Wednesday, March 22, 2017

I Called Him Morgan




Film Review by Kam Williams


Reverential Retrospective Revisits Abbreviated Life of Legendary Jazz Great


Legendary jazz great Lee Morgan (1938-1972) was born and raised in Philadelphia where he received his first trumpet as a gift from his sister on his 13th birthday. He soon became a protege of Clifford Brown who would die in a car accident at the tender age of 25.

Lee passed away prematurely, too, though he was murdered by his common-law wife, Helen, in a fit of jealous rage. She blew him away in between sets at a Greenwich Village cabaret because not only was he cheating on her but had the temerity to bring his mistress with him to the club that night. 
 
Written and directed by Kasper Collin, I Called Him Morgan is a warts-and-all retrospective chronicling the highs and lows of Lee's checkered career. He enjoyed a meteoric rise as a member of Dizzy Gillespie's big band while still in his teens, only to eventually become broke because of a heroin habit that made him so unreliable that nobody in the music industry would hire him anymore.

Upon bottoming out, Lee was lucky to meet Helen, a woman 14 years his senior who put him in rehab and let him move into her Manhattan apartment after he got cleaned up. She subsequently became both his lover and his business manager, negotiating deals and escorting him to gigs.

Initially very grateful, Lee proceeded to make the most of the shot at redemption she afforded him. He resumed performing and churning out albums, and became a very productive and respected member of the jazz community again. 
 
Unfortunately, the accolades and attention accompanying success apparently went straight to his head, and he started taking Helen for granted. Lee had an eyes for the ladies and, when he stopped coming home at night, Helen issued him a warning that she couldn't handle such insulting mistreatment. 
 
Their turbulent relationship came to a head on the night of February 19, 1972 after a heated exchange at Slug's Saloon . First, Lee's new girlfriend confronted Helen. Helen then slapped Lee. Lee tossed Helen out of the bar and into a blizzard without a coat. Helen came back with the gun Lee had given her for protection and shot her philandering man once in the chest. Since it took an ambulance over an hour to arrive due to the heavy snowfall, Lee bled out. 
 
What makes this film so fascinating is that much of it is narrated by Helen herself, albeit posthumously. For, just one month before she died in March of 1996, she sat down to talk with a music professor who recorded her life story for posterity. Besides that audiotape, the documentary features file concert footage, plus the reflections of many of Lee's contemporaries: Ben Maupin, Wayne Shorter, Benny Maupin, Billy Harper and more. 

To paraphrase an age-old maxim, Hell hath no fury like a Helen scorned!



Excellent (4 stars)
Unrated
Running time: 92 minutes
Production Studio: Kasper Collin Produktion
Distributor: Submarine Deluxe

To see a trailer for I Called Him Morgan, visit: https://vimeo.com/181151415



Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Black Pearl Media Works, New Film Projects


Press Release 



Black Pearl Media Works produces artistic, entertaining, profitable media that explores humanity through the lens of black cultures worldwide.


Emmy award winning independent filmmaker, Dante James is pleased to announce the formation of Black Pearl Media Works, LLC (BPMW). The multi-media production company has received partial financing for two projects; a feature length documentary, God of The Oppressed and a series of dramatic short films, In Our Own Words.


“It has taken many years to marshal my own resources and cultivate a relationship with an investor who understands the importance of resources from black financiers,” James said in discussing the challenges facing black filmmakers.

“We believe this approach will shield projects grounded in our history and culture from the ‘filters’ that often come with resources from entities outside of our community, James said. For many years, I made films for PBS, however as a black man, independent filmmaker and activist coupled with the challenges black people face I’m committed to making the strongest, and most creative statements possible in my films. For me that was not possible with PBS. I’m not criticizing PBS or rejecting resources from outside our community but artistic and editorial control is a prerequisite. My new projects are representative of my desire to explore humanity through the lens of the black experience ‘unfiltered’ by the dominate culture.”

In Our Own Words, presents a creative chronicle of the African American experience through short stories by iconic and lesser-known black writers, some of whom could not get past the publishing ‘filters’ they encountered. The concept for the series is grounded in self-definition paired with concerns regarding the degrading, shallow images of African Americans, that are too prevalent in corporate controlled media. Unfortunately, many of these images are created by black people.

“Now with new means of distribution, liberated black filmmakers have opportunities to redefine the images of black people. Too often the view of black life is demeaning and perverted to the point that it has become the perception of who we are and that perception is literally and figuratively destroying us. More accurate definitions of who we are can be found in our literature,” James said.

