Sunday, July 31, 2016

Can We Take a Joke?

Film Review by Kam Williams

1st Amendment Documentary Indicts P.C. Police for Stifling Comedians' Freedom of Speech

George Carlin (1937-2008) once said "It's the duty of a comic to see where the line is drawn, and cross over it." In many respects, he was merely doubling down on the philosophy of his mentor Lenny Bruce (1925-1966) who never saw a taboo he wasn't willing to bust. 
Lenny paid a steep price career-wise for walking the walk and talking the talk, as he was often arrested for obscenity while doing his stand-up act. And although he was ultimately vindicated posthumously, having paved the way for future generations of irreverent entertainers, one can't help but wonder whether those hard-earned advances might be in jeopardy.

That is the contention of a host of comedians appearing in Can We Take a Joke, a documentary suggesting that the current climate of political correctness is having a chilling effect on their Freedom of Speech. Directed by Ted Balaker, the film includes commentary by such outspoken 1st Amendment advocates as Penn Jillette, Lisa Lampanelli, Adam Carolla and Gilbert Gottfried, who lost his gig as the voice of the Aflac duck over a joke that went too far in the estimation of his corporate sponsor.

They uniformly lament a recent cultural development reflected in members of the Millennial Generation's being easily offended. "It's almost like people have gotten soft," observes one comic, adding "If you're easily outraged, please don't come to a comedy show." 
It's not as if Carlin didn't envision this development. For, before he passed away, he warned that "All the censorship is coming from the P.C. people on the left on college campuses." This is ironic since universities once prided themselves on providing a safe space to express unpopular views.

A cautionary tale bemoaning the chilling effect of political correctness on free speech.

Excellent (3.5 stars)
Running time: 74 minutes
Studio: Korchula Productions
Distributor: Samuel Goldwyn Films

To see a trailer for Can We Take a Joke? visit:

Jason Bourne

Film Review by Kam Williams

Matt Damon Back for Another Riveting Adventure as Dashing Rogue Assassin

A Jason Bourne movie just isn't the same without Jason Bourne, as the producers found out the hard way in 2012 when they made The Bourne Legacy without the iconic title character. Fortunately, they've since settled their differences with star Matt Damon who returned to reprise the role of the dashing, renegade CIA agent which he originated and played to perfection in the espionage franchise's first three installments. 
The movie marks the reunion of Damon and Paul Greengrass, director of both The Bourne Supremacy (2004) and The Bourne Ultimatum (2007), the series' most successful episodes at the box office. While this offering might not quite measure up to those in terms of high-octane action, it nevertheless makes up for the relatively-subdued atmosphere with riveting cloak and dagger intrigue.

The point of departure is Athens, and a decade since we last saw Jason. He's now fully recovered from the amnesia that had previously plagued him. Yet he has nevertheless remained under the radar, since he is still considered an outlaw by CIA Director Robert Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones).

We soon learn that Jason's one ally inside the Agency, Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles), has also gone rogue. She's off the grid in Iceland, working in concert with a WikiLeaks-style whistleblower (Vinzenz Kiefer) attempting to hack into the CIA's computer files. 
Nicky eventually tracks down Jason in Greece where she slips him the key to some incriminating evidence about the Agency as well as to answers about his own mysterious past. Their rendezvous, however, has not gone unnoticed by CIA analyst Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander) who had been surreptitiously monitoring Nicky's movements all along. 
Next thing you know, Jason finds himself on the run from a bloodthirsty assassin (Victor Cassel) dispatched by Director Dewey. Meanwhile, Lee joins the chase, too, hoping to talk Jason into voluntarily coming in from the proverbial cold. The ensuing cat-and-mouse caper proves to be a trademark globe-trotting affair, unfolding in ports-of-call all across Europe and culminating in a visually-captivating showdown on "The Strip" in Las Vegas.

The film's only distracting flaw is the sotto voce performance delivered by Oscar-winner Alicia Vikander (for The Danish Girl) who inexplicably seems to swallow her every word here. Otherwise, the balance of the principal cast acquits itself admirably, from Tommy Lee Jones in the familiar role of an orders-barking boss, to Vincent Cassel as an appropriately-despicable diabolical villain, to the inimitable Matt Damon back in the saddle as the two-fisted protagonist.

A flagging franchise thoroughly revived courtesy of another inspired collaboration by Messrs. Damon and Greengrass!

Very Good (3 stars)
Rated PG-13 for brief profanity, violence and intense action
Running time: 123 minutes
Distributor: Universal Pictures

To see a trailer for Jason Bourne, visit:

Friday, July 29, 2016

Monster Hunt

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Highest-Grossing Chinese Film of All Time Arrives on DVD

Directed by Raman Hui (Shrek the Third), Monster Hunt was released across Asia last summer where it became the highest-grossing Chinese film of all time. The version I watched was dubbed into English, which served to turn the martial arts/comedy mash-up into a decidedly campy affair.

The experience reminded me of the Japanese horror flicks from the Fifties where the corny dialogue invariably failed to fit the movement of the actors' mouths. This one even has its characters often speaking in inappropriately-modern idioms such as "You are such a loser!" Purists might be happy to know that the movie is also being made available with subtitles, though I suspect it's far funnier lip-synched.

Set during an ancient dynasty, the picture features an unapologetically exuberant mix of sentiment and slaps/tick that endeavors to tug at your heartstrings while simultaneously tickling your funny bone. The CGI-driven, costume fantasy unfolds in a mythical kingdom inhabited by both humans and monsters.

The plot thickens when the hamlet's male mayor, Tianyin (Jing Boran), is miraculously impregnated by a malevolent Monster Queen. Next thing you know, just about everybody around, human and monster alike, wants half-breed baby Wooba dead, much to the chagrin of the glowing, expecting daddy. 
Lucky for Tianyin, he forges a fast friendship with Hua Xiaolan (Bai Baihe), a female warrior blessed with a winning combination of maternal instincts and mad karate skills. She's determined to save the radish-shaped bundle of joy, so what ensues is an overstimulating kitchen sink adventure throwing everything up on the screen from cartoon physics fight scenes to Bollywood-style song-and-dance numbers.

Kid-friendly fare amusing enough to entertain adults, too, provided their brains are on pause!

Very Good (2.5 stars)
Dubbed from Mandarin
Running time: 104 minutes
Distributor: FilmRise

To see a trailer for Monster Hunt, visit:

To order a copy of Monster on DVD, visit: 

Top Ten DVD List for 8-2-16

by Kam Williams

This Week’s DVD Releases

Saving Mr. Wu


April and the Extraordinary World

Requiem for the American Dream

The Lobster
Key & Peele: The Complete Series

Louder Than Bombs

Songs My Brother Taught Me

Monster Hunt

High Strung

Honorable Mention

Murdoch Mysteries: Season Nine

The Trust

Blindspot: The Complete First Season

Red Sonja: Queen of Plagues

The Adventures of Panda Warrior



Sniper: Ghost Shooter

9 Months That Made You

Paw Patrol: Sports Day

The Blacklist: The Complete Third Season



Manhattan Night

Puerto Ricans in Paris

The Bronze

The Knick: Season Two
Lee Scratch Perry's Visions of Paradise

Thursday, July 28, 2016


DVD Review by Kam Williams

Key & Peele Co-Star as Slumming Geeks in Fish-Out-of-Water Comedy

Rell (Jordan Peele) was so inconsolable after being dumped by his girlfriend that getting high didn't help ease the pain. But then, while crying on the shoulder of his cousin Clarence (Keegan-Michael Key), a cute, little kitten appeared on his doorstep.

Seeing this as a sign of divine intervention, Rell adopted the adorable stray, which he proceeded to feed, bathe and name Keanu, Hawaiian for "cool breeze." But after bonding for the next couple of weeks, his newfound state of bliss ended abruptly with the kidnapping of Keanu during a break in by members of the 17th Street Blips.

