Category Archives: #AFI

AFI AWARDS 2020 HONOREES ANNOUNCED

Posted by Larry Gleeson

AFI’s Movie Club To Showcase Official Selections With New And Exclusive Content Featuring Filmmakers And Stars

Honors Culminate With A Virtual Benediction On February 26

Audi Launching AFI AWARDS Audi Scholarships Initiative Providing $250,000 In Scholarship Funds To Women And BIPOC Fellows At The AFI Conservatory

In The Name Of Each AFI AWARDS Honoree

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE, Los Angeles, CA, January 25, 2021 – The American Film Institute (AFI) announced today the recipients of AFI AWARDS 2020. AFI’s global Movie Club program will showcase the official selections beginning in February, with new and exclusive content released daily, including special guests from the honored works introducing the titles and AFI “Behind the Scene” conversations with filmmakers and actors.

 

AFI MOVIES OF THE YEAR

DA 5 BLOODS

JUDAS AND THE BLACK MESSIAH

MA RAINEY’S BLACK BOTTOM

MANK

MINARI

NOMADLAND

ONE NIGHT IN MIAMI…

SOUL

SOUND OF METAL

THE TRIAL OF THE CHICAGO 7

 

AFI TELEVISION PROGRAMS OF THE YEAR

BETTER CALL SAUL

BRIDGERTON

THE CROWN

THE GOOD LORD BIRD

LOVECRAFT COUNTRY

THE MANDALORIAN

MRS. AMERICA

THE QUEEN’S GAMBIT

TED LASSO

UNORTHODOX

AFI SPECIAL AWARD

HAMILTON

Bob Gazzale

“For 20 years, AFI AWARDS has been a moment to gather artists in one room with a singular goal – to create community over competition,” said Bob Gazzale, AFI President & CEO. “This year we cannot gather but will instead celebrate each honoree by creating exclusive content to be shared with a global audience through AFI Movie Club, shining a proper light on excellence.”

On February 26, the AFI AWARDS tributes will culminate with a virtual benediction premiering on YouTube.com/AFI and AFI.com.

The AFI AWARDS celebration will be sponsored by Audi, a supporter of AFI programs for the past 17 years. To commemorate each of the AFI AWARDS recipients, Audi has created the AFI AWARDS Audi Scholarships initiative providing scholarships in the name of the honorees to women and BIPOC Fellows at the AFI Conservatory – for a total contribution of $250,000.

Celebrating film and television arts’ collaborative nature, AFI AWARDS is the only national program that honors creative teams as a whole, recognizing those in front of and behind the camera. AFI AWARDS honorees include 10 outstanding films and 10 outstanding television programs deemed culturally and artistically representative of this year’s most significant achievements in the art of the moving image. AFI also recognizes HAMILTON with an AFI Special Award, designated for a work of excellence outside the Institute’s criteria for American film and television.

All of the honored works advance the art of the moving image, inspire audiences and artists alike, enhance the rich cultural heritage of America’s art form and make a mark on American society. When placed in a historical context, these stories provide a complex and rich visual record of our modern world.

AFI AWARDS selections are made through a jury process where AFI Trustees, artists, critics, and scholars determine the year’s most outstanding achievements and provide artistic and cultural context for the selection of each honoree.

This year’s jury featured acclaimed artists including Debbie Allen, Cynthia Erivo, Rian Johnson, David Mandel, Marlee Matlin, Amy Sherman-Palladino, Wes Studi, and Lulu Wang; renowned authors and scholars representing prestigious universities with recognized motion picture arts and television programs; film historians Mark Harris, Molly Haskell and Leonard Maltin; the AFI Board of Trustees; and film and television critics from media outlets such as the Los Angeles Times, Rolling Stone, TV Guide, and The Washington Post. The jury was chaired by AFI Board of Directors member Jeanine Basinger (Chair Emerita and Founder of the Film Studies Department, Wesleyan University) and AFI Board of Trustees Vice Chair Richard Frank (former Chairman of Walt Disney Television, President of Walt Disney Studios, President of the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences).

Honorees will be celebrated across all AFI platforms leading up to the benediction on Feb. 26.

The 2020 recipients join a distinguished group of previous AFI AWARDS honorees whose works define the art form and contribute to our rich cultural legacy. View all past AFI AWARDS honorees here.

 

About the American Film Institute (AFI)

Established in 1967, the American Film Institute is the nation’s non-profit organization dedicated to educating and inspiring artists and audiences through initiatives that champion the past, present and future of the moving image. AFI’s pioneering programs include filmmaker training at the AFI Conservatory; year-round exhibition at the AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center and at AFI Festivals across the nation; workshops aimed at increasing diversity in the storytelling community; honoring today’s masters through the AFI Life Achievement Award and AFI AWARDS; and scholarly efforts such as the AFI Catalog of Feature Films that uphold film history for future generations.  Read about all of these programs and more at AFI.com and follow us on social media at Facebook.com/AmericanFilmInstituteYouTube.com/AFITwitter.com/American Film and Instagram.com/AmericanFilmInstitute.

About Audi of America
Audi of America, Inc. and its U.S. dealers offer a full line of German-engineered luxury vehicles. AUDI AG is among the most successful luxury automotive brands, delivering about 1.845 million vehicles globally in 2019. In the U.S., Audi of America sold just over 224,000 vehicles in 2019 and launched the brand’s first fully electric vehicle, the Audi e-tron – one of four fully electric models coming to the U.S. market in the next two years. Globally, the brand aims to be CO2 neutral by 2050. Visit audiusa.com or media.audiusa.com for more information regarding Audi vehicles and business topics.

(Source: AFI Press Release)

 

 

Today’s AFI Movie Club Selection: LEGALLY BLONDE

Posted by Larry Gleeson                                                           January 25, 2021

The comedy LEGALLY BLONDE, starring the effervescent Reese Witherspoon, brought its bend and snap to the big screen in 2001, following underestimated law student Elle Woods whose blonde ambition leads her from Bel Air to the hallowed halls of Harvard.

Watch and listen as Chloe Grace Moretz bubbles with good vibrations announcing today’s AFI Movie Club selection, LEGALLY BLONDE:

Find ways to watch Legally Blonde here.

