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Saturday, November 30, 2013

12 New Images from the Upcoming Crime Drama, OUT OF THE FURNACE

Last year when I first posted about the upcoming Christian Bale/Casey Affleck drama, OUT OF THE FURNACE, I wasn't much excited about what looked like a generic family crime theme. But as time progressed, my enthusiasm grew. I also love the cast (Forest Whitaker, Woody Harrelson and Zoe Saldana are also in it), so I'll be checking out a screening tomorrow (review to come later next week). Here's a recap of synopsis, in case you forgot:

Russell (Christian Bale) and his younger brother Rodney (Casey Affleck) live in the economically-depressed Rust Belt, and have always dreamed of escaping and finding better lives. But when a cruel twist of fate lands Russell in prison, his brother is lured into one of the most violent and ruthless crime rings in the Northeast - a mistake that will almost cost him everything. Once released, Russell must choose between his own freedom, or risk it all to seek justice for his brother.

Relativity Media recently released a few new images from the film:














OUT OF THE FURNACE is in theaters December 6th. 

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

CAPTAIN PHILLIPS Presents a Wonderfully Tense Power Struggle Between Two Fascinating Men



You may already know the story of Captain Phillips, the heroic merchant mariner held captive by Somali pirates that tried to hijack his ship in 2009. But CAPTAIN PHILLIPS, the movie inspired by this incredible headline, isn't about watching what happened; it's about feeling it as it happened.

From the moment the film begins, you feel a level of unease you're unable to shake. It's a tense, foreboding feeling--heightened by the film's pulsating score- that grips you intensely. For those first few minutes, like a ticking time bomb, you watch and wait for the action to happen. Director Paul Greengrass takes you through a routine day in the title character's chiseled life that escalates to a harrowing ordeal too remarkable to believe, even though it is based on a true story.

Tom Hanks plays Captain Phillips, a razor-sharp merchant mariner whose personality we learn through short, brisk dialogue carried through the entire film. His direct, no-nonsense demeanor is introduced early on in a brief--and inane--encounter with his wife, Andrea (Catherine Keener, who's in two small scenes in which any actress could have been cast), from whom he departs to set sail on a seemingly conventional cargo trip to Mombasa, Kenya. What makes this beginning interesting is that Greengrass juxtaposes it with a more acute conversation in Somali between several young men grappling to get in on a major payday. As Phillips delivers curt safety instructions to his 20 respectful crew men on board the Maersk Alabama, Muse (Barkhad Abdi) struggles to gain similar esteem in Somalia from the countless other men equally as desperate to prove themselves and earn their keep. Their next opportunity will come in the form of seizing a ship and robbing millions of dollars to bring back home.



Greengrass' parallel motivation of the Somali pirates is the film's biggest strength--it provides a more rounded reflection of the events as they took place on both sides. While there is a clear protagonist and antagonist, this technique humanizes the villains and allows for underlying morality themes to surface. When Muse and his cohorts finally make their way on to the Alabama vessel, after several tense power struggles, you realize that Muse has much more at stake than money--he is also clamoring for validation from the men of his tribe. So when his plan goes horribly awry (at the expense of both his accomplices and the Alabama crewmen), he takes Phillips as hostage aboard the very lifeboat the captain gave him to escape. The two men (both fighting to retain control over their situations) commence an agonizing face-off between victim and captor that is much less about the physical control Muse has than the dominance he lacks.

With a story like this that has two aligned point of views, you need two strong actors that can reflect tenacity in their perspective dire predicaments. It's fascinating to watch Hanks, who has defied film genres with more than 30 years of acting experience under his belt, present a man who relies on principle and morality crumble when faced with his own mortality. It is a testament of courage under fire in the most accessible way--from a man who stood for everything and was pushed off his pedestal by a man equally as determined to succeed.



Abdi, in a career-making debut performance, is equally riveting to watch. He is completely immersed in the role and can act more in his eyes than some more famous actors today can do with their whole bodies. He's unflinching throughout all of Muse's quagmire, even when he has lost the match. To Muse, rising to this call of duty is a mandate; there are no options. It has nothing to do with overtaking Captain Phillips and his ship. In fact, in the one rare scene where he lets his guard down, he says, "I love America." It's a soul-splitting moment that defines his character.

While CAPTAIN PHILLIPS is punctuated by its two male leads, Greengrass' absorbent direction and a commensurate screenplay by Billy Ray (a truly underrated writer in the business) complete this high-stakes, visceral drama that allows the audience to experience the myriad emotions at the same time as the characters. It captures what is truly remarkable about the human spirit in times of peril.

Rating: A (**** 1/2 out of *****)

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Melonie Diaz, Sally Hawkins, and 'Una Noche' Are a Few of the Surprise Nominees of the 2014 Independent Spirit Awards

Michael B. Jordan and Melonie Diaz in Fruitvale Station

Guess which major awards committee has just jumpstarted the awards season in an awesome way? Yes, you guessed it (and probably saw it everywhere online earlier today)--the Independent Spirit Awards. The folks that I like to call the cool kids just released their nominees of their top performances and talent from the world of independent cinema. I've included the full list below. 
A few quick notes: Aside from all the great news about the obvious contenders from 12 Years a Slave, Dallas Buyers ClubBlue Jasmine and Fruitvale Station, I was elated to see Yolonda Ross from Go For Sisters (a good little movie that you should try to catch if you haven't already), Una Noche, Sally Hawkins, Melonie Diaz (both of whom I was worried folks would overlook this season), and Mike Starrbury, who wrote the wonderful screenplay for The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete get recognized. 

But, of course there are a few head scratchers: Julie Delpy from Before Midnight (The film is a nice ending to the trilogy, but I just don't think anything about it is much to write home about, including Delpy). The screenplay has always been the most interesting thing about the series. Also, while Lake Bell is fun to watch in In a World, she's the only highlight in the movie and she's not even nominated (only for writing). Spring Breakers is like a persistent fungus that keeps popping up everywhere I look, but I still hold to my first and only opinion of that film: it is godawful. 

Anyway, take a look at the list of nominees yourself and share your thoughts on them in the comments box.


BEST FEATURE

12 Years A Slave
All is Lost
Frances Ha
Inside Llewyn Davis
Nebraska


BEST DIRECTOR

Shane Carruth, Upstream Color
J.C. Chandor, All Is Lost
Steve McQueen, 12 Years A Slave
Jeff Nichols, Mud
Alexander Payne, Nebraska

BEST FEMALE LEAD

Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine
Julie Delpy, Before Midnight
Gaby Hoffmann, Crystal Fairy
Brie Larson, Short Term 12
Shailene Woodley, The Spectacular Now

BEST MALE LEAD

Bruce Dern, Nebraska
Chiwetel Ejiofor, 12 Years A Slave
Oscar Isaac, Inside Llewyn Davis
Michael B Jordan, Fruitvale Station
Matthew McConaughey, Dallas Buyers Club
Robert Redford, All Is Lost

BEST SCREENPLAY

Woody Allen, Blue Jasmine
Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke & Richard Linklater, Before Midnight
Nicole Holofcener, Enough Said
Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber, The Spectacular Now
John Ridley, 12 Years A Slave

BEST SUPPORTING FEMALE

Melonie Diaz, Fruitvale Station
Sally Hawkins, Blue Jasmine
Lupita Nyong’o, 12 Years a Slave
Yolonda Ross, Go For Sisters
June Squibb, Nebraska

BEST SUPPORTING MALE

Michael Fassbender, 12 Years a Slave
Will Forte, Nebraska
James Gandolfini, Enough Said
Jared Leto, Dallas Buyers Club
Keith Stanfield, Short Term 12

BEST FIRST SCREENPLAY

Lake Bell, In A World
Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Don Jon
Bob Nelson, Nebraska
Jill Soloway, Afternoon Delight
Mike Starrbury, The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY

Sean Bobbitt, 12 Years A Slave
Benoit Debie, Spring Breakers
Bruno Delbonnel, Inside Llewyn Davis
Frank G. Demarco, All Is Lost
Matthias Grunsky, Computer Chess

BEST EDITING

Shane Carruth & David Lowery, Upstream Color
Jem Cohen & Marc Vives, Museum Hours
Frank G. Demarco, All Is Lost
Matthias Grunsky, Computer Chess

BEST DOCUMENTARY

20 Feet From Stardom, Director/Producer: Morgan Neville, Producers: Gil Friesen & Caitrin Rogers
After Tiller, Directors/Producers: Martha Shane & Lana Wilson
Gideon’s Army, Director/Producer: Dawn Porter, Producer: Julie Goldman
The Act of Killing, Director/Producer: Joshua Oppenheimer, Producers: Joram Ten Brink, Christine Cynn, Anne Köhncke, Signe Byrge Sørensen, Michael Uwemedimo
The Square, Director: Jehane Noujaim, Producer: Karim Amer

BEST INT’L FILMS

A Touch of Sin (China)
Blue is the Warmest Color (France)
Gloria (Chile)
The Great Beauty (Italy)
The Hunt (Denmark)

BEST FIRST FEATURE

Blue Caprice, Director/Producer: Alexandre Moors; Producers: Kim Jackson, Brian O’Carroll, Isen Robbins, Will Rowbotham, Ron Simons, Aimee Schoof, Stephen Tedeschi;
Concussion, Director: Stacie Passon, Producer: Rose Troche
Fruitvale Station, Director: Ryan Coogler; Producers: Nina Yang Bongiovi, Forest Whitaker
Una Noche, Director/Producer: Lucy Mulloy, Producers: Sandy Pérez Aguila, Maite Artieda, Daniel Mulloy, Yunior Santiago
Wadjda, Director: Haifaa Al Mansour, Producers: Gerhard Meixner, Roman Paul

JOHN CASSAVETES AWARD (best feature made for under $500,000)

Computer Chess, Writer/Director: Andrew Bujalski, Producers: Houston King & Alex Lipschultz
Crystal Fairy, Writer/Director: Sebastiàn Silva, Producers: Juan de Dios Larraín & Pablo Larraín
Museum Hours, Writer/Director: Jem Cohen, Producers: Paolo Calamita & Gabriele Kranzelbinder
Pit Stop, Writer/Director: Yen Tan, Writer: David Lowery, Producers: Jonathan Duffy, James M. Johnston, Eric Steele, Kelly Williams
This is Martin Bonner, Writer/Director: Chad Hartigan, Producer: Cherie Saulter

