Saturday, August 29, 2015

The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution (FILM REVIEW)

The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution

Film Review by Kam Williams


Historical Documentary Chronicles Rise and Fall of Incendiary Political Party

The late Stokely Carmichael is famous for coining the phrase “Black power!” What he might not be as well remembered for is founding the Black Panthers. Frustrated by the tortoise-paced progress of the Civil Rights movement and by the number of martyrs dying and disappearing around the South, he decided to leave SNCC (The Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee) to form a group for folks interested in self-defense. 
 
“You tell the people of Mississippi that all the scared [N-words] are dead!” he announced. However, Stokely had little to do with the organization after opening that first chapter in 1965 in Lowndes, Alabama (an 80% black county where no African-American had ever been allowed to vote).

Instead, it would be fall to Huey Newton and Bobby Seale to popularize the Panthers. They opened a storefront in Oakland in 1966, but they didn't really catch fire until Martin Luther King was assassinated. At that point, many young African-Americans became disenchanted, which made the idea of confronting the police by brandishing weapons very appealing. 
 
Soon, Panther chapters began spring up all over the country. And it helped recruitment immeasurably when ex-con-turned-best-selling author Eldridge Cleaver came aboard as Minister of Information. After all, the media-savvy spokesperson gave good soundbite, even if it only served to antagonize the police and establishment.

For instance, he called then Governor Reagan “a punk, a sissy and a coward,” going so far as to challenge the Gipper to a duel to the death. And after Huey was arrested for the murder of a police officer, Eldridge threatened open armed war on the streets of the country, if Newton weren't freed.

Meanwhile, J. Edgar Hoover was cooking up a counterintelligence program (COINTELPRO) designed to bring down the Panthers. The FBI proceeded to embark on a surreptitious reign of terror which included frame-ups, disinformation, assassinations and infiltration. The ploy worked, as paranoia came to permeate the organization, which splintered when the leadership became suspicious of one another. Huey called Eldridge a coward. Eldridge then quit and called for hits against anyone still in the Party. 
 
Thus unfolds The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution, a warts-and-all documentary directed by Stanley Nelson (Freedom Riders). The film is fascinating not only because of its copious archival footage, but on account of the many revelations exposing the dark underbelly of an outfit often given a pass in spite of myriad flaws in terms of misogyny and machismo. 
 
The Black Panthers revisited less as a political party concerned about the welfare of the people than as an internecine power struggle between a couple of larger than life egos.


Excellent (4 stars)
Unrated
Running time: 113 minutes
Distributor: Firelight Films



To see a trailer for The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F56O3kZ9qr0




Friday, August 28, 2015

Top Ten DVD Releases for 9-1-15

This Week’s DVD Releases
by Kam Williams


Top Ten DVD List for September 1, 2015

Mad Max: Fury Road


I'll See You in My Dreams


Braddock America

William Castle Horror Collection: 5 Movie Pack [13 Ghosts / 13 Frightened Girls / Mr. Sardonicus / Homicidal / The Old Dark House]

Good Kill

Five Star

Detectorists

Our Man in Teheran

A Bunch of Munsch: The Complete Series

Chicago Fire: Season Three


Honorable Mention

Run Hide Die

Felt

The Surface

Dark Was the Night

Paw Patrol: Meet Everest!

The Summer House

I Am Dale Earnhardt

Vampire Diaries: The Complete Sixth Season

Redeemer

Nashville: Season Three

Lost after Dark

The Originals: The Complete Second Season

Broken Horses

Five Star

Chicago P.D.: Season Two

The Curse of Downers Grove

Wolf Warrior


Extinction

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Good Kill (DVD REVIEW)

Good Kill
DVD Review by Kam Williams


Ethan Hawke and Zoe Kravitz Co-Star as Drone Pilots in Afghan War Flick

Tom Egan (Ethan Hawke) is a U.S. fighter pilot who was grudgingly grounded to fight the War on Terrorism via drone technology. The good news was that the reassignment meant his life would no longer be in jeopardy, since he’d now be stationed in New Mexico on a base located in the desert where he’d engaged the enemy 7,000 miles away from the theater of conflict. He was also guaranteed to see his wife, Molly (January Jones), and daughter, Jessie (Sachie Capitani), every day after work; and they no longer needed to worry about his safety.
Nevertheless, orchestrating remote attacks still took an unexpected toll on Tom, given the dispassionate fashion in which he was expected to bomb the Taliban and even accept the occasional killing of innocent civilians with friendly fire as mere collateral damage. Because he’s developed the proverbial 1,000-yard stare of a soldier who’s seen too much combat, Molly started accusing him of being emotionally distant.
His complaint to her that “I am a pilot; I am not flying,” only falls on deaf ears. He doesn’t like the fact that he has to wear a flight suit either. Consequently, he only finds solace in a bottle of alcohol, and in crying on the shoulder of his co-pilot, Vera Suarez (Zoe Kravitz). She’s just as disillusioned about the grisly business of dropping warheads on foreheads.
By comparison, their relatively-cavalier colleague, Danny (Michael Sheets) claims to be “Living the dream!” He’s the gung-ho type who doesn’t lose any sleep following orders from their immediate superior (Bruce Greenwood), despite the periodic presence of non-combatants in the kill zone. After all, he’s more concerned with providing critical support for the American boots on the ground.
Thus unfolds Good Kill, an Afghan War saga directed by Andrew Niccol (Gattaca). The purpose of this modern morality play is ostensibly to question the wisdom of the widespread use of military drones. In the end, it rather effectively drives home the point that there is no such thing as a surgical strike and that a soldier doesn’t have to be deployed overseas to develop PTSD.
The film features a number of noteworthy performances, especially those by Ethan Hawke, Zoe Kravitz, January Jones and Bruce Greenwood. In sum, a sobering, anti-war parable designed to remind the Playstation Generation, desensitized to violence, of the grim consequences of joysticks haphazardly delivering deadly payloads.

Excellent (3.5 stars)
Rated R for violence, rape, profanity and sexuality
Running time: 102 minutes
Distributor: Paramount Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Extras: Good Kill: Behind the Scenes.

To see a trailer for Good Kill, visit: http://www.ifcfilms.com/videos/good-kill


To order a copy of Good Kill on DVD, visit:

Mad Max: Fury Road (DVD REVIEW)

Mad Max: Fury Road
DVD Review by Kam Williams

Road Warrior Reboot Released on DVD

Fury Road reboots the legendary Mad Max franchise which has been sitting dormant for several decades. This fourth installment was again produced, written and directed by Oscar-winner George Miller (for Happy Feet) who tapped Tom Hardy to replace disgraced Mel Gibson in the title role as Max Rockatansky, the highway patrol officer-turned-intrepid road warrior given to dispensing a grisly brand of vigilante justice.
Set in 2060 AD, this post-apocalyptic adventure unfolds in the relentlessly-grim dystopia left in the wake of the series of global calamities that led to a total breakdown of civilization. At the point of departure, we find Max haunted by his tragic past and hunted by desperate scavengers as he drifts around the vast wasteland in a rusty, rattling, off-road muscle car.
The stoic gunslinger’s resolve to go it alone is soon tested when he crosses paths with Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron), a fearless alpha female making a break across the desert with former sex slaves hidden in the hold of her big rig. She’s just freed the traumatized quintet from the clutches of Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne), a ruthless tyrant who wants his breeders back, especially Splendid (Rosie Huntington-Whiteley), since she’s already pregnant and possibly carrying his first male heir.
The enraged warlord has dispatched a caravan of bloodthirsty goons who will stop at nothing to retrieve his so-called “wives.” Fortunately, they’ve found a sympathetic soul in Max who agrees to join forces with Furiosa upon being apprised of their plight.
The plan is to drive non-stop across the desert to “The Green Place,” a Shangri-La rumored to be teeming with water, vegetation and other scarce natural resources. But getting there proves to be all the fun, as our intrepid hero and heroine negotiate a relentless gauntlet of evil adversaries in dune buggies outfitted with a very creative variety of deadly military hardware.
An edge-of-your-seat, adrenaline-fueled, high body-count splatterfest that remains riveting from start to finish despite dispensing with the idea of plot development once the basic premise has been set.

Excellent (4 stars)
Rated R for disturbing images and relentless intense violence
Running time: 120 minutes
Distributor: Warner Home Entertainment Group
Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack Extras: Maximum Fury: Filming Fury Road; Mad Max: Fury on Four Wheels; The Road Warriors: Max and Furiosa; The Tools of the Wasteland; The Five Wives: So Shiny, So Chrome; Fury Road: Crash & Smash; and deleted scenes.
To see a trailer for Mad Max: Fury Road, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MonFNCgK4WE

To order the Mad Max: Fury Road Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack, visit:

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Kam's Movie Kapsules for 9-4-15

OPENING THIS WEEK
Kam's Kapsules:
Weekly Previews That Make Choosing a Film Fun
by Kam Williams
For movies opening September 4, 2015


BIG BUDGET FILMS

None


INDEPENDENT & FOREIGN FILMS

Before We Go (PG-13 for suggestive material and brief profanity) Chris “Captain America” Evans makes his directorial debut with this romantic dramedy revolving around the love which blossoms over the course of an eventful evening between a street musician (Evans) and an unhappily-married woman (Alice Eve) from Boston left stranded in Manhattan after being mugged. With Mark Kassen, Emma Fitzpatrick and John Cullum.

Blind (Unrated) Psychological drama, set in Oslo, about a recently-blinded woman (Ellen Dorrit Petersen) who withdraws from the world to the security of her apartment to find herself facing both her deepest fears and her wildest, repressed fantasies. Co-starring Henrik Rafaelsen, Vera Vitali and Jacob Young. (In Norwegian with subtitles)

Bloodsucking Bastards (Unrated) Horror comedy about a trio of depressed office workers (Fran Kranz, Emma Fitzpatrick and Joey Kern) for a soul-crushing corporation who discover that their soulless bosses are also bloodthirsty vampires. Supporting cast includes Pedro Pascal, Joey Kern and Joel Murray.

The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution (Unrated) Power to the people documentary chronicling the rise and fall of the Black Panther Party. Directed by three-time Emmy-winner Stanley Nelson, and featuring recently-unearthed archival footage of Bobby Seale, Huey Newton and Bobby Seale.

Break Point (R for profanity and sexuality) Sibling rivalry comedy about a tennis pro (Jeremy Sisto) with anger issues who asks his long-estranged brother and former doubles partner (David Walton) to pick back up the racket so the two can settle their differences while competing in a Grand Slam tournament. With Adam DeVine, Joshua Rush and Sara Bailey.

Chloe & Theo (PG-13 for brief violence) Unlikely buddies dramedy about an Eskimo (Theo Ikummaq) who is befriended by a homeless girl (Dakota Johnson) when he ventures from the Arctic to New York City to warn the world's leaders about the impact of global warming. Support cast includes Jessica Anderson, Christopher Backus and Lawrence Ballard.

Dirty Weekend (Unrated) Neil LaBute wrote and directed this romantic dramedy about the sparks which fly between a couple of business colleagues (Matthew Broderick and Alice Eve) when they venture away from the airport during a long flight layover in Albuquerque. With Phil Burke, Gia Crovatin and Charles Duran.

Dragon Blade (R for graphic violence) Jackie Chan stars in this historical epic, set during the Han Dynasty, as a military commander who joins forces with a rogue Roman general (John Cusack) to protect China from power-hungry emperor Tiberius (Adrien Brody) Ensemble cast includes Peng Lin, Sharni Vinson, Mika Wang, Si Won Choi and Yang Xiao. (In Mandarin and English with subtitles)


A Sinner in Mecca (Unrated) Parvez Sharma wrote, directed and stars in this skeletons-in-the-closet documentary as a gay Muslim secretly making a Hajj pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia, a country where homosexuality is a crime punishable by death.


Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine (Unrated) Unauthorized, warts-and-all documentary exploring the dark side of the late Apple founder's personal and private lives.


The Transporter Refueled (PG-13 for action, violence, sexuality, profanity, drug use and mature themes) Fourth installment of the adrenaline-fueled franchise features Ed Skrein replacing Jason Statham as the title character. This episode finds the mercenary on holiday with his father (Ray Stevenson) in the south of France where their vacation is interrupted by a femme fatale (Loan Chabanol) in need of a getaway driver for her gang of bank robbers. With Gabriella Wright, Lenn Kudrjawizki, Tatiana Pajkovic and Radivoje Bukvic.


A Walk in the Woods (R for profanity and sexual references) Buddy dramedy about a retiring travel writer (Robert Redford) who is joined by a long-lost friend (Nick Nolte) on a 2,200 mile trek along the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine. Supporting cast includes Emma Thompson, Mary Steenburgen, Nick Offerman and Susan McPhail.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The Face That Changed It All (BOOK REVIEW)

The Face That Changed It All
A Memoir
by Beverly Johnson
Foreword by Andre Leon Talley
Hardcover, $28.00
268 pages, Illustrated
ISBN: 978-1-4767-7441-1

Book Review by Kam Williams

Beverly Johnson made history in 1974... [as] the first African-American woman... whose face appeared on the cover of the world's most prestigious fashion magazine... Vogue. Beverly shattered the ideological standards of beauty in a commercial domain, introducing a whole new paradigm not only for black women, but for the world... as a whole. Beverly should be considered among the most important faces to alter the image of fashion, and the entire cultural dynamic, over the last century...
This is the story of an American, a role model, and a mentor... More than just a face, Beverly is a bona fide living legend... She has lived through it all: adversity, fame, fortune, love, marriage, divorce, marriage again, divorce again, addiction, renewal of spirit, and just plain life in general. [This] is not just a chronological tale about her rise to the top of the world of fashion, it's also the story of a woman who refused to give up even when the world seemed to turn against her. ”
-- Excerpted from the Foreword (pages vii-ix)


Beverly Johnson was born in Buffalo, New York on October 13, 1952, back when African-Americans still were being denied the right to vote or permission to sit in the front of a bus. Black folks also had very limited career options, especially in the field of modeling where a narrowly-defined standard of beauty meant the catwalks and mainstream magazine pages were pretty much restricted to whites. 
 
The summer after her freshman year of college at Northeastern University, Beverly was hired to work as a swimming instructor at the Roxbury YMCA in Boston. But when that job fell through due to budget cuts, she decided to follow a friend's suggestion and take a shot at modeling.
Accompanied by her mother, she ventured to New York City where she was grateful just to land enough assignments to make the ambitious effort worth its while. Nevertheless, she returned to school for the fall semester, though not for long.

That winter, at the tender age of 19, she took the calculated risk of leaving school to pursue her dream. Back in the Big Apple, she found a part-time gig at a high-end boutique called Jax Fifth Avenue, which proved to be the perfect complement to an aspiring model's fledgling career.

Soon, Beverly was signed by the Ford agency which, in turn, led to her meteoric transformation into the first black supermodel. Her face would eventually grace the cover of over 500 
magazines, including Vogue, Cosmopolitan, Glamour, Elle, Essence Ebony and Harper's Bazaar, to name a few. By 1975, she'd paved the way for models of every hue, inspiring editors and fashion designers to adopt colorblind hiring practices. 
The Face That Changed It All is a touching, warts-and-all autobiography in which Beverly recounts not only her considerable professional achievements but also reveals the litany of challenges she's had to surmount in her personal life. Of topical interest, undoubtedly, is the chapter devoted to Bill Cosby, since Beverly was the most famous female and the first African-American to publicly accuse him of drugging and assaulting her with intent to rape. 
 
But make no mistake, the real reason to peruse this moving memoir is the revered icon's riveting account of her rise, fall and ultimate redemption.


To order a copy of The Face That Changed It All, visit:  

Simeon Rice (INTERVIEW)

Simeon Rice
The “Unsullied” Interview
with Kam Williams


NFL Great-Turned-Filmmaker Talks about His Directorial Debut

Super Bowl Champion Simeon Rice is a four-time All-Pro and future Hall of Fame NFL player. Born on February 24, 1974, Simeon grew up in Roseland, Illinois, a small community on the South Side of Chicago. There, he attended Washington Elementary school, which is where he first discovered his talent for drawing.

Although Simeon loved art, football led him away from his growing fascination. So, he entered high school with his heart set on playing college football and forgoing his artistic background.

He received a football scholarship from the University of Illinois where he would become the Big Ten Freshman of the Year and a three-time All-American.
After retiring from football, he enrolled at the New York Film Academy where he finished the short film, When I Was King.

Shortly thereafter, he co-founded Dreamline Pictures with writer/producer John Nodilo and sold his first show to HBO. Next, he turned his attention to making his directorial debut, Unsullied, an homage to the actions films that he loved watching as a child.


Kam Williams: Hi Simeon, thanks for the interview. Congrats on your All-Star and Super Bowl career, and thanks for all the years of great entertainment.
Simeon Rice: Thank you, Kam, for recognizing my body as it relates to me as a football player. Now, I will surely entertain you with my non-stop action hit Unsullied, debuting August 28.

KW: And congrats on having the ambition to embark on a second career, instead of retiring to rest on your laurels. What interested you in attending the New York Film Academy? Had you studied scriptwriting or filmmaking at the University of Illinois?
SR: What interested me in attending the New York Film Academy was the ability to be a storyteller and creator. No, I didn't study any level of film or entertainment in undergrad.

KW: What inspired you to adapt Reagan Farrow's harrowing tale of survival to the screen?
SR: Unsullied isn't an adaption. It is an original piece in which all the events are completely created to build the story.

KW: How would you summarize the film in 25 words or less?
SR: Unsullied is about Reagan Farrow. On a way to a race, she is kidnapped by two psychos and thrust into a dangerous game of kill or be killed.

KW: Who's your favorite director?
SR: I don't have one favorite. However, some of my favorites are Quentin Tarantino, Martin Scorese, Alfred Hitchcock and Antoine Fuqua.

KW: What is your favorite dish to cook?
SR: If I cook, I like to make lasanga.

KW: When you look in the mirror, what do you see?
SR: When I look in the mirror, I see a juggernaut.

KW: Who loved you unconditionally during your formative years?
SR: My parents loved me unconditionally growing up. I still live by their lessons: never half-do anything and keep God first.

KW: The Ling-Ju Yen question: What is your earliest childhood memory?
SR: My earliest childhood memory is when I choked on catfish bones and my father turned me upside-down, reached in my mouth and pulled the bones out of my throat. Yup, that was disgusting!

KW: What was your very first job?
SR: Working in the Museum of Science and Industry.

KW: If you could have one wish instantly granted, what would that be for?
SR: I wish my mom was alive and healthy.

KW: The Judyth Piazza question: What key quality do you believe all successful people share?
SR: I believe all successful people have a determined mind.

KW: What advice do you have for anyone who wants to follow in your footsteps?
SR: Believe that anything is possible, find your passion, and then follow your dreams.

KW: The Tavis Smiley question: How do you want to be remembered?
SR: I want to be remembered as a man of his word.

KW: Finally, what’s in your wallet?
SR: Several discount cards.

KW: Thanks again for the time, Simeon, and best of luck with Unsullied.
SR: Thanks for the love, Kam, and remind your readers that Unsullied opens in theaters on August 28th.

To see a trailer, for Unsullied, visit: https://vimeo.com/134121840