Tuesday, July 31, 2012

THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN (2012)

Written by James Vanderbilt, Alvin Sargent & Steve Kloves


Directed by Marc Webb


Where & When: Vista Theater, Hollywood, CA. July 10, 2012  3:15PM



It doesn't seem that long ago since Tobey Maguire was swinging through a CGI Manhattan in a skin-tight spandex suit as the web-slinger off to rescue his true love, Mary-Jane Watson (played by Kirsten Dunst) in a film directed by Sam Raimi.

Well, in fact, it was only six years ago since this team made the last of three "Spider-Man" films and yet the series is starting over from the very beginning with a new cast and director. It feels a little soon to be rebooting this character since the previous films are still very fresh in people's memories but there's just too much potential money to be made to allow "Spider-Man" to sit on a shelf for any extended period of time.

Andrew Garfield, the British actor who is really only known in film for his supporting role in "The Social Network", has been hired to fill in the red & blue suit for "The Amazing Spider-Man". Physically, he is the polar opposite of Mr. Maguire as Garfield is tall and lanky with him playing Peter Parker as less of a nerd and more like a shy, awkward outsider. The basic origin story remains intact; the highly-intelligent teenager, Parker is bitten by a genetically-modified spider which gives him super-strength and gives him the ability to climb walls. Peter neglects to stop an armed thief and as a result, his Uncle Ben is killed by this criminal. After this tragic loss, Parker creates a costume, calls himself, "Spider-Man" and uses his powers to fight crime throughout the city.

That is where the similarities end between these films as this revamped version has made changes (most of them are minor but enough to be noticeable) and sticks much closer to the comic-books in which the films are based. We are introduced to Peter's parents who feel forced to leave their young son with his Uncle Ben and Aunt May (played by Martin Sheen and Sally Field in two of the film's many inspired casting choices) due to Peter's scientist father (Campbell Scott), whose work on a secret project might threaten Peter's safety. He also leaves behind documents hidden in briefcase.

Years later, a teen-aged Peter discovers his father's papers that indicated he was working on an experiment with Dr.Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans) at Oscorp. After Peter tracks down the doctor, he reveals his identity and the documents. This proves helpful to Connors as he has been working on using lizard DNA as a way to replace his missing arm with this being the missing link that could help him succeed. While exploring the laboratory, Peter's life is changed by the bite of a spider.

Shortly after Peter becomes "Spider-Man"and takes on crime throughout Manhattan, he becomes a hero to some and a menace to others, most especially to George Stacey (Denis Leary), the police captain, who is determined to take down the masked hero. However, Captain Stacey also just happens to be the father of Gwen (Emma Stone), the high school classmate and new girlfriend of Peter's which creates some additional complications for the teenager.

After Dr. Connors achieves success with regrowing a limb on a laboratory mouse, he tries the formula on himself. While his arm is regenerated but there is a terrible side-effect which turns the doctor in to a giant hybrid of a half-man and half-lizard with incredible strength. The drug also alters his mind which makes Connors extremely violent and deadly. With a diabolical plan to change all of mankind in to a creature like himself, only Spider-Man can possibly stop the Lizard as these two super-beings battle fiercely, destroying half the city in the process.

It's a little surprising that the studio took a chance on their big-budget franchise with a director who has only made one previous film which was the delightfully charming romantic comedy, "(500) Days of Summer". After seeing "The Amazing Spider-Man", it becomes more clear on what they wanted to accomplish with this reboot as Marc Webb's major contribution was his emphasis on fleshing out the characters and his effective touch with emotion and intimacy. Much like what Christopher Nolan did when he revived the "Batman" franchise, Mr. Webb wisely surrounded the film with dramatic actors not usually associated with this type of cinema and they don't fail him as they ground all of the excessive comic-book intensity with charm and good humor. Emma Stone is always a pleasant addition to any film as she plays Peter Parker's actual first girlfriend in the comics (Mary Jane Watson became his girl only after Gwen Stacey's death caused by the Green Goblin). Her character is intelligent, funny and pretty, very much like the actress, and when she is together on screen with Mr. Garfield, they truly connect, making a dazzling team.

The script offers your standard issue super-hero plot but the writers have added nice, clever touches to make the characters feel more human and create heartfelt moments in the middle of all of the meteoric action sequences. This hero is brought down to Earth as he actually feels intense pain after each of his battles and has to figure out how to creatively explain all of his many cuts and bruises.

It seems rather pointless to question whether this film is necessary or even compare to the earlier films but this "Spider-Man" manages to hold it's own and is actually pretty amazing thanks to a well-assembled cast and it's remarkable ability to bring a winning, fresh touch to this familiar character.

 

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

WINNERS FROM THE 2012 OUTFEST FILM FESTIVAL

First, here is a listing of the winners from this year's Outfest Film Festival:

Special Programming Award for Freedom:
I AM A WOMAN NOW, Directed by Michiel van Erp

Special Programming Award for Artistic Achievement:
SHE MALE SNAILS, Directed by Ester Martin Bergsmark



Audience Award for Outstanding Documentary Short Film:
A FORCE OF NATURE, Directed by Barbara Kopple

Audience Award for Outstanding Dramatic Short Film:
THE FIRST DATE, Directed by Janella Lacson

Audience Award for Outstanding Documentary Feature Film:
I STAND CORRECTED, Directed by Andrea Meyerson



Audience Award for Outstanding Dramatic Feature Film:
ANY DAY NOW, Directed by Travis Fine

Audience Award for Outstanding First U.S. Dramatic Feature Film:
MOSQUITA Y MARI, Directed by Aurora Guerrero



Grand Jury Award for Outstanding Documentary Short Film:
THE DEVOTION PROJECT: MORE THAN EVER, Directed by Antony Osso

Grand Jury Award for Outstanding Dramatic Short Film:
DOL (FIRST BIRTHDAY), Directed Andrew Ahn

Grand Jury Award for Outstanding Documentary Feature Film:
WILDNESS, Directed by Wu Tsang



Grand Jury Award for Outstanding International Dramatic Feature Film:
MY BROTHER THE DEVIL, Directed by Sally El Hosaini



Grand Jury Award for Outstanding Actress in a Feature Film:
Fenessa Pineda, MOSQUITA Y MARI

Grand Jury Award for Outstanding Actor in a Feature Film:
Alan Cumming, ANY DAY NOW

Grand Jury Award for Outstanding Screenwriting:
Ira Sachs & Mauricio Zacharias, KEEP THE LIGHTS ON

Grand Jury Award for Outstanding U.S. Dramatic Feature Film:
KEEP THE LIGHTS ON, Directed by Ira Sachs



Unfortunately, I didn't get much of an opportunity to catch many films at this year's festival but I did manage to see two of the films that were screened at the very first Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Film Festival thirty years ago; one I saw originally in a movie theater back in 1982 which had a huge impact on me and the other was a provocative foreign-language film that I had desperately wanted to see but unable to when it was originally released.

"Making Love" is the groundbreaking film that was one of the first studio films that featured realistic gay characters. It's the story of a happily married couple (Kate Jackson and Michael Ontkean) but the husband has been keeping a secret; he is sexually attracted to men. A sexy, free-spirited writer (Harry Hamlin) enters his life and he is torn between continuing with his comfortable relationship or beginning a new life as a gay man. The film still holds up very well due to it's beautifully, well-written screenplay and solid performances, most especially by Ms. Jackson. After the Outfest screening, there was a special treat with director, Arthur Hiller, screenwriter, Barry Sandler and actor, Hamlin present to discuss the film with the audience.

I saw "Making Love" when I was nineteen and still trying to make sense of my sexuality. I went with a close friend and we watched in uncomfortable silence, without really say much about the film after it was over. A few years later, we eventually came out to each other (after he confessed he had been secretly dating a mutual friend), and we could finally gush about what a moving and life-changing event the film was for both of us.



"Taxi Zum Klo" or "Taxi To The Toilet" was a 1981 German film which featured hardcore sex that I had heard about but sadly knew was never going to reach a theater in my suburban neighborhood in Michigan.

