Monday, February 29, 2016

They Will Have to Kill Us First

Film Review by Kam Williams

Musical Documentary Chronicles Cultural Clash between Radical Islam and Malian Culture

In 2012, radical jihadists invaded the country of Mali from the north. Even though the population was already 98% Muslim, the uncompromising religious zealots declared Sharia the law of the land. 
Their radical interpretation of Islam included a ban of all forms of music. So, everything from instruments to CDs to radio stations were ordered immediately destroyed. And anyone resisting the directive faced the sort of torture ISIS delights in doling out on a daily basis. 
Directed by Johanna Schwartz (Mysterious Science: Rebuilding Stonehenge),They Will Have to Kill Us First is a documentary which chronicles some of Mali's greatest artists' defiant response to the attempted censorship. Among the local legends appearing in the picture are singers Aliou Toure, Khaira Arby and Fadimata "Disco" Walett Oumar, guitarists Moussa Sidi and Oumar and Gavbar Toure, and drummer Nathanael Dembele. 
Shot on location in Gao, Timbuktu and Bamako, the film does a decent job of illustrating the devastating toll exacted on the country's people and infrastructure by the violent coup. We learn that although Mali has experienced civil arrest since 1963, things escalated substantially following the death of Qaddafi in Libya because of the accelerated rate of arms importation.

"Don't play... and you won't get hurt," the musicians were warned. But the folks featured here preferred death to giving up their cherished freedom of expression. So, when the kitchen got to hot, some of them hightailed it to Liverpool where they formed the group Songhoy Blues and recorded an album while in exile.

A cautionary expose capturing the ugly fallout of an unavoidable clash of modern and medieval civilizations.

Very Good (3 stars)
In French, Songhay, English, Bambara and Tamashek with subtitles.
Running time: 100 minutes
Distributor: BBC Worldwide North America

To see a trailer for They Will Have to Kill Us First, visit:

2016 Oscar Recap

by Kam Williams

Spotlight Upsets The Revenant for Best Picture
Chris Rock Pokes Fun at Both the Boycott and the Academy

On a night when the Academy Awards were overshadowed by the absence of black nominees, Spotlight upset The Revenant for the big prize, although Mad Max netted the most trophies (6) overall. But from his opening monologue clear through his the close of the evening's festivities, master of ceremonies Chris Rock kept the pedal to the metal, reminding viewers at every opportunity of the conspicuous absence of African-Americans honorees.

He began by welcoming the audience to the "White People's Choice Awards" before launching into a 10-minute stand-up routine in which he was careful to level barbs at both sides of the controversy. For example, he chided the members of the Academy for being racists, suggesting, " If they nominated hosts, I wouldn't even get this job." 
On the other hand, he was just as tough on the supporters of the protest, insinuating that they ought to lighten up since things were far worse back in the Fifties and Sixties when their grandmothers might have been lynched. Rock reserved his most caustic comments for Jada Pinkett Smith, saying "Jada boycotting the Oscars is like me boycotting Rihanna's panties," the crude implication being that Jada is untalented and about as likely to be nominated as he is to have sex with the attractive pop diva.

Next, he took a swipe at Jada's husband, Will Smith, prefacing his remarks by announcing, "I'm not hating." After conceding that Will had been snubbed for Concussion, Rock pointed out that it was equally unfair that he'd been paid $20 million for his poor performance in Wild Wild West. 
The profusion of race-based humor had its share of awkward moments, like when Chris announced that the "In Memoriam" package would be devoted to "black people shot by cops on their way to the movies." Just as awkward was when he introduced actress-turned-black conservative Stacey Dash, as the Director of the Academy's newly-created Minority Outreach Program. Stacey came on stage to say she couldn't wait to help her people out, before wishing everybody "Happy Black History Month!" The joke fell flat and was met with total silence. 
Another headscratcher involved Chris' introducing the Oscars' African-American orchestra conductor "just so he can get laid at the Governor's Ball." As the curtain came down on the festivities, Rock finally seemed to take sides by defiantly bidding farewell with "Black lives matter!" to the tune of Public Enemy's anti-establishment anthem "Fight the Power" which played for the duration of the closing credits.

Complete List of Oscar Winners

Picture: Spotlight
Director: Alejandro González Iñárritu, The Revenant
Lead Actor: Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant
Lead Actress: Brie Larson, Room
Supporting Actor: Mark Rylance, Bridge of Spies
Supporting Actress: Alicia Vikander, The Danish Girl
Adapted Screenplay: The Big Short, Charles Randolph and Adam McKay
Original Screenplay: Spotlight, Josh Singer and Tom McCarthy
Original Score: Ennio Morricone, The Hateful Eight
Original Song: "Writings on the Wall," Spectre
Best Foreign Language Film: Son of Saul
Documentary Feature: Amy
Animated Feature Film: Inside Out
Visual Effects: Ex Machina
Sound Mixing: Mad Max: Fury Road
Sound Editing: Mad Max: Fury Road
Film Editing: Mad Max: Fury Road
Cinematography: The Revenant
Makeup and Hairstyling: Mad Max: Fury Road
Production Design: Mad Max: Fury Road
Costume Design: Mad Max: Fury Road
Live Action Short Film: Stutterer
Documentary Short Film: A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness
Animated Short Film: Bear Story
Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award: Debbie Reynolds

To see Chris Rock's opening monologue, visit:

To see Stacey Dash's awkward moment at the Oscars, visit:

Sunday, February 28, 2016

London Has Fallen

Film Review by Kam Williams

Adrenaline-Fueled Sequel Follows "Bigger Is Better" Golden Rule 

The conventional wisdom for shooting a sequel to a successful action flick is that "bigger is better." In the case of this bigger-budgeted follow up to Olympus Has Fallen, that translates to bigger guns, more elaborate chase scenes, a higher body-count and more bombastic pyrotechnics, including my favorite staple of the genre, exploding cars careening off cliffs in flames.

Directed by Babak Najafi, London Has Fallen again stars Gerard Butler as Mike Banning, the Secret Service Agent in charge of protecting the President of the United States. Also reprising their roles are Radha Mitchell as his wife, Leah; Aaron Eckhart as President Asher; Morgan Freeman as Vice President Trumbull; Angela Basset as Secret Service Director Lynne Jacobs; Melissa Leo as Secretary of Defense Ruth McMillan; and Robert Forster as General Clegg.
At the point of departure, we find the Bannings picking out paint samples for their first baby's nursery. Leah is due in a couple weeks, and the prospect of fatherhood has Mike seriously contemplating retirement. But before he has a chance to tender a letter of resignation, word arrives that the British Prime Minister has just passed away unexpectedly. 
Over his worried wife's objections, Mike grudgingly agrees to join the detail accompanying the President to the funeral. Despite very heavy security in London, all hell breaks loose when radical Muslims disguised as Bobbies and Beefeaters open fire, assassinating several of the 28 leaders of the Free World in attendance.

Mike instinctively springs into action, endeavoring to escort the President via limo from Westminster Abbey back to Air Force One. Of course, this is easier said than done, since it's almost impossible to tell the good guys from the bad, and terrorists armed with automatic weapons and RPGs are lying in wait at every turn. Also aboard for the hair-raising, roller coaster ride are Director Jacobs , Agent Bronson (Andrew Pleavin), and an MI6 Agent (Charlotte Riley) they encounter along the way. 
With the help of cartoon physics and a bulletproof physique, Mike ultimately manages to prevail against the army of bloodthirsty jihadists doing the bidding of the diabolical mastermind, Aamir Barkawi (Alon Aboutboul). Let's just pray that he's up for a third round of heroic exploits to keep the world safe for freedom and democracy.

Very Good (3 stars)
Rated R for graphic violence and pervasive profanity
Running time: 100 minutes
Distributor: Gramercy Pictures

To see a trailer for London Has Fallen, visit:

Saturday, February 27, 2016


DVD Review by Kam Williams

Surrealistic Buddy Flick Features "Fellini"-esque Meditation on Mortality

Fred Ballinger (Michael Caine) has chosen to withdraw from the limelight after a storybook career as a celebrated composer and conductor. He's presently being pampered with mud baths and massages at a scenic spa nestled in the Swiss Alps where he's vacationing with his daughter Lena (Rachel Weisz) and his his best friend, filmmaker Mick Boyle (Harvey Keitel).

Despite being well into their 70s, Mick is working on the script for his next movie with the help of a quintet of young collaborators. For these purposes, it is good to know that Mick's son Julian (Ed Stoppard) is married to Lena, who has just been dumped for a British pop singer (Paloma Faith herself).

While in the midst of dividing his days between reminiscing with his BFF and soothing his emotionally-distant daughter's fragile psyche, Fred gets a surprising request to come out of retirement by an emissary (Alex Macqueen) of the Royal Family. Queen Elizabeth II is offering knighthood in exchange for playing his most popular piece, "Simple Songs," at Prince Philip's impending birthday concert.

However, Fred summons up the strength to decline the command performance coming with an honorary title attached. For, he has already shed any attachment to his public persona in favor of meditating on his mortality and giving Lena the quality time she was denied as a child. After all, she still hasn't forgiven him for focusing so selfishly on classical music during her formative years.
Thus unfolds Youth, a surreal mix of heartfelt introspection and escapist fantasy reminiscent of Federico Fellini. The movie was written and directed by Fellini's fellow paisan, Paolo Sorrentino (The Great Beauty) who is not shy about juxtaposing a variety of jarring images certain to leave a lasting impression, even if you're not quite sure what to make of the visually captivating menagerie.

Caine and Keitel enjoy their best outings in ages, albeit in service of an inscrutable adventure that deliberately does its darndest to defy definition.

Very Good (3 stars)
Rated R for profanity, sexuality and graphic nudity
Running time: 124 minutes
Distributor: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

To see a trailer for Youth, visit:

To order a copy of Youth on Blu-ray, visit:

Top Ten DVD Releases for 3-1-16

This Week’s DVD Releases
by Kam Williams

Top Ten DVD List for March 1, 2016


The Danish Girl

The Fall: Series Two

The North Star


The Night Before



Capture the Flag


Honorable Mention

Lost in Hong Kong

Childhood's End

Barbie: Spy Squad

Angry Birdy Toons: Season Two, Volume Two

Kill or Be Killed

Thomas & Friends: Start Your Engines

Piggy Tales: Season Two

Paw Patrol: Brave Heroes, Big Rescues

Angry Birds- Stella: Season Two



Strawberry Shortcake: Sweet Sunrise Adventures

Strawberry Shortcake: Berry Bake Shop

Friday, February 26, 2016

The Danish Girl

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Gender Preference Biopic Features Eddie Redmayne's Oscar-Nominated Performance as Sex Change Pioneer

In 2015, Eddie Redmayne won the Best Actor Oscar for his poignant portrayal of Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything. While Eddie earned the picture's only Oscar, he really owed a debt of gratitude to Hawking as well as his nominated co-star Felicity Jones.

After all, she did a terrific job as his wife, Jane, in service of a character-tale turn which focused more on the unfortunate arc of the couple's ill-fated relationship than on the wheelchair-bound genius' contributions to the field of theoretical physics. Furthermore, Hawking himself imbued the production with an air of authenticity by allowing his impersonator to use the actual synthesized voice he's relied upon since being crippled by ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease).

In The Danish Girl, Redmayne plays another icon who is virtually upstaged onscreen by an intriguing spouse. Here, he plays Einar Wegener aka Lili Elbe (1882-1931), a Danish artist best remembered as a pioneer in the transgender movement.

While Redmayne netted another Academy Award nomination for making a seamless metamorphosis into Einar, his co-star Alicia Vikander is the favorite to win Best Supporting Actress for her beguiling turn as his supportive spouse. .

Directed by Oscar-winner Tom Hooper (for The King's Speech), the film was adapted from David Ebershoff's novel of the same name. The book is based on a fictionalized account of Lili's life, although her sexual reassignment surgery is factual.

Redmayne's androgynous appearance helps the movie immeasurably, as he is very convincing as a female. And the picture couldn't be more timely, given the culture's embrace of Bruce Jenner's transformation into Caitin.

