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)
Running time: 85 minutes
Studio: Candescent Films Distributor: Participant Media
To see a trailer for 3½ Minutes,Ten Bullets, visit:
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
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.