Tuesday, December 29, 2015

INGRID BERGMAN: IN HER OWN WORDS (2015)

Directed by Stig Björkman


Where & When: Sundance Sunset Cinemas, West Hollywood, CA. December 22, 2015  4:00PM



Early in the captivating documentary, "Ingrid Bergman: In Her Own Words", the twenty-four year old Swede was summoned to Hollywood by David O. Selznick in 1939. Bergman left behind her doctor husband and new born daughter, Pia in Stockholm to submit to a screen-test for an American remake of her early Swedish box-office hit, "Intermezzo". Although not yet comfortably fluent in English, in the test, the lovely young actress was so incredibly natural and luminous in front of the camera that words were hardly necessary. Bergman won the role she had previously played and went on to become one of the greatest screen performers in cinematic history. Despite pressure to change her name and be remade in to the typical high-glamour movie goddess of the time, Bergman resisted and Selznick was wise enough to realize the simplicity of what she had to offer was enough.

Even with the scandal of an affair with Italian director Roberto Rossellini and their son born out of wedlock (which lead to Bergman even being denounced on the floor of the U.S. Senate) that threatened to derail her thriving film career, the actress managed to eventually overcome the ugly vitriol aimed at her. It was her amazing talent and dazzling beauty that audiences loved and became less concerned about her personal life.

One of Bergman's daughters, the actress Isabella Rossellini had met Swedish film maker and critic Stig Björkman during a film festival and suggested he make a documentary on her mother. With the full cooperation of Bergman's four children including filmed interviews, the director received access to the extensive collection of diaries, letters, photographs and home movies the actress had saved, using them to shape the film around her private and personal thoughts. A Swedish actress with a rising profile in America, Alicia Vikander, who made quite an impression this year with her work in "Ex-Machina" and "The Danish Girl",  reads passages from Bergman's diary in the film. While "In Her Own Words" certainly examines many of Bergman's great screen performances such as "Gaslight", "Anastasia", Hitchcock's "Notorious"and "Spellbound" and her best-known role as Ilsa in "Casablanca", Björkman is much more interested in revealing the serious but fun-loving wife, mother and woman that lived when the cameras were not rolling.

Bergman lost her mother when she was two and her beloved father, who encouraged his daughter to perform and filmed her frequently as child, died when she was a teen. She was then moved around to various family members. This may have lead her to becoming an independent, free-thinking young woman, not very common at the time, with a singular focus on becoming a successful actress. Although she began her life traditionally by marrying Petter Lindström at twenty-one and having her first child a year later, Bergman was determined and ambitious with no desire to let her family stand in the way of her opportunity to act on a global stage. She had found early fame in her native Sweden but when Hollywood came calling, Bergman simply squeezed her family in around her busy filming schedule.

"Ingrid Bergman: In Her Own Words" displays a Hollywood star with a passionate spirit who broke rules and lived life on her own terms. Now Bergman probably wouldn't be named "mother of the year" as she clearly prioritized her career and love life ahead of her offspring. At one point, while Rossellini was off on a film set with his new partner and Bergman began an affair with her future husband, the kids were living in a house in Italy with nannies caring for them. However, her children insist they would never consider writing a venomous "Mommie Dearest"-style book about their mother. They loved each and every moment they did get to spend with her. Their only regret is that they didn't have more time and had to settle with sharing their movie-star parent with the world.

Monday, December 21, 2015

GREAT PERFORMANCES: TAKE FLIGHT


For this year's New York Times celebration of Great Performances, it takes a look at the cinematic history of going airborne. Hollywood has always been fascinated by flight beginning with the still impressive aerial stunts in the very first Best Picture Oscar winner, "Wings" to the menacing cyclone and flying monkeys in "The Wizard of Oz". From a galaxy far, far away in "Star Wars" to the surreal, graceful battles in "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" and the current sensation of countless, super-heroes soaring through the sky.

A.O. Scott, the Times film critic, has selected the ten outstanding performers of the year to re-create memorable moments inspired from motion pictures involving flight. Some of the actors involved are obvious choices (Michael Fassbender, "Steve Jobs", Rooney Mara, "Carol" and Charlize Theron, "Mad Max: Fury Road") while others are notably not (Jason Mitchell, "Straight Out of Compton", Jacob Themblay, "Room" and Mya Taylor, "Tangerine"). The short videos are directed by Daniel Askill and for the first time, they can be seen in virtual-reality film.

Click below to see the films:

Take Flight

Thursday, December 17, 2015

2015 NATIONAL FILM REGISTRY

The National Film Registry has announced the twenty-five films selected this year to be preserved in the Library of Congress. This distinguished and varied group includes one of the earliest film recordings by Thomas Edison involving a sneeze, the Douglas Sirk classic melodrama, "Imitation of Life", the Morgan Freeman/Tim Robbins prison drama, "The Shawshank Redemption", a fascinating character study, "Portrait of Jason", "Top Gun", the action film that made Tom Cruise a major star, "Black and Tan", an early musical short that features jazz legend, Duke Ellington and "Ghostbusters", the comedy about a trio out to save the world from the evil supernatural. 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 2015 National Film Registry. The films chosen must be at least ten years old and this now brings the total to 675 films in the registry:

"Being There" (1979)



"Black and Tan" (1929)



"Dracula" (Spanish language version) (1931)

"Dream of a Rarebit Fiend" (1906)

"Eadweard Muybridge, Zoopraxographer" (1975)

"Edison Kinetoscopic Record of a Sneeze" (1894)

"A Fool There Was" (1915)

"Ghostbusters" (1984)

"Hail the Conquering Hero" (1944)



"Humoresque" (1920)

"Imitation of Life" (1959)



"The Inner World of Aphasia" (1968)

"John Henry and the Inky-Poo" (1946)

"L.A. Confidential" (1997)



"The Mark of Zorro" (1920)

"The Old Mill" (1937)

"Our Daily Bread" (1934)



"Portrait of Jason" (1967)



"Seconds" (1966)



"The Shawshank Redemption" (1994)

"Sink or Swim" (1990)

"The Story of Menstruation" (1946)

"Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take One" (1968)

"Top Gun" (1986)

"Winchester ’73" (1950)

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

CAROL (2015)

Written by Phyllis Nagy


Directed by Todd Haynes


Where & When: Arclight Cinemas, Hollywood, CA.  November 23, 2015  6:00 PM



With "Carol", the elegant and haunting love story by Todd Haynes, it proves without question that Cate Blanchett is a true screen goddess in the tradition of Greta Garbo, Bette Davis and Joan Crawford. Now, the two-time Oscar winner has always mesmerized with indelible performances starting with the role that first brought her notice as the future queen of England in "Elizabeth", then taking on the iconic actress, Katharine Hepburn in the Howard Hughes bio-pic, "The Aviator" to the first time she worked with Mr. Haynes in "I'm Not There" playing, of all people, Bob Dylan and her most recent award-wining turn as a wealthy socialite who falls on hard times in Woody Allen's comedy, "Blue Jasmine". But here Blanchett unleashes an astonishing intensity that has rarely been captured on film. It's all very subtle, using the magnetic power of her femininity, this upper middle-class '50's New Jersey housewife is able to soothe, entice and command with just the simple use of her liquid blue eyes, gentle yet authoritative voice and small, graceful gestures. We watch her attempting to remain the glamorous society wife and mother while struggling to find and hold on to her authentic self. This is one of Blanchett's most powerful performances and you are truly unable to take your eyes off of her for one moment.

The film is based on "The Price of Salt", a novel by Patricia Highsmith of "The Talented Mr. Ripley" and "Strangers on a Train" fame. It was first published under a pseudonym in 1952 with the true author not revealing herself until almost twenty-five years later. Highsmith latered detailed that the book was inspired by a chic shopper she encountered while working in the toy department at Bloomingdale's during the holidays as a young woman. The delicate script by Phyllis Nagy effectively delivers the mood, tension and emotional depth of Highsmith's personal story.

Carol Aird (Blanchett) has separated from her loving and devoted husband, Harge (Kyle Chandler). He wants to save their marriage however, after a brief affair with Abby (Sarah Paulson), who remains a close friend and confidant, Carol's true desire has been awakened. Because of their young daughter, Rindy, she has to be discreet and handle Harge delicately in order not to risk losing custody during divorce proceedings.

One fateful day, while shopping for a Christmas gift for Rindy, would irrevocably alter Carol's life. She locks eyes on to Therese (Rooney Mara), a slight but pretty salesgirl, wearing a Santa hat. There is a intense charge that courses between them as they chat, each trying hard to downplay this feeling. Carol had sought a traditional doll but instead is inspired by Therese to get her daughter a train set. After completing the purchase and giving her address to deliver the gift, Carol, perhaps intentionally, leaves behind her gloves.

Therese feels an attraction towards this woman yet unsure of what it means. She is causally dating Richard (Jake Lacy), an unremarkable nice guy. While he's ready to become more serious, she's still unsure. Therese, feeling compelled to see her again, returns the gloves to Carol which leads to an invitation to lunch. It doesn't take long for the women to develop a close friendship which Harge is not happy about. While able to overlook Carol's previous liaison but with Therese now tight by her side, he painfully realizes his wife will never return to him.

At the last minute, Harge demands that Rindy spend Christmas with him and his parents in Florida. He extends a hopeful invitation to his very upset wife but declines to join them. Not wanting to be alone in an empty house over the holidays, Carol invites her new best friend to join her on a road trip to Chicago. Therese eagerly accepts and the two begin their journey exploring the heartland before their relationship moves beyond friendship.

Ms Mara hasn't had a film role nearly as dynamic since her impressive Oscar-nominated turn as Lisbeth Salander in the English-language version of "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo". But "Carol" finally gives her the opportunity to shine once again. While not nearly as vivid as Blanchett's, Mara's performance is quite a marvel. We see Therese blossom from a timid, uncertain young girl in to a self-assured, passionate woman. While looking more like mother and daughter and behaving, at times, like teacher and student, these actresses make us understand how these mismatched women would fall deeply for each other. Despite what society of the time insisted, they desperately want to prove that their love is not a crime nor mental illness.

It's been almost ten years since "I'm Not There" that Mr. Haynes released a feature. In between, there was a HBO mini-series of "Mildred Pierce", an ambitious but underwhelming remake of the Joan Crawford weepie. "Carol" finds the director back in comfortable territory. Haynes has focused on provocative themes and challenged convention throughout his career beginning with his first feature, "Poison", one of the early films that helped kick off the New Queer Cinema movement back in the early '90's. This film plays very much like a companion piece to his 2002 melodrama, "Far From Heaven" which starred Julianne Moore as a '50's housewife who begins a seriously taboo affair with her African-American gardener (Dennis Haysbert) after discovering her husband (Dennis Quaid) is secretly gay.

The director has put the emphasis here less on words and more on unspoken desire and longing to great effect. The sensational camerawork of Edward Lachman (who shot the film in Super 16mm), gorgeous costumes by three-time Oscar winner, Sandy Powell and exquisite production design of Judy Becker help give "Carol" a sensuous, dream-like quality with the use of rich, saturated colors and fine attention to period details.

Though we still have some more work to do, "Carol" reminds us how far we have come when prejudice, oppression and intolerance were the rules of the day. This beautiful film is a memorable exploration in to the difficulties and challenges of unconventional love in an illiberal era and finding the strength and courage to see it through. It is a rewarding experience that is moving, heartbreaking and utterly unforgettable.



Monday, December 7, 2015

MORE AWARD NEWS


Boston and Los Angeles film critics have voiced their favorites of 2015 and "Mad Max: Fury Road" received high praise from both groups. While the film received three awards from L.A. including a win for director George Miller, it was Beantown that showered "Fury Road" with serious love. It took a total of five awards including Best Film. Both groups agreed on prizes for Best Director, the Amy Winehouse documentary and the screenplay by Tom McCarthy and Josh Singer for "Spotlight". The rest of the awards varied and I'm in agreement with L.A.'s selection of Michael Fassbender's amazing performance in "Steve Jobs", the sublime Charlotte Rampling in "45 Years" and Alicia Vikander for Best Supporting Actress in one my favorite films of the year, "Ex Machina".

Winners from the 2015 Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards:

Best Picture: “Spotlight"
Best Director: George Miller, "Mad Max: Fury Road"
Best Screenplay: Tom McCarthy & Josh Singer, "Spotlight"
Best Actor: Michael Fassbender, “Steve Jobs”
Best Actress: Charlotte Rampling, “45 Years”
Best Supporting Actor: Michael Shannon, “99 Homes”
Best Supporting Actress: Alicia Vikander, “Ex Machina”
Best Cinematography: John Seale, “Mad Max: Fury Road”
Best Editing: Hank Corwin, “The Big Short”
Best Production Design: Colin Gibson, “Mad Max: Fury Road”
Best Music Score: Carter Burwell, “Anomalisa” and “Carol”
Best Documentary: “Amy”
Best Animation: “Anomalisa”

Winners from the 2015 Boston Online Film Critics Association Awards:

Best Picture: "Mad Max: Fury Road"
Best Director: George Miller, "Mad Max: Fury Road"
Best Screenplay: Tom McCarthy & Josh Singer, "Spotlight"
Best Actor: Michael B. Jordan, "Creed"
Best Actress: Saoirse Ronan, "Brooklyn"
Best Supporting Actor: Sylvester Stallone, "Creed"
Best Supporting Actress: Kristen Stewart, "Clouds of Sils Maria"
Best Ensemble: "Spotlight"
Best Foreign-Language Film: "Son of Saul"
Best Documentary: "Amy"
Best Animated Film: "Inside Out"
Best Cinematography: John Seale, "Mad Max: Fury Road"
Best Editing: Margaret Sixel, "Mad Max: Fury Road"
Best Original Score: Junkie XL, "Mad Max: Fury Road"

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

AWARD SEASON IN MOTION

As this year comes to a close, it is that time to look back and honor the best in cinema. The award season has officially begun and critic groups have started to announce their winners. The selections have been quite diverse and there's not one film that is a clear front runner this year although the lesbian melodrama, "Carol" and the exceptional cast of "Spotlight" have made the biggest impression. Here is a run-down of all of the award recognition that has been announced to date:


Today, the New York Film Critics Circle picked "Carol" as their best film of the year. The director, Todd Haynes and the screenplay by Phyllis Nagy were also honored. The real surprise here is in some of the acting categories. Michael Keaton took the prize for Best Actor for "Spotlight" and while he delivered another fine performance, I don't think it's a standout (nor an actual lead). Same goes with Best Supporting Actress, Kristen Stewart for "Clouds of Sils Maria" although she did manage to dazzle the French as they gave her the Cesar Award last year for this role. I doubt either of these actors will get much attention from the Academy due to a very crowded field of more showy performances.

Winners from the 2015 New York Film Critics Circle Awards:

Best Film: "Carol"
Best Director: Todd Haynes, “Carol”
Best Screenplay: Phyllis Nagy, “Carol”
Best Actor: Michael Keaton, “Spotlight”
Best Actress: Saoirse Ronan, “Brooklyn”
Best Supporting Actor: Mark Rylance, “Bridge of Spies”
Best Supporting Actress: Kristen Stewart, “Clouds of Sils Maria”
Best Cinematography: Edward Lachman, “Carol”
Best Foreign Film: “Timbuktu”
Best Nonfiction Film: “In Jackson Heights”
Best Animated Film: “Inside Out”
Best First Film: “Son of Saul”


The newsroom drama, "Spotlight" took the top prize at this year's Gotham Awards on November 30th as it was selected Best Feature in addition to Best Screenplay and a special jury prize for the excellent cast. I was thrilled with all of the acting prizes given, particularly for Mya Taylor and her wild and quite fabulous turn in "Tangerine".

Winners from the 2015 Gotham Independent Film Awards:

Best Feature: "Spotlight"
Best Screenplay: Tom McCarthy and Josh Singer, "Spotlight"
Best Actor: Paul Dano, "Love & Mercy"
Best Actress: Bel Powley, "The Diary of a Teenage Girl"
Breakthrough Actor: Mya Taylor, "Tangerine"
Breakthrough Director: Jonas Carpigano, "Mediterranea"
Best Documentary: "The Look of Silence"


I'm not sure what to make of the selections from the National Board of Review. They certainly went in a mainstream Hollywood direction with their picks this year. I did find "Mad Max: Fury Road" and The Martian" to be fun and entertaining but hardly deserving of these major honors. When I think of an exceptional work of cinema from this past year that will stand the test of time, "Fury Road" ain't it. While I have no opinion yet regarding "The Hateful Eight" or Mr. Stallone's work in "Creed",  I must applaud the group for recognizing Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay's amazing performances in "Room".

