Friday, December 14, 2018

Ben Is Back

 

Film Review by Kam Williams


Addict Unexpectedly Arrives Home for Christmas in Dysfunctional Family Drama

Holly (Julia Roberts) and Neal (Courtney B. Vance) are raising a family in a quaint country home in upstate New York ostensibly far removed from the sort of woes which plague the inner city. It's Christmas Eve, and we meet Holly in church where she's patiently watching three of her four kids practicing for the Christmas pageant.

However, looks can be deceiving, since missing from the idyllic picture is her eldest child, Ben (Lucas Hedges). For, the troubled 19 year-old has been living at a drug rehab center where he's managed to keep clean for the past 77 days. 
 
But Ben has left the facility without permission to be with the folks over the holidays. And the trouble starts when he breaks into the house when nobody's there upon his arrival. 
 
Understandably, Holly and Neal have different reactions to Ben's return. She naively welcomes her Prodigal Son with open arms. Meanwhile, his African-American stepdad is very skeptical about allowing the addict to stay, pointing out that, if he were black, he'd probably be in prison rather than a halfway house. 
 
Neal's not only concerned about the prospect of Ben using again, but about the welfare of Lacey (Mia Fowler) and Liam (Jakari Fraser), his impressionable, young offspring with Holly. By contrast, teenage stepdaughter Ivy (Kathryn Newton) is well aware of Ben's tendency to relapse, and is dead set against an impromptu reunion.

Unfortunately, headstrong Holly gets the final say. Against her better judgment and Ben's own warning that he can't be trusted, she agrees to a one-day visit. What ensues is a harrowing 24-hour nightmare the gullible mom will come to regret.

Thus unfolds Ben Is Back, a timely cautionary tale written and directed by Peter Hedges (Pieces of April). It stars his son Lucas in the title role opposite Julia Roberts who proves quite convincing as a mom in denial who becomes increasingly frazzled over the course of the misadventure. 
 
As chilling a depiction of the suburban opioid epidemic as you are apt to find onscreen.


Very Good (3 stars)
Rated R for drug use and pervasive profanity
Running time: 103 minutes
Production Studio: Black Bear Pictures / 30 West / Color Force
Studio: LD Entertainment / Roadside Attractions / Lionsgate

To see a trailer for Ben Is Back, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MI9NdYktzfE

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Kam's Kapsules for movies opening December 21, 2018


Weekly Previews That Make Choosing a Film Fun  
by Kam Williams

OPENING THIS WEEK



WIDE RELEASES



Aquaman (PG-13 for action, violence and some profanity) Jason Momoa stars as the legendary DC character in this origins tale which finds the reluctant superhero forced to face his destiny as king of Atlantis in order to defend the underwater kingdom and the rest of the planet from his power-hungry half-brother (Patrick Wilsson). With Amber Heard, Willem Dafoe, Dolph Lundgren, Djimon Hounsou and Nicole Kidman.



Ben Is Back (R for drug use and pervasive profanity) Lucas Hedges plays the title character in this coming-of-age drama about a troubled teen who arrives home unexpectedly on Christmas Eve after running away from a drug treatment center. With Julia Roberts, Courtney B. Vance and Kathryn Newton.



Bumblebee (PG-13 for action and violence) Spinoff of the Transformers franchise revolving around the adventures of a young autobot (Dylan O'Brien) resuscitated by an 18 year-old (Hailee Steinfeld) after being found battle-scarred and broken in a junkyard along the California coast. Cast includes John Cena, Angela Bassett, Len Cariou and Justin Theroux.


The Favourite (R for profanity, nudity and graphic sexuality) Olivia Colman portrays Queen Anne (1665-1714) in this biopic revolving around the bitter battle between the Duchess of Marlborough (Rachel Weisz) and a servant (Emma Stone) for the frail monarch's friendship and affections. With Emma Delves, Faye Daveney and Paul Swaine.



Mary Poppins Returns (PG for mature themes and brief action) Emily Blunt assumes the title role in this musical sequel which finds the magical nanny reunited with the now-grown Michael (Ben Whishaw) and Jane Banks (Emily Mortimer) in the wake of a family tragedy. With Lin-Manuel Miranda, Colin Firth and Meryl Streep.



