Friday, August 4, 2017

Lady Macbeth: Boredom and Death in Steamy Period Drama

Posted By on Fri, Aug 4, 2017 at 11:23 AM

  • Lady Macbeth, BBC Films
Among other chilling reactions you may experience after the viewing of Lady Macbeth, the new period drama from rookie director William Oldroyd that opens Friday at the Cedar Lee, is that it's one of the starker depictions of boredom available in recent cinema.

Katherine (Florence Pugh), is a young bride sold into marriage and then essentially quarantined in the English country home of her new husband Alexander (Paul Hilton). The camera often finds her sitting quietly on a sofa or chair, alone. She has been dressed for the day and presents as a kind of doll, hands on her lap, eyes fighting to stay awake, head gently bobbing. (See image above.)

Her living situation is torture. It just sucks. In an early scene, Alexander orders her to undress before bed. He looks at her disapprovingly after she's disrobed, then gets under the sheets and turns out the lamp. Katherine has no friends, no activities, no joys. Her stepfather Boris (Christopher Fairbank) is a revolting dude, an Argus Filch with cleaner clothes. Mid-meal, he's always insisting that Katherine perform various wifely duties, and he'd always got crud on his lips — a real sicko. Katherine's only respite from this agony of ennui are her long and windy nature walks, during which the camera, untethered now, follows behind at a jaunty clip.

Something snaps in Katherine when she comes upon a worker named Sebastian (Cosmo Jarvis) abusing a maid (Naomi Ackie). A steamy love affair develops. And while Alexander is away on business, lust consumes Katherine, turning her crazed and reckless, terrifying even Sebastian with her passion. When Alexander returns, Katherine demonstrates just how far she's willing to go to preserve what she wants (very far).

Based on the novel Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk by Nikolai Leskov, the film is dark and sometimes horrifying, foremost for its understated qualities. The worst scenes are filmed with minimal movement, minimal sound. During one murder — naturally it comes to that — Katherine suffocates her victim while Sebastian holds him down. The camera is at their back, unmoving. No one says a word.    
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Thursday, July 13, 2017

'Wish Upon' Will Satisfy Your Craving for a Campy Summer Horror Flick

Posted By on Thu, Jul 13, 2017 at 12:01 PM


Family experiences tragic event. Surviving, adolescent member of the family finds a possessed object he's not supposed to. The friends, family and/or the kids who bully the person at school are subsequently killed off, until the main character manages to destroy or subdue the aforementioned possessed object. The main character is possessed himself, with varying results.

Most teen horror flicks today tend to utilize a variety (if not all) of these ingredients with a healthy dose of social media drama thrown in. Their only truly inventive aspects, at this point, are the ways in which characters are killed off. Wish Upon is no exception; if the film’s goal was to execute this tired but profitable formula, while reaffirming the general public’s belief that teenage girls are the worst, it does so admirably.

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Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Cleveland Author to Lead Discussion of ‘Twilight Zone — The Movie’ at the Cinematheque

Posted By on Wed, Jun 21, 2017 at 1:16 PM

Plain Dealer TV critic Mark Dawidziak became infatuated with the sci-fi TV show The Twilight Zone when he was a kid.

“I discovered Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone when I was 9,” he says. I was not old enough to see it in its original run. There was a TV station in New York where I grew up that re-ran the show. It was right in my wheelhouse. I loved spooky stuff, and I adored this show because of the eerie endings. That’s the level I enjoyed it on. I carried this show with me throughout my life, and it remains my favorite television show of all time.”

In his early twenties, he decided he’d like to write a history of the show, but in 1982, he walked into a bookstore and saw Marc Scott Zicree’s The Twilight Zone Companion and knew he’d been beaten to the punch.

“That was a landmark book,” he says. “I set my sights on Columbo and determined to do as good as job as Marc.”

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Tuesday, June 20, 2017

'Transformers: The Last Knight' Buckles Under the Weight of a Clunky Plot and Excessive Special Effects

Posted By on Tue, Jun 20, 2017 at 7:28 PM

Predictably enough, Transformers: The Last Knight, perhaps the most bloated film to hit screens this summer, commences with an action sequence.

The mind numbingly long film that clocks in at 149 minutes suffers from a clunky plot and ridiculous special effects sequences that feature elongated fight scenes between Transformers and humans and Transformers and Transformers.

The movie screens tonight at select theaters and then opens wide tomorrow.

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Monday, June 19, 2017

'Rough Night' Pushes Chick Flick Boundaries

Posted By on Mon, Jun 19, 2017 at 1:43 PM


Female-dominated films can’t seem to get enough of bridal parties and all the comedic fodder they hypothetically provide. 2011’s Bridesmaids established the highest of bars for just how deliciously raunchy and despicable their senses of humor can be, while maintaining a steady heartbeat throughout; minus the undercurrent of wit and genuine female friendship, you just have a mess like 2009's Bride Wars.

There’s been a steady increase in wedding-related chick flicks since Bridesmaids, but none have come close to matching the sheer entertainment value (or at least pushing as many boundaries as) the Kristen Wiig powerhouse until Rough Night, which opened areawide Friday.

After a flashback to the main characters winning a beer pong championship in college, illustrating their unbreakable bond, we jump to the present-day thirty-somethings. Alice (Jillian Bell) decides to take the gang down to Miami for Jess’ (Scarlett Johansson) bachelorette weekend. This includes their best friends, played by Ilana Glazer and Zoë Kravitz, who happen to be former lovers, and Pippa (Kate McKinnon), Jess’ Australian pal from a semester abroad.

The titular night commences with the ladies snorting coke in a club bathroom, and turns “rough” when, hours later, an overzealous Alice jumps a Craigslist stripper. He falls off his chair, hits his head and promptly dies of the injury.

Beside the fact that murder is illegal, they’ve all got their own reasons for it being particularly not okay — running for office, engulfed in a custody battle, already has numerous strikes on their record, etc. Rather than call the police and risk getting arrested, they decide to get rid of the body (if they can figure out how).

Without the unparalleled cast, Rough Night would be an irredeemable, incoherent jumble of shock-factor-reliant humor. This film, however, has managed to assemble not only the aforementioned females but a handful of equally hilarious side characters. Colton Haynes’ bewildered stripper (not the one they inadvertently kill — another one), and Ty Burrell and Demi Moore as the groups’ polyamorous, overtly sexual neighbors only contribute to its general, raucous absurdity — in a good way.

The cast’s weakest link is, surprisingly, Johansson. Comedy is simply not her forte, and being surrounded by some of the funniest women in show business, as a stodgy politician sporting a “Can I speak with your manager?” haircut almost seems unfair. Her presence, in the midst of her friends’ shenanigans, feels like that of a Saturday Night Live guest not entirely comfortable with the content they’re presenting.

Speaking of SNL, conversely, McKinnon is indisputably the real star of the show. Sure, her over-exaggerated accent and ubiquitous Vegemite supply are a little heavy-handed, but nothing about this film is subtle. She’s pitch-perfect from the moment she appears waving in the window of a club until the final scenes, in which she bemoans the convolution of the American legal system.

Rough Night has by no means escaped all the crippling clichés and emptiness of the archetypal summer comedy, and much of its humor is not just tasteless but downright insensitive (i.e. McKinnon canoodling with a corpse and a brief airport terror gag).

But if you’re going to embrace any of this season’s comedies predestined to be terrible, give this one a shot — as long as you take it at face value, you probably won't be disappointed.

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Thursday, June 15, 2017

'Cars 3' is an Average Addition to Already Tired Franchise

Posted By on Thu, Jun 15, 2017 at 1:28 PM

The first teaser for Cars 3, released back in November, was so bleak and foreboding that it sparked a worldwide debate over whether kids would be able to handle such gravity in a G-rated film about talking cars.


While the scene featured in the teaser remains in the final cut, it doesn't set the tone for the whole film. But the franchise's third entry is still a drastic shift from 2011's Cars 2, which tossed the titular characters from their humble Route 66 town into the world of glitzy European racing and a bizarre Bond-esque subplot.

Cars 3 is an improvement on its overly ambitious predecessor; with its crew back in the States, the film has regained some of the down-home charm of the original. But its gorgeous scenery, occasional wit and "Midnight Cowboy" reference can't save this flick from the fact that it is, above all, unnecessary.

Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) is still racing, but he and his peers are thrown for a loop when the racing circuit is inundated with faster, more technologically-advanced newbies. Determined to remain on top, Lightning tries to beat out particularly arrogant Jackson Storm (Armie Hammer) in a race and fails miserably.

Lightning spends four months wallowing, but after a pep talk from his Porsche girlfriend Sally (Bonnie Hunt), he’s back on the road to train for the next racing season. A smug silver Cadillac (Nathan Fillion) has bought out his former hippie sponsors and insists that he train with Cruz (Cristela Alonzo), a lifelong fan.

But the face of Rust-eze struggles to keep up with his new ageist joke-cracking competitors, and embarks on a mission with Cruz to ensure that his fate isn't sealed with a bad race, as it was for his former mentor Doc.

One of this franchise's biggest issues, and perhaps one of the reasons it's not as widely beloved as Pixar's other mainstays like Toy Story and Monsters Inc, is its lack of self-awareness. This is highlighted, particularly, in an exchange between Lightning and his new sponsor.

"I never really thought of myself as a brand," Lightning says in response to the sponsor's urging him to sell out. "The racing is about the reward, not the stuff."

Oh, the irony.

Cars itself grossed around $460 million worldwide and its sequel around $560 million. But those aren't even close to the $10 billion-plus that Cars-related merchandise has generated to date. That could finance 80-plus more Cars films, which, judging by the way Disney and Pixar are currently cranking out sequels, may not be an impossibility.

While these films are not entirely without imagination and heart, they still often feel like two-hour advertisements for the toy cars and DVDs their audiences have devoured. Cars 3 is no exception, and being the third installment (fifth if you count the two Planes spinoffs spawned by the franchise) probably qualifies it as the most commercial of them all.

So, too, does its plot. It's entirely predictable, and relies too heavily on cheap laughs and homages to the first film (flashbacks included). Plus, if you were hoping to see a lot of the Radiator Springs residents, you're out of luck.

Lightning's mentoring relationship with Cruz is sweet, providing some much-needed heart to this otherwise tired sequel, and its background animation on Lightning's middle-to-Southern America quest is startlingly realistic (hats off to Pixar). But this doesn't compensate for the fact that the novelty of the 2006 original has worn off, and the animation powerhouse's efforts are better exerted elsewhere.

While director Brian Fee told CinemaBlend last month that “anything’s possible” regarding a fourth film, I think it’s time to put Cars in park for good.

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Friday, June 9, 2017

Feel-Good Flick 'Megan Leavey' Presents an Unconventional Love Story

Posted By on Fri, Jun 9, 2017 at 8:14 AM

Based on the true events concerning Marine Megan Leavey and the combat dog that accompanied her to Fallujah in 2005 and then to Ramadi in 2006, Megan Leavey should be a better movie than it is. The source material is good stuff. The film, not so much.

The movie, which opens Friday area-wide, settles for a romanticized and ultimately sentimental account of Leavey’s life as it often comes off more like a military recruitment ad than a drama about a woman with a fierce love for her loyal canine.

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