Thursday, December 3, 2009

The Month in Film

On the heels of October and November posts in this vein, I bring you another prospective round-up of the cinematic highlights of the month ahead. November was a great month for the Cleveland cineaste, and while there are some gems in December, like just about everything else culture-wise, things start to slow down. Still, as the skies stay gray longer and go black earlier, there are more than enough good choices to base your calendar around. So read onward, and keep your fingers crossed for yet another week in a row with no snow. (Can you believe we haven't had any since the last week of FEBRUARY?!?)

Finally, as usual, before getting to the meat of the post, a quick word about format. In this one, I'll list films (or film events) by title, but following chronological order. Make sense? If not, you'll pick it up pretty quickly. I'm a simpleton.

Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation (CIA, Thursday 12/3 at 8 PM; Friday 12/4 at 9 PM)

The month gets started TONIGHT with the first of two screenings of the critically-adored fanboy remake of Steven Spielberg's incredible classic, Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark. Join two of the original filmmakers (Chris Strompolos and Eric Zala) as they personally screen this almost inconceivably ambitious feature when they were teenagers growing up in Mississippi in the 1980s. Shooting on VHS in their basements and backyards, and working with a cast of friends, family, and pets, Strompolos, Zala and Jayson Lamb did everything on this labor-of-love. They acted, built sets, sewed costumes, scrounged props, performed stunts, and risked physical injury. They started production when they were 12 years old and worked on it for the next seven years! But the result (which Harry Knowles of Ain’t It Cool News has called “the best damn fan film I’ve ever seen”) has won them international attention and acclaim, and even a face-to-face meeting with Raiders director Steven Spielberg, who proclaimed their movie wonderful.

Don't sleep on this screening, as this is the only way you'll be able to see the film. You can see the movie only when “the Raiders guys” appear with it. It’s not on DVD and, given rights issues, may never be.

Little Ashes (Museum of Art, Friday 12/4 at 7 PM and Sunday 12/6 PM at 1:30 PM)

Directed by Paul Morrison, with Javier Beltrán, Robert Pattinson, and Matthew McNulty. Set in Madrid circa 1922, this elegantly-shot historical fantasy speculates that painter Salvador Dalí and poet Federico García Lorca were lovers while attending university with their mutual friend, filmmaker Luis Buñuel, another rising artist of the first rank.

80 Blocks from Tiffany's (Low Life Gallery, Saturday 12/5 at 8:30 PM)

I couldn't find a trailer for this that was less than like 8 minutes, a length at which you might as well watch the whole film, so you are gonna have to trust me (or the New York Times) when I say this is a miss-at-your-own-cultural-peril screening. Gary Weis, perhaps best know for his work in SNL short films in the mid-70s, directs this intimate documentary look at life on the streets for black and Latino teen gang members in the South Bronx. Filmed in the summer of 1979, the film features interviews with members of the infamous Savage Nomads and the Savage Skulls gangs. A rare glimpse into late 70s New York towards the end of the infamous South Bronx gang era. Never released on DVD, so good luck catching a screening of this elsewhere.

The Big Lebowski (Cedar-Lee, Saturday 12/5 at 9:30 PM and midnight)

Who hasn't seen this film by now? Everybody has seen this one. At least everyone worth knowing has. However, when was the last time you saw it in a fancy movie theater (with a beer in hand)? Exactly.

We Live In Public (CIA, Thursday 12/10 at 6 PM, Friday 12/11 at 9:35 PM, and Saturday 12/12 at 5:30 PM)

Our increasing willingness to forsake privacy and live their lives in public (via Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, YouTube, reality TV shows, blogs, etc.) is the subject of this cautionary documentary that won the Grand Jury Prize at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. The movie is culled from thousands of hours of surveillance footage shot in an underground NYC bunker where Internet pioneer Josh Harris (the “Warhol of the Web”) lived with 100 volunteers on camera for 30 days at the turn of the millennium. Things did not go well for the residents of this combination hotel/prison, and they went even worse for Mr. Harris and his girlfriend, who lived together by themselves in a subsequent webcam experiment that culminated in Mr. Harris’ mental collapse.

Still Bill (Akron Public Library, Thursday 12/17 at 7:30 PM)

Join the fine folks at the Akron Public Library as they present a screening of the new documentary about soul legend Bill Withers. Filmmakers Damani Baker and Alex Vlack follow Withers and offer a unique and rare look inside the world of this fascinating man. Through concert footage, journeys to his birthplace, interviews with music legends, his family and closest friends, Still Bill presents the story of an artist who has written some of the most beloved songs in our time and who truly understands the heart and soul of a man.

Bronson (CIA, Saturday 12/19 at 7:20 PM and Sunday 12/20 at 8:25 PM)

Hailed by one British critic as “a Clockwork Orange for the 21st century,” the new thriller from the Danish director of The Pusher Trilogy is an English-language fantasia inspired by the career of real-life convict Michael Peterson (played here by Tom Hardy). Peterson, nicknamed “Charles Bronson” after the Death Wish star, is an ornery and violent cog in the British penal system. Thanks to his penchant for fighting and rioting, he has managed to stretch a seven-year sentence for armed robbery into a prison term of 34 years (so far), 30 of them in solitary confinement. Filmmaker Nicolas Winding Refn renders Bronson’s story “as a kind of sociopathic vaudeville” (The Village Voice ), with an intoxicating mix of bold theatricality, flashy cinematics, and muscular action—all set to music by Verdi, Wagner, the Pet Shop Boys, et al.

45365 (Museum of Art, Wednesday 12/23 at 7 PM)

45365 explores the congruities of daily life in an American town – Sidney, Ohio. Through a patient and inquisitive look at the lives and landscapes that make up this community of 20,000 people, it captures the complexities and ambiguities of their shared experience. Conclusions are left to the audience as the component characters speak and act for themselves, as themselves. These storylines eventually coalesce into a mosaic of faces, places, and events. It is an inquiring look at everyday life in middle America. From the patrol car to the courtroom, the playground to the nursing home, the parade to the prayer service, it explores their relationships and interactions – with each other and their environment. Father and son, boyfriends and girlfriend, cop and criminal, officials and the electorate, patrons and providers – it is a portrait of the city and its people. – people somehow not unfamiliar in a landscape that becomes increasingly understood. Sidney is the small town experience. It is a community – of schools and sports and factories and neighborhoods and familiarity.

Cleveland Museum of Art Holiday Film Festival: Gauguin on Film

To close out the year, the CMA brings us a trio of filmic portrayals of Paul Gauguin, the seminal French post-impressionist currently being featured in the museum's leading gallery exhibit, Paul Gauguin: Paris, 1889. The films extend across a wide range of time, with two produced in the 1980s (Gauguin the Savage and The Wolf at the Door) and one produced nearly a lifetime ago, in 1942 (The Moon and Sixpence).

--- Gauguin the Savage (Museum of Art, Saturday 12/26 at 1:30 PM and Tuesday 12/29 at 1:30 PM) In this little-known, Emmy-winning TV drama, Gauguin (played here by the late David Carradine) abandons his wife and children in Europe for a life of artistic freedom in Tahiti.
--- The Wolf at the Door (Museum of Art, Sunday 12/27 at 1:30 PM and Wednesday 12/30 at 1:30 PM) This biographical film dramatizes Paul Gauguin’s (played by Donald Sutherland) return to Paris after a long stay in Tahiti, and his difficulty in selling enough paintings to finance the trip back to his island paradise.
--- The Moon and Sixpence (Museum of Art, Thursday 12/31 at 1:30 PM) In this film version of a W. Somerset Maugham novel inspired by the life of Gauguin, a self-centered London stockbroker leaves his wife and family to pursue a painting career in Paris, then Tahiti.

To conclude, we have a nice month of film ahead of us. Let's not blow it, ok? Also, in the excitement over these specific highlights, don't forget about the ongoing deals, including the always free Low Life Gallery Rank & File Film Series (every Saturday at 7:30 PM, curated by a different person each week) and the ongoing Cedar-Lee Cult Film Series (every Saturday night showing twice at 9:30 and midnight, films vary week to week, but The Rocky Horror Picture Show is always onscreen). See ya at the flicks!

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