Monday, December 29, 2014

INHERENT VICE (2014)

Written & Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson



Where & When: Arclight Cinemas, Hollywood, CA. December 16, 2014 5:15PM



"Inherent Vice", an adaption of the detective novel by Thomas Pynchon, is the latest from director, Paul Thomas Anderson. This is the first time a book by Mr. Pynchon has attempted to be cinematically rendered and there's probably a good reason for this. The author's novels tend to be quite dense and atmospheric which doesn't necessarily make them easily translated in to film. However, if anyone could possibly bring them to life, that would be Mr. Anderson. The writer/director has a successful history of making films featuring complex and unexpected subject matter with some of Anderson's most engaging work includes the 1970's porn industry in "Boogie Nights", the unconventional romance of "Punch-Drunk Love" and the indirect look at the cult of Scientology in "The Master". With "Inherent Vice",  Pynchon's offbeat characters and the era this mystery is set seems right up his alley but the more surreal elements seem to throw the filmmaker off-balance. Some of the scenes that work are delightfully funny and strange but taken together as a whole, the hazy pieces are far too ambiguous and don't fit well enough to feel coherent.

The story takes place in 1970's Los Angeles and the usually tranquil city is tense due to the recent Charles Manson murder trials. Joaquin Phoenix is perfectly cast as Larry "Doc" Sportello, a perpetually stoned private detective who can become somewhat lucid when the time is required. Sportello isn't much to look at, with his mutton-chop sideburns and filthy feet nor particularly charming yet he manages to be utterly irresistible to women.

When his former love, Shasta Fay Hepworth (Katherine Waterston, daughter of Sam) reappears in to his life, those old tender feelings for this classic California beauty resurface. But Shasta has actually sought "Doc" out because she needs help. She has gotten involved with Mickey Wolfmann (Eric Roberts), a married real-estate tycoon and he's vanished. Shasta is concerned because she's aware that Mickey's wife (Serena Scott Thomas, sister of Kristin) and her lover wanted to have Mickey committed in to a mental institution.

Not long after "Doc" begins his investigation through the sunny streets of L.A., the case turns suddenly quite eerie and violent. He's knocked unconscious after visiting one of Mickey's more lurid investments and awakens next to the dead body of one of the investor's bodyguards. This situation has "Doc" running up against LAPD detective, Christian "Bigfoot" Bjornsen (Josh Brolin) who is no fan of the hippie detective. No-nonsense, intolerant and never in the mood for civility, Bjornsen is the type of lunkhead brute that populated the police force at this time (some would say still). After questioning "Doc" and getting nowhere, Bjornsen lets him go but keeps an eagle-eye on the whereabouts of the bumbling detective.

"Doc" is soon lead in the direction of the Golden Fang, a mysterious syndicate of dentists. After meeting the drug-induced wacko, Dr. Rudy Blatnoyd (Martin Short), it's clear that this organization has far more sinister interests than simply checking for cavities.

As far as the entangled plot is concerned, "Inherent Vice" is all over the place. Mr. Anderson seems less interested in presenting a clear conclusion to this twisted case but rather putting the focus on a weird, laid-back comic vibe filled with a little sex, a lot of drugs and soft California rock breezing through the air. With reliable help from long-time cinematographer, Robert Elswit (who has done all of Anderson's films except "The Master"), editor, Leslie Jones and Radiohead musician, Jonny Greenwood who composed the music for the director's last three projects, Mr. Anderson has created a beautifully, demented world but it's not nearly enough to make you want to stay long despite the formidable presence of Mr. Phoenix. The actor, who utilized his manic energy to great effect in "The Master", has gone in the opposite end of the spectrum here as his mellow detective hilariously never loses his cool despite the craziness that surrounds him.

Famous faces make appearances throughout including Benicio del Toro as Sportello's friend and lawyer, Sauncho Smillax, Jena Malone as a dentally-challenged, former druggie in search of her possibly still-breathing, deceased musician boyfriend, Coy Harlingen played by Owen Wilson. Also on hand is Resse Witherspoon, who re-teams with her "Walk The Line" co-star, as a straight-laced, district attorney who occasionally beds "Doc" and enjoys his drugs. There are some interesting lesser-known faces on board, in addition to the impressive Ms Waterston, such as Tony-winner, Jefferson Mays and musician, Joanna Newsom as Sortilège who helps out "Doc"on cases and provides the film with much needed narration. It's no surprise that one of the film's greatest strengths are the solid performances as this is one of Mr. Anderson's specialties but the parade of talented actors are still largely wasted as they drift in, then out with most never to be seen again.

It's clear Mr. Anderson had no intention of making a conventional crime noir and he certainly hasn't. "Inherent Vice" is a wild jumble of outlandish reflections and trippy images in search of a tangible narrative. I must admit I had great difficulty following along with this obscure story. Perhaps the film might be better enjoyed (and understood) under the influence but to be perfectly honest, I don't think there's much that would help clear up the confusion.


Thursday, December 18, 2014

2014 NATIONAL FILM REGISTRY

The National Film Registry announced the twenty-five films that have been inducted for this year. These works range from the first Pixar computer-generated short ("Luxo, Jr."), the first Hollywood 3-D film ("House of Wax"), a horror classic ("Rosemary's Baby"), a stoner detective noir ("The Big Lebowski") and the beloved children's film that introduced us to Oompa-Loompas ("Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Factory"). The goal of the registry is to showcase the extraordinary diversity of America’s film heritage and by preserving these films, protecting a crucial element of American creativity, culture and history.

Here is the complete list of the films selected in to the 2014 National Film Registry. The films chosen must be at least ten years old and this now brings the total to 650 films in the registry:

"13 Lakes" (2004)

"Bert Williams Lime Kiln Club Field Day" (1913)

"The Big Lebowski"(1998)



"Down Argentine Way" (1940)

"The Dragon Painter" (1919)

"Felicia" (1965)

"Ferris Bueller’s Day Off" (1986)

"The Gang’s All Here" (1943)

"House of Wax" (1953)



"Into the Arms of Strangers: Stories of the Kindertransport" (2000)



"Little Big Man" (1970)

"Luxo Jr." (1986)

"Moon Breath Beat" (1980)

"Please Don’t Bury Me Alive!" (1976)

"The Power and the Glory" (1933)

"Rio Bravo" (1959)



"Rosemary’s Baby" (1968)


"Ruggles of Red Gap"(1935)

"Saving Private Ryan"(1998)

"Shoes" (1916)

"State Fair"(1933)

"Unmasked" (1917)

"V-E + 1" (1945)

"The Way of Peace" (1947)

"Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory" (1971)

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

GREAT PERFORMERS: 9 KISSES


The New York Times has once again rounded up some of the actors who gave memorable performances in 2014. This year, they have paired them up to make nine short films directed by Elaine Constantine with the focus on the intimate act of the kiss.

Some of the fascinating actors involved include Patricia Arquette ("Boyhood"), Steve Carell ("Foxcatcher"), Benedict Cumberbatch ("The Imitation Game"), Gugu Mbatha-Raw ("Belle" & "Beyond The Lights"), David Oyelowo ("Selma" & "A Most Violent Year"), Jenny Slate ("Obvious Child"), Timothy Spall ("Mr. Turner") and Reese Witherspoon ("Wild" & "Inherent Vice").

Click below to see all the videos:

9 Kisses

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

THE IMITATION GAME (2014)

Written by Graham Moore


Directed by Morten Tyldum


Where & When: Arclight Cinemas, Hollywood, CA. December 1, 2014  8:15PM



When Alan Turing took his own life in 1954, most people were unaware of his invaluable assistance in helping end the war against Hitler. With the first English-language film by Norwegian filmmaker, Morten Tyldum, the compelling, historical drama, "The Imitation Game" corrects this oversight by revealing exactly what this British mathematician accomplished and how the world is still benefiting from his amazing achievements.

The film opens a couple of years before his death as Robert Nock (Rory Kinnear), a police detective, grows suspicious after Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch) reports a robbery but nothing has been taken. Thinking he's on the cusp of a much bigger story, Nock begins to dig in the mathematical biologist's background but finds that his records have been sealed. Knowing that Turing is hiding something (perhaps he's a spy?), he's brought in for questioning. But the answers turn out to be far from anything that the detective could possibly imagine.

