May 15, 2019

BEST BUDDIES: Rebel Wilson and Adam Devine star as colleagues and friends in the satirical comedy film “Isn’t it Romantic.” (Photo courtesy of Warner Brothers)

By Kam Williams

Natalie (Rebel Wilson) is a dynamic young professional trying to make her mark on Manhattan. But between a fledgling professional career and a dating life that isn’t faring any better, the Australian architect is close to bottoming out.

It’s a miracle her optimistic spirit hasn’t been crushed, since she was raised by an emotionally-abusive mom (Jennifer Saunders) who said she’d never amount to anything. more

May 8, 2019

DEPLOYED TO FRANCE: Newlyweds J.R.R. Tolkien (Nicholas Hoult) and Edith Bratt (Lily Collins) are soon separated by his deployment during World War I. Bratt was Tolkien’s muse and the inspiration for some of his characters, as told in “Tolkien.” The film focuses on the fantasy writer’s early years. (Photo courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures)

By Kam Williams

J.R.R. Tolkien (1892-1973) was a British fantasy novelist best known for The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. After being orphaned at an early age, he attended King Edwards, an exclusive boarding school where he forged close friendships with classmates which would endure over his lifetime.

There, he first referred to this semi-secret association of writers and artists as a “fellowship,” a term which ostensibly influenced the unique lexicon of his fictional work. He was also very sensitive about the pronunciation of his surname to the extent that he even complained about it to the school administration, emphasizing that it was “een” as opposed to “in.” more

May 1, 2019

JAZZ MAN: Gary Carr stars as Buddy Bolden, a cornet player whose genius as an early jazz pioneer has been mostly forgotten by history. His story is imagined in “Bolden.” (Image courtesy of King Bolden LLC)

By Kam Williams

Buddy Bolden (1877-1931) was born in New Orleans, where he took up the cornet at an early age. His unique approach to the instrument involved a novel form of improvisation while playing a combination of gospel, blues, and ragtime.

Well before the emergence of Louis Armstrong, Buddy was a popular bandleader credited with creating a new genre of music: jazz. Sadly, this genius has mostly been forgotten by history because no recordings or arrangements of his songs survived. more

April 24, 2019

BECOMING: Violet Valenski (Elle Fanning) becomes a world-class talent in director Max Minghella’s film “Teen Spirit.” (Photo courtesy of Interscope Films)

By Kam Williams

Violet Valenski (Elle Fanning) is a 17-year-old living with her single-mom (Agnieszka Grochowska) on a modest family farm on the Isle of Wight. She secretly dreams of becoming a pop star, but has no time to pursue it between school and several part-time jobs. Besides attending to animals at home, she waitresses at a pub and clerks at a convenience store.

Violet’s fortunes change the day that the producers of Teen Spirit visit town in search of the next singing sensation. Teen Spirit is a reality-TV series similar to American Idol, The X Factor and other talent competitions. more

April 17, 2019

FINDING REDEMPTION: In “The Mustang,” a violent criminal (Matthias Schoenaerts) learns to tame his anger by participating in a program that pairs inmates with wild mustangs. (Photo courtesy of Focus Features)

By Kam Williams

Roman Coleman (Matthias Schoenaerts) has too quick a fuse to think before he acts. That’s why he’s done a dozen years and counting in a maximum-security prison for impulsively delivering a brutal beating that left his victim permanently brain-damaged. 

Even while incarcerated, Roman never learned to control his temper. Consequently, he’s voluntarily spent the bulk of his time in solitary confinement.

A shot at rehabilitation arrives when Myles (Bruce Dern), a salty old horse whisperer, offers Roman a spot in his program pairing inmates with wild mustangs. The hope is that each participant will learn to tame his own raging inner soul while bonding with his stallion. more

April 10, 2019

SURVIVAL TALE: “Breakthrough,” based on a memoir by Joyce Smith, recounts the unlikely survival of her son John (played by Marcel Ruiz) after he was submerged for more than 15 minutes in a frozen lake. (Photo courtesy of 20th Century Fox)

By Kam Williams

Despite having a couple of generic American names, John Smith’s (Marcel Ruiz) life story has been anything but boring. It’s just too bad that the shy 14-year-old has been too embarrassed to share it. 

He was born in Guatemala, but raised in Missouri by Brian (Josh Lucas) and Joyce Smith (Chrissy Metz), the missionary couple that adopted him as an infant. But even the terrific childhood they provided couldn’t supply answers to nagging questions that still burdened the boy in junior high, like wondering why his birth mom didn’t love him enough to keep him. John was so traumatized that he gave his teacher an excuse the day he was supposed to make a class presentation about his family tree. more

April 3, 2019

MYSTERY AT TWIN ELMS: Nancy Drew (Sophia Lillis, left) investigates paranormal activity inside an old mansion owned by Flora (Linda Lavin) in “Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase.” (Photo courtesy of Warner Brothers Pictures)

By Kam Williams

After the untimely death of his wife, Carson Drew decided he and his daughter Nancy (Sophia Lillis) might benefit from a change of scenery. So, they moved from Chicago to an idyllic oasis in suburbia called River Heights.

The relocation proved to be far more of a challenge for Nancy than her civil rights attorney father, a pillar of the legal community, since the 16-year-old found herself having to adjust to a new school. Plus, the picture-perfect town seemed pretty dull, at first blush, to a thrill-seeker born with a sense of adventure. more

March 27, 2019

HERO AT THE HOTEL: Dev Patel plays a waiter at the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel who tries to save as many guests as possible from radical terrorists in “Hotel Mumbai.” (Photo courtesy of Bleecker Street)

By Kam Williams

On November 26, 2008, radical Islamists from Pakistan launched a series of coordinated attacks around the city of Mumbai, India, which would claim 174 lives and leave hundreds more wounded. Within hours of the raid, the authorities were able to secure all of the sites except for the legendary Taj Mahal Palace Hotel.

The jihadists ostensibly picked the legendary five-star resort as the location for a final showdown because of its image as a getaway spot for rich and famous Westerners. The siege there would last four days, since the local police were outgunned by the terrorists who were heavily armed with bombs, hand grenades, and automatic weapons. more

March 20, 2019

TROUBLE IN KINGSTON: Ami Ameen stars as Dennis “D” Campbell, who is out to avenge the murder of the older brother who raised him, in “Yardie,” the directorial debut of actor Idris Elba. (Photo courtesy of Rialto Pictures)

By Kam Williams

Dennis “D” Campbell (Aml Ameen) grew up in the slums of Kingston, Jamaica, in the seventies in a neighborhood infested with drugs. Orphaned at an early age, he was raised by an older brother he admired, Jerry (Everaldo Creary).

Besides serving as a surrogate father, Jerry was a peacemaker who risked his life pressuring the gangs ruining the community to end their bloody turf war. But Dennis was left traumatized at 13 when his sibling was shot and killed by Clancy (Raheem Edwards), a young member of the Tappa crew. more

March 13, 2019

I WISH I COULD BE NEXT TO YOU: Stella (Haley Lu Richardson) and Will (Cole Sprouse), who both have cystic fibrosis, must stay a certain distance away from each other despite their growing attraction in “Five Feet Apart.” (Photo courtesy of CBS Films/Lionsgate)

By Kam William

Stella Grant (Haley Lu Richardson) is a typical 17-year-old in most regards. However, she is also suffering from cystic fibrosis (CF), a genetic disease which makes her very susceptible to a variety of breathing disorders.

Consequently, she spends much of her time in the hospital. She’s currently receiving treatment for bronchitis on a ward with several fellow CF patients, including her friend Poe (Moises Arias), although there is a strictly-enforced rule that they stay at least six feet apart at all times because they could easily infect each other.  more

March 6, 2019

BEST ACTRESS: Olivia Colman won an Oscar for her portrayal of Queen Anne in the revisionist saga “The Favourite.” The film was nominated for a total of 10 Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director. (Photo courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures)

By Kam Williams

Queen Anne (1665-1714) was a sickly monarch whose dozen-year reign ran from 1702 to 1714. She was also married to Prince George of Denmark from 1683 until he passed away at Kensington Palace in 1708. 

Although Anne was unable to produce an heir, it wasn’t from a lack of trying. She was pregnant 17 times, but most of her babies either miscarried or were stillborn, and the handful carried to term died during infancy. The queen coped with the loss by raising 17 pet rabbits, one for each offspring. 

Until now, Anne and George have been generally remembered as having been faithful and devoted partners. But you can add The Favourite to the long list of revisionist sagas which deign to impose present-day values while ignoring long-standing conventional wisdom. more

February 27, 2019

DEVOTED CAREGIVER: Live-in nanny and maid Cleo Gutierrez (Yalitza Aparicio), shown here with two of her young charges (Marco Graf and Daniela Demesa), hopes for a family of her own someday in “Roma,” which won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. Aparicio was nominated for Best Actress. (Photo courtesy of Netflix)

Cleo Gutierrez (Yalitza Aparicio) is one of two live-in maids maintaining the home of Antonio (Fernando Grediaga) and Sofia (Marina de Tavira), a couple in crisis with four young children. They can afford the help, which includes a chauffeur, because he’s a prominent physician. But they also need the staff, since Antonio spends so much time supposedly attending “conferences” in Canada.

The delinquent dad explains his absence to the kids as being away on business. However, his long-suffering wife suspects that he’s just up to monkey business with his mistress, which explains why she’s not above begging him to cancel a trip. Luckily, Sofia has a shoulder to cry on in her mother, Teresa (Veronica Garcia), who lives with them, too. more

February 20, 2019

STAR-CROSSED LOVERS: A celebrated musical director (Tomasz Kot) and an aspiring young singer (Joanna Kulig) find romance behind the post-World War II Iron Curtain in the romantic drama “Cold War.” (Photo courtesy of Amazon Studios)

By Kam Williams

Dateline: Poland, 1949. The countryside is still devastated by the blight left behind in the wake of World War II. 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 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. more

February 13, 2019

I’LL GET TO THE BOTTOM OF THIS: A grieving father (Liam Neeson, right) is determined to find out why his son, who had no history of drug use, died of a heroin overdose. His search leads him to a powerful kingpin known as Viking (Tom Bateman, left) in the vigilante thriller “Cold Pursuit.” (Photo courtesy of Lionsgate/Summit Entertainment)

By Kam Williams

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. more

February 6, 2019

HOW AM I GOING TO GET OUT OF THIS?: A Hollywood makeup artist (Gina Rodriguez) is kidnapped by the leader of a drug cartel in Mexico, who dupes her into committing a crime. She is forced to prove her innocence by helping the U.S. government bring down the crime syndicate in the action thriller “Miss Bala.” (Photo courtesy of Columbia Pictures)

By Kam Williams

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 Gloria arrives in Tijuana, the friends head out to a disco to attend a party sponsored by the pageant. But they 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). more

January 30, 2019

MODERN DAY KING ARTHUR: Bullied British schoolboy Alex Elliot (Louis Ashbourne Serkis) finds a sword in a boulder and yanks it out to embrace his destiny and join his friends in a fight against evil in “The Kid Who Would Be King.” (Photo courtesy of 20th Century Fox)

By Kam Williams

British schoolboy Alex Elliot (Louis Ashbourne Serkis) is the unlikeliest of heroes. After all, the pint-sized 12-year-old and his nerdy best friend, 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. more

January 23, 2019

THE THRONE IS MINE: After spending most of her childhood exiled in France, Mary Stuart (Saoirse Ronan) returns to Scotland to claim her rightful place as heir to the throne of England. Queen Elizabeth I has other ideas in the costume drama “Mary Queen of Scots.”

By Kam Williams

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.  more

January 16, 2019

A NEW HOME: Animal shelter volunteer Lucas (Jonah Hauer-King) and receptionist Olivia (Alexandra Shipp) celebrate his adoption of puppy Bella. But Bella is later separated from Lucas and his mom, and embarks on an eventful 400-mile journey home. (Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures)

By Kam Williams

Life has proven to be quite a challenge for Bella (voiced by Bryce Dallas Howard) right from the start. Soon after birth, the puppy was separated from her mother, though she was lucky enough to be nursed back to health by a stray cat. 

The lovable mutt eventually lands at an animal shelter, where receptionist Olivia (Alexandra Shipp) introduces her to a volunteer, Lucas (Jonah Hauer-King). Lucas decides to adopt Bella, hoping she might help lift the spirits of his mom Terri (Ashley Judd), a military veteran suffering from PTSD. more

January 9, 2019

OUT FOR VENGEANCE: Nicole Kidman plays against type and is almost unrecognizable as Erin Bell, a self-abusing LAPD veteran detective turned vigilante in the revenge thriller “Destroyer.” (Photo courtesy of Annapurna Pictures)

By Kam Williams

Erin Bell (Nicole Kidman) is a veteran LAPD detective whose partner, Chris (Sebastian Stan), died when his cover was blown during an undercover operation gone bad. Courtesy of flashbacks, we learn that he was murdered by Silas (Toby Kebbell), the leader of the gang of bank robbers the two had infiltrated.

At the time, Erin and Chris were also lovers, and she was pregnant with his baby. Fast forward 16 years and we find the single mom doing a miserable job of raising their rebellious daughter, Shelby (Jade Pettyjohn), who is presently under the spell of a surly slacker (Beau Knapp) already in his 20s. more

January 2, 2019

POWER COUPLE: Amy Adams and Christian Bale star as Lynne and Dick Cheney in “Vice.” The seriocomic film marks the third film collaboration for Adams and Bale, who thoroughly disappears into his role. (Photo courtesy of Annapurna Pictures)

By Kam Williams

Who is the real Dick Cheney (Christian Bale) and how did he become the most powerful vice president in U.S. history? Those are the fundamental questions explored by Vice, an alternately hilarious and sobering biopic written and directed by Adam McKay.

McKay won an Oscar in 2016 for his brilliant adaptation of The Big Short, the Michael Lewis best-seller chronicling the complicated series of events leading to the financial crisis of 2007-2008. Nevertheless, he probably remains better known for having previously directed a string of sophomoric comedies starring Will Ferrell including Anchorman 1 and 2, Talladega Nights, Step Brothers, and The Other Guys.  more

December 26, 2018

STAR-CROSSED LOVERS: Tish Rivers (Kiki Layne) and her fiancé Fonny Hunt (Stephan James) face seemingly unsurmountable obstacles in the coming-of-age story “If Beale Street Could Talk,” adapted from the classic novel by James Baldwin. (Photo courtesy of Annapurna Pictures)

By Kam Williams

In 1974, James Baldwin published If Beale Street Could Talk, a love story set in Harlem about a beleaguered black couple’s pursuit of the elusive American Dream. Many critics consider the heartrending novel Baldwin’s best work, perhaps because of the way in which it humanizes an array of African American characters ordinarily marginalized and relegated to the shadows of society. more

December 19, 2018

HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS: Holly (Julia Roberts) welcomes her son Ben (Lucas Hedges) home with open arms on Christmas Eve, even though he left a drug rehab facility without permission. She soon comes to regret that decision in the harrowing family drama Ben Is Back. (Photo Courtesy of Black Bear Pictures)

Holly (Julia Roberts) and Neal (Courtney B. Vance) are raising a family in a quaint country home in upstate New York, ostensibly far removed from the sort of woes that plague the inner city. It’s Christmas Eve, and we meet Holly in church where she’s patiently watching three of her four kids practicing for the Christmas pageant.

However, looks can be deceiving, since missing from the idyllic picture is her eldest child, Ben (Lucas Hedges). The troubled 19-year-old has been living at a drug rehab center, where he’s managed to keep clean for the past 77 days.  more

December 5, 2018

DRIVING MR. SHIRLEY: Classical pianist Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali, right) hires Tony Lip Vallelonga (Viggo Mortensen), a bouncer from the Bronx, to drive him on an eight-week concert tour across the Deep South in the 1960s in the fact-based film Green Book. (Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures)

By Kam Williams

Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali) was a promising prodigy whose formal training in classical piano began when he was admitted to Russia’s prestigious Leningrad Conservatory at the age of 9. Because he was raised in Florida in the Jim Crow Era, it was very unlikely that his extraordinary talent would be appreciated anywhere in the South upon his return to the states.

The North was decidedly different. While still in his teens, Shirley was invited by conductor Arthur Fielder to perform with the Boston Pops Orchestra. He would later compose symphonies for the New York Philharmonic and was even allowed to rent an apartment above Carnegie Hall. more

November 28, 2018

By Kam Williams

ALL TOGETHER NOW: From left, Pete (Mark Wahlberg) and Ellie (Rose Byrne) Wagner form an Instant Family when they adopt siblings Lizzy (Isabela Moner), Lita (Julianna Gamiz), and Juan (Gustavo Quiroz). (Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures)

Pete (Mark Wahlberg) and Ellie (Rose Byrne) Wagner are speculators who make a living flipping real estate in their hometown of Atlanta. The couple’s latest acquisition is a fixer-upper with five bedrooms that they hope to sell to Ellie’s sister Kim (Allyn Rachel) and brother-in-law Russ (Tom Segura).

However, Kim and Russ aren’t in the market for a house that needs so much work. Furthermore, they’re childless with no plans to start a family. So, they simply have no use for a place that large. 

Pete and Ellie don’t have kids either, but they have been seriously considering adoption. In fact, they’ve even been checking out photos of available children online.  more

October 31, 2018

WE ARE GOING TO BE BIG STARS: Bohemian Rhapsody tells the story of the rock group Queen, which was founded in the early seventies by, from left, bassist John Deacon (Joseph Mazzallo), drummer Roger Taylor (Ben Hardy), lead singer Farrokh Bulsara, aka Freddie Mercury (Rami Malek), and guitarist Brian May (Gwilym Lee). (Photo courtesy of 20th Century Fox)

By Kam Williams

Prior to seeing Bohemian Rhapsody, I knew precious little about the rock group Queen. Sure, I’d enjoyed lots of their pop hits like “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” and “Another One Bites the Dust,” but I was totally unaware of the legendary British band’s back story. more