Friday, July 22, 2016

Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie Can't Live Up to Title

Posted By on Fri, Jul 22, 2016 at 3:39 PM

Opening at the Cedar Lee Friday, Absolutely Fabulous: the Movie stars Jennifer Saunders and Joanna Lumley as characters they originated in their hit BBC tv series back in the 90s, a British sitcom with enough cultural cache that it was abbreviated, by fans, as Abfab. 

Now the ladies are back in action. PR agent Edina "Eddie" Monsoon and her best pal, fashion magazine editor Patsy Malone, have both have eclipsed 60. They resist the passage of time and the dwindling of their respective careers by hob-knobbing with models and industry luminaries, and consuming vast quantities of drugs and alcohol while they're at it. The recurring joke is that no one much likes Eddie — even low-level celebs high-tail it in the opposite direction when she approaches — and her attempts to stay cool and relevant hinge on the supposition that she ever was (on which supposition I'm not equipped to comment.) But she's hard up for cash, and she sees a golden opportunity for money and fame when global fashion icon Kate Moss abandons her publicist. 

But Moss falls from the balcony of a fashion soiree and Eddie is blamed. Fearing prosecution, Eddie and Patsy flee to the French Riviera, aided by Eddie's hip granddaughter Lola (Indeyarna Donaldson-Holness), and intend to find an old flame to marry, steal his fortune and begin their lives anew. Eddie's daughter Saffron (Julia Sawalha) and parodically dumb and fashion-very-far-forward personal assistant Bubbles (Jane Horrocks) reprise their roles from the series as well.

Presumably, this will be regarded as a must-see for fans of the BBC series, and one can see how the lead characters would have thrived in a short-form sitcom setting. The film, however, is an odd beast. The humor often relies on physical gags and preposterous turns of events, sort of in the unsteady comedic vein of film adaptations of SNL skits. Though Saunders and Lumley continue to draw laughs in individual scenes, this attempt to extend and grow a beloved brand might not do either.
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Ghost Hunter Chad Calek Brings his Paramerican Tour to Agora

Posted By on Fri, Jul 22, 2016 at 11:40 AM

  • Craig Powell (left) and Chad Calek (right)
Filmmaker Chad Calek now hunts ghosts for a living. But he wasn’t initially obsessed with paranormal activity as a child.

I grew up in a family where [the paranormal] wasn’t spoken about,” he says in a recent phone interview. “I was a complete atheist. I had no belief in the other side.”

In the film American Ghost Hunter, which he released last year on Hulu, he tells the story of how he started to experience paranormal activity after his family moved to a small town in Iowa.

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Thursday, July 21, 2016

Star Trek: Beyond — Latest Episode is Franchise's Blandest

Posted By on Thu, Jul 21, 2016 at 1:03 PM

Are Jaylah and Scottie the main characters in Star Trek: Beyond? It's anybody's guess.
  • Are Jaylah and Scottie the main characters in Star Trek: Beyond? It's anybody's guess.
Unlike 2009's Star Trek and its impressive 2013 sequel Star Trek: Into Darkness, both of which were flat-out fun summer blockbusters, the latest Star Trek installment begins on a subdued and somber note.

If you'll recall, the first two films greeted viewers with high-stakes action sequences immediately. These were intense scenes chock-full of mortal peril and intricate scripting that, unlike many a James Bond opener, impinged directly on the major arcs of the films they prologued. Remember noble George Kirk (good ol' Chris Hemsworth) in Star Trek, sacrificing himself to save his crew and his pregnant wife, who then gave birth to baby James in an escape pod?! Remember how they named the child literally as the newly appointed Captain George charged headlong into the enemy ship!? Audiences were slack-jawed and sniffling before the title image even flashed, and great things seemed in store for J.J. Abrams' franchise reboot. 

No such luck in Beyond: After Captain James Kirk (Chris Pine) attempts some diplomacy with a council of CGI'd gremlins — another quick distinction from the first two films, both of which relied chiefly on makeup and natural effects to create alien species — he apprises the audience, via voice-over, of the USS Enterprise's glum foray into deep space, three years into a five-year mission.

The crew has the blues, Kirk confesses, or at least he does. There's a montage of quotidian spaceship life: Kirk spilling coffee on himself in the captain's chair, gazing forlornly at a wardrobe of identical outfits, crew members' making out with each other to pass the time. It turns out Kirk's in a bit of an existential funk, and his plan, once they dock at the deep-space outpost Yorktown, an Elysium-like city-state with complex gravitational fields keeping everything from toppling into itself, is that he'll hand over the Enterprise to Spock (Zachary Quinto). He wants an office job, basically, and has applied for the position of Vice Admiral in the Federation fleet based in Yorktown.

But the Enterprise is soon called upon to assist a downed ship in an unchartered nebula nearby. The mission goes awry almost instantly. The Enterprise is ambushed and itself downed on a planet inhabited by militant Ivan-Ooze types, led by the wrathful Krall (Idris Elba), who's in want of an ancient weapon, with which he intends to destroy Federation planets. Ho-hum.

The vast majority of the film feels like a jauntier version of the Frodo/Gollum interludes in The Two Towers. Kirk and Chekhov (Anton Yelchin); Spock and Bones (Karl Urban); Uhura and Sulu (Zoe Saldana and John Cho); and Scottie (Simon Peegg) and the mechanically inclined alien Jaylah (Sofia Boutella, who played the blade-footed assassin in Kingsman: The Secret Service) all scurry through the jagged rocks of this unknown planet, making jokes and eventually plotting the escape of the Enterprise crew, who have been captured by Krall.   

The escape itself is gimmicky but still fun, and allows director Justin Lin (of Fast and Furious directing credentials) to film Kirk on a motorcycle. But the final confrontation back in Yorktown is sabotaged by Krall's distracting late-arriving origin story, which frankly never quite computed.

There is fun to be had throughout, though. Kirk is no longer the foolhardy charm-bomb of the first two films, but has matured gracefully.

"I always assumed he'd be a vodka guy," Kirk tells Bones, after Bones has stolen a bottle of Scotch from Chekhov's room, in one of the film's quiet moments.

Bones is given the role of principal comic reliever, and Scottie — played by Simon Pegg, who also co-wrote the script — is as quippy as ever, thought perhaps given more screen time than he warrants. Spock, and even Kirk, fade into the ensemble meringue. In the first two films, the ensemble stayed on the periphery, primarily existing in their own modest arcs and chiming in for one or two memorable moments — Sulu as fencing wizard! Bones as metaphor messiah! But the central conflicts were always Kirk's and Spock's. Here, it's unclear who's supposed to be taking center stage. Is it really Scottie? Is it Bones? If, as is to be presumed, this self-consciously episodic installment is meant to reaffirm Kirk's commitment to the Enterprise, the movie's beefy middle neglects that theme entirely.

It also neglects the series' penchant for breakneck action. One of the major joys of the first two films, both directed by Abrams, was their constant motion. The urgency was often fabricated, perilous moments exacerbated by extreme and improbable simultaneous perilous moments, but it was exciting! Everyone was always sprinting through the corridors of the Enterprise. Bodies had to be beamed back to the ship while falling to earth; villains had be apprehended (but not killed!) while someone's else life hung in the balance; combat was always part of larger tactical moves; shields were always hovering between 6 and 18 percent.

Star Trek: Beyond is content to present its action in a discrete series of unmemorable encounters: a bit of hand-to-hand combat here; a bit of senseless explosions in space there; even a bit of goofy strategic heavy metal. It's just a less polished action script.

One more key distinction: The first two films took place largely in outer space, but retained a real connection to Earth. Starfleet HQ was in San Francisco. Kirk himself enlisted in Iowa. A terrorist attack in the sequel leveled a futuristic block in London. This all had the effect of creating a science fiction that remained indebted to reality. In Beyond, the film takes place largely on the terra firma of an unrecognizable planet, and the human interactions occur on an unlikely outpost that may as well have been carbon copied from a dreamscape in Inception.

The filmmakers might have taken a cue from Kirk, for whom deep space inspired some big-ticket reflection and potential course-correction: What am I doing? Where am I going? Am I still, in the end, having fun?  
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Sunday, July 17, 2016

Cleveland's Movie Theaters: A Quick, Easy Guide

Posted By on Sun, Jul 17, 2016 at 2:47 PM

Capitol! Capitol! - @CAPITOLW65TH
  • @CapitolW65th
  • Capitol! Capitol!
Visitors: You’ve now likely been in Cleveland for a day or two. And if you’re the swashbuckling movie-going type, odds are you’ve already scrolled through Moviefone or Fandango to apprise yourself of the Cineplex nearest your hotel or AirBnB.

Odds are you’ve also discovered that in Cleveland, literally everything is “15 or 20 minutes” away from your current location. The same GPS logic obtains on the movie theater front, so don't let us discourage you from seeing whatever you want whenever works for you, but allow us to paint the picture of the scene with a more locally-tinctured brush.

And do rest assured that, come Thursday evening, Star Trek: Beyond will be playing at roughly 5-minute intervals across the region:

If you’re downtown and in need of a two-hour-ish reprieve from the RNC madness, repair to Tower City Cinemas (230 W. Huron Rd). It’s the jewel of the locally owned and operated Cleveland Cinemas’ portfolio. Not because it’s particularly well attended — quite the opposite, in fact, which ought to enhance its sanctuarial appeal — but because it hosts the annual Cleveland International Film Festival. You can enter via Public Square (the hot, iconic new central civic space which national media has assured us repeatedly is "ready for its close-up"). Then walk past the mall’s central fountain and through what remains of the food court, a sad-sack lunchtime destination as depleted and depressing as Sarajevo c. 1995. The (potentially) heartening news on that score is that the Tower City mall has been lately purchased by Cleveland’s downtown mogul, Dan Gilbert (of Cavaliers and Quicken Loans notoriety), so the food court’s future is necessarily much brighter than its present. The movies at Tower City are your standard mainstream fare, with the occasional limited-release horror offering. Seats, screens, and refreshments are all run-of-the-mill in terms of quality, but you can’t beat the convenience.

Cleveland Cinemas also owns the best theaters on Cleveland’s east and west sides. The beloved Cedar Lee, out in Cleveland Heights (2163 Lee Road) is your destination for indie, foreign and mainstream arthouse fare. The blue hairs and the grad students merrily convene to enjoy movies like The Blackout Experience, a documentary about immersive horror obsessions (whatever that means), opening 7/22. The Cedar Lee’s something of a local institution, and the Cleveland Heights dining scene furnishes ample opportunities for dinner-and-a-movie-type outings.

On the west side, in the booming Detroit-Shoreway Neighborhood (which neighborhood’s commercial nexus is known as Gordon Square), the three-screen Capitol Theatre (1390 W. 65th St.) is locally known for its occasionally schizophrenic mix of mainstream and truly offbeat stuff. It was renovated in 2009, to due acclaim, and is, for our money, the region’s loveliest theater. Itty-bitty urinal though. This summer, the Capitol began a regular series of kooky indies and docs on a devoted screen — this week it’s the documentary Tickled, about a fetishistic tickling empire lorded over by a cyber bully. Next week it’s Lucha Mexico, a documentary about the world of Mexican wrestling.

Valley View (6001 Canal Road)
is Northeast Ohio’s biggest and glitziest Cineplex, featuring an in-house cafe and an arcade for the kiddies, among other amenities. It was recently re-carpeted in a color that looks a lot like actual bronze and has the most luxurious foyer in seven counties. If you nerd out on insanely high-def screens — XD, in fact — and D-Box motion seats and, moreover, enjoy popcorn so buttery it may as well be classified as soup, you have no choice but to answer Cinemark’s siren call. (Friday nights, it’s awash in teens — a massive brawl broke out in 2014 — and weekday summer mornings, it’s awash in families seeing Zootopia for the third or fourth time.) It’s accessible by raft or steamship down the Cuyahoga River, but I-77 South remains, let’s face it, the much more conventional route.

Hey, you’re a Republican, right? You probably incline toward the seas of white people and pre-packaged “urban living” of outdoor malls like Crocker Park, right? Wouldn’t you know it? Cleveland's fake suburban city is so complete that it’s got a movie theater, a Regal. Crocker Park Stadium 16 (30147 Detroit Rd.) does boast the area’s dopest IMAX screen, but it’s otherwise your standard suburban theater. Arrive 15-20 minutes early to withstand a poorly configured refreshment line and the battalions of high-schoolers in the throes of Snapchat. Hit up Barnes & Noble afterwards.

We must hasten to acknowledge the successful revamping of both of the area’s AMC Theaters, at Ridge Park Square (4788 Ridge Rd.) and at Westwood Town Center (21653 Center Ridge Rd.). These were bottom-feeding, non-destination venues — formerly branded as General Cinemas, which is about as descriptive as brands come; and also formerly home to $4 movies every Tuesday, which discount came with a gratis small popcorn — until last year, when enormous La-Z-Boys were installed and full-service bars, dubiously christened “MacGuffins,” were added to the refreshment offerings. You’ll still get your rambunctious high school crews here, but there's no better place around for a sanctioned public snooze.  

Last but not least: The Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque (11610 Euclid Ave.), Cleveland’s only legitimate repertory theater, executively directed by Cleveland film legend John Ewing, who moonlights as a knight of the French realm. In a magnificent new home in Cleveland’s Uptown neighborhood, the Cinematheque — RNC guests will be pleased to know — has been screening films directed by or starring prominent Hollywood Republicans. This week: A Wes Anderson series, presented in conjunction with the Mark Mothersbaugh exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art down the street.  
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Thursday, July 14, 2016

'The Infiltrator' Doesn't Make the Most Out of Its Terrific Source Material

Posted By on Thu, Jul 14, 2016 at 11:24 AM

You’re not likely to encounter many people like U.S. Customs Service special agent Robert Mazur, an undercover operative who once used the alias "Bob Musella" to take down drug lords and infiltrate some of the world’s most dangerous cartels. In 2009, Mazur wrote about his exploits in his memoir, The Infiltrator: My Secret Life Inside the Dirty Banks Behind Pablo Escobar’s Medellín Cartel.

The Infiltrator, the new drama based on his book, doesn’t make the most of that riveting source material. While suspenseful, the film follows a familiar trajectory and suffers from a poorly penned script. The film is currently showing areawide.

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Friday, July 1, 2016

The Purge: Election Year is Fast, Funny and Incredibly Loud.

Posted By on Fri, Jul 1, 2016 at 12:06 PM

Lead-footed and trigger happy, The Purge: Election Year is fast, funny and incredibly loud.

There is absolutely no better time for The Purge: Election Year to grace audiences and theaters. The film debuts Friday, day one of July Fourth Weekend, during perhaps the strangest election cycle in history.

As you may have figured out from the title or the trailers, we’ve got a topical film on our hands. Filming began way back in September, but writer-director James DeMonaco, auteur of all three Purge films, forecasted the chaotic tone and energy of the election. The same cinematographer, composer, and producers return to deliver the same tone and energy of the first two in the third installment. The film has the same premise, set up, and execution as its predecessors, but there is no continuity between them, so don’t worry about binging on earlier Purges before you buy that ticket.

Frank Grillo reprises his character from The Purge: Anarchy, Sergeant Leo Barnes, the quick-witted gunslinger with a prickly 5’o’clock shadow. Other than Sgt. Barnes, the cast is entirely new. 

Elizabeth Miller stars alongside Grillo as Senator Charlene 'Charlie' Roan, the trail blazing presidential nominee running against the fascist, Illuminati-like New Founding Fathers of America (NFFA) on an anti-Purge, pro-99-percenter platform. Together, they do what the heroes have done for all three films now: survive the purge, volley one-liners at one another and keep their humanity intact.

The film suffers from poor writing, dialogue, editing, and cinematography. (Gallons of ink could be spilled and paper wasted dissecting and analyzing the films execution, so let’s give the film its due and save some ink and paper for another time.)

Grillo and Miller’s performances carry the film, making sure the ship doesn’t sink, but the rest of the cast floundered. Just about every character is a quick-witted badass with a sordid past and an unbelievable amount of levity during the annual murder day. Grillo and Miller do not, however, carry the film en scene; that burden is carried by Joe “the Saint” Dixon, a small business owner.

Joe, portrayed by Mykelti Williamson (best known for his role as Private Benjamin Buford "Bubba" Blue in Forest Gump), fired off joke after joke that that got ovation after ovation from the audience. Audiences will leave the theater reciting his lines, like they recited Bubba’s. The scene that establishes Joe as an audience favorite: when, sitting atop his store, he and his employee/sidekick crack open beers and shoot guns mid-purge. 

Let’s go a bit deeper. (Stay with me here.) In Ancient Grecian drama, the meaning of catharsis was slightly different from how we use it today. Catharsis was the feeling of relief the audience felt from seeing a production. They, for example, watched a tragedy, learned a moral lesson from the hero’s
demise, and left the theater at ease and a little bit wiser. Same idea applies here, just a couple thousand years later—hence the name and theme threading the three films. Points to DeMarco for the uncharacteristically subtle move.

Also in the mode of yesterday’s works, The Purge: Election Year is a moral story. Sen. Roan, with her anti-purge platform, does not condone murder as a means of survival even during the Purge. Sgt Barnes has to learn how to trust Sen Roan; Joe has to learn to trust his friends with his livelihood—the store; and Dante Bishop, a Robin Hood-like vigilante (portrayed by Edwin Hodge, the only actor to appear in all three films), has to learn that the ends don’t justify the means. Very deep. 

All that being said, that’s not why we’re here. The Purge: Election Year is not tasteful, expertly crafted film posturing for an Oscar or Golden Globe; it’s not trying to be. It is an incredibly entertaining two-hour roller coaster of jokes and violence, and that’s what we’re here for. This is why audiences have stayed with the trilogy. For three movies we’ve been asking ourselves, “There’s no way that could happen, but what if? What would I do?”

Moments that stood out for the right reasons: a white nationalist versus Crips battle scene, every one-liner Joe hurls, the righteous climax.

Moments that stood out for the wrong reasons: the NFFA is Catholic, which the founding fathers certainly were not; the last vote of the general election is in counted in May for some reason; the continuity of Hodge’s character(s); and much of the dialogue.
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'Our Kind of Traitor' Offers a Fresh Take on the Mafia Movie

Posted By on Fri, Jul 1, 2016 at 10:30 AM

From The Godfather trilogy to Goodfellas, mafia movies have proven time and time again to be a success. Love and violence have a way of intertwining together in the creation of a full-bodied narrative that’s amplified in Our Kind of Traitor, now playing at the Cedar Lee Theatre.

Our Kind of Traitor is a riveting thriller that proves equally profound as it is entertaining. In place of the stereotypical Italian mafia that is often depicted, the Russian mafia takes over, providing a lens into an underexposed culture.

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