Saturday, February 28, 2015

Believe Me (DVD REVIEW)


Believe Me

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Faith-Based Morality Play Arrives on DVD

            Even though I was raised in the church and attended services religiously as a child, I was simultaneously warned by my skeptical grandmother that sometimes, “The closer supposedly to Christ, the further from God.” That sage old saying came to mind while watching Believe Me, an intriguing modern morality play written and directed by Will Bakke (Beware of Christians).
               The story revolves around the ethical issues confronting Sam Atwell (Alex Russell), a law school-bound college senior, or at least he thought. Trouble is, his parents suddenly can’t afford to pay his final semester’s tuition which means he won’t be able to graduate on time or continue his education the following fall.
This is the predicament we find the handsome upperclassman facing at the picture’s point of departure, a time when he’d really rather be hazing pledges to his fraternity and hooking up with cute coeds he meets at keg parties. And after a futile visit with the unsympathetic school dean (Nick Offerman), Sam knows he simply has to come up with the $9,000 somehow, if he wants to get that degree in June.
Thinking outside the box, he concocts an elaborate scheme to separate gullible Evangelicals from their cash, figuring them to be a soft touch. So, he enlists the assistance of a few of his frat brothers in the nefarious endeavor, namely, Pierce (Miles Fisher), Tyler (Sinqua Wells) and Baker (Max Adler).
The plan is to prevail upon Born Again congregations by posing as a Christian charity assisting needy children in Africa. In due course, Sam proves to be such a good pitchman that the money starts flooding in.
That development is not lost on Ken (Christopher McDonald), a faith-oriented entrepreneur who offers to help take the boys’ burgeoning business to the next level. Soon, as the God Squad, they’re on the prayer meeting tent circuit and selling a Christian clothing line called Cross Dressing that includes “F-Satan” t-shirts and the like.
However, the sinful scheme begins to unravel when they have no place to send a kid (Chester Rushing) who wants to do missionary work with them in Lesotho. And the moment of truth arrives when the pretty tour coordinator (Johanna Braddy) Sam’s just started dating is given proof by a colleague (Zachary Knighton) that her new beau is a big fraud.
At this juncture, the jig is essentially up, whether or not the arrogant co-conspirators are too blinded by a combination of cynicism and greed to confess to the crime. After all, they’d taken such glee in exploiting foolish followers of Christ by strategically faking everything from appropriately-pious poses to the right religious buzzwords.
A thought-provoking, faith-based parable asking whether it’s ever too late to make a second impression, especially on God.

Excellent (4 stars)
Rated PG-13 for profanity
Running time: 93 minutes
Studio: Riot Studios / Lascaux Films
Distributor: Virgil Films and Entertainment
DVD Extras: Deleted scenes; outtakes; and the theatrical trailer.

To see a trailer for Believe Me, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=emdGSSHujyo   

To order Believe Me on DVD, visit:

Friday, February 27, 2015

Wild Canaries (FILM REVIEW)



Wild Canaries
Film Review by Kam Williams

Everybody’s Implicated and Romantically Involved in Delightful Screwball Whodunit

            Barri (Sophia Takal) gets the shock of her life the day she walks upstairs to play chess with her neighbor Sylvia (Marylouise Burke) as planned. Entering the unlocked flat when there’s no response to the bell, she finds the infirm octogenarian collapsed on the floor next to her walker.
Although the coroner quickly concludes that Sylvia died of natural causes, it isn’t long before Barri starts to suspect otherwise, much to the frustration of her fiancé, Noah (Lawrence Michael Levine). While he plays down the possibility of foul play, she enlists the assistance of their roommate, Jean (Alia Shawkat), to start snooping around to determine whether anybody might have had a motive to murder the old lady.
As it turns out, Sylvia could have been killed for her life insurance by her son (Kevin Corrigan) with a gambling habit. She also could’ve been knocked off by their cash-strapped landlord (Jason Ritter), given his difficult divorce and her deeply-discounted rent-controlled apartment.
Barri and Jean’s eavesdropping eventually implicates almost everybody else in the building, too, including Noah. He might be cheating on Barri with his ex-girlfriend, Eleanor (Annie Parisse), even though she supposedly came out of the closet following their breakup. That’s little consolation to her current lover Claire (Donnetta Lavinia Grays) who becomes very upset about Eleanor’s crashing on Barri and Noah’s couch, since Jean just happens to be a lesbian.
Written by, directed by and co-starring Lawrence Michael Levine, Wild Canaries is an alternately whimsical and wild screwball whodunit which never expects to be taken very seriously. After all, you’d need a scorecard to keep track not only of the suspects but of the many, messy romantic liaisons.
A delightful diversion that succeeds in spoofing the film noir genre while simultaneously spinning a thoroughly-modern variation on the theme of those classic crime capers.

