Sunday, June 26, 2016

Susan Sarandon deserves an Oscar nod for "The Meddler"

When I saw The Meddler last year I was convinced it would actually nab an Oscar nom for Sarandon, but it never got released! Here`s hoping she has some kind of shot this year. An excerpt I wrote for AwardsDaily about the film:

"The Meddler is Susan Sarandon’s best performance in 20+ years. You heard me right. Sarandon’s performance as a middle aged, eccentric, neurotic, Jersey mom that moves to L.A. is hilariously spot on. The premiere had many industry people eating up every line delivered by Sarandon. When was the last time you can truly say she’s had a role that fit her immeasurable talents? 1995’s Dead Man Walking — in which she was directed by then husband Tim Robbins — comes to mind. That was 20 years ago, but this performance is bound to get some heads turning if handled properly and Sony Pictures Classics knows what kind of brilliant performance they have here. The character study that director Lorne Scafaria deftly handles with comical hand-held shots is an all out showcase for Sarandon. The film has just been screened today for the press and is expected to have a 2016 release, that is unless the studio decides to gives Sarandon the much-needed awards push this year."

The reviews have been fairly solid and the buzz has been cautious, respectful, but amicably acclaimed. Kris Tapley, a well-regarded Oscar Pundit at Variety, just gave Sarandon a boost by saying she was the Best Actress of the first half of 2016. I can agree with that actually.

"Sarandon delivers one of her greatest performances yet as the title character in Lorene Scarfaria’s sweet dramedy about a well-intentioned mother who moves to Los Angeles to be closer to her daughter (Rose Byrne) after the death of her husband. Whether playing the effects of scarfing down a bag of weed or being romanced by the wonderful J.K. Simmons, Sarandon is sublime. But more than that, the performance is one of the most accurate portrayals of grief seen on film in recent years."

Top Critic
Connie Ogle
Miami Herald
May 12, 2016
The beauty of The Meddler is in its insistence that grief passes - even if you can't buy your way to happiness.
Full Review | Original Score: 3/4

Top Critic
Ann Hornaday
Washington Post
April 29, 2016
What seems cringe-worthy at first in The Meddler winds up as a warm, forgiving embrace -- of the movie's characters and audience, as well.
Full Review | Original Score: 2.5/4

Top Critic
Richard Roeper
Chicago Sun-Times
April 29, 2016
Taken as a whole, Sarandon's performance is something to behold.
Full Review | Original Score: 3.5/4

Top Critic
Michael Phillips
Chicago Tribune
April 28, 2016
We've seen these types of characters before, but not played by these particular and highly skilled actresses.
Full Review | Original Score: 3/4

Top Critic
Rex Reed
New York Observer
April 22, 2016
Charming, insightful and funny.
Full Review | Original Score: 3.5/4

Top Critic
Peter Travers
Rolling Stone
April 22, 2016
Susan Sarandon is a star shining on her highest beams in a movie that the gifted writer-director Lorene Scafaria turns into something far less clichéd and more nuanced than the anatomy of a bossypants. -
Full Review | Original Score: 3/4

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Free State of Jones is a Gary Ross strikeout

I will say I was very much looking forward to Gary Ross' Free State of Jones. Ross has always been a filmmaker that delivered what was asked of him in such a professional and gracious manner: Pleasantville, Seabiscuit and The Hunger Games all consummate and entertaining Hollywood vehicles. Judging from these early reviews though Free State of Jones will likely not make it 4 for 4. I skipped this morning's press screening, I had a few things to attend to, but it seems like I didn't miss much as these reviews have been horrendous. I presume that Warner Bros. now has second thoughts about giving this guy the reigns to its all-female Ocean's movie. Again, I haven't seen this new Matthew McConaughey film, but it looks like a complete strike out by the hints of it. I'll be catching a screening on Friday afternoon.

Nate Parker's flawed, but sometimes thought-provoking "The Birth of a Nation" gets a trailer

Recounting the story of Nat Turner, an African American Slave that lead a rebellion in 1831 to free African-Americans in Virgina. There’s blood soaked, sweat induced, passion in every frame of Nate Parker’s flawed film. You can never discount this kind of brazingly ferocious filmmaking, even when it’s by a first-time filmmaker still learning his narrative steps. The aptly titled film is bound to cause a stir when it gets released later this year, choosing the title of D.W Griffith’s grand, but very racist, 1915 masterpiece is a sign that the times might be in fact changing. Winning the Dramatic Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award is a sign that this movie is about to take Hollywood by storm. It was made to piss people off and get them out of their seats shouting, what more could you ask for in a movie?

"American Honey" -one of the year's best movies- finally gets a trailer

Andrea Arnold's American Honey finally gets a trailer. I saw it at Cannes and, suffice to say, was quite impressed by its loose, structure-free narrative. It's a pummeling 160 minutes, but has moments of sheer beauty in its inner and outer contours. I don't think there is much awards hope for this one as it is too "out-there" for the academy to consider, but a push by critics for their awards is inevitable. It's a love it/hate it movie, but consider me with the former as I dis find its take on 21st century Americana quite breathtaking. 

"Andrea Arnold’s American Honey  was an even more polarizing film. A 160 minute road trip to Americana hell, if you will. An On the Road for and about millennials. Cannes is not the last we’ll hear about this movie and I’m perfectly fine with that. No one should dismiss it, for it has so many great moments in its scattered running time that one might have to look through a bit of rambling incoherence to find them.
Non-professional actress Sasha Lane plays Star, a lost American soul that decides to hop onboard a bus full of Magazine-selling kids that go cross country to make money and sell magazine subscriptions. On the way they listen to pop radio and have sing alongs. Those sing-alongs end up taking up the full-length of a song. Some are quite exceptionally moving and exciting, whereas others meander. It’s just that kind of a movie, either you go with its flow or you just don’t. I did.
It’s not just singalongs. There’s an admirable sense of free-wheeling going on here. Arnold is depicting an American society of millennials that are disconnected and disconcerted with the American way. They’d rather sell their bodies than live in a capitalist-run society trying to live the “American dream”. As the film jogs along we get a fuller sense of the dynamics at play here. The structure, which is infuriating at times, runs constant repetitive circles, and yet we are fully engaged with much of what we see. There’s an overall sense of unimaginable freedom in Arnold’s filmmaking. It’s a vital, great movie that could probably use a trim."

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Personal Shopper > The Conjuring 2

Over at Hollywood Elsewhere Jeffrey Wells is pondering how The Conjuring 2 is getting well-reviewed and, yet, Personal Shopper's reviews have been mixed so far. You can read the post HERE.

Yes, I'll agree the latter is an above average chill-inducing stunner that will deserve all the love and support come its release this fall season. The Conjuring 2 seems to be repeating the usual tropes that have made the horror genre go down the drain these last couple of years. Of course James Wan is a talented "horror" filmmaker, but he doesn't even come close to having the artistic chops of an Assayas or even a John Carpenter at his peak. The Malaysian born filmmaker is a competent and well-informed filmmaker that can carry a film to a certain extent, but not further enough to make great art.

This is an excerpt from my Cannes review:
"This is top-notch filmmaking with an impeccable performance by Stewart, who hasn’t really had to carry a full movie on her own until this one. She is alone in many scenes throughout the picture and does an admirable job leaving you in a state of hypnosis with her mannerisms and quirks. Assayas, a great director, quite clearly wanted to create a supernatural atmosphere, with much influence on the 1960 classic The Haunting. As far as those kind of movies go, there is nothing wrong in putting Personal Shopper next to them. The film is meant to be absorbed for what it is: A taut, terrific venture into the unknown."

Monday, June 20, 2016

"O.J: Made in America" is better than almost any 2016 movie I've seen so far

"O.J: Made in America" is better than almost any 2016 movie. I've been to Sundance and Cannes as well, almost nothing comes close to the gripping, assaultive nature of this 464 minute documentary. I found it was more engrossing than its FX counterpart, which, by the way, was pretty great, because it meticulously fleshes out the larger picture as compared to the aforementioned mini-series which had to balance informative content with dramatic obligations. The fact that this documentary splits the screen time between the racial issues in Los Angeles and O.J. Simpson's story is a decision of sheer genius and, really, the definitive way to tell this story. All this to say that it is a towering achievement for director Ezra Edelman whose only other work as a director came from ESPN sports docs. He does have one hell of a story to tell though, one that is both tragic and hilarious. I'll update this post later on with more thoughts on the film. I'll leave you with a quote from the L.A. Times review of the film "Historically meticulous, thematically compelling and deeply human, O.J.: Made in America is a masterwork of scholarship, journalism and cinematic art."

