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Straight Outta Compton (2015)
F. Gary Gray's gift to the world and N.W.A.
"It's the film of my generation." I uttered that exact phrase to my wife following what was one of the most vibrant experiences in a theater in some time. An undeniable love letter to one of the most influential groups in rap music history, F. Gary Gray's "Straight Outta Compton" is a vivacious and powerfully timely piece that stands as the single best film of the year thus far. I can't recall a more prolific biopic that institutes its own sensibilities about its subjects with such adoration and respect. Acknowledging the absence of certain events in the lives of Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, and Easy E, and simply approaching the film as a piece of fiction, the movie is damn near flawless.
Telling the story of the group NWA, as they emerge from the mean streets of Compton in Los Angeles, California in the mid-1980s and revolutionizes Hip Hop culture with their music and tales about life in the hood.
This is one of the best examples of a film where three leads are treated with equal focus and respect. Each performer, O'Shea Jackson, Jr. (portraying Ice Cube), Jason Mitchell (portraying Easy E), and Corey Hawkins (portraying Dr. Dre.) all deliver invigorating performances. Jackson, Jr., the real-life son of Ice Cube, lives inside the character, delivering lines of powerful meaning. Mitchell finds his stride early in the film, executing a charisma and charm that few actors can deliver in a film such as this. Oscar-worthy is too broad a term to describe his abilities in the film, it's downright sensational and something I'm sure to remember for some time. Hawkins grows into the role as each minute progresses, before launching himself into the psyche of Dr. Dre and dissolving into the man. Academy Award nominee Paul Giamatti follows the energy and arc of his character with determination and presents another strong performance for his résumé. Another strong standout is R. Marcos Taylor as Suge Knight, the closest thing to a conventional movie villain but an embodiment of greed and aggression.
"Straight Outta Compton" is so much more than a biopic. It's a full- on musical epic, a character study that isn't shy about what it knows and what it decides to show its audience. The music is at the core, but the lives and message are what really drive the movie. Looking back at films like "Selma," a film that captured the time so perfectly and effortlessly, Gray's film manages to create its own defining staples in our nation's history. It's honest about the truth of the streets. As someone who grew up in both the Bronx and Jersey City, two urban cities with its own fair share of hardships (and in no way comparing either to Compton, CA), I appreciated everything that the film chose to show and say. The hunger for money and acceptance, or the ill-fitting look of a man from the ghetto who sits in a house that is larger than anything he could have ever dreamed. The script and story by Jonathan Herman, Andrea Berloff, S. Leigh Savidge, and Alan Wenkus is littered with fantastic narrative elements and raw projections of these men and who they were/are.
Gray's film is not just an acting and storytelling showcase, it's also one of the technical marvels of the year. Cinematographer Matthew Libatique, Oscar-nominee for "Black Swan," gives a polished and engaging feel to every scene he shoots. His decisions about framing either an emotional moment or a light chuckle for the audience to indulge, is simple mesmerizing. Editors Billy Fox and Michael Tronick take 147 minutes of epic storytelling, and never let up for a second. I was involved in every scene, every frame, and every trait that Gray's film had to offer. Composer Joseph Trapenese (another Jersey City native!) takes his opportunities well to inject a swell of sentimentality and passion when the moment calls for it. You don't expect a composer to shine in a film about a music group yet he does tremendously.
This is film is not for everyone. I'd be hard-pressed to recommend this film to many people unless I was sure about what films they typically like. It's vulgar yet genuine, and graphic yet sensitive. The music takes over your soul though. I've been playing N.W.A. music the entire time I've been writing this, letting the lyrics and beats take on a brand new meaning because of Gray's masterpiece. And that's exactly what the film is...a masterpiece. A film that needs to be considered by not just awards, but by all who love daring filmmaking.
"Straight Outta Compton" is distributed by Universal Pictures and is currently in theaters.
'Trainwreck' makes a star of Schumer but also John Cena and LeBron James
The comedic brilliance of female actresses is no secret to the industry. People like Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, even veterans like Lily Tomlin and Meryl Streep have demonstrated their comfort in a genre that is dominated by slapstick chubby guys and constant flushing bowel movements. Writer and performer Amy Schumer joins the élite list with her work in Judd Apatow's "Trainwreck." In the funniest film of the year so far, Schumer not only magnifies a hilarious performance with sharp, fearless writing, but successfully inserts beats of dramatic moments that both feel real and honest in today's thirty-something generation.
