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.