Fright Club, Round 2: Eden Lake

 

Join George and Hope this Friday night, 11:30, at Studio 35 Cinema and Drafthouse for Round 2 of Fright Club! We’re showing the underseen indie horror gem Eden Lake starring Michael Fassbender. It’s a unique and terrifying picture that deserves a big audience. Enjoy some of Studio 35’s great draft beers and hang out with some scary film fanatics – what could be better?

Studio 35 is located at 3055 Indianola Avenue. Tickets are $5. Drink specials abound.

Join us!

President’s Day Countdown

Happy President’s Day! It’s not the most glamorous of holidays, but that doesn’t mean Hollywood has ignored it. To the contrary, there are dozens of movies you could watch to celebrate. Like Independence Day.

Or, you could watch some films worth seeing. Like these five. Enjoy!

5. The Butler

Lee Daniels’s well-stocked cast populates a yarn about a White House butler (Forest Whitaker) who watched his father shot to death in a cotton field and witnessed 8 different presidents and the social upheaval of 8 administrations before finally casting a ballot for his country’s first black president. Equal parts sentimental and subversive, the film is more sly than a casual observer might realize, full of the tricks of any Big Hollywood Epic as well as cagey casting. This is a sly directorial feat that made salient points and still grossed more than $100 million.

Quote: We have no tolerance for politics in the White House.

4. 1776

Yes, it’s long and it takes some historical liberties, but this film adaptation of the hit musical makes the genesis of the America revolution almost as much fun as that episode of Schoolhouse Rock that had you singing the preamble.

Quote:  I have come to the conclusion that one useless man is called a disgrace, that two are called a law firm, and that three or more become a Congress!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mAfjiUZEU94

 

3. All the President’s Men

Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman play the great onscreen odd couple investigative reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, the Washington Post writers who sleuthed out the truth behind the definitive act of Presidential corruption. Winner of four Oscars, including recognition for William Goldman’s meticulous screenplay, the film remains a staple of both political cinema and the great American filmmaking of the Seventies.

Quote: Nothing’s riding on this except the, uh, first amendment to the Constitution, freedom of the press, and maybe the future of the country.

 

2. Frost/Nixon

Ron Howard turned away from the heavy-handed sentimentality that marred his entire career to direct a pointed yet textured account of the TV interviews that finally got the American public the Nixon confession they desperately needed. The effort is aided by outstanding performances from Frank Langella and Michael Sheen.

Quote: I’m saying that when the President does it, it’s not illegal.

 

1. Lincoln

Spielberg ladles on the nostalgia and sentimentality in the first and final scenes, but in between is about two and  a half hours of brilliant filmmaking and even better acting. Daniel  Day-Lewis is as good as all the hype, and his supporting players are also magnificent. The amazing thing that can go overlooked is how gloriously Tony Kushner unveils modern politics by articulating the struggles of the past.

Quote: Euclid’s first common notion is this: Things which are equal to the same things are equal to each other. That’s a rule of mathematical reasoning and its true because it works – has done and always will do.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AmZw00rtgM8

Formidable Filmmaker Explores The Past

The Past

by Hope Madden

Original films – not reboots, franchises, or adaptations – are a relative anomaly in today’s movie landscape. Truly original works that take you into authentic human experiences are an even greater rarity. This sad fact puts writer/director Asghar Farhadi in the category of the unique alongside Wes Anderson, Paul Thomas Anderson, Quentin Tarantino and Jim Jarmusch. Like each of these geniuses, Farhadi has a particular style. You can see this style in his latest, the French language drama The Past.

At its own pace, the film unveils the complicated relationships a splintered family has with each other and with its past. Iranian Ahmad (a wonderful Ali Mosaffa) returns to France to attend the divorce hearing his French wife Marie (Berenice Bejo) has asked for. He wonders why he had to come in person, and why Marie didn’t book him into a hotel as he asked.

The low key Mosaffa anchors the film of a family spinning out of control, and his unflappable demeanor makes a lovely counterpoint to Bejo’s chaotic bursts of passion. Because of Ahmad’s grounded presence, we can slowly unravel all that brought the family to this point.

Bejo (The Artist) offers an unflinching performance. She’s never worried about being likeable, and indeed, Marie is not. She’s an amazingly textured, complicated mess of neediness, love,  guilt and denial.

As the title suggests, the past itself is also an ever present character. It doesn’t go away, it remains. Like Ahmad, no matter how much distance Marie puts between herself and her past, it is still right there, coloring today as well as tomorrow.

Farhadi writes beautifully, and he draws very natural and dimensional performances from his entire ensemble, even the youngest members of the cast. As the story spills out in every direction, the messes remain true to the characters and their lives. Chaos isn’t created for the sake of chaos, it’s simply examined as a natural side effect of the happenstance of this family.

The Past has Farhadi’s thumbprints all over it, showing countless little similarities in theme, style and tone to his previous efforts, but it pales in comparison to his Oscar winning A Separation. Adults take self righteous stands, young people want to learn from them but have to point out the hypocrisy of their actions, and tragedy hangs in the balance. He understands the sometimes powerfully difficult messes people get themselves into, and the sleight of hand adults use to excuse themselves and blame others.

It just doesn’t work quite as well here. In The Past, the lessons feel a little more like finger wagging. It’s a minor fault, though, in a beautifully acted, well written, expertly crafted and often surprising family drama.

 

Verdict-4-0-Stars

 

G-L-O-R-I-A!

Gloria

by Hope Madden

The only film opening this Valentine’s weekend that is truly worthy of your time is Gloria, a Chilean import that is its own kind of coming of age picture.

A magnificent and utterly fearless Paulina Garcia offers a three dimensional performance like few could manage as Gloria, a vibrant woman in her late fifties still interested in living and loving. A new romance offers the opportunity to weigh independence against passion and stability, and watching Gloria sift through the options is mesmerizing.

Expertly written by director Sebastian Lelio and co-scriptor Gonzalo Maza, the film unfolds before you without a hint of contrivance. This is the kind of film where you sometimes forget there is a script, or even actors. Instead, you feel you are wandering through a particularly tempestuous few weeks with one of the most fascinating and genuine creatures on earth.

Enough cannot be said about Garcia’s performance. She is electric, a set of raw emotions ready to burst in the most unexpected and yet perfectly natural ways. Whether a quick weep or a bout of uncontrolled laughter, every scene could go either way. Her performance, and the film, holds a refreshing acceptance of life’s absurdity.

Like Garcia herself, the movie boasts a stubborn beauty emerging from a comfortably worn form. There is nothing inauthentic about the picture – not a single scene rings false. The film, like Gloria, embraces joy and opportunity without shying away from heartache, loneliness or disappointment. Lelio unflinchingly observes it all.

This is such an intelligently written film, one that doesn’t judge or pontificate, never steps into sentimentality. Lelio doesn’t surgarcoat the life of an aging, single woman, nor does he find it to be necessarily unpleasant. He’s honest, and he is blessed with a lead performance that can be just as honest, just as fearless, just as open.

The film is a character study, but more than that, it’s a study of life and living. It’s a remarkable piece of work, just like its leading lady.

 

Verdict-4-0-Stars

 

 

Who Knew Acting Was His Forte?

Run & Jump

by Hope Madden

Five years ago, if someone said to me that Will Forte would become a respected talent in independent cinema, I would have said, “Nice to meet you, Will Forte’s mom.”

Who could have know that the mostly forgettable SNL star would have such a way with understated authenticity? But with his Golden Globe-nominated turn as the very patient son in Alexander Payne’s Nebraska, we got a glimpse of what he could do. Run & Jump offers another such sighting.

Forte plays Ted, an American psychological researcher living for two months with an Irish family that’s coming to terms with the patriarch’s stroke. Thirty-eight-year-old Conor Casey’s entire personality changes due to the damage done to his brain, and while Ted observes Conor’s condition, he also witnesses the unraveling of a family held together by a vibrant mother (Maxine Peake).

It’s Peake who steals the show with such a raw and lovely performance. You can see the anguish and optimism duking it out in this effervescent redhead’s every thought. Thanks to Peake and a handful of multidimensional, natural performances, the film never feels false or contrived.

It’s a credit to co-writer/director Steph Green’s light touch that this complicated, even heavy premise can feel so genuine. Green’s nimble writing introduces scores of grand ideas, and under the direction of a lesser craftsman, the film would have crumbled with the weight of it. Run & Jump does not. Instead, it feels like the kind of endless mess real life often becomes.

Compassion and resilience are as bountiful as the gorgeous landscape, and both family and sun-dappled environment are fimled equally lovingly. Whether the artist is new to you (Green, Peake), or a familiar face with hidden talent, each plays a remarkable part in animating this fresh charmer.

 

Verdict-4-0-Stars

 

 

About Half

 

by George Wolf

 

About Last Night opens cold to the funky sound of James Brown’s “Sex Machine,” which is good because a) that song is awesome and b) it lets you know this remake has more “movin’, doin’ it, you know” on the brain than the 1986 original.

Of course, both films are based on David Mamet’s 1974 play Sexual Perversity in Chicago, though Mamet long ago dismissed its move to the big screen, recalling his selling of the work an act of “a callow youth.”

This latest adaptation strays even farther from the source work, as the setting moves West to LA, where buddies Danny (Michael Ealy) and Bernie (Kevin Hart) sell restaurant supplies by day and hit the bars in search of hookups by night.

While Bernie is enjoying a new sex kitten named Joan (Regina Hall), Danny is still hurting from a recent breakup. So, why not make it a double date with Joan’s friend Debbie (Joy Bryant) and see what happens? Well, we know what happens, but the setup underscores the fact that this time out, Debbie and Danny aren’t really the main attraction.

Whether that decision was made before casting the role of Bernie or not, Hart simply owns this movie. He’s fast, frenetic, charismatic and often uproarious, with Hall nearly matching him step for step in their raunchy back and forth. The Bernie and Joan characters were never made a couple before, but here, they are the only couple we care about.

Bryant and Ealy may both be great looking, but beyond a physical attraction, nothing about Debbie and Danny rings true.

Director Steve Pink (Hot Tub Time Machine) and screenwriter Leslye Headland (Bachelorette) want to make their film funny, while still keeping the original focus on the complexities of modern relationships. The funny works, nothing else does.

The Debbie/Danny love story ventures only surface deep, giving the entire relationship a rushed feel that brings no emotion to the highs and lows of their life together. Flat performances from both Bryant and Ealy don’t help, nor does a disastrous cameo from Paula Patton as Danny’s ex, proving once again she has zero comic timing.

Thanks to Hart and Hall, about half of About Last Night is a damn funny sex comedy.

The rest may leave you hating yourself in the morning.

 

Verdict-2-5-Stars

 

 

 

Sure Feels Endless

Endless Love

by Hope Madden

Thirty three years ago (what?), Brooke Shields played a 15-year-old in love. Like everything else the wee lass made during her formative years, there was a lot of sex involved. In this case, it was all filmed with cheese cloths and the mistaken idea that teenage love is unchanging and everlasting, and that kids are not idiots. Which they most certainly are. It was melodramatic and tawdry in the most ludicrous way, but it wasn’t Blue Lagoon, so in a way, we were lucky. Except for that song, which would not die.

But fast forward  a full third of a century and teens today are blessedly unaware of Ms. Shields’s canon. And what generation doesn’t need its own pandering, shallow, weakly scripted and poorly acted version of Romeo & Juliet?

The reboot is the third strike for writer/director Shana Feste (The Greatest, Country Strong). She’s pulled the most hyperbolic pulp out of Scott Spencer’s novel, settling for a tone that’s a little less soap opera, a little more CW drama.

Innocent young Jade Butterfield (Gabrielle Wilde in the Brooke Shields role) waits until high school graduation to finally pull her delicate nose out of her homework and notice hot valet/classmate David, who looks for all the world like a 25-year-old man (25-year-old Alex Pettyfer – pretty, yet bereft of any natural acting talent).

They swoon. Oh, isn’t young love swoon-worthy? Jade’s mom (Joely Richardson) thinks so, in a borderline creepy way. No! She’s just supportive. Just really, weirdly supportive of the highly sexual relationship her teen is having in her house.

And who wouldn’t be? Who would seek to crush such obvious, deep, abiding and eternal – endless, even – love? Well, Jade’s douchebag of a dad, that’s who. And lest you believe this is just a naturally protective father trying to shield his daughter from any STDs or unwanted pregnancies that would derail her pre-med undergrad at Brown, that is not solely the case. He’s also a controlling asshole. Gawd!

If it were only the indulgent teen fantasy element that offended, the film would be almost tolerable. Unfortunately, Pettyfer has lines. Plus, he’s asked to perform with other actors, which means reactions, gestures, expression – how exactly was he supposed to have picked those skills up in his previous employment as an Urban Outfitter mannequin?

Next to him, Wilde looks borderline competent. Which she may be. At a certain point my eyes began rolling uncontrollably.

Valentine’s Day or not, Endless Love will cause you to lose the will to live. Keep yourself safe, and more importantly, keep the world safe from an onslaught of Brooke Shields remakes. Just stay home.

 

Verdict-1-0-Star

 

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ha3UWDkkuEQ

No Donuts Required

 

by George Wolf

 

Rebooting 1987’s RoboCop seems like such an obvious idea, you may wonder why it took this long. No matter, the new RoboCop is here now, ready to clean up the streets and pump some fun (along with a decent amount of lead) into your Valentine’s date plans.

We’re back in crime-ridden Detroit with honest cop Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnamen) but beyond that, the backstory is rightly, and effectively, re-imagined for a new audience.

Robot drones built by global conglomerate OmniCorp have become commonplace in American military action overseas. OmniCorp would like to expand but Congress, bowing to public sentiment against these “soulless” enforcers in our own backyards, has blocked any attempt to put the same robots to work in law enforcement here at home.

That’s a problem for OmniCorp honcho Raymond Sellars (Michael Keaton), and for uber-outraged TV host Pat Novak (Samuel L. Jackson, just as hilariously over-the-top in his Bill O’Reilly sendup as you would expect).

The chance to turn the public tide their way comes when Murphy is blown nearly to bits by the local crime lord. OmniCorp scientist Dr. Dennet Norton (Gary Oldman) and his team spring into action, meticulously bringing Murphy back to ass-kicking life via the super suit!

Director Jose Padiha (a Brazilian film veteran making his English language debut) has no trouble delivering the frenetic action and impressive visuals, so much so that any motion- sensitive viewers might want to skip the IMAX print. Otherwise, strap in and enjoy the ride! It’s one that Padiha paces well, hitting the gas just when events start to bog down in melodrama.

Screenwriter Joshua Zetumer dials back the misanthropy of the original to provide more thoughtful inner conflict, as Murphy/RoboCop fights to overcome the engineering which allows him only the “illusion of free will.” Less subtle, but still worthwhile, are the nods to the ongoing debate about liberty versus security.

What’s missed in this new version is the knowing approach the original brought to the entire cop genre. Murphy’s fight to bring down the crime boss and his cronies is stitched together with nothing but well-worn cliche, and just doesn’t mesh next to the satirical layers that bubble up elsewhere.

No, RoboCop 2014 ain’t perfect, but it’s sleek and exciting enough to make the inevitable sequels feel much more promising.

 

Verdict-3-0-Stars

 

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=INmtQXUXez8

Two Valentine Romances for Your Queue

The controversial love story Blue is the Warmest Color releases to DVD today. Whatever your reservations or curiosity, the film is worth the attention it’s received by virtue of Adele Exarchopoulos’s powerhouse performance, as well as the expertly crafted, gorgeously filmed tale of the lilting heartache of first love.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q4bLY6PqW6A

 

Pair this with the underseen indie from 2011, Like Crazy. With another exceptional central performance from a new leading lady (Felicity Jones), the film swoons through the dizzying story of young and impetuous, not to mention impatient, love. It’s also worth noting an early and different role for Jennifer Lawrence as the fall-back girlfriend, the easy Plan B. How’s that for playing against type?

Countdown: Off-Kilter Valentine Options

Sure, you can cozy up to The Princess Bride or Love, Actually this Valentine’s Day – nothing wrong with that. But if you’re looking for something a little less run-of-the-mill, maybe even something everyone in the room can enjoy, try one of our five favorite love stories.

5. Wall-E (2008)

Pixar’s Oscar winning interstellar adventure offers an underdog journey with the fate of mankind in the balance, but at its heart is the story of one little trash collector’s love for a girl who’s out of his league. The animation is astonishing, and the voice work stellar, but it’s the long, sweet-hearted scenes without a word that communicate so much.

4. Say Anything

Who doesn’t love Lloyd Dobbler? Is anyone immune? No, and that’s why Say Anything is the perfect Valentines’s Day date movie. Funny, clever, endlessly quotable and unabashedly romantic – not to mention being oh-so-1989 (nice boombox, Lloyd!) – it’s a romantic comedy to please every lover in the crowd.

Quote: I gave her my heart, she gave me a pen.

3. Harold and Maude (1971)

If you’re looking for something a bit more uncomfortable, how about the sexy exploits of a septuagenerian and her morbidly obsessed young beau? One of director Hal Ashby’s best efforts, this provocative dark comedy challenges expectations and breaks hearts.

Quote: It’s best not to be too moral. You cheat yourself out of too much life. Aim above morality.

2. Shaun of the Dead (2004)

Writer/director Edgar Wright teams with writer/star Simon Pegg to lovingly mock the slacker generation, 80s pop, and George Romero with this riotous flesh eating romance. But what is easy to overlook is the genuine craftsmanship that went into making this zom-rom-com. It’s a fresh, vivid explosion of entertainment.

Quote: How’s that for a slice of fried gold?

1. Bull Durham (1988)

When the very best romantic comedy also happens to be one of the very best sports movies ever filmed, well, you’ve got yourself a Valentine date to please everyone in the audience. Susan Sarandon and Kevin Costner at the apex of their sexiness banter back and forth about baseball and metaphysics while we learn what minor league ball is really about. It’s brilliantly written, hilarious and perfectly performed. It’s the world’s most perfect date movie.

Quote: Despite my rejection of most Judeo-Christian ethics, I am, within the framework of the baseball season, monogamous.