Sunday, May 28, 2017

Before I Fall



DVD Review by Kam Williams


Shades of "Groundhog's Day" in Adaptation of Young Adult Best Seller


Samantha "Sam" Kingston (Zoey Deutch) was a spoiled-rotten brat the night she perished in a tragic car crash. First of all, she and her little sister Izzy (Erica Tremblay) were lucky enough to be raised in the lap of luxury by a couple of loving parents (Jennifer Beals and Nicholas Lea).

Secondly, the recently-deceased 17 year-old was not only leaving behind a handsome boyfriend in Rob (Kian Lawley), but an ardent admirer in Kent (Logan Miller), a Platonic friend she'd taken for granted since grade school. Sam was also pretty popular at Ridgview High School where she was a member of an exclusive clique along with her three BFFs, Liz (Halston Sage), Elody (Medalion Rahimi) and Ally (Cynthy Wu).

The snobby quartet took delight in teasing classmates like lesbian Anna (Liv Hewson) and reclusive outcast Juliet (Elena Kampouri). So, Sam would think nothing of participating in such mean girl rituals as dumping drinks on Juliet while calling her a "psycho bitch." 
 
However, after the accident, she was afforded an unusual opportunity to reconsider her cruel behavior when, instead of proceeding to the hereafter, her spirit miraculously reentered her body. Upon opening her eyes, she realized that it was again dawn on February 12th, and that she was about to relive the same day again.

In fact, Sam's about to experience February 12th over and over, while learning valuable lessons in tolerance each go-round. Thus unfolds Before I Fall, a bittersweet tale of redemption based on Lauren Oliver's young adult novel of the same name. 
 

At first blush, the picture's premise reads rather reminiscent of the Bill Murray classic Groundhog Day (1993), although this is a drama as opposed to a comedy, and it's set on February 12th instead of the 2nd. The movie was directed by Ry Russo-Young (Nobody Walks), who puts a fresh enough spin on the familiar theme to make you forget Groundhog Day after 15 minutes. 
 
Kudos aplenty are in order for Zoey Deutch who's incredibly convincing as Sam in a demanding role which calls for the exhibition of a considerable acting range over the course of the story. Her supporting cast delivers stellar work selling an escapist fantasy which might otherwise fall apart oh so easily. 
 
A deja vu-driven, surrealistic morality play designed to leave you deep in reflection and weeping as you walk up the aisle.



Excellent (4 stars)
Rated PG-13 for mature themes, bullying, sexuality, violent images, profanity and underage drinking
Running time: 99 minutes
Distributor: Universal Pictures Home Entertainment
Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack Extras: None




To see a trailer for Before I Fall, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0rgEzpE93so

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

 







The Women's Balcony (Ismach Hatani)


Film Review by Kam Williams



Women Resist Replacement Rabbi's Repressive Rules in Delightful Tale of Female Empowerment

A bar mitzvah is in full swing at an Orthodox temple in Jerusalem when the balcony designated for women worshipers suddenly gives way. Once the dust settles, the attendees discover to their horror that the collapse has left the wife of the rabbi in a coma, and her inconsolable husband (Abraham Celektar) in a state of shock. 
 
As the days roll by, it becomes clear that neither Rabbi Menashe nor the Mussyof Synagogue will be back to normal anytime soon. With the building closed pending renovations, the congregation is initially grateful to find a temporary home out of town. However, its distant location makes it impossible to assemble a minyan, the quorum of 10 required to stage a religious service.

A savior seemingly arrives in David (Avraham Aviv Alush), a young rabbi who is not only willing to host services nearby but to supervise the synagogue's restoration project. Trouble is, he is also an ardent advocate of an ultra-orthodox philosophy, and it isn't long before he attempts to implement his patriarchal interpretation of the scriptures.

First, he directs the women to exhibit more modesty by always covering their heads with a scarf. Next, he announces that the temple's balcony will not be repaired after all and that they will have to pray in a different room from the men for now on, as dictated by ancient tradition.

None of this news sits well with the tight-knit ladies of Mussyof who immediately mount a rebellion. Taking a page out of Aristophanes' 2,500 year-old classic, Lysistrata, as well as from Spike Lee's latest "joint," Chi-Raq, they conspire to withhold sex until their hubbies come to their senses. 
 
All of the above plays out in hilarious fashion in The Women's Balcony, a delightful tale of female empowerment directed by Emil Ben-Shiron. The picture was already a hit over in Israel where it landed five of that country's Academy Award nominations. Kudos, too, to Menemsha Films' Neil Friedman who has an uncanny knack at acquiring charming sleepers likely to be a hit with art house aficionados, a la Dough, The Rape of Europa, Beauty in Trouble and The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg, to name a few.
Don't miss Menemsha's latest jewel, a comical clash of outlooks, pitting a self-assured sisterhood against a bewildered, backwards brotherhood.


Excellent (4 stars)
Unrated
In Hebrew with subtitles
Running time: 96 minutes
Production Studio: Pie Films
Distributor: Menemsha Films


To see a trailer for The Women's Balcony, visit:


Saturday, May 27, 2017

Fist Fight


 
DVD Review by Kam Williams




Ice Cube and Charlie Day Square-Off in Over-the-Top Comedy


Do you remember how, when you were growing up, if a couple of classmates came to blows on the schoolyard, they would be quickly separated to the suggestion that they settle their differences off campus at the end of the day? That was the point of departure of Three O'Clock High, a 1987 comedy about a bully with a short fuse who challenges a mild-mannered milquetoast to a duel after school.

Ostensibly inspired by that teensploitation classic, Fist Fight is a slight variation on the theme which flips the script by having a couple of teachers squaring-off instead of students. Otherwise, the basic idea remains intact. 
 
The movie co-stars Ice Cube and Charlie Day as Ron Strickland and Andy Campbell, respectively, colleagues at Roosevelt High. Intimidating history teacher Ron cuts a sharp contrast to nerdy English teacher Andy, and much of the humor revolves around their difference in temperament. 
 
The action unfolds on the last day of.school which is when we find seniors running a muck and pulling a variety of outrageous pranks like kicking the spout off a water cooler and rocking the ineffective security guard's (Kumail Nanjiani) golf cart while he's still sitting in it. Despite the insanity, the faculty is doing its best to maintain decorum.

Nevertheless, Mr. Campbell's lesson on why words matter is interrupted by the antics of class clowns. He's able to handle the disruption far better than Mr. Strickland who proceeds to blow his cork.

The plight thickens when both teachers are summoned to Principal Tyler's (Dean Norris) office to explain why Ron chopped a disrespectful pupil's desk in half with an ax. The upshot of the meeting is that Ron loses his job because of Andy, so he challenges him to a fight after school. Consequently, fraidy cat Campbell spends the rest of the afternoon trying to find a way to avoid the confrontation. 
 
Too bad, the ensuing buildup to the big showdown between the adversaries proves to be less entertaining than the promising premise. For, the two share few funny moments following the setup. Luckily, this kitchen sink comedy continues to deliver courtesy of such student stunts as hiring a mariachi band to follow the principal around the halls. 
 
The movie marks the feature film debut of actor-turned-director Richie Keen, who also makes a cameo appearance as a computer store employee. And the support cast includes the scene-stealing Tracy Morgan whose quirky trademark mannerisms are put on full display. 
 
Note, Fist Fight is a relentlessly-profane romp which might have set a record for the use of the F-word. Since the closing tableau sets up the sequel, might I suggest that the next installment cut down on the curses in favor of more jokes.



Good (2 stars)
Rated R for sexuality, nudity, drug use and pervasive profanity
Running time: 91 minutes
Distributor: Warner Brothers Home Entertainment Group

Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack Extras: Deleted scenes; and a Georgia Film Commission featurette.



To see a trailer for Fist Fight, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9aIzXYo6VCE

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

 

Black Butterfly

 

Black Butterfly
Film Review by Kam Williams


Recluse Comes to Regret Bringing Good Samaritan Home in Riveting Suspense Thriller


Paul (Antonio Banderas) is the literary equivalent of a one-hit wonder. The flash in the pan enjoyed a short-lived success, thanks to the best-seller he published while still in his twenties. Back then, he became the toast of the town when the popular tome was adapted to the big screen, even though the movie bore no resemblance to his book besides having the same title.

But that was decades ago. Now, all the money's gone. The hangers-on have disappeared, too, and so has his wife (Alexandra Klim). As of late, he's turned into a recluse, living alone in the mountains of Colorado in a rundown cabin he can no longer afford to keep up. 
 
He fritters away most of his days drinking at a desk in a darkened room, praying for the inspiration to produce another masterpiece. Unfortunately, he's suffering from such a terrible case of writer's block that all he ever types are the words "I am stuck" over and over again.

Upon bottoming out with little hope of recovering, Paul admits to himself that it's time to sell house. So, he lists the property with Laura (Piper Perabo), an attractive realtor he hires more for her looks than her expertise. After all, he's knows her very first client. 
 
His judgment proves even worse when it comes to making friends. For, he decides to bring back to his place the Good Samaritan (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) who saved him from a trucker with road rage. Only after Paul agrees to let the stranger crash for a few days, does the guy reveal that he "just got out of prison and ain't never goin' back." 
 
Might this be the creep responsible for the recent rash of murders in the area? Unfortunately, Paul's located in an isolated spot in the woods without any internet, TV or cell phone service. 
Nevertheless, the plot thickens with the unannounced arrival of several visitors, including Laura, a delivery boy (Nicholas Aaron), and a cop (Vincent Riotta) looking for a missing mailman. 
 
Thus unfolds Black Butterfly, an English language-remake of Papillon Noir (2008), a French film featuring the same basic premise. Directed by Brian Goodman (Sal), this compelling suspense thriller slowly ratchets up the tension only to unravel during the denouement, thanks to a humdinger of a twist. 
 
A riveting whodunit spoiled somewhat by a rabbit-out-of-the-hat resolution.









Very Good (3 stars)
Rated R for profanity and violence.
Running time: 93 minutes
Distributor: Lionsgate Premiere



To see a trailer for Black Butterfly, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LaOymYQ3nMM



Friday, May 26, 2017

Dee Hunter

The “Voting Rights Project” Interview
with Kam Williams


Lawyer on a Mission to Preserve the Hard-Fought Right to Vote

Dee Hunter is the Executive Director of The Civil Rights Center, a Washington, DC-based public advocacy organization dedicated to advancing the public interest in the areas of criminal justice reform and voting rights. The Civil Rights Center is a national leader in the fight to end the Crosscheck Program, a discriminatory, GOP project ostensibly-designed to purge masses of minority voters from the polls.

Dee has a long history of political advocacy and organizing. He has worked on numerous political campaigns and for several non-profit political organizations including Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow Coalition, Ralph Nader’s Appleseed Foundation, Americans for Democratic Action, The American Nurses Association and SEIU. And he is currently a Palast Foundation Fellow.

Dee studied political science at American University and is a graduate of Howard University School of Law. He is currently a Masters of Divinity candidate at Wesley Theological Seminary. here, he talks about launching the Voting Rights Project.



Kam Williams: Hi Dee, thanks for the interview.
Dee Hunter: Thank you, Kam, for covering this important issue.

KW: Why are you launching the Voting Rights Project in Georgia?
DH: The Voting Rights Project is a campaign to combat the GOP mass voter purge scheme called the Crosscheck Program. It is fundamentally flawed, racially and politically discriminatory. The Crosscheck Program is a list of people who have purportedly registered to vote in two different states. The list contains approximately seven million names and is terribly flawed. It has resulted in the mass purging of millions of minority voters. Kansas Secretary of State, Kris Kobach, a pioneer of racial and partisan voter suppression, started Crosscheck.
We demand that Georgia end these illegal mass purges. We want to bring attention to Crosscheck, and the widespread voter suppression and persecution of voting rights activists that is going on throughout Georgia. We want to be sure they don’t use Crosscheck to steal the 6th Congressional District like Trump stole the Presidential election. We are starting with Georgia and targeting the 20 most competitive Congressional Districts in states currently using the Crosscheck Program.

KW: What sort of voter suppression has transpired in the state?
DH: The systemic voter suppression and illegal persecution of voting rights activists in Georgia is more reminiscent of 1917 rather than 2017. Georgia officials have engaged in hostile racially and partisan motivated persecution of voting rights activists throughout the state. Its runs from the Governor and Secretary of State offices down to local, county voter registration boards. They first gerrymander the election districts illegally diluting our vote, then pass restrictive ID and registration laws. Next, they reduce the number of places where and the hours during which we can vote, and purge us by the hundreds of thousands using the Crosscheck Program. They also engage in a pattern of harassment and intimidation of voting rights activists. If you register people to vote in certain parts of Georgia you face the possibility of going to jail. People are afraid of retaliation for helping to register people to vote.

KW: How have they been getting away with this?
DH: Georgia has been a pioneer in voter suppression. Gerrymandering of state legislative districts in 2000 was the beginning of the modern onslaught. In 2008, Georgia adopted the Crosscheck Program while other states were dis-enrolling because of its unreliability. But Georgia adopted one of the most stringent Voter ID laws and felony disenfranchisement laws in the country. Elected officials throughout the state have engaged various suppression tactics. Secretary of State Brian Kemp has led the efforts. Kemp’s tenure has been plagued with multiple illegal mass purges. He has unlawfully refused to accept tens of thousands of voter registration applications because of small technical errors.
He has also shortened the period for early voting, reduced the polling places in minority neighborhoods. He has generally engaged in a pattern and practice of harassment and intimidation of voting and civil rights activists.

