All posts by maddwolf

If this Snake has an Ass, Jet Li will Find and Kick It


By Hope Madden


Siu-Tung Ching, the Hong Kong action director who crafted 1987’s high flying spooktacular A Chinese Ghost Story, turns his attention to demon legends and computerized FX for his latest, weightlessly entertaining but somewhat disappointing feature, The Sorcerer and the White Snake.

The White Snake demon (Eva Huang) falls for a human herbalist and takes on the form of a woman to marry him. A tenacious Abbot (Jet Li) committed to keeping all demons out of the human realm makes trouble for the newlyweds.

It’s a cross between Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Van Helsing – combining the colorful flying, swooping action of the former with the ludicrous monster preoccupation and even more ridiculous FX of the latter.

The film offers an interesting take on the events as they unfold in that it’s never clear which side to root for – both are as repellant as they are compelling. Oh, the rash audacity of love!

Any religious, moral or romantic considerations – ironic or otherwise – are treated so superficially, though, as to be almost invisible next to the eye candy of the computer generated action sequences. Altogether the film is a silly, sugary spectacle worth eyeballing on the big screen for true fans, but skipping entirely for anybody else.

2 stars (out of 5)

Outtakes: Kickstart a homegrown movie

By George Wolf
One of last year’s most interesting documentaries, The Revisionaries, was funded primarily through If you missed being a part of that project, you’ve got a new chance to back a film, and help out a hometown boy in the process.
Columbus native Andy Newman just launched a Kickstarter campaign for his original film, Ink, and he could use your support! Newman sums up his story as a thriller wrapped in a love story, centered on a writer struggling to complete his first novel. After receiving a chance phone call from a stranger, his budding infatuation with the woman on the other end of the lines inspires him to re-write his novel. But when the lines between his fiction and her reality begin to blur, the story unravels.
Newman hopes to have the movie wrapped by year’s end.  He says, “We plan to shoot Ink in and around Chicago this June. Production will take two and a half weeks. We’ll have a very small crew. The script has been written to only contain the characters and locations absolutely required to tell a great story for you. From there we have a post-production schedule that would allow us to submit to film festivals by the end of the year.
Newman credits films such as Memento, No Country for Old Men, Insomnia and Brick as inspirations for Ink, which leaves no doubt his aspirations are high.
Donation levels start at just one dollar, and If you’d like to get involved, you can back the project here:

Outtakes: Looking for Valentine Romance?

Looking for a shot at romancing your way into a fine Valentine’s Day? The Gateway Film Center (1550 North High St.) is way ahead of you. How better to woo your guy or gal than with the best romantic comedy since Fight Club, Shaun of the Dead?
For the third year running, the theater with a special place in its heart for horror unspools the hilarious zombie romp starring Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. As bromantics Shaun and Ed, the duo need to come to terms with one unhappy girlfriend, one unwanted stepdad, and one zombie horde. Best place for that? The pub.
It’s a truly brilliant film, one worth seeing again and again with the one you love. It’s also an excellent choice for viewing when you’re trying to avoid all the ‘one you love’ shenanigans this time of year. 
Bonus: both Valentine screenings (7:30 and 9:30 pm this Thursday, 2/14) will open with the short “Til Death”, a macabre take on love gone wrong. The film comes from local filmmaker Jason Tostevin, who won the Gateway’s Homemade Horror Short contest in October with his medical spookfest “Room 4C”. 
It’s a film pairing that, like love itself, tells you to aim for the heart. 
Wait. Scratch that. The heart will do you no good. Apparently you’re supposed to aim for the head.
Tickets are $6.50. Expect prizes, trivia, and drink specials (which couldn’t hurt your Valentiney chances).

For Your Queue: True Tales of Fascinating Women


By Hope and George


We’ve got a couple wild documentaries For Your Queue this week..

If you don’t know much about Diana Vreeland, picture the possible female inspiration for famous beer pitchman The Most Interesting Man in the World. Vreeland’s answer to most every question would begin with “Good God!” before regaling all with stories of rhino hunting or the time she saw Hitler, and then letting loose with some unexpected exclamation.

Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel documents her globe-trotting childhood (“hideous..and maaahvelous!) and eventual career as the longtime fashion editor at Harper’s Bazaar, editor-in-chief at Vogue, and all-around influence on fashion and popular culture.

Co-directed by granddaughter-in-law Lisa Immordino Vreeland, Diana’s story is told through interviews, archival footage, and transcripts from a meeting she held with writer George Plimpton to discuss her memoirs. Together, they paint a completely entertaining picture of a strong woman who embraced independent thinking and lived a determined life of unapologetic originality.

Appreciation for the film may actually increase the less you know about Vreeland, as you giddily discover a true visionary. The Eye Has to Travel is a wonderful reminder of the vibrancy of her work, and her exuberant zest for life.

