Monday, June 18, 2018

Incredibles 2

Posted By on Mon, Jun 18, 2018 at 11:44 AM

This is the fourth superhero movie review I will write this year. People have been asking me, are you sick of them? The answer is yes.

But I still get excited about a sequel to The Incredibles. The Brad Bird film is a top tier Pixar creation, one of the best superhero movies ever made, and, since it was released in 2004, clearly way ahead of the curve.

Mr. Incredible, Elastigirl, Dash, Violet, and Jack-Jack are back after a 14 year hiatus.
  • Mr. Incredible, Elastigirl, Dash, Violet, and Jack-Jack are back after a 14 year hiatus.
Incredibles 2 opens pretty much immediately after the events of the first film. Tony (Michael Bird), a classmate of Violet (Sarah Vowell), is recounting the events of the attack by the Underminer (John Ratzenberger) that served as the original’s coda. His audience is Rick Dicker (Jonathan Banks), a government operative whose job it is to keep secret the true identities of superheroes. Dicker dutifully erases the memory of moment when Tony saw Violet without her domino mask on, which has the unfortunate side effect of erasing all memory of her, including the fact that they had a date tomorrow night.

The battle against the Underminer provides the bravado opening action sequence any self-respecting superhero movie wants to have, and it immediately outdoes most all of them. The kinetic sections of The Incredibles, like the fight with the Omnidroid, were groundbreaking, and in the five-superhero-movie-a-year timeline we find ourselves in, frequently copied. Fourteen years worth of Pixar technological advances get splashed up on the screen in the first ten minutes, and it’s, well, incredible. A few jokes seem to be written just to show off the water modeling advances. The depth of the image in some shots is mind blowing, even in 2D. IMAX is definitely the preferred format for this one.

With the help of Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson), Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson), Elastigirl (Holly Hunter), Violet, Dash (Huck Milner) and Jack-Jack stop the Underminer’s destructive rampage, but they still run afoul of the secret bane of every superhero—massive property damage liability. About to be cut off by their government benefactors, the heroes are contacted by Winston Deavor (Bob Odenkirk), a telecom tycoon who wants to mount a campaign to legalize superheroes once and for all. He and his sister Evelyn (Catherine Keener) have crunched the numbers, to discover that the least destructive super hero in existence is Elastigirl. They offer to back her with a generous salary, a new Mid Century Heroically Modern house, and most importantly, insurance.

Holly Hunter voices Elastigirl, who gets to go all Batman in this long-awaited sequel.
  • Holly Hunter voices Elastigirl, who gets to go all Batman in this long-awaited sequel.

After a heartfelt talk, the Parrs decide to accept the offer, even though it means that Mr. Incredible will be a stay at home dad to three super kids of varying ages. From there, the film falls into what is now a familiar episodic pattern. Pixar’s studio mates Marvel have succeeded by emphasizing character over plot, and Incredibles 2 follows suit. Mr. Incredible’s parenting tribulations are put on a equal footing with Elastigirl’s increasingly perilous confrontation with Screenslaver. Incredibles 2 once again proves that the key to truly great superhero films is a strong villain with the timely Screenslaver, who uses smartphones and TV screens as tools of mass hypnosis.

Judging from the responses of opening night audience, Jack-Jack is the breakout star of the picture. Trying to keep tabs on a toddler is hard enough for Mr. Incredible, but Jack-Jack is exhibiting all kinds of new superpowers, like eye lasers and shape changing. His ability to travel through parallel dimensions provides a great opportunity for Bird to stage a Poltergeist callback with Nelson, who plays the beleaguered dad in both films.

Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson, center) is called to help Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson) parent the super toddler Jack-Jack.
  • Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson, center) is called to help Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson) parent the super toddler Jack-Jack.
Bird, who returns to voice super-designer Edna, makes a major comeback after his last film, the disastrous Disney corporate branding assignment Tomorrowland. Incredibles 2 fires on all cylinders, but now that we’re all immersed in the expected beats of the superhero movie, it lacks the shock of the new felt in 2004. But it’s a genuine crowd pleaser that rewards viewing on the big screen, which is what a summer movie is all about.

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Music Video Monday: McKenna Bray

Posted By on Mon, Jun 18, 2018 at 10:41 AM

It's a love song Music Video Monday.
Tomorrow, Tuesday, June 19, McKenna Bray releases her debut album Once In A Blue Moon on Madjack Records with a party at Lafayette's Music Room. The first single "The Way I Loved You" is a heartfelt call to a lover above all others.

The video was produced and directed by Kim Bledsoe Lloyd and Susan Marshall, with production assistance by Sean Faust and Josh Beckemeyer. It features McKenna and dancers Megan McCusker and Shamar Rooks. Check it out:

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Monday, June 11, 2018

Music Video Monday: Motel Mirrors

Posted By on Mon, Jun 11, 2018 at 10:11 AM

It's a dreamy Music Video Monday!
Beale Street Caravan's I Listen To Memphis series rolls on with the first-ever video from Memphis supergroup Motel Mirrors. John Paul Keith and Amy LaVere first teamed up in 2013 to create a perfect stew of elegant songwriting, countryfied harmonies, and twangy picking. For their long gestating second album, they were joined by LaVere's husband Will Sexton on guitar and Shawn Zorn on drums. This version of "I Wouldn't Dream Of It" was recorded live at the Galloway House, the former church in Cooper-Young where Johnny Cash played his very first show. The video series was directed by Christian Walker and produced by Waheed AlQawasmi. Take a look and listen!

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Friday, June 8, 2018

First Reformed

Posted By on Fri, Jun 8, 2018 at 11:33 AM

One thing the great filmmakers of the 1970s valued above all others was intensity. That’s evident in a pair of the decade’s masterpieces—Taxi Driver and Raging Bull—that were collaborations between director Martin Scorsese and writer Paul Schrader.
Ethan Hawk stars as a priest in existential crisis in First Reformed.
  • Ethan Hawk stars as a priest in existential crisis in First Reformed.
Schrader is something of a legendary figure in Hollywood, which is understandable when you see his filmography. He appears in the infamous New Hollywood gossip epic Easy Riders, Raging Bulls holed up in the Hollywood Hills with a pistol and a pound of weed, furiously pounding out the script to American Gigolo. Schrader called those films “man alone in a room stories.” They, along with his films like Auto Focus, rotate around a single individual, tortured, mysteriously driven, and often trying to make sense of a chaotic world. Usually, the protagonists, like Travis Bickle, come apart in the end in some spectacularly weird fashion.
Ethan Hawk and Amanda Seyfriend
  • Ethan Hawk and Amanda Seyfriend
First Reformed is a major comeback for Schrader, now 71. In this case, the man alone in the room is Ethan Hawke as Toller, an Episcopal priest in rural New York. His titular church was a stop on the Underground Railroad, but now it’s a dwindling congregation in a fading town. Toller spends more of his time giving tours to leaf peepers and school groups than ministering to his flock. That’s why, when Mary (Amanda Seyfried) asks him for counseling, it’s something of a relief. Her boyfriend Michael (Philip Ettinger) is a environmental activist who just got out of prison in Canada on charges related to an oil sands pipeline protest. Mary is pregnant, but Michael doesn’t want her to have the baby. He no longer thinks the fight against climate change is winnable and believes its wrong to bring a child into a world that is doomed to foreseeable catastrophe.
Amanda Seyfried
  • Amanda Seyfried
The scenes between Hawk and Ettinger are brutal in their intensity, even though they’re just two people sitting alone in a room, talking. In his diary, which Schrader uses as a voice over device, Toller says the philosophical, scientific, and theological debate felt “exhilarating” like “Jacob wrestling the angel”.

The repercussions of that single conversation echo through the lives of the three characters. Toller was an Army chaplain whose son was killed in Iraq, driving him from the service and breaking up his marriage. He’s struggling to keep his psyche together and his job intact as the 250th anniversary of the founding of his church approaches. Mary and Michael’s dilemma puts pressure on him at exactly the wrong time as he prepares for a ceremony where his megachurch-leading boss Pastor Jeffers and the governor will attend, bringing unwanted attention to a man who just wants to disappear.

Hawke puts himself into the frontrunner position for the 2018 Best Actor Oscar with his performance as a strong but brittle man nearing his breaking point. Schrader’s screenplay is unsparing in its honesty and directness. Toller’s inner turmoil is existential, but grounded in real world pain. The situations are entirely believable and throughly of today, but Toller’s philosophical ponderings are right out of Shakespeare. Is it all, in the end, worth it?
The film’s unsparing intensity is at once its greatest strength and biggest weakness. To watch First Reformed is to stare unsparingly into the most basic, unanswerable philosophical questions we have. It is, as Toller says, both exhilarating and exhausting. Schrader earns his depth—there’s no such thing as gratuitous Christ imagery in a film with a priest for a leading man—but it’s about as subtle as a gold brick to the face.

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Thursday, June 7, 2018

Craig Brewer Directing Eddie Murphy in Dolemite Biopic

Posted By on Thu, Jun 7, 2018 at 2:36 PM

Director Craig Brewer (right) - LAURA JEAN HOCKING
  • Laura Jean Hocking
  • Director Craig Brewer (right)
Memphis director Craig Brewer has been secretly developing a film about Rudy Ray Moore for Netflix.

The film will star Eddie Murphy as Moore, the Los Angeles street comedian who gained fame as a fast talking pimp named Dolemite, who was featured in three groundbreaking blacksploitation films in the 1970s. This will only be Murphy's second live action movie appearance since 2012.

  • David Shankbone - flickr, CC BY 2.0,
  • Eddie Murphy
Brewer will be directing from a script by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski. The writers specialize in left-field biographical material, having penned The People vs. Larry Flynt, Ed Wood, Big Eyes, Man On The Moon, and The People vs. O.J. Simpson. In addition to filming The People vs. Larry Flynt in Memphis, Karaszewski is also a frequent guest and jurist at the Indie Memphis Film Festival. 
  • C. Neil Scott from Columbia, SC, US CC BY 2.0,
  • Rudy Ray Moore aka Dolemite
Brewer's made-in-Memphis 2005 film Hustle & Flow was a box office hit that earned an Academy Award for Best Song and a Best Actor nomination for star Terrance Howard. He has recently been writing and directing episodes for the Fox TV hit Empire and producing the You Look Like comedy show in Memphis for independent studio Gunpowder and Sky. According to a report in Deadline Hollywood, shooting for the as-yet untitled Rudy Ray Moore film will begin in Los Angeles on June 12. 

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Tuesday, June 5, 2018

This Week At The Cinema: Outflix, Rural Route, and Rodents of Unusual Size

Posted By on Tue, Jun 5, 2018 at 7:51 AM

It's a busy week at Memphis theaters as summer gets into full swing. 
Rodents of Unusual Size
  • Rodents of Unusual Size
On Tuesday, June 5th, at Malco Ridgeway, Indie Memphis presents a documentary about Louisiana's love/hate relationship with the nutria. Rodents of Unusual Size's focus is on Delacroix Island, where the giant invasive species threatens to overrun the tenuous fishing community. You can get tickets to this fascinating film on the Indie Memphis website. Here's the trailer:

"RODENTS OF UNUSUAL SIZE" - Teaser from Tilapia Film on Vimeo.

On June 6 at Crosstown Arts, the Rural Route Film Festival brings the best short films from its latest iteration to Memphis. This touring program has played from Australia to New Hampshire, and its free to Indie Memphis members.

Meanwhile, at Studio on the Square on June 6th, Outflix Film Festival is hosting a series of winning films from the festival's 20-year history. This week is Blackbird, which won the audience award for Best Domestic Feature in 2014. These screenings are at 7 PM, and are $10 for general admission, $9 for Outflix members, and $8 for students.