Michael Haneke's disturbing use of silence

If you ever decide to watch a Michael Haneke film make sure you’re in the right mood for something either punishing or provocative. It’s not to dismiss the Austrian auteur’s singular vision, but embarking into the world of his films is to often have your spirit and soul drained out. His work is rigorous, restrained and controlled cinema with an emphasis on the dehumanization of modern society, all done through the prism of the most potently realistic acts of violence imaginable.
Haneke’s use of violence is one of the more disturbing assets of his style. It usually comes in short bursts and in ways that are both shocking and disturbing. He knocks you down with his absolute and masterful control. The mise en scene is tightly fashioned in a detail-obsessed manner, with every tiny detail needing to count because what he’s trying to do is not only horrify you, but shock your system with memorably precise visual and sound. It is the complete and utter control of the viewer and the response to the act of violence that makes it all the more horrifying.
“Haneke makes us hear and see terrible things. Despite his critical success the backlash has been extreme,” goes the opening of Elsie Walker’s video essay “Taking Time to Hear…” which takes into account Haneke’s use of silence as a way to give shape and form to the content. In other words, the wordless interludes that proceed Haneke’s most torturous sequences are meant to act as a kind of salvation.
The video is meant as a rebuttal to the critics that claim he is a sadistic and cruel filmmaker. Walker seems to be implying that they are missing the point. As the video shows us, Haneke asks the viewer to hear the victims’ pain compassionately through slyly inserted silent interludes. Walker also states that “this quiet is not about the aggressors, but the victims, including the people who make themselves suffer by hurting others.”
Six acts of violence from six different films are given as examples. From a mother tied up and bound, standing next to her dead son’s body right after he’s been shot in “Funny Games,” to the famous suicide in “Cache,” Haneke has always maintained a hyper-tight control of what he wants his audience to see, feel and think. If you’re up for it, it can make for absolutely devastating cinema.
You can check it all out HERE

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Barry Lyndon - A masterpiece gets re-released

Barry Lyndon 2

Barry Lyndon. It’s one of Stanley Kubrick’s greatest achievements, and yet it is has rarely been uttered in the same league as A Clockwork Orange, 2001: A Space Odyssey, or Dr. Strangelove. However, as the years have gone by they’ve been very kind to Kubrick’s 18th-century tale. It was ranked 59th on Sight & Sound’s prestigious critics poll of the greatest movies ever made and has been hailed by Martin Scorsese, among many others, as his favorite Kubrick film. John Alcott’s cinematography also ranks as one of the landmarks of the field of photography, with its ingenious natural lighting that, in one very famous scene, lit up rooms with dozens of chandeliers. Its impact has been felt all the way to last year’s The Revenant, which also used natural lighting and was clearly inspired by Alcott’s famous lens.
All this to say that Barry Lyndon is set to be re-released in the London on July 29th and will roll out in other U.K. cities in the following weeks. This is the way one must watch Kubrick’s masterpiece, on the big screen, with its bright, intricate colors and impeccable production and costume design shining ever so brightly on epic, accentuated canvas.
London seems to be in the middle of a Kubrick phase. The Brooklyn-born filmmaker will also be honored with a new exhibition at London’s Somerset House this summer. The late filmmaker’s widow, Christiane Kubrick, and Warner Bros. will lead the way with an exhibition that will feature creative art work tributes from the likes of Daft Punk, Jarvis Cocker of Pulp, and actress Samantha MortonConsequence of Sound reports.

Reputation Is Everything In This Examination Of Quentin Tarantino’s ‘Inglourious Basterds’

Reputation Is Everything In This Examination Of Quentin Tarantino’s ‘Inglourious Basterds’
“When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.” So ends John Ford’s “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance,” the last masterpiece of Ford’s in a career full of them. Quentin Tarantino, no slouch in his unadorned love for the western genre and Ford, took that saying to heart when he made 2009’s “Inglourious Basterds,” which fitfully ends with a character pronouncing the final line: “This may just be my masterpiece.”
The highly acclaimed Tarantino film uses legend and fact to build up its characters’ traits and reputations. The people that fill up Tarantino’s twisted revisionist WWII film take pride in the mythic reputation that has been built up around their names, as Drew Morton explains in his latest video essay for Fandor Keyframe, “Tarantino: Reputation is Everything.”
We get our first glimpse at mythic name-making when Hans Landa asks at the beginning of the film, “You know what they call me?”, and of course we do because Landa, now an infamous movie character etched in the cinematic time capsule, is known as “The Jew Hunter” and he rides by that reputation for the duration of the film. He’s the Nazi that has a worldwide reputation of capturing Jews in hiding. “I love my unofficial title precisely because I’ve earned it,” he claims mid-way through the film.
The same thing can be said about the heroes of the film, who are in the polar opposite of the spectrum, ambushing Nazi troops and scalping them throughout the land. “The Germans call them the Basterds” says Mike Myers’ General Ed Fenech. Their reputation precedes them and the Basterds wouldn’t have it any other way, as they take pride in the legendary status the Nazis have bestowed upon them. “Through our cruelty they will know who we are” exclaims Basterds leader Lt. Aldo Raine, himself granted the name of “The Apache” by the Germans. The blade-sewn swastika the Basterds place on their victims’ foreheads is their way of telling the Nazis “the Basterds were here.”
Landa and the Basterds constantly tell other characters about their actions. They take pride in their accomplishments and ride with their legend. Just like in ‘Liberty Valance,’ the legend has become fact and it gets printed throughout the film’s deliciously lurid 153 minutes. “Inglourious Basterds” is about characters trying to manage a reputation that far exceeds normal life. Sgt. Donnie Donowitz, as played by Eli Roth, is known as “The Bear Jew” a baseball-bat carrying menace so legendary and feared by the Nazis that just the sheer mention of his name sends chills down a German spine. At one point Hitler tells his commander “the bear Jew is never to be referred to as the bear Jew again” for he knows the name alone instills fear.
“Inglourious Basterds” might be a WWII film, but it is indelibly drenched in the DNA of Westerns that also thematically played with the ideas of legends, myths, and reputations. Check out this video essay and let us know your thoughts in the comments section.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Palme D'or winner "I, Daniel Blake" trailer

Palme D'or winner "I, Daniel Blake" finally has a trailer. Most film critics, I know there a few that did think it deserved the Palme D'or, feel like it didn't deserve the top prize at Cannes. It's a defiantly old-school film that doesn't really break any ground, but there's enough powerful stuff here to be worthy of, at the very least, a deeply incisive watch. 
Writing for The Young Folks:
"Although there might be better, more deserving directors to take the honor, Cannes’ love for 79 year-old British writer-director Ken Loach’s films is entirely endearing. In a career full of art-house hits and misses, Loach has always remained true to his blue-collar spirit and the fest has loved every minute of it, choosing more than a dozen of his films for their festival. Whereas some of his British contemporaries, such as Mike Leigh, have occasionally decided to tackle new territory in some films, Loach has always remained true to his roots. His latest "I, Daniel Blake" (7/10) is a problematic, but important critique of the British social system.
The titular character (as played by Dave Johns) hops from one government agent to the next with not many answers to his questions. He’s just had a heart attack and his doctors are telling him he can’t work due to his delicately, risky health condition. The people over at the benefit office for the unemployed want to hear none of that, in fact they don’t want to explain anything to Blake, instead they want him to go online and figure everything out. Problem is our hero is computer illiterate, he’s never used one in his life, to make matters worse he’s a stubborn, hot-blooded, old-fashioned kind of guy."

Bang Gang (A Modern Love Story)

When Larry Clark came into the scene more than twenty years ago now with his ground-breaking and incendiary “Kids,” you could feel the shockwaves going down your system as you saw the most provocative depiction of teenage sexuality imaginable on screen at the time. Clark, not one to be tamed down, continued his onslaught of shockingly graphic content with his ensuing films “Bully” and “Ken Park. All of this to say that the “shock movement” that Clark started with “Kids,” isn’t all that shocking anymore. We’ve learned to accept teenage sexuality as a normal thing; maybe the way Clark depicted it wasn’t and still isn’t the “norm,” but, if anything, we’ve become numb to watching teenagers get down and dirty onscreen and off.
All of this leads me to “Bang Gang (A Modern Love Story),” which, if released say 20 years ago, might have spurned shockwaves throughout the film community, but since it’s 2016, we might just shrug it off as if it were nothing more than another sexually charged teenage drama. This is, of course, a major disservice to French director Eva Husson’s drama, which does try to give a fresh new spin to the genre by not only incorporating new shock tactics, but actually investing real emotional charge into the surroundings.
Based on true events that happened in a Paris suburb, the film tells the tale of 16-year-old high schoolers who, taking advantage of a friend’s parents being out of town, organize orgies in a secret group they dub “the Bang Gang club”. It all starts with an innocent game of spin the bottle which quickly gets out of control, and their raging hormones start acting up. Impromptu orgies occur, but as with all sexual activity, some emotional undercurrents can sometimes sneak in. There’s a Lothario (Finnegan) who uses the orgy to his advantage to play around with the affection of two girls who mostly just want the attention. And then there is the soft-spoken musician who lusts for the girl of his dreams, but wants her for more than just an evening of ménage-a-six.
Although these characters are mere background for the main events, the orgies, Husson refuses to have any real focus on character until the very last third of the story. The film is an indelibly forceful look at teenagers trying to find themselves in an almost numbing world. They don’t seem to care about the consequences of their actions; they just want to feel something physical by going skin to skin with as many “friends” as possible. Yet, as with all stories about sexually explicit content, it all comes down to that one connection you make amidst all the chaos, rather than the actual sex.
There is the inevitable downfall that comes with many of these kinds of tales, but with this being a 2016 film, it refreshingly deals with how social media can be the ultimate affecting depressor for young millennials. Imagine Larry Clark’s teenagers with a Facebook account, Twitter, or a cell phone. Armed and ready to spread the nitty gritty dirt.

There is a great deal of nudity in Husson’s film, but it’s all purposely done to be not very erotic. The editing is akin to a music video, but for a feature film debut, Husson has brought out something interesting and grounded. She’s made a Larry Clark film for the millennial generation without some of the bland tropes that have dodged some of his more recent films. I find it’s better than Clark’s movies, more subtle in fact, and can sometimes encompass a world of emotions in a single frame. It truly is a modern love story showing us how sexually liberated today’s generation is and how misguided their attempts at finding love can be. [B]

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

"Finding Dory" is modest, minor Pixar, but isn't that better than 99% of summer 2016?

I'm a Pixar nut. I think "WALL-E", "UP!", "Ratatouille", "Toy Story 3" and last year's sublime "Inside Out" are among some of the most creative and brilliant studio films the last two decades, but I do also know that they have a knack to give in to the money muckers and give us a sequel every few years. Lately it's been 1 every 2 years and I HATE it with a passion, but that's the movie business this decade. I had high hopes for "Finding Dory" and, of course, it didn't meet them. I mean, how could it? "Finding Nemo" is a classic and the critical success they've had with the "Toy Story" movies is a rare feat that can't be done for every film.

This is lower-tier Pixar, but not as bad as "Cars 2" or "A Bug's Life" which remain the two worst films they've released, but do take note I haven't seen "The Good Dinosaur" which I completely forgot about and will have to catch soon now, but that one was not well received at all by critics. No, "Finding Dory" is more on the level of "Brave" or, dare I say it, the underappreciated and fun "Monsters University".

It is modest and minor Pixar. It has great moments, but seems to go along on around the same trek that the 2003 film went. There are a few surprises here and there, but this is run-of-the-mill stuff that Pixar can concoct in their sleep. I'll take that over almost anything we've seen this summer, safe "Captain America: Civil War", maybe. My abnormal expectations are now lowered for any other sequel they have up their sleeves, unless it's "The Incredibles 2".

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Update: Recent Screenings

The "Recent Screenings" tab on the right of your screen has been updated with summer movies. So far not much has come our way worth recommending in terms of the big summer releases, with the exception of "Captain America: Civil War". I'm still holding out hope that "Finding Dory", "The Free State of Jones", "Pete's Dragon""Jason Bourne" and "The Founder" pan out.

Recent Screenings

Weiner A-
From Afar B
The Lobster B
Holy Hell C+
Maggie's Plan C+
Neighbors 2 C+
Money Monster C+
A Bigger Splash B+
The Nice Guys B
X-Men: Apocalypse C-
Captain America: Civil War B+