Category Archives: Feature Film

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!

Advertisements

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.

Screen Shot 2018-08-31 at 10.32.14 AM

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

Print

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.

Gold Director
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.

 

Alonzo

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.

Cooking

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.

Film Capsule: Darkest Hour (Wright, 2017): USA

Posted by Larry Gleeson

Director Joe Wright (Anna Karenina, Atonement) delivers the goods with Darkest Hour, a moving dramatization of Great Britain’s decision to go to war against Germany in 1940. Newly-named Prime Minister, Sir Winston Churchill, portrayed by the award-winning English thespian Gary Oldman, leads the way in Darkest Hour as he sets out to unite the country after the ouster of his predecessor, the pacifying Neville Chamberlain. With strong costuming, production design, make-up and hair styling, the film easily qualifies as a period piece. Darkest Hour is also the recipient of six Oscar nominations including Best Motion Picture of the Year, Best Achievement in Costume Design, Best Achievement in Makeup and Hairstyling, Best Achievement in Cinematography, Best Achievement in Production Design, and Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role.

619e0eb159cdfaba7b0b1d0ff228b69e

Like Churchill himself, Oldman was up for the task in a leading performance that entertains in one moment and inspires in the next. Utilizing extensive make-up and hair styling provided by Kazuhiro Tsuji, David Malinowski and Lucy Sibbick, Oldman not only acts the part he looks the part! Aiding in most of the emotionally riveting scenes is Actress Lily James (Baby Driver, Cinderella) as Churchill’s young, sensitive, doe-eyed secretary, Elizabeth Layton, who mouths her boss’s speeches as they are delivered. In addition, acclaimed Cornish actress, Kristin Scott Thomas (The Party, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen), portrays Churchill’s doting wife, Clemmie, and brings a much-needed sense of balance, propriety and grounding to the Prime Minister.

As the German army’s drive pushed through France toward the North Sea, Churchill decides to sacrifice a brigade of four thousand soldiers near Calais to distract and slow the German army to buy time to evacuate Dunkirk where some 300,000 British soldiers are pinned down under German Air Assault. The beaches of Dunkirk sit a mere 21 miles across the English Channel from the Cliffs of Dover. Hope of evacuating the 300,000 trapped soldiers off the beaches of Dunkirk is slim to none. Unable to get naval or air support from the United States, and facing a harbor cluttered with sunken ships prohibiting safe navigation for the British Navy, a “volunteer civilian navy” is called upon to rescue the stranded soldiers. The outcome of the war, the British way of life and a free Europe are at stake. British filmmaker Christopher Nolan’s film Dunkirkalso Oscar-nominated for Best Motion Picture of the Year, portrays the rescue/evacuation in an ultra-realistic, highly cinematic treatment.

 

Meanwhile, as the Prime Minister of British Parliament, Oldman continues to holds his own and then some as the crotchety Churchill. However, once the moment comes for the war declaration, Cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel’s (Inside Llewyn Davis, Amelie) lighting, camera angles and use of camera lenses creates a spectacle drawing the viewer as the resolve deep inside Winston Churchill is revealed. Costuming and production design are at their best here, in my opinion. And, Oldman delivers a consummate speech performance complete with Churchill’s trademark guttural delivery and an earthy, rumbling, emotionally tempered pitch. In my opinion, these Parliament-set scenes are the heart of the film. The soul of the film belongs to the “tube” scenes where Churchill empathically engages commoners on their feelings surrounding the threat the Germans pose.

Full of political intrigue and military maneuverings, Darkest Hour is set against Great Britain’s ill preparedness for war and early appeasement/isolationist stance which was discussed by American President John Fitzgerald Kennedy in his senior college thesis and published book, “Why England Slept,” (an illusion to Churchill’s book on Germany’s rise to power from 1932-38, “While England Slept”). Lord Halifax and Chamberlain, portrayed by Ronald Pickup and Stephen Dillane, as members of Churchill’s inner-sanctum War Council, plot against Churchill in an attempt to force into Parliament a “vote of no confidence.” Churchill manages to stay one step ahead of them while avoiding utter annihilation at the hands of the German army.

