Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Mad Max: Fury Road / **** (R)


Max Rockatansky: Tom Hardy
Imperator Furiosa: Charlize Theron
Nux: Nicholas Hoult
Immortan Joe: Hugh Keays-Byrne
Slit: Josh Helman
Rictus Erectus: Nathan Jones
Toast the Knowing: Zoë Kravitz
The Splendid Angharad: Rosie Huntington-Whiteley

Warner Bros. Pictures presents a film directed by George Miller. Written by Miller and Brendan McCarthy and Nico Lathouris. Running time: 120 min. Rated R (for intense sequences of violence throughout, and for disturbing images).

They say it is a fine line between genius and madness. When I was in college, we had a professor that might’ve proved this adage. He was a brilliant teacher and director known for sometimes spectacular behavior to get what he wanted out of his casts. As a teacher he loved to ask his students each Monday which movies we had wasted our money that weekend. He chortled at the latest “artistic” cinema we’d consumed as some sort of deep commentary on society, but… get him talking about George Miller’s post-apocalyptic adventure “The Road Warrior” and you’d hear him extemporize about the genius of modern cinema.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Avengers: Age of Ultron / *** (PG-13)


Tony Stark/Iron Man: Robert Downey, Jr.
Thor: Chris Hemsworth
Steve Rogers/Captain America: Chris Evans
Bruce Banner/Hulk: Mark Ruffalo
Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow: Scarlett Johansson
Clint Barton/Hawkeye: Jeremy Renner
Pietro Maximoff/Quicksilver: Aaron Taylor-Johnson
Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch: Elizabeth Olsen
Ultron (voice): James Spader
J.A.R.V.I.S./Vision: Paul Bettany
Nick Fury: Samuel L. Jackson

Walt Disney and Marvel Studios present a film written & directed by Joss Whedon. Based on the Marvel Comis characters created by Stan Lee & Jack Kirby. Running time: 141 min. Rated PG-13 (for intense sequences of sci-fi action, violence and destruction, and for some suggestive comments).

POW! KRACKOOOM! KCHOW! BAMM!

These words typically associated with comic books could easily fill in for the sound effects in the opening sequence of “Avengers: Age of Ultron”, the second film in the “Avengers” franchise and eleventh overall in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. In fact, these and similar words could fill the soundtrack of almost the entire nearly 2 ½ hour running time of the movie. It is wall to wall to ceiling to floor action. It even has a little bit of the science fiction themes and soap operatic elements that sold so many of the children of the 80s on comic book culture.

For those who are doing their best to consume everything MCU they possibly can, the plot picks up the moment where this past week’s TV episode of “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” left off. I was disappointed not to see at least a brief cameo by Agent Coulson, however. For those of you who just want to kick off your summer with a balls-out smash blockbuster action spectacular, don’t worry, you don’t need to have seen one second of the television show to understand and enjoy what’s happening on the big screen.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Criterion Thoughts—The 39 Steps (1935) ***½


UR, 85 min.
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Writers: Charles Bennett, Ian Hay, John Buchan (novel)
Starring: Robert Donat, Madeleine Carroll, Lucie Mannheim, Godfrey Tearle, Peggy Ashcroft, John Laurie, Helen Haye, Frank Cellier, Wylie Watson

Alfred Hitchcock’s “The 39 Steps” plays as a movie trying to break out of the constraints of its times. It is an example of how Hitchcock needed the power and scope of Hollywood to jump the cinematic art forward in just the way he did after his marriage with Tinsletown. It is a movie that bursts at its cinematic seams for greater production value and a leap forward in storytelling for the format.

As is often the case with Hitch, he unsettles his audience with his opening images. A man buys a ticket at a box office and the next few shots are those of feet. Even the purchase of the ticket fails to show us a face or even a torso of the man we are following into a theater. Without seeing any faces and with a sequence of feet walking this way and that, we are immediately placed into the mindset of a sort of chase going on. And yet, we have no notion of who is being chased, or why, or who is doing the chasing. The inside of the theater is a scene of a degree of chaos.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Ebert Thoughts ‘15—The Motel Life (2012) ***½


R, 85 min.
Directors: Alan Polsky, Gabriel Polsky
Writers: Micah Fitzerman-Blue, Noah Harpster, Willy Vlautin (novel)
Starring: Emile Hirsch, Stephen Dorff, Elle Fanning, Joshua Leonard, Noah Harpster, Kris Kristofferson

Saturday is always the most surreal day of Ebertfest. I don’t know why. I wonder if they try to program the films in a way to produce an eerie sense of being adrift. It’s not a criticism. It just always seems that Saturday is the “lost” day of the festival, with characters trying to find their way through the morass of life. Saturday is the longest day of films and the atmosphere created by them makes it a sort of wonderful cinematic experience.

This year’s Saturday schedule included the films “Wild Tales”, “Ida”, “The Motel Life” and  “99 Homes”. I watched two of these this year and both have a distinct feel of despair about them. The first was “Ida”, with its black and white cinematography and somber subject matter; it certainly played into that atmosphere I described. “The Motel Life” is another strong fit for the Saturday feel.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Ebert Thoughts ‘15—Ida (2014) ****


PG-13, 82 min.
Director: Pawel Pawlikowski
Writers: Pawel Pawlikowski, Rebecca Lenkiewicz
Starring: Agata Trzebuchowska, Agata Kulesza, Dawid Ogrodnik, Jerzy TrelaAdam Szyszkowski, Halina Skoczynska

So, I’ve reviewed this film before. It’s easy to concentrate on the central character here, Anna, the nun who discovers she’s a Jew just before she takes her vows. This time I’d like to concentrate a little more on Wanda, her aunt. Wanda is a very interesting woman. This is the 1960s, and Wanda appears to be a fairly powerful woman as a state prosecutor. Wanda has as much of a journey to take as Anna here. It is Wanda who takes them on their search to find Anna’s parent’s graves. Of course, that journey leads to the revelation of a dark family secret, a secret Wanda must be very aware Anna will discover.

Ebert Thoughts ‘15—A Bronx Tale (1993) ***


R, 121 min.
Director: Robert De Niro
Writer: Chazz Palminteri (also play)
Starring: Lillo Brancato, Robert De Niro, Chazz Palminteri, Francis Capra, Taral Hicks, Katherine Narducci, Clem Casterta, Alfred Sauchelli Jr., Frank Pietrangolare, Joe Pesci

I got a different kind of story for my thoughts on the directorial debut of Robert De Niro and the break though of Chazz Palmiteri onto the cinematic scene. I’m not a huge fan of the film “A Bronx Tale”. I mean it’s good, but it isn’t as impressive as I feel it should’ve been. Palminteri’s writing might’ve worked better on stage than it does here. His primary message has to do with the two father figures for his central character with De Niro the real father and Palminteri a mobster surrogate, and how they both want the best for the kid, which is for him to stay away from the criminal life Palmiteri’s character has embraced. There are a lot of contradictions in Palminteri’s story and a great deal of social issues that are explored but never fully developed.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Ebert Thoughts ’15—The Son of the Sheik (1926) ***


UR, 68 min.
Director: Geo. Fitzmaurice
Writers: Frances Marion, Fred de Gresac, George Marion Jr., Edith Maude Hull (novel)
Starring: Rudolph Valentino, Vilma Banky, George Fawcett, Montague Love, Karl Dane, Bull Montana, Binunsky Hyman, Agnes Ayers

The biggest disappointment of missing Ebertfest each and every year is missing the Alloy Orchestra’s live accompaniment of the year’s silent feature. This year’s film is Rudolph Valentino’s “The Son of the Sheik”, a sequel to his film “The Sheik”, not that you have to see the first film to follow the second.

I love seeing the silent films. I don’t watch a lot of silent films, but Ebertfest ensures that I will watch at least one every year. I think that’s a good rule for any cineaste. You should watch at least one silent film a year. More would be better. It was such an innovative time in cinema. At Eberfest I’ve seen some of the best. More importantly, I’ve seen something from just about every silent legend.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Ebert Thoughts ‘15—Moving Midway (2007) ****


UR, 95 min.
Director/Writer: Godfrey Cheshire
Featuring: Charles Silver, Robert Hinton, Godfrey Cheshire, Dena Silver, Abraham Hinton

“Moving Midway” is exactly the type of movie that makes Ebertfest the unique cinematic experience that it is. Sure, Ebertfest screens movies with big name stars. They program incredible auteur works. But you’ll also find these little surprises here. “Moving Midway” is one of those rare masterpieces that becomes so through heart and passion that shines through without the flash and flare of budgets and known commodities. These cinematic treasures often come in the form of a documentary. This year, it is “Moving Midway” that wows and moves me with its simple premise that informs one of the most compelling and ambitious films of this year’s festival.