Thursday, March 30, 2017

Kam's Kapsules for movies opening April 7, 2017

 
by Kam Williams
Weekly Previews That Make Choosing a Film Fun 


OPENING THIS WEEK

BIG BUDGET FILMS

The Case for Christ (PG for mature themes, incidental smoking and medical descriptions of crucifixion) Faith-based docudrama based on investigative journalist Lee Strobel's (Mike Vogel) best seller of the same name chronicling his conversion from a skeptical atheist to a devout believer after two years of trying to convince his Born Again wife (Erika Christensen) that God doesn't exist. With Faye Dunaway, Robert Forster and Frankie Faison.

Going in Style (PG-13 for profanity, drug use and suggestive material) Remake of the classic crime comedy revolving around a trio of retirees (Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine and Alan Arkin) who conspire to rob the bank that bankrupted their pension fund. Supporting cast includes Joey King, Ann-Margaret, Matt Dillon, Kenan Thompson and Christopher Lloyd.

Smurfs: The Lost Village (PG for mild action and rude humor) Reboot of the animated franchise finds Smurfette (Demi Lovato) and BFFs Brainy (Danny Pudi), Hefty (Joe Manganiello) and Clumsy (Jack McBrayer) racing through a forbidden forest filled with magical creatures to find a lost village before the evil wizard Gargamel (Rainn Wilson). Voice cast includes Mandy Patinkin, Julia Roberts, Michelle Rodriguez, Meghan Trainor and Gordon Ramsay.


INDEPENDENT & FOREIGN FILMS

Aftermath (R for one scene containing graphic violence) Fact-based docudrama about a grief-stricken vigilante (Arnold Schwarzenegger) who seeks to take revenge on the air traffic controller (Scoot McNairy) whose mistake led to the crash which claimed the lives of his wife and daughter. Supporting cast includes Maggie Grace, Kevin Zegers and Hannah Ware.

Alive and Kicking (Unrated) Musical documentary taking an informative look at both the Depression Era roots as well as the present-day popularity of swing dancing.

The Assignment (R for profanity, sexuality, violence, drug use and graphic nudity) Crime thriller about a double-crossed assassin's (Michelle Rodriguez) quest for vengeance against the rogue surgeon (Sigourney Weaver) who performed her gender-reassignment surgery against her will. Featuring Tony Shalhoub, Anthony LaPaglia and Lia Lam.

Cezanne et Moi (R for profanity, nudity and sexual references) Bifurcated biopic chronicling the lifelong friendship of novelist/philosopher Emile Zola (Guillaume Canet) and Post-Impressionist painter Paul Cezanne (Guillaume Gallienne). With Alice Pol, Deborah Francois and Pierre Yvon. (In French with subtitles)

Colossal (R for profanity) Sci-fi comedy about a just-dumped and just-fired slacker (Anne Hathaway) who abandons New York City for her hometown where she suffers a nervous breakdown that leaves her convinced she's in control of a giant monster making mincemeat of Seoul, South Korea. Ensemble cast includes Jason Sudeikis, Tim Blake Nelson, Dan Stevens and Simon Pegg.

Gifted (PG-13 for profanity, mature themes and suggestive material) Coming-of-age adventure set in a Central Florida coastal town where a 7 year-old orphan (Mckenna Grace) raised by her uncle (Chris Evans) since her mother's suicide becomes the subject of a custody battle when her grandmother (Lindsay Duncan) learns she's a promising math prodigy. With Octavia Spencer, Jona Xiao and Jenny Slate.

Graduation (R for profanity) Crime drama, set in Transylvania, about a physician (Adrian Titieni) who loses his moral compass after his 18 year-old daughter (Maria-Victoria Dragus) is left traumatized by a sexual assault right before taking her college entrance exam. Support cast includes Rares Andrici, Lia Bugnar and Vlad Ivanov. (In Romanian with subtitles)

Salt and Fire (Unrated) Strange bedfellows drama about a couple of environmental activists (Gael Garcia Bernal and Veronica Ferres) who grudgingly join forces with the corrupt CEO (Michael Shannon) of a corporate polluter when an active volcano threatens to trigger an ecological disaster. Featuring Anita Briem, Lawrence Krauss and the film's director, Werner Herzog. (In English, Spanish, Quecha and German with subtitles)

Speech & Debate (PG-13 for teen sexuality, mature themes, profanity and substance abuse) Adaptation of the Off-Broadway play of the same name about a trio of teenage outcasts (Liam James, Sarah Steele and Austin McKenzie) who deal with their hypocritical parents and teachers by reviving their high school's dormant debate club. With Janeane Garofalo, Wendi McLendon-Covey, Kal Penn, Roger Bart, Lucy DeVito (Danny's daughter) and creator of the Broadway hit Hamilton, Lin-Manuel Miranda.

Their Finest (R for profanity and sexuality) Romantic dramedy, set in London during World War II, about a young woman (Gemma Arterton) enlisted to write scripts for British propaganda films who finds herself falling for the movies' handsome producer (Sam Claflin). With Bill Nighy, Jake Lacy and Eddie Marsan.

The Ticket (Unrated) Changed circumstances drama about a blind man (Dan Stevens) who turns into a jerk, dumping his plain wife (Malin Akerman) for an attractive young woman (Kerry Bishe), and deserting his blind BFF (Oliver Platt), after miraculously regaining his sight. Supporting cast includes Peter Mark Kendall, Liza J. Bennett and Skylar Gaertner.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

20th Century Women





Blu-ray Review by Kam Williams

Nostalgic Tale of Female Empowerment Comes to Home Video

Nominated for an Oscar in the Best Original Screenplay category, 20th Century Women is an inter-generational coming-of-age tale set in Santa Barbara, California in 1979. The nostalgic ensemble drama revolves around the efforts of a neurotic single-mom (Annette Bening) to parent a naive 15 year-old (Lucas Jade Zumann) in dire need of a role model.

The picture's protagonist is Dorothea Fields, a middle-aged chain-smoker who owns the dilapidated rooming house where the bulk of the story is set. Paradoxically, she recruits a couple of considerably-younger females, Abbie (Greta Gerwig) and Julie (Elle Fanning), to help with raising her son, Jamie, conveniently ignoring the availability of a pleasant and ostensibly-plausible father figure in her handyman, William (Billy Crudup). 
 
Consequently, tenant Abbie tries to indoctrinate the impressionable kid by having him read popular feminist manifestos like "Sisterhood Is Powerful." Meanwhile, worldly-wise Julie, 17, is happy to share a Platonic relationship with him. After all, they've known each other since they were little. 
 
The engaging ensemble drama intermittently resorts to voiceovered flashbacks to develop each of the lead characters' back stories. First, we hear Jamie ruminating about life with his mom. Then, it's her fretting about understanding him less and less every day. We later hear Abbie's concern about her cervical cancer scare, and Julie's resentment of her therapist mother's forcing her into group therapy sessions. 
 
When not engaging in personal reminiscences, 20th Century Women effectively transports the audience back to the late Seventies. For, besides resurrecting the era's fashions and decor, the action unfolds against a variety of painstakingly-recreated, period familiar backdrops. In addition, the film's score features an eclectic mix of musical artists ranging from Rudy Vallee to Louie Armstrong to David Bowie to The Talking Heads. 
 
Though there isn't much of a message to glean from this inappropriately-titled homage to the dawn of female empowerment, one can easily appreciate its vivid triptych of poignant personal portraits.



Excellent (3.5 stars)
Rated R for sexuality, nudity, profanity and brief drug use
Running time: 118 minutes
Distributor: Lionsgate Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Extras: Audio commentary with writer/director Mike Mills; The Making of 20th Century Women; and 20th Century Cast.


To see a trailer for 20th Century Women, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bxcvng_CpMQ
 
To order a copy of 20th Century Women on Blu-ray, visit:

 

Niki Caro

 

"The Zookeeper's Wife” Interview
with Kam Williams


Caro on the Straight and Narrow

Director/screenwriter Niki Caro is one of the most successful filmmakers to emerge from New Zealand. After completing a BFA at Elam School of Fine Arts in Auckland, as well as a Postgraduate Diploma in Film from Swinburne in Melbourne, Australia, Niki wrote and directed a number of highly-acclaimed shorts.

Sure to Rise screened at the 1994 Cannes International Film Festival, and Footage was shown at the 1996 Venice International Film Festival. Her first full-length feature, Memory & Desire, focused on a Japanese married couple and was selected for Critics Week at the 1998 Cannes International Film Festival. It went on to win four New Zealand Film and Television Awards, including Best Film.

Niki's sophomore offering, Whale Rider, explored the Maori community of Whangara on New Zealand’s East Coast, and made an impact globally. Whale Rider was seen by millions of people and won over two dozen prizes around the world, including top honors at the Toronto (the People’s Choice Award), Sundance (the Audience Award), Rotterdam, San Francisco, Maui, and Seattle (Best Film) Film Festivals. The film’s star Keisha Castle-Hughes landed an Academy Award nomination for Best Lead Actress, becoming what was then the youngest nominee ever in the category.

Niki next directed North Country, a drama set on the Iron Range in Northern Minnesota. The film starred Charlize Theron, Frances McDormand, Sissy Spacek and Woody Harrelson. Theron and McDormand were nominated for Oscars in the Best Lead Actress and Best Supporting Actress categories, respectively.

Continuing to illuminate real lives and real communities onscreen, Niki directed the sleeper hit McFarland, USA, starring Kevin Costner. Set in California’s Central Valley, the inspirational docudrama chronicled the real-life exploits of an all-Latino cross-country track team.

Here, Niki talks about her new film, The Zookeeper's Wife, a World War II biopic starring Jessica Chastain as an intrepid heroine who saved hundreds of Jews from the Holocaust.


Kam Williams: Hi Niki, thanks for the interview. I'm honored to have this opportunity to speak with you.
Niki Caro: Oh, that's very kind of you to say, Kam.

KW: I love all your films. In fact, your last one, McFarland, USA, was #13 on my Top 100 list for 2015.
NC: That's amazing! You've made my day.

KW: I was really moved by it, as I was by this one. I went into the theater a little skeptical about the plot. Even though it's true, a story about a woman saving both zoo animals and hundreds of Jews during the Holocaust just sounded a little farfetched. Yet, you had me weeping by the end of the picture.
NC: Great!

KW: What interested you in The Zookeeper's Wife?
NC: The radical humanity of the Zabinskis.

KW: Was that from reading the book?
NC: No, I'm ashamed to have to admit I hadn't. Neither had I ever heard of Antonina Zabinski [played by Jessica Chastain], let alone of the role she played in history. Here was this intriguing story in script form that I couldn't believe was true. And yet it was. I felt it offered a really new way to talk about the Holocaust, a way that really spoke about heart, hope and humanity. And about feelings too.

KW: The movie has many tasteful touches of humor. How did you manage to do that without offending the audience? How do you know what humor will or won't work when you're dealing with such serious subject matter? It must be hard making sure you don't cross a line.
NC: Well, I always take my inspiration from the true story, which in this case was Antonina. It was wonderful to me that her instinct to nurture and protect animals translated so effortlessly to the human species. And the way she created a sanctuary was so feminine. That influenced the filmmaking in a very big way. It's a very feminine look at the Holocaust. It certainly speaks about war in a very feminine fashion. Of course, war didn't just happen to men, as many war movies suggest. It also happened to women, to children and to animals, and I felt that this film uniquely gave them a voice. And it gave women, in particular, a way to express femininity as strength.

KW: Absolutely! I definitely don't remember ever seeing war presented so intimately from a woman's perspective.
NC: Well, there you go. We're still somewhat unfamiliar with stories being told from a female's point-of-view. So, i hope that makes this story kind of fresh.

KW: It sure does. After I saw the film, I couldn't help but wonder why the movie wasn't released during awards season. This movie has Oscars written all over it.
NC: That wasn't my decision. There are a whole lot of factors that are weighed in determining when a movie's released, and none of those determinations are made by the filmmaker. [Laughs] But I'm really happy it's being released now.

KW: I point it out only because you've already directed three actresses to Academy Award nominations, and Jessica Chastain does such a terrific job, here. I just think the film would get serious Oscar consideration, if it were released in November or December.
NC: It still could. And if that is the case, it will really have earned it, because it will have stuck in people's minds.

KW: What is your secret to coaxing Oscar-quality performances out of actresses?
NC: Gosh! the first secret is in casting really great actresses with whom I can have a genuine collaboration, and remain open to their contributions and their brilliance. I try to create an environment on set where they feel very secure and very supported, so that they can take risks and do what I hope is some of their best work.

KW: When did you develop your interest in directing? Were you one of those kids who was constantly playing around with a video camera as a child?
NC: No, playing around with video cameras was not from my generation. [Chuckles] I never even saw a movie camera until I was in my late teens. I loved movies, but I didn't necessarily think I could make them. Growing up in New Zealand, I thought of movies as something that Americans made until I saw a film by Jane Campion.

KW: The Piano?
NC: No, her first film, Sweetie. That movie knocked me sideways. I couldn't believe it, because I recognized it. And I must admit it's super-weird. But, for the first time, I saw something I recognized from my own world. That gave me a huge amount of confidence. And I remain incredibly inspired by her.I'm a great, big fan of hers.

KW: Who are some of your other favorite directors?
NC: Back then, I felt very similarly about the work of another New Zealand filmmaker, Vincent Ward. Now, in terms of what I've seen recently. Barry Jenkins' Moonlight was absolutely stunning. And so was Damien Chazelle's La La Land. I love musicals. He's adorable, Damien. A lovely person. And so talented.

KW: Ling-Ju Yen asks: What is your earliest childhood memory?
NC: I remember the joyousness of sitting in the bath at the age of 3, listening to the radio with my dad and singing "Me and Bobby McGee" at the top of my voice.

KW: When you look in the mirror, what do you see?
NC: Oh God! [Chuckles] I see myself. 
 
KW: Is there any question no one ever asks you, that you wish someone would?
NC: Sorry, I'm drawing a blank. I've been asked so many questions.

KW: Larry Greenberg asks: Do you have a favorite movie monster?
NC: I want to see that new Kong movie, but monsters isn't so much my preferred genre.

KW: What is your favorite genre?
NC: I love drama, obviously, especially when it's really human, when it's funny, and when it lifts me out of my world. And I love documentary, too.

KW: Tell me a little about your upcoming film, Callas. I assume that's about Maria Callas.
NC: Yes, it's a project I've been working on for a very long time, and won't be making in the near future, because I'm moving on to Mulan. But Maria is very special to me.

KW: Finally, what’s in your wallet?
NC: I have two passports, a picture of my mother, my brother and me on a very unremarkable-looking beach. And some pictures of my kids, and a bunch of airline cards.

KW: Thanks again for the time, Niki, and best of luck with the film.
NC: Thank you so much, Kam. Have a good evening.

To see a trailer for The Zookeeper's Wife, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rJNFeHHGGN4

Monday, March 27, 2017

A Monster Calls




DVD Review by Kam Williams


Surreal Fantasy Features Liam Neeson as Voice of Anthropomorphic Tree


Conor O'Malley (Lewis MacDougall) is understandably miserable. First of all, the 12 year-old divorced mom (Felicity Jones) is terminally ill. Second, they're both estranged from his father (Toby Kebbell) who has long since started another family over in America.

Third, Conor is tired of being mistreated by his cold-hearted grandmother (Sigourney Weaver) who cares more about her prized possessions than his welfare. And finally, he's routinely teased at school by a bully (James Melville) about always being off in his own dream world.

So, it's no surprise when Conor starts being plagued by nightmares on a daily basis. A few minutes after midnight, the giant yew tree (Liam Neeson) standing in the graveyard outside his bedroom window turns into an intimidating, anthropomorphic monster.

Despite its imposing presence, the beast gradually gains the kid's confidence, agreeing to tell a trio of insightful allegories on the condition that Conor reciprocate with one of his own. The idea, ostensibly, is that there will be a meaningful lesson to be learned from each of the parables.

That is the point of departure of A Monster Calls, a bittersweet escapist fantasy directed by J.A. Bayona (The Impossible). The movie is based on the illustrated children's novel of the same name by Patrick Ness who also adapted it to the big screen. Ness' award-winning book was inspired by the late Siobhan Dowd, who passed away before she could tackle the semi-autobiographical project herself.

The film is less a feel-good flick than a picture about making the best of a bad situation. For, the monster's stories paint a sobering picture of life that's anything but rosy. However, they do ultimately enable Conor to own up about his deepest fear, when it's his turn to share.

Given the mature themes and the dire plot developments, it's hard to recommend A Monster Calls for vulnerable youngsters. Nevertheless, it is unique in its approach to preparing a tweener to processing an impending tragedy.

A visually-enchanting, if fateful, fairy tale.




Very Good (3 stars)
Rated PG-13 for mature themes and scary images
Running time: 108 minutes
Distributor: Universal Pictures Home Entertainment
Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack Extras: Deleted scenes; The Making of A Monster Calls; and Making of the Tales.



To see a trailer for A Monster Calls, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R2Xbo-irtBA

To order a copy of A Monster Calls on Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack, visit:  

 





The Zookeeper's Wife


Film Review by Kam Williams



Holocaust Drama Recounts Daring Exploits of Heroine Who Saved Hundreds of Jews

In 1928, Dr. Jan Zabinski (Johan Heldenbergh) became the director of the Warsaw Zoo. Over the next decade, he ran it with the help of his wife, Antonina (Jessica Chastain), who was something of a wildlife whisperer. The institution flourished under their auspices until the outbreak of the Second World War in September of '39 when Hitler invaded Poland. 
 
The zoo was closed to the public after being repeatedly bombed by the Luftwaffe during the siege of the city. However, the Zabinskis continued to live on the grounds with their young son (Timothy Radford) and the beleaguered animals that survived the attacks. 
 
But once Warsaw was occupied by the Nazis, the couple was ordered to report directly to Lutz Heck (Daniel Bruhl), the Third Reich's recently-appointed chief zoologist. Despite being married, Heck never bothered to hide his lust for attractive Antonina, shamelessly forcing himself on her as they attended to the agglomeration of exotic beasts scattered around the premises. 
 
Knowing that resistance was futile and might cost her her life, Jan directed his wife to submit to the unwelcome advances. And he understandably ended up feeling utterly emasculated by the frustration of failing to prevent her being pawed by the creepy Hitler henchman. 
 
Nevertheless, the Zabinskis did find an avenue of retaliation: the Polish resistance movement. Joining the Underground, they secretly helped smuggle Jews destined for the concentration camps out of the Warsaw ghetto. Furthermore, they hid the escapees on the grounds of the zoo at a time when death was the punishment for attempting to liberate a Jew. 
 
This is the spine-tingling series of events chronicled by The Zookeeper's Wife, a fact-based docudrama adapted from Diane Ackerman's best seller of the same name. Ackerman's book, FYI, had, in turn, been based on an unpublished memoir by Antonina Zabinski herself. 
 
Directed by Niki Caro (Whale Rider), the picture stars Jessica Chastain as the fearless and endearing title character. The two-time, Academy Award-nominee (for The Help and Zero Dark Thirty) delivers another quality performance, which is no surprise given how Caro has previously coaxed Oscar-nominated work out of a trio of talented actresses (Charlize Theron, Frances McDormand and Keisha Castle-Hughes). 
 
A bittersweet biopic belatedly paying tribute to an unsung heroine who selflessly put her life on the line in the face of unspeakable evil.


Excellent (4 stars)
Rated PG-13 for violence, disturbing images, mature themes, smoking, sexuality and brief nudity
Running time: 126 minutes
Studio: Scion Films
Distributor: Focus Features

To see a trailer for The Zookeeper's Wife, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rJNFeHHGGN4

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

 

DVD Review by Kam Williams


Eddie Redmayne Stars as Wizard in J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter Spinoff


It's New York harbor in 1926, which is when we are introduced to Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) as he disembarks a steamship from England that's just docked at the pier. The young wizard has to resort to a sleight of hand to slip through customs, since his suitcase is filled to the point of bursting with a unique brand of contraband. 
 
Newt happens to be hiding a menagerie of mythical creatures with unusual names like obscurials, bowtruckles and dougals. Given the unreliable latch on his tattered, leather satchel, it doesn't take long for a mischievous niffler to escape. We soon observe the odd-looking critter breaking into a bank vault where it proceeds to indulge its insatiable appetite for gold by stuffing its pouch with glittery coins. 
 
Newt, however, must get it right back under wraps ASAP, before it arouses the suspicion of Mary Lou Barebone (Samantha Morton). She's the leader of the New Salem Philanthropic Society, a group of no-majs, aka muggles (meaning ordinary human beings), dedicated to the extermination of wizards and witches.

Newt whips out his wand to recapture the naughty niffler in front of Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler), an affable Everyman applying for a loan with hopes of opening his own bakery. Trouble is, since the unassuming fellow has just observed the use of magic, wizardry protocol calls for his memory to be wiped clean on the spot. 
 
But Jacob not only flees before being "obliviated," he inadvertently takes Newt's bag of tricks with him to boot. Next, Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston), a comely witch with the Magical Congress of the United States of America, comes to Newt's rescue. 
 
Thus unfolds Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, a visually-captivating adaptation of the J.K. Rowling best seller of the same name. Although the book was alluded to in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, one need not be familiar with the Potter series at all to appreciate this delightful debut of a fantasy franchise designed for five episodes.

Oscar-winner Eddie Redmayne (for The Theory of Everything) delivers afresh conveying an endearing vulnerability as the picture's bashful protagonist. And he is ably assisted in this endeavor by a stellar supporting cast composed of both A-list actors and an array of computer-generated creatures. 
 
Redmayne's enviable acting range makes Newt Scamander a far more engaging and emotionally- accessible character than Harry Potter ever was. Heavens to Hogwarts!



Excellent (4 stars)
Rated PG-13 for fantasy action violence
Running time: 133 minutes
Distributor: Warner Brothers Home Entertainment Group
Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack Extras: Over an hour of expansive, multi-part feaurettes; 11 deleted scenes; and Before Harry Potter: A New Era of Magic Begins!.

To see a trailer for Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vso5o11LuGU



To order a copy of the Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack , visit: 

 



Saturday, March 25, 2017

Top Ten DVD List for March 28, 2017

by Kam Williams


This Week’s DVD Releases

20th Century Women

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

A Monster Calls

Silence

Jack Taylor: Set 3

Patriots Day

Blow Up [Criterion Collection]

Monster High: Electrified

Frontline: President Trump

Wishmaster Collection [4 Film Set]


Honorable Mention

Arsenal