Sunday, December 30, 2012

THIS IS 40 (2012)

Written & Directed by Judd Apatow


Where & When: Arclight Cinemas, Hollywood, CA. December 22, 2012  8:15PM



There was a time when turning thirty used to be the age filled with anxiety and panic as it seemed you were soon on the verge of requiring a walker and spending the rest of your days playing bingo. Now, because of healthy living and medical advancements, the age has been pushed back to forty as the new time in a person's life that brings fear, dread and the first sign of noticeable wrinkles.

"This Is Forty" is the latest raunchy comedy laced with heart by writer/director, Judd Apatow that tackles the subject of the many difficulties of aging in the modern world. Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann (otherwise known as Mrs. Apatow) reprise their supporting roles in Mr. Apatow's 2007 film, "Knocked-Up" as a long married L.A. couple both approaching middle-age with their two daughters; Sadie, a difficult and complicated teenager and her younger sister, Charlotte who are played once again by the film maker's children, Maude and Iris Apatow. While there should be plenty of comic gold to be found about growing older, the film tends to focus on the quick, cheap laugh of youth instead of pursuing the introspective humor of a mature adult. Since this was clearly made with grown folks in mind, it relies much too heavily on vulgar, comedic antics that feels too juvenile. However, Mr. Rudd and Ms Mann make an appealing team and bring out the best in each other.

Pete (Rudd) and Debbie (Mann) are both turning forty a few days apart and while Pete has accepted the fact and is having a party to celebrate, his wife is miserable about the idea and wants no part of the party they usually share. The couple has bigger problems, however, as Pete left a major record label to start his own music label, sinking much of his money in to producing a record for a musician that he loves; 70's rocker, Graham Parker. With his PR team (which include Lena Dunham of HBO's "Girls" and "Bridesmaids" star, Chris O'Dowd), they are trying to figure out how to generate some serious sales for this album that few modern audiences seem interested in, otherwise he might lose his house. Pete suffers another financial drain as he secretly continues to give money to his father, Larry (Albert Brooks) against Debbie's wishes. With a younger wife and a set of triplet toddlers he can't tell apart,  Larry has no problem laying a guilt-trip on his son until he gives in to helping out his old man.

Meanwhile, Debbie has opened a clothing boutique but has discovered that a significant sum of money is missing. She has two employees with one, Jodi (Charlyne Yi) confiding to Debbie that she thinks that Desi (Megan Fox) is the one stealing mainly because she recently purchased some expensive goods and she's very attractive. Debbie's relationship with her icy father (John Lithgow) has remained strained and uncomfortable that it's managed to spill over in to her marriage in unexpected ways. In between all of their personal stress, the couple has to deal with their teenage daughter's irrational meltdowns, dramatic outbursts and the pangs of her first school crush.

Mr. Apatow has achieved great success by finding great humor in uncomfortably, crude situations, crass language and bodily functions while somehow managing to give it an air of intelligence and sophistication but with "This Is Forty", the thread-bare plot has much more in common with a teen comedy like "American Pie" than the original film this sort-of-sequel follows. Although the director's script is smart, filled with insightful thoughts and hilarious zingers but the film feels haphazardly thrown together and unnecessarily lengthy. This is not helped by allowing his talented cast to veer the story off course with them improvising wildly. While they deliver some very funny bits, it ends up with some strange behavior and inappropriate dialogue that their characters would not believably do.

With this collection of top-notch comedians on screen, it would be difficult for any one performer to stand out but in this case there are actually two; one that is not quite surprising and the other is very unexpected. Melissa McCarthy, (who also stole the show in "Bridesmaids") manages to steal the film in her over-the-top, brief appearance as the uptight mother of the boy that Sadie has a crush on while Ms Fox, the beauty best known for her dramatic moments in the "Transformers" flicks, displays some serious comedic chops. Apatow cast her based on her very funny appearance on "Saturday Night Live" and it proves to be no fluke as the actress is fearless, willing to look completely ridiculous for a laugh.

While it dazzles with an impressive ensemble and shining moments of clever humor, "This Is Forty" feels fairly conventional and uninspired as it lacks that sparkle that made Mr Apatow's previous work so entertainingly funny. The film actually makes forty feel old, deranged and not exactly a wonderful time in some one's life.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

2012 NATIONAL FILM REGISTRY

The National Film Registry of the Library of Congress has selected twenty-five American films that are culturally, historically or aesthetically significant and will be preserved for future generations. The films range from the oldest; the 1897 document which chronicles the famed boxing match between "Gentleman Jim" and Bob Fitzgerald held on St Patrick's Day to the first filmed version of "Uncle Tom's Cabin" to the Audrey Hepburn classic, "Breakfast At Tiffany's" to the iconic 1971 Clint Eastwood film, "Dirty Harry" to the sci-fi thriller, "The Matrix".

The Librarian makes the annual selections to the registry after reviewing hundreds of titles nominated by the public and conferring with library film curators and members of the National Film Preservation Board. This year's selections bring the number of films in the registry to 600 since the program began in 1989.

These are the following films selected to the 2012 National Film Registry:

"The Corbett-Fitzsimmons Title Fight" (1897)

"The Wishing Ring: An Idyll of Old England" (1914)

"Uncle Tom's Cabin" (1914)

"Kodachrome Color Motion Picture Tests" (1922)

"The Augustas" (1930s-1950s)

"The Kidnappers Foil" (1930s-1950s)

"Sons of the Desert" (1933)

"The Middleton Family at the New York World's Fair" (1939)

"Born Yesterday" (1950)



"3:10 to Yuma" (1957)

"Anatomy of a Murder" (1959)

"Breakfast at Tiffany's" (1961)



"Parable" (1964)

"They Call It Pro Football" (1967)

"Dirty Harry" (1971)



"Two-Lane Blacktop" (1971)



"The Spook Who Sat by the Door" (1973)

"Hours for Jerome: Parts 1 and 2" (1980-82)

"A Christmas Story" (1983)

"The Times of Harvey Milk" (1984)



"Samsara: Death and Rebirth in Cambodia" (1990)

"Slacker" (1991)



"A League of Their Own" (1992)



"One Survivor Remembers" (1995)

"The Matrix" (1999)





Thursday, December 13, 2012

HITCHCOCK (2012)


Written by John J. McLaughlin


Directed by Sacha Gervasi


Where & When: Arclight Cinemas, Hollywood, CA.  December 1, 2012  7:10 PM



It has been said that behind every man is a good woman and that is proven in "Hitchcock", an old-fashioned, Technicolor love story about the "Master of Suspense", Alfred Hitchcock and his struggle to bring to the screen the 1960 horror classic, "Psycho". The film makes it clear that this now classic probably would not have happened at all without the invaluable assistance of his devoted wife, Alma Reville. British acting royalty and Oscar winners, Anthony Hopkins and Helen Mirren bring the couple to cinematic life in this glossy but stilted bio-pic that could only happen in Hollywood

We first meet Hitchcock (Hopkins) after the success of his latest film, "North By Northwest" and his foray in to the new medium, television which has made him a household name. After his assistant, Peggy Robertson (Toni Collette) gives him the new book, "Psycho" by Robert Bloch which was loosely based on the Wisconsin murderer, Ed Gein, Hitchcock decides this story will be his next film. Although he owes Paramount Pictures another film, the executives refuse to finance the project. Undeterred, Hitchcock makes a deal to self-produce the movie if the studio will distribute it. However, he has to convince his wife (Mirren) to mortgage their home to help pay for this movie. Alma is far from thrilled as her husband is breaking Hollywood's golden rule not to ever use your own money but she has faith in his talent as a film maker.

Using his TV crew and hiring two movie stars, Janet Leigh (Scarlett Johansson) and Anthony Hopkins (James D'Arcy), "Hitch" (minus the "cock", as he likes to say) only has minimum amount of time and limited funds to complete his risky film. The shoot is made even more complicated due to Hitchcock's battle with the censor board over how much of Ms Leigh's skin will be shown during the infamous shower scene, health issues involving his expansive waistline and growing concern that Alma's relationship with Whitfield Cook (Danny Huston), a screenwriter (who wrote Hitchcock's "Strangers On A Train") that she's working on a script with, is getting too close for comfort.

Mr. Gervasi, who began his career as a screenwriter (most notably "The Terminal", the 2004 Tom Hanks-Steven Spielberg clunker) before directing an acclaimed documentary, "Anvil! The Story of Anvil" about a Canadian heavy metal outfit, has done a competent but unremarkable job with "Hitchcock", his first feature. Based on Stephen Rebello's "Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho", the director has managed to re-create a believable atmosphere on a Hollywood sound stage but is less successful in creating a credible world off-camera. For even after Hitchcock yells "cut", it still feels like the actors are continuing to recite lines while simply performing for a smaller audience. The film looks great thanks to the fine work of cinematographer, Jeff Cronenweth ("The Social Network" and the U.S. version of "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo" which he received Oscar nominations for both) and the sensational costumes by Julie Weiss.

Since we are fully aware of the eventual outcome of  "Psycho" as it becomes one of the director's most popular films and the marriage of the Hitchcocks endured until his death in 1980, this behind-the-scenes look might be fascinating to a hardcore film buff (like myself) but to the casual fan, it's a little thin as there's not nearly enough dramatic tension to any of the challenges presented to hold much interest.

Despite the elaborate make-up (which is quite good but distracting at times) and a great effort to mimic the distinct vocal affectations of the famed director, Mr. Hopkins is no dead ringer and his voice waivers like he doesn't have the stamina to keep it up. But it's still clear who the actor is doing with his bold performance admirable but not particularly memorable. Since little is known publicly about Lady Hitchcock, we'll have to assume that Ms Mirren is at least giving us the essence of this modest, fiercely independent woman behind the larger-than-life man. Although it matters little as the alluring actress is always endlessly fascinating to watch work her magic. Seen only briefly, Mr.D'Arcy is a passable Perkins but Ms Johansson and Jessica Biel (who plays co-star Vera Miles) have much more screen time, rely heavily on their own personal star wattage as their performances seem based on research done from old, Hollywood fan magazines.

"Hitchcock" is a quaint, lightweight entertainment with the main reason to see this film is to witness the always reliable gifts of Sir Anthony Hopkins and, most especially, Dame Helen Mirren.
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Monday, December 10, 2012

AFI & LA FILM CRITICS ANNOUNCE THEIR PICKS

More awards have been given out; first by the Los Angeles Film Critics who selected on December 9th their winners and the American Film Institute announced their picks for the ten best films of 2012 today.

Although the L.A. critics selected Michael Haneke's "Amour" as the Best Film but they have put "The Master" back in the game by awarding the controversial film four awards including Paul Thomas Anderson for Best Director and Joaquin Phoenix as Best Actor.  Another surprise was first-time actor, Dwight Henry's win for Best Supporting Actor for his role in "Beasts of The Southern Wild" and the rare tie for Best Actress between eighty-five year old, Emmanuelle Riva for "Amour' and the twenty-two, Jennifer Lawrence for "Silver Linings Playbook"

The AFI have probably selected most of the films that will round out the Best Picture category for this year's Oscars although I'm sure a few might lose their spot to either a foreign-language film, an indie or to a complete surprise nomination.


The complete list of the Los Angeles Film Critics winners:

Best Film: "Amour"

Best Director: Paul Thomas Anderson, "The Master"

Best Screenplay: Chris Terrio, "Argo"

Best Actress (tie): Emmanuelle Riva, "Amour" and Jennifer Lawrence, "Silver Linings Playbook"

Best Actor: Joaquin Phoenix, "The Master"

Best Supporting Actor: Dwight Henry, "Beasts of the Southern Wild"

Best Supporting Actress: Amy Adams, "The Master"

Best Editing: Dylan Tichenor and William Goldenberg, "Zero Dark Thirty"

Best Cinematography: Roger Deakins, "Skyfall"

Best Score: Benh Zeitlin & Dan Romer, Beasts of the Southern Wild"

Best Production Design: Jack Fisk, "The Master"

Best Animated Film: "Frankenweenie"

Best Documentary: "The Gatekeepers"

Best Foreign Language Film: "Holy Motors"

New Generation Award: Benh Zeitlin, "Beasts of the Southern Wild"


AFI MOVIES OF THE YEAR 

"ARGO"

"BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD"

"THE DARK KNIGHT RISES"

"DJANGO UNCHAINED"

"LES MISÉRABLES"

"LIFE OF PI"

"LINCOLN"

"MOONRISE KINGDOM"

"SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK"

"ZERO DARK THIRTY"

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

"ZERO DARK THIRTY" WINS BIG

'Tis the season of award giving with two film groups agreeing on the same film as the best of this year. "Zero Dark Thirty" was named along with it's director, Kathyrn Bigelow by the New York Film Critics Circle on Monday and the National Board of Review today. This will certainly create some buzz for this film about the hunt for Osama bin Laden which is due in U.S. theaters on December 19th.

There were a few notable surprises such as Rachel Weisz being recognized for her great performance in a mediocre film, "The Deep Blue Sea" and Best Supporting Actress winner, Ann Dowd for the little-seen indie film, "Compliance" which should bring much-needed attention to both these films as well as Bradley Cooper's unexpected win by the NBR for "Silver Linings Playbook". Although Mr. Cooper was certainly good and he should be a contender, I don't know if it was exactly the best male acting performance of the year.




Here is a list of the 2012 winners from the New York Film Critics Circle:

Best Picture: "Zero Dark Thirty"

Best Director: Kathryn Bigelow, "Zero Dark Thirty"

Best Screenplay: Tony Kushner, "Lincoln"

Best Actress: Rachel Weisz, "The Deep Blue Sea"

Best Actor: Daniel Day-Lewis, "Lincoln"

Best Supporting Actress: Sally Field, "Lincoln"

Best Supporting Actor: Matthew McConaughey, "Bernie", "Magic Mike"

Best Cinematographer: Greig Fraser, "Zero Dark Thirty"

Best Animated Film: "Frankenweenie"

Best Non-Fiction Film (Documentary) "The Central Park Five"

Best Foreign Film: "Amour"

Best First Film: David France, "How to Survive a Plague"


This is a partial listing of the selections from the National Board of Review:

Best Film:  "Zero Dark Thirty"

Best Director: Kathryn Bigelow, "Zero Dark Thirty"

Best Actor: Bradley Cooper, "Silver Linings Playbook"

Best Actress: Jessica Chastain, "Zero Dark Thirty"

Best Supporting Actor: Leonardo DiCaprio, "Django Unchained"

Best Supporting Actress: Ann Dowd, "Compliance"

Best Original Screenplay: Rian Johnson, "Looper"

Best Adapted Screenplay: David O. Russell, "Silver Linings Playbook"

Best Animated Feature: "Wreck-It Ralph"

Special Achievement in Filmmaking: Ben Affleck, "Argo"

Breakthrough Actor: Tom Holland, "The Impossible"

Breakthrough Actress: Quvenzhané Wallis,  "Beasts of the Southern Wild"

Best Directorial Debut: Benh Zeitlin, "Beasts of the Southern Wild"

Best Foreign Language Film:  "Amour"

Best Documentary: William K. Everson  "Searching for Sugarman"

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

ANNA KARENINA (2012)

Written by Tom Stoppard


Directed by Joe Wright


Where & When: Arclight Cinemas, Hollywood, CA. November 24, 2012  7:05PM


"Anna Karenina", the nineteenth century Russian novel by Leo Tolstoy, has been adapted for the screen several times over the years. The latest is by Joe Wright who has teamed up with the highly honored playwright, Tom Stoppard to write the screenplay and Keira Knightley, previously working with the director on some of her best film roles in "Pride & Prejudice" and "Atonement", to play the title character. Together, they have created a daring new version that has this tale of passion, infidelity and tragedy told in a theatrical setting while incorporating sweeping cinematic flourishes to enhance and heighten the action. While the film certainly stands out from the previous interpretations as it's breathtakingly beautiful with some solid performances but this approach feels more like a gimmick as we see the characters glide backstage across one set on to another which proves to be a distraction that pulls you out of the story at times.

The plot basically remains the same but for those unfamiliar, Anna (Knightley) is the younger, aristocratic wife of Count Alexei Karenin (Jude Law), a government official in St. Petersberg. After her arrival at the train station in Moscow to visit her brother, Oblonsky (Matthew Macfadyen) is when she first locks eyes with the handsome military officer, Count Vronsky (Aaron Taylor-Johnson). Their attraction is immediate and intense but Anna desperately tries to resist her desires. Her brother's pregnant wife, Dolly (Kelly Macdonald) is distraught after discovering that he had an affair with their governess but Anna is able to comfort her, advising to remain with her husband.

Dolly's younger sister, Kitty (Alicia Vikander) has also come to visit with the hope that the eligible, Vronsky, who she has been casually seeing, will ask for her hand in marriage during the debutante ball. However, an acquaintance, Levin (Domhnall Gleeson) who is a modest landowner, surprises her by asking instead. Kitty rejects his offer but devastated as Vronsky spends the entire evening dancing with the married, Anna. Whispers had begun long before they actually consummated their affair but once it begins, the couple is passionately consumed with each other as the very thought of not being linked eternally is unbearable and unimaginable.

Although he had been suspicious but even after the truth is revealed, the remote Karenin is willing to look past her indiscretion but Anna is incapable and unwilling to give Vromsky up. Her husband, in turn, refuses to grant a divorce and threatens to take away their son but soon wants nothing more to do with her once she tells him that she is pregnant. Willing to sacrifice everything for true love, Anna soon learns that scandal is not tolerated in her rarefied, upper-class society. Unfairly, the consequences only apply to her gender, and she pays a heavy, tragic price for her social misstep.

With only five films under his belt, Mr. Wright has earned the reputation of an adventurous film maker with a bold visual style. He has shown to like the challenge of shaking the dust off of classic material, (as he did with his impressive take of Jane Austen's "Pride & Prejudice")  and to deliver a fresh perspective while retaining the spirit of the novel. He has certainly worked his magic with "Anna Karenina" and while the idea is inventive and inspiring, the effect also drew attention away from allowing a true emotional connection to take hold. As we witness each set changing, it kept bringing to mind an opera, with the performers seeming to be on the verge of breaking out in an aria, which would be fine if that was the director's intent. As the film goes on, the backstage action lessens and we breakthrough to the actual outdoors during Levin's part of the story as he sadly tries to forget Kitty by building a farm on his estate.

Fortunately, the actors remain grounded despite the use of the stage as a backdrop. Ms Knightley seems fond of strapping herself in to a corset for period dramas as she has done on numerous occasions in many of the films she has made to date but it just doesn't always feel that she completely shakes her contemporary ticks. But the actress is a mesmerizing presence as she looks simply amazing in her gorgeous costumes (thanks to the great work by Jacqueline Durran) and perfectly conveys Anna's frenzied pursuit of a true love, no matter what she must sacrifice. Emotionally vacant but desperate to express his deep passion for his wife while needing to hang on to his last bit of dignity, Mr. Law expertly captures the anguish and frustration of a man at a complete loss. However, Mr. Taylor-Johnson's Vronsky is just a little too blonde and too much of a fop to be convincing as this irresistible catch.

Despite my criticism of a few of Mr. Wright's artistic choices, I actually found "Anna Karenina" to be a superbly rendered, enchanting and confident work. This may not be the definitive version of this classic but it is most certainly one of the most imaginative and ambitious to have ever been made.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

THE 28TH ANNUAL SPIRIT AWARDS


Well, it looks like award season has been officially kicked off with the announcement of this year's nominees for the 28th annual Independent Spirit Awards.  A few of my favorites; "Beasts of the Southern Wild", "Keep The Lights On" and "Silver Linings Playbook", have earned multiple nominations with "Linings" and "Moonrise Kingdom" each having the most with five a piece.

The awards are presented by the Film Independent with The Spirit Awards being traditionally handed out at an afternoon ceremony along the beach in Santa Monica, CA., on February 23, 2013, the day before the Academy Awards.

Here are the nominees:

BEST FEATURE
"Beasts of the Southern Wild"
"Bernie"
"Keep the Lights On"
"Moonrise Kingdom"
"Silver Linings Playbook"

BEST DIRECTOR
Wes Anderson, "Moonrise Kingdom"
Julia Loktev, "The Loneliest Planet"
David O. Russell, "Silver Linings Playbook"
Ira Sachs, "Keep the Lights On"
Benh Zeitlin, "Beasts of the Southern Wild"

BEST SCREENPLAY
Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola, "Moonrise Kingdom"
Zoe Kazan, "Ruby Sparks"
Martin McDonagh, "Seven Psychopaths"
David O. Russell, "Silver Linings Playbook"
Ira Sachs, "Keep the Lights On"

BEST FEMALE LEAD
Linda Cardellini, "Return"
Emayatzy Corinealdi, "Middle of Nowhere"
Jennifer Lawrence, "Silver Linings Playbook"
Quvenzhané Wallis, "Beasts of the Southern Wild"
Mary Elizabeth Winstead, "Smashed"

BEST MALE LEAD
Jack Black, "Bernie"
Bradley Cooper, "Silver Linings Playbook"
John Hawkes, "The Sessions"
Thure Lindhardt, "Keep the Lights On"
Matthew McConaughey, "Killer Joe"
Wendell Pierce, "Four"

BEST SUPPORTING FEMALE
Rosemarie DeWitt, "Your Sister's Sister"
Ann Dowd, "Compliance"
Helen Hunt, "The Sessions"
Brit Marling, "Sound of My Voice"
Lorraine Toussaint, "Middle of Nowhere"

BEST SUPPORTING MALE 
Matthew McConaughey, "Magic Mike"
David Oyelowo, "Middle of Nowhere"
Michael Péna, "End of Watch"
Sam Rockwell, "Seven Psychopaths"
Bruce Willis, "Moonrise Kingdom"

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY 
Yoni Brook, "Valley of Saints"
Lol Crawley, "Here"
Ben Richardson, "Beasts of the Southern Wild"
Roman Vasyanov, "End of Watch"
Robert Yeoman, "Moonrise Kingdom"

BEST DOCUMENTARY 
"How to Survive a Plague"
"Marina Abramovic: The Artist Is Present"
"The Central Park Five"
"The Invisible War"
"The Waiting Room" 

BEST INTERNATIONAL FILM 
"Amour," Michael Haneke
"Once Upon a Time in Anatolia," Nuri Bilge Ceylan
"Rust and Bone," Jacques Audiard
 "Sister," Ursula Meier
"War Witch," Kim Nguyen

BEST FIRST FEATURE 
"Fill the Void"
"Gimme the Loot"
"Safety Not Guaranteed"
"Sound of My Voice"
"The Perks of Being a Wallflower"

BEST FIRST SCREENPLAY 
Rama Burshtein, "Fill the Void"
Derek Connolly, "Safety Not Guaranteed"
Christopher Ford, "Robot & Frank"
Rashida Jones and Will McCormack, "Celeste and Jesse Forever"
Jonathan Lisecki, "Gayby"

JOHN CASSAVETES AWARD (Given to the best feature made for under $500,000)
"Breakfast With Curtis"
"Middle of Nowhere"
"Mosquita y Mari"
"Starlet"
"The Color Wheel"

Sunday, November 25, 2012

HOLY MOTORS (2012)

Written & Directed by Leos Carax


Where & When: Nuart Theater, West Los Angeles, CA. November 19, 2012  7:40PM



"Holy Motors" is the utterly strange, wildly confusing but quite fascinating visual wonder by French filmmaker, Leos Carax.  His previous work most certainly will not be familiar to the average American film-goer but even to the rest of the world, Carax may not be immediately recognized as this marks only his first film in thirteen years and only his fifth feature since his debut in 1986. According to Mr. Carax, a former film critic, it was not for a lack of trying but it's well known that it's always a challenge to get a project off the ground when you are a director who doesn't gravitate anywhere towards the conventional and conventional "Holy Motors" is not.

Denis Lavant, (who has appeared in four of Mr. Carax's films) plays Oscar whose work involves traveling throughout Paris to complete a day of  "assignments" that involves putting on elaborate make-up and costumes to become several different people. He is driven to each job in a white limo by his associate, Celine (Edith Scob, who does a brief nod to her role in the 1960 French horror classic, "Eyes Without A Face" near the end) as he first transforms in to a homeless woman begging on the street before turning into Mr. Merde, a grotesque sewer-dweller who will ravenously eat anything in front of his face, from a bouquet of flowers to human fingers. The creature is captivated by a fashion model (Eva Mendes) on a photo shoot before dragging her back to his lair. Oscar's other varied assignments include performing while wearing a motion-capture suit that features gun-play and sexually-charged acts with a female, leading a band of accordion players through a musical number and a chance encounter with another "worker" (Kylie Minogue) who may have been once romantically involved with Oscar. His final job has him returning to his family, which leads to a conclusion that is truly wacky and bizarre.

Mr. Carax's script appears to be elusive by design with the dialogue intended to only add to the riddle of what this all means but what is clear is that this a celebration of the art of performance and what hold everything together is the presence of the gifted, Mr. Lavant. Here, he is given the opportunity to use his rubbery, expressive face to dive deeply in to a multitude of characters while displaying a wide range of emotions from funny to touching to just plain weird with the actor more than capable of rising to this complicated challenge.

"Holy Motors" pays a bittersweet tribute to the moving image as it imaginatively combines classic cinematic elements with modern techniques that goes from a bloody revenge segment to a melancholy musical number with Ms Minogue breaking in to song. This all feels very much like a Gallic version of something that David Lynch would conjure up.

The surreal journey in "Holy Motors" leaves you dizzy and flustered but it also manages to sneak up on you, drawing you in to this dazzling fantasy that looks at life through the magical dream world of cinema and despite Mr. Carax's dark, oddball approach, his deep love of film shines through brightly.


Thursday, November 15, 2012

FLIGHT (2012)

Written by John Gatins


Directed by Robert Zemeckis


Where & When: Arclight Cinemas, Hollywood, CA. November 4, 2012  6:00PM



Two-time Academy Award winner, Denzel Washington has joined forces with fellow Oscar winner, director, Robert Zemeckis with the fascinating results of this collaboration being "Flight". The film grapples with the heroic effort of a quick-thinking airline pilot who manages to save the lives of most of his passengers after a mechanical problem brings the plane down. However it is his off-duty activities that comes under scrutiny with mounting concern that it may have possibly impaired his judgement on the job

We first meet "Whip" Whitaker (Washington) early one morning in Florida after an alcohol and drug-fueled evening with a lovely member of his flight crew (Nadine Velazquez). Although he is quite an experienced pilot, it's clear that he is in no real condition to fly a plane but after a white powder pick-me-up, "Whip" appears smooth and ready for flight.

With passengers and crew ready to take off to Atlanta, "Whip" is convinced that he's got everyone fooled and under control although his co-pilot, Ken (Brian Geraghty) seems unsure but remains silent. Experiencing extreme turbulence while taking off in a heavy storm, "Whip" shows off his skills getting the plane in to clear skies. After sneaking some liquor and taking a quick nap, "Whip" prepares to land however something goes terribly wrong, which leads to the film's most harrowing sequence, as the plane nosedives uncontrollably back to the surface. With Ken in full-blown panic mode, "Whip" has to make some quick decisions to try getting the plane back in control and slowing it down before crash landing.

"Whip" wakes up in the hospital with relatively minor injuries and greeted by his old friend, Charlie (Bruce Greenwood)  now a rep for the pilot's union. Although there were very few fatalities and he's seen as a hero but now "Whip" is informed that he's under investigation due to a blood test revealing that he was under the influence of narcotics. His lawyer (Don Cheadle) has managed to squash the test during the hearing but "Whip" still must go before the safety board to answer questions about the events. With his career and the possibility of jail time on the line, "Whip" struggles to remain sober before his appearance with the committee while adamantly denying he has a problem with drugs.

This is the first live action film that the director has done since the 2000 Tom Hanks vehicle, "Castaway" as he has spent the last few years experimenting with digital motion-capture that combines the movement of live actors with computer animation. This was utilized on his two holiday films aimed at children, "The Polar Express", and "A Christmas Carol" as well as the more mature action-adventure,"Beowolf". Although the response to the effect has been decidedly mixed, Mr. Zemeckis has not lost his gift of combining a dynamic, visual spectacle with a challenging story of emotional depth and introspection which he certainly brings to "Flight".

The film is helped greatly by the tense, well-crafted script by John Gatins but the greatest strength of "Flight" are the performances.There is no doubt about the amazing talent of Denzel Washington as he has proven film after film without ever delivering a false note. Lately, his last few films, including "Safe House", the box-office hit from earlier this year, has him playing against the noble and compassionate roles that marked the early part of his career as he has gone darker and more complex. He's in fine form here expertly playing a deeply troubled character whose addictions have finally reached the surface and as his life begins to spin further out-of-control, he fights even harder to cover them back up without being willing to actually alter his behavior. The actor has certainly delivered one of his finest performances and one of the best of this year.

Mr. Washington is helped by a terrific supporting cast which includes John Goodman in a showy turn (and taking a fashion cue from Jeff Bridges in "The Big Lebowski") as a jovial, drug dealer who gives a spirited, educational moment as he's called in to whip "Whip" in to shape before his appearance with the board in a way that only a supplier could do. Another standout is Kelly Reilly (another Brit doing a flawless American accent) playing a tender-hearted heroin addict nearly dying of an overdose who happens to be in the hospital at the same time as "Whip". They form an unlikely relationship made more complicated as each are in very different places in their road to recovery. Mr. Cheadle never fails to impress as he re-teams with Mr.Washington for the first time since his breakout role in "Devil In A Blue Dress" and recent Oscar winner, Melissa Leo is quite effective in her brief appearance as the lead investigator at the hearing.

"Flight" is a powerful examination of the moral dilemma facing a society who insist that heroes must be perfect and if they turn out to be flawed, then do they actually still deserve to be celebrated for their bravery? This film expertly takes on that question as it soars with breath-taking thrills, heartfelt emotion and landing with graceful precision.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

SEVEN PSYCHOPATHS (2012)

Written & Directed by Martin McDonagh


Where & When: Arclight Cinemas, Hollywood, CA.  October 24, 2012  7:15PM



"Seven Psychopaths" is a pumped-up, tough-talking, testosterone-heavy romp by the acclaimed playwright and occasional filmmaker, Martin McDonagh. This follow-up to his first feature length film, "In Bruges" (that was one of my favorites back in 2008) which starred Colin Farrell in one of best film roles, has the actor returning along with a colorful cast of well-known eccentric performers in a admirable but uneven caper involving another plot featuring the writer's well-known fascination with unpleasant stories that allow him to find great, unexpected humor in the grittier, seedier and bloodier elements in life

In a part that allows him the rare opportunity to speak with his natural brogue, Mr. Farrell plays Marty,.an Irish screenplay writer living in L.A. He's got a title, "Seven Psychopaths" and not much else as he struggles to come up with a story. His live-wire buddy, Billy (Sam Rockwell) is concerned as he thinks Marty's got a drinking problem and his Australian girlfriend (Abbie Cornish) is wrong for him which leads him to believe are the causes for his block.

Billy is in no position to be critical, however, as he makes his living stealing the beloved pets of people, then after a hefty reward is posted, returning the animals to their owners while appearing reluctant to collect the cash offer. Billy's associate in crime, Hans (Christopher Walken), a religious man with a mysterious past needs money as his wife is dying of cancer. Their seemingly brilliant scheme runs into an impending snag when they kidnap the wrong pooch. The dog in question belongs to a deadly basket-case of a gangster, Charlie Costello (Woody Harrelson) and he's completely distraught over the loss of his precious, little doggie. Once Costello gets wind that it was no mere accident and who might be behind the dognapping, he sets his sights on a murderous quest in retrieving his pet. Marty gets swept up in the mayhem and winds up on the run with Billy and Hans while they each offer ideas to help him finish his script.

Although he delivers a few laughs, Mr. Farrell is basically reduced to a twitchy, straight man, left to reacting to all of the insanity around him while the rest of the actors, Mr.Walken, Tom Waits as a rabbit-loving psycho with a wild tale to tell and most especially Mr. Rockwell, seem to be having a grand time with explosively broad performances, allowing them plenty of opportunities to remind how they earned their reputations.

With the script filled with vividly, atypical dialogue, quirky, barbaric characters, pitch-dark humor and extremely bloody violence, it will unavoidably bring to mind the films of Tarantino. Although Mr.McDonagh's work doesn't exactly sparkle or excite like the writer of "Pulp Fiction" or "Jackie Brown" but he still has his own subtle charms that shine through as he certainly knows how to write rich, textured funny stories. The skewering of Hollywood and it's deep love of cliches comes across as accurate but a bit too obvious and while he brings attention to how women are not exactly treated well in action flicks, he offers nothing much better as the few actresses present (which include the Oscar nominee for "Precious", Gabourey Sidibe as Costello's fearful dog walker) are seen briefly and only seem to be around to hurl insults and degrade. Even Ms Cornish and Olga Kurylenko who plays Costello's girlfriend are prominently displayed in the film's poster but their total time on screen combined only adds up to maybe ten minutes. Mr. McDonagh needs to make more of an effort to use female characters much more effectively.

"Seven Psychopaths" runs out of steam by the conclusion with a jumble of highly improbable actions that felt too mannered and forced. Despite this, the film is still a fun ride for most of the trip that offers (in between all of the bloodshed) some engagingly, wacky humor and reliably off-the-wall comedic performances.


Monday, October 22, 2012

THE PAPERBOY (2012)

Written by Pete Dexter & Lee Daniels


Directed by Lee Daniels


Where & When: Arclight Cinemas, Hollywood, CA.  October 17, 2012  7:55PM



Outrageously deranged and campy but still not particularly entertaining, "The Paperboy", the follow-up to the highly-acclaimed film, "Precious: Based on the Novel, "Push" by Sapphire" by director Lee Daniels, is a pumped-up, Southern Gothic murder mystery that the filmmaker shows little interest in resolving as he's more involved with creating a lurid, overheated atmosphere littered with eccentric and grotesque character-types. This might have been interesting to watch except it's all clumsily handled with a wildly incoherent script and allowing his top-notch actors to sink in the muddy swamp with such heavy-handed performances.

Set in a small, Florida town in the summer of 1969, this story is told through Anita (Macy Gray), a slightly loopy woman who worked as a maid for the Jansen family during the time of the murder of the highly disliked, racist sheriff. Another ornery and foul man, Hillary Van Wetter (John Cusack) has been convicted of the crime and sits on death row but proclaims his innocence although he doesn't have much of an alibi. Ward Jansen (Matthew McConaughey), now a reporter for the Miami Times, returns to his hometown to write about the case with a fellow journalist, Yardley (David Oyelowo), a black Brit who raises eyebrows as he demands to be respected by these townspeople. Ward's younger brother, Jack (Zac Efron) stills live at home with their father (Scott Glenn) who runs the local paper. Although he wants to write, Jack is unmotivated with the closes he gets to a newspaper is delivering them.

Charlotte Bless (Nicole Kidman), a hot-to-trot, bottle blonde who spends her time writing to convicts in the pursuit of a potential husband, connects with Van Wetter. He tells Charlotte that he didn't commit the murder and that's good enough for her, so she goes to Ward with boxes of evidence to help overturn Van Wetter's conviction. Jack soon finds his motivation in the charms of Charlotte and wants to help his brother on this case. They all work together to investigate, discovering that Van Wetter might have been set up which could lead to his freedom as well as a sensational exposé for the reporters.

Having enjoyed the previous films directed by Mr. Daniels which includes his poorly-reviewed first, "Shadowboxer"(that shares in the convoluted plotting and over-the-top drama yet still seems much more grounded than "The Paperboy")  but I'm puzzled by his third feature film as it's unclear whether he wanted to create a black comedy or melodramatic thriller or perhaps some sort of hybrid? Regardless, it doesn't work in any case as the film feels contrived with way too many gaping holes in this unconvincing story.

Although "The Paperboy" touches on the serious issue of race and the evolving relationship during this era  between the Southern whites who openly bristle at the idea of change and African-Americans who know full well that change isn't going to happen anytime soon but it takes a backseat to overly dramatic flourishes of feverish sexuality and brutal violence that leads to a film that is both unsettling and strangely amusing. A considerable amount of time and energy was put in to create an accurate feel of the period and the film looks great thanks to the work of cinematographer, Roberto Schaefer but it ends up feeling wasted as the editing is choppy and the tone unfocused.

I have always greatly admired Ms Kidman because she has always gravitated towards challenging material as she's a fearless and fully committed actress with no character too bizarre to handle. However, the Oscar winner may have met her match as her role of Charlotte is a cartoon maneater with Kidman made to look ridiculously garish with her skin the color of burnt toast, covered in more make-up that even a drag queen would dare wear. Then she is required to perform a hands-free, mutual masturbation jailhouse visit with Mr.Cusack (that has to be seen to believed) as well as the infamous jellyfish scene that involves Mr. Efron being urinated on by Ms Kidman. Like most of the cast, I'm sure she was motivated to work with Mr. Daniels due to the emotional power of "Precious" but this impassive mess is beneath her.

Although Ms Kidman is the one who is supposed to be delivering the sexy but its only the male stars who actually display some skin. The only purpose of Mr. Efron's appearance seems to be his willingness to perform in much of the film in his tighty-whiteys as he isn't given much else to offer. While Mr. McConaughey shows even more flesh than he did in this summer's hit stripper film, "Magic Mike" but his character's taste for rough trade as a punishment for his forbidden desires is disturbing. The actor appeared in another gruesomely violent Southern tale, "Killer Joe" but he is on a career high this year so this other, unfortunate bump will likely have little effect.

With "The Paperboy", Mr. Daniels drags us through a dark and unpleasant world, drenched in sleaze and savagery that leaves you with nothing more than a feeling that a bath is desperately needed.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

2012 AFI FILM FESTIVAL PRESENTED BY AUDI


AFI has just announced the line-up for this year's festival presented by Audi which will be held November 1st through the 8th.

The American Film Institute will once again present an impressive collection of the very best in global cinema beginning with the world premiere of "Hitchcock" which stars Academy-Award winner, Anthony Hopkins as the iconic director with fellow Oscar-winner, Helen Mirren as his wife, Alma. The film focuses on their relationship during the filming of his 1959 classic, "Psycho":



This year's Guest Artistic Director is director, Bernardo Bertolucci as he presents four films that inspired him as a filmmaker which includes the musical, "42nd Street" and the silent classic, "Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans" as well as a documentary short, "Electric Chair", a behind-the-scenes look at Bertolucci's latest film, "Me And You".

Marion Cotillard, the Best Actress Oscar winner will be honored during the festival and will screen her recent film, "Rust and Bone", directed by Jacques Audiard, with her performance in the film being highly praised:



The closing night film will be another world premiere of Steven Spielberg's highly anticipated, "Lincoln" that stars Daniel Day-Lewis as the President and Sally Field as the First Lady.

In between, there will be a wide assortment of films from around the globe including Ang Lee's, "Life of Pi", Walter Salles', "On The Road" and a selection of the official Foreign-Language Film submissions for this year's Academy Awards, "Barbara" (Germany), "Pieta" (South Korea), "Caesar Must Die" (Italy), "A Royal Affair" (Denmark) and director, Michael Haneke's Palme d'Or winner, "Amour" (Austria):






The festival will be held again in Hollywood at the Egyptian Theatre, the Grauman's Chinese Theater and the Chinese 6 Theaters. Like previous years, tickets are being offered for free to all screenings but there will be Patron Packages, Cinepass Express passes and Special Screenings passes available for purchase.

For a complete list of films and additional information, please go to:
AFI 2012

Thursday, October 11, 2012

DIANA VREELAND: THE EYE HAS TO TRAVEL (2012)

Directed by Bent-Jorgen Perlmutt & Lisa Immordino Vreeland


Where & When: Lincoln Plaza Cinemas, New York, NY.  October 2, 2012  4:10PM



"Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has To Travel" is the very grand and very divine documentary on one of the most influential people of the last century. First as the fashion editor for Harper's Bazaar magazine before moving on to Vogue as Editor-In-Chief, Vreeland found inspiration and great beauty from a wide range of unique and unconventional models, clothing, photographers, locations and artists where she brought them forth to the world, demanding that attention be paid.

Born in 1903 as Diana Dalziel in Paris, she was the eldest of two daughters of an American socialite mother and British father. Her relationship with her her mother was complicated due to Diana not being seen as conventionally attractive with her being referred to as an "ugly duckling" by her parent. Although raised amongst high society and luxury, first throughout Europe before the family settled in New York at the beginning of World War I, the young, stylish Diana didn't quite fit in as she gravitated towards thoughts and behavior that would seem unbecoming of someone from her background. Dance was her first passion and after taking ballet lessons during the day, she would be out partying in to the wee hours while enjoying the company of various suitors. Diana settled down after she met Thomas Vreeland, a handsome banker and they were soon wed in 1924. Although she had two sons, Thomas, Jr. and Frederick, shortly after, being a conventional mother didn't hold much interest to her as she preferred to shop, travel and socialize.

In 1937, Carmel Snow, the then-editor of Harper's Bazaar had admired the style of Mrs.Vreeland and asked her to do something for the magazine. "Why Don't You. . ." became a popular column that Vreeland would offer colorful suggestions on a variety of subjects with one of her most eye-raising involved washing your blond child's hair in stale champagne to sustain the color. She soon became an editor as she took fashion and her job very seriously, which created problems for staff members if she felt they lacked her passion. During her time with Harper's, Vreeland helped further the career of a young model, Lauren Bacall by putting her on the cover and would later become a Hollywood actress because of it, launched the work of Richard Avedon as he eventually became chief photographer for the magazine and offered fashion advice to the new First Lady, Jacqueline Kennedy.

After twenty-five years with Harper's Bazaar, feeling underpaid and undervalued, Vreeland decided to jump over to Vogue to run the magazine in 1962. Change was in the air and she loved these swinging times as the ideas of beauty was evolving, utilizing the magazine to reflect this. Vreeland stopped using society women as models and began to display ethnic and offbeat looking women such as Penelope Tree and Twiggy who were no longer photographed simply in a studio but actual, exotic destinations around the globe. Performers like Cher and Barbra Streisand, known for their distinctive looks, were championed by putting them on the cover and Rock & roll was embraced in Vogue with Mick Jagger being a favorite of Vreeland's ("Those lips!").

Due to a lengthy period of out-of-control, extravagant spending at the magazine as well as her own advancing years, Vreeland was unceremoniously dumped as the editor at Vogue in 1971. She became depressed and at a loss for a short time before she received an offer that would become the exciting final chapter of her already quite amazing career. As the consultant for the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Vreeland would continue to shake things up with inventive (which were considered quite shocking at the time) programs that are still being done to this day.

"The Eye Has To Travel" was crafted like a scrapbook by first-time co-directors, Mr. Perlmutt and Mrs. Immordino Vreeland (who is married to the subject's grandson but never met her) as they gathered a variety of sources;  television interviews she did in her later years, the recordings with writer, George Plimpton for her autobiography, "D.V." and recollections from some of the people who knew and worked with her such as former models who later became better known as actresses, Ali MacGraw (who actually began as one of Vreeland's personal assistants), Lauren Hutton and Anjelica Huston as well as fashion designers, Diane Von Furstenberg, Calvin Klein and Oscar de la Renta. Nobody claims that she was easy to deal with but they all admired her spirit and her progressive ideas on fashion.

As to be expected from such an eccentric personality, Vreeland theatrically spoke in adjectives and exclamation points, a woman who freely expressed her strong opinions, which was certainly not common in her day. However, the film doesn't dig too deep as it is mostly celebratory and doesn't reveal enough of the true, complex woman. Vreeland freely admits that she only liked to disclose her history as she would have liked it to actually have been or what she refers to as "faction". Her personal life is mostly glossed over although her two surviving children discuss how they were very aware that their mother's work was always her main focus even during the time when her beloved husband was seriously ill.

Even if you may not know (or care) about the difference between Veruschka or Balenciaga, "The Eye Has To Travel" is the fascinating look in to the life of the fashion world's true visionary as you can't help being swept away by the prickly charm of this witty, talented woman.
    

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

THE MASTER (2012)

Written & Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson


Where & When: Arclight Cinemas, Hollywood, CA.  September 21, 2012  6:15PM


It is, by no means, any exaggeration to proclaim that Paul Thomas Anderson is one of the greatest contemporary filmmakers working today. All one has to do is take a look at his amazing oeuvre, which only includes six feature films to date, to witness his strong commitment to his craft, the ability to coax out powerful performances from his cast of actors and a desire to contribute unconventional and slightly eccentric stories to cinema.

Starting with his 1996 film, "Hard Eight" (originally entitled "Sydney"), a crime-thriller featuring Phillip Baker Hall and an early screen appearance by Gwyneth Paltrow. While this was not completely successful but still quite fascinating and showcased his great promise. A film about porn stars working in the 1970's San Fernando Valley in "Boogie Nights" became Mr. Anderson's critically acclaimed breakthrough, earning him and the unappreciated film star, Burt Reynolds their first Oscar nominations and made people take former hip-hop musician, Mark Wahlberg seriously as an actor. "Magnolia" was next with Anderson retuning to the Valley with an all-star cast playing characters in search of the meaning of life that earned the director another writing Oscar nomination and a Supporting Actor nod for Tom Cruise. Comedian, Adam Sandler (of all people) actually gave an pretty, amazing performance in Anderson's version of a romantic comedy, "Punch-Drunk Love" in 2002 with Emily Watson as the object of his affection. "There Will Be Blood" in 2007 earned seven Academy-Award nominations (including Best Picture) with Daniel Day-Lewis winning a well deserved award for Best Actor in the role of a ruthless oilman who will trample down anyone in his quest for power.

The latest, "The Master" tells it's story through the eyes of Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix), a lost and damaged soul, who after meeting a smooth-talking, self-proclaimed prophet uses his dubious, experimental techniques to try to alter the course of his troubled life. This new work has all of the elements that have made Anderson's previous films so impressive but this is made up more of a series of compelling moments instead of a cohesive narrative yet what powerfully, seductive moments.

Before Quell even mutters a single word, there's a feeling that something is clearly off about him. An intense, manic energy along with a sense of sexual depravity, combined with his dark, beady eyes and skeletal appearance, gives off a completely creepy demeanor but there is also an air of melancholia which he struggles to keep deeply buried. After serving in the military near the end of World War II, Quell is being observed for post-traumatic stress,  although it's unclear whether his erratic behavior was an issue before he enlisted. He spends much of his time creating homemade liquor (a dangerous concoction created using available ingredients which can include ethanol and lighter fluid) which he heavily consumes. After he's released from the Navy, Freddie attempts to fit back in to post-war society with various jobs; first as a photographer at a department store, then as a field hand but each ending disastrously due to his irrational, destructive conduct, usually fueled by alcohol.

Quell's life is dramatically altered after he stows away on the yacht of Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman) during the celebration of the marriage of his daughter. Dodd is a doctor, writer, philosopher and the leader of a religious-like movement called "The Cause" and he is referred to by his followers as "The Master". Dodd feels like he has known this odd young man from somewhere before but soon the two men form a deep bond, initially over moonshine but eventually connecting through the Master's extensive exercises which is called, "processing" involving repetitive questions that are used to help deal with their emotions and release past trauma as well as past lives.

Family is important to Dodd and his are all involved in the program which is headed by his loyal wife, Peggy (Amy Adams),who is expecting their second child and a fierce defender of her husband's life work. Freddie is welcomed in to the fold as he becomes a close part of the organization as he travels with them to the homes of wealthy followers, spreading the word at their parties to invited guests as they solicit for donations.

Questions are raised on the validity of Dodd's teachings and his lack of proper qualifications to practice medicine which raises the ire of the usually calm and collected man while Quell is considered an increasingly disruptive presence in the group, most particularly by Dodd's wife, who feels the program is not helping him as his drinking and violent outbursts have not diminished.

There had been rumors that "The Master" is a thinly-veiled (or at the very least, heavily inspired) telling of L. Ron Hubbard and his creation of Dianetics and the Church of Scientology but Mr. Anderson is not interested in simply fictionalizing his story and has created something far more interesting. We are brought in to this complicated, unconventional character study that deals with faith and loyalty but Mr. Anderson doesn't judge and provides no clear answers to the many questions that he has raised.

The film seems created to feel like an event and in that, it succeeds with the bold work of cinematographer, Mihai Malaimare, Jr. and the use of rarely seen 70MM screen format that creates these wonderfully, crisp visual images that helps elevate "The Master" to another level. The lead actors make a terrific team as their connection feels deep with hints that it could possibly be more than simply brotherly. Mr. Hoffman brilliantly portrays this highly intelligent, imposing man with a grand ego, certainly enjoying being worshiped and admired but who also truly believes that his teachings will help mankind. I can't say I've ever been a big fan of Mr. Phoenix but he immerses himself, mentally and physically, so deep in to his role that it's quite shocking and thrilling to witness. I can't even imagine another performer who could have possibly even come close to the great work this actor has accomplished and would have committed themselves so thoroughly and completely. I believe that Mr. Phoenix qualifies as one of the best acting performances of the year, if not the best.

Plenty of glowing praise has been heaped upon "The Master" and while it's certainly a riveting and masterful work, it still feels a little unfocused and slightly baffling compared to what Mr. Anderson has previously accomplished. A second viewing seems almost required to take another look at seemingly inconsequential earlier moments that might help clarify later scenes. Or not. Regardless, "The Master" still should be seen as it is certainly one of the most passionate, exhilarating films released this year.


 

Friday, September 21, 2012

2012 FALL MOVIE PREVIEW

Fall is not only just a change of season but it also a time where cinema begins to change colors and moods as we begin to see films that offer darker subject-matter, unconventional plots and exciting new works by respected and admired filmmakers. Lighter fare that is more commonly seen during the warmer months will most certainly continue to pop-up here and there but now we will have more opportunities to see rich, thought-provoking cinema that will stimulate, challenge and inspire.

Here are a small collection of films coming out over the next few months that I am highly anticipating. As always, the U.S. release dates for these films are subject to change:


"WUTHERING HEIGHTS"

Release date: October 12, 2012

A radical reworking of the classic British novel by Emily Bronte, "Wuthering Heights" now tells the story of  a young black child taken in by a farmer where he develops a relationship with his young daughter. James Howson and Kaya Scodelario play Heathcliff and Cathy as adults in this film written and directed by Andrea Arnold who won an Oscar for Best Live Action Short in 2005. Although it's now just hitting our shores but the film has been screened at several film festivals (where it won Best Cinematography at the 2011 Venice Film Festival) and released theatrically in the U.K. last year to great acclaim.



"THE SESSIONS"

Release date: October 26, 2012

"The Sessions" premiered earlier this year at the Sundance Film Festival where the film won the Audience Award for Best Feature as well as a Jury Prize for Best Acting Ensemble. Oscar-winner, Helen Hunt returns in her first lead in a film role in quite awhile as a sex surrogate hired by a paralyzed poet (John Hawkes) with his fortieth birthday approaching and deciding he wants to lose his virginity. William H. Macy also stars.



"CLOUD ATLAS"

Release date: October 26, 2012

Billed as "the most expensive independent film of all-time" with a budget of one hundred million dollars, "Cloud Atlas" is an all-star, sci-fi drama directed by Tom Tykwer ("Run Lola Run") and Andy and Lana Wachowski ("The Matrix" trilogy). Based on the novel by David Mitchell, the film follows different people from the past, present and future and how their actions effect the world through each of the following generations. Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Hugh Grant, Hugo Weaving and Susan Sarandon headline the large cast with each actor playing multiple characters.



"LINCOLN"

Release date: November 9, 2012

Director, Steven Spielberg is taking on the sixteenth President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln in this film which focuses on the last four months of the life of this great American with a screenplay written by the Pulitzer-Prize winning playwright, Tony Kushner. Daniel Day-Lewis plays the President and Sally Field as his wife, Mary Todd. Joseph Gordon- Levitt, Tommy Lee Jones, John Hawkes and David Strathairm are just a few of the actors rounding out the large, impressive cast of "Lincoln".



"ANNA KARENINA"

Release date: November 16, 2012

Keira Knightley and director, Joe Wright have teamed-up again for the third time in another retelling of the classic Russian novel by Leo Tolstoy, "Anna Karenina". The story of a nineteenth century married socialite (Knightley) who falls in love with a Count (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) remains the same but this version is a glossy and heavily stylized drama set almost entirely in a theatrical setting. Jude Law, Emily Watson and Kelly Macdonald (TV's "Boardwalk Empire") also star.



"SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK"

Release date: November 21, 2012

"Silver Linings Playbook" just took home the prize as the People's Choice Award at the just recently ended Toronto Film Festival. This is a good sign of things to come for this film by the talented but difficult writer/director, David O. Russell which is the follow-up to his Oscar-winning film from 2010,"The Fighter". This comedy-drama stars Bradley Cooper as a former teacher just released from a mental institution in to the care of his parents (Robert DeNiro and Jacki Weaver). He has difficulty trying to readjust to life when he meets a young woman (Jennifer Lawrence) who has some serious issues of her own. After being away for quite awhile, comedian, Chris Tucker makes his long-awaited return in this film.



"ZERO DARK THIRTY"

Release date: December 19, 2012

"Zero Dark Thirty" is a term from military time which means "thirty minutes after midnight" and it is also the title of the new film by the team of director, Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter, Mark Boal who both won Oscars with their last collaboration on the 2009 Best Picture winner, "The Hurt Locker". This story focuses on how after the September 11th attack on America, a top team, made-up of intelligence and military, was assembled with only one mission; to track down and terminate the al-Qaeda leader, Osama bin Laden. Jessica Chastain, Joel Edgerton, Kyle Chandler, Edgar Ramirez and Mark Strong star in this dramatic action-thriller.



"ON THE ROAD"

Release date: December 21, 2012

It has taken quite a long time but Jack Kerouac's classic 1957 novel, "On The Road" has finally been turned in to a film. The story was a fictional take on Kerouac's actual travels with his soon-to-be influential friends (like writers, Allen Ginsberg and William S. Burroughs) across the U.S. in the 1940's with Sam Riley as Sal Paradise and Garrett Hedlund as Dean Moriarty. "On The Road" is directed by Walter Salles ("The Motorcycle Diaries"), produced by Francis Ford Coppola and features Kristen Stewart, Amy Adams, Kirsten Dunst and Viggo Mortensen.


Tuesday, September 18, 2012

COSMOPOLIS (2012)

Written & Directed by David Cronenberg


Where & When: Mann Chinese 6, Hollywood, CA. September 10, 2012  3:50PM



"Cosmopolis", David Cronenberg's confounding and plodding new film focuses on a day in the life of a highly stressed-out, obscenely wealthy one perecenter who feels his world crushing in on him due to a possible devastating, personal financial crisis, the rising revolt by the other ninety-nine percent and the potential threat by an unstable stalker.

Set in the not too distant future, Eric Packer (Robert Pattinson), a twenty-something, Manhattan billionaire who is burdened with too much time and money on his hands, has one simple goal for the day; to get a haircut from a specific barber across town.What should have been a simple ride is now complicated due to a visit by the President which has caused traffic to grind down to a crawl. While this could become a potentially unbearable situation for the average citizen but Packer is fortunate enough to be able to travel in style in the back of his luxurious stretch limousine. This state of the art machine serves more than one purpose as it's his home away from home that is highly comfortable and lined with all of the conveniences of modern technology.

Throughout his slow drive, a bevy of employees, associates, family and friends arrive in the limo to discuss various events and situations in the life of Eric Packer. The visitors include his tech guy (Jay Baruchel), the art consultant (Juliette Binoche), the chief advisor (Samantha Morton), a rap performer (K'naan), Elise (Sarah Gadon), the new wife who refuses to have sex with her husband and the doctor who performs his daily physical all under the watchful eye of his head of security (Kevin Durand).

As Packer moves closer to his destination, he becomes more erratic and unstable, committing shocking acts of violence before finally confronting the man that has been making threats against him, Benno Levin (Paul Giamatti), a former disgruntled employee.

Mr. Cronenberg's work tend to be either readily accessible ("The Fly", "Eastern Promises", "A Dangerous Method") or highly enigmatic ("Naked Lunch",  "eXistenZ", "Spider") with very little that falls in between with the possible exception of his 1996 controversial film, "Crash". This clearly makes him one of the most consistently fascinating filmmakers working today. Over the course of his career, the writer/director has adapted several seemingly unfilmable novels in to films with wildly mixed results but "Cosmopolis", based on the novel by Don DeLillo, was clearly misguided. This timely story which touches on this country's current financial crisis had clear potential but the execution of the film is what mainly brings this work down. Allowing most of the action to remain in the confines of the limo without giving the characters much more to do than simply talk (and talk) grows monotonous quite quickly with the uninspired attempts at humor and the largely, incomprehensible dialogue not helping matters.

The other problem was the casting of Mr. Pattinson. What was needed was a performer with some heft who would be able to draw you in to this dense material and could portray the dark inner life of this complex and unappealing character but unfortunately, the young actor is not quite up to the challenge. Perhaps his work playing an undead vampire in the "Twilight" saga seemed like he could be the right man for the job but all he seemed to expertly provide is the lifeless dimension of this character (and quite well I should add) but not much else. It didn't seem to matter what he was saying, Pattinson delivered each sentence with the same flat, monotone voice as his pained face still gave no clear indication of what his character was actually feeling. The only performers who managed to make any real impression were the much too brief appearances by Ms Binoche and Ms Morton, two very appealing character actresses who each manage to bring a spark of much needed life to these bleak proceedings.

"Cosmopolis" is another surreal vision by a passionate filmmaker with a eye for challenging, unconventional stories. While this is quite admirable and greatly appreciated but regrettably, his latest work lacks a pulse. There is a plot that could be taken straight from today's headlines but the film lacks persuasive emotion or outrage and there are plenty of eloquent words spoken but not nearly enough feeling behind them.

 

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

LAWLESS (2012)

Written by Nick Cave


Directed by John Hillcoat


Where & When: Vista Theater, Los Angeles, CA. September 2, 2012  4:15PM


I'm sure it's hard to imagine but there was a time, not so long ago, where it was actually illegal to sell alcohol in the United States. The ban went in to effect in 1920 and for thirteen long years before the repeal, America was supposed to remain bone dry but this certainly didn't stop people from getting their hands on booze. This spurred the creation of an underground industry of homemade liquor that was run and largely distributed by the mob.

"Lawless", based on the actual events covered in the novel, "The Wettest County In The World", a film about the Bondurant brothers, a trio of small-time bootleggers from Franklin County in Virginia who uses a diner as their front.  The brooding, Forrest (Tom Hardy) is the brains of the family operation who uses his words economically as his grunts clearly expresses exactly what he means. Wild-eyed and unpredictable, Howard (Jason Clarke) will gladly handle any opportunity that requires brute force. Jack (Shia LaBeouf) is the youngest who is probably much too sensitive for this line of work but determined to show that he can handle any of the dangers that come their way.

The country was in the middle of the depression as these simple, backwoods men discretely provide booze to the local area to help make some sort of decent living. The law enforcement, who receive liquor in exchange, turned a blind eye to the transactions. The tranquility is soon disrupted, first by the arrival of a mobster (Gary Oldman) out of Chicago who makes his presence felt by gunning down a rival in the middle of the town in broad daylight. Jack witnesses the murder, impressed and wishing he could be as bold and fearless.

Maggie (Jessica Chastain) a striking redhead clearly not from this part of town, enters the Bondurant bar looking for work and seemingly wanting to distance herself from her past. Forrest hires the mysterious lady as a waitress although the reason appears to be less about her skills as a server.

Finally, Special Agent Rakes (Guy Pierce) has been sent by the District Attorney to collect a cut from all of the bootleggers in the county but Forrest firmly refuses. Although Rakes arrives scented and looking quite the dandy, the man is sadistic, psychotic and more than ready to kill anyone who stands in his way of the completion of his assignment. A battle rages as much blood is spilled and the body count rises until a final showdown between the Bondurants and the agent reaches a deadly climax.

The Australians, director, Hillcoat and Nick Cave, who briefly put aside his day job as a rock musician to write this impressive screenplay, helped the film greatly by not feeling any strong obligation to go down any predictable road that is closely associated with this very American gangster genre. There is plenty of graphic, brutal violence to be found which is to be expected but what is unexpected is the amount of emotion which is not usually found with this type of film. The personal relationships and romantic encounters feel authentic and, at times, actually quite touching. "Lawless" is visually stunning thanks to the work of  cinematographer, Benoit Delhomme as he provides a rich and dusty palette as well as the picture perfect details of the costumes and production design by Margot Wilson and Chris Kennedy respectively.

A strong cast has been brought together including Mia Wasikowska as the daughter of a preacher that Jack is attracted to but highly improbable that her father would ever approve. His childish antics off-screen has warranted more attention than any of his previous work in any of the Hollywood blockbusters he has made but as the conflicted John, Mr. LaBeouf takes on a more mature part and does a fine job to show that he is capable of much more than what he has shown to date.  The British actor, Tom Hardy continues to impress in his varied roles in film with his most recent appearance as Bane in the final film of the Batman saga, "The Dark Knight Rises" as the actor was able to portray such intimating menace despite most of his face being covered by a mask. In "Lawless", Mr. Hardy has his whole, handsome face to work with as the prickly, indestructible brother as he quietly commands each moment he's on screen while Ms Chastain, another impressive rising star, also provides a poignant performance in her supporting role.

It appears that all of the right elements were in place and yet as the closing credits began to roll, it still felt that "Lawless" seemed to have just missed the mark of  being considered completely satisfying. Although this engaging work was inspired by the adventures of the real-life brothers, most of the events in "Lawless" plays too much like an overdone urban legend than anything close to an actual re-enactment of their colorful lives. However, despite this minor shortfall, this highly entertaining film should not be missed.

 

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

2012 NEW YORK FILM FESTIVAL

As the second oldest festival of cinema in North America, The New York Film Film Festival celebrates it's fiftieth year with an impressive slate of film premieres, special events and appearances. The festival will be held on September 28th thru October 14th.

"Life of Pi", based on the best-selling novel, will kick-off this year's NYFF with the film being screened in 3D (a first for the festival) and directed by Ang Lee:



The centerpiece is "Not Fade Away", the feature film debut of David Chase, the acclaimed creator of the Emmy award winning television program, "The Sopranos":

The closing night film will be "Flight", directed by Robert Zemeckis and starring Denzel Washington, Don Cheadle, John Goodman and Melissa Leo:



Some of the exciting events include a tribute to Oscar-winner, Nicole Kidman which will include a coversation with the actress as well as a screening of her latest film, "The Paperboy", directed by Lee Daniels;



A presentation of the digital restoration of David Lean's 1962 Academy-Award winner for Best Picture, "Lawrence of Arabia", The 25th anniversary screening of "The Princess Bride" which will include a cast reunion with director, Rob Reiner and a salute to Richard Pena, the program director of the NYFF for the past twenty-five years who is leaving his position at the end of the year.

I'm actually going to be in New York during the festival this time, so I am certainly going to try to see as much as I can.

For a complete listing of films and events, please go to: NYFF 2012


Thursday, August 30, 2012

SPARKLE (2012)

Written by Mara Brock Akil


Directed by Salim Akil


Where & When: Arclight Cinemas, Hollywood, CA. August 21, 2012  4:45PM



One of Whitney Houston's favorite films as a young girl was "Sparkle". Released in 1976, it's the story about a trio of talented African-American sisters living in 1950's Harlem who are striving to achieve success as singers but their lives unravel when stardom, gangsters and drug addiction enters their lives. Years later, after Ms Houston herself found fame as a top-selling musical artist, she began working on trying to bring a new version of the film to the screen. The film first came close to being made around 2001 and was to star r&b singer, Aaliyah but was delayed after her tragic death in August of that year. The singer herself went through several years of struggling with personal issues and addiction but seemed to have recovered recently, ready to resume her career. The new "Sparkle" finally went before the cameras last year with Houston as the devout, overprotective mother of the girls and "American Idol" winner, Jordin Sparks playing the title character in her film debut. Unfortunately, tragedy once again struck this production as three months after filming was completed, Whitney Houston passed away in February. While "Sparkle" is far from a completely successful endeavor but still serves as a bittersweet reminder of the glorious talent of this beautiful and great artist.

Some changes to the plot have been made in this remake with this take being glossy with most of the rough edges smoothed out compared to the original which was much darker and gritty. Now set in Detroit during the 1960's as Motown was becoming the sound of young America, Tammy Anderson who goes by "Sister" (Carmen Ejogo) has snuck out of the house to perform a song written by her youngest sister, Sparkle (Jordin) at a nightclub. Sparkle is not confident enough to sing her own material but Sister dazzles the room with a sultry performance. This catches the attention of Stix (Derek Luke), an aspiring music promoter looking for an act. He's also impressed not only by Sparkle's songwriting talent but by her beauty.

Stix thinks a girl group is the best direction to take but has to convince Sister, Sparkle and their other sibling, Delores (Tika Sumpter) to form a musical act. They agree but must keep it a secret from their mother, Emma (Houston) who is strongly against any of her children entering show business as she almost died while trying to start a music career. Sister had to move back in with her mother after her own disastrous attempt to become a singer in New York.but she's determined to make it this time. After winning a talent contest, the group called, "Sister and Her Sisters" become a popular local act. Sister gets swept away by Satin Strothers (Mike Epps), a suave comedian who achieved success by making jokes feeding on African-American stereotypes. Satin showers her with gifts and proposes but her mother finds him a disgrace and beneath her daughter. Sister marries him anyway with Emma refusing to speak to her again.

Wedded bliss is short-lived for the couple as Satin introduces his new wife to cocaine and, apparently due to career frustrations, begins beating her. An executive from Columbia Records is interested in signing the girls but Sister's escalating problems stand in the way of the group's future. A shocking accident tears the family apart but will Sparkle be able to fulfill her dream of becoming a performer?

The husband and wife creative team of Salim and Mara Brock Akil have utilized the successful Tyler Perry formula for "Sparkle" which features melodramatic plotting, broad, overdrawn characters, sitcom-worthy dialogue and overall, rooted in delivering a spiritual lesson. While this well-worn tale of a singing act trying to survive through fame, drugs and egos is watchable but the filmmakers play it much too safe with the uninspired results feeling more artifical and predictable than they surely intended. Lacking any visual flair or innovative ideas, this film struggles to justify the need for bringing this musical back to the screen.

As an actress, the young Ms Sparks didn't leave a deep impression but she has plenty of natural charm as well as being a dynamic vocalist. Ms Houston is quite effective in a supporting role as a mother trying to shield her children from the pain and hardships of a career in music although it certainly didn't appear like it required her to have to dig too deep. The real standout here is the British actress, Ms Ejogo who holds your attention whenever she is on screen with a sensual and seductive performance.

The true magic of "Sparkle' are the vibrant musical numbers that are actually sung by the actors, which features some of the songs written by Curtis Mayfield for the original film (and recorded on the soundtrack by Aretha Franklin, name-checked in this) and new material by R. Kelly. The only song performed by Whitney Houston is the gospel standard, "His Eye Is On The Sparrow". It's clear that her amazing voice, now ragged and hoarse, is no longer what it used to be but she still provides a quite moving rendition that's the highlight of the film.

"Sparkle" suffers from the same problem as most of the other recent remakes of prominent films (although many not at the time of their initial release) that are now considered beloved classics which is that by trying to update and improve, everything that made these films so special is completely lost. It doesn't help that today's filmmakers feel that they can sacrifice character development and story as long as they compensate for the modern viewer's short attention spans with hyper-pacing and amping up the visual effects. Also like the majority of these remakes, not many are going to have a strong desire to watch this new version of "Sparkle" again; they will, and should, simply want to seek out the original.