Friday, September 19, 2014

Brush With Danger (opens September 19th in Cleveland exclusively at Tower City Cinemas)

[BRUSH WITH DANGER opens in Cleveland on Friday September 19th exclusively at Tower City Cinemas.]

Review by Bob Ignizio

Following in the footsteps of countless martial artists before them, Indonesian brother and sister Ken and Livi Zheng try to translate their fighting prowess into screen stardom in BRUSH WITH DANGER. In the film they play siblings as well, Alice and Ken, just recently arrived illegally in Seattle. To make money, they set up in a park and try to sell Alice's paintings, with Ken doing his best to drum up business. They only get attention, however, once they put on a martial arts and acrobatics demonstration.

The demonstration catches the eye of local gallery owner Justus Sullivan (Norman Newkirk). When he comes over to give the duo some money, he finds himself impressed by Alice's artwork and offers to take the girl under his wing. He also helps Ken find work as a fighter. It truly seems, as Ken himself declares, that they're, “living the dream!”

Love Is Strange (opens in Cleveland September 19th exclusively at the Cedar Lee Theatre)

[LOVE IS STRANGE opens in Cleveland on Friday September 19th exclusively at the Cedar Lee Theatre.]

Review by Pamela Zoslov

Two films, made decades apart and both starring the superb Alfred Molina, provide a pair of historical bookends of gay acceptance. The 1987 PRICK UP YOUR EARS, in which Molina played Ken Halliwell, the man who bludgeoned to death his lover, playwright Joe Orton, dramatized the gay demimonde of 1950s-'60s London, where homosexuality was illegal and men coupled furtively in public toilets and back alleys. By the time of Ira Sachs' LOVE IS STRANGE, gay marriage is legal in England and Wales and in 19 U.S. states. Enormous strides, but as the film's story demonstrates, much work still needs to be done.

The Zero Theorem (opens in Akron September 19th at the Nightlight Cinema)

[THE ZERO THEOREM opens in Akron on Friday September 19th exclusively at the Nightlight Cinema.]

Review by Matt Finley

Veering closer to an actual reflection on the meaning of life than his work on Monty Python’s cheekily titled third feature ever managed, Terry Gilliam’s THE ZERO THEOREM is an enjoyable (if unremarkable) rehash of the director’s greatest hits, bolstered by fun performances and Gilliam’s usual flair for wild, sumptuous visuals.

Qolin (Cristoph Waltz) works as a computer-programming drone for Mancom, an expansive corporation responsible for pedaling all manner of technological accessories to a neon-drenched near-future society. Sporting a bald head to match his Strigoian pallor, Qolin trudges through his daily routine, searching for meaning amid the clamor and consumption until he receives a humdinger of an assignment from The Management (Matt Damon): solve a near impossible equation that will prove life is meaningless. All the while, Bainsley (Mélanie Thierry), an enticing, mysterious sex worker and The Management’s brash-but-savvy adolescent son Bob (Lucas Hedges) both vie for Qolin’s reluctant attention.

A Walk Among the Tombstones

Review by Joseph Anthony

Liam Neeson must be the busiest man in Hollywood. It seems like every time you’re sitting in the theater waiting for his newest film to start, you’re watching Liam Neeson trailers. He’s doing a bit of everything: A MILLION WAYS TO DIE IN THE WEST, ANCHORMAN 2, THE DARK KNIGHT TRIOLOGY and tons of voice over work (the latest being the great LEGO MOVIE). Lately Neeson seems to have cornered a very important character market: the tough guy. The hugely successful TAKEN films have cemented Neeson as the go-to guy for intimidating bad guys on the phone. If you’re into that, A WALK AMONG THE TOMBSTONES won’t disappoint.

The Abyss (September 19 at 7 and 10 p.m. at the CWRU Film Society, Strosacker Auditorium)

[THE ABYSS screens Friday September 19th at 7 and 10 p.m. at the CWRU Film Society, Strosacker Auditorium.]

Review by Charles Cassady, Jr.

If James Cameron had left the movie industry or been alien-abducted (the fellow is some kind of genius, but, unfortunately, not smart enough to leave the movie industry) after making THE ABYSS, the 1989 underwater super-epic would have gone on to to be lumped in with WATERWORLD as an over-budget, over-reaching fantasy. Not without its virtues, but likely not worth all the fuss. But Cameron followed THE ABYSS with a string of blockbusters-to-end-all-blockbusters (TERMINATOR 2, TRUE LIES, TITANIC, AVATAR) plus some documentary films that returned him to the ocean-depths settings of THE ABYSS, just to show he was really serious about the marine milieu. The legacy has only uplifted the reputation of THE ABYSS. Upon its release it was "nice try but disappointing." Now it's in the category of "nice try but disappointing but HOLY F*!@#ING S#$%T JAMES CAMERON IS THE COOLEST MAN ALIVE!"

This Is Where I Leave You

Review by Pamela Zoslov

The novelist Jonathan Tropper has enjoyed a success most writers can scarcely dream of. Four of his comic, semi-autobiographical novels were optioned for movies within a week of publication (The Book of Joe, How to Talk to a Widower, Everything Changes, and This Is Where I Leave You.) Tropper has a breezy style and a flair for the wry quip. Readers love his books, and they seem like a natural fit for the big screen.

It's disappointing, then, that the first of the Tropper adaptations, THIS IS WHERE I LEAVE YOU, is so limp, especially considering the appeal of the novel and the likeability of the cast. The book's first-person narrative doesn't translate to the screen; most of its humor is in the sardonic monologue of Judd (surnamed Foxman in the book, Altman in the movie – did Anti-Defamation League head Abe Foxman object?). While the book is composed of Judd's wry musings about his impending divorce and his dysfunctional family, Jason Bateman, who plays Judd in the movie, has very few clever lines. It's too bad, because Bateman excels at this type of quietly put-upon, sarcastic character. It's odd that Tropper himself wrote the script; screenwriter Tropper has done novelist Tropper no favors. Why not incorporate some of Judd's monologue into voice-over narration?

Judd is a thirtyish radio producer who comes home one day to find his wife, Quinn (Abigail Spencer) having lusty sex with his boss, Wade (Aaron Lazar), a shock jock in the mold of, but less funny than, Howard Stern. Adding to his despair, Judd gets news that his long-ailing father has died. Though he was an atheist, Dad's final request was that his family sit shiva (the traditional seven-day Jewish mourning ritual) at the family home in upstate New York.

Judd hits the highway, and the movie, directed with no great distinction by Shawn Levy, becomes one of those familiar “homecoming” comedies. The Altman siblings assemble at the family's home in a suburban town modeled on Tropper's native New Rochelle. There they occupy stiff-backed “shiva” chairs and dine on catered trays under the watchful eye of Mom (Jane Fonda), a psychologist and best-selling author whose most prominent trait(s) are her gargantuan breast implants and a tendency to reminisce fondly about her late husband's penis.

The ensemble is so large and ill-defined it's hard to keep track without a program. Judd's siblings are bossy Wendy (Tina Fey), uptight Paul (Corey Stoll) and the youngest, irresponsible Phillip (Adam Driver of Girls fame). The siblings' partners also figure into the mix: Wendy's work-obsessed financier husband, Barry; Paul's wife, Alice (Kathryn Hahn), whose efforts to conceive a baby have made her a half-crazed; and womanizer Phillip's newest flame, Tracy (Connie Britton), a wealthy psychotherapist twenty years his senior. And then there is Penny (pretty Aussie actress Rose Byrne), who teaches ice skating and still has a crush on Judd, and Horry (Timothy Olyphant), the neighbor boy who never left home. Horry was Wendy's boyfriend before an accident (a bar fight in the book, a car crash in the movie) left him with brain damage.

The movie labors to generate sentiment about the Altman family relationships, but only the story of Horry, frozen in teenage time, suggests real poignancy Sweet and slightly confused, Horry helps out at the Altmans' sporting-goods store and greets Wendy with a woozy “Hello, Sunflower.” Wendy, unhappy in her marriage, is drawn again to Horry; privately, she weeps for him.

Among the Altman siblings, nerves fray and old rivalries are reignited. Paul is jealous of Judd because he used to date Alice, who is enraged to learn that Judd's ex, Quinn, is pregnant. Judd deals with the end of his marriage, impending fatherhood and a possible new relationship with Penny. The narrative is inert, lurching between forced comedy and forced sentiment. The movie shares with the book a regrettable penchant for slapstick — a fistfight, an unfunny running joke about the rabbi (Ben Schwartz), who's annoyed when the Altmans call him by his teenage nickname, “Boner,” and who runs worship services like they're a Vegas floor show.

