Monday, November 20, 2017

EVERY CATE BLANCHETT PERFORMANCE RANKED


"Thor: Ragnarok", the critically-acclaimed third film involving Marvel's Norse God, not only held the number one spot in the U.S. for two weeks but has collected an astounding seven hundred and fifty million dollars at the world-wide box-office to date. Many are pointing to the contribution by director Taika Waititi with adding inspired casting and clever, funny wit to the typical super-hero action for all the success. But let's keep it real. It's all about Cate Blanchett and her vampy and campy supporting turn as Hela, the Goddess of death that truly made this movie unforgettable.

The Australian actress has been dazzling us with many celebrated performances for over twenty years. She first gained attention with her co-starring role opposite Ralph Fiennes in "Oscar and Lucinda" back in 1997 which lead to memorable turns in "Elizabeth", "Notes From a Scandal", "I'm Not There", "Carol" and all those "Lord of The Rings" and "The Hobbit" movies to name a few. Blanchett won her first Oscar for playing Katherine Hepburn in "The Aviator" in 2004 before winning the 2013 Best Actress award for her role in Woody Allen's "Blue Jasmine".

On stage or screen, Ms Blanchett consistently has left an impressive mark with every performance. I have greatly admired her outstanding talent and even if the film she's in isn't necessarily great, she manages to always make it better simply by her commanding presence. Vulture has examined her work in cinema and has ranked her numerous roles from movies that let her down to the perfect merging of film and performance.

Click below to read:

Every Cate Blanchett Movie Ranked from Worst to Best

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

BPM (BEATS PER MINUTE) (2017)

Written by Robin Campillo and Philippe Mangeot


Directed by Robin Campillo


Where & When: Arclight Cinemas, Hollywood, CA. October 30, 2017 7:30 PM


"BPM (120 battements par minute)", a moving and compelling drama from Robin Campillo, looks back not so long ago on the fervent battle of French AIDS activists against the slow-moving pharmaceutical companies and the ineffective response of the government. It would appear to be an uneven fight yet desperate times call for extreme measures and ACT-UP was ready to do whatever it takes to be heard. Marching loudly in the streets, unannounced visits to high schools to hand out condoms and teach safer sex and splattering fake blood on property are just a few of the activities this group did to get people to pay attention to them. This drama, which won four awards at this year's Cannes Film Festival including Grand Prix (runner-up prize of Best Film) and was selected as France's entry for the Best Foreign-Language Award at this year's Academy Awards, serves as a powerful reminder of those people we tragically lost to this disease and those individuals who fought so that they would not be forgotten.

ACT-UP (which stands for AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) was a militant advocacy group formed in the late 1980's in New York. Fed up with the delayed process of medical treatment and the almost complete inaction from the U.S. government on dealing with this health crisis, gay men and lesbians came together, using civil disobedience to protest and demand a national policy to fight the disease. With the French government's reaction to this crisis no better than the States, a Paris-based chapter of ACT-UP was formed.

"BPM" is set in the early 1990's when it was much clearer on how people contracted HIV but there were still very few meds available to help those infected with the most popular being AZT which could be highly toxic and create other health complications. There are rumors of new drugs being developed called protease inhibitors which would prevent viral replication. Yet at the time, many were skeptical of their long-term effectiveness.

ACT-UP was organized as leaderless with actions and proposals brought to the committee to be debated before coming to a vote. And because of this, there is plenty of intense discussions and bickering over tactics and an effective direction of the group with some better expressing their ideas than others. While the group is made up mostly of angry and frustrated gay men, there are also a few concerned lesbians and a mother and her young hemophiliac son there to voice their concerns and lend their support.

We meet several members of this divergent group but the focus is on Sean (Nahuel Pérez Biscayart), an understandably prickly, HIV positive young man who realizes his time is limited and doesn't want to waste a moment. He wants to get out and take radical action against all those standing in the way of saving lives. A new member, Nathan (Arnaud Valois) is attracted to Sean and they slowly develop a romance but Nathan is negative which creates some complications to their relationship. And soon, Sean becomes sick. With Nathan and Sean's mother (Saadia Ben Taieb) there to help care for him, we watch in harrowing detail as his body begins to whither and fail him as the lively spark in his eyes is slowly dimmed.

Mr. Campillo began his career as an editor before moving on to screenwriting, doing acclaimed work with director Laurent Cantet on "Time Out" (2001), "Heading South" (2005) and the 2008 Palme d'Or winner and Best Foreign-Language Film nominee, "The Class". Recently he has impressed with his writing and direction on the 2013 drama, "Eastern Boys".

The filmmaker along with his co-writer Philippe Mangeot were both involved with ACT-UP and used their experiences during that time to help fill their story with detailed and accurate depictions from within the group. With so many characters involved, most do not have the opportunity to be fully fleshed out yet there still manages to be a lot of dialogue, particularly during lengthy, passionate discussions at the meetings. While some of this can be informative, it tends to drag the pacing of the film down, losing momentum and feeling unnecessarily drawn-out.

"BPM" succeeds best when we see ACT-UP in action, enthusiastically and creatively causing disruption to make their point. And in between all of the rage, fear and distress, we are also treated to some tender intimacy as we witness the blossoming courtship between Sean and Nathan including their first sexual encounter which surprisingly manages to be quite graphic yet still discreet.

But it is music that is used to transcend and exhilarate. Mr. Campillo shows the ACT-UP members moving and grooving on the dance floor as interludes between the more daunting moments. With their sweaty bodies swaying sensually through colored lights and eyes blissfully closed, we see that this throbbing house music will help keep their spirits up and to offer escape, at least briefly, to all of their cares and worries. One particularly poignant scene involves the use of "Smalltown Boy", the haunting 1984 dance hit from the openly-gay group, Bronski Beat, with Jimmy Somerville's gloriously piercing falsetto still able to shake you to your core.

Friday, November 3, 2017

2017 AFI FILM FEST PRESENTED BY AUDI


This year marks the fiftieth anniversary since the creation of the American Film Institute which was designed to save America’s precious motion picture heritage. After it was discovered in 1967 that less than 10% of American films were being properly preserved for future generations, AFI teamed with the Library of Congress to archive and store these important films. To date, 37,000 motion pictures are now safely preserved in the AFI Collection at the Library of Congress.

The American Film Institute later created a film festival to showcase exciting new films and this year's AFI Film Fest presented by Audi is set to begin on November 9th and concluding on November 16th. The event will be held once again at the TCL Chinese Theatres and the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood.

"Mudbound", a historical period drama co-written and directed by Dee Rees, will open this year's AFI Fest at the TCL Chinese Theatre. The film tells the story of two families following the end of World War II living in the rural South who struggle against financial hardships and racial tensions of the day. Carey Mulligan, Garrett Hedlund, Jason Mitchell, Jason Clarke, Jonathan Banks, Mary J. Blige and Rob Morgan star.



There are three Centerpiece Screenings: "Call Me By Your Name" from Italian filmmaker, Luca Guadagnino, "The Disaster Artist" by star and director, James Franco and "Hostiles", the latest from director, Scott Cooper.





A tribute to the Oscar-winning documentary filmmaker, Errol Morris ("The Thin Blue Line", "The Fog of War", "A Brief History of Time") will be held on November 11th along with a screening of his latest, "Wormwood", a Netflix six-part drama series.



The Closing Night Gala will be the world premiere of "All The Money in The World", the latest from Ridley Scott who will also be honored with a tribute and discussion following the screening. Based on the novel from John Pearson, the film recalls the true-life incident involving the kidnapping of the sixteen year-old grandson of billionaire J. Paul Getty (played by Kevin Spacey) and his shocking refusal to pay his ransom. Michelle Williams, Mark Wahlberg, Romain Duris, Charlie Plummer and Timothy Hutton also star.

UPDATE: Due to the disturbing allegations against actor Kevin Spacey, "All The Money In The World" has been cancelled as the Closing Night film. As for the film, in a most unusual move Christopher Plummer has been hired to re-film Spacey's role as J. Paul Getty with the plan to still release the film theatrically on December 22nd.

"Molly's Game", the feature directing debut by writer, Aaron Sorkin has been selected for the Closing Night Gala on November 16th. Based on a true story, Jessica Chastain stars as Molly Bloom who ran exclusive poker games for power players for years before getting busted by the FBI due to her unknowingly having the Russian mob playing at her club. Idris Elba plays her defense lawyer and the cast also includes Kevin Costner, Michael Cera, Chris O’Dowd and Bill Camp.



Two Special Presentations include a conversation with British director Christopher Nolan who is hot right now following his surprise summer hit, the WWII drama, "Dunkirk" and the eighty-nine year old French filmmaker, Agnes Varda will discuss her impressive career following a screening of her latest film, "Faces Places". Ms Varda will also be receiving an honorary Oscar on November 11th.

And for the first time, AFI Fest will be holding an annual retrospective to spotlight an important filmmaker of global significance and this year will be Robert Altman. The late writer/director will have twelve of his most essential films screened: "M*A*S*H" (1970), "McCabe & Mrs. Miller" (1971), "The Long Goodbye" (1972), "California Split" (1973), "Nashville" (1975), "3 Women" (1977), "Vincent & Theo" (1990), "The Player" (1992), "Short Cuts" (1993), "Kansas City" (1996), "Godford Park" (2001) and "A Prairie Home Companion" (2006). There will be a discussion following each screening and talent in attendance will be later announced.









There is much more with the best of new features, documentaries, shorts and world cinema to be screened throughout the eight day fest. Tickets for most screenings are free and Express passes are available for purchase. For the complete list of films, to get tickets and additional information, please click below:

AFI Film Fest 2017

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

EVERY COLIN FARRELL PERFORMANCE RANKED


I remember becoming aware of Colin Farrell in a little-seen indie film, "Tigerland" back in 2000. This Vietnam war-set drama, directed by Joel Schumacher, was about a group of young men at a U.S. army training camp in Louisiana struggling to accept their unavoidable fate of going in to battle. The film didn't do much at the box-office but it was well received by critics, with them singling out Farrell, a little known Irish actor at the time, for his role as Bozz, a draftee opposed to the war who doesn't respect authority.

And Hollywood took notice of the smoldering, good-looking actor, offering him parts with the goal of creating a new star. While Farrell has had a few opportunities to shine ("Minority Report", "Phone Booth", "In Bruges","The Lobster"), many of his films were unfortunate and forgettable ("Alexander", "Daredevil", "Fright Night", "S.W.A.T", "Total Recall"). But there is no denying his exceptional talent, which is why he is still very much in demand and working steadily.

With the recent release of "The Killing of a Sacred Deer" which re-teams him with Yorgos Lanthimos, the writer/director of "The Lobster" and Nicole Kidman, his co-star in the Civil War-era remake of "The Beguiled" that came out earlier this summer, it seems like the perfect time to review the career of the now forty-one year old actor. Vulture has ranked the forty feature film roles that Colin Farrell has performed in to date and reveal what they think is his least successful to his finest hour in cinema.

Click below to read:

Every Colin Farrell Movie Ranked from Worst to Best

Saturday, October 28, 2017

PROFESSOR MARSTON AND THE WONDER WOMEN (2017)

Written & Directed by Angela Robinson


Where & When: Arclight Cinemas, Hollywood, CA. October 15, 2017 7:05 PM



Wonder Woman was one of the first female super-heroes to appear in comic-books back in 1941, a time when women were not seen as much more than wives and mothers.  She was the rare feminist character that was highly intelligent, powerful and strong who didn't require a man to fight her battles but still maintained traditional ideas of femininity. William Moulton Marston, an American psychologist and educator, is the man behind Wonder Woman's creation (under the alias "Charles Moulton") and with "Professor Marston and the Wonder Women", from writer/director Angela Robinson, reveals the incredibly unconventional life of the author that inspired this unique hero. Enticing and melodramatic, the film examines the eye-raising, intimate relationship between Martson, his wife and his female student yet lacks a convincing passion and spirit to fully engage this decidedly kinky material.

The film opens with Marston (Luke Evans) startled by a frenzied mob burning comic-books including his "Wonder Woman". This is followed by the professor being questioned by the director of the Child Study Association of America (played by Connie Britton) during an investigation over the effects on children to his questionable comic-book character and the depictions of subversive behavior in them.

We flashback to 1928 when Professor Marston is teaching a course on human behavior involving the dynamics between men and women at Harvard. His wife, Elizabeth (Rebecca Hall), also a noted psychologist, works along side her husband at the school as they are struggling to develop a device that can detect if you are lying. In search of a research assistant, Olive (Bella Heathcote), a lovely, sweet-faced student, applies for the job and Marston, attracted to more than just her brain, quickly hires her. Outspoken, opinionated yet insecure, Elizabeth crudely warns the shy young girl not to sleep with her husband. Horrified that she felt a need to even mention the idea, Olive wants to quit even before she starts the job. But after Marston has his wife offer a hasty apology and both are thrilled to discover Olive is the daughter of radical feminist, Ethel Byrne who is the sister of the groundbreaking activist, Margaret Sanger, they begin to work closely together.

Thanks to a suggestion by Olive, they are finally able to get the lie detector to function. And this soon leads to this highly educated couple being unable to deny that they have both become completely smitten and fallen in love with their young protégée.

This is only the third feature by Ms Robinson following her 2004 indie debut, "D.E.B.S." and the Lindsay Lohan disaster, "Herbie: Fully Loaded" the following year. Although she has spent most of her time directing for television, it's hard not to wonder if her gender has played a part in her not having more opportunities in film. This may be why "Professor Marston" has a solid screenplay and impressive performances yet features a fairly generic cinematic vision. One glaring example is when our trio make love together for the first time. With Nina Simone's "Feeling Good" blaring in the background, they come together backstage at the school's empty theater, playfully dressing in stage costumes and shot in glossy, Hollywood-styled soft focus. It's hardly a genuine erotically-charged moment or even a believable sex scene.

Once William, Elizabeth and Olive commit to their progressive relationship, they move to upstate New York where they raise together their children (with each woman having two with the professor) while telling their neighbors that Olive is a widow that they are helping out. A trip in to the city has Marston stumbling upon a tiny shop which discretely sells fetish wear and detailed instructions on the pleasures of bondage which further spurs the professor's imagination. But noisy neighbors, resentment and illness disrupts the idyllic paradise the trio have created in their home.

While no one will confuse these beautiful actors for their real-life counterparts, they are able to bring these people to life with committed performances. Mr. Evans, the Welsh actor and Ms Heathcote from Australia are quite exceptional but it's Ms Hall who is the true standout here. The British actress delivers a fierce intelligence, sharp wit and fiery passion to her role as she struggles with her mind telling her that their romantic liaison is completely impractical while her body is filled with an undeniable desire.

"Professor Marston and the Wonder Women" introduces us to a forward thinking man that greatly admired and respected women, believing that with their superior minds should be in charge of ruling the world. Although this was far from a commonly held belief in Marston's time (and not much has charged in our modern era) but with the two important women in his life that he loved to help fuel his imagination, he was able to creatively bring his extraordinary ideas to realization. The film is not entirely successful in breaking out of the usual bio-pic routine yet succeeds in opening our eyes to other uncustomary ways to love and be profoundly committed in a relationship.

Friday, October 13, 2017

FRANCES MCDORMAND'S DIFFICULT WOMEN


Frances McDormand, the Oscar, Emmy and Tony award winning actress, no longer signs autographs. And if you see her on the street, she will not take a selfie with you. And rarely does she give interviews nor will appear on talk shows.

Yet the New York Times magazine has miraculously managed to not only get the notoriously reclusive actress involved in a fairly detailed profile of her life and career for their Culture Issue but somehow managed to get her to be photographed for the cover despite her continuous claim of hating to have her picture taken.

Now this is exactly what I, and I'm sure all of her legion of fans, love about Frances McDormand. Much like many of the non-conforming characters she has played over her thirty-six year acting career, McDormand can also be a prickly and complicated character full of contradictions. While it's been noted McDormand will not give you a selfie, she will ask your name and engage you in conversation.

I'm sure part of the reason for McDormand's willingness to be interviewed is to promote her latest film, "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri" from writer/director Martin McDonagh which has been getting plenty of buzz and just recently won Audience Awards at this year's Toronto and San Sebastian Film Festivals. Not only was this role written with her in mind but her appearance in the film is one of her rare starring roles for most of her work has been impressive and memorable supporting parts in such films as "Mississippi Burning", "Almost Famous", "Wonder Boys" and "North Country".

Click below to read:

Frances McDormand's Difficult Women

Sunday, October 8, 2017

MOTHER! (2017)

Written & Directed by Darren Aronofsky


Where & When: Arclight Cinemas, Hollywood, CA. September 17, 2017  7:30 PM



Even before I saw the film, I was impressed by the restraint of the trailer for "mother!", the latest from eye-opening auteur, Darren Aronofsky, which disclosed very little of what exactly this would be about. I am one of those people who hate with a passion trailers that heavily details the entire film including revealing key plot points or all the best jokes in the two minute time frame. With star, Jennifer Lawrence featured prominently, it appears that "mother!" could be some kind of fervent horror thriller with a woman in some type of supernatural peril.

After seeing the film, I now understand completely why the trailer was so vague. In fact, it is actually downright misleading. "mother!" is far from the traditional horror film as it was presented and considering some of the previous idiosyncratic work by Mr. Aronofsky ("Requiem for a Dream", "The Fountain", "Black Swan" or even his biblical epic "Noah") that thought never should have been considered. This is clearly the reason for the divisive audience reaction to the film with it receiving the rare CinemaScore rating of "F".

And so the obvious question becomes what exactly is "mother!" about? That is not easy to pin down. Beginning like an intense marital drama involving mysterious visitors and spooky elements, the film shifts with unrestrained abandon in to a surreal nightmare involving religious symbolism, moral decay, the rapid decline of civilization and the inevitable destruction of our planet. And there is also a surprisingly wicked sense of humor to be found here as well.

Mr. Aronofsky doesn't present any of these substantial ideas in a clearly defined way, preferring to leave the viewer to draw their own conclusions of what this all may mean. While this may leave some of the audience thoroughly intrigued and enthralled, others will most certainly be frustrated and annoyed. And this appears to be exactly the director's intention with his polemic film. I was quite intrigued by "mother!' but I must admit I didn't fully understand everything that was happening. Yet I still loved the wild, trippy and puzzling journey the film took me on.

After images involving fire and destruction (which may make slightly more sense to some at the conclusion of the movie) begin the film, we are introduced to a young woman rising in the morning from bed, played by Ms Lawrence. None of the characters are given actual names but she is referred to mother, although she currently has no children of her own. With a mane of long, voluminous dirty blonde hair, her focus is on supporting Him, her older husband (Javier Bardem) who is a successful author now suffering from writer's block and renovating their large, dilapidated house in the middle of nowhere. She appears hopeful that all this devoted attention will bring her a closer connection with them both.

In the middle of one evening, a man (Ed Harris) appears at their door, thinking there was a room to rent. Instead of sending him away, Him invites the man to stay the night, despite mother being uncomfortable with the idea. With the arrival of man's wife, woman (an excellent Michelle Pfeiffer) the next day, the temperamental couple manages to completely disrupt the household. Him enjoys the company and the attention they provide yet mother is left feeling even more alienated and resentful.

Not long after the couple's two sons (played by real-life brothers, Domhnall and Brian Gleeson) burst in to the house, arguing over their parent's love and future inheritance, does a physical altercation erupt between them, ending with a tragic act of violence. And from here, the film begins to shift deeper in to an expressionist style, filling the screen with an explosion of intellectual reflection and artfully designed visuals.

You can pick up plenty of the cinematic influences that seemed to inspire "mother!" (Stanley Kubrick, "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?", Luis Buñuel, "Rosemary's Baby") yet the director has brought his own distinctively extravagant sense of technique and communication to his film. With the help of a minimalistic musical score from Jóhann Jóhannsson, sound designer, Craig Henighan and frequent collaborator, cinematographer, Matthew Libatique, they perfectly create an eerie and murky dream-like atmosphere that continuously transforms and unsettles throughout.

Fortunately, Mr. Aronofsky also has a very game Ms Lawrence who is willing to endure quite a lot thrown at her throughout the film. The young actress, shot in tight close-ups and appears in almost every scene, is exceptional as our guide through this unyielding maze of bizarre twists and turns. While for the most part, all she does is react to the madness surrounding her yet she brings a much needed grounded emotional power.

Without a doubt, "mother!" is one of the most imaginative yet polarizing films of the year. This brilliant but confounding drama gleefully challenges, incites and disturbs in ways that is rarely done anymore, particularly by an American filmmaker. I think it may be required to view the film for a second time for the opportunity to reevaluate and discover what may have been missed the first time. Or for some, seeing "mother!" one time was one time too many.

Monday, October 2, 2017

THE 100 BEST SCREENWRITERS OF ALL TIME


I have always believed that if you don't have a complete, well-written script, you will never have a watchable film. This has been proven more times than not yet you would be amazed how many times a movie begins production (mostly due to a pre-set release date), investing millions of dollars, with a script that is not in any condition to actually begin shooting a film.

I think part of the problem is the screenwriter gets no respect. There is this odd, long-held thought process that writing for the cinema is not that hard, pretty much anyone can do it and screenwriters are incredibly overpaid for what they contribute to the film. This is obviously far from the truth and all you have to do is re-watch one of your favorite films or recall a classic line from a movie to realize that not just anyone can create these special moments in cinema. It requires a certain talent and writers are just as important as the actors and directors to make a film memorable and entertaining.

Vulture has put together a list of the 100 best screenwriters throughout the history of cinema and have been ranked by forty of today's top working screenwriters. Some of the usual suspects are included (Woody Allen, Quentin Tarantino, Preston Sturges, Nora Ephron, Charlie Kaufman) but there are names that may not be as well-known (Guillermo Arriaga, Leigh Brackett, Burt Kennedy, Charles Lederer, Jay Presson Allen) but have contributed greatly to the art of screenwriting.

Click below to read:

The 100 Best Screenwriters of All-Time Ranked

Friday, September 22, 2017

2017 NEW YORK FILM FESTIVAL


The 55th Annual New York Film Festival is almost ready to begin and will once again present a celebration of cinema with world premieres, documentaries, restorations, classic films and free talks. Beginning September 28th and running through October 15th, the Opening Night Film will be the world premiere of the latest from Richard Linklater, "Last Flag Flying". This sequel of the 1973 film, "The Last Detail", which was based on the book by Darryl Ponicsan (who co-wrote this script with Linklater), follows the same three men who served together in the marines and are reunited years later due to a tragic event. Steve Carell, Bryan Cranston and Laurence Fishburne take over the roles that were first played by Jack Nicholson, Randy Quaid, and Otis Young.



The Centerpiece Selection is "Wonderstruck", an adaption of the young-adult novel by "Hugo" author Brian Selznick from director Todd Haynes, tells parallel stories of two deaf children, one set in 1927 and the other 1977, largely told with minimum dialogue and which ultimately converge in an unexpected way.



The Closing Night Film is another world premiere and it's the latest feature from Woody Allen. "Wonder Wheel" stars Kate Winslet as a frustrated Coney Island housewife whose life is brightened when she meets a handsome lifeguard (Justin Timberlake). But when her husband's estranged daughter (Juno Temple) pays them a visit and has eyes for the lifeguard, complications are inevitable. A conversation with Ms Winslet which will have the Oscar-winning actress discussing her over twenty-year film career will be on October 13th.



There will be twenty-two other features from around the world that are a part of the Main Slate and include new works from Luca Guadagnino ("Call Me By Your Name"), Agnès Varda ("Faces Places"), Sean Baker ("The Florida Project"), Claire Denis ("Let The Sun Shine In"), Noah Baumbach ("The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)") and the feature directing debut by actress, Greta Gerwig ("Lady Bird").









Other Special Events include the world premiere of "Spielberg", a documentary that traces the career and artistic growth of one of the world's most famous directors, "Trouble No More", which features newly restored concert footage from Bob Dylan's '79-'80 tour and a new restoration of the classic 1929 German silent film "Pandora's Box" which starred the iconic Louise Brooks.





And for the first time, the fest will feature a retrospective on an important figure in cinema and the first honored will be Robert Mitchum. This handsome and charismatic actor had an incredible career that went on for five decades. Mitchum worked with some of the finest filmmakers in Hollywood and appeared in nearly every genre imaginable. Twenty-four of the actor's best films will be screened including a new documentary by photographer, Bruce Weber, "Nice Girls Don’t Stay for Breakfast" which features footage of Mitchum during a photo shoot in the late 1990's.









For tickets and additional information, please click below:

2017 New York Film Festival

Sunday, September 17, 2017

INGRID GOES WEST (2017)

Written by David Branson Smith and Matt Spicer


Directed by Matt Spicer


Where & When: AMC Century City, West Los Angeles, CA August 30, 2017 7:25 PM


"Ingrid Goes West", a wickedly dark satire by writer/director Matt Spicer, takes on the modern way we communicate and connect through social media, examining one woman's extreme and desperate attempts to fit in and be liked. With a deft and wacky performance by Aubrey Plaza that manages to make you squirm and laugh uncomfortably, she plays Ingrid, an unbalanced and lonely outsider who believes that stalking is simply how you make friends today.

When we first see Ingrid, she's sobbing uncontrollably as she clicks "loves" on pictures of a beautiful wedding posted on Instagram. It turns out she's parked outside where the ceremony is being held and marches inside to shriek at the bride for not inviting her before spraying her in the face with mace.

During her stay at a mental health facility, Ingrid writes to her victim, explaining that she's better now and the incident was all just a misunderstanding while hoping they can still be friends. However the reality was that they were never actually friends but Ingrid was convinced due to the bride "friending" her just to be nice.

Shortly after being released, Ingrid is flipping through a magazine when she gazes upon the person who will become her latest obsession; Taylor Sloane (Elizabeth Olsen), a golden-haired, social media darling whose easy Southern California lifestyle is used to influence and inspire her audience.

With the insurance money she received after her mother's death, Ingrid heads out to Los Angeles to meet the woman who she's determined to make her new best friend. She rents a room in the beach community of Venice where Taylor lives from Pinto (O'Shea Jackson, Jr.), an aspiring screenwriter and hardcore fan of the Dark Knight, who takes an interest in her. But Ingrid's only focus is to track down her unsuspecting new BFF.

We are amused, disturbed and mesmerized by Ingrid's bumbling, deceitful efforts to infiltrate Taylor's seemingly perfect life with her slacker artist husband (Wyatt Russell) and the relative ease in which they quickly become actual friends. After adapting many of Taylor's "likes"; vegan food, boho chic dresses, Joshua Tree and Joan Didion, Ingrid is blissfully happy with her new life with Taylor.

But it was inevitable for all this happiness to be interrupted. The arrival of Nicky (Billy Magnussen), Taylor's hunky party-boy brother, puts a wedge between the new best friends. Nicky and Ingrid immediately dislike each other, with him becoming very suspicious of the true nature of her relationship with his sister.

As Ingrid's fantasy life with Taylor begins to implode, she becomes more desperate and her behavior becomes increasingly outrageous. But it also reveals how vulnerable and damaged she actually is, shifting the film uneasily from black comedy to a tragic humiliation. It's no surprise that Ms Plaza, who first found success on television with "Parks & Recreation", effectively uses her quirky charm and comedic gifts to display Ingrid's crazed, relentless actions but the actress also unexpectedly reveals a deep sadness which seem to drive her to such an irrational state.

Los Angeles is certainly an easy target with the town full of self-involved people and social media has managed to make it even easier for them to fill the rest of the world continuously with themselves and their thoughts and ideas. But while "Ingrid Goes West" certainly delivers plenty of awkward laughs and well-played performances, the film never get beneath the surface to reveal any deeper meaning to our insatiable desire to be constantly connected in a virtual reality.

With an ending that is highly predictable yet absolutely perfect, "Ingrid Goes West" humorously captures this current obsession (and the unexpected dangers) with desperately wanting to be noticed by thousands (or millions, if you're lucky) of virtual strangers with the hope that with each "like" perhaps we'll feel better about ourselves.

Friday, September 15, 2017

BURIED TREASURES


While many have been bemoaning this recent lousy summer in cinema with the year-to-year profits down, the attendance the worse it's been in twenty-five years and many lackluster would-be Hollywood blockbusters failed to get audiences in the theaters, there were actually a few intriguing films released over the last three months. Did anyone see "Maudie"? Or "Beatriz At Dinner"? Or perhaps "The Hero" or even "The Beguiled"? These were some wonderful independent films out this summer that didn't open wide, never came close to the box-office top-ten and certainly weren't seen by nearly enough people.

In response to this, Los Angeles Times lead film critics, Kenneth Turan and Justin Chang have selected thirty-five overlooked films or "buried treasures" released over the last twenty years that never received as much appreciation as they deserved. They have stressed that their selections are not necessarily what they consider "the best" but rather to bring awareness to inventive and challenging films that failed to generate wide audience attention or award recognition at the time of their release. Both critics are admitted world cinema lovers (as am I) so their picks have a large number of foreign-language films which sadly tend to be ignored by the average American film-goer. But if you are feeling adventurous and want to discover something new, please check out this list.

Click below to read:

Buried Treasures of the last 20 years in film

Here are a few trailers of some of my personal favorites of these buried treasures:









Sunday, September 10, 2017

WINNERS FROM THE 2017 VENICE FILM FESTIVAL


The 2017 Venice Film Festival has come to a close and with that, prizes have been handed out. The Annette Bening-led Jury has selected "The Shape of Water", Guillermo del Toro's romantic fantasy fable, for the top prize of the Golden Lion or best film. This Fox Searchlight film, which received a warm and rapturous response during it's world premiere screening, stars Sally Hawkins as a mute woman who emotionally connects with an aquatic experiment. Samuel Maoz’s Israeli drama, "Foxtrot" won the runner-up, Grand Jury Prize while British icon, Charlotte Rampling took the Best Actress Award for her performance in Andrea Pallaoro’s French-language feature, "Hannah". Another warmly received film making it's world premiere at the fest was "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri" and won the director, Martin McDonagh the Best Screenplay Prize. And Xavier Legrand won both the Best Director and Best First Film for his French custody drama, "Jusqu’à La Garde"

Here is the list of the winners from the 2017 Venice Film Festival:

Grand Jury Prizes

Golden Lion: "The Shape Of Water"
Grand Jury Prize: "Foxtrot"
Silver Lion Best Director: Xavier Legrand, "Custody (Jusqu’à La Garde)"



Volpi Cup Best Actress: Charlotte Rampling, "Hannah"



Volpi Cup Best Actor: Kamel El Basha, "The Insult"



Best Screenplay: Martin McDonagh, "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri"
Special Jury Prize: "Sweet Country"



Marcello Mastroianni Award for for Best New Young Actor or Actress: Charlie Plummer, "Lean On Pete"

Venice Horizons

Best Film: "Nico, 1988"



Best Director: Vahid Jalilvand, "No Date, No Signature"
Special Jury Prize: "Caniba"
Best Actress: Lyna Khoudri, "Les Bienheureux"
Best Actor: Navid Mohammadzadeh, "No Date, No Signature"
Best Screenplay: Dominique Wellinski and Rene Ballesteros, "Los Versos Del Olvido"
Best Short Film: "Gros Chagrin"
Lion of the Future: Luigi De Laurentiis Award for a Debut Film: Xavier Legrand, "Jusqu’à La Garde"

Venice Virtual Reality

Best VR: "Arden’s Wake (Expanded)"
Best VR Experience: "La Camera Insabbiata"
Best VR Story: "Bloodless"

Friday, September 1, 2017

2017 FALL MOVIE PREVIEW

Another summer movie season has come to a close and it has proven to be somewhat of a disappointment with the films ranging from unnecessary sequels, underwhelming remakes to just plain awful. While there were a few bright spots ("Wonder Woman", "Spider-Man: Homecoming", "Baby Driver", "Girls Trip", "Dunkirk") but mostly there were just too many duds released ("The Mummy", "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales", "The Dark Tower", "Valerian & The City of a Thousand Planets" to name just a few). Now is the time to look forward to the fall, where the selection of films looks far more promising. Here are ten upcoming films that I'm particularly looking forward in seeing.

All release dates are subject to change:

"BATTLE OF THE SEXES"

Release date: September 22, 2017

I was around eleven years old when the events of the comedy-drama, "Battle of the Sexes" took place so I was aware yet not particularly interested in this gender war between tennis players Bobby Riggs and Billie Jean King. But I'm very interested now in the retelling of this tension-filled showdown that took place in 1973. Steve Carell and Emma Stone star as the iconic tennis stars as we witness all of the outrageous theatrics that leads up to the dramatic match between them. Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris ("Little Miss Sunshine") directs.



"WOODSHOCK"

Release date; September 22, 2017

It seems Tom Ford may have inspired other fashion designers to get in to the movie business. The Mulleavy sisters, Laura and Kate (who design the women's clothing line, Rodarte) have written and directed their first feature, "Woodshock". With friend and muse, Kirsten Dunst as an executive producer and star, the film focuses on a grief-stricken woman living in Northern California. She works at a marijuana dispensary and when a powerful new strain is discovered, it quickly replaces lumber as a lucrative cash crop in the area. It shouldn't be much of a surprise that the visuals in the film are wildly vivid and disorienting.



"BLADE RUNNER 2049"

Release date: October 6, 2017

When "Blade Runner", a 1982 film directed by Ridley Scott and based on the Phillip K. Dick novel, "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep", was released, it was initially met with tepid critical reaction and middling box-office. Over time, the film became much more appreciated for it's inventive story-telling and groundbreaking visuals and is now considered a sci-fi classic. Now, thirty-five years later, a follow-up film has finally been made. "Blade Runner 2049" is set thirty years after the first film as a blade runner, Officer K (Ryan Gosling) begins to unravel a dangerous plot that could potentially end mankind. As he further investigates, it leads him to Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford),  a former blade runner who dropped out of sight years ago for a good reason. Denis Villeneuve ("Arrival") directs with Jared Leto, Robin Wright, Barkhad Abdi, Dave Bautista and Edward James Olmos (who also reprises his role in the original film) also starring.



"PROFESSOR MARSTON & THE WONDER WOMEN"

Release date : October 27, 2017

"Wonder Woman" became one of the biggest hits of the year and the timing couldn't be better to take a look at the unconventional life of that character's creator. "Professor Marston & The Wonder Women" examines Dr. William Moulton Marston (Luke Evans), a brilliant man who was a psychologist, inventor and most unlikely, a comic-book writer. We learn that the doctor, his wife (Rebecca Hall) and close friend to both (Bella Heathcote) were all involved in a highly unusual relationship and that these strong-willed women became the inspiration of his famous creation.



"MY FRIEND DAHMER"

Release date: November 3, 2017

John "Derf" Backderf wrote a memoir on his teenage friendship with Jeffrey Dahmer who would grow-up to become an infamous serial killer. But he took the unusual step of creating it as a graphic novel. Marc Meyers has adapted the novel and directed "My Friend Dahmer" and cast Ross Lynch, an actor formerly associated with Disney Channel programming, as Dahmer. While not exactly attempting to make him sympathetic, the teenage Dahmer is revealed to be a lonely and tormented young man who drank to excess, displayed strange behavior and was oddly fascinated with roadkill.



"MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS"

Release date: November 10, 2017

"Murder on The Orient Express", the 1934 Agatha Christie novel, had previously been made in to a popular 1974 film by Sidney Lumet and featured an all-star cast that included Albert Finney, Lauren Bacall, Sean Connery, Vanessa Redgrave and Ingrid Bergman who won the Best Supporting Actress Award for her role. So I guess the time must be right for a remake. Kenneth Branagh not only directs but also has taken on the juicy role of Hercule Poirot, the internationally famous French detective, who works to solve the crime on this train. This is also a star-filled event and features Penélope Cruz, Willem Dafoe, Judi Dench, Josh Gad, Leslie Odom Jr. ("Hamilton"), Michelle Pfeiffer and Johnny Depp.



"THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI"

Release date: November 10, 2017

Frances McDormand makes a long overdue return to the big-screen with a starring role in "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri", the latest from playwright/filmmaker Martin McDonagh ("In Bruges", "Seven Psychopaths"). She plays Mildred Hayes, a mother, grieving over the murder of her daughter, who becomes angry and frustrated that no arrest has been made in this crime. Deciding to take a stand and draw attention to this, Mildred rents three billboards that publicly shames the town sheriff (Woody Harrelson) and his police department. Sam Rockwell, John Hawkes and Peter Dinklage also star.



"CALL ME BY YOUR NAME"

Release date: November 24, 2017

"Call Me By Your Name", based on the book by André Aciman, tells the story of Elio (Timothée Chalamet), an American teenager spending the summer with his parents at their Italian villa. Oliver (Armie Hammer), a handsome academic friend of the family, comes to stay for a visit. Elio is fascinated by this slightly older man, with a deep friendship developing before their relationship becomes more intimate. Luca Guadagnino directs from an adapted screenplay from legendary filmmaker, James Ivory ("A Room With a View", "Howard's End", "Maurice").



"THE SHAPE OF WATER"

Release date: December 8, 2017

Guillermo del Toro, the Mexican filmmaker who has made two of my favorite films, "The Devil's Backbone" and "Pan's Labyrinth", has returned with another dark fantasy, "The Shape of Water". While those previous films focused on young protagonists fighting against the supernatural, his latest is more of an adult romance. Set in the 1960's during the Cold War, Elisa (Sally Hawkins) is a lonely, mute woman who works as a janitor at a U.S. government laboratory. She discovers a secret experiment; an amphibious creature (Doug Jones) held in a water tank. Elisa makes an emotional connection with it and determined to set it free. Michael Shannon and Octavia Spencer co-star. The film will make it's world premiere at the Venice Film Festival and will also be screened at this year's Toronto fest.



"STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI"

Release date: December 15, 2017

The highly anticipated follow-up to 2015's "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" is finally here. With Rian Johnson ("Looper") taking over directing duties from J.J. Abrams, "Star Wars: The Last Jedi" continues where we left off with the aspiring Jedi, Rey (Daisy Ridley) finding Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) on an isolated island but soon discovers he's no longer the heroic Jedi warrior of the past. Meanwhile, Finn (John Boyega), the former stormtrooper turned reluctant hero, is on a new mission for the Resistance with just a mechanic (Kelly Marie Tran) by his side. Oscar-winner, Benicio Del Toro and Laura Dern are new additions to the series with undisclosed roles.

Friday, August 25, 2017

2017 VENICE FILM FESTIVAL


The 2017 Venice Film Festival will officially kick-off the fall movie season with some of the most interesting and anticipated films of the year. The 74th edition of this Italian-based fest will begin on August 30th and run through September 9th.

The Opening Night film selected is "Downsizing", Alexander Payne's first film since his 2013 film, "Nebraska" which went on to receive six Academy Award nominations. This strange sci-fi satire is about a struggling couple (Matt Damon and Kristen Wiig) who decide the best way to cut finances is to cut themselves literally down in size.



The Closing Night film will be "Outrage Coda", the final chapter of the "Outrage" series from Japanese actor/filmmaker, Takeshi Kitano. This continues the story of the new Hanabishi-kai crime outfit which has unified all of the Japanese underground yakuza into a massively centralized organization. But the members of the former Sanno-kai yakuza who helped create this new group are now seen as expendable and are being taken out one by one.



American actress, Annette Bening has been named President of the main competition jury and the first female to hold this post since 2006. Other members of this year's jury include British filmmaker, Edgar Wright; British actress, Rebecca Hall; Hungarian filmmaker, Ildiko Enyedi; Mexican filmmaker, Michel Franco, French actress, Anna Mouglalis; film critic, David Stratton; Italian actress, Jasmine Trinca; and Taiwan-born filmmaker, Yonfan. The panel selects the major prizes including the Golden and Silver Lions and the acting Volpi Cups. Some of the films in competition for prizes include the latest from George Clooney ("Suburbicon"), Darren Aronofsky ("Mother!"), Andrew Haigh ("Lean On Pete"), Martin McDonagh ("Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri"), Abdellatif Kechiche ("Mektoub, My Love: Canto Uno"), Paul Schrader ("First Reformed"), Frederick Wiseman ("Ex Libris: The New York Public Library") and Guillermo del Toro ("The Shape of Water").





Stephen Frears, the British director who brought us the now-classic films, "My Beautiful Laundrette", "Dangerous Liaisons", "The Queen" and "The Grifters", will be honored with the Jaeger-LeCoultre Glory To The Filmmaker Award, a prize given to an individual who has made a significant contribution to innovation in contemporary cinema. His latest, "Victoria & Abdul" will also be making it's world premiere at the fest in an out-of-competition slot. The film is based on the true story about the unlikely friendship between a young clerk from India (Ali Fazal) and Queen Victoria (Judi Dench).



Robert Redford and Jane Fonda will both receive the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement. In addition, the actors have been paired up for the fourth time on film with "Our Souls At Night", a Netflix release that will make it's world premiere at the fest. This drama of a couple unexpectedly finding love late in life is based on a novel by Kent Haruf and directed by Ritesh Batra ("The Lunchbox").



Virtual Reality is making a major splash at Venice with a jury being assembled for the first time specifically for these films. Over twenty VR films will be shown and American director, John Landis will head this jury. His groundbreaking 1982 music video for Michael Jackson's "Thriller" will be presented for the first time in 3D as a Special Event along with Jerry Kramer's documentary on the making of "Thriller".

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

DETROIT (2017)

Written by Mark Boal


Directed by Kathryn Bigelow


Where & When: TCL Chinese Theatres 6, Hollywood, CA. August 6, 2017 6:30 PM



The team of screenwriter, Mark Boal and director Kathryn Bigelow, who previously brought us "Zero Dark Thirty" and the 2010 Best Picture Oscar winner, "The Hurt Locker", have once again delved in to challenging and troubling subject matter based on actual events with "Detroit", a disturbing, racially motivated incident that happened at the Algiers Hotel back in 1967. The issue of race and any discussion on race relations in cinema has always been precarious. Ms Bigelow has stated that she was inspired by troubling current events between the Black Lives Matter movement and the police to tell this little-known story (I had never heard about it and I moved outside of Detroit as a child a few years before). Bleak, brutal and intense, the director has skillfully crafted a frightening recreation of this tragic event yet fails to offer anything much deeper than that. We are shown the terror of the situation, the helplessness of the victims and the cruelty of the law enforcement officers but the drama exudes little emotional clarity.

It was during the early morning hours of July 23, 1967 when police raided an illegal after-hours club on 12th Street that began what is now referred to as the Detroit riots. Tensions between the African-American community and the police had been building for quite a while and finally reached a boiling point. Looting, arson and attacking the police and innocent bystanders took place throughout the city. A curfew was put in to effect but that hardly brought an end to the violence which eventually went on for five days. The Governor at the time, George W. Romney called in the Michigan National Guard to try and restore peace while President Johnson sent in U.S. Army troops to help.

Two days later, The Dramatics, an aspiring soul group, were waiting for Martha Reeves and the Vandellas to finish their set at the Fox Theater so they can take the stage. Lead vocalist, Larry Reed (Algee Smith) is counting on this moment as a chance for them to break-out but the theater has been order by the police to be cleared out due to the riots near by, leaving him devastated. As their tour bus tries to get them home, they are stopped by the violence of the rioters and head out on foot. The group get separated during the chaos with Larry and his friend, Fred (Jacob Latimore) deciding to spend the night at the nearby, Algiers Hotel until morning.

Bored and restless, Larry and Fred decide to check out who's at the hotel when they stumble upon an unexpected sight; two white girls from Ohio, Julie Ann (Hannah Murray) and Karen (Kaitlyn Dever), hanging out by the pool. They chat and flirt before the girls take them to meet some friends. Several people are in a room, including Carl Cooper (Jason Mitchell) and Aubrey Pollard (Gbenga Akinnagbe), that are drinking and trying to have fun despite the curfew. Frustrated and tired of the continuous police presence, Carl foolishly fires a starter pistol in their direction. As some police officers had previously been fired upon by snipers during the riots, the sound of gunfire causes an overreaction and they return shots back on the Algiers.

Three police officers are the first to arrive on the scene, lead by Philip Krauss (Will Poulter in one of the film's best performances), a young and particularly vicious aggressor who needs little incentive to pull his trigger. All of the eight occupants that remained in the hotel (which includes an honored Vietnam vet, played by Anthony Mackie) are dragged out of their rooms, lined up to face a wall and then must endure a long, horrific and incredibly cruel interrogation in search of who fired the gun. By the time this harrowing ordeal is finally over, three of them are dead.

Ms Bigelow uses her film to point out the social and economic injustices for African-Americans that lead to this explosive uprising and how we as a society, after all these years, have still failed to properly address these issues, causing them to remain unresolved and repeated. At over two hours, "Detroit" is exhausting and emotionally draining yet the astonishing performances help make it worth the challenge. The kinetic camerawork by Barry Ackroyd also adds to create a tempo that dramatically jolts and unsettles throughout the drama.

Mr. Boal thoroughly researched this calamitous incident, examining court documents and interviewing many of the survivors that were involved yet it's quite clear that much of the dialogue and some of the chain of events were invented by the writer. While his compelling, detailed script (with some names of the victims and the police involved changed to protect the privacy of the innocent and the guilty) takes us deep into the terror and anxiety that the participants surely felt, the minimal backstory of each makes it difficult for them to fully come to life.

John Boyega, the British actor who shot to instant fame with his turn in "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" plays Melvin Dismukes, an African-American security guard (who worked nearby and came to the hotel to try and help) that finds himself a part of this tragic situation. Forced to remain a passive witness, Dismukes unwillingly became the moral center of this story, feeling compelled to follow the police orders while helplessly unnerved by the horror of what was happening.

After the riots are over and word of this event at the Algiers became known, there was a trial largely due because of the confessions to the crime by two of the officers under interrogation. Dismukes was also charged after being identified by Julie Ann as being present. There shouldn't be much of a shock about the outcome of the trial when the judge rejects the use of the confessions as evidence.

Not surprisingly, there has been controversy and criticism leveled at "Detroit" for the lack of substantial black female characters and the question raised of whether Ms Bigelow was even the right person to direct this incendiary story involving largely African-Americans. Perhaps some of these claims may be valid while others are just noise but these questions distract from what this director has managed to accomplish with "Detroit".  While this terrible incident occurred over fifty years ago, the film sadly brings in to clear focus that not much progress has been made between the continual friction and mistrust between the African-American community and the law enforcement that is supposed to protect them. "Detroit" is far from perfect but hopefully it may inspire serious conversation and thoughtful dialogue that could help bring an end to the senseless tragedies that are still happening today.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

BONNIE & CLYDE: AN ANNIVERSARY


When Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway came out at this year's Academy Awards to present the final award of Best Picture, they were there as Hollywood royalty and to acknowledge the 50th anniversary of the release of their classic film, "Bonnie & Clyde". The duo caused unintended chaos (although no real fault of their own) with the announcement of the (wrong) winner which put a bit of a damper on their appearance. Now it's time to put all that Oscar drama in the past and focus on their groundbreaking movie which almost single-handily changed how stories can be told in American cinema with the merging of traditional gangster movies and the French New Wave.

"Bonnie & Clyde" was released on August 13, 1967 and was met with some harsh criticism for it's apparent glorification of ruthless criminals and the depiction of graphic, bloody violence. One very vocal critic was Bosley Crowther of the New York Times who wrote multiple bad reviews and felt the film was just appalling and tasteless.

However, there were some critics who found this crime-thriller (based on the real-life Depression-era bank robberies and murders by the young lovers, Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow along with their gang) visionary and innovative like Roger Ebert, Pauline Kael and Joe Morgenstern (at the time the critic for Newsweek and now with the Wall Street Journal) who reviewed it twice, first with a pan and then after seeing it again, showering the film with glowing praise.

But it was the public, truly the most important audience, who embraced "Bonnie & Clyde" and made it one of the top grossing movies of the year. The film also received eight Academy Award nominations including Best Picture and won two for Best Supporting Actress (Estelle Parsons for her role as Blanche Barrow) and Best Cinematography.

"Bonnie & Clyde" remains an influential classic and an important milestone in cinema. If you haven't seen this film (and even if you have), you now how the opportunity to see it on the big screen in celebration of it's anniversary with screenings at select theaters across the country.

Click below to purchase tickets and the location of a screening on August 16th of this classic on the big screen at a theater near you:

Bonnie & Clyde 50th Anniversary Screening

Thursday, August 10, 2017

EVERY CHARLIZE THERON PERFORMANCE RANKED


With 2015's "Mad Max: Fury Road" along with the recently released summer flicks, "The Fate of The Furious" and "Atomic Blonde", Charlize Theron is now embraced as a tough, ass-kicking action star, a relentless lethal weapon that you clearly don't want to mess with. Yet she is also a respected serious actress capable of creating emotionally complex characters as seen in her work in "The Cider House Rules, "North Country", "In the Valley of Elah" and "Monster" with her astonishing portrayal of serial killer, Aileen Wuornos earned Theron a Best Actress Oscar in 2003.

Since her first major film role back in 1996 with "2 Days in The Valley", the former dancer and model has become a formidable screen presence. Her striking good looks may have initially caused people to underestimate her talent but she proved that she was more than capable of handling all genres of cinema with skill and conviction.

Vulture has taken a look back on most of the film performances by Ms Theron and have ranked them from her least successful to her all-time best.

Click below to read:

Every Charlize Theron Performance Ranked From Worst to Best

Thursday, August 3, 2017

JEANNE MOREAU (1928 - 2017)


What I loved about Jeanne Moreau, the French actress who passed away on July 31st at the age of eighty-nine, was her expressive, penetrating eyes which effortlessly conveyed everything she needed or wanted to say. While not well known to the average American movie-goer, I would say she would be comparable to the great Hollywood star, Bette Davis (although I'm sure many millennials would have no idea who she is either). Like Ms Davis, she did not possess a conventional look usually associated with actresses performing on the big screen and she is the polar opposite of the icy beauty of her French acting contemporaries like Catherine Deneuve and Brigitte Bardot yet Moreau had a commanding presence that was undeniably fascinating to watch.

Moreau began her career successfully on the stage and when she was given a chance to work before the camera, they tried to transform her in to a typical screen siren. But it was director Louis Malle (who would later become one of her admiring lovers) that saw her potential and presented her in a more natural state in his feature debut, the 1957 crime thriller, "Elevator To The Gallows (Ascenseur pour l'échafaud )". This film effectively launched both their careers and Moreau would go on to work with other great film makers like Roger Vadim ("Les liaisons dangereuses"), François Truffaut ("Jules et Jim"), Michelangelo Antonioni ("La Notte"), Luis Buñuel ("Diary of a Chambermaid"), Jacques Demy ("Bay of Angels"), John Frankenheimer ("The Train") and Orson Welles ("Chimes at Midnight"). She would even get behind the camera herself and directed three films including a semi-autobiographical 1976 feature, "Lumière" and a 1983 documentary on actress, Lillian Gish.

It's not surprising that this passionate actress attracted the attention of many suitors throughout her life and in addition to Malle, she had affairs with directors Truffaut and Tony Richardson, actor, Lee Marvin, musician, Miles Davis and fashion designer, Pierre Cardin. Moreau was married briefly twice; first to filmmaker, Jean-Louis Richard with whom she had a son, Jerome and later to American director, William Friedkin.

Jeanne Moreau came at a time when cinema was changing from the glossy, perfect images from Hollywood to the realism, experimentation and youthful rebellion of French New Wave in the '60's. As an important figure during this era, she gave us many inimitable performances that will continue to mesmerize and exhilarate audiences for many years to come. I have included a few trailers to highlight some of her memorable screen appearances:









Tuesday, August 1, 2017

ALL TEN CHRISTOPHER NOLAN FILMS RANKED


"Dunkirk", the recent WW II drama from filmmaker, Christopher Nolan, has surprised everyone as it has unexpectedly managed to top the U.S. box-office chart for a second week in a row. This well-reviewed film has so far amassed over two hundred million dollars worldwide. I don't know why this is so shocking as I seem to recall twenty years ago there was another very expensive period drama about a couple falling in love on a doomed ocean liner that people said would never find a big audience.

An audience for this big-budgeted film did appear to be limited due to Americans having little knowledge of this event, the rescue of almost half a million trapped British and Allied soldiers on the shores of Dunkirk, a French fishing village, and that millennials have displayed little interest in movies set in the past. However, Mr Nolan had faith and a vision, using a non-linear narrative to create a tense, disturbing yet moving drama that covers three different locations and periods of time. It's a remarkable achievement and brilliant example of how cinema can be elevated to an art form.

While Nolan is best known for "The Dark Knight" trilogy, he began his career more modestly with the micro-budgeted, 1998 crime-drama, "Following" and his breakthrough hit, "Memento", a psychological thriller from 2000. The forty-seven year old director has surprisingly only made ten films to date and Vulture has decided to evaluate his impressive cinematic output so far (all receiving rave reviews and none have lost money), ranking them from not-as-successful to outstanding.

Click below to read:

The 10 Films of Christopher Nolan Ranked

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING (2017)

Written by Jonathan Goldstein, John Francis Daley, Jon Watts, Christopher Ford, Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers


Directed by Jon Watts


Where & When: Arclight Cinemas, Hollywood, CA. July 8, 2017 5:45 PM


With the announcement that Spider-Man would finally be joining the cinematic Marvel Universe, the question that immediately came to my mind was do we really need another re-boot of "Spider-Man"? In the last fifteen years, there have been five features made with two actors (Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield) in the role and combined have grossed almost four billion dollars globally. So I guess we know the answer to that question.

The latest revival has surprisingly been given to Jon Watts, a relative newcomer to film whose previous credit is the well-reviewed yet little-seen 2015 road-thriller, "Cop Car". But Watts had a clear plan and with "Spider-Man: Homecoming", he brings a refreshing and thrilling spark to the series. He returns to the basics of the history of this character with a high school kid trying to figure out and come to terms to what the phrase "with great power comes great responsibility" really means.

As the third guy in the spider suit, Tom Holland, the twenty-one year old British actor who made an impressive film debut in the 2012 feature, "The Impossible" and also appears in this year's "The Lost City of Z", delivers a fresh take on Peter Parker, making him filled with all the anxieties, insecurities and raging hormones of a true teenager right down to a voice going through pubescent change (in a flawless American accent).

Thankfully we have been spared another origin story with this film beginning shortly after Spider-Man's brief cameo in last year's "Captain America: Civil War" which featured a major battle that caused a lot of destruction in New York. Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton) and his crew had been assigned to clean-up the city but Anne Marie Hoag (Tyne Daly), head of the U.S. Department of Damage Control, informs him that Tony Stark's company will be taking over the removal of the debris. Enraged by losing much needed income to a very wealthy man, Toomes decides to keep some of the alien technology left behind he had collected.

A few years later, Peter anxiously wants to become one of the Avengers but Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) doesn't feel he's ready to take that on full-time yet. He suggests he stay in school and "Happy" Hogan (Jon Favreau), Stark's driver and bodyguard, will contact him when needed. But the impatient Peter decides to put on the Stark-designed suit and go through the city fighting crime on his own.

One night on a practice run, Spider-Man witnesses a robbery of a bank's ATMs in progress and decides to intercept. However, these men are not only armed with standard guns and fire back on him with advanced weapons that can take down a building. After escaping, they return to their leader, Adrian Toomes who has created these powerful weapons to use in their crimes, sell to other criminals and even crafted an elaborately armed, flying costume for himself which he uses as "The Vulture".

I was concerned when I saw six names involved on the screenplay (including director, Watts) yet I was pleasantly surprised to find a cohesive script that tells a clever and witty story which is sharply focused on the awkward teenager struggling to become the crime-fighting hero he dreams of being while fighting against a disgruntled average guy who turns to criminal misconduct mainly to support his family.

There is stronger emphasis on Peter's life outside of the suit and we meet his best buddy and fellow nerd, Ned (Jacob Batalon) who discovers his secret identity. Ned wants to tell everyone at school so they would be cool but Peter is wise enough to know that would not be a good idea. If he was going to be tempted to reveal himself, it would be to take on Eugene "Flash" Thompson (Tony Revolori), a rich, school bully but also attract the attention of Liz (Laura Harrier) a pretty senior that Peter has a crush on. And we have Oscar-winner, Marisa Tomei playing a younger and hipper Aunt May who is quite concerned about the odd bruises and increasingly strange behavior of her nephew.

With Ned's help, Peter is able to study one of the weapons left behind to understand it's advanced power source and locate Toomes, with a tracking device he placed on one of his henchmen, to be able to get one step ahead of him. After discovering that his Spider-suit is set on training wheels, he also has Ned help override it's settings to release it to full capacity. Not a great plan since he doesn't completely understand all it can do but fortunately, much like Stark's Iron suit, there is a calm, disembodied voice (played by another Oscar-winner, Jennifer Connelly) to take commands and give advice on how best to solve any impending situation.

Now it wouldn't a super-hero movie without the requisite action sequences and "Spider-Man: Homecoming" has several big numbers, including the final battle between Spidey and The Vulture, that are all visually impressive yet ultimately generic. But what makes this film really noteworthy is how it makes this long revered character fun and interesting again by simply bringing him back down-to-Earth, filling him with youth, inexperience and uncertainty.

By the end of "Homecoming", we have a transformed Peter Parker and even Spider-Man, for that matter. He has matured somewhat, learning how best to use his extraordinary power to not only help mankind but also himself. No offense to any of the previous films but this is one thoroughly enjoyable Spider-Man adventure that will be remembered and long praised.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

WINNERS FROM THE 2017 OUTFEST FILM FESTIVAL

Grand Jury Awards

U.S. Grand Jury Prize: "Signature Move"

U.S. Narrative (Special Mention): "195 Lewis"



U.S. Narrative Jury Prize Best Actor: Luka Kain, "Saturday Church"

U.S. Narrative Jury Prize Best Actress: Ever Mainard, "The Feels"

Best Screenwriting in a U.S. Feature: Eliza Hittman, "Beach Rats"

International Grand Jury Prize: "The Wound"



International (Special Mention): "Body Electric"

Documentary Grand Jury Prize: "Chavela"



Documentary (Special Mention): "Girl Unbound: The War to Be Her"

Best Narrative Short: "Goddess (Devi)"

Best Documentary Short (tie): "Bayard & Me" and "Jeanne Cordova: Butches, Lies & Feminism"



Audience Awards

Best Narrative Audience Award: "The Chances"

Audience Award for Best First U.S. Narrative Feature: "A Million Happy Nows"



Best Narrative Short Audience Award: "The Real Thing"

Best Experimental Short Audience Award: "Pussy"

Best Documentary Feature Audience Award: "Chavela"

Best Documentary Short Audience Award: "Little Potato"

Now, here's a few brief reviews of films I caught at the fest. Touko Laaksonen, or as he is better known as "Tom of Finland", is now a national hero in his native country and even received first-class stamps issued in 2014 that feature his hyper-masculine, homoerotic images. That was not always the case for Laaksonen as we learn in the bio-pic from Finnish filmmaker, Dome Karukoski. Pekka Strang stars as Laaksonen who we first see as a solider in WWII. This traumatic event not only haunts him throughout his life but also shapes his sexuality and art. With homosexuality a crime in Finland, he would secretly draw illustrations of physically-enhanced construction workers, lumberjacks and bikers geared towards gay men and sell them underground under the pseudonym, "Tom". His work eventually found it's way around the globe and brought him a certain amount of fame and fortune. Laaksonen efforts to bring a sense of normalcy to his sexuality, at a time when the world told him it was wrong, was challenging and brave yet he wasn't trying to be a heroic. He simply wanted to creatively express himself through eroticism.



"The Pass" stars Russell Tovey and Arinze Kene as two rising star UK footballers who share an intimate encounter in hotel room before an important match that could make-or-break their careers. While Mr. Tovey delivers an impressive performance, this overly talkative drama, based on a play from John Donnelly, never shakes it's theatrical origin. Director Ben A. Williams, adding no cinematic flourishes, seems to have simply just filmed the play, even breaking the movie up literally in three acts.



Jeffrey Schwarz, the director who previously brought us documentaries on important figures in gay history, has delivered his latest with "The Fabulous Allan Carr", which examines the flamboyant producer/agent whose garish tastes brought him fame and infamy in all areas of show business. As an overweight kid growing up in Chicago who loved musicals, Alan Solomon had dreams of somehow making it big in Hollywood. He soon transformed himself in to "Allan Carr" (rhymes with "star") and got his first break as a talent coordinator for Hugh Hefner's local television show, "Playboy's Penthouse". After landing in Los Angeles, Carr began an extreme roller-coaster of a career. He first began a talent agency which he represented a diverse list of stars like Marlo Thomas, Dyan Cannon, composer, Marvin Hamlisch, "Mama" Cass Elliot and Ann-Margaret who was his first big client. This lead to a chance to produce and one of his biggest successes was a film version of the musical, "Grease". Carr's follow-up films, The Village People musical, "Can't Stop The Music" and a sequel to "Grease" had the opposite effect with them being labeled the worst movies of all time. He make a dramatic comeback on the New York stage producing an American musical remake of the French gay farce, "La Cage aux Folles" which won six Tony Awards in 1983 including Best Musical before falling from grace once more producing the infamous 1989 Academy Awards. This is a fascinating profile on a one-of-a-kind showman that doesn't really exist anymore.



Another compelling documentary, "Kevyn Aucoin: Beauty & The Beast in Me" features another person I had almost forgotten about. The late Aucoin, adapted as a baby to a loving family from Louisiana, found great fame as a celebrity make-up artist in the '80's and '90's . Director Lori Kaye, a friend of Aucoin, was able to get her hands on hours of video footage that he shot of behind-the scenes during photo-shoots with the models (Cindy Crawford, Naomi Campbell, Andie MacDowell, Paulina Porizkova) and performers (Tina Turner, Janet Jackson, Gwyneth Paltrow, Liza Minnelli) that he transformed and brought out their natural beauty with his skilled hands. But despite all of his success, he was still haunted by memories of being tormented for being gay by his school peers and the desperate search to find his birth mother.