Thursday, January 31, 2019

Film Review by Kam Williams

Gina Rodriguez Plays Kidnap Victim in Tijuana Action Thriller

Gloria (Gina Rodriguez) is a Hollywood makeup artist sorely in need of a break from her abusive boss. The straw that broke the camel's back came the day he condescendingly responded to her resourcefulness with the insulting, “Honey, we're not paying you to think.”
So, on her way out the door, Gloria stole a couple of bags of cosmetics for her lifelong friend, Suzu (Cristina Rodlo), who is about to enter the Miss Baja beauty contest. Suzu still lives south of the border in their hometown of Tijuana with her little brother, Chava (Sebastian Cano).

Not long after arriving, the BFFs head out to a disco to attend a party sponsored by the pageant. But the two are soon separated when a gunfight breaks out between the police and La Estrella, a drug cartel led by the bloodthirsty Lino Esperanza (Ismael Cruz Cordova).

Gloria ends up in the maniacal mobster's clutches, and is unwittingly duped into blowing up a DEA safe house with three agents inside. She's subsequently apprehended by Agent Brian Reich (Matt Lauria) who doesn't believe a word of her improbable alibi.

He forces Gloria to prove her innocence by infiltrating Lino's gang in order to help the U.S. government bring down the vicious crime syndicate. Of course, that's easier said than done since she's a beautician unschooled in undercover detective work.

That's the captivating premise established at the outset of Miss Bala, a frenetically-paced remake of the 2011 Mexican action thriller of the same name. The film was directed by Catherine Hardwicke whose adaptation of Stephenie Meyer's vampire romance novel Twilight netted around $400 million at the box office.

Here, Hardwicke has crafted a compelling cross of Taken (2008) and Miss Congeniality (2000). The movie's relentless sense of urgency is reminiscent of the former, while the protagonist's grudging participation in a beauty pageant is similar to Sandra Bullock's fish-out-of-water performance in the latter.

A two-fisted tale of female empowerment featuring a riveting roller coaster ride you'll never forget!

Excellent (4 stars)
Rated PG-13 for violence, profanity, sexuality, drug use and mature themes
In English and Spanish with subtitles
Running time: 104 minutes
Production Companies: Sony Pictures Entertainment / Canana Films / Misher Films
Distributor: Columbia Pictures

To see a trailer for Miss Bala, visit:

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Kam's Kapsules for movies opening February 1, 2019

Weekly Previews That Make Choosing a Film Fun  
by Kam Williams



Miss Bala (PG-13 for violence, profanity, sexuality, drug use and mature themes) English language remake of the 2011 Mexican action thriller about a makeup artist from L.A. (Gina Rodriguez) forced to survive by her wits south of the border after being kidnapped by a drug cartel while visiting her BFF (Cristina Rodlo) in Tijuana. With Anthony Mackie, Ismael Cruz Cordova and Thomas Dekker.


Arctic (PG-13 for profanity and bloody images) Tale of survival about a man (Mads Mikkelsen) stranded near the North Pole who must decide between remaining with the helicopter wreckage and embarking on a perilous trek back to civilization across the frozen tundra. With Maria Thelma Smaradottir.

The Least of These: The Graham Staines Story (PG-13 for mature themes and disturbing images) Stephen Baldwin plays the title character in this fact-based drama, set in rural India in the late Nineties, about an Australian missionary burned alive while caring for and converting lepers to Christianity. Featuring Sharman Joshi, Shari Rigby and Manoj Mishra.

Piercing (R for profanity, nudity, bizarre violence and deviant sexuality) Horror comedy, adapted from Ryu Murakami's novel of the same name about a family man (Christopher Abbott) who decides to indulge a dark impulse while on a business trip by murdering a call girl (Mia Wasikowska) in his hotel room. Cast includes Laia Costa, Wendell Pierce and Marin Ireland.

Velvet Buzzsaw (R for profanity, sexuality, nudity, violence and drug use) Suspense thriller, set in L.A., about a supernatural force that exacts revenge on the greedy purchasers of high-priced paintings by a mysterious, unknown artist. Ensemble includes Jake Gyllenhaal, John Malkovich, Toni Collette, Rene Russo, Daveed Diggs and Billy Magnussen.

