Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The Machine (FILM REVIEW)



The Machine
Film Review by Kam Williams

Scientists and Military Struggle of Robot in Futuristic Sci-Fi Thriller

            Vincent McCarthy (Toby Stephens) is an English computer genius conducting experiments in Artificial Intelligence with the assistance of Ava (Caity Lotz), a brilliant scientist recently arrived from the United States. He’s highly motivated because he hopes to mend his mentally-disabled daughter.
            However, Vincent’s research is being underwritten by Britain’s Ministry of Defense which might have less peaceful plans for the fruits of his labors. The plot thickens soon after Ava perishes in an accident, and he implants her brain in the body of a robot which looks just like her and… Voila! A babelicious cyborg is born!
            Ava 2.0 is so na├»ve she can neither understand the concept of death nor appreciate her own superhuman strength. That innocence taps into Vincent’s protective parental instincts.
            Unfortunately, the army is only interested in weaponizing what they see as an invention with unlimited military potential. After all, it’s currently in an arms race with a resurgent China, and Ava will give the West the competitive edge.
            Written and directed by Caradog W. James, The Machine is a very compelling sci-fi thriller, for a film resting on a preposterous premise. The film is blessed with shadowy cinematography and just the right pseudo-scientific babblt to make this critic think maybe it’s all possible.
            Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the title character is cute and curvy and not a confounding concatenation of nuts and bolts. This cautionary tale also has a sobering message to share about the perils of allowing technology to fall into the wrong hands.
            Beware, the Manchurian android!  

Very Good (3 stars)
Rated R for violence and profanity
Running time: 91 minutes
Distributor: XLrator Media

To see a trailer for The Machine, visit: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wF6l4LAmN8A    

Monday, April 21, 2014

From the Rough (FILM REVIEW)

From the Rough
Film Review by Kam Williams

Taraji P. Henson Stars as Trailblazer in Inspirational Biopic

            Catana Starks was serving as the female swim coach at Tennessee State University (TSU), when she learned that the school’s Athletic Director, Kendrick Paulsen, Jr. (Henry Simmons), was planning to form a golf team. Since golf had always been her first love, she approached him about becoming the new squad’s head coach.
            Her first hurdle, however, was convincing him that despite being female, she’d be able to field and manage an all-male squad. Second, she’d have to fill the roster with some promising prospects.
            The latter might prove to be quite a challenge, since TSU, as an HBCU (Historically-Black College/University), had an overwhelmingly African-American student body. That might make it hard to recruit good golfers. Try naming me a good black one besides Tiger Woods.
            So, Catana had her work cut out for her when A.D. Paulsen did decide to give her a shot. She began by widening her search beyond the school’s normal pool of African-American candidates.
            She looked near and far, even overseas, and by the beginning of the season she‘d assembled a motley, international quintet comprised of an African-American, a Frenchman, a South Korean, an Australian and a Brit. While they all were talented, each arrived on campus carrying some sort of emotional baggage.
            Ji-Kyung (Justin Chon) is a wannabe gangsta who wears his pants and speaks Ebonic slang. Meanwhile, Bassam (Ben Youcef), an Algerian from Paris, is bitter about the fact that he had to matriculate in America because of discrimination against Arabs back in his homeland.
            Then there’s Edward (Tom Felton), an English juvenile delinquent with a criminal record. Rounding out the crew are Cameron (Paul Hodge), an Aussie with allergies, and Craig, a black kid suffering from the soft bigotry of low expectations.
            Of course, Catana proceeds to whip the boys into shape, intermittently turning to the sage school janitor (the late Michael Clarke Duncan) for advice whenever she feels the weight of the world on her shoulders. The flick also features an interracial romance between bad boy Ed and a Goody Two-Shoes (Letoya Luckett) on her way to medical school.
            So, unfolds From the Rough, an inspirational overcoming-the-odds biopic co-written and directed by Pierre Bagley. The tale of female empowerment unfolds in fairly formulaic fashion, which means it’s designed for youngsters unfamiliar with the shopworn sports genre.
            A well-deserved, if syrupy sweet, overdue tribute to an African-American role model and trailblazer.

Very Good (2.5 stars)
Rated PG for mild epithets and mature themes
Running time: 97 minutes
Distributor:  Freestyle Releasing

To see a trailer for From the Rough, visit: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lKYfKidQnOQ  

Taraji P. Henson (INTERVIEW)



Taraji P. Henson
The “From the Rough” Interview
with Kam Williams
 
You Gotta See Taraji!

Taraji P. Henson earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress opposite Brad Pitt in David Fincher’s THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON. She is a 2011 Emmy-nominee for Best Actress in a Movie or Miniseries for Lifetime’s TAKEN FROM ME. Taraji also starred as Detective Joss Carter in the highly-rated CBS crime drama PERSON OF INTEREST. She was a series regular on BOSTON LEGAL and enjoyed a recurring role on ELI STONE.
On the big screen, she starred in the #1 box office hit THINK LIKE A MAN, as well as in its upcoming sequel, THINK LIKE A MAN, TOO. And in September, she’ll be starring opposite Idris Elba in NO GOOD DEED. 

Taraji’s additional credits include LARRY CROWNE, THE KARATE KID, DATE NIGHT, I CAN DO BAD ALL BY MYSELF, PEEP WORLD, THE GOOD DOCTOR, SOMETHING NEW, NOT EASILY BROKEN, HURRICANE SEASON, THE FAMILY THAT PREYS SMOKIN’ ACES and ONCE FALLEN. In addition, she received rave reviews for her work in TALK TO ME and HUSTLE & FLOW, making her singing debut performing the Academy Award-winning song “It’s Hard out Here for a Pimp” on the Oscar telecast.

Taraji is well remembered for her role as Yvette opposite Tyrese in BABY BOY, and collaborated with director John Singleton a third time on FOUR BROTHERS. Plus, she was featured in Jamie Foxx’s music video “Just Like Me” and also appeared in Estelle’s “Pretty Please.”

Born and raised in Washington, DC, the Howard University graduate resides in Los Angeles with her son, Marcel. She dedicates much of her spare time to helping disabled and less fortunate children.

Here, she talks about her new film, FROM THE ROUGH, an inspirational biopic where she portrays Catana Starks, the African-American trailblazer who became the first female to coach an NCAA Division-1 men’s team when she accepted the reins of the golf squad at Tennessee State.   


Kam Williams: Hi Taraji, thanks for the interview.
Taraji P. Henson: Oh, no worries, Kam.

KW: What interested you in this film?
TPH: Well, first of all, I’d never seen a movie about a female coach before, outside of that Goldie Hawn comedy from years ago, Wildcats. And I had certainly never seen an African-American woman portrayed this way in a drama. That was the first thing that interested me. Then, when I read the script, I went, “Wow! What an amazing story!” She had all the odds stacked against her, yet she and her team won. And it was all because of the tenacity and belief and passion that she instilled in her players.      

KW: I had never heard of Catana Starks before seeing this film. Why do you think she’s so unheralded?
TPH: Honestly, I don’t know. Maybe, because she didn’t coach at an Ivy League or big name school, but at an historically-black university. That’s another reason why I did the film. I felt the world needed to know about this woman, which is what we’re trying to do now.  

KW: Editor/Legist Patricia Turnier asks: Are you an athletic person?  In other words, what are the similarities and differences between you and Catana Starks?
TPH: [Chuckles] I’m not really an athlete, though I’m quite capable of playing one on TV or film. [LOL] I’ve been to the driving range, and I do have good hand-eye coordination, but that’s about it. I’m not going to try to play basketball.

KW: Patricia also asks: What does Catana Starks mean to you and how did you prepare for the role?
TPH: She means the world to me, because she proved that you can accomplish anything in life as long as you believe, have faith and work hard. How did I prepare for the role? I spent a lot of time at the driving range and talking to Dr. Starks before filming. Because she wasn’t a recognizable figure, I wasn’t worried about walking or sounding like her, I just wanted to bring her essence to life. And that’s all she was concerned about too.    

KW: Has she seen the film? What did she think of it?
TPH: Yes she has, and I think she’s quite happy about it.

KW: Patricia closes by saying: I really enjoyed your performance and your character, Lauren, in Think like a Man. I can't wait to see Think like a Man Too this summer. Is there anything you can share about the sequel without spoiling it?
TPH: We go to Vegas, and one of the couples is getting married, but I can’t say who it is. It is hilarious! Some people say it’s funnier than the first one. But you be the judge, Patricia.

KW: Environmental activist Grace Sinden says: You've had a successful career in movies and television. What aspect of your work has given you the greatest satisfaction?
TPH: What gives me the greatest satisfaction is the number of people I can affect with my gift, with what I do. That’s the most important thing to me, more important than any trophy or award. 
.
KW: Grace has a follow-up. Do you want your son to have a life in show business?
TPH: I want him to find his own passion, whatever that is. I just want him to be happy and successful in whatever he decides to do.

KW: Robin Beckham of PittsburghUrbanMedia says: It was recently reported that Jaden Smith and Jackie Chan are making a sequel to Karate Kid. Will you be rejoining the cast as Jaden’s mother?
TPH: I hope so, if that rumor’s true.

KW: Harriet Pakula-Teweles says: I'm really sorry you got killed off on the TV show Person of Interest. You work with ease in movies, music and TV. Which of these media is your favorite and how does it best show your talents?
TPH: I would have to say movies are my favorite. I love doing TV, too, but it’s always rush, rush, rush. With a feature film, those moments and scenes get a chance to breathe, because you don’t have to accomplish as much in one day.

KW: Documentary filmmaker/professor and author Hisani Dubose says: Not many African-American actors have the juice to greenlight a project. She’s wondering whether you are in a position to get a project that you like greenlighted? 
TPH: I’m getting there. Hopefully, the success of From the Rough will help, because you first have to prove that you’re bankable at the box office, before you can greenlight anything. So, I hope to have that kind of leverage after this film.

KW: Could you say something controversial that would get this interview tweeted?
TPH: I don’t know. I could say a lot of things.


KW: When I asked Marlon Wayans that, he said, “Yeah, I could, but it might end my career.”
TPH: Yeah, totally. [Chuckles]

KW: The Sanaa Lathan question: What excites you?
TPH: Life! Just waking up everyday, and having another chance to get it right.

KW: The bookworm Troy Johnson question: What was the last book you read?
TPH: “I Declare” by Joel Osteen.

KW: The Kerry Washington question: If you were an animal, what animal would you be?
TPH: Probably a bird. I like anything with feathers that can fly.

KW: The Anthony Anderson question: If you could have a superpower, which one would you choose?
TPH: I think I’d like to be able to control the weather, like Storm [the character from the X-Men]. 

KW: The Anthony Mackie question: Is there anything that you promised yourself you’d do if you became famous, that you still haven’t done yet?
TPH: Yes, visit Africa. I haven’t done that yet. 

KW: Attorney Bernadette Beekman asks: What is your favorite charity?
TPH: A charity that my best friend since 7th grade started called Art Creates Life. [ http://www.artcreateslife.org/ ] She raises money to take inner-city children to Africa. Isn’t that crazy? I donate and I support that organization, but I’ve never been to Africa myself. I’ve sent a lot of kids there, though.

KW: That’s funny! The Melissa Harris-Perry question: How did your first big heartbreak impact who you are as a person?
TPH: It proved to me that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

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?
TPH: I’m pretty much the same. I’m consistent. There aren’t two me’s. There is only one me. I can only be myself, and that’s who I always am whether I’m at home or on the carpet.

KW: Thanks again for the time, Taraji. I really appreciate it. Good luck with the film.
TPH: Thank you so much, Kam.

To see a trailer for From the Rough, visit: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lKYfKidQnOQ     

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Tanzania: A Journey Within (FILM REVIEW)



Tanzania: A Journey Within
Film Review by Kam Williams

African and American Travel to Tanzania in Transformational Documentary

            After finishing high school, Venance Ndibalema made the most of an opportunity to leave Tanzania to study physics and philosophy at the University of Miami. Now, he’s ready to visit his homeland for the first time in years, a trip likely to prove traumatic, given the changes both he and the country have undergone during the interim.
            Accompanying him on the eventful return to Dar es Salaam is Kristen Kenney, a fellow Miami alumnus who’s never been to Africa. A child of privilege, she must brace herself for the culture shock involved in adjusting to modest accommodations sans most of the modern conveniences she’s always taken for granted.
            The subsequent sojourn is the subject of Tanzania: A Journey Within, a documentary chronicling Venance and Kristen’s emotional and physical challenges long the way. Directed by Sylvia Caminer, the picture is worth watching for the spectacular visuals and anthropological insights alone, given the off-road trekker’s point-of-view it affords the audience of everything from Mount Kilimanjaro to the Serengeti Plains.                
            However, proving just as compelling is the badinage between Venance and Kristen, as well as their chats with everyone they encounter. He enjoys a reunion with his BFF William, and searches for a sibling he hasn’t seen in over a decade. Meanwhile, Kristen experiences a sense of exhilaration at exploring new places and at being so close to nature, at least until she becomes deathly-ill during a bout with Malaria.
            Nevertheless, she has to admit that she’d grown up in the lap of luxury, so spoiled, in fact that she never even had to cook her own food. By contrast, Venance reflects upon the harshness of formative years spent fatherless in abject poverty exacerbated by his HIV+ mother’s being shunned by her neighbors until the day she finally lost her battle with AIDS.
            Lessons? “We learn through hardship,” Ven rhapsodizes, adding, “If there were no fathers on the planet, I would never have known I needed a father to be a man.” As for Kristen, she finds it hard to leave Africa, “because you get so close to the people so fast.” She also comes away appreciating that “they don’t care about status. They just care about you.”
            “I was soulless before this trip,” the grateful debutante concedes. “This is the real world I was searching for.” Africa from the perspectives of a “Native Son” returning to his roots and of a blue-eyed sister transformed by an unexpected catalyst for spiritual growth. 

Excellent (4 stars)
Unrated
Running time: 103 minutes
Distributor: Heretic Films

To see a trailer for Tanzania: A Journey Within, visit:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZRjlvCLFR_w  
  

Top Ten DVD Releases for 4-22-14



This Week’s DVD Releases
by Kam Williams


Top Ten DVD List for April 22, 2014                       

The Address

Sleep, My Love

The Mr. Magoo Theatrical Collection

The Suspect

Black Nativity

Easy Yoga: The Secret to Strength and Balance

Chances Are [25th Anniversary Edition]

Russia’s Open Book: Writing in the Age of Putin

Bang! Bang! You’re Dead!

Nova: Killer Typhoon


Honorable Mention

Lies We Tell, but the Secrets We Keep

Martial Arts Double Feature: Lady Whirlwind / Hapkido

Tracy Morgan: Bona Fide

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

Tyler Perry  Play: Madea’s Neighbors from Hell

Cowgirls 'N Angels 2: Dakota's Summer

Friday, April 18, 2014

Kam's Movie Kapsules for 4-25-14



OPENING THIS WEEK
Kam's Kapsules:      
Weekly Previews That Make Choosing a Film Fun         
by Kam Williams
For movies opening April 25, 2014


BIG BUDGET FILMS   

Brick Mansions (PG-13 for profanity, sexual menacing, gunplay, drug use and pervasive violence) Remake of the French action-thriller District B-13, now set in a dystopian, walled-in Detroit, and starring the late Paul Walker as a detective determined to rid the city of a drug kingpin (RZA) in league with corrupt cops. With David Belle, Carlo Rota, Catalina Denis, Ayisha Issa and Gouchy Boy.

The Other Woman (PG-13 for profanity, sexual references and mature themes) Romantic comedy revolving around the wife (Leslie Mann) of a shameless womanizer (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) who befriends his two mistresses (Cameron Diaz and Kate Upton) before hatching a plan with them to even the score. With Nicki Minaj, Don Johnson and Tatlor Kinney.

The Quiet Ones (PG-13 for profanity, sexuality, mature themes, smoking, and scenes of intense violence and terror) Supernatural thriller, set in the Seventies, about an Oxford University professor (Jared Harris) heading a team of student researchers which unwittingly unleashes demonic forces while experimenting on a woman (Olivia Cooke) possessed by a Poltergeist. Cast includes Sam Claflin, Erin Richards and Rory Fleck-Byrne.

Walking with the Enemy (Unrated) Fact-based World War II saga, set in Hungary during Nazi occupation, about a young Jewish man (Jonas Armstrong) who, with the help of his girlfriend (Hannah Tointon), masqueraded as an SS officer in order to find his family. With Ben Kingsley, Simon Dutton and William Hope.


INDEPENDENT & FOREIGN FILMS 

Blue Ruin (R for profanity and graphic violence) Macabre thriller about a beach bum (Macon Blair) who returns to his hometown to carry out an act of vengeance only to botch the assassination attempt and end up having to defend his suddenly-imperiled family. With Devin Ratray, Amy Hargeaves and Eve Plumb.  

For No Good Reason (R for profanity, drug content and sexual images) Reverential documentary about Ralph Steadman, the British cartoonist best known for his collaborations with the late, gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson. Featuring file footage plus appearances by Johnny Depp, Terry Gilliam and Jann Wenner.



From the Rough (PG for mature themes and mild epithets) Taraji P. Henson stars in this biopic about Catana Starks, the African-American trailblazer who made history in the mid-Eighties by becoming head coach of Tennessee State’s golf team. With Letoya Luckett, Tom Felton and the late Michael Clarke Duncan. 
  
Gambit (PG-13 for suggestive material, partial nudity and a rude gesture) Crime comedy about an art curator (Colin Firth) who conspires with a Texas rodeo queen (Cameron Diaz) to trick his abusive, filthy-rich boss (Alan Rickman) into buying a fake Monet. Cast includes Stanley Tucci, Cloris Leachman and Togo Igawa. (In English and Japanese with subtitles)

The German Doctor (PG-13 for mature themes and brief nudity) True tale, set in Patagonia in 1960, about an Argentinean family who had no idea it was living with Nazi fugitive Josef Mengele (Alex Brendemuhl), the wanted war criminal known as the Angel of Death. Co-starring Natalia Oreiro, Diego Peretti and Florencia Bado.

Jeune et Jolie (Unrated) Coming-of-age drama about a 17 year-old virgin (Marine Vacth) who turns to prostitution after being deflowered by a German boy (Lucas Prisor) she meets while on vacation with her parents (Frederic Pierrot and Geraldine Pailhas) in the south of France. With Charlotte Rampling, Nathalie Richard and Akela Sari. (In French with subtitles)

Last Passenger (R for profanity) Suspense thriller about the struggle for survival by passengers on a hijacked, London commuter train whose emergency brake doesn’t work. Starring Dougray Scott, Kara Tointon and Iddo Goldberg. 

Locke (R for pervasive profanity) Distracted driving drama, set in England, about a construction foreman (Tom Hardy) whose life is irreversibly altered by a series of phone calls he receives while driving from Birmingham to London. With Olivia Colman, Ruth Wilson and Andrew Scott. 

The Machine (R for violence and profanity) Sci-fi thriller about a couple of Artificial Intelligence researchers (Caity Lotz and Toby Stephens) who successfully implant a human brain in a robot only to have it turned into a weapon by the British military which had funded their experiment. Featuring Sam Hazeldine, Denis Lawson and Pooneh Hajimohammadi.     

Tanzania: A Journey Within (Unrated) Road documentary chronicling a vacation shared by a couple of University of Miami grads, one, an African returning to his humble roots, the other, an American debutante visiting the continent for the first time.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Vanishing Pearls (FILM REVIEW)



Vanishing Pearls: The Oystermen of Pointe a la Hache
Film Review by Kam Williams

Gulf Oil Spill Pits Black Fisherman vs. BP in David vs. Goliath Documentary

            On April 20, 2010, the Deepwater Horizon, a drilling rig owned and operated by British Petroleum (BP), exploded, spilling over 50 million barrels of oil in the Gulf of Mexico before it was finally capped weeks later. In June, President Obama announced that the company had set aside $20 billion in cash designated to help those deleteriously affected by the ecological disaster.
            Kenneth Feinberg’s law firm, which had previously handled the distribution of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund, was retained at a rate of $850,000/month to handle the BP one also. Although the TV commercials running in the company’s highly-saturated PR campaign would have you believe that it was contrite and committed to undoing any damage, truth be told, that carefully-cultivated corporate image bore little relation to how it was actually treating many of the victims seeking restitution.
            Take, for example, Pointe a la Hache, an African-American enclave located in Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana. For generations, the men of that Gulf shore village of less than 300 had supported their families by plying their trade as oyster fishermen. However, the BP spill put the brothers out of business and by 2012 the tiny black community had effectively been turned into a ghost town.
            Its little-known ordeal is the subject of Vanishing Pearls, a heartbreaking documentary directed by Nailah Jefferson. The film retraces the blight visited upon Pointe a la Hache by focusing primarily on the plight of a local leader named Byron Encalade.
            Mr. Encalade was the owner of Encalade Fisheries, a family business which employed his brother, his nephew and five of his cousins. In the wake of the spill, he filed a claim and very patiently awaited a check from BP.
            But when he finally received a letter stating, “Your file is denied,” his whole world was turned upside-down. Now, a proud provider who had never in his life looked to the government for a handout suddenly found himself dependent on food stamps. His relatives also needed help from friends, charities and subsidies to survive, and had trouble understanding why no one cared about their predicament.
            Meanwhile, Attorney Feinberg, ostensibly running interference for the profit-driven polluter, publicly stated “I see no evidence of anything other than fair treatment by BP. I think they wanted to do the right thing, and they did.”
            His conclusion was a far cry from that of embittered Byron who lamented, “They’ve destroyed us… The world must know what BP did to this community.” Sadly, the devastation visited upon Pointe a la Hache is most likely a microcosm of a scenario being played out again and again in working-class communities all along the Gulf Coast.  


Excellent (4 stars)
Unrated
Running time: 80 minutes
Distributor: AFFRM

To see a trailer for Vanishing Pearls, visit: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kv_fSdu_tI8