Category Archives: Feature Film

DON’T COME BACK FROM THE MOON Opens tonight!

Posted by Larry Gleeson

DON’T COME BACK FROM THE MOON

Directed by BRUCE THIERRY CHEUNG

**Winner – Special Jury Award in Directing, Los Angeles Film Festival**

**Winner- James Lyons Award for Best Editing, Woodstock Film Festival**

**Winner – Best Narrative Feature, Southampton Film Festival**

**Winner – Best Cinematography, Southampton Film Festival**

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DON’T COME BACK FROM THE MOON starring James Franco, Rashida Jones, Jeff Wahlberg, Robert Scott Crane, Jeremiah Noe and Cheyenne Haynes,  is a story of abandonment, when all the men in a remote California desert town walk away from their families, one by one. They leave their angry, frustrated sons and daughters behind – kids who act out, engage in acts of petty burglary and vandalism, and look for love and family connection in the aftermath of their abandonment, all the while trying to understand why their fathers have “gone to the moon,” leaving them to traverse the difficult path to adulthood alone.

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DON’T COME BACK FROM THE MOON Director, Bruce Thierry Cheung, makes his feature film debut from an adaptation of Dean Bakopoulos’ celebrated first novel, Please Don’t Come Back from the MoonCheung and Bakopoulos co-wrote the screenplay.

The film opens tonight in Los Angeles, New York, select theatres and VOD on January 18th.

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Alfonso Cuaron’s ROMA evoking Oscar and more

Posted by Larry Gleeson

Alfonso Cuaron’s latest diatribe of Mexican life, Roma, winner of the 74th Venice International Film Festival’s top prize, the Golden Lion, and favorite of the Chicago Film Critics Association, is on display at a theatre near you. While it is streaming on Netflix, its full flavor is best enjoyed in a theatrical experience where sounds abound, camera movements mesmerize, performances loom large and the mise-en-scene transports. I had the good fortune to view the cinematic treat at the new home of the Santa Barbara International Film Festival (SBIFF), the Riviera Theatre, recently renamed the Lynda and Bruce’s Rivera Theatre in honor of SBIFF philanthropic benefactors, Lynda Weinman and husband, Bruce Heavin.

 

 

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Set in Mexico City during the politically turbulent time of the 1970’s, Roma follows the life of a young servant, Celo, portrayed by first-time actress, Yalitza Aparicio. In homage to classical Italian Neo-Realism, Cuaron infuses Roma with elemental characteristics of Neo-Realism with his choice of a first-time, non-professional actress, a seemingly realistic setting and exhibits the film in black and white.

 

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Yet, Roma, is a highly crafted, highly orchestrated work of art. Cuaron makes every shot count, every moment a well-conceived and executed thought brought to fruition enticing the viewer to suspend disbelief. Cuaron then, and only then, deftly adds a shot to remind the viewer that Roma is a film. That’s how masterful Cuaron has become with his filmmaking craft.

 

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Photo courtesy of Netflix

 

And, that’s not to take anything away from the film’s narrative. Highly autobiographical, Cuaron draws scenes from his memory and manages to wrap them around his central character, Celo, then slowly allows the layers to melt away leaving the viewer with an exaltation that must be seen and experienced to be believed. Highly recommended on a cinematic screen!

One of the year’s best films….if not the very best.

Until next time, I’ll see you at the movies!

 

 

BECOMING ASTRID Opens in Los Angeles and New York

Posted by Larry Gleeson

Music Box Film’s Becoming Astrid, directed by acclaimed Danish filmmaker Pernille Fischer Christensen and inspired by events in Swedish author and literary icon (Pippi Longstocking) Astrid Lindgren’s formative years, is an engaging, heartfelt story of a teenaged Astrid Lindgren, played by Alba August in a breakthrough performance that delvers an emotionally riveting sojourn of the young writer’s early religious upbringing and her advent in becoming a storyteller of mythical proportions.

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After young Astrid accepts an internship at a local newspaper, she catches the eye of the married editor, Mr. Blomberg, portrayed by Henrik Rafaelsen, and soon becomes pregnant. Forced to leave her childhood home for Copenhagen to avoid the public outcry that could potentially remove her family from their stewardship of church land and to secretly give birth to a bastard child, Astrid perseveres learning difficult life lessons, eventually settling in Stockholm when her parents refuse her with her new son, Lars (Lasse). Reluctantly, Astrid leaves Lasse with a foster mother, Marie, portrayed by Trine Dyrholm, during her exiled time in Stockholm. Saving her money from a paltry secretary’s salary, Astrid visits young Lasse when she can. After Marie falls ill, Astrid uses her imagination and flair for storytelling to reconnect with her child. In spite of her struggles, Astrid emerges with a newfound courage that will form the foundation of a vast and beloved body of literary work.

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While Astrid Lindgren is mostly remembered for her Pippi Longstocking and Karlsson-on-the-Roof book series, her titles have been translated into 85 languages and published in over 100 countries. Selling approximately 165 million books worldwide, much of her writing was based on her childhood memories growing up in a small Swedish village. Outspoken on topics as diverse as the Vietnam War, children refugees, nuclear power, and urban planning, she always had children and their future at the center of her concerns. In 1958, Lindgren received the Hans Christian Andersen Medal, the top international award in children’s literature.

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Becoming Astrid is an excellent film technically as well as aesthetically. The version I viewed was in Swedish and Danish with English subtitles and came in with a run time of a smooth 123 minutes. In addition, the film contained well-rounded cinematography, seamless continuity editing, a strong narrative structure, stellar acting performances, a beautiful mise-en-scene, and an uplifting and complementary, non-diagetic, musical score. Becoming Astrid recently won the Audience Award for Best Foreign-Language Feature in October at the recent Chicago International Film Festival and is a highly recommended film!

Becoming Astrid opened November 23rd at the Laemmle’s Royal Theatre in Los Angeles and in New York at the Film Forum and will soon be followed by a national rollout.

 

First Man (Chazelle, 2018:USA) Film Capsule

Posted by Larry Gleeson

First Man (2018), a newly released biopic on the Space Era Neil Armstrong, from self-Screen Shot 2018-10-15 at 1.44.46 AMclaimed film auteur and Academy Award-Winning Director, Damian Chazelle (La La Land), hits all the marks for a successful box office take in the current climate. First Man has already received nominations for best film from the Oscar-campaign-launching, Venice International Film Festival (Golden Lion Award) and the massive Toronto International Film Festival (The People’s Choice Award).

Oscar-winning, La La Land composer extraordinaire, Justin Hurwitz, returns to the Chazelle fold, bringing slightly more than is required for effect with a mesmerizing First Man score. Hurwitz creates such a beautiful composition it is easy to overlook its occasional intrusiveness. Linus Sandgren (Best Cinematography Oscar for La La Land)  is also back with his roving camera movement which is a bit dizzying. For the most part, despite a jar or two (not surprising with Sandgren’s camera shooting style) Editor Tom Cross, kept the flow fairly continuous, if not seamless. And, last but not least, Canadian-born actor, Ryan Gosling, resumes his La La Land Sebastian minimalist acting style, as Neil Armstrong. Jason Clarke and Kyle Chandler provide excellent supporting characters as Edward Higgins White and Deke Slayton. Claire Foy turns in the film’s deep, emotional performance as Janet Armstrong, wife of Neil Armstrong, that the other characters either don’t bring or can’t bring to story. Gosling almost gets there! The costuming, hair, makeup and production design all add credence to the depicted time period in a convincing manner.

All in all, First Man is a nicely done film and it moves Director Chazelle up a notch on the Hollywood list of bigger budgeted films. Surprisingly, or unsurprisingly, Steven Spielberg received an Executive Producer credit. Nevertheless. the opening sequence, glaringly fails. The imagery is blatantly and conspicuously shot in an empty studio. I know Chazelle felt the lack of a bigger budget with La La Land not only curtailed his efforts but hamstrung his vision of a big-production, Hollywood-style musical of yesteryear. Personally, I like all three of Director Chazzelle’s full-length, feature films; Whiplash (2014) La La Land (2016) and First Man (2018).

As I watched the credits roll yesterday night, I noticed the film was based on the New York Times Bestseller First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong from James R. Hansen (who seemingly makes a cameo in the film). Josh Singer [The Post (2017) and Spotlight (2015)] gets credit for the screenplay. In my opinion, the best part of the film, by far, is the special effects. And, apparently, Chazelle shot on 35MM with IMAX cameras.

The spectacular rocket launches and the use of mirror-effects heighten sensibilities. Furthermore, the use of smoke and gasses also added a deft sense of the surreal and a touch of dream logic. In addition, Chazelle pumps in some nice archival footage and effectively utilizes foreshadowing with early frames of daytime, lunar shots. Screenwriter Singer also weaves some heady lines referencing an often under-reported and underappreciated aspect of the Space Program and NASA. Rory Kennedy’s documentary, Above and Beyond: NASA’s Journey to Tomorrow recently aired on Discovery Channel, October 13th, and details NASA’s mission as a viable reporting agency on the health of Planet Earth and Singer encodes this concept as Armstrong is asked, “Why do we explore and travel in space?”

Smartly crafting a timely topic of space exploration and NASA, Chazelle and company manage to bring the vessel home and to fruition with another buzz-worthy, award-contending product with First Man. What the film does well, it does really, really well! Warmly recommended.

In theatres now!

Film Capsule: The Spy Who Dumped Me

Posted by Larry Gleeson

Screen Shot 2018-08-31 at 10.29.43 AMThe Spy Who Dumped Me from Director Susanna Fogel is a summer-time female action film, written by a female, directed by a female and stars females. Seemingly, Director Fogel tries a little too hard to show that women can make films like men with gratuitous violence, sexual innuendos within a buddy-buddy formula. The buddy-buddy is a fem-fem, won’t you be my bestie?  Spoiler alert: the answer is yes. Moving beyond the psycho-cerebral, analytical perspective, The Spy Who Dumped Me is a fun film, showcasing the acting chops of Hollywood A-lister, Mila Kunis and, to a lesser extent, Kate McKinnon from Saturday Night Live. The film has strong production values, some heady costuming and enough tongue-in-cheek humor to match the overabundance of gratuitous violence. I call this strategy the kitchen sink approach – throw as many gags and barbs as possible at the audience and some will resonate with a certain demographic and some will resonate with another audience subset. It worked for Mel Brooks in Blazing Saddles and, truthfully, it works for Fogel in The Spy Who Dumped Me.

Fogel makes some interesting directorial choices as she is going head-to-head with a summer blockbuster in Mission Impossible: Fallout. And, she succeeds. Although, The Spy Who Dumped Me is not a great film, it is highly entertaining and a fairly, well-designed comedy. Fogel cashes in with some snappy dialogue and by utilizing some well-chosen film locations in Berlin, Prague, Amsterdam and Vienna, Austria along with some slick camera work from Tyler Allison and top-notch special effects from Tatjana Bozinovski. And, the chemistry between McKinnon’s character, Morgan, an out-of-work actress and Kunis’ Audrey, a cashier at a local grocery store, is believable and is the prime driver of the film. Justin Theroux provides solid acting support as Drew, the spy who dumps, Kunis’ character, Audrey. The second male supporting actor, Dustin Demry-Burns, delivers a very strong performance as Victor, another spy engaging in international espionage.

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What The Spy Who Dumped Me lacks in substance it makes it up with style as it ferociously sticks to its charming female version of the proven, summertime buddy-buddy, winning, box office formula. So, if you’re looking for some light-hearted fun, can stomach some heavy-duty gratuitous violence and some emotionally moving moments between two gal pals then The Spy Who Dumped Me is the film for you. Warmly recommended.

Leaning Into The Wind Opening Tonight!

Posted by Larry Gleeson

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Opening tonight at The Nuart!

11272 Santa Monica Blvd,in Los Angeles. 

Sixteen years after the release of the film Rivers and Tides – Andy Goldsworthy Working with Time comes Leaning Into The Wind, a metaphysical expose by Thomas Riedelsheimer on artist Goldworthy’s distinct approach of blending nature and human aspects into a cosmic synergy that simultaneously awes and inspires.

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Andy Goldworthy, left, with Thomas Riedelsheimer. (Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures)

 

Goldworthy makes works of art using the materials and conditions that he encounters wherever he is. Using earth, rocks, leaves, ice, snow, rain, or sunlight, the resulting artworks exist briefly before they are altered and erased by natural processes. He also uses his own body as a medium, or through actions such as spitting, throwing, climbing and walking and explores layers of his environment while introducing his own body into the works ranging from flower petals to larger projects utilizing heavy construction equipment.

Riedelsheimer’s exquisite film illuminates Goldsworthy’s thought processes as it reveals his art and the interconnectedness of the human spirit with universal forces. This is one you don’t want to miss. Highly recommended!

FILM REVIEW – Off The Menu (Silverman, 2018): USA

Posted by Larry Gleeson

Director/Producer Jay Silverman’s second feature film, the indie, romantic comedy Off the Menu made its World Premiere during the 2018 Santa Barbara International Film Festival. Silverman’s first feature was the drama, Girl on the Edge, the Audience Award winner at the 2015 San Luis Obispo International Film Festival. Silverman also executive produced and co-created the A&E TV series “The Cleaner” starring Benjamin Bratt.

Off the Menu is a sweet story about family, food and love. Young, fast-food business heir, Joel, portrayed by Santino Fontana (Frozen, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Sisters), is out on the road looking for new menu items for his family’s giant chain of Tortilla Hut restaurants when he meets and falls for a regional chef, Javiera Torres, portrayed by Dania Ramirez, an actress whose star is on a steep trajectory. Not only is Ramirez easy on the eyes, she’s also capable of delivering some serious, dramatic acting chops.

 

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Legendary Latin actress, singer and political activist, Maria Alonso Conchita, is stunning as Javiera’s, vibrant, “tell it like she sees it,” mother. Mackenzie Moss portrays Javiera’s daughter, Sophia, possessing a quick wit with timely comedic delivery. Interestingly, over half the Off The Menu cast is female and Hispanic as the filmmakers wanted to create a more inclusive experience while projecting a regional authenticity.

Off the Menu opens with a catchy non-diagetic tune, the “chile song” (included in a teaser clip at the end of this review) coupled with beautiful shots of harvesting chiles and foodie close-ups of freshly picked chiles and a skillet of multi-colored peppers. Both soundtrack and cinematography are emotionally compelling here.

The film shifts quickly with a parallel story line of Joel as a fish out of water hiding his girlfriend’s coffee maker, drinking blender-made, green smoothies and going to work on his bicycle and in cycling shorts and the passionate chef, Javiera, working magic in her kitchen. Javiera is a real home girl in a predominantly brown community and an infamous, regional chef with a wee bit of attitude. She utilizes a farm-to-table approach in making her signature dish featuring her home-grown green chiles from a secret family grow patch – a far cry from the food scientists who are responsible for creating Joel’s Tortilla Hut products. Hysterically, Javiera only makes her coveted dish once a week – temperament permitting!

The character of Joel, on the other hand, initially reminded me of the late Chris Farley’s lead character in Tommy Boy. Joel’s character arc, however, evolves once he gets to where the film is set, a small fictitious, New Mexico town, Villanueva. Villanueva is a stand in for Taos, New Mexico. As his character evolves, so does Fontana’s performance.

Throughout the film, Joel gets a few needed come-to-Jesus moments with his boss/sister, a domineering Tortilla Hut corporate executive leader. First, Joel is given marching orders to scout the Southwest for new recipes and, in particular, New Mexican cuisine. Later, Joel calls out his sister for poaching Javiera’s signature dish. Seemingly, the company’s research and development plan is to find authentic recipes and dishes throughout the United States and then mass produce them in a cost-effective manner sacrificing quality for quantity.

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Ultimately, Joel realizes his family business is more about profit than creating any sense of community or personal fulfillment. And, unsurprisingly, once he gets a taste of Javiera’s home cooking, Joel feels the love and becomes smitten with Javiera….and the feeling is mutual.

Strong cinematography from Matt Edwards, some delicious mise-en-scene, on-the-mark costuming, a complementary soundtrack and solid acting performances wrapped in a traditional, Hollywood-narrative structure make Off The Menu….on the list of films to see on this Valentine’s Day. Highly recommended.

The film is currently available on VOD/DVD.