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