Weekend Countdown: Hard Labor for Labor Day

It’s Labor Day Weekend, and we’ve decided to take a mo and celebrate the hardest labor of all. The pregnant kind. Here are our five favorite pregnant lady flicks.

5. Knocked Up (2007)

The Judd Apatow brand extends to films he simply produced, so he may be getting more creative credit than he deserves, but he had back to back writing/directing/comic gems with 2005’s Forty Year Old Virgin and this Pregnant Beauty and the Beast. Better for its ensemble than its leads, the flick boasts dead-on genius work from Leslie Mann, hilarious support from Paul Rudd, Jonah Hill, Jason Segel, Jay Baruchel and Kristin Wiig, and it introduced the world to the now constant comic presence of Ken Jeong. At least he kept his pants on for this one.


4. Juno (2007)

Jason Reitman, Diablo Cody, Jason Bateman, Michael Cera and Ellen Page enraptured us all with this quick witted, brilliantly cast, endlessly quotable comedy about a pregnant teen. Reitman and Cody would pair up again with the nearly flawless Young Adult, but their first collaboration remains fresher and funnier than you think.


3. Waitress (2007)

Soulful and funny, gorgeously filmed and perfectly cast, Waitress is the list’s underseen joy. Pie baking phenom Kerri Russell squirrels away money so she can quit her waitressing job and leave her husband, then finds herself pregnant and attracted to her new doctor. Writer/director Adrienne Shelly’s film offers a pitch-perfect supporting cast, a cleverly crafted script, and the remarkable ability to make you want to eat pie right now.


2. Inside (2007)

Holy shit. Inside is not for the squeamish. This French horror flick pits a merciless villain against an enormous expecting mother. Though the film goes wildly out of control by the third act, it is a 2/3 brilliant effort, a study in tension wherein one woman will do whatever it takes, with whatever utensils are available, to get at the baby still firmly inside another woman’s body.


1. Rosemary’s Baby

If you’re going to see only one pregnant lady horror flick, make it Rosemary’s Baby. It remains a disturbing, elegant, and fascinating tale, and Mia Farrow’s embodiment of defenselessness joins forces with William Fraker’s skillful camerawork to cast a spell. Yes, that crazy pederast Roman Polanski sure can spin a yarn about violated, vulnerable females.


Demanding to be Seen


by George Wolf


Surreal, perverse, curious and horrifying, The Act of Killing demands to be seen as much as any film in recent memory.

It is anchored in the atrocities committed during the overthrow of the Indonesian government in 1965. Paramilitary death squads and ruthless gangsters captured, tortured and killed at will, all under the guise of exterminating “communists.” Over one million Indonesians lost their lives, and those responsible continue to gloat about their actions from a seat of power they still enjoy today.

Co-director Joshua Oppenheimer met with some of the most famous death squad leaders and made them a distasteful yet ultimately brilliant offer:  would they re-enact their savagry on camera?

The result is mesmerizing, can’t-believe-what-I’m-seeing-stuff.

As they gleefully reveal their love of American film genres, the murderers show themselves as man-children, the result of lives lived running amok without fear of parental or social reprisal. Throwing themselves into the task, they utilize makeup, costumes, props and local extras to film dimly lit drama scenes and extravagant musical numbers, while discussing their bloodlust with a devastating casualness.

Three specific paramilitary leaders take center stage, two of whom show little to no remorse for their actions, explaining that “war crimes are defined by the winners.” The third, an aging grandfather named Anwar Congo, is different. As the ghosts of his past are unearthed, we see a man often struggling to come to grips with himself. While it is not a sympathetic portrait, the transformation in his demeanor is fascinating.

Fearing reprisals, many names in the final credits (including that of the Indonesian co-director) are replaced with “Anonymous.” Two names that do stand out are those of acclaimed documentarians Errol Morris (The Thin Blue Line/The Fog of War) and Werner Herzog (Cave of Forgotten Dreams/Grizzly Man), who serve as executive producers.

Recalling the finest of their work, The Act of Killing is unforgettable. It calls to mind past cruelty, an Orwellian present and an uncertain future, emerging as essential, soul-shaking viewing.






Being in Love Means Never Having to Say “Slow Down!”


by Richard Ades


Just days after the events depicted in Before Midnight, Jesse (Ethan Hawke) is still smarting from the emasculating attack he endured at the hands of Celine (Julie Delpy), the increasingly bitter love of his life. He returns to their Parisian home and is surprised to find it empty and in a state of disarray.

The phone rings. A strangely accented voice tells him he must steal a souped-up Mustang and perform a series of dangerous tasks if he ever wants to see Celine again.

