Thursday, November 20, 2014

Kam's Movie Kapsules for 11-28-14



OPENING THIS WEEK
Kam's Kapsules:      
Weekly Previews That Make Choosing a Film Fun         
by Kam Williams
For movies opening November 28, 2014


BIG BUDGET FILMS   

Horrible Bosses 2 (R for pervasive profanity and crude sexuality) Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis and Charlie Day reunite for revenge-fueled sequel as inept entrepreneurs-turned-kidnappers who hatch a cockamamie plan to hold the son (Chris Pine) of a ruthless businessman (Christoph Waltz) for ransom. Cast includes Jennifer Aniston, Jamie Foxx, Kevin Spacey and Keegan-Michael Key.

The Imitation Game (PG-13 for sexual references, mature themes and smoking) Historical biopic about Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch), the British cryptologist who helped the Allies defeat the Nazis by cracking the Enigma Code, only to be prosecuted and chemically castrated following World War II for being gay. With Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode and Mark Strong.

Penguins of Madagascar (PG for mild action and rude humor) 4th installment in the animated franchise finds the peripatetic quartet of penguin protagonists (Tom McGrath, Chris Miller, Conrad Vernon and Christopher Knights) joining forces with an undercover, inter-species task force to apprehend a diabolical madman (John Malkovich) bent on world domination. Voice cast includes Benedict Cumberbatch, Dr. Ken Jeong and Peter Stormare.


INDEPENDENT & FOREIGN FILMS 

Antarctica: A Year on Ice (PG for mild epithets and mature themes) Subzero documentary chronicling what life is like at a couple of ice stations located near the South Pole.

The Babadook (Unrated) Haunted house flick, set in Adelaide, Australia, about a grieving widow (Essie Davis) who comes to substantiate her young son’s (Noah Wiseman) complaints about a monster inhabiting their home. Cast includes Daniel Henshall, Tim Purcell and Cathy Adamek.

Before I Disappear (Unrated) Surrealistic saga, set in NYC, about a suicidal twenty-something (Shawn Christensen) who finds new meaning in life by babysitting his prepubescent niece (Fatima Ptacek) for his long-estranged sister (Emmy Rossum). With Ron Perlman, Paul Wesley and Richard Schiff. 

Escobar: Paradise Lost (Unrated) Romance thriller, set in Colombia in the summer of 1991, about a Canadian surfer dude (Josh Hutchinson) who is pressured to serve as a hit man after falling for the niece (Claudia Traisac) of drug cartel kingpin Pablo Escobar (Benicio del Toro). Support cast includes Anne Giradot, Carlos Bardem and Brady Corbet.

The Immortalists (Unrated) Fountain of Youth documentary chronicling the efforts of a couple of eccentric biologists desperate to live forever.

The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness (Unrated) Reverential biopic revisiting the six-decade career of legendary Japanese filmmaker, artist, animator, illustrator, producer and scriptwriter Hayao Miyazaki. (In Japanese with subtitles)

Remote Area Medical (Unrated) Domestic doctors without borders documentary about the free healthcare offered uninsured Appalachians once a year at a pop-up clinic set up for three days at a NASCAR speedway in Bristol, Tennessee.

The Rule (Unrated) Inspirational documentary about the overachieving students at St. Benedict’s Prep, a Catholic school in Newark, New Jersey whose mostly Latino and African-American graduates enjoy a nearly 100% college acceptance rate.

A Small Section of the World (Unrated) Tale of female empowerment about a group of women who sparked a coffee-growing revolution in Costa Rica. 

Touch the Wall (Unrated) “Bound for Greatness” biopic about Missy Franklin, the Olympic swimmer who won a quartet of gold medals at the 2012 games in London. Featuring appearances by Lara Lynn Joyce, Rowdy Gaines and Michael Phelps.

Women Who Flirt (Unrated) Romantic comedy, set in Shanghai, revolving around a college student (Zhou Xun) who relies on her womanly wiles to woo the classmate (Xiaoming Huang) she has a crush on when he returns from a trip to Taiwan with a new girlfriend (Sonia Sui) in tow. With Yi-Lin Hsieh. (In Cantonese with subtitles)

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Who We Be (BOOK REVIEW)



Who We Be
The Colorization of America
by Jeff Chang
St. Martin’s Press
Hardcover, $29.99
416 pages, Illustrated
ISBN: 978-0-312-57129-0

Book Review by Kam Williams

“Race. A four-letter word. The greatest social divide in American life, a half-century ago and today. During that time, the United States has seen the most dramatic demographic and cultural shift in its history, what can be called the colorization of America…
How do Americans see race now? After eras framed by words like ‘multicultural’ and ‘post-racial,’ do we see each other any more clearly?
From the dream of integration to the reality of colorization, Who We Be remixes comic strips and contemporary art, campus protests and corporate marketing campaigns, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Trayvon Martin into a powerful, unusual and timely cultural history of the idea of racial progress.” 
-- Excerpted from the Bookjacket

Each generation has its share of visionaries. Long ago, William Faulkner warned that “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” In the Sixties, R. Buckminster Fuller conveyed the critical insight that “Geniuses are just people who had good mothers,” while Marshall McLuhan helped us understand exactly why “The medium is the message.” More recently, Ray Kurzweil anticipated the age of spiritual machines where computers lead and people follow.   
            “Who We Be” is the work of a new sage thinker with his finger on the pulse. Don’t let yourself be dissuaded by the grammatically-incorrect title of his opus, or it’s Ebonics chapter headings like “I Am I Be” and “What You Got to Say?” for the actual text isn’t written in inscrutable slang as implied, but rather offers a very articulate analysis of the evolution of American culture from the March on Washington to the present.
            In fact, the author isn’t even black, but Asian-American of Chinese and Hawaiian extraction. Not one to be pigeonholed by his ethnicity, Jeff Chang previously penned a couple of books about hip-hop, “Can’t Stop Won’t Stop,” and “Total Chaos.”
Here, however, he successfully tackles subject-matter of much more depth and consequence in the process sharing a cornucopia of profound insights on themes ranging from the rise of Obama to multiculturalism to gentrification to the use of the N-word to Occupy Wall Street. For example, in a blistering critique of the economic system, he opines:

“Capitalism aspired not only to be the law, but morality, too. Freedom meant being free even from responsibility or empathy. All values would bow before economic value. Redemption would be redefined. Consumption would set the terms of the social. Creditors ruled everything around us. Debtors—a category that included almost everyone—were parasites. Capital and the state debased fundamental human relations… It’s sociality itself that’s treated as abusive, criminal, demonic.”

Sobering! With the help of a dizzying mix of evocative essays, anecdotes, quotes, quips and eye-catching cartoons and photographs, he amply illustrates what he refers to as America’s post-racial paradox. For although the country might be awash in a sort of melting pot imagery suggested by popular movies, TV shows and rainbow coalition commercials, that superficial symbolism flies in the face of the undeniable reality of rising re-segregation in terms of housing and schooling.     
            Pearls of wisdom from an Asian-American wannabe who deliberately employs double negatives, bad grammar, incorrect syntax and even an occasional double positive for the sake of street cred. Still, the Utne Reader saw right through that smokescreen and dubbed Jeff Chang among the “50 Visionaries Who Are Changing Your World.”
            Who he be? He be a phat prophet! You feel me?
  
To order a copy of Who We Be, visit:  

Monday, November 17, 2014

Jeffrey Wright (INTERVIEW)



Jeffrey Wright
“The Hunger Games – Mockingjay Part 1” Interview
with Kam Williams

Entering Stage Wright!

Critically-acclaimed Jeffrey Wright continually pushes the boundaries of his craft with inspiring and celebrated performances in an illustrious career that has spanned the worlds of theatre, film and television. On the big screen, Wright was most recently seen in Jim Jarmusch's Only Lovers Left Alive which was released last April.

On television, he currently appears on HBO's Boardwalk Empire, playing Dr. Valentin Narcisse, Doctor of Divinity, philanthropist, student of culture and the man who runs Harlem. Onstage, this versatile thespian played the lead in John Guare's A Free Man of Color, which was directed by the legendary George C. Wolfe at Lincoln Center. And he garnered a Tony Award in 1994 for his work in Tony Kushner's Pulitzer Prize-winning epic Angels in America, also directed by Wolfe.

