Wednesday, May 30, 2012

WINNERS FROM THE 2012 CANNES FILM FESTIVAL

"Amour", the latest film from writer/director Michael Haneke took home the Palme d'Or at this year's Cannes Film Festival, making him the first filmmaker to win the grand prize twice as well as winning for his consecutive films with his previous feature, "The White Ribbon" in 2009.

This French-language film is the tragic story of a elderly, retired music teacher who is struggling to care for his wife after she has suffered serious medical ailments that have left her unable to speak or move on her own. Acclaimed veteran actors, Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva play the couple with Isabelle Huppert as their daughter who wants to place her mother in a nursing home but her father refuses.

Palme d'Or:  "Amour" directed by Michael Haneke




Other winners include:

Grand Prix: "Reality", directed by Matteo Garrone




Prix Du Jury: "The Angel's Share" directed by Ken Loach



Prix de la Mise en Scène (Best Director): "Post Tenebras Lux", directed by Carlos Reygadas



Prix du Scenario (Best Screenplay): Cristian Mungiu,"Beyond the Hills"



Prix d’interpretation feminine (Best Actress): Cosmina Stratan and Cristina Flutur,"Beyond the Hills" 

Prix d’interpretation masculine (Best Actor): Mads Mikkelsen, "The Hunt"



Camera d'Or (Debut Film): "Beasts of the Southern Wild", directed by Benh Zeitlin

Saturday, May 26, 2012

THE SKINNY (2012)

Written & Directed by Patrik-Ian Polk


Where & When: Laemmle's Music Hall, Beverly Hills, CA.  May 16, 2012  7:30PM


Patrik-Ian Polk, the writer/director who created the terrific, sassy comedy, "Punks" that followed the friendships of a group of gay African-Americans which lead to the groundbreaking television show, "Noah's Arc", the first weekly program to focus on gay African-American friends has returned with a new feature, "The Skinny". Mr. Polk has stuck with what he feels he does best as this romantic-comedy deals with yet another group of gay African-American friends who also struggle with life, sex and love but this version is no where near as successful as his previous accomplishments.

Magnus (Jussie Smollett), a sexy, young med student has been happily involved with his blue-collar boyfriend, Ryan (Dustin Ross) for five wonderful but very frustrating months as the couple has decided on waiting a total of six months before they become intimate. This is a way of making sure they know each other well before having sex.

Four college friends of Magnus have come to New York to party during the gay pride celebration; Langston (Shanika Warren-Markland), a lesbian medical student, the fun-loving, Joey (Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman), the sex-hungry Kyle (Anthony Burrell) and the sweet but naive Sebastian (Blake Young-Fountain) who has a crush on Kyle and plans on losing his virginity to him during this trip.

While cruising a hook-up site, Kyle discovers an ad inviting him to a sex party that looks suspiciously like Ryan. Crushed by this news, Magnus insists on going to this party to catch his man in the act. Once there, he can't go inside so Kyle volunteers but manages to get too distracted to find Ryan. Magnus finally goes in to witness for himself which puts an end to their relationship.

The gang decide to attend the pride celebration with the hope of cheering up the heartbroken, Magnus. Instead, everyone focuses on themselves with Langston and Joey lusting after the hot bartender and the equally hot stripper, respectively but both are somehow too nervous to approach them. Kyle and Sebastian become close hanging out together but later while drinking in a club, Sebastian insists on trying the drug, ecstacy with Kyle. Tragedy befalls the drugged-out Sebastian after he is separated from Kyle when two men lure him back to their place to take advantage of him.

I really wanted to like "The Skinny" as I am a fan of Mr. Polk's previous work but due to a preposterous plot and lazy, inane dialogue, this film is one unbearable slog. There are plenty of cringe-worthy scenes but the highlight has to be the step-by-step instruction on how to properly administer an enema but I guess we should be grateful we didn't receive a visual demonstration. The major problem is that this film wants to be a raunchy sex comedy while also attempting to be a PSA lecture warning about the dangers of drugs and the consequences of promiscuity with both ideas fighting each other and ending up muddled. This makes "The Skinny" about as erotic and exciting as a text book.

The performers work hard but even with the brief appearances of Darryl Stephens (the sexy lead of "Noah's Arc") and Wilson Cruz as medical technicians who give detailed advice on what you can do if you could have been exposed to HIV,  no one is able to help save this dreary comedy.

"The Skinny" wants to provide thoughtful humor and useful information regarding sexual relationships but the film is not well thought out enough to do this which leads to nothing more than a melodramatic mess.


Tuesday, May 15, 2012

BERNIE (2012)

Written by Skip Hollandsworth & Richard Linklater


Directed by Richard Linklater


Where & When: The Landmark, West Los Angeles, CA.  May 4, 2012 5:05PM


Jack Black and writer/director Richard Linklater who had great success with the 2003 film, "School of Rock" have come back together with "Bernie", a much darker comedy. This time they take on a story based on an unbelievably true incident but despite an exuberant performance by Mr. Black, their attempt to craft a droll and whimsical tale out of a senseless crime only ends up being wan and uninspired.

Bernhardt "Bernie" Tiede (Black) was a mortician and a beloved member of the small community of Carthage, TX. People noticed that Bernie was a little different from the other men in town as he wasn't much of an athlete, he showed little interest in dating any of the eligible women and he was passionate about musical theater but he was such a warm, goodhearted gentleman who helped anyone in need as well as being a very active member of the church that his quirks were overlooked.

The exact opposite can be said about Marjorie Nugent (Shirley MacLaine) as she's considered one of the most despised people in town. With her also being one of the wealthiest citizens (with a tight grip on her money), this allowed her to be unnecessarily unpleasant and cruel without repercussions.

After Marjorie's husband passes away, Bernie does what he does best; he goes to the home of the grieving to comfort them in their time of need. However, Marjorie has no interest in being comforted by Bernie but he is patient and persistent. Inexplicably, these two very different personalities with a forty-year age gap bonded with Bernie and Marjorie soon becoming very close, much to the confusion of the townspeople. This odd couple are inseparable as Bernie introduces Mrs. Nugent to the finer things in life as they dine at the best restaurants, shop at the most chicest stores while traveling around the world together, all on the newly generous widow's dime.

It doesn't take long before Bernie learns firsthand why Marjorie is so disliked by the entire town and even her own family as she constantly nags, berates and demands all of his time. Apparently fed up and much too nice to ever tell her off, Bernie loses it, shoots Marjorie in the back four times in her garage and places her body in a large food freezer. Bernie manages to cover up her disappearance for several months but inevitably, he is caught.

After he confesses to the crime, everyone in town comes to his defense as they can't believe that Bernie could ever possibly do anything so malicious and that she probably provoked him to the killing. The D.A., Danny "Buck" Davidson (Matthew McConaughey) is far from convinced of Bernie's momentary loss of reason as he successfully earns a conviction of first degree murder.

The film sticks closely to Bernie's version of events but doesn't bring-up or question any of the possible other motives for the murder such as rumors that he actually killed Marjorie because she found out he had been stealing from her and was going to report him to the police or that she had changed her will so that only Bernie would inherit her vast fortune, cutting out her son. This version of Bernie also presents a problem as he doesn't seem to possess a single notable fault well, except for killing a woman in cold blood which is explained away as him simply being very frustrated. We are never shown even the possible hint of anything sinister in his personality which seems really hard to believe considering the crime committed.

The flat direction is not helped with the use of a faux-documentary style which does a great disservice to "Bernie" as everything seen is presented like actual facts when we know that's not possible considering this  story is only coming from the side of an unreliable, convicted felon. The screenplay (co-written with Skip Hollandsworth who wrote the 1998 article in the Texas Monthly magazine in which this is based) is much too concerned with remaining completely faithful to the source material that causes the film to lack any narrative tension or any opportunity for creative verve. It would have been interesting to have seen what someone like Charlie Kaufman, the idiosyncratic writer of the films, "Adaptation" and "Being John Malkovich" would have done with this story.

This is all too bad because Mr. Black actually delivers quite an impressive performance. He is able to showcase the strengths he's best known for like his comedic skills and a pretty decent singing voice but also display his lesser seen dramatic range. The other headliners fare less well as their appearances amount to not much more than cameos with Mr. McConaughey sleep-walking through his typical Texan "good ole boy" routine while Ms MacLaine's character is nothing more than a cartoon with the actress not given anything to do but screech and look very sour. The only moments when the film actually comes to life is during the interviews with several of the residents of Carthage who colorfully express their opinions and ideas of what exactly happened between Bernie and Marjorie.

"Bernie" is an underwhelming comedy that offers too few laughs about a sensationalistic murder case that should have provided at least a few interesting or shocking revelations but it's so safe that it isn't able to raise even an eyebrow. The film's point-of-view is so one-sided that it shamelessly short-changes the victim as it seems that even Mr. Linklater, like most of the people of Carthage, is so convinced that such a nice guy couldn't possibly be guilty of committing premeditated murder.

 

Monday, May 7, 2012

ELLES (2012)

Written by Malgorzata Szumowska & Tine Byrckel


Directed by Malgorzata Szumowska


Where & When: Nuart Theater, West Los Angeles, CA.  April 28, 2012  7:30PM


I have previously stated that Juliette Binoche is one of the greatest actresses working today and it bears repeating, most especially after witnessing her most recent performance in "Elles". As a feminist writer for Elle Magazine struggling to complete an article on college girls who turn to hooking to earn extra money which causes her to reexamine her own views and look at her privileged upper middle-class life and how she fits in, the actress is utterly beguiling and endlessly fascinating. Whether looking completely tortured while trying to complete her mundane house chores when she should be finishing her long overdue assignment, the sense of disappointment as she discovers her husband and teenage son both watch porn or giggling like a teenage girl when she gets drunk for the first time with one of the young working girls she's interviewing, Ms Binoche never delivers a single false moment. It is largely an internal performance as she spends much of her time alone on screen as we watch the joy, frustration or indifference flicker across her beautifully translucent face.

Anne (Binoche) searches for subjects for her article by calling ads and arranging appointments with these girls in the hope that they will share their stories with her. She finds two girls and while both are reluctant to speak to her, Anne manages to earn their trust. Charlotte (Anaïs Demoustier), who goes by the working name "Lola", comes from a modest middle-class background who feels that turning tricks is much easier than flipping burgers to earn money while attending school. However, Charlotte's unsuspecting boyfriend is feeling the effects of her occupation as she doesn't have much desire to satisfy any of his needs. Alicja (Joanna Kulig) is a street-smart Polish immigrant who has come to France to attend college but all of her belongings are stolen shortly after she arrives. With few options available to her, Alicja soon turns to prostitution as a way to help supply income for her education.

Anne is quite surprised to learn that these girls are far from traumatized by this work and appear to be well-adjusted and content. As she spends more time with these girls, Anne abandons her own moral judgements which allows her to openly share her views and feelings with them. This leads to Anne to question her comfortable lifestyle as she is feeling greatly unappreciated by her family. The exploits of these young women also make Anne realize how frustrated she is sexually as she wishes she could be more at ease as these girls

Malgorzata Szumowska, a celebrated Polish filmmaker who co-produced Lars von Trier's 2009 creepfest, "Antichrist", has taken an uncommon approach on the world's oldest profession as she touches on a feminist perspective of prostitution that these women are still victims despite making their own choices but also seems to offer the glossy male fantasy of gorgeous young women who are sweet-natured, happy-go-lucky and love their job. "Elles" is not told chronologically which makes the film seem choppy and fragmented as the scenes are not assembled together in a clear, associative way. Since we are not given much back story or proper introduction to some of the characters, this adds confusion as to where we are in the plot or how these new additions fit.

The scenes showing how the girls make their living are quite graphic and earned "Elles" the dreaded NC-17 rating which was accepted, surprisingly, without fanfare or argument. The sexuality is not presented to necessarily titillate but to simply show how these modern young women looked at this as nothing more than a part-time job in which they are in full control but also uninhibited enough to the point where sometimes they even enjoyed certain aspects of the more kinky sex acts they're paid to perform.

Although it offers nothing particularly fresh to the age-worn topic of working girls, "Elles" is slight but still fairly entertaining. The real reason to catch this film is to view another outstanding performance by Ms Binoche who is capable of making even the most simple gestures or mood seem effortless, rich and captivating.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

2012 CANNES FILM FESTIVAL


This year's Cannes Film Festival is the sixty-fifth anniversary (screen legend, Marilyn Monroe blowing out a candle is featured on the poster, pictured above) and will screen twenty-two feature films in competition. for the prized  Palme d'Or. Nanni Moretti, the Italian director who won the top prize in 2001 for his film, "The Son's Room",  heads the competition jury this year.

There will be several films making their world premieres from acclaimed filmmakers including David Croneberg's "Cosmopolis" which features Robert Pattinson ("Twilight"), Michael Haneke, the director of "The White Ribbon" which won the Palme d'Or in 2009 returns with "Amour" starring Isabelle Huppert, "On The Road", a film based on the novel by Jack Kerouac that features Amy Adams, Kirsten Dunst, Viggo Mortensen and Kristen Stewart and directed by Walter Salles ("The Motorcycle Diaries") and "The Paperboy", the long-awaited follow-up by Lee Daniels, the director of the 2009  film, "Precious", which stars Zac Efron, Nicole Kidman and Matthew McConaughey.

Wes Anderson's "Moonrise Kingdom" will open the event on May 16th with the festival running through the 27th with the closing-night film, "Therese D.", the final film by French director, Claude Miller who passed away last month.

For additional information, please go to:

2012 Cannes Film Festival

I can't wait to see "Moonrise Kingdom", so check out the trailer for this film which is set to open in the U.S. on May 25th: