La La Land. Damien Chazelle’s follow-up to the Academy Award-winning film Whiplash is a modern take on the Hollywood musical. It stars Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling as Mia and Sebastian, an actress and a jazz musician chasing their dreams in a city that is known for crushing them. Connecting at a time when their career arcs are at low points, they navigate through modern day Los Angeles with the hopes of finding their voice in an unforgiving city. But as their fortunes start to turn, the same forces that drew them together now threaten to tear them apart. Gosling and Stone are perfectly cast as two people drawn together by fate yet destined to find their way to their goals – and to each other. Stone’s the realist while Gosling never takes his eyes off the prize even as everything tells them to tap out. They are also more than capable of carrying a tune, which is essential to make this film work – and they pull it off quite well. Chazelle is emerging as Hollywood’s next great auteur as he uses the City Of Angels brilliantly as the perfect backdrop of this explosion of sound and color. Backed by a wonderful score by Justin Hurwitz, Chazelle has put together a slam dunk musical that will be hard to be ignored during awards season. La La Land opens in select cities on Friday. You can also go to www.lalaland.movie for more information.
Frank & Lola. Former Variety and Filmmaker writer/editor Matthew Ross switches sides to write and direct this stylish, psycho-sexual thriller. Michael Shannon stars as Frank, an up and coming chef currently working out of Vegas. It’s there that he meets Lola (Imogen Poots), an aspiring fashion designer. With the glitz and glamour of Vegas as a backdrop, their romance is fast and furious, filled with dancing, drinking and even a tattoo. But the honeymoon ends very quickly as Frank’s insecurities and paranoia about having everything taken away from him begin to kick in. Those fears become real when more and more details about Lola’s sordid past with a French author (Michael Nyqvist) come to light. Obsessed with finding out all of the details, Frank travels to France, but finds himself on a downward spiral that is fueled by rage, passion and revenge. Shannon, after years of doing exceptional work in supporting roles, is fantastic as Frank, running the emotional gauntlet of love, lust, jealousy and despair effortlessly. It’s a performance that should open up the door for him to get more leading roles. Poots more than holds her own as Lola, Frank’s lover who is fighting to put her past behind her, but still capable to playing effective mind games. Nyqvist is perfectly cast as the smooth, well dressed author who puts this emotional cat and mouse game into play. Ross puts his years of studying and analyzing films to great effect – the script is tight, taunt and loaded with twists, turns and stunning visuals. The way he fuses the lights of Vegas with the shadowy corners of France are stunning. Loaded with great performances, style and a brilliant use of scenery, Matthew Ross has put together an exceptional debut. Frank & Lola opens this weekend. You can also go to http://www.frankandlolamovie.com/ for more information.
Harry Benson: Shoot First. The legendary photographer – who has captured some of the most seminal moments of the 20th Century – is the subject of this new documentary from directors Justin Bare and Matthew Miele. As a photographer for Life, Vanity Fair and The New Yorker, Benson’s extensive portfolio includes portraits of Winston Churchill, Bobby Fischer, Muhammad Ali, Greta Garbo, Michael Jackson and Jack Nicholson, among many others. He also was on hand for the funeral of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., captured the frantic moments that immediately followed Robert Kennedy’s assassination, documented marches during the American Civil Rights Movement and covered just about every major political and social event then and now. But Benson will forever been known for his intimate portraits of The Beatles during their first trip to the States in 1964 – photos that captured Beatlemania at its zenith. Benson, 86 and still going strong, is on hand to give insights into how he got the shots and his overall approach to getting the special photo. With remembrances from Dan Rather, Sharon Stone, Alec Baldwin, Neil Leifer and other luminaries from politics and entertainment, Bare and Miele have put together the ultimate salute to one of the giants of photojournalism. Harry Benson: Shoot First opens in theaters and on iTunes this Friday. You can also go to www.magpictures.com for more info.
