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3 Holes and a Smoking Gun – Movie Review
Staci Layne Wilson
staci_wilson
I never have understood why Hollywood insider stories don’t do especially well onscreen (with Entourage being one big exception). And films based on writers are usually one rung below those. But I’m always partial to them, especially the indie ones. While it’s not exactly like Swimming with the Sharks or 3 Days in the Valley, 3 Holes and a Smoking Gun shares some similarities – and better yet, it’s an authentic neo-noir shot on location in two of the best cities in the world.

Those who can’t do, teach – and so that’s what scribe-on-the-skids Bobby Blue Day (James Wilder) does for a living: he’s a screenwriting instructor. When one of his less-talented students, Jack (Zuher Khan), comes out of nowhere with a stellar script called “Hijack”, Bobby’s attention is snagged. And so are his baser instincts, as he sets out to snag the screenplay from the young upstart. As it turns out, Jack didn’t write the killer script – but he did kill to get it. The film flop-flips from one extreme to the next, and while the comedy isn’t quite strong enough to support the outlandish suspension of disbelief requirements, it’s still a fun ride down the dark and dreamy streets of L.A. and New York City.

3 Holes and Smoking Gun is uneven. The only real standout actor was James Wilder (why isn’t this guy a big star already?), but most everyone else acquits themselves ably enough. The writing (by Scott Fivelson) is sharp and salty, but the direction is definitely lacking in style and voice. John Honoré’s cinematography is superb (I first noticed it in 2011 when I reviewed The Theatre Bizarre), but the music is nothing special. And so on.

No, it’s not perfect across the board – but still, I enjoyed the story and if you’re in the mood for a talky little potboiler 3 Holes and Smoking Gun is just the ticket. It's now available via Vudu, Netflix and many online rental outlets. Definitely worth a look.

Burgundy is the Warmest Color – “The Duke of Burgundy” Movie Review
Staci Layne Wilson
staci_wilson
1586f2bf6c37356bf41f868a9b8da02aLike a lush Ingmar Bergman chamber piece with a touch Jess Franco style sensuality, one could say The Duke of Burgundy is a kinky cross between the seminal S&M sendup Secretary and the most dazzling homage to giallo in recent years, Amer.

As the film takes its title from the name of a rare species of butterfly, it’s fitting how angels and insects intersect in writer-director Peter Strickland’s languid look at womanly passions. Like the winged creatures they study, there’s a chrysalis-like turn on the axis between lovers Cynthia (Sidse Babett Knudsen) and Evelyn (Chiara D’Anna) as the seductive narrative unfolds.

More psychological than sexual (yet the impressionistic love scenes are still deeply erotic) this is an arthouse movie for true and avid cinephiles. The Duke of Burgundy is more adult, and far more interesting and layered than the other indie lesbian sex-drama which recently made waves, (the overrated) Blue Is The Warmest Color. Cynthia and Evelyn are in the nadir of a co-dependent dom/sub relationship, but there’s a droll, unstated humor beneath the veneer of pain.

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Strickland’s talent is unique in that he can exploit the milieu, mood and tone of 70s Euro grindhouse cinema (think: The Living Dead Girl, or Emmanuel), and yet make it palatable to modern sensibilities, complete with a more intimate connection to the characters. These women, kinks and all, are actually relatable. 

As with Strickland’s first feature, The Berberian Sound Studio, audio plays a crucial role here. It is every bit as complex and nuanced as the visuals, using a mix of high heel clicks on hardwood floors, heavy breathing, music by Cat’s Eye (as well as the purr of a Siamese cat) and the butterfly-wing buzz of insects. The visuals are truly stunning… perhaps a bit much at times (even for me, which is saying a lot) with the ghosted images, overlapping semi-transparent faces juxtaposed with other imagery, and so on. But still: Nic Knowland’s digital cinematography is a feast for the eyes and the soul.

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DOB_still_020_Sidse Babett Knudsen as Cynthia, Chiara D"Anna as Evelyn


This isn’t a party movie, and it’s not something to have on in the background while you dust the shelves. The Duke of Burgundy is an experience to be savored. Give it your full attention, preferably in a warm, dark room – in solitude, or with someone you love.

The Duke of Burgundy has only played in some international film festivals to date, but its U.S. release is slated for January 23, 2015.

5 Things You Need to Know Before Seeing “The Equalizer"
Staci Layne Wilson
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Denzel Washington stars in this cinematic take on the popular 1980s crime-of-the-week television series of the same name. (Don’t remember it? It won Emmys and Golden Globes in its four-season run from 1985-89 and featured a gray-haired, doughy British actor, Edward Woodward, in the title role.)

Whether or not you’re a fan of the TV show, here are five things everyone should know before buying the ticket and walking into that dark movie theater.

1. It is seriously violent.

Sure, we’re used to middle-aged kick-ass avenging angels thanks to, well, every movie Liam Neeson has been in, in the past 10 years. But “The Equalizer” is like two “Taken” flicks as co-directed by John Woo and Nicolas Winding Refn. (Actually, the director is Antoine Fuqua, who worked with Washington before in “Training Day”.) McCall is the MacGuyver of murder here, taking anything that’s close at hand to fend off his foes, and then adding a little spit and spackle to make it that much more deadly. During the showdown in a home improvement store, the violence is downright balletic as our hero goes ballistic with chainsaws, razor wire, drills, and claw hammers.

