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Friday, October 4, 2019

‘Joker’ Delivers a Mixed Message

Posted By on Fri, Oct 4, 2019 at 10:59 AM

  • Warner Bros.
On the one hand, Joker, the new film from director Todd Phillips (The Hangover, Old School, War Dogs) that provides an origin story for the DC Comics villain, tries to function as a critique of the current state of affairs. Set in the fictional Gotham, a metropolis that resembles New York, the movie takes place during turbulent and uncertain times. The city is overrun by “super” rats, and a garbage worker strike has left the place in shambles.

On the other hand, it almost celebrates acts of violence as we see the Joker laugh and dance as he randomly kills people in acts of rage.

Now showing at area theaters, the movie delivers a muddled message that’s spurned so much controversy that there’s likely to be a police presence at many screenings.

While the film comes off as a compelling character study, it falters when it tries to inject social commentary into the equation.

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Thursday, October 3, 2019

Joe Bob Briggs, Who Speaks on Wednesday at the Capitol Theatre, Talks About His 'Outlaw' Approach to Writing About Film

Posted By on Thu, Oct 3, 2019 at 12:52 PM

A 1987 article in the Chicago Tribune describes Joe Bob Briggs as “the nation’s first and only drive-in movie critic.” The article goes on to note that Briggs was covering a unique beat, praising “scenes of decapitations, motor vehicle chases, rolling heads, rivers of blood, bared garbonzas and other staples of the B-movie industry” in a satirical fashion.

Born in Dallas and raised in Little Rock, John Bloom began his career as a writer at Texas Monthly, eventually landing a gig at the Dallas Times Herald. He created the Joe Bob Briggs persona as a way to explore the films and genres that were far off the usual beaten path of what the average critic would be writing about — and they certainly wouldn’t be covering them in this fashion.

As he describes it, he was able to be an “outlaw,” offering exposure to a genre of films that were not only niche, but “despised.” But at the same time, there was an audience for those movies that had been neglected — his column quickly found eyeballs and later, a syndication deal that put it in newspapers across the United States.

From his initial beginnings in January of 1982, it was only a handful of years before someone hatched an idea that it was time for the public to get a chance to meet Joe Bob Briggs in the flesh.

“I was performing as Joe Bob at places like Kiwanis clubs. People would know the written stuff and they would ask me to do it,” Briggs recalls in a phone interview. “I would perform it in an exaggerated redneck voice at civic clubs, I think I did a couple of conventions. But it wasn’t paid jobs. It wasn’t anything professional.”

As it happens, Cleveland was where Briggs would do his first professional show in 1985.

“This promoter at Cleveland State University — I don’t know if he taught there or what, but he was associated with [the university] — asked me to come to Cleveland and do my show. I said, ‘I don’t really have a show.’ He said, ‘Well, how long would it take you to do a show?’ I think I had three months to prepare some kind of show for Cleveland. I thought I would go in, and it would be a small space, and I would go in and get out. I didn’t know anybody there. I thought it would be a good tryout. Like they say, you go to a small comedy club in the middle of nowhere and you try stuff out.”

It was a scenario that made a lot of sense on paper, but Briggs had a different reality waiting for him when he got to Cleveland.

“It wasn’t like that at all! It was 600 people. It was in the paper the day I got there that it was going to happen! It was on the six o’clock news the night before,” he laughs. “My idea of sneaking into town and trying out some material and escaping quickly evaporated. It was a big crowd.”

The show took place at the Berea Convention Center, which Briggs quickly learned was simply the auditorium at Berea High School “right there in the flight path of the Cleveland airport” with the occasional plane rumbling overhead. He brought a punk band, Stick Men with Ray Guns, converted for his needs to play country western songs as his backing band — a good thing, as the songs bailed him out frequently when he perceived his material wasn’t hitting the mark.

“I walked off the stage and I thought, ‘I’m never doing this again,’” Briggs recalls with a big laugh. “It was a disaster from beginning to end. I didn’t really know what I was doing.”

He came out into the lobby and was surprised to find that the audience was still there.

“I’ll always remember that it was an awful show, but the people knew that it was my first time. They were so kind. That’s why I have a soft place in my heart for Cleveland. I walked out into the lobby and they stayed afterwards and were encouraging,” he says. “They were giving me advice on my show. They were just great.”

It ended up being an 'okay experience,'” Briggs reflects now. “Except for the fact that the promoter had vanished at intermission. He just took all of the receipts and left.”

The name of the promoter is lost to time — and Briggs was never able to track him down.

“It was harder in pre-internet days to find people,” he chuckles.

Nearly 35 years later, Briggs will return to Cleveland for a show at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 9, at the Capitol Theatre, promising a “fast and furious two hours” of entertainment under the banner of How Rednecks Saved Hollywood. Reviewing the history of rednecks in America using over 200 clips and stills from classic exploitation and mainstream movies, he’ll share the “identity of the first redneck in history,” the “precise date the first redneck arrived in America” and “the most sacred redneck cinematic moments.”

“I always try to give a little local color to the show because, eventually, the redneck menace infiltrated every part of the country,” Briggs explains. “There’s always some connection to every city. Most of the people that come, they’re exploitation movie fans, they’re cult movie fans. They love the fact that I’m doing a deep dive into areas that they haven’t heard about before, both in the mainstream movies, failed mainstream movies, and in the hardcore exploitation movies, including some that could never be exhibited today, could never be played in a theater today. They’re just too awful. Not awful in terms of filmmaking, but just the subject matter, you couldn’t show them today. I talk about some of those and show clips from them, and people are just horrified, which is the whole point.”

Host of two late night television shows that enjoyed lengthy runs on the Movie Channel and TNT, Briggs is currently hosting The Last Drive-In on AMC’s streaming platform Shudder. Picking up where Briggs left off with TNT’s MonsterVision in 2000, the new show was initially positioned as his “farewell to movie hosting,” but like so many times before when he’s tried to walk away, they keep pulling him back in — the program was so popular that it was recently renewed for a second season.

He’s also got a long-gestating book on the history of the exploitation genre that remains in the pipeline.

“I’ve been working on it forever, and I’ll probably be working on it forever,” he says, pointing to the Shudder show and his touring work as two things that have kept him too busy to put a lot of focus on the project. Of course, he still watches a ton of movies as well, mentioning 2009’s The House of the Devil as one favorite he’d like to recommend.

“It’s not that popular with the fans — the fans think it’s slow — they have a lot of opinions about it. It’s a little bit hokey, in that it presumes this Satanic panic thing that happened in the ’90s,” he explains. “But it’s just a superb slowburn extremely well-crafted movie that really held my attention throughout. That was a real surprise to me. That was old-fashioned horror movie making. It wasn’t trying to be a horror comedy. There’s so many young film directors. It's like, 'Oh, it’s a horror comedy.' It’s like, you know, grow some balls and try to scare people!”

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Monday, September 30, 2019

Cedar Lee Theatre to Screen 'El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie' From Oct. 11 to Oct. 13

Posted By on Mon, Sep 30, 2019 at 2:52 PM

  • Courtesy of Cleveland Cinemas
The Cedar Lee Theatre has just announced that it’ll be the exclusive Cleveland venue for a limited theatrical run of El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie. A continuation of the AMC series Breaking Bad, the film follows Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) and chronicles what happens to him after the events of the show's series finale.

The movie will screen at 7 and 9:45 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 11, Saturday, Oct. 12 and Sunday, Oct. 13.

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Thursday, September 5, 2019

John Wick Promotional Road Trip Coming to Mayfield Heights Best Buy on Sept. 17

Posted By on Thu, Sep 5, 2019 at 11:44 AM

  • Lionsgate
One of the year’s top grossing movies, the critically acclaimed John Wick: Chapter 3 — Parabellum, arrives on DVD on Tuesday.

In order to promote the home video release, the iconic Mustang from the first two installments of film as well as the motorcycle from John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum will travel across the country to visit select Best Buy Stores, including the one in Mayfield Heights.

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See Brittany Run: Comedy About Reinvention and Exercise Transcends Trite Formula

Posted By on Thu, Sep 5, 2019 at 11:21 AM

  • Jon Pack
Brittany Runs a Marathon is a millennial-oriented comedy with a narrative structure so familiar — underdog triumphs over adversity — that its eventual thoughtfulness comes almost as a surprise. By the end, it manages to impart some original wisdom on body image and self-respect, particularly as it relates to the perils of modern communication and courtship. It opens Friday at the Cedar Lee.

Groundlings and SNL alum Jillian Bell, (the undisputed scene-stealer of Workaholics), plays the titular Brittany. She’s an overweight woman on the precipice of 30 who commits to turning her life around after a doctor's visit takes a left turn. She wanted an Adderall prescription. She got a lecture about dieting and exercise.

Bell is an improv comedy native and a master of unscripted riffing. But this role is not exclusively, or even primarily, comedic. The layered and often petulant Brittany is a far cry from the over-the-top wackos Bell has been called on to portray in recent years. Still, she revels in improvised awkwardness. She’s at the center of two scenes of such pronounced discomfort that I nearly climbed under my seat.

The script, which follows Brittany as she painstakingly reinvents herself via physical exercise and associated life choices involving personal responsibility, is at times obvious and/or moralistic. The ensemble of supporting characters are conspicuous examples of books who shouldn't be judged by their covers: There’s Catherine, (Michaela Watkins), the affluent upstairs neighbor … who turns out to be a former heroin addict! There’s Gretchen, (Alice Lee), the ostensible best friend … who turns out to be a shallow social media prima donna! Then there’s Jern, (Utkarsh Ambudkar, whom fans of the Pitch Perfect franchise will recognize as the Treblemakers’ vocal percussionist extraordinaire Donald), the oafish man-child roommate … who turns out to be a sensitive and caring friend!

These are not spoilers. Most of the characters' trajectories are evident from the moment they open their mouths.

Ultimately, what makes Brittany so effective is that her attempt to run a marathon is akin to so many others' bold personal goals. Watching an underdog compete against long odds — and more importantly, against themselves — is inspiring stuff. I still cannot be sure whether certain scenes were set to Rachel Platten's "Fight Song," or if it just seems like they should have been, in retrospect.

While there are moments of strong comedic scene work, which was expected, the movie is stronger when it yanks at the heartstrings, which wasn't. 

Near the end of the film, we learn that 50,000 people run the New York City marathon every year. Far from diminishing Brittany’s efforts, that stat puts her story (which is based, we learn in the credits, on a real-life Brittany) in communion with a small city’s worth of people, all running for different reasons, chasing away demons or pursuing outlandish goals.

Brittany’s story is not an uncommon one, and it’s a good reminder that personal adversity is universal, and that reinvention and renewal are incredibly hard, but incredibly rewarding in the end.

Film Details Brittany Runs a Marathon
Brittany Forgler is 27 years old and a mess: her boss is disappointed in her, her doctor is worried about her, her friends don't respect her, and, worst of all, she doesn't respect herself. In search of a new life, Brittany laces up her Converse and runs one block. The next day, two. Pretty soon, a mile. She finally has direction, but is she on the right path? Brittany Runs a Marathon is the story of a woman who wants a better life, and sets out to conquer herself one city block at a time.
Comedy and Drama

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Locally Made Movie About the Opioid Crisis to Premiere at Atlas Lakeshore in October

Posted By on Thu, Sep 5, 2019 at 8:34 AM

Because he lost so many loved ones to drug abuse while growing up, local writer and rapper Javon Bates wrote Common Creed — The Epidemic, a book that details his firsthand experiences related to the opioid epidemic, particularly in Ohio.

The book has now become a film; it premieres at 6 p.m. on Oct. 2 at Atlas Lakeshore in Euclid. Tickets are $30.

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Friday, August 30, 2019

Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque To Screen 'Apocalypse Now Final Cut'

Posted By on Fri, Aug 30, 2019 at 4:19 PM

  • Courtesy of the Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque
Earlier today, the Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque announced that it's added the new 4K restoration of Francis Ford Coppola's Apocalypse Now to its schedule. Apocalypse Now Final Cut will screen at 7:15 p.m on Tuesday, Sept. 10. It's a half hour longer than the film's original cut but 15 to 20 minutes shorter than 2001's Apocalypse Now Redux.

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