Wednesday, March 28, 2012

CHICO AND RITA (2011)


Written by Fernando Trueba and Ignacio Martinez de Pison


Directed by Fernando Trueba, Javier Mariscal and Tono Errando


Where & When: Nuart Theater, West Los Angeles, CA. March 13, 2012 5:10PM


"Chico & Rita", a dazzling animated film from Spain that earned a surprising but well-deserved Academy Award nomination for Best Animated Feature. This film was not made with children in mind as it's an adult love story between two Cuban musicians who have a intense desire to play beautiful music together (on and off stage) but are kept apart due to their career ambitions and an unfortunate lack of communication.

We first meet Chico (voiced by Eman Xor Ona), now an elderly gentleman who shines shoes to make a living in modern-day Havana. He hears a song on the radio that takes him back to 1948 when Chico was a young, struggling musician hanging with his pal, Ramon (Mario Guerra) who acts as his manager. While enjoying an evening at the Tropicana Club with a couple of blonde, American tourists, Chico is mesmerized by a beautiful, dark-complected singer, Rita (Limara Meneses). He tries to charm her but she's uninterested as she is entertaining her own wealthy, American tourist. The house band is missing their pianist, so Ramon arranges to get Chico to fill in. Rita, captivated by his skill as a musician, is soon easily convinced to dump her date and run off in to the night with Chico.

After a glorious evening together, reality bangs on the door in the morning light as a jealous lover of Chico's starts a physical brawl with Rita with both women leaving in a huff. Ramon manages to get the two to work together and despite a little tension, they find success as a musical team. A problem arises when an admirer offers Rita a chance to perform in New York. Rita had insisted that Chico be part of the deal but because he assumed she wanted to leave him, Chico storms off with Rita leaving for New York without him.

Chico manages later get to the Big Apple with the two lovers reconnecting one evening. There is still a deep bond between them however, Rita, now involved with her manager, has become a star in the city with her next stop is in Hollywood while Chico, as new arrival, is still struggling to make a name for himself as a musician. While Rita tries to quietly endure the sting of racism in her quest for fame, Chico manages to join a jazz band and tours Europe but because of Ramon's secret business arrangement, his future as a musician becomes completely derailed.

With the exception of a few minor scenes involving establishing shots, "Chico and Rita" is beautifully rendered in hand-drawn, two-dimensional animation which is an art form that is, unfortunately, becoming a relic of the past. The film makers wisely realized that the currently popular but sterile, computer-generated images would never have properly captured the sensual colors and great passion required. The film offers up a simple, if not predictable, story but it still manages to be quite compelling and has enough warmth and charm to keep you fully engaged. While there are brief moments of violence and nudity, it is all subtly done with nothing that would be too objectionable to allow more mature youngsters to see.

Music plays a major part of "Chico and Rita" as it helps elevate each moment from joy and laughter to  heartbreak which brings this film to life. It features the work of several jazz greats including Thelonius Monk, Tito Puente and Dizzy Gillespie who all make brief appearances in the film.

"Chico and Rita" is as vibrant and electric as the music it celebrates and it brings long overdue attention to not only jazz but to the musicians who struggled and sacrificed but remained committed in playing simply because of their deep love of the music.

Monday, March 19, 2012

RENDEZ - VOUS WITH FRENCH CINEMA



The "Rendez-Vous With French Cinema" series of recent Gallic hits will be coming to Los Angeles on March 28th at select Laemmle Theaters.

The five films featured are:

PATER (2011)

Directed by Alain Cavalier
Starring Vincent Lindon and Alain Cavalier

France’s most unpredictable filmmaker, Alain Cavalier, teams up with actor Vincent Lindon for a witty, semi-improvised look at men, power and politics, starring Cavalier himself as a fictional French President and Lindon as his newly appointed Prime Minister.

MOON CHILD (LA PERMISSION DE MINUIT) (2011)

Directed by Crystel Fournier
Starring Vincent Lindon, Emmanuelle Devos, Quentin Challal.

Romain is a "moon child," afflicted since birth by a rare genetic deficiency that makes him unable to stand exposure to daylight. Since infancy he has been cared for by David, a consultant dermatologist who is fascinated with his case and with whom he has developed an unusually close relationship. Now David has to leave, and doesn't know how to tell Romain. The day of the separation draws near... a new ordeal for them both.

THE SCREEN ILLUSION (L’ILLUSION COMIQUE) (2011)

Directed by and Starring  Mathieu Amalric

Commissioned by La Comédie-Française, actor-director Mathieu Amalric’s wildly inventive update of Corneille’s popular 17th century tragicomedy follows a hotel concierge on the trail of a missing young man who seems to have left many a young female heart aflutter.

THE LAST SCREENING (LA DERNIÈRE SÉANCE) (2011)

Directed by: Laurent Achard
Starring Pascal Cervo, Charlotte van Kemmel, Karole Rocher, Brigitte Sy

"Cinema Paradiso" meets "Psycho" in a provocative genre film about the dutiful manager/projectionist of a repertory cinema in the French provinces...and the many secrets he holds.

SMUGGLERS’ SONGS (LES CHANTS DE MANDRIN) (2011) 

Directed by: Rabah Ameur-ZaÏmeche

The 18th century folk hero and bandit, Louis Mandrin is the inspiration for this strikingly relevant period tale, tracing the efforts of Mandrin’s followers to distribute his songs and stories in the build-up to the French Revolution.

For additional information, go to:
RENDEZVOUS

Saturday, March 17, 2012

JOHN CARTER (2012)

Written by Andrew Stanton, Mark Andrews and Michael Chabon



Directed by Andrew Stanton



Where & When: Vista Theater, Los Angeles, CA. March 10, 2012  8:45PM



"Tarzan of The Apes" first appeared in print almost one hundred ago and was an immediate success. He is the creation of writer, Edgar Rice Burroughs and was later made even more popular through a variety of films and television programs but Mr. Burroughs created another intriging character a year before. John Carter, a human who is transported to Mars and becomes a hero to the natives of the red planet, began life in a serial called, "Under The Moons of Mars" in a pulp magazine and was later published as a novel entitled, "A Princess of Mars" only after the success of Tarzan. Although Carter would appear in comic books and there have been many attempts to bring him to film, both in live-action and animation, but nothing was ever able to get off the ground.

Now, the character is finally getting it's due with a big screen extravaganza with Disney spending a whopping $250 million dollars to bring him to life. Hoping for a bright new franchise but unfortunately "John Carter" fails to make a memorable first impression.

Set shortly after the end of the Civil War, Edgar Rice Burroughs (a homage to the author, played by Daryl Sabara) has been informed that his uncle, John Carter has passed away, leaving behind his vast fortune to his nephew. There is also a journal that Edgar is instructed to begin reading immediately and soon discovers his uncle's secret past.

Carter, played by Taylor Kitsch, was a Confederate captain who went AWOL because he no longer wanted to take sides but he is captured by Colonel Powell (Bryan Cranston) of the Union Army. Carter manages to escape and is chased by the army but then they must team up to battle a group of Apache Indians. Powell is injured but he is rescued by Carter and they hide inside a cave.

An imposing bald man in a white robe, who is called a Thern, appears before them but Carter doesn't hesitate to take him down. Noticing a strange medallion belonging to the Thern, Carter touches it and is transported to another world. He is greeted by a group of large, green, four-armed creatures named Tharks who are about to exterminate him but because of the planet's gravity, John Carter is able to leap great distances and has super-strength. Impressed, the leader of the Tharks, Tars Tarkas (voiced by Willem Dafoe) captures Carter but spares his life.

Carter soon realizes that he is on the planet, Mars which is called Barsoom here. There has been a long battle raging between the human-like people of Helium and Zodanga but they want to call a truce which would require the Prince of Helium (Dominic West) to marry the Princess of Zodanga (Lynn Collins). The Prince, however, secretly plans on using the marriage to overthrow Zodanga with the help of the Thern leader (Mark Strong).

The Princess refuses to be used and runs away. Carter, who has escaped from capture, saves the beautiful Princess from harm but doesn't want to get involved in the messy politics of these two waring cities. Will the Princess be able to convince John Carter to join her cause to be allowed to marry for love?

This is the first live-action film from Andrew Stanton who previously directed the delightful Pixar animated films, "Finding Nemo" and "WAL-E" so, I'm very surprised at how bland and uninspired "John Carter" feels. The film has a few brief, entertaining moments during some of the bloodless battles and chase sequences but it feels overly long and burdened with lame and clunky dialogue. What is glaringly missing is a certain amount of fun and good humor which is what made Mr. Stanton's animated works so successful. Perhaps the film would have worked better in animation as Mr. Stanton seems to be restrained by the limitations of flesh and blood performers.

At least these martians don't have antennae coming out of their skulls but because the filmmakers have chosen to stick closely to Mr Burroughs' original vision, the film's production design still tends to look cheesy and dated. The problem is that the world has changed considerably since the book was first published and to not advance the technology for a modern audience was an error in judgement. "John Carter" has ended up looking like a bizarre cross between "Conan The Barbarian" and "Star Wars" which is not exactly how I would seriously envision life on the third rock from the sun.

Mr. Kitsch, better known for his role in the television series, "Friday Night Lights", has been anointed this year's next big thing as he is headlining not only this film but another ridiculously expensive, fingers crossed blockbuster with this summer's "Battleship". I'm not familiar with the young actor but after viewing him in action, I'm just not seeing the appeal. He certainly has all of the physical attributes required for the role but instead of him carrying the film, the film seems to be dragging him to the inevitable finish without Mr. Kitsch being able to leave much of an indelible mark. Ms Collins fares slightly better as the plucky princess but is still left with not much to do besides looking fetching while holding a sword and wearing very little. Some talented actors make appearances in front of (Ciaran Hinds, James Purfoy) and behind (the voices of Samantha Morton and Thomas Haden Church) the camera but none are not used to their best advantage.

"John Carter" and "Avatar" share a similar fantastical plot, spectacular visual effects and just about the same amount of crazy cash to create them but while James Cameron's film became a cultural phenomenon and mega financial success, it's safe to say that "Carter" will not even come close to sharing a similar fate. One possible reason? Mr Cameron spent a lot of time and energy making sure his project was the best it could possibly be while "John Carter" comes across like the filmmakers spent most of the money on strippers and booze, then took a long weekend to throw the film together with the left over dough.

 

Sunday, March 4, 2012

PINA (2011)

Directed by Wim Wenders


Where & When: Arclight Cinemas, Hollywood, CA.  February 26, 2012  2:35 PM


"Pina" started out to be a standard documentary about German choreographer, Pina Bausch whose ideas felt much more darker, emotional and thought-provoking than what is usually found in traditional modern dance but she unexpectedly passed away shortly before shooting was to begin. Director Wim Wenders was going to walk away from the project but was convinced by Ms Bausch's international troupe of dancers to continue on with the film as a way to honor the memory of this extraordinary artist.

With the addition of 3D photography, what was ultimately created is a glorious cinematic explosion of movement that never felt contained by the screen and expresses something more aligned to the unconventional work of the choreographer. "Pina" is a celebration of the talent and spirit that was Pina and her amazing ability to share her thoughts and feelings through dance.

Four key dance pieces are displayed; Le sacre du printemps, Café Müller, Kontakthof, and Vollmond, which best represents the work of Ms Bausch but the performances are not limited only to the stage. There were various locations used in the city of Wuppertal, Germany including the Schwebebahn, a suspension railway. The ensemble, made up of a wide assortment of ages and body shapes, use large, exaggerated movements that may appear jarring and extreme but there is a peculiar beauty to each dance that evokes such powerful emotions.

"Pina" was submitted for both Best Documentary as well as Germany's submission for Best Foreign-Language Film at this year's Academy Awards and, somewhat surprisingly, received a nomination in the former category. I found it unusual as this film doesn't fit comfortably as an actual documentary as almost the entire film is made up of recreating Ms Bausch's dance pieces although we occasionally hear and see the artist in archival footage.

It would have interesting to have heard the thought process behind Ms Bausch's work but we do get some idea of the woman herself through many of the core dancers of her company who share their memories on how she could be demanding and intimidating but also how she had the capability to delicately coax a performer out of their shell with very few words.

I thought the use of 3D might be a bit of a distraction but far from it as it added unexpected textures to each dance as it connected you deeper to every step the dancers made. Known for his use of distinctive cinematography, Mr.Wenders is in his element as it allows him to push the boundaries on how the technique can be used in film. "Pina" shows that it's not necessary to have objects flying at your face to be effective.

Not much of a fan of interpretive dance? You might, unwisely, consider passing on "Pina" but if you're open to entering the surreal world of Pina Bausch, it will definitely challenge and expand your mind. You will be treated to an uncommon but remarkably vibrant, three-dimensional experience that you will never forget.