WHAT SHOULD I BE DOING INSTEAD OF THIS?
 
 

Film: Moving Images: Thomas Struth and Thomas Ruff

0 Comments · Tuesday, January 26, 2016
The Cincinnati Art Museum’s monthly Moving Images film series starts off 2016 with short documentaries about two contemporary German photographers named Thomas.  
by Kerry Skiff 12.07.2015 62 days ago
Posted In: Literary, Movies, Film at 11:18 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
covington library

Beyond the Books

Movie screening at Kenton County Public Library's main branch

While this time of year is the season to go out and explore various holiday happenings, sometimes it’s nice to have a quiet movie night. As a seasoned college student, some of my favorite times with friends are the nights we hole up in bed and watch a Disney film. So when I saw that the Kenton County Public Library’s main branch was hosting a free movie screening last Tuesday, I found myself venturing to Covington for the event. The screening was of the 1993 film, And the Band Played On, a docu-drama depicting the beginnings of the AIDS virus in America. The screening was held on Dec. 1, World AIDS Day, as a way to spread education and awareness of the virus.My first worry was about walking in a few minutes late, but that concern was quickly doused when I entered the large but empty room. The film had already been started and was running through the beginning credits at the front, where dozens of vacant chairs sat in rows facing the screen. As there was no one in the audience to protest, I settled down, taking up more than my fair share of seats as I cozy. After about an hour, I looked around and noticed that I was still alone, a fact I attributed to the cold and rainy weather of the day. The film itself was an interesting depiction of how the U.S. medical and political communities first handled the virus, especially in the wake of a changing presidential administration and the changing dynamics of the gay community at the time. “This is the third year we have screened this film,” says Gary Pilkington, Adult Program Coordinator for the Kenton County Public Library. “At previous screenings, most people enjoyed the film. They don’t usually think about AIDS very much in their day-to-day lives, so this helped to re-focus their awareness.” According to Pilkington, it’s important to host events that bring attention to health concerns in the community. “We chose to screen And the Band Played On … to help the community understand that HIV and AIDS haven’t disappeared,” he says. “Most people don’t think twice about it unless a major celebrity reveals they have it or are HIV-positive … It has reached the point where it isn’t in the public consciousness as much as it had been, yet it is still a real threat to health.” I learned a lot about AIDS from the film, since most of my prior knowledge had been brief training on how to safely avoid contracting HIV and AIDS from the lifeguard training I received years ago. While I personally enjoyed the film, it was disappointing to see that no one else took advantage of the free screening, but perhaps with better weather and more awareness the next showing will be packed.Find this event interesting? Check out similar events at the Kenton County Public Library: Star Wars Bash: The Force Awakens at the library with themed crafts, food and a costume contest. Film Friday Matinee: Come to the library for a showing of Far From the Madding Crowd. Classic Movie Matinee: Join the crowd for a special showing of holiday film Christmas in Connecticut.
 
 
by Steven Rosen 12.03.2015 66 days ago
Posted In: Movies, Film at 11:15 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
anomalisa-008r

'Anomalisa' in the Running for Academy Award Nominations

The film joins 'Carol' as a Cincinnati-related movie garnering praise

There looks to be another very artful Cincinnati-related movie, besides Carol, that is on important Best Films of 2015 lists, wins critics awards and even figures in Oscar nominations. And it wouldn’t be Don Cheadle’s Miles Ahead, which like Carol was predominately filmed in Cincinnati but set in New York. Sony Classics isn’t planning to release that Miles Davis biopic, which Cheadle directed and stars in, until April. Rather, this is a film that is set in Cincinnati but wasn’t shot here because it’s an animated feature for adults that uses stop-motion puppets. It’s called Anomalisa and was written and co-directed by the always-adventurous Charlie Kaufman, who wrote Being John Malkovich and Adaptation and also wrote and directed Synecdoche, New York. (The co-director is Duke Johnson.) Anomalisa started life as a 2005 play called Hope Leaves the Theater. I have not seen it, but going by online and print stories from those who have, it is the tale of a depressed, married motivational speaker who, on a trip to Cincinnati that features a one-night hotel stay, believes he has found his ideal mate. But there may be complications. David Thewlis voices the lead character; Jennifer Jason Leigh is the woman he is attracted to. All other characters are voiced by Tom Noonan and have the same faces. That latter fact is important because it could be interpreted as a characteristic of a delusion called Fregoli Syndrome. In fact, the hotel in the film is named Fregoli. Independently financed, partly through Kickstarter, Anomalisa has won raves since premiering at Telluride and Venice film festivals in September. Britain’s Sight & Sound, one of the world’s most important film journals, has just ranked it the 11th best new film of 2015 — Carol ranked second. And both it and Carol are Best Feature nominees for the Independent Spirit Awards. It has been acquired by Paramount Pictures and is getting a limited release at the end of this month, after playing at film festivals, to qualify for Academy Awards. A huge poster board for its (still-undetermined) Cincinnati opening is already up at Esquire Theatre. If all this sounds too good to be true, there is a catch. Advance reports and early reviews don’t make it appear that Anomalisa’s depiction of Cincinnati is an especially complimentary one. In fact, the city just might have been chosen intentionally as an appropriate place for someone like the film’s principal character, Michael Stone, to have an emotional crisis. Here’s how Rodrigo Perez’ review on Indie Wire began: “With apologies in advance to the people of Cincinnati, in the worldview of Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson's Anomalisa, or at least to the misfortune of its characters, the Queen City represents a soul-crushing dullness and boredom that could drive any man mad. For customer service guru and author Michael Stone (brilliantly voiced by David Thewlis as a classic Kaufman-esque misanthrope), already fundamentally unhappy and in the midst of a huge existential crisis, Cincy is a grueling hell on Earth of fatuous people and irritating small talk. “In all fairness, it could be any faceless and anonymous city — part of Kaufman’s aim is to examine and send-up the mundanity of the business trip and that odd experience of feeling like an alien exploring the world of this not-quite-real, single-serving fantasy existence where people wait on you hand and foot.” Whatever its take on Cincinnati, the work that went into making Anomalisa is impressive. According to the Crafting Anomalisa short, it involved the creation of 1,261 faces and 1,000 costumes and required 118,089 frames of film to reach its final 90-minute running time.
 
 
by Steven Rosen 12.02.2015 66 days ago
Posted In: Film at 01:41 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
carol movie 2015 the weinstein company

'Carol' Wins Major Best Film Prize

The Cincinnati-filmed Carol has just won the first big critics poll of the year — the New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Film of 2015. The announcement was made this afternoon, following voting by the group. Directed by Todd Haynes from the novel The Price of Salt by Patricia Highsmith, it concerns a lesbian relationship in the New York of the early 1950s. It stars Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara. Besides the film’s award, Haynes received a Best Director nod; Phyllis Nagy got Best Screenplay and Edward Lachman got Best Cinematography. Because the two actresses both have leading parts, they may have split the vote — Saoirse Ronan received Best Actress for her part in the film Brooklyn. Carol is in four theaters in New York and L.A. and is getting a very slow national release to build word-of-mouth, hopefully through awards and nominations. Here is the Variety story on today’s awards.
 
 
by Tony Johnson 11.11.2015 87 days ago
at 05:39 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
spectre

Spoonful of Cinema: Spectre

When it comes to the James Bond pictures that have hit theaters in my lifetime, none hold a more important place in my memory as Daniel Craig’s embodiments in Casino Royale and Skyfall. So when I saw Spectre, the fourth and final Daniel Craig-led installment in the iconic spy series, it was more than just a Bond movie. It was a conclusion to a span of my young life that stretches across more than nine years. The franchise reboot came at a time in my life when a love of movies was only beginning to mature. It’s been a long time. Come to think of it, I didn’t even have a Facebook account in the Casino Royale days. A lot has changed since the first time we saw Craig take on Bond. But has James Bond changed with times? Sure. But his challenges and villains haven’t. There’s honestly nothing exhilaratingly new brought to the series with Spectre — unless if you count Bond occasionally seeming superhuman in gunfights (I expect better than the “all the bad guys missed eight times” shtick when I watch Bond films). It’s mostly the usual routine just blown to larger proportions. The Bond girl has vital information and there’s another girl he seduces for some other important leads. The bad guy gets a scar on his face and the cars are fast and the explosions are bigger than ever before. It’s great fun, but it felt a little too self-aware for 007. Occasionally Spectre felt stuffy when it could have flourished. I prefer my spy thrillers lean and mean, especially when James Bond is putting it on the line, and that is not what we got here. Despite the shortcomings, the opening sequence brings us a scrappy, resilient 007 that we’ve come to expect, know and love. He follows an enemy target through the Day of the Dead festivities in Mexico City, up into a hotel and across a roof, all to the sound of the city and a pounding percussion score. Bond kneels and peers through a laser-sighted combat riflescope to take down some international terrorists. But when someone lights a cigar, the smoke exposes the rifle’s laser. It’s a mistake that, for the moment, costs him his opportunity to complete his mission. He goes on to inadvertently blow up a building, almost gets crushed by falling chunks of rubble, leaps to a safe platform, then falls conveniently onto a loveseat. He brushes himself off and chases his target through a grand showing of the Day of the Dead’s festivities, and at this point we realize how rhythmic the picture has been. Bond continues to chase the terrorist onto a helicopter, punching up the target and the pilot. The English spy nearly falls to his death before he takes care of his enemies, and after he comes inches away from flying the chopper into the holiday festival crowd, he flies triumphantly into the sunset, grinning to himself as he goes. Much of the sequence is shot in long tracking and crane shots. Director Sam Mendes’ best moments of the film feel similar to the accomplishment of the first scene, with perilous encounters and gutsy execution from everyone’s favorite womanizer on government payroll. With the ultra sleek cinematography provided by Hoyte van Hoytema (The Fighter, Her), the tone of the picture — especially its action — seems all at once sophisticated and chaotic. Hoytema may well be a modern master at manipulating and capitalizing on a sort of spatial tension to coincide with what we witness. There are no problems with how the film is presented or how it looks. It’s the makeup of what the film presents. A good example of what Spectre lacks may be Dave Bautista’s role as the mightily violent Mr. Hinx. Hinx is a massive, intimidating colossus who greets us by gouging a guy’s eyes out. He chases down our suave hero for a good portion of the picture, and he (almost) never says a word. He just fights, chases and ultimately meets his match in James Bond. It’s fine popcorn entertainment. But it doesn’t raise the stakes in the world of 007. It’s just more of the same. “I’m out of bullets,” he tells an enemy at a crucial moment. Maybe the writers were out of ideas. The same sort of dissatisfaction can be said of Christoph Waltz’s role as the mastermind conspirator. He is trumpeted throughout Spectre as Bond’s greatest challenge yet. But the man known as Franz Oberhauser is not as effective as he is feared. He brings Bond into his lair to —guess what — be mean to him then kill him, instead of just kill him. You would think that people dealing with this particular spy would learn — you don’t capture him. Kill him immediately, or he will ruin everything. But even the most brilliant madman in all of Bond-world can’t figure that one out. It may be the most disappointed I’ve been with a Christoph Waltz performance. I suppose it’s not cliché when a Bond villain gets duped twice in the same movie, though, and this one absolutely does. To his credit, Waltz’s villain does command a very narrow, automated drill through the spy’s head a couple of times, so he doesn’t go down without giving his enemy a good scare. But I didn’t want a good scare with a couple of twists thrown in to catch me off guard. I wanted to seriously think there was no way Bond could make it out of the mess he found himself in. My generation’s 007 shouldn’t have gone out this way, but he did. He deserved better, if you ask me. He arrived nearly 10 years ago after a brief hiatus, ready to break our hearts and save the day. Now, as he goes, he leaves us empty-handed and wishing he had stayed for one last mission accomplished. But, just like the women he woos and loses and (almost) never fails to leave, we should only be glad we got a peek into the make-believe life of a daring, handsome, instinctive saboteur that is bigger than any single villainous counterpart, any single actor or any single movie. Period. 007 is a monument to Hollywood, to cinema, to blockbuster filmmaking that is engrained in the DNA of Western pop culture. And if we’ve learned anything about James Bond over the years, it’s that he will always be back. And when he does return, he’ll be looking a bit younger than when we last saw him, but we’ll recognize him. Whether its Jude Law or Tom Hardy or Chiwetel Ejiofor or someone I haven’t heard of, for around two hours we’ll only see James Bond. And he very well may learn a trick or two from those that have come before him. Let’s hope his opponent –— and everyone behind the cameras and at the writing tables, too — can keep up the pace. Grade: C –
 
 
by Tony Johnson 11.05.2015 93 days ago
at 01:54 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
steve jobs

Spoonful of Cinema: Steve Jobs

How do you manage to pack the lifetime of a generation-defining innovator into just more than two hours of screen time? This is the challenge that Danny Boyle (director of Slumdog Millionaire and Trainspotters) faces with his latest directorial effort, Steve Jobs. With a trademark rat-a-tat screenplay from Aaron Sorkin (Moneyball, The Social Network), the latest film surrounding the late Apple founder opts out of a tame, status quo biopic format for a compact, perhaps more difficult and ultimately beautiful picture revolving around three pivotal product releases that helped define Jobs’ career. But while we are taken from the launch of the original Macintosh to Jobs’ stint at NeXT to the original iMac unveiling, a struggle to grapple with his role in a scrambled family tree persists. It is a cumulative narrative gamble intricately orchestrated by Sorkin, sharply executed by Boyle and remarkably brought to life by the film’s star, Michael Fassbender. The accumulation of ingredients that goes into the final recipe, oddly enough, mostly reflects the biopic subject’s own tendencies as a business leader. The picture takes big chances, trusts its audience to see through the final product’s negligible flaws and eventually breaks through with something truly astounding. Occasionally, the film feels erratic — the jumps in time can feel jarring — but it is grounded in relationships revolving around a troubled but brilliant protagonist. The decision to force the life of an industry giant to be shown in miniscule slices of life — only three days with occasional flashbacks — also forces discussions that occurred (or half-occurred) at different times in Steve-Jobs-the-man’s life to occur backstage with Steve-Jobs-the-character. The decision is the mark of a filmmaking team dedicated to a narrative that does its subject justice as opposed to doing their subject a service. It sacrifices history for narrative, a worthy payment to achieve an eventual triumph. It would have been much safer to simply roll a tape that marched steadily along throughout the protagonist’s lifeline. But Sorkin’s script does for Jobs exactly what his The Social Network screenplay did for Zuckerberg — mythologize the work of the subject while humanizing them. And although it may be more fun to witness the glorification of the achievement of the iMac or “the Facebook” (do you remember the “the”?), it is much more rewarding to observe the inner workings of men mostly accessed indirectly through their inventions. It’s hard not to compare and contrast Steve Jobs with The Social Network. Their premises and Sorkin connection make them a perfect future double-header. In 2008, David Fincher showed us a heartbroken, bitter whiz kid-version of Zuckerberg crawling through the pains of social rejection and industry success in a coming-of-age story. Now, we get Danny Boyle’s take on a Sorkin wunderkind of a more optimistic flavor. Like the Zuckerberg character we get our hands on, this re-creation of Steve Jobs’ main issue isn’t his talent. It’s his ability to accept responsibility for people who are close to them in favor of his work. But Sorkin trades in the open-ended relatively bleak conclusion of Zuckerberg’s rise to fortune for a mostly uplifting ending to Jobs’ struggles with his daughter Lisa. The characters and settings and dialogues are not exact replicas of reality. At one point, Jobs remarks that everyone seems to confront him about personal qualms right before product releases, and we have to wonder how much that is wink to those who lived the real thing. The Beginning of 2013’s American Hustle comes to mind, when the opening frames read: “Some of this actually happened.” Of course, Steve Jobs is more honorable to the subject than O. Russell’s ABSCAM critique, which took unprecedented liberties and changed stories and names entirely for the sake of the narrative. Boyle doesn’t break the facts to pieces and create a new world to explore. Rather, he puts a spin on things, and he mashes tons of crucial life moments into 122 minutes of screen time. The final result feels intelligent, delightful and human. These three qualities — intelligence, delight and humanity — may have been Jobs’ most endearing personal elements that he contributed to the computer industry. “It needs to say, ‘Hello!’ ” Jobs commands Apple engineer Andy Hertzfeld (Michael Stuhlbarg) before the unveiling of the Macintosh. The Steve Jobs we meet via Michael Fassbender is calculating and demanding, but still charming in his sheer passion and enthusiasm for his line of work. In this regard, Steve Jobs is a resounding success. Throughout the three product release events, we also get a glimpse of Jobs’ struggles as a reluctant father, a challenging friend and an adopted son. There is no practical reason to like him for how he handles his out-of-wedlock daughter, Lisa, whom he initially rejects as someone else’s. “You must see that she looks like you”, Steve’s marketing executive Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet) tells him backstage of the Macintosh presentation. More than 10 years later, Hoffman tells Steve before the launch of the iMac, “What you make isn’t supposed to be the best part of you. When you’re a father — that’s what’s supposed to be the best part of you.” His old friend and Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak confronts him about giving recognition to the team that developed the Apple II computer, Apple’s earliest commercial breakthrough. When Jobs declines time and time again, Wozniak breaks it down. “It’s not binary,” he explains. “You can be decent and gifted at the same time.” Even Steve’s business partner and eventual foe John Scully (Jeff Daniels) poses the question, “Why do people like you who were adopted feel like they were rejected instead of selected?” It all adds up to a man who is so sure of what he does, and so unsure of who he is. Steve Jobs is a picture with a pulse — a heartbeat. It is overwhelmingly more man than machine. This humanity drives the film’s central concerns with an airtight script, clean direction and stellar acting. We are spoiled with a wonderful glimpse of an artistic interpretation of who Steve Jobs was. We see him as a tech industry giant, a flawed father and a victim of identity crisis. “It’s about control,” the silver-screen version of Jobs admits to Scully in regard to his uneasy feelings towards his status as an adopted child. “I don’t understand anyone who gives it up.” And yet what makes Jobs so intriguing as a character is his reluctance to give up any control of his life, even if it means denying responsibility as a father. Perhaps now we can begin to understand. Grade: A
 
 
by Tony Johnson 10.14.2015 116 days ago
at 10:16 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
homes

Spoonful of Cinema: 99 Homes

Andrew Garfield, the actor most famous for his portrayal of Peter Parker/Spider-Man in the not-so-amazing The Amazing Spider-Man franchise, has a lot going for him. He first came onto the scene when he brought Eduardo Saverin to life and put a tasteful pulse of humanity into David Fincher’s sublimely cold-blooded The Social Network back in 2010, for which he picked up a Golden Globe supporting actor nomination. As if that wasn’t enough, he also makes up a half of a very formidable Hollywood power couple with Emma Stone. So, with the world at his fingertips, on the brink of bona fide stardom, Andrew Garfield decided to star in a relatively small-budget limited release directed by Ramin Bahrani, 99 Homes. The picture is a small-time crime flick with a modern angle pitted around Garfield’s lead character, Dennis Nash. When Nash’s work as a roofer runs out, he and his mother and his son are evicted from their longtime family home. They are forced to move into a hotel, and their funds are running out when Nash goes to the office of the real estate agent that evicted his family to recover stolen tools. But when his allegations are denied, Nash instead finds himself carrying out repair jobs for the local real estate operator, Rick Carver — the very man who evicted Nash and his family. By the end of the day, Nash agrees to continue his work with Carver, and before you can say, “Here we go,” things begin to spiral out of control. Carver is not an honest real estate mogul, and he isn’t personable in even the simplest of ways. “Don’t get personal about real estate,” he repeats throughout the film. It contradicts the very reason that Nash is so desperate to make more money working for Carver. For Nash, having a house isn’t a financial opportunity to flip for profit later on. It is an opportunity to keep his son from living in a run-down motel, and to keep his mother in a space where she can run her personal hairstyling business. It is an opportunity to keep from being woken at night by screaming motel-stayers. An opportunity to live somewhere that your son is not constantly barraged with the smell of cigarette smoke. To keep your son in the same school with his friends. To give your family a future. The socio-economic and values-based chasm between the two characters is extreme. While Nash is a down-on-his-luck blue-collar type with a conscious and a family he so desperately wants to provide for, Carver uses the county map as a board for what he describes as “a rigged game. By the winners, of the winners, for the winners.” Carver also could give a damn about his family — he cheats, and treats his daughters like dogs who prefer ice cream to Beggin’ Strips. Rather than spend quality time with his kids, he spends quality cash on them to cover up any wounds. Nash’s somewhat reluctant assistantship to Carver grows into a prominent role for the former roofer, who spends his days stealing appliances from government-owned homes, evicting squatters and re-selling the previously stolen appliances. The story serves to propose a series of unasked questions regarding the morality of such eviction processes. When Carver removes personal desires and factors from home owning, he tilts into the realm of the sociopath, treating unfortunate eviction subjects as hindrances to monetary gain rather than victims of monetary gain gone wild. Carver is a one-dimensional, single-minded dickhead of a boss, sharply played by veteran actor Michael Shannon. Shannon astutely narrows in on what makes Rick Carver tick. Cold, pragmatic and impatient, Carver seems practically impervious to psychological analysis. He is a monster much at home in a world where money is lord and people are only peasants whose purpose is to serve the royalty. But where does 99 Homes bring Andrew Garfield’s career? Does it give him the opportunity to truly dominate a lead dramatic role? I’m not so sure. He is on point, and feels authentic as the poor working-class hero Dennis Nash, which is surprising considering Garfield’s background playing a multi-millionaire venture capitalist in The Social Network and Spider-Man. I understand that Nash is desperate to restore some sort of dignity to his family’s life. I believe him when he briefly grieves over his son changing schools. But I wasn’t clinging to him. I didn’t feel any sense of desperation at the prospect of his losing out to the system rigged against him. I felt compelled to care, but I didn’t feel I would be crushed by a horrific outcome. There is still something else to explore with Nash, and I don’t think we saw it ourselves. Andrew Garfield gets a good role in 99 Homes, but it might not be the role that he’s been searching for. He gets a ton of screen time and a winner’s share of the script. He pulls off a subtle Floridian accent that is noticeable but non-invasive, and he really knows how to get us to panic every once in a while. But I couldn’t bring myself to declare Garfield an absolute winner for his job-well-done in 99 Homes. 99 Homes is pretty solid. The film, the lead role and its lead actor have something in common. They are all only a few steps from greatness. But I can’t tell you that I’m sure how they might get there. For now, and for Andrew Garfield, hopefully good enough will just have to do. Grade: B-
 
 
by Tony Johnson 10.08.2015 122 days ago
at 11:29 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
ac_film_sicario_richardforemanjr.

Spoonful of Cinema: Sicario

You can feel it. Under the suspense, the action, the tension — fear. The fear of the unknown. The fear of death. The fear that you don’t amount to anything more than the dirt you tread on. The fear that your efforts to do what is right only contribute to the very evil you fight. The fear that you are horribly wrong. The fear that you are as alone as you think you are. This unrelenting fear bubbles viciously beneath the surface of Sicario, the crime-and-punishment thriller that brings our greatest nightmares to the Mexican border drug wars. Emily Blunt stars and shines as plays-it-by-the-book FBI Agent Kate Macer. When Kate is recruited by Matt Graver (Josh Brolin) to search for the men responsible for the killing of two police officers and dozens of immigrants, she agrees. But almost immediately, the motives behind the mission become less and less clear. A mysterious Colombian partner of Graver’s, Alejandro Gillick (Benicio Del Toro), is heavily involved in the operation, which troubles Kate, and she begins to wonder who she is really working for, who she is helping and who she is fighting against. Kate’s journey to Juarez and back and throughout the border is as tense as it gets. Director Denis Villeneuve (Prisoners, Enemy) holds nothing back in keeping us on the edge of our seats, squeezing our sodas and shoving popcorn into our faces. Kate never seems safe. Alejandro barely seems human. Graver hardly seems genuine. If Sicario were a roller coaster, it would be in our best interest to buckle up and strap in. The story and visions that flash on the silver screen throughout Sicario are gritty and unnerving, fraught with uncertainty and discomfort. Villeneuve’s camera is unafraid to intrude upon our characters. We see every mark of desperate frustration on Kate’s face. We are thrust into a shootout in the middle of a traffic jam. We witness Alejandro’s interrogation methods. It isn’t pretty, but it makes for a strikingly suspenseful trip along the tracks of the Mexican drug cartel’s trade routes and the U.S. government’s efforts to mop up the mess. If a plot is only as good as the actors that bring it to life, it should be safe to say that there are no shortcomings with the players who provide the pulse of the story. Emily Blunt seems ready to take her place amongst Jennifer Lawrence and Scarlett Johansson in the upper echelon of A-list Hollywood-actress badasses. She is as much as anyone can ask for as agent Kate Macer. We find ourselves rooting for Kate not only to survive, but also to find some legitimate meaning or purpose or silver lining to the work she has given herself to — even if we doubt that it may be there. She lays her life on the line, not without questions, but without a trace of cynicism. Blunt nails the character, creating an overwhelmed hero who pushes her private life aside for the sake of an idealistic pursuit of bringing those to justice who most require it. Blunt is supported by the macho pairing of Brolin and Del Toro, each in prime form. Brolin is spot-on as the ethically dismissive Graver. Rather than being up-front with Kate about their objectives, Graver keeps her in the dark, laughing off most of her concerns with country-boy quips and tasteless witticisms. Del Toro turns in an ice-cold performance. His commanding brevity accentuates the frozen stare he gives anyone and everyone, and there isn’t an ounce of trustworthiness to be found upon his face. Whether Alejandro’s loyalties exist or not is a total mystery, and the only thing that we are sure of with him is that he gives nothing up — he has no tells. Del Toro gives us a relentless portrayal of a man with nothing to lose, little to gain and motivations shrouded in stoic ruthlessness. But once the film finishes — once the curtain is drawn back and the gears of the murderous machinery are revealed — we are left feeling as hopeless as when we are oblivious to the inner workings of the border conflict at hand. There is no saving grace. No relief. No future. Only more of the same. More empty hands, more empty promises, more empty homes — all of which fuel the fire of the drug trade to grow stronger and more sure of itself with each passing day, week and military operation. With twists and turns throttling our sense of security along the way, Sicario eventually reaches its stunningly bleak conclusion with a sobering impression left on the audience. The notion is suggested that violence and war and vengeance are not chosen. They are evils that are learned, inherited and bestowed upon those unfortunate enough to experience the effects of the evil that they are afflicted with. They are a collective plague, a virus impossible to end — an epidemic unable to be curbed. War, violence, and betrayal never end. It only reimagines, redistributes, and recreates itself. Somewhere between the militaristic sabotage of Zero Dark Thirty and the desert-heated tension of No Country For Old Men, Sicario is a stunning knockout of a picture that pulls no punches, provides no apologies and leaves even the most romantic of all of us asking: Are there “good guys” anymore? And if there are, how different are they from the “bad guys” they’re after? Grade: A                                                                                                      
 
 
by Tony Johnson 09.29.2015 130 days ago
at 04:02 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
new-trailer-arrives-for-cannibal-horror-the-green-inferno-watch-now-163798-a-1401692779-470-75

Spoonful of Cinema: The Green Inferno

Whether or not you like The Green Inferno probably depends on whether or not you can put up with the guy at parties who says, “I don’t want to be that guy, but…” and then suggests something inconvenient (usually they want your food). This gore-fest of a horror film knows it’s being “that guy.” But does acknowledging one’s faults make them automatically forgivable? Director Eli Roth’s latest effort to gross us out is propped up against the backdrop of the Amazon rainforest. Like many of his films before (Cabin Fever, Hostel), it focuses on a naïve protagonist venturing to unfamiliar territory. When Justine (Lorenza Izzo) finds herself teaming up with a social activism group at college aiming to end the destruction of the rainforests inhabited by indigenous tribes, she doesn’t just sign up to hold a rally at a capitol building or egg a corporation’s headquarters. She signs up to go into the jungle, which is currently a warzone between industry and indigenous tribes. Justine ignores the risks because she thinks the leader of the student activists is really, really hot. One of their planes eventually crash-lands, leaving them in the middle of the jungle with no sense of direction and no GPS. In a turn of events soaked with irony, the students who are attempting to save the indigenous people from neocolonial expansion are mistaken for workers of the aggressive enterprisers and are brought in as prisoners by the unnamed tribe. Once the students are locked in a cell, we quickly learn that the students are not so much captives as they are cattle. The tribe is cannibalistic, and it seems that the only thing they revel in more than eating human flesh is the ceremonial torturing of it. The Green Inferno knows exactly how wrong it is, and Eli Roth is laughing all the way. It is a campy, tongue-in-cheek, refreshing throwback to the likes of the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre, although its premise does directly call back to Cannibal Holocaust, even if the film at hand doesn’t match up to either of the two grindhouse horror classics. Roth wastes no time trying to get us to genuinely care for any of the characters, most of whom cannot help but exude privilege even in the most typical of conversations. Rather than try to get us to root for the survival of a group of heroes, he gets us to pity Justine along the way. Roth hopes that we become overwhelmed not only by the buckets of blood spurting from victims’ severed limbs or heads, but also by the insurmountable misfortune that Justine attracts. She serves as a sort of doppelganger to the unsuspecting moviegoer that unwittingly finds themself in a showing of The Green Inferno. Way in over her head, constantly shocked by the brutality of her apparent fate and always trying to plot ways to escape when she isn’t trying to contribute to another prisoner’s plan, Justine may represent that weak-stomached tag-along in the group of friends who shouldn’t have come to this movie. And I am warning you: Any popcorn you eat is coming right back up if you aren’t ready for Roth’s demented exposé. Better yet, Justine might be seen as the squeamish piece in all of us that we can’t help but hear in the back of our minds saying, “Get me out of this theater.” And that’s where The Green Inferno really burns brightest — in its ability to make us cringe, make us looks away from the screen for brief moments, make us wish were brave enough to keep watching. It differs in an essential manner from the all-out seriousness of last month’s similarly plotted No Escape. But while the Owen Wilson-led action flick felt heavy-handed and unapologetic in its possibly xenophobic premise, The Green Inferno is packed with enough despicable victims that it doesn’t feel like the American college students are helpless against foreign customs. It just feels like they’re getting what’s coming to them. They are a carefully crafted crew of stereotypical archetypes with foul mouths and insensitive opinions. Some are homophobic. Some seem racist. One smokes pot, one plays guitar and two of them are partially along for the trip to the Amazon in an attempt to eventually get laid. Before our characters get captured, tortured and perhaps killed, we are given ample reason to wish it upon them. Despite any of the premise’s inherent faults, Roth understands that if we want to celebrate the relentless cannibalistic carnage that he so desperately loves, the deaths must not be tragic, but a release. That’s where the unlikable characters become so useful. I caught myself grimacing as much at what the characters said as when I witnessed their respective dooms, but I also caught myself occasionally laughing at the grotesque images of severed limbs, gauged eye sockets and impaled skulls. There’s no getting around the uncomfortable dull-mindedness of its protagonists, but for all of its bumps and bruises, The Green Inferno mostly slashes, burns and bleeds its way to a good time. And it’s not in spite of how unlikable the characters are. It’s because of how unlikable they are. But just because I mostly had a good time doesn’t mean I was mostly impressed. The Green Inferno delivers where it should and comes up short where you might expect. The dialogue serves its purpose but drags its feet, and I’m not sure that the attempted commentary on globalism hits its mark. None of the actors shine — although to be fair, this is an Eli Roth film, where acting is but a mechanism to eventually get your head chopped off. The most troubling conceptual piece of the movie comes with its script’s big “reveal” moment. Underlying hidden motivations for their trip are eventually unveiled to the students upon their capturing and it absolutely reeks of a “ghost in the machine.” Even though the twist tries to serve as an anti-neocolonial statement, it comes across as just a hollow plot device that could have been solved somehow else. Still, the point isn’t to be impressed with a social commentary, stellar acting or a remarkable plot when you walk in the theater for a cannibal horror flick. The point is that the subtext, performances and story amplify the fear of intense physical pain, the fear of a slow tortuous death and the fear that the worst things can happen to people who believe that they are working to create a better world. In that regard, The Green Inferno is definitely worth a viewing for horror enthusiasts despite its missteps and it is also a must-avoid for the weak of stomach. If it were any bloodier, you would have to bring a bib. If it were any better, you would have to see it to believe it. Grade: C
 
 
by Tony Johnson 09.22.2015 137 days ago
at 02:53 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
black mass

Spoonful of Cinema: Black Mass

My movie weekend started at 7 p.m. Friday night, when I went and saw Black Mass, the true-crime expose of the Boston crime boss James “Whitey” Bulger. The picture stars Johnny Depp as the murderous, opportunistic kingpin, while Joel Edgerton portrays fellow South-Bostonian and conspirator, FBI agent John Connolly. It’s a somewhat typical, mostly entertaining look at one of America’s most notorious most-wanted criminals of the time. Black Mass has a few things going for it. First of all, Depp is in good form as “Whitey” Bulger. He commits cold-blooded murder to solve any inconvenience along the way to ruling Boston’s scummy criminal underworld. Depp’s Bulger is a methodical, cunning and careful small-time mobster who takes every opportunity granted to propel himself to the big leagues of the black market. We get a particularly riveting piece of the character’s psyche when he explains the ethics of punching people in the face to his elementary school-aged son. “It’s not what you do”, he tells the boy. “It’s when and where you do it and who you do it to or with. If nobody sees it,” Bulger reassures his son, “didn’t happen.” Along the way, we get solid work from an impressive cast. Supporters Benedict Cumberbatch, Dakota Johnson, Jesse Plemons, Kevin Bacon, Adam Scott and Corey Stoll all come along to fight the fight that sees the eventual downfall of Bulger’s Winter Hill Gang. It’s a tense cat-and-mouse game throughout, but we only get short glimpses of the damage done. The crime drama covers roughly seven years in just over two hours, and director Scott Cooper takes on the difficult task of packing such a long period into 122 minutes. It’s a movie with fundamental flaws in its nature. A highly calculated, brutal and bloody war unfolds on the streets of Boston. But it all happens so fast, and some moments and spaces that Agent Connolly, “Whitey” Bulger and their respective peers occupy feel more intriguing than others. It left me wishing that the story had something to say about itself, and didn’t just serve as a series of glimpses into the acts of a real-life villain. Interestingly enough, the real James “Whitey” Bulger has denounced what he’s heard of Black Mass and Depp’s portrayal of him. Former member of the Winter Hill Gang Kevin Weeks claims that what we have on our hands is pure “fantasy.” It seems strange that the makers of a true crime story about “Whitey” Bulger would veer from the facts and into the realm of exaggeration when a movie already exists that does just that. I’m talking about Martin Scorsese’s The Departed. Not even 10 years old, the Academy Award-winning movie was a loose interpretation of “Whitey” Bulger’s eventual end. Perhaps if The Departed had not been released, Black Mass would be more worthwhile. But the new, supposedly more genuine representation felt hesitant, as if trying to straddle the line between fact and fiction while propelling us a month-per-minute through the timeline. Essentially, Black Mass is a shadow to both Bulger’s true story and The Departed’s artistic falsehoods. It feels aimless despite its grit, its guts and its star, and I think that to some degree there is a good movie hiding somewhere within this Mass. Grade: C-
 
 

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