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
The “3½ Minutes, Ten Bullets” Interview
with Kam Williams
Lucy McBath is the mother of Jordan Davis, the unarmed teenager gunned down at a Florida gas station for refusing to turn down the radio which was playing loud rap music. Although Jordan's murderer, Michael Dunn, has been convicted and sentenced to life in prison for the crime, Lucy has remained a very vocal advocate on behalf of all victims of such violence.
Here, she reminisces about Jordan while discussing 3½ Minutes, Ten Bullets, a documentary chronicling the trial of her son's killer. She also discusses her commitment to the Black Lives Matter movement and to pressuring the criminal justice system to hold all violators of black civil rights accountable.
Kam Williams: Hi Lucy, thanks for the interview.
Lucy McBath: Thank you, Kam. I'm glad we're able to connect.
KW: 3½ Minutes, Ten Bullets was a very powerful film. What did you think of it?
LM: I'm extremely pleased because it's truthful and it does the very thing we wanted, which is impact people. It's been very, very well received, particularly among people who never spent much time thinking about the issues of racism and biases and guns and violence. They see how we're all related dynamically to my story in some way, because it's everybody's story.
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