"Trainwreck" tells the story of 'Amy,' (Schumer) a thirty-something journalist that has sworn off monogamy. Night after night, she indulges in alcohol, marijuana, and the frequent company of a man. Things change dramatically when she's assigned to profile a sports doctor named Aaron (played by Bill Hader). Along with Aaron's barrage of professional athlete friends and celebrities (LeBron James and Matthew Broderick to name a few), the journey of their very awkward and new relationship is put to the test, along with the influences of Amy's sister Kim (played by Brie Larson) and ailing father Gordon (played by Colin Quinn).
This very well could be Judd Apatow's best movie ever. When he's taken on raunchy comedies with heart ("The 40-Year-Old-Virgin"), magic tends to happen, especially in his lead actor's portrayals of the characters. Since 2005's hit-comedy, Apatow has come up short in many regards with films like "Knocked Up," "Funny People," and "This is 40." All respectable in their own bodies but either overlong, overblown, or over zealous for its own liking. In "Trainwreck," what normally feels like 30 minutes too much of on the nose direction and dialogue, only feels about 10 minutes. There's the very apparent and typical Apatow hump felt in the middle of the film but the direction that the script takes, in allowing its central characters to exist and interact with other people within their world is refreshingly positive. Apatow has a handle on the story he wants to tell, allowing the location of New York to be a fluid, real presence, echoing at times something of a Woody Allen picture. It's his single most impressive outing yet in the director's chair.
The star through and through is actress and writer Amy Schumer. A staple of Comedy Central with her uproariously hilarious "Inside Amy Schumer," the 33-year-old comedian fascinates in her vision of relationships and the pitfalls that come to them. Raw and honest, Schumer fixates on the male psyche from the female perspective, bringing to light the questions that constantly run through gender opposition and perception. Beyond the thematic elements captured, Schumer's creation of magnificent supporting characters should be applauded by anyone who wants to be a screenwriter. Though it should be noted, some of the behaviors exhibited by them at times are a bit too far-fetched, even for a comedy such as this, but nonetheless, it works. As a matter of fact, in many instances, they steal the show. AMPAS writing branch, please don't ignore.
LeBron James and John Cena in particular are comic gold. James' stoic and vivacious expressions are things that people like Michael Strahan wish they could inhabit. He dives into a role, which is just himself, and turns it on its head in a real and ridiculous way. I loved him. John Cena's sensitive and vibrant interpretation of a man desperate for a connection, is some of the film's best moments. Every frame he shared was completely memorable. Please do more movies like this. As a matter of fact, can we get a "This is 40" spin-off of his character please?
Brie Larson adds a dramatic and serious element to the film that is sorely needed and shows once again that she's a talent that is only getting better as the days pass. As Amy's father, Colin Quinn's dour yet whimsical outlook on life is a welcomed addition to the film. Tilda Swinton shines as the guttural and foul-mouthed Dianna while Vanessa Bayer has the time of her life as the ditsy and naive Nikki. We even get an amusing interaction with the clever Ezra Miller. Dare I say that is a wonderful candidate for the SAG Ensemble award? Damn right I will. An inspired and deserving choice this one would be.
As the love interest Aaron, Bill Hader, whose resume already sings with stints on "Saturday Night Live" and "The Skeleton Twins," plays it pretty straight, and in many ways is the only believable character in the whole story. When everything around you is so outrageous, your normalcy can stick out like a sore thumb. However, Hader rises to the occasion with a thoughtful performance that will have many guys saying, "that's me in my relationship." Breaking news, Dude, it probably isn't.
Mixed with a relationship intervention, a one-on-one basketball game, an S&M introduction, girl time on the toilet, and a dance sequence that the MTV Movie Awards would be stupid to omit from any lineup come next year, "Trainwreck" does most of the things it sets out to do, while invigorating and entrancing many of us into the world of Amy Schumer. It's a great world to live in. Your move Golden Globes!
