Monday, September 22, 2014

2014 NEW YORK FILM FESTIVAL


One of the biggest events of the fall cinema season, The 52nd Annual New York Film Festival kicks off on September 26th and runs through October 12th. The opening night selection is "Gone Girl", the highly anticipated film adaption of the best-selling novel by Gillian Flynn. David Fincher ("Sev7n", "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (U.S. Version)") directs this mystery-drama about a man (Ben Affleck) who becomes a suspect after his wife (Rosamund Pike) disappears on the eve of their fifth wedding anniversary. Neil Patrick Harris (?) and Tyler Perry (???) also star.



The centerpiece selection is the world premiere of "Inherent Vice". Paul Thomas Anderson ("Boogie Nights", "The Master") is the first filmmaker to make a movie from the works of Thomas Pynchon. Set in the 70's, Det. "Doc" Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix) gets involved in a messy case involving the disappearence of the boyfriend (Eric Roberts) of his ex-girlfriend (Katherine Waterston). With Josh Brolin, Owen Wilson, Benicio del Toro and Reese Witherspoon.



"Birdman (or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)", the latest from Alejandro González Iñárritu ("Amores Perros", "Babel"), closes out the festival. Michael Keaton plays an actor who was once famous for playing a super-hero and now struggles to get a Broadway show off the ground while dealing with his complicated family life and bruised ego.This dramedy also features Zach Galifianakis, Edward Norton, Naomi Watts and Emma Stone.



For more info and the complete slate of films, please click below:

The 2014 NYFF

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

THE ONE I LOVE (2014)

Written by Justin Lader



Directed by Charlie McDowell



Where & When: Sundance Sunset Cinemas, September 2, 2014 2:30PM



"The One I Love" seems like it's going to travel down the predictable marriage-in-crisis-and-what-can-we-do-to-save-it path but this delightful indie comedy veers way off in an unexpected direction. In fact, this film took me completely by surprise with it's clever twist early in the plot (which doesn't happen too often). The imaginative script by Justin Lader expertly blurs fantasy and reality as it humorously examines the everyday reality of their significant other and the person they wish they could actually be. This is the first feature by Charlie McDowell and he delivers the goods that makes "The One I Love" feel original and great fun to watch.

Filmmaker/actor, Mark Duplass ("Jeff, Who Lives At Home") and Elizabeth Moss (TVs "Mad Men") play Ethan and Sophie, a couple whose relationship is in trouble. Their marriage is strained due to no longer properly communicating and further damaged by infidelity. Seeking help from a counselor (Ted Danson), he puts the two through several exercises to try and repair their marriage but without much success. The counselor finally recommends they go away together to a private house out of town to focus on each other and reconnect.

Here's where things get tricky. For as much as I want to reveal the details to what happens once they reach the retreat, I also don't want to spoil the surprise. Let's just say that once Ethan and Sophie explore the guest house in the back, they each experience the ideal partner which also happens to be their current partner. I realize this may be a little too vague but trust me, you will enjoy the film much better not knowing all the specifics.

As we reach the third act, the story drifts too far in to campy science-fiction with the film losing focus and some of it's whimsical charm dampened. The ending is sly but you see it coming. None of this causes any serious damage as the film remains utterly engaging and pleasantly strange.

Moss and Duplass are the whole movie and thankfully have a nice chemistry. They convincingly portray a loving couple who have lost their way and really want to find their way back but a highly unusual obstacle prevents them from easily working things out. Duplass usually only gets the chance to make a big star turn in one of the films he creates which is too bad as he makes a fine leading man. Moss has an opportunity to display her more sunny and softer side than on her television show.

"The One I Love" takes a playful and offbeat approach to exploring the age-old dilemma regarding love, marriage and trust. While it may not be entirely successful, the film is still an admirable and enjoyable attempt at shaking up the age-old romantic-comedy conventions.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

2014 FALL MOVIE PREVIEW

After a dismal and very disappointing summer season, Hollywood is hoping that the fall movies will help bring people back to the theaters. Looking over the upcoming slate of features, I think they may have a good shot. I have put together a list of some of the interesting films that I'm anticipating.

All dates are subject to change:

"THE SKELETON TWINS"

Release date: September 12, 2014

"The Skeleton Twins" offers a mini-"Saturday Night Live" reunion as Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader star however, this dark comedy is very far from any zany skit they might have performed together. They play long-estranged siblings who come together after each experiences a tragic event and try to figure out what went wrong with their lives. Although the actors deliver the laughs which they're well-known for, Wiig and Hader are also given an opportunity to display their little-seen dramatic chops.



"THE TWO FACES OF JANUARY"

Release date: September 26, 2014

Based on the novel by Patricia Highsmith ("The Talented Mr. Ripley"), "The Two Faces of January" is a mystery-thriller set in the 1960's involving Viggo Mortensen and Kirsten Dunst as a wealthy American couple traveling to Greece. They unwittingly get involved with a con-man (Oscar Issac) who may or may not be trying to help them after the couple is entangled in a murder.



"DEAR WHITE PEOPLE"

Release date: October 17, 2014

Winner of a special jury prize for Breakthrough Talent for writer/director, Justin Simien at this year's Sundance Film Festival, "Dear White People" looks at outraged African-American students over white classmates throwing a party with an "African-American" theme at an Ivy League college. This potentially controversial satire deals with the issue of race thoughtfully and with good humor.



"ST. VINCENT"

Release date: October 24, 2014

Bill Murray heads the impressive cast of "St. Vincent", a dramedy about a drunken war vet who becomes the unlikely baby-sitter to the young son (newcomer Jaeden Lieberher) of a desperate single mother (Melissa McCarthy). This is the feature debut for writer/director, Theodore Melfi and also stars Terrence Howard, Chris O'Dowd and Naomi Watts.



"NIGHTCRAWLER"

Release date: October 31, 2014

Losing about twenty pounds for the role, Jake Gyllenhaal plays a creepy L.A. videographer providing a local television station with crime footage in "Nightcrawler". The longer this reporter is out on the street, the more he gets too involved in his work. This is the first feature directed by screenwriter, Dan Gilroy and also stars Bill Paxton and Rene Russo (Gilroy's wife).



"INTERSTELLAR"

Release date: November 7, 2014

Christopher Nolan, the director of "The Dark Knight" trilogy and "Inception" is back with an intriguing science-fiction film. The trailer for "Interstellar" doesn't reveal too much plot (thank goodness!) but it seems the world is threatened by a dangerous force out in space. Some astronauts (which include Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway) are sent out to try and save mankind. With Jessica Chastain, Michael Caine, Casey Affleck and Ellen Burstyn.



"THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING"

Release date: November 7, 2014

Stephen Hawking is a world renowned British theoretical physicist who suffers from ALS and "The Theory of Everything" explores his early life as a student at Cambridge in the 1960's. Eddie Redmayne ("Les Misérables") plays Hawking and Felicity Jones ("The Invisible Woman") is his first love, Jane who becomes his wife and supports him as the illness progresses. Oscar-winner, James Marsh (2008 Best Documentary, "Man On Wire") directs.



"THE IMITATION GAME"

Release date: November 21, 2014

"The Imitation Game" reveals the little-known story of Alan Turing (played by Benedict Cumberbatch), a British mathematician who helped defeat the Nazis by breaking their Enigma code. However, instead of becoming a celebrated figure, Turing lived his final years humiliated and imprisoned due to his secret private life. Keira Knightley and Matthew Goode co-star.



"INTO THE WOODS"

Release date: December 25, 2014

The film "Into The Woods" is based on the acclaimed Broadway musical by Stephen Sondheim but you would never know it from the recent trailer. Not one note is sung but this fairy-tale based project is definitely still a musical and directed by Rob Marshall who did wonders for the stage-to-screen adaption, "Chicago". A starry cast has been assembled (with half I didn't know could sing) including Meryl Streep, Anna Kendrick, Emily Blunt, Chris Pine and Johnny Depp.



"UNBROKEN"

Release date: December 25, 2014

"Unbroken", the second film directed by Angelina Jolie, tells the amazing story of Louis Zamperini, an American who went from competing in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin to fighting against Hitler as a solider in WWII to surviving a plane crash and drifting in the Pacific for almost two months before becoming a POW and held by the Japanese for two years. Jack O'Connell portrays Zamperini who passed away at the age of ninety-seven in July.

Monday, August 25, 2014

LAND HO! (2014)

Written & Directed by Martha Stephens & Aaron Katz


Where & When: Sundance Sunset Theaters, West Hollywood, CA. August 5, 2014 1:45PM



Maintaining a friendship is hard. Growing old is even harder. "Land Ho!" is a senior buddy, road-trip picture that takes a delightful journey through Iceland as two men decide to reignite their mundane lives at a time when they've feeling increasingly invisible in society. Lead by two sensational performances by Dr. Earl Lynn Nelson and Paul Eenhoorn, not much really happens as the film is filled mostly with intimate, very funny and somewhat strange conversations which makes this little film even more impressive. "Land Ho!" is the first film by the team of Martha Stephens and Aaron Katz, both experienced indie filmmakers individually that have done well with their previous works on the festival circuit. Together, they build on their strengths to make a fresh, unpredictable and completely first-rate comedy.

Mitch (Nelson),a currently divorced, recently retired doctor calls on his former brother-in-law, Colin (Eenhoorn), also now divorced, to catch up on old times. It wouldn't seem like these two guys would share much in common as Mitch is boisterous and crass while the Australian Colin is reserved and highly composed. Yet there is some kind of connection although they bicker and make each other crazy much like, I'm quite sure, their former spouses. On a whim, Mitch invites his friend to join him on a trip to Iceland and travel through the country. Colin tries to decline the generous offer but Mitch is a man that doesn't take no for an answer.

After arriving in Reykjavík, the men have very different ideas on how they want to spend their vacation. Colin plans to relax and catch up on some books while Mitch wants to party, meet some women and have a true adventure. Mitch's niece (Karrie Crouse) and her friend, Janet (Elizabeth McKee) just happen to be passing through Reykjavík and plan to spend the day with the fellas. Mitch thinks his plans for a wild party will begin with the arrival of the young women and although Janet does manage to get sloppy drunk, the evening is pretty mild filled with mostly more conversation.

As these golden boys continue their scenic trip through this beautiful country, more bickering ensues but soon these guys begin to really connect. Mitch and Colin actually share their feelings and fears in a way that only men can understand.

With an unobtrusive shooting style, unflashy editing and the actors seemingly not to be performing, "Land Ho!" feels very much like eavesdropping which should appeal to some viewers in this age of reality programming.  "Land Ho!" breaks out of the routine Hollywood buddy comedy and offers an unfussy alternative spin. In between the laughs, there are wistful and poignant moments that take you by surprise.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

THE SIXTEEN BEST ROBIN WILLIAMS FILM PERFORMANCES



Sadly, Robin Williams, a comedic genius and highly gifted performer, passed away on August 12th. As we mourn the tragic loss of the Oscar winner, we still have his body of work to look back on to help us remember him and maybe bring a little laughter during this difficult time.

New York Magazine has put together a ranking of some of the actor's best film roles which highlights his accomplished and varied performances over his long career.

Click below to read the article:

The 16 Best Robin Williams Movie Performances

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

LUCY (2014)

Written & Directed by Luc Besson



Where & When: Arclight Cinemas, Hollywood, CA. July 25, 2014 8:00PM




"Lucy" offers all you would expect from a summer action flick but with a little something extra. In between the bloody shoot-outs, car chases and bone-crushing combats, there are thoughtful discussions on evolution and fascinating scientific theories on the capacity of the human brain. While these ideas may seem to be out of sync, writer/director Luc Besson, the man behind the engaging crowd-pleasers, "La Femme Nikita", "The Professional" and "Taken", mostly succeeds in making this inspired mash-up of B-movie thrills and compelling sci-fi completely irresistible and a lot of fun.

Scarlett Johansson plays the title character, an American student living in Taiwan who spends much of her time partying hard with her shady current fling (Pilou Asbæk). He turns out to be a really lousy date as he handcuffs a briefcase to Lucy's wrist and forces her to deliver it to Mr. Jang (Choi Min-sik from "Old Boy"), a ruthless Korean drug lord. The case contains CPH4, a synthetic narcotic that gives the user a sense of heighten awareness. The next thing Lucy knows she's awakening with excruciating pain in her abdomen. A package of the drug has been sewn-up inside of her and has to drop off the contents in New York.

While being held awaiting her departure, one of Lucy's guards makes unwanted advances which is met with swift resistance. Angered, he kicks Lucy relentlessly in the stomach which releases an overdose of the drug in to her system. This creates a reaction that advances her brain functions, giving her incredible mental abilities and physical strength. After Lucy easily escapes, she now has revenge on her mind, leaving a trail of bodies in her wake. When Lucy finally gets to Jang, she doesn't kill him. She merely philosophizes while administering to him some of the gruesome, agonizing pain he has inflicted upon others.

Morgan Freeman appears as Professor Norman, one of the top neurologists in the world. We first see him delivering a lengthy, somewhat dry lecture on the subject of the brain. The reliably, smooth actor demonstrates part of the reason why he was cast as he's effortlessly able to keep your attention throughout. Lucy makes contact with Norman as her brain capacity increases at a phenomenal rate which she puts on display for the skeptical professor. They agree to meet at a Paris conference but first Lucy must round-up the rest of the CPH4 that's stored in the bodies of other mules heading towards destinations across Europe. As her body needs more of the drug to reach maximum intelligence, Lucy enlists a French cop (Amr Waked) to help track down the carriers while a wounded Jang is hot on her trail without a clue to what she has become.

Angelina Jolie was initially approached for the lead in the film but Ms Johansson is an acceptable and perhaps even more appropriate replacement. While the actress shares Ms Jolie's otherworldly beauty and tough chick demeanor, Johansson has always come across as approachable and far more vulnerable. Here, much like her role as an alien in "Under The Skin", her face is a blank slate, revealing nothing on the surface yet we are still capable of understanding her emotions as her mind evolves towards higher consciousness. The actress is able to convey so much with those soulful eyes as Lucy struggles not to completely lose sight of her humanity.

"Lucy" delivers plenty of stylish visuals and nonstop action that even the lectures don't actually slow things down. Sure, some of the plot points don't always add up or are downright silly yet this hardly distracts from the enjoyment of this flick. Mr. Besson is one of the few male filmmakers who has consistently placed a female front and center in many of the action movies he has directed or produced beginning with "Nikita" way back in 1990. While "Lucy" doesn't exactly reach the same heights as some of his previous works but it's still a solid addition.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

NOTES FROM THE 2014 OUTFEST FILM FESTIVAL

Outfest 2014 has just concluded and this was a particularly strong year in LGBT cinema. There were so many amazing films, documentaries, shorts and special events to see that it was frustrating to be unable to see everything.

First, here is the complete list of winners from 2014 Outfest Film Festival:

Grand Jury Awards

U.S. Dramatic Feature Film: "Drunktown’s Finest", Directed by Sydney Freeland



Best Actor: Mark Strano, "Tiger Orange"

Best Actress: Gaby Hoffmann, "Lyle"

Best Screenplay: Desiree Akhavan, "Appropriate Behavior"

International Dramatic Feature: "Something Must Break", Directed by Ester Martin Bergsmark



International Dramatic Feature (Special Recognition): "Lilting", Directed by Hong Khaou



Documentary Feature Film: "The Circle", Directed by Stefan Haupt



Documentary Feature Film (Special Recognition): "Dior and I", Directed by Frédéric Tcheng

Documentary Short Film: "Flying Solo: A Transgender Widow Fights Discrimination", Directed by Leslie Von Pless

Experimental Short Film: "Get Ripped", Directed by Leonardo Van Dijl

Dramatic Short Film: "Jellyfish", Directed by Rosie Haber

Audience Awards

Dramatic Feature Film: "The Way He Looks", Directed by Daniel Ribeiro

First US Dramatic Feature Film: "Drunktown’s Finest", Directed by Sydney Freeland

Documentary Feature Film: "Back on Board", Directed by Cheryl Furjanic

Documentary Short Film: "Families Are Forever", Directed by Vivian Kleiman

Dramatic Short Film: "Alone With People", Directed by Drew Van Steenbergen

Special Programming Awards:

Emerging Talent: Robert Hawk for "Home From the Gym"

Freedom: Mariana Rondón for "Bad Hair"

Artistic Achievement: Abdellah Taïa for "Salvation Army"

Now for the films I did manage to see. One of my favorites from the festival was "Futuro Beach (Praia do Futuro)". The acclaimed writer/director Karim Aïnouz (who dazzled Outfest back in 2002 with his first feature, "Madame Satã") is back with the story of a Brazilian lifeguard (Wagner Moura) who begins a passionate affair with a German tourist (Clemens Schick) under tragic circumstances. Recently selected to kick off the Newfest LGBT festival in New York, the film is beautifully shot and erotically-charged but may be a bit too experimental and fragmented for some viewers.

"Jamie Marks Is Dead" is an illogical ghost story involving a new friendship between Adam (Cameron Monaghan), a high school jock and Jamie Marks (Noah Silver), his recently deceased gay classmate. Another classmate, Gracie (Morgan Saylor) who found the body of the bullied teen, begins a relationship with Adam and is also able to communicate with Jamie's spirit. Liv Tyler and Judy Greer make welcome brief appearances but they cannot save this unconvincing drama.



There were some particularly fascinating documentaries screened which included the honored, "Dior & I". This fascinating doc focuses on Raf Simons, the Belgian designer who is the latest to head the couture house of Dior. With only eight weeks to create an entire collection, we watch as Simons agonizes over the concept, struggles through the tension-filled construction of the clothes and right on up to the elaborate final runway presentation. While there have been several good films involving fashion figures of late (Isaac Mizrahi in "Unzipped", Valentino Garavani in "The Last Emperor" and Diana Vreeland in "The Eye Has To Travel" to name a few of my favorites), but what makes this documentary stand out is that we really get an unflinching, honest look at all of the passion,sweat and tears involved in this creative process.

In "Club King", we meet Mario Diaz, the handsome and quite charming performer who almost single-handily transformed gay nightlife, first in New York and later in L.A., for over twenty years. His sexy parties with the names, "Hot Dog" and "Full Frontal Disco", deliver some wild, fun times which was much needed after the AIDS crisis hit the community hard.

Finally, "Lady Valor: The Kristin Back Story", tells the inspirational story of how Christopher Beck, a highly-decorated, former Navy SEAL and father of two decided to finally begin living his truth and became Kristin Beck. As to be expected, some of her family and friends are more accepting of the transition than others with her mother and particularly Kristin's children having a much more difficult time. Kristin still struggles with her decision but has no regrets and currently devotes much of her time bringing public awareness to transgender issues.