Monday, March 2, 2015

POSTED: Wednesday, February 25, 2015, 3:13 PM
Philadelphia Independents II Animation Festival. (Plastic Club image)

Who says Philadelphians aren’t animated? (Probably nobody, but why pass up the chance at a cheap lead?) On Saturday evening, Feb. 28, the Philadelphia Independents II Animation Festival presents itself at the Plastic Club, the historic Center City institution dedicated to the visual arts. More than a dozen area artists are scheduled to show and discuss their work, including animators from the faculty at the University of the Arts, Drexel and Moore. In addition to the likes of Ross Bollinger, collaborators Lowell Boston and Liz Goldberg, Geoff Beatty (head of Germantown Studios) and the animation collectives Motion Heads  and Juggling Wolf, the program’s roster includes Paul and Sandra Fierlinger, the groundbreaking duo behind the 2009 feature adaptation of J.R. Ackerley’s My Dog Tulip. Fierlinger, of Drawn From Memory fame, is a legend in animation circles, starting his career in Czechoslovakia in the late 1950s.

The Plastic Club, located on tiny Camac Street in the Wash West section of town, is one of those hidden Philly gems. Philadelphia Independent II Animation Festival promises to have a few gems of its own. The Plastic Club, 247 S. Camac St., 215-545-9324. www.plasticclub.org Things begin at 6:30pm. The event is free, but seating is limited.

POSTED: Wednesday, February 18, 2015, 4:50 PM
Alejandro Inarritu wins Directors Guild award for best director.

While the hype and hoo-ha of the Oscar campaigns have kept the various nominees busy these past months, it hasn’t stopped the stars, and the filmmakers, from moving ahead with new projects. And who knows, maybe some of the work will land them back in the Oscar race next year? Here’s what a few of the top contenders in Sunday’s Academy Awards ceremony are up to:

Alejandro G. Inarritu, nominated for best director, best screenplay (co-writing credit) and best film (co-producing) for Birdman, has been busy in the Canadian Rockies with The Revenant, a frontier thriller about real-life 19th century fur-trapper Hugh Glass. Leonardo DiCaprio stars as Glass, who was attacked by a bear and then robbed and left for dead by his companions (Domhnall Gleeson, Tom Hardy, Will Poulter).

Richard Linklater, up for best director, screenplay (co-writer) and picture (co-producer) for Boyhood, has been batting around That’s What I’m Talking About, set in the world of college baseball. Blake Jenner, Ryan Guzman and Tyler Hoechlin star.

POSTED: Wednesday, February 4, 2015, 4:13 PM
Edward Snowden, from "CitizenFour."

The presumptive front-runner in the best documentary feature race in the 2015 Academy Awards, Laura Poitras’ Citizenfour offers a gripping, you-are-there account of security contractor Edward Snowden’s fateful decision to share top secret intelligence files with the media and the world at large. A whistleblower, or a traitor, depending on who you’re talking to, Snowden’s story is the stuff of a gripping international thriller. And now Oliver Stone, the director with a string of controversial takes on recent American history -- JFK, Nixon, W., World Trade Center – plans to bring the Snowden story to the big screen. Joseph Gordon-Levitt has been cast as Snowden, the intelligence and security contractor who holes up in a Hong Kong hotel while Poitras films him angsting over the release of top secret documents, as investigative reporters Glenn Greenwald and Ewen MacAskill look on.

Joining Gordon-Levitt in Stone’s dramatization, adapted from  the books Time of the Octopus by Snowden’s Russian lawyer, Anatoly Kucherena, and The Snowden Files: The Inside Story of the World’s Most Wanted Man,  by Luke Harding,  are Shailene Woodley as Snowden’s longtime girlfriend, Lindsay Mills; Melissa Leo as filmmaker Poitras; , Zachary Quinto (Spock in the Star Trek reboots) as Greenwald, and Tom Wilkinson as the British journalist MacAskill. Expect a 2016 release.

