


The Cobbler

The Cobbler
Film Review by Kam Williams

Max (Adam Sandler) is the fourth generation in a long line of cobblers whose family tree can be traced all the way back to a business founded by his great-grandfather Pinchas Simkin (Donnie Keshawarz) in Eastern Europe in the 19th Century. Max presently plies his trade in a modest shoe repair shop located on Manhattan’s Lower East Side.

The bashful bachelor still lives at home and dotes on his elderly mother (Lynn Cohen) once he gets off work. He’s never dated, but that doesn’t stop him from ogling attractive passersby while eating pickles on the street with Jimmy (Steve Buscemi), the barber who runs the establishment next-door.

Max’s fortunes change the day a neighborhood bully (Method Man) enters the store and demands that his alligator shoes’ damaged soles be sewn on the spot. When Max balks because his stitching machine is broken, menacing Ludlow gives him until the end of day, or else.

After Ludlow storms out, Max ventures into the basement where he finds an antique stitcher which’ll do in a pinch. He repairs the tattered, size10½s and slips them on, since his feet just happen to be the same size.

Lo and behold, Max gets the shock of his life when he magically morphs into Ludlow. Then, he starts trying on other customers’ shoes, too, and turns into the owner each time.

Curious, Max decides to test this newfound ability to literally walk in another man’s moccasins. He proceeds to make a mess everywhere he goes, even upsetting his mother by walking into the house looking exactly like her long-lost husband (Dustin Hoffman) after donning a pair of his penny loafers.

Written and directed by Thomas McCarthy, The Cobbler has to be considered a big disappointment, given the high expectations set by his impressive earlier offerings which include The Station Agent, Up, Win Win, The Visitor and Million Dollar Arm. Unfortunately, the fatal design flaw here rests with casting, since Adam Sandler tends to fall flat in a flick if he isn’t going full retard, ala his most successful outings as The Waterboy, Happy Gilmore and Billy Madison.

Sorry, Sandler simply isn’t very convincing playing a character with an I.Q. above room temperature.

Fair (1 star)

PG-13 for violence, profanity and partial nudity

In English and Yiddish with subtitles

Running time: 98 minutes

Distributor: RLJ / Image Entertainment

To see a trailer for The Cobbler, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xQGpDi5mM-4       

    


Faults MovieFaults
Film Review by Kam Williams

Dr. Ansel Roth (Leland Orser) was once a world-renowned psychotherapist specializing in deprogramming. Trouble is, his career has been in sharp decline ever since a client’s child committed suicide while still in his care.

Presently, he’s been reduced to renting a ballroom at a low-rent hotel to give a lecture before hawking his new book “Sects, Cults and Mind Control.” He now delivers these talks more out of a need to pay the rent than a belief in the efficacy of his coercive methods of rescuing a person caught in the clutches of a charismatic megalomaniac. But that doesn’t stop Dr. Roth from springing into action when he’s approached for help by a couple attending the talk.

It seems that Evelyn (Beth Grant) and Terry’s (Chris Ellis) daughter (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) has cut herself off from the rest of the world for months since being brainwashed by a mysterious cult called Faults. The parents are so desperate they immediately agree to Ansel’s exorbitant fee despite the warning that his odds of success are only 50-50. After collecting a handsome advance, he proceeds to snatch Claire off the street into a van with the help of a couple of goons.

The plan is to restrain her in a remote motel for the five days it should take to undo the indoctrination. And while Ansel is alone in one room with Claire, her folks wait in the one right next-door, anxiously anticipating a happy reunion.

The plot thickens, however, as it becomes clear that increasingly-exasperated Ansel isn’t up to the task. To the contrary, it appears that Claire might even be getting the better of their intense sessions. Yet, the shrink arrogantly threatens to stop the sessions unless he’s paid the balance of his bill.

So unfolds Faults, an intriguing treat that walks a fine line between dark comedy and psychological thriller. The picture marks the feature-length writing and directorial debut of Riley Stearns whose real-life wife, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, squares-off here as Claire opposite her gifted co-star, Leland Orser.

Cooped up together in very close quarters, the two gradually ramp up the intensity in an ever-escalating game of cat-and-mouse vaguely evocative of Linda Blair and the Exorcist. Don’t be surprised if the tables are turned and the hunter is somehow bested by the game.

A mind is a terrible thing to lose!

Very Good (3 stars)

Unrated

Running time: 89 minutes

Distributor: Screen Media Films

To see a trailer for Faults, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k-ylsmarMnE      

    


Web Junkie

Web Junkie
DVD Review by Kam Williams

How long do you think you could you survive without access to a cell phone or computer? A few hours? A day? A week? How about three months? That’s the degree of deprivation awaiting adolescents diagnosed as addicted to the internet over in China, the first country to officially recognize the burgeoning malady as a clinical disorder.

The Rx for the afflicted is 90 days of rehab at one of 400 paramilitary boot camps where one must adhere to a Spartan daily regimen sans any electronic stimuli. Going cold turkey is not an easy thing to adjust to for kids used to playing video games for hours on end.

But that is precisely the goal of the shrinks in Web Junkie, a cautionary tale making one wonder whether America might not be far behind. The documentary was this critic’s pick as the #1 foreign film of 2014. It was directed by Shosh Shlam and Hilla Medalia who were afforded extraordinary access to the intervention and treatment of a trio of teenage boys whose exasperated parents sought help from a facility in Beijing.

The film traces the transformation of Hope, Hacker and Nicky from insufferable, anti-social jerks who barely communicate with their families, teachers and classmates into sensitive souls truly changed by therapy and the period offline. It’s nothing short of miraculous to see the same kid who couldn’t be bothered to talk to his father eventually melt into a touchy-feely hugger who upon reuniting tearfully says, “I love you, Dad.”

Overall, the movie makes a convincing case that cell phone use ought to be limited during a child’s formative years when the social part of the brain is still developing. For, the subjects of this telling expose certainly seem to suffer from stunted development due to too much time spent playing computer games and surfing the ‘net.

A tough love remedy from the Orient designed for impressionable young minds which prefer virtual reality to relating in the flesh.

Excellent (4 stars)

Unrated 

In Mandarin with subtitles

Running time: 75 minutes

Distributor: Kino Lorber

DVD Extras: Deleted scenes; and podcast interviews with directors Shosh Shlam and Hilla Medalia.

To see a trailer for Web Junkie, visit

    


McFarland, USA

McFarland, USA
Film Review by Kam Williams

In the fall of 1987, Jim White (Kevin Costner) was fired as head football coach of a high school team in Boise, Idaho when he lost his temper and hit one of his players in the face and drew blood. With a wife (Maria Bello) and two young daughters (Morgan Saylor and Elsie Fisher) to support, the hot-headed perfectionist found himself in urgent need of another job.

So, he accepted a demotion to assistant football coach at the public high school in the predominantly-Latino, working-class town of McFarland, California. However, once it became clear on the gridiron that being second-in-command wasn’t working out, the versatile veteran came up with the idea of fielding a cross-country track team instead.

Though initially skeptical, Principal Camillo (Valente Rodriguez) grudgingly agreed, and White immediately started scouting around campus for fleet-footed prospects. As it turned out, many of McFarland High’s Chicano students were already in shape, being accustomed to darting the long distance from the field to the classroom, after picking fruit and vegetables alongside their parents from the crack of dawn.

Upon settling on seven promising protégés, the dilemma yet confronting Coach White was whether or not their cash-strapped clans could afford the luxury of letting them run track in lieu of laboring as farm workers in the wee hours of the morning? If so, the boys might also be afforded an opportunity to expand their horizons, since a standout’s landing an athletic college scholarship was definitely a distinct possibility.

Directed by New Zealand’s Niki Caro (Whale Rider), McFarland, USA is much more than your typical, overcoming-the-odds sports saga, in spite of the fact that it might sound fairly formulaic at first blush. Yes, it’s a classic case of a disgraced coach making the most of a shot at redemption with the help of a motley crew of underestimated underdogs. Nevertheless, this true tale of overcoming-the-odds proves oh so touching because it simultaneously sheds light on the plight on of an invisible sector of society, namely, the masses of mostly Mexican immigrants who harvest our produce in obscurity for a mere pittance.

Kevin Costner has never been more endearing than in this outing as a devoted mentor and family man. And he’s surrounded in that endeavor by a talented supporting cast convincing enough to make it easy to forget you’re watching actors, at least until the closing credits roll. That’s when we’re treated to photos of the real-life people just portrayed, plus positive updates about their present lives which serve to validate all the sacrifices made.

Heartwarming!

Excellent (4 stars)

Rated PG for violence, mild epithets and mature themes

In English and Spanish with subtitles

Running time: 129 minutes

Distributor: Walt Disney Pictures

To see a trailer for McFarland, USA, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j-VAOlHGE6Q

    


The Bridge
DVD Review by Kam Williams

If you wanted to end it all, where would you want to do it? For some reason, more people choose the Golden Gate Bridge than any other locale.

And after watching The Bridge one can easily understand the allure of that irresistible icon as a launching pad into San Francisco Bay.

Directed by Eric Steel, this fascinating film transfixes you from start to finish, focusing on 24 individuals who chose to end their lives there in 2004. Remarkably, Kevin Hines somehow survived the plunge, after being saved by a seal that kept him afloat, and ferried him towards shore till help arrived. The others weren’t so lucky, but that doesn’t make their back stories any less compelling.

What these unfortunate souls seem to have in common is a bottoming-out whether due to depression, unemployment, relationship woes, or all of the above. Shifting back and forth between shots of the majestic, rust-colored structure and wistful reminiscences by friends and family who invariably had hints as to what was coming, director Steel cleverly creates an eerie, kinetic experience for the viewer by capturing plenty of pedestrians on camera, whether they’re strolling across the expansion, leaning over the catwalk, or peering into the void from the fog-ensconced bridge.

You never know which one’s about to leap to his or her death, so you have to keep your eyes glued to the screen, guessing who’s next. Two dozen souls, linked by suicide as a seductive and very visible alternative to unrelenting torment and suffering.     

Excellent (4 stars)

Rated R for profanity and for disturbing footage of actual suicides.

Running time: 94 minutes

Distributor: Kino Lorber / Alive Mind Cinema

DVD Extras: “Making of” documentary; and the theatrical trailer.

To see a trailer of The Bridge, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZJWJ-GWuews

To order The Bridge on DVD, visit:

http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B00RWKN9W2/ref%3dnosim/thslfofire-20

    


Focus
Film Review by Kam Williams 

Jess Barrett (Margot Robbie) is an aspiring con artist who picked the worst guy to steal a wallet from when she settled on Nicky Spurgeon (Will Smith). She had no reason to suspect that he was a third generation flimflam man descended from a grandfather who ran a crooked poker game in Harlem back in the day.

Nicky was more curious than infatuated when he accepted the seductive stranger’s invite up to her hotel room after sharing drinks at a bar in midtown Manhattan. So, he was ready when an accomplice (Griff Furst) posing as her berserk husband burst in brandishing a fake gun.

Rather than hand over his wallet, Nicky calmly laughs and schools the two in the flaws of their little shakedown, such as not waiting until he was naked to try to rob him. Jess is so impressed that she not only confesses, but begs him to take her on as a protégé, giving him a hard luck story about having been a dyslexic foster kid.

Nicky agrees to show her the ropes, and even invites her to join his team of hustlers about to descend on New Orleans where they plan to pickpocket plenty of unsuspecting tourists. They’re also set to hatch an elaborate plan to fleece a wealthy compulsive gambler (BD Wong) of over a million dollars.

Though Jess proves to be a fast learner and the plot is executed without a hitch, Nicky is reluctant to include her in his next operation after they become romantically involved. Instead, he moves on alone to Argentina, where he hopes to bilk a racing car mogul (Rodrigo Santoro) of a small fortune.

The plot thickens when Jess is already draped on the arm of the playboy billionaire by the time Nicky arrives in Buenos Aires. Is she in love with the handsome Garriga or simply staging her own swindle? Will she expose Nicky as a fraud or might she be willing to join forces with her former mentor?

Co-directed by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa (Crazy, Stupid, Love), Focus is an overplotted, cat-and-mouse caper which ostensibly takes its clues from the cleverly-concealed classic House of Games (1987). But where that multi-layered mystery was perfectly plausible, this frustrating homage unnecessarily ventures from the sublime to the ridiculous, thereby sabotaging any chance that its promising premise might be played out in serious fashion.

Nevertheless, co-stars Will Smith and Margot Robbie generate enough chemistry to steam up the screen and make the farfetched romantic romp just worth the watch, provided eye candy alone can do for you in lieu of credulity.

Good (2 stars)

Rated R for profanity, sexuality and brief violence

Running time: 104 minutes

Distributor: Warner Brothers Pictures

To see a trailer for Focus, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6vY9UPiI4eQ      

    


Reviews
UserpicBlack Male Frames (BOOK REVIEW)
Posted by Kam Williams
24.02.2015

Black Male Frames

African-Americans in a Century of Hollywood Cinema, 1903-2003

by Roland Leander Williams, Jr.

Book Review by Kam Williams

 

Syracuse University Press

Hardcover, $34.95

218 pages, Illustrated

ISBN: 978-0-8156-3382-2

 

“Black Male Frames charts the development and shifting popularity of two stereotypes of black male masculinity in popular American film: the shaman and the scoundrel… [The book] identifies the origins of these roles in an America where black men were forced either to defer or to defy their white masters.

These figures recur in the stories America tells about its black men, from the fictional Jim Crow… to W.E.B. Du Bois. [The author] argues that these two extremes persist today in modern Hollywood, where actors… must cope with and work around such limited options… These men are rewarded for their portrayal of the stereotypes most needed to put America’s ongoing racial anxieties at ease.”

-- Excerpted from the Bookjacket

 

In the antebellum era, when minstrel shows took the U.S. by storm as the country’s first popular form of entertainment, African-American males were portrayed by white men in blackface as being either servile or surly. Those polar opposite stereotypes, which served a critical function during slavery, remained the only type of roles available to actual black actors from the dawn of the film industry all the way into the 21st Century.

That is the contention of Roland Leander Williams, Jr. who teaches English at Temple University. In his groundbreaking book, Black Male Frames: African-Americans in a Century of Hollywood Cinema, 1903-2003, Professor Williams sets out to show how black male movie characters have basically been either submissive or subversive to suit the fluctuating needs of the dominant culture.

He sets about proving his thesis by closely examining the careers of five African-American acting icons, starting with Sam Lucas (1839-1916), the first black film star. He was not only the first black to play Uncle Tom onscreen, but he was also the first to portray the deferential character onstage.

Unfolding chronologically, the opus’ entry about Lucas is followed by a chapter devoted to Paul Robeson (1898-1976) entitled “Renaissance Man.” There, we learn that, in sharp contrast to Lucas, Robeson became typecast in a way which strengthened the “impression of blacks as primitives” gaining popularity in the late Twenties.

That image was reversed a generation later, as personified by Sidney Poitier in his Oscar-winning performance in Lilies of the Field. Then, in response to the Black Power Movement came the return of the relatively-assertive rebel as played by Denzel Washington, who won his first Academy Award for Glory in 1990. Meanwhile, waiting in the wings was Morgan Freeman, who languished in the shadows “until the age of multiculturalism arrived, when he took a role (in Driving Miss Daisy) that once again raised the ghost of Uncle Tom.”

As far as the future, the author concludes that only time will tell whether Hollywood will finally stop marginalizing black males as either servants or malcontents and welcome them into the movie mainstream by casting them in a full range of roles without regard to skin color. If not, Professor Williams expresses a sincere concern that history might simply continue to repeat itself.

    


Reviews
UserpicOscar Recap 2015 (FEATURE)
Posted by Kam Williams
23.02.2015

Oscar Recap 2015                                                                                                               

by KamWilliams

 

Birdman Soars over the Competition!

Evening Marked by a Profusion of Political Acceptance Speeches     

      

Birdman won Best Picture at the 87th annual Academy Awards on a night periodically punctuated by politically-conscious acceptance speeches. That film and The Grand Budapest Hotel tied for the most wins, 4, followed by Whiplash with 3, and Boyhood with 2.

There weren’t any upsets in terms of the major categories, with Julianne Moore (Still Alice) and Eddie Redmayne (The Theory of Everything) prevailing in the lead acting categories, as expected, as well as J.K. Simmons (Whiplash) and Patricia Arquette (Boyhood) in supporting roles.

The evening was emceed by Neil Patrick Harris, who went out of his way to draw attention to the diversity among the celebrities in attendance, but only after joking that “Tonight we honor Hollywood’s best and whitest, I mean brightest.” This was obviously in response to complaints about Selma being snubbed and all the acting nominees being white. Ostensibly to make amends, Neil awkwardly enlisted the assistance of Oprah Winfrey, David Oyelowo and Octavia Spencer to perform as his straight men, even returning to Octavia again and again as the butt of a running joke which unfortunately fell flat every time.

The Academy took a posthumous potshot at the late Joan Rivers, getting the last laugh by leaving her out of the “In Memoriam” montage featuring photos of recently-deceased showbiz legends. The veteran comedienne might not have had much of a career as an actress, but she certainly established herself later in life on the red carpet where she would flourish as a sharp-tongued, fashion critic.

From the very first acceptance speech by J.K. Simmons who suggested people pick up the phone and call their parents and tell them you love them, it seemed that every winner had a political agenda, with causes ranging from suicide prevention (Graham Moore) to equal pay for women (Arquette) to immigration reform (Alejandro González Iñárritu) to Lou Gehrig’s disease (Redmayne) to Alzheimer’s (Moore) to privacy (Citizenfour director Laura Poitras) to the African-American incarceration rate (John Legend).

A galvanizing moment arrived during rapper/actor’s Common’s heartfelt remarks delivered while accepting the award for Best Song, “Glory,” with John Legend. Common eloquently put a universal spin on the legacy of the historic Selma march, stating:

“I’d like to thank God that lives in us all. Recently, John and I got to go to Selma and perform ‘Glory’ on the same bridge that Dr. King and the people of the civil rights movement marched on 50 years ago. This bridge was once a landmark of a divided nation, but now is a symbol for change. The spirit of this bridge transcends race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, and social status. The spirit of this bridge connects the kid from the South side of Chicago, dreaming of a better life to those in France standing up for their freedom of expression to the people in Hong Kong protesting for democracy. This bridge was built on hope, welded with compassion, and elevated by love for all human beings.”

To hear Common & John Legend’s acceptance speech, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ua1JEW1fhsk

PS: As far this critic’s Oscar predictions, I got 18 of 21 correct, including all the major categories. Not quite the perfect score of a year ago, but pretty impressive nevertheless, if I must say so myself. 

Complete List of Oscar Winners

Picture: Birdman

Director: Alejandro González Iñárritu (Birdman)

Actor: Eddie Redmayne (The Theory of Everything)

Actress: Julianne Moore (Still Alice)

Supporting Actor: J.K. Simmons (Whiplash)

Supporting Actress: Patricia Arquette (Boyhood)

Adapted Screenplay: The Imitation Game (Graham Moore)

Original Screenplay: Alejandro G. Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander   

            Dinelaris, Jr. and Armando Bo (Birdman)
Foreign Language Feature: Ida

Animated Feature: Big Hero 6

Documentary Feature: Citizenfour

Original Score: The Grand Budapest Hotel

Original Song: “Glory” (Selma)

Costume Design: The Grand Budapest Hotel

Makeup and Hairstyling: The Grand Budapest Hotel

Sound Mixing: Whiplash

Sound Editing: American Sniper
Film Editing: Whiplash

Visual Effects: Interstellar
Production Design: The Grand Budapest Hotel
Cinematography: Birdman
Live Action Short Film: The Phone Call — Matt Kirkby and James Lucas

Animated Short Film: Feast

Documentary Short Film: Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1

    


Kung Fu Elliot
Film Review by Kam Williams

Elliot “White Lightning” Scott supposedly won 7 different kickboxing titles in Canada before deciding it was time to parlay his success into an acting career. That’s a little hard to believe given the aspiring thespian’s flabby physique and underwhelming fight and acting skills.

Nevertheless, the Halifax, Nova Scotia native’s goal was to become his country’s first, homegrown, screen action hero. Unable to interest a Hollywood studio in underwriting his assault on showbiz, he turned to his gainfully-employed fiancée, Linda Lum, to bankroll his self-made kung fu films on a modest day care center salary.

Elliot not only performed in but wrote and directed the micro-budget action adventures. He also did his own stunts and added the pictures’ special effects. Besides paying for the projects, Linda served as cameraman, editor and scored the soundtracks. She even had to chauffeur the cast and crew around since her flaky beau didn’t have a car (or a job).

If all of the above sounds like a recipe for disaster, that’s only because it was. The struggling couple’s ill-fated endeavor is humorously recounted in Kung Fu Elliot, a documentary which contrasts impatient Linda’s increasing frustrations with her delusional hubby-to-be’s selfish ambition for superstardom.

Co-directed by Matthew Bauckman and Jaret Belliveau, this spellbinding biopic revolves more around whether their strained relationship will last than whether their latest martial arts production, “Blood Fight,” has a ghost of a chance of being completed and released in theaters. For, besides exploiting Linda financially, questions eventually surface about Elliot both in terms of fidelity and the legitimacy of his kickboxing record.

A cautionary tale about how love might blind you to the actual agenda of a very slippery character.

Excellent (4 stars)

Unrated

Running time: 89 minutes

Distributor: The Orchard

To see a trailer for Kung Fu Elliot, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HWN_IMZ1vvI        

    


Reviews
UserpicFetish Flick Fails to Match Intensity of Erotic Best-Seller
Posted by Kam Williams
14.02.2015

Fifty Shades of Grey
Film Review by Kam Williams

Fifty Shades of Grey marked the remarkable writing debut of TV executive-turned-romance novelist Erika Mitchell. Publishing under the pen name E.L. James, the British author has enjoyed unparalleled success, selling over 100 million copies worldwide in just a few years.

Her erotic thriller chronicles the kinky relationship of a college coed and a handsome, young billionaire with a sordid sexual appetite for sadomasochism. Unfortunately, this relatively-tame screen version, directed by Sam Taylor-Johnson (Nowhere Boy), teases more than it titillates, as it devotes plenty of time build up prior to petering out in terms of delivery.

At the point of departure, we meet vestal virgin Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) as she’s about to drive from Vancouver to Seattle to the corporate headquarters of Grey Enterprises to interview CEO Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) for her college newspaper. The English major’s only been allotted ten minutes with the busy captain of industry slated to deliver the keynote commencement address at her school’s upcoming graduation.

Upon being introduced, obviously intimidated Ana awkwardly asks “To what do you owe your success” and “Are you gay?” before her subject confesses to being a control freak. Turning the tables, Christian proceeds to pose probing personal questions to the nervous journalist, as a palpable sexual tension between the two starts to simmer just beneath the surface.

He reveals his fondness for a particular fetish, however nothing is consummated for a long stretch. Instead, the first half of the film is devoted to a frustrating Kabuki dance where foreplay invariably leads to coitus interruptus.

In lieu of the whips, chains and other staples of bondage debauchery, we’re treated to cautious exchanges during which a whimpering, wide-eyed Ana repeatedly says how scared she is of Christian while he insists she sign a non-disclosure agreement allowing him to torture her. Yes, they eventually do get around to entering his dungeon but, by then, their bland, anticlimactic sessions prove to be a classic case of too little-too late.

A monochromatic misfire featuring only one shade: blushing pink.

Fair (1.5 stars)

Rated R for profanity, violence, sexuality and graphic nudity

Running time: 125 minutes

Distributor: Universal Pictures

To see a trailer for Fifty Shades of Grey, visit:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SfZWFDs0LxA

    

1 comment 1 comment ( 517 views )

The Rewrite
Film Review by Kam Williams

Keith Michaels (Hugh Grant) was at the top of the Hollywood food chain after writing the Academy Award-winning screenplay for a picture called Paradise Misplaced. But that was years ago, and it’s been a slow descent back into obscurity because the one-hit wonder’s has been unable to recapture any of that magic again.

To add insult to injury, his wife Tina (Kate Cullen Roberts) left him for his film’s relatively-successful director. And he even became alienated from their young son when the boy began bonding with his rich and famous stepdad.

Discouraged by his diminishing career prospects, Keith decides to follow his agent’s (Caroline Aaron) suggestion to take a temporary teaching position as writer-in-residence at Binghamton University in upstate New York. This way, he’ll at least be collecting a salary and, who knows, he might even find the inspiration for another Oscar-worthy script.

That is the promising premise of The Rewrite, a delightful romantic romp written and directed by Marc Lawrence (Miss Congeniality). The movie marks the fourth collaboration between Lawrence and Hugh Grant, following Two Weeks Notice (2002), Music and Lyrics (2007) and Did You Hear about the Morgans? (2009). The picture pairs Grant with Marisa Tomei as the lovebirds fated for one another, and it features a colorful supporting cast of characters played by J.K. Simmons, Allison Janney, Bella Heathcote and Chris Elliott, to name a few.

The plot thickens soon after Keith arrives on campus. First, he makes the mistake of allowing himself to be seduced by a student (Heathcote) willing to do anything to land one of the ten spots in the visiting celebrity’s class.

Against his better judgment, Keith embarks on a lust-fueled affair with the star-struck teen before he has a chance to date a more age-appropriate mate. That would be Holly (Tomei), a well-preserved, middle-aged mom also about to matriculate in his coveted course.

The illicit student-professor liaison comes to the attention of Mary Weldon (Janney), the imperious head of the school’s Ethics Committee. The disapproving bureaucrat gives Keith the hairy eye every time they pass each other in the halls, and is eager for an opportunity to kick him off campus.

Luckily, Keith has a couple of colleagues in his corner, Jim (Elliott) and Dr. Lerner (Simmons). These peers are willing to run interference since they’d prefer him putting down permanent roots in the region. Meanwhile, the more contrite Keith and cash-strapped Holly get to know each other, the more Binghamton looks like the ideal setting for a happily-ever-after ending.

How come Hugh Grant and Marisa Tomei waited this long to make a romantic comedy together?

Excellent (3.5 stars)

Unrated

Running time: 106 minutes

Distributor: RLJ Entertainment

To see a trailer for The Rewrite, visit:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cL-tP03XoH4 

    


Old Fashioned
Film Review by Kam Williams

If you’re looking for a wholesome romantic romp as a viable alternative to Fifty Shades of Grey, then look no further than this relatively-chaste faith-based drama revolving around a chivalrous Christian’s courting of his restless new tenant. Old Fashioned opens with a quote from the late Zora Neal Hurston, “Love makes your soul crawl out from its hiding place.” That wise adage proves pertinent in this modern morality play chronicling the slow transformation of a wounded woman into one willing to trust again.

At the point of departure, we are introduced to Clay Walsh (Rik Swartzwelder), an unassuming gentleman who retreated to a quiet Midwestern town to run an antique store for his aging but sage Aunt Zella (Dorothy Silver). You’d never guess that this pious proprietor had been a womanizing party animal back in college. But that was ages ago, and the reformed frat boy has been celibate for almost a decade since being Born Again.

Christ-like Clay is mercilessly teased for that by his misogynistic pal, Brad (Tyler Hollinger), a raunchy, radio talk show host who advocates taking advantage of dumb females. In fact, the disgusting shock jock is planning to relocate to Los Angeles because of the number of gullible girls there.

The plot thickens soon after Clay rents the vacant apartment above his shop to Amber Hewson (Elizabeth Ann Roberts), an attractive free-spirit who’s never lived anywhere long enough to put down roots. Sparks soon fly between landlord and tenant based on looks alone, despite their being polar opposites in terms of values and temperament.

But thanks to Clay’s refusal even to kiss while dating, the two are forced to get to know each other rather than rush to intimacy. Written and directed by its star Rik Swartzwelder, the aptly titled Old Fashioned is a refreshingly-principled parable proving that a picture championing chastity can be every bit as entertaining and enjoyable as one promoting promiscuity.

Excellent (4 stars)

Rated PG-13 for mature themes

Running time: 115 minutes

Distributor: Freestyle Releasing

To see a trailer for Old Fashioned, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-p0ozDjAQco

    


Reviews
UserpicSpike Lee Remakes Blaxploitation Era Horror Flick
Posted by Kam Williams
08.02.2015

Da Sweet Blood of Jesus
Film Review by Kam Williams

The Kickstarter page where Spike Lee raised $1,418,910 from fans for his latest “Joint” expressly states that the money would not used to shoot a remake of Blacula (1972). But it also failed to inform investors that the crowdfunded feature was ostensibly-inspired by another Blaxploitation era horror flick, namely, Ganja & Hess (1973). And after screening this disappointing indie, it’s obvious there was no reason to redo that picture either.

Spike’s sharp decline as a filmmaker in recent years is nothing short of shocking, with Oldboy (2013) and Red Hook Summer (2012) also submitted for your disapproval. Claims to the contrary notwithstanding, Da Sweet Blood of Jesus is basically a boring vampire adventure that’s severely lacking in terms of tension, thrills, premise, storyline, special f/x, plausibility, production value, editing and character development. Am I forgetting anything?

The tawdry tale revolves around Dr. Hess Greene (Stephen Tyrone Williams), a wealthy anthropologist specializing in African Art History. This unrepentant bon vivant divides his time between New York City and an oceanfront summer home up on Martha’s Vineyard, living in the lap of luxury with the help of a private jet, a chauffeured Rolls Royce, and a loyal manservant (Rami Malek).

The plot thickens soon after Dr. Greene is stabbed with an ancient Ashanti artifact, when he develops an insatiable addiction to blood. To satisfy the craving, he steals some from a hospital, and he also embarks on a killing spree. Besides gratuitous slaughter, the film indulges in frontal nudity and eroticized violence, including a sleazy, lesbian sex scene that looks like an outtake from a soft core snuff film.

What would Jesus do, Spike? Repent!

Fair (1 star)

Unrated

Running time: 123 minutes

Studio: 40 Acres & a Mule Filmworks

Distributor: Gravitas Ventures  

To see a trailer for Da Sweet Blood of Jesus, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n739-zHeooQ  

    


Reviews
UserpicFirth Shines as Suave Spy in Adrenaline-Fueled Homage to 007
Posted by Kam Williams
07.02.2015

Kingsman: The Secret Service
Film Review by Kam Williams

Harry Hart (Colin Firth) is such an unassuming, buttoned-downed bloke that no one in his right mind would suspect him to be a highly-skilled secret agent capable of killing at the drop of a derby. But as a Kingsman, he belongs to an exclusive fraternity of nattily-attired spies who abide by the motto “Manners Maketh Man.” Members of this covert organization consider themselves modern-day knights, and they see their suits as body armor.

Despite an otherwise distinguished service record, Harry still regrets the mistake he made during a 1997 operation in the Middle East that cost a colleague his life. Today, Harry hopes to make it up to his dearly departed partner by taking on his orphaned son, Eggsy (Taron Egerton), as a protégé.

This will be easier said than done since, besides completing the requisite Navy SEAL-like training program, the young apprentice has a lot of rough edges that need smoothing, including a grating cockney accent. For, the lad grew up on the wrong side of the tracks, so he could use a few lessons in etiquette, ala My Fair Lady’s Eliza Doolittle.

Meanwhile, a matter of more pressing concern comes to Harry’s attention, namely, a plot being hatched by a proverbial diabolical villain bent on world domination. That would be Richmond Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson), a twisted tech mogul who’s in the midst of giving away billions of free SIM cards ensuring free phone calls and free internet access for everyone, forever. All over the planet, people are standing in long lines for the freebies, oblivious of an apocalyptic app they’re about to simultaneously download into their cells.

Adapted from the comic book series The Secret Service, Kingsman is an adrenaline-fueled satire of the espionage genre which, at every turn, will have you harking back to the early James Bond adventures starring Sean Connery. The picture was directed by Matthew Vaughn who co-wrote the script with Jane Goldman, the same collaborator on the equally-inspired Kick-Ass (2010).

Colin Firth is delightfully debonair, here, whether turning on the charm or dispatching bad guys. Samuel L. Jackson is just as amusing cast against type as his worthy adversary with a flamboyant persona complete with lisp. A nostalgic homage to 007 that’s also the most mesmerizing movie of the year thus far.

Excellent (4 stars)

Rated R for profanity, sexuality and graphic violence

In English and Swedish with subtitles

Running time: 129 minutes

Distributor: 20th Century Fox

To see a trailer for Kingsman: The Secret Service, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m4NCribDx4U

    


1971
Film Review by Kam Williams

On the evening of March 8, 1971, Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier squared-off in a heavyweight championship bout billed as The Fight of the Century. At that very same moment, while the rest of the world’s attention was riveted on Madison Square Garden, eight antiwar activists used that event as a distraction to stage a daring break-in of an FBI field office in Media, Pennsylvania.

The meticulously-planned operation went off without a hitch, and they managed to cram every file on the premises into suitcases. The audacious octet had no idea until later that they had purloined shocking proof of the Bureau’s wholesale violations of U.S. citizens’ Constitutional rights via an illegal counterintelligence program nicknamed COINTELPRO.

Dubbing themselves, the Citizens’ Commission to Investigate the FBI, the group Xeroxed the evidence and mailed photocopies to numerous news outlets, most of which refused to publish them. But once one magazine finally did print it, a righteous national outrage ensued. And J. Edgar Hoover ended up with egg on his face, given how he had been using taxpayer money to entrap and spy on any liberals whose politics he did not share.

All of the above is recalled in fascinating fashion in 1971, a whistleblower documentary directed by Johanna Hamilton. What’s interesting to hear is how the participants in the theft eluded capture by the authorities for decades. In fact, the only reason their identities are even known now is because they decided to ‘fess up for the sake of this film.

A belated tribute to some fearless patriots with the gumption to expose the FBI’s lawless ways and the wherewithal to evade apprehension by the Bureau to boot!

Excellent (4 stars)

Unrated

Running time: 80 minutes

Studio: Fork Films

Distributor: The Film Collaborative

To see a trailer for 1971, visit: https://www.1971film.com/trailer

    


Jupiter Ascending
Film Review by Kam Williams

In 1999, Andy and Lana Wachowski wowed the world with a spectacular mind-bender called The Matrix. But that was ages ago, another millennium, in fact, and their diehard fans have been patiently awaiting the launch of another groundbreaking, sci-fi franchise over the intervening years.

Those prayers might have finally been answered by Jupiter Ascending, a futuristic adventure featuring Mila Kunis in the title role of Jupiter Jones. The film is likely to serve as the first installment in a special f/x-driven series revolving around an apocalyptic showdown over the fate of humanity.

The picture’s point of departure is the city of Chicago, which is where we meet Jupiter, a humble housekeeper born without a country, a home, or a father. She hates her life, between cleaning other people’s toilets and a never-ending string of tough luck, despite an astrological chart marked by Jupiter rising at 23 degrees ascendant which supposedly means she’s a woman of great destiny.

Truth be told, she’s not merely a maid, but has royal blood running through her veins, even if it is of the alien variety. As it turns out, Jupiter’s actually entitled to inherit Earth, and is informed of that good fortune by Caine Wise (Channing Tatum), a hunky emissary from a distant galaxy.

The epic unfolds like a classic origins tale by introducing a plethora of characters and filling in their back stories. For instance, we learn about a trio of aliens from the same planet as Caine, Balem (Eddie Redmayne), Titus (Douglas Booth) and Kalique Abrasax (Tuppence Middleton), each of whom is vying for control of the family food business in the wake of the death of their mother.

That gruesome business involves the seeding of countless planets with life forms for the purpose of consumption. And they are just about ready to harvest humanity, since the Earth is now overflowing with people.

The only thing standing in the way is Jupiter, whose royal genetic signature has established her to be an Abrasax as well as the rightful heir to Earth. For that reason, there’s a price on her head. And her and humanity’s hope for survival rests on the broad shoulders of her proverbial half-albino/half-wolf knight in shining armor, Caine.

Once this creepy Soylent Green (1973) subplot is revealed, the pace of Jupiter Ascending ramps up substantially. For, at that juncture, the film sweeps up Jupiter for a visually-captivating journey which careens around the universe at breakneck speed, while barely pausing to take a breath until finally depositing a very relieved heroine back home where she’s happy to find herself surrounded by familiar faces.

An over-stimulating, intergalactic odyssey evocative of The Wizard of Oz.

Very Good (3 stars)

Rated PG-13 for violence, sci-fi action, partial nudity and some suggestive content

Running time: 127 minutes

Distributor: Warner Brothers Pictures

To see a trailer for Jupiter Ascending, visit:    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TLyk00gFPdQ

    


3 Nights in the Desert
Film Review by Kam Williams

At 20, Anna (Amber Tamblyn), Barry (Vincent Piazza) and Travis (Wes Bentley) were members of a Rock & Roll trio with high expectations. But that was before the band broke up and each went their separate ways a half-dozen years ago.

In the interim, they’ve become estranged from each other. Anna made her way to Europe where she became something of singing sensation. Meanwhile, drummer Barry abandoned the dream of superstardom for the conventional path of becoming a lawyer, marrying and settling down in the suburbs to start a family. And guitarist Travis, a purist who never sold out, is still a struggling artist living in the desert.

But since they share the same birthday, and they’re all about to turn 30, Travis decides it’s time to bury the hatchet. So, he invites them to spend the weekend at his desolate lair hoping to orchestrate a reunion and maybe even regenerate some of the group’s musical magic.

Unfortunately, Travis forgot about the unresolved romantic tensions which contributed to the breakup, given how Barry had an unrequited crush on Anna who, in turn, had one on him. And the three find out how quickly those unresolved feelings can resurface upon reconvening, especially if isolated in very cramped quarters.

Directed by Gabriel Cowan (Growth), 3 Nights in the Desert is an intriguing, character-driven drama which unfolds in thoroughly compelling fashion. The picture works because each of the protagonists is complicated, having both strengths and flaws that are readily identifiable.

If the aim of the picture is to trigger introspection in an audience about the consequences of the choices one makes in life, then bullseye!

Very Good (3 stars)

Rated R for profanity and sexuality

Running time: 83 minutes

Distributor: Monterey Media

To see a trailer for 3 Nights in the Desert, visit:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jb1ydKHyuAg

    


Reviews
UserpicF.B. Eyes (BOOK REVIEW)
Posted by Kam Williams
05.02.2015

F.B. Eyes

How J. Edgar Hoover’s Ghostreaders Framed African American Literature

by William J. Maxwell

Book Review by Kam Williams

 

Princeton University Press

Hardcover, $29.95

384 pages, Illustrated

ISBN: 978-0-691-13020-0

 

“Drawing on nearly 14,000 pages of newly released FBI files, F.B. Eyes exposes the Bureau’s intimate policing of African American poems, plays, essays, and novels. Starting in 1919… secret FBI ghostreaders monitored the latest developments in African American letters…

These ghostreaders knew enough to simulate a sinister black literature of their own. The official aim… was to anticipate political unrest. Yet, FBI surveillance came to influence the creation and public reception of African American literature in the heart of the 20th Century...

Illuminating both the serious harms of state surveillance and the ways in which imaginative writing can withstand and exploit it, F.B. Eyes is a groundbreaking account of a long-hidden dimension of African American literature.”

-- Excerpted from the Bookjacket

 

Allen Ginsberg’s epic poem “Howl” begins, “I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked, dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn…” I couldn’t help but recall that iconic line while reading F.B. Eyes, a damning expose’ by William J. Maxwell illustrating the FBI’s long history of monitoring, policing and infiltrating the ranks of African-American writers.

            For decades, from the Harlem Renaissance of the Twenties clear through to the Black Arts Movement of the Seventies, J. Edgar Hoover not only closely monitored the movements and work of black authors but employed agents to create and promote content as a counterintelligence measure.

            These revelations are rather disturbing to me, as a Black Literature major-turned-aspiring novelist who failed to get either of my books published after getting a masters degree from an Ivy League institution. It never occurred to me way back then that the reason for all the rejections from publishers might have had more to do with interference on the part of government spies than the quality of the work itself.

However, the degree of FBI interference chronicled here is nothing short of shocking, between the abuses of power and infringements of Constitutional rights. This meticulously-researched opus reveals the Bureau to be a diabolical outfit dedicated to the destruction of the African-American intelligentsia by any means necessary.

For example, we learn that after Amiri Baraka founded the Black Arts Repertory Theater (BART) in Harlem in 1965, Hoover planted moles in the group to ensure the organization’s early demise. He even had the temerity to allow a white Assistant Director, William Sullivan, pose as black while ghostwriting everything from best-sellers to letters threatening the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

A daunting discussion of the FBI’s chilling effect on the writing careers and private lives of members of the black literati.

    


Girlhood

Girlhood
Film Review by Kam Williams

Oscar-nominated Boyhood is a tortoise-paced, time-lapse affair about what it’s like to grow up white and male in suburban America. At the other end of the spectrum, we now have the relatively-dizzying Girlhood, a cautionary coming-of-age tale exploring what it’s like to be black and female and trying to survive in a Parisian ghetto.

The story revolves around Marieme (Karidja Toure), a 16 year-old slacker going nowhere fast. She’s just learned that she still won’t be headed to high school, despite having already repeated the 8th grade twice.

Between failing academically and an abusive home situation, it comes as no surprise that Marieme might decide to fly the coop and seek a fresh start with the nickname Vic. What is unexpected, however, is that she isn’t inspired by a boy but by the idea of joining an all-girl, all-black gang run with an iron fist by a sassy sister named Lady (Assa Sylla). 

The other members of the estrogen-fueled, sepia posse are Adiatou (Lindsay Karamoh) and Fily (Marietou Toure), a couple of equally-rudderless rebels without a clue. The four fugitives from polite society proceed to fritter away their days robbing youngsters for their lunch money, flirting with boys, cat-fighting with a rival gang, and gyrating while lip-synching female empowerment anthems like Rihanna’s “Diamond in the Sky.”

Not much of productive consequence ever happens in their neck of the ‘hood, which explains why Marieme soon tires of the unfulfilling routine. Unfortunately, given her limited skill set, the only alternative she finds is selling narcotics to wealthy white kids for Abou (Djibril Gueye), a creepy pimp/drug dealer with a hidden agenda.

As compelling as a train wreck, Girlhood is an eye-opening drama you just can’t take your eyes off of. Such a super-realistic, slice-of-life often feels more like a documentary than a drama as you watch losers with low self-esteem do, well, the sort of things losers with low self-esteem do.

The cinematic equivalent of slumming around the City of Lights’ seamy underbelly.  

Very Good (3 stars)

Unrated

In French with subtitles

Running time: 113 minutes

Distributor: Strand Releasing

To see a trailer for Girlhood, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lJudaZEY-Uc       

    


Supremacy
Film Review by Kam Williams

Garrett Tully (Joe Anderson) is about to be paroled after spending the last 15 years behind bars. Although he might have paid his debt to society, he has little hope of making a smooth adjustment back to civilian life, given his fervent hope that America is on the brink of a race war.

You see, Garrett has a lot invested in that belief, being a white supremacist with tattoos of swastikas, a Confederate flag, an Iron Cross and the word “HATE” adorning his face, arms, fingers and chest. This means his prospects of turning a new leaf aren’t very brilliant, especially since Doreen (Dawn Olivieri), the Aryan Brotherhood groupie picking him up from prison, is packing heat just in case they cross paths with a black person on the way home.

And wouldn’t you know it, they’re pulled over by an African-American police officer en route and, before Doreen has a chance to produce her license and registration, Tully calls the cop the “N-word” and blows him away with the gun hidden under the seat. Next, rather than hightailing it to a neo-Nazi sanctuary, the unrepentant race baiters decide to break into a house in a black neighborhood where they proceed to use more racial slurs like “porch monkey” and “niglet” while holding everybody hostage.

Fortunately, the Walker family patriarch (Danny Glover) makes sure cooler heads prevail, until help arrives. Too bad the police negotiator (Derek Luke) turns out to be African-American, too.

Directed by Deon Taylor (Chain Letter), Supremacy is a hostage thriller ostensibly inspired by actual events which transpired in Sonoma County, California on the night of March 29, 1995. At 11:30 that evening, Sheriff’s Deputy Frank Trejo was assassinated by a recently-paroled member of the Aryan Brotherhood and his gun moll, just before they forced their way into a nearby house and held the owners captive.

The resolution of this Hollywood version of the standoff relies on an empathetic Mr. Walker’s rising to the occasion. His philosophizing (“Prison does something to a man.”) miraculously manages to induce a couple of the most menacing and despicable screen characters in recent memory to have an 11th hour conversion.

A pretty preposterous turn of events, but who am I to argue with a tale presumably based on a true story?

Fair (1.5 stars)

Unrated

Running time: 106 minutes

Distributor: Well Go Entertainment

To see a trailer for Supremacy, visit: 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mj5pENEbZZI

    


Above and Beyond
Film Review by Kam Williams

Israel found itself losing its War of Independence in 1948 because it had no fighter planes with which to respond to air attacks on the part of its Arab adversaries. Luckily, a number of World War II fighter pilots from half a world away would answer its desperate plea for assistance.

Though this ragtag band of brothers considered themselves more American than Jewish, they were nevertheless willing to risk their U.S. citizenships and their very lives by volunteering to come to the rescue. So, they started by smuggling planes out of the country in order to train behind the Iron Curtain in Czechoslovakia.

Next, they flew to the war-torn Middle East where they would play a pivotal role in turning the tide of the conflict, while cultivating an unexpected Jewish pride in the process. The daring exploits of these unsung aviators are recounted in vivid fashion in Above and Beyond, a reverential documentary directed by Roberta Grossman.

Among the octet feted here is Leon Frankel, a bomber pilot who had received a Navy Cross for the heroism he’d exhibited over Okinawa. Another is Coleman Goldstein, who had been shot down over France in 1943 and declared missing in action. However, he survived WWII by making his way over the Pyrenees to Spain where he was rescued and reunited with his squadron. Then there’s the late Milton Rubenfeld, fondly remembered here by his son Paul, better know as comedian Pee Wee Herman.

Inter alia, we learn that the members of the 101st painted “Angels of Death” as a logo on their aircrafts’ fuselages. On one mission, a former commercial pilot for TWA tricked Egyptian air traffic controllers into believing that he was about to land in Cairo before dropping explosives on a city which had never been bombed before.

Another recounts observing refugees from Hitler’s death camps kissing the ground upon arriving in Israel. Besides fighting, the 101st not only flew supplies to the front lines but evacuated wounded soldiers from the Negev Desert battlefields.

As the curtain comes down, one ace waxes rhapsodic with, “God allowed us to survive World War II, so we could come to Israel and help the remnants of our people survive.” Hear hear!

 

Excellent (4 stars)

Unrated   

In English and Hebrew with subtitles

Running time: 87 minutes

Distributor: International Film Circuit

To see a trailer for Above and Beyond, visit: http://aboveandbeyondthemovie.com/trailer  

    


Voices of Auschwitz
TV Review by Kam Williams

While tracing his roots a year ago, CNN’s Wolf Blitzer learned for the first time that his paternal grandparents had perished at Auschwitz during the Second World War. That discovery inspired him to produce Voices of Auschwitz, a powerful documentary commemorating the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the infamous concentration camp.

Over one million Jews were murdered there at the hands of the Nazis, whether in the crematorium, by firing squad, as guinea pigs in experiments, or by other methods. This CNN special focuses on the reflections of a quartet of Auschwitz survivors, Renee Firestone, Martin Greenfield, Eva Kor, Anita Lasker-Wallfisch, members of an aging fraternity whose numbers are definitely dwindling. For that reason, it is important to hear how they not only miraculously managed to survive the ordeal, but went on to lead very productive lives after the war, despite losing most of their relatives.

Renee relates how upon arriving at Auschwitz, her mother was sent straight to the gas chamber, while she and her sister were sent into the prison where she bought time by offering her services as an aspiring fashion designer. Similarly, Martin worked as a tailor for the Gestapo, and was able to endure the bitter cold by sewing together scraps of discarded material.

Anita got a reprieve by playing the cello in a makeshift inmate orchestra, and eventually founded the English Chamber Orchestra. And Eva was only 10 years-old when she was branded "A-7063" at Auschwitz where she and her twin sister Miriam were subjected to torture on a daily basis at the hands of the diabolical Dr. Mengele.

Besides interviewing these survivors, Blitzer shares a tete-a-tete with film director Steven Spielberg, who credits shooting Schindler’s List and creating the Shoah Foundation for his renewal as a Jew. In sum, this moving memoir stands as a remarkable testament to the indomitability of the human spirit as well as a mighty reminder why the evils of the Holocaust must never be forgotten.

Excellent (4 stars)

Running time: 49 minutes

Distributor: CNN

Voices of Auschwitz premieres on CNN on Wednesday, January 28th @ 9pm ET/PT (check your local listings)

To see a trailer for Voices of Auschwitz, visit:  http://www.cnn.com/videos/tv/2015/01/23/exp-promo-voices-of-auschwitz.cnn 

    


Black or White
Film Review by Kam Williams

When Elliot Anderson’s (Kevin Costner) wife Carol (Jennifer Ehle) perishes in a tragic car accident, he suddenly finds himself facing the prospect of raising his 7 year-old granddaughter Eloise (Jillian Estell) alone. After all, the couple had originally assumed custody from the moment their own daughter died giving birth to the little girl, since the baby’s drug-addicted father (Andre Holland) was behind bars and totally unfit to be a parent.

Today, however, Elliot does have a drinking problem which proceeds to escalate out of control in the wake of his spouse’s untimely demise. And this state of affairs comes to the attention of Eloise’s fraternal grandmother, Rowena “Wee-Wee” Davis (Octavia Spencer), who soon resurfaces for the first time in years.

She approaches Elliot about setting up visitation, in spite of her son’s substance abuse problems, since Eloise has a lot of other relatives on her father’s side of the family eager to see her. But the wealthy, white lawyer balks at the very suggestion, presumably because they’re black and from the ‘hood, and he’s thus far managed to shield his relatively-privileged granddaughter from the ghetto and its host of woes.

Of course, Wee-Wee doesn’t take the rebuff sitting down, but rather prevails upon her attorney brother, Jeremiah (Anthony Mackie), to file suit. Next thing you know, the parties are slinging mud at one another in an ugly custody battle where Reggie is accused of being a crack head with a criminal record and Elliot is labeled a racist and an alcoholic. Responsibility for dispensing justice blindly falls to Judge Margaret Cummings (Paula Newsome), who might very well be a bit biased in favor of plaintiff Rowena, given that she’s also African-American and female.

All roads inexorably lead to a big courtroom showdown in Black or White, a cross-cultural melodrama written and directed by Mike Binder (Reign over Me). Ostensibly “inspired by true events,” the picture pits a couple of worthy adversaries against each other in Elliot and Wee-Wee, as capably played by Oscar-winners Kevin Costner (for Dances with Wolves) and Octavia Spencer (for The Help). 

Any lawyer worth his or her salt knows that you never ask a question on cross-examination that you don’t already know the answer to. Nonetheless, Jeremiah violates that cardinal rule by asking Elliot, “Do you dislike all black people?” This affords the just-disgraced granddad an opportunity to rehabilitate his tarnished image courtesy of a scintillating, self-serving soliloquy reminiscent of Jack Nicholson’s “You can’t handle the truth!” monologue in A Few Good Men.

If only the rest of this racially-tinged baby-daddy drama had matched that climactic moment in terms of intensity. Still, the film is worth the investment for veteran Costner’s vintage performance and for the way in which the timely script dares to tackle some tough social questions in refreshingly-realistic, if perhaps politically-incorrect fashion.

  

Very Good (3 stars)

Rated PG-13 for profanity, fighting, ethnic slurs, and mature themes involving drugs and alcohol  

Running time: 121 minutes

Distributor: Relativity Media

To see a trailer for Black or White, visit:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yqlE-7PP7Ho

    


Americons
Film Review by Kam Williams

It is California in 2007, at the height of the sub-prime mortgage boom. Jason “Jay” Kelley (Beau Martin Williams), a cash-strapped bouncer is offered an alternative line of work in a higher tax bracket by Devin Weiss (Matt Funke), a hotshot real estate broker whose company is in the midst of a hiring blitz.      

For, the Feds have recently deregulated ARMs (Adjustable Rate Mortgages), making the liars loans available to any member of the general public able to meet the minimum down payment requirement of a mere 1%. That development has triggered a feeding frenzy which left lenders like Devin with too few employees to process notes fast enough.

Unfortunately, Jay proves unable to resist the easy money being dangled right in front of his eyes like a carrot on a stick. Worse, once greed has gotten the better of him, he succumbs to the suggestion that it’s okay to behave unscrupulously in the name of the almighty dollar. So, he soon finds himself being trained to trick naïve borrowers into signing on the dotted line to finance homes way beyond their means.

Jay’s ethical tailspin begins with his fast-talking an unemployed pal (Trai Byers) with a wife and kids into buying a house he’s destined to default on. Jay subsequently loses his moral bearings afterhours, too, by attending wild parties with his colleagues where snorting coke off women’s bare midriffs is par for the course. Worst of all, when he sobers up and decides he wants out, he’s blackmailed by a manipulative boss (Sam McMurray) who’s been secretly recording his hedonistic behavior.

Unfolding like the West Coast’s answer to the decadence displayed in The Wolf of Wall Street, Americons is a sobering cautionary tale exposing the ugly underbelly of the California mortgage industry. Directed by Theo Avgerinos (Fifty Pills), the semi-autobiographical adventure was co-written by its co-stars, Beau Martin Williams and Matt Funke.

