Saturday, June 30, 2012

Madea's Witness Protection (FILM REVIEW)

Madea's Witness Protection
Film Review by Kam Williams

Tyler Perry and Eugene Levy Make for Strange Bedfellows in Fish-Out-of-Water Comedy

            George Needleman (Eugene Levy) is so naive that he has no idea that his boss, Walter (Tom Arnold), is running a Ponzi scheme right under his nose. It only dawns on the terminally-nerdy CFO that something is awry when arrived at work one day to find all of his co-workers in the office of Lockwise Industries feverishly shredding documents.
            At that point, he’s belatedly informed by Walter that the Wall Street investment firm is about to be raided by the FBI, and that the only reason he’d been paid a million-dollar salary for the past seven years was to be the fall guy in the event of just such a collapse of the business. But after being arrested, instead of participating in the cover-up, George opts to cooperate with the authorities and agrees to testify against his former employer.
            However, because the company had also been laundering money for the mob, he soon finds unsavory characters hanging around his sprawling mansion. So, rather than take any risks, the prosecutors decide to hide the whistleblower in the Witness Protection Program to makes sure he survives ‘til the trial date.
            In trying to decide the last place that anybody would look for a wealthy white family from Connecticut, the Feds settle on a humble abode in faraway Atlanta belonging to none other than Madea Simmons (Tyler Perry). The sassy granny jumps at the $4,000 per month compensation, unaware of just how much of a challenge she’s about to take on.
            For Needleman is a package deal who arrives with his family in tow, including his senile mother (Doris Roberts), a pampered trophy wife (Denise Richards) half his age, and a couple of spoiled-rotten kids (Devan Leos and Danielle Campbell). There’s friction right from the start when daughter Cindy complains “What, are we sharecroppers, now?” about living in a black community. Madea is concerned, too, asking, “How am I supposed to hide five white people in this neighborhood?”
            That is the promising point of departure of Madea's Witness Protection, a
fish-out-of-water comedy co-starring Tyler Perry and Eugene Levy. The movie makes the most of the theme, such as when the hefty heroine introduces the Needlemans to a skeptical visitor with, “These are my cousins and they done lost all their pigmentation.” 
            Most of the fun flows from the tension between the hostess and her uncomfortable houseguests, although the ensemble does feature a motley crew of colorful characters, including Madea’s brother, Joe, and nephew, Brian (both played by Perry), a nosy neighbor (Marla Gibbs), and an impassioned pastor (John Amos) with a Prodigal Son in need of redemption (Romeo Miller). It’s just too bad the laughs aren’t as frequent as your typical Tyler Perry production.
            When all is said and done, the real purpose of this modern morality play is to enable Madea to right some wrongs and deliver a few well-timed sermons, whether she’s giving the Needlemans marriage counseling, teaching their offspring to appreciate their blessings, helping wimpy George develop a backbone, evening the score with a crooked corporate executive or scaring a juvenile delinquent straight.
            Madea goes mainstream!

Good (2 stars)
Rated PG-13 for crude sexual remarks and brief drug references.
Running time: 114 minutes
Distributor: Lionsgate Films

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Top Ten DVD Releases for 7-3-12

This Week’s DVD Releases
by Kam Williams

Headline: Top Ten DVD List for July 3rd                             

Born on the Fourth of July

An American Girl: McKenna Shoots for the Stars

Gone: The Disappearance of Aeryn Gillern


The Casserole Club

Mister Rogers & Me

Mac & Devin Go to High School

Joe + Belle

How to Live Forever

Meet the Browns - Season Six

Honorable Mention

The American Dream

Some Guy Who Kills People

All*Star Sports Day

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Kam's Movie Kapsules for 7-6-12

Kam's Kapsules:      
Weekly Previews That Make Choosing a Film Fun         
by Kam Williams
For movies opening July 6, 2012


The Amazing Spider-Man (PG-13 for violence and intense action) Andrew Garfield stars as Spider-Man in the title role of this origins adventure in which his alter ego, Peter Parker, falls for a high school classmate (Emma Stone) and solves the mystery surrounding his parents’ (Campbell Scott and Embeth Davidtz) disappearance before morphing into your friendly neighborhood superhero en route to a showdown with the diabolical Lizard (Rhys Ifans). Featuring Denis Leary, Martin sheen and Sally Field.

