April 18, 2018

By Kam Williams

On July 18, 1969, Senator Edward (Ted) Kennedy (Jason Clarke) hosted a reunion in a rented cottage on Chappaquiddick, a tiny island just 150 yards off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard. The gathering was in honor of the Boiler Room Girls, six women who had worked on his late brother Bobby’s presidential campaign the previous year.

Around 11:15 pm, Kennedy left the party in his ‘67 Oldsmobile with one of those young staffers, 28 year-old Mary Jo Kopechne (Kate Mara). About an hour later, the car, driven by Kennedy, went down a dirt road and off of a wooden bridge. The driver lost control and the car landed upside-down in  Poucha Pond. more

April 11, 2018

By Kam Williams

It is 2045, a time when the planet has devolved into a desolate dystopia that is a combination of pollution, overpopulation, poverty, corruption, and global warming. Most of humanity lives in slums where they escape their misery by disappearing, via virtual reality, into the Oasis, a parallel universe co-created by James Halliday (Mark Rylance) and Ogden Morrow (Simon Pegg). Halliday is now in control of Oasis and Morrow is no longer associated with the firm.

The picture’s point of departure is an unrecognizable Columbus, Ohio, that is a devastated metropolis that has been reduced to a wasteland of vertical “stacks,” i.e. mobile homes that are piled  on top one another. We meet Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan), who is an orphaned teen who has been taken in by his Aunt Alice (Susan Lynch).  more

April 4, 2018

By Kam Williams

Times have certainly changed when dramatic actresses can now play action heroes in blockbuster movies. For instance, Jennifer Lawrence had already been nominated for an Academy Award (Winter’s Bone) when she agreed to star as Katniss Everdeen in the adaptation of The Hunger Games trilogy. Alicia Vikander is following Jennifer’s lead by assuming the role of Lara Croft in the remake of the Tomb Raider. She had won an Academy Award (The Danish Girl), and also received critical acclaim for her performances in Ex Machina and Testament of Youth.  more

March 28, 2018

“SLEEPYBOP”: Princeton artist Alison Kruse is headed to France for a creative residency. This recent painting is oil on wood board. More of her work can be seen at www.alisonskruse.com/paintings.

By Kam Williams

In classical music circles, they call a kid with promise a prodigy. In rock ’n’ roll, the buzz is about the best unsigned bands. Out in Hollywood, they like to refer to an emerging young actress as an ingénue.

But I don’t know if anybody ever coined a term for an up-and-coming painter with great potential. But if they did, that’s what they’d be calling Alison Kruse, New Jersey’s best kept secret. Until now. more

By Kam Williams

Ella (Helen Mirren) and John Spencer (Donald Sutherland) have been happily married for more than 50 years, and their love hasn’t diminished one iota in spite of his battle with dementia or by hers with brain cancer. Therefore, the inseparable couple resisted their doctors who wanted them to move into different healthcare facilities.

Instead, the 80+ year-olds decide to share one last vacation in their mothballed RV fondly called “The Leisure Seeker.” They plan to drive from Wellesley down to Key West where John, a retired English professor, hopes to visit the home of Ernest Hemingway. more

March 21, 2018

By Kam Williams

Simon Spier (Nick Robinson) would tell you that he’s a typical teen, except for the fact that he’s hiding one huge secret. He’s gay, but he hasn’t told his parents (Josh Duhamel and Jennifer Garner) or any of his friends. He’s even dated a female classmate (Cassady McClincy) at Creekwood High to keep up the charade.

He’s well aware of the merciless teasing waiting for anybody who is brave enough to come out of the closet after witnessing the fate of Ethan (Clark Moore), who was bullied at the school after he revealed his sexual orientation.

Simon keeps his equilibrium by anonymously visiting an LGBTQ-friendly blog where he has found another gay student from Creekwood High. At first, they only support each other, however, over time their friendship blossoms into love. However, since they’re both using pseudonyms Simon has no idea who “Blue” is because both of them are understandably hesitant to reveal their true identities. more

March 14, 2018

By Kam Williams

Harold Soyinka (David Oyelowo) is a loyal employee at Promethium Pharmaceuticals who has been patiently waiting for his chance to share in the success from the company’s lucrative sales of medical marijuana in a pill form. Unfortunately, the naive Nigerian immigrant is unaware that the Chicago-based company’s CEO, Richard Rusk (Joel Edgerton), has no intention of giving him a share of the profits.

Instead, Richard fills his head with promises of a lavish lifestyle like the ones he’s seen in rap videos. Furthermore, Harold has no idea that his boss is having an affair with his wife, Bonnie (Thandie Newton). In addition, Richard is in a relationship with his business partner, Elaine (Charlize Theron).  more

March 7, 2018

By Kam Williams

Abacus: Small Enough to Jail is an Oscar-nominated documentary that chronicles an outrageous example of bigotry against the Sung’s Chinese American immigrant family. Patriarch Thomas Sung was inspired by the classic film It’s a Wonderful Life, when he and his family founded the Abacus Federal Savings Bank in 1984 in New York City’s Chinatown.

He wanted to help the people of his community get loans after repeatedly witnessing how other lending institutions were willing take Chinese people’s deposits, but were reluctant to let them borrow money. Abacus flourished over the years, and his daughters, Jill and Heather, joined the family business as executives after they became lawyers. more

February 28, 2018

By Kam Williams

Samson is a popular Biblical figure who was blessed by God with super-human strength as long as he kept his hair long. However, there’s a lot more to know about him than can be found in the Book of Judges in the Old Testament.

For example, his life mirrored that of Jesus Christ in many ways. For instance, both were the product of a miraculous birth that was announced by angels. Jesus’s mother was a virgin and Samson’s was barren. Each was betrayed by a confidante, Judas and Delilah, who were paid in silver coins. Each ultimately fulfilled a prophecy by delivering their people, the Israelites.

Co-directed by Bruce Macdonald and Gabriel Sabloff, Samson is an epic biopic that fleshes out the one-dimensional warrior into a vulnerable person with a full range of emotions. The movie stars Taylor James as Samson and Caitlin Leahy as Delilah. more

February 21, 2018

By Kam Williams 

Chadwick Boseman has made a successful career by portraying a variety of prominent African Americans, such as football star Floyd Little (The Express), baseball great Jackie Robinson (42), Godfather of Soul James Brown (Get on Up), and U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall (Marshall). The versatile actor’s efforts have been recognized by the NAACP, which has nominated him for five Image Awards.

Although Black Panther is a fictional character, the role is no less significant than the historical figures Chadwick has played in the past. That’s because black kids have rarely had a superhero that looks like them to root for, even in Africa, where the Lord of the Jungle, Tarzan, was white. more

February 14, 2018

By Kam Williams

The Shape of Water is clearly a favorite in this year’s Oscar sweepstakes. The science fiction fantasy about love across species lines was nominated for 13 Academy Awards, in six major categories: Best Picture, Director, Original Screenplay, Lead Actress (Sally Hawkins), Supporting Actress (Octavia Spencer), and Supporting Actor (Richard Jenkins).

Writer/director Guillermo del Toro was apparently inspired by Creature from the Black Lagoon, a classic horror film from the 50s. This variation on the theme portrays the merman as being misunderstood instead of evil. more

February 7, 2018

By Kam Williams

In 1983, 17-year-old Elio Perlman (Timothee Chalamet) is spending another summer in Lombardy, in northern Italy, with his parents. Each year, Elio’s father (Michael Stuhlbarg), an archaeology professor, invites a different doctoral candidate to live with his family over the summer and be his research assistant.

This year, the guest is Oliver (Armie Hammer) who is Jewish and gay. That’s just fine with Elio, who’s exploring his sexuality and has been dating a local girl (Esther Garrel), until Oliver arrives at the villa.

It isn’t long before Elio realizes that he is developing feelings for the 24-year-old Oliver, who is quick to understand what is happening. Elio and Oliver spend long stretches of time flirting with each other, whether it’s swimming in the lake, canoodling at a cafe, or taking walks along the shore.  more

January 31, 2018

By Kam Williams

Zenzile Miriam Makeba was born black in Johannesburg, South Africa in 1932, which meant she was a second-class citizen. In fact, she spent the first six months of her life in prison with her mother, a sangoma (witch doctor), who was sent to prison just days after giving birth.

Luckily, her mother was also an amateur singer, and that was a gift Miriam inherited. She married at 17 and had a child a year later, but was soon abandoned by her abusive husband. So, to support her young daughter, she started singing professionally.

After performing and recording with several different bands, she found a measure of fame as the lead singer of an all-girl group called The Skylarks. However, while on tour out of the country in 1959, Miriam’s passport was revoked after the release in Italy of Come Back, Africa, a secretly filmed anti-apartheid documentary drama in which she appeared.  more

January 24, 2018

By Kam Williams

A few days after the 9/11 attack, President George W. Bush visited Ground Zero where he delivered an iconic speech while standing on a pile of rubble. He assured the rescue workers and the rest of America that those responsible for the senseless slaughter would soon be held accountable.

Less than a month later, the first contingent of soldiers was sent to Afghanistan. Their top secret operation, code named Task Force Dagger, called for them to be dropped behind enemy lines and rendezvous with a local militia led by General Rashid Dostum (Navid Negahban).

The American Special Forces unit, composed of a dozen elite soldiers, was led by Captain Mitch Nelson (Chris Hemsworth). He was not only confident that the mission would be successful, but made the bold guarantee that no one under his command would perish in battle.  more

January 17, 2018

By Kam Williams

The Post is a movie that should be compared to two classic newsroom thrillers: All the President’s Men (1976) and Spotlight (2015). Like the former, it’s set in Washington, D.C. in the 70s and is about an attempt by the Nixon administration to prevent the publication of incriminating information leaked to the Washington Post by a whistleblower. And it’s eerily similar to the Best Picture Oscar-winner Spotlight in that they’re both dramas about an idealistic newspaper’s legal battle in defense of freedom of the press.

Hollywood has a predictable habit of parroting success, which means it’s just a matter of time before a knockoff of a big hit arrives in theaters. In this case, Spotlight’s Academy Award-winning scriptwriter, Josh Singer, was tapped to tweak first timer Liz Hannah’s original screenplay about the Pentagon Papers. more

January 10, 2018

By Kam Williams

Darkest Hour and Dunkirk cover the same period of time, which was Winston Churchill’s (Gary Oldman) first month as prime minister of Great Britain. When he was sworn in on May 10, 1940, the country was at war with Germany which had already conquered most of Europe and was just starting to invade Belgium, France, and the Netherlands.

Churchill’s predecessor, Neville Chamberlain (Ronald Pickup) had unsuccessfully tried a diplomatic policy of appeasement which had only emboldened Hitler. As a result, soon after entering office, Winston found himself facing a daunting task after the Nazis’ blitzkrieg had broken through the Maginot Line.  more

January 3, 2018

By Kam Williams

In 1998, 19-year-old Greg Sestero (Dave Franco) met a mysterious, middle-aged man named Tommy Wiseau (James Franco) in a San Francisco acting class. Wiseau not only lied about his age but claimed to be from New Orleans, despite a thick, Eastern European accent.

However, Tommy was wealthy enough to underwrite a Hollywood production that starred himself. And Greg was willing to overlook the eccentric millionaire’s inexperience when he was offered a co-starring role. more

December 27, 2017

By Kam Williams

Twenty years ago, Frances McDormand won an Academy Award for Fargo, a delightful whodunit set in a tiny Minnesota town inhabited by colorful local characters. In that Coen Brothers’ black comedy, McDormand played a dedicated police chief who was tireless in her efforts to solve a murder case, even though she was pregnant.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is a similar dark mystery set in the Midwest, that’s also full of folksy characters. McDormand plays Mildred Hayes, the mother of her teenage daughter (Kathryn Newton) whose beaten and raped corpse was found lying in a ditch along a lonely stretch of road. more

December 20, 2017

By Kam Williams

Saoirse Ronan is only 23 and has already been nominated for an Academy Award twice: for Brooklyn (2015) and Atonement (2005). Now, she’s certain to land another nomination for her memorable performance as the title character in Lady Bird.

It’s hard to say whether three times will prove to be the charm for her, since this has been a banner year for actresses, with powerful performances turned in by competitors like Sally Hawkins, Frances McDormand, and Meryl Streep. Win or lose, Ronan deserves all of her accolades for her performance in a very demanding role as a tormented teen constantly in crisis.  more

December 13, 2017

By Kam Williams

It is August 12, 1945. Japan is reeling and on the verge of surrendering in the wake of atomic bomb attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. With Germany having surrendered to the Allies back in the spring, Europe is already in postwar mode, though not exactly at peace, as we are about to learn.

On this bright summer day Samuel Hermann (Ivan Angelus) and his son (Marcell Nagy) disembark from a train that has just arrived in their rural Hungarian hometown. Oddly, their presence doesn’t inspire the locals to celebrate the fact that two of their Jewish neighbors, who were taken away by the Nazis, had miraculously survived the Holocaust and have now returned home.

Instead, the Orthodox Jewish pair are greeted with suspicion, because their property had long since been appropriated by residents in the small town. So, as Samuel and his son load their luggage onto a horse-drawn-carriage, the village notary (Peter Rudolf) directs the driver (Miklos B. Szekely) to go very slowly.  more

December 6, 2017

Charles Dickens (1812-1870) is considered the preeminent novelist of the Victorian Era because of his touching and timeless tales that described the plight of the poor in that time. He experienced poverty  at an early age when he had to drop out of school to work in a factory in order to support the family, after his bankrupt father (Jonathan Pryce) was sent to debtors’ prison.

Dickens’s challenging childhood may have served as the inspiration for such classics as The Adventures of Oliver Twist, Great Expectations, and David Copperfield.

However, his book which may have had the biggest effect on Western culture is A Christmas Carol, since it arguably altered how we now celebrate the holiday.

That is the premise of The Man Who Invented Christmas, Les Standiford’s historical narrative that describes the events in December of 1843 that led Dickens to write A Christmas Carol. The novella has now been adapted into a movie by Bharat Nalluri (MI-5) as a sentimental tale of redemption. more

November 29, 2017

Cathleen Harris (Margaret Qualley) was raised in rural Tennessee in the 1950s and at an early age became interested in a religious life. That fixation was disconcerting to Nora, her single mother (Julianne Nicholson), who openly and forcefully declared her atheism.

Nora blamed the Catholic school Cathleen attended for encouraging her daughter’s obsessive interest in religion. By the time she was a teenager, Cathleen’s faith had grown so strong that she wanted to become a nun. And, over her mother’s objections, she entered a convent when she was 15.

She took the name Sister Cathleen and dropped her surname, however, there were still years of training ahead of her before she would be allowed to take her final vows. To achieve this, she had to prove herself worthy during her postulance, the probationary period that tested a novice’s commitment to silence, poverty, obedience, and chastity.

Cathleen’s class at the convent was comprised of several equally pious teenagers who also desired to live ascetic lives as “wives of Christ.” They were all being trained by the convent’s Reverend Mother (Melissa Leo), whose job was to weed out those young women who were uncertain about whether or not they wanted to be nuns.

That is the point of departure of Novitiate, a drama written and directed by Margaret Betts (The Carrier). The compelling character portrait plumbs the depths of Cathleen’s soul as she struggles to decide whether or not she’s meant to enter the order.

The picture takes place in the mid-1960s, just after Pope John XXIII had issued a series of 16 historic proclamations including one that lowered the standing of nuns to that of lay believers.

Stripped of their status, 90,000 nuns renounced their vows and returned to private life. The movie explores how this change in status effected someone like Cathleen who was just embarking on the path to becoming a nun.

Novitiate explores the internal angst of a young teenage woman who is struggling to decide whether or not she’s meant to be a nun.

Very Good (***). Rated R for profanity, sexuality, and nudity. Running time: 123 minutes. Production Studio: Maven Pictures/Novitiate Productions. Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics.

November 22, 2017

By Kam Williams

Roman J. Israel (Denzel Washington) is a high-functioning savant on the autism spectrum who has been practicing law in Los Angeles for 36 years. The brilliant attorney has spent most of his career under the radar, writing legal briefs for indigent criminal defendants in a rear office, while his partner, William Henry Jackson, was the face of the firm who cultivated clients and argued their cases in the courtroom.

This arrangement worked well for Roman who, besides his disorder, was also a political activist dedicated to a progressive agenda to assist downtrodden individuals unfairly caught in the net of the prison-industrial complex. Because of that commitment, he was willing to work for far less pay than colleagues of his caliber. Consequently, the highly-principled lawyer has scraped by on a modest salary by living in the same apartment for decades, and subsisting on a diet of peanut butter sandwiches.  more

November 15, 2017

By Kam Williams 

First published in 1936, Murder on the Orient Express is the most famous case solved by the famous detective Hercule Poirot. Created by Agatha Christie, the Belgian sleuth appeared in 33 of her novels, a play, and over 50 short stories.

This complex murder mystery was first made into a movie by Sidney Lumet in a faithful adaptation that co-starred Lauren Bacall, Sean Connery, Ingrid Bergman, Anthony Perkins, Vanessa Redgrave, Sir John Gielgud, Albert Finney, and Jacqueline Bisset. Bergman won her third Oscar for her sterling performance as Greta Ohlsson, a Swedish nurse.

This version of Murder on the Orient Express was directed by five-time Oscar nominee Kenneth Branagh who assembled a top-flight cast. The cast includes Academy Award winners Judi Dench and Penelope Cruz, and Award nominees Michelle Pfeiffer, Willem Dafoe, and Johnny Depp.

In addition to directing the film, Branagh also stars as Poirot and sports the detective’s trademark mustache. The visually captivating movie is perhaps more memorable for its breathtaking panoramas than the deliberately paced mystery that takes some time to be unraveled.

The picture opens in Jerusalem, where Poirot is visiting the Wailing Wall and then boards a boat to Istanbul. Once there, his vacation is cut short by a telegram that informs him that he must return to London immediately.

With the help of a fellow Belgian, who happens to be a train company executive (Tom Bateman), he secures a berth aboard the lavish Orient Express for what is usually an unremarkable three-day trip. However, the train is stranded in a snowstorm overnight and the next morning an American art dealer (Johnny Depp), who expressed a fear of being killed, is found dead.

As Poirot investigates the murder, we gradually see that each of the 13 passengers on the train had a motive to kill the unsavory character. Although everybody is a suspect, who is the murderer? The legendary Hercule Poirot solves the classic Agatha Christie mystery by using his extraordinary powers of deductive reasoning.

Excellent (***½ stars). Rated PG-13 for violence, ethnic slurs, and mature themes. In English and French with subtitles. Running time: 114 minutes. Production Studio: Kinberg Genre/The Mark Gordon Company. Distributor: 20th Century Fox.

November 8, 2017

By Kam Williams

Chariots of Fire (1981) told the real-life story of Eric Henry Liddell (1902-1945), known as “The Flying Scotsman,” who won the gold medal in the 400-meter race at the 1924 Summer Olympics in Paris. What made his feat so amazing was that he had only qualified to run in the 100-meter dash but refused to compete in the race when he learned that it would be occur on a Sunday.

Liddell was a devout Christian whose missionary parents had instilled in him the Biblical injunction that the Sabbath was a holy day of rest. Consequently, he decided to enter the 400-meter contest instead, and miraculously managed to prevail against the best runners in the world in an event that he hadn’t even trained for.

Chariots of Fire was a critically-acclaimed movie that received four Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay. Now, after 36 years, this sequel tells what became of the Olympic star after the Olympic Games of 1924.

Co-directed by Stephen Shin and Michael Parker, On Wings of Eagles stars Joseph Fiennes as Eric Liddell. At the point of departure, we learn that he eschewed fame and fortune in 1925 to return to China, the country of his birth, in order to follow his calling to be a missionary.

He settled down in Asia and started a family with his wife, Florence Mackenzie (Elizabeth Arends). However, their life was irreversibly changed when the Japanese invaded China in 1937.

During the occupation, the Liddells were given the opportunity to leave the country, but the dedicated minister decided he could not to abandon his flock.

However, he did send his pregnant wife and daughters, Patricia (Laura Justine Friis Lodahl) and Heather (Asta Friis Lodahl), to live with his in-laws in Canada. Sadly, Eric was interned in a concentration camp where he suffered terribly before passing away in 1945, only months before Japan’s surrender.

The movie is a tribute to a man of great faith who always chose to follow humbly in the footsteps of his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Very Good (***). Rated PG 13. In English, Mandarin, and Japanese with subtitles. Running time: 96 minutes. Production Studio: Goodland Pictures/Innowave Ltd/Bondit. Distributor: Archstone Distribution.