Saturday, October 22, 2016

Top Ten DVD List for 10-25-16

This Week’s DVD Releases
by Kam Williams

Suddenly! [The Film Detective Restored Version]

Peggy Guggenheim: Art Addict

Norman Lear: Just Another Version of You

Captain Fantastic

Agatha Raisin: Series One

Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby [10th Anniversary Edition]

Lights Out

Nighthawks [Collector's Edition]

The Last Film Festival

Janet King: Series Two - The Invisible Wound

Honorable Mention


Teen Wolf: Season 5, Part 2

Doc McStuffins: Toy Hospital

Barbie & Her Sisters in a Puppy Chase

The Id

Mr. Church


Be Somebody


Alice Through the Looking Glass

Independence Day: Resurgence

Preacher: Season One

Ancient Aliens: Season 9

India: Nature's Wonderland

Simple Gifts: The Chamber Music Society at Shaker Village

Friday, October 21, 2016

American Masters: Norman Lear: Just Another Version of You

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Reverential Retrospective Revisits Career of Groundbreaking TV Producer

Norman Lear was born on July 27, 1922 in New Haven, Connecticut where he was raised Jewish to parents of Eastern European extraction. He dropped out of college to enlist in the Air Force following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. He flew 52 combat missions over Germany as a gunner/radio operator before being honorably discharged in 1945. 
After World War II, he headed to Hollywood to embark on a career in comedy. In 1968, he first enjoyed a measure of success when he landed an Oscar nomination for writing the original screenplay for Divorce American Style. He skyrocketed to the heights of fame a few years later as the creator of All in the Family.

That groundbreaking TV series revolved around a small-minded, blue-collared character from Queens named Archie Bunker. America found the bigoted buffoon so appealing that the show soon became #1 in the ratings and retained the top spot for five years in a row. 
His finger on the pulse, Lear quickly began cranking out a string of similarly-realistic sitcoms, including Sanford & Son, Maude, Good Times, The Jeffersons and Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman. And at one time in the Seventies, he was the producer of a half-dozen of the Top Ten TV shows in the country. 
Despite the unparalleled achievement, Norman occasionally found himself facing discontent in the ranks, such as a rebellion on the set of Good Times. It seems that some of its cast members had become upset about the series' portrayal of African-Americans. 
Esther Rolle, who played Florida, complained about the buffoonery, while John Amos, who played her husband, James, became so disillusioned that he quit after three seasons at the peak of program's popularity. Matters came to a head when the Black Panthers stormed Lear's office, demanding that he present some positive African-American characters. That prompted Norman to give Archie Bunker's irascible neighbor George Jefferson his own spinoff as a wealthy businessman "Movin' on up!" on Manhattan's exclusive Upper East Side.

Co-directed by Oscar-nominees Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady (for Jesus Camp), Norman Lear: Just Another Version of You is an intriguing retrospective offering a revealing peek inside the mind of a pivotal figure in the evolution of American culture. For, Lear, now 93, appears prominently in the documentary, along with luminaries like George Clooney, Jay Leno and Russell Simmons, to name a few. 
An alternately penetrating and poignant portrait of a true trailblazer!

Excellent (4 stars)
Running time: 90 minutes
Studio: American Masters Pictures / Loki Films
Distributor: PBS Films
DVD Extras: Mary Hartman Breakdown; Mary Hartman Casting; Not Dead Yet; Bill Moyers on Norman Lear; The Shrink and Syndication; and What do a 92 year-old Jew and the world of hip hop have in #Common?

To order a copy of American Masters: Norman Lear: Just Another Version of You on DVD, visit:

Lights Out

Blu-ray Review by Kam Williams

Beware of the Dark in Old School Horror Flick

When Rebecca (Teresa Palmer) was growing up, she spent many a sleepless night frightened by noises that she only heard after the lights went out. Today, the emancipated 22 year-old has all but forgotten that unfortunate chapter of her childhood. After all, she's long-since moved out of the house and has her own apartment as well as a devoted, if dimwitted, boyfriend, Bret (Alexander DiPersia), she's been dating for 8 months.

But Rebecca's relative state of bliss is rudely interrupted when she gets word that her little brother, Martin (Gabriel Bateman), has been suffering from insomnia for several days. She can't help but wonder whether he's just having nightmares or if he's being terrorized by the the same sort of paranormal activity that had plagued her own formative years.

It suddenly has Rebecca reflecting on how her father (Billy Burke) had perished under mysterious circumstances at work after being warned by an alarmed colleague (Lotta Losten) that something weird was happening with the office lights. Could his untimely death possibly be related to little Martin's current plight or was there no correlation?

So, those are among Rebecca's concerns when she returns home to comfort her scared sibling. She offers to take custody of Martin as soon as he starts talking about their mom Sophie's (Maria Bello) recent bizarre behavior, an indication that she might again be struggling with bouts of depression.

Truth be told, however, something supernatural is afoot. The premises have been invaded by the ghost of Sophie's BFF (Alicia Vela-Bailey) who died from a light-sensitive skin condition when they were kids. For some unexplained reason, she's morphed into an evil apparition that haunts her old friend's house and only comes out at night.

Lights Out is one of those old-fashioned horror flicks which seeks to keep you on edge by making you jump out of your seat when you least expect it. The movie marks the noteworthy directorial debut of David F. Sandberg who has fully fleshed out his 2013 short film of the same name. 
Despite low production values that often leave a lot to be desired, Sandberg has nevertheless managed to shoot a rather riveting screamfest, thanks to a capable cast, a haunting score and a knack for editing that's downright nerve-wracking. Proof positive it's still possible to mount a decent B-horror flick on a very modest budget.

Very Good (3 stars)
Rated PG-13 for violence, mature themes, disturbing images, incessant terror and brief drug use
Running time: 81 minutes
Distributor: Warner Brothers Home Entertainment Group
Blu-ray Extras: Deleted scenes.

To see a trailer for Lights Out, visit:

To order a copy of Lights Out on Blu-Ray, visit:


Blu-ray Review by Kam Williams

Chan and Knoxville Play Unlikely Buddies in Poor Man's Version of Rush Hour

Jackie Chan made dozens of martial arts movies in his native Hong Kong prior to finding phenomenal success stateside in 1998 co-starring with Chris Tucker in the buddy-comedy Rush Hour. Their pairing as unlikely-partners proved so popular that they returned to the well to shoot a couple of sequels in Rush Hour 2 and Rush Hour 3. And Jackie further milked the familiar formula in outings opposite Owen Wilson in Shanghai Noon and Shanghai Knights.

Despite being perhaps a little long-in-the-tooth to still be doing such stunt-driven adventures, the sixty-something matinee idol is back with Skiptrace, a slight variation on the theme co-starring Johnny Knoxville. Knoxville is known for Jackass, the TV and film franchise in which he and a coterie of deranged confederates perform an array of death-defying feats.

Here, he reprises some of his greatest hits, like rolling down the street in a barrel. The same can be said of Chan, as so many of the picture's chase and fight sequences have a feeling of deja vu about them. Nevertheless, a treat is in store for the uninitiated, especially youngsters who've never seen either of these leads ply his trade before.

In Skiptrace, Jackie plays Hong Kong detective Benny Chan, and Johnny co-stars as Connor Watts, an American gambler on the run from a Russian casino owner (Charlie Rawes) he fleeced to the tune of a million dollars. At the point of departure, Benny's partner Yung (Eric Tsang) is murdered by a mysterious mobster known as The Matador, and he makes it his mission to bring the creep to justice.

Meanwhile, half a world away, Johnny just happens to witness the kidnapping of Yung's daughter Samantha (Bingbing Fan). So, that makes him invaluable to Benny when the two subsequently cross paths, as much as the detective dislikes the idea of cooperating with a slippery con man.

Directed by Renny Harlin (Die Hard 2), Skiptrace overall is a globe-trotting affair which unfolds at a dizzying pace in the course of visiting a variety of ports-of-call all across the planet. The multi-layered whodunit eventually builds to a big showdown at Kai Tak Cruise Terminal back in Hong Kong, where the case is very satisfactorily resolved.

Though he's certainly no Chris Tucker, Johnny Knoxville does prove a decent enough accomplice for Jackie Chan's endearing combination of antics and acrobatics.

Good (2 stars)
Rated PG-13 for violence, suggestive content, profanity, drug use and brief nudity
Running time: 98 minutes
Distributor: Lionsgate Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Extras: Director's commentary; and "When Jackie Met Johnny" featurette.

To see a trailer for Skiptrace, visit:

To order a copy of Skiptrace on Blu-Ray, visit: 


Mr. Church

Blu-ray Review by Kam Williams
Eddie Murphy Exhibits Acting Range in Purely Dramatic Role 


Marie Brody (Natascha McElhone) was told she only had half-a-year to live when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1965. But, not wanting to upset her daughter, she initially hid the fact that she was terminally-ill from 10 year-old Charlotte (Natalie Coughlin). 
Marie's recently-deceased boyfriend did her a big favor by providing in his will for a chef (Eddie Murphy) who'd prepare all of her meals until the day she she died. So, you can imagine Charlie's shock the day a mysterious black man knocks on the door and announces he's their new full-time cook.

Initially, Marie balks at the intrusion, given how Mr. Church never bothers to measure his ingredients or use utensils besides a fork and knife while at work in the kitchen. Plus, some of his exotic dishes, like hominy grits, certainly take a little getting used to. 
Church nevertheless attempts to ingratiate himself by extending his daily duties beyond the culinary, happily serving as a surrogate father to Charlie and as a home health aide to her mom. Marie gradually warms to the stranger when he whets her thirst for knowledge by bringing over classic books by literary greats like Shakespeare, Thomas Hardy and Edith Wharton. More importantly, Marie proceeds to outlive her doctor's death sentence, and a term of employment that was supposed to last merely for months stretches into the next decade. 
That is the poignant premise of Mr. Church, a bittersweet period piece directed by two-time Oscar-nominee Bruce Beresford (for Tender Mercies and Breaker Morant). The picture's semi-autobiographical screenplay was inspired by the life of its scriptwriter, Susan McMartin.

The film works to the extent one is able to scale a couple of high hurdles placed in your path. First, you have to buy into the idea of perennial funnyman Eddie Murphy playing a serious role. Second, one must be willing to stomach yet another, stereotypical "Magical Negro" character, meaning a selfless, African-American more concerned with the welfare of a white person than with his or her own needs.

Additionally, a few of the plot developments are a little farfetched. For instance, have you ever heard of anybody saving up enough money to pay for college by clipping coupons? Neither have I. 
Overall, a mildly-recommended period piece, provided you're prepared to take seriously the same Eddie Murphy who kept you in stitches as Buckwheat in that hilarious Saturday Night Live skit. Otay?

Good (2 stars)
Rated PG-13 for mature themes
Running time: 105 minutes
Distributor: Lionsgate Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Extras: Actress Britt Robertson interview; "Eddie Murphy: Doing a Drama" featurette; "Food on Film" featurette; and "Based on a True Friendship" featurette.

To see a trailer for Mr. Church, visit:

To order a copy of Mr. Church on Blu-Ray, visit:

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Kam's Kapsules for Movies Opening October 28, 2016

Weekly Previews That Make Choosing a Film Fun
by Kam Williams



Inferno (PG-13 for action, violence, profanity, disturbing images, mature themes and brief sensuality) Third installment of The Da Vinci Code franchise finds symbologist Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) suffering from amnesia and on the run with his physician (Felicity Jones) from a billionaire geneticist (Ben Foster) with a diabolical plan to depopulate the planet. With Omar Sy, Irfan Khan, Ana Ularu and Sidse Babett Knudsen.


By Sidney Lumet (Unrated) The legendary director reflects upon his life and career in this revealing biopic based on an intimate interview conducted a few years before his death in 2011.

Gimme Danger (R for profanity and drug use) Reverential rockumentary, directed by Jim Jarmusch, taking a fond look back at the groundbreaking punk band Iggy and The Stooges.
New Life (PG for mature themes) Bittersweet romance drama about a couple of childhood sweethearts/lifelong lovers (Jonathan Patrick Moore and Erin Bethea) whose marital bliss is irreversibly altered by an unfortunate tragedy. With James Marsters, Barry Corbin and Terry O'Quinn.

Portrait of a Garden (Unrated) Horticultural documentary, set in Holland, highlighting the enduring friendship of green-thumbed, 85 year-old Jan Freriks and his devoted, longtime protege, Daan van der Have, as they prune the orchards, arbors and espaliers of his sprawling, verdant estate. (In Dutch with subtitles)

The Unspoken (Unrated) Harrowing horror flick revolving around a close-knit family which disappeared from their home without a trace 17 years ago only to resurface now. Co-starring Jodelle Ferland, Sunny Suljic, Matt Bellefleur and Trevor Carroll.

The Windmill (Unrated) High body-count horror flick revolving around a group of tourists who begin disappearing one-by-one after their bus breaks down in Amsterdam near the spot where, according to ancient legend, a demented miller once grounded human bones instead of grain. Cast includes Noah Taylor, Charlotte Beaumont and Ben Batt.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Norman Lear

The “Just Another Version of You” Interview

with Kam Williams

Cultural Pioneer Reflects on an Incomparable Career!

Norman Lear has enjoyed a long career in television and film, and as a political and social activist and philanthropist. He began his television writing career in 1950 when he and his partner, Ed Simmons, were signed to write for The Ford Star Revue, starring Jack Haley.

After only four shows, they were hired away by Jerry Lewis to write for him and Dean Martin on The Colgate Comedy Hour, where they worked until the end of 1953. They then spent a couple years on The Martha Raye Show, after which Norman worked on his own for The Tennessee Ernie Ford Show and The George Gobel Show.

In 1958, he teamed with director Bud Yorkin to form Tandem Productions. Together they produced several feature films, with Norman taking on roles as executive producer, writer and director. He was nominated for an Academy Award in 1967 for his script for Divorce American Style.

In 1970, CBS signed with Tandem to produce All in the Family, which first aired on January 12, 1971, and ran for nine seasons. It earned four Emmy Awards for Best Comedy series, as well as the Peabody Award in 1977. All in the Family was followed by a succession of other television hit shows, including Maude, Sanford and Son, Good Times, The Jeffersons, One Day at a Time and Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman.

Concerned about the growing influence of radical religious evangelists, Norman decided to leave television in 1980 and formed People for the American Way, a non-profit organization designed to speak out for Bill of Rights guarantees and to monitor violations of constitutional freedoms. He has also founded other nonprofit organizations, including the Business Enterprise Trust, which spotlighted exemplary social innovations in American business, and the Norman Lear Center at the USC Annenberg School for Communication, a multidisciplinary research and public policy center dedicated to exploring the convergence of entertainment, commerce and society. In addition, he and his wife, Lyn, co-founded the Environmental Media Association to mobilize the entertainment industry to become more environmentally responsible.

In 1999, President Clinton bestowed the National Medal of Arts on Norman, noting that “Norman Lear has held up a mirror to American society and changed the way we look at it.” He also has the distinction of being among the first seven television pioneers inducted in 1984 into the Television Academy Hall of Fame.

In 2001, Lyn and Norman Lear purchased one of the few surviving original copies of the Declaration of Independence, and shared it with the American people by touring it to all 50 states. As part of this Declaration of Independence Road Trip, Lear launched Declare Yourself, a nonpartisan youth voter initiative that registered well over four million new young voters in the 2004, 2006 and 2008 elections.

Norman’s memoir, Even This I Get to Experience, was published in October 2014 by The Penguin Press. At 94 years old, he just may be one of the oldest working executive producers in television.

He and his wife, Lyn, reside in Los Angeles, California. He has six children — Ellen, Kate, Maggie, Benjamin, Brianna and Madeline — and four grandchildren: Daniel, Noah, Griffin and Zoe. Here, he talks about Norman Lear: Just Another Version of You, the first documentary about him. 
The biopic premieres nationwide Tuesday, October 25 at 9 p.m. on PBS (check local listings). In addition, PBS Distribution will release the film on Blu-ray, DVD and Digital HD on the same day, with additional bonus features. 


Kam Williams: Hello, Mr. Lear. Thanks for the interview. I'm so honored to have this opportunity to speak with you.
Norman Lear: Oh, my pleasure, Kam.

KW: I have to start by asking you how did you come up with Archie Bunker, and what made you think America would be ready for him?
NL: Well, it wasn't all that hard in that fixtures like that were up and down the street, and across the street from one another. It wasn't like I didn't hear my friend's father, or even a little bit of it in my own father. There just wasn't anything creating the character. He seemed to be ordinary American, very apparent in lots of places. [Chuckles]

KW: You grew up in Connecticut, but Archie's from Queens. How did you come to develop a knack for that New York sensibility?
NL: I used to go into the city often on the New York/New Haven/Hartford Railroad. As we slipped into 125th Street, you felt like you could reach out and touch the tenements on your left. They were so close. That was largely black family life. I used to look at all that and wonder what they were going through. I'd see a woman and wonder what was her favorite drawer, and what was in it. I kind of related to all of that.

KW: What was it like to enjoy such phenomenal success? At one point in the Seventies, 6 of the top 10 shows in the ratings were yours?
NL: [Laughs] When you're doing it, Kam, that's what you're doing. We didn't stop to think, "Oh, boy, are we winning here!" It was more a question of how the heck do we work out the next story. There was always another story to break in, another character to get right, and another actor complaining. We were just working our tails off. So, we were less aware of what was building as the next day's needs.