The movie doesn’t end at the credits: Discussion Questions

Join the conversation on Twitter and Instagram now using #AFIMovieClub. Or post your responses in the comment section below.

  • Released in 2001, LEGALLY BLONDE champions the trials of a law student who comes from a wealthy family and is often underestimated due to her “blonde ambition.” What are some of the qualities in Elle’s character that cause you to feel compassion for her journey even though she comes from a privileged background?
  • Describe Elle’s transformation from being motivated by the men in her life to becoming her own catalyst for intellectual development.
  • The Bechdel Test famously measures the number of representation women has onscreen by asking three questions: Does the film feature two women or more that have names; do the women speak to each other; and do they discuss something other than a man? Does LEGALLY BLONDE pass this test? Describe some scenes that uphold feminist values and consider other plot points that may curtail the representation of empowerment.
  • How does LEGALLY BLONDE defy stereotypes, and how does it depict stereotypes? What presumptions did you bring to this movie about “blondes” and do you think the bias against women like Elle is the same as prejudice? Does it do a disservice to deep-rooted discrimination to compare it with Elle’s challenges?
  • LEGALLY BLONDE depicts a scene of sexual harassment, in which Elle’s superior makes a pass at her and suggests that her accepting his advances will improve her career. What is Elle’s response to this unethical behavior, and what gives her hope to continue?
  • LEGALLY BLONDE refers to a famous quote by Aristotle: “The law is the reason, free from passion.” What does this mean in regard to Elle’s story, and how does the film challenge this adage?
  • How would you rate LEGALLY BLONDE?

Director Robert Luketic on the making of LEGALLY BLONDE:

 

CONVERSATION STARTERS: TRIVIA

DID YOU KNOW? LEGALLY BLONDE marked Robert Luketic’s feature film directorial debut. He went on to direct other female-fronted comedies written by women including MONSTER-IN-LAW (2005) and THE UGLY TRUTH (2009).

DID YOU KNOW? Based on a 2001 novel of the same name by Amanda Brown, LEGALLY BLONDE told the story of her personal experiences while attending Stanford University’s law school. Film producer Marc Platt was also involved with developing Brown’s manuscript, which eventually moved the setting to Harvard University.

DID YOU KNOW? LEGALLY BLONDE was the second teaming of writing partners Karen McCullah and Kirsten Smith. They previously adapted another literary source—William Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew”for the 1999 comedy 10 THINGS I HATE ABOUT YOU.

DID YOU KNOW? A surprise box-office success, LEGALLY BLONDE was produced for $18 million and grossed nearly eight times that amount.

DID YOU KNOW? LEGALLY BLONDE spawned various sequels and spinoffs, including two feature films to date and a musical that had its San Francisco premiere in 2007. A third movie has been announced for release in 2022.

DID YOU KNOW? LEGALLY BLONDE was honored with a Golden Globe nomination for Best Motion Picture—Musical or Comedy. Reese Witherspoon won the award for Best Actress—Musical or Comedy. She was also the recipient of the MTV Movie Award for Best Actress.

 

 

Today’s AFI Movie Club Selection: IN THE BEDROOM

Posted by Larry Gleeson

A 2001 AFI AWARDS honoree, IN THE BEDROOM marked the feature directorial debut of AFI Conservatory alum Todd Field (AFI Class of 1992) and was shot by Antonio Calvache (AFI Class of 1992). 

The film’s title refers to the inner cage within a lobster trap, which is referred to as “the bedroom” and is intended to hold only two lobsters. When there are more than two lobsters, it is said that there is “trouble in the bedroom.”Based on the short story “Killings” by Andre Dubus and The Wyeths by N.C. Wyeth, The film centers on the inner dynamics of a family in transition.

Matt Fowler (Wilkinson) is a doctor practicing in Maine and is married to Ruth Fowler (Spacek), a music teacher. Their son Frank (Stahl) is involved in a love affair with an older single mother, Natalie Strout (Tomei). As the beauty of Maine’s brief and fleeting summer comes to an end, these characters find themselves in the midst of an unimaginable tragedy. (Wiki)

In the Bedroom was nominated by AFI in the following categories: Movie of the Year, Actor of the Year—Male—Movies (Wilkinson), Director of the Year (Field) and Screenwriter of the Year (Festinger and Field). The film received Golden Globe nominations for Best Picture, Best Actress for Spacek and Best Supporting Actress for Marisa Tomei. The film received the following Academy Award Nominations: Best Picture, Best Screenplay, Best Actor, Tom Wilkinson, Best Actress, Spacek and Best Supporting Actress, Tomei.

Upon its limited release in Nov 2001, the picture garnered further awards, including the Best Film Prize from the Los Angeles Film Critics Association. Spacek and Wilkinson were named Best Actress and Best Actor by the New York Film Critics Circle. Spacek was also selected by AFI as Actor of the Year—Female—Movies.

The film’s title refers to the inner cage within a lobster trap, which is referred to as “the bedroom” and is intended to hold only two lobsters. When there are more than two lobsters, it is said that there is “trouble in the bedroom.”

Watch director and AFI Conservatory alum Todd Field (AFI Class of 1992) talk about the film.

The movie doesn’t end at the credits: Conversation Starters

  • After the tragic loss of their son, the Fowlers also lose their ability to communicate, and this culminates in a gesture of violent retribution. Describe the transformation of their marital relationship and consider why it leads to bloodshed.
  • How do the characters’ livelihoods reflect and contradict their actual identities? How does social class and economic disparity inform their personalities, and how are these issues are depicted in the movie?
  • IN THE BEDROOM refers to the inner cage of a lobster trap, where the lobsters grow hostile if there are more than two in the enclosure. How does this metaphor play out in the movie? 
  • In his Guardian review of IN THE BEDROOM, David Lodge called the film a “perfect allegory of September 11 and its aftermath,” even though production was completed before the horrific events of 9/11 occurred. He noted that it “tapped into deep collective emotions” as it was released in November 2001 when America was still mourning. How does IN THE BEDROOM reflect the human impulses of rage, grief, and the inability to make sense of tragedy that leads to revenge? Do you see parallels to America’s response to 9/11?
  • IN THE BEDROOM depicts extreme domestic violence and its tragic impact on a family coping with grief. When the legal system seems to fail them, the Fowlers take the law into their own hands. Do you think the ending was justified? Does this movie condone violence?
  • How would you rate IN THE BEDROOM?

Join the conversation on Twitter and Instagram now using #AFIMovieClub. Or post your responses in the comment section below.

Movie Trivia

DID YOU KNOW? IN THE BEDROOM’s title refers to the inner cage of a lobster trap, which is called “the bedroom,” and is intended only to hold two lobsters. 

DID YOU KNOW? IN THE BEDROOM marked the feature film directorial debut of AFI alum Todd Field, who also co-wrote the screenplay based on the short story “Killings” by Andre Dubus. Dubus died a year before production began, and Field dedicated the film to him in an onscreen credit. Field became interested in Dubus’ work while he was Directing Fellow at AFI.

DID YOU KNOW? Shot on location in the cities of Rockland and Camden, ME, several scenes from IN THE BEDROOM were filmed at Todd Field’s family cabin, and some of his son’s T-Ball teammates were used as background actors.

DID YOU KNOW? Premiering at the Sundance Film Festival, IN THE BEDROOM brought actors Sissy Spacek and Tim Wilkinson a joint Special Jury Prize. The film went on to be honored with an AFI AWARD as one of the best movies of the year.

DID YOU KNOW?Made for $1.7 million, IN THE BEDROOM was a surprise box-office success, earning more than $43 million in its theatrical release.

DID YOU KNOW? IN THE BEDROOM was honored with fiveOscarÒ nominations – including Best Actor (Tom Wilkinson), Best Actress (Sissy Spacek), Best Supporting Actress (Marisa Tomei), Best Writing and Best Picture. This marked AFI alum Todd Field’s first two Oscar® nominations.

(Sourced from AFI News)

AMERICAN FILM INSTITUTE NAMES SYREETA N. GREENE NEW DIRECTOR OF DIVERSITY, EQUITY & INCLUSION

Posted by Larry Gleeson

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – November 17, 2020, Los Angeles, CA — The American Film Institute (AFI) has appointed Syreeta N. Greene, Ed.D. as its new Director, Diversity, Equity & Inclusion. Greene holds a Doctor of Education with an emphasis in educational psychology and a Master of Social Work with an emphasis in community organizing, planning, and administration, both from the University of Southern California. Her previous roles include Director of the MOSAIC Cross-Cultural Center at Midwestern State University and Assistant Director at USC’s Center for Black Cultural and Student Affairs. Greene will oversee diversity and inclusion for all of AFI’s programs.

Bob Gazzale, AFI President & CEO

“AFI’s community grows with the stellar addition of Syreeta Greene,” said Bob Gazzale, AFI President & CEO. “As a person and as a professional, she embodies the culture we have been working toward and will catalyze change for an even stronger AFI.”

“I am excited about this unique opportunity and look forward to collaborating with the entire AFI community to develop a place and space for all who belong to the AFI family,” said Greene.

Syreeta Greene

Greene is a higher education professional with 20 years of experience. She is committed to removing barriers to educational and career opportunities, as well as improving the overall engagement, success, and experiences of underrepresented and historically marginalized student populations. As a diversity, equity, and inclusion educator, she has designed research-based curriculums on a range of diversity, equity, and inclusion topics; produced guides, accompanying audio-visual aids, and participant materials; and developed organization-wide assessment tools to engage stakeholders concerning organizational climate, experience, and observations. Most recently, Greene was Dean, Division of Student Affairs at Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science (CDU). Founded in 1966, CDU is a minority-serving institution and a Historically Black Graduate Institute located in South Los Angeles with a student population of 900. Prior to CDU, Greene served as the Director of MOSAIC Cross Cultural Center (formerly Office of Equity, Inclusion & Multicultural Affairs) at Midwestern State University, Assistant Director for the Transfer and Veteran Student Program at University of Southern California (USC), and Assistant Director at USC’s Center for Black Cultural and Student Affairs. Greene has been a member of the National Association of Diversity Officers of Higher Education (NADOHE) since 2016.

About the American Film Institute (AFI)

Established in 1967, the American Film Institute is the nation’s nonprofit organization dedicated to educating and inspiring artists and audiences through initiatives that champion the past, present, and future of the moving image. AFI’s pioneering programs include filmmaker training at the AFI Conservatory; year-round exhibition at the AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center and at AFI Festivals across the nation; workshops aimed at increasing diversity in the storytelling community; honoring today’s masters through the AFI Life Achievement Award and AFI AWARDS; and scholarly efforts such as the AFI Catalog of Feature Films that uphold film history for future generations. Read about all of these programs and more at AFI.com and follow us on social media
at Facebook.com/AmericanFilmInstitute, YouTube.com/AFI, Twitter.com/AmericanFilm and Instagram.com/AmericanFilmInstitute.

About the AFI Conservatory

The AFI Conservatory opened its doors in 1969 to an inaugural class that included Terrence Malick, Caleb Deschanel, and Paul Schrader. Today, the Conservatory offers a two-year MFA degree in six filmmaking disciplines: Cinematography, Directing, Editing, Producing, Production Design, and Screenwriting. In a collaborative production environment, AFI Fellows learn to master the art of storytelling, collectively creating up to 175 films a year. Fellows actively participate in the entire life cycle of a film, from development through production and exhibition.

Alumni of this elite program, ranging from modern masters to bold new voices defining the state of the art form, including Andrea Arnold, Darren Aronofsky, Ari Aster, Sam Esmail, Brad Falchuk, Liz Hannah, Patty Jenkins, Janusz Kamiński, Matthew Libatique, David Lynch, Melina Matsoukas, Polly Morgan, Rachel Morrison, and Wally Pfister, among others.

Final Thoughts on ‘The Mostly Virtual’ AFI FEST 2020

Posted by Larry Gleeson

AFI FEST 2020 presented by Audi attracted the largest national audience in its 34-year history.

Michael Lumpkin, Director AFI Festivals

“With an audience of more than double from last year, we welcomed over 200 filmmakers and guests from around the world for Q&As and panels,” said Michael Lumpkin, Director AFI Festivals. “This year’s festival was truly a celebration of film across the country with festival-goers joining us online from all 50 states.”

I concur. Thank you to Michael and the entire AFI FEST team for making this year’s ‘mostly virtual’ festival top-notch!

Sofia Coppola shares a photo during her 2020 AFI FEST Tribute

Highlights of the 2020 festival included a Centerpiece Drive-in screening of ONE NIGHT IN MIAMI… (DIR Regina King) at the Rose Bowl; the World Premieres of I’M YOUR WOMAN (DIR Julia Hart), PINK SKIES AHEAD (DIR Kelly Oxford) and REALLY LOVE (DIR Angel Kristi Williams); screenings of highly anticipated films including COLLECTIVE (COLLECTIV) (DIR Alexander Nanau), THE FATHER (DIR Florian Zeller), I CARRY YOU WITH ME (Heidi Ewing), MY LITTLE SISTER (DIR Stéphanie Chuat, Véronique Reymond), NEW ORDER (NUEVO ORDEN) (DIR Michel Franco), NINE DAYS (DIR Edson Oda) and WOLFWALKERS (DIR Tomm Moore, Ross Stewart); a conversation with Dr. Stacy Smith on the portrayal of characters with mental health conditions in film and television; a discussion with the director and cast of SOUND OF METAL with the Deaf community; a conversation with Academy Award® nominee, producer, director and writer Ava DuVernay about elevating and supporting BIPOC filmmakers; the Indie Contenders and Doc Roundtables; and Tributes to Sofia Coppola, Kirby Dirk, Mira Nair and Rita Moreno.

Additional Highlights

A few of my favorite additional highlights included Elle, an AFI Conservatory Showcase selection. Elle is a coming-of-age story and character-driven drama that explores themes such as self-discovery, unrequited love, and the ambivalence and intimacy that exists within female friendships. In the Director’s Statement, AFI Conservatory Alumna, Nicole Vanden Broeck writes,

Nicole Vanden Broeck

“I have always believed in the power of cinema to comfort us, to tell us that we are not alone, that others have felt what we’ve felt, that we share our struggles and our heartbreaks, that there is someone out there that understands.”

 

Elle

Technically and artistically, Elle hits all the marks. Strong cinematography by Guido Raimondo. Warm and intimate production design from Evan Welch. Seamless editing (Chris Tenzis, Editor). Believable and highly naturalistic acting with Sarah Sawyer as Elle and Ron Dadon as Sam. And, an emotionally rewarding narrative written by Vanden Broeck and Asher Jelinsky and a beautiful mise-en-scene to match. Gabrielle Cordero produced Elle. Highly recommended with a runtime of twenty-one minutes and a team to keep an eye on!

At the Virtual Industry and Filmmaker Mixer, I had the pleasure of connecting with Matt Yoka, director of Whirlybird, his feature documentary on the pioneering and groundbreaking TV aerial news reporting team of Bob Tur and Marika Gerard. Yoka crafts his work from 2,000 hours of recorded flight tape, direct interviews, news archives, still photos, and more. The result is a dynamic visual history of the biggest Los Angeles news events in the last 30 years including the Los Angeles Riots of 1992 and the pursuant, criminal assault of truck driver, Reginald Denny, at Florence and Normandy after the Rodney King beating verdict and subsequent acquittal of the four white police officers charged. And, if that wasn’t enough the duo broke and captured the infamous O.J. Simpson ‘White Bronco’ car chase which became “the apex of live news coverage” with approximately 80 million viewers tuning in. A must-see!

Whirlybird

While I didn’t get an opportunity to connect with Sean Penn during the mixer, I did view Citizen Penn. I’ve long been a fan of Sean Penn as an actor beginning with his Mick O’Brien role in the 1983 Bad Boys and I was semi-aware of his Haiti relief efforts in 2010. As an Army Reservist, my battalion was on alert for deployment. In the documentary, Director Don Hardy, sometimes eloquently and sometimes pragmatically, reveals Sean Penn has diligently changed his image through Penn’s extensive efforts to aid assistance to his fellow ‘man’ in war-torn, disaster-laden, disaffected countries beginning in 2002 with the war in Iraq right up to the current COVID-19-infected United States.

Citizen Penn

Utilizing a plethora of photographs, direct interviews, and archival news footage, documenting the devastation and suffering along with footage from one camera operated by a Haitian police officer who accompanied Penn at all times following the country’s 2010 earthquake. Penn was adamant about his efforts not being used for overt publicity but allowed the official to have and operate a camera at his own discretion. Penn stayed on the ground for several months returning often guiding not only relief efforts but also debris and gravel removal. More recently, Penn began hosting an annual gala raising several million dollars from a limited guest list as his efforts are taking root. Highly recommended and quite compelling. A must-see!

Left to right, Meet The Press’s Chuck Todd, and The Reagans Director, Matt Tyrnauer.

THE REAGANS (DIR Matt Tyrnauer), presented by Meet the Press and Chuck Todd,  screened Parts 1 and 2 of this compelling and extremely timely re-examination of President and Mrs. Reagan. Chock full of evocative archival footage and illuminating contemporary interviews, THE REAGANS asserts Nancy’s central role in her husband’s career, shines a light on the darker aspects of the Reagans’ climb to power, and provides a revelatory perspective on how the political tactics used in the ‘60s and ‘70s are a progenitor of our current national politics. The screening was followed by an in-depth conversation between Chuck Todd and Tyrnauer as they discuss the subjects, several of the Reagan biographies, and Tyrnauer’s previous documentary, Where’s My Roy Cohn.

Belushi

Belushi, from Showtime Documentary Films, directed by award-winning, filmmaker R.J. Cutler, reveals the complicated, singular, and too-short life of a beloved American icon who helped change American culture and comedy, John Belushi, a once-in-a-generation talent who captured the hearts and funny-bones of audiences around the world. From his early years growing up in Wheaton, Illinois, Belushi showed an extraordinary talent for comedy and music. But, it was a visit to the Second City theater in Chicago where Belushi established himself and from that moment on he became an unstoppable and pioneering force in the comedy world. His audacious rendition of Joe Cocker singing the Beatles “With A Little Help From My Friends,” proved to be the star shot launching pad. Cutler utilizes still photos, archival footage, home videos, animation, and telling letters from John to his high school sweetheart girlfriend and later wife, Judy, that paint a picture of Belushi’s passion, love, and humanly struggles.

Belushi’s insatiable drive for success and fame kept the candle burning at both ends. When his acting attempts in 1941, Neighbors, and Continental Divide failed to provide him the accolades of The Blues Brothers and Animal House, Belushi sought consolation and creativity in dark habits as he continually pushed himself for greatness. As a performer, John Belushi grasped the importance of developing and recreating himself on stage and felt a high degree of compulsion to do this on the big screen. Belushi’s ambitious drive and need for approval reached its limits on March 5, 1982, at the hotel Chateau Marmont in West Hollywood. Belushi was found alone, not breathing, and unresponsive. The coroner’s report stated the cause of death was “acute cocaine and heroin intoxication.”

Cutler captures what John Belushi was as a performer and scratches the surface of who Belushi was as a person. Told linearly using previously unheard audiotapes, the film also examines Belushi’s life in the words of his collaborators, friends, and family, including Dan Aykroyd, Jim Belushi, Penny Marshall, Lorne Michaels, Carrie Fisher, Chevy Chase, Harold Ramis, Jane Curtin, Ivan Reitman and his wife, Judy Belushi. As much as I enjoyed experiencing his comedic genius again, there is more to John Belushi than what appears in this screening of Belushi.  Yet, Cutler does an excellent job of creating a framework of understanding some of the comedic legend’s motivation and unmet needs with a well-researched and documented biographical treatment. Belushi is scheduled to launch on November 22, 2020, on Showtime. Highly recommended.

Wander Darkly

Thriller/Drama Wander Darkly,  is as good a film as I’ve seen this year. Written and directed by Tara Miele, and starring Sienna Miller as Adrienne and Diego Luna as Matteo,  Wander Darkly is a surreal journey into conflict resolution between a young couple following a traumatic car accident. On its most basic level, Wander Darkly is a relationship film challenging boundaries while seeking the answer for continuity. In a very non-linear approach, the couple relives the past through the duality of their shared moments including fond memories from the initial courtship through the truths of the present as they attempt to rediscover the love that binds them together as they face an uncertain future. Miller in a tour de force performance crushes it as Adrienne pulling out all the emotional stops exploring grief, joy, and love. Wander Darkly is scheduled to be in select theaters, on digital, and on-demand on December 11th. Check it out! You’ll be glad you did!

Uncle Frank

Uncle Frank, an Amazon Original Film, starring Paul Bettany, Sophia Lillis, Peter Macdissi, Steve Zahn, and Stephen Root (Office Space), and directed by Alan Ball, tells the story of a young, rural South Carolinian woman, Beth, (Sophia Lillis) a precocious spirit with a connection to her rarely seen Uncle Frank.

When a death in the family occurs, Beth and Uncle Frank embark on a road trip back to South Carolina delving into deep interpersonal dialogue on sexuality and death before being unexpectedly joined by Wally. Along the rest of the way, Beth is exposed to bigotry, homophobia, and a warm, loving relationship. Once she and Uncle Frank are back in small-town, rural Creekville, South Carolina, the past reveals itself, and moments for self-reflection and overcoming imposed beliefs come to pass.

Uncle Frank, a character-driven drama, is quite entertaining and could easily pass for a period piece, much like Green Book, with its costuming by Megan Stark Evans,  production design by Darcy C Scanlan, its superb cinematography by Khalid Mohtaseb, and with the layered narrative (screenwriting, Alan Ball) dealing with family, remorse, death, loss, same-sex relationships, religion, as well as social norms and beliefs in the Deep South.

Seeing Bettany cast had a lot to do with my viewing selection of Uncle Frank. And, he doesn’t disappoint as he carries the heaviness, the emotional weight, of Uncle Frank. My hat’s off to Casting Director, Avy Kaufman (Brokeback Mountain). Bravo! Uncle Frank is scheduled for a U.S. release (internet) on November 25th, 2020, and is a beautiful, entertaining film. Very warmly recommended viewing!

MY PSYCHEDELIC LOVE STORY

The Closing Night Presentation was the World Premiere of MY PSYCHEDELIC LOVE STORY (DIR Errol Morris), followed by an interesting conversation between Indiewire’s Ann Thompson and Morris (available along with 69 other conversations here.)  In MY PSYCHEDELIC LOVE STORY, Morris delivers a tell-all story of Johanna Harcourt-Smith, a once young, Swiis born, Paris-raised, jet-setting, an aristocratic, Jewish woman who cavorted with the high priest of LSD, Timothy Leary. My Psychedelic Love Story is the story of Harcourt-Smith and O’Leary as they circumvent extradition and indulge themselves in daily acid trips for a two-month period before Leary is extradited back to the US, incarcerated, and eventually released. At the time there was much speculation Harcourt-Smith was a CIA plant – a Mata Hari of sorts. MY PSYCHEDELIC LOVE STORY will be airing on Showtime!

Wolfwalkers, an Apple Original Film from Cartoon Saloon, the Kilkenny, Ireland, the animation studio that previously produced The Secret of Kells (2009)  and Song of the Sea (2014) completes an Irish folklore animated trilogy spanning slightly more than ten years.

Wolfwalkers is set in 17th-century Ireland, a time of great change with successive transfers of land from catholic to protestant ownership and where administrative and political power passed into the hands of a new English minority (Irish Historical Studies, Vol. 15, No. 60, Sep 1967, pgs. 366-375).  Literary references to the Arthurian Camelot myth and to historical figure Oliver Cromwell are smoothly incorporated as well. Moore and Stewart encapsulate this situation in a magical friendship that develops between two young girls, Robyn and Mebh.

Wolfwalkers, steeped in historical significance, is one of the most breathtakingly beautiful films I have had the pleasure of viewing and experiencing and it’s a film the whole family can watch! Wolfwalkers is set to be released theatrically on October 30, 2020, by WildCard in the United Kingdom and Ireland, and on November 13, 2020, by GKIDS before debuting on Apple TV+ on December 11, 2020.

Stay tuned for the upcoming holiday film guide!

HollywoodGlee celebrating the start of the 2019 AFI FEST presented by Audi. (Photo credit: Larry Gleeson)

AFI FEST FILM REVIEW: Wander Darkly (Tara Miele, 2020)

Posted and reviewed by Larry Gleeson during the virtual 2020 AFI FEST presented by Audi.

Thriller/Drama Wander Darkly, a Lionsgate production, written and directed by Tara Miele, and starring Sienna Miller as Adrienne and Diego Luna as Matteo, is a surreal journey into conflict resolution between a young couple following a traumatic car accident. In a very non-linear approach, the couple relives the past through the duality of their shared moments including fond memories from the initial courtship through the truths of the present as they attempt to rediscover the love that binds them together as they face an uncertain future.

The film opens with solemn non-diegetic music as introductory titles roll. An aerial tracking “god shot”  follows a car traveling down a nightscape city street that could pass for West Los Angeles. An interior shot of the moving vehicle reveals a young couple with a newborn in a heated exchange. Tension is in the air. Dominance and control. Neon lights flash giving an illusion of a video game. Mention of splitting up. Then a massive collision.

From here mise-en-scene and cinematography get very interesting as time becomes fluid with death and out-of-body astral planing. Carolina Costas creates this fluid time continuum effect through various camera angles, movements, and lens choices. Imagine Christopher Nolan’s Inception cinematography and mise-en-scene where up is down and down is up as our lead characters are passing in and out of linear time going forward and back revisiting critical moments in their relationship trying to explain to one another what each was experiencing in those moments. I’m thinking Ghost (1990) meets Before Sunrise.

In the Q & A following the film led by AFI Programmer Claudia Puig,  Miele revealed the impetus for the film came from her life experience of being in a traumatic car accident with her husband. The experience changed her perspective on mortality and the adrenaline-fueled lifestyle she led. Sienna Miller also participated and shared Adrienne was one of her most challenging roles as an actor due to numerous emotional arcs, beats, and emotional u-turns. Miller and Miele seemed to both agree on the success of the film hinged on how surreal her character could be. In addition, Wander Darkly was shot in Los Angeles and Miele really wanted the story to be an LA story about an interracial couple. Producer Monica Levinson brought some of her surreal magic to the production set with the inclusion of dolphins!

On its most basic level, Wander Darkly is a relationship film challenging boundaries while seeking the answer for continuity. Miller in a tour de force performance crushes it as Adrienne pulling out all the emotional stops exploring grief, joy, and love. Luna is no slouch as Matteo either. Steadfast and earnest as he explains his flighty behavior with axioms of “for better or worse,” and “you have to take the good with the bad.” As contentious as the relationship is/was, watching the two come to a resolution was emotionally moving and deeply satisfying to watch. The sound design by Frank Gates and the music by Alex Weston was more than complementary. They were an integral part of the film’s narrative as were the dolphins.

Wander Darkly is as good a film as I’ve seen this year and is scheduled to be in select theaters, on digital, and on-demand on December 11th. Check it out! You’ll be glad you did!

AFI FEST FILM REVIEW: Belushi (R.J. Cutler, 2020)

Posted and reviewed by Larry Gleeson during the virtual 2020 AFI FEST presented by Audi.

Belushi, from Showtime Documentary Films, directed by award-winning, filmmaker R.J. Cutler, reveals the complicated, singular, and too-short life of a beloved American icon who helped change American culture and comedy, John Belushi, a once-in-a-generation talent who captured the hearts and funny-bones of audiences around the world. From his early years growing up in Wheaton, Illinois, Belushi showed an extraordinary talent for comedy and music. But, it was a visit to the Second City theater in Chicago where Belushi established himself and from that moment on he became an unstoppable and pioneering force in the comedy world. His audacious rendition of Joe Cocker singing the Beatles “With A Little Help From My Friends,” proved to be the star shot launching pad. Cutler utilizes still photos, archival footage, home videos, animation, and telling letters from John to his high school sweetheart girlfriend and later wife, Judy, that paint a picture of Belushi’s passion, love and humanly struggles.

Never one to take a back seat, Belushi found himself behind the fame and popularity of Chevy Chase and SNL’s Weekend Update. Belushi pushed boundaries and raised the ire of SNL creator and producer Lorne Michaels in advocating for his performance routines. At SNL Belushi created some of the most-talked-about and memorable characters of all time. His Olympic gold-medal-winning breakfast of champions – coffee, cigarettes, and mini chocolate donuts – and his spot-on imitation of Hall of Fame Rock and Roll icon, Joe Cocker.  Seemingly, everyone was caught by surprise when Cocker was the musical guest on SNL and Belushi came on stage and the two performed a stunning rendition of “Feelin’ alright.”

 

While remaining a cast member of SNL, Belushi participated in the filming of Animal House as the lovable, disrupter “Bluto,” and managed to form a stellar band, The Blues Brothers.  To say John Belushi had arrived would be an understatement as was on the #1 television show (SNL), had the #1 comedy in movie history (Animal House), and the #1 record album (Blues Brothers Soundtrack) in the world. In addition, Belushi seemed to demand respect for his work and he also seemed to covet respect as a person. He and fellow SNL cast member, Dan Ackroyd, would eventually leave SNL and create two Blues Brothers films together. The Blues Brothers (1980) has become a cult classic.

Belushi’s insatiable drive for success and fame kept the candle burning at both ends. When his acting attempts in 1941, Neighbors, and Continental Divide failed to provide him the accolades of The Blues Brothers and Animal House, Belushi sought consolation and creativity in dark habits as he continually pushed himself for greatness. As a performer, John Belushi grasped the importance of developing and recreating himself on stage and felt a high degree of compulsion to do this on the big screen. Belushi’s ambitious drive and need for approval reached its limits on March 5, 1982, at the hotel Chateau Marmont in West Hollywood. Belushi was found alone, not breathing, and unresponsive. The coroner’s report stated the cause of death was “acute cocaine and heroin intoxication.”

Cutler captures what John Belushi was as a performer and scratches the surface of who Belushi was as a person. Told linearly using previously unheard audiotapes, the film also examines Belushi’s life in the words of his collaborators, friends, and family, including Dan Aykroyd, Jim Belushi, Penny Marshall, Lorne Michaels, Carrie Fisher, Chevy Chase, Harold Ramis, Jane Curtin, Ivan Reitman and his wife, Judy Belushi. As much as I enjoyed experiencing his comedic genius again, there is more to John Belushi than what appears in this screening of Belushi.  Yet, Cutler does an excellent job of creating a framework of understanding some of the comedic legend’s motivation and unmet needs with a well-researched and documented biographical treatment. Belushi is scheduled to launch on November 22, 2020, on Showtime. Highly recommended.

AFI FEST 2020 CAPSULE REVIEW: Uncle Frank (Alan Ball, 2020)

Posted and viewed by Larry Gleeson during AFI FEST 2020 presented by AUDI.

Uncle Frank, an Amazon Original Film, starring Paul Bettany, Sophia Lillis, Peter Macdissi, Steve Zahn, and Stephen Root (Office Space), and directed by Alan Ball, tells the story of a young, rural South Carolinian woman, Beth, (Sophia Lillis) a precocious spirit with a connection to her rarely seen Uncle Frank (Bettany).

Uncle Frank, Frank Bledsoe, portrayed by Paul Bettany, is a dashing figure seemingly dismissed at home and who lives and teaches Literature (18th Century Women Poets) at New York University (NYU). When it comes time for Beth to go to college, she receives a scholarship to attend NYU. While there she learns of her Uncle Frank’s worldly ways (he’s a sober pot smoker) including his relationship with a gay Saudi man, “Wally” Walid.

When a death in the family occurs, Beth and Uncle Frank embark on a road trip back to South Carolina delving into deep interpersonal dialogue on sexuality and death before being unexpectedly joined by Wally. Along the rest of the way, Beth is exposed to bigotry, homophobia, and a warm, loving relationship. Once she and Uncle Frank are back in small-town, rural Creekville, South Carolina, the past reveals itself, and moments for self-reflection and overcoming imposed beliefs come to pass.

Uncle Frank, a character-driven drama, is quite entertaining and could easily pass for a period piece, much like Green Book, with its costuming by Megan Stark Evans,  production design by Darcy C Scanlan, its superb cinematography by Khalid Mohtaseb, and with the layered narrative (screenwriting, Alan Ball) dealing with family, remorse, death, loss, same-sex relationships, religion, as well as social norms and beliefs in the Deep South.

But it was the cast, in my opinion, that brought the film’s narrative and its characters to life allowing for the suspension of disbelief. Steve Zahn played Uncle Frank’s respectful and admiring younger brother convincingly. He accepts his older brother’s way of life. Stephen Root delivers a powerful, domineering performance as the family’s unequivocal patriarch with the staunchest of beliefs, Daddy Mac. Peter Macdissi delivers a warm, loving, and heartfelt performance as Uncle Frank’s partner, “Wally” Walid, a Saudi man risking everything to be in a relationship with Frank but not willing to give up everything when Frank drinks again. In addition, Macdissi provides excellent timing with comedic relief at several pivotal moments. Sophia Lillis shines as Beth in an understated performance ala in a Ryan Gosling way. Lillis delivers an emphatically as small-town, ridiculed, Beth who blossoms into a smart, intelligent, beautiful woman standing boldly in her truth. And, Paul Bettany brings a much-needed gravitas to the role of “Uncle Frank” Frank Bledsoe.

Seeing Bettany cast had a lot to do with my viewing selection of Uncle Frank. And, he doesn’t disappoint as he carries the heaviness, the emotional weight, of Uncle Frank. My hat’s off to Casting Director, Avy Kaufman (Brokeback Mountain). Bravo! Uncle Frank is scheduled for a U.S. release (internet) on November 25th, 2020, and is a beautiful, entertaining film. Very warmly recommended viewing!

 

 

AMERICAN FILM INSTITUTE IN PARTNERSHIP WITH AMC NETWORKS ANNOUNCES THE BLACK PRODUCTION FUND

Posted by Larry Gleeson

Fund Supports Thesis Productions By Black Fellows At AFI Conservatory

AFI Alumni Award Winners Revealed

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – Los Angeles, CA, October 16, 2020 – The American Film Institute (AFI) announced today the establishment of the Black Production Fund in partnership with AMC Networks. The fund will provide grants for thesis productions by Black Fellows in their second year at the AFI Conservatory. The Black Production Fund, along with the recently announced Thomas P. Pollock Endowed Scholarship for promising diverse AFI Producing Fellows, is part of AFI’s Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Initiatives dedicated to increasing Black voices in storytelling.

“At this pivotal moment in America’s history, the revolutionary power of visual storytelling to inspire change has never been more critical – and there is no better way to support underrepresented voices than to help fund the films they make to tell their own stories,” said Susan Ruskin, Dean of the AFI Conservatory and EVP of the American Film Institute. “This support for our Fellows with their thesis films is transformational. We want to thank AMC Networks for their leadership in creating opportunities for Black storytellers.”

Beyond the fund, AMC Networks has committed to distributing select AFI Conservatory films on UMC, AMC Networks’ streaming VOD platform exclusively dedicated to showcasing Black film and television, beginning with THE FIRST STONE, directed by Kaisan Rei (AFI Class of 2016); GUMMI BEAR, directed by RJ Dawson (AFI Class of 2019); and YELLOW GIRL AND ME, directed and written by Isabella Issa (AFI Class of 2019).

“AMC Networks is proud to support the Black Production Fund – a vehicle to break down barriers for Black artists to tell stories that build a more inclusive culture,” said Josh Sapan, CEO of AMC Networks. “With UMC, we are also proud to provide a home to showcase some of these outstanding projects.”

In its continuing efforts to honor excellence in the art of the moving image, AFI also awarded the AFI Alumni Awards, which recognize outstanding achievement in directing and screenwriting, to members of the Class of 2019 during a private virtual alumni reception at this year’s AFI FEST presented by Audi.

The William J. Fadiman Award for Screenwriting ($15,000) went to Christina Kingsleigh Licud for her screenplay “The Daughters.” The Richard P. Rogers Spirit of Excellence Award ($10,000) was awarded to Isabella Issa for her thesis film YELLOW GIRL AND ME; and The Franklin J. Schaffner Fellow Award for Directing ($20,000) went to Haohao Yan for her thesis film THE SPEECH. The first Thomas P. Pollock Fellows, Haley Beasley (Producing, Class of 2022) and Nagee Brown (Producing, Class of 2022), were also feted at the reception.

About the American Film Institute (AFI)
Established in 1967, the American Film Institute is the nation’s non-profit organization dedicated to educating and inspiring artists and audiences through initiatives that champion the past, present and future of the moving image. AFI’s pioneering programs include filmmaker training at the AFI Conservatory; year-round exhibition at the AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center and at AFI Festivals across the nation; workshops aimed at increasing diversity in the storytelling community; honoring today’s masters through the AFI Life Achievement Award and AFI AWARDS; and scholarly efforts such as the AFI Catalog of Feature Films that uphold film history for future generations. Read about all of these programs and more at AFI.com and follow us on social media
at Facebook.com/AmericanFilmInstitute, YouTube.com/AFI, Twitter.com/AmericanFilm, and Instagram.com/AmericanFilmInstitute.

About the AFI Conservatory

The AFI Conservatory opened its doors in 1969 to an inaugural class that included Terrence Malick, Caleb Deschanel and Paul Schrader. Today, the Conservatory offers a two-year MFA degree in six filmmaking disciplines: Cinematography, Directing, Editing, Producing, Production Design, and Screenwriting. In a collaborative production environment, AFI Fellows learn to master the art of storytelling, collectively creating up to 175 films a year. Fellows actively participate in the entire life cycle of a film, from development through production and exhibition.

Alumni of this elite program, ranging from modern masters to bold new voices defining the state of the art form, including Andrea Arnold, Darren Aronofsky, Ari Aster, Sam Esmail, Brad Falchuk, Liz Hannah, Patty Jenkins, Janusz Kamiński, Matthew Libatique, David Lynch, Melina Matsoukas, Polly Morgan, Rachel Morrison, and Wally Pfister, among others.

About the AFI Alumni Awards

The William J. Fadiman Award recognizes outstanding achievement in screenwriting in honor of the distinguished story editor and AFI Conservatory faculty member, William J. Fadiman (THE LAST FRONTIER).

The Richard P. Rogers Spirit of Excellence Award is given annually to directors whose performance at AFI embodies the independent filmmaking spirit of celebrated documentarian Richard P. Rogers (PICTURES FROM A REVOLUTION), filmmaker, teacher, mentor and friend who passed away on July 14, 2001 at the age of 57. The William J. Fadiman Award and the Richard P. Rogers Spirit of Excellence Award were established by an alumnus who has chosen to give back to AFI in honor of those who have inspired generations of AFI Conservatory Fellows.

The Franklin J. Schaffner Fellow Award is presented to an exceptional Directing alum in memory of Franklin J. Schaffner (PATTON, PLANET OF THE APES), a longtime champion of AFI and former chair of the AFI Conservatory Advisory Committee. The Schaffner Fellow Award was established in 1991 by Jean Schaffner to celebrate her husband’s creative legacy and dedication to fostering new talent. This award is funded by the Franklin and Jean Schaffner Foundation.

About AMC Networks

Known for its groundbreaking and celebrated original content, AMC Networks (NASDAQ:AMCX) is the company behind the award-winning brands AMC, BBC AMERICA, IFC, SundanceTV, WE tv, and IFC Films. Its diverse line-up of popular and critically-acclaimed series and independent films include Killing EveBetter Call Saul and The Walking Dead, which has been the #1 show on ad-supported cable television for ten consecutive years, as well as Documentary Now!BrockmireLove After Lockup, and the films BoyhoodDeath of Stalin, and many more. Its original series Mad Men and Breaking Bad are widely recognized as being among the most influential and acclaimed shows in the history of TV. The Company also operates AMC Studios, its production business; AMC Networks International, its international programming business; the subscription streaming services Acorn TV, Shudder, Sundance Now, and UMC; RLJE Films; and Levity Entertainment Group, the Company’s production services and comedy venues business. For more information, visit http://www.amcnetworks.com.

(Source: AFI Press release)

AFI Movie Club : ALWAYS BE MY MAYBE – a modern romantic comedy starring Ali Wong and Randall Park

This was such an unexpected treat. I was quite familiar with Randall Park’s work – Ali Wong’s not so much. After watching ALWAYS BE MY MAYBE, a modern romantic comedy with an hysterical cameo by Keanu Reeves as his own alter ego, I became very familiar with Wong’s body of work – very sharp and poignant.

Here’s what American Film Institute has to say:

In addition to vast and varied roles on film and television – appearing in character and as herself – ALWAYS BE MY MAYBE co-writer, producer and star Ali Wong is also an acclaimed stand-up comedian, known for her two Netflix stand-up specials, BABY COBRA and HARD KNOCK WIFE.

ALWAYS BE MY MAYBE is currently streaming on Netflix and I wholeheartedly recommend it. Wong and Park play off each other so well…and then there’s Reeves’ performance to not miss.

But wait there’s more……

According to Ali Wong, the casting of Keanu Reeves was aspirational, though she didn’t think that the production would be able to secure a cameo by the A-list star. The production sent him the script – and were shocked when Reeves agreed to meet with Wong and director Nahnatchka Khan. At the meeting, he said that he was a fan of Wong’s stand-up special BABY COBRA.

DID YOU KNOW? Randall Park previously starred on FRESH OFF THE BOAT, a groundbreaking ABC sitcom developed from the autobiography of celebrity chef Eddie Huang. The series was created and developed for television by ALWAYS BE MY MAYBE director Nahnatchka Khan – and ALWAYS BE MY MAYBE co-writer, producer and star Ali Wong has served as a story editor and writer. 

DID YOU KNOW? ALWAYS BE MY MAYBE co-stars Ali Wong and Randall Park both provided voices for THE LEGO NINJAGO MOVIE in 2017. 

DID YOU KNOW? According to Ali Wong, the casting of Keanu Reeves was aspirational, though she didn’t think that the production would be able to secure a cameo by the A-list star. The production sent him the script – and were shocked when Reeves agreed to meet with Wong and director Nahnatchka Khan. At the meeting, he said that he was a fan of Wong’s stand-up special BABY COBRA. 

DID YOU KNOW? AFI Conservatory graduate and ALWAYS BE MY MAYBE cinematographer, Tim Suhrstedt, had previously worked with Keanu Reeves on the star’s 1989 breakout hit, BILL AND TED’S EXCELLENT ADVENTURE, three decades prior to reuniting on ALWAYS BE MY MAYBE. 

DID YOU KNOW? In ALWAYS BE MY MAYBE, Randall Park’s character performs in the hip-hop band, Hello Peril – which was inspired by Park’s own real-life musical experience rapping in a group called Ill Again.

Stay tuned for more!