Saturday, January 24, 2015

Black or White (FILM REVIEW)



Black or White
Film Review by Kam Williams

Grandparents Square-Off over Biracial Child in Contentious Courtroom Drama 

When Elliot Anderson’s (Kevin Costner) wife Carol (Jennifer Ehle) perishes in a tragic car accident, he suddenly finds himself facing the prospect of raising his 7 year-old granddaughter Eloise (Jillian Estell) alone. After all, the couple had originally assumed custody from the moment their own daughter died giving birth to the little girl, since the baby’s drug-addicted father (Andre Holland) was behind bars and totally unfit to be a parent.
Today, however, Elliot does have a drinking problem which proceeds to escalate out of control in the wake of his spouse’s untimely demise. And this state of affairs comes to the attention of Eloise’s fraternal grandmother, Rowena “Wee-Wee” Davis (Octavia Spencer), who soon resurfaces for the first time in years.
She approaches Elliot about setting up visitation, in spite of her son’s substance abuse problems, since Eloise has a lot of other relatives on her father’s side of the family eager to see her. But the wealthy, white lawyer balks at the very suggestion, presumably because they’re black and from the ‘hood, and he’s thus far managed to shield his relatively-privileged granddaughter from the ghetto and its host of woes.
Of course, Wee-Wee doesn’t take the rebuff sitting down, but rather prevails upon her attorney brother, Jeremiah (Anthony Mackie), to file suit. Next thing you know, the parties are slinging mud at one another in an ugly custody battle where Reggie is accused of being a crack head with a criminal record and Elliot is labeled a racist and an alcoholic. Responsibility for dispensing justice blindly falls to Judge Margaret Cummings (Paula Newsome), who might very well be a bit biased in favor of plaintiff Rowena, given that she’s also African-American and female.
All roads inexorably lead to a big courtroom showdown in Black or White, a cross-cultural melodrama written and directed by Mike Binder (Reign over Me). Ostensibly “inspired by true events,” the picture pits a couple of worthy adversaries against each other in Elliot and Wee-Wee, as capably played by Oscar-winners Kevin Costner (for Dances with Wolves) and Octavia Spencer (for The Help). 
Any lawyer worth his or her salt knows that you never ask a question on cross-examination that you don’t already know the answer to. Nonetheless, Jeremiah violates that cardinal rule by asking Elliot, “Do you dislike all black people?” This affords the just-disgraced granddad an opportunity to rehabilitate his tarnished image courtesy of a scintillating, self-serving soliloquy reminiscent of Jack Nicholson’s “You can’t handle the truth!” monologue in A Few Good Men.
If only the rest of this racially-tinged baby-daddy drama had matched that climactic moment in terms of intensity. Still, the film is worth the investment for veteran Costner’s vintage performance and for the way in which the timely script dares to tackle some tough social questions in refreshingly-realistic, if perhaps politically-incorrect fashion.
  
Very Good (3 stars)
Rated PG-13 for profanity, fighting, ethnic slurs, and mature themes involving drugs and alcohol  
Running time: 121 minutes
Distributor: Relativity Media

To see a trailer for Black or White, visit:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yqlE-7PP7Ho

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Top Ten DVD Releases for 1-27-15



This Week’s DVD Releases
by Kam Williams


Top Ten DVD List for January 27, 2015                      

Kill the Messenger

Downton Abbey: Season Five

Fury

The Judge

The Story of Women and Art

Horror 4 in 1 Collection: Hostel / Hollow Man / When a Stranger Calls / I Know What You Did Last Summer

My Old Lady

Regular Show: Mordecai Pack

Arthur’s Fountain Abbey

Paddington Bear: Collector’s Edition


Honorable Mention

Suze Orman’s Financial Solutions for You  


Abstraction


The Remaining

Finding Graceland

The Color of Time

Kill the Messenger (DVD REVIEW)


Kill the Messenger

DVD Review by Kam Williams

 True Tale Recounts How CIA First Introduced Crack to the ‘Hood 

            In August of 1996, the San Jose Mercury News published an eye-opening expose’ detailing exactly how the Central Intelligence Agency had orchestrated the importation of crack cocaine from Nicaragua as well as its distribution in the black community of South Central Los Angeles. Entitled “Dark Alliance,” the 20,000-word series was written by Gary Webb (Jeremy Renner), an investigative journalist who’d risked life and limb to release the incendiary information.
For, in the midst of conducting his research, he had been asked “Do you have a family?” by a CIA operative trying to intimidate him into killing the article. The spy agency was ostensibly determined to suppress any facts which might shed light on its covert dealings with the Contras, the rebels attempting to topple the government of Nicaragua.
But Webb, already a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter, would not be intimidated and went with the piece. And even though he had supported his shocking allegations with declassified documents obtained via the Freedom of Information Act, the Establishment secretly enlisted the assistance of the New York Times, the Washington Post and the L.A. Times to discredit him.
These prominent papers pooh-poohed the very notion that the CIA could possibly be behind the dissemination of crack in the inner-city. Nevertheless, “Dark Alliance” became the biggest story of the year, especially among African-Americans, many of whom surfed the internet for the first time in order to read the damning report.    
Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-CA) took to the floor to warn that “Somebody’s going to have to pay for what they have done to my people.” Yet, the revelations seemed to take the greatest toll on Gary Webb, who lost his good name, his job, his career, his home, and even the love of his wife (Rosemarie DeWitt ) in due course.
This shameful chapter in American history is the subject of Kill the Messenger, a sobering biopic directed by Michael Cuesta and starring Jeremy Renner. The film features an A-list cast also including Ray Liotta, Barry Pepper, Tim Blake Nelson, Andy Garcia, Oliver Platt, Michael Sheen, Robert Patrick and Paz Vega.
However, make no mistake, this riveting thriller is a Renner vehicle, and the two-time Academy Award-nominee (for The Hurt Locker and The Town) delivers another Oscar-quality performance as a family man/respected writer slowly turned into a paranoid soul haunted by demons and hunted by Machiavellian mercenaries drunk with power. A cautionary tale about what might easily transpire whenever the Fourth Estate is willing to serve as the Fifth Column rather than as a government watchdog.

Excellent (4 stars)
Rated R for profanity and drug use
Running time: 112 minutes
Distributor: Universal Studios Home Entertainment
Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack Extras: Feature commentary with director Michael Cuesta; deleted scenes commentary with commentary by Michael Cuesta; Kill the Messenger: The All-Star Cast; Crack in America; and Filming in Georgia.

To see a trailer for Kill the Messenger, visit: 

To order Kill the Messenger on Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack, visit:

The Judge (DVD REVIEW)



The Judge
DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Downey Plays Prodigal Son in Search of Redemption in Compelling Courtroom Drama

            Hank Palmer (Robert Downey, Jr.) is a very successful, criminal defense attorney with a good reason to hide his humble roots. After all, he was a rebellious kid who frequently landed in trouble with the law while growing up in tiny Carlinville, Indiana.
That juvenile delinquency only served to alienate him from his father, Joseph (Robert Duvall), who just happened to be the town’s only judge. In addition, one of Hank’s more egregious missteps left him permanently estranged from his older brother, Glen (Vincent D’Onofrio). And since their only other sibling, Dale (Jeremy Palmer), was mentally handicapped, Hank hadn’t been back in ages when he received word that his mother (Catherine Cummings) had died.
So, he only planned to make a perfunctory appearance at the funeral before quickly returning to Chicago where he had his hands full, between his high-flying career and a custody battle with his estranged wife (Sarah Lancaster) over their young daughter (Emma Tremblay). However, everything changes when Judge Palmer is suddenly arrested in the hit-and-run killing of a creepy convict (Mark Kiely) he’d publicly castigated in court before releasing back onto the street.
This shocking development conveniently forces Hank to stick around to represent his father, and simultaneously affords him the opportunity to mend a few fences. Plus, it gives him time to unwittingly seduce a woman he meets in a bar (Leighton Meester), who is not only the daughter of his high school sweetheart (Vera Farmiga), but might be the love child he never knew he had.
            Thus unfolds The Judge, a character-driven drama which is half-whodunit, half-kitchen sink soap opera that pulls another rabbit out of the hat every five minutes or so. A potentially farcical film remains rather well grounded thanks to Robert Duvall who plays the Palmer family patriarch with a sobering, stone cold gravitas. 
            Both Robert Downey, Jr. and Billy Bob Thornton turn in inspired performances, too, as the opposing attorneys matching wits in a classic courtroom showdown. And the rest of the ensemble more than holds their own as well in service of a script that has a tendency to strain credulity.
A fanciful, thoroughly-modern variation on the parable of the Prodigal Son!

Excellent (3.5 stars)
Rated R for profanity and sexual references
Running time: 141 minutes
Distributor: Warner Home Entertainment Group
Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack Extras: Deleted scenes; deleted scenes with optional commentary by director David Dobkin; commentary by David Dobkin; Inside the Judge; and Getting Deep with Dax Shepard.

To see a trailer for The Judge, visit:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7TA5Y86yAo4

To order a copy of The Judge Blu-ray/DVD combo pack, visit: 

Fury (DVD REVIEW)



Fury
DVD Review by Kam Williams

Brad Pitt Plays Tough Tank Commander in WWII Flick

            It is April of 1945, and the Allies are making major inroads across the European theater. However, Adolf Hitler has responded to the attrition in the ranks of his army by exhorting women and children to take up arms in a desperate fight to the death. 
            This is the state of affairs awaiting Don “Wardaddy” Collier (Brad Pitt) when he reaches Germany after engagements in Africa, Belgium and the Netherlands. Sergeant Collier is the commander of a Sherman tank that is part of a battle-hardened armored division being dispatched deep into enemy territory to help deliver the coup de grace to the Nazis.
            We meet Wardaddy during a brief pause in the action taken to refuel, to restock ammo and to replace his recently-deceased “best damn gunner in the 9th battalion.” Now, he must make do with Norman Ellison (Logan Lerman), a private with no fighting experience just plucked out of the typing pool.
The other members of Collier’s motley crew include tank driver Trini Garcia (Michael Pena), Bible-thumping Boyd Swan (Shia LaBeouf) and a good ol’ boy who goes by Coon-Ass (Jon Benthal). Their next mission is to rescue some stranded GIs urgently in need of assistance.
But prior to shipping out, Collier wants to make sure his greenhorn is ready for the front. So, he forces him to shoot a captured SS officer in the head to show he has no qualms about killing.
            That is the premise established at the outset of Fury, a fairly gruesome adventure written and directed by U.S. Navy veteran David Ayer (Training Day). Fair warning: this is a film you don’t so much watch as endure. Picture the sheer intensity of Saving Private Ryan coupled with the visual capture of The Thin Red Line, the harrowing claustrophobia of Das Boot, and the utter insanity of Apocalypse Now.
Brad Pitt exudes an endearing combination of confidence and charm as a calm leader who proves himself quite capable of generating a genuine camaraderie among his men despite the cramped quarters and constant close brushes of death. Moreover, he exhibits an uncanny ingenuity when forced by circumstances to survive by his wits as their resources dwindle.
The meat grinder that was World War II convincingly portrayed from the point-of-view of a band of brothers who were like sitting ducks stuck in a sardine can.

Excellent (4 stars)
Rated R for sexuality, graphic violence, grisly images and pervasive profanity
In English and German with subtitles
Running time: 135 minutes
Distributor: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Extras: 50+ minutes of deleted and extended scenes; Director’s Combat Journal; Armored Warriors: The Real Men inside the Shermans; Taming the Beasts: How to Drive, Fire and Shoot inside a 30-Ton Tank; Photo Gallery; and Blood Brothers.   

To see a trailer for Fury, visit:   

To order Fury on Blu-ray, visit:  

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Kam's Movie Kapsules for 1-30-15



OPENING THIS WEEK
Kam's Kapsules:      
Weekly Previews That Make Choosing a Film Fun         
by Kam Williams
For movies opening January 30, 2015


BIG BUDGET FILMS   

Black or White (PG-13 for profanity, fighting and mature themes involving drugs and alcohol) Cross-cultural drama chronicling the bitter custody battle between a black grandmother (Octavia Spencer) and a white grandfather (Kevin Costner) over their motherless, biracial granddaughter (Jillian Estell). With Anthony Mackie, Andre Holland, Gillian Jacobs and Jennifer Ehle.

The Loft (R for profanity, sexuality, nudity, drug use and graphic violence) Remake of the 2008 Belgian thriller of the same name revolving around five married suburbanites (Karl Urban, James Marsden, Wentworth Miller, Eric Stonestreet and Matthias Schoenaerts) who purchase a penthouse in the city for secret rendezvous with mistresses only to become suspicious of each other after a female corpse is found inside their pied-à-terre. Cast includes Rhona Mitra, Rachael Taylor and Isabel Lucas.

Project Almanac (PG-13 for profanity and sexuality) Found-footage sci-fi thriller about a brilliant teen brainiac (Jonny Weston) who gets more than he bargained for after building a time-travel machine with the help of his sister (Virginia Gardner) and his egghead BFFs (Sam Lerner and Allen Evangelista). With Sofia Black-D’Elia, Amy Landecker, Agnes Mayasari and Katie Garfield. 
  

INDEPENDENT & FOREIGN FILMS 

Amira & Sam (Unrated) Romantic dramedy about a returning war vet (Martin Starr) who takes a shot at stand-up comedy back in the States while dating the niece (Dina Shihabi) of his former Iraqi translator (Laith Nakli). With Paul Wesley, David Rasche, Ross Marquand and Taylor Wilcox.

Backstreet Boys: Show ‘Em What You’re Made Of (Unrated) Rockumentary chronicling both the career of the iconic boy band as well as its 20th anniversary reunion to record a new album. Featuring Brian Littrell, Nick Carter, A.J. McLean, Kevin Scott Richardson and Howie Dorough.
  
Girlhood (Unrated) Coming-of-age drama about a troubled 16 year-old (Karidja Toure) who joins an all-girl gang after becoming fed up with being abused both at home and around the ‘hood. With Assa Sylla, Lindsay Karamoh, Marietou Toure and Idrissa Diabate. (In French with subtitles)

Hard to Be a God (Unrated) Outer space adventure about a team of scientists sent from Earth to a distant planet to help put its primitive inhabitants on a path of progress. Co-starring Leonid Yarmolnik, Laura Lauri, Dmitriy Vladmirov and Aleksandr Ilin. (In Russian with subtitles)

My Name Is Hmmm… (Unrated) Unlikely-buddies road drama about an 11 year-old French girl (Lou-Lelia Demerliac) who stows away in the cab of a Scottish truck driver (Douglas Gordon) after being sexually-abused by her own father (Jacques Bonnaffe). With Sylvie Testud, Emile Gautier, Noemie Ducourau and Marie-Christine Barrault. (In French and English with subtitles)

Suburban Gothic (R for sexuality, profanity, violence and drug use) Horror comedy about a down-on-his-luck MBA (Matthew Gray Gubler) who moves back in with his parents (Barbara Niven and Ray Wise) when he can’t find a job. Plot thickens when he enlists the assistance of a ballsy bartender (Kat Dennings) to engage the ghost terrorizing their hometown. Cast includes Muse Watson, Sally Kirkland and John Waters.  

Supremacy (Unrated) Abduction drama about a white supremacist (Joe Anderson) who kills a police officer and takes a black family hostage with the help of his girlfriend (Dawn Olivieri) on the day of his parole from prison. With Julie Benz, Mahershala Ali and Jenica Bergere. 

Timbuktu (PG-13 for violence and mature themes) Oscar-nominated drama (in the Best Foreign Film category) about the occupation of Timbuktu in 2012 by Islamic jihadists known as the Ansar Dine. Starring Ibrahim Ahmed, Abel Jafri and Toulou Kiki. (In French, Arabic, Bambara, English and Songhay)

Wild Card (R for profanity, sexuality, nudity and graphic violence) Jason Statham stars in this action thriller about a bodyguard bent on revenge after his friend (Dominik Garcia-Lorido) is sadistically beaten by the son of a powerful mob boss. Ensemble includes Sofia Vergara, Milo Ventimiglia, Jason Alexander, Hope Davis, Stanley Tucci, Anne Heche and Max Casella.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Americons (FILM REVIEW)



Americons
Film Review by Kam Williams


Fact-Based Cautionary Tale Revisits Sub-Prime Mortgage Crisis

            It is California in 2007, at the height of the sub-prime mortgage boom. Jason “Jay” Kelley (Beau Martin Williams), a cash-strapped bouncer is offered an alternative line of work in a higher tax bracket by Devin Weiss (Matt Funke), a hotshot real estate broker whose company is in the midst of a hiring blitz.
            For, the Feds have recently deregulated ARMs (Adjustable Rate Mortgages), making the liars loans available to any member of the general public able to meet the minimum down payment requirement of a mere 1%. That development has triggered a feeding frenzy which left lenders like Devin with too few employees to process notes fast enough.
Unfortunately, Jay proves unable to resist the easy money being dangled right in front of his eyes like a carrot on a stick. Worse, once greed has gotten the better of him, he succumbs to the suggestion that it’s okay to behave unscrupulously in the name of the almighty dollar. So, he soon finds himself being trained to trick naïve borrowers into signing on the dotted line to finance homes way beyond their means.
Jay’s ethical tailspin begins with his fast-talking an unemployed pal (Trai Byers) with a wife and kids into buying a house he’s destined to default on. Jay subsequently loses his moral bearings afterhours, too, by attending wild parties with his colleagues where snorting coke off women’s bare midriffs is par for the course. Worst of all, when he sobers up and decides he wants out, he’s blackmailed by a manipulative boss (Sam McMurray) who’s been secretly recording his hedonistic behavior.
Unfolding like the West Coast’s answer to the decadence displayed in The Wolf of Wall Street, Americons is a sobering cautionary tale exposing the ugly underbelly of the California mortgage industry. Directed by Theo Avgerinos (Fifty Pills), the semi-autobiographical adventure was co-written by its co-stars, Beau Martin Williams and Matt Funke.
A modern morality play serving as a telling reminder of exactly how easily an American Dream can dissolve into a neverending dystopian nightmare.


Very Good (3 stars)
Rated R for profanity, nudity, sexuality and drug use.
Running time: 85 minutes
Distributor: Archstone Distribution

To see a trailer for Americons, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NtxWOOAN33M