Excellent (3.5 stars)
Unrated   
Running time: 95 minutes
Distributor: Sundance Selects

To see a trailer for Wild Canaries, visit:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4c-MlUFppKA

Big Muddy (DVD REVIEW)



Big Muddy
DVD Review by Kam Williams

Deliberately-Paced, Multi-Layered Mystery Arrives on DVD

            Martha Barlow (Nadia Litz) is a femme fatale with a checkered past and plenty of skeletons in her closet. Consequently, she’s done her best to keep off the grid, raising her son, Andy (Justin Kelly), in relative seclusion in rural Saskatchewan.
            Seems like everybody around their tiny prairie town is the sort of unsavory character you cross the street to avoid, including Martha’s boyfriend/ and partner in crime, Tommy (Rossif Sutherland). The couple’s favorite haunt is the local racetrack which is where they concoct cockamamie con games, like robbing a bar patron who has propositioned a prostitute by waiting to pounce until the john is in a compromising position. The pair’s felonious antics don’t sit well with teenaged Andy, who hangs out at the track because the girl (Holly Deveaux) he has a crush on works there.
The plot thickens during an attempted shakedown gone wrong, after Tommy shoots the horse of an owner who refuses to be intimidated. The situation further degenerates when the tables are turned and Tommy takes a bullet from the barrel of the victim’s gun.
Seeing his mother’s life threatened, Andy reluctantly gets involved, and the next thing you know mother and son are on the run. As fugitives from justice, Martha and Andy seek refuge at the home of her estranged father (Stephen McHattie), a geezer disinclined to offer them a port in the storm, especially since he’s never even met his grandson before. Another fly in the ointment is the fact that Andy’s father (David La Haye) has escaped from prison and is intent on tracking down Martha.
Thus unfolds Big Muddy, an intriguing neo noir marking the impressive directorial debut of Jefferson Moneo. Atmospheric and absorbing, this well-crafted whodunit is rather reminiscent of Red Rock West (1999), for folks familiar with that cult classic co-starring Nicolas Cage and Dennis Hopper.
A deliberately-paced, multi-layered mystery, tailor-made for nostalgic, pulp fiction fans.

Excellent (4 stars)
Rated R for violence, profanity, sexuality and nudity.
Running time: 104 minutes
Distributor: Monterey Media
DVD Extras: Creating the Score: William Rowson

To see a trailer for Big Muddy, visit:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gn3ds0i3f_s
  
To order a copy of Big Muddy on DVD, visit: 

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Private Peaceful (DVD REVIEW)



Private Peaceful
DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Bittersweet, WWI Love Story Brought to DVD

            Tommo (George MacKay) and Charlie Peaceful (Jack O’Connell) had a healthy sibling rivalry while growing up in Devon at the dawn of the 20th Century. The brothers were raised on a sprawling country estate owned by a family of aristocratic Brits.
Their father (Stephen Kennedy) was employed there as both gamekeeper and forester. In that capacity, he was able to afford to send his sons to a private school run with an iron fist by a sadistic headmaster (Richard Griffiths), a retired military colonel.
Everything changes when their dad dies in a logging accident. Since their homemaker mother (Maxine Peake) can no longer afford the rent or tuition, they soon lose the only life they’ve ever known. More importantly, the pubescent adolescents have to leave behind Molly (Alexandra Roach), a beautiful classmate both have a crush on.
Despite moving away, Tommo and Charlie venture back as teens to frolic in the forest with the irresistible object of their affection. A bit of a tease, Molly initially refuses to pick between her ardent admirers, instead only promising to marry one “Mr. Peaceful” while assuring that “We’ll be happy until the day we die.”
This is the premise underpinning Private Peaceful, a bittersweet love story based on Michael Morpurgo’s young adult novel of the same name. The book was previously adapted into a play which debuted at the Royal Theater in 2004.
Directed by Pat O’Connor (Sweet November), the screen version is an intriguing romance drama which takes a sharp turn about midway through when Tommo and Charlie enlist in the army and ship off to serve their country in Flanders’ fields. However, there remains concern about Molly who’d announced her unplanned pregnancy shortly before the outbreak of World War I. 
Who’s the daddy? Will the Peacefuls survive? These are the pivotal questions left to be addressed between bombs bursting in air. Trench warfare as the backdrop for a tawdry love triangle about as incestuous as it gets.

Very Good (3 stars)
Unrated  
Running time: 102 minutes
Distributor: BBC Warner

To see a trailer for Private Peaceful, visit:
 
To order Private Peaceful on DVD, visit:  



Top Ten DVD Releases for 3-3-15



This Week’s DVD Releases
by Kam Williams


Top Ten DVD List for March 3, 2015                      

NFL Superbowl Champions XLIX: New England Patriots

Foxcatcher

The Bridge

A Place to Call Home: Season One

Big Muddy

Believe Me

Nazi Mega Weapons: Series Two

Ilya and Emilia Kabakov: Enter Here

Private Peaceful

Algorithms


Honorable Mention

Adventure Time: Frost & Fire

The Queen’s Garden

To Write Love on Her Arms

Captive

Dragonheart 3: The Sorcerer's Curse

Outlander: Season One / Volume One


Bubble Guppies: Fin-Tastic Collection

Peg + Cat: Peg Rocks

Paw Patrol: Marshall and Chase on the Case!

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part One

The Better Angels

The Last Straight Man

Let’s Kill Ward’s Wife

The Bridge (DVD REVIEW)


The Bridge

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Haunting Documentary Dedicated to Suicidal Golden Gate Jumpers

            If you wanted to end it all, where would you want to do it? For some reason, more people choose the Golden Gate Bridge than any other locale.
And after watching The Bridge one can easily understand the allure of that irresistible icon as a launching pad into San Francisco Bay.
            Directed by Eric Steel, this fascinating film transfixes you from start to finish, focusing on 24 individuals who chose to end their lives there in 2004. Remarkably, Kevin Hines somehow survived the plunge, after being saved by a seal that kept him afloat, and ferried him towards shore till help arrived. The others weren’t so lucky, but that doesn’t make their back stories any less compelling.
            What these unfortunate souls seem to have in common is a bottoming-out whether due to depression, unemployment, relationship woes, or all of the above. Shifting back and forth between shots of the majestic, rust-colored structure and wistful reminiscences by friends and family who invariably had hints as to what was coming, director Steel cleverly creates an eerie, kinetic experience for the viewer by capturing plenty of pedestrians on camera, whether they’re strolling across the expansion, leaning over the catwalk, or peering into the void from the fog-ensconced bridge.
You never know which one’s about to leap to his or her death, so you have to keep your eyes glued to the screen, guessing who’s next. Two dozen souls, linked by suicide as a seductive and very visible alternative to unrelenting torment and suffering.     

Excellent (4 stars)
Rated R for profanity and for disturbing footage of actual suicides.
Running time: 94 minutes
Distributor: Kino Lorber / Alive Mind Cinema
DVD Extras: “Making of” documentary; and the theatrical trailer.