KW: Even though Good Times was a huge hit, one of its stars, John Amos, became upset about the image of his and other black characters on the show. How surprised were you by his protests?
NL: Well, his sensitivity was understandable, but the behavior wasn't always. [Chuckles] I'm pretty sure we killed off his character [James Evans], because we just couldn't handle the behavior anymore. He wasn't a violent man, and we didn't think he was going to hurt anybody, but he talked in this film like he was going to hurt somebody. He admits to playing that role off-camera, when he says that.

KW: Another groundbreaking show of yours was The Jeffersons, which not only revolved around a happily-married, successful black businessmen, but featured an interracial couple who weren't tragic figures.
NL: Yes, and the idea was to talk about it. And I'd say the same thing today. "Let's talk about it!" We have such racial problems in our America at the moment, and we're still not talking about them.

KW: What do you think of this era of political correctness where, even on college campuses, it seems people fear a free and open exchange of ideas?
NL: I think it's terrible, and your finger is right on the pulse. We're deliberately not talking. We turn away, and that's the way we build the animus. The animus comes from not talking to each other and not talking about the subject.

KW: As a free speech advocate, how do you feel about San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick's refusal to stand for the National Anthem?
NL: I think the man is entitled to express his feelings. I have a problem with it, but no problem with it, legalistically, as an American who wants everyone to enjoy the right to speak out. I feel the same way about burning the flag. Do I want to see a flag burned? Never! Yet some poor person's right to express himself still comes first, if that's the only way he sees fit to express himself.

KW: How do you think a character as outrageous as Archie Bunker would be received today?
NL: You've got one running for the presidency.

KW: Which of your shows was your favorite?
NL: Whichever one I was waking up to that particular morning was my favorite.

KW: You're a strong supporter of the Iran Nuclear Deal. Do you have any concerns about whether it will keep up its half of the bargain?
NL: I guess I have to be concerned. I assume that we were smart enough to come up with some means of verifying.

KW: What about the fact that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is so vehemently against the pact?
NL: I am vehemently against Bibi Netanyahu.So, that's fine for me. [Laughs] I expect him to be against anything I care about.

KW: Is there any question no one ever asks you, that you wish someone would? And please answer the question.
NL: That's a very good question. Nobody's ever asked me my mother's maiden name. It's Seicol.

KW: Were you bar mitzvahed, and was there a meaningful, spiritual component to your childhood?
NL: I was bar mitzvahed, but I didn't have a meaningful, religious childhood, but it certainly was meaningful, culturally. I'm not a very religious Jew, and I wouldn't be a religious anything. But I'm deeply spiritual, and deeply culturally Jewish.

KW: When you look in the mirror, what do you see?
NL: I have music in my dressing room. It's playing all the time, usually a Frank Sinatra station. I love dancing. I used to dance a lot. When I'm undressing at night, suddenly I'm nude, and there's a full-length mirror in front of me. And I dance! I'm not pleased by what I'm looking at, but I'm certainly amused, and I have a wonderful time dancing naked. [LOL] Now, with all the science in the world, there isn't any proof that dancing naked in front of a mirror isn't the secret to longevity. True?

KW: True.
NL: That's the kind of thing I do to laugh.

KW: I get it. What advice do you have for anyone who wants to follow in your footsteps?
NL: If they want to follow in my footsteps in the sense that they want to enjoy life, then I'd say it's important to live in the moment. But it's important to think about what that means, because "living in the moment" is an easy expression. But when you think about something being over, it's over, and we're on to the next. and if there were a hammock between over and next, that would be what's meant by living in the moment. The fact of my life, and the fact of your life, too, and this conversation, Kam, you have lived every split second of your life just to be speaking with me right now. And I have lived a lot longer, but every second of it was on the way to getting to this conversation. So, whatever the moment is, it is effing important!

KW: I appreciate your sharing that sentiment. I always strive to relate on a super-conscious dimension myself.
NL: I hear that in this conversation and certainly get that level of spiritual essence.

KW: Thanks. Finally, what’s in your wallet?
NL: I carry around a picture I adore of my collected family. We have a place in Vermont where we all just gathered over Labor Day weekend. And we'll be together again at Thanksgiving, and again at Christmas. So, any connection, in this case a photograph of my family in my wallet, is a treasure.

KW: Thanks again for the time, Norman, and best of luck with all your endeavors.
NL: Good to know you, Kam. I appreciate you and what you're doing, and I look forward to seeing the article.

To order a copy of Norman Lear: Just Another Version of You on DVD, visit: