Archives for April 2016

TCM Classic Film Festival dazzles Hollywood once more

Get your Kleenex ready.

The theme of this year’s TCM Classic Film Festival is Moving Pictures and, according to senior vice president of programming Charlie Tabesh, that means movies that make you cry. Speaking at Wednesday’s press conference, Tabesh added that he was particularly looking forward to “The Passion of Joan of Arc” and “Cinema Paradiso.”

Tabesh was joined on the panel by TCM host Ben Mankiewicz, general manager Jennifer Dorian and festival managing director Genevieve McGillicuddy. The fest runs Thursday through Sunday in Hollywood.

The hottest film-noir ticket is “The Manchurian Candidate” on Friday night. Angela Lansbury will attend the screening.

The hottest film-noir ticket is “The Manchurian Candidate” on Friday night. Angela Lansbury will attend the screening.

While films about religion, sports and animals fit nicely with that emotional theme, film noir doesn’t mesh quite as naturally. But our friends at TCM would never leave noiristas out in the cold.

Fresh from the Film Noir Foundation’s recent Noir City Hollywood is the Foundation’s restoration of the 1956 Argentine noir “Los tallos amargos” (“The Bitter Stems,” 1956, Fernando Ayala). There’s also a screening of 1955’s “Love Me or Leave Me,” a rare gem, directed by Charles Vidor and starring Doris Day as real-life torch singer Ruth Etting, married to a gangster, played by James Cagney.

Director John Berry’s son Dennis Berry is scheduled to attend Friday’s screening of the 1951 film noir “He Ran All the Way,” starring John Garfield as a thief on the run holding Shelley Winters hostage. Dalton Trumbo wrote the script. Another essential noir is “Private Property” (1960, Leslie Stevens), a twisted lust triangle, starring Warren Oates.

On Friday afternoon, photographer and writer Mark Vieira will sign copies of his new book, “Into the Dark: The Hidden World of Film Noir, 1941-1950.”

Friday’s film-noir fare finishes with “Repeat Performance” (1947, Alfred Werker), newly restored by the Film Noir Foundation.

Dean Men Don't Wear Plaid posterNoir master Billy Wilder’s “Ace in the Hole” (1951) starring Kirk Douglas and 1982’s noir spoof “Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid” starring Steve Martin, screen on Saturday. Carl Reiner, who wrote and directed “Dead Men,” will be interviewed after the movie.

Representing the neo-noir contingent is “The Conversation” (1974, Francis Ford Coppola, who will get his star on Hollywood Boulevard during the fest), Milos Forman’s Oscar-winning “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” (1975), with Jack Nicholson in one of his finest hours, and “The Long Goodbye” (1973, Robert Altman) in which Elliott Gould brings Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe to life in the ‘70s, as a scruffy loner. Gould will be interviewed at the fest. Jean-Luc Godard’s “Band of Outsiders” (1964), a French New Wave reinterpretation of classic Hollywood crime movies, must not be missed.

John Huston’s “Fat City,” from 1972, screens Sunday. This great, gritty boxing drama stars Stacy Keach and Jeff Bridges.

But perhaps the hottest film-noir ticket is “The Manchurian Candidate” (1962, John Frankenheimer), showing Friday night. Special guests are Angela Lansbury (can’t wait!) and Alec Baldwin.

These are just a few highlights of a festival that is packed with events, discussions and fun things to do. Thanks, TCM, for another great year.

Additionally, TCM is excited to announce the launch of Backlot, the network’s first fan club. Backlot will offer exclusive content, never-before-seen talent interviews, archival videos from the TCM vault, an exclusive TCM podcast, as well as opportunities to win visits to the TCM set, attend meet and greets with TCM hosts and the opportunity to influence programming through online votes. TCM Backlot can be accessed at tcmbacklot.com for an $87 annual fee.

And, coming this fall, TCM is teaming up with Criterion to launch FilmStruck, an art-house lover’s streaming service. Stay tuned for more details.

