Monday, February 20, 2017

Nocturnal Animals




DVD Review by Kam Willams



Susan Morrow (Amy Adams) hears from her estranged, ex-husband Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal) for the first time in almost 20 years when he mails her an advance copy of his upcoming novel, "Nocturnal Animals." Not only is she surprised to discover that he's dedicated the book to her, but that he'd like to get together for dinner the next time he's in Los Angeles.

Far more unsettling is Edward's semi-autobiographical manuscript which seems to be making thinly-veiled references to their failed marriage. While Susan had managed to move on with her life, it is suddenly apparent to her that he'd remained stuck in the past and might now be rehashing their relationship as a literary form of therapy.

After all, back when they were dating, Susan had been warned by her imperious, well-heeled mother (Laura Linney) that she'd regret tying the knot with a romantic, aspiring writer from a relatively-humble background. Sure enough, the family matriarch knew best, as the mismatched couple did eventually divorce.

However, while Susan went on to become a celebrated art curator and to remarry a businessman (Armie Hammer) who could afford to keep her living in the lap of luxury, Edward has yet to achieve anything approaching their level of success. Instead, the emotionally-stunted scribe has ostensibly been venting all of his angst in an opus that truly frightens his former wife.

It is abundantly clear that the novel's unstable protagonist, Tony Hastings (Jake Gyllenhaal), is based on Edward, and that the salacious series of events chronicled in the oft-gruesome text are the product of a terribly troubled mind. The only reason Susan might even entertain the idea of a rendezvous with a man she hasn't even spoken to in a couple of decades, against her better judgment, is the fact that she's just learned that her second hubby is having an affair.

So unfolds Nocturnal Animals, a cerebral suspense thriller directed and adapted by Tom Ford from the Austin Wright best seller, "Tony and Susan." The movie's only Oscar nomination was landed by veteran thespian Michael Shannon in the Best Supporting Actor category.

The film revolves around a sublime deconstruction of Susan's shifting mental state, from her present-day predicament, to flashbacks of her relationship with Edward, to her perspective of disturbing scenes from his unpublished novel. A haunting deconstruction, worthy of Hitchcock, of a vulnerable socialite's very fragile psyche.



Excellent (4 stars)
Rated R for menacing, violence, profanity and graphic nudity
Running time: 116 minutes
Distributor: Universal Pictures Home Entertainment
Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack Extras: Three Making of Nocturnal Animals featurettes: Building the Story; The Look of Nocturnal Animals; and The Filmmaker's Eye: Tom Ford.


To see a trailer for Nocturnal Animals, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-H1Ii1LjyFU

To order a copy of Nocturnal Animals on Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack, visit:  




American Masters: Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise


Premieres nationwide Tuesday, February 21 at 8 p.m. on PBS (check local listings)

PBS-TV Review by Kam Williams


PBS' American Masters Broadcasts Revealing Retrospective about the Late Icon


Maya Angelou (1928-2014) was born Marguerite Annie Johnson,in St. Louis, Missouri on April 4, 1928 to parents for whom she and her big brother Bailey soon became a burden. When Maya was just 3, the siblings were sent alone by train to live with their paternal grandmother in Arkansas where they would be terrorized by the Ku Klux Klan.

At 7, Maya moved back to St. Louis, only to be molested by her now single mother's boyfriend. When she reported the rape, the perpetrator was soon murdered under mysterious circumstances. 
 
Maya subsequently fell mute and was shipped back to her grandma's house. Although she couldn't talk, she did take to reading like a fish to water. And by the time she spoke again at the age of 12, she'd become very acquainted with the classics ranging from Shakespeare to Langston Hughes to Edgar Allan Poe. 
 
Unfortunately, exposure to great literature didn't save Maya from further trauma, as she would become a single-mom at 17 after being pressured into a sexual encounter with a boy who wanted nothing more to do with her. She subsequently supported herself and her son, Guy, by holding an array of odd jobs, including work in the sex trade industry as a stripper, prostitute and even a madam. 
 