Black writers have defined their own world, moving beyond the traditional definitions often imposed on them. The short stories of In Our Own Words will be selected by outstanding African American literature scholars, Maryemma Graham, Ph.D. and Joycelyn Moody, Ph.D. The first film of the series, THE DOLL, based on a short story by Charles W. Chesnutt was completed several years ago. It was awarded best dramatic short at the Hollywood Black Film Festival.

Through the stories of Nat Turner, Bishop Henry McNeil Turner, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Rev. Traci Blackmon and others, God of the Oppressed will explore Black Liberation and Womanist Theology. Stories, characters and gospel music will celebrate and frame a perspective of God within the context of an oppressed people. Prof. James Cone, author of the book, God of the Oppressed, will serve as chief academic advisor. Cone argues for a theology constructed from the experiences of black people who understand God’s role in liberating those crying for the pain to end. He challenges theologians to abandon the white system defining the meaning of God. Cone’s work challenges black men and women to listen to the voices of black people to construct a theology framed from their experiences.

Rev. Carl Kenney, a black liberation theology minister will be a co-producer. Kenney said. "Let my people go, is the age-old cry of black people holding to the claim that God loves the oppressed. Black theology isn't passive it fights for freedom while refuting claims of inferiority.”

God of the Oppressed is an extension of Dante James’ work as the executive producer of THIS FAR BY FAITH, the final series from Blackside Films. Both projects will begin pre-production immediately, however BPMW is seeking additional investors/partners with those who recognize the domestic and international profit potential of these projects, appreciate black culture and literature and are concerned about the shallow interpretations of black experiences. Media inquiries and interested investors should call Dante at 919-475-9879 or email him at dante@blackpearlmw.com. Job applicants can apply a www.blackpearlmw.com.

In closing James stated, “these projects will require producers, directors, actors, screenwriters and other production personnel. Hopefully, they will be a vehicle to put our people to work telling stories that explore our experiences from our point of view. I also see this work and this new company as a connection to my friend and mentor the late Henry Hampton.”

The Levelling


 

Film Review by Kam Williams




Prodigal Daughter Tries to Reconcile with Estranged Dad in Haunting Parable of Biblical Proportions

It's not very clear whether Harry Catto's (Joe Blakemore) death was a murder or a suicide. One thing's for certain, though. It wasn't merely a mishap, because nobody accidentally sticks a gun in his own mouth and pulls the trigger. The cops suspect that he killed himself, but his father (David Troughton) is too much in shock to press them to launch a full investigation. 
 
This tragic state of affairs greets Clover Catto (Ellie Kendrick) when she returns home to attend her younger brother's funeral. Although she's been away in veterinary school, she's been estranged from her father for years. In fact, this is her first visit back to Somerset since the 2013 flood which devastated most of the wetland region's coastal plains. 
 
Upon arriving, Clover sees that much of the rural area still hasn't recovered from the deluge, including the flattened dairy farm that she grew up on. But before she can devote any attention to the idea of resurrecting the family-owned estate, the grief-stricken Prodigal Daughter needs to focus on reconciling with her father and on figuring out the circumstances surrounding her sibling's slaying. 
 
That is the engaging point of departure of The Levelling, a haunting, modern parable of Biblical proportions. The deliberately-paced mood piece unfolding against a decidedly-barren, British backdrop marks a most impressive writing and directorial debut by Hope Dickson Leach. 
 
The film also features a nonpareil performance on the part of Ellie Kendrick as Clover. The talented ingenue exhibits considerable range in service of a very emotionally-demanding role. She is assisted in this endeavor by an equally-capable supporting cast basically composed of David Troughton as a dad plunged deep in denial, and Jack Holden as an eyewitness with lots of answers. 
 
A heartbreakingly-palpable exploration of a strained father-daughter relationship as well as a thorough post mortem on their loved one's untimely passing!



Excellent (4 stars)
Rated R for profanity and brief frontal nudity
Running time: 84 minutes
Distributor: Monterey Media


To see a trailer for The Levelling, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uNC8SeWPiw4

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Life


 

Film Review by Kam Williams


Microscopic Martian Matter Morphs into Monster in Outer Space Screamfest


In recent years, Hollywood has started serving up some outer space adventures, a la The Martian (2015) and The Space between Us (2017), suggesting that the Red Planet is basically a benign environment free of any hostile creatures. But just when we thought it was safe to visit Mars again, along comes Life, a cautionary horror flick unleashing a terrifying alien force aboard an international space station. 
 
Directed by Daniel Espinosa (Safe House), the claustrophobic thriller co-stars Jake Gyllenhaal and Ryan Reynolds as Dr. David Jordan and Roy Adams, respectively, the Pilgrim 7's flight engineer and chief medical officer. The balance of the six-person crew is composed of Center for Disease Control quarantine specialist Dr. Miranda North (Rebecca Ferguson), systems engineer Sho Kendo (Hiroyuki Sanada), eco-biologist Dr. Hugh Derry (Ariyon Bakare) and the spaceship's captain, Katerina Golovkin (Olga Dihovichnaya). 
 
