Friday, January 30, 2015

POSTED: Wednesday, April 30, 2014, 5:01 PM
Bob Hoskins goes toe-to-toe with curvaceous cartoon Jessica Rabbit in "Who Framed Roger Rabbit."

Bob Hoskins, the English actor known for his roles as a soft-hearted ex-con in the great crime pic Mona Lisa, as the hardboiled detective who falls for a cartoon femme fatale in the breakthrough live-action/animated hit Who Framed Roger Rabbit, and as the pirate sidekick Smee in Steven Spielberg’s Hook, died Tuesday, April 29, in London. He was 71 and had retired from acting in 2012, after appearing as one of the dwarves in the Kristen Stewart fantasy, Snow White and the Huntsman. (Hoskins was Muir, the blind dwarf, his face and body digitally transmuted.)

Hoskins, the son of a teacher and a truck driver, left school at 15 and worked odd jobs. A decade later, in one of those legendary “discovery” tales, he accompanied a friend to a London audition and ended up getting handed a script, and then the part. Theater work led to TV, and in 1972, when he was almost 30, he was cast in his first film, as a recruiting sergeant in the Frankie Howerd comedy Up the Front. In 1978 he won the lead in the brilliant BBC adaptation of the Dennis Potter musical, Pennies from Heaven, nominated for best actor by BAFTA, the British Academy for Film and Television Arts.

Must-see Hoskins titles include The Long Good Friday, the 1980 John Mackenzie film in which the old school Cockney played an old-school gangster looking to go “legit,” working opposite Helen Mirren; Mona Lisa (1986), with Hoskins, Oscar-nominated, as an ex-con assigned to chauffeur around a call girl (Cathy Tyson), only to discover he’s fallen for her and wants to protect her, Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988), Robert Zemeckis’ homage to Hollywood noir, in which Hoskins acted, and interacted, with a bunch of cartoon characters, and the tough, under-seen troubled-youth boxing pic, Shane Meadows' Twenty Four Seven (1997). Hoskins brought heft to portrayals of historical figures Nikita Kruschev (Enemy at the Gates), Winston Churchill (World War II: When Lions Roared)  and J. Edgar Hoover (Oliver Stone’s Nixon). He was an unlikely leading man opposite Cher in 1990’s Mermaids, and a go-to character actor for the likes of Spielberg, Terry Gilliam (in Brazil) and Fred Schepisi (Last Orders).

Hoskins tried his hand at directing, too, debuting, in 1988, with The Raggedy Rawny, about an Army deserter who joins a band of gypsies, and then, in 1995, the children’s fantasy, Rainbow. Hoskins was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2011. He died from complications of pneumonia.

POSTED: Thursday, April 24, 2014, 7:58 AM
Bryn Mawr Film Institute 824 W. Lancaster Ave

The Bryn Mawr Film Institute, the second largest member-supported art house in the country (7,000-plus and counting), celebrates its grand “reopening” on Sunday, April 27, with the formal dedication of the cinema complex and its two new state-of-the-art, wall-to-wall screened digital theaters. While the two new houses, each with 165 seats in tiered stadium-style rows, have been up and running since the end of January, Sunday’s festivities (music, dancing, food, fun – and films, of course) mark the official debut..

The Main Line movie mecca, which began its life in 1926 as The Seville, an opulent cinema palace, has become a go-to destination for area film lovers, whether they be members of the BMFI or not. On Friday, April 25, the programming lineup includes Wes Anderson’s hit The Grand Budapest Hotel, the Mumbai love story The Lunchbox, the holocaust drama, Walking With the Enemy, starring Sir Ben Kingsley (the British actor is a BMFI board member), Le Week-End  and the documentary gem, Finding Vivian Maier.

With the addition of the two new houses -- the end-point of a three-phase, nine-year, $10 million restoration and expansion drive – “our programming opportunities have vastly increased,” says Juliet Goodfriend, the BMFI’s tireless executive director. On top of its regular theatrical runs, BMFI books numerous special events, film courses, repertory programs and other screenings.

POSTED: Thursday, April 17, 2014, 8:28 AM
From 'We Could Be King'

Philadelphia films, and filmmakers, are well represented in the lineup of features and documentaries screening at the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival , which began Wednesday, April 16 and runs through April 27.

Already generating lots of buzz is Judd Ehrlich’s We Could Be King, about the 2013 closing of Germantown  High School and the struggles and changes faced by students in its football team as they try to assimilate with their arch-rivals at Martin Luther King High. Ehrlich’s film, which has its world premiere at Tribeca on April 23, was funded with support from the Dick’s Sporting Goods Foundation’s “Sports Matter” campaign, which supports youth sports in communities around the country. We Could Be King will screen on ESPN2 April 26.

Tomorrow We Disappear, premiering Saturday, April 19, was shot in Delhi and tracks a group of slum-dwelling magicians, puppeteers and acrobats threatened with eviction by developers. The documentary comes from Philly natives and Penn alum  Jimmy Goldblum and Adam Weber.

POSTED: Thursday, April 10, 2014, 10:31 AM
Tye Sheridan sports the firearm, Nicolas Cage sports the look of woe, in "Joe."

In Joe, the hardscrabble tale of a whiskey-stoked, cigarette-smoked ex-con who runs a tree-poisoning business in backcountry Texas, Nicolas Cage gives the kind of performance we haven’t seen from the guy in years – it’s rooted in the real.  Directed by David Gordon Green, adapted from the 1991 Larry Brown novel, Joe opens Friday at the Ritz Bourse and the Bryn Mawr Film Institute – and serves to remind moviegoers that Cage is capable of more than cartoonish turns in comic book actioners, Hollywood horror and high-concept fare.

The actor turned 50 in January, and, according to IMDB, has 74 screen credits to his name. Here’s a quick look back at the best and the worst the Oscar-winning, Razzie-nominated star is capable of -- a Cage match of the stellar, and the cellar, roles.

The Best                                                                                             

POSTED: Wednesday, April 2, 2014, 5:51 PM
Scarlett Johansson goes hunting for man flesh in "Under the Skin."

Scarlett Johansson is back in her Black Widow gear, reteamed with Marvel’s red-white-and-blue supersoldier Chris Evans in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, opening everywhere April 4. Next week, the 29-year-old star shows up in something far stranger and more adventurous: she’s the mysterious femme fatale in Under the Skin, an eerie, experimental mood piece steeped in sex and death, about a nameless female who drives around Scotland, seducing men, and then luring them to their demise. The Jonathan Glazer indie is easily the least mainstream  title in Johansson’s filmography.

And the voice of Spike Jonze’s Her  has another mind-bender coming: Lucy, from prolific metteur en scene Luc Besson --shot in Taipei, and sparking controversy while it was in production (Besson bad-mouthing the local media). Johansson plays a drug runner who ingests what she’s smuggling, a blue liquid-y uber-pharmeceutical, and whoosh, suddenly she’s got almost superhuman mental and physical abilities. Kinda like the chemical that Bradley Cooper’s deadbeat scribe starts taking in the Philly-shot Limitless, no? ”All this knowledge,” says the awed neuroscientist Morgan Freeman. “You can unlock secrets that go beyond our universe. I’m not even sure that mankind is ready for you,”

Here’s a trailer from Lucy. It’s coming this summer, assuming mankind is ready.


POSTED: Wednesday, March 26, 2014, 4:27 PM
"Trick Baby" screens at CFF April 24.

Cinedelphia 2014, a truly alternative film festival, officially begins Friday, April 4 – running through April 29th, but on Tuesday, April Fool’s Day, there’ll be a free multimedia preview event – with free pizza, too – to help befuddled filmgoers figure their way through the maze of live music, burlesque, video, film and whatever's in store. Here are just a few highlights:

Life of Pia (April 11), a comedic celebration of the ‘80s Golden Globe winner, Dubonnet spokesmodel and pop cult icon, Pia Zadora .

7 Faces of Dr. Lao (April 12), a free screening of the 1964 George Pal-directed  fantasy, with Tony Randall in a truly multi-faceted turn a a circus maestro, and as Merlin, Apolloniius, a giant serpent,  the Abominable Snowman, Pan and Medusa. With I Dream of Jeannie’s Barbara Eden along for the ride.

POSTED: Wednesday, March 19, 2014, 5:48 PM
Detail from cover of Harlem Hellfighters.

From World War Z to World War I: Max Brooks’ new graphic novel, The Harlem Hellfighters, a fictionalized account of the African American 369th Regiment’s tour of the trenches of France, is on its way to the big screen – acquired by Will Smith’s Overbrook Entertainment, which has a development deal with Sony Pictures.

To be published by Broadway Books on April 1st, the Caanan White-illustrated trade paperback tracks the highly decorated unit from enlistment lines in Harlem to training camp in South Carolina to the bloody fields of France. Brooks, of course, is the author of the zombie bestseller World War Z, turned into a big Brad Pitt hit. No word on whether Smith plans to appear in The Harlem Hellfighters, which will deal with both the regiment’s European triumphs and  the discrimination and disdain the soldiers faced upon their return home. Smith has a lot on his plate: he stars in the heist pic Focus, coming next year; Hancock 2 and Bad Boys 3 are both on the drawing boards, and Brilliance, an adaptation of the Marcus Sakey Edgar Award-nominated thriller, about a Federal agent with  with some exceptional terrorist-tracking talents, is getting set to shoot with Smith in the lead.

POSTED: Friday, March 7, 2014, 1:29 PM
Bathtime chez Delts. David Warner gazes adoringly at Vanessa Redgrave, from "Morgan!"

“Nothing in this world seems to live up to my best fantasies, except you.”

A mid-‘60s swinging London comedy/love story/tale of madness, Morgan! A Suitable Case for Treatment gets a rare area screening on Tuesday, March 18, thanks to the folks at the Chestnut Hill Film Group. This forgotten gem, directed by Karel Reisz, has a bit of the British New Wave’s Billy Liar about it – a colorful, screw-loose protagonist lost in his own wild imaginings. In this case, that’s Morgan Delt (David Warner), a gangly, passionate, fisherman sweater-clad son of Marxists, whose obsessions with the simian life have gotten out of hand – he only feels himself when he’s inside a gorilla suit, scaling townhouse walls, riding a motor bike around town.

Vanessa Redgrave -- in her screen debut, and landing an Oscar nomination for her troubles -- plays Morgan’s artsy, well-to-do muse and missus, and she loves Morgan, too, but his grunting, sniffing, chest-beating antics have become too much to bear. She’s filed for divorce, and has suitors knocking. Funny, sweet, sad, smart, and shot by the great Larry Pizer, Morgan! represents ‘60s British cinema at its adventurous, freewheeling best.

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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