The film is about an elementary school teacher who struggles with wanting to maintain a relationship with one man but also be allowed to fulfill his sexual desires whenever and wherever he wanted which includes bathhouses and public restrooms."Taxi", which takes place not long before AIDS changed the landscape, is certainly dated with the ending too abrupt and unsatisfactory but it was truly revolutionary at the time as this film presented an openly gay man who lived his life with no apologies.

I'm glad I finally got to see the film despite it taking over thirty years.

 

Friday, July 20, 2012

TED (2012)

Written by Seth MacFarlane, Alec Sulkin & Wellesley Wild


Directed by Seth MacFarlane


Where & When: Los Feliz 3, Los Feliz, CA.  July 8, 2012  7:00PM



"Ted" is the first feature film by Seth MacFarlane, the creator of the animated comedy series, "Family Guy", "The Cleveland Show" and "American Dad'. I have to admit I wasn't expecting much as I'm not much of a fan of Mr. MacFarlane's television shows. It seemed that "Ted" would be nothing more than an extended, live-action version of an episode of "Family Guy" that is pushed forward by a series of unrelated jokes (some witty, most just offensive and gross) that are loosely tied together with a slight plot. However, this film manages to be a pleasantly amusing charmer that offers just as much heart as it does raunchy laughs.

As a little boy, John Bennett was very lonely because nobody wanted to play with him. One Christmas day, his parents gave him a large, talking teddy bear as a gift and he becomes John's best friend. John wishes that his bear would come to life and overnight, Ted magically is able to walk and talk. Ted, obviously, becomes a media sensation but after his fifteen minutes of fame are up, Ted is soon old news and forgotten which leaves him a little bitter.

Now as an adult living in Boston, John (Mark Wahlberg) works at a dead-end job but the bright side is that he has been dating for four years, the gorgeous, Lori (Mila Kunis). Everybody tells her she can do better but Lori doesn't mind that he's unmotivated and she makes more money than her man. He makes her laugh and she's ready to take the next step to marry John and start a life together. However, John is still living with Ted, (voiced by Mr. MacFarlane) who has become a  foul-mouthed, obnoxious stoner. Lori would like to see Ted move on, as she feels that he's not a great influence for John but he can't seem to let his bear go. Ted, with his crass behavior and "party 'til you drop" mentality, manages to help get John in to plenty of mischief that threatens his relationship with Lori. There is also a creepy guy (Giovanni Ribisi) who wants Ted for his equally creepy son and willing to do anything to get him.

Women, gays, most racial and ethnic groups and "Twilight's", Taylor Lautner are all fair game as nothing and no one is off-limits as the highly un-p.c. jokes fly fast and furious. Some of these are hilariously funny unless you are in one of the aforementioned groups, which then you might find them less than humorous. While the plot is certainly slight but what makes "Ted" truly work in the underlining tenderness that is snuck in throughout, most especially between John and his bear. Even after the two have a comically over-the-top but ultra-violent knock-down, drag-out brawl in a hotel room, using everything at their disposal, you can still sense the deep love they have for each other although neither would ever dare admit. There are moments that the film feels like it ventured in to Judd Apatow territory, but never quite reaching the polished wit of "Knocked-Up" or "The 40 Year Old Virgin".

Mr. Wahlberg, who began his career in music as a rapper, has progressed in to a fine actor and a great comedian. Best known for his ability to easily play a tough guy, Wahlberg is not in the least self-conscious and willing to look quite ridiculous for a laugh. Ms Kunis isn't given much to do but simply look attractive while reacting to all of the craziness around her. She doesn't even get the opportunity to tell a real joke.

"Ted" manages to juggle romance, bromance, action, suspense, a car chase, singer, Norah Jones, the 1980's film, "Flash Gordon" (Sam Jones, you rock!) and bawdy humor while surprisingly making it all work to become one of the best comedies I've seen not only this year but in a long time.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

MAGIC MIKE (2012)

Written by Reid Carolin


Directed by Steven Soderbergh


Where & When: Arclight Cinemas, Hollywood, CA.  June 29, 2012  5:45PM



Channing Tatum is the current prince of Hollywood, thanks to his past few roles in several moderately successful movies as he appeals to women with the romantic tearjerkers, "The Vow", "Dear John" and (to a lesser degree) men with the action-thriller, "G.I. Joe" and the comedy spoof, "21 Jump Street" which all have helped to raise his profile.

His latest, "Magic Mike" is poised to possibly take him to the next level as the film, directed by the respected Steven Soderbergh,  takes us in to the salacious world of male strippers. Mr.Tatum dazzles as the title character and lights up the screen, even when his clothes are on.

Women have been seductively removing their clothing on a stage for quite a long time but the question remains if there is the same interest in viewing nearly naked, hard muscled men bumping and grinding down to their g-strings. This film, loosely based on the early career of Mr. Tatum, seems designed to capture the attention of the ladies (as well as a certain segment of the male population) and it does this very well but it doesn't have too much to offer outside of the titillation.

Mike (Tatum), spends his days breaking a sweat on a construction site but by the time the sun has set in Tampa, he takes to the stage, sweating throughout the evening as a hip-hop stripper named, "Magic Mike". He has enjoyed all of the perks of being an exotic dancer but after six years, he's ready to move on. Mike dreams of becoming a furniture designer but because of bad credit, he is unable to get a loan to start his business despite offering the bank a down payment of his career-savings of dollar bills. On his day job, Mike meets Adam (Alex Pettyfer), a young, aimless slacker who sleeps on the couch of his sister, Brooke (Cody Horn). After Adam quits this job, through a series of circumstances, Mike introduces him to Dallas (Matthew McConaughey), the eccentric owner of the club, Xquisite and Adam becomes, "The Kid", the newest dancer.

The life of a male stripper appeals to Adam as the job offers him new-found attention from beautiful women, a sense of place and family with the other performers and a lot of cash. However, Adam soon gets swept up by the darker, sleazier side of this world where are there are plenty of wild parties and unscrupulous characters lurking around. Adam begins dealing drugs (and heavily using) and gets in over his head which concerns Brooke but Mike promises to watch out for her brother. Dallas is going to open a bigger club in Miami with an offer for Mike to be a partner. Will Mike continue on as a dancer in a different location or will he stay in Tampa to try and start a new life?

There really isn't much chance that many heterosexual men are going to want to rush out to the theater to see this film and there really isn't anything here that's particularly engaging or insightful that would encourage them to want to sit through the endless parade of half-naked men. "Magic Mike" is light-weight, predictable and drifts much closer to the high-camp of the female stripper flick, "Showgirls" than Mr. Soderbergh realizes but still manages to be quite entertaining. There is a sense of fun and good humor that comes through that makes all of this silliness watchable. Sexual politics is touched upon but what the film is displaying is the male fantasy of being an object of desire as women lose complete control in your presence and quite happily give as much money as possible in gratitude. Seems like nice work, if you can get it but most guys actually couldn't or probably shouldn't.

The focus of the film is supposed to be on the budding romance between Mike and the sweet, down-to-Earth, Brooke who offers him a possible alternative but since there isn't much chemistry between these actors and it doesn't help that the monotone Ms Horn is not exactly the most expressive of actresses, their scenes together fail to ignite or generate much interest. The friendship between  Mike and Adam is actually far more interesting although Mr. Pettyfer isn't able to leave much of a memorable impression either.

"Magic Mike" is the perfect showcase for Mr. Tatum as he effortlessly oozes plenty of natural charm and sensuality. Like Mark Wahlberg before him, Tatum doesn't register great intellect on screen but he does comes across as a sweet, fun-loving lunkhead with some killer dance moves. He plays Mike as a stripper with a big heart as all he wants is to help the down on their luck and willing to make great personal sacrifices on their behalf. I don't know how believable this character would actually be but he still does a fine job. Mr. McConaughey has finally decided to break out of romantic-comedy rut and return to displaying some of the early promise he had at the beginning of his film career as a character actor. He plays with his own shirtless, party beach-boy image but adds the right amount of a quirky, dark edge to an aging former stripper with an ego-driven quest for power in this small scale business of flesh peddling. The actors who fill in as the other dancers of the club are familiar faces, mostly from television, which includes Matt Bomer ("White Collar") and Adam Rodriguez ("CSI: Miami") but they are given nothing to offer but their gyrating flesh while performing plenty of cheesy choreography. However, if you ever wondered what "True Blood" 's Joe Manganiello (known in the film as "Big Dick" Ritchie) would look like in a fireman's uniform, "Magic Mike" gives you that opportunity although it doesn't stay on for too long.

"Magic Mike" is a tease of a movie where it distracts you with a tantalizing display of glistening, scantily-clad bodies thrusting at you but once you get past that, there really isn't much else left to see.




Saturday, July 7, 2012

SNEAK PEEK IN TO FALL

I realize that we are only in the middle of summer but I have some seen some fascinating trailers for films being released later this fall and over the holidays that I can't wait to share:


For a while, it didn't look like it was going to happen anytime soon but 007 is finally back. Daniel Craig returns in this teaser for "Skyfall" which is his third time in the role and the twenty-third film in the long-running series.

This film (which marks fifty years since the first James Bond cinematic adventure, "Dr. No" appeared in 1962) is directed by Sam Mendes and features an impressive cast including Ralph Fiennes, Javier Bardem, Albert Finney and Judi Dench who makes her seventh appearance in the series as "M".

"Skyfall" is due in the U.S. on November 9, 2012.



"Django Unchained" is a revisionist western set in the deep South during the nineteenth century from the mind of America's version of an auteur, Quentin Tarantino. Django (Jamie Foxx), a slave who will be set free if he helps a bounty hunter (Christoph Waltz) track down a gang of killers and in exchange, help Django rescue his wife being held by a ruthless slave owner (Leonardo DiCaprio).

I don't know how audiences are going to respond to this sure-to-be-controversial film, (most especially after all the uproar over Chris Rock's Twitter joke about slavery on July 4th) but I'm sure with it coming Mr. Tarantino, it will most certainly be very entertaining.

"Django Unchained" should be out on Christmas day:



Baz Luhrmann, the visual mastermind behind "Moulin Rouge" and "William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet", has returned with a stunning new vision for F.Scott Fitzgerald's novel, "The Great Gatsby. Leonardo DiCaprio stars as Jay Gatsby, Carey Mulligan plays Daisy and returning after a long-absence from the screen, Tobey Maguire is Nick, the narrator of this tale.

Although this story has been filmed many times over the years but there's not been a commercially successful version to date, perhaps this "Gatsby" could be the one. This film appears to be another grand spectacle by Mr. Luhrmann (and in 3D) so, it looks like this should be something to see.

"The Great Gatsby" is scheduled to be in theaters on December 25. 2012:
UPDATE: "The Great Gatsby" has been pushed back until summer of 2013:



This simple but moving teaser for the musical, "Les Miserables" features a stunning rendition by Anne Hathaway of the signature song, "I Dreamed A Dream". Hugh Jackman and Russell Crowe also sing in this classic story based on the French novel by Victor Hugo. Tom Hooper, who won the Oscar for his work on "The King's Speech", directs.

"Les Miserables" should be in theaters on December 14, 2012:
UPDATE: "Les Miserables" will now be released on Christmas Day:

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

PROMETHEUS (2012)

Written by Jon Spaihts & Damon Lindelof


Directed by Ridley Scott


Where & When: Arclight Cinemas, Hollywood, CA. June 11, 2012  6:15PM


In Greek mythology, Prometheus was a Titan who stole fire from the Gods to give to man which enabled them to begin civilization. "Prometheus" is also the name of a a spacecraft carrying a crew out in to the universe on a scientific search for the origin of mankind in Ridley Scott's latest film. This is the director's first venture back in to science-fiction since he made the two films early in his career that still remain highly influential in this genre; "Alien" in 1979 (which "Prometheus" is somewhat connected) and 1982's "Blade Runner". These films took what traditionally had been stories mostly involving green space-men demanding to be taken to our leader and places them in possible future settings, incorporating real science and intelligent visionary ideas while also remaining highly entertaining with tense action sequences and flashes of shocking, brutal violence. "Prometheus" wants to revisit some ideas and images that where previously displayed but left unexplained in the first "Alien" but also to create a fresh, independent film that will stand on it own. While there are several moments of visual brilliance, this film is unable to truly recapture the spirit of the original as nothing feels innovative and isn't helped by a murky plot that offers more confounding questions than answers.

Set during the later part of the twenty-first century, two archaeologists, Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace), a woman of faith and her boyfriend, Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) who only believes in science, discover a connection between unrelated ancient cultures in which they all depict an alignment of stars which are believed to be a possible map that could lead to the creators of humanity. A crew is assembled to explore this distant planet which is financed by the wealthy CEO of the Weyland Corporation. An android named David (Michael Fassbender) is on board to watch over them during the long voyage through space as he spends his time studying alien linguistics and endlessly viewing the film, "Lawrence of Arabia" which he uses Peter O'Toole's famous role as a guide to more closely emulate a human.

After they finally arrive, the small crew of the Prometheus is awakened, which is lead by Captain Januk (Idris Elba). Elizabeth and Charlie can't wait to explore this mysterious terrain but they are informed by the no-nonsense Weyland employee sent to monitor the mission, Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron), an icy blond who seems to have less emotions than David, that they are not allowed to make contact with anything they find without her permission.

The search party discover that there is breathable air in the large, stone structures but only find the mangled remains of giant humanoid beings. A room is also found containing tall cylinders with a dark liquid oozing from them but the Captain cuts their exploration short as he warns them that a large, dust storm is approaching and need to get back. Shaw manages to bring a decapitated head along to study while David secretly has one of the cylinders with him but two crew members get separated, being forced to stay behind until the storm passes. Overnight, the men become aware that they are not the only living beings in this structure.

Shaw is shocked to find that there is an actual link between humans and the previous inhabitants of this planet but she also slowly learns that this mission was not strictly for scientific purposes. David has been given his own assignment which involves a disturbing use of the two scientists and the lifeforms of this domain. Elizabeth must find a way to stop him or it may lead to the possible extinction of our planet.

"Prometheus" is a great-looking, mildly entertaining but unremarkable sci-fi flick but when you factor in Scott's brilliant first film or James Cameron's even more impressive 1986 sequel, "Aliens" (the other two sequels don't merit mentioning), then you can only look at this film as a huge disappointment. What is missing is a clear, thoughtful script with well-defined characterizations, actual breathtaking tension and some honest-to-goodness, bone-chilling scares. It may not seem fair to compare this to the previous "Alien" films but it's also impossible not to as "Prometheus" shares just too many similar plot points from several of the other movies and offers very little that feels truly fresh or suspenseful.

Ms Rapace (miles away from the punk computer hacker in the Swedish version of  "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo"), is in the difficult position of being compared to the tough and intense, Ripley, immortalized in all of the previous "Alien" films by Sigourney Weaver. While she certainly doesn't make you forget that iconic character, Rapace holds her own as her Dr. Shaw is a slight and softer presence but is more than able to summon great strength when required. This is most evident during the film's most harrowing scene where she has to perform surgery on herself to remove an unwanted visitor. Ms Theron was originally given the role of Shaw but had to drop out due to prior film commitments but once that was delayed, she took on the other part. I don't doubt that she would have been quite good in the lead but I think she's much more effective in the supporting role as she brings a quiet menace to Vickers. Perhaps it was because he was playing an android but the usually reliable Mr. Fassbender was surprisingly flat. He appears to be held back as if he's unsure of how human to actually make David and it seems like a complete waste to use such a naturally charismatic actor in such a cold, unemotional role. I didn't recognize Guy Pearce as he appears briefly as the elderly financier of this excursion. I'm assuming there were going to be scenes involving a much younger version of Weyland that ended up being cut but the heavy aging make-up the actor is buried under was unconvincing and distracting.

Although "Prometheus" features a terrific cast and slick visual effects but the film is unable to breakthrough nearly enough to be able to shine on it's own without being simply a reminder of the more memorable work that inspired it.