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Three COLCOA films view World War Two through the eyes of women and children

By Film Noir Blonde and Michael Wilmington

The unthinkable horrors and everyday nightmares on the home front during World War II are movingly depicted in three excellent new French films, which premiered at this year’s COLCOA French Film Festival: “The Innocents,” “Come What May” and “Fanny’s Journey.”

“The Innocents” is a shocking film set in 1945 Poland.

“The Innocents” is a shocking film set in 1945 Poland.

“The Innocents,” from director Anne Fontaine, received both the Audience Award and a Critics’ Special Mention. (Unlike 1961’s “The Innocents” – an adaptation of Henry James’ classic ghost story – by director Jack Clayton, starring Deborah Kerr, this film is based on fact.) Lou de Laâge stars as a French Red Cross doctor who comes to the aid of a Polish convent in 1945, after learning that several nuns have been raped by Russian soldiers. Fontaine’s graceful sweeping storytelling balances the shocking subject matter. She elicits memorable performances from the cast as she shows the nuns questioning their faith in varying degrees. Luminous cinematography and a somber score enhance the chilling mood.

“Come What May” won the festival’s Critics’ Award.

“Come What May” won the festival’s Critics’ Award.

In 1940, about 8 million French people left their homes as the invading German Panzers made their way through the Ardennes forest. “Come What May” tells the intimate story of a handful of villagers (August Diehl, Olivier Gourmet, Mathilde Seigner, Alice Isaaz and Matthew Rhys) as they abandon their town to head for the coast, where they hope to be safe from the invasion. Director and co-writer Christian Carion based the film on his mother’s real-life recollections of fleeing the Nazis at age 14. Beautifully made and acted, the film also boasts a score from Oscar winner Ennio Morricone. “Come What May” won the festival’s Critics’ Award.

In “Fanny’s Journey,” Léonie Souchaud plays Fanny Ben Ami.

In “Fanny’s Journey,” Léonie Souchaud (center) plays Fanny Ben Ami.

In “Fanny’s Journey,” Léonie Souchaud plays Fanny Ben Ami, who in 1939, when she was 13, fended for herself and her younger sisters, after their father was arrested in Paris. The girls stay briefly in a refectory for Jewish children but when that is no longer safe, Fanny faces a fearsome duty: leading a group of children left on their own through Nazi-occupied Europe to the Swiss border.

Director and co-writer Lola Doillon (daughter of filmmaker Jacques Doillon) has made an exquisite-looking period film – both a tense thriller and tender coming-of-age story. She has carried on the family tradition of delivering effortlessly fresh and spontaneous performances from child actors. “Fanny’s Journey” is based on Ben Ami’s autobiography.

FNB writer Mike Wilmington called the film “an instant classic.”

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COLCOA announces festival winners

The Franco-American Cultural Fund today announced the winners of the COLCOA French Film Festival.

Anne Fontaine photo by uniFrance.

Anne Fontaine photo by uniFrance.

The Innocents,” directed by Anne Fontaine won the COLCOA Audience Award. The film will be released in the U.S. by Music Box Films.

Come What May” was awarded the Critics Award by the Los Angeles Film Critics Association jury.  The film was written and directed by Christian Carion. It will be released shortly in the U.S. by Cohen Media Group. “COLCOA proves it is the indispensable film festival for Los Angeles movie lovers,” said the jury in a statement. “It’s deeply satisfying to sink into a week of films of such originality, authenticity and substance.”

Made in France,” co-written and directed by Nicolas Boukhrief, won the Audience Special Prize while the Critics Special Prize went to The First, the Last, written and directed by Bouli Lanners.

Audience Special Mentions were given to “Un Plus Une,” co-written and directed by Claude Lelouch and to “I am a Soldier,” co-written and directed by Laurent Lariviere.

Critics Special Mentions went to “Fatima,” written and directed by Philippe Faucon and “The Innocents.”

The Best Documentary Award went to “Tomorrow,” co-written and co-directed by Cyril Dion and Mélanie Laurent.

