Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Liev goes from TV 'Ray' to movie 'Chuck,' a fight flick with some local ties

"Chuck," a historically connected fight flick, finally gets a an opportunity to flaunt its cinematic stuff Friday when it opens at the Cedar Lee Theater in Cleveland Heights.

Cleveland even gets some mention in this funny and, at times, touching tale of boxer Chuck Wepner (engagingly played by Liev Schreiber), though, director Philippe Falardeau ("Monsieur Lazhar") makes it more of an affable profile/period piece than a sports movie. Still, for those who don't know, it actually was Wepner who inspired Sylvester Stallone's "Rocky" movie franchise after taking champ Muhammad Ali into the 15th round at the former "Coliseum" in suburban Richfield, Ohio.

As detailed in Falardeau's film, Ali pummeled the never-say-die Wepner endlessly during the bout, Stallone certainly took notice, and the former New Jersey butcher became the still-living legend known as the "Bayonne Bleeder."

That's why "Chuck" was originally titled "The Bleeder" when it enjoyed its North American premiere at last September's 41st annual Toronto International Film Festival. That's also where Schreiber, the Emmy-nominated star of Showtime's exceptional, if grim "Ray Donovan," talked about Wepner and some other things.

Schreiber, as Wepner, in "Chuck," originally called "The Bleeder."
"It started with the story," Schreiber said, "but then it got personal for me. People knew I liked boxing but, to be honest, I wasn't that interested.

"I mean, I love Chuck's story, and I love who Chuck is but, over time, I started to parse it as this kind of cautionary tale about the pitfalls of celebrity and fame and narcissism and that got more interesting to me.

"Then I met Chuck," the actor continued. "He's a very likable character in a difficult story line, and  I thought, 'Well, that would be fun to play.' At least for me, I felt like as many mistakes as this character makes, you never stop wanting him to succeed. You never stop liking him. I thought, 'That's a really unique person.' 

"I rather quickly found out why Chuck is the kind of person who could do what he did that night in Cleveland (on March 24, 1975). It takes someone very special to accomplish that. Chuck doesn't perceive it as pain. You put him in front of a crowd and he simply wants to entertain, I think he uses it as motivation and inspiration in the ring as well."

By the way, the only real scene defined as "Cleveland" in the film actually was shot on a street in Yonkers, N.Y., Also, Ali is played by Schreiber's "Ray Donovan" co-star Pooch Hall.

"Pooch is a tremendous boxer," Schreiber said. "We've been fighting together for years on the ('Donovan') set. "Ray Donovan" begins its fifth Showtime season on Aug. 6. 

Monday, April 24, 2017

Besson's new 'Valerian' film inspires comic book giveaway

An exclusive comic book featuring the stories that inspired the upcoming film Valerian And The City Of A Thousand Planets will be available to fans around the world for free at local comic book stores on Saturday, May 6, as part of “Free Comic Book Day.” 

In anticipation of the July 21 release of  the film, this 32-page, free issue will feature a preview of the story from the comics that inspired the movie, as well as exclusive, behind-the-scenes content from the summer flick developed and produced by EuropaCorp and distributed in the U. S. by STXfilms.

DeHaan and Delevingne star as Valerian and Laureline
The original ground-breaking French comic series of VALERIAN AND LAURELINE, published by Les Éditions Dargaud, was created by Pierre Christin and Jean-Claude Mézières, and inspired a generation of artists, writers, and filmmakers. The series ran for 43 years and is collected in 23 volumes. This year, it is celebrating its 50th anniversary, thus coinciding with the feature film. 

”It gives me incredible joy to finally bring to the big screen, 50 years later, the work of comic book creators Pierre Christin and Jean-Claude Mézières that originally sparked my imagination and set me on this incredible journey,” said writer/ director Luc Besson. “I look forward to introducing a new generation of fans to the adventures of Valerian and Laureline.”

Besson's film is expected to be a visually spectacular new adventure film, starring Dane DeHaan, Cara Delevingne, Clive Owen, Rihanna, Ethan Hawke, Herbie Hancock, Kris Wu, and Rutger Hauer. The film is produced by Virginie Besson-Silla,

STXfilms thanks Cinebook and Bliss on Tap, both apparently instrumental in bringing this preview issue to fans on Free Comic Book Day. The 32-page preview issue will be printed at its original, European size. Check with your local comic book shop for more details. Availability will be limited.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Wheatley sends 'urgent' message on opening day of latest film

The gang's all here and then some in Wheatley's "Free Fire."
I know there’s a lot of movies to see this weekend... There are blowing up cars, talking candlesticks, and robot ladies who are confused about if they are real or if they are robots or something. But also thanks to the great men and women at A24 there is also a film called Free Fire.

Free Fire has many things going for it... It is under 90 minutes! Which means more time at the bar. It has Brie Larson swearing like a docker. It has Armie Hammer in the same beard he had in Birth of a Nation. It has many many laughs… which are needed in these dark and desperate times.

This film has also been proven scientifically to make you smarter (through its clever subtexts) but can also be enjoyed on the surface level (like all those action films that got you liking movies in the first place). It has Sharlto Copley acting in his actual accent (though maybe a slightly higher pitched version). And the film also features the work of John Denver and The Real Kids.

This, I’m sure you agree, is a compelling set of reasons to see Free Fire tonight, then return on Saturday with your friends, and then visit a matinee on Sunday with your elderly relations.

Thank you,
Ben Wheatley.
Director of Free Fire

Monday, February 27, 2017

Shining some light on last evening's major Oscar snafu

"Moonlight" wins it. It really, really wins it.
"La La Land" lost Best Picture last night to "Moonlight" in one of the most stunning Oscar upsets of all time, during perhaps the most wild and woolly Academy Awards telecast ever.

Certainly everyone is still buzzing this morning about the alleged "accountants' error" that caused presenters and iconic former co-stars Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway to read the wrong winner. Now, our sources are spreading around a plethora of potential conspiracy theories about what really happened.

So, with apologies to David Letterman, the guy Oscar host Jimmy Kimmel calls his biggest inspiration, here are the top 10 best possibilities:

10. Matt Damon wanted "La La Land" to win; Kimmel preferred "Moonlight."

9. Kimmel sidekick Guillermo Rodriguez got drunk backstage with the "certified" guys and gals from PricewaterhouseCoopers.

8. There are continuing various reports of hidden figures when the lights at the Dolby Theater were shut off on two occasions.

7. The winning envelope was discovered behind the grassy knoll left over from the "Moana" number.

6. The audience's attention was more focused on trying to figure out what the hell Scarlett Johansson was actually wearing.

5. Shirley MacLaine and Warren Beatty have been plotting something like this ever since they were kids.

4. For the past year, a Hollywood Boulevard prophet has been billboarding the sign: "Dropping donuts from the skies brings moonlight."

3. CNN and the New York Times were trying to report fake news.

2. Bonnie and Clyde strike again!

1. Ratings prove that simply no one was watching.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Academy will whistle "la, la, la, la, la. . ." all night Sunday

Stone (shown with the also nominated Gosling) will lead a big "La La" landing.
Except for just a few possible upsets, races in the most notable categories (the ones with full nominees listed below) at Sunday's 89th annual Academy Awards likely are all but over. I mean, does anyone really expect "La La Land," with its 14 nominations, to dance away  from Hollywood's Dolby Theater carrying less than at least 10 Oscars? 

I sure don't. In fact, I've got the musical/romance/fantasy winning exactly that many. And, if  you haven't guessed, all of my prediction choices are the ones in bold, with comments below as needed.

Hacksaw Ridge
Hell or High Water
Hidden Figures
La La Land
Manchester by the Sea

Since six of the above nominees were among my 10 favorite films of 2016, including "La La Land," I'd be hard-pressed to vote for just one if I actually did possess a coveted ballot. I suppose I would go with "Manchester by the Sea," but "Arrival," "Hell or High Water" and "Hidden Figures" would be right there as well. 

Denis Villeneuve, Arrival
Mel Gibson, Hacksaw Ridge
Damien Chazelle, La La Land
Kenneth Lonergan, 
Manchester by the Sea
Barry Jenkins, Moonlight

Expected victor Chazelle is just 32 years old, and his last film, "Whiplash," was my favorite movie of 2014. More importantly, it also was a Best Picture nominee that took home three other Oscars that year.

Casey Affleck, 
Manchester by the Sea
Andrew Garfield, Hacksaw Ridge
Ryan Gosling, La La Land
Viggo Mortensen, Captain Fantastic
Denzel Washington, Fences

The only legitimately close race on the big board pits Affleck, who I tabbed as the outright winner in September, when I saw his film at the 41st Toronto International Film Festival, against Washington, who directed his own tour de force performance. I'll stick to my guns, despite the latter's recent SAG victory and some allegations of  very bad behavior on Affleck's part.

Isabelle Huppert, Elle
Ruth Negga, Loving
Natalie Portman, Jackie
Emma Stone, La La Land
Meryl Streep, 
Florence Foster Jenkins

Huppert and Portman probably present the only stumbling blocks for Stone. whose awards momentum looks unstoppable right now.  

Mahershala Ali, Moonlight
Jeff Bridges, Hell or High Water
Lucas Hedges, 
Manchester by the Sea
Dev Patel, Lion
Michael Shannon, Nocturnal Animals

Ali's performance was another I greatly admired in Toronto (and even then picked for Oscar glory) out of a marvelous ensemble cast. Some are touting Patel to eclipse the Moonlight, but I don't see it. "Lion" is probably my least favorite of the heavily nominated awards films. It's fine, just not great

Davis, Fences
Naomie Harris, Moonlight
Nicole Kidman, Lion
Octavia Spencer, Hidden Figures
Michelle Williams, 
Manchester by the Sea

Davis won a Tony award as Best Actress in a Play for the same role in the Broadway revival of August Wilson's "Fences." Really now, do you think there's any way she can possibly lose in this category? Seriously, it says here that she'd be the odds-on favorite for Best Actress, too, if she had decided to take that route to a first Oscar. 

Hell or High Water
La La Land
The Lobster
Manchester by the Sea
20th Century Women

This is one that "La La Land" loses and rightly so. Kenneth Lonergan's somehow humorous take on tragedy is an all-time best.

Hidden Figures

Another wordsmith/director is Barry Jenkins, whose "Moonlight" script actually bested "Manchester" in Writers Guild competition for best original screenplay. It's in the "adapted" category here because the Academy deemed it to be based on a never-produced play. 

“Audition (The Fools Who Dream),” La La Land
“Can’t Stop the Feeling,” Trolls
“City of
Stars,” La La Land
“The Empty Chair,” Jim: The James Foley Story
“How Far I’ll Go,” Moana

My two little granddaughters just love to sing and dance to Justin Timberlake's terrific "Can't Stop the Feeling" but, alas, I don't expect Oscar voters to be humming anything but a "La La" tune on awards night.

Kubo and the Two Strings
My Life as a Zucchini
The Red Turtle

There's a whiff of the night's night's biggest upset here, simply because "Kubo," in one man's opinion, is easily the best film in the category. Still, did the voters really watch it? Probably not, so "Zootopia" completes its impressive awards-season roll on another positive note.

Finally, the rest of your Sunday night winners: 

Cinematography -- La La Land; Foreign Language Film -- Toni Erdmann (with"The Salesman" closing in fast); Documentary -- O.J.: Made in America; Original Score -- La La Land; Costume Design -- La La Land (but watch out for "Jackie"); Production Design -- La La Land; Visual Effects -- The Jungle Book: Editing -- La La Land; Makeup & Hair -- Star Trek Beyond; Sound Editing -- Hacksaw Ridge; Sound Mixing -- La La Land; Live Action Short -- Ennemis Interieurs; Documentary Short -- Extremis: Animated Short -- Piper.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Life, death, triumph lead actors, directors to 2016 favorites

Octavia Spencer, Taraji P. Henson, Janelle Monae in "Hidden Figures."
And, on the fifth day of 2017, the list (in alphabetical order) of our 10 favorite films from 2016 finally arrives. There's also some other odds and ends that helped make last year a fairly memorable one at the movies.

"Arrival": Amy Adams plays a brilliant linguist called on by the government to reach out to aliens who have landed in 12 locales around the world. Under the guidance of equally exceptional director/co-writer Denis Villeneuve ("Sicario," "Incendies") this scientific thriller becomes smart, touching and likely one of the year's sure-to-become cinematic classics.

"Deadpool": Creatively strange and as violent, raunch-filled and "R"-rated as it gets, this Marvel marvel also regularly has its legitimately funny superhero (Ryan Reynolds) talking to the audience. It's a laugh riot that producer/star Reynolds went to the mat to develop. Even better news: The sequel comes out in March 2018.

"Hacksaw Ridge": Mel Gibson (an Oscar-winner for "Braveheart") directs this true, in-your face WWII drama that introduces us to a great love story, then some even greater Okinawa heroics from a Virginia pacifist who served his country as a medic while never carrying a gun. It's an uncommonly bloody, but still somehow sensitive telling, with the terrific Andrew Garfield, as the aw-shucks hero.
"Hell or High Water": This one looks and feels like a classic Western, only with the trimmings of a modern-day tale that takes on banks and environmental issues while an aging lawman (Jeff Bridges) chases anti-hero brothers (Chris Pine and Ben Foster) robbing for a reason. The dialogue from actor-turned screenwriter Taylor Sheridan is about as good as it gets, too.
"Hidden Figures": Three heroic African-American women (smartly played by Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monae) carry this true NASA story to the heights of crowd-pleasing from start to finish. The recent death of living legend/astronaut John Glenn (portrayed nicely here by Glen Powell) adds even more heft to a movie that should serve as an inspiration to anyone who perseveres.(Opens everywhere Friday,)

"The Jungle Book": A "live-action" remake of a so-so 1967 animated musical becomes a thrilling Disney adventure in the hands of director Jon Favreau and a talented vocal cast which really does give Rudyard Kipling's 10-year-old Mowgli good cause to talk to the animals. It also might be the year's most visually effective movie.

"La La Land": Young Damien Chazelle's first movie, "Whiplash," topped this list two years ago, and here we go again. This time he inspires Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone. as struggling Hollywood artists, to become a terrific song-and-dance team in a very special Tinseltown musical/fantasy.  

"Loving": What might be the year's more purely beautiful film -- in texture, subject matter and imagery -- tells the true story of an interracial couple actually named Richard and Mildred Loving. Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga are simply sublime in a legitimate gem from screenwriter/director Jeff Nichols.

Casey Affleck, Lucas Hedges dominate "Manchester by the Sea."
"Manchester by the Sea": When I initially saw it in September at the Toronto International Film Festival, I wrote that some parts grabbed me as much by the throat as by the heart. I also predicted that Casey Affleck already had the Best Actor Oscar statue locked up. He's simply that genuinely believable, as a moody janitor tormented by his past in a powerful, yet simple story that has him returning to his hometown to help raise his nephew (played by a terrific teen named Lucas Hedges). If I had to pick the year's best picture, this stunning emotional piece from another writer/director, Kenneth Lonergan, would be the one.

"Tower": Some of us old enough to remember the summer-of-1966 day that eventually controlled a week of news coverage with one of the first mass shootings in American history likely will appreciate this razor-sharp documentary more than others.
Still, it says here that director Keith Maitland's use of real footage and animated characters, who turn into the real survivors of a troubled ex-Marine's barrage from the top of a University of Texas landmark, is as riveting as it gets.

Another dozen well worth seeing -- "10 Cloverfield Lane," "13th," "Christine," "Everybody Wants Some," "Eye in the Sky," "Fences," "Green Room," "Jackie," "Life, Animated," "Live by Night" (opens Jan. 13), "A Monster Calls" (opens Friday), "Moonlight."

Felicity Jones plays ailing mom to Lewis MacDougall in "A Monster Calls."  
Performers of the Year -- Amy Adams ("Arrival," "Nocturnal Animals," "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice"); Mahershala Ali ("Moonlight," "Hidden Figures," "Free State of Jones"); Felicity Jones ("Rogue One: A Star Wars Story," "A Monster Calls," "Inferno"); Ryan Gosling ("La La Land," "The Nice Guys").

But, what the hell were they thinking? -- Jennifer Aniston ("Mother's Day," "Office Christmas Party"); Robert De Niro ("Dirty Grandpa," "Hands of Stone"): Julia Roberts ("Money Monster," "Mother's Day").

A few guilty pleasures -- "The Legend of Tarzan," a real summer swinger; the toe-tapping "Sing"; and those unabashedly colorful "Trolls."

Major disappointments (after all that hype) -- "Florence Foster Jenkins," "The Girl on the Train," "Suicide Squad."

But none were as awful as these five -- "Bad Santa 2," "The Boss," "Colonia," "Dirty Grandpa," "My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2."

Here's hoping the dawn of 2017 signals much better choices throughout another long and fruitful year.

(Look for my ratings on most new releases elsewhere on this page.)

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Music makes the best Christmas magic in new movie offerings

So, you going to the movies for Christmas? Then follow the melodies (and these capsule reviews) that might help draw you into northeast Ohio theaters this holiday weekend.

A mom (voiced by Reese Witherspoon) with 25 piglets is a"Sing" scene-stealer.

"Sing" ($ $ $ $ out of $5): The highlight film of this day will start toes tapping from the get-go in a family-filled romp about an entertainment-oriented koala who runs a singing competition for an an assortment of talented animals. It's simply terrific, animated fun. (Rated "PG" and starring the voices of Matthew McConaughey, Reese Witherspoon, Seth MacFarlane, Scarlett Johansson, John C. Reilly, Tori Kelly, Jennifer Hudson and many others)

"Assassin's Creed" ($ $ and 1/2): Only legitimate video gamers might care that the ending lends itself to sequels, but we'll give it some extra points for actually playing a tad better than we thought it might. Considerable trimming (to under two hours) from an original 140-minute running time obviously helps, too. (Rated "PG-13" and starring, believe it or not, Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard and Jeremy Irons)

"Passengers" ($ $): This one offers a tie between boring and absurd and a concept that must have been initiated on the heels of the huge success of 2013's "Gravity." Talk about giving new meaning to being lost in space. (Rated "PG-13" and starring Jennifer Lawrence, Chris Pratt and Michael Sheen, with cameos from a couple of aging actors who might have gained a few pounds during the movie's much-discussed hibernation process)


"La La Land" ($ $ $ $ $): I first saw this Tinseltown fantasy/musical/romance in September at the Toronto International Film Festival and loved it, then saw it again a few weeks ago and embraced it even more. Now the ideal Christmas Day release gives the gift of its ever-engaging lead couple, music and director Damien Chazelle's surefire Oscar-bound craftsmanship for all to behold. (Rated "PG-13" and starring Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, Rosemarie DeWitt and John Legend)

Denzel Washington and Viola Davis show off their chops in "Fences."
"Fences" ($ $ $ $):  Despite its minimal Pittsburgh locales, this Denzel Washington-directed take on August Wilson's 1987 Pulitzer Prize-winning play still looks, feels and sounds like a stage production. However, that doesn't mean that the words, written for the screen by Wilson before his death in 2005 and spit out by a mostly bitter garbage man (Washington), aren't as racially relevant today as they were in its '50s story. The ensemble acting is damn powerful, too, with Viola Davis a mortal lock for Best Supporting Actress as the put-upon wife. (Rated "PG-13" and starring Denzel Washington, Viola Davis, Stephen Henderson and Mykelti Williamson)

"Lion" ($ $ $ and 1/2): Truth-based lost-and-found stories such as this usually feature dogs or cats. Here, though, it's the rather slow, if moving tale of a poor, 5-year-old Indian boy who falls asleep in a train station and winds up in Calcutta, more than 1,500 miles from home. Of course, for Hollywood purposes, all the players get movie-star looks, except for the usually stunning Nicole Kidman, as an oddly plain mom. In fact, even the character she portrays seems a lot more lovely during a closing montage of the real people involved in it all. (Rated "PG-13" and starring Dev Patel, Nicole Kidman, Rooney Mara and charming little Sunny Pawar)

Check out more of John's ratings for most current releases at left.