Friday, December 8, 2017

Kam's Kapsules for movies opening December 15, 2017

Weekly Previews That Make Choosing a Film Fun 
by Kam Williams



Ferdinand (PG for action, rude humor and mature themes) John Cena plays the title character in this animated adventure about a peace-loving bull who'd rather stop to smell the roses than chase a matador's red cape around an arena. Voice cast includes Kate McKinnon, Anthony Anderson, Gabriel Iglesias, Boris Kodjoe and Davud Tennant.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi (PG-13 for sci-fi action and violence) Second episode in the sequel trilogy directed by Rian Johnson (Looper) finds Rey (Daisy Ridley), Finn (John Boyega) and Poe (Oscar Isaac) embarking on an epic, intergalactic adventure with the legendary Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) to unlock the mystery of "The Force." Featuring Adam Driver. Lupita Nyong'o and the late Carrie Fisher.


The Ballad of Lefty Brown (R for profanity and violence) Bill Pullman assumes the title role in this Western, set on the plains of Montana, about an aging cowboy who enlists the assistance of a young gunslinger (Diego Josef) and a lawman (Tommy Flanagan) to track down the outlaws responsible for the gruesome murder of his friend, a newly-elected U.S. Senator (Peter Fonda). Cast includes Jim Caviezel, Kathy Baker and Joseph Lee Anderson.

Beyond Skyline (R for graphic violence and pervasive profanity) Sci-fi sequel about a veteran LAPD detective (Frank Grillo) who mounts a daring attempted rescue of his son from an alien spaceship that vacuumed the entire population of Los Angeles off the face of the Earth. With Bojana Novakovic, Johnny Weston, Kevin O'Donnell and Iko Uwais. (In English and Indonesian with subtitles)

Killing for Love (Unrated) Tabloid news documentary revisiting the events surrounding the high-profile murder trial of University of Virginia student Elizabeth Haysom and her German boyfriend for the decapitation of both of her parents.

The Leisure Seeker (R for sexuality) Romantic romp revolving around an elderly couple (Donald Sutherland and Helen Mirren) who embark on a road trip from Boston to Key West to recapture their passion for life and love. Support cast includes Joshua Mikel, Kirsty Mitchell and Janel Moloney.

Permanent (PG-13 for profanity, crude humor, sexual references and mature themes) Coming-of-age comedy, set in the South in 1982, revolving around a white 'tweener (Kira McLean), new to a town, who ends up ostracized at school after her hairdresser accidentally leaves her with an afro instead of curls like her idol, Farah Fawcett. With Patricia Arquette, Rainn Wilson and Devin Albert.

Sundowners (Unrated) Buddy comedy about a couple of jaded wedding photographers (Phil Hanley and Luke Lalonde) who get a break from the monotony when they land a gig in Mexico. Featuring Tim Heidecker, Cara Gee and Nick Flanagan.

Youth (Unrated) Coming-of-age adventure, set in the Seventies, revolving around the trials and tribulations of members of a military cultural troupe. Ensemble cast includes Xuan Huang, Miao Miao and Caiyu Yang. (In Mandarin with subtitles)

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Lady Bird

Film Review by Kam Williams

Saoirse Shines as Rebellious Teen in Touching, Coming-of-Age Adventure

Saoirse Ronan is only 23, but she's already been nominated for an Academy Award twice, for Brooklyn (2015) and Atonement (2005). Now, she's a shoo-in to land another nomination for her memorable turn as the title character in Lady Bird.

It's hard to say whether three times will prove to be the charm for the Irish ingenue, since this has been a banner year for actresses, with powerful performances turned in by worthy competitors like Sally Hawkins, Frances McDormand and perennial-nominee Meryl Streep. Win or lose, Ronan deserves all the accolades she's getting for exhibiting an enviable range in a very demanding role as a tormented teen constantly in crisis. 
Life is an emotional roller coaster for this college-bound senior. And as the film unfolds, it's easy to see why. Christine "Lady Bird" McPherson is an iconoclast who refuses to conform, whether she's rebelling from her overbearing mother (Laurie Metcalf) or breaking the rules at her Catholic high school. She dyes her hair a bizarre blend of red and pink, and insists on being addressed as Lady Bird by everyone.

Despite being an academic underachiever, she's banking on college as her ticket out of town. She hates boring Sacramento, and won't settle for a school anywhere but in New York City. But instead of studying to pick up her grades, she indulges her impulses by running for class president and trying out for a role in The Tempest. Plus, her hormones are raging, and she's a little boy crazy, too. So, excuse her for not being able to keep her eyes on the university prize.

The plot thickens in a variety of surprising ways it would be almost evil to spoil here. Suffice to say that Lady Bird is a fantastic, female-centric, instant classic reminiscent of both Juno (2007) and Bridesmaids (2011). Written and directed by Mumblecore movement maven Greta Gerwig, the picture is also ostensibly semi-autobiographical, since the Sacramento native attended an all-girls Catholic school before moving to Manhattan to attend Barnard College. 
A delightful crowd pleaser well deserving of Oscar nominations for Best Picture, Best Actress, Best Director and Best Original Screenplay!

Excellent (4 stars)
Rated R for profanity, sexuality, teen partying and brief graphic nudity
Running time: 93 minutes
Production Company: Scott Rudin Productions/ IAC Films / Management 360
Distributor: A24

To see a trailer for Lady Bird, visit:

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Wonder Wheel

Film Review by Kam Williams

New Woody Allen Pic Proves Terribly Disappointing

I suppose Woody Allen was due for a dud. After being distracted during the Nineties by a bitter divorce and custody battle, the four-time Oscar-winner had enjoyed quite a resurgence since the turn of the century with a string of critically-acclaimed offerings that included Small Time Crooks (2000), The Curse of the Jade Scorpion (2001), Match Point (2005), Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008), Midnight in Paris (2011) and Blue Jasmine (2013).

While Wonder Wheel might not be Woody's best film, it's certainly his worst of this millennium. The film is set in the Fifties on Coney Island, where the first thing you notice is that everybody's white, whether on the beaches or in the amusement park.

Yes, movies made back then were often lily-white productions which gave no hint that African-Americans even existed. But it's a bit of a head-scratcher to witness a director taking his cues from a less-enlightened era, as if there's still a reason, today, to hide the fact that there were plenty of black Coney Island patrons.

Besides constantly asking myself "Where the black people at?" the picture had this native New Yorker cringing at many of the characters' inauthentic Brooklyn accents. The most distracting was Jim Belushi's vaguely-familiar staccato. It took me half the movie to figure out that he was imitating the classic Chicago accent appropriately adopted by Dan Aykroyd to play opposite John Belushi in The Blues Brothers (1980).

Equally-unconvincing, if not as annoying, were the manners of speaking of co-stars Justin Timberlake, Kate Winslet and Juno Temple. Bensonhurst-born Steve Schirripa was the only lead actor to have the local cadence correct. Perhaps Woody shoulda also let Steve serve as the cast's voice coach. 
Besides all of the above, the unengaging script left a lot to be desired. At the point of departure, we learn that a middle-aged waitress (Winslet) is cheating on her carousel operator husband (Belushi) with a young lifeguard (Timberlake). The plot thickens when her miserably-married stepdaughter (Temple) moves back home unexpectedly, and proceeds to fall head-over-heels for her hunky lover, too. 
This critic couldn't figure out why Timberlake was intermittently breaking the fourth wall to address the audience directly. Worse is the absence of any trademark Woody Allen humor, unless unintentionally funny moments count. Overall, a cinematic disaster that makes The Room (2003) look like Citizen Kane (1941). 

Fair (1 star)
Rated PG-13 for sexuality, profanity, smoking and mature themes
Running time: 101 minutes
Production Studios: Amazon / Gravier Productions
Distributor: Amazon Studios

To see a trailer for Wonder Wheel, visit:

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Top Ten DVD List for December 5, 2017

by Kam Williams

This Week’s DVD Releases

Angry Inuk [Endangered Species Expose' about Canadian Seal Hunts]

The War Show [Syrian DJ Documents Her Country's Civil War]

Gun Runners [The American Dream... Kenyan Style]

Karl Marx City [Big Brother Cautionary Tale]

One Day at a Time [The Complete Series]

Better Watch Out [You Might Be Home, but You're Not Alone]

Maurizio Cattelan: Be Right Back [Iconoclastic Artist Biopic]

The White King [Dystopian Sci-Fi Drama]

Despicable Me 3 [Gru Finds His Long-Lost Twin Brother]

On Wings of Eagles [The Eric Liddell Story]

Honorable Mention

Richard Simmons: Sweatin' to the Oldies [30th Anniversary Edition]

Midsomer Murders [John Barnaby's First Cases]

Conor McGregor: Notorious [If You Want It All, You Have to Fight for It]

World Series Champions 2017: Houston Astros [Collector's Edition]

World Series Champions 2017 [Houston Astros vs. L.A. Dodgers]

Guardians [Meet the New Superheroes]

Howard Lovecraft and the Undersea Kingdom [No Squiddin' Around]

Santa Stole Our Dog! [Featuring an Original Song by Dolly Parton]

Digimon Adventure tri: Confession [Collectible Combo Pack]

Saturday, December 2, 2017

The Man Who Invented Christmas

Film Review by Kam Williams

Sentimental Tale of Redemption Credits a Compassionate Charles Dickens for the Way We Celebrate Christmas

Charles Dickens (1812-1870) is considered the preeminent novelist of the Victorian Era because of his touching and timeless tales that shed light on the plight of the poor. He probably began developing an empathy for the less fortunate at an early age. That's because he had to drop out of school to work in a factory to support the family after his bankrupt father (Jonathan Pryce) went to a debtors' prison.

Charles' challenging childhood ostensibly served as the source of inspiration for such coming-of-age classics as "The Adventures of Oliver Twist," "Great Expectations" and "David Copperfield." But the book which has had the most profound effect on Western culture is "A Christmas Carol," since it irreversibly altered how we celebrate the holiday. 
That notion is the genesis of "The Man Who Invented Christmas," Les Standiford's historical narrative recounting the events in December of 1843 leading up to Dickens' publishing "A Christmas Carol." Now, that opus has been adapted to the big screen by Bharat Nalluri (MI-5) as a sentimental tale of redemption.

As the film unfolds, we find a cash-strapped Dickens (Dan Stevens) living beyond his means and struggling to support his family. Truth be told, he didn't even marry his wife, Kate (Morfydd Clark), and have the the first of their ten kids until 1836. That anachronism makes one wonder to what extent the picture conveniently takes further license with the facts in order to spin a heartwarming yarn. 
Anyhow, with debt collectors closing in, we see Dickens fighting writer's block to crank out another best seller after releasing three bombs in a row. Luckily, key elements of A Christmas Carol, like the characters Ebenezer Scrooge (Christopher Plummer) and The Ghost of Christmas Past (Anna Murphy) come to him in a variety of ways, ranging from dreams to an offhand observation made by his humble, Irish housekeeper (Donna Marie Sludds).

He proceeds to publish the novella on December 19th, and the first edition sells out before Christmas. More importantly, the manuscript's moving message about catching the spirit of the season made a lasting impact that still shapes the way we observe the holiday. 
Merry Capitalism!

Very Good (3 stars)
Rated PG for mature themes and mild epithets
Running time: 104 minutes
Production Studio: Parallel Films / Rhombus Media
Distributor: Bleecker Street

To see a trailer for The Man Who Invented Christmas, visit:

Friday, December 1, 2017


DVD Review by Kam Williams

Biopic Chronicling Career of Forgotten Jewish Philanthropist Released on DVD

Julius Rosenwald was born on August 12, 1862 in Springfield, Illinois to a couple of German-Jewish immigrants who met each other in the U.S. His father was a traveling salesman who plied his trade by foot until he was able to save enough money to afford a horse. 
Raised in a house located right across the street from the home of President Abraham Lincoln, Julius dropped out of high school and moved to New York City to learn the ins-and outs of the garment industry. The aspiring clothier was befriended there by Henry Goldman, co-founder of Goldman Sachs.investment bank and a future financier of his business ventures. 
Julius eventually moved to Chicago where he not only started a family with his wife Gussie but embarked on an enviable career as an entrepreneur. By 1906, he'd parlayed his success into a 50% stake in Sears Roebuck, and he subsequently orchestrated its expansion from a mail order catalog company into a mammoth, department store chain. And, by the time he retired as CEO, he'd accumulated a fortune which, adjusted for inflation, would amount to over a billion in today's dollars. 
Believe it or not, that impressive accomplishment pales in comparison to Julius's considerable cultural contributions as a philanthropist. For, as a devout Jew, he took to heart his faith's solemn mandate to engage in compassionate charitable activities. 
He was outraged by the disgraceful mistreatment of African-Americans in the South where most were denied access to decent public schools and libraries, based on the “separate but equal” rationale sanctioned by the Jim Crow system of segregation. After all, white supremacy was predicated on the belief that the education of minorities was a threat to be denied at all costs.

So, in 1912, Julius decided to join forces with Booker T. Washington in order to afford black Southerners a fair shot at the American Dream. Between then and his death in 1932, he would underwrite the construction of over 5,500 school buildings in poor, rural African-American communities. By the time he was done, a third of all black kids living in the South would be attending one of his institutions.

