Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Echo in the Canyon

 
Film Review by Kam Williams

Dawn of Hippie Era Revisited via Rock Music Retrospective

In the wake of Beatlemania exploding across America in 1964, many aspiring musicians were inspired to start their own rock band. Some settled in Laurel Canyon, a low-rent suburb of L.A that resonated with the hippy' philosophy.

Among those flocking to the region were future icons like Bob Dylan, Jackson Browne, Roger McGuinn, David Crosby, Graham Nash, Stephen Stills, Neil Young, Frank Zappa, Michelle Phillips and Cass Elliot. Some of these musicians forged great groups, like The Byrds, The Mamas and the Papas, and CSN&Y, while others became rock gods in their own right.

Now thanks to producer Lou Adler and Dylan's son Jakob, we have a sensational rockumentary revisiting that era. The film features both archival concert footage and interviews with most of the above. What a treat it is to see Ringo Starr reveal how close he and David Crosby were back in the day! And how about Dylan's discussing what it was like growing up in such a rich cultural environment? So, this makes for a magical walk down Memory Lane offering a fun ride for young and old alike.

The film's only flaw rests with performances by several next generation artists like Beck, Jade, and Jakob Dylan who prove to be talented, but inappropriate for a movie focused on that time period. Furthermore, Jakob serves as interviewer of his fellow celebs, a task for which he is woefully prepared.

Otherwise, what a wonderful trip to remind us all of a pivotal moment in U.S. history!

Very Good (3 stars)
Rated PG-13 for suggestive content and drug references
Running time: 82 minutes
Production Companies: Mirror Films
Distributor: Greenwich Entertainment

To see a trailer for Echo in the Canyon, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QRVFBQHBUls

 
 

Monday, May 20, 2019

Kam's Kapsules for movies opening May 24, 2019


Weekly Previews That Make Choosing a Film Fun
by Kam William
 

OPENING THIS WEEK


WIDE RELEASES


Aladdin (PG for some action/peril) Mena Massoud stars as the title character in this classic fairytale about a street urchin vying with a power-hungry Grand Vizier for a magic lamp. Cast includes Naomi Scott, Will Smith and Billy Magnussen.



Booksmart (R for strong sexual content and language throughout, drug use and drinking, all involving teens) Buddy comedy about a couple of straight-laced, straight-A student BFF's (Kaitlyn Dever, Beanie Feldstein) who decide to cram four years of fun into one night on the eve of their high school graduation. Directed by Olivia Wilde, with Lisa Kudrow, Will Forte and Jason Sudeikis.



Brightburn (R for horror violence/bloody images, and language) Sinister thriller about an alien child (Jackson Dunn) who crash lands on Earth only to wreak havoc rather than help humanity. Cast includes Elizabeth Banks, David Denman and Matt Jones.



The Tomorrow Man (PG-13 for brief strong language and some suggestive material) John Lithgow stars in the title role as a doomsday prophet preparing for disaster with a girlfriend who is a hoarder (Blythe Danner). With Derek Cecil, Eve Harlow and Katie Aselton.



INDEPENDENT & FOREIGN FILMS



Diamantino (Unrated) Carloto Cotta plays the title role in this dysfunctional family comedy about a champion soccer player forced to confront his long-estranged, evil twin sisters (Cleo Tavares and Carla Maciel about the meaning of genius. With Chico Chapas, Margarida Moreira and Anabela Moreira.


Funny Story (Unrated) Sobering tragi-comedy about a loving father (Matthew Glave) who unintenionally disrupts his daughter's Big Sur vacation by inviting himself along. With Nikki Limo, Todd Berger and Jessica Diggins


Halston (Unrated) Reverential biopic about the fashion guru of the 70s who created a business empire by taking the biggest gamble of his life. With commentary by Liza Minelli, Marisa Berenson and Alva Chinn.


The Proposal (Unrated)biopic about the efffort to make the work of Mexico's greatest artist available to the public





Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Isn't it Romantic


 

Film Review by Kam Williams

Rebel Wilson Headlines Disappointing Romantic Musical Comedy


Natalie (Rebel Wilson) is a dynamic, young professional trying to make her mark on Manhattan. But between a fledgling professional career and a dating life that isn't faring any better, the Australian architect is close to bottoming out.

It's a miracle her optimistic spirit hasn't been crushed, since she was raised by an emotionally-abusive mom (Jennifer Saunders) who said she'd never amount to anything. 
 
She has nevertheless made a few friends since moving to the States, including BFF/colleague, Josh (Adam Devine), as well as hunky Blake (Liam Hemsorth), a billionaire who is one of her company's clients. And her buddies include a motley crew of colorful characters. 
 
Anybody familiar with Rebel Wilson's work knows that she's committed to over-the-top fare as seen in her biggest hit, Picture Perfect. While this offering fails to measure up in terms of generating laughs per minute, it does at least recreate the ambiance of her typical farce. 
 
The movie is directed by Todd Strauss-Schulson, a hack who has cranked out a string of mediocre comedies such as Larceny, Naked but Funny and Stevie TV. Not a picture this critic feels comfortable recommending to any demographic. Consider that a fair warning.



Fair (1 star)
Rated PG-13 for profanity, sexuality, and a brief drug reference
Running time: 88 minutes
Production Companies: Netflix / New Line Cinema
Distributor: Warner Brothers

To see a trailer for Isn't it Romantic, visit:

Wednesday, May 8, 2019


Film Review by Kam Williams


Revealing Biopic Chronicles Formative Years Of Legendary Fantasy Writer

J.R.R. Tolkien (1892-1973) was a British fantasy novelist best known for “The Hobbit” and “The Lord of the Rings.” After being orphaned at an early age, he attended King Edwards, an exclusive boarding school where he forged close friendships with classmates which would endure over his lifetime.

There, he first referred to this semi-secret association of writers and artists as a “fellowship,” a term which ostensibly influenced the unique lexicon of his fictional work. He was also very sensitive about the pronunciation of his surname to the extent that he even complained about it to the school administration, emphasizing that it was “een” as opposed to “in.”

While at King Edwards, he met and fell head over heels for Edith Bratt (Lily Collins), an attractive classmate who would not only serve as his muse but as the inspiration for a couple of his characters. The lovebirds wed in 1916 but unfortunately their marital bliss would soon be interrupted by his deployment to France in World World I.

Unfortunately, the separation from his wife exacted a further emotional toll on the already traumatized Tolkien. Sadly, it spelled the demise of his confederacy of intellects, too.

Directed by Dome Karukoski, Tolkien is a poignant portrait which reveals its subject to be quite a complicated soul. The title role is capably played by Nicholas Hoult who delivers a piercingly evocative performance, probing the depths of the literary giant's psyche in plausible fashion. 
 
The ethereal plotline drifts back and forth between the sobering and the surreal, unfolding against a war torn landscape of dire proportions. Childhood angst plus wartime trauma yields escapist fantasies for the ages.


Excellent (4 stars)
Rated PG-13 for war violence
Running time: 112 minutes
Production Companies: Fox Searchlight Pictures / Chernin Entertainment
Distributor: Fox Searchlight Pictures / Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

To see a trailer for Tolkien, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wZ1vn85iQRE

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Bolden

 
Film Review by Kam Williams


Overdue Biopic Belatedly Pays Tribute to Jazz Pioneer

Buddy Bolden (1877-1931) was born in New Orleans, where he took up the cornet at an early age. His unique approach to the instrument involved a novel form of improvisation while playing a combination of gospel, blues and ragtime. 
 
Well before the emergence of Louis Armstrong, Buddy was a popular bandleader credited with creating a new genre of music: jazz! Sadly, this genius has mostly been forgotten by history because no recordings or arrangements of his songs survived.

However, thanks to legendary trumpeter Wynton Marsalis in collaboration with writer/director Dan Pritzker, we now have Bolden, a brilliant biopic painting a poignant portrait of what Buddy's life might have been like. Marsalis composed, arranged and played on the soundtrack, relying on what scraps of his subject's work he could unearth.

Similarly, Pritzker cobbled together a speculative storyline based on the few facts available about Bolden. What we do know is that his career ended in 1907 when he was committed to the mental institution where he would spend the last of his days in obscurity.

Bolden is basically a flashback flick unfolding from the surreal perspective of a patient struggling to make sense of his life. The film stars Garry Carr who delivers a riveting performance as black man whose spirit has been broken by racism and a host of other maladies flowing from that oppression.

Don't miss this overdue tribute to a forgotten jazz pioneer!




Excellent (4 stars)
Rated R for sexuality, graphic nudity, profanity, ethnic slurs, brutal violence and drug use
Running time: 108 minutes
Production Companies: King Bolden LLC
Distributor: Abramorama

To see a trailer for Bolden, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=80D1UrXqUsE

Thursday, April 18, 2019

The Mustang

Film Review by Kam Williams



Hardened Con Offered Shot at Redemption by Rough-Edged Horse Whisperer

Roman Coleman (Matthias Schoenaerts) has too quick a fuse to think before he acts. That's why he's done a dozen years and counting in a maximum-security prison for impulsively delivering a brutal beating that left his victim permanently brain-damaged. 
 
Even while incarcerated, Roman's never learned to control his temper. Consequently, he's voluntarily spent the bulk of his time in solitary confinement. 
 
A shot at rehabilitation finally arrives when Myles (Bruce Dern), a salty, old horse whisperer, offers Roman a spot in his program pairing inmates with wild mustangs. The hope is that each participant will learn to tame his own raging inner soul while bonding with his stallion.

Roman grudgingly accepts the invitation, before being assigned to work with a bucking bronco he names Marcus. Under the watchful eye of the sage trainer, con and colt do gradually take to each other, although not without its share of fits and starts. 
 
Marking Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre's nonpareil directorial debut, The Mustang is a character-driven masterpiece co-starring Matthias Schoenaerts and Bruce Dern. The two generate considerable chemistry in the course of delivering powerful performances against a variety of visually-captivating backdrops, ranging from the vast expanse of a barren, Nevada desert to the claustrophobic confines of one of the State's penal institutions.

An emotionally-engaging meditation on redemption inspired by a real-life program helping inmates turn their lives around.

Excellent (4 stars)
Rated R for profanity, violence and drug use
Running time: 96 minutes
Production Companies: Legende Films / Cine+ / Canal+
Distributor: Focus Features

To see a trailer for The Mustang, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k2a-KSOCIeY



Thursday, April 11, 2019

Breakthrough


Film Review by Kam Williams


Inspirational Memoir Recounts Teen's True Tale of Survival

Despite being saddled with a couple of generic American names, John Smith's (Marcel Ruiz) life story has been anything but boring. It's just too bad that the shy, 14 year-old has been too embarrassed to share it. 
 
You see, he was born in Guatemala, but raised in Missouri by Brian (Josh Lucas) and Joyce Smith (Chrissy Metz), the missionary couple that adopted him as an infant. But even the terrific childhood they provided couldn't supply answers to nagging questions that still burdened the boy in junior high, like, “Why didn't his birth mom love him enough to keep him?” John was so traumatized that he gave his teacher a lame excuse the day he was supposed to make a class presentation about his family tree.

Luckily, he did have a couple of BFFs to hang out with in Josh (Isaac Kragten) and Reiger (Nikolas Dukic). However, the three could be a little rebellious, like on the afternoon of January 15, 2015 when they were warned by a stranger not to tempt fate by wandering out onto seemingly-frozen Lake St. Louis.

But they did, and fell through the ice, one after another. Rescue teams arrived soon enough to save two of the kids within minutes, but John had slipped so far beneath the surface that it took the extraordinary effort of one very determined fireman (Mike Colter) to belatedly find his body by poking around in the 12-foot deep waters with a stick.

John had no pulse, since he'd been submerged over 15 minutes. Yet, that didn't discourage first responders and then the ER physician on duty (Sam Trammell) at nearby St. Joseph's Hospital from trying repeatedly to revitalize him. Miraculously, John did come around after about an hour, which prompted an airlift to the top doctor in the field (Dennis Haysbert) in the St. Louis area.

Thus unfolds Breakthrough, a true tale of survival based on a moving memoir by Joyce Smith. Since each step of the unprecedented feat recounted here had been accompanied by prayer, the question triggered again and again was whether the operation had succeeded because of state-of-the-art medical care, divine intervention, or a combination of both. 
 
An edge-of-your-seat, faith-oriented/medical drama, equally riveting in terms of spiritual and worldly concerns.

Excellent (3.5 stars)
Rated PG for peril and mature themes
Running time: 116 minutes
Production Companies: Fox 2000 Pictures / 20th Century Fox
Distributor: 20th Century Fox

To see a trailer for Breakthrough, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=52bORzIODec