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
The “Mad Max: Fury Road / Good Kill” Interview
with Kam Williams
Born December 1, 1988, Zoë Isabella Kravitz is the daughter of 5-time Grammy-winner Lenny Kravitz and Emmy-nominated actress Lisa Bonet (for The Cosby Show). The versatile entertainer has followed in the footsteps of both of her parents, between fronting the bands Elevator Fight and Lolawolf and an acting career that has enjoyed a meteoric rise as of late.
This spring alone, Zoë has a half-dozen films released in theaters, including the blockbusters Insurgent and Mad Max: Fury Road, as well as Good Kill, The Road Within, Dope and Treading Water. Here, she talks about life and about her latest movies.
Kam Williams: Hi Zoë, thanks for the interview. I’m honored to have this opportunity.
Zoe Kravitz: No worries, Kam. How are you?
KW: Great, thanks. I don’t know whether you’re aware that I’ve interviewed both your mom and your dad.
ZK: No, I wasn’t aware. Cool!
KW: Also, the headline, when I interviewed your mom, read “Lisa Bonet Ate No Basil,” which I assume you know is a palindrome.
ZK: No, I never heard that before. That’s cool, too.
KW: How do you explain your career taking off this year? You’re in a half dozen new movies this spring: Insurgent, Treading Water, The Road Within, Good Kill, Mad Max and Dope.
ZK: I don’t know, man. I’ve basically been working really hard for the past couple years. And the nature of the film business is that movies come out when they come out, and these all just happen to be coming out at the same time. [Giggles]
KW: How did you enjoy making Mad Max: Fury Road?
ZK: It was good. It was really intense. It was a very long process. It was a six- month shoot in Africa. And it was crazy, Kam. I mean, the stunts were kind of crazy, and they were all shot at real speed. The costumes were insane and the conditions were really harsh. So, it was a very intense film to make, but well worth it.
KW: Is it fair to assume that making Mad Max was more like shooting Insurgent than your other new films?
ZK: In some ways, yes, but I don’t even know if I can compare it to Insurgent. Mad Max is kind of like a beast of its own.
KW: What interested you in Good Kill, which is an excellent film? There, you play drone co-pilot Suarez, who is a pretty complicated character with an intriguing arc.
ZK: Thank you so much. When I read the script, it read like a science fiction film. And Andrew [writer/director Andrew Niccol] is known for sci-fi. But when I spoke to him, he said this picture was 100% factual, which blew my mind. I realized then how little I knew about the drone program. And I felt that, if I knew so little about it, there must be others who should be educated about what’s going on. So, first, I wanted to be a part of the project because I thought it was an important story to tell. On top of that, it’s rare to find roles for strong, young, feisty women, especially in a military film. And I love that Suarez ends up being the moral compass of the story, and that she’s also brave enough to stand up to all these men.
KW: It’s very well-written. The dialogue uses so much military and contemporary cultural jargon that it’s very convincing.
ZK: Like “Good kill!” [Chuckles]
KW: I also thought you were great in Treading Water. What made you decide to play the love interest in that offbeat romantic dramedy?
ZK: I just found that story so bizarre. [Laughs] It’s a very sweet love story wrapped around an outlandish premise.
KW: Yes, it’s definitely unique. Editor Lisa Loving says: Zoe is super-duper cool. Just watching the trailer for her new movie with Dev Patel, The Road Within, made me cry.
ZK: That’s so sweet!
KW: She asks: What’s the secret of your mother, father and stepfather getting along so well?
ZK: I don’t know what the secret is. We’re a family… We all love each other… and we’ve all worked through whatever issues there’ve ever been, and in a healthy way. So, we all get along. Love conquers all, I guess.
KW: Sangeetha Subramanian says: Hi Zoe! They say it takes 90 days to get in the grove of a new job. Do you feel like you’ve been getting enough time to prepare for each new project lately?
ZK: This might surprise you, but I do feel like I have, because the shooting of all these films was spread out, for the most part. They just happen to be coming out at the same time.
KW: Children’s book author Irene Smalls asks: How do you prepare for each new role?
ZK: It kind of varies. I don’t have a method yet. It depends on the script and the character I think I need. I’ve worked with acting coaches, researched roles, and channeled different parts of myself. It’s on a case-by-case for me, right now.
KW: Harriet Pakula-Teweles says: At just 26, you already have a solid background in various fields: acting, singing and songwriting, modeling and designing. Which feels the most comfortable, and what direction do you hope to take in the near future?
ZK: Music and acting are the most prominent. But I don’t like to compare them, since they’re both very, very important to me.
KW: Editor/Legist Patricia Turnier was wondering whether your having mixed ethnic roots might have played a role in your eating disorders. She asks because she knows several people struggling with society’s tendency to narrowly define beauty. Do you think women are unfairly judged by their physical appearance?
ZK: I do think women are unfairly judged by their physical appearance, but I don’t think it had anything to do with being mixed-race. In my opinion, mixed-race people are the most beautiful.
KW: “Realtor to the Stars” Jimmy Bayan asks: What would be your dream spot to live in L.A. and in the world?
ZK: I can’t say about L.A., because I don’t live there. I love the Bahamas. Our family is from there. I also like Berlin and would love to live there for a while.
KW: Is there any question no one ever asks you, that you wish someone would?
ZK: [LOL] No, I might not even know until someone asks me the question.
KW: When you look in the mirror, what do you see?
ZK: It depends on the day.
KW: The bookworm Troy Johnson question: What was the last book you read?
ZK: I haven’t read a book in a long time. I’ve just been reading scripts lately. It’s terrible. [Laughs] I think the last one I read was the entire Divergent series. [Laughs]
KW: The music maven Heather Covington question: What was the last song you listened to?
ZK: I recent to Erykah Badu’s “Mama’s Gun.” That whole album.
KW: What is your favorite dish to cook?
ZK: Squash and quinoa and kale and salmon.
KW: The Uduak Oduok question: Who is your favorite clothes designer?
ZK: I don’t know. I always say Alexander Wang because he’s one of my dearest friends and he’s the one I’m most familiar with. I don’t know a lot about designers’ names.
KW: If you could have one wish instantly granted, what would that be for?
ZK: It sounds like a silly pageant answer, but world peace.
KW: That’s not silly at all, since this is a time when it’s really needed. Harriet also asks: With so many classic films being redone, is there a remake you'd like to star in?
ZK: Ooh! That’s a hard question, because I believe “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” I’d have to think about it.
KW: The Ling-Ju Yen question: What is your earliest childhood memory?
ZK: I remember playing at my grandmothers’ houses when I was about 4 or 5.
KW: The Melissa Harris-Perry question:How did your first big heartbreak impact who you are as a person?
ZK: I think it probably just taught me that you will always heal. That this too shall pass. The first time you feel that sort of pain, you think it’s never going to go away. Once you do survive it, you realize you can survive anything.
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?
ZK: Well, , at home, I’m in sweatpants, I’m not wearing any makeup, and I’m not standing with my hand on my hip while smiling. [Laughs] I try to be honest in interviews, but obviously you have to be careful about everything you say and do when you’re being recorded. I’m much more comfortable and quieter at home.
KW: The Teri Emerson question: When was the last time you had a good laugh?
ZK: Earlier today. I like to laugh a lot.
KW: What was your first job?
ZK: I never had a real job. I started acting in high school, and then I started working. So, I never got to have that experience.
KW: The Tasha Smith question: Are you ever afraid?
ZK: All the time.
KW: The Anthony Anderson question: If you could have a superpower, which one would you choose?
ZK: Flight! 100%! Flight!
KW: What advice do you have for anyone who wants to follow in your footsteps?
ZK: Be confident, and just do it. It’s all about not questioning what everyone else is thinking, since they’re probably looking to others to know what is or isn’t cool.
KW: Attorney Bernadette Beekman asks: Do you have a favorite charity?
ZK: No, not one favorite, I’ve worked with a few different charities, including one in Africa dealing with the AIDS epidemic. I also like helping people who need food.
KW: The Judyth Piazza question: What key quality do you believe all successful people share?
ZK: Being genuine.
KW: The Tavis Smiley question: How do you want to be remembered?
ZK: Again, as genuine. I think the best that you can do is stay true to who you are, whatever that is.
KW: Your parents are two of the most grounded and normal celebrities I’ve interviewed. And you strike as just as real and accessible.
ZK: Oh, thank you so much. I appreciate that, since that’s all we really have.
KW: What’s in your wallet?
ZK: A Metro card, a credit card, a few dollar bills, and a chai tea card. After I buy a certain number of cups, I get a free one.
KW: Thanks again for the time, Zoë, and best of luck with all your films. And I hope to speak to you again soon.
ZK: Alright. Take care, Kam.
To see a trailer for Mad Max, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yd7kZaMsPDM
To see a trailer for Good Kill, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y5RBtNCaogU
To see a trailer for Treading Water, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mCpQeywlrV4
To see a trailer for Insurgent, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IR-l_TSjlEo
To see a trailer of The Road Within, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-MYzi2TPRcM
To see a trailer for Dope, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L41xwM8tIRQ
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
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
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)
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