Wednesday, June 28, 2017

The Beguiled

Review by Pamela Zoslov

Beguiling is not quite the right word to describe THE BEGUILED, the new Civil War-set film directed by Sofia Coppola. Slender, diaphanous, insubstantial — those might be more descriptive of Coppola's adaptation of a 1966 novel by Cleveland-based novelist Thomas Cullinan, a onetime writer for Cleveland's Plain Dealer newspaper.

Originally titled A Painted Devil, Cullinan's book is a Southern Gothic about a wounded Union soldier sheltered by the headmistress and students of a Virginia girls' school, where his presence creates sexual tension and violence. The book was adapted for a 1971 movie starring Clint Eastwood, Geraldine Page and Elizabeth Hartman. Coppola's film, which stars Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst, Elle Fanning, and Colin Farrell as the hapless Yankee, is the feminine rejoinder to the 1971 film, directed by Don Siegel of DIRTY HARRY fame.

The Straight Story (July 1 & 2 at the Cleveland Cinematheque)

[THE STRAIGHT STORY screens Saturday July 1st at 5:00 pm and Sunday July 2nd at 6:30 pm at the Cleveland Cinematheque.]

Review by Charles Cassady, Jr.

A few odd weeks in 1999 it seemed like the movie values system had turned upside down, most agreeably so. First, Cleveland native Wes Craven, synonymous with gore and horror, delivered MUSIC OF THE HEART, a wholesome, PG-rated music drama, based on fact, starring Meryl Streep (Craven said he finally wanted to direct a film that his conservative parents could see). Then David Lynch, a name equated with extreme, transgressive and positively diseased themes in cinema, made a deliberately G-rated all-ages feature THE STRAIGHT STORY. Released by Disney, in fact.

Whether Lynch also had underaged or prudish family members is unknown to me, and it did seem to me that THE STRAIGHT STORY’s MPAA label wasn't a little bit of a marketing ploy, dangling in front of the art-school pseudointellectuals and cult viewers who comprised the Lynch fanbase the question of what can the creator of BLUE VELVET possibly
get away with under a G rating?

Harmontown (now on video)

Review by Charles Cassady, Jr.

Somehow, among all of the other things I missed while frantically working several jobs to make up for lowering income and higher cost of living here in the magic land of endless Recession, was an NBC-TV sitcom called Community. It apparently had quite a cult following (reminiscent of another low-rated NBC property, Star Trek), and now there's filmmaker Neil Berkeley’s HARMONTOWN, something very near Community: The Motion Picture. But watching it again made me feel like I came late to a party to which I was never invited (a familiar feeling).

HARMONTOWN is a portrait of Dan Harmon, a TV comedy auteur, respected by his peers (here Ben Stiller, Sarah Silverman, Patton Oswalt, Jack Black) despite his oddball, domineering personality and possible alcoholism. Harmon created Community, which, during a low-rated run, amassed fans whose letter-writing campaigns strove to keep it on the air. At one point Harmon was fired from his own show after a public tiff with cast member Chevy Chase.

Thus, the frustrated Harmon started podcasts and a live stage show, "Harmontown," that blended unrehearsed monologues, guests, and Dungeons & Dragons sessions. It rallied even more self-declared misfits to his side.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Easy Rider (June 27 at the Auto-Rama Twin Drive-In)

[EASY RIDER screens Tueaday June 27th at the Aut-O-Rama Drive-In.]

Review by Charles Cassady, Jr.

In his invaluable movie history Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, author Peter Biskind examined the making of 1969’s EASY RIDER, an iconographic picture whose box-office success made it the surprise of 1969, and a milestone that wound up defining the whole decade. Biskind could not conclude who - if anybody – actually directed it.

Dennis Hopper got onscreen credit. Volatile co-star Peter Fonda certainly shaped it. And the co-screenwriter, satirical writer-journalist Terry Southern, was definitely involved. Other sources say editor Donn Cambern scissored down Hopper’s original four-hour cut, and that Henry Jaglom assisted.

But the whole film shoot (on a project that Roger Corman rejected, so it bounced to Columbia Pictures) was a haphazard, drug-disoriented affair, and the film shoot happened concurrent with the national trauma of the RFK assassination. Ultimately, Biskind writes, it's impossible to say who made EASY RIDER. It just kind of...happened. Or God directed it.

Friday, June 23, 2017

The Exception (opens June 23rd at the Cedar Lee Theatre)

[THE EXCEPTION opens in Cleveland on Friday June 23rd exclusively at the Cedar Lee Theatre.]

Review by Bob Ignizio

A racy bit of historical fiction, David Leveaux's THE EXCEPTION is set shortly before World War II has begun. Hitler has come to power, and Germany's former ruler, Kaiser Wilhelm (Christopher Plummer), is living in exile in the Netherlands with his wife Princess Hermine (Janet McTeer). Nonetheless, Hitler is still concerned that the Kaiser might exert his influence on the populace. To keep tabs on the Kaiser, he has former SS officer Stefan Brandt (Jai Courtney) assigned to look after the monarch.

Brandt finds himself keeping his eye not so much on the Kaiser, though, but rather on the Kaiser's pretty maid Mieke de Jong (Lily James). But beyond the fact that he isn't supposed to be engaging in hanky panky with the help, there's a pretty big complication to this budding romance: Mieke is a British spy, not to mention Jewish.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Twilight Zone: The Movie (June 23 at the Cleveland Cinematheque)

[TWILIGHT ZONE: THE MOVIE screens Friday June 23rd at 7:30 pm at the Cleveland Cinematheque.]

Review by Charles Cassady, Jr.

Rod Serling’s revered TV half-hour anthology The Twilight Zone, aired originally from 1959 to 1965, told different sci-fi and fantasy-tinged morality plays each week. It’s long shadow inspired this Warner Brothers big-budget movie anthology that made its theatrical debut in 1983 – an era when the blockbuster box-office returns of George Lucas and Steven Spielberg fantasias led the entertainment rackets to lavishly remake, relaunch and reboot all the way-out properties they owned the rights to. Whether the studios “got it” or not.

Three parts of the four installments in TWILIGHT ZONE – THE MOVIE remake favorite TZ episodes, but the first, directed by John Landis (hot after AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON) is an original. It's about a bigoted businessman (Vic Morrow), ranting about losing a job promotion to a Jew, who instantly finds himself cruelly knocked about the whole 20th century, suffering the same persecutions as blacks in the Jim Crow South, Jews in the Holocaust, and Indochinese during the Vietnam War. This was the featurette in which actor Morrow (and two child actors) died in an on-camera accident, perishing beneath a crashing helicopter while filming the Vietnam section. The horrific waste made even more disappointing by the segment itself, a one-note bashing of a nasty guy that feels like something whipped up by slumming liberal Hollywood film-school students.

Beatriz at Dinner (opens June 23rd at the Cedar Lee Theatre)

[BEATRIZ AT DINNER opens in Cleveland Friday June 23rd exclusively at the Cedar Lee Theatre.]

Review by Pamela Zoslov

The dinner party has long been a reliable setting for a comedy of manners or nightmarish descent into hell. BEATRIZ AT DINNER falls somewhere in between, with Salma Hayek as the titular Beatriz, a massage therapist who is the accidental guest at an elite soirée hosted by her wealthy clients.

The film was written by Mike White, a writer, director and sometime actor, and directed by his frequent collaborator Miguel Arteta. It's an unusual chamber piece that touches on corporate greed, animal rights, immigration, social inequality and spirituality. While not entirely satisfying as a linear narrative, it's beautifully filmed, thoughtfully written, and well acted.

The Bad Batch (opens June 23rd at the Cedar Lee Theatre)

[THE BAD BATCH opens in Cleveland on Friday June 23rd exclusively at the Cedar Lee Theatre.]

Review by Bob Ignizio

In a not too distant dystopian future, undesirables are labeled members of the "bad batch" and sentenced to a candy-colored dessert hellscape. This lawless zone is divided into two camps – the  Bridgers are cannibalistic body builders, while the residents live in a world that's flea market by day, rave by night. When they aren't partying, they somehow manage to eke out enough in the way of conventional sustenance from the limited resources around them to survive.

THE BAD BATCH opens with Arlen (Suki Waterhouse) being released into this world, where she is promptly chased down and captured by one of the Bridgers. In short order, her captor chops off an arm and part of a leg, cauterizing the wounds so Arlen won't bleed out. She is then chained up and kept alive to provide additional sustenance at a future date.

Friday, June 16, 2017

47 Meters Down

Review by Bob Ignizio

Last year THE SHALLOWS found success with modestly budgeted shark thrills, limited locations, and small cast. This year 47 METERS DOWN tries to not only replicate that success, but one-up it by doubling the number of women in peril, increasing the number of sharks, and adding in the additional danger of being trapped under water in a shark cage with limited air.

In a vacuous but thankfully short setup we meet sisters meet Lisa (Mandy Moore) and Kate (Claire Holt) vacationing at a seaside resort in Mexico. Lisa is getting over being dumped by her boyfriend, the one thing in her opinion that she had going for her over her more popular and fun sister. The reason she was dumped, she confides to Kate, is because her ex found her boring.

Cars 3

Review by Bob Ignizio

I am the father of a six-year-old boy. It should therefore come as no surprise that I have seen CARS, CARS 2, and MATER TALES, in whole or in part, several times each. It just kind of goes with the territory.

In general, critics have dismissed the CARS franchise as a mediocre piece of product from a studio, Pixar, that otherwise is the gold standard of animation. They are not wrong. Nonetheless, through repetition, the positive aspects of these films have come into sharper focus for me.

There are some funny bits, the voice cast are mostly likeable, and the always top notch Pixar animation is still top notch. I wouldn't describe any of these movies as good, but for product aimed at the kiddie market, there's plenty worse out there.