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Monday, June 4, 2018

Music Video Monday: Corduroy and the Cottonwoods

Posted By on Mon, Jun 4, 2018 at 10:18 AM

They call it twangy Monday, but Tuesday's just as bad.
This week's Music Video Monday features a choogler from Corduroy and the Cottonwoods. They released a full-length on Madjack Records last Friday, and today they make their MVM debut with "Smoking Gun". Get some!

Smoking Gun (Official Video) by Corduroy and the Cottonwoods on VEVO.

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Thursday, May 31, 2018

Solo: A Star Wars Story

Posted By on Thu, May 31, 2018 at 8:12 PM

In its century long history, Hollywood has produced a handful of characters that have become icons of American manhood. Nick Charles, The Thin Man, was a hard living, but elegant aristocrat. John Wayne’s Ringo Kid from Stagecoach was the archetypal cowboy: laconic, upright, uncomplicated. Rhett Butler was an irresistible scoundrel. Humphrey Bogart’s Rick Blaine was a heartbroken cynic finding his way back to virtue in Casablanca. James Dean’s teenage misfit Jim Stark was the Rebel Without A Cause. Peter Fonda rode a motorcycle named Captain America on an LSD fueled trip in search of his nation’s soul, while Chris Evan’s Captain America was thawed out of the arctic ice to remind us of the better angels of our nature. The 1990s brought us both Will Smith’s wisecracking fighter jock from Independence Day and Tyler Durden, Brad Pitt’s hallucinatory, revolutionary alter ego.
Alden Ehrenreich as Han Solo and Joonas Suotamo as Chewbacca
  • Alden Ehrenreich as Han Solo and Joonas Suotamo as Chewbacca
Then there’s Han Solo. When he first appeared in Star Wars, Harrison Ford was still a part time carpenter. Four years later, when he introduced Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark, Ford was the biggest movie star in the world, and would remain at or near the top of the heap well into the twenty first century. Befitting Lucas’ postmodern pastiche approach to space opera, Solo was a mixture of Rick Blaine’s fractured romanticism, a card playing smuggler like Rhett Butler, a quickdraw gunfighter like Wayne, and unrepentant ladies man like, well, all of them. His ostensible role was to provide a counterweight to Luke Skywalker’s boundless optimism, but he was the one all the boys wanted to be and, when he won the hand of Leia in The Empire Strikes Back, the one all the girls wanted to be with.
Han was the outsized focus of the franchise’s earliest spinoffs. In the 70s and 80s, Luke and Leia got one spinoff novel, Splinter of the Minds Eye. Han Solo and Chewbacca’s adventures filled three volumes, then, in the 2000s, three more. When Disney bought Lucasfilm and started cranking out Star Wars movies on the regular, it was inevitable that Han would take a starring role. It started out promising, when Lawrence Kasdan, the screenwriter for The Empire Strikes Back and Raiders of the Lost Ark put together a script, but Solo: A Star Wars Story turned into a textbook troubled production when the original directors, Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, were fired after four months of shooting. Lucasfilm honcho Kathleen Kennedy hired Ron Howard to clean up the mess, who was met with howls of derision from the fans. Lord and Miller are comedy directors who, it was hoped, would take Star Wars in a new direction. Howard was a safe choice, a Hollywood veteran with a reputation for unremarkable competence.
Donald Glover as Lando Calrissian
  • Donald Glover as Lando Calrissian
And that’s exactly what Howard brought to Solo. Kasdan, writing with his son Jonathan, constructed a solid series of heists gone wrong, shootouts, and chase scenes. We first meet Han (Alden Ehrenreich) as a street urchin boosting speeders on Corellia. His latest score, a batch of coaxium, a volatile spaceship fuel, is valuable enough to get him and his girlfriend Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke) off planet. But the plan goes quickly wrong, and the pair are separated. Desperate to escape his organized crime pursuers, Solo joins the Imperial Navy, hoping to become a pilot. Three years later, our hero’s washed out of flight school and is fighting with the stormtrooper grunts in the trenches of the swamp planet Mimban when he discovers a crew led by Tobias (Woody Harrelson) in mid-heist, and deserts the army to join the pirate life.
Emilia Clarke as Qi'ra
  • Emilia Clarke as Qi'ra
The problem with Solo does not stem from its chaotic production history. It’s that the star never fills the role. Ehrenreich is upstaged by literally every member of the supporting cast. Clarke’s performance is assured and nuanced, better than most of her work on Game Of Thrones. Woody Harrelson steals every scene he’s in. Donald Glover’s turn as Lando Calrissian is absolute, caped perfection. Even Chewbacca, played by Joonas Suotamo under the tutelage of Peter Mayhew, is more magnetic than Ehrenreich.

To be fair, filling the shoes of Harrison Ford is an impossible task that would have defeated the vast majority of actors. Take it from someone who has to sit through a lot of true crap: this is not a bad movie, and far from a return to the bad old days of Attack Of The Clones. There’s plenty of swashbuckling and primo spaceship action, but also a fair amount of box-checking fan service. The sight of the crystal skull from the tomb of Xim the Despot and Lando’s offhand mention of the Starcave of ThonBoka make my sad little geek heart grow three sizes, but will mean nothing to the casual moviegoer. Howard’s pedestrian direction gets the job done while underlining the greatness of Rian Johnson’s work on The Last Jedi. The bottom line is, Solo is a fun two hours at the movies, while also being an all-too predictable disappointment.

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Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Milos Forman's Debut Loves of a Blonde Screens Tonight

Posted By on Tue, May 22, 2018 at 1:14 PM

This week, Indie Memphis continues its collaboration with Memphis In May with the debut film from a director who has an intimate connection with Memphis.

Loves Of A Blonde
  • Loves Of A Blonde
Long before Milos Forman brought the The People vs Larry Flynt production to the Bluff City and made hometown hero Jerry Lawler a movie star with Man on the Moon, he was one of the founding members of the Czech New Wave. His debut film Loves of a Blonde would not look out of place in the indie film world today. It's a low-key romantic comedy about the trial and tribulations of young people trying to find love in a confusing world. Based on stories from Forman and friend's lives, it was shot on location in a small Czech town with a largely non-professional cast. Two years after its European release, it was nominated for Best Foreign Film at the 1967 Academy Awards.

The show starts at 7 p.m. at Malco Ridgeway. You can get your tickets in advance at the Indie Memphis website. Here's a fan-made trailer, to give you a taste of the atmosphere.

The Loves of a Blonde (1965) trailer from Richard Lohr on Vimeo.

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Monday, May 21, 2018

Music Video Monday: Lisa Mac

Posted By on Mon, May 21, 2018 at 9:43 AM

Remember, folks, it's not too late for Music Video Monday to take you back.
Memphis songstress Lisa Mac is back with the ethereal "Change Your Mind". The song, which she said almost went to English Grammy winner Sam Smith, was produced by Scott Hardin and Elliott Ives. "This song at its core is really about dealing with rejection in a hopeful way," she says. "It’s vulnerable, relatable, and real, and I wanted to represent those feelings with a visual to help tell the story. In this video, I love how director Morgan John Fox used light and color to represent the different emotions we experience in relationships. This visual is such a simple, beautiful, expression of the most valuable and fragile thing we possess… love."

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Friday, May 18, 2018

"INCONCEIVABLE!" Fantasy Lineup For Saturday Night's Time Warp Drive-In

Posted By on Fri, May 18, 2018 at 2:37 PM

The May edition of the Time Warp Drive-In series is a smorgasbord of tasty fantasy treats from the 1980s.
The Last Unicorn
  • The Last Unicorn
Saturday night at 7 PM at the Malco Summer Avenue Drive-In, the More Dreams Of Gods And Magic program opens with a stone cold classic. Rob Riener's 1987 adaptation of William Goldman's novel The Princess Bride was added the National Film Registry in 2016. It has become, as is said of Casablanca, a film consisting entirely of quotable lines. Here's one of the film's iconic scenes, the battle of wits between Wesley, aka Dread Pirate Roberts, and evil mastermind Vizzini, for the life of the hostage Princess Buttercup. Also like Casablanca, virtually everyone in this film went on to have a great career. Carey Elwes, who played Wesley, will be the mayor in season three of Stranger Things. Wallace Shawn, who played Vizzini, is an acclaimed playwright who broke into film with the 1981 adaptation of his play My Dinner With André and, at age 74, is still working as a voice over artist on Bojack Horseman. And Princess Buttercup is Robin Wright, who has received four straight Emmy nominations for her role as the first lady in House Of Cards, and just last year appeared in both Wonder Woman and Blade Runner 2049. Even if you think you have it memorized, check out this tour de force scene:

The second film is another literary adaptation, this time of the 1972 Newberry Award winner Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH. The children's book is something like a cross between Watership Down and Flowers For Algernon, although maybe not as depressing as that might sound. The 1982 film version The Secret Of NIMH was spearheaded by Don Bluth, the former Disney animator who became the House Of Mouse's nemesis during the 1980s, when he had a run of films with MGM that included The Land Before Time. Bluth is also famous among gamers for his work on the beautiful but unplayable Dragon's Lair, which pioneered what would later be called DVD ROM games. The film is more than a little cheesy, but makes up for it with some amazing classical animation.

The Secret of NIMH was released in 1982 at the height of the post-Star Wars sci fi fantasy boom. Sharing screen time that year were the last two films on the Time Warp slate. The Last Unicorn was a Rankin/Bass production with a killer voice actor lineup that included Mia Farrow, Angela Landsbury, Jeff Bridges, and Christopher Lee. It's perhaps most significant for the young Japanese animation crew who got their start on the film and would go on to form the core of Studio Ghibli.

And finally, there's Krull. By 1982's lofty standards, Krull is not a good movie. If it were released today, it would be probably make $500 million. Nowadays, the film's biggest attraction is the elaborate pre-digital special effects, which include the high point of that light-leak video laser thing. The screenplay is a bloody mess of Lucas-damaged Hero's Journey cliches, but veteran British character actors Freddy Jones and Franchesca Annis occasionally step in to elevate the proceedings with committed performances that the material probably didn't deserve. But hey, that's why you spend your money on the Brits—they always bring it. 

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Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Lean On Pete

Posted By on Wed, May 16, 2018 at 12:53 PM

Despite what you may have gathered from the movie poster or the trailer, Lean on Pete is definitively not a horse movie. Sure, certain aspects feel plucked directly from Black Stallion, Black Beauty, or even Where the Red Fern Grows, but the real focus of the story is on Charley (Charlie Plummer), the disadvantaged teenage protagonist, and more broadly on the harsh, grimy life of the working class in the Pacific Northwest. Don’t expect any glamour shots of horses galloping along the beach – this film is set in stables, in diners, in crumbling industry towns, as well as in The Great Outdoors.
Charlie Plummer in Lean On Pete
  • Charlie Plummer in Lean On Pete
The film is visually beautiful, with the palette of a faded photograph and a keen use of light and shadow. Even in the dingy bars and cheap motels of his world, Charley’s face always seems to find the light. Plummer is incredibly engaging as Charley, his candid face speaking volumes as he descends from a hopeful kid into a hardened, desperate drifter. Charley’s journey brings drop-ins from Steve Buscemi, Chloë Sevigny, Steve Zahn, and Travis Fimmel, whose performances are (mostly) convincing as a few of the drunks, crooks, and thieves who populate this dark underworld.

