Tag Archives: Film review

FILM REVIEW: Django (Comar, 2017): France

Reviewed by Larry Gleeson as part of the 67th Berlin International Film Festival.

Django, showing in Competition, from French helmer, Etienne Comar, was the Opening Night Film for the 67th Berlinale, more commonly referred to as the Berlin International Film Festival, tells the story of legendary musician/composer and gypsy-swing jazzman Django Reinhardt. Django is set in France during the German occupation in the years from 1943 to 1945 and backed by strong research. Director Comar delivers an authentic portrait of the artist.

The film opens with a suspenseful rolling of the tiles in blood red accompanied by non-diagetic music. After the titles roll, the gypsy swing music continues as the opening scene reveals a forested, snow-flurried backdrop somewhere in the German Andennes region where a band of gypsies has set up camp. The men are gathered strumming their instruments in a soulful celebration of life. How quickly life changes as the Nazi’s raid the Roma camp. The scene fades as the eldest member of the troop has taken a lethal bullet to the forehead. Two adolescent brothers escaped the gunfire.

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Pictured left to right; Beata Palya, Bim Bam Merstein and Reda Kated from the French film, Django, by Etienne Comar. (Photo credit: Roger Arpajou)

Comar  forwards to Paris where preparations are being made for a concert performance. However, the lead musician has gone missing. The manager is sent to find and retrieve him. Without much effort, the manager finds a man fishing along a river bank. The man is Django Reinhardt, the film’s protagonist, played delicately by French actor, Reda Kateb, and the manger is his brother. As the brother tries to hurry Django, Django slows the tempo pretending to have a greater interest in the 4 ½ inch juvenile catfish he caught. Nevertheless, Django is whisked back to the theater where his mother, played compellingly by Bim Bam Merstein, awaits admonishing her soon for his tardiness. Django hasn’t a care in the world. He’s above such pettiness. And he goes out on stage and captivates the theater audience with his exquisite and complex musicianship.

The situation, however, quickly changes as the Nazis are using the Paris as the “whorehouse for their army.” Django has a blossoming reputation and the Nazis want a German tour to raise the country’s morale. Yet, they dictate “no more nigger music, dancing in the aisles, no tapping of the feet and no solos longer than five seconds.” Naturally, Django refuses to go on tour, is consequently arrested and spends the rest of the film trying to get he and his family to Switzerland with the help of an admirer, played by the lovely Cecile de France (The Young Pope).

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Left, Cecile de France as Louise de Klerk in a vital moment from Django. (Photo credit: Roger Arpajou)

Up to hearing Django Reinhardt for the first time I considered myself fairly astute when it came to jazz. Myself being an avid Django Reinhardt music fan from my first listen when had to ask who was playing the lush syncopated rhythms, I was told by a bewildered Santa Barbara City College Photography Instructor, Seantel Sanders, it was Django Reinhardt. Noticing this film about Reinhardt was opening the Berlin Film Festival, I was on a mission to see it. I sat raptured as Comar makes, in many respects, a period piece with spot-on costuming, made by Pascalene Chavanne, tight production design incorporated by Oliver Radot and smooth cinematography provided by Christoph Beaucarne. Warren Ellis handled the music.

Coming in at a surprisingly quick 117 minutes, Django is an exceptional film illuminating a gifted artist struggling with his sensibility regarding the use of his music for political purposes. Underneath, the narrative is a powerful look at the treatment of the Roma camps and their survivability as the German Army closes in. Working off archival materials, Comar delivers a timely piece on gypsy culture and the improvisational skill and unique sounds that emerged and captivated the Parisian club scene during WWII. Highly recommended.

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‘Singin’ in the Rain’ was first stop in Debbie Reynolds’ unsinkable career

Posted by Larry GleesonBy Sharon Eberson / Pittsburgh Post-GazetteUnfolding memories of all that Debbie Reynolds brought to the stage, screen and celebrity fascination of our lives would read like a chronicle of Hollywood history, starting in 1952. That’s when a 19-year-old went toe-to-toe with Gene Kelly and Donald O’Connor in “Singin’ in the Rain,” the American Film Institute’s No. 1 movie musical of all time.Ms. Reynolds died Wednesday at 84, just one day after the death of her daughter, actress, writer and mental health activist Carrie Fisher.

In recent years, Ms. Reynolds appeared on screen mostly as matriarchs, with Albert Brooks in the title role of the 1996 film “Mother” and as Debra Messing’s mom in the sitcom “Will & Grace.” She also provided the voice of the nurturing spider in “Charlotte’s Web,” Nana Possible in the animated TV series “Kim Possible” and Lulu Pickles for “Rugrats.”

The 1973 Broadway musical “Irene” earned her a leading actress Tony nomination and her lone Academy Award nomination was for her favorite role — “The Unsinkable Molly Brown.” Earlier this year, Ms. Reynolds was honored with the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award at the Oscars ceremony.

Ms. Reynolds gave us many more memories in seven decades as a public figure, but if she had done nothing else in her career, she would still be remembered simply for being in “Singin’ in the Rain,” Mark Olsen wrote in his Los Angeles Times appreciation.

The actress had four credited movie roles when she was cast opposite Mr. Kelly, a Pittsburgh native, and Mr. O’Connor.

“She noted at the British Film Institute in 2011: ‘I wasn’t sexy, I wasn’t beautiful, I wasn’t cute and I couldn’t dance. Why would they take me?’

“One only has to see her pop out of a cake to dance and sing to ‘All I Do Is Dream of You’ to answer the question. Her exuberance, the sheer attack with which she approached the part, made her undeniable,” Mr. Olsen writes.

“You know, I was so dumb,” she said to the American Film Institute in 2012, “that I didn’t feel you could fail.”

Mr. Kelly’s widow, Patricia Ward Kelly, on Thursday told BBC Radio that Ms. Reynolds, Mr. Kelly and Mr. O’Connor “are like comets that flash through the air once in a lifetime. And we are ever so grateful.”

On Facebook, Mrs. Kelly debunked what she called “a tall tale” about Ms. Reynolds as a young dancer. She quoted NPR’s Neda Ulaby as saying Ms. Reynolds “had studied gymnastics, but for the movie, she practiced tap dancing for up to 14 hours at a time.”

Mrs. Kelly said production records are very clear on the subject. For example, “on April 25, 1951, the report indicates that Gene arrived on set at 10 a.m., had one meal and departed at 5:15 p.m. ‘Debbie Reynolds same.’” She also notes, as Ms. Reynolds has said, that her rehearsal time was three months, “which says a lot about Debbie and the remarkable assistants who taught her to dance.”

There has been much speculation about the cause of the seemingly unsinkable Ms. Reynolds’ death. The entertainer suffered two strokes in 2015 but seemed to make a full recovery.

No cause of death has been disclosed for mother or daughter, but some are blaming Ms. Reynolds’ passing on broken heart syndrome, known medically as stress-induced cardiomyopathy. In the scant space between her daughter’s death and her own, Ms. Reynolds told her son, Todd Fisher, ‘I want to be with Carrie,’” according to the Associated Press.

“A ‘broken heart’ really is an event where the heart ceases to function normally and is prone to heart rhythm abnormalities,” Dr. Mark Creager, past president of the American Heart Association, told the AP. “That term is used to explain a very real phenomenon that does occur in patients who have been exposed to sudden emotional stress or extremely devastating circumstances.”

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The documentary “Bright Lights: Starring Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds” will premiere at 8 p.m. Jan. 7 on HBO. The film chronicling the sometimes rocky mother-daughter relationship was shown at the Cannes Film Festival in May and was originally set to air on HBO in March.

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The Hollywood Reporter called it “a tender tribute to two iconic women whose Hollywood history spans from ‘Singin’ in the Rain’ through ‘Star Wars’ and whose intimate connection is no less singular.”

In the meantime, viewings of “The Unsinkable Molly Brown” and “Singin’ in the Rain” would seem to be in order.

(Source:post-gazette.com)

Note from Roger – Daughters of the Dust

Posted by Larry Gleeson

Dear Cinephiles,

Julie Dash’s DAUGHTERS OF THE DUST is one of the most important indie films.  It was the first film directed by an African American woman to receive a wide release 25 years ago.  The film is beautiful, haunting and a true work of art.  Beyonce’s groundbreaking feature length music film “Lemonade” pays homage to “Daughters of the Dust”.

Below is an article about the film from the Los Angeles Times. Come check out the 25th Restoration of this masterpiece tonight (Thursday) at 7:30pm at the Riviera Theatre.

See you at the movies!
Roger Durling

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‘Daughters of the Dust,’ Julie Dash’s 1991 triumph, makes a welcome return
By Justin Chang

“Daughters of the Dust,” Julie Dash’s magical 1991 debut feature, captures a sad, thrilling moment of transformation for a community of Gullahs, who are the descendants of African slaves who lived on the Sea Islands off the coast of South Carolina and Georgia. On an August day in 1902, several generations of the Peazant family are preparing to move to the U.S. mainland, bidding farewell to their island home and the vibrant, uniquely African-influenced culture they’ve succeeded in keeping alive.

All good period pieces achieve and sustain a sense of immersion in a different time and place. “Daughters of the Dust,” which Dash spent many years researching, producing, writing and directing, goes further than most. Its examination of a bygone way of life is so patient and evocative, so beholden to its own storytelling conventions and rhythms, that watching it is a bit like submitting to a form of time travel. You emerge from the experience feeling slightly dazed and disoriented, but also deeply and thoroughly ravished.

This is partly due to the hypnotic pull of Arthur Jafa’s cinematography (which won a prize at the Sundance Film Festival) and the atmospheric drumbeats of John Barnes’ score, which conspire to establish an enveloping, dreamlike mood at the outset. But it is also because of the strong, vividly detailed personalities of the women at the film’s center, each one representing a different voice in a timeless tug of war between tradition and modernity, assimilation and isolation.

There is the family’s octogenarian matriarch, Nana Peazant (Cora Lee Day), who is determined to remain on the island with her rituals and herbal potions to the chagrin of her embittered granddaughter-in-law, Haagar (Kaycee Moore), who looks forward to the prosperity that she hopes awaits them on the mainland.

Two other women have returned for the Peazants’ final island gathering after leaving home years ago, though their experiences could scarcely have been more different. Viola (Cheryl Lynn Bruce) has become an outspokenly devout Baptist while Yellow Mary (Barbara O.), who returns with her girlfriend (Trula Hoosier) in tow, is ostracized by her family members for being a prostitute.

One of the few who openly embraces Yellow Mary is the spirited Eula (Alva Rogers), who was raped by a white man on the mainland and may be carrying his child, to the horror of her husband, Eli (Adisa Anderson). It is Eula who becomes the film’s wrenching voice of conscience and sanity when she cries, “Let’s live our lives without living in the fold of old wounds!” — a plea that, even for ears unaccustomed to the thick, West African-inflected creole of the region, cuts to the bone.

Viola has brought a photographer (Tommy Redmond Hicks) to the island to document the occasion. He’s something of a stand-in for Dash, whose father was a Gullah, and whose film becomes its own striking act of witness. The manner of that witness — including the use of voice-over narration from the perspective of Eula’s unborn child — shows a remarkable integrity.

Rather than telling her story via clean, linear strokes and manufactured crises, Dash lingers on the sights and sounds of Sea Island life, from the unforgettable images of women on the beach in floor-length white dresses to the close-ups of fresh-cooked prawns, hard-boiled eggs and other dishes served at the Peazants’ feast. These moments are not incidental to the narrative; they are essential to it, as Dash seeks to convey the very look, feel and texture of something that is about to be lost forever.

When “Daughters of the Dust” premiered in the dramatic competition at Sundance in 1991, the field included two other major indie breakthroughs: Todd Haynes’ “Poison” (which won the grand jury prize) and Richard Linklater’s “Slacker.” That their directors have gone on to become prominent auteurs on the independent scene is an undeniable testament to their genius.

But it also speaks to the cultural and gender-based norms that kept a singular talent like Dash from the filmmaking career she deserved — in part because “Daughters of the Dust,” one of the most striking American independent movies ever made, didn’t conform to any studio executive’s ideal of what a “black” movie should look and sound like. (The year 1991 saw a mini-renaissance for African American commercial cinema, including “Boyz n the Hood,” “New Jack City,” “Jungle Fever” and “A Rage in Harlem.”)

Even still, “Daughters of the Dust” hasn’t exactly languished in obscurity. Although it struggled to find a distributor post-Sundance, it did become the first film directed by an African American woman to receive a wide theatrical release (courtesy of Kino International). Its reemergence in theaters is timely for any number of reasons, a widely spotted shout-out in Beyoncé’s “Lemonade” not least among them.

The present-day resonance of a movie about an immigrant community caught between a traumatic past and an uncertain future can largely speak for itself. But it’s especially meaningful in a year marked by a remarkable range of serious new works from black filmmakers, from Barry Jenkins’ “Moonlight” and Nate Parker’s “The Birth of a Nation” to Denzel Washington’s forthcoming “Fences” — each one offering a different vision of African American families trying to rise above a deeply entrenched legacy of oppression.

As an example of how to realize that vision without compromise, “Daughters of the Dust” remains a pioneering work of art — a vibrant dispatch from our historical and cinematic past that continues to look ahead to a more hopeful future.

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(Source: sbiff.org)

The 74th Golden Globe Nominations Motion Pictures and Television Series

Posted by Larry Gleeson

Bright and early this morning – maybe not bright but still early – Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA) president Lorenzo Soria introduced Anna Kendrick, Don Cheadle and Laura Dern to announce the 2017 Golden Globe Nominees. La La Land captured seven nominations on the motion picture side including Best Motion Picture – Comedy Musical, Best Director for Damian Chazelle and Best Actor – Musical Comedy nominations for stars  Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone.

Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight was nominated in six categories including Best Motion Picture, Best Director and Screenplay  and Supporting Actor noms for Mahershala Ali and Naomie Harris. Kenneth Lonergan’s critically acclaimed Manchester By The Sea also made a strong showing with nominations for Best Drama, Director  and acting noms for stars Casey Affleck (Best Actor) and Michelle Wiliams (Supporting Actress). Lion, Hacksaw Ridge and Hell or High Water also made the list.

As expected Paul Verhoeven’s Elle starring Isabelle Huppert, received a nom in the Foreign Language category. The veteran French actress also received a nomination as one of the year’s best Drama Actresses, alongside Jessica Chastain (Miss Sloane), Ruth Negga (Loving), Amy Adams (Arrival), and Natalie Portman (Jackie). Also receiving a nom for Best Motion Picture – Foreign Language was one of my favorite films from the recent American Film Institute’s 2016 AFI FEST presented by Audi, Divines, from the self-taught director Houda Benyamina, starring budding actress, Oulaya Amamra. Other nominees in the Foreign Language category were Neruda from Chile’s Pablo Larrain, Asghar Farhadi’s The Salesman, and Toni Erdmann from Maren Ade

Television nominations went to  InsecureAtlanta. Black-ish, Mozart in The Jungle, Veep and Transparent and  Black-ish which received three nominations. Game of Thrones picked up two nominations and The Crown, Westworld, Stranger Things and This Is Us also receiving noms.

HBO led the way again this year with 14 nominations for its series. The complete list: official_2017_golden_globe_nominations_press_release

The 74th  Golden Globes Awards, hosted by Jimmy Fallon, will air live on NBC on January 8, 2017 at 8 pm EST / 5 pm PST.

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Note from Roger – The Handmaiden

Before getting to Mr. Durling’s note, I saw this film yesterday. It’s an extraordinary effort from the South Korean Director Park Chan-Wook. Already an admirer of his now seemingly classic works of Old Boy (2003), and Lady Vengence  (2005), I experienced an entirely new level of his artistic craft with The Handmaiden. Mesmerizing and undaunting with a raw, creative, narrative flair, Mr. Park delivers an explosive human drama – thrilling and compelling. Park’s best work to date. (See below review by Manohla Dargis, The New York Times)

11162014-Roger-Durling_t479Dear Cinephiles,

“Far too good to be watched in one sitting,” exclaims the Philadelphia Inquirer about THE HANDMAIDEN, and I couldn’t agree more.  Gorgeous, classical, and erotic, I don’t think you’ll see a more delicious film this year.  If you love cinema AT ALL, you have to see THE HANDMAIDEN.  It’s the visual equivalent of drinking champagne!

Below find the New York Times Review. It plays tonight (Tuesday) at 5:00pm, tomorrow (Wednesday) at 7:30pm, and next Sunday through Wednesday at the Riviera Theatre.

See you at the movies!
Roger Durling

Click here for tickets.

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‘The Handmaiden’ Explores Confinement in Rich, Erotic Textures
By Manohla Dargis – The New York Times

The art of the tease is rarely as refined as in “The Handmaiden.” Set in Korea in the 1930s, this amusingly slippery entertainment is an erotic fantasy about an heiress, her sadistic uncle, her devoted maid and the rake who’s trying to pull off a devilishly elaborate con. The same could be said of the director Park Chan-wook, whose attention to voluptuous detail — to opulent brocades and silky robes, luscious peaches and creamy shoulders — turns each scene into an invitation to ooh, aah and mmm. This is a movie that tries to ravish your senses so thoroughly you may not notice its sleights of hand.

It’s not for nothing that one of its heroines, Sookee (Kim Tae-ri), is a pickpocket, though that’s getting ahead of her story. It opens with Sookee weepily saying goodbye to some adults and wailing children, their gushing matched by the torrential rain. She’s off to work for Lady Hideko (a sensational Kim Min-hee), a pale beauty who lives with her tyrannical uncle, Kouzuki (Cho Jin-woong), a collector and purveyor of art and rare erotic books whose darting tongue has turned black from his ink pen. The realms of his bibliophilic senses are suggested when a client asks if one of his books is by the Marquis de Sade. “It’s Sade-esque,” the uncle says, all but winking at the audience.

The kinks grow more outré and twisted, the winks dirtier and broader. The uncle has raised Hideko from childhood, away from the world, intending to wed her for her fortune. He’s also turned her into a puppet, having trained her to read erotic fiction aloud for the delectation of his potential customers. Fate in the form of the con man (Ha Jung-woo) intervenes. Disguised as a count, he insinuates himself into the uncle’s home and seemingly into the niece’s affection, enlisting Sookee in the ruse as Hideko’s new maid. The count plans to marry Hideko and then ditch her, a plan that seems doomed when Sookee and Hideko’s lady-maid intimacy steams and then boils over.

The inspiration for all this intrigue is Sarah Waters’s ambitious 2002 novel, “Fingersmith,” a lesbian romance set in Victorian Britain in which she slyly has her way with established literary themes like avaricious male guardians and cloistered female wards. In adapting the movie, Mr. Park, who wrote the script with Chung Seo-kyung, has moved the story to Korea during the Japanese occupation. This setting initially seems more thread than cloth, conveyed in the smatterings of soldiers who pass through the story and in the mixing of languages, although it also factors into the villainy of the uncle, a Korean who’s embraced a Japanese identity, asserting, “Korea is ugly and Japan is beautiful.”

Mr. Park is a genre virtuoso, known for thrillers like “Oldboy,” whose filmmaking is notable for its visual order and extreme violence, a combination that creates a seductive, at times unsettling aesthetic of immaculate frenzy. The violence in “The Handmaiden” tends to be more restrained than in some of his other work, more psychological and rather less blunt and bloody. A notable exception is some sadomasochistic whip-work that’s far more vigorous than is found in, oh, say, “Fifty Shades of Grey.” There’s also a characteristic Grand Guignol flourish toward the end that’s outrageous enough that you may find yourself at once laughing and gasping, only to hastily avert your eyes.

It’s one of the rare times you want to look away in “The Handmaiden,” which Mr. Park has turned into an emporium of visual delights. Part of Sookee’s journey is one from perdition into opulence, from a lowly thieves’ den into the sumptuousness of the mansion. Yet appearances remain deceiving, which is one of this story’s themes. Everything inside the manor and out has been calculated to enchant, from the grounds with their carpets of green and bursts of flowering trees to the interiors with their wood paneling and floral wallpaper. Nothing is more perfect than Hideko’s petal mouth with its lusciously carnal red lipstick.

Yet beauty can be a curse; a prison, too. Hideko’s uncle has forbidden her to leave the grounds, turning her into a bird in a gilded cage. Under his steady gaze and severe hand, with the ever-present threat of violence (there are rightfully ominous allusions to a basement), she has been raised amid material plenty with luxuriously appointed rooms as well as drawers and shelves stuffed with elegant feminine frippery — gloves, hats, gowns. Mr. Park loves displaying all these goods, much like a proud merchant (or Gatsby), even as moment by moment he pushes the narrative into ugliness, scratching off the gilt to reveal a grim drama in which Hideko plays both the leading lady and slave.

Mr. Park’s attention to this world’s sumptuous surfaces at first can seem at odds with the underlying evil, as if — like the uncle — he were putting his aesthetic sensibility above all else. Mr. Park just seems to be enjoying himself too much, as the camera glides over satiny robes and bodies or pauses on an exquisite tableau. In one such display, as another of the uncle’s confined women narrates a tale, two shoji screens behind her part, an opening that mirrors the sexual conquest she’s relating. Yet Mr. Park also slips in little jokes, comic line readings and clownish faces that ease the tension, lighten the mood and suggest there’s freedom in laughing into the void.

