Tuesday, May 24, 2011

WINNERS FROM THE 2011 CANNES FILM FESTIVAL

"Tree of Life", Terrence Malick's recent film, which comes to theaters in limited release in the U.S. this Friday, won the coveted top prize, the Palme d'Or at this year's Cannes Film Festival. The writer/director is notoriously press-shy and did not accept the award in person but producers, William Polland and Dede Gardner received the prize on his behalf.

Other winners included Kirsten Dunst for Best Actress in Lars von Trier's film, "Melancholia". Mr. von Trier managed to get himself banned from the festival when he made a stupid joke about Hitler but luckily the jury did not take it out against his film.



Jean Dujardin won Best Actor for his role in the popular film, "The Artist" which is a silent movie about the coming of sound to film.



Nicolas Winding Reth won Best Director for his film, "Drive" which stars Ryan Gosling and Carey Mulligan.



Joseph Cedar of Israel was the winner for Best Screenplay for his film, "Footnote" which he also directed.



The Grand Jury Prize was split between the Belgium film, "The Kid With A Bike" and "Once Upon A Time In Anatolia" from Turkey.





Popular French actor, Jean-Paul Belmondo, now 78 years old and best known to Americans for the film, "Breathless", received a special Palme d'Or before a screening of a new documentary on his life and career, "Belmondo, Itineraire".

Friday, May 20, 2011

THE BEAVER (2011)

Written by Kyle Killen


Directed by Jodie Foster


Where & When: Laemmle's Playhouse, Pasadena, CA.  May 17, 2011 1:00PM


I will say that I had zero interest in ever seeing another Mel Gibson film but I did go and see "The Beaver" but that was mainly because I am a fan of Jodie Foster and have enjoyed the two previous films that she has directed. While this film has some bright moments, it is uneven and never fully realized.

Walter Black (Gibson) is a very depressed family man who finds that all he can manage to do is sleep so he doesn't have to face the world. His wife, Meredith (Foster) is so fed up that he's no longer seeking help that she kicks him out of the house. They have two sons, Henry (Riley Thomas Stewart), their youngest, who keeps to himself to deal with the turmoil at home and Porter (Anton Yelchin), a typical, angry teenager who doesn't want anything to do with is father and is afraid he will grow up to be like him.

To complicate his life further, Walter is the owner of a toy company that is facing bankruptcy so, he decides that he has had enough. He plans to get very drunk and end his life. While discarding all of belongings, Walter finds a beaver hand puppet in the dumpster and decides to take it with him.

After failing to hang himself, he decides to jump out of the hotel balcony. He almost goes over when the puppet calls out to stop him. Known simply as "the Beaver" and sounding a bit like Michael Caine, he tells Walter to snap out of it and demands that he take charge of his life. Walter is clearly suffering from a nervous breakdown but by using this puppet as his voice, it helps him find his way, regain his courage and the strength to face the world again.

Walter returns home and even after being given a card explaining the hand puppet, Meredith doesn't know what to make of this but this helps bring his young son out of his shell. Henry happily accepts the Beaver while he and his father are able to connect again. Meredith notices the change in her husband, with him more like his old self so she is willing to deal with the puppet for a while, with them eventually reconnecting as a couple but Porter wants no part of his father's lunacy.

Meredith soon realises how unbalanced her husband has truly become and forces him to choose between his family or the Beaver which leads to Walter making a very tragic decision.

There is also a subplot involving Porter who makes a lot of money writing term papers for his fellow high school students when the beautiful and brainy cheerleader (Oscar nominee, Jennifer Lawrence) approaches him to write her commencement speech for some silly reason. They fall for each other and she has her own family issues but this whole addition of a teenage love story is not needed, not particularly interesting and feels out of place.

"The Beaver" starts off fine but as the film progresses, it begins to unravel and lose focus and by the end, we are left with a seemingly happy ending with no real explanation on how we got there. There is no clear idea of what type of film this is (dark comedy, family drama, farce?) or even a clear understanding of what the message is suppose to be.

While I admire Ms Foster greatly as an actress but she has completely miscast herself in the role of the frustrated wife. She never seems fully comfortable or committed in playing this woman and the performance suffers because of this. It also doesn't help that she and Mr. Gibson are never really believable as a couple and while I'm sure putting herself in the film helped finance the project but it would have been much better to have cast another actress so she could have put all of her energy on directing. In order for "The Beaver" to work properly, it required finding just the right tone and balance which would be difficult for even a seasoned film maker and with this being only the third film Ms Foster has directed, perhaps this project was more challenging than she may have realised. Ms Foster's strength, not surprisingly, is working with the actors and she elicits really good performances from all involved.

It's clear that due to the presence of Mr.Gibson and all of his personal baggage has negatively impacted the potential box office for the film, which is too bad because "The Beaver" is watchable and he actually gives a very good, solid performance. Mr. Gibson has shown that he has been quite capable in playing these damaged characters that are close to the breaking point which we really saw for the first time in the first "Lethal Weapon" film and later in his own 1993 directorial debut "The Man Without A Face", perhaps because these dark emotions are probably not that difficult for him to tap in to but also because many had tend to overlook his abilities as an actor, most especially at the beginning of his career because of his looks and just simply wanted to dismiss him as a movie-star.

I really wanted to like "The Beaver" and while I greatly appreciated the attempt to break out of the safe and conventional confines of American film making but it never properly comes together in to a satisfying cinematic experience.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

64TH ANNUAL CANNES FILM FESTIVAL


The Cannes Film Festival begins today and runs through May 22nd. The opening film this year is the world premiere of Woody Allen's latest, "Midnight In Paris" which should be released in the U.S.on May 20th.

I've seen the trailer but I'm not really feeling it. It could be partially because I'm not the biggest fan of Owen Wilson but I will definitely go see the film, as I am a fan of Mr. Allen.

There will be over eighty films screened from around the globe during the festival that includes shorts, special screenings and films in and out of competion for awards.

I am loving the poster for this year's festival which is a vintage photo of American film star, Faye Dunaway although I don't get the connection to the film festival, beyond her being an actress.

For more information on the festival, go to:

2011 Cannes Film Festival

Here is a peek at the trailer for "Midnight In Paris":

Friday, May 13, 2011

THOR (2011)

Written by Ashley Edward Miller, Zack Stentz & Don Payne


Ditected by Kenneth Branagh


Where & When: Arclight Cinemas, Hollywood, CA  May 8, 2011 7:50PM


"Spider-Man" was already a popular and recognizable character long before the 2002 film that became a world wide sensation with this and it's sequels making well over a billion dollars. This helped inspire Marvel Comics to want to bring more of their super-heroes to the big screen. This lead to the somewhat surprising big box-office of the film versions of their lesser known comic-book characters such as "X-Men", "The Fantastic Four", "Iron Man" and now "Thor" (with a prequel to the "X-Men" series and "Captain America" due out later this summer) who is the Norse God of Thunder has his moment on film.

We first meet Thor (Chris Hemsworth) as he lands in the middle of the desert in New Mexico, hitting the research truck of Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), a scientist doing research on the atmospheric wormhole  that was actually caused by his arrival. Her assistant, Darcy (Kat Dennings) and fellow scientist, Dr. Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard) don't know what to make of this man who came out of the middle of nowhere, without a scratch on him.

We are then quickly given a crash course in Norse Mythology where we learn that Odin (Sir Anthony Hopkins) is the ruler of Asgard, home of the Gods and the father of Thor and his brother, Loki (Tom Hiddleston). Many years before, the Asgardians battled the Frost Giants who wanted to take over the nine realms which included Earth. They were defeated and Odin took the Casket of Ancient Winters which left the Frost Giants powerless.

Recently, the Frost Giants broke in to Asgard and almost retrieved the casket. Odin wants to overlook the incident but Thor is outraged and wants to confront them. Against Odin's orders, Thor take his band of warriors and Loki to take on the giants. The leader, Laufey (Colm Feore) is unapologetic and mocks Thor which leads to a battle against his small group and their endless army. Odin comes and rescues them and he is pissed.  As punishment, he takes away Thor's power and banishes him to Earth. Odin throws Thor's hammer, Mjolnir down as well with a spell that it can only be placed back in his hands when he becomes worthy.

Thor doesn't adjust well to dealing with humans as he is cocky, a hothead and considers them beneath him. He tells Jane who he is and of course, thinks he's crazy and possibly dangerous but she also knows he is the key in helping her with her research and with him being very easy on the eyes, it helps her over look his behavior.

Thor discovers that his hammer has landed in the middle of the desert and wants to get it back. However, Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg) of S.H.I.E.L.D has secured the area where the hammer lies as well as taken possession of all of Jane's research materials. Thor is certainly not going to let some government agency keep him from what belongs to him but when he is unable to lift Mjolnir, the reality of his situation finally sinks in.

Meanwhile, after Loki discovers a dark secret about his past, Odin falls into a deep sleep and with Thor away, Loki takes over the throne. It turns out that Loki was behind The Frost Giants entering Asgard and offers Laufey a chance to kill Odin and get back the casket. Thor's band of warriors sense trouble with Loki ruling Asgard and go to Earth to bring him back. Loki discovers their plan and sends The Destroyer, a powerful  mechanical agent out to kill his brother.

Without his power, Thor is defenseless and no match for this machine but will he be able to earn back his hammer in time and if he does, can he get back to his home to end Loki's evil rule and save his father?

