Monday, June 28, 2010

LIFE DURING WARTIME

I have been a big fan of the controversial filmmaker, Todd Solondz since his first film, "Welcome to the Dollhouse" (1995) and I have seen all of his work since then. I just love his strange and quirky sense of humor and how he's not afraid to tackle unpleasant subjects in his films. I think Mr.Solondz is the only person who could find levity in pedophilia.

His latest is called "Life During Wartime" which is supposed to be a part sequel and part variation of his great film ,"Happiness" (1998). It has new actors playing some of the characters from the original film. It looks really good and has an excellent cast which include Ally Sheedy, Paul "Pee Wee" Reubens and the always fascinating Charlotte Rampling.


"Life During Wartime" has already been seen in several prominent film festivals including the Telluride, Toronto, New York and Venice (where it won Best Screenplay) since last year but should finally be released in the U.S. on July 23, 2010.


Sunday, June 27, 2010

CYRUS (2010)

Written & Directed by Jay and Mark Duplass


Where & When: Arclight Cinemas, Hollywood, CA. June 22, 2010  1:00PM


John (John C. Reilly), is a lonely and slightly depressed middle-aged man. He hasn't really dated anyone since he split with his wife seven years ago.

His ex-wife, Jamie (Catherine Kenner) has just announced that she is getting remarried which sinks John even lower. John and Jamie are inexplicably, still very close and she invites him to attend a party with her and her fiance. She thinks it will be a chance for him to meet someone nice.

At the party, John doesn't have much luck meeting anybody so he decides to just get drunk. Later, an attractive woman named Molly (Marisa Tomei) chats with John and there is a connection. They have a great time and end the evening in bed together.

The next morning, Molly is gone but she left a note with her phone number. They go on another date but Molly can't stay the night. She is vague on the reason but John thinks she could be the one and is desperate to know what's going on with her.

So John decides to follow her home. He discovers that she has a grown son still living at home with her. Cyrus (Jonah Hill) is a chubby, twenty-two year old man-child who doesn't seem do much beyond being creative like taking photographs and making electro music for his DJ gig while his mother fawns over his accomplishments. Molly and her son are extremely close and although John finds it slightly strange, he is more than willing to accept this as part of the deal.

Although Cyrus comes across as mature and seems to welcome John with open arms, it soon becomes clear that he is not about to share his mommy with anyone. It's not long before John becomes aware of this but he is not about to give up his newly found girlfriend without a fight.

Threats of violence, emotional blackmail and missing shoes are some of the arsenals used in this fight until it culminates into a physical brawl between the two men in this battle for the love of Molly.

There really isn't much of a heavy duty plot here but I did appreciate how much care was given to showing us who these characters are. In fact, although "Cyrus" is a dark comedy, there is not one single joke in the film. All of the humor is found in the quirky behavior of these characters. Since this film is mostly improvised, it says a lot about the talent of the Duplass brothers because that is much harder to do. I would have liked to have seen the film go darker and had created even more of a dramatic conflict between the guys. I think it would had shaken up that feeling of predictability and made an even stronger film.

All of the lead actors give their usual solid performances but special mention should be made about Mr. Hill. He is certainly well known for his comic gifts like in the films, "Superbad" (2007) and this year's "Get Him To The Greek" but I think he is underrated as an dramatic actor and gives a fine nuanced performance as the title character.

The Duplass brothers were part of the mumblecore film movement, which is similar to the Danish, Dogma 95, that made largely improvised films that were about personal relationships on a very low budget like their first films, "The Puffy Chair" (2005) and "Baghead" (2008). This time they have added name actors, a larger budget, top producers (Ridley and Tony Scott) and a major studio to the mix but still stuck to the core fundamentals of a mumblecore film.

"Cyrus" is a sweet, very funny and entertaining little film. It's a refreshing change of pace for a typical summer movie and it shouldn't be missed.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

I AM LOVE (LO SONO L'AMORE) (2010)

Written by Luca Guadagnino & Barbara Alberti


Directed by Luca Guadagnino


Where & When: Arclight Cinemas, Hollywood, CA. June 20, 2010 7:55PM


Tilda Swinton plays Emma, a mysterious Russian who has almost completely abandoned her past to start a new life in Italy. She is married to Tangredi Recchi (Pippo Delbono), the son of a successful and wealthy textile plant owner and they have three children.

The story starts on a rare snowy day in Milan and the Recchi family has gotten together to celebrate the birthday of Tangredi's father. Edoardo Sr.(Gabriele Ferzetti) has announced that he is retiring and has left the company not only to his son but to his grandson, Edoardo Jr.(Flavio Parenti).

Later that evening, Antonio (Edoardo Gabbriellini), a friend of Eduardo Jr. who is a chef  has brought over a cake. Eduardo introduces his mother to Antonio. She invites him to stay but he declines the offer.

Elizabetta (Alba Rohnwacher), Emma's daughter who had been dating a boy, has come out to her mother as a lesbian. She is going to college to become an artist in Nice and invites her mother to come to meet her new love interest.

Under the advise of Edoardo Jr., Emma and his grandmother (Marisa Berenson) takes his new fiance, Ida (Maria Paiato) to have lunch at the restaurant that Antonio works in. Antonio's food stirs something in Emma, a passion that had laid dormant in her for a long time. She has a strong desire to get closer to Antonio. After lunch, she stops to thank Antonio and they chat. She discovers that he wants to open his own restaurant with Edoardo's help in Sanremo where he lives.

After saying that she is going to visit her daughter, Emma soon finds herself going to Sanremo. Emma runs into Antonio in town and he invites her to see his home. It doesn't take much time before the two are swept up in torrid love affair.

During a business trip in London, Edoardo Jr. struggles with his role in the company and the future of the business. He also grows suspicious of something unusual happening with his friend, Antonio. Emma is soon torn between her privileged life as a mother and wife and her new possible opportunity with a younger man of simple means.

Ms Swinton gives another amazing performance and she is so mesmerizing to watch. She is a handsome woman and I just love that androgynous quality of her face that just make her even more fascinating.

This is a conventional story told very unconventionally. The film is fragmented, so it doesn't tell or show you directly what is happening all of the time, so you have to be paying close attention to understand what is going on. Although I did find "I Am Love" interesting, I can't say I actually liked it. During most of the film, it just made me think I was watching a very expensive student film with top notch actors involved. Mr.Guadagnino felt the need to throw in way too many unnecessary cinematic tricks like blurry images, many quick cuts, extreme close-ups and slow motion shots that didn't add anything and just made the film feel directionless and unpolished. His decision to loudly blast the musical score at the audience during apparently important scenes was really obnoxious. A woman sitting next to me during the film actually cover her ears.

The director seemed to be struggling with wanting to create a Hollywood-styled melodrama and making an esoteric art film but has only succeeded in making neither particularly well. There are certainly some beautifully crafted moments to be found in this film but not nearly enough to recommend anyone sitting through "I Am Love".

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

2010 OUTFEST FILM FESTIVAL


The 28th annual Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Film Festival will be starting up in a matter of weeks. The festival brings a wide spectrum of films from all over the world and this year's line-up looks very interesting.

"Howl", the first feature written and directed by veteran documentary filmmakers, Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman will be the opening film of Outfest on July 8th at the Orpheum theatre. James Franco stars as poet, Allen Ginsberg in this film about the writing of his sexually charged poem, "Howl" which led to him being put on trial for obscenity.


Jane Lynch, a star of the hit television show, "Glee" is the recipient of this year's Outfest Achievement Award.

The closing night film this year, "Spork" will be held at the Ford Amphitheatre on July 18th. It is the film debut of actor turned writer/director J.B. Ghuman that tells the story of an awkward high school girl who must break out her dance moves when her best friend in unable to compete in a dance contest but the popular mean girl and her gang is going to do all they can to stop her.

For a complete list of the films, events and how to purchase tickets, please go to:

OUTFEST 2010

Saturday, June 12, 2010

JOAN RIVERS: A PIECE OF WORK (2010)

Directed by Rick Stern & Annie Sandberg


Where & When: Arclight Cinemas, Hollywood, CA. June 11, 2010 9:50PM


"Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work" is a great and fascinating new documentary that follows the pioneer comedian for one year in her pursuit to, once again, try and revitalize her career. Joan Rivers has just celebrated her 75th birthday and like many who have been in show business for a long time, she has had many up and down periods and is currently trying to pick things back up. While having no interest in retiring, Ms Rivers puts just as much energy in finding a job as she does while performing. She is willing to do anything for work which include, according to her, commercials for adult diapers.

Ms Rivers began wanting to be an actress and only started doing stand-up as just a way to pay the bills before getting an acting gig. She had done a play on Broadway and was savagely torn apart by the critics, so Rivers retreated to become a full-time comedian. She was good and worked her way up, doing many television shows before getting a shot at doing "The Tonight Show". She began by doing writing for the show and with the help of a recommendation by Bill Cosby, she was eventually given a chance to do her act on the program. Johnny Carson, who was the host at the time, loved her and had her on many times. She became very popular and soon Ms Rivers was announced as the permanent guest host for the show. Her husband, Edgar, who was also her manager, arranged for her to get her own talk show on a rival network and doesn't hesitate to take this golden opportunity. However, things quickly go downhill with her relationship with Mr. Carson, then with her husband, the television show and her career.

We watch as the comedian travels from one lousy job to another that is beneath her, interacting with her rabid fans, reluctantly getting involved with the reality television show, "Celebrity Apprentice" and a roast in her honor while dealing with problems within her business staff as well as her prickly relationship with her daughter, Melissa. For a woman of her advanced years, she really has a lot of stamina. Just listening to her crazy schedule made me exhausted and I'm almost half her age but she is determined and loves her work. There is no subject is off limits to her as long as the joke is funny but off stage, which tends to be common among professional comedians, hides a fragile and very insecure person. Ms Rivers has never considered herself attractive which leads directly to all of the plastic surgery she has had over the years. It is a shame because she certainly wasn't unattractive before but now her face is kind of like a bizarre mask, which is apparently her idea of beauty.

"Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work" is really a terrific and very amusing film. You can't help but to cheer Ms Rivers on as she swallows her pride and dignity while continuing to single handily make people recognize and remember that she is still here and just as vital and funny as all of the younger comedians out there today. When I was leaving the theater, I overheard someone say that this film should be required viewing for aspiring comedians to show them exactly how hard it really is and to make sure this is something they really want to get in to. I would amend that and say it should be required viewing for anybody wanting to get into any part of show business.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

SEX AND THE CITY 2 (2010)

Written & Directed by Michael Patrick King




Where & When: Arclight Cinemas, Hollywood, CA. June 7, 2010 7:05 PM


The latest film based on the HBO television program, "Sex and the City" has been bashed by critics and although it is far from a box office flop, it's numbers are down compared to the first film. While some of the criticism is definitely warranted, I do think the film does have some fun moments but not nearly enough as it should.

The film starts up two years after the last film ended and Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker) and Big (Chris Noth) have settled into married life. However, not all is idyllic as she thought it would be. Carrie is unhappy that Big doesn't want to go out and hit the streets with her. He just wants to sit at home, eat take-out and watch the boob tube with her. How horrible.

Miranda (Cynthia Nixon) hates how she is treated at her job, Charlotte (Kristin Davis) is not nearly as happy as she thought she would be raising children despite even having a nanny to help her out and Samantha (Kim Cattrall) is very unhappy about aging and plans on putting a stop to it by using expensive hormones and vitamins to trick her body in to thinking it's younger. These ladies are unsatisfied with their pampered lives but what should they do? After attending the over-the-top wedding of Stanford (Willie Garson) and Anthony (Mario Cantone), Samantha gets an offer by an Arab business man to discuss doing P.R. for him and he invites her and the girls to stay at a luxury hotel in Abu Dhabi. This little trip should be the answer to all of their problems.

While there, they experience the obvious culture clash and behave like typical ugly Americans except for Miranda who at least made some attempt to do some research before arriving. Carrie and Miranda go shopping in a bazaar, when she runs into Aidan (John Corbett), her former boyfriend. They agree to meet for dinner later, sparks fly and soon they briefly rekindle a little intimacy. Carrie freaks out that she kissed Aidan and wants to tell Big what happened but Samantha advises her to at least sleep on it before she does anything. I'm sure you can guess what she decides to do and that decision could put her marriage in jeopardy.

Although I did like some of this film, I think it had more to do with the nostalgic revisiting of these characters that I love and less about the movie that was made using them. The film started off okay with the wedding but as soon as they landed in Abu Dhabi, my mind started to wander for a while until Aidan showed up. I thought something really juicy would happen but they just didn't go there. I think this was the problem with the film as a whole, not enough juice. They didn't work deeply enough with the characters to have them do anything particularly interesting. Everything was just focused on the surface, like mainly on their clothes and shoes.

I think the surprise success of the first film made Mr. King feel that this sequel needed to be even bigger and better, which caused it to collapse under the weight of all that excess. So, having Liza Minnelli performing at a gay wedding ceremony as well as other assorted, pointless cameo appearances that included Miley Cyrus and Penelope Cruz, then having the girls riding camels in the middle of the desert in high heels while later singing a very painful rendition of "I Am Woman" in a bar in Abu Dhabi, and giving Samantha ridiculous golden, spiked shoulder pads to wear didn't help make the film any better. All it did was highlight how far they have lost sight of what made the television show so great.

So the real question is: "Should I waste any time and see this film?" I would say that if you were a fan of the television show, the movie is watchable but very disappointing. If not, well, to be honest, you weren't going to like the movie anyway.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

CITY ISLAND (2010)

Written & Directed by Raymond DeFelitta



Where & When: Laemmle's Sunset 5, West Hollywood, CA. June 5, 2010 7: 20PM



A few months ago, I saw the trailer for "City Island". The film looked lousy to me and I knew that this was not something I would waste my time in seeing. Later, the film was released and it didn't get great reviews which I was not surprised. However, I heard that the box office for the film was improving week by week and it was getting strong word-of-mouth. I'm a sucker for that kind of thing, so I decided I should throw caution to the wind and check out "City Island". Maybe my initial reaction was faulty and I might have missed out on a great film. After the credits finally started to roll, I sat there thinking, "What the hell is wrong with people?" There was absolutely nothing appealing or funny about this film. Nothing!

This film is set in New York, in an area of the Bronx called, City Island where the Rizzo family lives. Andy Garcia plays Vince Rizzo, a correctional officer who dreams of becoming an actor. He decides to sneak off to take classes a few nights a week and tells his wife, Joyce (Julianna Margulies, with a very distracting haircut) that he's playing poker with the guys. Joyce is not buying it but instead of confronting her husband, she just sits at home and smokes the cigarettes her husband doesn't think she is still smoking. Vince is also still smoking too but he also hides it from his wife, which is just the beginning of the deception throughout this film.

Their obnoxious, teenage son, Vince, Jr. (Ezra Miller) is a closet chubby chaser who has a strong desire to feed doughnuts to their obese, next door neighbor who also just happens to have a web site catering to people who love big & beautiful women, which Vince just happened to find. Their daughter, Vivian (Dominik Garcia-Lorido, actual daughter of Andy) is coming home to visit from college, although that is no longer true. She is now secretly a stripper while her parents think she is studying for her classes she is no longer taking.

Vince is taking an acting class taught by a frustrated actor (Oscar winner, Alan Arkin, why?) where he meets fellow student, Molly (Emily Mortimer), who encourages Vince that he is doing the right thing and even helps direct him towards an audition for a film by Martin Scorsese. Molly, of course, has a dark secret that is revealed because of an acting assignment that involves telling a secret about yourself in class that nobody knows.

Finally, a young prisoner, Tony (Steven Strait) at the jail Vince works in could be eligible for parole if there was a family member who would take him in. Tony has no family alive but Vince just happened to have known his mother and decides to bring Tony to stay in his home. He tells Tony not to tell his family that he was in jail but to say he is a visiting friend who is staying to help build a spare bathroom. Joyce is not at all happy about this situation but soon warms up to the idea when she sees Tony working without a shirt on.

There is, obviously, a secret about Tony that Vince is keeping from him but he is just trying to find the right time to tell him. The Rizzos have a serious problem with communication and feel that it's far better to keep secrets from their own family than try and tell the truth. Maybe it's just me but I didn't find much humor in all this dishonesty.

There's a whole lot of secrets and lies going on in this film and it all adds up to one big dump of a ridiculous, unearned happy ending. None of these people are anybody you would want to know, let alone be related to. It made me think about another dramedy, "Greenberg" the film by Noah Baumbach that came out earlier this year. Ben Stiller played the title character who was unlikable and unpleasant but because it was well written and well acted, the film was actually enjoyable.

It's quite apparent that Mr. DeFelitta has seen a lot of movies and has felt the need to throw in every film cliche that he has ever seen of a New Yorker into his movie. To be fair, all films have moments of deja vu but this film feels heavily recycled. There is not an ounce of real comedy in this screenplay or in the acting for that matter and he has Mr. Garcia and Ms Margulies speaking in loud, painfully exaggerated accents.

The one positive thing I can say about the film is that it used a couple of great songs by the Staple Singers on the soundtrack. I'm going to be perfectly honest with you and say that I didn't much care for "City Island" and I wish I had listened to my instincts about this film but that's what I get for trusting other people.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

I AM LOVE




I just saw this trailer today for the forthcoming film, "I Am Love" and I was completely mesmerized. I'm not sure what it's about but the film looks sexy, intense, thrilling, and it stars one of my favorite actresses, Academy Award winner, Tilda Swinton, so I don't need to know much more to know I will be checking out this movie. I just hope that this trailer is not the best thing about this film.

"I Am Love" should be in theaters in the U.S. on June 18th.