Friday, November 21, 2014

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1

Review by Matt Finley

When last we saw two-time Hunger Games competitor Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), she had just broken out of the arena and found sanctuary with a group of District 13 rebels under the leadership of game designer-turned-revolutionary Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman).  THE HUNGER GAMES: CATCHING FIRE director Francis Lawrence's THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY - PART 1, an adaptation of the first half of the final book in Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games trilogy, picks up several weeks later, and chronicles the final steps in Katniss' transformation from The Girl On Fire - would-be political plaything of the odious President Snow (Donald Sutherland) - into the Mockingjay - propaganda icon for a political revolution led by newly introduced rebel general, President Alma Coin (Julianne Moore).

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Dope Island: Just in time for Pearl Harbor Day, the latest from Japan

As my regular readers (the columnist laughs ruefully, pauses) ...know, I have a sideline watching and reviewing fresh home-video releases in Japanese animation.

This is a curious personal situation, as Japanese history and culture holds certain negative associations for me. Pearl Harbor, the Rape of Nanking, the bad KARATE KID sequels and some other disagreeable episodes that the Chinese and the Koreans and the Filipinos won't soon forget.

Why would Japan, this sequestered, homogeneous nation of rigid, militaristic fanatics who elevated their Emperor Hirohito to the level of god, come to nurture a most amazing industry of "manga" comic books and eye-dazzling animation. With incredible emotional depth, unique themes and nuances? Nothing in Japan's old-school scrollworks, samurai swords, incomprehensible kabuki theater or calligraphy looks to my foreign-devil-barbarian POV like Speed Racer or Pokemon - enjoyable stuff, in which, by the way, almost no characters even resemble ethnic Japanese, not even remotely. Where'd they get the mojo?

Yeah, fans say the style was set by the genius artist Osamu Tezuka, and everyone afterwords just imitated his Astro Boy aesthete. But here's my alternative conspiracy theory:

Viridiana (November 20 at 6:45 the Cleveland Cinematheque)

[VIRIDIANA screens Thursday November 20th at 6:45 pm at the Cleveland Cinematheque.]

Review by Charles Cassady, Jr.

Iconoclastic writer-director Luis Bunuel's VIRIDIANA was pretty hot stuff in 1961; I do fear that in our now-jaded era (hey, a just dropped the name of Jaded Era, a band that wouldn't give me an interview for an article once), not many will see what all the fuss was about. Still, it's got a sinister edge to it that I think still comes across.

The production was considered the utmost in anti-Christian blasphemy and sacrilege in its day. But, just as with the novel The Satanic Verses, you'd have to be really steeped in the religion to get what all the fuss is about with the zealots, especially in today's tasteless-movie marketplace.

The title character (played by Silvia Pinal) is a pretty young novice nun, about to take her vows and enter a Catholic convent for life. Her mother superior, however, persuades the reluctant Viridiana to first pay a grateful visit to a wealthy uncle who has forked over money to Viridiana (and the school) all her life. The heroine accepts, even though she presumes to shun the material wealth of the guy's mansion in favor of an austere religious life. And she suspects the guy is a bit of a creep.

Frank (November 21st and 22nd at the Cleveland Cinematheque)

[FRANK screens Friday November 21st at 10:10 pm and Saturday November 22nd at 7:25 pm at the Cleveland Cinematheque.]

Review by Bob Ignizio

Rock & roll has always had its share of eccentrics who walk that fine line between genius and insanity. These are artists who generally don't achieve commercial success, but rather attract a loyal cult following. People like Roky Erickson, Skip Spence, Daniel Johnston, Captain Beefheart, and Wesley Willis. The title character in FRANK would fit in well with that company. His face hidden behind an oversize paper mache head which he never takes off, Frank (Michael Fassbender) fronts the experimental rock band The Soronprfbs – theremin player Clara (Maggie Gyllenhaal), drummer Nana (Carla Azar), and bassist Baraque (Francois Civil). There's also a keyboard player, but he's just attempted to kill himself leaving the band in the lurch for their gig that night.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Excalibur (November 18th at the Capitol Theatre)

[EXCALIBUR screens Wednesday November 18th at 8:00 pm at the Capitol Theatre.]

Review by Charles Cassady, Jr.

Cleveland Cinemas is reviving 1981's EXCALIBUR as a benefit showing for a local women's crisis center (A women's crisis center? Oh, you mean your marriage? Rimshot!). Why exactly this Arthurian fantasy, and not SLEEPING WITH THE ENEMY or something more appropriate? Because host for the night is WMMS afternoon-talk personality Alan Cox. And he says that EXCALIBUR holds a special place in his heart as the first theatrical feature in which he, as a youngster, saw bare "boobies" up there on the big screen.

