Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Will LeBron be there? GeekFest, returns to the Akron Public Library, July 26

Event preview by Charles Cassady, Jr.

By now you all know I have this thing about people who manage to leave Cleveland. Those brave souls who journey at last to the outside world, where, even in today's death-spiral Recession, there are more opportunities to make their fortunes, to seek glory, good relationships and personal fulfillment...But you know something? I notice then, a few years later, they all come crawling back to Cleveland. Muttering brokenly something about how they missed the Flats. Or that life isn't the same without The Plain Dealer society page/"Mary Mary." column. Or that, while Paris and London have certain charms, they're nothing compared to Cleveland!

I've seen it happen with filmmakers (too often); I've seen it happen with writers and journos (hi, Michael Heaton. How did you ever survive in that dull cowtown that is San Francisco?). Now the latest boomerang Clevelander? LeBron James.

Wish I Was Here

Review by Pamela Zoslov

There's a scene in Zach Braff's new movie WISH I WAS HERE in which Braff, playing a struggling actor at an audition, gives a fellow thespian (played by Jim Parsons) some advice on how to play the part. I had the urge to give Braff, who directed the film he co-wrote with his brother, Adam, some advice: Stick with the comedy.

The movie, like so many others, starts strongly. Braff, known for his generation-defining GARDEN STATE and his role on Scrubs, draws on personal experience to portray an upper-middle-class Jewish milieu with knowing, sardonic humor. Braff plays Aidan Bloom, an actor with a wife (Kate Hudson) and two kids. Aidan hasn't had a role for a long time (“since the dandruff commercial”), allowing his wife Sarah to support the family. His father, Saul (Mandy Patinkin) pays the kids' school tuition, on the condition that they attend an Orthodox Jewish day school. Aidan's daughter, Grace (Joey King) loves the school and is more devout than her parents; her goofy younger brother, Tucker (Pierce Gagnon) is largely indifferent.

'Young & Beautiful' (July 25th and 26th at the Cleveland Cinematheque)

[YOUNG AND BEAUTIFUL screens Friday July 25th at 7:15 pm and Saturday July 26th at 8:50 pm at the Cleveland ICinematheque.]

Review by Milan Paurich

In Francois Ozon’s YOUNG AND BEAUTIFUL, 17-year old Isabelle (a strikingly assured Marine Vacth) loses her virginity while on vacation with her family. Upon returning home, she decides to start turning tricks at 300 francs a pop. Except for an odd moment during the deflowering scene when Isabelle briefly steps out of her body to watch herself having sex, Ozon provides no explanation for his protagonist’s behavior.

Yes, Isabelle can detach herself emotionally from sex. But so do a lot of other people—male and female, young and old—without necessarily choosing prostitution as a career path. The lack of any psychological grounding for her actions ultimately renders YOUNG AND BEAUTIFUL as affectless and shallow as Isabelle herself. By electing to withhold such vital information, Ozon makes it increasingly easy to emotionally detach yourself from his film.

Birth of the Living Dead (now on video)

Review by Bob Ignizio

At one point in the documentary BIRTH OF THE LIVING DEAD, George Romero, director of the seminal 1968 horror film NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, makes a point of telling BIRTH director Rob Kuhns that he didn't “make” his film by himself. No one makes a movie alone; it's a collaborative effort, and as Romero points out, even this documentary wouldn't be possible without the efforts of its crew.

Unfortunately, Kuhns seems to miss the point as none of the other cast and crew members of NIGHT get to relate their stories of making the classic horror flick. Romero does a pretty good job of telling how the film came to be and seems to go out of his way to give credit where it's due, but it goes without saying that some of the other people involved would have seen things from a different and equally relevant perspective. Given the short running time of BIRTH, and the fact that most of those involved still seem more than happy to talk about their experiences making NIGHT at horror conventions and in other forums, it's hard to understand why Kuhns didn't talk to any of the other surviving participants.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Planes: Fire and Rescue

Review by Bob Ignizio

The first PLANES was little more than a watered down version of the same “big race” plotlines used in the CARS films from which it was spun off. It was easily one of the laziest, most worthless animated features to ever get a theatrical release. Thankfully, while it's still no classic worthy of the Disney name, PLANES: FIRE AND RESCUE at least makes an effort to tell an original story, and to flesh out its anthropomorphic aviation vehicles into real characters.

After having transformed from lowly cropduster to world champion race plane in the previous film, Dusty Crophopper (Dane Cook) returns home like a conquering hero. But while practicing for his next big race, Dusty discovers that his gear box is going bad. If he pushes himself to the degree necessary for racing, it could mean his demise.

Ballin' at the Graveyard (July 23rd at the Cedar Lee Theatre - One Show Only!)

[BALLIN' AT THE GRAVEYARD screens Wednesday July 23rd at 7:30 pm at the Cedar Lee Theatre.]

Review by Bob Ignizio

There's a lot more to a game of pick-up basketball than meets the eye. That's the thesis behind BALLIN' AT THE GRAVEYARD, a new documentary that introduces us to a group of mostly middle aged, mostly black men who get together to shoot hoops at Washington Park located in Albany, NY, aka “The Graveyard”. These guys may have left their hoop dreams far behind, but that doesn't mean they don't play hard. And trash talk, bluffing, and cheating are all accepted parts of the game. Because when you're older, you have to use what you've got. And don't expect to just show up at the park and get a game with these guys; you have to prove yourself first. Everyone is on even footing at the Graveyard regardless of their race, occupation, or background; all that matters is how good they can play.

Manakamana (July 24th and 25th at the Cleveland Cinematheque)

[MANAKAMANA screens Thursday July 24th at 6:15 pm and Friday July 25th at 9:10 pm at the Cleveland Cinematheque.]

Review by Milan Paurich

Is “Manakamana” a gallery installation or a movie?

For the first hour or so I kept asking myself that question. By the time it was over, I realized it was both. And, furthermore, that it really didn’t matter.

Co-directed by Stephanie Spray and Pacho Velez, MANAKAMANA is pretty much the definition of “ambient cinema.” Consisting of 11 unbroken (i.e., there aren’t any edits and the camera remains securely tethered to a tripod built by the filmmakers for the duration of the shoot) sequences of passengers riding a cable car to the titular Nepal temple, the film is one of the most unique and unforgettable in recent memory. (Try saying that about EARTH TO ECHO.)

Friday, July 18, 2014

Sex Tape

Review by Grace Snyder

It's easy to guess that a film titled SEX TAPE will contain a lot of sex, and in fact director Jase Kasdan's film is centered around the sacred act of passion. Annie (Cameron Diaz) and Jay (Jason Segel- who also co-penned the film) met in college. Their time at school was spent getting busy anywhere they could: the library, the car, even the middle of campus. Their spark never seems to dim. That is until Jay gets Annie pregnant.

Fast-forward ten years and Annie is writing about her past sex-capades, and lack of recent, in her blog. Jay and Annie now have two children and to-do lists that have no end. It is safe to say that the sexual antics of their youth have died down substantially. With Jay working long hours, Annie taking care of the kids, and her potential new blogging job; there simply isn't time or energy.

The Purge: Anarchy

Review by Matt Finley

The best part of 2013’s THE PURGE was conversations you got to have after the movie. Who cleans up all the bodies? How does the number of Purge-related injuries at any single corporation affect their annual health insurance costs? And why would the government encourage such a high annual citizen death toll a mere three weeks prior to the income tax deadline? Most importantly, does Denny’s offer a special promotional Purge Slam?

It’s entertaining to see, then, that the new installment, THE PURGE: ANARCHY, helmed by returning writer/director James DeMonaco, seems to be based on similar (if slightly less esoteric) conversations held by the creative team in the wake of the first film’s complete inability to make good on its expansive, dystopic premise.

Venus in Fur (opens in Cleveland July 18th exclusively at the Cedar Lee Theatre)

[VENUS IN FUR opens in Cleveland on Friday July 18th exclusively at the Cedar Lee Theatre.]

Review by Bob Ignizio

Adapted by Roman Polanski and David Ives from Ives' play of the same name, VENUS IN FUR is a decidedly minimalistic affair. Thomas (Mathieu Amalric) is trying to cast the female lead in his new play, an adaptation of the erotic classic Venus in Furs. Everyone he's seen so far has been horrible, and he's about to head home when Vanda (Emmanuelle Seigner) bursts through the theater doors like a whirlwind begging for a shot. She's such a force of nature that Thomas grudgingly agrees to read with her, even though he's certain she'll be just as bad if not worse than everyone he's seen already. Except it turns out Vanda is considerably more than she seems, and as the two work their way through the play roles get swapped and the balance of power shifts.