Thursday, March 26, 2015


Written by Chris Weitz

Directed by Kenneth Branagh

Where & When: Vista Theater, Hollywood, CA. March 15, 2015 1:15PM

Since the Walt Disney Studios has seemed to run out of fairy tales to animate, the idea is to produce live-action versions of their classic films. First to arrive was "Alice In Wonderland" and it proved to be a global sensation, amassing over a billion dollars during it's run back in 2010. With that kind of success, "The Jungle Book", "Dumbo" and "Beauty and The Beast" are on a fast track to reach theaters but for now, "Cinderella" is the latest to be brought to life. While I wasn't overly impressed by Tim Burton's bombastic take of Alice's trippy adventures, what Kenneth Branagh has done with "Cinderella" I find to be inspired and magical. The director has made a spirited, straight-forward film, remaining fairly faithful to this timeless fable based on the 1950 Disney movie and the first written adaption by French author, Charles Perrault (and avoiding the unpleasant cutting off toes to fit in the slipper stuff like in the Brothers Grimm version). The graceful script by writer/director Chris Weitz has wisely kept the modern touches to a minimum which allows us to be swept away by one of the very first love stories.

Our tale begins with a little girl named Ella who is deeply loved by her much-in-love parents (Ben Chaplin and Hayley Atwell). Their idyllic life is shattered when her mother suddenly becomes gravely ill. Her final wish is for her young daughter to always display courage and remain kind to others, which Ella promises.

Ella grows up to become a beautiful young woman (now played by Lily James of "Downton Abbey" fame). Her uncomplicated life with her father is disrupted when he remarries a recent widow. Lady Tramaine (Cate Blanchett) arrives with her dimwitted, gaudy daughters, Drisella (Sophie McShera, also from "Downton") and Anastasia (Holliday Grainger) and a cat named Lucifer in tow. The evil stepmother is the showiest role in this story and without a doubt, the two-time Oscar winner makes it all her own, carrying herself like a fanciful peacock with arched eyebrows, blood-red lips and an icy chilliness that Joan Crawford would envy.

After Ella loses her father due to an illness while out at sea, she's left alone with these horrible women. Short of funds, Lady Tramaine dismisses the staff and encourages her stepdaughter to help around the house. Moved up to the attic and no longer allowed to eat with the family, Ella soon realizes she has become nothing more than a live-in maid. After serving breakfast covered in soot, her step-sisters cruelly rename her "Cinderella".

Frustrated with trying to keep her promise to her mother, Ella rides off and stumbles across a hunting party. Among the hunters is Prince Charming (Richard Madden) who becomes so enchanted by this simple girl that he decides not to disclose his identity. Under pressure to marry someone royal, the Prince decides to select his bride at the upcoming ball but extends the invitation to all eligible ladies of the land with the hope of seeing Ella again. When the news reaches Lady Tramaine, she spares no expense at making sure her daughters will captivate the Prince. Ella announces she'd like to go too but her step-mother savagely removes that thought out of her head.

Once Helena Bonham Carter arrives as Ella's daffy fairy godmother to magically whisk her off to the ball, we know she will dazzle the Prince, dash off moments before midnight, leaving behind her glass slipper and then the future King will desperately search throughout the entire kingdom for the only woman that can fit in to this shoe.

Since we are very familiar with this story, the only way this would truly standout is in the way it's put together. There are no talking animals (although CGI has the critters believably engaging with Ella) and not a single note is sung but this "Cinderella" will keep your attention with vivid, candy-colored images. With a superb cast (that also features Sir Derek Jacobi as the King and Stellan SkarsgĂ„rd as the conniving Grand Duke), the exquisite work of production designer, Dante Ferretti, the radiant costumes by Sandy Powell (both the winner of three Oscars) and expert camerawork from Haris Zambarloukos together makes this a breathtaking experience.

The charm of "Cinderella" is decidedly sweet and old-fashioned and that is certainly not a bad thing. During these cynical and jaded times, the simple pleasure that comes from the notion that good can triumph over evil (while still being able to forgive) or that happily ever after can actually happen is quite appealing.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015


Written by Bruce Wagner

Directed by David Cronenberg

Where & When: Sundance Sunset Cinema, West Hollywood, CA. March 3, 2015 1:45PM

David Cronenberg began his career making creepy sc-fi themed horror flicks like "Rabid", "The Brood" and his gory re-make of "The Fly". After his recent period of acclaimed dramatic thrillers including the Oscar-nominated "A History of Violence" and "Eastern Promises", the Canadian filmmaker appears ready to get back to his roots. His latest, "Maps to The Stars" takes a weird, nightmarish trip in to the over-privileged lives of the Hollywood film community. Hardly a fresh idea but Mr.Cronenberg has always been one of the more inspired directors, blurring the lines between genres while pushing the boundaries between classic and experimental film making. You would never consider "Maps" to be a conventional examination of troubled famous people determined to maintain their fame at any cost. But this undercooked satire fails to make us feel much for these falling stars.

Freshly minted Oscar-winner, Julianne Moore heads a fine cast of actors who seem to relish the juicy opportunity to portray many of the grotesque types they've surely come across during their time in the business. It should be no surprise that the actress delivers another outstanding performance, capturing the angst and insecurities of a tightly-wound actor or that this role won Moore the Best Actress prize at last year's Cannes. Coming across like a middle-aged, less weather-beaten Lindsey Lohan, Moore plays Havana Segrand, a petulant actress desperately wanting to be cast in the same role her mother played in the film, "Stolen Waters". Although much older than the character, Havana is convinced this will be the project she needs to revitalize her career. Haunted by visions of her deceased mother, she seeks counsel from famed television psychologist, Dr. Weiss (John Cusack) to guide her while struggling to cope with the perceived abuse she experienced as a child.

The teenage son of Dr. Weiss, Benjie (Evan Bird) also happens to be a famous actor that's fresh out of rehab. Spoiled, repugnant and petty, Benjie needs to prove to the producers he's clean to begin work on his comeback film. His high-strung mother (Olivia Williams), who also happens to be Benjie's manager, helps convince the suits her son is ready despite displaying signs he's still quite unstable.

The secret arrival of Agatha (Mia Wasikowska), Benjie's estranged sister, will create even more tension for the Weiss family. Recently released from an institution with burns covering her body and heavily medicated, she has a complicated past but just wants be reunited with her family. Agatha hires Jerome (Robert Pattinson), a struggling actor and screenwriter who pays his bills as a limo driver, to escort her around town including a trip to her former home which burned down under mysterious circumstances. After managing to get hired as Havana's new personal assistant, this allows Agatha access to film sets and a chance to see her brother.

"Maps To The Stars" packs a punch with it's vicious and ugly exploration in to the world of show-biz but doesn't offer clear insight in to what has lead to all this destruction. While the dark script by Bruce Wagner, who has made his career writing biting novels and screenplays on celebrity culture, skillfully reveals the desperation and ruthlessness of these characters, their shallowness doesn't take long to grow tiresome. The brutal ending fails to deliver the desired shock and only feels highly implausible.

The result is a film that's too odd to be enjoyed as a standard melodrama and not nearly out-there enough to be compelling as an art film. "Maps To The Stars" makes it very easy to laugh at these tragic, self-involved movie people but more difficult to feel much empathy.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015


The 2015 Outfest Fusion Film Festival is set for March 13 and 14. The event, now in it's twelfth year, brings to the screen films celebrating the lives of LGBT people of color.

One of the highlights will be the presentation of a digitally restored print of "Paris Is Burning". This acclaimed 1991 documentary follows the New York City drag balls during the late 1980's that explored the lives of the African-American and Latino performers who went on to form their own families after being rejected by society.

An episode of the hot new soap-drama, "Empire" will be screened with the producers of the program on hand afterwards for a panel discussion. One of my favorite films of last year, "Dear White People" will also be shown. This comedy by writer/ director, Justin Simien takes a look at race and sexuality through life at a predominately African-American college.

Film-maker Rose Troche will receive the 2015 Fusion Achievement Award for her work on her debut comedy, "Go Fish" and the television shows, "Ugly Betty" and "The L Word".

For the complete list of films and to purchase tickets, please click: 2015 Outfest FUSION