Cbus Thriller to Premiere at Lennox


by George Wolf


Four friends awake from a night of partying to find themselves in a hell of a mess, and none can remember quite how it all happened.

It may sound like The Hangover, but there’s nothing funny about the business in Premeditated, a Columbus-made murder mystery premiering at Lennox Town Center at 6pm Saturday.

The film follows Stoney (Ray Powell), Guru (Michael Artis), Deuce (Micah Robinson) and Hawk (Mark A. Cummings), independent filmmakers en route to a meeting that they hope will finally give them their big break. They get sidetracked, and in a matter of hours they are the prime suspects in a woman’s disappearance.

Cummings, who also wrote the script and produced, has operated Awalkonwater Entertainment LLC with his wife since 2007. Their first film was Best Supporting Daddy, a romantic-comedy that debuted in 2009. Then, the drama The Buyout was produced in 2010.

The sold-out June 21st event is the only local showing scheduled for Premeditated, but Cummings plans to submit the movie for consideration into various film festivals, in addition to the five he has already contacted.

Cummings and director Joy Millana filmed Premeditated in Columbus, Pickerington, and Grove City, and Millana is able to conjure an effective sense of claustrophobia while the men are held and interrogated by a local sheriff (Louis C. Robins) bent on getting a confession.  As the friends reveal new secrets and reopen old wounds, all four actors get a chance to shine, especially Powell, who gives Stoney a dangerous edge.

In addition to writing, acting and producing, Cummings has self-published three books using the pseudonym Xavier Benoit through his publishing company, Urban Inspirational Books. Find more details on the premiere of Premeditated on the film’s facebook page.


Happy Anniversary, OJ

OJ: The Musical

by Hope Madden

Wondering how best to celebrate the 20th anniversary of that bat-shit white Bronco freeway chase? (That’s right- it’s been twenty years!) Jeff Rosenberg has you covered with his new film, OJ: The Musical.

This little slice of theatrical genius shadows aspiring thespian and/or nutjob Eugene Olivier via mocumentary as he follows his muse. Eugene leaves the Big Apple behind to take on that theatrical hotbed, Hollywood, recruiting old friends and attempting to put on the “next great American musical” – an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Othello, reworked to mirror the OJ Simpson case.

Writer/director/producer Rosenberg has a degree in playwriting from Ohio University, and his insider knowledge of the theatrical process is put to good use here. His script is sharp witted but soft hearted, his attitude generous but entirely comical.

Eugene, played with manic good nature by Rosenberg’s longtime collaborator Jordan Kenneth Kamp, is a doughy ball of denial, vulnerability, goofiness and arrested development. His is a unique but entirely recognizable character, and Kamp nails it.

Rosenberg’s piece does not trod entirely new ground, despite the unusual stageplay at its center. You can’t help but measure it against other drolly comedic mocumentaries by the master of the genre, Christopher Guest. And with a musical at its heart, it bears a resemblance to much of the work of Trey Parker and Matt Stone – heady company, but OJ holds its own.

OJ is not as dry as Guest’s work, nor as confrontational as the South Park output. Instead, it finds an understated, amiable place between.

Though the film is too slow in spots, it overcomes pacing lags with rampant unpredictability. And though Kemp is clearly the star of this show, the whole ensemble sparkles as it lovingly skewers the earnestness of that “show must go on” attitude.

The way the Bard’s tragedy, OJ’s case and Eugene’s journey come together is subdued brilliance. The play itself, in the final act, is hysterical, but nothing in the film draws as many laughs as the new idea brainstorming over the credits.

Brimming with insider insight, compassion, wisdom and humor, OJ: The Musical articulates the lovable absurdity of drama.


Something Special in the Air


How to Train Your Dragon 2

by George Wolf

They had me at “Drago Bloodfist.”

Actually, they had me four years ago, when the original How to Train Your Dragon was not only one of the best films of 2010, but one of the most visually stunning 3D films ever.

Part 2 may fall a hair short of those original lofty heights, but you can still expect an exhilarating, often eye-popping family adventure.

Writer/director Dean DeBlois returns to catch us up with Hiccup (voiced by Jay Baruchel) and his dragon, Toothless, five years after they showed their village that dragons and Vikings can be buddies after all.

Things aren’t so harmonious in neighboring villages, as the evil pirate Bloodfist (Djimon Hounsou) has his henchmen always on the hunt, looking to capture new additions for a growing dragon army. Hiccup favors reasoning with the pirates but his father, Chief Stoick the Vast, (Gerard Butler) prefers a pre-emptive strike.