Here's an example of how the book's humor got lost in translation. In the book, Judd visits Penny at the skating rink, where the music playing over the loudspeakers is by Huey Lewis and the News and the Dream Academy. “Why are all skating rinks trapped in the eighties?” he muses. They skate to Cyndi Lauper's “Time After Time,” and Judd observes, “It's like we've been transplanted into a romantic comedy, and all that's left to do is say something meaningful and kiss Penny at center ice while the music swells, and the happy ending is guaranteed.” The movie offers no such ironic distance; it becomes the thing the book satirized. Judd and Penny lie on the skating-rink ice, looking up, as “Time After Time” plays. And a happy ending is guaranteed. 2 3/4 out of 4 stars.

Win a pair of tickets fot the Chagrin Documentary Film Festival

Would you like to win a pair of tickets good for the movie of your choice at the Chagrin Documentary Film Festival? Then send an email to with your name and address. We'll draw one lucky winner at midnight Friday October 3 rd. If you win, you'll be contacted by email and we will post your name on the blog. That's all there is to it.

Celebrating its fifth year, the Chagrin Documentary Film Festival is being held Oct. 8 to Oct. 12 in Chagrin Falls, OH. The 68 selected documentaries represent the work of filmmakers from 20 countries and focus on a wide range of thought-provoking topics. The Festival was named to MovieMaker Magazine’s “Top 50 Film Fests Worth the Entry Fee” list in both 2013 and 2014.
Festival highlights and special events include:

Thursday, September 18, 2014

At the Devil's Door (September 19th and 20th at the Capitol Theatre)

[AT THE DEVIL'S DOOR screens Friday September 19th at 9:50 pm and Saturday September 20th at 9:50 pm and 11:59 pm at the Capitol Theatre.]

Review by Bob Ignizio

Cliches abound in this by the numbers devil baby shocker. At the urging of her boyfriend, Hannah (Ashley Rickards) makes a deal with the Prince of Darkness for a measly five hundred bucks. And she does it without even bothering to find out what her end of the bargain is. Well, as it turns out, she hasn't just sold her soul; she's rented out her uterus to be surrogate mom for the Antichrist. As Satan is wont to do, he handles the impregnation by levitating Hannah and tossing her around her bedroom ala THE ENTITY. Don't they have turkey basters in Hell?

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Stay (now on video)

Review by Charles Cassady, Jr.

I guess most of the attention to STAY will be focused on the leading actress, Taylor Schilling. This pretty lady is a hot property for the moment thanks to the success of the Netflix series Orange is the New Black. Which I have never been paid to watch so cannot speak to its virtues.

But I can say that, with the rate of our celebrated actors meeting untimely ends lately (Paul Walker, James Gandolfini, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Robin Williams, Richard Kiel, the werewolf guy from Harry Potter), my advice to Ms. Taylor Schilling might roughly be RUN FOR YOUR LIFE! SHOWBIZ KILLS! Get out while you can! Who could say how much longer Lauren Bacall might have lived and what she might have achieved, had not Hollywood drained and degraded her?

Besides, for my part, the cool thing in STAY is seeing steely longtime Canadian actor Michael Ironside, late of villainy in countless cable-TV thrillers and sci-fi potboilers (not to mention being the bad guy in FREE WILLY and a doomed good guy in STARSHIP TROOPERS) finally getting to play a fairly normal-bloke supporting role.

Heli (September 18th and 19th at the Cleveland Cinematheque)

[HELI screens Thursday September 18th at 8:15 pm and Friday September 19th at 9:20 pm at the Cleveland Cinematheque.]

Review by Bob Ignizio

Heli is the kind of guy who works hard, plays by the rules, and tries to do what's right for his family. Lot of good it does him. When Heli learns that his little sister Estela is dating an older police cadet named Beto, he's less than thrilled. Even moreso when he finds out that Beto has stolen cocaine from the police impound and hidden it in his water tank. So he takes the drugs and disposes of them. Sure, Beto will be upset, but that will be the end of it, right? Right. Heli forgot to take into account the people Beto stole the drugs from, and they are not only dealers but on the police force, as well.