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.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

MAPS TO THE STARS (2015)

Written by Bruce Wagner


Directed by David Cronenberg


Where & When: Sundance Sunset Cinema, West Hollywood, CA. March 3, 2015 1:45PM


David Cronenberg began his career making creepy sc-fi themed horror flicks like "Rabid", "The Brood" and his gory re-make of "The Fly". After his recent period of acclaimed dramatic thrillers including the Oscar-nominated "A History of Violence" and "Eastern Promises", the Canadian filmmaker appears ready to get back to his roots. His latest, "Maps to The Stars" takes a weird, nightmarish trip in to the over-privileged lives of the Hollywood film community. Hardly a fresh idea but Mr.Cronenberg has always been one of the more inspired directors, blurring the lines between genres while pushing the boundaries between classic and experimental film making. You would never consider "Maps" to be a conventional examination of troubled famous people determined to maintain their fame at any cost. But this undercooked satire fails to make us feel much for these falling stars.

Freshly minted Oscar-winner, Julianne Moore heads a fine cast of actors who seem to relish the juicy opportunity to portray many of the grotesque types they've surely come across during their time in the business. It should be no surprise that the actress delivers another outstanding performance, capturing the angst and insecurities of a tightly-wound actor or that this role won Moore the Best Actress prize at last year's Cannes. Coming across like a middle-aged Lindsey Lohan, Moore plays Havana Segrand, a petulant actress desperately wanting to be cast in the same role her mother played in the film, "Stolen Waters". Although much older than the character, Havana is convinced this will be the project she needs to revitalize her career. Haunted by visions of her deceased mother, she seeks counsel from famed television psychologist, Dr. Weiss (John Cusack) to guide her while struggling to cope with the perceived abuse she experienced as a child.

The teenage son of Dr. Weiss, Benjie (Evan Bird) also happens to be a famous actor that's fresh out of rehab. Spoiled, repugnant and petty, Benjie needs to prove to the producers he's clean to begin work on his comeback film. His high-strung mother (Olivia Williams), who also happens to be Benjie's manager, helps convince the suits her son is ready despite displaying signs he's still quite unstable.

The arrival of Agatha (Mia Wasikowska), Benjie's estranged sister, will create even more tension for the Weiss family. Recently released from an institution with burns covering her body and heavily medicated, she has a complicated past but just wants be reunited with her family. Agatha hires Jerome (Robert Pattinson), a struggling actor and screenwriter who pays his bills as a limo driver, to escort her around town including a trip to her former home which burned down under mysterious circumstances. After managing to get hired as Havana's new personal assistant, this allows Agatha access to film sets and a chance to see her brother.

"Maps To The Stars" packs a punch with it's vicious and ugly exploration in to the world of show-biz but doesn't offer clear insight in to what has lead to all this destruction. While the dark script by Bruce Wagner, who has made his career writing biting novels and screenplays on celebrity culture, skillfully reveals the desperation and ruthlessness of these characters, their shallowness doesn't take long to grow tiresome. The brutal ending fails to deliver the desired shock and only feels implausible.

The result is a film that's too odd to be enjoyed as a standard melodrama and not out-there enough to be compelling as an art film. "Maps To The Stars" makes it very easy to laugh at these tragic, self-involved movie people but more difficult to feel much empathy.


Wednesday, March 4, 2015

2015 OUTFEST FUSION

The 2015 Outfest Fusion Film Festival is set for March 13 and 14. The event, now in it's twelfth year, brings to the screen films celebrating the lives of LGBT people of color.


One of the highlights will be the presentation of a digitally restored print of "Paris Is Burning". This acclaimed 1991 documentary follows the New York City drag balls during the late 1980's that explored the lives of the African-American and Latino performers who went on to form their own families after being rejected by society.



An episode of the hot new soap-drama, "Empire" will be screened with the producers of the program on hand afterwards for a panel discussion. One of my favorite films of last year, "Dear White People" will also be shown. This comedy by writer/ director, Justin Simien takes a look at race and sexuality through life at a predominately African-American college.

Film-maker Rose Troche will receive the 2015 Fusion Achievement Award for her work on her debut comedy, "Go Fish" and the television shows, "Ugly Betty" and "The L Word".

For the complete list of films and to purchase tickets, please click: 2015 Outfest FUSION

Saturday, February 28, 2015

FIFTY SHADES OF GREY (2015)

Written by Kelly Marcel


Directed by Sam Taylor-Johnson


Where & When: Arclight Cinemas, Hollywood, CA. February 18, 2015 5:00PM



Back in the early days of cinema, Hollywood movies would freely feature racy themes involving mature subject matter. Once religious zealots began to use their influence to put pressure on the studios to change their wicked ways, the Hays Code was born, designed to censor any undesirable activities from the silver screen. The code was strictly enforced by 1934 and American films would only feature a sanitized world where there would be no morally objectionable content or language and kisses could not last more than three-seconds.

Thanks to provocative foreign films and US film makers pushing the boundaries, the Production Code finally came to an end by 1968 with a rating system taking it's place. This leads to cinema telling once forbidden stories, particularly involving sexuality. The X-rated "Midnight Cowboy" (although very tame by today's standards) about a male prostitute won the Oscar for Best Picture in 1969 and porn films like "Deep Throat" and "The Devil In Miss Jones" became very chic during the early 1970's.

Cinema has cooled down considerably since then as the sexiest thing you might see today at your local theater is some super-hero wrapped in a skin-tight suit. This is why I was thrilled with the prospect of a film being adapted from "Fifty Shades of Grey". This sexually drenched tale, based on the mega-selling novel by E.L. James, involves the kinky relationship between a domineering businessman and a somewhat compliant college student seemed to finally offer something for adults at the movies. This glossy film from director, Sam Taylor-Johnson disappoints as it may stimulate some from the waist down but it doesn't offer much to anyone from the neck up. The book is hardly revered as a great work of fiction but it's fans are quite vocal and rabid. The female team of Taylor-Johnson and writer, Kelly Marcel attempt to bring some substance to this light-weight erotica but there's only so much they can do with this material.

A mousy student, Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) is filling in for her ailing roommate to interview the young billionaire, Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) for the college paper. Overwhelmed by how attractive he is, Ana is flustered as she attempts to ask him probing questions. Mr. Grey, amused and intrigued by the student, flusters her further by putting on the charm.

It doesn't seem likely their paths would cross again but the two meet cute at a hardware store where Anastasia works. On a mysterious errand to pick up ropes and other restraints, Ana takes this opportunity to ask him if he would agree to a photo shoot to accompany the article. Mr. Grey complies, which he uses as an opportunity to ask Ana out.

After they begin their affair, Anastasia is mesmerized by the expensive gifts and lavish trips that Christian bestows upon her. But she is warned he doesn't do relationships and has particular requirements in the bedroom. Actually, a bed isn't even involved as Mr. Grey introduces this young lady to his idea of ultimate pleasure; complete sexual submission. The rest of "Fifty Shades" focuses on the pushing of Anastasia's limits, not only with Christian's unusual carnal desires but also with his lack of romance or commitment.

Although "Fifty Shades" is being promoted to be about love and passion, it's message is clearly anti-romance. If Christian was broke and ugly, you can be sure that Anastasia wouldn't be conflicted over what to do about this unavailable, emotionally stunted man. Due to the subject matter, you would expect at least a certain amount of edginess and tension but the sexually inexperienced, Anastasia takes it all in stride, making the extreme bondage seem simply playful.

Ms Johnson shares in the appealing qualities of her famous acting parents, Don Johnson and Melanie Griffith. She's quite a compelling presence although it's unfortunate the actress is forced to rely on the silly act of biting her lip to express all of Anastasia's jumbled emotions. As for our Mr. Grey, I'm unsure of what to make of Mr. Dornan. The Irish model/rocker is perfectly handsome and brooding but he isn't able to reveal much behind those sexy, dark eyes. Jennifer Ehle and Oscar-winner, Marcia Gay Harden appear briefly as the mothers of the lead characters but these talented actresses are pretty much wasted.

I can't say I enjoyed "Fifty Shades of Grey" and I certainly wasn't turned on. Perhaps it wasn't made with me in mind (in fact, I'm quite sure of that) but I can't imagine who this film was actually made for. Are there really a large number of women out there who literally want to be dominated and punished by a man? Sure, many people bought the book and the story is played off as a naughty, sexual fantasy but for some women, it's a brutal, unpleasant reality that they wish they could forget.

Monday, February 23, 2015

WINNERS FROM THE INDEPENDENT SPIRIT AWARDS AND THE CESAR FILM AWARDS

To wrap up the film awards, here were the final two presented over the weekend:


This marks the thirtieth year of the Independent Spirit Awards and "Birdman" took the Best Picture prize.  It's surprising how closely many of these winners mirrored the eventual Oscar selections. I guess it just shows that independent film is where quality work is to be found these days.

Here is the complete list of winners of the Independent Spirit Awards:

Best Feature: "Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)"
Best Director: Richard Linklater, "Boyhood"
Best Female Lead: Julianne Moore, "Still Alice"
Best Male Lead: Michael Keaton, "Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)"
Best Supporting Female: Patricia Arquette, "Boyhood"
Best Supporting Male: J.K. Simmons, "Whiplash"
Best Screenplay: Dan Gilroy, "Nightcrawler"
Best First Feature: "Nightcrawler"
Best First Screenplay: Justin Simien, "Dear White People"
Best Cinematography: Emmanuel Lubezki, "Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)"
Best Editing: Tom Cross, "Whiplash"
Best Documentary: "Citizenfour"
Best International Film: "Ida" (Poland)
Robert Altman Award, (for a film with an extraordinary ensemble cast): "Inherent Vice"
Special Distinction Award (for "Uniqueness of vision, honesty of direction and screenwriting, superb acting and achievement on every level of filmmaking"): "Foxcatcher"
John Cassavetes Award (for features under $500,000): "Land Ho!"

"Timbuktu" swept the 2015 César Awards, the French equivalent of the Oscar. The film, which also received a Best Foreign-Language film nod from the Academy, won seven awards including Best Film.  What made this event (which celebrates it's fortieth year) most notable is Kristen Stewart winning Best Supporting Actress for her role in "Clouds of Sils Maria", making her the first American actress to win a César. The film is due to be released in the US later this year.

Here is the complete list of winners of The César Awards:

Best Film: "Timbuktu"



Best Director: Abderrahmane Sissako, "Timbuktu"
Best Actress: Adèle Haenel, "Les Combattants"
Best Actor: Pierre Niney, "Yves Saint Laurent"
Best Supporting Actress: Kristen Stewart, "Clouds Of Sils Maria"
Best Supporting Actor: Reda Kateb, "Hippocrate"
Best Original Screenplay: Abderrahmane Sissako, Kessen Tall, "Timbuktu"
Best Adapted Screenplay: Cyril Gely, Volker Schlöndorff, "Diplomatie"
Best Cinematography: Sofian El Fani, "Timbuktu"
Best Foreign Film: "Mommy"
Best Animated Film: "Minuscule"
Best Documentary: "Salt Of The Earth"
Best Editing: Nadia Ben Rachid, "Timbuktu"
Best Set Design: Thierry Flamand, "La Belle Et La Bête"
Best Costumes: Anaïs Romand, "Saint-Laurent"
Best Short Film: "La Femme De Rio"
Best Animated Short: "Les Petits Cailloux"
Best Score: Amine Bouhafa, "Timbuktu"
Best Sound: Philippe Welsh, Roman Dymny, Thierry Delor, "Timbuktu"
Best Debut Feature: "Les Combattants"
Best Newcomer (Male): Kevin Azaïs, "Les Combattants"
Best Newcomer (Female): Louane Emera, "La Famille Bélier"