The void is by turns enslaving and emancipating in “The Handmaiden,” which plays with familiar form as a way to deliver unexpected meaning. A rebus, a romance, a gothic thriller and a woozy comedy, “The Handmaiden” is finally and most significantly a liberation story. Mr. Park may not seem to be doing all that much with the big ideas simmering here, including how the relentless pursuit of aesthetic perfection — especially when it comes to inherently imperfect human beings — can serve as a means of terror. But the ideas are here, tucked into a different kind of erotic story, one that alternately jolts and delights as Sookee and Hideko laugh their way to a new ending.

(Source: sbiff.org)

Mark Wahlberg and Partriots Day Wrap Up 2016 AFI FEST

Closing down this year’s American Film Institutes Film Festival (AFI FEST) presented by Audi on Thursday, November 17th, it’s not so difficult to imagine what might have been had it not been for extraordinary efforts of first-responders, law enforcement and investigators alike in Boston, Mass. Patriots Day, the closing night film, brought to the big screen the story of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings from several different angles and drew an at-capacity crowd at the TCL Chinese Theatre.

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Patriots Day star actor Mark Wahlberg, left, along with the film’s director, Peter Berg, right, posing on the red carpet at the TCL Chinese Theatre before the screening of Patriots Day as the AFI FEST 2016’s Closing Night film. (Photo credit: The Hollywood Reporter)

Afterwards, Director Peter Berg and star actor Mark Wahlberg called several of the film’s real life heroes down on stage for a rousing standing ovation. They included one of the civilian victims of the bombings, Patrick  Downes;  Dun Meng, the young Chinese man who escaped his captors and alerted police to the whereabouts of the bombers; Boston Police Department Commissioner Ed Davis (played in the film by John Goodman); FBI Special Agent In Charge Richard DesLauriers (played by Kevin Bacon); and Watertown Police Sgt. Jeffrey Puglisese (played by J.K. Simmons).

The night before lead actress Annette Bening sat with director Lisa Cholodenko on the TCL Chinese Theater for a warm and heartfelt conversation before the screening of Writer/Director Mike Mills’ dramedy, 20th Century Women, a story of three women and a make-shift extended family in Santa Barbara during the late 1970’s.

I can honestly say I didn’t see a bad film at AFI FEST 2016 presented by Audi.

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Oulaya Amamra as Dounia (pictured above) in Houda Benyamina’s Divines picked up this year’s New Auteurs Special Jury Mention for Acting. (Photo via geekgirlauthority.com)

Divines , from Houda Benyamina, carted off several winner awards, including the Breakthrough Audience Award, New Auteurs Audience Award, and New Auteurs Special Jury Mention for Acting, Oulaya Amamra. Other favorite films reviewed by HollywoodGlee included Fraud, Jackie, Mifune: The Last Samurai, and Citizen Kane.

Interestingly, this year’s festival opened wide the gates for virtual reality (VR) filmmaking. In addition to several presentations and an extended display of short films complete with VR technology, Anthony Blatt, Co-Founder of Wevr, kicked off the State of the Art Technology Showcase Presented by Google Spotlight Stories as the Keynote Speaker with his enthusiastic remarks on the world of virtual reality in present time.

All in all, this 30th edition of the AFI Film Festival – Hollywood program included a whopping 118 films (79 features, 39 shorts) representing 46 countries, including 33 films directed/co-directed by women, 11 documentaries and 12 animated short films.

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

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(Photo courtesy of Larry Gleeson/HollywoodGlee)

Film Capsule: FRAUD (Fleischer-Camp, 2016): USA

Reviewed by Larry Gleeson. Viewed during AFIFEST 2016 presented by Audi.

Fraud, the new fifty-two minute documentary from director, editor New York Times’ children’s book author, Dean Fleischer-Camp, tells the story of one American family’s economic struggles. Culled from over a hundred hours of uninhibited, raw footage, Fleischer-Camp pieces together an obsessed man’s YouTube home movies shot during a period from 2008 to 2015 – an intimate, yet disturbing, portrait emerges as the worlds of reality and fiction are merged by Fleischer-Camp to create an apocalyptic, futuristic narrative. Highly Recommended.

FILM REVIEW: Divines (Benyamina, 2016): France

Viewed by Larry Gleeson as part of AFIFEST 2016 presented by Audi.

screen-shot-2016-11-18-at-11-01-54-amDivines is the first feature length film by self-taught director Houda Benyamina. Benyamina, Actress Oulaya Amamra, and Divines were AFIFEST 2016 winners of the New Auteurs Audience Award, the Breakthrough Audience Award and a Special Jury Mention for Acting.

The film opens in surreal fashion with an out of focus frame containing a smoke and fog-like effect reminiscent of a meditation and indicative of the filmmaker’s use of dream logic.

Quickly, homage is made to Martin Scorcese’s Taxi Driver, with lead character, Dounia, played exquisitely by Oulaya Amamra, standing in front of a mirror pretending to fire a pistol while asking, “You looking at me?” Later in the film another homage to Scorcese is made from his early work,  Mean Streets, with Dounia on her knees  in the middle of the street pleading with God.

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And, without too much adieu, Benyamina quickly takes us into the inner world of her lead character, Dounia. In a sacred space Dounia sneaks voyeuristically in a low-key lit, high-angle omniscient shot looking down on a theater stage during an audition. She likes what she sees in the form of Djigui, a dancer with moves and passion, played by Kevin Mishel.

A transition is made to a rambunctious classroom. Soon, Dounia is arguing with hyper intensity as Dounia questions her teacher’s values and choice of vocation. The moment culminates with Dounia quitting school vowing to “show them.” Her vocation is to make money.

Another transition is made to a slow motion sequence in a darkly lit dance club playing diagetic music from a singing disc jockey. Here we see Dounia’s troubled mother inebriated and looking for love in all the wrong places – a common scenario throughout Divines for Dounia’s mother.

screen-shot-2016-11-18-at-11-08-25-amBefore long, Dounia witnesses a drug stash in the back of the theater. Dounia seizes the moment and takes the stash to a local dealer with her best friend, Maimouna, an Iman’s daughter, played by Deborah Lukumuena. The circle is complete as the drug dealer, Rebecca, played handsomely by Jisca Kalvanda, rounds out a strong cast of mostly female characters.

Throughout Divines, Dounia is searching for dignity. She lives in a Roma (gypsy) camp on the outskits of Paris and is frequently called Bastard. She discovers drug dealing as a way to gain respect and power. Before long, however, Dounia finds out the price she must pay for her vocation might be too high.

In Divines, Benyamina illuminates an emerging Parisian subculture made up of colorful, fringe characters steeped in Islam highlighting their highly creative, unique, and authentic stories. In furthering her artistic vision to democratize cinema, Benyamina formed a mutual assistance cinematic trade association, 1000 Visages (Faces).

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Possibly quite coincidentally, American mythologist, Joseph Campbell’s tome, “The Hero with a Thousand Faces,” a seminal work on archetypal heroes and myths shared by world religions and traditions, contains the association’s name in the book’s title. However, I believe Benyamina has dissected the work drawing extensively from its teachings as we witness the transformation of Dounia.

For a first feature, Benyamina’s Divines is polished. Costuming is realistic. The camera work and editing augment the film’s reality well. The musical score sets the mood and aids in pacing. And the acting is quite good. Highly recommended.

FILM REVIEW: Jackie (Larrain, 2016): USA

Reviewed by Larry Gleeson. Viewed during the 2016 American Film Institute’s (AFI) FILMFEST 2016 presented by Audi.

screen-shot-2016-11-18-at-12-23-06-pmJackie is Chilean Director Pablo Larrain’s love letter about First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy in the days following the assassination of her husband, John Fitzgerald Kennedy (JFK).  Drawing extensively from a series of private letters between the First Lady, played by Oscar Award-winning actress, Natalie Portman and her Catholic priest, played by John Hurt, Larrain attempts to address what it was like for Jackie as she tries to cope with an overwhelming grief, tend to the psychological needs of her children and to create a legacy for her husband’s short-lived administration.

Portman skillfully channels the spirit of Jackie Kennedy. Larrain chose to recreate archival film clips with Portman. Having seen the original clips of the First Lady showcasing her masterful interior decorating of the White House, I believed Larrain had inserted the originals into the film. Only when the camera pushed in to a medium full frame was I able to discern the subject. It was Natalie Portman!

Several other scenes provided an astonishingly likeness as well. Most notably are the veiled widow walking in the funeral procession and the interview that would result in a Life magazine feature. Veteran stage and and film actor Billy Crudup, portrays the journalist (a dramatization of the four-hour interview Jackie had with journalist Theodore H. White on November 29th, 1963 that evoked the Camelot myth). Noah Oppenheim wrote the script. Greta Gerwig, currently one of Hollywood’s most sought after actresses, warmly portrays Nancy Tuckerman, the Kennedy’s Social Secretary. Peter Sarsgaard embodies Bobby Kennedy, the late President’s brother, protector and consoler of the First Lady. Last, but certainly not least, is Danish actor Caspar Phillipson as a spot-on JFK lookalike.

Most people know the story of the Kennedy assassination and some are familiar with the Kennedy Administration and the Camelot myth. What most people are not aware of is what a thirty-four year-old Jackie Kennedy experienced in the moments and days after the fateful day in Dallas and her need to secure her husband’s historical legacy. After watching Jackie, and seeing Mrs. Kennedy retrieve the portion of the President’s brain matter from the trunk of the convertible and place it back inside the gaping hole on the left side of his skull, I realized magnitude and scope of her love.

I believe this is what Larrain had in mind as he created Jackie. Intensely private, the world knew very little of Jackie Kennedy’s private life despite her immense popularity as a public figure. Photographed as much as almost any woman in the 20th century, Jackie emanated style and sophistication and evoked desire becoming known simply by her first name.

Larrain poses questions of how she must have felt in those days following the assassination. She became a queen without a crown. Her throne and her husband had been taken from her. Showing undaunted courage and concern for her husband’s legacy, she fought despite the challenges and obstacles placed in her way. Admittedly, most will probably never know exactly what was going through her mind and what feelings she was experiencing in their entirety during these days. Nevertheless, Larrain weaves together an extraordinary narrative that attempts to piece together a brief moment in time that became the genesis of Camelot and the Kennedy Administration. Highly recommended.

FILM CAPSULE: Sound City (Grohl, 2013): USA

Viewed during the Santa Barbara International Film Festival.

sound-city-2013-movie-free-download-direct-onlineReviewed by Larry Gleeson. Sound City, a documentary by Foo Fighter Dave Grohl and  former Nirvana band mate, delivers an upbeat, up-tempo roller coaster ride through the legendary Van Nuys, Calif. Studio City started in 1969 by Joe Gottfried and Tom Skeeter.

Studio City would come to serve as the launching pad for the commercial rise to stardom of Fleetwood Mac, Nirvana, Credence Clearwater Revivial, and Rick Springfield to name just a few and would come to its subsequent obsolescence as the digital age was ushered in with great fanfare. A vital point is made along the way that while yes music can be engineered solely from a software program it can’t allow for the soulful expression of the musicians who actually play musical instruments to create a product.

Sound City was a hole-in-the-wall studio that became home to legendary rock-n-roll bands from Bachman Turner Over Drive to grunge rockers Nirvana due in no small measure to a massive, hand-made, mixing board console, one of only four in the world. The sheer size and scope of the ‘Neve’ is impressive and, in some respects, it’s a major force of the film. I liken it to Kubrick’s monolith in his landmark film 2001: Space Odyssey. Those who touched the monolith evolved spiritually and, in my opinion, the same case can be made for those musicians who played together and were recorded with the Neve.

Those interviewed for the film often felt their time there was very special and that digitizing music lacks the more soulful, human approach to live studio recording with your band mates. It’s not to say that digitizing music is the Armageddon. It’s more to say that solely digitizing music sets it apart from the original source. The film touches lightly here. The more commonplace reaction is Mr. Grohl being full of himself telling the story of the Neve from his personal viewpoint and for not being a little more objective. But really, his story is history.

Grohl also recorded on the Neve with Nirvana and breathed life back into a decaying Sound City before it’s ultimate demise. He eventually purchased the Neve, restored it and invited musicians to come and play with his band, The Foo Fighters, including Sir Paul McCartney.

In some respects I felt privileged to sit and watch Grohl’s story of the Neve unfold. He used a plethora of archival material including rare footage, telling still photographs and present day testimonial from former Studio City employees and from rock legends that included Stevie Nicks, Mick Fleetwood and Neil Young. In addition, Springfield met his future wife there while others left a piece of their heart there.

And, along the way Grohl, provides some fundamental rock-n-roll basics about the drummer’s role as the backbone of any given band and the acoustical effects Sound City provided to accentuate this. The film closes with Grohl housing the Neve in his own studio jamming.

Curiously, an outtake comes across the screen with no sound with a memorial tribute. I felt this choice quite unnerving and called to mind the cut-throat win at all costs music business and the sometimes fatal outcomes for those who pursue the Muse. Warmly recommended especially for those who have a cursory interest in the music business and the history of rock-n-roll.