Sunday, September 21, 2014

American Masters: The Boomer List (PBS-TV REVIEW)



American Masters: The Boomer List
PBS-TV Review by Kam Williams

Iconic Baby Boomers Serve as Subjects of Generational Retrospective

            The United States witnessed a population explosion in the wake of World War II which came to be called the Baby Boom. Stretching from 1946 to 1964, the period was marked in such a surge of live births that by the time it ended 4 out of 10 Americans were under the age of 20.
            This year, the youngest members of the massive generation are turning 50, a development that was not lost on Timothy Greenfield-Sanders, director of a trio of award-winning documentaries: The Black List, The Latino List and The Out List. And with about 8,000 now retiring a day, Timothy decided to mark the milestone by making a film recognizing the contributions of cultural icons, one born in each year of the Baby Boom.   
            Among the subjects of the show is best-selling novelist Amy Tan, author of The Joy Luck Club, who was born in my year, 1952. At the age of 15, she was deeply affected by the loss of her father and a brother a half-dozen months apart. Here, she reflects upon how she felt abandoned by her dad.
She also talks about what it was like growing up Chinese-American. Sadly, she recalls that, as a teenager, “I felt that I didn’t have dates because I was ugly, and that I was ugly because I was Chinese.” Unfortunately, that insecurity about her appearance was only reinforced by a mother who told Amy she wasn’t beautiful and to work hard in school since she’d “never get by in the world on her looks.”
She admits to actually having felt shame about her ethnicity, which she overcame in college with the help of Black Studies courses. Since there weren’t any in Asian-American Literature at her school, she felt drawn to African-American Literature since it appreciated alternative aesthetics to the mainstream. The world is grateful that she was in turn inspired to write fiction, which she sees as a way of meditating on a question.   
Other luminaries representing their respective years are Deepak Chopra (1947), Samuel L. Jackson (1948), Billy Joel (1949), Maria Shriver (1955) and Erin Brockovich (1960), to name a few. A poignant collection of personal remembrances amounting to a profound tribute to a memorable American era.
           
Excellent (4 stars)
Rated TV-PG
Running time: 90 minutes
Studio: Perfect Day Films
Distributor: PBS

The Boomer List premieres on PBS from 9-10:30 PM ET/PT on Tuesday, September 23rd (check local listings)

To see a trailer for The Boomer List, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jz0icyUEQtc

Saturday, September 20, 2014

The Equalizer (FILM REVIEW)



The Equalizer
Film Review by Kam Williams

Denzel Does Vigilante in Adaptation of Eighties TV Series

            On the surface, Robert McCall (Denzel Washington) is a perfectly-pleasant, hail fellow well met. By day, the affable widower is employed as a sales associate at a hardware superstore where he jokes with co-workers who call him “Pops.” Evenings, he retires to a modest apartment in a working-class, Boston community, although bouts of insomnia often have him descending to a nearby diner to read a book into the wee hours of the morning.
            The dingy joint looks a lot like the dive depicted by Edward Hopper in the classic painting “Nighthawks.” Among the seedy haunt’s habitu├ęs is Teri (Chloe Grace Moretz), a provocatively-dressed prostitute who hangs out there between clients.
Robert takes a personal interest in the troubled teen, a recent immigrant whose real name is Alina. He soon learns that she’d rather be pursuing a musical career than sleeping with stranger after stranger. Trouble is she’s under the thumb of Slavi (David Meunier), a sadistic pimp who’ll stop at nothing to keep a whore in check.
A critical moment arrives the night she arrives in the restaurant and hands Robert her new demo tape while trying to hide a black eye. But he becomes less interested in the CD than in the whereabouts of the creep who gave her the shiner.
            What neither Teri nor anybody else in town knows is that Robert’s a retired spy who had cultivated the proverbial set of deadly skills over the course of his career. At this juncture, the mild-mannered retiree reluctantly morphs into an anonymous vigilante more than willing to dole out a bloody brand of street justice on behalf of Teri and other vulnerable crime victims with seemingly no recourse.
            Thus unfolds The Equalizer, a riveting, relatively-gruesome adaptation of the popular, 1980s TV-series. Directed by Antoine Fuqua, this version is actually more reminiscent of Death Wish (1974), as this picture’s protagonist behaves less like the television show’s British gentleman than the brutal avenging angel portrayed on the big screen by Charles Bronson.
Considerable credit must go to Oscar-winner Mauro Fiore’s (Avatar) visually-captivating cinematography for capturing Boston in a way which is somehow both stylish and haunting. Nevertheless, the eye-pleasing panoramas simply serve as a backdrop for Denzel who is even better here than in his Oscar-winning collaboration with Fuqua for Training Day.
Revenge as a dish best served cold by a sleep-deprived, diner patron equalizer!  

Excellent (4 stars)
Rated R for graphic violence, sexual references and pervasive profanity
In English and Russian with subtitles
Running time: 131 minutes
Distributor: Sony Pictures

To see a trailer for The Equalizer, visit:   

Friday, September 19, 2014

The Calling (DVD REVIEW)



The Calling
DVD Review by Kam Williams

Screen Adaptation of Cat-and-Mouse Murder Mystery Arrives on DVD

            Hazel Micallef (Susan Sarandon) was thinking about retiring from the Port Dundas police force because of the herniated disc which left her addicted to both booze and painkillers. But the hobbled detective decided to put those plans on hold the day she stumbled upon the body of an elderly neighbor whose throat had been slit from ear-to-ear by a deranged intruder.
After all, this was her beloved hometown’s first homicide in years, and there’s no way she could leave the investigation on the shoulders of the only other two detectives on the force, veteran Ray Green (Gil Bellows) and newcomer Ben Wingate (Topher Grace). Soon, the three unearth evidence which indicates that the murder might very well be the work of the same serial killer responsible for several other recent slayings elsewhere around Ontario.
Apparently, the creepy lapsed Catholic was practically taunting the authorities by leaving clues online, which is where he preys on each of his vulnerable victims. The question is whether, with the help of a priest (Donald Sutherland), the police will be able pinpoint the prime suspect’s locale in time to prevent him from striking again.
That is the intriguing setup of The Calling, a multi-layered mystery marking South African Jason Stone’s chilling directorial debut. Based on the Inger Ash Wolfe best seller of the same name, the film unfolds less like a whodunit than a cat-and-mouse caper, given how the perpetrator’s identity is confirmed about midway through the movie.
Still, the picture proves compelling, thanks to a powerful performance on the part of Susan Sarandon. The talented Oscar-winner (for Dead Man Walking) is uncharacteristically unappealing playing a familiar archetype, one of those substance-abusing souls in decline who summons up the strength to solve one last case.      
Fair warning: the film is tarnished slightly by periodic displays of grisly crime scenes apt to upset audience members averse to gratuitous gore. Otherwise, the picture earns accolades as a taut thriller about a religious zealot on a ritualistic killing spree.
Bless me father for I have slain!

Very Good (3 stars)
Rated R for violence, profanity and disturbing content
Running time: 108 minutes
Distributor: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
DVD Extras: Divine Intention: Making The Calling.

To see a trailer for The Calling, visit:   

To order a copy of The Calling on DVD, visit: 

Neighbors (DVD REVIEW)



Neighbors
DVD Review by Kam Williams
 

Raunchy Revenge Comedy Released on DVD

            When Kelly (Rose Byrne) and Mac Radner (Seth Rogen) decided to settle down in suburbia, they reasonably expected to raise their newborn in a quiet community. But that dream was threatened soon thereafter, when the local chapter of Delta Psi Beta bought the house next-door.
            As a precautionary measure, the concerned couple introduced themselves to their new neighbors and asked for assurances that there wouldn’t be any wild partying on the premises. Delta Psi’s President, Teddy (Zac Efron), and Vice President, Pete (Dave Franco), did agree to keep the noise down in exchange for a promise from the Radners not to call the police.
            Nevertheless, it’s not long before the situation spirals out of control. After all, the infamous frat has a well-established reputation for rowdiness, having invented the toga party back in the Thirties and then beer pong in the Seventies.
            So, today, Teddy feels pressure to match his predecessors’ checkered past. This means he’s inclined to up the ante in terms of outrageous antics, which can only spell trouble for Kelly and Mac once they go back on their word about complaining to the cops, and Delta Psi is placed on probation by the university’s dean, Carol Gladstone (Lisa Kudrow).
            At that point, all bets are off, and the frat and the newlyweds proceed to square-off in an ever-escalating war of attrition with more losers than winners. That is the point of departure of Neighbors, a relentlessly-raunchy revenge comedy directed by Nicholas Stoller (Get Him to the Greek).
            Unfortunately, the sophomoric parties prove to be more cruel than clever in their attempts to get even, and the shocking behavior displayed onscreen is invariably more smutty than funny, as it features plenty of prolonged frontal nudity. Plus, the picture’s only good gag, when the office chair jettisons Mac into the ceiling, was totally spoiled by the TV commercials.  
            Otherwise, the film is memorable mostly for its homoerotic humor, as director Stoller is fond of seizing on any excuse to lampoon gay sexuality. First, Kelly kisses a college coed she’s recruiting as a confidante. Then, fraternity pledges are forced to parade naked in a circle while clutching the penis of the guy in front of him.
            On another occasion, a male student is raped by a classmate seemingly in his sleep, only to later admit that he was aware and welcomed the rude intrusion. And when Teddy and Pete fight over a girl (Halston Sage), they settle their differences in bizarre fashion, namely, by massaging each other’s genitals to see who climaxes first, while appropriating the gangsta’ rap mantra, “Bros before hos!” 
            Throw in the gratuitous use of the “N-word” twice, of anti-Semitism (“You Jews and your f*cking mothers!”), as well as a profusion of misogynistic comments like referring to breasts as “udders,” and there’s little left to recommend about this ugly descent into depravity.

Poor (0 stars)
Rated R for crude humor, graphic sexuality, full frontal nudity, pervasive profanity, ethnic slurs, and drug and alcohol abuse
Running time: 97 minutes
Distributor: Universal Studios Home Entertainment
Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack Extras: Gag reel; Line-O-Rama; An Unlikely Pair; Partying with the Neighbors; and The Frat. 

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

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

Top Ten DVD Releases for 9-23-14



This Week’s DVD Releases
by Kam Williams


Top Ten DVD List for September 23, 2014                      

Scandal: The Complete Third Season

Halloween: The Complete Collection [Limited Deluxe Edition]

Rise Up Black Man
 
The Calling

Nashville: The Complete Second Season

TV’s 13 Spookiest Halloween Episodes


Key & Peele: The Complete Third Season


The Signal

Paris, Manhattan

Wer



Honorable Mention

Found


Witch’s Night Out


Friend II: The Legacy


Neighbors [1981 Movie with John Belushi]


Firestorm


Very Good Girls


Hero of the Day


Neighbors


The Man Who Will Come

Pump (FILM REVIEW)



Pump
Film Review by Kam Williams

Eye-Opening Expose’ Explores America’s Addiction to Oil 
           


            Why is the price of gasoline in the Untied States so artificially high? Much of the explanation lies in a corporate conspiracy to deny us access to alternative fuel sources. A few years ago, the documentary “Who Killed the Electric Car?” illustrated how the auto industry had successfully lobbied politicians to discourage its development.
            Now, this eye-opening expose’ shows how big oil has conspired to deny Americans fuel choice for the past century. This state of affairs has persisted in the face of a Supreme Court decision which forced John D. Rockefeller to break up the Standard Oil Company by declaring it a monopoly way back in 1911.
What alternative fuels might a car run on? Well, besides electricity, there’s solar power, methanol, ethanol and hydrogen, to name a few. Who knows what other new ideas might have been encouraged if Congress hadn’t discouraged development of competing energy options by granting the gas-guzzling car manufacturers a stranglehold on research and development via tax breaks and other measures.
            This wholesale sellout of the American public is the subject of Pump, an eye-opening expose’ co-directed by Joshua and Rebecca Harrell Tickell. It is the husband-and-wife team’s sobering thesis that, “We have to come to grips with the fact that this is the end of the Oil Age.”
What more proof do you need than the sight of the devastation visited upon Detroit, a latter-day ghost town where, “the hope of the average person for a better life has disappeared” in the wake of its being abandoned by the car conglomerates for greener pastures? And the Motor City might just be the tip of the iceberg, if you believe the dire warnings issued intermittently during this powerful documentary by John Hofmeister, the former President of Shell Oil.
            Today, as founder of Citizens for Affordable Energy, he indicts an unnecessary addiction to oil as the root cause of everything from political instability and war to climate change and environmental crises. His organization’s aim? A simple one, merely to make fuel choice a viable reality.
Food for thought the next time you cavalierly instruct the gas station attendant to “Fill ‘er up!”

Excellent (4 stars)
Rated PG for mature themes 
Running time: 88 minutes
Distributor: Submarine Deluxe

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

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Take Me to the River (FILM REVIEW)



Take Me to the River
Film Review by Kam Williams

Soul Music Retrospective Revisits Memphis Roots of the Rhythm and Blues Sound  

            A lot of great soul music came out of Memphis in the Sixties and early Seventies. Stax Records launched the careers of acts like Otis Redding, Isaac Hayes and Booker T. and the MGs while its cross-town rival Hi Records had Al Green, Ann Peebles and O.V. Wright. Take Me to the River is a reverential retrospective which is a combination tribute to the city’s impressive legacy and a tip of the cap to some up-and-coming artists still recording in the region.
The movie marks the directorial debut of Martin Shore, who tapped Terrence Howard to narrate the documentary. The Oscar-nominated actor also raps and sings in the picture which features the reflections of hip-hop icon Snoop Dogg who pays tributes to the trailblazers that paved the way for him.
But what makes the movie worth its while is hearing such soul greats as Booker T., Mavis Staples, David Porter and Charlie Musselwhite wax romantic about the good ole days. We learn that the bands were often integrated at a time the rest of Memphis was still strictly segregated.
Some of the reminiscing relates how the local cops would deliberately profile and harass them as they exited the studio after late-night sessions, being not only racist but jealous of the groups’ newfound fame and fortune. We also hear about how the assassination of Martin Luther King in Memphis cast a pall over the entire town that ultimately took a toll on the music business, too. Stax executive Al Bell refers to his company’s early demise as an economic lynching.
An overdue homage to a city that for close to a decade was home to the second largest black business in America.   

Very Good (3 stars)
Rated PG for smoking, mild epithets and mature themes
Running time: 98 minutes
Distributor: Abramorama

To see a trailer for Take Me to the River, visit: