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Friday, January 30, 2015

Am I the Only One Who Doesn't Care For Joe Swanberg's Films?

Quick question: Am I the only one who finds Joe Swanberg's films pointless and utterly boring? I've seen two of his films, Drinking Buddies and Happy Christmas, and they both left me wondering WHY? It's like he chooses the most vapid characters to carry an otherwise mildly interesting story, badly. I literally cannot even.

So you can just imagine my indifference when I received information today about his upcoming film, DIGGING FOR FIRE, which was just acquired by The Orchard after it made its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival this month. Though its premise is rather intriguing and the cast is really great, I've seen enough of Swanberg's work to not get excited about it. Here's a little more about the film:

The film follows the discovery of a bone and a gun which sends a husband and wife - each full of doubts about their future and anxiety about the present - on separate adventures over the course of a weekend. At the premiere's Q&A, Swanberg explained that the movie was about the realization that a marriage should be "two individuals agreeing to be in a relationship, rather than two people melting into one thing." The picture was filmed in LA on 35mm film, with a sprawling ensemble cast that also includes Rosemarie DeWitt, Orlando Bloom, Brie Larson, Sam Rockwell, Anna Kendrick, Sam Elliot, Judith Light, Ron Livingston, Melanie Lynskey, Jenny Slate, Tim Simons, and Jane Adams.

I can only be cautiously optimistic about this, at best. What say you?

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Watch the Oscar-Nominated Short Films in Theaters Before February 22nd

With all the focus on the "major" Oscar nominees this season, it's easy for the (apparently non-major?) categories, like the short films (Live Action, Animation, and Documentary), to quietly slip under the radar. So I think it's great that ShortsHD is giving audiences the opportunity to watch these films on the big screen before the Academy Awards ceremony on February 22, so that they can get the exposure they deserve.

Beginning this Friday, January 30, the nominated short films will open in over 350 theaters throughout the U.S. and Canada, and will continue to expand in the following weeks. A list of participating theaters can be found here. Along with the theatrical release, they will be available on Vimeo OnDemand, iTunes® Stores in 54 countries, Amazon Instant Video®, Verizon and will be released across the U.S. on VOD/Pay Per View platforms.

In other words, you'll have no excuse for not having seen these films.

Read up on each nominee below and watch the trailers for the live action and animated shorts here and here.


Israel & France / 39 mins
Directors: Mihal Brezis and Oded Binnun
Co-writer: Tom Shoval
Description: Two strangers unexpectedly meet at an airport. He mistakenly assumes her to be his assigned driver. She, enchanted by the random encounter, does not hurry to prove him wrong.

UK / 14 mins
Director: Michael Lennox
Writer: Ronan Blaney
Description: Jamesy and Malachy are over the moon when their soft-hearted dad presents them with two baby chicks to care for. Raising their tiny charges, declaring themselves vegetarian and dreaming of running a chicken farm, the two boys are in for a shock when their parents announce that big changes are coming to the family. Starring Martin McCann, Charlene McKenna, Riley Hamilton and Aaron Lynch.

France & China / 15 mins
Director: Hu Wei
Description: A young itinerant photographer and his assistant offer to photograph some Tibetan nomads in front of various backgrounds.

Switzerland / 25 mins
Director: Talkhon Hamzavi
Description: A young Afghan immigrant travels to Zurich where she encounters a punk named Emily.

UK / 21 mins
Director: Mat Kirkby
Writers: Mat Kirkby and James Lucas
Description: “THE PHONE CALL” follows HEATHER, (played by OSCAR® nominee SALLY HAWKINS), a shy lady who works at a helpline call centre. When she receives a phone call from a mystery man (played by Oscar winner JIM BROADBENT) she has no idea that the encounter will change her life forever.


The Netherlands / 2 mins
Description: When playing a mysterious vinyl single, Pia is suddenly able to travel through her life.

USA / 6 mins
Director: Patrick Osborne
Description: “FEAST”, a new short from first-time director Patrick Osborne (Head of Animation, “PAPERMAN”) and Walt Disney Animation Studios, is the story of one man’s love life as seen through the eyes of his best friend and dog, Winston, and revealed bite by bite through the meals they share.

Canada & Norway / 14 mins
Director: Torill Kove
Description: One summer in mid-’60s Norway, a seven-year-old girl asks her parents if she and her sisters can have a bicycle. Me and My Moulton provides a glimpse of its young protagonist’s thoughts as she struggles with her sense that her family is a little out of sync with what she perceives as “normal."

UK / 7 mins
Director: Daisy Jacobs
Description: 'You want to put her in a home; you tell her; tell her now!' hisses one brother to the other. But Mother won't go, and their own lives unravel as she clings on. Innovative life-size animated characters tell the stark and darkly humorous tale of caring for an elderly parent.

USA / 18 mins
Directors: Robert Kondo and Dice Tsutsumi
Description: The Dam Keeper, an original animated short film by feature animation artists Robert Kondo and Dice Tsutsumi, tells the tale of a young pig encumbered with an important job, and the meeting of a new classmate who changes everything. A first-time collaboration between some of the most talented artists in animation, The Dam Keeper made its world premiere as an official selection at the 2014 Berlin International Film Festival and is slated to make its US premiere at The New York International Children's Film Festival this spring.


USA / 39 mins
Director: Ellen Goosenberg Kent
Description: The timely documentary CRISIS HOTLINE: VETERANS PRESS 1 spotlights the traumas endured by America’s veterans, as seen through the work of the hotline’s trained responders, who provide immediate intervention and support in hopes of saving the lives of service members.

Poland / 40 mins
Director: Aneta Kopacz
Description: With great visual poetry, 'Joanna' portrays the simple and meaningful moments in the life of her family. Diagnosed with an untreatable illness, Joanna promises her son that she will do her best to live for as long as possible. It is a story of close relationships, tenderness, love and thoughtfulness.

Poland / 27 mins
Director: Tomasz Sliwinski
Description: The film is a personal statement of the director and his wife, who have to deal with a very rare and incurable disease of their newborn child – the Ondine’s Curse (also known as CCHS, congenital central hypoventilation syndrome). People affected with this disease stop breathing during sleep and require lifetime mechanical ventilation on a ventilator.

Mexico / 29 mins
Director: Gabriel Serra Argüello
Description: Efrain, known as the Reaper, has worked at a slaughterhouse for 25 years. We will discover his deep relationship with death and his struggle to live.

USA / 20 mins
Director/Producer: J. Christian Jensen
Description: Thousands of souls flock to America’s Northern Plains seeking work in the oil fields. "White Earth" is the tale of an oil boom seen through unexpected eyes. Three children and an immigrant mother brave a cruel winter and explore themes of innocence, home and the American Dream.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Patricia Clarkson and Scott Speedman Shack Up in the Trailer for the New Suspense Thriller, OCTOBER GALE

Honestly, I probably wouldn't have even posted this trailer if it didn't have Patricia Clarkson and Scott Speedman hooking up in it. Because otherwise, OCTOBER GALE would have looked like any other derivative thriller that tried to pass as suspenseful. We've all seen this kind of movie: a hot stranger blows into town, stranded, and an unsuspecting woman offers a helping hand. (Actually, we just saw this in No Good Deed with Taraji P. Henson and Idris Elba just a few months ago).

But how often do we see a hot older woman (Clarkson, age 55) hooking up with a hot younger man (Speedman, age 39) in the horror genre? Right, very, very rarely. And I am so here for it. Anyway, here's the full synopsis of the film:

Toronto doctor Helen Matthews (Patricia Clarkson), mourning the death of her husband (Callum Keith Rennie), retreats to the isolated island cabin where they'd spent some of their most cherished moments together. Her reverie is cut short when a mysterious man, Will (Scott Speedman), washes ashore with a bullet in his shoulder. As he recuperates, the two develop a tentative connection, though Will refuses to explain what happened. When a severe storm traps them on the island as Will's would-be killer returns, their ability to trust each other then becomes a matter of survival. Also co-starring Tim Roth. OCTOBER GALE is a story about a couple warily exploring their growing bond under extreme circumstances.

Writer-director Ruba Nadda has received critical acclaim for character-driven dramas such as SABAH and CAIRO TIME (winner of Best Canadian Feature Film at the 2009 Festival). In OCTOBER GALE, she brings her astute psychological insight to bear on an intimate, suspenseful thriller.

I'm not familiar with this Nadda's work, but I am anxious to see her contribution to the genre here. Watch the trailer:

OCTOBER GALE opens in theaters March 6th. 

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The Teaser Trailer for FANTASTIC FOUR Actually Doesn't Look Horrible

As many of you already know, I was NOT looking forward to this reboot of FANTASTIC FOUR, since the last two were pretty awful (am I the only one who remembers that?). But I have been keenly following Michael B. Jordan's career as of late, and held out hope that he would attach himself to a solid project. Well, 20th Century Fox released the first teaser trailer for the film today and I have to say, I am pleasantly surprised. It looks like this pairing of (Chronicle) and co-writers Simon Kinberg and Jeremy Slater (X-Men: Days of Future Past, The Lazarus Effect) was a good thing.

This first clip promises the youth appeal of X-Men: First Class and the pathos of Captain America with hopefully a fresher narrative that will likely relate to real-life societal issues (I'll assume, since many other modern superhero films have). The full cast includes Miles Teller, Kate Mara, Jamie Bell, and Toby Kebbell. More in the synopsis:

FANTASTIC FOUR, a contemporary re-imagining of Marvel’s original and longest-running superhero team, centers on four young outsiders who teleport to an alternate and dangerous universe, which alters their physical form in shocking ways. Their lives irrevocably upended, the team must learn to harness their daunting new abilities and work together to save Earth from a former friend turned enemy.

Watch the teaser:

FANTASTIC FOUR opens in theaters August 7, 2015, in 3D. 

Two New Indie Films Get 2015 Off to a Bad Start

Elizabeth Banks in Little Accidents

I think one of the hardest things about being a film blogger is having to write about a movie you feel nothing towards, a film so unremarkable that it leaves your head as soon as you've seen it. How do you create a conversation about a film that doesn't warrant one? That's the question I asked myself after watching not one, but two films within the last week: LITTLE ACCIDENTS and OUT OF THE DARK. While both deal with intense subjects, children faced with insurmountable odds, neither makes an impact. Like, at all.

On the one hand, you have a family drama (LITTLE ACCIDENTS) that wants to make a statement based on themes of murder, forgiveness, and loneliness. But the pacing of this Sara Colangelo-directed film is far too sluggish to maintain my attention. Even Elizabeth Banks, usually a scene stealer, isn't able to give the film more soul as a mother mourning the death of her young son. Jacob Lofland, who first burst onto the scene in Mud,  tries his best to hold nearly the entire film on his shoulders, but his own storyline as a teenager grappling with guilt runs too thin. Colangelo's attempt to create a layered story with intersecting ideas unfortunately lands with a thud.

Julia Stiles and Scott Speedman in Out of the Dark

Meanwhile, horror film OUT OF THE DARK has the opposite problem as LITTLE ACCIDENTS with a fast-paced plot that pulls you in at its very beginning. In the first few minutes of the film, a man is haunted by young ghosts who terrorize him to the point where he ends up falling out of his own window. Flash forward to the same house, now inhabited by a young couple (Julia Stiles and Scott Speedman) who receive the same undead visitors who abduct their daughter, setting off an erratic chase that lasts until the end of the film. The explanation of who these ghosts are (or were?) and how the couple is connected to their origins is rushed and not even worth mentioning, because it's like "ok..." It's a strange film in that the villains are the most interesting characters in the film, and they don't even get to have full stories (or names, for that matter).

So anyway, back to my original question: How do I discuss a film that offers no discussion? By simply accepting its existence in the cinematic universe and moving on. Let's not even spend any more time thinking about it.

LITTLE ACCIDENTS is now playing in select theaters in the U.S., and OUT OF THE DARK opens February 27th.

Monday, January 26, 2015

20 Things I Learned Watching the Backstreet Boys' New Documentary

(left to right) Brian Littrell, Howie Dorough, Nick Carter,
Kevin Richardson and A.J. McLean

Remember that Backstreet Boys documentary I specifically told you I was not going to watch? So, I definitely watched it, and I can't even say it was only to relive some of my favorite songs from the band (that was just a perk). I was genuinely curious to see what the band wanted to tell us this time (that they feel they didn't get across to us the last couple of times). It ended up being a pretty rough cut chronicle of the band's professional and individual journeys over the last two decades. And, OMG, the drama. You won't even believe it. Just in case, I took some notes.


  1. Kevin Richardson is still fine as hell, at 43 years old.
  2. Howie Dorough, who almost exclusively sung background from what I can recall, was the band's original lead singer. He was--and is to this day--resentful that Brian Littrell stole his thunder.
  3. Even though Brian Littrell has damaged vocal chords that have progressively gotten worse over the years, he still has the best voice out of the five members (go figure). 
  4. Nick Carter's singing voice has not gotten any better. He still sounds like a dying cat. 
  5. The guys used to hang out with their former manager, Lou Pearlman, in his house...and sometimes watched porn with him. (I don't know why, and this was never clearly explained in the film).
  6. Pearlman apparently owns (or at least used to own, before his current 25-year prison sentence for a number of major financial crimes) the original Darth Vader mask.
  7. Richardson lost his father just before the group got big. In one of many emotional moments in the film, the five go back to his hometown to show us his upbringing.
  8. Richardson was very uncomfortable with the video for the group's first U.S. hit, "Quit Playing Games With My Heart," specifically the half naked rain scene. Ironically, I remember being very comfortable with this scene. 
  9. The video for "Everybody (Backstreet's Back)" is still pretty awesome. Admit it. 
  10. They're still making music, and none of it sounds particularly great. One of them has the same title as the film's subtitle.
  11. Pearlman was simultaneously grooming the band's future competitor, NSYNC, kinda sorta to replace the Backstreet Boys. A.J. McLean reveals how betrayed he felt to learn that Pearlman would go so far as to book NSYNC for any appearances or engagements the Backstreet Boys were too busy/exhausted to attend. 
  12. For their Black & Blue tour, the band was paid $100 million.
  13. McLean's constant need to be the bad boy of the group was not lost on Dorough. "A.J. thought he was rock and roll, not realizing he was part of a boy band," Dorough said. (Also: the subtle shade is EPIC).
  14. McLean credits Richardson for motivating him to get sober and go to rehab. In the film, McLean recounts how one day Richardson broke into his hotel room (where McLean, who was supposed to be in a business meeting, was sprawled out in a "haze") to exchange some choice words (including "You're dead to me").
  15. More shade from Dorough about McLean: "A.J. thinks he's a rapper." As he's saying this in the film, he's sitting in his car as McLeans rolls up in the next parking space bumping hip hop and really overcompensating (see #14).
  16. Richardson hasn't toured with the band for the last seven years. So this will be the first time he's even dealing with these dudes in a long while. 
  17. In the film's most melodramatic scene (seriously, it could have been excepted from a VH1 reality show), Carter lashes out at Littrell for not addressing his vocal issues and the fact that it is partly because of that that their current progress has been slow. At one point (after he calms down a bit) Carter tells Littrell that he used to be the Michael Jordan of this group, that there was Jordan and Pippen and he wants Littrell to get back to being Jordan. (I guess that would mean Carter considers himself Pippen? But why? See #4). Meanwhile, Dorough is looking hella confused in this scene (see #2).
  18. Also in that same scene, Littrell lashes back at Carter for having to "do his job" sometimes. Which got a literal "oooooh" from me (clearly considering this all to be a super intense reality show that I'm watching).
  19. Carter apparently grew up with "boys who are now either in prison, dead or on drugs." And he is definitely still working out some issues after his rehab stint. 
  20. Every single member of this group cries at some point in this film (except Dorough, who is probably still wondering how he can reclaim his status as the Michael Jordan of the group). They all go back to their hometowns and reunite with their music teachers, and just...start crying (seriously, is this staged?). Richardson's crying (as he mourned the loss of his father) was the only grief I understood. Carter literally says (after bawling for a good five minutes) that he doesn't even know why he's crying. Guys, I mean...?
So basically, they're doing this to promote their new album (which, again, has some really shaking vocals on it from what I heard in the film). But the band has some real personal issues among themselves that they may want to iron out before they hit the road again. I remember wondering after I finished watching the film, do these guys even like each other?  I guess they're just one big dysfunctional family. 

BACKSTREETS BOYS: SHOW 'EM WHAT YOU'RE MADE OF is in theaters and on VOD on January 30th.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

I'm Here for the ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK Takeover at Sunday Night's Screen Actors Guild Awards

Is it weird that I've become less interested in the actual awards and more intrigued by the apparent battle of who can have the most moving acceptance speeches this year? For Sunday night's Screen Actors Guild Awards, Orange is the New Black star Uzo Aduba won that match, hands down. She talked about the beautiful diversity of the cast, and its fearless leader for having the insight to showcase such an amazing variety of narratives and characters. Here's a snippet:

"I want to thank Jenji Kohan for writing a show like this, not only for myself but for our incredible team of actors to be seen in such a beautiful way... I want to say a huge massive thanks to our cast, without whom this is not possible. I love you guys so desperately, so much. This is not done without you, any step of the way."

For the record, while I LOVE fellow nominee Julia Louis-Dreyfuss in Veep, But I also adore Aduba's nuanced work in the Netflix dramedy, which not only won for best actress in a comedy, but also won best ensemble in a comedy series-- amazing, considering its rather ambiguous genre. For those of you who aren't familiar with Orange is the New Black (or OITNB, as we fans call it), I have two words for you: GET FAMILIAR. Also, check out this post on the show I wrote back in 2013.

And of course, Patricia Arquette continues to be an adorably charming and slightly nerdy maternal figure, who I can't get enough of. In her acceptance speech for best supporting actress (Boyhood), she gave a touching shout out to her showbiz family and her incredible cast and crew:

"I'm a fourth generation actor. My family has been committed to acting for over a century through feast or famine. My father Lewis Arquette taught me to approach work with compassion and gratitude and taught me also how hard it is to make a living as an actor...Ethan Hawke, for your fierce commitment. Ellar Coltrane, for your purity. Lorelei Linklater, for your strength and your ability. And Richard Linklater, for showing me the beauty of this human experience and how we all matter."

Then there was Viola Davis (a vision in white), who genuinely shocked me when she won for best actress in a drama series (ABC's How to Get Away with Murder). I really couldn't get into the show, but I'm always happy to see Davis just winning things. Because she's great, and it's time people recognize that. An excerpt from her speech:

"I'd like to thank Paul Lee, Shonda Rhimes, Betsy Beers...and Pete Nowalk…for thinking that a sexualized, messy, mysterious woman could be a 49-year-old dark skinned African-American woman who looks like me."

For the full list of winners from Sunday night's ceremony, click here

Friday, January 23, 2015

EMPIRE Actress Tasha Smith Will Do a Live Twitter Chat on Monday

Tasha Smith is one of those actresses who's been in at least one movie that you've seen, but you might not have known it was her, which speaks to her chameleon-like ability as an actress. But many folks, including myself, know her best as one of Tyler Perry's muses, having starred in a number of the director's films, including Why Did I Get Married?

If you've been watching Lee Daniels' new FOX melodrama, Empire, then you've also seen her play a small role on that (though I have a feeling that her character's story is about to expand as the season progresses). In any case, you can learn more about the actress when she opens up in a one-hour Twitter chat on Monday, January 26th, at 10am PST/1pm EST. She'll discuss her career, her upcoming gig as teacher of the Acting Master Class at the American Black Film Festival, diversity in Hollywood, and answer questions from the audience (read: the Twitterverse). 

To join the conversation, follow ABFF and Tasha Smith on Twitter, and tweet questions using the hashtag #ABFF2015. 

Thursday, January 22, 2015

I'm Just Gonna Leave This Red Band Clip from HOT TUB TIME MACHINE 2 With You...

I know many of you loved the first Hot Tub Time Machine film, but...I just don't get why. I mean, I guess it was funny at times...if you're into that kind of thing (I do actually get a kick out of Craig Robinson doing a cover of Lisa Loeb's "Stay" in the commercial). But anyway, I was just sent this red band clip from the sequel, HOT TUB TIME MACHINE 2, that you'll likely appreciate more than I did. Check it out:

More on the film in the synopsis:

When Lou (Rob Corddry) finds himself in trouble, Nick (Craig Robinson) and Jacob (Clark Duke) fire up the hot tub time machine in an attempt to get back to the past. But they inadvertently land in the future with Adam Jr. (Adam Scott). Now they have to alter the future in order to save the past... which is really the present, in the sequel from the same team that brought you the original cult hit.

HOT TUB TIME MACHINE 2 is in theaters February 20th. 

Freida Pinto and Homeland's Nazanin Boniadi Star in a New Dancing Drama Set in Iran (Coming to Theaters in the U.S.)

I was just asking what ever happened to Freida Pinto...

Generally known these days as "that pretty girl from Slumdog Millionaire," Pinto has actually been keeping pretty busy starring in a number of indie and foreign films, including 2010's Miral. And I've just received information about her latest project, DESERT DANCER. Co-starring Homeland's Nazanin Boniadi, the film tells the true story of how an amateur dance troupe in Iran ignited a political firestorm amid a nationwide ban on dancing.

Here's another pic from the film:

Check out the trailer:

What do you think? DESERT DANCER comes to theaters in the U.S. April 10th. 

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

BOYHOOD Director Richard Linklater and Star Ellar Coltrane Will Do a Livestream Q&A Today

My fellow Boyhood fans! Tune in for a livestream Q&A with the film's director Richard Linklater and star Ellar Coltrane today at 7pm PST/10pm EST on Yahoo! Livestream. The two will discuss their 12-year film-making process and what it's like to be a part of this groundbreaking cinematic experience.

Watch it here.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Win a Blu-ray Copy of the Golden Globe-Nominated Animated Film, THE BOOK OF LIFE!

Happy Tuesday! To help get us through this short week (short if you're in the U.S. and your office was closed yesterday for Martin Luther King Day), I'm kicking it off with some great news. It looks like I'll be hosting a giveaway for the star-studded animated film THE BOOK OF LIFE, right here on the site.

You may remember I gushed about wanting to see the movie leading up to its release last year, before it went on to receive a Golden Globe nomination. So I am happy to hear that the it will be out on DVD/Blu-ray on January 27th. In case you need it, here's a refresher on the film:

Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment invites you and your family to join Manola, Maria and Chuy as they embark on a magical journey that takes them on an adventure of a lifetime in THE BOOK OF LIFE. Written and directed by Jorge R. Gutierrez and produced by Guillermo del Toro, the characters venture to the Land of the Remembered and embrace the rich culture and family history brought to life by the all-star voice cast of Channing Tatum, Zoe Saldana, Diego Luna, Ron Perlman, Kate del Castillo, Christina Applegate and Ice Cube.

THE BOOK OF LIFE is a breathtaking animated comedy with a dazzling visual style unlike anything you’ve seen before. Torn between the expectations of his family and the desires of his heart, a young man named Manolo sets off on an epic quest that spans three spectacular worlds in order to reunite with his one true love and defend his village. Not your ordinary fairy tale, THE BOOK OF LIFE is a wondrous fantasy-adventure filled with magic, music and fun!

I'm giving away one (1) copy of the Blu-ray to the first person who responds to this post with what they loved most about this movie (or, if you haven't seen the film, why you want to see it). Here's the fine print: you must live within the United States to enter the giveaway. And please leave a way for me to contact you to request mailing information. 

Thanks and good luck!

Friday, January 16, 2015

It's Time to Disrupt the Norm: An Open Letter to Hollywood, Critics and Cinema Lovers

(Left to right) Belle director Amma Asante, The Babadook star Essie Davis
and Top Five actress Rosario Dawson

Guys, I'm tired. I'm tired of elitist critics who only acknowledge their own virtually uniform opinion. I'm tired of Hollywood institutions like the Academy Awards almost strictly honoring dramas, and ignoring all the rich genre contributions we have right now. I'm tired of cinema lovers only supporting films they've been told to support (from institutions like the Oscars), and failing to seek out other other less popular films of equal or greater quality. I'm just...tired. Further, I am tired of having to say/write this all the time.

As I stated in the post about my writing process last year,  I started this blog because I didn't hear my voice anywhere else online. I consider myself as a minority critic simply because I get the impression that just because my opinion doesn't echo the chorus of critical thinkers online and beyond, it isn't valid. But you know what? Screw that impression. Because I know for a fact that there are many people who share the same unpopular opinion, but too many are too intimidated to express it because of the backlash they might receive (or they they express it and it falls on deaf ears). Imagine that; too scared to simply voice an opinion, especially on social media which is essentially the dumping ground of all kinds of opinions (unsolicited or not). While I respect people's decisions to remain mum about certain films, or coddle their response to certain films, I'm just not wired that way. I'm not wired to mute myself, or diminish my own voice. Seriously, eff that.

That's said, let's just get this out of the way first: I'm not interested in the fact that Selma wasn't nominated for best director during Thursday morning's announcements. As I've written before, I just don't think the film as a whole, nor its direction, is particularly extraordinary. But I am disappointed that David Oyelowo didn't receive a nomination, and neither did cinematographer Bradford Young or costumer designer Ruth E. Carter. Yet Bradley Cooper gets a nomination for American Sniper, despite completely butchering that southern (?) accent in the trailer, and Steve Carell, whose performance, while great, is clearly supporting? Seriously, what is that?

Since we're on the subject of undeserving nominations, I'd like to reiterate that Felicity Jones and Reese Witherspoon have somehow eclipsed Gugu Mbatha-Raw's far superior performance in Belle (though Laura Dern's awesome nomination for Wild almost makes up for it. Almost).

And while we're having an honest discussion, I need to understand why the Academy consistently chooses to celebrate the typical depressing downer film. I mean, this is a year in which we also had A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night and The Babadook, for crying out loud. Must we always focus our attention on the oppressively serious biopic, drama and historical epic? While I love The Imitation Game, Boyhood, Ida (which is grossly underrated) and Foxcatcher, I am glad that films like Gone Girl and Birdman have been so well received. But let's not forget that Interstellar happened this past year, as well as the previously mentioned horror films, which were both written and directed by women, by the way. They just get no love? And Chris Rock's Top Five either? Listen, if you can nominate any of the Before films (Before Midnight, Before Sunset, etc), you can go ahead and nominate Top Five. That won't kill you.

One more thing: that Meryl Streep nomination for Into the Woods? Like, for serious? LOLOLOL I laugh at that. Oh and you must watch the amazing (and now Oscar-nominated) short, The Phone Call. It's just that good.

I need to get one more thing off my chest before I let you go. This last part is for for the cinema lovers who get all riled up whenever the elitist awards committees overlook films they think are deserving. Know this: 1) yes, screener availability does matter (if committees aren't sent a screener in time for their deadlines, it's mighty difficult to draw an opinion about a film), and 2) Support films and genres you feel passionately about. That second part is really important. That means going beyond the films that are provided to you in trailers and TV commercials, and keeping up with your favorite filmmakers, doing an Internet search on genres you're interested in, and generally staying informed. I'm burdened by the amount of dramatic epics in which characters of color are victims when they're not balanced with an equally amazing fiction narrative, like Mother of George or The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete. And for crying out loud, can we get more quirky dramedies with characters of color on the big screen? As we do, can we support them, please? We need to remind Hollywood that there is an audience for these films, and they won't care unless we show them the money. So don't just talk about these films; buy tickets and watch them in theaters too. We need to be more aggressive about that.

As a matter of fact, we need to be more supportive of diverse opinion, diverse narratives and styles, and diverse filmmakers, After numerous conversations online and beyond, I've come to the realization that too many are complacent with the status quo of Hollywood, happy to consume and/or complain about the films Hollywood is shoving down our throats and not exploring what else is out there, and how they can influence the vote. The Academy doesn't only have to get heat about snubbing films like Selma, which so many of you love, but make them also feel uncomfortable about not recognizing several films helmed by minority and women filmmakers. That's when s--t really gets turned upside down. Suffocate them with more than one film that deserves their attention. They can't ignore all of them. Not anymore.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Julia Stiles and Scott Speedman are Haunted by Terrifying Little Ghosts in the Trailer for OUT OF THE DARK

I know everyone is raving about Jake Gyllenhaal's performance in Nightcrawler (which I still have to see), but if you haven't already, you should really check out his previous film Enemy. Seriously, it's one of those "I'm not 100% sure what's really going on right now, but I am so digging this" kind of thrillers. So I'm excited to learn that that same screenwriter, Javier Gullón, has also written a new horror film titled OUT OF THE DARK, starring Julia Stiles and Scott Speedman. 

Here's a little more about the film:

Starring Julia Stiles, Scott Speedman, and Stephen Rea, OUT OF THE DARK is a ghost story set in South America, where a young family’s new life turns from promising to terrifying when they are forced to confront ancient legends, ghosts, and a haunting family secret.

Honestly, this film sounds a lot like a few others I've seen (especially with the whole "new family relocating to another country that ends up terrifying them" theme that's all too prevalent in the genre). But the terrifying little ghosts featured in trailer are enough to get me to watch (plus, I also like Stiles and Speedman). Check it out:

OUT OF THE DARK is in theaters February 27th and is now available on VOD. 

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Common and John Legend Take Us to Church in the Official Music Video for "Glory"

If you don't catch the Holy Spirit or do a power fist to the sky while watching this official music video for Common and John Legend's "Glory" (off the Selma soundtrack), I just don't even know what to say to you. Honestly, I feel like this song does in just over three minutes what the movie fails to consistently do for me: stir emotion. It's just that powerful.

SPY Looks Like MISS CONGENIALITY Meets ALIAS, Starring Melissa McCarthy

You know, I wasn't really excited about this movie at all, until I saw this trailer. It's like we've finally got that big screen adaptation of Alias, except Melissa McCarthy is playing Jennifer Garner's part. I...don't hate it. Writer/director Paul Feig's (Bridesmaids) SPY looks to be very Miss Congeniality meets Alias, more specifically, will likely be the vehicle used to propel McCarthy as a bonafide action star, in preparation for her rumored role in Feig's upcoming reboot of Ghostbusters.

More on the film:

Susan Cooper (Melissa McCarthy) is an unassuming, deskbound CIA analyst, and the unsung hero behind the Agency’s most dangerous missions. But when her partner (Jude Law) falls off the grid and another top agent (Jason Statham) is compromised, she volunteers to go deep undercover to infiltrate the world of a deadly arms dealer, and prevent a global disaster.

Kinda love that McCarthy is the top billed actor in a movie that also has Jason Statham and Jude Law (as well as Rose Byrne and Allison Janney). And she gets to say lines like this: "I'm the person that's gonna cut your d--k off and glue it to your forehead so you look like a limp d--k unicorn." Aaand scene. 

Watch the trailer:

SPY is in theaters May 22nd. Thoughts?

P.S. Melissa McCarthy just officially joined Twitter this week, so follow her here

Monday, January 12, 2015

Iranian-American Filmmaker Desiree Akhavan Makes Her Feature Film Debut with the Hipster Romcom, APPROPRIATE BEHAVIOR

How cool is it that we have two (TWO!) Iranian-American female filmmakers making major waves in indie Hollywood right now? If it wasn't amazing enough that Ana Lily Amirpour smashed stereotypes and burst the vampire genre wide open with A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night last year, this month Desiree Akhavan (soon to be seen on the upcoming season of HBO's Girls) wrote, directed and starred in the newest contribution to the hipster comedy genre (yes, I do believe this has become a thing now) titled APPROPRIATE BEHAVIOR.

Part quirky romcom and part political statement, APPROPRIATE BEHAVIOR speaks to the modern young woman who finds herself on the outer edges of society due to her identity. Akhavan plays Shirin, a Brooklynite struggling with responsibility. She's at that awkward stage of adulthood when she has to finally start making grown-up decisions that will impact the rest of her life (like getting a real job), when she really just wants to lie on the couch all day. She's also dealing with the fact that she's confidently bisexual, but has yet to come out to her very traditional Persian parents, who would much rather accept that their only daughter's new female roommate just shares her bed because it's cheaper than paying for a two-bedroom apartment. It's less immaturity that Shirin grapples with, and more the idea of what is expected of her --  as an adult, an American woman seemingly surrounded by white friends, and a Persian daughter. And where she's supposed to fit in.

At its core, APPROPRIATE BEHAVIOR explores how one feels when everything they represent is considered wrong. But while its themes are important, they've all but fallen to the wayside by the film's third act, which becomes a far too typical hipster comedy (think Frances Ha) with an anticlimactic ending that doesn't bring any closure to Shirin's story. Does she eventually tell her parents? Does she finally get a real job? Who does she become by the end of the film?

But the film works as a conversation piece, and as a vehicle that will hopefully introduce Akhavan as a fresh voice. While the film isn't as vulnerable as I would have hoped (Shirin tends to mask her social insecurity with cheap, awkward jokes), Akhavan intriguingly scratches at the surface of a topic that I hope she continues to explore onscreen.

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

Watch the trailer:

APPROPRIATE BEHAVIOR is in theaters and on VOD January 16th. 

Sunday's Unpredictable Golden Globe Awards Made Me Tear Up Exactly TwoTimes

(Left to right) Richard Linklater, Ruth Wilson and J.K. Simmons

Can I just say how happy I am about Sunday night's Golden Globe Awards? I mean, even when the ceremony had clearly gone off the rails and honored The Grand Budapest Hotel instead of the far superior Birdman (or any other film for that matter), and Eddie Redmayne (The Theory of Everything) instead of David Oyelowo (Selma) or Steve Carrell (Foxcatcher). You know why? Because they took risks! They didn't just award the popular film or the more talked about actor. They actually had a personality. They actually went against their own standard, pulling out surprises (what elitists call "upsets") like J.K. Simmons' win for Whiplash (a great performance in a mediocre film) and Ruth Wilson's wonderfully complex portrayal in The Affair.

But, as you know (because I've been obsessive about it on this site), there was one major win that I desperately needed to happen going into the ceremony -- and that is Patricia Arquette for Boyhood. Guys, can I tell you that I screamed when she got up on the stage (donning a very unfortunate hair situation, by the way)? Her speech was pretty much my everything. Here's an excerpt from it:

"[Boyhood director Richard Linklater] placed in my hands the part of Olivia, an under-appreciated single mother. Thank you for shining a light on this woman and the millions of women like her, and allowing me to honor my own mother with this beautiful character."

In that brief speech, she pretty much underscored how important the character is to single parents, and those raised by single parents (like myself) -- and how beautiful and sensitively the character is written. Later in the night, Linklater (who won best director) capped off her moment with this awesome quote: "I want to dedicate this to families that are evolving in this world and are doing their best." Man, I love Boyhood. *INSERT TEARDROP HERE*

Another awesome moment that also was a tearjerker for me was when Gina Rodriguez won for Jane the Virgin. My Gawd, I wish the show was better because she has such talent and is so great on it. In her tear-filled speech, she acknowledged the significance of the moment as a Latina actress who is the lead of her own primetime comedy.

"This award is so much more than myself. It represents a culture that wants to see themselves as heroes. My father used to tell me to say every morning 'Today's going to be a great day, and I can and I will.' Oh Dad, today has been a great day. I can, and I did."


Going into the awards, I kinda figured Selma would win for best picture and director (though neither would be my personal choice), just because of all the conversation swirling around the film. A category I did think it deserved to win was best original song ("Glory"), so I was thrilled when Common and John Legend got to take the stage to receive the statue by none other than Prince (!!!). Common immediately took the mic and started freestyling delivered a moving speech. Here's some of it:

"The first day I stepped on the set of Selma, I began to feel that this was bigger than a movie. As I got to know the people of the civil rights movement, I realized I am the hopeful black woman who was denied her right to vote. I am the caring white supporter, killed on the front lines of freedom. I am the unarmed black kid, who maybe needed a hand but instead was given a bullet. I am the two fallen police officers murdered in the line of duty. Selma has awakened my humanity."

I didn't quite feel the same way Common did about the film, but if this movie can move anyone in this way, then that is is worth celebrating. Good for him for expressing this.

I'd be remissed if I didn't mention Michael Keaton's win for Birdman, basically reminding the world why he should be a religion that we all worship.  I'm just glad that we're all talking about him again. We've been ignoring his work for far too long.

For the full list of winners, click here

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Reigning Hipster Queen and King Greta Gerwig and Noah Baumbach Reteam for the Upcoming Comedy, MISTRESS AMERICA

Hate it or love it, Greta Gerwig and writer/director Noah Baumbach are probably going to end up seducing the entire world with their hipster charm. The duo has worked together on two previous projects, Greenberg and Frances Ha, and have teamed up once again for the new comedy, MISTRESS AMERICA. More on the film below:

In MISTRESS AMERICA, Tracy (Lola Kirke) is a lonely college freshman in New York, having neither the exciting university experience nor the glamorous metropolitan lifestyle she envisioned. But when she is taken in by her soon-to-be stepsister, Brooke (Greta Gerwig) – a resident of Times Square and adventurous gal about town – she is rescued from her disappointment and seduced by Brooke's alluringly mad schemes.

You may remember the name Lola Kirke from Gone Girl (she played the motel nomad who ripped off Amy). 

While I can't say I'm the biggest fan of either Gerwig or Baumbach, I do like that Baumbach has a clear vision as a filmmaker. He has a certain style that is undeniably his own, and continues to dig deeper to redefine his themes (soul-searching and personal angst) that have resonated with many audiences. 

MISTRESS AMERICA, which has just been acquired by Fox Searchlight, will have its world premiere at the upcoming Sundance Film Festival and is scheduled to be released in 2015. 

I'll keep you updated as I learn more. 

Friday, January 9, 2015

Trailer Watch: Julianne Moore, John Cusack, Mia Wasikowska and Robert Pattinson Star in David Cronenberg's New Hollywood Drama

There's really no one else who can play hysterical quite like Julianne Moore. And in the trailer for MAP TO THE STARS, director David Cronenberg's (A History of Violence, Videodrome) latest, she's playing another woman on the verge of an emotional breakdown. An actress, no less, unraveling under the pressures of Hollywood in a story filled with similarly dramatic characters and tortured souls. More in the synopsis:

Meet the Weiss family, who are making their way in Hollywood rife with money, fame, envy, and relentless hauntings. Stafford Weiss (John Cusack) is a famed TV self-help therapist with an A-list celebrity clientele. Meanwhile, Cristina Weiss (Olivia Williams) has her work cut out managing the career of their disaffected child-star son, Benjie (Evan Bird), a fresh graduate of rehab at age 13.

Yet unbeknownst to them, another member of the Weiss family has arrived in town - mysteriously scarred and tormented Agatha (Mia Wasikowska), just released from a psych ward and ready to start again. She soon works her way into a friendship with a limo driver (Robert Pattinson) and becomes personal assistant to unraveling actress Havana Segrand (Julianne Moore), who is beset by the ghost of her legendary mother, Clarice (Sarah Gadon). But Agatha is on a quest for redemption - and even in this realm of the artificial, and the unearthly, she's determined to find it, no matter what it takes.

I have to say, I am really intrigued by this film. Like, I want to know more about all these people. I hope it delivers. Watch the trailer:

MAP OF THE STARS is in Theaters, On Demand and iTunes on February 27th.

THE BOY NEXT DOOR is Still Looking Hella Cheesy

Please tell me you've seen the commercials for Jennifer Lopez new thriller, THE BOY NEXT DOOR, which pretty much personifies the "it's so bad, it's good" genre. Oh, you'd remember catching it, with classic lines like "It got pretty wet in here" and "I love your mother's cookies." I mean, how could you possibly miss that cheesiness? 

In a nutshell, the film is about an affair gone wrong between Lopez's single mom character and the new hot and crazy fella on the block, played by Ryan Guzman, which apparently ends with him becoming completely obsessive over her. I guess this is trying desperately to put a twist on a villain that is traditionally played by a woman in these types of films. But still, this film looks awful. Read the synopsis:

Jennifer Lopez leads the cast in The Boy Next Door, a psychological thriller that explores a forbidden attraction that goes much too far. Directed by Rob Cohen (The Fast and the Furious) and written by Barbara Curry, the film also stars Ryan Guzman, John Corbett and Kristin Chenoweth.

I'll let you talk among yourselves about this one. In the meantime, Universal Pictures has released a few new images from the film:


THE BOY NEXT DOOR comes to theaters January 23rd. 

Thursday, January 8, 2015

On THE IMITATION GAME, SELMA and Capturing the Extraordinary Lives of Two Tragic Heroes

I find it interesting that the two most talked about true-life films this awards season are stories about tragic heroes whose premature deaths go uncaptured in their films. Not because I like the idea of historical omission (I really don't have a dog in that fight), but because I like that the filmmakers averted expectation to give audiences a different ending. A conclusion that still felt dignified and shaped the story the filmmaker was trying to tell.

Take The Imitation Game, for instance. The fascinating story traces the life of Dr. Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch), the British computer scientist, mathematician and cryptanalyst of the WWII-era, whose genius helped end the war two years early. And whose accomplishments were swept under the rug not only because of the highly sensitive nature of his work, but because he was gay at a time in the U.K. when homosexuality was illegal. His suicide at age 41, after being mandated to undergo "hormonal treatment," is not so much overlooked in the film as it is instead honored with the riveting account of Turing's personal and professional journey.

During a recent Q&A with co-producer Teddy Schwarzman, he noted that the decision to end the story before capturing Turing's death was intentional after editing out a previous version of the ending that more closely captured Turing's final days. Schwarzman said it felt "trivial" to include Turing's suicide just for the sake of doing so, especially when it was his life and work that never received the attention they deserved. Instead, the film informs audiences of the circumstances surrounding his death in postscript. The Imitation Game was screenwriter Graham Moore's way of making sure that people know that Turing's contributions could not possibly be reduced to a templated biopic. The film offers a complexity to Turing's story that that is nothing short of extraordinary.

Similarly, Selma director Ava Duvernay chose to end the film before portraying civil rights activist Martin Luther King, Jr's (David Oyelowo) final moments before he was assassinated at age 39 in Memphis. Focusing the film around King's iconic marches for equal rights in Alabama, we get a more structured look at the era and the series of events that led up to what has become known as one of King's celebrated accomplishments -- his orchestration of initiatives that resulted in the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Despite the film's flaws, it stays true to its mission of encapsulating this moment in history and King's influence.

I say this all to say that as we continue to celebrate biopics and movies that are "based/inspired by actual events/stories," we should also honor that not every film has to follow a certain format, that cradle-to-the-grave style that is so widely recycled throughout Hollywood (am I the only one who's getting tired of that?). It's also nice to tell these stories in a new way that shines a fresh light on an well-worn concept. Besides, isn't that the whole point of cinematic storytelling, weaving together new themes and approaches to familiar concepts? I'll take that.

The Imitation Game is now playing, and Selma will open nationwide on Friday, January 9th.

THE LAZARUS EFFECT Trailer Proves We Still Haven't Learned Not To Bring People Back From the Dead

Here they go again, trying to resurrect dead people and thinking they'll come back normal and not like crazy soulless demons. THE LAZARUS EFFECT, which I previewed here yesterday, looks like your typical horror, but with some pretty creepy effects. I kinda love that producer Jason Blum (Insidious, Paranormal Activity) has become a indie horror powerhouse, so I plan to support if only to see what crazy project he's backed this time. Watch the trailer:

THE LAZARUS EFFECT is in theaters February 27th.

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