The First Feature Award went to “Neither Heaven nor Earth,” co-written and directed by Clément Cogitore. The film will be released in the U.S. by Film Movement.

The Coming Soon Award, a prize given in association with KPCC 89.3, to a film with a U.S. distributor, went to animated feature “Long Way North.” The film will be released in the U.S. by Shout! Factory.

For the winners of Television and Shorts categories, please visit the COLCOA web site.

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‘Courted’ touts top acting, but its stories disappoint

By Film Noir Blonde and Michael Wilmington

In “Courted,” writer/director Christian Vincent transports us to the professional and private world of Michel Racine, a fussbudget French judge in the criminal courts. Racine is a memorable characterization, beautifully played by Fabrice Luchini, who received last year’s Best Actor prize at the Venice International Film Festival for this performance.

“Courted” (“L’Hermine” in French) had its West Coast premiere at the COLCOA French Film Festival in Los Angeles Wednesday night, the same night as its North American premiere at the Tribecca Film Festival in New York.

Courted posterThe movie, which almost instantly recalls Sidney Lumet’s courtroom classic, “Twelve Angry Men,” shows Racine presiding over a brutal murder case, in which a 7-month-old child has died. The child’s surly father (Victor Pontecorvo) is the defendant. As the mechanics of the trial unfold, we meet the lawyers, the jury and a key witness, the child’s mother (Candy Ming). The jurors are a chatty bunch and one of them tells the group she has heard through the grapevine that Racine is known around the courthouse for his arrogance.

But he’s also a human being with very human problems. Indeed, it’s a bit jarring to see Racine, at the end of the day, sans his regal ermine robe, ordering soup in the tacky hotel where he lives, a result of his pending divorce.

By coincidence, another juror (Sidse Babett Knudsen), an empathetic Danish-born doctor, has crossed paths with Racine in the past, and this connection plays out as a budding romance.

A novel premise, “Courted” has much to offer – it’s well written and well acted all around. Luchini removes Racine’s pompous, curmudgeonly veneer to reveal his wistful vulnerability. Knudsen shines as the woman who attracts him, a lonely divorced mom who has devoted herself to her kids and career.

Crisply shot and nicely paced, the film’s tonal changes between drama and romcom are gracefully handled. But, at the same time, this mix of genres creates some problems. While it’s fascinating to see the French judicial system at work, shown with some of the same engrossing detail as Lumet’s great films and Dick Wolf’s “Law & Order,” the trial scenes lack the crackling tension that would have completely hooked us voyeurs.

Similarly, there’s a shortage of subtle chemistry between Luchini and Knudsen – both are sympathetic but there is an awkward flatness between them that never lifts. Even if this is intentional, it’s hard to care much about this fledgling couple. There’s a pivotal moment in the trial that would seem to clinch their relationship and oddly that moment is glossed over, a small but significant flaw.

Also strangely lost in the shuffle is any authentic reaction or concern about an unusually dire and depressing murder case. The characters’ jaded detachment is puzzling.

The fact that veteran writer/director Christian Vincent’s point of view remains rigidly superficial limits the film – the merged storylines should pulse with riveting intensity on two fronts, but instead “Courted” retreats disappointingly into bland disengagement.

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Enchanté, Monsieur Sy … COLCOA opens with a deftly performed drama, ‘Monsieur Chocolat’

Omar Sy

Omar Sy

France’s hottest export right now just might be actor/writer/producer Omar Sy. His new film “Monsieur Chocolat,” was the opening selection at the City of Lights City of Angels (COLCOA) French Film Festival Monday night in Hollywood.

The 38-year-old, easy-on-the-eyes French actor attended the fest reception and stayed after the film for a Q&A with director Roschdy Zem.

Monsieur Chocolat” is based on a true story of two circus clowns – one black and one white – who change the dynamics of comic performance in turn-of-the-century France, clearly no small task, given society’s hard-wired and rampant racism, not to mention the hardscrabble and precarious life of on-the-road entertainers. James Thierrée co-stars.

Sy’s most famous film is 2011’s “The Intouchables,” where he played a streetwise caregiver to a wealthy quadriplegic (François Cluzet). Enormously popular in France, the movie became the best selling French film of all time, but was less well received in the U.S.

A gifted comic actor, Sy’s engaging performance is the highlight of this flick. Thierrée, too, is at the top of his game. In fact, these are two of the best actors in contemporary French cinema.

Enchanté, Monsieur Sy! Let’s hope he stays all nine days of this truly charming and delightful festival.

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‘The Adderall Diaries’ story-within-a-story is an entry to skip

Father-son dynamics come to the fore of “The Adderall Diaries” along with true crime, drug abuse, S&M, and the blurred boundaries between art, real life and editorial license. Director Pamela Romanowsky’s ambitious drama is based on Stephen Elliott’s memoir of the same name. Romanowsky and Elliott co-wrote the sprawling script.

Adderall Diaries posterIn the film, Elliott (James Franco) is the author of a semi-autobiographical novel that chronicles the abuse he suffered as a child at the hands of his father, now deceased. Hailed as a major literary talent, Elliott has a generous advance for his next book and the encouragement of his agent (Cynthia Nixon). But, behind the scenes, Elliott struggles – he can’t focus and is using the drug adderall in an attempt to relieve his writer’s block.

He decides he wants to write about a real-life murder trial, in which a computer programmer named Hans Reiser (Christian Slater) is accused of murdering his wife. Reiser was found guilty and sentenced in 2008. (The actual murder and trial took place in California, but is reset in New York.) During the trial, Elliott meets a New York Times reporter (Amber Heard) and the two start a relationship; she also has been abused. An extra wrench in the works comes when Elliott’s father (Ed Harris), rough around the edges but in fact alive and sort of well, confronts Elliott about the accusations in his book.

There’s a smorgasbord of titillating storylines here and for the first half of the film, Romanowsky’s direction feels capable and confident, eliciting solid performances from her cast and creating a tense mood, edged with darkness (despite the frequent flashbacks, which were overdone and heavy-handed). But then she seems to lose her way, letting narrative threads unravel and dangle clumsily. The story doesn’t end as much as sputter to a halt – as if the project just became overwhelming.

Perhaps it was increasingly difficult to deal with two major intertwined deficits. First, many details of the story (altered from the book) don’t feel authentic. Nixon’s character is referred to as an editor, instead of an agent. I never got a sense that Heard’s NYT reporter was actually filing stories. Her primary objective seems to be pleasing Elliott in bed, until his kinky requests get too weird for her.

Second, Heard and to a certain extent Franco are miscast in this piece. I didn’t buy Heard as an adrenaline-fueled, deadline-driven, fact-checking writer and Franco’s existential suffering was undercut by a cute, cuddly vibe that he can’t quite shake.

Elliott’s father and his alternate version of their past should have been meaty and moving but instead felt trite and by the numbers, even though Harris is a fine actor. And Elliott doesn’t offer any particular insight into the Reiser case (that might have been covered more thoroughly in the memoir, which I haven’t read.) By the time the film ended, or rather expired, it left me deflated, frustrated, a little confused and, worst of all, bored.

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Noir City Hollywood kicks off with an Argentine noir

Noir City Hollywood starts Friday at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood. The famed fest is presented by the American Cinematheque in collaboration with the Film Noir Foundation.

The provocative series opens with the Foundation’s restoration of the 1956 Argentine noir “Los tallos amargos” (“The Bitter Stems,” 1956, Fernando Ayala), followed by 1947’sRiff-Raff” (Ted Tatzlaff). A reception will take place between the films.

The fest runs through April 24. Eddie Muller and Alan K. Rode of the Film Noir Foundation will introduce the movies.

Paul Henreid and Bette Davis try to recapture their love in “Deception.”

Paul Henreid and Bette Davis try to recapture their love in “Deception.”

