Saturday, December 3, 2016

Always Shine (now playing at Tower City Cinemas and available on VOD)

[ALWAYS SHINE is now playing in Cleveland exclusively at Tower City Cinemas and available on VOD.]

Review by Bob Ignizio

Friends Anna (Mackenzie Davis) and Beth (Caitlin Fitzgerald) are both actresses, with Beth being the more successful of the two. They also share in common encounters with pervasive sexism both at work and in day to day life. Despite her relative success, Beth still finds herself forced to take roles that require a fair amount of nudity. She's uncomfortable with it, but she needs to pay the bills. Anna still works a day job, and even though her boss makes a habit of sharing his inappropriate fantasies with her, she feels like she can't complain or quit. We see other examples, such as when Anna complains about being taken by a mechanic, and is told the mechanic would have given her a refund if she had behaved in a more "ladylike" fashion. So it's fairly clear from the outset that Sophia Takal's ALWAYS SHINE will be exploring feminist themes.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Swiss Army Man (now on home video)

Review by Bob Ignizio

Whatever else you may think about SWISS ARMY MAN, it's fair to say you've never seen another movie like it.

Written and directed by the team of Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, SWISS ARMY MAN tells the story of castaway Hank (Paul Dano), who decides to give life another go when a bloated corpse ("Harry Potter" himself, Daniel Radcliffe) washes up on his island just as he's about to hang himself. When Hank isn't using the corpse, which he calls "Manny", as a means of flatulent transportation or a handy drinking fountain, he's bonding with it over heartfelt conversations. Whether Manny is actually participating or not is up to the individual viewer.

Yes, the film is gross and disturbing and undeniably bizarre. But it's also sincere and gentle and life affirming in a strange sort of way. By talking to a dead man, Hank begins to realize all the things he's left unsaid to the people in his old life. All the opportunities he let pass him by. At first he copes by building an elaborate fantasy world for himself and Manny in the woods, but eventually he realizes he needs to get back to the life he left behind.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

I Am The Pretty Thing That Lives In The House (now streaming on Netflix)

[I AM THE PRETTY THING THAT LIVES IN THE HOUSE is now available on Netflix streaming.]

Review by Bob Ignizio

Although it hasn't exactly set critics on fire (and if Rotten Tomatoes is to be believed, regular viewers have been even less enthusiastic), I personally found I AM THE PRETTY THING THAT LIVES IN THE HOUSE to be an excellent example of quiet, psychological horror. The closest comparisons would be to Robert Wise's 1963 version of THE HAUNTING and John Hancock's 1971 obscurity LET'S SCARE JESSICA TO DEATH. One may also note similarities to Stanely Kubrick's 1980 film version of THE SHINING.

PRETTY THING works in disconcerting ways, creating a subtle atmosphere of supernatural terror while, at the same time, exploring the rocky psychological terrain of its fragile main character. It is not fast paced, action packed, or easily digestible, and will likely require more than one viewing to fully appreciate.

Enter to win a free digital HD copy of Disney's The BFG

Experience the story of extraordinary friendship by entering to win a Digital HD copy of Disney’s THE BFG! Available on Digital HD, Blu-ray and Disney Movies Anywhere November 29! #TheBFG

Cleveland Cinemas Special Holiday Programs this December

[Press release from Cleveland Cinemas.]

Clevelanders must have been extra nice this year because Santa’s bag is full of cinematic treats this December. Cleveland Cinemas will be hosting a variety of classic Christmas movies, as well as an encore of the Bolshoi Ballet’s production of The Nutcracker, offering something for everyone this holiday season.

December 3rd at 1:00 PM, Capitol Theatre (1390 W. 65th St., Cleveland)
This shot-in-Cleveland family favorite tells the story of Ralphie who only wants a Red Rider BB Gun for Christmas.
Admission is just $1. Playing in conjunction with the Gordon Square Arts District’s Wintertide event.

Repost: A Christmas Story (December 3rd at the Capitol Theatre)

[A CHRISTMAS STORY screens Saturday December 3rd at 1:00 pm at the Capitol Theatre.]

Review by Joanna Wilson

This feature film was initially released into theaters in 1983 but has since earned its top spot as a favorite Christmas tradition because of its repeated broadcasts on television.  In fact, it has been airing as a 24 hour marathon on Christmas every year since 1997 on one of the Turner Broadcasting channels. This popularity as a favorite holiday tradition can be measured as the annual 24 hour marathon continues to achieve higher and higher TV ratings with each successive year. That’s not bad for a movie made almost 30 years ago!

The 18th Animation Show of Shows (December 3rd and 4th at the Cleveland Cinematheque)

 [THE 18TH ANIMATION SHOW OF SHOWS screens Saturday December 3rd at 9:10 pm and Sunday December 4th at 4:15 pm at the Cleveland Cinematheque.]

Review by Bob Ignizio

It's only fitting that Ira Glass of NPR's 'This American Life' shows up as narrator at one point in the 18TH ANIMATION SHOW OF SHOWS. Much of the program has an air of NPR/PBS about it, arty and intellectual but not too arty and intellectual, exuding lighthearted whimsy, slice-of-life observations, and gentle liberal values.

Not that there's anything wrong with that. It does get a bit repetitive after a while, though. One keeps hoping for something with a bit more zing or, dare I say, edginess to come along. Or maybe something with a bolder, more experimental animation style. So it actually feels kind of refreshing when the more polished, mainstream animation of Pixar studios offers a change of pace with "Piper".

Finally, about halfway through the fest, we get a little weird with Kristian Pedersen's dark, abstract short "The Boygen". It won't be everyone's cup of tea – heck, I'm not even sure it's mine – but it does create an ominous mood, and certainly stands out from what has come before.

Monday, November 28, 2016

The Battle of Algiers (December 2 at 9:25 p.m. and December 3 at 6:35 p.m. at the Cleveland Cinematheque)

That the 1966 Italian classic THE BATTLE OF ALGIERS is still even exhibitable right now (of course, nowhere near as widespread as DOCTOR STRANGE) shows the US still possesses admirable freedom of expression (R.I.P. Fidel Castro). In light of the alleged War on Terror it's a little like TRIUMPH OF THE WILL screening at a
cinema near you in 1944 - although that comparison does injustice
to Gillo Pontecorvo's film. While the director's sympathies were
anti-imperialist, his feature takes no obvious sides and has no
heroes or villains in the customary Hollywood/propaganda sense.
And the casualties and atrocities are never less than human.

Ostensibly THE BATTLE OF ALGIERS depicts the uprising of the Arab-based Algerian independence movement - the FLN - against 130 years of French-colonial occupation in North Africa. Lensed in newsprint-gritty B&W where it happened, the neo-realist feature looks exactly like a documentary (opening titles emphasize "No newsreel footage") and recreates the dire move- and counter-move
of an urban-guerilla war and terrorist bombing campaign against foreign occupiers.

13th (now available on Netflix)

[13TH is now available on Netflix.]

Review by Bob Ignizio

The 13th Amendment to the United States Constitution abolished slavery, with one exception. It allowed that slavery was still permitted as punishment for a crime. It was in this way, Ava DuVernay's documentary 13TH argues, that the American criminal justice system became a de facto way to continue utilizing black men (and, although the film doesn't really touch on it, other poor people and undesirables of all races) as free labor.

"Crimes" like vagrancy and loitering became jailable offenses, allowing for large numbers of black men to be rounded up, incarcerated, and put to hard labor. Modern policies like "three strikes you're out" and "truth in sentencing", combined with the privatization of the prison industry and the use of prisoners as a labor force therein, continue this strategy to the present. In short, 13TH claims, blackness became criminalized.

Cameraperson (December 1st and 4th at the Cleveland Cinematheque)

[CAMERAPERSON screens Thursday December 1st at 6:45 pm and Sunday December 4th at 8:45 pm at the Cleveland Cinematheque.]

Review by Bob Ignizio

If you were to watch Kirsten Johnson's CAMERAPERSON and see little more than a collection of cutting room scraps, it would be hard to argue with you. But I will do so  nonetheless. Yes, it's true that the film is assembled out of pieces Johnson shot for other documentaries, mostly for other directors. Among them: THE PROGRAM, DERRIDA, 1971, DARFUR NOW, NO WOMAN NO CRY, FAHRENHEIT 9/11, and many more. But as the old saying goes, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

On it's most basic, straightforward level, CAMERAPERSON functions as a sort of video diary for Johnson, detailing where she's been, what she's seen, and how it's affected her. But from the very first scene, in which we see Johnson alter the environment in which she is shooting in order to get a better shot, the film also acts as a sort of meta commentary on documentary filmmaking itself, pointing out how even the most careful and impartial nonfiction filmmaker can't help but influence the reality they are capturing.