There’s a long pause. “Well?” the voice asks.

“I’m thinking,” Jesse replies.

Obviously, that is not how Getaway begins. A flick that hopes to attract fans of Gone in Sixty Seconds and similar car-chase epics has no time for complicated relationships. It doesn’t even have time for exposition. Instead, director Courtney Solomon dives into the gear-gnashing, tire-squealing action before the opening credits even roll.

Via flashbacks and spare bits of dialogue, we learn that Brent Magna (Hawke) is a washed-up American racecar driver now living in Sofia, Bulgaria. We also learn that his Bulgarian wife (Rebecca Budig) has been abducted by a mysterious man (Jon Voight) who communicates with Brent through the car’s phone and threatens to kill her unless his instructions are followed to the letter.

Soon joined by the Mustang’s angry owner, a young woman known only as the Kid (Selena Gomez), Brent is ordered to perform tasks that mostly involve evading the police and always put the general public at risk. And because it’s the Christmas season, there’s a lot of general public around to be put at risk.

All of this could be entertaining if it weren’t for a couple of problems.

First, the movie suffers from unfortunate timing. In an early scene, Brent is told to drive at full speed through thick crowds of holiday revelers. Though he miraculously avoids hitting anyone, it’s an uncomfortable reminder of the Dodge-driving maniac who killed a bride and injured 16 others while plowing through a Los Angeles boardwalk crowd in early August.

More importantly, co-screenwriter and third-time director Solomon (An American Hauntingseems to have no knack for this kind of thing. The action is nearly nonstop and the destruction is massive, but frantic editing lowers the excitement level.

We see a tiny Bulgarian police car, and a split second later, it crashes. Where’s the fun in that? A last-minute chase, in which Solomon adopts the driver’s-view strategy pioneered by Bullitt (1968), offers one of the flick’s few heart-pounding moments.

Solomon’s attempts at humor also fall flat. They mostly call on the Kid to hurl insults at Brent, such as calling him a “shitty” driver—which is incongruous, considering he’s performing moves that could only be completed by someone who’s spent his life racing on Sundays and studying stunt driving the rest of the week.

In general, the talented Hawke and likable Gomez are limited to yelling at each other in the midst of all the mayhem, except during the rare quiet moments when the Kid uses her technological savvy in an attempt to figure out their tormenter’s motive. And he has one, of course, but don’t think about it too hard or you’ll start asking questions.

Getaway is designed to be mindless entertainment, after all. It’s just too bad that the mindlessness began before the first pedal was pressed to the metal.


More reviews and stories by Richard Ades can be found on his theater blog, columbustheater.org, and in the new weekly version of the Columbus Free Press, which launches Sept. 5.








Weekend Countdown: Best Young Actresses Not Named Jennifer Lawrence

Shailene Woodley, the 21-year-old who stole scenes from Clooney in The Descendents, finally returns to the big screen with another awe-inspiring turn in this week’s The Spectacular Now. Woodley is part of a remarkable wave of young female talent worth celebrating. Therefore, this weekend’s countdown: 9 brilliant young actresses not named Jennifer Lawrence.

Quvenzhane Wallis

This nine-year-old boasts an Oscar nomination, a forthcoming historical drama co-starring Brad Pitt and Michael Fassbender, and the lead in the next silver screen version of little orphan Annie’s scrappy story. Her cherubic face and startling talent offers hope for the future of the industry.


Kara Hayward

Fourteen and brilliant (honestly – she’s a member of Mensa), Hayward made an impression as the heavily eye-lined lovestruck teen in Moonrise Kingdom. Let’s hope Hollywood knows how to make the most of her deadpan genius.


Chloe Moretz

Sure, Kick-Ass 2 disappointed, but the hard-working Moretz doesn’t. Now 16, she has more acting credits than everyone else on this list combined. She’s played disdainful, vulnerable, mean, sweet, blood sucker and victim, and soon she’ll reprise the role Sissy Spacek made infamous. We can’t wait to see what she can do at the prom.

Elle Fanning

The touching, versatile younger sister in an acting clan, this 15-year-old may be the most impressive talent on the list. She has a quiet reserve that draws comparison to Meryl Streep – heady company, but Fanning may just be the one who can live up to it.

Rachel Mwanza

You may not know this impressive talent, but her first professional work in the Oscar nominated War Witch proves her uncanny natural ability. Her devastating, understated performance marks the work of a natural artist and we are eager to see her follow up.

Hailee Steinfeld

She received her first Oscar nomination at 16 for a powerhouse performance that stood up to the likes of Matt Damon and Jeff Bridges in True Grit. She’s been quiet since, but she’ll churn out an impressive number of films in the next two years, including a starring role in Romeo and Juliet this February.

Saoirse Ronan

Oscar nominations, action flicks, period piece drama, teen angst pics, accents aplenty – this chameleonic 19-year-old can seem to handle anything. She’s been an international acting force since childhood and we are eager to see what adulthood brings.


Saskia Roendahl

Another unfamiliar name, perhaps, but 20-year-old Roendahl made the world take note when she brought tender resilience to the devastating war pic Lore. Like Fanning and Mwanza, she suggests a quiet, wary wisdom with her performances that should help her carve out a brilliant career.


Shailene Woodley

And back to Woodley, 21, a refreshingly natural performer whose choices mark someone who wants to act rather than someone who wants to be a star. Like her impressive colleagues on this list, she offers hope to those of us who love movies and thrill to see the next generation of Streeps, Blanchettes, Winslets, Moores and Closes begin their cinematic takeover.

Pub Crawl Interrupts Review of Movie About Pub Crawl


by George Wolf


After successful romps thru zombie flicks (Shaun of the Dead) and cop dramas ( Hot Fuzz),  Simon Pegg and company finish up their “Cornetto Trilogy” with The World’s End, a wild science fiction sendup that will put you in the mood for a cold beer.

Lost soul Gary King (Pegg, who also co- wrote the script) feeds the nostalgia for his youth by rounding up his old gang and convincing them to finish a job their younger selves never could. In 1990, they fell short of competing the local pub crawl known as “The Golden Mile”:  twelve pints in twelve bars, concluding at a watering hole called The World’s End.

They meet in their old hometown and begin the task, only to find that things have changed…to the tune of invasions and body snatchers.

While never laugh out loud funny, The World’s End does provide plenty of fun, mixing tongue in check nods to the sci-fi genre with frenetic action and age old lessons about going home again.

If that sounds a bit all over the place, it is. Director/co-writer Edgar Wright can’t seem to find a pace that suits him, instead opting to just try a little bit of everything and see how that works. Though the film sputters a bit getting out of the gate and suffers some misfires in character development, it actually manages to come together pretty well.

Oops, gotta run…our plane just landed in Key West and we’ve got a pub crawl of our own to start.





They’re On a Road to Nowhere

Prince Avalanche

by Hope Madden

David Gordon Green is a curious filmmaker. Beginning his career with poignant, Southern independent films, he is perhaps best known for the breakout hit Pineapple Express and subsequent bombs Your Highness and The Sitter. He returns to the world of offbeat indies with Prince Avalanche – a film about as offbeat and indie as any you will ever find.

Alvin and Lance (Paul Rudd, Emile Hirsch) spend the summer of ‘88 doing roadwork in an isolated, wooded area recovering from the years-old and miles-wide devastation of a wildfire. They’re just two goofy dorks in blue overalls arguing over their “equal time boombox agreement” and painting yellow stripes, mile after mile, week after week.

Avalanche is as sweetly odd as it is casually gorgeous, the wild beauty of the duo’s surroundings an absurd backdrop to their own screwball behavior. It’s a buddy comedy of the most eccentric sort.

Green’s unconventional approach allows Hirsch and Rudd ample room to breathe, and to develop unique and fascinating characters. Rudd’s peculiar Alvin nicely counters Hirsch’s silly Lance, and their placement in this vast wilderness feels so entirely counter intuitive that their adventure takes on an almost surreal humor. Both actors are a joy in a film that commits to taking you places you’ve simply never been.

Green based the screenplay on Hafsteinn Gunnar Sigurossen’s much lauded but little seen Icelandic picture Either Way. The meandering pace he gives the work serves its overall themes, but will aggravate a lot of viewers – particularly those seeking a plot. What we get is a generously documented, lovingly observed character study of two outsiders with little in common beyond their own troubles with human contact.

When Green remains focused on the absurdity of the situation, Prince Avalanche charms the impatient viewer into submission. It’s only when he falls back on his own roots in indie cinema – poetically capturing the languid beauty and rustic living – that the slight production feels tedious.

Still, I cannot imagine a more potent antidote to Summer Blockbuster Fever and its symptoms of FX bloat star dazzle than this spare, offbeat film.



Sometimes Actually Spectcular

The Spectacular Now

by Hope Madden

The Spectacular Now suffers slightly from high expectations. National critics quickly heralded the film the summer’s best, and its quirky indie pedigree is tough to argue. The film marks Shailene Woodley’s first feature since her breathtaking turn in The Descendents. Penned by the duo that delivered 500 Days of Summer, directed by Smashed helmsman James Ponsoldt, and starring the charmingly charismatic, damaged doofus Miles Teller, the film’s buzz certainly felt potentially deserved.

A popular, life-of-the-party high school senior rebounds from a break up by dating a quiet, hard-working, nice girl. Brace yourself, there’s no make-over, no peer pressure, no angst.

No angst – what?!

It’s true. In fact, it is the film’s fresh approach that makes the safe decisions and clichés stand out. For a high school romance with an edge, The Spectacular Now is an engaging dramedy boasting stronger scripting and far superior performances than what you find in other likeminded works. Indeed, it sparkles in comparison to similar genre titles – the sickeningly overrated Perks of Being a Wallflower, for example.

Polsoldt never drapes his high school romance in nostalgia – a common mistake in films such as these – but looks at the situation with the clear view his protagonist lacks. With a handful of exceptions, the writing holds up, and when it doesn’t, credit Teller and especially Woodley for the sheer talent to buoy the occasional weak scripting.

Woodley, who wowed audiences with her turn as the thoroughly modern, cynical teen in Descendents, shows true range that proves her wealth of talent.

Viewers who remember Teller from his recent work in Project X and 21 and Over may see the young actor as a one-trick pony, again playing the likeable screw up with an alcohol dependency. In his performance here, though, we glimpse a bit of the nuance and power fans of his turn in 2010’s Rabbit Hole will remember.

Unfortunately, The Spectacular Now falls too conveniently into a formula framed by the dreaded college essay. Ponsoldt lets his crisis off the hook far too simply, and where the resolution should have felt appropriately ambiguous, it instead seems superficially settled.

But cast that all aside and drink in two of the most fully crafted teens ever to hit the screen. The team of Ponsoldt, Woodley and Teller plumb for that bittersweet combination of longing, confidence, vulnerability and potential that marks adolescence. While his film may be merely better than average, his leads are truly spectacular.




You’re Next Did Nothing First


by Hope Madden


It looked like 2013 might be the year of the horror film. First came the visceral thrill of the Evil Dead reboot, then the spectral fun of The Conjuring. With the buzz surrounding the indie fright film You’re Next, it looked like we might be in store for the season’s third solid genre pic.


Adam Wingard’s film has been lauded as Scream meets The Cabin in the Woods, which isn’t entirely wrong. You’re Next is a derivative work that copies Scream’s wink-and-nod use of genre tropes and applies them to a home invasion storyline, this time set in an isolated, wooded area.

Pudgy, weak, whitebread Crispian (AJ Bowen) brings his girlfriend to his parents’ secluded anniversary celebration. Uninvited guests in animal masks pick off attendants, but they’ve underestimated one guest.

Wingard is part of a new generation of horror filmmakers, a fraternity style community with members who work together frequently. Indeed, Wingard worked with Ti West on the compilation VHS; Bowan co-starred in West’s House of the Devil; West handles a small role in You’re Next as a boyfriend/filmmaker/victim.

Unfortunately, none of them makes particularly good films.

Not that You’re Next is especially bad. It’s just that, aside from some relatively entertaining sibling bitchiness, most of the ideas are cribbed from better films. Masked home invaders is far scarier in The Strangers; the animal masks saw their debut in 1973’s The Wicker Man ; many of the home invasion defense moves come directly from Sam Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs. It’s a long list.

Yes there’s a twist and some humor, but folks calling this film “a cut above” have clearly not seen some of the competition. Hell, You’re Next is not even the best “cabin in the woods” film released this year. What it is, is safe.

You’re Next subverts tensions before they can generate real terror. Wingard either lets the audience in on the secret or injects a bit of humor every time the film gets honestly tense. He undercuts each scene’s opportunity to scare, falling back on humor or action movie one-upsmanship instead.

One of the many genius moves Wes Craven made with his genre-upending 1996 film Scream was to balance humor and scares, to mine that tension that either bursts with a scream or a laugh. That’s the work of a horror filmmaker who knows what he’s doing.

You’re Next is the work of Adam Wingard. It turns out, that’s not quite the same thing.




Too Good to Hate


by George Wolf


Here’s a news flash:  Cate Blanchett can act a little bit. In fact, her performance in Blue Jasmine is so effortlessly great, it’s as if we’re discovering her wealth of talent all over again.

It doesn’t hurt that writer/ director Woody Allen has given her a fantastic character to dig into, and Blanchett gives Jasmine multiple dimensions from the very first scene. Jasmine is bending the ear of a fellow air traveler, her neurotic front of superiority on full display. It is a complex role to be sure, but Blanchett has us hooked from the start.

Jasmine’s marriage to Hal (Alec Baldwin) has crumbled, taking with it a luxurious life in New York. Broke and desperate, she’s forced to swallow some of her ample pride and move in with her sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins) in San Francisco.

Ginger and her ex-husband Augie (Andrew Dice Clay– surprisingly effective) have a suspicious history with Jasmine, while Ginger’s new boyfriend Chili (Bobby Cannavale) tries to stay friendly through the constant, sometimes not so subtle put downs. As we witness Jasmine’s effect on everyone around her, frequent flashbacks slowly provide answers to questions from the past.

Though Blanchett and the excellent ensemble cast do find some humor in Allen’s sharp dialogue, this isn’t funny business. After scoring with wonderful, whimsical, globe-trotting comedies the last few years (Midnight in Paris, Vicky Cristina Barcelona), Allen comes home to craft a finely tuned drama on common anxieties of modern American class warfare.

The film offers plenty to like, but Blanchett’s Oscar-worthy performance sits at the very top of the list. She makes a shallow, obnoxious character so completely human you can’t bring yourself to hate her.

A sublime intersection of character and actor, Blue Jasmine should not be missed.





Countdown: Top 5 and Bottom 5 Sequels

Yes, the humorless Kick-Ass 2 disappointed, as sequels so often do. Which are the biggest disappointments? And on a brighter note, which sequels lived up to – even exceeded – expectations? Read on!

Most Disappointing Sequels

5) Hangover Part 2

In 2009, Todd Phillips shared a clever conceit starring an amiable, talented threesome with real chemistry on film. Oh, how we laughed. In 2011 he found out that a clever conceit is only clever once. Revisiting every single joke was, indeed, Hangover 2’s only original joke. What we’ve learned is that one joke in 102 minutes does not a comedy make.


4) Exorcist II: The Heretic

Jesus. A drunken and flummoxed Richard Burton wanders through Africa on the advice of a demon locust; a hypnotized, angelically dressed Linda Blair looks on from her bedroom in the States. They followed perhaps the greatest horror film of all time with this lunacy? Who’s responsible for this atrocity? Is it Regan’s dangerously incompetent therapist? Director John Boorman? Satan?

3) Jaws 2

Hey, you know who’s not Steven Spielberg? Jeannot Szwarc. Wait, who’s Jeannot Szwarc, you ask? Exactly! He’s the guy who used to direct Beretta episodes who inexplicably helmed the story of a little island community that looks positively delicious to sharks. Szwarc’s disinterests? Character development, storytelling, understatement, bathers.

2) Caddyshack 2

For the love of God. Eight years after one pesky gopher and a slew of vulgarians beat Judge Smails at his own game (golf), a new set of classless sportsmen descend upon Bushwood. What happens if you swap out Ted Knight for Robert Stack, Rodney Dangerfield for Jackie Mason, and Bill Murray for Dan Aykroyd? Nothing funny, I’ll guarantee you that.


1) Ghostbusters II

Stop it! Just stop it right now! Need you crush all our childhood happiness with your greed and listless comedies?! Why is this the most offensive of the sequels? Because the same director, writers and cast returned to cash in on the joy their first film left in our hearts by telling us that we can fight off the bad ectoplasm if we have more joy in our hearts. Ironic, since that’s what they killed with their movie.


Best Sequels

5) Spider-Man 2

Better villain, less predictable storyline, equal parts exciting and tender, Spider-Man 2 exceeded expectations. Few (if any) superhero films can boast such joyous thrills tied to such well-crafted storytelling because few (if any) superhero films care as much about the “human” as the “super”.


4) The Bride of Frankenstein

In 1931, the great James Whale rocked the cinematic universe with a familiar story, one outstanding performance, and the greatest make up job to date. But with Frankenstein’s 1935 sequel, he was able to show some real talent. This subversive, darkly humorous gem betters the original by a mile.

3) The Empire Strikes Back

When the time came for George Lucas to second his mind blowing ’77 blockbuster Star Wars, he made one terrific decision. He hired somebody else to write and direct. New characters, exceptional battles, and epic surprises help this unpredictable storyline not just live up to the original, but exceed it.

2) Aliens

Oh, hell yes. How was James Cameron to top Ridley Scott’s breathlessly terrifying original? By taking it in an entirely different direction, from terror in space to intergalactic ass-kicking. Bigger-better-faster-more doesn’t always work, but put Sigourney Weaver in a giant metal suit, and things turn out OK.


1) Godfather Part II

Francis Ford Coppola outdid himself. The origin story, the familial conflict, Fredo.  Oh, Fredo. You break our hearts. Godfather Part II doesn’t just follow one mob family, it finds its heartbeat and exposes what it is that differentiates them from us. Flawless.