Katy Perry: Part of Me (PG for smoking, mature themes, mild epithets and suggestive content) Reverential biopic chronicling the trajectory of gospel singer-turned-pop icon Katy Perry’s meteoric rise via a combination of concert performances and backstage footage.

Savages (R for nudity, drug use, graphic sexuality, gruesome violence and pervasive profanity) Oliver Stone directed this grisly crime thriller about a Berkeley grad (Aaron Johnson) and a former Navy Seal (Taylor Kitsch) who join forces to rescue the girlfriend they share (Blake Lively) from the clutches of a Mexican drug cartel. Cast includes Salma Hayek, Benicio del Toro and John Travolta.


China Heavyweight (Unrated) Two-fisted documentary revolving around the effort of boxing coach Moxiang Qi to turn raw teenage recruits from rural peasant villages into Olympic medal contenders. (In Mandarin with subtitles)

Crazy Eyes (Unrated) Romantic romp about a rich playboy (Lukas Haas) who seduces and abandons a string of beautiful women until he finally fixates on the first object of his affection (Madeline Zima) able to resist his charms. With Jake Busey, Ray Wise, Tania Raymonde and Regine Nehy.    

The Do-Decca-Pentathlon (R for profanity) Sibling rivalry comedy about a couple of estranged brothers (Mark Kelly and Steve Zissis) who decide to settle a score by competing against each other in a 25-event Olympics featuring contests in ping-pong, laser tag and billiards. With Jennifer Lafleur, Julie Vorus and Brendan Robinson.

The Magic of Belle Isle (PG for mature themes and suggestive language) Morgan Freeman stars in this drama about a wheelchair-bound, best-selling novelist who rents a cabin at a scenic summer retreat where he overcomes alcoholism and writer’s block with the help of a single-mom (Virginia Madsen) with several kids (Madeline Carroll, Emma Fuhrmann and Nicolette Pierini). Directed by Rob Reiner, and featuring Kenan Thompson, Fred Willard and Ash Christian.  

The Pact (Unrated) Haunted house horror flick about the spooky goings-on around the childhood home of a grieving woman (Caity Lotz) who has just returned to town for the funeral of her recently-deceased mother.  With Casper Van Dien, Kathleen Rose Perkins and Agnes Bruckner.

Starry, Starry Night (Unrated) Coming-of-age drama about a troubled, 13 year-old girl (Xu Jiao) whose friendship with an ostracized transfer student (Lin Hui-min) blossoms into love soon after she stops cruel classmates from bullying him. With Rene Liu, Kenneth Tsang and Harlem Yu. (In Mandarin with subtitles)  

United in Anger: A History of ACT UP (Unrated) Inspirational documentary revisits the rise of the AIDS activist movement in the face of corporate greed, homophobia and government indifference.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

15 Steps to Corporate Feudalism (BOOK REVIEW)

Fifteen Steps to Corporate Feudalism:
How the Rich Convinced America’s Middle Class to Eliminate Themselves
by Dennis Marker
One Standard Press
Paperback, $17.00
232 pages
ISBN: 978-0-9837112-0-9
Book Review by Kam Williams

“Today, there is little doubt that the U.S. middle class is shrinking… What most do not know, however, is why. Many believe it is a combination of bad luck, poor planning, and irresponsible politicians...
[But] the failure of the U.S. middle class is the direct and intentional outcome of fifteen separate policies first advocated during the Reagan administration and implemented over the next thirty years. The purpose of this book is to explain how and why the U.S. middle class is being eliminated.”
-- Excerpted from the Introduction (pg. ix)

            In recent years, folks have been falling out of the middle class at a record rate. All it seems to take is the loss of a job, a home foreclosure or an uninsured illness for a family to find itself permanently lodged among the ranks of the poor.
            How did the America Dream turn into a never-ending nightmare after what used to be just a temporary setback? That is the question addressed in depth by Dennis Marker in Fifteen Steps to Corporate Feudalism: How the Rich Convinced America’s Middle Class to Eliminate Themselves.
            The book is basically a scathing indictment of the country’s wealthiest 1%, a greedy corporatocracy that the author alleges has been strategically turning the rest of us into paupers for several decades. Why? To institute a 21st Century version of an exploitative, medieval economic system that would reduce the masses to serfdom while funneling most of the money, resources and means of production into the hands of a few individuals.
            But the author is more interested in exploring exactly how they managed to achieve this feat, and he dedicates a separate chapter to each of the fifteen steps that were involved. These include “Controlling the Media,” “Destroying the Unions,” “Teaching People to Hate Their Government,” “Deregulating American Business,” “Destroying Public Education,” and “Conning the Evangelical Church,” to name a few.
            The author’s persuasive argument inexorably builds to the shocking conclusion that the ultimate goal of this right-wing revolution is “to bankrupt the United States” and thereby plunge the populace into such an economic crisis that it voluntarily accepts the oppressive policies of a New World Order as dictated by “Disaster Capitalism.” A sobering clarion call to question authority before the power elite hammers the final nail in the coffin of the rapidly-disappearing middle class.                        

Monday, June 25, 2012

Mirror Mirror (DVD REVIEW)

Mirror Mirror
DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Snow White Saves Prince in Feminist Overhaul of Classic Fairytale

            Everybody knows that the story of Snow White is about an expiring damsel-in distress who’s ultimately revived by a handsome Prince’s kiss on the lips. But the world has changed considerably since the Grimm Brothers first published the fairytale in 1812, so why not tweak it a tad to reflect 21st Century sensibilities?
            That is ostensibly the idea behind Mirror Mirror, a novel overhaul of the original into a female empowerment flick featuring a spunky heroine capable of saving herself rather than having to rely on a knight in shining armor. Directed by Punjab-born Tarsem Singh, this incarnation even includes a Bollywood dance number during the closing credits.  
            Furthermore, it renames the seven dwarfs to Napoleon (Jordan Prentice), Half Pint (Mark Povinelli), Grub (Joe Gnoffo), Grimm (Danny Woodburn), Wolf (Sebastian Saraceno), Butcher (Martin Klebba) and Chuckles (Ronald Lee Clark). But before you suggest that it might be blasphemous to take such liberties with the supposedly-sacrosanct source material, consider the fact that the septet had previously been popularized as Blick, Flick, Glick, Snick, Plick and Whick by a 1912 Broadway production before subsequently being dubbed Bashful, Happy, Sleepy, Sneezy, Grumpy, Dopey and Doc in Disney’s 1937 animated version.
            Here, despite several superficial changes, the essence and message of the fable remain intact. It revolves around the attempt of a wicked stepmother (Julia Roberts) to become queen by preventing her beautiful stepdaughter (Lily Collins) from ascending to the throne following the disappearance of the King (Sean Bean).
            So, the evil Clementianna not only banishes the grieving orphan to the forest to die, but soon sets her sights on replacing her hubby with Snow’s suitor, Andrew Alcott (Armie Hammer), a wealthy prince from a neighboring kingdom. However, after placing the young nobleman under a spell, the vain monarch still finds herself frustrated by her magical mirror’s answer to “Who’s the fairest of them all?”
            For, instead of perishing, the enterprising, exiled princess survives her ordeal by bonding with a band of diminutive men living in the woods. And, with their help, it’s just a matter of time before the rightful heir returns to reclaim her inheritance, flipping the script in the process by breaking the Queen’s spell with a peck on the Prince’s lips.
            Between the elaborate costumes and splendid principal cast performances by Lily Collins, Julia Roberts, Nathan Lane and Armie Hammer, Mirror Mirror adds up to an enchanting update of a much-beloved classic guaranteed to delight kids of any age.

Excellent (4 stars)
Rated PG for action and mild crude humor.
Running time: 106 minutes
Distributor: Relativity Media
Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack Extras: Deleted scenes; Prince and Puppies; Looking through the Mirror; I Believe in Love dance along; interactive storybook; and a digital copy of the film.

Tyler Perry (INTERVIEW)

Tyler Perry
The “Madea’s Witness Protection” Interview
with Kam Williams

Tyler Takes the Witness Stand: The Truth, The Whole Truth & Nothing but the Truth  

            Tyler Perry’s inspirational journey from the hard streets of New Orleans to the heights of Hollywood's A-list is the stuff of American legend. Born into poverty and raised in a household scarred by abuse, Tyler fought from a young age to find the strength, faith and perseverance that would later form the foundations of his much-acclaimed plays, films, books and shows.
            It was a simple piece of advice from Oprah Winfrey that set Tyler's career in motion. Encouraged to keep a diary of his daily thoughts and experiences, he began writing a series of soul-searching letters to himself. The letters, full of pain and in time, forgiveness, became a healing catharsis. His writing inspired a musical, “I Know I've Been Changed,” and in 1992 Tyler gathered his life's savings and set off for Atlanta in hopes of staging it for sold out crowds.
            And so began an incredible run of thirteen plays in as many years, including “Woman Thou Art Loosed!,” a celebrated collaboration with the prominent Dallas pastor T.D. Jakes. In early 2005, Tyler's first feature film, “Diary of a Mad Black Woman,” debuted at #1 nationwide. His ensuing films “Madea's Family Reunion,” “ Daddy’s Little Girls,” “Why Did I Get Married?,” “ Meet The Browns,” “The Family That Preys,” “I Can Do Bad All by Myself” and “Why Did I Get Married Too?” have all met with massive critical and commercial success, delighting audiences across America and around the world.
            2006 saw the publication of Tyler's first book, “Don't Make a Black Woman Take Off Her Earrings: Madea's Uninhibited Commentaries On Life And Love,” which shot to the top of the New York Times nonfiction bestseller list and remained there for eight weeks. It went on to claim Quill Book Awards for both "Humor" and "Book of the Year" (an unheard-of feat for a first-time author), and spread Tyler Perry's unique brand of inspirational entertainment to a devoted new audience.
            It is a brand that is quickly becoming an empire. In 2007, Tyler expanded his reach to television with the TBS series “House of Payne,” the highest-rated first-run syndicated cable show of all time, which went into syndication after only a year. His follow up effort, “Meet the Browns,” was the second highest debut ever on cable - after “House of Payne.”
            Not one to rest on success, Tyler Perry and his 300+ Atlanta-based employees are always hard at work. In the fall of 2008, he opened his 200,000 square foot Studio in Atlanta, situated on the former Delta Airlines campus of more than 30 acres. The Studio consists of 5 sound stages, a post production facility, a pond, a back lot, a 400-seat theater, a private screening room, and designated areas for entertaining and hosting events.
            But listen to Tyler Perry and you'll hear a man who hasn't forgotten about the people that have helped him reach the top of a mountain he could once only dream of climbing. He has donated generously to charities that focus on helping the homeless, such as Feeding America, Covenant House, Hosea Feed the Hungry, Project Adventure, and Perry Place - a 20-home community that Tyler built for survivors of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans.
            In July 2009, Tyler sponsored a trip to Walt Disney World for 65 children after learning that a suburban swim club had turned them away because of the color of their skin. Tyler Perry has also built 2 churches and has donated generously to the NAACP. In January 2010, Perry pledged $1,000,000 via The Tyler Perry Foundation to help rebuild the lives of those affected by the recent earthquakes in Haiti.
            Tyler Perry practices what he preaches, and what he preaches has endeared him to millions of fans drawn by that unique blend of spiritual hope and down-home humor that continues to shape his inspiring life story and extraordinary body of work. Here, he talks about his latest film, “Madea’s Witness Protection,“ which he not only wrote, directed and produced, but also stars in, playing three roles, including the sassy, straight-talking title character.  

Kam Williams: Hi Tyler. I’m very honored to be speaking with you again, brother.
Tyler Perry: Oh, good, Kam! How’re you doing?

KW: Great! I really enjoyed this film. Where did you come up with the inspired idea of mixing Madea with a family in the Witness Protection Program?
TP: I was having dinner with a friend, and we were talking about Bernie Madoff, and he said, “You know what would be a great punishment for Bernie Madoff? If he had to go live with Madea.” [Chuckles] I thought, man, that’s a great concept! I need to go write that script. And then when I asked myself who could play the Bernie Madoff character, of course, I thought of Eugene Levy.

KW: How did you determine the casting? Looks like you went for a lot of veteran comedians this time out: Eugene Levy of the American Pie franchise, John Amos of Good Times, Marla Gibbs of The Jeffersons, Doris Roberts of Everybody Loves Raymond, and even Charlie Sheen if you don’t mind my mentioning him in this article since he makes such a surprising cameo.
TP: That’s okay, since he’s only in the outtakes at the very end of the movie. But I was definitely looking for some heavyweights to help me carry the picture, and those were the right people to rely on. So, I’m pretty excited about it.   

KW: What message do you want people to take away from Madea’s Witness Protection Program?
TP: What is clear to me is that it’s about everything in your life: work, and struggling, and paying attention to grinding, grinding, grinding. It takes their going into a simple situation, living with Madea, a woman who doesn’t even have wi-fi, to realize what family is, come back together, and get to know each other.

KW: I have some questions for you from fans. Leon Marquis asks: Do you wear a girdle as Madea?
TP: [LOL] You tell Leon, “Hell no!” It’s bad enough being stuffed into that costume. It’s just one piece that gets zipped up the back. 

KW: Editor/legist Patricia Turnier asks: Is there a new genre of movie that you would like to make in the future?
TP: Absolutely! It’s not a new genre, but a new genre for me: sci-fi. I have a great sci-fi story that I’m currently working on. I’m going to be all over the place… all over the place.

KW: Patricia also asks: What advice do you have for young people entering the movie industry who want to be multifaceted like you are?
TP: You have to want it more than breathing. Developing a good work ethic is key. Apply yourself at whatever you do, whether you’re a janitor or taking your first summer job, because that work ethic will be reflected in everything you do in life. 

KW: Jessica Angelique says: Mr. Perry, I have recently published my autobiography, “Alas Peace Be Still,” which is dedicated to you. 
I was inspired to write it after experiencing a catharsis while listening to you share your life story with Oprah Winfrey on October 27th, 2010. I wanted to know if you would be so kind as to write a few words for the Foreword of the second edition. I also hope to actually meet you in person one day to be able to thank you for what you did for me. I don’t think I would be alive today had it not been for your help and the grace of God.
TP: Wow! That’s pretty powerful. Yes, I’d love to, Jessica. Get a copy of the book to me, Kam.  

KW: Sticking with the Oprah theme, legal recruiter Nicole Ibanez wants to know why you always cry on Oprah.
TP: [LOL] I’ve been on Oprah a dozen times, and cried once. Tell Nicole to lighten up. 

KW: The Kerry Washington question: If you were an animal, what animal would you be?
TP: That depends on the time of day, because I go from a lion in the morning to a black bear in the evening.

KW: The Laz Alonso question: How can your fans help you?
TP: I had one request when I started doing the plays. My prayer was: God let me do well enough to be able to take care of my mother. I was able to do that ‘til the day she died because of my audience. So, they’ve already done enough. All I ask for now is their continued support.

KW: The Pastor Alex Kendrick question: When do you feel the most content?
TP: When I have absolutely nothing to do, and I find myself in the middle of all of it going, “Wow!” When nothing’s going on, that’s when I get to stop and really appreciate the journey.  

KW: What do you wish other people would note about you?
TP: I’ve been pretty transparent with all that I’ve done. I think my work speaks a lot for who I am. So, I don’t think there’s a particular thing I’d like them to know.

KW: What motivates you?
TP: Gosh, the motivations have changed so much over the years. Today, seeing people laugh definitely inspires me, and so does seeing people get life lessons about living better.

KW: What defines who you are?
TP: My faith in God.

KW: What advice do you have for anyone who wants to follow in your footsteps?
TP: Don’t. They should be finding their own paths.

KW: Thanks again for the time, Tyler, and best of luck with the movie.
TP: Thank you, Kam.

Magic Mike (FILM REVIEW)

Magic Mike
Film Review by Kam Williams

Channing Tatum Stars as Reluctant Stripper in Riveting, Character-Driven Drama

            Channing Tatum held a number of odd jobs before he became a matinee idol, including a brief stint as a male stripper which he might not exactly be proudest of. But rather than deny that embarrassing detour on the road to superstardom, the hunky heartthrob has opted to embrace that chapter of his checkered past by making a semi-autobiographical movie recounting his daring foray into the adult entertainment industry.
            The upshot of that effort is Magic Mike, a raw and revealing character-driven drama directed by Oscar-winner Steven Soderbergh (for Traffic) who previously collaborated with Channing on the action-thriller Haywire. The two also just finished shooting A Bitter Pill, a crime caper set for an early 2013 release. 
            Here, Channing stars as Mike Martingano, an erotic dancer who goes by the stage name Magic Mike when titillating the ladies at a seedy, Tampa dive called Xquisite. The place is managed by Dallas (Matthew McConaughey), a silky smooth operator who has promised his most popular performer 10% equity to follow him when he relocates the club to Miami.
            Trouble is Mike isn’t getting any younger, and his big plans for himself definitely don’t include stripping into his 40s like Dallas and the other members of the aging revue: Tito (Adam Rodriguez), Tarzan (Kevin Nash), Ken (Matt Bomer) and Big [bleep] Richie (Joe Manganiello). Instead, he dreams of saving up enough seed money to set himself up as a custom furniture designer, and maybe settling down with Brooke (Cody Horn), the sister of the 19 year-old (Alex Pettyfer) he’s just recruited for Dallas.
            Unfolding over the course of a long, hot Florida summer, Magic Mike is such an unpredictable and palpably raw-edged adventure that you soon forget that you’re even watching actors performing on sets. In that regard, the picture is rather reminiscent of Quentin Tarantino’s similarly super-realistic Jackie Brown (1997), a masterpiece which also featured a flawed protagonist ensnared in a sticky predicament at an unpretentious oceanfront setting.
            Will Mike summon up the requisite resolve to extricate himself from the stripping game and thereby save his soul? Or will a financial setback cause him to rationalize moving to Miami, leaving his hopes and girlfriend behind for the sake of easy money?
            A compelling character study not to be missed, if only to witness the gutsy, career performance delivered by the ever-improving Channing Tatum.

Excellent (4 stars)
Rated R for profanity, drug use, brief graphic nudity and pervasive sexuality.
Running time: 110 minutes
Distributor: Warner Brothers

The Artist (DVD REVIEW)

The Artist
DVD Review by Kam Williams

Academy Award-Winning Best Picture Arrives on DVD

            It is 1927, and George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) is at the height of a flourishing career as a matinee idol. But that is also the year marking the introduction of talkies, an innovation which would soon signal the demise of the Silent Era.
            Unfortunately, George is too pampered and insulated to appreciate the fact that sound is about to overhaul the movie industry, so he is caught by surprise when his services as a leading man are no longer in demand. Then, between the sudden loss of income and the Stock Market Crash of 1929, he ends up losing not only all his money but his shallow wife (Penelope Ann Miller) to boot.
            After moving from a sprawling mansion to a modest apartment, George lays off the longtime chauffeur (James Cromwell) he can no longer afford. At this point, the dejected has-been feels like his only friend in the world is the Jack Russell Terrier (Uggie) that continues to love him unconditionally.
            Meanwhile, elsewhere in Hollywood, the fortunes of an emerging ingénue cut a sharp contrast to those of the fading film star. Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo) owes a debt of gratitude to George who, despite an ugly rumor circulating in the tabloids, had still cast her as his dance partner in one of his pictures when she was just another unknown, aspiring actress.
            Although sparks had flown between the two on the set back then, nothing had become of the mutual admiration. However, now, with Peppy on top of the world, the question is whether she will forget about the down on his luck icon who had once given her her big break.
            So unfolds The Artist, a silent, black & white reminder of a bygone era which won five Oscar’s earlier this year, including Best Picture, Best Director (Michael Hazanavicius) and Best Actor (Jean Dujardin). This cinematic masterpiece very eloquently endeavors to entertain while simultaneously chronicling a critical moment in the evolution of the art form.
            A silent love song that anyone who adores film can nonetheless hear, loud and clear!

Excellent (4 stars)
Rated PG-13 for a crude gesture and a disturbing image.
Running time: 100 minutes
Distributor: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Extras: Blooper reel; Q&A with the filmmakers and cast; Hollywood as a Character: The Locations of The Artist; The Artisans behind The Artist: and The Artist: The Making of an American Romance.

21 Jump Street (DVD REVIEW)


21 Jump Street

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Undercover Cops Head Back to H.S. in Unlikely-Buddies Comedy

            Popular jock Greg Jenko (Channing Tatum) and social outcast Morton Schmidt (Jonah Hill) had nothing in common back when they were in high school, besides their both missing the senior prom. And even that was for very different reasons, since the former didn’t attend because of poor grades while the latter simply couldn’t find a date.
            But seven years later, the pair’s paths have crossed again while attending the Police Academy. This time around, academically-challenged Greg and out-of-shape Mort bond while helping each other pass the written and physical portions of the final exam.
            Upon graduating, these polar opposites launch their law enforcement careers as partners, patrolling a downtown park on bicycles uneventfully until the day they fail to read a perpetrator his Miranda rights. They are called on the carpet and ordered to report to 21 Jump Street, a clandestine detective unit run out of an abandoned church with a dusty, Korean Jesus crucifix dangling over the altar.
            There, short-fused Captain Dickson (Ice Cube) reassigns Schmidt and Jenko to work undercover at Sagan High School in order to crack a drug ring disseminating deadly narcotics. The disgraced officers leap at the opportunity to make amends for the bust gone bad, unaware of how hard it will be to pass themselves off as students.
            For not only do they look older, but the culture has substantially changed since they left school. For, they soon discover that, nowadays, macho misbehaving and bullying are out, while studying, drama club, and caring about the environment are in. Even being gay is considered very cool thanks to the television show “Glee.”
            This upside-down reality sets the stage for the awkward scenarios which abound in 21 Jump Street, a hilarious and charming action comedy co-starring Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum. What makes the film so endearing is the camaraderie the leads cultivate once the script is flipped, in the wake of the role reversal which has the handsome hunk suddenly relying on the goofy geek to figure out how to fit in at school. 
            While the movie might technically be a screen adaptation of the Eighties cop drama of the same name, this raunchy teensploit actually amounts to more of a reboot of the franchise than a remake. To its credit, the picture does pay homage to the classic TV series, as it features cameo appearances by three of the original cast members: Johnny Depp, Peter DeLuise and Holly Robinson-Peete.
            Nevertheless, provided you approach this laff-a-minute, slapstick adventure as a franchise overhaul rather than as an homage, you won’t be shocked by its relentlessly-irreverent brand of humor. Think Superbad meets Revenge of the Nerds!

Excellent (4 stars)
Rated R for violence, drug and alcohol abuse, coarse sexuality, crude humor and pervasive profanity.
Running time: 109 minutes
Distributor: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Extras: Gag reel; deleted scenes; director and cast commentary; Back to School; Cube-O-Rama; Brothers in Arms; Johnny Depp on Set; The Rob Riggle Show; Peter Pan on the Freeway, and digital copy of the film.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Beasts of the Southern Wild (FILM REVIEW)

Beasts of the Southern Wild
Film Review by Kam Williams

Carefree Cherub Laments Climate Change in Enchanting Cautionary Parable

            6 year-old Hushpuppy (Quvenzhané Wallis) is being raised under the radar in “The Bathtub,” a backwoods bayou located on the swamp side of a Louisiana levee. The self-sufficient tomboy divides her days between attending to her sickly father (Dwight Henry) and living in harmony with a handful of other hardy refugees from civilization.
            Hushpuppy feels sorry for children growing up on the land in nearby New Orleans because they eat fish wrapped in plastic and have been taught to fear the water. And while those city kids were caged in strollers and baby carriages during their formative years, she’s been free to explore surroundings teeming with vegetation and a menagerie of wildlife.
            Yet, her existence is far from idyllic, given how much she pines for the mother her ostensibly-widowed daddy explained simply “swam away” one day. The heartbroken little girl tries to fill the void via flights of fancy coming courtesy of a vivid imagination that enables her to carry on imaginary conversations with her long-lost mom.
            Hushpuppy’s vulnerability is further amplified by her father’s failing health and by an ominous foreboding that climate change could destabilize the eco-system of her natural habitat. For, she’s been warned by Miss Bathsheeba (Gina Montana), a sage soothsayer who also serves as her surrogate mother, that “The trees are gonna die first, then the animals, then the fish.”
            So unfolds Beasts of the Southern Wild, a compelling, coming-of-age parable marking the extraordinary directorial debut of Benh Zeitlin. An early entry in the Academy Awards sweepstakes, this surreal fairy tale about the prospects of the planet so richly deserves all the accolades already heaped upon it at Sundance, Cannes and other film festivals.    
            Considerable credit must go to newcomer Quvenzhané Wallis, a talented youngster who not only portrays protagonist Hushpuppy but narrates the film as well. Like a clever cross of Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn and Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth, the movie repeatedly reminds us of a pre-pollution, pre-digital era when children were still encouraged to plunge headlong into nature to experience the world firsthand rather than artificially through electronic stimuli.
            A visually-enchanting fantasy shot from the perspective of a naïve waif magically untouched by the 21st Century.

Excellent (4 stars)
Rated PG-13 for profanity, mature themes, child imperilment, disturbing images and brief sensuality.
Running time: 91 minutes
Distributor: Fox Searchlight