A modern morality play serving as a telling reminder of exactly how easily an American Dream can dissolve into a neverending dystopian nightmare.

Very Good (3 stars)

Rated R for profanity, nudity, sexuality and drug use.

Running time: 85 minutes

Distributor: Archstone Distribution

To see a trailer for Americons, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NtxWOOAN33M

    


The Imitation Game
Film Review by Kam Williams

At the outset of World War II, the Nazis gained the early advantage with the help of its Enigma, the encrypting machine which enabled the German military to communicate without having to worry about any messages being intercepted. In response, Winston Churchill deputized eccentric, math genius Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch) to handpick a group of fellow savants whose appointed mission would be to crack the Enigma’s inscrutable codes.

Operating on the campus of a cypher school located in Buckinghamshire’s Bletchley Park, Turing’s exceptional eggheads immediately embarked upon a surreptitious race against time every bit as important as the fighting simultaneously unfolding on the battlefield. And when they finally did manage to decipher German communications, it remained important that they keep that fact a secret.

You see, the info unearthed afforded the Allies fighting on the front lines a competitive advantage. So, if the Nazis ever caught wind of the fact that their supposedly inscrutable commands were actually being intercepted, they would undoubtedly have immediately altered their encrypting.

The British government credited Turing’s team with saving millions of lives while shortening the conflict in the European theater by a couple years. That important achievement is the subject of The Imitation Game, a bittersweet biopic directed by Norwegian Morten Tyldum (Headhunters).

Nominated for eight Oscars including Best Picture, Director, Lead Actor (Cumberbatch), and Supporting Actress (Keira Knightley), the film is based on “Alan Turing: The Enigma,” Andrew Hodges’ belated tribute to the unsung hero. Unfortunately, despite the pivotal role he had played, Turing was never really recognized as a national hero because of his homosexuality.

Instead, after the war, he had to suffer the indignity of being persecuted, arrested, convicted, and ultimately chemically castrated for being gay. That led the brilliant visionary to commit suicide while on the brink of inventing the computer.

Though that tragedy can never be undone, at least we live in more enlightened times, when an icon of Turing’s order might finally be afforded his due. A well-crafted character study which just might land the talented Benedict Cumberbatch a coveted Academy Award.

Excellent (4 stars)

Rated PG-13 for sexual references, mature themes and smoking

Running time: 114 minutes

Distributor: The Weinstein Company

 

To see a trailer for The Imitation Game, visit:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S5CjKEFb-sM

    


Big Muddy
Film Review by Kam Williams

Martha Barlow (Nadia Litz) is a femme fatale with a checkered past and plenty of skeletons in her closet. Consequently, she’s done her best to keep off the grid, raising her son, Andy (Justin Kelly), in relative seclusion in rural Saskatchewan.

Seems like everybody around their tiny prairie town is the sort of unsavory character you cross the street to avoid, including Martha’s boyfriend/ and partner in crime, Tommy (Rossif Sutherland). The couple’s favorite haunt is the local racetrack which is where they concoct cockamamie con games, like robbing a bar patron who has propositioned a prostitute by waiting to pounce until the john is in a compromising position. The pair’s felonious antics don’t sit well with teenaged Andy, who hangs out at the track because the girl (Holly Deveaux) he has a crush on works there.

The plot thickens during an attempted shakedown gone wrong, after Tommy shoots the horse of an owner who refuses to be intimidated. The situation further degenerates when the tables are turned and Tommy takes a bullet from the barrel of the victim’s gun.

Seeing his mother’s life threatened, Andy reluctantly gets involved, and the next thing you know mother and son are on the run. As fugitives from justice, Martha and Andy seek refuge at the home of her estranged father (Stephen McHattie), a geezer disinclined to offer them a port in the storm, especially since he’s never even met his grandson before. Another fly in the ointment is the fact that Andy’s father (David La Haye) has escaped from prison and is intent on tracking down Martha.

Thus unfolds Big Muddy, an intriguing neo noir marking the impressive directorial debut of Jefferson Moneo. Atmospheric and absorbing, this well-crafted whodunit is rather reminiscent of Red Rock West (1999), for folks familiar with that cult classic co-starring Nicolas Cage and Dennis Hopper.

A deliberately-paced, multi-layered mystery, tailor-made for nostalgic, pulp fiction fans.

Excellent (4 stars)

Unrated

Running time: 104 minutes

Distributor: Monterey Media

To see a trailer for Big Muddy, visit:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gn3ds0i3f_s

    


Reviews
UserpicKevin Hart and Josh Gad Co-Star in Unlikely-Buddies Comedy
Posted by Kam Williams
15.01.2015

The Wedding Ringer
Film Review by Kam Williams

Doug Harris (Josh Gad) and Gretchen Palmer (Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting) are putting the finishing touches on their impending wedding. Trouble is the socially-challenged groom has yet to find a best man and they’re set to exchange vows in just ten days.

He’s been rejected by every acquaintance he’s approached, receiving rude responses ranging from “I thought you died” to “I didn’t even invite you to my wedding.” So, Doug decides to hide his awkward predicament from his fiancée, since he’s too embarrassed to admit that he doesn’t have any friends.

Instead, he hires a professional best man, Jimmy Callahan (Kevin Hart), along with seven strangers to serve as his groomsmen. Can these guys get to know Doug well enough in a week to convince Gretchen and members of the wedding party that they’re long-lost friends?

That is the preposterous point of departure of The Wedding Ringer, an unlikely-buddies comedy marking the directorial debut of Yale University graduate Jeremy Garelick. Provided you are not offended by and are willing to suspend disbelief about the farfetched setup, you’ll actually be richly rewarded by the hilarious, bad boy hijinks about to ensue.

Most of the laughs emanate from the attempt by that motley assortment of unsavory characters to impersonate refined, white-collar types ranging from a podiatrist, to a principal, to a lawyer, to a professor. The sham of a best man adopts the alias “Bic Mitchum” and passes himself off as a priest.

And although he proves convincing at faking bromance, he warns Doug not to develop feelings because, “You’re not buying a new friend. You’re hiring a best man.” But despite this strictly business understanding, coldhearted Jimmy gradually warms to the goofy groom and the two somehow bond anyway.

That unexpected development is what ultimately redeems The Wedding Ringer’s otherwise pretty repugnant premise. After all, how much hope could there really be for a marriage, if a groom would opt to stage such an elaborate scheme rather than simply explain the situation to his bride-to-be?

Check your brain at the box office, and motor-mouthed Kevin Hart, surrounded by a talented cast of seasoned comedians, will keep you in stitches for the duration of a decidedly-lowbrow, politically-incorrect misadventure.  

Very Good (3 stars)

StarStarStar

Rated R for crude humor, pervasive profanity, coarse sexuality and brief graphic nudity

Running time: 101 minutes

Distributor: Screen Gems

To see a trailer for The Wedding Ringer, visit:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R3TeI9jPPuA

    


American Sniper
Film Review by Kam Williams

Navy Seal Chris Kyle served four tours as a sniper in Iraq between 2003 and 2008. Over the course of dangerous deployments to Ramadi, Sadr City, Fallujah and other hot spots, he racked up enough kills to become the most lethal sniper in the history of the U.S. military. Directed by the legendary Clint Eastwood, American Sniper is a reverential biopic chronicling the eagle-eyed sharpshooter’s enviable exploits.

The film is based on Kyle’s autobiography of the same name, and stars Bradley Cooper in the title role. Besides highlighting battlefield heroics, the movie mixes in plenty of poignant flashbacks from the protagonist’s formative years.

For instance, in those early childhood scenes, we see Kyle learning to shoot from his father (Ben Reed), nobly protecting his little brother Jeff (Luke Sunshine) from a playground bully (Brandon Salgado Telis), and piously pocketing his dog-eared copy of the Bible while attending Church services. These telling tableaus are obviously designed to provide hints at how such an exemplary combination of character and skills might have been forged.

Another focus of the picture is Kyle’s relationship with his terminally-worried wife, Taya (Sienna Miller). She’s raising their kids back in the States, but often finds her long-distance phone chats with her hubby rudely interrupted by everything from IED explosions to enemy fire. However, Kyle always attempts to qualm his frazzled spouse’s fears with calm reassurances that he’ll survive the ordeal.

This deliberate humanizing of the soldier at the center of the story into a tenderhearted family man is what sets American Sniper apart from other recent war flicks like Lone Survivor and The Hurt Locker. Consequently, we really care whether this patriot will ultimately return home safe and sound.

Kudos to Clint Eastwood for fashioning such a moving and well-deserved salute to a true American hero!

Excellent (4 stars) StarStarStarStar

Rated R for graphic violence, sexual references and pervasive profanity

Running time: 132 minutes

Distributor: Warner Brothers

To see a trailer for American Sniper, visit:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5bP1f_1o-zo

    


Inherent Vice
Film Review by Kam Williams

Dateline: Los Angeles, 1970, which is where we find Private Eye Larry “Doc” Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix) living in a beach house with a view in a fictional, seacoast enclave called Gordita Beach. He’s totally wasted, but that doesn’t stop Shasta Fay Hepworth (Katherine Waterston) from approaching her ex-boyfriend for help with a personal problem.

Seems that the fetching femme fatale is currently the mistress of real estate magnate Mickey Wolfmann (Eric Roberts), and she has reason to believe that the philandering billionaire is about to be involuntarily committed to a mental institution by his vindictive wife, Sloane (Serena Scott Thomas), and her lover, Riggs Warbling (Andrew Simpson).

Against his better judgment, Doc takes the case, and soon finds himself swept into a seamy underworld filled with colorful characters ranging from a recently-paroled black radical (Michael Kenneth Williams) to an avowed white supremacist (Christopher Allen Nelson) to the proverbial prostitute with the heart of gold (Hong Chau). After being conked on the head, Doc comes around in a police station where he learns that he’s the prime suspect not only in the disappearance of both Mickey and Shasta Fay, but in a murder to boot.

So unfolds Inherent Vice, a surreal whodunit far more concerned with recreating the feel of the post-Sixties’ daze of free-flowing drugs than with crafting a compelling crime thriller. Unfortunately, the absence of a credible plotline means the premise soon dissolves into a rudderless, meandering mess, reducing the viewing experience to enjoying the retro décor, fashions and slang of the period.

The picture was directed by five-time Oscar-nominee Paul Thomas Anderson (There Will Be Blood, Boogie Nights and Magnolia), who also adapted the script from the Thomas Pynchon best-seller of the same name.

The film does feature a few standout performances, most notably, Joaquin Phoenix in the starring role, and Josh Brolin as a hard-nosed LAPD officer. Otherwise the production makes precious little use of the services of its cluttered, A-list cast which includes Academy Award-winners Reese Witherspoon (for Walk the Line) and Benicio del Toro (for Traffic), and Oscar-nominees Eric Roberts (for Runaway Train) and Owen Wilson (for The Royal Tenenbaums).

An unstructured, atmospheric affair ostensibly designed to appeal to folks nostalgic for the hedonistic hippie era.

Good (2 stars)

Rated R for profanity, violence, sexuality and graphic nudity

In English and Japanese with subtitles

Running time: 148 minutes

Distributor: Warner Brothers

To see a trailer for Inherent Vice, visit:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wZfs22E7JmI

    


Reviews
UserpicFarewell, Herr Schwarz (FILM REVIEW)
Posted by Kam Williams
04.01.2015

Farewell, Herr Schwarz

Film Review by Kam Williams

 

Descendant of Holocaust Survivor Unearths Family Skeletons in Roots Documentary           

Although Yael Reuveny was born in Israel 35 years after the end of World War II, her formative years were nevertheless substantially shaped by events that had transpired half a world away during the Holocaust. For, she and her mother had both been raised around an embittered concentration camp survivor who had never been able to forgive the Nazis.

After all, her grandmother Michla’s entire family had perished in a death camp in Poland, or at least so she thought. However, there had been a rumor that her brother Feiv’ke might have survived; but Michla lost hope when he failed to materialize at a rendezvous at the Lodz train station that had been arranged by an intermediary.

So, Michla made her way to Tel Aviv where, despite being plagued by nightmares, she would marry and have three kids. Unfortunately, she was also widowed at a young age, and eventually went to her grave still harboring a grudge against Germany.

Meanwhile, her brother changed his name to Peter Schwarz, and married a German gentile with whom he had three children. And not only did he hide the fact that he was Jewish from his offspring, but he continued to live in Schlieben, the town where he’d been imprisoned in a Nazi death camp.

            When Ms. Reuveny caught wind of the existence of another branch of her family tree, she became obsessed with tracking down her long-lost relatives. That five-year quest is the focus of Farewell, Herr Schwarz, a bittersweet documentary detailing an attempt to reconcile a pair of siblings’ polar opposite response to the Holocaust.

After examining the divergent behavior of siblings Michla and Peter, director Reuveny devotes attention to how the pair’s second and third generations have adjusted to life. It is quite a surprise to learn that Peter’s grandson Stephan’s dream has been to move to Israel ever since learning that he is a quarter Jewish. And by contrast, filmmaker/narrator Reuveny opts to settle in Europe, feeling perfectly at home there upon completion of her labor of love.

            A fascinating, generations-spanning genealogical journey!

Excellent (4 stars)

Unrated

In Hebrew, German and English with subtitles

Running time: 101 minutes

Distributor: Kino Lorber

To see a trailer for Farewell, Herr Schwarz, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cKZ1tPunFvw      

    


The Search for General TsoThe Search for General Tso
Film Review by Kam Williams

General Tso‘s Chicken is the most popular takeout dish ordered by American diners. But who was General Tso? Was he actually a military hero, or was his title merely honorary, a la that of “Colonel” Sanders of Kentucky Fried Chicken fame?

Was he even the originator of the delectable entrée that bears his name, or was the ingenious recipe created by his wife or a cook? What are its ingredients? When was it introduced to the United States? Why has it proved so popular with the American palate? And are the Chinese as fond of the sweet and spicy fried fare?

These are among the intriguing questions posed by The Search for General Tso, a culinary documentary any Chinese food lover is likely to find fascinating. The picture was written and directed by its host/narrator, Ian Cheney, whose dogged, globe-spanning quest for answers led from Brooklyn to Asia and back around the U.S.

Along the way, we learn that there was, indeed, a General Tso, a legend who distinguished himself on the battlefield in the 19th Century towards the end of the Qing Dynasty. However, his clueless descendants have no idea how their esteemed ancestor came to be associated with the unfamiliar dish, since it is a very modern invention traceable to Taiwan in the 1960s. Without ever being introduced to mainland China, it crossed the Pacific Ocean a decade or so later, taking the States by storm, starting with San Francisco.  

Besides unearthing these and other intriguing tidbits, intrepid Cheney devotes his time to tracking down and interviewing chefs claiming to be the pioneer who first put General Tso’s on the menu. Of course, he also devours many mouth-watering morsels of the honey-glazed chicken chunks, too, which is exactly what you’ll be craving as the closing credits roll.  

The cinematic equivalent of an entertaining encyclopedic entry about the most irresistible offering on today’s Chinese takeout menu!

Excellent (4 stars)

Unrated

In English and Mandarin with subtitles

Running time: 72 minutes

Distributor: IFC Films / Sundance Selects

To see a trailer for The Search for General Tso, visit:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7z0hmBIR8BE   

    


Unbroken
Film Review by Kam Williams

Do you remember how, Infamous, a biopic about Truman Capote, was released right on the heels of the one entitled Capote? But because the latter had already received considerable critical acclaim, including an Oscar for the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, the Johnnie-come-lately had little chance of making more than a blip on the radar.

The same fate might befall Unbroken, a World War II saga directed by Angelina Jolie. The parallels between this picture and The Railway Man are impossible to ignore, since they both recall the real-life ordeal of a POW tortured by a sadistic, Japanese officer.

The Railway Man, which opened last April, was based on Eric Lomax’s autobiography, and starred the charismatic Colin Firth in the title role opposite Tanroh Ishida as the sick interrogator who seemed to take pleasure in beating him mercilessly. Although Lomax would survive Singapore, he was left traumatized by the grueling ordeal, and ultimately attempted to exorcise his demons by returning to Southeast Asia to track down his abuser.

The correspondingly-themed Unbroken was adapted from the Laura Hillenbrand’s (Seabiscuit) best-seller of the same name recounting bombardier Louie Lamperini’s (Jack O’Connell) struggle to survive a POW camp in Tokyo after his plane crashed in the Pacific during a rescue mission. Because he had represented the U.S. in the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin, he was singled out for special mistreatment by a cruel prison guard (Takamasa Ishihara). And later in life, he would return to the Orient to try to confront that evil creep who’d singled him out for an extra measure of persecution.

Unbroken, like The Railway Man, even ends with a touching, closing credits photo montage featuring snapshots of both the hero and his tormentor which only added to this critic’s profound sense of déjà vu. An honorable, historical drama who’s primary flaw rests in its being released too soon after a more-compelling biopic revolving around similar subject-matter.

An uplifting tribute to the indomitability of the human spirit. 

Very Good (2.5 stars)

Rated PG-13 for brief profanity and intense brutality

In English, Italian and Japanese with subtitles

Running time: 137 minutes

Distributor: Universal Pictures

To see a trailer for Unbroken, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X8mBzKLhL0U

    


Reviews
UserpicThe 10 Best, No, the 100 Best Films of 2014
Posted by Kam Williams
27.12.2014

The 10 Best, No, the 100 Best Films of 2014
by Kam Williams

Kam’s Annual Assessment of the Cream of the Cinematic Crop

2014 has produced a cornucopia of great films, at least a dozen of which has an excellent shot of taking home the Academy Award for Best Picture, including Boyhood, Birdman, The Imitation Game and Whiplash, to name a few. However, all the stars seemed to be aligned for my personal favorite, Selma, the searing civil rights saga, set in March of 1965, about the historic march led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Directed by Ava DuVernay, the film is arriving in theaters at a moment when race is once again an urgent issue threatening to rip asunder the fabric of the country. So, it might serve as a timely reminder about the effectiveness of adopting a philosophy of non-violence.

Furthermore, this is the first feature-length biopic about Dr. King, which is hard to believe since the revered national icon was assassinated way back in 1968. Thirdly, the picture’s wide release practically coincides with his birthday, which has been celebrated as a federal holiday since 1986.

With Black History Month following close on its heels in February, it’s easy to envision Selma building up a head of steam over the course of awards season, when momentum dictates the favorites and often determines the winners in the Oscar sweepstakes.


10 Best Big Budget Films

Selma
Nightcrawler
Birdman 
The Equalizer
The Imitation Game  
X-Men: Days of Future Past
Fury
Kill the Messenger
Jump Street
This Is Where I Leave You 


Big Budgets Honorable Mention

American Sniper 
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Edge of Tomorrow
The Theory of Everything
The Judge
A Most Violent Year
Godzilla
Top Five
Non-Stop
Earth to Echo
The Amazing Spider-Man 2
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies
Noah
The Gambler  
Beyond the Lights


Best Independent Films


Whiplash
Boyhood
Wish I Was Here 
Calvary
Dear White People
Life's a Breeze
Two-Bit Waltz
Belle
The M Word
Begin Again 


Independent Films Honorable Mention


The Retrieval
Obvious Child
Chef
Half of a Yellow Sun
Snowpiercer
1,000 Times Good Night
The Two Faces of January
Coherence
St. Vincent
Happy Christmas
Believe Me
Alan Partridge
Hector and the Search for Happiness
The Machine
One Chance


Best Foreign Films

Web Junkie (China) 
The Way He Looks (Brazil) 
Ilo Ilo (Singapore)
Zero Motivation (Israel)
The Tale of Princess Kaguya (Japan)  
The Almost Man (Norway)
Metro Manila (The Philippines)
Abuse of Weakness (France)
Two Days, One Night (Belgium)
Wetlands (Germany)


Foreign Films Honorable Mention


Dancing in Jaffa (Israel)
Stranger by the Lake (France)
Pioneer (Norway)
The Circle (Switzerland)
The Missing Picture (Cambodia)
Demi-Soeur (France)
Fifi Howls from Happiness (Iran)
Grand Depart (France)
Jews of Egypt (Egypt)
Guilty of Romance (Japan)
Soul of a Banquet (China)
Big Bad Wolves (Israel)
Plot for Peace (South Africa)
Journey to the West (China)
We Are the Best (Sweden)


Best Documentaries

The Barefoot Artist
Life Itself
Ivory Tower
The Internet’s Own Boy
Mobilize
American Revolutionary: The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs
Vanishing Pearls
America the Beautiful 3
Pump 
Second Opinion

Documentaries Honorable Mention

Citizen Four
Keep on Keepin’ On  
Little Hope Was Arson
Breastmilk
Tales of the Grim Sleeper
Kids for Ca$h  
I’ll Be Me
Spanish Lake
Altina
The Great Invisible
I Am Eleven
Tanzania: A Journey Within
Advanced Style
12 O’Clock Boys
Take Me to the River

    


Reviews
UserpicAva DuVernay (INTERVIEW)
Posted by Kam Williams
22.12.2014

Ava DuVernay

The “Selma” Interview

with Kam Williams

 

Retracing the Road to Justice!

Ava DuVernay is a writer, producer, director and distributor of independent film. Winner of the Best Director Award at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival, Ava was honored with the 2013 John Cassavetes Independent Spirit Award and the Tribeca Film Institute 2013 Affinity Award for her second feature film, Middle of Nowhere.

She made her directorial debut with the critically-acclaimed 2008 hip hop documentary, This is The Life. A couple years later, she wrote, produced and directed her first narrative feature, I Will Follow, starring Salli Richardson-Whitfield.

Prior to directing, Ava founded DVA Media + Marketing in 1999, and worked as a film publicist for over a dozen years. Her award-winning firm provided strategy and execution for more than 120 film and television campaigns for such industry icons as Steven Spielberg, Clint Eastwood and Michael Mann.

The UCLA grad is the founder of AFFRM, the African-American Film Festival Releasing Movement. And she is a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, as well as the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, as well as a board member of both Film Independent and the Sundance Institute.

Here, she talks about her new film, Selma, which has been nominated for four Golden Globes, including Best Director.

 

Kam Williams: Hey, Ava, long time-no speak.

Ava DuVernay: It sure has been awhile, Kam. How are you?

 

KW: I’m great. How about you? Congrats on the Golden Globe nominations, and with the Oscars just over the horizon!

AD: I don’t know about that, but it’s been a nice ride so far.

 

KW: I was surprised to see you in Life Itself, the documentary about Roger Ebert, and to learn that an encouraging encounter with him as an adolescent had been such a big influence on your life. 

AD: He was such a champion of underrepresented filmmakers. He was a very big deal to me. It shows the power of critics. People who write about film, like you, can really affect the confidence of a young filmmaker. He did that for me, so it was such a pleasure to have an opportunity to talk about Roger in the movie.

 

KW: Editor/Legist Patricia Turnier asks: Why was it important for you to bring this story about Selma to the big screen?  

AD: Because there’s never been a film with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. at the center released in theaters. Ever! One does not exist. You’ve only seen tele-films and stage plays about him. Yet, we have big screens biopics about all kinds of people. So, I think it’s only right that there be a full-length feature about Dr. King. I don’t think there could be enough of them, but there should be at least one. So, here it is! 

 

KW: Patricia also says: The contributions of many black women to the movement, including Coretta Scott King, haven’t been credited enough. Will the audience learn more about this aspect of history in your picture? In other words, did you bring your perspective as a black female to directing Selma?

AD: Yes, Patricia, it was vital to me to include woman characters, and Coretta Scott King [played by Carmen Ejogo] is a prominent one. There’s a full arc where she’s painted, and you get to see behind the veil of her quiet dignity. Another character is Amelia Boynton [played by Lorraine Toussaint], a freedom-fighter who’s still alive and 104 years-old. She’s the woman who invited Dr. King to Selma. Oprah Winfrey plays Annie Lee Cooper, a woman who tried to register to vote five times, but was rejected and humiliated every time, and had a very infamous tussle with the local sheriff in Selma that landed on President Johnson’s desk through the newspaper accounts. Richie Jean Jackson [played by Niecy Nash] and Diane Nash [played by Tessa Thompson] are also in the film. There are a lot of sisters there who contributed to the fabric of the Civil Rights Movement.

 

KW: Lastly, Patricia says: The interview you did in the past with Kam Williams was translated into Spanish on my trilingual webmag. Will Selma be available in movie theaters in French and/or Spanish? I have a friend, a beautiful sister who is deaf and mute, who would like to see Selma. Will it be shown in theaters with special glasses so the deaf can watch it with subtitles?

AD: Yes, the film will be subtitled in some French and Spanish-speaking countries around the world, but I don’t know whether it will be subtitled for the deaf.

 

KW: Environmental activist Grace Sinden says: Congratulations on the Golden Globes nomination for directing Selma. I cannot wait to see it. We know that it is difficult for women to move up in many fields but this issue has recently received much focus, especially in terms of Hollywood directors. What advice do you have for women trying to break the glass ceiling? Can you share your thoughts on this issue? Was it any more difficult for you personally?

AD: Ignore the glass ceiling and do your work. If you’re focusing on the glass ceiling, focusing on what you don’t have, focusing on the limitations, then you will be limited. My way was to work, make my short… make my documentary… make my small films… use my own money… raise money myself… and stay shooting and focused on each project.  

 

KW: Editor Lisa Loving says there have been thousands of people marching in cities all across the country since the Missouri police officer who killed Michael Brown was not charged in his death. In our town, Portland, we see a whole new generation of community leaders stepping forward, right now. As you made this film did you have any idea it would be released at a time in history when thousands and thousands of young black people would again be marching in the streets for civil rights?

AD: I had no idea. It’s very poignant and it moves me beyond words that this film that we’ve made, that this piece of art would be released in such a robust way during this cultural moment rife with energy for change, with people taking to the streets, the power of the people being heard, and their voices being amplified. It’s an honor to have something that speaks to that right now. It certainly wasn’t anything that we knew was going to happen. But I find it thrilling that people are standing up, and I’m hopeful that it will really move the needle this time around. And it’s a little eerie that some of the events in our film are so similar to some of the things you’re actually seeing on cable news today.     

 

KW: Lisa also says: I feel that many people – people of all kinds – really do not know what Dr. King did in leading street protests against racist laws even as the FBI, at the highest levels, was breaking privacy laws and even laws of basic human decency to stop him. Do you think learning that about the FBI might surprise people?

AD: If you don’t know your history, I think you’ll be surprised to learn it. But it’s very prominent in the public records that there had been this counterintelligence program called COINTELPRO, for short that during the Fifties and Sixties placed leaders of progressive movements in the United States under surveillance. It was created by FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, and was signed off on by every president in office during those decades. It’s disturbing… it certainly served to dismantle a lot of the progressive movements that existed back then. If you don’t know about it, it’s in the film, and you can Google it and learn more about it.

 

KW: Sangeetha Subramanian says: There are so many lessons to take away from this film and story. Is there one lesson you would like to hear discussed more that may not be getting enough attention?

AD: No, I think the film is getting plenty of attention right now. I’m just excited about January 9th when the film will be opening everywhere, and people in the real heart of the country will be able to see it. That’s the day I’m really hopeful about. That’s the day I’ll be on Twitter wanting to listen to what people have to say about the picture, good or bad, as they come out of the theater.

 

KW: Cinema Professor Mia Mask asks: Will you come to Vassar? We'd like you to be a guest of the film department as a visiting artist. We’ve asked you in the past, but your shooting schedule prevented it. 

AD: Thanks for the invite, Mia. You’d have to put the request in to the office. But I’m pretty booked up right now.

 

KW: David Roth asks:Did you have any hesitation about casting British actors in the iconic roles of Coretta Scott King and Dr. Martin Luther King?

AD: Not at all, I just wanted to cast the best actor for the job and, without a doubt, David Oyelowo and Carmen Ejogo are transformative in these roles. And I knew that they would be. David was the first black man to play a King of England on the stage of the Royal Shakespeare Theater. His chops, his acting abilities are exceptional. He gave all of himself to the part, so I hope people will come check it out.

 

KW: Children’s book author Irene Smalls asks: How will you judge the success of Selma, and what movie would you like to make next, if you could do anything you wanted?

AD: I will judge the success, not on any awards or on the box-office, but on how people feel and what they say after seeing it. That’s what really matters to me. The film has something to say, and in a very specific way, about freedom and dignity in this country, and about some of the great leaders who worked hard and lost their lives in the pursuit of justice.

 

KW: Well, I loved the film, Ava, and all the best during awards season.

AD: Thank you, Kam. I’m so glad I got to talk to you, and I look forward to talking to you again.

 

To see a trailer for Selma, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kPgs2zshD9Y

    


Annie
Film Review by Kam Williams

Little Orphan Annie was a syndicated comic strip created by Harold Gray (1894-1968) which debuted in the New York Daily News on August 5, 1924. The cartoon revolved around the misadventures of an adorable 11 year-old with curly red hair who’d exclaim “Leapin’ lizards!” whenever she got excited.

The original strip also featured Oliver “Daddy” Warbucks, the millionaire who rescued her from an orphanage; Punjab, his loyal manservant; and Sandy, her adopted stray puppy. The popular serial was first brought to the big screen in 1932, and was adapted to the stage in 1977 as a Broadway musical.

Directed by Will Gluck (Easy A), this fifth film version is very loosely based on that Tony-sweeping production. But the story unfolds in the present at a foster home in Harlem instead of during the Depression at an orphanage located in lower Manhattan. And a few names have been changed, but the roles and motivations basically remain the same.

At the point of departure, we find Annie (Quvenzhane Wallis) and her fellow wards of the state caught in the clutches of cruel Colleen Hannigan, (Cameron Diaz), an abusive alcoholic with a mean streak who takes delight in exploiting the little girls entrusted to her care. This predicament inspires the mistreated waifs to do what else but sing about how “It’s the Hard Knock Life” for them.

Meanwhile, Annie futilely sits in front of the restaurant where she was abandoned long ago, praying for the return of the parents who’d abandoned her, so the sun’ll come out “Tomorrow.” However, a ray of hope arrives when she crosses paths with mobile phone magnate Will Stacks (Jamie Foxx) who soon invites the grimy street urchin to move into his posh penthouse with a panoramic view and state-of-the-art amenities.

But did the billionaire make the generous overture merely for a photo opportunity to improve his image as a mayoral candidate? Will the cute kid be callously kicked back to the curb once the campaign’s over?

The outcome won’t be much of a mystery to the average adult, though it will probably prove compelling enough to keep tykes and maybe even tweens glued to the edges of their seats for the full two hours. As for the lead performance, Quvenzhane Wallis is quite endearing as the latest incarnation of Annie, right from the opening scene where she ostensibly takes the proverbial baton from a freckle-faced redhead (Taylor Richardson) resembling the other actresses who’d previously played the part.

Still, the film has a glaring Achilles heel, a mediocre soundtrack. Jamie Foxx has the best singing voice here, by far. The rest of the cast members give it their all, but simply fail to deliver any show-stopping renditions of either the familiar or new tunes.

A 21st Century variation on the age-old theme where an insufferable 1%-er finally gets in touch with his sensitive side with the help of an irresistible ragamuffin representing the downtrodden rest of humanity.

Good (2 stars)

Rated PG for mild epithets and rude humor

Running time: 118 minutes

Distributor: Columbia Pictures

To see a trailer for Annie, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nasLuiP-1E0  

    


Reviews
UserpicTop Five (FILM REVIEW)
Posted by Kam Williams
19.12.2014

Top Five

Film Review by Kam Williams

 

Chris Rock Rolls in Romantic Comedy/Film Industry Satire

            In Birdman, Michael Keaton played a fading star trying to revive a career that had been in decline since he’d become typecast after playing a superhero in a series of blockbusters on the big screen. That plotline wasn’t all that far off from the arc of Keaton’s real-life fate following an outing as Batman back in 1989.

The similarly-themed Top Five features Chris Rock as Andre Allen, a comedian who has become too closely associated with “Hammy the Bear,” the popular protagonist of a humor-driven film franchise. Consequently, he’s been having a hard time making the transition to dramatic roles.

At the point of departure, we find Andre in the midst of promoting his newest movie, Uprize, an historical drama about a slave insurrection on the island of Haiti. He’s allowed New York Times reporter Chelsea Brown (Rosario Dawson) to tag along for the day, since she’s been assigned by the paper to prepare a profile on him.

Sparks fly, the two flirt, and it’s pretty obvious right off the bat that the two are attracted to each other. Trouble is, he’s already engaged and about to marry Erica Long (Gabrielle Union), a shallow, self-centered reality show star.

It’s equally clear that Andre and his high maintenance fiancée are ill-matched, so anybody who’s ever seen a romantic comedy can figure out where this one’s headed. And while the plot does everything to prevent Andre from wising up until the very end, it simultaneously affords the acid-tongued funnyman ample opportunities to point out show business’ shortcomings.

Besides being peppered with plenty of inside jokes and pithy comments about Hollywood, Top Five is memorable for boasting the most star-studded cast of the year. The dramatis personae includes J.B. Smoove, Kevin Hart, Adam Sandler, Jerry Seinfeld, Cedric the Entertainer, Tracy Morgan, Whoopi Goldberg, Charlie Rose, DMX, Jay Pharoah, Taraji P. Henson, Romany Malco, Gabby Sidibe, Luis Guzman, Sherri Shepherd and Ben Vereen.

As you might imagine, many of the celebs are limited to blink and you missed it cameos, though the production does manage to milk a little magic out of each one’s brief moment in the limelight. Nevertheless, make no mistake, this is a Chris Rock vehicle, and the picture is at its best when the irreverent comic is at his cockiest.

A clever, laff-a-minute adventure worth the investment for the hilarity, even if it telegraphs where the love story might be headed.

Excellent (3.5 stars)

Rated R for sexuality, nudity, crude humor, pervasive profanity and drug use

Running time: 101 minutes

Distributor: Paramount Pictures

To see a trailer for Top Five, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jejCmmawzLY    

    


The Gambler Movie

The Gambler
Film Review by Kam Williams

By day, Jim Bennett (Mark Wahlberg) is an English Literature professor whose questionable teaching method involves berating his blasé students by suggesting that none of them will ever amount to anything. He reserves all his praise for the only person in the class exhibiting any promise as a writer, the brilliant and beautiful, but modest, Amy Phillips (Brie Larson).

Amy also works part-time at a gambling casino that her teacher just happens to frequent, since Jim is a high-roller sorely in need of Gambler’s Anonymous. After all, the odds are stacked way in favor of the house where, the longer you play, the more you lose.

But Professor Bennett must have flunked statistics, since he foolishly pushes his luck at Black Jack and Roulette and proceeds to fritter away more than he could ever afford. Consequently, he eventually finds himself in hock to the tune of a quarter-million dollars to Mr. Lee (Alvin Ing), the exploitative casino owner who’d gladly extended a long line of credit to the hopelessly compulsive gambler.

Given seven days to pay off the I.O.U. before having his proverbial kneecaps broken by Lee’s goons, the desperate debtor approaches everyone from his mom (Jessica Lange) to a ghetto loan shark (Michael Kenneth Williams) to a well-heeled mobster (John Goodman) for an emergency loan. Trouble is, rather than clearing his tab with the cash he collects, Jim’s so controlled by his habit that he heads right back to the casino tables.

Thus unfolds The Gambler, a riveting remake loosely based on the 1974 classic starring James Caan. Trim and impassioned, Mark Wahlberg handles the title role in this witty, gritty overhaul of the original relying upon a well-crafted screenplay by Oscar-winner William Monahan (for The Departed).

The cautionary tale basically chronicles the gradual glide into depravity of an unrepentant loser in denial. During that frightening tailspin, Jim is enabled by several of his students, including flattered love interest Amy, basketball All-American Lamar (Anthony Kelley) and promising tennis prodigy Dexter (Emory Cohen). The only question is whether the pathetic prof will be able to pull out of the spiral before crashing and burning.

This searing character study unfolds against a variety of visually-captivating L.A. locales ranging from the seamy to the posh, and is underscored by an appropriately-gritty soundtrack. Director Rupert Wyatt’s (Rise of the Planet of the Apes) job was ostensibly made that much easier by the A-list supporting cast featuring Oscar-winners George Kennedy (for Cool Hand Luke) and Jessica Lange (for Tootsie and Blue Sky), as well as veteran thespians John Goodman, Leland Orser and Michael Kenneth Williams.

If only the self-destructive protagonist were a sympathetic soul instead of a real lout you’d rather root against than for.

Very Good (3 stars)

Rated R for sexuality, nudity, and pervasive profanity    

Running time: 101 minutes

Distributor: Paramount Pictures

To see a trailer for The Gambler, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NiiaoUnkMvQ

    


Reviews
UserpicThe Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (FILM REVIEW)
Posted by Kam Williams
13.12.2014

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

Film Review by Kam Williams

 

Tolkien Franchise Finale Features Bilbo and Pals in Epic Showdown

The Battle of the Five Armies is the third and closing chapter in The Hobbit series based on the classic fantasy novel of the same name by J.R.R. Tolkien. The film also represents the finale in the sextet of Tolkien adaptations directed by Peter Jackson also including The Lord of the Rings trilogy. 

Picking up from where the cliffhanger of the last episode left off, this action-oriented installment opens with protagonist Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) and his dwarf pals fretting over having unwittingly awakened Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch). For, the ferocious, fire-breathing dragon has left his mountain lair and begun venting his wrath upon the helpless citizens of Lake-town.          

Fortunately, a savior eventually arrives in the person of Bard the Bowman (Luke Evans) an intrepid archer who takes aim at the seemingly-invincible Smaug’s Achilles’ heel. However, piercing the tiny bare patch of skin on the dragon’s vulnerable belly doesn’t settle the question of who gets the gold and priceless baubles still sitting inside the now unprotected Lonely Mountain.

As word spreads of the demon’s demise, greed gets the better of assorted individuals who proceed to descend upon the area to stake a claim on the vast treasure. Only the arrival of a horde of evil orcs doing the bidding of the avaricious Dark Lord, Sauron the Necromancer (also Benedict Cumberbatch), inspires the contentious masses to end their hostilities and join forces against a common enemy.

Clocking in at a mercilessly-brief 144 minutes, The Battle of the Five Armies is not only the shortest, but the most entertaining of Jackson’s Tolkien screen adaptations. Between an engrossing plotline and virtual non-stop combat, the picture proves to be just the perfect way to bring down the curtain on a storied fantasy franchise.

Excellent (4 stars)

Rated PG-13 for intense violence and frightening images

Running time: 144 minutes

Distributor: Warner Brothers Pictures

To see a trailer for The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iVAgTiBrrDA  

    


Reviews
UserpicFrom Trayvon Martin to Michael Brown to Tamir Rice
Posted by Kam Williams
11.12.2014

Ben Crump
The “Black Lives Matter” Interview
with Kam Williams

 

Through his legal prowess and advocacy in the Trayvon Martin case, the Martin Lee Anderson Boot Camp case, and the Robbie Tolan Supreme Court Case, attorney Benjamin Crump has already secured a significant legacy founded in Constitutional law. His considerable acumen as both a litigator and an advocate has ensured that those most frequently marginalized are protected by the nation’s contract with its constituency. His landmark civil rights legal battles will be taught in textbooks and referenced by both this and future generations interested in understanding the scope of our fundamental Constitutional protections.

Attorney Crump has been recognized as one of the National Trial Lawyers’ Top 100 Lawyers, Ebony Magazine’s Power 100 Most Influential African Americans, and bestowed the NAACP Thurgood Marshall Award and the SCLC Martin Luther King Servant Leader Award. In spite of his immense professional responsibilities, he still finds time to serve his local community.

Ben readily shares his professional and personal talents with local, statewide and national causes and charities. He was appointed the inaugural Board Chairman of Florida’s Big Bend Fair Housing Center, Inc., a Federal Grant organization dedicated to the eradication of housing discrimination. He also served as Chairman of the Legal Services of North Florida, and donated $1,000,000 to the organization’s Capital Campaign to ensure that poor people would continue to have quality legal representation as well as access to the courts.

Attorney Crump believes in fighting to preserve the advances in justice and equality that minorities achieved during the Civil Rights era. To that end, he has served as Vice President of the National Bar Association and General Counsel to the Tallahassee Chapter of the NAACP.

In addition, he’s been elected as the Chairman of the Tallahassee Boys Choir, and he is a past President of the National Florida State University Black Alumni Association. And he’s a Life Member of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc., the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and the NAACP.

Ben and his law partner Daryl Parks share their firm’s largesse with the community that has embraced them--most notably--they have endowed scholarships at Florida A&M University, Livingston College, Florida State University, and Bethune Cookman University for minority law students.

Here, he reacts to the “Black Lives Matter!” movement sweeping the nation in the wake of the failure of grand juries to indict police officers in the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner.

 

 

Kam Williams: Hi Ben, thanks for the interview. I’m honored to have this opportunity, brother.

Ben Crump: Thank you, Kam. I’m glad we’ve finally connected.

 

KW: I have a million questions for you from readers. Children’s book author Irene Smalls says: You have agreed to represent the family of Tamir Rice, the 12 year-old shot by a cop in Cleveland, despite the failure of the grand juries even to indict in the Michael Brown and Eric Garner cases. What fuels your continuing passion and search for justice, in the face of a criminal justice system that seems broken to many of us?

BC: I was just talking to some folks who said, “Ben, you take these cases, and you make a big issue of holding police officers and the killers of our children accountable in the criminal courts, and of making them to go to jail, when you know the history is that police offers don’t get put in jail when they kill little black and brown boys. You win these multimillion dollar victories in the civil courts, but because the officers don’t go to jail, people think you lost the case. Why do you keep insisting on trying to have the police officers put behind bars?” The way I answered them was, “I just can’t bring myself to sell out as if it’s just about money. I know we’re going to win the civil suit in all these cases. But that’s not full justice. Why is everybody else entitled to full justice except our people and our children? Full justice means you discourage the police from ever doing this again because people will know that if you kill our children, you’ll have to do the perp walk and go to jail. It shouldn’t be that if you kill a black person, there’s a good chance you won’t, but if you kill a white person, everybody knows you’re going to prison. We say: our lives are just as valuable. So, the one thing I always know, Kam, is we can’t sell our community out. I don’t worry about whether everybody understands that. Sure, it would be easier to do like most lawyers and only talk about how much money I got for my clients in the civil courts, but to me, that’s not victory.

 

KW: Irene also asks: Do we need to increase the activism in the black community around voting, literacy, etcetera?

BC: Yes.

 

KW: Editor Lisa Loving says: Many people in black communities across this country feel that the legal system simply doesn’t work for them. In fact, we see that racial profiling takes place at every point—on the streets where officers patrol, in the jailhouse, in the courtroom, even in the parole system. On top of that, many people with an arrest record are legally barred from voting. Mr. Crump, what do you tell people when they say they feel like the system is weighted against them?

BC: What I tell them is that it’s still the best system in the world, and that we have to fight to make America be America for all of us. We have to fight to make the words in the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence mean something. If they just apply the Constitution, that means we are getting due process under the law and in legal proceedings. It’s not right that we have to fight to make it fair, but we the people have the power to do so. That’s what I love about what’s going on in Ferguson and after the Eric Garner case, and about what I’m sure will now happen with the Tamir Rice case.

 

KW: Editor/Legist Patricia Turnier asks: Why isn’t the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause applied uniformly? Is there a systemic flaw?
BC: I think there is a flaw in the system. The flaw in the system is that we continue to exonerate the police for killing little black and brown people while holding them accountable in other communities. I once wrote a paper titled, “Police Don’t Shoot White Men in the Back.” You just never heard about police accidentally shooting a white man who’s retreating. What that says is that a flaw in the system allows police officers to be immune for killing colored people. If you think about the grand jury system, that’s exactly what happens. You have local prosecutors who have a symbiotic relationship with the local police officers, and they have no relationship with and many times no regard for the black person dead on the ground. If we keep doing things the same way and expect a different result, that’s the definition of insanity. So, we need special prosecutors with no relationship to the police departments, if we really want to have independent investigations and trials.   

 

KW: David Roth asks: Do you think the race of the police officer is relevant in these types of cases?

BC: Yes. You do see instances where black officers kill Caucasians. They go to jail. And where Caucasian officers kill Caucasians and go to jail. Race matters and the statistics bear that out.

 

KW: Attorney Bernadette Beekman asks: What do you think can bring peace to the nation in the wake of the failure of the Michael Brown and Eric Garner grand juries to indict?

BC: Swift action by the Federal Department of Justice. Other than that, the people are really feeling that the system isn’t fair and that folks in their community can’t get equal justice.

 

KW: Do you think the Department of Justice is really interested in pursuing civil rights cases in the Michael Brown and Eric Garner cases? Or do they just say that each time a cop gets off in order to calm people down and to give them a false sense of hope that justice will eventually be served? 

BC: I want to believe that Attorney General Holder and the Justice Department are going to do everything in their power to follow through on their words and give some sense of justice to these families.

 

KW: Will the Department of Justice bring a civil rights case against George Zimmerman?

BC: I honestly don’t know.

 

KW: Patricia asks: What advice do you have for young African-American attorneys fresh out of law school?

BC: To be true to thyself, and to remember what Charles Hamilton Houston said: “Strive to be an engineer for social change and justice.” Otherwise, you’re just a parasite on society. Fame, notoriety and material things will come, but first, make it your job to represent your client in a zealous manner and to do good in the world.

 

KW: How would you assess the state of race relations in America? Are things getting better or worse?

BC: Well, with Ferguson decision and then the Eric Garner decision within seven days after that, I think things are tenuous, at best. This could be a defining point for the entire United States of America, because we all need to be better than we’ve been previously.

 

KW: John Hartmann asks: Have you been surprised by the die-ins and other mass demonstrations we’ve seen lately in cities all over the country?

BC: I think we have tough times because some of the frustration from Trayvon flowed over to Michael Brown. Now the Michael Brown frustration is flowing over to Eric Garner, and I think the Eric Garner frustration is going to flow over to Tamir Rice. People are still trying to come to grips with these decisions that don’t seem rational and are certainly not reflective of equal justice.

 

KW: Lisa also asks: What happened to the old legal maxim that a prosecutor could indict a ham sandwich? Do you think people are outraged because the grand jury is shrouded in secrecy?

BC: Ferguson was all about transparency, because there was such a sense of community mistrust of the court and the government leaders. The worst thing you could do there was have a grand jury proceeding that was going to be secret. And cut off from the rest of the world. It just made no sense. But that’s what they did, and the result is that you come out not knowing what really happened in that room. Words on paper can’t convey the tone and whether a persuasive case was presented to get an indictment. Consequently, when people saw the result, they believed what we were saying from the very beginning, namely, that the system isn’t fair when you use a local prosecutor.

 

KW: I admire that your spirit hasn’t been broken by the legal system’s color coded dispensation of criminal justice.

BC: It is heartbreaking, but you just have to keep fighting the fight, and remember that the moral arc of the universe bends towards justice. Part of what keeps me going is when I see the enthusiasm of the young people. I was recently in Chicago working on the matter of Howard Morgan who was shot 28 times by four white police officers on his way home in one of the worst injustices I ever heard of. These students I met with at the University of Chicago Law School had so much passion, saying, “We’re going to make this world better than what it is today.” And they had so much faith that I could deliver, that it inspired me to go fight harder to reverse this miscarriage of justice that had occurred right before their eyes. After witnessing me making my argument in the courtroom, they said, “We want to do that one day. We want to get the law degree so that we have the power and authority to argue on behalf of the least of ye, and to make them see our humanity, and make them see us not as 3/5ths of a man, but as men with all the inalienable rights of any other American.”

 

KW: Alan Dershowitz in his book, “The Best Defense,” said that one of the things they never teach you in law school is that a policeman’s word is gospel in the courtroom. How do we fight that unwritten law?

BC: With the proposed Mike Brown legislation for video body cameras, because our lies aren’t lying to us.

 

KW: Do you think all the attacks on people of color by police are symptomatic of a racist society or of a class society where people of color have no value or voice?

BC: I think it’s a little of both. I think they devalue our lives. We have to turn the slogan “Black lives matter!” into a reality because our lives do matter.

 

KW: Film director Rel Dowdell asks: How are you holding up? It must be hard flying from city to city to city. We need you, brother.

BC: Thanks for asking that, Rel. This is my first time home in nine days. I’m so happy to be home, I don’t know what to do.

 

KW: How can I, as a lawyer/journalist, help the cause?

BC: First of all, I’m glad you’re a member of the bar, because we need our best and our brightest to be on the front lines fighting for us. You can help by staging clinics where you just teach people what the law is. Most of our people want to fight, but they don’t know how to fight. We need to teach them how to fight constructively.

 

KW: Well, thanks again for the time, Ben, I really appreciate it. Now go gets some rest. Like Rel says, we need you.

BC: Will do, brother, and I look forward to meeting you in person at the march in D.C. on Saturday. God bless.

    


Reviews
UserpicBen Crump (INTERVIEW)
Posted by Kam Williams
11.12.2014

Ben Crump

The “Black Lives Matter” Interview

with Kam Williams

 

From Trayvon Martin to Michael Brown to Tamir Rice

Through his legal prowess and advocacy in the Trayvon Martin case, the Martin Lee Anderson Boot Camp case, and the Robbie Tolan Supreme Court Case, attorney Benjamin Crump has already secured a significant legacy founded in Constitutional law. His considerable acumen as both a litigator and an advocate has ensured that those most frequently marginalized are protected by the nation’s contract with its constituency. His landmark civil rights legal battles will be taught in textbooks and referenced by both this and future generations interested in understanding the scope of our fundamental Constitutional protections.

Attorney Crump has been recognized as one of the National Trial Lawyers’ Top 100 Lawyers, Ebony Magazine’s Power 100 Most Influential African Americans, and bestowed the NAACP Thurgood Marshall Award and the SCLC Martin Luther King Servant Leader Award. In spite of his immense professional responsibilities, he still finds time to serve his local community.

Ben readily shares his professional and personal talents with local, statewide and national causes and charities. He was appointed the inaugural Board Chairman of Florida’s Big Bend Fair Housing Center, Inc., a Federal Grant organization dedicated to the eradication of housing discrimination. He also served as Chairman of the Legal Services of North Florida, and donated $1,000,000 to the organization’s Capital Campaign to ensure that poor people would continue to have quality legal representation as well as access to the courts.

Attorney Crump believes in fighting to preserve the advances in justice and equality that minorities achieved during the Civil Rights era. To that end, he has served as Vice President of the National Bar Association and General Counsel to the Tallahassee Chapter of the NAACP.

In addition, he’s been elected as the Chairman of the Tallahassee Boys Choir, and he is a past President of the National Florida State University Black Alumni Association. And he’s a Life Member of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc., the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and the NAACP.

Ben and his law partner Daryl Parks share their firm’s largesse with the community that has embraced them--most notably--they have endowed scholarships at Florida A&M University, Livingston College, Florida State University, and Bethune Cookman University for minority law students.

            Here, he reacts to the “Black Lives Matter!” movement sweeping the nation in the wake of the failure of grand juries to indict police officers in the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner.

 

 

Kam Williams: Hi Ben, thanks for the interview. I’m honored to have this opportunity, brother.

Ben Crump: Thank you, Kam. I’m glad we’ve finally connected.

 

KW: I have a million questions for you from readers. Children’s book author Irene Smalls says: You have agreed to represent the family of Tamir Rice, the 12 year-old shot by a cop in Cleveland, despite the failure of the grand juries even to indict in the Michael Brown and Eric Garner cases. What fuels your continuing passion and search for justice, in the face of a criminal justice system that seems broken to many of us?

BC: I was just talking to some folks who said, “Ben, you take these cases, and you make a big issue of holding police officers and the killers of our children accountable in the criminal courts, and of making them to go to jail, when you know the history is that police offers don’t get put in jail when they kill little black and brown boys. You win these multimillion dollar victories in the civil courts, but because the officers don’t go to jail, people think you lost the case. Why do you keep insisting on trying to have the police officers put behind bars?” The way I answered them was, “I just can’t bring myself to sell out as if it’s just about money. I know we’re going to win the civil suit in all these cases. But that’s not full justice. Why is everybody else entitled to full justice except our people and our children? Full justice means you discourage the police from ever doing this again because people will know that if you kill our children, you’ll have to do the perp walk and go to jail. It shouldn’t be that if you kill a black person, there’s a good chance you won’t, but if you kill a white person, everybody knows you’re going to prison. We say: our lives are just as valuable. So, the one thing I always know, Kam, is we can’t sell our community out. I don’t worry about whether everybody understands that. Sure, it would be easier to do like most lawyers and only talk about how much money I got for my clients in the civil courts, but to me, that’s not victory.

 

KW: Irene also asks: Do we need to increase the activism in the black community around voting, literacy, etcetera?

BC: Yes.

 

KW: Editor Lisa Loving says: Many people in black communities across this country feel that the legal system simply doesn’t work for them. In fact, we see that racial profiling takes place at every point—on the streets where officers patrol, in the jailhouse, in the courtroom, even in the parole system. On top of that, many people with an arrest record are legally barred from voting. Mr. Crump, what do you tell people when they say they feel like the system is weighted against them?

BC: What I tell them is that it’s still the best system in the world, and that we have to fight to make America be America for all of us. We have to fight to make the words in the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence mean something. If they just apply the Constitution, that means we are getting due process under the law and in legal proceedings. It’s not right that we have to fight to make it fair, but we the people have the power to do so. That’s what I love about what’s going on in Ferguson and after the Eric Garner case, and about what I’m sure will now happen with the Tamir Rice case.

 

KW: Editor/Legist Patricia Turnier asks: Why isn’t the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause applied uniformly? Is there a systemic flaw?
BC: I think there is a flaw in the system. The flaw in the system is that we continue to exonerate the police for killing little black and brown people while holding them accountable in other communities. I once wrote a paper titled, “Police Don’t Shoot White Men in the Back.” You just never heard about police accidentally shooting a white man who’s retreating. What that says is that a flaw in the system allows police officers to be immune for killing colored people. If you think about the grand jury system, that’s exactly what happens. You have local prosecutors who have a symbiotic relationship with the local police officers, and they have no relationship with and many times no regard for the black person dead on the ground. If we keep doing things the same way and expect a different result, that’s the definition of insanity. So, we need special prosecutors with no relationship to the police departments, if we really want to have independent investigations and trials.   

 

KW: David Roth asks: Do you think the race of the police officer is relevant in these types of cases?

BC: Yes. You do see instances where black officers kill Caucasians. They go to jail. And where Caucasian officers kill Caucasians and go to jail. Race matters and the statistics bear that out.

 

KW: Attorney Bernadette Beekman asks: What do you think can bring peace to the nation in the wake of the failure of the Michael Brown and Eric Garner grand juries to indict?

BC: Swift action by the Federal Department of Justice. Other than that, the people are really feeling that the system isn’t fair and that folks in their community can’t get equal justice.

 

KW: Do you think the Department of Justice is really interested in pursuing civil rights cases in the Michael Brown and Eric Garner cases? Or do they just say that each time a cop gets off in order to calm people down and to give them a false sense of hope that justice will eventually be served? 

BC: I want to believe that Attorney General Holder and the Justice Department are going to do everything in their power to follow through on their words and give some sense of justice to these families.

 

KW: Will the Department of Justice bring a civil rights case against George Zimmerman?

BC: I honestly don’t know.

 

KW: Patricia asks: What advice do you have for young African-American attorneys fresh out of law school?

BC: To be true to thyself, and to remember what Charles Hamilton Houston said: “Strive to be an engineer for social change and justice.” Otherwise, you’re just a parasite on society. Fame, notoriety and material things will come, but first, make it your job to represent your client in a zealous manner and to do good in the world.

 

KW: How would you assess the state of race relations in America? Are things getting better or worse?

BC: Well, with Ferguson decision and then the Eric Garner decision within seven days after that, I think things are tenuous, at best. This could be a defining point for the entire United States of America, because we all need to be better than we’ve been previously.

 

KW: John Hartmann asks: Have you been surprised by the die-ins and other mass demonstrations we’ve seen lately in cities all over the country?

BC: I think we have tough times because some of the frustration from Trayvon flowed over to Michael Brown. Now the Michael Brown frustration is flowing over to Eric Garner, and I think the Eric Garner frustration is going to flow over to Tamir Rice. People are still trying to come to grips with these decisions that don’t seem rational and are certainly not reflective of equal justice.

 

KW: Lisa also asks: What happened to the old legal maxim that a prosecutor could indict a ham sandwich? Do you think people are outraged because the grand jury is shrouded in secrecy?

BC: Ferguson was all about transparency, because there was such a sense of community mistrust of the court and the government leaders. The worst thing you could do there was have a grand jury proceeding that was going to be secret. And cut off from the rest of the world. It just made no sense. But that’s what they did, and the result is that you come out not knowing what really happened in that room. Words on paper can’t convey the tone and whether a persuasive case was presented to get an indictment. Consequently, when people saw the result, they believed what we were saying from the very beginning, namely, that the system isn’t fair when you use a local prosecutor.

 

KW: I admire that your spirit hasn’t been broken by the legal system’s color coded dispensation of criminal justice.

BC: It is heartbreaking, but you just have to keep fighting the fight, and remember that the moral arc of the universe bends towards justice. Part of what keeps me going is when I see the enthusiasm of the young people. I was recently in Chicago working on the matter of Howard Morgan who was shot 28 times by four white police officers on his way home in one of the worst injustices I ever heard of. These students I met with at the University of Chicago Law School had so much passion, saying, “We’re going to make this world better than what it is today.” And they had so much faith that I could deliver, that it inspired me to go fight harder to reverse this miscarriage of justice that had occurred right before their eyes. After witnessing me making my argument in the courtroom, they said, “We want to do that one day. We want to get the law degree so that we have the power and authority to argue on behalf of the least of ye, and to make them see our humanity, and make them see us not as 3/5ths of a man, but as men with all the inalienable rights of any other American.”

 

KW: Alan Dershowitz in his book, “The Best Defense,” said that one of the things they never teach you in law school is that a policeman’s word is gospel in the courtroom. How do we fight that unwritten law?

BC: With the proposed Mike Brown legislation for video body cameras, because our lies aren’t lying to us.

 

KW: Do you think all the attacks on people of color by police are symptomatic of a racist society or of a class society where people of color have no value or voice?

BC: I think it’s a little of both. I think they devalue our lives. We have to turn the slogan “Black lives matter!” into a reality because our lives do matter.

 

KW: Film director Rel Dowdell asks: How are you holding up? It must be hard flying from city to city to city. We need you, brother.

BC: Thanks for asking that, Rel. This is my first time home in nine days. I’m so happy to be home, I don’t know what to do.

 

KW: How can I, as a lawyer/journalist, help the cause?

BC: First of all, I’m glad you’re a member of the bar, because we need our best and our brightest to be on the front lines fighting for us. You can help by staging clinics where you just teach people what the law is. Most of our people want to fight, but they don’t know how to fight. We need to teach them how to fight constructively.

 

KW: Well, thanks again for the time, Ben, I really appreciate it. Now go gets some rest. Like Rel says, we need you.

BC: Will do, brother, and I look forward to meeting you in person at the march in D.C. on Saturday. God bless.

    


Reviews
UserpicJustice While Black (BOOK REVIEW)
Posted by Kam Williams
09.12.2014

Justice While Black:

Helping African-American Families Navigate

and Survive the Criminal Justice System

by Robbin Shipp, Esq. and Nick Chiles  

Book Review by Kam Williams

 

Agate Bolden   

Paperback, $9.99                                                                      

160 pages

ISBN: 978-1-932841-90-9

          

“The August 9th fatal shooting of teenager Michael Brown by police in Ferguson, Missouri has focused global attention on the precarious safety of young African-American men... Brown is only the most recent addition to the tragic list of shootings of young, African-American men that have ignited media attention in recent years.

But the fact is that our young black men have always lived under threat from the armed guardians of the white social order. Black males and police forces have been at odds since the nation’s founding, when wealthy planters hired slave patrols to keep the white community safe from ‘dangerous’ escaped slaves.

The tactics have been modernized, and the impact--as we’ve seen at Ferguson--remains devastating… The criminal justice system is not so much a necessary service to society as it is a business that seeks to profit from the arrest and imprisonment of U.S. citizens.

Justice While Black is a handbook for African-American families that is full of practical, brass-tacks advice… on how to avoid being ensnared in the criminal justice system.”

 Excerpted from a Note from the Publisher, Doug Seibold

 

Unless you’ve been living under a rock in recent months, you know that the incredibly antagonistic and too often deadly relationship between the police and black males is finally garnering the national attention it has so long deserved. Something’s gotta give, when it’s degenerated to the point where you have cops shooting to death a 12 year-old playing with a toy gun in a park and an unarmed 28 year-old merely escorting his girlfriend down the dark stairwell of his apartment building.

Yes, President Obama has weighed-in in the wake of the grand juries’ failures to indict the officers responsible for the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner. He’s ostensibly attempting to quell racial unrest by hinting that Attorney General Holder might still file Federal civil rights charges against the cops.  

But meanwhile, the question remains: how should the parent of a black boy prepare him for a possible encounter with police, since they’re prone to misread the most innocent of behaviors as somehow menacing? After all, it’s been said that if a cop sees a black man sitting, he’s shiftless; if he’s standing, he’s loitering; if he’s walking, he’s prowling; and if he’s running, he’s escaping.  

I’m not sure whether there’s been a more timely tome than “Justice While Black,” a how-to book written by a concerned sister who is both a lawyer and a mother. With 20+ years experience as a criminal defense attorney under her belt, Robbin Shipp (with the help of Pulitzer Prize-winner Nick Chiles) shares a wealth of advice for young brothers about not only dealing with police on the street, but with navigating one’s way through the court and correctional systems, should you unfortunately be arrested and/or convicted.

Not one to mince words, the author from Chapter One, “Officer Friendly Isn’t Your Friend,” makes it clear that any black man’s encounter with a police officer could easily lead to a close brush with death. Therefore, she relates step-by-step instructions about what to do in situations ranging from being stopped while driving (“If the officer asks for your license and registration, get his permission to reach for them.”) to being placed under arrest (“Resist the urge to explain to them everything that happened.”), and so forth.

A mandatory, must-read that just might save the life or liberty of someone you love.

    


Reviews
UserpicReese Witherspoon Stars in Adaptation of Best-Selling Memoir
Posted by Kam Williams
08.12.2014

Wild
Film Review by Kam Williams

Cheryl Strayed’s (Reese Witherspoon) life went into a tailspin right after the untimely death of her mother (Laura Dern). The grief-stricken 22 year-old subsequently became emotionally estranged from the people closest to her, including her husband, Paul (Thomas Sadowski), and her brother, Leif (Keene McRae).

And by the time she had finally bottomed out several years later, she was all alone and addicted to heroin. Yet she somehow summoned up the strength to set out on a transformational, solo trek along the Pacific Coast Trail that would take her from the Mojave Desert in California all the way north to the border of Washington and Oregon.

The perilous, 1,100 mile journey would prove to be Cheryl’s salvation, as it afforded her an opportunity to purge her demons while conquering the elements. That magical metamorphosis would also become the subject of her best-selling memoir, “Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Trail,” an Oprah Book Club selection.

The story has now been adapted to the screen by Academy Award-nominated scriptwriter Nick Hornby (for An Education) as a touching tale of female empowerment featuring Reese Witherspoon as the intrepid heroine. The picture was directed by another Oscar nominee, Jean-Marc Vallee, whose Dallas Buyers Club netted Oscars for both Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto.

Unfortunately, this flashback flick fails to generate the same sort of sobering gravitas which made Dallas so effectively gripping. Consequently, it unfolds less like the similarly-themed Into the Wild (2007), a riveting survival saga, than Eat Pray Love (2010), another relatively-lighthearted romp about a woman finding herself.

Wild is an uneven endeavor which undercuts its own cause by including intermittent interludes of comic relief, such as when Cheryl’s overstuffed backpack repeatedly causes her to topple over. Hence, rather than ratcheting up the tension of a harrowing ordeal, the film merely recounts the assorted highs and lows of a poorly-planned camping trip run amuck.

Reese Witherspoon nevertheless delivers a decent enough performance to singlehandedly elevate an otherwise mediocre adventure to an entertaining one worth recommending.

Very Good (3 stars)

Rated R for sexuality, nudity, profanity and drug use 

Running time: 115 minutes

Distributor: Fox Searchlight Pictures

To see a trailer for Wild, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xOPl8gKdmYE

    


Birdman

Birdman
Film Review by Kam Williams

A couple of decades ago, actor Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton) was sitting atop the showbiz food chain. However, the former box-office star’s stock has been in sharp decline since he stopped playing Birdman after a trio of outings as the popular, blockbuster superhero. And today, he’s so closely associated with the iconic character that nobody’s eager to hire him.

With his career fading fast and no roles on the horizon, Riggan decides to take it upon himself to orchestrate his own comeback. The plan is to mount a Broadway production, with what’s left of his dwindling savings, of the Raymond Carver short story, “What We Talk about When We Talk about Love”.

First, he adapts the short story to the stage, with the idea of not only starring but directing. Then, he enlists the assistance of his skeptical attorney/agent Jake (Zach Galifianakis) and his drug-addicted daughter Sam (Emma Stone), while rounding out the cast with his girlfriend, Laura (Andrea Riseborough), fellow film industry refugee, Lesley (Naomi Watts), and her matinee idol beau, Mike (Edward Norton).

Will the washed-up thespian manage to make himself over with the help of this motley crew? Unfortunately, Riggan is a troubled soul with more on his plate than the already intimidating challenge of putting on the play.

For, he happens to be haunted by a discouraging voice in his head telling him he’s going to fail, too. That would be his alter ego, Birdman, a nasty, one-note, nattering nabob of negativism.

Written and directed by Oscar-nominee Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (for Babel), Birdman is a bittersweet portrait of a Hollywood has-been desperate for a second go-round in the limelight. The sublimely scripted dramedy simultaneously paints a perfectly plausible picture of life on the Great White Way courtesy of pithy background banter.

The movie features a plethora of praiseworthy performances, starting with Michael Keaton (Batman) who will likely earn an Oscar nomination in a thinly-veiled case of art imitating life. Also impressive are Emma Stone, Edward Norton, Naomi Watts and an unusually-sedate Zach Galifianakis, if only for his acting against type.

The theater world’s eloquent answer to Black Swan equally-surrealistic exploration of ballet.

Excellent (4 stars)

Rated R for sexuality, brief violence and pervasive profanity

Running time: 119 minutes

Distributor: Fox Searchlight Pictures

To see a trailer for Birdman, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xIxMMv_LD5Q

    


Little Hope Was Arson
Film Review by Kam Williams

In little over a month, starting in January of 2010, ten churches located within a 40-mile radius of a rural section of East Texas were all burned to the ground. Was this the work of devil worshipping atheists, arsonists in search of a spectacle, or someone else?

The crimes confounded the criminal investigators who mounted the largest manhunt in the history of the region. Eventually, the authorities did crack the case, arresting a couple of troubled young men, Jason Bourque, 19, and Daniel Mcallister, 21.

Daniel soon started to sing, confessing after waiving his right to remain silent. He also implicated his pal Jason in return for word from his interrogator that he’d receive half the sentence of his co-conspirator. But that handshake wasn’t worth the paper it was written on, and both defendants landed life sentences when they got their day in court.

After all, this was not only the heart of the Bible Belt, but Texas, a state notorious for its lack of patience for felonious behavior. And when you factor in the ire of unforgiving church members who’d lost their place of worship, all bets were off in terms of any promised plea deal.

Little Hope Was Arson marks the noteworthy directorial debut of Theo Love. The picture is less sensational than understated as it relates an engaging tale in matter-of-fact style. Along the way, we learn about the family dysfunction in each of the boy’s childhood which ostensibly contributed to their lives spiraling out of control.

Personally, I only felt empathy towards the two upon learning how long they’ll have to spend behind bars, since nobody died during their month-long reign of terror. But maybe I was surprised to see a couple of white kids have the Good Book thrown at them.

Nevertheless, I’m sure that they were taught right from wrong as little boys, and somewhere along the way they simply opted for the dark side. So, now they must pay their debt to society.

The moral? Like the ghetto gangstas say: If you can’t do the time, don’t commit the crime. I can only pray that Daniel and Jason’s momentary thrill of setting those buildings ablaze was worth flushing their futures down the drain.

Excellent (4 stars)

Unrated

Running time: 73 minutes

Distributor: The Orchard / Submarine Deluxe

To see a trailer for Little Hope Was Arson, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GwrOdbanxyg

    


Reviews
Userpic25 to Life (FILM REVIEW)
Posted by Kam Williams
24.11.2014

25 to Life

Film Review by Kam Williams

 

Out-of-the-Closet Documentary Chronicles Clandestine Life of Brother Hiding His HIV Status

            When William Brawner was 18 months-old, his single-mom Linda left him in the care of a suspicious male babysitter against her better judgment while she went off to class at Howard University. Upon returning home, she found her baby so scalded by hot water that he needed numerous skin grafts and blood transfusions.

Doctor’s didn’t buy the babysitter’s story that it was all the result of an accident. And the proof in the pudding rested in the fact that the creep quickly slipped out of town before subsequently disappearing from the radar entirely.

Unfortunately for William, this tragedy transpired in the early Eighties at the dawn of the AIDS epidemic, well before the medical community became aware of how to protect the country’s tainted blood supply. Consequently, he contracted HIV from one of his transfusions.

Because of the social stigma then associated with AIDS, his mother decided to studiously hide Bill’s positive HIV status over the course of his childhood. Furthermore, since the guilty woman had no idea how long he might live, she also proceeded to spoil him rotten, admittedly raising a monster the rest of the world was going to have to deal with.

For, Bill eventually blossomed into quite the handsome ladies’ man. And while he did inform his high school sweetheart, Natasha, that he was infected, he never told any of the 20+ classmates he slept with when he followed in his mother’s footsteps to Howard.

He even had unprotected sex with some of those sisters, and was almost outed by his angry ex-girlfriend who sent an anonymous letter to the President of the University, warning, “Bill Brawner is HIV+ and infecting everyone at your school.” But the roaming Romeo’s culpable response was to never again share his status with anyone, though he would remain promiscuous.

Finally, in 2006, William confessed to his shameless behavior by going on the radio to reveal to the world once and for all that he was HIV+. In addition, he founded a Haven Youth center, a healthcare facility offering infected teens treatment and counseling.

Directed by Mike Brown, 25 to Life is reverential biopic that revisits all of the above, opting to present Bill in a positive light despite his risky behavior with a string of sex partners. Granted, it’s great that he ultimately embraced honesty and even settled down and got married, but it would’ve been nice to hear from his former conquests to learn how they felt about being used and whether they’ve tested positive for the AIDS virus.

A cautionary tale about a charming predator’s penis dispensing potentially-lethal demon seed.

Very Good (3 stars)

Rated PG-13 for PG-13 for action and sci-fi violence

Running time: 87 minutes

Studio: SimonSays Entertainment

Distributor: AFFRM

To see a trailer for 25 to Life, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T9b7qEVRpQc  

    


Reviews
UserpicUneventful Installment Serves as Setup for Franchise Finale
Posted by Kam Williams
23.11.2014

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1
Film Review by Kam Williams

In recent years, movie studios have started splitting into two their adaptations of finales from young adult book series, most notably, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” and “Twilight: Breaking Dawn.” The money-making ploy is arguably little more than a transparent attempt to milk the last dollar out of a soon to expire franchise.

The Hunger Games is the latest such production to employ the cash-generating tactic, as it divides in half “Mockingjay,” the last opus in Suzanne Collins’ best-selling, sci-fi trilogy. Unfortunately, this uneventful installment basically treads water while functioning as a setup for the upcoming dramatic conclusion. Nevertheless, nothing in the power of these words could possibly affect the box-office returns of this review-proof episode.

Directed by Francis Lawrence (The Hunger Games: Catching Fire), the movie again stars Jennifer Lawrence (as protagonist Katniss Everdeen) augmented by a support cast featuring Josh Hutcherson as Peeta, Liam Hemsworth as Gale, Woody Harrelson as Haymitch, Jeffrey Wright as Beetee, and the late Philip Seymour Hoffman as Plutarch Heavensbee.

At the point of departure, we find the country of Panem plunged into chaos and on the brink of revolution. Hunger Games victor Katniss reluctantly allows herself to be recruited by the leader of the rebellion, Alma Coin (Julianne Moore), to serve as the face of the struggle in propaganda videos designed to foment further insurrection.

However, besides Katniss’ frequently fretting about the mental state of her pal Peeta’s being caught in the clutches of Panem’s ruthless President, Coriolanus Snow (Donald Sutherland), not a lot transpires over the course of this anticlimactic adventure. Worse, we have to wait another whole year for the decisive denouement.

A lame excuse to fleece the legions of loyal Hunger Games fans in the target teen/tween demo.

 

Fair (1 star)

Rated PG-13 for intense violence, disturbing images and mature themes

Running time: 123 minutes

Distributor: Lionsgate Films

To see a trailer for The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IXshQ5mv1K8

    


Reviews
UserpicPrincipal Cast Reconvenes for Raunchy, Irreverent Sequel
Posted by Kam Williams
22.11.2014

Horrible Bosses 2
Film Review by Kam Williams

 

Timing is everything, when it comes to comedy, and this sequel suffers from an acute case of terrible timing. First of all, with the Bill Cosby rape allegations figuring so prominently in the news nowadays, the last thing anybody wants to laugh at is a premise predicated upon secretly slipping a knockout pill into the drink of an unsuspecting victim.

Equally distasteful is the running joke revolving around a female trying to turn a homosexual man straight by seducing him, suggesting that all you need to alter a gay guy’s sexual preference is an attractive seductress in a skimpy outfit. The picture’s political-incorrectness even extends to ethnic jokes, such as a cringe-inducing scene where a man mocks his Asian housekeeper’s thick accent.

Throw in unfunny skits about rape, pedophilia and the Ku Klux Klan, and you have a raunchy romp that repeatedly resorts to terribly tasteless fare simply for the sake of a cheap punch line.

Directed by Sean Anders (We’re the Millers), Horrible Bosses 2 features Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis and Charlie Day reprising their lead roles as BFFs Nick, Kurt and Dale, respectively. Also returning are Jennifer Aniston as nymphomaniac Dr. Julia Harris, Jamie Foxx as feloniously-inclined Mother-[expletive] Jones, Kevin Spacey as conniving Dave Harken, and Lindsay Sloane as Dale’s wife, Stacy, while additions to the cast include Christoph Waltz, Chris Pine, Keegan-Michael Key and Jonathan Banks.

This go-round, the intrepid protagonists morph from disgruntled employees into hapless entrepreneurs with no clue about bringing their invention, the Shower Buddy, to market. Consequently, they soon find themselves ruined financially by a sleazy investor Bert Hanson (Waltz), who rationalizes cheating them with, “I make new enemies every day. It’s called business.”

So, the three hatch a cockamamie plan to recoup their losses by kidnapping the creep’s son (Pine) for ransom. What they didn’t bank on, however, was the possibility that Bert couldn’t care less about freeing his ne’er-do-well offspring (a motif reminiscent of Ruthless People (1986), where Danny DeVito ignored a demand for cash being made by his wife Bette Midler’s abductors).

Horrible Bosses 2 does admittedly have its moments, like a quite captivating car chase during which our heroes drag an uprooted chain link fence onto the freeway while on the run from the authorities. It’s just too bad that most of the movie is devoted to such a misanthropic and misogynistic brand of humor.

Fair (1 star)

Rated R for pervasive profanity and crude sexuality

Running time: 108 minutes

Distributor: Warner Brothers

To see a trailer for Horrible Bosses 2, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=utriEZFno0E  

    


Reviews
UserpicWho We Be (BOOK REVIEW)
Posted by Kam Williams
18.11.2014

Who We Be
The Colorization of America
by Jeff Chang

Book Review by Kam Williams

St. Martin’s Press
Hardcover, $29.99
416 pages, Illustrated
ISBN: 978-0-312-57129-0

 

“Race. A four-letter word. The greatest social divide in American life, a half-century ago and today. During that time, the United States has seen the most dramatic demographic and cultural shift in its history, what can be called the colorization of America…

How do Americans see race now? After eras framed by words like ‘multicultural’ and ‘post-racial,’ do we see each other any more clearly?

From the dream of integration to the reality of colorization, Who We Be remixes comic strips and contemporary art, campus protests and corporate marketing campaigns, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Trayvon Martin into a powerful, unusual and timely cultural history of the idea of racial progress.”

-- Excerpted from the Bookjacket

 

Each generation has its share of visionaries. Long ago, William Faulkner warned that “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” In the Sixties, R. Buckminster Fuller conveyed the critical insight that “Geniuses are just people who had good mothers,” while Marshall McLuhan helped us understand exactly why “The medium is the message.” More recently, Ray Kurzweil anticipated the age of spiritual machines where computers lead and people follow.

“Who We Be” is the work of a new sage thinker with his finger on the pulse. Don’t let yourself be dissuaded by the grammatically-incorrect title of his opus, or it’s Ebonics chapter headings like “I Am I Be” and “What You Got to Say?” for the actual text isn’t written in inscrutable slang as implied, but rather offers a very articulate analysis of the evolution of American culture from the March on Washington to the present.

In fact, the author isn’t even black, but Asian-American of Chinese and Hawaiian extraction. Not one to be pigeonholed by his ethnicity, Jeff Chang previously penned a couple of books about hip-hop, “Can’t Stop Won’t Stop,” and “Total Chaos.”

Here, however, he successfully tackles subject-matter of much more depth and consequence in the process sharing a cornucopia of profound insights on themes ranging from the rise of Obama to multiculturalism to gentrification to the use of the N-word to Occupy Wall Street. For example, in a blistering critique of the economic system, he opines:

“Capitalism aspired not only to be the law, but morality, too. Freedom meant being free even from responsibility or empathy. All values would bow before economic value. Redemption would be redefined. Consumption would set the terms of the social. Creditors ruled everything around us. Debtors—a category that included almost everyone—were parasites. Capital and the state debased fundamental human relations… It’s sociality itself that’s treated as abusive, criminal, demonic.”

Sobering! With the help of a dizzying mix of evocative essays, anecdotes, quotes, quips and eye-catching cartoons and photographs, he amply illustrates what he refers to as America’s post-racial paradox. For although the country might be awash in a sort of melting pot imagery suggested by popular movies, TV shows and rainbow coalition commercials, that superficial symbolism flies in the face of the undeniable reality of rising re-segregation in terms of housing and schooling.  

Pearls of wisdom from an Asian-American wannabe who deliberately employs double negatives, bad grammar, incorrect syntax and even an occasional double positive for the sake of street cred. Still, the Utne Reader saw right through that smokescreen and dubbed Jeff Chang among the “50 Visionaries Who Are Changing Your World.”

Who he be? He be a phat prophet! You feel me?

    


Dumb and Dumber To
Film Review by Kam Williams

 

It took the Farrelly Brothers, Peter and Bobby, two decades to bring back co-stars Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels for a follow-up to Dumb and Dumber, their hit comedy that netted nearly a quarter of a billion dollars at the box office in 1994. Far be it from this critic to suggest that the long-anticipated sequel was worth the wait, though I suspect it won’t disappoint fans nostalgic for more of the same from the bottom-feeding franchise.

Dumb and Dumber To again coalesces around the terminally-inane antics of Lloyd Christmas (Carrey) and Harry Dunne (Daniels), gullible dimwits with a penchant for both playing and being the butt of practical jokes. As the film unfolds, we learn that, for the last 20 years, Lloyd has been committed to Baldy View Mental Hospital, where he’s undergone shock treatments and a partial lobotomy.

Faithful Harry, meanwhile, has been a daily visitor, regularly changing the bag of urine waste attached to his pal’s private parts. Today, however, the wheelchair-bound patient giggles “Gotcha!” to reveal that his protracted stay in the asylum has all been a gag staged purely for his buddy’s benefit. After admiring the elaborate ruse, Harry rips the catheter out of Lloyd’s penis roughly, with the help of a couple of obliging groundskeepers. Ouch!

The reunited roommates immediately make their way home to their apartment where they proceed to pull a mean-spirited prank on their apprehensive, blind next-door neighbor (Brady Bluhm) by feeding Pop Rocks to his pet birds. (Don’t try that at home, kids!) Harry subsequently exposes the anus of their cat to explain why he refers to it as Butthole, another joke that merely falls flat. Equally unfunny is the introduction of a drug dealer (Bill Murray), whose crystal meth Harry mistakes for candy.

Such lowbrow fare serves as prologue and proves to be par for the course for the peripatetic adventure about to ensue. Yes, the farfetched road trip does revolve around the rudiments of a plot, though that’s ostensibly of less concern to the filmmakers than seizing on the flimsiest of excuses to gross out their audience at every opportunity.

To summarize the story in 25 words or less, Harry has his own medical issue and is in urgent need of a kidney donor. Fortunately, he has a long-lost daughter he’s never met (Rachel Melvin) who just might be a genetic match.

With that, our brain-damaged protagonists are off on a cross-country trek in search of Penny that provides this kitchen sink shocksploit ample opportunities to slap disgusting displays of depravity and vulgarity onscreen.

Fair (1 star)

Rated PG-13 for crude humor, profanity, sexuality, partial nudity and drug references

Running time: 109 minutes

Distributor: Universal Pictures

To see a trailer for Dumb and Dumber To, visit:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dmNddThxi4c

    


Bhopal: A Prayer for Rain
Film Review by Kam Williams

On the night of December 2, 1984, a pesticide plant located in Bhopal, India spewed tons of toxic gas into the air as the result of a reaction of water with a chemical called Methyl Isocyanate (MIC). By morning, over 10,000 dead bodies lay in the streets of the city, while the manufacturer company responsible for the disaster, Union Carbide (subsequently acquired by Dow Chemical), proceeded to lawyer up.

In the end, the corporation settled the mammoth wrongful death lawsuit for just $300 per corpse without taking responsibility or publicly apologizing for the industrial accident. Instead, the firm claimed it was a victim of sabotage on the part of a disgruntled employee, an allegation which was ultimately never substantiated. Yet, despite the existence of evidence that Union Carbide had ignored warning signs of an impending calamity, the Indian government let it off with out any criminal consequences.

Directed by Ravi Kumar, Bhopal: A Prayer for Rain is a historical drama ostensibly inspired by the book “Bhopal: Lessons of a Gas tragedy” by the New York Times reporter Sanjoy Hazarika. The picture stars Martin Sheen as Warren Anderson, the sloganeering CEO in denial fond of spouting company lines like “We set the highest safety standards in the industry” and “We are Union Carbide, united in our efforts to build a better future for everyone.”

This fictionalized account, which revisits the events leading up to the catastrophe, revolves mostly around the efforts of a couple of investigative journalists questioning Carbide’s commitment to safety, given the rumors swirling that the plant was leaking a very dangerous chemical. Both Motwani (Kal Penn), a local, and Eva Gascon (Mischa Barton), a writer for Paris Match, were stonewalled at every turn whenever they confronted executives and managers about whether an exposure to just one drop of MIC was lethal.

The picture inexorably leads to the unfortunate meltdown which scarred an entire country while the conniving culprits escaped unscathed. A sobering lesson about controlling the corporate message in this age of double speak where symbolic gestures have replaced sincerity, substance and any concern about viable solutions.

Excellent (3.5 stars)

Unrated

In English and Hindi with subtitles

Running time: 96 minutes

Distributor: Revolver Entertainment

To see a trailer for Bhopal, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nw7dZiYzKBY   

Bhopal Movie

    


Interstellar
Film Review by Kam Williams

Christopher Nolan is one of my favorite directors, and four of his pictures have made my annual Top Ten List, including Memento, The Dark Knight, Batman Begins and Insomnia. However, I hard a hard time understanding exactly what was going on in Inception, an inscrutable mindbender that I found to be a little too hip for the room.

The same could be said about Interstellar, an over-plotted, post-apocalyptic sci-fi with a few too many layers for its own good, in this critic’s humble opinion. Clocking in at a patience-testing 169 minutes, the movie had me harking back to 7-time Oscar-winner Gravity, a similarly-themed outer space adventure which managed to resolve its loose ends in about half the time.

At the point of departure, we find the Earth devastated by drought and dust storms that have brought it to the brink of famine. With the planet almost uninhabitable, NASA decides that the last hope for humanity rests in finding another capable of supporting life.

To that end, the agency is mounting a mission, codenamed Lazarus in order to search for a place with a compatible environment. The reluctant hero is Coop (Matthew McConaughey), a man understandably torn about being coaxed out of retirement to captain the Spaceship Endurance.

On the one hand, the veteran test pilot is eager, since he never got a chance to experience a real spaceflight during his career. On the other hand, as a widowed dad, he hates the very idea of leaving behind and possibly orphaning his already motherless kids.

Sure, 15 year-old Tom (Timothee Chalamet) might be able to man-up, but daughter Murph (Mackenzie Foy) is only 10 and proves particularly clingy when he informs her of his imminent travel plans. Her angry reaction is perfectly reasonable, given the blight on Earth and the odds of ever seeing her papa again.

But with his father-in-law’s (John Lithgow) blessing, Coop nevertheless opts to depart, which affords him an opportunity to belatedly pursue his lifelong dream. Joining him in that endeavor is a crew comprised of brainy scientist Brand (Anne Hathaway), astrophysicist Romilly (David Gyasi) and intergalactic cartographer Doyle (Wes Bentley), as well as a couple of very sophisticated robots (Bill Irwin and Josh Stewart).

After blastoff, they head for a distant wormhole near Saturn rumored to provide a portal to a parallel universe. At this juncture, the picture turns terribly talky, relying on pseudoscientific claptrap to explain every farfetched development from black holes to unusual gravitational pulls to time slowing down. Eventually, Endurance rendezvous with a NASA space station stranded on a remote planet where they rouse the sole survivor from a cryogenic sleep only to discover it’s Matt Damon. How cool is that?

I’m not too proud to admit I couldn’t follow the convoluted storyline anymore from about this point forward. At least the panoramic visuals remained absolutely breathtaking. Think, a remake of Gravity with a bunch of polysyllabic brainiacs borrowed from The Big Bang Theory.

Good (2 stars)

Rated PG-13 for intense action and brief profanity

Running time: 169 minutes

Distributor: Paramount Pictures

To see a trailer for Interstellar, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0vxOhd4qlnA     

    


Whiplash
Film Review by Kam Williams

19 year-old Andrew Neyman (Miles Teller) got more than he bargained for when he entered the hallowed halls of mythical Shaffer Conservatory. The promising prodigy had reasonably expected what was arguably the best music school in the entire country to be the ideal place to pursue his ambition of a glorious career as a jazz drummer.

But, from the first day of class, he ends up under the thumb of Terence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons), an impatient perfectionist with a twisted teaching method. This Machiavellian professor’s approach involves not only belittling his students but pitting them against one another by making them compete for spots in the school’s elite performance band.

In Andrew’s case, he has to contend for the coveted drummer’s chair with both an upperclassman (Nate Lang) and a fellow newcomer (Austin Stowell). Meanwhile, he finds himself having to duck chairs being thrown at his head while simultaneously being called everything from a “retard” to a “pansy ass” to a “tonal catastrophe” by a taskmaster who rationalizes the abuse on the tough love theory that his job is “to push people beyond what was expected of them.”

A perverse relationship evolves in which Andrew willingly breaks up with his patient girlfriend (Melissa Benoist) and surrenders any semblance of a social life in order to “Practice! Practice! Practice!” for the sake of his Svengali-like coach. However, such a narrow, self-negating path gradually takes a toll on his body and soul, as evidenced by bloody, calloused hands and ensuing bouts of depression.

Written and directed by Damien Chazelle (Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench), Whiplash is a wonderfully-electrifying drama very much akin to an overcoming-the-odds sports saga. Yet, it might be better thought of as a novel variation on the protégé-mentor theme typified by such relatively benign offerings as The Emperor’s Club, Dead Poets Society and Mr. Holland’s Opus.

The groundbreaking adventure has already generated considerable Academy Award buzz, thanks to universal critical and popular acclaim. Look for veteran thespian J.K. Simmons to land a well-deserved nomination at the very least, but don’t be surprised if his co-star Teller and up-and-coming director to be reckoned with Chazelle are invited to Oscar night, too.

A compelling, coming-of-age tale about a lifelong dream-turned-neverending nightmare, all because of a sadistic studio bandleader from Hell!

Excellent (4 stars)

Rated R for profanity and some sexual references

Running time: 107 minutes

Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics

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

    


Beyond the Lights
Film Review by Kam Williams

Noni (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) has it all, or so it seems. After years of trying to make it, the emerging pop singer is finally on the brink of superstardom, thanks to several hit singles she recently released, duets with her famous rapper boyfriend, Kid Culprit (Machine Gun Kelly).

Nevertheless, when we meet Noni in the midst of a whirlwind tour of appearances on award shows, she’s secretly miserable and seriously considering suicide. That’s because every step of her assault on showbiz has been dictated by her abusive mother, Macy (Minnie Driver), the proverbial stage-mom from Hell.

Noni no longer recognizes her real self in the mirror underneath the purple hair extensions, the provocative wardrobe, and the phony smile that masks the hard cold truth about a vulnerable soul at the end of her rope. Then, just as she’s set to launch herself from the balcony of a penthouse suite at the posh Beverly Hills Hotel, fate intervenes in the person of Kaz (Nate Parker), the quick-thinking LAPD officer assigned to protect her from the paparazzi and overzealous fans.

Springing into action, he grabs an arm and pulls Noni back over the rail. Now that she has been afforded a second chance at life, one can’t help but wonder whether she’ll wise up and declare her independence from her miserable misanthrope of a mother? Or, will she notice that the right man for her might be the handsome hunk with bulging biceps who saved the day, even if he’s not a rich celebrity like the unreliable bad-boy she’s currently dating?          

These are the foremost questions subsequently explored by Beyond the Lights, a steamy romantic romp written and directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood (The Secret Life of Bees and Love & Basketball). Don’t be duped into thinking that you’ve seen this same story somewhere before, given how the plot is vaguely reminiscent of Whitney Houston and Kevin Costner’s The Bodyguard (1992).

Beyond the Lights unfolds in a unique fashion all its own. This amorous tale of female empowerment might be better thought of as an engaging blend of hip-hop performances and soap opera drama that’s at its best when leads Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Nate Parker generate beaucoup chemistry while sharing the screen.

Love in the time of hip-hopera!

Very Good (3 stars)

Rated PG-13 for sexuality, profanity, suggestive gestures, partial nudity and matures themes

Running time: 116 minutes

Distributor: Relativity Media

To see a trailer for Beyond the Lights, visit:   

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1rvgJ2WbDsc

    


Sex Ed
Film Review by Kam Williams

Sex Ed Movie

Eddie Cole (Haley Joel Osment) is one, long-suffering virgin. The terminally-awkward nerd never got lucky in high school, despite performing in the jazz band, since he picked probably the least cool instrument to play, namely, the oboe. And the aspiring educator fared no better with females in college, ultimately graduating still desperate for deflowering.

Today, he lives in the Tampa area where he frequently finds himself forced to watch couples cavort amorously, like the kinky customers begging him to let them copulate in the bagel store where he works as a clerk. There’s no relief for the loser at lust at home either, where he catches his roommate (Jake Powell) in a compromising position with a cute conquest (Castille Landon).  

At least Eddie’s job prospects improve when he’s offered a position at an inner-city junior high school. The only trouble is he’ll be teaching Sex Education, a subject he obviously knows nothing about. Worse, half the kids in his class prove to be pretty precocious in terms of the birds and bees, especially class clown Leon (Isaac White), a trash-talking troublemaker whose minister father (Chris Williams) has to be summoned to wash his son’s mouth out with soap.  

The situation’s only saving grace rests in the fact that Eddie develops a crush from afar on Pilar (Lorenza Izzo), the elder sister of one of his students (Kevin Hernandez). The complication there, however, is that the pretty Latina already has a mucho macho buff beau in the very jealous Hector (Ray Santiago).  

That is the pat premise of Sex Ed, a romantic comedy designed to keep you guessing whether Eddie will ever be able to summon up the gumption to tell Pilar his true feelings for her. Written by Bill Kennedy and directed by Isaac Feder, the film is basically a vehicle for all-grown Haley Joel Osment, the former child star famous for making “I see dead people” a cultural catchphrase.

In The Sixth Sense, he also played a character called Cole, albeit it’s his surname this go-round. Brace yourself to hear him use some surprisingly salty language in service of a production which would’ve warranted an R, had it been rated by the MPAA.          

A pedestrian, raunchy romp just amusing enough to recommend, though nothing groundbreaking. The only thing this titillating teensploit is missing is Haley Joel Osment periodically whispering, “I see horny people!”

 

Very Good (2.5 stars)

Unrated

Running time: 92 minutes

Distributor: MarVista Entertainment

To see a trailer for Sex Ed, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q-lauONf9F4

    


Nightcrawler
Film Review by Kam Williams

Nightcrawler

Petty thief Lou Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal) was eking out a living selling stolen scrap metal to junkyards until the day he stumbled upon a legitimate line of work when he pulled over to assist a driver trapped in a fiery car crash. There, he was surprised to find ghoulish freelance journalists flocking to the scene with the hope of shooting graphic video footage to sell to network television stations.

He quietly observed them in action before asking a forthcoming reporter probing questions about what the job entailed. A quick learner, after listening intently, Lou visited a pawn shop to purchase a camcorder and police scanner, the only tools essential to enter the business, besides the car he already had.

The next thing you know, he’s roaming around the streets of Los Angeles, joining the cutthroat competition to be the first to arrive in the aftermath of the next gruesome murder or highway pileup. Understanding the TV news credo, “If it bleeds, it leads,” he starts picking which emergency calls to pursue based on their potential for providing the sort of visually-captivating pictures popular with viewers.

Upon meeting with a little early success, he soon hires a homeless dude (Rick Garcia) as his navigator. More importantly, he develops a mutually-beneficial relationship with Nina Romina (Rene Russo), veteran news director at Channel 6, the local station with the lowest ratings. Lou’s uncanny ability to get grisly shots conveniently coincides with Nina and KWLA’s desperate need to attract a wider audience.

Thus unfolds Nightcrawler, a combination character portrait/riveting thriller marking the noteworthy directorial debut of Dan Gilroy. Jake Gyllenhaal is better than ever here in the title role, eclipsing both his brilliant outing just last year in Prisoners as well as his Oscar-nominated performance in Brokeback Mountain.

As this film further unfolds, the plot thickens considerably when Lou opts to make news rather than merely cover it. For, the potential financial rewards become so tempting that he begins to orchestrate events for the sake of the almighty dollar. Worse, his benefactor Nina proves willing to look the other way in the face of mounting evidence that her star stringer might be crossing an ethical line.

A sobering cautionary tale suggesting that you reflect upon all the motivations of a news source before swallowing the veracity of a story, hook, line and sinker.   

Excellent (4 stars)

Rated R for violence, profanity and graphic images

Running time: 117 minutes

Distributor: Open Road Films

To see a trailer for Nightcrawler, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u1uP_8VJkDQ   

    


Plot for Peace
Film Review by Kam Williams

In 2009, I reviewed a movie called Endgame, a political potboiler which divulged, for the first time, the pivotal role a British professor named Will Esterhuyse played in the end of Apartheid. I remember feeling a little skeptical about the veracity of the alleged well-kept secret.

But here it is five years later, and we now have a Plot for Peace, a documentary staking a similar claim on behalf of another supposed critical figure who also ostensibly operated under the radar. This picture purportedly recounts how Jean-Yves Ollivier, a French businessman surreptitiously referred to as “Monsieur Jacques” in classified correspondence, orchestrated the dismantling of South Africa’s racist regime as well as the release of Nelson Mandela from prison.

Granted, Mr. Ollivier has many luminaries lining up to testify on his behalf, including Winnie Mandela, who says, “He never said one word about his contribution.” Then, there’s attorney and African National Congress activist Mathews Phosa who points out that Jean-Yves “wouldn’t have received a medal from Mandela if he hadn’t played a role.” Curiously, he’s the only person to be so honored by both the new and previous presidents.

What interested Ollivier in South Africa? He explains that he was a young expatriate living in Algeria during that nation’s independence movement. So, he saw the outcome as inevitable when civil war erupted in South Africa despite efforts of the United States and other Western countries to delay the inevitable by advocating the dubious “policy of constructive engagement.”

My only complaint about “Johnny Come Lately” productions like this and Endgame is the way in which they subtly minimize the contributions made by the revolutionaries who put their lives on the line in a very bloody, freedom struggle. These versions of revisionist history tend to marginalize such sacrifices while suggesting that the true hero was a lone wolf in a suit safely negotiating a resolution of the conflict from half a world away.

Regardless, the grassroots’ rallying cry remained, “Amandla!”

Very Good (2.5 stars)

Unrated   

In English, French, Portuguese, Afrikaans and Spanish with subtitles

Running time: 84 minutes

Distributor: Indelible Media

To see a trailer for Plot for Peace, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2A7EJUg1dSY        

    


Reviews
UserpicSiblings Fall for Same Lass in Incestuous Romance Drama
Posted by Kam Williams
26.10.2014

Private Peaceful
Film Review by Kam Williams

Tommo (George MacKay) and Charlie Peaceful (Jack O’Connell) had a healthy sibling rivalry while growing up in Devon at the dawn of the 20th Century. The brothers were raised on a sprawling country estate owned by a family of aristocratic Brits.

Their father (Stephen Kennedy) was employed there as both gamekeeper and forester. In that capacity, he was able to afford to send his sons to a private school run with an iron fist by a sadistic headmaster (Richard Griffiths), a retired military colonel.

Everything changes when their dad dies in a logging accident. Since their homemaker mother (Maxine Peake) can no longer afford the rent or tuition, they soon lose the only life they’ve ever known. More importantly, the pubescent adolescents have to leave behind Molly (Alexandra Roach), a beautiful classmate both have a crush on.

Despite moving away, Tommo and Charlie venture back as teens to frolic in the forest with the irresistible object of their affection. A bit of a tease, Molly initially refuses to pick between her ardent admirers, instead only promising to marry one “Mr. Peaceful” while assuring that “We’ll be happy until the day we die.”

This is the premise underpinning Private Peaceful, a bittersweet love story based on Michael Morpurgo’s young adult novel of the same name. The book was previously adapted into a play which debuted at the Royal Theater in 2004.

Directed by Pat O’Connor (Sweet November), the screen version is an intriguing romance drama which takes a sharp turn about midway through when Tommo and Charlie enlist in the army and ship off to serve their country in Flanders’ fields. However, there remains concern about Molly who’d announced her unplanned pregnancy shortly before the outbreak of World War I.

Who’s the daddy? Will the Peacefuls survive? These are the pivotal questions left to be addressed between bombs bursting in air. Trench warfare as the backdrop for a tawdry love triangle about as incestuous as it gets.

Very Good (3 stars)

Unrated   

Running time: 102 minutes

Distributor: BBC America

To see a trailer for Private Peaceful, visit: http://www.privatepeacefulthemovie.com/

    


St. Vincent
Film Review by Kam Williams

Almost nothing is right in Vincent MacKenna’s (Bill Murray) life. The aging, Vietnam War vet is still suffering from PTSD. Plus, he’s fighting a losing battle against with booze, cigarettes and gambling, which has left him deeply indebted to a vicious loan shark (Terrence Howard).

In fact, Zucko is threatening to break Vincent’s kneecaps if he doesn’t come up with the cash in a couple weeks. Trouble is the miserable misanthrope doesn’t have a friend in the world, unless you count Daka (Naomi Watts), the pregnant prostitute he befriended at a neighborhood strip club. Unfortunately, Vincent can come up with no better solution to his money woes than wagering on long shots at his favorite haunt, Belmont race track.

Meanwhile, he’s also concerned about his wife, Sandy (Donna Mitchell), who’s been suffering from Alzheimer’s for the past eight years. He still visits her regularly at the elderly care facility, despite the fact that she no longer recognizes him.

The last thing you’d think Vincent might need would be a new, next-door neighbor who’s more of a burden than a help. But, that’s just what he gets in Maggie (Melissa McCarthy) a single-mom desperate enough for a babysitter that she’s willing to let him babysit her latchkey kid.

Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher) attends Catholic school where the pint-sized 12 year-old is picked on by bullies. This makes the boy a prime candidate for the sort of toughening Vincent has to offer, lessons on everything from boxing to betting.

Written and directed by Theodore Melfi, St. Vincent is a bittersweet, unlikely-buddies flick which works more in terms of comedy than drama. There’s something a tad unconvincing about the ambitious adventure’s sentimental side.

The film has one glaring flaw, a rushed feeling resulting from the introduction of more plotlines than it has time to develop fully. So, when it asks us to empathize with this or that character’s plight, or to buy into the heartwarming resolution, there’s simply not much of a wellspring of emotion forthcoming.

Nevertheless, St. Vincent does work when going for the joke, especially Bill Murray’s tongue-in-cheek brand of humor. He’s in rare form, here, as an irascible curmudgeon who exhibits an endearing vulnerability for the sake of an at-risk tween in need of a father figure.

Very Good (3 stars)

Rated PG-13 for sexuality, profanity, smoking, mature themes and substance abuse

Running time: 102 minutes

Distributor: The Weinstein Company

To see a trailer for St. Vincent, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r5BVn-eyAxA    

    


Reviews
UserpicGina the Dreamer
Posted by Kam Williams
20.10.2014

Gina Prince-Bythewood
The “Beyond the Lights” Interview
with Kam Williams

 

Born on June 10, 1969, Gina Maria Prince-Bythewood studied film at UCLA before beginning her career as a writer for the TV sitcom, “A Different World.” In 2000, she made a noteworthy directorial debut with the critically-acclaimed Love & Basketball, which netted a dozen accolades during awards season, including a couple of NAACP Image Awards, a BET Award and several Black Reel Awards.

 

Gina’s next feature was The Secret Life of Bees (2008), which also earned its share of trophies, including Image Awards for Best Picture and Best Director. Here, she talks about making her third movie, Beyond the Lights, a romance drama co-starring Gugu Mbata-Raw and Nate Parker.

 

 

Kam Williams: Hi Gina, thanks for the interview. I’m honored to have this opportunity.

Gina Prince-Bythewood: Absolutely! Thank you, Kam.

 

KW: I have to start by asking: Why so long between films?

GPB: Well, I didn’t expect it to take this long. This one took a very long time. I started writing it in 2007. But I stopped to make The Secret Life of Bees, which took up a couple years, before coming back to this. Then, it was another four-year journey between the writing and setting it up. The project was turned down by everybody a couple times. I was fighting, fighting and fighting for it until BET and Relativity finally stepped up. 

 

KW: Beyond the Lights was obviously a labor of love. What was the source of your inspiration for the project?

GPB: A couple things. One, I knew I wanted to write a love story. And I’ve always wanted to write a music film. Some of my favorite films are musicals, like Walk the Line, The Rose and Lady Sings the Blues. I just love the way the music and the story fuel each other. I wanted to do that with Hip-Hop, since it had never been explored before. It was really marrying those two together. The next question was: What’s the story going to be? I was dealing with two things in my life at the time. Someone very close to me had tried to kill themselves, changed their mind halfway through, and was able to get themselves to the hospital, thankfully. Going through that with them, and researching suicide afterwards, I was amazed to learn that 60% of people who succeed at committing suicide try to change their mind. I thought that was a pretty important thing to explore. This character, Noni [played by Gugu Mbata-Raw], if she’d been successful on the balcony attempt, her life would’ve been over at that point. She could not see past all the pain she was feeling but, by having the second chance, she did get to change her life, find her voice and experience true love. I wanted to put out a movie that could let others in a similar position to take a chance know that there might be something positive past the pain. The other inspiration had to do with issues surrounding my finding my birth mother, who was white, and her not being the fantasy I expected, and my realizing what my life would’ve been if I’d grown up with her, in a home where I was loved and hated at the same time. Because I was black, her parents told her to abort me, and would not allow her to have me. I thought that was a fascinating thing to deal with, and served as the basis of Noni’s relationship with her mother [played by Minnie Driver].         

 

KW: So, who were you raised by?

GPB: I was adopted by two amazing people, a Salvadoran mother, and a white father who were incredibly supportive of me and my work. I am eternally grateful for them.

 

KW: Gee, I didn’t know any of that about you. This question is from Thelonious Legend. He says: I recently interviewed your husband [actor/writer/producer/director Reggie Rock Bythewood] and was very impressed with his passion for bringing diversity to film and with his using his talents for a cause bigger than himself. Do you ever feel a pressure from women or minority communities to “do the right thing,” and how does that influence your creative process?

GPB: I don’t feel any pressure because these are the stories I want to tell. People often ask me if I feel discriminated against as a black female director. I don’t. I’m actually offered a ton of stuff. But I only want to direct what I write. And I prefer to focus on black female characters. What’s most important to me is to put characters up onscreen who are not perfect, but who are human and flawed. 

 

KW: Sangeetha Subramanian says: I am a huge fan of Love & Basketball. I was just talking about the film the other day. The trailer for Beyond the Lights looks great, as well. She asks: Has your perspective of women’s struggle of career versus love changed over time?

GPB: [LOL] That’s a great question! Back then, as now, I want us to have it all, love and career. It’s a struggle sometime to achieve that, but I love the struggle.

 

KW: How did you come to cast Gugu in the lead? Did you feel like you were taking a big chance since she’s British and not a singer?

GPB: I found her in the auditions. My original plan was to go with a musical artist, but then I realized I needed an actress, given the depth of what her character goes through. She came in to audition two years ago, and she was phenomenal. I saw the movie when I watched her. She sang “Blackbird” as part of the audition, and she knocked that out of the park, too. After hearing her connection to the material, and her being raised by a single-mother, it became obvious that she was the one. It was a gut thing. I knew that she was a star. She just hadn’t been broken yet. That was exciting for me as a director, to be able to give her that opportunity. As far as Nate [co-star Nate Parker], I’d worked with him before on The Secret Life of Bees, and always felt like he was going to be the next Denzel. So, I’m really hoping that this is the breakout role for him, too. Once I put him and Gugu together, it was crystal clear that these two had amazing chemistry.

 

KW: I thought he also had great chemistry with Alicia Keys in The Secret Life of Bees. So, maybe you deserve a share of the credit for cultivating that between your leads.

GPB: Nate and I have a great trust with each other, and we had these live improvs on both pictures. I sent him and Alicia on a date in character that ended up lasting three hours and really connected them on such a deep level. With Beyond the Lights, we did a live improv early on in the process where I sent Nate and Gugu to a restaurant in character. I secretly told her not to take her sunglasses off. And I whispered to him to get her to take them off. They had no idea. I also hired about 30 paparazzi to show up and swarm all over her. They stayed in character and he protected her. The restaurant had no idea, either. They thought it was all real. That real-life experience bonded them throughout the shooting in a way that just rehearsing never would have.

 

KW: When I saw Love & Basketball, it was with an inner-city, all-black audience that yelled back at the screen. Did you get to see it that way?

GPB: Oh, my goodness! Yes, the very first time I played the film for an audience was at a mall in Crenshaw, so it was very scary. But once folks started talking to the screen, it was fun. It was great that the audience was that engaged.

 

KW: I included funny things people shouted out in my review. Is there any question no one ever asks you, that you wish someone would?

GPB: [Chuckles] Not really.

 

KW: The music maven Heather Covington question: What music have you been listening to? 

GPB: Beyonce’s “Drunken Love,” which came out right when I was in the middle of editing the film. I never thought I’d be able to afford it, so the fact that it ended up in the movie was such a shock to me.  http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B00IM0M72O/ref=nosim/thslfofire-20

 

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

GPB: Gone Girl. http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0307588378/ref=nosim/thslfofire-20

 

KW: What is your favorite dish to cook?

GPB: Salmon with barbecue sauce.

 

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

GPB: [LOL] Wow! I see a wife, a mom and a filmmaker.

 

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

GPB: Honestly, happiness for my children.

 

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?

GPB: I hate to fly. I’m deathly afraid of it. And I keep promising myself to take a fear of flying course because I have to fly around to promote each film, but I still haven’t done it.

 

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?

GPB: I’m much more comfortable at home.

 

KW: If you could have a chance to speak with a deceased love one for a minute who would it be?

GPB: Wow! I would say my Oma, my adoptive grandmother, who was Salvadoran but embraced me instantly despite my being black, and who encouraged my grandfather to follow suit.  

 

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

GPB: I remember standing up in a crib in an empty room. I think it was the first time my parents came to the orphanage to meet me.

 

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

GPB: No, a classic is a classic for a reason. Let’s try to create new classics. The idea of repeating ourselves drives me a little crazy.

 

KW: What advice do you have for anyone who wants to follow in your footsteps?

GPB: Be passionate about your material, because you’re going to have to overcome a lot of “No’s,” and it’s that passion that fuels the fight. So, yeah, be passionate.

 

KW: Thanks again for the time, Gina. Best of luck with the film. Don’t take so long to make your next one. I look forward to speaking to you again in less than six years.

GPB: [LOL] Same here. Thank you very much, Kam. Take care.

To see a trailer for Beyond the Lights, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1rvgJ2WbDsc

    


The Best of Me
Film Review by Kam Williams

The real test of a good tearjerker is whether or not it moves you to tears. And this movie managed to make me cry in spite of myself.

As this film unfolded, I frequently found myself criticizing its considerable structural flaws, from the questionable casting to the farfetched storyline to one humdinger of a reveal. Nevertheless, as the closing credits rolled, I found myself wiping my eyes, a sure sign that this manipulative melodrama calculated to open the floodgates had achieved its goal.

Directed by Michael Hoffman (The Last Station), the picture is loosely based on the Nicholas Sparks best seller of the same name published in 2011. Sparks is the prolific author of 18 romance novels, half of which have been adapted to the big screen, most notably Message in a Bottle and The Notebook, with a couple more already in the works.

Set in Oriental, North Carolina, The Best of Me stars James Marsden and Michelle Monaghan as Dawson Cole and Amanda Collier, former high school sweethearts who haven’t seen each in a couple decades. Strangely, the teenage versions of the very same characters are played in a series of intermittent flashbacks by look-un-likes Luke Bracey and Liana Liberato.

The point of departure is the present, where we learn that Dawson, who never married or attended college, is employed on an oil rig off the coast of Louisiana. He subsequently barely survives a deepwater explosion that blows him off the hundred-foot high platform and turns the Gulf of Mexico into a sea of fire. Meanwhile, miserably married Amanda is living in the lap of luxury in Baton Rouge where she has stuck it out for 18 years with an abusive alcoholic (Sebastian Arcelus) for the sake of their son (Ian Nelson).

Fate brings the two back to their tiny hometown for the funeral of Tuck (Gerald McRaney), a mutual friend with a posthumous agenda. He named them both in his will with the hope of orchestrating a reunion of the star-crossed lovers he considered meant for each other. Sure enough, sparks fly, but will they share more than a one-night stand?  

A syrupy, sentimental soap opera tailor-made for fans of the Nicholas Sparks franchise.

Very Good (3 stars)

Rated PG-13 for sexuality, violence, brief profanity and some drug use

Running time: 117 minutes

Distributor: Relativity Media

To see a trailer for The Best of Me, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mrEvBiqoeRc        

    


Reviews
UserpicOrgasm (BOOK REVIEW)
Posted by Kam Williams
15.10.2014

Orgasm
Photographs & Interviews
by Linda Troeller and Marion Schneider
Book Review by Kam Williams

Daylight Books

Hardcover, $35.00

188 pages, Illustrated

ISBN: 978-0-9897981-3-6

 

Orgasm Book Cover“Due to the repression and shame imposed by patriarchy, we are still at the onset of exploration of female sexuality and eroticism. Not only does this book reveal the power, divinity, originality and necessity of female orgasm, but by giving women agency and voice regarding their sexuality, it becomes a deeply erotic work in itself.

Each woman, a brave sex artist mapping a landscape of pleasure, explosion and mythic delight. The project makes it clear that orgasms not only liberate women’s lives, but can save the world as well.

This book is an orgasm.” 

-- Eve Ensler (page 69)

 

Given America’s Puritanical cultural roots, it’s no surprise that it’s considered déclassé even to mention the female orgasm in polite society. Sure, we might have all laughed at an exasperated Teri Garr joking in the movie Tootsie that “I’m responsible for my orgasm!” Or at that hilarious deli scene from When Harry Met Sally where a matronly patron told her waitress, “I’ll have what she’s having,” after watching Meg Ryan climax while eating a sandwich at an adjoining table.

But other than such humorous asides, the climax is rarely the topic of casual conversation let alone of serious clinical examination. Now, thanks to photographer Linda Troeller and historian Marion Schneider, who in 1998 published “The Erotic Lives of Women,” we have a groundbreaking book blowing the sheets off (pun very much intended) the taboo subject.    

For this collaboration the pair found 25 women of every age and ethnicity and from countries as far apart as Holland, France, Israel, Germany, Colombia, Portugal and the United States who were willing to be photographed while answering questions about a most intimate aspect of their sex lives. They were all asked to recount their first and their most powerful orgasms, as well as their greatest fantasies and what orgasms mean to them.

The responses varied wildly. Co-author Marion describes hers as “the building up of energy focused on a certain point: my vagina” where “the energy buildup becomes so great that… it needs to discharge into the universe.” By contrast, Dragonfly, an African-American, sees hers as “a pleasurable reflex, much like a sneeze or a hiccup, or when you jerk your knee when the doctor hits it with the hammer.” Keren from Israel defines hers as “the release of tension… related to some kind of emotional overflow” after which she feels both “clearer” and “emotionally cleansed.”

An eye-opening project that plunges with abandon into the deep chasm of sexual freedom and sexual identity.

    


Fury
Film Review by Kam Williams

It is April of 1945, and the Allies are making major inroads across the European theater. However, Adolf Hitler has responded to the attrition in the ranks of his army by exhorting women and children to take up arms in a desperate fight to the death.

This is the state of affairs awaiting Don “Wardaddy” Collier (Brad Pitt) when he reaches Germany after engagements in Africa, Belgium and the Netherlands. Sergeant Collier is the commander of a Sherman tank that is part of a battle-hardened armored division being dispatched deep into enemy territory to help deliver the coup de grace to the Nazis.

We meet Wardaddy during a brief pause in the action taken to refuel, to restock ammo and to replace his recently-deceased “best damn gunner in the 9th battalion.” Now, he must make do with Norman Ellison (Logan Lerman), a private with no fighting experience just plucked out of the typing pool.

The other members of Collier’s motley crew include tank driver Trini Garcia (Michael Pena), Bible-thumping Boyd Swan (Shia LaBeouf) and a good ol’ boy who goes by Coon-Ass (Jon Benthal). Their next mission is to rescue some stranded GIs urgently in need of assistance.

But prior to shipping out, Collier wants to make sure his greenhorn is ready for the front. So, he forces him to shoot a captured SS officer in the head to show he has no qualms about killing.

That is the premise established at the outset of Fury, a fairly gruesome adventure written and directed by U.S. Navy veteran David Ayer (Training Day). Fair warning: this is a film you don’t so much watch as endure. Picture the sheer intensity of Saving Private Ryan coupled with the visual capture of The Thin Red Line, the harrowing claustrophobia of Das Boot, and the utter insanity of Apocalypse Now.

Brad Pitt exudes an endearing combination of confidence and charm as a calm leader who proves himself quite capable of generating a genuine camaraderie among his men despite the cramped quarters and constant close brushes of death. Moreover, he exhibits an uncanny ingenuity when forced by circumstances to survive by his wits as their resources dwindle.

The meat grinder that was World War II convincingly portrayed from the point-of-view of a band of brothers who were like sitting ducks stuck in a sardine can.

Excellent (4 stars)

Rated R for sexuality, graphic violence, grisly images and pervasive profanity

In English and German with subtitles

Running time: 134 minutes

Distributor: Columbia Pictures

To see a trailer for Fury, visit:   

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q94n3eWOWXM 

    


Dear White People
Film Review by Kam Williams

The academics are tough enough at Winchester University, a mythical Ivy League institution. It’s too bad that black students there also have to worry about making themselves comfortable socially.         

That’s precisely the predicament we find a quartet of African-American undergrads facing at the point of departure of Dear White People, a sophisticated social satire marking the directorial and scriptwriting debut of Justin Simien. Earlier this year, the thought-provoking dramedy won the Jury Award for Breakthrough Talent at the Sundance Film Festival.  

The picture’s protagonists are as different from each other as night and day. Lionel Higgins (Tyler James Williams) is gay and uncomfortable around his own people because blacks teased him the most about his sexuality back in high school. So, he lives in a predominately-white dorm where he’s ended up being bullied anyway.

Then there’s Troy Fairbanks (Brandon P. Bell), a legacy admission to Winchester courtesy of his father (Dennis Haysbert), an alumnus and the current Dean of Students. Troy’s dating an equally-well connected white girl, Sofia Fletcher (Brittany Curran), the daughter of the school’s President (Peter Syvertsen).

Political activist Samantha White (Tessa Thompson) sits at the other extreme, being a militant sister who lives in the all-black dorm ostensibly serving as a refuge for the “hopelessly Afro-centric.” She also hosts a talk show on the college’s radio school’s station, “Dear White People” where she indicts Caucasians about everything from their racism to their sense of entitlement.  

Finally, we have Coco Conners (Teyonah Parris) who just wants to assimilate into mainstream American culture. In fact, she’s more concerned with whether she might make the cut for the reality-TV show conducting auditions on campus than with challenging the status quo, ala rabble rouser Samantha.

So, the premise is set by establishing that the four lead characters have little in common besides their skin color. And the plot subsequently thickens when Pastiche, a student-run humor publication, decides to throw a Halloween party with an “unleash your inner-Negro” theme.

Now they share the prospect of being stereotyped by white classmates cavorting around in blackface dressed as pimps and gangstas, and as icons like President Obama and Aunt Jemima. En route to a surprising resolution, director Simien pulls a couple of rabbits out of his hat while lacing his dialogue with pithy lines (“Learn to modulate your blackness up or down depending on the crowd and what you want from them.”) and touching on a litany of hot button issues ranging from Affirmative Action to Tyler Perry.

A delightful dissection of the Ivy League that stirs the pot in the way most folks mean when they a call for a national discussion of race. 

Excellent (4 stars)

Rated R for profanity, ethnic and sexual preference slurs, sexuality and drug use

Running time: 106 minutes

Distributor: Roadside Attractions

To see a trailer for Dear White People, visit:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JMgWMzbM2Pk

    


Reviews
UserpicThe Judge (FILM REVIEW)
Posted by Kam Williams
09.10.2014

The Judge

Film Review by Kam Williams

 

Downey and Duvall Square-Off in Character-Driven Courtroom Drama

Hank Palmer (Robert Downey, Jr.) is a very successful, criminal defense attorney with a good reason to hide his humble roots. After all, he was a rebellious kid who frequently landed in trouble with the law while growing up in tiny Carlinville, Indiana.

That juvenile delinquency only served to alienate him from his father, Joseph (Robert Duvall), who just happened to be the town’s only judge. In addition, one of Hank’s more egregious missteps left him permanently estranged from his older brother, Glen (Vincent D’Onofrio). And since their only other sibling, Dale (Jeremy Palmer), was mentally handicapped, Hank hadn’t been back in ages when he received word that his mother (Catherine Cummings) had died.

So, he only planned to make a perfunctory appearance at the funeral before quickly returning to Chicago where he had his hands full, between his high-flying career and a custody battle with his estranged wife (Sarah Lancaster) over their young daughter (Emma Tremblay). However, everything changes when Judge Palmer is suddenly arrested in the hit-and-run killing of a creepy convict (Mark Kiely) he’d publicly castigated in court before releasing back onto the street.

This shocking development conveniently forces Hank to stick around to represent his father, and simultaneously affords him the opportunity to mend a few fences. Plus, it gives him time to unwittingly seduce a woman he meets in a bar (Leighton Meester), who is not only the daughter of his high school sweetheart (Vera Farmiga), but might be the love child he never knew he had.     

Thus unfolds The Judge, a character-driven drama which is half-whodunit, half-kitchen sink soap opera that pulls another rabbit out of the hat every five minutes or so. A potentially farcical film remains rather well grounded thanks to Robert Duvall who plays the Palmer family patriarch with a sobering, stone cold gravitas.         

Both Robert Downey, Jr. and Billy Bob Thornton turn in inspired performances, too, as the opposing attorneys matching wits in a classic courtroom showdown. And the rest of the ensemble more than holds their own as well in service of a script that has a tendency to strain credulity.

A fanciful, thoroughly-modern variation on the parable of the Prodigal Son!

Excellent (3.5 stars)

Rated R for profanity and sexual references

Running time: 141 minutes

Distributor: Warner Brothers

To see a trailer for The Judge, visit:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7TA5Y86yAo4

    


Reviews
UserpicKill the Messenger (FILM REVIEW)
Posted by Kam Williams
05.10.2014

Kill the Messenger

Film Review by Kam Williams

 

Jeremy Renner Riveting in True Tale as Intrepid Investigative Journalist

            In August of 1996, the San Jose Mercury News published an eye-opening expose’ detailing exactly how the Central Intelligence Agency had orchestrated the importation of crack cocaine from Nicaragua as well as its distribution in the black community of South Central Los Angeles. Entitled “Dark Alliance,” the 20,000-word series was written by Gary Webb (Jeremy Renner), an investigative journalist who’d risked life and limb to release the incendiary information.

For, in the midst of conducting his research, he had been asked “Do you have a family?” by a CIA operative trying to intimidate him into killing the article. The spy agency was ostensibly determined to suppress any facts which might shed light on its covert dealings with the Contras, the rebels attempting to topple the government of Nicaragua.

But Webb, already a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter, would not be intimidated and went with the piece. And even though he had supported his shocking allegations with declassified documents obtained via the Freedom of Information Act, the Establishment secretly enlisted the assistance of the New York Times, the Washington Post and the L.A. Times to discredit him.

These prominent papers pooh-poohed the very notion that the CIA could possibly be behind the dissemination of crack in the inner-city. Nevertheless, “Dark Alliance” became the biggest story of the year, especially among African-Americans, many of whom surfed the internet for the first time in order to read the damning report.    

Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-CA) took to the floor to warn that “Somebody’s going to have to pay for what they have done to my people.” Yet, the revelations seemed to take the greatest toll on Gary Webb, who lost his good name, his job, his career, his home, and even the love of his wife (Rosemarie DeWitt ) in due course.

This shameful chapter in American history is the subject of Kill the Messenger, a sobering biopic directed by Michael Cuesta and starring Jeremy Renner. The film features an A-list cast also including Ray Liotta, Barry Pepper, Tim Blake Nelson, Andy Garcia, Oliver Platt, Michael Sheen, Robert Patrick and Paz Vega.

However, make no mistake, this riveting thriller is a Renner vehicle, and the two-time Academy Award-nominee (for The Hurt Locker and The Town) delivers another Oscar-quality performance as a family man/respected writer slowly turned into a paranoid soul haunted by demons and hunted by Machiavellian mercenaries drunk with power.

 A cautionary tale about what might easily transpire whenever the Fourth Estate is willing to serve as the Fifth Column rather than as a government watchdog.

Excellent (4 stars)

Rated R for profanity and drug use

Running time: 112 minutes

Distributor: Focus Features

To see a trailer for Kill the Messenger, visit: 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2N2nuDtJX0M

    


Reviews
UserpicOne Chance (FILM REVIEW)
Posted by Kam Williams
04.10.2014

One Chance

Film Review by Kam Williams

 

Overcoming-the-Odds Biopic Recounts Rise of Aspiring Opera Singer

For as long as Paul Potts (James Corden) can remember, all he every wanted to do was sing. Blessed with a big voice, the chubby boy sang everywhere as a child, whether in the shower, walking down the street, riding the school bus, or in the church choir.

Sadly, this inclination didn’t sit well with the ruffians of Port Talbot, the blue-collar town where Paul was raised. The more he sang, the more they would bully him, and vice-versa.

Fast-forward to 2004 where we find Paul, at 34, pursuing the pipe dream of an opera career and still living at home with his supportive mom (Julie Walters) and skeptical dad (Colm Meaney). Meanwhile, he’s taken a job as a cell phone salesman in order to save up enough money for a master class in Venice with the legendary Luciano Pavarotti (Stanley Townsend). And he is lucky to have an understanding girlfriend in Julz (Alexandra Roach), a portly pepperpot he met over the internet.  

Thus unfolds One Chance, a delightful musical dramedy directed by Oscar-winner David Frankel (Dear Diary), best known for The Devil Wears Prada. Here, the Native New Yorker has fashioned an overcoming-the-odds biopic revolving around Potts’ real-life exploits as a contestant on the TV show “Britain’s Got Talent.”

The film feels a lot like The Full Monty (striptease) and Billy Elliot (ballet) in terms of the protagonist’s pursuit of an unconventional art form. However, it also is evocative of Notting Hill and Four Weddings and a Funeral in the way it wins your heart via a charming courtship.

A touching, true tale chronicling a talented troubadour’s televised triumphs.

Excellent (4 stars)

Rated PG-13 for profanity and sexuality

In English and Italian with subtitles

Running time: 103 minutes

Distributor: The Weinstein Company

To see a trailer for One Chance, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1wtq5hN2eOE

    


Reviews
UserpicPlastic (FILM REVIEW)
Posted by Kam Williams
28.09.2014

Plastic

Film Review by Kam Williams

 

Brit Hackers Hustle Gangster in High Octane, High Body Count Heist

            Sometimes, a film unfolds so fast and furiously that it’s hard to keep score. Such is the case with Plastic, a high-octane, high body count affair following the antics of a stolen credit card ring run by a brilliant and brazen computer hacker named Sam (Ed Speelers).

The movie opens with one of those “Based on a True Story” (google Saq Mumtaz) which might mean that what you’re about to see is the cinematic culmination of painstakingly-researched historical fact. However, it’s could just as easily be serving as a disclaimer designed to sucker you into believing a farfetched story since, well, somebody once said it happened.

I suspect that this tall tale belongs in the latter category. Regardless, I suppose all that matters in the end is whether the picture has any entertainment value. Plastic does throw a lot of testosterone-directed gore and sensuality at you, but not much for anyone outside of the eroticized violence demographic.

The fun starts when the gang of four steals the identity of Marcel (Thomas Kretschmann) to the tune of a couple hundred thousand pounds. Boy, does this sadistic gangster know how to hold a grudge. Soon enough, he turns the tables and has the college student punks promising to pay him back ten times the amount they stole, plus interest. 

 High-stylized piffle designed to titillate and satiate bloodlust while slowly turning your brain to mush! 

Fair (1 star)

Rated R for sexuality, nudity, drug use, graphic violence and pervasive profanity 

Running time: 102 minutes

Distributor: Arc Entertainment

To see a trailer for Plastic, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y6qJU5VtIVg       

    


Reviews
UserpicAdvanced Style (FILM REVIEW)
Posted by Kam Williams
27.09.2014

Advance Style

Film Review by Kam Williams

 

Iconoclastic Doc Focuses Lens on Ageless Fashion Plates

We live in a culture which unfortunately equates beauty with youth. Why else are so many women to make a joke of their own faces so long as the skin remains as tight as a ten year old’s? As the late Joan Rivers, a big fan of cosmetic surgery, might ask: Can we talk?

For, flying in the face of this conventional wisdom is Ari Seth Cohen, a street photographer who roams around Manhattan looking for flamboyant elderly females to capture with his camera. He even has a blog, Advanced Style (http://advancedstyle.blogspot.com/) dedicated to portraits of these classy ladies ranging in age from 60 to 95.

The website generated so much interest that we now have Advanced Style, the movie, a documentary featuring some of his most attractive subjects. The picture marks the “Fabulous!” directorial of Lina Plioplyte who makes quite the splash simply by shedding light on seven, ageless fashion plates.

There’s Jackie Tajah Murdock, 81, who was a dancer at the Apollo during the famed theater’s heydays, and Lynn Dell Cohen, 80, the self-proclaimed “Countess of Glamour.” The baby of the group is Tziporah Salamon, 62 who rides around the city on a pimped-out bicycle. And at the other extreme we have the group’s elder stateswoman, Zelda Kaplan, 95, who has a good sense of humor about being a little addlepated.

Rounding out the crew are Ilona Royce Smithkin, 93; Joyce Carpati, 80; and Deborah Rapoport, 67. What they all seem to share is an infectious zest for life and for looking their best that they can’t help but share with anyone they meet. Ostensibly for the sake of a plot, the picture inexorably works its way to the ladies being feted, whether they’re landing a contract with Lanvin, making an appearance on Ricki Lake’s TV talk show, or just strutting their stuff during Fashion Week.

But it all seems secondary to the obvious fact that natural aging lines can look every bit as good if not better than Botox and face lifts. The best antidote around to America’s unhealthy obsession with youth!

Excellent (3.5 stars)

Unrated

Running time: 72 minutes

Distributor: Bond360

To see a trailer for Advanced Style, visit:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NX46yvihOGU

    


Believe Me
Film Review by Kam Williams        

Even though I was raised in the church and attended services religiously as a child, I was simultaneously warned by my skeptical grandmother that sometimes, “The closer supposedly to Christ, the further from God.” That sage old saying came to mind while watching Believe Me, an intriguing modern morality play written and directed by Will Bakke (Beware of Christians).

The story revolves around the ethical issues confronting Sam Atwell (Alex Russell), a law school-bound college senior, or at least he thought. Trouble is, his parents suddenly can’t afford to pay his final semester’s tuition which means he won’t be able to graduate on time or continue his education the following fall.

This is the predicament we find the handsome upperclassman facing at the picture’s point of departure, a time when he’d really rather be hazing pledges to his fraternity and hooking up with cute coeds he meets at keg parties. And after a futile visit with the unsympathetic school dean (Nick Offerman), Sam knows he simply has to come up with the $9,000 somehow, if he wants to get that degree in June.

Thinking outside the box, he concocts an elaborate scheme to separate gullible Evangelicals from their cash, figuring them to be a soft touch. So, he enlists the assistance of a few of his frat brothers in the nefarious endeavor, namely, Pierce (Miles Fisher), Tyler (Sinqua Wells) and Baker (Max Adler).

The plan is to prevail upon Born Again congregations by posing as a Christian charity assisting needy children in Africa. In due course, Sam proves to be such a good pitchman that the money starts flooding in.

That development is not lost on Ken (Christopher McDonald), a faith-oriented entrepreneur who offers to help take the boys’ burgeoning business to the next level. Soon, as the God Squad, they’re on the prayer meeting tent circuit and selling a Christian clothing line called Cross Dressing that includes “F-Satan” t-shirts and the like.

However, the sinful scheme begins to unravel when they have no place to send a kid (Chester Rushing) who wants to do missionary work with them in Lesotho. And the moment of truth arrives when the pretty tour coordinator (Johanna Braddy) Sam’s just started dating is given proof by a colleague (Zachary Knighton) that her new beau is a big fraud.

At this juncture, the jig is essentially up, whether or not the arrogant co-conspirators are too blinded by a combination of cynicism and greed to confess to the crime. After all, they’d taken such glee in exploiting foolish followers of Christ by strategically faking everything from appropriately-pious poses to the right religious buzzwords.

A thought-provoking, faith-based parable asking whether it’s ever too late to make a second impression, especially on God.

Excellent (4 stars)

Rated PG-13 for profanity

Running time: 93 minutes

Studio: Riot Studios / Lascaux Films

Distributor: Headline Features / Gravitas Features

To see a trailer for Believe Me, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=emdGSSHujyo   

    


Reviews
UserpicAn Obama's Journey (BOOK REVIEW)
Posted by Kam Williams
25.09.2014

An Obama's Journey

My Odyssey of Self-Discovery across Three Cultures

by Mark Obama Ndesandjo

Book Review by Kam Williams

 

Globe Pequot Press

Hardcover, $25.95

392 pages

ISBN: 978-1-4930-0751-6

 

“’My family will hate me for this book, baby,’ I explained [to my wife]. She hugged me and assured me they would not, while no doubt sensing I was right.

Later that day in Beijing, my brother replied to an interviewer’s question about our meeting: ‘I don’t know him very well. I met him for the first time only two years ago.’

Hearing myself referred to in the third person like that felt surreal… The pain in my heart disregarded any logic or excuse. After all, I had met him a number of times before…

At that moment, my brother scared me… He had become not my brother, but the President of the United States. This was the politicking Barack, in the media spotlight where politicians perform every day.

I’d thought there might be something about our family tie that would override the carefully bland, ready response, but the dismissive words were spoken… How naïve I had been.”  

-- Excerpted from the Prelude (pages xiv-xv)

 

President Obama barely knew the biological father who separated from his mother while he was still an infant. In fact, he only saw his dad once ever again, and that was during a brief visit to Hawaii in 1971.

By contrast, his half-brother, Mark Obama Ndesandjo, was in a far better position to take a measure of the man, given how he had spent his formative years with Barack, Sr. So, it would make sense that Barack might consult his younger sibling while conducting research in Kenya about their dad for a book during the summer of 1988.  

When they met, Mark matter-of-factly offered that, “He was a drunk, he beat my mother and us kids.” Nevertheless, Barack would wax romantic about his absentee parent in “Dreams from My Father,” painting a relatively-benign portrait that bears little resemblance to the womanizing, wife-beating alcoholic revealed in Mark’s own new autobiography.

An Obama’s Journey is a jaw-dropping memoir which casts a pall not only over Barack, Sr. but over Barack as well. In it, Mark calls his brother “a stuck-up asshole” and an “arrogant bastard” with a cold demeanor. Perhaps more chilling is his description of a “darker, more insidious presence that was as much a part of him as his DNA.”

That almost demonic side of Barack apparently came to the fore when he lied so cavalierly to the press about Mark, minimizing how long the two had known each other, ostensibly for purely political purposes. Mark felt hurt by this display of callousness reminiscent of how the President had similarly thrown Reverend Wright, the pastor of the church where he’d married and worshipped for 20 years, under the bus when it was expedient for his career to do so.

 Lesser character flaws highlighted here include “the faint smell of cigarettes” Mark detected upon meeting the President in Beijing at a time when he supposedly had kicked the habit. He also felt insulted when his brother stuck out a hand rather than hug him at that reunion.     

In spite of all of the above, Mark loves his brother dearly. After all, they have far more in common than their differences. Besides the same father, they both come from broken families, have white American mothers, brilliant minds, and attended Ivy League schools.

But I digress. For this tome has a larger purpose, and the trajectory of Mark’s own life is no mere footnote to that of the first African-American President. Rather it is fascinating in its own right, a riveting transcontinental tale of survival, accomplishment, adjustment, transformation and, ultimately, triumph taking the reader from Africa to America to China and back.

Lucky for us, the author happens to be blessed with a refreshingly-unguarded honest and introspective nature which in combination with a wonderful a way with words add up to a must-read regardless of how you feel about his very famous sibling.

To order a copy of An Obama's Journey, visit:

http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1493007513/ref%3dnosim/thslfofire-20

    


American Masters: The Boomer List
PBS-TV Review by Kam Williams

The United States witnessed a population explosion in the wake of World War II which came to be called the Baby Boom. Stretching from 1946 to 1964, the period was marked in such a surge of live births that by the time it ended 4 out of 10 Americans were under the age of 20.

This year, the youngest members of the massive generation are turning 50, a development that was not lost on Timothy Greenfield-Sanders, director of a trio of award-winning documentaries: The Black List, The Latino List and The Out List. And with about 8,000 now retiring a day, Timothy decided to mark the milestone by making a film recognizing the contributions of cultural icons, one born in each year of the Baby Boom.

Among the subjects of the show is best-selling novelist Amy Tan, author of The Joy Luck Club, who was born in my year, 1952. At the age of 15, she was deeply affected by the loss of her father and a brother a half-dozen months apart. Here, she reflects upon how she felt abandoned by her dad.

She also talks about what it was like growing up Chinese-American. Sadly, she recalls that, as a teenager, “I felt that I didn’t have dates because I was ugly, and that I was ugly because I was Chinese.” Unfortunately, that insecurity about her appearance was only reinforced by a mother who told Amy she wasn’t beautiful and to work hard in school since she’d “never get by in the world on her looks.”

She admits to actually having felt shame about her ethnicity, which she overcame in college with the help of Black Studies courses. Since there weren’t any in Asian-American Literature at her school, she felt drawn to African-American Literature since it appreciated alternative aesthetics to the mainstream. The world is grateful that she was in turn inspired to write fiction, which she sees as a way of meditating on a question.   

Other luminaries representing their respective years are Deepak Chopra (1947), Samuel L. Jackson (1948), Billy Joel (1949), Maria Shriver (1955) and Erin Brockovich (1960), to name a few. A poignant collection of personal remembrances amounting to a profound tribute to a memorable American era.          

Excellent (4 stars)

Rated TV-PG

Running time: 90 minutes

Studio: Perfect Day Films

Distributor: PBS

The Boomer List premieres on PBS from 9-10:30 PM ET/PT on Tuesday, September 23rd (check local listings)

To see a trailer for The Boomer List, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jz0icyUEQtc

    


Reviews
UserpicDenzel Does Vigilante in Adaptation of Eighties TV Series
Posted by Kam Williams
20.09.2014

The Equalizer
Film Review by Kam Williams

On the surface, Robert McCall (Denzel Washington) is a perfectly-pleasant, hail fellow well met. By day, the affable widower is employed as a sales associate at a hardware superstore where he jokes with co-workers who call him “Pops.” Evenings, he retires to a modest apartment in a working-class, Boston community, although bouts of insomnia often have him descending to a nearby diner to read a book into the wee hours of the morning.

The dingy joint looks a lot like the dive depicted by Edward Hopper in the classic painting “Nighthawks.” Among the seedy haunt’s habitués is Teri (Chloe Grace Moretz), a provocatively-dressed prostitute who hangs out there between clients.

Robert takes a personal interest in the troubled teen, a recent immigrant whose real name is Alina. He soon learns that she’d rather be pursuing a musical career than sleeping with stranger after stranger. Trouble is she’s under the thumb of Slavi (David Meunier), a sadistic pimp who’ll stop at nothing to keep a whore in check.

A critical moment arrives the night she arrives in the restaurant and hands Robert her new demo tape while trying to hide a black eye. But he becomes less interested in the CD than in the whereabouts of the creep who gave her the shiner.

What neither Teri nor anybody else in town knows is that Robert’s a retired spy who had cultivated the proverbial set of deadly skills over the course of his career. At this juncture, the mild-mannered retiree reluctantly morphs into an anonymous vigilante more than willing to dole out a bloody brand of street justice on behalf of Teri and other vulnerable crime victims with seemingly no recourse.

Thus unfolds The Equalizer, a riveting, relatively-gruesome adaptation of the popular, 1980s TV-series. Directed by Antoine Fuqua, this version is actually more reminiscent of Death Wish (1974), as this picture’s protagonist behaves less like the television show’s British gentleman than the brutal avenging angel portrayed on the big screen by Charles Bronson.

Considerable credit must go to Oscar-winner Mauro Fiore’s (Avatar) visually-captivating cinematography for capturing Boston in a way which is somehow both stylish and haunting. Nevertheless, the eye-pleasing panoramas simply serve as a backdrop for Denzel who is even better here than in his Oscar-winning collaboration with Fuqua for Training Day.

Revenge as a dish best served cold by a sleep-deprived, diner patron equalizer!  

Excellent (4 stars)

Rated R for graphic violence, sexual references and pervasive profanity

In English and Russian with subtitles

Running time: 131 minutes

Distributor: Sony Pictures

To see a trailer for The Equalizer, visit:   

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BP_FwE0Z7no

    


Reviews
UserpicEye-Opening Expose’ Explores America’s Addiction to Oil
Posted by Kam Williams
19.09.2014

Pump
Film Review by Kam Williams

Why is the price of gasoline in the Untied States so artificially high? Much of the explanation lies in a corporate conspiracy to deny us access to alternative fuel sources. A few years ago, the documentary “Who Killed the Electric Car?” illustrated how the auto industry had successfully lobbied politicians to discourage its development.

Now, this eye-opening expose’ shows how big oil has conspired to deny Americans fuel choice for the past century. This state of affairs has persisted in the face of a Supreme Court decision which forced John D. Rockefeller to break up the Standard Oil Company by declaring it a monopoly way back in 1911.

What alternative fuels might a car run on? Well, besides electricity, there’s solar power, methanol, ethanol and hydrogen, to name a few. Who knows what other new ideas might have been encouraged if Congress hadn’t discouraged development of competing energy options by granting the gas-guzzling car manufacturers a stranglehold on research and development via tax breaks and other measures.

This wholesale sellout of the American public is the subject of Pump, an eye-opening expose’ co-directed by Joshua and Rebecca Harrell Tickell. It is the husband-and-wife team’s sobering thesis that, “We have to come to grips with the fact that this is the end of the Oil Age.”

What more proof do you need than the sight of the devastation visited upon Detroit, a latter-day ghost town where, “the hope of the average person for a better life has disappeared” in the wake of its being abandoned by the car conglomerates for greener pastures? And the Motor City might just be the tip of the iceberg, if you believe the dire warnings issued intermittently during this powerful documentary by John Hofmeister, the former President of Shell Oil.

Today, as founder of Citizens for Affordable Energy, he indicts an unnecessary addiction to oil as the root cause of everything from political instability and war to climate change and environmental crises. His organization’s aim? A simple one, merely to make fuel choice a viable reality.

Food for thought the next time you cavalierly instruct the gas station attendant to “Fill ‘er up!”

Excellent (4 stars)

Rated PG for mature themes 

Running time: 88 minutes

Distributor: Submarine Deluxe

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

    


Take Me to the River
Film Review by Kam Williams

A lot of great soul music came out of Memphis in the Sixties and early Seventies. Stax Records launched the careers of acts like Otis Redding, Isaac Hayes and Booker T. and the MGs while its cross-town rival Hi Records had Al Green, Ann Peebles and O.V. Wright. Take Me to the River is a reverential retrospective which is a combination tribute to the city’s impressive legacy and a tip of the cap to some up-and-coming artists still recording in the region.

The movie marks the directorial debut of Martin Shore, who tapped Terrence Howard to narrate the documentary. The Oscar-nominated actor also raps and sings in the picture which features the reflections of hip-hop icon Snoop Dogg who pays tributes to the trailblazers that paved the way for him.

But what makes the movie worth its while is hearing such soul greats as Booker T., Mavis Staples, David Porter and Charlie Musselwhite wax romantic about the good ole days. We learn that the bands were often integrated at a time the rest of Memphis was still strictly segregated.

Some of the reminiscing relates how the local cops would deliberately profile and harass them as they exited the studio after late-night sessions, being not only racist but jealous of the groups’ newfound fame and fortune. We also hear about how the assassination of Martin Luther King in Memphis cast a pall over the entire town that ultimately took a toll on the music business, too. Stax executive Al Bell refers to his company’s early demise as an economic lynching.

An overdue homage to a city that for close to a decade was home to the second largest black business in America.   

Very Good (3 stars)

Rated PG for smoking, mild epithets and mature themes

Running time: 98 minutes

Distributor: Abramorama

To see a trailer for Take Me to the River, visit:

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

    


Hector and the Search for Happiness
Film Review by Kam Williams

Hector (Simon Pegg) is a funny duck, as they say. The eccentric neat freak is lucky to have a gorgeous girlfriend like Clara (Rosamund Pike) who’s willing to put up with his odd requests, such as arranging everything in perfect order, from his socks to his sandwiches. He’s even more fortunate to have a thriving psychiatric practice, given the barely-contained contempt he routinely exhibits for the folks lying on his couch.

A moment of truth arrives the day one of them (Veronica Ferres) finally summons up the courage to tell him to his face that he’s transparent, inauthentic, and just going through the motions. Conceding that he’s become so jaded that he isn’t helping his equally-miserable patients anymore, Hector decides to embark solo on a globe-spanning, spiritual quest for the fulfillment that has somehow escaped him.

After all, how could he not have joy, when surrounded by all the trappings of success? Hector’s plans have Clara concerned about whether the relationship is on shaky ground, since she’s been reluctant to start a family and she’s also aware that he has an ex (Toni Collette) in the U.S. he still cares about.

Unfolding like the alpha male answer to Eat Pray Love (2010), Hector and the Search for Happiness is an alternately introspective and action-oriented travelogue played mostly for laughs. Simon Pegg exhibits an endlessly-endearing naïvete as the peripatetic protagonist, whether misreading the flirtations of a prostitute (Ming Zhao) in China or taking a while to realize that his cab has been carjacked by the underlings of an African crime boss (Akin Omotoso).

Such perils notwithstanding, our intrepid hero persists in posing his pressing question “What is happiness?” at each port-of-call as he circumnavigates the globe. Taking copious notes on a writing pad, he records the answers he receives, like “Being loved for who you are,” “Answering your calling,” and “Feeling completely alive.”

Eventually, Hector experiences that elusive “Eureka!” epiphany he needs so dearly, which allows him to rush home revitalized to Clara and a career and clients who might not be so annoying after all. A feel-good meditation on the meaning of life, guaranteed to leave you counting your many blessings as you walk up the aisle.

Excellent (4 stars)

Rated R for profanity and brief nudity

In English, French and German with subtitles

Running time: 114 minutes

Distributor: Relativity Media

To see a trailer for Hector and the Search for Happiness, visit

    


The Roosevelts: An Intimate History
Film Review by Kam Williams

Between Theodore (1901-1909) and Franklin (1933-1945), a Roosevelt was in the White House for 20 years of the 20th Century. It is not surprising, then, that they, in conjunction with FDR’s wife Eleanor, would reshape not only Americans’ relationship with the federal government but even the U.S.’ own standing in the rest of the world.

You probably think of Teddy as the tough-talking President whose foreign policy was reduced to, “Walk softly and carry a big stick!” And his cousin Franklin had his own iconic catchphrase, namely, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself!” which was generally credited for buoying the country’s spirits during the Great Depression.

Meanwhile, Eleanor might be best remembered for having publicly resigned from the Daughters of the American Revolution when the organization prevented Marian Anderson from staging a concert at Constitution Hall in Washington, DC because of her skin color. The First Lady subsequently took it upon herself to invite the snubbed opera singer to perform both at the White House (the first black ever to do so there) and on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on Easter Sunday in front of  a crowd of 75,000.

What you might not know is that Eleanor Roosevelt was a staunch African-American advocate who insisted that housing, employment and equal education were basic human rights that this society had a moral obligation to provide to all its citizens. Fortunately, Ken Burns 14-hour series, The Roosevelts, fully fleshes out Eleanor, FDR and Teddy into the complex human beings they really were, including their triumphs, their transformations, their flaws, and their failings.

For example, we see how Franklin suffered from polio for most of his adult life, and how he went to great lengths to hide from the nation the toll the debilitating affliction was taking on his body. Covering over a century, from Theodore’s birth in 1858 to Eleanor’s death in 1962, this revealing biopic paints a fascinating portrait, not to be missed, of perhaps America’s most influential political dynasty.

 

Excellent (4 stars)

Rated TV-PG

Running time: 14 hours

Studio: Florentine Films

Distributor: PBS

The Roosevelts airs on PBS from 8-10 PM ET/PT from Sunday, September 14th through Saturday September 20th (check local listings)

To see a trailer for The Roosevelts: An Intimate History, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tcmGpZppPwA

To order a copy of The Roosevelts on DVD, visit: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B00JKJ0XJU/ref%3dnosim/thslfofire-20

DVD Extras: 13 bonus videos; The Making of The Roosevelts; and deleted scenes with an introduction by Ken Burns.  

    


This Is Where I Leave You
Film Review by Kam Williams

When Mort Altman (Will Swenson) passes away, his children return home reasonably expecting to remain in town briefly. After all, despite being raised Jewish, they have no reason to expect to sit shiva, since their dad was an avowed atheist and their psychologist mom (Jane Fonda) is a gentile.

However, after the funeral, Hillary Altman informs her offspring of the dearly-departed’s dying wish that they mourn him for a week in accordance with religious tradition. And then, she announces that they’ve all just been grounded for seven days, as if they’re still children.

This development doesn’t sit well with any of the siblings, since they don’t get along and this is the first time they’ve all been sleeping under the same roof in ages. Furthermore, their dad’s death couldn’t have come at a more inopportune moment, since each is in the midst of a midlife crisis.

Judd (Jason Bateman) has just learned that his wife (Abigail Spencer) is having an affair with his boss (Dax Shepard). Meanwhile, brother Paul’s (Corey Stoll) marriage is in jeopardy because his wife’s (Kathryn Hahn) biological clock is ticking very loudly but she’s been unable to get pregnant.

Then there’s playboy baby brother, Philip (Adam Driver), a narcissist with unresolved oedipal issues, judging by the fact that he’s dating a shrink (Connie Britton) old enough to be his mother. He’s such a self-indulgent womanizer, he doesn’t think twice about shamelessly flirting with an old flame (Carly Brooke Pearlstein) right in front of his mortified girlfriend.

Finally, we have only-sister Wendy (Tina Fey). Superficially, she seems to be the most stable of the four as a doting mother of two with a devoted, if emotionally distant, husband (Aaron Lazar) who at least is a great provider.

Barry’s obsession with his career on Wall Street has come at the cost of preserving the passion and intimacy in the relationship. So, the last thing Wendy needs now is the temptation of a duplicitous dalliance being dangled in front of her eyes in the form of Horry (Timothy Olyphant). However, her hunky high school sweetheart is still single, still in shape, and still right across the street, even if he’s brain-damaged and lives with his mother (Debra Monk).

All of these sticky situations serve primarily as fodder for a sophisticated brand of humor in This Is Where I Leave You, an alternately droll and laugh out loud dramedy directed by Shawn Levy (Date Night). Adroitly adapted to the screen by Jonathan Tropper, author of the best seller of the same name, this relentlessly-witty film features some of the funniest repartee around as it simultaneously explores a laundry list of sobering themes ranging from religion and mortality to love and betrayal.

A character-driven examination of a dysfunctional Jewish family about as wacky as they come.

Excellent (4 stars)

Rated R for profanity, sexuality and drug use

Running time: 103 minutes

Distributor: Warner Brothers

To see a trailer for This Is Where I Leave You, visit

    


No Good Deed
Film Review by Kam Williams

It is usually a bad sign when a movie studio decides not to preview a picture for film critics. In the case of No Good Deed, Screen Gems claimed that it was refraining from doing so in order to prevent the spoiling of a surprising plot twist. Well, the butler did it! (Just kidding.)

Skeptical, I had to wait until opening day to see it. And while the movie is by no means a masterpiece, I’m happy to report that it’s nevertheless a tautly-wound nail-biter which keeps you on the edge of your seat from beginning to end. And yes, there is a humdinger of a revelation during the denouement, not a totally preposterous development but rather a plausible one which was merely cleverly-concealed.

The movie marks the theatrical directorial debut of Sam Miller, who is best known for Luther, the brilliant BBC-TV series featuring Idris Elba in the title role for which he won a Golden Globe in 2012. The two collaborate again here, with Idris playing Colin Evans, a serial killer who, at the point of departure, slays a couple of prison guards during a daring escape from a Tennessee prison.

He makes his way to his girlfriend Alexis’ (Kate del Castillo) house in Atlanta only to murder her, too, when he learns she’s already involved with another man. Colin remains so blinded with rage as he drives away that he crashes his stolen car into a tree along a suburban country road.

He subsequently knocks on the door of Terri Granger (Taraji P. Henson), an attorney-turned-stay at home mom whose husband (Henry Simmons) has conveniently just left town with his father away for a weekend golf getaway. Against the former prosecutor’s better judgment, she lets the tall, dark and handsome stranger enter the house, and it isn’t long before there’s trouble in paradise.

After all as the proverb suggested by the title warns, “No good deed goes unpunished.” Accordingly, Terri and her two young kids find themselves in the clutches of a desperate maniac until the protective mother’s maternal and survival instincts kick into high gear.

No Good Deed was ostensibly inspired by The Desperate Hours, a suspiciously-similar Broadway play starring Paul Newman which was first adapted to the big screen in 1955 starring Humphrey Bogart, and remade in 1990 with Sir Anthony Hopkins. Thanks to Mr. Elba’s menacing intensity, a potentially mediocre variation on the theme ends up elevated into a tension-filled gutwrencher his loyal fans won’t want to miss.

The urban-oriented audience at the screening I attended talked back at the screen a lot in the way that engaged black folks do, and they even applauded heartily as the closing credits rolled, surefire signs that the studio has a hit on its hands, conventional critics notwithstanding.

Very Good (3 stars)

Rated PG-13 for violence and profanity

Running time: 84 minutes

Distributor: Screen Gems

To see a trailer for No Good Deed, visit: 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G5VeowxERwM    

    


I Am Eleven
Film Review by Kam Williams

11 is that awkward age when most boys are bashful and self-conscious about their cracking voices while the girls are gangly and getting their first period. If you’re wondering what today’s kids are thinking about as they negotiate their way through that stage of life, you can easily find out from I Am Eleven, a delightful documentary marking the directorial debut of Genevieve Bailey.

The peripatetic Australian circumnavigated the globe to talk to children about everything from family to teasing to romance to war to intolerance to poverty to nature to their hopes for the future. Ms. Bailey found 22 young subjects to focus on over the course of her travels which took her to 15 countries.

Art Linketter coined the phrase, “Kids say the darnedest things,” ages ago and that hasn’t changed much, judging from the quotable bon mots served up in this film. Among the movie’s stars are Remi, an introspective boy from France who doesn’t mince words. “I don’t like racists,” he announces sternly, adding, “To know that there are still some people who differentiate between humans depending on race, that’s completely absurd.”

Relatively-innocent, but equally-endearing, is Remya, an orphan from India who freely admits that she didn’t even know what an interview was before being approached to participate in the project. In fact, Bailey is the first foreigner she ever met. Nevertheless, it doesn’t take long for the vulnerable waif to open up how she feels hurt whenever “someone is bullying me or shouting at me or telling lies about me.”

One adolescent I found particularly fascinating was Jack, an elephant whisperer from Thailand. He explains how the behemoths he works with are capable of healing. “Elephants can change the chemicals in your brain,” he suggests matter-of factly. “If you have a headache, all you’ve got to do is put your head to an elephant’s head and, within seconds, your headache just goes away.”

Pearls of wisdom from the mouths of babes uttered with such heartfelt conviction that you want to believe them, even when you’re a little skeptical.

Excellent (4 stars)

Unrated

In English, French, Japanese, Mandarin, German, Swedish, Berber, Thai, Malayalam, Hindi, Dutch and Bulgarian with subtitles.

Running time: 94 minutes

Distributor: International Film Circuit

To see a trailer for I Am Eleven, visit

    


Wetlands
(Feuchtgebiete)
Film Review by Kam Williams

Helen Memel (Carla Juri) has had hemorrhoids for as long as she can remember, an unfortunate affliction she probably developed as a result of a combination of probing herself and practicing very poor hygiene. For the headstrong rebel has made a habit of ignoring her mother’s (Meret Becker) sensible advice, such as to not sit on a public toilet seat.

Instead, Helen tends to go to the opposite extreme, taking a kinky pleasure in coming in contact with whatever bodily fluids might have been left behind by strangers in the ladies’ room. The sexually-insatiable 18 year-old also enjoys experimenting with everything from cucumbers to carrots to pulsating shower heads in a neverending quest for the next climax.

She even flirts shamelessly with her BFF, Corinna (Marlen Kruse), who’s straight and already has a boyfriend, Mike (Bernardo Arias Porras). But Helen is so curious and driven by lust that she fantasizes about seducing him as well.

What’s behind all the bizarre behavior? It might be explained by the trauma the poor child suffered as a consequence of her parents’ divorce. She’s desperate for the two of them to reconcile, and has been acting out since the separation, filling the void by deliberately seducing boys with a whiff of her very carnal feminine scent.

Directed by David Wnendt, Wetlands is a surreal, coming-of-age adventure which keeps you guessing whether what you’re watching is real or merely the product of the horny heroine’s fertile imagination. The picture is based on Charlotte Roche’s erotic thriller, “Feuchtgebiete” which was the best-selling novel in the entire world for the month of March, 2008. 

A non-stop sexcapade revolving around a literally and figuratively filthy hedonist who puts a whole new spin on the term “dirty girl.”

 

Very Good (3 stars)

Unrated

In German with subtitles

Running time: 104 minutes

Distributor: Strand Releasing

To see a trailer for Wetlands, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g3PRY13WiwM

    


The Identical
Film Review by Kam Williams

What if Elvis Presley’s stillborn twin had survived his mother’s pregnancy rather than passed away during delivery back in January of 1935? That is the alternate reality contemplated by The Identical, a faith-based musical marking the underwhelming directorial debut of Dustin Marcellino.

Unfortunately, Dustin tapped an Elvis impersonator to star in his revisionist version of events, a dubious decision that comes back to bite him whenever Blake Rayne isn’t singing and shaking his hips onstage. The first-time actor plays both Ryan Hemsley and his identical sibling, Drexel (Elvis), in this fictionalized account of the life of the King of Rock and Roll.

The speculative endeavor’s point of departure is Decatur, Georgia during the Depression, which is where we find poverty-stricken sharecroppers Helen (Amanda Crew) and William Hemsley (Brian Geraghty) fretting about how they’re going to provide for their twin newborns. The answer to their prayers arrives soon thereafter, at a revival meeting pitched under a big tent by Reverend Reece Wade (Ray Liotta), a Pentecostal preacher with a soulful of hope and a barren wife (Ashley Judd).

The Wades’ desire to start a family conveniently dovetails with the Hemsleys’ having one more baby than they can reasonably afford. So, with God as their witness, Reece and Louise agree to adopt Ryan before surreptitiously slipping out of town and back to Tennessee. Meanwhile, Helen and William announce the missing boy’s death to friends and relatives, and stage a faux funeral, complete with an empty casket.

Reece proceeds to raise Ryan in the church with a career in ministry in mind although, given his great vocal chords, the kid proves more comfortable in the choir than the pulpit. He finally rebels in his teens entirely by enlisting in the military, leaving not only his domineering dad but a budding sweetheart (Erin Cottrell) behind. By contrast, Drexel, who was also blessed with powerful pipes, is allowed by the Hemsleys to pursue his passion, and naturally blossoms into the nation’s next singing sensation.

Will the twins ever learn of each other’s existence? If so, will they be able to forgive their folks for having separated them at birth? And will Ryan ever enjoy an opportunity to take his own shot at fame and fortune?

These are the probing questions posed by a production so flawed in terms of plot, dialogue and performances that it ends up unintentionally funny at practically every juncture. Regrettably, The Identical flunks the basic plausibility test, whether in terms of its farcical reimagining of race relations in the Jim Crow South or its equally-silly staging of sophomoric car chases straight out of The Dukes of Hazzard.

To paraphrase a Presley classic: Wise men say, only fools rush in to see a one-trick pony revolving around an annoying Elvis look-a-like.

Fair (1 star)

Rated PG for smoking and mature themes

Running time: 107 minutes

Distributor: Freestyle Releasing

    


Altina
Film Review by Kam Williams

Altina Schinasi (1907-1999) was lucky enough to be born with the proverbial silver spoon in her mouth. The youngest of three girls, her parents were Sephardic Jews of humble origin who immigrated to the U.S. from Turkey in the late 19th Century.

Thanks to the tobacco fortune soon amassed by their industrious father, the sisters were raised in the lap of luxury on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Although headstrong Altina wanted for nothing, she proved to be something of a rebel, opting to study art in Paris after graduating from a prestigious prep school, rather than follow the conventional path of a pampered debutante.

That was just the first of many unorthodox choices on the part of the free-spirited trendsetter en route to making her mark on the world not only as an artist and inventor, but as a feminist and civil rights advocate who would march with Dr. Martin Luther King. She was also a bit of a Bohemian in terms of her private affairs, being admittedly driven by insatiable urges stronger than the societal taboo against adultery.

Tawdry scandals aside, Altina accepted four proposals of marriage over the course of her life, the last from the Cuban artist Tino Miranda, a handsome hunk less than half her age. Though then well into her golden years, she had her Latin lover marveling at her “stamina of a 25 year-old.”

Besides a healthy libido, Altina was perhaps best known for designing the harlequin eyeglass frame, a cultural contribution for which she won the 1939 American Design Award. Still, the talented Renaissance woman‘s accolades for her innovations and sculptures brought her less satisfaction than doting on her two sons, Dennis and Terry.

All of the above is recounted in entertaining fashion in Altina, a reverential biopic directed by Peter Sanders (The Disappeared). The fascinating documentary’s only flaw is that it leaves you wanting to learn more about its intriguing subject.

A frustrating tease of a tribute that seems to merely scratch the surface of an overprotected child of privilege-turned-irrepressible bon vivant.

Very Good (3 stars)

Unrated

In English and Spanish with subtitles

Running time: 80 minutes

Distributor: First Run Features

To see a trailer for, visit:

http://www.altinathefilm.com/trailer/

    


Rocks in My Pockets
Film Review by Kam Williams

Rocks in My Pockets Still Image

Signe Baumane hails from a dysfunctional Latvian family whose females have historically been haunted by suicidal thoughts and bouts of depression to a disturbing degree. Signe traces the inherited predisposition back to her grandmother who tried to drown herself in a river in Riga but failed because she forgot to put rocks in her pockets.

That aborted attempt explains the title of this animated misadventure written, directed and narrated by Ms. Baumane in her heavy Latvian accent.

Intriguingly illustrated courtesy of an arresting mix of drawings and paper mache, the production is basically a captivating group portrait of weird women, each with a definite death wish

“Her body had a stronger will to live than her mind had a will to die,” Signe reflects about one relative’s unsuccessful attempt on her own life. Later, during a lesson on the etiquette of hanging oneself, the director suggests donning a pair of adult diapers because you‘ll otherwise poop and pee in your pants and leave a heck of a mess for loved ones to clean up.

Such gallows humor is par for the course in this relentlessly-dark comedy, and this offbeat departure into depravity is engaging enough, provided you’re in the mood to look at the lighter side of suicide. At least the story ends on a high note, namely, with Signe expressing gratitude to her mother for forcing her to socialize instead of just sitting around the house and listening to the self-destructive voices inside her head.

Who knew that hara-kiri was such a hilarious subject?

Very Good (2.5 stars)

Unrated

Running time: 89 minutes

Distributor: Zeitgeist Films

    


Reviews
UserpicDon Lemon (INTERVIEW)
Posted by Kam Williams
31.08.2014

Don Lemon

The “Ferguson, Missouri” Interview

with Kam Williams

 

Anchoring the National Conversation on Race

CNN’s Don Lemon has anchored and reported many breaking on-the-scene news stories, including the George Zimmerman trial, the Boston marathon bombing, the Philadelphia building collapse, the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, the Colorado Theater Shooting, the death of Whitney Houston, the Inauguration of President Barack Obama, the death of Michael Jackson, Hurricane Gustav in Louisiana, and the Minneapolis bridge collapse.

In 2009, Ebony Magazine dubbed Don one of the 150 most influential Blacks in America. Furthermore, he has won an Edward R. Murrow award for his coverage of the capture of the Washington, D.C. snipers, and an Emmy for a special report on real estate in Chicagoland.

Don earned a degree in broadcast journalism from Brooklyn College where he currently serves as an adjunct professor, teaching and participating in curriculum designed around new media. Here, he talks about CNN’s coverage of the recent shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.

 

Kam Williams: Hi Don, thanks for another opportunity to interview you.

Don Lemon: Hey, Kam, thanks for asking me.

 

KW: I appreciate your taking the time to speak with me, since you seem to be on CNN 24/7 lately. It’s been wall-to-wall Don Lemon from Ferguson, Missouri.

DL: [Chuckles] I don’t know about that. It’s been a tough go, but it’s an important story. I wanted to make sure I got it on and got it right.

 

KW: I have a ton of questions sent in for you by viewers. Attorney Bernadette Beekman asks: Do you think your ability to report from Ferguson, Missouri was adversely affected by your almost becoming a part of the story like when you got shoved or punched by that racist cop [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cDyOvrwYo5Q] or when rapper Talib Kweli [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ktv6IcDaozk ] put you in the awkward position of having to defend CNN’s coverage on the air?

DL: Well, I don’t know if I became part of the story. I just think we had so many resources devoted to it that we were way ahead of the competition. So, everyone tuned in to CNN, and they were watching us. [Regarding Talib Kweli] I’m not the only one on the air who’s been put in a position of defending our reporting. If someone comes on and criticizes it, we’re there to tell them the truth. [Regarding Officer Dan Page] I got pushed by an officer live on television, but that was just me doing my job. He pushed me, so it wasn’t as if I’d injected myself into the story. We were standing where we’d been instructed to stand, and he came around the corner and shoved me when I just happened to be doing a live shot on The Situation Room. I don’t think that made me part of the story. It was more that everyone was watching when news was breaking live around me.

 

KW: Do you still teach as an adjunct? What grade would you give yourself on the reporting of this story overall? 

DL: Yes, I still teach occasionally at Brooklyn College, but I’m now more than an adjunct. I’m on the board of trustees. I would have to give CNN an A+. I think we did a really good job. No one compared to us, resource-wise. We had every angle of that story covered. That’s why people saw it and felt it as if they were there. We did a great job bringing people there. And that’s that.  

 

KW: Editor Lisa Loving asks: Were there any teachable moments for you as a journalist covering the aftermath of the Michael Brown shooting?

DL: I think there’s always a lesson you can learn from any situation. In this case, I learned how tightly people hold onto their beliefs. And, here, people had really strong beliefs about this story on both sides. People supporting the officer felt Michael Brown did something wrong. Those supporting Michael Brown said the cop did something wrong. There was very little that you could do to convince either side otherwise, or simply to be objective and not jump to conclusions. So, if you were just reporting the facts, and said “Michael Brown did this…” you’d be challenged by his supporters asking, “How do you know that?” By the same token, if you said, “Witnesses say the cop did this…” the officer’s supporters would challenge you with “Well, how do you know that?” It reconfirmed that I have to be objective in my reporting and allow viewers to read into it whatever they want. So, the teachable moment for me was a reminder that I just have to state the facts.    

 

KW: Aaron Moyne asks: Are you satisfied that CNN has covered the Michael Brown case objectively, devoid of bias and sensationalism?

DL: Absolutely! My answer is “yes” and I’m so happy that Aaron asked this question because that means that people are paying close attention. So, it’s incumbent upon us not only to be objective but to be passionate about our reporting… meaning wanting to be there… wanting to tell the truth… and wanting to tell the story from all sides.

 

KW: A crowd control police officer overtly referred to protesters as “animals” on CNN. [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AQuo5-ewDR8] Is that sound bite an accurate reflection of the state of relations between Ferguson’s police officers and the African-American community?

DL: I can’t answer that because I’m not a resident of Ferguson. I can only tell you what, from being there, people are saying to me. And I know that there are some good officers in the Ferguson Police Department, and then there are some bad ones, just as in any police department around the country. But I don’t know if someone calling protesters “animals” is an accurate reflection of the Ferguson Police. You’d have to ask the police and the people of Ferguson. I know they have issues with the department. That’s what you saw playing out on television. They are passionately distrustful of the police. Many people are. There’s a disconnect between the police and the community. And so that’s a question that’s better answered by those who live there.   

 

KW: Has the court of public opinion already outweighed any opportunity for Officer Wilson to voice his rationale for shooting Michael Brown so many times?

DL: No, I don’t think it’s outweighed his rationale. The officer is yet to tell the public and the media what he did. I’m sure he’s already spoken with investigators. What everyone else is really waiting on is to hear his side of the story. But he can do that at any point. So, if anyone feels there’s been some bias in the reporting of the story that’s because only one side is telling their story. The officer hasn’t told his story in the first person. In the beginning, the Ferguson Police gave a version. Then they turned it over to St. Louis County. And then there’s an alleged friend of the police officer who called a radio station to tell her side of the story. But that’s really been it. So, you haven’t heard much from the officer’s side. However, you have heard from witnesses on the scene who have a lot to say about what they saw happen to Michael Brown. So, if you don’t have the officer or someone speaking on his behalf, how do you tell his story? You can’t.    

 

KW: In your opinion, was there a sufficient threat against the police for them to don riot gear, use teargas and make such a show of deadly force?

PH: I don’t know about a sufficient threat, but I do know there were agitators in the crowd. We saw some of them. Come on! We saw people get shot in front of us. I wasn’t at every scene that turned into a violent situation, but I did see protesters instigating in some instances. Still, the overwhelming majority of people said they were doing nothing but exercising their right to protest and to march on the street when all of a sudden they came up against a heavy police presence pushing them out of the way. I take them at their word that this was true. The police said to us that we didn’t see everything that’s going on... that people were throwing bottles of water and urine at them, and that when something’s flying through the air they have no idea whether it might be a Molotov cocktail. So, while I might tend to agree with the conventional wisdom that it looks like an overly-militarized presence, just judging from the optics of it, I would nevertheless take both sides at their word, because I’m not the police and I wasn’t in the crowd 100% of the time. I think there was some instigating by police, and I think there was some instigating by some of the people who were out in the crowd.  

 

KW: How has all the looting affected the public perception of the Mike Brown case? Did the optics of that serve to divide the country along color lines?

DL: I think in a way it distracted us from the real issues: first, the killing of Mike Brown and, secondly, the police’s relationship with certain members of the community. When you saw people stealing, that changed the narrative of the story. But it also showed how upset people are. I think you’d be hard-pressed to go back in history and find any sort of major change achieved without some sort of upheaval. Even during the peaceful, non-violent Civil Rights Movement, something would break out. There are often people in a crowd who will do things they’re not supposed to, even during the celebration of winning the Stanley Cup, the World Cup or the NBA championship. We see it all the time. It was no different in Ferguson. But it doesn’t suggest that the people there are different from anyone else. It’s just that there were a few agitators in the crowd. And yes, I do think it did take our focus off of what’s really important.    

 

KW: Do you have any qualms about the black community making Michael Brown the poster child for police brutality, assuming he had robbed a store and roughed up its owner just minutes before his confrontation with Officer Wilson?

DL: Listen, I can’t make people act or react a certain way. They’re going to do whatever they’re going to do. As with any situation, I would just urge caution and that people reserve judgment until all the facts are out. But I do know that, regardless of what happens with Michael Brown, it’s important that we get to the truth. That doesn’t take away the distrust of the police and the way certain people are treated by them in our society. This has really opened up that line of conversation. So, if anything comes out of this, hopefully it’s a conversation that encourages police departments around the country to look at themselves and to figure out ways to serve their communities better.    

 

KW: Ray Hirschman asks: Based on the evidence surrounding the case now, do you have a gut feeling whether the police officer will walk or be charged with homicide and found guilty?

DL: You never know how these things are going to turn out. But, and I say this knowing people are going to get upset, if you look back at the history of similar cases, it’s very tough to convict a police officer in a situation like this. Juries often decide that it’s easy for people to armchair quarterback when they don’t know what a cop has to deal with out there on the streets. I think the grand jury will have that in the back of their minds. But I just want justice, whatever that is, whether the Michael Brown or the police officer is right. And I think that’s what most people want. However, history has shown that it’s very hard to convict a police officer under circumstances like this. That’s not to say it’s not going to happen, but it’s going to be tough.

 

KW: Steve Kramer asks: Is there any chance CNN would consider devoting an equal amount of coverage to the horrific black-on-black killings being committed by gangs against other gangs and innocent bystanders that occur daily in so many inner-cities in places like Chicago, Detroit, Philly and Newark?

DL: Steve may have a short memory, because we do devote a lot of attention to that. We cover Chicago, black-on-black crime, and violence in big cities a lot. The only reason people probably bring it up is because this is a flashpoint, so you see it on the news now. Ordinarily, we spend more time covering daily violence in big cities than we do covering a story like this. I devote entire newscasts to what happens on the streets in major cities all the time. It’s just that people might not have tuned in to see it, or it might not draw the attention, because you don’t see any rioting or teargas. But we do it all the time.

 

KW: Have you been the victim of a profile stop by police?

DL: I have had interaction with police officers, yes. What man of color hasn’t? That’s the reality. I was also detained for “shopping while black.” Listen, I live in America. If I live in this country, things are going to happen to me, especially as a black man. I’ve talked about my experiences before, but I don’t really want to be the story.

 

KW: Thanks again for the time, Don, and keep up the good work.

DL: You’re welcome. Sorry, if I sounded tired.

 

KW: You must feel exhausted. You’re on the air every time I turn on CNN. But no need to apologize. This was another great interview. Get some rest.

DL: Will do. Thank you very much, Kam. I appreciate talking to you.

    


As Above, So Below
Film Review by Kam Williams

The late alchemist, Dr. Marlowe (Roger Van Hool) lost his mind and then committed suicide over a futile quest for the Philosopher’s Stone supposedly hidden somewhere in the cryptic maze of catacombs beneath Paris. Now, his headstrong young daughter, Scarlet (Perdita Weeks), has decided to follow in daddy’s footsteps by mounting her own search for the sacred talisman said to turn metal into gold.

The determined Brit has prepared herself for the dangerous trek by earning not only Ph.D.s in archeology and symbology, but a black belt in karate to boot. She’s being assisted in this dangerous endeavor by a team comprised of her linguist ex-boyfriend (Ben Feldman); an African-American cameraman (Edwin Hodge); a graffiti artist familiar with the caves (Francois Civil); plus a couple of other local yokels (Marion Lambert and Aly Marhyar).

The motley crew’s descent starts out unremarkably enough, despite a little gallows humor and worries about whether they might encounter any bats or rats. The most concerned participant is George whose little brother Danny (Samuel Aouizerate) drowned in the cave at a young age. Adding fuel to the fear is the fact that the last time George accompanied Scarlet on an expedition he ended up in Turkish prison.

This is the ominous point of departure of As Above, So Below, a found-footage horror flick written and directed by John Erick Dowdle (Quarantine). The film has all the hallmarks of the genre inaugurated by The Blair Witch Project back in 1999, from the claustrophobia created by incessant, extreme close-ups to the seasick cinematography coming courtesy of handheld cameras.

Credit Perdita Weeks as the intrepid protagonist for keeping her audience enthralled even after the production morphs into a farfetched cross of Tomb Raider (2001) and The Da Vinci Code (2006). Whether crawling across piles of skeletons, deciphering ancient Aramaic messages, or fearlessly repelling down uncharted shafts, spunky Scarlet has the ‘tude and charisma to keep you rooting for her as others meet their fate, one-by-one.

A harrowing tale of survival revolving around an endearing heroine every bit as brainy as she is resourceful.

Very Good (2.5 stars)

Rated R for terror, graphic violence and pervasive profanity

Running time: 93 minutes

Distributor: Universal Pictures

To see a trailer for As Above, So Below, visit

    


Reviews
UserpicHusband Searches for Missing Wife in Surreal Erotic Thriller
Posted by Kam Williams
28.08.2014

The Strange Color of Your Body's Tears
Film Review by Kam Williams

Dan Kristensen (Klaus Tange) could find no sign of his wife Edwige (Ursula Bedena) when he returned home from a business trip. Moreover, the communications executive’s suspicions were aroused by the fact that the chain was across the door when he unlocked their apartment, suggesting that someone ought to be inside.

Inquiring of neighbors only served to compound the mystery, between his landlord who suggested that his wife had a reason to disappear, and the provocatively-dressed elderly senior who tries to seduce him after saying that her husband had disappeared, too. As he makes his way around the building, Dan gradually discovers that the place is a den of iniquity where people participate in all sorts of bizarre sexuality.

With each flat he enters, the sadomasochistic displays revealed are increasingly kinky, eventually even rising to the level of a bloodbath replete with decapitation. Co-directed by Helene Cattet and Bruno Forzani, The Strange Color of Your Body's Tears is not so much a mystery with a linear plotline as a surreal thriller designed for cinephiles with a taste for abstraction and eroticized violence.

Undeniably artistic, yet gruesome and harrowing, this atmospheric adventure has a dark, ominous air about it which keeps you braced for something bad for the duration of the entire endurance test. A difficult to decipher whodunit guaranteed to have you still scratching your head even after its confounding resolution.

Good (2 stars)

Unrated  

In French, Danish and Flemish with subtitles

Running time: 102 minutes

Distributor: Strand Releasing

To see a trailer for The Strange Color of Your Body's Tears, visit:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WYXXpT11WtM

    


Reviews
UserpicHusband Searches for Missing Wife in Surreal Erotic Thriller
Posted by Kam Williams
28.08.2014

The Strange Color of Your Body's Tears
Film Review by Kam Williams

Dan Kristensen (Klaus Tange) could find no sign of his wife Edwige (Ursula Bedena) when he returned home from a business trip. Moreover, the communications executive’s suspicions were aroused by the fact that the chain was across the door when he unlocked their apartment, suggesting that someone ought to be inside.

Inquiring of neighbors only served to compound the mystery, between his landlord who suggested that his wife had a reason to disappear, and the provocatively-dressed elderly senior who tries to seduce him after saying that her husband had disappeared, too. As he makes his way around the building, Dan gradually discovers that the place is a den of iniquity where people participate in all sorts of bizarre sexuality.

With each flat he enters, the sadomasochistic displays revealed are increasingly kinky, eventually even rising to the level of a bloodbath replete with decapitation). Co-directed by Helene Cattet and Bruno Forzani, The Strange Color of Your Body's Tears is not so much a mystery with a linear plotline as a surreal thriller designed for cinephiles with a taste for abstraction and eroticized violence.

Undeniably artistic, yet gruesome and harrowing, this atmospheric adventure has a dark, ominous air about it which keeps you braced for something bad for the duration of the entire endurance test. A difficult to decipher whodunit guaranteed to have you still scratching your head even after its confounding resolution. 

Good (2 stars)

Unrated  

In French, Danish and Flemish with subtitles

Running time: 102 minutes

Distributor: Strand Releasing

To see a trailer for The Strange Color of Your Body's Tears, visit:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WYXXpT11WtM

    


Reviews
UserpicMedical Expose’ Revisits Cover-Up of Promising Cancer Cure
Posted by Kam Williams
28.08.2014

Second Opinion
Film Review by Kam Williams

If you’ve ever wondered whether the cancer industry is truly interested in developing a cure for the disease, you might want to check out this eye-opening expose’ confirming your worst fears. Directed by Eric Merola, the shocking documentary blows the covers off a shameful chapter in the history of Sloan-Kettering hospital, a revered institution long-trusted to have the best interest of its patients at heart.

Apparently, that wasn’t the case back in July of 1974 when one of its top researchers, Dr. Kanematsu Sugiura, announced that an experimental drug named Amygdalin, also known as Laetrile, had proved highly effective in treating certain types of cancers in laboratory mice. Instead of heralding the discovery as a major inroad in the fight against malignancies, the Sloan-Kettering brass, ostensibly at the direction of the American Cancer Society, moved swiftly to discredit Dr. Suguira’s findings.

Not only did they issue a “Second Opinion” disputing the notion that Laetrile might reduce tumors, but they even went so far as to suggest that its side effects were much worse than chemotherapy, which was “an out and out lie.” That is the contention of Dr. Ralph Moss, a colleague of Suguira who was also on the Sloan-Kettering staff at the time.

Moss was so offended by the disinformation being disseminated in the press by his bosses that he eventually decided to turn whistleblower. Truth be told, Laetrile was “better than all the known cancer drugs” then available.

However, Sloan-Kettering came down on Moss like a ton of bricks, too. He was summarily terminated, losing both his job and career in the process.

Furthermore, he was unable to interest any mainstream media outlets in the cover-up, despite the overwhelming data in favor of Laetrile. In fact, the New York Times proceeded to publish a front-page story denigrating the drug.

Dr. Moss’ only satisfaction is that the three hypocritical superiors who fired him, Dr. Robert Good, Dr. Lewis Thomas and Dr. Chester Stock, all MDs, all died of cancer, ironically. Whatever happened to the Hippocratic Oath to “First, do no harm?”

Excellent (4 stars)

Unrated

Running time: 75 minutes

Distributor: Merola Productions

To see a trailer for Second Opinion, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GcCyawsaWZQ

    


Reviews
UserpicThe Calling (FILM REVIEW)
Posted by Kam Williams
24.08.2014

The Calling

Film Review by Kam Williams

 

Susan Sarandon Stars as Small Town Detective in Adaptation of Cat-and-Mouse Murder Mystery

            Hazel Micallef (Susan Sarandon) was thinking about retiring from the Port Dundas police force because of the herniated disc which left her addicted to both booze and painkillers. But the hobbled detective decided to put those plans on hold the day she stumbled upon the body of an elderly neighbor whose throat had been slit from ear-to-ear by a deranged intruder.

After all, this was her beloved hometown’s first homicide in years, and there’s no way she could leave the investigation on the shoulders of the only other two detectives on the force, veteran Ray Green (Gil Bellows) and newcomer Ben Wingate (Topher Grace). Soon, the three unearth evidence which indicates that the murder might very well be the work of the same serial killer responsible for several other recent slayings elsewhere around Ontario. .

Apparently, the creepy lapsed Catholic was practically taunting the authorities by leaving clues online, which is where he preys on each of his vulnerable victims. The question is whether, with the help of a priest (Donald Sutherland), the police will be able pinpoint the prime suspect’s locale in time to prevent him from striking again.

That is the intriguing setup of The Calling, a multi-layered mystery marking South African Jason Stone’s chilling directorial debut. Based on the Inger Ash Wolfe best seller of the same name, the film unfolds less like a whodunit than a cat-and-mouse caper, given how the perpetrator’s identity is confirmed about midway through the movie.

Still, the picture proves compelling, thanks to a powerful performance on the part of Susan Sarandon. The talented Oscar-winner (for Dead Man Walking) is uncharacteristically unappealing playing a familiar archetype, one of those substance-abusing souls in decline who summons up the strength to solve one last case.      

Fair warning: the film is tarnished slightly by periodic displays of grisly crime scenes apt to upset audience members averse to gratuitous gore. Otherwise, the picture earns accolades as a taut thriller about a religious zealot on a ritualistic killing spree.

Bless me father for I have slain!

Very Good (3 stars)

Rated R for violence, profanity and disturbing content

Running time: 108 minutes

Distributor: Sony Pictures

To see a trailer for The Calling, visit:   

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-sCDg5Ij6e0  

    


Reviews
UserpicThe November Man (FILM REVIEW)
Posted by Kam Williams
23.08.2014

The November Man

Film Review by Kam Williams

 

 It’s Spy vs. Spy in Labyrinthine Espionage Thriller

Director Roger Donaldson is probably most closely associated with No Way Out, one of the best espionage thrillers ever made. The accomplished Australian revisits the genre with The November Man, though this picture pales in comparison to his ingenious, 1987 classic.

Nevertheless, Roger has crafted another labyrinthine, cat-and-mouse caper which miraculously manages to keep you on the edge of your seat despite an often-incoherent plotline, slapdash action sequences, and an inscrutable cast of characters with difficult to discern motivations. Overall, the adventure amounts to a dizzying head-scratcher which takes you on one helluva roller coaster ride, even if it might take a scorecard to keep the profusion of players straight.

Based on the Bill Granger best seller “There Are No Spies,” the movie stars Pierce Brosnan in the title role as Peter Devereaux, an ex-CIA Agent once code named “The November Man.” While he retired to Switzerland five years ago, it doesn’t take much to coax him out of the rocking chair to help extract Natalia (Mediha Musliovic), a Russian double agent ready to come in out of the proverbial cold.

After all, they share a secret past which produced Lucy (Tara Jevrosimovic), a love child he misses terribly. However, the prospects of a father-daughter reunion are reduced significantly when Natalia is shot in the head by a team of assassins led by David Mason (Luke Bracey), Peter’s former protégé in the CIA.

What’s up with that? Did the Agency really want Natalia dead? Or did David go rogue? These are the questions left unanswered as Peter accepts another dangerous assignment, namely, the exfiltration from Moscow of Alice Fournier (Olga Kurylenko).

Alice is a pivotal witness for the prosecution set to testify in front of a war crimes tribunal about all the atrocities committed in Chechnya by Arkady Federov (Lazar Ristovski). Trouble is Federov is Russia’s ruthless President-elect and isn’t about to let some social worker abort his rendezvous with destiny.

So, it’s not long after making Alice’s acquaintance that Peter realizes she has no shortage of angry adversaries, both Soviet, such as Federov’s acrobatic henchwoman (Amila Terzimehic), and American, like the CIA mole giving David his marching orders. Regardless, the peripatetic pair proceed to leave a messy trail of bloody bodies behind as they pick up long-lost Lucy before making a daring escape to the West.

            Vintage Brosnan!

Very Good (2.5 stars)

Rated R for rape, profanity, sexuality, nudity, graphic violence and brief drug use

In English and Russian with subtitles

Running time: 108 minutes

Distributor: Relativity Media

To see a trailer for The November Man, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X0-uN5l1Z2I  

    


Reviews
UserpicAre You Here (FILM REVIEW)
Posted by Kam Williams
21.08.2014

Are You Here

Film Review by Kam Williams

 

Owen Wilson and Zach Galifianakis Return to Roots in Irreverent Buddy Comedy

Sometimes you can appreciate what a movie might have been shooting for, even though the final cut falls far short of the mark. Such is the case with Are You Here, a cringe-inducing buddy comedy co-starring Owen Wilson and Zach Galifianakis.   

The movie marks the eagerly-anticipated directorial debut of nine-time, Emmy-winner Matthew Weiner who fails in his first attempt to find the same magic which served him so well writing scripts for both Mad Men and The Sopranos. Unfortunately, something ostensibly got lost in the translation from TV to the big screen, as this picture proves to be an annoying test of patience.

            The problem probably emanates from the ill-advised pairing of the wry Wilson and goofy Galifianakis, whose personas mix about as well as oil and water. Sorry, Weiner doesn’t get any extra credit for effort for crafting an ambitious adventure that bites off more than it could chew cinematically, since all that matters to an audience is execution.

And while Are You Here revolves around an intriguing enough premise and features plenty of surprising twists, the comedy portion of the production simply flunks the “Make me laugh” test. At the point of departure, we’re introduced to roommates/BFFs Ben Baker (Galifianakis) and Steve Dallas (Wilson). The former is an infantile eccentric incapable of functioning in society, while the latter is a stoner and popular TV weatherman for a local network.

When Ben’s dad dies, the two decide to drive the thousand miles back to their idyllic hometown in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, where the recently deceased has left behind property worth millions of dollars. Also showing up for the funeral is Ben’s only sibling, Terry (Amy Poehler), a greedy shrew who clearly expects to inherit half of her father’s estate.

At the reading of the will, however, she learns that the old man only left her $350,000, and cut his trophy second-wife, Angela (Laura Ramsey), out of the will entirely, with the bulk of his cash plus a grocery store and 144-acre farm going to Ben. But her brother’s so dysfunctional, there’s no way he’d ever be able to manage the family businesses, given such bizarre behavior as visiting their Amish neighbors in his birthday suit.

Based on the scenario I’ve just described, one would naturally expect the tension to build around a fight over the inheritance. However, writer/director Weiner earns high marks for creativity in that regard, as he’s fashioned a novel plot that’s hard to predict.

Rather than spoil any of the subsequent developments, suffice to say that its unique storyline can’t save a picture that breaks a cardinal rule of comedy by failing to be funny. Have Wilson, Galifianakis and Poehler ever been better? Gosh, I certainly hope so.  

   

Fair (1 star)

Rated R for sexuality, nudity, profanity and drug use    

Running time: 114 minutes

Distributor: Millennium Entertainment

 

To see a trailer for Are You Here, visit:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uMtNpu6xBvU

    


Reviews
UserpicPolice State U.S.A. (BOOK REVIEW)
Posted by Kam Williams
20.08.2014

Police State U.S.A.
How Orwell’s Nightmare Is Becoming Our Reality

by Cheryl K. Chumley
Book Review by Kam Williams

WND Books
Hardcover, $26.95
288 pages
ISBN: 978-1-936488-14-8

“People have liberty; people take their liberty for granted; people become apathetic; people lose their liberty. We are on that track, but detouring back to the freedom road is still possible…

The data in this book concerns me and should concern you… The coming signs of tyranny are all around us. Fortunately, they can be stopped before it is too late, but not without a courageous effort… We can still save liberty for our children if, and only if, America awakens.”

-- Excerpted from the Foreword (pages xi-xii)

Anybody tuning in to the media coverage of the daily protests of the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri can’t help but notice the intimidating police presence that makes the city look more like a battlefield than a suburban enclave. The frightening militarization has featured everything from armored Humvees and tanks rolling down the streets, to helmeted officers flanked shoulder-to-shoulder behind body-length armored shields, to snipers in camouflage fatigues training their M16 rifles on marchers through night-vision scopes, to the use of teargas, rubber bullets, smoke bombs and flash grenades to disperse demonstrators.

What are we to make of such a disturbing show of force on the part of local, state and federal authorities? To Cheryl K. Chumley it is merely further evidence of a burgeoning abuse of power on the part of a government already hell bent on trampling its citizens’ Constitutional rights.

In her book, Police State U.S.A.: How Orwell’s Nightmare Is Becoming Our Reality, the veteran journalist indicts present-day America as a “total surveillance society.” She argues that tyrannical rule has come as a consequence of the Patriot Act’s creation of secret data collection centers and the employment of the IRS, NSA phone taps, drones, tracking devices, warrantless searches, traffic light cameras and the like to nefarious ends.

For example, the author cites the case of Scottsdale, Arizona, whose city council approved the purchase of a building to house its police investigative unit, “but refused to disclose the facility’s location” in order to “protect the lives” of detectives working undercover. She says it’s certifiably scary, when the nation has arrived at a point where taxpayers are no longer privy to such previously public information.

In a timely chapter devoted to “The Rise of Militarized Police,” Ms. Chumley states that the technology cops now have at their disposal “is the stuff of science fiction,” like guns that fire darts embedded with a GPS. Though such draconian measures should supposedly be of no concern to the law-abiding, it’s still of little comfort when you think of the seemingly neverending state of siege for folks in Ferguson trying to exercise their First Amendment rights.

Food for thought for anyone who fervently believes our inalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness comes from God, not the government.

    


Reviews
UserpicWeekend Getaway Turns Gory in High Body-Count Slasher Flick
Posted by Kam Williams
18.08.2014

Jersey Shore Massacre
Film Review by Kam Williams

When Teresa (Danielle Dallacco) and her girlfriends arrive at their rental house on the Jersey Shore, they’re shocked to learn that their sleazy stoner landlord (Ron Jeremy) already let someone else have the place for the weekend. Luckily, Teresa’s mobster Uncle Vito (Dominic Lucci) happens to have a summer home sitting empty in the nearby Pine Barrens, since he’s stuck in Staten Island under house arrest with an ankle bracelet.

After picking up five hot-looking guys on the beach, the six cute coeds get back into their convertible and make their way to a clearing in the godforsaken the forest. Turns out Uncle Vito has a pretty posh mansion with a built-in pool.

The bimbos slip into their bikinis and begin flirting with the buff boy-toys, blissfully unaware that a couple of Mafia hit men were just murdered in the same neck of the woods by a deranged maniac. If you’re familiar with high body-count slasher flicks, you have a good idea what’s in store for the unsuspecting revelers.

The killer soon starts picking them off one-by-one, dispatching each victim in very grisly fashion, whether that death be by baking in a tanning bed, by decapitating with a bicycle chain, by stabbing in a shower Psycho-style, by whipping, hanging, wood chipper, or run through by sword. Much of the violence is highly eroticized ostensibly to satiate the bloodlust of fans who like their slaughter with a little titillation on the side.

Written and directed by Paul Tarnopol, Jersey Shore Massacre is a gruesome horror flick not for the faint of heart. And the picture also paints a pretty pathetic picture of Italian-Americans, since the principal players are the sort of vapid, vain characters featured on the reality-TV series Jersey Shore.

While the film fails to break any new ground in terms of the splatterflick genre, it’s still entertaining enough to recommend, provided you have a strong stomach for vivisection and Italian stereotypes.

Good (2 stars)

Rated R for sexuality, nudity, profanity, drug use, ethnic and homophobic slurs, and graphic violence

Running time: 88 minutes

Distributor: Attack Entertainment

To see a trailer for Jersey Shore Massacre, visit

    


Reviews
UserpicJersey Shore Massacre (FILM REVIEW)
Posted by Kam Williams
18.08.2014

Jersey Shore Massacre

Film Review by Kam Williams

 

Weekend Getaway Turns Gory in High Body-Count Slasher Flick 

            When Teresa (Danielle Dallacco) and her girlfriends arrive at their rental house on the Jersey Shore, they’re shocked to learn that their sleazy stoner landlord (Ron Jeremy) already let someone else have the place for the weekend.  Luckily, Teresa’s mobster Uncle Vito (Dominic Lucci) happens to have a summer home sitting empty in the nearby Pine Barrens, since he’s stuck in Staten Island under house arrest with an ankle bracelet.

After picking up five hot-looking guys on the beach, the six cute coeds get back into their convertible and make their way to a clearing in the godforsaken the forest. Turns out Uncle Vito has a pretty posh mansion with a built-in pool.

The bimbos slip into their bikinis and begin flirting with the buff boy-toys, blissfully unaware that a couple of Mafia hit men were just murdered in the same neck of the woods by a deranged maniac. If you’re familiar with high body-count slasher flicks, you have a good idea what’s in store for the unsuspecting revelers.   

The killer soon starts picking them off one-by-one, dispatching each victim in very grisly fashion, whether that death be by baking in a tanning bed, by decapitating with a bicycle chain, by stabbing in a shower Psycho-style, by whipping, hanging, wood chipper, or run through by sword. Much of the violence is highly eroticized ostensibly to satiate the bloodlust of fans who like their slaughter with a little titillation on the side.

            Written and directed by Paul Tarnopol, Jersey Shore Massacre is a gruesome horror flick not for the faint of heart. And the picture also paints a pretty pathetic picture of Italian-Americans, since the principal players are the sort of vapid, vain characters featured on the reality-TV series Jersey Shore.

            While the film fails to break any new ground in terms of the splatterflick genre, it’s still entertaining enough to recommend, provided you have a strong stomach for vivisection and Italian stereotypes.

 ood (2 stars)

Rated R for sexuality, nudity, profanity, drug use, ethnic and homophobic slurs, and graphic violence

Running time: 88 minutes

Distributor: Attack Entertainment 

To see a trailer for Jersey Shore Massacre, visit:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uDcw8L_M3S4

    


Reviews
UserpicIf I Stay (FILM REVIEW)
Posted by Kam Williams
17.08.2014

If I Stay

Film Review by Kam Williams

 

A Life Hangs in the Balance in Adaptation of Bittersweet Best-Seller

            Mia Hall (Chloe Grace Moretz) is a bright 17 year-old full of the bloom of youth. Between playing the cello purely for pleasure and dating the doting boy of her dreams (Jamie Blackley), the happy high school senior considers herself truly blessed.

            She is even lucky enough to have the perfect parents (Mireille Enos and Joshua Leonard) who support the idea of her majoring in classical music, whether she gets into Juilliard or simply sticks around Portland to attend Lewis & Clark College. Mia is also very close to her only sibling, Teddy (Jakob Davies), a cute kid who absolutely adores his big sister.

However, fate intervenes, or so it seems, one snowy day during a family outing when a car coming in the opposite direction veers across the highway’s double lines. Right then, in the blink of an eye, their fortunes are irreversibly altered by an unavoidable head-on crash.

By the time the ambulances and paramedics come to the rescue, all four are in grave condition, and there is a chance that none might survive the tragic accident. Mia, who has suffered a collapsed lung, a broken leg and internal bleeding, slips into a coma.

At that instant, her spirit miraculously separates from her body, and she is suddenly able to observe situations and eavesdrop on conversations like an invisible ghost. While a team of doctors struggle to stabilize her vital signs in the hospital, she watches a nurse (Aisha Hinds) lean over and whisper that “Living or dying is all up to you” into her ear.

This suggests that Mia, ultimately, must choose between ascending to Heaven and returning to Earth to face a host of challenges on the road to recovery. And suspended in this state of limbo, she’s afforded the unusual opportunity to reflect and reminisce during the critical next 24 hours before making a decision.

That is the surreal setup of If I Stay, a bittersweet flashback flick based on Gayle Forman’s young adult novel of the same name. Although this unapologetically sentimental tearjerker will undoubtedly resonate with teens in the target demographic, the film’s surprisingly-sophisticated, thought-provoking exploration of such themes as family, friendship, love and spirituality ought to readily endear it to audiences in general.

Directed by R.J. Cutler, the movie basically revolves around introspective Mia’s contemplation of her future while factoring in her family’s grim prospects, nostalgia, and the bedside manner of visitors like her grandfather (Stacy Keach), boyfriend and BFF (Liana Liberato). Although reminiscent of The Lovely Bones (disembodied teen narrator), The Notebook (love story with a syrupy finale) and Twilight (star-crossed romance set in the Pacific Northwest), If I Stay is nevertheless a unique adventure with a tale to share all its own.  

A poignant portrait of a life precipitously hanging in the balance which pushes all the right buttons to open the emotional floodgates.

Excellent (4 stars)

Rated PG-13 for sexuality and mature themes

Running time: 106 minutes

Distributor: Warner Brothers

To see a trailer for If I Stay, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wH6PNeTy6Nc     

    


Abuse of Weakness
Film Review by Kam Williams

Catherine Breillat is a feminist filmmaker famous for shooting sexually-explicit films bordering on porn, although arguably from a woman’s perspective. Romance (1999), Fat Girl (2001) and Anatomy of Hell (2004) are among her highly-controversial offerings . Abuse of Weakness marks a bit of departure for the controversial iconoclast, as it is a semi-autobiographical drama revisiting an unfortunate chapter in her own personal life.

In 2004, she suffered a stroke which left her partially paralyzed on the left side and in that very vulnerable position soon fell prey to a notorious charlatan. While pretending to be her knight in shining armor, the creep proceeded to pressure Catherine to write him checks totaling over a million dollars.

The experienced thief was such a smooth operator that he managed to drain all the cash out of her bank account before what was transpiring came to the attention of any of her children. The philanderer simultaneously toyed with Catherine’s affections for over a year, seducing her despite his having an expecting wife and then a newborn at home.

All of the above is recounted in heartbreaking detail in Abuse of Weakness, a fictionalized screen version of director Breillat’s book of the same name. The poignant, character-driven drama co-stars Isabelle Huppert as Maud (aka Catherine) and Kool Shen as her duplicitous Casanova, Vilko.

The picture paints a plausible picture of how a patient attempting to recover from a life-threatening illness might be easily exploited by a conniving con artist without a functioning conscience. In this case, the arrogant Vilko never exhibits the slightest contrition, even when a humiliated Maud confronts him after finally facing up to the truth. He’s more worried about his wife (Laurence Ursino) finding out about their affair than about leaving his victim in such dire financial and medical straits.

A cautionary tale depicting a shocking example of man’s inhumanity to (wo)man.

Excellent (3.5 stars)

Unrated

In French with subtitles

Running time: 104 minutes

Distributor: Strand Releasing

    


The Giver
Film Review by Kam Williams

Despite being born in the same year and enjoying overlapping enduring careers, Oscar-winners Meryl Streep (for Kramer vs. Kramer, Sophie’s Choice and The Iron Lady) and Jeff Bridges (for Crazy Heart) never made a movie together prior to The Giver. Such a long overdue collaboration proves well worth the wait in this haunting, sci-fi adventure set in a deceptive dystopia masquerading as heaven on Earth.

The film is based on the Lois Lowry best-seller of the same name which won the Newbery Award as America’s best children’s book of 1994. This author-approved adaptation was directed by Phillip Noyce (Patriot Games) who tapped fellow Aussie Brenton Thwaites to portray the young hero, Jonas.

The picture’s point of departure is the young protagonist’s graduation day, when he participates in a coming-of-age ritual during which 18 year-olds are assigned a profession by the elders of their idyllic community. Jonas’ BFFs Asher (Cameron Monaghan) and Fiona (Odeya Rush) soon learn that they’ll be trained as a drone pilot and a nurturer, respectively.

Jonas, however, long recognized as special, because of an uncanny ability to see things differently, is designated the “Receiver of Memories,” the protégé of the “Giver” (Bridges). In that capacity, he quickly becomes aware that the whole society is a charade which shields its citizens from the fact that there is suffering in the world by injecting them once a day with a drug which keeps them naïve, obedient and blissfully content.

Truth be told, evil does exist in their midst, though invariably veiled, such as how the sick and the old are “Released” in a fashion that gives no hint that they’re actually being euthanized. And Jonas experiences a crisis of conscience in choosing whether to obediently follow in the Giver’s footsteps or to upset the apple cart by letting the cat out of the bag about how everybody’s mind is being controlled.

Among the factors influencing his critical decision is the unexpected pleasure associated with the “Stirrings,” the formerly-suppressed pangs of sexual awakening he suddenly feels for Fiona. Another involves the impending euthanizing of a baby with a birth defect (Alexander Jillings) he’s already bonded with.

Besides the historic pairing of Streep and Bridges, the film features sterling performances by the trio of emerging thespians playing the leads, as well as by Katie Holmes and Taylor Swift in support roles. A thought-provoking meditation on mind control offering a valuable lesson about the virtue of challenging any totalitarian authority.

Very Good (3 stars)

Rated PG-13 for action, violence and mature themes

Running time: 94 minutes

Distributor: The Weinstein Company

To see a trailer for The Giver, visit

    


Reviews
UserpicWesley Snipes (INTERVIEW)
Posted by Kam Williams
10.08.2014

Wesley Snipes
“The Expendables 3” Interview
with Kam Williams

 

Yipes, it’s Snipes!

 

Wesley T. Snipes is a globally celebrated actor, film producer, master in various martial arts, and a loving father and husband. Born in Orlando, Florida on July 31, 1962, he spent his childhood between Orlando, Florida and Bronx, New York while attending the High School of Performing Arts in NYC and graduated from Jones High School in Florida.

 

While attending the High School for Performing Arts, Wesley started appearing in Off-Broadway productions where he started to fine-tune his craft as a drama and musical theater artist. He later founded with friends a bus-n-truck street troupe called “Struttin Street Stuff” which took him into Central Park, dinner theaters, and regional productions around Florida before his college years at the State University of New York at Purchase.

 

Wesley’s work onstage and in TV commercials soon caught the attention of Joe Roth who cast him as an Olympic boxing hopeful in Streets of Gold. He was then handpicked by Martin Scorsese and Quincy Jones to play the gang leader in Michael Jackson’s Bad music video. And he subsequently joined the cast of Wildcats (1986) as well as Spike Lee’s Mo’ Better Blues (1990) and Jungle Fever (1991).

 

The unique diversity of Wesley’s charisma, acting ability, and proficiency in the martial arts led to roles alongside some of showbiz’s biggest names – Robert De Niro, Sean Connery, Dennis Hopper and Sylvester Stallone. These roles include Major League (1989), Passenger 57 (1992), Rising Sun (1993), Boiling Point (1993), Demolition Man (1993), Drop Zone (1994), The Fan (1996), Future Sport (1998), and Undisputed (2002), all of which made him a most favored African-American action star not only in Hollywood, but internationally, as well.

 

Wesley has pleasantly surprised audiences with his versatile dramatic acting skills, evident in his award winning roles in The Water Dance (1992) and as a drag queen in the drama To Wong Foo: Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar (1995). Other notable dramatic roles include Disappearing Acts (2011), One Night Stand (1997), Murder at 1600 (1997) and US Marshals (1998).

 

In 1998, although faced with strong opposition and concerns, Wesley recognized the need for an urban action hero. Hence Blade, a lesser known Marvel character, was adapted and released. The Blade Trilogy is still one of the highest grossing adaptations at over $1.5 billion worldwide.

 

Wesley ranks among the highest paid African American actors with gross earnings worldwide estimated at over $2 billion. He has been married to Korean artist Nikki Park since 2000, and has four children with her and an older son from a previous marriage.

 

Here, Wesley talks about his latest outing as Doc alongside Sly Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Harrison Ford, Mel Gibson, Antonio Banderas, Terry Crews and Kelsey Grammer in The Expendable 3.

 

 

Kam Williams: Hi Wesley, thanks for the interview.

Wesley Snipes: How’re you doing, Kam?

 

KW: Great! What interested you in The Expendables 3?

WS: [Sarcastically] Really, it was the filming location, the food, and the wonderful hotel suite that they could give me. [Laughs] No, honestly man, it was the opportunity to work again with Sly, and the chance to be a part of that ensemble with a lot of the best of the best of this particular genre. 

 

KW: Documentary director Kevin Williams asks: Did you enjoy watching this genre of film growing up?

WS: Oh yeah! All the way back to The Seven Samurai. I’m a big fan of this type of film. And hearing about all the heavyweights they were bringing back only made it even more attractive. It was a blessing, Kam, just to be on the set with some of these iconic actors, to see how they perform, to have a chance to get up close and personal with them, and to crack a joke or two or three or four with them.

 

KW: Was it ever trouble making any elbow room with so many egos on the set?

WS: Not really. What would make you think that?

 

KW: So many matinee idols having to share the limelight might make for sharp elbows.

WS: [Chuckles] Yeah, but you’re talking about some of the best in the game. They’re all veterans who bring a certain level of sophistication and professionalism to the table. For what it’s worth, this action hero/action star genre is a small clique. There aren’t a lot of guys that do it.And there aren’t many guys who have excelled at it. There’s an appreciation for what it takes to pull it off, and for the durability reflected in being able to survive after all these years.

 

KW: Director Rel Dowdell says: Wesley, You are one of the few marketable African-American actors who can be effective in any genre, including comedy. Are you aware of any up-and-coming black actor who is as versatile as you have been?

WS: Well, I think they’re out there, but I don’t know whether they’ve been given the opportunity to shine like I have. I hope there are. It’d be great to work with them. But, hey, it’s been a blessing. I was fortunate enough to be trained in the theater. Coming from the theater background, you’re schooled to play diverse roles in preparation for the repertory environment, or the repertory type of lifestyle. So, to me, going back and forth from genre to genre is only keeping true to the way I was trained in the theater. And I’m really an action fan. I’m a movie fan in general, but I’m definitely an action fan, as well. I appreciate all the work and thought it would be cool if it could be one of the tricks that I could bring to the table.

 

KW:  Tony Noel asks: Wesley, what styles of martial arts have you studied, and how do you feel about Mixed Martial Arts?

WS: I appreciate Mixed Martial Arts, Tony. I’ve been training for a long time. I started training in the Japanese system, when I was 12, in Goju and Shotokan. From there, I was exposed to Grandmaster Moses Powell which is the Aiki-Jujutsu form. And after that, I got into capoeira, and I got ranking in three different systems: Indonesian, African and Japanese. And I’ve done Tae Kwon. So, I’ve done pretty well.

 

KW: Publisher Troy Johson asks: Wesley, was it difficult to produce the documentary, John Henrik Clarke: A Great and Mighty Walk?

WS: Thank you for asking, Troy. No, that was a very personal project which meant a lot to me because Dr. Clarke was a teacher and mentor of mine. I made the movie because I wanted future generations to learn about him and read his books, too. I’d love to make more films like that.

 

KW: Attorney Bernadette Beekman asks: What was the toughest stunt you had to do for this movie?

WS: Hanging onto the side of a truck. That was pretty hard. Another that was tough, because of the horrible air quality on the set, was the wild scene we shot inside a big, abandoned building. A lot of us had respiratory issues for a couple of weeks afterwards because of all the stuff flying around.

 

KW: Children’s book author Irene Smalls says: Wesley, how did you feel about getting to play Blade, one of the first black superheroes?

WS: I don’t remember getting that excited at first, because it hadn’t been done before. So, the reception was all a big surprise.

 

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

WS: Thank you, Kam.

To see a trailer for The Expendables 3, see: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sTte6BQndTQ

    


Into the Storm
Film Review by Kam Williams

The skies are deceptively serene over Silverton, Oklahoma, offering no reminder of the fact that four people recently perished in a deadly tornado that touched down in a neighboring city. Consequently, we find the townfolk blissfully unaware of the rough weather bearing down on the area threatening to ruin high school graduation day.

Vice Principal Gary Morris (Richard Armitage), who is in charge of the commencement festivities, has assigned his sons, Trey (Nathan Kress), a sophomore, and Donnie (Max Deacon), a junior, the thankless task of filming the ceremony in order to preserve it for posterity in a buried time capsule. His younger boy complies with the request, but the elder is immediately distracted from the task at hand by an opportunity to assist acute classmate (Alycia Debnam Carey) salvage her own video project.

Meanwhile, a team of storm chasers is rushing towards Silverton at the direction of its meteorologist, Allison Stone (Sarah Wayne Callies), since her computer data has predicted that the next funnel cloud is likely to form somewhere in that vicinity. But because she’s a single-mom with a 5 year-old (Keala Wayne Winterhalt) back home, she’s a lot less enthusiastic about her job than their leader, Pete Moore (Matt Walsh).

Like a latter-day Captain Ahab, Moore is maniacal in his quest to capture the mother of all cyclones on camera. So, he exhorts Allison and the rest of the crew to risk life and limb in search of that elusive dream shot from inside the eye of a storm.

At least they have a couple of vehicles specially outfitted for such an occasion, including a glass turreted tank with grappling claws that can withstand winds of up to 170 mph. That’s more than can be said about local yokels Donk (Kyle Davis) and Reevis (John Reep), fate-tempting daredevils who have decided to try to capture footage by riding around in a pickup truck emblazoned on the back with a hand-painted sign that reads “TWISTA HUNTERZ.”

Once the colorful cast of soon-to-be imperiled archetypes has been introduced, Allison’s dire forecast proves uncannily accurate as ominous clouds form overhead. That’s when the fun starts in Into the Storm, a Seventies-style disaster flick reminiscent of such unnerving classics as Airport (1970), The Poseidon Adventure (1972) and The Towering Inferno (1974).

This update of the genre benefits immeasurably from state-of-the-art CGI, a worthwhile investment for the eye-popping special f/x alone. A campy and cheesy yet visually-captivating roller coaster ride that makes Sharknado look like Sharknado 2!

Excellent (4 stars)

Rated PG-13 for profanity, sexual references, and scenes of intense peril and destruction

Running time: 89 minutes

Distributor: Warner Brothers

To see a trailer for Into the Storm, visit

    


Reviews
UserpicInto the Storm (FILM REVIEW)
Posted by Kam Williams
08.08.2014

Into the Storm

Film Review by Kam Williams

 

Tornado Wreaks Havoc on Tiny Oklahoma Town in Thrill-a-Minute Disaster Flick

The skies are deceptively serene over Silverton, Oklahoma, offering no reminder of the fact that four people recently perished in a deadly tornado that touched down in a neighboring city. Consequently, we find the townfolk blissfully unaware of the rough weather bearing down on the area threatening to ruin high school graduation day.

Vice Principal Gary Morris (Richard Armitage), who is in charge of the commencement festivities, has assigned his sons, Trey (Nathan Kress), a sophomore, and Donnie (Max Deacon), a junior, the thankless task of filming the ceremony in order to preserve it for posterity in a buried time capsule. His younger boy complies with the request, but the elder is immediately distracted from the task at hand by an opportunity to assist acute classmate (Alycia Debnam Carey) salvage her own video project.

Meanwhile, a team of storm chasers is rushing towards Silverton at the direction of its meteorologist, Allison Stone (Sarah Wayne Callies), since her computer data has predicted that the next funnel cloud is likely to form somewhere in that vicinity. But because she’s a single-mom with a 5 year-old (Keala Wayne Winterhalt) back home, she’s a lot less enthusiastic about her job than their leader, Pete Moore (Matt Walsh).

Like a latter-day Captain Ahab, Moore is maniacal in his quest to capture the mother of all cyclones on camera. So, he exhorts Allison and the rest of the crew to risk life and limb in search of that elusive dream shot from inside the eye of a storm.

At least they have a couple of vehicles specially outfitted for such an occasion, including a glass turreted tank with grappling claws that can withstand winds of up to 170 mph. That’s more than can be said about local yokels Donk (Kyle Davis) and Reevis (John Reep), fate-tempting daredevils who have decided to try to capture footage by riding around in a pickup truck emblazoned on the back with a hand-painted sign that reads “TWISTA HUNTERZ.”

Once the colorful cast of soon-to-be imperiled archetypes has been introduced, Allison’s dire forecast proves uncannily accurate as ominous clouds form overhead. That’s when the fun starts in Into the Storm, a Seventies-style disaster flick reminiscent of such unnerving classics as Airport (1970), The Poseidon Adventure (1972) and The Towering Inferno (1974).

