Kam on Film: ‘He Named Me Malala,’ ‘Ashby’ and What’s New In Theaters Kam Williams September 30, 2015 Columns He Named Me Malala Fox Searchlight Pictures Rated PG-13 for death threats, mature themes and disturbing images Powerful Portrait Of Nobel Prize-Winning Teen Illustrates Indomitability Of The Human Spirit Malala Yousafzai was named after a girl who spoke out and was killed for speaking out. That folk hero was a flag-bearing teenager who perished in 1880 while rallying fellow Pashtun resistance fighters to an unlikely victory over British invaders in a pivotal battle of the Second Anglo-Afghan War. After settling on the very meaningful moniker, Malala’s father inscribed it into his genealogy because no females were mentioned in the family tree stretching back several centuries. Furthermore, Ziauddin Yousafzai resolved to raise his daughter to see herself as the equal of any boy. While such an approach might be unremarkable in the West, it was downright heretical in the Swat District of Pakistan, a hotbed of Islamic fundamentalism in the late 20th century. For, over the course of Malala’s formative years, much of the country was being terrorized by the Taliban which had taken to blowing up any schools which had the temerity to admit girls. In defiance of their militant mullah’s mandate against any female education, Mr. Yousafzai not only allowed his daughter to matriculate, but even spurred her to speak out online as an equal rights advocate blogger. This only served to infuriate Mullah Fazlullah who issued a fatwa against her over the radio, which led to an assassination attempt on a school bus by one of his henchmen. Malala, who was just 15 at the time, was lucky to survive the bullet to the brain. While she languished unresponsive attached to hospital tubes, her worried folks had no idea whether their daughter would ever be able to even walk or talk again. She eventually emerged from the coma deaf in one ear and in need of months and months of rehabilitation just to master simple bodily functions most people take for granted. Initially, she blamed her dad for her plight, since he was the one who’d cultivated her activist streak. “I am a child,” she said, “You are my father. You should have stopped me. What happened to me is because of you.” But eventually her health was substantially restored, and she became a stoic and serene symbol of resistance to radical Islam. With continued death threats hanging over their heads, the Yousafzai family (including Malalal’s mom and two younger brothers) was forced to resettle in England where she would become a champion of oppressed females all over the planet. Directed by Oscar winner Davis Guggenheim (for An Inconvenient Truth), He Named Me Malala is an emotionally-engaging biopic chronicling the close father-daughter relationship which enabled Malala to flourish in the midst of sheer intolerance. Their tender interplay is intermittently enhanced by animated interludes which tend to intensify the sentiment. The picture makes an inexorable march to Malala’s emergence as an international icon, culminating in her becoming the youngest person ever to win the Nobel Peace Prize. Pack the Kleenex for this powerful portrait illustrating the indomitability of the human spirit. Easily, the best film of 2015 thus far! Excellent (4 stars) Running time: 87 minutes Ashby Paramount Pictures Rated R for profanity, violence and some sexuality. Assassin And Teen Make Strange Bedfellows Un Unlikely-Buddies Dramedy Ashby Holt (Mickey Rourke) has just been informed by his doctor (Max Lesser) that he only has a few months to live. Besides putting his personal affairs in order, the terminally-ill retired spy wants to ensure that he’s able to enter the Kingdom of Heaven upon his demise. The problem is that he performed about a hundred hits over the course of his career with the CIA, thereby repeatedly violating the Fifth Commandment: “Thou shalt not kill.” So, as a devout Catholic, he suddenly believes the only way he’ll be able to enter the proverbial Pearly Gates is by seeking forgiveness for his sins. However, also weighing heavily on Ashby’s conscience is the innocent man he was once tricked into assassinating. And before confessing to Father Ted (Zachary Knighton), he’d first like to exact a measure of revenge on behalf of the victim by taking out the three evil superiors who had knowingly issued that order. Still, given his deteriorating health there’s no way he could probably pull off such a feat on his own. That’s where Ed Wallis (Nat Wolff) comes in. The nerdy 17-year-old newcomer is sorely in need of a good role model, given how his flaky mother (Sarah Silverman) sleeps around and his absentee-father is entirely out of the picture. Ed’s also having trouble fitting in at Varga Prep where he’s being teased for being a nerd by everyone but equally-geeky Eloise (Emma Roberts). The plot thickens when he’s handed a school assignment to write a paper about an elder and he approaches his next door neighbor, Ashby. The reclusive stranger agrees on the condition that the kid chauffeur him around town, conveniently hiding the fact that Ed will unwittingly be serving as a getaway driver for several grisly murders. That’s the premise of Ashby, an unlikely-buddies dramedy written and directed by Peter McNamara (The Rage In Placid Lake). The movie unfolds almost like four films in one, since besides the Ed-Ashby dynamic, it devotes considerable attention to Ed’s dysfunctional home life, his budding romance with Eloise, and his attempt to make the football team. Nevertheless, most of the picture’s tension revolves around whether Ashby will survive long enough to complete his grim tasks. Mickey Rourke proves the best of a very capable cast here, bringing the requisite balance of swagger and vulnerability to lend credibility to the rapidly-expiring title character. A genre-bending adventure which somehow successfully combines elements of the coming-of-age and last hurrah formulas. Very Good (3 stars) Running time: 100 minutes OPENING THIS WEEK Kam’s Kapsules: For movies opening October 2, 2015 Legend (R for pervasive profanity, graphic violence, sexuality and drug use) Mob saga revisiting the exploits of Reggie and Ronnie Kray (Tom Hardy), infamous identical twins who ran a powerful crime syndicate in London in the Sixties. Supporting cast includes Emily Browning, Paul Bettany and Chazz Palminteri. The Martian (PG-13 for profanity, injury images and brief profanity) Adaptation of Andy Weir’s sci-fi thriller of the same name about an astronaut’s (Matt Damon) struggle to survive on Mars after being presumed dead and left behind on the planet by fellow crew members. A-list ensemble includes Oscar nominees Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig and Chiwetel Ejiofor, along with Jeff Daniels, Kate Mara, Michael Pena, and Donald Glover. The Walk (PG for mature themes, peril, brief nudity, drug references, smoking and mild epithets) Historical drama, set in Manhattan in 1974, recreating daredevil Philippe Petit’s (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) high-wire walk between the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center. With Ben Kingsley, Charlotte Le Bon, Ben Schwartz and James Badge Dale. Addicted To Fresno (Unrated) Dysfunctional siblings comedy revolving around a lesbian (Natasha Lyonne) working as a maid in a hotel where her sex-addicted sister (Judy Greer) just out of rehab accidentally kills a guest during a passionate relapse. With Aubrey Plaza, Clea Duvall, Fred Armisen and Molly Shannon. Brand: A Second Coming (Unrated) Warts-and-all biopic about iconoclastic actor/comedian Russell Brand, following the British bad boy as he dives headlong into drugs, sex and fame in an attempt to find happiness, only to realize we have all been nurtured on bad ideas and empty celebrity idols. Freeheld (PG-13 for profanity, sexuality and mature themes) Gay rights docudrama inspired by the Oscar-winning documentary of the same name chronicling the struggle of a terminally-ill, NJ police lieutenant (Julianne Moore) to secure pension benefits for her lesbian life partner (Ellen Page). With Steve Carell, Michael Shannon and Josh Charles. Gravy (Unrated) Horror comedy about a trio of costumed misfits who seize control of a Mexican restaurant before forcing the staff to consume some unusual cuisine and libations. Featuring James Roday, Dule’ Hill, Lily Cole, Gabourey Sidibe, Sarah Silverman, Sutton Foster and Paul Rodriguez Northern Soul (Unrated) Musical drama, set in 1974, about a couple of young British BFFs (Josh Whitehouse and Eliot James Langridge) whose horizons are widened by the discovery of American soul music. Support cast includes Emily Aston, James Rhodes-Baxter and Dylan Brown. Partisan (Unrated) Suspense thriller, set in a utopian commune isolated from society, where an 11-year-old boy (Jeremy Chabriel) meets resistance when starts to question the motives of the cult’s domineering leader (Vincent Cassel). With Nigel Barber, Florence Mezzara and Timothy Styles. Shanghai (R for graphic violence, drug use and brief profanity) Suspense drama, set in 1941, about an American who falls in love and uncovers a political conspiracy when he ventures to occupied Shanghai to investigate the mysterious death of a friend. With Gong Li, Chow Yun Fat, Franka Potente, Ken Watanabe and David Morse. (In English, Mandarin, Japanese and German with subtitles) Shout Gladi Gladi (Unrated) Medical care documentary, narrated by Meryl Streep, celebrating the efforts of altruistic nurse-turned-peripatetic philanthropist Ann Gloag dedicated to healing African women suffering from obstetric fistulas. Sicario (R for profanity, graphic violence and grisly images) Crime thriller revolving around an idealistic FBI Agent (Emily Blunt) enlisted by a federal task force to fight the war on drugs along the Mexican border. With Benicio Del Toro, Josh Brolin and Jon Bernthal. (In English and Spanish with subtitles) Taxi (Unrated) Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi masqueraded as a cabbie to shoot this picture highlighting a day in the life of a typical taxi driver in Teheran. 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