Yet somehow, Maya would overcome her humble roots and checkered early career to become an African-American icon and a very respected writer in her own right. That miraculous recovery is the subject of Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise, a reverential retrospective offering an intimate look at the life of the late poet/author/actress/director/civil rights activist. 
 
Co-directed by Bob Hercules and Rita Coburn Whack, the film features heartfelt reflections by an array of luminaries, including Bill and Hillary Clinton, Oprah Winfrey, John Singleton, Cicely Tyson, Dave Chappelle and Valerie Simpson, to name a few. For example, we hear Secretary Clinton refer to her as "a phenomenal woman" while Lou Gossett, Jr. credits her with raising his political consciousness. 
 
A poignant portrait of a sex abuse survivor's unlikely path from abandoned street urchin to consummate poet laureate! 
 
Excellent (4 stars)
Unrated
Running time: 114 minutes
Distributor: PBS


For a behind-the-scenes peek at Common on the set with Maya Angelou, visit: https://youtu.be/O8pLATICKq8

For an excerpt featuring Maya Angelou speaking about her role in a production of Porgy and Bess, visit: https://youtu.be/TYIzoL5bJmI

To see a trailer for Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ihsqa4mVjEw

To order a copy of Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise on DVD, visit:

 





Oscar Predictions 2017



Your Guide to the Academy Awards
by Kam Williams

Will La La Land make history by eclipsing the record of 11 Academy Awards? Damien Chazelle's magical homage to the Hollywood musical definitely has a decent shot. After all, it's a lock to win in 5 categories: Best Picture, Director, Score, Original Song, and Sound Mixing. And it 's the heavy favorite in another 5: Lead Actress, Cinematography, Costume Design, Production Design and Film Editing. 
 
That leaves Sound Editing, Original Screenplay and Lead Actor. La La's best shot at tying the record will be by beating the World War II epic, Hacksaw Ridge in Sound Editing. 
 
If successful there, it has two paths to 12. Unfortunately, Ryan Gosling is unlikely to win for Lead Actor because he's up against some very stiff competition in Casey Affleck and Denzel Washington. That leaves Original Screenplay where Manchester by the Sea has the advantage by virtue of its being a super-realistic drama as opposed to an escapist musical fantasy.

Nevertheless, I'm optimistic that the Academy voters will pull the lever for the very-deserving La La Land a record-breaking dozen times.


The Envelope Please
Who Will Win, Who Deserves to Win, Who Was Snubbed

Best Picture

Will Win: La La Land
Deserves to Win: La La Land
Overlooked: Deadpool


Best Director

Will Win: Damien Chazelle (La La Land)
Deserves to Win: Damien Chazelle
Overlooked: Denzel Washington (Fences) and Theodore Melfi (Hidden Figures)
Comment : Wunderkind Damien Chazelle, at 32, becomes the youngest Best Director winner in history.


Best Actor

Will Win: Casey Affleck (Manchester by the Sea)
Deserves to Win: Casey Affleck
Overlooked: Ryan Reynolds (Deadpool)
Comment: Denzel Washington might upset Affleck, if the Academy decides to overcompensate for its complete snubbing of minority actors the last two years. And Ryan Gosling has a puncher's chance of prevailing if La La Land's sweep turns out to be a record-breaking tsunami.


Best Actress

Will Win: Emma Stone (La La Land)
Deserves to Win: Emma Stone
Overlooked: Amy Adams (Arrival) and Annette Bening (20th Century Women)
Comment: Stone is a shoo-in for three reasons. First, Viola Davis opted to compete in the Supporting Actress category. Second, it was an off-year for perennial-nominee Meryl Streep whose performance in Florence Foster Jenkins was undeserving. Third, Amy Adams wasn't even nominated. Fourth, Emma's the only Lead Actress nominee whose movie was also nominated for Best Picture.


Best Supporting Actor

Will Win: Mahershala Ali (Moonlight)
Deserves to Win: Mahershala Ali
Overlooked: Andre Holland (Moonlight) and John (La La Land)
Comment: 2016 was a breakout year for Mahershala Ali who was only on screen in Moonlight for about 20 minutes. But he always cuts such a mesmerizing presence that he could have just as easily been nominated for Hidden Figures, Kicks or Free State of Jones.


Best Supporting Actress

Will Win: Viola Davis (Fences)
Deserves to Win: Viola Davis
Overlooked: Greta Gerwig (20th Century Women) and Janelle Monae (Moonlight)
Comment: Viola Davis finally gets the Oscar she deserved for The Help. This go-round, she strategically avoided a head-to-head showdown with Meryl Streep by downsizing her starring role into a support performance.


Best Original Screenplay

Will Win: La La Land
Deserves to Win: La La Land
Overlooked: Loving
Comment: La La Land manages to squeak by Manchester by the Sea, a critical win on an historic night.


Best Adapted Screenplay

Will Win: Moonlight
Deserves to Win: Moonlight
Overlooked: Deadpool
Question: Why was Moonlight nominated for the Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar, but nominated in the Best Original Screenplay category by both the British Academy and the Writers Guild of America?


Predictions for the Balance of the Categories

Animated Feature: Zootopia
Foreign Language Film: Toni Erdmann
Documentary Feature: 13th
Cinematography: La La Land
Costume Design: La La Land
Production Design: La La Land
Film Editing: La La Land
Makeup and Hairstyling: Star Trek Beyond
Original Score: La La Land
Best Song: La La Land ("City of Stars")
Sound Editing: La La Land
Sound Mixing: La La Land
Visual Effects: The Jungle Book
Animated Short: Piper
Documentary Short: Extremis
Live-Action Short: Ennemis Interieurs

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Top Ten DVD List for February 21, 2017

by Kam Williams


This Week’s DVD Releases

Manchester by the Sea

Hacksaw Ridge

Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise
 

Nocturnal Animals

Dirty Dancing: 30th Anniversary Collector's Edition

Grace and Frankie: Season Two

Sophie and the Rising Sun

The Level: Series 1


Air Bound

Beauty and the Beast


Honorable Mention

The Great & the Small


Scooby-Doo! Shaggy's Showdown

Bad Santa 2: Unrated

Alzheimer's: Every Minute Counts


Dinosaur Train: What's at the Center of the Earth

Friday, February 17, 2017

Hacksaw Ridge


 
DVD Review by Kam Williams


Best Picture Nominated WWII Biopic Arriving on DVD 
 

Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield) was born in the Blue Ridge Mountains where he was raised as a Seventh-day Adventist. Devoutly religious, he followed his faith's literal interpretation of the 10 Commandments, including the 5th's dictate that "Thou shalt not kill." So, when he rushed to enlisted in the Army right after the Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor, he did so as a Conscientious Objector.

But because he was unwilling to touch, let alone carry a weapon, Desmond was teased mercilessly by other members of his platoon. In fact, he was not only beaten to a pulp by a bully (Luke Bracey), but court-martialed for failing to complete the weapons part of basic training.

However, the military tribunal ruled in Desmond's favor after his World War I veteran father (Hugo Weaving) showed up to testify on his behalf. Still, his fellow G.I.s remained reluctant to embrace a comrade they suspected to be a coward, since they had just been taught by hard-nosed Sergeant Howell (Vince Vaughn) that a unit was no stronger than its weakest link.

Nevertheless, Desmond was commissioned as a medic with the 307th Infantry with whom he would more than prove his mettle on the island of Okinawa in the bloodiest battle of World War II. For, he exhibited extraordinary courage over the course of a month spent dodging bullets and bombs to attend to the wounded during the siege of Hacksaw Ridge.

Desmond would save the lives of 75 grateful soldiers, and his selfless exploits would be appreciated by both grateful buddies and the Pentagon. And the heroic medic eventually became the first Conscientious Objector to be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.

All of the above is recounted in riveting fashion in Hacksaw Ridge, a gripping biopic directed by Mel Gibson. The critically-acclaimed docudrama was nominated for six Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Director and Lead Actor (Andrew Garfield). The action-oriented flick features very graphic battlefield tableaux reminiscent of the gory D-Day reenactments found in Saving Private Ryan (1998).

When not devoting its attention to recreating gruesome war scenes, the flashback flick focuses on Desmond's formative years , as well as to his whirlwind romance with Dorothy Schutte (Teresa Palmer), the pretty nurse he fell in love with at first sight and married shortly before shipping out for the Pacific Theater of Operations. The film fittingly brings down the curtain with archival newsreels and stills of the real-life Desmond and Dorothy to ensure there won't be a dry eye in the house following the closing credits. 
 
A moving portrait of an unorthodox war hero who contributed considerably to the effort without ever wielding a weapon against the enemy.



Excellent (4 stars)
Rated R for graphic violence, gruesome images and ethnic slurs
Running time: 131 minutes
Distributor: Lionsgate Home Entertainment
Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack Extras: Deleted scenes, Veterans Day greeting from director Mel Gibson; and The Soul of War: Making Hacksaw Ridge documentary.


To see a trailer for Hacksaw Ridge, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s2-1hz1juBI
 

To order a copy of Hacksaw Ridge on Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack, visit:




Manchester by the Sea


 
DVD Review by Kam Williams



Six-Time Nominee Out on DVD

Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) was having a hard time hanging on to his job as a janitor in Quincy, Massachusetts, when he received word from a family friend (C.J. Wilson) that his big brother, Joe (Kyle Chandler), had just suffered a heart attack after a fall on his fishing boat. Lee immediately rushed to the hospital only to learn that his sibling had just passed away. 
 
Joe had been raising his son (Lucas Hedges) alone, since his long-estranged wife (Gretchen Mol) had a serious, substance abuse problem. Therefore, it now not only falls upon Lee's shoulders to inform Patrick about the tragedy, but to serve as the grieving teen's guardian and role model, in accordance with his brother's last wishes.

Out of a sense of duty, Lee reluctantly moves back to his hometown, Manchester by the Sea, a place where he'd already experienced more than his share of misfortune. While subsequently trying to control a headstrong, 16 year-old, he finds himself forced to confront his demons when he crosses paths with his contrite ex-wife (Michelle Williams). 
 
Thus unfolds Manchester by the Sea, a character-driven drama written and directed by Kenneth Lonergan. This heartrending portrait of a working-class hero has been nominated for a half-dozen Academy Awards in the Best Picture, Director, Original Script and three acting categories. 
 
Lee is not your typical protagonist, not by a long shot. He's an uncharismatic underachiever with a checkered past. Yet, by the same token, it is clear that he is determined to do his best by the boy with whose care he's been entrusted. Trouble is, Lee's a man of few words who simply doesn't come equipped with a sophisticated skill set.

Still, Lonergan somehow manages to explore the inscrutable everyman's psyche in a novel way which not only makes him accessible, but likable. Credit must go to Casey Affleck, too, for his nonpareil performance in a role where he was often forced to resort to non-verbal communication in myriad situations where words would ostensibly escape Lee. 
 
An emotionally-engaging tale of redemption .



Excellent (4 stars)
Rated R for sexuality and pervasive profanity
Running time: 137 minutes
Distributor: Lionsgate Home Entertainment
Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack Extras: Deleted scenes, a conversation with writer/director Kenneth Lonergan; and Emotional Lives: The Making of Manchester by the Sea.


To see a trailer for Manchester by the Sea, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gsVoD0pTge0

To order a copy of Manchester by the Sea on Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack, visit: 

 










Thursday, February 16, 2017

Fist Fight

 
Film Review by Kam Williams


Temperamental Teacher Challenges Nerdy Colleague to Duel in Kitchen Sink 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 the mariachi band hired to follow the principal around. 
 
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 and replace them with more jokes.



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

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