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)
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
The “Insidious: Chapter 3” Interview
with Kam Williams
Shaye at Play!
Born and raised in Detroit, Michigan, Lin Shaye loved storytelling for as long as she could remember and knew that she was destined to act. She performed in many plays in college at the University of Michigan, and then moved to New York City when she was accepted into Columbia University’s Master of Fine Arts program. Remaining in NYC after graduation, she further honed her skills with celebrated stage directors like Joseph Papp and Des McAnuff, appearing in such productions as Tartuffe, at the New York Shakespeare Festival, as well as in The Tempest and The Taking of Miss Janie.
She made her film debut in 1975 in Hester Street, which was shot on location in Manhattan, and featured Carol Kane in an Oscar-nominated performance. But when Jack Nicholson cast Lin in Goin’ South, she relocated from New York to L.A. Her other early films included The Long Riders, Brewster’s Millions and Extreme Prejudice, all directed by Walter Hill. In 1982, she and a dozen fellow thespians formed a theater company called the Los Angeles Theater Unit, which produced only new plays over the course of its decade-long existence. She earned her a Dramalogue Award for Best Actress for her work in the troupe’s staging of Better Days. The Farrelly Brothers recognized Lin's extraordinary talent and cast her in a series of memorable roles in their films, among them Dumb & Dumber, Kingpin and, perhaps most memorably, as the overly-tanned neighbor in There’s Something About Mary. Her other notable comedic roles include the KISS-hating fanatic mother in Detroit Rock City and the head of the Bikini Tanning Team in Boat Trip. Lin has almost 200 screen credits to her name, including Snakes on a Plane, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Ouija, The Hillside Strangler, My Sister’s Keeper, The Signal and Corrina, Corrina. Here, she talks about reprising the role of Elise Rainier, the heroine of Insidious: Chapter 3, in the latest installment of that vaunted fright franchise.
Kam Williams: Hi Lin, I'm honored to have this opportunity to speak with you.
Lin Shaye: Well, thanks, Kam, and vice versa.
KW: What was it like being directed by your co-star Leigh Whannell this go-round in what amounted to his directorial debut?
LS: He was a fantastic director. We were both a little nervous when we started filming, because you always are, even if you're a veteran actor or director. But we obviously had already forged a wonderful friendship and relationship making the first two films together. Leigh, being a performer himself, had a different directorial style from James [Wan] who is more of a cinephile. Leigh's was more emotional and more informational, since he'd created the characters as well. So, he probably knows more about Elise than anybody, although he said, “No, I don't,” when I tried to tell him that. [Laughs] But making the film with him was wonderful, because he could step into the shoes of any of the characters, if necessary. He was also open to anything you had to say, and there was never a sour word out of his mouth, even at the end of a 17-hour day. He was just amazing! And you know, when you're the director, everybody on set wants something from you. Leigh handled it like a true prince.
The “And the Good News Is…” Interview
with Kam Williams
Dana Marie Perino was born in Evanston, Wyoming on May 9, 1972, where she grew up herding cattle at the crack of dawn on a cattle ranch. In college, she moonlighted as a country music DJ while majoring in Mass Communications. And after graduating from Colorado State University-Pueblo, she went on to earn a Master’s in Public Affairs Reporting from the University of Illinois at Springfield.
Dana made history as the first Republican female to serve as White House Press Secretary. After seven years in the George W. Bush administration, she was recruited by the Fox News Network to co-host a new show, The Five, which has become one of the most highly-rated programs on cable TV.
Christians in word and deed, Dana and her husband, Peter, devote considerable time to philanthropy causes, traveling to Africa on numerous occasions to volunteer with charities ranging from Living Hope to Mercy Ships. The former is a faith-based organization working with AIDS victims, while the latter is a state-of-the-art floating hospital which sails down the Congo River to bring free medical care to desperate people living is some of the poorest countries in the world.
Here, she talks about her life and career, including the time spent as President Bush’s official spokesperson.
Kam Williams: Hi Dana, thanks for the interview. How are you?
Dana Perino: I’m pretty good, thank you.
KW:You know, I feel like I already know you, from seeing you on The Five everyday.
DP: That’s one of the favorite things I hear a lot on the book tour. I think that’s a huge compliment to The Five.
KW: Even though I’m very liberal, I still enjoy the show, especially because you and Greg Gutfeld aren’t predictable in terms of your political stances.
DP: I know what you mean. Bill Shine, an executive at Fox, once said, “Who would’ve ever thought that it’d be Dana Perino always defending the unions and the TSA?”
KW: Or coming to the defense of Obama administration White House Press Secretaries. What were your expectations, when you agreed to do The Five?
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)
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