Tuesday, September 29, 2015
Monday, September 28, 2015
He Named Me Malala
Film Review by Kam Williams
Powerful Portrait of Nobel Prize-Winning Teen Illustrates Indomitability of the Human Spirit
Malala Yousafzai was named after a girl who spoke out and was killed for speaking out. That folk hero was a flag-bearing teenager who perished in 1880 while rallying fellow Pashtun resistance fighters to an unlikely victory over British invaders in a pivotal battle of the Second Anglo-Afghan War.
After settling on the very meaningful moniker, Malala's father inscribed it into his genealogy because no females were mentioned in his family tree stretching back several centuries. Furthermore, Ziauddin Yousafzai resolved to raise his daughter to see herself as the equal of any boy.
While such an approach might be unremarkable in the West, it was downright heretical in the Swat District of Pakistan, a hotbed of Islamic fundamentalism in the late 20th Century. For, over the course of Malala's formative years, much of the country was being terrorized by the Taliban which had taken to blowing up any schools which had the temerity to admit girls.
In defiance of their militant mullah's absolute mandate against any female education, Mr. Yousafzai not only allowed his daughter to matriculate, but even spurred her to speak out online as an equal rights advocate blogger. This only served to infuriate Mullah Fazlullah who issued a fatwa against her over the radio, which led to an assassination attempt on a school bus by one of his followers.
Malala, who was just 15 at the time, was lucky to survive the bullet to the brain. While she languished in the hospital unresponsive and attached to tubes, her worried folks had no idea whether their daughter would ever even be able to walk or talk again.
She did eventually emerge from the coma, though deaf in one ear and in need of months and months of rehabilitation just to master simple bodily functions most people take for granted. Initially, she blamed her dad for her plight, since he was the one who'd cultivated her activist streak. "I am a child," she said, "You are my father. You should have stopped me. What happened to me is because of you."
But eventually her health was substantially restored, and she became a stoic and serene symbol of resistance to radical Islam. With continued death threats hanging over their heads, the Yousafzai family (including Malalal's mom and two younger brothers) was forced to resettle in England where she would become a champion of oppressed females all over the planet.
Directed by Oscar-winner Davis Guggenheim.(for An Inconvenient Truth), He Named Me Malala is an emotionally-engaging biopic chronicling the close father-daughter relationship which enabled Malala to flourish in the midst of sheer intolerance. Their tender interplay is intermittently enhanced by animated interludes which further intensifies the sincere sentiment displayed on screen.
The picture makes an inexorable march to Malala's emergence as an international icon, culminating in her becoming the youngest person ever to win the Nobel Peace Prize. Pack the Kleenex for this powerful portrait ably illustrating the indomitability of the human spirit.
Easily, the best film of 2015 thus far!
Excellent (4 stars)
Rated PG-13 for death threats, mature themes and disturbing images
Running time: 87 minutes
Distributor: Fox Searchlight Pictures
To see a trailer for He Named Me Malala, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cug1-eTOVSk
He Named Me Malala opens in select theaters on October 2nd, and then on over 2,000 screens a week later on October 9th.
Posted by Kam at 5:05 PM
Sunday, September 27, 2015
Born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, Eric Dean Seaton was studying television and movies with the dream of one day becoming a director while most of his friends were running the streets. After graduating from Ohio State University, he moved to Hollywood where he proceeded to climb the showbiz ladder as an Assistant Director [AD] on such television series as Living Single and The Jamie Kennedy Experiment.
Eric Dean Seaton: Thank you, Kam.
KW: You're very well known for directing TV shows. What interested you in comic books?
EDS: Growing up, my dad worked out of town and used to come home on the weekends and take me to a coffee shop that had comic books. I would binge-read them in one day. Years later, when I moved to California, I lived down the street from a comic book shop. Later, one of my first jobs was on the sitcom Living Single. The director was married to the president of Marvel Comics. So, every Tuesday, tape day, I would drill him about all things Marvel. Finally, he invited me down to a company they bought called, Malibu Comics. After a tour, the editor asked me if I wanted to write a Spider-Man, Stop the Violence special. I did, but Marvel went into bankruptcy, so I never received a copy. After that, I knew I had to do my own.
KW: Where did you come up with the idea for Legend of the Manatamaji?
EDS: It was just a mind meld of everything I wanted to see done in a story. I took real things like the Ankh and blended them into a totally imaginative story.
KW: How would you describe your characters?
EDS: All of them are flawed individuals, because that makes for the most interesting stories. I made sure, however, to include strong female characters and a multi-cultural cast; because this reflects the world we live in today.
EDS: Heroes come in every race and gender, and that independent books can offer even greater and more imaginative stories than some of the mainstream companies can.
KW: This series of graphic novels certainly seems timely, given how there's suddenly a profusion of black superheroes onscreen.
EDS: I would agree. There is a profusion of superhero sidekicks and co-stars on screen, but there haven't been many lead superheroes onscreen anywhere, with the exception of Fantastic Four and Michael B. Jordan's role, and Star Wars: The Force Awakens with John Boyega. There won't be a leading role for African-American actors in theaters until Black Panther in 2018. And even then, he will be introduced as a story point for other non-black heroes. The opinion, here, is that we still have long ways to go, but, hopefully, Legend of the Mantamaji is opening doors for other main heroes and reaffirming that the story is just as good, if not better.
KW: What was the biggest challenge in adapting Legend of the Manatamaji to the screen as a live-action as opposed to an animated short?
EDS: Adjusting the look and tone of the books to match a real world. I think we proved that the tone of the books lends well to other media. The suit is exactly the same except the arms, and that is because we ran out of time making it. We had to shoot it in January on a certain weekend because of the equipment we got. But only I, as a creator, notice the arm difference. In making more down the line, we will actually do the arms just like the books.
EDS: We are currently working on Book 4 which will be titled Legend of the Mantamaji: Bloodlines. It continues the story of the characters that survived the original series and introduces a few new ones that may change the history of the series as we currently know it to be
KW: What else do you have on tap?
EDS: We are also looking to shoot more shorts where we can introduce more of the characters. People are always asking if we are going to make a movie. We would love to but in 2015, with the exception of Michael B. Jordan, there isn't a black actor under the age of 40 that can open a movie. Kevin Hart can, but he's a comedian. So, we are looking to find a company willing to invest in the adventure knowing it fills a niche demographic, African-Americans, in an underserved market, while it is also multi-cultural with a universal appeal
KW: Is there any question no one ever asks you, that you wish someone would?
EDS: What my dream cast would be.
KW: The bookworm Troy Johnson question: What was the last book you read?
EDS: Save the Cat by Blake Snyder. He's right when he says it's the last screenwriting book you'll ever need.
KW: The music maven Heather Covington question: What was the last song you listened to?
EDS: Because my three-year-old son loves superheroes, we have to play the theme songs to a few of the movies every day. The Iron Man 3 theme "Can You Dig It" by Brian Taylor is his favorite. It is a catchy song, but I guess anything is when you hear it every single day.
EDS: Sadly, I'm not much of a cook. Luckily, my wife is a wonderful cook. But, I can do scrambled eggs well.
KW: Was there a meaningful spiritual component to your childhood?
EDS: Church. I still go every Sunday and like to give at least one hour a week of my time. It's the least I can do. So, I don't miss a Sunday, unless we are out of town.
EDS: We had a fireplace and, as I was going to bed on Christmas Eve, I asked my mom what that smell was. She said dad had a fire going. I panicked and ran down stairs begging him to turn it off. I told him Santa could not come down the chimney because he would catch on fire and I would not get any toys. My dad assured me that would not happen and put the fire out.
EDS: I'm much quieter at home. I don't talk on the phone much at all. I actually have gone days without talking on the phone. I love going to work and having the opportunity to interact with different people from different walks of life.
KW: What was your very first job?
EDS: Delivering papers for the Cleveland Plain Dealer. I lived in a predominately-Jewish neighborhood filled with concentration camp survivors. Imagine a little black boy with a big German shepherd coming to your door every morning. Everyone was super nice, but I learned at a very young age a lot about the atrocities of World War II and how lucky I was to be young and free, even though racism was alive and strong.
KW: When you look in the mirror, what do you see?
EDS: A big dreamer and proud father.
EDS: Back in 2000, I was not working and my career seemed dead before it even got started. My dad wanted me to come back home and become a teacher. I got so mad I told him I was going to get the first AD job on That's So Raven and that in two years they were going to let me direct and I would go on to become a full-time director. Not only did I not have the job, but also I didn't even have the interview. I was pissed he was giving up on me and my dreams. Yet, everything I said in that conversation came true. And years later, after buying my first townhouse, I flew my father out to Los Angeles First Class and, in the car ride home from the airport, he said, "You did good." That was his way of saying he approved.
EDS: My mom. She still does, although I think she thinks I'm still her little boy, because I left home right after high school.
KW: If you could have one wish instantly granted, what would that be for?
EDS: To find a cure for cancer. One of the bridesmaids in our wedding died from cancer and the disease takes too many lives.
KW: The Sanaa Lathan question: What excites you?
EDS: Movie trailers. That anticipation of seeing two minutes of what could be an amazing experience always gets me going.
EDS: Anything on the CW network. I watch pretty much all of their shows and will download the sad or motivational music they play at the end of every episode.
KW: The "Realtor to the Stars" Jimmy Bayan's question: What's your dream locale in Los Angeles to live?
EDS: I think I'm already in it! I found it on a whim and I love it now. I'm a dozen minutes away from every studio except Sony and Fox.
KW: The Harriet Pakula-Teweles question: With so many classic films being redone, is there one you'd like to remake?
EDS: I don't want to say, because a few of my favorites have been done already. So, if they have not thought of it yet, I don't want to give them any ideas before I get the chance to do it.
EDS: It has to be the drive, because being only nice doesn't cut it. It has to be that single vision that burns and burns inside of you where you just do it, more than you talk about it.
KW: What advice do you have for anyone who wants to follow in your footsteps?
EDS: If it's directing, you have a video camera on your phone, go shoot something. If it's graphic novels and comic books, be prepared for the glass ceiling. People will always say, "It's great for an independent." That is telling you right there that they think it can only go so far. But break that glass! It's the only way to really make a difference in the comic side of the business.
EDS: As a great father and husband who created his own entertainment empire.
KW: Finally, what's in your wallet?
EDS: A small amount of cash, free movie tickets and gift cards.
KW: Thanks again for the time, Eric, and best of luck with Legend of the Manatamaji.
EDS: Thanks, Kam. This was awesome! I'm honored that you took the time to ask so many great questions.
Check out the film version of Legend of the Mantamaji at http://legendofthemantamaji.com/portfolio/liveactionshort/
To purchase copies of Legend of the Mantamaji: Book 1, 2 and 3, the graphic novels the short was adapted from, visit: http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=legend+of+the+Mantamaji
Posted by Kam at 4:44 PM
Saturday, September 26, 2015
Posted by Kam at 9:23 PM
by Kam Williams
Assassin and Teen Make Strange Bedfellows in Unlikely-Buddies Dramedy
Ashby Holt (Mickey Rourke) has just been informed by his doctor (Max Lesser) that he only has a few months to live. Besides putting his personal affairs in order, the terminally-ill retired spy wants to ensure that he's able to enter the Kingdom of Heaven upon his demise.
The problem is that he performed about a hundred hits over the course of his career with the CIA, thereby repeatedly violating the Fifth Commandment: "Thou shalt not kill." So, as a devout Catholic, he suddenly believes the only way he'll be able to enter the proverbial Pearly Gates is by seeking forgiveness for his sins.
However, also weighing heavily on Ashby's conscience is the innocent man he was once tricked into assassinating. And before confessing to Father Ted (Zachary Knighton), he'd first like to exact a measure of revenge on behalf of the victim by taking out the three evil superiors who had knowingly issued that order. Still, given his deteriorating health there's no way he could probably pull off such a feat on his own.
That's where Ed Wallis (Nat Wolff) comes in. The nerdy 17 year-old newcomer is sorely in need of a good role model, given how his flaky mother (Sarah Silverman) sleeps around and his absentee-father is entirely out of the picture. Ed's also having trouble fitting in at Varga Prep where he's being teased for being a nerd by everyone but equally-geeky Eloise (Emma Roberts).
The plot thickens when he's handed a school assignment to write a paper about an elder and he approaches his next-door neighbor, Ashby. The reclusive stranger agrees on the condition that the kid chauffeur him around town, conveniently hiding the fact that Ed will unwittingly be serving as a getaway driver for several grisly murders.
That's the premise of Ashby, an unlikely-buddies dramedy written and directed by Peter McNamara (The Rage in Placid Lake). The movie unfolds almost like four films in one, since besides the Ed-Ashby dynamic, it devotes considerable attention to Ed's dysfunctional home life, his budding romance with Eloise, and his attempt to make the football team.
Nevertheless, most of the picture's tension revolves around whether Ashby will survive long enough to complete his grim tasks. Mickey Rourke proves the best of a very capable cast here, bringing the requisite balance of swagger and vulnerability to lend credibility to the rapidly-expiring title character.
A genre-blending adventure which somehow successfully combines elements of the coming-of-age and last hurrah formulas.
Very Good (3 stars)
Rated R for profanity, violence and some sexuality.
Running time: 100 minutes
Distributor: Paramount Pictures
To see a trailer for Ashby, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lNlMsJWb1KM
Posted by Kam at 4:52 PM
Friday, September 25, 2015
Posted by Kam at 11:50 AM
by Kam Williams
Movie Adaptation of Hit TV Show Now on DVD
Entourage went off the air in 2011, after enjoying a phenomenal, eight-year run on the HBO Network, thanks to its refreshingly-authentic take on cutthroat world of Hollywood. That semi-autobiographical TV-series revolving around the irreverent alpha-male antics of a fictional movie star and his posse was inspired by the life of its executive producer, Mark Wahlberg. Directed by the program's creator, Doug Ellin, this eagerly-anticipated, big screen version more than lives up to its legions of loyal fans' high expectations, between the bawdy, locker room banter and the trademark misogyny we've come to expect from the unapologetic bad boys at the center of the story.
Fortunately, the original cast has been reunited, starting with Adrian Grenier as matinee idol Vince Chase. There's also Kevin Dillon as his big brother, Johnny; Jerry Ferrara as his chauffeur, Turtle; and Kevin Connolly as his manager, Eric, aka E. Besides that tight-knit quartet of BFFs from Queens, Vince's agent Ari Gold (Jeremy Piven) and Ari's former, long-suffering assistant, Lloyd (Rex Lee), are among a number of other popular characters reprising their roles.
The picture basically unfolds like an extended rap music video. Think, a decadent celebration of materialism and conspicuous consumption shot against a variety of lavish backdrops littered with a smorgasbord of scantily-clad, fantasy babes who ostensibly exist at the pleasure of powerful males.
At the point of departure, we find each of the protagonists embroiled in relationship drama. Newlywed Vince is eager to have his recent marriage annulled, while playboy E reluctantly attends Lamaze classes with his pregnant, ex-girlfriend, Sloan (Emmanuelle Chriqui). Turtle is hoping to last a half-minute in the ring with MMA Champ Rowdy Ronda Rousey, which is the only way she'd agree to a date. And Johnny comes to regret sexting with a virtual stranger when TMZ gets a hold of the embarrassing video.
Flamboyant Lloyd is planning an elaborate gay wedding featuring glass dildos as centerpieces, and he wants his ex-boss to give him away to fiance Greg Louganis. Trouble is, Ari is now a studio exec, and he's obsessed with his first picture, a $100 million production being directed by Vince that's already way over budget.
Never taking itself seriously, all of the above is played purely for laughs, including a profusion of fleeting cameo appearances by celebs as themselves: Pharrell, Warren Buffett, Mike Tyson, Common and Gary Busey, to name a few. For example, Liam Neeson is greeted by the feckless foursome at a traffic light with, “Hey, Schindler, leave no Jews behind,” you're left wondering, what the heck just happened?
Vintage Vince and company having tons of testosterone-fueled fun whether being titillated by bimbos or just roaming aimlessly around L.A. in a classic convertible.
Very Good (3 stars)
Rated R for frontal nudity, drug use, graphic sexuality and pervasive profanity
Running time: 106 minutes
Distributor: Warner Home Entertainment Group
Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack Extras: The Gang: Still Rockin' It; Hollywood, Baby!; The Making of Hyde; Deleted Scenes; Gag Reel; Meet the Newest Member of Entourage; and Lucas Ellin is Jonah Gold.
Posted by Kam at 9:02 AM
Thursday, September 24, 2015
DVD Review by Kam Williams
Retro Doc Revisiting Roots of Rap Fashion Released on DVD
When rap arrived back in the late Seventies, more than the music burst on the scene. The performers' outlandish costumes also had a profound effect on American culture which proceeded to mimic everything from MC Hammer's balloon pants to Run DMC's fedoras and Adidas outfits.
As the genre matured, the more business-savvy artists opted to capitalize on their influence by launching their own clothing lines. They figured, why send the stock of fashionistas like Ralph Lauren and Tommy Hilfiger through the roof when they could wear their own labels onstage? Subsequently, industry newcomers such as Daymond John's FUBU and Puff Daddy's Sean John kick-started brands which became multi-million dollar household names available in fine stores everywhere.
That surprising development is the subject of Fresh Dressed, a visually-captivating celebration of the sartorial splendor which blossomed during the Golden Age of Rap. The fascinating documentary takes a delightful stroll down Memory Lane courtesy of reams of archival footage featuring folks in garish, spray-paint-colored outfits. It also has plenty of present-day reflections on the phenomenon by plenty of Hip-Hop icons: Nas, Pharrell, Kid, Play and Damon Dash, to name a few.
The movie marks the impressive writing and directorial debut of Sacha Jenkins, who has deftly interwoven all of the above elements into an informative history lesson that's worth the investment even if you're not a fan of rap. For instance, you'll learn how to avoid getting “vicked” (Ebonics for “victimized”) which is a distinct possibility if you're dumb enough to walk through the 'hood wearing a pair of the latest Air Jordans.
Believe it or not, gangstas build their wardrobe around their sneakers, since looking “fresh” (aka “stylish”) starts with the feet. As Kid reminisces, “People were killed for their shoes,” so “the one thing you never wanted to hear was someone asking you your shoe size.”
Back in the day, if you decided to walk a mile in a man's moccasins, you meant that literally, not figuratively. Hey, that way, you'd not only have his shoes, but you'd have a decent head start on the barefoot sucka.
A nostalgic tribute to a materialistic generation weaned on conspicuous consumption where capped gold teeth and gaudy clock necklaces were trendy fashion statements.
Excellent (4 stars)
Running time: 82 minutes
Distributor: Samuel Goldwyn Films
DVD Extras: Additional interviews; and bonus scenes.
To see a trailer for Fresh Dressed, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vQ9LyiNrA-s
Posted by Kam at 10:25 PM
DVD Review by Kam Williams
Melissa McCarthy Fish-Out-of-Water Comedy Comes to DVD
For the past three years, Susan Cooper (Melissa McCarthy) has been stuck sitting behind a desk as an analyst at CIA Headquarters in Langley, Virginia. In that capacity, she's been providing technical support from afar to Bradley Fine (Jude Law), a veteran spy who has successfully handled a series of dangerous missions over the course of a decorated career. Serving as his eyes and ears via hidden cameras and listening devices, the 40 year-old spinster's been quite content to live vicariously through her dashing colleague, especially given the big crush she has on him.
Everything changes the day he's murdered while attempting to secure a suitcase bomb about to fall into the wrong hands. Susan subsequently pressures her reluctant boss (Allison Janney) to be allowed to replace her late partner in the search for the the assassin as well as the rogue nuclear device.
Elaine is understandably reluctant, since this would be the plump pencil pusher's very first field assignment. Nonetheless, she grudgingly gives Susan a new identity (“Carol Jenkins”), before issuing strict orders about keeping a low profile and about observing but never confronting any of the bad guys she encounters overseas.
Needless to say, the rules of engagement are out the window just as soon as Susan's plane lands in Paris. She blows her matronly tourist cover by coming to the assistance of a fellow agent (Jason Statham) unaware that he's in imminent peril. Between the loose-lipped loudmouth's need for attention and her appetite whetted for more action, there's little hope of getting the subtle surveillance genie back in the bottle.
Thus unfolds Spy, the latest collaboration between Melissa McCarthy and writer/director Paul Feig. This film pales in comparison to either Bridesmaids (2011) or The Heat (2013), perhaps because, here, Melissa has been asked to carry the comedy load alone. In Bridesmaids, she shared those duties with a talented ensemble; and in The Heat, her pairing with Sandra Bullock worked to perfection.
By contrast, this picture definitely has its moments, yet one tires of the tendency to rely on Melissa to generate laughs by way of her trademark trash-talk. Those vulgar comments were funny when delivered as unexpected asides in Bridesmaids. Now, they sort of fall flat when exposed as the only material a one-trick pony might have to offer.
A Melissa McCarthy vehicle recommended for fans with a big appetite for her crude, expletive-laced brand of humor.
Good (2 stars)
Rated R for sexuality, brief nudity, violence and pervasive profanity
In English, French, Italian and German with subtitles
Running time: 120 minutes Distributor: Fox Home Entertainment
DVD Extras: Top Secret Gag Reel; Extra Top Secret Behind-the-Scenes Gag Reel; Susan and Her Men; The Great Rick Ford, Gallery; and the Director's Commentary Track.
Posted by Kam at 9:31 PM
Wednesday, September 23, 2015
BIG BUDGET FILMS
Posted by Kam at 9:45 PM