Saturday, September 7, 2013

LA Shorts Festival 2013

Director/writer Cyrus Kowsari and his star Nathan Lucas of Color of Christmas
I feel privileged to have attended my very first LA Shorts Festival at the Laemmle's NoHo 7 Friday September 6. Seven short films screened to the theme of Race/Culture. All of the choices were quite good, considering that for many of the filmmakers, it is their first movie.

Color of Christmas which stars Nathan Lucas and written by Cyrus Kowsari is fun to watch but for me is a tad too plastic, too ready made. It seems like a model college project, that strives for too much perfection, although the acting is great.

Way of Seeing by Donaco Smyth (top photo at left) is also fun in a far lighter mood, about how a woman (Dagney Kerr) returns home to find a lot of changes that she's just not ready to accept. Smyth deliciously plays a campy genie-like persona amidst the frothy proceedings.

I thought the funniest comedy to be Mor Mexican written and directed by Ricardo Aranda Aupart and Alejandro Behar. It simply involves a Mexican actor doing a commerical for a burger. The producers are trying to market a Mexican's tastes and are just not satisfied because they think the actor's performance is not ...Mexican enough. Viewing their extreme prejudice in trying to make him over is hilarious.

On the drama side of the fence, the film that caught my fancy is entitled Solidarity. Written/directed by Dustin Brown this is a great piece of filmmaking. Elpidia Carrillo and Mantas Valantiejus are beautifully cast as two completely different foreigners who come to America only to encounter racism and mistreatment/harassment in the workplace. In spite of their pain, they still have strength and a sense of pride in what they do. Brown works cinematic magic as he combines the two stories with great detail. I hope this gets Oscar nominated.

'Til next year!

Thursday, August 22, 2013

2013 Summer Review - Blue Jasmine

Downtown San Francisco and Marin Bay have a contrast similar to what is reflected throughout Woody Allen's brilliant film Blue Jasmine: the events of our lives go back and forth between manic and tranquil, and some of us sadly end up where we started; for out.of.control women like Jasmine, his Blanche DuBois, it's tragic, but, hey, as Allen concludes, that's life.

We charter our own course; we can change if we really want to work at it. Jasmine (Cate Blanchett), unfortunately, reverts to a world of pills and delusion rather than moving forward, despite the fact that she speaks to the contrary. She is a selfish, self-centered bitch, and I hated the woman without feeling a drop of compassion for her, but Blanchett's portrayal is nothing short of astounding. Sally Hawkins - could be Julie Kavner's kid sister, she looks so much like her - as Jasmine's put.upon half-sister Ginger, on the other hand, wins our sympathy. Jasmine's snobbish outlook governs her relationships with others, and she is afraid to look at herself in the mirror; Ginger is vulnerable and weak, makes the wrong choices, but she's totally aware of it: she is who she is. Hawkins gives a wonderfully understated performance, and I predict, as in many Woody Allen movies, that she will walk away with the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. Add to the cast Alec Baldwin, who could play philandering con artist husband Hal in his sleep and two wonderful supporting performances by Andrew Dice Clay as Augie and Bobby Cannavale as Chili, two of Ginger's low-class boyfriends, unafraid to tell it like it is and  who act out their feelings for all to see. Peter Sarsgaard offers a refreshing, gentle look at a man that any woman would be a fool not to want; if only Jasmine knew how to behave, she might win his confidence! With other fine support from Max Casella, Michael Stuhlbarg and Alden Ehrenreich, the ensemble is right on target under Allen's impeccable direction. Not enough of the incomparable Tammy Blanchard in a scene or two as one of the friends; she is one terrif actress who deserves a film all to herself.

I may have hated Blanchett's character Jasmine, but, boy oh boy, her performance and that of everyone else, particularly Sally Hawkins, are tops! A must see!

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

2013 summer review - Man of Steel

After recently sitting through almost two and a half hours of Man of Steel, well directed by Zack Snyder, I had to pee, and in the men's room, why I have no idea, a man stopped me and said "That was the greatest Superman movie I ever saw!" Did he know I was going to review it? Doubtful, but who knows, as my photo is visible online and more people recognize me these days than I care to think of!

Getting back to the film, I enjoyed it, but there were times that the special effects got to me. "Enough of buildings crashing and planets exploding already!" I wanted to scream out, "Where's the heart, the humor, the magic of the 1978 and 1980 films starring Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder?" Have people forgotten how delicious they were? And with Terence Stamp as Zod, with naughty Sarah Douglas, his partner in crime in Superman II, and Phyllis Thaxter and Glen Ford as his earth parents in the first Superman, as well as Marlon Brando as Jorel, and Gene Hackman, Ned Beatty and Valerie Perrine a trio of bad guys? Both films were delightful, with miles of humor and heart! High heart! But the times, they are a changin', and what was deemed a bright hit over 30 years ago, is spurned today as unreal and...boring. OMG, if I hear that word out of the mouths of babies one more time, I swear, I'll spit! Technology has ruined us all. We want everything fast, big ...and now! And so, young people want a movie that keeps them on the edge of their seats for a full two hours. I guess I shouldn't blame them! If I were fool enough to pay $12 a ticket or $24 with a date and then $25+ dollars for popcorn, soda and candy, I would consider myself deserving of great entertainment, as my mom would have put it "lined with gold!"

Warner Bros.' Man of Steel is certainly exciting and its pace is fast, fast, fast. As I sat expecting Clark Kent and Lois Lane to meet up traditionally at the Daily Planet, it just didn't happen...well, I won't spoil the movie for those who haven't seen it yet, but...screenwriter David S. Goyer has not forgotten the original plot. He has made some changes, and for the most part, it works. And Henry Cavill as Supie is quite an eyeful, with or without the cape - and I say without, as we get to see him bare-chested in plentiful frames at the onset...he's quite spectacular to look at! A handsome lad, if I do say so myself, and quite a good actor to boot! Amy Adams, an always dependable actress, is adorable as Lois, and it's great to see the precious Diane Lane and sturdy Kevin Costner as the Kents, Lawrence Fishburne as Perry King and Russell Crowe, a wonderfully impressive Jorel. The whole opening sequence on Krypton is monumentally filmed, as is the duel much later between Superman and Zod, played brilliantly by Michael Shannon (below). His razor-sharp acting stole the entire movie for me!

And the musical score by Hans Zimmer ain't bad either!

Go see Man of Steel. I still think the 1978/80 films are very good, so rent them on Netflix! This new one is assuredly thrilling, with a few laugh lines. A young Asian reporter exclaims about the Man of Steel "He's hot!" Today's audience thinks that's funny. In my day, it took a little bit more intelligent humor than that silly throwaway line to make us laugh out loud. Anyway, go see Man of Steel, it's not a bad way to spend two and a half hours at an air-conditioned movie theatre!

3++++/5 stars