Wednesday, July 27, 2011

TABLOID (2011)

Directed By Errol Morris


Where & When: Laemmle's Sunset 5, West Hollywood, CA. July 16, 2011  3:10PM



Errol Morris, the critically acclaimed documentary film maker who is best known for making films about rich and compelling subjects such as a man wrongly convicted of murder ("The Thin Blue Line"), a prison executioner ("Mr. Death: The Rise and Fall of Fred A. Leuchter, Jr.") physicist, Stephen Hawking ("A Brief History In Time"), the torture and abuse of the prisoners of Abu Ghrab ("Standard Operating Procedure") and the career of former US Secretary of State, Robert S. McNamara (the Oscar-winning, "The Fog Of War") so it seems a little surprising that Mr. Morris would direct his camera towards such a sensationalistic story of Joyce McKinney, a former Miss Wyoming World who goes to very extreme measures in the name of love. Ms McKinney, a charming but eccentric beauty, is interviewed and proceeds to tell her version of events as follows:

In 1977, she met Kirk Anderson, a Mormon missionary and they fell madly in love despite his mother's very vocal disapproval. The two were planning to be married but one day, Anderson disappeared without a trace. McKinney hires a private investigator to find the love of her life and discovers that he is in England with the Church of Later-Day Saints.

Fearing that her man had been brain-washed, she brings along friend, Keith May with the intent of saving Anderson from the sinister clutches of the church. They abduct Anderson, take him to a cottage in Devon where Ms McKinney chains her lover to the bed and makes passionate love to him in order to help him come to his senses.

Soon, Anderson realises his mistake and wants to go back to the church to explain it to them, so he is released with the intention of him returning to Ms McKinney, however, she is later arrested and charged with kidnapping and rape. After she is released on bail, McKinney becomes a British media sensation, giving several interviews, made plans to write a book to give her side of the story and appearing at several glamorous social events. A newspaper, The Daily Mirror digs in to Ms McKinney's past and discovered that she was not as innocent or squeaky clean as she claimed to be.

Disgusted by the lies that the paper apparently had spread, McKinney and her alleged co-conspirator, May jumped bail, got fake passports and returned to the US but are later arrested in 1979 by the FBI for making false statements to obtain  passports which their sentences are later suspended.

You would think that would be the end of McKinney's story but she turns up in the news years later in 2008 (although she would attempt to deny that she was the same woman involved in the sex scandal) with her involvement of cloning her dead pet which renewed interest in her past.

I can understand why the director might be interested in this salacious tale as there is plenty of intrigue and scandal but to devote an entire documentary to the delightfully, loopy Ms McKinney as the main subject feels like the equivalent of watching a beautifully shot car crash in slow motion and I think that it's kinda beneath Mr. Morris. I do admit I found "Tabloid" absolutely entertaining and Mr. Morris cleverly adds creative visuals to photos and television footage to enhance the film but there still is nothing particularly necessary in bringing this true story to the screen as it doesn't offer much more that can be found regularly on any tabloid news program.

Ms McKinney seems convincing (and convinced) of everything she claims in "Tabloid" to be true but anyone with even a little knowledge of reality programing knows that it may be wise to question how accurate many of these statements that she has made in the film.

It's too bad that this incident didn't happen to Ms McKinney today, because like Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian, she could have turned her sex scandal in to a very lucrative business. I'm very sure Joyce McKinney would have made a dance record or been a contestant on "Dancing With The Stars" or at the very least, been on Dr. Drew's rehab program.


Tuesday, July 19, 2011

WINNERS FROM THE 2011 OUTFEST FILM FESTIVAL

First, here is a listing of the Grand Jury prizes and audience award winners from this year's Outfest Film Festival:

Grand Jury Award for Outstanding Documentary Short Film:
THANK YOU FOR YOUR CALL, Directed by Shawn Nee

Grand Jury Award for Outstanding Dramatic Short Film:
I DON'T WANT TO GO BACK ALONE, Directed by Daniel Ribeiro

Grand Jury Award for Outstanding Documentary Feature Film: HABANA MUDA, Directed by Eric Brach

Grand Jury Award for Outstanding International Dramatic Feature Film
WEEKEND, Directed by Andrew Haigh

Grand Jury Award for Outstanding Actress in a Feature Film: Nikohl Boosheri, CIRCUMSTANCE

Grand Jury Award for Outstanding Actor in a Feature Film:The Cast of  PRIVATE ROMEO



Grand Jury Award for Outstanding Screenwriting: Stephen Cone, THE WISE KIDS

Grand Jury Award for Outstanding U.S. Dramatic Feature Film:THE WISE KIDS, Directed by Stephen Cone

Special Programming Award for Freedom: NO LOOK PASS, Directed by Melissa Johnson

For its unflinching look at the life of a young lesbian basketball star facing the hardships of coming out and a relationship challenged by "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" the Outfest Special Programming Award for Freedom goes to NO LOOK PASS.

Special Programming Award for Artistic Achievement: THE BALLAD OF GENESIS AND LADY JAYE, Directed by Marie Losier

For matching the conceptual daring and aesthetic bravado of its subjects' lives with an equally powerful film making style and for never losing sight of the love story that flourished in an atmosphere of gender experimentation and conceptual music, the Outfest Special Programming Award for Artistic Achievement goes to Marie Losier, director of THE BALLAD OF GENESIS AND LADY JAYE



Special Programming Award for Emerging Talent:Madeleine Olnek, Writer/Director of CODEPENDENT LESBIAN SPACE ALIEN SEEKS SAME

For her witty and creative vision, her skill at eliciting memorable performances, for deftly blending old school science fiction and deadpan comedy, and for believing that true love exists even if it means going to another planet to find it, the Outfest Special Programming Award for Emerging Talent goes to Madeleine Olnek, the writer/director of CODEPENDENT LESBIAN SPACE ALIEN SEEKS SAME.



Audience Award for Outstanding Documentary Short Film:SAME DIFFERENCE, Directed by Catherine Opie & Lisa Udelson

Audience Award for Outstanding Dramatic Short Film:TSUYAKO, Directed by Mitsuyo Miyazaki



Audience Award for Outstanding Documentary Feature Film:
WE WERE HERE, Directed by David Weissman & Bill Weber

Audience Award for Outstanding Dramatic Feature Film:3, Directed by Tom Tykwer

Audience Award for Outstanding First U.S. Dramatic Feature Film:CIRCUMSTANCE, Directed by Maryam Keshavarz



Now, here are reviews of a few of the films I saw during the festival:

July 8, 2011

"SHOTS IN THE DARK"

This is a collection of seven short films that are shocking and unusual and the stand-outs for me were "Yearbook" by Carter Smith which features high-school students interviewed and talking about their sexual experiences and the strange consequences of that and "Fourplay:Tampa", which is one of a collection of four short films involving sexual intimacy, which is my favorite mainly because the film is so disturbing and very funny. The story is about a man who is looking for a quickie in a public restroom during his lunch hour but he's having difficulty finding someone so he uses his imagination that involves a wide range of people with a few that might offend some of the audience.




July 10, 2011

"WITHOUT"

A young woman (Joslyn Jensen) takes on the job, on a remote wooded island, as a care-giver to an elderly, wheelchair bound man (Ronald Carrier) who is almost in a vegetative state as his family has gone on vacation. With poor phone service, no Internet or anyone to talk to in the house, she slowly starts to unravel by the isolation as she is haunted by memories of her ex-girlfriend and begins to question whether the old man is actually an invalid as her cellphone mysteriously seems to keep being moved.

"Without" by writer/director Mark Jackson feels like a modern variation on Polanski's "Repulsion" and while the film is an admirable and confident debut as well as featuring a strong performance from Ms Jensen but there were just a few too many questions left unanswered (like the moving phone, for one) that left me feeling a little bit frustrated.


WITHOUT from right on red films on Vimeo.

"LONGHORNS"


A spoof of the sex comedies of the 1980's,  Kevin (Jacob Newton) is a closeted college student in the heart of Texas who falls for the out and proud Cesar (Derek Villanueva) but Kevin is struggling to keep his new friend a secret from his (allegedly) straight, horn-dog buddies (Dylan Vox, Kevin Held and Stephen Matzke).

Although the audience at the screening seemed to thoroughly enjoy the film as there's plenty of sex and full-frontal nudity from all of the male cast members but I can't say that I did as I thought that it's not nearly enough to make this tired and very unfunny film worth seeing.




July 11, 2011

"WOMAN'S PICTURE"


"Woman's Picture" features three segments of complex, complicated and lonely women: Ingrid (Calpernia Addams), a transgendered female, has returned home to visit her estranged mother after ten years but the true reason for her coming back is a mystery; Loretta (Amy Lavere), a shy, quiet hotel maid with a dark secret, is having difficulty telling the difference between fact and fantasy and Miriam (Ann Magnuson) is a home shopping host who is struggling to maintain her professional and personal life.

Brian Pera, the writer and director, was inspired by the female-driven films of the 40's and 50's and he has successfully captured the essence of those wonderful films. The best of the three parts features Ann Magnuson in a very welcome return to the screen. It is solid, well-written scene of a woman near her breaking point with Ms Magnuson skillfully bringing this character to life. Ms Addams, lovely and vulnerable, delivers a touching performance. The only true weak link is the segment involving the maid. Although this actually feels like a homage to David Lynch but it's overlong, rambling and out of place with the rest of the film.


Woman's Picture Trailer from brian pera on Vimeo.


"ECUPID"


Marshall (Houston Rhines) is not only frustrated at his job and about to turn thirty but his seven year relationship with Gabe (Noah Shuffman) is beginning to feel boring and  routine. While surfing the web, Marshall stumbles upon a mysterious application called, ECupid that offers to find him true love. He downloads the app and his life is turned upside down as all types of sexy guys that he has dreamed of comes after him but he soon discovers that it may not be at all what he bargained for.

Writer/director, J.C. Calciano brings a gay romantic-comedy in the age of the Internet that is lightweight and predictable but there is still a small amount of charm to be found. Look for the well-preserved, Morgan Fairchild as the voice of the ECupid app and she makes an appearance as the wise waitress.


eCUPIDthemovie trailer from JC Calciano on Vimeo.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

REJOICE AND SHOUT (2011)

Directed by Don McGlynn


Where & When:  Laemmle's Royal, West Los Angeles, CA.  July 11, 2011 1:00PM


"Rejoice and Shout" is a documentary on the history of the form of music that Motown legend, Smokey Robinson proclaims is "the root of all American music": gospel. After seeing this film, I realised that he is absolutely correct, as you can certainly hear traces of the gospel sound in all forms of contemporary music such as the blues, jazz, country and rock and roll.

During the unfortunate period in our country's history, slaves were brought over to America from Africa and the slave-owners where disturbed by the religion that they practiced, so they brought the slaves to their churches and introduced them to Christianity. The slaves learned to accept this religion with them later combining the call and response of their work songs with the Christian hymns and gospel music was born.

The film traces back to some of the great pioneers of gospel such as the Dinwiddle Colored Quartet who are credited as being one of the first African-American groups to make a recording at the beginning of the last century to the Clara Ward Singers who brought glamour and choreography to their performance to The Swan Silvertones with the glorious falsetto of Claude Jetter to the good natured rivalry of the Five Blind Boys of Mississippi and the Blind Boys of Alabama and to the Staples Singers with lead vocalist, Mavis recalling seeing many of these acts as well as explaining the importance of this music to people.

Mahalia Jackson, who is considered to be one of the most influential gospel singers of all time, became one of the first to perform at Carnegie Hall in New York with her music managing to cross over and selling millions of records around the world. There is plenty of amazing archival footage in the film and we see Ms Jackson's performance on "The Ed Sullivan Show" in it's entirety as well as many of the other acts including Sister Rosetta Tharpe who was a self-taught guitarist and one of the first female artists to perform playing an instrument and another influential act, the Dixie Hummingbirds, whose dazzling vocalist, Ira Tucker joined the group at the age of thirteen in 1938 and remained until his death at the age of eighty-three.

The film also uses several expert historians to help fill in on the history between the performances that include authors, Anthony Heilbut and Bill Carpenter, radio host, Jacquie Gales Webb and one of the film's producers, Joe Lauro who are all very knowledgeable and enlightening. At only almost two hours, there is a lot of information packed in to "Rejoice and Shout" but the film still feels incomplete with some of the important artists in the field such as Aretha Franklin and Shirley Caesar are barely acknowledged and the gospel performers of the modern-day era, including the controversial use of adding hip-hop/rap to the music, are given a bum's rush. I think this film would have been much more satisfying as a multi-part PBS program as it would been able to comfortably cover additional ground at a more leisurely pace.

The emphasis here is mainly on the music which is where the true energy and pleasure of "Rejoice and Shout" comes from. It is an important document of a musical genre that has not always been given it 's proper due and most certainly has been taken for granted. "Rejoice and Shout" not only shares the history of gospel music but it also explains exactly how many African-Americans were able to find the strength and determination to continue on despite all of the many difficult obstacles that they faced throughout history was because of their deep faith.

Friday, July 1, 2011

BAD TEACHER (2011)

Written by Lee Eisenberg & Gene Stupnitsky


Directed by Jake Kasdan


Where & When: Los Feliz 3 Cinemas, Los Angeles, CA. June 27, 2010  4:15PM



Female actors rarely get the opportunity to carry a major motion picture these days, so following the recent big box-office success of "Bridesmaids", a sweet but raunchy comedy that focuses almost entirely on female friendships, surprisingly comes another comedy that features a female lead,  "Bad Teacher. Cameron Diaz stars and while this film has it's share of lewd humor, this is where any similarities end. "Bad Teacher" is a dark and vulgar take on one self-centered woman's relentless pursuit of wealth and will do just about anything (or anyone) to get it.

The "bad teacher" in question is Elizabeth Hasley (Diaz), an amoral, foul-mouthed gold-digger who is only a school teacher because it seemed to her that teaching wouldn't require too much effort on her part until she lands a wealthy husband. She manages to find a sucker to marry her and the school faculty throws her a farewell party although she didn't take any time to get to know any of the other teachers.

After being accused of wanting to marry her fiance only for his money, Elizabeth is unceremoniously dumped. With no other options, she has to return to teaching. Her idea of teaching, however, involves showing her students movies of examples of real educators teaching such as "Lean On Me" and "Dangerous Minds" while she tries to sleep off her hangover.

Elizabeth doesn't want to stick around for long so she comes up with a plan that if she gets her breasts enlarged, she will be able to snag another rich man and considering her intelligence and personality, getting new tits seems to be her best option.

The problem is that Elizabeth is cash-strapped so she has to get creative. She discovers that the students have a car wash to raise money, so she gets involved by using her best assets to help inspire men that they need to have their autos thoroughly cleaned while she skims some of the money earned for her operation.

An obstacle is Amy Squirrell (Lucy Punch), a manically perky fellow teacher who feels that Elizabeth has no place in a classroom and witnesses her taking the money. She goes to the principal (John Micahel Higgins) but he can't just take her word for it, so Amy has to take matters in to her own hands.

A substitute teacher (Justin Timberlake) arrives and when Elizabeth discovers he comes from money, she is all over him but he has his eyes set on the seemingly sweet teacher, Amy, while the gym teacher (Jason Segel) wants to take Elizabeth out on a date but she has no interest as he may be a nice guy but he doesn't have enough zeros at the end of his paycheck.

"Bad Teacher" never pretends to be art but at least more of an effort should have been made for it to be an actual comedy. The film has a decent plot and most certainly had the potential to be a laugh riot but this script is so painfully inept as the film's writers (who write for the U.S version of "The Office") takes too many of it's comedy cues from the worst of television sitcoms. Most of the jokes are stale and fall flat mainly because of the mistaken idea that simply by putting in a few politically-incorrect jokes or tossing a few off-color words around would miraculously make everything funnier. Sure, it works for "South Park" but at least they make some effort to make it clever. Mr.Kasdan's direction doesn't help matters as it's lazy and lacks any imagination .

I can see why Ms Diaz would want to play this role as it was a way to shake-up her sunny image and she is certainly game as she gets to say a few shocking things, curse like a rapper and wear her sexuality on her sleeve but this material is way beneath her. Mr. Timberlake and Mr. Segel.are completely wasted with nothing much to do as they are basically playing the "female" role in the typical male-driven comedy. The only highlight is Ms Punch's hilarious work as the caring teacher who slowly becomes unglued as Diaz's character keeps one-upping her.

So I offer this simple equation about "Bad Teacher": slumming movie-star + unfunny toilet humor  = bad movie.