CityBeat Blogs - Movies http://www.citybeat.com/cincinnati/blogs-1-1-1-39.html <![CDATA[Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara to Shoot Movie in Cincinnati]]>

Cincinnati will serve as the backdrop for yet another film come spring 2014 as Director Todd Haynes shoots his upcoming film Carol around the city. Starring Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara, the film is based on the book (also known as The Price of Salt) by Patricia Highsmith. While Carol takes place in 1950s New York City, the entire movie will be shot in Cincinnati.

This locally filmed movie is another win for the Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky Film Commission, the organization that brought George Clooney, Ryan Gosling and other stars to Cincinnati to shoot The Ides of March in early 2011. And while #ClooneyWatch may be over now, there will be plenty of star-spotting when Carol production picks up next year. And come to think of it, #RooneyWatch has a nice ring to it…

Director Todd Haynes’ past work include 1998’s Ziggy Stardust-inspired glam Rock drama Velvet Goldmine and the 2007 Bob Dylan biopic I’m Not There — which also starred Cate Blanchett.

Highsmith’s 1952 publication was a groundbreaking piece of fiction as it deals with a lesbian romance, and the story bucked tradition in gay fiction by giving the couple a positive ending. It’s safe to say Blanchette and Mara will be portraying the lovers.

Follow GCNKFC for more updates on this and other films (including Emilio Estevez’ upcoming horse racing film Johnny Longshot, which begins shooting in Cincinnati next summer.)

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<![CDATA[REVIEW: Carrie (Now in theaters)]]>

It is impossible for fans of the classic horror film Carrie, such as myself, to not compare Kimberly Peirce’s new remake to its 1976 predecessor.

Brian De Palma made the original Carrie into a timeless, blood-filled revenge fantasy with his fresh and inspired take on the best-selling Stephen King novel. It is an iconic movie that explores the perils of religious fanaticism, the wonder of supernatural powers and the pain of high school cruelty. The original Carrie is just as heartbreaking as it is it horrifying, garnering the audience’s sympathy for the mistreated protagonist. Sissy Spacek made a damn good Carrie with her natural gaucheness and always frightened, wide-eyed gaze.

Chloe Grace Moretz, on the other hand, is — let’s face it — too cute and self-assured to be anywhere near convincing as the new Carrie. While talented, she lacks the believably awkward touch that Spacek brought to the character with both her appearance and superb acting. Additionally, one of Moretz’s most notable roles as the deadly Hit Girl from Kick Ass made it difficult for me to see her as a vulnerable victim (although it made her violent use of telekinetic powers more fitting). I continually questioned why the Carrie portrayed by Moretz was so outcasted, as she seemed normal albeit a little shy.

 

The portrayals of Carrie’s high school peers also fall flat. Chris (Portia Doubleday) is an underwhelming ringleader of bullies, not nearly as mean-spirited and malicious as in the original. In fact, her boyfriend Billy (Alex Russell) ends up running the show on tormenting Carrie come prom night, further weakening Chris’ role as a true antagonist. Sue (Gabriella Wilde) is Chris’ remorseful sidekick who has a change of heart and convinces her boyfriend, Tommy (Ansel Elgort), to take Carrie to prom.

 

She does this to make up for what happens in the infamous shower scene, during which Carrie starts her period without being aware of what is happening, fears that she is dying and gets teased by all of the other girls who throw feminine products at her and chant, “Plug it up.” The gym teacher, Miss Desjardin (Judy Greer), later lets the girls know just how rotten they are for what they did. Despite this, it is confusing as to why Sue would turn her back on Chris and forgo prom, something so important to her, due to the film not delving far enough into Sue’s personality or guilt.

Julianne Moore gives the only redeeming performance as Carrie’s mother, Margaret. With her unkempt hair and self-inflicted harm, she portrays a compelling religious zealot, tortured by her misguided ideology. Her abuse toward Carrie — slapping her and repeatedly forcing her into the prayer closet — is effectively disturbing. The added opening scene (Spoiler Alert) with her giving birth to Carrie and attempting to murder the newborn provides the audience with more of a background on her character than does the original. She cogently delivers the well-known and heartbreaking line, “They’re all gonna laugh at you,” foreshadowing the soon-to-be telekinetic massacre at Carrie’s helm.

I might have liked Carrie had I not seen the original, as the story stays true to the previous film and is still a haunting tale of abuse and its consequences. The movie is filled with clever religious imagery and is visually pleasing, especially during the massacre scene. However, the ill-fitted cast and lack of ingenuity on the director’s part ultimately disappointed me. While the new Carrie may seem like a fun and appropriate movie to watch with Halloween around the corner, it’s hardly worth the ten dollars it costs to see in theaters. Plus, the 1976 version is currently available on Netflix so there really is no excuse to miss out on the sheer brilliance of the original. Grade: C-

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<![CDATA[Turning Film Dreams into Reality]]>

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.

 

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<![CDATA[Not Just the Stories, But How and Why We Tell Them]]>

 There is a story embedded in this review. Maybe, in fact, this isn’t a film review at all, just a story, several stories, like little assignations – drawing a reference there to a Joyce Carol Oates collection of short stories that triggered in me a desire, for the first time in my adult life right after college, to pick up the proverbial pen and write. The Assignation assembled pieces that were brief, sometime no more than a paragraph long, but even the shortest of the shorts told so much, too much about their subjects.

And that is what Sarah Polley, the Canadian actress and now writer-director, whose documentary Stories We Tell is ostensibly the focus or subject here, has done; she has spun the most amazing and haunting of stories about (and with the assistance of) her family and a secret that had remained unspoken for so long among them. It seems Polley’s mother Diane, an actress and later a casting director in Toronto, married Michael Polley, an actor and writer, had three children – Sarah being the third – but this bright and passionate woman found herself seeking a love that matched her own. Failing to do so within her marriage, she stumbled headlong into an affair, while working on a play in Montreal, which produced Sarah.

Diane and Michael resumed marriage life after the end of the show and raised Sarah together until Diane’s early death in the late 1980s. Sarah was approximately 11 years old and left to grow up in the loving comfort of Michael Polley, but thanks to a series of family jokes about her parentage, Sarah, began a quest to discover the truth about her father. Stories We Tell, built on the framework of frank interviews with her siblings and Michael, along with extended family, friends, and fellow artists from those early days, captures her telling of this story of the surprising revelation and its impact on everyone involved.

What is the story, her story, but a collection of memories, fragmented perspectives on the truth? It is a thing of intriguing beauty to watch unfold, raw and honest, but always, in every moment, calling into question, the notion, the very idea of truth. What is the truth?

No one lies; they tell what they can, from their point of view, but the truth, as we find out, is not something that one person can know, not without being privy to all other points of view. And when we tell our own stories, we are never as truthful as we might hope or desire.

But what Sarah has done is wrestle with the impossible. Her aim was to corral as many angles as possible, to tell the truth – the whole truth and nothing but. Although for all her effort, Stories We Tell falls short, in two ways.

We discover, along with Sarah, who her biological father is beyond a shadow of a doubt (thanks to DNA testing), and she works in not only his perspective but also that of his daughter from another relationship – another half-sister for Sarah who already has half siblings (a brother and sister) from Diane’s marriage prior to her union with Michael as well as another half-brother & sister set from Michael. It is all rather confusing to document here, but the film grants each one of them their own time to speak and breath as more than mere characters before us.

But we never hear from Diane. She is the hole at the center of things, the voiceless presence that looms large, so large that the film nearly tricks us into believing that we have heard from her. We want to and our desire is so strong that we, along with Sarah maybe, convince ourselves that we have her from her. There are so many images – photos and video – of Diane that dance before us and tease us with thousands of unspoken words.

And in the same way, it could be argued that we never get Sarah’s real story either. Her meticulous focus on gathering so much from so many allows her to disappear. I don’t believe that was her intention, but still, it is the result.

How do we tell our own stories?

I have returned, again and again, to a quote from Roger Ebert’s memoir Life, Itself, which I picked up about six months ago and read before his death. Speaking of advice he received once he took on the assignment of covering film, by way of Esquire critic Dwight McDonald and Pauline Kael: “I go into the movie, I watch it, and I ask myself what happened to me.”

What happened to me, while watching Stories We Tell?

I found it difficult to separate from the story, which for me, was a focus on fathers and fatherhood. Like Sarah Polley, I grew up without knowing my biological father. That’s not quite true. Unlike Sarah, I knew who he was, but he wasn’t involved in my life and there were periods when I considered seeking him out. There have always been people close to me who knew where he was and would have assisted me in the search, but I always found reasons to back away from the quest.

At one point, I hatched a plan. I started a novel about the experience of finding him. My fictional telling was rooted in the idea of creating him from the snippets of anecdotes and traits I had been told over the years. Once the book was completed, I would track him down and compare notes, see how close I had come to realizing him on the page. I got about 13 chapters and pages and pages of notes into the project, but set it aside. That was almost 20 years ago and for the life of me, I’m not sure what put me off that time.

Two years ago, I finally accomplished the mission, driving down to North Carolina for a meeting, which lasted all of 30 minutes. He told his story, as best he could, in a breathless rush that led me to believe that he realized this would be our only meeting face-to-face. I sat and listened. I stared into his face. And now, as I sit here relaying the story, there’s not much to tell. I don’t remember much of what he looked like. I can’t say that I found myself in any of his features. I do remember him saying that God brought me to him. He said it several times, but the truth, my truth at least, is that God had nothing to do with it. I came, I saw, and I returned to the only story that mattered.

This story was originally published on tt stern-enzi's blog, here.

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<![CDATA[Roger Ebert Will Live on When the Lights Dim]]>

What can I say about a man I never met, but who had been part of my life for decades? I, seemingly like a whole generation of film fans, watched Siskel and Ebert back in the 1980s, and then graduated to reading his reviews in the Chicago Sun-Times during my college years. Every Friday morning, I made my sojourn to the Annenberg School of Communications  library and collected the Sun-Times, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Village Voice, and Variety so that I could prepare for the weekend’s new releases. I didn’t always go to the movies, but I wanted to know what the critics thought, which meant I wanted to know, first and foremost, what Ebert thought. I didn’t always agree with him – many times, in fact, I was flummoxed by his wrongheadedness – but reading his take was a necessary and very personal prequel to the filmgoing experience.

I’ve been a working critic now for almost 13 years, and for the last seven I’ve also taught film review and feature writing classes at the University of Cincinnati. I never imagined I would be working in the same field as Ebert, even while I was taking undergraduate level class that examined film as text. I simply loved movies. Always have and always will. I know that last part will be the case thanks to Ebert. His love of the movies evolved as the form and critical analysis experienced their own growing pains. He made us all critics, by opening up an exchange that now, thanks to the Internet, has a global forum. What has been most inspiring about his work and approach over the last decade is his willingness to embrace technology as a means of broadcasting that very singular voice of his, overflowing with knowledge, but also immediately accessible. His sense of the need for accessibility is the greatest and most lasting impact he will have on criticism. It is what can and should continue to guide the would-be critics to come – the next generation of bloggers, tweeters, and those adherents to whatever is to come.

More established critics and writers have stories about meeting Ebert, spending time in his presence, what have you. My remembrance of the man is different. I’m one of those Johnny-come-lately types who “knew” him from afar. I’ve attended the Toronto International Film Festival for the last four or five years, and I recall, my first Ebert-sighting, about three year back. He and his wife were ahead of me on the escalator at the downtown multiplex space that serves as the main screening hub. They were engaged with others, talking very likely about the upcoming screening or maybe he was thinking about the Twitter event he was scheduled to host. Whatever was the case, there he was, despite all those years of globetrotting and a dizzying collection of screenings, still so full of life and joy for the festival experience. I didn’t need to speak with him or even be near him. Just to know he was there, doing his thing, seeing movies, helping us to engage with them by any means necessary, was more than enough. I looked for him each year after that and was always glad when I spotted him. I’ll likely do the same thing this year and I won’t be surprised if my mind plays a little trick on me and I convince myself that I’ve seen him again, roaming about Toronto somewhere.

He’ll be there, somewhere in the dark, like always.

This story was originally published on tt stern-enzi's blog, here.

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<![CDATA['The Avengers' Hits All The Right Notes]]> If you haven’t gone to the theater to see The Avengers yet, you should go this weekend. On second thought, you should go now — just wait until you’re done reading this.

As a long time Thor fan, this movie has been on my calendar for months. Going into The Avengers I was excited but tried to keep my expectations from getting out of control. Fortunately, I didn’t need to do that because the movie is that good. A lot of that credit has to go to writer/director Joss Whedon. Some of you might recognize the name because he created the television shows Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly.

The movie could have fallen apart from the beginning with so many big characters — both figurative and literally speaking — on screen at once. With Iron Man, Thor, Captain America and Hulk taking part in the story, any number of things could have gone wrong. Characters could have been underutilized — having four strong stand alone characters could have made them feel not like a team at all — but in the span of just a few hours, Whedon and company have created a giant leap for comic book fans and movies.

Whedon was the right person for the job because, based on his past work, he knows how to generate great characterization and interaction. He knows how to tell a story through the characters and not through the special effects, which was needed in a situation like this. Whedon, the other writers and the actors were able to make these comic book characters more human, so to speak.

The interactions between Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Bruce Banner/Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) were some of the best moments in the movie. Some of my favorites were Stark poking Banner to see if he will Hulk up, Thor giving a great one-liner about his brother Loki and Stark verbally sparing with Loki toward the end of the movie.

The story is simple enough: Loki (Tom Hiddleston) wants to take over and rule Earth and the Avengers have to stop him. The major battle doesn’t take place until the end of the movie, but then again it does take up the final 30 minutes or so.

With Loki as the main villain in the movie it helps to have seen last year’s Thor. It isn’t a must to but it does help set up the relationship between Thor and Loki. Watching all of the individual movies helps with understanding some of the character traits in The Avengers, though the last the two Hulk films don’t really do much for the character except see him smash through tanks and cities.

While Iron Man, Thor, Captain America and Hulk are the main heroes, there is a strong supporting cast around them. Scarlett Johansson is Agent Romanoff/Black Widow and Jeremy Renner is Agent Barton/Hawkeye, both agents for S.H.I.E.L.D. Clark Gregg returns as S.H.I.E.L.D agent Phil Coulson, and How I Met Your Mother star Cobie Smulders is Agent Hill. The guy who brings all of these characters together is Nick Furry, played by Samuel L. Jackson.

Tom Hiddleston is terrific as Loki. He is sinister, brutal and devious — after all, he is the Norse god of mischief, deceit and lies. I hope he returns in some fashion in the next Thor movie or the next Avengers. Robert Downey Jr. is back to his witty, sarcastic ways and he has some of the best lines in the movie. Mark Ruffalo is able to finally bring some credit to the Bruce Banner/Hulk character.

The Avengers is a great way to kick off the summer movie season. It combines wonderful action sequences, well done comedy and heartfelt drama in the span of 142 minutes. Whedon was a perfect fit for this movie because he understands character and doesn’t rely on flashy explosions like some directors. If you like flashy explosions there are a decent amount in The Avengers but there is also some of the best character development/interaction I’ve seen in a Marvel movie.

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<![CDATA[Marvel Hulk Smashes the Competition with 'The Avengers']]> This week is a busy one for comic book movies. With The Avengers opening up today, all the attention has been on Marvel Comics. But, not to be outdone, DC Comics and Warner Bros. released a new trailer to The Dark Knight Rises. On top of that, it is Free Comic Book Day on Saturday.

The new trailer for the next Batman movie is two minutes of pure excitement for fans of the Christopher Nolan trilogy. The Dark Knight Rises will be the last in the Nolan trilogy, and by judging from how the stakes were continuously raised on Gotham City in his first two films, this one should be a beautiful ending to Bruce Wayne’s Batman. That is, until someone else gets a hold of the cash cow franchise.

[Read tt stern-enzi's take on The Avengers here.]

Despite releasing the trailer, DC is taking a back seat to Marvel. For years Marvel has had better movies than DC, with the exception of Nolan’s Batman, and recently the former has had a string of successful hits. This past year along saw Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger, two widely popular characters that Marvel needed to establish before going ahead with The Avengers.

DC has tried to branch out from Batman and Superman, but most of their efforts have resulted in ridiculed movies. The last Superman movie was terrible, but a new one is still in the works. Last year Green Lantern came out to mixed emotions from fans. Ryan Reynolds was surprisingly good; it was everything else that fell short in the movie. Weak villains and missed opportunities were the downfall of Green Lantern, but that is a whole other story. I will say that it was a decent attempt to start the push toward a Justice League movie.

In a way, Marvel wins the movie race because they are the first to release a movie based on their group of high profile characters. According to MovieTickets.com the pre-sale ticket numbers suggest that this movie is going to be bigger than the two Iron Man movies, Thor and Captain America. With sequels in line for the Captain, Thor and Iron Man, Marvel is going to be sitting pretty for the next few years.

This summer is going to be a great one for comic book fans. Not only is The Avengers opening up the summer blockbuster season, but The Dark Knight Rises releases July 20 and The Amazing Spider-Man on July 3. The third Men in Black movie comes out in a few weeks on May 25.

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<![CDATA['Jeff, Who Lives at Home' Saved Me from the 'Stooges']]> So I recently tried to force myself to buy a ticket to The Three Stooges, but in the end my better judgment prevailed. Standing at the box office trying to convince myself that the Stooges wouldn’t be that bad was a near impossible task. There are just so many things wrong with the Stooges movie — mainly that there is one out there and the fact The Jersey Shore cast fist pumped its way into the plot. In the end I kept myself from the train wreck and saw the Jason Segel film, Jeff, Who Lives at Home.

If you haven’t heard of Jeff, Who Lives at Home that's probably because it wasn’t widely advertised and only saw a limited release in theaters. It was a stroke of luck that the AMC at Newport on the Levee was showing it that night, or, as Jeff would put it, “a sign."

Segel plays Jeff, a thirtysomething man living in his mom’s basement. The film starts like a stoner comedy with Jeff sitting on the couch watching infomercials while smoking weed. We are introduced to his belief that everything is connected somehow like in the 2002 M. Night Shyamalan movie Signs. A simple wrong number phone call leads Jeff into an eventful day.

Ed Helms plays Jeff’s older brother, Pat. Helms is a little out of his wheelhouse here, playing an all-around jerk who is trying too hard to be a successful guy, but he pulls it off nicely. Jeff and Pat don’t get along but through series of synchronistic events end up helping one another.

Susan Sarandon plays Sharon, Jeff and Pat’s mom. There is a subplot involving a secret admirer that gives the audience a break from the two brothers. But every character seems to come together randomly at the climax on a stretch of highway.

Jason Segel tends to play lovable characters that a good number of people can relate to. Jeff isn’t any different. Sporting unkempt hair, a scruffy five o’clock shadow and an old hoodie through the majority of the movie, Jeff is a guy you could find walking down the street right now, although maybe not as big — Pat calls him sasquatch at one point.

The same can said about each of the main characters, really. Mothers are upset with their children for lying around not doing anything, while husbands make stupid decisions like buy expensive sports cars without talking it over with their wives — Pat buys a Porsche in the early going of the movie.

This was the first Indie-type film that I have seen in a theater and I was impressed. This was also the first Duplass brothers movie I’ve seen. Their last film, Cyrus, featured a son way too attached to his mother and had the same charm that Jeff, Who Lives at Home does.

Jeff, Who Lives at Home is a man-boy comedy but it feels more real than others in the category. Maybe it is the close up camera work or down-to-earth characters; either way Jeff, Who Lives at Home is a breath of fresh air amidst the spring time blockbusters.
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<![CDATA[Movies In Question: 'The Raven' and 'Stooges']]> When I first saw the trailer to the upcoming John Cusack movie The Raven I wasn't quite sure what to think. At first, I was excited because it is a movie based on Edgar Allan Poe’s work, but I'm still skeptical. The English major side of me jumped for joy (but then remembered he was an English major and went back to brooding).


Everything was fine until John Cusack walked in from the shadows. Don't get me wrong, his movies are some of my favorites and I love his work, but Cusack playing Poe is a strange combination. Maybe they wanted to have the same dark character they saw in Identity. There are a few people that I could see playing Poe. Off the top of my head, Sam Rockwell, Edward Norton and Gary Oldman are three guys who could pull off the dark character that Poe was. At least Cusack resembles Poe in the movie.

Maybe it is just the trailer that turns me off to Cusack filling the boots of the late American poet. In it, Cusack’s delivery is dry and stiff. I don’t feel any kind mystery that surrounds Poe. Some of his writings are real disturbing when looked at closely, but with Cusack the character appears to be deflated. I guess this hesitation comes from Poe being one of my favorite writers. For all I know, the trailers don’t do the movie justice, which I hope is the case. Cusack is known for his obscure roles and disturbed characters, so this is probably a perfect fit.

The premise for the film has been done before, but since it's Edgar Allan Poe it gives the movie somewhat of a different angle. Some man is committing murders based on stories written by Poe, and then Poe has to figure out who the murderer is with the help of Detective Fields played by Luke Evans. If you're worrying about spoilers, don't be — all of that is in the trailer. I think I know who the murderer is already, but it’s Hollywood so anything can happen.

Movies based off of literature are good as long as they keep true to the source material. It will be interesting to see what happens with The Raven. It feels like a mixture of the Sherlock Holmes movies and the Johnny Depp picture From Hell. We will all find out on April 27.

Another movie is being released today and me torn as to whether to watch it or not. The idea of a The Three Stooges film has bounced around for years, but now it has finally limped its way to the screen. Leave it to Hollywood to take a beloved comedic classic like the Stooges and churn out a mediocre-looking movie.


There have been many names were attached to this project, including Jim Carrey, Justin Timberlake, Andy Samberg and Paul Giamatti. Actually filling the shoes of the Stooges are Sean Hayes as Larry, Will Sasso as Curly and Chris Diamantopoulos as Moe. To me the only choice that makes sense is Sasso because he made a name for himself with physical comedy on Mad TV.

I’m surprised this is actually a movie, because it just looks horrible. I don’t want to watch it but I probably will end up in the theater because the original Stooges are a great gift to slapstick comedy — I’ll even give Curly’s replacement Shemp a nod and say he wasn’t that bad, either. But any movie that incorporates the Jersey Shore should just go straight to DVD.

The tagline for the movie is “Just say Moe” but someone should have told the Farrelly brothers to just say no. They are known for great comedies like Kingpin, There’s Something About Mary and Me, Myself & Irene, but their trek into classic slapstick comedy appears to be anything but. As much of a fan as I am of the Stooges I hope I'm wrong with this one, and that at least Will Sasso is just as good as he was on Mad TV.

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<![CDATA[The '80s and '90s Called; They Want Their Movies Back]]>

Movies that populated theaters in the '80s and '90s are making a comeback. Some are better than others but since there is a built-in audience, Hollywood is cranking out remakes and reboots left and right.

This practice has been done for years but recently more movies than ever have been redone. March brought 21 Jump Street with skinny Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum. The buddy cop movie was actually funny and has made more than $90 million so far.

Other notable remakes over the last few years include Fright Night, Conan the Barbarian, Karate Kid, Clash of the Titans, Footloose, Nightmare on Elm Street, Wall Street, Arthur and Die Hard. Out of the nine mentioned, only Fright Night and Die Hard were actually enjoyable (in my opinion).

The worst out of the bunch had to be Clash of the Titans. Cheesy acting and bad 3D effects plagued this Sam Worthington CGI-fest. Worthington did a better job in the ads for the Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 video game.

Now an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie is getting another look, and thank goodness it isn’t Junior.

The first trailer for a new Total Recall was released Sunday. No, this isn’t a late April Fool’s joke. The remake to the 1990 Schwarzenegger movie is a real thing, and fans of not only the original but of science fiction in general should be giddy with anticipation.

The remake stars Colin Farrell, coming off of his performance from the 1980s vampire remake Fright Night, with Kate Beckinsale and Jessica Biel taking roles of eye candy. Will there be another three-breasted woman? Fans of the original can only hope. AMC’s Breaking Bad star Bryan Cranston plays the bad guy. The cast alone gives a lot more credit to this remake than most.


We will all have to wait to actually watch the thing to figure out if it’s worthy enough to be considered a decent remake.

In other movie news, the next American Pie installment hits theaters today. To me, this is going to be a paycheck movie. Meaning, the original cast of characters is only returning because they haven’t been in anything major in the last few years. Well, for the exception of Allison Hannigan who has been on the long running show How I Met Your Mother. Expect a lot of dick and sex jokes, which is essentially what the first movie was, but now the cast is much older.

The original American Pie was released in 1999 and was seen as a fresh take on the high school sex comedy. The second added on to that with more outlandish situations — like mixing up lube with super glue. American Wedding was thought to be the ending to Stifler and the gang’s stories compared to the first and second, it was somewhat of a letdown. Then came the straight-to-DVD American Pie Presents movies. I will admit, though, American Pie Beta House was a hilarious college comedy; women might not want to watch because it focuses on a misbehaving fraternity.

Squeezing film stars for as much money as possible is the norm nowadays with movie franchises – just look at Pirates of Caribbean. Maybe I am jumping to conclusions with American Reunion, but the pie lost its flavor a long time ago.

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<![CDATA[Worth the Hype: A Look at 'The Hunger Games']]> When I go see a movie, it better be a great one — at least a good one so that I didn’t waste an evening. Being in my final year of college I don’t exactly have all the time I want to go out to the theater. There have been numerous movies that are already out on DVD that I missed out on seeing on the big screen, the most recent example being The Rum Diary.

There is another reason that I visit the theater maybe two or three times a year, and that is the price of tickets. My student status means what little money I have goes to more important needs. Going to see a movie should be an enjoyable event not a troublesome occasion that breaks your bank account. Tickets, dinner and movie snacks can get incredibly expensive which is why I’m glad there was still a little tax return money left when I went to see The Hunger Games. I know this is a little late in regards to the movie’s release, but better late than never.

Going into the movie I had not read any of the books. I know that is sacrilegious in some circles — even the English major in me was furious. But I am not here to talk about the book, even though I did subsequently pick it up, so that could happen in a few days.

With that being said, I didn’t have any preconceived notions of the story, characters or setting. In some cases that is the best way to be introduced to a series. With a clean slate, that allows little room for disappointment. The only thing that I was really disappointed about was the use of the shaky camera, mainly in the opening and final scenes in the arena. Apparently director Gary Ross felt that using shaky cam work would help give a better portrayal of Katniss Everdeen’s point of view and gave a sense of urgency to the movie. My only advice is that if you get motion sickness, be careful with this one.

At risk of sounding cheesy, everything else about the movie was great. Jennifer Lawrence did an excellent job of being the badass Katniss is. Woody Harrelson kept his string of great roles going; in some scenes he stole the light away from Lawrence and company — at least in my eyes. Maybe I’m just too big a fan of Zombieland.

There was one thing that went unnoticed though. Peeta, played by Union, Ky., native Josh Hutcherson, turned into a wimp in the arena. A big deal was made of how much weight he could throw around, even showing him picking up a spiked metal ball and hurling it across the room. I was expecting him to throw a heavy boulder at someone Braveheart-style. Instead, we were shown that he all he could do was camouflage himself to look like a rock. At least in the book he killed someone.

The only bad part of The Hunger Games was having to sit through a trailer for the final Twilight movie. That whole series is like watching pieces of wood trying to act. There have been comparisons of the two book/film series but there is one difference between them: The Hunger Games is actually good.

The Twilight books are horribly written ­— I wasn’t able to get more than 20 pages into the first one before I had to stop — the English major in me came out again, rejoicing like the Wicked Witch was dead. Then the Twilight movies completely destroyed every bit of vampire lore ever created. Vampires don’t sparkle and they can’t go out in the sun. I guess I don’t get the appeal of Twilight because I’m not a teenage girl. The choice of actors/actresses was strange as well, mainly because they give the same performance in each movie they are in. Check out Taylor Lautner’s terrible action movie Abduction for a piece of wood with abs’ best impression of acting. With that, I think I need to stop with the Twilight comments before it gets out of hand.

Though I picked up the Hunger Games book after I watched the movie, I can now say the filmmakers stayed true to the source material. There have been other movies with the same concept of a group of people fighting to death — The Running Man, Battle Royale and The Condemned are only a few. The story has been done before but it still manages to stay fresh. I’ve been going on and on, go see the movie for yourself or better yet read the book, it would only take a day or so to get through it.

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<![CDATA[Oscars Give Short Shrift to Foreign, Documentary Categories]]>

Now that Sunday night’s Oscars are over, the Internet is full of catty stories and tweets parsing every last second of televised coverage, from Angelina Jolie’s exposed leg to Adam Sandler’s participation in a taped segment in which actors discussed why they love movies. (If he really loved movies, he’d stop making them, some have said.)

It’s both understandable and sad that the Oscars — and movie-award season in general — ends like this, with far more interest in the telecast’s trivia than in the movies that win awards. Arguably, the news value of this year’s show peaked before it even officially started, when Sacha Baron Cohen, in costume as “The Dictator” for an upcoming movie, spilled an urn of faux human ashes (ostensibly Kim Jong-il’s) on interviewer Ryan Seacrest.

It’s getting worse, too, now that the Internet and 200+-channel cable television have educated us ad nauseam to the nature and inner workings of the Oscar campaign season. We carefully learn how a film builds momentum by moving through all the secondary award ceremonies from critics groups and the Hollywood professional guilds and associations.

As a result, the Academy Awards themselves have become anticlimactic, which partially explains the media devotion to dissecting the telecast. And the attempts by the Motion Picture Academy to build false enthusiasm by allowing up to ten Best Picture nominees have been a disaster, since we all now know how to “read” the   nominations to distinguish the real ones (they also have Best Director nods) from the padding. Not all that long ago, few outside Hollywood insiders even knew there was a well-orchestrated “campaign season,” much less how to follow and handicap it.

Convention wisdom, and you hear a lot of it these days, would be to revive the Oscar telecast by de-emphasizing the importance of the awards, themselves. Reduce the number given out on TV, especially the more esoteric or niche ones, in favor of increasing the glitz, spectacle, star power and big production numbers. Do like the Grammys have done, where classical, jazz, folk, blues, opera, international and more are rarely ever presented on the show.

But I think the Academy should go the other way and try to increase public awareness of the importance of Oscar nominations. But maybe not for the Big Four categories – Best Picture, Director, Actor and Actress, which probably do suffer from overexposure by the time the telecast comes around (although The Artist, this year’s big winner, could use the help since many people have been scared off by the fact it’s a black-and-white silent film).

Click the jump for more on ways the Academy could draw more attention to deserving films such as A Separation, In Darkness, Footnote and Bullhead.  ---

In particular, there should be more attention given to two categories that get a short shrift on the telecast, yet for which Oscar nominations are vital – Best Foreign Language Film and Best Documentary. It would even be a good idea for the Academy to launch a second telecast, on cable, devoted just to introducing these nominees to the public. (The awards could still be given on the main program, and Foreign and Documentary films could still be eligible for the major awards, too.)

Why? First of all, foreign-language films and documentaries are feature-length movies, just like The Artist (which actually was a French movie) or The Descendents. As such, they’re trying to get into theaters and be seen, just like those films. Further, as anyone who really likes movies can tell you, they are often the best feature-length movies out there because they explore subjects that Hollywood overlooks and take risks that scare Hollywood. 

Yet, because they rarely if ever have the studio marketing/distribution clout to get into wide national release, they struggle in the marketplace. They even struggle to attract the attention of those who are predisposed to like artier or so-called independent films. Occasionally, a political celebrity like Michael Moore or Al Gore can break through with a documentary, or a foreign-language film like Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon can combine enough action with artfulness to become a hit. But too often, they don't get the attention they deserve. one of this year's foreign-language nominees, Belgium's tough, harrowing Bullhead, quietly opened at the Esquire last week and I wonder how many people know that much about it. Several of this year’s Best Documentary nominees — Hell and Back Again, If a Tree Fell, Paradise Lost 3 — tell riveting stories about the contemporary American experience but didn’t even get widespread theatrical distribution. The winner, Daniel Lindsay and T.J. Martin’s Undefeated, about a struggling Memphis high-school football team, will get a push because it won the Oscar. (The other nominee, Wim Wender’s 3-D look at an avant-garde German dance troupe, Pina, is currently at the Mariemont.)

Distributors often don’t try to really market a documentary or foreign-language film until after the Oscars are over – that’s how dependent they are on an award. So it’d be nice if a second, special Academy’s Oscar telecast gave them more time to introduce and explain themselves.

It could introduce the nominees in depth, show clips from them, offer interviews with the principals and – in the case of the foreign-language nominees – offer insight into the filmmaking industry in their home countries. As for star power, I would bet Hollywood’s top stars and directors would be willing to introduce the segments – heck, Terrence Malick and Woody Allen probably would show up for such a good cause.

Among other things, a show could explain the confusing process by which documentaries and foreign-language films become eligible for Oscar nominations. Maybe the more the public learns about that, the more it will suggest changes. (Why should only foreign-language films officially nominated by their countries be eligible, for instance?)

This is also important because these categories are exciting. The foreign-language one, in particular, is like a mini-United Nations. For those who follow these movies, one of the most meaningful moments at the Oscars occurred when A Separation, written and directed by Iranian director Asghar Farhadi, won for Best Foreign Language Film. It’s the first Iranian film to win in this category and opens Friday at the Esquire.

Framed as a thriller, this very contemporary movie about a marriage in trouble daringly, carefully asks questions about the role of women in a male-dominated, religious-dominated society. And Farhadi’s acceptance speech, while hard to understand since English isn’t his primary language, seemed to be a call for understanding, peace and cultural tolerance, as well as to ask that we all separate politics from the social/cultural realm. It seemed to be directed at Iranian authorities as much as anyone else, and the New York Times said the Iranian news agencies had trouble reporting it in a way that would curry its government’s favor. And indeed, the Iranian government has spun the win as a victory over Israel.

That’s because one of the other finalists, Joseph Cedar’s Footnote, also a family drama, is an Israeli film. The Academy on Saturday sponsored an annual symposium for its foreign-film nominees, and it was something that Farhadi would dare appear at the event with Cedar. (He still had to be careful about seeming to be too friendly to him.) Further, one Jewish website (www.jta.org) reported that Farhadi backstage at the Oscars praised the director of another foreign-language nominee — Agnieszka Holland’s Polish drama In Darkness, about Jews hiding from Nazis in Lvov, Poland, during the Holocaust. If true that’s pretty gutsy for him, considering Iran’s political leadership denies the Holocaust happened.

This is exciting, relevant stuff — certainly more substantial than whatever a costumed Cohen does to Ryan Seacrest on the red carpet. But why can’t the Academy do more to let the television-watching public in on the stories behind these films. And if that helps A Separation, In Darkness, Footnote, Bullhead or the fifth nominee, Canada’s Monsieur Lazhar (about an Algerian refugee in Montreal) attract a bigger audience as they start to “go wide” theatrically, we’re all better for it.

And, who knows, if it works for the Oscars, maybe the Grammys can follow suit and have a separate telecast for some of the musical categories it’s now abandoned on its main show.

To read more work by Steven Rosen, visit www.stevenrosenwriter.com.

 

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<![CDATA[Clooney Gives Local Shout-outs on Bravo]]> George Clooney was featured on Inside the Actor's Studio with James Lipton Tuesday night. The local hero talked about growing up in Kentucky, making it in Los Angeles and many of his famed performances on the oft-spoofed show.

There were plenty of local mentions throughout the interview. Clooney briefly talked about his time at Augusta High School, where he played basketball (he claimed that the team was 1-25 his senior year) and was generally a great student. Just like myself growing up, every student who got As at his school received Reds tickets. Gotta love that Carl Lindner.---

"They only reason we got As," he said, "was to see the Reds." When asked where he originally went to college, George replied "Northern Kentucky University," and mimicked a roar from the audience. He also spent some time at the University of Cincinnati, but didn't graduate. During this time he worked in tobacco fields in Kentucky for $3.30/hour to make money to get to L.A.

Clooney went on to offer humorous and interesting tidbits about his major films. He joked about his experience as Batman, saying the bodysuit's nipples were surprising.

According to Clooney, many themes in The Ides of March, shot locally last year, were based off things he learned from his father, who ran for congress in 2004. Though the film had a $12.5 million budget, Clooney humbly admitted that because he does commercials overseas he never has to worry about profiting off the movies he loves to make.

Lipton also asked Clooney about his extensive humanitarian work, specifically in Sudan. Clooney asked, "Why can I Google Earth my house but not where people are getting killed?" Thanks to $3 million/year from George, there are now satellites in Sudan. With the help of this surveillance, proof of assault preparations, mass graves, war criminals and more evidence against war criminals have been discovered. All this and he's super hot.

It wouldn't be Actor's Studio without Lipton's standard quick-fire questions. When asked what profession he'd like to attempt, Clooney said journalism. What job would he least want to learn? Proctology.

Clooney is nominated for an Oscar for his performance in The Descendants and for his adapted screenplay for The Ides of March. The Descendants is also nominated for Best Picture. The Awards show is Sunday, Feb. 26. Go here to check out clips from the interview.

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<![CDATA[Know Theatre Screens Sundance Documentary Tonight]]> There's been a lot chatter in the vast, ever-opinionated movie blogosphere about the 2012 Sundance Film Festival's recently unveiled slate of films. Locally, the inclusion of Cincinnati native Todd Louiso's third directorial feature, Hello I Must Be Going, in the U.S. Dramatic competition is the most intriguing development.

But there's also another noteworthy local Sundance connection this week: Know Theatre is giving a 2011 Sundance film its Cincinnati premiere with a one-time screening 7 p.m. tonight (Dec. 7) in its space at 1120 Jackson St. in Over-the-Rhine. (Tickets are $10.) ---

Jennifer Siebel Newsom's call-to-arms documentary, Miss Representation, dissects how the portrayal of women in mainstream media impacts perceptions and often minimizes their ability to be taken seriously in positions of power — most recently represented by the often condescending or demeaning ways high-profile female politicians like Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi, Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann are treated. Or, as one female high school student in the film succinctly says about what dominants the conversation, “It's all about the body and not about the brain.”

Newsom weaves her own personal story as an ambitious woman — from her days as a successful scholar and athlete to the challenges of her acting career to having a baby — with a broader cultural lens, presenting a wide spectrum of talking heads who testify about the ways in which media, especially television and magazine advertising, influence how women are conditioned to think less of themselves and their place in society. And while Miss Representation throws out an avalanche of statistics to support its notion that women are selling themselves short, the film's most incisive moments arrive when numerous high school students, both male and female, talk about changing things in the future.

The Miss Representation screening also represents the unveiling of Know's “fancy movie screen and full sound system.” Which begs the question: Could this also be the start of a new, much-needed venue for smaller films that might otherwise bypass Cincinnati? Let's hope so.



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<![CDATA[Friday Movie Roundup: Sundance Lineup Edition]]> I haven't done an exhaustive study, but it seems for the first time since I've been writing the words that appear in this space, there are no new movies opening in theaters this week. Zero.

But that's not to say there aren't plenty of worthwhile options currently residing in local theaters.

As I pointed out last week, there have been an uncommon number of strong movies released of late, including four last week: The Descendants, Hugo, The Muppets and My Week with Marilyn. That quartet follows the recently released Martha Marcy May Marlene and Like Crazy, which means a half-dozen movies in the last three weeks have garnered an A- or better from CityBeat's typically stingy crew of critics.---

So, believe it or not, now is not the time to be bitching about the lack of fruitful cinematic options (hell, I still haven't seen MMMM or Hugo).

In other movie news, the Sundance Film Festival announced its 2012 competition films this week. The festival will feature 110 full-length features (culled from 4,042 submissions) representing 31 different countries. Eighty-eight will be world premieres.

John Cooper — who took over as director of the festival in 2010, and who has attempted to move Sundance away from its more overblown elements of recent years and back to its indie roots — is, despite various challenges, enthusiastic about this year's slate.

In these challenging economic times, filmmakers have had to be more resourceful and truly independent in their approaches to filmmaking,” Cooper says. “Looking at this year’s submissions, the result is more fully realized visions and stronger stories; we are proud to see the Festival emerging as a key indicator of the health and creativity of our filmmaking community. The overall quality of the films in the 2012 Competition section will make for an exciting Festival and a remarkable year ahead for independent film audiences everywhere.”

If last year's offerings are any indication, he's not just blowing smoke. Check this list of 2010 competition films, all of which had some sort of Cincinnati release: Another Earth, Higher Ground, Martha Marcy May Marlene, Like Crazy, Take Shelter, Terri, Beats, Rhymes and Life, Buck and Page One: A Year Inside the New York Times. Then there were the myriad out-of-competition films that made their way to our often-neglected Midwestern market: The Guard, Cedar Rapids, The Devil's Double, Project Nim, Senna, Margin Call, My Idiot Brother, Red State, Win Win and The Interrupters. That's a pretty impressive output for any festival, let alone one whose reputation is supposedly diminished.

As usual, the competition films will feature a number of first-time directors (26, to be exact) scattered amid more familiar faces (actor-turned-director Mark Webber, Kirby Dick, Ira Sachs, Quentin Dupieux, Eugene Jarecki, actor-turned-director Mads Matthiesen and Antonio Campos). And, as usual, there will be a cavalcade of notable actors trekking to the otherwise sleepy, typically snow-laden ski-resort town of Park City, Utah, in January: Michael Cera, Amanda Seyfried, Shannon Sossamon, Jason Ritter, Lou Diamond Phillips, Jon Heder, Paul Dano, Lizzy Caplan, Alison Brie, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Hawkes, Helen Hunt, William H. Macy, John Krasinski, Olivia Thirlby, Rosemarie DeWitt, Aubrey Plaza and Mark Duplass. And that's just the actors appearing in the competition films.

Perhaps of most interest to Cincinnatians is the inclusion of local native (and SCPA grad) Todd Lousio's Hello I Must Be Going in the Dramatic Competition. The film, Louiso's third full-length effort after Love Liza and The Marc Pease Experience, is described this way: Divorced, childless, demoralized and condemned to move back in with her parents at the age of 35, Amy Minsky's prospects look bleak — until the unexpected attention of a teenage boy changes everything.” The cast includes Melanie Lynskey, Blythe Danner, Christopher Abbott, John Rubenstein and Julie White.

Perhaps tellingly, the film is slated to open the festival on Jan. 19. Might Hello I Must Be Going finally move Louiso beyond his best-known acting role — as the sheepish record-store clerk Dick in High Fidelity — and into the realm of noteworthy filmmakers? We'll find out in seven weeks.





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<![CDATA['The Artist' Wins Best Picture Award]]> The awards season is upon us.

In just the first of a coming avalanche of groups that will unveil their various movie awards/prizes/best lists, the New York Film Critics' Circle, considered one the more discerning groups of critics in the country, yesterday announced its 2011 award winners. Michel Hazanavicius' The Artist — a silent, black-and-white drama about the silent, black-and-white era of 1920s Hollywood — won Best Picture and Best Director. ---(Word is The Weinstein Co. will open The Artist in Cincinnati in December.) Brad Pitt won Best Actor for his performances in Moneyball and The Tree of Life, while the slightly overpraised Moneyball won Best Screenplay (Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin) and The Tree of Life deservedly grabbed the award for Best Cinematography (Emmanuel Lubezki).


In something of a surprise, Meryl Streep grabbed Best Actress for her role as Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady — a surprise in that the film hasn't been getting much buzz. (On the other hand, this is Streep we're talking about — she could play a Smurf and likely get a nomination.) In an even bigger surprise, Albert Brooks won Best Supporting Actor for his turn as a vicious, cold-hearted gangster in Drive. And, in no surprise whatsoever, Jessica Chastain was named Best Supporting Actress for her performances in The Tree of Life, Take Shelter and The Help (but not The Debt?)

Finally, Werner Herzog's often fascinating, sometimes indulgent (what's new?) Cave of Forgotten Dreams won Best Non-fiction Film; Asghar Farhadi's widely acclaimed A Separation won Best Foreign Language Film; and J.C. Chandor compelling Wall Street drama Margin Call won for Best First Feature.

Could the Circle's choices be a precursor of what's to come from the Academy? I wouldn't rule it out: three of its last four Best Picture winners have also gone on to win the Oscar, while five out of its last six Best Actor winners have also taken home the coveted golden statuette.


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<![CDATA[Wednesday Movie Roundup: Sweet Holiday Bounty Edition!]]> After months mediocre movie options, recent weeks have give us a plethora of worthwhile offerings in a variety of genres — from art-house-leaning fare like Margin Call, Martha Marcy May Marlene, The Skin I Live In, Like Crazy, Take Shelter, The Interruptors, Senna, The Way and The Guard to higher-profile multiplexers like Moneyball, Drive, 50/50 and The Ides of March.

The winning streak continues this week. In fact, it's shaping up to be the best slate of opening films in recent memory. ---According to tt stern-enzi's rave below, Martin Scorsese's whimsical adventure Hugo is that rare 3-D movie that actually uses the format to thrilling, story-enhancing effect.

Then there's the anticipated return of writer-director Alexander Payne via The Descendants, a slanted, deadpan comedy about a family man in crisis that features George Clooney's best performance to date (a Best Actor Oscar nod is a cinch, and I wouldn't be surprised to see him win). Speaking of Oscar, word is that Michelle Williams' performance as Marilyn Monroe in My Week with Marilyn is yet another engrossing turn in a career that is rapidly becoming the most interesting on the current cinematic landscape.

And don't forget the return of The Muppets, which Scott Renshaw says is more than just a nostalgia trip. TT even liked Arthur Christmas, which gives us three As, an A- and a B. We pretentious, often curmudgeonly critics must be going soft!


Opening films:


ARTHUR CHRISTMAS — This animated 3-D story about a son of Santa Claus who doesn't agree with the direction his older brother is taking the family business features an impressive roster of U.K. voice talent, including James McAvoy, Bill Nighy, Hugh Laurie, Jim Broadbent and Imelda Staunton. Sarah Smith and Barry Cook co-directed. (Read full review here.) (Opens wide today.) — tts (Rated PG.) Grade: B


THE DESCENDANTSThe Descendants benefits from time, coming seven years after Sideways, a period during which writer-director Alexander Payne also grappled with his own set of challenging circumstances (divorce, health issues, etc.) and came out the other side a different man, one more aware of his intrinsic humanity, which is what makes George Clooney's protagonist a great (near perfect) addition to the Payne oeuvre. (Read full review here.) (Opens wide today.) — tts (Rated R.) Grade: A


HUGO — Martin Scorsese, the master of gritty urban realism, heads to 1930s Paris for this whimsical tale of an orphan living in the walls of a train station who seeks to solve a mystery involving his late father. The story also features early cinema pioneer Georges Melies, and it was shot in 3-D, two more elements that make this a curious, highly anticipated venture for Scorsese. (Read full review here.) (Opens wide today.) — tts (Rated PG.) Grade: A


THE MUPPETS — For 97 minutes, The Muppets sends out wave after wave of puns, broad visual gags, self-referential asides and genuine warmth — and nearly every last bit of it works. (Read full review here.) (Opens wide today.) — Scott Renshaw (Rated PG.) Grade: A


MY WEEK WITH MARILYN — Although the movie has its weak spots, Michelle Williams delivers a deftly multidimensional character study built on truthfulness and soul. My Week With Marilyn isn’t just a gem; it’s a diamond. (Read full review here.) (Opens Friday at Mariemont Theatre.) — Cole Smithey (Rated R.) Grade: A-





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<![CDATA[Friday Movie Roundup: 'Twilight' Mayhem Continues]]> Movies must be able to stand on their own two feet; they can't rely on their source material for viewers to understand what's happening onscreen, which is a sin the Twilight series continues to make over and over again. Of course, when millions of females — the overwhelming majority of whom make up its rabid fan base — the world over have read the books, I guess that's less of a concern than it would be otherwise. ---

The cognitive dissonance problem for Twilight book virgins is not as prominent in the film version of Breaking Dawn — Part 1 as it as been in the previous two big-screen entries, but it's still a problem (the films have never sufficiently conveyed to me why Bella has such a strong connection to Jacob, nor have they convinced me that Edward would fall so hard for such an bland, perpetually conflicted paramour). The bigger issue with Part 1 is that what should take no more than an hour of screen time — the marriage of Bella and Edward, their honeymoon and the birth of their spawn — is stretched out over two. (Read tt stern-enzi's like-minded review below.)

But, hey, who am I to get in the way of business — two films instead of one means at least $200 million more in box-office receipts for the Twilight series' studio, Summit Entertainment. For a much more convincing love story, check out Sundance favorite Like Crazy, which opens this week at the Esquire Theatre.


Opening films:


HAPPY FEET TWO — Happy Feet Two is, in its way, utterly distinctive from the great mass of contemporary animated fare, yet it’s also far too frantic and muddled to work as simple storytelling. (Read full review here.) (Opens wide today.) — Scott Renshaw (Rated PG.) Grade: C


LIKE CRAZY — Writer-director Drake Doremus graduates from the micro-niche ranks into indie world with Like Crazy, the Grand Jury Prize winner at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. (Read full review here.) (Opens today at Esquire Theatre.) — tt stern-enzi (Rated R.) Grade: A


THE TWILIGHT SAGA: BREAKING DAWN — The fourth and penultimate entry in the wildly popular vampire series delivers more melodramatic mayhem. (Read full review here.) (Opens wide today.) — tts (PG-13.) Grade: C-


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<![CDATA[Last Chance for 'Margin Call']]> The economic meltdown of 2008 has now yielded a decent amount of feature-length films on the topic — from mediocre fictional dramas (Oliver Stone's Wall Street 2 and John Wells' The Company Men) to an effective, semi-tangential documentary (Alex Gibney's Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer) to a solid docudrama (Curtis Hanson's HBO-backed Too Big to Fail). ---

Best of all was Charles Ferguson's Oscar-winning documentary Inside Job, an accessible, long-lensed view of a complex topic and its 30-year trajectory from Ronald Reagan's 1980s-era laissez-faire, trickle-down economics to the Clinton administration's repealing of the Glass Steagall Act to the further relaxing of financial regulations and enforcement in the George W. Bush era to the unfortunate post-crash, business-as-usual hiring of President Obama's economic team. Yet, as effective as Inside Job was in explaining how the meltdown occurred, it didn't give us an emotional access point (beyond outright anger) or put a human face to the people behind the disaster. Who are these guys? And do they even care that they have altered millions of lives via largely nefarious if not outright illegal actions?

Enter Margin Call, writer/director J.C. Chandor's compelling look at a fictional Wall Street firm that could easily stand in for the now-defunct Lehman Brothers. (Margin Call snuck into exactly one theater — AMC Newport — last week; and it looks like it will close after tomorrow's screenings — that'd be Thursday, Nov. 20 — so get there while you can. For times, click here.) Chandor's narrative takes place over the course 24 hours in 2008 as the firm begins to lay off dozens of its employees — a move that unexpectedly leads one of the remaining upstarts (Star Trek's Zachary Quinto) in the “risk assessment” division (an oxymoron if there ever was one) to reveal that the company is nearing the brink of disaster. Without getting into too much dissonance-inducing detail (for both his co-workers and the audience), he explains that the company's various manipulations of financial instruments like credit default swaps have resulted in a perilous situation that can no longer be hidden from view.

What follows is a late-hours scramble to figure out how the company can avert disaster, a situation that reveals just how little most of these seemingly smart men — and they're almost all men — know about the details of how it has come to this point and how the layers of bureaucracy and power impact decisions. These people know only one thing for sure: money must be made, and it certainly can't be lost (which, in this case, means knowingly selling crap to its clients and thereby triggering the resulting meltdown).

Armed with an excellent cast (including Kevin Spacey, Stanley Tucci, Simon Baker, Paul Bettany and, as the company's morally slippery CEO, Jeremy Irons), the impressively even-handed Margin Call turns this scenario into a surprisingly tension-riddled thriller in which, for better or worse, those involved are portrayed as actual flesh-and-blood human beings.


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<![CDATA[Friday Movie Roundup: Lighten Up, Leo, Edition]]>

When will Leonardo DiCaprio lighten up? It doesn't look like it's going to happen anytime soon.

Asked recently if he would consider doing something besides the heavy dramatic lifting of recent years (see Gangs of New York, The Aviator, Blood Diamond, The Departed, Body of Lies, Revolutionary Road, Shutter Island, Inception and now J. Edgar), the 37-year-old actor responded with this to-the-point rebuttal: “Why would I want to do something I would consider a profound waste of time?"

Alright, then. ---

The odd thing about Leo's refusal to tackle anything but serious stuff is that he's at his best when he cracks that mischievous, knowing smile of his youth (see Growing Pains, What's Eating Gilbert Grape, portions of This Boy's Life and The Basketball Diaries or even Romeo + Juliet, which was a vibrant if schizophrenic take on the Shakespeare classic). That guy hasn't been seen since 2002's Catch Me If You Can, an entertaining transcontinental romp that just might contain Leo's best performance.

Dude, we know for a long time you wanted to get away from the crazy, once-in-a-lifetime success of Titanic and the legions of screaming teenage girls it yielded, and we know it's hard to say no to the likes of Martin Scorsese, Clint Eastwood and Christopher Nolan. We're not saying you have to lower yourself to the cliched romantic and/or largely lame bromantic comedies of current Hollywood ilk, but there's got to be an edgy satire or more overtly trashy genre picture out there for the taking. Give Alexander Payne a call. Or Lars von Trier. Or Jim Jarmusch. Or the Coen brothers. Or even the Duplass brothers.

Ah, there might be hope yet: DiCaprio recently signed to to star in Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained, in which he will play a sadistic Mississippi plantation owner. If anyone can pull out Leo's playful side, it's QT.

But back to J. Edgar — DiCaprio's collaboration with the impressively prolific, often overpraised Clint Eastwood — which opens this week and which is getting curiously polarizing reviews (I've yet to see it): Roger Ebert, J. Hoberman and Manhola Dargis liked it, while David Edelstein, Dana Stevens and CityBeat contributor Scott Renshaw did not.

Elsewhere in this rather robust week, we have the latest abominations from Adam Sandler and self-proclaimed “visionary” director Tarsem Singh; a thriller featuring an Olsen who can act (the twins' younger sister Elizabeth); and a documentary about the Yiddish writer some called the “Jewish Mark Twain.”

Then there's Pedro Almodóvar’s latest melodramatic mind-fuck, about which, after my initial viewing of it at the Toronto Film Festival, I had this mixed take: “... too twisted (and ultimately vacuous) for its own good — even for Pedro. After a parade of typically stylish Hitchcockian narrative and visual hijinks, The Skin I Live In’s too-obvious finale left one word dangling in my beat-up frontal lobe: duh.” A second viewing changed my outlook slightly — Almodóvar's technical prowess, narrative daring and fearless weirdness is certainly more interesting than 97 percent of the films released today. That said, I still don't like it as much CityBeat contributor Cole Smithey.

Finally, don't forget about HorrorHound Weekend, which features a smorgasbord of genre-geek activities — from celebrity panels and vendors to parties and screenings. I talked to HorrorHound magazine editor/Weekend organizer Nathan Hanneman about the event, which runs tonight through Sunday, here.


Opening films:


IMMORTALS — Pimped as coming to you from the producers of the 300, this Greek adventure myth features a cavalcade of buff bods (courtesy of Henry Cavill, Luke Evans, Kellan Lutz, Isabel Lucas, Frieda Pinto and Stephen Dorff) and a couple of craggy veterans (Mickey Rourke and John Hurt), all of whom are likely to take a backseat to the lush visuals of director Tarsem Singh. (Read full review here.) (Opens wide today.) — tts (Rated R.) Grade: D-


J. EDGAR Director Clint Eastwood and screenwriter Dustin Lance Black (Milk) have as a subject one of American history's most enigmatic, polarizing figures in J. Edgar Hoover, and yet J. Edgar almost never offers the buzz of discovery. It's merely a 50-year kaleidoscope of American history, with the founder of the modern FBI serving as Forrest Gump. (Read full review here.) (Opens wide Friday.) — Scott Renshaw (Rated R.) Grade: C


JACK AND JILL — What at first seemed like a farce is, alas, not: Adam Sandler plays both a successful advertising executive and his annoying twin sister. Longtime Sandler surrogate/directing pal Dennis Dugan is back in the saddle yet again. Katie Holmes and Al Pacino offer acting support. (Read full review here.) (Opens wide today.) — tts (Rated PG.) Grade: F


MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE — Writer-director Sean Durkin introduces Martha (Elizabeth Olsen) as a member of a commune, one of the compliant women who have surrendered to the domestic duties, the listless routine, the second-class status, and the waiting to share the bed of Patrick (John Hawkes), the paterfamilias of this clan. From a performance standpoint, Olsen is a quiet revelation. (Read full review here.) (Opens today at Esquire Theatre.) — tt stern-enzi (Rated R.) Grade: A-


SHOLEM ALEICHEM: LAUGHING IN THE DARKNESS — Joseph Dorman's documentary looks at the Yiddish writer — dubbed by some as “the Jewish Mark Twain” — whose stories became the basis of the Broadway musical Fiddler on the Roof. (Opens today at Mariemont Theatre.) — JG (Not Rated.) Review coming soon.


THE SKIN I LIVE IN — Pedro Almodóvar proves himself an apt technician at sustaining suspense in the thriller genre. Antonio Banderas returns to work with Almodóvar for the first time in over 20 years, since his memorable performance Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!. (Read full review here.) (Opens Friday at Esquire Theatre.) — Cole Smithey (Rated R.) Grade: A





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