Monday, May 25, 2015

WINNERS FROM THE 2015 CANNES FILM FESTIVAL

The 68th annual Cannes Film Festival came to a close with the selection of "Dheepan", the story of Sri Lankan refugees trying to make a new life in Paris, for the Palme d'Or . This understated film, directed by French filmmaker Jacques Audiard ("A Prophet", "Rust and Bone"), was a surprise winner for this top film honor. The highly unconventional Holocaust drama "Son of Saul" by Hungarian director, Laszlo Nemes, took the Grand Prix or runner-up prize.

Another surprise was for Best Actress as there was a tie. Emmanuelle Bercot, who directed the opening-night film, "La Tete Haute (Standing Tall)", took home the acting honor for her deeply emotional role in "Mon Roi". Rooney Mara shared the prize for her impressive work in Todd Haynes' "Carol" which she plays a young lesbian shopgirl opposite Cate Blanchett's curious housewife.

Here is a partial list of winners from this year's Cannes Film Festival:

Palme d'Or: "Dheepan"


Grand Prix: "Saul fia (Son of Saul)"

Best Director: Hou Hsiao-Hsien, "The Assassin"



Best Screenplay: Michel Franco, "Chronic"



Best Actor: Vincent Lindon, "The Measure of a Man"

Best Actress: (Tie) Rooney Mara, "Carol" and Emmanuelle Bercot, "Mon Roi"



Camera d'Or (Best First Feature): "La Tierra y la Sombre"

Palme d'Or (Short Film): "Waves ’98"

Jury Prize: "The Lobster"

Un Certain Regard Prize: "Hrútar (Rams)"



Un Certain Regard Director: Kiyoshi Kurosawa, "Journey to the Shore"

Un Certain Regard Jury prize: "Zvizdan (The High Sun)"




Sunday, May 17, 2015

CLOUDS OF SILS MARIA (2015)

Written & Directed by Olivier Assayas


Where & When: Sundance Sunset Cinemas, West Hollywood, CA.  April 25, 2015  1:40PM


"Clouds of Sils Maria" takes a look at a mature actress who has enjoyed a fruitful and acclaimed career on stage and screen. Now asked to join in a remake that made her famous, not in the role of the young girl she once played but of the damaged older character. The very thought brings out all of her fears and insecurities in an industry that holds aging in contempt, particularly for women. It may sound like another innocuous tale of Hollywood elitism but the latest by French filmmaker Olivier Assayas offers something far more intricate, dreamy and even mysterious. The director's films, especially his female-centric cult classics "Irma Vep" and "Demonlover", have been characterized as working within conventional themes before venturing towards a strange and unexpected course. "Clouds" certainly follows that path and while not entirely successful. it is well worth exploring.

It should be no surprise that Juliette Binoche, always one of the more compelling film performers working today, is absolutely riveting in the part of the actress. What is more of an eye-opener is Kristen Stewart as the devoted personal assistant. Never been much of a fan as I feel the young actress comes across far too sullen and detached on screen to be particularly engaging. The overwhelming fame she achieved from the "Twilight" series didn't help, seeming to cause her to withdraw even further. Although still not fully sold, I'll freely admit this is one of Ms Stewart's finest performances. She even earned the César for Best Supporting Actress for her work here, an impressive first for a non-French speaking actor.

An actress of international renown, Marina Enders (Binoche), travels by train to accept a career achievement award for Wilhelm Melchior, a popular Swiss playwright and filmmaker who gave the first major part to her in one of his early works, "Maloja Snake". In the middle of a nasty divorce, Marina would completely unravel without the sturdy assistance of Valentine (Stewart), who keeps her life organized, offers sound advice and holds her up during difficult situations. That certainly is required during this trip as she has the difficult task of informing Marina that her dear friend has passed away.

Distraught and unsure of whether to continue on to Zurich, Valentine convinces Marina to follow through with accepting the prize. While at the ceremony, the assistant talks her boss in to meeting with the in-demand director who wants her to star in a new stage production of "Maloja Snake". Having previously turned down the request to play the tragic role of the middle-aged woman who ultimately ends her life, the actress becomes more open but still reluctant to commit after some discussion.

Some time later at Melchior's chalet in the tranquil Swiss alps, Marina begins rehearsing for the play. With only Valentine by her side to help run her lines. Marina becomes increasingly more agitated as she digs further in to the role. Lost and unmotivated, she becomes wistful of her time as the ingenue. As for the acting rival that will be taking over her previous part, Marina is disturbed to find that Jo-Ann Ellis (Chloë Grace Moretz) is a troubled but talented young starlet with a wild lifestyle that helps make the paparazzi very rich. When they finally meet, Marina is surprised to find a polished and thoughtful actress before her, filled with gushing compliments though still far from tabloid-free.

The most fascinating feature of the script by Mr. Assayas is the working relationship between Marina and Valentine. Far from simple and straightforward, it may not be strange for two people who spend so much time together to be close but boundaries become blurred, positions of power shift and words spoken to each other appear to offer alternative meaning. This is particularly the case as Marina and Valentine run through lines of the play, the dark and complex conversation between the characters appear to bleed through in to their own elusive connection.

The odd plot twist in the final act throws "Clouds of Sils Maria" out of whack and doesn't fully recover. Despite this brief set back, the film remains just as graceful and majestic as the airy clouds we see traveling through those mountains in Switzerland. The additional treat of watching these wonderful actresses display their great talent makes this truly a magical experience.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

2015 CANNES FILM FESTIVAL


The French Riviera will soon once again be in the spotlight as the 68th Annual Cannes Film Festival will take place on May 13th to 24th. One of the most beautiful faces to ever grace the silver screen, Ingrid Bergman has been selected to represent this year's Cannes with her image featured on the poster. Her daughter, actress Isabella Rossellini was named president of Un Certain Regard which is a section of the festival that celebrates new films that are considered "original and different"

The prestigious international event has recently revealed their selections to be screened and "La Tête haute (Standing Tall)" will open the festival. This is notable as the director Emmanuelle Bercot will only be the second female to have their film open the fest (Diane Kurys with "Un homme amoureux (A Man In Love)" in 1987 was the first). Catherine Deneuve and Benoît Magimel star in this story of a troubled boy (Rod Paradot) growing up in a tough neighborhood with a social worker and judge trying to help him. The closing night film will be "La Glace et le ciel (Ice and The Sky)". This documentary by Luc Jacquet (who made the Oscar-winning doc, "March of The Penquins") takes a look at Claude Lorius, one of the first scientists to express concern about global warming back in 1965.

American directors, Joel and Ethan Cohen will head this year's jury and their fellow jurors are equally impressive; Rossy de Palma, the Spanish actress (best known for her work with Pedro Almodovar), Jake Gyllenhaal, American actor, French star and director Sophie Marceau, Mali-born singer-songwriter Rokia Traoré, British actress Sienna Miller, French-Canadian filmmaker Xavier Dolan (who tied the Jury Prize last year with Jean-Luc Godard for "Mommy") and Mexican director Guillermo del Toro.

There are a total of thirty-eight films that will be competing for prizes which includes the long-awaited feature comeback by Todd Haynes with "Carol" starring Cate Blanchett, a new version of "Macbeth" featuring Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard, a previous Cannes winner for "Dogtooth", Yorgos Lanthimos with his first English-language film, "The Lobster" which stars Colin Farrell and Rachel Weisz, the latest from Gus Van Sant, "Sea of Trees" and "Youth", the second English-language film from Italian filmmaker, Paolo Sorrentino who won a Best Foriegn-Language Film Oscar for "The Great Beauty" last year.



Some films that are screening out of competition are the rebooted "Mad Max: Fury Road", the annual Woody Allen pic, "Irrational Man" the Amy Winehouse doc, "Amy" and "Love", a sexual melodrama involving a boy, a girl and another girl by controversial director, Gaspar Noé.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

2015 SUMMER MOVIE PREVIEW

Once it's time to put away all those heavy coats, gloves and sweaters, you know that summer is just around the corner. This movie season is certainly filled with plenty of the usual caped crime-stoppers, sequels and remakes but having learned lessons from the previous years, there are also other interesting options offered. You will see more female-driven comedies (Reese Witherspoon & Sofia Vergara in "Hot Pursuit" and Melissa McCarthy in "Spy" to name just two) and challenging indies (Michael Fassbender in the western, "Slow West", Jack Black and James Marsden getting very close in the wild bromance, "The D Train") to deliver some warm-weather cinematic alternatives.

Here is my small list of some of the upcoming summer flicks that I'm really looking forward to seeing.

All dates are subject to change:

"AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON"

Release date: May 1, 2015

The mother of all super-hero movies, "The Avengers" smashed box-office records by globally raking in over a billion dollars back in 2012. The inevitable sequel is here and "Avengers: Age of Ultron" has our band of heroes trying to once again save the world from complete destruction. Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) creates an artificial intelligence device that is self-aware called Ultron (James Spader). It's purpose was for maintaining peace on the planet, however Ultron decides that Earth would be safer without humans. The Avengers (that includes Samuel L. Jackson, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson, Chris Evans and Jeremy Renner returning in their respective roles) not only have to stop this machine but also have to deal with Ultron's allies, Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), The Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) and the Vision (Paul Bettany).



"WELCOME TO ME"

Release date: May 1, 2015

The very gifted Kristen Wiig is given the opportunity to combine her comedic skills and dramatic abilities in the quirky comedy "Welcome To Me". It tells the story of a woman (Wiig) with borderline personality disorder who is off her meds. After winning millions in the lottery, she decides she wants to become famous like Oprah and starts her own talk show. The actress surrounds herself with an impressive cast that includes James Marsden, Wes Bentley, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Joan Cusack and Tim Robbins.



"MAD MAX: FURY ROAD"

Release date: May 15, 2015

I will be the first to admit I'm truly suffering from remake/reboot fatigue. Now having said that, there are a few coming out this summer that have me slightly intrigued. One of them is "Mad Max: Fury Road". Thirty years after the first film, director and co-writer George Miller takes us back to the post-apocalyptic world of Max. Instead of Mel Gibson (thank goodness), we now have Tom Hardy in the role. This time, Max is being imprisoned by Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne). He will earn his freedom by the hardened, Furiosa (Charlize Theron) in exchange for helping her escape across the desert with five women held captive by Joe.



"MADAME BOVARY"

Release date: June 12. 2015

After delivering a mesmerizing performance in 2011's "Jane Eyre", Aussie actress, Mia Wasikowska is tackling another literary classic. This time it's "Madame Bovary", the French novel about a young woman who marries a kind but uninteresting doctor (Henry Lloyd-Hughes). Bored and unhappy, she begins searching for fulfillment through extramarital affairs. Ezra Miller, Rhys Ifans and Paul Giamatti also star.



"JURASSIC WORLD"

Release date: June 12, 2015

"Jurassic World", the third sequel to "Jurassic Park", is set over twenty years later with a finally realized theme-park with live dinosaurs roaming the island. What could possibly go wrong? Bryce Dallas Howard is the profit-seeking operations manager and Chris Pratt (who brightened last summer with "Guardians of The Galaxy") is a lead member of the staff that studies these creatures. No surprise that these two don't see eye to eye.



"WHAT HAPPENED, MISS SIMONE?"

Release date: June 24, 2015

"AMY"

Release date: July TBA

These two documentaries focuses on two of the most extraordinary voices in pop music. In "What Happened, Miss Simone?", director Liz Garbus uses interviews and extensive concert footage to explore the life of "The High Priestess of Soul", Nina Simone. Eccentric, demanding and complicated (although this is at least partially due to her being later diagnosed as bipolar), Simone was a masterful musician and unique vocalist who struggled to control her demons.



Another great talent that struggled to fight her demons throughout her short life is British pop singer, Amy Winehouse. Award-winning director, Asif Kapadia shaped "Amy" around having the late artist reveal herself in her own words though previously unseen interviews and performances. "Amy" has just been selected to be screened at this year's Cannes Film Festival.



"TRAINWRECK"

Release date: July 17, 2015

The busy Judd Apatow ("The 40 Year-Old Virgin", "Bridesmaids", HBO's "Girls") is back with his fifth film as a director and "Trainwreck" looks very promising. He has tapped hot comedian, Amy Schumer to star and write the script for this comedy loosely based on experiences in her own life. She plays a men's magazine writer who is seriously commitmentphobic until she meets a charming sports doctor (Bill Hader) that makes her reconsider her strong aversion to romance. The eclectic cast ranges from comedians (SNL's Vanessa Bayer, Collin Quinn), Oscar winners (the fabulous Tilda Swinton, Marisa Tomei), a pro wrestler (John Cena), rapper (Method Man) and basketball player (LeBron James).



"SOUTHPAW"

Release date: July 24, 2015

"Southpaw" is a gritty drama that stars an almost unrecognizable Jake Gyllenhaal as a hulking boxing champ with a beautiful wife (Rachel McAdams) and child. After his wife is tragically murdered, the boxer's career unravels with his erratic behaviour causes him to lose his daughter to child protection services. The only solution is for him to get back in the ring with the help of a new trainer (Forest Whitaker). Antoine Fuqua ("Training Day", "The Equalizer") directs.



"RICKI AND THE FLASH"

Release date : August 7, 2015

It wouldn't feel like summer without Meryl Streep and she's here in "Ricki and The Flash". Oscar-winner Jonathan Demme ("The Silence of The Lambs") directs this dramedy (written by fellow Oscar-winner, Diablo Cody) about a wife and mother (Streep) who abandons her family to pursue her dream of a rock & roll career. Now, years later, she wants to reconnect with her adult children (Sebastian Stan and Streep's real-life daughter, Mamie Gummer) during their time of crisis but that will not be easy. Kevin Kline, six-time Tony winner, Audra McDonald and '80's rocker, Rick Springfield also star.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

THE COLCOA FILM FESTIVAL

The COLCOA Film Festival, which delivers the finest of French cinema to American audiences, will run it's nineteenth event in Los Angeles April 20th to April 28th. Not only have they expanded this by an additional day but for the first time COLCOA will be presenting the best of films produced for French television. There will be a record sixty-eight films screened along with twenty shorts and documentaries.


The festival kicks off with the North American premiere of "Un homme idéal" (A Perfect Man). Written and directed by Yann Gozian, this psychological thriller involves a man (Pierre Niney) who claims a dead man's diary as his own and turns it in to a successful novel. While enjoying his new life of women and fame, he struggles to keep the truth from being revealed as pressure mounts for his next book. Niney is a rising star in France due to his recent Best Actor César for "Saint Laurent".



Michel Hazanavicius, the Oscar-winning director of "The Artist" will be this year's Focus on a Filmmaker and will screen his latest film, "The Search" and his 2002 comedy, "OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies".





The fest will also present the restoration of Jean Renoir's 1931 "La Chienne" and screen François Truffaut's 1980 "Le Dernier Métro" (The Last Metro) which stars Catherine Deneuve and Gérard Depardieu.



For the complete list of films, purchase tickets and additional information, please click below:

2015 COLCOA Film Festival

Thursday, April 2, 2015

THE WRECKING CREW (2015)

Directed by Denny Tedesco


Where & When: Sundance Sunset Theaters, West Hollywood, CA. March 24, 2015 2:30PM



The documentary, "The Wrecking Crew" made a splashy premiere at the SXSW Film Festival way back in 2008. The film, named after the little-known collective of session musicians who played on just about every song you might have heard recorded throughout the 1960's and early 1970's, took home several prizes during it's run on the festival circuit that year. A successful theatrical run seemed inevitable but the doc's momentum came to an unexpected grinding halt. Due to all of the numerous songs played in the film, the rights needed to obtained which also meant that more money needed to be paid. That was not a speedy process for director Denny Tedesco but after a spirited  Kickstarter campaign raised the funds, the remarkable "The Wrecking Crew" is finally able to be shown to the world.

This project began as a way for Mr. Tedesco to honor the legacy of his father, Tommy who was part of this band of brothers (and sister) that shaped the sound of contemporary pop music with little fanfare and virtually no credit. With the elder Tedesco fighting cancer, the director knew he had a limited time to record his father and got together many of the other musicians to recall their stories on how these songs were created.

It really shouldn't be a great surprise that the main focus here is on Tommy Tedesco but he was a colorful, fascinating character and brilliant guitarist who was able to play a large number of different stringed instruments. In addition to the interviews, we see footage of Tedesco telling stories and teaching at a master class as well as home movies of him at work and play. He started off playing jazz, however Tedesco soon found himself making his living playing rock and roll. Not particularly a fan of the music (which was true for most of these artists) but he learned to eventually appreciate the genre.

There's a slight dispute over how the name "Wrecking Crew" came about, with members of the band having varied recollections on who actually came up with it. Some of the other players on board to share their stories are drummer, Hal Blaine (who memorably kicked off The Ronettes' 1963 hit, "Be My Baby") sax man, Plas Johnson (who played that seminal solo on "The Pink Panther" theme) and on bass, Carol Kaye. Being the lone female among the boys was never an issue because she was considered a true musician, so Kaye (who was responsible for that bass line on Sonny & Cher's "The Beat Goes On") was treated as an equal. A couple members of the crew, Glen Campbell and Leon Russell would go on to forge successful solo music careers and guess who they called to play on their records?

Many of the pop artists who benefited from the amazing talents of these musicians appear on screen to sing their praises. That includes Herb Alpert, Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys, Micky Dolenz and Peter Tork of The Monkees, Nancy Sinatra and the one and only, Cher with producers Lou Adler, "Bones" Howe and prolific writer Jimmy Webb joining the chrous. By the mid '70's, many bands wanted to have more control over their sound and began actually playing on their recordings. This effectively put the Wrecking Crew pretty much out of business and brought an end to an era.

While not nearly as vibrant as "Twenty Feet From Stardom", the Oscar-winning doc on the background vocalists working during this same period, "The Wrecking Crew" is still quite illuminating. According to the film, these top-notch musicians seemed to be buried even further in the background than those singers as the producers and record labels didn't want the world to know that their favorite artists were not playing the music on their hit songs. But these professionals didn't worry much about credit because they were too busy making a great living doing what they love.

Tommy Tedesco didn't live to see the completed documentary (he passed away in 1997) but I can safely assume he would be very moved and proud of not only what an electrifying work his son has accomplished but also how "The Wrecking Crew" finally gives this hard-working band their long overdue recognition.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

CINDERELLA (2015)

Written by Chris Weitz


Directed by Kenneth Branagh


Where & When: Vista Theater, Hollywood, CA. March 15, 2015 1:15PM


Since the Walt Disney Studios has seemed to run out of fairy tales to animate, the idea is to produce live-action versions of their classic films. First to arrive was "Alice In Wonderland" and it proved to be a global sensation, amassing over a billion dollars during it's run back in 2010. With that kind of success, "The Jungle Book", "Dumbo" and "Beauty and The Beast" are on a fast track to reach theaters but for now, "Cinderella" is the latest to be brought to life. While I wasn't overly impressed by Tim Burton's bombastic take of Alice's trippy adventures, what Kenneth Branagh has done with "Cinderella" I find to be inspired and magical. The director has made a spirited, straight-forward film, remaining fairly faithful to this timeless fable based on the 1950 Disney movie and the first written adaption by French author, Charles Perrault (and avoiding the unpleasant cutting off toes to fit in the slipper stuff like in the Brothers Grimm version). The graceful script by writer/director Chris Weitz has wisely kept the modern touches to a minimum which allows us to be swept away by one of the very first love stories.

Our tale begins with a little girl named Ella who is deeply loved by her much-in-love parents (Ben Chaplin and Hayley Atwell). Their idyllic life is shattered when her mother suddenly becomes gravely ill. Her final wish is for her young daughter to always display courage and remain kind to others, which Ella promises.

Ella grows up to become a beautiful young woman (now played by Lily James of "Downton Abbey" fame). Her uncomplicated life with her father is disrupted when he remarries a recent widow. Lady Tramaine (Cate Blanchett) arrives with her dimwitted, gaudy daughters, Drisella (Sophie McShera, also from "Downton") and Anastasia (Holliday Grainger) and a cat named Lucifer in tow. The evil stepmother is the showiest role in this story and without a doubt, the two-time Oscar winner makes it all her own, carrying herself like a fanciful peacock with arched eyebrows, blood-red lips and an icy chilliness that Joan Crawford would envy.

After Ella loses her father due to an illness while out at sea, she's left alone with these horrible women. Short of funds, Lady Tramaine dismisses the staff and encourages her stepdaughter to help around the house. Moved up to the attic and no longer allowed to eat with the family, Ella soon realizes she has become nothing more than a live-in maid. After serving breakfast covered in soot, her step-sisters cruelly rename her "Cinderella".

Frustrated with trying to keep her promise to her mother, Ella rides off and stumbles across a hunting party. Among the hunters is Prince Charming (Richard Madden) who becomes so enchanted by this simple girl that he decides not to disclose his identity. Under pressure to marry someone royal, the Prince decides to select his bride at the upcoming ball but extends the invitation to all eligible ladies of the land with the hope of seeing Ella again. When the news reaches Lady Tramaine, she spares no expense at making sure her daughters will captivate the Prince. Ella announces she'd like to go too but her step-mother savagely removes that thought out of her head.

Once Helena Bonham Carter arrives as Ella's daffy fairy godmother to magically whisk her off to the ball, we know she will dazzle the Prince, dash off moments before midnight, leaving behind her glass slipper and then the future King will desperately search throughout the entire kingdom for the only woman that can fit in to this shoe.

Since we are very familiar with this story, the only way this would truly standout is in the way it's put together. There are no talking animals (although CGI has the critters believably engaging with Ella) and not a single note is sung but this "Cinderella" will keep your attention with vivid, candy-colored images. With a superb cast (that also features Sir Derek Jacobi as the King and Stellan Skarsgård as the conniving Grand Duke), the exquisite work of production designer, Dante Ferretti, the radiant costumes by Sandy Powell (both the winner of three Oscars) and expert camerawork from Haris Zambarloukos together makes this a breathtaking experience.

The charm of "Cinderella" is decidedly sweet and old-fashioned and that is certainly not a bad thing. During these cynical and jaded times, the simple pleasure that comes from the notion that good can triumph over evil (while still being able to forgive) or that happily ever after can actually happen is quite appealing.