FILM NEXUS Vol. 7: Vampires
Fri, Jun 6 2014 11:56
Since the silent film era, the vampire myth has provided inspiration to great filmmakers. The myriad aspects of the legend to exploit provide the point of view for each film, whether it is the horror, the romance, or the existential angst of being fully aware of one’s own immortality. Certainly it is the latter of those facets that inspired prolific American filmmaker Jim Jarmusch with his most recent film, “Only Lovers Left Alive,” which opens tonight at Cinema Center and stars Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston, as vampires going through a bit of a ‘what-does-it-all-mean’ period.
Being a bit of an eclectic director, drawing on influences from postwar Japanese dramas, as well as a bit of Shakespeare, and the lives of his rock star friends, Jarmusch has found a way to bring a completely fresh take on the vampire story. And because of that, he has also directed one of the coolest additions to the genre. After catching “Only Lovers Left Alive” this weekend at Cinema Center, take some time to go back to these interesting building blocks to the great wall that is the modern vampire film tradition available on Netflix streaming.
This silent film classic created the impact of almost every vampire motif that lasts to this day. When the Bram Stoker estate would not grant filmmaker F.W. Murnau permission to adapt “Dracula” to the big screen, he took matters into his own hands and renamed the characters and filmed it anyway. Max Schreck’s Count Orlok is the placeholder for Dracula, and never has the classic monster been so scary. Using lighting to elongate shadows, the creepy factor goes off the charts, while maintaining a beauty to the images.
The adaptation of Sergei Lukyanenko’s novel of the same name, was a huge blockbuster in its native Russia. The story is complicated, but basically everything breaks down to a secret truce between the warriors of Light and the forces of Darkness, and how the agreement is falling apart in modern day Russia. The scenes where these armies battle each other have never looked like anything else in a vampire film. This film should be appreciated for its strong visuals, as the narrative falls apart as the film progresses. Even the subtitles are incorporated into the imagery, not wasting any space on the screen.
“From Dusck Till Dawn” does not seem like a vampire movie. When director Robert Rodriguez read the script by Quentin Tarantino (who also stars in the film alongside George Clooney, Juliette Lewis, and Harvey Keitel), he dedicated himself to realizing it because he loved how much the film would have a “Pyscho”-ish feel in its storytelling. The movie begins like a lot of Rodriguez and Tarantino films do, with tough guys, played by Clooney and Tarantino, in over there heads after a robbery gone wrong results in them taking a hostage. The first half of the film is just about the duo hijacking an RV with Keitel’s family behind the wheel, into Mexico. Once they get over the border, things just get crazy, as the criminals and captives must become allies in a roadhouse full of bloodthirsty vampires. The film is silly in a lot of the ways that comic book movies, and vampire movies, used to be, and the practical effects still hold up in much the way they do in old George Romero films.
Jonah Crismore is Cinema Center’s Executive Director and always in a state of existential angst.
“Only Lovers Left Alive” opens Friday, June 6th, at 9:15pm.
FILM NEXUS Vol. 6: Teenage
Fri, Apr 25 2014 02:42
While working on getting everything in order for Cinema Center’s premiere of the documentary “Teenage” tonight, I thought a lot about how important of a role films played in my life during those formative years. It was the first time I looked at filmmaking as a process that I could possibly learn, the behind-the-scenes commentary and documentaries were new special features on many DVDs, and I have to admit I learned almost as much from listening and watching those as I did the whole time I studied film in college.
The following films, all available on Netflix streaming, are not necessarily the best films of the era, but they are the films that opened my eyes the widest to the possibilities of film. After catching “Teenage” at Cinema Center this weekend, I strongly recommend going back to some of the favorite films of your adolescence. Here are mine:
More than any movie from the 1990s independent film explosion, “Clerks” made me believe I could pick up a camera and make a feature-length film. Kevin Smith’s debut film about a day in the life of foul-mouthed convenience store clerks Dante and Randal was hilarious, as well as a call to action to filmmakers everywhere. The film showed that with the right characters in the right script, deficiencies in things like lighting, sound, and even camera movements could all be forgiven as long as the audience was entertained.
Pulp Fiction (1994)
Before it was cool to be nerdy, it was really not cool to be a film geek. That all changed when director Quentin Tarantino burst onto the independent film scene with his genre classic “Reservoir Dogs” in 1992, and suddenly movies were cool. However, it was Tarantino’s follow-up, “Pulp Fiction,” that I first saw a few years after it was released, when it felt like I was watching films from a master filmmaker. I watched “Pulp Fiction” pretty much on repeat for a summer, trying to understand all the intricate knots the story tied. For probably a decade after its release, its impact was felt with every edgy, crime film Hollywood released, but none came close to its ability to humanize, and offer possible redemption, to very bad men. In recent years, its influence has started to wane, but that will change as teens across the globe watch it for the first time and spend summers studying just what makes it so good.
When I was a teenager, I suffered from pretty severe headaches, and to a certain extent I still do. As a weird kid who stayed inside most days watching movies, I didn't really connect with anyone else who had this problem, but when I first watched “Pi,” I was convinced Darren Aronofsky understood it completely. His debut film is a story about a mathematician who just may have used numbers to unlock the mysteries of the universe. Shot in a gritty black and whites, the film is paranoid, a bit hallucinogenic, bizarre, a lot of fun, and in my opinion, Aronofsky’s best film.
Jonah Crismore is Executive Director of Cinema Center and after looking back, thinks he had pretty good taste for a sixteen year old.
“Teenager” opens on Friday, April 25th at 6:30.
FILM NEXUS Vol. 5: Nymphomaniac
Fri, Apr 11 2014 10:49
Day of doom. Armageddon. The apocalypse. I believe you can tell a lot about how a filmmaker sees the world in how they envision its destruction. In recent years, it seems most view it in terms of looting, unprecedented urban and environmental destruction, and survivors only carrying on by exhibiting the worst of human nature.
Picture for a second that you are an alien life form and sitting front and center for Earth’s last minutes, if the certainty of absolute impending annihilation was thrust upon the human race, would you want to watch all the widespread panic, or would you be more interested with how the puny humans below are coping with this knowledge, and all the last, smaller stories that are born.
For director Lars von Trier, he is much more interested in the latter of the two options, and finds ways of incorporating personal apocalypses in many of his films, whether the end of the world for his characters is literal or figurative. Today, April 11th, Cinema Center opens “Nymphomaniac: Vol. 1” with “Vol. 2” to open next week.
The film follows Joe, who is found beaten in an alleyway at age 50, and she tells the story of her very sexual life to a Good Samaritan. While there is much to celebrate, as well as be appalled by, find funny, and sympathize with Joe’s life as it is recounted over the course of two feature films, the beginning of the film most definitely signifies the end of the world as Joe has known it up until that point.
Von Trier is excellent taking his characters up to points when they cannot progress any more, and then showing what happens when they attempt that one last step. One of his greatest recent films that is streaming on Netflix, and provides a perfect complement to “Nymphomaniac: Vol. 1” is “Melancholia” from 2011. The film stars Kirsten Dunst as Justine, a depressed woman living with her sister’s family when a rogue planet is going to collide with Earth, ending life on the planet.
In “Melancholia,” von Trier’s take on the end of the world resembles more of the Greek translation of apocalypse, meaning knowledge of something that was hidden. Justine, through her depressed state, is able to find an almost unnerving calm about the end of life on Earth. While her family panics in their own ways about the planet’s demise, Justine becomes a stabilizing force, and exhibits strength when perhaps it is put to it greatest use. When Earth’s collision with the rogue planet, Justine faces it with grace, and does not turn from it.
While it takes nearly all of “Melancholia” for Justine to realize she needn’t look away from the inevitable, Joe in both volumes of “Nymphomaniac,” never looks away throughout the entire saga. The apocalypse for Joe, is not so much a question of if she will change her ways, but whether she even needs to entertain the notion. The end of the world for Joe is playing by someone else’s rules.
Nymphomaniac: Vol. 1 opens today at Cinema Center.
Nymphomaniac: Vol. 2 opens April 18th
Jonah Crismore is the Executive Director of Cinema Center and hopes you will take a chance with Nymphomaniac, even though it is rated NC-17.
FILM NEXUS Vol. 4: Comic Book Movies
Fri, Mar 28 2014 10:02
Some of my fondest memories of growing up on the northeast side of Ft. Wayne are visiting Books, Comics, and Things in Georgetown every weekend, usually when my mom did grocery shopping at the Kroger, which was then Roger’s. In those days, the comic book release schedule was not broadcasted on the internet, you just had to show up and hope they had the newest issue of a Jim Lee illustrated issue of X-Men, or you would just happen upon something drawn by Rob Leifeld that featured men with big muscles, holding big guns, and probably missing feet. I am still nostalgic for the smell of newsprint, on the rare instance these days I catch a whiff of it, I automatically feel the excitement, and the anticipation for what new issue I would find and take home.
A few of my friends and I would joke about who we would cast in the various comic book adapted movies we came up with in our overactive heads, and what storylines would present the best cinematic experience. We joked because at the time, there were hardly any comic book adaptations, and those that existed besides the first two Superman films and the Tim Burton Batman films, were pretty weak.
Then something happened, Hollywood got hip to comics, and hip to them in a big way. I don’t think it is an accident that as large studios began thinning their development departments that comic books began their rise to the top cash cows for so many companies, they practically come story-boarded. I also believe there was a whole lot going on in the late 1990s through early 2000s that fed to the public’s demand of movies that featured heroes, sometimes tragically flawed, but still were able to accomplish incredible acts of bravery.
Some of those films are pretty great, but as I got older, I started to gravitate toward the comics that did feature characters in outrageous costumes, I started to read stuff by Daniel Clowes, Harvey Pekar, Neil Gaiman, and Alan Moore, writers and cartoonist who interjected much more real life experiences, musings about humanity’s role in the universe, and how we all fail into their stories that could only exist in comic form. Or so I thought. The movies came calling again, and works by those artists started to show up on movie theater screens everywhere, and the movies became a better for it.
On Saturday, Cinema Center is partnering with the Appleseed Comic Con for a local comic artist drink and draw event, followed by a screening of the Daniel Clowes classic “Ghost World,” starring Thora Birch, Scarlett Johansson, and Steve Buscemi. This is the comic film that showed me what kind of story comic books are capable of telling. Come out at 8, mingle with some local comic artists, and then stay for the screening of “Ghost Wold” at 9:30. As a bonus, Cinema Center will be screening “Ghostbusters” as part of the Midnight Movie Series that night and you can see it for only $5!
After you catch “Ghost World” at Cinema Center, be sure to catch some of these great films, adapted from comic books that are available for streaming on Netflix:
Blue is the Warmest Color (2013)
The Adventures of Tintin (2011)
The Crow (1994)
Fritz the Cat (1972)
The Walking Dead TV series (2010)
Comic Book Men TV series (2012)
Jonah Crismore is Cinema Center's Executive Director and is currently digging Jason Aaron and R. M. Guéra's "Scalped."
FILM NEXUS VOL. 3: Better Living Through Chemistry
A timid small-town pharmacist, with a wife who walks over him every chance she gets, a son with a strange obsessive take on school vandalism, and a boss who belittles him on a regular basis meets an eccentric, bored with life, femme fatale who convinces him to give into his darker side, with a lot of help from various chemical sources – a remake of countless films noir? Not exactly, though the film “Better Living Through Chemistry”, now showing at Cinema Center, definitely owes a quite a bit of its set-up to movies like “Double Indemnity” and “The Postman Always Rings Twice.” However, as the greats from the film noir period where weighted down, almost literally, in the shadows of the characters’ immoral deeds, “Better Living Through Chemistry” pokes fun at those elements and satirizes them to great effect.
What makes the dark humor in “Better Living Through Chemistry” work is the transition of humdrum protagonist Doug Varney into uninhibited hedonist, and that transformation is believable because Varney is played by Sam Rockwell. There always seems to be some anger just under the surface with Rockwell’s characters, even in his role as the mentor lifeguard in “The Way, Way Back” from this summer, he seemed to be mad at the world and his place in it. No matter the role, Rockwell holds a lid over that darkness that is just ready to erupt, and that inner conflict creates great comedy in many of his roles.
Dark comedies are one of my favorite film genres, but there is a great level of difficulty in pulling them off effectively, think about how easy it is to go “too far” and lose faith from the audience from making fun of a character’s suffering. Here is a list of some of the successful dark comedies that can be found on Netflix streaming. Feel free to binge watch them all after seeing Sam Rockwell do his thing in “Better Living Through Chemistry” at Cinema Center. Also, if you have any ideas for films you would like to see at Cinema Center, private message our Facebook account before midnight tonight (3/21) and we will send you a coupon for FREE concessions.
World’s Greatest Dad (2009)
Very few directors could turn the tragedy that occurs at the beginning of this film into the jumping off point for a biting satire about fame, family, love, and all those other things that people aspire to obtain, but lucky for us Bobcat Goldthwait (yes, the guy from the “Police Academy” films) has turned his attention to making dark comedies like “World’s Greatest Dad.” The film stars Robin Williams as a well-meaning father and struggling writer whose most famous work is spawned from a lie and humiliating catastrophe. Like most great dark comedies, this film walks a thin line between making you want to laugh, and just making you cry for its characters. It features one of Robin Williams’ best performances, who is able to invoke sympathy, even after doing some pretty despicable things throughout the course of its mostly high school-set story. The tight script even finds a way to integrate the Bruce Hornsby-heavy soundtrack into a bit of a plot point.
Uncle Errol (that’s what I call him, anyway) Morris is known for making documentaries that showcase all forms of the human condition, in a nonjudgmental way, mostly because he has the ability to get people talking and they forget they are being filmed through the use of his interrotron machine. In “Tabloid,” Morris explores the famous ‘Mormon Sex in Chains’ case that created a British tabloid war throughout the late 1970s. Joyce McKinney was accused of kidnapping a Mormon man, who she knew before he moved to England, and keeping him chained to a bed, and forcing him for sexual favors. The film goes to lengths of not making fun of anyone involved, or the nature of any alleged crimes, but it allows McKinney to explain herself, and as she does so, her story begins to double-back on itself, unwind, and soon it doesn’t even seem like McKinney is exactly sure what happened. A bit like Akira Kurosawa’s “Rashomon,” nearly everyone in this film has a different idea about what happened during the course of events it explores, and no one’s account is quite as outrageous as McKinney’s.
Tucker & Dale vs. Evil (2010)
Poor Tucker and Dale, they just want to spend some time together fixing up their vacation home that just happens to look like the every dilapidated cabin found in almost every horror film. That is exactly what a group of college students think, and through a series of misunderstandings, believe the harmless Tucker and Dale are murderers out to get them, so they decide to attack the duo before anything horrible happens. And, then very, very horrible things happen. Decapitations, impalements, and other horrible ways to die have never been quite as funny as in “Tucker and Dale vs. Evil,” and part of the reason is because the heroes are so sweet, and the pesky college kids are so privileged and stupid to think that just because the cabin needs a coat of paint, anyone who resides in there must mean them harm. When you look past the blood and the gore, at its heart, “Tucker and Dale” is a comedy of manners, not unlike a lot of Shakespearean comedies, only full of more entrails.
In case the dark comedies above can’t hold you over, here is a list of other films worth exploring. Don’t forget to Facebook message us your film suggestions and get a coupon for FREE concessions.
Where the Buffalo Roam (1980) – Hunter S. Thompson’s first screen persona, played by the one and only Bill Murray!
Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (2002) – Another great film starring Sam Rockwell
Wilfred TV Series (2011)
Vampire’s Kiss (1989) – the mother of all dark comedies, the mother of all Nicolas Cage performances – Not available on Netflix, at all.
Jonah Crismore is Cinema Center’s Executive Director, he was just kidding when he said he would lead a workshop based on Nicolas Cage’s leadership style in “Vampire’s Kiss.”