Saturday, March 18, 2017

GET OUT (2017)

Written & Directed by Jordan Peele


Where & When: Arclight Cinemas, Hollywood, CA. February 25, 2017 9:15 PM


The subject of race relations in America is not tackled too often in cinema. And when it is attempted, it can be either heavy-handed or overly simplified. "Get Out", Jordan Peele's audacious debut as a director, manages to handle the volatile subject with purpose, thoughtfulness and a surprising amount of humor. What makes this feat even more impressive is that the film is fundamentally a horror flick, a very unlikely genre to deal with this complicated issue.

After only dating for a few months, Chris Williams (Daniel Kaluuya), a handsome, African-American photographer has been invited to spend the weekend upstate to meet the parents of Rose Armitage, his Caucasian girlfriend, played by Allison Williams, a co-star of HBO's "Girls", making her film debut. While he's very concerned about her folks reaction to bringing him home to meet the family, particularly since she hasn't mentioned his race, Rose, who has never actually dated an African-American before, reassures him that it's fine as they are liberal and open minded.

When the two reach the home of Rose's parents, Dean (Bradley Whitford) and Missy (Catherine Keener), they are more than welcoming. In fact, Dean seems to go out of his way in an attempt to bond with Chris, telling him that he would have proudly voted for Obama for a third term if he could. What does make Chris really uncomfortable are the family's black servants, Georgina (Betty Gabriel), the housekeeper and Walter (Marcus Henderson), the gardener. It is not their position in the home but their odd behavior and strange lack of personality.

The longer Chris stays with the Armitages, the weirder his situation becomes in the house. Missy, a psychiatrist, strongly dislikes him smoking around her daughter. She offers to hypnotize Chris to help him stop which he politely declines. Yet unwillingly he finds himself paralyzed under her spell and losing the desire for a cigarette in the process. During an annual gathering at the home, the very white guests treat Chris as a quaint curiosity. The only other black guest (LaKeith Stanfield) also acts strangely but he seems familiar to Chris. Looking like someone who disappeared from the city a few months ago, he takes his picture to show his buddy, Rod (Lil Rel Howery) but the flash causes the man to freak out, warning Chris to escape from this town.

As one half of the former African-American comedy team, Key & Peele, Mr Peele touched on race frequently on their popular skit television show, offering pointed yet hilariously witty commentary on the issue. Horror movies are very popular with African-Americans but when there is a black character in one of these films, guess who is usually the first victim to fall under the knife of the homicidal killer? With "Get Out", Peele wanted to finally make one from their perspective, exploring some of the things that actually frightens black people living in 21st century America. The film keeps the racial tension tightly wound, playing with our usual expectations in regards to common social interactions between blacks and whites while brilliantly upending those expectations in some very humorous and occasionally scary ways.

Samuel L. Jackson (who else?) has questioned the casting of the British-Ugandan actor, Kaluuya in the role of an African-American, unsure if he understands the history well enough to be effective in the role. That Brits and Aussies of all races are taking acting jobs away from actual Americans is maybe something Donald Trump should look in to but racism is hardly a problem only understood in America. With his burning intensity and soulful, expressive eyes, it's quite understandable why Mr. Kaluuya was cast. It is however Milton "Lil Rel" Howery, a stand-up comedian currently seen on "The Carmichael Show", that almost steals the film. As Chris' best friend and a TSA officer, Howery hilariously plays detective trying to help his buddy figure out exactly what is going on with the black folks in this crazy town. And the great Catherine Keener is finally back on the big screen, effectively managing to make a teacup menacing and gives a whole new meaning to the term, "controlling mother".

Despite the shaky logic behind the sinister conclusion and the unfortunate generic title, "Get Out" is a thrilling and razor-sharp satire on race in our society, particularly in this current political climate, that is equally terrifying and looney. Mr Peele has capably crafted a new American horror classic and has promptly introduced himself as an inventive filmmaker to watch.


Wednesday, March 8, 2017

ROBERT OSBORNE (1932 - 2017)


I would be remiss in not mentioning the passing of Robert Osborne, the genial, long-time host of Turner Classic Movies, on March 6th at the age of eighty-four. Before joining the network in 1994, Osborne previously served as a host for another premium cable station, The Movie Channel. He later was commissioned by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to write a book on the history of The Oscars in 1988 with it being updated six times since.

Not much of a surprise, Osborne began his career as an actor, working under contract for Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball's Desilu Studios. With a kind suggestion from Ms Ball, he soon decided to pursue his college major, journalism and wrote his first book in 1965, "Academy Awards Illustrated". In 1977, Osborne began writing for The Hollywood Reporter for many years before his move to becoming a television personality.

What I admired most about Mr. Osborne was his deep knowledge and great affection for the movie business. Warm and charming, he brought his experience, insight and personal anecdotes to his introductions shown before many of the classic films screened on TCM.

It seems Osborne almost single-handily kept the spirit of old Hollywood alive. With many millennials thinking an "old movie" is something from the 1980's, I'm concerned that with Mr. Osborne's passing no one will be around to champion these important and timeless films from the early days of Hollywood. I hope I am wrong and perhaps all the wonderful times Mr. Osborne spent discussing his enduring passion for the glory days of cinema will have influenced and inspired a new generation of viewers.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

2017 OUTFEST FUSION

Beginning today, and running through March 7th, is the 2017 Outfest Fusion LGBT People of Color Film Festival. A week of screenings, workshops, panels and the One-Minute Movie Contest will be held in venues across Los Angeles like the Arena Cinelounge, Highland Theatres, the Egyptian Theatre, the West Hollywood City Council Chambers and the California African-American Museum where the Closing Night Fusion Gala will be held.



A preview of the second season of the popular web-series, "Cheetah in August", created by Anthony Bawn, will kick off the fest in West Hollywood. The show focuses on August "Cheetah" Chandler (Andre Myers), a young, African-American, former athlete who struggles with his sexual identity, causing problems for him with his family and friends, and seeks the help of Dr. Thatcher Anderson (Jonathan Medina), a therapist.



A special presentation of an unaired episode of the Fox musical-drama series, "Star" will be shown with creator, Lee Daniels and stars, Ryan Destiny, Brittany O'Grady, and Miss Lawrence in attendance.



There will be several short film series, "The LatinX Files", "No Place Like Home: Queer Asian Shorts" and "Black Queer Magic". Other feature film screenings include a couple of international classics from 2001; "Y Tu Mama Tambien" from Mexico and "Lan Yu" from China. And this year's surprise Oscar-winner for Best Picture, "Moonlight" will be screened and a discussion held at the Egyptian on March 3rd.





For the complete listing of films, ticket purchases and additional information, click below:

Outfest Fusion 2017

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

THE 89TH ANNUAL ACADEMY AWARDS


Let's face it, the only thing the 2017 Oscars will probably really be remembered for is the shocking and inexplicable announcement by presenters, Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway that "La La Land" had won Best Picture when "Moonlight" had actually won that prize. After the mix-up had been corrected, far too long after the cast and crew of Daniel Chazelle's musical, with Oscars in hand, were up on stage giving their thanks, Mr. Beatty explained what happened which was somehow he was given the wrong envelope. Now I thought safeguards were in place to prevent that from happening but I guess nothing is perfect, even the Oscars.

Despite this unfortunate snafu, the show was a thoroughly entertaining affair (even though it came in incredibly at almost four hours long) and that was in large part due to first-time Oscar producers, Michael De Luca and Jennifer Todd and host Jimmy Kimmel. It's clear the producing team has a great respect for the long history of the Academy Awards by featuring a video montage of previous Oscar-winners that was shown before the acting categories were announced and having actors speak of their fond appreciation for a star they admired in their youth, which lead to teams of presenters like Charlize Theron and Shirley MacLaine and Seth Rogan and Michael J. Fox. But they were also very aware that there is still a need to appeal to a 21st Century audience which seems to require fast-paced, attention-grabbing spectacle. They wasted no time shaking up the routine but having Justin Timberlake kick off the show with a rousing performance of his Oscar-nominated song, "Can't Stop The Feeling" that got the star-studded crowd singing and dancing along.

While lacking some of the mean-spiritness and snark that a few previous hosts have brought to the program, Kimmel dryly delivered his signature hard-edged but good-natured wit that was a good fit, especially in these tense, politically charged times. Much like what James Cordon did with his first time hosting gig for the Grammys, Kimmel brought with him the best elements from his late-night talk show. So we got an Oscars edition of "Mean Tweets", funny bits involving his long-running "feud" with Matt Damon and a hilarious prank involving passengers on a Hollywood tour bus that are dropped off in the middle of the televised show.

Even though it ultimately didn't take the top prize, "La La Land" did not do too badly as it still walked away with the most Oscars with six including Best Director and Best Actress for Emma Stone. The rest of the awards were spread around the other Best Picture nominees with only three very deserving films, "Hidden Figures", "Hell or High Water" and "Lion" leaving empty-handed.

After being left out of the running for the last two years, African-Americans had a better showing this time at the Oscars with "Moonlight" pulling a serious upset to win a very deserving Best Picture prize as well as awards for Mahershala Ali and director Barry Jenkins for his co-writing of the screenplay with playwright, Tarell Alvin McCraney. Ezra Edelman shared the Best Documentary Feature award for "O.J.: Made In America" and Viola Davis finally got that Oscar for her moving performance in "Fences" which had won her a Tony in the same role. While Lin-Manuel Miranda failed to complete an EGOT this time, Ms Davis is now one step closer and considering her passionate acceptance speech, I'm sure a Grammy is certainly in her future with an audio-book.

Politics was on the mind of many at the ceremony and it was expressed in many different ways. Mr Kimmel poked fun at the President and his controversial policies and even live-tweeted him during the show. While others took a more serious view like presenter, Gael García Bernal who spoke out against the idea of a wall along the Mexican border and the winner for Best Foreign-Language Film, Asghar Farhadi, who protested the proposed travel ban by not attending the awards, had a statement read by Anousheh Ansari. an American-Iranian, supporting immigrants who have been disrespected by this administration.

Overall, this was an Oscars show for the ages. A glitzy, over-the-top celebration of cinema that still managed to deliver a strong artistic and political message on how film continues to try bringing people together from around this increasingly polarized world by telling each other their stories with the hope for unity and understanding.

 Here is the complete list of winners from the 89th Annual Academy Awards:

Best Picture: “Moonlight”
Best Director: Damien Chazelle, “La La Land”
Best Original Screenplay: Kenneth Lonergan, “Manchester by the Sea”
Best Adapted Screenplay: Barry Jenkins and Tarell Alvin McCraney, “Moonlight”
Best Actor: Casey Affleck, “Manchester by the Sea”
Best Actress: Emma Stone, “La La Land”
Best Supporting Actor: Mahershala Ali, “Moonlight”
Best Supporting Actress: Viola Davis, “Fences”
Best Cinematography: Linus Sandgren, “La La Land”
Best Film Editing: John Gilbert, “Hacksaw Ridge”
Best Production Design: David Wasco and Sandy Reynolds-Wasco, “La La Land”
Best Foreign Language Film: “The Salesman” (Iran)
Best Animated Feature Film: “Zootopia”
Best Documentary Feature: “O.J.: Made in America”
Best Original Song: “City of Stars” from “La La Land”, Music by Justin Hurwitz; Lyric by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul
Best Original Score: Justin Hurwitz, “La La Land”
Best Sound Editing: Sylvain Bellemare, “Arrival”
Best Sound Mixing: Kevin O’Connell, Andy Wright, Robert Mackenzie and Peter Grace, “Hacksaw Ridge”
Best Costume Design: Colleen Atwood, “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them”
Best Live Action Short Film: “Sing”
Best Animated Short Film: “Piper”
Best Documentary Short Subject: “The White Helmets”
Best Makeup and Hairstyling: Alessandro Bertolazzi, Giorgio Gregorini and Christopher Nelson, “Suicide Squad”
Best Visual Effects: Robert Legato, Adam Valdez, Andrew R. Jones and Dan Lemmon, “The Jungle Book”

Sunday, February 26, 2017

MY OSCARS WISH LIST

I have entered countless Oscars contests over the years to predict who will take home the prize. My success rate has been pretty low to say the least. With this year's Oscars a matter of hours away,  I've put my predictions in for a round of contests but I'm not feeling overly optimistic that my outcome will be any different.

Since I'm not a member of anything and I have no connections to anyone in the industry, I've decided that instead of trying to figure out the eventual winners, I will offer my wish list of who I think should take home Oscar. Here are my choices in a few select categories:

BEST ACTRESS:

Isabelle Huppert, "Elle"
Ruth Negga, "Loving"
Natalie Portman, "Jackie"
Emma Stone, "La La Land"
Meryl Streep, "Florence Foster Jenkins"

My Pick:  Isabelle Huppert, "Elle"


This is probably the toughest category out of them all to make a selection since all five nominees gave truly outstanding performances and I would be happy to see any of them take the Oscar. But it is Ms Huppert who would be my personal choice. I have been a fan of this French actress for quite some time, being mesmerized by her powerful and brave work in such films as "Story of Women" and "The Piano Teacher". And with "Elle",  Huppert manages to use her gifts to great effect, displaying a dazzling array of complex emotions that is an absolute marvel to behold.


BEST COSTUME DESIGN:

Joanna Johnston, "Allied"
Colleen Atwood, "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them"
Consolata Boyle, "Florence Foster Jenkins"
Madeline Fontaine, "Jackie"
Mary Zophres, "La La Land"

My Pick:  Joanna Johnston, "Allied"


This may be only her second Oscar nomination (her previous was for "Lincoln" in 2012) but Johnston has had a long career creating memorable work for such filmmakers as Robert Zemeckis ("Contact", "Death Becomes Her"), M. Night Shyamalan ("The Sixth Sense", "Unbreakable") and Steven Spielberg ("The Color Purple", "War Horse"). The reception to Mr. Zemeckis' WW II set romantic drama may have been indifference but everyone seems to be in agreement over Ms Johnston's dazzling costumes which managed to perfectly evoke the period while impressively feeling contemporary at the same time.

BEST DIRECTOR:

Denis Villeneuve, "Arrival"
Damien Chazelle, "La La Land"
Mel Gibson, "Hacksaw Ridge"
Barry Jenkins, "Moonlight"
Kenneth Lonergan, "Manchester by the Sea"

My Pick: Barry Jenkins, "Moonlight"


BEST ORIGINAL SCORE:

Mica Levi, "Jackie"
Justin Hurwitz, "La La Land"
Dustin O'Halloran and Hauschka, "Lion"
Nicholas Britell, "Moonlight"
Thomas Newman, "Passengers"

My Pick: Mica Levi, "Jackie"


I was disappointed that the English musician, Mica Levi failed to get a nomination for her perfectly eerie score for the 2014 horror film, "Under The Skin". But I am thrilled she has received a well deserved first nod for only her second film score with "Jackie". As a classically trained pop musician, Levi knows the rules in order to break them, bringing unexpected moods and textures to the unconventional bio-pic with her use of experimental sounds. Levi, only the third female nominated in this category, should win for her compelling, original vision.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR:

Mahershala Ali, "Moonlight"
Jeff Bridges, "Hell or High Water"
Lucas Hedges, "Manchester By The Sea"
Dev Patel, "Lion"
Michael Shannon, "Nocturnal Animals"

My Pick: Lucas Hedges, "Manchester By The Sea"


This is another strong category filled with rich performances but it is the work of this relatively unknown twenty year old actor that had stayed with me the most.

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE FILM:

"Kubo and the Two Strings"
"Moana"
"My Life as a Zucchini"
"The Red Turtle"
"Zootopia"

My Pick: "Zootopia"


BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY:

Damien Chazelle, "La La Land"
Yorgos Lanthimos and Efthimis Filippou, "The Lobster"
Kenneth Lonergan, "Manchester by the Sea"
Mike Mills, "20th Century Women"
Taylor Sheridan, "Hell or High Water"

My Pick: Kenneth Lonergan, "Manchester By The Sea"



BEST PICTURE:

"Arrival"
"Fences"
"Hacksaw Ridge"
"Hell or High Water"
"Hidden Figures"
"La La Land"
"Lion"
"Manchester By The Sea"
"Moonlight"

My Pick: "Moonlight"


To me, a "Best Picture" should represent an exceptional work of cinema with a universal story that will inspire and entertain audiences for generations to come. Out of the nine nominees, I'm still trying to figure out how "Hacksaw Ridge" ended up as one of the selections this year as it is by far the most conventional film on the list. The others are all strong contenders but I will have to go with "Moonlight". This moving drama gracefully handles the difficult and challenging story of a African-American young man at different points in his life. While it may appear to have a narrow appeal, "Moonlight" brilliantly deals with the struggles of identity and a desire to belong that many of us can identify with.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

WINNERS FROM 2017 CESAR AWARDS



Even if Isabelle Huppert doesn't take home the Oscar on Sunday for her mesmerizing turn in "Elle", she knows that she's still quite loved back in her native France as the actress took the Best Actress prize for the second time at the 42nd Annual César Awards on February 24th. The controversial drama she stars in was also named Best Film. Another Oscar nominee, the moving, "Ma Vie De Courgette (My Life As a Zucchini)"  also took two awards including Best Animated Film.

I was shocked that Xavier Dolan and his sluggish family drama,"It’s Only The End Of The World" seriously took three awards including Best Director. I usually really love his films but this is far from Mr. Dolan's best work. The exceptional British film, "I, Daniel Blake" took Best Foreign Film and George Clooney received a Honorary César with the actor giving an impassioned speech, which was translated by presenter, Oscar-winner, Jean Dujardin, that not-too-surprisingly criticizes the current U.S. President


Here is a complete list of winners from the 2017 César Awards:

BEST FILM: "Elle"
BEST DIRECTOR: Xavier Dolan, "It’s Only The End Of The World"
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY: Solveig Anspach and Jean-Luc Gaget, "L’Effet Aquatique"
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY: Céline Sciamma, "Ma Vie De Courgette (My Life As a Zucchini)"
BEST ACTOR: Gaspard Ulliel, "It’s Only The End Of The World"
BEST ACTRESS: Isabelle Huppert, "Elle"
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: James Thierrée, "Chocolat"
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Deborah Lukumuena, "Divines"
BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY: Pascal Marti, "Frantz"
BEST EDITING: Xavier Dolan, "It’s Only The End Of The World"
BEST SET DESIGN: Jérémie D Lignol, "Chocolat"
BEST DOCUMENTARY: "Merci Patron! (Thanks Boss)"



BEST FOREIGN FILM: "I, Daniel Blake"



BEST ANIMATED FEATURE: "Ma Vie De Courgette (My Life As a Zucchini)"



BEST ANIMATED SHORT: "Celui Qui A Deux Ames"
BEST SHORT FILM: (Tie) "Maman(s)" and Vers La Tendresse"
BEST COSTUMES: Anaïs Romand, "The Dancer"
BEST SCORE: Ibrahim Maalouf, "Dans Les Forêts De Sibérie"
BEST SOUND: Marc Engels, Fred Demolder, Sylvain Réty and Jean-Paul Hurier, "L’Odyssée"



BEST DEBUT FEATURE: "Divines"



BEST NEWCOMER (MALE): Niels Schneider, "Diamant Noir"



BEST NEWCOMER (FEMALE): Oulaya Amamra, "Divines"

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

WINNERS FROM THE 2017 BERLIN FILM FESTIVAL


"Testről és lélekről (On Body and Soul)", an unusual love story set in a Hungarian slaughterhouse, took the top prize of the Golden Bear at the 67th Berlin International Film Festival. This is the first feature by writer/director, Ildikó Enyedi in eighteen years who began her career in the late '80's with her first film, "My Twentieth Century" which took the Golden Camera prize at the Cannes Film Festival.

The Silver Bear prize went to "Félicité" by French film maker, Alain Gomis. This African set drama tells the story of a Congolese singer in a desperate search for money to help save her injured teenage son.

Acclaimed Oscar-nominated, Polish director, Agnieszka Holland ("Europa Europa", "In Darkness") won the Silver Bear Alfred Bauer prize, an award to a film that "opens new perspectives on cinematic art", for her latest, "Pokot (Spoor)", a dramatic thriller about an elderly woman living alone in a crime infested, isolated area.

Another Oscar-nominee, Aki Kaurismäki ("The Man Without a Past") won the Silver Bear for Best Director for what the fifty-nine year old Finnish film maker recently claimed to be his final film, "Toivon tuolla puolen (The Other Side of Hope)".

Here is a partial list of winners of the 2017 Berlin Film Festival:

Golden Bear for Best Film:
"Testről és lélekről (On Body and Soul)" (Hungary)

Silver Bear Grand Jury Prize:
 "Félicité" (France/Belgium/Senegal/Germany/Lebanon)



Silver Bear Alfred Bauer Prize:
"Pokot (Spoor)"

Silver Bear for Best Director:
Aki Kaurismäki, "Toivon tuolla puolen (The Other Side of Hope)"



Silver Bear for Best Actress:
Kim Min-hee, "밤의 해변에서 혼자 (On The Beach At Night Alone)"


Silver Bear for Best Actor:
Georg Friedrich, "Helle Nachte (Bright Nights)"

Silver Bear for Best Screenplay:
Gonzalo Maza, "Una Mujer Fantastica (A Fantastic Woman)"



Best First Feature:
"Estiu 1993 (Summer of 1993)" (Spain)



Golden Bear Best Short Film:
"Cidade Pequena"

Silver Bear Jury Prize Short Film:
"Ensueno En La Pradera"

PANORAMA AUDIENCE AWARDS:

Best Fiction Film:
"Insyriated" (Belgium/France/Lebanon)


PANORAMA DOKUMENTE:

Best Documentary:
"I Am Not Your Negro"