Sunday, February 7, 2016

Inarittu wins DGA

History was made last night when Inarittu won the Director's Guild of America award. Well merited? somewhat. This was still Lubezki's movie, he owned every frame. Inarittu was just complimenting the ownage. I'd have preferred George Miller, but, hell, why not Inarittu. Sure beats presumed favorite Adam McKay who basically shot The Big Short in the flashiest, most unexciting of ways. Plus, would you really want McKay winning the Best Director Oscar? The guy is know for Will Ferrell movies and came out of nowhere to become an Awards contender. All props to him for that, but watching The Big Short I never felt like I was being guided by a natural artist, many of the shots are pure plastic, plasticized plastic.

Deadpool review - Not too shabby 7/10

It's midnight and the embargo is not anymore, might as well tell you what I thought about Deadpool. That Ryan Reynolds superhero vehicle. No, not The Green Lantern, which is one of the worst movies I can remember experiencing in theaters. Deadpool is is a whole different beast and a far sharper film at that. First of all it's rated R, a rare occurrence these days for money hungry Superhero films, and it sure does earn its rating and, really, I think it just veers towards NC-17 territory. It's that violent. No complaints from ,e in a way t doesn't really play it safe , even though some concessions have to be made for it to be a "superhero" movie, but I appreciated the meta vibe t was going for and the way it skillfully juggled the jokes and the action scenes in such a refreshing way.

This is by no means a great movie, but there's something to be said about a superhero movie that doesn't play by the rules, I really hope this becomes a hit because maybe we'll be getting more of these types of genre exercises and Reynolds is such a perfect fit, he embodies the spirit of the character he is playing. Some of the stuff here reminded me a lot of The Punisher movie that came out in 2004, universally panned, but boy was it a thrilling no holds-barred product of some sick twisted imagination, some sort of counter-programming to the Marvel claptrap we seem to be getting on a monthly basis. If anything, Deadpool and The Punisher are the kinds of rebellious antidotes to the repetitively numbing Avengers and X-Mens out there.

It's an auspicious feature length debut for director Tim Miller. He's known as an opening credits CGI whiz, and you can definitely see the flair he has for all these swifty little effects tricks he's learned from his past gigs. The action in Deadpool is slick, but not slick in such a safe mannered way - the imagination is very grandiose in a "how cruelly twisted can we make this character die" kind of way. Fine by me, also the jokes, although hit and miss, do sometimes find an exquisite sweet spot that tickles the dark twisted side of our minds. Suffice to say that as far as February releases go, you could do a lot worse than this one. It entertains and I don't think the word boring should ever be applied to this film.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Hail, Caesar!

Many people might forget this,  but the Coens haven't released a new movie since their 2013 masterwork Inside Llewyn Davis. I figured the next film would be something comic and light and surely thats what we're getting. HAIL, CEASAR! belongs in the same tradition as Burn After Reading and The Big Lebowski,  which to me is a great thing.

These are the kind of movies the Coens take a break on and after tackling heavy subjects like Fargo and No Country For Old Men. They are usually quite potty, juggling an insane amount if plot strands until.. Well.. Until the plot just doesn't matter anymore. This new "plot entanglement" that the Coens have concocted isn't as good as Lebowski or Reading, but it sure does have its moments. Very Coen-esque moments in fact.

The fact that they got all of these big stars to play what essentially or practically all small roles is both impressive and part of the fun in deciphering where the hell the whole thing is going. Through this nutso ode to Hollywood's golden age you try figure out what kind of impact stars such as Clooney or Jonah Hill or Channing Tatum or Tilda Swinton or Scarlett Johansen will have on the film's overall narrative. A second viewing, like many Coen gems, will probably run a little smoother.

That's the the thing about Joel and Ethan Coens movies, sometimes a second viewing is mandatory after you've figure out all the plot flow and curveballs, the second time you can actually just sit down and absorb the whole damn thing without having to be caught by surprise every few seconds by the narrative unpredictability.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Sundance 2016 Report

Coming to Sundance always brings a kind of mystery to movie-going. There's an almost organic feeling to this film festival, which was started in the mid ‘80s by Robert Redford, a then ski enthusiast who saw an opportunity to boost independent cinema. What came next probably defied every expectation, including Redford's, and became a Hollywood juggernaut for indie cinema. In the 35 years that followed, incredible classics would be discovered, and filmmakers like Quentin Tarantino, Steven Sodebergh, Christopher Nolan, and Darren Aronofsky would be born. The organic feel mentioned above has to do with how it is the only festival that makes the viewer go back to the basics. We go into a movie not knowing much about its cast or its director, and instead opt to leap forward and take a chance on no-name talent who might just be the next big thing. That's basically it: what everyone is looking for is the next big thing. The next ball-busting rule breaker reminiscent of when Tarantino brought Reservoir Dogs in 1992 or Steven Soderbergh brought Sex, Lies and Videotape back in 1989.

Expectations are high and they are not always met, but there's something that has to be said for a film festival that continuously churns out new talent year after year. There will be those who say that it isn't the festival it used to be, with Park City hounded by Hollywood elite for the course of 10 days, but don't fret, there's still magic in the air every time Sundance installs itself in Park City. The low-budget mavericks are still here, and with just one look at last year's lineup you’re in glee of the quality of films that showed up: Tangerine, The Witch, The Diary of a Teenage Girl, Brooklyn, It Follows, James White, The End of the Tour, Me Earl and The Dying Girl, Dope, The Forbidden Room, Listen To Me Marlon and The Wolfpack.

One can't forget the great movies over the years that gave Sundance its incredible reputation: Joel and Ethan Coen's Blood Simple, Jim Jarmusch's Stranger Than Paradise, Steven Soderbergh's Sex, Lies & Videotape, Charles Burnett’s To Sleep with Anger, Todd Haynes’ Poison, Richard Linklater’s Slacker, Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs, Kevin Smith’s Clerks, Bryan Singer’s The Usual Suspects, David O. Russell’s Spanking the Monkey, Todd Solondz’s Welcome to the Dollhouse, Stanley Tucci and Campbell Scott’s Big Night, Darren Aronofsky’s Pi, Mary Harron’s American Psycho, Richard Kelly’s Donnie Darko, Kenneth Lonergan’s You Can Count on Me, Christopher Nolan’s Memento, Noah Baumbach’s The Squid and the Whale, Duncan Jones’ Moon, Debra Granik’s Winter’s Bone, Jeff Nichols’ Take Shelter, Lee Daniels’ Precious, Tom McCarthy's The Station Agent, Ben Zeitlin’s Beasts of the Southern Wild, Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash and Ryan Coogler’s Fruitvale Station,

Sundance still feels wholly important. Having premiered 8 Best Picture nominees in the last 6 years, it's a continuous hotbed for low-budget indie filmmakers who just want a chance. Best Picture nominations since 2006: 2006- Little Miss Sunshine 2009- Precious & An Education 2010- Winter's Bone & The Kids Are All Right 2012- Beasts Of The Southern Wild 2014- Boyhood & Whiplash 2015- Brooklyn That list is astounding and doesn't even mention the stuff that comes out of Sundance that gets nominated in the acting, foreign language and documentary categories. The best movies that come out of Sundance are the ones that, on second viewing, maintain the exhilarating high you had when you first saw them high atop the thin rocky mountain air of the resort town.

Brooklyn -which had its debut here last year- was met with positive reaction, but nobody expected it to be the Oscar contender it turned out to be, garnering Picture, Actress and Screenplay nominations. It's an immaculate, beautiful film that kept building up steam as the year went along - Writing about Brooklyn last January I called it "As beautiful and romantic as a movie can get, it's not interested in getting awards as much as breaking your heart and giving you a wondrous sense of melancholia for a once better time and place" Never in my wildest dreams did I expect it to come this far into awards season and become the heavyweight that it now is. Yet for every Whiplash and Beasts Of The Southern Wild there also is a Personal Velocity or even last year's Me, Earl and The Dying Girl , a film that won the jury and audience prize, received one of the loudest standing ovations in festival history, was acquired by Fox Searchlight for an astounding $12 million and then choked at the box office. It’s just that kind of festival. People get high off some movies, then months later forget they ever existed.

Maybe it's the high altitude. For 10 days people try to cram in 20, 30 maybe even 40 movies in their schedule to try and not miss the next buzz-worthy title. It is usually said that the movie that wins the Dramatic Competition Prize builds up buzz to fight through awards season, however that is not always the case. It's a growing trend, a studio spending millions to acquire a hot Sundance title and then expectations dwindling once the film gets seen outside the Utah thin air and in nationwide mainstream cinemas. Greatest example being Tadpole, a 2002 film acquired by Miramax for the -then- very large sum of $5 million and barely making half of that at the box office. Does anyone actually remember Tadpole? The year of "Birth" This year's 2016 edition was another great one for movie fans. You could see the excitement in people's eyes as they itched to discover the next big indie director or the next big awards contender. The fest opened up with Chris Kelly's Other People starring Jesse Plemons, and a never better Molly Shannon as a mother of three diagnosed with stage 4 terminal cancer - Kelly's film is a heartfelt, yet uneven look at the ties that bind. Shannon's performance shined most. The closing night film didn't fare any better as John Karsinski's The Hollars, starring himself and Anna Kendrick, was met with a polite shrug. Don't mind the opener and closer, the rest were just aces.

