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Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Loud and Bobnoxious Cult Movies: American Swing

Posted By on Tue, Jun 30, 2009 at 9:53 PM

aa8c/1246465756-american_swing.jpg Using archival footage and interviews, American Swing tells the story of how a nondescript, slightly overweight Jewish guy from New York named Larry Levenson became an unlikely sexual icon by opening America’s first heterosexual swinger’s club, Plato’s Retreat. For about a decade starting in the mid-'70s, Plato’s was a popular destination for sexually adventurous couples of all shapes and sizes, curiosity seekers, porn stars, and even well known celebrities like Sammy Davis Jr. The club boasted swimming pools, hot tubs, an orgy room, and even a free buffet for the truly daring. For roughly a decade, Levenson reigned as the self proclaimed "King of Swing” until a combination of changing times, bad judgment, and the AIDS outbreak finally toppled his empire in the eighties.

Several former Plato’s patrons share their stories of Larry and experiences at the club, including such well known figures as Buck Henry, Melvin Van Peebles, Professor Irwin Corey, Annie Sprinkle, Al Goldstein, Ron Jeremy, as well as regular folks (as regular as they get in this movie, anyway) like the delightfully daffy Grippo’s, a married swinger couple now in their golden years who helped manage the club. All of them seem to recall their time spent at Plato’s with fondness, which is not to say that the movie doesn’t show the downside of Plato’s, such as the effect the lifestyle had on Larry’s second wife and business partner Mary, and how the supposedly free love swingers’ club became infiltrated by prostitutes.

American Swing is well paced and edited, and manages to cover just about all you’d want to know on the subject in a little under an hour and a half. There’s also about 30 minutes worth of deleted scenes that, while rightfully left out of the feature, are nonetheless worth a look. American Swing is unrated, but would probably get an NC-17 for nudity, sexual content and language, so be forewarned if that sort of thing bothers you. If you can get past that, this is a fun and fascinating time capsule of a moment in time when America’s sexual attitudes were changing. ***

Free tickets to American Psycho

Posted By on Tue, Jun 30, 2009 at 4:43 AM

1c63/1246301418-american_psycho_ver3.jpg Win an admit-two pass to the Cedar Lee's Cult Series presentation of American Psycho starring Christian Bale and directed by Mary Harron (I Shot Andy Warhol). You can chose between two screenings, one at 9:30 p.m. and one at midnight on Saturday, July 4. Be one of the first people to stop by the Scene offices at 1468 West 9th St., Suite 805 sometime between 10 a.m. on Wednesday, July 1 and 5 p.m. Thursday, July 2. NO PURCHASE NECESSARY! First come, first served. One pass per person; winners within the past 30 days are not eligible; pass does NOT guarantee admission and must be exchanged at box office for tickets, so arrive early, seating is limited. Cleveland Cinemas and Cleveland Scene are not responsible for lost or stolen tickets. Not redeemable for cash or other screenings.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Eastbound & Down DVD offers a belly full of laughs

Posted By on Mon, Jun 29, 2009 at 9:45 AM

ef46/1246283097-eastbound-and-down.jpg Do you remember where you saw him first? Hot Rod? Pineapple Express? The Foot Fist Way? Look out Seth Rogen, in the past three years offbeat funnyman Danny McBride has risen from scene-stealing comedic second fiddle to pot-bellied leading man material. In Eastbound & Down, the HBO series of his own creating that arrives on DVD tomorrow, McBride plays Kenny Powers, a washed up major league pitcher who loses his touch (both in regards to pitching and reality) and has to return to his North Carolina hometown. Despite having to move into his brother's home and take a job as a substitute gym teacher at Jefferson Davis Middle School, the foul-mouthed has-been can't quite accept his lot as one of the regular people. Kenny attempts to regain his confidence by making celebrity appearances at a local car dealership (owned by Ashley Shaffer, played by the show’s executive producer Will Ferrell), producing a low-budget promotional video to orchestrate a comeback and making a play for his former flame, the voluptuous art teacher engaged to the school’s repressed principal. Eastbound & Down is truly funny in a slightly uncomfortable, “it’s hard to watch this clueless jerk make one horrible decision after another” sort of way. And yet, although Kenny Powers is not a likeable or redeeming character, you somehow end up feeling something for him.
HBO has picked up Eastbound & Down for season two. Viewers can catch up with the plot with the short six-episode first season. Extras include outtakes, three commentary episodes, a “making of” piece and a few back-story commercials and videos. This series, destined to become a cult favorite, is definitely worth a watch.

Loud and Bobnoxious Cult Movies: Requiem for a Vampire

Posted By on Mon, Jun 29, 2009 at 5:18 AM

93fe/1245957616-requiem_for_a_vampire.jpg French cult director Jean Rollin once again revisits his favorite subject, sexy vampires, in this 1971 film recently released on DVD by Redemption Video. As is the case with many of Rollin’s films, the protagonists are two innocent young girls who must confront all manner of horrors and erotic weirdness. The movie makes no logical sense, but rather plays out like a dream, full of Freudian symbolism like winding staircases descending deeper and deeper into the subconscious. Although the budget was apparently so low they couldn’t even get decent vampire teeth, there’s still a certain compelling quality to the visuals. And if that all sounds too artsy for you, you can still enjoy the copious amounts of sin and skin Rollin serves up. The bonus features are a mixed bag. The interview with actress Louise Dhour is interesting, but who really wants to watch the alternate clothed versions of scenes. If you aren’t a fan of surreal low budget seventies sexploitation movies you’ll probably hate this.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Emir Kusturica’s Underground shows at CMA tonight

Posted By on Fri, Jun 26, 2009 at 9:06 AM

Showing as part of a series of films featuring music by Goran Bregovic, Underground screens at the Cleveland Museum of Art's Lecture Hall tonight at 6. Here's our review of the film.

83fc/1245442093-underground1.jpg Underground (France/Yugoslavia/Germany/Hungary, 1995) A Grand Prize winner at Cannes, Emir Kusturica’s shaggy, surreal tragicomic lament takes 167 minutes to sum up 50 years of Balkans insanity and absurdity, with tones ranging from Rabelaisian vaudeville shtick to horror (the latter especially as the narrative leaps to the modern era of Bosnian genocide). The storyline follows the fates of two friends in the ersatz nation of Yugoslavia, crook Blacky and Communist Party hack Marko, both allied against the Nazis (“fascist motherfuckers!”) in the underground resistance movement, but who come to be romantic rivals for Natalija, an ambitious and fickle Belgrade actress. Marko hides a wounded Blacky (and a small army of partisans, a wedding band and a chimp) in a cellar near the close of WWII and finds it personally and politically expedient to dupe them all into thinking that the war is still going on for years afterwards (nitpickers noted a slight resemblance to the obscure Alec Guinness 1965 dark comedy Situation Hopeless But Not Serious). Meanwhile in the Tito-dominated 1950s and ’60s, the missing Blacky is proclaimed a peoples’ hero and honored Marxist martyr. True, a lot of Kusturica goes a long way, and the effect is sometimes deadening (and you get the sense the Animal Protective League wasn’t present on this set, nosiree). Still, this is one of the most important Eastern European films of the 1990s. *** (Charles Cassady Jr.)

Loud and Bobnoxious Cult Movies: Wonder Woman

Posted By on Fri, Jun 26, 2009 at 5:10 AM

8128/1245957403-wonder-woman.jpg Comic book movies are all the rage these days, so you have to “wonder” why this iconic super-heroine hasn’t been given her own live action film yet. With the character’s blend of feminism, sexiness and ass kicking action, it seems like a no-brainer. In the meantime, though, we’ve got this animated version released on DVD and Blu Ray by Warner Brothers. Princess Diana (Keri Russell) has led a sheltered life among her Amazonian sisters. But when air force pilot Steve Trevor (Nathan Fillion) crash lands on her island, Diana earns the right to escort him back to the U.S. of A. Complicating matters, Ares (Alfred Molina) has been set loose from his prison on the island, and Diana is given the task of recapturing the god of war. There are some rousing action sequences and the voice actors do a great job, but gaping plot holes, inconsistencies (the Amazons don’t know what the word “crap” means, but they know what a “rack” is?), and a studio mandated running time of 75 minutes keep Wonder Woman from reaching its full potential. It’s still worth a watch, just don’t expect greatness.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Capsule reviews of the Cinematheque's weekend films

Posted By on Thu, Jun 25, 2009 at 9:54 AM

The Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque is showing several great movies this weekend. Here are capsule reviews of just a few of them.

dd3c/1245355936-dry_season.jpg Dry Season (Chad/France/Belgium/Austria, 2006) Named Atim or “Orphan” because his father was killed before he was born, a teenager (Ali Bacha Barkai) sets out with a gun to avenge his father’s death in this film about life in Chad during a period of political instability. When Atim finally meets his father’s murderer, a baker named Nassara (Youssouf Djaoro), the man is handing out bread to the homeless. Atim starts working for Nassara and develops a relationship with him that’s tantamount to that of a father and his son. Nassara even tells Asim he wants to adopt him. Even though Nassara shows that he cares for Atim and promises to make him into a good baker, the man’s got a temper and doesn’t let Atim get away with anything. The resolution is hardly what you’d expect. The film really captures the country’s beauty as the shots of the city depict a vibrant, colorful place where people are surviving despite harsh political realities. At 7 p.m. Thursday, June 25 and 8:55 p.m. Sunday, June 28. *** (Jeff Niesel)

c592/1245443209-hoppitygoestotown.jpg Hoppity Goes to Town (US, 1941) Imagine in a parallel universe where there’s no Disneyland but rather, Fleischerland. Could have happened were it not for the conclusive box-office failure of this feature from Walt Disney’s rival, the Max and Dave Fleischer animation factory (then overseen by Paramount), wellspring of Popeye, Superman and Betty Boop shorts, which made only two long-form cartoons — a moderately successful Gulliver’s Travels and this much less-revived original fantasy (alternately known as Bugville and Mr. Bug Goes to Town, which foreshadows both Pixar’s A Bug’s Life and Japan’s Twilight of the Cockroaches. The Fleischer team may have lagged some in the storytelling finesse and memorable character creation, but their visual marvels here could match (or exceed) the Magic Kingdom. Set in a small, overgrown urban lot where a community of insects (and one pessimist snail, who speaks in doleful rhyme) are endangered by foot traffic from the gigantic “human ones” after a fence breaks, it revolves around an old-timey love triangle between the grasshopper hero, a villainous landlord beetle and a demure she-bee (named Honey, of course). Sentimental Hoagy Carmichael-Frank Loesser soundtrack songs aren’t very catchy, but just soak up the visuals: painstakingly hand-drawn cityscapes, shifting perspectives that presage CGI, a spectacularly trippy scene in which Hoppity touches the ancestor of the Bug Zapper, and the knockout closer of a skyscraper erection shown from the tiny protags’ POV. Not a classic, but still a real find for animation addicts. At 6:30 p.m. Friday, June 26, and 4:45 p.m. Saturday, June 27. *** (Charles Cassady Jr.)

ef38/1245443390-shadows.jpg Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors (USSR, 1964) A film truly outside of time, Sergei Paradjanov’s celluloid folktale looks like nothing else made in 1964. Drawing on a rich heritage of Carpathian-Ukrainian myths, costumes, color and pageantry, the tapestry-like story starts off in Romeo-and-Juliet fashion but ultimately follows transfixingly unfamiliar roads, through birch-covered haunted mountains, with peasant boy Ivan falling in love with the daughter of the enemy who killed his father. The girl’s accidental death sends the adult Ivan into a funk of hopeless grief, a wound of loss and yearning that not even time and marriage to another can heal, culminating in sorcery and revenge. For his art-crime of breaking radically with the official style of socialist realism to make this bold cinematic ballad, Paradjanov himself suffered professionally and personally under Soviet authorities, but the film stands as his masterwork. At 9:55 p.m. Saturday, June 27, and 7 p.m. Sunday, June 28. **** (Cassady)

03ec/1245355892-skillslikethis.jpg Skills Like This (US, 2007) An affable, Denver-lensed shaggy-dog caper comedy about a group of twentysomething slacker types who impulsively embark upon a half-assed crime spree. First-time director Monty Miranda finds just the right tone here — bemused and affectionate without a whiff of smugness — to sell a premise that could have easily devolved into boorishness. As leader-of-the-pack Max, Spencer Berger (who wrote the film’s clever screenplay) makes a most appealing protagonist and graciously cedes the movie’s biggest laughs to Brian D. Phelan (a riot as Tommy, the group’s resident screw-up). A romantic subplot in which Max courts the bank teller (Kerry Knuppe) who helped him get away with his first robbery is a sweet diversion from the boys-will-be-boys antics. Plenty of young American indie directors have aped Tarantino over the years, but few have finessed the job as charmingly — and with such a lightness of touch — as Miranda. At 9:55 p.m. Friday, June 26, and 8:10 p.m. Saturday, June 27. *** (Milan Paurich)

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