Tuesday, June 30, 2015

DOPE (2015)

Written & Directed by Rick Famuyiwa

Where & When: Arclight Cinemas, Hollywood, CA. June 21, 2015 5:30PM

"Dope" may not seem like your average teen comedy for you will find hip-hop clubs, gangsters, drug-related shoot-outs and the frequent use of the N-word. Oh, and a cast made up mostly by people of color. The writer/directer Rick Famuyiwa has made a visionary film that wants to find a place between the popular urban dramas of the 90's like "Boyz In The Hood", "Juice" and "Dead Presidents" while offering something deeper than the broad humor of Tyler Perry movies. "Dope" succeeds, for the most part, in expanding our ideas of what African-American cinema can be and opens viewers eyes to a world that is rarely represented.

In his first film role, Shameik Moore plays Malcolm Adekanbi, a high school senior. He lives in Inglewood with his single mother (Kimberly Elise) and doesn't remember his father who went back to Africa when he was an infant. Malcolm is not what you would consider one of the cool kids, with his hair shaped in a flat-top fade and wearing 90's hip-hop clothing unironically. His two close friends are fellow outsiders; Diggy (Kiersey Clemons), a butch lesbian whose family continues to try and pray away her condition along with the anxious, Jig (Tony Revolori, last seen in "The Grand Budapest Hotel") who is small and inconspicuous. Together, they play in a punk-rock band, Awreeoh (get it?) trying to express themselves in a way that only nerds can understand.

Malcolm is a straight-A student and wants to get in to Harvard. But his school counselor Mr. Bailey (Bruce Beatty) informs him that his college essay on Ice Cube's "Today was a Good Day" is not going to get him there. After being advised to write something about himself, Malcolm is at a loss.

Like many of us at the time, Malcolm and his friends are just trying to get out of high school in one piece but being considered weird makes you an easy target. Not long after barely escaping a school thug trying to steal his shoes, Malcolm nearly loses his bike to the local drug dealers but catches the attention of their leader, Dom (hip-hop artist, A$AP Rocky) because of his unusual style. The two soon bond over music and ideas before Dom has Malcolm go relay a message to a girl to attend his birthday party. Taking one look at this attractive young lady, Nakia (Zoë Kravitz),  Malcolm wants to make his own private plans with her but feels far too uncool to make a move. Nakia is also curious about this odd kid in front of her. She agrees to go only if Malcolm will be there.

Being underage poses an obstacle but Malcolm is determined and drags Diggy and Jig along with him. Once inside the nightclub, the trio party hard and Malcolm even gets a dance with Nakia. Gun-fire breaks up the festivities and the next day, Malcolm discovers his backpack filled with a gun and thousands of dollars worth of Dom's drugs.

With a phone call from a locked-up Dom informing him what to do with the stash, the rest of the film has Malcolm trying to get rid of it before a rival gang catches up to him first. While there's much that happens in between this treacherous race, (and at times overwhelms the film), Mr. Famuyiwa keeps the action moving smoothly with sharp insight and imaginative direction. In between the myriad of high-speed chases, dangerous shoot-outs and wildly deranged characters, there are sweet, touching moments and dark but very funny humor. The cast in uniformly excellent with Famuyiwa also utilizing fascinating non-actors like model, Chanel Iman and rapper, Tyga which helps add to the unconventional nature of the film.

The director had some high-profile talent to help him put this together with Sean Combs, Pharrell Williams and Forest Whitaker (who also provided narration) serving as producers. Like Mr. Famuyiwa's feature debut, "The Wood", "Dope" examines life on the streets of Inglewood where the director grew-up with people just trying to get through each day in their tough surroundings. Despite the difficulties, there is still a sense of community and honor to be found in the neighborhood.

Far from perfect but I think "Dope" ranks up there with other classic teen comedies like "The Breakfast Club" and "Ferris Bueller's Day Off". While there is much more perilous menace and edginess here than those films, it's the film's heart and intelligence that makes it truly fit comfortably beside them.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015


The 2015 Outfest Film festival is set to begin on July 9th and conclude on July 19th. This annual celebration of LGBT cinema in Los Angeles will kick off with "Tig", a documentary on comedian Tig Notaro. The film by Kristina Goolsby and Ashley York deals with Notaro coping with a cancer diagnosis while somehow finding humor in her situation while performing her stand-up routine. "Tig", which received rapturous acclaim at this year's Sundance Film Festival, will clearly be a strange mixture of anguish and hilarity.

The international centerpieces will be "Eisenstein In Guanajuato" and "The Summer of Sangaile". Filmmaker Peter Greenway ("The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover") examines Russian director, Sergei Eisenstein during a transformative trip to Mexico in the 1930's where he meets a handsome tour guide and begins a wild and passionate romance. "Summer", a Sundance winner of the World Cinema Directing Award for writer/director, Alanté Kavaïté, is a love story set in Lithuania between two very different young women. This is a surreal and visually breath-taking experience.

One of the documentary centerpieces is "Best of Enemies" by Morgan Neville ("20 Feet From Stardom") and Robert Gordon ("Respect Yourself: The Stax Records Story"). It looks at two great minds with two very opposing points of views; Gore Vidal and William F. Buckley as they intellectually sparred on live television in 1968. Their verbal matches were combative, vicious and endlessly fascinating.

"54", a fictionalized story set at Studio 54, the notorious disco in the 1970's, was released in 1998 and became a critical and box-office failure. It turns out that writer/director Mark Christopher was forced to alter the film considerably which included removing a gay subplot. Now seventeen years later, Christopher has reconstructed "54" to reflect his original vision. This new cut will be screened at Hollywood Forever Cemetery on July 16th.

To celebrate the twenty years that Christine Vachon and her production company, Killer Films have been bringing queer independent cinema to audiences, Outfest will screen Todd Haynes' ode to gender-bending, glam-rock, "Velvet Goldmine" on July 11th. This amazing 1998 classic stars Christian Bale, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Toni Collette and Ewan McGregor. If you've never this on the big screen, you must check it out.

This is the tenth year of the Legacy Project which has been protecting and restoring essential LGBT cinema. Five important films will be presented; "Parting Glances" (1986), the first film to be restored, Greg Araki's "Totally F*cked Up" (1993), "Born In Flames" (1983), "Madonna: Truth or Dare" (1991) and the latest restoration, "Funeral Parade of Roses" (1969) about transgendered women in the 1960's Tokyo underground.

Finally, the closing night gala will be held at a new location, the theatre at Ace Hotel and the selection is the latest from one of my favorite filmmakers, François Ozon ("8 Women", "Swimming Pool"). "Une nouvelle amie (The New Girlfriend)" stars Romain Duris as a man who tragically loses his young wife and left alone to care for their infant. When Claire (Anais Demoustier), his wife's best friend, arrives to help him out, she discovers his secret life as a transvestite and they develop an unusual relationship.

For the complete list of films, venues and to purchase tickets, please go to:


Sunday, June 21, 2015

SPY (2015)

Written & Directed by Paul Feig

Where & When: Arclight Cinemas, Hollywood, CA. June 9, 2015 5:20PM

Melissa McCarthy and director Paul Feig together have altered the long-held perception of women in comedy. Mr. Feig has proven that if it's well-written and capable talent is brought on board, people will happily pay to see comedies with female leads while the very funny Ms McCarthy shows that she can be a major box-office draw even if she's not a size two.

They first came together in the bridal nightmare comedy, "Bridesmaids", with the actress in an Oscar-nominated supporting role and the film became a surprise break-out hit. In their next outing, McCarthy was given a bigger part and teamed-up with movie-star, Sandra Bullock in the female-buddy cop caper, "The Heat" and scored another home run. Their latest winning collaboration is "Spy", a spoof of the James Bond action-thrillers with McCarthy, front and center, becoming an unlikely secret agent. The film successfully merges together those common espionage staples involving fancy gadgets, exotic locations, thrilling car chases and bone-shattering brawls with suburban cat-lady disguises, wacky antics and insanely funny gags.

Susan Cooper (McCarthy) sits behind a desk at CIA headquarters as the eyes and ears for agent Bradley Fine (Jude Law) when he's out fighting the bad guys. Holding a secret crush on the handsome and debonair Fine, the plain and unremarkable Susan can only dream that he would ever notice her as a woman or that she would have a chance to work by his side as an agent.

After his attempt to track down a nuclear bomb that will be sold to Italian gangster, Sergio De Luca (Bobby Cannavale) ended with the accidental death of his target, Boyanov (Raad Rawi), Agent Fine sets out to find his daughter, Rayna (Rose Byrne) who may know of it's location. But she's on to him, as well as the identities of other CIA agents, and takes Fine out for revenge.

Since the cover is blown for the field agents, Susan volunteers to go on the mission to follow Rayna and locate the bomb. Her boss, Elaine Crocker (Allison Janney) is opposed to the idea but with few options and time running out, she agrees so long as Susan doesn't make contact.

It should be no shocker that Susan Cooper doesn't follow those instructions once she reaches her Paris destination and gets herself thrown in the mix. The inexperienced spy cons her way in to the inner circle of the deadly, big-haired, Rayna and travels to Rome and Budapest with her as she makes final arrangements to sell the bomb. Susan must find it's whereabouts before her identity is discovered and receives help from her friend, Nancy (Miranda Hart) back at the CIA headquarters, a contact in Italy, Aldo (Peter Serafinowicz) who is your standard stereotypical Italian and the abrasive fellow agent, Rick Ford (Jason Statham), disgruntled and going rogue because he wasn't given this assignment, stalks her throughout the mission.

Feig's script follows a faithful blueprint of your average spy adventure but the brief bursts of graphic gore feel out of place for a zany comedy (even the 007 films keep the bloodshed at PG-13 levels). But what the director is really after is to flip the script on expectations and take us on a humorously thrilling ride from a female point-of-view and not from one that looks like Angelina Jolie. After the misstep of "Tammy", the jumbled mess of a comedy created by McCarthy and her husband, Ben Falcone (who pops up here in a cameo), Feig guides the actress back on to solid ground as he's able to rein her manic energy in to coherent focus. McCarthy, with her sweet cherub face and the foul mouth of a demented sailor, doesn't fail to deliver the laughs but also brings warmth and quirky charm to help flesh out her character.

There are plenty of Brits filling out the roles here (and our Aussie, Ms Byrne, hilarious as our Bulgarian villainess) with the towering, Ms Hart, who is a comic sensation back home in England, perfectly giving Americans a taste of what they're missing. But it's Mr. Statham that surprises with sharp comedic skills. The no-nonsense action star hasn't had too many chances to show that he's actually quite funny and hopefully he'll get more opportunities to show that off.

"Spy" brings us plenty of thrills, danger but mostly giddy fun and that's exactly what you want in your summer popcorn fare. The good news is that Ms McCarthy and Mr. Feig are joining forces once again with an all-female reboot of "Ghostbusters". If it's anything like "Spy", I think it's likely we're in for another hilarious treat

Tuesday, June 2, 2015


The premiere showcase for independent cinema in Los Angeles, The LA Film Fest marks it's twenty-first year beginning June 10th with the festival running through June 18th. For the first time, the fest will present competitive awards that will be presented on closing night to help bring additional awareness to exceptional works.

The great Lily Tomlin has been chosen to be honored with The Spirit of Independence Award and her latest film, "Grandma" (which received plenty of buzz at Sundance) will be the Opening Night Film.

The fest has also added this year Nightfall, a line-up of indie-genre films making their world premiere and Launch, which will feature new talent creating fiction in digital spaces such as web-series, music videos and gaming. This is in addition to other programs including Master Classes (which brings prominent artists to give invaluable talks about their trade), Coffee Talks (that focuses on all aspects in the craft of film making), Diversity Speaks (a day-long convention of filmmakers and storytellers of color) and Music in Film Nights at The GRAMMY Museum that has live performances by some of the world’s most acclaimed musicians.

There will be free outdoor screenings available which includes "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" on June 12th and "Love & Basketball" on June 13th.

For the complete list of films, activities and venues, please click below:

2015 LA Film Fest