On film, Jeffrey has portrayed a stunning array of icons and iconoclasts. His brilliant portrayal of the renowned and controversial graffiti artist Jean Michel Basquiat in the 1996 film Basquiat received widespread praise from critics and earned him an Independent Spirit Award nomination. At the other end of the spectrum, he has taken on roles in the James Bond films, Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace, and starred as Muddy Waters in Cadillac Records and as Colin Powell in Oliver Stone's W.

His other credits include Jonathan Demme's remake of The Manchurian Candidate, Jim Jarmusch's Broken Flowers, Ang Lee's Ride with the Devil, and Shaft. For his portrayal of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in HBO's Boycott, he received a 2001 AFI award.

In addition to acting, Jeffrey is Vice Chairman of Taia Lion Resources and Chairman of Taia Peace Foundation. He also serves on the boards of directors of the Tribeca Film Institute and Resolve. Furthermore, he was named by Sierra Leone as the Peace by Piece Ambassador for the country's 50th Anniversary Independence Celebration, and received the Humanitarian Award at the 2011 Napa Valley Film Festival for his work with the Taia Peace Foundation.

Here, he talks about his latest outing as Beetee in The Hunger Games – Mockingjay Part 1.

Kam Williams: Hi Jeffrey, thanks for another interview.
Jeffrey Wright: Hey, how’re you doin’, Kam?

KW: Great! How was it being back with The Hunger Games and playing Beetee again?  
JW: The film has kind of been an expansion of these stories, though not from Beetee’s perspective. It sort of shrinks for him in that he’s wheelchair-bound and kind of confined to a laboratory’s space. But the films around him are expanding and the stakes are being raised, and we’re entering these districts that we really haven’t explored before. So, it’s kind of a thrilling ride. From Beetee’s perspective, he becomes the lens through which we enter these other worlds, since he’s responsible for communications. That’s kind of exciting. I was also drawn to the idea of propaganda and communication as a weapon, since it’s relevant to a lot of what’s happening outside of cinema nowadays.

KW: Children’s book author Irene Smalls asks: Your character, Beetee, in The Hunger Games is revered for his intellect. Is that a departure from the roles typically offered actors of color?
JW: I don’t think there is a typical role offered actors of color. Perhaps that was true many generations ago but, thankfully, there has been tremendous progress forged by a host of actors who preceded me who have expanded the possibilities. Even in the past, many roles that might have been stereotypical were subverted in some way. I’m very excited about seeing this recently-discovered Bert Williams film found at the Museum of Modern Art in which he performs in blackface, like he does in many of his movies. As he describes, he does an impersonation of a black man. [Chuckles] I love that idea because he was one of the most brilliant performers in cinema, ever. And we’ve only seen a few short clips of his work. But W.C. fields described him as the funniest man he’d ever seen, and the saddest man he ever knew. I say that to suggest that there are never limitations, whether you’re an actor or anyone taking on a task because, if you look back a century, there was a performer of color, Bert Williams, who, despite being confined to blackface, was doing some of the most thrilling acting that I’ve ever seen on camera. From what I understand, he was even somewhat of an inspiration for Charlie Chaplin’s Little Tramp, which was the first major, iconic cinematic persona. So, I’ve kind of gotten away from believing in limitations.   

KW: Director Rel Dowdell says: You’re one of the best!
JW: Thanks!

KW: He goes on to say: Given your peerless acting talents, do you ever think of yourself as underrated?
JW: No, I don’t, Rel. Some people say that, but, no, I don’t.

KW: Chandra McQuen says: You are such an amazing and versatile talent with an impressive list of credits to your name. You seem to be cast in roles based on your talent and not the color of your skin. Do you ever feel the weight of being a minority actor? What dream role would you like to play, if casting were 100% colorblind?
JW: I’m doing what I want to do. If casting were 100% colorblind, the characters I’d want to play are the same ones I’ve wanted to play prior. The one role I’ve considered developing a film about is Alexander Pushkin, the Russian writer, poet, lover and madman.

KW: Marcia Evans says: Jeffrey Wright is one of my all-time favorite actors ever.  I had the opportunity to meet him briefly a few years back he was so gracious. He is the epitome of what I call a man with integrity. Please don't complete this interview without my question. The other day, I watched his awesome performance playing the Dominican drug dealer in Shaft for the umpteenth time. I love your Latin accent, especially the line about “Egyptian Cotton.” Wow! I would like to know how you captured the accent and flavor of the Dominican culture so well.                   
JW: I have one particular Dominican friend whose use of language I always really dug, as well as the music of his voice. So, I grabbed a lot from him, and then I hung out in Washington Heights after I had been working on the character for awhile. The character actually came to me in a barber shop on 186th Street, completely, when I was getting a haircut and shave. The barber’s name was Derbis. When I was done, I looked in the mirror, and I saw Peeples. 

KW: Professor/filmmaker/author Hisani Dubose says: You are one of the most engaging actors I've ever seen. How are you able to project so many emotions through your eyes? In the Manchurian Candidate for example the close-up on your eyes told your story all by itself. Also where did he get the idea for the way he said “Tiger Woo” in Shaft. People are still imitating you for laughs.
JW: Thank you, Hisani. I don’t know how to answer the eyes question. I just use the eyes that I was born with. But I do think they are a film actor’s primary tool, so I try to use them well. As for “Tiger Woo,” I was in Scotland for the British Open a couple weeks before we started shooting Shaft. Every day, I was thinking about the script in my head. The original script had me ask Christian Bale’s character whether he liked tennis. But it occurred to me that golf would be better, especially since I’d been watching so much of it. So, instead I asked, “Do you play golf?” before referring to “Tiger Woo,” since Peebles likes power and aspires to be someone like that. [LOL]

KW: Sangeetha Subramanian asks: What was your favorite location to film?
JW: Hawaii! But Berlin is a close second.

KW: When you look in the mirror, what do you see?
JW: When I look in the mirror, I still see a little kid. [Chuckles].

KW: The Ling-Ju Yen question: What is your earliest childhood memory?
JW: Being with family. I think that’s what everyone’s earliest childhood memories revolve around. I was about 2 years-old or so. It must have been about 1967. I remember where we were living at the time. I just remember being in this space which was our home at the time, with family. 

KW: The Viola Davis question: What’s the biggest difference between who you are at home as opposed to the person we see on the red carpet?
JW: Well, we just had the London red carpet premiere for Mockingjay in front of about 5,000 people. I hope I’m not nearly as excitable at home as I am in that situation. If I were as amped up at home, I think I’d be bouncing off the walls. [Laughs]

KW: The Harriet Pakula-Teweles question: With so many classic films being redone, is there a remake you'd like to star in?
JW: That’s a good question, but I can’t answer it, because I’d be divulging more than I should right now. But there might be something coming up in terms of a remake.

KW: Thanks again for the time, Jeffrey. I’m really honored to have had this opportunity to speak with you.
JW: Thank you, Kam! Take care.

To see a trailer for The Hunger Games – Mockingjay Part 1, visit:

To see a montage of Jeffrey playing Peeples in Shaft, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z_dQOIrGhwI

Dumb & Dumber To (FILM REVIEW)



Dumb and Dumber To
Film Review by Kam Williams

Carrey and Jeff Daniels Reunite for Another Round of Hijinks as Dimwitted BFFs

            It took the Farrelly Brothers, Peter and Bobby, two decades to bring back co-stars Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels for a follow-up to Dumb and Dumber, their hit comedy that netted nearly a quarter of a billion dollars at the box office in 1994. Far be it from this critic to suggest that the long-anticipated sequel was worth the wait, though I suspect it won’t disappoint fans nostalgic for more of the same from the bottom-feeding franchise.
            Dumb and Dumber To again coalesces around the terminally-inane antics of Lloyd Christmas (Carrey) and Harry Dunne (Daniels), gullible dimwits with a penchant for both playing and being the butt of practical jokes. As the film unfolds, we learn that, for the last 20 years, Lloyd has been committed to Baldy View Mental Hospital, where he’s undergone shock treatments and a partial lobotomy.
Faithful Harry, meanwhile, has been a daily visitor, regularly changing the bag of urine waste attached to his pal’s private parts. Today, however, the wheelchair-bound patient giggles “Gotcha!” to reveal that his protracted stay in the asylum has all been a gag staged purely for his buddy’s benefit. After admiring the elaborate ruse, Harry rips the catheter out of Lloyd’s penis roughly, with the help of a couple of obliging groundskeepers. Ouch!
The reunited roommates immediately make their way home to their apartment where they proceed to pull a mean-spirited prank on their apprehensive, blind next-door neighbor (Brady Bluhm) by feeding Pop Rocks to his pet birds. (Don’t try that at home, kids!)  Harry subsequently exposes the anus of their cat to explain why he refers to it as Butthole, another joke that merely falls flat. Equally unfunny is the introduction of a drug dealer (Bill Murray), whose crystal meth Harry mistakes for candy.
Such lowbrow fare serves as prologue and proves to be par for the course for the peripatetic adventure about to ensue. Yes, the farfetched road trip does revolve around the rudiments of a plot, though that’s ostensibly of less concern to the filmmakers than seizing on the flimsiest of excuses to gross out their audience at every opportunity.
To summarize the story in 25 words or less, Harry has his own medical issue and is in urgent need of a kidney donor. Fortunately, he has a long-lost daughter he’s never met (Rachel Melvin) who just might be a genetic match.
            With that, our brain-damaged protagonists are off on a cross-country trek in search of Penny that provides this kitchen sink shocksploit ample opportunities to slap disgusting displays of depravity and vulgarity onscreen.  

Fair (1 star)
Rated PG-13 for crude humor, profanity, sexuality, partial nudity and drug references
Running time: 109 minutes
Distributor: Universal Pictures

To see a trailer for Dumb and Dumber To, visit:

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Kal Penn (INTERVIEW)


Kal Penn
The “Bhopal: A Prayer for Rain” Interview
with Kam Williams

Penn Pal

            Kalpen Suresh Modi was born in Montclair, New Jersey on April 23, 1977. He attended the Freehold Regional High School District's Performing Arts High School, as well as the Governor's School for the Arts, and received a degree from the prestigious School of Theater, Film and Television at UCLA.
            Kal is probably best known for playing the role of Kumar in Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle, Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay, and a Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas. His other notable feature film credits include Mira Nair's film The Namesake, based on the best-selling novel by Pulitzer Prize-winner Jhumpa Lahiri; Van Wilder and its sequel, The Rise of Taj; A Lot like Love; and Superman Returns.
            On TV, he’s widely recognized for his role as Dr. Lawrence Kutner on the critically-acclaimed series "House." And he also appeared regularly on "24," and guest-starred on the hit series "Law & Order: SVU" and "How I Met Your Mother.”  
In 2009, Kal took an extended sabbatical from acting to serve as the Associate Director of the White House Office of Public Engagement. During his tenure with the Obama Administration, he’s handled a variety of roles, including that of the President’s Liaison to the Arts Communities, Young Americans, and Asian Americans & Pacific Islanders.
Here, he talks about being back in front of the camera to -make his latest movie, Bhopal: A Prayer for Rain.

Kam Williams: Hi Kal, thanks for the interview.
Kal Penn: Thanks for having me!

KW: What interested you in Bhopal?
KP: The script was the first thing that drew me to the project. I was generally familiar with the real-life incidents upon which the film is based, but reading the first draft of the script, and realizing that the complexities resonated with me was the first draw I’d say. Sitting down with the director, and hearing his passion for the project was the second. And of course, it didn’t hurt that Martin Sheen was already attached. He’s incredible!

KW: You were just a child when the accident occurred. Do you remember hearing about it at the time?
KP: I do, vaguely. I also recall studying it in a few classes in college, but I wasn’t familiar as intimately as when we started researching for this project.

KW: Writer/director Ravi Kumar says the film is a work of fiction, ostensibly inspired by Sanjoy Hazarika’s book “Bhopal: Lessons of a Gas Tragedy.” I know your character, Motwani, was based on a real-life reporter, but what about Mischa Barton’s, Eva?
KP: You know, aside from Motwani, who’s based on real-life journalist Rajkumar Keswani, I’m not certain which other characters were specifically fictionalized and in which ways. Good question. I’ll ask our director this weekend!

KW: What message do you want people to take away from the film?
KP: I think with any film, first and foremost, you want the audience to be drawn to the complexity and depth of the characters and to remain engaged the whole time. Earlier screenings have had people leave crying, engaged in intense conversations, and asking each other some really fascinating questions. So I feel like I hope that continues, that a film like this of course is entertainment, but that it goes beyond that and sparks the kinds of conversations about relevant, tough issues. I love when art has the power to do that, and I think our writers and director have crafted a film that walks that line.  

