Archives for May 2016

Love & Friendship (2016)

With a premiere at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival, Love & Friendship is a charming adaptation (from writer/director/producer Whit Stillman) of a young Jane Austen’s novella Lady Susan, believed to have been written in the mid-1790s, revised and prepared to a fair copy in 1805 and finally published posthumously by Austen’s nephew, James Edward Austen-Leigh, in 1871.

Love & Friendship chronicles the misadventures of the lady of the title (played by Kate Beckinsale, in a delightful comic turn), a young(ish) widow who can best be described as an ‘impossible flirt,’ who is seeking a new mate (and subsequent fortune) for her and her daughter Frederica (Morfydd Clark).

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While I love me some Jane Austen, I have not read this particular story. But also, as someone who has read many of her other novels through the years, I feel rather familiar with many of the general constructs of how Austen develops her story as well as some of the nuances of what motivates the characters to act in a certain way; for instance, why doesn’t Lady Susan’s paramour, Lord Manwaring (Lochlann O’Mearáin), just divorce his wife and hook up with Lady Susan?

Questions such as the above lead me to one of my reservations about the film – if you are not too familiar with Austen plot machinations or the politics of Regency England, you may be a little lost in the weeds. I do suspect, however, you might not get too lost – because the heart and fun of the story is in watching Lady Susan’s interactions with the English aristocracy (and an American, played by Beckinsale’s The Last Days of Disco costar Chloe Sevigny).

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The ensemble cast also features Xavier Samuel, Stephen Fry, Jemma Redgrave, and Tom Bennett.

All of this factored into me being pleasantly surprised and entertained far beyond my expectations, even if the ending dragged a bit – I really wanted to just get to the closing action to find out if Lady Susan met with some form of comeuppance …

I will refrain in revealing the outcome because I think overall, Love & Friendship is worth 90 minutes of your time, especially if you are a fan of period/costume pieces and are looking for an Austen fix, a fix with a Stillman twist.

Love & Friendship was released on May 13th in New York and Los Angeles; check your local independent cinemas to see if it is playing in your area.

Captain America: Civil War (2016) Summary Thoughts

So yeah, Captain America: Civil War (CA:CW) has been out for well over a week and double yeah, I did see it opening weekend.

Just thought I would take a moment to share with you some of my collected thoughts from my screening a couple of Friday nights ago.

ILC’s Overall Take? I really liked it. As much as I am generally fatigued by this whole superhero movie franchise “thing,” I have to say I truly had a fun time and was thoroughly entertained.

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Here are a few key things that made the film a pleasure to watch (no rhyme of reason to the order):

The “heart” of the story …: At the center of the story is the friendship between Cap (Chris Evans) and Bucky (Sebastian Stan), a relationship which was firmly established way back in the first film. And it doesn’t stop there. This idea of fealty and loyalty also extends to the ties that bind our merry band of Avengers.

Also at the core of what creates the central conflict in the movie is each character’s response to dealing with the consequence of their actions. Though a very brief scene in the beginning of the film, CA:CW enlists the talents of Alfre Woodard to portray a mother who confronts Iron Man/Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) about her son, who was part of the “collateral damage” in the wake of the Avengers’ crusade to “protect” the world. The question then becomes at what cost? It is worth noting that there are a few more poignant moments which reiterate this theme.

 

It’s a balance: While the above themes are heavy, they are presented in a way that does not weigh the film down. Which leads me to this next point – CA:CW did not forget its funny bone. Unlike other comic book adaptations (that shall not be named here – LOL), the Russo Brothers get it – what should not be lost in bringing this action to the screen is a sense of fun. I mean there are people running around in all matter of spandex and stretchy fabrics for goodness sake.

A lot of this levity comes by way of the introduction of the Incredible Spider-Man (Tom Holland). His exchanges with Tony Stark are especially wonderful and light hearted.

Now, if there is one criticism I will levy with the whole Spider-Man arc is the “Benjamin-Buttoning” of Aunt Mae (Marisa Tomei). Won’t go into too many details about this, but I felt the need get it off my chest.

 

Well … The Civil War: Without going into explicit detail, the extended action sequence which shows our superheroes going toe-toe with one another was well worth the price of admission. At no point did I feel bored with what I was watching.

 

A very solid introduction to T’Challa (Black Panther): I really do not know where to start or end with this but wow! What an intro! What I appreciated about it was that is was not overly bombastic, but we were given enough to recognize that this was a character (Chadwick Boseman) that is going to be important in the Marvel universe built by Feige and company. There was just enough background information given to leave the audience intrigued for what is next to come. And yeah, he looks pretty bad ass.

And in the past week, the frenzy has just started, with the twitter hashtag #BlackPantherSoLit trending with the latest casting news which has both Lupita N’yongo and Michael B. Jordan attached to the Black Panther standalone. Black Panther is scheduled for release sometime in 2018.  #WeAreWakanda indeed.

 

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TCM Film Fest 2016: A Sublime Experience

My TCM Film Festival experience is best summed up in one word – sublime. In the three years I have attended the festival, I can say that without question this was the most enjoyable experience cinematically.

In total, I saw about ten (10) films — all enjoyable in their own way, but without question there were some that stood above the rest.

In this post, I will provide a quick recap and/or reaction to five films, and in subsequent days, I will spotlight three particular films of note: Cinema Paradiso, The Kid, and The Passion of Joan of Arc.

But for now, let’s get on with the business of me sharing a few thoughts on some of the other highlights from TCMFF 2016:

 

One Potato, Two Potato: Introduced by film historian Donald Bogle and the film’s director Larry Peerce, this movie from 1964 is an examination of an interracial relationship and its consequences. I had seen this before but really wanted to catch it on the big screen.

I loved the backstory that Peerce provided the audience, from the limited budget and the challenges they had shooting and distributing the film.

One Potato. Two Potato (1964)

One Potato. Two Potato (1964)

 

Los Tallos Amargos: Who knew there was a film factory down Argentine way, cranking out some pretty good film noir? Thought to be a “lost film,” this gem from 1956 is a restoration made possible by the UCLA Film & Television Archive with funding from the Film Noir Foundation and the Hollywood Foreign Press Association.

Reporter (Carlos Cores) and a Hungarian ex-pat (Vassili Lambrinos) come up with a scheme that they are sure will make them rich. Well, it works until it doesn’t – soon suspicions arise leading down a path that possibly has no return.

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Los Tallos Amargos (1956)

 

He Ran All the Way: I decision to watch this film noir from 1951 was inspired by a podcast I had listened to weeks prior – Karina Longworth’s You Must Remember This is currently in the season of discussing Hollywood during the era of the HUAC Hearings and The Blacklist. This particular episode from March 14th, talked about John Garfield and his run-in with the Hollywood establish as well as government officials who were hell-bent on rooting out the “red menace” from Hollywood. It was a great episode and I suggest you give it a listen.

One of the films discussed in this ‘cast was Garfield’s final film, He Ran All the Way, which see Garfield portray a petty thief who takes a family hostage. The screening was introduced by director John Berry’s son, Dennis, this film read as a Who’s Who for the infamous Hollywood Blacklist. Not only was Barry forced into exile for alleged communist ties, but the co-screenwriters, Dalton Trumbo (uncredited) and Hugo Butler were also victims of the paranoia sweeping Hollywood.

Also in attendance for the screening was 101-year-old Norman Lloyd, who had a small role in the film.

Overall, it is a pretty solid picture – with a palpable sense of urgency in the performances, especially that of Garfield, who of course in the film and sadly outside the film was a man on borrowed time.

He Ran All the Way (1951)

He Ran All the Way (1951)

 

Band of Outsiders (Bande à part): Jean-Luc Godard’s 1964 film starring paramour Anna Karina (who introduced the film with TCM host Ben Mankiewicz) was once described as  “Alice in Wonderland meets Franz Kafka.” In this film, Karina plays a student conspires with a couple of n’er do wells (Sami Frey and Claude Brasseur) to steal a stash hidden in her aunt’s house.

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Band of Outsiders (1964)

 

The Fallen Idol: Director Carol Reed’s 1948 adaptation of Graham Greene’s short story “The Basement Room,” The Fallen Idol is an adult story, filled with suspense and a bit of levity, all seen through the eyes of a child (Robert Henrey, who was there for a post-screening discussion). It was quite a treat for an early Sunday morning.

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The Fallen Idol (1948)

TFF 2016 Short Subject Feature: The Carousel

The Carousel is a short film essentially centered on one episode of one of my favorite television series, The Twilight Zone. In TTZ creator Rod Serling‘s hometown of Binghamton, New York there stands a carousel, a carousel which inspired one of Serling’s most personal episodes, “Walking Distance,” starring Gig Young.

Cortlandt Hull’s finished piece of Rod Serling and other works inspired by The Twilight Zone. Photo by Jonathan Napolitano

Cortlandt Hull’s finished piece of Rod Serling and other works inspired by The Twilight Zone. Photo by Jonathan Napolitano

In the episode, Young more or less plays a stand-in for Mr. Serling, a middle-aged man who returns to his idyllic hometown and soon discovers (because yeah, … The Twilight Zone) that he has returned on a random summer night of his childhood – literally. The realization is punctuated when he soon encounters a younger version of himself, who he proceeds to follow home. As the episode is discussed in the film, we gain a new insight into what this journey likely meant to the man (Serling) who brought the tale to life.

The short, which runs 12 minutes in length, also jumps ahead to the present day, showing the restoration of the original carousel. Filmmaker Jonathan Napoiltano interviews with the restorers of the carousel, who are using this and other popular episodes of Serling’s work as inspiration, in addition to Rod Serling’s daughter, Anne, who offers an illuminating perspective about her father for the audience.

 

And with this, I conclude my Tribeca 2016 coverage. Until next year …

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Tribeca ’16 Recap: Narratives

Now let’s take a look at a few features that caught my attention during the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival.

Adult Life Skills

Jodie Whittaker as Anna in the film ADULT LIFE SKILLS. Photographer: Jo Irvine

Jodie Whittaker as Anna in the film ADULT LIFE SKILLS.
Photographer: Jo Irvine

A poignant tragicomedy starring Jodie Whittaker as Anna, a 29-year-old who is rapidly approaching 30 (much to her chagrin). Added to the complications of her life is the fact that she lives in a shed, on her mother’s property in Yorkshire, England and is in a bit of a rut. Originally titled How to Live Yours (which comes up during the course of the film), Adult Life Skills is based on a BAFTA award-winning short film, both directed, written and edited by TFF 2016 Award Winner Rachel Tunnage (Nora Ephron Prize for Directing and Screenwriting).

Far and away, Adult Life Skills lived up to my expectations and simply was one of my favorite screenings of the entire festival. Sure, I am a sucker for the English countryside, but that slight bias aside, this was a film that keyed into to my sense of humor, emotional engagement and curiosity as the story unfolds, revealing to the audience the cause(s) of Anna’s seeming fecklessness.

Additionally, how can you NOT fall for a film that is described in its press notes as so:

[ADULT LIFE SKILLS has] basically the same themes as ROCKY if you think about it. But with thumbs. And a cowboy. And no boxing.

Adult Life Skills is bolstered by a wonderful ensemble cast that includes Brett Goldstein, Lorraine Ashbourne, Alice Lowe, Edward Hogg, Eileen Davies, Rachael Deering, and Ozzy Myers and features quite an epic use of Whitesnake’s Here I Go Again.

 

Little Boxes

Neslan Ellis as Mack Burns, Armani Jackson as Clark Burns, and Melanie Lynskey as Gina McNulty-Burns in LITTLE BOXES. Photo by: Mark Doyle

Nelsan Ellis as Mack Burns, Armani Jackson as Clark Burns, and Melanie Lynskey as Gina McNulty-Burns in LITTLE BOXES.
Photo by: Mark Doyle

Little Boxes is a fish out of water/coming of age story directed by Rob Meyer, written by Annie J Howell and executive produced by Cary Fukunaga.

Here’s the setup – enter our happy hipster Brooklynite family (Nelsan Ellis, Melanie Lynskey and newcomer Armani Jackson). By all accounts life could not be better. When the family matriarch  (Lynskey) is offered an opportunity she cannot turn down, the family finds themselves boxing up their city life and heading clear across the country to the ultra-suburban placidity of Rome, Washington. As you might guess, the transition has a few bumps that need to be worked out.

Overall I found this film to be an enjoyable light comedy that broached subjects such as cultural assimilation (in a new environment) and cultural identity with a measure of success.

The supporting cast includes Janeane Garofalo and Christine Taylor.

 

Here Alone

Lucy Walters as Ann and Shane West as Jason in HERE ALONE. Cinematographer: Adam McDaid

Lucy Walters as Ann and Shane West as Jason in HERE ALONE.
Cinematographer: Adam McDaid

This Audience Award winner is set against a heavily wooded, post-apocalyptic landscape of upstate New York. Like many films of the similar genre, Here Alone starts out as a quiet, contemplative piece. We are introduced to this “new” world through the perspective of a single traveler Ann (Lucy Walters). In fact, the opening minutes felt more like a “how-to guide” for living in the world after the fall of civilization than a narrative feature.

But alas, circumstances make it such that Ann’s sole accomplishment of simply “surviving” proves to not be enough,  eventually forcing her to face the prospect of expanding her horizons and venturing out into the larger world and the potential risks that lie therein.

Films like Here Alone cater to an ongoing fascination we have as a society for examining survival in a dystopian, post-apocalyptic world. While the concept is intriguing, it is also burdened with some limitations, namely the potential for any  story set amidst this setting to be predictable. Where films tend to rise or fall is in how they can take some of these more predictable elements and either subvert them or play them straight, but in an entertaining way.

That said, it begs to be asked — is Here Almost worth a look in?

Well, if you are like me, this film will be of interest to you based merely on the subject matter. Heck – one more infection spreads, causing mass human extinction, leaving its survivors to revert to the basest of human nature narrative in your filmgoing experience couldn’t hurt – now could it?

 

Next: A Spotlight on a Tribeca 2016 Short Subject Film

Tribeca ’16 Recap: Let’s Start with Docs

This year, I think I accomplished my mission of balancing out the features I screened between documentaries and narrative. I even managed to squeeze in a short film as the Festival was winding down. In the coming days, I will focus on the films that I felt were of note; much like I did my briefs in the lead up to #Tribeca2016, I will break separate each post by content category – documentary, narrative and short. As the title indicates, I’ll start with the documentaries.

 

The Last Laugh

Mel Brooks in THE LAST LAUGH "Anything I could do to deflate Germans... ANYTHING... I did!... Hitler was always funny!" Photographer: Ferne Pearlstein

Mel Brooks in THE LAST LAUGH “Anything I could do to deflate Germans… ANYTHING… I did!… Hitler was always funny!” Photographer: Ferne Pearlstein

The central questions being asked by this film include:

  • Can the Holocaust ever be funny? 
  • When do stabs at humor cross the line of decency?
  • What is the role of free speech in this whole process?

The journey of The Last Laugh is seen through the lens of Renee Firestone, a 91-year old Auschwitz survivor and anti-genocide activist whose life story serves as a living example of the rewards and risks of using humor in the face of unspeakable tragedy – in Firestone’s case – the events of the Shoah.

Interviews with Firestone and other survivors and their families are intertwined with clips featuring talent including Mel Brooks, Chris Rock, Sarah Silverman and Carl and Rob Reiner as they attempt to tackle these questions as they pertain to Holocaust and other eyebrow-raising topics that may or may not enter a comedian’s oeuvre. These are run along side some really poignant, rarely seen footage of cabarets inside the actual concentration camps. Also among the rarely seen is some newly discovered footage of Jerry Lewis’ never-released, but widely judged to be “ill-conceived” film, the Holocaust comedy The Day the Clown Cried (eek!).

All said and done, you might be wondering if any of the above-listed questions actually led this viewer (ME) to any concrete answers …

.. well, if I were to come down on a side, I think I am in league with Mel Brooks on this one (watch and see what that exactly means).

This film also reiterated for me an already held belief that making fun of something is separate and apart from using humor as a coping mechanism in dealing with the unfathomable.

As for the other “questions” – sure, there is a line that can be crossed in the name of humor; however, where that line is does feel like it is constantly in flux as our society moves further away from one human disaster/tragedy and barrel towards the next one.

 

My Scientology Movie

Louis Filming being Filmed at Gold Base. © BBC/BBCWorldwide

Louis Filming being Filmed at Gold Base. © BBC/BBCWorldwide

Directed by John Dower, My Scientology Movie (BBC Films) stars provocative British documentarian/writer Justin Theroux as he seeks to unmask the world of Scientology. By combining an earnest approach to the subject matter while maintaining a disarming level of levity, I felt I could easily engage with and be entertained and informed by this documentary in a way that I had not experienced in another headline-grabbing Scientology “expose” I recently saw.

While this story is composed of some first hand accounts from former members of the Church, Theroux and company frame this documentary also as a “film within a film;” the interviews are inter-cut with Theroux “auditioning” actors to portray key Scientology figures. Their assignment is to act out what can only be described as some harrowing accounts of life as a Scientologist from many of the very ex-members featured in the film.

As you can imagine, this leads to some interesting encounters.

My Scientology Movie premiered at the 2015 London Film Festival and made its North American debut at Tribeca.

 

Bad Rap

Awkwafina (Nora Lum)'s fans surround her before her show in Washington, D.C. Cinematographer: Salima Koroma

Awkwafina (Nora Lum)’s fans surround her before her show in Washington, D.C. Cinematographer: Salima Koroma

As a child of hip hop, I was fascinated by this film once I saw it on my film festival program – a history and account of Asian hip hop artists.  We are taken on a journey with four performers (Dumbfounded, Awkwafina, Rekstizzy, Lyricks) at varying stages of their respective careers. The Indiegogo-funded Bad Rap (directed by Salima Koroma) chronicles the obstacles these individuals have encountered in trying to break out onto the rap music scene, a scene that is traditionally dominated by Black and Latino artists.

My initial reaction was a feeling of discomfort with some of the actions and behaviors on display by a few of the performers (looking at you, Rekstizzy). My mind immediately jumped to thoughts of cultural appropriation to the point of making a mockery of the cultural phenomenon which is hip hop.

And while that feeling did not entirely go away by the time the end credits rolled, I was left thinking that Bad Rap was a rather interesting piece if for no other reason than it can inspire conversations about the “ownership” of culture culture or who is “permitted” to use a particular medium as a means to express themselves, particularly when that medium is not generally perceived to include members of certain communities.

Next up: Tribeca ’16 Recap of Narratives