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.”
FILM NEXUS Vol. 2: St. Patrick’s Day Picks
There are people, currently walking among us, who do not care so much for traditional St. Patrick’s Day festivities such as wearing green, attending raucous parades, barhopping, and singing Pogues songs in various alleyways. I feel pity for these people, but respect their hesitation for staying in, it is really easy to understand when you are not able to hear your friends at crowded bars, or have to deal with the drunk and unruly strangers, and always live under the threat of being pinched because someone didn’t happen to notice your green striped socks. Luckily for these people, there is Netflix, even on St. Patrick’s Day weekend, and although there is not a whole lot of selection of Irish films with their streaming service, the few that are available are pretty great.
Let me preface this selection by saying I was looking for films that dealt with Irish culture, made in Ireland, by Irish filmmakers or with predominantly Irish actors. While I love many of the films that explore the Irish-American experience, I often feel those films focus too heavily on criminality and do not represent enough of a full picture of Irish-American life, for every “In America,” the beautiful family portrait by Jim Sheridan, there are “Gangs of New York,” “The Departed,” “The Boondock Saints,” and “State of Grace.” Also, these films are usually on heavily rotation on television in mid-March, anyway, and I hope your filmic voyage to the Emerald Isle will be full of more interesting experiences than something you can randomly tune into on TBS.
Daniel Day-Lewis won his first Academy Award for his role as Irish writer Christy Brown in this Jim Sheridan film. Born with cerebral palsy, Brown’s left foot was the only part of his body where he was able to exert any control, and by using his foot, he was able to write some of the most interesting modern Irish literature, including his autobiography that this film was based on. This film could very well only have worked with Day-Lewis in the lead, who was so committed to his role, he would not feed himself while on the set. Besides Day-Lewis, the film is elevated by the fact it does not hide Brown was at times a cruel person, who was not humble about his talents at all, and lived a good part of his life as a selfish alcoholic. Like the film’s subject, the film is a complex work, and does not hide all the many ways genius explodes onto the world.
Waking Ned Devine (1998)
This sweet, small village set comedy, is about loyalty and friendship, just as much as it is about a conspiracy to fool a lottery official into believing the winner of a £6.8m prize did not die of shock when he realized he won, but is actually one of his still-living friends. The two masterminds of the plan are Jackie and Michael, two senior citizens who see a way for the whole town to benefit from their deception. One of the true highlights of this film is how it is able to show different members of the village grapple with the morality of the situation, and if taking their cut of the winnings is worth the risk of their neighbors going to jail. If I had to pick another great point of the film, it is the version of “The Parting Glass,” that plays at the end of the film.
The Wind that Shakes the Barley (2006)
For a couple of years, I’ve been watching this film on or around St. Patrick’s Day. Set during the Irish War of Independence and the Irish Civil War, both of which took place in the early 1920s, it stars Cillian Murphy as Damien, a man who gives up an education studying medicine to take up arms in the IRA against the British. This film, which won the Palme d’Or at the 2006 Cannes International Film Festival, forgoes many war (and at times, gangster) film clichés and staples, in order to show events in a realistic, and historically accurate manner. Many of the scenes, especially those that depict torture, are hard to watch, and Damien does horrendous things in the name of the cause, but this film informs the audience through its ability to make events that happened 90+ years ago visceral and real. This is definitely not a pick-me-up kind of film, but that does not mean there isn’t something uplifting in Ken Loach’s filmmaking, and the courage it took for the actors to portray such conflicted characters.
Some other great films to watch around St. Patrick’s Day are:
The Crying Game (1992)
Intermission (2004) – Not available on Netflix streaming
Hunger (2008) – Not available on Netflix streaming
Shane MacGowan: If I Should Fall From Grace (2003) – Not available on Netflix streaming
Also, if you want to go out, but don’t want to deal with the bars or crowds, Cinema Center will be open on March 17th, and would be excited if you chose to spend the holiday with us.
Jonah Crismore is the Executive Director at Cinema Center and thinks “Down All the Days,” inspired by the work by Christy Brown, is an underrated Pogues song.
FILM NEXUS Vol. 1: Her
In an indistinctly near future, a heartbroken man sits in his cubicle and completes an assignment: dictating a love letter for a couple who have been happily married for fifty years. The irony of the man’s work is not lost on him. In fact, it is one of the driving forces that creates an environment of loneliness that creeps into every aspect of Theodore Twombly’s life in Spike Jonze’s amazing, and Oscar-winning, unconventional love story Her, coming to Cinema Center March 7th.
From that first scene that tells you just about everything about Theodore (played brilliantly by Joaquin Phoenix), we understand completely why he would fall so head over heels in love with his artificially intelligent operating system Samantha, and in anyone’s hands other than Spike Jonze, the movie could have very well played like a bad joke. But it thankfully it doesn’t. The film cascades in emotions because its characters have either been numb for so long, or are just experiencing them for the first time. In many ways I think the film itself achieves something that Samantha is always on the verge of figuring out, it demonstrates a little bit of what it’s like to be human.
Her is one of the best head-scratching romances to come out in recent years but it is not the only one, and luckily most of us have made it through House of Cards by now and are looking for some films to fill up our instant watch lists . After experiencing Herat Cinema Center this weekend, go back home and watch some of these other great unconventional love stories available on Netflix streaming:
Punch-Drunk Love (2002)
Paul Thomas Anderson’s follow-up to Magnoliafeatures Adam Sandler in one of his most volatile, and sympathetic, roles as Barry, a novelty toilet plunger salesman whose one shot at romantic happiness is threatened by an extortionist phone sex operator and his seven sisters. Barry is a creature completely governed by his impulses, at one moment he is sweet and paralyzed by loneliness and in the next he is loud, confrontational, and capable of violence. It is Sandler’s performance, as well as the emotional abuse Barry receives from his sisters, that lets the audience feel okay about cheering him on in his quest for Lena, an English woman he barely knows but deeply loves. The film is elevated by great supporting performances by Luis Guzman and Philip Seymour-Hoffman.
Let the Right One In (2008)
This Swedish film could very well be about the first time someone falls in love, only for 12-year old Oskar, the object of his affection happens to be a vampire. Though the film finds itself occasionally its vampire horror film trappings, the central relationship between Oskar and Eli, the forever child vampire, is at the center of this moving film. Oskar is a bullied and lonely kid, until he meets Eli, and we applaud as Oskar grows as a result of being close to someone who is both strong and wise. Yes, the film gets very bloody and very gory, but it also has moments of great tenderness, and demonstrates the depths one will go for love, more so than I have seen in any film, horror, or otherwise.
Lost In Translation (2003)
Is there such a thing as platonic romance? This film by Sofia Coppola makes it seem as though that is possible as Bill Murray’s Bob and Scarlett Johansson’s Charlotte bond over a couple of nights in Tokyo. Bob is an aging actor, tired from life and having to make money by doing commercials for Suntory Whisky, while Charlotte is newly married to a photographer who gives his work more attention than her. They find each other in hotel elevators, hotel bars, and eventually in each other’s rooms, but the film is more interested in the differences between the generations the two characters come from and what they can teach other, than in any possibility for romantic entanglements, even though those desires are below the surface and almost come rushing out in one moment of anger later in the film. The naturalistic performances are enough to make the friendship believable, and the cinematography (sometimes guerilla-style) and soundtrack add to feeling we are just sitting in the same room as the relationship between these characters grows.
Some other great unconventional love stories to check out on Netflix are:
Y Tu Mama Tambien (2001)
Safety Not Guaranteed (2012)
Beauty and the Beast Television Series (1987) See Ron Pearlman before he put on his biker jacket in Sons of Anarchy or the make-up in Hellboy!
Jonah Crismore is the Executive Director at Cinema Center and Her was his favorite movie of the year.
“A Kong-sized memory” by Kathy Bock
Tue, Aug 20 2013 09:28
This coming Saturday, August 24th, at 10 p.m., Cinema Center (in cooperation with Shaffer Multimedia) will offer a free screening of the classic movie King Kong (1933) on the front of the Arts United Center building. For Kathy Bock, this outdoor venue brings back a fond movie memory.
One summer night when I was about 6, I saw the classic movie King Kong (1933) outdoors under the
stars. It wasn’t at a drive-in theater, though. Let me explain with a little story.
stars. It wasn’t at a drive-in theater, though. Let me explain with a little story.
Back in those days (the 1960s), my parents rented a small cottage on Corey Lake in Michigan where we spent our summers. I loved it there — swimming, skiing, fishing for bluegill…doing all the fun things people do at a lake. But for my family and our lake gang, the real excitement of summer happened on the weekends, when Jack Cronk blew in.
I say “blew in” because Jack always arrived in swirling cloud of dust. I can still see his sparkly, green-finned convertible roaring down the dirt road toward our cottage every Friday night, signaling the official start of the weekend.
Although he wasn’t a large man, Jack was larger than life. He was big-hearted, adventurous, and did everything on a grand scale. Instead of just lighting a grill like a normal person, for instance, Jack would pull out a fire-breathing blowtorch that made all the women scream and the dogs run like hyenas for cover.
But I digress. One night, King Kong was being shown on TV, and Jack decided the whole gang should watch it together, outside by the old apple tree. (Was this even possible? My young brain could hardly fathom the idea of TV al fresco.) But Jack hauled out a portable black & white TV set and placed it on top of a small pop shed. (In hindsight, I realize the actual name of this structure, which housed a large refrigerator, was probably “beer shed,” but hey, I was 6. I had other priorities.)
Anyway, Jack did some fiddling with the TV’s rabbit ears and voilà, a young girl was suddenly transported across the ocean to the fictional Skull Island in search of a giant ape named Kong. I was mesmerized. The ominous drumming, the suspenseful music (by Max Steiner), the groundbreaking stop-motion animation (by Willis O’Brien), the masterful storytelling — it all worked its magic on me.
But I can’t underestimate the power of the venue that night. For me, one of the reasons that movie was so memorable has to do with the circumstances under which I saw it: I was outdoors, surrounded by family and friends, in the dark of night. This wasn’t just a movie — it was an event.
Jack Cronk, like the promoter Carl Denham in King Kong, understood the power of spectacle. He knew this movie was too big to be seen on a small screen. And while he couldn’t enlarge his TV set for us, he did the next best thing. He made our “theater” as big and wondrous as possible. There was popcorn (and undoubtedly beer) as a small group of friends formed a semicircle of lawn chairs to watch this classic tale of beauty and the beast, inexplicably framed by the beauty of a Michigan night sky.
This was movie magic, pure and simple, and I’ll never forget it. And now you have a chance to experience it, too. This coming Saturday, August 24th, as part of Taste of the Arts, Cinema Center will show King Kong for free at 10 p.m. across the front of the Arts United Center building. Grab your lawn chairs, folks, and come on down.
If you’ve never seen the original King Kong before (or even if you have), I can’t imagine a better way to watch it now. Many of the best scenes are set outdoors at night, making an outdoor night venue the perfect way to experience this film. And don’t forget, this is a movie about a gigantic 25-foot ape. Doesn’t he deserve to be seen on the big screen? (Seriously, you may never get another chance. I’ve been waiting 50 years for this one!)
If you come, I promise you the experience will be something you’ll remember all your life. And you know I’ll be there, giggling like a kid over the size of Kong’s head, and remembering with great respect the man who first introduced me to the magic of movies one dark summer night a long time ago, on a small flickering screen.
I’ll save a seat for you, Jack.
|Jack Cronk in front of the old pop shed.|
Kathy Bock is a freelance advertising copywriter, Cinema Center board member, and chair of the Events committee. She’s seen all the remakes of King Kong but still prefers the original, which she’s watched too many times to mention (including a weeklong “kong-athon” when the two-disc Collector’s Edition came out in 2005 and she hardly slept). Kathy has never seen the film on the big screen and is praying that it doesn’t rain on Saturday.