DVD Review by Kam Williams
Newcomers Join Ford, Fisher and Hamill in Latest Outer Space Epic
The Force Awakens is a splendid sequel to Return of the Jedi, the 1983 finale of the original Star Wars trilogy. This offering follows the uneven prequel trilogy released over the intervening years, the low point being the introduction of a jive Jamaican character named Jar Jar Binks.
Episode VII, which also marks the launch of another trilogy, just might be the best Star Wars installment yet. This is no surprise when you consider that it was directed by Spielberg protege J.J. Abrams (Super 8), who'd proved himself worthy of being entrusted with the storied sci-fi series by virtue of his prior success with the tent pole franchises Star Trek and Mission Impossible.
The Force Awakens represents an ingenious mix of the old and the new, as it features familiar faces like Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill, as well as fresh ones in John Boyega, Daisy Ridley, Oscar Isaac and Adam Driver. The same can be said of the adventure's robotic cast members, with anthropomorphic android BB-8 joining in the fun with much beloved R2-D2 and C-3PO.
An engaging plot interweaves all of the above in a way which never feels forced. Credit in this regard goes to Abrams for collaborating with three-time Academy Award-nominee Lawrence Kasdan (for The Big Chill, The Accidental Tourist and Grand Canyon) and Oscar-winner
Michael Arndt (for Little Miss Sunshine) in crafting an engaging script frankly imbued with a little more depth than expected. Betwixt the hi-tech battles between good and evil, the tale exploits breaks in the action to serve up a fair amount of nostalgia and sentimentality.
It all unfolds a few decades after the events in Return of the Jedi, opening with the trademark conceit "A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away..." followed by a crawl explaining what's transpired since we've last met. At the point of departure, we learn that the New Republic is joining forces with the Resistance to fight the Stormtroopers of the First Order, an intergalactic dictatorship led by the diabolical Snoke (Andy Serkis).
Soon thereafter, intrepid protagonists emerge in rebel fighter pilot Poe (Oscar Isaac), renegade Stormtrooper Finn (John Boyega), orphaned scavenger Rey (Daisy Ridley) and reliable veteran Admiral Han Solo (Ford). The good guys have a seemingly inexhaustible army of adversaries to vanquish en route to making the universe safe again for freedom and democracy.
The hostilities inexorably build to a spectacular, lightsaber battle best appreciated in 3-D and on an IMAX screen. Nevertheless, for my money, the movie's most inspired moments are the ones designed to tug at the heartstrings, like the touching reunion of Solo and Princess Leia (Fisher).
A thrilling outer space epic breathing new life into a once flagging franchise!
Excellent (4 stars)
Rated PG-13 for violence
Running time: 136 minutes
Distributor: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Extras: Secrets of The Force Awakens: A Cinematic Journey; The Story Awakens: The Table Read; Building BB-8; Crafting Creatures; Blueprint of a Battle: The Snow Fight; John Williams: The Seventh Symphony; ILM: The Visual Magic of The Force; Force for Change; and deleted scenes.
To see a trailer for Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tt08BH9COsI
Thursday, March 31, 2016
Posted by Kam at 5:46 PM
Wednesday, March 30, 2016
BIG BUDGET FILMS
Posted by Kam at 9:05 PM
Tuesday, March 29, 2016
Doctor Leads Rescue Team in Apocalyptic Zombie Flick
Laura (Rachel Nichols) managed to avoid getting infected by the virus that decimated the population of New York. Now the Center for Disease Control veteran is in L.A. where she's heading a rescue team assigned to find survivors among the masses of victims morphing into flesh-eating zombies right after dying from the fatal affliction.
Dr. Laura also harbors faint hopes of finding her husband and daughter as she dons a bio-hazard suit before embarking on the dangerous mission. Her partners in the endeavor include itchy, trigger-fingered Gunner (Mekhi Phifer), nurse/navigator Denise (Missi Pyle) and ex-con Wheeler (Alfie Allen), the driver of their Department of Corrections school bus.
As they leave the safe confines of the compound, Gunner warns Laura to "Think of it as a game." This advice comes in handy, since their vehicle is soon enough engulfed by a horde of hungry ghouls. In fact, Gunner gets to deliver the most memorable lines ("Ever play whack a mole?") in the way of comic relief.
Directed by John Suits (The Scribbler), Pandemic is a cliche-ridden horror flick that borrows the bulk of its ideas from the zombie genre inaugurated by Night of the Living Dead in 1968. If you've never seen one of these movies before, you're likely to find this adventure fascinating. However, this low-budget offering doesn't hold a candle to the original or to such recent homages as Zombieland (2009) or World War Z (2013).
A paint-by-numbers production recommended for folks who can never get their fill of post-apocalyptic zombie fare.
Good (2 stars)
Running time: 91 minutes
Studio: Parkside Pictures
Distributor: XLrator Media
Posted by Kam at 5:48 PM
Monday, March 28, 2016
Posted by Kam at 4:25 PM
Sunday, March 27, 2016
Film Review by Kam Williams
Heartfelt Documentary Revisits 1948 Flood Which Wiped Out Oregon City
Vanport, Oregon was established in 1942 on lowlands located between Portland and the Columbia River. At its height, the hastily-constructed public housing project had about 40,000 inhabitants, most of whom were hired by the military to work in shipyards in nearby Portland and Vancouver.
After the war ended, it proved to be an attractive destination for African-Americans families who appreciated that the town was integrated and that it offered a higher quality of life than what they'd experienced in places like Arkansas, Oklahoma and Louisiana. A big negative, however, was the series of sluices slicing through the city serving as an ever-present reminder of the precarious nature of its existence.
For, there was always the possibility that a dike might give out, a fear that turned into a frightening reality at 4:05 pm on Sunday, May 30, 1948. Heavy snows followed by an unusually warm spring combined to flood the town by nightfall, claiming 15 lives while leaving the rest of its citizens homeless .
The Wake of Vanport is a very moving documentary featuring archival photographs of the Memorial Day disaster, as well as the wistful remembrances of a number of survivors. Belva Jean Griffin, who was 21 at the time, recounts how her parents had received unreliable assurances that the dams would hold. Consequently, she lost everything she owned except an album of family photos.
Regina Flowers, reminisces about how there was no racial strife among the kids in Vanport when she was growing up, although there was some among the adults. Paula Hartman recalls that only whites received advance notice about the impending deluge in a handbill that read:
"Remember: Dikes are safe at present.
You will be warned, if necessary.
You will have time to leave.
Don't get excited."
Lily Raxter recollects watching a black lady with a couple of huge suitcases being swept away by the all-consuming current. And Marge White talks about immediately falling in love with Vanport upon arriving from Tallulah, Louisiana in the fall of '44. Together, this touching collection of truly heartfelt remembrances paint a poignant portrait of a short-lived, idyllic oasis.
Excellent (4 stars)
Running time: 53 minutes
Distributor: The Skanner Foundation
To watch The Wake of Vanport, visit: http://www.theskanner.com/entertainment/theater-movies/23648-watch-the-wake-of-vanport
Posted by Kam at 7:32 PM
Saturday, March 26, 2016
Review by Kam Williams
Latest DC Comics Adaptation Pits the Man of Steel against the Caped Crusader
Let's face it, Christian Bale's Batman was going to be a hard act for any actor to follow, especially Ben Affleck who had already proved underwhelming as a superhero when he played Daredevil back in 2003. And the departure from the franchise of Chris Nolan, the legendary director of the critically-acclaimed Dark Knight trilogy, only served to lower expectations even further.
Thus, it's no surprise that Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice would indeed prove to be a bitter disappointment. The picture was directed by Zack Snyder who also helmed the 2013 reboot of Superman, called Man of Steel.
The first problem with this terribly-flawed, second offering in the DC Extended Universe series rests in its interminable 2-and-1/2 hour running time that could have easily been trimmed down to less than 90 minutes. For example, why bother revisit the backstory about what inspired Bruce Wayne to become Batman, when the murder of his parents had previously been addressed in numerous other episodes?
The second issue with the production has to do with Batman and Superman's (Henry Cavill) being cast as adversaries for the bulk of the film. Yes, the source of the tension between the two is adequately explained, but the audience nevertheless grows increasingly impatient since we'd much rather see our beloved heroes quickly resolve their differences in favor of joining forces to fight a real villain.
After all, there is an eminently detestable adversary waiting in the wings in the person of the diabolical Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg). Too bad this tortoise-paced blockbuster takes forever to arrive at that epic showdown. Instead, we're forced to endure the meaningless machinations of a convoluted adventure less concerned with coherency than with atmospherics, action and special f/x.
Besides those superficial bells and whistles, director Snyder exhibits an annoying fondness for support characters with nothing much to do, from Clark Kent's colleague Jimmy Olsen (Michael Cassidy), to his boss Perry White (Laurence Fishburne), to Bruce Wayne's butler Alfred (Jeremy Irons). The film also features a plethora of cameo appearances by celebrities Neil deGrasse Tyson, Anderson Cooper, Brooke Baldwin, Soledad O'Brien, Nancy Grace and Dana Bash who merely distract from rather than advance the plot.
More enjoyable are the relatively-purposeful roles played by Lois Lane (Amy Adams) and Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot). But by the time the long-awaited battle royal with Luthor and his henchman Doomsday (Robin Atkin Downes) finally rolls around, you're so tired of peeking at your watch that you just want it over and done with as fast as possible. Make it stop!
A classic case of moviemaking excess resulting in a patience-testing blockbuster adding up to way less than the sum of its parts.
Fair (1 star)
Rated PG-13 for intense violence, pervasive action and some sensuality
Running time: 151 minutes
Distributor: Warner Brothers Pictures
To see a trailer for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0WWzgGyAH6Y
Posted by Kam at 1:19 PM
Friday, March 25, 2016
Film Review by Kam Williams
Frustrated Daughter Indicts Fox News in Mind Control Documentary
Jen Senko's father, Frank, was a life-long Democrat until he retired and started watching Fox News and listening to conservative talk radio hosts like Rush Limbaugh. Gradually, the aging World War II vet's open-minded beliefs were replaced by right-wing attitudes.
Frank began parroting the talking heads and eventually became so intolerant of minorities, gays and the poor that he could no longer discuss politics with or even sleep in the same bed with his relatively-liberal wife. These developments distressed Jen who placed the blames on a "Republican noise machine designed to distort, confuse, create fear, smear people and deliberately disseminate misinformation."
And she sets about proving that statement in The Brainwashing of My Dad, a scathing indictment of the right-wing media as dangerous tools in the hands of a power elite interested in mind-control. Directed by Ms. Senko and narrated by Matthew Modine, this is a cautionary expose' apt to resonate with the viewer to the extent one agrees with its progressive point-of-view.
Thus, I suspect that it will appeal to folks sitting in the left side of the choir while rubbing those across the church aisle the wrong way. Regardless of one's political persuasion, the picture does make a persuasive bipartisan point, namely, that TV is likely to continue enjoying its pervasive influence so long as the masses remain "lazy and want their thinking done for them."
A thought-provoking examination of the media's effect on Boobus Americana.
Very Good (3 stars)
Running time: 90 minutes
Studio: JSenko Productions / Cinco Dedos Peliculas
Distributor: Gravitas Ventures
To see a trailer for The Brainwashing of My Dad, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CX3XZXMgIqc
Posted by Kam at 12:29 PM
Thursday, March 24, 2016
Posted by Kam at 10:23 AM