Saturday, March 4, 2017

Late Winter Jackpot!




Often, February signals the "bottom of the barrel" in the movie world - too late for worthy-of-Oscar-contention (and no, I'm not writing about the live-television mess that might have been the end of PriceWaterhouseCoopers love affair with those Oscar envelopes), but too early for the biff-bam-pop! (sorry, not you guys!) of blockbuster season.

However, this year has been different. Perhaps the universe is trying to atone for the massive, horrible pop culture losses that 2016 brought - although this year has already seen the sudden and unexpected passing of Bill Paxton, who should always be remembered for this charming oddity. A number of well-received, strongly-crafted films have already come out this year, along with, it must be said, a number of "huh?" ones, but them's the breaks, kid.

This is a pleasant change from A Dog's Purpose, a late January release that I didn't blog about, since it was very much "meh." That film, honestly, is cute and heartstring-tugging, but in a way that feels very carefully orchestrated and - truth be told - a bit manipulative.

I'd seen John Wick: Chapter 2 which, while suffering from "mid-trilogy-itis" was still great fun, with strong action sequences, some amazing shots (the Italy catacombs scene! Yikes - women may be at the periphery of this film, but I can respect the movie for not reducing them to mere body parts), and some dry humor. Oh, Keanu, it's good to see you again.

But nothing prepared me for the sheer brilliance and freshness that is Jordan Peele's Get Out. Prior to this, Peele was best-known as one-half of the sometimes-scathing-comedy duo Key & Peele. For a lesser man, that would have been enough, as K&P was one of the sharpest comedy teams ever. Full stop. (Don't take my word on that. Read this. Or this. Or maybe this!) But no - Peele has much more to say and Get Out is his first stop.

Oh, and what a stop it is. I was reminded (just a little) of Blazing Saddles, the Mel Brooks classic that uses comedy to skewer racism. Peele doesn't go that way - racism is certainly front and center here, but Peele, influenced by classics of the horror-thriller genre such as Stepford Wives, Night of the Living Dead, and Rosemary's Baby (by way of Guess Who's Coming to Dinner), leaves behind comedy to come at this topic straight on and the results are electric.

No, this isn't a run-of-the-mill horror movie - and thank goodness! No possessed dolls, no creepy children, no monsters slashing just to show the filmmaker's creativity in disassembling the human body. Instead, we get -- but no. I can't tell you that part. This is a film you really need to go see. On the big screen, with as many friends as you can round up. For THIS is the type of film we need to be supporting - in the best tradition of horror movies, it's both original and thought-provoking. It's not a drab rehash of cliches; instead, Get Out acknowledges those tropes and then proceeds to turns them inside out. Think about this when you go see the film -

And then be very, very glad that Peele has at least four more "social thriller" movies up his sleeve.

For more about Get Out, be sure to tune into C19TV's Meet Me at the Movies - available as a streaming show!

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Sundance!

Thanks to the generosity and persistence of two friends, who shall be known here as Circuit and Llama, FryDaddy and I spent ten days out in the winter wilds of Utah at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival, which is held at a dozen-plus locations over a 40-mile stretch of the Beehive State.

Now, this was heady stuff for us. While we know the general outlines of the rules of civilized behavior, we were uncertain how to act when encountering real live movie stars, especially when nearly running one down in the parking lot of a Whole Foods while he scrambled into the back of his chauffeur-driven, dark-window-tinted Suburban whilst holding a cup of (no doubt fair trade) coffee. (Aside - sorry about that, Woody Harrelson!)

In addition to seeing half a dozen films that will probably never come around here (The Yellow Birds might just be an exception), we rested, played, and ate like high-altitude aristocracy, thanks to the aforementioned Circuit and Llama. (Specifically, we were here.) It was our birthday (no, I'm not using the "royal we," FryDaddy and I actually share the same birthday. Chew on that, if you will.) and we had a feast fit for Christmas (literally!), as well as made-from-scratch chocolate cake. There was snow tubing at a former Olympic site (apparently, it is still considered gauche to equate my tubing experience with being an Olympic athlete, although it was a winter activity in the same site. Snobs.), fire eaters at the Ice Castles, and herds of mule deer twenty feet from the kitchen door. There were also moose and elk, although not that close.

But - the films. Well, even at a premier festival like Sundance, some are good and some are baffling. We saw two films - Marjorie Prime and Last Men in Aleppo - that were award-winners. We saw one that was just a misfire, despite an excellent cast (The Discovery). We saw documentaries that introduce the audience to people whose stories need to be told (Dolores) and we missed several that we would have enjoyed seeing, particularly Walking Out

Many of these films will be popping up here and there - The Discovery, for instance, will show up on Netflix in March. Being there in the midst of all of the excitement and wheeling-dealing (remember, many of these films are looking for their fairy godmother distributor) was an experience not to be missed.

Over the years, Sundance has been both a showcase for fresh new talent, as well as a spotlight for established talents going in new directions. Careers have been launched here, including Jennifer Lawrence (Winter's Bone, 2010) and directors like the Coen Brothers (Blood Simple, 1985), Quentin Tarantino (Reservoir Dogs, 1992) and Christopher Nolan (Memento, 2001). It's also where Heathers (1989) and The Usual Suspects (1995) first found traction. It's exciting to think of being there at the beginning of Something Big and Sundance delivers on that promise.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Conventional Wisdom Gets It Wrong

In many ways, Hollywood is a small town made up of oddly cautious people - at least the few who run studios. Movies are freakishly expensive to make and the public's taste is unpredictable, which explains why 2017 looks like the Year of Sequels and Reboots. Conventional wisdom says to stick with what you know - yeah, maybe the movie itself will stink like three-day-old fish, but it'll make money and really - isn't that better than art?

But a few tricky flicks manage to sneak under the velvet rope reserved for the art house pictures and make it into the mainstream. These are films that need to be supported to further encourage those who hold the purse strings to make more of these gems, so please - seek them out. Tell the theater manager how much you enjoyed them. Ask for more to be booked at your local theater.

Actresses with the real "hidden figures"
The first of these isn't really a "small film," but it's worth talking about in this post for another reason. Hidden Figures is doing gangbusters at the box office, taking in more last weekend than Rogue One, which is simply lovely when you think about it - a thoughtful movie about math made more than the latest from the Star Wars franchise.

The film is solidly-crafted with a number of very, very strong performances - all three female leads (Taraji P. Henson, Janelle MonĂ¡e, and Octavia Spencer), are each fully capable of carrying the entire film. The story itself is amazing and there is no reason why these women have been overlooked for so long. The sad fact that the film took so long to be made has to do with a subtle form of racism - movies are expensive. Will whites go see a "black movie"? For years, it was impossible to get financing for films that featured non-white actors in lead roles. Too risky, they said.

Then came Tyler Perry.

There's much more I can say about Hidden Figures, but I'll close with this. Seeing the everyday, casual racism make me grind my teeth. There aren't any true villains in this film; no one is using racial slurs or threatening violence. But the grime of a dozen little things every day, including not having access to all the books in the public library, would be enough to make many strong women give up.  To then see how these educated, dignified women dealt with a society that so devalued them -- well, this is a film that'll make you want to cheer and will also make you ask why on Earth haven't we gone back to the moon, especially since we have the trained brains to take us there.

The other film I want to encourage you to seek out is La La Land. Director Damien Chazelle loves jazz; in fact, he trained as a jazz drummer (he also co-wrote 10 Cloverfield Lane, but that's another story). His first big film dealt with jazz (a little film you might remember called Whiplash that went from the Sundance Film Festival to 5 Academy Award nominations) and that music plays a large part in La La Land as well. Basically, it's a musical love story and also a valentine to "old Hollywood." What happens when those two crazy kids (played with vulnerability and heartbreak by Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling) finally find each other and their career dreams begin to come true? When it happens, it's good to have tap shoes.

Look - it's astonishing. Drenched in color, filmed in CinemaScope, and unashamedly retro, this film has heart to spare. The film is worth the ticket price for the opening sequence, which looks like a six-minute oner. It's actually three two-minute shots, and that's incredible enough. Something this unusual, this original NEEDS to be supported. Please seek it out.

Last thing - I'm shortly off to Utah to attend several screenings at the Sundance Film Festival. I hope to report on the amazing things I saw when I get back at the end of February. Plus, we'll hopefully have some Babylon 5 news by then as well!



Sunday, January 8, 2017

Snow Day Update!

We're SO CLOSE now!!
 Here we are, at the beginning of a Brand New Year, and yet - due to two events that slammed into each other - this post won't be about new films.

There was a convergence of copyediting tasks for Dreams Given Form, the holidays, and then a snowstorm that actually produced about half a foot of snow in my little Southern town that reacts to such events by stripping the bread shelves bare. (Seriously. There is also a milk shortage throughout the county.) So let me update you --

First, let's discuss Dreams Given Form, which covers all 5 seasons of Babylon 5, along with the movies, the spin-off Crusade, the canonical novels, comics, and hard-to-obtain short stories (we really wanted to get the rights to re-print those, but the copyright holder was - shall we say - disinterested in our ideas there). Just to remind you, we're working with ECW Press out of Toronto and they've been fabulous. The entire draft (which is lengthy - we cut where we could, but we're covering WAY more material than has ever been covered in a single printed guide) has been submitted, edited, and now (drumroll!) has been copyedited! We turned that in yesterday with tremendous rejoicing and accompanying exhaustion. This means we're on the home stretch - hopefully, we'll have a cover design to share with you soon, as well as a projected publication date. Please commence cheering - I know we did!

Second, due to the copyediting, we haven't been getting out to catch as many movies for Meet Me at the Movies as we normally would. We hope to remedy that shortly, but the aforementioned snowstorm put a definite crimp in our weekend plans. But look for write-ups on a number of new movies soon as well as our next show of C19TV (or streaming - you can watch us that way too! Just click here to watch us from anywhere in the world!). That next show will focus on the films we're excited about that are being released in 2017 - there are quite a few!

In other news, I'm staving off cabin fever with a stack of classics that I'm watching from home. (This was a snowstorm, as opposed the the "icy mix" mess that brings down power lines, a distinction for which I'm very, very grateful!) Among the films I've watched are:

  • Manon of the Spring - the sequel to Jean de Florette. It's so worth watching - and really WATCH the movie; don't just put it on and go about your day.
  • Hysteria - the incredible, and mostly true, story of a Victorian doctor who specialized in the treatement of "hysteria" in upper-class women through (ahem) manual manipulation. Really, it's amazing. And very, very funny in parts. Ignoring the concerns of half the population is a very bad idea for society.
  • The Bad Seed - 1950s classic adapted from the successful stage play. The "nature or nurture" debate regarding criminals gets a creepy, scary treatment as an angelic-seeming little girl is revealed to be - just wrong.

Several others are slated for today and if the roads continue to be troublesome, I brought home James Clavell's Shogun, which ought to last me until the thaw.

One of the dozen-plus venues for Sundance!
And last thing - we're taking Meet Me at the Movies on the road! That's right - due to the incredible generosity of a couple of very, very dear friends who are in our chosen family, we'll be viewing a few films at the upcoming Sundance Film Festival, which has served as the first showing of any number of films that went on to be ones you know, such as Clerks, Reservoir Dogs, The Usual Suspects, The Blair Witch Project, Winter's Bone and last year's Nat Turner biography The Birth of a Nation. These, of course, are simply a few. To put it simply, Sundance is a big deal and we're thrilled to get to see a bit of it.

Whew! Reading all that, it's been busier than I thought!

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Last Thoughts for 2016

What a year it's been! There seem to have been more losses in the film world (not to mention the "real world") than are either usual or warranted. For Babylon 5 fans, the loss of Jerry Doyle hit especially hard, and the fact that he and Garibaldi had so many similarities is a cause for great sadness.

I know that I have not been a faithful correspondent this year and I vow to do better in 2017. This year was just cram-packed with things that took me away from this blog, which is - in the final analysis - a labor of love, rather than a paying gig. And bills (like pipers) must be paid. That being said, Rogue One and Moana - I loved you both and you deserved full write-ups.

However, 2016 also brought the delayed-by-cancer completion of Dreams Given Form. Ensley and I are in the copy-editing phase, having sent off the publication catalog blurb. We still have work to do, but we are firmly in the final stages and Dreams Given Form will be given form in 2017! And really - I cannot say enough good things about ECW's support for this project. There are some publishing houses who would've reacted to my diagnosis by saying, "That's awful! So you can't make the contract deadline. Hmm - well, you get better and we're passing on the book." ECW never wavered in their support and I hope the book sells truckloads to reward them for their loyalty. (Do what you can on that, won't you?)

In the final week of 2016, I hope to see both Fences and Hidden Figures. And how great was it to come out of a store after making a candy cane run to have someone holler at me from a parked car, "Fences. Yeah, Fences. Worth seeing?" When I said I hadn't seen it yet - Meet Me at the Movies doesn't get advance screenings - he cheerfully asked, "Okay, then. What about Rogue One?"

Movies bring people together. So please - watch us on TV19! New episodes every Friday and you can watch us anywhere in the world through streaming! Just go to clevelandcc.edu and select CTV19 at the top of your screen. That'll take you to all the fabulous TV19 shows that stream - we're the first one on the left!

And Merry Christmas to you all! May 2017 be wondrous to all of us!