Saturday, November 28, 2015


Film Review by Kam Williams

Caine and Keitel Co-Star as Aging BFFS in Surreal Meditation on Mortality

Fred Ballinger (Michael Caine) has chosen to withdraw from the limelight after a storybook career as a celebrated composer and conductor. He's presently being pampered with mud baths and massages at a scenic spa nestled in the Swiss Alps where he's vacationing with his daughter Lena (Rachel Weisz) and his his best friend, filmmaker Mick Boyle (Harvey Keitel). 
Despite being well into their 70s, Mick is working on the script for his next movie with the help of a quintet of young collaborators. For these purposes, it is good to know that Mick's son Julian (Ed Stoppard) is married to Lena, who has just been dumped for a British pop singer (Paloma Faith herself).

While in the midst of dividing his days between reminiscing with his BFF and soothing his emotionally-distant daughter's fragile psyche, Fred gets a surprising request to come out of retirement by an emissary (Alex Macqueen) of the Royal Family. Queen Elizabeth II is offering knighthood in exchange for playing his most popular piece, "Simple Songs," at Prince Philip's impending birthday concert. 
However, Fred summons up the strength to decline the command performance coming with an honorary title attached. For, he has already shed any attachment to his public persona in favor of meditating on his mortality and giving Lena the quality time she was denied as a child. After all, she still hasn't forgiven him for focusing so selfishly on classical music during her formative years.

Thus unfolds youth, a surreal mix of heartfelt introspection and escapist fantasy reminiscent of Federico Fellini. The movie was written and directed by Fellini's fellow paisan, Paolo Sorrentino (The Great Beauty) who is not shy about juxtaposing a variety of jarring images certain to leave a lasting impression, even if you're not quite sure what to make of the visually captivating menagerie.

Caine and Keitel enjoy their best outings in ages, albeit in service of an inscrutable adventure that deliberately does it darndest to defy definition.

Very Good (3 stars)
Rated R for profanity, sexuality and graphic nudity
Running time: 118 minutes
Distributor: Fox Searchlight Pictures

To see a trailer for Youth, visit:

Friday, November 27, 2015


Chi-Raq Film Review by Kam Williams

Spike Lee Offers Solution for Chicago Gang Violence in Timely Morality Play

Just when we were ready to give up on Spike Lee, wouldn't you know he'd reassert his relevance with a decent inner-city drama decrying the gang violence in Chicago? Ironically, this timely tale is based on Lysistrata, an ancient play staged by Aristophanes way back in 411 BC. 

Set in Athens during the Peloponnesian War, that farcical adventure revolved around a headstrong female who brought an end to the hostilities by persuading the women of Greece to withhold sexual favors from their mates until peace was declared. 
Spike's version unfolds in present-day Chicago where we find a gun moll named Lysistrata (Teyonah Parris) growing frustrated by the escalating body count in the Windy City war between a couple of rival street gangs. Her boyfriend, Chi-Raq (Nick Cannon), is the leader of the purple-sporting Spartans, the sworn adversaries of the orange-clad Trojans. 
She gets fed up when a neighbor's (Jennifer Hudson) young daughter is caught in the crossfire during a drive-by shooting and none of the gangbangers is willing to finger the culprit for the cops. After the funeral, she enlists the assistance of sisters all over the hood in implementing a "No peace, no p*ssy," policy. 
Besides borrowing Aristophanes basic plotline, I must point out that Chi-Raq's dialogue is almost entirely in verse. When was the last time you saw a movie that rhymed? The novel screenplay was co-authored by Spike with film professor Kevin Willmott, the brains behind Confederate States of America, a brilliant social satire speculating about what the U.S. would be like today, if the South had prevailed in the Civil War. 
Watching Chi-Raq, the pair's experiment in iambic pentameter gets tiring after about 15 minutes or so. You feel like yelling, "Okay, you made your point. Now just let the thespians act without the burden of having to sound poetic, too. 
Credit Spike for assembling an A-list cast featuring Teyonah Parris as Lysistrata and Nick Cannon in the title role. The dramatis personae also includes Academy Award-winner Jennifer Hudson (for Dreamgirls), Oscar-nominees Angela Bassett (for What's Love Got to Do with It?) and Samuel L. Jackson (for Pulp Fiction), as well as Dave Chappelle, John Cusack, Felicia "Snoop" Pearson and real-life, grassroots activist Father Michael Pfleger. 
Chi-Raq may never be confused with She's Gotta Have It (1986) or Do the Right Thing (1989), but it nevertheless represents the best adaptation of a classic into ghetto fabulous fare since the inspired reinterpretation of Romeo and Juliet as Romeo Must Die (2000). 

