Archive for November, 2014

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“Birdman” starring Michael Keaton, Edward Norton, Emma Stone, and Naomi Watts has won and been nominated for many awards already.   From Cinematographer of the Year (Lubezki) to Best Future Film Festival Digital Award, the film has created such a buzz among Hollywood as well as the independent film circle that it might help boost a rather disappointing cinematic year.

Riggan (Keaton) is a former superhero movie star, but after turning down the fourth sequel of his beloved “Birdman,” Riggan is floundering. (Is there a similarity to real life here?)  Switching gears and attempting to regain respect not only in the public’s eye, but perhaps his own as well, Riggan has written and will direct and star in his upcoming Broadway play.  Actor’s egos, including his own, critics, birdmanand family difficulties all play a major role in the success or failure of not only this production but life itself.  

“Birdman” is one of the most creatively unique films I have seen in years.  From the moment the film begins, there is the question of whether or not you are seeing something real or imagined.  This questioning continually jabs at you throughout the film, allowing you to come up with your own conclusions.  Before we talk about the brilliant performances, and they are, let me first highlight the cinematography technique.  Amazingly, there appears to be only one take throughout most of the film.  The camera seamlessly and flawlessly follows the characters throughout the catacombs of the St. James theater allowing the viewer to be that fly on the wall.  We are privy to everyone’s interactions, emotions, conversations, and feelings.  It truly gives you the sense that you are there and following with your own eyes, all that is to unfold.

The characters are extraordinary in their reality as well as their excessive personality traits.  With Mike’s (Norton’s) overblown ego and exaggerated feelings of self importance, we see what makes him tick.  The intensity of his character and interactions make him impeccably unpredictable as well as entertaining.  Lesley’s (Watts) insecurities and longing to be of just moderate success, make you pity her as she is constantly taken for granted and walked upon.  Her character is a perfectly opposing character to Mike.  birdman2

Emma Stone, the usual happy go lucky, optimistic girl-next-door is quite the polar opposite in Birdman.  She is  Riggin’s hard-core, dower, and unforgiving daughter, Sam.  Her baggage is exceptionally weighty given her young age.  And her rebellious and angry nature set the tone for her difficult and misguided relationship with her father as well as any others who dare to get to know her.  Stone’s performance is dibirdmanrsturbingly stellar.  Her range of abilities is most definitely punctuated in this film.  Saving the best for last is Michael Keaton in the lead role of Riggin.  He is truly superb.  He captures the essence of a struggling man who has had a taste of success.  He battles the demons within as he also attempts to figure out who he needs to battle outside of himself.  The constant tug of war between these two aspects keeps the audience on edge, but also constantly guessing as to what is truly happening.  This complex and difficult role gives Keaton a chance to perform to his maximum potential and shine brilliantly.

“Birdman” is a unique film about a Broadway play and its distinctive cast of characters.  It’s also a look inside a man’s head and his relationship with those closest to him.  The psychology and interpersonal interactions are intense with the ability to allow each character to peak as they help develop the story.  The writing, acting, and cinematography are a delicate and deliberate balance, never tipping too much in any one direction, giving you a fluid, coherent, and rich story.  The cast is the icing on the cake as  each of these talented actors perform in ways never before, making it refreshingly entertaining.  The story is so unusual that the viewer just doesn’t know what is going to happen next.  Again, another refreshing aspect of this film.

“Birdman” is an unparalleled production sure to entertain with its storyline and acting.  The film is sure to continue to grow in its buzz until Oscar time when it’ll sound more like a harmonic cacophony of accolades.  If you love performance theater, you are going to love this film.  Norton and Keaton fans are in for a spectacular experience and for those fans of Emma Stone and Zach Galifianakis, you’re in for an amazing surprise.

9 REELS

 

 

DELUSIONS OF GUINEVERE

Starring: Ariana Bernstein, Andrew Ruth, and Sandra Elizabeth Rodriguez

Directed by: Joanna Bowzer

Written by: Ariana Bernstein, Joanna Bowzer, Niccolo Aeed Moretti, and Marina Tempelsman
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Guinevere James is 29, “overweight and washed up.”   As a former childhood star, her success and fame have plummeted, but this  little bump in her road of life isn’t going to stop her.  There’s a glimmer of hope to rise again, to equal her former co-star whose stardom never waned, with the 20th anniversary red carpet event of her former commercials.  As that flops, Guinevere attempts to gain attention through social media stunts and ridiculous behavior.  How far will she go in order to gain her former stardom level and at what personal cost?

DELUSIONS OF GUINEVERE MOVIE TRAILER

As the co-writer/producer/star Ariana Bernstein told RHR in an interview, this character is about the typical “millennial” young adult.  The “I want it now!” group.  Immediate gratification is most certainly a part of the character Guinevere and Ariana  portrays that personality trait beautifully.  We see Guinevere become so self-centered aD0G2014-Still02-02nd unrealistic that it is to the detriment of her overall life.  But this isn’t a film without humor.  In fact, it takes this narcissistic character and shows the viewers that she is much more than that.  She is scared, floundering, and grasping at straws.  But when she sets a goal, she loses sight of what she has and what is truly important in life.  With a talented and credible supporting cast, the character becomes a real person as we root for her to see the err of her ways—all the while laughing and shaking our heads!

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Ariana Bernstein embodies this role as she reveals the good and the bad about Guinevere.  With her mannerisms, expressions, and body language, she’s hilarious.  But there’s more to this actress as she pulls the audience into her mind and we can see and feel her every emotion even if her actions are a bit over-the-top.  There is also an air of reality to this character, giving credit to her as one of the four writers of “Delusions of Guinevere.”  Andrew Ruth plays the sweet, sensitive, supportive guy friend named Guy.  And Sandra Elizabeth Rodriguez plays the older sister going through her own emotional difficulties as she raises a daughter and struggles with a nasty divorce.  Rodriguez grounds this film with her confidence and maturity—a wonderful balance to Guinevere’s opposing personality.

DEL“Delusions of Guinevere” is a smart, sassy, quirky film that gives us a little insight into the younger adults of today.  We see internet superstars rise and fall as quickly as a shooting star, all because of social media.  The lengths to which people go and sacrifice their integrity and relationships can be shocking and this film brings it to the forefront with wit and creativity.  This independent film (luckily) goes against the typical Hollywood formula and gives us an ending we might not expect.  Thank you, “Delusions of Guinevere” for bucking the system and giving us a film with humor and heart.

 

“Beyond the Lights” stars Gugu Mbatha-Raw from the film “Belle”, Minnie Driver, and Nate Parker.  Gina Prince-Bythewood known for “The Secret Life of Bees, wrote and directed this new film.  “Beyond the Lights” tells the tale of a superstar singer, Noni, who succumbs to the pressures of fame and a controlling stage mom only to try to find herself once again.  
It’s 1998 in England.  Noni (India Jean-Jacques) is an awkward young teen in a less than ideal part of London with a distraught yet determined young mother (Driver).  The two find themselves at a youth talent show where Noni sings ‘Blackbird’ with heart and soul.  She is proud to receive a 2nd place trophy, but sadly this isn’t good enough for Mom.  Forced by her mother to literally toss the trophy,  it is obvious that the future of this young and talented singer will never be in her own hands.  The heartbreak we witness in this short but important scene is palpable.  The film then quickly jumps forward to the current day where Noni (Mbatha-Raw) is winning a prestigious music award.  It is apparent that her style has most certainly changed from the hearty and painful music of Soul to Hip-Hop/Pop.  The years of selling out, being pushed in directions that Noni is uncomfortable with, and her own mother guiding her along this path, has now taken its tolbeyond1l.  Suicide, in Noni’s mind,  seems her only option, but it is truly just a cry for help.  The young, chiseled, handsome police officer with the million dollar smile becomes the savior and hero of the film as he rescues the troubled star.   The film quickly develops into a complex love story, weaving in issues of race, politics, sex, and stardom as well as finding your true self.   
The film starts off powerfully with the young Noni (India Jean-Jacques) and Macy Jean (Driver), but quickly turns into a less impassioned film typifying the lifestbeyond3yle of the rich, hip, and famous.  However, it is this less enjoyable, but predictable portion of the film with MTV style performances that sets up the important ground work for the final  30 minutes of the film.  “Beyond the Lights” delves into racial issues in LA, expectations, politics, and of course, love.  It takes on quite a few issues, maybe too many, but in the end it is worth it.  There’s plenty of eye-catching scenes that some may find a bit too provocative, but again, it’s what the life of a pop star is thought to be; at least from an outsider’s viewpoint.  The film seems to wane in the middle, with too much repetition of the obvious, but luckily, “Beyond the Lights” redeems itself with passion and heart in the final scenes.  
Gugu Mbatha-Raw is strikingly gorgeous with an amazing voice.  Her interactions with Parker as well as Driver are believable as she creates a sense of this hurt and troubled young woman.   Parker is simply perfect in his role as hero, police officer, future politician, and love interest.  The number of shirtless scenes that this actor has makes it ridiculously evident as to what the director is trying to do.  The poor guy has to continually flex all his chest, abdominal, and bicep muscles, but alas, this is quite enjoyable for the viewers even if it is rather obvious.  Driver captures the persona of the controlling stage mom who appears to want to live vicariously through the successes of her daughter—at any expense.  Driver’s character will never win “Mother of the Year,” yet she instills empathy in the viewer as her motivations and background are ever so slightly revealed. Danny Glover has a small role as Kaz’ father and he is always a pleasure to see in any film.  His naturally soft-spoken yet wise demeanor is a welcome touch to this film.
“Beyond the Lights” is an enjoyable movie, but tries to tackle too many issues to make it a film that has impact.  Thankfully, the performances outweigh some of the redundant writing, allowing the viewer to continue to care about each of the characters.  Although the intrigue and intensity waxes and wanes, it is a decent film about love, overbearing mothers, and the cost of fortune and fame.
*The rating is PG-13, but given the provocative and suggestive scenes, this movie is more appropriate for an older viewer.
2 1/2 stars

FoodChainsTheatricalPoster-e1409496194559-162x240Fresh fruit. Aromatic vegetables.  Abundant produce.  Grocery stores on every corner carrying the perfectly presented and polished produce to entice shoppers.  We are constantly bombarded by information telling us to eat more unprocessed foods, but as we do so, are we doing it mindlessly?  The new documentary “Food Chains” challenges us to answer the question, “Where does our food come from and at what cost?”

 

Tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, and more all appear magically at our local grocer.  The producers of “Food Chains” reminds us that it isn’t “magic” that is responsible for this; it is the farm workers, literally slaving away under less than ideal conditions to give us these mouthwatering delights.  As the film focuses upon a group of tomato pickers from Immokolee, FL, we see these farm workers from the moment the seed is planted to picking the ripe fruits/vegetables.  The farm workers slave away under brutal and unhealthy conditions from dawn to dusk for mere pennies.  “Food Chains” is an inside look at the conditions, approximating slavery, under which ourTomatoes Immokalee -6517 food is grown and the grocery chains that turn a blind eye to this.

 

Smriti Keshari and her talented team of filmmakers, take on the $4T commercial grocery industry to help educate the consumer.  “Food Chains” takes us on the journey that is a typical day in a farm worker’s life.  They are bussed to fields to pick at 5 am, getting paid by the pound, and average an income of less than $12,000.  While at the top of the chain, millionaires are made at the expense of their workers being treated as less than human.  Human rights’ issues are at hand in this expose.  Fair treatment and pay are also at the heart of this film.  As the filmmakers travel from Central Florida to the Napa Valley, we see the conditions and what the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) have worked to rally against and gain for the workers at the bottom of the food chain.  What they are asking for is truly just a human right.

 

Eva Longoria and Eric Schlosser, known for “Fast Food Nation” and “Food, Inc.,” spearhead this film as they narrate some of the past and current practices.  With interviews and cameras following the workers, the viewer is able to truly get a sense of where our food comes from andEva Longoria Food Chains still C at what cost.  The use of historical footage highlighting Edward R. Murrow’s report on the 1960’s “Harvest of Shame” (Harvest of Shame Broadcast) as well as the Kennedy family supporting this initiative, blends seamlessly in with the use of graphic art and interviews to tell a complete and disturbing story.   It is an informative, educational, creative, and important film that should make you think twice about buying from certain stores.

 

FairFoodLabelThe Fair Food Program is a new initiative that will enable consumers to see which chains practice under this program.  Will it affect your bottom line?  No.  Will it enable you to make others’ lives better?  Yes.  We have a responsibility to make sure all people are treated fairly and humanely.  “Food Chains” enables us to educate ourselves and help make this change.

 

“Food Chains” reminds us that there is a connection between the consumer and the workers.    It also reminds us that we, the consumer, can make a difference with our choices.

This film opens nationwide on November 21 as well as on VOD.  Make a difference.  “Food Chains” has given you the tools and has opened your eyes.  Now it’s your turn.

Listen to the complete interview with Smriti Keshari here Food Chains Interview

For more information about this film go to  www.foodchainsfilm.com

 

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“Interstellar” promised to be this year’s version of “Gravity,” but instead wound up being an overrated, over-hyped ‘Prometheus.’  With a “stellar” cast of Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, and Jessica Chastain, just to name a few, and Christopher Nolan as the writer AND director, this film had the public counting the Oscars before it was even released.  That, by itself, is a red flag.  This science fiction story spiraled out of control into too many dimensions to find a clear path to follow.

The story begins some time in the future where Earth looks much like the Dust Bowl of the early 1900’s.  Crop blight and eventually starvation of the human species appeared inevitable.  Cooper (McConaughey) raising his two children with the help of his father-in-law (Lithgow), stumble upon strange occurrences leading Cooper to the supposedly defunct NASA project.  Cooper is convinced that the only way to save the human race is to pilot a space ship, leaving his family for an undetermined amount of time, and find a new world in which to live.  Meanwhile, back on Earth, time races by and scientists try to find other solutions.  The ultimate question is how to weigh the love of your children against the love of all humanity.  Cooper must find that balance while fighting unsurmountable obstacles in space.

intermattWhere do I begin?  I took absolutely no notes during this film asthere really was nothing to write.  The story sets itself up rather slowly as we learn about Cooper’s wife passing away, leaving him to raise his two children out on a farm.  The future is uncertain, but Cooper is a very educated, rather brilliant man.  His daughter, Murph, seems to follow in his footsteps with her spunk and determination as well as her intellect.  Their bond is endearing and at the core of the story.  Inexplicable events revolving around gravity occur which catapults the story forward…too far.  As the audience is being tutored in Physics 101, and according to my memory of Mr. Brooks’ senior physics class, inaccurately so, questions begin to surface. ( Black Holes) Black holes, worm holes, and most importantly, aging in space are all key elements of the story.  (Aging in Space and Traveling at the Speed of Light ) But “love” is the most important element in science.  Yep, that’s right.  You probably didn’t remember that from your science classes, but it’s true.  As my eyes are rolling backward, the space adventure continues.  Is this a love story? A supernatural story? A family story? A science fiction film? A thriller?  No, it’s none of these.  Babbling about written algorithms and statistics to justify characters’ decisions results in ridiculous detrimental consequences.  The saving grace and humanity in this film came from the robots who add a touch of humor and interest.  Other than that, the characters were flat and undeveloped, leaving the viewer not caring if humanity is lost or not.

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Without giving anything away, there were several instances of inexplicable jumps in the film; as if they edited a very important part that determined the next scene.  This just made the film preposterous.  The final 45 minutes (remember, this is a 2 hour and 46 minutes film), attempts to pull it all together.  I wanted to shout, “REALLY???” several times!  It is a supernova of conclusions with no worm hole in which to escape to the world in which I didn’t go to see this movie.

McConaughey’s performance isn’t anything out of this world.  He continues to use his southern vernacular and terms of endearment like “Slick,” that we have heard in other films.  Lithgow (Donald) and Cain (Professor Brand) have small, but important roles and perform adequately.  It’s rather frustrating when Cain’s character is delivering a pivotal line and the musical background becomes the musical foreground, compounded by the gravely and soft voice which inhibits you from hearing it!  I heard several people whisper to their movie partner, “What did he just say?”  But the disappointing performance is from Anne Hathaway.  She is not convincing as a scientist or as a love lost woman.  In addition, the lack of a cohesive and believable story and inadequate character development, creates a  film that drags.  The cinematography ranges from interesting to hoaky.  The space shots are meant to portray the loneliness and desolation of what it must feel like to be in outer space, but it just lulls you to sleep.  The film tries to take on too many aspects of life, introducing too many characters and not giving enough to keep you interested in any of them.  I’m still questioning every aspect of  Matt Damon’s character.

Leaving a film feeling grateful that it’s over, but $34 poorer, is not a good way to leave.  Discussing the film and trying to figure out the missing pieces of the puzzle leaves you even more confused and angry about the inconsistencies and inaccuracies.   I didn’t like ‘Prometheus’ or ‘Inception,’ but if you did, you might enjoy ‘Interstellar.’  My recommendation is to stay home and spend your money on films like ‘Whiplash.’