I saw about 35 movies at this year's fest, trying to catch most of the buzzed titles and doing a very good job at that. Nate Parker's directorial debut took away both the Dramatic Grand Jury Prize and the Dramatic Audience Prize consolidating a week's worth of standing ovations in Park City for his ambitious, but flawed The Birth Of A Nation. At the premiere of the film Parker said he wished the film would become an "agent of change", a kind of cumulative rebuttal to the #Oscarssowhite movement. It seems like that is already the case. One simple google search of "Birth Of A Nation" reveals that Griffith's seminal film has finally been sidelined by the most unexpected of contenders, a film written, directed, acted and produced by a 36 year old African-American journeyman that is finally getting his due and taking the industry by storm at the right place and at the right time.

POC and women shine bright Ava Duvernay had her start here with her miraculous debut feature Middle Of Nowhere, so did Steve McQueen, Spike Lee, Dee Rees and Ryan Coogler - who's Fruitvale Station was the toast of the town just a couple of years ago before hitting it big with Creed. As if to lead the way for the rest of the industry, Sundance seems to have taken a stance in 2016 by continuing to sprinkle throughout their program films directed by African Americans. Safe for the already mentioned Nate Parker, Anna Rose Holmer's indescribable The Fits built up a loyal fanbase in Park City. With its mysterious look at African-American teenage girls growing up, the film challenged the most adventurous of filmgoers by never revealing its titular mystery. Clea DuVall's The Intervention played like a funny, truthful and touching version of The Big Chill for Generation X and - DuVall's real life best friend- Melanie Lynskey's funny and witty performance won her the Best Actress prize. Paramount saw the potential in this tiny little gem of a film and bought its right for $2.5 million.

Meera Menon's Equity, think Margin Call but starring women and directed by one as well, was one of the very best surprises of the festival. Touted as "the first female-driven Wall Street film" it follows a senior investment banker -played by Breaking Bad's Anna Gunn- who becomes involved in a dangerous game of corporate backstabbing with the Wall Street elite. It's a nasty gem of a film that was luckily picked up by Sony Pictures Classics at the tail end of the festival. Elizabeth Wood's White Girl was a little more perplexing for some people, but I dug it all the same. Think Larry Clark's Kids directed by a woman and starring Homeland's Morgan Saylor as a New York City girl that falls hard in love for a street thug and embarks in the most harrowing of sexual and drug-infused journey's ever sene on film. The wild extremes Saylor goes through are bound to disturb parents all around the country, but once you find out the events depicted in the film were based on Wood's actual past, then you're left speechless.

 Another female directed gem came to us from Iran. Babak Anvari's Under The Shadow was the talk of the town and became a new classic among horror films. Following in the footsteps of The Babadook and It Follows, Anvari's film seems to revel in the fact that the main protagonist is female. Social and political undertones haunt this mesmerizing film which takes place right in the middle of the Irani-Iraqi war of the late 80's as a mother and daughter are left to fend for themselves in the most dire and spooky of horror stories.

The Top 10 Titles of Sundance 2016

Manchester By The Sea 
The indisputably great movie of Sundance 2016 was Kenneth Lonergan's meditative film about loss and loneliness. Starring a never-better Casey Affleck, the film was snatched up by Amazon Studios for a whopping $10 Million. A great investment, as this stunner of a bold, sprawling movie got audiences proclaiming the most heralding of words towards its way. The first 100 minutes are better than any movie I saw last year and its final stretch, brilliantly edited by Jennifer Lane, is a masterful display of restraint and intimacy.

My jaw dropped more than a few times while watching Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg's Weiner, a behind-the-scenes account of Anthony Weiner's rise and fall. The film is an examination of how this New York congressman, a front-runner for mayor of NYC, single-handedly shot himself in the foot and got involved in a sex scandal of the highest proportions, by not only getting caught once, but a few other times, thus sabottaging a perfectly constructed campaign by his team. It is not only a story about the times we live in, but a scathing depiction of the mdeia and today's political landscape.

The Eyes Of My Mother 
Nicolas Pesce stunned more than a few audiences with his his horrifically hypnotic goth show. The story was disturbing, with a precisely constructive narrative that never let up in its dark, twisted surprises. No fair revealing any plot details about this one, except to say that this one is from film collective Borderline films which gave us in the past few years Martha Marcy May Marlene, James White and Simon Killer - this might be the best one of the bunch, it's that good.

Certain Women 
Kelly Reichardt, bless her indie sensibilities, is one of the very best American filmmakers working today. Certain Women makes it 5 for 5 in terms of he track record thus far. One look at her resume which consists of Old Joy, Wendy and Lucy, Meek's Cutoff, Night Moves and -the aforementioned- Certain Women, and we see an auteur allergic to formula and never sacrificing her uncompromising vision for mainstream popularity. Her latest film has three short stories adapted from Maile Meloy's writings about lonely, isolated women in the 21st century. Starring Laura Dern, Michelle Williams, Kristen Stewart and Lily Gladstone in a career making performance, this might be Reichardt's best movie yet.

Newtown, Lo and Behold and Tickled 
Just like every year at Sundance, the documentaries stuck out just as much -if not more- than the fiction films. Newtown is the Sandy Hook documentary that will tear your heart into pieces; simple, haunting and unforgettable. Lo and Behold is Werener Herzog's most ambitious documentary to date focusing on the internet; then, now and on to the future. At the film's premeiere the eccentric filmmaker even admitted to not owning a cell phone, ever going online or even owning an email address! Finally, there's Tickled about a tickle fetish gone too far. A film so absurd that if it were to ever get made into a feature length movie the story wouldn't seem believable.

Little Men 
Ira Sachs' best movie to date was greeted with the ravest of reviews, well deserved. Theo Taplitz and Michael Barbieri are the titular best friends whose bond gets tested by a shop lease battle between both kids' parents . This subtle, nuanced character work by Sachs recalls the very best of 1970's european cinema, yet goes by its own vision. The coda might seem a little out of place, but a closer look reveals the emergence of an Auteure of the highest order. Only a fool would ignore the delicate nature of this extraordinarily simple story. It's a slice of life, but done with the more cinematic of restrain-filled tension.

Kate Plays Christine/Christine 
1970's TV Reporter Christine Chubbuck was infamously known as the journalist/reporter that shot herself on TV while delivering the news. This year's Sundance gave us not one, but two immaculate portraits of the mysterious woman, who's life story still remains a bit muddy. Not much actual video footage can be found of Chubbuck and the infamous suicide video has been locked out in a vault somewhere with no sign of it ever coming out. Kate Lynn Sheil and Rebecca Hall both played Christine, Sheil in a gratifyingly original documentary and Hall in Antonio Campos' intense film. The fact that both movie managed to come out of Sundance as one of the very best reviewed films of the fest shows just how fascinating of a story this is.

The Birth Of A Nation 
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 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.

Swiss Army Man 
Parker surprisingly didn't win the Directing award, that instead went to the directing duo behind the most polarizing film of the fest Swiss Army Man. Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert won the award for a movie that Twitch Film's Jason Gorber called "The Citizen Kane of fart joke movies". If that doesn't interest you at all then steer far away from this movie starring Daniel Radcliffe as a dead, farting corpse and Paul Dano as a distraught man stranded in the middle of a dessert Island. They somehow form a friendship and learn to help each other in the process. Radcliffe's corpse is used a jet ski ride whenever he farts, on the other hand Dano tries to teach his compadre about the joy of life by dressing up like a a girl and putting the moves on good ol' Harry Potter. Not much else can be said, just sit back and let the ridiculousness of this movie drop your jaw down to the floor.


Monday, January 25, 2016

#Sundance2016 mini-update

It's only Monday, yet I get the sense that people have already started to leave. Basically having shown up to party on the weekend and them. Bouncing out, forgetting that this is actually a fest for and about movies. I'll probably be here until Friday night, but I can report that first and second day duds have been quickly forgotten. The last few days have had tremendous docs and narrative features. Much more to come, more precisely,  a full scale report at the end of the fest.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Great Moments That Shaped 2015

Mission Impossible, Rogue Nation, The Vienna Opera

You can always count on the Mission: Impossible movies to deliver much needed jolts during the summer movie season. It helps tremendously that Tom Cruise always wants to do his own stunts, which brings an authentic feel to the set pieces that many summer blockbusters would lack in their CGI-filled action. Ghost Protocol had Tom Cruise hanging on for dear life on the Burj Khalifa skyscraper. In Rogue Nation, one of the chief pleasures is how director Christopher McQuarrie can surprisingly shoot the living hell out of an action sequence. The Vienna State Opera House scene is the highlight, bringing in a Hitchcockian vibe to the film. The setup has Ethan Hunt, Benji Dunn, Ilsa Faust, and a menacing bad guy knock around the opera—the sets, the rafters, and the balconies—as Hunt attempts to find a terrorist and prevent an assassination. McQuarrie was clearly inspired by Hitchcock, as he uses shadows, darkness and flashes of color to grab the viewers attention and bring a little clarity to a logistically complicated series of fights and chases, measures and counter-measures.  Its 12 minutes or so are as terrific a bit of pure filmmaking as anything in the series and might only be rivalled by another sequence in the film -- and underwater stunt that had Cruise holding his breath for nearly 6 minutes.

Creed, Long take

Boxing might be the most cinematic sport, so much so that if you were to make a boxing movie, chances are it would be rife with cliches. What a welcome surprise it was to have a Rocky movie that actually delivered the thrills and goosebumps that made the original 1976 film such a great film. Although the story might be familiar, the movie has freshness that Ryan Coogler brings to the table. He's infused Rocky with 21st century modernism and style that Stallone would have never been able to bring out if he were writer-director. Around the film’s midpoint, we are given an audacious sequence that reinvents the boxing match. Composed as a single unbroken shot, the scene follows Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan) as he squares off against Leo Sporino (Gabe Rosado) in the ring—his first major fight following an undefeated run of matches in Tijuana. The way Coogler’s camera circles its way through the ring, staying in close on the fighters but keeping the geography of their fight clear, is ground-breaking--never has a boxing match felt more intimate or gut wrenching than here. The camera, swirling in and out of the action, occasionally pans over to catch the reactions of the fighters’ trainers, but the main selling point here is making the fight look so real, with every punch feeling so immediate. There's great immediacy to the whole thing.

Sicario, Mexican Border Crossing

Quebecois filmmaker Denis Villeneuve and genius cinematographer Roger Deakins can really shoot the living hell out of a scene. Sicario, their latest outing, has a slew of sequences that redefine the way action and atmosphere can go hand to hand in movies. The opener has a DEA mission that goes awry, and at the climax there is a night vision tunnel sequence that feels like something out of a tense 1970s horror flick. However, the sequence that had everyone talking about the film's virtues had to do with a Mexican border crossing that takes advantage of the tension that a stop-and-go traffic jam can offer in the most dire of circumstances. Hundreds of cars are lined up at the U.S.-Mexico border, while FBI agent Kate Macer (Emily Blunt) and her team try to avoid the chaos that we know is inevitably going to occur. That every vehicle is utterly trapped in its current location only heightens the feeling of a predictably violent outcome. Eventually, a full-blown shootout occurs, with Villeneuve and Deakins offering claustrophobic, almost surgical preciseness with their shot selection. Make no mistake about it, these are pros working here and they know how turn the screw on the most tightly knit of sequences.

The Revenant, The Bear Attack

One can't escape talking about The Revenant without mentioning its piece de resistance: a bear mauling that seems to be a make it or break it moment for the audience member. Once you go through that sequence, you will know whether you'll be able to handle Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's mesmerizing film. Emmanuel Lubezki’s protracted Steadicam shots are breathtaking to watch, but nowhere more so than in this frightening sequence. The setup is quite simple as our hero Hugh Glass walks through the woodland to hunt for food. Glass appears to see baby cubs at a far distance, and a moment of relief appears on his face, that is until he turns around and notices the mother bear right next to him. At first she horrifically investigates him, but then jumps and mauls him to near death. Lubezki makes it a long take as the CGI beast tosses DiCaprio around like a toy. Glass tries to shoot, stab and shove his way out of the ordeal, but it only makes the bear more aggressive. The final shot of the dead bear on top of glass is both frightening and surreal.

Bridge Of Spies, Opening Scene

Steven Spielberg’s understated gem Bridge Of Spies resembles more the dialogue driven brilliance of Munich and Lincoln than it does Indiana Jones: it's a film obsessed with the art of negotiation. If there is an action set-piece in the film, it's the brilliant opening that actually features barely any dialogue. We follow Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance) through what seems to be his daily morning routine, however we come to realize that he is actually a spy as he exchanges what seems to be a coded message on a park bench. Enter the FBI who are hot on his trail, pursuing him through the New York City streets, while the whole thing is shot like the opening of a 1970s paranoid thriller by Spielberg and his long-time cinematographer Janusz Kaminski.  The cat and mouse game eventually climaxes with the FBI storming through the door of his apartment, trying to find any clue to this sly Soviet spy's activity. The final gotcha moment is the way he brilliantly finds a way to destroy the encoded message right in front of the authorities with something as simple as paint.

Magic Mike: XXL, Richie's Mini-Mart Striptease

We are lucky to live at a time when Magic Mike XXL can actually be accepted by the mainstream. Just a decade ago it might have been shunned off, but Gregory Jacob's sequel to the 2012 original turned out to be a fantastic treat. By far the best--and most talked about--moment exemplifies the smarts that come with Jacobs' astute direction.  During a mini-mart pit stop, Mike (Channing Tatum) challenges Big Dick Richie (Joe Manganiello) to make the day of the frowning clerk (Lindsey Moser) behind the counter. She's clearly not happy about something, but as the Backstreet Boys’ hit ballad “I Want It That Way” starts playing on the radio, Manganiello Joyously improvises improvises a striptease with whatever is at his disposal at the store -watch out party snack and soda pops. While the audience laughs in hilarity and our young cashier watches in stunned amazement, Manganiello's dedication to turning the cashier's frown upside down becomes something deeper. A lot of guys can probably learn a lesson or two from this scene: sometimes a woman just wants to feel special and like the hottest girl on the planet.

Max Mad: Fury Road, The Whole Movie

“Mad Max: Fury Road” single-handily redefined what an action movie could do this decade. George Miller worked on his baby for the better part of 30 years and his vision was finally unleashed on screens this summer to the ravest of rave reviews. Which scene could we choose? The answer: All of them. Mad Max flows so effortlessly and in such stunningly synchronous fashion, that it's quite literally impossible to choose a single moment that stunned us. Fact of the matter is, every single scene wowed us, even the rare quieter moments where out characters take time to ponder the world's end. When the movie was done all I could think of was how all these young, hip, new superhero movie directors coming from the indie scene just got schooled on how an action movie should be made…by a 70-year-old filmmaker. You can’t deny the sheer impact of Mad Max: Fury Road. Director George Miller’s Fourth installment of the film franchise is proof that not all blockbusters should be greeted with an indifferent shrug. If anything, this brutal action film is even more intense and exciting than its predecessors. With its nihilistic outlook on human nature, and a nasty, in-your-face style, this is Miller’s triumph through and through. The amount of detail that he brings to every frame is as obsessively meticulous as any Wes Anderson picture I’ve seen, as is the editing by Margaret Sixel, which – as we stand – is most deserving of next year’s Film Editing Oscar. Edited at breakneck pace and staged with manic fury, Sixel is the unheralded hero here. The celebrated one is of course Miller, whose passion and vision comes through in every frame. The total control he must have had with this project to pull off what he did on screen is unheard of, which is good for him and great for us.

Anomalisa, Sex Scene

When I heard that Charlie Kaufman's latest meta-physical endeavour was going to be a puppet movie and that it was going to include a graphic sex scene, my first thoughts went back to 2004's Team America: World Police and the hilariously over the top coitus featured. Of course this being Charlie Kaufman, I should have known better, and what we got instead was Anomalisa -- a beautifully rendered, personal film about loneliness, depression and the connections we make. The sex in Anomalisa is both believable and heartbreaking, with two lonely strangers trying to find comfort and resolution to their problems. Our depressed hero Michael Stone seems to have lost faith in humanity, but finds resolve in Lisa -- indelibly voiced by an Oscar deserving Jennifer Jason Leigh. She's a shy, self-conscious woman staying at the same hotel as Michael. He first notices her by her unique voice -- a breath of fresh air if you will -- that stands out compared to every other mundane noise he hears on a daily basis. That one night they talk, have laughs, have tears and finally have sex. The scene itself is graphic, but never over the top or objectifying; instead, it's actually fairly romantic - a moment when two lonely souls connect and their daily problems seem to take a pause for the most personal of connections.

Room, Jack Escapes

Why wouldn't this be on my list? The game-changing moment of Lenny Abrahamson's Room arrives at around the 50-minute mark. I hadn't read the book, nor had I seen any previews - I went into the film cold and did not know that an escape would happen so soon into the movie. It's a breathless, life-or-death escape, as our 5-year-old hero Jack (an incredible Jacob Tremblay) escapes captivity and sees his first ever glimpse of the sun. Before that, Jack, his mom (Oscar contender Brie Larson), and we the viewers were held captive in the most claustrophobic of environments. As we held our breath and bit our fingernails off, Jack rolling himself out of a rug in the back of a pick-up truck was enough to give us a heart attack, and if that wasn't enough, the villainous captor is right on his trail. The frame pans to what Jack ends up seeing once freed: the sky, the trees, power lines, bewildered pedestrians - all very new things to him, and seen with the freshest of eyes by an audience enthralled by a movie that will likely stick with us for years to come.

The Walk, The Stunt

You can easily nitpick the flaws of Robert Zemeckis' The Walk - and there are plenty - but once all the phony French accents and abysmally lengthy setups have been dealt with, what we are left with is an extraordinary, unhurried 17-minute scene that uses 3D to its fullest potential, making you feel like you're right there walking the tightrope with Phillipe Petit. That is the only thing the film does better than the great 2008 documentary Man on Wire, for which this movie is based on. It is the best possible recreation of an a stunt so absurdly dangerous that it crosses certain lines and becomes a beautiful work of art. Joseph Gordon-Levitt's Petit walks on the one-inch steel braided cable with the elegance of a dancer high on his abilities to perform. An audience gathers around the front entrance of the World Trade Center, amazed, and in awe. The movie audience is right there with him, feeling as if they are performing this ridiculous, but beautiful act all the way through. Peeking down at the 110 stories that separates the rope and the ground, one can easily get the feeling of queasiness or nausea, and in fact some screening reports have mentioned people getting physically sick during the film.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Interview: Mark Rylance

Interviewing Mary Rylance earlier this year I would have never suspected that I'd be talking to a major 2015 awards contender. He was promoting The Gunman, a no frills action movie starring Sean Penn. Rylance's supporting work in the film was unsurprisingly one of the -rare- great moments of the film. For an actor that's always shied away from the Hollywood spotlight and opted for the rush of theatre plays , Rylance surely did not expect the storm that was about to happen for his role as Rudolf Abel in Steven Spielberg's Bridge of Spies. Then he's a legend in his own right. Gaining the reputation as one of the great Shakespearian actors of our time, Sean Penn has said that Rylance is "probably the closest thing to a magician we have in the field”, Al Pacino has chmed in with the upmost respect for the guy "“Rylance speaks Shakespeare as if it was written for him the night before.” said Pacino a few years back and even Steven Spielberg chimed in by saying Rylance was “one of the most extraordinary actors working anywhere”.

 In 1987 Rylance famously turned down a role in Steven Spielberg's "Empire of the Sun" and instead opted to follow his muse for other more personal projects. "I met my wife by turning him down," says Rylance, smiling Meeting the actor you'd never think for one second that you're talking to a three time Tony winner and future Oscar nominee, Rylance is the gentlest most sincerely humble interviewee I've had the chance of meeting this year. His bushy eyebrows and calming eyes don't necessarily stare at you as much as wander around the room and then look back. A very spiritual man, an animal rights activist that told the Guardian earlier this year “And on the news the other day there was this amazing thing about dogs smelling prostate cancer in urine! And cats being trained to detect breast cancer in women! Maybe in 50 years they’ll just see not only how cruel we were to torture and kill and eat animals, but how foolish not to develop a healing relationship with them.”

 In the late 80's Rylance met composer Claire van Kampen, then married with two small daughters, Nataasha and Juliet. Rylance became the father figure for those two girls, but tragedy struck when Nataasha died suddenly, aged 28, of a brain haemorrhage on a flight in July 2012. “To some degree, all my principles went out the window when my daughter died. I couldn’t quite see the point of anything. It seemed like nothing really mattered. Why the fuck does it, you know? So I’m only kind of recovering my sense that what I do makes a difference.” I stutter condolences. “Well, lots of people have very difficult things happen.” He's good friends with the Coen Brothers and almost got the lead role in their 2009 classic "A Serious Man", the experience of not getting it was "upsetting" and a role in the 2011 Jason Statham vehicle Blitz sealed the deal "I've made some bad films, too, that have not been enjoyable, At a certain point after one of them I did a few years back, I said, 'That's it. I'm not interested in this anymore ... I was done, I fired my agent and I decided to concentrate on theater ... I had forgotten how satisfying it was being a theatre actor and this venture I had was just greediness"

For Rylance it was a challenging time "I thought: I need to be happy with who I am, where I am. That can be the kind of miners' dust of being an actor," he says. "For an actor, being dissatisfied with who you are can be the reason for becoming an actor, but it can become an illness." Then came Spielberg, reigniting a cinematic interest in Rylance. "I wanted to work with Spielberg. I'd seen his Lincoln and I bumped into Daniel Daniel Day-Lewis for the first time in 20 years and he spoke so warmly about working with Steven. I think he got me the job." Spielberg was urged to see Rylance in "Twelfth Night by Daniel Day-Lewis. "He sent Steven along to see me in Twelfth Night; Steven came backstage and, later, offered me the part." He calls him "a shape-shifter, a man of a thousand faces and voices who can play any part." Two weeks into shooting Bridge of Spies, Spielberg asked Rylance if he would be interested in taking the leading role as the titular giant in next year’s The BFG. 'Seldom has an actor been around for so many distinguished years on the stage and yet had not been fully discovered for the screen,' said Spielberg by email “Mark understands that the camera records stillness better than in any other media. His transition from the stage to ‘Bridge of Spies’ was graceful and invisible.”

Set at the height of American/Soviet paranoia in the early 60's, Bridge of Spies has Rylance playing Rudolf Abel a Russian spy caught in New York and put on trial. Tom Hanks plays his lawyer James B Donovan in a perfectly delicate performance that only Hanks could pull off. The powers that be – prosecutors, judge and the CIA – want the death penalty, and a short-sharp trial with a sure guilty verdict. After everything that's been mentioned it is no surprise that the screenplay is by the Coens and Rylance gives a beautiful performance that could well bag him his first Oscar nomination.

Perfectly explaining Rylance's real-life persona when Hanks’s character asks Abel why he’s not worried, he replies: “Would it help?” The same exchange gets repeated three times throughout the movie “That sense of shrugging the shoulders, that sense of nihilism ... why get worked up about this?” comments Rylance. “It feels like that’s a part of the Russian character.” "Tom's character takes an ethical stance," explains Rylance. "His character says: The only thing that makes us Americans is the rule book." "What are you fighting for," wonders Rylance, "if you're not fighting for the standards that define you as a nation? "I surprise myself – on a few occasions; I frighten myself, maybe. I'm more ashamed of myself; I suffer shame – I’ve been ashamed at how angry I can get with people.” he loves a story and his 'story' is that he rescued me from theatre and brought me into film.

The Case For 99 Homes

It's 2010 and we open in the bathroom of a modest, suburban home. Reflected in the mirror is a leg hanging over the bathtub's edge and blood splattered on the wall. A left camera pan gives us a brief, but shocking glimpse of a dead man's body before the camera tightly focuses its grip on real estate agent Rick Carver who seems un-scarred by the scene and all business. In this single, beautifully unedited shot the world of 99 Homes is established and you'd be hard pressed to not remember this world. It is a world just after the housing bubble burst in which horror scene after horror scene was not uncommon and the government bailed out the big banks with little thought for the individual families affected by adjustable rate loans and easy-to-get second mortgages who were dumped onto the streets or into seedy motels with little monetary resources.
Here's the deal with 99 Homes: It made the festival rounds in 2014 showing up at Teluride, TIFF and Venice -among many other fests. Michael Shannon, Andrew Garfield and the film itself were very well received. Not too long after that Broad Green acquired distribution rights for the film and set it for release in 2015. My review from TIFF 2014 for AwardsDaily read as follows: “99 Homes” is not a perfect movie but the artistry is major and director Ramin Bahrani creates a movie that you’ll keep thinking about for days on end" - I was right, more than 15 months later I'm still thinking about the film. Whenever a movie is released almost a year after its film fest premiere doubts starts to emerge, why was it delayed for so long? The ultimate answer is only in the hands of the Broad Green team, but that hasn't stopped the critics from showering the film with praise. Its 91 percent RottenTomatoes ascore speaks volumes about how this film truly hits home.

Michael Shannon has also emerged as a very viable Best Supporting Actor threat with a Golden Globe nod and an L.A. Film Critics Association win. Here's an actor that is among one of the very best of his generation with incredibly masterful turns in Revolutionary Road and Take Shelter among others. Ramin Bahrani’s tense, but terrific film stars Andrew Garfield as Dennis Nash, a man whose family home gets foreclosed by arrogant, money-hungry real estate mogul Ray Carver, devilishly played by Michael Shannon. Circumstances lead the desperate Dennis to work for Carver to get his home back. Both are excellent, and Laura Dern as Dennis’ mother is heartbreaking in an exceptionally resonant role, showing us the immense talents this underused actress possesses. It all plays out like an unrelenting tragedy One that plays like an action film with its episodic structure of different homes being foreclosed and the families heartbreakingly powerless to authorities. Bahrani brings an authentic documentary-style feel to the whole thing, using handheld cameras to swerve with the characters and raise the tension.

This is about a society gone astray (hell, a country gone astray) and a poisonous system that doesn’t just seem unfair, but criminal. This is a movie for its time about its time, that is frighteningly urgent and has more than enough relevance to pack a punch. Though laws and regulations have helped repair the real estate market in America, there is still a rapidly growing. Every setting in the film holds illustrative significance; Carver's posh estate for his three daughters is built off the robbery of other families' homes, and the unfurnished mansion were Craver and Nash meet speaks to the former's emotional detachment and suggests the latter's fruitless departure from his honest carpenter days.

Bahrani never lets you forget the dooming decisions that are constantly made. Sparse injections of snappy vulgarity fail to humorously cultivate within Shannon's sphere of authentic monotone character mentality. His Craver preaches, "Don't get attached to real estate." But, of course, you do. How could you not? Any right-minded person with a heart would cringe at every family desperately pleading to keep their homes. On the surface, it seems like a typical good versus evil story against corrupt business. It is, but the film's convention plays this a little different. First of all, Michael Shannon not only makes Rick's despicable character a love-to-hate guy, but we do get an insight into his profession and how the housing crash worked to his playing field. The film establishes that he had the personality to pull this off, not many could have the stomach of watching the sheer desperation of people when it comes to this situation. Their livelihood is at stake and all that Craver does is watch from aback as authorities force their way into the homes and kick out the tenants. 

In its entirety 99 Homes is an absolutely devastating film, one of the saddest, yet most relevant, I've seen of this decade. Its narrative essentially operates on a field of landmines. Much credit must go to Director Bahrani, whose previous films were as low-budget as professional indie filmmaking could get. Check out his 2009 film Goodbye Solo if you feel like watching an unheralded masterpiece. Late film critic Roger Ebert was a staunch supporter of Bahrani’s films and for good reason despite some of the concessions that had to be made for a big studio movie -primarily a tacked on "action" finale- the artistry is major in this film and Bahrani creates a movie that’ll give you nightmares.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Important LGBT flicks on NETFLIX

There are countless LGBT movies available on Netflix, and they encompass all sorts of topics and thematic ground, from married lesbians to gay cowboys to bi-sexual femme fatales. We happen to love them all; the writing is great and the feeling real. We’ve scoured the streaming selections on Netflix to bring you our picks for the 10 best LGBT films on Netflix. The movies here are full of iconic directors (Ang Lee, Peter Jackson, Todd Haynes, The Wachowskis, Mike Nichols) and, of course, stars that love to take risks (Heath Ledger, Jake Gyllenhaal, Kate Winslet, Julianne Moore). These aren't just films from the U.S. – some of the very best LGBT films hail from other countries, where the openness – or closetness – of the culture ends up making for a fascinating depiction of the LGBT community in their neck of the woods. Here are the 10 best LGBT Movies Streaming on Netflix.

Brokeback Mountain
Ang Lee's immaculate depiction of masculinity in the Western genre is a classic that broke barriers in Hollywood. Even though the film lost the Best Picture prize to Crash, it has become the better movie between the two and an all-time LGBT classic. The story of Ennis Del Mar and Jack Twist's forbidden romance in the outskirts of the Wyoming fields turned more than a few heads when it came out. It tackles the most manly, American genre in cinema and decides to ignite it with homosexuality – something that would almost be thought of as blasphemous just a decade ago — showing how far we've come. The sex scene involving the two cowboys is raw, intimate and riveting enough to have sparked major condemning fireworks in red flag states. Based on Annie Proulx's 1997 short story, the film features what might quite possibly be Heath Ledger's greatest performance as Ennis, a man of few words who can convey the deepest of emotions with just the raising of an eyebrow, but cannot bear to show his love for Jack in the outside world. He longs for him, but lives in a time and place where showing his true feelings might get him killed. Jack Twist is played by Jake Gyllenhaal in a career best performance that is as free-wheeling as it is tragic.
Blue is the Warmest Color
This one needs no introduction as it has taken countless prizes including the Palme d’Or. Its French title is La Vie D'Adèle (Adele's life), which couldn't be more apt because this is very much a movie about a girl growing up and finding her true identity. Adèle — played by the seductive Adèle Exarchopoulos — becomes attracted to blue-haired vixen Léa (Léa Seydoux). Adèle is on an experimentation phase and falls in love hard. It's her first real romance and the high is contagious. The two lovers embark on a sexual journey, which includes a close to 10 minute graphic sex scene, but also an experience that will change them both as they grow up and find their identities in life. It is a simple and very well-told story of love and its decay. Adèle sees the color blue everywhere, and director Abdellatif Kechiche makes sure we do as well by inserting it into the most beautiful of frames. I think it could have been a little shorter than the three hours it runs, but pinpointing what could have been cut is very difficult, as each scene, especially the mundane ones, allow one to feel as if present alongside the characters. Exarchopoulos’ sublimely engrossing acting is astounding. She certainly has an illustrious career ahead of her. Moreover, she was a great choice for Kechiche’s exploration of female sensuality (the shower scene among many is a visual masterpiece). While the sex scenes seemed a little over the top, one must remember they are unique in cinema’s depiction of sex (be it same-sex or not).
The Kids Are All Right
Julianne Moore and Annette Benning play a married couple that go through the same issues any other heterosexual married couple would go through. Benning with her devious yet honest smile is a tour de force as Nic, a woman who only wants the best for her children, even when she can sometimes come out looking harsh and too honest. Julianne Moore, playing Jules, is her wife. Jules feels isolated and resorts to an affair with their kids’ sperm donor Paul, magnificently played by Mark Ruffalo. The scenes between Moore and Ruffalo are tremendous, sexy, touching, and extremely honest. Much credit must be given to Writer/Director Lisa Cholodenko, who infuses realism and indie spirit to the film. Cholodenko — 36 at the time — hit a career peak with the film. While her first two features (High Art and Laurel Canyon) had potential, The Kids Are Alright shows the after effects. Born and raised in California’s San Fernando Valley, Cholodenko makes high art out of family manners. Her personal life — she also had a kid through sperm donation with her long-time partner Wendy Melvoin — made this a personal and rewarding independent effort.
Heavenly Creatures
This understated gem by Peter Jackson brought the director's career to its highest peak. Best friends Pauline (Melanie Lynskey) and Juliet (Kate Winslet) create an intense fantasy life together — so intense that their parents start to worry about them and suspect that it's more than just fantasy. The girls vow to never let anyone crash the world they've created and go to extremes to protect it. Jackson's disturbing story is first and foremost a love story of the highest order, encompassing a whirlwind of emotions in a fantasy story that feels all too raw and real. It doesn't depict the love between these two girls in an outright obvious way, but the small touches and gestures make the viewer realize that this is more than just an intense friendship. It’s as much a horror movie as it is a fantasy or love story: a murder occurs, but the blindness of being in love in a world that cannot acknowledge that makes the girls shun the outside world. The film wouldn't be the masterpiece it is without Winslet and Lynskey's chemistry, which at times can veer towards the intensely scary. It is a perfectly cast film that has aged like fine wine over time.
Christopher Plummer won a much deserved first Oscar at the tender age of 82 for his role as Hal Fields, an elderly man who finds out he has terminal cancer and decides to tell his son Oliver (Ewan McGregor) that he's actually always been gay and has a lover. Oliver, a graphic artist, tells us the story through his viewpoint, from his childhood and the problematic relationship of his parents all the way to the outing of his dad and his subsequent death. Plummer is charming but devastating as a man who finally opens up to the world and feels a freedom that he quite clearly never had throughout his adult life. Director Mike Mills' film is a personal project as he went through the same story that the film depicts. This is very much a love letter to his dad who learned to live and enjoy life just when it was too late. It's a touching and poignant story that deals with real-life topics and can't help but hit us on the most personal of levels. The fact that stories like this do happen in everyday life only enhances the melancholic sadness of the surroundings.
Velvet Goldmine
Todd Haynes' film, Velvet Goldmine, is a masterful tribute/love letter to the glam/glitter rock movement of the 1970s. All the audience really knows of Velvet Goldmine's idols is what any fan would know. We experience the story through interviews and musical performances, and that astoundingly provides us with enough information. It's the aesthetic of "man's life is his image"– that superficial beauty expressed through art reveals so much more than at first glance. Glam rock superstar, Brian Slade (based on David Bowie), is played by Jonathan Rhys Meyers to perfection with his thin, effeminate looks and swaggering. Haynes has great fun with the notion that there was a time in popular culture history that androgyny and bisexuality were seen as a cool fad. Velvet Goldmine's main story is Brian Slade's rise to and fall from fame. Slade's cold and calculating ways accumulate in the hoax of his own assassination — the ultimate symbol for the death of glam rock. His most sympathetic side is revealed during his affair and subsequent break-up with punk rocker Curt Wild. Ewan McGregor plays Curt Wild by feverishly emulating Iggy Pop — although the history of Wild having electroshock therapy to cure his homosexual leanings is straight from the life of rock icon Lou Reed. Both Rhys Meyers and McGregor do their own singing for their characters. Upon seeing Wild's performance, Slade is obviously envious of him and attracted to him. Inspired, Slade takes his music to the next level.  Velvet Goldmine depicts the theme of the permanence of art. Todd Haynes shows that this music — and this movie — is much more than disposable pop culture, but rather akin to the works of Oscar Wilde and the movie Citizen Kane, both which he references throughout, and that art is kept alive through the appreciation of it by the audience. 
While this film is best known for being "that lesbian gangster movie", it is far better than that tag might suggest; it is exciting, stylish, and occasionally horrifying. Caesar is a money launderer for the Chicago mob and Violet is his girlfriend who has been with him for the last five years. Caesar has no idea that the arrival of female painter/plumber (and ex con) Corky to work in the neighbouring apartment will have such a dramatic effect on his life. Violet, however, notices Corky immediately and soon sets about seducing her by asking for help retrieving an earring that she has "accidentally" dropped down the sink. Even when Caesar returns home and sees her looking somewhat dishevelled he regains his calm when he sees that the other person present is a woman and thus not a threat to him.  Violet and Corky hatch a plan to steal Caesar’s money, trying to figure out how they can take the money and make Caesar think it was stolen by Jonnie. Of course the scheme doesn't go according to plan, when instead of running, Caesar decides to confront Jonnie about the theft. Unlike a lot of thrillers this contains no exciting stunts or exotic locations. In fact, it is set almost entirely in Caesar's apartment and the one next door. Rather than limit the film, though, it provides a sense of claustrophobia so that we can see why Violet wants out. The acting is excellent throughout and the direction is stylish without being overly so. Sexy, violent, and brutal, Bound is directed by The Wachowski Brothers, just a few years before they'd set the world on fire with The Matrix.
 The Birdcage
A gay couple (Robin Williams, Nathan Lane) have to play it straight when their son (Dan Futterman) wants to marry a girl (Calista Flockheart) who has ultra-right-wing parents (Gene Hackman, Dianne Wiest). The Birdcage is a virtual word by word remake of a very funny 1978 French movie called La Cage Aux Folles. The French film was hilarious and (in its time) daring. Some of its views are dated, but not offensive. The Birdcage follows the original script VERY closely and adds its fair share of funny lines. Of course as a studio film from the 1990s it does throw many gay stereotypes at its audience: there's the lisping, queeny maid (Hank Azaria), the EXTREMELY effeminate man (Nathan Lane), and his mincing, swishy partner (Robin Williams). The film encourages you to laugh at their mannerisms again and again. It can sometimes be a little too much, but given that it's a product of the 1990s, it is understandably a little behind today's times. That doesn't stop it from being an LGBT classic that many from the community have adored for a few decades. Williams is a bit too swishy but, basically, underplays nicely. Lane is the reason to watch this playing a WAY over-the-top and very loud prima donna. However, Hackman and Wiest are a scream as the couple, and Christine Baranski shows up and brightens up the movie. The film is very colorful and there's plenty of buff guys and gals wearing next to nothing to get your attention. It's kitsch, but kitsch done right with quite a few laugh-out-loud moments that do stand the test of time.
Stranger by the Lake
The Certain Regard directing award in Cannes went to this movie, which is usually a sign of something innovative. I failed to do my research before going to the theatre for this one, so let me warn you. There is a lot of very graphic man-on-man sex, but as long as it is not a total surprise for you, the sex scenes actually add to a certain raw suspense. Just do not watch it with any squeamish homophobes. The plot is very simple: Franck, a young man looking for love, finds lust on a summer beach in Michel, a man who — Franck witnesses — has just drowned his lover. It would not be completely true to say that fear was the turn-on, and yet, Franck (played by Pierre Deladonchamps, who won the Cesar for most promising actor) continues to see Michel. At 97 minutes, it is a short movie that nevertheless feels like it takes its time to unfold, and I, for one, went from being slightly bored to being on the edge of my seat scared as hell. The last several minutes I must have been holding my breath too, because I distinctly remember breathing out as the credits started rolling. If you are looking for an uncomplicated thriller, and are not afraid of gay pornography, see it.
Longtime Companion
Longtime Companion was perhaps one of the very first movies to put a face, heart, and soul to the epidemic of HIV/AIDS at a time when movie makers, as well as society as a whole, ran away as fast as they could from not only the disease itself, but also those that had it. For that alone it should be congratulated and celebrated. Essentially, Longtime Companion is the story of how life takes a sudden change for a group of gay friends from the very onset of the whole HIV/AIDS crisis in 1981. Back then The New York Times carried an article that mentioned an outbreak of a "rare cancer" in the gay community, often termed "gay cancer", which was tragedy in itself, as it shielded the actual method of transmission of the illness that was spreading with alarming speed.
The movie divides itself in chapters, focusing on the appearance of the infection and how it crept its way into social consciousness as a fearsome, four letter word we now acknowledge as AIDS. We're introduced to a variety of characters, all realistic in nature, and confront their issues that are commonplace. Friendships are formed, love is exchanged, and all the while bonds are tested as this "thing", this invisible character, becomes almost omnipresent in every sense of the word. A very grim, yet real scene early in the film is one that can't be denied: at a hospital visit, one character (played by Campbell Scott) immediately washes his hands in restrained disgust after greeting a sick friend (Dermot Mulroney) because of the fear of contagion. Counterpointed is a much later, extremely emotional scene involving Bruce Davidson as he says goodbye to his lover and allows him to "let go". It's two sides of the coin, but Norman René creates a haunting experience that remains indelible to anyone who has been in those situations. It's one of the finest films about gay men ever done, and it's a must for anyone getting into queer cinema.

7 Great Docs of 2015

Just as fiction has been expanding the narrative barriers and experimentations this decade, so has non-Fiction – maybe even more so. With the advancement of social media comes a generation of people with the need to capture each and every key milestone of their lives on their phone or tablet or device. As such, the wealth of first-hand material we will be getting in the years to come will no doubt facilitate and advance the way documentaries can tell a story and shape their narratives. Everyone at the moment is working on their own little documentary of their lives, many without even realizing it, and the wealth of media that one person from this generation can amass in a lifetime will be very much part of the trajectory that fiction and non-fiction films will get into in the next 30-40 years. This is why a documentary like "Amy" or a movie like "Tangerine" – shot on an iphone – might just represent the most ground-breaking film events of the year. They will no doubt inspire many to follow in their footsteps. The following seven 2015 docs are one of many examples of the extraordinary year in non-fiction cinema.

The Look of Silence
“The Look of Silence” is Joshua Oppenheimer’s sequel to “The Act of Killing,” and he once again addresses the Indonesian genocide of the mid-1960s that killed millions. If the first film dealt with the perpetrators this one is about the victims, as a man who lost his brother in the killings tries to track down the perpetrators through research and in-your-face interviews. The truth isn’t easy and a final confrontation had me almost looking away, but the interviews are the highlights as they bring back a past that most of the perpetrators are in denial about. If there is a more important, contemplative, and meditative film about human nature this year, I sadly haven’t seen it. This isn’t an easy watch, but it’s an essential one. It represents one of the reasons I hope we all go to the movies — to face hard truths and cold facts that might otherwise be forgotten. Oppenheimer is quickly becoming a world-class filmmaker with these important films and the potential significance they bring to society is almost beyond words. The Indonesian genocide that took place in the 60's is such a layered, sprawlingly controversial part of history  that these two films will no doubt be seen as historical documents for the years to come.


“Amy” is virtually the first of its kind, a tragic examination of the late singer’s life, composed entirely of footage shot by Amy and her friends and directed and assembled with immeasurable passion by Asif Kapadia. The late 27-year-old singer/songwriter was an unmatched talent but tormented by the most torturous inner demons imaginable. This compulsively watchable film exemplifies the next evolution in documentary, one in which each key milestone of a life is recorded with phone or camcorder by the subject herself, and then this wealth of first-hand material is shaped by a talented director into a touching portrait. Kapadia doesn’t show talking heads as they’re being interviewed; instead he lets us listen to the interviewee while Amy’s personal footage plays in counterpoint onscreen. Don’t be surprised if we get more of these kind of documentaries in the years to come, as we seem to be part of a generation that wants everything recorded and instantly mementoed. In fact, two other films on this list have used the same approach. "Amy" is quite simply the best of the three and a serious Oscar contender for Best Documentary.

Heart of a Dog
Heart of a Dog is Laurie Anderson's ode to life, which to tell you the truth results in a much more absorbed and pondered contemplation than most film-makers would care to deliver. Anderson is the definiton of an artist, always pushing boundaries and always looking for different ways of expression. Here she uses all kinds of modern media to create something wholly original: a meditation on life and death that is meant to relax and open up your thoughts. The project started out as memories and thoughts about her rat terrier Lola Bell and her mother, both of which passed away rather recently. Then her husband, the rock musician Lou Reed, died as well- which seemed to have pushed Anderson further down the spiritual path of healing, which then explains why the topic of death seems a very natural one for, not only her, but the film she decides to make. This hard-to-describe, almost unexplainable film also needed the soothing sound of Anderson's very soft singsong voice to narrate this tremendous achievement. Her narration is so important to the surroundings that the film would quite simply just not work if she hadn't lent her voice to it. 
In Jackson Heights
Frederick Wiseman is a national treasure, a non-fiction filmmaker that deserves to be considered among the greatest documentary filmmakers of all-time. "Jackson Heights"  -his 43rd film- explores the fascinating story of Jackson Heights located in Queens, New York City - one of the most ethnically and culturally diverse communities in the United States and the world. Given the current climate and the backlash happening in this country over the Syrian refugees, a film such as this one is a much needed wake up call. In Jackson Heights there are immigrants from every country in South America, Mexico, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Afghanistan, India and China.  The film mentions the stunning fact that more than 167 languages are spoken in this crowdedly diverse sector of New York. Some are illegal, some aren't, but all try to integrate into american society by any which way possible. It's through this ethnic diversity that we as viewers watch in amazement at a fascinating stronghold of American culture. The issues raised are important and relevant : assimilation, integration, immigration and cultural and religious differences figure prominently into the picture that Wiseman tries to paint. It's not only a fascinating film, but also one of his very best.

Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief
Alex Gibney's tough inspection of Scientology might be the most effective horror movie of the year.  Documenting the inner-working of the Church of Scientology, "Going Clear" is the definitive look at the history and rise of an organization from a cult to new religious movement. It documents its belief system, the role of celebrities who are part of it, and its long- standing allegations of psychological abuse & exploitation that occur within the church. Gibney uses archive footages & interviews from former Scientologists who describe their very own horrific experiences when they were part of the religion to uncover the disturbing secrets of this new religion that still remains shrouded in mystery. What struck me the most though is what the movie says about the absurdity & dangers of blind faith by illustrating easily people can be manipulated as a solution to all their problems.  There will be those that will mention the film as being a very one-sided affair, but the data and evidence Gibny gives the viewers is more than enough to put a clear and concise argument against Scientology at the table. It will be interesting to see if Gibney's impeccable direction and cleverly told expose will lead to a Best Documentary nomination come Oscar night, protesters be damned.
Kurt Cobain Montage of Heck
Director Brett Morgen, who gave us "The Kid Stays in the Picture" back in 2002 gave us this fascinating dissection of Kurt Cobain. If a theme kept popping up in non-fiction films about deceased artists this year it was the word "Intimate", which perfectly explains Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck hook. It's a vivid and detailed account of the Nirvana lead singer's life, rise, demise, and untimely death.  Morgen compiles most of his film with details from Kurt's notebooks, drawings, audio recordings and self-made video footage. It's a fascinating -warts and all- depiction of a complicated, misunderstood musical legend that went haywire when fame came knocking at his door. The part of the movie that most people will be talking about -understandably so- is when we see home video footage of Cobain and Courtney Love, most of the time, strung out on heroin, nicotine, and alcohol. This is all going on even while Love is pregnant with their child, Frances. This is where the intimacy really takes on a new life; 
At one point Kurt proclaims he'd make himself miserable to make her happy and even "abort Christ for her". It's a chilling moment that only gets enhanced when Morgen interviews Courtney Love and gets her side of the story. No matter who you believe, it's impossible to leave "Montage of Heck" unshaken by what you've witnessed. 
Listen to Me, Marlon
Just like the above mentioned docs about Amy Winehouse and Kurt Cobain, the subject of "Listen to Me, Marlon" was an enigmatic cultural figure that seemed to defy description.  
You'll get numerous accounts about how beautiful, compassionate, difficult, weird, crazy, tragic, bizarre, provocative, secret, shy, he was. These are all contradictory ways to describe him in his own right, but maybe they were all true and THAT is what might make him the most fascinating Hollywood figure to come along, maybe ever. Brando also had the knack for personally audio recording a lot of himself, a sort of self-therapy that becomes god-sent and effectively used in"Listen to Me, Marlon". Brando as he spoke into a tape recorder for many years, whether it was preparing for a role (as we hear for Apocalypse Now and Last Tango in Paris), self-hypnosis (he had to meditate a lot one can see), and just stuff to leave behind for his kids. Riley found close to 198 hours of Brando mumblings on recording. He's on record here of saying things that -as mentioned before- might contradict one another, but they are such fascinating, thought provoking ruminations that you just listen in awe at a legend having a go with himself. 

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Roger Deakins' talent and Oscar

Roger Deakins. A legendary cinematographer that has NEVER won an Oscar, despite being nominated 12 times. Absurd. Blasphemous. He's eyeing a 13th nomination with Sicario, a visceral and intense movie from Quebecois director Denis Villeneuve. A lot of the film’s brilliance has to do with the cinematography that Roger Deakins brings to the table. This is Deakins’ second collaboration with Villeneuve – they make a great duo – and the film is almost as much a showcase for Villeneueve as it is for the famed cinematographer. Villeneuve seems to be giving carte blanche to Deakins with every movie, which isn’t a bad idea, and the two complement each other to great degrees. Villeneuve told me earlier this year “I always profoundly felt Roger wanted to make the movie. One thing I adore about Roger is his discipline and his rigor. He exudes so much respect from the cast and crew. When I started editing the movie I was just floored by what he had done."

"The Wallpapered Hallway" Barton Fink, 1991

Barton Fink, a hypnotic satire on Hollywood, had Deakins working with the Coens for the first time. It builds up a world of dread which converses with every wallpapered hallway and tiny room. The above shot is just one of many hallway scenes that takes your breath away. Deakins focuses a lot of his time on the hallway to build up every claustrophobic minute and takes us into the psyche and feel of John Turturro's Hollywood scribe. Time will never erase the image of a hell-sent John Goodman unleashing fiery hell and brimstone around the flame drenched hallway.

"The hallway shots were really tricky to do," said Deakins, principally because the corridor had to go up in flames during the production. "We built the hallway in Long Beach somewhere, and we basically built two, because we were going to burn one! That one was rigged with gas, recessed in the walls, and all the wallpaper was perforated so the gas would come through it. It was quite interesting, and it worked really well, actually." Deakins to Vulture

"The Chalkboard Equation" A Serious Man, 2009

This underrated Coen's masterpiece is their oddly affecting take on the story of Job. The whole movie is an equation, encompassing a man's misery and journey in figuring out exactly why he has been cursed by such terrible luck and sorrow. The equation is of course too otherworldly to figure out, if it even exists, as shown by this striking frame in which Larry -the guilt-ridden Minnesota professor- tries to find the meaning of life through a never ending equation. The whole point is that there is no point and this striking image has even more impact once you figure that out for yourself.

"There was a tweenie bouncing off unbleached muslin for the first shot. The second shot is lit by the practical and some softened HMI window light and the third shot is also lit by HMI window light. For both I was using 4K HMIs projected through light grid diffusion and I may have had a 1/4 grid to double diffuse the light as well. That I can't remember. There was no space for a balloon in that lecture hall. We taped white cloth to the ceiling and, using existing par lights for fixings, we bounced Red Heads off the ceiling. It could well have been Nook lights but the same idea. I rarely use balloons. The class rooms were lit with white florescent lights that we rigged for the purpose. There was a little bounce coming through the windows, which was slightly cooler than the florescent lights. I believe I also had a couple of 800 Joker HMIs bouncing off the ceiling in the corner of the room behind the camera." Roger Deakins

"The Great Escape" O Brother Where Art Thou?, 2000

O Brother, Where Art Thou? -another Coens collaboration- is a visually aesthetic film that was heavily edited and altered in post-production using digital technology. In fact it's one of the very first films to have ever gone through that process.  It has a beautiful, rustic style that was developed after the footage was shot on film and then transferred to digital (and then re-transferred back to film). The result is an orgy of beautiful colors that pop off the screen and welcome us into the 21st century through the eyes of 3 jail broken, outrageous convicts in the 1930's deep south.

"We were shooting in Mississippi in mid-summer and the Coens and I wanted a dry, dusty look but obviously, it was a very lush environment. We also wanted a kind of feeling of a painted postcard, and we experimented for quite a long time. Digital finishing was starting, people had been using digital technology to do effects work and we thought, "Why not try and do the whole film like that?" We made some tests and figured that by the time we finished shooting and were in post-production that the technology would be advanced enough that we could do it. It was a bit of a struggle, but that's what we did." Thompson on Hollywood

"The Interrogation" The Man Who Wasn't There, 2001

When Roger Deakins shoots in Black and White you know it's going to be a total and utter visual feast. The Man Who Wasn't there is an underrated beauty from the Coens and encompasses every single, possible film noir trope, but twists it around and becomes a stamped on Coen-esque visionary nightmare. Deakins uses the overtly stylish surroundings to sheer perfection using every possible smoke-filmed frame to recall the good old days when Black and White photography in Hollywood films was an art in itself. Back in those times cinematographers tried to one up each other with the was they could use black and white. Deakins proves he could have held his own if he working at that time.

"We shot the Barber's shop on the backlot at Paramount. I had a truss above the door outside the set and bounced a row of lights on this truss onto reflectors held back 15 or 20 feet from the window. It wasn’t so much the photographic look of the film they were relating to than it was the sense of the small California town and the atmosphere of the town" Roger Deakins

 "We talked about it and it was like – it wasn't 'doing noir.' We wanted to do a modern film but it just happened to be this. We weren't trying to copy a film noir or anything. If it looks film noir it's just because I was playing with the lighting and what felt right at that moment. But for 'The Man Who Wasn't There,' I didn't have references or anything. It was nothing like saying, 'Oh, I'm going to do this kind of scene that we saw in 'Citizen Kane' or 'Sunset Boulevard.' It wasn't about that. I just approached it in the way I would any film, thinking, 'What should this scene feel like,' you know?" Hitfix, Incontention

"Sunset" The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, 2007

This lost classic from 2007 is one of the last features Deakins shot on film, ever since then he has made the full transition to digital film. It's hard to pick just one image from Andrew Dominik's masterpiece as it is one of the most beautifully photographed movies of the 21st century, the train station shadow/smoke scene is one other iconic moment that comes to mind, but for my money nothing beats this gorgeous frame in which Brad Pitt's Jesse James look over the sunset as he contemplates his next move. It's an eerie, evocative shot that once again shows just how great Deakins can shoot the first sunrise of the day (cue Sicario for another great moment of the sunset)

"I couldn't actually do what I wanted to do photochemically,. "I know some movies look digital but it's kind of the way they're shot and the technology and processing that's being used on them. But I don't think the average person would notice it ... and it just had a better sense of the changing times and the idea that this world was dying," he says. "And in a way, that's what Jesse James knew. It was a much more kind of reflective and thoughtful"  Hitfix, Incontention

"Eve and WALL-E" WALL-E, 2008

Director Andrew Stanton and his WALL•E team kept asking and referring to Deakins for his vision on how the first act of the film could feel live-action. Of course going to Deakins for advice meant that the animators were looking for ways in manipulating the light. His imprint on the films dialogue free first 20 minutes is there, the visual aesthetic takes your breath away as the use of different colours and schemes proves just how powerfully visual an animated can be.

 "The real world, the natural world that we live in just isn't as well-lit as your typical animated world is. There are shadows here. Areas in half-light over there. And if you can take that into account as you're planning your camera movements on a CG production, make those sorts of necessary adjustments to light levels as you're composing your shots, you'll then wind up with scenes that look much more naturalistic when they're up there on the big screen." And while Deakins is quick to play down whatever small role he played in WALL•E's eventual enormous box office success "Seriously. I only consulted on a few shots for the first 20 minutes of that film," Huffington Post

"The Japanese Jellyfish" Skyfall, 2012

Skyfall is by far the best shot Bond film. Its images simmer and make the film such a cinematic, enticing treat to behold. No wonder many have called Skyfall the greatest of James Bond movies. Send Deakins to shoot a movie in Japan and you'll end up with one hell of a finished prodyuct. The imagery that stuck with me the most was that of the Shanghai office interior where James Bond intercepts Patrice, a hired assassin that ruthlessly goes after 007. Their fight, shot in a silhouette with a distinctive neon blue signage, features a prominent jellyfish floating in the background

"We were coming out of the monochromatic gray of England, so we wanted to arrive in Shanghai with a bang—a lot of color and movement of light. Gradually we came to the idea of making everything glass, so the whole thing was this big box of magical reflections. We built a model to see how the reflections would work and so we could position the big billboards and have the assassin firing at the hotel room in the right position. Then we built the set on the soundstage and spent a number of weeks rigging it, positioning every light. The jellyfish originally were just a stand-in image, but it was such a good choice, it stayed. We needed images for the monitor, and the art department found this footage of jellyfish floating through the frame,”

“When it came time to discuss what we really wanted to put on those screens, Sam and I looked at each other and said, ‘Well, why don’t we just leave it as jellyfish?’ It looked interesting, and it was a really deep blue, and we wanted this whole Shanghai section to feel quite cold. So that’s how the jellyfish got in the film — they were just stand-ins, really!” Shot Significance: “The calming, poetic nature of the jellyfish imagery builds the tension of the scene. If the imagery had been frenetic, like what you usually see on billboards, we wouldn’t have been able to build that sort of menace. And that’s what we were after: the ultimate cat-and-mouse scene.” Roger Deakins

"Freedom" The Shawshank Redemption, 1994

Deakins earned his first Oscar nomination for shooting The Shawshank Redemption. A film which started off as a decently reviewed prison drama and has turned into a stone cold classic. That famous shot of Andy escaping from the prison, arms outstretched as the rain pours down on him? You know, the moment so powerful that it was repurposed on the poster? Yeah, that wasn't originally part of the plan. Or at least what Deakins says,

"It was a difficult schedule on that film, and we had quite a lot of night work scheduled for when Tim's character escapes from the jail: He was going to run across the length of the field and catch a train that was going by the prison,"  "There was a lot of stuff planned, and schedule-wise, we just couldn't do that. So this shot, with Andy standing there in the rain, had to be this iconic shot that signified the end of the sequence ... because we couldn't afford to shoot the rest of it, basically!" The film came out in 1994, the same year another Tim Robbins–toplined, Deakins-shot movie with a funny name debuted. "One of my neighbors came up to me the other day and said, 'You know, I really like Shawshank, but one of my favorite films is The Hudsucker Proxy!'" laughed Deakins, who noted another similarity between the Coen brothers comedy and Shawshank: "When The Hudsucker Proxy came out, hardly anybody saw it. It was quite a blow for the boys and me, because we'd put so much into that film, and I thought it was really good! But when Shawshank was released, too, it made nothing theatrically; then, when it had a video release, suddenly it was on the charts for a year. It's all very odd." Roger Deakins

"Night to Dawn" No Country For Old Men, 2007

This bravura No Country scene, which goes from night to dawn as Josh Brolin is pursued by criminals, has an incredible use of light throughout, add in one very ardent pit bull and you've got a night of terror for our hero. In order to capture the dawn shots, Deakins shot some in the morning and some at magic hour, though he confessed that he can't tell which came when.

"I think that was one of the most difficult sequences I've ever done, really, I'm not 100 percent happy with it, but I'm not 100 percent happy with anything, really. It was really hard to do, given our budget and schedule." We were filming in New Mexico, and the weather is so different in the mornings and the evenings. Nobody really notices it, but it's obvious to me that the clouds build up during the day and you've got a lot of them in the evening shots, while the morning shots are crystal clear. There are quite a few of those mismatches." Roger Deakins

"Ready for War" Sicario, 2015

It seems like Deakins has taken a real liking to Quebecois director Denis Villeneuve. They collaborated together on Prisoners, Sicario and the upcoming Blade Runner sequel. Sicario is as much Deakins' film as it is Villeneuve's. Following FBI agent Emily Blunt, the film has Deakins returning to the similar landscapes and as those from “No Country For Old Men". These are clean, saturated colors and might just be Deakins' best digital work to date. The shots of a danger-filled Mexico City and tempty, isolated deserts brings out the best in Deakins' talent. However, we can't ever shake off the finale in which Villeneuve and Deakins follow their soldiers into the field of battle as the sunset looms over their silhouetted bodies.

"You always run tests for something, but we didn’t do that many tests on Sicario. It was mainly testing the night vision system and the FLIR (thermal imaging) camera, but there weren’t too many other things we tested. I rarely work with more than one camera. Even on Skyfall, it was mostly a one-camera show. It’s a different approach to filmmaking. [Sicario director Denis Villeneuve] is quite decisive about what shot he wants tobe on for what part of the action. So it’s not a matter of getting a load of cameras out and just getting coverage. To me, that’s not filmmaking. Denis has a very precise way of approaching things. He likes working single camera and so do I." Roger Deakins

"One of the most notable influences on our choices of camera placement, framing and lighting was the style of Jean-Pierre Melville. He’s able to attain a sort of simple yet stylish realism… we tried to stick with that spirit in filming Sicario, with an economy of means that in English we refer to with the expression ‘less is more" IndieWire