For the double feature of “Deception” (1946, Irving Rapper), starring Bette Davis, Paul Henreid and Claude Rains, and “Hollow Triumph” (1948, Steve Sekely) on Saturday, April 23, Paul Henreid’s daughter, Monika Henreid, will join Muller for a discussion of her dad’s work in both films.

On the closing day, Sunday, April 24, the Film Noir Foundation and its media publishing partner Flicker Alley will host a reception celebrating the Blu-ray/DVD releases of two FNF 35mm restorations: “Too Late for Tears” (1949, Byron Haskin) and “Woman on the Run” (1950, Norman Foster). Stay for an encore screening (in 35mm) of “Too Late for Tears.”

Deep Valley posterOther highlights include:

Edward G. Robinson and Burt Lancaster star in “All My Sons” (1948, Irving Reis), based on Arthur Miller’s play.

William Powell flexes his film noir muscle in “Take One False Step” (1949, Chester Erskine).

The work of French poetic realist/film noir specialist Julien Duvivier gets a double feature—“Flesh and Fantasy” (1943) and “Destiny” (1944). Also notable: the Jazz Noir double feature, and the Anthony Mann double feature: “Side Street” (1949) and “Dr. Broadway” (1942).

Tony Curtis doubtless does some fine-ass lip snarling in 1952’s “Flesh and Fury.”

Ida Lupino in “Deep Valley” (1947, Jean Negulesco) and the usual suspects—Virginia Mayo, Zachary Scott, Elisha Cook Jr. and Dorothy Malone—in “Flaxy Martin” (1949, Richard L. Bare). Note to self: Check if @FlaxyMartin is taken.

Dead Reckoning” (1947, John Cromwell), a good little yarn starring Humphrey Bogart and Lizabeth Scott. Read more here: Dead Reckoning review.

So get your pencil skirts pressed and your fedoras flashing as you gear up for some twisty, chewy badness, guaranteed to trigger your existential angst and your black-and-white nostalgia but not before giving you some wry laughs, sexy camerawork, sizzling chemistry and boundless charisma.

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COLCOA celebrates 20th anniversary with a superb lineup

By Film Noir Blonde and Michael Wilmington

The COLCOA French Film Festival turns 20 this year!

The Franco-American Cultural Fund’s City of Lights, City of Angels (COLCOA) French Film Festival, now in its 20th year, will run April 18-26 at the Directors Guild of America in Los Angeles.

COLCOA’s executive producer and artistic director François Truffart has announced that a record 70 films and television series will be shown at the fest. This includes four world premieres, seven international premieres, 19 North American or U.S. premieres, 17 West Coast premieres and 21 new shorts. Fest organizers say COLCOA is the world’s largest event dedicated to French films and television.

The festival will open on Monday, April 18, with the North American premiere of “Monsieur Chocolat,a biopic about the first French black clown, directed by Roschdy Zem, and starring Omar Sy. The fest will close with a romantic comedy called “Up for Love,” starring Academy Award winner Jean Dujardin and Virginie Efira.

COLCOA will celebrate the 11th anniversary of its Film Noir Series with a three-title series to run Friday night, kicking off with “A Decent Man,” a dark drama about a feckless dude (Nicolas Duvauchelle) who falls into a dire trap of dishonesty. Emmanuel Finkiel directed and co-wrote.

Kalinka film posterThe next film in the series is director and co-writer Vincent Garenq’s “Kalinka” (“Au nom de ma fille”), the story of a father’s  27-year fight for justice in the name of his murdered daughter, starring the always-magnificent Daniel Auteuil.

The final movie is “Fast Convoy,” which the fest calls a “slick, turbo-charged road thriller.” It was co-written and directed by Frédéric Schoendoerffer and stars Benoît Magimel.

All other series are back as well: COLCOA Shorts, Classics, and Documentaries as well as Happy Hour Talks, World Cinema Produced by France, the After 10 series and the French NeWave 2.0 series.

Bon anniversaire, COLCOA !

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