The “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” Interview
with Kam Williams
Me and RJ!
The youngest of three boys, Ronald Cyler II was born in Jacksonville, Florida on . March 21, 1995. He demonstrated a love of the arts and entertaining early on, teaching himself to play the keyboard and drums, and forming a dance duo with his older brother, Broderick, at the age of 12.
In the summer of 2012, RJ traveled to the West Coast to hone his skills at acting camp. Encouraged by the experience, he asked his parents if they would consider relocating to Los Angeles to support his pursuit of a showbiz career.
With his family solidly behind him, he began meeting with agents, and subsequently signed with Landis-Simon Productions and Talent Management, as well as JLA Talent Agency. Here, he talks about making his acting debut in the title role of Earl in the screen adaptation of Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, which won both the Audience and Grand Jury Awards at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival.
Kam Williams: Hi RJ, thanks for the interview.
RJ Cyler: Ola, Kam! No problem.
KW: I really loved Me and Earl and the Dying Girl. But so have all the critics and audiences. Congratulations!
KW: What interested you in the film?
RJC: The honesty of the film, and how realistically it treats teenagers. A lot of movies present us as only interested in romance, which is kind of offensive, since we're a lot more complicated than that. We also have friends who are genuinely just friends. This script highlighted that aspect of the teenage mind, and I appreciated the fact that it was authentic and raw.
FilmReview by Kam Williams
Amy (Amy Everson) has been left so haunted by demons after years of unspecified sexual abuse that today she dreams of crushing a rapist to death with her thighs. She also fantasizes about gouging out his eyes and sticking a pin in a penis.
Good luck to anyone who gets involved with the traumatized survivor, since she's obviously still dealing with the fallout of whatever happened to her. Some of Amy's suitors are oblivious of the warning signs, such as the cad who cavalierly suggested that the date rape drug, Rohypnol, doesn't even exist.
Such callous behavior plays right into Amy's belief that most men are exploitative jerks who think they have the right to grope her just because she's female. She laments that they don't understand that there are other forms of violence besides punching or stabbing or shooting with a gun.
Rather than retreat into her shell, Amy copes by creating elaborate costumes which make a feminist statement about the patriarchal state of the culture. For instance, she'll strap on a fake penis and cover her face with a mask before taking a walk in the woods; or she might don a giant chicken mascot costume in order to follow a dude around.
Yet, despite her apparent disgust with the opposite sex, Amy hasn't given up on finding Mr. Right. She hangs out at a pool hall where she peppers possible partners with probing questions like: “Do you prefer docile chicks?”
Inspired by its star Amy Everson's real-life experiences, Felt is a surreal, semi-autobiographical adventure with a patently political agenda. Directed by Jason Banker (Toad Road), this unsettling experimental indie is simultaneously a psychological thriller which never affords the audience an opportunity to get comfortable in their seats.
A cattle prod of a picture which incessantly provokes and pushes the cinematic envelope while taking no prisoners in a very freaky battle-of-the-sexes.
Very Good (3 stars)
Running time: 80 minutes
Distributor: Amplify Releasing
To see a trailer for Felt, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rr59LitGL1k
Film Review by Kam Williams
Riley (Kaitlyn Dias) was understandably unhappy when she learned from her mother (Diane Lane) and father (Kyle MacLachlan) that the family was relocating from Minnesota to San Francisco. After all, she'd be leaving behind her home, her hockey team and all her BFFs.
So, it's no surprise that the uprooted 11 year-old might be very lonely after moving to the Bay Area. And, unfortunately, that solitary condition leads to an inordinate amount of introspection as she attempts to sort out her emotions, literally and figuratively.
For, her feelings aren't merely metaphysical experiences but five actual little figurines living inside her brain. This anthropomorphic quintet, composed of Joy (Amy Poehler), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Fear (Bill Hader), Anger (Lewis Black) and Disgust (Mindy Kaling), are constantly contending for control of rattled Riley's moods as she navigates her way around a new house, city and school.
That struggle is the subject of Inside Out, the best animated offering from the talented team at Pixar since the equally-affective balloon adventure Up (2009). Don't allow the the awkward-sounding premise revolving around a melancholy kid who's a bit of a head case turn you off, as the material is handled delicately enough to be appropriate for a child of any age.
A touching tale illustrating how a dramatic life change might, temporarily at least, exact a terrible toll on a frail human psyche.
Excellent (4 stars)
Rated PG for action and mature themes
Running time: 94 minutes
Distributor: Pixar Animation / Walt Disney Studios
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.