Best Comedies of the 21st Century?

You're going to be seeing a lot of "Best of the 21st Century lists" coming up in August because the BBC will be unveiling the poll they conducted with hundreds of film critics worldwide. It will stir up debate no doubt, but here's my take on it, but genre by genre. I decided to start with comedy.

1) "Borat"
2) "The 40 Year Old Virgin"
3) "Anchorman"
4) "Superbad"
5) "Bad Santa"
6) "Old School"
7) "Bridesmaids"
8) "Wedding Crashers"
9) "Step Brothers"
10) "Shaun of the Dead"
11) "Pineapple Express"
12) "21 Jump Street"

Interesting decade for the genre. A lot of Will Ferell. He basically changed the game, brought a lot of meta to comedy. "Borat" was the king though, that was the most political a comedy could get. It was about us, every laugh had to come with a sting. We knew there was racial intolerance out there, but Sacha Baron Cohen lays it bare for our eyes and shows  how real the problem really was.

Forget about "Jason Bourne" - "Indignation" and "Equity" deserve your attention.

Forget about "Jason Bourne." I'll give my two cents on that film in the days to come, but alas we don't really have kind words to say about it. I really had high hopes, but it just didn't work. It felt like a rush job instead of the potent provocation of the first three films. A greatest hits package of the first three films with none of the substance. I'm catching "Suicide Squad" on Thursday so maybe that'll shake up the rust, but I doubt it, the way it has been handled and hidden from critics is a bad clue as to the quality of the actual film.

One of the year's best movies has opened up in select theaters this week.

"Indignation" James Schamus’ directorial debut is a thing of beauty. Although this peculiar love story might be thought of on paper as “conventional” by some, the surprise is that it’s far from it. In fact, some of the movies breathtaking set pieces are so daringly imagined and produced. Based on Phillip Roth’s difficult, but brilliant novel Indignation concentrates on a Jewish student’s (Logan Lerman) sexual and cultural dissatisfaction of a society gone astray. The small Ohio college he decides to attend wakes him up in alarming ways, so does a troubled, attractive blonde played by the talented Gloria Gadon."

I caught Meera Menon's "Equity" at the Sundance Film Festival thispast January and it's a real gem. It opened up in select theaters around L.A. and N.Y.

"Meera Menon's Equity, think Margin Call but starring women and directed by one as well, was one of the very best surprises of the festival. Touted as "the first female-driven Wall Street film" it follows a senior investment banker -played by Breaking Bad's Anna Gunn- who becomes involved in a dangerous game of corporate backstabbing with the Wall Street elite. It's a nasty gem of a film that was luckily picked up by Sony Pictures Classics at the tail end of the festival."

15 great modern-day movies shot in Black & White

Since the 1960s, movies shot in black and white have practically become extinct. The number of films shot in black and white has decreased every successive decade since then. And yet, sometimes, a movie demands to be shot without color to capture a certain kind of mood or tone that color would otherwise fail to get. In the case of the following list, "modern-day" means anything produced after 1970, which is when the decline really started happening. The following 15 examples are further proof that black and white will never die, as long as there are directors and DP's out there willing to value and acknowledge its importance. 
Tim Burton's Ed Wood
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David Lynch's The Elephant Man
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Noah Baumbach' Frances Ha
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Joel Coen's The Man Who Wasn't There
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Alexander Payne's Nebraska
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Martin Scorsese's Raging Bull
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Steven Spielberg's Schindler's List
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Jim Jarmusch's Stranger Than Paradise

Woody Allen's Zelig

Peter Bogdanovich's The Last Picture Show
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Peter Bogdanovich's Paper Moon
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Mel Brooks' Young Frankenstein
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David Lynch's Eraserhead
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Woody Allen's Manhattan

Does something look "off" with Mel Gibson's upcoming "Hacksaw Ridge"?

You can saw whatever you want about Mel Gibson. but at the end of the day he was as charismatic as any Hollywood actor that came after him in the 80s and 90s and 2000s. Of course what he said to a police officer inebriated was a disgrace, but can we already get over it? When it comes to actors turned directors he's a keeper. He has directed three films that deserve your attention: "Braveheart," "Apocalypto" and, yes even, "The Passion of the Christ." He's proven with every film that he has acute eye for detail, developing a style of overtly realistic violence mixed with historically important stories. He may not be the most subtle of filmmakers, but he sure does know how to tell a story.

His latest is called "Hacksaw Ridge" starring Andrew Garfield costars with Vince Vaughn, Sam Worthington, Luke Bracey, Hugo Weaving, Ryan Corr, Teresa Palmer, Richard Pyros and Rachel Griffiths. Opening on 11.4.16.

After a couple of views of the trailer my opinion seems to be that they might be selling the wrong movie, or at least I hope so, because that trailer looked to me as a by-the-books, hollywood formulaic war movie. They must have, in all likelihood, "pimped-up" the film to look marketable enough. Am I wrong in being worried? This does come from a fan of Gibson's directing.

What happens when you mix George Lucas and Alfred Hitchcock?

George Lucas and Alfred Hitchcock might not have much in common, but that didn’t stop Fabrice Mathieu from concocting the brilliant homage “Darth by Darthwest.”

A mash-up of the Hitchcock’s classic 1959 movie “North By Northwest” and Lucas’ “Star Wars” this six-minute film tries to blend the iconic Star Warts imagery we’re all familiar with, most notably a TIE FIGHTER, C-3PO and the Millennium Falcon, with the now iconic scene of Carey Grant’s Roger O Thornhill running through the cornfield being chased by a plane.

Mathieu also opts for Bernard Herrmann’s immaculate score over John Williams’, good choice, and switches the American mid-west setting for Tatooine! The film opens with Grant waiting for a Bus on the planet as he watches Jawas and Sarlaccs pass hilariously pass him by. C-3PO shows up and then all hell breaks loose as the TIE fighter, replacing the original’s plane, chases down Thornhill through a cornfield.

No need to reveal what happens next, but suffice to say that Mathieu has really outdone himself here in terms of creative imagery and overall cleverness. It feels like something Hitchcock would have concocted had he delved into the science fiction genre.

"Pete's Dragon" is good, but ...

I caught up with "Pete's Dragon", oh I'd say a couple of weeks ago, and I have to say it really is such a well-made, beautifully rendered children's entertainment because, well, the director at work here is David Lowery who made the magnificent "Ain't Them Bodies A Saint." back in 2013, which turned out to be a really important film of the last 3 or so years. "Pete's Dragon" is obviously a slight step back for Lowery, but still a very charming movie.

I mean, in all honesty, there are no real ways to finance your own vision anymore. Directors are fucked at the moment in terms of creative freedom. All the millennial filmmakers that showed shades of greatness with an indie are being bought off left and right by Disney for their superhero, mass-marketed franchises. An empire is being built and they can afford to just buy out all these up and coming talent.

There was a line this producer said to me back at Sundance that I'll always remember: "all these filmmakers here think they can retain their creative freedom, even after a Sundance hit, but they eventually sell their soul to the devil. We're living tough times."

Possible #TIFF2016 title: Gavin O'Connor's "The Accountant" with Ben Affleck

Not appearing on the first slate of TIFF films, this curiously thought-out film looks to be a total mindfuck of the highest order. At first you think this is going to be Affleck's "A Beautiful Mind," I was wincing, but then it takes a complete 180 and shatters our expectations. O'Connor's last film was "Warrior," which is still, to this day, the best film about Mixed Martial Arts that I have ever seen.

#TIFF2016 announcement came with a few surprises

This mornings TIFF announcement came with a few neat surprises, but there were no key fall films from the likes of Ang Lee, Clint Eastwood, Terrence Malick,  Denzel Washington, and Martin Scorsese to be found. That was only the initial slate, a second slate will be announced later this month. These are the five surprises that happened with this morning's announcement:

Christopher Guest's "Mascots"
Who knew this one was brewing. Any film by Gueat is worthy of a watch. His best, A Mighty Wind, was released more than 13 years ago. I very much welcome a comedy to the fest lineup. Most of the titles are dire and dark, but a Guest movie usually celebrates the hidden joys of life. Will probably be key to try and fit this in my itinerary.

Rob Reiner's "LBJ"
Not too many people paid attention to even this movie's existence. With every Reiner film getting released I cross my fingers it'll be the start of a comeback. I mean this is the guy who gave us The Princess Bride, This Is Spinal Tap, Stand By Me, When Harry Met Sally and A Few Good Men, all considered classics today. He's been on the downwards since the mid-90s, but consider me interested in LBJ. He was a tremendously important president and it's nice to see s biopic happening.

Jonathan Demme's "JT + The Tennessee Kids"
Yes, it's a documentary. But, it's Demme. As good as those Neil Young docs have been its about time Demme uses his incredible talent at filming concert footage towards another artist. Because that artist is the highly talented Justin Timberlake the urge is irresistible to find out how the finished product will look like.

Jim Sheridan's "The Secret Scripture"
A vastly underrated filmmaker, Jim Sheridan still has the chops for the blue collar angst he tackled the peak of his career. Based on the popular book about the diary of a patient at a mental facility, the territory is familiar as Sheridan tackled the Irish penitentiary in "In the Name of the Father". Add Rooney Mara and I'm intrigued.

Marc Foster's "All I See is You"
Tell me you're not intrigued by the premise. A blind woman regains sight and discovers the secrets her husband has kept hidden from her all these years. Foster's track record is decent and he could have easily done another high budget blockbuster following his World War Z success, but no he has decided to go back to his roots. Blake Lively stars, but in all honesty I'm less concerned now that I've seen "The Shallows" and know she can act.

Vikram Gandhi's "Barry"
Sundance had "Southside By You" which focused of Barack and Michelle Obama's first date. It was a Linklater-esque type of affair. "Barry" is Vikram Gandhi's look at the President's college days. It features Ashley Judd, and "The Witch" breakout Anya Taylor-Joy. Not much is known beyond its premise, but rest assured after 2011's "Kumare" Gandhi might be ready for the big time. 

Garth Jennings' "Sing"
British actor-director Garth Jennings, whose 2007 debut “Son of Rambow” was praised at Sundance returns  A decade later with his follow-up “Sing”: an animated 3-D musical which features animal characters (including a koala voiced by Matthew McConaughey and his sheep pal voiced by John C. Reilly) who try to rescue their theater from closing. There's a pig named Rosita played Reese Witherspoon, if that doesn't excite you then I don't know what to tell you, but expect something special from Jennings.