Very Good (2.5 stars)
Rated R for nudity, profanity, sexuality, violence and drug use
Running time: 127 minutes
Studio: Amazon
Distributor: Distributor: Lionsgate / Roadside Attractions

To see a trailer for Chi-Raq, visit:

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Top Ten DVD Releases for 12-1-15

This Week’s DVD Releases
by Kam Williams

Top Ten DVD List for December 1, 2015

Desert Dancer

The Hunting Ground


Goodnight Mommy


Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer: 50th Anniversary Collector's Edition

Where Children Play

Amy Schumer: Live at the Apollo

90 Minutes in Heaven


Honorable Mention

Secrets of War
Santa Claus Is Coming to Town: 45th Anniversary Collector's Edition

All about E

Zoolander: The Blue Steelbook

Angry Birds Toons: Season Two - Volume One

Roger Waters: The Wall

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Revenge!

Piggy Tales: Season One

Stella: Season One

Desert Dancer (DVD REVIEW)

Desert Dancer
DVD Review by Kam Williams

Iranian Dancer Defies Sharia Law to Pursues His Passion in Fact-Based Inspirational Drama

             Afshin Ghaffarian (Reece Ritchie) had the great misfortune of being born in Iran in the wake of the Islamist coup d’etat of 1979 which meant he was reared under a repressive religious regime which banned all the arts, from painting to poetry to playing music. So, when little Afshin began to exhibit an insatiable interest in dance as a youngster, he was warned by his mother (Nazanin Boniadi) that the activity was banned in accordance with the dictates of the nation’s authoritarian Ayatollah.
Nevertheless, she enrolled her son in the Saba Arts Academy, a fledgling studio secretly operating in the shadows. Under the tutelage of Mr. Mehdi (Makram Khoury), Afshin exhibited early promise while enjoying the freedom to express himself creatively, at least until the fateful day the place was trashed by morality police enforcing of Sharia law.
Fast-forward a decade or so and we find the promising prodigy now attending the University of Teheran but still holding fast to the impractical pipe dream of becoming a professional dancer. Along with a few curious classmates, he forms an underground company which proceeds to practice regularly in an abandoned factory loft.
Elaheh (Freida Pinto) is the only member of the modern dance club with any formal training, having been surreptitiously schooled in technique and choreography by a mother who’d been a prima ballerina prior to the fall of the Shah. Against the ominous backdrop of the burgeoning, student-led Green Revolution of 2009, Elaheh gradually forges the motley crew into a concert-quality troupe.
But between the tense political climate and the official state sanction against public performances, it looks like the idea staging a concert for an audience is out of the question. Thus unfolds Desert Dancer, an uplifting, overcoming-the-odds drama, recounting the real-life dilemma of defiant Afshin Ghaffarian and his equally-rebellious comrades.
The movie marks the absolutely splendid directorial debut of Richard Raymond who has crafted a visually-engaging spectacular with a compelling plotline leading to satisfying resolution. The story seamlessly interweaves inspired dance sequences, organized resistance and a little old-fashioned romance while touching on a litany of themes like love, loyalty, friendship and betrayal.
A must-see biopic poignantly illustrating the indomitability of the human spirit, even in the most oppressive of circumstances.

Excellent (4 stars)
Rated PG-13 for mature themes, violence and drug use
Running time: 98 minutes
Distributor: Fox Home Entertainment DVD Extras: Desert Dancer: In Conversation with Afshin Ghaffarian; The Rise of the People; First Memories; and the theatrical trailer. 
To see a trailer for Desert Dancer, visit:

To order a copy of Desert Dancer on DVD, visit: 

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

90 Minutes in Heaven (DVD REVIEW)

90 Minutes in Heaven DVD Review by Kam Williams

Adaptation of Memoir about Miraculous Recovery \Released on DVd

Traveling Pastor Don Piper was thinking about having his own congregation on his way home from a Christian convention when fate intervened in tragic fashion. His car was crushed so badly by a tractor trailer that he was declared dead right on the spot by first responders who couldn't find a pulse.

Since the cops were in no hurry to extract him from the twisted wreckage, he was still lying there over an hour later, when a minister (Michael Harding) passing by the accident scene decided to stop and pray for the repose of his soul. But upon approaching the auto, instead of a corpse, lo and behold, the Good Samaritan found the supposedly deceased to be very much alive. 
In fact, Pastor Piper was faintly singing a Gospel spiritual, despite his considerable loss of blood. A rescue team with the jaws of life was immediately summoned and he was soon extracted and rushed to the hospital in excruciating pain. 
And although he would fight to survive for the sake of his wife (Kate Bosworth) and their three kids (Hudson Meek, Bobby Batson and Elizabeth Hunter), Don was actually torn over whether he really wanted to live or die. For, during his near-death experience on the side of the road, he'd briefly entered the proverbial Pearly Gates.

There, he not only experienced an unparalleled feeling of never-ending bliss, but enjoyed reunions with a number of dearly-departed loved ones, including his great-grandmother (Sallye McDougald Hooks) and a couple of childhood friends (Matthew Bauman and Trevor Allen Martin). By comparison, being back on Earth was relatively painful, given the 34 operations he needed to undergo over the next several months to fix torn muscles, disfigurement, broken bones and shattered disks. 
Thanks to the power of prayer, Pastor Piper did ultimately recover. But rather than open his own church, he wrote a best-seller recounting his entering the Gates of Heaven as well as his subsequent resurrection. Directed by Michael Polish (The Astronaut Farmer) 90 Minutes in Heaven proves to be a pretty palatable modern parable, given that the title sort of serves as a spoiler. Of course, it helps tremendously to be a person a faith, though this is one Christian flick that has the potential to cut across demos. 
A goner granted a miraculous reprieve by God ostensibly to let us all know that paradise really exists. 

Very Good (3 stars)
Rated PG-13 for an intense car accident and graphic images
Running time: 121 minutes
Studio: Giving Films

Distributor: Universal Pictures Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Extras: The Making of 90 Minutes in Heaven; Meet the Real Pipers; and Giving Films.

To see a trailer for 90 Minutes in Heaven, visit:

To order a copy of 90 Minutes in Heaven on Blu-Ray, visit:

Kam's Movie Kapsules for 12-4-15

Kam's Kapsules:
Weekly Previews That Make Choosing a Film Fun
by Kam Williams
For movies opening December 4, 2015


Chi-Raq (R for nudity, profanity, sexuality, violence and drug use) Nick Cannon plays the title character in this Spike Lee "Joint" loosely based on Aristophanes' play Lysistrata. Present-day variation on the theme is set in Chicago where females from the 'hood decide to deny their men sexual favors until there is a cessation of the gang violence claiming so many young lives. Ensemble includes Teyonah Parris, Wesley Snipes, Samuel L. Jackson, Angela Bassett, Dave Chappelle, Jennifer Hudson and John Cusack. 

Krampus (PG-13 for violence, terror, profanity and drug use) Holiday comedy about a frustrated kid (Emjay Anthony) with no Christmas spirit who unwittingly unleashes a demonic, Scrooge-like force (Luke Hawker). Cast includes Toni Collette, David Koechner, Allison Tolman and Adam Scott.

The Letters (PG for mature themes) Reverential retrospective dramatizing the life and times of Mother Teresa (Juliet Stevenson) as reflected by correspondence she exchanged over a half-century with her BFF/spiritual advisor, Father Celeste van Exem (Max von Sydow). With Rutger Hauer, Priya Darshini and Kranti Redkar.

Life (R for profanity, nudity and sexuality) Brush with greatness biopic recounting journalist Dennis Stock's (Robert Pattinson) photo shoot of rising star James Dean (Dane deHaan) for a 1955 issue of Life magazine. Featuring Lauren Gallagher as Natalie Wood, John Blackwood as Raymond Massey and Kelly McCreary as Eartha Kitt.

Macbeth (Unrated) Michael Fassbender assumes the title role in the latest adaptation of the Shakespeare tragedy about an ambitious general with designs on the throne of the King of Scotland (David Thewlis). Support cast includes Elizabeth Debicki, Marion Cotillard, Sean Harris and Paddy Considine.


Amour Fou (Unrated) Costume drama, set in Berlin in the Romantic Era, about a young poet (Christian Friedel) who enters a suicide pact with a terminally-ill socialite (Schnoeink) after failing to convince his kissing cousin (Sandra Hueller) to do so. Supporting cast includes Stephan Crossmann, Barbara Schnitzler and Marc Bischoff. (In German with subtitles)

Bikes vs. Cars (Unrated) Eco-documentary advocating the adoption of bicycles over autos as the primary form of urban transportation in order to reverse the global warming trend. (In English, Spanish and Portuguese with subtitles)

Christmas Eve (PG for peril, mature themes and mild epithets) Holiday comedy revolving around the plight of New Yorkers simultaneously stuck in a half-dozen elevators in the wake of a car accident. Ensemble cast includes Patrick Stewart, Jon Heder, James Roday, Gary Cole and Max Casella.

Hitchcock/Truffaut (PG-13 for suggestive material and violent images) Reverential documentary deconstructing the genius of legendary director Alfred Hitchcock through the eyes of protege Francois Truffaut and a number of other admiring colleagues. Featuring commentary by Peter Bogdanovich, David Fincher, Martin Scorcese, Wes Anderson, Richard Linklater and Paul Schrader.

The Lady in the Van (PG-13 for a disturbing image) Fact-based docudrama recounting the unlikely friendship forged between a celebrated playwright (Alex Jennings) and a homeless woman (Maggie Smith) living in a car parked in his driveway. With Dominic Cooper, Jim Broadbent and James Corden.

MI-5 (R for profanity and violence) Espionage thriller about a spy (Kit Harrington) who comes out of retirement to track down an escaped terrorist (Elyes Gabel) on the CIA's Most Wanted list as well as the British secret agent (Peter Firth) who'd been escortng him to prison. Support cast includes Tuppence Middleton, Lara Pulver and Jennifer Ehle.

My Friend Victoria (Unrated) Baby-daddy drama, set in Paris, about a poor, black single-mom (Guslagie Malanga) who waits seven years before finally introducing her daughter (Maylina Diagne) to the middle-class white guy (Pierre Andrau) she shared a summer romance back in high school. (In French with subtitles)

A Royal Night Out (PG-13 for sexuality and brief drug use) Post World War II dramedy, set in England in 1945, finds Princess Margaret (Bel Powley) and Princess Elizabeth (Sarah Gadon) slipping out of Buckingham Palace, over the objections of the Queen (Emily Watson), to join the street celebrations on V.E. Day. With Rupert Everett, Mark Hadfield and Jack Laskey.

Uncle Nick (Unrated) Brian Posehn plays the titular character in this holiday comedy as the rude relative from hell who ruins the family's Christmas gathering. Cast includes Scott Adsit, Missi Pyle, Paget Brewster and Beau Ballinger.

The World of Kanako (Unrated) Crime thriller, based on the best-seller Hateshinaki Kawaki by Akio Fukamachi, about a retired detective (Koji Yakusho) who only learns about his daughter's (Nana Komatsu) secret life during the search conducted after she goes missing. Narrated by Hiroya Shimizu and featuring Satoshi Tsumabuki, Fumi Nikaido and Ai Hashimoto. (In Japanese with subtitles)

Youth (R for profanity, sexuality and graphic nudity) Surrealistic meditation on mortality by a couple of BFFs, one, a composer (Michael Caine), the other, a filmmaker (Harvey Keitel), reflecting on the meaning of life while vacationing in the Swiss Alps. With Rachel Weisz, Paul Dano and Jane Fonda. (In English, Spanish and Swiss-German with subtitles)

Monday, November 23, 2015


Creed Film Review by Kam Williams

Rocky Franchise Revived with Compelling, Character-Driven Spin-Off

When most people think of Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone), what automatically comes to mind is the iconic image of a gutsy underdog easy to root for who held his own in the boxing ring against a variety of imposing adversaries. Each installment of the series has basically revolved around the hype leading to a riveting championship bout between a veritable David and Goliath. 
Directed by Ryan Coogler, Creed is a worthy spin-off which not only pays homage to that tried-and-true formula but also represents a bit of departure for the beloved franchise. What's new is the fact that this film devotes as much attention to character development as to ratcheting up the tension surrounding the fateful showdown. 
The picture reunites Coogler with Michael B. Jordan, the star of his directorial debut, the critically-acclaimed Frutivale Station. Here, Jordan plays, Adonis Johnson, a juvenile delinquent who's had his share of scrapes with the law, thanks to a quick temper and a tendency to settle differences with a pair of unusually powerful fists.

Just past the point of departure, the hot-headed orphan is informed by Apollo Creed's (Carl Weathers) widow (Phylicia Rashad) that he is the illegitimate son of Rocky's original archenemy. That at least explains the inclination to fight that's ostensibly been baked into his DNA. 
Fast-forward a few years, when Adonis has learned to channel his anger and explosive might via boxing. Over the objections of his adoptive mom (Mrs. Creed) he decides to follow in his father's footsteps. 
So, he moves from L.A. to Philly where he finds Rocky running a restaurant called Adrian's. Adonis prevails upon the ex-champ to serve as his trainer. Rocky agrees on the condition the kid changes his surname to Creed, and the next thing you know the kid rises in the ranks to #1 contender and luckily lands a title fight with Pretty Ricky Conlan (Tony Bellow).

Meanwhile, Adonis falls in love with his next-door neighbor, Bianca (Tessa Thompson), an aspiring hip-hop artist on the verge of making it in her own right. Away from the gym, he spends some quality time with Rocky, too, offering a little heartfelt, if unsolicited advice that just might save his aging mentor's life. 
"Rocky" and the next Roman numeral might not be in the title, but this engaging and faithful seventh episode includes all the fixins to amount to a highly-recommended spin-off of the storied franchise.

Excellent (4 stars)
Rated PG-13 for violence, profanity and sensuality
Running time: 95 minutes
Distributor: Warner Brothers Pictures

To see a trailer for Creed, visit: