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 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 looking forward 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.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

MILES AHEAD (2016)

Written by Steven J. Baigelman & Don Cheadle


Directed by Don Cheadle


Where & When: Arclight Cinemas, Hollywood, CA. April 4, 2016 5:50PM


Miles Davis, considered one of the most influential and innovative jazz musicians, is finally getting a cinematic treatment of his life and times. Don Cheadle is making his directorial debut with "Miles Ahead" in which he also co-wrote, produced and stars as the iconic performer. As an actor, Cheadle perfectly embodies the prickly, damaged and unpredictable soul of this genius musician. And as a director, he's an adventurous and stylish film maker yet "Miles Ahead" still fails to build enough momentum to soar the heights he was aiming to reach.

Mr. Cheadle has wisely avoided trying to cover the entire life of Mr. Davis and has focused on a specific period in the late '70's where he had essentially withdrawn from public life for a number of years. Holed-up in his Manhattan home surrounded by mess and clutter while at a creative standstill, at least partially due to his substance abuse, Davis is in need of some cash. He calls his record label to send him a check but they want new music from their artist first.

Dave Braden (Ewan McGregor), a reporter for Rolling Stone, arrives at his door unannounced to do a story and receives a sucker punch by the ornery Davis for his trouble. After this rocky start, the two men, though still quite wary of each other, come together to work out a solution. Taking the opportunity to hopefully get an exclusive, Braden chauffeurs Davis to Columbia Records where he demands a check. After he fires off his gun, Davis is able to shake down an executive for a little money.

The next stop is to a college dorm where Braden takes Davis to meet a rich, drug-dealing student. While the kid is a fan of the musician, they don't have enough cash to score. But he's willing to settle for a few signatures on some albums to make up the difference. One cover features Frances Taylor (Emayatzy Corinealdi), Davis' former wife. That lovely image (along with some coke) triggers memories of their better days as a couple. Though flashbacks, we see the beginning of their love affair after Davis first spotted this model/dancer entering a nightclub until the relationship dissolves in to bitter jealousy and violent outbursts.

Mr. Cheadle sharply shifts between Davis' past and present, displaying his paranoid rages, sex and drug fueled binges and the painful resentment of being a famous and respected musician yet still dismissed in society, particularly by law enforcement, as just another black man in America. This is made even more effective by his lived-in performance, capturing the musician's effortless cool and his, at times, frightening behavior.

The standard filmed biography usually follows a pattern of detailing many of the highlights and low points of the celebrated subject's life.There are certainly always creative alterations made to their stories, with time restraints the obvious factor however "Miles Ahead" is complete bullshit. There was never a reporter hounding Davis for a story before quickly gaining the confidence of the suspicious musician. In fact this character was created mainly for the purpose of securing financing by having a major white star in the film.

Considering the unfortunate current movie-making climate, it's somewhat understandable to make such a major compromise. Yet the film can never overcome feeling like a fictionalized story that happens to involve a non-fictional Miles Davis. A subplot involving a seedy music producer (Michael Stuhlbarg) and his protegee (Keith Stanfield), a talented young trumpeter that he wants the legendary trumpeter to endorse, stealing Davis' demo tapes that leads to a wild car chase and more gun-fire only adds to the unbelievable nature of the film.

"Miles Ahead" is consistently watchable, features some fine supporting performances (particularly by Ms Corinealdi) and the sublime music of Miles Davis but this film leaves us wanting to see a more honest account of the complicated musician. Instead, we have something more like a rambling story Davis might have told when he was stoned.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

2016 COLCOA FILM FESTIVAL


For lovers of French cinema in Los Angeles, they have had the annual COLCOA French Film Festival to see the latest movies from France. This marks the twentieth year of the event and once again there will be nine days of seventy feature films, shorts, television series and movies being screened, many making their North American premieres. The fest will be held from April 18th to 26th at the Directors Guild Theater Complex.

The opening night gala will be "Monsieur Chocolat" which stars Omar Sy in this bio-pic on Raphael Padilla or "Chocolat", the first black star of the stage during the Belle Époque era. Born a slave in Cuba, Padilla arrives in Europe as part of a circus. After meeting businessman George Footit (James Thiérrée, the grandson of Charlie Chaplin), they create an act and "Chocolat" becomes a sensation in France but Padilla faced ridicule and prejudice throughout his fame.



The closing night film will be "Un homme à la hauteur (Up For Love)" and is actually premiering in the U.S. before it's released in France. Oscar-winner Jean Dujardin stars in this romantic-comedy about a stranger who finds the cell phone of a woman (Virginie Efira) and calls her to make arrangements to return it. After having a great conversation, they decide to meet for a date but she has some trouble with his physical attributes.



For the complete list of films, purchase tickets and additional information, please click: 2016 COLCOA Film Festival

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

2016 TRIBECA FILM FESTIVAL


The 15th annual Tribeca Film Festival  presented by AT&T begins on April 13th and runs through April 24th.  The fest, which was founded by Robert DeNiro and his production partner, Jane Rosenthal, has expanded beyond the Manhattan neighborhood with screenings throughout the city from Battery Park, Chelsea and Long Island City.

There will be over a hundred features and documentaries presented as well as seventy-two short films, forty panel talks and over twenty virtual reality and interactive installations. One highlight will be a 40th anniversary film screening and cast reunion of "Taxi Driver" on April 21st that will feature a discussion with Mr. DeNiro, Jodie Foster and Cybill Shepherd, along with writer Paul Schrader and director Martin Scorsese.



Some world premieres include Tom Twyker’s "A Hologram For The King" with Tom Hanks in an adaptation of the Dave Eggers' novel, "First Monday in May", a documentary about the creation of The Metropolitan Museum of Art's exhibition about Chinese-inspired Western fashions, "Reset" focuses on choreographer Benjamin Millepied and his work with the Paris Opera Ballet, "The Last Laugh" is a doc that explores comedians attempting to find humor on the subject of the Holocaust and "Pelé: Birth of a Legend", a feature film on the life of one of the world's greatest soccer players.







There will also be a collection of films directed by actors including Katie Holmes ("All We Had"), Danny DeVito ("Curmudgeons"), Demetri Martin ("Dean"), Mike Birbiglia ("Don't Think Twice"), Jason Bateman ("The Family Fang") and Ricky Gervais ("Special Correspondents").





For the complete list of films and events, please click:  2016 Tribeca Film Festival

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

BATMAN V. SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE (2016)

Written by Chris Terrio & David S. Goyer


Directed by Zack Snyder


Where & When: Arclight Cinemas, Hollywood, CA. March 29. 2016


Plenty of high-flying, super-powered punches are thrown in "Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice", a bleak epic battle between these two legendary super-heroes. Zack Snyder is back with this quasi-sequel to "Man of Steel", a box-office hit that brought Superman back to the big screen. And once again, we have thrilling action sequences and mesmerizing visual effects paired with sluggish pacing and incoherent storytelling. Henry Cavill also returns (and still fills out the suit quite nicely) as an emotionally blank Superman while we now have actor/director Ben Affleck wearing the bat suit. The actor is fine as our latest brooding Dark Knight and as the fifth actor playing Batman in film, Affleck won't make us forget about Christian Bale however he leaves a much stronger impression than George Clooney.

"Dawn of Justice" begins where "Man of Steel" ends except this time we get the perspective from on the ground. Bruce Wayne witnesses the destructive aerial fight between Superman and General Zod while watching helplessly as this leads to the loss of many lives at his company's office tower. This tragedy leaves Wayne angry, bitter and quite distrustful of the unrestrainable power of this alien hero.

A few months later, an incident involving an investigative story that Lois Lane (Amy Adams) was covering goes horribly wrong with more innocent lives lost after Superman comes to her rescue. This new tragic situation has some people becoming very concerned that the crime-fighting of Superman is actually dangerous and a threat to national security. He's even called before a Senate committee to answer questions about his actions.

This is where our super-villain and his diabolical deeds of turmoil and destruction enters the story. Lex Luthor has been a long-time nemesis of Superman, usually seen as a mature, bald, twisted mastermind. But here, he's now a twitchy, millennial tech-wizard billionaire played with a complete lack of charm by Jesse Eisenberg. His mannered performance grows increasingly exasperating as he brings no convincing sense of brilliance or menace to the role.

Luthor's plan involves the lifeless body of General Zod, getting his hands on a stock-pile of Kryptonite found aboard Zod's wrecked ship and creating additional friction between Superman and Batman. It's during the Senate hearing that he sets the scheme in motion, causing deadly chaos. With Batman blind with rage at Superman, it's very easy for Luthor to manipulate a battle to the death between our heroes, particularly since he has a hostage to force Superman to fight. It's no spoiler (nor much of a surprise) to reveal that the Dark Knight and the Man of Steel manage to patch up their differences and work together against their common enemy.

"Batman v. Superman" is a slickly packaged entertainment with little motivation to offer more than your average roller coaster ride. There are brief, fast-paced thrills, chills and scares but after it's all over, it will be difficult to remember any of the fine details. What is noticeably absent is even a momentary sense of fun. This is one seriously intense comic-book movie with no jokes, laughs or smiles even briefly allowed. Gloom and doom covers every inch of the film like a very dark, heavy, dirty blanket.

A welcome addition to this male-dominated genre is the long overdue arrival of Wonder Woman. It is the first film appearance of this feminist icon in over seventy years and Israeli actress, Gal Gadot brings mysterious allure and savage power to the Amazon warrior. Wonder Woman helps the boys battle Luthor and his Kryptonian monster creation, Doomsday. As the most interesting character here, she's not in this nearly long enough. Thankfully, Wonder Woman has her own feature due next year and I can't wait.

The rest of the women in the cast do not fare nearly as well. As Lois Lane, Ms. Adams is supposed to be a sharp, modern reporter yet comes across more like a throwback to the character of the past who was continuously being rescued and comforting the distressed Superman. Holly Hunter briefly appears as a steely Kentucky Senator and while she brings life to the few scenes she's in, this is still beneath the Oscar-winning performer. However, poor Diane Lane, as Clark Kent's mother, has it even worse. The fifty-one year old actress is made to look old and haggard with little to do except be horribly victimized by Luthor.

Wonder Woman is not the only character from the world of  DC Comics to appear in "Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice". We are given brief introductions to The Flash, Aquaman and Cyborg who will all be seen in their own feature films either before or after the upcoming "Justice League" movie in which they all will be seen together. All of this promotion makes this film comes across more like an entertaining infomercial instead of a compelling dramatic action adventure.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

HELLO, MY NAME IS DORIS (2016)

Written by Michael Showalter & Laura Terruso


Directed by Michael Showalter


Where & When: Arclight Theaters, Hollywood, CA. March 14, 2016 6:00 PM


"Hello, My Name Is Doris" is an appealing yet unremarkable comedy about an older woman who becomes romantically infatuated with a much younger man. There are quite a few delightful moments to be found but what really makes this film stand out is it's star, Sally Field. While she's made brief appearances in the recent "Spider-Man" flicks and even received another Oscar nod for her supporting work in "Lincoln", it's been far too long since Field has had a leading role in a movie. The actress has always been a first-rate comedian and brings emotional depth to any role she plays. This is a perfect showcase to remind (or introduce for those too young to remember) viewers that she is a cinematic treasure.

Field was first noticed in the 1960's television comedies like "Gidget" and "The Flying Nun" where she revealed her endearing perky charm and not much else. But it was quite clear that if she could seriously make us believe a nun could fly, there was nothing this actress couldn't do. It took time, several years, in fact, as well as studying with acting couch, Lee Strasberg before getting a chance to show she had much more to offer.

That first chance came with the 1976 television movie "Sybil", the true life story of an abused woman who developed a multiple personality disorder. The role won Field an Emmy and long overdue respect. She wanted to get in to feature films yet this was a time when tv folk and movie actors did not integrate. The determined Field did not let that stop her and managed to get cast in the box-office smash "Smokey & The Bandit" and won an Oscar for her role as a union organizer in "Norma Rae" in 1979. She would win a second Best Actress Oscar for "Places in the Heart" five years later.

Field plays Doris Miller, a sixty-something data-entry employee at a Manhattan office. We all have worked with someone like Doris at some point; a quiet, unassuming but odd person that you don't really pay much attention to most of the time. It would seem hard not to notice Doris with the wildly colorful scarves wrapped around her head and wacky second-hand clothing she wears to work.

This all changes when a twenty-something, handsome new employee, John Fremont (Max Greenfield) shows her a little kindness and attention. The lonely Doris becomes obsessed with John but gets tongue-tied when she tries to speak to him. With words of encouragement from a self-help guru (Peter Gallagher) and the help of the teenage granddaughter (Isabella Acres) of her close friend, Roz (Tyne Daly), Doris secretly follows John on Facebook to find out more about him.

However, a surprising thing happens. Doris and John actually become good friends although this is partly due to info she got on him with her Internet snooping. Their relationship seems to be going perfectly for Doris until she discovers he's begun dating a sweet, younger girl (Beth Behrs).

Director and co-writer, Showalter (who you might recognize as an actor and stand-up comedian also co-wrote the cult comedy, "Wet Hot American Summer") manages to keep the tone of the film light, kind and good-humored even as we watch a sadly delusional character behave in ways that are cringe-worthy and a little disturbing. At times, the broad humor can chafe against the darker emotional elements introduced to the film like a scene when Doris is confronted by her concerned brother (Stephen Root), his rigid wife (Wendi McLendon-Covey) and a therapist (Elizabeth Reaser) with a hoarding intervention. The response from a frightened, devastated and angry Doris is very well played yet feels like it belongs in another movie. One thing we know about Ms Field is that she is committed even when the material doesn't fully warrant the attention. Mr. Greenfield shines as the dreamy co-worker and he has such a lovely chemistry with Ms Field that you can't help wishing these two will end up together.

The rest of the supporting cast is impressive which includes "Orange is the New Black" star, Natasha Lyonne, Kumail Nanjiani of HBO's "Silicon Valley", "SNL" player, Kyle Mooney although none of them are given much to do here.

Ageism has been a part of Hollywood for a long time with female actors mainly feeling the brunt of it's effects. This explains why Ms Field along with other highly-esteemed performers of her era like Jessica Lange, Glenn Close, Sissy Spacek and Kathleen Turner have found film work scarce today. There are certainly a few exceptions (with Meryl Streep and Helen Mirren to be the most notable) but many of their male peers (Jack Nicholson, Gene Hackman, Michael Douglas, Robert De Niro etc.) continued to remain an in-demand screen presence until they decide to call it a day.

Last year, however, we saw several veteran actresses making strong appearances with leading roles in feature films. Some of them were Blythe Danner in "I'll See You In My Dreams", Lily Tomlin in "Grandma", Oscar-nominated Charlotte Rampling in "45 Years" and the eighty-one year old Maggie Smith with "The Lady in the Van". And now we have Sally Field in the modestly charming "Hello, My Name is Doris". Let's hope this surprising yet very welcome trend continues for a long time.

Friday, March 4, 2016

2016 OUTFEST FUSION

Outfest Fusion, the annual cinematic celebration of LGBT people of color, begins today and runs through March 16th. The event has been expanded to thirteen days which allows an opportunity for even more films and workshops to be presented.



The classic 1996 film, "The Watermelon Woman" by writer/director Cheryl Dunye, will be screened on March 4th. The comedy explores issues of race, gender and sexuality with Dunye staring as a documentary film maker in search of information on an iconic African-American actress from the 1930's while she starts a new romance with a white woman (Guinevere Turner). For it's twentieth anniversary, "The Watermelon Woman" has been digitally restored and there will be a conversation with Dunye on March 5th followed by a trio of recent short films inspired by the work of the lesbian film maker.



Also on March 5th will be the Gala Screening and After-party which will show a collection of short films that introduce new voices in queer cinema. The party afterwards will be held in the courtyard of the Egyptian Theatre with a hosted bar, delicious bites and a DJ.

Some notable films that will be screened will include "Fire Song", the debut feature by Adam Garnet Jones, about a gay, Anishinaabe teen struggling to decide whether to either stay in his small aboriginal community in Canada or move to a life outside, the sexually explicit "Utopians" is an erotic drama from Japan involving a conservative young man who finds himself attracted to his male college professor and from the producer who brought us Ang Lee's "The Wedding Banquet" is "Baby Steps", a Taiwanese comedy about a gay couple hiring a surrogate to have a baby but is complicated once one of their mother's decides to get involved.






And for the first time, a One Minute Movie Contest with the search of a sixty-second film involving the theme of either "I Am" or "I Was". The films will be screened on March 16th at Angel City Brewery and the winners selected will receive either a cash prize or an Outfest membership.

For the complete list of films, events and to purchase tickets, please click: 2016 Outfest FUSION