myfilmblog

The Hand That Feeds
Film Review by Kam Williams

In spite of the existence of a law setting the minimum wage at $7.25 per hour, Manhattan’s Hot & Crusty (H&C) bakery only compensated its Latino staff members a measly $5 per hour. That’s because most were undocumented workers who risked deportation if discovered by the authorities.

The owners of H&C were well aware of their employees’ predicament, so they would routinely threaten to turn in any who dared complain about the ongoing exploitation. Besides being underpaid, the apprehensive immigrants were denied vacation and overtime pay by a sadistic boss who took delight in reminding them how worthless they were. Truth be told, however, their services were critical to the survival of the New York City restaurant in a very competitive industry dependent upon steady access to a source of cheap labor.

This became increasingly apparent to mild-mannered Mahoma Lopez a short order cook working the counter at H&C. Eventually the soft-spoken chef got fed up with his predicament, especially with the lack of basic human dignity he was being afforded.

So, he decided to organize his similarly-situated colleagues, regardless of the risk of arrest. And with the assistance of an employment discrimination attorney as well as veteran activists from the Occupy Movement, they proceeded to picket the place and unionize.

Co-directed by Rachel Lears and Robin Blotnick, The Hand That Feeds is an inspirational documentary chronicling an intrepid band of working-class heroes’ demand that their rights be respected by greedy fat cats who’d rather close down the business than raise salaries to just the minimum wage.

So, guess what the disgruntled strikers did? Before they could be locked out, they defiantly occupied the store and ran it on their own until an equitable settlement could be reached. Ultimately, it reopened under new management willing to sign a fair contract with Mahoma and company.

How do you say Norma Rae in Spanish?

Excellent (4 stars)

Unrated

In Spanish and English with subtitles

Running time: 88 minutes

Distributor: Jubilee Films

To see a trailer for The Hand That Feeds, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-d6604tfm-k

    


Man from Reno
Film Review by Kam Williams

Aki Akahori (Ayako Fujitani) is a mystery writer in her native Japan where she is famous for her best-selling “Inspector Takabe” series. But despite achieving phenomenal success and the fanfare surrounding the release of her latest potboiler, the popular novelist is still feeling so empty that she’s contemplating suicide.

Desperate for a change of scenery, she travels from Tokyo to San Francisco where she rents a hotel room, and plays with a razor while sitting in a bathtub. Fortunately, before making a rash decision, she ventures down to the bar where she is propositioned by a handsome Japanese gentleman (Kazuki Kitamura) in town from Reno.

Though initially offended by the crass overture, Aki eventually invites the solicitous stranger up to her room for a delightful evening of no-strings attached sex. The next morning, the strapping hunk vanishes into thin air without saying goodbye, however he does leave a suitcase full of clues behind.

Meanwhile, in nearby San Marco, Sheriff Moral (Pepe Serna) and his deputized daughter (Elisha Skorman) have a dead body on their hands identified as Akira Suzuki. As it turns out, that’s the name of the stud with whom Aki just shared the steamy one-night stand.

Furthermore, besides the authorities, there are a number of unsavory characters who are suddenly suspicious of seemingly innocent Aki. They also want access to her recently-deceased lover’s belongings.

So, instead of quietly committing hari kari, the flustered tourist finds herself embroiled in the middle of a real whodunit, rather than a creation of her fertile imagination. Thus unfolds Man from Reno, a cleverly-scripted neo-noir directed by Dave Boyle (White on Rice). Laced with more twists than a Chubby Checker concert, this inscrutable adventure proves a pure delight to unravel from beginning to end.

An utterly absorbing, inspired homage to the Golden Age of Pulp Fiction.

Excellent (4 stars)

Unrated

In English and Japanese with subtitles

Running time: 111 minutes

Distributor: Eleven Arts

To see a trailer for Man from Reno, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5X0d-2x0NAk

    


Do You Believe?
Film Review by Kam Williams

If you’re familiar with the Best Picture Oscar-winner Crash (2004) and Thornton Wilder’s classic novel “The Bridge over San Luis Rey,” then you have a decent idea of what to expect from Do You Believe? Directed by Jonathan M. Gunn (Like Dandelion Dust), the picture is a heavy-handy faith-based flick which relies heavily on a combination of astounding coincidences and simplistic sermonizing to deliver its message.  

The overplotted adventure litters the screen with more storylines than most would care to keep track of, especially since, regardless of the issue, the tension invariably builds up to the same basic question, namely, whether or not someone is a believer. My guess is that this absence of subtlety is apt to wear on audience members’ nerves after awhile, whether they be Christian or heathens.

To its credit, the film does feature a talented A-List cast which includes Lee Majors, Mira Sorvino, Cybill Shepherd and Sean Astin. Everybody throws themselves into the production with an admirable gusto, despite their ultimately being crippled by a mediocre script.

Among the dozen main characters are a veteran suffering from PTSD (Joseph Julian Soria); a married couple (Shepherd and Majors) mourning the death of their only child; a homeless widow (Sorvino) trying to survive on the streets with her young daughter (Mackenzie Moss); and ghetto gangstas (Senyo Amaoku and Shwayze) ostensibly operating without a functioning conscience.