POSTED: Wednesday, January 28, 2015, 5:16 PM
Johnny Depp.
It started with The Wrap, Sharon Waxman’s much-bookmarked movie biz website, issuing an email with the subject field “5 Ways Actors Over 50 Are Avoiding the Johnny Depp Curse” and then following it up with another snarky missive linking to another story: “41 A-List Actors Who Bombed as Hard as Johnny Depp in 'Mortdecai.'  And true enough, the art world comedy caper, released Friday, Jan. 23, without previewing to critics (rarely a good sign), was greeted with gleefully derisive reviews   (“strenuously unfunny,” “a whirlwind of horrible British accents,” “an anachronistic mess”) and practically no box office whatsoever. Opening weekend: a scant $4.2 million, for a film that cost $60 million to make, and millions more to market (thank you, Lionsgate, for the argyle socks with the Mortdecai mustache pattern! ). By contrast, American Sniper (also strenuously unfunny), scoped out $64 million in its second weekend of release.

But Johnny Depp, despite his embarrassing presenter’s speech at the Golden Globes and a run of big screen thuds – Transcendence, The Lone Ranger, Dark Shadows – managed to parlay his Keith Richards imitation into a billion-dollar franchise, starring as that rogue swashbuckler Jack Sparrow in four Pirates of the Caribbean blockbusters. (A fifth installment, Dead Men Tell No Tales, is on tap for 2017.)  True, the shtick gets progressively shtickier as the series sails on, but Depp is central to the skull-and-crossbones tentpole (or flagpole). And no one can take these oddball and adventurous performances away from the actor: Edward Scissorhands and Ed Wood for Tim Burton, Dead Man for Jim Jarmusch (a couple of scenes with Robert Mitchum, no less!), Donnie Brasco, Blow, Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas. And though it’s too sweet for some, many more found Chocolat, with Depp as a gypsy wooing Juliette Binoche, disarming and charming and Oscar worthy.

Here’s what Depp (who cameos as the lip-smacking pederast wolf in Into the Woods ) has lined up in the near future: London Fields, an adaptation of the Martin Amis novel, starring Depp’s current companion, Amber Heard, as the clairvoyant femme fatale; Kevin Smith’s teen party romp Yoga Hosers (OK, this is going to bomb) and Black Mass, the true crime story of Whitey Bulger. Depp stars as the infamous Boston mobster, and Benedict Cumberbatch, Sienna Miller, Kevin Bacon and Joel Edgerton join in for the fun. The director, Scott Cooper, did Crazy Heart, which won Jeff Bridges his Oscar. Maybe one – or more – of these will find an audience, and people will stop picking on Depp. And if they all do fizzle out at the multiplexes,  well,  let Charlie Mortdecai saunter off into the sunset with his walking stick and his mustache and his ascot and his faux upper crust accent and what little dignity he has. Johnny Depp, we knew him when he was cool.
POSTED: Wednesday, January 21, 2015, 5:27 PM
Patricia Arquette contemplates her future, in "Boyhood."

“I feel like I’ve watched this really strange shift in cinema over the course of my career,” Patricia Arquette observed, back last summer when Richard Linklater’s Boyhood, the 12-years-in-the-making movie about a kid growing up and the family growing up around him, was just rolling into theaters across the land. “I’ve seen it become a business of bankers and spreadsheets,” she added, noting that “the way that Rick chose to make this movie — the structure, the collaborative openness” was a reaction against a formula-following, demographic-driven industry.

“There are philosophical elements about the human connection, there is space for human relationships” in Boyhood, Arquette affirmed. Her performance, as a struggling single mom who makes some bad choices with the men in her life, and some good choices when it comes to raising her son (Ellar Coltrane) and daughter (Lorelei Linklater, the director’s kid), brings heartfelt specificity to challenges that working parents face everywhere, every day.

