Saturday, October 15, 2016
Directed by Jocelyn Moorhouse
Where & When: Arclight Cinemas, Hollywood, CA September 26, 2016 7:15PM
"The Dressmaker", the emotionally erratic film by Jocelyn Moorhouse, features Kate Winslet as a troubled fashionista who returns to her remote, Australian outback town years after being driven out as a young girl for a terrible crime she was accused of committing. What makes this even more complicated is that while she was present, the trauma from the event has caused her not to remember exactly what happened. While this 1950's set dark comedy, based on the novel by Rosalie Ham, is supposed to elicit laughs from the oddball antics from the inhabitants of the town of Dungatar but the awkward shift from twisted humor to some horrific and disturbing tragedies throws the film out of whack, leaving viewers far more dispirited than amused.
After Myrtle Dunnage (Winslet), who now goes by the name of "Tilly", arrives in town by bus in the middle of the night, she lights a cigarette and utters to herself, "I’m back, you bastards". With the addition of her over-the-top, grand dame costume she made, you might imagine we were heading in to the high-camp of "Dynasty" era Joan Collins. Unfortunately the soap opera theatrics never materializes which would have added some much needed zing to the grim drama and strained comedy.
The first person to greet Tilly is the town's police sergeant, Horatio Farrat (Hugo Weaving) who greatly admires her stylish flair. After finally reaching her childhood home, she's shocked to find the place in a filthy and dilapidated condition while her mother, Molly (Judy Davis) is in even worse shape. Molly seems to be suffering from some form of dementia and doesn't even recognize her own daughter.
Word spreads fast of Tilly's return with the news particularly distressing to town Councilman Evan Pettyman (Shane Bourne) and his wife, Marigold (Alison Whyte) whose son, Stewart was killed, allegedly by the hands of a young Myrtle.
During a local football game, Tilly arrives wearing a flashy, fire-red evening dress, distracting the players and scandalizing the town. One of the players on the Dungatar team, Teddy McSwiney (Liam Hemsworth) asks Tilly if she could change in to something less disruptive. She agrees, returning in a black yet still quite form-fitting dress. After the teams switch sides on the field, the distraction of the titillating Tilly helps Dungatar win the game.
A former classmate, Gertrude Pratt (Sarah Snook), reveals she really loves Tilly's haute couture gowns, Since becoming quite skilled with a sewing machine while training in Paris with a master dressmaker, Tilly offers to make one for her to wear at the football victory dance. Mousy and plain, Gertrude has a crush on the handsome and wealthy William Beaumont (James Mackay) who doesn't even know she's alive. Even if he did notice her, his snobbish mother (Caroline Goodall) would never allow her precious son to become involved with the daughter of the owners of the general store.
At the dance, Gertrude is absolutely stunning in Tilly's creation, which draws out a new found confidence that makes her wildly alluring to the men in the room. Particularly to the Beaumont boy, much to his mother's horror. Tilly receives some attention herself from the footballer, Teddy and while she finds him quite appealing, her focus is on trying to solve what really happened to Stewart Pettyman and possibly clearing her name.
The discovery that several of the adults in town either knew more but remained silent or gave misinformation regarding what happened on that fateful day leads Tilly to disbelief, then anger to finally enacting the ultimate revenge. It's understandable why Ms Winslet would be attracted to this role. The Oscar-winner is given the opportunity to emote on a grand scale, allowing her to be a drama queen, a sexpot, a damsel-in-distress, a comedian and the love interest all in one film. Plus she gets to strut around in high fashion with the help of costume designers Marion Boyce and Margot Wilson but her effective performance is not enough to save this uneven film.
Ms Moorhouse showed great promise with her debut, "Proof" which gave early film roles to Russell Crowe and Mr. Weaving and won five Australian Film Institute Awards including Best Film in 1991. Then Hollywood came calling and, like their homegrown female talent, didn't know what to do with her or show much faith. The two films Moorhouse did manage to make, "How to Make an American Quilt" in 1995 and "A Thousand Acres" in 1997 featured much needed stories focused on women. They were met with critical indifference and box-office disappointment though the performances by some of the actors featured like Winona Ryder, Jessica Lange and Michelle Pfeiffer were highly praised. Although Moorhouse would produce a couple of films for her husband, P.J. Hogan, it would be a disgraceful nineteen years before she would get another opportunity to work behind the camera with "The Dressmaker".
I must admit I had mixed feelings about her previous work and unfortunately "The Dressmaker" suffers from some of the same problems that plagued her American films. While Moorhouse has a great gift for inspiring amazing work from her performers and a detailed eye for striking images, she has difficulty shaping a focused narrative and relying too heavily on melodrama. The overwrought script, co-written by Moorhouse and Hogan, who memorably brought us "Muriel's Wedding" one of the first films to perfectly showcase Australia's wacky sense of heartfelt humor, is ill-defined, jumbling together various themes and genres that leaves a feeling of schizophrenia.
"The Dressmaker" seems to be aiming for those campy film noir dramas that Joan Crawford and Bette Davis starred in when their careers where in decline with their far-fetched plots and exaggerated characters. But there is a cruel and unpleasant undercurrent here, perhaps unintentional, that drains all of the potential fun out of the film,
Wednesday, September 28, 2016
One of the most prestigious of all the film fests on the horizon is certainly in the Big Apple. The 2016 New York Film Festival will launch on September 30th and wrap-up on October 16th. Filmmaker and artist, Apichatpong Weerasethakul ("Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives", "Cemetery of Splendor") was given the honor of designing the poster for the 54th edition of the fest, as seen above.
For the very first time, a documentary will open the festival. "13th", which examines the high rate of people being sent to prison in the United States with an alarming number being African-Americans, is the latest from director Ava DuVernay ("Selma"). The title refers to the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery as well as involuntary servitude "except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted."
The centerpiece selection is "20th Century Women" the new comedy-drama directed by Mike Mills ("Beginners"). Annette Bening heads a cast that includes Greta Gerwig, Elle Fanning, and Billy Crudup in this '70's set story of a single mother who tries to teach her teenage son about love and freedom with the help of two other women.
And "The Lost City of Z" will be the closing-night film from James Gray ("The Immigrant"). Based on the book by David Grann, the film traces the real life events of British explorer Percy Fawcett (Charlie Hunnam) who made several attempts to find an ancient lost city in the Amazon before mysteriously disappearing in 1925. Robert Pattinson and Sienna Miller also star.
While these three films are world premieres, the main slate is made up largely of features previously screened earlier at one of the many other film festivals throughout this year. The selections are quite impressive with some of the high profile and acclaimed titles include "Elle", "Certain Women", "Manchester By The Sea", "Julieta", "Personal Shopper", "Patterson" and "Toni Erdmann".
There will be a diverse selection of shorts programs, documentaries, talks, experimental narratives, film revivals and retrospectives. Other highlights from this fest will feature special film events like the world premiere presentation in RealD 3D of Ang Lee's "Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk" and the recent addition of Chilean filmmaker Pablo Larraín’s first English-language feature, "Jackie" starring Natalie Portman. There will also be special evenings honoring two young actors, Adam Driver ("Patterson") and Kristen Stewart ("Certain Women", "Personal Shopper" and "Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk") that will include an intimate dinner and conversation with them.
For the complete list of films, tickets and additional information, please click below:
2016 New York Film Festival
Thursday, September 22, 2016
Saturday, September 24th is Art House Theater Day! It's a day to recognize the contributions of film and filmmakers, staff and projectionists, and fellow brick and mortar theaters dedicated to providing access to the best in independent cinema.
Every theater is unique and the Art House Theater Day celebrations will reflect that. Several film distributors are offering exclusive programs that you will only be able to see on Art House Theater Day at these theaters.
To locate theaters across the country participating in the event and a list of films been screened, please click below:
2016 Art House Theater Day
Tuesday, September 20, 2016
One of the newest film festivals, the DTLA Film Fest begins it's eighth event on September 21st through September 28th. The focus here is on bringing the best in independent cinema from across the globe to Downtown Los Angeles. The Regal Cinemas L.A. Live will be hosting the screenings and events.
The Opening Night film will be "Swing State", written and directed by Johnathan Sheldon. This political comedy is about a DJ who creates this outrageous conservative radio host character that becomes a media sensation, Shane Black, Taryn Manning, Sean Astin and Billy Zane star.
The Centerpiece selection is "The Loner", a modern film noir that takes place in Los Angeles. Set in the dark underworld of Russian and Persian mobs, an Iranian gangster is falsely accused of stealing drugs from his boss and must track down the person that actually did. Daniel Grove directs and co-wrote the script with Reza Sixo Safai who stars.
The Closing Night film honors the late David Bowie with a screening of Nicholas Roeg's "The Man Who Fell To Earth" which celebrates it's 40th anniversary. The film has been restored using a 4K scan and co-star Candy Clark will make an appearance as she receives the festival's Film Pioneer Award.
There will be several curated series which merges film and conversation. Some in the series include Art+Architecture+Design, Income Inequality in America, Webisodes and spotlights on Cuban, Spanish and Moroccan cinema.
Music documentaries will be on hand which will feature "Bjork: The Creative Universe of a Music Missionary" and "Hard Lovin' Woman" which takes a look at actress, Juliette Lewis and her second career as a rock performer. There will also be Los Angeles premieres of two documentaries on the Blues, ""How Berlin Got The Blues" and "Two Trains Runnin'".
For a complete listing of films, tickets and additional information, please click below:
2016 DTLA Film Festival
Monday, September 19, 2016
When & When: Arclight Cinemas, Hollywood, CA. August 30, 2016 5:05 PM
"Southside With You", the impressive first feature from writer/director Richard Tanne, turns the real-life first encounter of the future forty-fourth President of The United States and his First Lady in to a lovely and captivating drama. A kind of "When Barack Met Michelle". But this is not a light and breezy date movie. The film features a warm, urban romance, set during a hot summer in the South side of Chicago, that is urbane and astute, as we watch these two alluring young people spend a day trying to maneuver around career ambitions, civic duty, political bureaucracy and physical attraction.
The year is 1989 and Janet Jackson's "Miss You Much", which is the hot new song of the moment, we hear blasting through the car radio of Barack Obama (Parker Sawyers) during the opening credits. He's on his way to pick up Michelle Robinson (Tika Sumpter), a rising corporate lawyer at a firm where he is a new intern. Barack has managed to convince her to attend a community meeting with him but as his supervisor, Michelle was reluctant to go out with the attractive young man in any capacity. Since being the rare female African-American in a law firm run by mostly white males, she is very concerned about how it would appear if they found out.
However, the meeting won't begin for hours so Barack wants to take Michelle out, spending some time to get to know her better. While this was exactly what she was trying to avoid yet agrees as long as he's aware this will not be a date.
Their first stop is to the Art Institute of Chicago where they check out an exhibit of Afrocentric art. Barack introduces Michelle to the work of Ernie Barnes (that was used on the sitcom "Good Times" as the paintings of Jimmie Walker's character, J.J. which she never watched) and it's vivid depictions of African-American life. The couple spend a great deal of time trading stories about their lives, experiences and aspirations as they make the trek through the city towards their destination.
The focus of this meeting is on the building of a much needed community center with the people of this largely African-American neighborhood expressing their anger and frustration with the city's refusal to fund the project. Encouraged to offer some words of inspiration, Barack addresses the crowd, eloquently persuading them to consider finding alternative means to finance the center. After hearing him speak, Michelle finds herself entranced, just like the rest of the room, witnessing for the first time the moving and powerful effect he has on people.
While we know "Southside With You" is clearly a work of fiction based on true-life events, Mr Tanne, who spent much of his early career as an actor, has managed to capture a believable essence of their story and of their lives. Taking a cue from Richard Linklater, Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy's "Before Sunrise" film series, we spend a large part of this film just watching Barack and Michelle walk, talk and eventually fall in love. Since we know the outcome, there is no real suspense or tension to be found in the narrative. But what we do have is sparkling and lively conversation between two thoughtful and good-hearted people.
It would seem very difficult to convincingly bring to life two high-profile people still constantly in the public eye but our actors handle the challenge with poise and flair. With his first major film role, Mr. Sawyer may not share much of a physical similarity to our Commander-In-Chief but he delivers his confident swagger and makes him in youth far less guarded then he would ultimately need to become. Ms Sumpter (who also serves as one of the film's producers) is equally effective, displaying the steely resolve of the future Mrs. Obama that we're familiar with but also her softer side, particularly when Barack is able to soothe her at her most anxious.
After spending the afternoon together, Barack finally convinces Michelle to engage in a date-like activity. They go see Spike Lee's incendiary film, "Do The Right Thing". There is another flareup after the movie due to the unexpected appearance of one of her bosses but Barack and Michelle do eventually share their first kiss over ice cream.
Despite the inevitable predictability of the story, "Southside With You" offers something refreshing and rarely seen in American cinema. An intimate love story between two African-Americans that doesn't involve struggling in poverty, domestic violence, gang-shootings or raunchy humor.
Saturday, September 17, 2016
Oliver Stone, still considered one of Hollywood's leading provocateurs, has made his career tackling troubling and controversial subject matter (which many filmmakers would never be brave enough to go near) while attempting to offer analytical insight and an alternative perspective with his work. However, some regard his films as heavily biased, contentious and distorting the truth.
With his just released "Snowden", about the NSA contractor who leaked information on the U.S. government's surveillance program and now on the run, Stone has once again taken on a divisive real-life story and has made it very clear whose side he is on. The two-time Oscar winner recently spoke with the Los Angeles Times to reflect on this film and some of his previous work. This includes his first time in the director's chair with "The Hand", a critically-panned horror flick that starred Michael Caine to his greed-is-good drama, "Wall Street" to the questionable look at the Kennedy assassination in "JFK" and one of his most personal, the Vietnam set Best Picture winner, "Platoon".
Click here to read:
Aging Provocateur: Oliver Stone
Monday, September 12, 2016
"The Woman Who Left (Ang Babaeng Humayo)", a black & white filmed drama from Lav Diaz of the Philippines, took the top prize of the Golden Lion at the close of the 2016 Venice Film Festival. The film, which clocks in at a butt-numbing 226 minutes and inspired by the short story "God Sees the Truth, But Waits" by Leo Tolstoy, tells the story of a woman who was falsely convicted of a crime and has spent thirty years of her life in prison. Now free after a friend admits to framing her, she fights against seeking revenge and finding forgiveness.
Fashion designer turned film maker, Tom Ford won the Grand Jury Prize or the runner-up award for his highly anticipated follow-up feature, "Nocturnal Animals". The Silver Lion for direction was a tie with Amat Escalante from Mexico for his film, "La Region Salvaje (The Untamed)" and Andrei Konchalovsky for the Russian film, "Paradise" sharing the prize.
The Volpi Cup Best Actress prize went to Emma Stone for her dazzling turn in the romantic musical, "La La Land" while the Volpi Cup Best Actor was given to Oscar Martinez for his performance in the Argentine film, "El Ciudadano Ilustre (The Distinguished Citizen)".
Noah Oppenheim won the Best Screenplay Prize for his work in "Jackie", the Pablo Larrain directed feature about First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy's life immediately following the assassination of the President with Natalie Portman in the lead role. Ana Lily Amirpour ("A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night") took a Special Jury Prize for her latest film, "The Bad Batch", a romantic horror-thriller starring Suki Waterhouse, Jim Carrey and Keanu Reeves. And the Marcello Mastroianni Award for for Best New Young Actor or Actress went to Paula Beer for her work in François Ozon’s "Frantz".