Tuesday, February 20, 2018

THE OSCARS AT 90


For all you Oscar junkies out there, Entertainment Weekly has put together a special look at the Academy Awards which has reached its ninetieth year of presenting the most coveted prize in cinema. The issue looks back from the very beginning when the first year was simply a fifteen minute ceremony held at the Roosevelt Hotel in Hollywood and covers all the bigger and more glamorous presentations that would follow to honor the best of movie magic. What makes this issue particularly intriguing is that it reveals plenty of untold stories that went on behind the scenes of the Oscars. We have Jane Fonda and writer/director, James L. Brooks telling fascinating stories about each of the times they were nominated; a look at Luise Rainer, a premier actress in the 1930's who won back-to-back Oscars but then her career came to sudden end; a brief discussion with Robert Opel who famously streaked during the 1974 telecast; the mania that followed the release of the 1997 Best Picture winner, "Titanic" which lead to the highest rated show in Oscar history plus much, much more.

This issue of "Entertainment Weekly" is on newsstands (remember them?) now or however you read your magazines these days. For a preview, click below:

Oscar's Greatest Untold Stories of the Past 90 Years

Sunday, February 18, 2018

WINCHESTER (2018)

Written by Tom Vaughan and Peter & Michael Spierig


Directed by The Spierig Brothers


Where & When: Arclight Cinemas, Hollywood, CA. February 5, 2018, 5:00 PM


"Winchester", the latest from the Aussie film making team, the Spierig brothers, is probably the first haunted house, ghost story with a pro-gun control message. While I personally found the idea admirable, the rest of the film I had more difficulty getting behind. Based very loosely on the life of Sarah Lockwood Winchester, the widow of an owner of the Winchester Repeating Arms Company, who invested some of her incredible, inherited wealth in to the continuous construction on her mansion in San Jose, California. It had been rumored that Mrs. Winchester apparently believed that she was cursed and haunted by spirits, with the endless work on her home as an attempt keep them at bay. It is certainly an intriguing concept to build a horror film around but the plot here is flimsy and the creepy frights never rise beyond obvious.

Six years in to the twentieth century, Dr. Eric Price (Jason Clarke) is approached by a representative from Winchester Repeating Arms about evaluating the widow (Helen Mirren) to see if she is mentally fit to continue running the rifle company.  Drug addled, in debit and grieving over the recent loss of his wife, Dr. Price reluctantly accepts the offer, clearly understanding the outcome they expect to be determined.

When Dr. Price arrives at the massive mansion in San Jose, he is greeted by Mrs. Winchester's niece, Marion (Sarah Snook) who is dismissive of the whole idea of his presence but welcomes him in to the home. During dinner, the doctor meets Mrs. Winchester, an intense woman, tightly wound and dressed in black, mourning attire. He later begins his assessment of her which she confesses her ability to communicate with ghosts and feels she can help them move on.

The doctor is initially skeptical of her claims until he begins to see strange ghostly visions throughout the house. He also witnesses Marion's young son, Henry (Finn Scicluna-O'Prey) being possessed by a menacing spirit, forcing the boy to commit violent and dangerous acts. And when the San Francisco earthquake strikes (still considered one of the most devastating of all time), not only do Dr. Price and Mrs. Winchester have to survive the violent tremor but they also have to fight against a large number of extremely agitated ghosts that arrive to the house seeking vengeance.

Best known for their impressive sci-fi vampire thriller, "Daybreakers", Michael and Peter Spierig certainly can deliver compelling concepts and stylish visuals yet the brothers are more challenged  when it comes to creating full-blooded characters and expressive dialogue. And the only frightening moments they come up with are jump-scares which grow increasingly annoying and tiresome as they continue on throughout the film.

A friend told me he would even be happy to pay to watch Helen Mirren read the phone book. While I won't go that far, I do greatly admire the extraordinary talent of this veteran British actress. Ms Mirren uses her undeniable charisma to fill in the underdeveloped Mrs.Winchester but her real purpose here seems only to explain the motivations of the ghosts in order to move the feeble plot forward. Mr. Clarke, the fine Australian actor who has been spending a lot of time perfecting his American accent which he uses here, in last year’s “Mudbound” and for the upcoming “Chappaquiddick” in which he plays the late Senator, Ted Kennedy, injects some much needed energy to the dire proceedings.

In the end, “Winchester” is a decently executed but generic ghost story filled with too many cheap thrills and lazy scares. But the Spierig brothers were wise enough to have the heavenly gifts of Ms Mirren and Mr Clarke to not only bring a touch of class and gravitas but also help distract from the simply average spirits that haunt this film.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

COMING SOON



I think some people have tried to dismiss Jennifer Lawrence due to her youth and seemingly rapid yet unearned ascent in Hollywood. But there is no denying her talent and the twenty-seven year old Oscar winner continues to move on to more mature roles with her latest, “Red Sparrow”. She has re-teamed with her "Hunger Games" director, Francis Lawrence (no relation) with an adaptation of Jason Matthews’s espionage novel about a young Russian woman forced in to a program to train as a spy. Later, she encounters a CIA agent (Joel Edgerton) that she falls in love with but discovers he could possibly be a double agent. The trailer is filled with exciting adventure, intrigue, a glimpse of the always fantastic Charlotte Rampling and plenty of wigs for perfectly disguising one’s identity. The impressive cast also features Matthias Schoenaerts, Mary-Louise Parker, Joely Richardson, Ciaran Hinds and Jeremy Irons.

"Red Sparrow" is due in U.S. theaters on March 2, 2018

Sunday, February 11, 2018

2018 BERLIN FILM FESTIVAL


The Berlin Film Festival is the first to introduce some of the upcoming international releases of the year and the 68th edition, which will be held on February 15th through the 25th, will open with the world premiere of Wes Anderson’ latest feature, “Isle of Dogs”. This stop-animated film tells the story of a future Japan where all dogs have been quarantined due to a “canine flu”. The dogs are fed up with their isolated existence until a young boy arrives in search of his dog and they all help in trying to find him. “Isle of Dogs”, featuring the voices of Bryan Cranston, Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, Edward Norton, Scarlett Johansson, Tilda Swinton and Yoko Ono, marks the second time Anderson has opened this fest following “The Grand Budapest Hotel” in 2014 (which won the Silver Bear Jury Prize ) and will open in the U.S. on March 23rd.



Tom Tykwer (best known here as the German director of the 1998 international hit, “Run Lola Run”) will head this year’s jury which will select all of the prizes. The other jury members includes Belgium actress, Cécile de France; Spanish photographer, Chema Prada; American film critic, Stephanie Zacharek; Japanese musician, Ryuichi Sakamoto and American producer, Adele Romanski.

The Berlinale Classics section will present the world premieres of seven films that have been digitally restored. This includes Wim Wenders’ 1987 prize-winner, "Wings of Desire (Der Himmel über Berlin), "My 20th Century (Az én XX. századom)", the 1989 black & white, fairy tale which pays homage to silent films by Hungarian director, Ildikó Enyedi, (who is up for a Best Foreign-Language Oscar this year for her film, "On Body and Soul") and "Fail Safe", Sidney Lumet's intense Cold War drama from 1964.







And Willem Dafoe, who is nominated for an Oscar this year for his performance in “The Florida Project“, will receive an Honorary Golden Bear for life-time achievement. Some of his notable films will be screened including his first major screen appearance in “To Live and Die in L.A.”, “The Last Temptation of Christ “, “Mississippi Burning”, “Shadow of a Vampire”, “Antichrist”, and “Platoon “.



Tuesday, February 6, 2018

28 FILMS FOR BLACK HISTORY MONTH


February is Black History Month and what better way to look back and explore that rich history than through cinema and the work of many important African-American film makers. Manohla Dargis and A.O. Scott, film critics of the New York Times, have selected twenty-eight films that they recommend to be seen which examines the vibrant yet challenging life and history of African-Americans throughout the 20th century.

Beginning with early black film makers like Oscar Micheaux and Spencer Williams who made what were then called "race movies" in the 1920's and made specifically for black audiences. When African-Americans did appear on screen in Hollywood films in '30's and '40's, they were mostly assigned to the role of maids and butlers but glamorous stars did manage to emerge like Lena Horne who starred in the all-black musical, "Stormy Weather" and even appeared in mainstream Hollywood musicals although her scenes were easily removed when screened in the segregated South. By the 1960's, social issues began to take shape in films like Gordon Parks’s “The Learning Tree” and the very first black Hollywood superstar arrived; Sidney Poitier. "Blaxploitation" films began in the 1970's designed to instill pride and rage against oppression. And thrilling independent cinema came on the scene in the 1980's which spoke on the varied African-American experience in bold and artistic ways and includes such features as "Killer of Sheep" by Charles Burnett; Marlon Briggs' poetic "Tongues Untied"; Julie Dash's "Daughters of the Dust" and Spike Lee's "She's Gotta Have It".

Click here to read:

28 Days, 28 films For Black History Month

Thursday, February 1, 2018

WINNERS OF THE 2018 SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL


"The Miseducation of Cameron Post", Desiree Akhavan's moving drama which examines a gay conversion camp, took the Grand Jury Prize at this year's Sundance Film Festival. Based on the YA novel by Emily M. Danforth, this '90's set story looks back not so long ago when some felt that all was required was a lot of prayer and some heavy-duty brain-washing to simply make someone no longer gay. Chloë Grace Moretz stars as the title character with Sasha Lane, Forrest Goodluck, John Gallagher Jr. and Jennifer Ehle co-starring. Sara Colangelo took the Directing Prize for her work with an American-set remake of an Israeli film, "The Kindergarten Teacher". Maggie Gyllenhaal plays a New York teacher who is convinced that one of her students is a child prodigy. There were plenty of other honors handed out with special jury awards, audience awards and prizes in world cinema and documentaries.

Here is a partial list of winners from the 2018 Sundance Film Festival:

U.S. Grand Jury Prize: "The Miseducation of Cameron Post"

Directing Award: Sara Colangelo, "The Kindergarten Teacher"



Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award: Christina Choe, "Nancy"

Special Jury Award – Outstanding First Feature: Reinaldo Marcus Green, "Monsters and Men"



Special Jury Award – Excellence in Filmmaking: Reed Morano, "I Think We’re Alone Now"

Special Jury Award – Acting: Benjamin Dickey, "Blaze"

Special Jury Award – Social Impact Filmmaking: "Crime + Punishment"

Special Jury Award – Creative Vision: "Hale County This Morning This Evening"

Special Jury Award – Breakthrough Filmmaking: "Minding the Gap"

Special Jury Award – Storytelling: "Three Identical Strangers"

U.S. Documentary Award: "Kailash"

U.S. Documentary Directing Award: Alexandria Bombach, "On Her Shoulders"

AUDIENCE AWARDS:

U.S. Dramatic: "Burden"

World Cinema Dramatic: "The Guilty" (Denmark)

U.S. Documentary: "The Sentence"

World Cinema Documentary: "This is Home" (U.S.A)

WORLD CINEMA COMPETITION:

Grand Jury Prize: "Butterflies" (Turkey)

Directing Prize: Isold Uggadtti, "And Breathe Normally" (Iceland, Sweden, Belgium)

Special Jury Prize – Screenwriting: Julio Chavezmontes and Sebastián Hofmann, "Tiempo Compartido (Time Share)" (Mexico, Netherlands)



Special Jury Prize – Acting: Valeria Bertuccelli, "The Queen of Fear" (Argentina, Denmark)

Special Jury Prize – Ensemble Acting: "Dead Pigs" (China)


DOCUMENTARY:

Grand Jury Prize: "Of Fathers and Sons" (Germany, Syria, Lebanon)

Directing Award: Sandi Tan, "Shirkers" (U.S.A.)

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

MY LEAST FAVORITE FILMS OF 2017

I believe that every movie begins with a simple goal; to create a work of cinema that audiences will find entertaining and engaging. Unfortunately, that goal does not always come to pass for a variety of different reasons. Here are a few films that stand out for me from last year that were not successful at achieving their goal:

 "It"

"It", the film based on the classic Stephen King novel, became a massive international success last fall. It scared up over $700 million worldwide and has gone on to become the highest-grossing horror movie of all time. And I just don’t get it. While the film is proficiently directed by Andy Muschietti and looks great thanks to the work of cinematographer, Chung-hoon Chung, "It" feels shockingly routine and lacks any genuine scares. After his younger brother vanished a year ago without a trace, Bill (Jaeden Lieberher), a stuttering teenager, continues to be grief-stricken while his parents are still so distraught that they are neglecting him. Other unexplained tragedies involving missing children in the town have been going on for centuries and Bill and his band of misfit friends discover the culprit; Pennywise, a blood-thirsty, dancing clown played with zest by Bill Skarsgård. "It" has moments that entertain and may sends chills down a few spines yet not nearly enough effort has been made to make the film a memorable scary nightmare.



"Rough Night"

The comparison to "Girl Trip", last summer's hilarious hit female-buddy comedy, is inevitable but "Rough Night" ain't even on the same block. This misguided attempt of a dark comedy hit theaters first where it was met with a collective groan and a quick dismissal. Four college friends (Scarlett Johansson, Jillian Bell, Ilana Glazer and Zoë Kravitz) reunite after ten years and decide to have a girl's weekend trip in Miami to celebrate one of them getting married. As cinema history tells us, nothing good will come from this and it doesn't as a male stripper is accidentally killed by one of the ladies. The rest of the film deals with them ridiculously trying to hide and then get rid of the body. Kate McKinnon shows up with a bad Aussie accent as another friend from their college days and "Modern Family"'s Ty Burrell and Demi Moore appear as a creepy, deviant couple who live next door to their rental house. While the similarly plotted "Girl Trip" successfully combined warmth and uproarious raunchy humor, "Rough Night" is just uncomfortably and incredibly bad.



"T2 Trainspotting"

Much like the follow-ups to movies like "Wall Street", "Basic Instinct" or "300" (to name only a few), "T2 Trainspotting" was another sequel that nobody really asked for. Danny Boyle, now an Oscar-winning director, returns to direct the follow-up to the 1996 film and much of the original cast are back. Irvine Welsh, the author of "Trainspotting", did write a sequel to his book called "Porno" but "T2" uses an original script by John Hodge that is loosely based on both books and follows those junkie Edinburgh lads twenty years later. Mark "Rent boy" Renton (Ewan McGregor) has been off heroin for years and living a normal family life in Amsterdam but divorce and a heart attack brings an end to his peaceful existence. After his marriage fails and loses visitation of his son, Daniel "Spud" Murphy (Ewen Bremner) becomes an addict again. Simon "Sick Boy" Williamson (Jonny Lee Miller) owns a run-down pub and has a coke problem but makes a living blackmailing dirty, old men with his young Bulgarian girlfriend (Anjela Nedyalkova). And Francis "Franco" Begbie (Robert Carlyle) is doing serious time in prison for drugs and robbery. The first film was driven by a reckless youthful energy while "T2" simply wheezes lethargically with sad and depressing middle-age spread.



"Snatched"

"Snatched" was one of the films I was really looking forward to seeing but ultimately it turned out to be one of my biggest disappointments on the year. This lame comedy stars one of the funniest comedians working today, Amy Schumer and features the return of comedy legend, Goldie Hawn who makes her first screen appearance in fifteen years. We also have the reliable talents of Joan Cusack, Ike Barinholtz, Wanda Sykes and Christopher Meloni all on board in supporting roles. With so much talent involved, the question remains why is this film so incredibly inept? One of the biggest problems is the underdeveloped script by Katie Dippold ("The Heat") and the very few laughs generated from it. The film tells the story of Emily (Schumer), after being fired from her job and dumped by her boyfriend, who is still determined to go on a nonrefundable vacation to Ecuador. She talks her unadventurous mother (Hawn) to go on the trip with her and the two end up getting kidnapped and held for ransom by a murderous gang. We spend the rest of this tragic comedy watching this mother and daughter trying to escape from their captors and the unamusing situations that occur during their getaway. Fans of Schumer, Hawn and comedies definitely deserved better than "Snatched".

"Ghost in the Shell"

Even without the whitewashing controversy involving the casting of Scarlett Johansson as a clearly Asian character, "Ghost In The Shell" had other serious problems. Based on the popular Japanese manga, this Hollywood version spent most of their time and money on developing visual effects and action sequences and far less on plot and characters. Set in the near future, Hanka Robotics have secretly developed the ability to merge a human brain with an artificial body or "shell". Against the wishes of the inventor, Dr. Ouelet (Juliette Binoche), the experiment of the former Mira Killian, whose body was badly damaged and has become the cyborg, Major (Johansson) will be used as a deadly counter-terrorism operative. The rest of the muddled story involves sabotage within Hanka and the mystery of Killian's past. But the most infuriating thing about "Ghost" is that this is another American film that completely mistreats the glorious gifts of France's "La Binoche".



"Justice League"

"Justice League" brings together some of the world's greatest super-heroes; Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, the Flash, Aquaman and Cyborg. What should have been a thrilling and exciting adventure turned out to be a whole lot less. Dull, uninspired and pointless, "Justice League" lets down comic-book fans with a film that simply goes through the motions and makes zero effort to elevate the material to higher than average. A perfect example of lazy film making at it's finest.

Click here to read review: "Justice League"