Thursday, December 18, 2014

2014 NATIONAL FILM REGISTRY

The National Film Registry announced the twenty-five films that have been inducted for this year. These works range from the first Pixar computer-generated short ("Luxo, Jr."), the first Hollywood 3-D film ("House of Wax"), a horror classic ("Rosemary's Baby"), a stoner detective noir ("The Big Lebowski") and the beloved children's film that introduced us to Oompa-Loompas ("Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Factory"). The goal of the registry is to showcase the extraordinary diversity of America’s film heritage and by preserving these films, protecting a crucial element of American creativity, culture and history.

Here is the complete list of the films selected in to the 2014 National Film Registry. The films chosen must be at least ten years old and this now brings the total to 650 films in the registry:

"13 Lakes" (2004)

"Bert Williams Lime Kiln Club Field Day" (1913)

"The Big Lebowski"(1998)



"Down Argentine Way" (1940)



"The Dragon Painter" (1919)

"Felicia" (1965)

"Ferris Bueller’s Day Off" (1986)

"The Gang’s All Here" (1943)

"House of Wax" (1953)



"Into the Arms of Strangers: Stories of the Kindertransport" (2000)



"Little Big Man" (1970)

"Luxo Jr." (1986)

"Moon Breath Beat" (1980)

"Please Don’t Bury Me Alive!" (1976)

"The Power and the Glory" (1933)

"Rio Bravo" (1959)



"Rosemary’s Baby" (1968)



"Ruggles of Red Gap"(1935)

"Saving Private Ryan"(1998)

"Shoes" (1916)

"State Fair"(1933)

"Unmasked" (1917)

"V-E + 1" (1945)

"The Way of Peace" (1947)

"Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory" (1971)

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

GREAT PERFORMERS: 9 KISSES


The New York Times has once again rounded up some of the actors who gave memorable performances in 2014. This year, they have paired them up to make nine short films directed by Elaine Constantine with the focus on the intimate act of the kiss.

Some of the fascinating actors involved include Patricia Arquette ("Boyhood"), Steve Carell ("Foxcatcher"), Benedict Cumberbatch ("The Imitation Game"), Gugu Mbatha-Raw ("Belle" & "Beyond The Lights"), David Oyelowo ("Selma" & "A Most Violent Year"), Jenny Slate ("Obvious Child"), Timothy Spall ("Mr. Turner") and Reese Witherspoon ("Wild" & "Inherent Vice").

Click below to see all the videos:

9 Kisses

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

THE IMITATION GAME (2014)

Written by Graham Moore


Directed by Morten Tyldum


Where & When: Arclight Cinemas, Hollywood, CA. December 1, 2014  8:15PM



When Alan Turing took his own life in 1954, most people were unaware of his invaluable assistance in helping end the war against Hitler. With the first English-language film by Norwegian Morten Tyldum, the compelling, historical drama, "The Imitation Game" corrects this oversight by revealing exactly what this British mathematician accomplished and how the world is still benefiting from his amazing achievements.

The film opens a couple of years before his death as Robert Nock (Rory Kinnear), a police detective, grows suspicious after Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch) reports a robbery but nothing has been taken. Thinking he's on the cusp of a much bigger story, Nock begins to dig in the mathematical biologist's background but finds that his records have been sealed. Knowing that Turing is hiding something (perhaps he's a spy?), he's brought in for questioning. But the answers turn out to be far from anything that the detective could possibly imagine.

We go back to middle of the second World War as Britain is losing many brave men in this long battle while the country is being relentlessly bombed by the treacherous Nazi army. Turing has been brought on board to join the top-secret team at Bletchley Park to work on breaking the encrypted codes used by the Germans to plan their deadly rampage with their Enigma machine. While clearly a highly intelligent man, Turing is rather clueless on how to properly engage with other people. Arrogant, demanding and quite odd, Turing has difficulty fitting in with the rest of his team which includes chess champ, Hugh Alexander (Matthew Goode) and John Cairncross (Allen Leech). Frustrated, in his view, by the need for more qualified associates and a lack of funds to build an electro-mechanical device to help him with the task at hand, Turning goes over the head of his stern superior, Commander Denniston (Charles Dance) and writes to his superior, Winston Churchill.

Not only does Turing get what he needs, he's given control of this project. To acquire suitable minds, a crossword puzzle is placed in a newspaper with anyone able to complete invited to apply for a job. The potential applicants are decidedly male with the exception of a tardy young woman, Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley). After an attempt to shoo her away, Turing allows Clarke to take the qualifying test that needs to be completed in under six minutes. Guess who was the first to finish?

With a top-notch team now in place (with Clarke brought on publicly as a secretary to appease her skeptical parents and chauvinistic co-workers), Turing begins work on assembling his machine. When the bombe, affectionately named "Christopher" by the inventor, is finally up-and-running, they are still no closer in be able to decipher the Nazi messages. As Hitler and his powerful army continues to heavily pummel Britain, Commander Denniston grows impatient with Turing, demanding to see results or he will shut down his unit.

"The Imitation Game" is staged like a fairly conventional bio-pic with actual events clearly heightened for dramatic effect. But director Tyldum doesn't allow this to restrict him as he skillfully brings stylish visual touches with the help of cinematographer, Óscar Faura that makes this film feel far from ordinary. The smart script by Graham Moore (which was number one in 2011 on The Black List which ranks the best unproduced scripts) delivers emotional depth to the story by taking us back to Turing's childhood to help give us better understanding of his peculiar behavior. We see his time spent at the all-male boarding school where the bullied boy meets his first friend, Christopher which awakens his desire and sadly, teaches him about devastating loss.

The impressive cast also help make this film stand out which includes Mark Strong as the shadowy Major General Menzies who simply stands back and observes until he decides his services are truly needed. But it is Mr Cumberbatch, in what is really his first major starring film role, who holds "The Imitation Game" together as he delivers a masterful turn as Turing. The actor makes us care deeply for this complicated and eccentric man who is unable to express himself in a way for others to understand. Mr. Cumberbatch is known for his distinctive but quite striking facial features; the long face, wide-set eyes and cupid lips and this unusual combination adds to making Turing seem different. Ms Knightly, who I think is not given proper due as an actress, turns in another exceptional performance as the lone woman in this group of intellectuals. Clarke wasn't able to reach her full potential during this time because of her gender but Turing saw her as an equal and they make a great team.

Although Turing and Clarke never had a real romance despite being briefly engaged, the couple shared a deep passion of the mind and spirit. Many years after their heroic efforts during the war, Alan and Joan are reunited. While she had married well and started a family, Clarke is shocked and quite saddened to see a shell of the strange but brilliant friend she once knew. After being sentenced for the crime of homosexuality, Turing faced either a long prison sentence or chemical castration. This was a very tragic ending for a man who not only saved countless lives by helping end the war years earlier but paved the way for the invention of the modern computer.

Monday, December 8, 2014

AWARD SEASON 2014

Yes film lovers, it's that time once again. Critics from across the country are getting their say on what they consider the best of 2014. Over the past week, New York, Boston, Los Angeles and the National Board of Review have announced their picks and today, the American Film Institute weighed in on their favorites. You can always count on them to bring some attention to little-seen gems (Tom Hardy in "Locke", "Nightcrawler", "Ida" and Marion Cotillard for her work in "The Immigrant") and buzz for upcoming releases ("Selma"and Clint Eastwood's "American Sniper") but surprisingly, they all seem to be in agreement with Richard Linklater and his amazing "Boyhood" as the film is receiving universal love from these groups.

Here is a round-up of the selections:

AFI MOVIES OF THE YEAR

"American Sniper"
"Birdman (Or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)"
"Boyhood"
"Foxcatcher"
"The Imitation Game"
"Interstellar"
"Into the Woods"
"Nightcrawler"
"Selma"
"Unbroken"
"Whiplash"

2014 New York Film Critics Circle Awards

Best Picture: "Boyhood"
Best Director: Richard Linklater, "Boyhood"
Best Screenplay: Wes Anderson and and Hugo Guinness, "The Grand Budapest Hotel"
Best Actor: Timothy Spall, "Mr. Turner"
Best Actress: Marion Cotillard, "The Immigrant" and "Two Days, One Night"
Best Supporting Actor: J.K. Simmons,"Whiplash"
Best Supporting Actress: Patricia Arquette, "Boyhood"
Best Cinematographer: Darius Khondji, "The Immigrant"
Best Animated Film: "The LEGO Movie"
Best Non-Fiction Film (Documentary): "Citizenfour"
Best Foreign Film: "Ida"
Best First Film: Jennifer Kent, "The Babadook"

2014 Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards

Best Picture: “Boyhood
Best Director: Richard Linklater, “Boyhood
Best Screenplay: Wes Anderson and Hugo Guinness, “The Grand Budapest Hotel
Best Actor: Tom Hardy, “Locke
Best Actress: Patricia Arquette, “Boyhood
Best Supporting Actor: J.K. Simmons, “Whiplash
Best Supporting Actress: Agata Kulesza, “Ida
Best Foreign Language Film: “Ida
Best Animation: “Tale of the Princess Kaguya
Best Documentary: “Citizenfour
Best Cinematography: Emmanuel Lubezki, “Birdman
Best Editing: Sandra Adair, “Boyhood
New Generation Award: Ava DuVernay, “Selma

2014 Boston Society of Film Critics Awards:

Best Picture: "Boyhood"
Best Director: Richard Linklater, "Boyhood"
Best Screenplay: (Tie) Alejandro G. Inarritu, Nicolas Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris Jr. and Armando Bo, "Birdman," and Richard Linklater, "Boyhood"
Best Actor: Michael Keaton, "Birdman"
Best Actress: Marion Cotillard, "Two Days, One Night" and "The Immigrant"
Best Supporting Actor: J.K. Simmons, "Whiplash"
Best Supporting Actress: Emma Stone, "Birdman"
Best Ensemble Cast: "Boyhood"
Best Documentary: "Citizenfour"
Best Animated Film: "The Tale of the Princess Kaguya"
Best Foreign Language Film: "Two Days, One Night"
Best Cinematography: Emmanuel Lubezki,"Birdman"
Best Film Editing: Sandra Adair, "Boyhood"
Best Use of Music in a Film: "Inherent Vice"
Best New Filmmaker: Dan Gilroy, "Nightcrawler"

National Board of Review Top Films of 2014:

"American Sniper"
"Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance"
"Boyhood"
"Fury"
"Gone Girl"
"The Imitation Game"
"Inherent Vice"
"The Lego Movie"
"Nightcrawler"
"Unbroken"

Best Film: "A Most Violent Year"
Best Director: Clint Eastwood, "American Sniper"
Best Actor (Tie): Oscar Isaac, "A Most Violent Year" and Michael Keaton, "Birdman"
Best Actress: Julianne Moore, "Still Alice"
Best Supporting Actor: Edward Norton, "Birdman"
Best Supporting Actress: Jessica Chastain, "A Most Violent Year"
Best Original Screenplay: Phil Lord & Christopher Miller, "The Lego Movie"
Best Adapted Screenplay: Paul Thomas Anderson, "Inherent Vice"
Best Animated Feature: "How to Train Your Dragon 2"
Breakthrough Performance: Jack O'Connell, "Starred Up" & "Unbroken"
Best Directorial Debut: Gillian Robespierre, "Obvious Child"
Best Foreign Language Film: "Wild Tales"
Best Documentary: "Life Itself"
Best Ensemble: "Fury"
Spotlight Award: Chris Rock for writing, directing, and starring in "Top Five"
NBR Freedom of Expression Award: "Rosewater"
NBR Freedom of Expression Award: "Selma"

Saturday, November 29, 2014

BEYOND THE LIGHTS (2014)

Written & Directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood


Where & When: Arclight Cinemas, Hollywood, CA. November 17. 2014  8:45PM



"Beyond The Lights" tells the overly familiar story of a young woman desperately seeking fame and fortune as a performer and discovering after achieving this success how much of your personal life must be sacrificed. However, in the hands of Gina Prince-Bythewood, the writer/director best known for the cult film, "Love & Basketball", she offers a modern and fresher approach to this oft-told tale. Gugu Mbatha-Raw, who impressed earlier this year with her corseted role in the sleeper-hit, "Belle", plays the woman in question and dazzles once again as a Brit on the verge of breaking out in to pop super-stardom.

As a young child, Noni is given a life lesson from her ambitiously driven, single mother, Macy (Minnie Driver) after placing runner-up in a local talent contest. She tells her daughter to chuck the prize as she should never settle for that if she wants to become a winner. This advice seems to pay off later with Noni (Mbatha-Raw) as she eventually becomes a rising pop star. Following the lead of current popular female singers like Rihanna and Katy Perry, Noni performs scantily clad with a calculated image that is overtly sexual.

After winning a Billboard Award for the collaboration with her publicity-generating boyfriend, hip-hop artist, Kid Culprit (played by real-life rapper, Richard "MGK" Baker), Noni should be on top of the world. But after an alcohol-fueled limo ride to her hotel, she's in no mood to celebrate. For some unclear reason, Noni is suddenly ready to end her life as she dangles off the ledge of her balcony. Luckily, a handsome police officer, Kaz Nicol (Nate Parker) guarding her room is there to save her before she falls to a tragic end. There is a connection between these two in that brief instant but they quickly must return to their own lives. The media gets wind of this attempted suicide and Macy, now her manager, whips together a press conference to claim an accident with Officer Nicol reluctantly there to back the story up.

These two are now linked due to this deception and find themselves drawn even closer to each other. Noni and Kaz sneak away from the glaring eyes of the world, attempting to share some private time together but due to their hectic jobs, these moments tend to be not nearly long enough. Not everyone is happy about this burgeoning romance. Macy sees this police officer as an extraneous distraction to her daughter's career and an unpleasant reminder of the incident. Kaz's father, Captain David Nicol (Danny Glover) thinks his son should take advantage of this attention and pursue their future plan of a political career right now. But a girl like Noni would be completely unsuitable to have by his side.

Ms Mbatha-Raw has all the right moves that makes her quite convincing as a pop singer and it's actually her voice you hear during the performances. She is one to watch and this role should certainly help her breakout. Mr. Parker is very appealing and has a nice, easy vibe with his co-star but his noble character is just little too good to be true. Ms Driver, a fine, underrated actress who many might forget received an Oscar nod for one of her early roles in "Good Will Hunting", is terrific as a mother whose better judgement is clouded by her relentless pursuit of stardom, seemingly for her child.

What Mrs. Prince-Bythewood has done with the highly entertaining "Beyond The Lights" is quite surprising. For what could have easily been a by-the numbers melodrama is elevated by her supple, well-crafted screenplay. While the script doesn't completely shake all of the camp loose (which is actually a good thing), it does succeed with a focus on rich emotions and an intimate love story. Prince-Bythewood displays such a steady, masterful hand as a filmmaker that it's utterly shameful that this is only her third feature in fourteen years. Sadly, it's quite clear that gender and choice of material made it very difficult for the director to get a project off the ground

"Beyond The Lights" is fizzy and fun, delighting with a glittering parable regarding the present-day  music industry. What makes this stand apart from other show-business yarns are persuasive characters and at the heart of the film, a credible romance despite the incredible circumstance that brings these two disparate individuals together.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

DEAR WHITE PEOPLE (2014)

Written & Directed by Justin Simien


Where & When: Arclight Cinemas, Hollywood, CA. October 26, 2014 8:25PM


Way back in 1986, "She's Gotta Have It", a charming, low-budget comedy about an African-American woman not feeling compelled to settle with just one man, ushered in a fresh new voice in cinema; Spike Lee. Brash, incendiary and fearless, Lee created introspective films about the African-American experience while loudly criticizing the Hollywood establishment for continuing to ignore this audience. After one of the director's biggest critical and commercial triumph-to-date, the Oscar-nominated, "Do The Right Thing" in 1989, it was expected that many other film makers of color would be given opportunities to work in the industry. Sadly but not surprisingly, this has not really come to pass.

"Dear White People", the excellent first feature from another fresh voice, writer/director Justin Simien, takes a satirical look at the lives of black students at Winchester, a fictional, predominately white college. Far less volatile than Mr. Lee's work, Simien still deals with the complex subject of race and identity with thoughtful perspective, edgy humor and brutal honesty.

We meet some of the African-American students attending the university including Troy (Brandon P. Bell), bright, handsome and popular, is under extreme pressure to excel, no matter the cost. It doesn't help that his father happens to be the school's Dean (Dennis Haysbert) which means he must always be beyond reproach. Attempting to put some distance from a rough past, Colandrea (Teyonah Parris) reinvents herself as "Coco". With a long weave and pricey outfits to create the proper image, Coco uses her video blog in an attempt to express herself and generate much-desired attention. And we have freshman, Lionel (Tyler James Williams, best known as the lead in the sitcom, "Everybody Hates Chris") who is a true outsider. Gay, socially-inept and sporting an out-of-control afro, he doesn't seem to fit in with any group nor does anybody want to claim him either.

Then there's Samantha White (Tessa Thompson), a bi-racial student, who takes a militant stand with the radio program she hosts called "Dear White People". While offering rhetorical advice to this group, Sam not only wants to make a point but also clearly provoke. She runs for Head of House of their all-black dorm on a lark and surprisingly defeats the perceived winner, Troy. This sets off a chain of events beginning with Sam, wielding her new power, kicking out some white students dining in their dorm during lunch. One of them is Kurt (Kyle Gallner), the obnoxious son of the school President. This doesn't sit well with him and vows retaliation. The tough-talking Sam is not all she appears to be, desperately trying to keep another part of her life on the down-low.

Being small fish in a big pond, the black students eventually turn on each other to gain or maintain whatever small amount of power they can achieve. When Coco fails to be properly noticed, she resorts to more desperate measures. This all leads to a campus party where the theme is African-American with white students arriving dressed in offensive, stereotypical depictions. Thanks to hip-hop and films, many of these young white kids seem to admire African-American culture but are clueless to the ugly history of such representations. Once the black students catch wind of this event, the already tense environment explodes in to raging violence.

It's difficult enough simply mentioning the subject, let alone mining actual humor regarding contemporary race relations however, Mr. Simien is game and manages with great success. The director doesn't hold back, making for some uncomfortably funny moments. And when the students drop their guard, revealing their fears and frustrations, the film is equally effective. The young, largely unknown cast is quite impressive with Ms Thompson (who you may have seen on TV's "Veronica Mars' and will see in the upcoming MLK bio-pic, "Selma") quite riveting as the angry but conflicted Sam.

"Dear White People" displays that while much has improved for African-Americans in this color-blind age of Obama, many issues regarding race relations have evolved very little. We, as a society, should finally be ready for a serious, meaningful discussion of this topic yet the question remains; is anybody able to really listen to each other? Anybody?

Friday, October 31, 2014

BIRDMAN OR (THE UNEXPECTED VIRTUE OF IGNORANCE) (2014)

Written by Alejandro González Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Jr, and Armando Bo


Directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu


Where & When: Arclight Cinemas, Hollywood, CA. October 20, 2014  5:20PM


"Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)", the twisted, backstage comedy, handled deftly by co-writer/director Alejandro González Iñárritu, will be best remembered as the film that rightly put Michael Keaton back in to the spotlight as it displays his exceptional and undervalued abilities as an actor. He's been kicking around for a while, first breaking out in Ron Howard's initial box-office hit comedy, "Night Shift" in 1982 before moving on to film stardom with "Beetlejuice", "Mr.Mom" and the first two of Tim Burton's re-imagined "Batman" that helped usher in the cinematic era of the super-hero. He hasn't done much to note of late but Mr. Keaton delivers one of the finest performances of his career playing Riggan Thomson, a washed-up film actor who was once famous playing a masked crime fighter, Birdman. As he tries to rebuild his career with a Broadway-bound play he has written and plans to direct, an adaption of a Raymond Carver story "What We Talk About When We Talk About Love", Riggan is haunted by his past. The voice of Birdman keeps tormenting the actor, reminding him what a failure he has become and how doing this play is pointless. Keaton is completely in his element here as he is able to use both his comedic gifts and sharp dramatic skills.

During rehearsals, Riggan realizes that the lead actor hired is wrong but a stage mishap conveniently creates an opening for the role. Jake (Zach Galifianakis), a friend and producer of the show, suggests that Mike Shiner (Edward Norton) would be a perfect replacement and his name could even boost the box-office. Riggan agrees and with Mike dating fellow Hollywood star, Lesley (Naomi Watts), who just happens to be the female lead of the play, this rocky production might finally be turning a corner. However, Mike is a highly temperamental, egotistical method actor who sees no issue with drinking real gin on stage as it will only serve his performance. After Mike breaks character to reprimand Riggan for removing his booze during a preview, he wants him out. Jake reminds him that the show is now sold-out and they can't afford to lose this difficult actor.

If the play wasn't enough, Riggan has to contend with an actress (Andrea Riseborough) in the show he's been sleeping with who may be pregnant. He also wants to repair his damaged relationship with his sullen daughter, Sam (Emma Stone) fresh out of rehab. As an attempt to bring them closer together, Riggan has hired her as his assistant but this plan has made them grow even more distant. His ex-wife (Amy Ryan) has come to the opening of the play to lend support until she finds out what he's done to finance this dream project. And a New York Times critic (Lindsay Duncan) has promised to close the play with her poison pen, mainly because she resents the trend of movie stars coming to the theater and taking jobs away from real actors.

The truth is, Riggan isn't much different from Mike. He's a self-centered, manipulative jerk. He's also a talented thespian who has always, and continues to put his work first. This former action star is at a crossroads in his career as well as with his life. With the sound of Birdman growing louder in his ear and the pressures of the show mounting, Riggan begins to unravel, losing a grip on reality. No longer knowing where he begins and his costumed alter-ego ends, Riggan is convinced that he's using his super-powers to trash his dressing room in a fit of frustration or blissfully flying across the Manhattan skyline.

Iñárritu, after a series of thrilling but challenging Academy-Award nominated dramas including "Amores perros", "21 Grams" and "Babel", has decided to lighten up with "Birdman" as his first comedy, sort of. There is certainly some quirky humor to be found here but more serious moments involving anxiety, melancholy and fear is what actually drives the film. "Birdman" soars thanks to the impressive camerawork of cinematographer, Emmanuel Lubezki (who won the Oscar last year for "Gravity" and is sure to be nominated once again for his work here) as the film appears to be one continuous take. The camera follows tightly along as the actors travel throughout the majestic St. James Theater in New York, zips out in to the street and darts back inside.

The director has assembled a perfect cast, using these actors in ways we don't ordinarily see them. Norton is wild and hilarious with his runaway ego mowing down everyone in his path. Mr. Galifianakis, who came to fame with his over-the-top wackiness in "The Hangover" films, delivers a restrained performance that surprises with it's sincerity. Ms Stone abandons her sweet and sunny disposition while effectively snarling and seducing with raw passion.

With Iñárritu's inventive direction, "Birdman" takes flight as this offbeat satire examines the trappings of Hollywood fame that reduces sad and desperate people to behave quite badly. The highlight is the extraordinary work of Michael Keaton who is memorable as the tortured artist who just wants one more opportunity to prove to the world, and to himself, that he's able to create something of true value.