Post-Morten: The McConaissance

I think we can all safely say that Matthew McConaughey’s much heralded “McConaissance” phase has hit a slight thud as of late: Gus Van Sant’s “Sea of Trees” was quite possibly the worst film to play Cannes 2015, meanwhile this summer’s Gary Ross-directed “Free State of Jones” was met with lukewarm reviews and completely vanished Oscar Buzz. All this to say that these are still admirable failures and continue to show the 46 year-old actor’s willingness to continue working with well-respected directors.
And we shall always remember that astonishing string of films McConaughey put out between 2011 and 2014. In that first year alone he delivered “The Lincoln Lawyer,” Richard Linklater’s “Bernie” and William Friedkin’s soon-to-be classic “Killer Joe.”
In 2012 “The Paperboy“ was such a far out, perplexing movie that it had critics booing at Cannes, but once it did come out it turned out that this wholly original Lee Daniels film was actually a pretty damn good, risk-taking and deliciously lurid B-Movie. Jeff Nichols’ “Mud“ and Steven Soderbergh’s “Magic Mike“ both followed suit and were critically acclaimed with critics raving about Mcconaughey’s acting chops.
2013 was the peak year. He earned an Oscar for “Dallas Buyers Club,“ was the lead character inHBO’s brilliant first season of “True Detective“ and then had one of the great cameos in cinema history in Martin Scorsese’s “The Wolf of Wall Street“ (cue the chest thumping).
Suffice to say this was one hell of a run, which ended with Christopher Nolan’s brilliant, flawed, ambitious “Interstellar” in 2014, and has us nostalgic for more of that rush of brilliance McConaughey in the years to come.
That run was proof that he was fed up with taking high paying roles in ludicrous romantic comedies aimed at a female crowd that just wanted to see his dashboard abs (“Sahara,” “Ghost of Girlfriends Past,” “How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days,” among many, many others). No, our boy wanted more than just that and we did as well, always knowing he had the talent to be exceptional. His effortless performance as Wooderson in Richard Linklater’s stoner classic “Dazed and Confused” was the highlight of that film, giving him hilarious one-liners, and a ludicrously dirty mustache to boot. Also we can never forget his Buddy Deeds in John Sayles indisputably great “Lone Star,” which ended up being a warm-up for his triumph in “Killer Joe.”
If you want to re-visit the “McConaissance“ without having to rewatch each and every one of the films mentioned then you’re in luck. Burger Fiction, in yet another one of their entertaining supercuts, have traced the evolution of Matthew McConaughey for us in visual terms. It’s enough to make you hope that the actor gets out of his current rut of films and produces another McConaissance classic. Up next for him is Stephen Gaghans “Gold which is building up Oscar buzz and is rumored for a possible slot at both TIFF and Telluride this fall. [Via OnePerfectShot]

DC`s last stand with the release of three trailers: Wonder Woman, Justice League and Doctor Strange

Batman vs Superman was such a catastrophe for DC movies that they should have gone back to the drawing board. But they didn't. They have decided to go on with all the remaining projects, and there are many left. Three of which have had their trailers unveiled this past week. Let us not forget also the damage control that Warner did by inviting press and bloggers to the set of Justice League last month. I heard it was a total shitshow with nothing, but ass-kissery and a few self-entitled bloggers trying to run the show. 

This looks interesting. For the most part. Gal Gadot can do no wrong in my books. She`s stunning, talented and probably the best casting for Wonder Woman, although I do fear her Israeli accent might get in the way of her character`s amazon-ness. It also seems like Pine is going to be the comedy of the film, a partner in crime that will lurk in the shadows and surely give way for lots of feminist themes at play here. I am not entirely on-board with this film yet, but it could make for a pleasant surprise, especially with a female director, Patty Jenkins, at the helm. 

Earlier I spoke about the Justice League set-visit as being part of the damage control WB had to make after Batman V Superman. Well, this trailer seems to be a somewhat coherent improvement in terms of humor, but the degenerate style Zack Snyder seems to bring to every one of his movies looks to be intact. I would not hold my breath for this film to be anything, but a marginal marketing product. I do like Ben Affleck`s decision to have a batman sport decent five o`clock shadowed scruff with the mask. 

Here`s the biggie for me. First thing you notice from the trailer is the great cast. Tilda Swinton, Benedict Cumberbatch and Mads Mickelson in a super hero movie is good enough for me to give it a chance. Problem is the director here is Scott Derrickson. Known for making very average horror films (The Exorcism of Emily Rose, The Day the Earth Stood Still, Deliver us From Evil, Sinister) I have no clue how this guy got the job. The trailer looks good and has an Inception-like vibe going with all of his playful imagery of tall skyscrapers and colliding worlds.

@FantasiaFest sleeper "The Love Witch"

The first thing that you notice about Anna Biller's "The Love Witch" is how strikingly beautiful a movie it is.  Shot on 35mm its look is inspired by 1960s sexploitation and Technicolor melodramas. It is sumptuous in its eye-popping photography filled with relentless color and incredibly impressive and precise costume design.

Its plot of a modern-day witch named Elaine (a very spicy hot Samantha Robinson) that relentlessly, but good-hardheartedly, concocts magical spells to get men to fall in love with her, can seem like a throwaway compared to the actual, eye-candy imagery Biller has created. You wouldn't be wrong, but what Biller is trying to create is a cinematic treatise very much akin to what Todd Haynes did with his Douglas Sirk inspired melodrama "Far From Heaven." The beautiful, luscious coilers are deceiving enough to make an audience believe that what they are seeing is total pastiche, but the underlying themes and resonances that lurk beneath tell a very different tale.

Elaine's Gothic, Victorian-inspired apartment is an over-the-top inspired treat. There are spell books and love potions being created all around the place. It makes for a hilariously messy environment, but one which subtly indicates the deranged mind of its titular character. She makes over-the-top potions, sprinkles them with absurd spells and then goes out to find the next victim in her deadly web. We never truly know if the spells actually work or if she just picks up all these hapless male souls because, well, she's quite easy on the eyes.

Most of the men Elaine meets are weak-minded fools that cannot handle the heavy, and proudly feminist image, that comes with dating this kooky witch. Her aim is to get the perfect man, but not without getting what she truly wants. She will use sex, just like Scarlett Johnanson's toxic UFO vixen all too easily did in "Under the Skin," to seduce her male partners and get to her ubiquitous goals. The sex scenes are ugly, misguided and completely awkward, purposely so, but they also end up revealing the true nature of many of its male characters. The sex brings out the hidden truths that the plasticized men she encounters have kept hidden until that very moment from her.

Newcomer Robinson is unusually impressive. She not only is perfect for the role with her provocatively good looks, but brings erotic, provocative, and never mean-spirited vibes to her character. She might be responsible for a few deaths, but Biller somehow finds a way to make Elaine likeable and not entirely responsible for the murders she has committed.

Robinson certainly looks the part with her great outfits and provocative blue eye make-up. Her performance is veers between the erotic and the outrageous.

It is no coincidence that "The Love Witch" feels like it was made in another era, in fact it is such a technical accomplishment that at times I truly thought I was watching something that was actually shot in the late 60s.  Much of the visual palette stems from the technicolor thriller genre made popular back in the late 60's early 70s. From the acting to the lighting to the compositions, Biller has pulled out quite the effort to authenticate her film and make it look, sound and feel like it was made in 1971. She even directly uses music from older Ennio Morricone's Italin giallo soundtracks such as "The Fifth Cord" and "A Lizard in a Woman's Skin."  The fact that Biller has stated that the film is supposed to be set in modern times, and we do happen to catch a few people talking in cell phones, is an accomplishment in itself because never does it feel like your in present time when 3watching the film.

And so, with all these technical accomplishments, "The Love Witch" does retain its feminist themes throughout. Biller explores female fantasy in the most diabolical of ways imaginable and gender politics are dissected in such an honest, but stinging way that it could infuriate some feminists with its truthful observations.  Biller proves to be the an auteur in the truest sense of the word: She directed, wrote, produced, edited the film and created many of the spectacular costumes and set decorations. She also, quite possibly, created a new cult classic. B

"The Unknown Girl" a Dardennes misfire

From IMDB:
"A doctor attempts to uncover the identity of a patient who died after she refused her treatment."

I remember being dead-tired at some point during my stay at Cannes, must have been mid-way, mostly due to the fact that my roommate over there would show up at 4am every morning drunk as a skunk and then proceed to be the loudest snorer I've ever encountered. Suffice to say that when it came the time for the 8:30am screening of the new Dardennes brothers opus "The Unknown Girl" I completely slept through the morning and woke up in panic that I missed the screening. I tried to not listen or hear any opinions of the film until I finally got a chance to see it on the last day of the fest, but suffice to say I couldn't avoid the disappointment that came out of post-screening from critics and bloggers alike. I ended up catching the film on the last day of the fest, when the programmers re-screen the entire competition, I wasn't impressed.

The Dardennes pretty much had a perfect track record until "The Unknown Girl". Their brand of cinema verite isn't groundbreaking, but it's forcefully powerful. They are experts at creating tension in the most minimalist of situations. "The Unknown Girl" felt like a greatest hits package instead of a new tale. This is the Dardennes in an almost redux paradox. Everything that happens in the film feels foreshadowed by their past movies. Sundance Selects has the U.S. distribution rights, but have opted for a 2017 release. The 113 minute cut I saw of the film at Cannes has now been shortened to a 106 minute cut. That says everything you need to know about this movie.

Summer Movie Season since 1998-

The rule is pretty simple, it has to be a big studio film. I decided to do this mini-project by looking back at every summer movie season since 1998. I picked the great, artful films that came out between May and August. The films had to a) be financed by a big studio system b) critically acclaimed or up for awards consideration.