The picture's point of departure is Copenhagen in the Roaring Twenties, which is where we find Einar and his wife Gerda (Alicia Vikander) both plying their trade as aspiring artists. Her preference is portraiture, while he's only been inspired to paint the same desolate landscape marked by a clump of spindly, barren trees.

The plot thickens after Gerda suggests he serve as a stand-in for the beautiful model (Amber Heard) she was supposed to paint that day. Einar dons female attire and finds himself enjoying the experience more than expected.

Next thing you know, he's secretly slipping out into public in drag and even attends a swinging soiree where he attracts an ardent admirer (Ben Whishaw) ostensibly unaware of Lili's true gender. The pair's ensuing courtship eventually mushrooms into passion, and the scandalous infidelity understandably puts a strain on Einar and Gerda's marriage.

A compelling cinematic adventure revolving around the historic decision to undergo the world's first sex change operation.

Excellent (4 stars)
Rated R for sexuality and full-frontal nudity
Running time: 120 minutes
Distributor: Universal Pictures Home Entertainment

Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack Extras: The Making of The Danish Girl.

To see a trailer for The Danish Girl , visit:

To order a copy of The Danish Girl in Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack, visit:


DVD Review by Kam Williams

Stallone Revives Rocky Franchise with Oscar-Quality Performance

When most people think of Rocky, what automatically comes to mind is the iconic image of a gutsy underdog easy to root for who held his own in the boxing ring against a variety of imposing adversaries. Each installment of the series has basically revolved around the hype leading to a riveting championship bout between a veritable David and Goliath. 
Directed by Ryan Coogler, Creed is a worthy spin-off which not only pays homage to that tried-and-true formula but also represents a bit of departure for the beloved franchise. What's new is the fact that this film devotes as much attention to character development as to ratcheting up the tension surrounding the fateful showdown. What's familiar is Sly Stallone delivering afresh as the legendary Rocky Balboa in another Oscar-nominated performance. 
The picture reunites Coogler with Michael B. Jordan, the star of his directorial debut, the critically-acclaimed Frutivale Station. Here, Jordan plays, Adonis Johnson, a juvenile delinquent who's had his share of scrapes with the law, thanks to a quick temper and a tendency to settle differences with a pair of unusually powerful fists.

Just past the point of departure, the hot-headed orphan is informed by Apollo Creed's (Carl Weathers) widow (Phylicia Rashad) that he is the illegitimate son of Rocky's original archenemy. That at least explains the inclination to fight that's ostensibly been baked into his DNA. 
Fast-forward a few years, when Adonis has learned to channel his anger and explosive might via boxing. Over the objections of his adoptive mom (Mrs. Creed), he decides to follow in his father's footsteps. 
So, he moves from L.A. to Philly where he finds Rocky running a restaurant called Adrian's. Adonis prevails upon the ex-champ to serve as his trainer. Rocky agrees on the condition the kid changes his surname to Creed, and the next thing you know the kid rises in the ranks to #1 contender and luckily lands a title fight with Pretty Ricky Conlan (Tony Bellow).

Meanwhile, Adonis falls in love with his next-door neighbor, Bianca (Tessa Thompson), an aspiring hip-hop artist on the verge of making it in her own right. Away from the gym, he spends some quality time with Rocky, too, offering a little heartfelt, if unsolicited advice that just might save his aging mentor's life. 
"Rocky" and the next Roman numeral might not be in the title, but this engaging and faithful seventh episode includes all the fixins to amount to a highly-recommended spin-off of the storied franchise.

Excellent (4 stars)
Rated PG-13 for violence, profanity and sensuality
Running time: 133 minutes
Distributor: Warner Brothers Home Entertainment Group
Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack Extras: Deleted scenes; Becoming Adonis; and Know the Past, Own the Future. Sandra Bullock: A Role Like No Other.

To see a trailer for Creed, visit:

To order a copy of the Creed Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack, visit: 

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Kam's Movie Kapsules for 3-4-16

Kam's Kapsules:
Weekly Previews That Make Choosing a Film Fun
by Kam Williams
For movies opening March 4, 2016


Desierto (R for profanity and graphic violence) Suspense thriller set along the Rio Grande and revolving around a rifle-toting vigilante's (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) hunt for undocumented alliens attempting to enter the U.S. illegally. With Gael Garcia Bernal, Marco Perez and Diego Catano. (In English and Spanish with subtitles)

London Has Fallen (R for graphic violence and pervasive profanity) Adrenaline-fueled sequel, set in England, finds Secret Service Agent Mike Banning (Gerard Butler) joining forces with an MI6 Agent (Charlotte Riley) to foil a plot to assassinate the the President of the U.S. (Aaron Eckhart) and other leaders of the Free World attending the funeral of the British Prime Minister. Ensemble includes Morgan Freeman, Angela Bassett, Radha Mitchell, Melissa Leo, Jackie Earle Haley and Robert Forster.

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot (Unrated) Adaptation of "The Taliban Shuffle," war correspondent Kim Barker's (Tina Fey) memoir about her relationship with a fellow journalist (Martin Freeman) while covering Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. With Margot Robbie, Billy Bob Thornton and Alfred Molina.

Zootopia (PG for action, rude humor and mature themes) Animated adventure about a rookie bunny cop (Ginnifer Goodwin) who grudgingly partners with a fast-talking fox (Jason Bateman) to solve a series of mysterious disappearances in a city populated by anthropomorphic animals. Voice cast includes Idris Elba, J.K. Simmons, Shakira, Octavia Spencer and Tommy Chong.


Ava's Possessions (R for profanity, sexuality and graphic images) Louisa Krause plays the title character in this horror flick as a woman who has her demons exorcised by a priest (John Ventimiglia) only to have them try to reenter her body. With Carol Kane, Wiliam Sadler and Jemima Kirke.

Camino (Unrated) Action adventure, set in the jungles of Colombia in 1985, about a war photographer (Zoe Bell) who embeds with a group of missionaries under the thumb of a charismatic guerilla leader (Nacho Vigalondo). Cast includes Francisco Barreiro, Sheila Vand and Tenoch Huerta. (In English and Spanish with subtitles)

Colliding Dreams (Unrated) Middle East documentary examining the competing interests of the Israelis and Palestinians in the decades-long struggle over the tiny territory they continue to cohabit.

Emelie (Unrated) Psychological thriller about an unsuspecting couple (Chris Beetem and Susan Pourfar) that comes to regret leaving their kids with a new babysitter (Randi Langdon) before going out to dinner to celebrate their wedding anniversary. With Joshua Rush, Carly Adams and Sarah Bolger.

The Final Project (Unrated) Found-footage horror flick about a half-dozen college students who find more than they bargained for while exploring an abandoned mansion on a Louisiana plantation. Co-starring Arin Jones, Amber Erwin,Teal Haddock, Charles Orr, Jejuan Walker and Evan McLean.

Knight of Cups (R for sexuality, nudity and profanity) Terrence Malick directed this surrealistic character study revolving around an introspective writer's (Christian Bale) odyssey of self-exploration. Cast includes Cate Blanchett, Natalie Portman, Brian Dennehy, Antonio Banderas and Freida Pinto.

Road Games (Unrated) Cat-and-mouse thriller about two strangers (Andrew Simpson and Josephine de La Baume) who meet on the street in Calais before accepting a ride hitchhiking from a mysterious married couple (Frederic Pierrot and Barbara Crampton). With Feodor Atkine, Pierre Boulanger and Edward Hogg. (In English and French with subtitles)

They Will Have to Kill Us First (Unrated) Freedom of expression documentary chronicling the clash of civilizations between defiant, Malian musical artists determined to preserve their country's rich cultural heritage and Islamic jihadist invaders inclined to behead anyone who doesn't submit to their interpretation of Islam. (In French, Songhay, English, Bambara and Tamashek with subtitles)

The Wave (R for profanity and shocking images) Disaster flick, set in the fjords of Norway, about a geologist's (Kristoffer Joner) race to save a tourist retreat nestled in a narrow valley from a giant tsunami about to crush everything in its path. featuring Thomas Bo Larsen, Ane Dahl Torp and Laila Goody. (In Norwegian with subtitles)

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Triple 9

Film Review by Kam Williams

Ruthless Russian Mobsters Blackmail Crooked Cops in Riveting, High Body-Count Thriller

Irina Vlaslov (Kate Winslet) assumed the reins of an Atlanta-based crime syndicate after her husband Vasili (Igor Komar) was sent up the river. Despite the jailing of the ruthless mobster, the gang's operations have continued to flourish with the help of corrupt police officers and ex-Marines. One crooked cop, Marcus Belmont (Anthony Mackie), even has a young son (Blake McLennan) with Irina's sister, Elena (Gal Gadot), which makes him all the more vulnerable to manipulation. 
Like a Russian version of the Mexican drug lord El Chapo, Vasili is just itching to get out of jail. So, Irina hatches a plan to spring him from prison with the help of the various authorities she already has in a compromising position.

In 25 words or less, the scheme involves issuing a phony 9-9-9, the police code for "officer down," since every police car would be immediately dispatched to the scene not only to assist the wounded brother in blue but to apprehend the perpetrator. Theoretically, at least, that drain on available resources would afford Irina's henchmen an opportunity to strike.

Thus unfolds Triple 9, a rather riveting cat-and-mouse caper directed by Aussie John Hillcoat (The Road). The over-the-top action thriller featuring an intriguing plot was written by first-time scriptwriter Matt Cook.

Its cast includes an array of A-list actors topped by Kate Winslet, Woody Harrelson, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Casey Affleck, Anthony Mackie, Teresa Palmer and Michael Kenneth Williams. Having so many talented thespians pays off in spades for a picture which proves compelling from beginning to end.

At heart, Triple 9 is a nihilistic adventure set in a disturbing, urban dystopia filled with nothing but untrustworthy backstabbers. That makes it darn near impossible to find a protagonist to root for besides Sergeant Jeffrey Allen (Harrelson), a clean detective capable of smelling a rat.

The wily veteran in charge of the investigation must negotiate his way down a dangerous gauntlet while sorting out suspects right in the ranks of his own department. What makes his plight even dicier is the pyrotechnics-driven flick's "When in doubt, blow it up!" philosophy.

An alternately visceral and cerebral, high body-count crime thriller not to be missed!

Excellent (4 stars)
Rated R for nudity, graphic violence, drug use and pervasive profanity
Running time: 115 minutes
Distributor: Open Road Films

To see a trailer for Triple 9, visit:

Tuesday, February 23, 2016


DVD Review by Kam Williams

Bildungsroman Inspired by James Franco Short Stories Arrives on DVD

Inspired by a couple of short stories by James Franco, Yosemite is an eerie bildungsroman exploring some decidedly dark and dangerous sides of childhood. The drama features a trio of discrete tales which ultimately merge in fairly effective fashion. 
The action unfolds in Palo Alto in 1985, which is where we find a trio of 5th graders facing different emotional issues. 10 year-old Chris (Everett Meckler) and his younger brother, Alex (Troy Tinnirello), are driving to Yosemite National Park with their father (Franco) who's recently separated from their mom. 
Their plans for quality time are affected, en route, by their dad's admission that he's a recovering alcoholic. Upon their arrival. the vacation is all but ruined when the three get lost hiking, followed by Chris' finding the charred remains of what looks like a human skeleton. 
The second chapter of this coming-of-age adventure revolves around the predicament of Joe (Alec Mansky), a product of divorce in dire need of a father figure. Unfortunately, to fill a void, he naively settles on Henry (Henry Hopper), a creepy-looking loner sharing a love of comic books. Against the boy's better judgment, he even accepts an invitation back to the possible pedophile's humble abode.

The last segment is about Ted (Calum John), a kid whose beloved cat, Charlie, has gone missing. Trouble is, there's been a sighting of a mountain lion roaming around town. And since his father's (Steven Wiig) ostensibly too consumed with Silicon's Valley burgeoning Computer Revolution to care about the predator, Ted enlists the assistance of pals Chris and Joe to embark on a big game hunt in the hills just beyond suburbia. 
Yosemite was both directed and adapted to the screen by Gabrielle Demeestere (The Color of Time) who employed an admirably understated approach to Franco's source material. An earnest examination of the loss of innocence this critic could've appreciated more if the subject-matter hadn't be so relentlessly dark and disturbing. 

Very Good (2.5 stars)
Rated R for sexuality, nudity and profanity
Running time: 82 minutes
Distributor: Monterey Media

To see a trailer for Yosemite, visit:

To order a copy of Yosemite on DVD, visit: 


James Franco

The “Yosemite” Interview
with Kam Williams

Franco and Me Talking Yosemite!

James Franco is an actor, director, screenwriter, producer, teacher and author. He began his career on Freaks and Geeks and received a Golden Globe Award for his performance in the biographical film James Dean.

His notable film credits include Oz, the Great and Powerful, Spring Breakers, the Spider-Man trilogy, Milk and 127 Hours for which he received an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor. On the stage, he recently made his Broadway debut in Of Mice & Men to rave reviews.

James has directed, written and produced several features and has been published in both magazines and his own books. He is currently teaching college courses at UCLA, USC and Cal Arts, as well as acting classes at Studio4.

Here, he talks about his latest screen offering, Yosemite.

Kam Williams: Hey James, thanks so much for the opportunity to speak with you.
James Franco: Yeah, I'm excited, too.

KW: I told my readers I'd be interviewing you, so I'll be mixing their questions in with mine. Let me start by saying how impressed with the diverse and extensive body of work you've already compiled at such a young age, especially given how much time you've also devoted to your education. How have you managed to juggle the two so successfully?
JF: There came a time in my career when I realized that acting alone wasn't going to allow me to express everything I wanted to express in all the ways that I wanted to. I had dropped out of UCLA, so I went back and finally got my bachelor's degree at 28, I think. And I realized that school was good for me. I actually learned really well there. Not only that, I went to graduate school where a lot of my heroes would be my teachers in the writing and filmmaking programs. So, I couldn't get enough school, and from that point on, a lot of opportunities opened up. For instance, at NYU, I met many of my collaborators, including Gabrielle Demeestere, who directed Yosemite. School also showed me that a great variety of projects were possible, as long as they were organized and scheduled in the proper way.

KW: Sangeetha Subramian asks: James, how did it feel playing a father in Yosemite?
JF: That was a particularly strange and gratifying experience. I wrote the short story it's adapted from. It's fiction, but I based a lot of it on trips I used to take to Yosemite with my father and brother. So, when Gabby asked me to play the father, she was essentially asking me to play my father, who passed five years ago.

KW: I'm sorry to hear that.
JF: Thank you. By playing him and going back to Yosemite, it was almost like I was revisiting him, as if I got one more experience with him, which was nice. Strangely enough, even though I didn't do any of the location scouting, Gabby ended up shooting at maybe four or five of the locations that my dad had taken me and my brother when I was a little kid. That was sort of surreal, and a case of fiction imitating life, or life being put on screen in the form of fiction.

KW: Attorney Bernadette Beekman asks: What drives you to write a short story and also turn it into a movie? Do you think the audience can get the message and feel the same emotional response you're after from either medium? Or do you see them as completely different art forms?
JF: One of the areas I work in frequently is adaptations. All of the movies I've directed are adaptations. I really enjoy that process. Having done a lot of them, I understand the two media to be related but they work in very different ways, and you get different things out of each. Not to say that one is better than the other. Generally speaking, you could say that with a piece of fiction it is much easier to convey the interior life of a character in a very smooth and fluid fashion. You can do that with an internal monologue or internal thoughts. With film, you have actors delivering performances which enable audiences to tap into the emotions of characters in a totally different way from how they do with characters on a page. With cinema, they're responding to facial expressions and physical beings. And that's something that prose cannot do. I enjoy both approaches, so I'm totally invested in both media, which is why I feel there's value in writing a short story and also in having a it made into a movie.

KW: Editor/Legist Patricia Turnier says: You dropped out of college to pursue an acting career which took a lot of courage. Do you think courage is a critical quality required to become successful in show business?
JF: Yeah, in any creative endeavor, you do have to sort of take your shots. Nobody is going to beg you to go into the creative arts. So, if you want to pursue a career in something like acting or writing, the motor and the drive have to come from you. And that does take courage because, A, a lot of people want to do it, and B, it's hard. So, you have to have the guts to put yourself out there and go for it in spite of the world saying, "You know, it would be so much easier, if you didn't pursue this." So, it does take guts.

KW: Why did you decide to actually live on the streets and pass for a homeless person in preparation to play Joey in City by the Sea.
JF: I did City by the Sea a long time ago. A lot of actors can be very committed when they're young. I was especially overzealous as a young actor. I would do whatever I could in preparation for a role. In addition, I was starring opposite one of my heroes, Robert De Niro. I really just wanted to go as far as I could in my preparation. So, I did sleep on the streets of Santa Monica for a weekend. I put on a disguise and stayed in one of the missions downtown overnight. And I also slept on the streets of New York. I don't know whether my performance would've been the same otherwise, but it was good for me as an actor at the time, because it pushed me to commit emotionally to the character.And if anything, that sort of self-dedication can fuel your passion for the work.

KW: What can you tell me about your next film, Memoria?
JF: Yosemite and Memoria were put together as films at the same time. I had just graduated from NYU where I had friends who I knew were very talented. I also knew that I kind of had a leg up in the business because I'd already been acting for a decade and a half. So, as a director, I was able to get my movies made much easier than my classmates. I put Yosemite and Memoria together in order to give opportunities to people from NYU who I knew were very talented and very deserving. I was also confident that they would adapt my stories into movies that I'd be very proud of. So I asked Gabby for Yosemite, and then Nino Ljeti and this guy Vlad [Vladimir de Fontenay] for Memoria. These movies were really just a way to collaborate with some of my friends and classmates on projects I knew they'd be well-suited for.

KW: Harriet Pakula-Teweles asks: With so many classic films being redone, is there a remake you'd like to star in?
JF: Wow!That's good question. It's a tricky question, too, because I don't know whether I'd ever want to remake any of my favorites movies. I loved One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest, but I'd rather redo it as a play, because it would be a weird exercise to try to remake the movie. One of the reasons everybody loved it was for Jack Nicholson's performance. If you do a remake, you want to do something better, or at least different. And I don't know that I could do McMurphy better than Nicholson.

KW: Is there any question no one ever asks you, that you wish someone would? And please answer the question.
JF: [Laughs] Good question. No, I've sort of been asked everything and I've been pretty frank. So, I never find myself saying, "Man, I wish people knew this or that about me." 
KW: Larry Greenberg asks: Do you have a favorite movie monster?
JF: I'm a big fan of these recent indie-level horror movies. I loved It Follows, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night and The Babadook. As far as monsters go, I guess I'm still a huge Dracula fan. My father gave me the book when I was pretty young, so I've been a diehard Dracula fan since I was a teenager.

KW: Patricia was wondering whether you'd be interested in playing the Jewish philanthropist Julius Rosenwald, if they were to make a biopic about the late owner of Sears department store?
JF: I don't know anything about him, but it sounds very interesting. 
KW: Ling-Ju Yen asks: What is your earliest childhood memory?  
JF: That is another great question. I feel like my memories are mixed up with old family photos. I have images in my head of dressing up as a Stanford football player. It feels like my earliest memory is playing around in a Stanford uniform in my front yard. But I'm not sure whether that's just because I've seen a photo of it, or because I'm actually remembering the experience.

KW: Finally, what’s in your wallet?
JF: [Chuckles] I don't really use a wallet that much. One credit card, a minimal amount of cash, and my driver's license.

KW: Thanks again for the time, James, and best of luck with Yosemite.
JF: I've enjoyed it, Kam. We should do this again for another movie.

KW: Definitely!
JF: Cool!

To see a trailer for Yosemite, visit:

To purchase a copy of Yosemite on DVD, visit: