Film Review by Kam Williams
Caleb Smith (Domnhall Gleeson) works as a computer programmer for Blue Book, the most popular internet search engine in the world. As the winner of a staff lottery, he is summoned to the secluded, hilltop retreat of the company’s reclusive CEO, Nathan Bateman (Oscar Isaac).
Only after being brought there by corporate helicopter does the nerdy 26 year-old discover that his billionaire boss has a hidden agenda. As it turns out, the place is less a home than a high-tech facility dedicated to conducting research in artificial intelligence.
But before Caleb is allowed to stay, he’s forced to sign a non-disclosure agreement promising to keep secret what he’s about to witness. Nathan next explains that it’s an invention, an android he wants Turing tested, meaning examined for any software flaws revealing it as non-human.
He then introduces his curious guest to Ava (Alicia Vikander), the fetching fembot he wants studied over the course of a week. Caleb is surprised by her level of sophistication, since her brain is complex enough to discern the connotation of idioms like “breaking the ice.” He’s even more impressed by her non-deterministic nature, as she appears to have been successfully programmed with free will.
The plot thickens several days into the project when Ava senses Caleb has developed feelings for her. At that point, the attractive automaton quietly confides her fears about being expendable in the eyes of Nathan who wouldn’t have a second thought about wiping her memory banks clean once she’s no longer considered state-of-the-art. After all, that’s what he’s done to each of her mothballed predecessors in his relentless quest to build a better cyborg.
Where does Caleb’s loyalty lie? With the callous employer he suddenly sees as a heartless tinkerer? Or with the flesh-covered machine exhibiting a full range of emotions, including a seductive vulnerability? That is the dilemma confronting the anguished protagonist in Ex Machina, an intriguing sci-fi adventure marking the splendid directorial debut of Alex Garland.
Best known as the scriptwriter of 28 Days Later, the gifted Brit more than proves his mettle as a filmmaker, here, with a thought-provoking thriller guaranteed to keep you enthralled while reassessing the meaning of consciousness.
Excellent (4 stars)
Rated R for profanity, violence, sexual references and graphic nudity
Running time: 108 minutes
Film Review by Kam Williams
Randy Rousseau (Julian Walker) claims to be straight, even though everybody thinks he’s gay basically because he’s effeminate, sings in the church choir, and is a member of Christian High’s drama club. The repressed 17 year-old has even confessed to his BFFs, Effie (Gary Leroi Gray) and Crystal (Nikki Jane), to waking up “soaked in sin” after nightly wet dreams in which he makes love to other guys.
Nevertheless, he’s so deep in denial, that he’s willing to take Crystal’s virginity to prove his masculinity. But that brief experimentation with heterosexuality is only momentary, while his choosing to co-star in Romeo and Julian, a gay-themed, school production of Romeo and Juliet, proves a tad more telling.
Perhaps Randy’s reticence to come out of the closet has to do with his horrible relationship with his parents, between an absentee dad (Isaiah Washington) he can barely recognize (“Who the eff are you?”), and a Bible-thumping mother (Mo’Nique) who calls him an “effing punk”. In addition, she blames her son for the mysterious disappearance of her daughter (Hannah Moye), and has faith that God will send her back home once Randy is purged of his gender-bending demons once and for all.
Directed and co-written by Patrik-Ian Polk, Blackbird is a coming-of-age musical adventure which walks the fine line between drama and comedy. That failure to commit is an unfortunate flaw which serves to undercut any serious message the picture intends to deliver about tolerance.
Another problem is that the overplotted production has too many sidebars distracting our attention away from the compelling question of Randy’s sexual orientation. There’s the return of his Prodigal sister, his mama proselytizing in the supermarket, a pal infected with an STD, a married man cruising at a gay Lover’s Lane, the suicide of a preacher’s (Tirell Tilford) daughter (D. Woods), and an exorcism.
Despite its failings, I’m still willing to give Blackbird a little credit for tackling a subject that remains taboo in the black community. A gospel-driven cross of Precious and Rent, only set in a sleepy Southern town that time forgot instead of New York City.
Good (2 stars)
Rated R for teen sexuality, profanity and drug use
Running time: 99 minutes
Distributor: RLJ Entertainment
To see a trailer for Blackbird, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U3KEVWeHPg8
The “Beauty’s Kingdom” Interview
with Kam Williams
Anne Rice’s debut novel, Interview with a Vampire, was adapted into an Oscar-nominated film starring Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt. She is also the author of many other best-sellers, including the hugely successful Vampire Chronicles, The Mummy or Ramses the Damned, Violin, Angel Time, and the Mayfair Witches series.
Born and raised in New Orleans, Anne now lives in Southern California. Here, she talks about her latest book, Beauty’s Kingdom, an eagerly-anticipated extension of her popular, Sleeping Beauty trilogy.
Kam Williams: Hi, Anne. Thanks for the interview. I’m honored to have this opportunity
Anne Rice: Thanks, Kam.
KW: I’ll be mixing my questions in with some sent in by fans. I really enjoyed Beauty’s Kingdom. What inspired you to extend the Sleeping Beauty trilogy after such a long hiatus?
AR: I had more to say. Many years have passed since I wrote the original trilogy. I felt a new book could refine and deepen the vision. Also, times have changed and, with them, attitudes towards erotica. It's accepted today in a way it was not before, and I did find that inspiring.
KW: Bobby Shenker says: I read and loved the Beauty series when I discovered it in the mid-Eighties. Did the appearance of Fifty Shades of Grey have any influence on your decision to continue the series?
AR: Yes, the success of Fifty Shades indicated that people were out of the closet about their appreciation of erotica. Erotica no longer need be an underground thing. I was inspired by this new acknowledgement of the significance of erotica.
KW: Harriet Pakula-Teweles asks: How do you make the writing psychological shift from Gothic fiction to Erotic fiction—or is there a lot of one in the other?
AR: For me erotic and gothic fiction have much in common. Both are imaginative realms that are talking about the meaning of life in metaphorical terms. I love that. I don't have any problem writing in both genres.
KW: Director Lawrence Greenberg says: Anne, I am a huge fan. I think that I have read every one of your books. Can you speak a little bit about how your writing has been adapted to the screen and what you have learned from that process, for better or worse?
AR: I have good and bad experiences with screen adaptation. What I learned above all is that it is always a risk. However, I love film in all forms, and I think it's worth the risk. So I keep agreeing to and encouraging adaptations. Of course, I feel those adaptations which are entirely faithful to the underlying work are the most successful. When producers and directors and screenwriters try to re-imagine and substantially change the underlying material, more often the end product fails.
KW: Editor Lisa Loving says: Wow! OK! Dang! Anne Rice rearranged part of my mind during the years I read her novels, including the three-part Sleeping Beauty. Will… never... get... over... that! Whoa! Anne, one of the things I love the most about your writing is the way you consistently encompass wide swaths of human history. What is your favorite history book, or do you have a go-to source for your historical perspectives?
AR: I read very widely in history and consume an amazing number of biographies. The well written biography is the best way for me to learn about a period, whether we are talking about a biography of Harriet Beecher Stowe or Elizabeth I or Peter the Great or Augustus Caesar. I read history all the time for pure pleasure often immersing myself in a character or a century that might not show up in my novels at all. Reading history for me is like eating ice cream.
KW: Lisa’s also curious about what made you turn to writing about the life of Jesus. What did that historical research involve? And what has been the response of your readers?
AR: Writing my two novels about Jesus involved years of research into life in the First Century, research in the Bible, research in Bible scholarship, research in ancient mythology and literature, etc. I visited Israel twice while writing these books. ---- The reader response to both Christ the Lord books was hugely positive, but I eventually moved away from the project for theological reasons. I loved writing about the private life of Jesus, trying to re-create what daily life was like for Him as a boy in Nazareth, but when it came to tackling His public life and teachings, I found the age old theological battles about Him draining and discouraging. But I loved working in this area. I am a believer in Jesus who has no organized theology to back up that belief. I seek for Jesus outside organized religion and its quarreling churches and cults. And my two books about Jesus are the full expression of my love for Him and faith in Him.
KW: Do you have any favorite "monsters" that you have never written about? Is "monster" the right word to describe vampires, witches and Lasher? Is there a real-life Lestat that you patterned the character on?
AR: My favorite monster is the vampire without doubt. He is a metaphor for the outsider in all of us, the outcast, the lonely one, the lost one. I'll be interrogating that metaphor for the rest of my life.
KW: Editor/Legist Patricia Turnier says: Without giving too much away about Beauty’s Kingdom, tell us what readers should expect from it? If it becomes a movie one day, who’d you like to direct and star in it?
AR: Beauty's Kingdom picks up the characters twenty years after the trilogy. Beauty and her beloved husband, King Laurent, are called upon to come back to the kingdom where they met as slaves and preserve the way of erotica slavery. Beauty declares that henceforth all slavery must be voluntary and open to applicants of all classes. The book explores, among other things, the outlook of those who volunteer to be slaves and how they love it and what they expect from their royal masters and mistresses. ---- Right now, Beauty is being developed for cable television.
KW: Patricia also says: I didn't read Interview with the Vampire but I truly loved the movie. The best movies often come from great books, and it helps when the author writes the screenplay like in this case. How did you insure that the filmmaker would do a great job adapting your novel? Were you involved with the casting? Did you spend a lot of time on the set, too?
AR: I couldn't really insure anything. I did write the script and Neil Jordan added many things but was essentially faithful to the script and the books. But it's always a risk. There was no guarantee it would turn out that way. David Geffen was the producer behind it all, and it was his desire I think for fidelity that underscored the whole effort.
KW: It is amazing that you became highly successful with your first novel. I assume you encountered many naysayers prior to getting published. What kept you going and what advice do you have for aspiring authors?
AR: Writers have to have faith. They have to be stubborn. They have to endure lots of insults, contemptuous dismissal and criticism, and they have to keep going. I always believed this. I always believed the author has to fight for her vision, her story, her characters, her "right" to be a writer and to offer something fresh and interesting in a marketplace that will always be tough. I don't know where I got my courage. I am a scrapper. It's in my genes.
KW: What was your first job?
AR: My first job was as a cafeteria waitress in a downtown cafeteria in New Orleans. I worked on weekends and made 75 cents an hour. It was hard work but I loved it.
KW: Thanks again for the time, Anne, and best of luck with the book.
AR: Thank you, Kam.
To order a copy of Beauty’s Kingdom, visit: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0525427996/ref=nosim/thslfofire-20
Queen Latifah and Keke Palmer
The “Brotherly Love” Interview
with Kam Williams
Keke Palmer is a multi-talented actress, singer, songwriter and talk show host who made her screen debut at the age of 10 in Barbershop 2 before landing a breakout role a couple of years later as the title character in Akeelah and the Bee. The emerging ingenue has since embarked on an enviable showbiz career in film, on TV and in music while also finding time to give back to the community.
By contrast Oscar-nominee Queen Latifah (for Chicago) started out as a hip-hop artist before adding acting to her repertoire. She’s also proved to be a popular spokesperson for everything from Jenny Craig to Pizza hut to CoverGirl cosmetics.
Here, the two talk about Brotherly Love, a hip-hop driven drama starring Keke which was produced by Latifah.
Kam Williams: Hi Queen and Keke, I’m so honored to have this opportunity to speak with both of you.
Keke Palmer: So are we.
Queen Latifah: Thanks, Kam.
KW: Queen, Professor/Filmmaker/Author Hisani DuBose has a question for you: With all that you've accomplished, was it still difficult for you to get this project greenlit?
QL: Well, it wasn’t hard to get it greenlit, because we greenlit it. [Laughs] It’s easy when you’re the greenlighter. Really, it was more about lining up the financing. It always comes back to the dollars and cents, and finding the money to be able to fund the project and make it happen. That’s what we went on immediately, and I’m fortunate to work with a tiger who doesn’t rest until it all happens. He and I really jumped in on it until and worked with some other partners to help create the finances, and they came through for us. So, we all put it together, collectively, and made it happen.
KW: Hisani has one for Keke, too: Did you feel a lot of pressure having to grow from a child star into a woman under the bright lights of Hollywood?
KP: I definitely, at times, felt the pressures of life similar to the pressures anyone would feel growing up. The only difference was that maybe more people were aware of mine. But, if anything, I changed the pressure from negative to positive. So, instead of thinking everybody wanted to see me fail, I decided everybody wanted to see me win, since I wanted to see myself win. I’m glad and appreciate having people on my team who are watching and looking out for me. Let me continue to make them proud and continue to give away the gift that was given to me.
KW: Editor/Legist Patricia Turnier asks: Keke, how did you prepare to play Jackie?
KP: I thought it was really awesome that I got a chance to be in a movie being made right in Philadelphia. Being around a lot of kids, walking around the streets of Overbrook and actually getting to know the neighborhood helped give me an idea of what their reality was like. It was nice to discover that it wasn’t that much different from where I grew up. And then I also got to spend time with the rest of the cast, because this was an independent film. That meant we had so much more creative control and creative liberties, as well as a lot of time to spend with one another while we were trying to get everything going. I think the chemistry among the cast is what really makes the film feel so good to me. We got to work with each other long enough to get a feel for each other and that really made the characters come to life.
KW: Children’s book author Irene Smalls asks: What message do you want people to take away Brotherly Love?
KP: I want them to get whatever they honestly get from it. I don’t want to tell them what they should be receiving from it, ‘cause that would kill the experience. But what I took away from the film was the importance of choices. Sometimes, when you grow up in one of these poverty-stricken neighborhoods where the educational system isn’t the best, you don’t realize that you have any choices. Often, kids don’t appreciate the choices available, as if it’s either the street or nothing. I want them to understand that reality is what’s relative to you, and that you can make choices that allow you to create a new reality for yourself.
KW: Bobby Shenker says: I was so excited to hear that you’re starring as Bessie Smith. Years ago, when I saw you in Living Out Loud [with Holly Hunter and Danny DeVito], I said, “This woman needs to play Bessie Smith in a biopic.” And I'm sure I've posted numerous suggestions of this over the years. So I'm ecstatic! I think I revisited that thought when you did Chicago. My only wish would have been that it was on the big screen. Love from Philly to the Queen!
QL: Thanks Bobby!
KW: Marcia Evans says: Share that we sistahs are proud of the Queen. And tell her that not only myself but my mother and my aunt adore her work. So she must keep her film projects coming because we will be watching. We can't wait to see her upcoming new biopic about the iconic blues singer Bessie Smith. She asks: Do you have another biopic planned?
QL: Thanks, Marcia. There are actually a couple floating around, but the scripts aren’t quite where they need to be for me to pull the trigger on them yet. And I’m working on three scripts that are really close to me featuring three completely different characters from totally different time periods. So, I’m going to have a lot of fun once I decide which one’s going to go first. And I can’t wait! [Chuckles]
KW: Environmental activist Grace Sinden says: Keke, I am impressed with your career achievements at a young age, and I’m additionally impressed with your philanthropic work, for example, with the Boys & Girls Club, Urban Farming, Saving Our Daughters, including anti-bullying, etcetera. What motivated you to be so involved with charitable activities?
KP: Something that was instilled in me by my parents at a very young age is that there is no happy life without a life of service. Over the course of my career, I’ve been fortunate to always encounter others who share that philosophy, like Queen Latifah, people who understand that when you’ve been blessed, you have to share your gifts, and you also have to help others give their gifts away. Being of service is something that really makes me happy. Being able to tell young kids about something they might never have known without meeting someone with my experiences is what really what I feel it’s all about. I feel that’s the only way that you get fulfillment out of life.
KW: Reverend Florine Thompson asks: What advice do you have to offer young girls hoping to emulate your success?
KP: To be true to your heart, and if you’re passionate about your dream, work towards it but don’t allow your idea of how you think it should manifest prevent what’s actually unfolding from happening. You know what I mean? Be present in the moment and allow yourself to be guided by it by God. Allow Him to guide you and just embrace every situation, good or bad, since you’re experiencing it because you’re meant to go through it.
KW: Thanks again for the time, and best of luck with Brotherly Love.
QL: Thanks, Kam.
To see a trailer for Brotherly Love, visit: http://brotherlylovethemovie.com/#trailer
Film Review by Kam Williams
Lloyd’s (Jason Dolley) life has been made miserable by his compulsively-hovering mother, Maggie (Nia Vardalos), who can’t help but monitor his every move. The frustrated teenager’s only hope for relief rests with getting accepted to a college clear across the country, since that would make it impossible for her to meddle in his business day in and day out. Until then, he’s doing his best to avoid her while making plans to attend the impending senior prom.
But that proves easier said than done, given how the lonely divorcee has no shame about peppering her beleaguered little boy with probing personal questions like “Are you seeing anyone?” “When was your first kiss?” and “What do you think about when you masturbate?
So, it’s no surprise that Lloyd isn’t at all forthcoming, even about his sexual preference. That hasn’t prevented Maggie from coming to the conclusion that he must be gay, because of such supposedly telltale signs as sensitivity and writing poetry.
Another big clue she’s seized on is the fact that he prefers to have a platonic relationship with the gorgeous cheerleader (Skyler Samuels) who’s gone gaga over him. Consequently, Maggie has not only attempted to coax Lloyd out of the closet, but she’s applied for scholarships that are reserved for homosexuals.
Is he or isn’t he? That’s the question at the heart of Helicopter Mom, a dysfunctional family comedy directed by Salome Breziner (The Secret Life of Dorks). Thanks to a cleverly-conceived, well-concealed script the movie actually keeps you guessing whether or not Lloyd is straight right up to the very end.
The film features Oscar-nominee Nia Vardalos as the title character in her best role since My Big Fat Greek Wedding (2002). She and co-star Jason Dolley generate the requisite negative chemistry to convince you that they really might be mother and son locked in a battle over the right to privacy.
An alternately humorous and sobering cautionary tale chronicling the woes of an exasperated kid smothered by a well-meaning mom in an era of omnipresent parenting.
Very Good (3 stars)
Running time: 84 minutes
Distributor: E1 Entertainment
To see a trailer for Helicopter Mom, visit: https://vimeo.com/97173719