Darkest Hour is an emotionally-riveting, historical bio-drama with arguably the year’s Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role. Moreover, a strong mise-en-scene makes Darkest Hour a must-see film with the highest recommendation. A masterpiece.

 

 

Film Review: The Shape of Water (Guillermo del Toro, 2017): USA

Posted  by Larry Gleeson

Leading the way in the 2018 Oscars race with a whopping thirteen nominations including Best Director and Best Motion Picture is Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water, based loosely on the Universal Pictures 1954 sci-fi classic, The Creature from the Black Lagoon.  Del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth, Hellboy) wrote, directed and produced the film with a classical touch paying homage to 1950’s pop culture including a mid-film, stunning black and white ballroom dance sequence. Del Toro’s attention to detail allowed for a easy suspension of disbelief as the narrative followed a lonely, mute janitor who befriends an amphibious creature at a top secret research facility at the height of the Cold War.

shape-of-water

British actress, Sally Hawkins (Maudie, Blue Jasmine) portrays the mute, Elisa Esposito. Hawkins’ expressions and body language are quite convincing as her curiosity leads her to the creature, a mesmerizing, demi-god figure with expressive eyes and a physique reminiscent of the alien in the 1987 science fiction film, Predator. For her near-silent performance, Hawkins received one of the thirteen nominations associated with the film with a Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role. Doug Jones (Hellboy, Pan’s Labyrinth)  portrays the Amphibian Man, most often referred to as The Asset by the U.S. military and its top secret research apparatus.

In its essence The Shape of Water is a full-fledged romantic fantasy. Frenchman Alexandre Desplat’s musical score delights during the film’s fairy tale-esque opening and closing and augments the high emotional points of the film to a T. Desplat also shares in the film’s Oscar nods with a Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures (Original Score). But it’s Elisa’s ability to reach out and connect to the Amphibian Man through eggs and jazz music that drives the film on a more visceral, human level. Who can’t relate to the power of finding connection? What makes this connection especially powerful, however, is not only the abuse the two lovers have endured prior to connecting, but it’s also important to note the film is set up against the “no prisoners taken,” “shoot first ask questions later,” Cold War between the United States and the former Soviet Union. Directives are given and orders are to be carried out. Or else.

Fortunately, Elisa only works there. But she’s not immune. While she’s a low-level “cleaning woman”  who seems to enjoy hot baths, boiled eggs and exploring her sexuality (and not necessarily in that order either) as much if not more than her occupation, she does witness the Amphibian Man being abused. Surprisingly though she’s not alone as she has well-developed relationships with her co-worker, Zelda, portrayed by Octavia Spencer, and her neighbor, Giles, portrayed by Richard Jenkins.  Both actors received Oscar nods for their performances with Spencer receiving a nod for Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role and Jenkins getting a nod for Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role.

the-shape-of-water-20171658

Another dynamic deserving of attention is the exquisite and remarkable aqua-marine color palette utilized in the film’s production design. Yes, the film received a nod for Best Achievement in Production Design for the team of Paul D. Austerberry, Shane Vieau and Jeffrey A. Melvin. Throughout the film, clips from 1950’s sit-coms are diagetically placed on set via television sets. Norman Vincent Peale’s best selling self-help book, “The Power of Positive Thinking,” is subtly intertwined in a conversation with Michael Shannon’s somewhat diabolical and altogether sadistic character, civilian Richard Strickland, who oversees and is charged with carrying out the US military’s research on the Amphibian man and his superior to great affect.

shape-of-water-first-reactions-guillermo-del-toro

I would feel amiss at this point if I didn’t mention the film’s Oscar nominations not previously noted: Best Original Screenplay for Del Toro and Vanessa Taylor; Best Achievement in Cinematography, Dan Laustsen; Best Achievement in Costume Design, Sequeira; Best Achievement in Sound Editing, Nathan Robitaille and Nelson Ferreira; Best Achievement in Sound Mixing, Christian T. Cooke, Glen Gauthier and Brad Zoern; and, Best Achievement in Film Editing, Sidney Wolinsky.

This is a wonderful film. Admittedly, it was my “early” (before Oscar nominations were announced) film of the year as I originally watched the film over the holidays on a date. Highly recommended!

Film Review: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (McDonagh, 2017): USA

Posted by Larry Gleeson

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Martin McDonagh’s tragic, dark comedy about a rural Missouri woman, Mildred Hayes, who becomes frustrated with the local authorities’ ability to solve the murder of her daughter, continues its impressive run this award season garnering three Actor Awards at the SAG-AFTRA Screen Actors Guild Awards – Best Actress (Frances McDormand), Best Supporting Actor (Sam Rockwell) and Best Ensemble Cast. These accolades come on top of four Golden Globe Awards for Best Screenplay (McDonagh), Best Dramatic Film, Best Actress (McDormand) and Best Supporting Actor (Rockwell). And, it doesn’t stop there. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, received seven Oscar nominations – Best Picture, Best Actress (McDormand), Best Supporting Actor (Rockwell and Woody Harrelson), Best Original Musical Score (Carter Burwell), Best Original Screenplay (McDonagh) and Best Film Editing (Jon Gregory). The Oscars, presented by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, is scheduled for March 4, 2018.

'Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri' BAFTA film screening, New York, USA - 05 Nov 2017
Writer/Director Martin McDonagh

Playwright/Director McDonagh penned and directed the film starring veteran actress Frances McDormand (Fargo, Almost Famous, Moonrise Kingdom) as Mildred Hayes. McDormand turns in a spectacular performance as does Sam Rockwell as a small-town, racist, law enforcement officer who still lives with his mother. They both have plenty of support with moving diatribes from Woody Harrelson as Chief of Police, William Willoughby, Peter Dinklage as the local pool hall hustler, Caleb Landry Jones as billboard advertiser Red Welby, and Lucas Hedges as Mildred’s son. In addition, Abbie Cornish and Zeljko Ivanek turn in a few memorable moments as Anne Willoughby and the Police Desk Sergeant. Hats off to Sarah Finn for her casting. But it’s McDonagh’s dialogue that allows the characters to deliver deep emotional pitches. And, in my opinion, therein lies the magic of the film.

The film opens with MIldred, a woman in her 50’s driving down a country road to a non-diagetic operatic score from Carter Burwell signalling Three Billboards is not an ordinary, run-of-the-mill rural yarn. Far from it. Tragedy and a sense of forlorn are in the air as Mildred seems to notice for the first time three well worn billboards faded and tattered with the words “EBBING BILLBOARD ADVERTISING.” She slows to a stop reverses direction and the camera shows the three billboards in unison as they stretch across the horizon and into the distance as if tombstones.

From here the film follows Mildred as she places three large advertisements that catch the attention of the local media and the entire community – “RAPED WHILE DYING,”   “AND STILL NO ARRESTS?” and “HOW COME, CHIEF WILLOUGHBY?” With the community on edge, tensions rise as Rockwell’s character, Officer Dixon, takes matters into his own hands first to defend his Chief and later to bring justice to Mildred and her family. Rockwell’s physicalities are spot-on and his performance makes a powerful case for an Oscar. Meanwhile, Mildred is facing the fallout from the community and McDormand delivers a powerful, emotionally-moving performance embodying the anger, fear and frustration of a rural Missouri woman who is seeking answers – who is demanding answers. Along the way, various situations and scene work allow the cast considerable room to stretch and flex their acting chops. This is only one tidbit of the tasty treats inside Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.

Surprisingly, the film comes is at an hour and fifty-five minutes. The run time is deceptive as the dialogue is sharp, albeit somewhat repetitive, and it allows the characters to deliver subtle nuances in their respective deliveries. An often overlooked component in film is the mise-en-scene, its variations of imagery and what it translates with its cinematic language. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, pokes and prods the viewer while McDonagh’s writing and the cast performances continuously reel in the audience. In the end, the film does seem to ask more questions than it really answers. And that’s not such a bad thing in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. Highly recommended.