Monday, October 23, 2017

Novitiate




Film Review by Kam Williams



Aspiring Nun Struggles with Vows in Coming-of-Age Drama

Cathleen Harris (Margaret Qualley) was being raised in rural Tennessee in the Fifties when she started exhibiting an interest in God at an early age. That fixation was a little disconcerting to her single mom (Julianne Nicholson), an avowed atheist. 
 
With Cathleen's absentee father (Chris Zylka) rarely around, she only had the Catholic school her daughter attended to blame for cultivating the obsessive interest in religion. By the time she was a teenager, her faith had grown so strong that she wanted to become a nun. And, over her mother's objections, she followed the calling and entered the convent at 15.

She donned a habit, placed the honorific "Sister" in front of Cathleen and dropped her surname entirely. But it would still take years of training before she would be allowed to take her final vows. First, she had to prove herself worthy during her postulance, the tough probationary period testing a novice's commitment to silence, poverty, obedience and chastity. 
 
At least Cathleen wasn't alone at the convent. She befriended a number of equally-pious females there who were also contemplating ascetic lives as wives of Christ. However, the whole lot of them were always at the beck and call of Reverend Mother (Melissa Leo), a sadistic taskmaster who delighted in torturing them, as if that were the best way of weeding out the uncertain.

That is the point of departure of Novitiate, an introspective coming-of-age drama written and directed by Margaret Betts (The Carrier). The compelling character portrait borders on the claustrophobic in its effort to plumb the depths of Cathleen's tortured soul as she debates whether or not she's meant to enter the order. 
 
The picture's plot thickens in the mid-Sixties after Pope John XXIII issues a series of 16 historic proclamations Besides calling for Sunday mass to henceforth be said in native languages instead of Latin, he lowered the standing of sisters to that of any lay believer. 
 
Stripped of their status, 90,000 nuns soon renounced their vows and returned to private life. But what effect would this have on someone just embarking on her career, like Cathleen?

Reminiscent in different ways of Doubt (2008), The Exorcist (1973), The Passion of the Christ (2004) and Paradise: Faith (2012), Novitiate is nevertheless a novel adventure offering a plausible look at the internal angst of a female weighing whether or not she's meant to be a nun. Sisterhood as a divinely inspired, yet very intimate and solitary path!


Very Good (3 stars)
Rated R for profanity, sexuality and nudity
Running time: 123 minutes
Production Studio: Maven Pictures / Novitiate Productions
Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics


To see a trailer for Novitiate, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8kKexutLfE0


Sunday, October 22, 2017

Annabelle: Creation


Blu-ray Review by Kam Williams

4th Installment of "The Conjuring" Franchise Arrives on Blu-Ray

Annabelle: Creation is the fourth film in a horror franchise that previously featured The Conjuring 1 and 2 as well as Annabelle. Because this prequel is set in 1952, well before the events which transpired in the others, one need not be familiar with those pictures to thoroughly enjoy this one, provided you like having the bejesus scared out of you. 
 
The stand-alone screamfest trades in all the staples of your generic haunted house adventure, ranging from a spooky disembodied voice singing a cappella, to involuntary levitation, to a victim leaving nail marks in the floor as she's dragged down a darkened hall by a mysterious force. The movie was directed by David F. Sandberg, the Swedish wunderkind who made an impressive debut just last year with the low-budget thriller Lights Out.

As the film unfolds, we find dollmaker Samuel Mullins (Anthony LaPaglia) and his reclusive, bed-ridden wife, Esther (Miranda Otto), passing their days in a ramshackle, Victorian mansion sitting on a mountaintop in the middle of nowhere. They're ostensibly still shaken by the loss of their daughter Bee (Samara Lee) who was hit by a car over a decade ago. 
 
That might explain why the inconsolable couple has decided to share their humble abode with a half-dozen orphans. The homeless girls are being chaperoned by Sister Charlotte (Stephanie Sigman), a God-fearing guardian grateful to get a roof over their heads. 
 
The waifs are pretty much given free rein of the place, except for a direct order from Mr. Mullins to steer clear of Bee's bedroom. But that injunction proves too tempting for Janice (Talitha Bateman), a curious kid suffering from polio. 
 
Of course, she ventures inside and unwittingly unleashes a host of demonic forces doing the bidding of Annabelle, a doll Samuel had originally made for his dearly-departed daughter. It isn't long thereafter that all hell begins to breaks loose. 
 
Director Sandberg proves particularly adept at ratcheting up the tension. In fact, the spine-tingling flick delivers innumerable heart-stopping moments along the way, though they come more from jolting sounds and abrupt edits than from investment in the simplistically-drawn characters. 
 
You'll only need half a seat watching this edge-of-the-seat thriller."



Very Good (3 stars)
Rated R for horror violence and terror
Running time: 109 minutes
Production Company: New Line Cinema / Atomic Monster
Distributor: Warner Brothers Home Entertainment Group
Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack Extras: The Horror Continues; Horror Shorts: Attic Panic and Coffer; director’s commentary; Directing Annabelle; and deleted scenes.



To see a trailer for Annabelle: Creation, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KisPhy7T__Q


To order a copy of Annabelle: Creation on Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack, visit:  

 


War for the Planet of the Apes


Blu-ray Review by Kam Williams


The Simian Trilogy's Climactic Chapter Comes to Home Video


War for the Planet of the Apes is the 9th episode in the legendary film franchise that began almost a half-century ago with Planet of the Apes. The groundbreaking sci-fi adventure was based on the novel of the same name by Pierre Boulle, who also wrote "The Bridge over the River Kwai."

The original was adapted to the screen by a couple of consummate scriptwriters in Rod Serling (The Twilight Zone) and two-time Oscar-winner Michael Wilson (The Bridge on the River Kwai, Lawrence of Arabia, It's a Wonderful Life and A Place in the Sun). So, it's no surprise that the movie's thought-provoking social commentary would resonate with critics and audiences alike.

Furthermore, the apes' masks were such a hit with the Motion Picture Academy that it awarded the movie's makeup artist, John Chambers, an honorary Oscar that year. And it would take until the Eighties for Best Makeup to become an official category. 
 
War for the Planet of the Apes is the finale in a trilogy which rebooted the series in 2011 with Rise of the Planet of the Apes, and was followed a few years later by Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. The good news is that one need not recall or even have seen the earlier installments to fully appreciate this captivating conclusion.

The better news is that its use of next-generation CGI has been so painstakingly crafted that you never once question whether you're watching real apes interacting with humans. But the best news overall is that the movie is a magnificent morality play of Shakespearean proportions which explores a host of universal themes en route to an epic showdown destined to settle the fate of both species once and for all. 
 
This go-round, the simians are again led by Caesar (Andy Serkis) who must match wits with a ruthless army colonel (Woody Harrelson). Between the sophisticated storytelling and the state-of-the-art special f/x, War for the Planet of the Apes turns out to be a touching swan song well worth the investment.


Excellent (4 stars)
Rated PG-13 for action, violence, mature themes and disturbing images
Running time: 140 minutes
Production Studio: Chernin Entertainment
Distributor: Distributor: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack Extras: Feature with audio commentary by director Matt Reeves; 20 minutes of deleted scenes with optional audio commentary by director Matt Reeves; concept art gallery; and Apes: The Meaning of It All and 5 more featurettes.




To see a trailer for War for the Planet of the Apes, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jBAoxK8tSuM


To order a copy of War for the Planet of the Apes on Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack, visit: 


Top Ten DVD List for October 24, 2017

by Kam Williams


This Week’s DVD Releases

Alfred Hitchcock: The Masterpiece Collection [15 Digitally-Restored Classics]

War for the Planet of the Apes [The Trilogy's Thrilling Climactic Chapter]

Annabelle: Creation [4th Installment in The Conjuring Series]

How the Grinch Stole Christmas [Deluxe Edition]

The Carol Burnett Show [Carol's Lost Christmas Episodes]

Midsomer Murders: Series 19, Part 2 [Set in England's Most Murderous County]

Gray Matters [Biopic about Architect/Designer Eileen Gray]

Bushwick [The New Civil War Has Begun]

Vera: Set 7 [A Quartet of First-Rate Mysteries]

Where's the Money? [Dolla Dolla Bills Y'all!]


Honorable Mention

PAW Patrol: The Great Snow Rescue [7 Snowy Episodes]

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Kam's Kapsules for movies opening October 27, 2017

 
Weekly Previews That Make Choosing a Film Fun
by Kam Williams



OPENING THIS WEEK

BIG BUDGET FILMS

All I See Is You (R for profanity, nudity and graphic sexuality) Psychological thriller, set in Bangkok, about a blind woman (Blake Lively) whose faith in her marriage is shaken to the core when she regains her sight and discovers some disturbing details about her husband (Jason Clarke). Supporting cst includes Yvonne Strahovski, Dannu Huston and Wes Chatham.

Jigsaw (R for profanity, torture and graphic violence) 8th installment in the Saw horror franchise finds serial killer John Kramer (Tobin Bell) ostensibly resurfacing a decade after his supposed demise to embark on yet another reign of terror. With Callum Keith Renniw, Matthew Passmore and Mandela Van Peebles.

Novitiate (R for profanity, sexuality and nudity) Coming-of-age drama, set in the Sixties in rural Tennessee, about a young Catholic girl's (Margaret Qualley) struggles with her faith and sexual awakening upon entering the convent. Support cast includes Melissa Leo, Julianne Nicholson and Diana Agron.

Suburbicon (R for profanity, violence and some sexuality) George Clooney directed this crime comedy written by the Coen Brothers set in 1959 in an idyllic bedroom community rattled by a home invasion. Co-starring Matt Damon, Julianne Moore and Oscar Isaac.

Thank You for Your Service (R for sexuality, drug use, graphic violence, brief nudity and pervasive profanity) Adaptation of Pulitzer Prize-winner David Finkel's best seller chronicling some Iraq War vets' suffering from PTSD as they adjust back to private life after returning to the States. Ensemble cast co-stars Miles Teller, Keisha Castle-Hughes, Amy Schumer, Haley Bennett and Kate Lyn Sheil.

INDEPENDENT & FOREIGN FILMS

Acts of Vengeance (R for violence and profanity) Suspense thriller revolving around an attorney-turned-vigilante who takes a vow to remain silent until he exacts revenge on the murderers of his wife (Cristina Serafini) and young daughter (Lillian Blankenship). With Karl Urban, Paz Vega and Robert Forste.

Brimstone & Glory (Unrated) Visually-captivating documentary celebrating the compelling appeal and beauty of fireworks displays. (In Spanish with subtitles)

Crash Pad (R for nudity, profanity, alcohol abuse , drug use, crude humor and graphic sexuality) Romantic comedy about a naive young guy (Domnhall Gleeson) who falls blissfully in love with an older women (Christina Applegate) until he learns she's married and only slept with him to get even with her neglectful husband (Thomas Haden Church). With Nina Dobrev, Aliyah O'Brien and Britt Irvin.

Felicite (Unrated) Vero Tshanda Beya Mputu plays the title character in this Congolese musical drama, set in Kinshasa, about a headstrong saloon singer desperate to raise the cash for her 14 year-old son's (Gaetan Claudi) hospital bills after a crippling motorcycle accident. With Papi Mpaka, Nadine Ndebo and Elbas Manuana. (In French and Lingua with subtitles)

Halloween Pussy Trap Kill Kill (Unrated) Harrowing tale of survival revolving around a female rock band's members fight for their lives after becoming trapped in a madman's maze. Ensemble cast includes Richard Grieco, Sara Malakul Lane, Margaret O'Brien and Paul Logan.

Judwaa 2 (Unrated) Action-oriented sequel about twins (Varun Dhawan) separated at birth and reunited as adults by a twist of fate in time to save their family's business from ruthless mobsters. With Salman Khan, Anupam Kher and Jacqueline Fernandez. (In Hindi with subtitles)

Let There Be Light (PG-13 for mature themes involving drug and alcohol abuse) Faith-based drama revolving around an avowed atheist/absentee father (Kevin Sorbo) who converts to Christianity and turns over a new leaf after almost dying in an auto accident. Featuring Sam Sorbo, Daniel Roebuck, Dionne Warwick and Travis Tritt.

Suck It Up (Unrated) Bittersweet dramedy about a grieving sister (Grace Glowicki) and girlfriend (Erin Margurite Carter) who embark on a therapeutic road trip to mourn their loss in the wake of the untimely death of a guy they both loved. With Dan Beirne, Toby Marks and Nancy Kerr.

The Work (Unrated) Rehabilitation documentary examining the criminal justice system from the perspectives of three Folsom prison inmates participating in a four-day, group therapy session.


Friday, October 20, 2017

Girls Trip




Blu-ray Review by Kam Williams


College BFFs Descend on New Orleans for Raunchy Reunion

Ryan (Regina Hall), Sasha (Queen Latifah), Dina (Tiffany Haddish) and Lisa (Jada Pinkett Smith) have been friends since their college days in the Nineties. Back then, the tight-knit Flossy Posse partied as hard as they hit the books. After graduating, they curtailed the carousing considerably for the sake of their professional careers. 
 
Today, journalism major Sasha's still struggling to pay the bills as a gossip columnist. Divorced Lisa's exhausted between her demanding nursing job and having to raise a couple of kids alone. And short-fused Dina just got fired for assaulting a colleague. 
 
By contrast, self-help guru Ryan seems to be on top of the world. Not only is her new book, "You Can Have It All," on the best seller list, but she's happily-married to Stewart (Mike Colter), a handsome and charming, former football star. Plus, the successful couple is on the verge of landing their own, nationally-syndicated TV talk show. 
 
At the point of departure, Ryan is set to deliver the keynote speech at the Essence Festival, an annual celebration of African-American music and culture. She can think of no better occasion to reunite the Flossy Posse for the first time in years, so she invites her BFFs to join her for an all-expenses paid trip to New Orleans.

The girlfriends jump at the opportunity to share a wild weekend of debauchery all around the Big Easy. What ensues is jaw-dropping: there's explicit sex chat... male frontal-nudity... hallucinating from substance abuse... even urinating on revelers from a zip line strung above Basin Street.

Directed by Malcolm Lee (The Best Man franchise), Girls Trip is a relentlessly-raunchy romp which starts out as a shock comedy before turning into a message movie towards the end. The adventure unfolds like an African-American variation of Rough Night and Bridesmaids, at least until Ryan's marriage is exposed as a charade. At that juncture, it morphs into a morality play reminiscent of a Tyler Perry production. 
 
Since I saw the film in a theater full of sisters, it's easy for me to report that this female empowerment flick will certainly resonate with its target audience. In fact, they laughed so loudly that I must have missed half the picture's punchlines. And what better stamp of approval could you ask for than a standing ovation as the curtain comes down?


Excellent (4 stars)
Rated R for pervasive profanity, crude humor, graphic sexual dialogue, drug use and brief frontal nudity
Running time: 122 minutes
Distributor: Universal Pictures Home Entertainment
Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack Extras: Deleted scenes with commentary by director Malcolm Lee; outtakes; Planning the Trip; Outrageous Moments; The Essence of NOLA; an extended performance of "Because of You" by Ne-Yo; and feature commentary by director Malcolm Lee.



To see a trailer for Girls Trip, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7jE61BzKmgQ


To purchase a copy of the Girls Trip Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack, visit:

















Thursday, October 19, 2017

American Made



Film Review by Kam Williams



Tom Cruise Stars in Biopic about Airline Pilot-Turned-Infamous Drug Smuggler

Barry Seal (Tom Cruise) was gainfully employed as a commercial airline pilot when he was surreptitiously recruited by a CIA agent (Domnhall Gleeson). The Agency wanted him to fly covert reconnaissance missions over Nicaragua to assist U.S.-backed rebels trying to overthrow the government.



Barry leaped at the opportunity to spice up his humdrum existence, despite having to hide his new line of work from his wife (Sarah Wright) and young daughter (Morgan Hinkleman). However, he probably had no idea at the time that this would be the start of a reckless career spiral he'd never be able to pull out of.



For, after first having his thirst for excitement whetted by conducting espionage missions, he opted to venture to the dark side when Pablo Escobar (Mauricio Mejia) made him an offer he couldn't refuse. The Colombian drug lord seduced Barry into smuggling cocaine into the States by plane with a promise of $2,000 per kilo delivered.


Thus unfolds American Made, a real-life tale of derring-do directed by Doug Liman. The production reunites Liman with Tom Cruise with whom he previously collaborated on Edge of Tomorrow (2014).



The picture's premise situates Cruise in a familiar scenario, given how, at the point of departure, his character is informed that the CIA will disavow any knowledge of his existence, should he be captured or killed, a la Mission: Impossible. The difference is that, here, Barry goes rogue by going into business with the ruthless Medellin cartel.



Who knows whether this biopic is loosely or strictly based on the truth? But if even half of what's served up onscreen is accurate, Barry Seal had quite a hair-raising tale to tell.



American Tale takes you on a wild flyboy ride, literally and figuratively, between the breathtaking aerial shots and the audacious exploits of an avaricious mercenary available to the highest bidder. Kudos to Cruise, a proven master at consistently cranking out satisfying cinematic fare certain to keep you glued to the edge of your seat.





Very Good (3 stars)
Rated R for violence, sexuality, nudity and pervasive profanity
In English and Spanish with subtitles
Running time: 115 minutes
Distributor: Universal Pictures



To see a trailer for American Made, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AEBIJRAkujM

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

We Were Eight Years in Power

 
Book Review by Kam Williams
 

We Were Eight Years in Power
An American Tragedy
by Ta-Nehisi Coates
One World
Hardcover, $28.00
394 pages
ISBN: 978-0-399-59056-6


For so much of American history, the fact of black people is a problem... The demonstrable truth has been evaded in favor of a more comforting story...
[But America is] a country trying to skip out on a bill, trying to stave off a terrible accounting... It's clear to me that the common theory of providential progress, of the inevitable reconciliation between the sin of slavery and democratic ideal [is a ] myth.”
-- Excerpted from the Chapter 1, (pages 66-73)


                            [Photo Credit: Gabriella Demczuk]

In 2015, Ta-Nehisi Coates' "Between the World and Me" earned the #1 spot on my annual Top Ten Black Books list. And, after reading the equally-remarkable "We Were Eight Years in Power," there's a good chance he's about to repeat that feat.

William Faulkner once observed that, "The past is not dead. It isn't even past." That unsettling sentiment courses through the veins of Ta-Nehisi's latest opus. 
 
The title ostensibly implies that it's about Barack Obama's being followed in office by a President with diametrically opposed values when it comes to the welfare of black folks. After all, Trump seems to believe there are good and bad Nazis and good and bad Ku Klux Klansmen. Isn't that's like suggesting there are good and bad rapists and good and bad murderers?

The book does bemoan the fact that the dramatic difference in administrations has been marked by a revival of the dormant white supremacist movement. However, Ta-Nehisi's genius rests in his putting that resurgence into proper perspective. 
 
There is a chilling precedent for what transpired last November when the nation elected the candidate running on the slogan "Make America great again!" The author cites how, in the wake of the Civil War, the ex-slaves were bitterly disappointed when the egalitarian Reconstruction plan for the South was dismantled by the former Confederate states and replaced by the Jim Crow system of segregation. 
 
That devastating development inspired black South Carolina Congressman Thomas Miller (1849-1938) to lament, "We were eight years in power" in reference to the brief period of African-American optimism in terms of securing equality under the law. The quote serves a dual purpose, here, as it talks about a dream rudely deferred while simultaneously issuing a dire warning that history might very well repeat itself.

Thus, We Were Eight Years in Power serves as a clarion call for vigilance about the possible erosion of African-American advances presumed sacrosanct. Consider these riveting, well-reasoned ruminations of the most-prodigious black visionary around a must-read indeed.

To order a copy of We Were Eight Years in Power, visit: 

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Top Ten DVD List for October 17, 2017

by Kam Williams


This Week’s DVD Releases

Step [A Real Life Story]

Maudie [Based on a True Story]

Girls Trip [Unrated with Outtakes and Deleted Scenes]

Ernie Kovacs: Take a Good Look [The Definitive Collection]

Lady Macbeth [Hitchcockian Tale of Love and Betrayal]

Moka [Based on the Best Seller by Tatiana De Rosnay]

Miracle on 34th Street [70th Anniversary Edition]

Vice Versa [A Comedy about Acting Your Age]

Pilgrimage [The Road to Salvation Is Paved in Blood]

The Gospel of Luke [Word for Word Unedited]


Honorable Mention

Marcella: Season 1 [Detective, Witness, Suspect]

Red Christmas [The Only Thing under the Tree Is Terror]

Man with a Camera [The Complete Series]

Ancient Aliens: Season 10, Volume 1 [2 Disc Collection]

Harts of the West [The Complete Series]

The Five People You Meet in Heaven [based on the NY Times Best Seller]



The Real Story: Saving Private Ryan [Insights from War Historians]

Justice [Revenge Has a New Name]

God of War [Pirates and Pillaging in 16th Century China]

Farewell Ferris Wheel [Mexican Carnival Portrait]

Mary Reilly [A Battle between Good and Evil Has Many Victims... And One Witness]

Shopkins World Vacation [Once You Shop... You Can't Stop]

SAS Rogue Warriors [The Story of an Extraordinary Fighting Force]

Wes Craven's Summer of Fear [AKA Stranger in Our House]

Axolotl Overkill [A Berlin Bildungsroman]

Escape Room [Will You Survive?]