We go back to middle of the second World War as Britain is losing many brave men in this long battle while the country is being relentlessly bombed by the treacherous Nazi army. Turing has been brought on board to join the top-secret team at Bletchley Park to work on breaking the encrypted codes used by the Germans to plan their deadly rampage with their Enigma machine. While clearly a highly intelligent man, Turing is rather clueless on how to properly engage with other people. Arrogant, demanding and quite odd, Turing has difficulty fitting in with the rest of his team which includes chess champ, Hugh Alexander (Matthew Goode) and John Cairncross (Allen Leech). Frustrated, in his view, by the need for more qualified associates and a lack of funds to build an electro-mechanical device to help him with the task at hand, Turning goes over the head of his stern superior, Commander Denniston (Charles Dance) and writes to his superior, Winston Churchill.

Not only does Turing get what he needs, he's given control of this project. To acquire suitable minds, a crossword puzzle is placed in a newspaper with anyone able to complete invited to apply for a job. The potential applicants are decidedly male with the exception of a tardy young woman, Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley). After an attempt to shoo her away, Turing allows Clarke to take the qualifying test that needs to be completed in under six minutes. Guess who was the first to finish?

With a top-notch team now in place (with Clarke brought on publicly as a secretary to appease her skeptical parents and chauvinistic co-workers), Turing begins work on assembling his machine. When the bombe, affectionately named "Christopher" by the inventor, is finally up-and-running, they are still no closer in be able to decipher the Nazi messages. As Hitler and his powerful army continues to heavily pummel Britain, Commander Denniston grows impatient with Turing, demanding to see results or he will shut down his unit.

"The Imitation Game" is staged like a fairly conventional bio-pic with actual events clearly heightened for dramatic effect. But director Tyldum doesn't allow this to restrict him as he skillfully brings stylish visual touches with the help of cinematographer, Óscar Faura that makes this film feel far from ordinary. The smart script by Graham Moore (which was number one in 2011 on The Black List which ranks the best unproduced scripts) delivers emotional depth to the story by taking us back to Turing's childhood to help give us better understanding of his peculiar behavior. We see his time spent at the all-male boarding school where the bullied boy meets his first friend, Christopher which awakens his desire and sadly, teaches him about devastating loss.

The impressive cast also help make this film stand out which includes Mark Strong as the shadowy Major General Menzies who simply stands back and observes until he decides his services are truly needed. But it is Mr Cumberbatch, in what is really his first major starring film role, who holds "The Imitation Game" together as he delivers a masterful turn as Turing. The actor makes us care deeply for this complicated and eccentric man who is unable to express himself in a way for others to understand. Mr. Cumberbatch is known for his distinctive but quite striking facial features; the long face, wide-set eyes and cupid lips and this unusual combination adds to making Turing seem different. Ms Knightly, who I think is not given proper due as an actress, turns in another exceptional performance as the lone woman in this group of intellectuals. Clarke wasn't able to reach her full potential during this time because of her gender but Turing saw her as an equal and they make a great team.

Although Turing and Clarke never had a real romance despite being briefly engaged, the couple shared a deep passion of the mind and spirit. Many years after their heroic efforts during the war, Alan and Joan are reunited. While she had married well and started a family, Clarke is shocked and quite saddened to see a shell of the strange but brilliant friend she once knew. After being sentenced for the crime of homosexuality, Turing faced either a long prison sentence or chemical castration. This was a very tragic ending for a man who not only saved countless lives by helping end the war years earlier but paved the way for the invention of the modern computer.

Monday, December 8, 2014

AWARD SEASON 2014

Yes film lovers, it's that time once again. Critics from across the country are getting their say on what they consider the best of 2014. Over the past week, New York, Boston, Los Angeles and the National Board of Review have announced their picks and today, the American Film Institute weighed in on their favorites. You can always count on them to bring some attention to little-seen gems (Tom Hardy in "Locke", "Nightcrawler", "Ida" and Marion Cotillard for her work in "The Immigrant") and buzz for upcoming releases ("Selma"and Clint Eastwood's "American Sniper") but surprisingly, they all seem to be in agreement with Richard Linklater and his amazing "Boyhood" as the film is receiving universal love from these groups.

Here is a round-up of the selections:

AFI MOVIES OF THE YEAR

"American Sniper"
"Birdman (Or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)"
"Boyhood"
"Foxcatcher"
"The Imitation Game"
"Interstellar"
"Into the Woods"
"Nightcrawler"
"Selma"
"Unbroken"
"Whiplash"

2014 New York Film Critics Circle Awards

Best Picture: "Boyhood"
Best Director: Richard Linklater, "Boyhood"
Best Screenplay: Wes Anderson and and Hugo Guinness, "The Grand Budapest Hotel"
Best Actor: Timothy Spall, "Mr. Turner"
Best Actress: Marion Cotillard, "The Immigrant" and "Two Days, One Night"
Best Supporting Actor: J.K. Simmons,"Whiplash"
Best Supporting Actress: Patricia Arquette, "Boyhood"
Best Cinematographer: Darius Khondji, "The Immigrant"
Best Animated Film: "The LEGO Movie"
Best Non-Fiction Film (Documentary): "Citizenfour"
Best Foreign Film: "Ida"
Best First Film: Jennifer Kent, "The Babadook"

2014 Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards

Best Picture: “Boyhood
Best Director: Richard Linklater, “Boyhood
Best Screenplay: Wes Anderson and Hugo Guinness, “The Grand Budapest Hotel
Best Actor: Tom Hardy, “Locke
Best Actress: Patricia Arquette, “Boyhood
Best Supporting Actor: J.K. Simmons, “Whiplash
Best Supporting Actress: Agata Kulesza, “Ida
Best Foreign Language Film: “Ida
Best Animation: “Tale of the Princess Kaguya
Best Documentary: “Citizenfour
Best Cinematography: Emmanuel Lubezki, “Birdman
Best Editing: Sandra Adair, “Boyhood
New Generation Award: Ava DuVernay, “Selma

2014 Boston Society of Film Critics Awards:

Best Picture: "Boyhood"
Best Director: Richard Linklater, "Boyhood"
Best Screenplay: (Tie) Alejandro G. Inarritu, Nicolas Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris Jr. and Armando Bo, "Birdman," and Richard Linklater, "Boyhood"
Best Actor: Michael Keaton, "Birdman"
Best Actress: Marion Cotillard, "Two Days, One Night" and "The Immigrant"
Best Supporting Actor: J.K. Simmons, "Whiplash"
Best Supporting Actress: Emma Stone, "Birdman"
Best Ensemble Cast: "Boyhood"
Best Documentary: "Citizenfour"
Best Animated Film: "The Tale of the Princess Kaguya"
Best Foreign Language Film: "Two Days, One Night"
Best Cinematography: Emmanuel Lubezki,"Birdman"
Best Film Editing: Sandra Adair, "Boyhood"
Best Use of Music in a Film: "Inherent Vice"
Best New Filmmaker: Dan Gilroy, "Nightcrawler"

National Board of Review Top Films of 2014:

"American Sniper"
"Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance"
"Boyhood"
"Fury"
"Gone Girl"
"The Imitation Game"
"Inherent Vice"
"The Lego Movie"
"Nightcrawler"
"Unbroken"

Best Film: "A Most Violent Year"
Best Director: Clint Eastwood, "American Sniper"
Best Actor (Tie): Oscar Isaac, "A Most Violent Year" and Michael Keaton, "Birdman"
Best Actress: Julianne Moore, "Still Alice"
Best Supporting Actor: Edward Norton, "Birdman"
Best Supporting Actress: Jessica Chastain, "A Most Violent Year"
Best Original Screenplay: Phil Lord & Christopher Miller, "The Lego Movie"
Best Adapted Screenplay: Paul Thomas Anderson, "Inherent Vice"
Best Animated Feature: "How to Train Your Dragon 2"
Breakthrough Performance: Jack O'Connell, "Starred Up" & "Unbroken"
Best Directorial Debut: Gillian Robespierre, "Obvious Child"
Best Foreign Language Film: "Wild Tales"
Best Documentary: "Life Itself"
Best Ensemble: "Fury"
Spotlight Award: Chris Rock for writing, directing, and starring in "Top Five"
NBR Freedom of Expression Award: "Rosewater"
NBR Freedom of Expression Award: "Selma"

Saturday, November 29, 2014

BEYOND THE LIGHTS (2014)

Written & Directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood


Where & When: Arclight Cinemas, Hollywood, CA. November 17. 2014  8:45PM



"Beyond The Lights" tells the overly familiar story of a young woman desperately seeking fame and fortune as a performer and discovering after achieving this success how much of your personal life must be sacrificed. However, in the hands of Gina Prince-Bythewood, the writer/director best known for the cult film, "Love & Basketball", she offers a modern and fresher approach to this oft-told tale. Gugu Mbatha-Raw, who impressed earlier this year with her corseted role in the sleeper-hit, "Belle", plays the woman in question and dazzles once again as a Brit on the verge of breaking out in to pop super-stardom.

As a young child, Noni is given a life lesson from her ambitiously driven, single mother, Macy (Minnie Driver) after placing runner-up in a local talent contest. She tells her daughter to chuck the prize as she should never settle for that if she wants to become a winner. This advice seems to pay off later with Noni (Mbatha-Raw) as she eventually becomes a rising pop star. Following the lead of current popular female singers like Rihanna and Katy Perry, Noni performs scantily clad with a calculated image that is overtly sexual.

After winning a Billboard Award for the collaboration with her publicity-generating boyfriend, hip-hop artist, Kid Culprit (played by real-life rapper, Richard "MGK" Baker), Noni should be on top of the world. But after an alcohol-fueled limo ride to her hotel, she's in no mood to celebrate. For some unclear reason, Noni is suddenly ready to end her life as she dangles off the ledge of her balcony. Luckily, a handsome police officer, Kaz Nicol (Nate Parker) guarding her room is there to save her before she falls to a tragic end. There is a connection between these two in that brief instant but they quickly must return to their own lives. The media gets wind of this attempted suicide and Macy, now her manager, whips together a press conference to claim an accident with Officer Nicol reluctantly there to back the story up.

These two are now linked due to this deception and find themselves drawn even closer to each other. Noni and Kaz sneak away from the glaring eyes of the world, attempting to share some private time together but due to their hectic jobs, these moments tend to be not nearly long enough. Not everyone is happy about this burgeoning romance. Macy sees this police officer as an extraneous distraction to her daughter's career and an unpleasant reminder of the incident. Kaz's father, Captain David Nicol (Danny Glover) thinks his son should take advantage of this attention and pursue their future plan of a political career right now. But a girl like Noni would be completely unsuitable to have by his side.

Ms Mbatha-Raw has all the right moves that makes her quite convincing as a pop singer and it's actually her voice you hear during the performances. She is one to watch and this role should certainly help her breakout. Mr. Parker is very appealing and has a nice, easy vibe with his co-star but his noble character is just little too good to be true. Ms Driver, a fine, underrated actress who many might forget received an Oscar nod for one of her early roles in "Good Will Hunting", is terrific as a mother whose better judgement is clouded by her relentless pursuit of stardom, seemingly for her child.

What Mrs. Prince-Bythewood has done with the highly entertaining "Beyond The Lights" is quite surprising. For what could have easily been a by-the numbers melodrama is elevated by her supple, well-crafted screenplay. While the script doesn't completely shake all of the camp loose (which is actually a good thing), it does succeed with a focus on rich emotions and an intimate love story. Prince-Bythewood displays such a steady, masterful hand as a filmmaker that it's utterly shameful that this is only her third feature in fourteen years. Sadly, it's quite clear that gender and choice of material made it very difficult for the director to get a project off the ground

"Beyond The Lights" is fizzy and fun, delighting with a glittering parable regarding the present-day  music industry. What makes this stand apart from other show-business yarns are persuasive characters and at the heart of the film, a credible romance despite the incredible circumstance that brings these two disparate individuals together.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

DEAR WHITE PEOPLE (2014)

Written & Directed by Justin Simien


Where & When: Arclight Cinemas, Hollywood, CA. October 26, 2014 8:25PM


Way back in 1986, "She's Gotta Have It", a charming, low-budget comedy about an African-American woman not feeling compelled to settle with just one man, ushered in a fresh new voice in cinema; Spike Lee. Brash, incendiary and fearless, Lee created introspective films about the African-American experience while loudly criticizing the Hollywood establishment for continuing to ignore this audience. After one of the director's biggest critical and commercial triumph-to-date, the Oscar-nominated, "Do The Right Thing" in 1989, it was expected that many other film makers of color would be given opportunities to work in the industry. Sadly but not surprisingly, this has not really come to pass.

"Dear White People", the excellent first feature from another fresh voice, writer/director Justin Simien, takes a satirical look at the lives of black students at Winchester, a fictional, predominately white college. Far less volatile than Mr. Lee's work, Simien still deals with the complex subject of race and identity with thoughtful perspective, edgy humor and brutal honesty.

We meet some of the African-American students attending the university including Troy (Brandon P. Bell), bright, handsome and popular, is under extreme pressure to excel, no matter the cost. It doesn't help that his father happens to be the school's Dean (Dennis Haysbert) which means he must always be beyond reproach. Attempting to put some distance from a rough past, Colandrea (Teyonah Parris) reinvents herself as "Coco". With a long weave and pricey outfits to create the proper image, Coco uses her video blog in an attempt to express herself and generate much-desired attention. And we have freshman, Lionel (Tyler James Williams, best known as the lead in the sitcom, "Everybody Hates Chris") who is a true outsider. Gay, socially-inept and sporting an out-of-control afro, he doesn't seem to fit in with any group nor does anybody want to claim him either.

Then there's Samantha White (Tessa Thompson), a bi-racial student, who takes a militant stand with the radio program she hosts called "Dear White People". While offering rhetorical advice to this group, Sam not only wants to make a point but also clearly provoke. She runs for Head of House of their all-black dorm on a lark and surprisingly defeats the perceived winner, Troy. This sets off a chain of events beginning with Sam, wielding her new power, kicking out some white students dining in their dorm during lunch. One of them is Kurt (Kyle Gallner), the obnoxious son of the school President. This doesn't sit well with him and vows retaliation. The tough-talking Sam is not all she appears to be, desperately trying to keep another part of her life on the down-low.

Being small fish in a big pond, the black students eventually turn on each other to gain or maintain whatever small amount of power they can achieve. When Coco fails to be properly noticed, she resorts to more desperate measures. This all leads to a campus party where the theme is African-American with white students arriving dressed in offensive, stereotypical depictions. Thanks to hip-hop and films, many of these young white kids seem to admire African-American culture but are clueless to the ugly history of such representations. Once the black students catch wind of this event, the already tense environment explodes in to raging violence.

It's difficult enough simply mentioning the subject, let alone mining actual humor regarding contemporary race relations however, Mr. Simien is game and manages with great success. The director doesn't hold back, making for some uncomfortably funny moments. And when the students drop their guard, revealing their fears and frustrations, the film is equally effective. The young, largely unknown cast is quite impressive with Ms Thompson (who you may have seen on TV's "Veronica Mars' and will see in the upcoming MLK bio-pic, "Selma") quite riveting as the angry but conflicted Sam.

"Dear White People" displays that while much has improved for African-Americans in this color-blind age of Obama, many issues regarding race relations have evolved very little. We, as a society, should finally be ready for a serious, meaningful discussion of this topic yet the question remains; is anybody able to really listen to each other? Anybody?

Friday, October 31, 2014

BIRDMAN OR (THE UNEXPECTED VIRTUE OF IGNORANCE) (2014)

Written by Alejandro González Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Jr, and Armando Bo


Directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu


Where & When: Arclight Cinemas, Hollywood, CA. October 20, 2014  5:20PM


"Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)", the twisted, backstage comedy, handled deftly by co-writer/director Alejandro González Iñárritu, will be best remembered as the film that rightly put Michael Keaton back in to the spotlight as it displays his exceptional and undervalued abilities as an actor. He's been kicking around for a while, first breaking out in Ron Howard's initial box-office hit comedy, "Night Shift" in 1982 before moving on to film stardom with "Beetlejuice", "Mr.Mom" and the first two of Tim Burton's re-imagined "Batman" that helped usher in the cinematic era of the super-hero. He hasn't done much to note of late but Mr. Keaton delivers one of the finest performances of his career playing Riggan Thomson, a washed-up film actor who was once famous playing a masked crime fighter, Birdman. As he tries to rebuild his career with a Broadway-bound play he has written and plans to direct, an adaption of a Raymond Carver story "What We Talk About When We Talk About Love", Riggan is haunted by his past. The voice of Birdman keeps tormenting the actor, reminding him what a failure he has become and how doing this play is pointless. Keaton is completely in his element here as he is able to use both his comedic gifts and sharp dramatic skills.

During rehearsals, Riggan realizes that the lead actor hired is wrong but a stage mishap conveniently creates an opening for the role. Jake (Zach Galifianakis), a friend and producer of the show, suggests that Mike Shiner (Edward Norton) would be a perfect replacement and his name could even boost the box-office. Riggan agrees and with Mike dating fellow Hollywood star, Lesley (Naomi Watts), who just happens to be the female lead of the play, this rocky production might finally be turning a corner. However, Mike is a highly temperamental, egotistical method actor who sees no issue with drinking real gin on stage as it will only serve his performance. After Mike breaks character to reprimand Riggan for removing his booze during a preview, he wants him out. Jake reminds him that the show is now sold-out and they can't afford to lose this difficult actor.

If the play wasn't enough, Riggan has to contend with an actress (Andrea Riseborough) in the show he's been sleeping with who may be pregnant. He also wants to repair his damaged relationship with his sullen daughter, Sam (Emma Stone) fresh out of rehab. As an attempt to bring them closer together, Riggan has hired her as his assistant but this plan has made them grow even more distant. His ex-wife (Amy Ryan) has come to the opening of the play to lend support until she finds out what he's done to finance this dream project. And a New York Times critic (Lindsay Duncan) has promised to close the play with her poison pen, mainly because she resents the trend of movie stars coming to the theater and taking jobs away from real actors.

The truth is, Riggan isn't much different from Mike. He's a self-centered, manipulative jerk. He's also a talented thespian who has always, and continues to put his work first. This former action star is at a crossroads in his career as well as with his life. With the sound of Birdman growing louder in his ear and the pressures of the show mounting, Riggan begins to unravel, losing a grip on reality. No longer knowing where he begins and his costumed alter-ego ends, Riggan is convinced that he's using his super-powers to trash his dressing room in a fit of frustration or blissfully flying across the Manhattan skyline.

Iñárritu, after a series of thrilling but challenging Academy-Award nominated dramas including "Amores perros", "21 Grams" and "Babel", has decided to lighten up with "Birdman" as his first comedy, sort of. There is certainly some quirky humor to be found here but more serious moments involving anxiety, melancholy and fear is what actually drives the film. "Birdman" soars thanks to the impressive camerawork of cinematographer, Emmanuel Lubezki (who won the Oscar last year for "Gravity" and is sure to be nominated once again for his work here) as the film appears to be one continuous take. The camera follows tightly along as the actors travel throughout the majestic St. James Theater in New York, zips out in to the street and darts back inside.

The director has assembled a perfect cast, using these actors in ways we don't ordinarily see them. Norton is wild and hilarious with his runaway ego mowing down everyone in his path. Mr. Galifianakis, who came to fame with his over-the-top wackiness in "The Hangover" films, delivers a restrained performance that surprises with it's sincerity. Ms Stone abandons her sweet and sunny disposition while effectively snarling and seducing with raw passion.

With Iñárritu's inventive direction, "Birdman" takes flight as this offbeat satire examines the trappings of Hollywood fame that reduces sad and desperate people to behave quite badly. The highlight is the extraordinary work of Michael Keaton who is memorable as the tortured artist who just wants one more opportunity to prove to the world, and to himself, that he's able to create something of true value.

Friday, October 24, 2014

2014 AFI FILM FESTIVAL PRESENTED BY AUDI


The lovely face of screen legend, Sophia Loren graces the poster for this year's American Film Institute Film Festival presented by Audi running November 6th through November 13th. The Italian actress is being honored with a special tribute to her luminous career on November 12th with screenings of the 1964 classic, "Marriage Italian Style" with Marcello Mastroianni, "Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow", the 1963 film directed by Vittorio De Sica and her most recent work, "Human Voice", a short directed by her son, Edoardo Ponti.

Once again, AFI will be offering free tickets to all of the screenings beginning today in addition to festival packages and passes for purchase which offers various privileges to films, presentations and events. The gala screenings will be held at the home of the Academy Awards in the Dolby Theatre while regular screenings will be shown in TCL Chinese 6 Theatres and the Egyptian Theatre .

The Opening Night Gala will be "A Most Violent Year", the latest film from writer/director, J.C. Chandor. This will be the world premiere and stars Jessica Chastain and Oscar Isaac as a 1980's New York couple trying make a better life for themselves while wading through the crime ridden streets of the city.



Another world premiere will be "The Gambler" which is the Centerpiece Gala. Mark Wahlberg stars in this remake of the 1974 James Caan film as a college professor who gets in way over his head in the world of underground gambling. John Goodman, Brie Larson, Michael K. Williams and Jessica Lange also star.



"Foxcatcher" has been selected to close out the festival. This fact-based drama directed by Bennett Miller ("Capote") has been receiving plenty of buzz due to the amazing, transformative performances from Steve Carell, Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo

The festival will present special screenings which includes Tommy Lee Jones' "The Homesman" and "Inherent Vice" as well as offering a wide selection of programing ranging from world cinema, American independents, new auteurs, breakthrough filmmakers, short films, midnight screenings and cinema's legacy. For the complete list of films, please click below:

AFIFEST 2014

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

GONE GIRL (2014)

Written by Gillian Flynn


Directed by David Fincher


Where & When: Arclight Cinemas, Hollywood, CA October 6, 2014 5:35PM



I think "Gone Girl" is the first film I've ever seen that begins as a tense, foreboding mystery and as the story unfolds, evolves in to an outrageously deranged satire. But in the masterful hands of David Fincher, this transformation is seamless and absolutely perfect. Based on the mega best-selling book by Gillian Flynn, the director audaciously examines the explosive sexual politics of marriage, especially in these modern times where the role of women is constantly in flux between their traditional position and a more complicated, liberated role in the relationship. The film also takes a look at our preconceived ideas on guilt and innocence and how the media now has the power to shape these opinions.

On the morning of his fifth anniversary to his lovely wife, Amy (Rosamund Pike), Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) begins the day very low-key by visiting the under performing bar he owns with his twin sister, Margo (Carrie Coon). When he returns home, something seems strangely amiss. The door has been left open and the furniture in the living room is shattered yet Nick doesn't appear overly concerned. He calls the police and Detective Boney (Kim Dickens) and Officer Gilpin (Patrick Fugit) arrive to investigate. With a coffee cup never leaving her hand, the detective goes through the house, marking suspicious areas with yellow post-its, and peppering the missing woman's husband with a barrage of questions.

Days go by, a search party is formed and Amy's parents (David Clennon and Lisa Banes) go in front of the cameras to beg for their daughter's safe return. Nick, at the press conference, comes across as passive and oddly detached. Once television crime evangelist, Ellen Abbott (Missi Pyle doing a spot-on Nancy Grace type) goes in front of her large-scale audience and proclaims Nick must be guilty due to his strange behaviour, he soon becomes the only logical suspect. But is he actually responsible for his wife's disappearance? If you have read "Gone Girl", then you know exactly how guilty Nick Dunne actually is. If not (like myself), then you will be able to savor all of the surprising twists and turns without any expectations. Nothing in this apparent crime, nor the couple's marriage, is what it appears to be on the surface. Through a series of flashbacks, we learn more about Nick and Amy from their early courtship to the more challenging marital times when Nick loses his job as writer and the couple having to move from New York to a small town in Missouri to care for his ailing mother.

Ms Flynn, a one-time film critic for my favorite magazine about entertainment, "Entertainment Weekly",  was lucky to get the unusual opportunity to have a hand on the screenplay and creates a solid adaption of her work. The author was also fortunate enough to have arguably one of the best film makers working today to be involved on the project. With a history of tackling stories that explores the darker side of human relationships which includes "Fight Club", "Zodiac" and "The Social Network", Mr. Fincher is in his element and brings his somber visual flair to these proceedings. The director receives invaluable help from his long-time crew who all have been recognized numerous times by the Academy for their work with him. This includes cinematographer, Jeff Cronenweth, editor, Kirk Baxter and the eerie musical score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross.

Mr. Affleck has become a well-regarded director with the films, "Gone Baby Gone", "The Town" and the 2012 Best Picture, "Argo" but as an actor, he's been adequate but never has done anything particularly noteworthy. That is now in the past as the Oscar-winner gives an impressive full-bodied performance that is sly, edgy and unpredictable. As more evidence piles up against his character, he makes you begin to doubt his involvement yet still never seeming to be completely guilt-free.

Reese Witherspoon is a producer of the film and flirted with the idea of playing Amy. While she may have been perfectly fine in the part but Mr. Fincher had another thought and that's when Ms Pike enters the picture. The British actress has been around for a while, making supporting appearances in films such as "Die Another Day" and  "An Education" but never made much of a solid impression. Clearly the director saw something in her and his instincts have paid off. Much like Glenn Close in "Fatal Attraction", Ms Pike's performance in "Gone Girl" will completely alter her career. She is mesmerizing as a woman caught between struggling to be the good wife and wanting no part of that role. To simply state she displays a crazy range of emotions would be a true understatement.

The supporting players are uniformly excellent with surprising nice turns from actors far better known for their comedic roles, Tyler Perry as Nick's lawyer and Neil Patrick Harris perfectly creepy as Amy's old flame but special mention must be made about Ms Dickens and Ms Coon. These actresses have made their mark previously on television (both on popular HBO shows; Dickens on "Deadwood" and "Treme". Coon in the recent hit, "The Leftovers") and the stage (Coon was a Tony nominee for the recent revival of "Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolfe") but their juicy roles here give them a shining opportunity to play a strong, fully-developed female character which, sadly, is rare these days in cinema.

Sure, a few of the plot points, while quite clever, don't hold up under closer scrutiny but "Gone Girl" is so good that it's hardly a distraction. The combination of Gillian Flynn's deft skills as a storyteller and the stylish artistry of David Fincher has made this film one of the very best of the year. They have managed to take a unsettling subject matter and make it highly entertaining and thoroughly unforgettable.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

THIS IS WHERE I LEAVE YOU (2014)

Written by Jonathan Tropper


Directed by Shawn Levy


Where & When: Arclight Cinemas, Hollywood, CA. September 22, 2014 5:40PM



"This Is Where I Leave You" is a dysfunctional family comedy with dramatic elements. The film is very funny, in fact, hysterically at times. However, whenever any melodramatic moment creep in, it simply distracts, throwing things out of whack. The broad humor makes it very hard to take any of this clan's problems and anxieties seriously.

Shawn Levy, who helmed the "Night At The Museum" franchise and the low-brow remakes of "Cheaper By The Dozen" and "The Pink Panther", has no clue on how to find the right balance. He has taken the dark themes of the story, based on the book by Jonathan Tropper (who also had a hand on the screenplay) smoothed out the sharp edges with a breezy, sitcomy sense of humor. Appealing TV comedy vets, Jason Bateman, Tina Fey and "Girls" quirky heartthrob, Adam Driver are also on hand to make all these complex situations go down easy.

Hillary Altman (Jane Fonda), a noted psychologist has assembled her adult children to return home to upstate New York after their father has died. Her son, Judd (Bateman) who works for a shock-jock (Dax Shepard) is struggling to hold himself together after he has caught his wife (Abigail Spencer) cheating with someone he knows quite well. Wendy (Fey), saddled with a workaholic husband and two hyper children, is still haunted by the neighbor boy (Timothy Olyphant) she loved as a teen but left after he became injured in an accident. The no-nonsense Paul (Corey Stoll) has to deal with his anxious wife (Kathyrn Hahn) desperate to get pregnant while also bitter that he stuck around to work with their father in the family business of sporting goods. Phillip (Driver), the wild-child, baby brother, arrives to the service with his latest girlfriend in tow; an older woman (Connie Britton) who also happens to be his former shrink.

Hillary informs her children that their non-practicing Jewish father's dying wish was that they sit shiva in his honor. Reluctantly, the brood agree to remain in their childhood home for seven days to mourn. This situation manages to stir up plenty of old grudges and petty bickering among the siblings. Some of their hostility is directed at their unfiltered mother who became a best-selling author on child-rearing which used her own as prime examples. Sharing their private adolescent challenges to the world still doesn't exactly sit well with them.

Each member of the Altman family struggle to work through their complicated issues within themselves and with each other but none of these characters are fleshed out nearly enough to offer a convincing resolution. This isn't for a lack of trying from the film's highly distinguished cast of actors which includes stage actress, Debra Monk as Hillary's close neighborhood friend and Rose Byrne as Judd's chatty high school crush.

While the heavy family dynamic in the really scary, dark comedy, "August: Osage County" was unbearable, "This is Where I Leave You" is unbelievable. You won't buy for one second that any of these people could possibly be related. That doesn't mean you won't have a good time and quite a few laughs. The real issue is that the film is trying much too hard to be something it's not. Which is any type of drama. Embrace the comedy and move on.


Tuesday, September 23, 2014

THE DISAPPEARANCE OF ELEANOR RIGBY: THEM (2014)

Written & Directed by Ned Benson



Where & When: Arclight Cinemas, Hollywood, CA. Septemeber 16, 2014 3:10PM



"The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them" starts off with Eleanor (Jessica Chastain) and her husband, Connor (James McAvoy) sneaking out of a New York restaurant after not having money to pay the bill. In the afterglow of that thrilling adventure, this young couple, clearly in love, begin making out in a nearby park. The next moment we see Eleanor throwing herself off a bridge, trying to end her life.

What happened in between these two scenes is explored in this inspired but disjointed film by writer/director Ned Benson. We learn that a horrific event is the catalyst that frayed their once solid relationship. The couple being unable to cope with this tragedy together is what ultimately drives them apart.

After Eleanor is released from the hospital, she leaves her husband and moves back home with her family in the suburbs. The full house includes her French cliché of a mother (Gallic screen legend, Isabelle Huppert), serious Professor father (William Hurt), single-mother sister, Katy (Jess Wexler) and her young son.

Connor has no idea where his wife has ended up but desperate to locate her. Having to give up their apartment, Connor has temporarily moved in with his distant restaurateur father (Ciarán Hinds). He has followed in his father's footsteps but hasn't achieved the same level of success. Connor is struggling to keep his bar/cafe afloat but engaging in physical altercations with customers isn't great for business. His only real friend, Stuart (Bill Hader) works in the kitchen and at a loss on how to help his distressed buddy.

Eleanor (yes, she is named after that Beatles song which is explained in the film) decides to further her education and with her father's pull, enters an important course taught by his former colleague (the great Viola Davis). Connor has tracked down Eleanor and begins stalking her at the campus before getting the courage to approach his estranged wife. The reunion is less than jubilant but does break the ice that has the couple begin tentatively speaking.

The original concept of "The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby" is that there were two separate films subtitled "Him" and "Her" which covered the demise of the couple's relationship from each of their point of view. However, when Harvey Weinstein bought the films for distribution, he felt it would be better to combine the two films which lead to "Them". It's unlikely this was a smart move but you can have an opportunity to judge for yourself, if you desire, as "Him" and "Her"will both be released in October.

Back to "Them", we see fragments of  Eleanor and Connor each trying to move forward with their lives while looking back, hopeful, for some sort of reconciliation. While these scenes are well-written and superbly acted, we are left in the dark on a few of the important key events that occurred between these two; their everyday lives together, the actual break-up and dealing with the tragic circumstance. Any of these moments would have helped connect emotionally to what we are given to witness. Perhaps the individual films will shed more light and flesh out the issues between Eleanor and Connor, however this condensed version feels incomplete.

The supporting cast is really terrific and they all, surprisingly, get several opportunities to shine and strut their stuff. But the film belongs to Chastain and McAvoy, two magnetic screen personalities who complement each other quite nicely. The performers expertly capture their character's pain and melancholia as they strive to come out of the darkness and once again, find their light.

The consolidation of two separate stories to make "The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them" doesn't seem to have helped improve the film. The elimination of that cinematic experiment only managed to make the film less focused and undistinguished. Despite the setback, this is still an admirable work filled with highly impressive performances.

Monday, September 22, 2014

2014 NEW YORK FILM FESTIVAL


One of the biggest events of the fall cinema season, The 52nd Annual New York Film Festival kicks off on September 26th and runs through October 12th. The opening night selection is "Gone Girl", the highly anticipated film adaption of the best-selling novel by Gillian Flynn. David Fincher ("Sev7n", "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (U.S. Version)") directs this mystery-drama about a man (Ben Affleck) who becomes a suspect after his wife (Rosamund Pike) disappears on the eve of their fifth wedding anniversary. Neil Patrick Harris (?) and Tyler Perry (???) also star.



The centerpiece selection is the world premiere of "Inherent Vice". Paul Thomas Anderson ("Boogie Nights", "The Master") is the first filmmaker to make a movie from the works of Thomas Pynchon. Set in the 70's, Det. "Doc" Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix) gets involved in a messy case involving the disappearence of the boyfriend (Eric Roberts) of his ex-girlfriend (Katherine Waterston). With Josh Brolin, Owen Wilson, Benicio del Toro and Reese Witherspoon.



"Birdman (or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)", the latest from Alejandro González Iñárritu ("Amores Perros", "Babel"), closes out the festival. Michael Keaton plays an actor who was once famous for playing a super-hero and now struggles to get a Broadway show off the ground while dealing with his complicated family life and bruised ego.This dramedy also features Zach Galifianakis, Edward Norton, Naomi Watts and Emma Stone.



For more info and the complete slate of films, please click below:

The 2014 NYFF

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

THE ONE I LOVE (2014)

Written by Justin Lader



Directed by Charlie McDowell



Where & When: Sundance Sunset Cinemas, West Hollywood, CA. September 2, 2014 2:30PM



"The One I Love" seems like it's going to travel down the predictable marriage-in-crisis-and-what-can-we-do-to-save-it path but this delightful indie comedy veers way off in an unexpected direction. In fact, this film took me completely by surprise with it's clever twist early in the plot (which doesn't happen too often). The imaginative script by Justin Lader expertly blurs fantasy and reality as it humorously examines the everyday reality of their significant other and the person they wish they could actually be. This is the first feature by Charlie McDowell and he delivers the goods that makes "The One I Love" feel original and great fun to watch.

Filmmaker/actor, Mark Duplass ("Jeff, Who Lives At Home") and Elizabeth Moss (TVs "Mad Men") play Ethan and Sophie, a couple whose relationship is in trouble. Their marriage is strained due to no longer properly communicating and further damaged by infidelity. Seeking help from a counselor (Ted Danson), he puts the two through several exercises to try and repair their marriage but without much success. The counselor finally recommends they go away together to a private house out of town to focus on each other and reconnect.

Here's where things get tricky. For as much as I want to reveal the details to what happens once they reach the retreat, I also don't want to spoil the surprise. Let's just say that once Ethan and Sophie explore the guest house in the back, they each experience the ideal partner which also happens to be their current partner. I realize this may be a little too vague but trust me, you will enjoy the film much better not knowing all the specifics.

As we reach the third act, the story drifts too far in to campy science-fiction with the film losing focus and some of it's whimsical charm dampened. The ending is sly but you see it coming. None of this causes any serious damage as the film remains utterly engaging and pleasantly strange.

Moss and Duplass are the whole movie and thankfully have a nice chemistry. They convincingly portray a loving couple who have lost their way and really want to find their way back but a highly unusual obstacle prevents them from easily working things out. Duplass usually only gets the chance to make a big star turn in one of the films he creates which is too bad as he makes a fine leading man. Moss has an opportunity to display her more sunny and softer side than on her television show.

"The One I Love" takes a playful and offbeat approach to exploring the age-old dilemma regarding love, marriage and trust. While it may not be entirely successful, the film is still an admirable and enjoyable attempt at shaking up the age-old romantic-comedy conventions.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

2014 FALL MOVIE PREVIEW

After a dismal and very disappointing summer season, Hollywood is hoping that the fall movies will help bring people back to the theaters. Looking over the upcoming slate of features, I think they may have a good shot. I have put together a list of some of the interesting films that I'm anticipating.

All dates are subject to change:

"THE SKELETON TWINS"

Release date: September 12, 2014

"The Skeleton Twins" offers a mini-"Saturday Night Live" reunion as Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader star however, this dark comedy is very far from any zany skit they might have performed together. They play long-estranged siblings who come together after each experiences a tragic event and try to figure out what went wrong with their lives. Although the actors deliver the laughs which they're well-known for, Wiig and Hader are also given an opportunity to display their little-seen dramatic chops.



"THE TWO FACES OF JANUARY"

Release date: September 26, 2014

Based on the novel by Patricia Highsmith ("The Talented Mr. Ripley"), "The Two Faces of January" is a mystery-thriller set in the 1960's involving Viggo Mortensen and Kirsten Dunst as a wealthy American couple traveling to Greece. They unwittingly get involved with a con-man (Oscar Issac) who may or may not be trying to help them after the couple is entangled in a murder.



"DEAR WHITE PEOPLE"

Release date: October 17, 2014

Winner of a special jury prize for Breakthrough Talent for writer/director, Justin Simien at this year's Sundance Film Festival, "Dear White People" looks at outraged African-American students over white classmates throwing a party with an "African-American" theme at an Ivy League college. This potentially controversial satire deals with the issue of race thoughtfully and with good humor.



"ST. VINCENT"

Release date: October 24, 2014

Bill Murray heads the impressive cast of "St. Vincent", a dramedy about a drunken war vet who becomes the unlikely baby-sitter to the young son (newcomer Jaeden Lieberher) of a desperate single mother (Melissa McCarthy). This is the feature debut for writer/director, Theodore Melfi and also stars Terrence Howard, Chris O'Dowd and Naomi Watts.



"NIGHTCRAWLER"

Release date: October 31, 2014

Losing about twenty pounds for the role, Jake Gyllenhaal plays a creepy L.A. videographer providing a local television station with crime footage in "Nightcrawler". The longer this reporter is out on the street, the more he gets too involved in his work. This is the first feature directed by screenwriter, Dan Gilroy and also stars Bill Paxton and Rene Russo (Gilroy's wife).



"INTERSTELLAR"

Release date: November 7, 2014

Christopher Nolan, the director of "The Dark Knight" trilogy and "Inception" is back with an intriguing science-fiction film. The trailer for "Interstellar" doesn't reveal too much plot (thank goodness!) but it seems the world is threatened by a dangerous force out in space. Some astronauts (which include Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway) are sent out to try and save mankind. With Jessica Chastain, Michael Caine, Casey Affleck and Ellen Burstyn.



"THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING"

Release date: November 7, 2014

Stephen Hawking is a world renowned British theoretical physicist who suffers from ALS and "The Theory of Everything" explores his early life as a student at Cambridge in the 1960's. Eddie Redmayne ("Les Misérables") plays Hawking and Felicity Jones ("The Invisible Woman") is his first love, Jane who becomes his wife and supports him as the illness progresses. Oscar-winner, James Marsh (2008 Best Documentary, "Man On Wire") directs.



"THE IMITATION GAME"

Release date: November 21, 2014

"The Imitation Game" reveals the little-known story of Alan Turing (played by Benedict Cumberbatch), a British mathematician who helped defeat the Nazis by breaking their Enigma code. However, instead of becoming a celebrated figure, Turing lived his final years humiliated and imprisoned due to his secret private life. Keira Knightley and Matthew Goode co-star.



"INTO THE WOODS"

Release date: December 25, 2014

The film "Into The Woods" is based on the acclaimed Broadway musical by Stephen Sondheim but you would never know it from the recent trailer. Not one note is sung but this fairy-tale based project is definitely still a musical and directed by Rob Marshall who did wonders for the stage-to-screen adaption, "Chicago". A starry cast has been assembled (with half I didn't know could sing) including Meryl Streep, Anna Kendrick, Emily Blunt, Chris Pine and Johnny Depp.



"UNBROKEN"

Release date: December 25, 2014

"Unbroken", the second film directed by Angelina Jolie, tells the amazing story of Louis Zamperini, an American who went from competing in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin to fighting against Hitler as a solider in WWII to surviving a plane crash and drifting in the Pacific for almost two months before becoming a POW and held by the Japanese for two years. Jack O'Connell portrays Zamperini who passed away at the age of ninety-seven in July.

Monday, August 25, 2014

LAND HO! (2014)

Written & Directed by Martha Stephens & Aaron Katz


Where & When: Sundance Sunset Theaters, West Hollywood, CA. August 5, 2014 1:45PM



Maintaining a friendship is hard. Growing old is even harder. "Land Ho!" is a senior buddy, road-trip picture that takes a delightful journey through Iceland as two men decide to reignite their mundane lives at a time when they've feeling increasingly invisible in society. Lead by two sensational performances by Dr. Earl Lynn Nelson and Paul Eenhoorn, not much really happens as the film is filled mostly with intimate, very funny and somewhat strange conversations which makes this little film even more impressive. "Land Ho!" is the first film by the team of Martha Stephens and Aaron Katz, both experienced indie filmmakers individually that have done well with their previous works on the festival circuit. Together, they build on their strengths to make a fresh, unpredictable and completely first-rate comedy.

Mitch (Nelson),a currently divorced, recently retired doctor calls on his former brother-in-law, Colin (Eenhoorn), also now divorced, to catch up on old times. It wouldn't seem like these two guys would share much in common as Mitch is boisterous and crass while the Australian Colin is reserved and highly composed. Yet there is some kind of connection although they bicker and make each other crazy much like, I'm quite sure, their former spouses. On a whim, Mitch invites his friend to join him on a trip to Iceland and travel through the country. Colin tries to decline the generous offer but Mitch is a man that doesn't take no for an answer.

After arriving in Reykjavík, the men have very different ideas on how they want to spend their vacation. Colin plans to relax and catch up on some books while Mitch wants to party, meet some women and have a true adventure. Mitch's niece (Karrie Crouse) and her friend, Janet (Elizabeth McKee) just happen to be passing through Reykjavík and plan to spend the day with the fellas. Mitch thinks his plans for a wild party will begin with the arrival of the young women and although Janet does manage to get sloppy drunk, the evening is pretty mild filled with mostly more conversation.

As these golden boys continue their scenic trip through this beautiful country, more bickering ensues but soon these guys begin to really connect. Mitch and Colin actually share their feelings and fears in a way that only men can understand.

With an unobtrusive shooting style, unflashy editing and the actors seemingly not to be performing, "Land Ho!" feels very much like eavesdropping which should appeal to some viewers in this age of reality programming.  "Land Ho!" breaks out of the routine Hollywood buddy comedy and offers an unfussy alternative spin. In between the laughs, there are wistful and poignant moments that take you by surprise.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

THE SIXTEEN BEST ROBIN WILLIAMS FILM PERFORMANCES



Sadly, Robin Williams, a comedic genius and highly gifted performer, passed away on August 12th. As we mourn the tragic loss of the Oscar winner, we still have his body of work to look back on to help us remember him and maybe bring a little laughter during this difficult time.

New York Magazine has put together a ranking of some of the actor's best film roles which highlights his accomplished and varied performances over his long career.

Click below to read the article:

The 16 Best Robin Williams Movie Performances

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

LUCY (2014)

Written & Directed by Luc Besson



Where & When: Arclight Cinemas, Hollywood, CA. July 25, 2014 8:00PM




"Lucy" offers all you would expect from a summer action flick but with a little something extra. In between the bloody shoot-outs, car chases and bone-crushing combats, there are thoughtful discussions on evolution and fascinating scientific theories on the capacity of the human brain. While these ideas may seem to be out of sync, writer/director Luc Besson, the man behind the engaging crowd-pleasers, "La Femme Nikita", "The Professional" and "Taken", mostly succeeds in making this inspired mash-up of B-movie thrills and compelling sci-fi completely irresistible and a lot of fun.

Scarlett Johansson plays the title character, an American student living in Taiwan who spends much of her time partying hard with her shady current fling (Pilou Asbæk). He turns out to be a really lousy date as he handcuffs a briefcase to Lucy's wrist and forces her to deliver it to Mr. Jang (Choi Min-sik from "Old Boy"), a ruthless Korean drug lord. The case contains CPH4, a synthetic narcotic that gives the user a sense of heighten awareness. The next thing Lucy knows she's awakening with excruciating pain in her abdomen. A package of the drug has been sewn-up inside of her and has to drop off the contents in New York.

While being held awaiting her departure, one of Lucy's guards makes unwanted advances which is met with swift resistance. Angered, he kicks Lucy relentlessly in the stomach which releases an overdose of the drug in to her system. This creates a reaction that advances her brain functions, giving her incredible mental abilities and physical strength. After Lucy easily escapes, she now has revenge on her mind, leaving a trail of bodies in her wake. When Lucy finally gets to Jang, she doesn't kill him. She merely philosophizes while administering to him some of the gruesome, agonizing pain he has inflicted upon others.

Morgan Freeman appears as Professor Norman, one of the top neurologists in the world. We first see him delivering a lengthy, somewhat dry lecture on the subject of the brain. The reliably, smooth actor demonstrates part of the reason why he was cast as he's effortlessly able to keep your attention throughout. Lucy makes contact with Norman as her brain capacity increases at a phenomenal rate which she puts on display for the skeptical professor. They agree to meet at a Paris conference but first Lucy must round-up the rest of the CPH4 that's stored in the bodies of other mules heading towards destinations across Europe. As her body needs more of the drug to reach maximum intelligence, Lucy enlists a French cop (Amr Waked) to help track down the carriers while a wounded Jang is hot on her trail without a clue to what she has become.

Angelina Jolie was initially approached for the lead in the film but Ms Johansson is an acceptable and perhaps even more appropriate replacement. While the actress shares Ms Jolie's otherworldly beauty and tough chick demeanor, Johansson has always come across as approachable and far more vulnerable. Here, much like her role as an alien in "Under The Skin", her face is a blank slate, revealing nothing on the surface yet we are still capable of understanding her emotions as her mind evolves towards higher consciousness. The actress is able to convey so much with those soulful eyes as Lucy struggles not to completely lose sight of her humanity.

"Lucy" delivers plenty of stylish visuals and nonstop action that even the lectures don't actually slow things down. Sure, some of the plot points don't always add up or are downright silly yet this hardly distracts from the enjoyment of this flick. Mr. Besson is one of the few male filmmakers who has consistently placed a female front and center in many of the action movies he has directed or produced beginning with "Nikita" way back in 1990. While "Lucy" doesn't exactly reach the same heights as some of his previous works but it's still a solid addition.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

WINNERS FROM THE 2014 OUTFEST FILM FESTIVAL

Outfest 2014 has just concluded and this was a particularly strong year in LGBT cinema. There were so many amazing films, documentaries, shorts and special events to see that it was frustrating to be unable to see everything.

First, here is the complete list of winners from 2014 Outfest Film Festival:

Grand Jury Awards

U.S. Dramatic Feature Film: "Drunktown’s Finest", Directed by Sydney Freeland



Best Actor: Mark Strano, "Tiger Orange"

Best Actress: Gaby Hoffmann, "Lyle"

Best Screenplay: Desiree Akhavan, "Appropriate Behavior"

International Dramatic Feature: "Something Must Break", Directed by Ester Martin Bergsmark

International Dramatic Feature (Special Recognition): "Lilting", Directed by Hong Khaou



Documentary Feature Film: "The Circle", Directed by Stefan Haupt



Documentary Feature Film (Special Recognition): "Dior and I", Directed by Frédéric Tcheng

Documentary Short Film: "Flying Solo: A Transgender Widow Fights Discrimination", Directed by Leslie Von Pless

Experimental Short Film: "Get Ripped", Directed by Leonardo Van Dijl

Dramatic Short Film: "Jellyfish", Directed by Rosie Haber

Audience Awards

Dramatic Feature Film: "The Way He Looks", Directed by Daniel Ribeiro

First US Dramatic Feature Film: "Drunktown’s Finest", Directed by Sydney Freeland

Documentary Feature Film: "Back on Board", Directed by Cheryl Furjanic

Documentary Short Film: "Families Are Forever", Directed by Vivian Kleiman

Dramatic Short Film: "Alone With People", Directed by Drew Van Steenbergen

Special Programming Awards:

Emerging Talent: Robert Hawk for "Home From the Gym"

Freedom: Mariana Rondón for "Bad Hair"

Artistic Achievement: Abdellah Taïa for "Salvation Army"

Now for the films I did manage to see. One of my favorites from the festival was "Futuro Beach (Praia do Futuro)". The acclaimed writer/director Karim Aïnouz (who dazzled Outfest back in 2002 with his first feature, "Madame Satã") is back with the story of a Brazilian lifeguard (Wagner Moura) who begins a passionate affair with a German tourist (Clemens Schick) under tragic circumstances. Recently selected to kick off the Newfest LGBT festival in New York, the film is beautifully shot and erotically-charged but may be a bit too experimental and fragmented for some viewers.

"Jamie Marks Is Dead" is an illogical ghost story involving a new friendship between Adam (Cameron Monaghan), a high school jock and Jamie Marks (Noah Silver), his recently deceased gay classmate. Another classmate, Gracie (Morgan Saylor) who found the body of the bullied teen, begins a relationship with Adam and is also able to communicate with Jamie's spirit. Liv Tyler and Judy Greer make welcome brief appearances but they cannot save this unconvincing drama.



There were some particularly fascinating documentaries screened which included the honored, "Dior & I". This fascinating doc focuses on Raf Simons, the Belgian designer who is the latest to head the couture house of Dior. With only eight weeks to create an entire collection, we watch as Simons agonizes over the concept, struggles through the tension-filled construction of the clothes and right on up to the elaborate final runway presentation. While there have been several good films involving fashion figures of late (Isaac Mizrahi in "Unzipped", Valentino Garavani in "The Last Emperor" and Diana Vreeland in "The Eye Has To Travel" to name a few of my favorites), but what makes this documentary stand out is that we really get an unflinching, honest look at all of the passion,sweat and tears involved in this creative process.

In "Club King", we meet Mario Diaz, the handsome and quite charming performer who almost single-handily transformed gay nightlife, first in New York and later in L.A., for over twenty years. His sexy parties with the names, "Hot Dog" and "Full Frontal Disco", deliver some wild, fun times which was much needed after the AIDS crisis hit the community hard.

Finally, "Lady Valor: The Kristin Back Story", tells the inspirational story of how Christopher Beck, a highly-decorated, former Navy SEAL and father of two decided to finally begin living his truth and became Kristin Beck. As to be expected, some of her family and friends are more accepting of the transition than others with her mother and particularly Kristin's children having a much more difficult time. Kristin still struggles with her decision but has no regrets and currently devotes much of her time bringing public awareness to transgender issues.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

SNOWPIERCER (2014)

Written by Bong Joon-ho & Kelly Masterson


Directed by Bong Joon-ho


Where & When: Arclight Cinemas, Hollywood, CA. July 4, 2014 12:00PM



End-of-the-world, sci-fi thrillers do not get any stranger than "Snowpiercer", the Korean director, Bong Joon-ho's first foray in English-language film-making. Due to long-term complacency over global warming, our planet has finally shut-down and frozen over, leaving what's left of humanity to live on a high-speed train circling the uninhabitable globe. The complete destruction of Earth certainly doesn't mean the end of a class system. The privileged few live in comfort and style in the front of the train while the folks in the back are left to suffer in discomfort and squalor. This may all sound way, way out there and kinda silly but in the very steady hands of Bong Joon-ho, he makes it all seem possible and plausible. Much like his quirky, box-office hit, "The Host" where the director successfully merged horror and politics, "Snowpiercer" is a loopy, feverishly imaginative, thought-provoking, thrill-ride.

The film begins seventeen years after the apocalypse with the passengers living in the last car of the train, surviving on tasteless, protein bars and treated more like animals, feeling fed-up and miserable. Although there have been previous failed attempts to revolt, Curtis (Chris Evans) has a plan that might actually succeed. A brooding man of few words, he is seen as their great savior which makes him feel very uncomfortable and unworthy of all the praise. His idea is to get to the water supply which will give them some leverage but first they will need to get to the prison section to release a man that knows how to unlock the train car doors. With his loyal, scrappy sidekick, Edgar (Jamie Bell) by his side, Curtis signals his fellow inhabitants to overtake the guards and advance towards the prison.

Once they locate their target, Minsu (Song Kang-ho, star of "The Host") proves to be unreceptive to the plan. Aware that he's addicted to Kronol, a narcotic made from explosive chemical waste, Curtis uses that to bargain with Minsu. Insisting on taking his equally addicted daughter, Yona (Go Ah-sung) along, Minsu begins unlocking the car doors where unforeseen dangers lurk behind them. As the militant mob move forward, the director keeps the tension and suspense on high throughout. The brutal, bloody battles are equally horrific and quite beautifully staged. Based upon a French graphic novel, "Le Transperceneige", production designer, Ondoej Nekvasil successfully brings the images to life, giving each section of the train a bold and distinctive look every time we move in to a new car.

There is little surprise that Mr. Evans, who has made his career playing men capable of incredible feats, delivers in the intense action sequences but he's also surprisingly effective in the film's quieter moments, particularly when retelling the harrowing experience of life on the train when they first boarded. In addition to the familiar faces such as Oscar-winner, Octavia Spencer and John Hurt, an international cast of lesser known but equally fine actors have also been assembled. This includes Vlad Ivanov, the Croatian performer who would be known here for his work in "4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days", Adnan Hasković from Bosnia and Icelandic actor, Tómas Lemarquis. The highlight, also of little surprise, is the incomparable Ms. Swinton and just like her recent appearance in "The Grand Budapest Hotel", the actress is barely recognizable buried under elaborate make-up. Filling in for a role originally conceived for a male but with none of the pronouns altered, she is deliciously batty as Mason, the overenthusiastic mouthpiece for Wilford, (played by Ed Harris), the creator of this fascist society.

There usually are not many serious messages to be found in summer action thrillers but "Snowpiercer" offers something to consider in between all of the histrionic fighting. The film delivers all the mind-blowing excitement you would expect as well as plenty of unexpected.twists. Forget about the uninspired "Transformers", "Snowpiercer" is the action film of the summer.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

SPIKE LEE FILMS: FROM BEST TO WORST


This week marks the 25th anniversary of Spike Lee's "Do the Right Thing". I remember being completely shocked and mesmerized by this controversial 1989 film as I had never seen anything like it. The film has since appeared on several "Best of" lists and was selected in 1999 by the National Film Preservation Board to preserve this culturally significant work.


In honor of this landmark, New York Magazine has compiled all of Spike Lee's films and ranked them from his very best to those that didn't exactly work out as well. This list originally ran in August 2012, tied to "Red Hook Summer", Lee's twenty-first theatrical release. In the two years since, Lee has released a remake ("Oldboy"), a Michael Jackson documentary ("Bad 25"), and filmed Mike Tyson's one-man Broadway show ("Mike Tyson: Undisputed Truth").

Click below to see the article:

Spike Lee Films, Ranked From Best to Worst

Sunday, June 22, 2014

THE FAULT IN OUR STARS (2014)

Written by Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber


Directed by Josh Boone


Where & When: Arclight Cinemas, Hollywood, CA. June 8, 2014 4:15PM



"The Fault In Our Stars" is the best-selling YA novel by John Green that tells the tender tale of two ailing teenagers who fall in love. It's no surprise that Hollywood wanted to get on board but would anyone beyond the rabid fans of this wildly popular novel really be willing to sit through this young romance under tragic circumstances? To be perfectly honest, I was resistant to the idea myself but "Stars", with a sensitive script by Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber, the team behind the delightful "(500)Days of Summer" and effective direction by Josh Boone, manages to blend the right amount of joy, humor and heartbreak. Despite some moments that fall heavy on the sappy side, overall the film works thanks in large part to a breath-taking, star-making performance by Shailene Woodley. I would be shocked if the twenty-two year old actress is not a serious contender for an Oscar. She's that good here.

Ms Woodley plays Hazel Grace Lancaster, a sixteen year old with thyroid cancer that has spread to her lungs. She's on medication to help slow the progression and has to carry an oxygen tank to aid in her breathing. Her loving but concerned parents (Laura Dern and Sam Trammell of "True Blood") are worried that Hazel doesn't have any friends and insist she try a support group to meet people. Highly resistant to the idea and ready to stop going after a few meetings, along comes the dreamy form of Augustus Waters (Ansel Elgort), a young cancer patient in remission who lost a leg to the disease. Once he locks eyes with Hazel Grace, he's completely smitten and finds her anti-social behavior quite endearing. Hazel tries to withstand his persistent pursuit but eventually he softens her tough exterior.

The two bond over Hazel's favorite book that happens to deal with a young girl's struggle with cancer but the obscure ending frustrates them both. Hazel would love to talk to the author, Peter Van Houten to find out the meaning but he has become a recluse living in Amsterdam. After making contact with the assistant to the writer, Augustus generously offers Hazel Grace the use of his charitable wish so they can fly to Sweden to get answers personally from Van Houten. Despite a health set-back for Hazel, they make the trip (with mom to chaperon) and meet the writer, played by Willem Dafoe. If you haven't read the book, I'll stop here. Not because anything particularly shocking or surprising happens but the inevitable tears that flow will feel better earned if you're caught somewhat off guard. With the specter of imminent doom always hanging over the young lovers, at least a few tears are most certainly unavoidable but surprisingly, you don't feel manipulated as the waterworks come from an organic place.

While Ms Woodley was able to bring a sense of naturalism to her role, Mr. Elgort is not nearly as fortunate. Even with those sweet, puppy dog eyes working overtime, the actor has no clue on how to convincingly sell these gooey lines of devotion he is given. The script also does him no favors by managing to make Augustus simultaneously a charming, slightly goofy, gentleman but also kind of creepy. His passion for Hazel Grace is so intense and relentless that, at times, makes you feel concerned for her safety.

"The Fault In Our Stars" plays like any other glossy romance although told from an unconventional fatalistic angle.The film largely succeeds as it takes a more truthful look at love and human connection on borrowed time at the moment when life should just be beginning. It's well known that there is no happy ending but you get to experience all of the elation and sorrow of first love expertly portrayed by a rising new talent.