Friday, July 31, 2015

Top Ten DVD Releases for 8-4-15

This Week’s DVD Releases
by Kam Williams


Top Ten DVD List for August 4, 2015

How to Get Away with Murder: Season One

Message from Hiroshima

TV Guide Classics: The Adventures of Robin Hood [39 Classic Episodes]

 
Murdoch Mysteries: Season Eight

Home

The Wild West with Ray Mears

A Little Chaos

Jerusalem Stories

Antarctic Edge

Chocolate City


Honorable Mention

The Comeback [All 21 Episodes]

Looney Tunes: Rabbits Run

Blackbird

I Dream of Wires

Peppa Pig: School Bus Trip

Mad Love [20th Anniversary Edition]


Stand

Black & White: The Dawn of Assault

Seashore

Toolbox Murders 2 [aka Coffin Baby]

Into the Grizzly Maze

Appetites

Burying the Ex
Phantom Halo

Snow Girl and the Dark Crystal



Chocolate City (DVD REVIEW)

Chocolate City
DVD Review by Kam Williams

African-American Answer to Magic Mike Released on DVD

Cash-strapped Katherine McCoy (Vivica A. Fox) is holding down a couple of jobs to make ends meet while praying that her sons stay on the straight and narrow path until they can make it out of the ghetto. Though grown, both boys still live at home; yet neither is helping their struggling single-mom much, financially.
At least the younger one, Michael (Robert Ri’chard), is close to graduating from college and works part-time at a diner as a short order chef. But he hasn’t even been able to save enough from that minimum wage position to have his car fixed, so he has to travel around Los Angeles via bicycle. By comparison, his 30 year-old brother Chris (DeRay Davis) is a trash-talking hustler who’s more interested in hanging out on the streets than in finding gainful employment.
The siblings’ fortunes change the day they decide to patronize the local gentlemen’s club. For, while Michael is relieving himself in the men’s room, he’s approached by the owner (Michael Jai White) about stripping there on Ladies’ Night.
Initially, the handsome hunk hesitates out of concern about how his girlfriend (Imani Hakim) and his Bible-thumping mother might react to his moonlighting in his birthday suit. However, after taking the time to watch girls go gaga over other buff beefcake (played by Tyson Beckford, Ginuwine and others), he decides to throw caution to the wind.
So, on the advice of his brother-turned-promoter, he takes the stage name “Sexy Chocolate.” I suppose “Magic Mike” might have been a tad too transparent, even for this unapologetic rip-off.
Nevertheless, despite soon raking in the big bucks, Michael’s life starts to come apart at the seams. His grades plunge from As to Fs. His mother becomes suspicious about whether his sudden gains are ill-gotten. And his girlfriend gets the surprise of her life the evening she shows up at the club to take in a show with her BFFs in tow.
Written and directed by Jean-Claude La Marre (the Pastor Jones franchise), Chocolate City is basically a blackface version of Magic Mike that trades shamelessly in the same sort of titillating fare which made that flick a runaway hit a few years ago. A derivative, estrogen-fueled, overcoming-the-odds saga strictly recommended for females interested in seeing sepia-skinned Adonises gyrate while disrobing to mind-numbing disco.

Good (2 stars)
Rated R for profanity, brief violence, partial nudity and pervasive sexuality
Running time: 90 minutes
Distributor: Paramount Home Entertainment
DVD Extras: Blooper reel. 
 
To see a trailer for Chocolate City, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=42HA58cBHAM


To order a copy of Chocolate City on DVD, visit:

Blackbird (DVD REVIEW)


Blackbird
DVD Review by Kam Williams

Gospel-Driven Cross of Precious and Rent Arrives on DVD

             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
DVD Extras: Deleted scenes; audition footage; Behind-the-Scenes of Blackbird; D. Woods music video “Find Your Way”; and the theatrical trailer. 
 
To see a trailer for Blackbird, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U3KEVWeHPg8
 
To order a copy of Blackbird on DVD, visit:

Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation (FILM REVIEW)


Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation
Film Review by Kam Williams



Cruise and Company Reunite to Topple Terrorist Organization 
 

Rogue Nation is the fifth installment in the Mission: Impossible franchise featuring Tom Cruise as the dashing and daring Ethan Hunt. This episode has everything you'd expect from an action-oriented espionage thriller: international intrigue, irresistible eye candy and edge-of-your-seat fight and chase sequences. 
 
Just past our unflappable protagonist's death-defying airplane stunt in the picture's opening scene, we find him put out to pasture and retiring to Europe where he soon disappears from the grid entirely. It seems that his Impossible Mission Force (IMF) is being disbanded by the U.S. Senate Oversight Committee at the behest of CIA Director Alan Hunley (Alec Baldwin), an inept, if well-intentioned bureaucrat. 
 
A governmental directive for IMF spies to come in from the proverbial cold gives evil a license to thrive, especially the Syndicate, a clandestine confederacy of assassins bent on what else but world domination. Ignoring the orders of his superiors, Ethan instead recruits former colleagues William (Jeremy Renner), Benji (Simon Pegg) and Luther (Ving Rhames) for help in toppling the power-hungry terrorist organization. And the team of veteran sleuths is ably assisted in that endeavor by Ilsa (Rebecca Ferguson), an inscrutable double-agent with mysterious motives.

Directed by Christopher McQuarrie, MI5 is as cerebral and multi-layered as it is high-octane and visually-captivating. Overplotted to the point of incomprehension, this is one brainteaser you might be better off not bothering to decipher. I say, simply sink into your seat and soak in the sweeping panoramas, the IMF team's infectious camaraderie, and wave after wave of their derring-do, whether by land, sea or air. 
 
The epitome of a bona fide summer blockbuster!



Excellent (4 stars)
Rated PG-13 for action, violence and brief partial nudity
Running time: 132 minutes
Distributor: Paramount Pictures



To see a trailer for Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gOW_azQbOjw

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Kam's Movie Kapsules for 8-7-15

OPENING THIS WEEK
Kam's Kapsules:
Weekly Previews That Make Choosing a Film Fun
by Kam Williams
For movies opening August 7, 2015


BIG BUDGET FILMS

Fantastic Four (PG-13 for action, violence and profanity) Marvel Comics reboots its beloved film franchise with a riveting, character-driven roots adventure. Co-stars Kate Mara, Miles Teller, Michael B. Jordan and Jamie Bell as the titular quartet. (In English and Spanish with subtitles)

Ricki and the Flash (PG-13 for sexuality, profanity, mature themes and brief drug use) Meryl Streep plays the title character in this musical dramedy as an aging rock star who returns home to make peace with her long-suffering husband (Kevin Kline) and daughter (Mamie Gummer) after years on the road. Supoort cast includes Rick Springfield, Audra McDonald, Charlotte Rae and Sebastian Stan.

Shaun the Sheep Movie (PG for crude humor) Stop-motion, animated adventure about a mischievous lamb (Justin Fletcher) who leads his flock from the the farm to the big city over the course of an exciting day off. Voice cast includes Kate Harbour, John Sparkes and Richard Webber.


INDEPENDENT & FOREIGN FILMS

Assassination (Unrated) Historical drama, set in 1933, revolving around Korean resistance's plot to kill the military commander of Japan's occupy forces. Co-starring Ji-hyun Jun, Jung-woo Ha and Jung-jae Hee. (In Korean with subtitles)

Call Me Lucky (Unrated) Prestige biopic chronicling the enduring standup career of irreverent, funnyman Barry Crimmins. Directed by Bobcat Golthwait, and featuring commentary by fellow comics Margaret Cho, Kevin Meaney and Patton Oswalt.

Cop Car (R for violence, profanity and brief drug use) Kids do the darndest things thriller about a small-town sheriff's (Kevin Bacon) pursuit of the ten year-old delinquents (James Freedson-Jackson and Hays Wellford) who took his patrol car for a joy ride. With Camryn Manheim. Shea Whigham and Kathleen Bentley.

The Diary of a Teenage Girl (R for profanity, drug use, underage drinking, graphic sexuality and frontal nudity) Coming-of-age saga, set in San Francisco in the Seventies, about a rudderless rebel (Bel Powley) who embarks on an ill-advised affair with her mother's (Kristen Wiig) handsome boyfriend (Alexander Skarsgard). Cast includes Christopher Meloni, Austin Lyon and Abby Wait.

The Gift (R for profanity) Suspense thriller about a happily-married couple (Jason Bateman and Rebecca Hall) whose life is turned upside-down after a chance encounter with a high school friend (Joel Edgerton) in possession of an unsettling, decades-old secret about the husband. With Busy Phillips, David Denman and Allison Tolman.

Homme Less (Unrated) American Dream deferred documentary chronicling the plight of homeless, former fashion model Mark Reay who keeps up appearances by day, while sleeping on a Manhattan rooftop at night.

The Prophet (PG for mature themes, violence and sensual images) Animated adaptation of Khalil Gibran's epic poem. Voice cast includes Liam Neeson, Salma Hayek, Quvenzhane Wallis and John Krasinski.

The Runner (R for profanity and sexuality) Nicolas Cage handles the title role in this potboiler, set in New Orleans in the aftermath of the BP Gulf oil spill, about an idealistic but flawed politician whose career is ruined by a scandalous affair. With Connie Nielsen, Sarah Paulson, Peter Fonda and Wendell Pierce.

Sneakerheadz (Unrated) Foot fetish documentary examining the explosive popularity of sneaker collecting all around the world.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Between the World and Me (BOOK REVIEW)

Between the World and Me
by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Spiegel & Grau
Hardcover, $24.00
168 pages, Illustrated
ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Book Review by Kam Williams

In a profound work that pivots from the biggest questions about american history and ideals to the most intimate concerns of a father for his son, Ta-Nehisi Coates offers a powerful new framework for understanding our nation's history and current crisis.
Americans have built an empire on the idea of 'race,' a falsehood that damages us all but falls most heavily on the bodies of black women and men—bodies exploited through slavery and segregation, and, today, threatened, locked up, and and murdered out of all proportion.
What is it like to inhabit a black body and find a way to live within it? And how can we all honestly reckon with this fraught industry, and free ourselves from its burden.
Between the World and Me is Ta-Nehisi Coates' attempt to answer these questions in a letter to his adolescent son.”
-- Excerpted from the book jacket


Ta-Nehisi Coates garnered national attention a year ago when he published “A Case for Reparations” in the Atlantic Monthly magazine. Now, the progressive pundit is back with “Between the World and Me” an equally-incendiary assessment of the state of race relations in the United States. 
 
The book is basically designed as an open letter from Ta-Nehisi to his 15 year-old only-child, Samori. The author fears the boy might suffer the same horrific fate as African-American youngsters like Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis who were killed on a whim by white men for the “crimes” of being black while walking home from the store and listening to loud music at a gas station. 
 
Ta-Nehisi writes in a free-flowing, stream-of-consciousness style reminiscent of Allen Ginsberg in the epic poem “Howl.” However, this relatively-introspective-opus is more of a meandering personal memoir than an escapist dirge. 
 
For, whether he's talking about dating an East Indian, a Jew with dreadlocks or the sister he would eventually marry, Ta-Nehisi invariably views every aspect of his life through the prism of race. As he sees it, skin color narrowly determines not only one's treatment but one's fate in this country, a burden that is almost too much to bear when it comes to being black.

Taking no prisoners, the fearless firebrand indicts everything from “democracy” to “whiteness” to “American exceptionalism” for the plight of his oppressed people. His hope for Samori is “to have your own life, apart from fear.” But he believes this nation still has a lot of work to do to arrive at a place where black lives indeed matter. 
 
What higher praise could Ta-Nehisi ask for than the blessing of Nobel laureate Toni Morrison who christens him as the long-awaited visionary finally filling the intellectual void left behind by the late James Baldwin.



To order a copy of Between the World and Me, visit: 


Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Vacation (FILM REVIEW)

Vacation
Film Review by Kam Williams



Next Generation of Griswolds Heads for Walley World in Travel Franchise's 7th Episode


National Lampoon's Vacation is an enduring film franchise launched back in 1978 by the late John Hughes, the brains behind such Chicago-centric screen classics as Ferris Bueller's Day Off; Trains, Planes & Automobiles; Home Alone; Uncle Buck; and Baby's Day Out, to name a few. The original Vacation adventure featured the Griswold family's very eventful road trip from the Windy City to L.A.

This nostalgic seventh installment not only resurrects Walley World amusement park as its destination point, but has Chevy Chase and Beverly D'Angelo reprising their iconic roles as Clark and Ellen Griswold, respectively. However, they couple's been reduced to a cameo appearance in favor of a plot revolving around their son Rusty's (Ed Helms) nuclear family.

At the point of departure, we find Rusty sorely in need of a break from the rat race as an overworked pilot for a budget airline carrier. He plans to both spice up his stale marriage and spend some quality time with his sons during the drive across the country. Of course, the highway gods have other ideas in mind, as the perils laying in wait range from robbery to raw sewage.

My biggest problem with this relatively-salacious episode rests in its obession with sexuality, and often in offensive fashion. For example, when younger son Kevin (Steele Stebbins) asks, “Dad, what's a pedophile?” he is inappropriately informed that “It's when a man and a boy love each other very much.” It doesn't help that the kid subsequently encounters a “glory hole” in a rest stop bathroom ostensibly cruised by gay men.

There is also a homophobic tone cast over the entire picture, coming courtesy of Kevin's relentless bullying of his effeminate big brother, James (Skyler Gisondo). The mean-spirited mistreatment includes teasing his sibling about having a vagina and choking him with a plastic bag. Even the boy's father piles on periodically, like when he suggests that Kevin scratches like a girl when he fights instead of punching. Rusty's wife Debbie (Christina Applegate) isn't much of a role model either, between overimbibing in a “Chug Run” during a pit stop and 'fessing up about having developed a bad reputation in college for showing her breasts to anybody who asked.

From full-frontal male nudity to an F-word laced theme song, Vacation is a cringe-inducing disappointment that bears little resemblance to the original it so desperately endeavors to pay homage to. 
 

Fair (1 star)
Rated R for brief male frontal nudity, sexuality, crude humor, mature themes and pervasive profanity
Running time: 99 minutes
Distributor: Warner Brothers Pictures

To see a trailer for Vacation, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kleG7XCqOb4