Friday, October 13, 2017
Frances McDormand, the Oscar, Emmy and Tony award winning actress, no longer signs autographs. And if you see her on the street, she will not take a selfie with you. And rarely does she give interviews nor will appear on talk shows.
Yet the New York Times magazine has miraculously managed to not only get the notoriously reclusive actress involved in a fairly detailed profile of her life and career for their Culture Issue but somehow managed to get her to be photographed for the cover despite her continuous claim of hating to have her picture taken.
Now this is exactly what I, and I'm sure all of her legion of fans, love about Frances McDormand. Much like many of the non-conforming characters she has played over her thirty-six year acting career, McDormand can also be a prickly and complicated character full of contradictions. While it's been noted McDormand will not give you a selfie, she will ask your name and engage you in conversation.
I'm sure part of the reason for McDormand's willingness to be interviewed is to promote her latest film, "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri" from writer/director Martin McDonagh which has been getting plenty of buzz and just recently won Audience Awards at this year's Toronto and San Sebastian Film Festivals. Not only was this role written with her in mind but her appearance in the film is one of her rare starring roles for most of her work has been impressive and memorable supporting parts in such films as "Mississippi Burning", "Almost Famous", "Wonder Boys" and "North Country".
Click below to read:
Frances McDormand's Difficult Women
Sunday, October 8, 2017
Where & When: Arclight Cinemas, Hollywood, CA. September 17, 2017 7:30 PM
Even before I saw the film, I was impressed by the restraint of the trailer for "mother!", the latest from eye-opening auteur, Darren Aronofsky, which disclosed very little of what exactly this would be about. I am one of those people who hate with a passion trailers that heavily details the entire film including revealing key plot points or all the best jokes in the two minute time frame. With star, Jennifer Lawrence featured prominently, it appears that "mother!" could be some kind of fervent horror thriller with a woman in some type of supernatural peril.
After seeing the film, I now understand completely why the trailer was so vague. In fact, it is actually downright misleading. "mother!" is far from the traditional horror film as it was presented and considering some of the previous idiosyncratic work by Mr. Aronofsky ("Requiem for a Dream", "The Fountain", "Black Swan" or even his biblical epic "Noah") that thought never should have been considered. This is clearly the reason for the divisive audience reaction to the film with it receiving the rare CinemaScore rating of "F".
And so the obvious question becomes what exactly is "mother!" about? That is not easy to pin down. Beginning like an intense marital drama involving mysterious visitors and spooky elements, the film shifts with unrestrained abandon in to a surreal nightmare involving religious symbolism, moral decay, the rapid decline of civilization and the inevitable destruction of our planet. And there is also a surprisingly wicked sense of humor to be found here as well.
Mr. Aronofsky doesn't present any of these substantial ideas in a clearly defined way, preferring to leave the viewer to draw their own conclusions of what this all may mean. While this may leave some of the audience thoroughly intrigued and enthralled, others will most certainly be frustrated and annoyed. And this appears to be exactly the director's intention with his polemic film. I was quite intrigued by "mother!' but I must admit I didn't fully understand everything that was happening. Yet I still loved the wild, trippy and puzzling journey the film took me on.
After images involving fire and destruction (which may make slightly more sense to some at the conclusion of the movie) begin the film, we are introduced to a young woman rising in the morning from bed, played by Ms Lawrence. None of the characters are given actual names but she is referred to mother, although she currently has no children of her own. With a mane of long, voluminous dirty blonde hair, her focus is on supporting Him, her older husband (Javier Bardem) who is a successful author now suffering from writer's block and renovating their large, dilapidated house in the middle of nowhere. She appears hopeful that all this devoted attention will bring her a closer connection with them both.
In the middle of one evening, a man (Ed Harris) appears at their door, thinking there was a room to rent. Instead of sending him away, Him invites the man to stay the night, despite mother being uncomfortable with the idea. With the arrival of man's wife, woman (an excellent Michelle Pfeiffer) the next day, the temperamental couple manages to completely disrupt the household. Him enjoys the company and the attention they provide yet mother is left feeling even more alienated and resentful.
Not long after the couple's two sons (played by real-life brothers, Domhnall and Brian Gleeson) burst in to the house, arguing over their parent's love and future inheritance, does a physical altercation erupt between them, ending with a tragic act of violence. And from here, the film begins to shift deeper in to an expressionist style, filling the screen with an explosion of intellectual reflection and artfully designed visuals.
You can pick up plenty of the cinematic influences that seemed to inspire "mother!" (Stanley Kubrick, "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?", Luis Buñuel, "Rosemary's Baby") yet the director has brought his own distinctively extravagant sense of technique and communication to his film. With the help of a minimalistic musical score from Jóhann Jóhannsson, sound designer, Craig Henighan and frequent collaborator, cinematographer, Matthew Libatique, they perfectly create an eerie and murky dream-like atmosphere that continuously transforms and unsettles throughout.
Fortunately, Mr. Aronofsky also has a very game Ms Lawrence who is willing to endure quite a lot thrown at her throughout the film. The young actress, shot in tight close-ups and appears in almost every scene, is exceptional as our guide through this unyielding maze of bizarre twists and turns. While for the most part, all she does is react to the madness surrounding her yet she brings a much needed grounded emotional power.
Without a doubt, "mother!" is one of the most imaginative yet polarizing films of the year. This brilliant but confounding drama gleefully challenges, incites and disturbs in ways that is rarely done anymore, particularly by an American filmmaker. I think it may be required to view the film for a second time for the opportunity to reevaluate and discover what may have been missed the first time. Or for some, seeing "mother!" one time was one time too many.
Monday, October 2, 2017
I have always believed that if you don't have a complete, well-written script, you will never have a watchable film. This has been proven more times than not yet you would be amazed how many times a movie begins production (mostly due to a pre-set release date), investing millions of dollars, with a script that is not in any condition to actually begin shooting a film.
I think part of the problem is the screenwriter gets no respect. There is this odd, long-held thought process that writing for the cinema is not that hard, pretty much anyone can do it and screenwriters are incredibly overpaid for what they contribute to the film. This is obviously far from the truth and all you have to do is re-watch one of your favorite films or recall a classic line from a movie to realize that not just anyone can create these special moments in cinema. It requires a certain talent and writers are just as important as the actors and directors to make a film memorable and entertaining.
Vulture has put together a list of the 100 best screenwriters throughout the history of cinema and have been ranked by forty of today's top working screenwriters. Some of the usual suspects are included (Woody Allen, Quentin Tarantino, Preston Sturges, Nora Ephron, Charlie Kaufman) but there are names that may not be as well-known (Guillermo Arriaga, Leigh Brackett, Burt Kennedy, Charles Lederer, Jay Presson Allen) but have contributed greatly to the art of screenwriting.
Click below to read:
The 100 Best Screenwriters of All-Time Ranked
Friday, September 22, 2017
The 55th Annual New York Film Festival is almost ready to begin and will once again present a celebration of cinema with world premieres, documentaries, restorations, classic films and free talks. Beginning September 28th and running through October 15th, the Opening Night Film will be the world premiere of the latest from Richard Linklater, "Last Flag Flying". This sequel of the 1973 film, "The Last Detail", which was based on the book by Darryl Ponicsan (who co-wrote this script with Linklater), follows the same three men who served together in the marines and are reunited years later due to a tragic event. Steve Carell, Bryan Cranston and Laurence Fishburne take over the roles that were first played by Jack Nicholson, Randy Quaid, and Otis Young.
The Centerpiece Selection is "Wonderstruck", an adaption of the young-adult novel by "Hugo" author Brian Selznick from director Todd Haynes, tells parallel stories of two deaf children, one set in 1927 and the other 1977, largely told with minimum dialogue and which ultimately converge in an unexpected way.
The Closing Night Film is another world premiere and it's the latest feature from Woody Allen. "Wonder Wheel" stars Kate Winslet as a frustrated Coney Island housewife whose life is brightened when she meets a handsome lifeguard (Justin Timberlake). But when her husband's estranged daughter (Juno Temple) pays them a visit and has eyes for the lifeguard, complications are inevitable. A conversation with Ms Winslet which will have the Oscar-winning actress discussing her over twenty-year film career will be on October 13th.
There will be twenty-two other features from around the world that are a part of the Main Slate and include new works from Luca Guadagnino ("Call Me By Your Name"), Agnès Varda ("Faces Places"), Sean Baker ("The Florida Project"), Claire Denis ("Let The Sun Shine In"), Noah Baumbach ("The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)") and the feature directing debut by actress, Greta Gerwig ("Lady Bird").
Other Special Events include the world premiere of "Spielberg", a documentary that traces the career and artistic growth of one of the world's most famous directors, "Trouble No More", which features newly restored concert footage from Bob Dylan's '79-'80 tour and a new restoration of the classic 1929 German silent film "Pandora's Box" which starred the iconic Louise Brooks.
And for the first time, the fest will feature a retrospective on an important figure in cinema and the first honored will be Robert Mitchum. This handsome and charismatic actor had an incredible career that went on for five decades. Mitchum worked with some of the finest filmmakers in Hollywood and appeared in nearly every genre imaginable. Twenty-four of the actor's best films will be screened including a new documentary by photographer, Bruce Weber, "Nice Girls Don’t Stay for Breakfast" which features footage of Mitchum during a photo shoot in the late 1990's.
For tickets and additional information, please click below:
2017 New York Film Festival
Sunday, September 17, 2017
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 the reality was that 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
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
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"
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"