This update of the genre benefits immeasurably from state-of-the-art CGI, a worthwhile investment for the eye-popping special f/x alone. A campy and cheesy yet visually-captivating roller coaster ride that makes Sharknado look like Sharknado 2!

Excellent (4 stars)

Rated PG-13 for profanity, sexual references, and scenes of intense peril and destruction

Running time: 89 minutes

Distributor: Warner Brothers

To see a trailer for Into the Storm, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A_kj8EKhV3w   

 

    


Reviews
Userpic30 Years at Ballymaloe (BOOK REVIEW)
Posted by Kam Williams
06.08.2014

30 Years at Ballymaloe

by Darina Allen

Book Review by Kam Williams

 

Foreword by Alice Waters

Photographs by Laura Edwards

Kyle Books

Hardcover, $35.00

320 pages, Illustrated

ISBN: 978-1-909487-13-0

 

“Ballymaloe is Ireland’s longest established cookery school and a Mecca of international acclaim for those with a passion for food. Since it first opened in 1983, it has played host to an internationally diverse range of pupils from 16-69 years old and an impressive array of guest chefs…

Over the past 30 years the School has expanded its repertoire and now offers over 100 courses… Students can learn how to cure meat, make gluten-free meals and sushi, as well as discover forgotten skills such as producing butter and cheese, and beekeeping…

Featuring over 100 recipes, this book showcases the best of the Cookery School... [It] is a tribute to this unique place and the people that teach work and learn there.” 

-- Excerpted from the Introduction (page vii)

 

What is an Irish seven-course meal? If you grew up prior to the arrival of political correctness, you probably know that the punch line of that ethnic joke is “A six-pack of beer and a potato.”

Of course, the Irish aren’t all alcoholics and they eat a lot more than taters when they sit down at the dinner table. Still, most of us are undoubtedly influenced in our thinking by the very limited menu most restaurants offer on St. Patrick’s Day, specifically, spuds, corned beef and cabbage, and Irish Soda Bread.

Truth be told, their cuisine is much more refined than mere meat and potatoes. In fact, corned beef and cabbage is an American invention which most Irish natives never try before arriving in the States.

            If you want to get a sense of the best that Ireland has to offer in terms of culinary delights, check out 30 Years at Ballymaloe, a combination memoir and cookbook replete with recipes, history lessons and glorious photographs of both mouth-watering dishes and lush photographs of the Emerald Isle’s verdant countryside. 

            The elegant and practical coffee table opus is the labor of love of Darina Allen, co-founder with her brother Rory of the famed Ballymaloe Cookery School. Long esteemed as the Julia Child of Ireland, Darina staked her career ages ago on a health-oriented, “Slow Food” approach emphasizing organic, locally-grown, seasonal produce and cooking in wood-burning stoves.    

            So, the sort of Irish food you’ll see trumpeted here ranges from “Ballycotton Shrimp with Watercress and Homemade Mayonnaise” to “Carrageen Moss Pudding with Poached Apricot and Sweet Geranium Compote.” The author also offers tips on keeping cows which, in turn, enables her to make such fresh favorites as “Virgin Jersey Butter” and “Caramel Ice Cream.”

Darina has a fruit garden, too, of course, where figs, gooseberries, raspberries, figs, plums and green almonds can be found in abundance. And she bakes everything from brown bread to a chicken pot pie that sticks to the ribs, although the irresistible entrée that I just have to attempt is the pizza with roast peppers, olives and gremolata.

A practical primer on the farm to fork philosophy proving Irish culinary fare to be far more sophisticated than the sorry slop and green beer celebrated all across the U.S. every St. Patty’s Day.  

To order a copy of 30 Years at Ballymaloe, visit:

http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1909487139/ref%3dnosim/thslfofire-20

    


Reviews
UserpicRich Hill (FILM REVIEW)
Posted by Kam Williams
05.08.2014

Rich Hill

Film Review by Kam Williams

 

Rust Belt “New Normal” Chronicled in Diminished Dreams Documentary   

            Rich Hill, Missouri is a ghost town on hard times. Located about seventy miles south of Kansas City, the population of this once-thriving mining metropolis has dwindled down to 1,393 since the last of the coal was unearthed from the ground.

The lack of a sufficient tax base to maintain the city’s infrastructure is reflected in such urban blight as boarded up storefronts, potholed roads, abandoned farms, and the corner pharmacy and company bank reduced to rubble. Today, the remaining residents find themselves stuck in a godforsaken no man’s land marked by social dysfunction and high unemployment.

Nevertheless, there is an undeniable optimism among young Andrew, Harley and Appachey. These three boys are the subject of Rich Hill, a heartbreaking expose chronicling Rich Hill’s new normal in terms of the American Dream.

Co-directed by Andrew Droz Palermo and Tracy Droz Tragos, the picture won the 2014 Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival in the Best Documentary category. As the cousins’ camera follows the trio around, you can’t help but notice the crumbling exoskeleton in the background that looks almost post-apocalyptic. Could this really be the good ole U.S. of A?    

Meanwhile, each kid has a quite compelling story to share. 13 year-old Andrew worries about his family subsisting when not practicing the latest dance steps with his sister. Appachey, 12, wants to teach art in China when he grows up. But first, he has to repeat the 6th grade. And 15 year-old Harley has a great sense of humor despite the fact that he misses his convict mother imprisoned for the attempted murder of the sick stepfather who’d molested him.

The Rust Belt’s “New Normal” depicted as a desolate, depressed dystopia dotted with street urchins a tad too naïve to appreciate their dire life prospects.

Very Good (3 stars)

Unrated 

Running time: 91 minutes

Distributor: The Orchard

To see a trailer for Rich Hill, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VHml65Du-Ug 

    


Reviews
UserpicCold Turkey Expose Examines Internet Addiction in China
Posted by Kam Williams
05.08.2014

Web Junkie
Film Review by Kam Williams

How long do you think you could you survive without access to a cell phone or computer? A few hours? A day? A week? How about three months? That’s the degree of deprivation awaiting adolescents diagnosed as addicted to the internet over in China, the first country to officially recognize the burgeoning malady as a clinical disorder.

The Rx for the afflicted is 90 days of rehab at one of 400 paramilitary boot camps where one must adhere to a Spartan daily regimen sans any electronic stimuli. Going cold turkey is not an easy thing to adjust to for kids used to playing video games for hours on end.

But that is precisely the goal of the shrinks in Web Junkie, a cautionary tale making one wonder whether America might not be far behind. The documentary was directed by Shosh Shlam and Hilla Medalia who were afforded extraordinary access to the intervention and treatment of a trio of teenage boys whose exasperated parents sought help from a facility in Beijing.

The film traces the transformation of Hope, Hacker and Nicky from insufferable, anti-social jerks who barely communicate with their families, teachers and classmates into sensitive souls truly changed by therapy and the period offline. It’s nothing short of miraculous to see the same kid who couldn’t be bothered to talk to his father eventually melt into a touchy-feely hugger who upon reuniting tearfully says, “I love you, Dad.”

Overall, the movie makes a convincing case that cell phone use ought to be limited during a child’s formative years when the social part of the brain is still developing. For, the subjects of this telling expose certainly seem to suffer from stunted development due to too much time spent playing computer games and surfing the ‘net.

A tough love remedy from the Orient designed for impressionable young minds which prefer virtual reality to relating in the flesh.

Excellent (4 stars)

Unrated

In Mandarin with subtitles

Running time: 76 minutes

Distributor: Kino Lorber

To see a trailer for Web Junkie, visit

    


Reviews
UserpicGet on Up (FILM REVIEW)
Posted by Kam Williams
02.08.2014

Get on Up

Film Review by Kam Williams

 

Chadwick Channels James Brown in Nostalgic Jukebox Musical

            Just last year, Chadwick Boseman successfully channeled the spirit of Jackie Robinson in 42, a powerful biopic about the Hall of Fame great who made history when he integrated Major League Baseball in 1947. In Get on Up, the gifted young actor is already impersonating another legendary African-American, the Godfather of Soul, James Brown (1933-2006).

Unfortunately, this revisionist fairytale works better as a jukebox musical than as an accurate recitation of the late crooner’s checkered past. The problem is that Brown simply is hard to portray sympathetically, despite his overcoming abject poverty and a dysfunctional childhood on the road to superstardom.

            Yes, he was abandoned by abusive parents (Viola Davis and Lennie James) at the home of an aunt (Octavia Spencer) in Augusta, Georgia who did her best to raise him in the absence of a father figure. Nevertheless, James dropped out of school in the 7th grade, took to the streets, and spent several years behind bars for an armed robbery committed at just 16.  

Upon parole, he made a foray into showbiz after joining the Famous Flames, the first of numerous R&B groups he would headline over the course of a career marked again and again by bad break-ups due to disagreements he had over salary with disgruntled sidemen. Brown would also have further run-ins with the law, ranging from repeated arrests for domestic violence against three different battered wives, to embezzlement, tax evasion and bankruptcy, to another three years in prison for illegal drug and weapons possession, assaulting a police officer and resisting arrest.   

Somehow, Tate Taylor (The Help) has figured a way to put a positive spin on the tarnished legacy of this terribly-flawed figure. Rather than have the film unfold chronologically, the inventive director has crafted an oft-confusing flashback flick which jumps backwards and forwards in time in dizzying fashion with no apparent rhyme or reason.

That scattershot approach ostensibly enables Get on Up to sidestep the more tawdry episodes on Brown’s resume without appearing to leave gaping holes in his life story. Consequently, the movie sits on solid ground during gyrating Boseman’s lip-synched, onstage performances of such James Brown hits as “I Feel Good,” “It’s a Man’s World,” “Super Bad” and “Say It Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud,” but not so much whenever it shifts its focus to its morally-objectionable protagonist’s poor people skills.

A nostalgic indulgence which, like the cinematic equivalent of a fluffy fanzine, eschews serious criticism of a revered icon in favor of a pleasant parade of his most memorable classics.  

Very Good (2.5 stars)

Rated PG-13 for sexuality, drug use, profanity and violence

Running time: 138 minutes

Distributor: Universal Pictures

To see a trailer for Get on Up, visit:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=guOS6ev6hQ0

    


Behaving Badly
Film Review by Kam Williams

Rick Stevens (Nat Wolff) is a socially-awkward virgin experiencing pangs of sexual awakenings. That explains why he is trying to summon up the courage to make a play for Nina Pennington (Selena Gomez), the cute, high school classmate he’s had a crush on since the 6th grade.

Trouble is she already has a boyfriend, Kevin Carpenter (Austin Stowell), a handsome hunk who’s very jealous and possessive. Moreover, Rick is so distracted by his dysfunctional family that it’s hard for him to even have time for dating.

He’s mercilessly teased and abused by his deadbeat dad (Cary Elwes), and his alcoholic mother (Mary-Louise Parker) is recovering in the hospital after recently trying to kill herself. And to add insult to injury, she only left a suicide note addressed to Lucy, her pet dog.

Rick’s siblings have their issues, too. His sister, Kristen (Ashley Rickards), has secretly started working as a stripper, and his closeted brother, Steven (Mitch Hewer), is gay and afraid to come out.

Nevertheless, Rick is determined to summon up the nerve to approach the girl of his dreams, and finally jumps at the chance when their Latin teacher (Charles C. Stevenson, Jr.) drops dead during class, ironically while conjugating “vivo,” the verb for live. Nina accepts his offer to drive her to the funeral which, in his mind at least, will be their first date.

So unfolds Behaving Badly, a screwball comedy directed by Tim Garrick that’s far more raunchy than it is funny. This tasteless teensploitation flick serves up generous helpings of gratuitous nudity and profanity but precious little that elicits any laughter.

Director Garrick throws everything at the screen but the kitchen sink in an almost desperate attempt to shock, forgetting in the process to craft a plausible plotline that might hold the attention of anyone with an I.Q. above room temperature. Before Rick is allowed to win Nina’s heart, he acts out repeatedly, prematurely ejaculating with a stripper and sleeping with his best’s friend’s (Lachlan Buchanan) mom (Elisabeth Shue) en route to sharing an incestuous moment in a men’s room with his own mother’s seductive alter ego.

He also gets mixed up with Lithuanian mobsters and lands in jail along with most of his guests after throwing a wild party in the house while his folks are away. The bottom-feeding production squanders the services of a star-studded cast featuring Oscar-nominees Elisabeth Shue (for Leaving Las Vegas) and Gary Busey (for The Buddy Holly Story), pop icons Selena Gomez and Justin Bieber, Dylan McDermott, Jason Lee, Heather Graham and Patrick Warburton.

A misfiring misadventure not even recommended for diehard Selena Gomez fans.

Fair (1 star)

Rated R for crude sexuality, graphic nudity, drug use and pervasive profanity

Running time: 96 minutes

Distributor: Vertical Entertainment

To see a trailer for Behaving Badly, visit

    


The Almost Man
(Mir Eller Mindre Mann)
Film Review by Kam Williams

Henrik Sandvik (Henrik Rafaelsen) is a slacker who’s never had to grow up. The 35 year-old underachiever is still doted on by a helicopter mom (Anne Ma Usterud) willing to wait on him hand-and-foot.

His equally-immature BFFs are the same guys he’s hung around since high school. Their boorish behavior ranges from snapping towels on each other in locker room showers, to getting wasted at parties where they proceed to pee off the balcony, flick their boogers, and engage in fistfights and homoerotic horseplay.

None of the above sits well with Henrik’s girlfriend, Tone (Janne Heltberg Haarseth), given how she recently learned that she’s expecting a baby. Her hope is that her beau will finally grow up, now that he’s on the brink of becoming a father. But that might prove easier said than done, considering that his favorite book is Peter Pan.

The impending arrival of the couple’s bundle of joy lurks over the horizon in The Almost Man, a sublime social satire written and directed by Martin Lund. Unfolding against the backdrop of a variety of visually-captivating Norwegian settings, the film focuses mostly on Tone’s escalating frustrations with Henrik, even after he grudgingly takes a confining corporate job.

It’s not enough that he’s bringing home the bacon, when he blames a temptress he’s caught kissing for having seduced him. He even has the temerity to suggest that Tone have an abortion. But that ain’t happening.

And with only a few months to make over a philanderer who freely admits that “I’m not sure how to behave,” the mad mommy-to-be has her work cut out for her. Will Tone run out of patience before reluctant Henrik is ready to accept his responsibilities?

A droll dramedy examining the male metamorphosis from bachelor to family man.

Very Good (3 stars)

Unrated

In Norwegian with subtitles

Running time: 77 minutes

Distributor: Big World Pictures

    


The Purge: Anarchy
Film Review by Kam Williams

Dateline: America, 2023. It’s now nine years since the country voted the New Founders of America into power. High on that elitist political party’s agenda was designating March 21st as the Purge, a day on which all law is suspended, meaning anything goes, rape, robbery, even murder.

Most citizens opt to stay inside for the duration of the annual ordeal, battening down the hatches with a Bible or a weapon in hand, since they can’t call upon the cops to come to their assistance in the event of an emergency. Yet, many turn vigilante to rid the streets of the dregs of humanity, others seize on the opportunity to even the score with someone they have a grievance against.

A couple of hours before the “fun” starts, we find Eva (Carmen Ejogo) rushing home from her job at a diner to be with her teen daughter, Cali (Zoe Soul). In the process, the attractive waitress ignores the crude passes of both a co-worker (Nicholas Gonzalez) and her apartment building’s custodian (Noel Gugliemi).

Elsewhere, Liz (Kiele Sanchez) and Shane (Zach Gilford) are driving to his sister’s while debating about whether to inform her that their marriage is on the rocks. But the two soon land in desperate straits when their car conks out on the highway only minutes before the siren sounds signaling the beginning of the Purge.

That moment can’t come soon enough for revenge-minded Leo Barnes (Frank Grillo) who’s itching to get even with the drunk driver (Brandon Keener) that not only killed his son, but got off scot-free on a legal technicality. However, soon after the Purge starts, the police sergeant reflexively comes to the assistance of Eva, Cali, Liz and Shane, all of whom are on the run from a bloodthirsty death squad.

So, he puts his plan on the backburner temporarily to protect the frightened foursome. That endeavor proves easier said than done in The Purge: Anarchy, a stereotypical horror sequel in that it ups the ante in terms of violence, body count, pyrotechnics and gratuitous gore.

Unfortunately, the film pales in comparison to the original, which was a thought-provoking thriller raising questions about poverty and privilege. This relatively-simplistic installment pays lip service to that intriguing theme in almost insulting fashion, envisioning instead a nihilistic U.S. which has merely degenerated into a decadent dystopia where blood-thirsty rich snobs relish slaying the poor purely for sport.

It is, thus, no surprise to witness the rise of an African-American guerilla leader (Michael K. Williams) who’s exhorting the masses to revolt by indicting the Purge as racist. An entertaining enough, if incoherent, splatterfest which unapologetically lifts familiar elements from such apocalyptic classics as The Hunger Games (2012), V for Vendetta (2006), The Warriors (1979), Escape from New York (1981) and Hard Target (1993).

A perhaps prophetic satire celebrating senseless slaughter as a natural national holiday in such a gun-loving country!

Good (2 stars)

Rated R for profanity and graphic violence

Running time: 103 minutes

Distributor: Universal Pictures

To see a trailer for The Purge: Anarchy, visit

    


Reviews
UserpicZach Braff Stars in Delightful, Dysfunctional Family Dramedy
Posted by Kam Williams
12.07.2014

Wish I Was Here
Film Review by Kam Williams

As an actor, Zach Braff is most closely associated with the character J.D. from Scrubs, the Emmy-winning sitcom which enjoyed a nine-year run on network television from 2001 to 2010. As a director, he’s best known for Garden State, the quirky, semi-autobiographical feature film where he played a struggling actor who returns to his hometown in Jersey for his mother’s funeral.

Wish I Was Here is more akin to the latter, being another delightful, dysfunctional family dramedy which Zach directed and stars in. He also co-wrote it with his brother, Adam, and the offbeat adventure milks much of its mirth from Jewish culture in a manner often evocative of Joel and Ethan Coen’s A Serious Man (2009).

The point of departure is suburban L.A. which is where we find 35 year-old Aidan Bloom (Braff) in the midst of a midlife crisis. The fledgling actor is on anti-depressants and in deep denial about his dwindling career prospects, despite the fact that he last worked ages ago in a dandruff commercial.

What makes the situation problematical is that he futilely fritters away his time auditioning, oblivious to his breadwinner wife’s (Kate Hudson) resentment. She hates being stuck like a rat on a treadmill in a stultifying government job where she’s being sexually harassed on a daily basis by the pervy creep (Michael Weston) who shares her cubicle.

But she can’t quit her job because their kids, Grace (Joey King) and Tucker (Pierce Gagnon), won’t have food on the table or a roof over their heads. As it is, they’ve already sacrificed some luxuries, like the built-in pool that sits empty in the backyard.

Something’s gotta give when grandpa Gabe (Mandy Patinkin) suddenly announces that his cancer has returned, so he can no longer afford to subsidize his grandchildren’s expensive private education. Not wanting to subject them to the substandard, local public schools, Aidan grudgingly agrees to abandon his pipe dream of Hollywood stardom in order to homeschool them.

However, this affords him an unexpected opportunity to not only share some much-needed quality time with them, but to orchestrate an overdue reconciliation between his long-estranged brother (Josh Gad) and their rapidly-declining dad, as well. Soon, adolescent Grace develops the confidence to blossom from a repressed wallflower into a show off sporting a metallic purple wig, and 6 year-old Tucker finds fulfillment toasting marshmallows in the desert with his more attentive father.

By film’s end, expect to be moved to tears by this poignant picture’s bittersweet resolution and sobering, universal message about the importance of family. And don’t be surprised if the weeping persists way past the closing credits.

Excellent (4 stars)

Rated R for

Running time: 120 minutes

Distributor: Focus Features

To see a trailer for Wish I Was Here, visit

    


Reviews
UserpicAmerica: Imagine the World without Her (FILM REVIEW)
Posted by Kam Williams
12.07.2014

America: Imagine the World without Her

Film Review by Kam Williams

 

Revisionist Documentary Speculates about Alternative U.S. Reality

 

What would the U.S. look like today if the Minutemen had lost the Revolutionary War to England? That query is the launching pad of America: Imagine the World without Her, an unapologetically right-wing documentary written, directed and narrated by Dinesh D’Souza.

D’Souza, a political pundit who immigrated here as a teenager back in the Seventies, proudly wears his patriotism on his sleeve, announcing at the outset, “I love America! I chose this country!” before launching into a full-frontal attack on such controversial left-leaning leaders and public intellectuals as Reverend Jeremiah Wright, Ward Churchill, Noam Chomsky, Michael Moore, Elizabeth Warren, Michael Eric Dyson, Bill Ayers, Howard Zinn, Saul Alinsky and Hillary Clinton.

But he levels his most caustic remarks at Barack Obama whom he indicts as a liar by playing a number of incriminating comments from “If you want to keep your doctor, you can keep your doctor” to “Nobody is listening to your phone calls.”  D’Souza goes on to explain the President’s behavior as merely part of a strategic socialist conspiracy to destroy the capitalist system.

The movie is basically an attempt to prove that the United States is a great nation with no reason to be ashamed of its past, as suggested by its supposed detractors like Reverend Wright who is heard again in his most notorious sound bite, “No! No! No! Not God bless America… God damn America!” D’Souza brushes aside shameful chapters in our history like slavery and the slaughter of the Indians by arguing that there were just as many black slave owners as white ones, and that Native Americans had fought with each other for millennia prior to the arrival of European settlers.   

His goal is to inspire the masses to rise up and save the country before it’s too late. I suspect that the picture will serve as red meat to arch-conservatives already inclined to dismiss Obama and other progressives as communists in liberals’ clothing. Unfortunately, it also won’t do much to encourage civil discourse or to bridge the intractable stalemate between Democratic and Republicans sitting on opposite sides of the aisle.

            Divisive D’Souza: Imagine an America without him!

 

Fair (1.5 stars)

Rated PG-13 for violent images   

Running time: 104 minutes

Distributor: Lionsgate Films

 

To see a trailer for America: Imagine the World without Her, visit:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v7r3Ef7Ssy8

    


Reviews
UserpicRage (FILM REVIEW)
Posted by Kam Williams
09.07.2014

Rage

Film Review by Kam Williams

 

Shades of “Taken” Abound in Gruesome Nicolas Cage Vigilante Vehicle

            In recent years, Nicholas Cage has made a lot of mediocre movies, and Rage is no exception. This B-movie action flick might be best thought of as an unapologetic rip-off of the Liam Neeson vigilante vehicle Taken. 

            But where Neeson was a retired CIA agent, Cage plays a reformed ex-con. And while the former was frantically searching for his missing daughter, the latter is looking for whoever fired a fatal bullet into the head of his sweet, 16 year-old daughter. As for the villains, Taken’s were Albanian sex traffickers while Rage’s are Russian mobsters. 

            Otherwise, the stories are similar enough to warrant a comparison. At the point of departure we find Paul Maguire (Cage) and his trophy wife, Vanessa (Rachel Nichols), bidding his daughter (Aubrey Peeples) adieu for the evening as they head out to dinner at a local restaurant. The overprotective father makes a point of impressing upon Caitlin’s boyfriend, Mike (Max Fowler), that he doesn’t want any hanky-panky on the premises in his absence.   

            However, what actually transpires proves to be far worse than anything he imagined, for he gets a call from Detective St. John (Danny Glover) informing him of a break-in back at the house. Turns out that Caitlin’s been kidnapped and, based on the clues supplied by Mike, Paul suspects that her abductors might be the same ruthless Russian gang he’d had the temerity to rip off 19 years earlier.

            Sadly, her lifeless body is soon discovered, and all the evidence points to the posse’s kingpin, Chernov (Pasha D. Lychnikoff). So, rather than let the police solve the crime, Paul opts to take the law into his own hands, and rounds up a couple of his tough buddies (Max Ryan and Michael McGrady) before embarking on a revenge-fueled reign of terror armed to the teeth.

Gritty and gruesome, Rage is an unapologetic splatterfest featuring pyrotechnics, pistol-whipping, stabbing and slow-motion senseless slaughter murders via sawed-off shotgun. The body count gets pretty high en route to the protagonists’ surprising showdown with Chernov, a barrel-chested Vladimir Putin lookalike.

Think Taken with a heckuva twist!

Good (2 stars)

Unrated

Running time: 98 minutes

Distributor: RLJ/Image Entertainment

To see a trailer for Rage, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y3FVLRN7Nzc     

    


Reviews
UserpicSchool Dance (FILM REVIEW)
Posted by Kam Williams
02.07.2014

School Dance

Film Review by Kam Williams

 

Nick Cannon Makes Directorial Debut with Help of Star-Studded Cast

            Nick Cannon is a versatile entertainer known as an actor, comedian, rapper, radio DJ, TV host and as the husband of pop dive Mariah Carey. With School Dance, Nick steps behind the camera to add filmmaker to his extensive resume.

His jaw-dropping directorial debut is a raunchy romantic comedy that might be best thought of as Romeo and Juliet gone completely gangsta’. Set at an inner-city high school in Los Angeles, the irreverent romp revolves around diminutive Jason Jackson (Bobb’e J. Thompson), a modestly-endowed virgin with a crush on a cute and curvy classmate.

Trouble is Anastacia (Kristina DeBarge) has never even noticed the nondescript nerd. A bigger complication is that he’s black, she’s Chicano, and their respective ethnic groups don’t mix, let alone get along. Nevertheless, Jason accepts a dare from the dudes in his posse to get into her proverbial panties by the end of the semester.

To that end, he hatches an elaborate plan to impress the girl of his dreams by winning their high school’s annual talent show which features a grand prize of $2,000. But of as much import as the outcome of that contest is the raucous road the flick en route to that fait accompli.

Director Cannon apparently had no trouble casting his first picture, since the screen is filled with top comedians at every turn, from the man of the year Kevin Hart to the resurrected Katt Williams to “Yo’ Momma’s” Wilmer Valderrama to the irrepressible Luenell to the incomparable Mike Epps to George Lopez and Patrick Warburton. All of the above found the elbow room to do their thing, although the production might have benefited from editing out some of their most offensive remarks.

For example, the blasphemous rap, “F*ck the President, Barack f*cking Obama. F*ck that n*gger” was a bit much for this critic to stomach, even if the euphoria of historic Election Night 2008 is just a distant memory. Equally off-putting was this line uttered by Lopez as Anastacia’s overprotective father. “I don’t want some little black baby with a big penis running around this house touching all my shit.”

Still, I suspect that such shocking fare will find a ready audience in a Hip-Hop Generation weaned on a profusion of profanity and fond of the N-word. A 21st Century update of the beloved Shakespeare classic about a pair of star-crossed lovers from the opposite side of the tracks.

Good (2 stars)

Rated R for crude humor, graphic sexuality, underage drug use, ethnic slurs and pervasive profanity

Running time: 85 minutes

Distributor: Lionsgate Films

To see a trailer for School Dance, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_qKXSL2N0RQ 

    


Reviews
UserpicEarth to Echo (FILM REVIEW)
Posted by Kam Williams
28.06.2014

Earth to Echo

Film Review by Kam Williams

 

Coming-of-Age Sci-Fi Features Shades of E.T. 

Most people know E.T. revolves around several kids who befriend an alien stranded on Earth and eager to return home before ill-intentioned adults can do him any harm. That coming-of-age classic landed four Academy Awards back in 1983, and was even voted the best sci-fi of all time in a recent survey by Rotten Tomatoes.    

But if you’re too young to remember Steven Spielberg’s heartwarming adventure, or if it’s been so long since you saw it that the storyline’s a little fuzzy, have I got an homage for you. Much about Earth to Echo just screams remake, starting with the picture’s vaguely-familiar promotional poster which similarly features a human hand reaching out to touch an extra-terrestrial.

Still, this delightful variation on the theme endeavors to refresh the original by incorporating current cultural staples, ranging from texting shorthand to social media. So, when the protagonists here communicate with each other, they often rely on inscrutable slang apt to befuddle fuddy-duddies unfamiliar with the lexicon employed by today’s average adolescent.

At this found-footage flick’s point of departure, we find narrator Tuck (Astro) lamenting the impending separation from his BFFs Alex (Teo Halm) and Munch (Reese Hartwig) when their Nevada neighborhood is razed in a week to make way for a turnpike. The plot thickens after all their cell phones inexplicably “barf” simultaneously, and they decide to discern the source of the mysterious malfunction.

Equipped with a camcorder and state-of-the-art spyglasses, the youngsters ride their bikes into the desert in the middle of the night accompanied by a cute rebel (Ella Wahlestedt) with her own reason for running away from home. GPS sends the sleuths to a site in the desert where, lo and behold, they find Echo, a cuddly visitor from another galaxy with pressing issues akin to the aforementioned E.T.

The kids, of course, kick it into high gear on his behalf, keeping just a step ahead of the untrustworthy authorities. Their noble efforts inexorably lead to a satisfying resolution every bit as syrupy as Spielberg’s.

An unapologetic retread bordering on plagiarism that nevertheless provides the perfect, popcorn summer escape for the tyke and ‘tweener demographics.

Excellent (4 stars)

Rated PG for action, peril and mild epithets

Running time: 92 minutes

Distributor: Relativity Media

To see a trailer for Earth to Echo, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JMlcdEtAiBA

    


Reviews
UserpicBlind Boys & Taj Majal (CONCERT REVIEW)
Posted by Kam Williams
23.06.2014

Blind Boys of Alabama and Taj Majal

Concert Review by Kam Williams

 

A Glorious Night of Gospel and Blues at N.J. State Theatre

            The Blind Boys of Alabama opened for Taj Majal on June 18th at the New Jersey State Theatre, where they easily managed to eclipse the headliner in terms of intensity and audience appeal. “Boys” is a bit of misnomer for the six-time Grammy-winning gospel group formed way back in the 1930s by 9 year-old students attending the Alabama Institute for the Negro Blind, located in Talledega.

            Sadly, only a couple of the founding members are still alive, Jimmy Carter and Clarence Fountain, and the latter’s participation in concerts is limited to the extent his failing health allows. But in the early decades, the talented ensemble crisscrossed the country, often going on tour with The Blind Boys of Mississippi, with whom they would share the stage in a friendly battle of the bands.

The show I attended featured a mix of traditional, classic and modern spirituals, ranging from “I Shall Not Be Moved,” to Curtis Mayfield’s “People Get Ready,” to Norman Greenbaum’s “Spirit in the Sky,” to a novel arrangement of “Amazing Grace” set to the tune of “House of the Rising Sun.”

Despite now being in their 70s and 80s, the hard-working harmonizers maintained their high energy for the duration of the hour-plus set, with Jimmy being guided up and down the aisles for hugs, handshakes and photo ops during a lively encore that brought down the house.

By contrast, the Taj Majal trio was relatively-subdued, and fed his fans a steady diet of blues, blues and more blues, ignoring the jazz, reggae, rock and R&B in his repertoire, except for a brief incursion into his African roots. Otherwise, his playlist included such standards as Blind Lemon Jefferson’s “Corinna, Corinna,” T-Bone Walker’s “Mean Old World,” Muddy Waters’ “Honey Bee,” John Lee Hooker’s “Annie Mae,” and Mississippi John Hurt’s “Satisfied and Tickled Too.”

Taj was backed by drums and bass while he played guitar (dobro, electric, 12-string acoustic, and so forth) on all but a number where he sat at an electric keyboard. At 72, I was concerned that he might have lost his voice, but it sounded as powerful as ever, and he definitely delivered, provided you came content to hear the brother sing the blues.

To hear “Clara: St. Kitts Woman” by Taj Majal, visit:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A4wcBzRE44Y

To see a vintage video of The Blind Boys of Alabama, visit:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mr5FmYvWNhc

To order a copy of The Blind Boys’ new album, “I’ll Find a Way,” visit: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B00CZ1TMXI/ref%3dnosim/thslfofire-20

    


Begin Again
Film Review by Kam Williams

Greta (Keira Knightley) followed her college sweetheart (Adam Levine) to Manhattan when he was signed to a lucrative record deal with a major music label. However, the overnight fame went to Dave’s head and he soon started to stray. This development signaled not only the end of their romantic relationship but the demise of their promising partnership as songwriters, too.

Nevertheless, Greta is still very talented in her own right, which she readily proves when pushed by a pal to perform at a Greenwich Village dive on open mic night. The haunting strains of “A Step You Can’t Take Back” catch the ear of Dan Mulligan (Mark Ruffalo), a legendary talent scout who happens to be sitting in the audience.

He proceeds to imagine how great Greta would sound accompanied by a full band instead of simply by her acoustic guitar. So, right after the diamond in the rough steps offstage, he offers to help turn her into the next singing sensation.

But Greta is initially reluctant for a couple of logical reasons. First of all, she’d just decided to abandon her silly pipe dream of superstardom and was on brink of moving back to England. Secondly, the solicitous stranger standing in front of her reeks of alcohol and looks homeless, and nothing like a veteran A&R exec.

Truth be told, disheveled Dan is in the dumps because he was recently fired from Distress Records by the Harvard classmate (Mos Def) he’d co-founded the company with. Furthermore, he’s being missing his estranged wife (Catherine Keener) and daughter (Hailee Steinfeld) since being kicked out of the house a year ago.

In fact, he was actually contemplating suicide until Greta’s voice gave him a new reason to live. Well, will he be able to revive his career and launch Great’s simultaneously, or will the ambitious endeavor fail miserably? And, will the two fall in love, despite the age difference, or might they merely return to their respective exes? Those are the alternate scenarios contemplated by Begin Again, an absorbing, character-driven, musical drama written and directed by John Carney.

The movie is most reminiscent of Carney’s earlier offering Once, which won the 2008 Academy Award for Best Song (“Falling Slowly”) en route to the Broadway stage where it subsequently swept the Tony Awards, including Best Musical. Begin Again similarly revolves around a pair of losers down on their luck whose close collaboration yields a cornucopia of mellifluous melodies.

Who knew that Keira Knightley could carry a tune let alone in such a dulcet tone? Or that she was capable of generating palpable screen chemistry? Kudos are also in order for her top-flight, supporting cast, especially Mark Ruffalo, Adam Levine, Mos Def, James Corden, Catherine Keener, Hailee Steinfeld and CeeLo Green.

An enchanting musical adventure amounting to the best kept cinematic secret of the summer! At least until now.

Excellent (4 stars)

Rated R for profanity

Running time: 104 minutes

Distributor: The Weinstein Company

To see a trailer for Begin Again, visit

    


Reviews
UserpicLas Vegas Serves as Backdrop for Battle-of-the-Sexes Sequel
Posted by Kam Williams
21.06.2014

Think Like a Man Too
Review by Kam Williams

The surprise hit Think Like a Man was #1 at the box-office over its opening weekend back in April of 2012. Inspired by Steve Harvey’s best-selling, “Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man,” the original explored some of the serious issues tackled by the popular, relationship advice book by examining the angst of four couples in relationship crisis.

This go round, director Tim Story has abandoned the source material in favor of a screwball adventure that unfolds more like a blend of “The Hangover” and “Bridesmaids,” madcap movies about a bachelor and bachelorette party, respectively. Think Like a Man Too endeavors to increase the ante by featuring both a bachelor and bachelorette party.

Unfortunately, this relatively-tame sequel fails to measure up to either of those side-splitting descents into debauchery, being basically a vehicle for Kevin Hart’s kitchen sink brand of comedy. Here, the motor-mouthed comedian serves as an omniscient narrator who calls the battle-of-the-sexes’ play-by-play.

Director Story deserves credit for reassembling the principal cast members, thereby easily maintaining the ensemble’s continuity and chemistry. The reason for the reunion is that Candace (Regina Hall) and Momma’s Boy Michael (Terrence J), are tying the knot, so they’ve invited his meddling mother (Jenifer Lewis) and all their friends to Las Vegas for the nuptials.

Just past the point of departure, we find chef Dominic (Michael Ealy) and corporate executive Lauren (Taraji P. Henson) still struggling with whether to put career ahead of romance. Meanwhile, settled-down Kristen (Gabrielle Union) and Jeremy (Jerry Ferrrara) are thinking about having a kid. And Mya (Meagan Good) is having a hard time trusting her beau, Zeke (Romany Malco), given how his ex-girlfriends seem to surface at inopportune moments.

Eventually, all of the above plus Sonya (La La Anthony), Tish (Wendi Mclendon-Covey), Bennett (Gary Owen), Isaac (Adam Brody) and Terrell (David Walton) separate by gender the night before the wedding ceremony. The plot thickens when the bridesmaids carouse around Sin City in search of stimulation by bulging biceps, and just as best man Cedric and the groomsmen get the bright idea of entering a male stripping contest dressed as the Village People.

It’s not very hard to guess what happens next, or how it will all end after the wedding is almost cancelled. A pleasant, if predictable, diversion peppered with incessant chatter on the part of the irrepressible Kevin Hart.

Good (2 stars)

Rated PG-13 for profanity, drug use, crude humor, sexual references and partial nudity

Running time: 106 minutes

Distributor: Screen Gems

    


The Life and Crimes of Doris Payne
Film Review by Kam Williams

Doris Payne was born black back in 1930 in Slab Fork, West Virginia where she was raised during the Jim Crow era of racial segregation. Besides having to withstand withering bigotry and racial discrimination as a child, she grew up in a dysfunctional family where her father routinely beat her mother right in front of her face.

That might help explain her turning to crime at an early age, starting with stealing a diamond from a department store, fencing it, and using the funds to help her mom escape the abusive marriage. Unfortunately, Doris didn’t stop there, but took to jewel thievery like a fish to water, gradually escalating to seven figure takes by targeting upscale retailers like Cartier and Tiffany.

Her modus operandi involved gaining the confidence of a gullible store clerk before resorting to distracting devices such as sleight of hand and dizzying hand jive. That reprehensible behavior kept the sticky-fingered felon forever on the run from authorities as she netted millions in gems over the course of a checkered career spanning six decades and counting.

Specializing in identity theft, Doris was an expert at impersonating wealthy socialites in exotic locales, as she did on Monaco where she passed herself off as the wife of movie director Otto Preminger. Overall, she‘s employed at least 20 aliases, 11 Social Security numbers and 9 passports in pursuit of ill-gotten gems. Brief stints in prison couldn’t cure Doris’ compulsive kleptomania, which is why she’s presently doing time behind bars for purloining a precious stone worth 22Gs just last year.

Co-directed by Matthew Pond and Kirk Marcolina, The Life and Crimes of Doris Payne is a documentary of dubious intentions which futilely endeavors to paint an empathetic picture of an unrepentant octogenarian who simply fails to earn the audience’s respect. After all, her odious line of work has serious consequences not only for herself but for others, as was the case with a tearful clerk seen here who was fired for being fleeced by the wily old recidivist.

Doris Payne, an unappealing, un-role model who stole millions from the rich and simply frittered it away on herself in decadent fashion.

Very Good (2.5 stars)

Unrated

Running time: 74 minutes

Distributor: Film Forum

    


Panathenee 
EP by Jim Cassady & Pablo
Review by Kam Williams

Sounding like a compelling cross of the Kraftwerk and Bryan Ferry, a couple of young Frenchmen based in Berlin, Jim Cassady & Pablo, have collaborated to produce an album of mesmerizing electronic music. Recently released on the European label Humble Musique, the ethereal EP contains a quartet of instrumentals augmented by just enough human backing vocals to ground the otherwise otherworldy tracks with a sultry, softening human touch.

The smooth grooves are definitely danceable, yet reflect the complexity of the talented combo’s eclectic influences, ranging from Mozart to Monk to Coltrane to Hendrix. Keyboardist Jim’s job is to endlessly explore pleasant melodies while also maintaining the rhythm. Improvisation is the ostensibly the passion of Pablo, a self-taught guitarist who breaks all the rules he’s better off having never learned.

Since beauty is not only in the eye of the beholder, but in the ear of the behearer, may I simply suggest you click on the links below to check out these talented, hi-tech troubadours. I hope that you enjoy them as much as I do, so that they might be venture to these shores to stage their first concert in the U.S.

Appreciate Jim Cassady & Pablo now and avoid the rush!

To hear a sample of Jim Cassady & Pablo’s music, visit

To see a live performance by Jim Cassady & Pablo, visit

To order a copy of singles from Panathenee or the entire EP, visit

    


Reviews
UserpicThrough a Valley of Darkness
Posted by Kam Williams
27.05.2014

Cold in July
Cannes Film Festival Review by Dorian Rolston

In the opening scene of Jim Mickle’s “Cold in July,” a dark thriller adapted from Joe R. Lansdale’s eponymous novel, clattering breaks the silence of a warm, languid country night. Richard Dane (Michael C. Hall), a prudish Texan awoken in a panic, tremulously loads a pistol and edges down the hall to the living room where, as if guided by external forces, he shoots and kills an unarmed intruder. Later, the town sheriff (Nick Damici) tries to assuage Richard’s shock: “Sometimes the good guy wins.” But the blood on the picture framer’s hands leaves a permanent mark, splattering a pastoral mantelpiece, a pastoral life.

When the deceased intruder is identified as a wanted felon named Freddy Russell, Richard is recast as a modest businessman-turned-vigilante hero. But the down-home everyman shrinks from local celebrity, learning that Freddy’s father Ben (Sam Shepard) has been paroled from prison. Wary of revenge but still ridden with guilt, Richard observes Freddy’s funeral from the safety of his Mercury station wagon when, in a neo-noir turn, Ben appears at his window, terrifyingly subdued, gleaming in the setting East-Texas sun. “Quiet and peaceful, isn’t it?” the ex-con offers.

Clouds roll in over Mickle’s homespun late-80s countryside (more accurately that of upstate New York). As thunder and lightning syncopate Jeff Grace’s chilling, synthesized score, Ben, wearing a menacing rictus, skulks around Richard’s son. The threats escalate until Ben is apprehended, which only peels back a deeper conspiracy: the Danes were bait. In the cover of darkness, police drag Ben from a holding cell and leave him lying on a railroad track. But Richard, having grown suspicious, manages to witness the foul play and, just in time, to save Ben from pulverization.

Ill at ease, the two hoodwinked men bind together until, with near-derailing levity, a third musketeer breezes in behind the wheel of a scorching red Cadillac convertible, its grill mounting longhorns and its vanity plate flashing RED BITCH. That would be Jim Bob (Don Johnson)—pig farmer, howdy-doody gunslinger, private eye. With Jim Bob at the helm, the unlikely trio follow a putrid scent through police corruption, Mafia gangbanging, snuff movies, and a culminating bloodbath a la mode.

As a moody, stylized, genre-bending thriller, “Cold in July” exhibits deft handiwork. But as a character study, which is ultimately what drives the plot, its layering is thin. Richard’s deeper motivations for vigilante justice remain opaque—even, somehow, to his wife Anne (Vinessa Shaw), an insipid rendering of a female character whose concerns are limited strictly to interior décor. That even the most warm-blooded among us have cold-blooded potentiality, as the title suggests, is insinuated, if not exhaustively probed. Nevertheless, the pulpy twists and turns ratchet up suspense and unspool mystery that is a ride all its own.

Postscript

My wife in heels, I had to run. Two Invitations—Place Réservées—to “Cold in July” were being kept in a blank envelope held by a man waiting outside the Théâtre Croisette, in Cannes. Perhaps it was the enchanting Cote d’Azur, the deep blue sea heard softly lapping, the liminal profiles glimpsed through tinted car windows, the reveries indulged of passersby straining to place our stardom, which had relaxed our stride. Nevertheless, we were late. As I bounded down the Promenade de la Croisette, scattering coteries of refinement, I recalled the last email from the man with the envelope: “Should be fine, look for me when you arrive and I will look for you!” Likely, he would see me first.

It was our first time at the Cannes Film Festival and, for that matter, at any film festival. I had inquired, complained, and generally made a fuss about my press credentials, which, due to hardly unforeseen circumstances (neglecting to submit an application), had never arrived. While being shuffled between accreditation staff, though, I was intercepted by a gregarious Aussie who introduced himself as a music producer and then divulged that, the night before, he had attended a party that was “not to be missed.” The party was hosted by Schweppes on a yacht, he said, running through precise directions. Lacking any navigational sensibility for the luxury yachts of Le Vieux Port, or any official documentation of my business being there, I could do little else but look begrudgingly. “Don’t worry,” he assured, with a wink. “Things have a way of working themselves out.”

We received warm greetings as we descended the red carpet: trois cent quatre, trois cent cinq. Inside the Théâtre Croisette, a wood-paneled aerie of eight hundred and twenty velvet seats nestled within the five-star JW Marriott, my wife and I unknowingly happened to sit next to Karen Lansdale, wife of Joe, author of “Cold in July.” (At the time, we took her to be merely a woman with a southern accent who was kindly watching the coat of an absent stranger.) Handsome ushers in black suits and red neckties were showing a regal couple to their seats—the woman in lapidary raiment adorned with a snowy white tunic and shimmering drop earrings, the man honey-tanned and sporting two thick slabs of leather-strapped wristwatch. (Trois cent six, trois cent sept.) This was not, evidently, the Cannes of the bundled-up man who slept in the pool of light in the bank lobby just off the Promenade and who, the previous night, had drawn a phalanx of Police Municipale and a rowdy dog. This was the Cannes of auteurs.

A spotlight bathed the stage to celebrate cast and crew, and applause filled the theatre. Jim Mickle appeared in a dark suit and sneakers with red laces. Reading “Cold in July” a few years ago was “terrifying, seductive, violent, emotionally-shaking,” he said. “I couldn’t get it out of my head.” Then he added, “And hopefully the film makes you guys feel the same way I did.”

Dorian Rolston is a freelance writer covering cognitive science and the arts.

To see an interview with Cold in July director Jim Mickle, visit

    


X-Men: Days of Future Past
Film Review by Kam Williams

X-Men: Days of Future Past represents the 7th episode in the storied mutant series, and is the third directed by Bryan Singer who also helmed X-Men 1 and 2. This installment is loosely based on the 1981 Marvel Comics (issues #141-142) of the same name, a convoluted tale in which one of the superheroes is sent back in time to prevent an impending disaster threatening the present.

The story unfolds in a dystopian future where we find a race of robots called Sentinels slaying mutants and subjugating humanity. X-Men founder/leader/brain of the operation Dr. Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) summons his surviving protégés to a meeting in a monastery in China to hatch a plan to preserve the planet.

With the help of “phasing” Shadowcat’s (Ellen Page) quantum tunneling ability, Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) slips through a portal to a parallel universe in 1973. His mission there is to stop fellow mutant Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) from murdering Trask (Peter Dinklage), the diabolical genius who invented the Sentinels.

Why would you want a vanquished villain to be reincarnated? Don’t ask. After all, that’s one of the easier leaps of faith this flick’s farfetched plot expects you to make. If you need a plausible plot, then you might be too close-minded for this imaginative sci-fi.

Try on for size the novel notion that President Kennedy was killed “because he was one of us.” OK, let’s see, so JFK was assassinated for being a mutant? Why not? Just a couple of years ago we learned from another movie that Abraham Lincoln was a vampire slayer. Revisionist history? Or little known fact? You be the judge. What’s next, Dwight Eisenhower as an alien?

But I digress. Fortunately, X-Men 7 audience members will be very richly rewarded for taking flights of fancy, provided they succeed in suspending their disbelief. Don’t try to make sense, for instance, about how you go back in time, reverse a long-deceased person’s demise, and not simultaneously unravel myriad aspects of reality which have already subsequently transpired.

Instead, simply sit back and enjoy a sophisticated period piece unfolding against a nostalgic backdrop littered with staples of the Seventies ranging from lava lamps to waterbeds. This adventure even brings out of mothballs a number of favorite characters we haven’t seen in awhile, such as Storm (Halle Berry), Rogue (Anna Paquin), Cyclops (James Marsden), Iceman (Shawn Ashmore) and Colossus (Daniel Cudmore).

Don’t forget to sit through all of the credits for a decent-length teaser about X-Men 8: Apocalypse, coming to theaters in May of 2016. X-Men, a fabled franchise that like a fine wine, just keeps improving with age.

Excellent (4 stars)

Rated PG-13 for nudity, profanity, suggestive material and intense violence

In English, French and Vietnamese with subtitles

Running time: 131 minutes

Distributor: 20th Century Fox

To see a trailer for X-Men: Days of Future Past, visit

    


Reviews
UserpicInside the Hotel Rwanda (BOOK REVIEW)
Posted by Kam Williams
25.05.2014

Inside the Hotel Rwanda: The Surprising True Story ... and Why It Matters Today

by Edouard Kayihura and Kerry Zukus
Book Review by Kam Williams
BenBella Books
Hardcover, $24.95
296 pages
ISBN: 978-193785674-8

“Hotel Rwanda was ‘promoted as a story about ‘the quiet heroism of one man, Paul Rusesabagina, during the Rwandan Genocide.’ I knew Paul Rusesabagina. All the people who survived inside the hotel… knew Paul Rusesabagina.

No one among us has ever thought of him as altruistic, let alone heroic. On the contrary, of all the people who were within the hotel during the genocide, he would quite possibly be considered the furthest from a hero…

Rusesabagina had been a war profiteer, a friend to the architects of the genocide, a man willing to starve those without money while hoarding piles of food, drink and riches for himself.”

Excerpted from the Introduction (page xxx)

In 2004, the film Hotel Rwanda received widespread acclaim for its heartrending account of how one man had singlehandedly shielded over a thousand Tutsi refugees from certain death during the Rwandan Genocide by hiding them in the hotel he managed. Don Cheadle earned an Academy Award nomination for his powerful portrayal of Paul Rusesabagina, an apparent modern-day saint suddenly mentioned in the same breath as Oskar Schindler, the German factory owner who had saved so many Jews from the Holocaust during World War II.

Rusesabagina was subsequently celebrated by Amnesty International and other organizations as he embarked on a world tour during which he collected countless prizes and honorary degrees, including the Wallenberg Medal, the National Civil Rights Museum Freedom Award and the Presidential Medal of Freedom, to name a few. And, to this day, he’s remained in demand as a revered icon and inspirational speaker sought to recount his uplifting tale of unparalleled bravery in the face of ethnic cleansing.

What a difference a decade makes! Over the intervening years, telltale cracks gradually appeared in the image Rusesabagina had so carefully cultivated with the help of Hollywood and the human rights community. Those swirling rumors came out into the open when Rwandan President Kagame referred to the supposed paragon of virtue as a total fraud.

Now, Hotel Rwanda survivor Edouard Kayihura has collaborated with journalist Kerry Zukus to set the record straight once and for all. Their book, “Inside the Hotel Rwanda: The Surprising True Story… and Why It Matters Today” painstakingly deconstructs Rusesabagina’s self-serving myth about what transpired.

Truth be told, he was never a hero but rather a Hutu sympathizer and war profiteer who had extorted money from the frightened folks seeking refuge on the grounds of his hotel. According to Kayihura, “He treated… us as his personal cash register… Refugees were refused entrance unless they could pay him.”

Furthermore, “The hotel was protected by UN peacekeepers and any attempt to kill was aborted by them… Paul Rusesabagina had absolutely nothing to do with any of this.“ Kayihura‘s damning assertions are supported by the recollections of many of his fellow countrymen who had sought refuge at the hotel for the duration of the bloody conflict.

Assuming this eye-opening opus is accurate, a debt of gratitude is owed Kayihura and Zukus for belatedly exposing a very slippery character as a shameless charlatan.

    


Blended
Film Review by Kam Williams

Jim Friedman (Adam Sandler) is a widower who’s raising three daughters on his own. Since the macho man’s man is clueless about girls, he’s been slowly turning them into tomboys, between the Prince Valiant haircuts and referring to them by the masculine nicknames Larry (Bella Thorne), Lou (Alyvia Alyn Lind) and ESPN (Emma Fuhrmann).

By contrast, Lauren Reynolds’ (Drew Barrymore) plight is practically the polar opposite. The frazzled, very feminine divorcee is being driven crazy by her testosterone-sodden sons, pubescent Brendan (Braxton Beckham) and hyperactive ‘tween Tyler (Kyle Red Silverstein). The former’s hormones are raging, while his little brother’s pyromania has his mother seriously considering starting him on a Ritalin regimen.

Neither Jim nor Lauren had been on a date in ages until they made each other’s acquaintance online. They agreed to meet for drinks, and the prospects looked promising, given how her sons’ need for a father figure conveniently dovetailed with his daughters’ for maternal guidance.

Unfortunately, rendezvousing at Hooters turned out to be a bad idea, due to Jim’s paying more attention to the waitresses and to the basketball game on TV than to Lauren. So, the two chalked the unmitigated disaster up to experience, and went their separate way, never expecting to see each other ever again.

But, through a highly-improbable series of coincidences, both of their families end-up booked on the same flight to South Africa for an all expenses-paid vacation where they’ll have to share a hotel suite at a luxury resort. Will Jim take advantage of his second chance to make a first impression?

That is the quandary established at the outset of Blended, the third romantic romp revolving around an Adam Sandler/Drew Barrymore collaboration (along with The Wedding Singer and 50 First Dates). But before the audience has an answer, the pair and their progeny must first indulge in the sort of stupid-funny fare that made Sandler famous.

The kitchen sink comedy then proceeds to throw anything up on the screen for a laugh (especially pecs-popping, scene-stealer Terry Crews as the irrepressible local entertainer), regardless of whether or not a skit fits into the plot or furthers the storyline. As dumb as the jokes were (and they are often plenty dumb), I have to admit that I frequently found myself laughing in spite of myself.

Call me bwana, but it’s three times a charm for Sandler and Barrymore on this totally-silly surfin’ safari!

Very Good (3 stars)

Rated PG-13 for profanity, sexuality and crude humor

Running time: 117 minutes

Distributor: Warner Brothers

To see a trailer for Blended, visit

    


Godzilla
Film Review by Kam Williams

Godzilla PosterGodzilla made its debut in 1954 when the mythical, man-eating monster, inadvertently created by an atomic blast, emerged from the Pacific Ocean to carve a path of death and destruction across Japan, much to the chagrin of the country’s overmatched military. A couple of years later, Raymond Burr narrated a documentary-style, English-language remake which was basically a dubbed version of the original with his lines spliced in.

Despite relying for decades on terribly-stilted scripts and a guy in a rubber suit towering over a scale model of a toy-sized Tokyo, the B-movie franchise has remained popular enough to spawn thirty-something sequels and counting. This relatively-upscale reboot of the series, however, abandons the campy dialogue and cheesy trick photography in favor of an emotionally-engaging plot as well as state-of-the-art special f/x.

Furthermore, while the 2014 edition Godzilla still looks like a fire-breathing, mutated iguana, he behaves more like a benign, anthropomorphic ally of humanity than its evil adversary. The villains, here, are a couple of nuclear waste-ingesting MUTOs (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organisms) that are not only threatening to level San Francisco but are poised to unleash a litter of their equally-hostile offspring.

In case you’re wondering, there’s plenty of precedent for Godzilla’s squaring-off against fellow behemoths. Consider such classic showdowns as King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962), Mothra vs. Godzilla (1964) and Godzilla vs. Megalon (1973), to name a few.

Although, this one’s finale is well worth the wait, it sure takes its sweet time getting around to that spectacular battle royal. In fact, we don’t even get a peek at Godzilla during the film’s first hour, which is instead devoted to developing characters and filling in the back story.

The picture was directed by Gareth Edwards (Monsters) who assembled a surprisingly-sophisticated ensemble for an action-oriented, summer blockbuster. The cast includes Breaking Bad’s Bryan Cranston, Academy Award-winner Juliette Binoche (for The English Patient), and nominees David Strathairn (for Good Night, and Good Luck), Sally Hawkins (Blue Jasmine) and Ken Watanabe (The Last Samurai).

The adventure revolves around the Brody family whose plight provides the audience with the incentive to invest emotionally in the outcome. Widowed patriarch Joe (Cranston) is driven to learn the truth behind the catastrophe at a Japanese nuclear power plant that claimed his late wife’s (Binoche) life 15 years earlier. Their son, Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), a Navy explosives disposal expert, agrees to accompany his dad to the Orient, leaving behind a worried wife (Elizabeth Olsen) and son (Carson Bolde) behind in San Francisco.

Of course, all hell eventually breaks loose back home when anthropomorphic Godzilla selflessly rises to the occasion in defense of the city. Will the MUTOs meet their match? Will the separated Brodys manage to survive the apocalyptic mayhem for a tearful reunion?

A surprisingly haunting and panoramic picture exploring universal themes like loss and yearning, yet with all the fixins for first-rate action entertainment. Hey, why didn’t they make monster movies like this when I was a kid?

Excellent (4 stars)

Rated PG-13 for intense violence and scenes off destruction

Running time: 123 minutes

Distributor: Warner Brothers

To see a trailer for Godzilla, visit

    


Breastmilk

Breastmilk

Film Review by Kam Williams

Precious few mothers in America follow the World Health Organization’s recommendation that newborns be breastfed exclusively for the first six months of life. Why the rush to formula, when nursing is not only natural and healthier, but cheaper and fosters the baby-mom bond?

Unfortunately, we live in a culture which discourages women from breastfeeding at every turn, starting soon after birth where infants are often introduced to the bottle right in the hospital. After all, formulas are a billion-dollar business, and it is in a manufacturer’s financial interest to wean a little one off mommy’s nipple, and the sooner the better.

That’s why most mothers are provided a starter kit of bottles and formula upon being discharged. Even those exhibiting an interest in breastfeeding are pressured by their doctors to at least purchase a $300 pump, the subtle suggestion being that they might not be able to produce enough milk on their own.

Truth be told, lactation is an uncomplicated bodily function which rarely needs any assistance. But we live in a culture where corporate interests and Puritanical values have conspired to shame females away from following their instincts. Yes, it’s may be legal to breastfeed in public, yet so many moms feel guilty anyway about exercising their right to do so.

Directed by Dana Ben-Ari, Breastmilk is a most enlightening documentary which extols a variety of nursing’s benefits, ostensibly with the goal of mainstreaming what sadly remains taboo in so many social circles. The film’s primary focus is the daily regimen of about ten breastfeeding families, though it also features interviews with a few of the age-old practice’s more eloquent, academic advocates.

An empowering reminder of a woman’s body’s remarkable ability to provide sustenance in abundance.

Excellent (4 stars)

Unrated

Running time: 91 minutes

Studio: Aleph Pictures

Distributor: Cavu Pictures

To see a trailer for Breastmilk, visit 

    


Half of a Yellow Sun
Film Review by Kam Williams

Twins Kainene (Anika Noni Rose) and Olanna (Thandie Newton) hail from a well-to-do Nigerian family well-enough connected to send them overseas to college where they majored in business and sociology, respectively. Ironically, while the sisters were acquiring a first-rate Western education in England, the independence movement back home was seeking to sever its ties with Great Britain.

After graduating in the early Sixties, they returned to Lagos to launch their careers, only to land in distracting love affairs. Attractive Olanna became the mistress of Odenigbo (Chiwetel Ejiofor), an outspoken college professor who’d caught the anti-colonial fever, whereas willful Kainene entertained the advances of Richard (Joseph Mawle), a white expatriate writing a book about African art.

Sibling rivalry moves Kainene to tease her twin about the philanderer disdainfully referred to as “The Revolutionary.” Nevertheless, Olanna relocates to the bush to be with Odenigbo and his loyal manservant, Ugwu (John Boyega). However, upon subsequently learning that Odenigbo has been unfaithful, she readily rationalizes seducing her sister’s suitor for a one-night stand.

The resulting strain on the siblings’ relationship leads to their drifting apart, a development dwarfed by the bloody, three-year civil war which erupts all around them when Biafra secedes from the union. All of the above elements add fuel to the fires of Half of a Yellow Sun, the highly-anticipated screen version of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie‘s best-selling novel of the same name.

The film marks the impressive directorial debut of Biyi Bandele, who also adapted the 543-page opus into a 113-minute saga that walks a fine line between romance drama and sprawling epic. That being said, the picture’s examination of the country’s explosive Christian-Muslim tribal tensions proves to be both timely and compelling, given how they’ve recently resurfaced during the radical group Boko Haram’s current reign of terror.

A steamy soap opera unfolding against the backdrop of a cautionary history lesson reminding us that in Nigeria, the more things change, the more they stay insane.

Very Good (3 stars)

Rated R for violence and sexuality

Running time: 113 minutes

Distributor: Monterey Media

To see a trailer for Half of a Yellow Sun, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iq2dNtP-2hU&list=UUJT0RwcR7HRLljiEEvF4x9A

    


Reviews
UserpicCouple Confronts Rowdy Frat in Raunchy Revenge Comedy
Posted by Kam Williams
10.05.2014

Neighbors
Film Review by Kam Williams

When Kelly (Rose Byrne) and Mac Radner (Seth Rogen) decided to settle down in suburbia, they reasonably expected to raise their newborn in a quiet community. But that dream was threatened soon thereafter, when the local chapter of Delta Psi Beta bought the house next-door.

As a precautionary measure, the concerned couple introduced themselves to their new neighbors and asked for assurances that there wouldn’t be any wild partying on the premises. Delta Psi’s President, Teddy (Zac Efron), and Vice President, Pete (Dave Franco), did agree to keep the noise down in exchange for a promise from the Radners not to call the police.

Nevertheless, it’s not long before the situation spirals out of control. After all, the infamous frat has a well-established reputation for rowdiness, having invented the toga party back in the Thirties and then beer pong in the Seventies.

So, today, Teddy feels pressure to match his predecessors’ checkered past. This means he’s inclined to up the ante in terms of outrageous antics, which can only spell trouble for Kelly and Mac once they go back on their word about complaining to the cops, and Delta Psi is placed on probation by the university’s dean, Carol Gladstone (Lisa Kudrow).

At that point, all bets are off, and the frat and the newlyweds proceed to square-off in an ever-escalating war of attrition with more losers than winners. That is the point of departure of Neighbors, a relentlessly-raunchy revenge comedy directed by Nicholas Stoller (Get Him to the Greek).

Unfortunately, the sophomoric parties prove to be more cruel than clever in their attempts to get even, and the shocking behavior displayed onscreen is invariably more smutty than funny, as it features plenty of prolonged frontal nudity. Plus, the picture’s only good gag, when the office chair jettisons Mac into the ceiling, was totally spoiled by the TV commercials.

Otherwise, the film is memorable mostly for its homoerotic humor, as director Stoller is fond of seizing on any excuse to lampoon gay sexuality. First, Kelly kisses a college coed she’s recruiting as a confidante. Then, fraternity pledges are forced to parade naked in a circle while clutching the penis of the guy in front of him.

On another occasion, a male student is raped by a classmate seemingly in his sleep, only to later admit that he was aware and welcomed the rude intrusion. And when Teddy and Pete fight over a girl (Halston Sage), they settle their differences in bizarre fashion, namely, by massaging each other’s genitals to see who climaxes first, while appropriating the gangsta’ rap mantra, “Bros before hos!”

Throw in the gratuitous use of the “N-word” twice, of anti-Semitism (“You Jews and your f*cking mothers!”), as well as a profusion of misogynistic comments like referring to breasts as “udders,” and there’s little left to recommend about this ugly descent into depravity.

Poor (0 stars)

Rated R for crude humor, graphic sexuality, full frontal nudity, pervasive profanity, ethnic slurs, and drug and alcohol abuse

Running time: 97 minutes

Distributor: Universal Pictures

    


Reviews
UserpicBoz Scaggs (CONCERT REVIEW)
Posted by Kam Williams
07.05.2014

Boz Scaggs

Concert Review by Kam Williams

 

Boz Brings His Mellow Brand of Blue-Eyed Soul to the Garden State

            Boz Scaggs will be turning 70 next month, but you’d never know it judging by his demanding two-hour set, including three encores, at New Jersey’s legendary State Theatre in New Brunswick on May 7th. The legendary singer/songwriter/guitarist brought his unique brand of blue-eyed soul to town on a cross-country tour promoting “Memphis,” his first studio album in five years.

            The show featured the best of Boz tunes released over the course of an enduring career which has spanned a half-century thus far and counting. Believe it or not, this critic first caught him in concert 45 years ago at the Fillmore East when he was a sideman in the Steve Miller Band as the opening act for Neil Young.

            Last night, Boz’s group was the only one on the bill, and it performed inspired renditions of his much-beloved hits like “Lido Shuffle,” “What Can I Say,” “Harbor Lights” and “Lowdown” which won the Grammy for Best R&B Song of 1976. They also played an array of popular standards ranging from “Rainy Night in Georgia” to “Proud Mary” to “Corrina, Corrina” to Sly and the Family Stone’s “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mic Elf Agin).”

            Since he was fresh from the New Orleans Jazz Festival, Boz decided to do “Sick and Tired” in tribute to Big Easy native son Fats Domino. And he played “Cadillac Walk” and “Mixed Up Shook Up Girl” from the new CD, too.

            Boz’s velvety voice was backed by a very talented ensemble ostensibly well-schooled in creating the trademark lush ambience his fans came to hear. A truly soothing, mood-setting treat by a smooth crooner who like a fine wine just gets better with time.

To hear “Lowdown” by Boz Scaggs, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I-hKBmTAADo 

To order a copy of Memphis, visit: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B00AYR2FOI/ref%3dnosim/thslfofire-20 

    


The Amazing Spider-Man 2
Film Review by Kam Williams

If the idea behind a sequel to a summer blockbuster is to up the ante in terms of bombast and intensity, then The Amazing Spider-Man 2 certainly fits the bill. This installment is bigger and better and louder and longer, featuring more villains, next generation special f/x, more captivating action sequences, and even a fully-blossomed romance between Spidey’s alter ego Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) and his girlfriend, Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone).

The picture’s point of departure is a flashback filling in a bit of the back story about how Peter became an orphan. We learn that his parents’ (Campbell Scott and Embeth Davidtz) died aboard a doomed private plane hijacked by an assassin (Bill Heck) with an agenda, but not before his scientist father managed to email an explanatory message and critical computer file via satellite.

Fast-forward to the present, Peter and Gwen’s high school graduation day. We see a frustrated Gwen searching the audience for her boyfriend as she delivers a sentimental valedictory speech at the podium.

We soon learn that he’s been delayed in Manhattan where as Spider-Man he’s trying to retrieve a shipment of stolen plutonium from a Russian mobster named Aleksei Sytsevich (Paul Giamatti). In the middle of the chase, he coincidentally saves the life of Max Dillon (Jamie Foxx), an engineer at Oscorp, the company responsible for supplying the city with electricity.

After securing the vials and apprehending the perpetrator for the police, Peter rushes off to his commencement ceremony, arriving right in the nick of time to receive his diploma. However, he has no idea that he hasn’t seen the last of Aleksei and Max who are fated to return later in the adventure after a combat suit of armor and a freak accident enable them to morph into the villainous Rhino and Electro, respectively.

But first, he grudgingly ends his relationship with Gwen in deference to her dad (Denis Leary) who doesn’t want his daughter dating a trouble-seeking vigilante. Next, Peter finds himself summoned to the offices of childhood pal Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan), who has just inherited Oscorp Industries, but is suffering from the same hereditary affliction which claimed the life of his recently-deceased father (Chris Cooper).

Harry futilely solicits Peter’s help in locating Spider-Man, hoping that a blood transfusion might cure his affliction. Of course, that ain’t gonna happen. So, instead, he has to settle for the venom of genetically-altered spiders, which transforms him into another diabolical Spidey nemesis, the Green Goblin.

That makes a trio of worthy adversaries for the webslinging superhero to dispatch in creative fashion before the curtains come down. Provided you’re patient enough to sit through the closing credits after 2½ hours, you’ll even be treated to a tease of X-Men: Days of Future Past, opening later this month, courtesy of a Jennifer Lawrence cameo as Mystique.

A “Marvel”-ously entertaining franchise that miraculously just keeps on giving and giving!

Excellent (4 stars)

Rated PG-13 for PG-13 for action and sci-fi violence

Running time: 142 minutes

Distributor: Sony Pictures

To see a trailer for The Amazing Spider-Man 2, visit

    


Moms' Night Out
Film Review by Kam Williams

Allyson Field (Sarah Drew) really can’t complain. After all, her life is the epitome of the American Dream. She has a handsome husband who adores her and is an excellent provider, too. She has a beautiful home in suburbia and her own minivan for shopping and shuttling around their hyperactive children, Beck (Zion Spargo), Bailey (Shiloh Nelson) and Brandon (Michael Leone).

Yet, she’s still overwhelmed by her domestic duties sometimes, especially when Sean’s (Sean Astin) work takes him out of town. Consider Mother’s Day, for example, which Ally recently spent cleaning up messes rather than being pampered like a princess.

Not alone in feeling frazzled, Ally hatches a plan with her BFFs, Sondra (Patricia Heaton) and Izzy (Andrea Logan White) to treat themselves to an evening of bowling and fine dining in a fancy restaurant next Saturday, assuming that their hubbies can babysit for a few hours without incident. That erroneous assumption jumpstarts the comedy of errors which ensues soon after Sean and the other hapless spouses (Alex Kendrick and Robert Amaya) do their best to fill-in.

Yet, when a baby turns-up missing, guess who’s recruited to join the frantic search party. With the help of a buff biker with a heart of gold (Trace Adkins) and an impatient cabbie (David Hunt) with a British accent, the girls put their getaway on hold as their maternal instincts kick-in.

Co-directed by Jon and Andrew Erwin, Moms’ Night Out is a wholesome, PG-rated comedy that’s actually fun for the whole family. It’s also a faith-based film, though not heavy handed, ostensibly-designed with the Christian Evangelical community in mind.

By the madcap misadventure’s happy resolution, sanity and safety are satisfactorily restored. More importantly, the wives are no longer taken for granted, but elevated to the lofty status envisioned by William Ross Wallace in the appreciative refrain “The hand that rocks the cradle is the hand that rules the world.”

A timely testament to motherhood that just might make the perfect Mother’s Day gift.

Very Good (3 stars)

Rated PG for mild action and mature themes

Running time: 98 minutes

Distributor: Sony Pictures

To see a trailer for Moms' Night Out, visit

    


Simon and the Oaks
(Simon och ekarna)
DVD Review by Kam Williams

Set in Sweden in 1939, Simon & the Oaks is a surrealistic, coming-of-age saga which unfolds against the backdrop of World War II. The title character, Simon (played by Jonatan S. Wachter, younger, then by Bill Skarsgard) is a youngster who, at the point of departure, has no idea he’s half-Jewish.

He was adopted at an early age by a working-class, Swedish couple (Helen Sjoholm and Stefan Godicke) who have not only hidden his roots, but done their best to shield him from the horrors unfolding across Europe. However, despite their love and support, Karin and Erik can’t help but notice their son’s growing discontent with his lowly lot in life.

Simon gradually evidences an insatiable curiosity that, as farmers, they simply aren’t sophisticated enough to address satisfactorily. In fact, he becomes so lonely that he starts talking to an oak tree in the yard and fantasizing about the rest of his natural surroundings.

Finally, his frustrated folks finally decide to enroll him in an upscale grammar school where he is likely to receive the intellectual stimulation he craves. There, he soon meets Isak (played by Karl Martin Eriksson, younger, then by Karl Linnertorp), a Jewish classmate bullied about his ethnicity whose relatively well-to-do family has recently escaped Nazi Germany.

The boys become fast friends, and their families also make acquaintances, despite the difference in social status. The plot thickens when Simon learns the truth about his ethnic background and proceeds to make the most of the opportunity to pursue an academic path. Isak, meanwhile, disappoints his dad (Jan Josef Leifers) by showing more of a desire to work with his hands than his head.

Directed by Lisa Ohlin (Seeking Temporary Wife) Simon and the Oaks is an ethereal, introspective escapade inspired by the Marianne Fredriksson novel of the same name. Besides the visual capture of some breathtaking cinematography, what makes the film engaging is the stark contrast in the personas of the blossoming, young protagonists.

A sensitive character study chronicling the considerable challenge of coming-of-age Jewish with the specter of the Third Reich lurking just over the horizon.

Very Good (3 stars)

Unrated

In Swedish, German, Hebrew and English with subtitles

Running time: 122 minutes

Distributor: RLJ Entertainment

DVD Extras: None.

    


Reviews
UserpicPageants, Parlors & Pretty Women (BOOK REVIEW)
Posted by Kam Williams
29.04.2014

Pageants, Parlors & Pretty Women:

Race and Beauty in the 20th Century South

by Blain Roberts

Book Review by Kam Williams

 

University of North Carolina Press

Hardcover, $39.95

378 pages, Illustrated

ISBN: 978-1-4696-1420-5

 

“[This book] tells us how Jim Crow and civil rights were expressed in southern women’s bodies. Using female beauty as a lens, the book brings into focus an untold social and cultural history of southern women and of the South generally...

I argue that female beauty in the American South was, more so than in the rest of the country, deeply racialized…I also emphasize the complexity inherent in the pursuit of beauty… I approach beauty as an expansive category that encompasses ideals, practices, labor, and even spaces…

Underscoring almost every conversation about beauty in the region were worries about morality and sexuality… Pageants, Parlors & Pretty Women provides a fresh perspective on the anxieties that plagued southerners from the late 19th C. through the mid-20th C. Or, put another way, it reveals how the female body both informed and reflected the challenges of life during Jim Crow.” 

-- Excerpted from the Introduction (pages 6 -10)

 

            America has a long, ugly legacy of promoting diametrically opposed images of black and white females. This can be traced all the way back to Founding Fathers like Thomas Jefferson, an adulterer who had a white wife, but fathered a half-dozen children with Sally Hemmings, one of his hundreds of slaves.

            Yet, in his only book, “Notes on the State of Virginia,” the hypocritical third President of the U.S. frowned upon race-mixing while denouncing black women as unattractive on account of their hair texture and skin color. He actually went so far as to pronounce sisters so promiscuous that they would just as soon mate with an ape as a human.

            Sadly, such racist notions continued to shape popular attitudes about African-American femininity after Emancipation, especially in the South with its strictly-enforced color line. In the wake of the Civil War, Caucasian women “were transformed into symbols of white supremacy and, eventually, massive resistance,” to integration and equal rights.

            That is the proposition put forth by Blain Roberts in Pageants, Parlors & Pretty Women: Race and Beauty in the 20th Century South. Roberts, a History Professor at California State University, Fresno, discusses at great length the role which beauty played in maintaining the racial divide.

            For, the enduring plantation myth still propagated post slavery placing white women on pedestals as paragons of virtue in need of protection proved to be the ideal tool for justifying the persistence of white supremacy ad infinitum. And Jim Crow Era bigots found affirmation in the Miss America beauty pageant which would for many decades be not only lily-white but dominated by entrants from former Confederate States.  

            The opus also delineates the black female struggle to escape the stranglehold of their stereotype as “sexually licentious” and “innately depraved and dirty.” They fought back by turning to skin lighteners and straightening combs until finally being freed by the Sixties’ “Black is beautiful!” movement to embrace their natural hair and skin tones.

            A far more sophisticated examination of black and white pulchritude than Gone with the Wind’s long unquestioned suggestion that it’s as simple as Mammy vs. Scarlett O’Hara.

To order a copy of Pageants, Parlors & Pretty Women, visit:  http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B00JN8AQLS/ref%3dnosim/thslfofire-20

    


Belle
Film Review by Kam Williams

Born in the West Indies in 1761, Dido Belle (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) was the product of the taboo union of Mary Belle, an African slave, and John Lindsay (Matthew Goode), a British ship captain. Upon Mary’s death, the concerned father brought his 8 year-old daughter to England to see whether his well-heeled aunt and uncle might be willing to take her in.

After all, Lady (Emily Watson) and Lord Mansfield (Tom Wilkinson).

had just adopted another niece whose own mom had passed away. Plus, since Dido and Elizabeth (Sarah Gadon) were about the same age, the orphaned girls could conceivably keep each other company.

Captain Lindsay further argued that his daughter was entitled to live on the family estate by virtue of her noble birthright. This prompted a skeptical Lady Mansfield to speculate about whether skin color ranked above or below bloodline in polite society.

Ultimately, she did agree to raise Dido, and the young cousins proceeded to forge a close friendship that would last a lifetime. In fact, proof of their enduring bond would be preserved for posterity in a striking portrait of the pair commissioned in 1779.

That famous painting apparently served as the source of inspiration for Belle, a mesmerizing biopic based on a speculative script by Misan Sagay. Directed by Amma Assante, the riveting historical drama continues the recent cinematic trend of reexamining race from the black perspective, ala Django Unchained, The Retrieval and Oscar-winner 12 Years a Slave.

Here, the picture focuses primarily on Dido and Elizabeth’s coming-of-age against the backdrop of a country increasingly uneasy about its involvement in the slave trade. After being fairly protected during childhood, racism rears its ugly head when the boy-crazy girls start entertaining the overtures of appropriate suitors outside the safe confines of the family manse.

Meanwhile, tension builds around a legal decision set to be handed down by their uncle in his capacity as Chief Justice of England’s Supreme Court. The case revolved around a trading company that was seeking compensation from its insurance company for the loss of over a hundred Africans who had been deliberately drowned.

The question Judge Mansfield was being asked to settle was whether or not slaves should be considered human or mere cargo that could be thrown overboard for financial gain at the whim of the owner. The longer he agonizes over the ruling, the more pressure he feels to issue a far-reaching, landmark opinion likely to signal the death knell of an odious institution.

An 18th C. tale of race and romance told in a sophisticated fashion reminiscent of the best of Jane Austen.

Excellent (4 stars)

Rated PG for smoking, mature themes and ethnic insensitivity.

Running time: 104 minutes

Distributor: Fox Searchlight Pictures

To see a trailer for Belle, visit

    


The M Word
Film Review by Kam Williams

Menopause apparently affects women differently, even if they happen to share the same genes, as is the case with Carson (Frances Fisher), Rita (Mary Crosby) and Louise (Eliza Roberts). Each of these sisters is struggling to maintain her dignity while dealing with the fallout from the so-called “Change of Life.”

Frustrated Carson describes feeling for months on end “like I don’t have any control.” By contrast, Rita’s body chemistry is so confused by the assortment of medicines and creams she uses that she wants to murder her husband, one minute, and to make love to him, the next. Meanwhile, relatively-macabre Lulu relies on humor to cope with her constant obsession with death.

At an informal gathering with her siblings, Carson announces that she just impulsively left her husband (Gregory Harrison) and moved in with her daughter (Tanna Frederick). But that doesn’t necessarily mean she’ll be able to avoid Mack entirely, since he’s a sportscaster at the same local television station where Moxie plays a dog on a wacky kiddie series.

The plot thickens when network executive Charlie Moon (Michael Imperioli) arrives in town from New York with plans to implement programming changes to reverse the station’s plummeting ratings. However, he is distracted at first sight by foxy Moxie who is not above using her powers of seduction to save her own neck, if not her struggling show. Further complicating matters is the fact that she not only recently missed her period, but is stuck in an unsatisfying relationship with her producer (Corey Feldman).

That is the incestuously-intriguing point of departure of The M Word, a sophisticated ensemble dramedy written and directed by the legendary Henry Jaglom (Can She Bake a Cherry Pie?). The picture’s soap opera-style premise basically serves as a launching pad for frank discussions about the biologically-determined plight of women of a certain age.

As humorous as it is sobering, Jaglom proves as masterful as ever at creating fascinating characters designed to make you both laugh and reflect. His raw tale of female empowerment revolves around uncompromisingly-realistic discussions of menopause ranging from night sweats to mood swings to depression to atrophied vaginas to cramps to forgetfulness to a loss of skin elasticity.

After venting their angst interminably, our heroines eventually get around to resolving their crises in entertaining fashion before the curtain comes down on a decidedly upbeat note (“There is nothing like being a girl!”), thus allowing the audience to exit the theater with a big smile on its collective face.

Such a satisfying cinematic treat that the M Word might very well be “Marvelous!”

Excellent (4 stars)

Rated R for profanity and sexual references

Running time: 111 minutes

Distributor: Rainbow Releasing

    


Reviews
UserpicThe Triple Package (BOOK REVIEW)
Posted by Kam Williams
23.04.2014

The Triple Package:
How Three Unlikely Traits Explain the Rise and Fall of Cultural Groups in America
by Amy Chua and Jed Rubenfeld
Book Review by Kam Williams

 

The Penguin Press

Hardcover, $27.95

332 pages

ISBN: 978-1-59420-546-0

 

“Despite America’s ideas about equality, some groups in this country do better than others. Mormons have recently risen to astonishing business success. Cubans in Miami climbed from poverty to prosperity in a generation.

Nigerians earn doctorates at stunningly high rates. Indian and Chinese Americans have much higher incomes than other Americans; Jews may have the highest of all.

Why do some groups rise? Drawing on groundbreaking original research and startling statistics, The Triple Package uncovers the secret to their success.” 

Read the rest of this story »

    


The Machine
Film Review by Kam Williams

Vincent McCarthy (Toby Stephens) is an English computer genius conducting experiments in Artificial Intelligence with the assistance of Ava (Caity Lotz), a brilliant scientist recently arrived from the United States. He’s highly motivated because he hopes to mend his mentally-disabled daughter.

However, Vincent’s research is being underwritten by Britain’s Ministry of Defense which might have less peaceful plans for the fruits of his labors. The plot thickens soon after Ava perishes in an accident, and he implants her brain in the body of a robot which looks just like her and… Voila! A babelicious cyborg is born!

Ava 2.0 is so naïve she can neither understand the concept of death nor appreciate her own superhuman strength. That innocence taps into Vincent’s protective parental instincts.

Unfortunately, the army is only interested in weaponizing what they see as an invention with unlimited military potential. After all, it’s currently in an arms race with a resurgent China, and Ava will give the West the competitive edge.

Written and directed by Caradog W. James, The Machine is a very compelling sci-fi thriller, for a film resting on a preposterous premise. The film is blessed with shadowy cinematography and just the right pseudo-scientific babblt to make this critic think maybe it’s all possible.

Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the title character is cute and curvy and not a confounding concatenation of nuts and bolts. This cautionary tale also has a sobering message to share about the perils of allowing technology to fall into the wrong hands.

Beware, the Manchurian android!

Very Good (3 stars)

Rated R for violence and profanity

Running time: 91 minutes

Distributor: XLrator Media

    


From the Rough
Film Review by Kam Williams

Catana Starks was serving as the female swim coach at Tennessee State University (TSU), when she learned that the school’s Athletic Director, Kendrick Paulsen, Jr. (Henry Simmons), was planning to form a golf team. Since golf had always been her first love, she approached him about becoming the new squad’s head coach.

Her first hurdle, however, was convincing him that despite being female, she’d be able to field and manage an all-male squad. Second, she’d have to fill the roster with some promising prospects.

The latter might prove to be quite a challenge, since TSU, as an HBCU (Historically-Black College/University), had an overwhelmingly African-American student body. That might make it hard to recruit good golfers. Try naming me a good black one besides Tiger Woods.

So, Catana had her work cut out for her when A.D. Paulsen did decide to give her a shot. She began by widening her search beyond the school’s normal pool of African-American candidates.

She looked near and far, even overseas, and by the beginning of the season she‘d assembled a motley, international quintet comprised of an African-American, a Frenchman, a South Korean, an Australian and a Brit. While they all were talented, each arrived on campus carrying some sort of emotional baggage.

Ji-Kyung (Justin Chon) is a wannabe gangsta who wears his pants and speaks Ebonic slang. Meanwhile, Bassam (Ben Youcef), an Algerian from Paris, is bitter about the fact that he had to matriculate in America because of discrimination against Arabs back in his homeland.

Then there’s Edward (Tom Felton), an English juvenile delinquent with a criminal record. Rounding out the crew are Cameron (Paul Hodge), an Aussie with allergies, and Craig, a black kid suffering from the soft bigotry of low expectations.

Of course, Catana proceeds to whip the boys into shape, intermittently turning to the sage school janitor (the late Michael Clarke Duncan) for advice whenever she feels the weight of the world on her shoulders. The flick also features an interracial romance between bad boy Ed and a Goody Two-Shoes (Letoya Luckett) on her way to medical school.

So, unfolds From the Rough, an inspirational overcoming-the-odds biopic co-written and directed by Pierre Bagley. The tale of female empowerment unfolds in fairly formulaic fashion, which means it’s designed for youngsters unfamiliar with the shopworn sports genre.

A well-deserved, if syrupy sweet, overdue tribute to an African-American role model and trailblazer.

Very Good (2.5 stars)

Rated PG for mild epithets and mature themes

Running time: 97 minutes

Distributor: Freestyle Releasing

To see a trailer for From the Rough, visit

    


Tanzania: A Journey Within
Film Review by Kam Williams

After finishing high school, Venance Ndibalema made the most of an opportunity to leave Tanzania to study physics and philosophy at the University of Miami. Now, he’s ready to visit his homeland for the first time in years, a trip likely to prove traumatic, given the changes both he and the country have undergone during the interim.

Accompanying him on the eventful return to Dar es Salaam is Kristen Kenney, a fellow Miami alumnus who’s never been to Africa. A child of privilege, she must brace herself for the culture shock involved in adjusting to modest accommodations sans most of the modern conveniences she’s always taken for granted.

The subsequent sojourn is the subject of Tanzania: A Journey Within, a documentary chronicling Venance and Kristen’s emotional and physical challenges long the way. Directed by Sylvia Caminer, the picture is worth watching for the spectacular visuals and anthropological insights alone, given the off-road trekker’s point-of-view it affords the audience of everything from Mount Kilimanjaro to the Serengeti Plains.

However, proving just as compelling is the badinage between Venance and Kristen, as well as their chats with everyone they encounter. He enjoys a reunion with his BFF William, and searches for a sibling he hasn’t seen in over a decade. Meanwhile, Kristen experiences a sense of exhilaration at exploring new places and at being so close to nature, at least until she becomes deathly-ill during a bout with Malaria.

Nevertheless, she has to admit that she’d grown up in the lap of luxury, so spoiled, in fact that she never even had to cook her own food. By contrast, Venance reflects upon the harshness of formative years spent fatherless in abject poverty exacerbated by his HIV+ mother’s being shunned by her neighbors until the day she finally lost her battle with AIDS.

Lessons? “We learn through hardship,” Ven rhapsodizes, adding, “If there were no fathers on the planet, I would never have known I needed a father to be a man.” As for Kristen, she finds it hard to leave Africa, “because you get so close to the people so fast.” She also comes away appreciating that “they don’t care about status. They just care about you.”

“I was soulless before this trip,” the grateful debutante concedes. “This is the real world I was searching for.” Africa from the perspectives of a “Native Son” returning to his roots and of a blue-eyed sister transformed by an unexpected catalyst for spiritual growth.

Excellent (4 stars)

Unrated

Running time: 103 minutes

Distributor: Heretic Films

To see a trailer for Tanzania: A Journey Within, visit

    


Reviews
UserpicGhost Spooks Newlyweds in Irreverent Horror Spoof
Posted by Kam Williams
18.04.2014

A Haunted House 2
Film Review by Kam Williams

A Haunted House, an irreverent spoof of Paranormal Activity, co-starred Marlon Wayans and Essence Atkins as Malcolm and Kisha, a couple whose home was invaded by demonic forces. Along the way, she became possessed by the devil and turned on her man, despite the best efforts of an exasperated exorcist (Cedric the Entertainer).

All of the above are back for A Haunted House 2, a jaw-dropping sequel which ups the ante in terms of gratuitous gore, sexuality, nudity, profanity and use of the N-word. Nevertheless, the review-proof teensploitation flick is apt to appeal to the same folks who made the original such a runaway hit.

At the point of departure, Kisha perishes in a car accident, which Malcolm and his cousin Ray-Ray (Affion Crockett) survive. Fast-forward a year and Malcolm’s married to Megan (Jaime Pressly) and moving into a new home, along with her kids, Becky (Ashley Rickards) and Wyatt (Steele Stebbins), and his dog, Shiloh.

The shopworn cliché of a safe literally falling from the sky and flattening the pooch is the first sign that something suspicious might be afoot on the premises. The mysterious goings-on only escalate after an inconsolable Malcolm tries to join his dearly departed pet in the grave.

Turns out jealous Kisha’s ghost is determined to wreck the newlyweds’ relationship. Spells subsequently provide the convenient cover for disgusting skits ranging from Malcolm’s mating with a doll, to flatulent Wyatt’s farting in his sister’s face, to projectile vomiting, to promiscuous Becky’s having a penis lodged in her throat.

Eventually, the priest is summoned again, leading to another finale serving as a set up for a sequel. A kitchen sink comedy more shocking than funny and strictly recommended for rabid fans of the bottom-feeding franchise.

Fair (1 star)

Rated R for violence, graphic sexuality, frontal nudity, drug use, ethnic slurs and pervasive profanity

Running time: 87 minutes

Distributor: Open Road Films

To see a trailer for A Haunted House 2, visit

    


Vanishing Pearls: The Oystermen of Pointe a la Hache

Film Review by Kam Williams

On April 20, 2010, the Deepwater Horizon, a drilling rig owned and operated by British Petroleum (BP), exploded, spilling over 50 million barrels of oil in the Gulf of Mexico before it was finally capped weeks later. In June, President Obama announced that the company had set aside $20 billion in cash designated to help those deleteriously affected by the ecological disaster.

Kenneth Feinberg’s law firm, which had previously handled the distribution of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund, was retained at a rate of $850,000/month to handle the BP one also. Although the TV commercials running in the company’s highly-saturated PR campaign would have you believe that it was contrite and committed to undoing any damage, truth be told, that carefully-cultivated corporate image bore little relation to how it was actually treating many of the victims seeking restitution.

Take, for example, Pointe a la Hache, an African-American enclave located in Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana. For generations, the men of that Gulf shore village of less than 300 had supported their families by plying their trade as oyster fishermen. However, the BP spill put the brothers out of business and by 2012 the tiny black community had effectively been turned into a ghost town.

Its little-known ordeal is the subject of Vanishing Pearls, a heartbreaking documentary directed by Nailah Jefferson. The film retraces the blight visited upon Pointe a la Hache by focusing primarily on the plight of a local leader named Byron Encalade.

Mr. Encalade was the owner of Encalade Fisheries, a family business which employed his brother, his nephew and five of his cousins. In the wake of the spill, he filed a claim and very patiently awaited a check from BP.

But when he finally received a letter stating, “Your file is denied,” his whole world was turned upside-down. Now, a proud provider who had never in his life looked to the government for a handout suddenly found himself dependent on food stamps. His relatives also needed help from friends, charities and subsidies to survive, and had trouble understanding why no one cared about their predicament.

Meanwhile, Attorney Feinberg, ostensibly running interference for the profit-driven polluter, publicly stated “I see no evidence of anything other than fair treatment by BP. I think they wanted to do the right thing, and they did.”

His conclusion was a far cry from that of embittered Byron who lamented, “They’ve destroyed us… The world must know what BP did to this community.” Sadly, the devastation visited upon Pointe a la Hache is most likely a microcosm of a scenario being played out again and again in working-class communities all along the Gulf Coast.

Excellent (4 stars)

Unrated

Running time: 80 minutes

Distributor: AFFRM

To see a trailer for Vanishing Pearls, visit

    


Reviews
UserpicThe China Study: All-Star Collection (BOOK REVIEW)
Posted by Kam Williams
16.04.2014

The China Study: All-Star Collection
Whole Food, Plant-Based Recipes from Your Favorite Vegan Chefs
by LeAnne Campbell, Ph.D.
Book Review by Kam Williams

 

Foreword by T. Colin Campbell, Ph.D.

BenBella Books

Paperback, $19.95

316 pages, Illustrated

ISBN: 978-193952997-8

 

“In many ways, the world has changed dramatically since The China Study was released in 2005. Ten years ago, more doctors thought the idea that diet might solve serious health problems was fantasy. Now I hear more and more doctors actually recommending a plant-based diet to their patients…

In over five decades of biomedical research, I have learned, in so many ways, that a whole food, plant-based diet promotes optimal health and the prevention even reversal, in many cases, of heart disease, diabetes, obesity, cancer, autoimmune diseases, and brain disorders.

I’ve received overwhelming feedback from people who’ve seen incredible health results… But I’m still often asked… ‘What do I eat?’ In this follow-up, [my daughter] LeAnne has gathered some of the most popular and influential plant-based chefs to share their best dishes, all following the nutrition principles laid out in The China Study.”

-- Excerpted from the Foreword (pages 9-10)

Read the rest of this story »

    


Reviews
UserpicThe Address (PBS-TV REVIEW)
Posted by Kam Williams
12.04.2014

The Address

PBS-TV Review by Kam Williams

 

Students Memorize Gettysburg Address in Latest Ken Burns Documentary

            On November 19, 1863, Abraham Lincoln traveled to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania to dedicate a cemetery at the site of the bloodiest battle of the Civil War. The President kept his remarks to a mere two minutes, paling in length to that of the relatively long-winded Edward Everett, a former Secretary of State whose keynote speech lasted a couple hours.

            Although one newspaper reporter would derisively dismiss Lincoln’s 272-word sermon as “silly, flat, dish-watery utterances,” it would prove to be a soliloquy for the ages. After beginning with the icon phrase, “Four score and seven years ago,” he proceeded to recount the lofty ideals which had inspired the Declaration of Independence before cleverly repositioning the Civil War as less a struggle to save the Union as a God-ordained fight for human rights.   

            “The Address” represents a bit of a departure for Ken Burns, a director long associated with painstakingly-researched, historical documentaries. For, this picture is set in the present at the Greenwood School in Putney, Vermont, an institution founded in 1978 for boys with learning disabilities ranging from dyslexia to dysgraphia to ADHD to executive function.

            Nevertheless, the school has a tradition whereby every student is expected to comprehend and commit the Gettysburg Address to memory by the end of the school year in order to recite it individually in front of an auditorium filled with parents, guests and staff. This is no mean feat, given how the school serves as a refuge of last resort for kids who have basically been labeled unteachable everywhere else they’ve enrolled.

            Burns’ camera was apparently afforded unusual access to the classrooms at Greenwood over the course of the year. So, we’re able to observe how a dedicated team of educators and therapists managed to instill enough confidence in all 50 members of the student body, no matter how crippling the fear or handicap.

            The transformations are so remarkable by the day of the assembly that tears will reflexively roll down your cheeks in admiration of the children’s achievement. Moreover, don’t be surprised to come away from the experience with a deeper appreciation of the Gettysburg Address and maybe even a determination to memorize it yourself.

            A current-day, Ken Burns PBS production every bit as moving as any of his nostalgic classics

 

Excellent (4 stars)

Rated TV-PG

Running time: 85 minutes

Studio: Florentine Films

Distributor: PBS

The Address premieres on PBS on Tuesday, April 15th @ 9 pm ET/PT (check local listings)

To see a trailer for The Address, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sR2MIxjB_4c  

To learn more about the Gettysburg Address and to video record yourself reading or reciting it, visit: http://www.learntheaddress.org/

    


Reviews
Userpicsmall time (FILM REVIEW)
Posted by Kam Williams
12.04.2014

small time

Film Review by Kam Williams

 

H.S. Grad Considers Skipping College to Sell Used Cars in Fact-Based Father-Son Saga

            Although Freddy Klein (Devon Bostick) is about to finish high school, he still hasn’t decided whether to attend college in the fall. That’s because he’s considering taking a job as a salesman on his father’s (Christopher Meloni) used car lot.

            The very idea of it frustrates Freddy’s mother (Bridget Moynahan) to no end, since she divorced Al years ago for being such a slippery character and poor provider. For that reason, she raised her son without her ex’s involvement.

            Consequently, she’s dismayed at the prospect of his serving as a role model upon belatedly coming back into the picture on graduation day. Predictably-unreliable Al even proceeds to screw up that occasion, arriving with his girlfriend (Garcelle Beauvais) too late to see his son walk across the stage. Nevertheless, Freddy opts to work and live with his long-estranged dad, an ill-advised decision which prompts his mom to warn, “I will hang myself, if he ends up like you.”

            This is the intriguing point of departure of small time, a compelling, coming of age tale ostensibly inspired by a true story. The movie marks the directorial debut of veteran scriptwriter Joel Surnow, who is best known for the Emmy-winning TV series “24.”

            Putting a unique spin on the “last summer before college” genre, the film revolves around a father-son bonding opportunity as opposed to the familiar escapist theme of hedonistic teens nostalgically reminiscing while bidding each other farewell in wanton fashion. Instead, we have Al and his partner (Dean Norris) showing Freddy the slimy tricks of the trade as the kid immediately takes to the sleazy profession like a fish to water.

            Of course, this development is not lost on his worried mom who hates seeing her son emulating those slippery con artists. Ultimately, it all boils down to whether Freddy will continue down this checkered path or wise up and start school in September?

            A refreshingly-realistic, slice-of-life drama highlighting the plight of a teen with a hole in his soul who’s understandably torn between moving on with his life and making up for lost time.

Very Good (3 stars)

Rated R for sexual references.

Running time: 95 minutes

Distributor: Anchor Bay Films/Freestyle Releasing

To see a trailer for small time, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hurvmhuwa1k 

    


Reviews
UserpicColin Firth Effectively Exudes Angst as Tortured WWII POW
Posted by Kam Williams
07.04.2014

The Railway Man
Film Review by Kam Williams

Eric Lomax (Colin Firth) served as a signals officer in the British Army during World War II. His unit was dispatched to the Pacific theater where it was captured by the Japanese when Singapore fell in 1942.

They soon joined the 60,000+ POWs subsequently forced to build the Burma Railway stretching from Bangkok to Rangoon. The Allies came to call the 258-mile construction the Death Railway, because so many soldiers perished along the way, including 6,318 of Lomax’s fellow Brits pressed into slave labor by their barbaric captors.

Their grueling ordeal has been brought to the big screen before, most notably in The Bridge on the River Kwai, the Academy Award-winning classic starring Sir Alec Guinness which swept the Oscars in 1958. That fictional adventure revolved around the daring exploits of some heroic saboteurs in the face of overwhelming odds.

By contrast, The Railway Man is a relatively-introspective affair. This poignant character study is based on Lomax’s moving memoir of the same name. And although he survived the war, he remained mentally scarred long after his physical wounds healed.

For, he had been subjected to unspeakable torture ranging from brutal beatings to waterboarding, especially at the direction of one particularly-sadistic interrogator, Nagase Takeshi (Tanroh Ishida). Eric had aroused the suspicion of the Japanese when he was caught with detailed drawings of sections of the railroad on which he was working.

Truth be told, he’d always been fascinated by trains while growing up in Edinburgh and had sketched such maps throughout childhood. But since the frustrated Nagase still suspected otherwise, the punishment only escalated.

Upon the cessation of hostilities, Lomax returned home a broken man unable to readjust to civilian life. Sure, he could commiserate with former platoon mates at the veterans club, yet the memories of Burma nevertheless continued to haunt him.

Directed by Jonathan Teplitzky (Better than Sex), The Railway Man is a heartrending, flashback flick set both during World War II and in 1980 which is when Lomax’s loyal wife, Patti (Nicole Kidman), urges him to track down Nagase. Her hope is that a meeting might help her traumatized husband exorcise his demons and thereby recover from his severe psychological afflictions.

Eric’s ensuing sojourn back to the Orient inexorably leads to a confrontation with the tormentor whose face he’s never been able to erase from his mind over the intervening decades. But the question is whether he’ll be able to resist the desire for revenge in favor of reconciliation.

A remarkable illustration of the human capacity to find peace through forgiveness.

Excellent (4 stars)

Rated R for disturbing violence

Running time: 116 minutes

Distributor: The Weinstein Company

To see a trailer for The Railway Man, visit

    


The Retrieval
Film Review by Kam Williams

It is 1864, and the bloody conflict between the Union and the Confederacy is raging. Against the ominous backdrop of battle and cannon fire in the distance, we are introduced to Will (Ashton Sanders), a 13 year-old orphan ostensibly wrapped up in his own struggle to survive near the front lines.

Separated at birth from the mother he’s never known, the vulnerable black boy is trying to save enough money to track down his long-lost dad. He works as the assistant to Burrell (Bill Oberst, Jr.), a bounty hunter in the fugitive slave business. Will does the white Southerner’s bidding by first ingratiating himself with unsuspecting escapees, and then betraying them once they confess to being runaways.

Today, we find him on a mission in search of an ex-slave named Nate (Tishuan Scott). Will gains his confidence by offering to escort him back below the Mason-Dixon Line for a deathbed visit with a dying brother.

That establishes the absorbing premise of The Retrieval, a riveting road saga with escalating tension. Will Nate catch on before he’s turned over to Burrell? Or might the kid have second thoughts about striking a bargain with the devil?

Written and directed by Chris Eska, The Retrieval made a splash on the festival circuit including at South by Southwest last year where Tishuan Scott won the Special jury Prize in the Breakthrough Performance category. Besides being blessed with great acting, this atmospheric mood piece features eerie cinematography that manages to transport you back to the Civil War era more convincingly than either 12 Years a Slave or Django Unchained.

Slavery revisited as a sick institution making for strange bedfellows.

Excellent (4 stars)

Rated R for violence and ethnic slurs.

Running time: 94 minutes

Distributor: Variance Films

To see a trailer for The Retrieval, visit

    


Reviews
UserpicPoignant Portrait Pays Tribute to Modest Trappist Monk
Posted by Kam Williams
29.03.2014

Thomas Keating: A Rising Tide of Silence
Film Review by Kam Williams

Father Thomas Keating is a very influential theologian despite the fact that his is not as much of a household name as some of his contemporaries like the Dalai Lama and Deepak Chopra. That’s because the 91 year-old cleric got a late start after having spent the bulk of his life under the radar as a Trappist Monk withdrawn from the world and operating under a vow of silence.

How exactly did he land on that Spartan path? Well, as a sickly 5 year-old, Thomas had promised God to enter the priesthood if he were allowed to survive a life-threatening childhood disease. So, upon completing his studies at Yale University, he kept his word by joining an ascetic order located in rural Rhode Island.

However, he would resign in 1981 and start talking again in order to be able to share his unique brand of Eastern-influenced Catholicism with the masses. He subsequently moved to an abbey in Colorado where he founded the Contemplative Outreach program.

Over the intervening years he also wrote 30+ books about his meditative approach to spirituality. His Earth-friendly philosophy basically suggests that “The more we know about nature, the more we know about God.” In that regard, it reminded this critic of a passage from Shakespeare’s As You Like It which reads “And this our life, exempt from public haunt, finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks, sermons in stones, and good in everything.”

Co-directed by Peter Jones and Elena Mannes, Thomas Keating: A Rising Tide of Silence is an endearing biopic whose only flaw is a slight tendency at times towards hero worship. For, although the endearing documentary’s humble subject obviously has little interest in such glorification, the filmmakers can’t help but gush, cinematically, in the process of placing him atop a virtual pedestal he probably wants no part of.

The picture is at its best during relatively-introspective interviews conducted with Thomas which intermittently arrive between glowing accolades from colleagues and distracting reminders that, as an Ivy League grad, he could’ve written his own ticket had he gone the conventional materialistic route.

But it was apparently hard for the directors to leave well enough alone and just let Thomas speak for himself. A poignant portrait of a transcendent figure for the ages with a simple message that ”Forgiveness is at the very center of Christianity.”

Excellent (3.5 stars)

Unrated

Running time: 75 minutes

Distributor: Temple Rock

To see a trailer for Thomas Keating, visit

    


Reviews
UserpicBittersweet Expose Explores Redheads’ Rough Lot in Life
Posted by Kam Williams
29.03.2014

Being Ginger
Film Review by Kam Williams

Everybody knows blondes have more fun, but what about redheads? They have the least pleasure according to Scott Harris, the producer, director and primary subject of Being Ginger. In this bittersweet expose, the ostracized underdog explores his plight in particular as well as that of his fellow, so-called “Gingers” in general.

We learn that the 31 year-old filmmaker has apparently been saddled with low self-esteem ever since being mercilessly teased about his hair during his formative years. He sets about illustrating that point by confronting one of his former schoolteachers who, rather than stepping in to stop the torture, had joined in the bullying.

The inept educator even admits on camera to having threatened to hang Scott on a hook, if he didn’t stop blubbering, so that his classmates could pummel him like a piñata. As a result of such repeated mistreatment, the poor boy ended-up an adult lacking in self-confidence, especially when it comes to the ladies.

Scott claims women don’t find redheads appealing due to a basic look which is more goofy than virile. Consequently, he’s never been in a long-term relationship. Convinced that his soul mate must be out there somewhere, he decided to shoot a movie chronicling his desperate search for the girl of his dreams.

To that end, Scott looks for Ms. Right everywhere he goes, whether in a nightclub, on a college campus, at a redhead convention, online (at www.DateGinger.com), or by boldly walking down the street wearing a sandwich board advertising that he’s available. Which, if any, of these approaches works? Far be it from me to ruin the resolution of a delightful documentary’s denouement.

Actually, as a black man born with red hair and freckles, what I found far more thought-provoking was the question of whether I might have been emotionally scarred during my own childhood in a way similar to Scott. After all, I’d often been referred to as “Carrot Top” and “Kraut” as a kid, and was not particularly popular with the opposite sex.

Ultimately, I’ve come to the conclusion that those hair-related nicknames never bothered me as much as being the brunt of racial epithets. And I doubt that most females are so superficial as to reject a guy out of hand just because of his hair color.

Nevertheless, I don’t want to minimize the trauma Scott suffered since he did such a fine job, here, of illustrating the source of his angst. Ronald McDonalds of the world unite! You have nothing to lose but your Cheetos-colored coiffures!

Very Good (3 stars)

Unrated

Running time: 69 minutes

Distributor: Garden Thieves Pictures / Quad Cinema

To see a trailer for Being Ginger, visit

    


The Grand Budapest Hotel
Film Review by Kam Williams

Wes Anderson films are sui generis, one of a kind affairs as easy to identify as, say, a Thelonious Monk piano solo or a Frank Sinatra vocal. You can spot one of his works by watching just a snippet of celluloid.

Anderson’s latest offering, The Grand Budapest Hotel, not only stays true to his vibrant visuals and tongue-in-cheek narrative style but rates right up there with the best of the bunch, including Rushmore, Moonrise Kingdom, and The Darjeeling Limited which was this critic’s pick as the #1 film of 2007.

Ralph Fiennes seems perfectly cast to play the picture’s protagonist, and he is ably assisted in that endeavor by a dramatis personae comprised of an abundance of Anderson alumni, including Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody, Tilda Swinton, George Clooney, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, Bob Balaban, Harvey Keitel, Waris Ahluwalia and Scott Rudin.

The droll dramedy is set in 1932 in the fictional Eastern European nation of Zubrowka which is where we find unctuous concierge Monsieur Gustave (Fiennes) playing his trade at the eponymous titular establishment. There, he lavishes his attention and affections on vulnerable ladies, provided they’re rich, blonde, elderly and needy. Narrating the blow-by-blow is Gustave’s game protégé, Zero (Tony Revolori), a loyal, lowly “Lobby Boy” learning the tricks of the trade.

Just past the point of departure, we learn that one of the hotel’s guests, Madame D. (Swinton), has just died mysteriously. A swarm of relatives, close and distant, show up for the reading of the wealthy widow’s will by her attorney (Brody), each hoping for a sizable chunk of the estate.

However, it turns out that the dearly departed left “Boy with Apple,” the only valuable painting in her entire art collection to the gigolo Gustave. So, when an autopsy reveals that Madam was poisoned with strychnine, he is summarily arrested and charged with murder.

It’s no long before he hatches an elaborate jailbreak with the help of Zero, and soon the chase is on, with the heirs, the authorities, a hired assassin (Dafoe), and even Nazis in hot pursuit, as Gustave desperately attempts to clear his badly-besmirched name so he can hold onto the priceless portrait.

A sublime whodunit designed for cinephiles with sophisticated palates.

Excellent (4 stars)

Rated R for profanity, sexuality and violence

Running time: 100 minutes

Distributor: Fox Searchlight Pictures

To see a trailer for The Grand Budapest Hotel, visit

    


Noah
Film Review by Kam Williams

Anybody with even a rudimentary knowledge of the Bible is undoubtedly familiar with the story of Noah and the Ark. That scriptural passage, found in Genesis, revolves around a righteous patriarch recruited by God to build a big boat before the arrival of a flood being meted out as divine punishment for man’s many wicked ways.

Heeding the word of the Lord, he proceeded to construct the mammoth vessel before herding two of each species of animal into the hold. It subsequently rained for 40 days and 40 nights, with water covering the entire Earth’s surface, thereby drowning all of humanity except for his family.

So, until now, the tale of Noah was basically a simple one about God’s decision to completely wipe the planet of sinners and start over. Leave it to Oscar-nominated director Darren Aronofsky (for Black Swan) to come up with a novel and intriguing reinterpretation of the popular parable recasting Noah as a complicated soul wrestling with inner demons during his quest to do the Lord’s bidding ahead of the impending deluge. The movie also has an ecological angle, plus some computer-generated monsters ostensibly designed to holds the kids’ interest.

The film stars Academy Award-winner Russell Crowe (for Gladiator) in the title role, and features a talented supporting cast which includes fellow Oscar-winners Jennifer Connelly (for A Beautiful Mind) and Anthony Hopkins (for The Silence of the Lambs), three-time nominee Nick Nolte (for Warrior, Affliction and The Prince of Tides), as well as Emma Watson and Ray Winstone.

The picture opens with what is essentially a Sunday school lesson, a refresher course about the creation of Adam (Adam Griffith) and Eve (Ariane Rinehart) who begat three sons: Cain, Abel and Seth. The evil one, Cain, slew his sibling Abel, and those descending from Cain’s demon seed continued to do the devil’s work by generally exploiting the planet’s natural resources.

Noah, by contrast, as a son of Seth, learned how to live in harmony with nature. He and his wife (Connelly) raised their sons, Shem (Douglas Booth), Japheth (Leo McHugh Carroll) and Ham (Logan Lerman), with the same eco-friendly philosophy.

Eventually, of course, Noah gets his marching orders from God, and the plot thickens when the steady drizzle develops into a neverending downpour. Suddenly, his nosy neighbors no longer see constructing an ark as such a nutty idea anymore, and it’s going to take a miracle like an army of animatronic angels to keep the desperate hordes from climbing aboard.

Meanwhile, a visibly-anguished Noah agonizes over what’s about to transpire, and consults his sage, berry-imbibing grandfather, Methuselah (Hopkins). But anticipatory survivor’s guilt ain’t about to alter God’s plan one iota.

An alternately introspective and breathtaking Biblical epic, every bit cerebral as it is panoramic!

Excellent (4 stars)

Rated PG-13 for violence, suggestive content and disturbing images

Running time: 138 minutes

Distributor: Paramount Pictures

To see a trailer for Noah, visit

    


Reviews
UserpicMiddle East Documentary Retraces Roots of Mass 1956 Exodus
Posted by Kam Williams
23.03.2014

Jews of Egypt
Film Review by Kam Williams

Did you notice that the ascension of the Muslim Brotherhood to power in Egypt a few years ago was followed soon thereafter by the torching of churches and the persecution of the Coptic Christians still residing in the country? This development would not be surprising to anyone familiar with the nation’s history, since Jews there had received even worse treatment at the hands of that fundamentalist group starting as far back in 1935.

Brotherhood spokesman Aly Naouito then proclaimed that, “When Jews live somewhere, they spread like cancer, and the economy only belongs to them.” His hateful propaganda campaign went on to accuse all Egyptian Jews of supporting the burgeoning Zionist Movement in neighboring Palestine.

Muslim Brotherhood-inspired anti-Semitism subsequently fomented widespread rage, leading to riots and the razing of synagogues. By 1948, a law had been passed directing Jews to convert to Islam. Those who failed to do so were jailed, lost their homes and businesses, and were pressured to apply for political asylum in Europe and elsewhere.

In October of 1956 the exodus escalated in the wake of a tripartite attack on an Egyptian port by England, France and Israel, ostensibly in response to the nationalization of the Suez Canal. At that juncture, any remaining Jews were stripped of their citizenship, and deported with no passport, nationality or birth certificate.

This harrowing ordeal is recounted in surprising detail via a combination of archival footage and present-day interviews in Jews of Egypt, a heartbreaking documentary directed by Amir Ramses. Most of the movie’s subjects are aging survivors who had been children when banished many decades ago. Yet, some still bemoan the fact that they remain barred from even visiting the once-beloved homeland where they spent their formative years.

The focus of this fascinating film is not merely the religious tensions in Egypt which unfolded over the course of the first half of the 20th Century. The picture devotes just as much attention to the considerable contributions made by Jews to the country’s cultural and industrial development.

A priceless history lesson for anyone interested in understanding the back story explaining how formerly-tolerant Egypt evolved into the religious state it is today.

Excellent (4 stars)

Unrated

In Arabic and French with subtitles

Running time: 95 minutes

Distributor: ArtMattan Productions

To see a trailer for Jews of Egypt, visit

    


American Revolutionary: The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs
Film Review by Kam Williams

Born on June 27, 1915, Grace Lee was raised in New York by modest immigrant parents from a humble Chinese background. Her mother couldn’t read or write English, although her business-minded father did save up enough cash by 1924 to open up his own restaurant, Chin Lee’s, on Broadway.

Meanwhile, Grace was a precocious wunderkind who entered Barnard College at just 16. And after graduating, she went on to earn a Ph.D. from Bryn Mawr in philosophy.

However, when she subsequently attempted to pursue a professional career, prejudice reared its ugly head, as she found her horizons severely limited by the fact that she was Asian and female. She ended up moving to Chicago where she could barely make ends meet, eking out a living on $10/ week as a librarian. As for housing, the best she could afford was a rat-infested basement apartment in the ‘hood.

That experience help served to radicalize Grace who developed a lifelong empathy for the downtrodden. In the Midwest, she also met and married Jimmy Boggs an African-American activist from the South who shared her progressive political agenda.

The couple settled in Detroit where, as local civil rights leaders, they lobbied on behalf of the poor. In addition, they brought such black icons to speak there as Martin Luther King and Malcolm X. Even after Jimmy passed away, Grace has, for decades, remained resolutely committed to both The Movement and her adopted hometown.

All of the above is lovingly chronicled in American Revolutionary, a reverential biopic directed by Grace Lee (no relation). Though now nearly 99, the incendiary centenarian remains as fiery as ever and has made precious few concessions to age.

The picture includes glowing tributes from fellow firebrands like Angela Davis and Bill Ayers. But what most makes the movie worthwhile is merely watching Grace wax romantic about the good ole days while walking around the ruins of a devastated Motor City.

A cinematic primer on how to make a mark on the world.

Excellent (4 stars)

Unrated

Running time: 82 minutes

Distributor: First Pond Entertainment

To see a trailer for American Revolutionary, visit

    


Why Every Black Woman Should Marry a Jewish Man

by Dr. Nazaree Hines-Starr

Book Review by Kam Williams

 

CreateSpace

Paperback, $16.99

202 pages

ISBN: 978-1490341972

 

“How many times have we heard successful African-American women complain they can’t find a good man? Everyone has an opinion on the black man shortage, but none of the so-called relationship experts offer real solutions…

Is it possible that we have been missing an important match? Yes! Jewish men make wonderful husbands… as well as fantastic lovers. This book… sheds light on why successful black women, and career gals in general, and Jewish men are very compatible…

In summary, to find Mr. Right, women must date with quality in mind, such as character traits and values, they should be open to interracial dating, and apply faith in dating.”

-- Excerpted from the Introduction (pages xiii-xiv)

 

            Sometimes, a sister has to kiss a lot of frogs before finding her soul mate. In Dr. Nazaree Hines-Starr’s case, she had to date a lot of “scumbags,” as she puts it.           As a black woman, she had trouble meeting single guys who were at her level “emotionally, academically or professionally. Unfortunately, most of the available African-American men she met “had managed to waste years that should have been spent in college or developing a career, chasing skirts, getting arrested, or playing video games.”

            Moreover, many had “accumulated baggage” such as “rap sheets” and “baby-mama drama.” And even the rare brother who had his act together was never serious about settling down and starting a family.

            So, rather than lower her standards by entertaining the advances of commitment-phobic losers from a lower socioeconomic class, Nazaree decided to expand her pool of potential suitors to include men who might not be Christian or African-American.

             Lo and behold, she met her future husband over the internet at an online dating website. Although Michael was white and Jewish, love blossomed across the color and religion lines, and the couple has since married and even been blessed with the birth of a beautiful baby boy, Hayden.

            Nazaree chronicles her perils in the battle-of-the-sexes and exactly how she emerged victorious with the perfect alpha male on her arm in Why Every Black Woman Should Marry a Jewish Man. The author, a gifted writer but a pharmacist by trade, is surprisingly forthcoming in her combination memoir/how-to tome whose title pretty much speaks for itself.

            Begging with Chapter One, “Scumbag Files,” she takes delight in delineating the lessons she learned from a string of dates from hell. By Chapter Eight she’s done with dishing the dirt and is ready to extol the virtues of taking a dip in the snow, so to speak, meaning entering a relationship with a proverbial good Jewish boy.

            Why? First of all, you don’t have to worry that he might be on the down-low, because Jewish culture isn’t homophobic. Secondly, Jewish men generally graduate from college, and they aren’t looking for someone to support them.

            Furthermore, they “marry BEFORE making babies,” and “they don’t display their underwear in public.” Plus, they’re practical financially and don’t have a need to preen in macho fashion. And last but not least, they know how to please a partner in bed.

            A proven approach for open-minded sisters in search of their Prince Charming.

To order a copy of Why Every Black Woman Should Marry a Jewish Man, visit: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1490341978/ref%3dnosim/thslfofire-20  

    


Reviews
UserpicGuilty of Romance (FILM REVIEW)
Posted by Kam Williams
18.03.2014

Guilty of Romance
Film Review by Kam Williams

Crime Saga Chronicles Descent into Depravity of Bored Housewife Moonlighting as Hooker

Written and directed by Sion Sono, Guilty of Romance is the final chapter of his “Hate Trilogy” which has already included the equally-dark offerings Exposure and Cold Fish. This installment is loosely based on a true tale ripped right out of the tabloids, namely, the 1997 strangulation of Yasuko Watanabe, a well-paid power company employee from a prominent Japanese family who had nevertheless been secretly moonlighting as a prostitute in Tokyo’s red light district.

The arguably-feminist flick film revolves around three independent women, a police detective, a hardened whore, and her late protégé new to the streetwalking trade. At the point of departure, we find officer Yoshida (Miko Muzuno) collecting clues at a grisly crime scene in Tokyo’s Red Light District.

On the ground lies the mutilated body of a woman which has been hacked in half, with her upper torso replaced by that of a department store mannequin. Furthermore, the victim was not only sexually assaulted, but her clitoris and labia have been removed, too.

As the story further unfolds, we are introduced by way of flashback to 29 year-old Izumi (Megumi Kagurazaka), a frustrated housewife married to a celebrated romance novelist (Kanji Tsuda) known for his steamy bodice-rippers. Too bad the couple’s bland love life bears little resemblance to the content of his salacious page-turners. Otherwise, Izumi might not be so driven to indulge the sordid urges she’s fighting so hard to suppress.

Her slow descent to depravity starts when she decides to take a job as nude model. And it isn’t long before she’s simulating coitus in front of the camera, and not long after that that she’s actually sleeping with strangers for money. At that juncture, she’s taken under the wing of Mitsuko (Makoto Togashi), a full-time professor/part-time prostitute with a good head for business.

Plenty of gratuitous nudity is on display onscreen as the plot marches inexorably back to the gruesome opening scene. Fortunately, the film does feature a humdinger of twist that makes up for the rest of the predictable developments.

A cautionary morality play offering a new take on the world’s oldest profession.

Very Good (3 stars)

Unrated

In Japanese with subtitles

Running time: 114 minutes

Distributor: Olive Films

    


Reviews
Userpic12-Step Documentary Rethinks Addiction
Posted by Kam Williams
16.03.2014

The Anonymous People
Film Review by Kam Williams

Once an addict always an addict? Or is substance abuse an affliction one can kick completely? That’s the subject tackled by The Anonymous People, a groundbreaking documentary which seeks to radically revise the way we view the over 23 million folks in recovery.

For decades, Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12-Step programs have mandated that their members hide their identities, as if to suggest that there’s a reason to be ashamed about their disease. But according to first-time director Greg Williams, himself in long-term recovery from alcohol and drug abuse, former addicts would help remove the stigma by going public about their woes rather than remain in the shadows.

The film makes a persuasive case that addiction is a disease deserving of as much empathy as AIDS or cancer. The problem is that the 12-Step approach of secretly declaring oneself powerless against booze, crack and the like, makes imbibing look more like a character flaw than an illness.

People capable of holding their liquor might ask: What’s the fuss? Isn’t the difference just semantics? After all, AA has a proven track record. And if another approach works for you, you’re perfectly free to follow that path without needing to diss the conventional method.

Regardless, director Williams has enlisted the assistance of a number of celebrities, including ex-congressman Patrick Kennedy, actress Kristen Johnston and former TV news anchor Laurie Dhue, all of whom talk about battling their personal demons. Unapologetically designed to shift popular consciousness, this passionate polemic might very well go down in history for transforming public opinion about recovery movement.

Very Good (3 stars)

Unrated

Running time: 88 minutes

Distributor: Kino Lorber

To see a trailer for The Anonymous People, visit

    


Reviews
UserpicBride-to-Be Gets Cold Feet in Cross-Cultural Comedy
Posted by Kam Williams
15.03.2014

Shirin in Love
Film Review by Kam Williams

Shirin (Nazanin Boniadi) has never really found the courage to pursue her own dreams. For example, after graduating from college and law school, instead of going into practice, she moved back home and began writing book reviews for BH Style, a magazine owned by her domineering mother (Anita Khalatbari). The deferential daughter knows her problems stem from livings under the same roof as her very traditional Iranian-American parents. Furthermore, they’re members of a tight-knit community located in a section of L.A. known as Tehrangeles.

Consequently, more out of obligation than love, she accepted the marriage proposal of Dr. Joon (Maz Jobriani), a successful, Beverly Hills plastic surgeon who shares the same background. But with the wedding day fast approaching, Shirin is belatedly questioning the wisdom of tying the knot with a man she’s not passionate about just because everyone else considers him to be Mr. Right.

A fly lands in the prenuptial ointment the night she spots a handsome hunk (Riley Smith) across a crowded room at a publishing party. Trouble is she’s tipsy at the time, and he’s too much of a gentleman to make a pass, given the situation. And since he lives far away in the coastal town of Mendocino, they seem fated to pass like ships in the night and never see each other again.

However, thanks to a frankly farcical series of coincidences they cross paths once more when Shirin ventures to Northern California on a writing assignment in search of an interview with a notoriously-reclusive, best-selling author (Amy Madigan). This time around, she and William do make a love connection, leaving the blushing bride-to-be in quite a quandary.

Thus unfolds Shirin in Love, a formulaic romantic comedy that eschews breaking new ground in favor of resorting to a slew of shopworn Hollywood clichés. For that reason, the most amusing aspect of this otherwise predictable romp is the presumably-authentic peek offered into Iranian culture. Nevertheless, you’re left with a nagging a sense of déjà vu that’s hard to shake.

My Big Fat Iranian Wedding!

Good (2 stars)

Unrated

In English and Farsi with subtitles

Running time: 104 minutes

Distributor: Sideshow Releasing

To see a trailer for Shirin in Love, visit

    


Veronica Mars
Film Review by Kam Williams

Veronica Mars was a critically-acclaimed TV series which enjoyed a three-year run from 2004 until 2007. Kristen Bell starred in the title role as a smart aleck teen detective who spent most of her free time solving crimes committed in her mythical hometown of Neptune, California.

Fans of the franchise will delighted to learn that Kristen and eight other principal cast members have returned for the big screen version of their much-beloved program. Written and directed by the show’s creator, Rob Thomas, this faithful reboot was substantially funded by a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign.

At the point of departure, we find Veronica happy to be living in New York City, where she’s preparing for the bar exam, having recently graduated from Columbia Law School. She’s also now in a long term relationship with Stosh “Piz” Piznarski (Chris Lowell) and expects to be offered a job with a prestigious Manhattan firm.

But fate intervenes when pop singer Bonnie De Ville’s (Andrea Estrella), body is found lying in her bathtub and Veronica’s ex-boyfriend Logan (Jason Dohring) is the prime suspect. So, she impulsively returns to Neptune only to help him find a good attorney, since she’s convinced he’s innocent.

However, her super sleuth instincts soon kick-in and it’s not long before, just like old times, she’s uncovering clues with the help of her Private Investigator father (Enrico Colantoni). Her arrival back in town conveniently coincides with her 10th high school reunion where many of her classmates have congregated to catch-up and reminisce.

The gathering also proves to be the best place to interrogate persons of interest in the unsolved murder. For, Bonnie had attended Neptune High, and several alums seem to have had a reason to want her silenced. That’s as far as it’s fair to spoil this nostalgic whodunit delicately laced with surprising twists each step of the way.

Though back by popular demand, consider this edition of Veronica Mars compelling enough even to hold the attention of folks unfamiliar with the original TV show.

Very Good (3 stars)

Rated PG-13 for sexuality, violence, profanity and drug use

Running time: 108 minutes

Distributor: Warner Brothers

To see a trailer for Veronica Mars, visit

    


Reviews
UserpicHigher Body-Count Sequel Trumps the Original
Posted by Kam Williams
05.03.2014

300: Rise of an Empire
Film Review by Kam Williams

The bloody epic 300 (2007) chronicled the Battle of Thermopylae in 480 B.C. when a badly outnumbered band of 300 soldiers were sent on a suicide mission to defend Sparta against a horde of over 100,000 Persian invaders. Based on Frank Miller’s graphic novel of the same name, that minimalist, monochromatic adventure was shot almost entirely against blue screens on assorted soundstages.

300: Rise of an Empire is one of those rare sequels which actually improves on an original’s formula. This relatively-expansive, higher body-count affair arrives replete with sweeping seascapes and panoramic mob scenes. It also ups the ante in terms of sensuality, especially by exploiting the visual appeal of Eva Green.

At the point of departure, we find the previous picture’s triumphant King Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) plotting to lead the Persian army against forces led by Greek General Themistocles (Sullivan Stapleton). The play-by-play is narrated by Sparta’s Queen Gorgo (Headey) who devotes considerable time to a detailed lesson in ancient history to set the table for the wanton slaughter about to ensue.

Among other things, we learn that the commander of the Persian 1,000-ship armada is the warrior goddess Artemisia (Green), a Greek traitor who turned against her own people for good reason. In her youth, she’d been brutally raped and sold into slavery after being forced to witness the murder of her entire family.

The revenge-minded orphan was freed and raised as a warrior by Xerxes late father, Darius (Yigal Naor). Today, she has blossomed into a ravishing fighting machine as likely to subdue an adversary with her womanly wiles as with her sword. In perhaps the movie’s most memorable moment, she decapitates a foe before planting a kissing on his skull’s lips.

Such gruesome displays are par for the course, as scene after scene seizes on any excuse for stomach-churning depictions of torture and gore. A revisionist tale of female empowerment suggesting the fairer sex was the equal of any man even when engaged in mortal hand-to-hand combat.

Excellent (4 stars)

Rated R for sexuality, nudity, profanity and pervasive violence

Running time: 102 minutes

Distributor: Warner Brothers Pictures

To see a trailer for 300: Rise of an Empire, visit

    


Reviews
UserpicLife in Motion (BOOK REVIEW)
Posted by Kam Williams
04.03.2014

Life in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina

by Misty Copeland

Book Review by Kam Williams

 

Touchstone Books

Hardcover, $24.99

286 pages, illustrated

ISBN: 978-1-4767-3798-0

 

“As the only African-American soloist dancing with the prestigious American Ballet Theatre, Misty Copeland has made history. But when she first placed her hands on the barre at an after-school community center, no one expected the undersized, anxious thirteen year-old to become a groundbreaking ballerina.

When she discovered ballet, Misty was living in a shabby motel room, struggling with her five siblings for a place to sleep on the floor. A true prodigy, she was dancing en pointe within three months of taking her first dance class, and performing professionally in just over a year: a feat unheard of for any classical dancer.

From behind the scenes at her first auditions to her triumphant roles in some of the most iconic ballets… Misty opens a window into the life of a professional ballerina… Life in Motion is a story of passion and grace for anyone who has dared to dream of a different life.  

-- Excerpted from the inside book jacket

 

            Who would ever have guessed Misty Copeland would one day become a world-class ballerina with the prestigious American Ballet Theatre? After all, she had a rocky childhood as one of six kids born to a struggling mother and several different fathers.

            Plus, Misty and her siblings were raised in a rough L.A. ‘hood ruled by the Crips where you had to be careful to wear the right colors, not the sort of upscale locale one ordinarily associates with ballet. Furthermore, Misty couldn’t afford any lessons, let alone accoutrements such as shoes which alone can cost as much as $80 a pair. Then there was the fact that she was African-American and didn’t start training until the age of 13 when she enrolled in a class being offered by her local Boys and Girls Club.

            Nevertheless, Misty miraculously managed to leap over or, should I say pirouette past, all of those hurdles in pursuit of a career in ballet as a featured soloist. And, ala Tiger Woods in golf and the Williams sisters in tennis, she’s blossomed into a black rarity excelling in a field where being white and from a privileged background are ordinarily prerequisites just to have a shot at making it.

            Upon arriving in New York City at 16, Misty found herself ostracized by fellow ballerinas in the company on account of her color. Thus, it only makes sense that “This is for the little brown girls” might be an inspirational refrain repeated intermittently throughout her moving memoir.

            A poignant primer proving the power of perseverance in the face of adversity.      

To order a copy of Life in Motion, visit:

http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1476737983/ref%3dnosim/thslfofire-20  

    


Reviews
UserpicHairBrained (FILM REVIEW)
Posted by Kam Williams
01.03.2014

HairBrained

Film Review by Kam Williams

 

Boy Wonder Befriends Late Bloomer in Odd Couple Comedy

            On the drive with his mother (Parker Posey) to his new school, precocious Eli Pettifog (Alex Wolff) is fretting about fitting-in with his classmates. After all, it’s not the 13 year-old’s first day of high school, but rather of college.

            The clown-haired boy genius is entering Whittman College, an elite institution catering to students not quite bright enough for the Ivy League. Eli had hoped to attend Harvard, and is still bitter that he had to settle for his safety school.

            Upon moving into the dorm, he makes the acquaintance of Leo Searly (Brendan Fraser), a fellow freshman living across the hall. Long in the tooth Leo is 41, and has belatedly matriculated less to crack the books than to recapture his fading youth.

            Nevertheless, these two fish out of water forge a fast friendship as they make the awkward adjustment to campus life. Early on, we find the pair partying, with late bloomer Leo generally making a fool of himself while prepubescent Eli’s seduced by an attractive blonde (Elisabeth Hower) after being plied with alcohol.

            The plot bifurcates and sobers a bit when Eli takes an interest in an eccentric townie (Julia Garner) his own age and Leo’s long-estranged daughter (Lizzy DeClement) shows up unexpectedly. But HairBrained is at its most inspired from the point Eli joins the trivia team representing his alma mater in the Collegiate Mastermind competition against other top schools like Stanford, Michigan and Princeton.

            Not surprisingly, all roads lead to a big showdown with Harvard. Thus, the burning question becomes whether the pint-sized brainiac will be able prove the exclusive school made a mistake by sending him a rejection letter.

            Far more quirky than it is comical, HairBrained is an uneven, unlikely-buddies flick that’s only funny in fits and starts. Think a poor man’s cross of Napoleon Dynamite (2004) and Old School (2003) where a coming-of-age tale merges with a midlife crisis.

Good (2 stars)

Rated PG-13 for sexuality, profanity, nudity, crude humor, and teen smoking, drug use and alcohol consumption

Running time: 97 minutes

Distributor: Vertical Entertainment 

To see a trailer for Hair Brained, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YJicQHKB4p0 

Or: http://www.hairbrainedthemovie.com/trailer/

    


Reviews
UserpicRepentance (FILM REVIEW)
Posted by Kam Williams
28.02.2014

Repentance

Film Review by Kam Williams

 

Psychological Thriller Traces Grief-Stricken Man’s Slow Descent into Insanity

            Therapist Thomas Carter (Anthony Mackie) has just published a popular self-help book about the near death experience which helped him turn his life around. He is proud of the fact that after almost perishing in a horrific, alcohol-related car crash in his teens, he eventually not only earned graduate degrees in World Religion and Clinical Psychology but went on to wed his soul mate, Maggie (Sanaa Lathan).

            Today, Tommy has a happy marriage and a flourishing practice founded on a spiritual philosophy combining faith and positive thinking. But sadly, his enviable fortunes have proven to be the polar opposite of his wayward brother Ben’s (Mike Epps) lot.

            The recently-paroled ex-con was barely back on the streets before word of a $12,000 bounty being placed on his head spread around their native New Orleans. So, when Ben approaches his successful sibling for enough cash to keep his bloodthirsty adversaries at bay, empathetic Thomas opts to raise the ransom by extending the best-selling tome’s publicity tour.

            At a local book signing, he is approached for an autograph by a fan also urgently in need of 1-on-1 counseling. Against his better judgment, the literary rock star agrees to see Angel Sanchez (Forest Whitaker) as a patient, since the $300/session fee definitely will put a dent in brother Ben’s debt.

            Even worse is Dr. Carter’s fateful decision to make house calls to the home of this loner left devastated by the death of his mother (Adella Gautier). For, although it might be easy to diagnose the source of the deeply-disturbed man’s anguish, the only hint that he’s at the end of his emotional rope is his estrangement from his wife (Nicole Ari Parker) and young daughter (Ariana Neal).

            The plot thickens when Angel takes his new shrink hostage, tying him up in his basement-turned-makeshift torture chamber. The psycho proceeds to behave sadistically while conveniently managing to keep up appearances for the sake of any visitors and passersby.

            Directed by Philippe Caland (Ripple Effect), Repentance is a momentarily-intriguing psychological thriller that establishes a compelling premise only to morph into an otherworldly horror flick. Over the course of this rudderless adventure, Forest Whitaker ultimately finds himself abandoned by an implausible script.

             The Silence of the Butler!

Fair (1.5 stars)

Rated R for profanity, violence and torture

Running time: 90 minutes

Studio: Code Black Films

Distributor: Lionsgate Films

To see a trailer for Repentance, visit: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iwBgGZIzliw

    


The Bag Man
Film Review by Kam Williams

Courier Delivers Package for Crime Boss in Multi-Layered Neo-Noir

At first blush, The Bag Man reads a lot like The Transporter, the 2002 action film about a courier hired by a mobster to deliver a mysterious package without opening it. After all, the title character of this adventure has been asked by a crime boss to pick up a bag for him without examining its contents.

However, besides sharing that basic premise, the two pictures don’t have all that much in common. Where The Transporter is a special-effects adventure peppered with car chases and pyrotechnics, The Bag Man is a relatively-cerebral affair, a multi-layered mystery featuring unpredictable twists and turns as a well as a femme fatale with inscrutable intentions.

At the point of departure, we find a powerful gangster named Dragna (Robert De Niro) aboard his private plane where he’s giving very precise instructions to the protagonist. Jack’s (John Cusack) assignment is to take possession of an ostensibly priceless satchel and then wait for Dragna inside Room 13 at a seedy motel located somewhere in the country.

Of course, this proves easier said than done, when a cornucopia of colorful characters commence to covet the very valise he’s been asked to protect. The fun starts when Jack’s shot in the hand by Bishop (Danny Cosmo), the gangster who just handed him the package.

Then, while checking in, he alarms the paraplegic desk clerk (Crispin Glover) by assuming the suspicious name “Smith” and by paying in cash. Next, he has to deal with curious cops who have decided to stake out the premises.

But his biggest challenge of all is presented by Rivka (Rebecca Da Costa), a gorgeous damsel-in-distress on the run from a couple of goons herself. Will the scantily-clad stranger in need of a knight in shining armor be Jack’s undoing?

That’s the burning question for the balance of the madcap, high body-count adventure once the two opt to join forces.

An intriguing enough whodunit to keep you guessing, thanks to a decent script and game performances by De Niro, Cusack and newcomer Rebecca Da Costa.

Very Good (2.5 stars)

Rated R for violence, sexuality and profanity

Running time: 108 minutes

Distributor: Cinedigm Entertainment

To see a trailer for The Bag Man, visit:

 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mKBLfwVEKP8

    


Reviews
UserpicKevin Hart Spearheads Raunchy Remake of Romantic Romp
Posted by Kam Williams
16.02.2014

About Last Night
Film Review by Kam Williams

Released in 1986, About Last Night revolved around the yearlong effort of a couple of Chicago yuppies (played by Rob Lowe and Demi Moore) to forge a solid relationship on the shaky ground of a one-night stand. The movie was adapted from “Sexual Perversity in Chicago,” a dialogue-driven drama by Pulitzer Prize-winner David Mamet (for Glengarry Glen Ross).

Loosely based on the original, this raunchy remake is a romantic comedy ostensibly serving as a vehicle for popular comic-turned-actor Kevin Hart. After all, his character, Bernie, the sidekick in the source material, is now the leading man. Furthermore, the setting has been shifted to L.A., where much of the humor caters to the African-American palate, since the principal cast members are now all black.

The film happens to be at its best when over the top Bernie’s talking trash. For instance, he brags about leaving a recent sexual conquest’s “edges nappy,” an inside joke insinuating that the session was so steamy it literally uncurled his partner’s straightened hair.

Directed by Steven Pink (Hot Tub Time Machine), the picture co-stars Regina Hall opposite Hart as his love interest, Joan. Rounding out the principal cast are Michael Ealy and Joy Bryant as Danny and Debbie, the aforementioned twosome who decide to give serious commitment a go.

At the point of departure we are introduced to Bernie and Danny, best friends and co-workers at a restaurant supply company. The former recounts a purely lustful escapade he shared with Joan, prior to introducing the latter to her roommate. Danny goes gaga over Debbie, and the cinematic table is set.

Bernie and Joan remain incessantly in heat, and can’t keep their hands off each other. By contrast, Danny and Debbie prove to be introspective enough to move in together, buy furniture, adopt a pet, and generally map out a future.

The plot thickens when Danny loses his job and ends up tending bar at Casey’s, a saloon frequented by his stalker ex-girlfriend (Paula Patton). It doesn’t help that Bernie’s already been pressuring his suddenly-domesticated pal to revert to sowing his wild oats.

Regardless, the resulting relationship tensions still take a back seat to lighthearted banter in this superficial adventure laced with one-liners like, “If this bitch were any dummer, you’d have to water her.” Look for quickie cameos by NFL great Terrell Owens as well as by Rob Lowe and Demi Moore courtesy of a clip from original.

ALN 2.0, a bawdy variation on the theme establishing Kevin Hart as a bona fide box-office attraction.

Very Good (3 stars)

Rated R for profanity, sexuality, nudity and brief drug use

Running time: 110 minutes

Distributor: Screen Gems

To see a trailer for About Last Night, visit

    


Reviews
UserpicFan Wins Date with Porn Star in Found-Footage Horror Flick
Posted by Kam Williams
11.02.2014

Lucky Bastard
Film Review by Kam Williams

Dave (Jay Paulson) thought he’d died and gone to heaven when he learned that he’d won the monthly “Lucky Bastard” contest run by the adult entertainment website. He was informed by the site’s owner, Mike (Don McManus), that his name had been picked from all the entries to sleep with his favorite porn star, Ashley Saint (Betsy Rue).

However, the prize came with just one hitch, namely, that he’d have to sign a release so that the lusty liaison could be videotaped from every angle. After all, the promotion was designed to give the site’s subscribers a chance to see an Average Joe enjoying a roll in the hay with a gorgeous goddess who would never normally give him the time of day.

Bespectacled Dave definitely fit the bill in that regard, between his awkwardness and anxiety attempting to perform on cue on camera, even with the woman of his wet dreams. However, the skin flick’s director (Chris Wylde) obviously had a lot more to worry about than a limp nerd in need of Viagra.

For, something else would go horribly wrong after Dave’s arrival and by the time the police arrived, they would find the dead bodies of numerous males and females slain either by gunshot or blunt force trauma. The investigating officer (Lukas Kendall) was grateful to discover that the walls had been outfitted with 18 cameras which not only recorded Dave and Ashley’s fondling, foreplay and frustrated fornication, but the ensuing slaughter which subsequently turned the den of debauchery into a bloody crime scene.

So, cracking the case simply involved rewinding the tapes, and watching what transpired from start to finish. And that’s precisely the point-of-view shared with the audience in Lucky Bastard, a found-footage flick which puts a salacious spin on the “no surviving witnesses” cinematic device first effectively employed by The Blair Witch Project back in 1999.

The movie marks the impressive directorial debut of Robert Nathan, who also co-wrote the cleverly-constructed script with Lukas Kendall. Their novel storyline unfolds like your typical horror film, except instead of taking place inside a Gothic haunted house it unfolds on a sleazy set inside the bedroom of a nondescript suburban home rented for the day from a realtor (Deborah Zoe) out to make a quick buck.

Besides Dave and Ashley, the suspects include director Kris, cameraman Nico (Lanny Joon), Ashley’s regular co-star, Josh (Lee Kholafai), producer Mike and his considerably-younger girlfriend, Casey (Catherine Annette), an aspiring porn star. However, the perpetrator might not be a cast or crew member, since Mike also has issues with the alarmed real estate agent as well as with his estranged ex-wife.

It’s no surprise Lucky Bastard landed an NC-17 rating, given the fairly-explicit displays of carnality, though the production is as much a riveting murder mystery as it is a raunchy sex romp. A compelling, high body-count whodunit for folks willing to watch a lot of kinky cavorting while trying to unravel clues leading to the killer.

Very Good (3 stars)

NC-17 for violence, profanity, full frontal nudity and explicit sexuality.

Running time: 94 minutes

Distributor: Cavu Pictures

    


Reviews
UserpicWinter's Tale (FILM REVIEW)
Posted by Kam Williams
11.02.2014

Winter's Tale

Film Review by Kam Williams

 

Cat Burglar Courts Sickly Heiress in Searing Exploration of Undying Love

            Peter Lake’s (Colin Farrell) parents had hoped to immigrate to the U.S. but were turned away at Ellis Island upon their arrival early in the 20th Century. Denied their shot at the American Dream, the Russian couple decided to leave their baby behind, setting him adrift in a tiny model of a ship called the “City of Justice.”         

            The infant was carried by the tide to the shores of Bayonne, New Jersey where he was found and raised by compassionate clam-diggers. Upon coming of age, the teen moved to Manhattan and earned an honest wage as a mechanic until succumbing to the pressure to join a gang of ruffians led by the ruthless Pearly Soames (Russell Crowe).

             Peter was subsequently schooled in thievery under Pearly’s tutelage, though the two would become mortal enemies once the protégé tired of doing his malevolent mentor’s bidding as a cat burglar. Even after severing his ties to the criminal enterprise, the exasperated orphan was forever looking over his shoulder while on the run from the burly bully.  

            A critical moment of truth arrives when Peter finds himself surrounded by his former partners in crime and is somehow spirited away by a winged white stallion. Another turning point in the lad’s life transpires the fateful night he enters a well-fortified mansion’s second-floor window with felonious intentions.      

            For, before he has a chance to ransack the premises, Peter comes face-to-face with Beverly Penn (Jessica Brown Findlay), a sickly young heiress suffering from tuberculosis. And despite her impending demise, he becomes hopelessly smitten with the frail, philosophical free-spirit. Over the objections of her skeptical father (William Hurt), the star-crossed lovers proceed to embark on an otherworldly romance as enduring as it is ethereal.  

            Thus unfolds Winter’s Tale, a delightful flight of fancy marking the directorial debut of Akiva Goldsman, who won an Oscar for his screenplay adaptation of A Beautiful Mind. Akiva also wrote the script for this film which is based on Mark Helprin’s flowery best-seller of the same name.

             Does this movie measure up to the source material? Can’t say, since I haven’t read it. Nevertheless, I found this well-crafted piece of magical realism quite imaginative and intriguing, though I suspect fans of the book might be a bit disappointed, given how much is ordinarily lost in translation bringing any 700-page book to the big screen.

            A searing, supernatural exploration of the human soul suggesting not only that love is real but that miracles happen, too!

Excellent (4 stars)

Rated PG-13 for sensuality and violence

Running time: 118 minutes

Distributor: Warner Brothers

To see a trailer for Winter's Tale, visit: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DBSj1MKwx6A

    


The New Black
Film Review by Kam Williams

The African-American community has been slow to get on the gay rights bandwagon, at least according to exit polls conducted on election days in states like California where the narrow defeat of same-sex marriage in 2008 was blamed on black folks. What’s up with that? After all, one would expect blacks, as the long-suffering victims of segregation and discrimination, including miscegenation laws forbidding race-mixing, to be quick to support LBGT equality.

But that hasn’t been the case according to The New Black, an eye-opening documentary directed by Yoruba Richen. The film follows the recent effort of African-American activists to rally support for Proposition 6, a Maryland same-sex referendum. This was to be no mean feat, given the way that the Black Church has dragged its feet in terms of LGBT issues.

The gay rights movement was apparently up against walking around money greasing the palms of black pastors coming courtesy of Mormons and white Evangelicals eager to sway the African-American vote. The Born Again crowd pressed for a literal interpretation of scriptures that leave no doubt about God’s will. Still, Bible-thumping bigots are ostensibly at odds with the open-minded attitude advocated by George Gershwin’s heretical hymn, “It Ain't Necessarily So” which warns that “The things that you’re liable to read in the Bible ain’t necessarily so.”

As far as conservative black ministers, some have called homosexuality “a white man’s disease,” and shunned members of their congregation who have come out of the closet. This even happened to Tonex, a Grammy-nominated Gospel singer who found his homosexual “perversions” criticized by colleague Reverend Donnie McClurkin, a convert to heterosexuality who has come to reject what he refers to as the gay lifestyle.

Nevertheless, most brothers seem to be coming around to a more tolerant attitude, despite the homophobia previously permeating black culture. For example, as a presidential candidate, Barack Obama narrowly defined marriage “as a union between a man and a woman,” only to arrive last year at a belief that “our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law.”

The African-American community collectively jumps the broom over its last big taboo!

Excellent (4 stars)

Unrated

Running time: 75 minutes

Distributor: Film Forum

To see a trailer for The New Black, visit

    


Kids for Ca$h
Film Review by Kam Williams

Anybody who needs a new reason to hate lawyers ought to check out this shocking documentary chronicling a pay-to-play scheme whereby a couple of crooked judges, Michael Conahan and Mark Ciavarella, enriched themselves at the expense of adolescents unlucky enough to be arrested in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania. The evil pair’s plan involved first condemning the existing juvenile detention center owned by the county.

Next, they took millions of dollars in kickbacks from the private corporation hired to build and then run a larger facility. Furthermore, they secretly signed a contract with the company in which they agreed to continue to help the firm maximize profits by keeping the cells filled with juvenile delinquents.

They subsequently accepted additional checks for each child sent to the prison, most for long stretches of time and for the flimsiest of infractions. Punishment was meted out not only for antisocial behavior like cursing at a bus stop, making fun of the principal on a webpage, and fighting at school, but in cases where the accused was totally innocent, like the boy arrested for riding a stolen scooter that had inadvertently been purchased by his parents, and another arrested for possession of drug paraphernalia that had admittedly been planted by the local police.

These youthful offenders as young as 12 were generally denied their right to an attorney and so fared poorly in the kangaroo court, and far worse behind bars. It comes as no surprise that they often suffered from a combination of depression, anxiety, mood swings and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, even years after being paroled. Some would become trapped in the criminal justice system’s revolving door and eventually ended-up in an adult penitentiary.

All of the above is recounted in distressing detail in Kids for Ca$h, a heartbreaking expose directed by Robert May about two of the slimiest creeps to ever walk the Earth. Conahan and Ciavarella’s shady shenanigans finally came to light after the Juvenile Law Center took up the cause of the falsely accused.

But the unrepentant jurists’ have never shown any remorse, with their stints in country club federal prisons amounting to a slap on the wrist, given the thousands of lives they’ve ruined. We can only pray that a special room in Hell has been reserved for these “scumbags,” as they were called on the steps of the courthouse by the grieving mother of one of their innocent victims who had committed suicide.

Excellent (4 stars)

Rated PG-13 for profanity and mature themes

Running time: 102 minutes

Distributor: SenArt Films

To see a trailer for Kids for Ca$h, visit

    


The Monuments Men
Film Review by Kam Williams

Most people are probably unaware that while Hitler was sweeping across Europe during World War II, he simultaneously directed his army to plunder any priceless works of art found in the course of its pillaging. For, believe it or not, the cultural rape of the beleaguered continent was all a part of the Fuhrer’s diabolical plan which not only included conquest and ethnic cleansing but turning his Austrian hometown into the cultural capital of the Third Reich.

Consequently, millions of artifacts were looted from museums, churches and private collections and transported to subterranean sites such as salt mines where they’d be safe from aerial attacks. However, the madman’s demented scheme also called for the destruction of any treasures he deemed degenerate if they conflicted with his propaganda campaign touting Germany’s racial purity and manifest destiny.

So, towards the end of the war, when the Allies caught wind of what was afoot, they assembled a team of curators, archivists and art historians whose stated mission was to retrieve and preserve as many of the stolen items as possible. With time of the essence, the seven experts started scouring the ravaged countryside in search of missing masterpieces.

That urgent effort is the subject of The Monuments Men, a bittersweet adventure directed by George Clooney. This tragicomic account of the crack platoon’s heroics is very loosely-based on Robert Edsel’s relatively-sober best seller of the same name, a meticulously-researched, 512-page opus encyclopedic in scope.

The film adaptation, which understandably conflates events and characters as a concession to the cinematic formula, was essentially designed with the masses in mind. Clooney, who stars as Frank Stokes, surrounded himself with a talented cast capable of convincingly executing with perfect aplomb a script which tends to veer back and forth recklessly between suspense and gallows humor.

His A-list ensemble features fellow Academy Award-winners Matt Damon (for Good Will Hunting), Cate Blanchett (for The Aviator) and Jean Dujardin (for The Artist), and nominees Bill Murray (for Lost in Translation) and Bob Balaban (for Gosford Park), as well as John Goodman and Hugh Bonneville. Given the palpable chemistry generated by their characters’ camaraderie, it’s a little sad that they don’t all survive the perilous trek behind enemy lines.

A history lesson about an obscure chapter of World War II successfully turned into entertaining Hollywood fare.

Very Good (3 stars)

Rated PG-13 for violence and smoking

In English, French, German and Russian with subtitles

Running time: 118 minutes

Distributor: Columbia Pictures

To see a trailer for The Monuments Men, visit

    


Demi-Soeur
(Half-Sister)
Film Review by Kam Williams

Nenette (Josiane Balasko) never left home because of her mentally-disability. So, you can imagine the shock when her mother, the loving, lifelong caretaker who had shielded her from the cruel world for over a half-century, suddenly passes away.

Finding herself in desperate straits, the autistic orphan decides to search for Antoine Berard, the long-lost father she’s never known. So, with her pet turtle Tootie in tow, Nenette sets out on foot for Angers, the town where he’s rumored to run the local pharmacy.

En route, however, she becomes lost in the woods and is lucky to stumble upon punk rock ravers inclined not only to protect her from the elements but to give Nenette a ride to her destination. Unfortunately, the disheveled drifter soon discovers that her dad has been dead for over 15 years.

The good news is that the business was inherited by his son, Paul (Michel Blanc), a half-brother Nenette didn’t know she had. The bad news is that he’s an irascible misanthrope who doesn’t get along with his customers, his staff, or even his own family.

Worse, when Nenette shows up unannounced, the miserly curmudgeon is initially more worried about protecting his inheritance than his vulnerable sibling’s welfare. Therefore, he starts circling the wagons instead of welcoming her with open arms.

First, he consults an attorney about cutting her out of their father’s estate. Then, he hastily makes arrangements to ship her right back where she came from.

That plan goes totally awry when well-meaning Nanette accidentally spikes his coffee with a couple of hits of Ecstasy. The mood-altering drug puts Paul into a euphoric state for an eventful day of redemption during which he proceeds to mend fences with estranged friends and relatives. Thus, the burning question becomes whether the narcotic will have a temporary or salutary effect on him.

Written and directed by, and starring Josiane Balasko, Demi-Soeur is a touching tale which might best described as an engaging blend of Nebraska (2013) and Amelie (2001). For, Nenette exhibits the same dogged determination as Bruce Dern in the former film, as well the endearing naivete which enabled Audrey Tautou’s title character’s ability to touch the hearts of everyone she encountered in the latter.

A poignant parable which puts what matters most in proper perspective.

Very Good (3 stars)

Unrated

In French with subtitles

Running time: 86 minutes

Distributor: Rialto Pictures / StudioCanal

    


Reviews
UserpicCavemen (FILM REVIEW)
Posted by Kam Williams
25.01.2014

Cavemen

Film Review by Kam Williams

 

            Dean (Skylar Austin) lives in L.A. with three buddies in a warehouse converted into a windowless loft they call “The Cave.” The appellation is apropos since these twenty-something slackers behave like cavemen, spending most of their free time at local haunts bars trying to lure women back to their bachelors’ lair for wanton liaisons with no strings attached.

            For instance, African-American Andre (Dayo Okeniyi) has been sleeping with a luscious Latina (Fernanda Romero) as well as an attractive Asian (Victoria Park) who have no idea that each other exists. That state of affairs is a recipe for disaster destined to blow up in the two-timing brother’s face.

            Meanwhile, Andre’s roommates, Jay (Chad Michael Murray) and Pete (Kenny Wormald), have been behaving just as badly, inspired by the macho mantra, “Get out there and take what’s yours.” Dean, however, has finally tired of the string of shallow conquests after sharing pneumatic bliss with Sara (Megan Stevenson), a cutie-pie who means nothing more to him than another notch in the bedpost.

            Over lunch the next day, he cries on the proverbial shoulders of his BFF Tess (Camille Belle) and his nephew Jimmy (Kaden Gibson) about wanting to find a meaningful relationship. Because the cozy confidantes sitting at the table seem very well-suited, the precocious 9 year-old asks whether they’ve ever dated.

            Dean and Tess awkwardly admit that they once kissed long ago, but purely by accident. However, instead of now considering each other romantically, the obvious soul mates continue to look elsewhere for a love connection.

            Soon, Tess starts sleeping with inveterate womanizer Jay, which leaves the audience impatiently wondering when Dean will wake up and confess his deep feelings before it’s too late? At which point the question will be whether she’s inclined to reciprocate?

            Those are the pivotal plot points driving Cavemen, an amusing romantic comedy exploring the mating habits of male members of the Millennial Generation in superficial fashion. Written and directed by Herschel Faber, the otherwise entertaining picture suffers from a flaw reflected in its failure to develop its characters beyond recognizable clichés.

            Best thought of as a 21st Century update of the Little Rascals’ He-Man Woman Hater’s Club episode where Alfalfa wises up and woos Darla, his Neanderthal pals’ protestations notwithstanding.

Very Good (2.5 stars)

Unrated

Running time: 86 minutes

Distributor: Well Go USA Entertainment

To see a trailer for Cavemen, visit: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BoAi-SZccf0    

    


Reviews
UserpicFrozen (FILM REVIEW)
Posted by Kam Williams
20.01.2014

Frozen

Film Review by Kam Williams

 

Princess Saves the Day in Musical Adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen Classic

            Given the toll the polar vortex has been exacting on the continental U.S. lately, I think plenty of people can relate to the frigid predicament of the people living in the fictional kingdom of Arendelle. Disney’s Frozen is an animated adventure loosely based on “The Snow Queen,” a classic Hans Christian Andersen fairytale first published in 1845.

            This delightful musical stars Kristen Bell as the voice of Anna, the young princess who takes it upon herself to save the day after her sister, recently-crowned Queen Elsa (Idina Menzel), inadvertently plunges Arendelle into a permanent winter before disappearing. You see, Elsa was born with a superpower similar to Batman’s adversary Mr. Freeze as well as the character Sub-Zero in Mortal Combat, namely, the ability to freeze things in an instant.

            Complicating matters is the fact that Elsa, empowered in the wake of their parents’ demise, had just put the kaibosh on her sister’s plans to marry handsome Prince Hans (Santino Fontana). So, Anna, accompanied by an anthropomorphic snowman (Josh Gad) and a rugged mountain man (Jonathan Groff) with a trusty reindeer, embarks on an epic journey in hope of finding her sibling with hopes of not only reversing the curse but of reconciling their differences.

            En route, Anna and company are afforded ample opportunities to belt out a tune when not proving their mettle in playful plights of peril. The enchanting picture is as memorable for its pleasant luminescence and catchy soundtrack (including the Best Song Oscar-nominated “Let It Go”), as for its unpredictable resolution.

            To its credit, Frozen puts a novel spin on the hackneyed nursery rhyme plotline which has the prince arriving in the nick of time to save the damsel-in-distress. A touching tale of sisterhood with a priceless message about blood being thicker than an ill-advised crush.

Excellent (4 stars)

Rated PG for action and mild rude humor

Running time: 102 minutes

Distributor: Walt Disney Pictures

To see a trailer for Frozen, visit: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Jw-AeaU5WI     

    


Reviews
UserpicLife of a King (FILM REVIEW)
Posted by Kam Williams
18.01.2014

Life of a King

Film Review by Kam Williams

 

Ex-Con Opens Chess Club for At-Risk Kids in Ghetto-Based Biopic

            Eugene Brown (Cuba Gooding, Jr.) was so worried about returning to his neighborhood in inner-city Washington, DC after serving 17 years for bank robbery that he shared his concern with his cellmate Searcy (Dennis Haysbert). The wise, old elder responded by making an analogy between life and the game of chess amounting to the simple suggestion “Take care of the king.”

            He also handed Eugene a chess piece, hoping it might serve as a constant reminder to avoid trouble by employing fundamental game strategy. And that practical piece of advice would come in handy, especially since landing employment would turn out to be quite a challenge, given his criminal record.

            But rather than break the law again for a quick buck, Eugene displayed the patience to wait until he found a legit job as a janitor. Working at the same high school his children had attended, he was afforded an opportunity to redeem himself when asked by the principal (LisaGay Hamilton) to monitor detention, too.

            Instead of just having the students stand at the blackboard and write, “I will not be late for class” or “I will not forget my homework” 50 times, Eugene came up with the inspired idea of teaching them how to play chess each afternoon. Soon, he founded a chess club as a regular afterschool activity and viable alternative to the gangsta ways so many of the troubled youth found attractive.

            Meanwhile, Eugene needed to mend fences with his estranged offspring, college coed Katrina (Rachae Thomas), and black sheep Marcus (Jordan Calloway), a juvenile jailbird following in his father’s footsteps. That proves easier said than done since the absentee-dad wasn’t around for either’s formative years. 

            Written and directed by Jake Goldberger (Don McKay), Life of a King is a warts-and-all biopic based on the downfall and resurrection of the real Eugene Brown. As raw and realistic as it is predictable and cliché-ridden, this modern morality play does at least drive home a pertinent message for adolescents in the targeted demographic.

            A Sunday school-style parable which makes very effective use of chess mastery as a metaphor for negotiating the perilous gauntlet of possible ghetto pitfalls.

Very Good (2.5 stars)

Rated PG-13 for drug use, violent images and mature themes

Running time: 100 minutes

Distributor: Millennium Entertainment

To see a trailer for Life of a King, visit: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=24bM9kZp9NQ         

    


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