CityBeat Blogs - Movies http://www.citybeat.com/cincinnati/blogs-1-1-1-39.html <![CDATA[Cincinnati-Filmed 'Carol' to Premiere at Cannes?]]>

Carol, the drama about a romance between a younger and older woman in 1950s New York that was filmed in Cincinnati last spring, may have its premiere in May at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival in France.

Variety, which closely follows the film industry, yesterday published a speculative report about what may be appearing at this years Cannes, the world's most important film festival. It said, in part:

"Looking to represent North America in competition are [Todd] Haynes’ Carol, a 1950s lesbian love story starring Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara, and [Denis] Villeneuve’s Sicario, a south-of-the-border crime drama starring Emily Blunt, Benicio Del Toro and Josh Brolin. Slots may also be reserved in the official selection for Jeff Nichols’ Midnight Special, a science-fiction chase thriller starring Adam Driver and Michael Shannon, and Gus Van Sant’s The Sea of Trees, a suicide drama starring Matthew McConaughey and Ken Watanabe."

Based on a novel The Price of Salt by Patricia Highsmith, Carol has impeccable credentials for Cannes. The director is Todd Haynes (Far From Heaven, I'm Not There), a producer is Christine Vachon, and it stars Oscar-winner Cate Blanchett and Oscar-nominee Rooney Mara. The film came here with the assistance of the Greater Cincinnati and North Kentucky Film Commission.

This year's Cannes Festival occurs May 13-24. The full official-selection lineup will be announced April 16.

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<![CDATA[Reel Redux: Top 10 Good Remakes]]>

Today, whenever the terms “remake,” “reboot” or anything like that pop up in terms of film or TV, people automatically assume the worst thing imaginable. While I won’t deny the fact that there have been several remakes that have been pointless, there have been a lot of remakes that have been very good and, in a lot of cases, have improved on a few aspects.

Now, I’m not claiming that the 10 I’m listing off are “better” than the original. Instead, these films (listed by release date in chronological order) are evidence that a remake is not an automatic seal of sucking.

The Magnificent Seven (1960, John Sturges)

I’m sure some of you saw this coming given what my first "Reel Redux" was about, but none the less this is still a pretty good film. A remake of Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai, this version doesn’t do too much different from the original film but it is still holds up through its fine acting, amazing music score and story.

A Fistful of Dollars (1964, Sergio Leone)

Another remake of a Kurosawa film, this time a remake of his film Yojimbo. In this film you see the foundations of Eastwood’s most famous screen persona, many of Leone’s trademarks and an awesome final duel. A good stepping stone for anyone wanting to get into Spaghetti Westerns.

The Thing (1982, John Carpenter)

Yes, believe it or not there are some good horror remakes, and this was one. John Carpenter’s remake of the Howard Hawks-produced The Thing from Another World ups the ante with the suspense and gore. This is not for the faint of heart. But it’s more than just a gore-fest — it’s a film with amazing suspense and atmosphere.

Little Shop of Horrors (1986, Frank Oz)

This music adaptation of the Roger Corman B-movie is a genuine delight and definitely improves on a few aspects of the original, mainly the special effects. That glorious Audrey II puppet is a testament to how great practical effects can be. Also, Levi Stubbs of The Four Tops is a perfect voice for Audrey II.

Beauty and the Beast (1991, Gary Trousdale & Kirk Wise)

This classic Disney animated musical actually has a lot in common with the 1946 French surrealist adaptation by Jean Cocteau. Both beasts have a similar design, both feature a castle of human servants that are also appliances, and both have a Gaston equivalent. But of course the animated version does do a few things differently, mainly musical numbers, funny side characters and, of course, being a cartoon.

Homeward Bound – The Incredible Journey (1993, Duwayne Dunham)

Here’s another Disney remake that proved its worth. A remake of the 1963 movie just called The Incredible Journey, this renditions seems to hold up for anyone because of the animals. All three have distinct voices and personas that make us love and root for them.

The Birdcage (1996, Mike Nichols)

A film by the late Mike Nichols and starring the late Robin Williams is a remake of a French-Italian film called La Cage aux Folle. With the combined comedic charm and brilliance of Williams and Nathan Lane, it’s no wonder why Nichols had a hard time holding his laughter during some of the scenes. My words won’t do it justice — you just have to watch.

Lord of the Rings Trilogy (2001-2003, Peter Jackson)

If we’re loosely defining the term remake, Jackson’s fantasy trilogy is technically a remake of Ralph Bakshi’s Lord of the Rings (1978) and Rankin/Bass’ Return of the King. If you’ve seen those animated films then you can see why Jackson’s are usually the preferred versions. Jackson's films create an epic fantasy environment, they have an amazing film score and feature some awesome battle sequences.

3:10 to Yuma (2007, James Mangold)

Many hold the original 1957 film as a classic and it is, but Mangold’s version doesn’t try to duplicate it. Instead he goes the action route, and it does not disappoint. The gunfights are stunning throughout the film. Also, the chemistry between Christian Bale and Russell Crowe is stunning, and it also has a great villain performance from Ben Foster.

True Grit (2010, Ethan & Joel Coen)

My first two listed were westerns and so we end with two westerns. The Coen Brother’s version of the manhunt of Tom Chaney is truly phenomenal. The Coens stay close to the tone and style of Charles Portis’ original book by sticking to the dryer tone, keeping it less romanticized and “Hollywood.” And it features some trying fantastic performances from everyone.

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<![CDATA[Reel Redux: Ghostbusters and the Potential Cinematic Universe]]> In the first installment of "Reel Redux" I brought up the upcoming Ghosbusters reboot, so I figured I’d talk about it more in this edition.

I don’t think I need to remind you about what Ghostbusters is, right? Well, for the five of you who don’t know the plot, here’s a summary: The titular group of the franchise are scientists who go around New York City busting ghosts. There, that was easy.

How could anyone not love these movies, or at least the first one? You have the sarcastic Bill Murray, the enthusiastic Dan Aykroyd, the late Harold Ramis, who possessed great dry comedic timing (he also co-wrote the screenplay with Aykroyd), and Ernie Hudson as the Everyman. Not only that, but they’re given giant laser cannons for zapping and trapping ghosts of all shapes are sizes! What’s not to like?

Recently it was announced that a reboot is in the works, this time featuring an all-female cast. This version will feature Kristin Wiig (Bridesmaids), Oscar-nominee Melissa McCarthy and Saturday Night Live cast members Leslie Jones and Kate McKinnon.

Right off the bat I’ll say it: I am not opposed to the idea of an all-female cast. Not at all. Although I was kind of hoping to see Tina Fey and Amy Poehler in the cast. To paraphrase someone on Twitter (I couldn’t find the original tweet) who said it best, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler are today’s equivalent of Bill Murray and Dan Aykroyd.

But nevertheless I’m all for this cast. I mean, why not? Why not have an all-female cast? But there is one thing that makes me worried about it. I’m worried that all this movie will be, “It’s the Ghosbusters… but they’re girls!” And that’s it. I’m worried that the film will make jokes about the fact that this time around the group will be played by girls. For example, they’ll paint the Ecto-1 pink, or have one of the girls put a bunch of flowers on their proton pack. One can only hope they don’t resort to that.

There’s one other thing that has popped up involving the Ghosbusters franchise that is causing a bit of stir: Sony is planning on having an all-male cast in yet another Ghostbusters reboot, thus building its own cinematic universe to go along with it. Oh dear.

On the surface I have no problem with the idea of Sony wanting to build a Ghosbusters universe — it sounds incredibly cool — but Sony has a short but rather poor history of trying to build a universe with popular franchises. Mainly, their attempts at building an Amazing Spider-Man franchise. I’m not calling those films bad, mind you, but it’s obvious that Sony was trying a little too hard to compete with Marvel’s cinematic universe.

The concept of an expanded universe is nothing new to Ghostbusters. I’m mainly referring to the ending of the 2009 video game where the four original members hinted about opening another office in another city, which sounds awesome to me.

But again, my concern is with who’s handling it. If I was handling it, I would take it very slowly. Let the first movie come out, see how well that did and if it did well, then I’d work on the next film. Which seems like it should be obvious, but, whatever, I’m not the head of a major film studio.

One thing I’m hoping for at some point in the franchise, which may not happen, is I’d like to see a New Generation kind of movie. Recruit Aykroyd and Hudson as their characters and have them train a new group. Make it a mixed group of people of various backgrounds. I’m not asking for a Captain Planet kind of thing, but have this be about  the old guys passing the torch onto the next group. It could be good.

In the meantime, I will wait and check out the new installment and hope for the best and I will, of course, check out the originals and enjoy them because no matter what happens those films will still be there.

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<![CDATA[Reel Redux: 'The Magnificent Seven' Remake]]>

In recent movie news, there has been an announcement that a certain classic film franchise will be given a remake with a whole new cast. No, I’m not talking about Ghostbusters; I’m talking about the remake of theThe Magnificent Seven.

For those unaware: The Magnificent Seven was a 1960 western directed by the very underrated John Sturges. The story tells of seven gunmen who are hired by members of a poor Mexican village to chase away a bandit named Calvera (Eli Wallach) who has been harassing people and stealing their food and crops.

The movie was not just a traditional shoot ‘em up western; it was a film that took advantage of having seven characters and giving them all unique backstories. It’s also a film that is along the lines of George Stevens’s Shane, in that it’s a movie that doesn’t glorify the gunfighter’s life. It shows that each of them lead a rather unfulfilled life as a constant weary traveler.

The film also boasts a cast of legends. There’s Academy Award winner Yul Brynner as the cool and collected leader Chris; Steve McQueen as the drifting gunman Vin; Charles Bronson as the penniless and kid-friendly hired gun Bernardo O’Reilly; the voice of Mr. Waternoose in Monsters Inc. James Coburn as the silent knifesman Britt; and the late and great Wallach as Calvera the bandit.

It also has one of the best scores ever composed for a movie by Elmer Bernstein. Even if you’ve never seen the film you’ll recognize the music.

Now, like any film being remade, there will be a small crowd of people crying havoc and wanting to let slip the dogs of war, because there have been a lot of cases in which remakes haven’t turned out too spectacular. But many people often forget that The Magnificent Seven was actually a remake itself. It’s a western version of Akira Kurosawa’s classic Seven Samurai. It would technically later be remade by Pixar in A Bug’s Life.

I’ve long since went astray from being the angry Cinephile who went on long rants about how “Hollywood sucks,” and “Movies aren’t as good as they used to be,” and other such nonsense. Now these days I keep an open mind and to wait and see the film before I say anything.

Attached to direct the film is Antoine Fuqua, whose resume includes: The Equalizer, an adaptation of the hit 1980s show; 2004’s King Arthur; and Training Day, the film that earned Denzel Washington his second Academy Award win. Not a bad choice. I won’t claim he’s the best director, but he’s far from terrible. It could be worse; they could have Jonathan Liebesman directing it.

There have already been a couple casting choices made, including the aforementioned Denzel Washington, his Training Day co-star Ethan Hawke and even Star-Lord himself Chris Pratt has apparently signed on. That’s a pretty good cast in my book. But I’m just trying to imagine who else would be involved: Maybe they could get Jeremy Renner for one of the seven, and maybe a great character actor of today like Jon Bernthal, Steve Zahn or Barry Pepper. There are loads of possibilities.

I also see no problem in having Washington play the part of Chris the leader. In the original film, Chris is very calm and collected but just as intense, and a one-liner from him can let you know things mean business. I think Washington is perfectly capable of that.

The plot? From what I’ve heard, the plot is slightly different from the original. Apparently it’s about a widow (Haley Bennett) who hires Chris to help avenge the death of her husband who died at the hands of a gold baron and his thugs who have taken over her town. It could work and it’s a nice update to the original story.

To conclude: I’m sure the original 1960 film will remain superior, and a favorite of mine, but I am kind of looking forward to seeing this film and what it has to offer. Let’s not lose our heads and let’s see what the film has to offer. I hope it’s at least better than The Magnificent Seven Ride (1972).

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<![CDATA[Forgotten Classics: Zulu]]> When I mention war films, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? Probably titles like Saving Private Ryan or, more recently, something like the controversial and much-debated American Sniper. But what if I ask about British war films? Maybe you’d think of Lawrence of Arabia and one or two others. What about the 1964 film Zulu? I’m going to guess that not that many are familiar with this one, let along the actual Anglo-Zulu War. But you don’t really need to know all the ins and outs of the conflict to enjoy and appreciate this movie.

The movie is based on the 1879 Battle of Rorke’s Drift, in which roughly 150 British and Welsh soldiers faced off against an overwhelming number of Zulu warriors at a mission station in southern Africa. In a lot of ways it’s almost the British equivalent of the Battle of the Alamo — the difference in this case being the British soldiers won their battle, whereas all the defenders of the Alamo died.

Let’s get this out of the way: Yes, there are a lot of historical inaccuracies in the movie. But anybody who has ever seen a “Based on a True Story” movie should be aware of that by now.

To me, some of the best war films out there are not the ones that are overly patriotic and about ‘us vs. them,’ but ones that show us who the people are on both sides or, at the very least, films that don’t broad-brush the other side. With Zulu, we get that. Neither side is portrayed as the hero nor the villain; they’re two powerful forces, in their own way, who duke it out in combat. Both are proven to be worthy adversaries who don’t give up without a fight.

One thing I love about this film is the use of sound. The movie seems to use chats, songs and sounds as a motif about the sides. Probably the most effective use is when the Zulus arrive, coming over the ridge making a huge clatter with their assegai (short spears) and shields. One of the officers in charge, Gonville Bromhead (played by Michael Caine in his first film), says that it sounds, “Like a train…in the distance.” This comparison works rather well. It’s this constant clamor created that gives the audience an idea that the British are up against an almost unstoppable force. And when the near 4,000 Zulus pop up on the ridge, it seals the envelope.

Along with the drumming, the Zulus also have their own war chants which are another form used to intimidate the defenders, but on the morning of the second day the defenders reply with their own battle cry, the military march “Men of Harlech.” I see this as director Cy Enfield’s way of showing that even though these men are in a war against each other, they do have similarities. But the beautiful medleys of the British and Zulus are disrupted with the continuous roar and volley of rifle fire. And at the end of the battle many lay dead; although they are victorious, there’s no cheers to be shouted. But the Zulus do offer a final chant of respect to their worthy adversaries.

At the end, Bromhead is asked by the more experienced officer John Chard (Stanley Baker) what he thought of his first action. Bromhead replies with “Sick,” and Chard follows it with, “You’d have to alive to be sick.” A clever indication of the creative team’s thoughts on war.

There are many other great things to say about the film. The dynamic between Baker and Caine is fantastic, and supporting performances from James Booth as the drunk, petty thief Henry Hook (one of the controversial inaccuracies) and Nigel Greene as the tough but kindhearted Colour Sgt. Bourne are great. The performances from then-Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi and his people are impressive. Also the cinematography by Stephen Dade is gorgeous, he makes every shot interesting. It almost reminds me of a John Ford Western.

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<![CDATA[Forgotten Classics: Hook]]>

On Aug. 11, 2014, the world lost one of its greatest entertainers of the last century — Robin Williams. I can remember where I was when I heard about his passing. I just got home from my day job as a security guard at King’s Island, logged onto Facebook and the first thing I saw was the headline reading “Robin Williams dies at 63.” To say that I was upset would be putting it lightly.

I think I can say with confidence that the whole world loved Williams because he touched us with his movies, television shows and stand-up specials. Of course anyone who grew up in the ‘80s and ‘90s will list off countless movies that left an impression on them, be it his game-changing performance in the Disney classic Aladdin (1992, directed by Ron Clements and John Musker) or his heartfelt and inspiring role in Dead Poets Society (1989, directed by Peter Weir). But the movie I’ve singled out this time was a go-to rental for me when I was a kid, when video stores were still a thing. That film is Steven Spielberg’s Hook (1991).

I’m sure many people are calling shenanigans on this being a “forgotten” film mainly due to Robin Williams in the lead role and Steven Spielberg being the director. I would be amongst those crying outrage as well, but when I began to think about it I realized most fans know of it only because of the nostalgia factor.

When it comes to listing the best of Spielberg or Williams, there are other films that would’ve been listed before this one. Even Spielberg himself had stated that the final product isn’t what he wanted and that he basically wants someone to remake it. But I can say that the product we have is a more than suitable film: the story of the workaholic lawyer Peter Banning (Williams) who ventures off to Neverland to rescue his children who have been captured by villainous Captain Hook (Dustin Hoffman). In that quest he discovers why his children were kidnapped — Hook did it to draw Peter Pan back to Neverland and fight him, and it turns out that Bannings is Pan. The catch is that Peter has forgotten who he is. Throughout the film Peter goes on a spiritual journey to rediscover who he is and rescue his children with the help of his ever faithful Tinkerbell (Julia Roberts) and the Lost Boys.

Williams is absolutely flawless in this role. He perfectly conveys both the uptight and work-centered lawyer and the childlike energy of the boy who refused to grow up. The lesson he learns in the end is something that is very logical and is something that should speak to anyone — while we all must grow up, we mustn’t lose our sense of adventure and wonder.

Peter’s journey to that conclusion is drawn in comparison to his archenemy Captain Hook. Ironically enough, it’s the adult who stays at a more immature stand point. In the original J.M. Barrie story, one could says that Peter is the hero not only because he rescues his friends from the villain but also because he lives in the moment and doesn’t oppose over anything, while Hook is all about revenge and will not rest until he has it.

At the beginning of the film Peter has his mind set on only one thing and that’s being a lawyer. That singular mindset leads Wendy (Maggie Smith) to say, “Peter, you’ve become a pirate.”

Peter’s son Jack (Charlie Korsmo) almost becomes like Hook as well when all he seems focused on is bitterness and hatred towards his father. Hook focuses on Jack’s anger and uses that as a weapon against the now aged Peter. But this ties in with another reason why Hook can be a considered a villain — he lets his anger control his life. Peter and Jack soon realize how petty and how unfulfilling holding a grudge is.

While I do see a couple problems in the film, mainly in the script department, I can’t deny the fact that I still find this film enjoyable and well made to this day. This was also a film that truly displayed why Williams was so beloved: He made us laugh, cry, and gave us that warm feeling that we all pine for. I guarantee that in years to come, this performance — among many others — will be fondly remembered.

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<![CDATA[Forgotten Classics: Harry and Tonto]]>

When I started doing this blog series I promised myself that I would avoid covering movies that had won an Academy Award, especially those that were awarded Best Picture, Director or Actor. When most people decide to look up “classics” to watch, their go-tos are often Oscar winners. But there is a 1974 film that I think has been unfairly ignored and dismissed, despite its Best Actor win. That film is Harry and Tonto.

Co-written and directed by the late Paul Mazursky, this movie follows the eponymous duo — Harry (Art Carney) is a retired widower who looses his apartment building when it is condemned; his only companion is his pet cat, Tonto. The two go on a cross-country odyssey meeting many colorful characters along the way, including a health-food salesman (Arthur Hunnicutt), an elderly Native American (Chief Dan George) and an underaged runaway (Melanie Mayron), among others. Harry eventually reconnects with his three kids who live all across the map.

Just based on that plot, many would think that it’s just a basic road trip movie with a quirky old man and his cute little cat. While it is enjoyable in that respect, it is a truly great film that should be truly appreciated and given another look.

Let’s go ahead and begin with the obvious topic: Art Carney winning Best Actor. Many have found that to be a bad decision. Especially since that year the other nominees included Al Pacino for The Godfather and Jack Nicholson for Chinatown. Many feel that picking Carney for the award was just a sympathy win given Carney’s long career and status as a comic icon.

While I will admit that the other nominees that year were all very good — 1974 was just a great year for movies in general — I will forever be an apologist for Carney being the winner.

Carney’s performance as Harry seems so natural. He never gets overly dramatic with his line reading, and he adds the right amount of comedic charm to his role without reverting back to his Ed Norton character from The Honeymooners.

A great example is in the beginning, when Carney and Tonto are relaxing in the apartment and he reminisces the old days in New York. “There were trolleys, Tonto. Cobblestones. The aroma of corned beef and cabbage. The tangy zest of... apple strudel.” He slowly starts to fall asleep during this monologue, but what really makes it great is that it does sound like a real person. Carney isn’t being overly dramatic, he’s not trying to make it all sentimental — it sounds normal. It is because of that tone that makes the lines powerful and Harry such an endearing character.

With that note, Harry’s arc is a subtle but great one. Through the film and with every encounter he comes across on his odyssey, he begins to change and become more open-minded. The changing of the scenery is a big motif. He starts out in a cramped, confinded and lonely apartment, then he ventures out west like a pioneer to open and warm California. It can be seen in wardrobe changes as well and with those elements we see him go from being a “Things were better in my days” guy to a man who lets go of the past and looks to the future.

It’s a movie that will make you smile, laugh, think and even get teary eyed. I promise you’ll adore this film and Art’s performance.

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<![CDATA[Forgotten Classics: The Seven-Per-Cent Solution]]>

There’s no denying it: The British TV drama Sherlock is popular — ridiculously popular. So popular that one could say that it’s what launched Benedict Cumberbatch’s status from actor to superstar. Thankfully, his talent is still intact.

But I’m not here to talk about Cumberbatch. I’m here to talk about Sherlock Holmes. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Holmes is, of course, a legendary character. Even if you’ve never read a book in your life, you’ve at least heard of this famous British detective.

A lot like the famous miser Ebenezer Scrooge, Holmes has had several versions of himself on the big screen. There’s The Hound of the Baskerville (1939) starring Basil Rathbone. Peter Cushing (Grand Moff Tarkin in Star Wars) starred in Hammer Film’s 1959 remake the same story. Disney’s The Great Mouse Detective (1986) had a Holmes-like mouse character named Basil of Baker Street (nice little reference to Rathbone’s version). Then, of course, there’s the newer films with Robert Downey, Jr. which are surprisingly enjoyable, plus countless others with many legendary actors portraying Holmes and his loyal friend Dr. John Watson. There’s far too many to list off.

But the one I want to highlight was made in 1976 by Herbert Ross — The Seven-Per-Cent Solution. The film tells of Dr. Watson (Robert Duvall) luring Sherlock (Nicol Williamson) to Vienna to meet the father of psychoanalysis Sigmund Freud (Alan Arkin) in an attempt to kick Holmes’ cocaine addiction. But a kidnapping caper soon presents itself, and the trio joins forces to solve the mystery.

The mystery aspect of the film, while interesting, isn’t the main focus. This story concentrates on an aspect of Holmes stories that really hadn’t been explored often — Sherlock’s cocaine addiction. Through the books it is noted that Holmes did recreational drugs but, to the best of my knowledge, this film is the one version that takes a look at what made him do it.

At the beginning of the film we see Holmes become totally obsessed with trying to find a way to outsmart his arch-nemesis, Prof. Moriarty (Laurence Olivier), and catch him in the act. But here’s a twist: It turns out Moriarty isn’t the criminal mastermind the stories portray him as. He’s this aging and timid mathematics teacher. It’s this that gives Watson and Sherlock’s brother Mycroft (Charles Gray) the idea that Sherlock may need help.

That’s not to say that Moriarty doesn’t have a role in the film. He does, but that would lead to a big spoiler and I’ll let you discover that for yourself.

The detoxing of Holmes, while it does last a bit longer than it should, is a very impactful scene that shows this usually confident character in a different light. It’s nice change of pace from the typical Holmes story.

The film is also full of spectacular performances. One of the main reasons I wanted to check this film out was because I saw Robert Duvall played Dr. Watson, which, despite Duvall being one of my favorite actors, seems like bizarre casting. But he was surprisingly good in the role. Alan Arkin was more than perfect for the role of Dr. Freud, combining a stern professional persona and a man who cares about his patient.

But, as one would suspect, the guy who stole the motion picture was Nicol Williamson as Sherlock Holmes. He gives a performance that is so great it’s almost indescribable. Just check him out and be amazed by his spectacular portrayal.

Here’s interesting little connection between this film and Sherlock: In 2013 J.J. Abrams directed Star Trek Into Darkness, which featured Benedict Cumberbatch as the main villain Khan, who was also the villain in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982). That film was co-written and directed by Nicholas Meyer, who also wrote the screenplay for The Seven-Per-Cent Solution which was based on his book of the same name.

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<![CDATA[Forgotten Classics: Silverado]]>

As planet Earth drew closer and closer to the new millennium, the American cinema scene started to see a decline in a genre that was born here: The Western. That’s not to say there haven’t been any new Western films released — there have been quite a few. Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven was a hit in 1992 and even won Best Picture at the Oscars that year. But before that, in 1985, Lawrence Kasdan directed, co-wrote and produced a Western that deserves to be viewed in celebration of its 30th anniversary. That movie is Silverado.

Some of you are probably tilting your head at the name Lawrence Kasdan and wondering who he is. Well, he is responsible for movies like The Big Chill, The Accidental Tourist and for co-writing the screenplays for a couple films you might know of, like The Empire Strikes Back and Raiders of the Lost Ark. He is also the co-writer of the upcoming seventh Star Wars film. Basically, this man’s work should be a delight for anyone to watch.

Silverado tells the story of four roaming misfits who come together to battle elements of each other’s past in the small Western town of — you guessed it — Silverado. There’s the mysterious gunslinger Paden (Kevin Kline) trying to escape his past; Mal (Danny Glover), a prodigal son trying to rebuild his family’s farm; and Emmett and Jake (Scott Glenn and Kevin Costner, respectively), two brothers who do what it takes to protect their loved ones from a cattle baron (Ray Baker) that’s avenging the death of his father at the hands of Emmett.

While each plotline works wonderfully and ties perfectly into one other, for me the strongest of them is the one involving Paden. While it doesn’t fully expose everything about Paden and his past, you get just the right amount of information to stay invested in him, and you want to continue with him and see where he goes.

When Paden is first introduced, he’s left for dead with nothing but his long johns. As the film progresses, you get clues to his past and what may have happened to him. The biggest hints are in the form of an acquaintance of Paden and Silverado’s corrupt Sheriff Cobb (Brian Dennehy). Cobb tries to lure Paden into joining his posse and every time he rejects or tries to stop the wrongdoing, Cobb knows what buttons to push. He continually makes threats regarding Paden’s new friend Stella (Linda Hunt), the owner of the local saloon.

Stella is also an incredibly strong aspect of the film. She’s a strong and fierce woman who helps Paden on his journey to redemption. One of her best moments is when she becomes fully aware of Cobb using her, and she hates it. “So good people are being hurt because of me,” she says. “That makes me mad. Some people think because they're stronger or meaner, that they can push you around. I've seen a lot of that. But it's only true if you let it be.”

This film is also a real spectacle when it comes technical aspects. It features marvelous cinematography with gives the audience shots that add so much more to the story and offer great symbolism. It also features a great music score by Bruce Broughton that is very reminiscent of the works of Elmer Bernstein and the stuff he composed for Westerns.

The film was only nominated for two Academy Awards: Best Original Score and Best Sound. The sound work done for the film is brilliant. The one thing that stands out is the sound design for the guns’ sound effects. Each gun is given a distinct sound that is only associated with that particular piece. Mal’s Henry rifle sounds booming and powerful over the regular rifles of the villains. And Jake’s dual nickel-plated pistol’s sound is quick and short to show how fast he is on the draw.

Silverado is a real treat full of great characters, great set pieces and a great sense of adventure. And if none of this sold you on the film, then maybe this will: Monty Python’s John Cleese plays a Western Sheriff. Yes, you read that correctly.

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<![CDATA[Forgotten Classics: The Dark Crystal]]> “Another world, another time, in the age of wonder…”

It’s with that mystical and somewhat haunting quote that the audience is set up for something truly special.

In the 1980s Jim Henson, maestro behind the creation of the lovable and hilarious Muppets, decided to expand his creative mind and came out with two non-Muppet movies. In 1986 there was the cult classic Labyrinth, which featured the man who fell to earth himself, David Bowie. But there was one film he made earlier, in 1982, that many seem to overlook — Henson’s fantasy epic The Dark Crystal.

Along with fellow Muppeteer Frank Oz and illustrator Brian Froud, Henson managed to create the enchanted and wonder-filled world with terrific looking creatures, an interesting mythology and a movie with a cast made up entirely of elaborate animatronic puppets. That should sell you on the movie instantly.

The story is rather basic: Jen, one of the last remaining members of the race called Gelflings, must embark on a quest to heal the titular Dark Crystal. The crystal in question is missing one chard and Jen must find it and go to the dark castle where it is held. On his journey he meets another Gelfling named Kira and a cranky, eccentric yet wise, old hermit named Aughra (voiced by the late Billie Whitelaw). In the castle Jen must confront not only his fear and self-doubt but the inhabitants of the castle as well — the cruel buzzard-looking Skeksis and their giant beetle bodyguards called the Garthaim.

The movie very obviously has the common theme of good vs. evil. When the film begins, the narrator points out that when the Crystal cracked two new races appeared, the aforementioned Skeksis and their gentle, almost dragon-looking Mystics. As the film progresses it hints at that it wasn’t just a coincidence that these groups just happened to appear when the Crystal cracked. The movie is saying that we all have to battle and come to terms with our inner demons, whether it’s rage, greed or even something like self-doubt. Of course, like any fantasy story, there is a ton of expanded universe stuff that gives more details to this story. While every story should stand on its own, acknowledging these details explained in this universe may help the story a tad and it does add a good extra flavor to this awesome buffet of a movie.

When Jen finally gets the Crystal chard, his caretakers, the Mystics, find out about his discovery (through some spiritual connection, I’m sure) and they start their long journey to the castle. Now their trek almost rival that of Lord of the Rings, but it could very easily represent what it takes to confront your evil or the part of yourself you don’t want to confront. You may be willing to face it and come to terms with it, but who knows how long it’ll take, or if it’ll be successful at all?

This film also features probably one of my favorite movie characters of all time, Aughra the astronomer. She helps Jen find the missing chard and gives him some knowledge about why this journey is important. The reason she’s amazing to me is because she’s just so unique looking and her characteristics are not what you usually imagine when you think of the wise old mentor characters. She’s just splendid, and Billie Whitelaw’s voice fits perfectly.

This is a film that has an entire puppet cast, no humans in sight. That’s what makes the film so incredible. Jim Henson and his entire production pretty much started their Creature Shop just for this film alone. Every creature has an amazing amount of detail put into it. The craftsmanship is displayed in the clothing for the characters, in their faces, their sounds and even in the background. This is a movie where almost every scene has something to offer. Henson stated in the “Making of” special of this film that the first thing he thought of was the creatures and the world they were inhabiting. I think that displays what kind of creative mastermind Jim Henson was and a good reason why his non-Muppet related work should be appreciated.

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<![CDATA[Forgotten Classics: Ed Wood]]> Last year, director Tim Burton released a film that many are considering his strongest film in a while — Big Eyes. It follows the story of the artist Margaret Keane (Amy Adams) her husband Walter (Christoph Waltz) and the scandal of Walter taking credit for Margaret’s famous ‘big eyes’ portraits. While the film itself is by no means perfect, I will say it is pretty good and it is awesome to see Burton do this type of film again.

I remember hearing about this film early in 2014 and getting excited about it. For starters, it was a Burton movie that didn’t star Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter, and it wasn’t a reimagining of anything (like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory or Sweeney Todd). But the defining factor that made me excited was the screenwriters, Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski. These two were responsible for writing what I think is Tim Burton’s best movie, Ed Wood. Sadly, it seems a lot of people aren’t aware of this film’s existence, which amazes me considering how big Tim Burton’s fan base is.

Shot gloriously in black-and-white, Ed Wood tells the tale of Edward D. Wood, Jr. (Johnny Depp), who has been called by many the worst movie director of all time. And given how his resume consists of movies like Glen or Glenda, Bride of the Monster and the movie that has been labeled as one of the worst movies of all time — Plan 9 from Outer Space — it’s easy to see why he was given that honor. While this film does take jabs at the guy and his movies, it doesn’t beat him up or make him look pathetic; by the end of the film, you’ll be rooting for him and feel slightly motivated.

Like a lot of biopics, this movie does take some liberties with real-life events. The script just focuses on the production of the three aforementioned films and nothing else. It portrays some of the people involved in a unpleasant light, the worst being Woods’ girlfriend and future songwriter Dolores Fuller (Sarah Jessica Parker). But I’m more than willing to ignore that, mainly due to what the story wants to do. This story is of a guy who keeps being told he shouldn’t make movies. People are constantly telling him his movie are terrible — at one point someone literally tells him that Bride of the Monsters is the worst film he’s ever scene. But Eddie keeps going. That’s what makes the film so strong: You cheer for Ed because, at one point or another, we have all felt like him before — especially those in the creative community.

A recurring subject in Tim Burton movies is the social outcast, and Ed Wood features that in more than one front. We of course have Ed who is an outcast not only his bizarre filmmaking but also due to a lifestyle he has. What is it? To quote Ed himself, “I like to dress in women's clothing.” The film doesn’t exploit it to make you laugh at him (granted, seeing Johnny Depp wearing an angora sweater is funny), but the comedy comes more from people’s reaction. The only time Ed is used as the butt of a joke is when his almost infinite optimism shines in on an inappropriate time. The film saying, “Yeah, he’s an odd duck, but there’s nothing wrong with it.”

A highlight of the film is the friendship Ed forms with the aging horror icon Bela Lugosi, portrayed by Martin Landau, who won an Oscar for his brilliant performance. He hopes that his newfound friendship with Ed (or Eddie as he calls him) will revive not only his stardom but the same love and passion he had for the craft back in the old days. Eddie ends up helping him in another way, but I won’t ruin it for you.

One of the best scenes in the movie after the botched premiere of Bride of the Monster is when Lugosi thanks Ed and tells him how great it has been. Ed replies with, “I just wish you could’ve seen the movie.” Lugosi goes on say that he knows it by heart, then the camera tilts up, making the background resemble a theater, and he recites a speech from the movie gaining an applause from some bystanders at the end.

The reason why this is one of my favorites is that it shows that even when go through dark times, we should still pursue our dreams. A quote from Orson Welles (portrayed by Vincent D’Onofrio, voiced by Maurice LaMarche in the movie) sums it up best: “Visions are worth fighting for.”

Ed Wood is an amazing film that more people need to see.

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<![CDATA[Jessica Biel, Patrick Wilson to Star in Cincinnati-Filmed Movie]]>

The Greater Cincinnati Film Commission continues to bring film shoots to the Queen City — next up is Andy Goddard's The Blunderer, starring Jessica Biel and Patrick Wilson. The film, based on the Patricia Highsmith novel of the same name, begins filming on Nov. 17 and will be shot entirely in Cincinnati.

Director Andy Goddard, who's worked on various TV shows and directed the upcoming Elijah Wood drama Set Fire to the Stars, will take on the 1954 psychological thriller by Highsmith. Another adaptation from the author, Carol, was filmed locally this past spring — it starred Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara, Sarah Paulson and Kyle Chandler and was directed by Todd Haynes. It will debut sometime in 2015.

Producers from Carol are returning for the second time this year, giving major kudos to the city.

"We had a great experience in Cincinnati on our film Carol," said Christine Vachon of Killer Films in a press release. “The Film Commission, the rebate, locations, infrastructure and welcoming people of Cincinnati brought us back a second time within one year."

It also sounds like this will be another production that takes advantage of Cincinnati's historic architecture and temporarily puts the city in a retro time warp — filmmakers are looking for period cars from 1960 or earlier. To get involved with that, email blunderercars@gmail.com.

Additionally, they're looking for extras (send a headshot and email to blundererextrascasting@gmail.com) and qualified crew (send resume to blunderermovie@gmail.com). The Blunderer is set to film here Nov. 17-Dec. 21.

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<![CDATA[Changes Coming for ReelAbilities Film Festival]]>

There is a giant leap being planned for one of Cincinnati's film festivals — one that could make it the city's pre-eminent such event and an impactful cultural occurrence.

The Cincinnati ReelAbilities Film Festival, which presents films that explore the lives of people with disabilities, will be announcing  its 2015 schedule at an event next Thursday, Sept. 4,  from 7-9 p.m. at Obscura Cincinnati, 645 Walnut St., Downtown. It's free and open to the public, but advance registration is requested at cincyra.org/event/obscura. The event is hosted by actor/performer John Lawson and Q102’s Jenn Jordan. After the announcement, the schedule will be posted at cincyra.org.

For its third installment in Cincinnati, which will occur Feb. 27 to March 7, 2015, the ReelAbilities Film Festival plans to significantly increase its scope and draw more than 7,500 people. Among the planned events are an awards luncheon, a gala and 30 film and speaking events throughout Greater Cincinnati.

While ReelAbilities has been around with festivals in 13 cities nationally, this will be the first since Cincinnati's Living Arrangements for the Developmentally Disabled (LADD) contracted with the JCC of Manhattan to oversee the film fest nationally — making it a division of LADD's non-profit operations. The Cincinnati ReelAbilities Festival will be one of the largest. A jury in New York selects films deemed appropriate for ReelAbilities' regional festivals — there currently are about 100. Local juries then make their selections from that library.

All of the film screenings benefit local nonprofit organizations that serve people with disabilities. For more information about LADD, visit laddinc.org.

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<![CDATA[REVIEW: The German Doctor]]>

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-

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<![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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