The Birth of a Nation

Film Review by Kam Williams  





Reverential Biopic Revisits Life of Infamous Slave Revolt Leader Nat Turner (Nate Parker) was born into slavery on October 2, 1800 on a sprawling plantation located in Southampton County, Virginia. There, as a precocious child, he exhibited a thirst for knowledge at an early age and learned to read the Bible with the help of his masters, Samuel (Armie Hammer) and Elizabeth Turner (Penelope Ann Miller). The couple simultaneously shielded him from the brutality of the evil institution by granting him the privilege of living and working in the mansion rather than having to toil in the cotton fields alongside his mother (Aunjanue Ellis) and grandmother (Esther Scott).


Nat grew up a deeply-religious boy, and was turned into a traveling preacher tasked with spreading the word of God to fellow slaves from neighboring towns. In that capacity, his job was to keep the masses of oppressed African-Americans content with their miserable lot in life by reciting scriptural passages like "Submit yourselves to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle, but also to the cruel." (1 Peter 2:18)


However, the more he witnessed the atrocities associated with slavery, the more outraged he became. And by the time he reached adulthood, he'd not only become convinced that it was evil, but he'd started surreptitiously quoting Biblical verses supporting that conclusion, such as "Do not become slaves of men." (1 Corinthians 7:23)


Nat subsequently had a miraculous vision in which he was directly ordered by God to set his people free. That transformative moment would serve as the inspiration for a bloody insurrection which would begin with the slaying of his masters and ultimately claim about 60 more white slave owner lives.


All of the above is graphically depicted in The Birth of a Nation, a reverential biopic marking the impressive directorial debut of Nate Parker (The Great Debaters). Nate also co-wrote the script and stars here, as Nat Turner, in a revisionist period piece which effectively recasts as a hero an infamous slave revolt leader previously denigrated by history because of his resort to violence.


This compelling drama landed both the Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Award at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival, and had emerged as the prohibitive Best Picture Academy Award favorite until buzz about Mr. Parker's having been accused of rape while in college went viral across the blogosphere. Nevertheless, judging The Birth of a Nation strictly on the merits, it undeniably deserved its previous status as a prime Oscar contender.


An emotionally-unsettling alternate version of a controversial chapter in America's slave legacy!



Excellent (4 stars)

Rated R for brief nudity and disturbing violence

Running time: 120 minutes

Distributor: Fox Searchlight Pictures


To see a trailer for The Birth of a Nation, visit:


Deepwater Horizon

Film Review by Kam Williams  





Spectacular Disaster Flick Depicts Real-Life Events Surrounding BP Oil Spill


On April 20, 2010, the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig, located 41 miles off the coast of Louisiana, exploded when high-pressure methane gas blew out the drill pipe. 11 members of the crew perished in the ensuing fiery inferno which engulfed the platform.

The accident also caused the worst oil spill in U.S. history, with over 200 million gallons of crude leaking into the Gulf of Mexico by the time the well was finally capped 86 days later. At that point, authorities turned their attention to the question of who was to blame for the mammoth ecological disaster.

There was no shortage of potential villains to sort through, given that the drilling unit had been built in South Korea, was owned by Transocean Limited, a Swiss company, operated under the flag of the Marshall Islands, was leased to British Petroleum (BP) but maintained by Halliburton, an American field service corporation, and serviced by Schlumberger, a Dutch company. Ultimately, the bulk of the blame would be attributed to BP, which would be found guilty of gross negligence and pay billions of dollars in damages to thousands of aggrieved parties.

Directed by Peter Berg (Battleship), Deepwater Horizon revisits the infamous incident primarily from the perspective of the rig's Chief Electronics Technician, Mike Williams. The picture reunites Berg with Mark Wahlberg with whom he previously collaborated on Lone Survivor.

Wahlberg plays Williams, a working-class hero of unquestioned integrity. As the film unfolds, we find him bidding adieu to his family before departing for a 21-day tour on the Horizon. If only Mike had heeded warning signs like his wife's (Kate Hudson) premonitions and his daughter Sydney's (Stella Allen) science project with a Coke can geyser gone kabluey, he might have had the good sense to call in sick.

The same could be said of his colleague Andrea Fleytas (Gina Rodriguez), a mechanic who couldn't get her car started that same morning. Even the helicopter ferrying them to work experienced an ominous bird strike en route to the platform. And upon landing, they're greeted by a pal with a macabre skull-and-crossbones emblazoned on his hard hat.

Of far more significance are Don Vidrine (John Malkovich) and Bob Kaluza (Brad Leland), the bigwig BP bureaucrats who begin bullying their employees from the minute the chopper lands on the deck. This clueless pair of villains prove willing to put profits before any safety concerns, so it's no surprise when the platform's unstable drill pipe pops its cork.

The spectacular, pyrotechnic calamity which follows affords Mike an opportunity not only to play hero in a sea of fire but to later shame the cowardly culprits responsible in court. A harrowing tale of survival topped off by justice duly being served. What more could you ask for from an action-oriented morality play?


Excellent (4 stars)

Rated PG-13 for intense action sequences, disturbing images and brief profanity

Running time: 107 minutes

Distributor: Lionsgate Films


To see a trailer for Deepwater Horizon, visit:

The Magnificent Seven

Film Review by Kam Williams  






Denzel Reunites with Fuqua in Worthy Overhaul of Kurosawa Classic

Directed by the legendary Akira Kurosawa in 1954, Seven Samurai was a groundbreaking film which had a profound influence on the evolution of cinema for generations to come. Superficially, that seminal work merely reads like a martial arts epic set in 16th Century Japan. Yet, over the years, it has spawned a cottage industry of knockoffs trading in the picture's novel narrative revolving around a rag-tag team of selfless heroes recruited in service of some lofty goal.

In 1960, Seven Samurai was remade as The Magnificent Seven, a sprawling Western co-starring Steve McQueen, Yul Brynner, Charles Bronson, Eli Wallach, Robert Vaughn and James Coburn. Today, that classic has been refreshed by Antoine Fuqua in an outing reuniting the director with Denzel Washington following successful collaborations on The Equalizer (2014) and Training Day (2001) for which the latter won an Academy Award.

This incarnation of The Magnificent Seven does feature a few variations on the theme. For example, the picture's dastardly bad guy is now an avaricious white man intent on seizing a mining town's gold instead of a Mexican bandito simply staging a series of border raids. And the good guys enlisted to engage the greedy gringo are a politically-correct, rainbow coalition reflecting every ethnicity.

Otherwise, the essence of the original plot remains intact. As the film unfolds, we find the folks in the frontier settlement of Rose Creek living in fear of Bartholomew Bogue and his gang of marauders. Bogue is your stereotypical, bloodthirsty villain, straight out of central casting, played to perfection by Peter Sarsgaard.

It is established early on just how low the diabolical Bogue will stoop to achieve his evil ends, between murdering an innocent woman and burning the church to the ground. That makes the arrival of bounty hunter Sam Chisolm (Washington) all the more welcome by the time the exasperated and intimidated local yokels are at their collective wit's end.

They also have no idea that Chisolm isn't merely motivated by altruism but has his own revenge-fueled reason to tangle with Bogue. Regardless, once deputized, the gunslinger proceeds to assemble a motley crew composed of a Civil War vet suffering from shell shock (Ethan Hawke), a hard-drinking bombmaker (Chris Pratt), a gruff mountain man (Vincent D'Onofrio), a Chicano outlaw (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo), a crack Comanche archer (Martin Sensmeier) and a knife-throwing, Asian assassin (Byung-hun Lee).

Don't expect any deeply-developed characters and you won't be disappointed. It's all about the inexorable march to the big showdown during which the heroes will obviously even the score, and then some. The Wild, Wild West revisited as an ethnically-diverse fantasy land Hollywood has never imagined before!


Excellent (4 stars)

Rated PG-13 for intense violence, smoking, profanity and suggestive material

Running time: 132 minutes

Distributor: Sony Pictures


To see a trailer for The Magnificent Seven, visit:


Film Review by Kam Williams  






Joseph Gordon-Levitt Plays Infamous Whistleblower in Reverential, Cloak-and-Dagger Drama


Earlier this year, the film Citizenfour won the Academy Award in the Best Documentary category. But given how the movie made less than $4 million worldwide, one might reasonably conclude that the details of Edward Snowden's (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) dump of National Security Agency documents remains substantially unknown.

This is ostensibly the thinking of three-time Oscar-winner Oliver Stone (for Platoon and Born on the Fourth of July) in turning the story into a cloak-and-dagger drama about the NSA whistleblower-turned-fugitive's leak of classified information before going into hiding from the U.S. government. The movie unfolds in June of 2013 in the Hong Kong hotel room where Snowden met with journalists Glenn Greenwald (Zachary Quinto) and Ewen Macaskill (Tom Wilkinson) along with Laura Poitras (Melissa Leo), the eventual director of Citizenfour.

We learn that following four days of interviews, Greenwald published his first story in the British daily newspaper, The Guardian. The Pulitzer Prize-winning series related in stunning detail the extent of NSA surveillance of American citizens in direct contradiction of a recent denial uttered under oath to Congress by James Clapper, the nation's Director of National Intelligence.

Because the articles identified Snowden as the source of the information, he immediately became the subject of an intense international manhunt. He somehow managed to slip through the dragnet and boarded a commercial airliner bound for Moscow, despite the fact that his passport had been revoked and the U.S. had requested his extradition from Hong Kong.

Upon landing in Russia, Edward was awarded temporary asylum and he has languished there ever since. Lucky for him, this movie has revived interest in his case, inspiring him to recently make a public appeal for clemency.

But a presidential pardon is unlikely to be forthcoming, even though President Obama considered the apprehension of the "29 year old-hacker" a very low priority back in June of '13. So today, Snowden remains a fugitive from justice charged in absentia with theft, espionage and conversion of government property.

Via a variety of empathetic flashbacks, we are informed by the film that Edward was a high school dropout who suffers from epilepsy. He also enjoys a very loving, enduring relationship with Lindsay Mills (Shailene Woodley), the loyal girlfriend who followed him from Virginia to Hawaii to Moscow. More importantly, the movie establishes Edward as so patriotic he was willing to jeopardize his future to sound the alarm about the surreptitious NSA's widespread violations of our Constitutional rights.

Congrats to Oliver Stone for crafting a reverential biopic which convincingly repositions a supposed traitor as an altruistic hero of the highest order. Excellent (3.5 stars)

Rated R for profanity, sexuality and nudity

in English and Russian with subtitles

Running time: 138 minutes

Distributor: Open Road Films


To see a trailer for Snowden, visit:


Mr. Church

Film Review by Kam Williams  





Eddie Murphy Portrays Selfless Chef in Poignant Period Piece

Marie Brody (Natascha McElhone) was told she only had half-a-year to live when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1965. But, not wanting to upset her daughter, she initially hid the fact that she was terminally-ill from 10 year-old Charlotte (Natalie Coughlin).

Marie's recently-deceased boyfriend did her a big favor by providing in his will for a chef (Eddie Murphy) who'd prepare all of her meals until the day she she died. So, you can imagine Charlie's shock the day a mysterious black man knocks on the door and announces he's their new full-time cook.

Initially, Marie balks at the intrusion, given how Mr. Church never bothers to measure his ingredients or use utensils besides a fork and knife while at work in the kitchen. Plus, some of his exotic dishes, like hominy grits, certainly take a little getting used to.

Church nevertheless attempts to ingratiate himself by extending his daily duties beyond the culinary, happily serving as a surrogate father to Charlie and as a home health aide to her mom. Marie gradually warms to the stranger when he whets her thirst for knowledge by bringing over classic books by literary greats like Shakespeare, Thomas Hardy and Edith Wharton. More importantly, Marie proceeds to outlive her doctor's death sentence, and a term of employment that was supposed to last merely for months stretches into the next decade.

That is the poignant premise of Mr. Church, a bittersweet period piece directed by two-time Oscar-nominee Bruce Beresford (for Tender Mercies and Breaker Morant). The picture's semi-autobiographical screenplay was inspired by the life of its scriptwriter, Susan McMartin.

The film works to the extent one is able to scale a couple of high hurdles placed in your path. First, you have to buy into the idea of perennial funnyman Eddie Murphy playing a serious role. Second, one must be willing to stomach yet another, stereotypical "Magical Negro" character, meaning a selfless, African-American more concerned with the welfare of a white person than with his or her own needs.

Additionally, a few of the plot developments are a little farfetched. For instance, have you ever heard of anybody saving up enough money to pay for college by clipping coupons? Neither have I.

Overall, a mildly-recommended period piece, provided you're prepared to take seriously the same Eddie Murphy who kept you in stitches as Buckwheat in that hilarious Saturday Night Live skit. Otay?



Good (2 stars)

Rated PG-13 for mature themes

Running time: 105 minutes

Distributor: Cinelou Releasing


To see a trailer for Mr. Church, visit:

In Order of Disappearance

Film Review by Kam Williams  




  Grieving Father Turns Vigilante in Grisly Revenge Thriller

Nils Dickman (Stellan Skarsgard) had no idea his son Ingvar (Aron Eskeland) was a heroin addict until the day the young man was murdered by acouple of ruthless dealers who made it look like an overdose. Rather than take the loss lying down, the deceased's grieving dad decides to track down not only the killers but also the drug kingpin (Pal Sverre Hagen) who ordered the hit.

As it turns out, The Count has a slew of sidekicks running interference for him. But surprisingly, an army of goons prove to be no match for Nils, a mild-mannered milquetoast who was recently-crowned "Man of the Year" for servings as his town's reliable snowplow driver. Somehow, he morphs into a merciless vigilante who has no qualms about slaying all the henchmen standing between him and the elusive crime boss.

Thus unfolds In Order of Disappearance, a grisly revenge thriller directed by Norway's Hans Petter Moland. The movie reunites Moland with Stellan Skarsgard with whom he first collaborated in 2010 on A Somewhat Gentle Man.

This picture walks a fine line between macabre drama and dark comedy, given how the vindictive protagonist takes to butchery as the attrition rate.escalates. Then, when warned that he'll have to take on a vicious gang of Serbs along the way, Nils even enlists the assistance of his estranged, ex-con brother (Peter Andersson).

Fortunately, The Count has a son, Rune (Jack Sodahl Moland), who could conveniently come in handy as irresistible bait if successfully kidnapped from school. That ploy might finally flush his diabolical dad out of hiding, allowing for a satisfying evening of the score during a decidedly gruesome resolution.

A Scandinavian splattefest staining the snow-capped mountainsides of an otherwise-breathtaking Norwegian wonderland!


Very Good (3 stars)

Rated R for graphic violence and pervasive profanity

In Norwegian, Swedish, Danish, English, Serbian and German with subtitles

Running time: 117 minutes

Distributor: Magnet Releasing


To see a trailer for In Order of Disappearance, visit:


Film Review by Kam Williams  





Hanks Plays Hero Pilot in Riveting Reenactment of the Miracle on the Hudson


US Airways Flight 1549 had barely taken off from New York's LaGuardia Airport on the afternoon of January, 15, 2009 when it sighted Canada geese flying in its path at about 2,800 feet. The Airbus 320 was unable to avoid the flock and the ensuing strike disabled both of its engines.

At that point, Captain Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger immediately took control of the powerless plane from co-pilot Jeff Skiles (Aaron Eckhart) and informed the tower of his dire predicament. After weighing his options in the next few seconds, Sully ignored air traffic controller Patrick Harten's (Patch Darragh) suggestion to return to LaGuardia in favor of the fateful decision to ditch the crippled jet in the Hudson River.

Thanks to a combination of calm seas and the veteran Captain's years of experience as both a glider pilot and flight safety instructor, the plane managed to make a smooth landing without triggering a fire or disintegrating upon impact. Instead, the 155 souls aboard found themselves simply floating downstream as the cabin slowly filled with icy water.

Sully ordered his passengers and crew to disembark into the inflatable life rafts and onto the wings where they were soon rescued by the commercial ferries and emergency vessels rushing to the scene. Amazingly, not a single life was lost in the crash quickly dubbed the "Miracle on the Hudson."

Directed by Clint Eastwood, Sully revolves around not only a reenactment of the death-defying stunt but around the subsequent investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board. What we learn here is that while Captain Sullenberger was publicly being celebrated as a national hero under an avalanche of positive press, the wisdom of his water landing was simultaneously being questioned behind closed doors by the NTSB's brass.

It seems that the specialists assigned to investigate the matter suspected that the missing Flight 1549 engine sitting at the bottom of the sea might have been operational, meaning the plane could have been brought down on terra firma without incident. If this were the case, then a reprimand rather than acclaim would be in order for Sully. Ultimately, divers did locate the left engine, thereby enabling the government bureaucrats to belatedly confirm that the second-guessed skipper did deserve his many accolades after all.

Kudos to the team of Clint Eastwood and Tom Hanks for successfully conveying the enviable amalgam of guts, smarts and stoicism exhibited by level-headed Captain Sullenberger in the face of impending demise. Pack the Kleenex, if you plan to stick around for the film's closing credits featuring an oh so sweet reunion of the real-life Sully and many of the grateful folks whose lives he saved.


Excellent (4 stars)

Rated PG-13 for peril and brief profanity

Running time: 96 minutes

Distributor: Warner Brothers Pictures


To see a trailer for Sully, visit:


Film Review by Kam Williams  





Teen Tries to Retrieve Stolen Sneakers in Gritty Inner-City Saga

Brandon (Jahking Guillory) saved up for a pricey pair of Air Jordan, only to suffer the utter humiliation of having them stolen right off his feet at gunpoint by a gang of ghetto predators. Thus arrives a moment of truth for the nerdy 15 year-old who finds himself stuck at an unpleasant station in life where he's not only routinely picked on by his peers but absolutely ignored by the opposite sex to boot.

Should he simply shrug off this latest dis as merely another cold reminder of what life is like in the 'hood for any kid that isn't macho, or is he finally mature enough to exact a measure of revenge on Flaco (Kofi Siriboe), the pompous perpetrator who'd seized the sneakers as a gift for a son (Michael Smith, Jr.)? Believe it or not, that is the sum and substance of the dilemma which fuels the fire of Kicks, a super-realistic, inner-city saga marking the memorable directorial debut of Justin Tipping.

This earthy, slice-of-life flick convincingly captures the anomie and sense of desperation which might help explain why so many black youths opt to murder each other over seemingly trivial slights nowadays. While this story unfolds against the barren backdrop of Oakland's exoskeleton, it could just as easily be taking place in such equally-godforsaken environs as latter-day Chicago, Baltimore, Newark, St. Louis, New Orleans or Detroit.

Before Brandon embarks on his hunt for Flaco, he enlists the assistance of his BFFs Albert (Christopher Wallace, Jr) and Rico (Christopher Meyer). They prove to be game and, for some reason that is never broached, theirs is a lawless world devoid of the option of approaching police or parents to intervene on their behalf.

A tentative tale of woe every bit as bleak as it is hopeful that there's an exit at the other end of a disturbingly dystopic tunnel. Excellent (4 stars)

Rated R for pervasive profanity,drug and alcohol abuse, sexuality and violence, all involving teens.

Running time: 87 minutes

Studio: Animal Kingdom

Distributor: Focus World To see a trailer for Kicks, visit:


Film Review by Kam Williams  





Jackie Chan Teams with Johnny Knoxville for Familiar Unlikely-Buddies Flick Jackie Chan made dozens of martial arts movies in his native Hong Kong prior to finding phenomenal success stateside in 1998 co-starring with Chris Tucker in the buddy-comedy Rush Hour. Their pairing as unlikely-partners proved so popular that they returned to the well to shoot a couple of sequels in Rush Hour 2 and Rush Hour 3. And Jackie further milked the familiar formula in outings opposite Owen Wilson in Shanghai Noon and Shanghai Knights.

Despite being perhaps a little long-in-the-tooth to still be doing such stunt-driven adventures, the sixty-something matinee idol is back with Skiptrace, a slight variation on the theme co-starring Johnny Knoxville. Knoxville is known for Jackass, the TV and film franchise in which he and a coterie of deranged confederates perform an array of death-defying feats.

Here, he reprises some of his greatest hits, like rolling down the street in a barrel. The same can be said of Chan, as so many of the picture's chase and fight sequences have a feeling of deja vu about them. Nevertheless, a treat is in store for the unintiated, especially youngsters who've never seen either of these leads ply his trade before.

In Skiptrace, Jackie plays Hong Kong detective Benny Chan, and Johnny co-stars as Connor Watts, an American gambler on the run from a Russian casino owner (Charlie Rawes) he fleeced to the tune of a million dollars. At the point of departure, Benny's partner Yung (Eric Tsang) is murdered by a mysterious mobster known as The Matador, and he makes it his mission to bring the creep to justice.

Meanwhile, half a world away, Johnny just happens to witness the kidnapping of Yung's daughter Samantha (Bingbing Fan). So, that makes him invaluable to Benny when the two subsequently cross paths, as much as the detective dislikes the idea of cooperating with a slippery con man.

Directed by Renny Harlin (Die Hard 2), Skiptrace overall is a globe-trotting affair which unfolds at a dizzying pace in the course of visiting a variety of ports-of-call all across the planet. The multi-layered whodunit eventually builds to a big showdown at Kai Tak Cruise Terminal back in Hong Kong, where the case is very satisfactorily resolved.

Though he's certainly no Chris Tucker, Johnny Knoxville does prove a decent enough accomplice for Jackie Chan's endearing combination of antics and acrobatics.

Good (2 stars)

Rated PG-13 for violence, suggestive content, profanity, drug use and brief nudity

Running time: 107 minutes

Distributor: Saban Films


To see a trailer for Skiptrace, visit:

Hands of Stone

Film Review by Kam Williams  





Career of Boxing Legend Roberto Duran Revisited in Revisionist Tale of Redemption

Roberto Duran (Edgar Ramirez) is considered by most fight experts to be, pound-for-pound, one of the greatest boxers of all time. The intimidating icon earned his nickname "Hands of Stone" by virtue of his prodigious displays of punching power.

Born in Panama in 1951, Roberto exhibited promise from the moment he first entered the ring at the age of 8. He turned pro at 16 and assumed the World Lightweight title at Madison Square Garden in 1972 after Ken Buchanan (John Duddy) failed to answer the bell for the 14th round. Roberto went on to knock out over 50 foes en route to compiling an impressive 62-1 record as a lightweight before moving up in weight class.

By the time he retired in 2002, Roberto would also hold the world welterweight, light middleweight and middleweight titles. But despite that incredible feat, he appears fated to be best remembered for crying "No mas!" before quitting midway through his Welterweight World Championship rematch with Sugar Ray Leonard (Usher Raymond). And although he would eventually return to the ring, that one display of cowardice effectively overshadowed his sizable subsequent achievements.

Written and directed by Jonathan Jakubowicz (Secuestro Express), Hands of Stone is a reverential biopic which humanizes Roberto while putting a positive spin on his indelible stain. This version of his story blames Duran's failing on his parasitic manager, Carlos Eleta (Ruben Blades), as well as on pressure from the big fight's promoter, Don King (Reg E. Cathey).

Here, we're treated to the backstage specter of a burnt-out Roberto bemoaning his being exploited. "I worked all my life. I didn't have any fun, when I was a kid." Truth be told, not only did he begin boxing young, but he married at an early age, too, 17. And his wife Felicidad (Ana de Armas) was only 14 when they tied the knot. FYI, the couple went on to have 8 children and are still together 47 years later.

If the movie has a flaw, it's in the fight scenes which leave a lot to be desired. Anyone expecting cinema verite on the order of Rocky or Raging Bull, for which Robert De Niro won an Academy Award in 1981, is destined to be disappointed.

Speaking of De Niro, he plays the legendary Ray Arcel who came out of retirement over death threats from the Mafia to train a teenaged Duran. Before you can say "Burgess Meredith," he whips the promising protege into fighting shape, and it's just a matter of time before his diamond in the rough's rags-to-riches dream becomes a reality.

A touching, revisionist tale of redemption presenting the sensitive side of a pulverizing pugilist.


Very Good (3 stars)

Rated R for sexuality, nudity and pervasive profanity

In English and Spanish with subtitles

Running time: 105 minutes

Distributor: The Weinstein Company


To see a trailer for Hands of Stone, visit:

Southside with You

Film Review by Kam Williams  





Inspirational Biopic Revisits Barack and Michelle Very First Date


Who would ever think of making a movie just about Barack (Parker Sawyers) and Michelle Obama's (Tika Sumpter) first date? Richard Tanne would, that's who, and he makes an impressive directorial debut with this inspirational biopic chronicling a very eventful day in the lives of the future President and First Lady.

The story unfolds in Chicago during the summer of 1989 when Michelle was already employed as an attorney and living back home with her parents (Vanessa Bell Calloway and Phillip Edwad Van Lear). Barack had just finished his first year at Harvard law school and had landed an internship as her assistant at her prestigious, white-shoe firm.

Apparently, he was so instantly smitten with Michelle that he could barely contain himself. So, she had to politely remind him of the the office's strict rule against fraternizing among associates. Nevertheless, when she refused to consider a romantic rendezvous, he pitched her on the idea of attending a business meeting with him.

Once Michelle grudgingly agrees, Barack arrives late, yet is too cocky to be embarrassed about either his tardiness or the gaping hole in the floor of his rusty jalopy. What the skeptical object of his affection doesn't know is that he has added a picnic, a museum and a movie to their planned itinerary.

Again, Michelle balks, but consents only after reminding her self-assured suitor that "This is not a date." Nevertheless, the smooth-talking chain smoker presses on with his own agenda, with the Art Institute of Chicago being their first port-of-call. And while perusing paintings by the legendary Ernie Barnes, Barack began broaching personal subjects.

The two continued to get to know each other over sandwiches in the park, with the discussion touching on everything from family to faith to blackness to the meaning of life. So, Michelle had a decent measure of the man by the time they headed to the South Side rec center where Barack had once worked as a community organizer.

The icing on the cake proves to be an inspirational speech that's nothing short of presidential which he delivers there to the discouraged denizens of the crumbling 'hood. Michelle's floodgates finally open, undoubtedly helped along by one woman's (Deanna Reed Foster) approval of her as the first sister she's ever seen Barack with. Next thing you know, the two lovebirds head to the theater to see Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing, before capping off the evening with a little canoodling while sharing an ice cream cone.

Southside with You is a syrupy soap opera readily recommended for ardent Obama admirers. The predictable love story has a tendency to telegraph its punches, since its familiar plotline sticks to what's already public knowledge. Overall, this plausible account of the blossoming of love between Barack and Michelle serves up a pleasant, if sanitized version of their romantic launch en route to an historic rendezvous with destiny!


Very Good (3 stars)

PG-13 for smoking, a violent image, brief profanity and a drug reference

Running time: 84 minutes

Distributor: Miramax / Roadside Attractions

To see a trailer for Southside with You, visit:


Southside with You 3


Morris from America

Film Review by Kam Williams  







Awkward African-American Teen Adjusts to Germany in Bittersweet Coming-of-Age Dramedy


It's hard being Morris Gentry (Markees Christmas) just now. The lonely 13 year-old is not only mourning the loss of his late mother, but is having a difficult time adjusting to life in Germany. He had to leave his hometown of Richmond and pals behind when his father (Craig Robinson) landed a job in Heidelberg as a professional soccer coach.

Now, the troubled youngster finds himself in the awkward position of being the only black kid in a school where classmates have stereotypical expectations of him as an African-American. For instance, they are surprised that he isn't any good at basketball or dancing.

At least he does consider himself an aspiring gangsta rapper, although the only person he can impress is his father, since he only performs in English. But even his translated words would probably sound out of place so far removed from the ghetto, given how he writes lyrics about, "[F-word]-ing all the bitches two at a time. all you can take for $10.99."

Despite getting daily German lessons from a tutor (Carla Juri), Morris fails to make new friends, and stoically asserts that he doesn't need any in the same macho manner that he spits out his rhymes. Yet, under that tough facade, is a sensitive kid who wants to fit in and even has a crush on a girl a couple years older.

Katrin (Lina Keller) can't help but notice and, flattered by the attention, she invites Morris to hang with her crowd, a rebellious lot that dabbles in drugs and alcohol. He accepts the overture, though he initially doesn't know that the object of his affection already has a boyfriend. That means she's more likely to remain a frustrating fantasy than a conquest he could boast about in his next song.

Written and directed by Chad Hartigan (This Is Martin Bonner), Morris from America is a bittersweet bildungsroman which never hits a false note. The character-driven dramedy revolves mostly around the very-convincing father-son relationship, featuring the talented Markees Christmas' big screen debut opposite funnyman Craig Robinson in his first serious lead role.

The support cast also acquits itself quite admirably, the upshot amounting to a poignant coming-of-age tale which resonates as realistic from its heartbreaking beginning clear through to a satisfying resolution.


Very Good (3 stars)

Rated R for sexuality, brief nudity, teen drug use and partying, and pervasive profanity

In English and German with subtitles

Running time: 91 minutes

Studio: Beachside Films

Distributor: A24


To see a trailer for Morris from America, visit:


Film Review by Kam Williams  






Faithful Remake of Oscar-Winning Classic Revisits Biblical Themes and Breakneck Chariot Race


It takes a lot of chutzpah to remake the Hollywood epic that won the most Academy Awards in history. But that's just what we have in Ben-Hur, a fairly-faithful version of the 1959 classic starring Charlton Heston.

The films are based on Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ, a novel published in 1880 which quickly surpassed Uncle Tom's Cabin as the best-selling American novel of all time. The book's author was Lew Wallace, a Civil War General who had led Union soldiers at the battle of Shiloh.

His inspirational tale of redemption's success was credited to the fact that its timely themes of family, freedom and patriotism helped unify a citizenry torn asunder by years of war and then Reconstruction. Its compassionate tone particularly appealed to Southerners, because of its sympathetic treatment of slave owners, encouraging resolution via reconciliation rather than revenge.

Directed by Timur Bekmambetov (Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter), this incarnation of Ben-Hur stars Jack Huston as the title character, although the supposed star is easily overshadowed by the film's narrator, Morgan Freeman, who enjoys a very expanded role as Ilderiim, a wealthy Nubian sheik.

The story is set in Jerusalem in the time of Christ (Rodrigo Santoro). As the the film unfolds, we find Prince Judah Ben-Hur living in the lap of luxury with his mother (Ayelet Zurer), sister Tirzah (Sofia Black D'Elia) and adopted brother Messala Severus (Toby Kebbell), an orphan taken in as a child by the altruistic noble clan. Judah also has a love interest, Esther ( Nazanin Boniadi), though her lowly slave status makes their marriage unlikely.

The plot thickens when the fully-grown Messala, by then a Roman soldier, unfairly fingers the Ben-Hur family for an act of treason perpetrated by Gestas (Moises Arias), one of the thieves crucified on Calvary alongside Jesus. Next thing you know, the family is separated and sold into slavery, and Judah ends up in chains, rowing in the galley of a warship.

Eventually, he gains his freedom, and starts searching for Esther, his sister and mom. Along the way, he finds religion and is afforded an opportunity to even the score with Massala in a chariot race at the Circus Maximus. in this regard, he's lucky to have wily old Ilderim in his corner, the best darn horse whisperer/charioteer trainer this side of the Tiber.

Distracting CGI mob scenes and heavy-handed sermonizing aside, Ben-Hur 2016 is nevertheless a very entertaining variation on the original that's well-worth the investment.

Excellent (4 stars)

Rated PG-13 for violence and disturbing images

Running time: 124 minutes

Distributor: Paramount Pictures To see a trailer for Ben-Hur, visit:


Hell or High Water

Film Review by Kam Williams  




Wily Texas Ranger Tracks Sibling Bank Robbers in Captivating Cat-and-Mouse Crime Thriller


Tanner (Ben Foster) and Toby Howard (Chris Pine) are siblings but about as different as night and day. The former is impulsive, reckless and sociopathic, a combination which helps explain why he's spent a long stretch in prison for a violent crime. By comparison, his younger brother is a relatively stable, sensitive and chivalrous soul.

While Tanner was behind bars, divorced Toby has divided his time between raising his two sons (John Paul Howard and Christopher W. Garcia) and caring for his terminally-ill mother. So, it's no surprise that upon his mom's recent demise, she cut that ne'er-do-well black sheep of the family out of her will entirely, leaving her sizable estate to her only honorable offspring.

Unfortunately, a shady loan officer (Richard Christie) had duped her into taking a reverse mortgage on her cattle ranch for a pittance. Consequently, a predatory lending institution is holding a lien on land which Toby has just learned is sitting atop a fortune in untapped oil reserves. But unless the note is paid off by Friday, Texas Midlands bank will follow through on its threat to foreclose, "Come hell or high water."

Toby wants to save the property and sign it over to his boys. Trouble is, he can't raise the cash. The dilemma has him considering breaking the law for the first time in his life.

Enlisting the assistance of his just-paroled brother, he hatches a plan to rob Texas Midlands branches until they've raised the amount needed to retire the debt. The two proceed to embark on a spree aimed solely at the avaricious institution that had taken advantage of their very vulnerable mom.

However, the heists soon come to the attention of the Texas Rangers, and the case is assigned to Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges) a wily old veteran weeks away from retirement. It's not long before he and his half-breed Comanche partner (Gil Birmingham) are on the pair's trail.

Thus unfolds Hell or High Water, a captivating, cat-and-mouse crime thriller directed by Brit David Mackenzie (Starred Up). Between Taylor Sheridan's (Sicario) engaging, character-driven script and a plethora of powerful performances by Jeff Bridges and company, this bona fide sleeper would be generating tons of Oscar buzz if it hadn't been released in the dog days of August.

A neo-noir masterpiece not to be missed!


Excellent (4 stars)

Rated R for graphic violence, pervasive profanity and brief sexuality

Running time: 102 minutes

Studio: Film 44 / Sidney Kimmel Entertainment / Lionsgate / OddLot Entertainment

Distributor: CBS Films


To see a trailer for Hell or High Water, visit:

The Angry Birds Movie

DVD Review by Kam Williams  





Animated Adaptation of Video Game App Arrives on DVD With over three billion downloads and counting, Angry Birds is the most popular app of all time. Nevertheless, one need not be familiar with the video game to enjoy this delightful animated adventure.

The kid-oriented cartoon was co-directed by Fergal Reilly and Clay Kaytis who make an auspicious debut with this silly comedy featuring enough sophisticated asides to keep adults thoroughly entertained, too. The frenetically-paced production arrives laced with witty one-liners (like "Something isn't Kosher about these pigs.") as well as a cornucopia of cute sight gags (such as a billboard for "Calvin Swine" underwear).

The story is set on idyllic Bird Island, a tropical paradise inhabited by a variety of very happy flightless birds. As the film unfolds, we're introduced to four exceptions to the rule who actually have trouble controlling their tempers. We find protagonist Red (Jason Sudeikis), along with Chuck (Josh Gad), Bomb (Danny McBride) and Terence (Sean Penn), attending an anger management class being taught by Matilda (Maya Rudolph), a former angry bird-turned therapist.

The plot thickens upon the arrival of a big boat containing a couple of ingratiating green pigs (Bill Hader and Tony Hale) claiming to be alone and explorers coming in peace. Truth be told, the pair have a hidden agenda about to be executed by their army of pigs.

After suckering the masses of gentle, gullible birds into letting down their guard, the diabolical invaders proceed to steal every hatched egg on the island before setting sail for home. Once, it's clear they've all been duped, the irritable quartet, led by Red, springs into action.

Because they can't fly, they soon realize their best chance of retrieving the eggs rests in enlisting the assistance of Mighty Eagle (Peter Dinklage), the only bird on the island who can. Trouble is, he's lazy and hasn't flown in ages. Of course, Red and company do eventually coax him out of retirement to join forces and help save the day

A kooky, kitchen sink comedy with lots of laughs for kids of all ages!


Very Good (3 stars)

Rated PG for action and rude humor

Running time: 97 minutes

Distributor: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack Extras: Bonus Scene: Chuck’s Rescue; Symphony Mode; Making Music! With Composer Heitor Pereira; Blake Shelton “Friends” Music Video; Photo Gallery; All-New Short: The Early Hatchling Gets the Worm; 3 More Hatchlings Shorts; deleted scenes; Crafty Birds – How to Build Your Own Piggy Tower; Dance Along Birds and Pigs; Creating the Real World of Angry Birds; Meet The Birds; Meet The Pigs; and Meet The Hatchlings.


To see a trailer for The Angry Birds Movie, visit:

To order a copy of The Angry Birds Movie on Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack, visit:

The Fight Within

Film Review by Kam Williams  





Born Again Boxer Torn between God and Ring in Touching Tale of Redemption


Logan (John Major Davis) and Mason (Mike H. Taylor) have been doing their best to move on with their lives since the death of their father (Dan Severn) a couple years ago from a heart attack. But that has proved easier said than done, since their dad, Rich "The Destroyer," had been the Mixed Martial Arts Heavyweight Champion.

Upon his retirement, Rich had opened a gym which he left in his will to both his sons. However, while Mason had been willing to assume the reins of the business, Logan found himself looking for something more meaningful in life, despite the fact that he'd exhibited promise as an MMA cage fighter.

In fact, he's the only person who'd ever beaten Hayden Dressler (Matt Leddo), the otherwise undefeated Middleweight Champ. And with Hayden aching to avenge that loss, a decent payday might be in the offing.

Nevertheless, Logan has turned a new leaf, between studying Ethics in college where he's made the acquaintance of Emma (Lelia Symington), a cute, Christian classmate from the other side of the tracks. She proudly wears her faith on her sleeve and talks freely about her calling to mission to orphans in Mozambique.

Between Emma's beguiling beauty and his curiosity about God, Logan finds himself falling for her hook, line and sinker. Soon, he's ready to leave the rough fight game, the only world he's ever known, behind.

Trouble is there's a big promoter willing to sponsor a rematch with Hayden who has been teasing him about being afraid to enter the ring with him again. Furthermore, Mason has hinted that he sure could use a share of the purse to stabilize the gym financially. Only after receiving sage advice from a homeless old man (Wesley Williams) about what Jesus would advise does Logan grudgingly agree to the showdown.

Thus unfolds The Fight Within, a faith-based variation on Rocky directed by Michael William Gordon. Although the movie doesn't really break any new ground in terms of romantic, overcoming-the-odds sports flicks, it remains recommended as Evangelical fare that's more entertaining than heavy-handed.

Solid proof that you can get the girl, the prize money and salvation, provided God's on your side.


Very Good (3 stars)

Rated PG-13 for sports violence and brief menacing

Running time: 90 minutes

Studio: New Life Cinema

Distributor: GVN Releasing


To see a trailer for The Fight Within, visit:

Sausage Party

Film Review by Kam Williams  





Groceries Seek Salvation in Raunchy Animated Comedy


Frank (Seth Rogen) finds himself frustrated sitting on a shelf at Shopwells supermarket where he's cooped up in a shrink-wrapped package with seven other sausages. They pass their time speculating about what awaits them in "The Great Beyond," meaning the vast unknown just past the cash register on the other side of the door.

They're all very eager to be bought because of an unfounded belief in a rumor that the store's customers transport their groceries to a heaven-like utopia to enjoy lives of neverending bliss. And Frank has another reason he wants to leave, namely, a crush on Brenda (Kristen Wiig), the curviest of the girly Glamour Buns.

Then, when they're all about to be purchased during the blowout 4th of July sale, Frank learns from a returned jar of Honey Mustard (Danny McBride) that they've been operating under a mistaken assumption all along. Truth be told, food simply gets taken home and devoured eaten by the humans.

So, Frank sounds the alarm, warning, "The Gods are evil and they kill us!" Unfortunately, the news falls mostly on deaf ears, since the majority of his friends are simply way too brainwashed to catch on and resist.

However, he and a few intrepid souls do question their blind faith and make a break for it, including Brenda, Sammy Bagel, Jr. (Edward Norton), Teresa the Taco (Salma Hayek), Lavash the Pita bread (David Krumholtz), Grits (Craig Robinson), Twinkies (Scott Underwood) and fellow sausages Barry (Michael Cera), Carl (Jonah Hill) and Troy (Anders Holm). What ensues is a rollicking, raunchy exploration of religion, sex and political issues from the perspective of these anthropomorphized, foul-mouthed grocery items.

For example, Middle East concerns are reflected in the bitter badinage over aisle space between the bagel and the pita bread, a thinly-veiled reference to Jewish and Palestinian tensions. Race in America is touched upon when Grits complains about "Crackers" in a tirade during which he bellows "They call me Mr. Grits!"

Still, most of this expletive-laced adventure is dedicated to the sort of sexual innuendo designed to titillate testosterone-sodden males. Frank's explicit flirtations with Brenda are actually matched by lesbian Teresa's equally-tawdry appeals ("I have crotch feeling for you!").

Co-directed by Greg Tiernan and Conrad Vernon, Sausage Party is a hard to pigeonhole, adult-oriented cartoon. It's certainly a coarse and crude teensploitation flick which relentlessly earns its R-rating. Most reminiscent of a couple of other equally-outrageous animated adventures, namely Team America (2004) and South Park (1997), this is a take no prisoners comedy which will undoubtedly resonate with fans of such politically-incorrect shock-fare.


Very Good (3 stars)

Rated R for ethnic and off-color humor, graphic sexuality, drug abuse and pervasive profanity

Running time: 89 minutes

Distributor: Sony Pictures


To see a trailer for Sausage Party, visit:

Can We Take a Joke?

Film Review by Kam Williams  






1st Amendment Documentary Indicts P.C. Police for Stifling Comedians' Freedom of Speech


George Carlin (1937-2008) once said "It's the duty of a comic to see where the line is drawn, and cross over it." In many respects, he was merely doubling down on the philosophy of his mentor Lenny Bruce (1925-1966) who never saw a taboo he wasn't willing to bust.

Lenny paid a steep price career-wise for walking the walk and talking the talk, as he was often arrested for obscenity just for doing his stand-up act. And although he was ultimately vindicated posthumously, having paved the way for future generations of irreverent entertainers, one can't help but wonder whether those hard-earned advances might be in jeopardy.

That is the contention of a host of comedians appearing in Can We Take a Joke, a documentary suggesting that the current climate of political correctness is having a chilling effect on their Freedom of Speech. Directed by Ted Balaker, the film includes commentary by such outspoken 1st Amendment advocates as Penn Jillette, Lisa Lampanelli, Adam Carolla and Gilbert Gottfried, who lost his gig as the voice of the Aflac duck over a joke that went too far in the estimation of his corporate sponsor.

They uniformly lament a recent cultural development reflected in members of the Millennial Generation's being easily offended. "It's almost like people have gotten soft," observes one comic, adding "If you're easily outraged, please don't come to a comedy show."

It's not as if Carlin didn't envision this development. For, before he passed away, he warned that "All the censorship is coming from the P.C. people on the left on college campuses." This is ironic since universities once prided themselves on providing a safe space to express unpopular views.

A cautionary tale bemoaning the chilling effect of political correctness on free speech.


Excellent (3.5 stars)


Running time: 74 minutes

Studio: Korchula Productions

Distributor: Samuel Goldwyn Films


To see a trailer for Can We Take a Joke? visit:

Jason Bourne

Film Review by Kam Williams  






Matt Damon Back for Another Riveting Adventure as Dashing Rogue Assassin A Jason Bourne movie just isn't the same without Jason Bourne, as the producers found out the hard way in 2012 when they made The Bourne Legacy without the iconic title character. Fortunately, they've since settled their differences with star Matt Damon who returned to reprise the role of the dashing, renegade CIA agent which he originated and played to perfection in the espionage franchise's first three installments.

The movie marks the reunion of Damon and Paul Greengrass, director of both The Bourne Supremacy (2004) and The Bourne Ultimatum (2007), the series' most successful episodes at the box office. While this offering might not quite measure up to those in terms of high-octane action, it nevertheless makes up for the relatively-subdued atmosphere with riveting cloak and dagger intrigue.

The point of departure is Athens, and a decade since we last saw Jason. He's now fully recovered from the amnesia that had previously plagued him. Yet he has nevertheless remained under the radar, since he is still considered an outlaw by CIA Director Robert Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones).

We soon learn that Jason's one ally inside the Agency, Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles), has also gone rogue. She's off the grid in Iceland, working in concert with a WikiLeaks-style whistleblower (Vinzenz Kiefer) attempting to hack into the CIA's computer files.

Nicky eventually tracks down Jason in Greece where she slips him the key to some incriminating evidence about the Agency as well as to answers about his own mysterious past. Their rendezvous, however, has not gone unnoticed by CIA analyst Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander) who had been surreptitiously monitoring Nicky's movements all along.

Next thing you know, Jason finds himself on the run from a bloodthirsty assassin (Victor Cassel) dispatched by Director Dewey. Meanwhile, Lee joins the chase, too, hoping to talk Jason into voluntarily coming in from the proverbial cold. The ensuing cat-and-mouse caper proves to be a trademark globe-trotting affair, unfolding in ports-of-call all across Europe and culminating in a visually-captivating showdown on "The Strip" in Las Vegas.

The film's only distracting flaw is the sotto voce performance delivered by Oscar-winner Alicia Vikander (for The Danish Girl) who inexplicably seems to swallow her every word here. Otherwise, the balance of the principal cast acquits itself admirably, from Tommy Lee Jones in the familiar role of an orders-barking boss, to Vincent Cassel as an appropriately-despicable diabolical villain, to the inimitable Matt Damon back in the saddle as the two-fisted protagonist.

A flagging franchise thoroughly revived courtesy of another inspired collaboration by Messrs. Damon and Greengrass!


Very Good (3 stars)

Rated PG-13 for brief profanity, violence and intense action

Running time: 123 minutes

Distributor: Universal Pictures


To see a trailer for Jason Bourne, visit:

Hollywood Beauty Salon

Film Review by Kam Williams  




Inspirational Documentary Chronicles Camaraderie among Mental Health Patients at Philly Beauty Parlor

The Hollywood Beauty Salon is located in Germantown, PA, an area of Northwest Philly founded by settlers from Germany back in 1683. Today, the town is predominantly African-American as are most of the folks you'd meet at this unique establishment.

What makes this hairdresser different is that its patrons and staff members are all in recovery from mental illness and/or dependence on drugs or alcohol. Shot over the course of four years, the movie chronicles the camaraderie among the cosmetologists and clientele, while simultaneously telescoping on the touching life stories of seven of the shop's regulars.

There's Rachel "Hollywood" Carr, the proprietor, a single mother of three who battled anxiety, depression and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder before becoming a Recovery Guide and a Certified Psychiatric Rehabilitation Practitioner. At the salon, she not only serves as a counselor but as a cosmetologist.

Rachel's protege "Butterfly," a recovering schizophrenic, exhibits considerable promise at braiding hair. The optimistic mother of three explains that she picked her nickname because she's begun to blossom after being in a cocoon marked by depression and paranoia. Still, she misses her murdered big brother and worries about an incarcerated son.

65 year-old Edward, a college grad, recounts how, at 26, his life was derailed when he was diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic. A classically-trained flautist, he nevertheless holds onto his dream of one day playing with a professional orchestra.

The spa's second in command is Darlene, a survivor of child abuse who recounts how she was teased mercilessly growing up about her hair, her looks and for being in the foster care system. One of her customers is shown taking delight in being taught to read, while another proudly pronounces "I am not my symptoms, I am not my diagnosis."

The Hollywood Beauty Salon was directed by Glenn Holsten who is perhaps best known for another stellar documentary set in Philadelphia, The Barefoot Artist. He's done it again, here, with this moving collection of poignant personal portraits powerfully illustrating the utter indomitability of the human spirit.


Excellent (4 stars)


Running time: 88 minutes

Studio: Glennfilms / FreshFly

Distributor: Paladin


To see a trailer for Hollywood Beauty Salon, visit: