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)