Tuesday, April 21, 2015

POSTED: Tuesday, November 26, 2013, 3:40 PM
Jennifer Lawrence in "American Hustle."

Jennifer Lawrence was paid $500,000 for her first turn as Katniss Everdeen in the then-unproven 2012 adaptation of Suzanne Collins’ young adult dystopian fantasy, The Hunger Games. For the second installment, the 23-year-old actress from Kentucky was paid $10 million. Not a bad pay raise. And not a bad investment for a film that opened to the tune of $158.1 million in ticket sales last weekend, the biggest opening ever for a November release. On top of that, Box Office Mojo ranked THG:CF's take as the sixth-biggest opening on record, and third all-time among 2D-only movies.

But Lawrence, who won the best actress Academy Award this February for her work in Silver Linings Playbook, isn’t done with 2013 yet. American Hustle, the ensemble piece inspired by the Abscam scandal of the late-'70s/early-'80s and directed by Silver Linings’ David O. Russell, had its first industry screening last weekend in Los Angeles. According to Pete Hammond at deadline.com, the audience – many of them members of the Screen Actors Guild and/or the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences – came away stoked by the roiling, rollicking tale of power, greed, crime, and an epic FBI sting operation. Here’s Hammond: “Even in this fiercely contested year, Best Picture, Director, Screenplay, Editing and Costume nods could be in the cards along with any number of possibilities for its superb ensemble including lead  actor Christian Bale, lead actress Amy Adams. supporting actors Bradley Cooper and Jeremy Renner, and supporting actress Jennifer Lawrence. Especially Lawrence; she is simply dazzling as Bale’s wife, a total knockout scene-stealer throughout. If she hadn’t already won.... Best Actress for Silver Linings Playbook, there is no doubt she might be unbeatable here.”

Lawrence, who made the rounds of the talk shows last week, snuggling under a blanket with David Letterman and giving Jon Stewart a hard time, has a few more projects in the works. There’s The Hunger Games Parts 3 and 4, of course, and then there’s the Depression era Serena, with Bradley Cooper again; Bryan Singer’s X-men: Days of Future Past; the Farrelly Brothers Dumb and Dumber To, and a couple of projects she’s attached to with her first Hunger Games’ director, Gary Ross.

Steven Rea @ 3:40 PM  Permalink | 0 comments
POSTED: Wednesday, November 20, 2013, 5:08 PM

There’ve been some sharp movie parodies of late, like Saturday Night Live’s trailer for a Wes Anderson horror film, The Midnight Coterie of Sinister Intruders, and, well, Anderson’s splendid (kind of) self-parody, a Prada-sponsored short called “Castello Cavalcanti” starring Jason Schwartzman.  

And now a crack crew of preschool programmers over at the Sesame Workshop have taken a stab at The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, encapsulating --  and shish kebobbing – the second installment in the mega-franchise. The five-minute  video. “The Hungry Games: Catching Fur," gets to the essence of the movie’s conflicts and characters in short order, even incorporating the new film’s menacing monkeys and toxic fog. None other than Cookie Monster stars -- a perfectly-honed homage to Jennifer Lawrence’s Katniss Everdeen. He (well, she -- Cookie Monster has a wig on) is Cookieness Evereat, and she’s reluctantly back in the Games, even though she thought she wasn’t, joined by Pita (yes, Josh Hutcherson transformed into a piece of bread!) and some of the other “tributes”: Finnicky (a finicky eater) and Tick Tock Lady, a dead-on impression of the super-annoying Amanda Plummer from Catching Fire.

Here’s a link to the video. And may the cookies be ever in your flavor.

Steven Rea @ 5:08 PM  Permalink | 0 comments
POSTED: Wednesday, November 13, 2013, 12:44 PM
The Roxy Theatre at 2023 Sansom Street in Philadelphia. ( DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer )

It’s been shuttered for more than a year, but this Friday, November 15, the Roxy Theater on Sansom Street is scheduled to re-open for business, its twin houses spruced up, with new projection and sound systems installed, and a new programming entity -- the Philadelphia Film Society -- at the helm. Officially dubbed the PFS Theater at the Roxy, the Rittenhouse Square area venue kicks off with the weekend-long International Children’s Film Festival, a mix of animated and live-action features and shorts aimed at kids and their grown-up tagalongs. Zarafa, a French feature about a boy and a giraffe, and the giraffe’s  travels from Africa to France in the 1820s, is the Friday night opener. A fanciful retelling of a true story, the Gallic ‘toon was released in its homeland last year, winning over audiences  with its traditional animation style – rich colors, widescreen landscapes – and tales of exotic derring-do. The kid fest continues Saturday and Sunday, with programs of shorts, with animated features from Italy (a new Pinocchio) and  Japan (Wolf Children, Welcome to the Space Show) and live-action features from China (Starry Starry Night) and Belgium (the closing night kid-detective caper, The Zigzag Kid).

Also on the docket in the PFS’ inaugural run: Caucus, AJ Schnack’s well-received doc about the 2012 Republican Party presidential primary season -- and specifically the all-important Iowa caucus campaigns. Who doesn’t want to re-live the thrilling days of yesteryear, as eight starry-eyed presidential wannabes -- Michelle Bachman, Rick Perry and Rick Santorum  among them -- troop around the state trying to curry favor with Tea Party zealots and the Republican faithful? Spoiler alert: some guy named Mitt Romney wins. Oops, actually, it's Santorum who wins when the ballots are all tallied!

For Children’s Film Festival tickets and times, go to http://filmadelphia.org/picff/. For “Caucus” screening info: http://filmadelphia.org/events/caucus/

Steven Rea @ 12:44 PM  Permalink | 0 comments
POSTED: Tuesday, November 5, 2013, 5:00 PM
Citizens of Summerilse look on. Robin Hardy�s THE WICKER MAN (1973). Courtesy: Rialto Pictures/ Studiocanal

It’s Harvest Festival time on Summerisle, a tiny island off the coast of Scotland, but amid all the dancing and prancing and naked coupling in the garden behind the  pub, things are getting a wee bit strange. Or so, at least, it seems to Sgt. Neil Howie (Edward Woodward), an upright policeman and devout Christian who has flown his seaplane from the mainland to investigate the disappearance of a teenage girl.

Thus begins The Wicker Man, Robin Hardy’s nutty celebration of heathenism, procreation, Celtic music, fertility rites, human sacrifice, new-fanglerd farming techniques, animal masks and a naked, bum-slapping Brit Ekland. With a script by Sleuth scribe Anthony Shaffer, the British indie, shot in and around a cluster of lovely little Scottish villages and on the Isle of Whithorn, bombed when it came out in 1973, but soon found its ardent fans. In 1979, the film -- with Christopher Lee as the Dionysian noble Lord Summerisle, and a bevy of actresses (Bond girl – and Sean Connery spouse – Diane Cilento, Hammer Horror gal Ingrid Pitt) ) – was hailed as “the Citizen Kane of horror movies” by Cinefantastique magazine. To celebrate its 40th anniversary, Rialto Films has issued a restored version, opening Friday, Nov. 8, at the Ritz Bourse.

The new edit, approved by director Hardy, incorporates a scene when Woodward’s sarge first spies Lee’s Summerisle performing a rather randy ballad, “Gentle Johnny,” for the publican’s saucy siren of a daughter. (Ekland’s singing was dubbed by Annie Ross, of the jazz trio Lambert, Hendricks and Ross.) There are other, grainier, inserts, too, including cutaway shots of snails in the throes of commingling.

Steven Rea @ 5:00 PM  Permalink | 0 comments
POSTED: Wednesday, October 30, 2013, 5:29 PM
The Quay Brothers contemplate.

Stephen and Timothy Quay, originally from Norristown, graduates of the University of the Arts (class of ’69)  and longtime residents of London, England, return to their old stomping grounds on Monday, Nov. 4, to show off their latest short, “(UN)MISTAKEN HANDS: EX VOTO F.H,” at the Arts Bank, Broad and South Streets. The sibling duo, experimental filmmakers who work in stop-motion animation, using puppets, dolls and the detritus of everyday life, were artists in residence a few years back at the Mutter Museum, where they made a very artsy promo film for the one-of-a-kind medical history storehouse.

The Arts Bank evening, sponsored by the Quays’ alma mater, begins at 6 p.m.  with a screening of their 2010 adaptation of Stanislaw Lem's "Maska," followed by the premiere of their new film and ending with a Q&A  -- or Quay & A. "[UN]MISTAKEN HANDS: EX-VOTO F. H." revolves around the work and life of Uruguayan pianist and writer Felisberto Hernández,  often cited  as "the father of magic realism.”

 The Quay event is free and open to the public. Info here.

Steven Rea @ 5:29 PM  Permalink | 0 comments
POSTED: Thursday, October 24, 2013, 11:32 AM
Sharon Leal and Hill Harper in "1982."

Philadelphia Film Festival 22 can’t get any more Philly than it does Saturday, in the closing weekend program at the Prince Music Theater. Starting at noon and ending close to midnight, five features in the fest’s “Greater Filmadelphia” program screen back to back to back (to back to back), offering fiction and non-fiction takes on the city, its surrounding environs and the people who sprung from the area.  Here’s the lineup, in screening order:

TOWN HALL -- Sierra Pettengell and Jamila Wignot’s documentary closeup of Tea Party activists during the 2012 campaign focuses on Berks County salesman-turned-conservative crusader John Stahl and Katy Abram, a stay-at-home mom who becomes a policy analyst at Americans for Prosperity.  

LET THE FIRE BURNJason Osder’s formula-busting doc takes a new look at the devastating events of May 13, 1985, when the city dropped an incendiary device on the MOVE compound in West Philadelphia, resulting in the deaths of 11 people and the destruction of 61 homes. A new and innovative use of old archival footage, TV news and police video tells a chilling tale.

Steven Rea @ 11:32 AM  Permalink | 0 comments
POSTED: Wednesday, October 16, 2013, 2:10 PM
Roy Abramsohn eats what he foolishly believes is a turkey leg, in "Escape from Tomorrow." Alison Lees-Taylor looks on.

If you’ve ever had a panic attack in a theme park, a freakout at a crowded fair, or simply reflected on your life a little doomily while waiting on an endless line to gain entrance to some hugely popular amusement ride, boy, do the folks at Awesome Fest have the movie for you. On Sunday night at the Trocadero, Escape from Tomorrow -- a surreal and darkly comic black-and-white indie about a family’s trip to Disney World – gets its Philadelphia premiere. A hit at Sundance, Randy Moore’s subversive pic was shot in the Florida theme park without the knowledge, or approval, of Disney officials – not that they would ever have okayed this trippy nightmare, in which a husband (Roy Abramsohn) starts his day at the resort hotel with a cellphone call informing him he’s lost his job, then spends the ensuing hours on the trail of two French teenage girls, ogling them ickily while he drags his  kids around the Magic Kingdom.  Elena Schuber plays the guy’s nagging, needling wife, and various Disney cast members -- including some iconic rodents, dogs and princesses – make unwitting cameos. Abramsohn, born and bred in Philly, returns from L.A. to field questions  -- and deflect spews of Cat Flu-carrying saliva, perhaps? (see the film!) -- for the Sunday night affair.

Twisted, terrifying and terrifyingly funny, Escape from Tomorrow pokes its figurative fingers into the dark underbelly of one of America’s entertainment institutions  -- and into the psyche of a nation fed on feel-good promises and pricy admission fees. For info, go to: http://theawesomefest.com/

Steven Rea @ 2:10 PM  Permalink | 0 comments
POSTED: Thursday, October 10, 2013, 11:21 AM
Picture shows: Lady Gaga in a character poster for the movie.

For a cheap-o “Mexploitation” pic starring grizzled tough guy Danny Trejo as a South of the Border cop turned superspy, Machete Kills certainly boasts an upmarket cast. Robert Rodriguez, the hyperactive Austin, Texas-based writer/director/cinematographer/editor/producer behind the sequel to 2010’s Machete (itself spawned from a faux-trailer attached to Rodriguez’s and buddy Quentin Tarantino’s Grindhouse double-bill), dropped into town the other day, and explained how he landed Lady Gaga, Mel Gibson, Charlie Sheen and Amber Heard for his over-the-top spectacle.

About meta pop diva Gaga, who plays a gun-slinging super-moll called La Chameleon, Rodriguez says: “After the first Machete she had said something in the press about how she loved it, and how her music should have been in it. Her  song `Americano’ had just come out… So I thought I’m going to call her up and see if she wants to be in the sequel!.... So I wrote her a part and she came down and I could tell she was going to be good…. And the camera loves her like nobody’s business. You may even look at her and think, OK, she may not be the prettiest girl. But you put the camera on her and she’s the prettiest girl. It was a lot of fun. I can’t wait to work with her again. I may have already worked with her again,” he adds, making a not-so-subtle allusion to his Sin City sequel, A Dame to Kill For.

About Mel, who plays a meglomaniacal evil mastermind: “He was in Austin for the premiere of Get the Gringo, so of course I know everybody in Austin, I get on the red carpet with him -- `Hey , a photo opp with Mel!’ --  and I followed him backstage … and talked his ear off . And by the end of the night, he was like, `I’d love to do it….’  And Mel had always just stood out as my favorite — better than any James Bond villain, for sure.”

Steven Rea @ 11:21 AM  Permalink | 0 comments
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
Latest Videos:
Also on Philly.com:
Stay Connected