Wednesday, March 29, 2017

The Boss Baby

Review by Bob Ignizio

It wasn't that long ago that our youth were given an update on the old "storks bring babies" concept in the aptly titled (and not especially good) animated feature STORKS. Now THE BOSS BABY confuses kids with yet another goofy explanation for how human reproduction works. At least this time around, it results in a better movie.

The concept is that babies are produced on an assembly line. Most will be born into a family (in the normal biological way, one assumes, although that's never discussed). A few, however, show management potential. They are taken off the assembly line and whisked off to work in baby central.

Repost: Donnie Darko (opens March 31st at the Capitol Theatre for one week only)

[DONNIE DARKO: 15th ANNIVERSARY opens Friday March 31st at the Capitol Theatre for one week. Note that the 1:10 and 7:10 shows are of the original theatrical cut of the film. The 4:10 and 9:50 showings are of the Director's Cut.]

Review by Charles Cassady, Jr.

Like all good cult movies (and DONNIE DARKO is a very, very good cult movie), Richard Kelly's mind-bending feature struck out in its initial theatrical release. I don't believe it even played Cleveland auditoriums at the time except for two days at the Cinematheque in University Circle in 2001. Ouch! But, in a rather remarkable development, a groundswell of support from critics and DONNIE DARKO fans compelled distribs to actually give the property a second chance and re-release DONNIE DARKO later in the decade with a higher-profile ad campaign. I don't think it hit big then either, but the point is...this you've gotta see.

Stir (March 31st at the 41st Cleveland International Film Festival)

["Stir" screens Friday March 31st at 9:15 am and Saturday April 1st at 3:15 pm is included in Shorts Program 4 at Tower City Cinema as part of the 41st Cleveland International Film Festival.]

Review by Bob Ignizio

If I were to sum up the short film "Stir" by writer/director Niara Modi in one sentence, it would be, "sometimes traditions are passed on in untraditional ways." The premise is that working mom Laila (Tara Nicodemo) is dealing with the recent death of her own mother. Her family's tradition is to prepare a special dish to honor the passing of loved ones.

But Laila has never made the dish before, and as she struggles to get it right, she feels guilt for having put her career first. Her daughter and husband (Jason Weinberg) watch from the sidelines, not wishing to interfere. At least not while Laila grapples with both the recipe and her feelings.

"Stir" is a simple, true little slice of life that contains both pathos and humor. The film's 12 minute running time feels just about right – everything we need to know is contained here, and there's no sense when it's over that what we've just watched is really just a demo reel for a longer feature. That said, if Modi has more stories like this one to tell about these characters, it's not difficult to see her building off this if given the opportunity. Good performances all around, too. 3 out of 4 stars.

Lake Bodom (April 1st and 2nd at the 41st Cleveland International Film Festival)

[LAKE BODOM screens Saturday April 1st at 11:35 pm and Sunday April 2nd at 1:35 pm at Tower City Cinemas as part of the 41st Cleveland International Film Festival.]

Review by Bob Ignizio

LAKE BODOM starts out with a fairly standard slasher movie set up. A co-ed group of teens decide to go camping in the woods at the site of an infamous murder (an actual case, the 1960 murder of 3 young campers at the titular lake in Finland). Sexual tension is in the air, and it seems fairly obvious the characters will pair off to fool around at some point. Putting a damper on the fun is the presence of a killer who seems bent on dispatching the horny young people.

But then things take a twist and LAKE BODOM turns into more of a crime/suspense film with a subtext about sexism and sexual harassment. A film about the ways in which a rumor, even one that's completely unfounded, can not only destroy a reputation, but spread out to destroy other lives.

Except it's not. Psych.

This is one of those movies that is all about the surprising twists and turns. Well written characters, thoughtful themes, and a solid, believable narrative aren't really major concerns.

And that can be fine sometimes in horror, where style has often trumped substance.

Certainly director/co-writer Taneli Mustonen displays a bold visual style and a knack for playing with his audience. It's just not enough to make up for how contrived some of the film's twists feel. And then there are the film's sexual politics, which can be cringe inducing at times.

It's hard to get into specifics without getting into spoiler territory. Let's just say there's a particular type of female character that is very much an overused trope. This kind of character often comes off as offensive when handled poorly, and sadly that's the case here.

There's an undeniable energy to LAKE BODOM that carries it over some of the rough patches, and Mustonen is clearly a talent behind the camera. As a script writer, perhaps not so much (although co-writer Aleksi Hyvärinen shares some of the blame).

It also helps that the film's female leads (Mimosa Willamo and Nelly Hirst-Gee) give strong, committed performances – imagine what they could have done with actual characters. But since none of the characters in LAKE BODOM are fleshed out beyond the most bare bones stereotypes, it's hard to care about any of them. It's also hard to swallow some of the plot contrivances and over the top moments. At times, it kind of reminds one of Alexandre Aja's 2003 debut HIGH TENSION (aka SWITCHBLADE ROMANCE), both for better and for worse.

Nonetheless, one can still admire Mustonen's filmmaking skill. He may not be working from a great screenplay, but he still directs the hell out of it. With a better script, he has the potential to produce a top notch thriller or horror film. This just isn't it. 2 out of 4 stars.

If you don't get a chance to catch it at the festival, LAKE BODOM will be released exclusively on Shudder in May 2017.

Friday, March 24, 2017

My Life as a Zucchini (opens today at The Nightlight Cinema in Akron)

[MY LIFE AS A ZUCCHINI opens in Friday March 24th in Akron at The Nightlight Cinema.]

Review by Bob Ignizio

There's an unfortunate notion in America, perhaps not as prevalent as it used to be but still fairly widespread, that animated films are for kids. Certainly many are, and that's fine. But they need not always be, and in fact in other countries animation is frequently used to tell more adult stories. Just ask any fan of Japanese anime.

But Japan isn't the only country to make animated films with more mature subject matter.

MY LIFE AS A ZUCCHINI hails from France. It's not a kid's film, but not quite what most viewers would think of as an "adult" film (I mean that in the grown-up sense, not the X-rated one), either. The closest easy comparison for American audiences might be the "Young Adult" genre of literature. Something along the lines of a Judy Blume book for teens that deals frankly and honestly with subject matter some parents might find uncomfortable.

Power Rangers

Review by Bob Ignizio

Even if you believe that an edgy, more mature take on the nineties kid's TV show Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers is a good idea (it isn't), the execution in director Dean Israelite's POWER RANGERS is terrible. We're barely five minutes into the film before we get a gag about giving a bull a handjob. That was funny the first time I saw it in KINGPIN, but it seems kind of inappropriate for a movie that's aiming for a family audience. Not to mention the execution of the gag pales in comparison to the way the Farrelly's did it.

That's your first indication that this film is going to be a horrible misfire.

Angel Grove High's star football player Jason (Dacre Montgomery) is given extended detention and house arrest after stealing a rival school's mascot (the aforementioned bull). There he meets autistic genius Billy (RJ Cyler) and Kimberly (Naomi Scott), a cheerleader with anger issues. The final two rangers are Zack (Ludi Lin), a kid who skips school a lot and lives in a trailer with his sick mom, and "new girl" Trini (Becky G), who is wary of getting too close to anyone.


By Pamela Zoslov

Dan Clowes' Wilson is the kind of character that has long excited the imaginations of novelists, indie filmmakers and cartoonists like Clowes: a misanthropic loser who nonetheless feels superior to everyone else, and who spouts his cynical existential philosophy everywhere he goes. The type appeared in examples as diverse as John Kennedy Toole's A Confederacy of Dunces, in the mumblecore movie GREENBERG, and in the American Splendor of Cleveland's Harvey Pekar.

Wilson first appeared in an illustrated book (Clowes hates the term “graphic novel”) in 2010 consisting of one-page stories starring the bespectacled (like the artist), balding (ditto) Wilson, a well-read, aimless son of a college professor who finds himself alone after his father dies and his only friends move away. The book elliptically tells the story of how Wilson finds his ex-wife, Pippi, and learns that she gave up their baby daughter for adoption. Suddenly hungry for familial connection, Wilson insists that Pippi accompany him on a journey to reconnect with the teenage daughter he didn't know he had, who's being raised in the suburbs by a wealthy family.

Personal Shopper (opens March 24th at the Cedar Lee Theatre)

[PERSONAL SHOPPER opens Friday March 24th in Cleveland exclusively at the Cedar Lee Theatre.]

Review by Bob Ignizio

A meandering, slow-burn ghost story from director Olivier Assayas, PERSONAL SHOPPER touches on a number of genres without fully embracing any of them. It's not a horror film, but it does deliver chills. It's not a mystery film, but it does have its mysteries. It's not erotica, but there are some sexually charged moments tinged with the lure of the forbidden. Mostly, though, it's a well-crafted drama about a woman coming to terms with the death of her twin brother while seeking an answer to the age old question of whether there's anything beyond death.

Kristen Stewart plays Maureen, the personal shopper of the title. She works for a difficult celebrity who we never actually meet on camera, and in her spare time tries to contact the spirit of her brother Lewis.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The Lure (March 23rd and 26th at the Cleveland Cinematheque)

[THE LURE screens Thursday March 23 at 8:35 pm and Sunday March 26th at 6:45 pm at the Cleveland Cinematheque.]

Review by Eric Sever

Take some of the darker elements of Hans Christian Andersen's "The Little Mermaid" and set the story in a smoky, Soviet era discotheque, and you might get some idea of what you can expect in the THE LURE.

As a Polish horror-comedy-romance-musical with plenty of gore and nudity, director Agnieszka Smoczyńska's film is one slippery fish. (Yeah, I said it.) Defying traditional classification, the story of two human-eating mermaids being taken in by a family of strip club performers is told with a suprising amount of sentiment and character development.

Kinga Preis gives a particularly compelling performance as the beautiful, but hard-living mother figure to the band of mucisians who take two mermaids, Silver and Golden (Marta Mazurek and Michalina Olszanska), under their wings to feature them in their bawdy musical acts. Preis is equally watchable whether she's performing on stage or in the danker moments of her character's everyday life.

The Devil's Candy (opens March 24th at the Capitol Theatre)

[THE DEVIL'S CANDY opens in Cleveland on Friday March 24th exclusively at the Capitol Theatre.]

Review by Bob Ignizio

There are plenty of minority groups who have suffered worse indignities at the hands of Hollywood than metalheads. Nonetheless, it's fair to say that most cinematic depictions of headbangers have tended towards the stereotypical. To be specific, they have generally been portrayed as good natured but dumb longhairs whose only ambition in life is to party. Bill and Ted. Wayne and Garth. Beavis and Butthead. You get the idea.

So it's kind of refreshing to see Jesse (Ethan Embry), the metal-loving main character in THE DEVIL'S CANDY, shown in a decidedly more nuanced light. He's a loving father and husband who works as an artist. And while he may have tattoos and long hair and listen to Slayer and Metallica, he's not a moron or a space case.