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by Holly Rouse 09.25.2013
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Turning Film Dreams into Reality

CityBeat film critic named finalist in the Big Idea Challenge

How many times have you found yourself with an idea that could change your community for the better? If you had an opportunity to make your idea a reality, would you take it?

These are two of the questions at the heart of the Greater Cincinnati Foundation’s Big Idea Challenge. The Foundation asked Cincinnati locals to submit ideas for improving their communities.

After receiving more than 200 entries, the foundation narrowed the contest down to 21 finalists in all, each with dreams of bringing education, culture, green living, wellness and thriving local business to the community.

CityBeat film critic tt stern-enzi is one such finalist. He hopes to launch WatchWriteNow, an after-school film club devoted to the development of critical thinking and creative writing skills.

“WatchWriteNow started thanks to my work as an independent contractor with Lighthouse Youth Crisis Center and a few Cincinnati Public School after-school programs,” stern-enzi writes in an email interview. “The impetus was to bring filmed content in to high school students, to let them critically discuss works that might be accessible to them in ways that subjects in the classroom might not be.”

stern-enzi hopes to improve education within the community by teaching film appreciation and the critical skills to express it in writing to local high school students. The concept is similar to an overseas program called Film Club UK, which was started by critics and filmmakers in order to bring film and critical discussion into classrooms — not just as an after-school activity but as part of the curriculum.

stern-enzi was inspired by his own high school AP English teacher, Cleve Latham, at the McCallie School for Boys in Chattanooga, Tenn.

“Mr. Latham let me talk about Blue Velvet after I saw it multiple times during its opening weekend back in 1986. To see a teacher grant that degree of respect and authority to a film, to allow an AP class to crack that ‘text’ open for analysis was the trigger for what has become not just a career path for me, but a real life's passion. And I want to be able to pay that forward for at least one of the students I encounter now.”

Now through Sept. 27, the foundation is asking the public to vote for their favorite Big Idea finalist. One winner in each category — Strong Communities, Cultural Vibrancy, Job Creation, Environmental Stewardship, Educational Success, Health & Wellness and Economic Opportunity — will be chosen based on the number of votes received.

This can't be accomplished without community involvement,” stern-enzi writes, “which is why the voting format for the challenge is so exciting. If we want projects like this as part of the Greater Cincinnati landscape, we must be prepared to support the foundational efforts to get them off the ground.”

The winners of The Big Idea Challenge have plenty of resources to make their dreams a reality.

In addition to cash prizes of $500 to $1,000, the foundation will also find a nonprofit organization to implement the seven winning ideas and provide grants of $5,000 to $50,000 to spring the ideas into action.

One of the finalists will also be selected to receive a grand prize, contributed by the members of the Foundation's governing board.

Voting for The Big Idea Challenge wraps up Friday, and winners will be announced in October.

 To cast your vote, visit bigideacincinnati.com by Friday, Sept. 27.


by Jason Gargano 08.26.2011
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Friday Movie Roundup: Horror: Hollywood's Breadwinner

I just finished reading Shock Value, Jason Zinoman's entertaining look at “how a few eccentric outsiders gave us nightmares, conquered Hollywood and invented modern horror.”

The book celebrates a genre and group of filmmakers often ghettoized when compared to the better-known New Hollywood revolution of the 1970s, a rightly celebrated period and movement — roughly between Arthur Penn's Bonnie and Clyde (1967) and Martin Scorsese's Raging Bull (1980) — that was investigated in Peter Biskind's equally entertaining Easy Riders, Raging Bulls.

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by Jason Gargano 11.26.2008
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Wednesday Movie Roundup: Turkey Shoot

The first disappointment of the holiday movie season has reared its head — Baz Luhrmann’s much-anticipated Australia fails to deliver on its high expectations. The Aussie director's long-gestating follow-up to Moulin Rouge founders despite the presence of bona-fide movie stars who can also act — fellow Aussies Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman — both whom deserve better than this well-meaning but bloated pastiche of numerous old-school genre epics.

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by Jason Gargano 10.02.2009
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Friday Movie Roundup: Fall Season Kicks In

The fall movie season gets a much-needed kick in the ass this week, as no fewer than a half-dozen worthwhile (or at least intriguing) films in a variety of genres hit movie houses.

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by Jason Gargano 08.07.2009
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Friday Movie Roundup: Goodbye, John Hughes

John Hughes, the writer and/or director of such 1980s staples as Sixteen Candles, Pretty in Pink and The Breakfast Club, died of a heart attack yesterday at age 59. That sucks for a variety of reasons, the least of which is that few filmmakers made popular entertainments with as much heart, authenticity and wit as Hughes, and fewer still did it in the largely vapid genre of teen comedy.

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by Jason Gargano 12.07.2010
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Zuckerberg Critiques 'The Social Network'

Did anyone else see baby-faced Facebook founder/CEO Mark Zuckerberg on 60 Minutes the other night? The 26-year-old multi-billionaire told interviewer Leslie Stahl that, after initially vowing that he would never see David Fincher's Facebook origin story, The Social Network, he took the entire company to check out the film the day it opened in theaters.

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by Jason Gargano 05.06.2010
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Getting Past 'The Very Worst Thing'

On the morning of Feb. 28, 1958, a school bus carrying 48 elementary and high school students ran over an embankment and plunged into the Big Sandy River in Prestonsburg, Ky. Twenty-six kids and the bus’ driver lost their lives in the crash, forever altering the small, close-knit Floyd County town’s inhabitants.

Michael Crisp’s appropriately somber documentary, The Very Worst Thing, meticulously re-creates the events surrounding the accident via vintage radio recordings and photos and modern-day interviews with people — from a survivor of the accident to those who want to keep the victims’ legacy alive — connected to that day more than 50 years ago.

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by Jason Gargano 11.14.2008
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Friday Movie Roundup: Eternal Neuorsis of Charlie Kaufman's Mind

According to The New York Times recent “Holiday Movies” calendar, 12 films are scheduled to open in New York City today. In contrast, just two new films are set play in a Cincinnati movie house: Charlie Kaufman’s Synecdoche, New York and the latest Bond flick, Quantum of Solace.

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by Jason Gargano 10.16.2009
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Friday Movie Roundup: The Curious Case of Spike Jonze

Spike Jonze is a curious case.

Born into the Spiegel mail-order catalog fortune (his given name is Adam Spiegel), the teenage Jonze found solace in the skateboard/BMX bike culture of the 1980s. A DIY-bred autodidact with an oddball sense of humor, Jonze’s filmmaking “career” kick-started with a series of crafty skateboard videos that caught the attention of the Beastie Boys, who eventually recruited him to direct their playful, refreshingly lo-fi video for 1994’s “Sabotage.”

A series of inventive music videos followed, all of which were informed by Jonze’s boundless imagination and complete indifference to the flashy, jump-cut-laden techniques that flooded other MTV fare.

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by tt stern-enzi 07.16.2014
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REVIEW: The German Doctor

Opens at Esquire Theatre Friday

It is only through an understanding of the undeniable facts of history that we can even begin to consider the evil that was Josef Mengele, the Nazi doctor who conducted the most horrific experiments on Jewish subjects during the Holocaust and then was able to elude the ensuing global manhunt for him that lasted decades. But writer-director Lucía Puenzo, in approaching one of the known episodes of his long-term flight from justice, offers a glimpse into the subtle charm (with more than a touch of real menace) of the man, which allowed him to roam the civilized world so freely.

The German Doctor finds Mengele (Àlex Brendemühl) crossing paths with an Argentinian family, and slipping through their defenses by focusing his attention on their young daughter Lilith (Florencia Bado), who develops a crush on the doctor. The family, headed by the suspicious Enzo (Diego Peretti) and his beautiful and quite pregnant wife Eva (Natalia Oreiro), is on its way to takeover the small hotel where Eva was raised.

Mengele, too, is headed to the same location and joins the family’s caravan. He immediately insinuates himself into Lilith’s good graces, speaking to her in conspiratorial fashion, treating her more as an adult than a child, which entices her rebellious nature. His interest in animal genetics piques her curiosity and leads her to ask the doctor for advice about her own physical development, since she, as a premature birth, has failed to grow and mature like her peers. Mengele gently tests, probes and measures her, offering assurances, especially to Lilith’s mother, who is worried about her current pregnancy. (And it turns out that Eva is to birth twins, which certainly intrigues Mengele and his nefarious interests in human genetics.)

All at once, Mengele uses each family member’s concerns to his advantage. Even Enzo, the most distrustful from the start, gets drawn in by Mengele, who invests in Enzo’s handcrafted doll-making enterprise, shifting the exquisite individuality and precise detail of Enzo’s efforts toward a more uniform production line approach incorporating what could have been a degree of heavy-handedness in this display of the Nazi’s master race mentality. Instead, it comes across as an example of chess-like manipulation of human nature in pursuit of an overall goal.

The seductive nature of evil is all the more powerful thanks to Bredemühl’s performance, which casts a strong dark shadow that never simply devolves into mere moustache twirling. His Mengele is all cold calculation, despite the fact that he could be mistaken for having a degree of human care and concern in him. Is he, in fact, truly infatuated with Lilith, or even Eva, for that matter? Enzo reacts out of what could be understood as jealousy for the attention Mengele shows to his wife and daughter, but again, history tells us that Mengele is all business.

This puts a certain perspective on the ability of the Third Reich to sweep a nation and much of Europe up in its fevered march toward domination and genocide. Popular culture representations hint at our curious fascination with such dark figures, but what emerges from those characterizations is a desire to remove any trace of human sensitivity or connection. Evil is best and most recognizable if there’s no way for us to miss its absence of heart and/or soul.

But could that kind of portrayal do justice to men like Mengele and Adolf Eichmann (Nazi officer and a major organizer of the Holocaust), who actively participated in such inhuman practices and escaped capture for so long, walking among us? We long to believe their lives were hellacious, in some way, as they were forced to constantly look over their shoulders while putting on a show or a mask of humanity.

The German Doctor presents a dry, yet far more likely scenario that highlights the indelible stain on all of us. Mengele is all too human, truth be told, eagerly pursuing his aims with an expansive network of support at the ready. He was not some lone predator outside the scope of civilized society, just as the Nazis weren’t a philosophical fringe group in Europe, ripping clumps of hair from their heads while foaming at the mouth; that kind of crazy we could have seen and avoided.

Think of all the evil geniuses we’ve encountered onscreen over the last 20 years. The Hannibal Lectors of film and television. The diabolical Jigsaw from the Saw franchise. Col. Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz) from Inglourious Basterds. What have they taught us? Evil ain’t crazy. Just watch (and watch out for) The German Doctor. (Opens Friday at Esquire Theatre) (R) Grade: A-