VENUS IN FUR
(Sundance Selects…96min…Unrated…French w/ English Subtitles)
Oscar-winning filmmaker Roman Polanski, whose reputation certainly proceeds him for his daring work (The Pianist, Chinatown, Rosemary’s Baby), his 1977 rape charges after having sex with a 13-year-old Los Angeles girl, and for the tragic murder of his wife Sharon Tate in 1969 by the Manson Family, is back with his latest film, the onscreen adaptation of Venus in Fur.
The film, which feels very much like a stage production, stars Polanski’s real-life wife, actress Emmanuelle Seigner and Mathieu Amalric (Quantum of Solace, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly). Amalric plays Thomas, a playwright about to direct his first production, an adaptation of Venus in Fur, and Seigner is the lovely Vanda, a headstrong actress attempting to convince the director that she's perfect for a role.
Polanski worked closely with the play’s author, David Ives, on the screenplay.
“Our aim was really to make it into a film,” Polanski explains. “In the play, everything happens in an audition room; it’s fairly flat. However, in France, in particular in private theaters, where there is no repertory company, actor’s auditions are often held on a stage. So my first thought was to transpose the action to a theater. Being in a theater changes everything, right from the start. Being able to move between the stage and the auditorium, not to mention backstage, opened up a whole lot of new possibilities.”
The film, which only has the two actors, tells a simple story. Alone in a Paris theater after a long day of auditioning actresses for his new play, writer-director Thomas complains that no actress he’s seen has what it takes to play the lead female character: a woman who enters into an agreement with her male counterpart to dominate him as her slave. He is about to leave the theater when actress Vanda bursts in, a whirlwind of erratic - and, it turns out, erotic - energy. At first she seems to embody everything Thomas has been lamenting. She is pushy, foul-mouthed, desperate and ill-prepared, or so it seems. When Thomas finally, reluctantly, agrees to let her try out for the part, he is stunned and captivated by her transformation. Not only is she a perfect fit (even sharing the character's name), but she apparently has researched the role exhaustively, learned her lines by heart and even bought her own props. The likeness proves to be much more than skin-deep. As the extended “audition” builds momentum, Thomas moves from attraction to obsession until, with Vanda taking an ever more dominant role, the balance of power shifts completely.
While some onscreen stage adaptations fail due to a sense of claustrophobia, Polanski is an expert at it; other films that he’s adapted from the stage include the underappreciated Death and the Maiden and Carnage. Luckily the chemistry between Seigner and Amalric, who both worked together on The Diving Bell and the Butterfly¸ is strong and the film is better for it.
Venus in Fur opens Friday, July 4 exclusively at Landmark’s Nuart Theatre in West Los Angeles and on July 11 at Laemmle’s Playhouse in Pasadena and Laemmle’s Town Center in Encino.
MEXICAN ‘DOC’ SHINES A LIGHT ON NARCO GLORY (CINEDIGM…103 MIN…R RATED)
For many, the violence in Mexico, especially along the U.S. border, is looked up at as a raging drug war gone from bad to worse to uncontrollable. And an offshoot of the senseless violence, violence so bad that is has propelled Juarez as the murder capital of the world, is the creation and success of “narcocorridos,” musicians who glorify the murderous narcos as heroes.
Perhaps the most famous of all the “narcocorridos” songs is Los Cuates de Sinaloa spot on “Ballad of Heisenberg,” an ode to “Breaking Bad’s Walter White villainous alter ego Heisenberg. The documentary Narco Culturaby Israeli born filmmaker Saul Schwarz, a photojournalist for 20 years who has covered news in Israel and in the West Bank and now photographs for Reportage/Getty Images, is an unflinching examination at the Mexican drug cartel’s pop culture influence on both sides of the border.
The film follows two main characters, a Mexican crime detective in Juarez struggling as he deals with a never ending body count of homicide victims, and a musician in Los Angeles who makes a living portraying the traffickers as glamorous outlaws, entangled in the drug war. It puts you on the ground, in the belly of the beast, from the bloody streets of Juarez to the Narco clubs in L.A. to the living room of a drug lord in Sinaloa.
Despite the soaring rate of cartel-related murders in Mexico, narco-traffickers represent the ultimate models of fame and success to a growing number of Mexicans and Latinos in the Americas. Everybody loves Scarface but we all know he’s Al Pacino in a film, but in this case, especially since there’s no love for the rampant corruption that exists in Mexican government, real life criminals are looked up as heroes. It’s easy to dismiss the musicians as storytellers trying to make a living at the expense of others misfortune. Watching them you know they’re all show and hardly the real deal. They’re actually laughable with bullets around their necks and fake, toy weapons as props. But the actual Mexican policeman is another story. He’s overworked and burden by a job who know solution in sight—his own colleagues are the victims of assassinations.
“I want the audience to walk away with the same helplessness and broken feelings that I felt over the last four years while covering this story,” director Schwarz says. “I hope they see that the drug war is not some faraway issue that is foreign to them and only happens across the border. It is our issue and we are all a part of this. I hope that they understand that continuing to deny the problem will not make it go away. On the contrary, the new generation will be socially impacted as never before. Is that what we want, a generation that believes organized crime is the only way? Can we really keep looking at our failed policies and saying that this is as good as it gets?”
There are risks and adventures people seek out to cross off a bucket list, to fulfill a lifelong dream or to give meaning to their life. Often, when said mission is accomplished, it’s a life affirming moment, but when things go awry, the result can be catastrophic.
Back on August 1, 2008, on a day when "conditions were perfect," recalls someone who was there, adding, "It was a day in a million,” 25 mountaineers attempted to climb and then get down from K2, located on the Pakistan-China border. It’s the second-highest mountain on Earth (after Everest) and generally considered the world’s most dangerous, which is why it’s been nicknamed “Savage Mountain.” Sadly, 11 of those climbers never made it back.
First time filmmaker Nick Ryan’s The Summit is the story of the deadliest day on the world's most dangerous mountain, when 11 climbers mysteriously perished on K2. Seven of those climbers had actually made it to the top of the mountain and died on their way down.
“I wanted to show how quickly, how simply, you can die on a mountain like this,” Ryan told NRP recently. “It's a simple slip. Dren Mendic, the Serbian climber, he literally unclipped his bolts, his safety lines — which you should never do — and as he passed behind somebody, he hit off his own crampon, which is the spikes on your boots, and went sliding down [the mountain]. And it's as simple as that. You don't see it coming, and it just happens.”
The Summit feels reminiscent to 2003’s Touching the Void, a powerful documentary about two climbers and their perilous journey up the west face of Siula Grande in the Peruvian Andes in 1985. Both films use reenactment scenes to aid with visuals as extremely powerful and awe-inspiring stories are being told.
With breathtaking cinematography and jaw dropping reenactments based on the testimony of those who survived the climb, The Summit is about the very nature of adventure in the modern world.
“It's a very complex story, and as a director I decided that the best way to tell this, and to keep an audience engaged, was to use dramatic reconstruction,” Ryan explains. “I say "dramatic reconstructions" because to that end we filmed [a story], with Pemba and three of the other Sherpa who had been there in 2008 as technical advisers, based on the comprehensive interviews we had done. The photographic evidence, video evidence and everything was cross-referenced. So veracity was of prime importance.”
KILLER FILM IS AS COOL AS IT GETS (Millennium Films…Rated R…103mins)
Every once and a while, a cool guy film, and I don’t mean the lame shoot ‘em up and blow ‘em up variety, hits theaters—think Pulp Fiction, Braveheart (do make sure to see Mel Gibson’s most recent Get the Gringo on-demand) or 44 Inch Chest. Sure, they’re violent (but not gratuitous) and intense, but there’s enough meat to make it a hearty and a satisfying movie.
The most recent must-see guy film is The Iceman, which tells the story of real-life notorious contract killer Richard Kuklinski who was convicted in 1986 of murdering at least 100 men for various crime organizations around the New York area. The compelling twist to Kuklinski’s story was that he was also a devoted husband and father whose family was completely unaware of his real profession until his arrest.
Starring the brilliant Michael Shannon (“Boardwalk Empire” as well as Take Shelter and the upcoming Man of Steel), fresh from his hilarious and extremely vulgar Funny or Die clip where he reads an insane Delta Gamma sorority letter, the performances in The Iceman are stellar, including those by Winona Ryder, Ray Liotta, Chris Evans, David Schwimmer and James Franco.
But it’s Shannon who shines portraying real life killer Kuklinski.
“I guess any time I take a job,” Shannon explains, “I’m not afraid to dig into something, no matter how ugly it may be. To me, that’s where the stories are—that ugly, dark, confused place. Those, unfortunately, for better or worse, tend to be the most interesting stories. People are fascinated by them.”
And Shannon is definitely fascinating to watch onscreen as Kuklinski—a man adept at compartmentalizing his life to separate family life from hit-man duties. I won’t call this a straight-up guy film as there is the family aspect to The Iceman’s story. While this may not be first date material, it’s definitely worth seeing just on the strength of the performances and the unbelievable, truth-is-stranger-than-fiction storyline.
The Iceman opens Friday, May 3 and will play at the ArcLight Hollywoodand The Landmark on Pico Boulevard in the west side.
LIKE SOMEONE IN LOVE (Sundance Selects…109 min...Not Rated…Japanese w/ English subtitles)
From Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami (Certified Copy) comes Like Someone in Love, an ethereal drama about a call girl who develops a familial relationship with an older, scholarly gentleman more concerned with developing a genuine relationship more so than paying for sex.
The call girl in question, Akiko (Rin Takanashi), is a pretty Tokyo student who seems unfocused while involved in a volatile relationship. Dispatched to meet her “john” – a lonely widower, the two develop a sort of grandfather/granddaughter relationship, as much as possible considering Akiko comes across as a cold fish. From the get-go, the demure Akiko is unlikeable and it is difficult to invest any real interest in the story.
Also, Kiarostami has a knack for making his drama play out as it would in real life, which tends to create very long and boring scenes. By the time the film’s abrupt ending hits you, you may be relieved it’s over but you also feel let down. Don’t consider this Valentine’s material.
Like Someone in Love opens Friday, February 15 at Laemmle Royal, located at 11523 Santa Monica Blvd. in West L.A.
ALICE COPPER UNLEASHES 3D MAZE
AT HALLOWEEN HORROR NIGHTS
The annual fright fest that is Universal Studios Halloween Horror Nights will be back to scare the hell out of people this Halloween season, and will include a 3D maze courtesy of O.G. shock rocker Alice Cooper, and a maze from the folks of one of TV’s most badass shows, The Walking Dead. Watch as the theme park is transformed into a terrifying labyrinth of horrifying haunted houses, outrageous live shows, and electrifying scare zones while an army of mutants, monsters and maniacs roam the darkened studio streets.
MEL GIBSON’S ‘GET THE GRINGO’
AVAILABLE ON PAY-PER-VIEW
There are some things that Mel Gibson does at the top of his game (and pretty much better than everyone else): pitch a fit, rant and rave, and play one helluva badass on the big screen. Well, make that little screen too as his latest film, Get the Gringo, is playing exclusively on DirecTV.
The R-rated movie is currently available on-demand via DirecTV for $10.99 (for a 24-hour block of time upon purchase) before being released on Blu-ray, DVD, VOD and digital download. The gritty film, formerly titled "How I Spent My Summer Vacation," is about a career criminal (Gibson) who crashes his car through the Mexican border barricade while trying to escape the U.S. Border Patrol only to be nabbed by crooked Mexican authorities and placed in a tough prison where he learns to survive with the help of a 10-year-old boy. Adrian Grunberg, who was first assistant director on Gibson's Apocalypto, directs the movie, which he and Gibson co-wrote along with Stacey Perskie.
While Gibson’s last two films, The Beaver and Edge of Darkness failed to impress at the box office, I thought both were thoroughly entertaining. In Edge of Darkness Mel is back as a no-nonsense man on a mission, and he should have received a nomination for The Beaver, especially considering how many nominations are handed out these days.
Some have speculated if Gibson, after so many public faux pas, could even get a movie distributed in the U.S. anymore or if he’s merely bucking the system. “We’re just in a different era,” Gibson told an Austin theater audience following the film’s premiere. “Many people just like to see things in their homes. It’s just another way to do it and a better way to do it. I think it’s the future.”
The film plays almost like a homage to the rough and tough films of the ‘70s, as Gibson, plotting revenge and his escape from a Mexican hellhole prison, kicks ass and delivers great one-liners with a straight face. And kudos to young Kevin Hernandez who holds his own opposite Gibson and almost steals the movie. Personally, I find that kids can be annoying in action films but here, Hernandez really delivers.
It’s good to see Gibson back again in a top-notch guy film.
THE WOMAN IN BLACK
CBS Films – Opens February 3rd, 2012
Spooking into theaters on February 3rd, 2012, the suspense thriller features Daniel Radcliffe in his first post Harry Potter cinematic role. A young lawyer (Radcliffe) travels to a remote village where he discovers the vengeful ghost of a scorner woman is terrorizing the locals.
THE PRINCESS OF MONTPENSIER Sundance Selects / 139 min / Not Rated / French w/ English Subtitles
If your cup of tea leans towards sweeping period pieces, look no further than the gorgeously mounted The Princess of Montpensier. Sure, this comes across as familiar territory, think thorny love story ala Romeo & Juliet, but it doesn’t really matter. This is a gripping and remarkable effort.
Set in 1562 France, during the reign of Charles IX, the religious wars are raging. And a beautiful young aristocrat has been promised to marry a Prince, even though she already loves another. A love triangle soon forms amidst fine action and battle scenes. Directed by veteran filmmaker Bertrand Tavernier (Round Midnight, Engagement), the film stars Lamber Wilson (Of Gods and Men), Gaspard Ulliel (A Very Long Engagement), Grégorie Leprince-Ringuet (Army of Crime), and introduces the lovely Mélanie Thierry.
“It was the chance to tell a love story that would be both lyrical and expansive,”
filmmaker Bertrand Tavernier said of making The Princess of Montpensier. “When we started the adaptation, our major concern was to bring out, in the context of the period, the depth of feeling and passion in the book, in all its naked violence. I wanted the film to be as modern and natural. I didn’t want to reconstruct a period, just capture its soul.”
The film plays heady and aptly shows the terrible conflict between duty and passion. Some aspects of the dramatic arc might feel familiar, but you won’t be glancing at your watch, that’s for sure.
Promiscuity, teenagers, and rampant rumors about who is doing who is what high school is all about. So when a rumor starts that high-schooler Olive (Emma Stone from Zombieland) has ‘done it’ for the first time she quickly becomes the talk on campus until more rumors brand her a slut and turn her life upside down.
Helping members of the geek squad earn some ‘cred’ by allowing people to think she had sex with them (for gift cards!) helps boosts their profile but eventually makes her a school pariah. Taking matters into who own hands and throwing a well read middle finger in the air, Olive brands herself with a capital red ‘A’ ala 'The Scarlet Letter' which she happens to be reading in English class.
Funny and smart, Easy Ais aided by a solid cast, including great performances by Patricia Clarkson and Stanley Tucci as Olive’s sharp and liberal parents. The teenagers in this film are a little too verbose, ala “Dawson’s Creek,” but it is a refreshing teen comedy that does play really well for laughs.
THE PEOPLE I’VE SLEPT WITH (A People Pictures – 89 min) Unrated Now Playing at Sunset 5
A sexy comedy about a promiscuous woman who finds herself with an unplanned pregnancy and five potential would-be fathers, she quickly goes the private dick route to find out who the baby-daddy is in order to marry him to live a “normal” life.
Provocative and funny, the potential dads include what the film’s main character describes as: 5-Second Guy, Mystery Man, Nice-But-Boring-Guy, Mr. Hottie, and BFF (her gay best friend). Finding creative ways to obtain DNA samples from her past conquests, at the core of the film is a touching story of the importance of defining friendship and family for a modern woman who must find the path to accept herself.
Directed by indie filmmaker Quentin Lee, The People I’ve Slept Withis a funny, boundary-pushing comedy. Hipper than The Switch, it’s not as hilarious as Knocked Up but it will definitely make forward-thinking audiences laugh.
NOW PLAYING EVERYWHERE (Columbia Pictures – 100min) Rated PG-13
A superstar with an ever growing lovely brood at home, you might not think of Angelina Jolie, one half of the dynamic duo that is "Brangelina" along with Brad Pitt, as action star material but you’d be mistaken. The star of such films as Wanted, Mr. & Mrs. Smith, not to mention the Lara Croft Tomb Raider series, Jolie, who now stars in Salt, destined to be a female-led action franchise, is at it once again.
Playing CIA officer Evelyn Salt, sworn to duty, honor and country, her loyalty is tested when a Soviet defector accuses her of being a Russian spy. On the run and using all her trained skills and years of experience as a covert operative to elude capture, Salt's efforts to prove her innocence only serve to cast doubt on her motives, as the hunt to uncover the truth behind her identity continues and the question remains: "Who is Salt?"
With the starring role originally offered to Tom Cruise to play CIA officer Edwin A. Salt, the actor turned down the role thinking it was too similar to his Mission Impossible character Ethan Hunt. Yet the film really works with a strong female lead. Personally I just find Jolie to look like a stick figure with big lips so it’s hard to really believe such a frail person could really kick so much ass. Please, someone feed this woman some food, she looks undernourished.
Teaming up with filmmaker Phillip Noyce (The Saint, Clear and Present Danger, Patriot Games), the people involved do know their action, and with the subject of Russian spies in the U.S., the plot couldn’t be any more timely. Although not quite on par with the Bourne films, Saltdoes manage to add a little spice to the current lackluster action genre.
COLIN FITZ LIVES! (Sundance Selects - 91min) Rated R Available Now on IFC Films – Cable on Demand
Billed as the “greatest film never released,” Colin Fitz Lives! has been compared to indie classics like Kevin Smith's Clerks and Quentin Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs and Robert Rodriquez's El Mariachi, all low-budget films that went on to great acclaim. The only difference with Colin Fitz Lives!is that it sat on a shelf for 14 years, until now.
World premiering at the 1997 Sundance Film Festival, the comedy about two security guards hired to guard the gravesite of a rock star on the fifth anniversary of his death (it seems that avid fans had committed mass suicide the previous year), the film garnered critical acclaim and won numerous festival awards including Best of Fest as well as Best Feature at the Austin Film Festival, and Best Comedy at World Fest Houston (apparently it was very big in Texas). With a cast of budding stars, at the time anyway, the cult hit stars William H. Macy, Martha Plimpton, John C. McGinley, Mary McCormack, and Christopher Bauer now of “True Blood” fame, and was on the fast-track to become an indie classic and mainstream crossover. The only problem was that back in the ‘90s it was more expensive to make and edit films and the offers that first-time director Robert Bella was receiving wouldn’t cover his costs. In debt, out of money, and homeless for a while, it took Bella years to get his finances in order and only recently was he able to buy back the film from his creditors and find an offer that would get the film out to the masses. It’s currently available now On-Demand (check your local cable provider to order).
A comedy about love, death and rock & roll, Colin Fitz Lives!is a heady romp that deserves to finally see the light of day. Had Bella and crew made the same film today, with the advances in digital technology, it would have been a breeze to sell the film and get it in theaters. But now everyone can finally see what all the buzz has been about all these years where only a handful of film fest goers were privy to the life and times of one Colin Fitz.
Set in the world of the adult entertainment industry, the characters in Finding Blissdon’t like the P-word (that is, pornography). This is a self-discovering, arousing comedy about a real go-getter with desires to make it in Hollywood as a filmmaker but is forced to start out at the bottom (or at least looking a bare bottoms all day long) editing hardcore adult entertainment.
Directed by Julie Davis, herself a former editor at Playboy, this marks Davis’ fourth feature film, her other efforts include, I Love You Don’t Touch Me! and Amy’s Orgasm, both provocative films about strong women with relationship issues, as well as All Over The Guy. Davis’ style always delivers a candid and sexy approach and Finding Blissis no different.
Starring Leelee Sobieski as 25-year-old award-winning film school grad Jody Balaban, young Jody wants to direct movies and is horrified when she has to take a job editing X-rated films. But then she decides to make her surroundings work to her own advantage by editing adult films by day and secretly directing her own film at night using the studio’s porn sets and porn actors, a compromise she must accept.
The film also stars Matt Davis (Legally Blonde), as well as Denise Richards, Kristen Johnston, and Jamie Kennedy who constantly steals the show as porno actor Richard “Dick” Harder. While the film glosses over the dark side of the adult entertainment business, the characters are at least well developed enough to not just be cookie cutter clichés.
GEORGE A. ROMERO’S SURVIVAL OF THE DEAD (Magnet – 90min) Rated R Now Playing at the Nuart Theatre
The sixth zombie film for horror master George Romero, the man responsible for such classics as Night of the Living Dead, The Crazies, Dawn of the Dead, Monkey Shines, and The Dark Half, his latest offering, Survival of the Dead, again finds humans in the minority in a world where zombies rule.
Relentless, raging, rabid fun, the story is set off the coast of Delaware on Plum Island where two families are locked in a struggle for power, as it has been for generations. The O'Flynn's, headed by patriarch Patrick O'Flynn (Kenneth Welsh) approach the zombie plague with a shoot-to-kill attitude while The Muldoons, headed by Shamus Muldoon (Richard Fitzpatrick), feel that the zombies should be quarantined and kept 'alive,' in hopes that a solution will someday be found.
As the battle between humans and zombies escalates, Romero continues to reinvent the modern horror genre with razor sharp dark humor and pointed social commentary.
In classic George Romero fashion, Survival of the Dead is loaded with laughs, appropriate gross-out moments and edgy zombie mayhem. Purposely not as comedic as Zombieland or as intense at 28 Days Later, Survival of the Deadfinds itself somewhere in between and just as entertaining.
MOTHER IN THEATERS NOW (Magnolia Pictures – 129 min) Rated R
Winner of the 2009 Film Independent Spirit Award for Best Foreign Film, Bong Joon-ho’s latest film, Mother, is a unique murder mystery about a mother’s smothering and primal love for her son.
The mother in question here is a devoted single parent to a simple-minded 27-year-old son who does what he pleases. One night while coming home drunk he begins to follow a girl that is found murdered the following morning. Since he’s an easy target, the police arrest the dim wit and charge him with murder. That’s where Mother jumps into action determined to prove her son innocent and find the real killer.
“The relationship between a son and his mother is the basis for all human relationships,” director Bong Joon-ho (last seen with his monster film The Host) explains. “Countless novels, films and television programs have approached the mother figure; but I wanted to explore it for myself, and see where I could take it on a cinematic level; and push it to the extreme.”
Mother(Madea in Korean) is a thriller along the lines of Hitchcock with elements of comedy. Starring actress Kim Hye-ja, a 50-year veteran of Korean film and television, she really captures the mother-on-the-edge to perfection and delivers a solid and riveting performance.
I guess the moral of the story is that Korean mothers aren’t to be messed with, similar to Latina moms, because this is one bad mutha in question. Nevermind the killer, there’s a determined mother on the loose…lookout!
Mother is in theaters now; playing in Pasadena at Playhouse 7 Cinemas;West Hollywood at Sunset 5; and West Los Angeles at The Landmark.
Baring sharp fangs and a deadly bite, The Wolfman is a remake of the classic Universal film, bringing the story of a cursed man back to its iconic origins. Starring Oscar winners Benicio Del Toro and Anthony Hopkins, the plot follows a nobleman lured back to his family estate after his brother vanishes. Reunited with his estranged father, he sets out to find his missing sibling. He learns that something with brute strength and insatiable bloodlust has been killing the villagers, prompting a suspicious Scotland Yard inspector to investigate.
But even with the best of intentions to find his missing brother, bad luck comes upon him the night of a full moon when a werewolf owns the night. The Wolfmanisn’t for the squeamish as it doesn’t pull back any punches when it comes to the gore factor. A throwback to old school Hollywood horror, with a bit of impressive modern day CGI to boot, the film is aided by solid performances, good direction by filmmaker Joe Johnston (Jurassic Park III) and six-time Oscar winning special effects artist Rick Baker.
This Wolfman plays better than the ill fated 1994 Jack Nicholson film Wolf. There are tons of thrills and chills and some laughs, along with some very cool special effects. A good horror film is always a welcome treat in my book. I’m not sure if it is right for a Valentines weekend release but it will try to rip your heart out.