L.A. DINE-N-CLUB FAVORITE MOVIE PICKS
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GOODBYE FIRST LOVE
(Sundance Selects…Unrated…110min…French with English Subtitles)
We all remember our first love. More often than not, they tend to end in heartache. Maybe not Romeo and Juliet bad, but a broken heart seems like it takes forever to heal. And because, as the song says, breaking up is hard to do, our crushes hurt then they go bad.
French filmmaker Mia Hansen-Løve’s latest effort, Goodbye First Love (Un amour de jeunesse), tells the story of a teen romance and the heaviness that it weighs on young 15-year-old Camille (Lola Créton). When her 18-year-old beau Sullivan (Sebastian Urzendowsky) decides to go away for 10 months to “find himself,” her life is over, or so she declares. This is more than teen angst; this is some serious heartache for the young girl. Of course, 10 months turn into a year and then some leaving poor Camille to grow up, move on and hopefully open herself up to life. But does she ever get over her first love? And at what price?
Hansen-Løve takes the story of a young woman’s first love and turns it into a singular experience, familiar in its broad strokes and yet so specific that it feels uniquely personal.
In discussing her films, the director note they are about “survival after mourning or a separation, the passage of time, the strength of feelings, solitude and destiny. And also perseverance, learning to become oneself, and to be free.”
Don’t mistake Goodbye First Love as a chick flick, my least favorite genre; instead this is an intriguing film about young love that takes on a complete life of its own. Woman may (stereotypically) enjoy the romantic aspects of the film but there’s plenty of angst and drama to keep the guys interested in the story as well. And if anything fellas, you might earn some “date night” points for making the effort.
Click here to watch the Goodbye First Love trailer.
Goodbye First Love opens Friday at the Laemmle Royal in West Los Angeles, and the Laemmle’s Playhouse 7 in Pasadena.
STRAIGHT OUTTA BAJA WITH A BANG
(Fox International Productions • Rated R •113 min • Spanish with English Subtitles)
A favorite subject matter of Hollywood movies often begins with a beautiful girl with big dreams. The possibilities are endless depending on what she’ll do or how far she’ll go to attain fortune and fame. In the case of Miss Bala, Mexico’s official Oscar entry for Best Foreign Language Film, fame comes with a bloody price tag and a hefty body count.
Miss Bala, which means “Miss Bullet” and is a play on the Miss Baja beauty pageant, tells the story of a young woman named Laura who is clinging on to her dream to become a beauty contest queen in Mexico, which is dominated by organized crime. Laura’s aspirations soon turn against her, delivering her into the hands of a gang that’s terrorizing northern Mexico, taking her on a rollercoaster ride as an unwilling participant in Mexico’s violent drug war that leaves her shaken and forever altered.
Since debuting his film at the Cannes Film Festival, filmmaker Gerardo Naranjo has been on everyone’s ‘directors to watch’ list. The film also carries some serious cinematic cache since it was produced by Mexican (and Hollywood) heavyweight actors Diego Luna, who serves as executive producer, and Gael Garcia Bernal, both of whom co-starred in the worldwide popular hits Y Tu Mama Tambien and Amores Perros. Newcomer Stephanie Sigman as the film’s leading lady is also impressive in her debut role.
Sigman perceives Laura as "a woman who took on the role of breadwinner in her family at an early age,” she points out, “and although she sometimes may seem fragile, she's actually very strong. This characteristic comes out and carries her through the terrible situation she finds herself in, and it's what allows her to survive. I think her strength has a lot to do with the fact that her mother no longer lives with her family, and she's been forced to assume a different role. I think the fact that I also came from a small town helped me understand her, too."
Naranjo's chronicle of an unknowing young girl's descent into Mexico's criminal underworld is a metaphor for an entire country in the grip of an endless nightmare of violence, poverty and corruption. Miss Bala is the story of Laura’s broken dream, but it's also the story of a crumbling country and the lawless underworld destroying it.
“Mexico has the greatest disparity between rich and poor in the entire world, and that's resulted in tremendous anger about the poverty many people live in,” Naranjo says. “And, I doubt that the government will be able to correct this inequity.”
Politics aside, Miss Baja is an unrelenting, fast-paced dark thriller that’s a real treat to watch. Far from a “feel good” movie, it’s a violent story of a girl with big dreams living in narco land. There is no Hollywood movie gloss here, what you see is a realistic view of unglamorous world where lawlessness is abound and even a beauty pageant and all its glitter can’t brighten up this dark work. But don’t let that stop you from seeing Miss Bala, which is a refreshing and welcome experience ala other gritty films such as Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction.
Catch Miss Bala at the Chinese in Hollywood; Regent in Westwood; and Laemmle Playhouse in Pasadena.
Magnet Releasing – 93 min; Rated R
As the title suggests, this is a monster film that follows the discovery of alien life within our solar system as an alien probe crash lands over Central America. With new life forms appearing, Central America and half of Mexico have been quarantined as an “infected zone.” With the American and Mexican militaries struggling to contain the creatures, a U.S. journalist aggress to escort a shaken American tourist who happens to be his boss’ daughter through the infected zone in Mexico to the safety of the U.S. border.
A low budget, indie film that plays like a studio release, filmmaker Gareth Edwards, a fan of Spielberg larger-than-life films like Jurassic Park and ET, wanted to make “the most realistic monster film ever.”
Filmed entirely on location with a bare bones crew of four, the film was shot in Guatemala, Belize and Mexico without permits and with locals who didn’t know they’d be in the film until 20 minutes before filming began.
Don’t fret if you don’t like horror or scary films, as Monsters is more thriller and drama than anything else. You won’t get grossed out of jump out of your seat as much as you’ll just be riveted by a good, solid story.
LET ME IN
(Overturn Films – 115 min) Rated R
Usually American remakes of groundbreaking foreign films miss the mark, although there are rare exceptions, think The Ring, and Let Me In is another fine example of a film that got it right, even though a lot of film geeks didn’t want this movie remade.
Based on the best-selling Swedish novel Let The Right One In as well as the highly acclaimed film of the same name, Let Me In is a haunting and provocative vampire thriller that actually moves along quicker and more dramatic than the original. Directed by filmmaker Matt Reeves (Cloverfield), the film tells the story of a mysterious 12-year-old girl who moves next door to a social outcast named Owen who is often viciously bullied at school. Lonely and with no friends, Owen bonds with his allusive neighbor every night in the freezing courtyard of their apartment complex as a string of grisly murders grips their New Mexico neighborhood.
The film stars standout young actress Chloë Grace Moretz who was simply awesome in Kick-Ass, as well as Kodi Smit-McPhee (The Road), along with Oscar nominee Richard Jenkins (The Visitor), the always brilliant Elias Koteas, and Cara Buono (“The Sopranos”). More thriller than horror film, the pacing is better than the original and young Chloë really delivers a vulnerable and eerie performance.
Click here to watch the Let Me In Trailer.
(Yukon Films – 96 min) Unrated
Now Playing at Laemmle's Sunset 5
In Brazil, a country with one of the world’s largest discrepancies between rich and poor, kidnapping is an actual industry. In Sao Paulo, where someone is kidnapped on average every three days, you literally take your life in your own hands whenever you step outside. People drive around in bulletproof cars and still they are kidnapped. Sequestro is a fascinating Brazilian documentary helmed by filmmaker Jorge W. Atalla shot over four years that follows five elite police units of the Sao Paulo Anti Kidnapping Division (DAS).
According to the film, kidnappings originally were more political in the 1980's to raise money to finance Latin America's leftist guerrillas, however whenever kidnappers were jailed they mixed with common criminals (which officials later admitted was a bad idea) and eventually taught them the ins and outs of the trade, thus leading to everyday-type kidnappings for petty change in some cases. DAS was formed in 2000 when kidnapping in Sao Paulo number 500 official cases. By 2009 the division had barely made a dent of less than 70 cases on average to the awful kidnapping industry.
The film shies away from looking into the economical reasons why many feel they have no choice but to join the kidnapping game and mainly focuses on DAS, and in a couple of ongoing gut wrenching cases in particular, and features several interviews with victims lucky enough to have lived through their abduction to tell their story. At times Sequestro, in Portuguese with English subtitles, feels like a better version of “Cops” it is powerful and engrossing to watch.
(Anisma Films – 86 min) Not Rated
Playing exclusively at the Nuart Theatre
Filmmaker and cinephile Angela Ismailos is a lover of cinema, so much so that Great Directors is her love letter to films and filmmakers. Her documentary focuses on ten of the world's most acclaimed, individualistic, and provocative living directors and features original in-depth conversations with Bernardo Bertolucci, David Lynch, Stephen Frears, Agnes Varda, Ken Loach, Liliana Cavani, Todd Haynes, Catherine Breillat, Richard Linklater, and John Sayles.
While writing the screenplay to her next film, Ismailos put everything aside and spent the next five years working on Great Directors, aptly exploring each director's artistic evolution; the role of politics and history on their work; their feelings about other great directors who inspired them (with Bertolucci paying homage to Pasolini, Breillat to Bergman, Haynes to Fassbinder, etc.); and the agony and ecstasy of being an artist in a medium that is, paradoxically, also an industry.
“These directors for me represent independent filmmaking,” Ismailos explains. “They have all the characteristics of a great director, they’re constantly asking their audience to grow with them and face the uncertainty of the unpredictability of life. They have not surrendered into the industrial filmmaking industry and they’re uncompromising and don’t care about popularity.”
Great Directors is quality viewing for all film buffs. A casual film fan, or something how only appreciates the blockbuster, popcorn fare (which Ismailos refers to as “torture” to watch) maybe not appreciate this but it’s worth the effort to delve deeper into the minds and personalities of truly wonderful artists.
Click here to watch the Great Directors trailer.
BURZYNSKI THE MOVIE
NOW PLAYING AT LAEMMLE’S MUSIC HALL 3 IN BEVERLY HILLS
(A Merola Productions – 106 min) Not Rated
According to first time filmmaker Eric Merola, Texas medical doctor and Ph.D biochemist Stanislaw Burzynski has found the cure for cancer and the FDA and the National Cancer Institute (NCI) don’t want you to know about it.
Typical of the world we live, big business rules and if there’s any justice, Hell will have a special place just specifically for the health industry. Watching Burzynski The Movie, you will be disgusted or just utterly shocked to learn that for years, Dr. Burzynski has been treating and curing his patients of cancer while being harassed and persecuted by the FDA, who spent $60 million in taxpayer money to go after the good doctor because he threatened the trillion-dollar industry of treating cancer with the traditional methods of surgery, radiation and chemotherapy.
Although at times the documentary delves too deep into backstory, often utilizing Senate hearing coverage, that’s also what makes the film so compelling. As patient after patient recounts their story how they turned away from conventional treatment, often again the wishes of their doctors, some of whom referred to Burzynski as a quack, only to be cured from cancer.
The ultimate conspiracy theory movie gone amuck, this is a documentary that everyone needs to see. After President Obama stated that he wanted to find a cure for cancer he needs to meet Dr. Burzynski! It’s almost unfathomable to think that people would actually let profit margins get in the way of saving people from the suffering of cancer but honestly, you almost, sadly, come to expect it nowadays. Hopefully, this film, as so many others before it that showcase injustice, will make a difference.
Watch the Burzynski The Movie trailer here.
CASINO JACK AND THE UNITED STATES OF MONEY
(Magnolia Pictures – 118 min) Rated R
Filmmaker Alex Gibney's engaging and captivating documentary uses the rise and fall of mega-lobbyist Jack Abramoff to investigate the sordid underbelly of Washington D.C.
A smart and lively documentary, Casino Jack exposes the inner workings of an out-of-control system by following the incredible trail of mega-lobbyist Jack Abramoff, AKA Casino Jack, as he rises to Washington’s most sought-after power merchant and falls as a disgraced convict.
Filmmaker Alex Gibney, whose previous credits include Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room and the Oscar-winning Taxi to the Dark Side, once again shines as he reveals our broken system of lobbying and campaign finance. The film can be flippantly considered a true American comedy but in that case the joke is sadly on us.
“I was intrigued by Abramoff because his is a larger-than-life story,” director Gibny explains. “I was also drawn to one of the most important topics in our democracy right now: how much money is in play throughout Washington and how it is manipulating and distorting the American system. Political influence has become a high-states game and Jack was the playing that game to the hilt. For me, Casino Jack and the United States of Money had that magic mix of an outrageous true story with a vitally important issue.”
Considering where we find ourselves right now, at a time when people are struggling to make ends meet, this is a very timely and sensitive film that really should be watched by everyone.
Click here to watch the Casino Jack and the United States of Money trailer.
SHE’S OUT OF MY LEAGUE
IN THEATERS NOW
(Paramount /DreamWorks - 104min) Rated R
We’re all guilty of making those snide comments questioning why a hot girl is dating someone way less hot than her. He’s gotta be rich or famous, right? Because we don’t think an average Joe can catch a brainy blonde bombshell. Well, the premise of the new comedy She’s Out Of My League.
When awkward looking Kirk (Jay Baruchel), an airport security guard, catches the eye of a stunning party planner named Molly (Alice Eve), no one can believe they’re really together, especially Kirk! Billed as the funniest movie since The Hangover, it’s not. There definitely are moments where the romantic comedy gets rambunctious and outrageous, but they’re just to few and far between. I was hoping for more laugh-out-loud moments.
Give credit to the film’s marketing team for running with the movie’s 1 to 10 rating system storyline where Molly is a hard 10, dating Kirk, a 5 (he started off as a 6 but lost a point for driving a Neon). It’s a funny premise that just never really develops beyond the surface. Recommended if you’re desperate for a date movie, otherwise wait for PPV or home video.
— Jose Martinez
NOW SHOWING IN THEATRES NATIONWIDE
44 INCH CHEST
(Omni Films – 95 minutes)
It has been a long time since a truly badass film has come along just perfect for a guys’ night out at the movies. From the writers of Sexy Beast comes 44 Inch Chest, a gangster film in the vein of Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs. Women have chick flicks like Sex in the City to go to and guys now have an audacious and unrelenting film like 44 Inch Chest.
Provocative, outrageously profane and surprisingly tender amidst an explosion of unbridled testosterone, 44 Inch Chest explores the masculine ego at breaking point, examining whether fear is stronger than love.
Colin (Ray Winstone) is in agony, shattered by his wife’s (Joanne Whalley) infidelity. However, he has friends who do more than stand by - they kidnap the wife's French lover and hold him a beaten hostage so that Colin can restore his manhood with revenge.
The film marks the directorial debut feature of noted photographer and filmmaker Malcolm Venville, and is rounded out by explosive performances from John Hurt, Ian McShane, Tom Wilkinson and Stephen Dillane as Colin’s gangster pals who don’t shy away from delivering a brutal beat down to save their friend’s warped integrity.
A truly compelling and riveting gem, guys, this ain’t no date movie. Sure, at the core of the film is a romantic with a broken heart, but that never gets in the way of the violence, coarse language and intensity that makes 44 Inch Chest one of the best “guy films” to come out in ages. A must see!
Watch the 44 Inch Chest Trailer
— Jose Martinez