Thursday, January 18, 2018

Trevante Rhodes




The “12 Strong” Interview

with Kam Williams




A Spirited Tête-à-Tête with the Talented Athlete-Turned-Thespian

Trevante Nemour Rhodes was born in Ponchatoula, Louisiana on February 10, 1990, but raised in Little Elm, Texas from the age of 10. After excelling in sports in high school, he earned a scholarship to the University of Texas where he was an All-American sprinter as well as a running back on the Longhorns' football team. 
 
After graduating, Trevante moved to Los Angeles to pursue an acting career, making his big screen debut in Open Windows opposite Elijah Wood and Sasha Grey. A couple of years ago, he landed a breakout role as Black in Moonlight, the gay-themed, coming of age drama which won the Academy Award for Best Picture. 
 
Here, Trevante talks about his latest outing as Sergeant Ben Milo in 12 Strong, a docudrama about the top secret mission of a Special Forces unit deployed to Afghanistan a few days after 9/11.


Kam Williams: Hi Trevante, thanks for the interview.
Trevante Rhodes: Thank you, Kam.

KW: What interested you in 12 Strong? Had you read the book before you got the script?
TR: I read the book after I got the script. Although I was obviously very aware of 9/11, I was fascinated by this story which I had never heard about. I thought that these first responders and the way in which they prevailed was not only unique but pretty important. So, I felt that it was awesome to have an opportunity to be a part of turning this little-known story into a movie. Of course, I also jumped at the chance to work with [producer] Jerry Bruckheimer and the terrific cast attached to the project.

KW: Yeah, I had no idea we had guys fighting on horseback over in Afghanistan. And they were outnumbered and outgunned by the Taliban equipped with tanks, RPGs and heavy artillery.
TR: It was amazing! Those soldiers are heroes, Kam.

KW: Editor/Legist Patricia Turnier asks: How did you prepare to play Sergeant First Class Ben Milo?
TR: My preparation included speaking to quite a few veterans. They were very open and honest about both their downtime and battle experiences. They shared the good, the bad, and everything in between. We also had Army Ranger training for three or for weeks which was not only educational but very valuable in terms of our bonding as a unit.

KW: I assume you didn't work with live ammo.
TR: Definitely not. We had a couple guys who didn't know what they were doing, so that would've been scary.

KW: Have you had an opportunity to meet the soldier your character's based on?
TR: Yeah, just last night at the premiere. He's amazing!

KW: Patricia would like to know what you want the audience to learn from the movie.
TR: I'd like them to come away with an accurate perspective of what it was like in Afghanistan after 9/11. For instance, I was 11 years-old at the time, and I believed all the people over there were bad. But that's obviously not the case, since the only reason why this mission succeeded was because of a lot of help from some locals. Another message is how valuable connectivity, love, honesty and being there for one another are.

KW: She was also wondering whether there's a genre out of your comfort zone that you would like to try?
TR: To be quite honest, nothing I've encountered thus far is outside of my comfort zone. I hope that every film I do is very different from the previous one. What I'm always looking for as an actor is to be challenged in a new way. That way I can be educated and grow. It also enables you to appreciate different points-of-view through your own eyes. But I might not be ready to do a comedy yet, unless I could find one with a cool message.

KW: Lastly, Patricia asks, what is your opinion of colorblind casting?
TR: I always hope that Hollywood casts the best person for a role regardless of what they look like, regarless of their skin color, gender or sexual orientation. And that's been the case in my own experience. I'm very appreciative of where things are at compared to twenty years ago, and I hope they continue to improve in a rapid manner, because we have all kinds of people putting out incredible material and doing phenomenal work.

KW: You seem to have gone straight from athlete to acting very quickly and very successfully. Did you study acting in college?
TR: No, I just took one theater class during my senior year to fulfill a degree requirement, Kam. A professor did suggest that I pursue it further. Then a casting director spotted me on my campus, and I got bitten by the acting bug. And I saw that if you put in the effort, you'd get a certain reward out of it. Because of that, I love acting!

KW: What was it like to be in the Oscar-winning Best Picture, Moonlight?
TR: I was really happy that we won because of all the work everybody put into the film. Barry [director Barry Jenkins] puts an incredible amount of love into everything he does. I also like the fact that a great work of art could win, regardless of who you are or what you look like. I hope winning will help Barry get more opportunities.

KW: Well, his previous film, Medicine for Melancholy, was phenomenal, too.
TR: Yeah! That's what I'm saying, Kam. Even his first college project was amazing. He's great, and I'm very happy for him.

KW: What I found incredible about Moonlight was how I barely noticed that the two main characters were each played by three different people. He somehow made the transitions, as they grew older, seamless.
TR: I think that's a testament to not only Barry's brilliant writing and directing, but to the great casting and acting and the beautiful cinematography. Normally, people think it's crazy to have different people play the same person. But here, all the elements combined to create a masterpiece.

KW: Harriet Pakula-Teweles asks: With so many classic films being redone, is there a remake you'd like to star in?
TR: I'm not sure. More than anything, I'm interested in working with the best directors, the best scriptwriters, the best casts and the best crews willing to work with me, because I believe that great experiences translate to great films.

KW: Finally, Samuel L. Jackson asks: What’s in your wallet?
TR: [LOL] A bank card and a Chipotle celebrity card. That gets me all the good food. Honestly, it's the thing in my wallet I'm the most proud of.

KW: I didn't even know such a thing existed. Thanks again for the time, Trevante, and best of luck with the film.
TR: My pleasure, Kam.



To see a trailer for 12 Strong, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-Denciie5oA


Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Reigning Jeopardy Champ Gilbert Collins Cornered at Princeton's Ivy Inn

 
Kam Williams, Gilbert Collins and Boot Seem
Photo Courtesy of Susan Doran


by Kam Williams



5-Time Winner Gracious Enough to Chat & Take Photo with a Couple of Big Fans

Like clockwork, every Tuesday evening, my wife and I watch Jeopardy on TV before rushing out of the house to play trivia in the weekly contest staged at Princeton's Ivy Inn. But because the reigning champ, Gilbert Collins, lives and works in Princeton, as I turned off the set I mentioned that I'd like to meet and interview him someday. 
 
Little did I know how soon half that wish would come true. For, lo and behold, there he was among the many trivia enthusiasts in attendance at the local watering hole. The handsome Harvard grad was very gracious when me and my buddy Boot introduced ourselves and began peppering him with questions about the show.

And I think he sort of agreed to a tete-a-tete, too. So, watch this space for what promises to be a scintillating chat with a brilliant brother. 

 
Alex Trebek and Gilbert Collins

Photo courtesy of Jeopardy Productions, Inc.

12 Strong

Film Review by Kam Williams




Adaptation of Best Seller Chronicles Exploits of Special Forces Unit Deployed to Afghanistan


A few days after 9/11, President George W. Bush visited Ground Zero where he delivered his iconic Bullhorn Speech standing atop a pile of rubble. Rising to the occasion, he assured the rescue workers and the rest of America that those responsible for the senseless slaughter would soon be held accountable. 
 
Less than a month later, the first contingent of soldiers was dispatched to Afghanistan. Their top secret operation, code named Task Force Dagger, called for them to be dropped off behind enemy lines where they would rendezvous with a ragtag local militia led by General Rashid Dostum (Navid Negahban). Dostum was understandably-skeptical of the newly-forged, Northern Alliance's expectations to topple the Taliban regime in just three weeks. 
 
The American Special Forces unit, composed of a dozen elite soldiers, was led by Captain Mitch Nelson (Chris Hemsworth). He was not only confident that the mission would be successful, but made the bold guarantee that no one under his command would perish in battle.

Because of the rugged terrain, they would be forced to negotiate their way through the mountains on horseback, which also enabled them to blend in with the locals more easily. Whenever encountering the Taliban, they were invariably outnumbered and outgunned. However, according to plan, they were always able to improve their odds by calling for air support from B-52 bombers.

Thus unfolds 12 Strong, a true tale of extraordinary heroism in the face of overwhelming odds. Directed by Nicolai Fuglsig (Exfil), the picture is based on "Horse Soldiers," Doug Stanton's best seller chronicling the declassified exploits of a brave band of brothers. 
 
The action-oriented saga stars Chris Hemsworth and an impressive support ensemble that features Michael Shannon, William Fitchner, Michael Pena, Rob Riggle and Trevante Rhodes. Reminiscent of such John Wayne classics as The Longest Day (1962) and Sands of Iwo Jima (1949), this unapologetically patriotic war flick is a crowd-pleaser most likely to resonate with the flag-waving 'God, mom and apple pie' demographic.



Very Good (3 stars)
Rated R for violence and pervasive profanity
Running time: 130 minutes
Production Studios: Alcon Entertainment / Black Label Media / Jerry Bruckheimer Films
Distributor: Warner Brothers Pictures


To see a trailer for 12 Strong, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-Denciie5oA

Monday, January 15, 2018

I, Tonya


Film Review by Kam Williams




Revisionist Biopic Recasts Disgraced Olympic Skater as Sympathetic Figure


On January 6, 1994, while waiting to compete in the U.S. Figure Skating Championship competition, top-ranked Nancy Kerrigan's (Caitlin Carver) knee was smashed by a billy club-wielding hit man named Shane Stant (Ricky Russert). After the cowardly attack in the halls of Detroit's Cobo arena, the assailant quickly escaped with the help of a waiting getaway car driven by Derrick Smith (Anthony Reynolds). 
 
The two had been hired by Shawn Eckhardt (Paul Walter Hauser) and Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan), Tonya Harding's (Margot Robbie) bodyguard and ex-husband, respectively. At the time, Tonya was vying with Kerrigan for a coveted spot on the U.S. Olympic team slated to compete in Norway the following month.

The injury prevent Kerrigan from skating at the trials, but the U.S. Olympic committee opted to award her one of the two slots, anyway. The other went to Harding who feigned having no knowledge of the attempt to break her main rival's leg 
 
However, the truth ultimately came out once all of the other participants in the conspiracy were arrested and brought to justice. For, the evidence found in the perpetrator's possession included Kerrigan's skating schedule and locations written in Tonya's handwriting. 
 
Furthermore, Eckhardt testified that Harding had not only orchestrated the brutal assault but had impatiently asked why it was taking them so long to get it over with. in the end, she did plead guilty to conspiracy, but was spared a jail sentence on the condition she paid a $160,000 fine, did 500 hours of community service, and promised to never skate competitively again. 
 
Unfortunately, Hollywood has a long history of turning ruthless, real-life criminals into compassionate characters, including Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow (Bonnie & Clyde), Frank Abagnale (Catch Me if You Can) and Robert Stroud (Birdman of Alcatraz), to name a few. Courtesy of I, Tonya, Harding becomes just the latest in a long line of celluloid villains to receive such sympathetic treatment.

According to this ridiculous, revisionist biopic, she was blissfully unaware of any plan to harm Kerrigan. In fact, if anything, she was the victim here, having been born on the wrong side of the tracks and been raised by an abusive stage mom (Allison Janney) who forced her onto the ice and into the limelight against her will. 
 
I suppose a quarter-century is long enough for some to forgive and forget the misdeeds of such a reprehensible creep. Sorry folks, but you're going to have to look elsewhere to find a gullible critic willing to recommend this garbage, a total whitewash of Tonya's checkered past, simply because the film does happen to feature a few great performances. 
 
Not just a fake biopic, a totally fake biopic!

Poor (0 stars)
Rated R for violence, pervasive profanity, and some sexuality and nudity
Running time: 120 minutes
Production Studios: LuckyChap Entertainment / Clubhouse Pictures / AI Film
Distributor: Neon


To see a trailer for I, Tonya, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d2iy5y0YjGM


Saturday, January 13, 2018

Top Ten DVD List for January 16, 2018

by Kam Williams


This Week’s DVD Releases

Blade Runner 2049 [With Answers Come Questions]

The Commander [The Complete Collection]

Extraordinary [Based on a True Marriage Journey]

Hollywood's Greatest Screen Legends [Tribute to 50 Matinee Idols]

Happy Death Day [From the Producer of Get Out]

America's Treasures [12-Part National Monument Documentary]

Jerry Lewis:Triple Feature [3 on a Couch / Hook, Line & Sinker / Don't Raise the Bridge, Lower the River]

Created Equal [The Fight for Equality Shows No Mercy]

The Durango Kid Collection [10 Western Classics]

Alibi [British Thriller Laced with Dark Humor]


Honorable Mention

S.W.A.T. [The Complete TV Series]

Street Sharks: 40 Episodes [The Complete Series]

Pornocracy [Special Edition]

Locked and Re-Loaded: [4 Barrel Combo]

Nature [Nature's Miniature Miracles]

American Experience [The Secret of Tuxedo Park]

Horseland [The Complete Series]

The Snowman [Based on the Best-Selling Novel]


Friday, January 12, 2018

Kam's Kapsules for movies opening January 19, 2018


Weekly Previews That Make Choosing a Film Fun  
by Kam Williams


OPENING THIS WEEK

BIG BUDGET FILMS
12 Strong (R for violence and pervasive profanity) Adaptation of "Horse Soldiers," Doug Stanton's best seller chronicling the declassified exploits of a Special Forces unit deployed to Afghanistan in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. Co-starring Chris Hemsworth, Michael Shannon, William Fitchner, Michael Pena, Rob Riggle and Trevante Rhodes.

Den of Thieves (R for violence, profanity, sexuality and nudity) Crime caper revolving around a seasoned team of bank robbers' audacious plan to steal $120 million in cash from the L.A. branch of the Federal Reserve Bank. Cast includes Gerard Butler, 50 Cent, Pablo Schreiber and O'Shea Jackson, Jr.

Forever My Girl (PG for mature themes, mild epithets and alcohol consumption) Romance drama revolving around a country music star's (Alex Roe) reunion with the childhood sweetheart (Jessica Rothe) he left at the altar a decade earlier when he returns home for his best friend's funeral. Support cast includes John Benjamin Hickey, Abby Ryder and Travis Tritt.

The Leisure Seeker (R for sexuality and mature themes) Adaptation of Michael Zadoorian's bittersweet best seller about a couple of ailing octogenarians (Helen Mirren and Donald Sutherland) who ignore doctors' orders to embark on a final cross-country trip in their trusty RV. With Kirsty Mitchell, Janet Moloney and Joshua Mikel.


INDEPENDENT & FOREIGN FILMS

Delirium (R for violence and disturbing images) Harrowing horror flick about a just-discharged mental patient (Topher Grace) who inherits a haunted house from his recently-deceased parents (Robin Thomas and Daisy McCrackin). With Patricia Clarkson, Genesis Rodriguez and Callan Mulvey.

The Final Year (Unrated) Lame duck documentary chronicling the accomplishments of President Obama's foreign policy team during his last months in office. Featuring behind-the-scenes footage of Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power.

Kangaroo (Unrated) Macropodidae marsupial documentary chronicling Australia's long-standing love-hate relationship with its national animal.

Mama Africa (Unrated) Reverential documentary about Miriam Makeba (1932-2008), the South African singer/political activist who lived in exile until the end of Apartheid. Featuring archival footage of Nelson and Winnie Mandela, Kathleen Cleaver, Harry Belafonte and her husband, Stokely Carmichael. (In English and French with subtitles)

Mary and the Witch's Flower (PG for action and mature themes) Animated fantasy based on "The Little Broomstick" by Mary Stewart, a children's novel about a bored, 10 year-old (Hana Sugisaki) who escapes her humdrum life with the help of a magical broomstick which enables her to fly above the clouds. With Ryunosuke Kamiki, Yuki Amami and Fumiyo Kohinata. (In Japanese with subtitles)

Mom & Dad (R for sexuality, nudity, teen drug use, disturbing violence and pervasive profanity) Selma Blair and Nicolas Cage play the title characters in this horror comedy about a day-long hysteria of unknown origin that turns parents all over the world into homicidal maniacs out to kill their own kids. Supporting cast includes Annie Winters, Lance Henriksen and Rachel Melvin.

Step Sisters (PG-13 for sexuality, crude humor, partying, profanity and drug references) Cross-cultural comedy about a Harvard Law School-bound black undergrad (Megalyn Echikunwoke) who decides to choreograph dance routines for her rhythmically-challenged, white sorority sisters so they can enter the annual step competition. With Eden Sher, Naturi Naughton, Destiny Lopez and Gage Golightly.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

The Post



Film Review by Kam Williams




Hanks and Streep Co-Star in Spielberg Freedom of the Press Period Piece


The Post is a picture fated to be compared to a couple of classic newsroom thrillers: All the President's Men (1976) and Spotlight (2015). Like the former, it's set in Washington, D.C. in the Seventies and revolves around an attempt by the Nixon administration to prevent the publication of incriminating information leaked to the Washington Post by a whistleblower. And it's eerily similar to the Best Picture Oscar-winner Spotlight in that they're both ensemble dramas recounting an idealistic newspaper's legal battle on behalf of Freedom of the Press.

Risk-averse Hollywood honchos have a very predictable habit of parroting success, which means it's just a matter of time before a knockoff of a big hit arrives in theaters. In this case, Spotlight's Academy Award-winning scriptwriter, Josh Singer, was tapped to tweak first timer Liz Hannah's original screenplay about the Pentagon Papers. 
 
So it makes sense that one might have great expectations of the production, given that it was also directed by the legendary Steven Spielberg and co-stars Tom Hanks and perennial Oscar-nominee Meryl Streep. But while the movie is certainly worth seeing, it's actually a disappointment, given the cast and crew's impressive pedigree. 
 
The picture's point of departure is Vietnam in 1966, which is where we find Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara (Bruce Greenwood) on a fact-finding tour. Upon landing back in the States, he lies through his teeth on the tarmac to put a positive spin on the odds of America winning the war. 
 
Fast forward five years, which is when military analyst Daniel Ellsberg (Matthew Rhys) goes rogue after becoming disillusioned by the government's continued cover-up. He then proceeds to turn over to the Washington Post and other publications an internal, Department of Defense report about the war. Dubbed the "Pentagon Papers," the top secret files refute the irrationally-optimistic assessment being presented to the public by the president. 
 
The decision to publish the documents was a no-brainer for the Post's editor, Ben Bradlee (Hanks), and owner, Katharine Graham (Streep). What ensued was a Constitutional crisis ultimately settled by the U.S. Supreme Court which had to weigh the Freedom of the Press against President Nixon's (Curzon Dobell) request for an injunction preventing dissemination of the classified documents in the interest of national security. 
 
Too bad the story Spielberg opted to tell is primarily a tale of female empowerment that quite frankly doesn't ring true. Why resort to politically-correct revisionist history reflecting present-day values when simply ratcheting up the tension around the original landmark legal case.would've proved far more riveting?


Very Good (3 stars)
Rated PG-13 for profanity and brief violence
Running time: 115 minutes
Production Studios: Dreamworks Pictures / Amblin Entertainment / Participant Media
Distributor: 20th Century Fox


To see a trailer for The Post, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nrXlY6gzTTM