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Audrey Kupferberg: Transgender In The Arts

Jun 11, 2015

Seeing Caitlyn Jenner’s fabulous form and face on the cover of Vanity Fair this month, one almost disregards the pain and suffering of transgendered people who journey from one identity to another to find solace in their lives. Not everyone knows a transgender person, so many look toward film and theater to gain an understanding of what that journey consists of, and how difficult it can be for some people in our society to attain their rightful identities.

In the early decades of the last century, Ivan Mosjoukine was a top star first of the Russian cinema and then of the French cinema. He was a fine actor who exuded a special charisma, and Flicker Alley has recently released to DVD a ten-episode six-plus-hour-long Mosjoukine serial, the English title of which is THE HOUSE OF MYSTERY, that was produced in France between 1921 and 1923.

 In so many Hollywood combat films about World War II that were made during World War II, all Americans were portrayed as being united against a common enemy: the dastardly Nazis and heinous Japanese. These Americans even included individuals who otherwise would be the villains of the story. They were gangsters and other blatant lawbreakers who placed patriotism over greed, and who fought side-by-side with their fellow Americans.

Rob Edelman: Hot Docs

May 18, 2015

These days, I scan the titles and subjects of newly-released films and either shrug my shoulders out of disinterest or shake my head in frustration. Too many of the films I’ve been seeing are, well, disappointing-- and these are the better ones. Way too often, they are mind-numbingly awful. In some cases, they are intellectually vapid. More often than not, however, they simply are not at all entertaining.

Audrey Kupferberg: Grace And Frankie

May 15, 2015

In the opening episode of GRACE AND FRANKIE, one of Netflix’s most touted new series, one of the characters talks about “a very exciting chapter we’re opening in the book of life.”  From this and other lines of dialog, one would never think to attribute the life change to seventy year olds.  But seventy-somethings they are!  GRACE AND FRANKIE is a story that focuses on two women who have been living an affluent California lifestyle for forty years-- forty years of unremarkable married life. 

Rob Edelman: An Iranian Vampire Movie

May 11, 2015

 Usually, vampire films-- good ones, bad ones, or indifferent ones-- are not my kind of entertainment. That’s just a matter of taste. But when I noticed that A GIRL WALKS HOME ALONE AT NIGHT, a provocatively-titled new film that has just come out on DVD, is being sold as “the first Iranian vampire film” as well as an “Iranian vampire spaghetti Western,” well, that was an attention-grabber.

Rob Edelman: Adam In The Driver’s Seat

Apr 27, 2015

Occasionally but not always, actors who earn acclaim on television series transition to film and become film stars. James Garner, Tom Hanks, George Clooney, and Bruce Willis are four that come to mind. Even though they earned their initial fame on the small screen, they proved themselves movie star material in the tradition of such pre-TV film legends as Clark Gable, Gary Cooper, James Stewart, and so many others. Women will be attracted to a James Garner, a Tom Hanks, a George Clooney, or a Bruce Willis, while men will want to emulate them.

Rob Edelman: A French Classic

Apr 20, 2015

One of the all-time great films about war and its impact on those who are irrevocably caught up in a world that is coming apart around them will be screening at Film Forum in Manhattan from April 24 through May 7. It is a new restoration of a French classic. Its title is FORBIDDEN GAMES; it dates from 1952; its director is René Clément, one of the top post-war European filmmakers; and it also is available on DVD.

Audrey Kupferberg: Snowpiercer

Apr 17, 2015

People are talking about a 2013 feature called SNOWPIERCER by South Korean filmmaker Joon-ho Bong.  It’s a sci-fi thriller about the aftermath of a failed climate-change experiment that freezes the Earth.  Most of the planet’s population dies, but a number are saved and boarded onto a train that circles the globe in an endless ride.  It is a train controlled by a self-proclaimed leader named Wilford, whose company designed the unique self-sustainable convoy.  When the film opens, the survivors have been passengers for eighteen years.

Rob Edelman: Manhattan Provincialism

Apr 13, 2015

LOVE IS STRANGE is a film worth pondering, not for its performances or direction or overall quality. This drama offers a message that is skewed, and that message directly relates to what one might call the provincialism of those who reside in New York City, and the borough of Manhattan in particular.

Rob Edelman: The Rebirth Of Kevin Costner

Apr 6, 2015

Once upon a time, Kevin Costner was a movie star. Was he ever a great actor? Well, no. But he did exude a screen star presence, and his career had legs. He was Eliot Ness in THE UNTOUCHABLES and Jim Garrison in JFK. He played Wyatt Earp and Robin Hood, and was Whitney Houston’s love interest in THE BODYGUARD. He was toplined in BULL DURHAM and FIELD OF DREAMS, two of the best of the modern-era baseball films. He even won an Academy Award, not for his acting but for directing DANCES WITH WOLVES.

Rob Edelman: Alain Resnais’ Swan Song

Mar 30, 2015

For the past six-plus decades, countless films have examined the Holocaust. Some are documentaries. Others are features, some fact-based and others fictional. But for me, the most poignant and gut-wrenching of all Holocaust films dates from 1955. It is 32 minutes long and it combines vivid imagery with a narration that asks such still-timely questions as: How could this have happened? Who is to blame and, most tellingly, who will accept responsibility?

Rob Edelman: Focus on Race

Mar 23, 2015

Now that the awards season is history and last year’s top-ten films are yesterday’s news, we now-- cinematically-speaking-- officially are neck-deep in the dog days of late winter and early spring. And the majority of films that come to theatres this time of year are, well, not very good, and certainly not very memorable. They may feature recognizable names, which may or may not be audience draws. Primarily, however, their plotlines are fashioned to attract the maximum number of viewers in the shortest amount of time. In this regard, they are the equivalent of mass-produced sugary confections that will appeal to the most undiscriminating movie-going masses.

Audrey Kupferberg: The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Mar 20, 2015

While THE SECOND BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL is no Oscar contender, it is a film of great value to many who are living what is known as the advanced years of life.  It has value as entertainment and equally as a practical philosophic guide to soaking up all the riches that old age can offer, if lived with zest and optimism.

Rob Edelman: Terrorism And Gender

Mar 16, 2015

Terrorist characters who are villains in Hollywood thrillers usually are clichés: broadly drawn, broadly played bad guys who hijack airplanes, threaten to blow up buildings or sports arenas, and are thwarted just in the nick of time by Sylvester Stallone or Bruce Willis. Terrorists rarely are the primary on-screen characters, and they rarely are women. In fact, there seemed to be a bit of disbelief on the part of certain media types who were reporting on the young woman who alleged was connected to the recent terrorist acts in Paris.

Rob Edelman: Fearmakers

Mar 9, 2015

For years, sci-fi films and horror films and any kind of film that entertains by playing into viewers’ worst fears have relied not on coherent plot lines or relatable characters but on jarring, disturbing visuals and gory violence that is endless--- and mindless. This, unfortunately, is an old, tired story and, as long as these films bring in big bucks at the box office, the motion picture studios will keep churning them out.

Back in 2009, I offered some commentary on what then was a new and highly regarded film about the war in Iraq and the American GIs who were fighting and dying there. That film was THE HURT LOCKER. At the time, I observed that THE HURT LOCKER and other Iraq war films, which then included IN THE VALLEY OF ELAH, STOP/LOSS, THE LUCKY ONES, LIONS FOR LAMBS, and REDACTED, were not surefire box office hits. The reason was that THE HURT LOCKER and its fellow films were exploring uncomfortable themes. They were dealing with disturbing, real-life issues-- and moviegoers generally will want to avoid films that deal with real-life issues. They yearn to escape into fantasy worlds. And so they did not flock to see THE HURT LOCKER, even though it earned nine Academy Award nominations and six wins, including Best Picture and Best Director. Indeed, according to Box Office Mojo, the total lifetime domestic gross for THE HURT LOCKER was a little over $17-million. 

Rob Edelman: Fifty Shades of Nothing

Feb 23, 2015

THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL came to movie theaters just about a year ago. Unlike most films that are released early in any given year, it managed to nab oodles of Academy Award nominations. Well, here is a prediction that is as certain as tomorrow’s sunrise: When it comes to Oscar nominations, or any kind of nominations other than for Razzie Awards, FIFTY SHADES OF GREY, the much-hyped so-called erotic drama, will not be THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL of 2015.

Rob Edelman: Oscar Trivia

Feb 16, 2015

One of the pleasures of working as an editor on the Leonard Maltin Movie Guide is researching the early credits of actors who during the previous year had emerged as bona-fide stars or recognizable supporting players. And it is equally enjoyable to do the same with established actors who presently are in the spotlight as Academy Award nominees.

Rob Edelman: J.K. Simmons

Feb 9, 2015

Several weeks ago, by chance, I was re-seeing CELEBRITY, the Woody Allen film that dates from 1998. CELEBRITY features a high-profile cast, including Kenneth Branagh (who does a spot-on imitation of Woody Allen playing a Woody Allen character) along with Charlize Theron, Judy Davis, Winona Ryder, Melanie Griffith, Joe Mantegna, Bebe Neuwirth, and a very young Leonardo DiCaprio. Plus, a host of pre-celebrity actors appear in small roles. This list begins with Jeffrey Wright, Debra Messing, Tony Sirico, Sam Rockwell, and Allison Janney.

Rob Edelman: Bad Publicity Versus No Publicity

Jan 26, 2015

UNBROKEN, a high-profile biopic directed by Angelina Jolie which came to movie theaters at the tail end of last year, is the saga of Louis Zamperini, an Olympic runner who became a B-52 bombardier during World War II. After his plane crash-landed in the Pacific and he survived for 47 days in a raft, Zamperini, who is played by Jack O’Connell-- one of the emerging film stars of 2014-- spent more than two years in a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp, where he was mercilessly tortured.

Rob Edelman: Selma, Alabama

Jan 19, 2015

SELMA, directed by Ava DuVernay, is a powerful new film which chronicles one of the key civil rights-related events of the mid-1960s: the Martin Luther King-led voting rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. Make no mistake: SELMA is no by-the-numbers biopic. It tells its story with a freshness and immediacy that is, well, astounding. Plus, the onscreen Dr. King is no mere figurehead. The iconic civil rights leader, as superbly played by David Oyelowo, is deeply human-- and Oyelowo’s three-dimensional portrayal is essential to making SELMA a stellar cinematic experience.

Audrey Kupferberg: A Coffee In Berlin

Jan 16, 2015

Every once in a while, a film comes along that dares to withhold facts, to keep its intentions as a guessing game, even as the final credits are being displayed.  Such a film is Jan Ole Gerster’s award-winning German feature A COFFEE IN BERLIN, also known as OH BOY!  Since this is Gerster’s first feature film, it is no wonder that it has taken some bit of time for it to catch on in the United States.  With an original German theatrical release in late 2012, A COFFEE IN BERLIN didn’t arrive in U.S. cinemas until June 2014. At its widest release here, it only played in twelve theaters and brought in only $150,000.  Even in Europe, the film played mainly at festivals, where it has won a good number of prestige awards, and theatrically it only grossed $2,600,000.

Rob Edelman: Oldies But Goodies

Jan 12, 2015

One of the pleasures of DVDs, Blu-rays, and other sources for home entertainment is the opportunity to discover older films that, not too long ago, only would be screened at museums or in specialized movie houses. This was never more apparent when, a few years ago, I was screening DVDs of a number of 1930s features directed by the Japanese master Yasujiro Ozu for inclusion in the Leonard Maltin Classic Guide. While doing so, it hit me: Once upon a time, in order to see these films, I would have had to travel into New York City-- if they were being shown, for example, at the Museum of Modern Art. Or perhaps they might be found in a small theater in Paris’s Left Bank. Plus, I would have had to adjust my schedule to the dates and times in which the individual films were screening. Happily, this is no more-- and I've recently been discovering some excellent (but little-known) French films that are well-worth seeing and enjoying.

Rob Edelman: Biopics And Oscars

Jan 5, 2015

This year, it is in the realm of possibility that the five performers who earn Best Actor Academy Award nominations will do so for playing real-life individuals. Actually, there are six worthy nominees. They are: Timothy Spall, cast as J.M.W. Turner in MR. TURNER; Steve Carell, playing John du Pont in FOXCATCHER; Benedict Cumberbatch, cast as Alan Turing in THE IMITATION GAME; Eddie Redmayne, cast as Stephen Hawking in THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING; David Oyelowo, playing Martin Luther King, Jr. in SELMA; and Chadwick Boseman, playing James Brown in GET ON UP.

If you plan a trip into Manhattan this holiday season, be sure to take a look at the beautiful Fifth Avenue windows and see the live Radio City Christmas Spectacular if you have a mind to do so. But if the film lover in you is bursting to come to the surface, be sure to leave some time to experience a holiday treat designed especially for pop culturists, American entertainment historians and film enthusiasts.

Rob Edelman: Mentors

Dec 15, 2014

WHIPLASH is one of the season’s justifiably lauded new films. It is the story of a young music prodigy, played by Miles Teller, who is studying at a first-class conservatory. Here, he is intimidated-- and that is no over-exaggeration-- by a brutal, bullying, sociopathic instructor, who is played by character actor J.K. Simmons in what just may be this year’s runaway Best Supporting Actor Oscar winning performance.

Rob Edelman: Wide-Screen Wonders, Part II

Dec 8, 2014

Exactly one year ago, Flicker Alley released to DVD and Blu-Ray CINERAMA HOLIDAY, which came to theaters in 1955, and SOUTH SEAS ADVENTURE, which dates from 1958. These titles were filmed in a three-panel widescreen process known as Cinerama. At the time, movie attendance was in sharp decline and this and other widescreen processes were employed to lure audiences away from their TV sets and back into theaters.

Rob Edelman: Political Cinema

Dec 1, 2014

Since its recent theatrical release, Jon Stewart’s ROSEWATER has been receiving oodles of publicity. The primary reason has nothing to do with the film’s content or quality. Instead, it mirrors Stewart’s celebrity. Still, ROSEWATER is a serious, sobering film that reflects on our deeply troubled and divided world. It is based on the true story of Maziar Bahari (played by Gael Garcia Bernal), an Iranian journalist who was arrested, blindfolded, and brutally grilled by the authorities for four months.

Rob Edelman: Superlative BIRDMAN

Nov 24, 2014

Some film are worth seeing because they are, well... worth seeing. They are artfully directed, excellently acted, thoughtfully scripted. But on occasion, a film comes along that is not just good or very good. Such words as superlative and even groundbreaking are more than fitting adjectives. Back in the 1970s, such films as 5 EASY PIECES and TAXI DRIVER were better than good and very good. I vividly recall seeing them and being stunned by their uniqueness, the depictions of their central characters, and their singular views of the world. Last year, two very special films-- Spike Jonze’s HER and Alfonso Cuaron’s GRAVITY-- both were audacious and original.

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