Unfortunately, the transparent proselytizing employed here is likely to elicit the opposite response of what the director desires. The cinematic equivalent of a Jehovah’s Witness who won’t take “no” for an answer getting his foot stuck in your door. More of an annoying sales pitch than an entertaining, spiritually-oriented feature.                       

Fair (1 star)

Rated PG-13 for mature themes, an accident scene and brief violence.

Running time: 115 minutes

Distributor: Pure Flix Entertainment

To see a trailer for Do You Believe?, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ogIX2Q7tEdc   

    


Zombeavers
Film Review by Kam Williams

If you like your horror fare with generous helpings of humor and titillation mixed in, ala the Scream and Scary Movie franchises, have I got a film for you. Zombeavers is a campy comedy relying on a combination of low production values and eroticized violence to generate laughs.

The movie marks the feature film directorial debut of Jordan Rubin, who is best known as a scriptwriter for late night talk show hosts like Craig Kilborn, Carson Daly and Larry Wilmore. He also collaborated on Zombeavers‘ screenplay with first-timers Al and John Kaplan.

The high attrition rate adventure unfolds ominously enough, when a 55 gallon drum of toxic waste tumbles into a lake in the wake of a collision between a deer and a pickup truck caused by a pair of local yokels (Bill Burr and John Mayer) recklessly driving while texting. It’s not hard to imagine that a frightening chemical reaction might soon ensue, especially given the movie’s title.

But blissfully oblivious of this development are Mary (Rachel Melvin), Jenn (Lexi Atkins) and Zoe (Cortney Palm), sorority sisters looking forward to unwinding over the course of a college break they’ve decided to take without boyfriends. Their point-of-call is a cozy lakefront cottage belonging to a cousin of Mary’s.

Upon arrival, the trio discover that there’s no cell service in the remote locale, which might very well complicate matters should an emergency arise. It doesn’t help that the only folks around for miles are a couple of creepy neighbors (Brent Briscoe and Phyllis Katz) who look like they step off the set of Deliverance.

Nevertheless, the clueless coeds decide to don bikinis and take a dip in the pond where something evil is a brewing in the swamp where the contaminated water is slowly turning beavers into bloodthirsty zombies. Also unbeknownst to the bathing beauties, their three beaus are en route, which only serves to complicate matters, since a photo of Mary kissing Jenn’s boyfriend Sam (Hutch Dano) was recently posted on Facebook.

So, after Jenn slaps Sam, Zoe sneaks off into a bedroom with Tommy (Jake Weary), while Mary tries to mend fences with her man, Buck (Peter Gilroy). But before you have a chance to take any of that soap opera drama too seriously, the real fun begins when a rabid beaver surfaces in the bathroom.

What ensues is a relentlessly-cheesy B-flick far funnier than it is frightening.

Very Good (2.5 stars)

Rated R for gory violence, crude humor, graphic sexuality, gratuitous nudity and pervasive profanity  

Running time: 76 minutes

Distributor: Freestyle Releasing

To see a trailer for Zombeavers, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7onFrBK_hKE

    


Growing Up and Other Lies
Film Review by Kam Williams

Jake (Josh Lawson) is finally fed up with New York after years of trying to make it as an artist in the city. So, right before he’s set to move back home to Ohio, he summons his three BFFS, Rocks (Adam Brody), Gunderson (Wyatt Cenac) and Billy (Danny Jacobs), to the northern tip of Manhattan for an impromptu gathering.

The plan is to spend the day reminiscing about their misspent twenties while traversing the entire 260 block-length of the island. The trip starts inauspiciously enough, with one of them vomiting on a train platform at 7 in the morning.

Next, another makes an offensive overture to an elderly woman sitting on a bench, asking whether she’d like to sit on his finger. Later, Gunderson goes out of his way to hurt the feelings (“I thought you’d be dead by now”) of a woman (Lucy Walters) he’d ostensibly seduced and unceremoniously dumped after a one-night stand.

The crude quartet also offers dubious, unsolicited dating advice to teenage girls attending an elite prep school, suggesting they avoid romance at all costs, since it invariably leads to having one’s heart broken. We also witness them dismantling a “Broadway” street sign, and giving a hard time (“How much for everything?”) to a working-class clerk at a farmer’s market. And Rocks (nicknamed for his huge gonads), whose fiancée (Lauren Miller) is nine-months pregnant, risks missing the birth of his baby in order to participate in the interminable, 13-mile trek down memory lane.

Co-written and co-directed by Danny Jacobs and Darren Grodsky, Growing Up and Other Lies is a meanspirited, misogynistic dramedy masquerading as a nostalgic male-bonding adventure. But this meeting of The He-Man Woman Haters Club (ala TV’s Little Rascals) merely takes delight in insulting females at every turn.   

Its lame excuse for a plot presumes to thicken when Jake learns that Tabatha (Amber Tamblyn), the ex he still loves, has just broken up with her boyfriend and is suddenly on the market. Will he still pack up and leave, or will he postpone his plans to return to the Midwest in light of this development? Unfortunately, given how unlikable a protagonist we have here, you’re more inclined to root against than in favor of a romantic reunion.

Who wants to watch four, obnoxious, testosterone-fueled slackers vent their vile on a gauntlet of unsuspecting victims?

Poor (½ star)

Unrated

Running time: 90 minutes

Distributor: E1 Entertainment

To see a trailer for Growing Up and Other Lies, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Fn2vbw0120