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Friday, May 30, 2014

Daniel Radcliffe Tries to Navigate the Friend Zone with Zoe Kazan in the First Trailer for 'WHAT IF'

You may remember a few weeks ago I wrote about Daniel Radcliffe and Zoe Kazan's upcoming romantic comedy, WHAT IF, in which he plays a jaded med school dropout who gets friend-zoned by Zoe Kazan who's already spoken for. In case you missed it, here's a recap:

WHAT IF is the story of medical school dropout Wallace (Daniel Radcliffe), who's been repeatedly burned by bad relationships. So while everyone around him, including his roommate Allan (Adam Driver) seems to be finding the perfect partner (Mackenzie Davis), Wallace decides to put his love life on hold. It is then that he meets Chantry (Zoe Kazan) an animator who lives with her longtime boyfriend Ben (Rafe Spall). Wallace and Chantry form an instant connection, striking up a close friendship. Still, there is no denying the chemistry between them, leading the pair to wonder, what if the love of your life is actually your best friend? The ensemble romantic comedy costars Megan Park and Oona Chaplin.

The first full trailer for the movie dropped on Thursday, which you can watch here:

In addition, CBS Films just released a few cool gifs from the trailer (which are probably all over Tumblr now). Check 'em out:

WHAT IF comes to theaters in August.

"Some Stories are Just Too True to Tell:" The First Full Trailer for 'KILL THE MESSENGER' Starring Jeremy Renner Emerges

Jeremy Renner's career is on fire this year. Since coming off the media haze of American Hustle (which finally ended its run at the Oscars in March), the actor has jumped from one project to another--just this month starring with Marion Cotillard and Joaquin Phoenix in The Immigrant and later this year he headlines KILL THE MESSENGER. The latter film, slated to be in theaters October 10th, sees Renner as real-life investigative reporter Gary Webb, whose dangerous pursuit of a cocaine smuggling story ultimately threatens his career, family and life. (The real Webb died in 2004; it was judged a suicide). More:

Two-time Academy Award nominee Jeremy Renner (“The Bourne Legacy”) leads an all-star cast in a dramatic thriller based on the remarkable true story of Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Gary Webb. Webb stumbles onto a story which leads to the shady origins of the men who started the crack epidemic on the nation’s streets…and further alleges that the CIA was aware of major dealers who were smuggling cocaine into the U.S., and using the profits to arm rebels fighting in Nicaragua. Despite warnings from drug kingpins and CIA operatives to stop his investigation, Webb keeps digging to uncover a conspiracy with explosive implications. His journey takes him from the prisons of California to the villages of Nicaragua to the highest corridors of power in Washington, D.C. – and draws the kind of attention that threatens not just his career, but his family and his life.

Certainly an interesting story that deserves to be told on film, but the trailer (below) isn't particularly compelling--more like a derivative drug drama than a riveting real-life story. Although, the rest of the cast--which includes Andy Garcia, Oliver Platt, Paz Vega (whose performance in Spanglish I still think deserved far more attention than it received), Ray Liotta, Tim Blake Nelson, Michael K. Williams, Rosemarie DeWitt and Barry Pepper--is at least worth the price of admission. And I'm sure better clips will be forthcoming as we get closer to the release date. 

Director Michael Cuesta, mostly known for his TV work such as Six Feet Under, Dexter and Homeland, is behind the project, which is an interesting choice. Screenwriter Peter Landesman adapted the story based on Webb's own book, "Dark Alliance," and "Kill the Messenger" by Nick Schou. 

Watch the trailer:

KILL THE MESSENGER is in theaters October 10th. 

Thursday, May 29, 2014

A MILLION WAYS TO DIE IN THE WEST: In Which Seth MacFarlane Re-imagines the 1800s West Inhabited by Human Versions of 'Ted'

If there's one thing you can say about Seth McFarlane is that he's consistent. For years he's been doing his part to gives a voice to the average American schmuck, and if the box office numbers (2012's hit comedy, Ted, has a sequel in the works) and TV ratings (he's the creator of the hugely popular series Family Guy and The Cleveland Show) have been any indication, he does it quite successfully. 

This year he takes his brand of coarse humor to A MILLION WAYS TO DIE IN THE WEST, a modernized western (in which he stars, directed and co-wrote), which isn't really spaghetti style nor is it particularly slapstick. Rather, it's exactly how it sounds: like someone dropped the 2014 MacFarlane in Arizona in the 1800s to his own dismay. Like, he jumped into a DeLoreon and sped back to the olden days to live among the morally depraved only to make fun of them. Incessantly.

Though MacFarlane's own style (which involves fart jokes) is still very much there for his many die-hard fans, he does manage to slip in the usual tropes found in most westerns: a damsel in distress, "the most dangerous man in the west," the good guy, the whore, and many, many saloon fights. Oh, and the oft underlying bigotry reformed as exasperated ignorance that teeters on insult. It's a fine line to travel when you attempt to include so many images found in a classic western set to the wacky beat of a spoof comedy that doesn't have anything else to say. But MacFarlane goes there, several times.

He plays Albert, a regular Joe whose already menial existence as the world's worst sheep farmer is exacerbated once his main squeeze, Louise (Amanda Seyfried), leaves him for the epically-mustached Foy (Neil Patrick Harris, hamming it up). Wallowing in his own existential crisis amid complaints about everyone around him to his best friend Edward (Giovanni Ribisi) and his girlfriend Ruth (Sarah Silverman), Albert is not just an especially fun character to watch. Most of MacFarlane's elementary school jokes run their course after about 30 minutes into the film, which makes you look for salvation from the other characters.

Though you don't get much of a reprieve anywhere else, you'll definitely want to keep your eyes on Ribisi and Silverman who are absolute riots as the poor virgin and town whore. Their unlikely coupling makes for genuine laugh-out-loud moments that further complicate their core "Christian values." Further, the eternally underrated Ribisi is in his element here as the awkward, shy little man whose "OMG" facial expressions play nicely against MacFarlane's more raunchy approach. And Silverman is delightfully goofy as the bawdy community mistress who's always open for business but otherwise the perfect girlfriend.

But back to the not-so-great parts in the film. Charlize Theron, whose Anna is less damsel and more distress, does her best to re-imagine the weary cliché but ultimately just serves a purpose without providing much more. Though you can tell she's having a great time hanging out with MacFarlane in most her scenes, the two of them were just not as interesting to watch as they should have been. She merely helps move the plot along as a woman on the run from her abusive husband, Clinch (Liam Neeson) aka "the most dangerous man in the west." She may be able to hold her own in a shoot-off and an impromptu bar dance, but she is putty in Clinch's hands. And it is up to the biggest loser in town (Albert) to accidentally save her.

Wait. Let's get back to Neeson for a minute because his performance (or perhaps more accurately, the writing of his character) is so dreadful and cringe-worthy that I couldn't wait for him to leave the screen. Like most films in the genre, the music turns aptly foreboding once he comes on screen. But then any fear you had for him went out the window once you saw him face down with his pants pulled down on the ground, with a flower sticking out of the crack of his butt. Like, seriously. This is actually a scene in the movie. I wept on behalf of all Taken fans. It is that bad.

After watching both Ted and now A MILLION WAYS TO DIE IN THE WEST, I wonder whether there is something lost in MacFarlane's live-action career that he better captures in small screen animation. Because, frankly, I'm just not into it. While I appreciate his audacious approach to comedy, there is just not enough nuance to consider him even as good as a Judd Apatow or even an Adam Sandler (back in his prime). Despite its random yet pleasant enough cameos and an entertaining pair of actors, A MILLION WAYS TO DIE IN THE WEST is just too simple to regard. MacFarlane doesn't seem to have a firm enough grasp of what he's trying to say with it, and as a result the gigantic nature of the film runs away from him. Plus, a rather strange sequence featuring Indians will likely send some viewers over the edge completely.

If Django Unchained restored hope for the new western, A MILLION WAYS TO DIE IN THE WEST sent it reeling backward.

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

A MILLION WAYS TO DIE IN THE WEST is in theaters Friday.

BOYHOOD, GIRLHOOD and the Overwhelming Fatigue and Beauty of Coming-of-Age Stories

It's always a little weird when there's a movie everyone is geeking out over, and you can't seem to muster even close to the same amount of enthusiasm for it. That film of the moment for me is BOYHOOD. Don't get me wrong; I do plan to see the film as I have always appreciated what filmmaker Richard Linklater (Before Midnight) has been able to accomplish by creating something beautifully organic out of something so very simple and familiar. This latest film, which is slated for a July 11th release, looks to be no exception. It is also fascinating that the film was made over a 12-year period and is a genuine coming-of-age story in that it literally follows a boy (Ellar Coltrane) as he journeys through life in real time. But still, it doesn't particularly excite me, despite the always awesome Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke who play "the parents."

Here's a little more information on it:

Filmed over 12 years with the same cast, Richard Linklater's BOYHOOD is a groundbreaking story of growing up as seen through the eyes of a child named Mason (a breakthrough performance by Ellar Coltrane), who literally grows up on screen before our eyes. Starring Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette as Mason's parents and newcomer Lorelei Linklater as his sister Samantha, BOYHOOD charts the rocky terrain of childhood like no other film has before. Snapshots of adolescence from road trips and family dinners to birthdays and graduations and all the moments in between become transcendent, set to a soundtrack spanning the years from Coldplay's Yellow to Arcade Fire's Deep Blue. BOYHOOD is both a nostalgic time capsule of the recent past and an ode to growing up and parenting. It's impossible not to watch Mason and his family without thinking about our own journey.
Watch the trailer:

Perhaps it is still my growing fatigue of similar coming-of-age stories, excluding last year's mysteriously slept on The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete and 2011's Pariah, that continues to weigh on me. Or maybe it's that the stories just don't seem to say anything new. So I guess now it just comes down to telling the same story in a new way (which I suppose is the way of the land in Hollywood these days). But then I heard about Céline Sciamma's GIRLHOOD, which recently showed at the Cannes Film Festival and was met with fairly positive reviews. After reading only little about it, it's already become my latest film obsession, and one which may help cut through the repetition of other coming-of-age films. Not only does it feature a virtually unknown all-female cast, but it's also about growing up as a young girl of color--an image we just don't see enough of. As I've stated before on this blog, we are still dealing with the issue that white male stories are considered universal and all other stories are narrowly targeted and unrelatable. But, as I've read in a few reviews already, GIRLHOOD seems to debunk that theory as many boast that it carries themes that can resonate with girls and boys of any race. Well, how about that.

Here's the synopsis of GIRLHOOD, in case you're unfamiliar with it:

Oppressed by her family setting, dead-end school prospects and the boys law in the neighborhood, Marieme starts a new life after meeting a group of 3 free-spirited girls. She changes her name, her dress code, and quits school to be accepted in the gang, hoping that this will be a way to freedom.

I just hope that as we continue to support the efforts of such filmmakers as Richard Linklater and other male artists, we don't omit the vision of talent like Sciamma and Dee Rees. It is our dismissal of these female counterparts that stunts their progression, and shuts out a fuller, more beautifully diverse view of what it means to come of age.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Tris and Four are Back on the Run as Principal Photography for INSURGENT Commences (With New Cast Member Octavia Spencer)

Theo James and Shailene Woodley in a promo image for Divergent 

Tris (Shailene Woodley) and Four (Theo James) are back on the run from power-hungry Jeannine (Kate Winslet), as principal photography for INSURGENT, the follow-up to this year's dystopian adaptation Divergent, commenced on Tuesday, according to a Lionsgate press release. While I can't say I'm too thrilled to revisit the drudgery presented in the first film, I am intrigued by the addition of Octavia Spencer to the cast. It was previously announced that the Oscar winner will play Johanna, the leader of the Amity faction, for those of you who've read the book (I have not).

Octavia Spencer

I've been following Spencer's career for a while now (well, since her heartbreaking performance in last year's Fruitvale Station), and I'm thrilled to see that she's been steadily working--on both the big and small screens. So her casting has restored a little of my hope which was lost after watching Divergent. (I suppose there's no reason to reiterate my problems with the film, but you can re-read them here).

At any rate, those of you who, like me, weren't over the moon about the first film may be pleased to learn that Robert Scwentke (RED, Time Traveler's Wife) is now sitting in the director's chair (previously occupied by Neil Burger). Likewise, Brian Duffield (the upcoming Jane Got a Gun) and Akiva Goldsman (A Time to Kill, The Da Vinci Code) have taken over screenwriting duties from Evan Daugherty and Vanessa Taylor. So there's been a bit of a reshuffle, which could only be a good thing, right? Let's hope.

The rest of the cast returns for the second installment, including Jai Courtney, Ray Stevenson, Zoë Kravitz, Miles Teller, Ansel Elgort, Maggie Q and Mekhi Phifer. Additional casting announcements are forthcoming, so stay tuned for updates. Lionsgate will release INSURGENT theatrically in the U.S. through its Summit Entertainment label on Friday, March 20, 2015. Find out more in the synopsis below:

INSURGENT raises the stakes for Tris as she searches for allies and answers in the dystopian ruins of a futuristic Chicago.Tris (Woodley) and Four (James) are now fugitives on the run, hunted by Jeanine (Winslet), the leader of the power-hungry Erudite elite. Racing against time, they must find out what Tris’s family sacrificed their lives to protect, and why the Erudite leaders will do anything to stop them. Haunted by her past choices but desperate to protect the ones she loves, Tris, with Four at her side, faces one impossible challenge after another as they unlock the truth about the past and ultimately the future of their world.

Excited? Leave your thoughts below in the comments section. 

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

EXPENDABELLES and the Problem with Bad Movie Titles

They say to never judge a book by its cover. And I suppose we shouldn't judge a movie by its awful title, right? But why each time I hear about an awful new film title, I shudder a little? I know, drab titles like Salmon Fishing in the Yemen are what's hot in the streets these days. But does a movie about salmon fishing sound appealing to you? Does it make you want to rush to Fandango to buy a ticket to see it? DOES IT? I didn't think so.

As I haven't seen Salmon (which borrows its title from the book upon which it's based), I can only presume (read: hope) that it isn't the snoozefest to which its title alludes. There's probably a good reason to watch it. But I use it as an example to explain how movie titles matter. It's something I've been saying for years, and which has been falling on deaf ears. Small independent films are notorious for bad titles (hello, Winter's Bone), but mainstream blockbusters are not immune from this bad habit either. And it's not just about whether or not I like it (more than likely I'm going to see the movie anyway, if I feel so inclined). But I'm thinking about the casual  moviegoer who may not have heard of the movie or know the actors involved, and may make a judgment call based solely on the title. Case in point: a movie called Killer Klowns from Outer Space would get more interest than O Brother, Where art Thou?, even with the obvious misspelling in the former (which sounds like something the Kardashians would have concocted) and the all-star cast in the latter.

The title is as important as the trailer and even the movie description, yet it's not regarded as such. It should really be considered part of the overall marketing package. Which brings me to Expendabelles, the forthcoming "all-female" version of Sylvester Stallone's testosterone-laden action juggernaut, Expendables. Following some complaints about the original film being too "male-heavy," it's nice to see that they're acknowledging the notion that women of a certain age could also kick serious ass on the big screen (and look good doing so). But, I have to say, the "belle" part of the title is killing me. Honestly, when I first heard about this title I thought it was a joke. Like, they can't really be serious. "Belle," like the Disney princess? "Belle," like the most feminine name ever? Like, before you even see this movie, beware: there may be women in it. I can't even. It's just too much. I hear "belle" attached to the title and I expect to see a cast of women wearing pearls and a-lined skirts, toting machine guns. Unless the male version will re-market itself with older men wearing hospital gowns and penny loafers, this female iteration makes no sense.

Something else that seems to be a "thing" with action/superhero films starring women is that too many of them tend to have the word "girl," "woman" or some other acknowledgement of their sex attached to the title (Catwoman and Wonder Woman, I looking at you). I mean, please have respect for your audience; once we see the character onscreen we'll be able to recognize her gender. If you feel the need to send this warning signal in the title for people you think would shun the idea of a woman in this kind of role, then you're only perpetuating Hollywood's ongoing gender problem.It's 2014; we need to get with the times. We can't keep recycling old problems with the system.

But anyway, as the late great Bernie Mac would say: Let's move on. Because there are so many other bad titles we can throw down the garbage disposal, including Live Free or Die Hard which should immediately prepare you for the sh#tshow it ended up being. Folks....dying hard and living free don't compliment each other, so why are they smooshed together in the same repugnant title? I know we shouldn't care about this because it's Bruce Willis and he just rocks all our boats, but I mean...try a little?

The latest bad movie title reaction came from Twitter recently when the subtitle of Batman v Superman was released. It's Dawn of Justice, and let me tell you: people are PISSED about it. I can't honestly include this in my bad title hall of fame because I don't really think it's that bad. But I know superfans are all in their feelings about it. I mean, it could worse--it could be Transformers: Dark of the Moon, which I still feel is missing a very important word between "Dark" and Moon." Just saying that title out loud makes me upset all over again.

My point is, audiences are very judgmental about these seemingly trivial things. It's not just the critics who nitpick; it's the casual moviegoer--and especially fangirls and fanboys--whose days are ruined over horrible film titles. My advice to those in power is to consider your target audience and the message of your movie. Or, try this (one of the smartest things a great editor once told me): keep it simple. Don't try to be too creative, because it may mean losing your core audience (the social media-dependent millennials can be a finicky crowd, even with very little context). And, for Goodness sake, remember that grammar still matters here. You can't abandon it completely.

End of rant.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Environmental Thriller 'NIGHT MOVES' Is a Slow Burn That Ultimately Ends Up Nowhere

For the past two weeks I have been trying to come up with something interesting to say about NIGHT MOVES, the new thriller with a pseudo ecology edge that stars Jesse Eisenberg, Dakota Fanning and Peter Sarsgaard. But the one word I keep coming back to is unremarkable.

Which is a shame because with a trio of actors like this, so very different in style and interpretation, it would have been fascinating to watch them in a great movie. But NIGHT MOVES just isn't. In fact, it's pretty underwhelming. But its biggest problem isn't that it doesn't utilize its cast appropriately, but that it completely falls off the rails after a particularity intriguing first act which leads to an ending that dangles rather thoughtlessly.

Eisenberg and Fanning star as Josh and Dena, two detached individuals in a dreary Midwestern town who've come together for one purpose: to blow up a hydroelectric dam. Calling them "environmentalists" would probably be an insult to actual environmentalists as they don't seem to really be invested in this so-called controversial structure as they are in being radicals, against establishment otherwise due to their own meandering on the borders of society. Director and co-writer Kelly Reichardt doesn't spend enough time developing any of the characters, so it's hard to truly understand them despite the intermittent environmental commentary that always seems tacked on and bearing little substance. But in the beginning, as we watch them get their covert plan together and recruit fellow wayward, Harmon (Sarsgaard), there is something compelling about their efforts: Why this dam? What are they looking to prove with this act? Whose attention do they want?

Despite the fact that we have very little information in terms of motive, Reichardt does manage to create an intensity in the beginning part of the movie, building up to what we should expect would be an equally compelling finale. But the premise we see in the first, say, 40 minutes of the movie doesn't carry through as the film progresses. The story lags, switches direction, then ultimately collapses by the end. The beginning of the film is the story of three environment radicals and the latter half is the story of two people (Josh and Dena) who struggle to reclaim significance in their lives after their grand gesture doesn't go exactly according to plan. And in the middle of those two stories is made up of scenes that seem to further emphasize the nothingness of these characters' lives outside of this one event.

As a result, NIGHT MOVES is messy and disjointed. Even after it's completely run out of steam, desperately trying to sustain the audience with one last shocking moment, it does little to garner a real reaction. You're just glad it's ended. So much potential overshadowed by poor execution that begs the all important question: Why should we care?

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

NIGHT MOVES opens in theaters Friday, May 30th. Watch the trailer:

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Why Has Betty Francis on "Mad Men" Become So Irrelevant?

As one of the very few fans of the perpetually bitter Betty Francis (January Jones) on Mad Men, I've always been one of the first to come to her defense whenever people scoffed at her b*tchy resting face or somewhat vacant parenting skills. But as we approach this Sunday's midseason finale, it seems that Betty's layers have been peeled away to the point where a mere empty shell remains of her character.

There used to be a time when Betty represented the silenced and seething 50-60s era housewife--personally and professionally stunted, emotionally tortured, and completely overwhelmed by the emptiness of her life and the insignificance of her voice. She resonated. But lately, she's just kinda...invisible. In fact, sometimes she's in a scene and I completely forget that she's even there. Sure, she has sparing moments like each time she nips at her husband Henry's heels in desperate attempts to prove that her opinion matters. But when it really comes down to it, what she thinks and feels doesn't actually matter anymore. And if that's the only point the writers are trying to make here, they could at least make it fascinating to watch.

It just seems like the writers are completely bored with Betty's character, and don't know what to do with her anymore (or don't care about her anymore?). What's even more troubling is that they seem to have a general lack of understanding of Betty's character. What does she want? What makes her sad? What makes her happy? Rarely do we get to see a housewife of this era portrayed with complexities and an overall rebuttal of the life she's been dealt in such a way that causes her to negate her own morals (Revolutionary Road did a great job with that on the big screen), and Betty was that breath of fresh air. She's not particularly likable, and sometimes you kind of want to shake her. But she once a fleshed out character that you at least understood. The Betty we have left is just pouty and miserable without any real depth to her emotions. It seems ill-fitting to watch an actress like Jones--decked in perfect makeup, hair and wardrobe--drift through each scene without making a real ripple (despite what her devoted haters may suggest). She's become nothing more than a really pretty prop, and she deserves much better than that (especially as the matriarch and the nearly sole provider for the lead character's three children). If not for Jones' sake as an actress in search of fulfilling roles, but for Betty's sake as a woman of the era whose story is too seldom told.

And this problem especially stands out at this point in the show, in its final season, as every other character seems to be coming full circle and is fleshed out to the degree that they are almost completely realized. (Even Betty's ex-husband Don's loyal former secretary, Dawn, is becoming more developed as a character). So why is Betty regressing in this sense? Is the idea that Betty, a mere housewife and mother of the 60s,  as a more nuanced character such an outrageous concept? Should we as an audience all just be throwing darts at her and praying for her scenes to be over quickly so that we can get on to more pressing business on the show? Is Betty no longer relevant?

Hopefully after Sunday's episode we'll get a better understanding of where the writers are taking Betty's story, and what her motivations are. After all, her storyline is entitled to more than just a flimsy conclusion.

Mad Men airs Sundays at 10pm on AMC.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

First Look: "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" Director Helms a New Fantasy Romance Film Starring Audrey Tautou, Romain Duris and Omar Sy

Lots of people, including myself, have cheekily made reference to Tilda Swinton's somewhat otherworldly style, but few of us note how French actress Audrey Tautou's artistic expressions equally lend themselves to a more fantastical backdrop. (If you've seen Amélie, you know what I mean when I say that).

Which should make her perfect for a filmmaker like Michel Gondry, most beloved here in the U.S. for his breathtaking fantasy romance classic, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. The actress stars in his new film, MOOD INDIGO which, from what I saw on Rotten Tomatoes, has already divided critics (who all, however, remain impressed with Gondry's visual genius) after it circuited the film festivals last year. Tautou plays a woman who gets swept off her feet by the new man in her life, only to succumb to an unusual illness. Omar Sy (Intouchables) plays her beau's loyal chef. Read more:

Eminently inventive Michel Gondry finds inspiration from french novelist Boris Vian's cult novel to provide the foundation for this visionary and romantic love story starring Audrey Tautou (Amélie, Coco Before Chanel) and Romain Duris (The Beat My Heart Skipped.) Set in a charmingly surreal Paris, Duris plays wealthy bachelor Colin, whose hobbies include developing his pianocktail (a cocktail-making piano) and devouring otherworldly dishes prepared by his trusty chef Nicolas (Omar Sy, The Untouchables). When Colin learns that his best friend Chick (Gad Elmaleh, The Valet), a fellow acolyte of the philosopher Jean-Sol Partre, has a new American girlfriend, our lonely hero attends a friend's party in hopes of falling in love himself. He soon meets Chloé (Audrey Tautou) and, before they know it, they're dancing to Duke Ellington and plunging headfirst into a romance that Gondry rapturously depicts as only he can. Their whirlwind courtship is tested when an unusual illness plagues Chloe; a flower begins to grow in her lungs. To save her, Colin discovers the only cure is to surround Chloe with a never-ending supply of fresh flowers.

Yeah, this definitely sounds like a Tautou/Gondry film. But I am strangely intrigued by it. Gondry adapted the screenplay with fellow French scribe Luc Bossi from Boris Vian's novel of the same name.

Check out a few images from the film below:

And watch the trailer:

MOOD INDIGO is in selected theaters July 18th.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Here's the New Movie that People are Calling an "Oscar Contender"

Left to right: Steve Carrell and Channing Tatum in FOXCATCHER
I love that we are eight months away from next year's Oscars and people are already trying to claim their awards contenders. I mean, I was hoping we could all veg out on a strict popcorn flick diet that the summer offers before we dive right back into the blood sport of awards debating. No? We have to talk about it now? Um, ok.

In that case, the Cannes Film Festival activities are in full effect this week and with it has come a bevy of casting news and hyperbolic reviews (i.e. Nicole Kidman's Grace of Monaco is "the worst" movie and "Channing Tatum can be up for an Oscar" for FOXCATCHER). Let me let that marinate with you for a minute: CHANNING. TATUM. OSCAR. NOMINEE.

You mean to tell me that the dude from Magic Mike and 21 Jump Street (and the forthcoming 22 Jump Street, and the inevitable 23 Jump Street and 24 Jump Street) may be nominated for an Oscar? LOLOLOLOL Well, this I have to see.

The Hollywood heartthrob has quite a devoted fan base, which tends to translate to, he's a great actor and deserves ALL the roles. But I 'm not here to knock the hustle. I hope to be pleasantly surprised by his performance in the film, which also stars Steve Carrell (another actor I haven't really taken to). Tatum stars as real-life Olympic champion wrestler Mark Schultz and Carrell plays his super intense coach, John du Pont. Here's more:

Based on true events, FOXCATCHER tells the dark and fascinating story of the unlikely and ultimately tragic relationship between an eccentric multi-millionaire and two champion wrestlers.

When Olympic Gold Medal winning wrestler Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum) is invited by wealthy heir John du Pont (Steve Carell) to move on to the du Pont estate and help form a team to train for the 1988 Seoul Olympics at his new state-of-the-art training facility, Schultz jumps at the opportunity, hoping to focus on his training and finally step out of the shadow of his revered brother, Dave (Mark Ruffalo). Driven by hidden needs, du Pont sees backing Schultz's bid for Gold and the chance to "coach" a world-class wrestling team as an opportunity to gain the elusive respect of his peers and, more importantly, his disapproving mother (Vanessa Redgrave).

Flattered by the attention and entranced by du Pont's majestic world, Mark comes to see his benefactor as a father figure and grows increasingly dependent on him for approval. Though initially supportive, du Pont's mercurial personality turns and he begins to lure Mark into an unhealthy lifestyle that threatens to undermine his training. Soon du Pont's erratic behavior and cruel psychological game-play begin to erode the athlete's already shaky self-esteem. Meanwhile du Pont becomes fixated on Dave, who exudes the confidence both he and Mark lack, knowing that these are things even his money cannot buy. Fueled by du Pont's increasing paranoia and alienation from the brothers, the trio is propelled towards a tragedy no one could have foreseen.

FOXCATCHER is a rich and moving story of brotherly love, misguided loyalty and the corruption and emotional bankruptcy that can accompany great power and wealth. As with Academy Award® nominee Bennett Miller's previous feature films, CAPOTE and MONEYBALL, he explores large themes in society through his complex character portraits of real people.

I'm not going to lie: that's a compelling synopsis and I am really intrigued to see it now. Although, I really didn't love Miller's Moneyball and have been generally unimpressed with the recent batch of sports films. Ruffalo, who I noticed is mysteriously absent from the ongoing awards fodder currently enveloping the film, also looks good in the clip (below). Also, I didn't even noticed Carrell, who's virtually hidden behind a mound of makeup. Hmmm...this could be interesting.

Watch the teaser trailer:

And check out a new clip from the film:

FOXCATCHER is in theaters November 14th. 

Friday, May 16, 2014

'Fresh Off the Boat' and Why It's Important For Us to Celebrate Asian-American Talent on the Small Screen

It was announced recently that ABC just picked up Fresh Off the Boat, the first Asian-American TV show since 1994's All-American Girl starring Margaret Cho (which sadly only lasted one season). First of all, it's great that TV is finally starting to come into this century by embracing diversity. Secondly, it's time that we also start celebrating the great work Asian-Americans have already been doing on the small screen that has gone unnoticed, whose accomplishments--and departures--barely make an impact with mainstream media.

For example, I find it interesting that the awesome Lucy Liu made her debut as a director of a recent episode of Elementary and it wasn't considered major TV news. Liu, an Emmy-nominated Chinese-American actress (Ally McBeal) who has been working in Hollywood for more than two decades, did an admirable job as a director of a particularly pivotal episode towards the end of this second season. But, even more praiseworthy, she's one of few Asian-American directors to helm a TV show (in which she also stars) on a major network (CBS). But still, no one seems to care about this.

Similarly, while it's great that Indian-American actress Mindy Kaling has been lauded as a TV superstar and creator of her own show, The Mindy Project (FOX), Maggie Q (who's American-born with Vietnamese heritage) played the title role in Nikita on the CW for four seasons and I'm probably one of maybe five people who actually watched it. (P.S. I believe the entire series is now on Netflix instant, and that should be your next binge watch). But I'm happy to hear that Maggie's new show, Stalker, co-starring Dylan McDermott, has just been picked up by CBS and looks pretty badass. You can watch the trailer here. Fingers crossed that people watch it (and that it is actually badass).

Then there's England-born, Indian-American actress Parminder Nagra, who has been making waves on The Blacklist this season up until this week's season finale when her character, Meera, was unfortunately killed off the show. Honestly, I was devastated when I watched this play out on screen. Granted, if you watch the show then you know that Meera was a mole and therefore a threat to the extremely ambiguous protagonists (played by James Spader and Megan Boone). But I was so happy that Nagra, who has yet to get her due as a fine actress even after technically playing the lead in her breakthrough film, Bend It Like Beckham (the same film that coincidentally launched Keira Knightley's career), was on a good, smart show on a primetime network (NBC). It was a chance for her to continue the somewhat steady small screen career she carved for herself since her second big break on ER. And now she's no longer on the show. What's even more disconcerting, according to her IMDB page she has no other projects lined up. And I don't believe I even heard about her "circling" or "in talks" for any other projects, like I hear about with pretty much every other non-ethnic actress of equal or lesser talent.

Which also reminds of Sandra Oh, whose final episode of Grey's Anatomy aired last night. While I have never watched this show, I know it is widely popular and a huge hit for ABC. So now the show's only lead Asian-American (Oh was born in Canada to Korean parents) is no longer on the show. I get it, after eleven years on a show it's natural that she wants to move on, and I would have zero concerns about her departure if Hollywood was handing out great roles for Asian-American actresses (or even actors, for that matter) left and right, but that's just not the case. Unlike Nagra, however, Oh does have two films lined up: 33 Liberty Lane and Melissa McCarthy's starring vehicle, Tammy (in which she will more than likely play a sidekick character, but hopefully I am wrong about that). Despite being in the business since the late 1980s, often playing peripheral, girlfriend-y characters on the big screen, she has yet to achieve the Hollywood status she deserves. That said, I really hope Shonda Rhimes (creator of Grey's Anatomy) isn't the only Hollywood heavyweight who invests in Oh's talent.

Truth be told, opportunities for Asian-American talent for both men and women have been dire in Hollywood for a long time (The Walking Dead's Steven Yeun, who is Korean-American, is one of the very few leading men of the small screen who's got a dedicated fan base on a hit show. Similarly, Chinese-American actress Ming-Na Wen is breaking ground as one of the leads on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.). But it will be interesting to watch Fresh Off the Boat and see whether it also brings attention to the many great Asian-American talent that too often fall under the radar. Here's hoping that this will help spark a new Asian-American revolution in Hollywood.

Watch the trailer for Fresh Off the Boat here

Thursday, May 15, 2014

THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY - PART 1 Looks Like It's Going to Be All Kinds of Awesome

Hunger Games fans, rejoice! We finally get a sneak peak at what's in store for the third installment, THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY - PART 1. And you're probably it possible that the girl is still on fire? Let's hope not. Lionsgate has just given audiences insider access to one of the most highly anticipated films this year.

Not only do we have an awesome new motion poster for the film, in theaters November 21st, but we also get to check out the new website, which features President Coin (Julianne Moore) stepping up to the mic. There's also a really interesting video interview with Moore speaking about the film and her character (who's first introduced in this new film). When I heard that Moore was cast as President Coin, I was particularly interested in how she will humanize this somewhat ambiguously written character, who we felt inclined to dislike in the book. In the video, Moore describes her as "sparingly drawn. You don't know who she is because she's only spoken about in Katniss's [Jennifer Lawrence] point of view. Katniss immediately distrusts her in the way that sometimes a young person will distrust an older person who's not familiar to them or in a position of authority....She's not about to risk revealing herself in a fight, when she knows they are better off lying low and letting it blow over." This is very intriguing.

You can watch that entire video here:

Also on the site is a Q&A with director Francis Lawrence, producer Nina Jacobson, and screenwriter Peter Craig, sample script pages, and images of Julianne Moore and the late great Phillip Seymour Hoffman (who reprises his role as Plutarch Heavensbee from the previous film, Catching Fire).

The rest of the cast (Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Jeffrey Wright, Sam Claflin, Jena Malone, Stanley Tucci and Donald Sutherland) also return for the new film (but aren't featured on this site...yet). Read the synopsis:

The worldwide phenomenon of The Hunger Games continues to set the world on fire with The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1, which finds Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) in District 13 after she literally shatters the games forever. Under the leadership of President Coin (Julianne Moore) and the advice of her trusted friends, Katniss spreads her wings as she fights to save Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) and a nation moved by her courage. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1 is directed by Francis Lawrence from a screenplay by Danny Strong and Peter Craig and produced by Nina Jacobson's Color Force in tandem with producer Jon Kilik. The novel on which the film is based is the third in a trilogy written by Suzanne Collins that has over 65 million copies in print in the U.S. alone.

I am so ready for this. Who's with me?

THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY - PART 1 is in theaters nationwide on November 21st.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Patricia Clarkson is Back as a Leading Lady in LAST WEEKEND, Acquired by Sundance Selects

If you're a fan of Patricia Clarkson like I am, I encourage you to check out a candid interview she did with The Guardian last year in which she talks about the trajectory of her long career, and how she tries to avoid the "matronly" or "peripheral" roles for which she's often sought. Here's a particularly intriguing quote:

"I'm picky at times," she says. "I have sometimes tried to battle the system by saying no to parts I found unbearable. Parts that are desexed, matronly – to just put me in a couple of scenes and have me be the older, you know, dead character, is not gonna fly with me. But I'd say more doors have opened as I've gotten older, which is what you want. It's when all the doors start to slam that I get sad for women my age. Because it's wrooonnng."

Though I read this interview nearly a year ago, it sprung to mind again this afternoon as I was reading information I received information about her latest film, a drama titled LAST WEEKEND, which was just acquired by Sundance Selects (announced today). Coincidentally, this is her first starring role since 2009's Cairo Time (which, shamefully, I actually haven't seen), and has a pretty great supporting cast that includes Judith Light, Zachary Booth (Damages) and Rutina Wesley (True Blood). It will be released theatrically and on VOD later this summer. 

Another cool tidbit about LAST WEEKEND is that it was filmed at the historic 1929 Lake Tahoe estate that was the location of the 1951 Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Clift film, A Place in the Sun. It was directed by first-time helmers Tom Dolby and tom Williams, mostly known for their producer credits such as The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian and Girls Who Like Boys Who Like Boys (based on Dolby's novel of the same name). Here's a little more about LAST WEEKEND:

The darkly comic action of LAST WEEKEND unfolds over the course of a long Labor Day weekend at Lake Tahoe, California. Celia Green (Patricia Clarkson) and her husband, Malcolm (Chris Mulkey), gather their two adult sons (Zachary Booth and Joseph Cross) and their partners for a rare vacation together. As the holiday begins, Celia finds herself torn between her historic estate—and the past that it represents—and her desire to move forward with her life. On Saturday morning, an accident threatens to unhinge Celia’s meticulously devised plans. Amidst this catastrophe, Celia must decide whether she is ready to let go of the house. LAST WEEKEND is a film about the end of an era for a family—and the steps we must often take in order to create new beginnings. 

It actually reminds me of another film I've seen and can't think of the title, but I'm here for Clarkson so I am will definitely check this out. I hope to get an exact release soon, and will let you know when it's available.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

First Look: Zoe Kazan and Daniel Radcliffe Star in the Upcoming Romantic Comedy, 'WHAT IF'

I really hope we don't start to become fatigued by the persistent trend of millenial romance crowding the big screen these days. I'm all for refreshing, quirky romances, but if they're all the same kind of quirky how will we be able to tell them apart? I'm just asking.

I brought this up because I received information on Daniel Radcliffe and Zoe Kazan's upcoming comedy, WHAT IF, this afternoon. While there isn't a full trailer for the film (at least not that I noticed online), I got a chance to check out a one-minute clip of the film which you can watch here:

I've been keeping an eye out on Zoe Kazan ever since I saw Ruby Sparks, another quirky comedy that she wrote (her only writing credit thus far) that showed that she was more than just a supporting character. So hopefully WHAT IF (which comes to theaters this August) will push her in the right direction. Kazan and Radcliffe play two casual acquaintances at various degrees of singlehood in a film that seems to revisit the age old question: Can a man and a woman have a purely platonic relationship? More on the film below:

WHAT IF is the story of medical school dropout Wallace (Daniel Radcliffe), who's been repeatedly burned by bad relationships. So while everyone around him, including his roommate Allan (Adam Driver) seems to be finding the perfect partner (Mackenzie Davis), Wallace decides to put his love life on hold. It is then that he meets Chantry (Zoe Kazan) an animator who lives with her longtime boyfriend Ben (Rafe Spall). Wallace and Chantry form an instant connection, striking up a close friendship. Still, there is no denying the chemistry between them, leading the pair to wonder, what if the love of your life is actually your best friend? The ensemble romantic comedy costars Megan Park and Oona Chaplin.

We'll get to see a little more from the film when the new trailer hits on May 29th. So far, it seems...ok yet familiar. Again, I like Kazan so I will reserve hope for her. And Radcliffe continues to charm critics with his roles on the stage and screen, so it will be interesting to see their onscreen chemistry. Michael Dowse (Take Me Home Tonight) directed the film with Elan Mastai's screenplay adapted from the T.J. Dawe/Michael Rinaldi play, Toothpaste and Cigars.

Here are a few images from the film:

John Goodman and Ken Watanabe Join the Autobot Voice Cast in TRANSFORMERS: AGE OF EXTINCTION

Okay, so maybe I kinda hated the previous installment of the Transformers franchise. I mean, if you saw it then you totally understand why. But maybe this new film, TRANSFORMERS: AGE OF EXTINCTION, will be better? It really can't get any worse. Right? RIGHT? Bueller?

In any case, director Michael Bay clearly has a soft spot for the franchise and continues to revisit the beloved antiheroes of steel in the fourth and latest film, which is said to be "epic." And here's some great news: it's recently been announced that Ken Watanabe and John Goodman have joined the cast as the voices of Autobots Drift and Hound, respectively. They will share the screen (so to speak) with a new live action cast that includes Mark Wahlberg, Stanley Tucci, and Kelsey Grammer.

Here's a little more info from the synopsis:

TRANSFORMERS 4: AGE OF EXTINCTION begins after an epic battle left a great city torn, but with the world saved. As humanity picks up the pieces, a shadowy group reveals itself in an attempt to control the direction of history…while an ancient, powerful new menace sets Earth in its crosshairs. With help from a new cast of humans (led by Mark Wahlberg), Optimus Prime and the Autobots rise to meet their most fearsome challenge yet. In an incredible adventure, they are swept up in a war of good and evil, ultimately leading to a climactic battle across the world.

One more piece of news that might you like if you're a fan of Imagine Dragons: an original song by the Grammy award-winning band titled "Battle Cry" will be featured in the film. Additionally, the band contributed to the film's score with composer Steve Jablonsky and Hans Zimmer, who assisted in the process. 

Imagine Dragons will also perform the single at the film's worldwide premiere in Hong Kong, one of the locations in the film, on June 19th. 

Watch the trailer:

TRANSFORMERS: AGE OF EXTINCTION hits theaters nationwide on June 27th. 

Tribeca Film Acquires Nas' Documentary, TIME IS ILLMATIC

So now I am really regretting that I didn't get a chance to see Nas' TIME IS ILLMATIC at the Tribeca Film Festival last month. Today brings the news that the documentary, which tells the story of the rapper's journey to create his 1994 iconic debut album, Illmatic, has been acquired by Tribeca Film. Tribeca Film is planning a simultaneous theatrical and VOD release in October, along with performances by Nas in select cities. In addition to that, educational youth screening series will complement the release.

*insert applause here*

Other than the fact that this will get a major release, I love the idea of educational youth screenings and mini concerts. That's pretty awesome. You may remember I first mentioned the film on this site here, but here's a recap of the synopsis:

Time Is Illmatic traces Nas’ influences and the insurmountable odds he faced in creating the greatest work of music from hip-hop’s second golden era. The film tracks the musical legacy of the Jones family -- handed down to Nas from his jazz musician father, Olu Dara, the support of his Queensbridge neighborhood crew, and the loyalty of his younger brother Jabari “Jungle” Jones. Twenty years after its release, Illmatic is widely recognized as a hip-hop benchmark that encapsulates the sociopolitical outlook, enduring spirit, and collective angst of a generation of young men searching for their voice in America.

The documentary is directed by multimedia artist, One9, written by Erik Parker, and produced by One9, Parker, and Anthony Saleh. Nas seems pleased with the news. His remarks from the press release: "I want to thank Robert De Niro, Jane Rosenthal and the Tribeca Film family for all of the love and support they've given Time Is Illmatic. It is an honor to be in partnership with them. I feel there is a cultural kinship bonded by the city of New York."

Pretty awesome news. I'll keep you posted as I receive more information. 

Monday, May 12, 2014

Robert De Niro Remembers His Artist Father in a New HBO Documentary

As another Mother's Day comes to an end, it's time to look forward to the next parental holiday, Father's Day. And Robert De Niro may have just the film for to help celebrate the father figure in your life. REMEMBERING THE ARTIST ROBERT DE NIRO, SR. is the actor's tribute to his late father, whose work as an artist went largely unrecognized. A short and sweet (39 minutes, to be exact) documentary to be aired on HBO on June 9th, REMEMBERING THE ARTIST ROBERT DE NIRO, SR. consists of several intimate interviews between the father and son that help introduce his artistry to a new audience. More in the synopsis:

REMEMBERING THE ARTIST ROBERT DE NIRO, SR., is a portrait of the esteemed figurative painter by the man who knew him best: his son. In intimate interviews, Robert De Niro, Jr. profiles an artist whose talent went largely unrecognized as the pop art movement swept the nation, and looks at the relationship between a father and son. Directed by Perri Peltz (HBO's "The Education of Dee Dee Ricks") and Geeta Gandbhir (Emmy®-winning editor of HBO's "If God Is Willing and Da Creek Don't Rise").

Check out some of Robert De Niro, Sr.'s artwork, which is actually pretty good:

I kinda love this idea. Plus, I think after the critical success of actress Sarah Polley's Stories We Tell (a 2012 documentary she directed that is a tribute to her late mother), more people may be fascinated to learn more about the man behind the Oscar-winning thespian. Thoughts?

REMEMBERING THE ARTIST ROBERT DE NIRO, SR. will debut exclusively on HBO June 9th. 

Friday, May 9, 2014

Screen Media Films Acquires Tribeca Dramedy, ABOUT ALEX, Starring Aubrey Plaza, Nate Parker and Jason Ritter

More great news coming out of last month's Tribeca Film Festival was announced in a press release on Wednesday, and this time it's regarding ABOUT ALEX, the dramedy starring Aubrey Plaza, Max Greenfield, Nate Parker, Max Minghella, Jason Ritter, Maggie Grace, and Jane Levy. The movie has just been acquired by Screen Media Films and will be released in theaters and on VOD August 8th.

I didn't get a chance to to see the film when it premiered last month at the festival, but I heard pretty good things about it from those I know who attended the screening. ABOUT ALEX was written and directed by first time filmmaker Jesse Zwick, whose only other credit is writing a season 4 episode of Parenthood (which, as a fan of the show, is already a win for me).

More on the film below in the synopsis:

In ABOUT ALEX, a circle of twenty-something friends reunite for a weekend away after one of them suffers an emotional breakdown. Despite the group’s best efforts to keep it light and enjoy themselves, a tinderbox of old jealousies, unrequited love, and widening political differences leads to an explosion that, coupled with the flammable combination of drugs, wine, and risotto, cannot be contained. An honest appraisal of adult friendship for our current social media moment, ABOUT ALEX is a lighthearted look at the struggles of a generation that has it all – and wants more.

Screen Media Films' past theatrical releases include Sherrybaby starring Maggie Gyllenhaal and The Private Lives of Pippa Lee starring Robin Wright and Keanu Reeves. "Jesse Zwick’s film is one of the strongest debuts we’ve seen in years,” said Seth Needle, Director of Acquisitions & Marketing at Screen Media Films, via the press release. “We can’t wait for audiences to discover the extraordinary chemistry shared by this talented ensemble cast.”

Watch a clip from the movie:

Thursday, May 8, 2014

James Franco's Pervy Soccer Coach Act Isn't Enough to Boost the Aggressively Dull 'PALO ALTO'

When I was in high school there was a group of kids who often hung out in the bathroom smoking cigarettes, ragging on each other and debating about which classes they were going to skip out on next. They were young, privileged and without a care in the world--about anything. I never could relate to them and--perhaps more importantly--I never really wanted to.

These are the types of characters that permeate through Gia Coppola's directorial debut, PALO ALTO. The permanently unimpressed, self-involved teenage set who wallow in their own apathy and untapped potential as they relentlessly search for complexity. Emma Roberts stars as April, a shy high school soccer player struggling to fit in with her aimless peers and navigate an emotionally vacant home led by her pot-loving mother (Jacqui Getty) and stepdad (Val Kilmer). Truthfully, she doesn't fit in to any aspect of her world but suddenly gets hit with the pressure to follow a path--pick a vocation, go to college and become something or succumb to this young misfit crowd that is speeding down a one-way highway to Less Than Zero land.

Just when things couldn't get any more confusing for her, April gets involved with her much older soccer coach Mr. B (James Franco). Well, not so much "involved" as it dangerously escalates from an innocent babysitting gig to becoming his teenage plaything. Preying on her innocence and telling her how she's different from the other girls and deserves an older man like himself is Mr. B's game. While Franco is effectively pervy and manages to make every scene he's in suffocatingly uncomfortable to watch (his crooked smile alone is nausea-inducing), there is something about his performance that drew me to him more than anyone else in the movie. When all the other characters are so preoccupied with their own air of entitlement entrenched in insecurity, none of them inspire as strong reactions from me as Franco's Mr. B (even though that reaction is repulsion). They just sort of exist.

In fact, I kept wondering when themes like suicide, sexual identity and drug addiction were goign to pop up because these are the default tropes often used in teenage melodrama like this that basks in the derivative. It's not particularly entertaining or engaging to watch it unfold, and Coppola doesn't do much to create textured characterization or nicely timed comedic sequences. It's unwavering but also dull. She takes very little chances in her adaptation of Franco's short story collection of the same name, and her quest for stoicism comes off more bored and indifferent than anything else. The question of why we should even care about these characters goes unanswered. What makes them so fascinating?

As I expected, some of the melodrama staples mentioned above finally rear their ugly heads in a series of vignettes lead by Jack Kilmer, Nat Wolff and Zoe Levin. Teddy (Kilmer) is the unpopular kid who may have the best intentions, but always ends up mucking them up. Fred (Wolff) is Teddy's angsty frenemy, a perennially baked loser who you're never quite sure whether he's actually troubled or is desperate for attention. Should you empathize with him, or is he just a pesky gnat infesting each scene without adding any genuine gravitas? Emily (Levin) sort of absorbs several of the familiar themes perpetuated throughout the movie, but does manage to best portray the idea of teenage girlhood wrought with unmet expectations and low self-esteem.

With PALO ALTO, Coppola seems to try to recreate her aunt's (Sofia Coppola) signature approach to blah-ness, but fails to offer a similar connection for the audience, something that pulls us in to their stories without turning them into caricatures. While all the young actors are committed to their characters (though none of them particularly stand out), this film will likely drown in its own nothingness as far more thought-provoking teenage fare continues to prevail.

Rating: C (** out of *****)

PALO ALTO is in theaters in New York City and Los Angeles on Friday, May 9th.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

15 Films My Mother Taught Me

"I'm not really into films like that. That's more your thing." This is something that my mom has actually said to be on more than one occasion. I chuckle as I type this because my mom is probably one of the most opinionated people I have ever met--who isn't me. Even if she hasn't watched a movie, one look at a bad trailer or awful description, and she would read that film so fast it would regret the day it was born.

No, my mom may not write a film blog or go to screenings, but she is most definitely a film lover on the down low. She may play it off, but it is she who helped inspire my interest in film. When I was growing up, she was diligent about introducing me to many different kinds of films, including black and white films, independent films that often flew under the radar, and westerns, because she was invested in showing me various cultures and themes through film.

In fact, I can think of 15 older films off the top of my head that she taught me that still resonate with me today, ones that I plan to show my children. They span a variety of genres, and my mom had an interesting commentary for each of them:

Cast:  Louise Beavers, Claudette Colbert, Warren William
Director: John M. Stahl
Mom's Commentary: "It's a heartbreaking movie about a mother who only ever wanted to love her child."

2. COFFY (1973)
Cast: Pam Grier, Booker Bradshaw, Robert DoQui
Director: Jack Hill
Mom's Commentary: "Pam Grier was and is still great."

3. PSYCHO (1960)
Cast: Anthony Perkins, Janet Leigh, Vera Miles
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Mom's Commentary: "The best scene is when the detective [played by Martin Balsam] is falling backwards down the stairs. It's such a frightening shot."

4. ALIENS (1979)
Cast: Sigourney Weaver, Tom Skerritt, John Hurt
Director: Ridley Scott
Mom's Commentary: "Once that thing popped out of that guy's stomach, I was DONE."

Cast: Clark Gable, Vivien Leigh, Hattie McDaniel
Director: Victor Fleming
Mom's Commentary: "Stunning cinematography." And: "Scarlett was one of the most desperate and delusional women in film. She rationalized everything by saying 'tomorrow is another day.'"

Cast: Hayley Mills, Maureen O'Hara, Brian Keith
Director: David Swift
Mom's Commentary: "[Despite the fact that Hayley Mills plays Bostonian and Californian twins], she doesn't even try to hide her English accent here." And: "My favorite scene is when she's having a fit about how she had to chop off her hair for this scheme."

Cast: Laurence Fishburne, Moses Gunn, Rosalind Cash, Bernie Casey
Director: Joseph Manduke
Mom's Commentary: "I lost it when his friend died. Such a sad story."

8. THE BAD SEED (1956)
Cast: Nancy Kelly, Patty McCormack, Henry Jones
Director: Mervyn LeRoy
Mom's Commentary: "Some of the best horror is psychological--you don't always see it, but you can sense it. That's more scary."

9. SCHOOL DAZE (1988)
Cast: Laurence Fishburne, Giancarlo Esposito, Tisha Campbell-Martin
Director: Spike Lee
Mom's Commentary: "This takes me back to my college sorority days, but with more song and dance."

10. BOYZ N THE HOOD (1991)
Cast: Cuba Gooding, Jr., Laurence Fishburne, Morris Chestnut, Ice Cube
Director: John Singleton
Mom's Commentary: "This is one of the best black movies--actually, one of the best movies of any kind--ever. Hands down."

Cast: Nicolas Cage, Holly Hunter, John Goodman
Director: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
Mom's Commentary: "This is Holly Hunter and Nicolas Cage at their goofiest."

12. HALLOWEEN (1978)
Cast: Donald Pleasance, Jamie Lee Curtis, Tony Moran
Director: John Carpenter
Mom's Commentary: "The music alone will haunt me for the rest of my days."

13. POLTERGEIST (1982)
Cast: JoBeth Williams, Craig T. Nelson, Heather O'Rourke
Director: Tobe Hooper
Mom's Commentary: "I love when the boy [Robbie, played by Oliver Robins] says 'Drive away, Drive away!' at the end of the movie when his sister hasn't even gotten in the car yet."

14. JAWS (1975)
Cast: Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw, Richard Dreyfuss
Director: Steven Spielberg
Mom's Commentary: "When I first saw this movie, I was scared to take a bath."

15. MY FAIR LADY (1964)
Cast: Audrey Hepburn, Rex Harrison, Stanley Holloway
Director: George Cukor
Mom's Commentary: "There will never be another Audrey Hepburn."

In her own informal way, my mother endowed me with the knowledge and appreciation of film--its themes, its ideals and its extravagance--and introduced me to icons of the past and present. She inspired me to discover more films on my own, and explore them more deeply. For that, I will forever be grateful.

Which films did your mother introduce you to?

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