Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Laughing Stock: Gong Show at The Loft

Posted By on Wed, Dec 27, 2017 at 6:00 PM

Mike Sterner and Bridgitte Thum host First Friday Shorts.
  • Mike Sterner and Bridgitte Thum host First Friday Shorts.

“Before I worked here, I was trying to work on movies as an editor,” says J.J. Giddings of The Loft Cinema. “So much work goes into making a film, even a not so good film, that you deserve a chance to see it on the big screen.” Gittings is marketing director for Tucson’s nationally acclaimed art house cinema, and producer of the theater's monthly gong show for new works, Friday Night Shorts.

First Friday Shorts offers any local filmmaker-manqué a chance to show a work up to 15 minutes long on the 50-foot screen in the Loft’s newly renovated main theatre. If the audience loves it, a film can run until it ends. But things end badly if the audience hates it; at the three-minute mark, they’re invited to try to get the emcee to gong the film and shut it down.

Either way, the audience feedback is an education the auteurs could never buy. “It's a platform for filmmakers where they can go and just get real feedback from live bodies in front of the screen,” says comedian and KXCI DJ Brigitte Thum, who co-hosts the show with her husband, comedian Mike Sterner, a former writer for Bill Maher’s Politically Correct.

There is no telling what an audience will see. Filmmakers begin delivering their work to the Loft on Friday morning, and the first 15 in the door are shown. Recent entries have been documentaries, music videos and animated films. “There's always going to be something really goofy,” Thum says. Giddings adds, “Comedy usually goes over well, because it's just a simple idea to get across. Drama is a lot harder to communicate.”

Sterner and Thum keep the mood light and fun, trading spontaneous quips with fimmakers and each other. Thum covers the theater with her wireless mic, interviewing filmmakers about their work. “It kind of gives humanity to it,” she says, “like, this is a film made by a person. their blood, sweat and tears. This is the filmmaker you are gonging.”

Sterner offers low-key, practical tips, like, “You might want to get a tri-pod.”

First Friday Shorts takes place at 9 p.m., on Jan. 5, and the first Friday of every month. Admission is $6; $5 for Loft members; $1 more for online reservations. There is no fee for entering a film. Each month the audience picks a winner to receive a $200 check. All the year’s winners are screened in May to compete for a $1000 prize.

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Friday, December 15, 2017

Cinema Clips: Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri

Posted By on Fri, Dec 15, 2017 at 4:30 PM

This marks the third film—and the third masterpiece—for writer-director Martin McDonagh. It also marks another astonishing film achievement for Frances McDormand, who will bore into your chest cavity and do all kinds of crazy shit to your heart as Mildred, a justifiably pissed off mother who has a few issues with the cops in her town.

It’s been five years since Mildred’s young daughter was raped and killed by unknown murderers, who finished their awful deed by burning her body. Mildred, who isn’t even close to getting over the tragedy, spies some old, dilapidated billboards on the way home and gets an idea. One meeting with a sloppy advertising agent (Caleb Landry Jones) later, and some guys are commissioned to put some alarmingly provocative signs up on those billboards.

Woody Harrelson is first rate as the man being called out in those billboards for not finding the killers; Harrelson’s 2017 has been astoundingly good. Sam Rockwell gets the high profile acting showcase he deserves as racist deputy Dixon. Rockwell’s Dixon, the town drunk and racist homophobe who has a thing for throwing people out of windows, undergoes a transformation that is a kind of movie miracle. McDonagh knows how to write a script that keeps you in it for every line. While the film is somewhat a murder mystery, the solving of the crime takes a back seat to watching these folks play off each other.

There are scenes in this movie that will knock you on the floor. The whole cast is incredible; McDormand and Rockwell will both destroy you.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Cinema Clips: The Man Who Invented Christmas

Posted By on Mon, Dec 11, 2017 at 10:30 AM

In 1843, when Charles Dickens published A Christmas Carol, folks were just getting into that thing we call the holidays, with stuff like Christmas trees and gift giving. Dickens’s novel about a miserable miser named Ebenezer Scrooge, who transforms from an evil greed monster to a kind philanthropist throughout its five chapters, helped take the celebration of Christmas to a new level of tradition.

The boldly titled The Man Who Invented Christmas spins an entertaining and clever take on how and why Dickens got the idea for the story that would change the world. Coming off a couple of flops after the success of his Oliver Twist, Charles Dickens (Dan Stevens) is doing clumsy book tours to pay the bills. Desperate for a “hit,” he gets an idea for a Christmas book, one in which a greedy man is haunted by ghosts of the past, present and future. The story is meant to be a cautionary yarn about the evils of selfishness, and perhaps less about the joys of Christmas and redemption. As Dickens gets further into his book—and his own psyche—the theme changes to one of hope, and his classic is born.

Director Bharat Nalluri, working from a screenplay by Susan Coyne, based on the book by Les Standiford, gets the unique opportunity to tell the making of A Christmas Carol while, in some ways, making yet another version of the famed story itself. The film features Dickens conferring with the fictional characters in his story as he creates them, so we get an Ebenezer Scrooge, this time played by the great Christopher Plummer.

Of course, he winds up being perfect for the role.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Cinema Clips: Lady Bird

Posted By on Fri, Dec 8, 2017 at 2:00 PM

Greta Gerwig makes her solo directorial debut with a semi-autobiographical look at her life growing up in Sacramento, California and she immediately establishes herself as a directing force to be reckoned with. Saoirise Ronan, who should’ve won an Oscar for Brooklyn, will likely get another chance for her turn as Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson, a Sacramento youth with an artistic yearning for the east coast and some distance between her and her domineering mom (Laurie Metcalf).

This is a coming-of-age story like no other thanks to the insightful writing and brisk directorial style of Gerwig, who makes Lady Bird’s story a consistently surprising one. Ronan’s Lady Bird is a rebel with a good heart, a theater geek who stinks at math, and an emotional rollercoaster. She also gets a lot of laughs, especially in her showdowns with Metcalf, who has never been better. Lucas Hedges, on a roll after Manchester By the Sea and Three Billboard Outside Ebbing, Missouri, is funny and sad as one of Lady Bird’s young love interests, while Odeya Rush is golden as Lady Bird’s best friend, Jenna.

Tracy Letts is perfect as the nice dad dealing with warring factions in the household, while Timothy Chalamet (currently racking up awards for Call Me By Your Name) is perhaps the biggest laugh getter as aloof other love interest, Kyle. This one is a triumph for Ronan and Gerwig, and while it would never happen, I’d love to see a sequel about Lady Bird’s college years.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

No Joy in 'Mudbound': Powerful Performances Drive a Bleak Tale to a Devastating Finish

Posted By on Tue, Nov 28, 2017 at 1:17 PM

Director and co-screenwriter Dee Rees paints a bleak picture of post WWII Mississippi in this performance powerhouse that showcases the talents of Carey Mulligan, Garrett Hedlund, Jason Clarke and, most notably, Jason Mitchell (Straight Outta Compton).

After the war, a traumatized Jamie McAllan (Hedlund) returns home to stay on a farm with his brother Henry (Clarke) and wife Laura (Mulligan). Ronsel Jackson (Jason Mitchell) also returns to the farm but, while both men were regarded as heroes overseas, their return is fraught with alcohol abuse for Jamie and rampant racism from town folks towards African American Ronsel.

Henry and Laura have problems of their own dealing with the troubled Jamie and Henry’s hateful father, Pappy (a sinister Jonathan Banks). This is one of those movies that you know won’t end well, and while Rees allows for occasional moments of relief, it is a mostly somber affair with a devastating finish. Mitchell continues to emerge as one of his generation’s best actors, while Hedlund does perhaps his best work to date. Both actors put full body and soul into their roles, and they create characters that definitely leave a mark.

The always reliable Mulligan is great as the wife forced to live out her life on a muddy, flooded farm in order to appease her dopey husband. Clarke paints Henry as a man of little commitments and quiet reserve, the kind of guy you can’t depend upon in a fight. The movie is packed with stellar acting, and Rees does a solid job with the technical elements.

Streaming on Netflix during a limited theatrical run.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Casa Video Top 10

Posted By on Fri, Nov 17, 2017 at 3:48 PM

The next week should be a busy one. Between trying to avoid the El Tour de Tucson route, hanging out with (or protesting against) Steve Bannon—and maybe his local, exclamation point-loving brother—and everything else this sunny city has to offer right now, I can't image anyone is going to have much time to hang out at home and watch movies with their cats.

... but just in case you do manage to squeeze in a few low key hours at home, here are the top 10 rentals at Casa Video right now:

The Dark Tower

Wonder Woman

War for the Planet of the Apes

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Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Cinema Clips: Thor: Ragnarok

Posted By on Wed, Nov 15, 2017 at 9:48 AM

Somebody was smoking some laced wild shit and licking frogs when they put together Thor: Ragnarok, a film so nutty it easily surpasses the Guardians of the Galaxy films as the screwiest offering in the Marvel universe.

When you hand the keys to the Thor franchise over to a director like Taika Waititi, you know you are going to get something bizarre, and Waititi doesn’t disappoint. Waititi is the New Zealand comic actor/director responsible for the hilarious vampire faux documentary What We Do in the Shadows and the funny family drama Hunt for the Wilderpeople. There’s really nothing on his resume that screams, “Hey, let’s have this guy direct an action-packed, highly expensive Thor film!” But he got the gig, so there you go. Sometimes the wild card pays off.

Borrowing from a host of Marvel comics, including the famed “Planet Hulk” storyline, the hallucinogenic plot drops Thor (Chris Hemsworth) on a crazy garbage planet bent on round-the-clock, violent entertainment and led by Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum, finally getting a high-profile role worthy of him outside of a Wes Anderson film). The Grandmaster cuts Thor’s hair, dresses him in gladiator gear, and throws him into the ring for a weaponized bout with his prized competitor. That prized competitor is the Hulk, held captive on the planet for the past couple of years. He’s been nothing but the Hulk the whole time, with Dr. Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) trapped inside him.

Thor and Hulk have a battle royale for the ages, followed by some great scenes where the Hulk actually speaks. Ruffalo provides the voice, and this is the first time in the recent Marvel films where Lou Ferrigno isn’t providing Hulk’s growls. There’s a whole other apocalyptic subplot going on, where Thor’s long-lost sister Hela (a striking and devilish Cate Blanchett decked out in black) is causing major havoc on his home planet of Asgard. Blanchett immediately sets herself high in the ranking of Marvel movie villains. She’s played a baddie before, but never this entertainingly.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Loft Film Fest Kicks Off With 'Revenge of the Nerds' Party Featuring Special Guest Curtis Armstrong

Posted By on Wed, Nov 8, 2017 at 12:34 PM

Curtis Armstrong, aka Booger - CHRISTINE ELISE
  • Christine Elise
  • Curtis Armstrong, aka Booger
The Loft Film Fest kicks off tonight with a screening of Revenge of the Nerds," a performance by ’80s cover band 80s and Gentlemen and an appearance by Curtis Armstrong, who played Booger in the film. It's just the start of the Loft Film Fest, which you can read about in last week's Tucson Weekly cover story or at the Loft Film Fest's official website.

The Weekly caught up with Armstrong ahead of his visit to Tucson. This interview has been edited for clarity.

You have a new book, Revenge of the Nerd: The Singular Adventures of the Man Who Would Be Booger. Tell me a little bit about that and what your impetus was for writing.

I don’t know exactly how it manifested. It was one of those things. I’ve written a lot but mainly it’s been articles for literary journals that I subscribe to. It’s not a part of my life that a lot of people know about. I guess I reached a point where I was starting to look back on these things, as you do. I think you get to a point in your life and you starting thinking, “How did I wind up here?” My daughter is in college now and she’s going for her master’s degree at Oxford and I’ve had this career lasting 40 years. You start doing the conventions and you see how many generations are into work that you’ve done over the years and it just makes you reflective.

I look at Revenge of the Nerds as the coolest movie ever shot in Tucson. Tell me what you knew about Tucson before you filmed here and your experience of Tucson as a city while you were here in ’84.

I had never been to Tucson before. When we got there, we really were very focused on making sense of this screenplay, which was kind of a mess. We spent the first week with the writers and the director, just going through everything and trying to find the humanity in these cartoon characters. The thing that Jeff Kanew, the director, felt strongly about—having been a recovering nerd himself—was that we needed to be able to make the characters human so we would empathize with them. It was a tough challenge. In my case, of course, I’m playing someone named Booger and I’m picking my nose, belching and saying all these horibble things, but you still have to find a way to make that character accessible. So we did a lot of things, a lot improv, a lot of working out stuff on our own about who these characters were. That was the first week, and in the meantime, we were going out in the evenings and going to bars and restaurants, most of which, I think, are gone now. We would go to these places and party. I remember going out to Old Tucson, and that was a thrill to all of us, because we were all film nerds. We shot the interior scenes of the Nerd House inside a house at Old Tucson. It was really strange because you’d shoot all day inside this house and then you’d walk outside and you were in an Old West town.

Talk a little bit about Revenge of the Nerds as the proto-nerd culture movie. Nerd culture has kind of taken over, with computer culture and the conventions you were talking about. Did you have any sense you were on the cutting edge of that?

Continue reading »

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