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By Govindini Murty & Jason Apuzzo. During his meteoric career, Ozwald Boateng’s been called the coolest man on Earth, and the fashion world’s best-kept secret. Yet the candid new documentary A Man’s Story, opening this weekend in New York and Los Angeles, makes certain that the British fashion designer and style icon no longer remains a secret.

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In a career already spanning two decades, the 45 year-old Boateng has outfitted celebrities from Will Smith to Russell Crowe, from Jamie Foxx to Mick Jagger. At age 28, he became the youngest tailor – and the first of African descent – to open a store on London’s legendary Savile Row. Boateng’s also designed menswear for Givenchy and bespoke costumes for films like The Matrix and Ocean’s Thirteen, and he’s even been the subject of his own Sundance Channel TV series, House of Boateng. He’s also the recipient of an OBE (Order of the British Empire) for his contributions to the clothing industry.

Throughout all this, however, Boateng’s private side – such as his quiet struggles in the rarified world of British fashion, or his efforts to foster entrepreneurial investment in Africa – have taken a back seat in public to his style innovations.

Director Varon Bonicos’ new documentary, A Man’s Story – for which Bonicos filmed Boateng from 1998 through 2010 – reveals much about Boateng’s personal life: from the challenges of growing up as a young man of African descent in London of the ’70s and ’80s, to the abiding influence of his father on his life and career. The result is a warm and often poignant film that humanizes Boateng, while doing full justice to the glamorous place he occupies in the world of men’s fashion.

We spoke with Ozwald Boateng and Varon Bonicos in Los Angeles, where they are promoting A Man’s Story. The interview has been edited for length.

GM: What is your passion for film – and in particular, how are you inspired by the intersection of film and fashion?

OB: Film has always been a really good tool for me to communicate emotion about why I create a collection. I’m probably one of the first designers to make short films. The first time I did it was back in 1994. The invite for my first fashion show was a VHS cassette. And it kind of became part of the language of my designing collections – I was always putting together short films.

Apart from that, I think fashion designers are directors anyway. We spend a year designing a collection for a fashion show that lasts maybe fifteen minutes. We have to design the look of the catwalk, cast the model for each look, work up the sound, the lighting – it’s a lot of work that goes into that fifteen minutes.

JA: Film has been so important in terms of influencing men’s style, men’s self-perceptions. I was curious whether there were film icons, movie stars who have influenced your sense of style?

OB: Sean Connery, of course, since I was a kid – you know, James Bond. Or The Thomas Crown Affair – you can’t beat those three piece suits. The Italian Job with Michael Caine – again the suits. If you’re a designer, there’s got to be some films that you’ve seen that have inspired you creatively. There’s no escaping that. Film is such a very good tool for communicating emotions, and all designers and creative people look to inspire an emotional response.


Revealing the personal side of Boateng.

JA: You mention Connery and Bond, and he was so crucial in selling the Savile Row style here in the States.

OB: Absolutely.

JA: You yourself have become an icon on behalf of that style. Was that something you planned from the outset as a designer – to be so out front selling the look yourself?

OB: No, actually, I tried to stay out of it. In the early years, it was because I was a very young guy working in a very old discipline – so really, that’s tough to begin with. And then I was trying to do it in a very modern way – so again, that’s tough. Add me, visually, into the mix of all that, and that just complicates things. So for the first few years, I didn’t let anyone take any pictures of me. Basically, a lot of people had no idea what I looked like. And because my name did not necessarily sound African, a lot of people … just thought I was some kind of middle aged white guy [laughs]. So no-one actually knew what I looked like, and that was the best thing – because it allowed everyone to focus on the work. Continue reading »

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By Joe Bendel. Thaddeus the Blacksmith is a builder, not a fighter. Nonetheless, the Lion Clan is messing with the wrong tradesman when they chop off his arms. Yes, it is time to rumble in Nineteenth Century China. Kung fu, Hip Hop, spaghetti westerns, and blaxploitation will be mashed-up in the RZA’s The Man with the Iron Fists, which really did open this week in New York—honest it did.

The Lions were not always so bad. That was before the Emperor sought their services to help secure his shipment of gold. Succumbing to greed, Silver Lion and Bronze Lion betray their respected clan leader Gold Lion, with the intention of hijacking the imperial gold. Of course, they will have to take care of one loose end: Gold Lion’s son, Zen Yi, who has left his mountain retreat and lovely wife for some old school revenge. Unfortunately, he is no match for Brass Body, the Kung Fu equivalent of the X-Men’s Colossus.

Stripped of his armor, Zen Yi is rescued from certain death by the Blacksmith and his lover, Lady Silk, one of the “employees” of Madame Blossom’s house of pleasure. Troubled by the death and destruction wrought by his handiwork, the Blacksmith throws his lot in with Zen Yi. Needless to say, this leads to a rather nasty encounter with Silver Lion, Brass Body, and a very sharp blade. Yet, as the title indicates, he still knows his way around a forge. He also has an unlikely ally in Jack Knife, the opium addicted British ex-pat serving as the Emperor’s secret emissary.

Jamie Chung in "The Man With the Iron Fists."

If you’re looking for Oscar bait, Iron Fists probably isn’t your cup of tea. Not exactly subtle or refined filmmaking, the RZA basically just lets the chaos fly. He “borrows” liberally from scores of previous martial arts films, even including Enter the Dragon’s oft imitated finale. Still, the film’s energy is admirable. Corey Yuen’s fight choreography is consistently inventive and there is plenty of eye candy. In fact, the large supporting cast brings all kinds of genre credibility, starting with the Cung Le, sporting the Yahoo Serious coif as Bronze Lion. On-the-brink-of-stardom Grace Huang (so cool in the short film Bloodtraffick) also kicks butt convincingly as part of the duo known as the Gemini Killers.

Probably the biggest surprise of Iron Fists is Russell Crowe’s rip-roaring scenery-chewing portrayal of Jack Knife. He obviously understood what sort of film he was making and was willing to just go with it. As Madame Blossom, Lucy Liu essentially reprises her turn from Kill Bill, but that is not necessarily a bad thing. Frankly, the RZA isn’t terrible as the Blacksmith, brooding well enough. The villains are more of a mixed bag, though. Former wrestler David Bautista certainly looks the part of Brass Body, but Byron Mann’s Silver Lion is more flamboyant than menacing.

Look, what do you want from a Kung Fu smackdown directed by a rapper, even if it is “executive produced” by Quentin Tarantino? It might be chocked full of genre clichés and clumsy flashbacks, but if the prospect of watching RZA beat the Lion Clan silly while Crowe cavorts with a bevy of Asian prostitutes strikes you as entertaining, then Iron Fists totally delivers the goods. Let’s call it a guilty pleasure and leave it at that. It really is currently playing in New York, above 34th Street, at the Regal E-Walk.


Posted on November 3rd, 2012 at 12:18pm.

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Juno Temple in "Jack & Diane."

By Joe Bendel. You could possibly liken lycanthropy to puberty – because they both involve dramatic physical transformation. It is a dubious comparison, but evidently it was enough for writer-director Bradley Gray Rust to build a film around. As a result, love is rather messy in several ways for two young women in Jack & Diane (trailer here), which was supposed to open yesterday in New York.

Diane dresses like Goldie Hawn on Laugh-In. Tomboyish Jack dresses like Tim Allen on Home Improvement. However, when the two hipsters see each other, it is love at first gawk. Lost in Manhattan not far from Evacuation Zone A, the visiting Diane accepts Jack’s offer of hospitality. The British Diane seems to exist in a state of arrested development, but it evidently works for the tough-on-the-outside-needy-on-the-inside Jack. Yet, just as their whirlwind romance begins, miscommunication and Diane’s meddling aunt threaten to tear it asunder.

Coming between these kids might be dangerous, though. In moments of extreme emotional agitation Diane transforms into a werewolf—but, not really. For the most part, the lycanthropy is metaphorical, with only occasional hints that these trippy interludes have real consequences. At least they look distinctive, animated by the celebrated Quay Brothers in a style that is better described as macabre than frightening.

Frankly, it is a wonder Rust has not been picketed by the Hollywood thought police, considering J&D essentially equates its characters’ lesbianism with something explicitly monstrous. However, he handles their relationship with keen sensitivity and reasonably good taste. Indeed, J&D is being touted as the lesbian werewolf movie, but it is likely to disappoint fanboys hoping for either sort of exploitation.

Instead, J&D is your basic downtown indie. It is not mumblecore, but you can see it from here. Still, the earnest sincerity co-leads Juno Temple and an unrecognizable Riley Keough (Elvis’s granddaughter) bring to their characters shines through strikingly. Unfortunately, they are not well served by some overripe dialogue and the rather laborious pace.

If you were wondering, the Mellencamp song never appears on the J&D soundtrack and the ex-Johnny Cougar is reportedly not thrilled by the association. Be that as it may, the film itself is not terrible, but it is far from a cohesive whole. The Quays and particularly Keough did some fine work, but the concept remains only half-developed. Fans of the animators should find it worth checking out, but they can safely wait for Netflix and the like. For the curious, Jack & Diane is now playing at the Sundance Cinema in West Hollywood.


Posted on November 3rd, 2012 at 12:17pm.

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By Joe Bendel. Evidently, chicken and seafood are not such a good mix after all. It seems the local poultry processing plant has been dumping the cluckers’ waste and entrails into the Chesapeake Bay. All the hormones and genetic boosters mixed with a little radiation have had a nasty effect on the isopods. The resulting bio-scare is documented by a rookie reporter and scads of random handheld devices in Barry Levinson’s massively disappointing The Bay, which opened this Friday at the IFC Center in New York.

In her online introduction, former journalism intern Donna Thompson ominously explains to the audience that they are about to see the truth the government tried to cover up. Fortunately, the g-men never ran a simple web search, which would have brought up a good chunk of the film we are about to sit through. It is the Fourth of July in Claridge, Maryland, but all is not well. Large schools of fish have washed up dead. Then humans start showing alarming symptoms.

With a good part of his town breaking out in boils and coughing up stomach lining, Mayor Stockman reacts by going into full stonewalling mode. We know he must be a bad guy, because he has nice things to say about business. After al, his name is Stock Man – that says it all, doesn’t? However, the overworked emergency room doctor duly notifies Homeland Security, who spring into action half a day later. Okay, that part we can buy into.

The town of Claridge, in happier times.

The found footage genre usually has weak characterization, because the conceit does not allow for much getting-to-know-you development, but The Bay hits a new low. As much as we are supposed to hiss at Mayor Stockman, he is the film’s most distinctive personality. Aside from some rueful self-deprecating remarks, the audience gets absolutely no sense of Thompson as an individual. Yet, though she seems to be the protagonist, she hardly figures in any of the action.

It is a problem when a film’s climax sneaks past you, but that is exactly what happens in The Bay when the credits start to role after a brief voiceover attempts to tie up the rat’s nest of loose ends. In contrast, anyone seeing North By Northwest for the first time will realize it is do or die time when Cary Grant is hanging off Mount Rushmore. Of course, Hitchcock’s film is a classic and Levinson’s genre outing is a didactic snooze.

Anything can be forgiven in an effective creature feature, but The Bay hardly has any narrative arc to it, whatsoever, and no real suspense to speak of. It is truly surprising a consistently commercial director like Levinson (Bugsy, Diner, Good Morning Vietnam) could helm such an inert, lifeless film, but here it is. A dud on every level, The Bay is not recommended at all now that it’s opened in New York at the IFC Center.


Posted on November 3rd, 2012 at 12:16pm.

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