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Sunday, October 29, 2017

A Look Back At The New York Film Festival

It's been two weeks since the New York Film Festival wrapped, nearly 4 weeks since Hollywood has imploded following the news of Harvey Weinstein's dirty behavior, and there is a lot to talk about. So I am going to get right into and highlight what I saw at the festival, and how the Weinstein case tainted certain films.

Director: Sean Baker
Writers: Sean Baker, Chris Bergoch
Cast: Willem Dafoe, Brooklynn Prince, Valeria Cotto
Quick Review: I would say I am surprised that this film has garnered so much praise from my fellow critics, but actually I'm not. Hollywood pundits may scoff at films that portray the experiences of disadvantaged people of color in film, but they will never, ever turn down a film about the white poverty experience. While it is solidly acted and does have its moments, there seems too much distance between the storyteller (Baker) and the story to truly connect with it. It seems more casually curious and at times even exploitative in its attempt to center the narrative of a poor, marginalized single mother and her precocious young daughter. This effort is at least an improvement from Baker's last film, Tangerine (which I despised), but he still leaves much to be desired. I just left the theater feeling very unaffected, and that shouldn't be the case--not for a story like this.

Director: Nancy Buirski
Writer: Nancy Buirski
Cast: Tommy Bernardi, Robert Corbitt, Alma Daniels
Quick Review: Not a perfect film by any means, but in the wake of Hollywood's implosion post-Weinstein, the film holds a significant relevance. Read my full review here via Hello Beautiful.

Director: Dee Rees
Writers: Virgil Williams, Dee Rees
Cast: Carey Mulligan, Garrett Hedlund, Jason Clarke
Quick Review: Dee Rees deserves all the praise she's (hopefully) going to get with this epic drama that contextualizes war and race between a white family and a black family. Read my full review here via Hello Beautiful.

Director: Woody Allen
Writer: Woody Allen
Cast: Jim Belushi, Juno Temple, Justin Timberlake
Quick Review: First of all, Justin Timberlake isn't that good of an actor to be leading a Woody Allen movie. Second, Allen's personal is...problematic, to say the least (and the fact that this concluding film in the festival premiered at the height of the Weinstein case was not lost on any of us). Third, there are few filmmakers (outside of Pedro Almodovar, who rarely gets his due) who can portray a woman spiraling out of control better than Allen--without parodying her. Of course, much of that credit is due to Kate Winslet's performance as a 1950s wife and mother suffering equally from boredom and feeling unloved. But as great an actress as Winslet is, I couldn't help but wonder what an actress like Julianne Moore would have brought to the role. I know she's played a lot of women on the verge of breakdowns in the past, but infusing that with Allen comedy (because really, that's a genre in and of itself) could have been interesting. The film is fine, romantically lit and beautifully shot (like many Allen films), but isn't nearly effective as, say, Allen's last great film--Blue Jasmine.

Director: Luca Guadagnino
Writer: James Ivory
Cast: Armie Hammer, Timothee Chalamet, Michael Stuhlberg
Quick Review: A lot of folks are raving about Armie Hammer as the dashing American who comes and sweeps a boy (Chalamet) off his feet in his Italian home, but I say meh to that. Hammer is a dashing guy. He just shows up on screen and charms your underwear right off. But beyond charm, his performance is quite thin to me. Chalamet, however, is mesmerizing in the film. He carries the weight of the emotional layers so beautifully and effortlessly. But my, Stuhlberg nearly broke me. He plays an art scholar and Chalamet's dad in the film, and is for the most part just there to guide Hammer's visiting scholarship, but he delivers a monologue at the end of the film that just stops your heart.

Friday, September 22, 2017

It's Almost Time for Halloween, So You Know What That Means...

It's the time of year when Stephen King reminds us that he is the king of terror. He's having a major year, what with the IT remake killing it at the box office and the small screen remake of The Mist (though I could barely get through the first two episodes without falling into a deep slumber). He's also got film adaptations coming our way that I am psyched about. Check below for deets:

Launching exclusively on Netflix September 29
Starring: Bruce Greenwood and Carla Gugino, with Chiara Aurelia
Directed by: Mike Flanagan
Written by: Mike Flanagan, Jeff Howard, Stephen King (based on the novel by)

While trying to spice up her marriage in a remote lake house, a woman must suddenly fight to survive when she is left handcuffed to a bed. Directed by Mike Flanagan.

Launching exclusively on Netflix on October 20
Starring: Thomas Jane, Molly Parker, Dylan Schmid, Kaitlyn Bernard, Brian d'Arcy and Neal McDonough
Written/Directed by: Zak Hilditch

1922 is based on Stephen King's 131-page story telling of a man's confession of his wife's murder. The tale is told from the perspective of Wilfred James, the story's unreliable narrator who admits to killing his wife, Arlette, with his son in Nebraska. But after he buries her body, he finds himself terrorized by rats and, as his life begins to unravel, becomes convinced his wife is haunting him.

My body is ready. 

Hot Take: Here's My One Issue With STRONGER

Some of you may already know what I am going to say here. But I am going to back into it anyway. STRONGER, the new Boston Marathon bombing movie starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Tatiana Maslany (from the dearly departed and sorely missed Orphan Black) is by most definitions a solid movie. The acting is good, with appropriately crushing performances by Maslany and a wheelchair-bound Gyllenhaal. The true story is as effective as you expect it to be, that of bomb victim Jeff Bauman (Gyllenhaal) as he fights to regain hope after losing both his legs in the blast. Maslany plays Erin, his former ex-girlfriend whose love for him is rekindled as Jeff is forced to reevaluate his priorities and his own self-compassion. It's inspiring, exactly the kind of story that Hollywood loves.

Another thing Hollywood loves, though? Stories about Boston through the eyes of a white man. I mean, we couldn't even get a white woman victim? I saw countless women impacted by what happened. None of them wrote books like Bauman's? Also, of alllll the people of color who actually have won so many of these marathons, none of their stories are worth telling? I'm just over Hollywood whitewashing the city (my native town) and portraying it as though no one else but white men live there and only their stories matter. It further perpetuates what has become a pervasive narrative of racism tied to the city (marginally portrayed in these white movies, still with no people of color).

I know this a Hollywood issue, what with its infatuation with white male stories and all. But it seems particularly centered in this location. Of course, it doesn't help that Matt Damon, Mark Wahlberg and Ben Affleck have become power players in the industry, and they seem to all be determined to portray Boston in this homogeneous way. It's cool that they're putting Boston on the Hollywood map, in their own right, but what they need to do is hire women and people of color as writers. They are in desperate need of perspective.

STRONGER, directed by a white guy (David Gordon Green) and written by a white guy (John Pollono), is a safe, expected film featuring two strong talents (along with Miranda Richardson, who is aces as Jeff's mom), and does a good job at highlighting Boston patriotism. But impress me it has not.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

George Takei Is Helping Bring an Epic Asian American Romance Saga to Film

Let's all hail George Takei, who made it off the Starship Enterprise decades ago and since become a nerd icon and important human rights activist. He continues to do the Lord's work today by executive producing the film adaptation of author Jamie Ford's wildly popular WWII novel about the heartbreaking romance between a Japanese American boy and a Chinese American girl, HOTEL ON THE CORNER OF BITTER AND SWEET. And may I be the first to say thank you, Sulu.

Hopefully this drama receives the platform it deserves because goodness knows we need to see this kind of representation on the big screen. While the film centers on the love between the two main characters, the war setting and political turmoil are ripe for a major Hollywood saga. It will be great to see not one but two Asian American leads of color on screen (unless Hollywood opts for a white character, which would cause a Twitter riot that I would likely start). 

According to the press release issued yesterday, production begins next year, so no word yet on a release date. Takei is definitely stoked about it, though, which means I'm stoked about it. From the release: “The book tells an intimate love story that is, at once, poignant and sweeping with historic magnitude told against the backdrop of the internment of Japanese Americans during WWII,” says Takei.“I was captivated by Jamie Ford’s novel when I first read it and visualized a compelling film in my mind’s eye. I saw the drama of enduring love despite governmental racism, the passage of time and the vicissitude of life. What a wonderful film it would make. Now we are beginning the exciting adventure of making it happen.”

So far, this is the information we have on the film, which is being co-written by the book's author Jamie Ford:

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is the story of Henry Lee, a Chinese American boy in Seattle who falls in love with Keiko, a Japanese American girl, as she is sent to an Internment camp during WWII. It is a bittersweet tale about racism, commitment and enduring hope–-a noble romantic journey set in 1942, and later in 1986, when the belongings of Japanese families are discovered in the basement of an old hotel. A widower now, Henry must reconcile the past and the present, the things he did or didn’t do, the things he said, and the things he left unspoken. Set during one of the most conflicted and volatile times in American history, this is a timeless tale of love lost, and found.

Will you support? I know I will. 

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

While You Were Sleeping: The Brilliant Dee Rees Was Making MUDBOUND (Teaser Trailer Debut)

The world has been in desperate need for an epic drama from a black woman director for quite some time time (Ava Duvernay's Selma was three whole years ago, during which time there have been 5 billion "epic" sagas from male directors). Dee Rees, the Pariah director who's been quietly brilliant and falling so far under your radar for no good damn reason. Here's hoping that now is the time you will start paying attention. 

There's talk that Rees's next film, the star-studded MUDBOUND which premieres on Netflix and in select theaters November 17, will bring her to the forefront of the Oscar race. Well hell, that would be amazing. But she first needs to be acknowledged as among the most gut-wrenching young auteurs. Here's a little more on the film from the official synopsis:

Set in the rural American South during World War II, Dee Rees' Mudbound is an epic story of two families pitted against one another by a ruthless social hierarchy, yet bound together by the shared farmland of the Mississippi Delta.

Mudbound follows the McAllan family, newly transplanted from the quiet civility of Memphis and unprepared for the harsh demands of farming. Despite the grandiose dreams of Henry (Jason Clarke), his wife Laura (Carey Mulligan) struggles to keep the faith in her husband's losing venture. Meanwhile, Hap and Florence Jackson (Rob Morgan, Mary J. Blige) - sharecroppers who have worked the land for generations - struggle bravely to build a small dream of their own despite the rigidly enforced social barriers they face.

The war upends both families' plans as their returning loved ones, Jamie McAllan (Garrett Hedlund) and Ronsel Jackson (Jason Mitchell), forge a fast but uneasy friendship that challenges the brutal realities of the Jim Crow South in which they live.

Yes gawd, I am ready to get blown away by this. #LetsGo

Watch the trailer:

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

A New Sammy Davis, Jr. Biopic Aims to Explore the Man Behind the Politics

I'm here for Hollywood icons telling their stories in their own words in documentary form. Because too often their stories are distorted or downright inaccurate in feature films--especially when it comes to black icons. So I am intrigued by the trailer for the upcoming film, SAMMY DAVIS, JR.: I'VE GOTTA BE ME, which will world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival next month.

Davis was an icon, a mystery, renowned, incredibly talented, yet still a controversial Hollywood figure in some circles. He was black, vocal, yet respected in a way that made white Hollywood uncomfortable. His story is ripe for a fascinating big screen narrative, so here's hoping that director Sam Pollard has pulled it off with this PBS American Masters documentary. Here's more about it:

SAMMY DAVIS, JR.: I’VE GOTTA BE ME is the first major film documentary to examine Davis’ vast talent and his journey for identity through the shifting tides of civil rights and racial progress during 20th-century America.

Sammy Davis, Jr. had the kind of career that was indisputably legendary, so vast and multi-faceted that it was dizzying in its scope and scale. And yet, his life was complex, complicated and contradictory. Davis strove to achieve the American Dream in a time of racial prejudice and shifting political territory. He was the veteran of increasingly outdated show business traditions trying to stay relevant; he frequently found himself bracketed by the bigotry of white America and the distaste of black America; he was the most public black figure to embrace Judaism, thereby yoking his identity to another persecuted minority.

Featuring new interviews with such luminaries as Billy Crystal, Norman Lear, Jerry Lewis, Whoopi Goldberg, Quincy Jones and Kim Novak, with never-before-seen photographs from Davis’ vast personal collection and excerpts from his electric performances in television, film and concert, SAMMY DAVIS, JR.: I’VE GOTTA BE ME explores the life and art of a uniquely gifted entertainer whose trajectory blazed across the major flashpoints of American society from the Depression through the 1980s.

Watch the trailer:

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Writer/Director Justin Simien (DEAR WHITE PEOPLE) Signs On for a Hair-Rising Horror Satire

None of that headline is actually me being facetious. It's true. Justin Simien, the writer/director behind both the TV and film versions of the race "satire" Dear White People, has signed on for what's also being pegged as a satire in the horror genre, BAD HAIR. (I use quotation marks around the word satire because I find nothing really satirical about blackface and black LGBT politics on college campuses. But, the media has apparently taken comfort in referring to it as such, so there's that). It seems to be about a young woman whose weave gets beyond her control...or something.

Read the synopsis:

Paralleling the rise of New Jack Swing in 1989, Bad Hair is a horror satire that follows an ambitious young woman who gets a weave in order to survive the image obsessed world of music television. Her professional success comes at a higher cost than anticipated, however, when she discovers her new hair may have a mind of its own. Filled with biting satirical commentary and genre bending thrills, Bad Hair marks both an evolution and departure for filmmaker Simien from his Dear White People film and television series.

Watch the teaser:

Yeah, I don't know. In this age of hair politics? We'll have to wait and see, I guess. 

Your thoughts? 

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