17th ANNUAL PIAGET PRODUCERS AWARD

Toby Halbrooks & James M. Johnston, Jacob Jaffke, Andrea Roa, Frederick Thornton

20th ANNUAL SOMEONE TO WATCH AWARD

My Sister’s Quinceañera, Director: Aaron Douglas Johnston
Newlyweeds, Director: Shaka King
The Foxy Merkins, Director: Madeline Olnek

19th ANNUAL STELLA ARTOIS TRUER THAN FICTION AWARD

Kalyanee Mam, A River Changes Course
Jason Osder, Let the Fire Burn
Stephanie Spray & Pacho Velez, Manakamana

ROBERT ALTMAN AWARD

Mud, Director: Jeff Nichols, Casting Director: Francine Maisler, Ensemble Cast: Joe Don Baker, Jacob Lofland, Matthew McConaughey, Ray McKinnon, Sarah Paulson, Michael Shannon, Sam Shepard, Tye Sheridan, Paul Sparks, Bonnie Sturdivant, Reese Witherspoon

The Independent Spirit Awards will air on IFC on March 1, 2014 at 10pm. 

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Naomie Harris Outshines Idris Elba in the Otherwise Conventional Biopic, MANDELA: LONG WALK TO FREEDOM



Idris Elba has finally reached that point in his career when his face is so recognizable that it overshadows the roles that he plays At least, that is the case in the Justin Chadwick-directed sweeping new drama, MANDELA: LONG WALK TO FREEDOM. The actor stars as former South African president Nelson Mandela in a biopic/complex love story between him and his wife, Winnie (played by the luminous Naomie Harris).



There's a moment early in the film when the megastar actor as a young Mandela is dancing in a club with several beauties, and all you can think is, wow, that's Stringer Bell cutting a rug or Luther's got some dance moves. That's not because Elba isn't emotionally connected to the role. Actually, it's more like the actor makes the role work for him. He doesn't exactly look like the renowned political leader, and he isn't who comes to mind when you think of Mandela. But Elba found a way to identify with Mandela enough to at least purport his mission, if not embody is essence (which he doesn't quite accomplish). It is not until the film progresses to the later years of Mandela's life, when Chadwick explores the politician's revolutionary political beliefs and eventual 27-year imprisonment, that the audience will begin to sync with Elba and take the journey with him as the older (and more familiar, to  the younger generation) Mandela eventually shines through his performance. Only with the help of makeup and prosthetics does Elba's signature charisma and good looks melt away as he sinks deeper into the role.

On the other hand, Harris as his better half commands the screen as soon as she first appears (about a quarter into the film), and immediately allows the audience to see inside Winnie's world--portraying how the political turmoil and virtual absence from her husband all those years ravaged her soul and gave her a hardened sociopolitical stance. Where Elba's forthright portrayal is reliable and falls just within the lines of what you'd expect from him, Harris fearlessly illuminates Winnie's point of view. In doing so, she portrays a type of feminism rarely seen in today's films--complicated, layered and provocative. Harris, who reportedly revealed she didn't know much about Winnie before she tackled the role, gives her a distinct voice amid the massive presence of her husband.



Though the film mostly serves as a vehicle for Harris's underrated talent, Lol Crawley's cinematography shouldn't be overlooked. Each shot of the film has gorgeous photography--from Nelson and Winnie's traditional wedding to Winnie's speech in front of her house after her horrendous stint in jail. Crawley and Chadwick ignite South Africa with a single shot.

If William Nicholson's screenplay does anything, it intrigues audiences enough to want to learn more about Winnie Mandela. It would have been more compelling had Winnie been the main focus, especially given the number of Mandela films there already have been in recent years. But you can't hate on it to too much; it brought us the remarkable Naomie Harris.

Rating: B- (*** out of *****)

MANDELA: LONG WALK TO FREEDOM is in theaters November 29th.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Trailer Watch: Forest Whitaker and Anthony Mackie Star in the Psychological Thriller, REPENTANCE

Someone on Twitter commented the other day that this is the year of Forest Whitaker. Not only did he headline the critically acclaimed Lee Daniels' The Butler, but he also produced the equally praised Fruitvale Station and stars in the upcoming films Out of The Furnace and Black Nativity. And he's still going.

The Oscar-winning actor also stars in REPENTANCE, for which a trailer recently debuted. Based on the two and a half minute clip, I can already tell that the psychological thriller is my cup of tea. Whitaker. More below:

From Codeblack Films and the producers of FRUITVALE STATION. Years after a drunken car crash that almost took his life, Thomas Carter (Anthony Mackie) has reinvented himself as a therapist/spiritual advisor who advocates a synthesis of world religions and positivity. He’s parlayed this vocation into a successful book release that one day draws the attention of Angel Sanchez (Forest Whitaker), a profoundly troubled man fixated on the “untimely” death of his mother. When Carter takes on Sanchez as a personal client in an effort to raise funds for his indebted brother Ben (Mike Epps), things quickly take a turn for the worse. Angel needs much more than a simple life coach.

What may be simple to grasp for some is the idea that single actions in the past comprise tidal waves of reactions in the present. Director Philippe Caland's REPENTANCE examines these issues against a backdrop of kidnapping and murder.

Misery comes to mind when I watch the clip. It's nice to see a Whitaker unhinged (he typically plays such astute characters). Anthony Mackie has also continued to surprise audiences by playing a wide variety of characters within the last 12 months. I can't wait to see what he brings to this role. Mike Epps, Sanaa Lathan and Nicole Ari Parker round out the cast. Shintaro Shomosawa, whose known for his TV writing for shows like Smallville and The Following, penned the screenplay. 

Watch the trailer:




REPENTANCE will open on February 28, 2014, in limited release.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Why I Don't Like Predicting Awards Season


This is the time of year when I'm always asked, "So what's your pick for Best Picture of the Year?" or "Do you really think that she could win over [INSERT ANY MERYL STREEP PERFORMANCE HERE]?" The very thought of these questions deflates any enthusiasm I would otherwise have for awards season. I know I'm supposed to get extra excited right around now as part of my film geek requirements, but I just don't.

Maybe it has something to do with the very idea that awards can be predicted just makes it seem rehearsed and less exciting. Or maybe the countless precursor awards removes the element of surprise from what I like to call the "final stretch" awards (i.e. the Oscars and the Golden Globes). With the same person getting awarded for the same performance for months in advance, it really makes the final stretch accolades just seem like a lame repeat episode (unless by some miracle the major Academy decides to shake things up a bit--though that rarely happens). Let's just say, the fashion has become far more interesting to discuss than who we believe may win a shiny prize. I know y'all are already sweating over who Jennifer Lawrence will be wearing this year. Admit it.

Oh, and the campaigning! First of all, they're not running for president, stop the shameless politicking. I'm not here for it, like at all. I don't care how many interviews you do for your lame performance in a lamer movie, I don't want to see your name listed among the nominees. Which is why I admire people like Michael Fassbender, who announced earlier this year that he wouldn't campaign for his performance in 12 Years a Slave. (Well, I admire him for that and maybe a few other reasons.) He was completely shut out for his wonderful performance in last year's Shame, so I'm taking this as his "F-- you, Academy. I'm awesome and I don't need your medals to prove it" stance. Besides, Mo'Nique stepped off the publicity hamster wheel and still won for her 2009 performance in Precious. So take that, suckas.

Another thing I don't like about award prognosticating is that it's a blood sport. No one wants to reasonably discuss your opinion on who you feel is most deserving of which award. In fact, no one wants to talk about who you feel should win the award; they want to know who you think the voting academies will choose. Um, what's the fun in that? I don't mind making a great case for a performance I can stand behind, not one based on opinions set by another (which often collide with my own). In the latter case, it's like deciding five performances you don't really care about, but you know others care about it. No, thank you.

Don't get me wrong: I'm going to watch each and every award show leading up to the final stretch next year like the awards junkie I am (I just can't quit them), and I will complain about/admire the nominees as passionately as the next person. Just don't ask me to predict who wins; I could probably guestimate, but it would be a lot more fun to debate hopefuls rather than actuals.

With that out of the way, what do you think the gorgeous Lupita Nyong'o will wear? Or the always fashionably unpredictable Cate Blanchett?

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

FROZEN is Charming, Pretty and Musically Delightful But Ultimately Forgettable



Last year was an embarrassment of riches in terms of the animation film game. With ParanormanFrankenweenie, Wreck-It-Ralph and even Rise of the Guardians bringing engaging and fresh stories to the genre, films this year had tough acts to follow. While Monsters University kept that momentum this summer, FROZEN, the newest Disney contribution directed by Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee, falls a bit short. 

It's not because the film is sub par. Actually, it's quite lovely. It's just not particularly new. The story centers on Anna (voiced by an effervescent Kristen Bell), an energetic and hopeful teen who tries not to let the fact that she's been confined inside a castle much of her life ruin her joyful outlook. Her older sister Elsa (voiced by Idina Menzel) has been blessed/cursed with the ability to turn everything and everyone she touches to ice. Their parents lock Elsa away in her bedroom so that she can't harm anyone (including her sister, who's unaware of Elsa's true predicament). They have also to some extent shielded Anna from the outside world, too (though she yearns for the endearing sisterly bond she once had).

Anna dances around her gigantic home with tin soldiers and other inanimate objects just to pass the day, singing beautiful tunes that warm your heart, while her sister sulks in her bedroom. The two have a number of harmonious duets (from opposite sides of Elsa's bedroom door) that capture the dichotomy of their points of view. And the photography! Oh the photography, the sheer eye candy of it, is breathtaking. When Elsa's "gifts" are later exposed in grandiose fashion, she inadvertently transforms their beloved town into a bitter--but pretty--winter wonderland, but the townsfolk turn against her. Throughout Elsa's ordeal and subsequent exile to a faraway self-made ice castle, she discovers--with her sister's help and perseverance--that while she is the ice queen, her heart is indeed warm.



The story, inspired by The Snow Queen, published by Hans Christian Andersen in 1845, is typical Disney fare, but traditional Disney (from, like, 1965). It doesn't attempt to reinvent the rules of animated stories--especially with its all too customary princely helper and magical kiss that solves everything (though the latter has a slightly updated effect here--yet with the same outcome). Maybe I'm just tired of the prince and princess trope, maybe I've been spoiled by the many more original tales we've seen over the last few years, but the film overall just left me very...blah. It's safe and virtually derivative in its familiar format.


Another aspect that is a bit bothersome is Menzel's performance. From the start of the film, Bell (who has a surprisingly good singing voice) captivates audiences with her jittery, accessible portrayal. So much so that it almost completely overshadows the second lead performance from Mendel. Though she has icy restraint, Elsa is not a villain, and she's not a conventional protagonist either, so it's hard to classify her and really hard to care about her. Especially since Menzel doesn't really play her in any distinct way. This could also be in part due to the writing (Lee also penned the screenplay, and ironically Wreck-It-Ralph), or something else the character needed--like nuance?-- that Menzel is unable to provide. Even Josh Gad, who lends his voice to a wee little bumbling snowman named Olaf, shows her up with his hysterical antics and sprightly characterization.

Where Menzel shines most, however, is in her musical performance. When she is singing, she is confidant, radiant and completely commands the screen. But, she's not always singing, so when she's dialogue acting, it's like...bring back Anna, please.



Is FROZEN a another Disney classic? Eh, not really. I doubt many people will remember it next year. But its gorgeous, postcard-pretty animation will delight audiences of any age. Plus, Bell's performance, and how it teaches the power of the sisterly bond, will keep a smile on your face. See it on the big screen to get the full effect.

Rating: B- (*** out of *****)

FROZEN is in theaters November 27th.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

"Cinema in Noir" on Hollywood's Fascination with Black Plight in Film



Last week on "Cinema in Noir" we went on a bit of a tangent over the news of the Roots remake, lamenting over Hollywood's incessant desire to cash in on the slavery/oppression films. This week we expand on that conversation. Throughout the inception of Hollywood, there's been a variety of these types of times, but more recently there seems to be a hyper focus on them--many all at once. While the hosts and I aren't trivializing the importance of films such as 12 Years a Slave, we believe that there is an issue in terms of the lack of accolades or attention other films such as Mother of George, those that deal with other themes, encompass. These films should be able to coexist within the Hollywood realm, but they unfortunately do not.

We specifically discuss actor Joe Morton's op-ed on the issue, as well as Vulture's take. Clearly this is a topic of which others are starting to take notice.

And for our Scandal fans, we end the show with a brief recap and discussion on last week's shocker moment. If you haven't seen the episode yet, you should definitely fast forward.

We also share our reviews of Dallas Buyers Club and Best Man Holiday and chat about the week's biggest casting news.

Missed the show? Catch it here.

How DALLAS BUYERS CLUB Rebirthed the Jared Leto-Saince



As some continue to bask in the glory of  McConaisance (what has become known as Matthew McConaughey's impressive career comeback), I'm taking the beginning of this post to declare the Letosaince. It's not as cool-sounding as McConaisance, but it's just as--if not more--significant.

I'm referring to Jared Leto, the forever brooding, bad boy-type, whose steady climb up the respectful Hollywood ladder has gone largely unnoticed. He went from playing angsty teen Jordan Catalano on My So-Called Life in the mid-90s to a pretty boy gladiator in Fight Club and later a desperate drug addict in Requiem for a Dream. Unlike Johnny Depp, who actively sought to break out the heartthrob box (and, to some extent, succeeded), Leto made this superficial crutch work for him. He has spent his two-decade acting career applying gravitas to even his most misunderstood characters that often used their internal agony to mask their vulnerability. This is best expressed in his latest--and most ambitious role--in DALLAS BUYERS CLUB.

From the moment he appears in the independent drama (now in select theaters), Leto is completely invisible. It's not because he's unnoticeable (far from it); he's disappeared so deeply into the role of Rayon, a transgender woman dying of AIDS, that you don't see the actor at all. In a performance that's less about his flawlessly applied lipstick, skeletal figure and perfectly soft pitched voice than it is about depicting the heart of a person struggling to live in the face of dying, Leto is simply magnetic to watch.



The real-life story, however, centers on Ron Woodroof (McConaughey), a hard-partying Dallas playboy and electrician who enjoys mixing casual sex and cocaine on a typical weekday night. His fun-loving life reaches a boiling point in 1986 when he's diagnosed as HIV+ after a hospital visit due to a work-related injury. A raging homophobe, he at first rejects his diagnosis and lashes out against his doctors. After coming to terms with his status, he soon learns that he cannot pay for AZT, the drug needed to keep him alive. He begins to investigate alternative medications on his own until he stumbles onto a black market of drugs for HIV patients and decides to launch a business he names the Dallas Buyers Club. But his repellent personality isn't cajoling any customers. So he has to seek assistance from Rayon, who he meets in the hospital and by example teaches him how to better approach those most in need. With their conflicting personalities, the two get off to a rocky start at first, but later become unlikely friends and business partners.

While the nuance McConaughey brings to the character is extraordinary, and continues to show off the actor's remarkable range, it is Leto who anchors the film and gives it the soul it would have otherwise lacked. But the two actors complement each other in more ways than one--Leto brings tenderness and genuine emotion to the film, while McConaughey's restrained yet subtly affective portrayal offers another sense of accessibility. Despite Rayon and Ron fighting similar battles with antithetical points of view, they both embody comparable mental anguish and sheer desolation as they continue to fight their parallel adversities--Rayon's dependence on drugs and estranged relationship with her father, and Ron's complicated association with the FDA and his own self-acceptance. The greatest thing about the film as a whole is that it doesn't simply convey the unflinching despondency that too often is felt when a film that gives its lead character a death sentence within the first 30 minutes; it's spirited, heartrending and thoughtful, providing a more human story punctuated by its companion performances.

Though Jean-Marc Vallée's direction is sometimes indistinct, it does allow the actors to come off more inhibited in their performances and each scene is that much more authentic. With relative newbie screenwriters Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack on deck, DALLAS BUYERS CLUB is fresh, compassionate and gut-wrenching all at once. Plus, it has given us the Letosaince. What more could you ask from a film?

Rating: A (**** out of *****)

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Trailer Alert: Filmmaker Darren Aronofsky Adapts the Biblical Story of NOAH

Real talk: After Requiem for a Dream, The Wrestler and Black Swan, I'd pretty much hand Darren Aronofsky the keys to the kingdom. Obviously I'm a huge fan of the writer/director, but I have to admit that upon hearing about his plans to adapt NOAH for the big screen, I didn't know what to think. On the one hand, I figured the movie will probably have impeccably subtle visual nuances (and a spectacular flood), but I was worried about the subject material. Why try to re-imagine a Biblical character?

It just seems like an archaic idea to me, and one which may alienate some audiences (consider Mel Gibson's Passion of the Christ). Frankly, there is just very little room to modernize Biblical concepts (though it's been reported that Aronofsky approached the film as more of a fable than a religious story). But it looks as though Aronfsky somehow found a way to blend the epic effects of a standard action film into this type of antiquated tale, hopefully making it more accessible to wider audiences.

I'm most excited to see the filmmaker reunite with Jennifer Connelly (who he directed in Requiem, which I still think is her best performance). She plays Naameh, wife of the titular character (which will be played by her Beautiful Mind husband, Russell Crowe). Emma Watson also stars in the film as Ila, a friend of Noah's son, while Anthony Hopkins plays Methuselah, Noah's grandfather.

Below is the film's official synopsis (courtesy of Collider.com):

NOAH is a close adaptation of the Biblical story of Noah’s Ark. In a world ravaged by human sin, Noah is given a divine mission: to build an Ark to save creation from the coming flood. The screenplay was written by Aronofsky and Ari Handel and revised by Academy Award®-nominated screenwriter John Logan (GLADIATOR, HUGO).

Watch the trailer:




NOAH hits theaters March 28th, 2014. 

Lizzy Caplan Discusses Preparing to Play a Sex Researcher on Showtime's "Masters of Sex"


Have you been watching Showtime's new drama series, Masters of Sex? I've been eagerly awaiting the opportunity to watch, simply because I think Lizzy Caplan--who stars as "sex researcher extraordinaire, Virginia Johnson"-- is pretty badass. The reviews I've read have been mostly impressive. Michael Sheen (as Dr. William Masters) and Beau Bridges are also on the show, which takes audiences back to the pioneers of the science of human sexuality who sparked a revolution. Sounds a bit like the 2011 film, A Dangerous Method.

Anyway, check out this candid new behind the scenes clip of Caplan discussing how she prepares for her titillating new role and reflecting on her career (um, can she please get more film roles too?):
 


And watch a preview clip of episode 8:



Masters of Sex airs on Showtime Sunday nights at 10pm EST/PST. 

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

"Then You'll Be Afraid." Watch the New Teaser Trailer for MALEFICENT

I know some of you feel inundated with the amount of fairy tale re-imaginings coming down the pipeline these days, but I find Hollywood's recent fascination with the antagonists' point of views rather, well, fascinating to watch. (I'm not so secretly hoping for an origin film for Ursula of The Little Mermaid). That said, I am here for the new teaser for MALEFICENT, who you may remember as one of the most popular storybook villains most notable in Sleeping Beauty.

Angelina Jolie fittingly stars in the title role, delivering a performance that I'm hoping will have the nuance similar to that in author Gregory Maguire's Wicked. She's already got the look for it, that's for sure. The film is directed by Robert Stromberg, who's mostly known for his technical skills, providing the visual effects for films such as Life Of Pi and There Will Be Blood (this is actually his first directing credit--fingers crossed it this isn't all visuals and no story). Paul Dini, Linda Woolverton with John Lee Hancock penned the script (the latter also directed the upcoming film, Saving Mr. Banks).

Elle Fanning also stars in the film, as the wide-eyed princess Aurora we're used to seeing as the protagonist in this story. Sharlto Copley plays her father, King Stefan, while Miranda Richardson is Queen Ulla.

Here is the official synopsis of the film from Collider:

From Disney comes “Maleficent”—the untold story of Disney’s most iconic villain from the 1959 classic “Sleeping Beauty.” A beautiful, pure-hearted young woman, Maleficent has an idyllic life growing up in a peaceable forest kingdom, until one day when an invading army threatens the harmony of the land. Maleficent rises to be the land’s fiercest protector, but she ultimately suffers a ruthless betrayal—an act that begins to turn her pure heart to stone. Bent on revenge, Maleficent faces an epic battle with the invading king’s successor and, as a result, places a curse upon his newborn infant Aurora. As the child grows, Maleficent realizes that Aurora holds the key to peace in the kingdom—and perhaps to Maleficent’s true happiness as well.

Watch the trailer:




MALEFICENT is in theaters May 30, 2014. 

Review: THE BEST MAN HOLIDAY Tugs at the Heartstrings, Despite a Few Recycled Storylines



As is the approach to many romantic dramedy sequels, writer/director Malcolm D. Lee attempts to update his previous winning formula with THE BEST MAN HOLIDAY (in theaters Friday). His method? Taking a somewhat less interesting character from the first film and making hers the central story in the follow-up.

It's an odd choice of character on which to focus, but it isn't one made in vain simply because without this device the sequel would have mimicked its predecessor, 1999's The Best Man, almost exactly. Set fifteen years after the first film, THE BEST MAN HOLIDAY opens with a much needed recap of each character's storyline told in montage clips. As expected, Mia and Lance (Monica Calhoun and Morris Chestnut), the betrothed couple from the first film, are still together now with four children and live in a pretty sweet mansion, thanks to his football millions. The two invite their closest friends to spend the Christmas holiday with them, which sets up the gathering of characters. Shelby (Melissa DeSousa), who you may remember as the over-the-top glamourpuss, is now a popular D-lister most notable for writing a tell-all memoir and her stint on reality TV's Real Housewives of Westchester.



Lance's bridegrooms are still going down a fairly steady path as well, both personally and professionally. Harper (Taye Diggs), the titular character from the first film, is happily married to Robyn (Sanaa Lathan), who's expecting their first child. Quentin (Terrence Howard) is, well, still the obnoxious player he was before, whose character really comes in handy within the last half of the film when it takes a dramatic turn. Julian (Harold Perrineau) and Candace (Regina Hall) are still going strong, despite Candace's scandalous past covered in the first film. Finally, Jordan (Nia Long) is now dating Brian (Eddie Cibrian), a new addition to the franchise.

While the cast is delightful to watch and the talent is undeniable, it becomes evident early on in the film that Lee has nowhere significant to take these characters. He is playing off the audience's eagerness to see them in any capacity. These nine friends get together, hilarity ensues, and we all are just so happy to see the reunion. Welcomed but obvious fillers--like a random but surprisingly spot-on male lip sync dance number and a wild outburst about Candace's past scandalous sexcapades (addressed in the previous film)--further support this. Even the literary betrayal subplot is once again used in this film (a catalyst in The Best Man) between Harper and Lance. But there is something about seeing these people together again, with the holidays as a backdrop, that warms your heart like hot cocoa.



But, as mentioned above, the latter half of the movie changes tone completely with a new development in Mia's storyline. Without giving anything away (though you'll probably read about it online elsewhere), it's something that affects all of the characters. Lee uses this opportunity to allow them to experience self reflection which, in turn, yields more nuanced and mature characters. This quickly sobers each of them, with the exception of Quentin, who offers comic relief right on cue after each heavy sequence. It will be interesting to see how devoted fans of the first film will receive this new twist. If you're expecting a fun time at the movies, as the commercials seem to suggest, you may want to adjust your emotions going in.

While the entire cast holds their own, despite some having thinner plotlines than others, it was Calhoun who shined most. As giving of an actress that she is, her performance transfixes audiences even when she has no dialogue. It takes chops to be able to stand out among an excitable cast this size with a more tempered portrayal, but Calhoun more than rises to the occasion.

Touching, fun, unexpected yet a bit disjointed, THE BEST MAN HOLIDAY will satisfy die-hard fans of the first film and help usher in the holiday movie season. Don't be surprised if Lee rounds out the trilogy with another sequel, as suggested at the end of this film. Lets just hope he doesn't wait so long the next time.

Rating: B (*** out of *****)

Sunday, November 10, 2013

How Olivia Pope on "Scandal," Abbie Mills on "Sleepy Hollow," and Other Black Women TV Characters Defy Stereotype

The small screen continues to win the diversity game in terms of roles for women, especially actresses of color. On today's "Cinema in Noir," we celebrate what we love most about these characters--from Abbie Mills on Sleepy Hollow to Queenie on American Horror Story: Coven.

Our discussion, however, centers on the recent Buzzfeed article that highlighted how many of roles defy the "strong black woman" stereotype: the idea that black women characters are generally emotionless, sexless and morally astute. One look at Queenie (Gabourey Sidibe) pleasuring herself with a minotaur on American Horror Story: Coven or Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington) on Scandal, you realize that conventional way of thinking is--hopefully--a thing of the past.

On the show we also share our reviews of About Time and Thor: The Dark World. Lastly, we address the news that The History Channel plans a "contemporary" remake the epic 1997 miniseries Roots. Because that B.S. is beyond outrageous and cannot go un-addressed.

Catch a replay of today's podcast here, and share your comments below.


Saturday, November 9, 2013

It's Good to Be Bad: Carol on "The Walking Dead" and Tara on "Sons of Anarchy"



(Warning: this post contains spoilers from this week's episodes of Sons of Anarchy and The Walking Dead)

The small screen continues to produce some of the most fascinating female characters we've seen this year. While not all of them may not be--how do you say--lovable, they never fail to bring the drama. They are captivating to watch, even if you love to hate them. Even better, they give the actresses who play them a chance to dazzle audiences with their impressive range.

Their spectrum of talent has really been put to work lately as TV delves into the good ole "good girl gone bad" trope. Except, it doesn't seem like a gimmick certain shows are using to draw audiences. In other words, it seems genuine. Two of the series that have done it quite well recently are Sons of Anarchy and The Walking Dead. Both shows in some ways couldn't be any more different; in other ways they are kindred spirits. The former follows a motorcycle gang waist deep in the illegal gun business; the more they try to get out of it, the further they sink into it. The Walking Dead surrounds a group of survivors of an zombie apocalypse struggling to make sense of their slowly expiring lives--which compels them to go to extreme measures. Both shows feature characters in extraordinary circumstances that choose to do something immoral in order to do what they believe is right or what is needed to be done in order to survive. This usually involves lying, cheating, killing and stealing. The realization of the characters and how they got to these circumstances makes it that much more enthralling to watch.

After being on the air for several seasons, both series have steadily shaped their prime female characters into becoming one with their environments, for better or worse. For instance, Carol on The Walking Dead (Melissa McBride) went from a lost, abused wife nearly crippled by the death of her young daughter to an independent, free-thinking rebel. But that transformation came with a price. She begins teaching the group's child survivors to defend themselves against undead invaders with deadly weapons. Then, in a move that was controversial among viewers, Carol takes it upon herself to kill the survivors who became afflicted with an inexplicable virus, in hopes to stop it from spreading. It was a decision she made alone, and which caused her exile, and it really made audiences see her in a new light. As Rick (Andrew Lincoln), a fellow survivor who's committed his share of questionable acts, underscored, she was once a scared, docile woman who's now someone else entirely. We'll have to watch Sunday's episode to see what will become of Carol now seen as a leper.



Meanwhile on Sons of Anarchy, it is Tara (Maggie Siff) who has undergone a shift in perspective. The once honorable doctor, who frequently offered pro bono medical services to the titular club, is now joined in unholy matrimony (known as becoming an "Old Lady" in the Sons world) with Jax Teller, leader of their gang. So far in her short-lived marriage she has committed several crimes, including conspiracy to murder, lost her job and has even served jail time all as a result of her affiliation with the Sons. Now, as she struggles to regain some sense of civility in her life, she schemes to secretly divorce Jax, take their two young sons and a large sum of Jax's money, and move out of town.

In Tara's search for redemption, she feels she must first commit her final--and perhaps ultimate--act of betrayal. If you watched this week's episode, you know that Jax found out about her plan and, judging by next week's teaser, is now concocting one of his own at Tara's expense. While Tara's new arc has dismayed some fans, I found the writing to be authentic for a character who--albeit willingly--became a victim of her acquired terrain. She's smart, resourceful yet personally conflicted to her own fault. This is a familiar theme on the show, as each of the criminal protagonists have similarly dealt with feelings of being trapped in volatile situations. But still, the audience's reaction to Tara is different from anyone more entrenched with the club. Sons creator Kurt Sutter has so immersed us in the world of antiheroic gangsters that every other character that comes in their path--no matter how innocuous they may be--is automatically deemed a villain.

It will be interesting to see where the writers take both of these compelling characters, just as much as as it will be to gauge the viewer reaction. But it is perhaps most important to note how meaty the roles are for actresses on the small screen these days. They're stealing scenes and taking names.

Friday, November 1, 2013

13 Enticing New Images From THE BEST MAN HOLIDAY



While I'm not as enthusiastic as everyone else seemingly is about THE BEST MAN HOLIDAY, the film that reunites the characters of the 1999 romantic comedy The Best Man, the new images Universal Pictures recently released from the film are admittedly enticing. 

Other than the fact that the cast looks as stunning as they did more than a decade ago (shout out to Morris Chestnut's chiseled abs!), I'm happy to see some progression with the characters. Based on the pictures below, Sanaa Lathan's character, Robyn, is pregnant and Nia Long's character, Jordan, is with Eddie Cibrian, who's new to the franchise. Though everyone in the group looks chummy below (even the fellas are doing what looks like the electric slide), I'm sure there'll be some drama in the plot to keep the audience interested. 

Here's a recap of the synopsis of THE BEST MAN HOLIDAY from an earlier post:

It has been 15 years since Lance Sullivan (Morris Chestnut) asked Harper Stewart (Taye Diggs) to be the best man at his wedding. Now the pair is reuniting for the holidays with some of their other old friends. Yet despite the passage of time, it doesn't take long to rekindle old flames and past grievances.

The rest of the cast not mentioned above includes Terrence Howard, Monica Calhoun, Melissa DeSousa, Regina Hall, Harrold Perrinau, with writer/director Malcolm D. Lee. 

Drool over Check out the images below:
















THE BEST MAN HOLIDAY is in theater November 15th. 

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