Sunday, July 24, 2016


Written by Mary Laws, Polly Stenham & Nicolas Winding Refn

Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn

Where & When: Arclight Cinemas, Hollywood, CA. July 13, 2016 1:00 PM

"The Neon Demon" tells the familiar story of a small-town girl coming to Los Angeles in search of fame, fortune and success. But in the hands of the Danish film maker Nicolas Winding Refn, he has twisted this oft-told tale in to a colorfully deranged and strikingly seductive new drama. This sweet girl finds what she seeks in the world of fashion modeling, becoming a celebrated and aloof figure, before being literally devoured by the glittering jealous monsters of the city.

When we first see Jesse (Elle Fanning), she is motionless, looking model fierce in an evening gown. But her throat has been slashed with the blood draining from her body. This turns out to be nothing more than a photo shoot being taken by her new friend, Dean (Karl Glusman) to help her build her portfolio. While wiping away the fake blood, Jesse catches the eye of Ruby (Jena Malone), a make-up artist. She offers to show the aspiring model around town and introduce her to some fun people in the business.

Ruby takes Jesse to a fashion event where she meets two models, Sarah (Abbey Lee) and Gigi (Bella Heathcote). These beautiful women, reconstructed, hardened and volatile, are dismissive of this shy, natural young girl outfitted in shopping mall chic. Yet it's clear they sense that she's a potential threat.

And their intuition proves accurate. The head of a top modeling agency (Christina Hendricks) is unimpressed with her photos yet quickly decides to represent Jesse before sending her off to a creepy but notable photographer (Desmond Harrington) to get better pictures. While at a runway modeling casting for a famous designer (Alessandro Nivola), he becomes completely mesmerized by Jesse, hiring this new face and leaving the experienced Sarah out of the show. Distraught and humiliated, the model destroys her book and smashes the bathroom mirror. With the hope of offering comfort, Jesse enters the room but makes the situation worse. While leaving she slips, cutting herself on the broken glass and Sarah lunges, attempting to drink the blood coming from the younger girl's hand.

This strange moment is our first sign that this film is attempting social commentary through dark, macabre humor. It doesn't entirely work but "The Neon Demon" is a potent nightmare of our endless obsession and envious desire with youth and beauty. The dramatically luxurious camera work by Natasha Braier and the pulsating soundtrack by Cliff Martinez effectively creates an eerie, sensual vibe. Coming from a family of film makers who were inspired by the French New Wave, Refn was more attracted to American horror films. His early work reflected his taste for blood and violence but it was his 2008 film, "Bronson" which starred Tom Hardy as real-life British prisoner Charles Bronson where Refn first merged the cinematic modernism that his parents appreciated and his own lurid interests. This lead to the brutal, neo-noir crime thriller, "Drive" which brought the director plenty of critical acclaim, award recognition and the Best Director prize at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival.

Ms Fanning is a perfect combination of innocence and desperation until Jesse becomes fully aware of her beauty, then without apology, embracing it's power and usefulness. Keanu Reeves makes a brief, uncharacteristic appearance as the churlish manager of the rundown hotel where Jesse lives. After the frightened girl runs to him because of an intruder in her room, they discover that a mountain lion has entered with the manager unsympathetically expecting her to pay for the damages. The big cat is one of several weird, head-scratching moments that occurs throughout the film, including the final scene at a photo shoot involving Sarah and Gigi that manages to be both hysterically funny and uncomfortably disturbing.

Light on reflective meaning and heavy with rich visual imagery, "The Neon Demon" is an electrifying and terrifying horror fantasia, filling the screen with brightly colored gore and mayhem with a touch of sick yet hilarious humor. We are taken on a turbulent ride through a perverse world that artfully stimulates our senses, leaving us titillated, disgusted, confused, and intrigued.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016


Grand Jury Awards:

U.S. Grand Jury Prize: "Spa Night"

Best Screenwriting in a U.S. Feature: Ingrid Jungermann, "Women Who Kill"

Special Mention for Outstanding Performance: Joe Seo, "Spa Night"

Documentary Grand Jury Prize: "Southwest of Salem: The Story of the San Antonio Four"

Documentary Special Mention for Excellence in Filmmaking: "Major!"

Best Documentary Short: "These Cocksucking Tears"

Best Narrative Short: "Fake It"

International Grand Jury Prize: "Being 17"

International Special Mention: "The Nest"

Audience Awards:

U.S. Narrative Audience Award: "Miles"

Audience Award for Best First U.S. Dramatic Feature: "Suicide Kale"

U.S. Documentary Audience Award: "Major!"

Special Programming Awards:

Emerging Talent: Twiggy Pucci Garçon and Sara Jordenö, "Kiki"

Freedom Award: Tiffany Rhynard and Moises Serrano, "Forbidden: Undocumented and Queer in Rural America"

Artistic Vision: Kuba Czekaj, "Baby Bump"

Special Mention for Artistic Achievement: Kai Stänicke, "B."

Here's a round-up of some of the films I caught during the fest. The International Grand Jury Prize winner, "Being 17 (Quand on a 17 ans)" is another impressive work by legendary French film maker, André Téchiné who brought us the 1994 classic, "Wild Reeds". Seventeen year old, Damien (Kacey Mottet Klein) lives with his mother, Marianne (Sandrine Kiberlain), a doctor while his father (Alexis Loret) is a miltary pilot serving abroad. A social outcast in school, Damien is continuously bullied by another loner classmate, Tom (Corentin Fila). Circumstances bring these two young men to live together under one roof due to Tom's mother being treated by Marianne. That doesn't stop the boys from fighting yet it does bring awareness of an attraction between each other. Téchiné perfectly captures the conflicted emotions of youth with the yearning to closely connect with a peer and the desire to be left alone.

"Paris 05:59: Théo & Hugo (Théo et Hugo dans le même bateau)" is a slight yet engaging drama that comes across like a Gallic version of the British film, "Weekend" except with hardcore sex. After having an explosive and almost spiritual experience at a Paris sex club (which is seen in the explicit twenty-minute opening scene), Théo (Geoffrey Couët) and Hugo (François Nambot) leave together in post-coital bliss until they realize they've had unprotected sex. While awaiting the results of a HIV test, we watch in real-time as Théo and Hugo spend the early morning discovering each other as they bike, ride the subway and walk throughout the quiet streets of the city. Written and directed by the team of Olivier Ducastel and Jacques Martineau (who share a professional and personal relationship), this winner of the Teddy Audience Award at this year's Berlin Film Festival presents a thoughtful and stimulating look at the challenges and complications of trying to form some kind of relationship after a lustful, one night encounter.

The bittersweet documentary, "Strike a Pose" takes a look at what happened to the young backup dancers from Madonna's 1990 Blonde Ambition World Tour who revealed their personal lives and found short-lived fame in her documentary, "Truth or Dare". Reluctant to go before the cameras again, film makers, Ester Gould and Reijer Zwaan were able to convince the six surviving members, Kevin Stea, Carlton Wilborn, Luis Camacho, Jose Gutierez, Salim Gauwloos and Oliver Crumes (Gabriel Trupin died from complications due to AIDS in 1995) that this project would not be exploitative and would give them the opportunity to share their stories of life after Madonna. And each of them had many difficulties as they struggled with drug abuse, homelessness, lawsuits, HIV and other health complications. Yet we see how each of them came out of the experience with a positive outlook and greater understanding of themselves. The highlight of "Strike a Pose" is near the end when the dancers are all happily reunited after twenty-five years as they reminiscence and confess some long-held secrets to each other.

And my clear favorite from the fest was "Jewel's Catch One". This doc, directed by C. Fitz, explores the incredible Jewel-Thais Williams and the renowned Los Angeles nightclub, Catch One she opened that served the LGBT community of color for over forty years. After her first venture, a women’s clothing boutique, went bust, Williams decided to open a recession-proof business and the Catch was born in 1973. She began with a one room bar before eventually purchasing the entire building to create a complete dance club experience. The crowd was initially a mostly African-American clientele before celebrities like Sharon Stone and Madonna hit Catch One, making it a hip destination for white club kids. Not all of the times were good; the neighbors and police tried to force Williams out and the AIDS crisis nearly put the club out of business. Not even a suspicious fire that would shut down the Catch for almost two years would knock her out. Williams persevered and became an out-spoken activist as a co-founder of the Minority AIDS Project and Rue’s House, a housing facility for women with AIDS and their children. At the age of sixty, Williams went back to school and earned a degree in Chinese Medicine and opened the Village Health Foundation, a non-profit specializing in nutrition and lifestyle changes for the African American community. I remember spending many fun nights at the now-closed Catch One and I'm so glad this film was created to celebrate this amazing, inspirational woman's life and the important legacy of her club.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016


Outfest Los Angeles, the yearly event that showcases the lives of the LGBT communities in cinema, is set to begin on July 7th and running through the 17th. The 2016 film festival will be jammed-packed with an exciting and diverse selection of films, documentaries, shorts, digital series, panels and special events in addition to plenty of fun parties and receptions.

The opening night film, which will be screened at the gorgeous Orpheum Theatre in downtown L.A., will be "The Intervention", the directorial feature debut by actress, Clea Duvall. This delightful comedy, already making an impressive impact at this year's Sundance Film Festival (and won an jury acting prize for star, Melanie Lynskey), is about a group of thirty-something couples who go away together for a weekend trip. However, it's actually an excuse to try and intervene with one friend's toxic relationship but it backfires and creates tension and reveals secrets amongst the rest of the group. In addition to Duvall and Lynskey, the film also stars Natasha Lyonne, Cobie Smulders, Jason Ritter and Alia Shawkat.

The Legacy Project Centerpiece is "Different From the Others", considered to be one of the first gay-themed feature films. It has taken six years to restore this German silent movie from 1919, using stills and film elements from Russia after the Nazis destroyed the original negatives. This final version made it premiere at this year's Berlin Film Festival and focuses on a famed violinist who takes a young student under his wing. A relationship develops between the two men but their careers are threatened when they are blackmailed during the time of Paragraph 175, which criminalized homosexuality in Germany.

"Kiki" will be the Documentary Centerpiece and the film centers on the New York vogue-dancing style made famous in the 1990 doc, "Paris Is Burning"and brings it in to a modern setting.  Now referred to as "Kiki dancing", this winner of the Best Documentary Prize at this year's Berlin Film Festival explores the same issues involving young gay men of color searching for a sense of family and expressing themselves through dance.

Murder and gay porn comes together in a shocking and unexpected way in writer/director Justin Kelly's "King Cobra", the Special Centerpiece screening. Based on a real-life incident, a porn producer (Christian Slater) discovers a bright new star, Brent Corrigan (former Disney actor, Garrett Clayton) and they both enjoy great success. A rival producer (James Franco) and his star (Keegan Allen) are envious and want a piece of the action which leads to violence and death. Alicia Silverstone and Molly Ringwald also appear. Mr. Franco will be given the first James Schamus Award before the screening which honors him as a straight ally bringing LGBT stories to film.

And the Closing Night Gala will be "Other People", the feature debut of "Saturday Night Live" writer, Chris Kelly, This semi-autobiographical comedy focuses on a New York comedy writer (played by Jesse Plemons, last seen in the previous season of "Fargo") returning to Sacramento to care for his ill mother ("SNL"vet, Molly Shannon). The film moves gracefully between humor and heartbreak as we watch him struggling between his recent break-up with a boyfriend, living in an environment he has outgrown and dealing with the health crisis of his parent. It has just been announced that this gala has been moved from the Ford Theatre and now will be held at the Theater at the Ace Hotel in DTLA. There will be a fabulous after-party at the newly restored, 1935 landmark restaurant, Clifton's Cafeteria.

There will also be a tribute to David Bowie with a screening of his vampire camp classic,
"The Hunger", the movie-wrap-up of the cancelled-much-too-soon HBO series, "Looking" and a sneak-peek showing of the all-female remake of "Ghostbusters" which will be shown under the stars at the recently renovated Ford Theatre.

For the complete list of films, events and to purchase tickets, Please click below: