Saturday, June 18, 2016

A BIGGER SPLASH (2016)

Written by David Kajganich


Directed by Luca Guadagnino


Where & When: Sundance Sunset 5 Cinemas, West Hollywood, CA. May 27, 2016  7:15PM


What begins as an idyllic retreat for a couple in love dissolves in to a volatile harbor due to the unexpected arrival of two troublesome guests in "A Bigger Splash", a vibrant and affecting drama from Italian filmmaker, Luca Guadagnino. Set on the tranquil, remote island of Pantelleria, southwest of Sicily, the melodramatic fireworks that are set off are an erotically-charged explosion of yearning passion, bitter resentments and painful regrets.

Tilda Swinton delivers her otherworldly flair as Marianne Lane, a famous rock performer recovering from throat surgery and advised to keep speech at a minimum. With her handsome lover, Paul (Matthias Schoenaerts) by her side, they spend their lazy days basting nude in the sun and enjoying each other's bodies. Their peace and solitude comes to a sudden end when Harry Hawkes (Ralph Fiennes), Marianne's boisterous former manager shows up on the island. And he's not alone. Penelope (Dakota Johnson), Harry's mercurial daughter who he hasn't had much contact with, is along for a holiday.

While Harry is there to enjoy good food, dance all night and partake in some heavy-duty partying, a weary Paul is wanting to keep their time together far more low-key. But Marianne gets swept up in Harry's infectiously wild enthusiasm and after he announces they have no place to stay, they suddenly have house guests.

The longer this foursome spends together, secret desires and true intentions are eventually uncovered. Harry had been more than just a business adviser to Marianne and desperately misses their time as a power couple. He had introduced her years ago to Paul when he was working as a photographer.  Without any clear details revealed, Paul had a troubled past involving substance abuse which lead to a tragic situation. And Penelope is certainly her father's daughter with a taste for mischief and self-satisfaction.

As Marianne is surrounded by an atmosphere filling with rancor and duress, she remains mostly mute, expressing her frustration through exasperated eyes or a hoarse whisper on occasion. Ms Swinton, looking ravishing in exquisite costumes created for her by designer Raf Simmons, brings a blistering intensity and incendiary sensuality that makes it quite clear why she's such a desirable creature.

Loosely based on the 1969 Jacques Deray film, "La Piscine (the Swimming Pool)", "A Bigger Splash" is that rare erotic thriller that is thoughtful, well-performed, mysterious and actually quite sexy. The crackling script by David Kajganich is filled with intrigue and a sense of dread as these complex characters are unable to be honest with each other or themselves. The camera of cinematographer, Yorick Le Saux gives the film a warm, sun-kissed glow, highlighting the exquisite beauty of the picturesque island and lingering on the overheated, scantily-clad bodies.

We have been so used to seeing Mr. Fiennes in dark and very serious roles for a large part of his career, like the doomed Count in "The English Patient", the murderous Nazi Captain in "Schindler's List" or even the evil Lord Voldemort in the "Harry Potter" films, that it's still a bit of a shock to see the actor lighthearted and smiling on screen. After dazzling us with his zany turn in "The Grand Budapest Hotel" and more recently with a cameo in the Coen Brothers' latest comedy, "Hail Caesar!", it's nice to see him really break loose once again, giving us a show by wildly lip-syncing and attempting to shake his groove thang to the Rolling Stones' "Emotional Rescue" or uninhibitedly stripping at a moment's notice.

Mr. Schoenaerts impresses as a brooding and tormented man of few words yet always able to make himself clearly understood. Even Ms Johnson, who left a lot to be desired with her flat performance in the lame S&M drama, "Fifty Shades of Grey", manages to hold her own with these formidable actors, unexpectedly displaying depth as a cunning seductress.

A jealous rage followed by an accidental death in the final act plunges "A Bigger Splash" in to predictable waters. But a startling revelation and shocking resolution manages to keep this offbeat, warm-blooded thriller afloat. A luxurious and beautifully well-acted relationship study that is ocassionally filled with high tension and a touch of danger, "A Bigger Splash" is a perfect getaway for adults during this summer movie season mostly geared towards younger minds.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

MAGGIE'S PLAN (2016)

Written & Directed by Rebecca Miller


Where & When: Arclight Cinemas, Hollywood, CA. May 22, 2016 1:10PM


Woody Allen has seemed to have set the template for New York based, upwardly-mobile, intellectual romantic-comedies focusing on mature, hyper-critical, very self-involved Caucasians. "Maggie's Plan", the latest from writer/director Rebecca Miller, offers a slight variation of this model with the emphasis here on a caring yet still impassive young female.

Greta Gerwig, indie cinema's current darling, stars as the "Maggie" in the title who is part of a generation who thinks the Internet makes them all-knowing geniuses yet loses interest in a conversation if it involves more than 140 characters. The actress attempts to enchant with her brand of modern quirkiness but lacks an inner strength, determined initiative and endearing charm to be particularly appealing. Diane Keaton she is not. Nor Parker Posey. Or Lili Taylor. Or even Chloë Sevigny. You catch my drift.

Although not even thirty and not wanting to wait until the right man comes along, Maggie decides she's ready to have a child. With the help of married friends Tony (Bill Hader) and Felicia (Maya Rudolph), she decides to ask a former college acquaintance, Guy (Travis Fimmel), a dim but handsome entrepreneur, to be her donor. He agrees not only to provide a donation but also have no involvement raising her baby.

Then Maggie meets John (Ethan Hawke), an anthropology professor at the college where she works. He's struggling to complete a novel and his dominant, Scandinavian wife, Georgette (Julianne Moore), a successful novelist, professor and mother of their two children, is far too busy to give him much support. John offers her pages to read, Maggie loves his work, sparks fly and soon the two have fallen madly in love.

Three years later, Maggie now has a toddler yet hardly satisfied with her life. Still not completed his novel, John spends little time with his new wife, leaving Maggie alone to care for the baby and his teenage children that he shares joint custody with his former wife. Realizing she's no longer in love and sensing that Georgette may still have feelings for John, this sets Maggie's appallingly insensitive plan in to motion.

After a career of making intriguing indie dramas focusing on the lives of complicated women like "Personal Velocity", "The Ballad of Jack and Rose" (which starred her husband, Daniel Day-Lewis) and "The Private Lives of Pippa Lee", Ms. Miller, the daughter of acclaimed playwright, Arthur Miller, has decided to lighten-up with a thoughtful comedy involving a little romance. But this twist on convention has a film where the humor isn't nearly broad enough and the love story is buried too deep for an effective romantic comedy. For all of her efforts, Miller is unable to fully convince us that there is anything really funny about the over-bearing, narcissistic behavior of these well-educated characters.

And despite a less than illuminating lead, the rest of the cast are able to keep the film lively with their winning performances. Mr. Hawke handles the part of  Maggie's egotistical and unreliable partner with his usual amiable flair. Despite a far from unconvincing accent (perhaps intentional), Ms. Moore is the standout here as the hilariously direct and icy academic. Even "SNL" vets, Hader and Rudolph are able steal scenes with their brief screen appearances.

With a capable script and strong performances, "Maggie's Plan" still doesn't fully capture the magic of the whisical romantic experience. It's aim was higher than what is usually expected from these films yet some of the light-hearted fun that comes from them is still required.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

2016 LA FILM FESTIVAL


For fans of independent cinema living in Los Angeles, the LA Film Fest is right around the corner.  This event will begin June 1st running through June 9th with most screenings and events held at the Arclight Cinemas in Culver City. The festival will showcase compelling, new independent films, documentaries, shorts, television programing and web series.


The Opening Night feature will be "Lowriders". This film by Ricardo de Montreuil tells the story, set in the low rider car scene in Los Angeles, about a teenager (Gabriel Chavarria) torn between his traditional father (Demian Bichir) and estranged criminal brother (Theo Rossi). Melissa Benoist, Tony Revolori and Eva Longoria also star.

The Closing Night film is "Deierto", directed by Jonás Cuarón, the son of Academy Award-winner Alfonso Cuarón ("Gravity"), who also produced this film. Gael García Bernal stars in this timely tale as one of several migrant workers looking for work and a better life across the U.S. border. However, their lives are in danger when a merciless gun-toting vigilante (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) chases them through the desert to keep them out of the country.


For tickets, passes and additional information, please click below:

2016 LA Film Fest

Here are a few trailers for some interesting films that will be screened at the fest:




Sunday, May 22, 2016

WINNERS FROM THE 2016 CANNES FILM FESTIVAL

The Cannes Film Festival has come to a close and the George Miller led jury has selected Ken Loach's "I, Daniel Blake" for the top prize of the Palme d'Or.  This is the second time the seventy-nine year old British writer/director has taken this prize, previously winning in 2006 for "The Wind That Shakes The Barley". He had announced that this film, about an ill carpenter’s struggle with the British healthcare system, would be his last. We'll see if Mr Loach keeps his word but he did become the ninth film maker to take that prize twice.


Another favorite of the fest is Xavier Dolan who took the Grand Prize for his latest, "Juste la fin du monde (It's Only the End of the World )". The twenty-seven year old French-Canadian received this runner-up award two years ago for "Mommy". Based on a play by Jean-Luc Lagarce, the film tells the story of a writer returning home after a long absence to announce that he is dying and features some of the top names in French cinema including Gaspard Ulliel, Nathalie Baye, Léa Seydoux, Vincent Cassel and Oscar-winner Marion Cotillard.



The Best Director Prize was shared by Olivier Assayas for his psychological thriller, "Personal Shopper" which stars Kristen Stewart (who was in his last feature, "Clouds of  Sils Maria") and Cristian Mungiu, the Romanian film maker who won a well-deserved Palme d'Or in 2007 for his excellent "4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days", for "Graduation", a drama involving a small-town Romanian doctor. "The Salesman", the latest from Asghar Farhadi ("A Separation", "The Past"), took the Best Actor and Best Screenplay awards. And English director, Andrea Arnold won the Jury Prize for the third time with "American Honey", a road movie that features an acclaimed performance by newcomer, Sasha Lane.



Here are the winners from the 2016 Cannes Film Festival:

Palme d’Or: "I, Daniel Blake"
Grand Prix: "It’s Only The End Of The World"
Prix du Jury: "American Honey"
Best Director (Tie): Cristian Mungiu, "Graduation" and Olivier Assayas, "Personal Shopper"
Best Screenplay: Asghar Farhadi, "The Salesman"
Best Actress: Jaclyn Jose, "Ma’Rosa"



Best Actor: Shahab Hosseini, "The Salesman"



Un Certain Regard Prix: "The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki"



Caméra d’Or: "Divines"



Short Film Palme d’Or: "Timecode"
Palme d’Honneur: Jean-Pierre Léaud
Special Mention: "The Girl Who Danced With The Devil"

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

THE HUNTSMAN: WINTER'S WAR (2016)

Written by Evan Spiliotopoulos and Craig Mazin

Directed by Cedric Nicolas-Troyan


Where & When: Arclight Cinemas, Hollywood, CA.  April 24, 2016


"The Huntsman: Winter's War", the prequel and sequel to 2012's "Snow White and The Huntsman", is one scary fairy tale. But that's not a good thing. What makes this film so terribly frightening is the complete lack of artistic or dramatic competence and the shocking waste of the talent of some interesting actors. Cinematographer Cedric Nicolas-Troyan (who filmed the first go-round) makes his debut as a director and displays his strengths and weaknesses as a film maker. The images are not surprisingly striking and vivid (thanks to the work of Phedon Papamichael) while the story-telling is choppy and predictable with the unimaginative script by Evan Spiliotopoulos and Craig Mazin doing him no favors.

With Kristen Stewart's Snow White out of the picture (largely due to the scandal that erupted over her behind-the-scenes relationship with director Rupert Sanders), that means the focus of this story is on Chris Hemsworth's dull Huntsman and the exceptionally vain and malevolent Queen Ravenna played by Charlize Theron.

We are taken back to the time when a young Ravenna was living with her younger sister, Freya (Emily Blunt). As the queen is just beginning to embrace dark magic, encouraging her sister to explore it's power, Freya is more interested in love. She has fallen for a handsome duke (Colin Morgan) but after discovering she's with child, her lover cannot marry her as he's been promised to another. Tragedy strikes as the baby is fatally harmed by the Duke and Freya is so overcome with grief and heartbreak that it unleashes her formidable power to control ice.

The bitter Freya takes over a land in the far north of the realm, stripping the area of it's lush, green forest and covering it with layers of icy snow. She begins wiping out villages, taking the children to build an army of ruthless and cold-blooded soldiers. One of the children is Eric, an exceptionally skilled warrior, that will grow-up to become Mr. Hemsworth. Another child who is equally gifted as a conqueror is Sara, played by Jessica Chastain as an adult. Eric and Sara try to resist but they break Freya's strict rule of never falling in love. They decide to leave the kingdom together but the Snow Queen has other plans. Separating them by a clear sheet of solid ice, Eric watches helplessly as Sara is murdered by their fellow soldiers before he's cast away.

Years later after Ravenna has been vanquished by Snow White, the Magic Mirror is being transported to a more secure location when it's stolen. The Huntsman is summoned by King William (Sam Claflin) to track down the mirror. With the unwelcome help of one of Snow White's dwarfs, Nion (Nick Frost) and his brother Gryff (Rob Brydon), they set off to retrieve the powerful looking glass but the frigid Queen Freya is determined to capture it first. This begins an uninspired venture where the Huntsman must do battle with a variety of nasty goblins and Freya's well-trained unit of deadly huntsmen warriors.

"Snow White and The Huntsman" turned the classic Brothers Grimm character in to a contemporary-styled, bad-ass combatant. While it was a box-office success, the film was a woefully convoluted and underwhelming adventure that certainly didn't require a follow-up. Yet here it is and "Winter's War" manages to be even less compelling. The idea to make the Huntsman (a minor player in the original tale) the lead character wasn't necessarily a bad one but Mr. Hemsworth's hero has not been fully expanded, remaining bland and generic. The addition of Ms Chastain as the Huntsman's tough and feisty love interest isn't enough to make him more interesting with this thankless part clearly a waste of time for this fine actress.

The villain tends to be the highlight in many films and that holds true with Ms Theron's Queen Ravenna with her mad desire to be the most beautiful in all the land leads to attempted murder. The Oscar-winner still brings an over-the-top but deliciously evil delight to the role yet her appearance is far too brief here. It's left to the low-key Ms Blunt to fill-in as our wicked queen. However she's more hurt and disillusioned than pure evil, making us feel less scared and more sympathetic to her plight.

"The Huntsman: Winter's War" takes us to a regal looking fantasy world that never properly captures the magical wonder and thrilling adventure of a well-crafted fable. And a bit of advice for Mr. Hemsworth. After a string of very disappointing films, I suggest you put that Thor suit back on pronto before the good-will towards you fades.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

2016 CANNES FILM FESTIVAL


It's once again time for that celebration of world cinema in the South of France. The 69th Cannes Film Festival begins today and runs through May 22nd. This year's poster was created using a breath-taking image from Jean-Luc Godard's 1963 film "Contempt".

The latest film from Woody Allen, "Café Society", has been selected to kick-off the fest. This is the third time the director has opened the event out of competition following "Hollywood Ending" in 2002 and "Midnight in Paris" in 2011. Allen has teamed up with Amazon Studios to distribute his forty-seventh feature which stars Jesse Eisenberg as a young man who ventures to California in the 1930's to try his luck in Hollywood. He manages to find love, thrills and danger in this strange town. Kristen Stewart, Blake Lively, Parker Posey, Jeannie Berlin and Steve Carell also star. This year, there will be no Closing Night film. Rather, the winner of the Palme d’Or will be screened.



Fresh off the acclaim for his comeback world-wide smash, "Mad Max: Fury Road" (which had a very successful out of competition screening at last year's fest), Aussie director George Miller will head the jury to select the feature films that will earn prizes. Also serving on the International jury will be French film maker, Arnaud Desplechin, American actors, Kirsten Dunst and Donald Sutherland, Danish actor, Mads Mikkelsen, Hungarian director, László Nemes (who won the Grand Prix last year for "Son of Saul"), Iranian film producer, Katayoon Shahabi, Italian actress/director, Valeria Golino and French performer, Vanessa Paradis.

The movies competing for awards is largely new work from popular film makers who have appeared at previous Cannes festivals like Pedro Almodóvar ("Julieta"), Jim Jarmusch ("Paterson"), Olivier Assayas ("Personal Shopper"), Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne ("The Unknown Girl"), Andrea Arnold ("American Honey"), Nicolas Winding Refn ("The Neon Demon"), Sean Penn ("The Last Face"), Paul Verhoeven ("Elle"), Jeff Nichols ("Loving") and Xavier Dolan ("It’s Only The End Of The World").







William Friedkin, the director of such classics as "The Exorcist" and "The French Connection", will deliver the cinema masterclass this year and a tribute to the late musician and filmmaker, Prince will also be presented. There will be additional high-profile Hollywood films screened out of competition including Jodie Foster's "Money Monster", Steven Spielberg's "The BFG" and Shane Black's "The Nice Guys".



Friday, April 29, 2016

2016 SUMMER MOVIE PREVIEW

Summer is almost here once again and with that comes an onslaught of movies released to entertain us throughout the warm weather season. After wading through the countless titles coming to theaters soon, I am presenting the ten films that have seriously caught my attention and can't wait to see.

All dates are subject to change:

"A BIGGER SPLASH"

Release date; May 4, 2016

Tilda Swinton teams up again with director Luca Guadagnino ("I Am Love") for "A Bigger Splash". This dazzlingly enigmatic actress stars as a famous pop star who needs to go on vocal rest and heads off to a Mediterranean island with her sexy lover (Matthias Schoenaerts). Ralph Fiennes plays her former manager (and lover) who arrives unexpectedly with his nubile daughter (Dakota Johnson) in tow. Emotional and sexual tension builds as these four engage in a game that could lead to explosive drama. The phenomenal cast could make this one of the more interesting indie films of the season.



"MONEY MONSTER"

Release date; May 13, 2016

For Jodie Foster's fourth feature as a director, "Money Monster", she has two major movie stars on board; George Clooney and Julia Roberts. Clooney plays a television stock market pundit who is held hostage live on air by a disgruntled viewer (Jack O'Connell) who lost his entire life savings to a bad investment while the show's producer (Roberts) tries to keep this bad situation from getting worse.



"DE PALMA"

Release date: June 10, 2016

"De Palma", the documentary directed by fellow feature film makers Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow,  examines one of the more fascinating directors that came out of the New Hollywood era in the 1970's, Brian De Palma. While the director is responsible for such classic films like "Carrie", "Dressed To Kill", "The Untouchables" and "Scarface", he also brought us such stinkers as "The Bonfire of the Vanities", "Mission To Mars" and "The Black Dahlia". Mr. De Palma discusses the ups and downs of his career and the creation of many of his movies.



"THE LEGEND OF TARZAN"

Release date: July 1, 2016

A movie with Alexander Skarsgård scantily clad? You don't have to ask me twice. He stars in the latest film revival of Edgar Rice Burroughs' classic ape-man in "The Legend of Tarzan". This story takes place years after leaving the jungle behind and living a civilized life in London as Lord Greystoke with his wife, Jane (Margot Robbie). He's lured back to Africa by a shady Belgian businessman (Christoph Waltz) who is not who he appears to be.



"GHOSTBUSTERS"

Release date: July 15, 2016

"Ghostbusters", the 1984 supernatural hit comedy, has been remade and gender-flipped. Director Paul Feig and comedy star Melissa McCarthy have joined forces again to bring this hilarious story of paranormal investigators to a modern audience. Joining McCarthy on the hunt for evil ghosts are SNL vets, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones along with Chris Hemsworth as the team's lovely receptionist.



"EQUALS"

Release date: July 15, 2016

"Equals" is a sci-fi drama by director Drake Doremus set in a future society where expressing emotions is considered a crime. Nicholas Hoult and Kristen Stewart play two young people who try to resist yet begin to experience the feelings of love and romance, knowing the price they will pay if they are caught. Guy Pearce and Jacki Weaver also star.



"ABSOLUTELY FABULOUS: THE MOVIE"

Release date: July 22, 2016

If you were a fan of the cheeky British sitcom, "Absolutely Fabulous" (like I am) then you will be absolutely thrilled to learn that it's coming back as a feature film. Those wacky fashionistas, Edina (Jennifer Saunders) and Patsy (Joanna Lumley) are still up to their wild and drunken ways but now their antics have gotten them in to some serious trouble with the law. They go off to hide out and decide the best place to do that is, of course, the French Riviera. Edina's daughter, Saffron (Julia Sawalha), mother (June Whitfield) and daffy assistant, Bubble (Jane Horrocks) are also back on board. Mandie Fletcher directs from a script by Ms Saunders.



"SAUSAGE PARTY"

Release date: August 12, 2016

Seth Rogan came up with the idea for "Sausage Party", a sick and raunchy animated film that is definitely not for kids. This comedy tells the story of supermarket meats, buns and other products who are excited to be purchased until they discover the real purpose of their existence. The film features the voices of Rogan, Kristen Wiig, Jonah Hill, Paul Rudd, Edward Norton and James Franco.



"FLORENCE FOSTER JENKINS"

Release date: August 12, 2016

This summer's Meryl Streep movie is "Florence Foster Jenkins". Based on the true story of a New York socialite who envisions herself as a great singer with a glorious voice. However, the reality is she can't carry a tune but nobody wants to break the news to her. Particularly her husband (played by Hugh Grant) who encourages her to perform. Stephen Frears directs.



"SOUTHSIDE WITH YOU"

Release date: August 19, 2016

Many years before he would become President of The United States, Barack Obama worked as an associate at a law firm in Chicago. He invites Michelle Robinson, an adviser at the firm, to attend a work-related event with him. "Southside With You" takes us on that day in the summer of 1989 as the two get to know each other better. Parker Sawyers plays Barack and Tika Sumpter plays Michelle in this love story written and directed by Richard Tanne.