Friday, July 30, 2010


Opening in New York this weekend: Helen, written and directed by Sandra Nettelbeck

Synopsis from the film's Facebook page:

In the heartwrenching new film Helen, Ashley Judd portrays a beautiful, intelligent university professor who is happily married to David (Goran Visnjic) and enjoys a loving relationship with her teenage daughter (Alexia Fast) from a previous marriage. Despite all her good fortunes, Helen is hiding a secret; and a sudden, unexpected breakdown sends her spiraling into severe depression. Helen’s profound love for her family, which once kept them inseparable, now is tearing them apart. Amid the desperate battle for her life, her love and her sanity, Helen finds herself pulling away from David and seeking comfort from a fierce yet fragile, enigmatic and troubled young woman, Mathilda (Lauren Lee Smith), who is also struggling with a mental disorder – and whose extraordinary spirit and devotion shines like a flickering light inside Helen’s darkness.

In Theaters: The Extra Man

Opening this weekend: The Extra Man, written and directed by Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini

In Theaters: Hugh Hefner: Playboy, Activist and Rebel

Opening this weekend: Hugh Hefner: Playboy, Activist and Rebel, directed by Brigitte Berman

Friday, July 23, 2010

Jean-Michael Basquiat: The Radiant Child

Opening this weekend: Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child, directed by Tamra Davis

Synopsis from the movie's website:

Centered on a rare interview that director and friend Tamra Davis shot with Basquiat over twenty years ago, this definitive documentary chronicles the meteoric rise and fall of the young artist. In the crime-ridden NYC of the 1970s, he covers the city with the graffiti tag SAMO. In 1981 he puts paint on canvas for the first time, and by 1983 he is an artist with “rock star status.” He achieves critical and commercial success, though he is constantly confronted by racism from his peers. In 1985 he and Andy Warhol become close friends and painting collaborators, but they part ways and Warhol dies suddenly in 1987. Basquiat’s heroin addiction worsens, and he dies of an overdose in 1988 at the age of 27. The artist was 25 years old at the height of his career, and today his canvases sell for more than a million dollars. With compassion and psychological insight, Tamra Davis details the mysteries that surround this charismatic young man, an artist of enormous talent whose fortunes mirrored the rollercoaster quality of the downtown scene he seemed to embody.

Featuring interviews with Julian Schnabel, Larry Gagosian, Bruno Bischofberger, Tony Shafrazi, Fab 5 Freddy, Jeffrey Deitch, Glenn O'Brien, Maripol, Kai Eric, Nicholas Taylor, Fred Hoffmann, Michael Holman, Diego Cortez, Annina Nosei, Suzanne Mallouk, Rene Ricard, Kenny Scharf, among many others.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Ramona and Beezus

Opening this weekend: Ramona and Beezus, directed by Elizabeth Allen

I don't think I'm the target audience for this movie, but I loved the books so much I ordered Honey Nut Cheerio pencils that said, "Athena, Age 8." ("Athena" was what I wanted people to call me, as the goddess was my personal role model. Good thing I didn't know about sacrificing goats.)

From the movie's website:

The adventures of young Ramona Quimby (newcomer Joey King) and her big sister Beezus (Selena Gomez) come to life in this all new film based on the best-selling books by Beverly Cleary. Ramona's vivid imagination, boundless energy, and accident-prone antics keep everyone she meets on their toes. But her irrepressible sense of fun, adventure and mischief come in handy when she puts her mind to helping save her family's home.

In Theaters: Mugabe and the White African

Opening this weekend: Mugabe and the White African, directed by Lucy Bailey

In Theaters: Countdown to Zero

Opening this weekend: Countdown to Zero, directed by Lucy Walker

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Contenders

In theaters: The Contenders, directed by Marta Mondelli

Synopsis from the film's website:

Nora and her husband Ken host a birthday party in their vacation house by the sea.  The guest of honor arrives first but, due to some inexplicable ailment, retires upstairs.  The other guests, Veronica (returning from an eight-year-spell in Europe) and Marc (an unfaithful married man) complete the party.
As the night unravels, one of the guests inexplicably dies.

Will the marriage of Ken and Nora, marred by Ken’s repressed subservience and Nora’s obsessive jealousies, last the evening?  And will the nostalgic Veronica, and the childish Marc will find peace?  Before dawn, the remaining friends indulge in sex and slices of cake, as they grapple with their own relationships, their friend's death, and the secret of happiness.

When the sun appears, who of these "contenders" will ultimately find what they are looking for?

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Viscera Film Festival

Showing on July 17 in Los Angeles: The Viscera Film Festival, featuring short horror films directed by women

If I lived anywhere near LA, I think I would have to go, despite the risk of nightmares...

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Netflix It: Titus

Available on Netflix: Titus, directed by Julie Taymor

Thematically dark but visually dazzling. Who knew Shakespeare was this gruesome? This is a totally different level than the usual murders and suicides...

Synopsis from AllMovie:

One of William Shakespeare's lesser-known plays, Titus Andronicus was staged in New York by award-winning theatrical director Julie Taymor in an acclaimed 1995 production, before her widely praised Broadway version of The Lion King. Taymor revisits that production for her first motion picture, with the addition of a star-studded cast. Roman General Titus Andronicus (Anthony Hopkins) has returned from defeating the Goths in a bloody battle, but the victory has left him with mixed feelings, as the war took the lives of several of his sons. Titus is reminded by his first-born son Lucius (Angus Macfadyen) that their faith demands the sacrifice of an enemy prisoner as a gift to the gods for their victory. Titus chooses the eldest son of Tamora (Jessica Lange), the Queen of the Goths, who has since been taken hostage by Titus's troops. Tamora pleads for her son's life, but Titus goes ahead with the sacrifice. She then becomes the lover of the new emperor of Rome, Saturninus (Alan Cumming), a weak-willed and corrupt man. Tamora uses her connection to the throne for her own ends: in retaliation for the death of her son, Tamora and her surviving sons, Chiron (Jonathan Rhys Myers) and Demetrius (Matthew Rhys), brutally rape Titus's beloved daughter, Lavinia (Laura Fraser). This act sets in motion an ever-tightening spiral of revenge and retaliation that leaves few of the participants unscathed. The supporting cast includes Colm Feore as Marcus, Harry Lennix as Aaron, and James Frain as Bassianus.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Lost Persons Area

Showing at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival: Lost Persons Area, directed by Caroline Strubbe

Synopsis from the KVIFF website:

The story, located for the most part in an industrial no-man’s land, between tall electricity pylons on which the leading male characters are working, is not easy to sum up. This reflective, highly personal debut by writer-director Caroline Strubbe doesn’t rely on a strict narrative line. It offers reflections of solitude, feelings of disquiet and longings, all observed through a searching, roving camera. The film is an intimate and mysterious chronicle of relationships in general and family relations in particular. The young daughter Tessa is more or less left to her own devices, but manages to fill her days with rangy rambles and a strange passion for collecting things. For her part, her mother Bettina appears to dream of another life: a more normal one or, perhaps, on the contrary, a more adventurous one. Lost Persons Area is a subtle drama about restless people’s search for happiness.

Love, Lust & Lies

Showing at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival: Love, Lust & Lies, directed by Gillian Armstrong

Synopsis from the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival website:

In 1976 renowned Australian filmmaker Gillian Armstrong met three 14-year-old friends, Kerry, Josie, and Diana, at a youth center in Adelaide. A portrait of their adolescence makes up the core of the film Smokes and Lollies, the first of five documentaries capturing the lives of the three ordinary working-class girls (and later women). With breaks of several years, the filmmaker regularly returned to her heroines, and in 1996, when each has an adult daughter, she released Not Fourteen Again, winning the Australian Film Institute Award for Best Documentary. Despite her original plan, in 2009 Armstrong decided to contact her heroines for the last time in order to find out to what extent they had fulfilled their dreams and desires, and whether they can be as honest with the camera and, above all, with themselves as they all once promised. This unique long-term documentary project superbly charts the seemingly ordinary lives of three women, offering a singular look at Australian society from the mid-70s till today.

Friday, July 9, 2010

In Theaters: The Kids Are All Right

Opening this weekend: The Kids Are All Right, directed by Lisa Cholodenko

Finally! I feel like I've been hearing about this movie forever.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The Hedgehog

Showing at the Karlovy Vary Film Festival: The Hedgehog, directed by Mona Achache

Synopsis from the Karlovy Vary Film Festival website:

An intellectual concierge, a precocious 11-year-old and a refined Japanese gentleman are the strange trio at the heart of the sometimes uplifting, sometimes cynical The Hedgehog, based on Muriel Barbery’s bestselling novel. Making audiences feel clever while also delivering an old-fashioned fairy tale of unexpected love (and even a dose of social critique), Mona Achache’s helming debut unashamedly has it all ways. But the result is a basically touching, engaging parable about the importance of unconventionality. Performances are strong, with Josiane Balasko in particular suggesting a wealth of simmering emotion beneath her impassive features.

Unsubtitled trailer:

Netflix It: Whale Rider

Available from Netflix: Whale Rider, directed by Niki Caro

This is one of those movies where you just want to scream at the mean grandpa to stop being such a mean grandpa. Go ahead. But he won't hear you.

(Somewhat spoiler-y) synopsis from the movie's website:

In a small New Zealand coastal village, Maori claim descent from Paikea, the Whale Rider. In every generation for more than 1000 years, a male heir born to the Chief succeeds to the title.

The time is now. The Chief's eldest son, Porourangi, fathers twins - a boy and a girl. But the boy and his mother die in childbirth. The surviving girl is named Pai.

Grief-stricken, her father leaves her to be raised by her grandparents. Koro, her grandfather who is the Chief, refuses to acknowledge Pai as the inheritor of the tradition and claims she is of no use to him. But her grandmother, Flowers, sees more than a broken line, she sees a child in desperate need of love.

And Koro learns to love the child. When Pai's father, Porourangi, now a feted international artist, returns home after twelve years, Koro hopes everything is resolved and Porourangi will to accept destiny and become his successor.

But Porourangi has no intention of becoming Chief. He has moved away from his people both physically and emotionally. After a bitter argument with Koro he leaves, suggesting to Pai that she come with him. She starts the journey but quickly returns, claiming her grandfather needs her.

Koro is blinded by prejudice and even Flowers cannot convince him that Pai is the natural heir. The old Chief is convinced that the tribe's misfortunes began at Pai's birth and calls for his people to bring their 12-year-old boys to him for training.
He is certain that through a gruelling process of teaching the ancient chants, tribal lore and warrior techniques, the future leader of their tribe will be revealed to him.

Meanwhile, deep within the ocean, a massive herd of whales is responding, drawn towards Pai and their twin destinies.

When the whales become stranded on the beach, Koro is sure this signals an apocalyptic end to his tribe. Until one person prepares to make the ultimate sacrifice to save the people. The Whale Rider.


Friday, July 2, 2010

Great Directors

Opening this weekend: Great Directors, directed by Angela Ismailos

Synopsis from the film's website:

A deeply personal and intimate look at the art of cinema and the artists who create it, Great Directors is a celebration of films and film-making starring ten of the world’s most acclaimed, provocative, and individualistic living directors, featuring original, in-depth conversations with Bernado Bertolucci, David Lynch, Stephen Frears, Agnes Varda, Ken Loach, Liliana Cavani, Todd Haynes, Catherine Breillat, Richard Linklater and John Sayles. These interviews more than just chronicle Ismailos’ encounters with ten remarkable men and women. Extensively illuminated by clips and historical archives from the subjects’ works, they also reveal the distinctive personalities who created the timeless images that have long inspired Ismailos-and all of us. Intercutting among the filmmakers in a freely associative way, Ismailos explores each director’s artistic evolution; the role of politics and history on their work; their feelings about the other great directors who inspired them (with Bertolucci paying homage to Pasolini, Breillat to Bergman, and Haynes to Fassbinder, etc); and the agony and ecstasy of being an artist in a medium that is, paradoxically, also an industry.

Beautiful Islands

Opening this weekend: Beautiful Islands, directed by Tomoko Kana

Synopsis from the movie's website:

This movie looks at three beautiful islands, shaken by climate change: Tuvalu in the South Pacific, Venice in Italy, and Shishmaref in Alaska.

The islands all have different climates and cultures, but the people all love their native lands. The film, which took three years to shoot, focuses on their daily lives. It portrays festivals that foster ties among the people, traditional crafts which have been passed on for generations, and peaceful lives by the water. They are all disappearing by climate change.

When these people lose their homelands, their cultures and histories face “death.” Their lives in the midst of all the changes suggest where our future leads..

Director, Kana Tomoko purposely decided not to put any narration or music in this film. It is a two-hour trip around the world, listening to the sounds of waters and winds, accompanied by the children’s smiles. She wants you to sharpen your minds and feel what we are going to lose as climate change really (threatens) hits our planet.

Only When I Dance

Opening this weekend: Only When I Dance, directed by Beadie Finzi

Synopsis from the movie's blog:

This feel-good documentary follows Irlan and Isabela, two teenagers from the violent favelas of Rio de Janeiro, as they pursue their dreams of becoming professional ballet dancers. This inspiring story takes us from Rio - where their communities must raise the funds to support their ambitions - to exhilarating ballet competitions in New York and Switzerland. It's a film about their determination to dance, and the price one must pay for talent, ambition and success.