Friday, August 25, 2017
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
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
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
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
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
"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