We’re already two weeks in but until recently I’ve had company, a floor renovation here in Palm Springs and finally the Palm Springs International Film Festival (PSIFF) which has just ended. So I’ve been somewhat distracted until now. Normally I try to take in as many films as possible. However this time I managed only four films. Three fascinating documentaries of which I’ll touch on here to start up my blog.
I saw one feature “The Truth” starring Catherine Deneuve, Juliette Binoche & Ethan Hawke (above photo). A celebrated actress (Deneuve) publishes her memoirs amid a choppy relationship with her daughter (Binoche) who lives in her moms shadow and is married to a second rate American Actor (Hawke). I enjoyed watching this film solely because of the actors. Deneuve alone was the deciding factor going in with no prior knowledge of what the film was about. She does a tremendous job of playing a self-absorbed screen diva. She remains beautiful.
David Foster: Off the Record
I thought for sure that the U.S. premier about the Canadian music icon would not ensure a full house.
But I was wrong. Albeit a lot of the audience members were Canadians. He is after all the Canadian equivalent of Quincy Jones. His musical accomplishments could not be more celebrated in this documentary about his life and career. He discovered Celine Dion. It explores his creative relationships with Celine Dion, Barbra Streisand and countless others. Fascinating man.
House of Cardin
What is Pierre Cardin up to? Is he even still alive? At 97 years of age his name has a stamp on pretty much everything. If he sold out, he did so on his own terms.
Pierre Cardin, the Italian born (everyone thought he was French) fashion icon changed the world of haute couture forever. This documentary traces the life and career of a remarkable trailblazer. As the trailer points out, it’s filled with eye candy (Sharon Stone among others are interviewed) and is a five-course feast for fashion lovers. Indeed! If you love fashion this doc is a must!
Dramatic, Dazzling, Disgraceful.
Lauren Greenfield’s cutting portrait of the legendarily extravagant Imelda Marcos starts with the shoes and the servants, then slyly expands into an examination of her dynastic ambitions and the damage that she and her corrupt family have wreaked upon the Philippines.
Stay tuned for updates from Palm Springs on various places to dine, shop and play.
This is music history in the making with a loving look at Laurel Canyon and the California Sound back in the day. ENTERTAINING to say the least.
This NETFLIXrocdoc is a must for all music and rock fans in general. It’s a well thought out documentary about the history of music in L.A. with interviews going back and forth with some of music’s greatest. Uplifting, funny and most of all, fantastic music. You won’t want to miss it.
VIFF may have come to an end, however the last four movies I’ve seen have resonated with me. They’ll be released to theatres Nationwide November/December. Here are the reviews:
La Belle Époque
This French movie (with English subtitles) was chosen for the closing gala. I had no idea what to expect and ended up loving it! I had just come from watching the fast-paced Ford vs Ferrari at the Playouse and was not sure whether I wanted to stay or not as I was leaning towards the later second viewing and the first showing ended late. As patrons made their way out of the theatre (Centre for the Performing Arts) I could not help but notice everyone’s big smiles. I asked the question before entering – “Is the movie worth staying for?” A resounding “Yes you must stay, it’s excellent.” So stay I did.
The movie centers around Victor (a cartoonist played by Daniel Auteuil) and his marriage to vivacious Marianne (Fanny Ardant) which is turning into a disaster. His son has a friend who has embarked on a new venture “Time Travellers” – a troupe offering clients the chance to go back in time to any moment they wish complete with a team of actors and technicians to guarantee a completely realistic version of whatever era is chosen. Victor decides to go back to 1974 – the day he first met Marianne to relive the moment and the woman he first fell in love with. What follows is very entertaining. The film is witty and original. Highly recommended.
Ford vs Ferrari
James Mangold (3:10 to Yuma) directs Matt Damon and Christian Bale in this high-speed biographical drama that pits an underdog team of American automotive engineers against Ferrari in the 1966 “24 Hours of Le Mans” endurance race. He tells the tale of real-life superheroes Carroll Shelby (Damon) who wins France’s prestigious Le Mansrace in 1959, a rare feat for an American, and Ken Miles (Bale), a brilliant driver who runs an auto shop.
This is a gripping true story that will keep you on the edge of your seat even if like me, you’re not really a fan of racing. Excellent. Coming to theatres in December.
Pain and Glory
This film is in Spanish with English subtitles. Pedro Almodóvar is the Director and that alone made my decision. Julieta, Volver, All About my Mother, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown…….no further explanation needed. Antonio Banderas and Penelope Cruz star in this complicated, bittersweet movie within a movie which is apparently autobiographical.
This film also marks a 35 year reunion between Almodóvar and Banderas who started his career in an Almodóvar film called “Laberinto de pasiones” (1982; Labyrinth of Passion).
I think this paragraph written by Peter Bradshaw (Guardian) sums it up best:
“As ever, Almodóvar has made a film about pleasure, which is itself a pleasure, witty, intelligent and sensous. It is about love, memory, art, mothers, lovers and most of all it is about itself…the film within a film, the story within a story, the dream within a dream.”
The Two Popes
The following review was written by my friend Paul H. LeMay who accompanied me to the screening. I too was pleasantly surprised by this film. His summary may appear in other publications.
Despite such an unassuming title, “The Two Popes” is anything but bland. Rather, it is a penetrating biopic about German Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (excellently played by Anthony Hopkins), and Argentine Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, (equally well played by Jonathan Pryce), at a momentous turning point in the Catholic church’s history.
The film’s opening is filled with the sumptuous visual grandeur of the Vatican and Sistine Chapel during a conclave of the Cardinals after the death of Pope John-Paul II.
In real life, the event represented a veritable historical showdown between the church’s more conservative traditionalist Catholic viewpoints – as were championed by Pope John Paul II – and more reform-minded liberal ones, as had been previously championed in the early 1960s by Pope John XXIII. In this more contemporary story however, this same struggle is personified in these two aforementioned figures, who were each prominent papal candidates in their own right. Each effectively represents one of the two prominent psychological poles that continue to define our political divides today.
Yet despite the great philosophical gulf that separates their respective views about Christ’s teachings, we get to see how each man was able to bridge that gulf. What works so beautifully is how we penetrate beneath the outer appearances of their respective white and black cassocks to get a rather intimate glimpse of these two mortal men who are both intent on resigning from the burdens of their respective high status clerical roles, for as we discover, neither wants the onerous responsibility or power that comes with their offices. In this desire for self-surrender, we see their humanity shine through. The fact these two men were able to bridge their own huge philosophical orientation gaps and actually become good friends in real life, demonstrates we can attain no less. In effect, each really did come to love his enemy. The enduring feel good message that comes through in the end is that we are here to help one another, not to control or take from one another. On this score, this substantive film scores 10 out of 10 in my books.
AND in between all the above, I managed to see
starring Renee Zellweger who was absolutely superb as Judy Garland and deserves to win the Oscar.
Many people have no idea about the star’s struggles surrounding the last few years of her life. And then again, many younger people today have no idea who she is period. This movie is a must for those who know and especially for those who do not. It’s a close-up look into the life and loves of one of the most talented women in showbiz who was sadly and unfairly taken advantage of.
Fantasy never goes out of Fashion. Obsession is Optional.
I saw two more films – part of the Vancouver International Film Festival (VIFF). One movie is a satire which takes place during WWII. The other is present day. They are both completely different however there is a common denominator which turns out to be that both of the main characters in each film have created their own fantasy. Both are psychologically damaged. It’s an interesting character study of obsessed individuals.
Who You Think I Am (CELLE QUE VOUS CROYEZ)
This film is in French with subtitles. It was the Canadian Premiere. I wanted to see it because the theme is very current involving online dating…sort of. But it’s not what you think exactly. It shows the extremes of getting carried away with the romantic fantasy.
Claire Millaud (Binoche) is a 50+ year old woman who creates a fake profile on social media to spy on Ludo, her lover. She becomes Clara, a beautiful woman half her age explaining to her therapist that Clara is really her niece. She is just using photos of her niece.
A friend of Ludo’s named Alex sees her profile and is instantly captivated. Claire as Clara ends up falling for Alex. She gets trapped in the fantasy and takes it way too far. This is a more relatable film only in the sense that you can kind of understand how something like this can happen. Claire is divorced. Her husband has left her for another woman. She is not sure about her current relationship status. Someone new, younger and attractive is paying close attention and the illusory gets intertwined with the reality to the extent that she almost forgets who she really is and cannot stop herself from keeping up the deception. I found it intriguing at how dangerously misleading many dating profiles can be and what can occur as a result of. It’s apparent that people tell white lies however this is far more precarious. Yes…quite the captivating story. Binoche of course is excellent, as usual.
Unfortunately I was not crazy about this film. Apparently it did well recently at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). It certainly has its moments but overall it was not for me.
*Taika Waititi (the New Zealand director who also stars at Jojo’s imaginary friend, the one and only Hitler) described Jojo Rabbit as an “anti-fuckface satire.” Based on the novel Caging Skies by Christine Leunens, it’s about a young member of the Hitler Youth named Jojo (Roman Griffin Davis) who learns that his mother (Scarlett Johansson) is hiding a young Jewish girl named Elsa (poignantly played by New Zealand actress Thomasin McKenzie) in their home. Last summer Waititi tweeted “What better way to insult Hitler than having him portrayed by a Polynesian Jew?” Surely!
My favourite moments were the interactions between Jojo and Elsa where Jojo has a change of heart and realizes with astonished surprise that jews have feelings just like regular people. Of course the message comes through about revelation and redemption, however in most parts it was just too silly for me and I personally think it missed the mark. On the humour that is! Other people seemed to love it though.
The movie also stars Rebel Wilson as a proud Nazi child instructor and Sam Rockwell as a gun shooting Nazi.
“A big part of the humour is in identifying with the tragic elements of the film. The New Zealand sense of humour is very dark. Our films are usually very dark and it’s always someone being killed. Usually a child.” – Taika Waititi
*Hunt for the Wilderpeople was one of his previous films
The film fest is on until October 11th. For information on more films and/or to buy tickets please visit:
The Vancouver International Film Festival (VIFF ) is in full swing until October 11th. I just saw two amazing Special Presentations.
starring Jamie Foxx, Michael B. Jordan & Brie Larsen
This is a true and thought provoking story about young Harvard graduate lawyer Bryan Stevenson (Michael B. Jordan) and his history making battle for justice in Alabama working with death row inmates at a time where the legal system was hell bent on not following the truth. One of his first cases was that of Walter McMillan (Jamie Foxx) with a disturbing no mercy glance at how corrupt and unfair the people in power were at keeping an innocent man behind bars for a murder he did not commit. Powerful performances in this discriminating story of people and prejudice. Intense.
starring Edward Norton, Bruce Willis, Alec Baldwin, Willem Dafoe
This is an Incredible film set in the 1950’s written, produced and directed by Edward Norton who is also the main star. With outstanding performances from the whole cast and twists and turns at every corner, it is surely a worthy Oscar contender.
Lionel Essrog (Norton) is a private detective with an annoying infliction to his character. Although his mind is quick and his memory impeccable, he suffers from tourette syndrome which makes him twitch and say inappropriate things and act obsessively so he’s always apologizing for his behavior. At times it is quite funny and Norton carries this off in a superbly endearing manner. Lionel sets out to solve the crime of who murdered his boss and best friend P.I. Frank Minna (played by Bruce Willis) who pulled him out of an orphanage at six years of age. While trying hard to solve the mystery he deals with thugs and corruption at almost every turn.
The trail leads to Moses Randolph (Alec Baldwin), a ruthless construction magnate with deep ties to the mayor’s office and a suspicious prowler (Willem Dafoe) who seems to know everything about him. He follows a beautiful girl from Harlem (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) whose fight against Randolph’s “slum-clearing” operations have targeted her and he must find out the reason why.
I know Fall is in full swing when the Vancouver International Film Festival (VIFF) starts up again and ends just before Canadian Thanksgiving.
Can’t seem to wrap my head around upcoming Thanksgiving, let alone Halloween followed by American Thanksgiving and finally Christmas and another New Year. Ok maybe I’m jumping ahead but it’s all happening way too quickly. Summer just ended and Fall began the very next day. It’s the full circle cycle. I don’t know about you, but I’m surprisingly ready to make the change to cozy sweaters. Last weekend I spent in Whistler with a hot toddy by a log fireplace after soaking in a hot tub. It was the perfect way to transition to cooler weather.
Another great way to spend a chilly afternoon or evening is by spending more time at the cinema. Film Festivals allow you the opportunity to discover unique films from around the world. The Vancouver International Film Festival is considered to be one of the world’s most prominent film festivals and one of the largest in North America. I always look forward to getting my hands on a festival guidebook and taking my time to go through it and marking off everything I want to see,
I just saw the premiere Guest of Honour by celebrated Canadian director Atom Egoyan (Ararat, Exotica, The Sweet Hereafter).
I started in theater and I wanted to write plays, but I never really found an original voice as a playwright. I still write plays. I still do theater and opera, but the moment I started making films, which I have to say I started in college because the college dramatic society turned down one of my plays, and out of spite, I went to the film club and said, “Okay, I’ll make it as a movie.” But the moment I held that camera, it just felt like “Oh, this is another character. This is someone watching the drama.” It was always a character for me. I think in the really early films, it literally is the missing person. It’s the person watching. So, it’s what I feel most natural doing. – Atom Egoyan (2014).
Guest of Honour
is a psychological head spin of a story. It definitely has its twists and turns. Jim, the main character (David Thewlis) is a government food inspector who has the power to close down a family establishment at the drop of a hat. It gets interesting where in one of the scenes he’s about to give a restaurant its closing papers, however the owner (played by Egoyan’s real life wife Arsinée Khanjian) talks him out of it by inviting him to a private reception being held at the restaurant. This is where she privately requests that guests treat Jim as “Guest of Honour.”
It gets a little uncomfortable whereby after several glasses of wine he rattles on about some upsetting personal matters. Matters that include discussing his talented composer daughter Veronica (Laysla De Oliviera) who is incarcerated for a crime she didn’t commit yet insists she deserves to remain in prison for.
If I could sum up this movie in as few words as possible it would be a”beautifully, complicated, dysfunctional drama.” The best possible kind.
For more information and to purchase tickets please visit:
Love; or the lack of, is at the Root of all things – Fred Rogers
I never expected to shed a tear watching a documentary about a popular childrens TV show from the past. But one of the scenes from “Won’t You Be My Neighbor” shown at the Palm Springs International Film Festival (PSIFF) touched a chord. And when I looked around me, it was obvious that I wasn’t the only one crying. Mr. Rogers Neighborhood hit a common thread in its most simplest form. It reminded us of our innocence because we all grow up so quickly and the world has changed so much. But really; we’re still kids at heart.
Our basic needs are the same no matter where we live, our religion, ethnicity, age, economic status or our jobs. It is to feel safe, loved and worthwhile. End of story.
Sorry; no skeletons in the closet found anywhere in this feel-good documentary It’s almost impossible to not uncover even a little dirt on anyone nowadays, specifically the famous. And you can imagine someone especially as likeable as Mr. Fred Rogers (aka Mr. Rogers). And by now they would have uncovered something from having interviewed many who knew him. For me, it was a case of not wanting to know any different. Because Fred Rogers was loved by millions of children, even though he was the unlikeliest role model. It is fascinating that he endured for so long. This doc was a great character study.
We find out Rogers decided to go into television because he hated what he saw on TV. So he created what can best be described as a landmark in children’s television.
But imagine being that likeable…
The thing is Fred Rogers, along with genuine spirituality…really, really cared. And that is what is most admirable. It was not only his persona, it was him. No big secret. Kids aren’t stupid; they picked up on his sincerity. The show was a refuge for kids from all kinds of backgrounds.
Fred Rogers was a tireless children’s activist and advocate, bringing joy into our homes. Can you think of any program like that now?
We certainly remember Eddie Murphy’s comical take with the spoof “Mr. Robinson’s Neighborhood on SNL. It was pretty hilarious.
I don’t think anyone can grow unless he’s loved exactly as he is now, appreciated for what he is rather than what he will be.
Rogers was an ordained minister who studied religion which most likely gave him the tolerance and the tools he used with or without puppets, to teach children about worth, unity, grief, racism, superheroes and…everything else that no other program on TV was offering. It was a unique and needed niche which only he at the time was able to recognize. He even managed to get funding for PBS when they were going to cut programming based on his court appearance about the demand for this kind of educational platform.
There was a conversation afterwards with Director Morgan Neville (Oscar®-winner for Twenty Feet from Stardom). I was already a fan of his work. This heartfelt portrait more than does justice to the show’s beloved host. Expect to be surprised by the film’s relevance and deeply moved by its subject. I know I was.
It’s not so much what we have in this life that matters. It’s what we do with what we have.
In the wonderful world of Poker you can’t even trust your friends.
If you’ve ever wondered about how much cheating goes on in the gaming industry, this movie will certainly enlighten you.
This is not the first high stakes gambling movie ever made. Maybe you remember “The Sting”, “Rounders” or “The Cincinatti Kid.” But I must say, having just viewed the world premiere of “Walk to Vegas”at the 30th Palm Springs International Film Festival, it is certainly one of the most intriguing and one of the funniest I’ve ever seen. It was refreshingly different.
These eccentric people will go to almost any length for money.
Inspired by a true story about Hollywood big shots who will bet on anything, “Walk to Vegas” is about a friendly poker game with colorful, questionable characters which winds up turning into a walk from Los Angeles to Las Vegas for a $5 million bet.
This independent movie by the Van Patten brothers (James and Vincent) was filmed right here in Palm Springs. Multi-talented Vince Van Patten, an ex-child star, former tour professional tennis player, and commentator for the World Poker Tour…wrote, starred and produced this captivating film. His real life wife, the stunning Eileen Davidson, also stars as his wife in the film and helped produced it.
Real life actor & poker player Jennifer Tilly has a cameo as herself in one of the scenes. I’ve always loved Jennifer Tilly in anything I’ve seen her in. She was amazing in Bullets Over Broadway – one of my favorite Woody Allen films. In this role she plays herself authentically (I assume, not knowing her personally). Anyway…
The energy of the sold-out crowd in the theatre was remarkable compared to other screenings I’ve attended. The audience certainly showed their appreciation. Many of the cast members were in attendance and got up on stage for a Q&A after the screening. It was superb.
Side note: turns out the father of one of my friends from Los Angeles is also one of the producers of this movie. Small world!
Part of the Palm Springs International Film Festival, “The Upside” is a heartfelt comedy starring Brian Cranston (from Breaking Bad).
I’m not going to dissect this scene by scene, because sometimes you just need to laugh. This comedy/tragedy did the trick.
I didn’t realize at first that it is a remake of a French film called “The Intouchables” from the Weinstein company which was an International success, shown here in 2013. It was one of the most successful French films in the history of French cinema. Otherwise, I might not have chosen to see “The Upside” because I don’t understand the need to make Americanized copies or adaptations of original foreign films that have proven to be excellent. One example: I loved “La Cage aux Folles”, the 1978 Franco-Italian comedy. Later in 1996, “The Birdcage” was a remake directed by Mike Nichols and starring Robin Williams. In most cases I find the original to be the best version. But since they continue to recreate these films reasonably well and with an excellent English speaking cast…
“The Upside” stars Brian Cranston as a wealthy yet very cynical quadriplegia who is looking to hire a full time caretaker. When he decides to hire a fast talking parolee, the fun begins. Kevin Hart (who may or may not host the 2019 Oscars – it’s still up for debate) plays a down on his luck, wise-cracking guy trying to prove to his parole officer that he’s looking for work. I would say this is an unlikely pairing except for the fact that it is based on a true story and confirms the fact that opposites do indeed attract.
Nicole Kidman plays a humdrum assistant. For such an amazing actress, this part does not do her justice.
Julianna Margulies has a small part as potential love interest which comes to an embarrasingly unfortunate ending in a restaurant.
Overall, this movie was entertaining and the characters were excellently portrayed. It brought many laughs. Sometimes I think that’s enough.
A little trivia: this was the first film production for Malia Obama, daughter of Barack & Michelle Obama. She worked as an intern for The Weinstein Company during filming.
“Don’t portray me as a victim. I’m much more interesting than that” – Glenn Close in “The Wife”
“The Wife” was the first movie I chose to see at the Palm Springs International Film Festival. There are over 200 movies and I’m only interested in seeing a handful (or two). My process is to first skim through the titles of all the films, see if I recognize any of the actors in the film, although it’s not a major deciding factor on whether I will go see it or not, then read synopsis of shortlisted ones I think I’m interested in and finally…hope I made the right choices.
“The Wife” was a good choice. The title appealed to me instantly, even before I knew what the movie was about. You realize there has to be more behind a title that is as powerful as it is undermining.
With the film already playing in major cinemas, the fact that Glenn Close is up for another Oscar nomination and was here in person to talk about the movie, the character and other juicy tidbits were only icing on the cake.
Many of you may already know the storyline by now. In a nutshell: Joseph Castleman, the husband played by Jonathan Pryce wins the Nobel Peace Prize for Literature. But Joan, his wife (the wife) is not totally satisfied. As the story unfolds we discover her secret. But it is her reticence and her facial expressions in closeups that unveil her true feelings. It’s all about the closeups: they are the most revealing and “Glenn Closeup” is a genius at displaying her emotion… ever so subtle. You come to realize quickly why she is nominated for an Oscar.
This film has some similarities to another movie I recently saw at the Vancouver International Film Festival called Collette with Keira Knightley. In the sense that both are intelligent, strong women who take a back seat to their writer husbands and let them have all the glory while they do all the necessary work to get them to where they are. Clearly the writing motif is key.
What is also fascinating in this story is that the Nobel Prize people gave the go ahead to re-create an exact replica of what goes on behind the scenes when someone gets the prize. It gives you more than a glimpse into the proceedings, some of which are grand, some of which are unbelievably nutty.
The Word according to Glenn:
In the backflash scenes, young Joan Castleman is perfectly played by Annie Starke who also happens to be Close’s daughter in real life. She is very rightly proud of her daughter’s portrayal and did not want to be a part of her creative process, preferring to let Annie have her own space, not once coming into contact with her on set.
The movie took 14 years to complete, of which the last five she was a part of. Being independent filmmakers, they could not come up with the funding. Finally the money to put it all together came from across the sea in places like Sweden and England, but not America.
She was previously nominated six times for an Academy Award in: The World According to Garp, The Big Chill, The Natural, Fatal Attraction, Dangerous Liaisons and Albert Nobbs. She said not to feel bad if she doesn’t win this time around – why ruin her track record.
She’s a bit naturally reserved preferring to read a book over partying. But when she did the Big Chill she was coerced by co-star Mary Kay Place into partying in the room which Jeff Goldblum and Kevin Kline shared and causing a bit of a ruckus. The girls played pranks like buying and hanging really large underwear & bras in the rooms of Jeff Goldblum and Kevin Kline by the fan so it would start to blow as soon as they turned it on. Stuff like that. Stuff you wouldn’t perceive Glenn Close with being a part of.
Close had a Canadian boyfriend during filming of The Big Chill who invented a game which everyone played to pass the time on set – a lot. It was called “Trivial Pursuit.” Heard of it?
In a nutshell… I really enjoyed this movie, thought all the performances were top-notch and have been thinking about playing TRIVIAL PURSUIT again.