Sunday, January 21, 2018

Thank You for Your Service

Blu-ray Review by Kam Williams

Vets Readjust to Civilian Life in Docudrama Based on Wounded Warrior Memoir

In the spring of 2007, the Washington Post's David Finkel accompanied a combat team of American infantrymen deployed to Baghdad at the start of the controversial surge ordered by President Bush. After being embedded for a year, the Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter chronicled the intrepid GIs' heroic efforts to bring stability to the region in a riveting best seller entitled "The Good Soldiers."

In 2013, Finkel published "Thank You for Your Service," an update about the same troops' struggle to readjust to civilian life upon returning to the States. Now, that opus has been adapted to the big screen as a psychological drama telescoping tightly on the mental state of a few members of the battalion.

The movie marks the impressive directorial debut of Jason Hall, who's previously best known for writing and appearing in American Sniper (2014). The picture stars Miles Teller as Adam Schumann, a former sergeant ostensibly suffering from PTSD. 
As the film unfolds, we learn that he has remained close with surviving members of the tight-knit unit once under his command. Unfortunately, all of them have been left damaged, mentally and/or physically. Consequently, all of their relationships are in crisis, and none has managed to hold down a steady job. 
Adam's worried wife (Haley Bennett) starts pressuring him to get help because he not only dropped their newborn baby inexplicably, but he's constantly looking for IEDs whenever they drive down the street, as if he's still in Iraq. Trouble is, there's a nine-month waiting list to see a shrink at the VA hospital, and he's being discouraged from seeking treatment by a callous colonel (Jake Weber) suggesting that all he needs to do is toughen up a little. 
Then, there's Solo (Beulah Koale), a Samoan with amnesia whose fed up wife (Keisha Castle-Hughes) is thinking of leaving him, despite being pregnant. Another buddy, Will (Joe Cole), was dumped by his fiancee (Erin Darke) before he even arrived home. And so forth.

The plot soon thickens, with things getting worse before they get better. But at least this loyal band of brothers can count on each other, if not the VA or their loved ones for support. A heartbreaking tale that's difficult to swallow since its based purely on the hard, cold truth. 
A sobering account of our wounded warriors' tragic misfortunes.

Excellent (3.5 stars)
Rated R for sexuality, drug use, graphic violence, brief nudity and pervasive profanity
In English and Samoan with subtitles
Running time: 109 minutes
Distributor: Universal Pictures Home Entertainment
Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack Extras: Staging a War; and The Battle at Home.

To see a trailer for Thank You for Your Service, visit:

To order Thank You for Your Service in Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack format , visit:

Top Ten DVD List for January 23, 2018

by Kam Williams

This Week’s DVD Releases

Thank You for Your Service [Inspired by True Events]

Icons among Us [Jazz in the Present Tense]

In Search of Fellini [A Wonderfdully Whimsical Coming of Age Journey]

Echotone [The Quiet Fight for a Louder Future]

Chasing the Dragon [The Road to the Top Is Paved in Blood]

Roaring Abyss [Ethiopian Musical Documentary]

Trump: The Art of the Insult [How to Bash the Press and Political Opponents]

A Dog and Pony Show [Step Right Up and Laugh]

Nova: Killer Hurricanes [Storm Sleuths Reconstruct Historic Weather Events]

Geostorm [Some Things Were Never Meant to Be Controlled]

Honorable Mention

Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood [Neighborhood Friends Collection]

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Mama Africa: Miriam Makeba

Film Review by Kam Williams

Reverential Biopic Chronicles Rise, Fall and Triumphant Return of Legendary South African Singer/Activist

Zenzile Miriam Makeba had the misfortune of being born black in Johannesburg, South Africa in 1932, which relegated her to second-class citizenship. In fact, she spent the first six months of her life behind bars with her mother, a sangoma (witch doctor), sent to prison days just after her birth. 
Luckily, her mom was also an amateur singer, and that was a gift Miriam inherited. She married at 17 and had a child a year later, but was soon abandoned by her abusive husband. So, she started singing professionally to support her young daughter. 
After performing and recording with several different bands, she found a measure of fame as the lead singer of an all-girl group called The Skylarks. Then, while on tour out of the country in 1959, Miriam's passport was revoked after the release in Italy of Come Back, Africa, a secretly-filmed, anti-apartheid docudrama in which she appeared. 
Despite the ban, Miriam's career would catch fire while in exile, with the help of such influential entertainers as Harry Belafonte and Sidney Poitier. Soon, international audiences were appreciating her unique sound, an eclectic mix of jazz, pop and traditional African tunes. 
But because of the continued civil strife back in her homeland, Miriam used her platform to criticize the South African government. In 1963, she even testified at the United Nations, imploring the organization to impose economic sanctions on the country for its imprisonment of attorney Nelson Mandela and thousands of other political activists lobbying for equality.

However, Miriam would fall out of favor in 1968 after marrying Stokely Carmichael, the controversial leader of the Black Power Movement. For, she made many powerful enemies in the U.S. by virtue of that union. 
After all, it was one thing to point out all the injustice in her native South Africa, but quite another to complain about the mistreatment of African-Americans. Almost overnight, Miriam's concerts were canceled and her records were pulled off the shelves, too. 
Hounded by the FBI and her career ruined, she abandoned the States with Stokely for Guinea, but would have to wait for the fall of the Apartheid regime to be welcomed home with open arms by outlawed freedom fighter-turned-President Nelson Mandela. A fitting tribute to a rare talent who dedicated her life to the liberation of oppressed people all over the world.

Excellent (4 stars)
Running time: 90 minutes
In English and French with subtitles
Production Studios: Starhaus Filmproduktion / Millennium Film / Marianna Films
Distributor: ArtMattan Productions

To see a trailer for Mama Africa: Miriam Makeba, visit:

Two musicians who played in Miriam Makeba's band for years will be on hand for Q&As: Percussionist Leopoldo Fleming on Saturday, January 20 and bassist Bill Salter on Sunday, January 21.
Details available on the film’s web site:

Tel (212) 864-1760, e-mail:

Friday, January 19, 2018

Kam's Kapsules for movies opening January 26, 2018

Weekly Previews That Make Choosing a Film Fun  
by Kam Williams 



Hostiles (R for profanity and graphic violence) Panoramic Western, set in 1892, about a veteran cavalry Captain (Christian Bale) who reluctantly agrees to escort a dying Cheyenne chief (Wes Studi) from a fort in New Mexico back to his tribe's ancestral lands in Montana. Supporting cast includes Rosamund Pike, Adam Beach, Ben Foster and Timothee Chalamet.

Maze Runner: The Death Cure (PG-13 for action, violence, profanity and mature themes) Epic finale of the sci-fi saga finds Thomas (Dylan O'Brien) and company negotiating their way through a deadly labyrinth while on a dangerous mission to find a cure for a contagious disease. With Rosa Salazar, Thomas Brodie-Sangster and Kaya Scodelario.


American Folk (PG for mild epithets and mature themes) Romance drama revolving around two strangers (Joe Purdy and Amber Rubarth) who fall in love and make beautiful music together after being stranded in an airport on the West Coast in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. With David Fine, Bruce Beatty and Krisha Fairchild.

The Clapper (R for profanity and sexual references) Romantic comedy about an infomercial audience member (Ed Helms) whose sudden 15 minutes of fame ruins his relationship with the girl of his dreams (Amanda Seyfried). Cast includes Tracy Morgan, Adam Levine, Leah Remini and the late Alan Thicke.

The Insult (R for profanity and violence) Beirut drama about a personal beef between a Lebanese Christian (Adel Karam) and a Palestinian (Kamel El Basha) that morphs into a media circus. With Camille Salameh, Rita Hayek and Talal Jurdi. (In Arabic with subtitles)

Kickboxer: Retaliation (R for violence) Mixed Martial Arts sequel finds Kurt (Alain Moussi) kidnapped, sedated and flown back to Thailand where he is forced to face a 6' 8", 400 lb. strongman (Hafpor Julius Bjornsson) in a prizefight with a $2 million purse. Featuring Christopher Lambert, Jean-Claude Van Damme and Mike Tyson.

Like Me (Unrated) Suspense thriller revolving around a reckless felon (Addison Timlin) who develops a huge following when she starts broadcasting her crime spree on social media. With Ian Nelson, Stuart Rudin and Larry Fessenden.

The Neighbor (R for profanity, sexuality, violence and drug use) Midlife crisis drama about a miserably-married homebody (William Fitchner) who falls for his new, next-door neighbor (Jessica McNamee) with an abusive husband (Michael Rosenbaum). With Jean Louisa Kelly, Colin Woodell and Erich Andersen.

Please Stand By (PG-13 for brief profanity) Dakota Fanning stars in this character-driven dramedy about an autistic woman who runs away from her group home in San Francisco to enter her 500-page script in a Star Trek competition being staged in Hollywood. Support cast includes Toni Collette, Alice Eve and Marla Gibbs.

West of the Jordan River (Unrated) Middle East documentary examining the escalating tensions between displaced Palestinians and Jewish settlers in Israel's occupied territories. (In English, Arabic and Hebrew with subtitles)

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:

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: