Cinema Siren Suggests Cinema Siren's Top 10 Featured
Cinema Siren’s Top 10 Movie Posters of 2015
January 27, 2016
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Cinema Siren, aka Leslie Combemale, expert on film art, owner of ArtInsights Animation and Film Art Gallery, and representative of the estate of John Alvin, counts down her top ten movie posters and campaigns for 2015. Find out what made the list!

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Cinema Siren’s Must See Indie Movies in 2015
January 10, 2015
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MacBeth Indie Movie 2015

What is an Indie?  The idea of just what constitutes an Independent movie has morphed quite a bit and continues to do so.  There was a time when Lionsgate was considered a true Indie distributor and production company, and some might argue it still is, even with one of the top grossing movies of all time to their credit.  The Weinstein Company is also an Indie company, and they have released some very big films like The Imitation Game, The Artist and The King’s Speech.

Generally a movie is considered independent if it is made outside the “studio system”.  All the major studios now have boutique production and distribution companies for art house films, however, making it more confusing.  For example, Sony has Sony Pictures Classics, Universal owns Focus Features, and Fox owns Fox Searchlight.  I’d call that cheating if it weren’t for the fact that a huge number of independent and foreign films get distribution through these companies.

Adding to the mix are mini-major studios like Relativity Media, and distribution companies like Open Road Films and Magnolia Pictures.  For the purposes of Cinema Siren, and moving forward, we see Indies as any films that don’t get created and built from the beginning by a major studio, and has to trust, hope and promote themselves at festivals and vie for US and International distribution from one of the above mentioned, or from a host of other companies.

For that reason, many of the films below don’t have release dates yet.  It’s only January, and the Sundance Film Festival, the first place some of these will be seen in public and be offered for sale, hasn’t even happened.  You should find fascinating the fact that so many A-list stars are on this list of movies waiting for distributors, but a huge percentage of Oscar winners come from the Indie movie world, which often offers much more expansive, risky and diverse storytelling opportunities for all film artists involved.

Here is just the tip of the list of films that will vie for distribution and audience favor this year. All these films were made outside the major studio system, and enter into the year with hope and expectations they will find a place in film history.

Which films, I wonder, might find Oscars at the end of their journey?

  • Match (Cast: Matthew Lillard, Carla Gugino, Patrick Stewart) Writer/Director Stephen Belber; a Seattle couple (Lillard and Gugino) interview former dancer (Stewart) but things turn acidic when the true reasons for the interview begin to surface.
  • CS note: Who doesn’t want to see Patrick Stewart highlighted in a smaller film where he can let his every nuance and flamboyance as an actor loose? Release date Jan. 14
  • I Am Michael (Cast: James Franco, Zachary Quinto, Emma Roberts) Real life gay activist Michael Glatze renounced his homosexuality and became a Christian pastor.
  • CS Note: This is the perfect time for a film about this hot-button topic. We haven’t seen enough of Zachary Quinto, so we as fans will have an opportunity to see him flex his acting muscles here. Release date Jan. 24
  • The Voices (Cast: Ryan Reynolds, Gemma Arterton, Anna Kendrick) Director: Marjane Satrapi; Jerry (Ryan Reynolds) is a regular guy who starts falling for a co-worker, and goes home to tell his dogs, as well as weigh the pros and cons with them of becoming a killer.
  • CS Note: This movie’s release date has been moved multiple times, which doesn’t bode well for its quality. However, Ryan Reynolds has shown better discernment post-RIPD and wants to show his fan base he is worthy of them. Release date Feb. 6
  • The Last Five Years (Cast: Anna Kendrick, Jeremy Jordan) Writer/Director: Richard LaGravenese; based on a famous musical by Jason Robert Brown, two people fall in love and sing about it, but one sings from the end of the relationship, the other from the beginning.
  • CS Note: LaGravenese is a huge fan of the original musical, so this is a labor of love. Kendrick has the opportunity here to show she can carry a film with essentially two people singing. Release date Feb. 13
  • The Gunman (Cast: Sean Penn, Idris Elba, Javier Bardem) Director: Pierre Morel
    This testosterone-laden collection of method actors come together in a film about a spy who has to clear his name before his old organization gets to him.
  • CS Note: Really, this is a gift to women all over the world. Acting, even though they are some of the best in the business, is secondary to just the idea of these three men sharing a screen we can watch. Release Date: March 20
  • Love and Mercy (Cast: John Cusack, Paul Dano, Elizabeth Banks, Paul Giamatti) Director: Bill Pohlad; the life of oddball Beach Boy Brian Wilson, from his early days to his breakdown to his interactions with controversial therapist Dr. Eugene Landy.
  • CS Note: Paul Dano and John Cusack share duties playing the reclusive musician, and it is a film those who know Brian Wilson’s genius will flock to. Hopefully it will keep those less in-the-know captivated. Release date June 5
  • Criminal (Cast: Alice Eve, Ryan Reynolds, Gary Oldman, Kevin Costner, Michael Pitt, Tommy Lee Jones) Director: Ariel Vromen; the memories and skills of a dead CIA agent are transferred to a volatile and dangerous convict.
  • CS Note: This is quite a cast. One hopes if Reynolds signed on to another film relating to ghosts and the afterlife, the script is higher quality and worthy of our attention. Release date August 21
  • Triple Nine (Cast: Aaron Paul, Kate Winslet, Norman Reedus, Gal Gadot, Woody Harrelson) Director: John Hillcoat; corrupt police officers are blackmailed into doing a seemingly impossible heist, and have to plot the murder of a police officer to bring about the 999 code, distracting the rest of the cops while they finish their heist.
  • CS note: I am so fascinated by the blend of these actors in a caper film, I’m already all in. Release date Sept. 11
  • Miles Ahead (Cast: Ewan McGregor, Don Cheadle) Director: Don Cheadle; Cheadle directs in an exploration of the jazz great’s life and struggles.
  • CS Note: Cheadle directs, and it’s about Miles Davis. Where can I buy a ticket? Don’t screw this up, Don. Release date TBA
  • Knight of Cups (Cast: Joe Mangeniello, Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett, Natalie Portman) Writer/Director: Terrence Malick It’s Terrence Malick. Plot? Who knows… It’s got something to do with Hollywood and fame.
  • CS note: Malick is amazing at getting funding for movies that are so expansive they almost become a different art form. An interesting cast and what looks like an actual plot may make this one of his best films. Judgement reserved. Release date TBA
  • Macbeth (Cast: Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard) Director: Justin Kurzel; this bad guy in Scotland gets no help being good from his wife. They kill a lot of people to get ahead.
  • CS note: On a personal note, with Fassbender I will have seen all four leads from X-Men play Macbeth, albeit the other three were onstage. Since McAvoy in Jaime Lloyd’s version was so brilliant, Fassbender is going to have to bring his A+ game. Release date TBA
  • Hologram for the King (Cast: Tom Hanks, Tom Skerrit) Director: Tom Tykwer; Tykwer adapts the screenplay of the Dave Eggers novel about a failed American businessman who goes to Saudi Arabia to sell an idea to a wealthy monarch.
  • CS Note: These are some big names, so distribution shouldn’t be a problem. The question is, will this be an Oscar contender for Hanks, who used his power in Hollywood to get the film made? Release date TBA
  • Dark Places (Cast: Cloe Grace Moretz, Charlize Theron, Christina Hendricks, Nicholas Hoult) Director: Gilles Paquet-Brenner; a woman who survived her whole family being brutally killed is forced into dealing with the events again by a secret society obsessed with unsolved crimes. This is based on a novel by Gillian Flynn.
  • CS note: Now that Flynn’s Gone Girl proved such a blockbuster, there will be lots of interest in this follow-up, especially given a cast full of big names. Release date TBA
  • Our Kind of Traitor (Cast: Ewan McGregor, Naomie Harris, Stellan Skarsgard, Damian Lewis) Director: Susannah White A couple in Britain get embroiled in a Russian man’s plan to defect, based on a political thriller by John le Carre.
  • CS Note: Damian Lewis. Is that not enough? They’d better not kill him off. We are all still grumpy about that. Release date TBA
  • Z for Zachariah (Cast: Margot Robbie, Chris Pine, Chiwetel Ejiofor) Director: Craig Zobel; three people find themselves in a love triangle after they appear to be the last survivors of a disaster that destroys civilization.
  • CS note: I am poised to see how is this not a retooling of the film The World, The Flesh, and The Devil. In any case, Ejiofor is much beloved post-12 Years a Slave, Pine is much beloved for his hamming it up in Into the Woods, and Margo Robbie is still getting press about snagging the role of Harley Quinn in Suicide Squad. Release date TBA (Sundance)
  • Trespass Against Us (Cast: Michael Fassbender, Brendan Gleeson, Rory Kinnear) Director: Adam Smith; the desire of the son in a wild family of modern outlaws to separate himself and make a new life causes strife with his father and the rest of his family.
  • CS Note: This is three great actors in one film, two of whom are eternally underrated. Gleeson is hot off his spectacular work in Calvary, and Kinnear is the talk of all those who have seen him in the great English show The Black Mirror. Release date TBA
  • Suffragette (Cast: Meryl Streep, Cary Mulligan, Helena Bonham Carter) Director: Sarah Gavron; powerhouse performers tell the story of the British woman’s movement for the vote in the late 19th century.
  • CS Note: There are so many hands in this one, both in front of the screen and behind the lens, that are masters of their craft, it will either be great or crumble from the weight of all that greatness. We hope the former, as we support the success of women in all areas of film. Release date TBA
  • Spotlight (Cast: Rachel McAdams, Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton) Co-writer/Director: Thomas McCarthy; the true story of the Boston Globe’s work at uncovering a massive scandal of child molestation within the local Catholic Archdiocese.
  • CS Note: Post-Birdman Michael Keaton with Indie mainstay Ruffalo makes us curious to see a film that may be darker than most of us are ready for, but we appreciate them doing a movie about such an important subject. Release date TBA
  • Equals (Cast: Kristen Stewart, Nicholas Hoult, Guy Pierce) DIrector: Drake Doremus; a love story set in a future where emotions have been eradicated.
  • CS Note: As exampled by Snowpiercer, sometimes great sci-fi films come in Indie packages. Kristen Stewart has shown lately she can act, (see Still Alice) and Hoult’s choices for film roles just become more and more interesting! Release date TBA
  • High-Rise (Cast: Tom Hiddleston, Jeremy Irons, Sienna Miller, Luke Evans, Elizabeth Moss) Director: Ben Wheatley; based on a 1975 J.G. Ballard novel, a group of luxury apartment dwellers discover a complex hierarchy of haves and have mores, which slowly leads to violent fragment groups confronting each other.
  • CS Note: Tom Hiddleston has shown he has very interesting taste in Indie films, and this movie is based on a great cult classic. They will have to keep fans of the novel happy, and based on what they are saying on the web, they are expecting the best. Release date TBA
Featured Video Interviews
SELMA: Cinema Siren Interviews Ava DuVernay and David Oyelowo
December 28, 2014
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Leslie Combemale aka Cinema Siren conducts an exclusive interview with the director and lead actor of Selma:

 

Featured Movie Reviews
Into the Woods Movie Review: The Ultimate in Wish Fulfillment
December 27, 2014
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‘This dark delicious operetta is a perfect palate cleanse from a dysfunctional holiday.’

Be careful what you wish for. That’s the tagline for the new musical movie adaptation of Into the Woods. If you are yearning for a new musical that is dark, complicated, and funny, as well as beautifully constructed, and at times more than mildly creepy, Into the Woods by director Rob Marshall (of Chicago and NINE) is the ultimate in wish fulfillment.

This, my friends, is NOT the world of happily ever after. It also isn’t a “fun for the whole Disney family” kind of film, unless you’ve all survived something together in the way of loss and struggle. Given the screenplay makes use of the original tales, in all their gruesome glory, It is especially inappropriate for children under 8 years old. However, for music-loving adults who dig their Grimm grim, and have a twisted sense of humor, cinematically, it’s the very thing you never knew you wanted or needed.

Before there was Once Upon A Time, or the movies Ella Enchanted and Enchanted, there was the stage musical Into the Woods, a mashed-up collection of Brothers Grimm fairy tales conceived and constructed by composer Stephen Sondheim and writer James Lapine. It debuted in 1986 and became a big hit, winning several Tony Awards including best score and best book its first time out, and subsequent productions went on to win more Tony, Olivier, and Drama Desk awards. Some might argue the play of Into the Woods had a significant influence in ushering in the renewed or heightened interest in fairy tales that has led to the burgeoning representation in novels, art, TV and film.

This, you see, was ‘once upon a time’ in the 80’s, back when stage plays started fashion, not like today’s derivative Shreks, Beauty and the Beasts, and what have you. Much of the musicals that make it to Broadway now are reiterations of existing films. It was also back at the heights of a time when we in the arts fields were losing friends and loved ones on a daily basis to AIDS, and there’s an apocalyptic quality present in Into the Woods that reflects the pervasive atmosphere of cultural loss of that crisis.

A well-known collection of archetypal characters including Cinderella (Anna Kendrick), Jack of the Beanstalk fame, (Daniel Huttlestone), a witch bent on revenge (Meryl Streep), Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford), and Rapunzel (Mackenzie Mauzy), all figure in a story revolving around a childless baker and his wife, (James Corden and Emily Blunt) who are attempting to undo a curse the witch put upon them and their house.

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They all meet and experience life-altering events when they go into the woods. All the characters want something, so we follow them through their wishes, their opportunity to make their desires reality, and how that turns out for each of them. We follow the various tales as they weave in and out of each other’s stories, but the baker and his wife are the center where all things collide, and Emily Blunt is the true star of the film, and gives it its heart.

The fact that she has said in interviews she is terrified of singing in front of people makes her success in the role all the more impressive. James Corden as her husband and helpmate who must find courage to do what must be done, shows nuances in physical expression of his insecurities that put us squarely into his corner, even when he makes mistakes that should permanently alienate the audience.

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Meryl Streep as the witch gets to be the constant voice of truth, however unkind or harsh it may be, and gleefully uses her expertise to draw every eye to her while onscreen, as no doubt her character would want. Anna Kendrick is great as Cinderella, although she’s rather changeable, unsure, and a bundle of insecurities, showing exactly the qualities a young woman who has suffered emotional abuse from her stepmother for years would likely exhibit.

Secondary characters played by Johnny Depp and Chris Pine make their moments on film indelible for two very different reasons. Depp plays Wolf as part of the Riding Hood story, but rises the creep factor to a startling high by embodying what amounts to a pedophile with whiskers. His singing voice is not up to the quality of most other actors, but it matters little since his character is less languid lothario more a carnival barker.

Pine absolutely steals the movie during Sondheim’s showstopper “Agony”, where he sings with Rapunzel’s prince and competes for who is put through more not getting the love they want in instant gratification. Scenery chewing has never worked so well.

It is also necessary to give props to the amazing music and congratulate all the actors who took on very complicated songs and made them their own. Musicians will recognize just how hard the intervals and rhythmic structures are, but the general public should be made aware as well, so they know just how much work it was to get it right.

As hinted at the beginning of this review, the last third of this movie turns decidedly toward the bleak, but that doesn’t make it any less entertaining overall. It does make it a tougher watch for those who expect their fairy tales to end on an upswing wrapped up with neatly tied bows. As in the original stage play, Sondheim and Lapine were saying life isn’t tidy, and sometimes things don’t go as planned, but that doesn’t mean we should stop wishing.

The holidays are hard for some who have more challenging family dysfunction, and, by the end of its 124 minutes, this operetta serves up a skewed alternative family of sorts, reminding those who find themselves pummeled by the end of the season, after the dust settles, there are ways to pick up and move forward by building something from what actually works.

This is true in the holidays but more largely in life, and that is the gift this dark fairy tale, however cautionary and apocalyptic, provides to those who need or want it. It is a reminder that finding optimism in a new journey is the only way forward. A dark message, but one worth heeding.

4 out of 5 stars

Featured Movie Reviews
Selma Movie Review: 5 out of 5 stars
December 27, 2014
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Why Selma is Cinema Siren’s #1 film of 2014

What makes Selma, the new release by producer/director Ava DuVernay, truly spectacular as a film, is the balance it finds between expansive traditional biography and a more intimate independent-minded personal film. In some ways that’s what Martin Luther King, the subject of this movie, grappled with; being true to himself as a black man and married pastor making his way in the 60s, as well as being true to the great orator the movement necessitated, one who could move hundreds to action with his speeches, and millions to change with his leadership.

Selma captures a specific time of turmoil, and follows the story of King’s work to change discriminatory practices in the South against blacks attempting to vote.  The whole film takes place during three months in 1965, when he led his followers into marching from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, against violent opposition, and for which he was required to navigate politics and aggression from all corners.  Screenwriter Paul Web did a great job of weaving together what brought the US and King himself to this moment in the movement.  He allows us to see Martin the man and the orator, while revealing the story of how the historic march from Selma to Montgomery came to take place, with all the dangers, complications, and sacrifices that were a part of it.   He does this without veering into the preachy, in a cohesive way that keeps us entertained.

As director, DuVernay employs a style of storytelling that is straightforward, honors events without being overly sentimental, and shows a delicacy with the subject matter that makes it possible for audiences to find the film engrossing, entertaining, and educational, whether they know their civil rights history by heart, or know nothing of it. She presents a respectful, realistic portrait of a man sans idolatry, beset by challenges and dangers, someone who realizes he has weaknesses and feels guilt. The representation of events is so tightly edited and beautifully filmed, viewers are swept up into the myriad of emotions these tumultuous times evoke. As an audience member, one feels in perfect step with the cadence of the action, whether it be an intimate moment between Martin and his wife Coretta (actress Carmen Ejogo, who looks startlingly like the real woman) or the terrifying police brutality at a demonstration, the sequences flow perfectly one to the next.

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With expert aid from cinematographer Bradford Young, DuVernay finds ways to bring the time period to life and use light and color in authentic and emotional ways. For example, early in the film, the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing, a tragedy important to civil rights movement history, is portrayed. Young girls Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson, and Denise McNair lost their lives. DuVernay has the camera follow the girls talking and walking down the stairs, and instead of manipulating the viewer by showing them being killed, she shows debris and shoes in slow motion flying through the air, almost as we were about to see Alice in Wonderland falling through the rabbit hole. It is a brilliant bit of visual drama that draws out much more emotion, as if we in the audience are each experiencing our own lives flashing before us. The scene becomes visceral and seared itself inside your eyelids.

Selma succeeds most by how the filmmakers chose to frame the proceedings. We get glimpses or short scenes with some historical figures, while others play a bigger part in this particular subjective narrative, and yet it all serves the film as a whole, in terms of creating an arc, as well as giving the audience a clear understanding of who Martin Luther King was and the importance of Selma in the Civil Rights movement. The best aspect of the film, beyond its ability to place the audience within the experiences represented, is the juxtapositioning of King as the public figure we have seen and the private man who struggled to be at his best and make good choices within in his own personal life.

English actor David Oyelowo, as Martin Luther King, embodies the man in such a way as to make him believably approachable, and less a historical figure than someone finding the most effective ways of working to alter a de-facto inequality at the voting booths for Americans of color. He masterfully juggles the two sides of the man, the one who found transcendence in his public speaking and leadership, and the one who lived life, however much he had the National spotlight, as a Southern married black man with children in the 60s. Lovers of great acting can be grateful that Oyelowo, who has a theater company with his actress wife, and has been a well known working actor in the UK for many years, is breaking into the highest level of the elite Hollywood A-list, such as it exists for people of color. May the Academy not only take note, but laud his splendid work in fearlessly channeling a very important American public figure with both grace and subtlety.

There are other standouts in the cast. Particularly Tim Roth and Tom Wilkinson do well not turning their roles as George Wallace and President Johnson, respectively, into caricatures. They both build on the well-crafted script with their portrayals, and we lose the actors in their scenes, even as famous as they are. Henry G. Sanders, the actor who plays Cager Lee, grandfather of Jimmy Lee Jackson, who died after being shot by a policeman during a demonstration, takes the few minutes he has onscreen to break your heart.

No doubt intentional is the timeliness of a story that tells of only part of the movement, leaving much to be done. Such is how it is today. Current events point up how much more change is needed, and that we are a people and a country with plenty more to learn about acceptance and tolerance. As both a reminder of that, and a remembrance of an essential part of our history, Selma couldn’t be more perfect.

5 out of 5 stars