To see a trailer of The Bridge, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZJWJ-GWuews

To order The Bridge on DVD, visit:

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

3-6 Kam's Kapsules (FEATURE)



OPENING THIS WEEK
Kam's Kapsules:      
Weekly Previews That Make Choosing a Film Fun         
by Kam Williams
For movies opening March 6, 2015


BIG BUDGET FILMS   

Chappie (R for violence, profanity and brief nudity) Sci-fi thriller set in a futuristic totalitarian state patrolled by repressive police androids where a renegade robot (Sharlto Copley) reprogrammed for good represents the last hope for humanity. With Hugh Jackman, Sigourney Weaver and Dev Patel. 

The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (PG for mild epithets and suggestive material) Dame Judi Dench, Bill Nighy, Celia Imrie, Maggie Smith, Penelope Wilton and Dev Patel reprise their roles in this sequel which finds the proprietor (Patel) of India’s preeminent Old Folks Home pursuing his dream of opening another boarding house. Additions to the cast include Richard Gere, Tamsin Grieg and David Strathairn.

Unfinished Business (R for risqué sexuality, graphic nudity, profanity and drug use) Buddy comedy revolving around a trio’s (Vince Vaughn, Tom Wilkinson and Dave Franco) business trip gone awry at European ports of call ranging from a fetish convention to a global economic summit. Featuring Jil Funke, David Akinloye and Heidi Philipsen.


INDEPENDENT & FOREIGN FILMS 

Bad Asses on the Bayou (R for violence, profanity, sexuality and nudity) Danny Trejo and Danny Glover reprise their roles in this sequel to Bad Ass 2 set in Baton Rouge where the aging tough guys take the law into their own hands to rescue a pal’s (John Amos) daughter kidnapped for ransom (Loni Love). Rob Mello, Sammi Rotibi and Jimmy Bennett.

Earth’s Golden Playground (Unrated) Gold Rush documentary highlighting the present-day resurgence of mining among prospectors searching for the mother lode up in the Yukon.

Faults (Unrated) Psychological thriller about desperate parents (Beth Grant and Chris Ellis) who hire a disgraced deprogrammer (Leland Orser) to rescue their daughter (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) from the clutches of a mind-controlling cult. With Jon Gries, Nicholas Tucci and Leonard Earl Howze.

An Honest Liar (Unrated) Retrospective about magician-turned-skeptic The Amazing Randi’s career spent debunking hoaxes, pseudoscience and claims of paranormal activity. Featuring Aice Cooper, Uri Geller, Penn Jillette, Bill Nye and Michael Edwards. 

Kidnapping Mr. Heineken (R for pervasive profanity) Fact-based drama recreating the 1983 abduction in Amsterdam of the heir (Anthony Hopkins) to the mammoth beer fortune. Cast includes Sam Worthington, Jim Sturgess and Jemima West.

The Lesson (Unrated) Survival saga about a cash-strapped schoolteacher (Margita Gosheva) who resorts to desperate measures to provide for her family. With Ivan Barnev, Ivan Savov, Stefan Denolyubov and Ivanka Bratoeva. (In Bulgarian with subtitles)



Merchants of Doubt (PG-13 for brief profanity) Screen adaptation of Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway’s best-seller of the same name, a cautionary documentary warning about the profusion of pundits-for-hire who create confusion by posing as impartial experts to disputed the conventional wisdom about global warming, pollution and the pharmaceutical industry.  

October Gale (Unrated) Crime thriller set in a remote cottage on an island where a recently-widowed doctor (Patricia Clarkson) cares for a mysterious stranger (Scott Speedman) who washed ashore with a gunshot wound while trying to evade the shooter (Tim Roth) seeking to finish him off. With Callum Keith Rennie, Aidan Devine, Billy MacLellan and Eric Murdoch.

Two Men in Town (R for profanity) Unlikely-buddies drama, set in New Mexico, about the friendship forged between a Muslim ex-con (Forest Whitaker) and his idealistic parole officer (Brenda Blethyn), much to the chagrin of a border town sheriff (Harvey Keitel). Supporting cast includes Luis Guzman, Ellen Burstyn and Dolores Heredia.

A Year in Champagne (Unrated) Second installment in alcohol trilogy, and sequel to A Year in Burgundy, explores everything you always ever wanted to know about the bubbly brew from France.

Focus (FILM REVIEW)

Focus

Film Review by Kam Williams
Con Man Matches Wits with Former Protégé in Farfetched, Cat-and-Mouse Crime Caper
            Jess Barrett (Margot Robbie) is an aspiring con artist who picked the worst guy to steal a wallet from when she settled on Nicky Spurgeon (Will Smith). She had no reason to suspect that he was a third generation flimflam man descended from a grandfather who ran a crooked poker game in Harlem back in the day.
            Nicky was more curious than infatuated when he accepted the seductive stranger’s invite up to her hotel room after sharing drinks at a bar in midtown Manhattan. So, he was ready when an accomplice (Griff Furst) posing as her berserk husband burst in brandishing a fake gun.
Rather than hand over his wallet, Nicky calmly laughs and schools the two in the flaws of their little shakedown, such as not waiting until he was naked to try to rob him. Jess is so impressed that she not only confesses, but begs him to take her on as a protégé, giving him a hard luck story about having been a dyslexic foster kid.
Nicky agrees to show her the ropes, and even invites her to join his team of hustlers about to descend on New Orleans where they plan to pickpocket plenty of unsuspecting tourists. They’re also set to hatch an elaborate plan to fleece a wealthy compulsive gambler (BD Wong) of over a million dollars.
Though Jess proves to be a fast learner and the plot is executed without a hitch, Nicky is reluctant to include her in his next operation after they become romantically involved. Instead, he moves on alone to Argentina, where he hopes to bilk a racing car mogul (Rodrigo Santoro) of a small fortune.
The plot thickens when Jess is already draped on the arm of the playboy billionaire by the time Nicky arrives in Buenos Aires. Is she in love with the handsome Garriga or simply staging her own swindle? Will she expose Nicky as a fraud or might she be willing to join forces with her former mentor?
Co-directed by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa (Crazy, Stupid, Love), Focus is an overplotted, cat-and-mouse caper which ostensibly takes its clues from the cleverly-concealed classic House of Games (1987). But where that multi-layered mystery was perfectly plausible, this frustrating homage unnecessarily ventures from the sublime to the ridiculous, thereby sabotaging any chance that its promising premise might be played out in serious fashion.
Nevertheless, co-stars Will Smith and Margot Robbie generate enough chemistry to steam up the screen and make the farfetched romantic romp just worth the watch, provided eye candy alone can do for you in lieu of credulity. 

Good (2 stars)
Rated R for profanity, sexuality and brief violence
Running time: 104 minutes
Distributor: Warner Brothers Pictures
 
To see a trailer for Focus, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6vY9UPiI4eQ    

Whiplash (DVD REVIEW)



Whiplash
DVD Review by Kam Williams

3-Time Oscar-Winner Arrives on DVD

            19 year-old Andrew Neyman (Miles Teller) got more than he bargained for when he entered the hallowed halls of mythical Shaffer Conservatory. The promising prodigy had reasonably expected what was arguably the best music school in the entire country to be the ideal place to pursue his ambition of becoming a celebrated jazz drummer.
But, from the first day of class, he ends up under the thumb of Terence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons), an impatient perfectionist with a twisted teaching method. This Machiavellian professor’s approach involves not only belittling his students but pitting them against one another by making them compete for spots in the school’s elite performance band.
In Andrew’s case, he has to contend for the coveted drummer’s chair with both an upperclassman (Nate Lang) and a fellow newcomer (Austin Stowell).  Meanwhile, he finds himself having to duck chairs being thrown at his head while simultaneously being called everything from a “retard” to a “pansy ass” to a “tonal catastrophe” by a taskmaster who rationalizes the abuse on the tough love theory that his job is “to push people beyond what was expected of them.”
A perverse relationship evolves in which Andrew willingly breaks up with his patient girlfriend (Melissa Benoist) and surrenders any semblance of a social life in order to “Practice! Practice! Practice!” for the sake of his Svengali-like coach. However, such a narrow, self-negating path gradually takes a toll on his body and soul, as evidenced by bloody, calloused hands and ensuing bouts of depression.
Written and directed by Damien Chazelle (Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench), Whiplash is a wonderfully-electrifying drama very much akin to an overcoming-the-odds sports saga. Yet, it might be better thought of as a novel variation on the protégé-mentor theme typified by such relatively benign offerings as The Emperor’s Club, Dead Poets Society and Mr. Holland’s Opus. 
The groundbreaking adventure just won a trio of Academy Awards in the Film Editing, Sound Mixing and Best Supporting Actor (J.K. Simmons) categories. A compelling, coming-of-age tale about a lifelong dream-turned-neverending nightmare, all because of a sadistic studio bandleader from Hell!

Excellent (4 stars)
Rated R for profanity and some sexual references
Running time: 107 minutes
Distributor: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Extras: Audio commentary; Timekeepers; Whiplash: the original short film; Fletcher at Home; An Evening at the Toronto International Film Festival with Miles Teller, J.K. Simmons and Damien Chazelle; the theatrical trailer; and Sony previews.    

To see a trailer for Whiplash, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7d_jQycdQGo

To order Whiplash on Blu-ray, visit:

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Black Male Frames (BOOK REVIEW)



Black Male Frames
African-Americans in a Century of Hollywood Cinema, 1903-2003
by Roland Leander Williams, Jr.
Syracuse University Press
Hardcover, $34.95
218 pages, Illustrated
ISBN: 978-0-8156-3382-2

Book Review by Kam Williams

“Black Male Frames charts the development and shifting popularity of two stereotypes of black male masculinity in popular American film: the shaman and the scoundrel… [The book] identifies the origins of these roles in an America where black men were forced either to defer or to defy their white masters.
These figures recur in the stories America tells about its black men, from the fictional Jim Crow… to W.E.B. Du Bois. [The author] argues that these two extremes persist today in modern Hollywood, where actors… must cope with and work around such limited options… These men are rewarded for their portrayal of the stereotypes most needed to put America’s ongoing racial anxieties at ease.”
-- Excerpted from the Bookjacket

In the antebellum era, when minstrel shows took the U.S. by storm as the country’s first popular form of entertainment, African-American males were portrayed by white men in blackface as being either servile or surly. Those polar opposite stereotypes, which served a critical function during slavery, remained the only type of roles available to actual black actors from the dawn of the film industry all the way into the 21st Century.
            That is the contention of Roland Leander Williams, Jr. who teaches English at Temple University. In his groundbreaking book, Black Male Frames: African-Americans in a Century of Hollywood Cinema, 1903-2003, Professor Williams sets out to show how black male movie characters have basically been either submissive or subversive to suit the fluctuating needs of the dominant culture.
He sets about proving his thesis by closely examining the careers of five African-American acting icons, starting with Sam Lucas (1839-1916), the first black film star. He was not only the first black to play Uncle Tom onscreen, but he was also the first to portray the deferential character onstage.
Unfolding chronologically, the opus’ entry about Lucas is followed by a chapter devoted to Paul Robeson (1898-1976) entitled “Renaissance Man.” There, we learn that, in sharp contrast to Lucas, Robeson became typecast in a way which strengthened the “impression of blacks as primitives” gaining popularity in the late Twenties.
That image was reversed a generation later, as personified by Sidney Poitier in his Oscar-winning performance in Lilies of the Field. Then, in response to the Black Power Movement came the return of the relatively-assertive rebel as played by Denzel Washington, who won his first Academy Award for Glory in 1990. Meanwhile, waiting in the wings was Morgan Freeman, who languished in the shadows “until the age of multiculturalism arrived, when he took a role (in Driving Miss Daisy) that once again raised the ghost of Uncle Tom.”
As far as the future, the author concludes that only time will tell
whether Hollywood will finally stop marginalizing black males as either servants or malcontents and welcome them into the movie mainstream by casting them in a full range of roles without regard to skin color. If not, Professor Williams expresses a sincere concern that history might simply continue to repeat itself.

To order a copy of Black Male Frames, visit: