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White Couple Black Baby Movie Skin + AFI FEST: Phone Sex + Viggo Mortensen

Sophie Okonedo in Skin
White couple, black baby: Sophie Okonedo as black daughter of white parents in Skin
Ramon Novarro biography Beyond Paradise

Winner of four audience awards, including at the AFI Dallas and Santa Barbara film festivals, Skin tells the factually inspired (and quite curious) story of Sandra Laing (Hotel Rwanda‘s 2005 Academy Award nominee Sophie Okonedo as an adult; Ella Ramangwane as child), the “black” daughter of “white” Afrikaner parents (veterans Sam Neill and Alice Krige), who until then – South Africa in the 1950s – had been unaware that they must have had some black ancestors.

Though raised as a white girl by her parents, Sandra soon discovers the importance of her skin color after she’s officially reclassified as black and is expelled from her school. Her parents then fight a judicial battle to have their daughter regain her “whiteness” – and all the privileges that come with it – taking the case all the way to the Supreme Court.

Sandra becomes officially “white” once again – but her skin hasn’t changed colors. Racism continues to be an issue for her. Compounding matters, she falls in love with a black vegetable seller (Tony Kgoroge), which leads to serious family conflicts.

Written by Helen Crawley, Jessie Keyt, and Helena Kriel, Skin is the feature-film debut of UCLA’s Film and Television School grad Anthony Fabian. In The Hollywood Reporter, Michael Rechtshaffen says it “serves as a stirring allegory for birthright and the assertion of one’s identity in the face of oppression … the fact that it’s actually based on a true story adds an extra layer of poignancy, heightened further by another superb Sophie Okonedo performance.”

Skin opens in New York City (Landmark’s Sunshine Theatre; Beekman Theatre) and Los Angeles (The Landmark in West LA; Laemmle Town & Country in Encino; Laemmle 7 in Pasadena) on Friday, Oct. 30.

Phone Sex ‘Easier with Practice’ + ‘North by Northwest’: AFI FEST

Kyle Patrick Alvarez’s feature-film debut Easier with Practice, CineVegas Grand Jury Award winner and Best International Feature at the Edinburgh Film Festival, will screen at the AFI FEST 2009 (website) on Wed., November 4, at 10 p.m.

Easier with Practice tells the story of a writer (Brian Geraghty of The Hurt Locker) who, in a desperate attempt to promote his still-unpublished novel, hits the road with his younger brother (Kel O’Neill) on a self-planned book tour. Things don’t go very well at first, but when out of the blue a sexy female voice calls the writer at his ordinary motel room – to ask what he’s wearing, no less – everything changes. The phoning couple eventually move from voice-induced masturbation to emotional intimacy, but complications arise when the writer decides he wants to match face to voice.

Also in the Easier with Practice cast: Marguerite Moreau, Jeanette Brox, Jenna Gavigan, Katie Aselton.

A former assistant to Warren Beatty, Alvarez, 26, decided on the topic for his first film after reading Davy Rothbart’s article “What are you wearing?” in the August 2006 issue of GQ magazine.

Here’s Kyle Patrick Alvarez as quoted in the film’s press release:

“What ultimately inspired me was the possibility to make a film that dealt frankly and honestly with a man’s complicated sexuality. When I say sexuality I mean something far more personal even than gender preference, rather comfortability with one’s self. I think the male ego is a tricky thing and one that is normally dealt with superficially in modern media. In general, men are not portrayed as emotionally weak or uncertain, especially in regards to their sexuality. I thought this story would be an opportunity to have a lead male character who had a lot of fears of maturing, especially when thrown into situations that are sexually threatening to him …

“I was also excited about making a movie that featured its lead character in every frame of the film. I knew the film would require a sincerity and delicate pace; I had to allow the audience to commit wholly to Davy’s experience, and not be able to see beyond that, in order for the conclusion to be satisfying in what is essentially a one-sided love story. …

“In the Web 2.0 era, technology has so quickly changed the way people interact. Even 6 years ago the thought of meeting someone on the Internet concerned people, nowadays it’s common practice. While Davy’s relationship with Nicole doesn’t involve the Internet, I had those intense web-based relationships in mind when I started writing the script. … Ultimately, my intention was to make a film that challenged people’s perceptions about intimacy and sexuality without ever being confrontational or didactic.”

Among the highlights of AFI FEST 2009 is the Nov. 2 screening of AFI Conservatory Alumnus Daniel Raim’s documentary Something’s Gonna Live, which profiles several behind-the-scenes Hollywood veterans – most of whom have already passed away – including production designers Robert Boyle (who turned 100 this past Oct. 10), Henry Bumstead (To Kill a Mockingbird, The Sting), Harold Michelson (Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Mommie Dearest, Dick Tracy), and Albert Nozaki (When Worlds Collide, The War of the Worlds, The Ten Commandments), in addition to cinematographers Conrad L. Hall (In Cold Blood, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Road to Perdition) and Haskell Wexler (Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, In the Heat of the Night).

Both Robert Boyle and Haskell Wexler are expected to attend the World Premiere screening of Something’s Gonna Live.

Raim’s previous documentary, by the way, was the Oscar-nominated The Man on Lincoln’s Nose (2000), which focuses on Boyle’s work as production designer, including his collaboration with Alfred Hitchcock on several films. Among these is North by Northwest (1959), which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.

Appropriately enough, this Hitchcock classic about a man, a wheat field, and a dot in the sky that turns out to be a plane will also be screened on Monday, Nov. 2. Leading lady Eva Marie Saint and bad guy Martin Landau are scheduled to take part in a q&a moderated by Academy Award-winning filmmaker William Friedkin.

North by Northwest is supposed to be the first Hitchcock film to be released on Blu-ray.

James McAvoy Christopher Plummer The Last Station
James McAvoy, Christopher Plummer in The Last Station.

AFI FEST 2009 has selected Christopher Plummer, who’ll turn 80 next December, and Viggo Mortensen, 51, as this year’s tribute honorees.

Sponsored by the Skirball Cultural Center, Plummer’s tribute will precede the screening of The Last Station, in which he plays Leo Tolstoy, on Tuesday, Nov. 3. Mortensen’s tribute will precede the US premiere of John Hillcoat’s futuristic drama The Road on Wednesday, Nov. 4. Both tributes will take place at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in Hollywood.

A stage, film, and television and television veteran, during the course of his 50-plus-year career Plummer has won two Tony Awards (for Cyrano and Barrymore), three Drama Desk Awards, the National Arts Club Medal, and two Emmys. Additionally, he was a leading member of Laurence Olivier’s Royal National Theatre and Peter Hall’s Royal Shakespeare Company.

Among Plummer’s dozens of screen appearances, whether in leading or supporting roles, are Stage Struck (1957), The Sound of Music (1965), The Night of the Generals (1967), The Silent Partner (1978), Malcolm X (1992), The Insider (1999), A Beautiful Mind (2001), and Inside Man (2006). Curiously, he’s never even been nominated for an Academy Award – though this year he has a good chance of landing a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for The Last Station.

Christopher Plummer can also be seen in the AFI FEST’s Centerpiece Screening Gala presentation, Terry Gilliam’s The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, in which Plummer stars as the leader of a traveling theater troupe who, following a deal with the devil, takes audience members through a magical mirror to explore their imagination. Supporting Plummer are Heath Ledger, in his last screen appearance, Johnny Depp, Jude Law, Colin Farrell, and Tom Waits. Both Gilliam and Plummer are scheduled to attend the AFI FEST screening.

Since his debut in Peter Weir’s Witness (1985), Viggo Mortensen’s most notable screen roles include those in Indian Runner (1991), The Portrait of a Lady (1996), A History of Violence (2005), Alatriste (2006), and Eastern Promises (2007), for which he received a best actor Academy Award nomination. Thanks to his portrayal of Aragorn in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, Mortensen has now an iconic place in film history.

Mortensen is also a likely best actor Oscar contender for his role in The Road. He is scheduled to attend the AFI FEST screening, along with director Hillcoat and co-star Charlize Theron.

Sony Pictures Classics will release The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus in the US on December 25.

The Weinstein Company will release The Road on November 25.

Gay drama ‘A Single Man’

Colin Firth, Matthew Goode in A Single ManColin Firth, Matthew Goode in A Single Man

AFI FEST 2009’s Closing Night Gala presentation, the US premiere of Tom Ford’s A Single Man, will take place at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in Hollywood on Thursday, November 5. (The festival, with screenings in Santa Monica, actually ends on Nov. 7.)

Based on a Christopher Isherwood novel, A Single Man chronicles a day – possibly the last one – in the life of a gay British college professor (Venice 2009 best actor Colin Firth) in the Los Angeles of the mid-1960s, as he seriously considers suicide following the unexpected death of his partner (Matthew Goode).

Written by Ford and David Scearce, A Single Man also features Julianne Moore (a likely Best Supporting Actress Oscar contender) as a married woman attracted to the suicidal prof, Ginnifer Goodwin, and Nicholas Hoult.

Tom Ford, Colin Firth, and Julianne Moore are all scheduled to attend the Nov. 5 screening.

The Weinstein Company release of A Single Man is due in US theaters on December 11.

‘Precious’ & Heath Ledger

AFI FEST 2009, the AFI Los Angeles International Film Festival, kicks off next Friday, Oct. 30, with a screening of Wes Anderson’s animated feature Fantastic Mr. Fox, featuring the voices of George Clooney, Meryl Streep and Owen Wilson, among others.

Other gala presentations include Terry Gilliam’s The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, starring Christopher Plummer – who’ll be the recipient of this year’s AFI FEST Lifetime Achievement Award – and featuring Heath Ledger’s last performance; Kirk Jones’ Everybody’s Fine, starring Robert De Niro in this remake of Giuseppe Tornatore’s melodrama about a widower on his way to meet his family; and 2009 Sundance winner Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire, a coming-of-age drama directed by Lee Daniels, and starring Gabourey Sidibe, Mo’Nique, Paula Patton, and Mariah Carey.

The festival, which runs until Nov. 7, will showcase 67 features (54 narrative, 13 documentary) and 26 shorts for a total of 93 films from 32 countries.

AFI FEST 2009 is headquartered at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel. All screenings from October 30–November 5 will take place at the Grauman’s Chinese and Mann Chinese 6 theaters in Hollywood with the final two days of the Festival (Nov. 6-7) screening at the Laemmle’s Monica 4-plex in Santa Monica.

Free tickets to all Festival screenings are available online at or by phone at 866-AFI-FEST beginning October 16, at the Mann Chinese 6 Theatre (6925 Hollywood Blvd.), in the Hollywood and Highland Center beginning October 26, and on the day of scheduled screenings via Rush Lines.

‘A French Gigolo’: IFC Festival Direct

Next month, IFC Films (website) will be releasing via its video-on-demand platform the French box office hit A French Gigolo / Cliente, starring veteran Nathalie Baye, on November 4, and Canada’s submission for the 2009 Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, The Necessities of Life, on Nov. 11. These films are part of the “IFC Festival Direct” program, an electronic film festival available “at the touch of a remote control button.” Each month, viewers can choose from six new films that have premiered at major film festivals from around the world.

The film information below is the the IFC press release:

A French Gigolo, the French box office hit, continues the long tradition of exploring female desire and sexuality with sharp wit and insight. The film caused much discussion in France for its frank depiction of female sexuality in a country that’s never been shy on the matter. Directed, written and co-starring Josiane Balasko (French Twist), the film stars Nathalie Baye (Venus Beauty Institute, Tell No One) and Eric Caravaca (Monsieur Ibrahim) and premiered at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.

Baye stars as an elegant and mature TV personality who believes she’s found a way to have a satisfying sexual life amidst her chaotic professional life: instead of messy relationships, she opts instead for straightforward sexual servicing through a series of male escorts she chooses on the internet. Her sister Irene (Balasko) and next-door neighbor couldn’t disagree more, but Judith is adamant this laissez-faire arrangement works. And it does work for her until unconventional and handsome escort Patrick (Eric Caravaca) enters her life.

As their arrangement escalates, Judith’s frozen emotional state begins to thaw, but all is thrown into chaos when Patrick’s wife discovers that his days are not spent on a construction site. A French Gigolo is a classy, thoroughly enjoyable film with terrific performances. Lisa Nesselson of Screen International called it “engaging and intelligent with a classy, nuanced performances.”

Natar Ungalaaq in The Necessities of Life

The Necessities of Life, is a profound story of culture shock and barrier-transcending human connections starring Natar Ungalaaq from Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner. Shortlisted for a 2008 Academy Award as Canada’s official Oscar entry for Best Foreign Language Film, The Necessities of Life premiered in August of last year at the Montreal World Film Festival where it received numerous awards including the Grand Jury Prize.

From the acclaimed Canadian filmmaker and renowned documentarian Benoît Pilon, Necessities of Life is a heartwarming and life-affirming drama about Tivii (Ungalaaq) an ailing Inuit hunter diagnosed with tuberculosis by Canadian authorities and forcibly removed from his family and quarantined in a Quebec City sanitarium. For Tivii, everything seems alien and he slides into a deep depression as he realizes his treatment might last up to two years, until finding hope again when he forges an unlikely friendship with a young boy.

Sylvain Verstricht from indieWIRE said “The Necessities of Life is a touching film with great performances from its two lead actors.” Daniel Harvey from Variety called the film “a model of delicate emotional restraint.”

A French Gigolo and The Necessities of Life will be available for three months on demand.

Colin Firth Santa Barbara Award

Colin Firth, the star of Tom Ford’s A Single Man, will receive the Santa Barbara International Film Festivals Outstanding Performance of the Year Award at Santa Barbaras Arlington Theatre on Feb.13, 2010.

In A Single Man, the 49-year-old Firth plays a grieving, gay college professor in the Los Angeles of the early 1960s. His lover (Matthew Goode) has just died and he is seriously considering ending his own life. Also in the cast: Julianne Moore and Nicholas Hoult.

Earlier this year, Firth won the best actor prize at the Venice Film Festival, and is one of the strongest contenders to land a best actor Academy Award nomination come next February.

Among Colin Firths previous films are Another Country (1984), A Month in the Country (1987), Valmont (1989), Bridget Joness Diary (2001), Girl with a Pearl Earring (2003), Love, Actually (2003), Mamma Mia! (2008), and Dorian Grey (2009).

Previous Outstanding Performance winners include Helen Mirren, Penélope Cruz and Heath Ledger.

The Santa Barbara Film Festival runs from Feb. 4-14.

Screamfest LA winners

2009 Screamfest LA: Oct. 16-25 in Hollywood

In Tom Six’s The Human Centipede (First Sequence), a German surgeon (Dieter Laser) sets out to merge together three human beings into one by joining them with a single digestive system. To achieve his goal, he conscripts two American girls (Ashley C. Williams, Ashlynn Yennie) looking for shelter and a Japanese tourist (Akihiro Kitamura) who happens to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. The Human Centipede II (Full Sequence), involving a 12-human centipede, is slated for release in 2010.

Best Picture: The Human Centipede (First Sequence), Tom Six

Best Director: F. Javier Gutiérrez, Tres días / Before the Fall

Best Actor: Victor Clavijo, Before the Fall

Best Actress: Joceline Donahue, House of the Devil

Best Screenplay: Hate Night, VJ Boyd & Justin Boyd

Best Cinematography: Before the Fall, Miguel A. Mora

Best Musical Score: The House of the Devil, Jeff Grace

Best Editing: Before the Fall, Nacho Ruiz Capillas

Best Special Effects: The Revenant

Best Makeup: The Revenant

Best Short: Prelude to Hell, Harry Doright

Best Student Short: Else, Thibaut Emin


The White Ribbon Michael Haneke

AFI FEST Michael Haneke-Jacques Audiard Swap

AFI FEST 2009 presented by Audi has announced that Michael Haneke’s Palme d’Or winner and Oscar contender The White Ribbon will replace Jacques Audiard’s Cannes Grand Prix winner A Prophet in the festival’s line-up. Reason for the AFI FEST swap: “a recent change in the release date for A Prophet.” Both films are being distributed in the US by Sony Pictures Classics.

The White Ribbon is set in a German farming village disturbed by inexplicable acts of cruelty just before the start of World War I. The film is due for release in the US on December 30. The film will screen on Sunday, Nov. 1, at 7:00 PM.

Good that The White Ribbon will be screened; bad that A Prophet won’t. Both hard-hitting dramas received widespread praise upon their initial release at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, and both will quite possibly land Oscar nods – though with the Academy’s foreign-language film voters, you never know. They may always opt for a sentimental melo instead.

Other major film festival winners in the AFI FEST 2009 line-up are:

City of Life and Death (San Sebastian Film Festival Golden Seashell)

Precious (Sundance Film Festival Grand Prize and Audience Award, 2009 Toronto Film Festival People’s Choice Award)

The Milk of Sorrow (Berlin International Film Festival Golden Berlin Bear)

Free tickets to all Festival screenings are available online at or by phone at 866-AFI-FEST beginning today, at the Mann Chinese 6 Theatre (6925 Hollywood Blvd.) in the Hollywood and Highland Center beginning October 26, and on the day of scheduled screenings via Rush Lines. Early entry to all screenings can be secured by becoming a patron of the Festival and purchasing an AFI FEST Patron Pass.

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adamant -

In my opinion, an even more striking debut than Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Amores Perros .

Jill -

What amazing lives and stories these men must have had!! To have been a fly on the wall…

Megan Mills -

What is the rumor about the new Star Trek TV show coming out? My brother has been talking about it all day, can’t be true, right?
Megan Mills


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