Of course, this development rankled inveterate racists, and many a Rosenwald school became the target of the Ku Klux Klan torch. Not one to be easily discouraged, however, Julius quickly resurrected any edifice burned to the ground, some on more than one occasion.

It is important to note that Julius did not restrict his philanthropic efforts to the South. For instance, he opened YMCAs for blacks in 25 cities where the organization's facilities were designated “White Only,” including his hometown of Chicago. He also erected Rosenwald Courts, an upscale apartment complex in the Windy City which became home to Joe Louis, Jesse Owens, Quincy Jones and other icons. 
In addition, he sponsored substantial scholarships for promising African-American artists and academics, whether they were living in the U.S. or abroad. Among that program's beneficiaries were Ralph Ellison, James Baldwin, Arna Bontemps, Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, Gordon Parks, Jacob Lawrence, Ralphe Bunche, Dr. Charles Drew and Marian Anderson, to name a few. 
Directed by Aviva Kempner (The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg), Rosenwald is an inspirational and informative documentary which belatedly gives a little-known humanitarian his due. Paying homage, here, are a number of luminaries like Congressman John Lewis, director George C. Wolfe, Pulitzer Prize-winner Eugene Robinson and the late poet laureate Maya Angelou, each of whom is a grateful alum of a Rosenwald school. 
A touching bio about a selfless, self-made billionaire who'd probably prefer to be remembered as a tireless proponent of the notion that black lives matter.

Excellent (4 stars)
Running time: 96 minutes
Distributor: Ciesla Foundation
DVD Extras: Over 4 1/2 hours of bonus features and a free, downloadable teaching guide.

For theatrical screening information in your area, visit:
To see a trailer for Rosenwald, visit:

To order a copy of Rosenwald: The Remarkable Story of a Jewish Partnership with African-American Communities, visit:

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

Blu-ray Review by Kam Williams

Luc Besson's Visuallly-Captivating, Sci-Fi Spectacular Comes to Home Video

In 1997, Luc Besson released The Fifth Element, a visually-captivating sci-fi adventure which netted four Cesars, including Best Film and Best Director. A couple of decades later, Luc is back with Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, an even more innovative, outer space odyssey, if that's possible. The groundbreaking extravaganza is based on "Valerian and Laureline," a comic book series written by Pierre Christin and illustrated by Jean-Claude Mezieres.

The futuristic tale is set in the 28th Century, and stars Dane DeHaan in the title role as a time/space traveling military officer for Alpha, a city with a thousand planets. Straitlaced Major Valerian patrols that universe with Laureline (Cara Delevingne), a Sergeant well-versed in virtual reality operations. 
He also happens to have a crush on his relatively-rebellious sidekick, although she routinely rebuffs his romantic overtures. And they report directly to Commander Arun Filitt (Clive Owen) who, in turn, answers to General Okto Bar (Sam Spruell) as well as Alpha's Minister of Defense (Herbie Hancock). 
The film unfolds on Mul, a utopian paradise inhabited by a peaceful species of bald, bejeweled, barely-clothed creatures. It isn't long before their carefree frolicking is irreversibly disrupted by an unprovoked attack on the planet by an unknown army of hostile aliens. 
The picture abruptly shifts from this devastating apocalypse to a serene scenario worlds away where we find Valerian and Laureline relaxing on a sandbar and soaking up rays. He awakens from a bad dream, a subtle suggestion that everything that we've just witnessed might've merely been a figment of his imagination. 
It would be criminal for me to spoil your cinematic experience by divulging any further developments. Suffice to say that the protagonists proceed to embark on a breathtaking, intergalactic roller coaster ride worth way more than the price of admission. 
Along the way, they cross paths with an array of colorful characters ranging from a space age pimp (Ethan Hawke) to a solicitous stripper with a heart of gold (Rihanna). But people mostly serve as distracting interruptions in this eye-popping, special f/x-driven spectacular to remember. 
All I can say after watching it is, "Wow!"

Excellent (4 stars)
Rated PG-13 for action, violence, suggestive material and brief profanity
Running time: 137 minutes
Production Studio: EuropaCorp
Distributor: Lionsgate Home Entertainment
Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack Extras: Citizens of Imagination: Creating the Universe of Valerian (a multi-part documentary); Enhancement Pods; The Art of Valerian Photo Gallery; teaser trailer; and the final trailer.

To see a trailer for Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, visit:

To order a copy of Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets on Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack, visit: