Film Review Podcast: “Happy Death Day”

Posted: October 21st, 2017 | Filed under: Cinema, Film Reviews Podcast | No Comments »

I know what you’re saying: “The Culture Maven never reviews horror films, never goes to slasher flicks.”

And you would be absolutely correct.

But, “Happy Death Day,” I’m happy to be alive to report, is really a satire. The horror parts are, frankly, suitably benign.

This is sort of a rave up of the genre.

A comely coed wakes up in a guy’s dorm room, after an evening of obviously too much parttttaaaaay. She goes through her day, which happens to be her birthday. Then she gets killed.

At which point, she wakes up and relives the same day again, with a gnawing sense of deja vu.

Does the premise sound familiar?

If you want more on this moderately entertaining film which had the highest gross box office its opening weekend, listen up:

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“Battle of the Sexes”: Film Review & Podcast

Posted: October 15th, 2017 | Filed under: Cinema, Film Reviews Podcast | No Comments »

There are tropes usually found in films that depict real life events.

Rare is the true tale easily told in 90 to 120 minutes that can fully depict the entirety of a real life event. It’s not like fiction, where the only perspective is that of the storyteller.

There are always various perspectives to historical occurrences.

So there are shortcuts often employed. Representative scenes meant to depict something beyond the particular moment.

Characters who are a composite.

Such is the case with “Battle of the Sexes,” the story of the iconic tennis match between Bobby Riggs and Billie Jean King in the Astrodome, and the concurrent transformation of King’s sexual and romantic orientation.

It’s handled reasonably deftly in this entertaining recounting.

For more details, listen up

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— c d kaplan


“Spielberg”: Reviewing the HBO Documentary

Posted: October 9th, 2017 | Filed under: Cinema, Film Reviews Podcast | No Comments »

This is a take on the fascinating HBO documentary about the life and output of Steven Spielberg, a movie director heralded for his technique but oft criticized through the decades for various reasons, some legit, some not.

But I’m going to start with a basketball analogy.

Stick with me, we’ll get to the film about a filmmaking savant soon enough.

University of Louisville basketball’s biggest two stars in the early 2000s were Francisco Garcia and Taquan Dean. Garcia was the more complete player, and moved on to the NBA before his Cardinal eligibility ran out.

During one of his games while still here, I was fortunate to be sitting next to New York Knicks scout Dick McGuire in town to evaluate Francisco. While chatting about other Cardinals besides Garcia, I kept praising Dean.

“He plays full out every second.”

“He’s made more big shots than any Cardinal ever.”

McGuire nodded, but didn’t really respond.

Garcia left early. The next campaign it was Dean’s team. Soon enough, the flaws in Taquan’s game became manifest. A guard, he wasn’t the best of ball handlers. Nor was he comfortable driving the ball to the hoop. Not really a leader, he was more comfortable as second banana.

He could make big shots, coming off a screen, when he didn’t have to create his own space off the dribble.

That was his forte. He was marvelous at that particular skill. Not so good at some of the other facets of the game.

 * * * * *

Steven Spielberg makes big films. That’s his forte. Read the rest of this entry »


“Blade Runner 2049”: Film Review & Podcast

Posted: October 8th, 2017 | Filed under: Cinema, Film Reviews Podcast | No Comments »

There has been a definite reverence afforded the original “Blade Runner” through the decades.

A belief that it was both innovative in cinematic terms. And that it dealt with issues of concern and importance at the dawn of the technological age.

Then there was the issue of how the film was edited for first release, then an allegedly more definitive Ridley Scott rejiggering. So the acolytes were left with even more contemplations about the basis of existence, what’s real life and what isn’t?

Yes and Deckard: Human or Replicant?

The burgeoning imposition of artificial intelligence makes this the right time for the Blade Runner update.

Who shall be in charge when the century hits the halfway mark?

Humans or Replicants?

This sequel pays its respects to the original, while also moving on.

The visuals are as scintillating even though the landscapes are different.

The film is long. The film is compelling. New issues are presented.

For more, listen to the podcast:

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— c d kaplan


“Columbus”: A Film Review & Podcast

Posted: October 6th, 2017 | Filed under: Cinema, Film Reviews Podcast | No Comments »

Every once in awhile there is a screen debut so stunning it becomes indelible.

Jennifer Lawrence’s mesmerizing take as Ree, a daughter on a mission in “Winter’s Bone,” rattled those who experienced the small, independent film.

Was that really less than a decade ago?

Charlize Theron’s femme fatale Helga Svelgen in “2 Days in the Valley” was a lesser character in a campy potboiler of a movie, but she still was resonant. Her screen presence, like that of Ms. Lawrence, flashed “Future Star” in neon.

“Columbus” is a quiet film, a contemplation of architectural space and its peripheral effect on the human psyche. Such is its deliberate, unassuming nature that it might easily slip through a viewer’s consciousness but for one revelatory aspect. Read the rest of this entry »


“mother!”: A Film Review & Podcast

Posted: September 23rd, 2017 | Filed under: Cinema, Film Reviews Podcast | 1 Comment »

There are grizzly and intentionally disturbing films that I have walked out of. I mean, you know, life’s too short, right?

Peter Greenaway’s “The Cook, The Thief, His Wife & Her Lover” for one. I just went and watched the trailer. Nightmare memories ensued.

I booked on Ken Russell’s “The Devils” not once but twice. Saw it when it was first released in early 70s. Then, when it played a repertory house, I figured I needed to give it a second chance. It was still too much for me. Way, too much.

Which incidents I mention because “mother!” director Darren Aronofsky is like fellow auteur Lars Van Trier. They, and Greenaway and Russell sometimes, make/ made films meant to be disquieting. Shocking their audiences is the raison d’etre.

So it is with Aronofsky’s latest with its stellar cast of Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Ed Harris, Michelle Pfeiffer and a bracing Kristen Wiig.  Read the rest of this entry »


“The Deuce”: David Simon Returns with Another Winner

Posted: September 12th, 2017 | Filed under: Culture, Ruminations, TV | 1 Comment »

Back in the day, a musician pal played a couple of gigs with an ersatz rock & roll band up I-65 from Louisville, in the less than Biblical Nimrod Room of an otherwise closed hotel in Seymour, Indiana.

“Come on up,” he implored, “there’s lots of local ladies.”

While flirting with one, the city of Columbus somehow popped up in the conversation.

“I’ve been to Columbus,” she bragged.

After chiming in that I’d been to several Ohio State football games that fall, it turned out she was talking about Columbus, Indiana, a few miles up the road from Seymour.

Perspective. With that one revelation, I understood the difference in our life experiences, the relatively limited expanse of her world.

In the details, there is to be learned much of a person’s personality and world view.

It is just such subtle, telling instances that make David Simon’s TV work so fulfilling. Usually always for the better, but sometime not, Simon immerses the viewer in the culture he’s talking about, giving the plotline context. The characters, personalities, foibles, humanity are constantly being revealed; they are given dimension. Read the rest of this entry »


Film Review & Podcast: “Menashe”

Posted: September 11th, 2017 | Filed under: Cinema, Film Reviews Podcast | No Comments »

There are parts of real life that are universal.

Family stuff. Emotional situations. Cultural demands.

Whether living in Bed Sty, Mumbai or Steubenville, such are present in one way or another for most everybody.

Which is why a niche film such as “Menashe,” a slice of life observation of an ultra orthodox, widowed Jewish father, stuck in a dead end job at a grocery, trying to regain full custody of his son, has ubiquitous resonance.

Not a lot of films hitting the heartland, where the dictates of the Torah impose upon the daily existence of a simple man who is trying his best, against the realities of his own personality and the liturgical mandates of his faith.

This is a marvelous little film, shot in extreme close up and dark light, exposing the cloistered nature of Menashe’s life.

It examines a world of faith that few have been exposed to. Yet the story and truths told reverberate without bounds.

For more on the film “Menashe,” listen below:

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Film Review & Podcast: “Good Time”

Posted: September 4th, 2017 | Filed under: Cinema, Film Reviews Podcast | No Comments »

We go to the cineplex to be enveloped. To allow the lights to go down and the world on the silver screen becomes the only immediacy.

Hopefully we are able to leave mundane at the popcorn stand. Hopefully the gang in the row in front of us turns off their phones and stops chatting. Hopefully we become immersed, for better or worse, in what unfolds on the screen.

Sometime, as with the Safdie Brothers’ “Good Time,” we get swallowed whole, find ourselves pulled along with a Styxian current, scrambling for safe harbor in the belly of the beast.

Here we have Robert Pattinson as a nasty, immoral guy. He loves his mentally challenged brother, yet pulls him some hairbrained bank robbery scheme. As they try to get away, brother is caught and jailed. Pattinson’s character Connie Nikas is left to skulk through the night in search of money to bail bro out.

It’s the mean streets of NY in its peculiar, unique middle of the night. Creatures are crawling, sane thoughts and rational conversations are elusive.

So that’s the immersion one gets with “Good Time.” An hour and a half of existence in places most have not experienced. Think Travis Bickle’s haunts in “Taxi Driver.”

The film if grimy and grizzly is compelling, a propulsive interlude.

Sound like a place you want to spend a couple hours?

Listen further and find out:

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“Brigsby Bear” Endears: A Film Review

Posted: August 30th, 2017 | Filed under: Cinema | No Comments »

One thing learned from studying the beloved films through the decades is that serious flaws don’t necessarily affect how a movie becomes a cherished classic.

Whether it’s Preston Sturges or Clint Eastwood or Quentin Tarantino or whomever, perfect craft isn’t necessary. Plot holes. Implausibilities. Lack of continuity or explanation. Sometimes it simply doesn’t matter.

A movie, a character, a scenario can reach out and touch, despite glaring imperfections.

So it is with the Dave McCary-directed “Brigsby Bear,” a preposterous bit of fluff really, but one so full of charm and hope that’s its many shortcomings are but an afterthought.

Kyle Mooney is James, a thirtysomething naif, who is rescued by the authorities from a couple who kidnapped him as a youth, and kept him living in hermetically sealed seclusion, under the guise that the air outside was toxic.

To keep his attention and maintain dominion, they somehow create a clever TV series, “Brigsby Bear,” hundreds and hundreds of episodes which intoxicate James. To the exclusion of just about everything else, even after he is freed and reunited with his real family and experiences legitimate life. Read the rest of this entry »


“Ingrid Goes West” is a Wiser Film than You might Suppose: A Review

Posted: August 28th, 2017 | Filed under: Cinema, Film Reviews Podcast | No Comments »

In the opening skit of the MTV VMAs, host Katy Perry rockets off into the galaxy in a designer space suit to die for.

She lands on the moon or some planet and starts taking lots of photos with her cell. Then realizes she has no service.

What’s the point, she laments, of taking photos if you can’t hashtag them and post on social media?

This is the # era, where unfortunately some people’s entire existence is essentially digital, where online “friendship” has become a contemporary phenomenon. Deplore it or not, it is a reality of now.

Certainly for Ingrid (Aubrey Plaza), a sad, lonely soul who seeks succor from Instagram. The film opens with her crashing the wedding of someone she’s followed, and developed a relationship with in her mind, but who didn’t invite her to the nuptials.

Soon enough, after reading an article in an actual magazine, Ingrid’s obsession switches to Taylor Sloane (Elizabeth Olsen), who lives what appears to be an ab fab lifestyle in Venice Beach, chronicled tens of times a day online. Bankrolled with a $60,000 + inheritance from her mother, and stashing the loot in cash in a backpack, Aubrey heads to LA LA Land, intent on hooking up with the chi chi bon vivant she hopes to become her new bestie.

And so through guile and deception she does. Read the rest of this entry »


Jeremy Renner shines in “Wind River”: A Film Review

Posted: August 20th, 2017 | Filed under: Cinema, Ruminations | No Comments »

Having a trusted confidant to help ease pain of tragedy isn’t always available.

Jake Gittes, the private dick who wasn’t on top of matters as much as he thought, had his colleague Walsh alongside when things went bad in the outer reaches of the place they patrolled.

“Forget it, Jake. It’s Chinatown.”

Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner), while hunting animal predators, his job at Wind River, comes across a battered, barefooted teenager, dead face down in the snow on a barren plain far from habitation. His overwhelming dejection, the level of his immediate grief, indicate the discovery struck something deeply personal.

There are no words of solace from Ben (Graham Greene). He’s the overwhelmed police chief on the res, where downcast is the tenor of daily life. He has long since resigned himself to the desolation of existence for many Native Americans in the mountains of Wyoming.

Nor is there comfort coming from buddy Martin (Gil Birmingham), naturally, for he’s the stoic father of the deceased. He has also lost his son who is immersed in the prevalent drug culture.

Renner, one of the finest actors of the day, turns in his best performance yet, as he serves as guide and fellow investigator when aiding an out of her league FBI agent (Elizabeth Olsen) sent in unprepared to solve the murder mystery on federal land. Read the rest of this entry »