WHAT SHOULD I BE DOING INSTEAD OF THIS?
 
 
by Tony Johnson 09.01.2015 20 hours ago
at 03:07 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
noescape

Spoonful of Cinema: No Escape

No Escape is fine, I guess. It’s surprisingly better than I would have suspected, but I’m not recommending it. The action is tense but the story is flat. Its story is wildly boring and its perspective is probably xenophobic. Giving the filmmaking Dowdle brothers the benefit of the doubt as far as the xenophobic possibilities go, there’s still something wrong with this picture. Star actor Owen Wilson isn’t the problem. Neither is star actress Lake Bell. Neither is star support Pierce Brosnan. Neither is the directing team of Drew and John Erick Dowdle. What’s wrong with No Escape is the uninspired writing team of Drew and John Erick Dowdle. Unfortunately for the 40-something brothers out of St. Paul, Minn., their combined efforts behind the keyboard are far more tragic than the events we witness on camera. The filmmaking duo brings us Wilson as Jack Dwyer, a newly transferred employee of a large corporation. The international company has something to do with the water supply in an unnamed, apparently irrelevant Asian nation. And guess what? The native inhabitants of whatever country Jack is in don’t like the fact that a big, bad business is taking their water because things have apparently gotten worse since Americans began controlling the supply.The well-armed revolt puts the Dwyer family in an unexpected scenario. The locals are violently rebellious, and they want American blood. Despite the film’s title, Jack and his wife Annie (Lake Bell) do everything in their power to bring themselves and their children to escape from the lethally unfortunate situation they have found themselves in. The route of escape takes us from the inside of a hotel building to the top of a hotel building to the top of another building and down and through the unnamed city to the U.S. Embassy and to the Vietnam border. Along the way, British Intelligence Agent Hammond (Brosnan) assists the Dwyers. Hammond alludes to the fact that Western military intelligence operations are responsible for the mess in whatever country the Dwyers are escaping from. He helps the Dwyers and puts his life on the line out of some sense of guilt. It all adds up to a script that feels like its main mission is to apologize for its lack of any sort of brains and then shove us into a somewhat suspenseful moment. But the cameras do the trick. Whether I like it or not, I found myself occasionally impressed with the stylistic delivery with which the Dowdle brothers prop up their mundane screenplay. It is a directorial display that gives heavy hints to their roots in horror films, from the pacing to the music to the title screen. The dialogue is mostly fluff, but the suspense is mostly well executed and even somewhat gripping. But it didn’t stop me from feeling uncomfortable with myself every time I caught myself enjoying a near-death experience of one of our on-screen protagonists. Just like the script seems to apologize for its non-story, I felt like I had to apologize to my brain for having some sort of fun watching it play out. No Escape seems to be entirely the Dowdle Brothers’ creation, and with the paltry substance that they provide themselves to work with, they manage to satisfy us in some very basic ways. We don’t know if any of the Dwyers will make it or not until the very end. We don’t feel as though any of them are safe throughout, but we are also unsure of why we would really care if a main character were to bite the bullet. Of course, some level of tragedy is implied when we watch a anyone get shot or beat to death, but building up a struggling family with a weak script to serve as their infrastructure doesn’t do the Dowdles any favors. The body count in No Escape is probably the most impressive thing about the movie. It echoes part of the appeal and much of the nonsensical aspects of 2008’s Taken. But instead of a man’s daughter being taken by foreign assailants, No Escape paints us a picture of a man who obliviously marches his family right into Hell’s gates, which are seemingly always located overseas. The fact that Jack’s ineptness in planning so sharply contrasts his ability to think on the fly in emergency scenarios is troubling. There’s no way someone — particularly someone so bright as the inventor Jack Dwyer — would relocate their family via global megacorporation job placement without looking into the company’s social standing in the impoverished, politically unstable region it inhabits. Right? What we have here is not so much a disaster movie as it is a disastrous movie. No Escape is a fitting title for this predictably unexceptional, relatively low-budget Weinstein Company flick. Owen Wilson seems to have no escape from bad movies, despite his obvious talent exhibited in films like Bottle Rocket and Midnight In Paris. Lake Bell seems to have no escape from taking bland roles as “the-wife-of-so-and-so,” despite her directorial and creative talents. The Dowdle Brothers’ directorial talents galore have no escape from the toxic script that they penned themselves. And we the audience had no escape from No Escape. In the end, whether the Dwyers survive or not, everyone leaves the theater a loser. Grade: D+
 
 
by Tony Johnson 08.24.2015 8 days ago
at 03:57 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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Spoonful of Cinema: Straight Outta Compton (Review)

When N.W.A. first arrived, the group was a revelation — a musical explosion of aggressive lyrics and explicit subject matter. When its legendary record Straight Outta Compton dropped 27 years ago, it may very well have marked the inclusion of gangsta rap in the mainstream conscious of pop culture for the first time. The rap group, comprised of Eazy-E, Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, MC Ren and DJ Yella, became the voice of a pissed off generation of street kids who had been subjected to and paid witness to the worst of the War on Drugs, police harassment and brutality and Reaganomics. So here we are, more than a quarter of a century later, and the story that N.W.A. was telling in 1988 sounds all too similar to the domestic issues we face as a nation today. While Straight Outta Compton the album was current, Straight Outta Compton the film is characterized by a triple balancing act of paying tribute to the godfathers of gangsta, the biopic-necessity of gritty truth-telling and exuding modern relevance. The film begins before the group comes to exist. Before they become pieces of the world’s most dangerous Hip Hop group, Eazy-E is pocketing stacks of cash (or not, when he gets stiffed) from dope deals and ducking from the police. Ice Cube is venting mightily with a pen and pad, and doing his best not to get beat by local gangsters. Dr. Dre is begrudgingly DJing for an L.A. club that distances its image from what the club owner calls “that gangster bullshit.” Ren is just a small-time MC, and DJ Yella works the club discs with Dre. Eazy wonders how long he could survive in the drug game, Cube is full of rhymes targeted at everything he has to deal with and Dre is escaping into his G-funk production dream world at his mother’s strong disapproval. As we watch the stories unfold — which primarily revolve around the trio of Eazy, Cube and Dre — we also witness the blossoming of three exceptional young and relatively unknown actors.  Jason Mitchell nails the loose-canon, true gangster attitude of Eazy-E and adds touches of guilt and tinges of pain. O’Shea Jackson Jr., the son of Ice Cube, is surprisingly superb in his first significant acting performance as his father. The resemblance is astoundingly striking — from Jackson Jr.’s appearance to his laugh, voice and smile, there could not have been a better or less conventional choice as to who could play Ice Cube. Corey Hawkins portrays Dr. Dre. It’s a tight race amongst the three to determine which star shines the brightest — not in dissimilar fashion to the icons they emulate — but perhaps Hawkins is the most impressive, if not the most qualified. Hawkins’ experience ranges from playing Shakespeare’s vital Tybalt role in a Broadway production of Romeo and Juliet to being recently named as the actor to take on Heath in The Walking Dead, and his experience and natural talent are both are on full display in Straight Outta Compton. If Hollywood has its head on straight, these three actors can help to close the cringe-worthy diversity gap in the movie industry. The actors and director F. Gary Gray carry an expansive, sometimes sprawling collaborative script to impressive places in Hip Hop history that were all sparked by N.W.A. From their initial, practically overnight explosion of popularity to the subsequent contract dissatisfaction and departures of Ice Cube and Dr. Dre from the group, the movie becomes something that it may not have intended to be but is rewarding to witness — it serves as a re-telling of West Coast Hip Hop’s rise through the spectrum of N.W.A. We get a taste of early Hip Hop dis-tracks when Ice Cube leaves for New York City to start his own rap label, Lench Mob. We witness bad contracts from Jerry Heller (Paul Giamatti) and violent intimidation from Suge Knight, which serve as opposite sides to the same coin of Eazy-E’s tragic fall from rap stardom. We watch Dre work out production kinks with Snoop Dogg, the D.O.C. and Tupac. Straight Outta Compton is a treat for Hip Hop fans, and as a huge fan of N.W.A., Ice Cube and Dr. Dre, I can say that my expectations were easily satisfied and my highest hopes exceeded.  It’s a strange formula for a blockbuster hit. Think about it — a picture produced by the artists (Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, the Eazy-E estate) with the most to gain monetarily from its success shouldn’t be good. It should be a two-hour commercial. But it is good, even though the cast is essentially a collection of unknowns with the insertion of the producer’s son as a lead. But it does work, and it works brilliantly, and I can only hope that Ice Cube’s Cube Vision video production studios aim to make more Hip Hop and street pictures.   The film works brilliantly on two levels. The first level is at face value — we get to re-witness one of the most —if not the most — exciting moments in Hip Hop. The second level is revealed when you peel back the layers and ask yourself why the story of these kids from Compton in the late ’80s is just as relevant as it was then. The things that they were saying on record, the journalistic qualities unique to Hip Hop (and perhaps Folk music) that showed what life was really like — I don’t think the film is trying to keep those ideas and frustrations bottled up in the era of Reagan and Bush 1. Instead, the film is really about what we face today, how things haven’t changed enough and that if artists don’t feel the responsibility to shine a light on unfortunate circumstances the way that Eazy-E, Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, MC Ren and DJ Yella did, then maybe things never will change. The film is as much a message to the future as it is a reflection of the past. And it’s a whole hell of a lot of fun, too. Grade: A-
 
 
by Tony Johnson 08.19.2015 13 days ago
at 12:54 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
mission-impossible

Spoonful of Cinema: Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (Review)

I went and saw Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation twice in the last week and a half. It was an absolute blast the first time around and the second opportunity was too hard to turn down when I found myself at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, Calif., last Wednesday afternoon. It is a doozy of a cinema house, and if you find yourself in the land of make-believe (that is, Hollywood), I do recommend an escape to the famous theater for a tour and a showing in their IMAX auditorium. But back to Mission: Impossible 5. The high-octane action flick is a blast to the very past of its origins. The first Mission: Impossible arrived nearly 20 years ago. Ethan Hunt, the uncannily able, righteously insubordinate agent of the IMF (that’s the Impossible Missions Force) is as heroic as ever in huge thanks to none other than Tom Cruise. Cruise is his usual self — sharp as they come, quipping one-liners and putting his ass on the line for the old-fashioned Hollywood thrill of watching someone do drastically dangerous things as we watch from the comfort of a cushioned theater seat, throw popcorn at our faces and slurp on our sodas. But Hunt is not without his team, and his team is a well-rounded crew both in what they contribute to Hunt and what the respective actors contribute to the chemistry. Simon Pegg gives us the silly, sarcastic surveillance wiz Benji Dunn. Jeremy Renner gives us the seriously stressed IMF Field Operations Director William Brandt. Rebecca Ferguson is the mysterious secret ally to Hunt, who holds the key between the IMF and their most dangerous enemies, known only as the Syndicate. Together the team works from Washington, London, Paris, Vienna and Casablanca in their desperate attempts to thwart what seems like an unstoppable force of cruel international intentions. Along the way, we get Ethan Hunt and Co. in their finest form. They race through tunnels and alleys and mountainsides by foot and by car and by motorcycle. They infiltrate high-security premises with masks and soft steps and deep-water diving. They keep us laughing, on the edge of our seats and constantly wondering, “How can they get out of this mess?” Perhaps the most impressive thing about Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation lies in its star, the Undeniable One, Mr. Cruise. But perhaps the most important piece of M:I–RO’s meticulously crafted Hollywood formula is its story, script and direction, all of which were crafted and brought to life by Christopher McQuarrie, with story assistance from Drew Pearce (set to write the upcoming Ghostbusters reboot). McQuarrie’s expertise at the typewriter is as evident now as it was when he penned the Bryan Singer-directed, Academy Award-winning screenplay for 1995’s The Usual Suspects. No line is wasted. When viewers aren’t chuckling, we’re learning about the Syndicate — who they are, what they want, how Hunt might be able to stop them. Above all, McQuarrie knows how to paint Cruise as a charming lead. McQuarrie has written three other scripts (Valkyrie, Jack Reacher, Edge of Tomorrow) that have featured Cruise as the lead man. And the charm is what drives the film at the end of the day. Because we’ve all seen Mission: Impossible before. We’ve all seen Tom Cruise save the day (practically every time we see him, actually). We’ve all seen explosions and motorcycle races and we’ve all heard big resounding chords played on horn sections as high-flying stunts are performed on-screen. So what makes this time around so special, perhaps the best Mission Hunt has seen in his five-installment, 20-year span?  It’s something difficult to describe. What sets M:I 5 apart from so many other stupid Hollywood blockbusters is its ability to keep us constantly on our toes, unsure of whether we might be laughing at a surprise punch-line or gawking at a dangerous stunt or discovering some top-secret information. Rogue Nation accomplishes that rare, perhaps unprecedented feat of taking a Hollywood franchise beyond its own limits without uprooting its foundation in its fifth installment. Like the Fast & Furious franchise, the Mission: Impossible universe seems to only get more and more fun as each installment finds its way from studio back-lots and extravagant shooting locations to the cinema houses. It is a brilliantly young-at-heart balancing act that buoys the end result upwards toward Hollywood awesomeness in a silver-screen summer that has been sorely lacking in good old-fashioned fun. Grade: B+
 
 
by Steven Rosen 05.13.2015 111 days ago
at 02:17 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
cr

Cincinnati Art Museum's James Crump Re-Emerges with a New Film

James Crump, the Cincinnati Art Museum's chief curator/photography curator who was a key figure in the planning and programming of the first FotoFocus festival in 2012 and then resigned from the museum in early 2013, has re-emerged as the director of a new documentary, Troublemakers: The Story of Land Art. It tells the story, with plenty of archival footage, of three restless New York artists in the who — as part of the 1960s/1970s rebellion against materialistic values sweeping American culture — sought to create epic art that was one with the outdoor environment, especially in the open and hard-to-access spaces of the west. That, they thought, would make it hard to buy and own. Robert Smithson created "Spiral Jetty" in Utah, Walter De Maria made New Mexico's "Lightning Field," and Michael Heizer did "Double Negative" in Utah and is still working on "City." (The other two are deceased.)Other artists featured in the film are Nancy Holt (who has an environmental artwork at Miami University), Dennis Oppenheim, Carl Andre and Vito Acconci. In an exchange of emails with CityBeat, Crump said he is hoping for the film to show at festivals and then get a limited theatrical release in fall, followed by availability on other distribution platforms. He also said his sales agent, Submarine Entertainment, represented Citizenfour and Finding Vivien Maier.Before coming to Cincinnati, Crump made a documentary about Robert Mapplethorpe's relationship to Sam Wagstaff, Black White + Gray.He has provided CityBeat with a link to Troublemakers' trailer:Trailer courtesy Summitridge Pictures. © RSJC LLC, 2015.
 
 

'Lambert & Stamp': Sign of the Changing Times

0 Comments · Wednesday, May 13, 2015
The birth of the DIY movement, it could be argued, arrived when Christopher Stamp and Kit Lambert stumbled upon each other and discovered their shared dream of becoming filmmakers.   

'Maggie': Fighting the Dying of the Light

0 Comments · Wednesday, May 6, 2015
Cultural fatigue looms over every frame of Maggie, the new release from director Henry Hobson and screenwriter John Scott 3, setting up a seemingly monumental obstacle for the newbie feature filmmaking team to overcome.   
by Steven Rosen 04.30.2015 124 days ago
Posted In: Movies at 02:10 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
sony pictures classics

'The Salt of the Earth' Held Over at Mariemont Theatre

Documentaries about photographers have the difficulty of making still photographs hold our interest in a medium that is about — obviously — moving pictures. The contemplation and meditation that successful still photographs elicit tend to get lost when your eyes and brain are trying to keep up with something traveling at 35 frames per second. It's like trying to admire an elegant home from a speeding train.A recent (and very good) film about a photographer, Finding Vivian Maier, solved that problem by turning the story of why she was so overlooked in her lifetime into a mystery. The current film The Salt of the Earth, about the questing, humanistic Brazilian-born photographer Sebastiao Salgado and directed by Wim Wenders with Salgado's son, Juliano, may be the best documentary about a photographer ever. Salgado deserves it, too — his years-long, book-length projects chronicling the hardships humans endure in their search for work (Workers) and safety from war and famine (Migrations), as well as his elegiac images of the earth itself (Genesis), mark him as one of history's most important photographers. And he's still active at age 71.Mariemont Theatre has just announced the film will be held over for a second week, starting tomorrow (Friday). The Salt of the Earth accomplishes its profundity by beautifully melding the best traits of film — tracking shots, close-ups, essayist commentary and interviews presented as monologues, color cinematography, music — with deep feeling for the subject and his work. Wenders presents Salgado's monumental black-and-white photographs superbly. He slowly shifts between them and his own filmmaking. It deserved the recent Academy Award nomination it received.Wenders is the German director of some classic narrative films (Wings of Desire, Paris, Texas) who, with his documentaries Pina and Buena Vista Social Club, showed he could find inventive and life-affirming ways to depict on film the work of other artists he respects. Wenders in The Salt of the Earth can be solemn when it's called for — Salgado's work at times makes you wonder if the human race is doomed to cruelty to hardship. But it's also optimistic, as when chronicling how Salgado has restored to health his parched, dying family farm in Brazil.We're fortunate that the Mariemont has elected to hold this film for a second week. I saw it last Monday and the crowd was small, so many of its intended audience might not yet be aware of it. It really deserves to be seen on a big screen. and it's rewarding for all those who take film and photography seriously.
 
 

Filmmaker Alex Garland Humanizes the Machine

0 Comments · Wednesday, April 29, 2015
Ex Machina writer-director Alex Garland is a thoroughly modern writer, intent on probing our most human urges and the boundaries that lie beyond the present moment.  
by John Hamilton 04.23.2015 131 days ago
at 01:25 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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Forgotten Classics: Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier

Reviewing lesser-known films that stand the test of time

We all have that one Disney movie that we love dearly. The one film that, despite whatever age we are, we can watch and enjoy. For me there are several that meet that criteria: The Three Caballeros (1945), Beauty and the Beast (1991), The Great Mouse Detective (1986) and countless others. But the one film that takes the No. 1 spot on my list is Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier, Disney’s take on the adventures of famed frontiersman and one-time congressman. The movie’s plot ranges from his time in the Creek Wars to his congress years to his final stand at the Alamo. If I may get personal for a moment: I was obsessed with this movie when I was kid. I couldn’t get enough Crockett related stuff. I even dressed up as Crockett for Halloween one year. I was heartbroken when the film’s lead actor, Fess Parker, passed away in 2010. So, yes, this movie meant a lot to me. In a way, it set me on the path to my love of films and shaped me in a lot of ways. I’m sure to some people the biggest flaw with the movie is that the plot is a rather romanticized telling of Crockett’s adventures. There’s very rarely a moment where he isn’t an upstanding guy, but to me that kind of works for the film. Walt Disney had no pretentions about this film (originally a mini-series) — he wasn’t planning on making this a super deep movie with complex characters and themes. What Disney wanted to do was take an iconic American folk hero and give the intended audience a person to look up to and root for. To me, you couldn’t anyone more perfect than actor and future wine maker Fess Parker. Now as I stated before, Crockett’s portrayal in the film is a romanticized, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t some powerful moments — outside of the heroic times — with him. For me, one of the best emotional moments in the film is when Crockett receives word about his wife’s death. His sidekick throughout the film Georgie Russell (Buddy Ebsen) reads a letter delivering the unfortunate news and you can see the news slowly sinking into him. Russell consoles him and asks him if there’s something he can do, and all Crockett says is, “Just give me some time to think.” He then slowly and quietly walks into the woods to try and figure out what to do without his other half. Without any dialogue or music playing, we get a true sense how deeply this has affected him. The film doesn’t shy away from all the historical facts; the most obvious example is that in the end he and his comrades die at the Alamo. Granted, they don’t show Crockett’s death onscreen but, then again, given how nobody knows how Crockett actually died it makes sense that we don’t see it. The movie ends with him swinging his rifle like a club at the overwhelming forces without a hint of fear. Like a lot of classic Disney films, it features many great qualities: It has a memorable soundtrack that will have you humming its songs for hours on end; a great sense of adventure and excitement; and a terrific cavalcade of characters performed by great character actors. I mentioned earlier Parker and Ebsen who have amazing chemistry together. There’s also stunt-man Nick Cravat as the mute Comanche Indian named Busted Luck who shows that not only does he have bravery but he's also very witty and smart. There’s a great scene where he foils a trickster’s attempt at swindling him out of food. Speaking of which, there’s the dandy riverboat gambler Thimblerig played by Hans Conried who is a delight in every scene. Some of you know him best as the voice of Captain Hook in Disney’s Peter Pan (1953) and as Thorin in Rankin/Bass’ version of The Hobbit (1977). If you haven’t seen this Disney gem, do yourself a favor and check it out, especially if you have youngsters. Then check out the prequel Davy Crockett and the River Pirates featuring the fun and bombastic character actor Jeff York as Mike Fink, King of the River.
 
 

Damage Looms in the 'Clouds of Sils Maria'

0 Comments · Wednesday, April 22, 2015
Maria Enders (Juliette Binoche) lives in rare air. She is an accomplished actress on both stage and screen, beautiful and recognizable by those within the industry — the power players who matter most, especially when it comes to casting.   

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