The Wild Pear Tree (Unrated) Dysfunctional family drama about an aspiring writer (Dogu Demirkol) who returns home to his tiny village from Istanbul after graduating from college only to find himself forced to deal with his father's (Murat Cemcir) gambling debts. With Hazar Erguclu, Serkan Keskin and Bennu Yildirimlar. (In Turkish with subtitles)

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Top Ten DVD List for January 29, 2019

by Kam Williams

This Week's DVD Releases 

Boy Erased

The Wife


Benchwarmers 2: Breaking Balls

Blood Brother

Humans 3.0: Uncut UK Edition

Cobra: Collector's Edition

The Nutcracker and the Four Realms


Monday, January 28, 2019

The Truths We Hold

Book Review by Kam Williams

The Truths We Hold
An American Journey
by Kamala Harris
Penguin Press
Hardcover, $30.
336 pages
ISBN: 978-0-525-56071-5

“We've seen... [the Trump] administration align itself with white supremacists at home and cozy up to dictators abroad; rip babies from their mothers' arms in grotesque violation of their human rights; give corporations and the wealthy huge tax cuts; derail our fight against climate change; sabotage health care and imperil a woman's right to control her own body; all while lashing out at... the very idea of a free and independent press...
Americans know we're better than this... But we're going to have to fight for it... This book grows out of that call to action, and out of my belief that our fight must begin and end with speaking [the] truth... that racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia and anti-Semitism are real in this country, and we need to confront those forces.”
Excerpted from the Preface (pages xiv-xv)

Kamala Harris has officially thrown her hat in the ring for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, launching her campaign with a spirited rally in her hometown of Oakland attended by over 20,000 enthusiastic supporters. The first term senator from California's bid is reminiscent of Barack Obama's in that she's racially mixed and has conveniently published a very timely autobiography which also lays out her political platform.  
In it, we learn that Kamala's father, Donald, was from Jamaica and taught economics at Stanford, and her mother, Shyamala, a cancer researcher, was born in India. The book is very engaging and reads like she actually wrote it herself, unlike most celebrity bios nowadays.
She reflects fondly on a culturally rich childhood growing up in the Bay Area until the age of 12 when her mother took a job in French-speaking Montreal. In high school, Kamala developed an interest in becoming an attorney, and decided to attend Howard University (where she would join the debate team and pledge AKA sorority) because it was the alma mater of her hero, Thurgood Marshall.
After graduation, she returned to Oakland to study law at UC Hastings before kickstarting her legal career. She enjoyed a meteoric rise from assistant prosecutor to San Francisco District Attorney To California Attorney General to U.S. Senator.
Because she spent so much time representing the state in criminal cases, Kamala positions herself here as a political progressive, ostensibly to convince skeptics of the criticisms she now levels at the justice system as racist. Overall, I'd say this opus serves as a persuasive introduction to a charismatic candidate likely to be in the presidential race for the long haul.

To order a copy of The The Truths We Hold, visit:

Saturday, January 26, 2019


Film Review by Kam Williams

Shocking Documentary Delivers Jaw-Dropping Profile of ISIS

How much do you know about ISIS, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria? Sure, you probably know that it is an extremist Muslim sect which claims to be a caliphate headquartered in Syria. 
You are also are undoubtedly aware of the radical outfit's terrorist attacks in America, France, Belgium, England and elsewhere around the world. That's because ISIS is media savvy and quite skilled at recruiting followers over the internet.

Just a month ago, President Trump declared, “We have defeated ISIS,” before ordering the withdrawal of all U.S. troops from Syria. However, soon thereafter, four Americans were killed by an ISIS suicide bomber in the city of Manbij.

If you'd like to understand the ideology fueling these fanatics, have I got a film for you. Co-directed by Francois Margolin and Lemine Salem, Jihadists is an eye-opening expose' shot by filmmakers who embedded with the extremists.

Fair warning, this is not a documentary for the faint of heart. For, it features raw footage of ISIS foot soldiers doling out the cult's cruel brand of justice. 
So, brace your self to see drive-by shootings of unsuspecting infidels, gays tossed off buildings, adulterers beheaded or stoned to death, thieves whipped or have their hands chopped off, and Coptics Christians caged and shot in the head, one-by-one.

Again and again, the perpetrators rationalize their ghastly crimes against humanity by quoting from the Koran. Members of ISIS are so-called Salafists who believe in a literal interpretation of the scriptures.

In the film, we hear wild-eyed imams weigh in on everything from Israel (“We are in an endless war with Jews.”), to America (“Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib have stirred up our hatred of the West.”), to females (“A woman cannot be considered equal to a man.”), to assassinating cartoonists (“Insulting the prophet Muhammad is a serious offense. Charlie Hebdo got what it deserved.”).

Apparently, there are ISIS strongholds not just in the Middle East, but all across sub-Saharan Africa, in such countries as Mali, Nigeria and Mauritania. Its adherents are fearless on their mission to “purify the world” because of their belief that paradise awaits in the afterlife.

A chilling documentary banned in France, but available in America despite fatwas, thanks to this country's undying commitment to freedom of speech.

Very Good (3 stars)
In French with subtitles
Running time: 75 minutes
Production Company: Margo Cinema
Distributor: Cinema Libre Studio

To see a trailer for Jihadists, visit:

Friday, January 25, 2019

The Kid Who Would be King

Film Review by Kam Williams

Bullied Schoolboy Morphs into King Arthur in Modern Epic Fantasy

British schoolboy Alex Elliot (Louis Ashbourne Serkis) is the unlikeliest of heroes. After all, the pint-sized 12 year-old and his nerdy BFF, Bedders (Dean Chaumoo), are bullied on a daily basis at Dungate Academy. 
Unfortunately, Alex doesn't have a father or a big brother to teach him how to deal with his tormentors. His dad disappeared ages ago, leaving behind a copy of “King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table” inscribed with a dedication comparing his son to the classic novel's legendary title character.

Sure enough, life starts imitating art the day Alex summons up the courage to intervene when he catches a couple of cruel classmates, Kaye (Rhianna Dorris) and Lance, (Tom Taylor) torturing Bedders. Later that afternoon, Alex yanks out a sword he finds stuck in a boulder on a construction site, a feat reminiscent of how Arthur extracted Excalibur from a stone in accordance with ancient folklore.

Next, a new transfer student, Merlin (Angus Imrie), encourages Alex to embrace his destiny as a latter-day King Arthur. Once convinced, Alex uses his sword to knight not only his buddy Bedders, but their for adversaries Kaye and Lance (aka Sir Lancelot). 
With time of the essence, the four join forces with Merlin (aka Merlin the Magician), to defeat Morgana (Rebecca Ferguson) an evil, medieval sorceress bent on world domination. She comes equipped with a scary army of flaming skeletons which the youngsters only have a few days to subdue to prevent a cataclysmic solar eclipse. 
Written and directed by Joe Cornish (Attack the Block), The Kid Who Would be King is an entertaining re-imagining of a classic epic adventure. Yes, it's rated a tyke-friendly PG, yet it's also well enough crafted to enthrall young and old alike from beginning to end. 
A wholesome family treat with an inspirational message!

Excellent (4 stars)
Rated PG for action, violence, scary images, mature themes and mild epithets
Running time: 120 minutes
Production Companies: 20th Century Fox / Working Title Films / Big Talk Productions
Studio: 20th Century Fox

To see a trailer for The Kid Who Would be King, visit:

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

2019 Academy Award Nominations

by Kam Williams

Spike Lee Lands First Best Director Nomination of Career!

The Favourite and Roma tied for the most Oscar nominations with 10 each, thereby besting Golden Globe Best Picture-winners Green Book and Bohemian Rhapsody which only landed 5 apiece. Still, the most surprising news is the love lavished by the Academy on Spike Lee, who was nominated for Best Director for the first time in his 40-year career.

Furthermore, Spike's film, BlacKkKlansman, garnered a half-dozen nominations overall, including the Best Picture, Supporting Actor (Adam Driver), Adapted Screenplay, Film Editing and Original Score categories. In a banner year for black films, Klansman netted more nods than both Green Book and the critically-acclaimed If Beale Street Could Talk, though one less than the popular, comic book adaptation Black Panther. 
Since as many as 10 films could have been nominated for Best Picture, it was disappointing that there are only 8, with Crazy Rich Asians, If Beale Street Could Talk and Eighth Grade most notably left out. It's also unfortunate that inspired performances by actresses Michelle Yeoh (Crazy Rich Asians), Viola Davis (Widows), Nicole Kidman (Destroyer) and Letitia Wright (Black Panther) went unrecognized.

The Oscars will air live on Sunday, February 24th at 8 pm ET / 5 pm Pacific on ABC-TV.

Complete List of Oscar Nominees

Black Panther
Bohemian Rhapsody
The Favourite
Green Book
A Star Is Born

Spike Lee (BlacKkKlansman)
Paweł Pawlikowski (Cold War)
Yorgos Lanthimos (The Favourite)
Alfonso Cuarón (Roma)
Adam McKay (Vice)

Actress in a Leading Role
Yalitza Aparicio (Roma)
Glenn Close (The Wife)
Olivia Colman (The Favourite)
Lady Gaga (A Star Is Born)
Melissa McCarthy (Can You Ever Forgive Me?)

Actor in a Leading Role
Christian Bale (Vice)
Bradley Cooper (A Star Is Born)
Willem Dafoe (At Eternity's Gate)
Rami Malek (Bohemian Rhapsody)
Viggo Mortensen (Green Book)

Actress in a Supporting Role
Amy Adams (Vice)
Marina de Tavira (Roma)
Regina King (If Beale Street Could Talk)
Emma Stone (The Favourite)
Rachel Weisz (The Favourite)

Actor in a Supporting Role
Mahershala Ali (Green Book)
Adam Driver (BlacKkKlansman)
Sam Elliott (A Star Is Born)
Richard E. Grant (Can You Ever Forgive Me?)
Sam Rockwell (Vice)

Adapted Screenplay
The Ballad Of Buster Scruggs
Can You Ever Forgive Me?
If Beale Street Could Talk
A Star Is Born

Original Screenplay
The Favourite
First Reformed
Green Book

Animated Feature Film
Incredibles 2
Isle Of Dogs
Ralph Breaks The Internet
Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse

Cold War
The Favourite
Never Look Away
A Star Is Born

Costume Design
The Ballad Of Buster Scruggs
Black Panther
The Favourite
Mary Poppins Returns
Mary Queen Of Scots

Documentary Feature Film
Free Solo
Hale County This Morning, This Evening
Minding The Gap
Of Fathers And Sons

Film Editing
Bohemian Rhapsody
The Favourite
Green Book

Foreign Language Film
Capernaum (Lebanon)
Cold War (Poland)
Never Look Away (Germany)
Roma (Mexico)
Shoplifters (Japan)

Makeup and Hairstyling
Mary Queen Of Scots

Original Score
Black Panther
If Beale Street Could Talk
Isle of Dogs
Mary Poppins Returns

Original Song
"When A Cowboy Trades His Spurs For Wings" (The Ballad Of Buster Scruggs)
"All The Stars" (Black Panther)
"The Place Where Lost Things Go" (Mary Poppins Returns)
"I'll Fight" (RBG)
"Shallow" (A Star Is Born)

Production Design
Black Panther
The Favourite
First Man
Mary Poppins Returns

Sound Editing
First Man
Black Panther
Bohemian Rhapsody
A Quiet Place

Sound Mixing
Black Panther
Bohemian Rhapsody
First Man
A Star Is Born

Visual Effects
Avengers: Infinity War
Christopher Robin
First Man
Ready Player One
Solo: A Star Wars Story

Animated Short Film
Animal Behaviour
Late Afternoon
One Small Step

Live Action Short Film

Documentary Short Film
Black Sheep
End Game
A Night At The Garden
Period. End of Sentence.

Monday, January 21, 2019

Top Ten DVD List for January 22, 2019

by Kam Williams

This Week's DVD Releases

The Hate You Give

I Am Not a Witch

First Man

Fuller House: The Complete Third Season

Johnny English Strikes Again

Best Friends: Volume 1 + Volume 2

Killjoys: Season Four

The Wandering Muse
Here and Now

American Renegades

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Kam's Kapsules for movies opening January 25, 2019

Weekly Previews That Make Choosing a Film Fun  
by Kam Williams 



The Kid Who Would be King (PG for action, violence, scary images, mature themes and mild epithets) Sci-fi epic adventure about a bullied British schoolboy (Louis Ashbourne Serkis) who stumbles upon his destiny as a latter-day King Arthur before joining forces with Merlin the Magician (Angus Imrie) and a band of knighted classmates to defeat an evil witch (Rebecca Ferguson) bent on world domination. With Tom Taylor, Rhianna Dorris and Patrick Stewart.

Serenity (R for sexuality, bloody images and pervasive profanity) Suspense thriller about a fishing boat captain (Matthew McConaughey) who is asked by his ex-wife (Anne Hathaway) to secretly toss her abusive second husband (Jason Clarke) overboard in the middle of the ocean. Cast includes Djimon Hounsou, Jeremy Strong and Rafael Sayegh.


The 5 Browns: Digging through the Darkness (Unrated) Skeletons-in-the-closet documentary about a quintet of siblings whose meteoric rise to super-stardom as classical piano prodigies was spoiled by the shocking revelation that their manager/father had sexually abused his three daughters.

Bricked (Unrated) Coming-of-age drama revolving around a high school grad (Tracy Campbell) who finds himself at odds with his family while coping with bipolar disorder. With Terrence TC Carson, Shavonia Jones and Tasia Grant.

The Image Book (Unrated) Impressionistic essay, directed by the legendary Jean-Luc Godard, examining cinema's failure to address atrocities of the 20th and 21st Centuries. Narrated by Godard and featuring archival footage of Buster Keaton. (In French, English, Arabic, Italian and German)

In Like Flynn (R for violence, drug use and a sexual reference) Thomas Cocquerel plays Errol Flynn (1909-1959) in this biopic depicting the future matinee idol's early adulthood in Australia spent as an adventurer, gambler, drug smuggler, gold prospector, womanizer and street fighter. With Isabel Lucas, Clive Standen, Corey Large and Nathalie Kelley.

The Invisibles (Unrated) World War II saga, set in Berlin in 1943, about four Jews (Max Mauff, Alice Dwyer, Aaron Altaras and Ruby O. Fee) who survived the horrors of the Holocaust by hiding in plain sight right in the Nazi capital. Support cast includes Florian Lukas, Victoria Schulz and Andreas Schmidt. (In German with subtitles)

Jihadists (Unrated) Radical Islam around Africa is explored in this jaw-dropping documentary exposing the radical ideology indoctrinating thousands from Timbuktu to Tunisia, and from Mali to Mauritania. (In French with subtitles)

King of Thieves (R for pervasive profanity) Michael Caine stars in this fact-based crime caper as the 77 year-old mastermind of a $200 million bank heist of cash and jewels by a gang of eccentric senior citizens. With Michael Gambon, Jim Broadbent and Ray Winstone.

Polar (Unrated) Adaptation of Victor Santos' graphic novel about a retired assassin (Mads Mikkelsen) who finds himself targeted by an army of ruthless young killers. Featuring Vanessa Hudgens, Katheryn Winnick and Johnny Knoxville.

Tito and the Birds (Unrated) Brazilian animated drama about a 10 year-old boy (Pedro Henrique) who collaborates with his exiled scientist father (Matheus Nachtergaele) to find a cure for a virus sweeping across the country which turns people to stone. Voice cast includes Marina Serretiello, Matheus Solano, Enrico Cardoso and Denise Fraga. (In Portuguese with subtitles)

Saturday, January 19, 2019

The 5 Browns: Digging through the Darkness

Film Review by Kam Williams

Shocking Documentary Reveals Classical Prodigies Abused by Dad

The 5 Browns is a musical quintet composed of siblings born in Houston, Texas between 1979 and 1986, all of whom started studying classical piano at an early age. In 1991, they moved to Utah where they were home schooled. The promising prodigies eventually came to the attention of Juilliard which made the unusual gesture of enrolling them all to the exclusive conservatory simultaneously.

Desirae, Deondra, Gregory, Melody and Ryan skyrocketed to fame in the wake of a profile in the New York Times which led to further coverage in People Magazine and other popular periodicals as well as to appearances on Oprah, 60 Minutes and The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. Meanwhile, they began releasing albums, three of which reached #1 on the Classical charts. 
Managed by their parents, Keith and Lisa, The 5 Browns went on numerous tours around the world where they would do charity events prior to performing in prominent concert halls. Between mom picking their repertoire and dad overscheduling them, the music wasn't fun anymore and the kids found themselves putting on fake faces on stage.

But far worse was the fact that Keith had been sexually abusing his daughters for years. In 2007, the devastated girls learned about each other and summoned the courage to confront him about the incest. But he failed to exhibit any contrition. Instead, he started representing some aspiring female teen musicians. 
Alarmed, Desirae, Deondra and Melody decided to report their father to the police. Keith was arrested, pled guilty to child sex abuse, and is currently serving a sentence of 10 years to life. 
When publicized, the tragic revelations shocked the fans of The 5 Browns, given their previously wholesome, happy family image. However, being repeatedly sexually abused by their dad understandably left the girls traumatized, with the stress even causing one to go blind in an eye. 
To their credit, Desirae and Deondra are now working with N.Y. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand to extend the statute of limitations for child sex abuse victims. And they have created a not-profit organization called The Foundation for Survivors of Abuse.

All of the above is chronicled in engaging fashion in The 5 Browns: Digging through the Darkness. The revealing documentary marks the latest offering from director Ben Niles who figured out how to handle a very difficult subject with just the right balance of probing and sensitivity.

A moving tale of survival that's timely, too, given the emergence of the #MeToo movement.

Excellent (3.5 stars)
Running time: 100 minutes
Production Company: Plow Productions

To see a trailer for The 5 Browns: Digging through the Darkness, visit:

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Mary Queen of Scots

Film Review by Kam Williams

Saoirse Ronan Plays Beleaguered Monarch in Flamboyant Costume Drama

Mary Stuart (1542-1587) is a tragic figure whose life story does not naturally lend itself to the big screen. After all, despite being King James V's only legitimate offspring at the time of his death, she spent most of her childhood exiled in France and over 18 years of her adulthood imprisoned in England before being beheaded at the behest of her cousin, Queen Elizabeth I. 
But that hasn't discouraged filmmakers from periodically taking liberties with the facts in order to mount an entertaining, if fanciful, biopic about the ill-fated aristocrat. Katharine Hepburn played Mary in a 1936 version directed by John Ford, while Vanessa Redgrave landed an Academy Award nomination for her rendition in a 1971 remake which netted a half-dozen Oscar nominations. 
Now, Saoirse Ronan stars as the beleaguered queen in a visually-captivating costume drama marking the directorial debut of Josie Rourke. The movie is based on John A. Guy's 2004 biography, “Queen of Scots: The True Life of Mary Stuart,” though the production seems less concerned with historical accuracy than with flamboyant hair and makeup.

You can forget about the book's assertion about being “true.” For example, Mary and Elizabeth (Margot Robbie) never met in real life, yet this picture's climax revolves around their rendezvousing for a face-to-face showdown fabricated for dramatic effect. Equally disconcerting is that the film hypes female solidarity as a hot button issue, a glaring reminder of how a movie often tells you more about the period in which it was made than the one it is supposedly about. 
Even if you're inclined to forgive all of the above, perhaps the picture's most annoying flaw is that it opens with the heroine's execution, and is then followed by a series of flashbacks leading back to Mary's demise. Why spoil the ending by assuming everyone in your audience is a history buff who knows how the story's going to turn out?

An anti-climactic overindulgence in pomp and pageantry designed for fans of British royalty.

Fair (1 star)
Rated R for violence and sexuality
Running time: 124 minutes
Production Companies: Focus Features / Working Title Films / Perfect World Pictures
Studio: Focus Features

To see a trailer for Mary Queen of Scots, visit:

Monday, January 14, 2019

Top Ten DVD List for January 15, 2019

by Kam Williams

This Week's DVD Releases 

Trail of Tears [36 Documentary Collection]

The Old Man & the Gun



Madeline's Madeline

Robin Hood Origins [5 Classic Films]

The Laurel & Hardy Comedy Collection


Dogs on the Job: A 7-Part Dogumentary Series

Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween

Honorable Mention

The Plague of the Zombies

The Karate Kid Part III & The Next Karate Kid [Double Feature]

Paw Patrol: Pups Save Puplantis

Odd Sock Eaters