Category Archives: #AFIFEST

THE POWER OF THE DOG ADDED AS RED CARPET PREMIERE AT HOLLYWOOD AFI FEST 2021

Posted by Larry Gleeson

Jane Campion’s Award-Winning Film

To Screen at the TCL Chinese Theatre on November 11

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE, Los Angeles, CA, October 19, 2021 — Today, the American Film Institute (AFI) announced that critically acclaimed THE POWER OF THE DOG, written and directed by Academy Award® winner Jane Campion, has been added to the AFI FEST 2021 lineup. Honors for the film include Campion receiving the Silver Lion Award at Venice Film Festival for directing. The film stars Academy Award® nominee Benedict Cumberbatch, Kristen Dunst, Jesse Plemons, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Frances Conroy, Thomasin McKenzie, Geneviève Lemon and Academy Award® winner Keith Carradine. A See-Saw Films, Bad Girl Creek and Max Films production in association with Brightstar, The New Zealand Film Commission, Cross City Films and BBC Film, THE POWER OF THE DOG is produced by Jane Campion, Tanya Seghatchian, Emile Sherman, Iain Canning and Roger Frappier. The film will be released in theaters on November 17 and on Netflix December 3.

About THE POWER OF THE DOG

Severe, pale-eyed, handsome, Phil Burbank is brutally beguiling. All of Phil’s romance, power and fragility is trapped in the past and in the land: He can castrate a bull calf with two swift slashes of his knife; he swims naked in the river, smearing his body with mud. He is a cowboy as raw as his hides. The year is 1925. The Burbank brothers are wealthy ranchers in Montana. At the Red Mill restaurant on their way to market, the brothers meet Rose, the widowed proprietress, and her impressionable son Peter. Phil behaves so cruelly he drives them both to tears, reveling in their hurt and rousing his fellow cowhands to laughter – all except his brother George, who comforts Rose then returns to marry her. As Phil swings between fury and cunning, his taunting of Rose takes an eerie form – he hovers at the edges of her vision, whistling a tune she can no longer play. His mockery of her son is more overt, amplified by the cheering of Phil’s cowhand disciples. Then Phil appears to take the boy under his wing. Is this latest gesture a softening that leaves Phil exposed, or a plot twisting further into menace?

Benedict Cumberbatch delivers a dark and deep presence as Phil Burbank in Jane Campion’s THE POWER OF THE DOG. (Photo credit: Kristy Griffin/Netflix 2021

AFI FEST 2021 takes place from November 10 – 14, 2021 in Los Angeles.  The World Premiere of  tick, tick…BOOM! directed by Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award® winner Lin-Manuel Miranda will open the festival and KING RICHARD directed by Reinaldo Marcus Green will close the festival.  Additional Red Carpet Premieres include the World Premieres of Academy Award® winner Halle Berry’s directorial debut BRUISED and Academy Award®  winner Benjamin Cleary’s feature directorial debut SWAN SONG, and PARALLEL MOTHERS, directed by Academy Award® winner Pedro Almodóvar.  The full program can be found here.

 

This year’s hybrid festival will feature both in-person screenings and events, as well as virtual screenings, showcasing transformative stories from groundbreaking artists.

 

With health and safety being top priority, AFI FEST 2021 will require all festival-goers who attend in-person events and/or screenings to be fully vaccinated.

 

Top Sponsors for AFI FEST 2021 include AT&T, Apple Original Films, National Geographic Documentary Films and Dell.

 

Passes to AFI FEST 2021 are currently available on FEST.AFI.com and individual tickets will be available to members on October 19 and the general public on October 20.   AFI Members receive exclusive discounts and benefits to the festival. To become an AFI member, visit AFI.com/join/.

 

About the American Film Institute (AFI)

The American Film Institute (AFI) is a nonprofit organization with a mandate to champion the moving image as an art form. Established in 1967, AFI launched the first comprehensive history of American film and sparked the movement for film preservation in the United States. In 1969, AFI opened the doors of the AFI Conservatory, a graduate-level program to train narrative filmmakers. AFI’s enduring traditions include the AFI Life Achievement Award, which honors the masters for work that has stood the test of time; AFI AWARDS, which celebrates the creative ensembles of the most outstanding screen stories of the year; and scholarly efforts such as the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and the AFI Archive that preserve film history for future generations. AFI exhibition programs include AFI FESTAFI DOCS and year-round exhibition at the AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center in Maryland. Other pioneering programs include workshops aimed at increasing diversity in the storytelling community, including the AFI Directing Workshop for Women and the AFI Cinematography Intensive for Women. AFI’s newest program is AFI Movie Club, a daily global engagement for those who love the movies. 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 AFI FEST
Now in its 35th year, AFI FEST is a world-class event, showcasing the best films from across the globe. With an innovative slate of programming, the five-day festival historically presents screenings, panels and conversations, featuring both master filmmakers and new cinematic voices. This year’s edition takes place in-person and online November 10-14, 2021. The festival includes Special Presentations of high-profile films with Q&As featuring the films’ cast and crew and a robust lineup of fiction and nonfiction features and shorts presented in established AFI FEST sections. Additional information about AFI FEST is available at FEST.AFI.com. Connect with AFI FEST at Facebook.com/AFIFESTTwitter.com/AFIFESTInstagram/AmericanFilmInstitute and YouTube.com/AFI.

***Featured photo: Benedict Cumberbatch as Phil Burbank in THE POWER OF THE DOG. Credit Kristy Griffin/Netflix 2021.

Dawn Hudson Announces This Term Will Be Her Last As Academy CEO

Posted by Larry Gleeson

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
ACADEMY CEO DAWN HUDSON CHARTS NEXT STEPS 
FOLLOWING THE BUILDING OF AN INNOVATIVE ACADEMY 
AND THE SUCCESS OF MUSEUM OPENING

LOS ANGELES, CA – Dawn Hudson, chief executive officer of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, announced today that, after a successful and transformational tenure, this current term will be her last as Academy CEO.

“After more than ten years and the incredibly successful opening of our new museum, I’ve decided, when this term concludes, it will be time for me to explore other opportunities and adventures as this can hardly be topped,” said Hudson. “We’ve achieved so much together that’s been most important to me — our ongoing commitment to representation and inclusion; adapting the Academy into a digitally sophisticated global institution; and creating the world’s premier movie museum that will be the destination of film fans for decades. The Board of Governors and I are mutually committed to a seamless transition to new leadership. I’m excited for what the future holds, for both the Academy and for me.”

“Dawn has been, and continues to be, a groundbreaking leader for the Academy. Advancements in the diversity and gender parity of our membership, our increased international presence, and the successful opening of a world-class Academy Museum — a project she revived, guided and championed — are already part of her legacy. I know the Board of Governors joins me in looking forward to our collaboration with Dawn in the many months ahead, as we map out a plan for succession,” said Academy President David Rubin.

Hudson joined the Academy as CEO in 2011.  In her role, she oversees the Academy’s 450-person staff in Los Angeles, New York and London; operations and outreach, including awards, membership, marketing, communications, finance and technology; the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures and the Academy Foundation. The Foundation includes educational initiatives, fellowships and grants, the Margaret Herrick Library and the Academy Film Archive.

With Hudson at the helm building and overseeing its financial assets, including the Oscars®, the Academy has become more accessible to its members and people around the world. The institution has achieved advances in technology and the modernization of its infrastructure, which have enabled greater global outreach, member communications and events, online voting and streaming on the Academy Screening Room, and a significantly expanded social media presence.

Under her leadership, Hudson has driven significant diversity, inclusion and representation initiatives across the Academy membership, governance and staff. As a result, the Academy more than doubled the number of women and underrepresented ethnic/racial communities within its membership through the A2020 initiative, bringing in the most diverse class in the organization’s history at that time. Hudson also oversaw the creation of Aperture 2025, establishing inclusion standards for Oscars eligibility, to further the Academy’s efforts to advance representation in the entertainment industry.

Hudson was integral to the development of the Academy Museum, which opened to the public in September and is the largest museum in the United States devoted to the arts and sciences of moviemaking.

A search for Hudson’s successor will soon be underway, and she will have a vital role in the transition.

 

ABOUT THE ACADEMY
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is a global community of more than 10,000 of the most accomplished artists, filmmakers and executives working in film. In addition to celebrating and recognizing excellence in filmmaking through the Oscars, the Academy supports a wide range of initiatives to promote the art and science of the movies, including public programming, educational outreach and the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures.

AFI FEST Announces 2021 Dates and Opening Night World Premiere of tick, tick…BOOM!

Gala for Life Achievement Honoree, Julie Andrews

AFI has announced that the 2021 edition of AFI FEST will take place November 10–14, 2021, and open with the World Premiere of Netflix’s tick, tick…BOOM! This year’s hybrid festival will feature both in-person screenings and events in Los Angeles, CA, as well as virtual screenings, showcasing transformative stories from groundbreaking artists, and a gala event celebrating AFI Life Achievement Honoree Julie Andrews.

The Opening Night screening of tick, tick…BOOM! will take place at the historic TCL Chinese Theatre. Directed by Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award® winner Lin-Manuel Miranda in his feature directorial debut, the film is based on the autobiographical musical by “Rent” playwright Jonathan Larson and stars Academy Award® nominee and Tony Award® winner Andrew Garfield. The film is written by Tony Award® winner Steven Levenson, and produced by Academy Award® and Emmy® winners Brian Grazer and Ron Howard for Imagine Entertainment, Julie Oh, and Lin-Manuel Miranda.

Please note that with health and safety being top priority, AFI FEST 2021 will require all festival-goers who attend in-person events and/or screenings to be fully vaccinated.

Tickets and passes to AFI FEST 2021 will be available soon on FEST.AFI.com. AFI Members receive exclusive discounts and benefits to the festival. To become an AFI member, visit AFI.com/support/.

AFI Announces KING RICHARD as Closing Night Film for FEST 2021

KING RICHARD

Starring Will Smith to Close AFI FEST 2021

The Closing Night film for AFI FEST 2021 has been officially crowned! The 35th edition of AFI’s annual film festival celebrating the best in world cinema will close with Warner Bros. Pictures’ KING RICHARD, directed by Reinaldo Marcus Green with cinematography by Robert Elswit (AFI Class of 1977), written by Zach Baylin and starring two-time Academy Award® nominee Will Smith. Based on a true story that will inspire the world, the film follows Richard Williams, an undeterred father who, with the support of his family, is instrumental in raising two of the most extraordinarily gifted athletes of all time, Venus and Serena Williams. The Closing Night screening will take place on Sunday, November 14 at the historic TCL Chinese Theatre.

“AFI’s mission includes inspiring audiences, and KING RICHARD sets the bar for this year,” said Sarah Harris, Director of Programming at AFI Festivals. “Movies often deliver when we need them most, and now is the perfect time for this film to remind young people that nothing is out of reach, and that with perseverance and determination they can influence future generations.”

This year’s hybrid festival will feature both in-person screenings and events, as well as virtual screenings, showcasing transformative stories from groundbreaking artists. As previously announced, the World Premiere of tick, tick…BOOM! directed by Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award® winner Lin-Manuel Miranda will open the festival on Nov. 10.

With health and safety being top priority, AFI FEST 2021 film festival will require all festival-goers who attend in-person events and/or screenings to be fully vaccinated. Tickets and passes to AFI FEST 2021 will be available soon on FEST.AFI.com. AFI Members receive exclusive discounts and benefits to the festival. To become an AFI member, visit AFI.com/join/.

SANTA BARBARA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL ANNOUNCES CLAUDIA PUIG AS PROGRAMMING DIRECTOR

August 12, 2021 – Santa Barbara, CA.  The Santa Barbara International Film Festival announced today the appointment of Claudia Puig as Programming Director. In her role, Puig will lead the curation of the film slate for the 2022 edition of the Festival. The program will include a broad array of over 200 international and independent films with a commitment to diversity and inclusion, with most films being World or U.S. Premieres. Puig will lead insightful Q&As and seminar discussions with hundreds of attending filmmakers, and she will report to Roger Durling, Executive Director of the Santa Barbara International Film Festival. Puig is currently serving as president of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association and is a longtime critic on NPR’s Film Week. 

 

“Claudia has tremendous film festival programming expertise, and we are thrilled to welcome her to the team. We have the utmost faith in her ability to bring forward a program of unmatched quality to share with our community; and with both Claudia and I being Latino, this marks a first for any major Film Festival’s artistic leads,” said Roger Durling, SBIFF’s Executive Director.

Prior to joining SBIFF, she handled programming for AFI Fest, the Mendocino Film Festival, and the Napa Valley Film Festival. She has been a speechwriter for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. In addition, Claudia has a film consulting business specializing in cultural consulting and teaches a college class on Diversity in the Media. Previously, she was USA Today’s film critic for 15 years. During that time, she also hosted The Screening Room video series and wrote film reviews and analytical articles about the film industry. Before that, she was a staff writer at the Los Angeles Times for 11 years covering city government, courts, and the entertainment industry.

 

The 37th Santa Barbara International Film Festival, presented by UGG®, will take place LIVE on March 2 through March 12, 2022. Official events including screenings, filmmaker Q&As, industry panels, and celebrity tributes, will be held throughout the city, including at the historic Arlington Theatre. This year’s lineup will be announced February 2022. 

 

Over the past 36 years, SBIFF has become one of the leading film festivals in the world attracting 100,000+ attendees throughout the week. Funds raised through the festival directly support SBIFF’s year-round free programs that serve over 18,000 people. Passes for the 2022 Festival will be on sale for 25% off starting next Monday, August 16th. For additional information or to buy passes, visit sbiff.org.

About the Santa Barbara International Film Festival

The Santa Barbara International Film Festival (SBIFF) is a 501(c)(3) non-profit arts and educational organization dedicated to discovering and showcasing the best in independent and international cinema. Over the past 35 years, SBIFF has become one of the leading film festivals in the United States – attracting 100,000+ attendees and offering 11 days of 200+ films, tributes and symposiums, fulfilling their mission to engage, enrich, and inspire the Santa Barbara community through film.

In 2016, SBIFF entered a new era with the acquisition of the historic and beloved Riviera Theatre. After a capital campaign and renovation, the theatre is now SBIFF’s new state-of-the-art, year-round home, showing new international and independent films every day. In 2019, SBIFF opened its own Education Center in downtown Santa Barbara on State Street to serve as a home for its many educational programs and a place for creativity and learning.

My Psychedelic Love Story (Errol Morris, 2020): USA

Posted and reviewed by Larry Gleeson

The latest documentary from the renowned filmmaker of the Thin Blue Line and Fog of War, Errol Morris, comes a tell-all story of Johanna Harcourt-Smith, a once young, 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 and incarcerated.

Having recently watched The Trial of the Chicago 7, on Netflix, I cannot say I was surprised to see Timothy Leary jailed for such a long period of time for such a small amount of marijuana possession. The underlying story was the Nixon Administration making an example of another high-profile individual who encouraged others to think and act “outside the box.” All in the name of law and order.

Morris bases his work in My Psychedelic Love Story on a four-tape interview Leary gave with a prison psychologist. In agreeing to be interviewed,  Leary makes clear in the tapes he wanted the love of his life, Ms. Johanna Hardourt,  to have custody of the tapes. But, according to Harcourt, her life centered on Leary and getting him his release from prison. Leary was undergoing hallucinogenic treatment while incarcerated. First from Harcourt smuggling in acid tabs in her belly button and through postage stamps on her letters sent through the US Postal Office.

Eventually, the government (the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Drug Enforcement Agency) threatened Leary with an ultimatum – publicly announce his cooperation to halt the LSD crisis or spend the remainder of his life in a psychiatric ward with a fried brain. His incarceration would soon include his ingestion of stronger and stronger doses of hallucinogens until he lost his mind. Leary agreed to cooperate, was released from prison in the Witness Protection Program, and was living in a small cabin in Idaho with no electricity. One night he and Harcourt had an argument. Leary left in the middle of the night and Harcourt never saw Leary again.

Only within the last few years when some of her belongings were sent to her did Harcourt listen to the interview tapes from 1974. Morris has his interracamera, as well as several other cameras, place at various angles and vantage points as Harcourt delivers a monologue of epic proportions. As Harcourt drifts from topic to topic Morris introduces still photographs, archival footage, and a clip from Alice in Wonderland as Harcourt is a compelling storyteller. During her two-month jet-setting romance with Leary, she recalls her conversations with Keith Richards and how she encouraged him to go to America and make albums with the Rolling Stones. The trips to Switzerland, Norway, France, and back again. Listening to her tell her tale coupled with Morris’ use of image inserts of colorful Tarot cards, I felt captivated and often wondered how could Harcourt have such a vivid recollection of her and Leary’s travels on the run from the law. Nevertheless, My Psychedelic Love Story is quite a tale. Highly recommended!

 

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 2020 FILM REVIEW: Whirlybird (Matt Yoka, 2020)

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

Filmmaker Matt Yoka, who I had the distinct pleasure of connecting with at the AFI FEST Industry and Filmmaker mixer, brings home Whirlybird, a fascinating, real-world tale of Los Angeles-based reporters, Bob Tur and Marika Gerrard, who revolutionized real-time news reporting from the air. 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.

Prior to these two major national news events, Bob had also previously rescued 54 people from a crumbling rooftop at the Portofino Inn in Redondo Beach, Calif. during a winter storm with winds up to 50 miles per hour. The hotel was surrounded by water and was being pummeled by massive, crashing waves.  As what can only be described as a herculean effort, Tur managed to whisk away the stranded guests to higher ground in fourteen separate takeoffs and landings. The rescue made news headlines and jumpstarted his and Marika’s network career with KCOP.

By itself, any one of these events would make for a great story. And they are. Interestingly, Yoka goes on to explore the interpersonal and intrapersonal dynamics between Bob and Marika primarily with footage from their aerial reporting. What emerges is a strong working relationship with Bob’s perfectionism and Marika’s “go along to get along attitude.” The pair produced footage unmatched with Bob’s aggressive piloting and Marika’s willingness to hang outside and keep a steady camera rolling under less than optimal conditions including live rounds being fired at them during their three-day virtually non-stop coverage of the 1992 rioting.

Unexpectedly included in present-day time is MSNBC journalist, and Bob and Marika’s daughter, Katy Tur, an MSNBC journalist and author of the 2017 “Unbelievable: My Front-Row Seat to the Craziest Campaign in American History,” as she reflects on the rise and fall of her parent’s helicopter reporting empire, the current state of, and decline of, major network broadcast news reporting, and her parent’s marital relationship. Yoka includes this section as Katy and Marika are seen in casual conversation.

With Whirlybird Yoka manages to distill a 15 plus year time span into a 1:43 film run time. With a focus on the newsgathering, Yoka delivers a very informative segment before introducing and exploring a surprising and deeply personal human-interest twist reminiscent of Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner as Zoey Tur comes to terms with who she is as a person and explains why she performed so aggressively and behaved so inappropriately as Bob.

A seminal piece on the newsgathering industry in Los Angeles coupled with a timely human-interest story involving transgenderism and news reporting at the highest national level, Whirlybird is highly recommended viewing.

 

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.