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Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Clash of the Titans proves digital doesn't always trump analogue

Posted By on Wed, Mar 31, 2010 at 10:57 AM

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Wife asks me about plot halfway through this fantasy epic. "Why are they doing this again?" she wonders. "To sell action figures," I reply. I really should've said, "to sell video games." Action figures would have been apropos to the so-so original Clash of the Titans, the final bow of f/x master Ray Harryhausen, whose charming stop-motion techniques were becoming obsolete thanks to new computer technology from Industrial Light & Magic. And yet he still put some genuine fairy-tale magic into the swirl of Hollywoodized Greek mythology. This more "serious" remake even has an inside joke that's a cheap-shot insult to the original. That said, like a clunky old classic car, the analog 1981 version is still more fun, so there. The plot is the quest of fashionably glum hero Perseus (Sam Worthington) to hack his way through a bunch of Todd McFarlane-style monsters to find out how to defeat Lord of the Underworld Hades (Ralph Fiennes) and his gigantic ultimate-weapon creature, the Kraken. The twist is that the ancient Aegeans have evidently been reading evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, and the recurring theme is man's revolt and rejection of the capricious gods, even more-or-less benevolent creator Zeus (Liam Neeson). Half-god son of the lusty Zeus, Perseus suppresses his Olympian superpowers most of the time. Even so, the likely audience for this is Gameplayer magazine subscribers, with CGI frantic action scenes that look like cut-pastes from Transformers or Pirates of the Caribbean. ** 1/2

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Reel Injun makes its local premiere at CMA

Posted By on Wed, Mar 31, 2010 at 7:02 AM

A documentary about the way in which Native Americans have been portrayed in the movies, Reel Injun makes its local premiere tonight at 5:15 and 7 p.m. at the Cleveland Museum of Art Lecture Hall. Here's our review of the film.

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Reel Injun (Canada, 2009) “The only thing more pathetic than Indians on TV is Indians watching Indians on TV,” a character tells his Native American friends in a clip from 1998’s Smoke Signals at the start of this documentary, which covers 100 years of Native Americans in movies. Cree filmmaker Neil Diamond begins his trek in the Black Hills, where he attempts to debunk myths about Crazy Horse, an icon who allegedly killed General Custer. He visits his descendents, who live on one of the poorest reservations in the country, and he goes to the old building where Crazy Horse was imprisoned and stops at a summer camp for suburban kids where Native American rituals are reenacted. Diamond then explores the transformation from “noble Injun” to “brutal savage.” He visits Navajos who were extras on old John Wayne movies and translates their lines for the very first time, discovering that they often improvised and added insults directed at their white co-stars. There’s a happy ending, however, as actors like Will Sampson (Chief Bromden in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest) reclaim stereotyped Native American characters, triggering yet another shift in Hollywood. ***

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Friday, March 26, 2010

How to Train Your Dragon makes for a good matinee

Posted By on Fri, Mar 26, 2010 at 12:00 AM

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At a time when 3-D/CGI 'toons are not only ubiquitous but virtually inescapable (Monsters Vs. Aliens, Battle for Terra, Up, Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, ad nauseam), How to Train Your Dragon, the latest release from DreamWorks' animation house is actually pretty decent Saturday matinee fare. Directed by Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois - the team responsible for Disney's underrated Lilo and Stitch - this boy-and-his-dragon charmer is great-looking and mercilessly bereft of the snarky attitude that makes so many "all ages friendly" entertainments an endurance test for anyone over the age of 10. Inspired by Cressida Cowell's eight volume kidlit series, it tells a classically structured adventure story in expedient fashion and uses its 3-D imagery judiciously, minus the usual cheap carny tricks. Jay Baruchel (She's Out of My League) provides the voice for Hiccup, the nerdy Viking teenager who adopts an injured dragon named Toothless, becomes an accidental hero and earns his Alpha Male father's respect in the process. The insufferable Gerard Butler - using his authentic Scottish burr instead of his fingernails-on-a-blackboard "American" accent - voices Hiccup's dad, and even he's relatively easy to take for a change. Nobody's reinventing the wheel here, but you could do a lot worse, trust me. ***

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Thursday, March 25, 2010

Reviews of the Cinematheque's weekend films

Posted By on Thu, Mar 25, 2010 at 6:54 AM

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

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House (Japan, 1977) This Japanese horror movie was made more than 30 years ago, and while it’s now become a cult classic, Nobuhiko Obayashi’s film doesn’t hold up. Even by B-movie standards, the special effects are cheesy, and the acting is generally shoddy. The story surrounds Oshare (Kimiko Ikegami), a young Japanese schoolgirl who recruits six screeching friends to go on vacation with her to her aunt's house in the countryside. Of course, the place turns out to be haunted, and it’s not long before an angry ghost comes after them. The ghost chops off one girl’s fingers when she plays the piano and and hurls pillows at another girl, suffocating her. The campy film is more strange than scary and shouldn’t be confused with all the contemporary Japanese horror movies that have received much-deserved stateside attention. At 8:45 p.m. Friday, March 26, and 7 p.m. Saturday, March 27. ** (Jeff Niesel)

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Reefer Madness (U.S., 1936) Produced by a church group as Tell Your Children, this hysterical anti-marijuana tract (with a little carnival-sideshow sex and sleaze on the side subsequently inserted by barnstorming producer Dwain Esper) went on to be a perennial at college film groups across the country, with many a freshman toking in its honor. Even viewers who value their sobriety won’t be able to stifle a giggle at the Squaresville enactment of a deadly dope ring that ensnares a bunch of Archie-and-Jughead type “teenagers,” luring them to a bad girl’s apartment and transforming the hapless youth into maniacs/murderers. The utilitarian scare show inspired the Paula Abdul-choreographed Broadway musical and Showtime feature Reefer Madness, but, unlike those spin-offs, this knew enough to wrap up in a little over an hour — so the traveling filmmakers could welcome in the next carnival tentful of rubes. At 10:30 p.m. Friday, March 26, and 8:45 p.m. Saturday, March 27. *** (Charles Cassady Jr.)

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Sita Sings the Blues (U.S., 2008) In this low-budget, high-imagination cartoon, writer-director Nina Paley wryly retells the Ramayana from the viewpoint of its heroine, the wronged wife of a mighty monarch. Commentary and flavor are added by musical numbers from 1920s jazz vocalist Annette Hanshaw, who “stars” in the film posthumously. Paley also interweaves the sad-absurd story of her own marital breakup. Brilliant minimalism-is-more graphics, music, satire, cross-cultural odysseys, heartache, revenge against an ex — it's all here. At 7 p.m. Friday, March 26, and 10:15 p.m. Saturday, March 27. *** (Cassady)

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Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Hot Tub Time Machine: The title says it all

Posted By on Wed, Mar 24, 2010 at 12:02 AM

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There are those who will laugh at a good projectile vomit gag, and then there are those who do not believe there is such a thing as a good projectile vomit gag. Which side of that divide you fall on should be a fair indicator of whether or not you’ll enjoy Hot Tub Time Machine, which manages to include gags involving just about every bodily fluid and function imaginable. As for plot, there’s a hot tub, and it’s a time machine. Old friends Adam (John Cusack), Nick (Craig Robinson) and Lou (Rob Courdry), along with Adam’s nephew Jacob (Clark Duke), get into the hot tub and wind up inadvertently transported back to 1986. Once in the past, the characters encounter a standard “snobs vs. slobs” conflict. There's lots of alcohol and drug use and a hearty helping of sex and nudity. It’s like a cross between Back to the Future and Hot Dog… The Movie. The talent and likeability of the cast helps a lot, and you get the feeling the filmmakers have a genuine love for the much maligned genre of '80s teen sex comedies. ***

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Tuesday, March 23, 2010

A Q&A with The Elephant in the Living Room director Michael Webber

Posted By on Tue, Mar 23, 2010 at 11:12 AM

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An Ohio native, director Michael Webber first worked in television as a commercial director. He later served as writer, director, producer and visual effects supervisor on hundreds of television and motion picture projects and spent several of those years producing feature film projects for the bigwigs at Twentieth Century Fox and Lionsgate. But in 2008 after a friend loaned him a few books about people who keep exotic animals as pets, he decided it was time to make his own damn film. The resulting documentary, The Elephant in the Living Room, is a film he directed, produced and shot. A sometimes harrowing look at exotic animals and the people who own them, it focuses primarily on the relationship between Outreach for Animals director Tim Harrison and lion owner Terry Brumfield. In addition, it includes hidden camera footage of exotic animal sales and conventions and shows the lengths to which some people will go to own a dangerous pet. The film has been making its way around the festival circuit and screens at 2:20 p.m. Friday, March 26, at 4:30 p.m. Saturday, March 27 and at 9:20 a.m. Sunday, March 28 at the Cleveland International Film Festival. Webber, who will be in town to attend a film forum after the Saturday screening, recently answered a few questions via phone from his Los Angeles home.

How’d you end up going from producing other peoples’ movies to making one of your own?
I had never done a documentary before but I wanted to. I like films based on true stories and documentaries are the epitome of that. Sometimes when you’re producing other features, they’re not your personal taste. I wanted to do something more personal. I thought the documentary would be a good fit. I couldn’t find something that would interest me. A friend of mine had told me about the topic and gave me a coupe of books on the subject. I read the books and they were written by Tim Harrison, a police officer in Ohio who was the epicenter of this issue. I decided to explore the topic. I contacted him, and I thought it was fascinating. I spent a year doing research and discovered the topic was bigger than I imagined. It’s happening all over the country and the world. At that point, I thought it was what I wanted to take on.

Continue reading »

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Monday, March 22, 2010

Mayor holds press conference to announce Scenarios contest winner

Posted By on Mon, Mar 22, 2010 at 4:49 PM

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Mayor Frank Jackson held a press conference this afternoon in his Red Room to announce that 15-year-old Angileece Williams, a sophomore at Saint Martin de Porres High School, is the winner of the Scenarios USA "What's The REAL DEAL about Masculinity" Writing Contest. Each year, this national non-profit organization selects three communities to host a contest inviting local youth to submit stories on issues that young people address on a daily basis. Students in Cleveland — along with students in New York City and the Rio Grande Valley in south Texas — had been selected for this (and last) year’s Scenarios USA writing contest. The writers of the winning stories are paired with professional Hollywood directors to turn their stories into short films. “This shows that young people in the city can do amazing things,” Jackson said before introducing Scenarios USA founder Jill Paulsen who spoke briefly about the organization’s interest in “motivating youth.” Saint Martin teacher Ann Klonowski said the school “could not be more delighted” that Williams had won the contest. New York-based writer-director Malcolm D. Lee (Roll Bounce, Undercover Brother) will direct Williams’ script. He talked about his Cleveland connections (his uncle was a CSU professor) and joked, “I am not here to try to poach LeBron James.” Lee said Williams’ 15-page short story about a troubled boy named Eliyah was “poetic, cinematic and dramatic,” and he called it “an extraordinary piece of work.” “It’s a story that I can’t wait to start collaborating on,” he said. While Lee and Williams have already spent a weekend scouting locations, filming isn’t slated to start until May. Williams, who described herself as a “regular teen who wanted to make a difference,” will devote the next month turning her story into a screenplay, and Scenarios organizers hope to screen the short film at next year’s Cleveland International Film Festival.

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