Friday, January 1, 2010

The Month in Film

We made it to 2010. Congratulations, everybody. While the past year was a pretty damn good one for me, I know it was difficult for lots and lots (and lots) of other folks. This is particularly true for our favorite non-profit cultural institutions. While
there is little we can do to affect the macro-economic situation, if each of us makes a concerted effort to spend what meager disposable income we have supporting the institutions we love yet might lose should the financial situation become any more precarious.

There are many more to name that I could even begin to list, and in just about every dimension of the arts you can think of, but since this is a post about the monthly goings-on for the local cinephile, I'll stick with film. Please please please go see a movie or two this month at a place like the CIA Cinemtheque or the Cedar-Lee. And while you're at it, think about becoming a member of the Cleveland Film Society, the organization that puts on the annual AWESOME Cleveland International Film Festival - a membership is only $55 (or $85 for a couple). It really does make a big difference. And, for once, doing a good deed doesn't have to hurt, since there are oodles of good, nay great options for you to choose from. My personal favorites, as usual, are the ones listed below.

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.

2001: A Space Odyssey - 1968, Britain/USA (Cedar-Lee, Saturday 1/2 at 9:30 PM)

The classic sci-fi film. Join the regulars at the Cedar-Lee cult classic series for a one-time screening of this cinematic great. When the world is ruled by apes, one particular group discovers a mysterious rectangular monolith near their home, which imparts upon them the knowledge of tool use, and enables them to evolve into people. A similar monolith is discovered on the moon, and it is determined to have come from an area near Jupiter. Astronaut Dave Bowman, along with four companions, sets off for Jupiter on a spaceship controlled by HAL 9000, a revolutionary computer system that is every bit humankind's equal--and perhaps its superior. When HAL endangers the crew's lives for the sake of the mission, Bowman will have to first overcome the computer, then travel to the birthplace of the monolith.

The Room - 2003, USA (Cedar-Lee, Saturday 1/2 at midnight)

A film quickly becoming an underground hit - not because it is good, mind you, but because it is so unbelievably awful. You can get an idea of why it wound up that way by reading my interview with director Tommy Wiseau from this past July. Trust me when I tell you that the Cedar-Lee has booked a monthly screening of this film from here onward for very good reason. For those of you interested in plot, here you go: An American black comedy about love and passion, betrayal and lies. It depicts the depths of friendship and relationships in one's life and raises life's real and most asked question: "Can you ever really trust anyone?...Are you ready to see reflections of your life? A successful banker, Johnny, is madly in love with his fiancé, Lisa, and plans to be married next month. His plans take a horrid turn when he finds the truth about Lisa and the people surrounding him.

Rocky Horror Picture Show - 1975, USA (Cedar-Lee, Saturday 1/2 at midnight)

Another cult classic. In fact, if 2001: A Space Odyssey is the sci-fi film, Rocky Horror Picture Show has got to be the cult (or camp, whichever) film of all time. For the uninitiated: Brad and Janet, newly engaged, stumble onto the castle of Dr. Frank-N-Furter during a rainstorm. Taking refuge in the castle, they're present for the doctor's unveiling of his newest creation, Rocky. Over the course of the night, Frank seduces both Brad and Janet, Janet and Rocky become involved biblically, Dr. Everett Scott arrives looking for his son Eddie (whom Frank killed earlier in the film), and it all goes to pot when the guests discover that Frank is actually an alien (a transvestite from the planet Transsexual in the galaxy Transylvania) who's succeeded in creating the Sonic Transducer, "an audio-vibratory physiomolecular transport device" capable of "breaking down solid matter and then projecting it through space and, who knows, perhaps even time itself."

Badlands - 1974, USA (CIA, Thursday 1/7 at 6:45 PM; Friday at 9:35 PM)

Voted one of the 100 best movies ever made in a 1995 poll conducted by England’s Time Out magazine, Terrence Malick’s indelible directorial debut stars Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek as amoral, vacuous young lovers who embark on a senseless killing spree across the Midwest during the 1950s.

Daybreakers - 2009, USA (Tower City, Opens 1/8 with numerous screenings to follow)

The first in a month's worth of big budget major releases I'm pumped for (also including The Book of Eli, Legion, and Edge of Darkness), Daybreakers looks like a hybrid of Blade, Gattaca, and The Matrix. An unbelievably awesome one. I can't wait.

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus - 2009, USA (Cedar-Lee, Opens 1/8 with numerous screenings to follow)

Better known as the film Heath Ledger (RIP) died 1/3 of the way through making, this film is a fantastical morality tale, set in the present day. It tells the story of Dr Parnassus and his extraordinary 'Imaginarium', a travelling show where members of the audience get an irresistible opportunity to choose between light and joy or darkness and gloom. Blessed with the extraordinary gift of guiding the imaginations of others, Dr Parnassus is cursed with a dark secret. Long ago he made a bet with the devil, Mr Nick, in which he won immortality. Many centuries later, on meeting his one true love, Dr Parnassus made another deal with the devil, trading his immortality for youth, on condition that when his first-born reached its 16th birthday he or she would become the property of Mr Nick. Valentina is now rapidly approaching this 'coming of age' milestone and Dr Parnassus is desperate to protect her from her impending fate. Mr Nick arrives to collect but, always keen to make a bet, renegotiates the wager. Now the winner of Valentina will be determined by whoever seduces the first five souls. Enlisting a series of wild, comical and compelling characters in his journey, Dr Parnassus promises his daughter's hand in marriage to the man that helps him win. In this captivating, explosive and wonderfully imaginative race against time, Dr Parnassus must fight to save his daughter in a never-ending landscape of surreal obstacles - and undo the mistakes of his past once and for all...

The Tree, The Mayor, And The Mediatheque
- 1993, France (CIA, Saturday 1/9 at 7:25 PM)

This never-released-in-America movie by French master Éric Rohmer (My Night at Maud’s, Claire’s Knee) is only temporarily in the U.S., so don’t miss this rare chance to see it! Made in the middle of Rohmer’s series “Tales of Four Seasons” (of which it is not a part), this pointed comedy stars Pascal Greggory as the Socialist mayor of a small French village who secures government funding to build a showy media arts center on a picturesque, pastoral patch of land—something the local schoolmaster (Fabrice Luchini) and his pre-teen daughter won’t abide.

The Book of Eli - 2009, USA (Tower City, Opens 1/15 with numerous screenings to follow)

The moment I saw this first trailer for this film (on Christmas Eve, watching Star Wars at the home of a couple friends), I was hooked. Post-apocalyptic badassedness ... with Denzel. You know Denzel isn't gonna make a shitty movie, so this is gonna be awesome. Making it even better - his nemesis? Gary God Damn Oldman. I. Cannot. Fucking. Wait. One more time for you plot lovers: In post-apocalyptic 2043, a lone hero, Eli, guards the Book of Eli, which provides knowledge that could redeem society. The despot of a small, makeshift town plans to take possession of the book.

Fight Club - 1999, USA (Capitol Theatre, Saturday 1/16 at midnight)

Kicking off the new mid-month cult movie series at the Capitol Theatre (Cleveland Cinemas west side sister operation to its Cedar-Lee gem) is this hyper-violent psychological thriller. For those who have been sleeping for the past decade, the plot is thus: A lonely, isolated thirty-something young professional seeks an escape from his mundane existence with the help of a devious soap salesman. They find their release from the prison of reality through underground fight clubs, where men can be what the world now denies them. Their boxing matches and harmless pranks soon lead to an out-of-control spiral towards oblivion.

Black Dynamite - 2009, USA (CIA, Saturday 1/16 at 10:05 PM; Sunday 1/17 at 6:30 PM)

In this hilarious and affectionate spoof of 1970s blaxploitation pictures (the best movie of 2009 according to Andrew Dotta of CWRU’s Observer), Afro-wearing action hero and kung fu fighter Black Dynamite takes on The Man—going all the way to the “Honky House” at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue—after his brother is murdered on the streets.

Holy Land Hardball - 2009, USA (Mandel JCC, Wednesday 1/20 at 7:30 PM)

The fine folks at the Mandel Jewish Community Center are bringing yet another brilliant film to Northeast Ohio. This time, following up on the well-curated festival that was hosted at Cedar-Lee and Shaker Square cinemas, the JCC is screening the film in its own Stonehill Auditorium (26001 S Woodland Rd in Beachwood). For anyone who loves either baseball or documentary film, this one looks like a winner. A funny and heart warming baseball film that documents one man’s incredible efforts to bring America’s favorite pastime to Israel, Holy Land Hardball follows an unlikely group of players and executives as they attempt to create Israel's first professional baseball league in the summer of 2007.

Act of God - 2009, Canada/Britain/France (CIA, Thursday 1/21 at 6:30 PM; Friday 1/22 at 7:30 PM)

The new documentary from the maker of Manufactured Landscapes uses interviews with people who have survived lightning strikes as a springboard to a consideration of accidents, chance, fate, and our collective quest to make sense out of tragedy. Novelist Paul Auster and musician Fred Frith are among those interviewed.

The Thin Red Line - 1998, USA (CIA, Thursday 1/21 at 8:05 PM; Friday 1/22 at 9:05 PM)

Terrence Malick’s third feature, made after a 20-year hiatus, is a great war movie based on James Jones’s novel about U.S. troops fighting on Guadalcanal during WWII. As serene and meditative as it is noisy and visceral, the film serves up a world cohabited by dualities—good and evil, beauty and horror, past and present, life and death—and populated by soldiers trying to understand and reconcile them. The result is a dreamy, philosophical drama—a prayer almost—that is at once sublimely beautiful and emotionally shattering. The large all-star cast includes Sean Penn, Adrien Brody, Jim Caviezel, Nick Nolte, John Cusack, Woody Harrelson, John C. Reilly, George Clooney, and John Travolta.

Legion - 2009, USA (Tower City, Opens Friday 1/22 with numerous screenings to follow)

In the category of big budget action flicks, there are three types I really love: vampire movies, post-apocalyptic thrillers, and movies that deal with evil Heaven & Hell supernatural shit. Legion looks like the best one of these to come out of Hollywood since the early days of the Prophecy franchise. Another one I'm stoked to see. For the plot lovers, here ya go: An out-of-the-way diner becomes the unlikely battleground for the survival of the human race. When God loses faith in humankind, he sends his legion of angels to bring on the Apocalypse. Humanity's only hope lies in a group of strangers trapped in a desert diner with the Archangel Michael (played by Paul Bettany).

In A Lonely Place - 1950, USA (CIA, Saturday 1/23 at 5:15 PM; Sunday 1/24 at 4 PM)

This rarely-revived Humphrey Bogart film noir became the Film Forum’s best-ever one-week repertory run when the NYC movie house showed it last July. Bogie plays a lonely, weary, self-destructive Hollywood screenwriter who, when he is accused of murder, finds that the attractive girl-next-door is willing to be his alibi. But the more this woman (played by Bogart’s soon-to-be ex-wife Gloria Grahame) witnesses her neighbor’s violent outbursts, the more she doubts his innocence—and her own safety.

(Untitled) - 2009, USA (CIA, Saturday 1/23 at 7:10 PM; Sunday 1/24 at 8:55 PM)

This funny, knowing, yet affectionate spoof of the downtown New York art scene tells of a serious composer of difficult, dissonant music (Adam Goldberg) who is resentful of his painter brother’s commercial success. But in time he too becomes the darling of his bro’s Chelsea gallery owner (Marley Shelton of Grindhouse). From the director of Bartleby; original music by Pulitzer Prize-winner David Lang. “The first film since Art School Confidential to seriously confront issues befuddling artists torn between their drives for personal expression and a demanding marketplace.” –Variety.

Afterschool - 2008, USA (CIA, Saturday 1/23 at 9:10 PM; Sunday 1/24 at 6:45 PM)

Made when he was only 24 (and had already been to Cannes twice with short films), the first feature by wunderkind Antonio Campos was also shown at Cannes and at the New York Film Festival. Shot in 35mm ‘scope and evoking Kubrick, Haneke, and Van Sant, the movie is a chilly, chilling portrait of a shy, web-obsessed young man at an East Coast prep school who accidentally videotapes the horrific death (by overdose) of two female students. Commissioned to make a movie memorializing his late classmates, the nascent filmmaker ends up creeping out everybody even more.

The New World - 2005, USA (CIA, Thursday 1/28 at 6:30 PM; Friday 1/29 at 9:25 PM)

Terrence Malick’s fourth, and most recent, feature (though a new movie is due later this year) is a poetic, meditative look at the creation of the Jamestown settlement in 17th-century Virginia. Colin Farrell plays Captain John Smith and Q'orianka Kilcher is Pocahontas. Like Malick’s previous films, this clash-of-cultures saga is understated, elliptical, and suffused with the sublime beauty of the natural world.

The House of the Devil - 2009, USA (CIA, Thursday 1/28 at 9:05 PM; Friday 1/29 at 7:30 PM)

In this terrific new horror film set in the 1980s (and reminiscent of the great low-budget shockers of that era), a female college student takes a babysitting job at a spooky Victorian mansion deep in the woods—even though there’s no baby there. The first-rate cast includes Jocelin Donahue, Greta Gerwig, Tom Noonan, Mary Woronov, and Dee Wallace.

Crazy Heart - 2009, USA (Cedar-Lee, Opens 1/29 with numerous screenings to follow)

Bad Blake (Jeff Bridges) is a broken-down, hard-living country music singer who's had way too many marriages, far too many years on the road and one too many drinks way too many times. And yet, Bad can’t help but reach for salvation with the help of Jean (Maggie Gyllenhaal), a journalist who discovers the real man behind the musician.

Edge of Darkness - 2009, USA (Tower City, Opens 1/29 with numerous screenings to follow)

The last of my mega-budget picks for January, it deals with the one CB favored theme that I neglected to mention earlier: violent government corruption. Sure, it has Mel Gibson, whose racism, anti-semitism, and extreme Catholicism unnerves the shit out of me, so if there is any of the four blockbusters I might wind up skipping, it'd be this one, but still - it looks really damn cool. The the plot oriented: Edge of Darkness is an upcoming film adaptation of Edge of Darkness, a 1985 BBC television series. The film stars Mel Gibson and Ray Winstone, and is directed by Martin Campbell and produced by Michael Wearing, who also directed and produced the series respectively. Edge of Darkness follows a detective (Mel Gibson) investigating the murder of his activist daughter (Bojana Novakovic), uncovering political conspiracies and cover-ups in the process.

Gentlemen Broncos - 2009, USA (CIA, Saturday 1/30 at 7 PM; Sunday 1/31 at 8:45 PM)

The new comedy from the writer-director of Napoleon Dynamite is another outrageous spoof of Middle America populated by clueless doofuses. A home-schooled misfit (Michael Angarano) who aspires to be a sci-fi writer is dismayed when his pulpy fiction “Yeast Lords: The Bronco Years” is ripped off by a famous, full-of-himself fantasy novelist (Flight of the Conchords’ Jemaine Clement) and also cannibalized in a bad movie by inept local filmmakers.

The Box - 2009, USA (Saturday 1/30 at 8:50 PM; Sunday 1/31 at 6:30 PM)

The new movie from the director of Donnie Darko and Southland Tales (both of which premiered in Cleveland exclusively at the Cinematheque) is another elegantly-shot, dread-filled fantasy with a convoluted plot and a cryptic metaphysical bent. Set in 1976, this sure-to-become-a-cult-film tells of a mysterious box that is delivered to the suburban home of a Virginia couple (Cameron Diaz, James Marsden) with the warning that pushing the button on the device will net them a million dollars—and also cause the death of someone they don’t know. With Frank Langella as the disfigured deliverer of the box. From Richard Matheson’s short story, “Button, Button.”


Marjie said...

lots of great stuff playing!! thanks for the rundown :)

Bob Ignizio said...

Definitely some fun flicks coming out in January. Hope I can catch most of 'em.