Saturday, June 9, 2018

EVERY ORIGINAL NETFLIX MOVIE RANKED


After just recently reviewing my first Netflix movie, I guess this a good time to express my feelings about the steaming giant. First, let me say that you probably won't be seeing many reviews of Netflix movies here. One reason (and it's really the only reason) is that I tend to watch movies in a movie theater. I will proudly admit I'm old school and if I do watch a film on a streaming service or even cable, it's usually only because I wasn't able to catch it in a theater.

Ever since Netflix began acquiring original feature films back in 2007, they have evolved in to a major player in Hollywood and have aggressively competed with the major studios for talent and production. What I admire the most about this company is that they are modeling themselves much like the studios back in the 1970's when they were willing to take chances on innovative directors with intriguing ideas. Money doesn't seem to be a major obstacle (at this point anyway) as long as they have faith in the filmmaker involved in the project.

But my major concern with Netflix is how they are actively trying to dismantle the theatrical experience. With almost none of their original movies ever seeing the inside of a theater, the very few that do tend to be only of exceptional quality that Netflix feels can possibly earn award consideration. And even these films only receive a token one-week release in a theater in Los Angeles and New York for qualification purposes. Amazon, the other major streaming player for original features, manages to follow the traditional theatrical model by releasing many of their films in theaters for a regular run. They seem to use this not only for potential award nominations but also publicity for when the film does appear on their platform (and also make some extra money in the process).

So the question remains; is a film that is only streamed on Netflix and watched in the comfort of home the same as a movie seen in a theater which you must leave your home and sit with a bunch of noisy, popcorn-eating strangers? No. It is most certainly not.

And because of this, should they be viewed as equally the same?  I agree strongly with Steven Spielberg that streaming films should be eligible for an Emmy award and not an Oscar. The bottom line is there is room for everyone at the table so long as they are willing to play by the same rules.

Vulture has decide to offer a run-down of Netflix's ever-expanding, original feature films. There are currently one hundred and twenty-two movies ranked and it's not much of a surprise that they vary wildly in terms of cinematic quality. I must admit I have seen very few but those I have, are pretty high on the chart.

Click below to read:

Every Netflix Original Movie Ranked

Saturday, June 2, 2018

COMING SOON


When I heard that Rami Malek, the offbeat-looking star of the offbeat television series, "Mr. Robot", would be playing Freddie Mercury in a bio-pic of the life of the flamboyant lead vocalist of the rock band, Queen, I thought it was a peculiar casting. While the actor does bear a slight resemblance to the late singer, I was a bit skeptical he would be able to pull off the bold and colorful personality of Mercury.

Now a teaser trailer is out for "Bohemian Rhapsody" (which is also the title of one of Queen's most popular and enduring songs) and I have to admit I'm quite impressed. Malek appears to completely embody the dynamic flair and energy of Mercury.

There has been some light controversy brewing over rumors that the filmmakers apparently are trying to "straightwash" Mercury in the movie. But one only has to look at any of his music videos or performances to know that the singer was never seriously trying to fool anyone. Any attempt to make him appear less than his authentic self would be not only a disservice to the film but also to the memory of Freddie Mercury.

Bryan Singer ("The Usual Suspects", "X-Men") was hired to direct and began filming last September. However by December, Singer was out and replaced by Dexter Fletcher due to his excessive absences and fighting with cast and crew.

"Bohemian Rhapsody" is due in U.S. theaters on November 2, 2018

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

GRACE JONES: BLOODLIGHT AND BAMI (2018)

Directed by Sophie Fiennes


Where & When: Los Feliz 3 Cinemas, Los Angeles, CA.  May 13, 2018 4:15 PM



After beginning her career as a model back in the '70's, Grace Jones went on to become a celebrated singer and actor, all on her own terms. She is far from a conventional figure. Despite an intimidating masculine presence, Jones is certainly all woman; soft, gentle and even flirtatious when so desired. With such a confident and striking personality, any documentary about her should have resulted with an effortlessly fascinating experience.

Yet with “Grace Jones: Bloodlight and Bami” ("bloodlight" is a word that her long-time producers, Sly and Robbie coined for the red light that comes on when recording is about to begin while "bami" is a Jamaican bread), director Sophie Fiennes  (and yes, she is related to English actors, Ralph and Joseph) has managed to present this powerful performer in a way that feels slight and ordinary. The film keeps to the surface, never lingering too long on any particular moment and doesn't get far enough beneath the colorful facade of Jones.

The documentary was filmed almost ten years ago during the recording of "Hurricane", her first album in ten years which she self-produced and features many autobiographical songs. This is tied to a trip back to her home country of Jamaica with her son, Paulo to visit family and reconnect to the island she left when she was a young girl to move to upstate New York.

At seventy years old, Jones remains a marvelous eccentric as we watch her engaging in such activities as precariously shucking her own oysters, wearing a colorful shirt as a head wrap during a recording session or drinking champagne first thing in the morning in nothing but a fur coat. She speaks in a deep voice that mingles her native Jamaican patois with French and British English accents that adds to her mysterious allure.

There have been plenty of stories of her outrageous behavior throughout her varied career but you will find little mention of it here. Some events are brought up only in passing conversation like the time she slapped a talk show host for apparently ignoring her yet we are not given any backstory to this or any other incidents that have occurred in Ms Jones' life. Ms Fiennes has decided to simply observe the icon, offering no talking heads, voice-over or detailed introduction of the people we meet circling her orbit. Even a brief history lesson would have certainly benefited those who may not have even been born during the height of her renown.

It’s clear the director didn’t want to be intrusive and tried to help her subject feel more comfortable by using minimal lighting and inconspicuous sound recording. But there are too many underlit scenes (which is an unfortunate situation for people with darker skin tones) and muddy sound during the Jamaica trip that make many of the poignant moments there less than effective. The choppy editing by Ms Fiennes causes the film to meander with all the flourishes of a film school project.

However, the well-shot concert footage saves the day in helping bring the film to life. With the aide of extravagantly inventive hats by famed milliner, Philip Treacy, Ms Jones is in her element captivating an audience with her intense, otherworldly performances during the tour to promote her album.

A singular and provocative artist, Grace Jones has had a life filled with bold creativity and wild abandon. With "Bloodlight and Bami", the film celebrates the dynamic legend while attempting to reveal the unvarnished side of the woman from the Caribbean. But we ultimately end up with plenty of Ms. Jones, the entertainer and far less of Ms. Jones, the individual.

Monday, May 21, 2018

WINNERS OF THE 2018 CANNES FILM FESTIVAL

When Spike Lee's new feature, "BlacKkKlansman" made it's world premiere at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival, it was met with impassioned praise and a lengthy standing ovation. This comedy-drama is based on the unbelievable true story of an African-American police detective (John David Washington, son of Denzel) in Colorado who manages to not only join the local Ku Klux Klan but eventually becomes the head of this chapter with the help of a Jewish officer (Adam Driver). Lee had been very vocal about feeling robbed for not winning the Palme d'Or when his "Do The Right Thing" was shown in competition back in 1989. While it didn't receive the top prize this year, "BlacKkKlansman" won the Grand Prix, a runner-up award. It will be released in the U.S. later this summer on August 10th.

But it was "Shoplifters" by Hirokazu Kore-Eda that took the top prize of the Palme d'Or. This moving drama from the Japanese filmmaker (who won a Jury Prize in 2013 for "Like Father, Like Son") tells the story of a poor, struggling family forced to steal in order to survive. Pawel Pawlikowski, the 2013 Oscar-winner of Best Foreign-Language Film for "Ida", took the Best Director Prize for his latest, "Cold War". This black & white drama with music is loosely based on his parents' complicated yet loving relationship. And Gaspar Noé, the antagonistic film director from Argentina, said he was stunned by the glowing reaction to his new film, "Climax" and I'm sure he was completely floored when he won the Art Cinema Award for the film that screened in the Directors' Fortnight section.

Here is a partial list of winners from the 2018 Cannes Film Festival:

Palme d’Or: "Shoplifters"

Grand Prix: "BlacKkKlansman"



Jury Prize: "Capernaum"



Best Director: Pawel Pawlikowski, "Cold War"



Best Actor: Marcello Fonte, "Dogman"

Best Actress: Samal Yeslyamova, "My Little One"

Best Screenplay: (Tie) Alice Rohrwacher, "Happy As Lazzaro" and Nader Saeivar, "3 Faces"



Caméra d’Or: "Girl"



Short Film Palme d’Or: "All These Creatures"

Special Mention: "On The Border"

Special Palme d’Or: Jean-Luc Godard, "Image Book"

Un Certain Regard Award: "Border"



Un Certain Regard Best Director: Sergei Loznitsa, "Donbass"

Un Certain Regard Best Performance: Viktor Polster, "Girl"

Un Certain Regard Best Screenplay: Meryem Benm’Barek, "Sofia"

Special Jury Prize: João Salaviza and Renée Nader Messora, "The Dead and the Others"

Art Cinema Award: "Climax"

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY: AN ANNIVERSARY


When Stanley Kubrick's eighth feature film, "2001: A Space Odyssey" made it's world premiere on April 2, 1968 in Washington, D.C., it was greeted with polarized critical reactions. A few critics praised the film for it's mesmerizing innovation and compelling storytelling. A few others (including Pauline Kael) found it to be too obscure and pretentious. While the old guard was indifferent to Kubrick's progressive creation, it was the younger generation that responded to the film's offbeat rhythms and enigmatic narrative.

Before "2001" went on it's roadshow engagement across the country, Kubrick cut about nineteen minutes from the original one hundred and sixty-one minute running time to help streamline elements of the film. It went on find a broad audience and became a box-office hit. And time has helped form an even greater appreciation for what Kubrick has accomplished with "2001: A Space Odyssey" which is now universally considered to be one of the most influential movies ever made.

Inspired by the 1951 short story, "The Sentinel" by Arthur C. Clarke, Kubrick teamed with the writer to co-write the screenplay. Together, they inventively expanded on the themes of existentialism, technology, evolution and artificial intelligence which are depicted in ways that have become scientifically accurate.

One key move that Kubrick did was remove the planned voice-over narration during editing that would have helped guide viewers through the shifts in time and space. He had always expressed that he never intended to offer clear or straightforward meaning of "2001", preferring to allow the audience to find their own interpretation of the film.

In honor of the 50th anniversary of "2001", a new mastered 70MM print was made from the original camera negative and was supervised by director, Christopher Nolan who had recently made the 2017 Oscar-nominated WWII drama, "Dunkirk" in this format. The world premiere of this print was held during the Cannes Film Festival on May 12th before it starts a theatrical run in select U.S. theaters beginning on May 18th.

I have certainly seen the great "2001" but never on the big screen. So I'm looking forward to catching this at the Arclight Cinerama Dome  in LA which was made to screen the 70mm format. And to offer more insight in to this classic, Vulture takes an in-depth look on how "2001: A Space Odyssey" over the last fifty years has gone on to influence pop culture from everything to sci-fi films, visual effects and soundtracks.

Click below to read:

How "2001: A Space Odyssey" has Influenced Pop Culture

Sunday, May 13, 2018

THE RACHEL DIVIDE (2018)

Directed by Laura Brownson


Available to stream now on Netflix


For my very first review of a Netflix streaming film, I am looking at "The Rachel Divide", a fascinating yet challenging documentary by Laura Brownson, which examines the life of Rachel Dolezal, one of the most controversial and polarizing figures to have emerged in this new century.

Her shocking story involves her rising in a short period of time to become the president of the Spokane chapter of the NAACP but was forced to resign when it was discovered that she was actually born a blond Caucasian woman while using wigs and tanning solutions to alter her appearance. Dolezal has insisted that she wasn't trying to deceive anyone but that she simply has always identified as a black woman and decided finally to live her life publicly as one.

The reaction to this bewildering confession, particularly by African-Americans, was not surprisingly filled with outrage and hostility.  "The Rachel Divide" tries to offer a fair and balanced look at Dolezal as she continuously tries to explain herself to anyone who will listen. Yet considering the long, complicated history of race in America, it's impossible for this clearly intelligent and passionate woman to not come across at times as a little unstable and insensitive.

After a reporter essentially outs Dolezal as a white woman during a live 2015 television interview, we are shown the swift aftermath with an explosion of media coverage and angry opinions about what she had done. The film begins some time later after she has been dismissed as a teacher of African studies at Eastern Washington University and now struggles to find employment with braiding hair currently her main source of income.

With no one willing to hire her due to the scandal, this has also impacted the lives of the two young men Dolezal is raising; her adopted brother, Izaiah who she obtained legal guardianship from her parents in 2010 when he was sixteen and her biological son, Franklin from a previous marriage. It's heartbreaking as they reveal their loving support yet painful frustration with their mother's choices and we see how their lives have suffered from the fallout.

We follow Dolezal as she pursues several media outlets as an opportunity to tell her story while working on a memoir that will be called, "In Full Color: Finding My Place in a Black and White World" which details her experiences with racial identity. While she had publicly acknowledged that Albert Wilkerson, an African-American man, was her "step-father", the truth was that her biological parents were both white and came forward to tell the truth.

But their reason for coming forward may have been less about candor and more about discrediting their estranged daughter. The family had adapted four African-American children and their daughter, Esther has accused their biological son, Joshua of sexually abusing her as a child. Rachel supported her sister's claims, offering to testify against her brother who she said had abused her as well. There were also accusations that the parents had been psychologically abusive to all of the children. However, when Rachel's story became public, she was now seen as an unreliable witness.

The director has not taken any sides on this issue and allowed Dolezal free reign to her story. But she has not ignored the rumbling vocal opposition to Dolezal with many people speaking critically of her even being considered "transracial". What I see as the major problem to why so many are upset with her claim is that there is a clear lack of honesty and transparency. Even to this day, Dolezal has only halfheartedly admitted to her race deception, usually when she is cornered and too exhausted to keep spinning her wheels. If she would simply admit that she is a white woman who has deeply connected to the historic struggle of African-Americans and wants to be a part to do whatever she can to help, I think much of the harsh criticism may soften.

We see this in the film as Dolezal is taking questions during a speaking engagement at a college. She is taken to task by some African-American women in the audience by questioning how can she claim to be a black woman without having to endure any of the many hardships and indignities that come with being one in this world. Dolezal apologizes sincerely yet explains she can't stop being who sees herself to be. There seems to be some understanding, maybe because she appears to finally hear their concerns.

"The Rachel Divide" concludes with Dolezal legally changing her name to an African-sounding creation. Some may view this as delusional yet perhaps she truly believes that this attempt at a clean slate will help leave her troubled past behind. She might be able to start again with the hope of a new life, finally living as her authentic self on her own terms.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

THE MOST ANTICIPATED MOVIES AT THE 2018 CANNES FILM FESTIVAL


This year’s Cannes Film Festival is set to begin today and there will be a wide selection of exciting new films from around the globe. With so much intriguing works available, it would seem hard to determine exactly what to actually go see. Kyle Buchanan and Emily Yoshida, film critics of New York magazine and will be the lucky ones reporting from the fest, have done us a solid by narrowing down to fifteen of the most buzzed about movies that will be making their debuts at Cannes. This will also bring attention to some films we common folk may want to check out later when they arrive at your local cinema or streaming service. Time will tell if these picks live up to the hype or prove to be unworthy of all this attention.

Click below to read:

The Most Anticipated Films at 2018 Cannes