1998: Bullworth, The Truman Show, Out of Sight, There`s Something About Mary, Saving Private Ryan

1999: South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut, The Blair Witch Project, Eyes Wide Shut, The Iron Giant, The Sixth Sense

2000: Gladiator and Chicken Run

2001: Moulin Rouge, Shrek, Artificial Intelligence: AI, The Others

2002: About A Boy, Spiderman, Insomnia, Road to Perdition, Minority Report, The Bourne Identity

2003: Finding Nemo, Seabiscuit

2004: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Spiderman 2, The Bourne Supremacy, Collateral, The Manchurian Candidate

2005: Cinderella Man, Batman Begins, War of the Worlds, The 40 Year-old Virgin, The Constant Gardener, Red Eye


: Ratatouille, The Bourne Ultimatum, Superbad,The Simpsons Movie, Hairspray

2008: Iron Man, WALL-E, The Dark Knight, Tropic Thunder, Vicki Cristina Barcelona, Hellboy II

2009: Up, Star Trek, Distrct 9, Public Enemies, Inglourious Basterds, Drag Me To Hell

2010: Toy Story 3, Inception

2011: Bridesmaids, Midnight in Paris, The Tree of Life, Super 8, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, The Help

2012: The Dark Knight Rises



2015: Mad Max: Fury Road, Inside Out, Straight Outta Compton

2016 is the big question mark right now as we have not really had anything of artistic value since the summer movie began. There will be those that say "Captain America: Civil War" is worthy and I will somewhat agree with that, but is that really art? Are we now in the phase where we consider a superhero movie that is meant as a major product placement as art?

With the surprising news that "The Founder" has been moved to December and "Star Trek Beyond" being an average movie, we have skimp options to save this terrible summer we are having, maybe the worst, most uninspiring summer movie season yet.

1) Jason Bourne
2) Pete's Dragon
3) Kubo and the Third String
4) War Dogs

Well, wasn't that lovely: Damien Chazelle's "La La Land" trailer

It is quite comforting knowing someone out there in the studio system, is actually, in all god's honesty, trying. No really, just attempting something fresh and wild. Risk-taking is at a full-on stop this year and it won't be getting any better in the next few years. Embrace, cherish and soak up this wonderful trailer.

My first thoughts on Jeff Nichols' "Loving"

"Loving" is a very delicate film about racial injustice in the 1950s. Now, just stop there, ponder how rare that is for a studio film. It's not grandiose nor does shove any melodrama in your face. The camera is still and watches as an interracial couple struggles to maintain composure and show restraint as authorities continuously try to break their union up. Most filmmakers would have shot the whole thing as one show-stopping scene after another with much dramatic fireworks and a hammering of the message. It is not the case here. Jeff Nichols' "Loving" is so subtle and restrained that you do fear many Oscar voters might not appreciate it as they should. We have been force-fed to like flashy, ultimately cinematic ways of telling a true story, but that's never how they always happen in real life. Some of the time history is made in the most mundane and dull of situations. Spielberg's "Lincoln" knew that and Jeff Nichols' "Loving" knows that as well.

A feminist "Ghostbusters" that could have been so much more

No, but really, Paul Feig's new "Ghostbusters" is not as bad as we might have expected from all the backlash, but not as good as it had the right to be.  The cast is mostly good, but I could have done without Melissa McCarthy who's a little too serious here as the leader of the gang. Kate McKinnon is the clear standout as complete weirdo Jillian Holtzmann, Kristen Wiig is her usual awkward self, and Leslie Jones does a great job with what is essentially a thinly written part.

The CGI-overkill in the last 30 or so minutes is unnecessary, when will studios learn their lesson after Man of Steel and Batman v Superman, that you should never overdo the destruction of a major metropolis because it becomes too over-the-top and frustrating to watch.  I think we're all sick and tired and not all that impressed anymore with CGI action, waiting for the next step in technology to knock our socks off, waiting ...

No, this could have been a solid movie, a feminist take on "Ghostbusters"! There are lots of nicely detailed, battle-of-the-sexes treats here, but not enough and not justified for such a silly, nonsensical movie that is a a remake of a 1984 film that wasn't necessarily met with positive approval upon its release, but made such tremendous box-office and benefited from Bill Murray's deadpan sense of humor that over time it became a mainstay for a mix of Bill Murray fans and cult movie fans.

I actually find McKinnon is as delightful to watch here as Murray was back in 1984. The SNL actress, best known for her spot-on Hilary Clinton, delivers her lines with such fresh abandon that I wish there was much more for her to chew on here. The screenplay is sadly not that funny, it's the actresses that try to make the best of their lines with their delivery. This is a 120 minute "Ghostbusters" remake with both spirited and dull moments. It's not the total failure some of the internet geeks might have you thinking it was, but there's not enough here to justify the budget and expectations.

And so summer 2016 continues its disastrous. Only "Captain America: Civil War" has proven to be both a box-office and critical force.


"Other People" or the usual cancer dramedy Sundance seems to be churning out every year

"The fest opened up with Chris Kelly’s "Other People" starring Jesse Plemons, and a never better Molly Shannon as a mother of three diagnosed with stage four terminal cancer. Kelly’s film is a heartfelt, yet uneven look at the ties that bind. Shannon’s performance shined most."

That's what I had to say about the film at Sundance and I don't really have much to add today. It's a measurable, well-done film that just never reaches the necessary heights. It probably stems from the fact that we've seen this kind of film so many times at the fest. What was once fresh and vital has turned into indie cliches and the kind of film Sundance should start programming less of. There were far worse films out there, but this kind of movies is just too "safe".

Nicolas Winding Refn has turned into a total cinematic enigma

Nicolas Winding Refn has turned into a total cinematic enigma. If his earlier films such as “Drive,” “Pusher,” and “Bronson” had critics on his side, his last two features have split the cinematic world in half and left many audience members in total and utter puzzlement.
Refn followed up “Drive,” his greatest critical and commercial triumph, with “Only God Forgives,” a very black, nearly abstract piece of work that came out as his own bloody, twisted version of Stephen Frears’ 1990 classic “The Grifters.” It was perverse art-action and again starred “Drive” lead Ryan Gosling. The visuals were tremendous, but the story left many cold. Boos were heard at Cannes. It only got worse when he followed up that film just this past year with “The Neon Demon,” a film that angered even more people with its cannibalistic, highly stylistic satirical jab at the fashion industry. Boos were again heard at Cannes, but Refn was unfazed, that it was “a film to penetrate your mind and absorb whatever you think it is, which is the essence of creativity.”
The 46-year-old director is as eccentric as they come. Yet that eccentricity lends itself very well in terms of the visuals Refn is able to create within his films. You can complain all you want about the artistic merits of “Only God Forgives” and “The Neon Demon,” but you can’t deny the visual eye candy and use of colors that infuse his most sumptuous images. When you realize that the man is color-blind, it becomes damn near fascinating.
His inability to see certain colors, more specifically midtones, makes for films with high contrast. If they’re not in high contrast, he can’t even see them! It does explain a lot about why his images are so appealing to the eye. “Drive” takes place at night and yet there is such color to his Los Angeles evening that you feel like you’re visiting an otherworldly place.

2015 starting to look like a pretty good movie year compared to this year's crop

1) Mad Max: Fury Road 2) Son of Saul 3) Carol 4) Ex Machina 5) It Follows 6) Tangerine 7) Inside Out 8) Victoria 9) The Hateful Eight 9) The Revenant 10) Amy 12) Star Wars: The Force Awakens 13) Steve Jobs 14) Heart of A Dog 15) The Tribe 16) Straight Outta Compton 17) Room 18) Mustang

Thoughts on Inarritu's cinema, more specifcally his visual style

In the last decade he's directed two Oscar-heralded movies ("Birdman" and "The Revenant"), but Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu has been making movies for almost two decades now. 

His unique visual style and grim subject matters have made an impact on cinema ever since his astonishing 2000 debut "Amores Perros" (translated to "Love is a Bitch.") He doesn't shy away from making you feel the suffering and emotional of his characters, and boy do they suffer: in "Biutiful" Uxbal (Javier Bardem) is a father of two, with a manic depressive wife, living in a crime-riden Barcelona, that finds out he has terminal cancer. In "21 Grams" Paul (Sean Penn) is a terminally ill mathematician that strikes a friendship with the grieving Cristina (Naomi Watts) who has just lost a child. "Babel" had a Japanese girl dealing with rejection, the death of her mother, and a disability and, of course, last year's "The Revenant" had an Oscar-winning Leonardo Dicaprio getting torturted, mauled, shot, frozen and stabbed. Welcome to Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's world where almost no one can escape the wrath of every day life. 

His focus on stark, honest, and frequently brutal side of humanity could be seen as ponderous or even pretentious by some, but Inarritu surrounded it all with an immaculate palette of visual wonder. The gritty, handheld filmmaking that invaded the first half of his career, alongside his four-film partnership with cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto ("Amores Perros," "21 Grams", "Babel" and "Bitutiful") conjured up images that were as ugly as they were beautiful. There was a titilating sense of out of controlness to his camera that lent itself exceptionally well to the content.of the story. His use of color during this time-period was very interesting, with a red-soaked imagery influenced by the magical realism of Latin American literature.  

Then came along "Birdman" and "The Revenant", but more importantly, his newly-formed partnership with cinematographer extraordinaire Emmanuel Lubezki. To say this enhanced the visual imagery that Inarritu could convey through his camera would be an understatement. Lubezki brought a whole new level of artistry to Inarritu's art with rhythmic long takes and surrealist imagery.  Their use of visual elements mixed with special FX created something horrifying, engaging, and kind of beautiful that also never felt forced.  What they created was a new language for cinema, one in which the cinematographer had as much of a role in the creative process as the director.

A well-crafted video edit of the work Inarritu has done these past 16 years was created by Vulgar Efendi Films. It juxtaposes the haunting beauty that comes with the Mexican-born director's work. It's a well-done summation and tribute to a filmmaker that continues to try and break boundaries with his craft and produce one artistic statement after another. 

Thoughts on Malick and how the "Voyage of Time" trailer landed with a bang!

I did suffer through Terrence Malick's "Knight of Cups", after one hour I really wanted mercy, and my final statement on that film is that it is an utter failure on all fronts except the cinematography by Lubeszki. It's a trifle that goes nowhere and yet panders to its audience in such unexpected ways. The self-congratulatory nature of Malick's hand here is disturbingly bad and after "To The Wonder", which was another unwatchable blunder, I think most of us are starting to get worried about Malick. Has he lost his touch? Well considering "Voyage of Time" has been pretty much in the books since 2011, or so, then there's a good chance it could still be very good. He only lost his way starting in 2012 + this looks more like a doc than a fiction film. 

Two versions will be released, one a 40 minute IMAX extravaganza narrated by Cate Blanchett, the other a feature length film shot on 35mm an narrated by Brad Pitt. 

He also has "Weightless" possibly coming out this fall, Wikipedia describes: Weightless is an upcoming American drama film written and directed by Terrence Malick, starring an ensemble cast including Ryan Gosling,Christian BaleNatalie PortmanRooney MaraCate BlanchettVal KilmerClifton Collins Jr.Benicio del Toro, and Michael Fassbender. The film will be released on October 21, 2016 by Broad Green Pictures. Two intersecting love triangles. Obsession and betrayal set against the music scene in Austin, Texas.

Judgement Day for 'Ghostbusters' remake might gave to wait until opening day

Are 'Ghostbusters' Reviews Embargoed Until Opening Day?

7 July 2016, 1:37 pm EDT By Robin Burks Tech Times

The above headline does not help the case for Paul Feig and his much negatively received, just based on trailers, Ghostbusters remake. If you have confidence in your film you will let critics publish their reviews. I missed the press screening that was happening tonight since I am nowhere near NY or L.A, but I do plan on checking it out next Monday. Ive never really been part of the haters that are trashing the film just based on the trailer alone. Thats just not fair. Give it a chance, Paul Feig has a good track record, especially with Melissa McCarthy (Bridesmaids, The Heat and Spy). I just hope this opening day embargo does not last and there is enough fate in the film to have the critics give their two cents about it come early next week. 

Sundance and Cannes gem `Captain Fantastic` is Wes Anderson-inspired fun

I`m surprised that I hadn`t written about this film after having caught it at Sundance and then at Cannes. It`s an entertaining film, nothing more nothing less and I`m perfectly fine with that. Matthew Ross, Gavin Belson in HBO`s Silicon Valley, won Un Certain Regard`s directing award at Cannes. That came as a real shocker to most people, including myself, who attended the ceremony.

Set against a Pacific Northwest backdrop, Captain Fantastic has a father -indelibly played by Viggo Mortensen- devoted to raising his six kids in nature, away from normal society, with his own brand of teachings which include a fervent physical and intellectual education.

The film makes honest and straightforward comments on controversial issues in today's society that are often taboo (mental illness, sex, religion) Ross seems to also be tackling parenting and the difficult choices that must be made in regards to raising children in today's society. That he has to reach towards some cliches and over-played cinematic trappings to get his point doesn`t deter from the fact that you are with him and his characters throughout their adventure, and it`s a kooky one, which feels like Little Miss Sunshine directed by Wes Anderson, but with a straining penchant for sentimentality and self-satisfaction.

What I liked most though is the fact that, until the few minutes, Ross doesn`t tell you which side to be on. Viggo`s father is well-meaning and seems to have raised his kids to be genuinely smart and efficient children (an obvious blow to the flawed American educational system).

15 worthy mid-year 2016 movies

10 Cloverfield Lane (Dan Trachtenberg)
A Bigger Splash (Luca Gudagnino)
Captain America: Civil War (Russo Brothers)
Everybody Wants Some!! (Richard Linklater)
Green Room (Jeremy Saulnier)
The Jungle Book (Jon Favreau)
Krisha (Edward Schults)
Mountains May Depart (Jia Zhangke)
The Nice Guys (Shane Black)
O.J: Made in America (Ezra Edelman)
Right Now, Wrong Then (Sang-soo Hong)
Sing Street (John Carney)
Weiner (Elyse Steinberg/Josh Kriegman)
The Witch (Robert Eggers)
Zootopia (Byron Howard and Rich Moore)

Michael Cimino's Legacy is divisive

It took a little time for me to write something about Cimino's passing mostly because I got married just a couple of days ago, but there was no way I wouldn't comment on it.

Cimino was indeed a polarizing cinematic figure. "The Deer Hunter", 1978's scathing indictment of Vietnam via "Russian Roulette", won Best Picture and is widely regarded as a landmark movie of the 1970s. It also was one of the first films to directly confront the Vietnam war. I always thought the film itself was exceptional not necessarily because of Cimino's direction, but the story itself. A game of "Russian Roulette" is any movie is going to up the tension and grab a person's attention. Then again, there are some stylistic choices in the film that work wonders and are all Cimino's doing.

He followed that up with "Heaven's Gate" which was the infamous movie that forced United Artists – the studio formed as a refuge for artists by Charlie Chaplin, D.W. Griffiths, and Mary Pickford – to declare bankruptcy. Michael Cimino was the hottest director in Hollywood after "The Deer Hunter" cleaned up the Oscars in 1978. Then "Heaven’s Gate" happened – another epic, romantic western with an original cut that ran several hours – whose backstage stories are legendary and too many to list, though a crew member once joked that half of the film’s enormous $40 million went to cocaine for the cast.

One of the stories goes that Cimino changed the locks of the editing room so that studio execs wouldn’t interfere. His erratically insane behavior concluded with a 325 minute cut of the film (that’s almost five and a half hours) that Cimino said was a 15 minute cut away from the final version. Even though the 219 minute “Director’s Cut” of the film has garnered a cult following in recent years, the 149 minute cut that was finally released in 1981 garnered terrible reviews and destroyed United Artists.

Before "Heaven's Gate" Hollywood was on a roll  in the 1970s with producers granting unlimited artistic immunity to film directors and classic after classic being released from 1970-1979. When "Heaven's Gate" got released, and the horror stories came out, Hollywood would changed forever and refuse to ever trust filmmakers again with the final cut.

Cimino was a capable filmmaker that did what he could to follow his artistic muse, but in most cases it just didn't work. "The Year of the Dragon" is an exception and should definitely be checked out, ditto "The Deer Hunter", but I find Cimino's reputation will likely be that of a filmmaker that ended the maverick 70s. bankrupted an entire studio and could never match the brilliance of "The Deer Hunter" plus he only got weirder by the decade with abysmal plastic surgery procedures and bullying behavior on-set.

The BFG is another Summer 2016 tanker

Are we surprised? The tone of summer 2016 seems to be that everything and anything must fail, with the exception of "Finding Dory" and "Captain America: Civil War", "The BFG" is another casualty. I saw the film in May at Cannes and the reaction was middling enough that you knew something like this was going to happen. I'm not a Spielberg hater, I'm actually quite the opposite. I worship the streak that he was on from 1998- with "Saving Private Ryan", "A.I.", "Minority Report", "Catch Me If You Can", "Munich" and "War of the Worlds" that pretty much sealed it for me that this man was an auteur (notice I didn't put "The Terminal" which is the only misfire of this timespan. Even though each film was different in story and setting he still maintained the themes and styles throughout this run of eclectic cinema.

This is my 3/5 review of "The BFG" -

"It’s a moment etched in Cannes history. Steven Spielberg’s "E.T." premiering in 1982 as the closing night film, the famous bike ride to the moon sequence occurring and the entire audience firing up their lighters in the dark. Goosebumps. Any Cinephile wishes they could have been there for that goosebumps-worthy moment. That was then, this is now.

Spielberg’s "The BFG"  got its world première here at Cannes just a couple of hours ago. The lineup to get into the 11:45 am screening, at the famous Grand Theatre Lumiere, was the biggest the fest has seen thus far, but not all got in. Those that did get a chance to catch a screening, saw a film that will only come out on July 1st. Adapting Roal Dahl’s famous children’s book, Spielberg seems to be at home in the first few scenes presenting us Ruby Barnhill as orphan Sophie, who gets snatched away by a Big Friendly Giant (Mark Rylance). The set-up is all money encompassing the camera techniques and use of music that the famous director is so well-known for.
Things get a bit rocky once Sophie catches a glimpse of the BFG and, worried she might tattle-tale his existence, he forces her to come with him to his homeland. The ensuing scenes are rocky, as they try to forcefully explain the do’s and don’ts of the BFG’s homeland and his passion for dream-making. That part of the film could have easily been trimmed down in half, but Spielberg is just too in love with the visually colorful world he’s created and doesn’t let go. Things do get a bit better in the mid-way mark as the action picks up with Sophie and the BFG facing mean, hungry giants and then having to go visit-no joke-the Queen of England.

It’s all good-natured fun and if "The BFG" didn’t have Spielberg at the helm, it might have garnered far more enthusiastic words from this critic. It is an adamantly well-done action adventure yarn that boasts top-notch special effects and real heart, but it’s Spielberg and it’s Cannes and expectations are too high. The film is no classic, but it’s also no "Hook", Spielberg has matured and leaned out his errors since the time of his misbegotten 1991 film."

Thoughts on "Sully" Dir. by Clint Eastwood and starring Tom Hanks

We'll have to wait until September 9th to watch Clint Eastwood's Sully, I presume it stands a good shot at being chosen for the Telluride film festival. The date is too close to TIFF's opener on the 8th to really get into that fest. Eastwood has been very streaky of late. He had a phenomenal phase between 2003-2008 where he just killed it with classic after classic ("Mystic River", "Million Dollar Baby", "Letters From Iwo Jima", "Changeling", "Gran Torino") then he went on a bit of a rut after that, I mean what else do you call "Invictus", "Hereafter", "J. Edgar" and "Jersey Boys". It sucks, because we all love him, but he lost his touch. His Oscar-nominated "American Sniper" was a good indicator that he still had it in him though. Forget all about the Left vs Right debate that surrounded the movie, that was just a damn fine movie about war and its PTSD effect on the soldiers.

The story of American pilot "Sully" Sullenberger, who landed the troubled US Airways Flight 1549 full of passengers on the Hudson River on January 15, 2009, is well known and was one of those feel-good stories that really just made you happy that something good actually happened in the news. Sully is a hero, he saved many lives on that day, but is it enough to make a feature-length movie out of it? Well, I think, judging by the trailer, that Eastwood's focus will very much be on the aftermath investigation and the backlash that occurred on Sullenberger. Supposedly, and I don't know if the film actually touches on this, Sullenberger's pension benefits were terminated just a month after the event and his salary cut by more than 40 percent. Supposedly airlines were hiring less experienced, but cheaper pilots and were cutting down on the Sully types. Now THAT could definitely make for an interesting movie if Eastwood can delve into this part of the aftermath.