Second Act (PG-13 for profanity and crude sexual references) Fish-out-of-water comedy about a 40 year-old sales clerk (Jennifer Lopez) who lands a dream job she isn't qualified for with help of a doctored resume. Cast includes Milo Ventimiglia, Vanessa Hudgens and Charlyne Yi.



Welcome to Marwen (PG-13 for violence, profanity, mature themes, disturbing images and suggestive content) Fact-based drama about a transvestite (Steve Carell) left with amnesia after a violent, bias attack who tries to recover his memory by building a miniature World War II village in his back yard. Support cast includes Janelle Monae, Leslie Mann, Diane Kruger and Eiza Gonzalez. (In English, French and German with subtitles)






INDEPENDENT & FOREIGN FILMS


Cold War (R for sexuality, nudity and profanity) Romance drama, set behind the Iron Curtain in the 1950s, chronicling the unlikely relationship of a celebrated musical director (Tomasz Kot) and an aspiring, young singer (Joanna Kulig) from a humble background. With Borys Szyc, Agata Kulesza and Cedric Kahn. (In Polish, French, Russian, German, Italian and Croatian)


Swing Kids (Unrated) Musical drama, set at an American POW camp during the Korean War, revolving around a rebellious prisoner (Oh Jung-Se) who forms a tap dancing team with the help of a guard (Jared Grimes) who once worked on Broadway. Cast includes Ross Kettle, Hye-soo Park and Matthew Darcy. (In Korean with subtitles)


They Shall Not Grow Old (R for graphic images) World War I documentary, directed by Peter Jackson, featuring unseen footage and commemorating the centennial of the conflict.




Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Kam's Kapsules for movies opening December 14, 2018


Weekly Previews That Make Choosing a Film Fun
by Kam Williams
 
OPENING THIS WEEK


WIDE RELEASES


The Favourite (R for profanity, nudity and graphic sexuality) Olivia Colman portrays Queen Anne (1665-1714) in this biopic revolving around the bitter battle between the Duchess of Marlborough (Rachel Weisz) and a servant (Emma Stone) for the frail monarch's friendship and affections. With Emma Delves, Faye Daveney and Paul Swaine.


If Beale Street Could Talk (R for profanity and sexuality) Adaptation of James Baldwin's classic novel, set in Harlem, revolving around a pregnant teenager's (Kiki Layne) efforts to free her fiance' (Stephan James) falsely accused of rape. With Regina King, Teyonah Parris and Colman Domingo.



Mortal Engines (PG-13 for action and violence) Post-apocalyptic sci-fi about a fugitive assassin (Hera Hilmar) who joins forces with an outcast (Robert Sheehan) and an outlaw (Jihae) to lead the resistance when the city of London morphs into a giant predator on wheels. With Hugo Weaving, Stephen Lang and Leila George.



The Mule (R for brief nudity and sexuality, and pervasive profanity) Clint Eastwood directed and stars in this crime thriller about a broke World War II vet who unknowingly agrees to transport $3 million in cocaine across Michigan for a Mexican drug cartel. Ensemble cast includes Bradley Cooper, Michael Pena, Laurence Fishburne, Alison Eastwood, Taissa Farmiga and Dianne Wiest.



Roma (R for profanity, graphic nudity and disturbing images) Upstairs/downstairs drama, set in Mexico in 1970, chronicling a year in the life of a middle-class family's maid (Yalitza Aparicio). With Marina de Tavira, Carlos Peralta and Marco Graf. (In Spanish with subtitles)



Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (PG for action, violence, mature themes and mild epithets) Animated reboot of the Marvel Comics franchise revolving around the adventures of a friendly neighborhood Spider-Man (Shameik Moore) from Brooklyn, who is a half-black/half Puerto Rican teen. Voice cast includes Mahershala Ali, Hailee Steinfeld, Lily Tomlin, Nicolas Cage, Zoe Kravitz and Chris Pine.






INDEPENDENT & FOREIGN FILMS


Capernaum (R for profanity and drug use) Coming-of-age tale about a young Lebanese boy (Zain al Rafeea) who sues his parents (Fadi Yousef and Kawsar Al Haddad) for neglect while serving a 5-year sentence for attempted murder. With Yordanos Shiferaw, Cedra Izam and Nadine Labaki. (In Arabic and Amharic with subtitles)


The House That Jack Built (R for nudity, profanity, grisly images, sadistic behavior and disturbing violence) Matt Dillon plays the title character in this suspense thriller about an architect/serial killer reflecting upon each of the murders he had painstakingly-planned over the course of his 12-year spree. Supporting cast includes Bruno Ganz, Uma Thurman and Riley Keough. (In English, German and Italian with subtitles)


The Second Time Around (Unrated) Romance drama about a couple of senior citizens (Linda Thorson and Stuart Margolin) who fall in love upon meeting at a retirement home. With Alexis Harrison, Jayne Eastwood and Don Francks.


The Wedding (Unrated) Romance drama, set in NYC, about a virgin bride-to-be (Nikohl Boosheri) who has no idea her orthodox Muslim fiance' (Sam Abbas) has a gay lover (Harry Aspinwall). With Hend Ayoub, James Penfold and Mihir Chitale. (In English and Arabic with subtitles)




Widows


Film Review by Kam Williams



The Windy City Serves as Setting for Adaptation of Brit Crime Series

Widows was a British TV series which enjoyed a two-year run from 1983 to 1985. Created by legendary English author Lynda La Plante (Prime Suspect), the popular crime show was nominated for a BAFTA award in the Best Television Drama category. In 2002, ABC turned Widows into a four-part miniseries starring Brooke Shields and Rosie Perez, but that substantially-revised overhaul failed to resonate with the American audience.

Now, Academy Award-winning director Steve McQueen (for 12 Years a Slave) has brought a much more faithful adaptation to the screen, although the setting has been shifted from London to Chicago. The crime caper revolves around a trio of widows who opt to follow in their late husbands' felonious footsteps in the wake of a botched bank heist.

McQueen assembled an A-list ensemble featuring Oscar-winners Viola Davis (for Fences) and Robert Duvall (for Tender Mercies), as well as nominees Liam Neeson (for Schindler's List), Daniel Kaluuya (for Get Out) and Jacki Weaver (for Silver Linings Playbook and Animal Kingdom). The impressive cast also includes Colin Farrell and Michelle Rodriguez.

Not long past the point of departure, veteran bank robber Harry Rawlings (Neeson) masterminds a robbery in which he and his partners perish. Trouble is, Harry died indebted to a couple of South Side mobsters (Kaluuya and Brian Tyree Henry) to the tune of $2 million. 

Given a month to come up with cash (or else), Harry's widow Veronica (Davis) hatches a plan to raise the money by burglarizing a safe in the mansion of a well-connected family headed by corrupt, Windy City Alderman Tom Mulligan (Duvall). To that end, she recruits a couple of the other grieving widows (Michelle Rodriguez and Elizabeth Debicki) and a getaway driver (Cynthia Erivo) with promises of a multimillion-dollar payday.

The plot proceeds to thicken in convincing fashion while touching on such timely themes as politics, loyalty, race and class. Since it would be a crime in itself to spoil the ensuing developments even one iota, suffice to say McQueen slowly ratchets up the tension in a searing, multi-layered suspense thriller not to be missed.

With the help of a delicious script expertly executed by a coterie of her talented co-stars, the incomparable Ms. Davis steals the show and delivers yet another Oscar-quality performance. Vintage Viola!


Excellent (4 stars)
Rated R for violence, sexuality, nudity and pervasive profanity
In English and Spanish with subtitles
Running time: 129 minutes
Production Studios: Regency Enterprises / Film4 / See-Saw Films / New Regency Pictures
Studio: 20th Century Fox

To see a trailer for Widows, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nN2yBBSRC78

Kam's Kapsules for movies opening December 7, 2018

 
 Weekly Previews That Make Choosing a Film Fun  
by Kam Williams

OPENING THIS WEEK


WIDE RELEASES

Mary Queen of Scots (R for violence and sexuality) Saoirse Ronan plays the title role in this costume drama based on John Guy's best-selling biography chronicling the charismatic monarch's turbulent reign. With Margot Robbie, Gemma Chan and David Tennant.



