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
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
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)
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
The “Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2” Interview
with Kam Williams
Watch Out! The Portly Security Guard’s Back on the Segway
Kevin James, star of the hit comedies Paul Blart: Mall Cop and Zookeeper will also be seen late this year in the ensemble, sci-fi comedy Pixels. He began his showbiz career as a stand-up comic on the Long Island circuit. After being discovered at the 1996 Montreal Comedy Festival, he signed a network development deal to create his own sitcom.
“The King of Queens,” which premiered in 1998, ran for nine seasons on CBS with Kevin co-starring and executive producing. The show garnered him an Emmy nomination in 2006 for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series, and has continued to air all around the world in syndication since concluding its run.
On the big screen, Kevin made his feature film debut in Hitch opposite Will Smith. Since then, he headlined Here Comes the Boom, and starred alongside Adam Sandler in Grown Ups, Grown Ups 2, and I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry. Besides his live-action work, he’s done voice work in such animated features as Monster House, Hotel Transylvania, and its upcoming sequel, Hotel Transylvania 2, opening this fall.
Here, Kevin talks about his new film, Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2, a slapstick-driven sequel which finds the hapless hero on vacation in Vegas with his college-bound daughter (Raini Rodriguez) until he instinctively jumps into action when duty calls.
Kam Williams: Hi Kevin, thanks so much for another opportunity to speak with you.
Kevin James: No problem, Kam. How’s it going?
KW: Great, thanks! The last time we spoke, you were doing Here Comes the Boom?
KJ: Oh, I wish that one did better. I loved that movie.
KW: So did I. I gave it a great review.
KJ: That was awesome. Thank you.
KW: So what inspired you to put back on the badge on hop onto the Segway again?
KJ: You know, we all loved the character, and after the first film did well, I didn’t want to see him disappear. It was just time, it felt right, and we missed him. We also wanted to bring him back because the world needs a hero now. So, it was nice to bring him to Vegas, make it a bigger platform, and raise the stakes. He’s going through an emotional time with his daughter [played by Raini Rodriguez] who’s about to go off to college. But he can’t separate himself from his calling, and even though he’s on vacation, he’s got to serve and protect. You can’t take him away from his work.
KW: How was it co-writing the script with Todd Garner and Nick Bakay, who wrote Zookeeper for you?
KJ: It’s just great, because these guys know Paul Blart so well. So, we’re able to bounce ideas off each other, which makes the process more comfortable. And of course, the character’s more familiar to us, which means we were able to take it to another level.
KW: I have some questions for you from fans. Editor Lisa Loving says: There is something about the mall cop as a stock persona in American culture. We've all giggled at mall cops. In our town, the mall cops used to dress up in Canadian Mountie hats like Dudley Do-Right. And yet they are serious law enforcement professionals too, as we have seen in some of the more outrageous acts of mass violence during the past decade. In my home state of Oregon that includes the Clackamas Town Center shooting of a few years ago. Paul, what do you draw on in creating this character?
KJ: Initially, I drew on the stereotype of them as goofy. But then I thought about the fact that these security guards have basically the same job as regular cops but without any of the training or lethal weapons. It was inspiring to me. I was like, “These guys are really heroes!” They’re doing more with less. That’s the key.
KW: Sangeetha Subramanian says: Hi Kevin! I'm a huge fan of your stand-up and on-screen work! Is your approach to comedy different for a family-friendly movie like the Paul Blart movies versus your other work?
KJ: They’re certainly different from The Grown-Ups films which aren’t dirty at all. But since I have four kids now, I try to gear my movies towards them, so we can sit down and watch them together. That’s what makes me feel good and drives me to create content for parents who desperately want to have a great time in the theater with their children as a family.
KW: Eleanor Welski asks: What's the special place your song takes you to? I think she might be referring to your character, Paul Blart.
KJ: It takes him to a higher level, to hero status.
KW: The Harriet Pakula-Teweles question: With so many classic films being redone, is there a remake you'd like to star in?
KJ: Wow! That’s a good question. A movie I would like to do again is Planes, Trains and Automobiles. I love that movie. That’s the sort of movie I gravitate towards, one where you have an underdog who somehow overcomes the odds. I’m always looking for movies, and I would definitely consider a remake.
KW: Did you ever see Baby’s Day Out? That’s another great film by John Hughes.
KJ: I’m a huge John Hughes fan, but that’s one of his I haven’t seen.
KW: It’s every bit as funny as Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and Planes, Trains and Automobiles. And you can watch it with your kids.
KJ: I gotta see it.
KW: The “Realtor to the Stars” Jimmy Bayan’s question: What’s your dream locale in Los Angeles to live?
KJ: In L.A., I like Orange County. There also some beautiful spots in San Diego. And I was in Encino for a long time, and enjoyed that as well.
KW: The Kerry Washington question: If you were an animal, what animal would you be?
KJ: I’d say a manatee for several reasons. I don’t have long arms… I like to just float… and I eat a lot. [Chuckles]
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?
KJ: Get ripped.
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?
KJ: On the red carpet, you’re always trying to watch and guide your way through these questions, while at home you free to just be loose and let your kids climb all over you, and you don’t have to throw any makeup on your face.
KW: Is there any question no one ever asks you, that you wish someone would?
KJ: Wow! That’s a good question. That would be the question.
KW: The Sanaa Lathan question: What excites you?
KJ: The possibility of bringing an unsung hero to the screen.
KW: The Judyth Piazza question: What key quality do you believe all successful people share?
KW: Attorney Bernadette Beekman asks: What is your favorite charity?
KJ: I have several different causes I support, but I don’t have one favorite.
KW: Let's say you’re throwing your dream dinner party—who’s invited.
KJ: This is gonna sound weird, but it would be the band One Direction.
KW: Would you be inviting them for yourself or for your kids?
KJ: For both.
KW: The Uduak Oduok question: Who is your favorite clothes designer?
KJ: I think it would be Under Armour.
KW: The Tasha Smith question: Are you ever afraid on the set anymore?
KJ: I get butterflies because I’m excited, but not because I’m afraid.
KW: The Anthony Anderson question: If you could have a superpower, which one would you choose?
KJ: This is awkward, because I do have a superpower. I have a vertical jump of about 17 or 18 feet.
KW: The Laz Alonso question: How can your fans help you?
KJ: By going out with their families and enjoying Paul Blart 2 and the other movies I make.
KW: The Pastor Alex Kendrick question: When do you feel the most content?
KJ: When I’m at home with my family, just hanging out and watching a movie.
KW: Lastly, Kevin, what’s in your wallet?
KJ: What’s in your wallet? My goodness! A little Pyle [GPS chip] to help me find it, because I lose it all the time.
KW: Thanks again for the time, Kevin, and best of luck with the film.
KJ: You’re awesome, Kam. I appreciate the support.
To see a trailer for Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bmD2vogB6yE