Saturday, December 24, 2011

THE ARTIST (2011)

Written & Directed by Michel Hazanavicius



Where & When: Arclight Cinemas, Hollywood, CA. November 27, 2011  7:50PM


"The Artist" is a delightfully sweet and loving valentine not only to the classic silent films but to the magic of the American cinema. This film, however, is actually created by a French writer/director, Michel Hazanavicius who offers an European prospective, much like the immigrants who came to this country and helped shape the films of early Hollywood. The other highlight of this film is that it introduces the very handsome and charismatic Gallic actor, Jean Dujardin (who won the Best Actor award at this year's Cannes Film Festival for his role in this film) to American audiences.

During the very early days of cinema, long before there was sound, an actor had to possess many special qualities in order to become a major film star; an attractive, expressive face, a dazzling bright smile and, most importantly, have a unique, otherworldly charm that jumps off the screen and George Valentin (Dujardin) has it all and more.

After the premiere of his latest film, the fans couldn't get enough of him and George was more than happy to oblige them. Mugging and hamming it up onstage, the audience devours every moment, much to the annoyance of his co-star (Missi Pyle). Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo), an aspiring actress, was among the frenzied crowd outside of the film engagement and manages to get photographed right next to the movie star with the picture ending up splashed across newspapers and magazines.

One person who is not a huge fan of George is his wife, Doris (Penelope Ann Miller) as their marriage is crumbling apart and the photo hasn't helped matters. The only two that George can always count on is his loyal valet (James Cromwell) and his trusty dog (Uggie) who is also a co-star in many of his films.

Peppy auditions for a role in the latest George Valentin film and is spotted by the actor, who remembers the beauty, offering her the job on the spot. The studio head, Al Zimmer (John Goodman) is strongly opposed to the idea but since George is the star, so we know which one will prevail.

Later, Zimmer announces that the studio in going to begin making "talkies", where the audience can now hear the actors speaking on film. George finds the idea ridiculous and nothing more than a passing fad but Zimmer insists. This time, the boss wins and George decides to leave the studio to make his own movies.

Two years later in 1929, Peppy has become a top box-office draw and about to release her first talking picture while George has invested his entire life savings in to an epic silent film. Unfortunately, George's star has fallen and nobody is interested in him nor his old-fashioned movie. After the stock market crashes, George's life falls in to crisis and turns to liquor to help him try to forget. Is George doomed to fade into cinematic obscurity or will he be able to find a way back on to the silver screen?

"The Artist" is a light, breezy romp that has no desire to go any deeper than that which is perfectly fine. It recaptures a simple time in cinema, where classic stories combined with moving images first captivated audiences and well over one hundred years later, it still has that power. The film is in glorious black and white, almost completely silent (with the exception of the terrific score by Ludovic Bource) and while "The Artist" is certainly a gimmick that is old-fashioned and overly sentimental with a very familiar plot that has been done too times to count but that is exactly what makes this film so satisfying as it combines all of the classic elements that we love about cinema; romance, slapstick comedy, drama in addition to a lovely final musical dance number and rolls it all in to a truly enchanting film..

Mr. Hazanavicius has done his homework as he created a picture perfect period piece with the assistance of production designer, Laurence Bennett and costume designer, Mark Bridges who have creatively captured the fine details of the era.

Mr. Dujardin, who may be unknown to most Americans unless they caught his performances in the "OSS 117" French spy spoofs, (where he first worked with Mr. Hazanavicius) is absolute perfection as the smooth, old-school Hollywood charmer. He is currently one of the biggest film stars in France right now and with the help of this film, I hope Mr. Dujardin is ready as he's about to become a world-wide sensation. Argentine actress, Ms Bejo, who just happens to be the long-time partner of the director, is a true delight and very talented although at times she comes across as just a touch too modern.

"The Artist" is a dazzling achievement that will appeal to everyone in the entire family. It is most certainly one of my favorites of the year.

Friday, December 16, 2011

SAG AND GOLDEN GLOBE AWARD NOMINATIONS ANNOUNCED

The Screen Actors Guild and The Golden Globes have selected the nominees for their top prizes and both offer some unexpected choices.

First, SAG, in which the actors union nominate their peers, chose many of the high-profile names that have already won many critics awards but managed to throw in a couple of wild cards in two little-seen films with the nominations of Demian Bichir, who was very good in "A Better Life" playing a Mexican immigrant struggling to make a better life for his teenage son and Nick Nolte for his role as the father in the mixed martial arts flick, "Warrior". It's not very likely this will lead to Oscar nominations for the men but it may have people give their films a look.

The Golden Globes also made some surprising nominations but, as usual for that group, they are for questionable selections. While none of the nominees are not necessarily undeserving but the Globes tend to favor giving nominations to mediocre, star-driven fare such as, "The Ides of March", "The Skin I Live In" and "W.E." than to great, smaller independent films.

The 18th Annual SAG Awards will air on January 29th with Mary Tyler Moore being honored with the Life Achievement Award.

For the complete list of nominations, please go to:

SAG 2011

The 69th Annual Golden Globes will be telecast on January 15, 2012 with Ricky Gervais, surprisingly, returning as host and Morgan Freeman will receive this year's Cecil B DeMille Award.

For the complete list of nominations, check out:

GOLDEN GLOBES 2011


SCREEN ACTORS GUILD AWARD NOMINATIONS

OUTSTANDING PERFORMANCES BY AN ENSEMBLE IN A MOTION PICTURE

The Artist
Bridesmaids
The Descendants
The Help
Midnight In Paris

OUTSTANDING PERFORMANCE BY A FEMALE ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE

Glenn Close, Albert Nobbs
Viola Davis, The Help
Meryl Streep, The Iron Lady
Tilda Swinton, We Need To Talk About Kevin
Michelle Williams, My Week With Marilyn

OUTSTANDING PERFORMANCE BY A MALE ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE

Demian Bichir, A Better Life
George Clooney, The Descendants
Leonardo DiCaprio, J Edgar
Jean Dujardin, The Artist
Brad Pitt, Moneyball

OUTSTANDING PERFORMANCE BY A FEMALE ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE

Bérénice Bejo, The Artist
Jessica Chastain, The Help
Melissa McCarthy, Bridesmaids
Janet McTeer, Albert Nobbs
Octavia Spencer, The Help

OUTSTANDING PERFORMANCE BY A MALE ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE

Kenneth Branagh, My Week With Marilyn
Armie Hammer, J Edgar
Jonah Hill, Moneyball
Nick Nolte, Warrior
Christopher Plummer, Beginners

OUTSTANDING PERFORMANCE BY A STUNT ENSEMBLE IN A MOTION PICTURE

The Adjustment Bureau
Cowboys & Aliens
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2
Transformers Dark of the Moon
X-Men First Class

GOLDEN GLOBE AWARD NOMINATIONS

BEST PICTURE (DRAMA)

The Descendants
The Help
Hugo
The Ides of March
Moneyball
War Horse

BEST PICTURE (COMEDY or MUSICAL)

50/50
The Artist
Bridesmaids
Midnight in Paris
My Week With Marilyn

BEST DIRECTOR

Woody Allen, Midnight in Paris
George Clooney, The Ides of March
Michel Hazanavicus, The Artist
Alexander Payne, The Descendants
Martin Scorsese, Hugo

BEST SCREENPLAY

Woody Allen, Midnight in Paris
George Clooney and Grant Henslov, The Ides of March
Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist
Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, The Descendants
Steve Zaillain and Aaron Sorkin, Moneyball

BEST ACTRESS (DRAMA)

Glenn Close, Albert Nobbs
Viola Davis, The Help
Rooney Mara, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
Meryl Streep, The Iron Lady
Tilda Swinton, We Need To Talk About Kevin

BEST ACTRESS (COMEDY or MUSICAL)

Jodie Foster, Carnage
Charlize Theron, Young Adult
Kristen Wiig, Bridesmaids
Michelle Williams, My Week With Marilyn
Kate Winslet, Carnage

BEST ACTOR (DRAMA)

George Clooney, The Descendants
Leonardo DiCaprio, J Edgar
Michael Fassbender, Shame
Ryan Gosling, The Ides of March
Brad Pitt, Moneyball

BEST ACTOR (COMEDY or MUSICAL)

Jean Dujardin, The Artist
Brendan Gleeson, The Guard
Joseph Gordon-Levitt, 50/50
Ryan Gosling, Crazy Stupid Love
Owen Wilson, Midnight in Paris

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Bérénice Bejo, The Artist
Jessica Chastain, The Help
Janet McTeer, Albert Nobbs
Octavia Spencer, The Help
Shailene Woodley, The Descendants

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Kenneth Branagh, My Week With Marilyn
Albert Brooks, Drive
Jonah Hill, Moneyball
Viggo Mortensen, A Dangerous Method
Christopher Plummer, Beginners

BEST ANIMATED FILM

The Adventures of Tintin
Arthur Christmas
Cars 2
Puss in Boots
Rango

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM

The Flowers of War
In the Land of Blood and Honey
The Kid With a Bike
A Separation
The Skin I Live In

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE

Ludovic Bource, The Artist
Abel Korzeniowski, W.E.
Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
Howard Shore, Hugo
John Williams, War Horse

BEST ORIGINAL SONG

"Hello Hello" Gnomeo & Juliet
"The Keeper" Machine Gun Preacher
"Lay Your Head Down" Albert Nobbs
"The Living Proof" The Help
"Masterpiece" W.E.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

THE AWARDS KEEP COMING

The awards are now coming fast and furious with Boston, Los Angeles and New York online critics groups announcing their picks for the best of this year in film. The American Film Institute has also delivered their choices for this year and while the films are good but they're awfully safe and predictable.

There are now finally some front runners starting to emerge with the films, "The Artist", "Hugo", "Moneyball" "The Descendants" "A Separation" and "The Tree of Life" (specifically for the work of cinematographer, Emmanuel Lubezki who is deservedly sweeping this category) and actors, Michael Fassbender, Albert Brooks, Christopher Plummer, Melissa McCarthy and Jessica Chastain who should get an Oscar nomination for at least one of the six films she made this year.

AFI 2011 FILMS OF THE YEAR

"BRIDESMAIDS"

"THE DESCENDANTS"

"THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO"

"THE HELP"

"HUGO"

"J. EDGAR"

"MIDNIGHT IN PARIS"

"MONEYBALL"

"THE TREE OF LIFE"

"WAR HORSE"

THE BOSTON SOCIETY OF FILM CRITICS

PICTURE: "The Artist"

DIRECTOR: Martin Scorsese, "Hugo"

ACTRESS: Michelle Williams, "My Week With Marilyn"

ACTOR: Brad Pitt, "Moneyball"

SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Melissa McCarthy, "Bridesmaids"

SUPPORTING ACTOR: Albert Brooks, "Drive"

SCREENPLAY:  Steven Zaillian & Aaron Sorkin, "Moneyball"

CINEMATOGRAPHY: Emmanuel Lubezki, "The Tree of Life"

DOCUMENTARY: "Project Nim"

FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM: "Incendies"

ANIMATED FILM: "Rango"

FILM EDITING: Christian Marclay, "The Clock"

NEW FILMMAKER: Sean Durkin, "Martha Marcy May Marlene"

ENSEMBLE CAST: "Carnage"

USE OF MUSIC IN FILM: (tie) "Drive" and "The Artist"

LOS ANGELES FILM CRITICS ASSOCIATION

PICTURE: "The Descendants"

DIRECTOR: Terence Malick, "The Tree of Life"

SCREENPLAY: Asghar Farhadi, "A Separation"

ACTRESS: Yun Jung-hee, "Poetry"

ACTOR: Michael Fassbender, "A Dangerous Method", "Jane Eyre", "Shame", and "X-Men: First Class"

SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Jessica Chastain, "The Tree of Life", "The Help", "The Debt", "Take Shelter", "Coriolanus" and "Texas Killing Fields"

SUPPORTING ACTOR: Christopher Plummer, "Beginners"

CINEMATOGRAPHY: Emmanuel Lubezki, "The Tree of Life"

PRODUCTION DESIGN: Dante Ferretti, "Hugo"

DOCUMENTARY: "Cave of Forgotten Dreams"

ANIMATION: "Rango"

FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM: "City of Life and Death"

NEW GENERATION: The creative team behind "Martha Marcy May Marlene"

INDEPENDENT/EXPERIMENTAL: "Spark of Being"

BEST MUSIC/SCORE: The Chemical Brothers, "Hanna"

THE NEW YORK FILM CRITICS ONLINE

PICTURE: "The Artist"

DIRECTOR: Michel Hazanavicius, "The Artist"

SCREENPLAY: Alexander Payne and Nat Faxon & Jim Rash, "The Descendants"

ACTRESS: Meryl Streep, "The Iron Lady"

ACTOR: Michael Shannon, "Take Shelter"

SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Melissa McCarthy, "Bridesmaids"

SUPPORTING ACTOR: Albert Brooks, "Drive"

CINEMATOGRAPHY: Emmanuel Lubezki, "The Tree of Life"

DOCUMENTARY: "Cave of Forgotten Dreams"

ANIMATED FEATURE: "The Adventures of Tintin"

FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM: "A Separation"

DEBUT DIRECTOR: Joe Cornish, "Attack the Block"

BREAKTHROUGH PERFORMER: Jessica Chastain

ENSEMBLE CAST: "Bridesmaids"

MUSIC: Ludovic Bource, "The Artist"

Saturday, December 10, 2011

SHAME (2011)

Written by Steve McQueen & Abi Morgan


Directed by Steve McQueen


Where & When: Arclight Cinemas, Hollywood, CA.  December 5, 2011 7:45PM



"Shame" is the first Hollywood film to be released rated NC-17 since Ang Lee's espionage thriller, "Lust, Caution" in 2007. While I personally feel the rating is a bit of an overkill (and I want to commend Fox Searchlight for being willing to release the film with this rating) but the film certainly does display,explicitly and unflinchingly, all types of sexuality in this story about a man whose life slowly begins to unravel due to his constant, uncontrollable pursuit of sexual stimulation as a way to help fill an empty void within himself.

Michael Fassbender plays Brandon who, on the surface, appears to be your average, successful New Yorker; handsome, charming, stylish with a job in which he is well compensated but secretly he spends most of his waking moments trying to satisfy his all-consuming sexual urges. Brandon's daily routine consists of,while at work, spending hours scanning through Internet porn before sneaking off to the men's room to masturbate then later, (if he hasn't managed to find a sexual conquest on the streets) he arrives home where he spends the evening surfing more porn, and more masturbation before hiring a prostitute as a nightcap. Each of these moments are cold, mechanical and he doesn't seem to be enjoying much of it.

A disruption of his schedule occurs when Brandon's estranged sister, Sissy (Carey Mulligan) shows up at his doorstep, with no place to go, after another disastrous relationship has ended. He reluctantly agrees to let her stay for a while as she promises not to get in his way. However,  that promise is short lived as Sissy is a complete slob, and always at the apartment which is interrupting his ability to fulfill his needs. Their relationship is complicated, full of resentment, emotional abuse and some sexual tension. In many ways, Sissy is just as damaged as her brother, although not nearly as extreme, as she clings desperately to men that are wrong or unavailable for her and lacks good judgement as she beds down Brandon's boss ( James Badge Dale) the same evening after Brandon invited him to hear her sing at a nightclub.

As an attempt at some sense of normalcy, Brandon decides to ask a co-worker ( Nicole Beharie) out on a date. They have an actual connection and share a  lovely evening together but later when they try to be intimate, Brandon finds that he is incapable of having a meaningful, sexual encounter with someone he actually has any feelings for and ends up later hiring a hooker to get him off.

As Brandon's private activities are revealed to people close to him, he becomes even more frustrated which in turn leads him to act out sexually in more reckless and dangerous ways.

"Shame" is a confident and accomplished work and, surprisingly, is only the second feature film by British writer/director, Steve McQueen following "Hunger", the 2008 film about IRA member, Bobby Sands and the 1981 Irish hunger strike, which won the Camera d'Or at that year's Cannes Film Festival.  He began his career as an experimental artist and you can see that in his unconventional film making style where he enjoys extreme close-ups,  and long takes that don't cut away from the subject. He has crafted a darkly mesmerizing character study that simply presents this man's condition and offers no opinion or resolution. While the screenplay is spare and doesn't reveal much background on the siblings but we are given enough clues to see that they had a rough, difficult childhood.which left them both feeling unworthy of love with very low self-esteem.

What I am most impressed about is that "Shame" is refreshingly an adult film about an adult subject matter and sadly, these films are simply not being made anymore as Hollywood remains committed to cinematic ideas that will mostly appeal to only a sixteen-year old boys. Newsflash! - Grown folks still like to go to the movies and would like more options than transforming robots and flying men wearing capes.

This is Mr. Fassbender's fourth film appearance this year following his wide-ranging, terrific turns in "Jane Eyre", "X-Men: First Class" and David Cronenberg's recently released, "A Dangerous Method" but this is clearly his best. Fassbender also starred in "Hunger" and it's clear that he and McQueen have developed a working relationship built on complete faith and trust that allows the actor to be willing to travel wherever needed for the role. It is an amazing, committed performance in which he not only brilliantly exposes his character's internal anguish but he also bravely displays every part of his external being. This film has already won him several awards and I think Mr. Fassbender will have to make room on his mantle for a few more.

Ms Mulligan never fails to impress as the lost and needy sister. The young British actress not only convincingly plays an American but actually sings a complete rendition of  the usually inspiring anthem, "New York, New York" with her version unexpectedly slow and haunting.

I admit that I am still a little skeptical that sex addiction truly exists but nevertheless, "Shame" sheds some light to a dark secret that is finally revealed and delivers it in a powerfully honest, fascinating and non-judgemental way of how something that should be such a pleasurable experience, could possibly develop in to a crippling condition for some individuals.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

THE AWARDS SEASON HAS BEGUN

The award season has officially been kicked off with two critics groups; New York Film Critics Circle and The National Board of Review declaring their picks for the best achievements in cinema during this year and the Independent Spirit Awards selecting their nominees.

Long before any announcements were even made, there was a little bit of controversy as The NYFCC decided to jump ahead of the NBR, who traditionally are the first to present their list of winners, to November 28th to proclaim their selections. However, that change created a problem for the New York critics as they were not able to see a few possible contenders because of their new date and even decided to push it back by a day to allow them to screen David Fincher's English- language remake of "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo". The group believes that this move will help them effectively affect the Oscar race but it's nothing more than delusional thinking as there is no way to get an accurate gauge of this year's best films if they haven't seen all of them before their new deadline.

This year, there seems to be no particular film that is dominating the awards as the picks are all over the place with no real front-runners for the coveted Oscar nominations, which leaves the field very wide open.  The good news is that hopefully this will lead to generating some new attention to some wonderful but challenging films that could always use a little more help in getting more people in to the theaters such as "The Artist", "Margin Call", "Drive" and "Take Shelter".

Here is the list  from the following groups:

NEW YORK FILM CRITICS CIRCLE

Best Picture: The Artist

Best Cinematography: Emmanuel Lubezki, The Tree of Life

Best Screenplay: Steven Zaillian & Aaron Sorkin, Moneyball

Best Director: Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist

Best Foreign Language Film: A Separation

Best Actor: Brad Pitt, Moneyball & The Tree of Life

Best Actress: Meryl Streep, The Iron Lady

Best Supporting Actor: Albert Brooks, Drive

Best Supporting Actress:: Jessica Chastain, The Tree of Life, The Help, and Take Shelter

Best First Feature: Margin Call

Best Non-Fiction Film: Cave of Forgotten Dreams


THE NATIONAL BOARD OF REVIEW

Best Film: Hugo

Best Director: Martin Scorsese, Hugo

Best Actor: George Clooney, The Descendants

Best Actress: Tilda Swinton, We Need to Talk About Kevin

Best Supporting Actor: Christopher Plummer, Beginners

Best Supporting Actress: Shailene Woodley, The Descendants

Best Original Screenplay: Will Reiser, 50/50

Best Adapted Screenplay: Alexander Payne and Nat Faxon & Jim Rash, The Descendants

Best Animated Feature: Rango

Breakthrough Performance: Felicity Jones, Like Crazy

Breakthrough Performance: Rooney Mara, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Debut Director: J.C. Chandor, Margin Call

Best Ensemble: The Help

Spotlight Award: Michael Fassbender (A Dangerous Method, Jane Eyre, Shame, X-Men: First Class)

NBR Freedom of Expression: Crime After Crime

NBR Freedom of Expression: Pariah

Best Foreign Language Film: A Separation

Best Documentary: Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory

Special Achievement in Film Making: "The Harry Potter Franchise" - A Distinguished Translation from Book to Film


THE INDEPENDENT SPIRIT AWARDS

Here are the Indie Spirit nominations:

Best Feature

50/50
Beginners
Drive
Take Shelter
The Artist
The Descendants

Best Director

Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist
Mike Mills, Beginners
Jeff Nichols, Take Shelter
Alexander Payne, The Descendants
Nicolas Winding Refn, Drive

Best Screenplay

Joseph Cedar, Footnote
Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist
Tom McCarthy, Win Win
Mike Mills, Beginners
Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon, Jim Rash, The Descendants

Best First Feature

Another Earth
In the Family
Margin Call
Martha Marcy May Marlene
Natural Selection Director

Best First Screenplay

Mike Cahill & Brit Marling, Another Earth
J.C. Chandor, Margin Call
Patrick deWitt, Terri
Phil Johnston, Cedar Rapids
Will Reiser, 50/50

The John Cassavetes Award – (Given to the best feature made for under $500,000)

Bellflower
Circumstance
Hello Lonesome
Pariah
The Dynamiter

Best Female Lead

Lauren Ambrose, Think of Me
Rachael Harris, Natural Selection
Adepero Oduye, Pariah
Elizabeth Olsen, Martha Marcy May Marlene
Michelle Williams, My Week with Marilyn

Best Male Lead

Demián Bichir, A Better Life
Jean Dujardin, The Artist
Ryan Gosling, Drive
Woody Harrelson, Rampart
Michael Shannon, Take Shelter

Best Supporting Female

Jessica Chastain, Take Shelter
Anjelica Huston, 50/50
Janet McTeer, Albert Nobbs
Harmony Santana, Gun Hill Road
Shailene Woodley, The Descendants

Best Supporting Male

Albert Brooks, Drive
John Hawkes, Martha Marcy May Marlene
Christopher Plummer, Beginners
John C. Reilly, Cedar Rapids
Corey Stoll, Midnight in Paris

Best Cinematography

Joel Hodge, Bellflower
Benjamin Kasulke, The Off Hours
Darius Khondji, Midnight in Paris
Guillaume Schiffman, The Artist
Jeffrey Waldron, The Dynamiter

Best Documentary

An African Election
Bill Cunningham New York
The Interrupters
The Redemption of General Butt Naked
We Were Here

Best International Film

A Separation
Melancholia
Shame
The Kid With a Bike
Tyrannosaur

The Robert Altman Award (Given to one film’s director, casting director, and its ensemble cast): Margin Call

Sunday, November 27, 2011

MELANCHOLIA (2011)

Written & Directed by Lars von Trier


Where & When: AFI Fest, Chinese 6 Theaters, Hollywood, CA. November 8, 2011  3:15PM



"Melancholia", the latest film by Lars von Trier, one of cinema's  most controversial figures, opens with an eerie but breathtakingly beautiful slow-motion montage of highlighted moments from the film set to Wagner's "Tristan and Isolde". It plays, in many ways, like a music video  that perfectly conveys a sense of the impending doom that is to follow this segment.

The film is split in to two parts with the first focusing on Justine (Kirsten Dunst), a young bride who is arriving very late to her own lavish wedding with her future husband, Michael (Alexander Skarsgard). It is being held at the mansion of her sister, Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg) who is annoyed but hardly surprised while her boorish husband, John (Kiefer Sutherland) feels the need to repeatedly remind Justine how much he spent paying for this affair.

After the couple are finally married, the reception begins with plenty of booze, dancing and drama. Justine's jovial father (John Hurt) toasts the newlyweds but his bitter ex-wife (Charlotte Rampling) puts a damper on the party by proclaiming that she doesn't believe in marriage while the wedding planner (Udo Kier) refuses to look at Justine any longer since he feels that her tardy appearance ruined his wedding.

Justine has been secretly behaving like the happy bride throughout the evening but when able to sneak away from the festivities, she takes a bath, then retreats in her usual depressed mood, while struggling to find a way to maintain the smiling facade for the sake of her marriage.

The second half deals with Claire as she brings her sister to her home to live with her husband and young son months after the wedding. The reason is that Justine has fallen in to such a deep, catatonic state that she is not able to find the strength to even get in to a bathtub.

Claire has become anxious herself due to a giant planet, called Melancholia, that appears to be heading on a collusion course straight in to Earth. Her husband, who is a self-proclaimed expert on astrology, assures her that it will miss hitting our planet but she is not completely convinced. His prediction turns out not to be accurate as Melancholia slowly moves closer to our planet. As the end seems to draw near, Claire is inconsolably panic-stricken, fearing for her son's life but a sense of calm and inner peace falls over Justine as she finally has a clearer understanding of the meaning of her life.

I have never been a big fan of the films of Mr. von Trier as I find his vision to be daunting, extremely challenging and unpleasantly dark with not much of a payoff in the end, which was certainly the case of his last film, 2009's "Antichrist" but "Melancholia" is his most accessible and conventional film to date with even a surprising touch of sweetness that managed to sneak it's way in. While it is still uneven with moments throughout that feel random and overlong but the film is a thrilling visual wonder, most especially the conclusion which offers an ending that is disturbing, terrifying and yet so completely captivating that it actually left me speechless in my seat.

Since her major breakthrough at the age of ten in "Interview With a Vampire" in 1994 , Ms Dunst has not been given many opportunities to showcase her full range as an actress although there were a few roles that hinted at her potential, such as the films, "The Virgin Suicides", "Marie Antoinette" and last year's, "All Good Things" but in "Melancholia" she's finally has the chance in a brutally, raw performance that takes her on a full range of deep and complex emotions. Ms Dunst won the Best Actress Award at Cannes this year and she certainly deserves an Oscar nod for her work here.

Ms Gainsbourg, who herself won the Best Actress Award at Cannes for her performance in "Antichrist", is equally impressive as the caring and protective older sister whose steely exterior crumbles as she is overcome with fear and hopelessness as our planet approaches it's final end.

One thing that can be said about Mr.von Trier is that he is certainly a polarizing figure with just as many film audiences finding him a daring, cinematic genius as those who find his work unnecessarily fractious and misogynistic. He has also been called a manic-depressive, who desperately needs to seek additional help due to some comments he made at this year's Cannes Film Festival before a screening of "Melancholia" that made him seem like a Nazi sympathizer (which may or may not have been his attempt at humor) and as a result, caused him to be banned from the festival.

It 's clear that von Trier thoroughly enjoys provoking, shocking and using his own painful experiences to create work which will explore his bleak world view while stimulating conversation by expressing ideas that will most certainly make members of the audience agitated and uncomfortable. While he is still very much an artist who is troublesome, excessive, provocative and somewhat juvenile but with "Melancholia", Mr. von Trier has found a way to restrain some of these impulses to create a film that will allow viewers to see that he is also capable of creating a sublime film that is remarkably poignant, reflective and touching. "Melancholia" is a film that will linger in your mind for a long while after seeing it.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE (2011)

Written & Directed by Sean Durkin


Where & When: Arclight Cinemas, Hollywood, CA.  October 25, 2011  7:30PM


The three names in the title of "Martha Marcy May Marlene" refers to only one person but each name represents three separate and turbulent times in this young woman's life.

Elizabeth Olsen plays Martha, which is her actual birth name, who has just called her older sister, Lucy (Sarah Paulsen) that she's not made any contact with in two years. Martha has been in upstate New York where she had been living in a cult-like commune and just recently felt she needed to sneak off and escape.

Lucy decides to take Martha to her summer home in Connecticut, not too far from the commune, that she shares with her new husband, Ted (Hugh Darcy). Although he's not thrilled with the idea of having Martha with them, since he wanted to spend some quiet time with his wife, but he's more than willing to try and help her out.

Listless and unmotivated, Martha doesn't want to do much more than sleep but Lucy insists that she get out and enjoy the sunshine. As Lucy spends more time with her sister, she begins to realize, which we see through a series of flashbacks, that the years in that place has taken it's toll on Martha. She is shocked and disturbed by how much Martha has changed as she no longer aware of proper etiquette in middle-class society such as wearing a bathing suit while swimming in public or crawling in to bed with her while she's in the middle of making love with her husband. Although Martha had some issues long before she joined the commune but the unconventional environment didn't help her in any way.

We can understand the initial attraction for Martha to this group as the leader, Patrick (John Hawkes) is soft-spoken, charming and seductive. He renames Martha, "Marcy May" since he feels that it suits her better and she happily accepts, in some way flattered, that he has taken the time out to notice her. Life on the compound begins calm and idyllic as it provides Martha with a family structure in which she seems to have been searching for but soon the situation slowly grows darker. It begins small with the women are not allowed to eat until after the men have finished to larger problems such as the dangerous methods used for collecting money to live on to the depraved and disturbing way Patrick takes advantage of the new female followers.

Martha becomes increasingly confused, having difficulty being able to distinguish between reality and her troubled past as well as fear that Patrick and his cult are watching her and waiting for an opportunity to take her back.

"Martha" won writer/director Sean Durkin the Best Director prize at last year's Sundance Film Festival and this feature film debut expands upon his short, "Mary Last Seen" which was also about a young girl trying to cope with life after leaving a cult and that won Best Short Film at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival. This quiet, little film is beautifully shot with cinematographer, Jody Lee Lipes creating a delicate, dream-like quality with Mr. Durkin getting fine performances from his terrific cast but I had difficulty becoming fully engaged in the film. I realize that the main focus was on Martha's struggle to find her way after her involvement with this group but I was distracted by the many questions that were left unanswered that made it hard to understand or connect with the victim such as what was the actual attraction or motivation for any of these people to devote their lives to Patrick so completely, most especially since the film made it a point to avoid any religious reason and what exactly happened to fracture the relationship between the sisters and push Martha in to the clutches of this group?

Ms Olsen, the younger sister of the twin child actors (TV's "Full House") turned powerful, media moguls, Mary-Kate and Ashley, is quite impressive in her first leading film role and actually the main reason to see this film. At only twenty-two, she is gifted with a natural ease in front of the camera and a compelling presence as she perfectly captures her character's uneasy attempt of trying to rediscover who she is. "Martha" is a superb showcase of Ms Olsen's potential as a major screen actor.

"Martha Marcy May Marlene" is an admirable first film that delivers well-executed film making and solid performances and while it authentically shows us the harrowing ordeal of this young woman's but it's just too vague in the details of what exactly contributed to her complete wiliness to get involved with this cult. While the film is not a complete success but director, Sean Durkin along with his very talented leading lady, Elizabeth Olsen show true promise.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

2011 AFI FEST AWARD WINNERS

This year's AFI Fest Presented by Audi has ended. It was the first time I volunteered to help out with this festival and I had a great time. I only got a chance to see only one film, "Melancholia" but it was something I was really looking forward in seeing and it was well worth getting the opportunity to see it early.

This really is a terrific festival dedicated to world cinema and a wonderful experience. If you missed it, please be sure to check it out next year.

Here is a list of all of the award winners:

AUDIENCE AWARDS

The Audience Awards were announced at a special ceremony at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel on Thursday, November 11, 2011:

World Cinema: (Tie) JIRO DREAMS OF SUSHI (David Gelb) and KINYARWANDA (Alrick Brown)





New Auteurs: BULLHEAD (Michaël R. Roskam)



Young Americans: WUSS (Clay Liford)



Breakthrough: (Award accompanied by a $ 5,000 cash prize) WITH EVERY HEARTBEAT (Alexandra-Therese Keining)

JURY AWARDS

The New Auteurs Critic's Jury (Justin Chang, Mike Goodridge, Mark Olsen and Jean Oppenheimer) awarded prizes to:

Grand Jury Prize: THE LONELIEST PLANET (Julia Loktev)

Special Jury Prize: ATTENBERG (Athina Rachel Tsangari)



Acting Award Prize: Matthias Schoenaerts BULLHEAD

In addition, the Shorts Jury (Barry Jenkins, Gerardo Naranjo and Kim Yutani) announced its winners, which qualify the films for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' annual Academy Awards.

Grand Jury Prize – Live Action Short: FROZEN STORIES (Grzegorz Jaroszuk); Honorable Mention: BABYLAND (Marc Fratello)

Grand Jury Prize – Animated Short: THE EAGLEMAN STAG (Michael Please); Honorable Mention: THE VOYAGERS (Penny Lane)

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

LIKE CRAZY (2011)

Written by Ben York James & Drake Doremus


Directed by Drake Doremus


Where & When: Arclight Cinemas, Hollywood, CA. November 1, 2011 5:30PM


Do you recall the first time you saw someone across the room, your eyes meet, sparks fly and there is some sort of sense of a deep, magical connection from just that initial encounter?

The film, "Like Crazy" attempts to recreate that special moment but the results end up being uneven and not exactly as moving and thrilling as you might remember.

Anton Yelchin plays Jacob, a cute young man attending college in Los Angeles who wants to design furniture. Felicity Jones is Anna, a pretty, British young lady who is attending the same college to become a writer. They notice each other in class but barely speak so, Anna boldly leaves a note on Jacob's car asking him out on a date. Intrigued and certainly attracted to her, Jacob accepts her offer. The two connect almost immediately as we see the romance blossoming through a series of dates and intimate moments.

Anna's student visa expires at the end of the school year which means she is supposed to return home but now she's hopelessly in love with Jacob and can't bear the thought of leaving him. After a romantic, farewell getaway to Catalina Island, she decides to stay throughout the summer to spend more time with the man she loves.

Anna later returns home to England with the intention of returning quickly as a tourist. However, a complication arises when she arrives in Los Angeles and she is denied entry because of her previous visa violation. Jacob and Anna try to maintain their relationship long-distance for a while but the difficulties of the time-difference, jealousy and frustration causes the couple to separate.

Jacob starts a successful design business and begins to date his employee (Jennifer Lawrence) while Anna works writing for an Internet blog as she goes out with her handsome neighbor (Charlie Bewley) but their feelings for each other never change. They soon reconnect with Jacob visiting England and Anna's family hiring an immigration lawyer to help untangle the legal matter but will this couple be able to survive the stress and strain of trying to hang on in order to keep their love alive?

"Like Crazy" has received plenty of critical praise and has won several awards including the Best Actress and Best Film Grand Jury Prizes at last year's Sundance Film Festival but I just don't get it. There is strong camera work by cinematographer, John Guleserian and the performances are well done but I didn't see anything particularly special or inspiring about this film to get so worked-up about.

Now, I realize it has been many, many years since I've been caught-up in the throws of young love and perhaps my memory is now just a bit foggy but I can't imagine it ever being this emotionally flat and uninteresting. There have been a large number of films that have documented the incredible highs and terrible lows of falling in love so we need to see something that strongly takes on a creative or inventive variation of this theme as much as possible and "Like Crazy", while it is a well-made, is lacking in that area. The apparently fresh idea that the major obstacles standing in the way of their happiness is their different nationalities and bad judgement is pretty thin and less than engaging.

Director, Drake Doremus and co-writer, Ben York James put together a sixty page outline with the lead actors improvising much of the screenplay and while the two young actors are able to bring some realism to their characters but with Yelchin at only the age of twenty-two and Jones at twenty-seven, there isn't a lot of life experience to be able to add compelling and meaningful dialogue.

Despite the efforts of a talented cast and crew, "Like Crazy" never rises above a fairly, standard love story and at only ninety minutes, feels stretched-out and tedious.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

THE SKIN I LIVE IN (LA PIAL QUE HABITO) (2011)

Written & Directed by Pedro Almodvar


Where & When: Arclight Cinemas, Hollywood, CA.  October 16, 2011 7:00PM


Pedro Almodovar, the Spanish writer/director best known for his stylish, technicolor melodramas laced with a kinky sexuality, has returned with his latest, "The Skin I Live In" and while all of these components are still very much in place but this time he has added a new twist, or rather, twisted, dark and disturbing element to his new feature that comes across as very extreme, even for Almodovar.

Based on the novel, "Tarantula" by Thierry Jonquet, Antonio Banderas plays Dr. Robert Ledgard, a plastic surgeon who has announced to his colleagues that he has just developed in the lab human flesh that cannot burn. However, what the doctor neglected to tell them is that he wasn't testing the skin on lab animals but on an actual human, a young woman he is holding captive in his home.

Imprisoned for the last six years while still looking quite healthy, sexy and vibrant, Vera (Elena Anaya) has remained in a room in Ledgard's tastefully decorated mansion wearing only a flesh-colored bodysuit as she reads, practices yoga and tries to hang on to her sanity. Vera is constantly watched by cameras installed in the room to survey her every move while she is cared for by Marilia (Marisa Paredes), Ledgard's long-time housekeeper who never questions the idea of housing a prisoner.

An unexpected visitor arrives at the house, a man in a tiger costume. Zeca (Roberto Alamo) is Marilia's estranged son who is dressed this way because he is wanted for an armed robbery and since it is carnival, this is the only chance he can move around undetected. He sees Vera on the camera and thinking that she is someone that he knows, demands that his mother take him to her. After Marilia refuses, Zeca ties her up, then searching each room until he finds Vera where he proceeds to ravish her. The doctor arrives home finding Zeca on top of Vera and shoots him to death.

It's impossible to describe the film much further without giving away too much but I can say that there is a mysterious connection between Zeca, the doctor and his deceased wife who perished in a fiery car crash as well as with Vera who is imprisoned because of her tragic relationship with the doctor's mentally, unbalanced daughter and none of this is in any way you could ever possibly imagine.

Mr. Almodovar is in full control as his take on a horror film is done in the only way he knows; "The Skin I Live In" is boldly perverse, opulently creepy, and extravagantly disturbing but the final results end up being too grave to be much fun and a touch too frivolous to be taken seriously.

The screenplay is both overheated and undercooked for it is complicated, wildly over-the-top but still feels slight..While there are drops of  tiny clues throughout, the characters still have go through lengthy, detailed explanations to help figure it all out. There are hints of Almodovar's trademark quirky humor throughout but there isn't nearly enough to offset some of the absurdities of the plot..

Banderas, who hadn't appeared in an Almodovar film since 1990's, "Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!", gives one of his best performances in a long time. He manages to appear somewhat reasonable yet wildly deranged at the same time. Ms Anaya, a stunning beauty, is a magnetic presence who doesn't say much but her expressive face displays her steely determination to survive her ordeal.

While "The Skin I Live In" is far from my favorite from Mr. Almodovar but let's face it--it's still Almodovar. Cinema is in desperate need right now for a film maker who offers his delightful style of wit, charm, and camp and (like how I feel about Woody Allen) even the lesser works by Pedro Almodovar are still more fascinating, watchable and enjoyable than many films out there.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

THE IDES OF MARCH (2011)

Written by George Clooney & Grant Heslov and Beau Willimon


Directed by George Clooney


Where & When: Arclight Cinemas,  Hollywood, CA, October 10, 2011 7:00PM


George Clooney has returned behind the camera to co-write and direct his fourth film, "The Ides of March" based on the play by Beau Willimon (who co-wrote the screenplay), "Farragut North", which is the name of a Washington D.C. Metro station. that is located near the district's center for lobbyists.There are certainly some intriguing moments and strong performances but despite that, it still ends up being superficial.and unsatisfying.

We first meet Stephen Meyers (Ryan Gosling) as he helps prep the stage for a Democratic Presidential debate in Ohio between the Arkansas Senator, Ted Pullman and the Governor of the state of Pennsylvania, Mike Morris (Clooney). Stephen, who works for the Governor as his junior campaign manager, is young, talented and believes with all his heart that Morris is the best candidate for president.

After the debate, Senator Pullman's Campaign Manager, Tom Duffy (Paul Giamatti) contacts Stephen, wanting to meet with him privately. Stephen attempts to call his Campaign Manager, Paul Zara (Philip Seymour Hoffman) but is unable to reach him so, against better judgement, he goes to the meeting. Duffy offers Stephen a job to work for the Senator. He is flattered and obviously declines but Stephen decides not to tell Zara about this encounter.

Molly (Evan Rachel Wood), an alluring intern for the Governor's campaign and who just happens to be the daughter of the head of the DNC, comes on aggressively to Stephen and he, being a typical male, easily gives in to her charms.

It's not long before Stephen's hero falls down to Earth as he discovers that Governor Morris is involved in a potential sex scandal that could unravel his candidacy. Stephen also has to deal with disastrous complications arising with the intern and with his secret meeting with the rival's team. With all of his beliefs having been shattered and the realities of a political campaign becoming crystal clear, Stephen must decide where his loyalties truly lie and what is he willing to do to survive this merciless, cut-throat environment.

Mr. Clooney's greatest strength as a director, although it's far from surprising, is his ability to elicit terrific performance from all of his actors, which includes Marisa Tomei as a New York Times reporter fishing for a scoop and Jeffery Wright as an Ohio Senator looking for a political favor in exchange for his endorsement. He did make it much easier on himself by hiring respected character actors such as Mr.Giamatti and Mr. Hoffman who both elevate this material with their unusual skill as well as the bright, young talent of Mr.Gosling and Ms Wood who are both excellent and certainly hold their own in this cast of heavy hitters.

It's fun to see all of these great actors in action but once you take that out of the equation, "The Ides of March" is a fairly routine and predictable story which is too bad because a political race is ripe with compelling, dramatic possibilities. The film touches on how corruption, deception and greed has an even firmer grip on our current political landscape but that's nothing we didn't have extensive knowledge of long before we sat down in the theater.While it does offer a seemingly accurate depiction of all of the endless hours, lack of any kind of real social life and the complete dedication that is required to actually run for office, (which is probably what attracted Mr. Clooney to this project), but "The Ides of March" just doesn't dig nearly deep enough as it's littered with stock types and not any actual flesh and blood characters, flat cinematography and a murky, implausible final act which leads to a limp and unbelievable conclusion.

"The Ides of March" is classy and ambitious with an actual message but the film is never able to come together well enough to reach it's full potential.

Friday, October 14, 2011

2011 AFI FEST PRESENTED BY AUDI

This year marks the twenty-fifth year of AFI's film festival which opens with the world premiere of Clint Eastwood's latest, "J. Edgar". Leonardo DiCaprio stars as the founding director of the FBI in this story that focuses on the public and private life of Hoover, one of the most powerfull and controversial figures of the last century.

The film should be released in U.S. theaters on November 9th which also features Arnie Hammer, Naomi Watts and Judi Dench.



Pedro Almodovar will be this year's Guest Artistic Director and will present a screening of his 1986 film, "Law of Desire" which helped introduce actor, Antonio Banderas (who stars in the director's recently released film, "The Skin I Live In") to the world. The acclaimed writer/director will also curate a program of films that helped inspire him as a film maker.



The festival will run from November 3rd through November 10 and will be held at the Mann Chinese 6, the Egyptian Theatre and the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel.

For the third time, AFI Fest will offer free tickets to all screenings but you may purchase Star Patron Package and Marquee Patron Package to get reserved seating to the opening night gala.

Individual tickets for all film screenings and galas will be available on October 26th for AFI members and on October 27th to the general public.

For more information, go to:

AFI 2011

Friday, October 7, 2011

50/50 (2011)

Written by Will Reiser


Directed by Jonathan Levine


Where & When: Vista Theater, Los Angeles, CA.  October 2, 2011  7:00PM



I will admit that when I first heard about "50/50", a comical take on the story of a young man who discovers that he has cancer, I thought the idea would be end up being lame, unfunny, and wildly inappropriate and once I saw that Seth Rogan was involved, I knew for sure that this would be a must-avoid film.

I have seen the film and I was very wrong and I guess I owe Mr. Rogan an apology as "50/50" is actually a honest, heartfelt and hilarious look how a guy might cope with fighting a deadly disease.

Joesph Gordon-Levitt plays Adam, a healthy, twenty-five year old, radio programing producer who goes to the doctor because of chronic back pain. He never expected the diagnosis that his doctor insensitively delivers to him; Adam has a rare form of cancer on his spine and he needs to go through chemotherapy to reduce the tumor before they try to surgically remove it.

Not surprisingly, Adam is in shock but remains relatively calm and optimistic as he begins to tell his family and friends about his situation. Kyle (Rogan), Adam's best friend, is concerned but soon sees Adam's illness as a way to score chicks and seems to feel that if Adam gets laid, it will help him forget about his troubles.

Adam and his artist girlfriend, Rachael (Bryce Dallas Howard) have been having some trouble in their relationship and actually offers her the opportunity to leave but she insists on staying to take care of him. However, Rachael doesn't want to really get involved with the messy side of his illness as she won't even go inside of the hospital while Adam goes through chemo.

Adam has put off telling his mother, Diane (Anjelica Huston) as she has been caring for his father who has been suffering from Alzheimer's but the main reason is because she is a worrier of epic proportions and can be a bit overbearing, which annoys Adam greatly.

To help him deal with his health crisis, Adam has been assigned to a psychologist, Dr. Katherine McCay (Anna Kendrick) although she actually younger than he is, with Adam being only her third patient. She tries to help him by following the text books she read in college but soon realizes that not all patients will behave the same as Adam is resistant to opening up about his feelings. Romantic sparks fly between them but Katherine insists on trying to remain professional although she keeps divulging personal information about herself to him.

Later, when Adam is informed that the tumor has actually grown and must have immediate surgery, he finally explodes with rage as he begins to question whether he will actually be able to beat this.

The screenplay. based on comedy writer, Will Reiser's own personal experience with cancer and also happens to a close friend of Rogan, is witty and full of good but raunchy humor which is used to soften the depressing subject matter.

Mr Gordon-Levitt is excellent, as usual, as his character tries his best to control his fear and helplessness as the people around him certainly don't make it easy. He and Mr. Rogan work well together although they aren't exactly convincing as a bromantic couple as their characters are so completely different that it's hard to imagine them being such close friends. My concerns about Seth Rogan were confirmed as he managed to throw things slightly out of whack because, at times, he seems to be performing in a completely different movie than his fellow actors but he never derails the film and adds a few very funny bits.

I can't honestly say I'm much of a fan of Ms. Kendrick but she delivers another solid performance following her Oscar-nominated turn in "Up in the Air" but I will say that I do love Ms Huston and I'm very glad to see her return to the big screen. Although she is not in the film nearly long enough but what she able to do with just her steely gaze and a cock of an eyebrow is priceless. Phillip Baker Hall and Matt Frewer (anyone old enough to remember the 1980's TV show, "Max Headroom"?) also make brief but sold appearances as two other cancer patients who introduce Adam to the wonders of marijuana..

"Terms of Endearment" has become the benchmark for a film that was successfully able to merge laughter and tears (it even gets name-checked in this) and while, "50/50" is not exactly in the same league, it is still very effective as a touching drama with plenty of belly laughs.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

DRIVE (2011)

Written by Hossein Amini


Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn


Where & When: Arclight Cinemas,  Hollywood, CA. September 18, 2011  8:30PM



It doesn't seem like the year 2011 is going to be remembered for too much, as far as cinema is concerned but one thing I can say, with certainly, is that it will be the time where Ryan Gosling finally became recognized as a major film star.

He is far from a newcomer, having started as a child singing and dancing on the television show, "The New Mickey Mouse Club" but he first got noticed as an actor for playing a young Jewish kid who becomes a Neo-Nazi in the 2001 film, "The Believer". Not only did Mr. Gosling follow that with several other impressive performances in independent films including his devastating turn as a drug-addicted high school teacher in "Half-Nelson" which earned him his first Academy Award nomination in 2007 but he was open to doing mainstream fare with him causing many hearts to flutter from his work in the film version of the bestseller, "The Notebook".

This year, Mr. Gosling will have appeared in three distinctly different films and in each one, he leaves an impression that has caused many to begin to see his full potential as a great screen presence. He first showed up this summer in his first Hollywood romantic-comedy, "Crazy Stupid Love" as he holds his own against comic veteran, Steve Carrell as well Emma Stone and he will next be seen, later this fall, as the lead in George Clooney's political drama, "The Ides of March" but right now he appears in "Drive".

This dazzling film, directed by Nicolas Winding Refn who was wisely handpicked by the actor, is the perfect vehicle to showcase his brooding intensity, captivating charm, deep intelligence and effortless sex appeal.

Set in the east side of Los Angeles, Gosling plays an unnamed young man only referred to as "Driver". The moniker is appropriate as he not only does auto stunt work for films but he is the getaway driver for thieves after committing a robbery as he is able to skillfully outmaneuver the police on their tail. He also works as a car mechanic for Shannon (Bryan Cranston), a crusty schemer, constantly in search for his one big break, who arranges and manages all of the Driver's various jobs.

Shannon approaches the local mobster, Bernie Rose (Albert Brooks), who he has done previous work for, to financially back him with his plan to buy a race car with the Driver attached to be behind the wheel. Rose agrees and things seem to be looking up for Shannon and his young protegee.

The Driver doesn't say much, perhaps he is shy but most likely, it's because he will speak when he has something of importance to say. He does want to speak to the neighbor in his apartment building; Irene (Carey Mulligan) a sweet-faced woman who works as waitress to support her young son while his father is doing time in prison.

Circumstances bring the two closer together but any possible romance is interrupted by the arrival of Irene's husband, Standard (Oscar Isaac) fresh out of jail. Aware that something might be happening between his wife and their neighbor, he promises Irene that he has changed his ways but the Driver later discovers Standard, beaten and bloodied, in the parking garage. It turns out that Standard owes protection money for his time behind bars and if he doesn't repay it by stealing the cash of a pawn shop, they will harm Irene and their son.

Out of concern for Irene, the Driver agrees to help Standard but only by driving the getaway car during the heist. As we have come to expect from this kind of film, things don't go according to plan, as dead bodies pile up and a mob rivalry which causes Bernie Rose to wind up getting indirectly involved in this mess that ultimately leads to even more trouble for the Driver.

Mr. Refn, a Danish film director who deservedly won the Best Director Award at this year's Cannes Film Festival for this film, has taken elements of classic American film noir, reinterprets it and infuses the film with a European sensibility to create something that feels familiar and yet refreshingly like nothing that has been seen before. With a very low budget, the director was still able to make a visually stunning and vibrant film, thanks to the powerful work of cinematographer, Newton Thomas Sigel.

The dialogue is spare which adds to the tension as you know that something is going to happen but the characters never tip you off as to exactly what.or how much blood is going to be spilled. The soundtrack, created by former Red Hot Chilli Pepper drummer, Cliff Martinez, features prominently, throbbing synthesizers that really hasn't been used much in cinema since the 1980's but helps bring a perfectly cold, eerie chill to these proceedings and all together makes "Drive" a riveting, highly stylized thrill-ride that never feels pretentious.

The cast is solid including Ron Perlman as Bernie Rose's not to bright but equally psychotic partner and "Mad Men" 's Christina Hendricks in a brief appearance as a moll. Ms Mulligan delivers yet another terrific performance in a small but vital role but the true revelation here is Albert Brooks. Best known for comedic roles such as his Oscar-nominated turn in 1987's, "Broadcast News" as well as writing and directing such comedy classics as "Defending Your Life" (1991) and  "Mother" (1996), Mr. Brooks brings a calm, jovial menace to the part that is makes his character truly frightening. It really shouldn't be so surprising as many other comedians in the past have successfully taken on dark, dramatic roles to great effect and Mr. Brooks can be added to that list as he is brilliant here.

Breathtaking action sequences, subtle, colorful performances, surprising twists and turns with bursts of brutal, bloody violence, "Drive" is a bold and tense thriller but will probably still have some difficulty finding a large segment of the audience to understand the film at this moment. The problem is that it's far from the typical type of action film that U.S. film-goers are used to seeing with the unconventional pacing and being left to fill in the blanks themselves but I am positive that over time, it will find a greater appreciation. People will discover this little gem later and will highly recommend their friends to see this extraordinary but unusual film.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

CONTAGION (2011)

Written by Scott Z. Burns


Directed by Steven Soderbergh


Where & When: Vista Theater, Los Angeles, CA. September 11, 2011 7:00PM



Have you ever thought about what you would do if a unknown, deadly, airborne virus was gradually wiping out the entire human population?

I sure hope you haven't but if you tend to dwell on dark subjects, then "Contagion", the latest thriller by Steven Soderbergh, gives you the perfect opportunity to envision this chilling scenario. What makes this even more frightening is that the possibility of this actually occurring seems even more plausible considering the current condition of our planet.

Beth Emhoff (Gwyneth Paltrow) is in a Chicago airport, waiting to return home to Minneapolis after a business trip in Hong Kong. She has a raspy cough and doesn't feel well but simply assumes it's jet-lag. By the time she arrives home to her husband, Mitch (Matt Damon) and their son, Beth is feeling much worse with a very high fever. Two days later, Beth has a seizure and is rushed to the hospital. Doctors do all they can but Beth dies but they can't explain the cause of death to her grieving husband. Mitch is barely able to deal with the loss when he is called home by the babysitter but by the time he gets there, his son has also died from the same mysterious ailment.

This virus, which seems to be easily spread from a contaminated person either by touching, coughing or breathing, is killing people not only in the areas that Beth had visited but rapidly across the rest of the globe. Mitch, however, seems to be immune to this virus and he is quarantined and questioned by Dr. Mears (Kate Winslet). She was sent by Dr. Ellis Cheever (Laurence Fishburne) of the C.D.C to help investigate this growing epidemic.

Over the course of the investigation, doctors struggle to identify the common aspects of the virus while political bureaucracy manages to get in the way, the Department of Homeland Security gets involved, checking to see if this could possibly be a bio weapon and a paranoid, attention-seeking blogger (Jude Law) takes advantage of the fear and the power of the Internet to manipulate the frightened public and to profit from this crisis.

It's seems that Mr. Soderbergh remembers the all-star disaster flicks of the 1970's but instead of a burning skyscraper or a capsized cruise ship, his modern version of that type of film is less over-the-top spectacle and something more grounded in reality which is backed up with plausible science that makes the stakes feel much higher as time is quickly running out.

While "Contagion" seems like a rough outline of what would most likely occur if this situation actually happened but we are never able to connect to the large, global cast of doomed characters as they are either not properly fleshed out or they are not on screen long enough to leave any real impression. All of the big-name actors on board, which includes Marion Cotillard as a doctor from the World Health Organization sent to China to figure out how this virus began but ends up being used as a pawn (and in even smaller roles, Elliott Gould, Bryan Cranston, John Hawkes and Sanaa Lathan), are all fully committed but because of time constraints, all of their star-power is wasted in parts that don't add up to much more than cameos. Only Jennifer Ehle, as the doctor who works desperately on trying to create a vaccine, in a quiet but effective performance leaves any impact.

Mr. Soderbergh has always been one of the more adventurous film makers working today and although not everything he has made has been worthy of overwhelming praise but every film has been refreshingly challenging as well as offering thoughtful and unconventional ideas (including his more commercial ventures) while never feeling like a waste of time or energy. "Contagion" presents a relatively, mainstream sci-fi thriller combined with his trademark idiosyncratic film making which is accomplished with a sharp screenplay, although the final resolution feels a bit too tidy and unbelievably fast.

"Contagion" is a fascinating look how human beings react and behave during an unimaginable crisis but the film doesn't leave a deep or lasting impression although it certainly creates a certain sense of paranoia. It will probably encourage people to stock up on hand sanitizer and become a little bit more nervous when they hear somebody cough.


Tuesday, September 13, 2011

2011 FALL MOVIE PREVIEW

The sun has finally set on this year's crop of summer flicks so that means it's time to focus on the fall which tends to bring us darker and more dramatic fare. I tend to prefer this time of the year because the films tends to be more bold, challenging and certainly less predictable.

I'm going to share a few of the upcoming films that look particularly interesting to me.

All of the U.S. release dates are subject to change:

"THE IDES OF MARCH"

Release Date: October 7, 2011

George Clooney has returned to the director's chair and has made a political drama, based on the stage play, "Farragut North", about a young and ambitious media strategist (Ryan Gosling) working for a Democratic Governor (Clooney) running for President. After the young man discovers a troubling secret about the candidate that could unravel his campaign, he must decide whether to adhere to his values or do whatever it takes to help the Governor win. The film has a great cast that includes Paul Giamatti, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Marisa Tomei, Jeffrey Wright and Evan Rachel Wood.


"DIRTY GIRL"

Release Date: October 7, 2011

Set in the 1980's, this quirky comedy stars Juno Temple as Danielle, a promiscuous Southern teenager who fights with her deeply religious mother (Milla Jovovich) and wants to find her birth father. After she befriends a fellow outcast, a gay classmate (Jeremy Dozier), they take off on a road trip to Los Angeles to find Danielle's father. William H. Macy, Mary Steenburgen, and country singers, Dwight Yoakam and Tim McGraw make appearances in the film.



"THE SKIN I LIVE IN"

Release Date: October 14, 2011

After twenty-one years, Antonio Banderas has re-teamed with writer/director Pedro Almodovar in a dark and disturbing horror story about a deranged doctor who holds a young woman (Elena Araya from "Talk To Her") captive so he can use her for an experiment that will not cause human flesh to burn. This twisted tale has plenty of sex and high drama that is done in a way that only Almodovar can deliver. Marisa Parades ("All About My Mother") also stars.



"MY WEEK WITH MARILYN"

Release Date: November 4, 2011

This drama is based on the memoir by Colin Clark, (played by Eddie Redmayne) who was a production assistant on the British set of the 1956 film, "The Prince and the Showgirl" which starred Laurence Olivier (Kenneth Branagh) and Marilyn Monroe (Michelle Williams). After Monroe's new husband, Arthur Miller (Dougay Scott) has to return to America, Clark is assigned to keep her company for a week. The film also features Emma Watson ("Harry Potter"), Julia Ormond, Dominic Cooper and Judi Dench.


"WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN"

Release Date: December 2, 2011

Lynne Ramsay, the acclaimed Scottish director is releasing only her third feature film since her 1999 award-winning debut, "Ratcatcher". Tilda Swinton stars as a mother who struggles to understand the events that lead up to her son, Kevin's massacre of teachers and his fellow students at his high school. Based on the novel by Lionel Shriver, the film also features John C. Reilly as Kevin's father and Ezra Miller as Kevin.



"A DANGEROUS METHOD"

Release Date:  December 9, 2011

Director, David Cronenberg has teamed-up with Viggo Mortensen for the third consecutive time ("A History of Violence", "Eastern Promises") for a film about the relationship between psychiatrist, Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender) and his mentor, Sigmond Freud (Mortensen) and the troubled student (Keira Knightly) who comes between them.



"W.E."

Release Date: December 9, 2011

"W.E." is the story of two women; one, a lonely young woman (Abbie Cornish) in present-day New York who is obsessed about the love story of England's King Edward VII (James D'Arcy) who gave up the crown in 1936 to marry American divorcee, Wallis Simpson (Andrea Riseborough) with the other being Simpson herself from the early days of their romance to the difficult times later in the relationship. The film, co-written and directed by the "Queen of Pop", Madonna, has already premiered at this year's Venice Film Festival and will also screen at the Toronto Film Festival.



"'TINKER, TAILOR, SOLDIER, SPY"

Release Date: December 9, 2011

This 1974 novel by John le Carre was first made in to a seven part mini-series by the BBC in 1979 and now has been made in to a feature film. Gary Oldman plays a former British spy who is brought out of retirement to uncover a Russian agent. Mark Strong, Tom Hardy, Ciaran Hinds, John Hurt and Oscar winner, Colin Firth round out this impressive cast of British actors.



"THE IRON LADY"

Release Date: December 16, 2011

Meryl Streep could possibly earn her seventeenth Academy Award nomination for her portrayal of former British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher in a story about the days before leading up to the Falklands War in 1982. Fellow Oscar winner, Jim Broadbent co-stars as her husband.



"CARNAGE"

Release Date:  December 18, 2011

Based on the play, "God of Carnage" by Yasmina Reza,  this is the story of two sets of parents; one wealthy (Kate Winslet and Christoph Waltz) and the other middle-class, (Jodie Foster and John C. Reilly) who come together to discuss a fight their children had that day but as the evening progresses, they begin acting increasingly childish and unreasonable. The controversial, Roman Polanski directs this dark comedy.

Monday, September 5, 2011

ANOTHER EARTH (2011)

Written by Mike Cahill & Brit Marling


Directed by Mike Cahill


Where & When: Laemmle's Sunset 5, West Hollywood, CA. August 30, 2011 4:30PM



"Another Earth" wants to be a grand, thought-provoking story about loss and redemption with a sci-fi twist but instead is only able to manage to be a low-budget, fairly routine, and slightly disturbing drama

The film begins with a tragedy as Rhoda (Brit Marling), a gregarious, intelligent young woman, is leaving a party one evening. She has had a little too much to drink but drives home anyway. Rhoda hears news that another planet has been found that could sustain human life but as she take her eyes off the road to stare at this new discovery, she crashes into a car, killing an expectant mother, her young child and leaving the father in a critical condition.

After serving four years in prison, Rhoda has become glum and withdrawn, with her plans to go to college to study astrophysics now over. She keeps to herself, not wanting to deal with people, so she gets a job as a custodian at a high school and works with a blind, elderly man who doesn't speak. Rhoda is having great difficulty trying to find a way to move on with her life or even if she should continue living but her interest is piqued by an essay contest for an opportunity to win a trip to the new planet, now called Earth 2, which we have communicated with and seems to be an exact replica of our own Earth. Fascinated by the idea, she is inspired to write a completely honest entry on why she wants to go.

After a chance sighting of John Burroughs (William Mapother), the only survivor from the car accident, Rhoda now wants to apologize for what she has done as she was unable to while he was in a coma for months after the incident. She finds out where he lives but after she gets the nerve to knock on his door, Rhoda backs down and claims to offer a free trial cleaning service. John was a successful music composer but after losing his family, he was left broken-down, depressed, and spending each day drinking heavily.

Against better judgement, Rhoda begins working for him without revealing who she actually is. The two slowly develop a friendship that inspires John to create new music and opens Rhoda up to feel and laugh again. This soon leads to inevitably more tender feelings between them and after Rhoda wins the contest, John is happy for her but doesn't want her to go which leaves her to face several complicated and difficult decisions.

"Another Earth" poses some intriguing ideas, such as, if Rhoda actually went to this parallel planet, would it truly be exactly the same and could it be dramatically altered by her presence there but Mr. Cahill, (who also did cinematography, edited and produced) because of his budget, wasn't able to fully explore this theme so the film doesn't have much to offer beyond a thin and unremarkable melodrama. I know that Rhoda wanted to make amends but I'm pretty sure she could have found a smarter way than causing this poor man even more pain by not revealing that she is the one responsible for killing his family until long after she sleeps with him.

The only real highlight of "Another Earth" is the discovery of a new talent as Ms Marling, who also co-wrote the screenplay, manages to give a moving performance with little dialogue and with the use of her very expressive face. I'm sure this film will be just enough of a calling card to lead to other more promising opportunities for this young actress.

"Another Earth" is never able to soar as many of the deeper ideas that it touches are never fully developed which keeps this film sadly Earthbound.


Friday, August 19, 2011

THE DEVIL'S DOUBLE (2011)

Written by Michael Thomas


Directed by Lee Tamahori


Where & When: Arclight Cinema, Hollywood, CA. August 8, 2011  7:40PM



"The Devil's Double" is based on the true story of Latif Yahia (Dominic Cooper) who had the misfortune of bearing a striking resemblance to Uday Saddam Hussein, (also played by Mr. Cooper) the eldest son of the President of Iraq, Saddam Hussein. Uday, like his father, used body doubles for protection and and was in search of a new body. He attended school with Latif and recalled that everyone said how much the two men looked alike, so Uday makes him an offer that he can't refuse.

After Latif goes through plastic surgery and fitted with dentures to complete the transformation, the life that he once knew is now over. In exchange, Latif can enjoy all of luxuries and the good life that goes with being the "son of The President" but he is warned to keep his hands off of any of the women that Uday has his eye on.

One of Uday's long-time mistresses, Sarrab (Ludivine Sagnier), who is wild and free-spirited, notices that the only difference between the two men is Latif's larger penis. She comes on to him aggressively and while Latif tries to resist, he soon gives in to her charms.

Latif struggles to hang on to what is left of his true self as it's not long before he discovers that Uday Huessin is a drug-addled, unstable and sadistic monster who gets immense pleasure from the torture or murder of anyone who displeases him as well as plucking teenage girls off from the street and using them for his depraved desires. After Latif witnesses Uday crashing a wedding, raping the new bride and because of the shame, kills herself immediately afterwards, he knows he has to get out of this nightmare no matter what the cost.

After Mr.Tamahori made his powerful 1994 debut, "Once Were Warriors", a gritty, independent film about a Maori family in New Zealand, Hollywood  came calling and while the budgets of his subsequent work went up, the quality went way down as he made such gems as the lackluster James Bond flick, "Die Another Day" and the 2005 sequel to "xXx", a critical and box-office flop. "The Devil's Double" is a positive step in the right direction but still doesn't dig nearly deep enough. There was much effort made to concive the seemingly opulent world of Uday Hussen that was actually dark, disturbing and ultra-violent but not nearly enough was paid in creating an emotional connection with Latif or any of the other victims of the deranged lunatic.

Mr. Cooper is quite impressive in both of his wildly different roles as the mild-mannered, Latif and the psychotic, Uday and I'm sure it was challenging, most especially when he had to be Latif, pretending to be Uday and making it clear that this was, in a way, a third character. He is the best thing in this film however, the casting of Anglo actors in leading roles is part of the biggest issue I have with "The Devil's Double". While British actor, Cooper is good but still somewhat problematic in his part but the idea that Ms Sagnier, who is blonde and French, could simply put on a dark wig and heavy black eyeliner to be believable as a Middle Eastern woman is not only insensitive but insulting as there are still so few roles available for people of color. I realize that Hollywood likes to cast name actors in major parts in films but how will that ever happen for ethnic actors if there are not placed in roles, most especially ones that call for them.

"The Devil's Double" is very stylish with an intriguing and shocking story and while there are moments of great film making but ultimately the film ends up being uneven and it's potential is never fully realized