Winners from the 2015 National Board of Review:

Best Film: "Mad Max: Fury Road"
Best Director: Ridley Scott, "The Martian"
Best Original Screenplay: Quentin Tarantino, "The Hateful Eight"
Best Adapted Screenplay: Drew Goddard, "The Martian"
Best Actor: Matt Damon, "The Martian"
Best Actress: Brie Larson, "Room"
Best Supporting Actor: Sylvester Stallone, "Creed"
Best Supporting Actress: Jennifer Jason Leigh, "The Hateful Eight"
Best Foreign Language Film: "Son of Saul"
Best Documentary: "Amy"
Best Animated Feature: "Inside Out"
Breakthrough Performance: Abraham Attah, "Beasts of No Nation" & Jacob Tremblay. "Room"
Best Directorial Debut: Jonas Carpignano, "Mediterranea"
Best Ensemble: "The Big Short"
Spotlight Award: "Sicario" for Outstanding Collaborative Vision
NBR Freedom of Expression Award: "Beasts of No Nation" & "Mustang"

Finally, here are the nominees for the 31st Annual Indie Spirit Awards. "Carol" leads the nominations with six including Best Feature with Netflix's "Beasts of No Nation" and "Spotlight" each receiving five. The winners will be announced on February 28th, one day before the Oscars.

The nominations for the 2015 Film Independent Indie Spirit Awards:

Best Feature:

"Anomalisa"
"Beasts of No Nation"
"Carol"
"Spotlight"
"Tangerine"

Best Director:

Sean Baker, "Tangerine"
Cary Joji Fukunaga, "Beasts of No Nation"
Todd Haynes, "Carol"
Charlie Kaufman & Duke Johnson, "Anomalisa"
Tom McCarthy, "Spotlight"
David Robert Mitchell, "It Follows"

Best Screenplay:

Charlie Kaufman, "Anomalisa"
Donald Margulies, "The End of the Tour"
Phyllis Nagy, "Carol"
Tom McCarthy & Josh Singer, "Spotlight"
S. Craig Zahler, "Bone Tomahawk"

Best First Feature:

Marielle Heller, "The Diary of a Teenage Girl"
Josh Mond, "James White"
Josef Kubota Wladyka, "Manos Sucias"
Jonas Carpignano, "Mediterranea"
Chloé Zhao,"Songs My Brothers Taught Me"

Best First Screenplay:

Jesse Andrews, "Me and Earl and the Dying Girl"
Joseph Carpignano, "Mediterranea"
Emma Donoghue, "Room"
Marielle Heller, "The Diary of a Teenage Girl"
John Magary, Russell Harbaugh and Myna Joseph, "The Mend"

Best Male Lead:

Christopher Abbott, "James White"
Abraham Attah, "Beasts of No Nation"
Ben Mendelsohn, "Mississippi Grind"
Jason Segel, "The End of the Tour"
Koudous Seihon, "Mediterranea"

Best Female Lead:

Cate Blanchett, "Carol"
Brie Larson, "Room"
Rooney Mara, "Carol"
Bel Powley, "The Diary of A Teenage Girl"
Kitana Kiki Rodriquez, "Tangerine"

Best Supporting Male:

Kevin Corrigan, "Results"
Paul Dano, "Love & Mercy"
Idris Elba, "Beasts of No Nation"
Richard Jenkins, "Bone Tomahawk"
Michael Shannon, "99 Homes"

Best Supporting Female:

Robin Bartlett, "H."
Marin Ireland, "Glass Chin"
Jennifer Jason Leigh, "Anomalisa"
Cynthia Nixon, "James White"
Mya Taylor, "Tangerine"

Best Cinematography:

Cary Joji Fukunaga, "Beasts of No Nation"
Ed Lachman, "Carol"
Michael Gioulakis, "It Follows"
Meadlowland, Reed Morano, "Meadowland"
Joshua James Richards, "Songs My Brothers Taught Me"

Best Editing:

Kristan Sprague, "Manos Sucias"
Ronald Bronstein and Benny Safdie, "Heaven Knows What"
Julio C. Perez IV, "It Follows"
Nathan Nugent, "Room"
Tom McArdle, "Spotlight"

Best Documentary:

"(T)error"
"Best of Enemies"
"Heart of Dog"
"The Look of Silence"
"Meru"
"The Russian Woodpecker"

Best International Film:

"Embrace the Serpent" (Colombia)
"Girlhood" (France)
"Mustang" (France/Turkey)
"A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence" (Sweden)
"Son of Saul" (Hungary)

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

TAB HUNTER CONFIDENTIAL (2015)

Directed by Jeffrey Schwarz


Where & When: Nuart Theater, West Los Angeles, CA. November 5, 2015  7:30 PM



If you asked a millennial who is Tab Hunter, I'm sure you would either get a blank look or perhaps some might guess that he's a right-wing politician or the husband of a reality star. For those who did not know, the fascinating documentary, "Tab Hunter Confidential" reveals that the blond and handsome Hunter was actually a very popular movie star during the 1950's. And he had a secret.

He came to fame during the Eisenhower era with it's rigidly defined conception of manhood. While the actor was able to portray this rugged he-man image comfortably on film, the real-life Hunter was different from those men he played in front of the camera. Jeffrey Schwarz, who has previously brought to the screen the stories of cult and underground personalities ranging from porn star, Jack Wrangler, John Waters' muse, Divine, gay activist, Vito Russo and gimmick film maker, William Castle, tells another compelling story of Hunter publicly living a lie for the price of Hollywood glory while a constant threat to his career due to the possibility of his true-nature being revealed kept him from truly enjoying his success.

He was born Arthur Kelm in New York City but ended up in sunny Los Angeles after his mother took him and his brother away from their abusive father. As a young boy, Arthur had a passion for ice-skating, horseback riding and the cinema and while he participated in the first two activities, he never imagined himself possibly being an actor.

That changed after Henry Wilson, a Hollywood agent known for his stable of attractive young studs, discovered the nineteen-year old Kelm, gave him the silly stage name and got him under contract with Warner Brothers. He had his first major role with Linda Darnell in "Island of Desire" and while the film was a hit at the box-office, Hunter's performance was not, with the actor dismissed as simply a pretty face. Deciding to gain acting experience by working on the New York stage, Hunter developed much needed skill and confidence.

Tab Hunter rose to the top during the time when an actor's image was still being carefully manufactured by a Hollywood publicity team. He was being projected as the sweet, boy-next-door type that any girl would love to bring home to mother. But Hunter was gay and the studio worked overtime to conceal his sexuality. He was seen out on studio-created dates with several of his lovely co-stars (Debbie Reynolds and French actress, Etchika Choureau, who Hunter almost married, appear briefly to discuss this) which helped not only publicize their latest film but make him appear like your average, all-American boy. This didn't stop some of the sleazier tabloid magazines to publish stories raising questions. Hunter did manage to find true romance a few times, most notably with actor Anthony Perkins of "Psycho" fame but the anxiety of the public discovering the truth caused the relationships to suffer.

Schwartz has crafted a fairly conventional doc although his examinations on bold, larger-than-life individuals doesn't require excessive embellishments. With much of Hunter's life covered in the 2006 memoir of the same title, there aren't any new revelations disclosed. However, that doesn't stop the film from being engaging and thoroughly entertaining.

The eighty-four year old Hunter is low-key and easy-going with no signs of resentment or bitterness. This is surprising considering how he went from a major box-office draw and a pop-star with a number-one hit (despite a modest singing voice) but after buying out his contract from Warner Bros.in 1960, struggled to find work. He spent a number of years doing dinner theater, television dramas and B-movies before John Waters offered Hunter a role opposite Divine in the 1981 Odorama comedy, "Polyester". It became a cult classic and put Hunter back in the spotlight.

Long retired and living happily on his horse ranch in Santa Barbara with Allan Glaser, his partner of over thirty years (and one of the film's producers), "Tab Hunter Confidential" shows that the actor came out of Hollywood relatively unscathed despite the arduous challenges the system put him through. It would be great to say that actors today no longer have to live in fear that revealing their actual sexuality could cost them work but the truth is that it still remains a complicated issue. We have certainly come a long way since Hunter's days as a closeted movie star but the evolution still continues.


Monday, November 16, 2015

100 FEMALE DIRECTORS HOLLYWOOD SHOULD BE HIRING


There has been much recent talk about how female directors are woefully underrepresented in the film industry. But this is hardly surprising news and has been discussed and discussed over the years yet not much has changed.

New York magazine has complied a list of 100 female directors that Hollywood should be utilizing their gifts. Looking over this list, I was shocked to see the names of wonderful directors that have made some of my favorite films (Jane Campion ("The Piano"), Kasi Lemmons ("Eve's Bayou"), Niki Caro ("Whale Rider"), Mary Harron ("American Psycho"), Sarah Polley ("Away From Her"), Amy Heckerling ("Fast Times at Ridgemont High") and Penny Marshall ("Big") to name just a few) and realizing either the huge gap between features or in some cases, still waiting to make another film.  I really hope film executives and producers look at this collection of film makers and will finally wake up and hire some of this great, underutilized talent.

Click below to read the article:

100 Female Directors Hollywood Should be Hiring

Friday, November 13, 2015

BURNT (2015)

Written by Steven Knight


Directed by John Wells


Where & When: Sundance Sunset Cinemas, West Hollywood, CA.  November 2, 2015  9:45PM



"Burnt", an under cooked romantic drama, features the swoon-worthy Bradley Cooper as an American two-star chef that became a superstar in Paris before squandering his talent in a haze of booze, drugs and women. Now clean and sober, he's seeking redemption and forgiveness while attempting to rebuild his career and reputation. Director John Wells, best known for his fine work on television with "ER", "The West Wing" and "Shameless" and for the feature, "August: Osage County", is more than capable of getting amazing work from his performers and shaping together a compelling story. Yet he's unable to put these ingredients together here in a satisfying way, leaving "Burnt" flat and indigestible.

Having served a self-imposed penance in New Orleans for his past sins, Adam Jones (Cooper) is ready to begin again. Broke but still able to charm, Jones checks in to the swanky hotel in London managed by Tony (Daniel Brühl), a former associate. Skeptical of his old friend's claims of cleaning up his act, he's completely floored when Jones suggests they open a new restaurant together. Although trust has to be earned, because of Jones' amazing gift in the kitchen, eventually Tony is willing to overlook his destructive behavior of the past and take another chance. He's not the only one. Omar Sy plays another friend burned by Jones but willing to work by his side in this new venture.

And where does the romance come in? That's in the form of Sienna Miller, re-teaming with her "American Sniper" co-star, as a single mother quite content working as a sous chef in Tony's restaurant at the hotel. Initially unaffected by the brutish charisma of Adam Jones yet finds herself forcibly drawn in to his kitchen and inescapably in to his arms. Cooper and Miller still have a nice chemistry which helps yet not enough to make this unlikely couple coming together believable.

The goal of acquiring a third Michelin star for his new fine dining establishment will be an uphill climb for Jones. His kitchen staff has not yet developed the proper rhythm required. The successful restaurant of a rival cook (Matthew Rhys) from his past lights a fire under Jones while some dealers that tracked him down and owed a substantial sum of money are ready set him on fire. And as the pressure build, the demons that unraveled Jones previously threaten to resurface.

With the countless cooking programs on the air, the atmosphere of intense pressure and controlled chaos that goes on behind the scenes is no longer a mystery. We now expect the wild and burning passion that goes on in a restaurant's kitchen however you won't find much to crave in this pedestrian script by Steven Knight. What is served up, at best, is lukewarm melodrama. If you expect to see fascinatingly complex characters, you would do better to tune in to any episode of "Top Chef".

Mr. Cooper, all scruff and sexy swagger, is quite appealing as the arrogant bad boy. While the actor impresses with skillfully performing like a professional chef,  this material doesn't give him much else to work with. This forces Cooper to coast mostly on his physical attributes though we know he's able to do much more like his Oscar-nominated work in "Silver Linings Playbook", "American Hustle" and the aforementioned "American Sniper".

The most criminal offense about "Burnt" is how it completely wastes the talents of some great actresses. Not only are their appearances far too brief but they're not given much to do. This includes Lily James of "Downton Abbey" and the star of Disney's live-action hit, "Cinderella", Uma Thurman as a lesbian food critic that somehow couldn't resist Adam's sexual charms, this year's It girl, Alicia Vikander as Adam's former lover and most tragic of all; the wonderful Oscar-winner, Emma Thompson resigned to playing a dowdy psychoanalyst assigned to drawing blood to be sure our chef is not using and keep check on his mental state.

If you are looking to simply savior in the joy of Bradley Cooper and his piercing blue eyes, then "Burnt" will certainly satisfy your appetite. However, if you want a drama with a little more meat on it's bones, then you might want to skip this course.

Friday, October 30, 2015

STEVE JOBS (2015)

Written by Aaron Sorkin


Directed by Danny Boyle


Where & When: Arclight Cinemas, Hollywood, CA. October 9, 2015 8:05PM



Do you think you could imagine functioning without your beloved iphone?

I'm sure you would be fine but for many, that thought would simply never enter their heads. Thanks to the genius of Steve Jobs, the co-founder of Apple, used impressive showmanship and the skill of a seasoned huckster to thoroughly convince millions during his lifetime that their lives would be unmanageable and unimaginable without one of his computer products in their hot, sweaty hands.

Under the nimble direction of Danny Boyle and an expeditious script by Aaron Sorkin, the remarkable "Steve Jobs" explores the fascinating story of the man behind the machine, both physical and metaphysical. Instead of trying to cover all of the details in Jobs' expansive history, the film is broken in to three key moments in the inventor's life. Beginning in 1984 with the launch of the Macintosh, then four years later with Jobs, after being forced out of Apple, introducing his next venture, the NeXT computer to 1998 with the return of Jobs to Apple and the unveiling of the game changer; the iMac.

There is no physical similarity but Michael Fassbender is quite effective with an understated performance as he deeply embodies the inner workings of Jobs. And it ain't pretty. Ruthlessly driven, highly demanding, self-involved and emotionally detached, the man behind the curtain turns out to be nothing more than an asshole. A very gifted and creative visionary but still an asshole.

With the "1984"-inspired commercial that played during the Super Bowl, buzz has reached a feverish pitch around the new Macintosh but with a hour to go before the reveal, Jobs refuses to begin. He wants the device to say "hello" before the audience but there's a glitch and programmer, Andy Hertzfeld (Michael Stuhlberg) doesn't think he can fix it before the launch. Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet), a weary, Apple marketing executive and close confidant, wants him to be reasonable but Jobs relentlessly browbeats Hertzfeld until he gets what he wants.

Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogan), the other co-founder of Apple, shows up to plead with Jobs to publicly thank the team behind the Apple II. He refuses, proclaiming that he only wants to look forward, not back.

And waiting in the wings is Chrisann Brennan (Katherine Waterston), Jobs' former girlfriend with their daughter, Lisa. Not only is she upset that Jobs told Time Magazine that despite the paternity test determining the he's "94.1% likely to be the father" there's still 28% of the male population that could be Lisa's father but has to plead with the brand-new millionaire to provide more financial support or she'll have to go on welfare.

Sorkin's rapid fire script wastes no time revealing Jobs' abrasive manner, raving egomania and insensitivity but Fassbender's natural charm smooths out some of the jagged edges, showing glimmers of decency and kindness that the real Jobs had to have in order to have succeeded.

After a power struggle over Apple's future with the company's CEO and father figure, John Sculley (Jeff Daniels), Jobs loses the battle. Four years later with Joanna by his side, he is about to launch his newest venture, the NeXT computer. Wozniak shows up to lend support but Jobs only wants to confront him over negative statements he made to Fortune Magazine. Jobs has finally acknowledged the nine year old, Lisa as his child but still has no clear idea how to be her father.

As Apple enters the 1990's, the company has fallen on hard times leading to Sculley to be ousted and Jobs triumphantly returning home. By this point, most of his long-time close allies have either disappeared or grown impatient and fatigued from dealing with the mercurial Jobs. His relationship to the college bound, Lisa (now played by Perla Haney-Jardine) has frayed to the point that they're not speaking and refuses to pay for her education. Finally fed-up, Joanna threatens to walk away unless he makes it right with his daughter.

"Steve Jobs" had a long, tortured history beginning at Sony with Sorkin's script initially to be directed by David Fincher and Christian Bale as Jobs. Those two eventually dropped out and Boyle came aboard with Fassbender in the role. But then Sony dropped the project (with the notorious e-mail leaks indicating the casting of Fassbender to be one of the concerns) and found a new home at Universal. The Oscar-winning director has made fascinating entertainment from dark and challenging stories like "Shallow Grave", "Trainspotting", "127 Hours" and his Best Picture winner,"Slumdog Millionaire". He has achieved this once again with "Steve Jobs" by taking Sorkin's vivid but highly theatrical screenplay and keeping this chamber piece visually dynamic with the help of cinematographer, Alwin H. Küchler. Despite these efforts, there are moments that still feel static and repetitive but it's the outstanding performances that help keep the film in motion. Our key players, Fassbender, Winslet, Daniels and Rogan, bring much needed charm, warmth and a little humor to this somber, word-heavy affair.

As with many talented people, Steve Jobs was flawed and damaged but the volcanic "Steve Jobs" shows, despite his shortcomings, what an important, lasting impact he made on our society. For better and for worse, Jobs helped usher in the digital age, making our lives easier and much more complicated in the process.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

2015 AFI FILM FEST PRESENTED BY AUDI


The 2015 AFI FEST is just around the corner as it begins on November 5th and concluding on the 12th. It remains one of major film festivals that continues to offer free individual tickets to screenings and events as a gift to the community. Once again, the fest will be held in the heart of Hollywood at several different locations including TCL Chinese Theatre, the Dolby Theatre, the El Capitan Theatre and The Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel. There will be a total of 127 features and shorts selected from forty-five countries.

The opening film will be "By The Sea", the latest feature by Angelina Jolie and stars the writer/director and her husband Brad Pitt. Set during the mid-seventies, an American couple vacation in France as the strain in their marriage begins to surface. Once they arrive at a quiet, seaside town, they are distracted by some of the colorful locals. Mélanie Laurent and Melvil Poupaud also star. "By The Sea" will arrive in U.S. theaters on November 13th.



There will be three centerpiece galas with “Concussion”, the Will Smith drama about the forensic pathologist who fought the NFL on revealing his findings on how the players have a greater chance of suffering from brain trauma, making it's world premiere on November 10th.



"The 33", a tense drama based on the real-life incident of thirty-three Chilean miners trapped in a collapsed mine and the frantic rush to rescue them. Antonio Banderas, Juliette Binoche, Lou Diamond Phillips, Rodrigo Santoro and Gabriel Byrne star in this film directed by Patricia Riggen.



After a six year absence, the combative film maker, Michael Moore returns with a new documentary "Where To Invade Next". The film explores how the United States is apparently looking at countries such as Finland, Italy and France as possible contenders for our "next great enemy".



Brad Pitt appears again in the closing night film, "The Big Short" on November 12th. Based on the book by Michael Lewis, the film looks at the people warning that the build-up of the housing and credit bubble would inevitably lead to the devastating collapse of the U.S. financial market back in 2008. The impressive cast includes Christian Bale, Ryan Gosling, Steve Carell, Melissa Leo and Marisa Tomei. Adam McKay directs.



AFI FEST Patron Packages and Express Passes are available right now for purchase. Free tickets will be available to the general public online beginning Monday, October 26. For additional information, please go to:

AFI FEST 2015

Thursday, October 22, 2015

25TH ANNUAL GOTHAM INDEPENDENT FILM AWARDS

It may seem a wee bit early to be proclaiming the "best of the year", considering it's only October and some of the potential nominees haven't even been released in theaters yet. Regardless, the Gotham Independent Film Awards are the first to announce their nominations. This collective of film critics, journalists, festival programmers, and film curators determine the nominees while separate juries of writers, directors, actors, producers and editors will be involved in deciding the final winners.

I'm thrilled that two of my favorite films of the year received major recognition. "The Diary of a Teenage Girl" received the most nominations with four including Best Feature and Best Actress for Bel Powley while "Tangerine" was awarded three for Best Feature and Best Breakthrough Actor noms for the leads, Kitana Kiki Rodriguez and Mya Taylor. I'm hoping this is just the beginning for these great films and the nominations will bring more overdue attention to them. I'm also happy to see that veterans, Blythe Danner ("I'll See You In My Dreams") and Lily Tomlin ("Grandma") are up for Best Actress and the Brian Wilson bio, "Love & Mercy" and Noah Baumbach's "While We're Young" received Best Screenplay nominations.

The 25th Annual Gotham Independent Film Awards will be held in New York on November 30th at Cipriani Wall Street, and will also honor filmmaker Todd Haynes, actors Robert Redford and Helen Mirren, and producer Steve Golin. Here is the list of nominations:

BEST FEATURE:

"Carol"
"The Diary of a Teenage Girl"
"Heaven Knows What"
"Spotlight"
"Tangerine"

BEST SCREENPLAY:

Phyllis Nagy, "Carol"
Marielle Heller, "The Diary of a Teenage Girl"
Oren Moverman and Michael Alan Lerner, "Love & Mercy"
Tom McCarthy and Josh Singer, "Spotlight"
Noah Baumbach, "While We're Young"

BREAKTHROUGH DIRECTOR AWARD:

Desiree Akhavan, "Appropriate Behavior"
Jonas Carpigano, "Mediterranea"
Marielle Heller, "The Diary of a Teenage Girl"
John Magary, "The Mend"
Josh Mond, "James White"

BEST ACTOR:

Christopher Abbott,"James White"
Kevin Corrigan, "Results"
Paul Dano, "Love & Mercy"
Peter Sarsgaard, "Experimenter"
Michael Shannon, "99 Homes"

BEST ACTRESS:

Cate Blanchett, "Carol"
Blythe Danner, "I’ll See You in My Dreams"
Brie Larson, "Room"
Bel Powley, "The Diary of a Teenage Girl"
Lily Tomlin, "Grandma"
Kristen Wiig, "Welcome to Me"

BREAKTHROUGH ACTOR:

Rory Culkin, "Gabriel"
Arielle Holmes, "Heaven Knows What"
Lola Kirke, "Mistress America"
Kitana Kiki Rodriguez, "Tangerine"
Mya Taylor, "Tangerine"

BEST DOCUMENTARY:

"Approaching the Elephant"
"Cartel Land"
"Heart of a Dog"
"Listen to Me Marlon"
"The Look of Silence"

Monday, October 19, 2015

ALL 29 STEVEN SPIELBERG MOVIES: FROM WORST TO BEST




"Bridge of Spies", the Cold-War drama, did surprisingly well this past weekend making over fifteen million dollars. I know part of the appeal was star Tom Hanks but the other major draw to the film was director Steven Spielberg.

Another surprising fact is that "Bridge" becomes the twenty-ninth feature directed by Spielberg. That made think back on some of my favorites like "Jaws" (which really scared the hell out of this then-thirteen year old boy), the "Raiders of The Lost Ark" series, "Jurrasic Park", "The Color Purple", "Catch Me If You Can" and "Close Encounters of The Third Kind". "Amistad", "Saving Private Ryan", "Lincoln" and "Schindler's List" were films I admired more than really liked. And the less said about "Always", "Empire of The Sun", "The Terminal" and "Hook", the better. Overall, I think Mr Spielberg has made an impressive body of work and should be quite proud of his accomplishments in the world of cinema.

New York magazine has compiled an interesting ranking of Mr. Spielberg's films (including his recent "Bridge of Spies") from his least successful to his very best. Click below to read the article:

All 29 Steven Spielberg Movies, Ranked from Worst to Best

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

THE INTERN (2015)

Written & Directed by Nancy Meyers



Where & When: Arclight Cinemas, Hollywood, CA, September 26, 2015  5:45PM



"The Intern" is the latest sleek and tastefully designed romantic comedy by writer/director Nancy Meyers. Starting with "Private Benjamin", the fish-out-of-water Goldie Hawn hit comedy she co-wrote with Charles Shyer, her former husband back in 1980 to her directorial debut with the remake of "The Parent Trap" (which helped put the teenage Lindsay Lohan on the map), Meyers has used her gifts and hard-earned clout to make warm, engaging but overly glossy films that places strong female characters front and center. With "Baby Boom", "Something's Gotta Give", "What Women Want" and "It's Complicated", the director gave Oscar-winners, Diane Keaton, Helen Hunt and Meryl Streep the opportunity to play smart, funny and complicated mature women that don't turn up nearly often enough on the big screen.

"The Intern" sticks to this tradition with Anne Hathaway as a thirty-something, e-commerce business woman trying to juggle work and family. But the sixty-five year old Meyers is now interested in exploring how baby boomers fit in today's society and that comes in the form of Robert DeNiro playing a seventy-year old retired executive who decides to return to the work force. Because of the wide generation gap between them, neither believes they would have much in common but learn that age ain't nothing but a number.

Jules Ostin (Hathaway) has founded The Fit, an Internet fashion shopping site. The company is successful and growing fast which leaves her little time for her stay-at-home husband (Anders Holm) and their adorable young daughter (JoJo Kushner). Cameron (Andrew Rannells), head of operations, strongly recommends finding a seasoned CEO to help run the rapidly expanding company. Reluctantly she agrees to meet with potential candidates with the hope of being able to spend more time at home.

He also decides to hire a few seniors as interns for the company. Ben Whitaker (DeNiro), a recent widower has grown tired of spending his golden years trying to stay busy. He wants to get back to work and applies to be an intern at The Fit. Overqualified but happy to have a job, Ben is assigned to assist Jules.

Unable to recall agreeing to this plan, Jules is not comfortable around older people, as they remind her of the uncomfortable relationship with her mother (unseen but voiced by Mary Kay Place). She keeps her distance from Ben, finding him a bit too observant, which he is and quietly finds ways to make himself useful around the office.

Ben had been warned about Jules being a fire-breathing, dragon-lady, leaving us with the hope of seeing Ms Hathaway using what she had been a victim to in "The Devil Wears Prada". Alas, there is no Miranda Priestly type to be found. Jules lacks any edgy tension, remaining impossibly sweet most of the time despite the intense pressures of running her business while trying to be a good wife and mother. The actress doesn't have much to build on so her performance, while alluring and emotional, remains bland. It's nice to see the usually gruff DeNiro lay on the charm as the wise, good-natured retiree but we can feel him struggling to maintain this unnatural persona throughout.

Nancy Meyers' comedies are known for their visual delights with a long established focus on the world of the upwardly mobile, fabulously chic and flawlessly attractive crowd. This may sound strange but I think the cinematic counterpart to Ms Meyers in many ways is Woody Allen. Despite the many obvious differences, the most notable similarity is how each continuously enjoys creating these elegant worlds where we're supposed to be concerned about the great suffering and challenges of the well-to-do, struggling with the difficulties of their privileged lives. And people of color tend not to fit in their vision.

Now, I enjoyed "The Intern" (and to a lesser degree, Mr. Allen's recent "Irrational Man") and there's nothing necessarily wrong with holding on to this narrow worldview but film after film, it grows tedious, making it much harder to take their films seriously.

If Mr. Allen had made "The Intern", the director would have been compelled to create an unlikely romance between Jules and Ben. Ms Meyers appeared to be heading in that direction with a moment when the two, clad only in their pajamas, share a bed in a hotel room the evening before a meeting with a potential CEO in San Francisco. But the only action that occurs between them is Ben lending an ear and offering words of comfort and advice to a conflicted Jules. I'm sure that was her little joke on us where our long-held expectations in most rom-coms is to find our leads irresistibly attracted to one another. Thankfully, Ms Meyers is far more practical and finds a more age-appropriate romantic partner for Ben in the form of Rene Russo playing a masseuse that works for the company.

With "The Intern", Ms Meyers shares her thoughts and opinions on generational relationships, the current state of human interactions and what's lacking in the contemporary male with dazzling style and acute humor. You may find some of these ideas old-fashioned, elitist and overly melodramatic. But it does offer a lighthearted yet contemplative point of view which is quite refreshing in this day and age.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

QUEEN OF EARTH (2015)

Written & Directed by Alex Ross Perry


Where & When: Sundance Sunset Cinemas, West Hollywood, CA. September 8, 2015 2:30PM



"Queen of Earth", Alex Ross Perry's follow-up to his breakout indie "Listen Up Philip", plays like a present-day take on the mentally fragile women in crisis films popular during the late '60's and mid-'70's. The director seems inspired by classic psychological dramas like Roman Polanski's "Repulsion", John Cassavetes' "A Woman Under the Influence" and Ingmar Bergman's "Persona". With the aide of two riveting performances by Elizabeth Moss and Katherine Waterston (who made quite an impression last year with her supporting role in "Inherent Vice"), Perry captures the eerie, unsettling atmosphere of those films using a loose structure, disquieting imagery and emotionally volatile exchanges. But the director has found nothing fresh or interesting to say about the stress and difficulties of being a modern woman that could lead her to coming undone.

The film opens with a close-up on the tear-stained, mascara-running face of the distraught Catherine, played by Ms Moss. Her long-time boyfriend, James (Kentucker Audley) coolly announces that he's leaving her for another woman. Catherine is devastated, trying to understand and begging him to stay, before finally resolving that this relationship is over.

She retreats to an idyllic lake house owned by her friend, Ginny (Waterston) with the hope of forgetting her troubles and working on her art. While Catherine does a little painting, she spends most of the time moping, sleeping and generally being unpleasant to be around. Ginny tries to be an understanding friend but there's an obscure tension between these two, leaving her struggling to find sympathy or patience for Catherine's plight. As each day goes by, instead of feeling better, Catherine becomes increasingly more unstable and erratic. The constant presence of Rich (Patrick Fugit), a neighbor hooking-up with Ginny and not a fan of Catherine's, doesn't help matters.

Catherine is also struggling with the recent loss of her beloved father, who was a successful artist, under unclear circumstances. Through a series of flashbacks, we learn that a year ago, Catherine and James had stayed at the lake house while Ginny was going through a difficult time. While we can sense that there were some problems between Catherine and her boyfriend, she appears blissfully unaware. The film offers minimal personal information or back story to the characters with the director more interested in creating an intense and claustrophobic environment within the house. This may be to indicate that this could be the adding to Catherine's trauma but we are never really sure. There are far too many unanswered questions and not nearly enough clear ideas to keep us interested.

As her character descends deeper in to despair and instability, Ms Moss is unable to stir much compassion despite giving her all in a stellar go-for-broke performance. We don't understand much about Catherine but what we do know, it's not particularly appealing. Ginny is just as much of a blank slate but Ms Waterston manages to do fine work with very little to work with.

I was surprised to hear some have referred to the film as a dark comedy. I never really found much to laugh at. Perhaps the sight of a damaged person slowly coming unglued is supposed to inspire a chuckle. Regardless, I didn't find "Queen of Earth" satisfying as a drama or comedy. There just isn't enough to hang on to be concerned about the fate of the unpalatable Catherine. The other thing I thought is that she should really find a better class of friends.

Friday, September 18, 2015

2015 NEW YORK FILM FESTIVAL


One of the top events celebrating cinema in the world, the 53rd Annual New York Film Festival will begin September 25th through October 11th. "The Walk", the latest by Oscar-winning director Robert Zemeckis, is scheduled to kick off the fest however, because of the upcoming visit to the city by the Pope, the gala premiere will be delayed until September 26th. The NYFF will still open as planned but free screenings will be presented that day instead.

Although the story of high-wire artist Philippe Petit was previously told in "Man On Wire", the 2008 Best Documentary Oscar-winner, Zemeckis has enhanced his crossing between one tower to the other of the World Trade Center on just a wire with breath-taking 3-D visual effects. Joseph Gordon-Levitt stars as Petit.



The Centerpiece screening will be "Steve Jobs" that features Michael Fassbender as the co-founder of Apple and focuses on the early development of the products that helped launch the digital revolution. Danny Boyle ("Slumdog Millionaire") directs from a script by Aaron Sorkin with Kate Winslet, Jeff Daniels and Seth Rogan also starring.



The closing night film selected is "Miles Ahead", the directorial feature debut by Don Cheadle who also stars as jazz legend, Miles Davis and co-wrote the screenplay. The film explores the period when Davis was working on returning to performing music after a five-year absence in the '70's.

In between, there will be twenty-three additional films that earned a spot in the main section of the festival. This is from a wide range of important and innovative filmmakers from across the globe including Miguel Gomes ("Arabian Nights"), Hou Hsiao-hsien ("The Assassin"), Apichatpong Weerasethakul ("Cemetery of Splendour"), Michael Almereyda ("Experimenter"), Rebecca Miller ("Maggie’s Plan"), Michel Gondry ("Microbe et Gasoil"), Michael Moore ("Where To Invade Next"), Yorgos Lanthimos ("The Lobster") and Steven Spielberg ("Bridge of Spies").











Sunday, September 6, 2015

2015 FALL MOVIE PREVIEW

Another fall movie season is almost upon us. With well over one hundred films and documentaries set to be released through the end of the year, that is almost too much of a good thing. There are so many I can't wait to see but I have narrowed down to the ten films that have particularly caught my attention.

All release dates are subject to change:

"SICARIO"

Release date: September 18, 2015

In "Sicario" (which in Spanish means "hitman"), Emily Blunt plays a FBI agent recruited by a government official (Josh Brolin) to join a task force to help track down a Mexican drug lord. Benicio Del Toro is a Mexican mercenary working with the team but where his loyalties lie seem unclear. Denis Villeneuve ("Prisioners", "Enemy") directs.



"LEGEND"

Release date: October 2, 2015

It's always a thrill seeing Tom Hardy on the big screen but in "Legend" we will see two. The actor will play both identical twins, Ronald and Reginald Kray in writer/director Brian Helgeland's film about these notorious gangsters who put London on edge throughout the '50's and '60's.



"CRIMSON PEAK"

Release date: October 16, 2015

Guillermo del Toro gets back to the roots of his early film career with another Gothic horror tale, "Crimson Peak". Set in 19th century London, Mia Wasikowska is a young author who falls for a handsome suitor (Tom Hiddleston). After they wed, she moves in to his crumbling estate where she encounters dark secrets, mysterious entities and the biggest scare of them all, his very intense sister (Jessica Chastain).



"BROOKLYN"

Release date: November 6, 2015

Based on the book by Colm Tóibín, "Brooklyn" tells the story of a young Irish woman (Saoirse Ronan) coming to America to start a new life in the New York borough. She meets and falls in love with an American boy (Emory Cohen) but a family emergency forces her back to Ireland, leaving her torn between the two countries. The film made an impressive splash at Sundance with the performance of Ms Ronan receiving plenty of high praise.



"CAROL"

Release date: November 20, 2015

"Carol", finally brings filmmaker, Todd Haynes back to cinema for the first time since "I'm Not There", his highly unconventional 2007 Bob Dylan bio-pic. Based on the Patricia Highsmith novel, "The Price of Salt", Cate Blanchett plays the title character, a wealthy, married woman who finds herself attracted to Therese (Rooney Mara), a young shop girl. While this wouldn't raise too many eyebrows today but back in the 1950's when this story is set, it would be a complete scandal. The film was a critical sensation at this year's Cannes and Mara tied for the Best Actress prize.



"THE DANISH GIRL"

Release date: November 27, 2015

Last year's Best Actor Oscar-winner, Eddie Redmayne is back in a role that could potentially earn him another award. In "The Danish Girl", Redmayne plays Einar Wegener, a man living in 1920's Copenhagen. It begins innocently enough with him standing in as a female model for his artist wife (the very busy, Alicia Vikander) before realizing that he wants to start living life as a real woman. Wegener, now called Lili Elbe, becomes the first known person to have sexual reassignment surgery. Tom Hooper, the Oscar-winner for "The King's Speech", directs this timely story.



"STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS"

Release date: December 18, 2015

Although I was extremely disappointed with the three "Star Wars" prequels (Jar Jar Binks? REALLY??!), I'm much more optimistic about "Star Wars: The Force Awakens". The main reason is because of the involvement of J.J. Abrams who brought the "Star Trek" franchise back to life with films that honored the history of the series yet were also creatively innovative with strong storytelling. The trailer for "The Force Awakens" indicates the spirit of the original films (with Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford all back on board) while taking us on an exciting new adventure. I can't wait!



"JOY"

Release date: December 25, 2015

David O. Russell, whose last three films, "The Fighter", "Silver Linings Playbook" and "American Hustle" each received Best Picture nominations, has a gift for taking offbeat stories and making them appealing to a mass audience. With his latest, "Joy", Jennifer Lawrence stars as Joy Mangano, a single mother of three who becomes a successful entrepreneur due to her invention of the Miracle Mop. In addition to Lawrence, Bradley Cooper and Robert DeNiro appear to re-team with the director. Édgar Ramírez, Virginia Madsen, Diane Ladd and Isabella Rossellini also star.



"THE HATEFUL EIGHT"

Release date: December 25, 2015

Due to Quentin Tarantino's temper tantrum over his script being leaked, "The Hateful Eight" almost didn't make it to the screen. Thankfully, a calmer mind prevailed and this western about a bounty hunter (Kurt Russell) with his captured outlaw (Jennifer Jason Leigh) ridding out a blizzard in a cabin filled with a gang of shady characters will be able to be seen in a glorious 70MM film format. Tarantino regulars Samuel L. Jackson, Tim Roth and Michael Madsen also make an appearance. The legendary composer, Ennio Morricone, who hasn't composed a score to a western in forty years, will be creating original music for this film.



"THE REVENANT"

Release date: December 25, 2015

Inspired by a true incident, "The Revenant" features Leonardo DiCaprio as a fur trapper that is mauled by a bear. Left to die by his thieving crew, the trapper miraculously survives and sets out to track down the men (Tom Hardy, Will Poulter and Domhnall Gleeson) to seek revenge. Although this gruesome plot sounds very much like a Tarantino movie, it's actually the follow-up to Alejandro Iñárritu's Oscar-winning Best Picture, "Birdman".

Saturday, September 5, 2015

TANGERINE (2015)

Written by Sean Baker & Chris Bergoch


Directed by Sean Baker


Where & When: Sundance Sunset Cinemas, West Hollywood, CA. September 4, 2015 9:20PM



"Tangerine" begins quietly on an early Christmas Eve in Los Angeles. Two friends share a celebratory donut after being recently reunited. While catching up, Alexandra (Mya Taylor) lets a secret slip which causes Sin-Dee (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez) to explode in to a major hissy fit, sending her off on a day-long trek, up and down Santa Monica Boulevard, to right this serious wrong. That this involves two transgender prostitutes creates a whole new dynamic, taking us in to a somber but riveting world most people go out of their way to avoid noticing. Director Sean Baker has crafted a playful but moving slice of life on the rough, seedy streets of East Hollywood, an area well-known for working girls with something extra.

The secret revealed is that while Sin-Dee was in jail for almost thirty days, Chester (James Ransone), her pimp/boyfriend, has been hooking up with a "fish" or in non-slang language, a real woman. Angry and hurt, Sin-Dee is going to hunt down Chester to demand an explanation for this betrayal. And that's the basic plot of our film. But what brings this micro-budgeted indie to life is the wild antics and sassy attitude of our leading ladies along with the colorful characters we meet during this comically strange journey.

With her dream of performing on stage happening later that evening at a West Hollywood club, Alexandra is willing to go with Sin-Dee but doesn't want to get involved with any drama. Sin-Dee promises but it's short-lived. As the day progresses and pinning Chester down grows more complicated, the angry hooker redirects her rage at Dinah (Mickey O'Hagan), the woman involved. Located at a rundown motel, turning tricks out a room, Sin-Dee drags Dinah out, forcing her to go with her to find their pimp to finally settle this matter.

There's a subplot involving Razmik (Karren Karagulian), an Armenian taxi driver. He has a taste for this type of Hollywood lady of the streets with a soft spot (or hard, if you want to go there) in particular for Sin-Dee. Informed by Alexandra that she's back and will be at her show, Razmik is desperate to see her, willing to escape the middle of a family holiday gathering for the chance. This proves not to be a wise move, unraveling into a madcap, messy finale.

Much like Mr. Baker's last film, the underrated, "Starlet" about the unlikely friendship between a young porn star (Dree Hemingway) and an elderly woman (the late Besedka Johnson), "Tangerine" focuses on the fierce, tight bond between Alexandra and Sin-Dee, trying to hold each other up as they search for love and respect, which comes in short supply with their line of work. Ms Taylor and Ms Rodriguez, two non-professional actors Mr. Baker found at the LGBT Center in Hollywood, bring a sense of realism to their roles but also deliver fine, comedic performances.

"Tangerine", which premiered and received plenty of attention at this year's Sundance Film Festival, is most notable for being filmed entirely with an Iphone 5S  (three to be exact) and may be the first feature released theatrically in this format. My honest, initial reactions to hearing this was horror, then skepticism to finally feeling that this was the beginning of the apocalypse of movies. Perhaps a little dramatic but I have a genuine concern about technology shrinking the scope of cinema to fit ever shrinking devices. After seeing the results, I must admit the film looks really good. There is nothing about the images here that feels small or slight. With Baker and Radium Cheung behind the phones, they manage to capture a frenzied energy that pops off the big screen. The shimmering light from the California sun creates a harsh, saturated look that's quite effective.

"Tangerine" is hysterically fun, emotionally raw and delightfully insane. While the sight and sound of shrieking trans hookers may not be everyone's idea of entertainment, the film creates a hilarious, must-see experience during which you are taken on this street-wise, screwball trip inside their domain.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

FANTASTIC FOUR (2015)

Written by Jeremy Slater, Simon Kinberg & Josh Trank


Directed by Josh Trank


Where & When: Arclight Cinemas, Hollywood, CA.  August 18, 2015  7:25PM




The Fantastic Four are a group of superheroes, created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in 1961, who gained their super-powers after being heavily exposed to cosmic rays during a space expedition. This collective became one of the most popular comic books in the Marvel Universe. After a low-budget Roger Corman production in the '90's that never saw the light of day and two more recent films that made some money but were far from critical favorites, the latest version brought to the screen is also far from fantastic. "Fantastic Four", directed by Josh Trank whose only previous feature was the low-budget hit, "Chronicle", is filled with too much silly science, dim-witted drama and not nearly enough fun or adventure.

We are given another origin story but it has been completely reworked and not for the better. This time, a teenage genius, Reed Richards (Miles Teller) along with his classmate, Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell) enter their high school science fair with his invention of a device that can transport objects. While not entirely successful but it works well enough to capture the attention of Franklin Storm (Reg E. Cathey), the director of the Baxter Foundation, a scientific research institute. He offers Richards an opportunity to further develop his project at their lab. The idea is to merge Richards' invention with a failed device created at the Baxter by a sulking Victor von Doom (Toby Kebbell) with the hope of a working machine.

Franklin's children, Sue Storm (Kate Mara), his adopted daughter and hot-headed son, Johnny (Michael B. Jordan) also help work on the experiment at the lab. After the team successfully transports a monkey to a planet in another dimension with their space shuttle called the Quantum Gate, it's now ready to test on humans. Dr. Allen (Tim Blake Nelson), the supervisor of the Baxter, thanks the team for their hard work but informs them NASA will be taking over the project. After a drunken celebration, the boys decide they should be the first to test their invention. Reed calls Ben to join them and they sneak off for a trip to another planet.

Once they arrive, the scientists set out to explore this alien world. Their presence causes a serious disruption, setting off a series of violent explosions throughout the landscape. As they race to get back to their shuttle, Victor falls in to a void, forcing them to leave him behind. With Sue back at the base to help them return, their space craft explodes on re-entry, exposing them all to cosmic rays.

We know they all survive but each has been altered with strange powers. Reed now has a body that can stretch to great lengths. Sue has the power of invisibility, can create force fields and travel through the skies like Glinda, the good witch. Johnny's body is engulfed in flames and Ben has become a giant with brute strength but his body is covered with a rock-like substance. The big, bad government holds the foursome in confinement to observe them but Richards manages to escape, feeling guilty for their condition.

A year later, the remaining three are trained to learn how to control their powers. Grimm is sent out on secret military missions with the others soon to follow. Dr. Allen is actively trying to track down Richards so he can recreate their previous voyage. The young scientist is found, mislead to return to planet with the goal of finding them a cure. After they arrive, miraculously, von Doom is found still alive. Not only has the doctor been changed, he is pissed.

"Fantastic Four" can't shake the feeling of rushing it's narrative even though the pacing moves at the speed of molasses. Even by comic book standards, the characters are non-existent with the plot over-the-top and full of gaping holes.

Social media expressed it's outrage over the casting of the African-American Jordan in the role of the usually blond, blue-eyed Johnny Storm. I didn't mind the switch (in fact, I found it the one inspired moment in this film) but what I did mind was the lack of an expressive wit the Human Torch usually displays in comics or even in the previous films. Here, Johnny Storm plays one note, unpleasantly sullen. The rest of the cast is equally lackluster with Mr. Teller, coming off his amazing performance in "Whiplash", faring best which isn't saying much. The only thing notable about Ms Mara here is the distracting change of her hair color and length throughout the film. This is the first time that the rock-covered Thing actually looks believable on screen but the complete waste of the gifted Mr. Bell (who first made an impression as a boy in "Billy Elliot") is unforgivable.

Much like the recent remake of "Spider-Man" that starred Andrew Garfield (which is incredibly getting rebooted again), this latest "Fantastic Four" feels commonplace and marginal. It may not have started out that way but after the well-publicized friction between the studio, the director and the actors, this film was a disaster that didn't have much of a chance. The results is a problematic adventure that has been salvaged the best it can.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

TRAINWRECK (2015)

Written by Amy Schumer


Directed by Judd Apatow


Where & When: Springdale 18 Cinema De Luxe, Cincinnati, OH. July 27, 2015



I admit I was very tardy to the Amy Schumer party but after catching the recent season of her skit comedy series, "Inside Amy Schumer", I have become a die-hard fan of the ribald comedian. After making her mark on television, Schumer is attempting to take on the big screen with "Trainwreck", a wonderfully offbeat romantic comedy that she has written. The director who is best known for his brand of sweetly lewd man-child comedies, Judd Apatow was inspired by Schumer to break out of his comfortable niche. This is the first film he has directed that he hasn't written and together they enhance each other's gifts.

Our story begins with Gordon Townsend (Colin Quinn) telling his two young daughters that he's divorcing their mother and leaves them with some fatherly advice that monogamy isn't at all realistic. Years later, while the younger sister, Kim (Brie Larson) didn't take him seriously, Amy (Schumer) took her daddy's words to heart. Kim has settled in to a comfortable relationship with a nice guy (Mike Birbiglia) and his nerdy, young son but Amy is a wild, hot mess. The only commitment she has is to evenings filled with too much alcohol and ending with anonymous sexual encounters.

Amy works as a writer for a men's magazine run by Dianna (Tilda Swinton), a brassy editor-in-chief that makes Anna Wintour seem demure and slight. Realizing Amy's aversion to sports, Dianna thinks she will be perfect to do a story on a top doctor working with basketball players. When Amy meets her subject, Aaron (Bill Hader), sweet but socially inept, they hit it off. After spending the evening enjoying each other's company, it ends with Amy's usual routine of heavy drinking and sex. But Aaron asks Amy to break her steadfast rule of never spending the night and surprisingly, she agrees. The biggest shock occurs for Amy the next day when the doctor calls actually wanting to see her again. She's kinda, sort of dating a muscle-bound lunkhead (John Cena) but Aaron begins to stir genuine emotions in her for the first time which scares her to death.

Part of Ms Schumer's comedy is to shock and titillate with her no-holds-barred observations on sexism and gender politics. She may look like the adorable girl-next-door but she's unafraid to tell a raunchy joke that might make you squirm in your seat yet also leave you with something deeper to think about. "Trainwreck" aims to shake-up the dated notion of the romantic comedy and Schumer's amusing screenplay (loosely based on her own real-life experiences)  cleverly flips long held expectations of how women should behave in the pursuit of love and companionship. The comedian enjoys locating the humor in awkward sexual situations which is clearly what appealed to Mr. Apatow. The film also explores Amy's troubled family dynamic, with the director bringing his skill of finding the heartwarming and poignant emotional moments in between all of the absurdity.

My only real complaint is the same complaint I have with most of Mr. Apatow's films which is that they go on far too long. I'm sure the director feels that every filmed bit is a precious gem that he can't bear to lose but "Trainwreck" clocks in at a little over two hours. For a comedy with a fairly simple plot, the film feels unnecessarily padded.

No one should be surprised by Ms Schumer ably delivering the funny but what is more unexpected is her deft performance in the more dramatic situations. This is Mr. Hader's first real shot as a leading man and the Saturday Night Live veteran is more than capable of handling this position. Another inspired move was having basketball great, LeBron James turn up playing an overly sensitive version of himself as the doctor's patient/buddy who's rooting for the couple as he offers thoughtful words of encouragement. In a role usually reserved for the female lead's BFF, James is quite effectively funny. Several other well-known faces pop-up to make notable cameo appearances. Some likely (current SNL players, Vanessa Bayer, Pete Davidson and Leslie Jones, a horde of stand-up comedians, and Oscar-winner, Marisa Tomei) and others more unexpected (tennis star, Chris Evert, the Miami Heat's, Amar'e Stoudemire, sportscaster, Marv Albert and "Harry Potter" actor, Daniel Radcliffe ).

With "Trainwreck", Amy Schumer proves she can be just as hilariously vulgar as the boys yet her comedy still comes from a place involving thoughtful female insight. Another thing this film proves is that Schumer is a new kind of comedy star. Her blazing wit, quirky charm and brutal honesty is just what is missing and desperately needed in cinema today.