Monday, March 27, 2017

The Zookeeper's Wife


Film Review by Kam Williams


Holocaust Drama Recounts Daring Exploits of Heroine Who Save Hundreds of Jews

In 1928, Dr. Jan Zabinski (Johan Heldenbergh) became the director of the Warsaw Zoo. Over the next decade, he ran it with the help of his wife, Antonina (Jessica Chastain), who was something of a wildlife whisperer. The institution flourished under their control until the Second World War began with Hitler's invasion of Poland in September of '39. 
 
The zoo was closed to the public after being repeatedly bombed by the Luftwaffe during the siege of the city. However, the Zabinskis continued to live on the grounds with their young son (Timothy Radford) and the beleaguered animals that survived the attacks. 
 
But once Warsaw was occupied by the Nazis, the couple was ordered to report directly to Lutz Heck (Daniel Bruhl), the Third Reich's recently-appointed chief zoologist. Despite being married, Heck never bothered to hide his lust for Antonina, shamelessly forcing himself on her as they attended to the agglomeration of exotic beasts scattered around the premises. 
 
Knowing that resistance was futile and might cost her her life, Jan directed his wife to submit to the unwelcome advances. And he understandably ended up feeling utterly emasculated by the frustration of failing to prevent her being pawed by the creep. 
 
Nevertheless, the Zabinskis did find an avenue of retaliation in the Polish the resistance movement. Joining the Underground, they secretly helped smuggle Jews destined for the concentration camps out of the Warsaw ghetto. Furthermore, they hid the escapees on the grounds of the zoo at a time when death for you and your family was the punishment doled out on the spot to anyone who dared attempt to rescue a Jew. 
 
This is the spine-tingling series of events chronicled by The Zookeeper's Wife, a fact-based docudrama adapted from Diane Ackerman's best seller of the same name. Ackerman's book, FYI, had been based on an unpublished memoir by Antonina Zabinski herself. 
 
Directed by Niki Caro (Whale Rider), the picture stars Jessica Chastain as the fearless and endearing title character. The two-time, Academy Award-nominee (for The Help and Zero Dark Thirty) delivers another quality performance here, which is no surprise given how Caro has previously coaxed Oscar-nominated performances out of a trio of talented actresses (Charlize Theron, Frances McDormand and Keisha Castle-Hughes). 
 
A bittersweet biopic belatedly paying tribute to an unsung heroine who selflessly put her life on the line in the face of unspeakable evil.


Excellent (4 stars)
Rated PG-13 for violence, disturbing images, mature themes, smoking, sexuality and brief nudity
Running time: 126 minutes
Studio: Scion Films
Distributor: Focus Features


To see a trailer for The Zookeeper's Wife, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rJNFeHHGGN4

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

 

DVD Review by Kam Williams


Eddie Redmayne Stars as Wizard in J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter Spinoff


It's New York harbor in 1926, which is when we are introduced to Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) as he disembarks a steamship from England that's just docked at the pier. The young wizard has to resort to a sleight of hand to slip through customs, since his suitcase is filled to the point of bursting with a unique brand of contraband. 
 
Newt happens to be hiding a menagerie of mythical creatures with unusual names like obscurials, bowtruckles and dougals. Given the unreliable latch on his tattered, leather satchel, it doesn't take long for a mischievous niffler to escape. We soon observe the odd-looking critter breaking into a bank vault where it proceeds to indulge its insatiable appetite for gold by stuffing its pouch with glittery coins. 
 
Newt, however, must get it right back under wraps ASAP, before it arouses the suspicion of Mary Lou Barebone (Samantha Morton). She's the leader of the New Salem Philanthropic Society, a group of no-majs, aka muggles (meaning ordinary human beings), dedicated to the extermination of wizards and witches.

Newt whips out his wand to recapture the naughty niffler in front of Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler), an affable Everyman applying for a loan with hopes of opening his own bakery. Trouble is, since the unassuming fellow has just observed the use of magic, wizardry protocol calls for his memory to be wiped clean on the spot. 
 
But Jacob not only flees before being "obliviated," he inadvertently takes Newt's bag of tricks with him to boot. Next, Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston), a comely witch with the Magical Congress of the United States of America, comes to Newt's rescue. 
 
Thus unfolds Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, a visually-captivating adaptation of the J.K. Rowling best seller of the same name. Although the book was alluded to in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, one need not be familiar with the Potter series at all to appreciate this delightful debut of a fantasy franchise designed for five episodes.

Oscar-winner Eddie Redmayne (for The Theory of Everything) delivers afresh conveying an endearing vulnerability as the picture's bashful protagonist. And he is ably assisted in this endeavor by a stellar supporting cast composed of both A-list actors and an array of computer-generated creatures. 
 
Redmayne's enviable acting range makes Newt Scamander a far more engaging and emotionally- accessible character than Harry Potter ever was. Heavens to Hogwarts!



Excellent (4 stars)
Rated PG-13 for fantasy action violence
Running time: 133 minutes
Distributor: Warner Brothers Home Entertainment Group
Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack Extras: Over an hour of expansive, multi-part feaurettes; 11 deleted scenes; and Before Harry Potter: A New Era of Magic Begins!.

To see a trailer for Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vso5o11LuGU



To order a copy of the Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack , visit: 

 



Saturday, March 25, 2017

Top Ten DVD List for March 28, 2017

by Kam Williams


This Week’s DVD Releases

20th Century Women

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

A Monster Calls

Silence

Jack Taylor: Set 3

Patriots Day

Blow Up [Criterion Collection]

Monster High: Electrified

Frontline: President Trump

Wishmaster Collection [4 Film Set]


Honorable Mention

Arsenal


Silence


 
Blu-Ray Review by Kam Williams


Scorcese Faith-Based Docudrama Revisits Rude Reception of Christianity in Japan

Portuguese traders first landed in Japan in 1543, followed soon thereafter by Francis Xavier and other Jesuits. So many locals started converting to Christianity that, less than a decade later, the emperor issued an edict banning Catholicism and ordering the expulsion of all missionaries. 
 
Violators were forced to either renounce the religion or face crucifixion, which resulted in many of the faithful's going underground to avoid persecution. Consequently, when a cleric disappeared, it was often difficult to discern whether the missing person had been martyred or was merely in hiding. 
 
This was the case with Father Cristovao Ferreira (Liam Neeson) who had been spreading the gospel around Japan for close to a quarter-century before he suddenly vanished without a trace after sending an ominous last letter to a friend. The ensuing silence prompted a couple of his proteges, Fathers Garrpe (Adam Driver) and Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) to mount a desperate search for their mentor, despite the fact that discovery of their identities might mean instant death. 
 
In 1633, the perilous trek began, and that ill-advised expedition is the subject of Silence, a faith-based docudrama directed and co-written by Martin Scorcese. The movie represents a bit of a departure for the legendary Oscar-winner whose name is most closely associated with gory gangster flicks like Goodfellas, The Departed and Mean Streets. 
 
Based on Shusaku Endo's 1996 best seller of the same name, the film was a labor of love which took Scorcese almost three decades to bring to the big screen. The legendary filmmaker ostensibly identifies with the picture's protagonists questioning whether God even exists. 
 
Clocking in at a patience-testing 160 minutes, the deliberately-paced production could easily have shaved another half-hour off the final cut and still delivered the same emotional impact. Blessed with a trio of inspired lead performances, Silence is nevertheless apt to be well received by Born Again Bible thumpers. 
 
A thought-provoking, historical drama chronicling the ultimate test of faith.


Very Good (3 stars)
Rated R for disturbing violence
In English and Japanese with subtitles
Running time: 160 minutes
Distributor: Paramount Home Media Distribution
Blu-ray Extra: Martin Scorcese's Journey into Silence


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

To order a copy of Silence on Blu-ray, visit: 

 

Friday, March 24, 2017

Kam's Kapsules for movies opening March 31, 2017


Weekly Previews That Make Choosing a Film Fun
by Kam Williams


OPENING THIS WEEK


BIG BUDGET FILMS

The Boss Baby (PG for some mildly rude humor) Animated family comedy about a precocious infant (Alec Baldwin) who teams up with his 7 year-old brother (Miles Christopher Bakshi) to foil the dastardly plan of a diabolical CEO (Steve Buscemi) determined to destabilize feelings of love around the world. Voice cast includes Jimmy Kimmel, Lisa Kudrow, Tobey Maguire, ViviAnn Yee and Eric Bell, Jr.

Ghost in the Shell (PG-13 for ) Futuristic sci-fi based on the Japanese comic book series of the same name about a cyborg counter-terrorist commander's (Scarlett Johansson) deployed to prevent power-hungry computer hackers from purloining powerful, mind control technology. With Pilou Asbaek, Juliette Binoche and Takeshi Kitano.

The Zookeeper's Wife (PG-13 for violence, disturbing images, mature themes, smoking, sexuality and brief nudity) Jessica Chastain plays the title character in this true tale, set in Poland during World War II, recounting how a fearless woman hid hundreds of Jews during the Holocaust on the grounds of the Warsaw Zoo. Cast includes Daniel Bruhl, Johan Heldenbergh and Timothy Radford.



INDEPENDENT & FOREIGN FILMS

Aftermath (R for one scene containing graphic violence) Fact-based docudrama about a grief-stricken vigilante (Arnold Schwarzenegger) who seeks to take revenge on the air traffic controller (Scoot McNairy) whose mistake led to the crash which claimed the lives of his wife and daughter. Supporting cast includes Maggie Grace, Kevin Zegers and Hannah Ware.

All This Panic (Unrated) Coming-of-age documentary, set in Brooklyn, chronicling the transition of a group of teenage girls from adolescence to adulthood over the course of three years.

Bwoy (Unrated) Homoerotic drama revolving around a closeted, former physician (Anthony Rapp) who starts cheating on his wife (De'Adre Aziza) with a hunky young Jamaican (Jimmy Brooks) in the wake of their son's untimely death. Featuring Jermaine Rowe, Drew Allen and Ashton Randle.

Cexanne and I (R for profanity, nudity and sexual references) Bifurcated biopic chronicling the lifelong friendship of novelist/philosopher Emile Zola (Guillaume Canet) and Post-Impressionist painter Paul Cezanne (Guillaume Gallienne). With Alice Pol, Deborah Francois and Pierre Yvon. (In French with subtitles)

David Lynch: The Art Life (Unrated) Prestige biopic following David Lynch as he discusses the formative years of his life which helped turn him into an iconoclastic film director.

God Knows Where I Am (Unrated) Poignant post mortem reenacting the events leading to the death by a starvation of Linda Bishop, a homeless woman who tried to survive a harsh New Hampshire winter in an abandoned farmhouse on apples and rain water.

Here Alone (Unrated) Post-apocalyptic sci-fi thriller chronicling the struggle of a young woman (Lucy Walters) to survive in the wilderness in the wake of a mysterious epidemic that has decimated civilization. Cast includes Gina Piersanti, Adam David Thompson and Shane West. (In English and French with subtitles)

Live Cargo (Unrated) Crime thriller about a couple (Dree Hemigway and Lakeith Stanfield) that retreats to an island in the Bahamas to mourn the loss of a baby, only to become entangled in a turf war between the mayor (Robert Wisdom) and a human trafficker (Leonard Earl Howze). co-starring Sam Dillon, Ayumi Iizuka and Frantz Lecoeur. (In English and Creole with subtitles)

The Prison (Unrated) Action thriller revolving around an ex-cop (Rae-won Kim) who pretends to be a convict in order to infiltrate the crime syndicate operating behind bars responsible for the murder of his younger brother. With Woong-in Jeong, Seok-Kyu Han and Kim Sung Kyun. (In Korean with subtitles)

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Chips



Film Review by Kam Williams


Dax Shepard and Michael Pena Co-Star in Raunchy Revival of Classic Cop Series


Whenever a classic television series is made into a movie, the buzz always seems to be about whether the screen version will be a creative variation on the theme or merely a campy, cornball, take-the-money-and-run ripoff trading in familiar formulas and shopworn cliches. After all, for every inspired adaptation like Batman (1989), Charlie's Angels (2000) and 21 Jump Street (2012) there are just as many bitter disappointments, al a Dragnet (1987), I Spy (2002) and Get Smart (2008).

Fortunately, Chips is more in league with the worthwhile remakes rather than the ones leaving you wondering why they ever bothered. The picture was ostensibly a labor of Dax Shepard who wrote, directed, produced and also co-stars in it opposite Michael Pena. They play California Highway Patrol Officers Ponch Poncherello and Jon Baker, the same characters popularized on TV by Erik Estrada and Larry Willcox.

The original, airing for a half dozen seasons starting in 1977, was a buddy action drama basically revolving around the heroic exploits of a couple of mismatched motorcycle cops, with Ponch often going rogue, much to the chagrin of his relatively-straitlaced partner. This go-round, the script has been flipped, so that Jon is more of a misfit. At the point of departure, we find him getting a probationary badge and graduating from the police academy only because Sergeant Hernandez (Maya Rudolph) takes pity on him. 
 
They're both going through difficult divorces, although Jon is desperate to win back his wife (Kristen Bell). He hopes she'll be impressed by his transition into a safer line of work after an accident-prone career as a professional motorcross bike racer. 
 
He's soon teamed with the veteran Ponch to solve a rash of armored car robberies suspected of being pulled off by a gang of crooked cops. They proceed to make a mess of the investigation at every turn, which only makes their terminally-exasperated boss (Isiah Whitlock, Jr.) repeatedly blow his cork. 
 
However, there's little reason to pay attention to the intermittently-incoherent plot, for this kitchen sink comedy's raison d'etre is to generate laughs by any means necessary. To that end, the politically-incorrect bottom feeder easily earns its R rating via an incessant indulgence in scatological, ethnic, sexist, slapstick, bodily function and gay panic fare.

A vulgar but funny enough departure from the classic TV series to warrant recommending.



Very Good (3 stars)
Rated R for crude humor, graphic sexuality, frontal nudity, violence, drug use and pervasive profanity
Running time: 100 minutes
Distributor: Warner Brothers Pictures


To see a trailer for Chips, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0IfqqUTW-i4



Wednesday, March 22, 2017

I Called Him Morgan




Film Review by Kam Williams


Reverential Retrospective Revisits Abbreviated Life of Legendary Jazz Great


Legendary jazz great Lee Morgan (1938-1972) was born and raised in Philadelphia where he received his first trumpet as a gift from his sister on his 13th birthday. He soon became a protege of Clifford Brown who would die in a car accident at the tender age of 25.

Lee passed away prematurely, too, though he was murdered by his common-law wife, Helen, in a fit of jealous rage. She blew him away in between sets at a Greenwich Village cabaret because not only was he cheating on her but had the temerity to bring his mistress with him to the club that night. 
 
Written and directed by Kasper Collin, I Called Him Morgan is a warts-and-all retrospective chronicling the highs and lows of Lee's checkered career. He enjoyed a meteoric rise as a member of Dizzy Gillespie's big band while still in his teens, only to eventually become broke because of a heroin habit that made him so unreliable that nobody in the music industry would hire him anymore.

Upon bottoming out, Lee was lucky to meet Helen, a woman 14 years his senior who put him in rehab and let him move into her Manhattan apartment after he got cleaned up. She subsequently became both his lover and his business manager, negotiating deals and escorting him to gigs.

Initially very grateful, Lee proceeded to make the most of the shot at redemption she afforded him. He resumed performing and churning out albums, and became a very productive and respected member of the jazz community again. 
 
Unfortunately, the accolades and attention accompanying success apparently went straight to his head, and he started taking Helen for granted. Lee had an eyes for the ladies and, when he stopped coming home at night, Helen issued him a warning that she couldn't handle such insulting mistreatment. 
 
Their turbulent relationship came to a head on the night of February 19, 1972 after a heated exchange at Slug's Saloon . First, Lee's new girlfriend confronted Helen. Helen then slapped Lee. Lee tossed Helen out of the bar and into a blizzard without a coat. Helen came back with the gun Lee had given her for protection and shot her philandering man once in the chest. Since it took an ambulance over an hour to arrive due to the heavy snowfall, Lee bled out. 
 
What makes this film so fascinating is that much of it is narrated by Helen herself, albeit posthumously. For, just one month before she died in March of 1996, she sat down to talk with a music professor who recorded her life story for posterity. Besides that audiotape, the documentary features file concert footage, plus the reflections of many of Lee's contemporaries: Ben Maupin, Wayne Shorter, Benny Maupin, Billy Harper and more. 

To paraphrase an age-old maxim, Hell hath no fury like a Helen scorned!



Excellent (4 stars)
Unrated
Running time: 92 minutes
Production Studio: Kasper Collin Produktion
Distributor: Submarine Deluxe

To see a trailer for I Called Him Morgan, visit: https://vimeo.com/181151415