As the film unfolds, we learn that their appointed mission is merely to deliver a single-cell organism arriving via space probe from the surface of Mars. It all sounds easy enough as the disarming plotline initially devotes itself to developing the characters' back stories, like how David is a disenchanted, Iraq War vet. 
 
Upon retrieving the capsule, they celebrate the discovery of the first incontrovertible proof of life beyond Earth. They even allow Sho's daughter to give the ostensibly-innocuous substance a cute, cuddly name, oblivious of the danger lurking just over the horizon. 
 
The plot thickens when "Calvin" begins reproducing via mitosis, and every cell of its luminescent ectoplasmic mass proves to be an irrepressible mix of brains and muscles. By day 25, the sentient creature develops proto-appendages and becomes strong enough to breach containment. 
 
Initially, it nibbles on a finger of Hugh's, who somehow discerns that "Calvin doesn't hate us, but he's got to kill us to survive." Great. What ensues is a desperate race against time to return to Earth before the mushrooming monster devours them all, one-by-one. 
 
Though reminiscent of such sci-fi classics as Alien (1979) and Species (1995), Life is a worthwhile addition to the extraterrestrial on the loose genre. Substantial credit in this regard goes to the ever-underappreciated Jake Gyllenhaal who turns in the latest in a long line of impressive performances which includes outings in Nocturnal Animals (2016), Southpaw (2015), Nightcrawler (2014) and Prisoners (2013), to name a few. 
 
Strap yourself in for a cardiovascular screamfest that'll keep you squirming in your seat. A riveting reminder that it still ain't smart to mess with Mother Nature!



Excellent (4 stars)
Rated R for violence, terror and pervasive profanity
In English, Japanese and Chinese with subtitles
Running time: 103 minutes
Distributor: Columbia Pictures


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

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Top Ten DVD List for March 21, 2017

by Kam Williams



This Week’s DVD Releases
 
Julieta

The Lovers on the Bridge

Sing

Independent Lens: Birth of a Movement

The Brokenwood Mysteries: Series 3

When Calls the Night: The Heart of Faith

Live by Night

Faces of Horror [10 Movie Collection]

Insecure: The Complete First Season

Frontline: Exodus


Honorable Mention

Musicals 20 Movie Collection

Comedy 20 Movie Collection

Westerns 20 Movie Collection

Horror 20 Movie Collection

Wolf Creek: Season One

Tales of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Super Shredder

Spacepop: Princess Power

Military Medicine: Beyond the Battlefield

Kate and Mim-Mim: Musical Mimiloo


Friday, March 17, 2017

 
OPENING THIS WEEK
Kam's Kapsules
Weekly Previews That Make Choosing a Film Fun
by Kam Williams
For movies opening March 24, 2017


BIG BUGET FILMS

Chips (R for crude humor, graphic sexuality, frontal nudity, violence, drug use and pervasive profanity) Dax Shepard wrote, directed, produced and co-stars in this comedic screen version of the Seventies TV series revolving around the exploits of a couple of California Highway Patrol officers (Shepard and Michael Pena). With Adam Brody, Kristen Bell, Vincent D'Onofrio, Maya Rudolph and Jane Kaczmarek.

Life (R for violence, terror and pervasive profanity) Sci-fi thriller chronicling the crew's ordeal aboard an international space station after a microscopic organism plucked from the surface of Mars starts reproducing rapidly while morphing into a malevolent force. Co-starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Ryan Reynolds, Ariyon Bakare, Rebecca Ferguson, Hiroyuki Sanada and Olga Dihovichnaya. (In English, Japanese and Chinese with subtitles)

Power Rangers (PG-13 for violence, action, destruction, profanity and crude humor) Reboot of the hyperactive kiddie franchise finds five teens imbued with unique superpowers (Naomi Scott, R.J. Cyler, Ludi Lin, Dacre Montgomery and Becky G.) joining forces to save the planet from an evil witch (Elizabeth Banks) with an army of militant minions. With Bill Hader, Bryan Cranston and Sarah Grey.

Slamma Jamma (PG for violence, mature themes and mild epithets) Tale of redemption about a wrongly-convicted basketball star (Chris Staples) who attempts to get back on his feet after parole by entering a slam dunk competition with a grand prize of $25,000. Cast includes Michael Irvin, Jose Canseco and Michael Hardy.


INDEPENDENT & FOREIGN FILMS

American Anarchist (Unrated) Hippie Era documentary catching up with controversial cult figure William Powell, the now regretful author of the anti-establishment manifesto, "The Anarchist's Cookbook."
 
I Called Him Morgan (Unrated) Reverential retrospective revisiting the life of Lee Morgan (1938-1972), the legendary jazz great murdered by his wife between sets during a late-night gig at Slug's Saloon in Greenwich Village. Featuring commentary by contemporaries Albert "Tootie" Heath, Wayne Shorter, Benny Maupin and Billy Harper.

I, Olga (Unrated) Crime blotter docudrama, set in Prague, deconstructing the series of events triggering 22 year-old, mass murderer Olga Hepnarova's (Michalina Olszanska) 1973 killing spree. With Martin Pelchat, Klara Meliskova and Marika Soposka. (In Czech with subtitles)

In Search of Israeli Cuisine (Unrated) Foodie documentary examining the 70+ cultures contributing to Israeli eating habits at home and in restaurants.

The Levelling (Unrated) Haunting, modern parable of Biblical proportions chronicling a grief-stricken Prodigal Daughter's (Ellie Kendrick) attempt to reconcile with her long-estranged father (David Troughton) while performing a post mortem on her brother's (Joe Blakemore) untimely death. Featuring Jack Holden.

Prevenge (Unrated) Horror comedy, set in Wales, about a pregnant mom in mourning (Alice Lowe), who is prodded by her fetus to embark on a homicidal rampage against the people responsible for the baby-daddy's fatal, mountain climbing accident. With Kate Dickie, Gemma Whelan and Jo Hartley.

Wilson (R for sexuality and pervasive profanity) Woody Harrelson plays the character in this dysfunctional family comedy about a lonely misanthrope who decides to reconcile with his estranged ex-wife (Laura Dern) upon learning that he has a teenage daughter (Isabella Amara) he never knew existed. With Brett Gelman, Judy Greer and Toussaint Morrison.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Live by Night


Blu-ray Review by Kam Williams



Ben Affleck Directs and Stars in Gruesome Gangster Saga


Dennis Lehane has enjoyed phenomenal success not only as a novelist but writing directly for TV (Boardwalk Empire and The Wire). And several of his crime thrillers have been brought to the big screen, including Mystic River, Shutter Island and Gone, Baby, Gone.

In 2007, Ben Affleck directed Gone, Baby, Gone, staying behind the camera while letting his little brother, Casey, play the picture's protagonist. But in the case of Live by Night, the latest adaptation of a Lehane best seller, Ben has opted to do double duty as both star and filmmaker. 
 
He will likely be second-guessed for that decision, since his acting proves to be the weak link in an otherwise first-rate production. The trouble is that his limited range often leaves the audience wondering whether his character is being sincere or sarcastic. 
 
The action unfolds in Boston at the height of Prohibition which is where we are introduced to small-time crook Joe Coughlin (Affleck). Trouble is, he's the black sheep of a prominent Irish family whose patriarch (Brendan Gleeson) is the city's Deputy Chief of Police.

Ignoring his father's pleas to keep his nose clean, Joe instead escalates his reckless behavior which culminates in the deaths of a few cops in the wake of a bank robbery gone bad. After getting off with a slap on the wrist thanks to his daddy's pulling strings, Joe entertains the overtures of a couple of bootlegging mob bosses engaged in a bloody turf war. Although Irish Albert White (Robert Glenister) appeals to Joe on the basis of their shared ethnicity, he ultimately opts to work for the Italian syndicate headed by Maso Pescatore (Remo Girone).

His assignment is to set up a rum-running operation in Tampa, Florida. As he steps off the train, he ominously falls in love at first sight with the Graciela (Zoe Saldana), a gorgeous Cuban expatriate employed by a rival. Before you can whistle the overture to West Side Story, the two marry and Joe suddenly wants out of his grisly line of work.

Of course, that proves easier said than done for the "made man," so the body count must rise before the dust settles. Despite Ben's wooden performance and an overstuffed production which rushes along ostensibly to cover all the ground of the 400+ page novel, Affleck has another hit on his hands with this chilling adaptation of Lehane's gruesome gangster saga.



Very Good (2.5 stars)
Rated R for sexuality, nudity, graphic violence and pervasive profanity and ethnic slurs
Running time: 129 minutes
Distributor: Warner Brothers Home Entertainment Group
Blu-ray Extras: Angels with Dirty Faces: The Women of Live by Night; The Men of Live by Night; Live by Night's Prolific author; In Close Up: Creating a Classic Car Chase; deleted scenes; deleted scenes commentary; and director's commentary.


To see a trailer for Live by Night, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CtFZcAuH-qI


To order a copy of Live by Night on Blu-ray, visit: