Monday, April 30, 2012

Michael Ealy (INTERVIEW)

Michael Ealy
The “Think Like a Man” Interview
with Kam Williams

Really Ealy!

            Born in Silver Spring, Maryland on August 3, 1973, Michael Ealy majored in English at the University of Maryland before heading to New York City where he performed in several stage productions, including the off-Broadway hits Joe Fearless and Whoa Jack. After finding his breakout screen role as Ricky Nash in Barbershop and Barbershop 2, Michael rapidly rose through the ranks as one of Hollywood’s emerging young actors.
            Since then, he’s starred opposite Kate Beckinsale in Underworld Awakening and opposite Matt Dillon, Idris Elba and Hayden Christensen in the action flick Takers, and he was personally picked by Will Smith to play his younger brother in Seven Pounds. He’s also portrayed a Buffalo Soldier in the Spike Lee World War II epic Miracle at St. Anna, and appeared in For Colored Girls with Kimberly Elise, Janet Jackson, Thandie Newton, Whoopi Goldberg and Phylicia Rashad.  
            On television, Michael is set to co-star in the new detective series, “Common Law,” which debuts on the USA Network on May 11. His other TV credits include stints on “The Good Wife,” “Californication” and “FlashForward.” As for accolades, a stellar performance on the Showtime miniseries “Sleeper Cell” earned him a Golden Globe nomination.
            In addition, he was cast by Oprah Winfrey to star opposite Halle Berry in the made-for-TV movie “Their Eyes Were Watching God,” landing the first of his three NAACP Image Award nominations for his sterling performance in the picture. Here, he talks about playing Dominic in his latest picture, Think Like a Man, Steve Harvey’s battle-of-the-sexes comedy which is currently #1 at the box office                                        .  

Kam Williams: Hi Michael, thanks for the time.
Michael Ealy: Hey, Kam, how’s it going, dude?

KW: Great, thanks. What interested you in Think Like a Man?
ME: Honestly, it was the first romantic comedy that I liked. I’d kind of avoided them for awhile because I never felt that any of them were really smart enough. But when I read this script, I genuinely fell in love with the characters, especially my own. So, I just wanted to be a part of it.

KW: Harriet Pakula Teweles asks: How flattering or unflattering to the image of the black male are the “types” that the actors are asked to portray in this film?
ME: That’s another great thing about this picture. Yes, the cast is predominantly African-American, but color is never really an issue in the film. It’s rarely brought up since, at the end of the day, these guys are going through universal relationship issues that anybody can relate to. So, while the characters like “The non-committer,” “The Player,” and “The Dreamer” might be recognizable as common stereotypes, color isn’t involved.

KW: Attorney Bernadette Beekman asks: Did you do any preparation for your role as a food service worker by spending time in restaurants?
ME: The irony is that I spent five years as a waiter at a restaurant in New York City at the beginning of my acting career. So, I had a little bit of experience in food service. Fortunately, I didn’t actually have to prepare anything on camera in the movie, which saved me from having to take any cooking classes. [Chuckles] But I always appreciate a good chef. 

KW: How did your parents feel about your becoming a struggling actor after help putting you through college? Did they ever pressure you to abandon acting for a more practical profession?
ME: No. my parents, God bless ‘em, were very supportive of me and my decision to pursue acting. Their dream for me and my sister was that we graduate from college. And as soon as I fulfilled that, they were extremely supportive of what I wanted to do next. I will always be grateful to them for that, because I wouldn’t be where I am today without their help and encouragement.      

KW: How hard was it working with an ensemble cast with so many big stars? Was it hard to get a little elbow room to do your thing?
ME: No, it felt a lot like my first movie, Barbershop, which was also an ensemble film, and which was also directed by Tim Story. So, it was sort of like a ten-year reunion.

KW: Tell me a little about your new TV series, Common Law. Since it’s a cop series revolving around black and white partners, it sounds a little like Psych, which is also on the USA Network?
ME: [Chuckles] It’s nothing like Psych. It’s an action comedy about two detectives who are really good at what they do. But they have different approaches to the work and to life in general, and that creates conflict and bickering and fights, sometimes. What happens is that their captain decides to send them to couples’ counseling in order to keep them together, because they always get their man. They basically just need a little help in getting along. What makes it funny is that the characters end up having a lot of the same issues as the married couples they’re in therapy with.

KW: Editor/legist Patricia Turnier asks: If you weren't acting, what career path would you have chosen?
ME: I’d have been a teacher.

KW: Is there any question no one ever asks you, that you wish someone would?
ME: Wow! That’s a good question. [Pauses to reflect] I’m sure there is, but I don’t know what that question is right now. [Chuckles] 

KW: If you can come up with a good generic question I can ask everybody, I’ll call it the Michael Ealy question.
ME: If you don’t mind, I’m going to give that some thought and I’ll send you one later. I really will.

KW: Much appreciated! The Tasha Smith question: Are you ever afraid?
ME: Sometimes, yeah.

KW: The Columbus Short question: Are you happy?
ME: Yeah.

KW: The Teri Emerson question: When was the last time you had a good laugh?
ME: A couple of days ago.

KW: What is your guiltiest pleasure?
ME: Ooh, sweets.

KW: The bookworm Troy Johnson question: What was the last book you read?

KW: The music maven Heather Covington question: What was the last song you heard? 
ME: An old school classic they played on a radio show I was on earlier today. Sorry, I can’t recall the name of the tune.   

KW: What is your favorite dish to cook?
ME: I love breakfast. I can make a mean omelet.

KW: The Sanaa Lathan question: What excites you?
ME: Passion, ambition and talent.

KW: The Uduak Oduok question: Who is your favorite clothes designer?
ME: [Laughs] Man, I could get in trouble if I answer that one.

KW: Dante Lee, author of "Black Business Secrets,” asks: What was the best business decision you ever made, and what was the worst?
ME: [LOL] When I bought my house in L.A., that was the best business decision I ever made, until the housing market crashed, and it became the worst business decision I ever made.

KW: When you look in the mirror, what do you see?
ME: I’m aging.

KW: If you could have one wish instantly granted, what would that be for?
ME: Healing for the people in my family with medical problems. Definitely… definitely… 

KW: The Kerry Washington question: If you were an animal, what animal would you be?
ME: A lion!

KW: The Ling-Ju Yen question: What is your earliest childhood memory?
ME: My third birthday party.

KW: The Melissa Harris-Perry question: How did your first big heartbreak impact who you are as a person?
ME: This is such a great question. For me, my first big heartbreak is actually sports-related. My senior year, I became the starting wide-receiver on my nationally-ranked, high school football team as a walk-on. We have a good season, make it to the playoffs, and are on the verge of three-peating as state champs, when the coach decides to go to a two tight-end offense which suddenly makes me a non-factor. Then, the team went out and got spanked on our home field. I’ll never forget how I cried after the game, because I’d been denied the opportunity to help the team in the championship game, even though I had played a big role up to that point. It was like the coach forgot what had gotten us there. So, I never got to hold the trophy or savor a state championship. And I’ll never forget that first bitter heartbreak. I remember feeling devastated and going to church the next Sunday. My mom spoke to the pastor about it and, from the pulpit, he asked the congregation to pray for me. That did make me feel better, like I wasn’t alone. That was my first heartbreak. So, to answer your question, my first heartbreak devastated me, but it was the support of my family and my second family, my church family, that helped me understand that it wasn’t my fault, and that everything was going to be alright. That helped me tremendously later in life because in this business, as you surely know, Kam, there are a lot of things beyond your control.       

KW: The Judyth Piazza question: What key quality do you believe all successful people share? 
ME: [Reflects for a long time before responding] I’d say two qualities: perseverance, because you can not be successful without confronting rejection and, second, studying. You have to know your craft. I find that most people who are very, very successful know their craft and have done the research. 

KW: Two Pastor Alex Kendrick questions: When do you feel the most content?
KW: Between “Action!” and “Cut!”

KW: Secondly: What do you wish other people would note about you?
KW: That I don’t think as highly of myself as some people make me out to be. I am so far from arrogant, because I have been through enough to know that everything can go away in a moment. You know, I really don’t understand why anyone would want to put me on a pedestal.

KW: Bernadette also asks: What is your favorite charity?
ME: I have a number of charities I work with. I’m a big advocate of two in New York City, the Urban Arts Partnership and the Harlem’s Children’s Zone. What Geoffrey Canada has built in Harlem is something special. Honestly, he’s a hero of mine in a lot of ways. Really!

KW: I’ve tried to interview him, but have never been able to get him on the phone. Can you hook me up?
ME: Yes, that man’s very, very hard to get in touch with. But he’s a good friend, so I may be able to help.

KW: What advice do you have for anyone who wants to follow in your footsteps?
ME: Study your craft, first. Then explore the business side. If you can commit to mastering both, then you’re ready to pursue acting as a living. I really want people to understand that you can’t take shortcuts.

KW: The Tavis Smiley question: How do you want to be remembered?
ME: One of my heroes is Mr. Sidney Poitier. In his autobiography, “The Measure of a Man,” he talks about the difference between being a great person and being a great actor. I’m happiest when I’m acting, and I’ve dedicated my life to it. Still, as much as I love acting, at the end of the day, I want to be remembered as a great person, first, and as a great actor, second. I believe that acting is a talent while being a great person encompasses so much more: being a good father, a good husband and the ability to show compassion for others. There’s nothing more rewarding than making a difference doing charity work or being able to be there for a friend.

KW: Thanks again for the interview, Michael. It’s been an honor. Good luck with Think Like a Man and with Common Law.
ME:  Thank you, Kam. This was special. Your questions were phenomenal. A lot of people clearly don’t do the same amount of preparation as you. So, I really appreciate it.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Restless City (FILM REVIEW)

Restless City

Film Review by Kam Williams

Harlem Provides Gritty Backdrop for Super-Realistic Survival Saga

            When Djbril (Sy Alassane) left his native Senegal for the U.S., he harbored high hopes of making it as a musician. But while pursuing his version of the elusive American Dream, the 21 year-old immigrant pays the rent by hustling bootlegged CDs and other assorted contraband on the street of lower Manhattan.
            Afterhours, he retreats via moped to a rough side of Harlem where the struggle for survival only intensifies. Uptown, Djbril’s Achilles heel is exposed when he takes an interest in pretty Trini (Sky Grey), the proverbial prostitute with a heart of gold.
            The knight in shining armor helps the wayward woman find a legitimate line of work as a hairdresser. Unfortunately, losing a productive ‘ho doesn’t sit well with her pimp, Bekay (Tony Okungbowa). Complicating matters is the fact that the exploitative creep also happens to be Djibril’s boss, which means it’s merely a matter of time before the situation triangulates into an ugly confrontation over the fetching femme fatale.
            That, in a nutshell is the perilous plotline of Restless City, a super-realistic, slice-of-life saga marking the directorial debut of Andrew Dosunmu. The Nigeria-born filmmaker is already well-known for his award-winning music video work with such icons as Common, Wyclef Jean, Maxwell, Tracy Chapman, Aaron Neville and the late Isaac Hayes.
            Here, he makes a promising foray into full-length features via a visually-captivating adventure which offers a penetrating peek inside a vibrant community comprised primarily of African expatriates. Though sabotaged at times by mood-setting pauses and some stilted dialogue, Restless City is still sufficiently engaging to remain recommended for devotees of unsanitized dramatic fare bordering on cinema verite.
            Forget pimps, it’s apparently just as hard out there for a street peddler.

Very Good (2.5 stars)
Rated R for drug use and brief sexuality.
In English, French, Wolof and Yoruba with subtitles.
Running time: 80 minutes
Distributor: AFFRM

Saturday, April 28, 2012

The Five-Year Engagement (FILM REVIEW)

The Five-Year Engagement
Film Review by Kam Williams

Wedding Delays Strain Relationship in Raunchy Romantic Comedy    

            This underwhelming sitcom has been heavily promoted as “From the producer of Bridesmaids,” as if to imply that Judd Apatow has a golden touch that ensures the success of any movie project he’s blessed. However, the undisputed King of Crude has been associated with just about as many flops (ala Wanderlust and Year One) as hits (like Superbad and Knocked Up).
            Unfortunately, The Five-Year Engagement fits more in the former category than the latter. Remember how the hilarious Bridesmaids kept you howling from begging to end in spite of yourself? Well, don’t expect to laugh out loud even once while watching this relatively-funereal, two-hour endurance test.
            Yes, the film does certainly trade in all of the anticipated Apatow staples, if that sophomoric brand of humor suits your taste. There’s the gratuitous male nudity, the coarse jokes with profanity serving as punch lines (“Suck my bleeping bleep!”), and such suggestive sight gags as a character simulating sex by gyrating his hips behind a carrot dipped in whipped cream. Much of this comic relief arrives courtesy of an ethnically-diverse support team comprised of an Asian (Randall Park), an East Indian (Mindy Kaling) and an African-American (Kevin Hart).
            Besides the skits falling flat, the tortoise-paced picture has bigger problems in an abysmal script and romantic leads with no screen chemistry. The oil-and-water casting of loose cannon Jason Segel opposite prim-and-proper Emily Blunt has disaster written all over it.
            His Tom Solomon’s a Sous-chef who dreams of opening a restaurant in San Francisco, while her Violet Barnes is a recent Ph.D. with hopes of landing a teaching position at Berkeley in Psychology. Just past the opening credits, she accepts his marriage proposal and puts on the ring, although they both agree that it might be wise to delay tying the knot until their careers have had a chance to blossom. That decision doesn’t sit well with their aging relatives, but at least it means they won’t have to decide right away whether to be married by a minister or a rabbi.
            As time passes, the protagonists find additional excuses to postpone the nuptials, like when her sister Suzie (Alison Brie) is left pregnant after a one-night stand with his best friend, Alex (Chris Pratt). Eventually, Violet and Tom drift so far apart that it’s not much of a surprise when she sleeps with the head of her department (Rhys Ifans) or when he’s seduced behind the salad bar by a cute, young co-worker (Dakota Johnson).
            “Can this relationship be saved?” may be the burning question. But don’t expect to care when you’ve never really been asked to invest emotionally in such an unsympathetic pair of hesitant hedonists.
            Make it stop!

Fair (1 star)
Rated R for sexuality, nudity, coarse humor and pervasive profanity.
Running time: 124 minutes
Distributor: Universal Pictures 

Friday, April 27, 2012

New Year's Eve (DVD REVIEW)

New Year’s Eve
DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Searching for Love in Times Square before the Ball Drops 

            Directed by Garry Marshall (Pretty Woman) this serendipitous romantic comedy Eve features an ensemble cast stocked with matinee idols at every turn, most notably, Zac Efron, Robert De Niro, Halle Berry, Ashton Kutcher, Sarah Jessica Parker, Michelle Pfeiffer, Ludacris, Karen Heigl, Matthew Broderick, Jessica Biel and Common. The point of departure is Manhattan on a balmy December 31st which is where we find each of the protagonists anticipating the imminent arrival of 2012, though for very different reasons. 
            Corporate executive Claire Morgan (Hilary Swank) is responsible for overseeing the annual Times Square extravaganza with the help of TV host Ryan Seacrest, an NYPD officer (Ludacris) and a crack repairman (Hector Elizondo). Nearby, event planner Laura Carrington (Heigl) is reluctantly putting the finishing touches on a rock concert at which her rock star ex-boyfriend (Jon Bon Jovi) will be headlining.
            Meanwhile, one of his backup singers (Lea Michele) suddenly finds herself stuck in an elevator with a grouch (Ashton Kutcher) who has vowed to not celebrate the holiday. Then there’s the helicopter mom (Parker) who’s too obsessed with her teenage daughter’s (Abigail Breslin) crush on a classmate (Jake T. Austin) to think about her own needs. 
            Hospital-bound Griffin (Seth Meyers) and his 9-months pregnant wife, Tess (Biel), are hoping to win the $25,000 prize for having the first baby born after midnight. Elsewhere in the hospital, a terminal patient on the cancer ward (De Niro) is trying to talk his empathetic nurse (Berry) into taking him up to the roof to watch the ball drop. And this thoroughly-modern mosaic wouldn’t be complete without a tale about a cradle-robbing cougar (Pfeiffer) being serenaded all over town by an ardent admire young enough to be her son. 
            Like a classical conductor, veteran director Marshall masterfully executes a cinematic balancing act here, seamlessly intertwining these discrete storylines ever so effortlessly. All roads lead to Times Square as the tension slowly ratchets, with enough surprising twists and touching reveals along the way to tug on your heartstrings.
            A New Year’s toast as sentimental as singing Auld Lang Syne!

Very Good (3 stars)
Rated PG-13 for profanity and sexual references.
Running time: 117 Minutes
Distributor: Warner Home Entertainment Group
Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack Extras: Director’s commentary; gag reel; Magic of Times Square; New Year’s Eve Secret of the Stars; Jon Bon Jovi & Lea Michele Rock New Year’s Eve; and deleted scenes with Garry Marshall.

Joyful Noise (DVD REVIEW)

Joyful Noise
DVD Review by Kam Williams
DVD Features Dolly and Latifah in Gospel-Driven Musical Drama
            When choir director Bernard Sparrow (Kris Kristofferson) passes away unexpectedly, Pastor Dale (Courtney B. Vance) finds himself on the horns of a dilemma. Should he promote the dearly-departed deacon’s assistant, Vi Rose Hill (Queen Latifah), or award the position to his grieving widow, G.G. (Dolly Parton)?
            After agonizing over the decision, the rev settles on the former, potentially risking the survival of Sacred Divinity, since the well-to-do Sparrow family is the cash-strapped Church’s major benefactor. By comparison, life’s a struggle for Vi Rose and most of the other citizens of Pacashau, Georgia. The economic recession has turned the once-thriving town into a decaying metropolis marked by foreclosure signs, a soup kitchen packed with the homeless, and a business district dotted with vacant storefronts.
            G.G.’s grudgingly ratifying the appointment of Vi Rose is the answer to the prayers of Pastor Dale who is desperate to avoid creating a rift in his tight-knit congregation. For, he hopes that the choir might restore a measure of pride to the beleaguered Pacashau community by prevailing at the upcoming National Gospel Competition.
            That unlikely feat is the raison d’etre of Joyful Noise, a faith-based mix of morality play and musical numbers. The soulful singing performances are the film’s forte, from Dolly Parton and Kris Kristofferson’s heartfelt duet on “From Here to the Moon and Back” to Keke Palmer and Jeremy Jordan’s equally-evocative interpretation of “Maybe I’m Amazed” to Ivan Kelley, Jr.’s spirited rendition of “That’s the Way God Planned It.”
            As for the pat plotline, the point of departure finds Vi Rose trying to raise two teenagers alone because her husband (Jesse L. Martin) abandoned the family for the military on account of the lack of local jobs. Their son, Walter (Dexter Darden), is in need of help handling his Asperger’s Syndrome while boy-crazy daughter, Olivia (Palmer), sure could use a more appropriate suitor than the thug (Paul Woolfolk) who’s been courting her lately.
            Everything changes the day G.G.’s Prodigal Grandson Randy (Jordan) rolls back into town from New York City unexpectedly. Although a little rough around the edges, the misunderstood young man is just the answer for everybody’s malady.
            First, he falls in love with Olivia at first sight. Then he serves as a surrogate big brother to Walter. And when he joins the choir, it’s only a matter of time before he mends the fences between Vi Rose and his granny on the road to the finals at the Joyful Noise contest in Los Angeles.
            A modern parable that’s fun for the whole family with an uplifting message about the power of cooperation. Can I get an Amen?

Very Good (2.5 stars)
Rated PG-13 for profanity and a sexual reference.
Running time: 118 minutes
Distributor: Warner Home Entertainment Group
Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack Extras: Make Some Noise; Leading Ladies; Spotlight on a Song: Dolly Parton’s “From Here to the Moon”; Inspiration of Joyful Noise; “He’s Everything” Live; four extended songs; and deleted scenes.

Top Ten DVD List for 5-1-12

This Week’s DVD Releases
by Kam Williams

Headline: Top Ten DVD List for May 1st                         

Cirkus Columbia


Pillow Talk [Collector’s Series]
Clueless [Blu-ray]
Samuel L. Jackson Triple Feature: Deep Blue Sea/Long Kiss Goodnight/Snakes on a Plane
Joyful Noise

She’s Not Our Sister

Ralphie May – Too Big to Ignore

Sesame Street – Singing with the Stars

New Year’s Eve

Honorable Mention

Covert Affairs – Season Two

Strip Strip Hooray

Suits - Season One

Bubble Guppies


Thursday, April 26, 2012

Kam's Movie Kapsules for 5-4-12

Kam's Kapsules:      
Weekly Previews That Make Choosing a Film Fun         
by Kam Williams
For movies opening May 4, 2012


The Avengers (PG-13 for intense violence and a drug reference) Marvel Comics screen adaptation finds peacekeeper Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) assembling a team of superheroes comprised of Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.), Captain America (Chris Evans), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and The Incredible Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) to save humanity from a diabolical villain (Tom Hiddleston) bent on world domination. With Gwyneth Paltrow, Stellan Skarsgard and Paul Bettany.      


The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (PG-13 for profanity and sexuality) Geriatric set comedy about British retirees who move to India to spend their Golden Years in luxurious accommodations only to discover that the place fails to measure up to its billing. A-list cast includes Oscar-winning Dames Judi Dench and Maggie Smith, two-time nominee Tom Wilkinson, along with Bill Nighy and Dev Patel.

First Position (Unrated) Stars of tomorrow portraits of a half-dozen dancers in training for the Youth America Grand Prix, one of the world’s most prestigious, international ballet competitions.       

Jesus Henry Christ (PG-13 for profanity, smoking and violent images) Baby-daddy comedy about a boy genius’ (Jason Spevack) search for his father (Michael Sheen) after learning from his mother (Toni Colette) that he was a test tube baby conceived in a Petri dish. Support cast includes Samantha Weinstein, Cameron Kennedy and Dewshane Williams.

Last Call at the Oasis (PG-13 for disturbing content and brief profanity) Climate change documentary examining evaporating evidence of the world’s burgeoning water crisis. Featuring commentary by Erin Brockovich, Peter H. Gleick and Tyrone Hayes.

A Little Bit of Heaven (PG-13 for profanity, sexuality and crude humor) Bittersweet romantic comedy about a stoic doctor (Gael Garcia Bernal) whose steely veneer starts to crumble when he finds himself falling in love with the carefree cancer patient (Kate Hudson) he’s given a terminal diagnosis. Ensemble cast includes Academy Award-winners Whoopi Goldberg and Kathy Bates, Rosemarie DeWitt, Romany Malco, Treat Williams and Peter Dinklage.   

LOL (PG-13 for profanity and mature themes) Miley Cyrus stars in this remake of the French romantic romp of the same name about a recently-jilted teenager who develops feelings for her best friend (Douglas Booth) after having her heart broken by her high school sweetheart (George Finn). With Demi Moore, Thomas Jane and Ashley Greene.

Meeting Evil (R for profanity and violence) Cajun country crime thriller about a depressed family man (Luke Wilson) who is kidnapped and taken on a killing spree by a demonic serial killer (Samuel L. Jackson). With Leslie Bibb, Peyton List and Tracie Thoms.

Mother’s Day (R for sexuality, torture, brutal violence and pervasive profanity) Grisly remake of the 1980 horror flick revolving around three sadistic siblings (Patrick John Flueger, Warren Kole and Matt O’Leary) who terrorize the new owners (Jaime King and Frank Grillo) of their childhood home in the wake of a bank robbery gone bad. With Rebecca De Mornay, Tony Nappo and Kandyse McClure.

The Perfect Family (PG-13 for mature themes) Dysfunctional family dramedy about a devout candidate (Kathleen Turner) for Catholic Woman of the Year who does her best to hide her alcoholic husband (Michael McGrady), her lesbian daughter (Emily Deschanel) and her philandering, married son (Jason Ritter) from the judges. Support cast includes Richard Chamberlain, Elizabeth Pena and Sharon Lawrence.

ReGeneration (Unrated) Modern malaise documentary, narrated by Ryan Gosling, chronicling the cynicism running rampant among Americans recently coming-of-age. Featuring commentary by Noam Chomsky, Talib Kwali and the late Howard Zinn. 

You Hurt My Feelings (Unrated) Baby maybe sitcom about a marriage-minded fellow (John Merriman) who takes a job as a nanny to convince his ex-girlfriend (Courtney Davis) that he’s ready to settle down and have children. With Macon Blair and Lillian and Violet Collins.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012


Film Review by Kam Williams

Jaded Journalist Reevaluates Marriage in Midlife Crisis Drama

Anne (Juliette Binoche) is a stressed-out investigative reporter for Elle Magazine, stationed in Paris, who’s a good candidate for a lifestyle makeover, given the overwhelming demands of her job and her family. Her boss has been pressuring her to meet the deadline for the article she’s currently working on about college students who moonlight as high-priced call girls.
Meanwhile, she has her hands full on the home front because her husband, Patrick (Louis-Do de Lencquesaing), shows no interest in bearing his half of the burden. Hence, she has to shoulder the full responsibility of motivating their stoner (Francois Civil) and couch potato (Pablo Beugnet) sons to do more than lounge around the flat with a view.
Although Anne also needs to attend to her bed-ridden father (Jean-Marie Binoche), her hubby still expects her to play the perfect hostess by whipping up a gourmet meal the evening he invites his boss over for dinner. And to add insult to injury, he goes out of his way to warn his wife not to embarrass him by making any unpleasant conversation at the dinner table.
Being married to such a cad, is it any surprise that Anne might start to take a personal interest in Charlotte (Anais Demoustier) and Alicja (Joanna Kulig), the two young prostitutes being profiled in her piece? That is precisely what transpires in Elles, a steamy, midlife crisis drama directed by Malgoska Szumowska.
Initially, Anne interviews her subjects in a professional manner, posing probing questions about whether they enjoy indulging the fetishes of their assorted clients, in the process eliciting very graphic descriptions of their kinky liaisons. But the miserably-married journalist becomes intrigued, once it’s apparent that they’ve taken to the world’s oldest profession like fish to water.
Then, against her better judgment, Anne shares shots of vodka with the seductive Charlotte, only to cross another line by experimenting with lesbianism. The glaring juxtaposition of the happy hookers with the pathetic plight of the unappreciated supermom seems to suggest that the wife taken for granted might actually be in a worse predicament.
Reminiscent of the incendiary offerings of the iconoclastic Catherine Breillat like Romance (1999) and Fat Girl (2001), Elles is a thought-provoking immorality play apt to stir up just as much controversy by virtue of its seemingly-gratuitous sex scenes alone. Does the fact that the director’s a feminist and the star is an Oscar-winning actress provide sufficient artistic cover for carnal clinches which border on soft porn? Does the explicit eroticism serve to advance the plot or was it included purely for titillation purposes?
Those are questions you’ll have to answer for yourself upon screening and introspection, unless you’re the Puritanical type that considers any lurid depictions of copulation blasphemous. Let the endless debate begin! 
Very Good (3 stars)
Rated NC-17 for nudity and explicit sexuality.
In French, Polish and Arabic with subtitles.
Running time: 99 minutes
Distributor: Kino Lorber 

Inventing Our Life (ISRAELI FILM REVIEW)

Inventing Our Life
Film Review by Kam Williams

Historical Documentary Chronicles Rise and Fall of Israel’s Kibbutz Movement

            At the time the State of Israel was established in 1948, the Kibbutz Movement had already been thriving there for almost 40 years. In fact, the country might not have come into existence without the kibbutzim, because the settlements, which raised kids collectively, were very adept at turning children into patriotic fighters willing to sacrifice their lives for the sake of their homeland.
            The very first kibbutz, Kvutzat Degania, was started near the Southern tip of the Sea of Galilee in 1909 by a dozen refugees from Eastern Europe. They envisioned the kibbutz (which is Hebrew for “gathering”) as a path towards creating a just Jewish nation based on socialist principles.
            Founded on benign notions of equality and cooperative economics, the kibbutz system became a powerful magnet for Jews who yearned for self-determination. Participants lived communally, with profits from farming and other enterprises being pooled for the benefit of all.
            The rise and decline of that utopian experiment is the subject of “Inventing Our Life,” a riveting retrospective directed by Toby Perl Freilich. The film illustrates in detail how the kibbutz system evolved over the course of its century-long existence, and how it eventually came to incorporate such individualistic concepts as differential wages and privatization of property.
            This warts-and-all documentary shares a wealth of information by way of the bittersweet reflections of several generations of folks raised on a kibbutz. Most touching are the wistful remembrances of those who recall pining for their parents at night as children because kids slept in separate buildings from adults.
            We see that in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union, these Israeli communists were finally forced to make many concessions to modernity and materialism. One disappointed adherent grudgingly admits learning that, ”The kibbutz system, based on altruism, failed, while the American system, based on greed, works.”
            A valuable history lesson about an idealistic blueprint for nirvana ultimately frustrated by something as simple as basic human nature.                      

Excellent (4 stars)
Running time: 80 minutes
Distributor: First Run Features