KW:  Editor Lisa Loving says: Kal, the last time Kam interviewed you, you said that Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay, a film in which you essentially joked about the Guantanamo Bay prison camp and where you smoked pot with President George W. Bush, involved no political statement. Is the same true of this film?
KP: Ha, ha! Good question. I think an entirely fictionalized buddy comedy is very different than a fictionalized tragedy adapted from real-world events, so I would say this is pretty different. I don’t know that there is any political statement being made by the film, that would probably be a question our writers and director would be best suited to answer, but from my perspective, I think this film touches on the multitude of factors that went into such a devastating disaster. We don’t look at “Bhopal” through a singular lens; we approach it from different characters and perspectives. So, I hesitate answering this as a “yes” or “no.” I think the story explores everything from corporate greed to government corruption to environmental and medical regulations to jobs, economy, human rights, and family. Inherently, it explores factors that are political, social, and humanitarian, but I don’t know that it’s making any particular political statement per se.

KW:  Hirangi Patel says: Huge fan here! How did you prepare for a historical film which reflects such an integral part of India's history?
KP: Thanks, Hirangi. Most of the historical and contextual prep for the overall film was of course done by our writers and their research years before actors are attached. From the actor’s perspective, working on everything from dialects and language to looking at archives and information from the Eighties played a role in developing my character.

KW: Sangeetha Subramanian says: Kal! You were in two of the three films I organized at the Rutgers South Asian Film Festival in 2006 including Cosmopolitan and American Made. What is your advice for South Asian American actors/actresses trying to break in the industry?
KP: Thanks Sangeetha. I think my advice for any actor would be to be as trained as possible, and to not take “no” for an answer. There are so many more opportunities for performers of color now than there were 10 years ago, and there will be more 10 years from now. So many incredibly talented writers, directors, and filmmakers are emerging on their own shows, plays, and productions.

KW: Editor/Legist Patricia Turnier asks: Was your film translated into Hindi and how was it received in India?
KP:  The film is going to be translated into multiple languages from what I understand. It releases in India on December 3rd, followed by Singapore and several countries in Europe.

KW: The bookworm Troy Johnson question: What was the last book you read?   
KP: “Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea” by Barbara Demick.



KW: The Viola Davis question: What’s the biggest difference between who you are at home as opposed to the person we see on the red carpet?
KP: I’m not allowed to wear gym shorts with an old tee shirt on the red carpet.

KW: The Anthony Anderson question: If you could have a superpower, which one would you choose?
KP: Flight.

KW: Thanks again for the time, Kal, and best of luck with Bhopal and in the White House.
KP: Thank you, Kam!

To see a trailer for Bhopal: A Prayer for Rain, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nw7dZiYzKBY   

Saturday, November 15, 2014

If I Stay (DVD REVIEW)



If I Stay
DVD Review by Kam Williams

Adaptation of Bittersweet Best-Seller Arrives on DVD

            Mia Hall (Chloe Grace Moretz) is a bright 17 year-old full of the bloom of youth. Between playing the cello purely for pleasure and dating the doting boy of her dreams (Jamie Blackley), the happy high school senior considers herself truly blessed.
            She is even lucky enough to have the perfect parents (Mireille Enos and Joshua Leonard) who support the idea of her majoring in classical music, whether she gets into Juilliard or simply sticks around Portland to attend Lewis & Clark College. Mia is also very close to her only sibling, Teddy (Jakob Davies), a cute kid who absolutely adores his big sister.
However, fate intervenes, or so it seems, one snowy day during a family outing when a car coming in the opposite direction veers across the highway’s double lines. Right then, in the blink of an eye, their fortunes are irreversibly altered by an unavoidable head-on crash.
By the time the ambulances and paramedics come to the rescue, all four are in grave condition, and there is a chance that none might survive the tragic accident. Mia, who has suffered a collapsed lung, a broken leg and internal bleeding, slips into a coma.
At that instant, her spirit miraculously separates from her body, and she is suddenly able to observe situations and eavesdrop on conversations like an invisible ghost. While a team of doctors struggle to stabilize her vital signs in the hospital, she watches a nurse (Aisha Hinds) lean over and whisper that “Living or dying is all up to you” into her ear.
This suggests that Mia, ultimately, must choose between ascending to Heaven and returning to Earth to face a host of challenges on the road to recovery. And suspended in this state of limbo, she’s afforded the unusual opportunity to reflect and reminisce during the critical next 24 hours before making a decision.
That is the surreal setup of If I Stay, a bittersweet flashback flick based on Gayle Forman’s young adult novel of the same name. Although this unapologetically sentimental tearjerker will undoubtedly resonate with teens in the target demographic, the film’s surprisingly-sophisticated, thought-provoking exploration of such themes as family, friendship, love and spirituality ought to readily endear it to audiences in general.
Directed by R.J. Cutler, the movie basically revolves around introspective Mia’s contemplation of her future while factoring in her family’s grim prospects, nostalgia, and the bedside manner of visitors like her grandfather (Stacy Keach), boyfriend and BFF (Liana Liberato). Although reminiscent of The Lovely Bones (disembodied teen narrator), The Notebook (love story with a syrupy finale) and Twilight (star-crossed romance set in the Pacific Northwest), If I Stay is nevertheless a unique adventure with a tale to share all its own. 
A poignant portrait of a life precipitously hanging in the balance that pushes all the right buttons to open the emotional floodgates.

Excellent (4 stars)
Rated PG-13 for sexuality and mature themes
Running time: 106 minutes
Distributor: MGM Home Entertainment 
Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack Extras: “I Never Wanted to Go” music montage; “Beyond the Page,” featuring interviews with the cast, crew and author; “Never Coming Down” music video; deleted scenes; music commentary by director R.J. Cutler; image gallery; and the theatrical trailer.

To see a trailer for If I Stay, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wH6PNeTy6Nc    

To order a copy of the If I Stay Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack, visit:

When Comedy Went to School (DVD REVIEW)



When Comedy Went to School
DVD Review by Kam Williams

Borscht Belt Documentary about Legendary Jewish Comedians Coming to DVD

            What do such legendary comics as Danny Kaye, Jerry Stiller, Sid Caesar, Jackie Mason, Don Rickles, David Brenner, Buddy Hackett, Henny Youngman, Lenny Bruce, Mort Sahl, Woody Allen, Jerry Lewis, Mel Brooks, Joan Rivers, Alan King and Rodney Dangerfield have in common? They all got their start in showbiz doing stand-up in the Catskill Mountains at any number of the lush farm region’s hundreds of hotel resorts.
            Starting in the late Thirties, the so-called Borscht Belt began catering to a clientele predominantly comprised of Jewish immigrants in need of a summer retreat where they could get a break from the sweltering tenements of Manhattan’s Lower East Side. After all, they had little interest in vacationing in Europe, a place most were lucky to have escaped.
            So, they instead made an annual exodus to upstate New York for fresh air, good food and some fun in the sun. Each establishment there also had a nightly stage show where aspiring entertainers could ply their trade, including the aforementioned icons.
            What made working the Catskills unique was that it served as a proving ground allowing a comedian to hone his or her skills en route to the big time, namely, movies and TV. As narrator Robert Klein puts it, “It was a laboratory. Comics had a place to be bad.” 
            This slice of Jewish history is the focus of When Comedy Went to School, an alternately informative and hilarious documentary co-directed by Mevlut Akkaya and Ron Frank. The film features reflections by surviving greats, as well as the insights of some members of the next generation, most notably, Jerry Seinfeld.
            Sprinkled in amidst the enlightening history lessons are lots of one-liners preserved on vintage footage of yesteryear’s stars of tomorrow. To wit, Alan King: “My wife takes 40 minutes to lipstick her face because she has a big mouth.” And the late Joan Rivers: “I was the last girl in Larchmont to get married. My mom had to put up a sign saying, ‘Last girl before freeway.’” And Woody Allen: “This watch I’m wearing is a family heirloom. My grandfather, on his death bed, sold me this watch.”
            Priceless!   
           
Excellent (4 stars)
Unrated
Running time: 77 minutes
Distributor: First Run Features
DVD Extras: Newsreel; She’s More to Be Pitied; Friar’s Club Roundtable; Mrs. Schwartz Comes Back; and The Future of the Catskills.  

To see a trailer for When Comedy Went to School, visit: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rwr-U1z1F60    

To order a copy of When Comedy Went to School on DVD, visit: