by Tony Johnson 08.19.2015 98 days ago
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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
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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.
by Steven Rosen 04.30.2015
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
at 01:25 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

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.

'Gett' Spotlights a Tragic Human Trial

0 Comments · Wednesday, April 15, 2015
Viviane Amsalem (played by co-writer and co-director Ronit Elkabetz) wants a divorce from her husband Elisha (Simon Abkarian). Viviane is a quiet and unassuming woman, a mother of four children with an established career as a hairdresser outside the home.  
by John Hamilton 04.14.2015
at 02:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Forgotten Classics: Quigley Down Under

Reviewing lesser-known films that stand the test of time

As I said in my in Silverado review, western films fell out of popularity during the ‘80s and ‘90s with some obvious exceptions. One of these was the TV miniseries Lonesome Dove, based on the novel of the same name by Larry McMurtry. On a side note: Lonesome Dove is probably my favorite novel of all time and you should all read it. What connection does that miniseries have to today’s film Quigley Down Under? Both feature the same director, Simon Wincer, and the same music composer, Basil Poledouris, but unfortunately the film was sort of passed over when it should have been watched and at least given the compliment of, “that was pretty good.” Quigley Down Under is the story of an American cowboy and skilled sharpshooter named Matthew Quigley (Tom Selleck) who receives a job on an Australian ranch run by Elliott Marston (Alan Rickman). But upon his arrival, Quigley runs into a woman named Cora (Laura San Giacomo) who confuses Quigley for her abandoning husband Roy and he finds out that his job will be shooting the native Aborigines. Quigley disapproves of what Marston wants to do and goes against him, only to be left for dead in the Australian desert with Cora. He must survive the harsh environment and then stop Marston from continuing his cruel treatment of natives. It does kind of surprise me how well Australia’s Outback works as a setting for a western. It really shouldn’t, though — the scale of the desert almost matches the grand scale of Monument Valley on the Arizona-Utah state line. Add in the intense heat and it adds another element of suspense for the story. One of the best elements in the movie is the script itself. It has a very good story and some great dialogue, which is delivered with charm courtesy of Magnum, P.I.’s Selleck. It makes me wonder why this film was passed up by Warner Bros. The role of Quigley was originally offered to Steve McQueen and Clint Eastwood, and while I could see Eastwood doing this kind of role I think Selleck fits perfectly. The other performances are also very good. Rickman is also great as the villain who wishes to be a Wild West gunslinger. So, yes Harry Potter fans, you get to see Prof. Snape in a gun duel. The real highlight performance comes from Laura San Giacomo. She just steals every scene  she’s in as the half-crazed woman who has demons of her own. During her first few scenes she could be seen as a just another forced comedic character but as time goes on we hear about her back story and see what led her to her crazy attitude. As I mentioned before, the movie’s film score was compose by the last Basil Poledouris. To me, Poledouris is a film composer that deserves to be held in the same regard as people like Elmer Bernstein and John Williams. The music he composed for this movie, along with Robocop, Starship Trooper and every other film he’s worked on is amazing. It can capture a sense of excitement and it can be touching as well. If you haven’t checked this film out then do yourself a favor and track down a couple in the near future.
by John Hamilton 04.07.2015
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Forgotten Classics: Death on the Nile

The year 2014 was a great one for movies — a really, really good year. Sure, there were duds and bombs just like any other year, but there were seriously so many good films that it was tough to properly list off my favorites in a satisfying order. One of my favorites of last year was Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel. The movie reminded me of two Agatha Christie movies from the 1970s, Murder on the Orient Express (1974) and Death on the Nile (1978), the latter of which is my personal favorite of the two. Based on the mystery novel of the same name, Death on the Nile tells of Christie’s famous Belgium (not French) detective Hercule Poirot (Peter Ustinov) as he investigates the murder of the beautiful newlywed heiress Linnet Ridgeway-Doyle (Jane Birkin) on the Egyptian riverboat S.S. Karnak. The mystery is made all the more difficult considering how everyone on board the ship hated her in one way: from the bitter and begrudged nurse Miss Bowers (Maggie Smith), whose family was ruined by the Ridgeways, to the exotic and eccentric novelist Salome Otterbourne (Angela Lansburg), who was threatened to be sued by Linnet for defamation. With the help of his friend Col. Race (David Niven), Poirot must track down the killer before the ship reaches its final destination. In the Sidney Lumet-directed Murder on the Orient Express, Poirot was portrayed by Oscar-nominated actor Albert Finney. While Finney certainly did look the part of the famed detective, for me between him and Peter Ustinov, I have to go with the latter. The main reason is because Ustinov seems to fit the persona. Finney, while being a good actor, seemed to talk too fast and rushed through lines, while Ustinov took things slower and seemed much more like the intelligent private investigator who was motivated by morality attempted to keep more unlawful activities from happening. He also sports a splendid mustache, which is very vital to the character. One reason The Grand Budapest Hotel reminded me of these kind of films was because of the all-star cast. Death on the Nile features Ustinov but also stars the aforementioned Maggie Smith (Prof. McGonagall in the Harry Potter series) and Angela Lansbury (Mrs. Potts in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast) but it also features Hollywood legend Bette Davis (All About Eve), George Kennedy (Cool Hand Luke), Olivia Hussey (1968 version of Romeo & Juliet), Mia Farrow (1974 adaptation of The Great Gatsby) and one of my favorite character actors, Jack Warden (12 Angry Men). Speaking of Grand Budapest Hotel’s cast: I could totally see Ralph Fiennes portraying Poirot in a movie. But what about the actual mystery in the movie? It is pretty interesting. Yes, it is a rather standard whodunit sort of scenario where they go through the list of suspects until they come to the final decision. But with the given scenario of everyone having a reason to hate her and the fact that anyone could have gotten to her, it does make you wonder. The result is something that I’m sure a lot of people won’t see coming. It’s a real treat for anyone who loves a good murder mystery and enjoys the works of Agatha Christie. One final similarity that this film has with The Grand Budapest Hotel: both won Best Costume Design at the Oscars. 

Indie Horror Reinvigorates the Genre

0 Comments · Wednesday, April 1, 2015
In The Babadook, we get Amelia (Essie Davis), a put-upon single mother struggling to overcome the trauma of losing her husband while raising an emotionally challenged son named Samuel (Noah Wiseman), who fears the monster lurking under his bed and on the pages of a new book in his bedtime collection.  
by John Hamilton 03.11.2015
at 01:59 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

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).