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2. Little Chloë Grace Moretz is all grown up.

The apple-cheeked child star is now a hot-pants wearing, fetish wig donning lady of the evening in “The Equalizer”. She plays Teri, an underage prostitute in a ring run by the Russian mob, who befriends a bookish stranger… who just turns out to be McCall. And McCall doesn’t take kindly to child abuse. After Teri’s pretty face is burned with acid thrown by her wrathful pimp (Alex Veadov), McCall calls up his old powers of persuasion and goes on the warpath.

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3. You have to wait a pretty long time for all that violence.

As one astute reviewer put it, “The Equalizer” feels like an odd mix between “Death Wish” and “Reading Rainbow,” because McCall is not only a passionate bookworm, who spends his long, lonely nights leafing through Hemingway and Cervantes in a local diner, he’s also the fat police, admonishing his overweight coworker (Johnny Skourtis) whenever the tubby wanna-be security guard goes over his allotted daily calorie count. McCall spends at least a half a non-violent hour just reading, counseling, and joking around with his fellow cashiers and shelf-stockers at the home improvement warehouse. Oh -- and he also does a back-up dance, ala Gladys Knight and the Pips, circa 1972.

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4. “The Equalizer” movie is nothing like “The Equalizer” series.

In the TV show, McCall was a middle-aged divorcee living in a gritty pre-Giuliani New York. In the movie, he’s a middle-aged widower living in a gritty post-recession Boston. In the TV show, McCall prowled the night streets in search of bad guys while riding in a sleek, classic Jaguar. In the movie, he has a boring day job and takes public transit. In the series, the Equalizer advertised his special pro-bono revenge services in the classifieds. In the film, McCall is trying to keep a low profile. And so on.

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5. There are more false endings than a “Lord of the Rings” movie.

All’s well that ends well. Well, sure… but it’s not the end. Just when you think the last loose thread has been pulled, there’s another one. And when you think the end has really come, it’s only near. Wait for the parting shot that’s sets it all up for an “Equalizer” sequel.

Overall, I liked “The Equalizer”. What’s not to like about Denzel Washington? Everyone’s his biggest fan, right? And as usual, he’s quite good at striking the balance between affable and bad-ass. The movie is overly long, and certainly overly-violent in contrast to its sometimes preachy do-right earnestness, but it’s well worth a look.

“The Equalizer” opens nationwide on Friday, September 26, 2014. (Photos Courtesy Sony Studios).


​Fast 5 Hot Bots – and a peek at the new Antonio Banderas Sci-Fi "AUTOMATA"
Staci Layne Wilson
staci_wilson

While Automata, the new dystopian science fiction film from visionary Spanish director Gabe Ibáñez, does indeed deliver an intelligent robot plot… they just couldn’t resist making one of the mechanical minxes a former sex surrogate. (Not that there's anything wrong with that...)

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The shapely, souped-up Roomba first shows up in lingerie and a fetish wig, but soon shucks her trappings and goes on the run (or lockstep as the case may be) with the human she’s been programmed to protect -- Antonio Banderas as an unwilling fugitive from the corrupt corporation he once worked for.

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While the film is actually not great, it does boast a great, gritty look and feel. The robots – there are some male machines in the mix as well – are 100% mechanical yet textured with non-sappy human traits.

The mere fact this movie was made, and more movies like it are poised on the horizon, shows just how fascinated we continue to be with the possibility of artificial intelligence in people-shaped packages. Ever since Maria made her debut in Metropolis way back in 1927, we’ve been fascinated with the possibility of man-and-machine relations.

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Until Automata hits theaters in limited release on October 10, check out these racy robots from days of yore.

GALAXINA

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Playboy Playmate played the ultimate plaything in the low-budget 1980 sci-parody Galaxina.

GIGOLO JOE

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Jude Law portrayed to perfection a foxy ‘bot built to serve a woman’s every need and desire in A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001).

T-X

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Kristanna Loken as T-X (“Terminatrix”) made male temperatures rise as the first on-screen female Terminator in Rise of the Machines (2003).

THE COWBOY

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Way back in 1973, Yul Brynner was a badass leather-clad killing machine in Westworld, one of the first fantasy-horror takes on the genre. (The gold standard of bots gone bad would really come alive in ‘75 with the release of The Stepford Wives.)

PRIS

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Daryl Hannah brought sex and style to the screen in the 1982 epic Blade Runner as Pris, a “basic pleasure model” replicant.


Four Fine Reasons to see the Film Horns
Staci Layne Wilson
staci_wilson

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1. Daniel Radcliffe in Devil Horns

Yep, with the title Horns you do get what you expect to see. The film follows Ig Perrish (Daniel Radcliffe) the underachieving son of well-to-do parents and the boring boyfriend of restless beauty Merrin (Juno Temple). Ig’s life suddenly gets interesting when his sweet S.O. is brutally slain and he’s the sole suspect. Shortly after that, Ig sprouts a pair of hellish horns and the sight of them compels mere mortals to confess their sins to him - an effective tool in his quest to discover the true circumstances of the crime and for getting revenge on her killer.

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2. Juno Temple Dancing to Classic David Bowie

In a flashback scene showing the evolution of Ig and Merrin’s love fest, we see how they bonded over Bowie. The two love lovebirds have a secret tree-house in the forest where they dance and romance. In one lavishly-lensed scene, Merrin does a sensuous, solo slow dance in a see-through sheath dress to the spinning vinyl of “We Could Be Heroes”. Ig disrobes and they make the branches sway.

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3. Heather Graham as a Fame-Famished Waitress

While the spontaneously sprouted horns never really register with the locals, the shocking murder certainly is a springboard for hot headlines. The small Pacific Northwestern logging town is soon overrun with reporters from all over place, each vying for the best angle. The night server at Eve’s Diner is just dying to be a part of the media circus that surrounds local star / possible killer Ig Perrish, and in a small but memorable role, Graham’s character gets a lot more recognition than she bargained for.

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4. James Remar is Remarkable as Ig’s Deadpan Dad

James Remar has a long and storied career – from his breakout role in The Warriors (1979) to Dexter’s devious dad on the long-running Showtime series of the same name. So it’s always a pleasure to see him onscreen, even if only in a supporting role. He’s tops in Horns as drab Derrick, a guy who prefers his drug-addict musician son Terry (Joe Anderson) to the straight and narrow Ig, just because Terry can play a mean trumpet. But that’s not the only mean thing here, as Remar reels off his real reasons (remember: the sight of the horns compels folks to tell the awful truth) for believing Ig actually murdered Merrin.

While Horns is a mixed bag – tonally, it can’t quite decide if it’s fable or grit – the flick’s well worth a look.


​Killer Kiwi Comedy Comes Stateside - A look Inside Housebound
Staci Layne Wilson
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Kylie Bucknell (Morgana O'Reilly) is in trouble again. She’s been given quite a few breaks, being young and bright, but this time the judge has had enough: unrepentant Kylie is sentenced to house arrest, ankle-bracelet and all, and forced to live with her nattering mum Miriam (Rima Te Wiata) and stoic step-dad Graem (Ross Harper). That’s worse than prison, as far as Kylie’s concerned. She settles into a sulk, doing nothing but zoning out in front of the TV set, eating her parents out of house and home, and basically not lifting a finger. But Kylie soon learns she’s not the only housebound soul… someone else is forced to stay within the walls of the creepy, creaky old homestead. Someone who may or may not be alive.

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If you’ve been dreaming of a Kiwi terror take on The Sixth Sense as it meets Home Alone blended with Bad Ronald, then you’ve come to the right place. Writer-director Gerard Johnstone cleverly twists and shifts genres into a mysterious, hilarious Rubik’s Cube of haunted-house suspenser, whodunit and family comedy as his heroine walks the tightrope of fear and fun – all the while trying to keep her ankle monitor from alerting her parole officer, Amos (Glen-Paul Waru). Of course, that does happen and when he joins the fray, the action really, er, steps up. Add Kylie’s court-appointed a psychologist, Dennis (Cameron Rhodes) to the mix, and we’re off and running.

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First and foremost, Housebound succeeds as a horror film – it’s got some great jump-scares, a compelling plot-twisty mystery, and oh yes: plenty of gore. What makes it succeed is Johnstone’s nearly flawless juggling act – he never allows the humor to overshadow the scares. The actors’ deadpan delivery of droll dialogue is delish, and the kills are quite wicked.

Lock yourself in, and have a look. Just in time for Halloween, XLrator Media will be releasingHousebound in theaters, VOD and iTunes on October 17th.


​Movie Review – A look at the new biopic, Jimi Hendrix: All Is By My Side
Staci Layne Wilson
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Jimi: All Is By My Side is one of the most controversial biopics to come out in some time. Although in the very beginning words come up onscreen stating it’s “based on a true story” an awful lot of it is not entirely true to the guitar god’s actual story. Much artistic license is taken, and not in an art house way (ala the delightfully delirious Bob Dylan biopic, I’m Not There).

In “it’s only a movie” terms, I really liked it. Jimi: All Is By My Side is stylistically done by Academy Award-winning writer-director John Ridley (writer of 12 Years A Slave and Undercover Brother). Covering just over a year in Hendrix's life from 1966-67 as an unknown backup guitarist to making his mark in London's music scene up until his Monterey Pop triumph, the film offers an intimate, if uneven and untrue portrait of a complex, naive musician on the verge of becoming a legend.

It’s not so much a biopic as it is a mood piece. There were some interesting experimental choices made in regard to audio, sound design, music, and editing. Since the bio part of the pic is unauthorized, and the Hendrix estate would not license any of Jimi’s music, filmmakers stuck to his early cover tunes and used songs from the musician’s own heroes (Bob Dylan melodies figure in prominently). It works.

Andre Benjamin was well-cast in the title role. He did a good job of portraying Jimi's elliptical speech patterns and vague yet vigilant demeanor. The character comes off as enigmatic, but in rather an unsatisfying way. One feels more frustration, than intrigue.

Overall, Jimi: All Is By My Side is worth a look on the big screen, because it captures the essence of a time in music history quite beautifully.


Interview with D.G. Brock - Director of Misadventures of the Dunderheads
Staci Layne Wilson
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  • 1.Your latest film, Misadventures of The Dunderheads, is a whacky road trip comedy with a heart. Tell me a little bit about what aspects of the script really grabbed you and made you think “this is the one for me.”

D.G. Brock - Director: The tone of the script was totally fresh and unique. The film world is filled with scripts that are clones of each other, but this one was Theater of the Absurd black comedy with a very poignant dramatic heart beating at the center of it. I felt it really revealed in a very unusual manner the essence of one family with a little “f” and also that of the Human Family in a global sense. I’d NEVER seen such distinctive characters before and those characters shouted out for amazing actors to play them.


  • 2.How did your cast come on?

I was lucky to have a truly great Casting Director, Ronnie Yeskel. She is a true ”actors” Casting Director and very respected by very talented actors. When she brings their managers a script, they take it seriously.

Olympia Dukakis was my “dream actress” to play Ira, the eccentric Grandmother. She is a leading light of the American stage and an Academy Award Winner. She is also an incredibly brave actress who loved the fact that Ira says so little, so Olympia could convey the character through expression and body language which she does on an amazing level. She was even willing in her 70’s to roll around on the ground in a physical fight scene with her grandson. I tried to talk her out of doing so much of the fight scene herself, but she said “No, I have to do it. Otherwise, it will look fake and it’s what Ira would do.” Olympia totally understood the script when she read it and after talking to me and the producer, Bruce Stubblefield, had confidence that we were all on the same page in regards to the character and film.

Olympia is also a tremendous person. She’s all about the work, and very down to Earth about it. No diva would have sat around truck stop motels in the middle of the Mojave Desert with us at night drinking wine, telling stories, and singing favorite rock songs. She’s supportive of those she works with and especially of women. She’s definitely struggled like most women -- raising her own children while running a theater on the East Coast, teaching, and building an impressive career in film, TV, and theater. Also, she’s gorgeous with beautiful white hair and expressive hazel eyes. We had to really “ugly her up” for the role of Ira, but she has no personal vanity when she approaches a character. She works at staying in shape --- making sure she goes to Pilates classes at least several times a week when she’s not shooting in the middle of the Mojave.

Alison Brie came in and auditioned for me for the role of Ella. I think Ronnie Yeskel brought in every young actress in Hollywood who she thought had real acting “chops” for the role, but the first time I saw Alison’s Ella I knew she was the one. She really caught the magical air of Ella. It was lighting in a bottle. Now everyone knows what a beautiful and talented comedic actress Alison is, but she is really serious about her work. She can do comedy and drama equally well – she was a re-occurring character on “Mad Men”, Trudy Campbell, but I don’t think most people even realized it was the same actress as the one in “Community.” The talent just shines out of her when you work with her. On the set, she was very pleasant but quieter and shyer than you might think. Also, as with Olympia, there was no vanity about how her character needed to look. She just took the crazy hair and weird clothes look and ran with it, but then she plays with great skill and originality how happy Ella is when she gets a new flashy dress.

I’m really a spoiled director now from having worked with two such incredible women.


  • 3.Back in the heyday of men’s adventure novels and gentlemen’s magazines , lots of female authors – my own mother included – either used pseudonyms or their first initial and last name so the male reader wouldn’t be biased by the fact the author was a woman. So is that why you choose not to use your given name when credited as a director?

Yes. There is still enormous sexism in the film industry. The number of women directors actually hired to direct films has been sinking for the last 5 years, and it was tiny to begin with. The Chinese say “Women hold up half the sky” but in film and TV we are wasting most of that strength and talent. I would just rather appear to people exposed to my work in what I consider a sort of neutral guise so prejudice doesn’t come into play right away, but of course with the built in bias they frequently assume I’m a guy.

When I won “Best Feature Director” at the Lost Angeles International Femme Festival (the largest women’s film festival in the US), the awards committee had to double check that I was a woman even though the festival was only open to women directors or producers.


  • 4.Who is Misadventures of The Dunderheads for? What’s been the general reaction from audiences at the festivals?

Misadventures is for anyone who enjoys films that have a very fresh and unique voice, and loves great performances. The general reaction from festival audiences has been everything I could have hoped for. People laugh and some cry (especially Moms) and many audience members linger afterwards to talk about the film. We were surprised when we first started showing it at festivals at how many social workers and psychologists stayed after the screening wanting to talk about the depiction of a troubled family and were very complimentary about it. This totally blew our minds.

The producer and I constantly receive emails from people who have heard of the film, but couldn’t make it to a festival screening or catch it on the short run on the Starz Channel, and now want to know where they can see it.

Two specific groups who we have noticed particularly responding to it are 18 – 25 year old women who really relate to this “world’s most dysfunctional family” because almost everyone at that age believes their family is “weird” or actually discovers that they ARE. This group really relates to the performances of Alison and Haley Joel Osment. The other group is 40 and up, and includes both genders. They seem to respond to the film as a whole – a fable both comedic and tragic about the nature of family. Also, many of them are familiar with Olympia Dukakis.


  • 5.What it’s like trying to market an indie film these days? Is it any better, now that people can access films through so many different devices and outlets? How can our readers see Misadventures of The Dunderheads?

Film distribution is in the midst of a huge upheaval. For the last several years, it has been going through what the music industry went through ten – twelve years ago when unlicensed websites like Napster (at that time)started. A huge number of the companies who used to distribute independent film have gone out of business. It’s starting to get a tiny bit better as some of the audience has migrated to VOD and there are more places to see Indiefilms on VOD, but it’s still a bloodbath. Particularly in Europe. Europe used to be the main market for American Independent films and since the financial world crashed in 2008-2009 Europe has just not come back. I think the fragile state of their economy has a lot to do with this.

One of the biggest bottlenecks for Indie films has always been marketing and publicity, and it still is. If anything it’s worse because the distributors have disappeared (so no money for marketing) and the publicity world has fractured into a million pieces. There are lots of blogs and websites about film, but they each have a tiny little niche audience. It’s very hard if you’re an indie filmmaker with no money to try to DIY outreach to hundreds of tiny audiences. There is an audience that would like to see the film but they have to KNOW about it AND have ACCESS.

That is why the Producer and I just started an Indieagogo campaign to raise money for marketing and VOD, DVD, as well as theatrical distribution of the film around the country. We want to make sure EVERYONE and ANYONE who wants to see this film can and in whatever form they want to see it. You can find the campaign website and support the film at: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/distribution-a-completed-film-academy-award-stars

There are premiums (gifts) for everyone who makes a donation and two of the best are a VOD download or DVD of the film BEFORE the release to the general public. Hey, be the first one on your block!

ABOUT: D.G. Brock

D.G. Brock earned a degree in Motion Pictures/Television Production from the UCLA Film School where her screenplay, "Jeremy Todd" was chosen as one of the five Award Finalists in the prestigious Goldwyn Writing Awards.

While still a student at UCLA, she went to work for legendary film producer, Roger Corman, where she gained experience writing, directing, and producing genre features including the cult high school comedy, Rock 'n' Roll High School Forever.She gained further experience as a screenwriter for the Disney Channel as well as on Disney’s Honey, I Blew Up the Kid, and as a director for the Fox Kids Network.

However, D.G.’s first love is independent film and in addition to her work as a writer/director, she has been a busy consultant and/or producer on over 25 films including Buffalo '66, Tristan & Isolde, Girl in the Park, The Brown Bunny, End of Watch, Snitch and recently Begin Again.

Her latest work as a director, MisAdventures of The Dunderheads, won “Best Feature Film” at The Big Apple Film Festival at Tribeca Center (NYC) while still a work-in-progress and was selected to screen in seven cities on The Southern Circuit Tour of Independent Filmmakers. D.G received the “Best Feature Director” Award for MisAdventures at the Lost Angeles Int. Femme Festival.

D.G. is currently finishing the screenplay for the next film she will direct - "How To Be A Celebutant.” She splits her time between Venice Beach and Palm Springs, CA.


AFI Film Fest Roundup 2013
Staci Layne Wilson
staci_wilson
As AFI Festival Director (since 2010) Jacqueline Lyanga says, “the viewing of art should not be a privilege” and that is why the festival, one of the best in the world (and certainly my favorite) is always free to the audience. Sponsored by Audi this year, there’s an amazing array of gratis screenings to choose from.

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This year’s artistic director is Agnès Varda. Before the French New Wave, there was Varda. “The filmmaker created a visual language that merged documentary style with imaginative camera work, wrote L.A. Mag columnist, Drew Tewksbury. “Exploring feminist and realist themes since the 1950s, she deftly mixes playful elements with profound metaphors.” In addition to being enmeshed in this year’s AFI, she’s got an exhibit on hand at the nearby LACMA museum. (Varda Loves L.A.)

AFI went so far as to incorporate imagery from Varda’s 1961 film “Cléo From 5 to 7” into their posters and presentation video (which makes great use of The Doors’ L.A.-centric song, “The Changeling”).


Also on hand for presentations and Q&As are famed filmmakers Bernardo Bertolucci and Steve McQueen (pictured below with AFI Festival Director Jacqueline Lyanga), as well as star power along the lines of Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson (who were on hand to present their new film “Saving Mr. Banks” at one of the gala screenings).

There is everything from corny cannibal horror to classic New Wave, and lots in-between. As always, AFI Fest offers a fantastic mix of art-house dramas, Hollywood blockbusters (pre-release), documentaries, socio-political eye-openers, costume spectacles, and earnest indies (many of which are the product of crowd-funding).

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I missed a few on my list of to-do’s this year, but here’s a peek at what I did see:


“Blue Ruin”
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(2013, USA, Thriller, Directed by Jeremy Saulnier)

When an aimless beach bum finds out that the killer of his parents is being released from prison, he swings into action to wreak bloody revenge. He gets his man, but what he doesn’t count on is the loyalty and solidarity of the con’s well-armed and very pissed-off family. Excellently-acted, beautifully shot and deliberately-paced to nail-biting perfection, “Blue Ruin” takes a deserved place in the pantheon of no-holds-barred revenge thrillers. Fans of Chan Wook-Park’s “Vengeance Trilogy” will especially enjoy this flick. (And do yourselves a big favor: watch “Blue Ruin” instead of the odious “Oldboy” remake.)


“Cléo From 5 to 7”
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(1961, France, Drama, Directed by Agnès Varda)

A chronicle of minutes that make up a possibly doomed pop singer’s life, “Cléo From 5 to 7” is a buoyant blend of vivid vérité and marvelous melodrama. In France, the afternoon hours from five to seven are known as the time when covert lovers meet, but in this afternoon nothing could be further from the truth as Cléo awaits possibly fatal test results from her doctor. While the subject matter seems heavy, the movie is light as soufflé and as easy to absorb. It offers brilliant insight on how inner beauty affects outer beauty and whether or not the two can be mutually exclusive. The locations, costumes, and fantastic cinematography and editing present a time-capsule of pure wow.


“Congratulations!”
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(2012, USA, Comedy, Directed by Mike Brune)

When 8 year-old Paul Ryan Gray goes missing from the living room of his own home during a party for his older brother’s graduation party, Detective Dan Skok of the Missing Persons Bureau and his team of investigators move into ‘the scene of the crime’ and launch an investigation from its source: the Gray family house. Never straying from the property lines, the defective detectives paste ‘missing’ posters all over the house, search under the beds and behind the curtains, and – on occasion – call the boy’s name. An oddball mystery to be sure, this is the kind of flick that will appeal to fans of absurdist comedy along the lines of Monty Python or Kids in the Hall and who enjoy the antics of clueless detectives like “Sledge Hammer!” or “Andy Barker, P.I.”


“Congress, The”
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(2013, Isreal/Germany, Sci-Fi/Semi-Animated, Directed by Ari Folman)

Featuring an all-star cast, “The Congress” merges live-action drama and pseudo animé  sci-fi. It’s about an aging, out-of-work actress who decides to sign away her forever-young digital image for a future Hollywood, but once her 20-year contract is up she learns the true impact of her vain decision. While the sociopolitical aspects of the film are undeniably interesting, it’s an entertaining but ultimately uneven and unfulfilling experience at best.


“Documenteur: An Emotion Picture”
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(1981, France/USA, Drama, Directed by Agnès Varda)

A naturalistic, understated cinema vérité,  “Documenteur” follows a French woman who, separated from her lover and getting by as freelance typist, struggles to find a place in L.A. for herself and her young son. Not a lot happens in the film; it’s mostly musings and the cacophony of monotony of day-to-day life, yet there is a spiritedness in the work that’s quite unique to its director, Agnès Varda. It’s also quite a treat to see the so-alive Los Angeles locations as they were in the very early 1980s. From the expansive hand-painted murals of Downtown to the gentle rolling of the Pacific Ocean of Venice, it’s all about the big picture as seen through the eyes of an ordinary woman.


“Gloria”
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(2013, Chile, Drama, Directed by Sebastián Lelio)

Gloria is a middle-aged divorcée trying to remain vibrant and viable, but it’s hard when no one really seems to need – or even notice – her. First seen picking up casual dance dates at a local disco, Gloria eventually forms a steady relationship with one of them. All too soon she finds herself entangled in her boyfriend’s inability to extract himself from the ruins of his previous marriage, as her own grown children and ex-husband become even more distant from her. While there’s a lot to draw from here, there was perhaps too much Lelio found precious; a sagging center had me leaving the theater for another screening before I could see how it all ended.


“Green Inferno, The”
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(2013, USA, Horror, Directed by Eli Roth)

The story follows a group of privileged New York college kids who go off to the Amazon rain forest to show their seriousness about activism – one is motivated by fame, one to bring attention to barbaric practices played out by the native tribes, while another is interested only in the killer pot. Little do they know, they destined for a ‘killer pot’ of another kind when they encounter a tribe of bloodthirsty and flesh-famished cannibals. (Read more of my report for Fangoria magazine at their website). Fans of Roth might eat this up, but I consider myself in that camp and I was actually pretty disappointed. It’s been 6 years since Roth’s last foray behind the camera, making it even more of a shame he has not evolved or grown as a screenwriter or filmmaker since his 2004 debut, “Cabin Fever.” Characters from “Cabin Fever” or “Hostel” or “Hostel II” could have been slotted into “The Green Inferno” or vice versa, and no one would be the wiser.


“Herblock - The Black & The White”
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(2013, USA, Documentary, Directed by Michael Stevens)

Political cartoonist Herbert Block’s career at The Washington Post spanned 55 years and 13 presidents, a timeframe in which he claimed three Pulitzer Prizes, the Medal of Freedom and a significant role in President Nixon’s resignation. Gwen Ifill, Ben Bradlee, Tom Brokaw, Bob Woodward, Carl Bernstein, Ted Koppel and Jon Stewart are among the witnesses to Block’s life, work and indelible contribution to American satire in this very informative and well-made documentary. Although a lot of it is talking heads, I was never once bored: the editing and presentation are every bit as dynamic as the anecdotes.


“Jodorowsky's Dune”
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(2013, USA/France, Documentary, Frank Pavich)

It is not necessary to be familiar with French-Chilean cult director Alejandro Jodorowsky to enjoy this lively doc about ‘the greatest movie never made’ – what was to be an epic, experimental sci-fi cinematic adaptation of Frank Herbert’s classic novel “Dune.” Set to roll in a pre-“Star Wars” early 1970s, the film became a victim of its own unprecedented grandiosity. Director David Lynch would later go on to do the Hollywood version, while midnight movie maverick Jodorowsky would continue to steep himself in relatively obscure arty endeavors. Admirers of quixotic quests (not to mention fans of “Lost in La Mancha”) will thrill to the ecstasy and the agony of dreams dreamt and then dashed. Fortunately, the film’s not a downer and there’s nothing more charming than the interviews with the now 80-something year old auteur himself. A must-see for filmmakers, aficionados, dreamers, doers and ‘warriors’ of all ilk.


“Little Black Spiders”
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(2012, Belgium, Drama, Directed by Patrice Toye)

Set in 1978 and set in a secret Catholic home for unwed mothers, we follow the tale of winsome, bookish Katja. Some of the entrenched teens want to put their mistake behind them as soon as possible, but Katja, herself an orphan, longs to have her little baby. She dreams of a life with the married literary teacher with whom she fell in love, writing him a series of naïve, unsent letters as she awaits the birth of their child. During the long wait, the girls share each other’s ups and downs, form friendships and amuse themselves with whatever distractions they can. One fateful day the bubble bursts, and Katja becomes aware of the plans that the nuns are making behind their backs. More a dreamy coming of age drama than baby-stealing suspenser, “Little Black Spiders” nonetheless managers to present an ending that’s harrowing, gripping, and effective.


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“Marriage of Maria Braun, The”
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(1979, West Germany, Drama, Directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder)

Taking place during the fallout of World War II, a young bride tries to cope with poverty and loneliness in the wake of her soldier husband’s presumed death. This is the first film in Fassbinder’s famed “BRD Trilogy” (though it does no harm to see them out of order), and we follow this blonde bombshell’s sense of survival as she ruthlessly does anything and everything to rise above the rubble. While the film is somewhat turgid in places, it’s still wonderful to behold on the big screen.


“Mary Queen of Scots”
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(2013, Swiss, Drama, Directed by Thomas Imbach)

Her tale is one I never tire of – I’ve read several books on the subject of the tragic Queen, and enjoyed many a melodrama. While this version brings nothing new to the table in terms of storytelling or style, “Mary Queen of Scots” is enjoyable enough for both the completest and the casual costume drama fan. Its leads are well-cast, and the story is told in a straightforward fashion (except for a through-line of puppet-populated dream sequences which quickly wear out their welcome).


“Selfish Giant, The”
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(2013, UK, Drama, Directed by Clio Barnard)

In a contemporary reworking of the titular story by Oscar Wilde, we follow the illegal exploits of Brits on the breadline. Thirteen year old Arbor and his best friend Swifty have been expelled from school, are all but abandoned by their poor and ignorant parents, and have no talents other than stealing and horsemanship. When the boys meet Kitten, a local scrap-dealer and street horse-racer, what little innocence the youngsters have left is exploited, transformed, and leads to a tragic event which is shocking as it is poignant. Deftly directed, Barnard’s film gives just as much credence to quiet dialogue scenes as it does to a danger-fraught harness pace-race that’s reminiscent of Ben Hur on a budget.


“Strange Colour of Your Body’s Tears, The”
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(2013, Belgium, Horror/Suspense, Directed by Hélène Cattet & Bruno Forzani)

From the makers of “Amer” and “O is for Orgasm” comes an even more bizarre fever dream mixing elements of psychedelic giallo (“The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh”), spousal paranoia (“Possession”), and architecturally-aware suspense (“Suspiria”, “The Tenant”). In “The Strange Colour of Your Body’s Tears”, we follow – or rather, try to keep up with – a man whose wife has gone missing and is presumed dead. Maybe murdered. Style rules over substance here, and what style it is! Breathtaking Art Nouveau curves blend seamlessly with shapely nude bodies and women’s tendrils and tresses while razors, knives and strangling hands in black leather gloves provide bloody mayhem that’s good to the last drop.


“Stranger by the Lake”
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(2013, France, Thriller, Directed by Alain Guiraudie)

At a remote waterfront cruising spot for men, Franck falls for Michel but Michel is already spoken for. Our protagonist pines for a few days, watching from afar. One night, he witnesses Michel drowning his lover… he is shocked, but his desire for this dangerous man overrides any sense of personal safety, and the two men begin an affair. (Read my entire review at the Fangoria magazine website.)


Until next year… that’s my AFI Fest fun! [read my 2012 Round-up here]

November's DVD Delights and Blu-ray Bounties
Staci Layne Wilson
staci_wilson
This week’s peeks: Mad Men Season 6, Dexter Season 8, and all seasons of The Twilight Zone!

Much as I love film (yes, I say that with all the Fellini’esque pretention you can imagine), a great TV series can rock my world. While The Twilight Zone predates me, I caught up as a tot in re-run heaven. I’ve seen them all. As for Dexter and Mad Men, I’ve been right there with Mr. Morgan and Don Draper from their very first small screen appearances.

Mad Men really is an unprecedented show in its depiction of a bygone era… it’s not just about the highballs, slick suits and crisp crinolines; the attitudes and morés of the 1960s – moving from the upright 50s to the swingin’ 60s -- are captured in a deep, humanistic and believable way, as seen through the eyes of mysterious ad exec Don Draper (John Hamm). Through the years, we’ve seen Don happily married, then divorced, on top of the Madison Avenue heap, and toppled off it, married again, and reassessing his life as he ages and becomes less relevant in a world in which no-one over 30 is to be trusted. But let’s face it: could Don Draper ever be trusted?

Now we’re on the penultimate season. (Looks like the roll-out of Season 7 will be split in two. "Season 7 A" will debut in 2014, and a "7 B" in 2015, each comprised of seven episodes.) It’s 1968, and Don is still married to Megan, but bristling at her burgeoning career as a soap opera star. Though he once gave Peggy, a lowly secretary, a chance at being an ad-gal – and not only did she succeed, she became his competitor – Don’s still in the stone-age when it comes to women’s lib. All around him, the world is in flux and upheaval: from the Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce merger, to his shameless sexual affair with the next door neighbor, to the bigger picture things such as the assassination of Martin Luther King. It’s a slow-starter, but once Mad Men Season 6 begins to cook, it practically burns.

DVD Release Date: November 5, 2013

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Dexter Season 8 (The Final Season)

While I didn’t hate the final season of Dexter as most diehard fans, I still do find it pretty disappointing. Especially the last episode, “Remember the Monsters”. And even more specially, the last two minutes of the show.

Looking on the bright side, I loved the fact that the incomparable Charlotte Rampling was a key character throughout the season and also that Hanna (Yvonne Strahovski) returns and plays a major role. The Deb/Dexter dynamic is disappointing, but we already saw that coming in Season 7.

No spoilers here, and I do recommend the disc for completists. Just don’t go into it expecting the old black magic.

DVD Release Date: November 5, 2013

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The Twilight Zone: The Complete Series

Travel to another dimension of sight and sound again and again through these rockin’ remastered high-definition film transfers of all 156 episodes.

Season 1 boasted some of the most essential episodes: "Time Enough at Last" starring Burgess Meredith as a bespectacled bookworm who is the lone survivor of an atomic explosion; "After-Hours" starring Anne Francis as a department store shopper haunted by menacing mannequins; and "A World of His Own," starring Keenan Wynn as a playwright whose characters come to life. Season 2 has some of my faves as well: "Eye of the Beholder" in which a disfigured woman undergoes plastic surgery; "Night of the Meek," where a department store Santa Claus gets a chance to perform the real St. Nick's duties; and "Long Distance Call" which is about a little boy who can talk to his deceased grandma on his toy telephone.

The show never really lost its edge, and its universal themes stand the test of time, but when season 4 debuted, the format changed from 30 minutes to an hour – sometimes less is more, as many of the subsequent episodes lack the consistent punch of earlier seasons. Drained by three seasons of consistent creativity, Serling and Buck Houghton vacated their roles as producers (but Serling stayed on as host and sometime writer). Still the final two seasons feature some of the most memorable and enduring actors -- Jack Klugman, Robert Duvall, and Burt Reynolds to name just a few.

dvdroundup

Special Features

Excerpts from Rod Serlings’s Audio Lectures at Sherwood Oaks Experimental College
Audio Commentaries by Martin Landau, Don Rickles, Cliff Robertson, Jonathan Winters, Shelley Berman, Bill Mumy, Leonard Nimoy, Mickey Rooney, Mariette Hartley and more

Video Interviews with Richard Matheson, George Clayton Johnson, Earl Hamner, Jr. and more

Vintage Audio Recollections with Buck Houghton, Buzz Kulik, Douglas Heyes, Lamont Johnson, Burgess Meredith and more

Isolated Music Scores featuring the legendary Bernard Herrmann, Jerry Goldsmith, Fred Steiner and more

Rod Serling Promos for “Next Week’s” Show

Rare Rod Serling Appearances: The Liar’s Club, The Mike Wallace Interview, The Garry Moore Show, Tell It To Groucho, The Jack Benny Show and more

Highlights from the Museum of Television and Radio Seminar



DVD Release Date: November 19, 2013



 

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