Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Trailer Park: Doctor Strange

Way back when I devoured Marvel Comics on a regular basis -- during the Nixon Administration, actually -- I thought Doctor Strange was one of the coolest cats in all of comicdom. (Especially when he was drawn by the great Steve Ditko.) So I am unreasonably geeked about seeing this movie. Because, really, with all due respect to Sherlock fans, this looks like the role Benedict Cumberbatch was born to play.

Thursday, April 07, 2016

Happy Anniversary -- kinda-sorta -- to me (and All the President's Men)

Sometimes an anniversary passes without your being fully aware of it, until you’re reminded of it by another milestone. Consider this: Last month was the 40th anniversary of the start of my first full-time newspaper job, as arts and entertainment editor of The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Miss. (Alas, that also was the 40th anniversary of my departure from my beloved home town of New Orleans.) And one of the first movies I reviewed for the paper was All the President’s Men — which opened 40 years ago today in New York.

Even before I landed the Clarion-Ledger gig, however, I had already reviewed dozens, maybe hundreds of films for high school and college papers, and various small newspapers (as a free-lancer) in the New Orleans area — including, no joke, The Clarion Herald, a Catholic weekly paper that ran my reviews of Woodstock, The Thomas Crown Affair, Wild in the Streets, Yellow Submarine and several other films, beginning when I was a precocious high-schooler.

So, one way or another, I got to write about most of the major '70s movies (and quite a few '60s classics). Indeed, I still have a Clarion-Ledger tearsheet somewhere that has both my original review of Taxi Driver and my review of a Peter Fonda action movie titled Fighting Mad — whose young director, Jonathan Demme, I singled out for praise.

Now I'm old enough to cover many of those movies in film history courses I teach at University of Houston and Houston Community College. And the world keeps spinning in its greased grooves.

Welcome to the movie wonderland of the 2016 WorldFest/Houston International Film Festival

If cinema is a universal language, then the 2016 WorldFest/Houston International Film Festival — which will showcase 80 features and over 100 shorts Friday through April 17 at the AMC Studio 30 — may be distinguished by Chinese and Italian accents. According to festival founder/director J. Hunter Todd, the 49th annual edition of his movie extravaganza will host the 11th version of its Panorama Italia, a sidebar of recent features from Italy, and the second Panorama China, featuring 20 new Chinese films, many of them accompanied by their directors.

Other promising items on the WorldFest 2016 schedule include:

LAST MAN CLUB — This year’s WorldFest/Houston opening night attraction is an indie comedy-drama — directed by Bo Brinkman, a native of Pasadena, Texas — about the last remaining members of a World War II era B-17 bomber crew who rally to help an ailing comrade stuck in a veteran’s hospital. Co-star Barry Corbin, whose lengthy list of film and TV credits includes Lonesome Dove, Northern Exposure and No Country for Old Men, will be on hand to accept 2016 WorldFest REMI Lifetime Achievement Award. (8 pm Friday, 1 pm Saturday)

LOVE & FRIENDSHIP — Filmmaker Whit Stillman (Metropolitan, Barcelona, The Last Days of Disco) doesn’t make nearly enough films, so expectations are high for his latest, a stylish comedy-drama based on Jane Austen’s novella Lady Susan. Kate Beckinsale (pictured above) has earned glowing notices for her performance as Lady Susan Vernon, a duplicitous and seductive widow who aims to find “suitable” (i.e., wealthy) husbands for herself and her daughter during an extended visit to her sister-in-law’s county estate in late 18th-century England. Unfortunately, if you want a real-life glimpse at Beckinsale, you'll have to wait until this summer, when she'll appear as one of several celebrity guests during the June 17-19 Comicpalooza here in H-Town. (7 pm Saturday)

NORTHERN LIMIT LINE — After earning a 2004 WorldFest/Houston Special Jury Award for Rewind, his debut feature about the romantic travails of a small-town video shop owner, filmmaker Kim Hak-Soon returns with a decidedly more ambitious project, a fact-based drama about the 2002 clash between North and South Korean naval forces near Yeonpyeong Island in the Yellow Sea. The movie, it should be noted, was a box-office smash in the director’s South Korea. (9 pm April 12)

FIVE GRAND — Hankering for a little Western action, pardners? Well, director Tyler Graham Pavey may have just what you’re looking for in his indie-produced horse opera about a desperate outlaw who impersonates the lawman he has killed, and the relentless Pinkerton agent hot on his trail. (7 pm April 13)

GOLAN: A FAREWELL TO MR. CINEMA — If you’re a movie buff fond of the wretched excesses (and, sometimes, excessive wretchedness) of Cannon Films, the astoundingly prolific production outfit that gave us everything from cheesy spectaculars (Allan Quatermain and the Lost City of Gold, Masters of the Universe) to idiosyncratic indie fare (Barfly, Tough Guys Don’t Dance), schlocky sequels (Death Wish 4: The Crackdown, Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo) to Oscar contenders (Runaway Train, Street Smart), you’ll likely want to take a look at director Christopher Sykes’ third and final documentary about legendary Cannon co-founder Menahem Golan. (5 pm April 17)

A complete guide to features, shorts, seminars and other offerings of the 2016 WorldFest/Houston International Film Festival is available at the WorldFest website.