Tuesday, March 28, 2017

THE 50 BEST MOVIES UNDER 90 MINUTES


I had delayed seeing "Toni Erdmann", the hit German comedy that was nominated this year for Best Foreign-Language Film, for only one reason. It was the film's 162 minute running time. I eventually went to the theater to see it and while I found it fairly entertaining, I still felt there was absolutely no reason for the overextended period of time to tell this story. I hope the American remake that's in the works will reconsider having their version anywhere near this length.

Now I understand that sometimes more time is required to properly tell the whole story but sometimes a bloated running time can make a movie feel unnecessarily padded and excessive. Vulture has decided to give a rundown of fifty perfect examples of movies that managed to efficiently tell a complete and well-done story in just under ninety minutes.

Click below to read:

50 Best Movies Under 90 Minutes

Saturday, March 25, 2017

SONG TO SONG (2017)

Written & Directed by Terrence Malick


Where & When: Arclight Cinemas, Hollywood, CA. March 21, 2017  4:45 PM



Terrence Malick began making films in the early 1970's, a time when major American movie studios were much more open to independent minded, experimental cinema. In 1973, he wrote and directed, "Badlands", a very low-budget, crime drama of two young lovers on a murder spree which featured early film appearances from Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek. The film was met with rapturous critical praise and his follow-up, "Days of Heaven" came five years later. It was not a great commercial success but with a magnificent score by Ennio Morricone, influential camerawork by Nestor Almendros (which would win an Oscar) and a star-making turn from Richard Gere, this love triangle set in the early twentieth century Texas panhandle is still considered a cinematic masterpiece.

After all this initial acclaim of his work, you would think it wouldn't be long before we had more intriguing films coming from Malick. But nothing quickly materialized. It would be twenty years later before the reclusive filmmaker would reemerge with a star-filled, WWII drama, "The Thin Red Line". The film received seven Oscar nominations and followed this with a Captain John Smith and Pocahontas romance, "The New World" in 2005. Following "Tree of Life", Malick's 2011 polarizing, semi-autobiographical family drama set in 1950's Texas, the director has become almost prolific, releasing five films since including his latest, "Song to Song", a meditative, disjointed love story.

Malick has returned with another Texan romantic triangle but this time it's a modern tale set in the Austin music scene. Rooney Mara plays Faye, an up-and-coming musician who catches the eye of Cook (Michael Fassbender), a successful record executive and a handsome musician, BV (Ryan Gosling). Faye tends to drift emotionally between the two men, enjoying each of their company and unable to make a clear commitment to either. At first, the guys don't seem to mind, even all going on a trip to Mexico together to have drunken, hedonistic fun in the sun.

But soon they all become restless or disillusioned or bored and move on to other relationships. Cook meets a pretty waitress (Natalie Portman) and impulsively marries her. But his wild and sexually-free lifestyle eventually makes her uneasy. BV becomes involved with a wealthy, older woman (Cate Blanchett) much to his mother's (Linda Emond) disapproval. And Faye finds herself infatuated with a stunning French woman (Bérénice Marlohe).

Structurally, "Song to Song" follows the same tepid set-up as Malick's other recent films. We have a paper-thin plot with even thinner characterizations. With minimal, improvised dialogue spoken, he relies too heavily on poetic voice-over narration to fill in the blanks. Much like the director's last feature, "Knight of Cups" which was focused on Christian Bale's depressed Hollywood writer, this film's music world setting is purely incidental. I am surprised by how little music there is here and how little music really motivates the narrative despite plenty of cameo appearances from a diverse group of real-life musicians like Iggy Pop, Anthony Kiedis and Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Big Freedia, Lykke Li and the legendary, Patti Smith.

But what really seems to motivate Malick is the moving image and with solid support from Oscar-winning cinematographer, Emmanuel Lubezki, the film is enhanced by beautifully stylish, dream-like visuals shot in natural light. This respected filmmaker has easily been able to draw big-name talent (similarly like another temperamental director, Woody Allen) eager to want to work with him and Malick uses their recognized star-wattage to assist in fleshing out his films. But despite all their best efforts, some of these actors can simply disappear on the cutting room floor or find their performances reduced down to a rapid succession of fragmented emotional bits.

I heard that Malick's initial cut of "Song to Song" was an exorbitant eight hours long. Common sense prevailed with the running time reduced more reasonably to a little over two hours yet this slight film's length still feels excessive. There is no denying the masterful artistry and singular vision of this gifted filmmaker but "Song to Song" lacks a substantial, satisfying rhythm.



Saturday, March 18, 2017

GET OUT (2017)

Written & Directed by Jordan Peele


Where & When: Arclight Cinemas, Hollywood, CA. February 25, 2017 9:15 PM


The subject of race relations in America is not tackled too often in cinema. And when it is attempted, it can be either heavy-handed or overly simplified. "Get Out", Jordan Peele's audacious debut as a director, manages to handle the volatile subject with purpose, thoughtfulness and a surprising amount of humor. What makes this feat even more impressive is that the film is fundamentally a horror flick, a very unlikely genre to deal with this complicated issue.

After only dating for a few months, Chris Williams (Daniel Kaluuya), a handsome, African-American photographer has been invited to spend the weekend upstate to meet the parents of Rose Armitage, his Caucasian girlfriend, played by Allison Williams, a co-star of HBO's "Girls", making her film debut. While he's very concerned about her folks reaction to bringing him home to meet the family, particularly since she hasn't mentioned his race, Rose, who has never actually dated an African-American before, reassures him that it's fine as they are liberal and open minded.

When the two reach the home of Rose's parents, Dean (Bradley Whitford) and Missy (Catherine Keener), they are more than welcoming. In fact, Dean seems to go out of his way in an attempt to bond with Chris, telling him that he would have proudly voted for Obama for a third term if he could. What does make Chris really uncomfortable are the family's black servants, Georgina (Betty Gabriel), the housekeeper and Walter (Marcus Henderson), the gardener. It is not their position in the home but their odd behavior and strange lack of personality.

The longer Chris stays with the Armitages, the weirder his situation becomes in the house. Missy, a psychiatrist, strongly dislikes him smoking around her daughter. She offers to hypnotize Chris to help him stop which he politely declines. Yet unwillingly he finds himself paralyzed under her spell and losing the desire for a cigarette in the process. During an annual gathering at the home, the very white guests treat Chris as a quaint curiosity. The only other black guest (LaKeith Stanfield) also acts strangely but he seems familiar to Chris. Looking like someone who disappeared from the city a few months ago, he takes his picture to show his buddy, Rod (Lil Rel Howery) but the flash causes the man to freak out, warning Chris to escape from this town.

As one half of the former African-American comedy team, Key & Peele, Mr Peele touched on race frequently on their popular skit television show, offering pointed yet hilariously witty commentary on the issue. Horror movies are very popular with African-Americans but when there is a black character in one of these films, guess who is usually the first victim to fall under the knife of the homicidal killer? With "Get Out", Peele wanted to finally make one from their perspective, exploring some of the things that actually frightens black people living in 21st century America. The film keeps the racial tension tightly wound, playing with our usual expectations in regards to common social interactions between blacks and whites while brilliantly upending those expectations in some very humorous and occasionally scary ways.

Samuel L. Jackson (who else?) has questioned the casting of the British-Ugandan actor, Kaluuya in the role of an African-American, unsure if he understands the history well enough to be effective in the role. That Brits and Aussies of all races are taking acting jobs away from actual Americans is maybe something Donald Trump should look in to but racism is hardly a problem only understood in America. With his burning intensity and soulful, expressive eyes, it's quite understandable why Mr. Kaluuya was cast. It is however Milton "Lil Rel" Howery, a stand-up comedian currently seen on "The Carmichael Show", that almost steals the film. As Chris' best friend and a TSA officer, Howery hilariously plays detective trying to help his buddy figure out exactly what is going on with the black folks in this crazy town. And the great Catherine Keener is finally back on the big screen, effectively managing to make a teacup menacing and gives a whole new meaning to the term, "controlling mother".

Despite the shaky logic behind the sinister conclusion and the unfortunate generic title, "Get Out" is a thrilling and razor-sharp satire on race in our society, particularly in this current political climate, that is equally terrifying and looney. Mr Peele has capably crafted a new American horror classic and has promptly introduced himself as an inventive filmmaker to watch.


Wednesday, March 8, 2017

ROBERT OSBORNE (1932 - 2017)


I would be remiss in not mentioning the passing of Robert Osborne, the genial, long-time host of Turner Classic Movies, on March 6th at the age of eighty-four. Before joining the network in 1994, Osborne previously served as a host for another premium cable station, The Movie Channel. He later was commissioned by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to write a book on the history of The Oscars in 1988 with it being updated six times since.

Not much of a surprise, Osborne began his career as an actor, working under contract for Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball's Desilu Studios. With a kind suggestion from Ms Ball, he soon decided to pursue his college major, journalism and wrote his first book in 1965, "Academy Awards Illustrated". In 1977, Osborne began writing for The Hollywood Reporter for many years before his move to becoming a television personality.

What I admired most about Mr. Osborne was his deep knowledge and great affection for the movie business. Warm and charming, he brought his experience, insight and personal anecdotes to his introductions shown before many of the classic films screened on TCM.

It seems Osborne almost single-handily kept the spirit of old Hollywood alive. With many millennials thinking an "old movie" is something from the 1980's, I'm concerned that with Mr. Osborne's passing no one will be around to champion these important and timeless films from the early days of Hollywood. I hope I am wrong and perhaps all the wonderful times Mr. Osborne spent discussing his enduring passion for the glory days of cinema will have influenced and inspired a new generation of viewers.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

2017 OUTFEST FUSION

Beginning today, and running through March 7th, is the 2017 Outfest Fusion LGBT People of Color Film Festival. A week of screenings, workshops, panels and the One-Minute Movie Contest will be held in venues across Los Angeles like the Arena Cinelounge, Highland Theatres, the Egyptian Theatre, the West Hollywood City Council Chambers and the California African-American Museum where the Closing Night Fusion Gala will be held.



A preview of the second season of the popular web-series, "Cheetah in August", created by Anthony Bawn, will kick off the fest in West Hollywood. The show focuses on August "Cheetah" Chandler (Andre Myers), a young, African-American, former athlete who struggles with his sexual identity, causing problems for him with his family and friends, and seeks the help of Dr. Thatcher Anderson (Jonathan Medina), a therapist.



A special presentation of an unaired episode of the Fox musical-drama series, "Star" will be shown with creator, Lee Daniels and stars, Ryan Destiny, Brittany O'Grady, and Miss Lawrence in attendance.



There will be several short film series, "The LatinX Files", "No Place Like Home: Queer Asian Shorts" and "Black Queer Magic". Other feature film screenings include a couple of international classics from 2001; "Y Tu Mama Tambien" from Mexico and "Lan Yu" from China. And this year's surprise Oscar-winner for Best Picture, "Moonlight" will be screened and a discussion held at the Egyptian on March 3rd.





For the complete listing of films, ticket purchases and additional information, please click below:

Outfest Fusion 2017