Paris Photo Los Angeles starts Friday at Paramount Studios

Stefania Fersini

Stefania Fersini

Jane O’Neal On Location in LA (To Live and Die in LA), 1984

Jane O’Neal
On Location in LA (To Live and Die in LA), 1984

William Mebane

William Mebane

This weekend you can stroll around a storied studio and see work from some of the world’s finest photographers. The third edition of Paris Photo Los Angeles runs Friday, May 1, to Sunday, May 3, at Paramount Pictures Studios in Hollywood.

Featuring exhibitors from 17 countries, Paris Photo Los Angeles shows work from nearly 80 art galleries and specialized art book dealers. In addition to still photos, moving images will be displayed.

New this year is the INTRODUCING! Young California Photographer Award, in partnership with J.P. Morgan. After the success of last year’s UNEDITED! Archives of the LAPD exhibition, the program returns with CALIFORNIA UNEDITED!: a collection of 19th Century photographs from the R.J. Arnold Archive.

The exhibition also includes a conversation series called SOUND & VISION.

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‘A Perfect Man’ is an ideal start to COLCOA film festival

Last night, the COLCOA French Film Festival kicked off with a lovely reception and a screening of “A Perfect Man,” directed and co-written by Yann Gozlan.

A Perfect Man posterIn the movie, Pierre Niney plays Mathieu Vasseur, a sensitive smart loner and struggling fiction writer. When he happens to find an unpublished manuscript written by a French soldier in the Algerian War (who is now deceased), Mathieu takes a gamble and sends it to a publisher. It’s an instant success and Mathieu’s once-dismal existence is transformed, bringing him money, acclaim and the love of Alice Fursac (Ana Girardot), a beautiful and brainy literature professor who hails from a prominent family.

But three years later, Mathieu’s lies catch up with him: he’s spent all his money and he’s made zero progress on a second book. Also bothering him: a blackmailer and a nosy friend of the Fursac family. As Mathieu gets more desperate to cover his tracks (à la Patricia Highsmith’s Mr. Ripley), he turns to increasingly dire methods to hang onto his pretty illusion.

As always, the COLCOA opening-night reception was delightful.

As always, the COLCOA opening-night reception was delightful.

Granted, there are several times where “A Perfect Man” might inspire head-shaking incredulity. But I found that easy to forgive because there is so much that’s highly entertaining about the film – Niney and Girardot are just right for their parts, not to mention the luscious cinematography, shocking twists, taut pacing and gorgeous locations.

Alfred Hitchcock had a name for viewers who quibbled with the likelihood of a suspense movie’s plot points occurring in real life: The Plausibles. In his view, these nitpickers were missing the point, which was to enjoy the story’s thrills, both narratively and visually.

Of course, there needs to be some semblance of reality as well as sophistication in terms of storytelling in order to gloss over pesky points of fact. And it’s a difficult balance to maintain – some films are so compelling that it’s easy to forgive even major errors, others we dismiss completely because we just can’t buy into the film’s reality.

In the case of “A Perfect Man,” ditch your Plausibles checklist and just have a good time.

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COLCOA French fest opens and Noir City Hollywood closes

It’s a busy time for film buffs in Los Angeles.

The COLCOA French Film Festival opens tonight, Monday, April 20, with an elegant reception and the opening night film, a thriller called “A Perfect Man,” directed and co-written by Yann Gozlan and starring Pierre Niney and Ana Girardot.

Pierre Niney plays the wily writer in  “A Perfect Man.”

Pierre Niney plays the wily writer in “A Perfect Man.”

It’s a story of shifting identities as a struggling author stumbles upon a wildly unethical way to make the best-seller list.

With echoes of Patricia Highsmith’s Mr. Ripley, “A Perfect Man” strikes us as a divinely decadent way to kick off this wonderful festival, now in its 19th year.

There is much to see this year (check the COLCOA site for info on free screenings and cool events) and we are counting the days until Friday’s Film Noir Series.

The fest takes place at the Directors Guild of America, 7920 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles, 90046.

Sunday was the closing day of an essential film fest, for noiristas and others: Noir City Hollywood, presented by the American Cinematheque in collaboration with the Film Noir Foundation. The foundation’s urbane noirphiles Eddie Muller and Alan K. Rode were on hand throughout the fest to introduce the movies. This year, they brought another excellent selection (heavy on adaptations of the great master of pulp suspense Cornell Woolrich).

The lineup included a real find: the American debut of three almost unknown but brilliantly done and stunningly visualized film noirs from Argentina: “The Black Vampire” (Roman Vinoly Barreto, 1953), a remake of Fritz Lang’s “M,” and superb adaptations of Woolrich stories in “Never Open That Door” (Carlos Hugo Christensen, 1952) and “If I Should Die Before I Wake” (Christensen, 1952).

Dorothy MacKaill lights up the screen in “Safe in Hell” (1931, William Wellman).

Dorothy MacKaill lights up the screen in “Safe in Hell” (1931, William Wellman).

The fest wrapped up with a four-movie proto-noir marathon:

The Ninth Guest” (1934, Roy William Neill) a mystery with a generous dollop of Deco glam.

Let Us Live” (1939, John Brahm) featuring the great Henry Fonda as a wrongly identified killer and a riveting performance from Maureen O’Sullivan as his girlfriend.

Heat Lightning” (1934, Mervyn LeRoy) a pre-Code delight about two sisters (Aline MacMahon and Ann Dvorak) running a garage and car-repair shop in the desert and ridding the place of rats, such as fleeing criminal and old flame (Preston Foster).

Safe in Hell” (1931, William Wellman) Dorothy MacKaill is unforgettable as a sparkling blonde siren who spends the entire movie fighting off men as she waits in vain on a Caribbean island to be with the guy she truly loves (Donald Cook).

Don Castle was a Clark Gable lookalike.

Don Castle was a Clark Gable lookalike.

My attendance was spotty this year because I had to leave town unexpectedly (such is life for a femme fatale) but my colleague Mike Wilmington caught quite a few.

Other highlights from this year’s fest were: “Woman on the Run,” “The Underworld Story,” “Abandoned,” “Circle of Danger,” “Berlin Express,” “Ride the Pink Horse,” “The Fallen Sparrow,” and “The Guilty” as well as that triple bill of Argentinian film noir.

The closing-weekend party was loads of fun, especially since I won a nifty raffle prize! I definitely needed my drink tickets that night. Why? By the small but mighty curveball in “The Guilty” when the lead character (Don Castle) reveals that he is studying “commercial geography” to land a good job.

What??? Education and hard work to get ahead? Was the movie going to start preaching about the virtues of a work ethic? Aaargh! Thankfully, this was, in fact, a temporary glitch and the character turned out to be crazy-bad.

Phew! I was freaked out there for a moment but everything was just as it should be in Noirville.

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In noirish ‘Clouds,’ Juliette Binoche and Kristen Stewart shine

At a recent press screening, several of my fellow critics and I were lamenting the lack of good movies released so far this year. It’s about time for some titles worth touting.

Clouds of Sils Maria poster with JB KSThe one standout, most of us agreed, is French writer/director Olivier Assayas’ “Clouds of Sils Maria,” a drama with neo-noir elements (set in Sils Maria, Switzerland) that revolves around a high-profile actress, exuding poise and sophistication, named Maria Enders (Juliette Binoche).

Maria’s enviable career comes full circle when she is talked into making the ultimate encore: She will return to the play that spurred her success 20 years before, though this time she will star as the older women whose life is falling apart. Cast as the luscious ingénue in this rendition is a Hollywood bad girl struggling to steer clear of the tabloids and be taken seriously as an actress (Chloë Grace Moretz). Kristen Stewart co-stars as Maria’s smart, cynical and chicly bespectacled assistant, Valentine.

We are introduced to Maria and Valentine on a train as it solemnly chugs though gorgeous mountain country and the story of these two women, a generation apart, unfolds like a long journey — freeing and claustrophobic, intimate and impersonal, destined yet random and mysterious. We see the boundaries of their intense relationship stretch, fray and then suddenly, frighteningly vanish.

“Clouds of Sils Maria,” beautifully shot, impeccably cast and confidently directed, has deservedly garnered much praise, especially for the superb performances from leads Binoche and Stewart. (Never having seen “Twilight,” I am now a big Stewart fan).

Suspenseful and sly, wistful and resonant, “Clouds” should not be missed.

Ex Machina posterMeanwhile, many reviewers have been impressed with first-time director Alex Garland’s “Ex Machina” (Garland also wrote the script). This sleek sci-fi thriller is crisply smart, coolly shot with a chilly color palette and well acted. In fact, I failed to recognize Oscar Isaac as the mad but muted scientist. Domhnall Gleeson plays a young techie who wins the chance to assess the emotional intelligence of a sexy female robot — a truly heartless femme fatale (Alicia Vikander). It sounds good and looks great but somehow the film overall felt slightly shallow and short on ideas.

Similarly, “True Story,” fails to live up to its potential, despite grisly real-life details. James Franco plays Christian Longo, an Oregon man who received the death sentence in 2003 for murdering his family. While on the run in Mexico, Longo impersonated a journalist named Mike Finkel (Jonah Hill). In need of a career boost after being fired by the New York Times for making up one of the interviewees in a magazine story, Finkel agreed to write about Longo and later published a memoir about his experience.

True Story posterFranco and Hill are compelling as is Felicity Jones as Finkel’s girlfriend. But director and co-writer Rupert Goold loses his way and the storytelling soon becomes murky.

Also, it’s a bit hard to take “True Story” seriously when it depicts the New York Times newsroom as a place where reporters raucously drink beer and play poker after submitting their stories. (Or maybe it’s just hard to take James Franco seriously after the fiasco that was “Child of God”). But it’s been a few weeks since I’ve seen it and nothing much of the movie has stuck with me. Still, there are worse ways to kill two hours.

Also drawing mixed but mostly good reviews is Levan Gabriadze’s debut feature “Unfriended,” a horror flick that takes place entirely on the small screen, ie Skype and Facebook. Shelley Hennig leads a cast of high-school friends who are harassed by a mysterious cyber-stalker. It’s a clever gimmick and the acting’s good, but other than that, “Unfriended” tells a same-old same-old story about the secrets and betrayals of teen friendships and romance.

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‘The Long Goodbye’ is a highlight of Altman at the Aero

On Friday, March 20, the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica will present “The Long Goodbye” (1973, Robert Altman) as part of a weekend tribute to this stellar director. This event is free to all current American Cinematheque members, with regular pricing for non-members. There will be an introduction by Kathryn Altman, who will sign her book Altman in the lobby at 6:30 p.m. The movie is at 7:30 p.m.

The Long Goodbye/1973/United Artists/112 min.

One of the best films of the ’70s or an ugly, boring travesty of a well respected detective novel?

Elliott Gould and Nina Van Pallandt in “The Long Goodbye.”

Decide for yourself as you watch Robert Altman’s 1973 movie of “The Long Goodbye,” by Raymond Chandler. The film, starring Elliott Gould as private investigator Philip Marlowe, divided critics, earning the above-mentioned rave from Time Out and the snooty slam from Leslie Halliwell.

It was primarily Gould’s free-wheeling interpretation of the beloved PI that drew ire. Charles Champlin called him an “untidy, unshaven, semi-literate dimwit slob.”

An entertaining yarn, soaked in ’70s atmosphere, the movie captures the sunny, scruffy, solipsistic mood and look of Malibu, Calif., at the start of the Me Decade. Marlowe’s next door neighbors, for example, are pot-brownie-baking, clothing-optional candlemakers. We only see them from a distance but in a way they are timeless party girls, a ’70s version of “The Girls Next Door.”

And “The Long Goodbye” stretches the vocabulary of film noir. As Foster Hirsch, author of “Detours and Lost Highways: A Map of Neo Noir,” writes: “For all its self-indulgence and contradiction – the film both satirizes and seeks acceptance as a cool, contemporary L.A. mystery story – Altman’s ‘new age’ noir suggested the genre’s elasticity at a time when it was considered passé. Produced before nouveau noir had taken root, ‘The Long Goodbye’ anticipates the full-force genre revival of the 1980s and 1990s.”

We meet Marlowe late one night as he’s trying to round up food for his hungry cat (Morris the Cat in the role that launched him to stardom). The story spices up when Marlowe’s friend Terry Lennox (Jim Bouton) asks him, after a marital spat, to drive him to Tijuana.

Marlowe doesn’t have much else going on (besides cat care, of course) and so they make the trip; Marlowe heads back on his own to find that Lennox’s wife is dead. The police press Marlowe for info on Terry’s whereabouts, hoping that a little jail time will jog his memory (David Carradine plays Marlowe’s cellmate). They ease up after Terry Lennox commits suicide, having first written a letter confessing to the murder.

Marlowe’s not buying the suicide, but turns his attention to a new client. The sun-kissed and sophisticated Eileen Wade (Nina van Pallandt) wants Marlowe to find her missing hubby Roger Wade, a boozy writer, (played by the wonderful Sterling Hayden, a veteran of film noirs like “Asphalt Jungle” and “The Killing”).

Searching for Roger isn’t all that challenging, but Marlowe has his hands full with a visit from psychopathic gangster Marty Augustine (director Mark Rydell) and his hoods (including young Arnold Schwarzenegger). They’re sniffing around for a load of cash that Terry Lennox was supposed to deliver to Mexico. Surprise, surprise, the cash never made it. So the surly, anti-social Marlowe plods on toward the truth, trying not to get any sand on the shag carpets. [Read more…]

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Three neo-noirs open and a legendary blonde gets her day

Gena Rowlands makes her mark with the help of her son Nick Cassavetes (right).

Gena Rowlands makes her mark with the help of her son Nick Cassavetes (right).

Veteran actress Gena Rowlands knows that life is messy. She made her mark playing difficult, disturbed and complex women in films such as “A Woman Under the Influence,” “Faces” and “Gloria,” all made with her husband, the groundbreaking writer/director/actor John Cassavetes. (All three films garnered Oscar noms.)

But Rowlands, 84, recently dealt with a happy mess when she planted her hands and feet in wet cement at the TCL Chinese Theatre IMAX, formerly known as Grauman’s Chinese.

“I want to tell you one thing and I want you to listen,” she told the crowd at the ceremony last Friday. “If I get stuck in that cement, I expect all of you to help me out of it.”

Six Dance Lessons posterJoking aside, it’s hard to imagine Rowlands, with her gravelly voice, graceful posture and piercing blue eyes, needing help of any kind. To be sure, she’s delightful to watch in her latest vehicle, a comedy/drama called “Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks.”

Directed by Arthur Allan Seidelman and written by Richard Alfieri (from his hit play of the same name), the movie introduces us to two lonely-hearts: Rowlands as a bored widow named Lily with time on her hands and no one to twirl her around the ballroom, and Cheyenne Jackson as Michael, a snippy gay dance teacher with attitude and arrogance to spare. It’s familiar territory: the oddballs with nothing in common who clash at first, then find true camaraderie and lasting affection.

Somehow, it’s a tad hard to buy that the stunningly gorgeous Michael is really that hard up for guys to date. (On stage, David Hyde Pierce played Michael, opposite Uta Hagen.) And there are more than a few manufactured moments. But this is a fluffy, crowd-pleasing, feel-good flick.

At a recent press day, Rowlands said she welcomed the chance to play the role, given the paucity of good parts for older women. “They’ve been done sort of an injustice,” she said. “Older people are the ones who have been places and seen things and have insight.”

Rowlands’ crisp and independent Lily likely will resonate with viewers. “She just wasn’t going to take it. She just wasn’t going to be miserable,” said Rowlands. “She was going to have some fun.”

And Rowlands said she voiced her opinion about Lily’s sexy dancing dress, making sure it looked as tasteful as possible. As she put it: “I have not made a reputation on my bosom!”

Inherent Vice posterThe much-anticipated “Inherent Vice” (director Paul Thomas Anderson’s adaptation of Thomas Pynchon’s novel of Los Angeles in 1970) stands as an exemplar of the neo-noir canon.

As pothead private eye Doc Sportello, Joaquin Phoenix is grubby, raunchy and amusing throughout. Doc agrees to help his ex-girlfriend (Katherine Waterston) after she confides to him that her current lover’s life could be in danger. Doc’s snooping sets off a gloriously Byzantine plot in the tradition of “The Big Sleep,” “Out of the Past,” “D.O.A,” “Pulp Fiction” and “The Big Lebowski.”

Doc encounters an assortment of mostly corrupt malcontents, including Josh Brolin as a brutish cop, Owen Wilson as an airheaded surf musician, Jena Malone as his wry wife, Reese Witherspoon as a cynical district attorney not averse to puffing a joint, Benicio Del Toro as Doc’s hip lawyer, and Martin Short as an evil dentist.

Anderson provides assured direction as well as a script that is both slick and at times touching. “Inherent Vice” is a head-banging cinematic ride. It’s hard, however, to escape the feeling that this trippy, 148-minute excursion to hippiedom could be a little more entertaining, a little funnier than it is. Anderson puts his top-tier cast in comic situations and there are laughs, to be sure, just not quite enough to energize the material as a whole.

Tales of the Grim Sleeper posterIn “Tales of the Grim Sleeper,” documentarian Nick Broomfield tells a riveting crime story of haunting sadness and infuriating injustice. But given that the crimes – the murders of at least 10 women, some of whom were prostitutes – took place in South Central Los Angeles it’s hardly surprising, according to London-born Broomfield, who describes Los Angeles as operating under apartheid.

Certainly, it is staggering to consider that the murders took place over a period of 22 years with apparently little effort by police to follow clues, connect the cases or alert the community to the potential danger. LA Weekly reporter Christine Pelisek broke the story in 2007. In 2010, a mechanic named Lonnie Franklin, now 62, was arrested and is awaiting trial.

The LAPD would not participate in Broomfield’s film so arguably there may be gaps or questions about the events. But one thing’s for sure: Watching Broomfield’s recounting of the facts will make your blood boil.

The Captive posterFrom its opening scene, “The Captive,” loosely based on an actual case in Ontario, Canada, declares itself an unconventional thriller. That’s not surprising given that it’s directed and co-written by unconventional filmmaker Atom Egoyan (“Where the Truth Lies,” “The Sweet Hereafter”).

The titular captive is a girl named Cass (Alexia Fast) who is abducted and held prisoner for close to a decade by an uber-creepy rich guy (Kevin Durand). Her parents, Mireille Enos and Ryan Reynolds, struggle to maintain hope that Cass is still alive; meanwhile their marriage is in tatters. Rosario Dawson and Scott Speedman are the cops trying to crack the case.

Some elements of “The Captive” are praiseworthy: the stark cinematography full of isolated, foreboding winterscapes; the weird, unnerving atmosphere; the raw performances. But the story feels ill conceived and randomly plotted, leading to a particularly hackneyed and hard-to-buy turn for Dawson’s tough, streetwise character. Unfortunately, the non-linear narrative doesn’t so much unfold as flop around, sometimes annoyingly, serving to create tedium more than tension.

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The Film Noir File: Crawford at her craziest in ‘Possessed’

By Film Noir Blonde and Mike Wilmington

The Film Noir File is FNB’s guide to classic film noir, neo-noir and pre-noir on Turner Classic Movies (TCM). All movies below are from the schedule of TCM, which broadcasts them uncut and uninterrupted. The times are Eastern Standard and (Pacific Standard).

Pick of the Week

Possessed

Van Heflin is immune to Joan Crawford’s charm in “Possessed.” What nerve!

Van Heflin is immune to Joan Crawford’s charm in “Possessed.” What nerve!

(1947, Curtis Bernhardt). Thursday, Nov. 20. 4:15 p.m. (1:15 p.m.) With Joan Crawford, Van Heflin and Raymond Massey. Read the full review here.

Thursday, Nov. 20

2:15 p.m. (11:15 a.m.): “A Stolen Life” (1946, Curtis Bernhardt). Two Bette Davises, both in love with Glenn Ford, create mass confusion when one of them (his wife) dies and the other (her sister) substitutes herself. A double-role tour-de-force, which two-faced Bette tried again in 1964‘s “Dead Ringer.” With Walter Brennan, Dane Clark and Charlie Ruggles.

8 p.m. (5 p.m.): “The Birds” (1963, Alfred Hitchcock). With Rod Taylor, Tippi Hedren, Suzanne Pleshette and Jessica Tandy. Reviewed in FNB on Oct. 23, 2014.

Friday, Nov. 21

Dennis Weaver goes from frustrated to freaked out in “Duel.”

Dennis Weaver goes from frustrated to freaked out in “Duel.”

8 p.m. (5 p.m.): “Duel” (1971, Steven Spielberg). “Jaws” made Steven Spielberg famous, but it was the earlier made-for-TV movie “Duel” that first showed he could scare the pants off any decently susceptible audience. Based on a Richard Matheson story, this brilliantly made, terrifying action movie pits an increasingly exasperated and then frightened motorist (Dennis Weaver) against an oncoming truck driven by a faceless trucker. A huge smoke-belching behemoth of a truck keeps pursuing him, apparently trying, for no reason he can fathom, to run him off the road and kill him. A real shocker.

12 a.m. (9 p.m.): “Scarecrow” (1973, Jerry Schatzberg). With Al Pacino, Gene Hackman and Dorothy Tristan). Reviewed in FNB on May 6, 2013.

2 a.m. (11 p.m.): “The Last Detail” (1973, Hal Ashby). With Jack Nicholson, Randy Quaid and Otis Young. Reviewed in FNB on Feb. 20, 2013.

Sunday, Nov. 23

9:45 a.m. (6:45 a.m.): “Citizen Kane” (1941, Orson Welles). With Welles, Joseph Cotten, Everett Sloane, Dorothy Comingore and the Mercury Players. Reviewed in FNB on July 13, 2012.

2 p.m. (11 a.m.): “The Big Sleep” (1946, Howard Hawks). With Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Dorothy Malone and Elisha Cook, Jr.

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Stanley Kubrick’s ‘The Shining,’ noir as they come, plays Saturday at the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica

The Shining/1980/Warner Bros./144 min.

By Mike Wilmington

The Shining poster Jack Nicholson“Heeeere’s JOHNNNY!!!!” screams the ferociously demented-looking hotel caretaker Jack Torrance as he axes open a door to get at his terrified wife Wendy and their child Danny, in the frightening final scenes of “The Shining“ – Stanley Kubrick’s flawed yet unforgettable 1980 film of what may be Stephen King’s best novel.

“The Shining” is revived on Saturday, Nov. 22, at the American Cinematheque’s Aero Theatre.

In the movie, Jack (played to the hilt by Jack Nicholson) is snowbound with his family (played by Shelley Duvall and Danny Lloyd) in the mountainous and isolated Overlook Lodge. It’s a vast spooky place, decorated with somber Native American motifs and infested with a creepy set of ghosts, including a sardonic bartender and a lecherous nude old lady and the previous caretaker who murdered his own family long ago in these same eerie corridors and rooms.

Wendy and Danny have watched Jack going crazier and crazier. Now, Mad Jack has hit his frenzied peak  and there‘s no one at Overlook to stop his axe-swinging rampage.

“The Shining” is not only based on King‘s best novel; it‘s probably the best movie ever adapted from any of King’s books. Even so, it’s flawed, and King was right to be somewhat disappointed with it. Here’s the problem: Kubrick and his fellow screenwriter, novelist Diane Johnson (“Le Divorce”) wrote Jack as crazy as a loon the moment he stepped into the Overlook (and even before).

King, more movingly, wrote his main character as a sympathetic but haunted alcoholic and failed novelist who loved his family and gradually sank into madness, fighting, as the ghosts and demons took over. In retrospect, Kubrick probably should have hired King as his co-writer rather than Johnson. The original story would have made a better movie and an even better role for Nicholson.

That said, “The Shining” is still one hell of a show, noir as they come, and one of the most horrifyingly visual of all classic American horror movies.

The Aero Theatre is at 1328 Montana Ave. in Santa Monica.

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‘Foxcatcher’ draws us in with riveting acting but denies dramatic satisfaction

Alert: This review contains a spoiler.

Foxcatcher posterFoxcatcher/2014/Sony Pictures Classics/134 min.

“I’ve been looking for a father my whole life and I finally found him in John du Pont,” says Channing Tatum as Olympic wrestling champ Mark Schultz in “Foxcatcher.”

The movie is based on the real-life saga of the ultra-wealthy du Pont (Steve Carell) and his working relationship with Mark Schultz and his older brother Dave Schultz (Mark Ruffalo), both of whom won Olympic gold medals in 1984.

With the apparent aim of coaching wrestlers for the 1988 Seoul Olympics, du Pont invites Mark to train on his family estate, Foxcatcher Farm. But du Pont has little talent for coaching and it’s clear he wants to be more than a father figure to his protégée.

When Dave joins his brother at Foxcatcher, Mark is pushed aside and becomes alienated. Du Pont sours on his coaching plans and ultimately commits murder.

Director Bennett Miller (“Capote” and “Moneyball”) won the Best Director prize for “Foxcatcher” at the Cannes Film Fest. E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman wrote the script. The film strikes a grim and chilling mood, and Miller elicits memorable performances. From his pasty skin to his hunched gait to his clipped, halted speech, Carell perfectly conveys the menacing arrogance and internal emptiness that apparently defined du Pont’s personality. Ruffalo and Tatum are excellent as well.

But the film is strangely lopsided. Though it creates intensely compelling portraits on the surface, it shies away from examining the characters, especially du Pont, in real depth (once the triangle grows strained, Mark is essentially sidelined) and avoids any probing of du Pont’s interior life or motive for a cold-blooded killing.

Steve Carell is almost unrecognizable as creepy John du Pont.

Steve Carell is almost unrecognizable as creepy John du Pont.

That was a conscious decision, said Miller at a recent press conference in Beverly Hills. “[The film] resists the temptation of concluding anything, of putting labels on what this complex is. It purposely denies you the satisfaction of saying that’s what it was and to let you stop thinking about it. There was no conclusion in real life.”

At du Pont’s trial, neither the prosecution nor the defense suggested a motive for the crime. A jury rejected du Pont’s request to be found not guilty by reason of insanity. He was found guilty but mentally ill.

Carell said du Pont’s longtime sadness and loneliness influenced his portrayal. “I never approached him as a villain,” he said at the press conference.

And though Carell is compelling to the point of being almost unrecognizable as this awkward creepy loner, the fact remains that du Pont was indeed a villain, in more than ways than one. Completely sidestepping this essential component of the story dilutes the overall impact.

That said, “Foxcatcher” is worth seeing, especially given the Oscar buzz around the actors. “It’s very rewarding that it is resonating with people,” Carell said. “It was challenging, exciting and exhilarating.”

“Foxcatcher” opens in theaters today.

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Film noir features prominently at AFI FEST 2014

A Most Violent Year poster largeWe at FNB are eagerly awaiting the start of AFI FEST 2014 presented by Audi.

The terrific slate of shows runs Nov. 6-13 in Hollywood. The fest opens and closes with neo-noir titles that are generating Oscar buzz. “A Most Violent Year,” starring Oscar Isaac, Jessica Chastain and David Oyelowo, will kick things off. Set in 1981 in New York City, the film tells the story of an immigrant struggling to survive amid intense crime and danger. “A Most Violent Year” is directed by J.C. Chandor (“Margin Call” and “All Is Lost”).

Inherent Vice posterThere will be two screenings on Sat., Nov. 8., of director Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest feature: an adaptation of “Inherent Vice” by novelist Thomas Pynchon. Joaquin Phoenix stars as P.I. Doc Sportello in 1970-ish Los Angeles. We’re in. Phoenix leads a stellar cast including Katherine Waterston, Josh Brolin, Owen Wilson, Reese Witherspoon, Benicio Del Toro, Jena Malone, Maya Rudolph and Martin Short.

On Monday, Nov. 10, “The Gambler” is the gala screening. In this remake of the 1974 James Caan film, Mark Wahlberg plays Jim Bennett, a college professor immersed in the watch-your-back world of underground gambling. English director Rupert Wyatt (“The Escapist” and “Rise of the Planet of the Apes”) joins forces with Boston-born writer William Monahan (“The Departed”).

Foxcatcher,” the closing night movie, is based on the real-life saga of ’80s Olympic wrestling champs Dave and Mark Schultz (Mark Ruffalo and Channing Tatum) and their uneasy working relationship with ultra-wealthy wrestling hobbyist/“coach” John du Pont (Steve Carell). Things go from tense to deadly in this spare and thoughtful drama, for which Bennett Miller took home the Best Director prize at the Cannes Film Fest. (His previous work includes “Capote” and “Moneyball.”) We caught this at a press screening last night – it is very chilling and very well done. From his pasty skin to his zombie rasp that passes for a voice, Carell perfectly conveys the menacing imperiousness and internal emptiness that apparently defined du Pont’s personality. Ruffalo and Tatum are excellent as well.

sophia-loren-afi-tribute[1]These are just a few of the film-noir offerings and there is much more going on, such as the Sophia Loren tribute on Nov. 12. Who doesn’t love this supremely talented and stunningly beautiful actress?

The complete AFI FEST program includes 118 films (73 features, 45 shorts), representing 39 countries. There are 29 films directed/co-directed by women, 16 documentaries and 17 animated films.  The breakdown by section is: Galas/Tributes (6), Special Screenings (8), American Independents (8), New Auteurs (10), World Cinema (29), Midnight (4), Breakthrough (4), Conversations (4), Cinema’s Legacy (4) and Short Films (45), and includes 9 official Foreign Language Film Oscar® submissions.

Free tickets are available: http://www.afi.com/afifest/freetickets.aspx

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