Oscar Isaac and Christian Bale Co-Star in WWI Docudrama
It’s Eastern Turkey in 1914, which is where we find druggist Mikael Boghosian (Oscar Isaac) plying his trade in his half-Armenian/half-Turkish village where Christians and Muslims get along swell. The ambitious, young apothecary would really rather be a doctor, so he strategically courts a neighbor (Angela Sarafyan) from a relatively-wealthy family just for the dowry.
Those 400 gold coins do enable him to afford med school. However, while studying in Constantinople, he falls head-over-heels for Ana (Charlotte Le Bon), a fellow Armenian recently repatriated from France. The country bumpkin is taken not only with her pulchritude but with her urbane sophistication ostensibly cultivated over the course of a childhood spent in Paris. Trouble is, Ana has returned accompanied by her lover, Chris Meyers (Christian Bale), an intrepid, American photojournalist assigned by the Associated Press to find evidence of ethnic cleansing.
The plot thickens when World War I erupts. Instead of pursuing Ana and his M.D., Mikael finds himself fleeing the roundup of innocent Armenian civilians by the Turkish army. He makes his way back to his tiny hometown to rescue relatives and friends. Meanwhile, Ana is in a similar struggle to survive, and her beau does his best to shoot proof of the savage slaughter rumored to be transpiring.
That is the dire set of circumstances established at the outset of The Promise, a riveting docudrama directed and co-written by Oscar-winner Terry George (The Short).The edge-of-your-seat thriller bears an uncanny resemblance to Hotel Rwanda, which George directed and co-wrote, too.
For both of these films chronicle extraordinary exhibitions of heroism in the face of a complete collapse of civilization. If this picture has a flaw, it’s that it appears to be trivializing the ethnic cleansing of one and a half million Armenians when it asks that holocaust to serve as a mere backdrop to the love story at the center of the saga.
That being said, I nevertheless invested in the characters emotionally, and ended up teary-eyed during the denouement. War may be hell, but luckily, love still conquers all!
Excellent (3.5 stars)
Rated PG-13 for mature themes, sexuality, violence, disturbing images and war atrocities
Running time: 134 minutes
Production Studio: Survival Pictures
Distributor: Universal Pictures Home Entertainment
Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack Extras: Deleted scenes; The Love Story; War and Struggle; A Cause; and feature commentary with director Terry George and producer Eric Esrailian.
Reboot of Much Beloved Monster Franchise Arrives on Home Video
The beloved classic King Kong (1933), starring Fay Wray, revolved around an expedition to an uncharted island in the Indian Ocean inhabited by an array of prodigious prehistoric creatures. The explorers proceed to capture and cage a gigantic ape with plans to put him on exhibition in New York as the 8th Wonder of the World.
He eventually escapes and wreaks havoc around the city before scaling the face of the Empire State Building during one of the most iconic climaxes in the annals of cinema. A spin-off, Son of Kong, was released later that year, thereby launching an enduring franchise which would serve over the intervening decades as a wellspring for a profusion of scintillating sequels and remakes.
Kong: Skull Island is a refreshing reboot of the original co-starring Samuel L.Jackson, John Goodman, Brie Larson, John C. Reilly and Tom Hiddleston. The film features a large ensemble cast in accordance with the demands of a typical horror flick with a high body count. It was directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts who made an impressive debut in 2013 with the coming-of-age comedy The Kings of Summer.
A riveting origins tale, this special f/x-driven adventure unfolds in the Seventies, near the end of the Vietnam conflict. At the point of departure, we find thrill seeker Bill Randa (Goodman) pressuring a U.S. senator (Richard Jenkins) to underwrite a perilous trek to a godforsakenPacific island permanently surrounded by treacherous storms blamed for the mysterious disappearance of countless boats and airplanes.
Once the ill-advised caravan is approved, Randa hastily assembles a ragtag crew composed of an intrepid photographer (Larson), a nerdy geologist (Corey Hawkins), a brainy biologist (Jing Tian) and a cowardly bureaucrat (John Ortiz). The team is escorted on its appointed mission by a squadron of Vietnam veterans led by salty Lieutenant Colonel Preston Packard (Jackson).
As the convoy of choppers approaches Skull Island, the screen is cluttered with more characters than you could possibly keep track of. Not to worry. Soon enough, they start getting picked off in creative fashion by an army of gargantuan, primordial beasts.
It’s man versus monsters in a struggle to survive an anachronistic hellhole that time forgot. Stick around all the way till the very end of the credits and you’ll be rewarded with an extended postscript setting up Godzilla vs. Kong, a sequel already slated for release in the spring of 2020.
Excellent (4 stars)
Rated PG-13 for action, intense violence and brief profanity
Running time: 118 minutes
Distributor: Warner Brothers Home Entertainment Group
Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack Extras: Deleted scenes; director’s commentary; On Location: Vietnam; Through the Lens: Brie Larson’s Photography; Tom Hiddleston: The Intrepid Traveler; Monarch Files: 2.0; Creating a King: Realizing an Icon; and Creating a King: Summoning a God.
To order a copy of the Kong: Skull Island Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack , visit:
Dunkirk (PG-13 for intense battle scenes and some profanity) World War II saga recreating the evacuation of over 300,000 Allied soldiers from the shores of France after they were surrounded and on the verge of being slaughtered by the Nazi army. Ensemble cast includes Tom Hardy, Kenneth Branagh, Cillian Murphy, Mark Rylance, Fionn Whitehead, Aneurin Barnard, Barry Keoghan and One Direction’s Harry Styles. (In English, French and German with subtitles)
Girls Trip (R for pervasive profanity, crude humor, coarse dialogue, drug use and brief graphic nudity) Female empowerment dramedy revolving around four college classmates (Jada Pinkett Smith, Regina Hall, Queen Latifah and Tiffany Haddish) who reunite for the first time in yearsto attend the Essence Festival in New Orleans. With Larenz Tate, Kate Walsh and Mike Colter, with cameo appearances by Mike Epps, Common, Ne-Yo and Mariah Carey.
Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (PG-13 for action, violence, suggestive material and brief profanity) Adaptation of Valerian and Laureline, a graphic novel set in the 28th Century chronicling the exploits of a couple of time-traveling government agents (Dane DeHaan and Cara Delevingne) assigned to neutralize a mysterious, dark force threatening a metropolis and the future of the universe. Supporting cast includes Rutger Hauer, John Goodman, Herbie Hancock, Clive Owen and Rihanna.
INDEPENDENT & FOREIGN FILMS
The Fencer (Unrated) Golden Globe-nominated biopic, set behind the Iron Curtain during the Cold War, chronicling the life of legendary fencer-turned-political fugitive Endel Nelis (Mart Avandi) who risked his liberty by entering a children’s team in a national tournament being staged in Leningrad. With Kirill Karo, Lembit Ulfsak and Liisa Koppel. (In Estonian, Russian and Armenian with subtitles)
First Kill (R for profanity and violence) Action thriller about a successful Wall St. broker (Hayden Christiansen) who finds himself pressured to cooperate with the gang of bank robbers that took his young son (Ty Shelton) hostage for ransom. Supporting cast includes Bruce Willis, Gethin Anthony and Magi Avila.
Landline (R for sexuality, profanity and drug use) Skeleton-in-the-closet comedy, set in Manhattan in 1995, about a couple of sisters (Jenny Slate and Abby Quinn)spying on the father (John Turturro) they suspect of cheating on their clueless mom (Edie Falco). With Jay Duplaa, Finn Wittrock and Ali Ahn.
The Midwife (Unrated) Bittersweet drama about the unlikely friendship which blossoms between a high-strung midwife (Catherine Frot) and her late father’s, free-spirited mistress (Catherine Deneuve). Featuring Olivier Gourmet, Quentin Dolmaire and Mylene Demongeot. (In French with subtitles)
The Pulitzer at 100 (Unrated) Writing retrospective reflecting upon the centennial celebration of America’s most prestigious literary award. Featuring commentary by prior winners Toni Morrison, Carl Bernstein and Thomas Friedman.
Romeo Is Bleeding (Unrated) Grassroots biopic about idealistic poet/activist Donte Clark’s effort to put an end an escalating, deadly turf war in his Richmond, California ghetto by inviting rival gangstas to participate in a production of Romeo and Juliet.
Santoalla (Unrated) Missing persons documentary revolving around a grieving Dutch widow’s investigation into her husband’s mysterious disappearance a decade after they moved to a tiny Spanish village inhospitable to outsiders. (In English and Galician with subtitles)
Scales: Mermaids Are Real (PG for mild peril and mature themes) Coming-of-age fantasy about an 11 year-old girl (Emmy Perry) who, on the eve of her birthday, learns that she’s destined to morph into a mermaid when she turns 12. With Morgan Fairchild, Elisabeth Rohm, Nikki Hahn and Judy Tenuta.
Who the [bleep] Is That Guy? (Unrated) Prestige biopic about Michael Alago, a gay Puerto Rican from Brooklyn who grew up to become a legendary A&R exec only to have his career wrecked by a combination of AIDS and substance abuse.
Besson Adapts Comic Book Series Novel into Hallucinogenic Sci-fi Spectacular
In 1997, Luc Besson released The Fifth Element, a visually-captivating sci-fi adventure which netted four Cesars, including Best Film and Best Director. A couple of decades later, Luc is back with Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, an even more innovative, outer space odyssey, if that’s possible. The groundbreaking extravaganza is based on “Valerian and Laureline,” a comic book series written by Pierre Christin and illustrated by Jean-Claude Mezieres.
The futuristic tale is set in the 28th Century, and stars Dane DeHaan in the title role as a time/space traveling military officer for Alpha, a city with a thousand planets. Straitlaced Major Valerian patrols that universe with Laureline (Cara Delevingne), a Sergeant well-versed in virtual reality operations.
He also happens to have a crush on his relatively-rebellious sidekick, although she routinely rebuffs his romantic overtures. And they report directly to Commander Arun Filitt (Clive Owen) who, in turn, answers to General Okto Bar (Sam Spruell) as well as Alpha’s Minister of Defense (Herbie Hancock).
The film unfolds on Mul, a utopian paradise inhabited by a peaceful species of bald, bejeweled, barely-clothed creatures. It isn’t long before their carefree frolicking is irreversibly disrupted by an unprovoked attack on the planet by an unknown army of hostile aliens.
The picture abruptly shifts from this devastating apocalypse to a serene scenario worlds away where we find Valerian and Laureline relaxing on a sandbar and soaking up rays. He awakens from a bad dream, a subtle suggestion that everything that we’ve just witnessed might’ve merely been a figment of his imagination.
It would be criminal for me to spoil your cinematic experience by divulging any further developments. Suffice to say that the protagonists proceed to embark on a breathtaking, intergalactic roller coaster ride worth way more than the price of admission.
Along the way, they cross paths with an array of colorful characters ranging from a space age pimp (Ethan Hawke) to a solicitous stripper with a heart of gold (Rihanna). But people mostly serve as distracting interruptions in this eye-popping, special f/x-driven spectacular to remember.
All I can say after watching it is, “Wow!”
Excellent (4 stars)
Rated PG-13 for action, violence, suggestive material and brief profanity
World War II Epic Recreates Flotilla’s Heroic Rescue of Stranded Allies
When Hitler ordered an all-out assault on the Western Front in the spring of 1940, the vaunted Maginot Line proved to be no match for the pulverizing German blitzkrieg. The Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg and France all fell in a matter of weeks, and the rapid collapse proved particularly problematic for the Allied forces.
By May 26th, about 400,000 British, French, Polish, Belgian and Dutch troops had been driven to the sea at Dunkirk, a port located along the northern coast of France. The retreating soldiers soon found themselves stranded on the beach, since there weren’t enough military naval vessels to mount a rapid, full-scale evacuation.
The logistical nightmare left most of the beleaguered, battle weary men in dire need of a miracle, as they’d basically become sitting ducks for Nazi artillery.and Luftwaffe bombs. At 7 pm that evening, the desperate British prime minister decided to issue an urgent appeal to private boat owners to join the rescue effort.
By dawn, over 800 hundred vessels had been pressed into service. The improbable flotilla included everything from speed boats and yachts to tugboats and fishing trawlers to ferries and ocean liners.
For the next nine days, they negotiated their way back and forth across the U-Boat infested waters of the English Channel. And although about a third of the ship would be sunk by the enemy, the altruistic patriots managed to save 338,226 troops.
Leave it to Winston Churchill to put a positive spin on such a devastating military defeat.which claimed the lives of 68,000 Britain soldiers and left the country in fear of an imminent invasion. On June 4th, he took to the floor of the House.of Commonsto deliver a rousing speech assuring the alarmed citizenry that there was no doubt that Great Britain would ultimately prevail.
“Whatever the cost may be,”he said in a stirring summation, “We shall fight on the beaches… We shall fight on the landing grounds… We shall fight in the fields and in the streets… We shall fight in the hills…” concluding, “We shall never surrender!”
All of the above has been chronicled in unique fashion in Dunkirk, a visually-captivating, World War II epic directed by Christopher Nolan. Nolan, the best British director besides Alfred Hitchcock never to win an Oscar, has made a string of memorable movies that includes Memento, Inception, Interstellar and the Batman trilogy, to name a few.
Here, he’s found a novel way to recreate the historic evacuation. Instead of having the docudrama revolve around a single protagonist or a single unit, he has deftly interwoven a half-dozen or so discrete storylines highlighting the different perspectives of a number of unsung heroes. Whether on land, by sea or in the air, many among this patriotic band of brothers survive, but some do make the ultimate sacrifice in the valiant stand against the unspeakable evil spreading across Europe.
Shot in 70mm, Dunkirk is an instant classic worth the extra investment to catch on an IMAX screen. An inspirational tribute to Britain’s Greatest Generation that just might be Chris Nolan’s best picture yet!
Excellent (4 stars)
Rated PG-13 for intense battle scenes and some profanity
Regina Hall launched her career in the late Nineties while still earning a master’s degree from New York University. The accomplished actress will soon appear in Naked, a remake of the 2000 Swedish film Naken. The romantic comedy co-starring Marlon Wayans is set to be released on August 11th.
In 2016, Regina appeared opposite Morris Chestnut in the suspense thriller When the Bough Breaks. Earlier that year, she was seen on the big screen in Barbershop: The Next Cut an ensemble comedy also featuring Ice Cube, Cedric the Entertainer, Common, Eve and Nicki Minaj.
Regina’s other outings include The Best Man, The Best Man Holiday, Think Like a Man andThink Like a Man Too. She also starred in About Last Night, a remake of the 1986 film of the same name.Among her additional film credits are Scary Movie and its three sequels, Paid in Full, Malibu’s Most Wanted and First Sunday. And she was seen in Law Abiding Citizen, Death at a Funeral, Love & Basketball and Disappearing Acts, too
On television, Regina recently made guest appearances on Grandfathered and Black-ish.In January 2015, she starred in the Lifetime film With This Ring.Her other TV credits range from Married to Law & Order: LA to Ally McBeal.
Here, Regina talks about her new movie, Girls Trip, an over-the-top comedy co-starring Queen Latifah, Jada Pinkett Smith and Tiffany Haddish.
Kam Williams: Hey, how are you Regina? .
Regina Hall: Good, good. How are you, Kam?
KW: Great! I’m honored to have another opportunity to interview you.
RH: Thank you.
KW: What interested you in playing Ryan Pierce?
RH: I think it was just the way her character develops. I was drawn to her journey as a woman who seems to have it all, who has this public persona as a celebrity, yet can get together with her girlfriends and be wild.
KW: Was there anyone you based her on?
RH: Not on any one person, but on a mix-up of people.
KW: What was it like being directed by Malcolm [Lee] for the fourth time?
RH: It’s always great working with him and Will [producer Will Packer]. It’s such a collaborative process. It’s fun being directed by Malcolm because he knows me, and I know how he likes to work. There’s a lot of trust. I feel comfortable askingquestions, and We can sit down and talk through things
KW: And how was it working with Jada, Tiffany and Queen Latifah?
RH: It was great. It’s so special to get to work with women you’ve respected for so long, and to get to know them as people. It was like we were on a real girls trip.
KW: Had done anything with Larenz Tate before?
RH: No, but he’s great. i loved working with him. I hadn’t worked with Mike [Colter] or Kofi [Siriboe] before either. They were all fabulous. .
KW: Editor/Legist Patricia Turnier asks: How do you feel about the Essence Music Festival?
RH: It’s a great resource and a great place to have fun. It’s the epicenter for black women that time of year. You can meet people from all over. It has great concerts and New Orleans has amazing food. Yeah, I love the Essence Festival!
KW: Patricia was wondering whether there is an African-American icon you would like to portray?
RH: Hmm… that’s a great question, Patricia. Yes, there are one or two I don’t want to reveal. I don’t think anybody has heard of them.
KW: Patricia also asks: What message do you want people to take away from Girls Trip?
RH: I think it’s about sisterhood, and being true to yourself and to who you are. The movie’s also about friendship. You come to care about these characters because we have a real bond and a real love for each other. Hopefully, people take away that message.
KW: She like to know how did you like New Orleans?
RH: I love the city. I’ve shot there several times before. The people are so warm. The food is a little bit too tasty. I try to arrive about 5 pounds underweight, so I can a few while I’m there. That way, I won’t look too heavy on camera. I always gain weight when I’m there. But I love New Orleans because it has a lot of heart and a lot of soul, and very beautiful people who are always so kind.
KW: Patricia concludes by saying: You went to college before your acting career. You obtained a master’s degree in journalism. Many kids think they do not need an education to make it in the entertainment industry. How has your education benefited you professionally?
RH: It served several purposes. It helped me to break down and understand scripts. And the discipline of getting my master’s gave me a certain amount of confidence. I don’t think college is the only path, but I enjoyed it and it worked out very well for me. I had some good friends with whom I could get a little crazy, but still be responsible. It was the perfect bridge from living at home to independence. I also love learning. I might have been a professional student and earned a couple of doctorates, if I didn’t have to pay bills.
KW: It’s unfortunate how expensive college has become, putting higher education out of the reach of most children.
RH: That is sad. Education ought to be affordable for everybody. That only advances a society.
KW: What was your very first job?
RH: I can’t remember if I worked in a movie theater or at Constitution Hall in DC first?
KW: The Uduak Oduok question: Who is your favorite clothes designer?
RH: I honestly don’t know if I could pick just one. There are so many. That list is long.
KW: Larry Greenberg asks: Do you have a favorite movie monster?
RH: I really do love King Kong. Hope he saves a black woman next time, instead of falling in love with a little blonde lady.
KW: What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done?
RH: Once, my roommates and I had a cab driver who offered to take 50 cents off for every article of clothing we removed. Now, I wonder why we didn’t get out of the taxi. But, I guess that’s the sort of thing you can get talked into when you’re 19.
KW: How much clothing did you take off?
RH: Not much, since there were three of us. Just our shoes and socks.
KW: Mike Pittman asks: What was your best career decision?
RH: Doing Scary Movie, even though there were some people who thought it would hurt my career, after The Best Man and Love & Basketball. But it was a good decision to do something different, because it opened other doors.
KW: The Gabby Douglas question: If you had to choose another profession, what would that be?
RH: I don’t know… Something with animals. I’d probably be in Borneo, holding an orangutan.
KW: The Kerry Washington question: If you were an animal, what animal would you be?
RH: Probably an orangutan. I love orangutans. There so much fun, and there so close to us in DNA. and they’re so cute with that hair on their heads that sticks up. And their females are the longest nursing of all animals. they love their babies, even though their habitats are being destroyed for palm oil.
KW: Finally, what’s in your wallet?
RH: Not enough. [LOL]
KW: Thanks again for the time, Regina, and best of luck with Girls Trip.
Ryan (Regina Hall), Sasha (Queen Latifah), Dina (Tiffany Haddish) and Lisa (Jada Pinkett Smith) have been friends since their college days in the Nineties. Back then, the tight-knit Flossy Posse partied as hard as they hit the books. After graduating, they curtailed the carousing considerably for the sake of their professional careers.
Today, journalism major Sasha’s still struggling to pay the bills as a gossip columnist. Divorced Lisa’s exhausted between her demanding nursing job and having to raise a couple of kids alone. And short-fused Dina just got fired for assaulting a colleague.
By contrast, self-help guru Ryan seems to be on top of the world. Not only is her new book, “You Can Have It All,” on the best seller list, but she’s happily-married to Stewart (Mike Colter), a handsome and charming, former football star. Plus, the successful couple is on the verge of landing their own, nationally-syndicated TV talk show.
At the point of departure, Ryan is set to deliver the keynote speech at the Essence Festival, an annual celebration of African-American music and culture. She can think of no better occasion to reunite the Flossy Posse for the first time in years, so she invites her BFFs to join her for an all-expenses paid trip to New Orleans.
The girlfriends jump at the opportunity to share a wild weekend of debauchery all around the Big Easy. What ensues is jaw-dropping: there’s explicit sex chat… male frontal-nudity… hallucinating from substance abuse… even urinating on revelers from a zip line strung above Basin Street.
Directed by Malcolm Lee (The Best Man franchise), Girls Trip is a relentlessly-raunchy romp which starts out as a shock comedy before turning into a message movie towards the end. The adventure unfolds like an African-American variation of Rough Night and Bridesmaids, at least until Ryan’s marriage is exposed as a charade. At that juncture, it morphs into a morality play reminiscent of a Tyler Perry production.
Since I saw the film in a theater full of sisters, it’s easy for me to report that this female empowerment flick will certainly resonate with its target audience. In fact, they laughed so loudly that I must have missed half the picture’s punchlines. And what better stamp of approval could you ask for than a standing ovation as the curtain comes down?
Excellent (4 stars)
Rated R for pervasive profanity, crude humor, graphic sexual dialogue, drug use and brief frontal nudity
The Big Sick (R for profanity and sexual references) Romantic comedy recounting the real-life courting of fan (Zoe Kazan) by a Pakistani stand-up comedian (Kumail Nanjiani as himself). Supporting cast includes Ray Romano, Holly Hunter and SNL’s Aidy Bryant.
War for the Planet of the Apes (PG-13 for action, violence, mature themes and disturbing images) Captivating capstone to the popular primate trilogy pits Caesar (Andy Serkis) and the simians against an army of humans led by a ruthless colonel (Woody Harrelson) in an epic showdown that will determine the fate of both species once and for all. With Steve Zahn, Terry Notary and Judy Greer.
Wish Upon (PG-13 for profanity, violence, disturbing images and mature themes) Body count horror flick about a mysterious music box that grants a grateful 17 year-old’s (Joey King) every wish, including money, love and popularity. Trouble is, she has no idea her good fortune comes with a deadly price. Co-starring Ryan Phillippe, Ki Hong Lee and Mitchell Slaggert.
INDEPENDENT & FOREIGN FILMS
Battle Scars (Unrated) Post war drama about a veteran’s (Zane Holtz) attempt to readjust to civilian life after suffering devastating physical and psychic wounds during a tour of duty in Afghanistan. Featuring Ryan Eggold, Jamal Woolard and Heather McComb.
Birthright: A War Story (Unrated) Women’s reproductive rights are the subject of this documentary examining the effort to repeal Roe v.Wade.
Blind (R for profanity, sexual references and brief drug use) Romance drama about a blind widower (Alec Baldwin) who having a risky love affair with the wife (Demi Moore) of a powerful, white-collar criminal (Dylan McDermott) temporarily imprisoned for insider trading. With Eden Epstein, Viva Bianca and Dorothy Liman.
Bronx Gothic (Unrated) Reverential biopic about Okwui Okpokwasili and her autobiographical, one-woman play about coming-of-age black and female in New York in the Eighties.
Chasing Coral (Unrated) Climate change documentary featuring divers’ time-lapse photography as well as scientists exploring why the world’s coral reefs are disappearing at an alarming rate.
Lady Macbeth (R for profanity, sexuality, frontal nudity and disturbing violence) Adaptation of Nikolai Leskov’s classic novel, set in the 19th Century, about a miserably-married teenager (Florence Pugh) who cheats on her rich, sadistic husband twice her age (Paul Hilton) with one of the servants (Cosmo Jarvis). With Christopher Fairbank, Naomi Ackie and Anton Palmer.
To the Bone (Unrated) Fact-based drama about a 20 year-old anorexic (Lily Collins) who enters a rehab clinic run by a physician (Keanu Reeves) with an unorthodox bedside manner. Cast includes Carrie Preston, Liana Liberato and Brooke Smith.