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Brotherly Love
Film Review by Kam Williams

Twins Jackie (Keke Palmer) and Sergio Taylor (Eric D. Hill, Jr.) already had it tough enough growing up in the ghetto before the untimely demise of their dad a few years ago. But then their mother (Macy Gray) stopped functioning and started hitting the bottle.

That’s when their big brother, June (Cory Hardrict), became the family breadwinner, and it’s been a struggle for him to keep a roof over their heads ever since. So, he started dealing drugs hoping that his becoming an outlaw would at least enable his siblings to keep their noses clean and continue pursuing their dreams. After all, Sergio is one of the top high school basketball players in the nation, while Jackie is an aspiring singer in need of a big break.

By comparison, the living is easy for kids like Chris Collins (Quincy Brown) from “The Hilltop,” the upscale enclave located just across the proverbial tracks. He’s a classmate of Jackie’s at Overbrook High, where students from his ‘hood don’t mix with those from “The Bottom,” especially in the wake of the gang warfare that recently claimed the life of one of his cousins.

Chris has a crush on Jackie, and she likes him, too. Under normal circumstances theirs would be a match made in heaven, since his father is a famous record producer capable of launching a promising talent’s musical career.

However, complications arise reminiscent of Romeo and Juliet when the competing clans suggest that the pair separate. Will the star-crossed lovers follow their hearts or capitulate to the pressure from friends and relatives?

Written and directed by Jamal Hill (Autumn), Brotherly Love is a gritty, inner-city saga of Shakespearean proportions shot on location in West Philadelphia. Provided you have a strong stomach for Ebonics laced with lots of cursing and the N-word, you’ll likely find this super-realistic adventure quite compelling.

As far as performances are concerned, Keke Palmer is terrific in the lead role as Jackie. She also belts out a couple of tunes on the soundtrack, including a mesmerizing, closing credits rendition of the Harold Melvin R&B classic, “Wake Up Everybody.” And the rest of the cast, especially Cory Hardrict, Romeo Miller, Macy Gray, Eric D. Hill, Jr., Quincy Brown and Faizon Love, does a great job creating the requisite edgy atmosphere that imbues the production with a very authentic feel for the duration.

Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art though Romeo? I be hanging with my homeys, mama!

Very Good (3 stars)

Rated R for violence, profanity and ethnic slurs

Running time: 111 minutes

Distributor: Liquid Soul Media / Freestyle Releasing   

To see a trailer for Brotherly Love, visit: http://brotherlylovethemovie.com/#trailer

    


Unfriended
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

    


The Squeeze
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

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)

Unrated

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