Sunday, September 17, 2017

INGRID GOES WEST (2017)

Written by David Branson Smith and Matt Spicer


Directed by Matt Spicer


Where & When: AMC Century City, West Los Angeles, CA August 30, 2017 7:25 PM


"Ingrid Goes West", a wickedly dark satire by writer/director Matt Spicer, takes on the modern way we communicate and connect through social media, examining one woman's extreme and desperate attempts to fit in and be liked. With a deft and wacky performance by Aubrey Plaza that manages to make you squirm and laugh uncomfortably, she plays Ingrid, an unbalanced and lonely outsider who believes that stalking is simply how you make friends today.

When we first see Ingrid, she's sobbing uncontrollably as she clicks "loves" on pictures of a beautiful wedding posted on Instagram. It turns out she's parked outside where the ceremony is being held and marches inside to shriek at the bride for not inviting her before spraying her in the face with mace.

During her stay at a mental health facility, Ingrid writes to her victim, explaining that she's better now and the incident was all just a misunderstanding while hoping they can still be friends. However, they were never actually friends but Ingrid was convinced due to the bride "friending" her just to be nice.

Shortly after being released, Ingrid is flipping through a magazine when she gazes upon the person who will become her latest obsession; Taylor Sloane (Elizabeth Olsen), a golden-haired, social media darling whose easy Southern California lifestyle is used to influence and inspire her audience.

With the insurance money she received after her mother's death, Ingrid heads out to Los Angeles to meet the woman who she's determined to make her new best friend. She rents a room in the beach community of Venice where Taylor lives from Pinto (O'Shea Jackson, Jr.), an aspiring screenwriter and hardcore fan of the Dark Knight, who takes an interest in her. But Ingrid's only focus is to track down her unsuspecting new BFF.

We are amused, disturbed and mesmerized by Ingrid's bumbling, deceitful efforts to infiltrate Taylor's seemingly perfect life with her slacker artist husband (Wyatt Russell) and the relative ease in which they quickly become actual friends. After adapting many of Taylor's "likes"; vegan food, boho chic dresses, Joshua Tree and Joan Didion, Ingrid is blissfully happy with her new life with Taylor.

But it was inevitable for all this happiness to be interrupted. The arrival of Nicky (Billy Magnussen), Taylor's hunky party-boy brother, puts a wedge between the new best friends. Nicky and Ingrid immediately dislike each other, with him becoming very suspicious of the true nature of her relationship with his sister.

As Ingrid's fantasy life with Taylor begins to implode, she becomes more desperate and her behavior becomes increasingly outrageous. But it also reveals how vulnerable and damaged she actually is, shifting the film uneasily from black comedy to a tragic humiliation. It's no surprise that Ms Plaza, who first found success on television with "Parks & Recreation", effectively uses her quirky charm and comedic gifts to display Ingrid's crazed, relentless actions but the actress also unexpectedly reveals a deep sadness which seem to drive her to such an irrational state.

Los Angeles is certainly an easy target with the town full of self-involved people and social media has managed to make it even easier for them to fill the rest of the world continuously with themselves and their thoughts and ideas. But while "Ingrid Goes West" certainly delivers plenty of awkward laughs and well-played performances, the film never get beneath the surface to reveal any deeper meaning to our insatiable desire to be constantly connected in a virtual reality.

With an ending that is highly predictable yet absolutely perfect, "Ingrid Goes West" humorously captures this current obsession (and the unexpected dangers) with desperately wanting to be noticed by thousands (or millions, if you're lucky) of virtual strangers with the hope that with each "like" perhaps we'll feel better about ourselves.

Friday, September 15, 2017

BURIED TREASURES


While many have been bemoaning this recent lousy summer in cinema with the year-to-year profits down, the attendance the worse it's been in twenty-five years and many lackluster would-be Hollywood blockbusters failed to get audiences in the theaters, there were actually a few intriguing films released over the last three months. Did anyone see "Maudie"? Or "Beatriz At Dinner"? Or perhaps "The Hero" or even "The Beguiled"? These were some wonderful independent films out this summer that didn't open wide, never came close to the box-office top-ten and certainly weren't seen by nearly enough people.

In response to this, Los Angeles Times lead film critics, Kenneth Turan and Justin Chang have selected thirty-five overlooked films or "buried treasures" released over the last twenty years that never received as much appreciation as they deserved. They have stressed that their selections are not necessarily what they consider "the best" but rather to bring awareness to inventive and challenging films that failed to generate wide audience attention or award recognition at the time of their release. Both critics are admitted world cinema lovers (as am I) so their picks have a large number of foreign-language films which sadly tend to be ignored by the average American film-goer. But if you are feeling adventurous and want to discover something new, please check out this list.

Click below to read:

Buried Treasures of the last 20 years in film

Here are a few trailers of some of my personal favorites of these buried treasures:









Sunday, September 10, 2017

WINNERS FROM THE 2017 VENICE FILM FESTIVAL


The 2017 Venice Film Festival has come to a close and with that, prizes have been handed out. The Annette Bening-led Jury has selected "The Shape of Water", Guillermo del Toro's romantic fantasy fable, for the top prize of the Golden Lion or best film. This Fox Searchlight film, which received a warm and rapturous response during it's world premiere screening, stars Sally Hawkins as a mute woman who emotionally connects with an aquatic experiment. Samuel Maoz’s Israeli drama, "Foxtrot" won the runner-up, Grand Jury Prize while British icon, Charlotte Rampling took the Best Actress Award for her performance in Andrea Pallaoro’s French-language feature, "Hannah". Another warmly received film making it's world premiere at the fest was "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri" and won the director, Martin McDonagh the Best Screenplay Prize. And Xavier Legrand won both the Best Director and Best First Film for his French custody drama, "Jusqu’à La Garde"

Here is the list of the winners from the 2017 Venice Film Festival:

Grand Jury Prizes

Golden Lion: "The Shape Of Water"
Grand Jury Prize: "Foxtrot"
Silver Lion Best Director: Xavier Legrand, "Custody (Jusqu’à La Garde)"



Volpi Cup Best Actress: Charlotte Rampling, "Hannah"



Volpi Cup Best Actor: Kamel El Basha, "The Insult"



Best Screenplay: Martin McDonagh, "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri"
Special Jury Prize: "Sweet Country"



Marcello Mastroianni Award for for Best New Young Actor or Actress: Charlie Plummer, "Lean On Pete"

Venice Horizons

Best Film: "Nico, 1988"



Best Director: Vahid Jalilvand, "No Date, No Signature"
Special Jury Prize: "Caniba"
Best Actress: Lyna Khoudri, "Les Bienheureux"
Best Actor: Navid Mohammadzadeh, "No Date, No Signature"
Best Screenplay: Dominique Wellinski and Rene Ballesteros, "Los Versos Del Olvido"
Best Short Film: "Gros Chagrin"
Lion of the Future: Luigi De Laurentiis Award for a Debut Film: Xavier Legrand, "Jusqu’à La Garde"

Venice Virtual Reality

Best VR: "Arden’s Wake (Expanded)"
Best VR Experience: "La Camera Insabbiata"
Best VR Story: "Bloodless"

Friday, September 1, 2017

2017 FALL MOVIE PREVIEW

Another summer movie season has come to a close and it has proven to be somewhat of a disappointment with the films ranging from unnecessary sequels, underwhelming remakes to just plain awful. While there were a few bright spots ("Wonder Woman", "Spider-Man: Homecoming", "Baby Driver", "Girls Trip", "Dunkirk") but mostly there were just too many duds released ("The Mummy", "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales", "The Dark Tower", "Valerian & The City of a Thousand Planets" to name just a few). Now is the time to look forward to the fall, where the selection of films looks far more promising. Here are ten upcoming films that I'm particularly looking forward in seeing.

All release dates are subject to change:

"BATTLE OF THE SEXES"

Release date: September 22, 2017

I was around eleven years old when the events of the comedy-drama, "Battle of the Sexes" took place so I was aware yet not particularly interested in this gender war between tennis players Bobby Riggs and Billie Jean King. But I'm very interested now in the retelling of this tension-filled showdown that took place in 1973. Steve Carell and Emma Stone star as the iconic tennis stars as we witness all of the outrageous theatrics that leads up to the dramatic match between them. Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris ("Little Miss Sunshine") directs.



"WOODSHOCK"

Release date; September 22, 2017

It seems Tom Ford may have inspired other fashion designers to get in to the movie business. The Mulleavy sisters, Laura and Kate (who design the women's clothing line, Rodarte) have written and directed their first feature, "Woodshock". With friend and muse, Kirsten Dunst as an executive producer and star, the film focuses on a grief-stricken woman living in Northern California. She works at a marijuana dispensary and when a powerful new strain is discovered, it quickly replaces lumber as a lucrative cash crop in the area. It shouldn't be much of a surprise that the visuals in the film are wildly vivid and disorienting.



"BLADE RUNNER 2049"

Release date: October 6, 2017

When "Blade Runner", a 1982 film directed by Ridley Scott and based on the Phillip K. Dick novel, "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep", was released, it was initially met with tepid critical reaction and middling box-office. Over time, the film became much more appreciated for it's inventive story-telling and groundbreaking visuals and is now considered a sci-fi classic. Now, thirty-five years later, a follow-up film has finally been made. "Blade Runner 2049" is set thirty years after the first film as a blade runner, Officer K (Ryan Gosling) begins to unravel a dangerous plot that could potentially end mankind. As he further investigates, it leads him to Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford),  a former blade runner who dropped out of sight years ago for a good reason. Denis Villeneuve ("Arrival") directs with Jared Leto, Robin Wright, Barkhad Abdi, Dave Bautista and Edward James Olmos (who also reprises his role in the original film) also starring.



"PROFESSOR MARSTON & THE WONDER WOMEN"

Release date : October 27, 2017

"Wonder Woman" became one of the biggest hits of the year and the timing couldn't be better to take a look at the unconventional life of that character's creator. "Professor Marston & The Wonder Women" examines Dr. William Moulton Marston (Luke Evans), a brilliant man who was a psychologist, inventor and most unlikely, a comic-book writer. We learn that the doctor, his wife (Rebecca Hall) and close friend to both (Bella Heathcote) were all involved in a highly unusual relationship and that these strong-willed women became the inspiration of his famous creation.



"MY FRIEND DAHMER"

Release date: November 3, 2017

John "Derf" Backderf wrote a memoir on his teenage friendship with Jeffrey Dahmer who would grow-up to become an infamous serial killer. But he took the unusual step of creating it as a graphic novel. Marc Meyers has adapted the novel and directed "My Friend Dahmer" and cast Ross Lynch, an actor formerly associated with Disney Channel programming, as Dahmer. While not exactly attempting to make him sympathetic, the teenage Dahmer is revealed to be a lonely and tormented young man who drank to excess, displayed strange behavior and was oddly fascinated with roadkill.



"MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS"

Release date: November 10, 2017

"Murder on The Orient Express", the 1934 Agatha Christie novel, had previously been made in to a popular 1974 film by Sidney Lumet and featured an all-star cast that included Albert Finney, Lauren Bacall, Sean Connery, Vanessa Redgrave and Ingrid Bergman who won the Best Supporting Actress Award for her role. So I guess the time must be right for a remake. Kenneth Branagh not only directs but also has taken on the juicy role of Hercule Poirot, the internationally famous French detective, who works to solve the crime on this train. This is also a star-filled event and features Penélope Cruz, Willem Dafoe, Judi Dench, Josh Gad, Leslie Odom Jr. ("Hamilton"), Michelle Pfeiffer and Johnny Depp.



"THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI"

Release date: November 10, 2017

Frances McDormand makes a long overdue return to the big-screen with a starring role in "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri", the latest from playwright/filmmaker Martin McDonagh ("In Bruges", "Seven Psychopaths"). She plays Mildred Hayes, a mother, grieving over the murder of her daughter, who becomes angry and frustrated that no arrest has been made in this crime. Deciding to take a stand and draw attention to this, Mildred rents three billboards that publicly shames the town sheriff (Woody Harrelson) and his police department. Sam Rockwell, John Hawkes and Peter Dinklage also star.



"CALL ME BY YOUR NAME"

Release date: November 24, 2017

"Call Me By Your Name", based on the book by André Aciman, tells the story of Elio (Timothée Chalamet), an American teenager spending the summer with his parents at their Italian villa. Oliver (Armie Hammer), a handsome academic friend of the family, comes to stay for a visit. Elio is fascinated by this slightly older man, with a deep friendship developing before their relationship becomes more intimate. Luca Guadagnino directs from an adapted screenplay from legendary filmmaker, James Ivory ("A Room With a View", "Howard's End", "Maurice").



"THE SHAPE OF WATER"

Release date: December 8, 2017

Guillermo del Toro, the Mexican filmmaker who has made two of my favorite films, "The Devil's Backbone" and "Pan's Labyrinth", has returned with another dark fantasy, "The Shape of Water". While those previous films focused on young protagonists fighting against the supernatural, his latest is more of an adult romance. Set in the 1960's during the Cold War, Elisa (Sally Hawkins) is a lonely, mute woman who works as a janitor at a U.S. government laboratory. She discovers a secret experiment; an amphibious creature (Doug Jones) held in a water tank. Elisa makes an emotional connection with it and determined to set it free. Michael Shannon and Octavia Spencer co-star. The film will make it's world premiere at the Venice Film Festival and will also be screened at this year's Toronto fest.



"STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI"

Release date: December 15, 2017

The highly anticipated follow-up to 2015's "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" is finally here. With Rian Johnson ("Looper") taking over directing duties from J.J. Abrams, "Star Wars: The Last Jedi" continues where we left off with the aspiring Jedi, Rey (Daisy Ridley) finding Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) on an isolated island but soon discovers he's no longer the heroic Jedi warrior of the past. Meanwhile, Finn (John Boyega), the former stormtrooper turned reluctant hero, is on a new mission for the Resistance with just a mechanic (Kelly Marie Tran) by his side. Oscar-winner, Benicio Del Toro and Laura Dern are new additions to the series with undisclosed roles.

Friday, August 25, 2017

2017 VENICE FILM FESTIVAL


The 2017 Venice Film Festival will officially kick-off the fall movie season with some of the most interesting and anticipated films of the year. The 74th edition of this Italian-based fest will begin on August 30th and run through September 9th.

The Opening Night film selected is "Downsizing", Alexander Payne's first film since his 2013 film, "Nebraska" which went on to receive six Academy Award nominations. This strange sci-fi satire is about a struggling couple (Matt Damon and Kristen Wiig) who decide the best way to cut finances is to cut themselves literally down in size.



The Closing Night film will be "Outrage Coda", the final chapter of the "Outrage" series from Japanese actor/filmmaker, Takeshi Kitano. This continues the story of the new Hanabishi-kai crime outfit which has unified all of the Japanese underground yakuza into a massively centralized organization. But the members of the former Sanno-kai yakuza who helped create this new group are now seen as expendable and are being taken out one by one.



American actress, Annette Bening has been named President of the main competition jury and the first female to hold this post since 2006. Other members of this year's jury include British filmmaker, Edgar Wright; British actress, Rebecca Hall; Hungarian filmmaker, Ildiko Enyedi; Mexican filmmaker, Michel Franco, French actress, Anna Mouglalis; film critic, David Stratton; Italian actress, Jasmine Trinca; and Taiwan-born filmmaker, Yonfan. The panel selects the major prizes including the Golden and Silver Lions and the acting Volpi Cups. Some of the films in competition for prizes include the latest from George Clooney ("Suburbicon"), Darren Aronofsky ("Mother!"), Andrew Haigh ("Lean On Pete"), Martin McDonagh ("Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri"), Abdellatif Kechiche ("Mektoub, My Love: Canto Uno"), Paul Schrader ("First Reformed"), Frederick Wiseman ("Ex Libris: The New York Public Library") and Guillermo del Toro ("The Shape of Water").





Stephen Frears, the British director who brought us the now-classic films, "My Beautiful Laundrette", "Dangerous Liaisons", "The Queen" and "The Grifters", will be honored with the Jaeger-LeCoultre Glory To The Filmmaker Award, a prize given to an individual who has made a significant contribution to innovation in contemporary cinema. His latest, "Victoria & Abdul" will also be making it's world premiere at the fest in an out-of-competition slot. The film is based on the true story about the unlikely friendship between a young clerk from India (Ali Fazal) and Queen Victoria (Judi Dench).



Robert Redford and Jane Fonda will both receive the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement. In addition, the actors have been paired up for the fourth time on film with "Our Souls At Night", a Netflix release that will make it's world premiere at the fest. This drama of a couple unexpectedly finding love late in life is based on a novel by Kent Haruf and directed by Ritesh Batra ("The Lunchbox").



Virtual Reality is making a major splash at Venice with a jury being assembled for the first time specifically for these films. Over twenty VR films will be shown and American director, John Landis will head this jury. His groundbreaking 1982 music video for Michael Jackson's "Thriller" will be presented for the first time in 3D as a Special Event along with Jerry Kramer's documentary on the making of "Thriller".

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

DETROIT (2017)

Written by Mark Boal


Directed by Kathryn Bigelow


Where & When: TCL Chinese Theatres 6, Hollywood, CA. August 6, 2017 6:30 PM



The team of screenwriter, Mark Boal and director Kathryn Bigelow, who previously brought us "Zero Dark Thirty" and the 2010 Best Picture Oscar winner, "The Hurt Locker", have once again delved in to challenging and troubling subject matter based on actual events with "Detroit", a disturbing, racially motivated incident that happened at the Algiers Hotel back in 1967. The issue of race and any discussion on race relations in cinema has always been precarious. Ms Bigelow has stated that she was inspired by troubling current events between the Black Lives Matter movement and the police to tell this little-known story (I had never heard about it and I moved outside of Detroit as a child a few years before). Bleak, brutal and intense, the director has skillfully crafted a frightening recreation of this tragic event yet fails to offer anything much deeper than that. We are shown the terror of the situation, the helplessness of the victims and the cruelty of the law enforcement officers but the drama exudes little emotional clarity.

It was during the early morning hours of July 23, 1967 when police raided an illegal after-hours club on 12th Street that began what is now referred to as the Detroit riots. Tensions between the African-American community and the police had been building for quite a while and finally reached a boiling point. Looting, arson and attacking the police and innocent bystanders took place throughout the city. A curfew was put in to effect but that hardly brought an end to the violence which eventually went on for five days. The Governor at the time, George W. Romney called in the Michigan National Guard to try and restore peace while President Johnson sent in U.S. Army troops to help.

Two days later, The Dramatics, an aspiring soul group, were waiting for Martha Reeves and the Vandellas to finish their set at the Fox Theater so they can take the stage. Lead vocalist, Larry Reed (Algee Smith) is counting on this moment as a chance for them to break-out but the theater has been order by the police to be cleared out due to the riots near by, leaving him devastated. As their tour bus tries to get them home, they are stopped by the violence of the rioters and head out on foot. The group get separated during the chaos with Larry and his friend, Fred (Jacob Latimore) deciding to spend the night at the nearby, Algiers Hotel until morning.

Bored and restless, Larry and Fred decide to check out who's at the hotel when they stumble upon an unexpected sight; two white girls from Ohio, Julie Ann (Hannah Murray) and Karen (Kaitlyn Dever), hanging out by the pool. They chat and flirt before the girls take them to meet some friends. Several people are in a room, including Carl Cooper (Jason Mitchell) and Aubrey Pollard (Gbenga Akinnagbe), that are drinking and trying to have fun despite the curfew. Frustrated and tired of the continuous police presence, Carl foolishly fires a starter pistol in their direction. As some police officers had previously been fired upon by snipers during the riots, the sound of gunfire causes an overreaction and they return shots back on the Algiers.

Three police officers are the first to arrive on the scene, lead by Philip Krauss (Will Poulter in one of the film's best performances), a young and particularly vicious aggressor who needs little incentive to pull his trigger. All of the eight occupants that remained in the hotel (which includes an honored Vietnam vet, played by Anthony Mackie) are dragged out of their rooms, lined up to face a wall and then must endure a long, horrific and incredibly cruel interrogation in search of who fired the gun. By the time this harrowing ordeal is finally over, three of them are dead.

Ms Bigelow uses her film to point out the social and economic injustices for African-Americans that lead to this explosive uprising and how we as a society, after all these years, have still failed to properly address these issues, causing them to remain unresolved and repeated. At over two hours, "Detroit" is exhausting and emotionally draining yet the astonishing performances help make it worth the challenge. The kinetic camerawork by Barry Ackroyd also adds to create a tempo that dramatically jolts and unsettles throughout the drama.

Mr. Boal thoroughly researched this calamitous incident, examining court documents and interviewing many of the survivors that were involved yet it's quite clear that much of the dialogue and some of the chain of events were invented by the writer. While his compelling, detailed script (with some names of the victims and the police involved changed to protect the privacy of the innocent and the guilty) takes us deep into the terror and anxiety that the participants surely felt, the minimal backstory of each makes it difficult for them to fully come to life.

John Boyega, the British actor who shot to instant fame with his turn in "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" plays Melvin Dismukes, an African-American security guard (who worked nearby and came to the hotel to try and help) that finds himself a part of this tragic situation. Forced to remain a passive witness, Dismukes unwillingly became the moral center of this story, feeling compelled to follow the police orders while helplessly unnerved by the horror of what was happening.

After the riots are over and word of this event at the Algiers became known, there was a trial largely due because of the confessions to the crime by two of the officers under interrogation. Dismukes was also charged after being identified by Julie Ann as being present. There shouldn't be much of a shock about the outcome of the trial when the judge rejects the use of the confessions as evidence.

Not surprisingly, there has been controversy and criticism leveled at "Detroit" for the lack of substantial black female characters and the question raised of whether Ms Bigelow was even the right person to direct this incendiary story involving largely African-Americans. Perhaps some of these claims may be valid while others are just noise but these questions distract from what this director has managed to accomplish with "Detroit".  While this terrible incident occurred over fifty years ago, the film sadly brings in to clear focus that not much progress has been made between the continual friction and mistrust between the African-American community and the law enforcement that is supposed to protect them. "Detroit" is far from perfect but hopefully it may inspire serious conversation and thoughtful dialogue that could help bring an end to the senseless tragedies that are still happening today.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

BONNIE & CLYDE: AN ANNIVERSARY


When Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway came out at this year's Academy Awards to present the final award of Best Picture, they were there as Hollywood royalty and to acknowledge the 50th anniversary of the release of their classic film, "Bonnie & Clyde". The duo caused unintended chaos (although no real fault of their own) with the announcement of the (wrong) winner which put a bit of a damper on their appearance. Now it's time to put all that Oscar drama in the past and focus on their groundbreaking movie which almost single-handily changed how stories can be told in American cinema with the merging of traditional gangster movies and the French New Wave.

"Bonnie & Clyde" was released on August 13, 1967 and was met with some harsh criticism for it's apparent glorification of ruthless criminals and the depiction of graphic, bloody violence. One very vocal critic was Bosley Crowther of the New York Times who wrote multiple bad reviews and felt the film was just appalling and tasteless.

However, there were some critics who found this crime-thriller (based on the real-life Depression-era bank robberies and murders by the young lovers, Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow along with their gang) visionary and innovative like Roger Ebert, Pauline Kael and Joe Morgenstern (at the time the critic for Newsweek and now with the Wall Street Journal) who reviewed it twice, first with a pan and then after seeing it again, showering the film with glowing praise.

But it was the public, truly the most important audience, who embraced "Bonnie & Clyde" and made it one of the top grossing movies of the year. The film also received eight Academy Award nominations including Best Picture and won two for Best Supporting Actress (Estelle Parsons for her role as Blanche Barrow) and Best Cinematography.

"Bonnie & Clyde" remains an influential classic and an important milestone in cinema. If you haven't seen this film (and even if you have), you now how the opportunity to see it on the big screen in celebration of it's anniversary with screenings at select theaters across the country.

Click below to purchase tickets and the location of a screening on August 16th of this classic on the big screen at a theater near you:

Bonnie & Clyde 50th Anniversary Screening