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Friday, October 30, 2009

Vanished Empire has its local debut tonight at CMA

Posted By on Fri, Oct 30, 2009 at 11:35 AM

A period piece about teenagers living in Moscow in the '70s, Vanished Empire screens tonight at 7 and at 1:30 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 1 at the Cleveland Museum of Art Lecture Hall. Here is our review of the movie.

Vanished Empire (Russia, 2008) In many ways, Sergei Narbekov (Alexander Lyapin), and Stepan (Yegor Baranovsky) are typical teens. They fall in and out of love with the same woman (Lyuda Beletskaya) and then struggle to work out their differences. They smoke pot and drink vodka. But unlike American teens, Sergei and Stepan are living in Moscow in the 1970s. So in order to get the latest Rolling Stones and Pink Floyd albums, they have to buy them on the black market. Sergey sells his grandfather’s (Armen Dzigarkhanyan) rare books in order to fund his record collection and buy designer jeans. He gets caught but continues to wreak havoc. Stepan is the straighter of the two, though he can’t avoid trouble, either. Karen Shakhnazarov’s film is ultimately nostalgic for the era when the West had yet to fully overtake Moscow. But this coming-of-age story works not only as a tale of young boys becoming men but also as a metaphor for a country trying to wall itself off from the rest of the world. ***

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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Michael Jackson's This is It isn't All That

Posted By on Wed, Oct 28, 2009 at 8:00 AM

Opening with interviews with hopeful dancers auditioning for parts in the Michael Jackson concerts scheduled to commence this past summer in London, Michael Jackson’s This Is It begins with a sense of optimism. We see Jackson at a press conference, pumping his fist because he’s clearly excited to tell fans about the shows, which he says will be his last ever in England. His tragic, sudden death in June meant not one of the concerts never came to fruition. Scheduled for a limited, two-week run, This is It is a rather uneven attempt to replicate what the production might have looked like.

Produced with the support of the Estate of Michael Jackson, the film is a mish-mash of rehearsal footage, patched together to resemble something close to a concert experience. In fact, with the exception of a few missed cues, the music sounds so sharp, it’s hard not to think that some tinkering has gone on in the recording studio to brush up what must have been pretty rough mixes and blend different arrangements together. While the musicians and producers talk about how well Jackson understands music, we never hear him speak too specifically about notes and harmonies. “You have to let it simmer,” he tells music supervisor and keyboardist Michael Bearden while working on the intro to “The Way You Make Me Feel,” leaving Bearden guessing as to how exactly he should play the part. And in instructing his guitarist on how to finish off her solo in “Beat It,” he simply says, “This is your moment to shine.”

The movie certainly has its poignant moments. Jackson performs part of “Human Nature” with little accompaniment and shows just how well his voice has held up. His medley of Jackson Five tunes such as “I Want You Back” and “The Love You Share” is also moving, in part because we see photos of a young Jackson performing with his brothers. And he’s still able to dance his ass off, slipping and sliding (and moonwalking) across the stage with ease. But too often, we’re looking at shoddy shots of what is clearly a work-in-progress and the behind-the-scenes material eventually becomes tedious. As we see Jackson and a group of militant dancers work in front of a green screen and as director Kenny Ortega shoots new footage to be used during renditions of “Thriller” and “Smooth Criminal,” it’s apparent this would have been one helluva production, easily comparable to a Broadway musical. But because it’s such an odd pastiche of performances and interviews, This is It doesn’t really do the concert’s magnitude justice. But given the fact that the filmmakers had to work with raw footage, they really couldn’t capture the scale of the show. A more appropriate title: “This Coulda/Woulda/Shoulda Have Been It.”

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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

New Ghoulardi documentary airs tonight on PBS

Posted By on Tue, Oct 27, 2009 at 11:08 AM

Based on a book by Gray Publishing, Turn Blue: The Short Life of Ghoulardi is an hour-long documentary about the infamous Cleveland late-night horror movie host. Directed by Phil Hoffman, a University of Akron professor and general manager of University of Akron’s Z-TV, it shows how Ghoulardi (Ernie Anderson) went from being a cast-out to the king of Cleveland TV during his short reign from 1963-66. It premieres at 9 tonight on Western Reserve PBS 45/49 and has subsequent airings at 2 a.m. Wednesday, Oct. 28 and at 4 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 31. It’ll also be shown on Western Reserve Public Media’s new Fusion channel at 8 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 29 and at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 31. Hoffman, who hopes to have the film out on DVD by the end of the year, recently spoke about his movie.

You showed the film this past weekend at Ghoulardifest. How did that go over?
It was really crowded and that was awesome. I have no way to gauge the attendance because I’m not sure if the physical size of the facility was the same as last year’s. But I do know the place was jammed, so that was good.

That is probably your toughest audience. How did viewers react?
It’s always great to sit in the back of a theater when you produce something like this and see if people react the way you thought they would. In this case, I felt like I hit the nail on the head. At one point, they all burst out singing along with the film. Those kinds of things happen and you go, “OK. I did that right.”

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Monday, October 26, 2009

Rock Hall to show U2 3-D in newly renovated Foster Theater

Posted By on Mon, Oct 26, 2009 at 1:04 PM

Yesterday, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum held a media preview of its newly renovated fourth floor theater, now dubbed the Foster Theater after a grant from Gregg and Madelyn Foster enabled the Rock Hall to install a digital 3-D screen and 7.1 surround sound system. The place, which still smells of new carpet, has also been equipped with new seats as well. The Rock Hall will start showing U2 3-D tomorrow.