Read more @ The Awards Circuit (http://www.awardscircuit.com)
Inside Out (2015)
In the Top-Tier of Pixar's Already Stunning List of Features
The buzz has been huge for Pixar's latest venture about the mind of a little girl and the emotions that live within her. Writer/directors Pete Docter and Ronaldo del Carmen, along with co-scribes Meg LeFauve and Josh Cooley create a film with the most simple and authentic concept, and turns it into a methodical, moving, and layered story with so many different themes to indulge. Though there is a minor element to the film that leaves you a bit cold, "Inside Out" is clearly successful in its approach and just about everything you want in a family film this time of year.
"Inside Out" tells the story of Riley, an eleven-year-old girl whose family moves from Minnesota to San Francisco. In her mind live five real, and relatable feelings: Joy, Sadness, Fear, Disgust, and Anger. When Joy and Sadness accidentally are thrown into the land of Riley's long-term memories, Riley undergoes a barrage of emotions that are affecting her relationships with family, friends, and the things she loves. Now, Joy and Sadness must get back to her core command in order to restore Riley's feelings and relationships.
Teamed with the voice talents of Amy Poehler ( who plays "Joy"), Phyllis Smith (who plays "Sadness"), Bill Hader (who plays "Fear"), Lewis Black (who plays "Anger"), and Mindy Kaling (who plays "Disgust"), Pixar's joyful and moving animated feature presents equal parts of humor and tears. A fascinating deconstruction of the mind of a child, and the changes they endure along the way. The subject matter is among Pixar's most ambitious and their most impressive since "WALL-E."
What shines bright is the stunning animation on screen. A beautiful array of colors, just hypnotizing to the eyes as "Joy" and "Sadness" venture off into different parts of Riley's mind. I'd say this is definitely among Pixar's most alluring and aesthetically beautiful films they've ever created.
As we've come to expect from an Oscar-winning composer like Michael Giacchino, the score for "Inside Out" is subtly impeccable. Among his most reserved compositions, Giacchino takes a back seat to the story and lets the film do its work through imagery and narration.
Presenting another key reason for a Voice Work Oscar to be created, both Poehler and Smith are downright magnificent in two of the year's finest performances. Poehler's Joy anchors the film with a glaze of sweetness, and when called upon, will break your heart with epic emotions. Smith's Sadness is a devastating but truly compelling creation, as she bridges our thoughts through tears and loss. Those two will be putting your tearducts to work and in overdrive in several moments. This is another shining example of a female-driven feature that is just as enjoyable, if not more, than any other male protagonist in films today. Film producers need to start taking notice of the slate of successes this year and what they need to do change the landscape.
Where the film doesn't completely connect is in its supporting characters, in particular Anger and Disgust. With no fault going to the sensational voice work of Lewis Black and Mindy Kaling, the narrative creation of their place in the story doesn't seem to quite jive. "Anger" is a simple emotion to portray, but I minor found inconsistencies in his character's actions that were noticeable. "Disgust," which probably would have been better off being called "Sarcasm" just didn't seem like a core emotion that I think exists in the mind of an eleven year old girl. While I think "Disgust" is something that the younger minds can easily understand, I think a different direction may have been needed for her inclusion. Other players like Bill Hader, Diane Lane (who plays Mom), and Kyle MacLachlan (who plays Dad) are strongly assembled. Special shout out to Kaitlyn Dias, who voices Riley, is vivaciously real in each delivery and each line.
With no shortage of tears for the adults, and big laughs for the kids, "Inside Out" fits firmly in the top-tier of Pixar's most vibrant pictures. An echo of love and vulnerability, the feature is gorgeously inventive and passionately executed. A fine selection for all to enjoy, no matter what age. Your frontrunner for the Animated Feature Oscar for 2015 has arrived.
In addition, the Pixar short "Lava" is stunningly delightful and powerfully engaging. Likely another contender for an Animated Short Academy Award.
Read more @ The Awards Circuit (http://www.awardscircuit.com)
Embodies an astonishing performance from Olivia Wilde
One of our few female Cinematographers Reed Morano steps behind the camera in a different way to make her directorial debut on "Meadowland," written by Chris Rossi in his screen writing debut. Starring Olivia Wilde and Luke Wilson, the film tells the story of Sarah and Phil, a couple who suffer an unimaginable loss and deal with the grief, loss, and hope in two completely different ways. Phil's own moral compass is challenged while Sarah begins to deteriorate, falling deeper into herself and losing all hopes of coming back. "Meadowland" is a methodical and at times very compelling film that presents an intimate portrait of grief and hopelessness.
Reed Morano hawks back to similar feels of films like "Shame," capturing a long shot within a New York street or "Half Nelson," deconstructing the mind of a struggling educator with a student in need of their own guidance. Morano frames the film spectacularly, as you could expect no less from the woman who shot "Kill Your Darlings" and "Frozen River." She appeals to our sensibilities as humans, and puts forth authentic reactions and behaviors of two human beings that can't imagine a world that their presently abound. That's also thanks to the palpable tension and drama set by scribe Rossi. These are two of the strongest debuts by a writer and director team seen in quite some time.
Challenging Jessica Biel ("Bleeding Heart") as our Hollywood hot girl taking on an indie film and knocking it out of the park at Tribeca, Olivia Wilde is electrifying. Standing out in her own way in films like "Her" and "Rush," Wilde finds her niche, accurately portraying a mother on the verge of breaking down but desperately searching for something to keep her afloat. Wilde delivers her finest acting performance of her career yet and is simply astonishing. There's so much that Wilde reveals in subtle moments of silence, whether its watching "Wheel of Fortune," or observing a boy struggling to make friends, she keeps things bubbled to the brim without spilling over. A tremendous and extraordinary actress has emerged.
In one of his most serious and heartbreaking roles, Luke Wilson surprises as the effective Paul. He internalizes much of the grief that lives within his veins and in certain moments, unleashes them but not in the stereotypical bombastic manner in which you'd expect. It's a real and intelligent portrayal, devoid of happy endings and clichéd heroism.
John Leguizamo is taking on an indie market again and its fantastic to see. Building even more excitement for a career post-Mad Men, Elisabeth Moss is superb in a brief role that should have been expanded beyond what was given. Returning to his roots, Giovanni Ribisi excelled in smaller films until Seth MacFarlane got his claws on him for TV and "Ted" (which admittedly he's hilarious in). As Tim, Paul's drug-recovering brother, Ribisi begins to revive the talents that made him so amazing in his early years of his career. In smaller roles, Mark Feuerstein, Merritt Wever, and Juno Temple all get their moment.
"Meadowland" is a fascinating piece, sometimes subtle in the way it presents its material, other times bombastic all leading to a finale that speaks multiple volumes about our own innocence. It's a film that will hopefully find a home with someone caring enough to nurture it into the right audiences.
Jurassic World (2015)
All Bark and No Bite
Read more @ AwardsCircuit.com (http://www.awardscircuit.com) Well let's start with the obvious. If you never saw "Jurassic Park" or "The Lost World" and "Jurassic Park III" is your benchmark for the dinosaur franchise, then you'll likely really like "Jurassic World." If you've seen all of them, then you have a glimmer of hope in me saying that it's not as bad as "Jurassic Park III" but that doesn't say much.
Putting the dinosaurs in the driver's seat with the humans in the back, it's as if Amblin Entertainment wanted to make their own version of the "Avengers," bringing all the vicious dinosaurs together to communicate, team together, and take on a new, "badder" villain that is sure to entertainment young adolescents but not anyone who embodies logic and sense.
Director Colin Trevorrow has a respect for the 1993 blockbuster that literally changed the visual effects landscape forever. There are little homages to the original, but "Jurassic World" begins a new story in the quest to re-create the extinct species. Finally opening up to the public, the Jurassic World theme park is now a resort destination for people all around the globe. Founder John Hammond (who was played by the late Richard Attenborough in the original) has passed on and left it to Mr. Masrani (played by Irrfan Kahn). With the help of his overambitious vice president (played by Bryce Dallas Howard) and Dr. Henry Wu (played by BD Wong reprising his role), they have created a new genetic hybrid to excite the general public again. Of course, things go wrong. Don't worry Chris Pratt is there to save the day and he'll figure everything out just by looking at the dinosaurs.
Ridiculous. That's all I could say during several instances throughout. Velociraptors are communicating with humans, in a way that doesn't seem feasibly possible. Anyone familiar with the horror franchise "Puppet Master" from the 80's and 90's might remember that the little killer dolls were scary as hell for the first couple of movies. They struck fear into those who watched until the franchise decided that they needed to become the good guys. That's what scribes Trevorrow, Amanda Silver, Rick Jaffa, and Derek Connolly bring to the table. The dinosaurs are fighting with us against other dinosaurs and then are corrupted to fight with the dinosaurs now against us and then have an epiphany .that they are one of us .to fight the dinosaurs again. There is literally a scene in which the velociraptor nudges his head to a human pretty much saying, "I got this." Not sure if I wanted to laugh or cry.
It's not all bad. There are definite instances of fun, and for a casual movie-goer, this summer blockbuster will surely suffice. If you lower your expectations, just see it for what it is, then "Jurassic World" can be wholeheartedly satisfying. The aerial shots of the park are surely impressive. Jake Johnson is terrific comic relief in the best ways and Vincent D'Onofrio is a sleazy, money hungry thug that will set plans in motion for more films in the franchise. Little girls might even find their new teen hunk in the innocent Ty Simpkins or the very awkwardly horny Nick Robinson.
For a franchise that re-defined visual effects, the film is a green screen nightmare. Indominus Rex, the new dinosaur hybrid definitely received the lion's share of the dollars spent on CGI. Its skin, facial expressions, and roar are on point. Everything else around him sadly is not. Hopefully they spend just as much time on ALL the animals next time around.
"Jurassic World" is silly, but I think there's still room for some magic from the once dynamite franchise. The original cast's story lines offer enough material to bridge their way into this new world. Where's Lex and Tim now? Maybe they're activists against the park? Nostalgia can be an easy and lazy way out as we've seen with other sequels/reboots but this is one that I think calls for it. I think "Jurassic World" has places to go from here. I hope the studio finds its way with it.
Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
George Miller's reboot is full of action, technical marvels, and a badass performance in Charlize Theron...
Read more @ The Awards Circuit (http://www.awardscircuit.com)
The slickest, coolest ride you can take this year has arrived in the form of George Miller's "Mad Max: Fury Road" starring the talented Tom Hardy and the impeccably magnificent Charlize Theron. A reboot that blows every aspect of the original away with stunning cinematography by John Seale, luscious production design by Colin Gibson, and the most vivacious score of the year so far by Junkie XL. "Mad Max" kicks ass and takes names.
As action-packed and lively as "Mad Max" is in its gargantuan shell of fire and music, there are some shortcomings that Miller's film exhibits. From a narrative standpoint, it presents some of the most surprising and endearing female characters seen in some time. Everything about the women, particularly Oscar-winner Theron, is excitingly refreshing. You come to think that the title of the film should have been called "Furiosa" rather than "Mad Max." "Max" feels completely secondary to everything that's going on around him. He doesn't envelope the same presence that Mel Gibson's character did in the original, and that's both a positive and a negative. Is it intentional or is the far superior and interesting work of its female heroins just easier for an audience member to latch onto. The script by Miller, Brendan McCarthy, and Nick Lathouris is rapidly inconsistent in the film's first 30 minutes. With no clear directives or plot devices, it almost comes off as a road trip movie with no set destination, at least in the first quarter. Once the speed picks up, boy does it just thrust you from your seat. There are also some abrupt and sharp turns from explosions to emotions that don't exactly feel natural. There was a time or two that I rolled my eyes at certain attempts of emotional reaction.
Academy Award winner John Seale, who has continued to explore his narrative lenses in his career, takes on a new world of artistic capture. He makes the viewer a passenger and an active member of the action at hand. The sound team rises to the occasion in this post-apocalyptic world of gears, guns, and fire. The greatest achievement of the film's psychedelic roller coaster is the potent and passionate music of Junkie XL, whose previous scores on films like "300: Rise of an Empire" and "Divergent" could have never hinted at the masterpiece composition he would create for George Miller. The score echoes past works from Bernard Herrmann ("Psycho" in particular) and Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. It'll be a travesty if at bare minimum, the film isn't recognized for Best Original Score at next year's Oscars.
There have been rumors that this is Charlize Theron's version of Ripley in "Aliens." While the comparison is somewhat apt, I find it more in line with someone like Linda Hamilton in "Terminator 2: Judgment Day." "Furiosa" is Sarah Connor reincarnated into a one- handed death machine, and she's freaking awesome. It's the badass performance of the year, perhaps the last few years from an action star. A performance that hasn't highlighted her abilities as an actress this well since maybe "Monster." As the villainous "Immortan Joe," Hugh Keays-Byrne dominates with stature and aura that's palpable in nearly every scene he inhabits. He isn't afforded many opportunities to stretch out the boundaries of his Bane-like mask and become intimate with the viewer. Nicholas Hoult maintains a fun, comedic vine that slowly wraps around you as his story progresses. Finally, Tom Hardy is as cool as ever. This guy makes it look so easy to just be a part of something and blend into a canvas such as this. As mentioned before, he's surprisingly secondary to the story but what he does get a chance to offer is vividly real.
Seeing the film in 3D didn't offer anything more than a few dizzy spells from some shaky camera syndrome. It's another example of 3D being utilized more as a gimmick, and not an additional asset. Admittedly, I'm not the hugest fan of 3D films with the exception of few I've encountered. I say save the 3 extra dollars and see it on regular full-size screen experience. It will more than suffice.
From a summer blockbuster standpoint, you have to move "Avengers: Age of Ultron" and "Furious 7" aside to make way for something that stands on more of solid foundation of action storytelling. "Mad Max: Fury Road" is an audacious and visually striking endeavor that is sure to stand out all year in some capacity. A technical marvel. I'd be excited to see where they'll bring the story from here. A franchise that has been successfully rebooted. Good job Hollywood.
Henry Hobson's emotional zombie film is surprisingly captivating...
2015 TRIBECA FILM FESTIVAL: Zombies have been all the craze for quite sometime with shows like "The Walking Dead" and films like "World War Z" dominating the box office. I've never been such a fan of the genre as something about the undead just hunting on human flesh never seemed appealing. In Henry Hobson's "Maggie," where he recruits Arnold Schwarzenegger and Academy Award nominee Abigail Breslin as a father- daughter pair that spend the final days together before the young Maggie transforms into a zombie is one of the more compelling works on the genre seen yet.
Charismatic and truly very moving at times, it's surprising to see where debut screenwriter John Scott 3 brings this compassionate tale. We're introduced to Maggie as her father Wade, just after finds her after a two-week search. She's brought to their farm home where her step-mother Caroline (played by Joely Richardson) and her two younger siblings reside. As Maggie's transformation is sure to become erratic and certain, the entire family sits on the edge as their beloved daughter deals with not only her changing self, but addressing the surroundings of her friends and a future that is now to never be.
In his most reserved and accessible performances of his career, Arnold Schwarzenegger proves what happens when you work with some of the most talented people in the business for decades. You're surely to pick up some of their ticks and beats. Internalized as any performance seen by an actor, Schwarzenegger digs deep to show the soul of a broken man, helpless against a virus that is taking away his most precious gift. In addition, he fights for his daughter's right to live out her final days from the local authorities who believe she must go to quarantine, where the infected are put to death. It's a shocking display of emotion from the former governor of California in what will surely be a talking piece of many following a viewing.
Oscar-nominee Abigail Breslin truly is a talent. "Zombieland," which many will think of based on themes, kept her at an arm's distance in terms of allowing the environment to reveal itself through her actions. In other zombie films and TV shows, the ongoing theme and narrative is survival. "Maggie" takes it in a different direction. You see the deterioration of not just the person's body, but their hopes and dreams. Breslin displays the broken heart of a girl who sees her former boyfriend get taken away despite pleading with his father to stay just one more day. You see the realization of her new self in the behaviors she acquires along the way. And most importantly, and probably the most heartbreaking, is in the final interactions with her friends and in the truth of a future that will never come. Breslin shines like no other. It's happy to see her stretching her acting capabilities at this point in her career.
The technical traits of "Maggie" are spot on for the most part thanks to director Hobson. In his feature directorial debut, Hobson hones in on the tone of an emotional drama, not a horror film with something extra to offer. I think back to something like M. Night Shymalan's "The Sixth Sense" when the thrill factor was secondary to its story and characters. Hobson captures most of those things. Cinematographer Lukas Ettlin paints the canvas beautifully as we've seen in other efforts like "The Lincoln Lawyer" and TV's "Black Sails."
