Friday, November 17, 2017

Destined



Film Review by Kam Williams



Cory Hardrict Stars as Both a Gangsta and an Architect in Alternate Reality, Sci-Fi Saga

Sheed Smith (Cory Hardrict) is a drug dealer roaming Detroit's mean streets in a bloody turf war being waged in the 'hood where he was raised. Meanwhile, his doppelganger, Rasheed Smith (also Cory Hardrict), is an idealistic architect overseeing an urban renewal project designed to revitalize the same ghetto.

However, the two look-a-likes' paths never cross. That's because they exist in parallel universes. You see, Destined is one of those "What if?" affairs set in a couple of alternate realities. Thus, we are able to compare bad boy Sheed's fate to that of his straitlaced alter ego. 
 
The picture was written and directed by Qasim Basir who made a spectacular directorial debut in 2010 with the relatively-moving Mooz-lum. This disappointing sophomore offering earns an A for ambition, if only a C for execution. 
 
Cory Hardrict stars as both Sheed and Rasheed in a split screen saga that flits back and forth between storylines that never intersect. Unfortunately, neither plot is well enough developed to fully engage the viewer. 
 
I suppose Basir was too in love with his bifurcated, sci-fi script to consider jettisoning one-half and fleshing out the other into a full-length feature. Instead, we're treated to a one-trick pony that repeatedly illustrates the diverging fates of a guy who kept his nose clean and that of an identical stranger who ventured to the dark side. 
 
An amusing idea that runs out of steam not long after the premise is established.


Fair (1.5 stars)
Unrated
Running time: 91 minutes
Production Studio: Whitewater Films / Tilted Windmill Productions / Confluential Films
Distributor: XLrator Media



To see a trailer for Destined, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r6fzjsU7nqY

Thursday, November 16, 2017

The Star


Film Review by Kam Williams



Animals Emerge as Unsung Heroes in Animated Version of the Birth of Christ

Most movies based on the Bible have limited appeal beyond the faithful, because the stories are ordinarily dry adaptations basically recounting popular parables in straightforward fashion. A novel exception to the rule is The Star, an animated reimagining of the Nativity.
What makes the production unique is that it unfolds from the point of view of a gang of anthropomorphic barnyard animals that apparently played a critical role in the birth of the Christ child. Who knew? Bo the donkey (Steve Yeun) is the ringleader of the meandering menagerie ultimately huddled around the manger in the iconic creche tableau everybody knows. 
 
Furthermore, instead of serving up a purely pious plotline, this relatively-lighthearted revision features a lot of humorous asides, much of it coming courtesy of a trash-talking camel played by the irrepressible Tracy Morgan {"Three wise men don't get lost!"). Betwixt and between all the wisecracks, we witness the assorted ordeals of Joseph the Carpenter (Zachary Levi) and the Virgin Mary (Gina Rodriguez) as they negotiate the perilous gauntlet from Nazareth to a sacred stable in Bethlehem, in accordance with New Testament lore.
Think of The Star as an irreverent cross of Shrek (2001) and The Nativity Story (2006). The movie marks the noteworthy directorial debut of Timothy Reckhart, who recruited a big name cast that included Oprah, Tyler Perry, Mariah Carey, Ving Rhames, Anthony Anderson and televangelist Joel Osteen. 
 
To make sure you get the Christmas spirit, the score has been stocked with a profusion of holiday classics, starting with the familiar strains of "Carol of the Bells." If the name doesn't ring a bell, it's the catchy tune now better known as the "Give-a-Give-a-Give-a-Garmin" jingle from the GPS commercial. Also on the soundtrack are such standards as O Holy Night, The Little Drummer Boy, God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, We Three Kings and Ave Maria. 
 
The Nativity revisited as a kiddie cartoon adventure guaranteed to enthrall tykes of any race, color or creed.


Very Good (3 stars)
Rated PG for mature themes
Running time: 86 minutes
Production Studio: Affirm Films / The Jim Henson Company / Walden media
Distributor: Sony Pictures Animation

To see a trailer for The Star, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tVgQuZf5o1M



Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Cory Hardrict

The “Destined” Interview
with Kam Williams


Cory's Story!

Born and raised in Chicago, Cory Hardrict immersed himself in the arts at an early age. His passion and talent led to an enviable and enduring movie and television career.

His big screen credits include Gran Torino, Brotherly Love, American Sniper, Spectral, Crazy/Beautiful, Naked, Battle: Los Angeles, Never Been Kissed and He's Just Not That into You, to name a few. Meanwhile, he's appeared on such TV shows as Law & Order, ER, Boston Legal, Cold Case, The Shield, Saving Grace, Heroes, Dark Blue and CSI: NY.

Here he talks about playing both lead roles in his new film, Destined, a coming-of-age saga revolving around alternate possible paths followed by a youngster trying to make it out of the ghetto.


Kam Williams: Hi Cory, thanks for the interview.
Cory Hardrict: Thank you for having me, Kam. Let's do it!

KW: What interested you in Destined?
CH: The material! Getting a chance to play two characters in a film was something I couldn't pass up on. Both worlds with two different meanings. Being able to show different sides to a story.

KW: How would you describe the film in 25 words or less?
CH: I would describe Destined as a groundbreaking, innovative slice-of-life adventure that reflect the times we live in now.

KW: The movie has two lead characters, Sheed and Rasheed, and you play them both. Was it hard playing people with such different personalities?
CH: The characters were shot like two separate films. But it still had its challenges grounding them. Living in such different worlds kept it simple and real.

KW: What was it like being directed by Qasim Basir, whose movie, Mooz-lum, received such critical acclaim?
CH: Working with Qasim was great. He's a calm director who loves the arts and has a great vision of what he wants to accomplish. He has a very bright future!

KW: How did you get along with Hill Harper, Zulay Henao and the rest of the cast?
CH: Hill Harper was awesome, and he’s such a positive guy. When he speaks, everyone listens, and you can take some key gems and apply them to your life. Zulay was cool to work with. She is passionate about her craft. The whole cast was wonderful, and I had great chemistry with Robert Christopher Riley who's an amazing actor.
KW: What message do you think people will take away from Destined?
CH: The message I hope people will take away would be that choices and decisions can make or break you. They can alter the next 30 years of your life.

KW: Harriet Pakula-Teweles asks: With so many classic films being redone, is there a remake you'd like to star in?
CH: I haven't really given it much thought. But If I had to do one, it would be Scarface, set in Chicago, with me playing Tony Montana.

KW: Larry Greenberg asks: Do you have a favorite movie monster?
CH: I'm sorry I don't, but I love to watch whatever my son is watching.

KW: Ling-Ju Yen asks: What is your earliest childhood memory?
CH: Playing football in the street with my friends, and swimming in creeks. The good old days!

KW: Was there a meaningful spiritual component to your childhood?
CH: Yes, going to Catholic school which taught me at a early age the power of prayer.

KW: What is your favorite dish to cook?
CH: Mac and cheese!

KW: Sherry Gillam would like to know what is the most important life lesson you've learned so far?
CH: Just to help other. To be of service to people. I believe that's why we are here on this Earth.

KW: The Viola Davis question: What’s the biggest difference between who you are at home as opposed to the person we see on the red carpet?
CH: There is no difference. I wear sweats and a T-shirt everyday at home. On the carpet I just dress up. But same personality and all. At least with work, I get to tap into someone else for a bit.

KW: When you look in the mirror, what do you see?
CH: A God-fearing man who would risk it all for family and his beliefs.

KW: Finally, Samuel L. Jackson asks: What’s in your wallet?
CH: Pictures of family, credit cards, and an ID. No money, though. [LOL]

KW: Thanks again for the time, Cory, and best of luck with Destined.
CH: Thank you, Kam. I appreciate the interview.

To see a trailer for Destined, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r6fzjsU7nqY


No Greater Love


Film Review by Kam Williams


Afghan War Documentary Chronicles Combat through Eyes of Grunts on the Ground

In 2010, the 101st Airborne Division's "No Slack" Infantry Battalion deployed to Afghanistan where it would face its fiercest combat since fighting the Viet Cong during the Tet Offensive. Embedded with the grunts was Army Chaplain Justin Roberts who brought along a camera to preserve for posterity what transpired over the course of the tour.

The upshot of that effort is No Greater Love, one of the best documentaries of the year and, quite frankly, the most moving one this critic has seen about the Afghan War. For, it not only chronicles, in real time, the terrible toll exacted by battle, but also the emotional fallout visited on the surviving vets upon their return to the States as they attempt to readjust to private life. 
 
Sadly, about half the men were wounded or killed in action. We see the servicemen pausing to mourn fallen colleagues only momentarily before having to resume their mission. No wonder so many subsequently suffered from PTSD, frequently finding themselves misunderstood and even abandoned by family and friends during the difficult transition from soldiers to civilians. 
 
So, No Greater Love is not a feel-good flick. Rather, it is a grim reminder of the sacrifices made by members of the armed forces in serve to the country. The film's title was inspired by John 15:13, the Biblical verse which reads "There is no greater love than this--that a man should lay down his life for his friends." 
 
Jesus' words are apropos for this tight-knit, band of brothers bonded together forever, whether overseas or home. Every patriot owes a debt of gratitude to "Chappy" Roberts for such a searing, cinematic memoir illustrating the unfortunate paradox that the road back from war is often far longer than the one there.


Excellent (4 stars)
Unrated
Running time: 97 minutes
Distributor: Atlas Distribution



To see a trailer for No Greater Love, visit:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qirfb9d9d8M&list=PLfjb5sdMN-J75tlDIdW5OonXc-ZTEXgiS

Monday, November 13, 2017

Roman J. Israel, Esq.


Film Review by Kam Williams





Denzel Delivers Oscar-Quality Performance as Attorney with Asperger's

Roman J. Israel (Denzel Washington) is a high-functioning savant on the autism spectrum who has been practicing law in L.A. for the past 36 years. The brilliant attorney has spent most of his career under the radar, writing legal briefs in a rear office for indigent criminal defendants, while his partner, William Henry Jackson, served as the face of the firm, whether cultivating clients or arguing their cases in the courtroom.

This unorthodox arrangement worked well for Roman who, besides his disorder, is a longtime political activist dedicated to a progressive agenda, namely, to assist downtrodden individuals unfairly ensnared in the net of the prison-industrial complex. And because of that commitment, he's been willing to work for far less pay than colleagues of his caliber. Consequently, the highly-principled lawyer has had to scrape by on a modest salary, living in the same dive for decades, where he subsisted on a steady diet of peanut butter sandwiches and jazz classics played on an old-fashioned turntable. 
 
Everything changes the day William Jackson suffers a heart attack and the two-person firm is forced to dissolve. Roman first applies for a position with a public interest non-profit that shares his values. But when the empathetic director (Carmen Ejogo) explains that she doesn't have the money to hire an attorney, he resigns himself to joining a corporate firm where he's soon teamed with a young associate (Colin Farrell) interested only in maximizing profits.

This leaves Roman sitting on the horns of an ethical dilemma. Should he abandon his morals to keep a roof over his head? That is the question at the center of Roman J. Israel, Esq., a compelling character portrait written and directed by Oscar-nominee Dan Gilroy (for Nightcrawler). 
 
The legendary Denzel Washington is quite convincing as well as moving, here, as a beleaguered soul afflicted with Asperberger's syndrome. His powerful performance might very well be remembered at Oscar time, given the Academy's recent history of rewarding thespians playing impaired characters, including Eddie Redmayne (2014) for wheelchair-bound Stephen Hawking (ALS); Colin Firth (2010) for stuttering King George VI; Geoffrey Rush (1996) for mentally-ill David Helfgott; Tom Hanks (1994) for dimwitted Forest Gump; Tom Hanks (1993) for AIDS patient Andrew Beckett; Daniel Day-Lewis (1989) for cerebral palsy victim Christy Brown; and Dustin Hoffman (1988) for mathematics savant Rain Man.

Win, lose or draw, Roman J. Israel, Esq. deserves accolades aplenty in its own right for its touching treatment of such a sensitive subject.


Excellent (4 stars)
Rated PG-13 for violence and profanity
Running time: 129 minutes
Production Studio: Bron Creative / Cross Creek Pictures / Escape Artists / FZ /Macro
Distributor: Columbia Pictures


To see a trailer for Roman J. Israel, Esq., visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CItEtnp3nPY



Saturday, November 11, 2017

Brigsby Bear


DVD Review by Kam Williams


SNL's Kyle Mooney Stars as Clueless Kidnap Victim in Poignant Character Portrait


Brigsby Bear revolves around an age-old premise that's tough to establish and maintain convincingly, namely, the plight of a sheltered protagonist blissfully unaware of reality. Four films come quickly to mind which succeeded at plausibly presenting just such a plotline.

In Room (2015), we witnessed a little boy being imprisoned with his mother in a shed by the rapist who'd fathered him. In Life Is Beautiful (1997), we found a concentration camp internee doing his best to shield his young son from the horrors of the Holocaust.

In Being There (!979), Peter Sellers played a gullible gardener who learned everything he knew about the outside world from TV. And in The Truman Show (1998), Jim Carrey was an orphan who had no idea that he'd been adopted by a corporation that turned his life into a reality show.
 
Now we have Brigsby Bear, a worthy addition to the challenging genre. The movie marks the impressive directorial debut of Dave McCary, who's been writing for Saturday Night Live since 2014. The picture stars SNL's Kyle Mooney, who co-wrote the script with Kevin Costello.

As the film unfolds, we're introduced to James (Mooney), a 25 year-old very content to be still living at "home." The overgrown kid religiously tunes in to Brigsby Bear, a sci-fi series revolving around a crime-fighting superhero full of energy and optimism. 
 
James has a good excuse for his stunted growth. Truth be told, his supposed parents, Ted (Mark Hamill) and April (Jane Adams), are actually kidnappers who abducted him in infancy. And they secretly produce Brigsby, the only program that ever comes on their TV. 
 
They've managed to discourage James from venturing outside the house by filling his head with lies about the air being so toxic that he'd perish without a gas mask. So, he's freely frittered away his future not only watching all 736 Brigsby Bear episodes, but visiting a fake chatroom devoted to the show. 
 
Everything changes the day James is rescued by the police and returned to his birth parents (Matt Walsh and Michaela Watkins) in Cedar Hills, Utah. Understandably, the adjustment to real-life proves problematic, since he remains obsessed with Brigsby to the point that he talks about it incessantly to anyone who'll listen. 
 
He's lucky to find a couple of sympathetic souls in an actor-turned-detective (Greg Kinnear) and Spencer (Jorge Lendeborg, Jr.), one of his teenage sister's (Ryan Simpkins) friends. They agree to help make a Brigsby Bear movie which just might enable James to find some closure on the sordid opening chapter of his life. 
 
A poignant character portrait capable of catapulting Kyle Mooney from SNL support player to bona fide matinee idol!

Excellent (4 stars)
Rated PG-13 for drug use, teen partying, mature themes and brief sexuality
Running time: 97 minutes
Production Studio: 3311 Productions / YL Pictures / The Lonely Island / Lord Miller
Distributor: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
DVD Extras: Gag reel, commentary with Kyle Mooney & Dave McCary; Twin Speak: Kyle & Dave; An Evening with Brigsby Bear Cast Q&A; and The Wisdom of Brigsby Bear.



To see a trailer for Brigsby Bear, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JEohOb38hhs
 

To order a copy of Brigsby Bear on DVD, visit:  

Whose Streets?



DVD Review by Kam Williams


Documentary Revisits Police Shooting That Launched Black Lives Matter Movement

On August 9, 2014, Mike Brown was shot a half-dozen times by police officer Darren Wilson on the streets of Ferguson, Missouri, a predominantly-black suburb of St. Louis. Because several eyewitnesses said the 18 year-old had his hands up at the time, the incident triggered nationwide civil unrest which gave rise to the Black Lives Matter movement. 
 
But Wilson was not even indicted by the grand jury which deemed his testimony credible. He claimed to have pulled the trigger in self defense after Brown had punched him and tried to grab his gun. The legal case divided the country along color lines in the same way as the O.J. Simpson trial, with African-Americans generally feeling that cops are too quick to shoot young black men, and most whites being inclined to give law enforcement the benefit of the doubt. 
 
Co-directed by Damon Davis and Sabaah Folayan, Whose Streets? is an incendiary documentary which revisits the tragedy in partisan fashion, arguing entirely in favor of Brown's innocence while conveniently ignoring the mountain of evidence which ultimately exonerated Wilson. Granted, this provocative polemic might serve as a Black Lives Matter recruiting tool, but it is likely to be of little value to any truth seeker interested in an impartial investigation.

After all, there was video proof that Brown and Dorian Johnson had robbed a convenience store just 3 minutes before the encounter with Wilson who was summoned to the scene by a police dispatcher. Furthermore, the county, federal and independent autopsies corroborated the cop's story while simultaneously refuting Johnson's claim that his accomplice had been shot in the back and with his hands up. After an exhaustive investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice, even Attorney General Eric Holder concluded that Wilson was innocent. 
 
So, what's dismaying about Whose Streets? is how its presentation of a thief as an altar boy flies in the face of Dr. Martin Luther King's appeal that black people be judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. Why make Mike Brown the poster child for the Black Lives Matter movement, when there are so many martyrs far more deserving, like Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis and Tamir Rice, to name a few? 
 
A soulful cinematic sermon elevating a sinner to sainthood for the sake of an uncritical Amen choir still in denial about the truth of the Mike Brown case!


Good (2 stars)
Rated R for ethnic slurs, mature themes and pervasive profanity
Running time: 101 minutes
Distributor: Magnolia Home Entertainment