The Blips are a ruthless drug gang from the wrong side of the proverbial tracks. So, Rell realizes that to rescue his pet he's going to have to venture into the heart of the ghetto.
This is a tall order for a nerd from the burbs totally unfamiliar with the ways of the 'hood. for some reason, he enlists the assistance of his equally-geeky cousin, whose wife (Nia Long) and daughter (Jordyn A. Davis) very conveniently just happen to be going away for the weekend.

Rell and Clarence adopt gangsta' alias, Tectonic and Shark Tank, respectively, before confronting Cheddar (Method Man), the Blips' bloodthirsty kingpin. They also deliberately abandoned their bourgie black accents for grammar-butchering Ebonics laced with profanity, the N-word and lots of double negatives.

Of course, retrieving Keanu proves to be quite complicated, as not only Cheddar but a Latino crime boss (Luis Guzman) has staked a claim to the cat (which he refers to as Iglesias). And it is very important that the cousins never admit their middle-class roots lest they risk being exposed as lacking street cred.

Thus unfolds Keanu, a one-trick pony or, should I say, a one-trick kitty directed by Peter Atencio, director of 54 episodes of the Key and Peel TV show. This fish-out-of-water comedy repeatedly relies on the theme that these guys have no idea how to survive in the slums on the run from myriad maladroit morons. That running joke gets tired after about 10 minutes, but the stretch-o-matic skit format insists on beating the dead horse for another hour and a half. 
That's irritainment!

Fair (1 star)
Rated R for violence, sexuality, nudity, drug use, inncessant ethnic slurs and pervasive profanity
Running time: 100 minutes
Distributor: Warner Brothers Home Entertainment Group
Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack Extras: Deleted scenes; gag reel; and Keanu: My First Movie.

To see a trailer for Keanu, visit:

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


Requiem for the American Dream

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Noam Chomsky Issues Urgent Appeal on Behalf of Rapidly-Disappearing Middle-Class

MIT Professor Noam Chomsky has been an outspoken critic of the Establishment ever since opposing the Vietnam War way back in the Sixties. At 87, the controversial firebrand is now decrying the incredible gulf between the filthy rich and the rest of us.

He is the subject of Requiem for the American Dream, a cautionary documentary delineating the consequences lying in wait for a nation where wealth is concentrated in the hands of the top 1/10th of 1% at the expense of the rapidly-disappearing middle-class. Co-directed by Peter D. Hutchison, Kelly Nyks and Jared P. Scott, the movie was culled from interviews conducted with Chomsky over the past four years.

Nevertheless, the talented trio managed to edit the footage into a very engaging and enlightening monologue bemoaning the current state of the union. The upshot is a fascinating film featuring a "less-is-more" format reminiscent of the one employed by Errol Morris in his Oscar-winning Fog of War (2003). 
The picture basically consists of close-ups of Chomsky shot against a black backdrop as he talks about the Machiavellian manipulations employed by the power elite. It also intermittently interweaves illustrative file footage of suffering and decadence into the production to help drive home the aging grass roots activist's salient points.

Chomsky begins by waxing romantic about the Golden Age of the Fifties and Sixties when the American Dream was still within the grasp of the Average Joe. He says that was the period when the U.S. populace benefited the most from the host of domestic programs implemented by President Roosevelt. However, the affluent have always hated the New Deal, especially Social Security and the Glass-Steagall Act, which explains why they have repeatedly attempted to repeal those measures. 
Chomsky states that, in addition, the privileged have deliberately crippled our democracy to such a degree that public opinion no longer has any influence on politicians. Just consider how it has been impossible to get Congress to pass a bill making it harder for the mentally ill to purchase a gun, despite the fact that the overwhelming majority of voters support the common sense idea. 

Overall, what we have here is vintage Chomsky issuing a rabble-rousing, rallying cry intended to rouse the masses before it's too late. America redefined as a civilization in sharp decline and on the verge of collapse because of the very greedy's systematic elimination of class mobility from the society.

Excellent (4 stars)
Unrated .
Running time: 73 minutes
Studio: PF Pictures
Distributor: FilmRise
DVD Extras: Theatrical trailer.

To see a trailer for Requiem for the American Dream, visit:

To order a copy of Requiem for the American Dream on DVD, visit:  

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Kam's Kapsules for Movies Opening 8-5-16

by Kam Williams

Weekly Previews That Make Choosing a Film Fun


Nine Lives (PG for profanity, rude humor and mature themes) Kiddie comedy revolving around a narcissistic, real estate tycoon (Kevin Spacey) who mysteriously finds himself trapped in the body of the cat he's just bought as a last-minute birthday present for his neglected, 11 year-old daughter (Malina Weissman). With Jennifer Garner, Christopher Walken and Robbie Amell.

Suicide Squad (PG-13 for profanity, suggestive content, disturbing behavior and pervasive action and violence) Adaptation of the DC Comics superhero series about a team of convicts recruited by the government yo conduct dangerous missions in exchange for clemency. Ensemble includes Will Smith, Jared Leto, Ben Affleck, Viola Davis, Margot Robbie and Common.


Amateur Night (Unrated) A day in the life comedy about a cash-strapped architecture student (Jason Biggs) who reluctantly takes a gig chauffeuring call girls around town after learning that his wife (Jenny Mollen) is expecting a baby. With Ashley Tisdale, Janert Montgomery and Steven Woo.

Bazodee (Unrated) PG-13 for suggestive material and brief profanity) Bollywood-style romantic musical, set in Trinidad, revolving around an East Indian bride-to-be (Natalie Perera) who falls head-over-heels for a local soca singer (Machel Montano) hired to perform at her engagement party. Featuring Kabir Bedi, Staz Nair and Valmike Rampersad.

The Brooklyn Banker (R for violence and profanity) Fact-based mob saga about an ambitious banker (Troy Garity) who comes to regret allowing himself to be recruited by the Mafia. Cast includes Paul Sorvino, David Proval and Elizabeth Masucci.

Five Nights in Maine (Unrated) Character-driven drama revolving around a grieving widower's (David Oyelowo) visit to his estranged mother-in-law (Dianne Wiest) in the wake of the untimely death of his wife (Hani Furstenberg). With Teyonah Parris, Rosie Perez and Faith Fay.

Front Cover (Unrated) Bittersweet romantic dramedy, set in Manhattan, about an openly-gay fashion stylist (Jake Choi) who falls in love during a photo shoot with a supposedly-straight movie star (James Chen) from Beijing. Supporting cast includes Elizabeth Sung, Jennifer Neala Page and Ming Lee.

Little Men (PG for smoking, mature themes and mild epithets) Coming-of-age drama, set in Brooklyn, about a couple of teen BFFs (Theo Taplitz and Michael Barbieri) whose friendship is tested by the tension between their parents locked in a landlord-tenant battle over the rent. With Paulina Garcia, Greg Kinnear, Alfred Molina and Jennifer Ehle. (In English and Spanish with subtitles)

The Little Prince (PG for mature themes) Animated adaptation of Antoine de Saint-Exupery's beloved novella about an overprotected little girl (Mackenzie Foy) who is introduced to the wonders of the world by her eccentric, aviator next-door neighbor (Jeff Bridges). Voice cast includes Albert Brooks, Rachel McAdams, Paul Rudd, Marion Cotillard, James Franco, Benicio Del Toro, Ricky Gervaise and Paul Giamatti.

Olympic Pride, American Prejudice (Unrated) Reverential documentary recounting the exploits of the 18 African-American athletes who competed in the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin.

Richard Linklater: Dream Is Destiny (Unrated) Unabashed homage highlighting the life and career of the five-time, Oscar-nominated writer/director of Boyhood, Before Sunset and Before Midnight.

Sun Choke (Unrated) Suspense thriller about a woman (Sarah Hagan) recovering from a mental breakdown whose demons start to resurface when she develops an unhealthy obsession with a young stranger (Sara Malakul Lane). With Christina Amber, Derek Bevil and Jim Boeven.

The Tenth Man (Unrated) Prodigal Son drama about a Jew (Alan Sabbagh) who returns to Buenos Aires to reconcile with his estranged father (Usher Barilka) while exploring the cultural traditions that originally alienated them from each other. Support cast includes Julieta Zylberberg, Elvira Onetto and Uriel Rubin. (In Yiddish, Hebrew and Spanish with subtitles)

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

The Global Hillary

Book Review by Kam Williams

The Global Hillary
Women's Political Leadership in Cultural Contexts
by Dr. Dinesh Sharma
Routledge Press
Paperback, $52.95
222 pages
ISBN: 978-1-138829749

With Hillary Clinton's political rise to the presidency, we may have seen the emergence of women's rights as central to political discourse in the U.S. and around the world. Women's rights have indeed become human rights, to paraphrase Hillary Clinton's landmark speech in Beijing more than two decades ago...
This book deals with the nexus of women, development and democracy--as a post-Enlightenment, post-modern and global feminist project of the West--by focusing on the political leadership of one of the best-known women politicians the United States has produced in recent times...
We are principally interested in examining the role Hillary Clinton--as First Lady, Senator and Secretary of State--has played as a transformational figure in bridging women's development with democratic institutions in the developing and developed societies.”
-- Excerpted from Chapter One (pg. 2)

Now that she has been nominated by the Democratic Party as its candidate, Hillary Clinton is on the verge of making history as the first woman President of the United States. And while she has been constantly scrutinized by the media over the last couple of years, the subject of the focus has been fairly superficial.
The bulk of the day-to-day talk has been about Bengazi, her email and her standing in the polls. But precious little attention has been paid to Hillary's considerable achievements, especially those realized during her tenure as Secretary of State.
Voters interested in making an informed choice based on an in-depth analysis of the Clinton agenda, need look no further than "The Global Hillary: Women's Political Leadership in Cultural Contexts." This enlightening collection of essays by leading luminaries in fields ranging from psychology to political science was edited by Dinesh Sharma, Associate Research Professor at the Institute for Global Cultural Studies, SUNY Binghamton.
After publishing a couple of timely books about President Obama, "The Global Obama" and "Barack Obama in Hawai'i and Indonesia," Dr. Sharma again proves to have his finger on the pulse with this timely opus. Foremost among the topics explored is the "Hillary Doctrine" linking the subjugation of women to the deteriorating conditions in many countries around the globe. As Secretary Clinton herself observed, "It was no coincidence that that the places where women's lives were most undervalued largely lined up with the parts of the world most plagued by instability, conflict, extremism and poverty.
A revealing peek into the mind, motivations and likely agenda of the intelligent, inveterate feminist who just might be the 45th President of the United States.

To order a copy of The Global Hillary, visit:


Monday, July 25, 2016

Hollywood Beauty Salon

Film Review by Kam Williams

Inspirational Documentary Chronicles Camaraderie among Mental Health Patients at Philly Beauty Parlor

The Hollywood Beauty Salon is located in Germantown, PA, an area of Northwest Philly founded by settlers from Germany back in 1683. Today, the town is predominantly African-American as are most of the folks you'd meet at this unique establishment. 
What makes this hairdresser different is that its patrons and staff members are all in recovery from mental illness and/or dependence on drugs or alcohol. Shot over the course of four years, the movie chronicles the camaraderie among the cosmetologists and clientele, while simultaneously telescoping on the touching life stories of seven of the shop's regulars.

There's Rachel "Hollywood" Carr, the proprietor, a single mother of three who battled anxiety, depression and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder before becoming a Recovery Guide and a Certified Psychiatric Rehabilitation Practitioner. At the salon, she not only serves as a counselor but as a cosmetologist.

Rachel's protege "Butterfly," a recovering schizophrenic, exhibits considerable promise at braiding hair. The optimistic mother of three explains that she picked her nickname because she's begun to blossom after being in a cocoon marked by depression and paranoia. Still, she misses her murdered big brother and worries about an incarcerated son. 
65 year-old Edward, a college grad, recounts how, at 26, his life was derailed when he was diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic. A classically-trained flautist, he nevertheless holds onto his dream of one day playing with a professional orchestra. 
The spa's second in command is Darlene, a survivor of child abuse who recounts how she was teased mercilessly growing up about her hair, her looks and for being in the foster care system. One of her customers is shown taking delight in being taught to read, while another proudly pronounces "I am not my symptoms, I am not my diagnosis."

