Sunday, August 28, 2016

2016 VENICE FILM FESTIVAL


The fall movie season kicks off with the 2016 Venice Film Festival and offers the first opportunity to see some of the buzzed about films soon to be released. This Italian fest is the oldest celebration of international cinema in the world with the 73rd edition beginning on August 31st and running through September 10th.

"La La Land", the latest from "Whiplash" director, Damien Chazelle, will make it's world premiere as the Opening Night film. Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone star in this romantic musical set in Los Angeles about a jazz musician and an aspiring actress who meet and fall in love. But as they find success in their creative paths, it creates tension in their love affair. R&B singer, John Legend and J.K. Simmons, who won an Oscar for his amazing performance in "Whiplash", also star.



In addition to "La La Land", there are nineteen other films in competition for prizes and includes the latest work from some of cinema's most interesting and acclaimed film makers like Ana Lily Amirpour ("The Bad Batch"), Derek Cianfrance ("The Light Between Oceans"), Denis Villeneuve ("Arrival"), Tom Ford ("Nocturnal Animals"), François Ozon ("Frantz"), Pablo Larrain ("Jackie"), Wim Wenders ("Les Beaux Jours D’Aranjuez"), and Terrence Malick ("Voyage of Time").






The Closing Night film selection is the remake of the 1960 western, "The Magnificent Seven". Denzel Washington heads a multi-cultural cast that features Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke, Lee Byung-hun, Matt Bomer and Peter Sarsgaard. With direction by Antoine Fuqua ("Training Day", "Southpaw"), it tells the story of a town held hostage by a ruthless businessman and the townspeople have to count on seven shady outlaws to help liberate them.



Films that will be screened out of competition include Mel Gibson's latest film as a director, "Hacksaw Ridge", a World War II drama starring Andrew Garfield. "The Bleeder", a film based on the true story of boxer, Chuck Wepner (Liev Schreiber) and his 1975 fight with the heavyweight champion, Muhammad Ali (played by Schreiber's "Ray Donovan" co-star, Pooch Hall). Elisabeth Moss, Jim Gaffigan and Naomi Watts also star. Paolo Sorrentino ("Youth") premieres his television mini-series, "The Young Pope" starring Jude Law and Diane Keaton (and will be shown on HBO in America). There will also be tributes to two recently deceased directors: Michael Cimino ("The Deer Hunter") and Abbas Kiarostami ("Taste of Cherry") and Lifetime Achievement Golden Lions will be presented to actor, Jean-Paul Belmondo and director, Jerzy Skolimowski.

Friday, August 26, 2016

SUICIDE SQUAD (2016)

Written & Directed by David Ayer


Where & When: Arclight Cinemas, Hollywood, CA. August 9, 2016 5:45PM


What would happen if we lost one super-powered crime-fighter and concerned that if another one came around, we might not be able to control them?

According to "Suicide Squad", the wildly hyper-active yet logically dim comic-book action caper, the answer would be to round up some of the world's most dangerous and amoral super-villains, attempt to control their actions and force them to do good. Based on the popular DC comic, the film wants to shake up the routine of what we have come to expect from our super-hero movies. And while writer and director David Ayer has an interesting concept to work with, he's not found a way to make the motivation behind this theory dramatically plausible or coherent. Because of this fatal flaw, "Suicide Squad" ultimately winds up falling in to the predictable formula that we've come to expect from these action thrillers but without nearly enough fun.

Our story begins where we left off at the end of "Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice" after the apparent demise of Superman. Locked inside a super-maximum security prison, run by a bone-headed security officer (Ike Barinholtz), are a sorted collection of super-baddies. We have Will Smith, in a rare turn as part of ensemble, as Deadshot, a never-miss-his-target assassin who is secretly trying to be a loving and devoted father to his young daughter. There is also George "Digger" Harkness (Jai Courtney) otherwise known as "Captain Boomerang", a foul-mannered Aussie who uses the device to cause harm. Due to a genetic condition, Waylon Jones (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) has a reptilian appearance and a deadly appetite which is why he's known as "Killer Croc". Chato Santana (Jay Hernandez) is a L.A. gang-banger that has the destructive power to control fire. Finally, we have the former psychiatrist, Harleen Quinzel who has turned in to the psychotic, Harley Quinn. Played with deranged gusto by Margot Robbie, this lethal beauty struts around in skimpy attire, multi-colored hair and armed with a baseball bat, ready to use it for anything other than sports.

If these criminals cooperate with helping to save the world, they will have some time taken off their sentences. However, as a safeguard, each one is implanted with a device that will cause their heads to explode if they get any ideas of trying to escape. The architect behind this deranged plan is Amanda Waller, an ambitious and ruthlessly driven U.S. government official, played by Viola Davis. The presence of this respected actress brings some much needed gravitas to somehow make this crazy scheme seem practical. She almost makes it work.

One of the first under Waller's control was the Enchantress (British model, Cara Delevingne). A once-worshiped evil entity imprisoned in a shrine for thousands of years until an archaeologist, Dr. June Moone discovers her tomb, releasing this powerful sorceress who takes possession of the doctor's body. While Waller was able to bring out The Enchantress when needed, she manages to outsmart the government agent, escaping from under her command and takes over Dr. Moone completely.

Angered by her treatment, the Enchantress plans to destroy all of humanity. After setting her brother, Incubus (Alain Chanoine) free and summoning a horde of monsters to fight, her idea is to spend a great deal of time creating a device that will wipe out the planet. Huh?? I guess we're supposed to ignore the fact that we've already seen that this evil enchantress could easily have done this deed with a simple wave of her hand. Now, I'm well aware you must suspend a certain amount of belief when watching a film involving super-powered beings but it's difficult to do when underdeveloped characters and weak storytelling feels beneath working my brain so hard. Besides if it all came to an end so easily and quickly, we wouldn't have gotten the experience of watching this assembled squad of bad guys routinely crack wise and fight together to fight a terrible force worse than themselves. Or would that really have been such a bad thing?

In addition, with a film already overstuffed with mayhem and badness, we have the iconic, green-haired villain, The Joker. Desperate to be reunited with his lady love, Harley Quinn, he causes his own mix of destruction in order to set her free. Jared Leto plays The Joker here in a performance that feels surprisingly muted considering the opportunity to go as large and extreme as possible with this homicidal character. Following in the impressive footsteps of Cesar Romero, Jack Nicholson and Heath Ledger in this role, Leto doesn't offer much to make his appearance special or memorable.

Much Like "Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice", "Suicide Squad" is all about the high-powered, visual spectacle. Story, character and performance trails far behind in regards of importance here. That makes this film engaging for about a good thirty minutes with the rest of the running time spent waiting for the credits to roll. And with Ben Affleck's Batman showing up along with The Flash and Aquaman popping-up for brief cameos, this also serves as cheap promotion for the inevitable upcoming films. I will sum up "Suicide Squad" quite simply. It's not exciting. It's not much fun. And it's not very good.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

MERYL STREEP MOVIE PERFORMANCES: FROM WORST TO BEST


With the recent release of "Florence Foster Jenkins", New York magazine has decided to go back and rank all of the feature film work of one of the screen's greatest performers, Meryl Streep. While some may feel she is highly overrated and over-praised, there is no denying that when this talented actress is in the right role and paired with the right director, the results are a breathtaking and magical cinematic experience.

It's hard to say that Ms Streep has ever given a truly bad performance as she remains fully committed and always fascinating to watch no matter how difficult the film might be to sit through. But not all are of her acting performances are created equal with some clearly better than others.

Take a look at this run-through of all of her appearances to date and remember it's ranking is based strictly upon her work, not the film as a whole.  As I went over this list, I'm amazed that I've seen forty-one of these forty-three films (and it will be forty-two once I get out to see "Florence"). Some of these movies I had forgotten about (most for a good reason) and I probably would have rearranged the order of a few of these but overall, this is a fascinating examination of the film career of this gifted acting chameleon.

Click below to read:

All 43 Meryl Streep Movie Performances Ranked Worst To Best

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

CAFE SOCIETY (2016)

Written & Directed by Woody Allen


Where & When: Arclight Cinemas, Hollywood, CA. July 16, 2016  3:15 PM



"Café Society", the latest feature by Woody Allen, takes a wistful look back at romantic longing, deceptive behavior and missed opportunities in a story set in the glamorous world of 1930's Hollywood. It's no secret that the eighty year old director has a great affection for the past as he has covered the era of his adolescence numerous times throughout the years. Even when he takes on a contemporary setting, the tone still feels deeply rooted in days gone by. With this film, Allen knows how to expertly tell a story, filled with dramatic tension and bleak comedy yet he's unable to craft it in a way that seems unfamiliar or atypical.

Another one of Allen's favorite themes is New York versus Los Angeles and that occurs again here with Bobby Dorfman (Jesse Eisenberg), a young man leaving behind his secure employment with the family jewelry business to take a chance on a new life in the city of continuous sunshine. His concerned mother, Rose (Jeannie Berlin) calls her brother, Phil (Steve Carell), who is a top Hollywood talent agent, to help her son out with a job.

Without anything to offer at the moment, Phil has his secretary, Vonnie (Kristen Stewart) keep him company and show Bobby around the city in the meantime. The two spend a lot of time together with Bobby becoming completely smitten with the lovely girl, admiring her lack of pretense and earnest ambition. And while she's attracted to him too, she's already in a committed relationship with a roving journalist who travels across the globe for work. When Vonnie's relationship suddenly comes to an unexpected end, a pleased Bobby offers his shoulder for the devastated young woman to cry on.

Even though his relationship with Phil has grown close, attending family functions and parties filled with Hollywood types, Bobby is still surprised when his uncle confides that he's been having a long-time affair and ready to leave his wife for this other woman. This bit of shocking news will create an unforeseen problem for Bobby, ultimately leaving him crushed and disappointed.

Bobby soon heads back to the east coast, with nothing more than unpleasant memories of his time in Los Angeles. He decides to join a new family business; running a nightclub with his brother, Ben (Corey Stoll), a mobster whose solution to any problem, big or small, is to bury it six feet under. The club becomes a popular destination for the rich and powerful which in turn makes Bobby one of them. One night, he meets Veronica (Blake Lively), a gorgeous divorcee, eventually marrying her and starting a family. Just when his life seemed to be going in a comfortable direction, the complicated past comes rushing back and takes a seat in his nightclub.

It's been said that writers write about what they know and that has paid off handsomely for Mr. Allen. He's managed to make comic gold and some cinematic gems throughout the years from his life experiences including his explorations in to less traveled themes like May/December romance, existential crisis and psychoanalysis. However, after all this time, it's gotten pretty stale and predictable. The movies seem stuck in the past, literally and figuratively, continuously filled with his beloved jazz and not too many surprises. That's not to say the films aren't still occasionally engaging, funny or charming but fresh is not a word that would be used to describe any recent Woody Allen film. One notable change from our film making Luddite is that this was the first time Allen shot digitally with Vittorio Storaro, the Oscar-winning cinematographer for "Apocalypse Now" and "Reds" and "The Last Emperor", handling the duties.

While our two leads have worked together before, allowing for a believable connection, neither Mr. Eisenberg or Ms Stewart seem fully comfortable in their roles. They fare better in their early youthful, puppy love stage than later when they reconnect slightly older and disenchanted. Playing insecure and neurotic guys are right in Eisenberg's comfort zone yet he has more difficulty convincing us that he has evolved in to this suave businessman. Same goes for the glum Stewart who would be no one's idea of a carefree, sophisticated lady. The natural charisma of Mr. Carell has been drained here, leaving us with a very dour performance which is a waste of his talent.

There are a couple of bright spots to be found in far too brief appearances. Anna Camp hilariously plays a hooker on the first day on the job and Parker Posey, who was a highlight in Allen's last film, "Irrational Man", brings her effervescent spirit as a bleach-blond Hollywood socialite.

With a ending that merely fizzles out instead of delivering some more expected sizzle, "Café Society" is hardly Woody Allen at his finest. Yet if you do admire his clever wit and comedic gifts, then you will certainly find moments that are heartfelt, moving and amusing.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

THE NEON DEMON (2016)

Written by Mary Laws, Polly Stenham & Nicolas Winding Refn


Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn


Where & When: Arclight Cinemas, Hollywood, CA. July 13, 2016 1:00 PM


"The Neon Demon" tells the familiar story of a small-town girl coming to Los Angeles in search of fame, fortune and success. But in the hands of the Danish film maker Nicolas Winding Refn, he has twisted this oft-told tale in to a colorfully deranged and strikingly seductive new drama. This sweet girl finds what she seeks in the world of fashion modeling, becoming a celebrated and aloof figure, before being literally devoured by the glittering jealous monsters of the city.

When we first see Jesse (Elle Fanning), she is motionless, looking model fierce in an evening gown. But her throat has been slashed with the blood draining from her body. This turns out to be nothing more than a photo shoot being taken by her new friend, Dean (Karl Glusman) to help her build her portfolio. While wiping away the fake blood, Jesse catches the eye of Ruby (Jena Malone), a make-up artist. She offers to show the aspiring model around town and introduce her to some fun people in the business.

Ruby takes Jesse to a fashion event where she meets two models, Sarah (Abbey Lee) and Gigi (Bella Heathcote). These beautiful women, reconstructed, hardened and volatile, are dismissive of this shy, natural young girl outfitted in shopping mall chic. Yet it's clear they sense that she's a potential threat.

And their intuition proves accurate. The head of a top modeling agency (Christina Hendricks) is unimpressed with her photos yet quickly decides to represent Jesse before sending her off to a creepy but notable photographer (Desmond Harrington) to get better pictures. While at a runway modeling casting for a famous designer (Alessandro Nivola), he becomes completely mesmerized by Jesse, hiring this new face and leaving the experienced Sarah out of the show. Distraught and humiliated, the model destroys her book and smashes the bathroom mirror. With the hope of offering comfort, Jesse enters the room but makes the situation worse. While leaving she slips, cutting herself on the broken glass and Sarah lunges, attempting to drink the blood coming from the younger girl's hand.

This strange moment is our first sign that this film is attempting social commentary through dark, macabre humor. It doesn't entirely work but "The Neon Demon" is a potent nightmare of our endless obsession and envious desire with youth and beauty. The dramatically luxurious camera work by Natasha Braier and the pulsating soundtrack by Cliff Martinez effectively creates an eerie, sensual vibe. Coming from a family of film makers who were inspired by the French New Wave, Refn was more attracted to American horror films. His early work reflected his taste for blood and violence but it was his 2008 film, "Bronson" which starred Tom Hardy as real-life British prisoner Charles Bronson where Refn first merged the cinematic modernism that his parents appreciated and his own lurid interests. This lead to the brutal, neo-noir crime thriller, "Drive" which brought the director plenty of critical acclaim, award recognition and the Best Director prize at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival.

Ms Fanning is a perfect combination of innocence and desperation until Jesse becomes fully aware of her beauty, then without apology, embracing it's power and usefulness. Keanu Reeves makes a brief, uncharacteristic appearance as the churlish manager of the rundown hotel where Jesse lives. After the frightened girl runs to him because of an intruder in her room, they discover that a mountain lion has entered with the manager unsympathetically expecting her to pay for the damages. The big cat is one of several weird, head-scratching moments that occurs throughout the film, including the final scene at a photo shoot involving Sarah and Gigi that manages to be both hysterically funny and uncomfortably disturbing.

Light on reflective meaning and heavy with rich visual imagery, "The Neon Demon" is an electrifying and terrifying horror fantasia, filling the screen with brightly colored gore and mayhem with a touch of sick yet hilarious humor. We are taken on a turbulent ride through a perverse world that artfully stimulates our senses, leaving us titillated, disgusted, confused, and intrigued.

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 happily 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