For an even wilder true life account, look into 2007’s Crazy Love, a tale of obsession, maiming, prison rot, and finally, marriage. Burt Pugach served 14 years in prison after hiring thugs to throw lye in the face of Linda Riss, the young woman who’d spurned his love after finding out he was married. They later married.

Wait, what?

This is not even the end of the story – more nuttiness follows. And it is so plainly stated that it feels inevitable, acceptable, and disturbing all at once. Burt Pugach (who passed away a few weeks ago) set out to ensure that no one else would ever possess his Linda, and he succeeded. Yet somehow these horrifying turns of event are made almost charming by her cantankerous

The Bond of Two Broken Souls


By Hope Madden


Why do strangers Stephanie and Ali form such a fierce bond in Rust and Bone (De rouille et d’os) ? Stephanie (Oscar-winner Marion Cotillard) trains orcas and struggles with tragedy, while Ali (Matthias Schoenaerts) lives in the present moment, accepting any offer, opportunity or bit of fun that presents itself without a thought of the consequences to himself or his young son.

Writer/director Jacques Audiard (A Prophet) doesn’t provide all the answers in his challenging exploration of their relationship.  His drama, in French with subtitles, is a gritty, punishing  tale of sexual redemption between two broken people unconventionally well suited to each other. The chemistry between the leads keeps the film taut, and Audiard’s wandering storyline and loyalty to his characters forever surprises.

4 stars (out of 5)



Hot Zombie Love


By George Wolf


Around the time Twilight ruined vampires and werewolves, horror fans began to cling to zombies as the only real monsters left. You can’t Twilight a zombie, right?  They aren’t wolf-boys who can’t keep their shirts on, they are stinking, rotting corpses out to eat your brain. Nothing romantic there.

If you’re thinking, “What about zombie Michael Jackson from the “Thriller” video?” I say, good point, but Zombie MJ was more dancer than romantic lead

Well, it took Hollywood a while to catch up, but Warm Bodies shows they have figured out how to Twilight a zombie. They even hired that girl who looks exactly like a blonde Kristin Stewart (Teresa Palmer)  to play romantic lead in this teen romantic comedy version of Romeo and Juliet.

Of course, in this particular case Romeo (Nicholas Hoult, “Beast” from X-Men:  First Class)  is a reanimated corpse that the young ladies should have no problem swooning over.

Working from Isaac Marion’s novel, screenwriter/director Jonathan Levine (50/50) mines adolescent anxiety for a sweetly charming if less than thrilling romance. Hoult is instantly likeable, while Rob Corddry and Analeigh Tipton draw a few chuckles.

While Warm Bodies falls far short of the greatest romantic comedy with zombies, Shaun of the Dead, it is harmless fun that would serve as a fine date night for the younger crowd.

3 stars (out of 5)

For Your Queue: Rockwellpalooza!

By Hope and George


Without giving up too much of the film Seven Psychopaths, available on DVD this week, let’s tick off the first few of those psychos: Sam Rockwell, Woody Harrelson, Christopher Walken, Tom Waits.

Yes, please.

The genius combination of title and cast aside, writer/director Martin McDonagh crafts a wild, unpredictable and brutally hilarious adventure. Colin Farrell’s Marty struggles to complete his new script. His weird but earnest buddy Billy (an absolutely glorious Sam Rockwell) wants to help. Whether or not this turns out to be a good idea is a bit of a toss-up, but Billy sure brings his shootin’ boots.

McDonagh’s greatest gift is the way he allows a spectacular Rockwell and the rest of these peculiar actors room to work. His film offers dark humor, fascinating unpredictability, and twisted fun. Plus Walken gets to say, “I would have made a great Pope.”

Of course, Rockwell has been great in underseen films for many years, including Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, Snow Angels, and Choke. If you’re digging into the stacks for a Seven Psychopaths double bill, though, of particular interest may be 2009’s Moon, and it is almost a one-man Rockwell show.

The debut feature from director Duncan Jones (David Bowie’s son), Moon is the story of Sam Bell, the sole employee on a lunar energy base. There is no shortage of energy on future Earth, thanks to the harvesting of an abundant fuel source found on the moon. Sam, totally alone except for supercomputer GERTY, is nearing the end of his three-year contract overseeing the harvest, and is eager to get back to his wife and family. With two weeks to go, Sam is rendered unconscious in an accident, and things begin to unravel.

Even if you already know the story’s twist, Moon is worth checking out not only for Rockwell’s fantastic turn, but also for the skillful way Jones gives a nod to his influences (2001, etc.) yet is still able to carve out a unique sci-fi voice.

Review: Frozen River

It’s hard to decide what is most surprising about Frozen River: its ability to uncover glints of redemption in the bleakest circumstances; the powerful honesty in its story and its performances; or the fact that this masterful, confident output is writer/director Courtney Hunt’s first feature film. Or maybe the true surprise is that a film this powerful, absorbing, and intimate is still being made at all.

An iced-over section of the St. Lawrence River running between the US – Canadian border in Upstate New York creates a solid, if only seasonal, link between two pieces of a Mohawk reservation, allowing a window of opportunity for a small band of smugglers moving Chinese and Pakistani immigrants from Canada into America. One trailer park mom, facing a new level of destitution just before Christmas, falls almost unwittingly into the organization, and soon she is taking remarkable risks in an effort to claw her way out of a financial hole.

Frozen River works in many ways, from the unmuddied honesty in the portrayal of American poverty to the flawless performances of its leads to the simplicity of its narrative. Melissa Leo, whose beautiful work in both 21 Grams and The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada predicted this ability, turns in the most authentic performance I’ve seen in any film this year.

Leo’s Ray is a loving mom, and her every gesture tells the story of a life hard-lived, of disappointment atop disappointment. Her grizzled determination is balanced by co-star Misty Upham’s equally honest portrait of a much younger woman facing no fewer shattering realities.

Upham’s Lila, the young Mohawk smuggler, inadvertently pulls Ray into the fold for no other reason than the trunk space in her Dodge Spirit. Her soft, round features counter Leo’s lean, fighter’s build, but the same world-wearied look haunts both women.

Their story is sometimes terrifying, but more than anything it is breathlessly honest. This is not a romantic presentation of a woman making poor decisions. You will wonder whether, under the same circumstances, you would do anything differently. This is a picture of poverty that shuns melodrama and manipulation, and is all the more bracing for it.

The weather itself may behave too conveniently, providing exactly the ice storms and thaws necessary to create crises and push the narrative forward. While this weakness is a bit exasperating, it only stands out because the film is so truthful otherwise.

You must simply overlook it, because to allow so slight a flaw to distract you from one of the most impressive American independent films of the last decade would be unconscionable.

Originally published in The Other Paper, September, 2008 

For Your Queue: 5 star 3D Docs


By Hope and George


As Werner Herzog reminded us with last year’s Cave of Forgotten Dreams, 3D has the power to redefine cinema in the hands of a truly inspired director. This time around Wim Wenders finds inspiration in iconic modern dancer/choreographer Pina Bausch. His transcendent documentary is Pina, available this week for your queue. Whether or not you have the wherewithal to see either filmmaker’s jump to the small screen in its 3D version, both are must see documentaries.

A spectacle from the word go, Pina surrounds you with the modern dance masterpieces of the deceased choreographer, cutting periodically to briefer pieces composed by Pina’s devoted dancers in honor of their departed maestro. Wenders’s camera takes you inside the dance, surrounding you in movements manifesting everything from whimsy to absurdity to joy to savage grace. His film is as adoring a tribute as you’ll find, but it also serves as a welcome initiation for many to the work of perhaps the greatest modern dance choreographer in history.

And what the heck, just make it a double feature with Herzog’s absolutely stunning look inside the Chauvet caves in France. Preserved with great care by the French government, the caves are home to the oldest pictorial art in the history of humankind.

Herzog and his film crew were granted a small window of unprecedented access to showcase the caves and their portal to a time roughly 30,000 years ago. The result almost defies description, as you not only witness art of an incredibly sophisticated nature, but hear intimate echoes of this ancient civilization.

For Your Queue: a Hot Mess and a Friendly Killer


By Hope and George


Available for rental, on demand and streaming this week is co-writer/director Lee Daniels’s hot, pulpy mess, The Paperboy.

It’s a swampy South Floriday summer in 1969 when Miami newsman Ward Janson (Matthew McConaughey) returns home to investigate the imprisonment of Mr. Hillary Van Wetter (a wildly miscast John Cusack). He’s been led to the story by Hillary’s penpal/fiancé Charlotte Bless (a fascinating Nicole Kidman), so he enlists the help of his younger brother Jack (Zac Effron), and digs in over the long, hot summer.

The Paperboy is a lurid celebration of tabloid trash. This crew of sleuths teems with sexual tensions of every sort – racially charged, homoerotic, sadomasochistic, Oedipal – you name it. There’s also some story or other, however loosely articulated, but the point is that these people are freaks and Daniels is ready to get freaky.

The film is fairly tasteless and sometimes needlessly shocking, but it is never less than fascinating, and sometimes that’s victory enough.

For a remarkably different, even charming, small town crime tale co-starring 2012’s hardest working actor McConaughey, slip Bernie into your queue.

Though McConaughey impresses with his supporting role as a small town Texas sheriff, Bernie is Jack Black’s show. From the opening scene, Black is mesmerizing in director Richard Linklater’s surprisingly sunny adaptation of a true crime story involving a local mortician (Black) charged with the murder of a wealthy widow (Shirley McLaine). Criminally underseen, Bernie is more than worth a look.