With obvious parallels to current global terrorism, HTTYD2 offers more mature, darker themes, but wisely doesn’t overplay this hand. The franchise, with part 3 already on the way, continues to be anchored by the bonds of family and friends, and the special relationship that can develop between man and beast.

What may make the younger viewers start to fidget are two backstory sequences, one involving Bloodfist and another featuring Hiccup’s mother Valka (Cate Blanchett). Though hardly fatal flaws, the compelling nature of the story begins to wander away, safely returning when Hiccup and Toothless get back into focus.

As the showdown between pirates and Vikings draws near, the visual elements continue to impress. With an assist from esteemed cinematographer Roger Deakins, the effects department again illustrates the glorious possibilities of 3D animation. The in-flight sequences make the heart race, and when Valka runs to the edge of a cliff to grasp the size of the approaching armada below, the aerial shot is simply breathtaking.

Boasting inspired storytelling, magical visuals and enough subtle, real world sensibility to give it resonance, HTTYD2 keeps this franchise crackling with vitality.



Get Ready, Get Ready to Jump


22 Jump Street

by Hope Madden

I’m not sure how it is that Phil Lord and Christopher Miller keep surprising us. By now, no matter how inane the project may sound, we should expect big things from the directors of Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, 21 Jump Street and The Lego Movie. And yet, who’d have guessed they’d deliver the goods yet again with their sequel, 22 Jump Street?

Self-aware without being glib, and fueled by the same good-hearted energy that marks the duo’s work, the film is both a hilarious send up of sequels, and the natural progression of a bro-mance. Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Jenko (Channing Tatum) go undercover in college, where a new drug has killed a kid and may go global if it isn’t contained. This, except for the college part, is the identical plot of the first installment. Of course, that’s on purpose.

The meta-sequel is short on character development, but does take some time to explore a relationship that may have grown stale, that spark in their partnership starting to dim. Is it time for Jenko and Schmidt to investigate other suspects?

Rampant silliness continues to be the driving force in the franchise, and Hill and Tatum – as the doughy neurotic and chiseled dunderhead, respectively – are enjoyably, even masterfully silly. Again.

Expect a lot of the same, but enough differences to make the bumbling police work fun, and more than enough sight gags and wordplay to distract you from any other weaknesses. A little slam poetry, one walk of shame, and an unexpected Benny Hill bit are some highlights from a film absolutely littered with jokes. Some hit, some miss, but they just keep coming.

The always-dastardly Peter Stormare lends his talents in the villain role, while Jillian Bell (Workaholics) and Nick Offerman contribute their share of deadpan laughs. There are some pretty great cameos, as well, but I cannot tell you how much I hoped to see James Franco when the investigation headed to the beach for Spring Break.

Besides that missed opportunity, 22 suffers from a few lags in its otherwise frantic momentum. It would have behooved Lord and Miller to trim about 10 minutes from the effort – just not the ten that play over the credits, brainstorming assignment after assignment, sequel after sequel, in glorious fashion.

Whatever its faults, like its predecessor, 22 Jump Street is no classic but it is good for a lot of laughs. Few have made “more of the same” look so good.





Countdown to Lazaretto

Lazaretto, Jack White’s new album, drops today. We’re pretty excited. So excited, we thought we’d spend some quality silver screen time with the mad genius to fully prepare us for the oncoming awesomeness. In case you’d like to do the same, here are some highlights.

Silver Linings Playbook (2012)

White’s music has been used in dozens of films, often to great effect. Even the god-awful School for Scoundrels benefitted from a couple tunes. But White’s “Fell In Love with a Girl” added so much to this excellently played finale dance number that it needs to be noted.

Cold Mountain (2003)

Holding his own in an impressive (if globally confused) cast, White plays a young man avoiding Civil War conscription, living off the land with other runaways. He brings a recognizable, impish spark to some pretty heavy scenes.

Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story  (2007)

Jack White is Elvis. What the hell more do you want from a movie? His take on the King is indecipherable genius in an underrated spoof on rock’n’roll biopics.

Coffee and Cigarettes (2003)

Jim Jarmusch, who is both awesome and Ohioan, strings together a series of vignettes with a handful of the world’s coolest people chatting over a beverage and a smoke. Like Bill Murray and Wu-Tang Clan. Who doesn’t want to sit in on these conversations?! Among the most fun is the bit where Jack shows Meg his Tesla coil.

It Might Get Loud (2008)

Somewhere between An Inconvenient Truth and Waiting for Superman, documentarian Davis Guggenheim ambled away from the path of the political into the backstage of the awesome, chronicling three generations of guitar players: Jimmy Page, The Edge, and Jack White. It is loud, and fun, and White, in particular, is fascinating.




Flirting in the Teacher’s Lounge


Words and Pictures

by George Wolf


What the? A summer movie aimed squarely at adults?

Where are the superheroes? Where are the explosions? Where’s the teen angst?

Even with its faults, Words and Pictures feels like a cool breeze in July, as clever repartee and winning performances combine for a throwback to classic, feel-good romance films of decades past.

And true to that spirit, our romantics start out as sparring adversaries.

Jack (Clive Owen) teaches honors English at a prep school. His promise as a writer is a distant memory, and he eases the self-loathing with constant word-game challenges to his fellow teachers, and plenty of alcohol. His antics on both fronts have led to his job hanging in the balance.

Dina (Juliette Binoche) is a respected artist struggling with failing health. She arrives at the school to teach honors art, and is immediately put off by Jack’s confrontational nature.

The confrontations escalate once Jack’s students tell him the new art teacher’s mantra:  pictures are more vital than words.

Oh, no she dih-eh!

Like many of us of a certain age, screenwriter Gerald Di Pego is clearly chagrined at how society devalues not only the classic works of art and literature, but their very building blocks: images and prose. That complaint may not be new, but Di Pego finds some fun while pointing out that it’s still very relevant.

His script still has minefields aplenty – contrived situations, superfluous subplots and oversimplified personal demons – and Fred Schepisi’s lackluster direction doesn’t help, but Owen and Binoche are good enough to rise above it. They make every one of their scenes together a sublime delight.

You’ll have no trouble figuring out where Words and Pictures is going, but the witty wordplay and frisky chemistry of two veteran talents make it worth seeing through.




Romance Porn


The Fault in Our Stars

by George Wolf

With Don Jon last year, Joseph Gordon-Levitt wondered if maybe, idealized romance fantasies can be as harmful to actual relationships as pornography.

The Fault in Our Stars is just the latest example to make his point.

Based on the best seller by John Green, it centers on an ordinary teenage girl (who of course narrates, to reinforce the feeling for the teenage girls watching that it’s their story, too). But she’s not really ordinary, she’s just waiting for that dreamy boy to come into her life and instantly see the special snowflake that she truly is, forsaking everything in his own life to make sure she feels special every special second of every special day.

Shailene Woodley stars as Hazel, a young cancer patient who dreads her support group, but goes just to make her parents happy. Then, one day, Augustus Waters (Ansel Elgort) comes to group, takes one look at Hazel and is instantly infatuated.

So, this time, the young lovers have to deal with cancer, adding an extra layer of manipulation opportunity to be explored.

Early on, Hazel expresses disdain for those unrealistic stories where “nothing is too messed up that can’t be fixed with a Peter Gabriel song.” Then, guess what? Some of those songs on the soundtrack are nothing more than bad Peter Gabriel rip-offs.

Woodley is a gifted actress, and does manage to bring some depth to Hazel, who admittedly is the most well-rounded character in the script. Augustus is a one-dimensional mess, and Elgort (“Tommy” in the recent Carrie remake) can do little more than cast adoring glances and mug for the camera. But really, that’s what he’s there for, anyway.

Movies like this (and The Perks of Being a Wallflower, and The Spectacular Now, and…) want you to believe their characters are unconventional and their message is insightful, when the exact opposite is true.

The Fault in Our Stars is the same old bill of goods.




Don’t Call It Lip Service

Burt’s Buzz

by Hope Madden

Burt Shavitz does not measure success the way most of us do, but if you like old hippies, bees and golden retrievers, he may have just the movie for you.

That bearded kisser that graces the little tins of Burt’s Bees creams and jellies belongs to Shavitz, and filmmaker Jody Shapiro hopes to get behind those rheumy eyes with his new documentary, Burt’s Buzz. He’s not the only one. His film is littered with folks – Burt’s brother, his caretaker, his marketing contact in Taiwan – who would dearly like to make a personal connection, get to know the real Burt.

It turns out, the man is a bit of a conundrum, a walking contradiction, even – which should come as no surprise from the guy who uses his own ugly mug to hawk beauty balms.

Shapiro’s film is most engaging when it lets itself simply capture the contradictions: the septuagenarian Mainer living without electricity or hot water as he’s greeted by throngs of screaming, bee-costumed fans in a Taiwan airport; the fella too frugal to fix his hot water heater, complaining that the marketing folks didn’t bring Turkish coffee, but regular. But Burt is an eccentric old cuss and, more than anything, he is not what you expect and doesn’t care.

For many, including Shaprio, the film might seem a likely expose on the hostile takeover that forced beekeeper Shavitz from his company in the Nineties, when his then-partner in life and business Roxanne Quimby bought him out, only to later sell the company to Clorox for epic riches. (Yes, the international bleach company owns the earth-friendly Burt’s Bees. This film breathes these little ironies.)

But pity is not appropriate. Shavitz walked away from corporate wealth as a youth when he turned down the chance to run his family business, and walked away from prestige and fame in the Sixties when he quit his successful venture as a photo journalist to move to an abandoned barn in Upstate New York.

It’s hard to tell whether Shapiro is impatient with his subject, or whether he’s afraid the audience will be, but when the filmmaker can just settle down and let the cameras roll, you finally get a feel for who Burt Shavitz is. It’d be too patronizing and myopic to call his a simple life – I haven’t been to Taiwan, I never photographed Malcolm X, I never lost a multimillion dollar company, and none of that seems simple to me.

He isn’t simple, isn’t quaint, and is not likely to be what you expect. Except when he is.


Deja Cruise


Edge of Tomorrow

by George Wolf

Remember how badass Sigourney Weaver’s Aliens battle suit was back in ’86?

Edge of Tomorrow remembers it, along with a few other things about that movie and others, weaving all its inspirations into an entertaining slice of summer escapism.

As Lt. Col. Bill Cage, Tom Cruise is also battling aliens, albeit from a safe distance. Earth has been invaded by “mimics,” and Cage never met a TV talk show he didn’t see as a perfect chance to flash a handsome smile and sell the merits of a war that someone else will fight.

Until, that is, he’s suddenly fitted with his own super suit and made part of a doomed mission. After dying, he wakes up back at boot camp, reliving the same events over and over, death after death, until he can figure out how to break the time loop.

Cage’s first step toward an answer is meeting Rita (Emily Blunt), a celebrated war hero who admits she not only knows his story, she’s lived it.

Cruise’s latest is the smart sci-fi adventure that his last so badly wanted to be. Though Oblivion did boast more truly eye popping visuals, Edge of Tomorrow scores with sharp writing, crisp direction, vivid imagination and one damn good co-star.

Truly, Blunt classes up any project, from awful (The Wolfman) to awesome (Looper) to in-between (The Five Year Engagement). Here, she not only gives Cruise the strong female counterpart his movies often lack, she makes Rita the strongest personality, and the film is better for it.

For his part, Cruise shows some welcome range early on as a cowardly chickenhawk, slowly falling back into autopilot mode the more Cage becomes battle-hardened and heroic. Either way, his charm never wavers.

The team of screenwriters gives a sleek adaptation to Hiroshi Sakurazaka’s novel “All You Need is Kill.” Yes, we’ve seen these elements before, but the film carries a wise self-awareness about the familiarity, and is even able to toe the line between questioning the folly of war and respecting the sacrifice of soldiers in battle.

Director Doug Liman (Go/The Bourne Identity/Fair Game/Mr. and Mrs. Smith) again proves he knows his way around an action scene. Moreover, he handles the “Groundhog Day” transitions skillfully, injecting some humor and varying scene structure so that the repetitive events don’t feel repetitive.

Look past the isn’t-that-the-name-of-an-SNL-soap-opera-parody title, and Edge of Tomorrow delivers.





Beautiful Losers for Your Queue

Available today on DVD and Blu-Ray is the utterly unseen but stingingly lovely portrait of American poverty, The Motel Life. Boasting beautiful performances from Emile Hirsch, Dakota Fanning and, in particular, Stephen Dorff, this story of brothers, hope, and the bad choices that kick survival in the teeth is worth checking out.

Motel Life, at times, feels reminiscent  of Gus Van Zant’s 1989 tale of rambling cons and druggies Drugstore Cowboy. Spun from the haunted existence on the fringes, with dusty small towns and cheap motels, populated by broken people making poor decisions, Drugstore Cowboy is another breathtaking image of the fight to change your direction.