Schindler's List (R for profanity, sexuality and some violence) 25th anniversary re-release of Steven Spielberg's Oscar-winning biopic about a German factory owner (Liam Neeson) whose altruistic heroics during World War II saved 1,200 Jews from the Holocaust. Cast includes Ben Kingsley, Ralph Fiennes and Caroline Goodall. (In English, German, Hebrew and Polish with subtitles)



INDEPENDENT & FOREIGN FILMS


Ben Is Back (R for drug use and pervasive profanity) Lucas Hedges plays the title character in this coming-of-age drama about a troubled teen who arrives home unexpectedly on Christmas Eve after running away from a drug treatment center. With Julia Roberts, Courtney B. Vance and Kathryn Newton.


Central Park (Unrated) Genre-bending horror flick about a half-dozen, high school BFFs who end up on the run from a knife-wielding, hooded executioner when they decide to spend a night partying in the park. Ensemble cast includes Grace Van Patten, Ruby Modine, David Valcin and Nicole Balsam.
The Charmer (Unrated) Romance drama, set in Denmark, about an Iranian refugee (Ardalan Esmaili) desperate to seduce a woman who can solidify his immigration status. Featuring Susan Taslimi, Lars Brygmann and Soho Rezanejad. (In English, Persian and Danish with subtitles)


Clara's Ghost (Unrated) Paula Niedert Elliott plays the title character in this dysfunctional family dramedy as a woman who finds solace in a supernatural spirit when she gets fed up with her self-absorbed relatives. With Chris Elliott, Haley Joel Osment and Bella Bracken.


Divide and Conquer: The Story of Roger Ailes (Unrated) Warts-and-all biopic chronicling the rise and fall of the late, longtime chairman of Fox Television/adviser to Presidents Reagan, Bushes 41 and 43, and Donald Trump. Featuring commentary by Glenn Beck, Bill O'Reilly and Megyn Kelly.


Great Great Great (Unrated) Romance drama about a couple (Dan Beirne and Sarah Kolasky) whose blissful relationship starts to fall apart after they get engaged. Support cast includes Richard Clarkin, Lindsay Leese and Ian Fisher.


The Great Pretender (Unrated) Romantic romp, set in NYC, revolving around a French playwright (Maelle Poesy-Guichard) who falls for the star (Keith Poulson) playing her ex in her stage version of their failed relationship. With Linas Phillips, Esther Garrel and Julian Grady. (In English and French with subtitles)


Swimming with Men (Unrated) Mid-life crisis comedy about a miserably-married and jaded accountant (Rob Brydon) who gets a new lease on life when he joins an all-male, synchronized swimming team. Supporting cast includes Rupert Graves, Thomas Turgoose and Adeel Akhtar.


Tyrel (Unrated) Jason Mitchell portrays the title character in this fish-out-of-water drama about an African-American who feels uncomfortable being the only black person attending a lily-white, weekend birthday party in the Catskills. With Christopher Abbott, Trust Arancio and Max Born.


Vox Lux (R for profanity, drug use and graphic violence) Musical drama, set in 1999, chronicling the transformation of an aspiring singer (Raffey Cassidy) into a pop icon with the help of her manager (Jude Law) and songwriter sister (Stacy Martin). With Natalie Portman, Jennifer Ehle and Christopher Abbott.






Monday, December 10, 2018

Green Book

Film Review by Kam Williams

Black Pianist Tours Segregated South with White Chauffeur in Road Trip Dramedy


Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali) was a promising prodigy whose formal training in classical piano began when he was admitted to Russia's prestigious Leningrad Conservatory at the age of 9. Because he had the misfortune of being raised in Florida in the Jim Crow Era, it was very unlikely that his extraordinary talent would be appreciated anywhere in the South upon his return to the States.

The North was decidedly different. While still in his teens, Don was invited by conductor Arthur Fielder to perform with the Boston Pops Orchestra. He would later compose symphonies for the New York Philharmonic and was even allowed to rent an apartment above Carnegie Hall. 
 
In the early Sixties, Don decided to throw caution to the wind by embarking on an eight-week concert tour across the Deep South. This would involve playing numerous “white only” venues where, despite being the headliner, he might not be able to dine or use the restroom.

As far as finding a place to stay, he would turn to the Green Book, a priceless guide for African-Americans in need of public accommodations across the segregated South. And to make sure he kept out of trouble on the road, he hired Tony Lip Vallelonga (Viggo Mortensen), a blue-collar bouncer from the Bronx.

Thus unfolds Green Book, a fact-based buddy flick revisiting the unlikely friendship forged between a stuffy classical artist and his rough-edged driver in the face of their racial and class differences. The movie represents a bit of a departure for director Peter Farrelly, whose name has long been associated with lowbrow comedies like Dumb and Dumber, Shallow Hal and There's Something about Mary.

The relatively-sophisticated Green Book proves to be far more reminiscent of Driving Miss Daisy (1989) than of Farrelly's earlier bottom-feeding fare. In fact, the palpable chemistry generated by co-stars Mahershala Ali and Viggo Mortensen will not be forgotten by the Academy come Oscar season.

A touching biopic with a timely universal message about brotherhood and tolerance.


Excellent (4 stars)
Rated PG-13 for violence, mature themes, profanity, racial slurs, smoking and suggestive material
Running time: 130 minutes
Production Studio: Dreamworks Pictures / Amblin Partners / Innisfree Pictures / Wessler Entertainment / Participant Media /Conundrum Entertainment / Cinetic Media
Studio: Universal Pictures

To see a trailer for Green Book, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QkZxoko_HC0





Kam's Kapsules for movies opening November 30, 2018

 

Weekly Previews That Make Choosing a Film Fun
by Kam Williams

OPENING THIS WEEK 
 


WIDE RELEASES



The Possession of Hannah Grace (R for terror and gruesome images) Kirby Johnson plays the title character in this suspense thriller about a cop (Shay Mitchell) who has horrifying visions when she starts working the graveyard shift at a city morgue. With Stana Katic, Nick Thune and Grey Damon.






INDEPENDENT & FOREIGN FILMS



Anna and the Apocalypse (R for profanity, sexuality, violence and gore) Horror comedy about a teenager (Ella Hunt) who joins forces with her BFF (Malcolm Cumming) to fight the horde of zombies invading their hometown at Christmastime. With Sarah Swire, Ben Wiggins and Mark Benton.



Bathtubs over Broadway (PG-13 for brief profanity) Quirky documentary following comedy writer Steve Young on his quest to collect rare, industrial musical albums. Featuring Florence Henderson, David Letterman, Martin Short and Chita Rivera.



Head Full of Honey (PG-13 for profanity, mature themes and suggestive material) English language adaptation of Honig im Kopf, the 2014 German film about a young woman (Sophie Lane Nolte) who takes her grandfather suffering from Alzheimer's (Nick Nolte) on a trip to Venice. With Emily Mortimer, Matt Dillon, Eric Roberts and Jacqueline Bisset.


The Man Who Mends Women (Unrated) Reverential biopic about Dr. Denis Mukwege Mukengere, the altruistic gynecologist who, for the past 20 years, has treated thousands of disfigured and traumatized rape victims of the Congo's civil war. Narrated by Martin Spinhayer, and featuring commentary by Hillary Clinton.


Mirai (PG for scary images and mature themes) Animated fantasy about a 4 year-old boy (Haru Kuroki) who discovers a magical garden which enables him to time-travel to meet relatives from different eras. Voice cast includes Gen Hoshino, Koji Yakusho and Kumiko Aso. (In Japanese with subtitles)
No Shade (Unrated) Romantic dramedy about a successful black photographer (Adele Oni) frustrated by the fact that the color of her skin is the only thing preventing the man of her dreams (Kadeem Pearse) from falling in love with her. With Sharea Samuels, Judith Jacob and Jade Asha.


People's Republic of Desire (Unrated) Cultural expose' chronicling the evolution of China into a country where virtual reality and social media have become more important than real-life human relationships. (In Mandarin with subtitles)


Sicilian Ghost Story (Unrated) Romantic fantasy about a 12 year-old girl (Julia Jedlikowska) who embarks on a search for the classmate (Gaetano Fernandez) she has a crush on after he mysteriously disappears in an enchanted forest. With Corinne Musallari, Andrea Falzone and Lorenzo Curcio. (In Italian with subtitles)


Unstoppable (Unrated) Korean crime saga about a legendary gangster (Don Lee) who comes out of retirement to rescue his kidnapped wife (Ji-hyo Song) from the clutches of a ruthless mob syndicate. Cast includes Noo-Ri Bae, Min-jae Kim and Seong-oh Kim. (In Korean with subtitles)