Charley befriends Lean on Pete, the horse who seems to be the only other soft creature in a hard place. Despite being reminded several times that Pete is “not a pet, just a horse,” he becomes Charley’s only friend and confidant, and eventually his traveling companion, as they abandon the world they know in pursuit of home and happiness. What Charley seeks is simple: he tells Pete “the nicest place he’s ever been” was a friend’s house where the family “just laughed and talked….and they liked each other.” The vision of comfort fuels these two outsiders on their exodus through the rugged terrain of Oregon toward Wyoming. When boy and horse trudge across the dry land, they are dwarfed by the expanse of flat plains and sky, giving the audience feelings of insignificance and isolation experienced by our heroes. It’s a metaphor, just like the horse is a metaphor, employed by director Andrew Haigh to tell a story about poverty and class. (You might be saying, “What’s a meadow for?” and you’d be right, seeing as we never see poor Pete the horse graze or canter joyfully in one for the entire 120 minute duration. In fact, Pete might actually be a camel, considering the amazingly small amount of water he consumes on his trek across the desert.)

Lean on Pete introduces viewers to the third class citizens of an impoverished, modern America, although there are very few details letting us know that this is a contemporary story. Charley and his associates don’t own cell phones or computers; they drive busted old trucks, listen to the radio, and watch tube televisions. It’s jarring when we see a cell phone or hear an autotune-style pop song; by making these ubiquitous cultural symbols feel alien, the filmmakers successfully show us just how disparately different classes live, despite the myths the comfortable tell ourselves. Through Charley, we experience the cruelty, violence, and trauma of poverty, and the rage and PTSD that come with it. Overall, the effect is powerful, but there are some moments that dip a little too far into cliche territory, and at times, the story relies on unnecessary cheap shots to evoke strong emotions. But if you’re looking for a film to tug your heartstrings and make you feel like you’ve walked a hundred miles in some scrappy shoes, Lean on Pete will be right up your (sad, dark) alley.

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Monday, May 14, 2018

Music Video Monday: Cedric Burnside

Posted By on Mon, May 14, 2018 at 9:09 AM

It's Monday, so it's time for new beginnings.
Today on Music Video Monday, we bring you the first of a new series of performance videos from Beale Street Caravan. In the coming weeks, the popular radio show dedicated to Bluff City music will be releasing ten videos of Memphis musicians playing live in some of our city's most interesting and historic music venues. You can read more about the project, including an interview with director Christian Walker, in this coming week's Memphis Flyer music section. To kick it off, here's Cedric Burnside's smoking rendition of "Wash My Hands", recorded in historic Royal Studios. Look for the cameo by Memphis super producer Boo Mitchell.
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Friday, May 11, 2018

Breaking In

Posted By on Fri, May 11, 2018 at 9:57 AM

Violence is thrilling in a fictional setting. When heroes visit it upon malcontents, the audience living vicariously through them gets feelings of triumph. This is all cover so that we can assert murderousness in a safe space where it won't hurt anyone, and go home having let loose our bloodlust. A particularly good cover is protecting the family unit.

Breaking In, a home invasion thriller produced by and starring Gabrielle Union, is paint-by-the-numbers. Exactly what you expect to happen, happens, but there is charm in its efficiency. Shaun (Union) travels with two kids to the countryside to close up her murdered father's estate in order to sell it. A quartet of thieves are already there, intent upon getting past the state-of-the-art surveillance system. Union must use all her strength to defeat them and save her children. No time is wasted on her father's murder. There are Shining-like shots of her car on long roads, a brief setup of the generic siblings’ relationship, and images of Shaun looking at her father's coffee cups and broken picture frames set to sad piano music. Her son (Seth Carr) is shown flying a drone through the house, in order to establish its use for later. Then people start getting grabbed and dragged into shadows, and we're off.
Billy Burke and Gabrielle Union face off in Breaking In.
  • Billy Burke and Gabrielle Union face off in Breaking In.
The villains are familiar: they consist of a beleaguered pro who has seen it all (Billy Burke), the eager-to-murder wild card (Richard Cabral), an inexperienced youth having second thoughts (Levi Meaden), and a fourth (Mark Furze) whose most distinguishing feature is looking like Gordon Freeman from Half-Life, with thick-rimmed glasses and a crowbar.

They are introduced bickering and proceed to follow the unsoundly procedural steps by which homicidal thieves regularly underestimate working moms. Burke is best, with majestic swooped-back hair and a mostly there beard. He alternates between the weariness of a guy who has seen this all before and Bond-suave pronouncements like "I imagine in this moment you're wondering whether you and your kids will make it out alive," and "You're a woman alone at the mercy of strangers. Your greatest weakness is trapped inside the house." (He means her kids.) As the odds increase in Shaun’s favor, several of his lines are repeated back to him. The conversational throughline among his compatriots is calling Shaun a "bitch.”
Gabrielle Union has a light.
  • Gabrielle Union has a light.
My audience was wry. The robbers were a little too hapless for them: they laughed at odd looks on their faces and unintentional moments of awkwardness. Sometimes even the appearance of Meaden’s character, with his dyed yellow hair and unthreatening demeanor, would bring the house down. One such moment was when he began to dry off safe-cracking electronics Shaun had submerged in a sink full of water, presumably because it was a stupid, hopeless task. (The audience even laughed at the final image of the film, probably because of the extreme lateness of police arrival.)

Union is good as a sexual assault survivor, which brings an emotional, personal undercurrent to scenes of her being attacked and thrown about by the different men. Her hard-won dominance over them prompted cheers. The script gave her triumphant lines like "You broke into the wrong fucking house," and "I'm just a mom," and my fellow viewers got it. On leaving they noted happily she was a "mean momma," and the intruders’ mistake was getting near a "lion and her cubs."

As Union wrote about her own history in regards to the controversy around The Birth of The Nation in 2016, assault in real life produces post-traumatic stress disorder, from which she suffers. It's only in art that we can find catharsis through violence. Besides the fun of seeing this with an audience perfectly keyed into the familial triumph it was selling, I surmised from Union's producer credit that it was a personal story she wanted to tell. I watch a lot of amateur true crime stories on Youtube, which I find fascinating. There's no quicker way to remind oneself of the vastness of our world: the unknown and unexplained dead branch out in every direction in endless patterns. It's good to find meaning in crime instead of mystery, and see a person purposefully tell the story of making one's way back from trauma.

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Tuesday, May 8, 2018

This Week At The Cinema: Czech Mates and Norma Desmond

Posted By on Tue, May 8, 2018 at 3:25 PM

This week, Indie Memphis and Memphis In May are teaming up to bring you films from this year's honored country, the Czech Republic.
Family Friend
  • Family Friend
On Tuesday at Malco's Ridgeway Cinema Grille, director Jan Hřebejk presents his film Family Friend. Set in the early 1940s during the Nazi occupation of Europe, the film tells the stories of three resistance fighters, Jindřich (Martin Finger), Karel (Karel Dobry), and Otto (Jiří Macháček) who are arrested by the Gestapo. The film's title refers to Jiří (Ondřej Sokol), a doctor who helps look after the families left behind, and whose relationship with Jindřich's wife Vilma (Aňa Geislerová) starts to veer into the romantic. The film is the first installment in the Garden Store trilogy, created by Hřebejk with his partner, writer Petr Jarchovsky. Tickets are available on the Indie Memphis website.

On Sunday, May 13 at 2:00 PM at the Paradiso, one of the greatest films of all times returns to the big screen when Turner Classic Movies presents Sunset Boulevard. Since its debut in 1952, it has been the definitive critique of the allure and poison of fame. Gloria Swanson delivers one of most incredible onscreen performances in cinema history as Norma Desmond, an actress who devoted everything to becoming a movie star. She succeeded, but then outlived her fame and locked herself away in her mansion crowded with tokens of her career. Billy Wilder's masterpiece predicted and explained so much about the psychic landscape of the twentieth century.  For just one example, forty years before Michael Jackson famously acquired a pet chimp named Bubbles, Norma Desmond was faced with the sticky question of what to do when her pet chimp passed into the great jungle in the sky. Check out this clip of Desmond's introduction to narrator Joe Gillis, played by William Holden, in which Swanson slam dunks one of cinema's greatest line deliveries.

See you at the movies! 

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