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Sunday, August 30, 2009

Halloween 2 takes itself too seriously

Posted By on Sun, Aug 30, 2009 at 9:44 AM

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Rob Zombie’s 2007 remake of Halloween did a fairly good job of putting a fresh spin on a horror classic. By no means did it measure up to John Carpenter’s original, but it wasn’t bad. Not all horror fans were happy, but that’s par for the course. Now, despite having said he wouldn’t direct a sequel, Zombie has returned to helm the further adventures of masked killer Michael Myers (Tyler Mane). Other returning cast members include Scout Taylor-Compton as “final girl”/Michael’s sister Laurie, Danielle Harris as Laurie’s friend Annie, Brad Douriff as Sheriff Brackett, and Malcolm McDowell as psychiatrist-turned-best-selling author Dr. Loomis. And of course, Zombie finds a way to bring back his wife Sherri Moon as Michael’s mother, despite killing her off in the first film.

Halloween II starts with an explanation of the symbolic meaning of a white horse, which immediately raises a red flag that Zombie is taking himself too seriously. However, the sequence that immediately follows, essentially a condensed remake of the original Halloween II, offers up some pretty effective moments. That is, until it all turns out to have been a dream. It’s hard to say which is more numbing: the relentless brutality, the heavy-handed symbolism, the overabundance of dream sequences and flashbacks, or the seemingly endless stream of scenes and ideas lifted from other films. Zombie even goes so far as to steal the endings of both Psycho and Night of the Living Dead, because apparently one plagiarized ending that calls attention to a better film than this one just isn’t enough. There are some good performances and even a few decent scenes scattered about in Halloween II, but it’s not worth having to sit through the rest of the movie to get to them. *

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Friday, August 28, 2009

A few inventive kills can't save The Final Destination

Posted By on Fri, Aug 28, 2009 at 6:50 PM

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While at a racetrack, Nick (Bobby Campo) has a premonition that one of the cars will crash into the stands causing considerable death and mayhem. He makes a scene, and, along with his friends and a few other spectators, leaves the track just in time to miss seeing the vision come true. Any relief is short-lived, however, as the survivors soon begin dying in various grisly ways. Sound familiar? If you’ve seen any of the previous Final Destination films, you’ve seen this one. The only difference is this latest installment is playing in 3D at selected theaters. Since director David Ellis doesn’t do much with the technology, that’s not much of a selling point. The acting is bad, there’s no suspense and the premise is feeling awfully tired at this point. As is par for the course with the series, there are at least a few inventive kills. One death involves a swimming pool drain and another takes place on an escalator. The latter is particularly nasty, but even the gore fans have to be getting bored with this series by now. *

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Taking Woodstock was a real drag for star Liev Schreiber

Posted By on Fri, Aug 28, 2009 at 1:57 PM

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When Liev Schreiber (Defiance, X-Men: Wolverine) read the script to Ang Lee’s period piece Taking Woodstock and realized he’d be playing a man dressed in drag, he had a mixed reaction.

“It was exhilaratingly humiliating,” he says during recent roundtable discussions in New York. “In thinking about it, there’s something about putting on women’s clothes that just makes men act like baby goats and they just go wild. It’s different for actors because they’re a little more sophisticated when it comes to dress-up. But for some strange reason, there’s a tremendous energy in putting on women’s clothing.”

While Taking Woodstock is based on the memoirs of Elliot Tiber, a guy who wrote extensively not only about his involvement with Woodstock but also about what it was like to be gay in New York in the ’60s, Vilma, the character Schreiber plays in the film, is a composite. A cross-dressing ex-Marine who’s served in Korea, he worked as a prostitute and has now become a muscle for the gay community. He shows up at Elliot’s Catskills’ motel and offers to act as his personal bodyguard. Described by Lee as “Elliot’s angel,” Vilma is a stabilizing force in the chaos that was Woodstock.

“Prior to the ’60s, guys would dress like their mothers or like famous Hollywood acts,” he says. “After the ’60s, particularly in the Haight in San Francisco, you had these drag queens doing more outrageous gender-bending stuff. They’d embrace their masculinity and dress in drag with beards or do the can-can without their underwear. They were developing a new gay culture that they then took on the streets. It was pretty bold stuff. You started to see guys doing this as a lifestyle. You saw these wonderful new characters developing.”

Schreiber tried to make Vilma a foreshadowing of that shift and made sure not to make Vilma into a joke. He quickly becomes someone in whom Elliot can confide and is one of the more developed characters in the entire film, which focuses more on the culture surrounding Woodstock than the concert itself.

“There is a risk of cliché and comedy in these types of characters, though a laugh never hurts,” Schreiber says. “[Theater director] Lloyd Richards once said to me that actors are the vehicles for plays. It’s an odd sentence, but if you apply in terms of technique and craft it makes sense because you’re promoting the essential theme of what the writer intended. In this situation if you go for too many laughs with Vilma, it becomes a shallow character. The primary function is to deliver a message of acceptance and diversity to the central character, who is Elliot Tiber.”

So how did the cast and crew perceived the burly actor? Did he turn any heads while dressed as a woman?

"Ang [Lee] said I had nice legs," Schreiber says. "It's simultaneously complimentary and insulting."

Laila's Birthday has its local premiere tonight at CMA

Posted By on Fri, Aug 28, 2009 at 6:37 AM

A film about a former judge who's just trying to have a decent party for his daughter, Laila's Birthdayhas its local premiere tonightat 7 at the Cleveland Museum of Art as part of the Museum's "Friday Night First-Runs" series. It also screens at 1:30 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 30. Here's our review.

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Laila’s Birthday (Palestine/Tunisia/Netherlands, 2008) Former judge turned persnickety cab driver Abu (Mohammed Bakri) has a very bad day in Palestinian writer-director Rashid Masharawi’s slice-of-life fable set in present-day Ramallah. On the day of his young daughter’s birthday party, the Job-like Abu is forced to endure one indignity after another: Kafkaesque delays in the Ministry of Justice office; obstinate passengers; random terrorist attacks more inconvenient than truly frightening. Even the simplest errands like buying his daughter’s birthday gift and picking up her cake at a local bakery become Sisyphian tasks. Similar in bemused tone and neo-realist style to many works of the New Iranian Cinema, Masharawi’s film might have worked better as a short, since there’s barely enough drama to sustain a feature-length running time. It doesn’t help that humorless prig Abu makes a fairly unsympathetic lead character who’s impossible to warm up to. C At 7 p.m. Friday, Aug. 28, and 1:30 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 30. ** (Milan Paurich)

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Reviews of the Cinematheque's weekend films

Posted By on Thu, Aug 27, 2009 at 7:10 AM

The Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque is showing several great movies this weekend. Here are our reviews.

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Duck Soup (US, 1933) The Marx Brothers’ comic masterwork wasn’t a success in its era. In fact, there was some doubt the team would do another movie after the film laid an egg at the box office (it was indeed the last time Zeppo Marx appeared onscreen with the troupe). Only in the 1960s, with the Marx Brothers re-appraised and appreciated by rebellious college students for their anti-authoritarian antics, was Duck Soup elevated to the realm of classic, warped and surreal humor. The film is set in mythical Freedonia, a place so poor that financial existence depends on the charity of rich widow Margaret Dumont. She’s smitten with the disreputable Rufus T. Firefly (Groucho), and he’s put in charge of the government. Never mind that Firefly still insults her and everybody else with rapid-fire verbiage. Neighboring country Sylvania wants to take over Fredonia, and inept spies Chicolini (Chico) and Pinky (Harpo) follow Firefly, who arbitrarily leads Freedonia into war against Sylvania. By the time Groucho has Chico on trial for treason, simultaneously trying to convict and defend him, whether a serious point is being made in all the foolishness is purely moot. Just laugh and enjoy. At 7 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 29, and 8:30 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 30. **** (Charles Cassady Jr.)

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Hana (Japan, 2006) Set in 18th-century Japan, Hirokazu Kore-Eda’s parody is something like an Asian Year One. But without comedic talents like Jack Black and Michael Cera, the humor doesn’t really resonate. That, and the fact that you should probably know a thing or two about samurai traditions to really get something out of the flick. The plot revolves around Soza (Junichi Okada), a young warrior who must avenge his father’s death. Problem is, he’s notoriously shy and is more interested in reading and writing than fighting. In fact, he’d rather help the city slaves do menial tasks than pick up his sword and kill the man who offed his dad. And yet, he still tries to keep some semblance of the samurai lifestyle, even if he can’t pay his rent. While some of the double entendres and jokes are really clever, the movie’s better as a period piece than a comedy. At 8:30 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 29, and 4 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 30. ** 1/2 (Jeff Niesel)

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Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The critically acclaimed Goodbye Solo arrives on DVD

Posted By on Tue, Aug 25, 2009 at 7:30 PM

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Just out on DVD, Goodbye Solo, the new film from Ramin Bahrani (Man Push Cart, Chop Shop) opens with an awkward scene in which William (Red West), a surly white Southerner, tries to pay a Senegalese cabbie named Solo (Souleymane Sy Savane) an exorbitant fare in order to act as his driver and eventually drop him off at a mountaintop outside the Winston-Salem area on a designated date. It’s a fitting intro for a film by Bahrani, who’s made a name for himself with his true-to-life style that exploits life’s grim realities. Roger Ebert has called Bahrani "the new great American director," and the guy certainly captures contemporary race relations in a way in which few other American filmmakers have. So despite their different ethnicities and a clear generation gap, Solo and William end up as friends of sorts in this the film, though Solo’s the far more sympathetic character. While slow-moving at times, the film's gotten nothing but rave reviews and had a good run here earlier this year at the Cedar Lee Theatre. The DVD version includes audio commentary by Bahrani, who talks extensively about everything from the opening scene, which begins in the middle of things with a car ride scene filmed in one direct shot, to the places around his Winston-Salem hometown where he chose to shoot the movie. The extra audio track is a nice add-on as Bahrani talks about his direction and his interest in letting everyone but the main two actors go off script for their roles. ** 1/2

Friday, August 21, 2009

More Than a Game gets gala screening at Akron Civic

Posted By on Fri, Aug 21, 2009 at 1:16 AM

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LeBron James’ Nike World Tour rolled into Akron last night, shutting down S. Main St. for an exclusive showing of More Than a Game, a new documentary about the Cavaliers’ star forward’s rise to fame with Akron’s top-ranked St. Vincent-St. Mary High School basketball team. James attended the screening along with New Orleans’ Hornets point guard Chris Paul and four of the “fab five” players from the school’s national championship team. Coach Dru Joyce and director Kris Belman were also present. While a thunderstorm made the red carpets outside the Akron Civic Theatre soggy and forced the St. Vincent-St. Mary High School marching band to take cover indoors, it didn’t deter James and crew from walking through the theater’s front entrance, and they stopped to take a few questions and make a couple of comments along the way. “I hope the film creates an awareness to kids,” James said to a group of reporters. “They are our future, of course.” Belman spoke about how proud he was to return to Akron with a feature-length film. “It means everything in the world to me to bring the film to Akron,” he said, adding that he still had the stub from his plane ticket he bought eight years ago when he flew to Los Angeles to pursue his dream of becoming a filmmaker. The movie documents how James and a group of inner-city kids who used to practice on a linoleum floor gym at a Salvation Army managed to put Akron on the basketball map. Belman, who spent eight years making the film, delved into the backgrounds of each of the players in the “fab five” and compiled an extensive collection of never-before-seen footage that includes home movies and locker room meetings. Slated to hit theaters on October 2, the movie will show at subsequent Nike tour stops in China and Europe before returning to the states to visit New York and Los Angeles. After the screening, James, Joyce, Kelman and four of the “fab five” answered questions from the audience. Perhaps the toughest question came from a 17-year-old kid who asked LeBron if he was wearing his V-neck striped shirt because he “lost a bet.” And for a minute, the King was speechless. “I’ll get you back later,” he said with a laugh.

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