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, 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.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

THE HERO (2017)

Written by Marc Basch & Brett Haley


Directed by Brett Haley


Where & When: Arclight Cinemas, Hollywood, CA.  June 12, 2017


Sam Elliott has always been one of those underrated actors that have effortlessly uplifted many films with his reliably solid supporting performances. Following a string of television bit parts and dead-on-arrival shows at the start of his career, the actor got his first break as a lead in the 1976 sleeper hit feature, "The Lifeguard", a perfect fit for the West Coast-born actor. With his rich baritone voice, thick bushy mustache and handsome yet weather-worn mug, Elliott has played more than his fair share of cowboys, ranchers, bikers and detectives throughout his time in front of the camera.

The now seventy-one year old Elliott made a dazzling impression a couple of years ago with appearances in two notable films; one was the Paul Weitz comedy-drama, "Grandma" which also put a welcome spotlight back on star Lily Tomlin. The other was "I'll See You In My Dreams" from writer and director, Brett Haley. This hit baby boomer, romantic-drama not only reminded audiences that Blythe Danner is more than just Gwyneth Paltrow's mother, it gave Elliott a chance to play something rather unexpected; a romantic leading man.

This success inspired Haley to write something specifically for Elliott and the result is "The Hero", a Hollywood-set drama about a down-on-his-luck, aging actor seeking one more shot at glory. Haley doesn't let him down with an engaging yet simplistic script that gives him the rare opportunity to carry a film. And Elliott rises to the occasion with an impressive performance that has him displaying a wide range of emotions he doesn't get to do to often.

Elliott plays Lee Hayden, a faded movie star cowboy whose career has become as obsolete as the westerns that used to be a popular Hollywood staple. The only jobs he can now find are lucrative yet creatively unfulfilling voice-over work for commercials. Lee spends much of his downtime drunk, high or both with his drug dealer, Jeremy (Nick Offerman) who was once his co-star in a failed television series, as they eat pizza and reminisce about the past.

After receiving some distressing news from his doctor that he has cancer, Lee's initial response is to tell his family which includes an ex-wife (played by the actor's wife, Katharine Ross who some old enough may remember from "The Graduate" and "Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid") and estranged daughter (Krysten Ritter) yet decides against it, preferring to repair his relationships without the distraction of sympathy.

Lee meets Charlotte (Laura Prepon), an aspiring stand-up comedian, when she drops by Jeremy's to pick-up some product. Sparks fly between them during a bit of flirting but after later running in to each other again (in very L.A. fashion) at a taco stand, the two begin to make a serious connection. That Charlotte is around the age of his daughter is a concern for Lee but she tells him to simply enjoy their time together.

The wide generational gap between Lee and Charlotte never comes across as creepy with the couple having an easy rapport and authentic intimacy. A Hollywood western appreciation organization wants to honor Lee with a lifetime achievement award and asks Charlotte to attend the event with him. She gives a nervous Lee something to help him relax before the ceremony and, in his very relaxed state of mind, delivers a highly irreverent speech that causes him to become a sensation on social media.

Mr. Haley is a modern filmmaker with a nostalgic spirit, making modest dramas with a great appreciation for admired talent that is no longer shiny and new. His approach, however, may be a little too low-key, offering no real weight to the story and fairly predictable plot developments. But despite this shortcoming, Haley certainly knows how to craft an expressive script and able to draw out some fine work from his actors. While his co-stars have brief opportunities to shine, this is clearly Mr. Elliot's show. Soft-spoken and understated, his character may not have much to say yet all of the hurt, frustrations and disappointments in his life are clearly expressed on his weary face.

On the surface, "The Hero" appears to be simply another take of a fallen star seeking attention and redemption before the final curtain closes. But at the heart is a fine, intimate, character-driven story filled with warmth and humor and a masterful turn from Sam Elliott who helps make this more than memorable.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

THE TEN ESSENTIAL ROLES OF MICHELLE PFEIFFER


After frustratingly sporadic appearances over the last few years, Michelle Pfeiffer seems poised for a major comeback to her acting career. This incredibly talented and beautiful actress was just recently seen as Ruth Madoff in HBO's version of the collapse of the Madoff Ponzi Scheme, "The Wizard of Lies" and will also be seen in two feature films later this year in a remake of "Murder on The Orient Express" and "Mother!", the latest from director, Darren Aronofsky.

Her first big break in the movies nearly derailed her rising career. The then twenty-three year old Pfeiffer was cast in a starring role in an ill-advised 1982 sequel to the musical, "Grease". This critical and box-office disaster made her appear less of a prized talent in the business with nobody wanting to hire Pfeiffer but fortunately one person recognized her potential. Producer Martin Bergman was preparing to make a remake of "Scarface" with Al Pacino and wanted her to try-out for a role although the director Brian DePalma was far from interested in the young actress. After a lengthy audition process, Pfeiffer won the role of Tony Montana's drug-addled wife, Elvira and the rest is history. She would go on to make memorable appearances in such films as "The Witches of Eastwick", "Dangerous Liaisons", "The Fabulous Baker Boys", "The Age of Innocence", "Dangerous Minds and "Batman Returns" to name just a few.

Now seems like a perfect time to look back on her illustrious career with Vulture selecting ten of Ms Pfeiffer's best film roles. I agree enthusiastically with this list as it even features her accomplished work in some films I had forgotten about.

Click below to read:

The 10 Essential Roles of Michelle Pfeiffer

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

2017 OUTFEST FILM FESTIVAL


The 2017 Outfest Los Angeles Film Festival is set to begin it's thirty-fifth year of showcasing cinema highlighting stories involving the LGBTQ communities. The eleven day event is set to begin on July 6th with screenings to be held at the Theatre at The Ace Hotel, Orpheum Theatre, Harmony Gold, Redcat and the Directors Guild of America.

The Opening Night Gala will be "God's Own Country", the first feature from filmmaker, Francis Lee. This highly-praised drama was proclaimed to be a British "Brokeback Mountain" when it premiered earlier this year at the Sundance Film Fest (and won the World Cinema Directing prize).  A stressed out farm worker (Josh O'Connor) feels his life is passing him by. Spending his off-duty hours drunk and engaged in unfulfilling hook-ups, his life changes when a Romanian migrant (Alec Secareanu) arrives to help on the farm.



The 2017 Outfest Achievement Award goes to visionary television creator, Bryan Fuller. He is the innovative talent behind bringing offbeat programming to the small screen like "Hannibal", "Pushing Daisies", "Dead Like Me" and the recent, "American Gods" with a determination to make sure that they feature fascinating LGBTQ characters. Mr. Fuller will be presented the award before the Opening Night Gala screening at the Orpheum Theatre on July 6th.

Some of the Special Centerpiece screenings include the documentary, "Kevyn Aucoin: Beauty & The Beast In Me" about the life and career of the late celebrity make-up artist. Another doc, "Behind The Curtain: Todrick Hall" which focuses on Hall, a singer, dancer and YouTube sensation and a look at the creation of his latest project, a "Wizard of Oz" inspired musical based on his life. The U.S. Centerpiece is "Strangers", a digital comedy series from Mia Lidofsky and Celia Rowlson-Hall. Zoe Chao stars as a newly single woman who decides to rent out her spare room in order not to lose her home. Each episode deals with a revolving door of colorful renters and how they offer her a new way to view the world.



The Closing Night Gala will be activist, producer and long-time partner of musician, Sting, Trudie Styler's directorial feature debut, "Freak Show".  Based on a novel by James St. James, Billy (Alex Lawther) is encouraged to be free-spirited and fabulous by his open-minded mother (Bette Midler). But after he's sent to live with his father in a conservative neighborhood, the teenager struggles to be himself. Billy bands together with a group of misfits at his new school to take on the bullies. Abigail Breslin, AnnaSophia Robb and Laverne Cox also star.

There will also be several short film programs, a panel with the female directors involved in the television series, "Queen Sugar", a sneak-peek of the fourth season of "Transparent", a live reading of the Screenwriting Lab entries which celebrates it's 20th anniversary, a panel on virtual reality storytelling, a comedy special from the winner of RuPaul's Drag Race Season 8, Bob the Drag Queen and screenings of the Outfest UCLA Legacy restoration projects, "Beautiful Thing" (1996) and "Chasing Amy" (1997).





For the complete list of films, tickets and additional information, please click below:

Outfest Los Angeles 2017

Friday, June 23, 2017

PRIDE ON SCREEN


In honor of pride this month, Out magazine has complied a list of twenty-five of the most important, groundbreaking and influential films featuring stories about the LGBTQ communities. Some of the films selected range from "Un chant d'amour", a 1950 silent short from French novelist, Jean Genet; "Querelle", based on a story by Genet and the last feature from German bad boy, Rainer Werner Fassbinder; Marlon Riggs' meditative 1989 semi-documentary on black gay identity, "Tongues Untied"; "The Birdcage", the delightful American version of "La Cage aux Folles"; and the obvious selections of "Brokeback Mountain", "Paris is Burning", "Carol" and the 2016 Best Picture Oscar winner, "Moonlight". These are all amazing films and you should make it your mission to see each one.

Click below to read:

Pride on Screen: 25 Essential Queer Films

Friday, June 16, 2017

THE TWENTY-FIVE BEST FILMS OF THE 21ST CENTURY


It's only been seventeen years in to the 21st century, so it seems like a perfect time to evaluate the best films so far. Manohla Dargis and A. O. Scott, chief film critics of the New York Times, have taken a look back and selected their picks for the best films so far this century. Their list is certainly interesting with an eclectic selection of cinema with films ranging from Paul Thomas Anderson's 2007 drama, "There Will Be Blood" which sits at the top of the list to "Boyhood", "Inside Out", "The 40 Year Old Virgin", and Best Picture Oscar winners, "Million Dollar Baby", "The Hurt Locker" and last year's "Moonlight". I've seen seventeen of the films chosen and while I agree with a large number, I 'm less enamored about a few of the others like "Mad Max: Fury Road" and the Coen Brothers' "Inside Llewyn Davis".

Click below to read:

The 25 Best Films of the 21st Century

The Times also enlisted six prominent filmmakers; Antoine Fuqua ("The Magnificent Seven"), Sofia Coppola ("The Beguiled"), Paul Feig ("Ghostbusters"), Denis Villeneuve ("Arrival"), Brett Ratner ("Rush Hour") and Alex Gibney ("Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief") to add their picks of their favorite films from this century.

Six Directors Pick Their Favorite Films of the 21st Century

And finally, I decided I might as well add my two cents. So here is my selection of the twenty-five best films from this century (and they are in alphabetical order since it would be much too difficult to rank them in order of preference):

"20 Feet From Stardom" (2013)
"The Artist" (2011)
"Beasts of the Southern Wild" (2012)
"Boyhood" (2014)
"Bridesmaids" (2011)
"Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" (2000)
"Drive"(2011)
"Elephant" (2003)
“Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” (2004)
"Ex Machina" (2015)
"I Am Not Your Negro" (2017)
"The Incredibles" (2004)
"Mulholland Dr" (2001)
"Once" (2007)
"Pan’s Labyrinth" (2006)
"The Pianist" (2002)
"Requiem For a Dream" (2000)
"Shame" (2011)
"A Single Man" (2009)
"Talk to Her" (2002)
"Tangerine" (2015)
"There Will Be Blood" (2007)
"United 93" (2006)
"The Wolf of Wall Street" (2013)
"Y Tu Mamá También" (2002)

Sunday, June 11, 2017

A CLOSER LOOK AT DIANE KEATON


Diane Keaton became the 45th recipient of the American Film Institute's Lifetime Achievement Award on June 8th. This is a well-deserved and long-overdue honor for this delightfully eccentric, seventy-one year old actress. While she was first noticed for her dramatic work in "The Godfather", it was her distinctive gift for comedy that made Keaton a star. Woody Allen recognized her talent instantly and took full advantage by casting her in his early films as a director. Their successful collaboration eventually cumulated with her winning an Oscar for her exceptional comedic performance in his 1977 Best Picture winner, "Annie Hall".

The Hollywood Reporter has gone back to examine her work in cinema over the last five decades and have selected what they consider are the five best performances by Diane Keaton.

Click below to read:

A Closer Look at Diane Keaton's Career

The AFI Lifetime Achievement Award presented to Diane Keaton will be broadcast on June 15th on TNT and an encore presentation will be shown on Turner Classic Movies on July 31st with a night of programming dedicated to her work.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

2017 LA FILM FESTIVAL


The LA Film Festival, which brings intriguing new independent cinema from across the globe to the city, is set to begin on June 14th through 22nd. The Arclight Cinemas Culver City is the official host venue of the fest with select screenings also to be held at Bing Theater at LACMA, Kirk Douglas Theatre, The Theatre at Ace Hotel and Arclight Cinemas Hollywood and Santa Monica.

"The Book of Henry", the latest from director Colin Trevorrow who returns to his indie-roots after making the Hollywood blockbusters, "Jurassic World" and "Star Wars: Episode IX", has been selected as the Opening Night film. Henry (Jaeden Lieberher), a mature 11-year-old living with single mother, Susan (Naomi Watts) and younger brother, Peter (Jacob Tremblay from "Room"), who develops a crush on his new neighbor (Maddie Zeigler, best known as the young dancer in the Sia music videos). He realizes something is wrong in her home life and devises a plan to rescue her.



Closing the fest will be "Ingrid Goes West", a social satire from co-writer and director, Matt Spicer. Aubrey Plaza plays Ingrid, a mentally unbalanced young woman who is obsessed with an online beauty and lifestyle star (Elizabeth Olsen) and does everything she can to become part of her inner circle.



In between, there will be 37 world-premiere titles, two international premieres, nine North American premieres, 51 short films, 15 Future Filmmaker High School shorts and nine web series episodes that will be shown. Special screenings include a Sofia Coppola double feature with her latest, "The Beguiled" and her 2003 breakout film, "Lost in Translation" with the director on hand for a Q & A. Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein, stars of the hit series, "Portlandia", will discuss their favorite moments from the show and spill a little about the upcoming final season. And director Ava DuVernay will be part of a panel that will present a sneak peek of the second season of her drama series, "Queen Sugar" and discuss the program.





For the complete list of films, purchase tickets and additional information, please click below:

2017 LA Film Fest

Thursday, June 8, 2017

BAYWATCH (2017)

Written by Damian Shannon & Mark Swift


Directed by Seth Gordon


Where & When: Springdale Cinema De Lux 18, Cincinnati, OH, May 30, 2017 4:15 PM



"Baywatch" is the latest in a long (mostly tragic) line of bringing popular television programs of yore to the big screen. I must admit I've never watched a complete episode but I was aware of this campy show that focused on the relationships between sexy, LA lifeguards who patrol the beaches saving lives from the many dangers that lurk there; sharks, murderers, surfer gangs and occasionally preventing someone from drowning. With very little attention paid to thoughtful development and execution, this banal spoof makes the TV show seem sharp and tasteful.

Dwayne Johnson has taken over in a variation of the role that David Hasselhoff played on the series as Lt. Mitch Buchannon, a beloved lifeguard who has saved hundreds of lives on the beaches of Florida. With his second-in-command, Stephanie (Ilfenesh Hadera) and veteran crew-member, C.J. (Kelly Rohrbach) by his side, they work together to keep people safe from harm.

In search of new lifeguards, tryouts are held and Ronnie (Jon Bass), a sweet, doughy nerd, dreams of being a hero of the beach like Mitch and getting to work closely with the beautiful C.J. who leaves him completely tongue-tied. All recruits must pass a rigorous physical test to be selected but Matt Brody (Zac Efron) rides in on his motorcycle informing Mitch that his boss, Captain Thorpe (Rob Huebel) said he already has a position on the team. This won't fly with Mitch and doesn't care that the cocky but dim, Brody is a former Olympic swimmer. But Brody went from hero to zero after a race he swam hungover, earning him the nickname, "the Vomit Comet"

It's not much of a surprise that there is tension and rivalry between Mitch and Brody with the veteran lifeguard proving that the two-time, gold-metal winning Olympian is not the natural, all-around athlete as he claims. But Mitch decides to give him a chance along with Ronnie and Summer (Alexandra Daddario), a pretty surfer that has caught Brody's eye, in the training program.

Drugs wash up on shore and businesswoman Victoria Leeds (played by Priyanka Chopra with expert cartoon villainy) is running them out of her chic country club. So it's up to Mitch and his team to stop her and save the community.

What is most surprising about "Baywatch" is that the story and script had six people involved in it's creation yet the outcome remains shockingly messy and tedious. The lame jokes sink and the CGI-heavy action sequences are waterlogged. After previously helming the middling films, "Four Christmases", "Identity Thief" and "Horrible Bosses", the direction here by Seth Gordon continues his trend of lazy, scattershot work.

Let's keep it real; nobody really watched this show to see David Hasselhoff running around the beach to save the day. It was all about the shapely Pamela Anderson in her skimpy red swimsuit delivering a wooden performance as C.J. that had viewers tuning in to "Baywatch". Another surprise with this film is that the female lifeguards, while quite lovely , are bland and unmemorable. So in a turn for equal sexism, this version of "Baywatch" is all about ogling the buff bodies of our male leads. With an immense charm that's just as powerful as his bulging biceps, Mr. Johnson brings his reliably easy-going vibe that's much needed yet it's not enough to keep this afloat. Beyond flaunting his admittedly impressive abs, Mr Efron's main purpose here is to be the butt of numerous jokes and gags. Some of the indignities he suffers through involves him touching a corpse's penis, having the rotting bodily fluids of another dead body drip in to his mouth and sadly parading around in unconvincing drag.

"Baywatch" tries to impress like a suntanned, muscular body ripped on steroids but all it will leave you feeling is like somebody just kicked sand in your face.

Monday, May 29, 2017

WINNERS FROM THE 2017 CANNES FILM FESTIVAL


The 70th edition of the Cannes Film Festival has come to the close and "The Square", a surreal social commentary on the wealthy, took the top prize of the Palme d'Or. This was the follow-up from Ruben Ostlund, who brought us the 2014 Swedish hit, "Force Majeure", and co-stars Elizabeth Moss and Dominic West. "120 Beats Per Minute", Robin Campillo's drama on the rise of AIDS activists in 1990's France, received the Gran Prix or the runner-up award.

Sofia Coppola has become only the second female to win the Best Director prize for her upcoming remake of the Civil War drama, "The Beguiled" following Yuliya Solntseva who won for her 1961 drama about Russian resistance to Nazi occupation, "Chronicle of Flaming Years". Not to take anything away from the talented Ms Coppola nor have I actually seen the movie yet but I suspect the motivation behind giving her the award was more about making a political statement than of the actual merit of "The Beguiled". This is due to all the chatter about the lack of female directing winners in the seventy years of the fest and the very mixed critical reaction to the film.

Joaquin Phoenix was named Best Actor for "You Were Never Really Here" while the Best Actress award went to Diane Kruger for "In the Fade". I was surprised to learn that this was the first film, Fatih Akin's drama about the widow of a German-Turk battling against neo-Nazis, that the German-born actress has actually spoken her native language.

The Pedro Almodovar-led jury had a tie for the Best Screenplay award, giving writer and director, Lynne Ramsay the prize for "You Were Really Here" and Greek director, Yorgos Lanthimos and co-writer, Efthymis Filippou for "The Killing of a Sacred Deer".

Finally, to mark the 70th anniversary of the fest, a special award was given to Nicole Kidman who appeared in four projects at Cannes; award winners, "The Beguiled' and "The Killing of a Sacred Deer" as well as John Cameron Mitchell's "How To Talk To Girls at Parties" and Jane Campion's television program, "Top of the Lake". Why her? Well, why not.

Here is a partial list of winners from the 2017 Cannes Film Festival:

Palme d'Or: "The Square"



Grand Prize: "120 Beats Per Minute"



Jury Prize: "Loveless"



Best Director: Sofia Coppola, "The Beguiled"
Best Actress: Diane Kruger, "Aus dem Nichts (In the Fade)"



Best Actor: Joaquin Phoenix, "You Were Never Really Here"
Best Screenplay: (Tie) Yorgos Lanthimos & Efthymis Filippou, "The Killing of a Sacred Deer" and Lynne Ramsey, "You Were Never Really Here"
Camera d'Or (Best First Feature): "Jeune Femme" ("Montparnasse-Bienvenue")
Best Short Film: "A Gentle Night"
Special 70th Anniversary Prize: Nicole Kidman
Un Certain Regard Prize: "Lerd (A Man of Integrity)"
Un Certain Regard Jury Prize: "Las Hijas de Abril" (April's Daughter)
Un Certain Regard Prize for Best Direction: Taylor Sheridan, "Wind River"



Un Certain Regard Prize for Best Actress: Jasmine Trinca, "Fortunata"
Un Certain Regard Prize for the Best Poetic Narrative: Mathieu Amalric, "Barbara"

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

PARIS CAN WAIT (2017)

Written & Directed by Eleanor Coppola


Where & When; Arclight Cinemas, Hollywood, CA. May 12. 2017 7:30 PM



The last time I saw Diane Lane on the big screen, she was being tortured (her character and her career) as Clark Kent's mother, Martha in the bombastic "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice". I was saddened thinking how this incredibly vibrant and sensual actress was being utterly wasted in this insignificant role that was way, way beneath her. Hollywood has never known what to do with Ms Lane as she has matured and while she had one great moment as a wife who has an adulterous affair with a younger stranger in "Unfaithful" which earned her a well-deserved 2002 Oscar nomination, most of her film appearances have been minor supporting parts.

With Eleanor Coppola, making her feature film directing debut at the age of eighty-one, she has offered Diane Lane  a-long-time-in-coming substantial role in her romantic-drama, "Paris Can Wait" where she is properly front and center. While this lightweight film is hardly perfect. it is certainly a step in the right direction.

Ms Lane plays Anne, the wife of Michael (Alec Baldwin), a successful Hollywood producer. She had tagged along with her husband on a business trip to the Cannes Film Festival before heading to Paris for a romantic getaway. Michael has to make an unplanned flight to Budapest before they head to the city of lights but Anne, who is suffering from a severe earache, decides to go straight to Paris by train. However, Jacques (Arnaud Viard), Michael's friend and French business partner, offers to drive his wife to Paris. Anne reluctantly agrees to go on the eight-hour road trip with this virtual stranger.

Despite his bad driving and her protests to just get to Paris, Anne can't help getting swept up in his joie de vivre, escorting her to wonderful scenic views along the countryside and making stops for leisurely fine dining and conversation. Even when Jacques makes arrangements to stay at a hotel due to the late hour, Anne's concern quickly evaporates as he remains a gentleman by getting them separate rooms.

First seen as a sweet, talkative guy, Jacques eventually reveals himself to be more of a typical French lothario who has more on his mind besides simply providing taxi service to this lovely married woman. It doesn't take long for Anne to catch on herself yet doesn't mind the amorous attention, realizing it's been quite awhile since her husband has paid her this much romantic exuberance.

Mrs. Coppola has spent most of her career creating non-narrative films, mostly behind-the-scenes features of her husband's films with the most notable being "Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse", which examined the turmoil during the making of "Apocalypse Now". While not much of a great surprise, this Coppola shares more of a film making style with her daughter, Sofia than her husband, Francis Ford. With "Paris Can Wait", she has created a breezy, intimate adult drama that American cinema no longer embraces but is still quite popular in Europe. Between the gorgeous scenery and the delicious looking food, this story focuses on two isolated souls trying to keep a brave front before allowing their guard to come down enough to make an emotional connection, confessing to each other their secret pain and loss. But the director's script drags down the film with uninspired dialogue and repetitive moments.

Thankfully, Ms Lane uplifts the movie with a warm and effective performance. Mrs. Coppola was quite familiar with her gifts as she has watched the actress grow-up from her early screen appearances as a young woman in her husband's films, "The Outsiders", "Rumble Fish" and "The Cotton Club" that helped launch Ms Lane's career. It's fascinating to watch her Anne, who may not necessarily want to end her marriage, blossom from a frustrated wife to a sensual woman having her eyes opened to other possibilities in her life.

It's hard not to see a few parallels between these characters and Mrs Coppola's own glamorous, movie business filled life but her motivation is definitely much smaller in scale and scope. The charming yet inessential "Paris Can Wait" is about slowing down, appreciating those precious moments with loved ones and enjoying the simple pleasures in life.