Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Top Ten DVD List for October 16, 2018



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by Kam Williams


This Week's DVD Releases


Ant-Man and the Wasp

Whitney

Unfriended: Dark Web

Arizona

He's Out There

Reprisal

Benched

Cold Skin

Down a Dark Hall

Boundaries








Thursday, October 11, 2018

The Hate U Give

 
The Hate U Give
Film Review by Kam Williams


Amandla Stenberg Stars in Adaptation of Searing, Inner City Saga

16 year-old Starr Carter (Amandla Stenberg) straddles two different worlds which never intersect, one, black and poor, the other, white and privileged. That's because she lives in the ghetto in Garden Heights, but her parents (Regina Hall and Russell Hornsby) have sent her to Williamson, an exclusive prep school located on the other side of the tracks.

They know that Williamson gives her a better chance of making it out of the 'hood than the local public high school which is only good for girls who want to get “high, pregnant or killed.” Consequently, Starr uses slang when hanging out with her friends on the block, although she always talks properly around her classmates. 
 
Having different personas isn't a problem until the night she accepts a ride home from a party from Khalil (Algee Smith), a close childhood friend she'd lost touch with. While obeying all the rules of the road , they're inexplicably pulled over by the police, ostensibly for “driving while black.” 
 
Starr quietly complies with the condescending cop's (Drew Starkey) every order, since she and her siblings had been carefully trained by her father how to survive such an encounter. However, Khalil opts to challenge the officer and is shot dead in seconds when his hair brush is mistaken for a gun. 
 
Within days, Starr finds herself suddenly being swept up into the eye of a media storm as the only eyewitness to the killing of an unarmed black kid by a white lawman. The community calls for justice, but the only hope of Officer MacIntosh's even being arrested is if Starr testifies before the grand jury.

That is the compelling point of departure of The Hate U Give, a searing, inner city saga directed by George Tillman, Jr. (Notorious). The movie is based on Angie Thomas' award-winning novel of the same name which spent 50 weeks on the New York Times' Young Adult best seller list.

The heartbreaking bildungsroman features a top-flight cast, starting with Amandla Stenberg who is riveting from beginning to end as the terribly-conflicted Starr Carter. Also delivering powerful performances are Russell Hornsby, Regina Hall, Anthony Mackie and Common in service of a timely story certain to resonate with African-American audiences.

A grim reminder of just how tough it is to be young, marginalized and black in a merciless environment oblivious of your plight.


Excellent (4 stars)
Rated PG-13 for violence, profanity, drug use and mature themes
Running time: 132 minutes
Production Studio: Temple Hill Entertainment / Fox 2000 Pictures / State Street Pictures
Studio: 29th Century Fox

To see a trailer for The Hate U Give, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3MM8OkVT0hw

Monday, October 8, 2018

Kam's Kapsules for movies opening October 12, 2018

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Weekly Previews That Make Choosing a Film Fun 
by Kam Williams



OPENING THIS WEEK


WIDE RELEASES


Bad Times at the El Royale (R for profanity, drug use, graphic violence and brief nudity) Suspense thriller revolving around seven strangers in search of redemption who rendezvous at a rundown hotel in Lake Tahoe. Co-starring Jeff Bridges, Chris Hemsworth, Dakota Johnson, Jon Hamm, Nick Offerman, Cynthia Erivo and Manny Jacinto.


First Man (PG-13 for peril, mature themes and brief profanity) Oscar-winner Damien Chazelle (for La La Land) directed this poignant look at the inner life of astronaut Neil Armstrong over the eight years leading up to his historic lunar landing. With Claire Foy, Shea Whigham and Corey Stoll.


Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween (PG for action, scary images, mature themes, rude humor and mild epithets) Spooky family comedy about three kids (Jeremy Ray Taylor, Caleel Harris and Madison Iseman) who join forces with author R.L. Stine to prevent a ventriloquist's dummy (Avery Lee Jones) from unleashing an apocalypse on Halloween. Cast includes Wendi McClendon-Covey, Dr. Ken Jeong and Chris Parnell.




INDEPENDENT & FOREIGN FILMS


Beautiful Boy (R for profanity, brief sexuality and pervasive drug use) Real-life tale recounting a father's (Steve Carell) frustration caring for his meth-addicted son (Timothee Chalamet). With Maura Tierney, Amy Ryan, Timothy Hutton and LisaGay Hamilton.


Bigger (PG-13 for profanity, suggestive content, mature themes and brief violence) Rags-to-riches biopic chronicling how siblings Ben (Aneurin Barnard) and Joe Weider (Tyler Hoechlin) overcame poverty and anti-Semitism to found a bodybuilding empire. Supporting cast includes DJ Qualls, Steve Guttenberg and Julianne Hough.


Gosnell: The Trial of America's Biggest Serial Killer (PG-13 for mature themes and disturbing images) Crime blotter documentary about Dr. Kermit Gosnell, the African-American abortionist sentenced to life in prison for murdering babies in his Philadelphia clinic.


Jane and Emma (PG for mature themes) Faith-based docudrama, set in 1844, recounting the unlikely friendship forged between a free black woman (Danielle Deadwyler) and the wife (Emily Goss) of Mormon founder Joseph Smith (Brad Schmidt). With Ann Bosler, Clotile Bonner and K. Danor Gerald.


Look Away (Unrated) Psychological thriller about a lonely 18 year-old (India Eisley) whose life falls apart when she swaps place with her sinister mirror image. Cast includes Mira Sorvino, Jason Isaacs and Harrison Gilbertson.


The Oath (R for violence, drug use and pervasive profanity) Dysfunctional family comedy about the argument over presidential politics which has relatives siding with either the husband (Ike Barinholtz) or wife (Tiffany Haddish) hosting Thanksgiving dinner. With John Cho, Billy Magnussen and Jay Duplass.


Sophie (Unrated) Sophia Mitri Schloss plays the title character in this coming of age drama about a teenager trying to wreck her mother's (Melanie Lynskey) new relationship hoping she will reconcile with her estranged husband. Supporting cast includes John Gallagher, Jr., Danielle Brooks and Tony Hale.




Little Women

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Film Review by Kam Williams


19th Century Classic Revisited as Present-Day Coming-of-Age Tale

Published by Louisa May Alcott in 1868, Little Women chronicled the coming of age of Meg (Melanie Stone), Jo (Sarah Davenport), Beth (Allie Jennings) and Amy March (Taylor Murphy), siblings being raised by their mom (Lea Thompson) in Concord, Massachusetts while their absentee father (Bart Johnson) served as a pastor during the Civil War. The semi-autobiographical novel's main characters were ostensibly based on the author and her three sisters.

The iconoclastic opus challenged the status quo by exploring such themes as love, independence and equal rights from a female perspective, challenging the conventional thinking about domesticity and other traditional women's roles. The seminal work's title was inspired by its teenage heroines' loss of innocence on the road to adulthood.

Over the years, Little Women has been brought to the big screen a half-dozen times, most notably the productions featuring Katherine Hepburn (1933), Elizabeth Taylor (1949) and Susan Sarandon (1994). And Greta Gerwig (Lady Bird) has already signed to direct another adaptation co-starring Emma Watson, Saoirse Ronan and Meryl Streep slated to be released in December of 2019.

This year's version, with a relatively-underwhelming cast, marks the directorial debut of Clare Niederpruem. What does make the movie unique, however, is that it is set in present-day New York. Unfortunately, the film fails to explore current feminist issues, and the result is an unengaging story which feels terribly dated instead of groundbreaking.

A disappointing, 21st Century update that's behind instead of ahead of the times.


Fair (1.5 stars)
Rated PG-13 for mature themes and teen drinking
Running time: 112 minutes
Production Studio: Main Dog Productions / Paulist Productions / Escapology
Studio: Pinnacle Peak Pictures / Pure Flix Entertainment

To see a trailer for Little Women, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ku5Huuw7fUU







Love, Gilda

Film: Love, Gilda: The Eternal Spirit of Gilda Radner
Film Review by Kam Williams


Revealing Retrospective Revisits Life and Times of SNL's Gilda Radner

Gilda Radner (1946-1989) wais best known as an original cast member of Saturday Night Live. In fact, she was the very first of the “Not Ready for Prime Time Players” hired back in 1975 by the show's creator/producer, Lorne Michaels. 
 
She soon skyrocketed to superstardom on the strength of sketches where she played such unforgettable characters as Roseanne Roseannadanna, Emily Litella and Baba Wawa (aka Barbara Walters), to name few. Sadly, her career would be aborted by a diagnosis of ovarian cancer which would claim her life at the age of 42.

Love, Gilda marks the directorial debut of Lisa Dapolito who paints a poignant portrait of the late comedienne, mostly in her own words, via a combination of diary entries, home movies and recently discovered audiotapes. The reverential retrospective also features archival footage of performances, as well as wistful reminiscences by her brother, Michael, and colleagues like Chevy Chase and Laraine Newman.

The engaging biopic unfolds chronologically, with Gilda reflecting upon how she developed an interest in comedy at an early age while growing up in Detroit. “Because I'm not a perfect example of my gender, I decided to be funny about what I didn't have.“ she explains. 
 
She majored in theater at the University of Michigan and dropped out not to kickstart her career, but to follow her sculptor boyfriend to Canada. She did join Toronto's Second City comedy troupe there, comparing improv to a circus performer's working without a net. 
 
Gilda eventually landed her big break on NBC's groundbreaking show in New York She insightfully describes each SNL episode as “an opening night of an under-rehearsed Broadway play.”

Overall, a fond tribute to a much-beloved comedy icon.


Excellent (4 stars)
Unrated
Running time: 88 minutes
Production Studio: 3 Faces Films / Motto Pictures
Studio: Magnolia Pictures

To see a trailer for Love, Gilda, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1B44XRFotuo

Unbroken: Path to Redemption

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Film Review by Kam Williams


World War II POW Returns to U.S. With PTSD in Faith-Based Sequel

Unbroken (2014) was a tale of survival chronicling the ordeal of Olympian/Air Force bombardier Louis Zamperini in a Japanese POW camp during World War II. Directed by Angelina Jolie, the hit biopic was adapted to the screen by the Coen brothers, from Laura Hillenbrand's (Seabiscuit) best seller of the same name. 
 
Unbroken: Path to Redemption is also based on Hillenbrand's book, but doesn't have a creative team with as impressive a pedigree. The cast has been totally overhauled, too, with Samuel Hunt now starring as Louie.

Unbroken 2 picks up where the first film left off. The original closed with a liberated Louie's kissing the ground upon landing back in the states, implying a pat, happily ever after ending.
Yes, he does meet and marry the girl of his dreams, Cynthia Applewhite (Merritt Patterson).

The two settle in California and start a family. However, Louie remains haunted by flashbacks to his torture at the hands of Corporal Mutsuhiro “The Bird” Watanabe (David Sakurai), a sadistic guard at Sugamo prison.

Despite being celebrated as a war hero, Louie's suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder prevents him from being a good husband and provider. He becomes an angry, abusive alcoholic before a desperate Cynthia drags him to a Billy Graham (played by his grandson, Reverend Will Graham) Christian revival being staged in a tent.

The charismatic Baptist preacher's plea to “Just reach out and take the hand of Jesus, and every problem will be washed away,” resonates with Louie. When the sinner sinks to his knees, you know salvation can't be far behind. 
 
Need proof of the miracle? Stick around for the closing credits' highlight reel of the two subsequently sharing the stage on the evangelical circuit.

Very Good (2.5 stars)
Rated PG-13 for mature themes and disturbing images
Running time: 98 minutes
Production Studio: Universal 1440 Entertainment / Matt Baer Films
Studio: Pure Flix Entertainment

To see a trailer for Unbroken: Path to Redemption, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zBj6-XXbf0E




 

God Bless the Broken Road

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Film Review by Kam Williams


Military Widow Loses, Regains Faith in Cliche-Ridden Tale of Redemption

Sergeant Darren Hill (Liam Matthews) was just days away from finishing up a tour of duty in Afghanistan when he died during an ambush of his unit. The shocking news devastated his wife, Amber (Lindsay Pulsipher), and their young daughter, Bree (Makenzie Moss). 
 
In fact, Amber was so embittered, she Amber stepped down as her church's choir director, moaning, “Look where my faith in God got us.” And pep talks from Pastor Williams (LaDainian Tomlinson) and her BFFs, Bridgette (Jordin Sparks) and Karena (Robin Givens) fail to bring her back into the fold.

Two years later, and we find the grieving widow struggling to keep a roof over her head. Waitressing at the local diner simply doesn't pay enough to keep the bank from threatening to foreclose on her house.

When Amber's served with a notice to vacate the premises, she borrows $800 from a loan shark at a usurious rate, a short-term fix certain to come back to bite her. It takes hitting rock bottom for her to rethink turning her back on God. 
 
Thus unfolds the opening act of God Bless the Broken Road, a faith-based drama directed and co-written by Harold Cronk (God's Not Dead 1 and 2). Unfortunately, the cliche-ridden, modern morality play is less concerned with character development than with hammering home a heavy-handed message about the virtues of Christianity.

Quite predictably, Amber's fortunes do improve, but only after her faith in the Lord is restored. Meanwhile, the screen is littered with one-dimensional caricatures who bear no resemblance to real people. 
 
A simplistic, sermonizing parable strictly for the Bible-thumping demographic.


Fair (1 star)
Rated PG for combat action and mature themes
Running time: 111 minutes
Production Studio: 10 West Studios / A Really Good Home Pictures
Studio: Freestyle Releasing

To see a trailer for God Bless the Broken Road, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IlDNPY-Qyog

First Man

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Film Review by Kam Williams


Neil Armstrong Biopic Explores Emotional Angst of Legendary Astronaut

Neil Armstrong made history on July 20, 1969 when he became the first person to walk on the moon. In retrospect, the NASA astronaut proved to be the ideal pick for the honor, since he never subsequently sought to cash in on his celebrity status.

Instead, the reluctant hero modestly eschewed fame and fortune, withdrawing from the limelight in favor of sharing his pearls of wisdom with future generations in the classroom as a college professor. He even discouraged biographers until he finally agreed to cooperate with James R. Hansen on “First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong.”

Published in 2005, the 768-page opus has now been adapted to the screen by Oscar-winning scriptwriter Josh Singer (for Spotlight). However, the biopic covers only 1961 through 1969, Armstrong's early years in the space program, ending with Apollo 11's historic lunar landing.

The picture reunites Damien Chazelle and Ryan Gosling whose collaboration on the delightful musical La La Land (2016) netted the former the Best Director Academy Award and the latter a nomination in the Lead Actor category. First Man is a relatively-sober affair which divides its time between chronicling the astronauts' perilous training regimen and speculating about the ever-stoic Armstrong's inscrutable psyche.

The movie's somber tone is set not long past the point of departure when Neil and wife Janet's (Claire Foy) 2 year-old daughter Karen loses her battle with brain cancer. In lieu of mourning, he throws himself into his preparations for space flight, and his emotional unavailability puts an unspoken strain on their relationship. 
 
Meanwhile, the risks associated with the Gemini and Apollo programs only further intensify Armstrong's palpable angst. After all, numerous astronauts died in accidents during training, including his close friends Ed White (Jason Clarke) and Elliot See (Patrick Fugit).

In terms of special f/x, First Man tends to telescope tightly on what transpired in the cockpits, so brace yourself for lots of hand-held camera work from the astronauts' point-of-view, as opposed to the awe-inspiring God shots you ultimately get from the lunar surface.

A fitting tribute to an American icon best remembered as a humble, vulnerable soul with human frailties.


Very Good (3 stars)
Rated PG-13 for peril, mature themes and brief profanity
Running time: 141 minutes
Production Studio: Amblin Entertainment / Perfect World Pictures / Dreamworks / Universal Pictures / Temple Hill Entertainment
Studio: Universal Pictures

To see a trailer for First Man, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PSoRx87OO6k