Thursday, June 23, 2011

GREEN LANTERN (2011)

Written by Greg Berlanti, Michael Green, Marc Guggenheim and Michael Goldenberg


Directed by Martin Campbell


Where & When: Arclight Cinemas  Hollywood, CA. June 20, 2011  8:20PM



"Green Lantern" is the latest DC comic-book character to be brought to the big screen. This character first appeared in 1940 and has gone through many transformations over the years but he is not as well known as their other characters, Batman and Superman. The time seems right as the technology is available to create an impressive visual world but unfortunately the film makers have not put as much thought in to character development or a decent screenplay.

The film begins with the back-story, as millions of years ago, The Guardians of the Universe, a group of supreme beings, assembled an intergalactic police force to secure and protect the galaxy from harm. This group is called the Green Lantern Corps who meet on the planet, Oa. There is a Green Lantern representative from most of the planets in the universe, which is broken down in 3,600 sectors, and they each are given a ring that sends out a green-colored power light to create whatever than can imagine to help them battle evil.

A powerful threat appears called Parallax that feeds on fear that is destroying all planets in it's path which includes the Earth. Parallax reaches Sector 2814 and does battle with the planet's Green Lantern, Abin Sur (Temuera Morrison). Gravely wounded and barely escaping, Abin Sur heads for the closest planet, Earth, in search of a worthy replacement.

Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds), a cocky and irresponsible test pilot who works for Ferris Aircraft that is run by Carol Ferris (Blake Lively), a fellow pilot and ex-girlfriend of Hal's. Haunted by his pilot father's death, Hal is is determined not to show fear, just like him and behaves recklessly.

The ring selects Hal as a Green Lantern and brings him to Abin Sur. Before his final breath, he tries to explain to a stunned and very confused Hal about the honor of this position before he is whisked off to the home planet, Oa. Hal is met by Tomar-Re and Kilowog, two fellow Green Lanterns, who attempt to explain to him their philosophy and train him on how to use his new power but Hal is having difficulty and is fearful. Sinestro (Mark Strong), the leader of the Corps, finds humans very primitive and feels that Hal is unfit to wear the ring. Hal agrees and returns back to Earth.

Meanwhile, The body of Abin Sur is recovered by a secret government agency and Dr, Hector Hammond (Peter Sarsgaard), the highly intelligent but socially awkward son of Senator Robert Hammond (Tim Robbins) has been assigned to the autopsy of the alien. While inspecting a wound on the body, Dr. Hammond becomes infected by Parallax's blood and begins to mutate, which causes his head to become enlarged and misshapen and gives him power to move things with his mind. Parallax is able to communicate with Dr. Hammond and commands him to help him destroy the Earth.

Hal has learned how to properly harness the power of his ring and realizes the eminent danger of Parallax but will he find the courage to be able to defeat this seemingly indestructible monster?

The whole back story of the Green Lanterns is convoluted and silly and I think the film would had been much more interesting if it had kept the plot more focused on the Dr. Hammond character who was much more interesting that the whole Parallax thing, which I have a feeling was the original plan but some focus group made their opinion heard and in comes another writer to appease them. It always concerns me when there is more than two writers involved on a film because it always seems to show as the script feels disjointed and incoherent which is one of the biggest obstacles with this film.

This film is in the unfortunate position of following two other comic-book based films, "Thor" and "X-Men: First Class" out this summer and like those movies, there is plenty of exciting action and better than average visual effects that is expected in this type of film, but "Green Lantern" is clearly lacking in charm (despite all of the overzealous efforts of Mr. Reynolds) and heart which made those two films stand out in this ever expanding field.

Mr. Reynolds certainly looks the part of a super-hero with his ridiculous good-looks, dazzling white teeth, and a well-defined muscular body that is encased in a costume that leaves very little to the imagination and he attempts to play the modern hero with the right amount of humor, arrogance, intelligence and vulnerability but he's still not able to make either Hal Jordan or the Green Lantern particularly dynamic or memorable.

While Ms Lively, best known for TV's "Gossip Girl", surprised me with a fine, gritty performance in last year's, "The Town" but is back in attractive accessory mode as she isn't given much to do beyond doing the girlfriend/damsel in distress role. Mr. Sarsgaard, the most interesting villain in the film, is quite impressive as his character goes through a range of emotions from being timid, frightening and sympathetic. The rest of the film is filled out with a very classy cast including the voices of Geoffrey Rush and Michael Clarke Duncan as the Green Lantern trainers and the very welcome return to the big screen of Angela Bassett.

As far as super-heroes movies go, "Green Lantern" is much better than the 2003 misfire, "Daredevil" but no where near the majesty of "The Dark Knight" which managed to combine thoughtful story-telling and fine acting with action-packed adventure. You certainly won't walk out of "Green Lantern" feeling ripped-off as it fits perfectly into your typical formulaic summer movie fare but it never manages to soar above that to make it truly engaging or significant.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

L'AMOUR FOU (MAD LOVE) (2011)

Directed by Pierre Thoretton


Where & When: Laemmle's Sunset 5, West Hollywood, CA.  June 15, 2011  7:00PM


"L'Amour Fou", a documentary about the professional and personal relationship between French fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent and his business partner, Pierre Berge, opens with a major turning point in each man's lives: First, with Saint Laurent, looking very frail and weary, at a press conference announcing that he was retiring from designing his clothing collection and next, Berge, composed as he always appears, speaking at the funeral of YSL about the great loss of the true love of his life.

Saint Laurent and Berge were together as a couple for over fifty years and while they certainly had their ups and downs (mostly due to YSL's depression and drug abuse) as many people do but it's quite clear that there was never a real option for them to not be together as they both needed each other to feel complete.

Yves Saint Laurent began his career in fashion as an assistant to Christan Dior while Pierre Berge was an acquaintance of the designer. After the death of  Mr.Dior in 1957,  the shy and reserved twenty-one year old became the head of the renowned fashion house. It was also at Dior's funeral that first sparked the beginning of the romantic relationship of YSL and Berge. His first collection for the label brought him international acclaim but his subsequent work was less successful and by 1961, YSl was fired from Dior.

With the help of Berge and an American investor, Saint Laurent started his own couture house and it became a huge success. YSl is credited for popularizing many fashion trends such as the tuxedo suit for women called, "Le Smoking", safari jackets for both genders and he became the first French designer to produce a full ready-to-wear line.

His new found fame introduced Saint Laurent to the jet-set life, where we see footage of him socializing at several parties, hanging with Andy Warhol in his studio and enjoying the company of the glamorous women who inspired his work such as Betty Catroux and Loulou de la Falaise who are both interviewed for the film. This was also the time when the fragile designer began to heavily use drugs and alcohol with his health slowly deteriorating before he died of brain cancer in 2008.

The film's other focus is on Berge's decision to auction off all of the fine art and home furnishings that the couple had acquired during their long relationship for their homes in Paris, Normandy and Marakkech, Morocco. We first see all of the antiquities in their proper place in each home before we then witness each item being carefully removed and packed up to be sent to the auction house, Christie's in Paris.  Berge reflects on how some of the pieces were found and the stories behind them with a hint of sadness behind his eyes although he insists that he's not nostalgic.

Mr. Berge is elegant, sophisticated and restrained, much like this documentary, and it's stated that the only time he would get upset was when problems arose that could possibly disrupt or interfere with the creative process of YSL. His number one priority was always Mr. Saint Laurent and this seemed to work well for both of them.

Mr. Berge only offers just a peek in to the opulent lifestyle of the couple while he manages to make it all seem fairly low-key such as to attend a party with Mick Jagger playing piano or deciding to purchase a Matisse or a Picasso and which of their homes to put them in but he never really reveals much of himself nor why he has actually decided to unload all of the possessions that made up the life he shared with his partner so we are only left with the glossy surface of the love story and not much deep soul-bearing.

Despite this, "L'amour Fou" still gives us enough of a tantalizing look in to their enchanted lives and a brilliant reminder of the talent of YSL to make this film well worth taking a look.


Thursday, June 16, 2011

2011 OUTFEST FILM FESTIVAL


The Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Film Festival will begin on July 7th and run through the 17th. Now in it's 29th year, Outfest continues to be the leading organization showcasing, nurturing and protecting lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender film images and artistry.


The opening night film is "Gun Hill Road" on July 7th at the Orpheum Theater. It's the story about Enrique (Esai Morlaes) who returns home after three years in prison to discover that his wife has moved on emotionally from him and his teenage son has come out as a transgender woman. He can't except this but he must try to find a way keep his family together as well as avoiding a return to prison. This drama is the first film for writer/director Rashaad Ernesto Green.





The closing night film on July 17th at the Ford Amphitheatre is another feature film debut by director, Anne Renton. "The Perfect Family" stars Kathleen Turner as a woman who is desperate to win the "Outstanding Catholic of the Year Award" and is willing to go to any length to make her dysfunctional clan appear to be the model family.



This year's Outstanding Achievement Award goes to the World of Wonder production team of Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato who have brought to the screen the documentaries, "The Eyes of Tammy Faye", "Becoming Chaz" and the feature film, "Party Monster".

As always, there will plenty of films from around the globe, documentaries, shorts, panels, special events and parties that will be of great interest to the LGBT audience.

For tickets and a complete list of films and events, go to:

OUTFEST 2011

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

THE TREE OF LIFE (2011)

Written & Directed by Terrence Malick


Where & When: Arclight Cinemas, Hollywood, CA  May 27, 2011  8:10PM



I went to see "Tree of Life", only the fifth film over thirty-eight years by writer/director Terrence Malick, with my boyfriend, Dean as we were both very curious in seeing this film that just won the top prize at this year's Cannes Film Festival.

After the lights went down and the film began, I would say about thirty minutes in, Dean started shifting in his seat, then about fifteen minutes later, I heard muffled groans. I turned to him and he had a look of someone being severely punished. He soon nodded off as I quietly watched the rest of the film. Days later, Dean was still complaining about how pretentious the film was and what a complete waste of time and money.

While I certainly didn't feel as hostile towards "Tree of Life" but I also can't say that I honestly enjoyed the film either but I can say that I do admire the film as it brings together an interesting mix of dazzling visuals, powerful acting and a metaphysical style but this project proves ultimately to be just too insular for a satisfying cinematic experience.

There is no actual plot to speak of but the core of the film is the about the O'Brien family who live in Waco, Texas in the 1950's. We first meet the family when they receive the news of the death of one of their teenage sons and the devastation it causes the father (Brad Pitt) and mother (Jessica Chastain). We then retrace the family from the beginning with the birth of their first son, Jack (Hunter McCracken) and then Steve (Tye Sheridan) and R.L. (Laramie Eppler).

Their father is a frustrated musician who gave up on his dreams to start his family. He provides for them by working at a plant but after hours, he creates new inventions, hoping that one of them will be a success, bringing him fame and fortune. While it's clear that Mr. O'Brien loves his sons very much but he also wants them to become upstanding citizens, so he is stern and expects them to follow his rules without question which can lead to conflicts and discipline that borders on abusive. Their mother is much more playful and easy-going with the boys but all she can do is to watch helplessly as her husband dominates the family. Jack begins to rebel by testing his father, committing acts of vandalism and even treating his brothers cruelly.

Voice-overs throughout the film asks existential questions and offers observations regarding life, love and loss as we witness the process of the beginning of the universe and the evolution of the planet Earth. We come to a moment when dinosaurs ruled this planet as we see one dominate creature consider the fate of a smaller, wounded dinosaur.

In between all of this, Sean Penn plays the adult Jack, now an architect, who is still shaken by the death of his younger brother and is trying to make peace with his elderly father, silently reflects on his past and most likely his future.

The question remains: is "Tree of Life" a brilliant, poetic masterpiece or is it simply a muddled and self-indulgent snooze-fest? The answer, for me, is that the film is a little bit of both.

Mr. Malick offers his perspective on spirituality and his views on the meaning of life and our purpose during the relatively short period of time we are here in a way that is perplex, intriguing and  frustrating. It's clear that he had no intention of making a film that was orthodox or predictable but the ideas in "Tree of Life" don't always feel as lucid as they could have been as the way the film has been assembled together, at times, feels more random than thought-provoking.

He also brought on board a top-notch crew that helped elevate the film that includes his longtime production designer, Jack Fisk, special-effects supervisor, Douglas Trumbull who worked on Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey" and Spielberg's "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" that Malick brought out of retirement after thirty years to work on "Tree",  a team of five editors who managed to make the film look seamless and the cinematographer, Emmanuel Lubezki whose great work here will most certainly be remembered during award season.

Mr. Pitt, who is quite impressive in this film, headlines a terrific cast with special mention should be made about the transcendent performance from Ms Chastain and newcomer McCraken who is perfect as the young Jack. Mr. Penn doesn't have much screen time nor has much to say but his brooding presence adds much weight to the film.

"Tree of Life" may be difficult for many to embrace and certainly not easy to comprehend but there is no denying the emotional power that is found in several moments in this flawed but intriguing film. There are many possible interpretations of this film, so try to go in with an open mind and you may be surprised at what you may leave the theater with.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

CAMERA MAN: THE LIFE AND WORK OF JACK CARDIFF (2011)

Directed by Craig McCall


Where & When: Laemmle's Sunset 5, West Hollywood, CA. June 3, 2011 7:10PM


If you are at all interested in the history of cinema, then this fascinating new documentary, "Camera Man" about the work of Jack Cardiff is a must see.

Jack Cardiff was a very influential British cinematographer who was best known for one of the first to expand on the use of color in the early days of film and to experiment with new ways to apply it to help tell the story.

He began his career as a child actor in a number of silent movies as both of his parents also worked as extras. At fifteen, Cardiff began work as a camera assistant at British International Pictures which eventually lead to him becoming a camera operator. His lucky break came in 1943 while he was working as a 2nd unit camera man on directors, Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger's film, "The Life & Death of Colonel Blimp". Powell was so impressed with this young man that he decided to take a chance on him and hire him as the cinematographer on their next color film.

The film was the WW II romantic-fantasy, "A Matter of Life & Death" (retitled "Stairway To Heaven" in the U.S.) in 1946 with it being a complex production due to difficult visual effects and the use of new Technicolor cameras but Cardiff was up to the challenge by cleverly using both color and black & white footage and coming up with creative ways to shoot the complicated sequences. The film, now considered one of the greatest British films ever made, was a success which lead this team to create a string of innovative and revolutionary works that showed the true potential of how color can be used in cinema in their future collaborations such as, "Black Narcissus" (1947) and "The Red Shoes", (1948) the beloved ballet film which was not truly appreciated at the time of it's release because it was not filmed like a conventional dance film and not many understood it's artistic merits.

Cardiff soon started directing with his biggest triumph being "Sons & Lovers" (1960) earning seven Oscar nominations and won Cardiff a Golden Globe for Best Director but despite this success, he always remained a cinematographer for hire. He won a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 73rd Academy Awards, being the first cinematographer to ever do so.

Mr. Cardiff, who passed away in 2009 at the age of ninety-four, had participated with director Craig McCall on this documentary for over seventeen years and includes interviews with many colleagues and admirers, some whom have since passed on as well, such as Martin Scorsese, Charlton Heston, Lauren Bacall, Kirk Douglas, film editor, Thelma Schoonmaker who was married to the late director, Michael Powell and Moira Shearer, the star of "The Red Shoes".

This film's high point is seeing the actual breathtaking clips from many of his films including details on how he achieved some of these dazzling shots. What is truly amazing is the sheer power of them, even when taken out of the context of a particular movie. Jack Cardiff was a true artist, in fact painters such as Van Gogh were his inspiration to help him create some of his beautiful vibrant images.

"Camera Man" is a fairly straight-forward documentary but still very engaging as it reminds audiences how important Jack Cardiff was to the modern cinema and how he changed the conception on what was truly possible to do with the moving image.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

MIDNIGHT IN PARIS (2011)

Written & Directed by Woody Allen


Where & When: Arclight Cinemas, Hollywood, CA  May 22, 2011 6:40PM


"Midnight In Paris" opens with an three minute montage, set to a jazz score, of beautifully shot areas throughout this city of lights. While it was interesting to see yet it would seem more appropriate for a travel advertisement than for a film opening but like most of the films of Woody Allen, which seems to be set in a world that looks like a postcard where everything is bright, clean and picturesque and populated with only wealthy, well-educated, attractive and almost always Caucasian people who have conversations in a way that (if ever) is no longer actually spoken. This statement is not meant to be derogatory as I am a huge fan of his work but simply stating a fact that when you see one of Mr. Allen's films, it is clearly a very distinct and unique form of cinema and "Midnight In Paris" is no exception.

Gil Pender (Owen Wilson) is a frustrated but successful Hollywood writer who is on a dream trip to Paris with his fiance, Inez (Rachel McAdams) and her parents (Kurt Fuller and Mimi Kennedy). Gil is inspired by the city to finally leave films behind and finish writing the dream novel he has always wanted to do. Inez is less than supportive since she is not fully convinced that Gil is talented enough to actually write a book and thinks he should just stick with making money in movies.

While out to dinner one evening, they run in to Paul Bates (Michael Sheen), a former boyfriend of Inez and his girlfriend (Nina Arianda). Paul is an insufferable bore who thinks he's an expert on every subject and while Inez is impressed, Gil can't stand him. Paul invites the couple out to join them dancing but Gil begs off and prefers to just walk back to their hotel.

It's soon midnight and Gil has managed to get lost but a Rolls-Royce full of drunken revelers who stop to give him a lift. Once they arrive at a bar, the couple, F. Scott (Tom Hiddleston) and Zelda (Alison Pill) brings Gil inside and introduces him to their friend, Ernest (Corey Stoll). Gil soon realises that he has somehow gone back in time to the 1920's, an era that he greatly admires and the two men he has just met are his literary heroes, Fitzgerald and Hemingway.

Gil gets up the nerve to tell Hemingway that he is writing a novel and ask if he might read it to give him some advice. He declines but suggests that his friend, Gertrude Stein (Kathy Bates) might be a better choice. Gil is ecstatic by this news and will bring the manuscript the next day.

The following evening with his novel in hand, Gil insists that Inez go with him to the same spot to await Hemingway's arrival.  After a lengthy period, Inez has had enough of his craziness and heads back to the hotel but as soon as the clock strikes twelve, a car pulls up and off they go to meet Gertrude Stein.

Once they arrive, Gil soon meets other iconic artists and writers of the time such as Luis Bunuel, T.S. Eliot, Man Ray and Cole Porter but he is captivated by Adriana (Marion Cotillard) who is Pablo Picasso's current muse and mistress. He soon finds himself falling for her and confessing that he is from the future with wishes that he could stay in this time where he feels he belongs.

Will Gil be able to fulfill his dream of living in the past or will he have to return to the complicated and difficult present?

This plot in any young film maker's hands would probably have come across as corny and cheesy but Mr. Allen is skillfully able to make this fantasy seem grounded and actually believable. For example, Gil never for one moment questions his sanity but simply thinks that he just made a wrong turn and is now very fortunate to meet his long dead idols which helps make the situation even  more funnier. Mr. Allen's script is full of the typical high-brow humor and the zany antics that has long become his trademark but this time it works in his favor as he has managed to make it all feel fresh, thoughtful and funny. "Midnight" also looks really good thanks to the brilliant work of noted cinematographer, Darius Khondji, which is his second Allen film after the forgettable 2003, "Anything Else".

Mr Wilson is much better than I thought he would be in the role of the aspiring novelist as he delivers his usual laid-back charm and comic timing but I still couldn't help wondering about other actors who still might have been a better fit in the part while Ms McAdams was surprisingly ineffective as she's never able to bring much humor to her character and only makes her just an unpleasant, self-centered nag. As with most of  Mr. Allen's films, the rest of the supporting roles are well chosen with special mention to be made of Oscar-winners, Ms Cotillard who is perfectly sexy and seductive and Adrien Brody's brief but hilarious turn as Salvador Dali.

While this is far from the high artistic level of Mr. Allen's best known and well-loved previous works but "Midnight In Paris" is still a delightful and charming little comedy that is a refreshing alternative to your typical summer fare.