Best known as an actor, Kenneth Branagh would not be the obvious name that comes to mind when thinking of someone to direct a special-effects driven, super-hero film as the films he has directed tends to be more Shakespearean works but he is well aware of the type of film he is making as he brings just a touch of class to the popcorn flick while never forgetting exactly what this audience wants which is an heavy dose of action without too much story getting in the way.

Ms Portman is fine in the film although she didn't seem to fully embrace her part of being "the girl" even if she is supposed to be brainy while Sir Anthony is having a ball (as he always does, no matter how good or bad a film is), chewing up as much of Asgard as he possibly can. Rene Russo makes a very welcome return to the screen but she is completely wasted in a nothing of a role as Thor's mother.

The true standouts in "Thor" are two of the relatively unknown actors: Mr. Hemsworth, an Australian who  made an impression in the small role of Captain Kirk's father in the 2009 reboot of "Star Trek", is absolute perfection in the lead role. You should want to hate him because he is so drop-dead gorgeous with a insanely perfect body but he has so much charm, humor as well as being a good actor that you can easily overlook all of that. Mr. Hiddleston, an English actor who is mostly noted for his stage work, is skillfully able to make Loki sympathetic despite all of the evil and mischief that he conjures up. Is it just me or does he look an awful lot like ice skater, Johnny Weir?

Although it's a little too long with a slightly silly and convoluted plot, "Thor"still offers plenty of thrills, adventure and visual excitement that will make seeing this worth your time and if love the other films based on Marvel Comics, then this is a welcome addition. I saw the film in 2-D but I enjoyed it so much that I would had even been willing to spend the extra bucks to see "Thor" in 3-D, which is the highest compliment I can pay to the film.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

WATER FOR ELEPHANTS (2011)

Written by Richard LaGravernese


Directed by Francis Lawrence


Where & When: Arclight Cinemas, Hollywood, CA  April 25, 2011  7:50PM



"Water For Elephants" is a perfectly bright and glossy romance set under the big top but while it's spectacle distracts you for a while, you soon see that it offers very little emotion beneath it's shiny surface.

As a local circus is trying to close for the evening, an elderly man is found wandering around. Jacob (Hal Holbrook) has escaped from the nursing home he has been living.

Charlie (Paul Schneider), the manager is about to call the home to come pick him up when Jacob sees a picture from the Benzini Brothers Circus and tells him he was there during the 1931 tragedy. Intrigued, Charlie asks him about it and Jacob goes back to when he was a young man, now played by Robert Pattinson, and attending college to become a veterinarian like his father. His parents are Polish immigrants who have done well financially despite being in the middle of the Depression.

Jacob is about to take his final exams when he receives tragic news that his parents have been killed in a car accident. To make matters even worse,  Jacob discovers that his father was deep in debt and had mortgaged the family home so he would be able to go to college. Now, homeless, unable to finish school and with no other family, Jacob has no where to go. One evening, he jumps on a moving train to parts unknown, in search a new life.

However, Jacob is immediately caught and about to be thrown off the train when Camel (Jim Norton), a kind older man who likes his drink, steps in. The train belongs to The Benzini Circus, heading to the next stop. Camel senses something about Jacob, as well as being a fellow Pole, and wants to help him get a job. He arranges for Jacob to meet the boss, August (Christoph Waltz), a charming huckster with a violent streak. August is not impressed and about to have him thrown off the train when Jacob tells him that he is a vet. Lucky for him, that's exactly what August needs right now for a injured horse in one of the acts.

Marlena (Reese Witherspoon), the alluring wife of the ringmaster, is the star attraction of the circus whose act involves performing with the horses. Jacob determines that one of the horses needs to be taken down, which is against August's wishes, but after deciding to do so anyway, it nearly costs him his own life.

Despite their turbulent introduction, August learns to trust Jacob and becomes friendly with  him, even to the point of inviting him to have dinner with him and his wife. Although Marlena appears to be content with her life with August, it's clear it's a marriage of convenience, at least on her part. There is an attraction between Jacob and Marlena, but both struggle to resist as they are very much aware of the dangerous consequences if her husband should ever become even slightly suspicious.

While raiding a bankrupt circus for acts, August finds his potential new attraction; a female elephant named Rosie. Marlena is reluctant to work with it but her controlling spouse doesn't give her much choice in the matter. Jacob is responsible for caring and helping to train the elephant but Rosie is not being cooperative. This infuriates August and he lashes out violently against the elephant but Jacob manages to find a way to communicate with Rosie and she becomes the star of the circus.

Life under the big top appears to be going well for everyone involved until August begins to suspect that something might be going on between Jacob and his wife.  Although the two have grown close but haven't done anything more than kiss briefly but they know that it won't make any difference to August as he will react violently, which he does. After he is beaten savagely by August's men, Jacob wants Marlena to run off with him to start a new life together but will she be able to find the strength to leave her abusive husband and if she does, will they truly be able to escape from his clutches?

"Water For Elephants", based on the best selling novel by Sara Gruen, plays like a good old-fashioned Hollywood love story. Director, Lawrence has assembled a great team, in front of (for the most part) and behind the camera to help make this movie look beautiful with special mention should be made to cinematographer, Rodrigo Prieto who should be highly commended for his gorgeous visuals along with production designer, Jack Fisk who has an amazing eye for all of the period details and a fine script by the always reliable Mr. LaGravenese, despite the occasional clunky dialogue.

It 's clear that the director wanted this film to feel like it could have been made in the 1930's while incorporating a few subtle modern-day film flourishes to keep the kids interested but despite all of this talent and hard work involved, "Water" never manages to rise above being simply just a poor imitation. The film is certainly watchable but it lacks any spark of passion or magic to make it a truly memorable experience.

Ms Witherspoon delivers another fine performance in the complex role as Marlena, a woman torn between security and true love although playing a sexy bombshell doesn't come naturally to her. I think she is underrated as an actress and even I have been guilty of underestimating her talent. Mr. Waltz wonderfully plays a slightly more humane version of the Col. Landa character that won him an Oscar for "Inglourious Basterds" and Mr. Holbrook is terrific in the small but pivotal role as the older Jacob. 

As for Mr. Pattinson, he had a perfect opportunity, in a nice, juicy role, that could have shown people that he was more than simply just a pretty face and had some range as an actor but I'm afraid that pretty is all that he can comfortably manage. He is a complete blank slate, lacking even a small amount of charm and it was actually painful at times watching him struggle to show any kind of emotion. He is never for one moment believable as a romantic partner of Ms Witherspoon as they seem much more like mother and son, which is definitely not sexy.

"Water For Elephants" had many of the right elements in place but ultimately fails to deliver satisfactorily in the end.

Monday, May 2, 2011

BILL CUNNINGHAM NEW YORK (2011)

Directed by Richard Press


Where & When: The Landmark, West Los Angeles, CA.  April 23, 2011 8:00PM


One of the first things that I do when I crack open the New York Times on Sunday is look at the "On The Street" column in the Styles section which is a photographic journal of what people are actually wearing on the the streets of the city. I just find it fascinating and a great way to start my day.

"Bill Cunningham New York" is a documentary on the life of the photographer of this column, who at the age of eighty-two, still devotes his entire day photographing stylish New Yorkers from high society and their parties to the creatively dramatic fashionistas to your average individual with a little fashion flair.

Born and raised in Boston, Bill Cunningham dropped out of Harvard and moved to New York where he began designing hats under his own label, "William J," but he was drafted in the army during the Korean War. After he returned from his tour of duty, a friend gave Bill a camera and discovered a love of photography. He later got a job at Women's Wear Daily as a writer but soon this is where he first started photographing for the paper what people were actually wearing on the street. After a falling out with the paper over a creative decision, Bill moved to a new magazine, Details where he brought innovative ideas to this upstart fashion publication.

Doing his columns for the New York Times for over a decade, he spends hours every day, riding his bicycle, searching for people who are wearing clothing that he finds fascinating and inspires him, then in the evening, he attending several galas and parties to photograph the guests attending these events for "Evening Hours" section in the Sunday paper.

There are appearances by a wide array of people who admire the work that Bill does, including Vogue magazine's Anna Wintour, author, Tom Wolfe, the late.socialite Brooke Astor (who invited Bill, the only person from the media, to her 100th birthday party)  to the stylish people who have turned up frequently in his column such as club kid, Kenny Kenny, designer, Iris Apfel and fashion dandy, Patrick MacDonald.

All of these people talk about what a wonderful and talented guy he is but not one of them could actually say that they know anything about him. It's not like Mr. Cunningham is trying to hide anything or even necessarily uncomfortable about talking about his personal life but it is clear that he would prefer to focus on his work.

There is a moment in the film when the subject of his love life and sexuality is asked and he calmly states that he has never had any kind of romantic relationship ever during his life. When he was about to be asked another personal question about his religion, Mr. Cunningham bursts in to tears but he quickly regains his composure and he answers the new question with a smile on his face. This clearly makes a sad comment about how much he felt compelled to make this personal sacrifice so not to embarrass his family and comply with his religious beliefs.

Bill Cunningham is a practical man who needs very little to be content and he genuinely seems like a nice person. He holds your attention as diligently searches for fashion looks that he admires or for ideas that may not have necessarily have occurred to him but he never invades any body's personal space but quietly and quickly tries to capture a moment.

I love fashion and find it an interesting subject, so "Bill Cunningham New York" is right up my alley but even if you don't know the difference between an "Armani" and an "Alaia", I think you will still enjoy this truly fascinating and exceptional film.