"Maggie" is a moving drama. Echoing the moods of hard-hitting films but with the charisma of any entertaining blockbuster you would see this summer. It's well worth every dollar of an admission ticket and is one of the more enthralling and captivating films of the spring.
Paul Weitz's crisp writing with Lily Tomlin's impeccable timing make for a beautiful combination....
Read more @ The Awards Circuit (http://www.awardscircuit.com)
2015 TRIBECA FILM FESTIVAL: Paul Weitz gave the world "About a Boy" over a decade ago, masterfully telling a story through it character's relationships and actions. The well-received film garnered major acclaim from critics and got Weitz his first Academy Award nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay. Since then, Weitz has never returned to that type of reception with admirable yet very visual missteps along the way like "In Good Company." In his newest venture "Grandma," the writer/director puts forth his finest work of his career. He doesn't get all the kudos though. Star Lily Tomlin, a veteran comedic actress that has been sadly overlooked too many times in her career, delivers one of the performances of her career. Possibly THE best.
"Grandma" tells the story of Elle Reid, a misanthropic lesbian who has her world turned upside down when her 18-year-old granddaughter comes to her help. With a day's journey in front of them, and with a goal in mind, the two women share their feelings with one another while confronting their past, and looking forward to their future.
Hands down, front to back, this film excels and soars on the work of Academy Award nominated actress Lily Tomlin. I can't recall a time when Tomlin has been more vulnerable, available, and prodigious as she demonstrates in Weitz's picture. Through all the vulgarity and rough edges, Tomlin finds Elle's humanity. You'd have to go back to something like Jack Nicholson in "As Good as it Gets" to find someone in a comedy who is so complex in nature yet so gratifying and beautiful in essence. Elle's baggage may be pushed down as deep as it can go, but Tomlin allows the audience to see what's underneath at the most suitable times. She'll break your heart and bring you to tears. Make no mistake, Lily Tomlin delivers an Oscar-worthy performance. Tomlin isn't the only one firing on all cylinders. As Sage, Elle's granddaughter, Julia Garner holds her own against the veteran actress. In another enriched turn, Oscar-winner Marcia Gay Harden delivers her best work since "Mystic River." A brief but sensational work that stands out. Judy Greer, as always, is terrific in her minimal amount of screen time. Someone please give the woman more roles to work with. Magnificently emotional and present is veteran actor Sam Elliott, who hits one out of the park as Karl. Here's an actor whose been virtually everywhere for the past five decades with stand out turns in "Gettysburg," "Wyatt Earp," "Up in the Air," and more. With a career that's been as impressive as his, with a turn as memorable as he delivers, Elliott should be among the conversation for Best Supporting Actor at the Oscars. He caps off an impeccable ensemble.
If there's one film at the Tribeca Film Festival that can become a conversation starter for awards at the end of the year, "Grandma" has that power. An enlightening and moving film that garners big laughs and big tears; Paul Weitz has created the crowning work of his career.
April showers bring May flowers, and "Grandma" is that beautiful flower for the season. One of the best films that 2015 is sure to offer.
Bleeding Heart (2015)
Diane Bell's sophomore feature gets the very best from Jessica Biel and Zosia Mamet...
2015 TRIBECA FILM FESTIVAL: The intimate and calm nature of Diane Bell's "Bleeding Heart" is simply mesmerizing. Starring Jessica Biel as May, a yoga instructor who finds her biological sister Shiva (played by Zosia Mamet), who is a sex worker with an abusive boyfriend (played by Joe Anderson). The unlikely pair explores the boundaries of their new-found relationship, the identity of family, and the protection of one another.
Bell's handle of the subject matter is very impressive, as she chooses to focus on reactions in several key scenes rather than words. Having only one feature under her belt (the little seen "Obselidia" in 2010), for which she received two Independent Spirit Award nominations, Bell emulates the passion and demand of storytelling as seen by such filmmakers like Patty Jenkins and Lisa Cholodenko. Taking on double duties with writing the film's script, her exploration into these two female characters isn't as intricate or precise as you'd like. With an 80 minute runtime, there's likely a few more minutes of dialogue, coverage, or something additional that would have rounded out these two women a bit more.
One area that Bell doesn't lack is in her ability to get the very best work out of her actors. Jessica Biel may have finally found her vehicle. With an internalized and very subtle performance, Biel excels in her ability to find the very motivation of May. Her yearn for family, both with her sister and her boyfriend (played by Edi Gathegi, who you'll know from "Gone Baby Gone" and "X-Men: First Class") is richly profound, all leading up to a climax that will keep you at the edge of your seat.
You may all know the adorkable Zosia Mamet as Shoshanna Shapiro on HBO's hit-show "Girls," a role that she's confidently called her own in an ensemble that doesn't exactly allow her to shine. She sheds all her cute and innocent personas to inhabit the soul of an impenetrable woman. Mamet's work as Shiva is hands down the best performance seen by an actress this year yet. She doesn't play it safe or conventional as we've seen with other "hookers with a heart" stories in other films. She's unafraid to be judged by the audience; not looking for an alibi, simply guilty as charged as delivering one of the bravest turns of the year. It's very exciting to see her take on a role like this feet first.
As one of our more standard character creations, Joe Anderson as Cody, Shiva's boyfriend, is just mind-numbingly good. Anderson, who you may remember from films like "The Grey" and "Control," harnesses the energy of a Ben Foster-type, in a vile role that simply stands out.
"Bleeding Heart" is a fascinating film, though a tad predictable. If nothing else, it recognizes the under-appreciated work of Jessica Biel and Zosia Mamet, and places writer/director Diane Bell at the forefront of exciting indie filmmakers.
"Bleeding Heart" currently has no distributor.
The Adderall Diaries (2015)
There's a few too many ingredients that give Pamela Romanowsky's feature a bad taste...
Writer/director Pamela Romanowsky's adaptation of "The Adderall Diaries" based on Stephen Elliott's memoir has so many great ideas. It's a blend of different genres that calls back to many different films from the past however, it's unfocused execution and narrative ultimately leaves you bewildered rather than intrigued.
Starring Academy Award nominee James Franco as Stephen Elliott, an author whose world is turned upside down when his estranged father (played by Ed Harris) accuses him in public of fabricating his book which tells the story of his life. With a new relationship, drug relapse, and focusing on a very public murder trial, will Stephen be able to survive everything that life is throwing at him?
As previously mentioned, there's A LOT going on in the story. We're getting elements of "Shattered Glass" then "Blue Valentine" then "The Basketball Diaries." Romanowsky isn't confident about what she wants her film to be. Does she want it to be a film about family relationships or dissection of the mind of an addict? Does she want to explore the ramifications of sex through violence or is she trying to make a statement about the perception of our lives within ourselves? She's saying so many things that it all ends up on blurred lines and in a haze. I will say that her abilities is a filmmaker is nothing to scoff at. She creates genuine moments and settles into her better written scenes with courage and ferocity. I'd still be very intrigued to see her next venture.
James Franco's resume with independent cinema has left much to be desired. His performances are often self-indulgent or misguided by his own direction or any other filmmaker he's working with. His turn in "The Adderall Diaries" is one of his more impressive works that he's constructed as of late. Though his motivations and actions aren't always made abundantly clear, Franco sheds some of his barriers to allow some connection with his audience.
You can't get much better than Ed Harris in terms of an actor that shines in just about anything he does, no matter how the film he inhabits turns out. As Neil, Stephen's father, Harris elevates the thin material and focuses on the emotion of a father's regret with near precision. I'm still anxiously awaiting his Oscar-winning role. This doesn't quite make the cut.
Other aspects of the film include the beautiful Amber Heard, the multi-talented Cynthia Nixon, the oddly involved Christian Slater, and the scene-stealing abilities of Jim Parrack (Hoyt from "True Blood").
Overall "The Adderall Diaries" is a misguided attempt by a director who has a keen eye for some things but lacks in others. Romanowsky's guidance on her actors are some of the film's biggest highlights but ultimately just falls short in too many spots. The opening sequence was quite good and there was a scene in which I nearly cried. Some may find some qualities to take home with them, others will simply leave it at the door.