KW: How do you hope to prevent further violations in Georgia?
DH: I The strategy is threefold. It involves litigation, legislation, and mobilization. We are bringing together some of the most successful voting rights activists and organizations in the state to discuss tactics and strategies to combat Crosscheck, voter suppression and persecution. We are developing a Georgia Voting Rights Act that would stop the Crosscheck Program and other illegal mass purges. It would also liberalize voter registration and make it easier for people to register and to vote. Considering the extent that the GOP controls the legislature and state government, we are in for a long battle. Civil rights and voting rights groups have been quick to turn to the courts to combat voter suppression in Georgia. The results have been mixed. Recent legal victories in redistricting are encouraging. Even when courts have ruled in favor of voting rights activists the state has refused to follow court orders. Activists are begging to bring lawsuits against election officials and other state officials in their personal capacity when they persecute activists and abuse their power. We must increase awareness and engagement. The same passion shown in the fight to save healthcare must be applied to voting rights. Trump won the state by 200,000 votes. If we increase minority turnout by three percent, candidates that would support expanding voting rights would win statewide. It is literally going to take hand-to-hand combat, door-to-door grassroots organizing at the neighborhood level.

KW: What do you think of Trump’s Election Integrity Commission?
DH: It should be more appropriately called the Voter Suppression Commission. It is a very dangerous development. Kobach is the chair of this commission and will use it to make it more difficult to register to vote and to vote. Trump is delusional. His claim that millions of people committed voter fraud costing him the popular vote is just as valid as his assertion that the Russian interference in the election is “fake news.” Any Secretary of State involved with this commission is assisting the enemies of voting rights.

KW What is the next stop for The Voting Rights Project?
DH: We are organizing in Virginia in June and in North Carolina in July. We are targeting the most competitive Congressional Districts in every state participating in Crosscheck. They stole the 2016 presidential election. We are going to fight to make sure they don’t steal another.

KW: Thanks again for the time, Dee, and best of luck with the Voting Rights Project.
DH: Thank you for taking the time to cover this important issue, Kam.










Thursday, May 25, 2017

Abacus: Small Enough to Jail


Film Review by Kam Williams


Justice Denied Documentary Chronicles Racist Targeting of Chinese-American Bank

Asian-Americans are often referred to as the "model minority" because of their success in the U.S. despite the existence of discrimination which has crippled other ethnic groups. However, the label has also led many a racist to misread Asian modesty as an invitation to treat them like doormats.

Consider the serious rudeness done to Dr. David Dao, the Vietnamese-American physician who was beaten to a pulp by the police and dragged off an airplane for refusing to surrender a seat that he'd paid for to a United Airlines employee flying for free. Lost in the sauce was the fact he and his family were very likely selected because of the color of their skin. After all, the airline employee probably specifically targeted the Dao family never expecting members of the model minority to put up much of a fuss about getting bumped.

Abacus: Small Enough to Jail is a jaw-dropping documentary which chronicles an equally-outrageous example of bigotry, this time against the Sungs, a clan of Chinese-American immigrants. Inspired by the classic film "It's a Wonderful Life," family Patriarch Thomas Sung founded Abacus Federal Savings Bank in 1984 in the heart of New York City's Chinatown.

He was motivated to help his community after repeatedly witnessing how other lending institutions were willing take Chinese people's deposits, but were very hesitant to let them borrow any money. Abacus flourished over the years, and his daughters, Jill and Heather, joined the family business as executives after becoming lawyers.

The world came crashing down around them all when the bank and 19 of its employees were charged with conspiracy, larceny and fraud in the wake of of the 2008 subprime mortgage crisis. What's stunning is that Abacus was the only financial institution the government ever held responsible criminally for the collapse of the mortgage market. Furthermore, the case was based entirely on evidence which Abacus itself had turned over to federal regulators upon unearthing felonious behavior on the part of a loan officer it fired on the spot.

Was the ensuing prosecution malicious or warranted? Judge for yourself. But don't be surprised if this chilling expose leaves you convinced the Sungs were innocent victims of a thoroughly corrupt legal system doling out "justice" in color-coded fashion, even when it comes to white-collar crime.

Excellent (4 stars)
Unrated
In English, Mandarin and Cantonese with subtitles
Running time: 88 minutes
Production Studio: Kartemquin Films
Distributor: PBS


To see a trailer for Abacus: Small Enough to Jail, visit:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6lX87ASYhQk

Kam's Kapsules for movies opening June 2, 2017

Weekly Previews That Make Choosing a Film Fun
by Kam Williams


OPENING THIS WEEK


BIG BUDGET FILMS

Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie (PG for pervasive, mildly rude humor) Ed Helms supplies the voice of the title character in this screen version of the animated TV series about a couple of fourth grade pranksters (Kevin Hart and Thomas Middleditch) who hypnotize their principal into believing he's the tighty-whities wearing hero of the comic book they've created. With Jordan Peele, Nick Kroll and Sugar Lyn Beard.

Wonder Woman (PG-13 for action, violence and suggestive content) Latest incarnation of the DC Comics superheroine, set during World War I, finds the Amazon warrior princess (Gal Gadot) rescuing a downed American pilot (Chris Pine) and accompanying him to London where she joins the fight on the side of the Allies. Cast include Robin Wright, Danny Huston and David Thewlis.


INDEPENDENT & FOREIGN FILMS

3 Idiotas (PG-13 for crude humor and brief profanity) Mexican remake of 3 Idiots, the Bollywood comedy about a couple of college buddies (Christian Vazquez and German Valdez) who belatedly decide to mount a search for a missing classmate (Alfonso Dosal) five years after he disappeared without a trace on their graduation day. Cast includes Martha Higareda, Vadhir Derbez and Sebastian Zurita. (In Spanish with subtitles)

Aaron's Blood (Unrated) Tale of demonic possession about a single-dad's (James Martinez) desperate attempt to reverse his hemophiliac son's (Trevor Stovall) gradual transformation into a vampire in the wake of a blood transfusion. With Michael Peach, Michael Chieffo and Farah White.

All about the Money (Unrated) Action comedy about two guys (Eddie Griffin and Casper Von Dien) tricked into vacationing in Colombia by a broke buddy (Blake Freeman) who wants their help apprehending a drug kingpin (Jose Yenque) with a $25 million bounty on his head. Cast includes Lin Shaye, Danny Trejo and Jonathan Slavin.

Band Aid (Unrated) Marital crisis comedy about a couple that can't stop fighting (Zoe Lister-Jones and Adam Pally) who try to save their relationship by starting a rock band and turning their arguments into songs. Featuring Fred Armisen, Colin Hanks, Jamie Chung and Brooklyn Decker.

Churchill (PG for mature themes, brief battle scene images, pervasive smoking and some mild epithets) Brian Cox plays the legendary British prime minister in this World War II adventure recounting the 96 hours leading up to the D-Day assault on Normandy. With John Slattery as General Dwight Eisenhower, James Purefoy as King George VI and Julian Wadham as General Bernard Montgomery.

Dean (PG-13 for profanity and some suggestive material) Demetri Martin wrote, directed and stars in this romantic dramedy as a commercial artist grieving the loss of his mom who falls in love with a woman (Gillian Jacobs) he meets when he travels from Brooklyn to L.A. to negotiate a contract with an advertising agency. With Kevin Kline, Mary Steenburgen and Asif Ali.

Finding Kim (Unrated) Gender identity documentary chronicling 50 year-old Kim Byford's struggle with self-image and self-acceptance in the wake of sexual reassignment surgery transitioning her from a woman to a man.

Handsome Devil (Unrated) Homoerotic, coming-of-age drama about the close bond unexpectedly forged between a bullied loner (Fionn O'Shea) and a popular jock (Nicholas Galitzine) after they're forced to share a dorm room at boarding school. Featuring Andrew Scott, Moe Dunford and Jay Duffy.

Opening Night (Unrated) Musical comedy revolving around a failed actor-turned-production manager's (Topher Grace) desperate attempt to save his new show by whipping his eccentric cast and crew into shape. Supporting cast includes Anne Heche, Taye Diggs and Rob Riggle.

Radio Dreams (Unrated) A day-in-the-life comedy, set in San Francisco, about a Farsi-language radio station manager's (Mohsen Namjoo) attempt to stage a live broadcast pairing Metallica and Abdul Dreams, Afghanistan's very first rock band. With Lars Ulrich, Raby Adib, Siddique Ahmed and Sulyman Qardash as themselves. (In English, Persian, Assyrian Neo-Aramaic and Dari with subtitles)

The Recall (R for violence, profanity and some nudity) Sci-fi thriller about five friends whose vacation at a cabin in the woods is ruined by an invasion of aliens bent on abducting humans. Co-starring Wesley Snipes, Jedidiah Goodacre and Laura Bilgeri.

Vincent N Roxxy (R for nudity, graphic sexuality, gruesome violence, brief drug use and pervasive profanity) Emile Hirsch and Zoe Kravitz portray the title characters in this crime thriller about a mysterious drifter and a rebellious punk rocker who fall in love on the run after he saves her from a vicious killer (Kid Cudi). With Zoey Deutch, Emory Cohen and Beau Knapp.