Wednesday, July 20, 2016

WINNERS FROM THE 2016 OUTFEST FILM FESTIVAL

Grand Jury Awards:

U.S. Grand Jury Prize: "Spa Night"



Best Screenwriting in a U.S. Feature: Ingrid Jungermann, "Women Who Kill"

Special Mention for Outstanding Performance: Joe Seo, "Spa Night"

Documentary Grand Jury Prize: "Southwest of Salem: The Story of the San Antonio Four"



Documentary Special Mention for Excellence in Filmmaking: "Major!"

Best Documentary Short: "These Cocksucking Tears"

Best Narrative Short: "Fake It"

International Grand Jury Prize: "Being 17"

International Special Mention: "The Nest"

Audience Awards:

U.S. Narrative Audience Award: "Miles"



Audience Award for Best First U.S. Dramatic Feature: "Suicide Kale"



U.S. Documentary Audience Award: "Major!"

Special Programming Awards:

Emerging Talent: Twiggy Pucci Garçon and Sara Jordenö, "Kiki"



Freedom Award: Tiffany Rhynard and Moises Serrano, "Forbidden: Undocumented and Queer in Rural America"

Artistic Vision: Kuba Czekaj, "Baby Bump"



Special Mention for Artistic Achievement: Kai Stänicke, "B."

Here's a round-up of some of the films I caught during the fest. The International Grand Jury Prize winner, "Being 17 (Quand on a 17 ans)" is another impressive work by legendary French film maker, André Téchiné who brought us the 1994 classic, "Wild Reeds". Seventeen year old, Damien (Kacey Mottet Klein) lives with his mother, Marianne (Sandrine Kiberlain), a doctor while his father (Alexis Loret) is a miltary pilot serving abroad. A social outcast in school, Damien is continuously bullied by another loner classmate, Tom (Corentin Fila). Circumstances bring these two young men to live together under one roof due to Tom's mother being treated by Marianne. That doesn't stop the boys from fighting yet it does bring awareness of an attraction between each other. Téchiné perfectly captures the conflicted emotions of youth with the yearning to closely connect with a peer and the desire to be left alone.

"Paris 05:59: Théo & Hugo (Théo et Hugo dans le même bateau)" is a slight yet engaging drama that comes across like a Gallic version of the British film, "Weekend" except with hardcore sex. After having an explosive and almost spiritual experience at a Paris sex club (which is seen in the explicit twenty-minute opening scene), Théo (Geoffrey Couët) and Hugo (François Nambot) leave together in post-coital bliss until they realize they've had unprotected sex. While awaiting the results of a HIV test, we watch in real-time as Théo and Hugo spend the early morning discovering each other as they bike, ride the subway and walk throughout the quiet streets of the city. Written and directed by the team of Olivier Ducastel and Jacques Martineau (who share a professional and personal relationship), this winner of the Teddy Audience Award at this year's Berlin Film Festival presents a thoughtful and stimulating look at the challenges and complications of trying to form some kind of relationship after a lustful, one night encounter.

The bittersweet documentary, "Strike a Pose" takes a look at what happened to the young backup dancers from Madonna's 1990 Blonde Ambition World Tour who revealed their personal lives and found short-lived fame in her documentary, "Truth or Dare". Reluctant to go before the cameras again, film makers, Ester Gould and Reijer Zwaan were able to convince the six surviving members, Kevin Stea, Carlton Wilborn, Luis Camacho, Jose Gutierez, Salim Gauwloos and Oliver Crumes (Gabriel Trupin died from complications due to AIDS in 1995) that this project would not be exploitative and would give them the opportunity to share their stories of life after Madonna. And each of them had many difficulties as they struggled with drug abuse, homelessness, lawsuits, HIV and other health complications. Yet we see how each of them came out of the experience with a positive outlook and greater understanding of themselves. The highlight of "Strike a Pose" is near the end when the dancers are all reunited after twenty-five years as they reminiscence and confess some long-held secrets to each other.



And my clear favorite from the fest was "Jewel's Catch One". This doc, directed by C. Fitz, explores the incredible Jewel-Thais Williams and the renowned Los Angeles nightclub, Catch One she opened that served the LGBT community of color for over forty years. After her first venture, a women’s clothing boutique, went bust, Williams decided to open a recession-proof business and the Catch was born in 1973. She began with a one room bar before eventually purchasing the entire building to create a complete dance club experience. The crowd was initially a mostly African-American clientele before celebrities like Sharon Stone and Madonna hit Catch One, making it a hip destination for white club kids. Not all of the times were good; the neighbors and police tried to force Williams out and the AIDS crisis nearly put the club out of business. Not even a suspicious fire that would shut down the Catch for almost two years would knock her out. Williams persevered and became an out-spoken activist as a co-founder of the Minority AIDS Project and Rue’s House, a housing facility for women with AIDS and their children. At the age of sixty, Williams went back to school and earned a degree in Chinese Medicine and opened the Village Health Foundation, a non-profit specializing in nutrition and lifestyle changes for the African American community. I remember spending many fun nights at the now-closed Catch One and I'm so glad this film was created to celebrate this amazing, inspirational woman's life and the important legacy of her club.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

2016 OUTFEST FILM FESTIVAL


Outfest Los Angeles, the yearly event that showcases the lives of the LGBT communities in cinema, is set to begin on July 7th and running through the 17th. The 2016 film festival will be jammed-packed with an exciting and diverse selection of films, documentaries, shorts, digital series, panels and special events in addition to plenty of fun parties and receptions.


The opening night film, which will be screened at the gorgeous Orpheum Theatre in downtown L.A., will be "The Intervention", the directorial feature debut by actress, Clea Duvall. This delightful comedy, already making an impressive impact at this year's Sundance Film Festival (and won an jury acting prize for star, Melanie Lynskey), is about a group of thirty-something couples who go away together for a weekend trip. However, it's actually an excuse to try and intervene with one friend's toxic relationship but it backfires and creates tension and reveals secrets amongst the rest of the group. In addition to Duvall and Lynskey, the film also stars Natasha Lyonne, Cobie Smulders, Jason Ritter and Alia Shawkat.

The Legacy Project Centerpiece is "Different From the Others", considered to be one of the first gay-themed feature films. It has taken six years to restore this German silent movie from 1919, using stills and film elements from Russia after the Nazis destroyed the original negatives. This final version made it premiere at this year's Berlin Film Festival and focuses on a famed violinist who takes a young student under his wing. A relationship develops between the two men but their careers are threatened when they are blackmailed during the time of Paragraph 175, which criminalized homosexuality in Germany.



"Kiki" will be the Documentary Centerpiece and the film centers on the New York vogue-dancing style made famous in the 1990 doc, "Paris Is Burning"and brings it in to a modern setting.  Now referred to as "Kiki dancing", this winner of the Best Documentary Prize at this year's Berlin Film Festival explores the same issues involving young gay men of color searching for a sense of family and expressing themselves through dance.




Murder and gay porn comes together in a shocking and unexpected way in writer/director Justin Kelly's "King Cobra", the Special Centerpiece screening. Based on a real-life incident, a porn producer (Christian Slater) discovers a bright new star, Brent Corrigan (former Disney actor, Garrett Clayton) and they both enjoy great success. A rival producer (James Franco) and his star (Keegan Allen) are envious and want a piece of the action which leads to violence and death. Alicia Silverstone and Molly Ringwald also appear. Mr. Franco will be given the first James Schamus Award before the screening which honors him as a straight ally bringing LGBT stories to film.

And the Closing Night Gala will be "Other People", the feature debut of "Saturday Night Live" writer, Chris Kelly, This semi-autobiographical comedy focuses on a New York comedy writer (played by Jesse Plemons, last seen in the previous season of "Fargo") returning to Sacramento to care for his ill mother ("SNL"vet, Molly Shannon). The film moves gracefully between humor and heartbreak as we watch him struggling between his recent break-up with a boyfriend, living in an environment he has outgrown and dealing with the health crisis of his parent. It has just been announced that this gala has been moved from the Ford Theatre and now will be held at the Theater at the Ace Hotel in DTLA. There will be a fabulous after-party at the newly restored, 1935 landmark restaurant, Clifton's Cafeteria.

There will also be a tribute to David Bowie with a screening of his vampire camp classic,
"The Hunger", the movie-wrap-up of the cancelled-much-too-soon HBO series, "Looking" and a sneak-peek showing of the all-female remake of "Ghostbusters" which will be shown under the stars at the recently renovated Ford Theatre.



For the complete list of films, events and to purchase tickets, Please click below:

OUTFEST 2016

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

DE PALMA (2016)

Directed by Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow


Where & When: Arclight Cinemas, Hollywood, CA. June 12, 2016 12:50PM


When Brian De Palma is good ("Carrie", "The Untouchables", "Scarface"), he's quite brilliant. And when he's bad ("Mission To Mars", "The Black Dahlila", "The Bonfire of The Vanities"), he's downright stinky. The narrow yet thoroughly entertaining documentary, "De Palma" examines virtually his entire film oeuvre, covering the good, bad and indifferent.

The co-directors, Noah Baumbach ("Frances Ha", "While We're Young") and Jake Paltrow ("The Young Ones" and son of Blythe Danner, brother of Gwyneth) have basically just put a camera in front of the now seventy-five year old director and let him go. And we are treated to him recalling vividly fascinating tales about his challenging yet ultimately rewarding career in the capricious world of film making.

The self-proclaimed "heir-apparent of Alfred Hitchcock" grew-up comfortably in the northeast without much real interest in cinema. He was in to science and even won a prize in high school for building an analog computer. That all changed with a viewing of Hitchcock's "Vertigo" and De Palma became utterly spellbound. He left Columbia and enrolled at the recently co-ed Sarah Lawrence college to study film, where he was drawn to the more avant-garde works by Antonioni, Warhol and Goddard. The fledgling director created some well-received documentaries before he put together his first feature, "Greetings" which took the Silver Bear Award at the Berlin Film Festival in 1969. While many contribute Martin Scorsese with launching the acting career of Robert De Niro, it was actually De Palma who gave the actor his very first film role, with him starring in "Greetings".

De Palma got Hollywood's attention and brought his unconventional style to the films he made there. Slow-motion, split-screen, extensive tracking shots and unusual camera compositions are what he contributed to such films like "Sisters", "Phantom of the Paradise" and "Obsession", his own spin of "Vertigo", yet none of them found much of an audience at the time. It was his adaption of Stephen King's first novel, "Carrie" that gave the director his first box-office hit and some much desired clout which would allow him to continue making more singular and personal movies.

The rest of his career resulted with a mixed bag with erotic thrillers ("Body Double", "Passion"), action blockbusters ("Mission: Impossible"), suspenseful crime dramas ("Raising Cain", "Carlito's Way"), critically-respected yet box-office duds ("Casualties of War", "Blow Out") and complete flops ("Snake Eyes", "Femme Fatale").

While it's clear the point of "De Palma" is to just put a spotlight squarely on our subject, allowing him to give a detailed assessment of his own body of work, yet the complete lack of an objective point-of-view makes the documentary limiting. I believe that to better understand his films, it helps to understand the man behind the camera. It certainly would have been interesting to hear what it was like working with the mercurial director from some of the actors or crew members. Even any of his three former wives (including producer, Gale Anne Hurd and actress, Nancy Allen, who appeared in four of the director's films) sharing their life experience with De Palma might have offered some enlightenment.

De Palma had a fondness for fixating on deviant behavior, obsessive carnal desires, callous violence and the shapely female form in much of his work, particularly in his early films, where he enjoyed the opportunity to push the envelope much further than Hitchcock could ever imagine. And this brought him the ire of angry feminists denouncing his sexualized brutality towards women while many film critics disregarded his work for it's over-the-top excesses, lacking an individual style and relying too heavily on imitating his cinematic influences. But even with his commercially unsuccessful work, there is no denying the dexterity, craftsmanship and considerable entertainment value of a film by Brian De Palma.

Spielberg, Lucas and Coppola (no first names required), who were his peers when they all started out in the business in the late sixties, managed to win great acclaim and accolades for much of their film work. De Palma, on the other hand, still hasn't gotten much respect. No Oscar, hell, not even one nomination. The reason for the oversight might be best explained with this one example; De Palma received a nomination for Best Director by the New York Film Critics Circle and Worst Director by the Golden Raspberry Awards, both for the same film, "Dressed To Kill".

"De Palma" takes an unvarnished and unsentimental look at one man's life in cinema, detailing the inspiration and creative thought-process of this fiercely independent movie maker. If anything, perhaps this documentary will encourage more people to seek out a De Palma film, particularly the more obscure or critically-shunned titles. After the experience, you'll realize they just don't make them like Brian De Palma anymore. A retro visionary with a lustful, gonzo spirit.



Saturday, June 18, 2016

A BIGGER SPLASH (2016)

Written by David Kajganich


Directed by Luca Guadagnino


Where & When: Sundance Sunset 5 Cinemas, West Hollywood, CA. May 27, 2016  7:15PM


What begins as an idyllic retreat for a couple in love dissolves in to a volatile harbor due to the unexpected arrival of two troublesome guests in "A Bigger Splash", a vibrant and affecting drama from Italian filmmaker, Luca Guadagnino. Set on the tranquil, remote island of Pantelleria, southwest of Sicily, the melodramatic fireworks that are set off are an erotically-charged explosion of yearning passion, bitter resentments and painful regrets.

Tilda Swinton delivers her otherworldly flair as Marianne Lane, a famous rock performer recovering from throat surgery and advised to keep speech at a minimum. With her handsome lover, Paul (Matthias Schoenaerts) by her side, they spend their lazy days basting nude in the sun and enjoying each other's bodies. Their peace and solitude comes to a sudden end when Harry Hawkes (Ralph Fiennes), Marianne's boisterous former manager shows up on the island. And he's not alone. Penelope (Dakota Johnson), Harry's mercurial daughter who he hasn't had much contact with, is along for a holiday.

While Harry is there to enjoy good food, dance all night and partake in some heavy-duty partying, a weary Paul is wanting to keep their time together far more low-key. But Marianne gets swept up in Harry's infectiously wild enthusiasm and after he announces they have no place to stay, they suddenly have house guests.

The longer this foursome spends together, secret desires and true intentions are eventually uncovered. Harry had been more than just a business adviser to Marianne and desperately misses their time as a power couple. He had introduced her years ago to Paul when he was working as a photographer.  Without any clear details revealed, Paul had a troubled past involving substance abuse which lead to a tragic situation. And Penelope is certainly her father's daughter with a taste for mischief and self-satisfaction.

As Marianne is surrounded by an atmosphere filling with rancor and duress, she remains mostly mute, expressing her frustration through exasperated eyes or a hoarse whisper on occasion. Ms Swinton, looking ravishing in exquisite costumes created for her by designer Raf Simmons, brings a blistering intensity and incendiary sensuality that makes it quite clear why she's such a desirable creature.

Loosely based on the 1969 Jacques Deray film, "La Piscine (the Swimming Pool)", "A Bigger Splash" is that rare erotic thriller that is thoughtful, well-performed, mysterious and actually quite sexy. The crackling script by David Kajganich is filled with intrigue and a sense of dread as these complex characters are unable to be honest with each other or themselves. The camera of cinematographer, Yorick Le Saux gives the film a warm, sun-kissed glow, highlighting the exquisite beauty of the picturesque island and lingering on the overheated, scantily-clad bodies.

We have been so used to seeing Mr. Fiennes in dark and very serious roles for a large part of his career, like the doomed Count in "The English Patient", the murderous Nazi Captain in "Schindler's List" or even the evil Lord Voldemort in the "Harry Potter" films, that it's still a bit of a shock to see the actor lighthearted and smiling on screen. After dazzling us with his zany turn in "The Grand Budapest Hotel" and more recently with a cameo in the Coen Brothers' latest comedy, "Hail Caesar!", it's nice to see him really break loose once again, giving us a show by wildly lip-syncing and attempting to shake his groove thang to the Rolling Stones' "Emotional Rescue" or uninhibitedly stripping at a moment's notice.

Mr. Schoenaerts impresses as a brooding and tormented man of few words yet always able to make himself clearly understood. Even Ms Johnson, who left a lot to be desired with her flat performance in the lame S&M drama, "Fifty Shades of Grey", manages to hold her own with these formidable actors, unexpectedly displaying depth as a cunning seductress.

A jealous rage followed by an accidental death in the final act plunges "A Bigger Splash" in to predictable waters. But a startling revelation and shocking resolution manages to keep this offbeat, warm-blooded thriller afloat. A luxurious and beautifully well-acted relationship study that is ocassionally filled with high tension and a touch of danger, "A Bigger Splash" is a perfect getaway for adults during this summer movie season mostly geared towards younger minds.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

MAGGIE'S PLAN (2016)

Written & Directed by Rebecca Miller


Where & When: Arclight Cinemas, Hollywood, CA. May 22, 2016 1:10PM


Woody Allen has seemed to have set the template for New York based, upwardly-mobile, intellectual romantic-comedies focusing on mature, hyper-critical, very self-involved Caucasians. "Maggie's Plan", the latest from writer/director Rebecca Miller, offers a slight variation of this model with the emphasis here on a caring yet still impassive young female.

Greta Gerwig, indie cinema's current darling, stars as the "Maggie" in the title who is part of a generation who thinks the Internet makes them all-knowing geniuses yet loses interest in a conversation if it involves more than 140 characters. The actress attempts to enchant with her brand of modern quirkiness but lacks an inner strength, determined initiative and endearing charm to be particularly appealing. Diane Keaton she is not. Nor Parker Posey. Or Lili Taylor. Or even Chloë Sevigny. You catch my drift.

Although not even thirty and not wanting to wait until the right man comes along, Maggie decides she's ready to have a child. With the help of married friends Tony (Bill Hader) and Felicia (Maya Rudolph), she decides to ask a former college acquaintance, Guy (Travis Fimmel), a dim but handsome entrepreneur, to be her donor. He agrees not only to provide a donation but also have no involvement raising her baby.

Then Maggie meets John (Ethan Hawke), an anthropology professor at the college where she works. He's struggling to complete a novel and his dominant, Scandinavian wife, Georgette (Julianne Moore), a successful novelist, professor and mother of their two children, is far too busy to give him much support. John offers her pages to read, Maggie loves his work, sparks fly and soon the two have fallen madly in love.

Three years later, Maggie now has a toddler yet hardly satisfied with her life. Still not completed his novel, John spends little time with his new wife, leaving Maggie alone to care for the baby and his teenage children that he shares joint custody with his former wife. Realizing she's no longer in love and sensing that Georgette may still have feelings for John, this sets Maggie's appallingly insensitive plan in to motion.

After a career of making intriguing indie dramas focusing on the lives of complicated women like "Personal Velocity", "The Ballad of Jack and Rose" (which starred her husband, Daniel Day-Lewis) and "The Private Lives of Pippa Lee", Ms. Miller, the daughter of acclaimed playwright, Arthur Miller, has decided to lighten-up with a thoughtful comedy involving a little romance. But this twist on convention has a film where the humor isn't nearly broad enough and the love story is buried too deep for an effective romantic comedy. For all of her efforts, Miller is unable to fully convince us that there is anything really funny about the over-bearing, narcissistic behavior of these well-educated characters.

And despite a less than illuminating lead, the rest of the cast are able to keep the film lively with their winning performances. Mr. Hawke handles the part of  Maggie's egotistical and unreliable partner with his usual amiable flair. Despite a far from unconvincing accent (perhaps intentional), Ms. Moore is the standout here as the hilariously direct and icy academic. Even "SNL" vets, Hader and Rudolph are able steal scenes with their brief screen appearances.

With a capable script and strong performances, "Maggie's Plan" still doesn't fully capture the magic of the whisical romantic experience. It's aim was higher than what is usually expected from these films yet some of the light-hearted fun that comes from them is still required.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

2016 LA FILM FESTIVAL


For fans of independent cinema living in Los Angeles, the LA Film Fest is right around the corner.  This event will begin June 1st running through June 9th with most screenings and events held at the Arclight Cinemas in Culver City. The festival will showcase compelling, new independent films, documentaries, shorts, television programing and web series.


The Opening Night feature will be "Lowriders". This film by Ricardo de Montreuil tells the story, set in the low rider car scene in Los Angeles, about a teenager (Gabriel Chavarria) torn between his traditional father (Demian Bichir) and estranged criminal brother (Theo Rossi). Melissa Benoist, Tony Revolori and Eva Longoria also star.

The Closing Night film is "Deierto", directed by Jonás Cuarón, the son of Academy Award-winner Alfonso Cuarón ("Gravity"), who also produced this film. Gael García Bernal stars in this timely tale as one of several migrant workers looking for work and a better life across the U.S. border. However, their lives are in danger when a merciless gun-toting vigilante (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) chases them through the desert to keep them out of the country.


For tickets, passes and additional information, please click below:

2016 LA Film Fest

Here are a few trailers for some interesting films that will be screened at the fest:




Sunday, May 22, 2016

WINNERS FROM THE 2016 CANNES FILM FESTIVAL

The Cannes Film Festival has come to a close and the George Miller led jury has selected Ken Loach's "I, Daniel Blake" for the top prize of the Palme d'Or.  This is the second time the seventy-nine year old British writer/director has taken this prize, previously winning in 2006 for "The Wind That Shakes The Barley". He had announced that this film, about an ill carpenter’s struggle with the British healthcare system, would be his last. We'll see if Mr Loach keeps his word but he did become the ninth film maker to take that prize twice.


Another favorite of the fest is Xavier Dolan who took the Grand Prize for his latest, "Juste la fin du monde (It's Only the End of the World )". The twenty-seven year old French-Canadian received this runner-up award two years ago for "Mommy". Based on a play by Jean-Luc Lagarce, the film tells the story of a writer returning home after a long absence to announce that he is dying and features some of the top names in French cinema including Gaspard Ulliel, Nathalie Baye, Léa Seydoux, Vincent Cassel and Oscar-winner Marion Cotillard.



The Best Director Prize was shared by Olivier Assayas for his psychological thriller, "Personal Shopper" which stars Kristen Stewart (who was in his last feature, "Clouds of  Sils Maria") and Cristian Mungiu, the Romanian film maker who won a well-deserved Palme d'Or in 2007 for his excellent "4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days", for "Graduation", a drama involving a small-town Romanian doctor. "The Salesman", the latest from Asghar Farhadi ("A Separation", "The Past"), took the Best Actor and Best Screenplay awards. And English director, Andrea Arnold won the Jury Prize for the third time with "American Honey", a road movie that features an acclaimed performance by newcomer, Sasha Lane.



Here are the winners from the 2016 Cannes Film Festival:

Palme d’Or: "I, Daniel Blake"
Grand Prix: "It’s Only The End Of The World"
Prix du Jury: "American Honey"
Best Director (Tie): Cristian Mungiu, "Graduation" and Olivier Assayas, "Personal Shopper"
Best Screenplay: Asghar Farhadi, "The Salesman"
Best Actress: Jaclyn Jose, "Ma’Rosa"



Best Actor: Shahab Hosseini, "The Salesman"



Un Certain Regard Prix: "The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki"



Caméra d’Or: "Divines"



Short Film Palme d’Or: "Timecode"
Palme d’Honneur: Jean-Pierre Léaud
Special Mention: "The Girl Who Danced With The Devil"