Monday, May 27, 2013
"La Vie A'Dele" (Blue Is The Warmest Color), the controversial film by Abdellatif Kechiche received the top prize at this year's Cannes Film Festival. Léa Seydoux and Adele Exarchopoulos (who were each also honored with the prize along with the film) star as teenage girls who fall in love and the complications that come with that. The three-hour long film created some serious buzz due to it's lengthy explicit lesbian sex scene but the jury, headed by Steven Spielberg, looked past that to honor this film. "Inside Llewyn Davis", the latest by the Coen Brothers took home the Grand Prix, a runner-up prize for best film.
Here is the list of winners from the 2013 Cannes Film Festival:
Palme d'Or: "La Vie A'Dele" (Blue is the Warmest Color)
Grand Prix: "Inside Llewyn Davis"
Prix du Jury (Jury Prize): "Like Father, Like Son,"
Prix de la Mise en Scene (Best Director): Amat Escalante, "Heli"
Prix du Scenario (Best Screenplay): Jia Zhangke, "Tian Zhu Ding"(A Touch of Sin)
Camera d'Or (Best First Feature): "Ilo Ilo,"
Prix d'interpretation masculine (Best Actor): Bruce Dern, "Nebraska"
Prix d'interpretation feminine (Best Actress): Berenice Bejo, "La Passe" (The Past)
Thursday, May 23, 2013
Directed by Ariel Vromen
Where & When: The Landmark, West Los Angeles, CA. May 13, 2013 7:10PM
Richard Kuklinski was a cold-blooded killer who committed homicide not only whenever he flew in to a blind rage but it was also his secret profession. He worked as a hit man for the mob for thirty years and is rumoured to have killed between one hundred to two hundred and fifty people (with the exact number unclear due to Kuklinski's fuzzy recollection) before his arrest in 1986. What actually makes Kuklinski's story stand out is how he managed to live two very separate lives for many years without raising suspicion. He was seen publicly as an unassuming family man living in a quiet suburban New Jersey neighborhood while no one had the slightest inkling that he was responsible for whipping up a deadly path of destruction in the city, leaving a long trail of bloody corpses not far behind.
"The Iceman", a disturbing but thoroughly fascinating crime thriller based on actual events by writer/director Ariel Vromen, has the intense Michael Shannon playing the contract killer as it recounts his life from his early days of working for the DeMeo mob pirating porn before being enlisted to become the preferred assassin of the leader, Roy DeMeo (Ray Liotta).
Kuklinski was very good at his job due to his ability to feel nothing or show any emotion no matter how much someone might beg him to spare their life. The film seems to indicate that the many years of severe physical and mental abuse by the hands of his parents was the likely catalyst that lead the young Kuklinski to lose touch of his compassion and basic humanity. His younger sibling, Joseph (Stephen Dorff) had already become a casualty, serving a life-prison sentence for the rape and murder of a twelve-year old girl but Richard thinks he can do better with his life. He gets the courage to ask out Deborah (Winona Ryder), a young woman who he thinks is prettier than actress, Natalie Wood. She finds his dry wit and quiet demeanor charming and comforting. The couple are soon married, have two daughters and begin a tranquil family life with Deborah believing her loving husband to be some sort of an investment banker. Married life, however, doesn't quell his blood thirst in the slightest but it seems to inspire Kuklinski to become much more methodical in his work.
Kuklinski used many creative methods to kill his victims to help minimize attention by law-enforcement. He was introduced to the idea of freezing the bodies so that the time of death couldn't be identified by another hired assassin known as "Mr. Softee" (an unrecognizable Chris Evans) as an ice-cream truck was his preferred mode of transportation. This helped earn Kuklinski the nickname, "The Iceman" and during this time he's also shown the uses of cyanide as it's difficult to detect in a forensic test.
As what eventually happens in many organized crime groups due to ego and greed, the DeMeo mob implodes with Kuklinski having to lay low for a while. Extremely unhappy about not being able to do his job, "the Iceman" begins to rage against his friends and family with the serial killer recklessly executing some off-target individuals. This ultimately leads to his own inevitable and well-deserved fate.
This is Ariel Vromen's fourth feature film and although his previous works haven't garnered much attention, that should change with his latest, "The Iceman". Stories involving the mafia have become fairly commonplace in cinema and Kuklinski's remarkable tale has been covered in books and documentaries but Mr. Vromen has managed to keep the tension high and the tragic events compelling without feeling overly familiar. There is plenty of blood and violence to be found but the focus is placed on the psychology of this damaged soul and his internal struggle with his desire to live a predictable normal life while fighting with an equally strong desire to participate in a savage occupation that he seems tailor-made for which brings a brutal end to human lives.
At six feet and four inches and with his dead-eyed stare, Michael Shannon is most certainly an intimidating presence and that's what he brings to his performance as Kuklinski. While Mr. Shannon is a reliably good actor and quite impressive here but he's unable to overcome the lingering feeling of how this intense, secretive, quick-tempered brooder was ever convincingly able to fool anybody in to believing that he was some sort of honest, upstanding citizen.
With her career derailed due to the distractions involving her criminal conviction for shoplifting, Ms Ryder has finally gotten a role that serves as a reminder to what a fine talent she has remained. Although she is now forty-one, Ryder still doesn't look old enough to be playing anyone mother but the actress is highly convincing in her supporting turn as the trusting wife in love with an enigma. While Mrs Kuklinski might display deep affection for the man in her life but is unable to always conceal the fear in her eyes as she's fully aware of how unstable and dangerous he can be at times. It's remains questionable whether this woman was completely unaware of her husband's criminal activities or his involvement with the mafia but I'm sure whatever the case, she thought it best to remain silent for the sake of her children and her own well-being.
While "The Iceman" might not be in the same league as some other films dealing with the mob underworld such as "The Godfather" trilogy, Brian DePalma's "Scarface" or the Scorsese classics, "Good Fellas" and "Casino" but this gritty film certainly holds it's own. While we are given insight in to why Kuklinski, who found an outlet for his pent-up rage, was so driven to the endless carnage and destruction but it's less clear on the reason he needed to drag his innocent family, that he seemed to love and care for, down with him.
Wednesday, May 8, 2013
Directed by Michael Bay
Where & When: Arclight Cinemas. Hollywood, CA. April 28, 2013 8:35PM
For a number of years, Michael Bay has achieved great box-office success with his brand of testosterone-fueled, hyper-violent and high-priced action flicks such as "Bad Boys", "Armageddon", "Pearl Harbor" and his most profitable, the "Transformers" franchise. Most of these explosive endeavors have brought home big-bucks but failed to earn the filmmaker much love or respect as many critics gleefully deride his cinematic efforts as exercises in mindless excess.
While I'm certain Mr. Bay has not lost a single night's sleep over this slight but it might be possible that it could still be gnawing away at him. His latest, "Pain & Gain" is a major departure for the director as it appears to be a not-so-subtle attempt to show those mean-spirited critics that he can do "low-budget" or at least his version of that. I can't claim to be sitting in Mr. Bay's cheering section as I agree that most of his movies are pretty hollow and mindless yet "Pain and Gain" won me over, at least for most of the way.
The idea was inspired by a motivational speaker (Ken Jeong) who made Lugo realize that he should stop being a "don'ter" and be a "doer". Because of his impressive, well-built body and good looks, Lugo feels entitled to the glamorous lifestyle that someone like Kershaw enjoys but doesn't actually deserve. Since the man is an out-of-shape, obnoxious a-hole, the fact that he's a self-made millionaire hardly matters.
A couple of guys are rounded up to help put some muscle in the plan although neither would ever be mistaken for any type of genius. First on board is Adrian Doorbal (Anthony Mackie), another trainer at the gym who needs cash to help pay for treatment as he suffers from a limp noodle due to his steroid use. Also enlisted is Paul Doyle (Dwayne Johnson), a hulking former drug addict and ex-con who has turned his back on his criminal past as he was saved by divine intervention. However, Lugo easily convinces him that the job will be quick and promises no one will get hurt.
The fact that Lugo is the brains of this outfit leaves one to wonder how this prosperous plan will ever get off the ground. After a couple of failed attempts, the boys actually manage to take Kershaw hostage but, not too surprisingly, an unplanned wrinkle develops as the blindfolded victim is able to quickly identify Lugo. Another unforeseen problem occurs with Kershaw being far from cooperative in handing over his money, requiring a lengthy capture and necessary torture. Eventually, Kershaw breaks and with the help of the gym owner (Rob Corddry), who just happens to be notary, the trio becomes instantly rich. But there is one last obstacle and that's what to do about the former millionaire? Since Kershaw can identify them, Lugo decides he's got to go. This persuasive gym-rat is able to talk the conflicted others in to helping him do the dirty work.
It should be no surprise at this point that Kershaw manages to survive the brutal attempt to end his life. Since the police don't believe his story, he tries to find a private investigator to help. The retired detective (Ed Harris) that Kershaw locates is skeptical but decides to take on the job in tracking down the gang. Meanwhile, Doyle, who has blown all his cash on drugs, women and a high-rolling lifestyle, needs to do another kidnapping. They find another mark; the owner of a phone-sex operation (Michael Rispoli) but their latest harebrained scheme winds up even more botched than the first, leaving this inept gang with a couple of corpses to contend with.
Mr. Bay starts "Pain and Gain" off quite nicely, handling the comedy with a deft hand while utilizing his trademark swirling and twirling camerawork to great advantage but by the time we move into the second heist, the pumped-up, cartoon antics and the over-the-top violence seems better suited for a "Three Stooges" short than the comic retelling of an actual crime-story. In fact, the director does himself a great disservice by displaying the images of the real-life counterparts at the end as it only serves as a reminder to how far disconnected from reality the film had become.
The saving grace that makes sitting through "Pain & Gain" well worth the time is the very fine performances of the leads. As he displayed in the dirty-talking teddy-bear comedy, "Ted", Mr. Wahlberg has the amazing ability to still come across as likable and somewhat sympathetic regardless of how many despicable and appalling deeds he commits. He makes Lugo even funnier by playing him far from the sinister psychopath he probably was but as a sweet but highly deluded nice guy who only wants his fair share, regardless of whether he has to steal or kill to get it. Mr. Johnson has proven to also be a fine comedian as he humorously zips from a God-fearing con seeking redemption to a high-wired, cocaine-addled mess.With these two taking up a large chunk of screen time, that leaves very little for Mr.Mackie to do but he still manages to briefly shine, most especially with Aussie comic, Rebel Wilson who is currently taking Hollywood by storm as she plays a nurse with jungle fever.
An upcoming film due out later this summer, "The Bling Ring" deals with another real-life crime-spree but this involves L.A. teenagers robbing from the young and famous starlets that they admire and want to emulate. This independent feature could make an interesting companion piece to "Pain and Gain" although I think the Sofia Coppola directed project (who is very used to working small and low-budget) will be much better modulated.
Friday, May 3, 2013
The time has come to once again see what's in store for movie fans this upcoming summer season. Having scanned what's on the horizon, much of what's on this slate feels particularly underwhelming as it's filled with even more sequels, superheroes and obscenely-expensive action flicks. Nothing wrong with any of these types of films I might add but this leaves fewer alternatives than ever as Hollywood throws most of it's money at a tiny number of overly familiar movies while completely ignoring the possibility of spending a smaller amount of cash on creating something fresh and innovative that audiences could discover. Sure, it may be a potentially risky gamble but no more of a risk than investing over two hundred million dollars on one film.
This year has already gotten off to a rough start with many pricy releases turning out to be major disappointments. I have a strong feeling that not nearly enough of these films of summer are going to be strong enough to be able to adequately turn things around. Despite my grumblings, I have still managed to find a few things of interest that I'm looking forward in checking out:
"STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS"
Release date: May 17, 2103
"Star Trek" was another franchise that was successfully revived back in 2009 by director, J.J. Abrams and is finally back with a follow-up. "Star Trek Into Darkness" brings the crew of the USS Enterprise, headed by Chris Pine as Capt. Kirk, back out on a mission to track down a mysterious dark figure (Benedict Cumberbatch) who has wrecked havoc on Earth and are out to bring him to justice. Zachary Quinto (Spock), Karl Urban (Dr. McCoy), Simon Pegg ("Scotty"), John Cho (Sulu) and Zoe Saldana (Uhura)are all back on board.
Release date: May 17. 2013
Noah Baumbach, the director of one of my favorite films, "The Squid and The Whale" and actress, Greta Gerwig who had her first major role in his comedy, "Greenberg" have teamed up to write the screenplay for their new film together, "Frances Ha". This black & white comedy about a young modern dancer(Gerwig) living in New York who begins to feel as if she is relying too much on her best friend (Mickey Sumner, daughter of rock star, Sting) as she struggles to find her own way in life. The comparisons to Woody Allen and his "Manhattan" is inevitable (and slightly intentional) but "Frances" seems to offer it's own quirky outlook on life in the Big Apple.
Release date: May 24, 2013
Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy return in "Before Midnight", the third film in the series that explores a couple's relationship as they don't do much more than talk to each other but manage to make it endlessly fascinating. This time, the two have been married for nine years and have a couple of kids but have now reached the point where they are beginning to feel restless and searching for meaning in their lives while vacationing in the Greek isles. Director, Richard Linklater has co-written the screenplay once again with Hawke and Delpy.
"THE MAN OF STEEL"
Release date: June 14, 2013
Although the 2006 film, "Superman Returns" failed to generate much excitement, that doesn't mean that our hero from Krypton is down and out. Inspired by the successful re-boots of Batman and Spider-Man, director Zack Snyder and writer, David S. Goyer have attempted to revive the franchise once again but this time have decided to slightly alter the Superman we're all familiar with. While most of the basic origin story in "The Man of Steel" remains intact, much has been re-imagined all the way down to his red and blue costume. The relatively unknown British actor, Henry Cavill has been cast as Superman but the rest of the supporting cast has been filled with familiar faces; Kevin Costner (Johnathan Kent), Diane Lane (Martha Kent), Laurence Fishburne (Perry White), Amy Adams (Lois Lane) and Russell Crowe as the man of steel's father, Jor-El. Of course, there has to be a villain and Michael Shannon fills that role as General Zod.
"I'M SO EXCITED"
Release date: June 28, 2013
After venturing in a more serious, dramatic vein with his last few films, Pedro Almodovar has seemed to have returned to the outrageous campy fare that helped put him on the map. "I'm So Excited" is a farce set in the friendly skies involving a flight to Mexico City and what happens to everyone on board when faced with a life-changing event. Antonio Banderas and Penelope Cruz appear along with the director's cast of regulars.
Release date: June 28, 2013
In "Byzantium", the residents of a small British coastal town become suspicious of a mother and daughter (Gemma Arterton and Saoirse Ronan) when people are found with the blood drained from their bodies. The films by director Neil Jordan can either be very good ("Mona Lisa", "The Crying Game") or very bad ("High Spirits", "In Dreams"), so the jury is still out on this one.
Release date: June TBA
One of my favorite new filmmakers is Xavier Dolan. At only twenty-four, this French-Canadian has confidently created thoughtful and mature dramas earning him several awards for his first two films. His latest, "Laurence Anyways" tells the story of a successful author and scholar (Melvil Poupaud) who makes the difficult descion to begin living life as a female. His girlfriend (Suzanne Clément) is certainly shocked by this revelation but tries to be understanding which proves to be more difficult than she imagined. "Laurence" was featured in the Un Certain Regard section at last year's Cannes Film Festival and won Ms.Clément the Best Actress Award.
Release date: July 26, 2013
To say I was disappointed with Woody Allen's last film, "To Rome With Love" would be a gross understatement but I'm not one to hold grudges. I'm still anticipating the writer/director's latest effort, "Blue Jasmine". He has once again returned to American shores after many recent films set overseas with the story of a New York housewife (Cate Blancett) who, after a marriage crisis with her husband (Alec Baldwin), heads to San Francisco to start a new life. This drama also stars Bobby Cannavale, Sally Hawkins along with performers better known as stand-up comedians, Louis C.K. and Andrew "Dice" Clay.
Release date: August 9, 2013
Set in the distant future, "Elysium" tells the tale of an Earth now separated by two classes; one that lives high-above in a space station in comfort and wealth while the majority remain to suffer on an overpopulated planet in decay and despair. Matt Damon plays an ill man determined to get in to Elysium no matter what the cost but the head of security (Jodie Foster) is just as determined to stop him. Writer/director, Neill Blomkamp has returned with his latest sci-fi thriller following, "District 9" which received four Academy Award nominations including Best Picture in 2009.
Release date: August 9, 2013
A young Linda Boreman is transformed in to Linda Lovelace and stars in the notorious 1972 porn film, "Deep Throat". Later, she becomes a major celebrity but behind the scenes, her life was a nightmare of drugs, abuse and intimidation by her husband, Chuck Traynor (Peter Sarsgaard). Amanda Seyfried plays the title role in "Lovelace" the second feature film by documentary filmmakers, Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman. James Franco, Chloë Sevigny, Adam Brody (as co-star, Harry Reems) and Sharon Stone also star.