The Hollywood Beauty Salon was directed by Glenn Holsten who is perhaps best known for another stellar documentary set in Philadelphia, The Barefoot Artist. He's done it again, here, with this moving collection of poignant personal portraits powerfully illustrating the utter indomitability of the human spirit.

Excellent (4 stars)
Running time: 88 minutes
Studio: Glennfilms / FreshFly
Distributor: Paladin

To see a trailer for Hollywood Beauty Salon, visit:

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Joan Trumpauer Mulholland

The “She Stood for Freedom” Interview

with Kam Williams

Legendary Civil Rights Icon Reflects upon the Past as Prologue 

Joan Trumpauer Mulholland was a little girl in the 1950s. When she saw that black people were being treated differently from white people, she promised herself that she would do something to change that. As a teenager, she joined the Civil Rights Movement and protested the injustice she saw around her. 
During the 1960s, Joan attended many demonstrations and sit-ins, she protested at a Woolworth's lunch counter, and she participated in several organized marches, including the March on Washington with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. 
Though she was threatened, arrested, and mocked, she held true to her promise to make the world a better place for everyone. "Anyone can make a difference," she says. "It doesn't matter how old or young you are. Find a problem, get some friends together, and go fix it. Remember, you don't have to change the world...just change your world." 
Here, Joan talks about “She Stood for Freedom,” an illustrated biography about her co-written by her son Loki and Angela Fairwell.

Kam Williams: Hi Joan, thanks for the interview. I want to begin by thanking you for your commitment to the Civil Rights Movement and for the sacrifices you made, risking not only your education and career, but life and limb.
Joan Trumpauer Mulholland: Thank you, Kam.

KW: How does it feel to have your son, Loki, write a book about you?
JTM: It's his project, and I'm in a supporting role for his efforts to reach young people about what has gone before and to inspire them to shape a better future. What is past is prologue.

KW: What message do you hope people will take away from it?
JTM: That they, too, can make a difference.

KW: What first interested you in the Civil Rights Movement?
JTM: I'd realized since grade school that segregation and prejudice were wrong. This was students my age trying to peacefully change things.

KW: Do you think you might have been a little naive about how difficult it would be to change the minds of white Southerners
JTM: No. I AM a white Southerner--these were my people. I'd grown up amongst them. I knew how they felt.

KW: How hard was it for you to adhere to SNCC, Dr. King and Gandhi's philosophy of non-violence in the face of the hostility with which you were met?
JTM: Non-violence was a no-brainer, in keeping with Christianity..."Turn the other cheek," "Love thy neighbor," etcetera. And I'm a Christian. Besides, if you fought back, you were hopelessly outnumbered and could be arrested for assault and battery.

KW: How did you feel when you were imprisoned on Death Row in Mississippi?
JTM: Death Row had great intimidation value, and the guards made sure you knew you were at their mercy--no reporters, lawyers only up from Jackson once a week, and so forth. On the other hand, it was certainly roomier, cleaner, more comfortable than the Hinds County Jail, and the food was better.

KW: What was it like being white but attending a black college and pledging a black sorority?
JTM: I was always a "minority," so college was nothing new. At first, some of the students were a bit uncertain about me, but when I returned for the second, I was just one of the crowd. Had to eat that old cafeteria food and study like everyone else.

KW: Who loved you unconditionally during your formative years?
JTM: My grandmothers.

KW: founder Troy Johnson asks: What was the last book you read?
JTM: Almost finished Vilhalmur Stefansson's 1942 book, "Greenland."

KW: What is your favorite dish to cook?
JTM: Red beans and rice. My five sons would ALWAYS eat it, and some still ask for it when they come to visit.

KW: What advice do you have for anyone who wants to follow in your footsteps?
JTM: Pick your issue, find a few like-minded folk, and just DO IT--non-violently.

KW: Thanks again for the time, Joan, and congratulations again on “She Stood for Freedom.”
JTM: My pleasure, Kam.

To order a copy of “She Stood for Freedom,” visit:


To order a copy of “She Stood for Freedom,” picture book edition for ages 4 to 8, visit: