Sunday, December 22, 2013

MAKING A SCENE: 11 PERFORMANCES

The New York Times has been singling out the great film performers of the year regularly for a while now but this is the first time that they have commissioned the writers of some of the most fascinating scripts of 2013 (which many of these actors made their appearance) to contribute to this project. These scribes, which include Sarah Polley ("Stories We Tell"), JC Chandler ("All Is Lost"), Danny Strong ("Lee Daniels' The Butler"), Evan Goldberg & Seth Rogan ("The End") and Jeff Nichols ("Mud"), were asked to write one compelling line for these acting honorees to recite. Academy-Award winning cinematographer, Janusz Kaminski directs each actor in a segment of this short film.

The eleven performers selected range from a beloved Hollywood veteran (Robert Redford, "All Is Lost"), a television institution (Oprah Winfrey, "Lee Daniels' The Butler"), a stunning ingenue (Adele Exarchopoulos, "Blue is The Warmest Color"), the next major film star (Michael B. Jordan, "Fruitvale Station", Oscar Isaac, "Inside Llewyn Davis") to cinema royalty (Cate Blanchett, "Blue Jasmine").


Wednesday, December 18, 2013

2013 NATIONAL FILM REGISTRY

An impressive collection of American shorts, documentaries and feature films have been selected by the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress. Every year, twenty-five motion pictures are decided to be preserved that are "culturally, historically or aesthetically significant" and are at least ten years old. Some titles, such as "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf", "The Magnificent Seven" and "Pulp Fiction" may be very familiar to audiences but others like "Bless Their Little Hearts", an African-American drama from the '90's or "The Lunch Date", a ten-minute short film that won a student Academy Award may be less well-known. The Librarian makes the annual selections to the registry after reviewing hundreds of titles nominated by the public and conferring with library film curators and members of the National Film Preservation Board.

Here is the complete list of films selected for the 2013 National Film Registry:

“Bless Their Little Hearts” (1984)

“Brandy in the Wilderness” (1969)

“Cicero March” (1966)

“Daughter of Dawn” (1920)

“Decasia” (2002)

“Ella Cinders” (1926)

“Forbidden Planet” (1956)



“Gilda” (1946)


“The Hole” (1962)

“Judgment at Nuremberg” (1961)



“King of Jazz” (1930)

“The Lunch Date” (1989)

“The Magnificent Seven” (1960)



“Martha Graham Dance film” (1944)

“Mary Poppins” (1964)



“Men & Dust” (1940)

“Midnight” (1939)

“Notes on the Port of St. Francis” (1951)

“Pulp Fiction” (1994)

“The Quiet Man” (1952)



“The Right Stuff (1983)



“Roger & Me” (1989)

“A Virtuous Vamp” (1919)

“Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” (1966)



“Wild Boys of the Road” (1933)

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

MORE AWARDS ANNOUNCEMENTS

With the passing of each day, more cinematic gifts are being handed out. The American Film Institute, Boston Society of Film Critics, Los Angeles Film Critics announced their picks for the best of the year in film while the Screen Actor Guild have released their nominees. As usual, these groups are all over the place. The AFI selections were safe and predictable while the LA critics did a big cop-out by having a tie in three (!!!) categories. The strangest of all were the SAG Award nominations where the overrated "Lee Daniels' The Butler" received not only a nod for Best Cast but Forest Whitaker and Oprah Winfrey received acting noms. This is very surprising to me as this was hardly the "best" work of any of these noted actors. And how did Daniel Bruhl of the little-seen "Rush" make it on enough people's radar did receive a nomination? At least the great Judi Dench made the cut for her amazing performance in the wonderful, "Philomena".

The 10 AFI Movies of the Year:
"12 Years a Slave,"
"American Hustle,"
"Captain Phillips,"
"Fruitvale Station,"
"Gravity,"
"Her,"
"Inside Llewyn Davis,"
"Nebraska,"
"Saving Mr. Banks"
"The Wolf of Wall Street."

2013 Boston Society of Film Critics Winners:
Best Picture: "12 Years a Slave"
Best Actor: Chiwetel Ejiofor, "12 Years a Slave"
Best Actress: Cate Blanchett, "Blue Jasmine"
Best Supporting Actor: James Gandolfini, "Enough Said"
Best Supporting Actress: June Squibb, "Nebraska"
Best Director: Steve McQueen, "12 Years a Slave"
Best Screenplay: Nicole Holofcener, "Enough Said"
Best Cinematography: Emmanuel Lubezki, "Gravity"
Best Documentary: "The Act of Killing"
Best Foreign-Language Film: "Wadjda"
Best Animated Film: "The Wind Rises"

2013 Los Angeles Film Critics Association Winners:
Best Picture (tie): "Gravity" and "Her"
Best Actor: Bruce Dern, "Nebraska"
Best Actress (tie): Cate Blanchett, "Blue Jasmine" and Adele Exarchopoulos, "Blue Is the Warmest Color"
Best Supporting Actor (tie): James Franco, "Spring Breakers" and Jared Leto, "Dallas Buyers Club"
Best Supporting Actress: Lupita Nyong'o, "12 Years a Slave"
Best Director: Alfonso Cuaron, "Gravity"
Best Screenplay: Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy & Ethan Hawke, "Before Midnight"
Best Cinematography: Emmanuel Lubezki, "Gravity"
Best Foreign Film: "Blue Is the Warmest Color"
Best Documentary: "Stories We Tell"
Best Animation: "Ernest & Celestine"

2013 Nominations for The Screen Actor Guild Awards (Film)

Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture
"12 Years a Slave"
"American Hustle"
"August: Osage County"
"Dallas Buyers Club"
"Lee Daniels' The Butler"

Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role
Bruce Dern,"Nebraska"
Chiwetel Ejiofor, "12 Years a Slave"
Tom Hanks, "Captain Phillips"
Matthew McConaughey, "Dallas Buyers Club"
Forest Whitaker, "Lee Daniels' The Butler"

Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role
Cate Blanchett, "Blue Jasmine"
Sandra Bullock, "Gravity"
Judi Dench, "Philomena"
Meryl Streep, "August: Osage County"
Emma Thompson, "Saving Mr. Banks"

Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Supporting Role
Barkhad Abdi, "Captain Phillips"
Daniel Brühl, "Rush"
Michael Fassbender, "12 Years a Slave"
James Gandolfini, "Enough Said"
Jared Leto, "Dallas Buyers Club"

Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Supporting Role
Jennifer Lawrence, "American Hustle"
Lupita Nyong'o, "12 Years a Slave"
Julia Roberts, "August: Osage County"
June Squibb, "Nebraska"
Oprah Winfrey, "Lee Daniels' The Butler"

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

AWARD SEASON IS IN MOTION

The glut of awards to honor some of the most impressive and compelling movies, performers and film technicians of the year have begun to be rolled out. The National Board of Review announced their picks today while the New York Film Critics Circle and the Spirit Award nominations were released last week. Some of the expected names that had been buzzed about for months were chosen but there were a few, nice surprises among the selections:

2013 National Board of Review Winners:

Best Film: "Her"
Best Director: Spike Jonze, "Her"
Best Actor: Bruce Dern, "Nebraska"
Best Actress: Emma Thompson, "Saving Mr. Banks"
Best Supporting Actor: Will Forte, "Nebraska"
Best Supporting Actress: Octavia Spencer, "Fruitvale Station"
Best Original Screenplay: Joel and Ethan Coen, "Inside Llewyn Davis"
Best Adapted Screenplay: Terence Winter, "The Wolf of Wall Street"
Best Animated Feature: "The Wind Rises"
Breakthrough Performance: Michael B. Jordan, "Fruitvale Station"
Breakthrough Performance: Adele Exarchopoulos, "Blue Is The Warmest Color"
Best Directorial Debut: Ryan Coogler, "Fruitvale Station"
Best Foreign Language Film: "The Past"
Best Documentary: "Stories We Tell"

2013 New York Film Critics Circle Winners:

Best Picture: "American Hustle"
Best Actor: Robert Redford, "All Is Lost"
Best Actress: Cate Blanchett, "Blue Jasmine"
Best Supporting Actor: Jared Leto, "Dallas Buyers Club"
Best Supporting Actress: Jennifer Lawrence, "American Hustle"
Best Director: Steve McQueen, "12 Years a Slave"
Best Screenplay: Eric Warren Singer and David O. Russell, "American Hustle"
Best Cinematographer: Bruno Delbonnel, "Inside Llewyn Davis"
Best Foreign Film: "Blue Is the Warmest Color," directed by Abdellatif Kechiche
Best Animated Film: "The Wind Rises," directed by Hayao Miyazaki
Best Non-Fiction Film: "Stories We Tell" by Sarah Polley
Best First Film: Ryan Coogler, "Fruitvale Station"

2013 Nominations For The Independent Spirit Awards

Best Feature: 
"12 Years a Slave"
"All Is Lost"
"Frances Ha"
"Inside Llewyn Davis"
"Nebraska"

Best Director:
Shane Carruth, "Upstream Color"
J.C. Chandor; "All Is Lost"
Steve McQueen, "12 Years a Slave"
Jeff Nichols, "Mud"
Alexander Payne, "Nebraska"

Best Screenplay:
Woody Allen, "Blue Jasmine"
Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke & Richard Linklater, "Before Midnight"
Nicole Holofcener, "Enough Said"
Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber, "The Spectacular Now"
John Ridley, "12 Years a Slave"

Best First Feature:
"Blue Caprice"
"Concussion"
"Fruitvale Station"
"Una Noche"
"Wadjda"

Best First Screenplay:
Lake Bell, "In A World"
Joseph Gordon-Levitt, "Don Jon"
Bob Nelson, "Nebraska"
Jill Soloway, "Afternoon Delight"
Michael Starrbury, "The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete"

Best Female Lead:
Cate Blanchett, "Blue Jasmine"
Julie Delpy, "Before Midnight"
Gaby Hoffmann, "Crystal Fairy"
Brie Larson, "Short Term 12"
Shailene Woodley, "The Spectacular Now"

Best Male Lead: 
Bruce Dern, "Nebraska"
Chiwetel Ejiofor, "12 Years a Slave"
Oscar Isaac, "Inside Llewyn Davis"
Michael B. Jordan, "Fruitvale Station"
Matthew McConaughey, "Dallas Buyers Club"
Robert Redford, "All Is Lost"

Best Supporting Female:
Melonie Diaz, "Fruitvale Station"
Sally Hawkins, "Blue Jasmine"
Lupita Nyong’o, "12 Years a Slave"
Yolonda Ross, "Go For Sisters"
June Squibb, "Nebraska"

Best Supporting Male:
Michael Fassbender, "12 Years a Slave"
Will Forte, "Nebraska"
James Gandolfini, "Enough Said"
Jared Leto, "Dallas Buyers Club"
Keith Stanfield, "Short Term 12"

Best Cinematography: 
Sean Bobbitt, "12 Years a Slave"
Benoit Debie, "Spring Breakers"
Bruno Delbonnel, "Inside Llewyn Davis"
Frank G. DeMarco, "All Is Lost"
Matthias Grunsky, "Computer Chess"

Best Editing: 
Shane Carruth & David Lowery, "Upstream Color"
Jem Cohen & Marc Vives, "Museum Hours"
Jennifer Lame, "Frances Ha"
Cindy Lee, "Una Noche"
Nat Sanders, "Short Term 12"

Best Documentary:
"20 Feet From Stardom"
"After Tiller"
"Gideon’s Army"
"The Act of Killing"
"The Square"

Best International Film:
"A Touch of Sin" (China)
"Blue is the Warmest Color" (France)
"Gloria" (Chile)
"The Great Beauty"(Italy)
"The Hunt" (Denmark)

Sunday, November 24, 2013

I AM DIVINE (2013)

Directed by Jeffrey Schwartz

Where & When: Downtown Independent, Los Angeles, CA. November 2, 2013 10:30PM


Long before there was RuPaul, the sleek and glamorous lady boy who has captivated audiences with her hit television show that puts competing drag queens through their paces, there was Divine. And no, I'm not referring to Bette Midler who began her career as "The Divine Miss M" around the same time. I am talking about Harris Glenn Milstead who went from an overweight, gay Midwestern kid to a vulgar, larger-than-life drag performer whose biggest claim to fame was actually eating dog feces in the John Waters' 1972 cult classic, "Pink Flamingos". In the delightful documentary, "I Am Divine", the life of this shocking, hilarious and a little scary personality is explored where there was absolutely nothing he ever considered too extreme or filthy.

Growing up in Baltimore where being different made you an easy target, the very shy Glenn was bullied mercilessly as a teenager. However, he knew deep down that he was fabulous but needed to figure out a way to make the rest of the world see it. First, he became a popular hairdresser in town before running in to fellow oddball, John Waters and his movie camera. Once he placed a fright wig on his head, slapped wildly exaggerated make-up on his face and squeezed in to a skin-tight dress, Waters renamed him "Divine" and she became the undisputed star of his films. After a number of shorts that featured a cast of actors and local eccentrics, Waters made his first feature, "Mondo Trasho", an outrageous black comedy that perfectly showcased Divine's gift of demented behavior.

Dubbed "an exercise in poor taste", "Pink Flamingos" developed a small but rabid following from the gay community due to it's insane plot, freaky characters and all of the perverted sexual acts depicted. That helped the film cross-over to attract an even larger audience at midnight screenings and soon brought John Waters world-wide notoriety and turned his muse in to a star. Despite achieving more film success (including "Polyester" that featured '60's movie heartthrob, Tab Hunter and "Odorama") and a surprising detour as a popular disco music singer, Divine wanted to be taken seriously as an actor and not always be required to perform in a dress. He got an opportunity with a small role in the little-seen Alan Rudolph film "Trouble In Mind" as a gangster but Divine was soon back in a frumpy frock for Waters in the '60's set comedy, "Hairspray". He played the mother of the pleasantly plump, Tracy Turnblad (the film debut of future talk-show host, Ricki Lake) who was determined to fight racial discrimination through dance. This critical and box-office hit brought Divine new found respectability and acclaim. A role in the television comedy "Married With Children" was created for him but sadly this never came to pass as his life was cut short in 1988.

Much of Divine's story is told by the star himself through a series of interviews given over the years but the darker side of his fascinating life is shared by many friends and co-stars who tell stories of Divine's insatiable appetites that ranged from rampant drug use, his endless search for a true love and a staggering quantity of food. Frances Milstead, Divine's mother missed out on much of his career as she was estranged from her celebrated son for many years and expresses her deep regret.

Director Jeffrey Schwartz has previously brought long overdue attention to other fringe entertainers who where not fully appreciated during their day such as Hollywood B-movie shock master, William Castle, gay film historian, Vito Russo and 70's porn star, Jack Wrangler. The doc shows this fearless performer was pushing long held boundaries of what could be shown on screen and while he wasn't waving a gay pride flag at every opportunity, Divine had no shame and was proud of who he was. But the world, at the time, was not completely ready to accept a man in a dress, no matter how talented. Divine was popular in certain circles and could make it up the ladder only so high but that didn't stop him from trying to inch up a little higher.

"I Am Divine" shines a great, big loving spotlight on this gifted, iconic performer. In the film, "Pink Flamingos, Divine's character Babs Johnson fought to keep her title as the "filthiest person alive". Divine has hung on to that well-earned crown and there has never been any serious competition from anyone to take it away.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

30 GREAT MOVIES YOU PROBABLY HAVEN'T SEEN


New York Magazine has just released an article on a collection of thirty interesting movies that most people may not have seen but should certainly go and check out. I pride myself in seeing a wide variety of films but I was surprised by the number of these that I hadn't seen nor even heard of. I guess I better get busy and start filling my Netflix queue.

Click below to see the complete list of films:

30 Great Movies You Probably Haven’t Seen

Saturday, November 9, 2013

12 YEARS A SLAVE (2013)

Written by John Ridley


Directed by Steve McQueen


Where & When: Arclight Cinemas, Hollywood, CA. October 18, 2013 8:15 PM


"12 Years A Slave", a 1851 memoir by Solomon Northup tells his harrowing ordeal of being a free African-American who is abducted and sold in to slavery. This masterful but highly unsettling film is by Steve McQueen, one of the boldest visionaries working in cinema today. The British director began his career as an experimental short film artist with his work dealing with discomforting subject matter. He continued this when he moved into feature-length film with his 2008 debut, "Hunger" which starred Michael Fassbender in his first major role as Bobby Sands who lead the IRA hunger strike back in 1981. The film won the Camera d'Or at Cannes and McQueen followed that up with another critically-acclaimed work, "Shame" with Fassbender returning in the story of a sexual compulsive. Much like his previous films, McQueen holds nothing back in "12 Years" as he displays the harsh and ugly brutality of the shameful time in America when not all men where created equal.

Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor) lives a comfortable life in upstate New York with his wife and two children in 1841. Making his living as a musician, Northup travels to Washington D. C. to begin a well-paying tour offered by two gentlemen (Scoot McNairy and "SNL" star, Taran Killam). After an evening of drinks and merriment, a groggy Northup wakes up to an unimaginable nightmare. He finds himself chained in a holding cell and about to be shipped off to Louisiana as a slave. When Northup protests, he's beaten savagely and soon learns that in order to survive this, he must not reveal that he is an educated free man.

After Northup arrives in New Orleans, he is sold by a merciless slave broker (Paul Giamatti) to a preacher (Benedict Cumberbatch) who seems troubled by the slavery system yet goes along with the program since his fields need to be picked by somebody. While life on this plantation is somewhat tolerable but after a violent run-in with a cretinous foreman (Paul Dano), Northup is sold to another man in order to keep him alive. Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender) prides himself in ruthlessly breaking in his property. If a slave doesn't pick enough cotton that day, they are punished with several lashes from a whip. One of the slaves, Patsey (Lupita Nyong'o) has the misfortune of capturing the lustful attention of Epps. She not only has to endure the emotional and physical abuse by her cruel master but is also tormented by his equally sadistic wife (Sarah Paulson) who is bitterly jealous of this powerless slave.

Northup realizes that in order for him to ever escape, he will have to rely on his wits and use any opportunity that comes his way which might be in the form of a Canadian carpenter played by one of the film's producers, Brad Pitt.

McQueen, along with a solid script by John Ridley and the beautifully lush visuals from the director's long-time cinematographer, Sean Bobbitt have together created some unforgettable images that are both equally mesmerizing and horrific. The film glides through in an unhurried pace, lingering on sweaty, weary faces and imposing locations for longer than it might seem necessary but it's used effectively to emphasize the isolation and hopelessness. From long days picking cotton in the unrelenting heat to the savage beatings and psychological torture to children being ripped from their mother's arms and being sold off, "12 Years A Slave" is very far removed from the romanticized version of slavery that has been portrayed in many Civil War era films, most famously in "Gone With The Wind". As we watch this terrible tale unfold, these more accurate depictions of the life of a slave may be too much for most people to bear. It's hard not to be disturbed to see that a human being has been reduced to having no more value than any livestock.

Chiwetel Ejiofor is the name to remember (and will need to learn to pronounce; (Chew-wee-tell Edge-gee-oh-for) as he gives one of the best performances of the year. The Brit has made an impression over the years with smaller parts in major films such as "Children of Men", "American Gangster" and "Salt", but with "12 Years", the actor has finally been given a role that rightfully places him front and center.  Mr. Ejiofor commands every moment on screen as his character struggles to maintain what's left of his dignity and sanity. Ms Nyong'o also makes quite an impression in her first film role that will leave you utterly devastated. This recent graduate from the Yale School of Drama handles her part of the tortured slave expertly as Patsey, like Northup, struggles to survive yet ultimately gives up, begging him to help her end the misery. The story may be focused on one man's experience of trying to reclaim his life but Ms Nyong'o's character represents every slave who lived every unhappy day in captivity without ever having an opportunity to make a life of their own.

The conclusion of "12 Years A Slave" may appear like a happy ending but it will leave you even more disturbed and frustrated. Although Solomon Northup may have been finally able to obtain his freedom, he still continued to be tortured and humiliated but this time by a legal system that considered him unworthy of being heard or receiving justice. "12 Years A Slave" is a difficult film to recommend. While it is a tremendously well-made film filled with extraordinary performances yet it deals with an extremely unpleasant subject matter. But like "Schindler's List", "The Pianist" and "Saving Private Ryan" (to name just a few), "12 Years A Slave" is a powerful and moving experience that I am very glad to have seen but could not, in all honesty, ever sit through again.



Thursday, October 31, 2013

CARRIE (2013)

Written by Lawrence D. Cohen & Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa


Directed by Kimberly Peirce


Where & When:  Arclight Cinemas, Hollywood, CA.  October 25, 2013 5:45PM


"Carrie"  is an uninspired and unnecessary remake of the classic 1976 film by Brian De Palma which was based on the debut novel by Stephen King. The film clumsily attempts to modernize this tragic tale of a a bullied girl pushed too far by merging the quiet, simpler setting of the original with the fast-paced, digital age we are currently living without much finesse or reason. The story essentially remains the same as Carrie White (Chloe Grace Moretz) remains a shy, sheltered and God-fearing teenager living in Maine. She has been forced to attend public school as a senior against the wishes of her extremely devout mother, Margaret (Julianne Moore) who had been home-schooling her daughter. It should be no surprise that Carrie has difficulty fitting in with the other kids.

While showering after gym class, Carrie has her first period but since she has never been given proper sex education, this causes her to thinks she is dying. Freaking out in front of the other girls, Carrie is taunted and tampons thrown at her until Miss Desjardin (Judy Greer), the gym teacher puts a stop to the cruelty. However, Chris (Portia Doubleday), the leader of the mean girls filmed the ugly episode on her phone and secretly uploads it on YouTube.

The video is later discovered and Miss Dejardin informs her students that they will have to endure a brutal gym class as punishment with anyone who didn't finish would be unable to attend prom. Playing victim, Chris refuses to participate and tries to start a coup with the other girls but no one will join her. A furious Chris blames Carrie for her trouble and determined to get back at her.

Carrie soon discovers that she has a special gift; the ability to move objects with her mind. She researches telekinesis and learns how to control her powers. Carrie wishes she could share this with someone but with no friends along with a fanatic mother who intensely believes that fornication (even with one's spouse) is pure evil and already fears her daughter is heading down a path in to Satan's arms, she has no one to confide in.

Feeling guilty for her participation in teasing Carrie, Sue (Gabriella Wilde) decides that the gym teacher's punishment didn't go far enough. She insists that her boyfriend, Tommy (Ansel Elgort) take Carrie to the prom instead of her. Although both are reluctant and wary, Tommy eventually talks Carrie in to attending the event with him. When Chris hears the news, she creates an elaborate plan to ruin Carrie's night which involves rigging the election so the couple win prom king and queen and a bucket of pig's blood. However, she has no idea who she's messing with as Carrie, in a blind rage, releases a torrent of blood and mayhem all on her own.

I really hate to bash director Kimberly Peirce for this disaster as this is only her third feature film since her terrific debut, "Boys Don't Cry" way back in 1997. Her follow-up film, the underrated "Stop-Loss" didn't happen until over ten years later. It's hard not to believe that her gender played at least some part in this lack of output as a male counterpart with as much buzz for their first film that she received would most certainly have made at least double that number by this point. It's understandable why Ms Peirce would be brought on board for this remake as she could deliver some emotional heft to this horror flick but the director seems overwhelmed by the scale of this production. She's had little experience with a budget this large and with worrying about the big, visual effects and attempting to distance her version from the legacy of the first film while maintaining the spirit, Peirce is unable to find the right tone or direction.

Ms Moretz may be closer to the age of the character than the original actress who portrayed her, Sissy Spacek (who was twenty-seven and meaning no offense to the Oscar winner) but she is simply too pretty to be convincing as the plain and awkward Carrie. The now sixteen year old actress has been a professional actor since a child and has impressed in varied roles but here she appears lost as Ms Moretz doesn't register as an unpopular outsider. The twitchy, exaggerated facial expressions the actress displays hardly helps matters. The supporting cast seems to have been raided from an episode of "Gossip Girl" with the high schoolers all uniformly attractive and bland, and I had great difficulty telling them apart (male or female). The only one who comes out of this mess relatively unscathed is obvious. The veteran Julianne Moore is completely wasted yet she's able make the brief moments she's on screen electrifying with another reliably razor-sharp performance.

Even if you take the De Palma feature out of the equation and judge.this new version of "Carrie" on it's own merits, it still offers nothing that could possibly make this exercise in routine film making remotely worth viewing. By the time the film reaches it's climax at the high school prom, the results are less terrifying and more laughable with cheap, ineffective scares.

Monday, October 21, 2013

2013 AFI FILM FESTIVAL PRESENTED BY AUDI

The 2013 edition of the AFI Film Festival will be held November 7th through 14th in Hollywood at the historic TCL Chinese Theater. Once again, the AFI will be offering free tickets to all screenings in addition to Patron Passes that will be sold for reserved seating. For more information and a complete list of films, please go to:

AFIFEST 2013

This year's Opening Night Gala will be "Saving Mr. Banks", the true, untold story of Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) struggling to convince P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson), the author of "Mary Poppins" to allow him to make a movie of her beloved character. "Inside Llewyn Davis", the latest from the Coen Brothers has been selected as the Closing Night film. Set in the 60's, it tells the tale of folk singer Davis (played by Oscar Isaac) who is trying to make a name for himself as a performer while maintaining his integrity as an artist. Carey Mulligan, Justin Timberlake and John Goodman also star.

The iconic French filmmaker, Agnès Varda has been selected as this year's Guest Artistic Director with her influential 1962 film, "Cleo From 5 to 7" being screened as a tribute. Ms Varda has handpicked four films to be shown that have influenced her over a sixty year career.Those films are "Pickpocket"(1959), "A Woman Under The Influence" (1974), "The Marriage of Maria Braun"(1979) and "After Hours"(1985):









There are three films selected to be a part of the Centerpiece Galas starting with the world premiere of "Out of The Furnace", a suspenseful drama featuring an impressive cast including Christian Bale, Woody Harrelson, Casey Affleck, Forrest Whitaker and Zoe Saldana. Scott Cooper directs this follow-up to his acclaimed 2009 debut, "Crazy Heart":



Ben Stiller directs and stars in a remake of "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty", a romantic-comedy that also stars Kristen Wiig, Sean Penn and Shirley MacLaine:



Alexander Payne has made some of my all-time favorite films ("Election", "Sideways") and the director has finally returned with his latest, "Nebraska". It's a quirky, black & white, comedic drama involving a road trip with a father (Bruce Dern), his son (former "SNL" star, Will Forte) and an apparent lottery winning. A tribute to the film career of Mr. Dern will also be held during the festival:

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

MADEMOISELLE C (2013)

Directed by Fabien Constant


Where & When: Laemmle's Muisc Hall, Beverly Hills, CA. September 21, 2013 3:00PM


In the documentary, "Mademoiselle C", the camera is focused on Carine Roitfeld, the raccoon-eyed French fashion stylist, former editor of Vogue Paris and muse to countless people in the industry who has decided the time is right to launch her own magazine, "CR". As a stylist, Roitfeld is not flashy or over-the-top as some of her contemporaries but she still offers a distinct vision that appears modern and forward-thinking. The film gives us a tiny peek in to her glamorous life that is a whirlwind of runways, photo shoots, parties and beautiful clothes.

Roitfeld has assembled a small staff of creatives to help her put together her publication, sets up shop in New York and then the work must begin.  We follow Roitfeld as she attends many fashion shows to select clothing as she praises the designers and rubs shoulders with the celebrities in attendance including a surprisingly subdued Kanye West who we see chat quietly with Roitfeld. She calls in favors from the top photographers and models of the world to contribute their talents which they all seem very happy to do for the opportunity to work with this legendary figure.

While the initial motivation behind this documentary was to go behind-the-scenes and witness the challenges and difficulties of starting yet another magazine devoted to fashion but what made this doc particularly intriguing was to learn more about who this stylish woman really is as Ms Roitfeld isn't well known outside of a select group of drooling groupies obsessed with every aspect of the fashion industry."Mademoiselle C" disappoints in this regard as we learn very little about her background or, more importantly, what inspires and motivates her work. The director, Fabien Constant mostly just observes his subject with his questions not particularly probing, seemingly to keep the somewhat reserved Roitfeld comfortable and compliant.

Ms Roitfeld is soft-spoken and simply very French with her bird-like frame and an effortlessly chic way of putting herself together. Also with her being French, the stylist speaks her mind but displays no strong desire to reveal too much or over share. Everyone from her staff to the designers to film and music personalities offer nothing but glowing praise for Roitfeld which is very nice but isn't nearly enough to make this documentary feel revealing or relevant. Nothing unseemly or unfashionable is ever mentioned like addressing such rumors as Roitfeld not exactly leaving Vogue on her own accord which is implied here.

She has been happily unmarried to Christian Restoin for some thirty years and they have spawned two beautiful and creative offspring; Vladimir, an art curator and his sister, Julia who has followed in her mother's footsteps as a model and fashion consultant (and was expecting the first grandchild of a very thrilled Roitfeld during filming). They all appear on behalf of the ordinary woman they love and not the style icon the world idolizes yet we still learn nothing more that can't be found on a Wikipedia page.

For those lovers of haute couture, "Mademoiselle C" will be a mesmerizing and inspirational experience. The film allows you to strut in the very high stilettos of a woman whose sharp eye and confident vision creates the perfect magical fantasy to present these clothes. While we may be seduced by Carine Roitfeld's Gallic charm and secretiveness but for those who expect a little more depth and substance from their documentaries, it would be best served to look elsewhere.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

2013 FALL MOVIE PREVIEW

It is now that time of the year when Hollywood decides not to devote most of it's time and money catering to fourteen year old boys. The fall season is when we see films that offer more complex and challenging subject matter and in turn, may deliver a richer and deeper cinematic experience.

Here are a few highlights of some of the upcoming films that have captured my attention. Release dates are subject to change:

"THANKS FOR SHARING"

Release date: September 20, 2013

Sex addiction seems to be a popular theme this fall as two films deal with this apparent disorder and are being released just a week apart. In "Thanks For Sharing", director Stuart Blumberg ("The Kids Are All Right") brings the story of a recovering sexual addict (Mark Ruffalo) who meets the girl of his dreams (Gwyneth Paltrow) and struggles to maneuver around this potential relationship and his uncontrollable impulses. Also starring Tim Robbins, John Gad, Joely Richardson, Carol Kane and making her big screen debut, pop singer, Pink under her real name, Alecia Moore.



"DON JON"

Release date: September 27, 2013

While in "Don Jon", Joseph Gordon- Levitt stars (as well as writes and directs his first feature film) as a man that has an unhealthy preoccupation with pornography or at least according to his smoking-hot new girlfriend (Scarlett Johansson) who is disturbed by the idea that he even needs to watch since he has her around. The comedy also features Julianne Moore and Tony Danza.




"CAPTAIN PHILLIPS"

Release date: October 11, 2013

Based on the real-life incident, Captain Richard Phillips (Tom Hanks) and his crew aboard an American cargo ship are hijacked and taken for ransom by Somali pirates in 2009.  There is a tense stand-off between the pirates and the U.S. Navy while the Captain's life hangs in the balance. Paul Greengrass ("United 93", "The Bourne Supremacy") directs this action-thriller.



"KILL YOUR DARLINGS"

Release date: October 16, 2013

"Kill Your Darlings" takes a look at the early life of future beat poet, Allen Ginsberg (played by former wizard king, Daniel Radcliffe). The film takes place during his time as a student at Columbia University when he met fellow writers William Burroughs (Ben Foster) and Jack Kerouac (Jack Huston of "Boardwalk Empire") and gets wrapped up in the shocking murder of David Kammerer (Michael C. Hall) by an acquaintance of Ginsberg's, Lucien Carr (Dane DeHaan).



"THE FIFTH ESTATE"

Release date: October 18, 2013

"The Fifth Estate" tells the story of how long-time friends, Julian Assange (Benedict Cumberbatch) and Daniel Domscheit-Berg (Daniel Bruhl) founded the notorious website, Wikileaks. Although the film is partially based on Domscheit-Berg's memoir, who had a falling out with Assange, it's still an unbiased look in to why they were determined to leak to the world classified information in the name of journalistic freedom.




"12 YEARS A SLAVE"

Release date: October 18, 2013

October will feature an exciting double dose of Michael Fassbender as the sexy and talented actor is featured in two very different films. His first appearance will be in a supporting turn as a slave owner in director, Steve McQueen's "12 Years A Slave". Chiwetel Ejiofor stars as Solomon Northup, a free African-American who is kidnapped and sold in to slavery. This film (based on Northup's autobiography) has already received critical praise and awards buzz and just won the Audience Award at the just completed Toronto Film Festival.



"THE COUNSELOR"

Release date: October 25, 2013

Mr. Fassbender headlines his other film, "The Counselor" which is directed by Ridley Scott and features an original screenplay by acclaimed novelist, Cormac McCarthy ("No Country Fort Old Men"). This thriller involves a lawyer (Fassbender) who unwisely gets involved in a drug-smuggling operation and discovers that these people play by their own set of rules. An impressive cast includes Penelope Cruz, Cameron Diaz, Javier Bardem and Brad Pitt.




"THE WOLF OF WALL STREET"

Release date: November 15, 2013

"The Wolf of Wall Street" is based on the memoir of the same title by Jordan Belfort during his time as a high-rolling, overzealous stock broker and his involvement with securities fraud and corruption. Leonardo DiCaprio stars as Belfort and has teamed-up with director Martin Scorsese for the fifth time. Matthew McConaughey, Jean Dujardin, and Jonah Hill also star.




"AMERICAN HUSTLE"

Release date: December 13, 2013

The volatile but highly gifted filmmaker, David O. Russell returns with "American Hustle", the follow-up to his award-winning film, "Silver Linings Playbook". Set in the '70's, it tells the tale of a con man (Christian Bale) who is coerced by an FBI agent (Bradley Cooper) to assist in a sting operation against a mayor (Jeremy Renner) in New Jersey. Amy Adams, Robert DeNiro and last year's Best Actress Oscar winner for "Silver Linings", Jennifer Lawrence co-star.




"SAVING MR. BANKS"

Release date: December 13, 2013

Tom Hanks also has two movies out this season and he has been perfectly cast as the man behind Mickey Mouse; Walt Disney in "Saving Mr. Banks". This film recreates the difficult struggle to convince the overprotective author, P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson) to allow Disney to make a movie of her beloved book, "Mary Poppins".  John Lee Hancock ("The Blind Side") directs.

Friday, September 13, 2013

BLUE JASMINE (2013)

Written & Directed by Woody Allen



Where & When: AMC Livonia 20, Livonia, MI. August 25, 2013  11:30 AM



The films of Woody Allen have become well-known hit or miss affairs. His annual output tends to fall either as charming cinematic delights ("Hannah and Her Sisters", "Bullets Over Broadway", "The Purple Rose of Cairo") or routine underdeveloped clunkers ("Shadows and Fog", "The Curse of The Jade Scorpion", "Hollywood Ending"). Thankfully, even Mr. Allen's lesser works are at least somewhat watchable although last year's offering, "To Rome With Love" was just barely. With the disappointing memory of  "Rome" still relatively fresh in my mind, I didn't know what to expect of the latest production,  "Blue Jasmine". I am very happy to report that this dramatic comedy, with elements of "A Streetcar Named Desire" and the Bernie Madoff case, has the writer/director back on the right track. The magnificent Cate Blanchett plays the title character, an over privileged trophy wife whose cushy existence is pulled out from under her and becomes desperate to find a way back in to that world.

We first meet Jasmine rambling endlessly at her seatmate on a flight to San Francisco to live with her sister, Ginger (Sally Hawkins). Broke and in disgrace, she has to put some distance from her former life in New York after her investor husband (Alec Baldwin) has been exposed as the ringleader of an elaborate Ponzi scheme. Jasmine's relationship with Ginger has been complicated over the years as she feels that her working-class sister is just too far beneath her social standing and Ginger's poor taste in men hardly helps matters. Another sticking point is that Ginger and her ex-husband (Andrew "Dice" Clay) lost their entire lottery winnings to the investment fraud due to Jasmine's encouragement.

Despite the less than five-star accommodations and facing the unpleasant task of having to seek employment, Jasmine continues to flaunt the trappings of her previous fortunes. First-class plane tickets, Chanel jackets and a Birkin handbag (that is held like a shield) are used as an attempt to save face and indicate that her unfortunate, tragic situation is only a temporary setback. Cracks in the armor soon reveal her fragile mental state as Jasmine drifts off, reliving her posh life before the scandal (seen through a series of flashbacks) that leaves her confused and loudly muttering to herself. She struggles to keep it together with alcohol and medication as her only true comfort from the stress.

After reluctantly working as a receptionist for a lusty dentist (Michael Stuhlbarg) until she can acquire a real job as an interior designer, Jasmine works on her sister to drop her brutish, auto-mechanic boyfriend, Chili (Bobby Cannavale) and find someone more worthy that will take proper care of her. Ginger meets a potential new man (Louis CK) at a party while Jasmine is introduced to a wealthy, aspiring politician (Peter Sarsgaard). She is swept off her feet and quickly engaged but Jasmine is haunted by her past which endangers her future happiness and return to a comfortable lifestyle.

"Blue Jasmine" is one of Mr. Allen's strongest scripts in years (including his recent Oscar-winner, "Midnight In Paris") and seems more engaged here than when attempting to do a wacky farce (like "To Rome") as the comedy feels dusted off and recycled. The director's wit works best now when it comes more organically from the plot filled with melodramatic situations. The film perfectly serves as a humorous reminder that greed and self-absorption has become shockingly more accepted in our society, to the point that when these white-collar criminals are caught, they behave like terribly, misunderstood victims while some of the actual casualties of their corruption feel empathy for them.

Far from modern or liberated, Jasmine is a relic of the past; the pampered wife that never bothered her husband with silly questions involving business or finances in exchange for the occasional sparkly gift to show how much she's appreciated. Ms Blanchett is front and center throughout most of the film and deftly conveys Jasmine's manic energy and outrageous pathos. Her character is not particularly likable or sympathetic yet the actress is able to make you feel actual compassion for this narcissistic society matron. The British Ms Hawkins is another bright spot and convincingly delivers Ginger's Noo Yawk honk. You may expect the comedians on board to bring their expert skills here (and they do) but surprisingly Louis CK and Mr Clay are also quite effective in their dramatic moments.

With "Blue Jasmine". Woody Allen hasn't broken any new ground as he's reliably delivered what he's been doing for well over fifty years. What's here is what he does at his very best; a compelling mix of dramatic histrionics and robust hilarity.



Wednesday, August 28, 2013

2013 VENICE FILM FESTIVAL

The fall movie season has officially been kicked off as The Venice Film Festival begins today.  The world's oldest celebration of cinema marks it's 70th year and runs through September 7th.

"Gravity", the latest by director,  Alfonso Cuaron opens the festival and stars Oscar-winners, George Clooney and Sandra Bullock. This world premiere is in eye-popping 3D (which I think is a first to open in Venice) and tells the dramatic tale of an astronaut who must be rescued after an accident leaves her trapped floating in outer space. This is scheduled to reach U.S. theaters on October 4th:



The festival will include over fifty feature films from across the globe with the usual mix of first-time and acclaimed filmmakers. Twenty films are in competition for the prestigious Golden Lion Award with the jury lead by Italian director, Bernardo Bertolucci. One of these films (which I'm very much looking forward in seeing) is "Philomena" by Stephen Frears and stars the legendary, Judi Dench. Although it's due in the U.K. in November, no exact release for America has been set yet:

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

LEE DANIELS' THE BUTLER (2013)

Written by Danny Strong


Directed by Lee Daniels


Where & When: Emagine Cinemas, Canton, MI  August 18, 2013  9:45 PM



With the self-aggrandizing title "Lee Daniels' The Butler", I was afraid we were heading in to Tyler Perry territory. Although a silly legal dispute with Warner Bros. was the actual cause for this last minute title switch but Mr. Daniels seems to have made a movie that actually  has more in common with the style of the highly successful filmmaker than he may realize. The film shares in Mr. Perry's taste for crass humor, over-cooked dialogue and artificial drama. "The Butler" tells an overly simplified story of the African-American struggle in the 20th century seen through the eyes of a man who served seven U.S. Presidents in the role of their butler. Forest Whitaker plays Cecil Gaines (a fictionalized version of the real-life butler, Eugene Allen) who was taught at an early age the valuable lesson of how to properly serve the white man to make them feel at ease. By being seen but never heard, Gaines was able to provide for his family and send his children to college but had to sacrifice his self-respect and silently endure discrimination at his job.

The film starts off very heavy handed with Cecil as a little boy witnessing a brutal plantation owner (Alex Pettyfer) rape his mother (played in silence by a miscast Mariah Carey) and then shooting his father (David Banner) dead for silently protesting. The mother of this monster (Vanessa Redgrave), feeling something like remorse, decides to take Cecil off the field and in to the house to work. It's here where he first learns how to serve and excels at the job.

Once he becomes a young man and fearing a similar fate like his father, Cecil decides to leave the South far behind and heads to the nation's capital. While there was no true escape from racism but better opportunities were still available in the North. A few lucky breaks leads to a prominent job, most especially for an African-American at the time, as a butler in the White House. Cecil begins his employment during the Eisenhower administration and meets fellow butlers, Carter (Cuba Gooding, Jr.) and James (Lenny Kravitz) who have been around for a while and show him the ropes. The President (Robin Williams) is struggling with the integration of public schools and while the new butler may overhear major decisions and policy changes being made, he strongly adheres to never responding nor ever repeating a single word.

Cecil's loving wife, Gloria (Oprah Winfrey) can't understand all this silly secrecy. Regardless, she's very proud of her husband's position and the good life it provides her and their two young sons. But as the long hours keep her spouse away from home, Gloria grows less satisfied, turning to liquor (and a neighbor) to fill her lonely nights. Louis (David Oyelowo), the eldest son doesn't appreciate his father's hard work, finding the role of a domestic degrading. He gets involved at the beginning of the civil rights movement, much to his parents' disapproval, participating in peaceful sit-ins and freedom rides before moving towards the more radical side of the protests.

As the years go by, First Families arrive and depart but the servants remain to adjust to the varied needs and demands that are required to ensure their comfort. Cecil has become a respected, seasoned employee by the time President Reagan (Alan Rickman) and wife, Nancy (Jane Fonda) enter the White House. The First Lady invites Cecil and his wife to a state dinner although he's fully aware that it's more for the First Couple to have something quaint to discuss over cocktails than sincere appreciation of his long service.

Cecil Gaines' time as a dutiful servant in the White House should have been the most fascinating aspect in "Lee Daniels' The Butler" but the film has put the focus on a fairly predictable family drama. The director has given us a valuable history lesson, touching on the long painful struggle and difficult politics of the era but it's told through characters that are not fully fleshed out. The unimaginative script by Danny Strong relies far too heavily on coincidence to allow a member of the Gaines family to be up close and personal to nearly every important figure and event in American history. Even the cinematography by Andrew Dunn is flat and unmotivated.

It's amazing that Mr. Daniels has been able to lure such top talent to his last few films yet fails to utilize them properly or give any actual guidance. It's been up to the players to deliver which leads to widely varied and inconsistent performances. However, Mr. Whitaker is magnificent, as usual, and helps keep the film from completely flying off the rails. He plays a proud, complicated man only wanting his children to have a better life than he had but will completely shut them out if they don't follow his rules. It's been a long fifteen years since Oprah Winfrey had a major film role (in the underrated, "Beloved") and while there had been some concern that she wouldn't be able to be seen as just a character but this has proven to be a non-issue. The powerful media mogul is completely committed and delivers a fine performance. None of the all-star impersonations of the past presidents are particularly memorable although the best is James Marsden as Kennedy simply because he's the most obvious. The worst, by far, is John Cusack as Nixon. Only given a false bulbous nose, the first appearance by Mr. Cusack is as vice-president and while he makes a feeble attempt at the very distinctive voice but by the time the actor reappears as the thirty-seventh president, he's given up altogether. You can't really completely blame the actors as no one is on screen long enough to make any real impact.

"Lee Daniels' The Butler" is intended to be a sweeping historical epic, glittering with big Hollywood stars but what has been crafted is trivial, unrestrained and highly insignificant. A more accurate account of the compelling life of Eugene Allen certainly needs to be told as this does more of a disservice to his memory.


Saturday, August 10, 2013

THE CONJURING (2013)

Written by Chad & Carey Hayes


Directed by James Wan


Where & When: MJR Digital Theaters, Westland, MI. July 22, 2013  9:30PM


I'll admit that I spent a large portion watching "The Conjuring" peering through my hand that was partially covering my face. This apparently fact-based account of one family's ordeal of supernatural forces terrifying them in their new home will most certainly give you some serious chills the old-fashioned way as it focuses more on creating an eerie mood that's designed to really mess with your head.

Looking to escape the stress of urban living, the Perron family moved to a small and quiet community in Rhode Island. Their new home had been neglected for many years and needs a lot of work but the parents, Roger (Ron Livingston) and Carolyn (Lili Taylor) feels that it has great potential. The couple have five daughters who seem excited to give this new way of life a chance although the eldest, Andrea (Shanley Caswell) is a teenager and slightly less receptive to the idea. The only member of the household who has a problem is their dog who won't step foot in to this crumbling dwelling. This should have given them an indication that something is amiss but the family prepares to settle in to the house for the night.

In the morning, Carolyn is covered in odd bruises and the family is horrified to discover that their pet has been brutally killed. This is just the beginning of the nightmare that befalls the Perrons as a variety of strange and disturbing activities happen after all of the clocks stop at exactly 3:07 AM every day. The house fills with a rancid smell, a wall of family pictures come crashing to the ground, doors creak open on their own and some really creepy figures appear and vanish without warning.

It takes some time before the family no longer feels safe and finally flee in the middle of the night. But while holed up in a cheap hotel, the Perrons find that the unexplainable terror has followed them. Desperate to put an end to this once and for all, Carolyn seeks out the help of some professionals. Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine (Vera Farminga) Warren have spent years researching and exploring paranormal activity and demonic possession. With her ability to connect with the non-living, Lorraine determines that an evil spirit haunts their home and an exorcism will be the only way to get it completely out of their lives. The church would have to authorize this action, which could take weeks but the Warrens decide to perform the act themselves after this deadly force takes over a member of the family.

Most horror films today seem to only be about a high dead body count and creatively coming up with plenty of grisly ways to reach that goal. "The Conjuring" refreshingly doesn't have much bloodshed as the emphasis is on well-developed characters and psychological terror. Although the director, Wan is responsible for bringing to the world the deranged hardcore violence of the first "Saw" film, he shows great appreciation for the subtle style of the genre made popular by Hitchcock to the more edgier fare created in the 1970's like "The Exorcist" and "The Amityville Horror". Mr. Wan has modeled his '70's set film on these classics with the results making this just as thrilling and suspenseful but he has followed them just a little too closely. No surprises are to be found as the screen is filled with the dark, murky imagery as expected and the scares can come across as cheap and predictable however this is what we expect and this is what is effectively delivered.

The acting lifts this material as well with a top-notch cast on board. Ms Farminga and Mr. Wilson (who worked previously with the director on his other horror hit, "Insidious") are a great team and make the couple's unusual career path seem credible. The always captivating and sorely underused  Lili Taylor whose terrific work here is, without a doubt, the highlight of the film. The actress commands as a fierce mother lion who fights and risks her life to protect her family from this unforeseen evil. The only actor who seems out of place is Ms Taylor's screen husband. Mr Livingston, who is better known for his comedic performances in "Office Space" and TV's "Sex and The City", appears to be the head of the household but comes across as far too passive considering the danger facing his brood.

Regardless of whether you accept this story as fact or if you believe ghosts, demons and witches are actually possible or preposterous nonsense, "The Conjuring" is still one hell of a scary movie.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

WINNERS FROM THE 2013 OUTFEST FILM FESTIVAL

Another Outfest has come to an end and I think it was a very strong year for the festival, particularly with documentaries. I never seem to see as many films that I would've liked but what I did manage to get to, I was quite impressed.

First, here is a list of award winners from this year's festival:

Audience Award for Outstanding Dramatic Feature Film:  
REACHING FOR THE MOON, Directed by Bruno Barreto

Audience Award for Outstanding First U.S. Dramatic Feature Film:
GEOGRAPHY CLUB, Directed by Gary Entin




Audience Award for Outstanding Dramatic Short Film:
WINI + GEORGE, Directed by Benjamin Monie

Audience Award for Outstanding Documentary Feature Film:   
BRIDEGROOM, Directed by Linda Bloodworth-Thomason

Audience Award for Outstanding Documentary Short Film:
FACING FEAR, Directed by Jason Cohen

Grand Jury Award for Outstanding U.S. Dramatic Feature Film:
TEST, Directed by Chris Mason Johnson




Grand Jury Award for Outstanding Screenwriting:
Chris Mason Johnson, TEST

Grand Jury Award for Outstanding Actress in a Feature Film:    
Guinevere Turner, WHO'S AFRAID OF VAGINA WOLF?

Grand Jury Award for Outstanding Actor in a Feature Film:  
Bill Heck and Marcus DeAnda, PIT STOP (tie)

Grand Jury Award for Outstanding Experimental Short Film:  
SHE GONE ROGUE, Directed by Zackary Drucker and Rhys Ernst

Grand Jury Award for Outstanding Documentary Short Film:  
PERFORMING GIRL, Directed by Crescent Diamond

Grand Jury Award for Outstanding Dramatic Short Film:
GOING SOUTH, Directed by Leesong Hee-il

Grand Jury Award for Outstanding Documentary Feature Film:  
BORN THIS WAY, Directed by Shaun Kadlec and Deb Tullman




Grand Jury Award for Outstanding International Dramatic Feature Film:
IT'S ALL SO QUIET, Directed by Nanouk Leopold

Special Programming Award for Freedom: 
DEEPSOUTH, Directed by Lisa Biagiotti

Special Programming Award for Artistic Achievement:
ANIMALS, Directed by Marçal Forés

Special Programming Award for Emerging Talent:
Diego Ruiz, Writer/Director/Actor, IGLOO

Now, to some of the films I did check out; "Concussion" follows Abby (Robin Weigert), a bored and sexually frustrated lesbian housewife who lives a very comfortable life with her partner and children. An accident caused by a flying baseball to the head releases the strong desires long held within Abby. While renovating their investment property in the city, Abby decides to take advantage of the place and hires a call girl with unsatisfactory results. Her contractor not only introduces Abby to a better quality of working girl but soon leads her to spending many days of the week turning female-only tricks herself. While this film by writer/director Stacie Passon is pure fantasy and slightly preposterous but it's fun and very sexy with some strong performances, most especially by Ms Weigert.



"Continental" is the latest documentary by the 2006 Outfest Grand Jury Prize winner, Malcolm Ingram that tells the story of Steve Ostrow, who opened the notorious Continental Baths in New York along with his wife in 1968. The not-exactly straight Ostrow brought a safe and clean environment just in time for the newly sexually liberated gay man. The frustrated opera singer also thought that entertainment should be a part of the club and it's well known that Bette Midler and Barry Manilow were discovered there but established artists such as Sarah Vaughan and Labelle made appearances to perform before the towel clad. Even Mick Jagger and Johnny Carson popped in to "catch" the shows. This fascinating film interviews former employees, patrons and performers such as Sarah Dash of Labelle who all share their remembrances of the short-lived bathhouse. It's a breezy affair that takes us back to a carefree sexual wonderland before AIDS would forever alter the world. The only downside is that there isn't much footage of the performers on stage and what's available is far too brief and not in great condition.

Finally, "God Loves Uganda", the disturbing but highly insightful documentary by Oscar-winning filmmaker, Roger Ross Williams covers how American evangelicals decided to spread their dangerous message of intolerance towards the LGBT community in the African nation. After these religious ideas take a stronghold over Uganda, the country formed legislation that would make homosexuality a crime punishable by death. However, there are vocal opponents in Uganda who see through their destructive agenda including Bishop Christopher Senyonjo who risks excommunication as well as possible death to speak out against them. This immensely powerful film will most certainly put a frightening chill through you but it will also make you quite angry and serves as a sad reminder that we still have a very long way to go.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

I'M SO EXCITED (LOS AMANTES PASAJEROS) (2013)

Written & Directed By Pedro Almodóvar


Where & When: Arclight Cinemas, Hollywood, CA. July 1, 2013 1:45PM


After a number of well-received, dark melodramas that earned him new-found respect as a filmmaker (as well as a few Oscars), Pedro Almodóvar is back with a new comedy, "I'm So Excited". At first, it appears to be a return to form of his delightfully frothy sex comedies that helped put this Spanish director on the world's radar. However, this film is very far from his best work, in fact, it's so bad that I came incredibly close to walking out in the middle of this mess. On the surface, it feels very much like a classic Almodóvar film, a Technicolor fantasia laced with his trademark absurdist humor but here it's far too heavy-handed and inconsistent, lacking his usual graceful style and finesse.

On Peninsula Airlines, a flight from Madrid bound for Mexico City seems to have run in to a serious problem. A mechanical issue with the plane means that they need to make an emergency landing in Toledo (Spain, not Ohio which is thankfully cleared up in the film). The head pilot (Antonio de la Torre) has advised his first-class stewards to handle this matter discretely and delicately. Unfortunately, he's got the wrong crew to try and keep calm in the cabin. These three wildly flamboyant men each fit a specific type; one is overly dramatic, the other high-strung and of course, there has to be one that is preoccupied with sex. The drama queen, Joserra (Javier Cámara) explains that after a tragic situation, he can no longer ever tell a lie. That makes his current situation particularly difficult, not to mention trying to keep secret the special relationship he has with the married captain. Fajas (Carlos Areces) is the most low-key of the group (which isn't saying much) who obsessively prays for other people's sins while he proceeds to gossip about their evil-doings. Finally, Ulloa (Raúl Arévalo) struggles to keep his strong carnal desires in check, most especially with the handsome, sexually-ambiguous co-pilot (Hugo Silva) on board.

The stewards have come up with the ideal solution to deal with this life-threatening crisis; to get themselves as drunk as possible. Another thing this foolhardy bunch agreed upon is that the passengers in economy class shouldn't have to endure the stress of this potential disaster, so they've all been knocked-out with a cocktail of sedatives. However, the first-class cabin is wide awake, noticed that the plane is flying in circles and now demanding some answers. These wealthy passengers are a difficult and very challenging bunch with some of Almodóvar regulars including Cecilia Roth ("All About My Mother") and Lola Dueñas ("Volver") filling in these roles.  With their lives hanging in the balance, they slowly reveal the secrets of their mysterious lives and complicated passions publicly. These events make them feel so liberated that it even leads a few to become members of the Mile High Club.

The film appears inspired by the light romantic comedies of the 1960's except it's very much of the moment where you can now get away with a not-so-subtle visual sight-gag involving semen. Even Doris Day wouldn't want to be involved with "I'm So Excited" and not necessarily due to the more raunchy elements but because this lacks any of the breezy charm and comic wit of the movies of her generation. Almodóvar has built his career on this type of campy farce so, it's quite surprising how dated and uninspired this turned out. Even with what is supposed to be the film's most outrageous moment, that features our trio lip-syncing while dancing manically to the song that inspired the film's English-language title by The Pointer Sisters, it will leave you utterly bewildered and unamused much like the passengers on the plane. While the choreography is cute but it all goes on for far too long. Besides, everybody knows that if you're going to have guys miming along to female singers, they really should be wearing wigs and high-heels. That's part of fun.

Antonio Banderas and Penélope Cruz make cameo appearances at the begining of the film as part of the baggage crew. It's sad to say that the brief prescence of these two glittering Almodóvar veterans is actually the highlight of the film. "I'm So Excited" fails to capture the madcap spirit and wacky banter that we love about this filmmaker. It ends up feeling nothing more than some inferior filmmaker trying to make their version of an Almodóvar extravaganza.

Friday, June 21, 2013

2013 OUTFEST FILM FESTIVAL


The schedule for the 2013 Outfest Film Festival has been announced and it will once again deliver a diverse collection of films from across the globe that focuses on the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals.

"C.O.G.", a film by writer/director Kyle Patrick Alvarez, will kick off the festival this year on Thursday, July 11th. This eccentric film, based on a short story by David Sedaris from his book, "Naked", stars Jonathan Groff as a recent college graduate who travels cross-country by bus to Oregon where he discovers a world that he is completely unfamiliar with.

The selection for the U.S. Dramatic Centerpiece is "Pit Stop". Creating a sensation at this year's Sundance Film Festival, this film by Yen Tan focuses on the relationship between a straight contractor (Bill Heck) and a gay man (Marcus DeAnda) in a small Texan town:

The Documentary Centerpiece is "God Loves Uganda", the latest from Oscar-winning filmmaker, Roger Ross Williams. This film follows anti-gay evangelicals as they spread their disturbing message to the African nation of Uganda and in turn, help create a dangerous and deadly environment for the LGBT community there. However, an Ugandan clergy bravely fight back against this wave of hate and intolerance:



Another documentary of note is "Alice Walker: Beauty In Truth" that takes a look at the inspirational life of the acclaimed, Pulitzer-Prize winning author of "The Color Purple":


Alice Walker: Beauty in Truth - Trailer from Kali Films on Vimeo.

Last year's hit musical-comedy, "Pitch Perfect" starring Anna Kendrick and Rebel Wilson will be this year's sing-along Under The Stars event on July 17th at the Ford Theatre:



The festival concludes on July 21st with "G.B.F." (which stands for "gay best friend"), a delightfully wacky comedy directed by Darren Stein ("Jawbreaker") and written by Outfest Screenwriting Lab participant, George Northy:



For additional information and the complete listing of films, please go to:
OUTFEST 2013

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

MAN OF STEEL (2013)

Written by David S. Goyer


Directed by Zack Snyder


Where & When: Arclight Cinemas, Hollywood, CA  June 18, 2013 5:00PM


Superman, the patriotic comic-book hero who has been soaring the skies combating evil, fighting crime and protecting good American values for the last seventy-five years, has been resurrected once again for the big screen in "Man Of Steel". Last seen in the underwhelming 2006 film, "Superman Returns", writer David S. Goyer ("Blade", "Batman Begins") and director Zack Snyder ("300", "Watchmen") have taken a page from Christopher Nolan (who executive produced this film)as he achieved great success with his very dark revision of Batman. They decided a fresh spin was required and did this by giving the invincible super-hero a little edge, a few flaws and some anxiety. This veteran do-gooder seems to have been brought down to Earth as a way to make him appear more hip and appealing to modern audiences. While the idea has some merit but this 21st century version of Superman is burdened with a dark heaviness that never really feels like a good fit. All these changes hasn't made this Superman more intriging, it's actually made him blend in even more within the very crowded cinematic super-hero universe.

Since this reboot is starting from the beginning, it might seem necessary to retell the overly familiar story of how the baby, Kal-El ended up on Earth from his doomed planet, Krypton. However, this time we get a more detailed look in to the dire situations that lead up to this event. His father, Jor-El (Russell Crowe), a top scientist predicts his planet will soon come to an end due to the extensive overuse of Krypton's natural resources. The military leader, General Zod (Michael Shannon) violently rises up against the ruling party and wants Jor-El to join him but refuses. The men rage a deadly battle with Jor-El losing his life but not before sending his new-born infant off to Earth with the genetic code of the Kryptonian race with him. Zod and his fellow rebels are captured and banished to the Phantom Zone as punishment

From here, the film wisely veers from narrative tradition and we next see the adult Kal-El, now called Clark Kent, and played by the chiseled and almost unbearably handsome, Henry Cavill. Clark has been drifting, traveling across the country and picking up a variety of odd jobs along the way. It appears he's hoping to find meaning to his life and place on this planet. We learn more about Clark's past through a series of flashbacks; he was brought up in Kansas by Jonathan and Martha Kent (Kevin Costner and Diane Lane) who found his spacecraft and raised him as their own. The Earth's gravity has given Clark the power of x-ray and heat-omitting vision, allows him to fly and has made his body structure so strong that he's now virtually indestructible. After discovering his amazing abilities and fearful of what could happen if others found out, his parents strongly advise their young son to never use his special powers publicly which leaves him confused and frustrated.

Clark lands a job as part of a scientific crew who find an alien spaceship buried in the Antarctic. Pulitzer-Prize winning reporter, Lois Lane (Amy Adams) is sent by her paper, The Daily Planet to cover the story. While sneaking out to get a closer look at the object, Lois discovers Clark, who is also investigating the vesicle. Originating from Krypton, the craft connects Clark to his history and past. Lois manages to become seriously injured while on board which forces Clark to reveal his secret to save her life.

When she returns to work, Lois has written a article about this "super-human" mystery man but her editor, Perry White (Laurence Fishburne) refuses to run this seemingly crazy story. Meanwhile, the activated spacecraft has inadvertently lead General Zod and his crew to Earth. They had been set free from their prison after their planet's destruction and been searching for Kal-El ever since. He hold the key to Zod's plan of creating a new Krypton by altering the atmosphere on Earth but it would also mean the end of all human life. Clark, now outfitted in a Kryptonian warrior uniform, has finally been given a very good reason to display his super-powers to the world as he has to try and save his adopted home.

Mr Synder began his career making commercials, so he knows how to tell a complete story with visual impact in less than sixty seconds. But "Man of Steel" is over two hours long and while the film impresses with some brilliantly, dazzling images, it's far less successful at keeping the story and pacing up to the same level. This has been a common problem I've had with most of the director's films as they tend to be highly stylised but emotionally artificial. The advancement of special effects has indeed made this film look incredibly realistic but as the numerous battles for dominance between the man of steel and General Zod mount and the city of Metropolis crumbles in the process, these scenes soon grow tiresome and more uneventful as they plod on. "Man of Steel" seems determined to put some distance from the Superman we've grown accustomed with, to the extent that the "S" word is never even uttered throughout. Lois Lane nearly gives the hero his name after questioning the large letter on his massive chest (which is cleverly not what you think it is) but this film is still unable to erase the memory of the charming 1978 film that featured Christopher Reeve in the red and blue costume that first made us believe a man could truly fly. While that "Superman" featured visuals that might be considered primitive by today's standards but it also had a sense of fun that is completely lacking in "Man of Steel" and desperately needed.

While the British Mr. Cavill (who nearly won the role in the 2006 film) certainly fills out the spandex quite nicely but his take on this all-American bred hero is pretty much a zero as far as making a persuasive impression or igniting any sparks between himself and his future long-term love interest. It's not entirely the actor's fault as the screenplay gives him no real distinctive personality or that Lois Lane displays more of a steely exterior than our Kryptonian. Ms. Adams plays an up-to-date version of the intrepid reporter who is tough, fearless and serious-minded but never comes across convincingly as a person that would ever allow somebody to sweep her off her feet. Mr Shannon is reliably good as the pathologically driven Zod and Mr. Crowe is fine in what should have been a glorified cameo but he pops up later in the film to meet his son and give him a history lesson in the form of an overly interactive hologram..

As far as these flicks go, "Man Of Steel" falls somewhere down the middle as it certainly delivers all the thrills and excitement you would expect but doesn't offer much that makes you feel like you haven't seen it many times before.. By the conclusion of "Man of Steel", Clark Kent has put on his glasses and begins his new job at The Daily Planet but now what? The whole world is well aware of his true identity including Lois Lane so there doesn't appear to be any logical reason for him to even go through these motions. A follow-up looks like a high probability but if "Man of Steel" is any indication of what to expect in the future, there might be a string of uninspired, disappointing sequels on the horizon.

Monday, June 10, 2013

FRANCES HA (2013)

Written by Greta Gerwig & Noah Baumbach


Directed By Noah Baumbach


Where & When: Arclight Cinemas, Hollywood, CA. June 1, 2013 10:50PM



In "Frances Ha", the latest droll comedy from Noah Baumbach, twenty-seven year old Frances, with her life as a college student now in the past, is expected to begin living as an adult but this is far from an easy transition for her. She dreams of being a modern dancer but is fueled more by ambition than talent. Despite this obstacle, Frances has managed to become a member of a New York dance company but only as an understudy. As with most people, money is a constant issue but she manages to barely squeak by though odd jobs and teaching ballet to young girls at her dance studio. Displaying her Californian roots, Frances has a care-free, sunny optimism that makes her stand-out among the more sullen and jaded attitudes of her over-privileged peers. This young lady is brought to life by Greta Gerwig not only through her fine performance but also as a co-writer of the screenplay with Mr. Baumbach.

Frances is quite content with her current situation due to the fact that she's struggling along with her best friend since college, Sophie (Mickey Sumner). The two have a tight bond, sharing a living space and inside jokes, as they make the perfect couple, minus the sex. Frances admires Sophie mainly because she just gets her, much more than any man, and actually uses her dear friend as an excuse to exit her listless relationship after he asks Frances to move in.

A problem arises when Sophie gives notice that she's moving to a loft in Tribeca, her dream location in the city, without her. The news leaves Frances reeling but she attempts to carry a brave front. She ends up sleeping on a few couches, first with roommates, Miles (Adam Driver of HBO's "Girls") and Benji (Michael Zegan, who was just cast in the next season of "Girls"), a couple of good-natured slackers who treat Frances like one of the guys and later with Rachel (Grace Gummer), a fellow dancer who seems to have regretted the decision as soon as she made it. Frances drifts through each day, lost and unfocused but after Sophie announces that she's engaged to her boyfriend, Patch (Patrick Heusinger), this sends Frances over the edge, causing her to act irrationally, like taking an expensive, two-day trip to Paris.

If any of this brings to mind the cinematic romanticism of Woody Allen, it's no accident. Mr. Baumbach freely admits that with "Frances Ha", he's tipping his hat to the director, specifically his "Manhattan" era work and while this modern view of New York is slightly more grounded and gritty, it's still a fantasy version of the city that manages not to have a single person of color in sight. Shot in beautiful black & white by Sam Levy, this film has a wafer-thin plot, doesn't offer much as far as big laughs or memorable lines but "Frances" gets by with plenty of quirky charm and spiky sweetness.

The director and Ms Gerwig first worked together on the underrated Ben Stiller comedy, "Greenberg" with the actress making a minor splash in her supporting role. They decided to join forces once again to create something new with this partnership even leading them to become a couple off screen as well. Ms Gerwig has managed to make the peculiarities and neediness of Frances both exasperating and pleasantly irresistible while delivering some genuine moments that shows the complicated, messy and awkward sides of youth and self-discovery. Ms Sumner, the daughter of musician, Sting and producer, Trudie Styler, is a mesmerizing presence and to be honest, I think would have been just as impressive in the title role. She is one to keep an eye on.

At first glance, "Frances Ha" appears to be just another comedy about a single female searching for love and a sense of purpose in the chaotic big city. But by the time we reach the conclusion, we see that this film plays with that subject and our expectations on the ideas regarding romance, friendship and what makes a successful relationship.
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