After a brief introduction by Rock Hall CEO Terry Stewart, U2 3-D producer Jon Shapiro talked about his film, which will show from October 27 through January 2. “We wanted to film one of the biggest bands of all time playing one of its biggest concerts of all time in a foreign country in front of 100,000 fans,” he said of the film, which was primarily shot in Buenos Aires. “We thought U2 could be that band and if a band was open to innovation, it would be them.” Shot in 2006, the movie used eight 3-D camera systems that generated 100 hours of footage that the filmmakers cut down to a 90-minute running time. “If you’ve seen U2 before, we hope this is a different way of seeing the band,” Shapiro said before stepping aside so that the movie could be shown.

The 3-D graphics really do pop off the screen. During “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” it appeared as if Bono really stepped off the screen to “wipe your tears away” as he extended his hand toward the camera. And during the opening track “Vertigo,” spray from water bottles tossed in the air appeared to splash right in front of your eyes. The surround sound is so loud that you practically need earplugs. After the screening, Shapiro took questions from the audience and even he couldn’t get over how great the film looked in the newly renovated theater. “This is an amazing theater,” he said. “I’ve probably seen the movie 1,000 times and this is the best I’ve seen it.”

The film screens daily at 2:30 and 4 p.m. with additional screenings on Wednesday nights at 5:30 and 7. It shows on Saturday and Sunday at 11:30 a.m., 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. Admission is free with admission to the museum. Go to for more information.


New Saw VI boss same as the old Saw boss

Posted By on Mon, Oct 26, 2009 at 9:23 AM

Granted, Saw VI is better than last year's Saw V, but that's like saying waterboarding is better than electrodes to the genitals, or listening to Glenn Beck is better than listening to Rush Limbaugh; it's all torture when you get down to it. The latest installment in the series that heralded torture-porn horror actually makes a goofy bid for relevance by having as its victims a few predatory lenders and health-insurance weasels. Get that health-reform package passed or else! We learn that the moralizing serial killer John "Jigsaw" Tuck (dead for three sequels but again played by Tobin Bell in flashbacks) got shafted by his insurer when he was stricken with cancer. Now the yuppie-scum executive responsible is run through hideous ordeals in an abandoned zoo festooned with fiendish machinery of pain, death and dismemberment. In a concurrent (and really barely related) plotline, glowering police detective Hoffman (Costas Mandylor), one of Tuck's escalating number of secret "partners" (a new one revealed every couple of sequels keeps this tiresome saga chugging along), tries to cover up his identity as the new Saw boss. One cool twist at the end, but after teasing audiences with the suggestion that this one wraps it up, the finale promises more sequels ahead, in which no doubt the dead hand of Jigsaw will rule on such critical social ills as global warming, casino gambling in Ohio, and bitter and lonely freelance film reviewers who aren't paid near enough to watch this slag. * 1/2

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A Q&A with One False Move or I'm Gone director Curt Worden

Posted By on Mon, Oct 26, 2009 at 5:20 AM

Curt Worden’s new film One Fast Move or I’m Gone: Kerouac’s Big Sur is an attempt to put the Beat novelist’s memoir Big Sur in perspective. Worden not only interviews people who knew Kerouac during that time but also musicians, writers and actors who cite him as an influence. Featuring songs by Son Volt’s Jay Farrar and Death Cab for Cutie’s Ben Gibbard, the film is as much a beautiful tribute to the writer as it is a documentary about his life. It shows at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 27 at the Cedar Lee Theatre and has just come out on DVD. Wurden spoke via phone from Los Angeles where he had just seen a concert in which Gibbard and Farrar performed the songs from the soundtrack.

Your film starts with the premise that if you think Jack Kerouac was constantly on the road, you don't know Jack. Did you make the film in order to dispel assumptions about Kerouac's life?
I think dispelling those assumptions is inherent when you start telling those stories in more depth. On the Road is not the book that is the end all and be all of what Jack Kerouac is about. Sure, it’s the one that once it was reviewed positively, ended up giving the Beat Generation moniker, but the reality is that there is so much more to the man.

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Friday, October 23, 2009

The Queen and I makes its local debut at CMA

Posted By on Fri, Oct 23, 2009 at 9:04 AM

A documentary about the former Queen of Iran, The Queen and I screens tonight at 7 and at 1:30 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 25 at the Cleveland Museum of Art Lecture Hall. Here is our review of the movie.

The Queen and I (Sweden, 2008) Growing up in Iran while the Shah and Queen Farah ran the country, Nahid Persson Sarvestani had mixed feelings about their leadership. She originally supported the monarchy, but once she found out about its human-rights abuses, she joined an opposition group. These mixed feelings fuel her pursuit of a documentary about Queen Farah, currently living in exile in France. After writing numerous letters, she finally gets a call from Farah who says she’s ready to meet her. Their initial meeting goes well. The queen talks about the revolution and why she and the Shah fled the country in 1979. Sarvestani, herself an exile living in Sweden, finds she has more in common with Farah than she initially imagined, making it difficult for her to take a critical approach. Farah is equally conflicted, especially as she learns more about Sarvestani’s opposition to any sort of monarchy. That all makes for pretty compelling viewing. *** (Jeff Niesel)

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