Tuesday, September 22, 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


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


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:


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.


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.


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).


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.


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.


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.


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!


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.


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.


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


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.