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.