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Friday
Feb152013

Music Box Theatre 70mm Film Festival (Chicago)

Hey, fellow Chicagoans and beloved out-of-towners! If you're sick of waiting on cinema to get over its winter doldrums, The Music Box Theatre has whipped up a vat of chicken soup for the movie lover's soul!

The 70mm Film Festival kicks off tonight with a big-screen double-bill of heady, classic masterpieces: Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo at 6:30pm, followed by Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey at 9pm.

What's so special about 70mm film? For starters, it's film, and that's becoming a bigger and bigger deal nowadays. As cineplexes convert to digital presentation exclusively, and boutique theatres such as The Music Box become cineaste safe-havens, watching movies in this format with a large audience will soon be as rare and as culturally revered an experience as Woodstock was to my parents' generation.

Second, all of the films playing tonight through the 28th are presented in the way they were meant to be seen. You'll get to enjoy West Side Story, Lifeforce, The Master, Hamlet, and a handful of others with a clarity and level of detail that is, quite literally, twice that of traditional 35mm projection. And let me silence the blu-ray/home theatre argument right now with a gentle reminder that not all of these films are available in high definition.

So there you have it: excuses = banished!

Tickets are $9.25 for individual screenings and $70 for a limited-edition festival pass (check out the event's Web page for more information). Please join me in supporting these beautifully presented motion pictures, and be on the lookout for special 70mm Film Festival episodes of the KtS Podcast!

Sunday
Jan132013

The Top 10 of '12

I hope you had as much fun at the movies as I did in 2012. Even as the global artistic community laughed at Mayan end-times predictions, they worked twice as hard to make humanity's "last" films memorable.

It's as if every major studio head kicked off 2010 by saying, "Look, we're not gonna be around in a couple years, so go crazy. You wanna update 21 Jump Street and The Three Stooges? Knock yourself out. But make 'em great, 'cause sequels just ain't happening. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to give notes on my lunar compound blueprints."

In face, there were so many great films that, for the first time in years, I had a hell of a time narrowing my favorites down to a "top ten". At one point, I'd considered expanding the list to twelve or fifteen. But as much as I adored The Cabin in the Woods, Ted, Snow White and the Huntsman, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, and Rock of Ages, they didn't stick with me in the same way as those that made the final cut.

Before we get to it, let's talk caveats. First, what you might consider "glaring omissions" are not omissions at all. To be fair to you and to myself, the "Top 10 of '12" is comprised only of the films I managed to see last year. As much as I wanted to squeeze in Lincoln, Les Miserables, and Beasts of the Southern Wild, I simply didn't have the time or the money (mostly the time). Were I paid to alternately sit in a theatre and pound away on a keyboard, this list might look quite different. As it stands, I still have a demanding, wholly unrelated day-job that makes seeing everything impossible.

Second, this is not your typical "Best of" list. There are a lot of genre films on here, which may raise some eyebrows. If you think my decision to elevate horror movies and found-footage flicks over sweeping historical dramas is some indication of immaturity, I suggest you actually watch all the films that made the cut and then get back to me. I'll put the creative and emotional highs of any movie on this list up against Zero Dark Thirty--which, frankly, is struggling to make my top-thirty slot.

Agree or not, I welcome your feedback. Here's hoping that 2013 is just as switched-on as 2012.

Enjoy!

10. Dead Weight  Just when I thought apocalypse dramas and zombie movies were played out, along comes Adam Bartlett and John Pata's stirring, meditative twist on both genres. Dead Weight has the best "people are the real monsters" conflict since Romero's Dawn of the Dead. The filmmakers wrench every ounce of greatness from their indie budget and talented cast by focusing on performance and ignoring graphic violence completely. The draw isn't evisceration or CGI head explosions; it's the inventiveness with which Pata and Bartlett weave road picture, survival picture, and love story elements into a sad, sprawling tapestry. And kudos to star Joe Belknap for selling the hell out of his Charlie character--who would have been at the center of an entirely different kind of horror movie, had the world not ended.

9. Sinister  What happens when you throw Ethan Hawke into a "fictitious version" of a found-footage movie, co-written by a former Ain't it Cool News reporter? The answer is as surprising as the film is creepy. Creators Scott Derrickson and C. Robert Cargill deliver a film that is part The Shining, part The Ring, and all balls-to-the-wall conviction. They're not afraid to kill kids, have kids kill their parents and siblings, and cut out the requisite "climactic monster chase scene". This movie is about obsession and choice, and the idea that the bogeyman doesn't need to be a hitman: given a nudge in the wrong direction, people have got unconscionable acts down to a science.

8. Chronicle  No one asked for another played-out-genre cocktail, but Josh Trank and Max Landis said "Trust us" before beer-bonging Chronicle down our collective throats. I've never been such a happy drunk. More than a superhero story, more than a shaky-cam found-footage movie, Chronicle is a story about bullying and the iffy bonds of high school relationships. What if Carrie White had grown up in the Document Everything Age, and then found out she was Superman? That's not precisely what happens here, but star Dane DeHaan turns in one of the saddest, most quietly terrifying performances since Sissy Spacek swung by the prom in 1976.

7. Seeking a Friend for the End of the World  Sometimes, it comes down to a song. The climactic scene in which Steve Carell carries a sleeping Keira Knightley to the helicopter that will reunite her with family on Earth's last day has stuck with me since early summer--thanks in large part to The Hollies' beautiful "The Air That I Breathe". The rest of Lorene Scafaria's dramedy is also twistedly, romantically beautiful, but those last fifteen minutes...damn. Seeking a Friend, like The Cabin in the Woods, is unafraid to stare at the tragic comedy of its dark premise. A lesser, cowardly film would have blinked.

6. Argo  In a time when perusing Wikipedia has made reading history books as out-moded a concept as segregated lunch counters, Ben Affleck's Argo makes history cool again. The film tells a formerly classified side-story about the Iranian hostage crisis, in which a group of American embassy workers is hidden in the Canadian ambassador's apartment. Affleck's CIA consultant character devises a wild plot to whisk them out of the country as members of a Star Wars knock-off's film crew--which necessitates putting an actual movie into production. Where Argo lacks twists and turns, it compensates with great performances, nail-biting drama, and the fun of learning about world events through the cracked lens of early-80s sci-fi.

5. Dredd  One of the greatest would-be franchise kick-off movies in recent memory is also one of 2012's biggest flops. It's a crime that we'll likely never see more of Pete Travis's dystopian future society and the iron-willed lawman who protects it. More exciting and emotionally satisfying than the sloppy, overly-hyped Dark Knight Rises, Dredd not only proved to be a brutal, honest-to-God superhero movie, but also gave 3D a reason to exist--thanks largely to the artistry of Oscar-winning cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle.

4. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey  I embarked on my own unexpected journey last year by revisiting--and falling in love with--Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings trilogy. It's a good thing, too, because I was able to slip right into the world of The Hobbit and enjoy a ride that I would have found torturous a decade ago. More than Martin Freeman and Andy Serkis' touching performances, Jackson's decision to shoot his new trilogy in high-frame-rate IMAX 3D has (temporarily) legitimized the disposable-plastic-glasses industry and given movie fans a real reason to head to the multiplex. Missing out on The Hobbit in the way the director intended is like settling for 2001 or Lawrence of Arabia on a 13" black-and-white TV.

3. Looper  Looper is a hyper-violent, futuristic time-travel movie starring Bruce Willis. I don't blame you for saying "no thanks", considering the actor is at almost the same level of over-saturation as he was before The Sixth Sense came out. But he's made himself cool and interesting again by teaming up with Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Rian Johnson--whose heartfelt sci-if crime drama brings brains back to the blockbuster. In the same way that folks who usually avoid these movies should give it a chance immediately, I must warn fans of badass 'splosion pictures that this one is for grownups. Not everyone can handle the mid-film tonal shift or follow the themes from start to finish. But for the switched-on and adventurous, brain-gasms don't get much joyously messier than this.

2. Django Unchained  The more I think about it, the more uncomfortable I get with placing this in the number two spot. Django Unchained is a wonderful movie that's all but crippled by a circuitous, tacked-on, twenty-five minute epilogue and director Quentin Tarantino's baffling Aussie accent. Thanks to home-video technology, though, I'll soon be able to chapter-forward from the end of the Candie Land shoot-out to Django's triumphant return, and pretend it was put together like that in the first place. See this on the big screen, and marvel at Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Samuel L. Jackson (not kidding about the last two). But feel free to zone out in the last act of this flawed masterpiece.

1. Cloud Atlas  Tom Tykwer and Andy and Lana Wachowski's centuries-spanning ode to fate was the biggest, most satisfying surprise in a year of big, satisfying surprises. Of course, no one went to see it. A triumph of art, heart, and philosophy, Cloud Atlas isn't just a New Age celebrity vanity project; it's a great ray of hope for a world in which even the most minor of daily struggles can seem like an epic battle to keep everything together. The filmmakers posit that there's something to this, and that every decision we make will not only ripple through the world, but also through time. Don't worry: the film is also very exciting, funny, and breathtakingly beautiful. For those of us who not only keep our brains turned on at the movies but also sharpen pencils, smooth the corners on our notebook paper, and brew two pots of coffee beforehand (mentally speaking, of course), Cloud Atlas is the cinematic Bar Exam of human experience. In this case, the test itself is the reward.

Friday
Dec282012

Sponsored Post: Samsung Galaxy Camera

Call me crazy, but James Franco's new Samsung Galaxy Camera commercial is far more entertaining than any of the spots for Sam Raimi's Oz the Great and Powerful trailers, in which he also stars. In fact, I'm digging the actor's nineteenth side-job as product pitch-man far more than his main gig as Hollywood's kookiest marquee star. I have no idea if Franco is really a shutterbug, or much of a partier, but he glides through the rave with the mellow, happy-to-help naturalism of a documentary subject. It's as if the Samsung folks got hold of footage of him using their fancy new camera at an actual party and tacked on some narration and titles to make it a commercial (in much the same way Stan Lee wrote comics back in the 60s). 

And, no, I'm not just saying that because this is a Samsung-sponsored advertorial: I got a genuine kick out of the spot. It helps that the Galaxy Camera looks really cool. From automatic cloud backup of every picture, to the "Best Face" function (which allows the shooter to edit group photos on the fly, eliminating last-minute blinks and other nuisances), to an instant-email-sharing feature called "Me Too", and a bunch of other neat tricks, the device brings many advances in smart phone technology to the point-and-shoot camera market.

I haven't used the Galaxy Camera, but I'll give the ad-makers credit for making me reeeally want to play with one. Somewhere in America, there's a Venn diagram that illustrates the intersection of social media, the "check it out" cheer of new-toy enthusiasm, and the modern penchant for documenting absolutely everything. I imagine the dot at the center of those circles is a photograph of James Franco.

But don't take my word for it. Check out the video below and see for yourself!

Post sponsored by Samsung.

Thursday
Dec062012

Shire Insanity

I'm one of maybe nine people on the planet who can't stand Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings trilogy. I was so put off by the films' bloated self-seriousness that I intended to let time erode them from memory after only one theatrical viewing each.* It's been nearly a decades since The Return of the King came out, and almost everything about these movies has been reduced to ghosts of frustrated emotions and the occasional mental image of a hand opening up to reveal that blasted golden ring (which happens a lot).

The only problem with my awesome scheme is that The Hobbit opens next weekend. As a critic, I am, of course, duty-bound to go see it. Actually, that makes this the first of two problems.

The second is that the film's newest trailer is quite good. The initial preview looked like LOTR's greatest hits, injected with forced whimsy and garish, cartoon makeup. I understand that the source material is a children's book, but I can really do without two-and-a-half more hours of walking montages and Keebler-elf humor. Which is why the new trailer gives me hope. With its bona fide evidence of adventure, I'm not as worried that Jackson and company will fill the first of his three (!) new movies with conversations about going somewhere.

Note the word "as" in front of "concerned".

Because it's been so long since I last watched these movies, and because their status as god-makers where Jackson is concerned has only grown stronger, I thought it best to revisit The Fellowship of the Rings, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King.

Ten years is a lifetime in movie-appreciation. Had I let my initial brush with 2001: A Space Odyssey define my feelings about it, I would have not only missed out on a personal favorite film, but I likely never would have met Keir Dullea and Gary Lockwood. I swore up and down that my first viewing of Napoleon Dynamite would be my last, but now I "get" its charms and will watch the climactic dance scene whenever it comes on TV.

In truth, I may be setting myself up for disaster here. I'm less than eight hours out of abdominal surgery, hopped up on Vicodin, and muscling through a review of Step Up: Revolution--in addition to this piece. On top of all that, I've committed to watching the films' extended versions.

Why would I think that the key to liking something I hate is absorbing more of it?

Most people I've spoken to claim the longer cuts improve the trilogy's flow and fill in some necessary story gaps. Facebook had better hope this is true, lest it buckle under the weight of my Sunday night Un-friending rampage.

So, yeah, I'm giving ol' Pete another shot. Look for reviews of this epic, blockbuster series in the coming days, along with some fun anecdotes about how I came to watch the movies and the ensuing events that scarred me for (moviegoing) life.

Who knows? Maybe I'll drop my ring of disdain into the fiery volcano of forgiveness and gain the same understanding that millions of people all over the world already share.

Or maybe I'll regret not having spent those precious twelve hours sleeping.

*I technically saw Fellowship twice, but that's a "For Later" story.

Friday
Oct192012

Curdling Horror in Madison, Wisconsin!

 

Hey, Gang! Just popping in to promote what is sure to be the year's hottest event: our good friend, filmmaker Cory Udler, will square off against horror goddess Tiffany Shepis in the cheese-curd-eating contest to end all cheese-curd-eating contests!

One of these worthy challengers will be put out to Pasteur during the Madison Horror Film Festival on November 4th! Place your bets on who'll walk away with the cheesiest grin, and help support The Dane County Humane Society in the process!

Check out Cory's September 17th interview with Shepis on Astro Radio Z to hear the smack-talk that started it all, and read the press release below for more steamy contest details!

MADISON, WI--Horror icon Tiffany Shepis has challenged local film director Cory Udler to the first ever “CURD OFF” at the Madison Horror Film Festival on November 4th, 2012.  In what is being billed as a “Battle Royale with Cheese”, Shepis and Udler will compete to see who can eat the most deep fried Wisconsin cheese curds, by weight, before tapping out to their opponent.  All proceeds from the event will go directly to the Dane County Humane Society, and right now at www.madisonhorror.net fans can “place their bets” on who they think will win the “CURD OFF”.  Donations of any size are accepted via Pay Pal.  The ultimate goal of the “CURD OFF” donations is to not only give the money raised directly from the site and event to the DCHS, but to also find local businesses who will match the winner’s “purse” as a donation as well. 

Shepis is an iconic figure in the world of horror, being featured in over 100 films in her career, with no less than 14 movies either being released in 2012, in pre production for 2013, or awaiting release in the near future.  She is well known for her work with Lloyd Kaufman’s iconic Troma film company, being seen in “Tromeo and Juliet” among other Troma titles.  Shepis can currently be seen in “The Frankenstein Syndrome”, “Bonnie and Clyde vs Dracula” and “The Wrath of Crows”.  The Shepis  vehicles “The Hazing” and “The Frankenstein Syndrome” will be screened at the Madison Horror Film Festival this year.

Udler is no stranger to the world of horror, especially locally in Wisconsin.  Having won the Isthmus’s 2011 “Favorite Wisconsin Filmmaker” award, Udler spent the last year filming “IDS RISING”, the third installment in the “Incest Death Squad” trilogy.  Udler is also a featured contributor in Lloyd Kaufman’s latest book “Produce Your Own Damn Movie” and will be screening his latest film at the festival on Saturday, November 3rd.   He is also the host of the online radio show “Astro Radio Z” on Wednesday nights at 9pm Central.  This is where the seeds were planted for the “CURD OFF” as Shepis is a regular guest on the show.  The conversation turned from dairy, to cheese, to cheese curds, to a competition and neither combatant ever looked back.

“We are so excited to be hosting  this clash of the titans at the festival this year”, said festival organizer Rich Peterson.  “Not only is this a one of a kind event, but it’s also for a tremendous cause that we all feel very passionate about supporting, The Dane County Humane Society”.

To make a donation to the contest for the Dane County Humane Society, pick your favorite in the “CURD OFF” or for more information on the films screening, other special guests and more visit www.madisonhorror.net.