Arquette, an Emmy winner and Golden Globe nominee for her starring role on the NBC mystery series, Medium, said that signing up for Boyhood, in which the cast would shoot for a few weeks every year, as Coltrane’s character evolved from grade school to college dorm, was a daunting commitment. “It was jumping into the void from the get-go.”

POSTED: Thursday, January 15, 2015, 9:20 AM
Michael Keaton in "Birdman."

Birdman, a breathless backstage drama starring Michael Keaton as a fading Hollywood star trying to reclaim his career, and his soul, and The Grand Budapest Hotel, Wes Anderson’s between-the-wars screwball romp, tied with nine nominations apiece  as the list of films and filmmakers vying for the 87th Academy Awards were announced this morning in Beverly Hills.

Rounding out the eight (out of a possible ten) best picture contenders: American Sniper, Boyhood, The Imitation Game, Selma, The Theory of Everything and Whiplash. The Imitation Game came away with eight nominations,  and American Sniper and Boyhood followed with six each.

In the best actor race, Keaton, who made his screen debut in 1978, in the Joan Rivers-directed Rabbit Test, received his first Academy Award nomination. The Birdman star is up against Steve Carell for his transformative take on Newtown Square multimillionaire John du Pont in Foxcatcher, Bradley Cooper as the Navy SEAL marksman Chris Kyle in American Sniper, Benedict Cumberbatch as the British codebreaker and mathematician Alan Turing in The Imitation Game and Eddie Redmayne as  Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything. Keaton’s role is the sole fictional character in the bunch. And a surprise snub: no nomination for David Oyelowo, who stars as  Civil Rights icon Martin Luther King, Jr., in Selma.

POSTED: Wednesday, January 14, 2015, 4:55 PM

It’s one of the basic rules of Hollywood: if a film, or a formula, hits big, do it again. And again. And sometimes you don’t even wait to see if it’s a hit before you knock it off. That seems to be the case with the two Kevin Hart titles in the winter release lineup. In The Wedding Ringer, opening Friday, the Philly funnyman plays a guy who hires himself out to loser dudes who don’t have a best man for their wedding. Josh Gad is said dude, and thus a buddy comedy is born.

In Get Hard, opening March 27, Hart plays  a car wash employee hired by prison-bound (very) white collar criminal Will Ferrell to school him on how to survive life behind bars, assuming that Hart’s character has done time because of his “low income status” -- or as Hart puts it in the trailer, “I was being black.” And thus, a buddy comedy is born.

Here are three more Hart pairings we’d like to see:

POSTED: Wednesday, January 7, 2015, 4:35 PM
Roger Ebert gazes at a screen.

During an interview at the Toronto International Film Festival in September, Bill Murray -- there to promote his crowd-pleasing character piece, St. Vincent, and to be feted by the whole town during “Bill Murray Day” – remembered a Roger Ebert moment from earlier in the fellow Chicagoans’ careers.

“It was at Cannes, and I had done some movie like Broken Flowers which people were liking as a film, as acting," Murray recalled about the 2005 Jim Jarmusch indie. "And they said, 'Your acting is like almost invisible, it’s so good' — they were being nice, saying things like that.

“And I said, `That’s funny, because I was told a long time ago that I should not even be allowed to make anything but comedies -- ever.’ And Roger, who was sitting there, fell right into it, and said, `Who said that?’

About this blog

Steven Rea has been an Inquirer movie critic since 1992. He was born in London, raised in New York City, and has lived in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Iowa City, Iowa. His column, "On Movies," appears Sundays in Arts & Entertainment, his reviews appear in the Weekend section on Fridays, and his blog, On Movies Online, can be found here. He is a member of the National Society of Film Critics.

Steven Rea's previous blog posts can be found here. Read his most recent columns and reviews, here. He is the author of the book “Hollywood Rides a Bike,” and also curates the movie stars and bicycling photo blog, Rides A Bike.

Reach Steven at srea@phillynews.com.

Steven Rea Inquirer Movie Columnist and Critic
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