Okay, whatever. Mr. Cox is a bright person who I have personally caught insinuating Gabriel Garcia Marquez references in his shock-jock on-air patter for the Cleveland-Detroit lowest-common denominator listeners. Sometimes I send him e-mails and Facebook posts pretending I mistakenly believe he's REPO MAN filmmaker Alex Cox. I know, I know, that's why I have no friends. But I'm still hoping it catches on as a meme.

Jealousy (November 20th and 21st at the Cleveland Cinematheque)

[JEALOUSY screens Thursday November 20th at 8:50 pm and Friday November 21 st at 7:00 pm at the Cleveland Cinematheque.]

Review by Bob Ignizio

If you're the sort of person who can appreciate a film that is more concerned with capturing authentic moments and emotions than with following any sort of traditional plot, JEALOUSY may be more your cup of tea than mine. As the film opens, Louis (Louis Garrel), an actor, is in the midst of leaving his girlfriend Clothilde (Rebecca Convenant). We're not given much to go on as to his motivations other than he just wants to be with Claudia (Anna Mouglalis) more.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Bad Turn Worse (opens in Cleveland November 14th exclusively at Tower City Cinemas)

[BAD TURN WORSE opens in Cleveland on Friday November 14th exclusively at Tower City Cinemas.]

Review by Bob Ignizio

Even if one of the characters hadn't quoted Jim Thompson, it would be obvious that BAD TURN WORSE was inspired by the Texas pulp crime writer responsible for such gritty classics as 'The Grifters', 'The Killer Inside Me', and 'After Dark, My Sweet'. Like the characters in Thompson's novels, the protagonists in Simon and Zeke Hawkins' film are ordinary people who get caught up in a web of sex, violence, and crime, and there's little hope that things will well for any of them.

The film's plot turns on a classic love triangle. Mystery buff Sue (Mackenzie Davis) is ostensibly the girlfriend of B. J. (Logan Huffman), but she has far more in common with B.J.'s friend Bobby (Jeremy Allen White). Both Sue and Bobby are planning on leaving their one horse Texas town for college, something that isn't even remotely an option for the less intelligent B.J. His most ambitious plan for the future is to steal $20,000 from his and Bobby's shady boss Giff (Mark Pellegrino) so he, Bobby, and Sue can have one heck of a night out.

Dumb and Dumber To

Review by Joseph Anthony

Twenty years ago the Farrelly brothers broke onto the comedy scene with a lowbrow, yet instantly classic comedy called DUMB & DUMBER starring Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels. Consisting mostly of throwaway gags and one-liners, the movie is endlessly quotable and firmly ingrained in American pop culture.

The Farrelly brothers found further success in KINGPIN and THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT MARY in the years following DUMB & DUMBER. Since 1998, though, the brothers have meddled in mostly mediocre, sometimes divisive, material (ME, MYSELF & IRENE, SHALLOW HAL, HALL PASS). But fans have held out hope that the brothers could find that spark again, and in DUMB AND DUMBER TO they give it their best shot. For better or worse, Harry Dunne and Llyod Christmas are back.

Beyond the Lights

Review by Pamela Zoslov

A preview screening of BEYOND THE LIGHTS opens with a brief, sincere speech by writer-director Gina Prince-Bythewood welcoming audiences to her first film since 2008, and asking people to tell their friends about it. It's an unusual thing to do, but Prince-Blythewood is an atypical filmmaker. A former TV writer and director (A Different World, among others), she directed feature films including cult favorite LOVE & BASKETBALL (2000), about a romance between high-school basketball players, and THE SECRET LIFE OF BEES (2008). Her narratives are psychologically complex, often involving parent-child struggles the filmmaker says emanate from her experience as a biracial adopted child. “I just think it makes for better writing when you're coming from a real place,” she told an interviewer. Her films are woman-centric, extending even to employing mostly female key crew members.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Miss Meadows (opens in Cleveland November 14th exclusively at Shaker Square Cinemas)

[MISS MEADOWS opens in Cleveland on Friday November 14th exclusively at Shaker Square Cinemas.]

Review by Bob Ignizio

The opening scene of MISS MEADOWS seems to promise a black comedy whose tone lies somewhere between EDWARD SCISSORHANDS Tim Burton and SERIAL MOM John Waters. The titular character, portrayed by Katie Holmes, is minding her own business tap dancing down the street in fifties housewife garb. A passing truck driver likes what he sees and trots out his tackiest pick-up lines, escalating to vulgarity when he's rebuffed. Finally, he resorts to pulling a gun on our seemingly demure protagonist, ordering her to get in his vehicle. Miss Meadows offers up one final warning, then produces a gun of her own and shoots the driver dead before merrily starting on her way again. Miss Meadows may a perky well-mannered substitute teacher on the surface, but beneath that exterior lies a merciless vigilante. The sleazy truck driver is neither her first victim, nor will he be her last.