I Am Not Your Negro. As one of the seminal figures in the American Civil Rights Movement, James Baldwin combined acute insight, stinging analysis and a defiant bluntness in his writings and through his memorable appearances on TV. Raoul Peck’s new documentary looks back at Baldwin’s work and how those writings resonate more now than when they were written. Samuel L. Jackson has the challenging task of bringing Baldwin words from such landmark works as The Fire Next Time and The Devil Finds Work to life, but more than rises to the occasion, capturing not only Baldwin’s distinctive cadences, but also making sure that the his humor, rage, exasperation and hope comes to the fore. Baldwin is also present in the film, thanks to archive footage of university speeches and TV show appearances that show the writer in peak form. The highlight of the film is Remember This House, a piece that Baldwin was working on before passed away in 1987. A haunting meditation on the assassinations of Medgar Evers, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Malcolm X, the piece was both universal and personal because he was friends with all of them. Peck has put together a moving and loving tribute to a literary and social-political titan that will more than make the rounds during awards season. One of the year’s best. I Am Not Your Negro opens in select cities this weekend. You can also go to www.magpictures.com for more information.
Awaken, My Love! by Childish Gambino. Donald Glover caps off a breakout year with the release of his 3rd album under the Childish Gambino moniker. Whereas his previous releases leaned heavily on hip hop and contemporary R&B, Glover – along with his long time collaborator Ludwig Goransson – completely flips the script with a sound that recalls Funkadelic’s Westbound Records output, 70’s era Sly, Thom Bell, Prince and Fleetwood Mac’s wildly experimental double album opus Tusk. Weaving in and out of lush soundscapes and D.I.Y production, Glover now adds his name alongside D’Angelo, De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest and Kendrick Lamar who look back to push the musical narrative onward and upward. A last minute contender for one of the year’s best. Awaken, My Love! is available now through Amazon, iTunes and all major music retailers.
New York City: Martin Scorsese In The 21st Century. The first part of an extensive retrospective on the life and career of the iconic director will kick off next week at the Museum Of The Moving Image. It will explore his work in the new millennium, which has been large in scale, but still managed to mine the emotional and psychological depth of all of the characters. Scorsese’s collaborations with Leonardo DiCaprio dominate this series with Gangs Of New York, Shutter Island, The Wolf of Wall Street, The Aviator and The Departed (which won Scorsese is only Best Director Oscar) slated to be screened. Also included will be Hugo, Scorsese’s first foray into family features, which chronicled the birth of cinema and hails one of its earliest pioneers, Georges Méliès, This is part one of what promises to be the ultimate salute to one of cinema’s greatest voices. Martin Scorsese In The 21st Century will be at the Museum Of The Moving Image through December 30th. You can also go to http://www.movingimage.us/ for more information.
Can I Get A Witness? The Gospel Of James Baldwin. For nearly 25 years, Meshell Ndegeocello has been pushing musical and cultural boundaries with songs that explore all aspects of love, sex, race and religion. Ndegeocello’s music is enjoying a much deserved resurgence largely in part because of her score and use of her songs on the OWN series Queen Sugar. For this new project, Ndegeocello reconstructs James Baldwin’s seminal work, ‘The Fire Next Time’ as a church service complete with music, text, images and, of course, a sermon. Given the subject matter – cutting observations on race, identity and sexuality – this pairing is not only perfect but necessary. Destined to be elicit some Amens and Hallelujahs from the righteous and heathens alike. Can I Get A Witness? The Gospel Of James Baldwin will be at Harlem Stage through the 11th. You can also go www.harlemstage.org for tickets and more information.
Los Angeles: EPFC 15th Anniversary Celebration. For the past 15 years, the Echo Park Film Center has been providing equal and affordable community access to film and video resources. To celebrate, they will be hosting a series of live events including film screenings by current students and alumni, spoken word and live music and much more. It’s a great way to see a community putting their artistic and cultural talents to work and get a glimpse of who could be the next great filmmaker, poet or musician. The Echo Park Film Center 15th Anniversary Celebration runs through December 11th. You can also go to http://www.echoparkfilmcenter.org/ for more information.