Monday, February 18, 2019

Cold War



Film Review by Kam Williams


Star-Crossed Lovers Repeatedly Rendezvous in Polish Postwar Drama

Dateline: Poland, 1949. The countryside is still devastated by the blight left behind in the wake of the Second World War. It is amidst these ruins that we find young Zula Lichon (Joanna Kulig) auditioning for a spot in the national entertainment ensemble.

The aspiring singer-dancer should be thankful for her good looks, since she only survives the tryout because the repertory company's powerful musical director, Wiktor Warski (Tomasz Kot), is quite taken by her beauty. The pretty peasant girl, in turn, is quite flattered by the attention being lavished on her by her handsome and relatively-sophisticated advocate, even though he's old enough to be her father.

Before long, the two start sleeping together, indulging an animal magnetism during stolen moments between their traveling troupe's performances at various ports of call behind the Iron Curtain. Sadly, they are far less passionate about their work than they are about each other.

That's because the group finds itself pressured to stage productions that are pure propaganda, given how Poland, as part of the Soviet bloc, is under the thumb of Stalinist Russia. In fact, the political paranoia of the era so deeply affects Zula, that she meets weekly with a Communist Party boss (Lech Kaczmarek) to secretly snitch on her unsuspecting lover's conduct.

The jaded artists hatch a plan to defect to the West in 1952 following a concert in East Berlin. But when only one of the two follows through with the plan, they end up separated and terribly frustrated for the next dozen years.

Thus unfolds Cold War, a melancholy masterpiece written and directed by Pawel Pawlikowski. His previous picture, Ida, won the Best Foreign Film Oscar in 2015. This black & white romance drama has deservedly landed a trio of nominations, in the Foreign Film, Director and Cinematography categories.

Between a sobering score and haunting settings, Pawlikowski has created the perfect backdrop for a maudlin postmortem contemplating the fate of a couple of star-crossed lovers.


Excellent (4 stars)
Rated R for sexuality, nudity and profanity
In Polish. French, Russian, German, Italian and Croatian
Running time: 89 minutes
Production Companies: Opus Films / Polish Film Institute / Film4 / BFI / MK2 Films
Distributor: Amazon Studios

To see a trailer for Cold War, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BvPkDdFeTk8



Sunday, February 17, 2019

Top Ten DVD List for February 19, 2019

  • Frantz Fanon: Black Skin, White Mask [Blu-ray]
by Kam Williams


This Week's DVD Releases

A Star Is Born

Can You Ever Forgive Me?


Frantz Fanon: Black Skin, White Mask

Overlord

Backbeat

Narcissister Organ Player

The Return of the Vampire


Robin Hood

Iceman: The Time Traveler


Saturday, February 16, 2019

The Envelope Please: Your Guide to the Oscars

 
by Kam Williams


Who Will Win, Who Deserves to Win, Who Was Snubbed


2018 was a banner year for black cast films, including BlacKkKlansman, Black Panther, Green Book and If Beale Street Could Talk. Might Spike Lee (BlacKkKlansman) finally win the Best Director and Best Picture Oscars which have eluded him over the course of his 40-year career? Not likely, despite the Academy's history of rewarding overlooked legends more for their body of work than for their latest offering. 
 
How about Black Panther, the highest-grossing ($1.34 billion) superhero movie of all time? It was nominated for 7 Academy Awards, but only in one major category, Best Picture. None of its actors were recognized. The snub is reminiscent of how in 2001 none of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon's cast members received nominations, although the film landed 10 overall. 
 
If Beale Street Could Talk, Barry Jenkins' critically-acclaimed adaptation of the James Baldwin novel of the same name, wasn't even nominated for Best Picture, though Regina King is the favorite to win for Best Supporting Actress. The crowd-pleaser Green Book might have had a shot at Best Picture were it not for the Mexican drama Roma. 

It looks like the semi-autobiographical, black & white adventure, written and directed by Alfonso Cuaron, is destined to garner the most glory on Oscar night, including Best Picture and Best Director. Why the Academy lavished Roma with 10 nominations and Crazy Rich Asians with none is beyond the ken of this critic. Two of my other faves, Eighth Grade and Private Life, were also totally ignored.

Below, see my pick to win in each major category, followed by which nominee is the most deserving, followed by the best pictures and performances not even nominated. The Oscars will air live on Sunday, February 24th at 8 pm ET / 5 pm PT on ABC-TV. The show will have no host, since the producers couldn't find a replacement for Kevin Hart, who withdrew in the wake of condemnation for some homophobic tweets.


Best Picture

Will Win: Roma
Deserves to Win: Green Book
Overlooked: Crazy Rich Asians, Eighth Grade, Private Life


Best Director

Will Win: Alfonso Cuaron (Roma)
Deserves to Win: Spike Lee (BlacKkKlansman)
Overlooked: Jon M. Chu (Crazy Rich Asians), Bo Burnham (Eighth Grade), Tamara Jenkins (Private Life)


Best Actor

Will Win: Rami Malek (Bohemian Rhapsody)
Deserves to Win: Rami Malek
Overlooked: Chadwick Boseman (Black Panther), Paul Giamatti (Private Life), Henry Golding (Crazy Rich Asians)


Best Actress

Will Win: Glenn Close (The Wife)
Deserves to Win: Yalitza Aparicio (Roma)
Overlooked: Viola Davis (Widows), Elsie Fisher (Eighth Grade), Nicole Kidman (Destroyer)


Best Supporting Actor

Will Win: Mahershala Ali (Green Book)
Deserves to Win: Mahershala Ali
Overlooked: Michael B. Jordan (Black Panther)


Best Supporting Actress

Will Win: Regina King (If Beale Street Could Talk)
Deserves to Win: Regina King
Overlooked: Michelle Yeoh (Crazy Rich Asians), Letitia Wright (Black Panther)


Best Original Screenplay

Will Win: The Favourite
Deserves to Win: Green Book
Overlooked: Eighth Grade, Private Life


Best Adapted Screenplay

Will Win: BlacKkKlansman
Deserves to Win: BlacKkKlansman
Overlooked: Crazy Rich Asians, Black Panther


Predictions for the Rest of the Categories

Animated Feature: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
Foreign Language Film: Roma
Documentary Feature: Free Solo
Cinematography: Roma
Costume Design: The Favourite
Production Design: The Favourite
Film Editing: Vice
Makeup and Hairstyling: Vice
Original Score: If Beale Street Could Talk
Best Song: “Shallow” (A Star Is Born)
Sound Editing: First Man
Sound Mixing: A Star Is Born
Visual Effects: Avengers: Infinity War
Animated Short: Marguerite
Documentary Short: Black Sheep
Live Action Short: Bao

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Kam's Kapsules for movies opening February 15, 2019

Weekly Previews That Make Choosing a Film Fun 
by Kam Williams


OPENING THIS WEEK

WIDE RELEASES


Alita: Battle Angel (PG-13 for action, violence and brief profanity) Rosa Salazar tackles the title role in this post-apocalyptic sci-fi as a cyborg with amnesia recruited by a compassionate scientist (Christoph Waltz) to break the world's cycle of death and destruction. Cast includes Mahershala Ali, Jennifer Connelly, Jackie Earle Haley and Michelle Rodriguez.


Happy Death Day 2U (PG-13 for violence, profanity, sexuality and mature themes) Slasher sequel finds heroine Tree Gelbman (Jessica Roth) re-entering the time loop and repeatedly reliving the same day during which she is hunted and killed by a masked assassin. With Ruby Modine, Israel Broussard and Suraj Sharma.


Isn't It Romantic (PG-13 for profanity, sexuality and a drug reference) Satirical fantasy, set in NYC, about an Australian architect (Rebel Wilson) who wakes up trapped in a romantic comedy after being knocked unconscious by a mugger on a subway platform. Supporting cast includes Liam Hemsworth, Adam Devine and Priyanka Chopra.



INDEPENDENT & FOREIGN FILMS

Birds of Passage (Unrated) Colombian crime thriller, set in the Seventies, about an indigenous family that comes to regret dealing drugs. Co-starring Jose Acosta, Carmina Martinez and Natalia Reyes. (In English, Spanish and Wayuu with subtitles)

Donnybrook (R for profanity, drug use, graphic nudity, and disturbing violence and sexuality) Adaptation of Frank Bill's best seller of the same name about an ex-Marine (Jamie Bell) and a meth dealer (Frank Grillo) who enter an illicit, bare-knuckle cage match with a $100,000 winner take all purse. Featuring Margaret Qualley, James Badge Gale and Chris Browning.

Fighting with My Family (PG-13 for sexuality, violence, crude humor, drug use and pervasive profanity) Fact-based comedy about a couple of retired pro wrestlers (Nick Frost and Lena Headey) whose children (Florence Pugh and Jack Lowden) dream of following in their parents' footsteps. With Dwayne Johnson, Vince Vaughn and Stephen Merchant.

The Lears (Unrated) Dysfunctional family dramedy about an aging architect (Bruce Dern) who invites his four children to a weekend retreat to announce that he's marrying his personal assistant (Victoria Smurfit) that Sunday. Featuring Anthony Michael Hall, Sean Astin, Aly Michalka, Nic Bishop and James Hoare.

Ruben Brandt, Collector (R for violence and nude images) Animated suspense thriller about a psychotherapist (Ivan Kamaras) who, with help from four of his patients, steals priceless works of art from the Louvre, MOMA, the Hermitage and other museums in order to alleviate his suffering from violent nightmares. Cast includes Gabriella Hamori, Katalin Dombi and Csaba Marton. (In English and Hungarian with subtitles)

Sorry Angel (Unrated) Romance drama, set in Paris in 1993, about a renowned writer (Pierre Deladonchamps) who falls in love with a gay film student (Vincent Lacoste) from Brittany about half his age. With Denis Podalydes, Adele Wismes and Thomas Gonzalez. (In French with subtitles)

This One's for the Ladies (R for nudity, graphic images, sexual simulations and pervasive profanity) Raunchy documentary revolving around a New Jersey karate dojo which morphs into a male strip club every Thursday night. Featuring performances by Tyga, Raw Dawg and Poundcake.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Deep Roots

 
Book Review by Kam Williams

Deep Roots
How Slavery Still Shapes Southern Politics
by Avidit Acharya, Matthew Blackwell and Maya Sen
Princeton University Press
Hardcover, $29.95
296 pages, Illustrated
ISBN: 978-0-691-17674-1


“Despite dramatic social transformations in the United States during the last 150 years, the South has remained staunchly conservative. Southerners are more likely to support Republican candidates, gun rights, and the death penalty, and southern whites harbor higher levels of racial resentment than whites in other parts of the country. 
 
Why haven't these sentiments evolved or changed? “Deep Roots” shows that the entrenched political and racial views of contemporary white southerners are a direct consequence of the region's slaveholding history, which continues to shape economic, political, and social spheres. Today, southern whites who live in areas once reliant on slavery—compared to areas that were not—are more racially hostile and less amenable to policies that could promote black progress.”

Excerpted from the dust jacket 
 

William Faulkner is the only Nobel prize-winner born in Mississippi, which is where most of his stories are set. One of this preeminent Southern writer's most memorable lines is, “The past is never dead. It's not even past.” 
 
That quote comes to mind while reading “Deep Roots: How Slavery Still Shapes Southern Politics.” That's because, after conducting painstaking research, authors Avidit Acharya, Matthew Blackwell and Maya Sen arrived at a conclusion (“History shapes contemporary political culture.”) which sounds like a paraphrase of Faulkner's famous saying. 
 
Over the course of the 150+ years since Emancipation, the descendants of slave owners have continuously operated to prevent blacks from pursuing the American Dream. In the face of the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments, southern municipalities, cities and states passed Jim Crow laws denying African-Americans the right to vote, travel, buy land, possess a gun, get an education, and so forth. 
 
The punishment for even the slightest of infractions ranged from whipping to lynching in order to strictly maintain the region's color-coded caste system. “Racial violence was an important component of the development of anti-black attitudes, even among poor whites.” Furthermore, “White children were often present... and, in some striking cases, they were also active participants.”

So, is it any surprise that, “As of the 2016 election, all of the former states of the Confederacy had implemented some voter identification law” in an effort to deny as many black citizens as possible access to the ballot box? Advocates of Confederate monuments and memorials continue to claim the Civil War was waged over states' rights, conveniently ignoring the assertion of the designer of the rebel battle flag that, “As a people, we are fighting to maintain the heaven-ordained supremacy of the white man over the inferior or colored race.”

A timely tome which explains why, from neo-Nazis marching in Charlottesville to Virginia politicians donning blackface, when it comes to the South, the more things change, the more they remain insane.


Top Ten DVD List for February 12, 2019

  • Poetic Justice [Blu-ray]
 

by Kam Williams



This Week's DVD Releases

Four Weddings and a Funeral [25th Anniversary Edition]

Poetic Justice

Indivisible

The Betty White Collection [40 Episodes]

Antonio Lopez 1970: Sex, Fashion & Disco

Ackley Bridge: Series 2

Moko Jumbie

Nobody's Fool

Bang: Series 1

Astro Boy [The Complete Series]



Honorable Mention

Benji Movie Collection

Shimmer and Shine: Flight of the Zahracorns

Haunted Hospital: Heilstatten

Nude Area

Sunday, February 10, 2019

The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then The Bigfoot

 
Film Review by Kam Williams


WWII Vet Plays Hero Again in Campy Action Adventure

Every now and then, a film turns history on its head. For example, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter made over $100 million dollars at the box office by suggesting that the 16th President of the United States was also a legendary stalker of the undead. And Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds, which had Hitler dying in a movie theater fire rather than by committing suicide, made three times as much money. 
 
Playing fast and loose with the truth can be pretty profitable in other arenas as well. Donald Trump sealed the Republican presidential nomination by parroting the National Enquirer's patently ridiculous assertion that JFK assassin Lee Harvey Oswald hadn't acted alone but with the help of Senator Ted Cruz's father, Rafael.

Well, in The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then The Bigfoot we have a film that contradicts conventional wisdom not once, but twice. The picture stars Sam Elliott as Calvin Barr, the World War II vet who supposedly successfully assassinated the Fuhrer on a top secret mission.

This picture unfolds decades later when an aging Calvin is coaxed out of retirement by an FBI agent (Ron Livingston) to track down the legendary Bigfoot (Mark Steger) that is rumored to be living deep in the Canadian forest. It seems that the mythical beast is responsible for a deadly plague that is threatening to decimate the population. 
 
Turning down an array of 007-level, state of the arts gadgets, Calvin stoically sets out with just a rifle, a scope and a Bowie knife. He doesn't even don goggles, gas mask and a protective suit to prevent his prey from infecting him. Sam Elliott plays it straight, here, but you can't help but wonder whether the veteran thespian's embarrassed by the fact that this campy B-flick has been released right when he's been nominated for an Oscar for the first time in his career. 
 
An amusing mix of fantasy and revisionist history bordering on cheesy that's strictly for the very gullible!


Good (2 stars)
Unrated
Running time: 98 minutes
Production Companies: Epic Pictures Releasing / Title Media
Distributor: RLJE FILMS

To see a trailer for The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then The Bigfoot, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UkP4bZKCHE8

Black


Film Review by Kam Williams


Traffic Stop Death Triggers Revolt in Black Lives Matter Drama

Joseph Grant (Toussaint Morrison) was riding in a car with his brother Cole (Malick Ceesay) and BFF Derek (Geoff Briley) one afternoon when they suddenly found themselves being tailed by a police cruiser. Although they hadn't violated any rules of the road, they were inexplicably pulled over by a couple of overly zealous cops (Addison Pennington and Matt Cedarberg), ostensibly for merely “driving while black.” 
 
Sitting in the back seat, Cole asked the officers for an explanation for the stop, if they weren't being profiled. Their response was that he matched the description of a suspect they were looking for. 
 
After being asked for his ID and ordered him out of the car, Cole lost his temper. The next thing you know, he wound up on the ground with a pistol to his head. And the bigot with a badge in control of whether he lived or died yelled, “What you looking at boy?” before callously pulling the trigger.

Witnessing the senseless shooting of his only brother leaves Joe traumatized and Derek is understandably shaken, too. But the two have distinctly different feelings about what to do next. 
 
The former has no faith in the criminal justice system, given the long history of police being found not guilty for the deaths of unarmed African-Americans. So, he would just like to get some guns, recruit an army, and lead a violent revolution against the U.S. 
 
By contrast, Derek is interested in mounting a traditional protest, like a Black Lives Matter march. After all, he has no confidence Joe will be able to find any followers, especially since blacks are so brainwashed they mostly kill only other blacks, not whites. The ensuing debate of how to respond to Cole's untimely demise sits at the center of Black, a thought-provoking morality play written and directed by David J. Buchanan. 
 
Besides the badinage between the buddies, the film intermittently takes a break from the drama for brief, revealing tete-a-tetes with real-life black folks about their first encounters in life with the cops. The heartfelt recollections shared in these mini-documentaries combine to paint a widespread pattern of discrimination and abuse on the part of the police.

A compelling polemic revolving around a grief-stricken sibling's relentlessly making his case, like a latter-day Nat Turner, for armed insurrection!

 
Excellent (4 stars)
Unrated
Running time: 80 minutes
Production Studio: BLACK Productions
Studio: We-Co Films

To see a trailer for Black, visit: https://vimeo.com/281669294

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Cold Pursuit

Film Review by Kam Williams


Grieving Dad Goes Vigilante in Remake of Gruesome, Norwegian Crime Thriller

Nels Coxman (Liam Neeson) is Kehoe, Colorado's most reliable snowplow driver. He was recently named the popular ski resort area's “Citizen of the Year” for keeping its treacherous mountain roads clear during the blizzards which routinely threaten to disrupt the town's tourist season. 
 
Not used to making public appearances before an audience, the shy civil servant needs some help from his wife (Laura Dern) dressing and preparing an acceptance speech. Unfortunately, tragedy strikes the night of the awards dinner when their son (Micheál Richardson) dies of a drug overdose in nearby Denver.

After identifying the body at the morgue, Grace (“We didn't know our own son.”) is inclined to accept the police explanation that Kyle had been a heroin addict. But hubby Nels (“Kyle wasn't a druggie!”) is very skeptical, since the kid had no history of drug use and had been gainfully employed as a baggage handler at Kehoe's airport at the time of his demise. 
 
So, the grieving dad decides to do a little digging on his own and soon discovers that Dante (Wesley MacInnes), a co-worker of Kyle's, had stolen a kilo of cocaine from a drug cartel. As it turns out, Kyle was ostensibly murdered in a case of mistaken identity on orders from a kingpin known as Viking (Tom Bateman).

That's little consolation to Nels who suddenly becomes blinded by rage. The mild-mannered pillar of the community morphs into a sadistic spree killer determined to track down the powerful mobster who ordered the hit on his boy. However, Viking has an army of minions running interference, which means Nels must negotiate a perilous gauntlet en route to his well-protected target.

Thus unfolds Cold Pursuit, a riveting vigilante thriller directed by Hans Petter Moland. The movie is a faithful, English-language adaptation of In Order of Disappearance, a gratuitous gorefest which Moland made in his native Norway in 2014. This equally-gruesome remake similarly veers back and forth between slaughter and slapstick, never fully committing to comedy or drama. 
 
Whether we're supposed to laugh at or recoil from the escalating body count, Cold Pursuit, at heart, is a wanton splatterflick certain to satiate the bloodlust of fans of the genre.


Very Good (3 stars)
Rated R for profanity, drug use, sexual references and graphic violence
Running time: 118 minutes
Production Company: Paradox Films / StudioCanal
Distributor: Lionsgate / Summit Entertainment

To see a trailer for Cold Pursuit, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0phuNQQ_gHI




Monday, February 4, 2019

Kam's Kapsules for movies opening February 8, 2019

 
Weekly Previews That Make Choosing a Film Fun  
by Kam Williams


OPENING THIS WEEK

WIDE RELEASES


Cold Pursuit (R for profanity, drug use, sexual references and graphic violence) English language adaptation of In Order of Disappearance, the 2014 Norwegian crime thriller about a snow plow driver-turned-vigilante's (Liam Neeson) hunt for the cocaine kingpin (Tom Bateman) responsible for his son's (Micheál Richardson) murder. With Emmy Rossum, Laura Dern and William Forsythe.



The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part (PG for rude humor) Animated musical adventure finds the citizens of Bricksburg facing a new threat, namely, invaders from outer space. Voice cast includes Will Arnett, Tiffany Haddish, Alison Brie, Chris Pratt and Elizabeth Banks.



The Prodigy (R for violence, disturbing images, a sexual reference and brief graphic nudity) Jackson Robert Scott stars as the title character in this horror flick about a young genius whose mother (Taylor Schilling) takes him to a therapist (Paula Boudreau) when she suspects he's become possessed by a demonic supernatural force. With Colm Feore, Brittany Allen and Peter Mooney.



What Men Want (R for drug use and pervasive profanity and sexuality) Romantic comedy about a female sports agent (Taraji P. Henson) who gains a competitive edge over her male colleagues when she develops the ability to hear men's thoughts. Ensemble cast includes Tracy Morgan, Wendi McClendon-Covey, Shaquille O'Neal, Erykah Badu, Kellan Lutz, Aldis Hodge and Mark Cuban.




INDEPENDENT & FOREIGN FILMS


Chokehold (Unrated) Action thriller about an MMA fighter (Melissa Croden) who stops training for a title fight to avenge the murder of her father by Russian mobsters. With Casper Van Dien, Lochlyn Munro and Kip Pardue.


Everybody Knows (R for profanity) Introspective drama about a married woman (Penelope Cruz) who rendezvous with an ex-boyfriend (Javier Bardem) to reminisce about what might have been when she returns to her tiny hometown without her husband (Ricardo Darin) for her younger sister's (Inma Cuesta) wedding. With Eduard Fernandez, Barbara Lennie and Elvira Minguez. (In Spanish, English and Catalan with subtitles)


Jimi Hendrix: Electric Church (Unrated) Reverential rockumentary featuring concert footage of Hendrix's historic performance in front of 300,000 fans at the Atlanta Pop Festival staged on July 4, 1970 at the Middle Georgia Raceway. Includes commentary by Paul McCartney, Billy Cox and Steve Winwood.


The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then The Bigfoot (Unrated) Sam Elliott plays the title character in this action adventure as Hitler's assassin who finds himself recruited by the U.S. government decades later to track down the legendary Bigfoot deep in the Canadian wilderness. Supporting cast includes Larry Miller, Aidan Turner and Ron Livingston.


St. Agatha (Unrated) Horror flick, set in Georgia in 1957, about a pregnant con artist (Sabrina Kern) who takes refuge at a convent only to learn that its Mother Superior (Carolyn Hennesy) has a twisted agenda. Featuring Courtney Halverson, Seth Michaels and Trin Miller.


Under the Eiffel Tower (Unrated) Midlife crisis comedy about a 50 year-old guy (Matt Walsh) who proposes to his BFF's daughter (Dylan Gelula) half his age after tagging along on their family's Paris vacation. With Reid Scott, David Wan and Gary Cole.


Top Ten DVD List for February 5, 2019

by Kam Williams


This Week's DVD Releases 

The Girl in the Spider's Web

A Private War

800 Words: Season 3, Part 2

Charly [Special Edition]

Kotch

Paw Patrol: Pawsome Collection

The Grinch

Blaze and the Monster Machines: Robot Riders

Grand-Daddy Day Care

Peter Rabbit: Springtime Collection


Honorable Mention

Electric Love

The Golem