Coming Attractions: October is film festival time in Buffalo (from Buffalo Spree)

The BIFF crowd gathers outside the North Park Theatre before the premiere of Trew Calling in 2016
BIFF PHOTO BY SUMMER OLIVER

I’m getting to this one a little late … but there’s still time for many of these screenings. Here’s my October 2017 Coming Attractions column from Buffalo Spree.

Film festivals are plentiful in Western New York, but two of the best happen in October. Check out these and more here in this month’s screenings rundown.

riverrun Global Film Series: Cuban films and filmmakers are the focus of the second installment of riverrun, a unique series that aims to “create a dialogue between the local community and institutions of higher education in Buffalo through a selection of films that provide a better understanding of our present existence in the globalized networked world.” William & Mary professor Ann Marie Stock is keynote speaker during the festival’s first night, October 12. The evening includes a screening of Tomás Gutiérrez Alea’s Memories of Underdevelopment, a 1968 feature recently restored by Martin Scorsese’s World Cinema Foundation. October 13 features films by and about women, a poetry reading, and Cuban music and dance. And October 14 looks at old and new Cuba via films about the environment (the “nuclear narrative” of 2015’s The Project of the Century) and Cuba’s AIDS crisis (2016’s The Companion). There is much more planned; for a complete rundown of films, speakers, and events, visit globalfilmseries.wordpress.com. (October 12-14 at the Burchfield Penney Art Center, 1300 Elmwood Ave.; globalfilmseries.wordpress.com)

Buffalo International Film Festival: In the last few years, BIFF has emerged as Western New York’s most exciting, best-curated film festival. Any fest that would open with a screening of Tony Conrad: Completely in the Present, as BIFF16 did, is hard to top. In 2017, BIFF will again be held entirely within the City of Buffalo, at the North Park Theatre, Hallwalls Contemporary Arts Center, Squeaky Wheel Film and Media Art Center, and additional venues still to be announced. Be sure to peruse titles and find times and locations at buffalointernationalfilmfestival.com. One highlight to make special note of is a screening of Marshall, the Thurgood Marshall biopic shot in Buffalo. It screens at 7 p.m. on October 7 at the North Park Theatre. Another is a screening of El Topo director Alexander Jodorowsky’s latest, Endless Poetry. It screens at 5:30 p.m. on October 7 at the Burchfield Penney Art Center. (October 6 to 9; buffalointernationalfilmfestival.com)

Rocky Horror Picture Show Party at the Riviera Theatre: A pre-Halloween screening of cult classic The Rocky Horror Picture Show is a tradition at North Tonawanda’s Riviera Theatre. The party includes a pre-show at 10 p.m., a costume contest, and several other events allowing attendees to do the time warp. (9:30 p.m. doors at the Riviera Theatre and Performing Arts Center, 67 Webster St., N. Tonawanda; rivieratheatre.org)

Thursday Night Terrors—The Craft, Halloween III, and Creepshow: There’s something for just about every horror fan this October thanks to Thursday Night Terrors. First is a surprising (and very cool) selection, the 1996 teenage witchcraft favorite The Craft. It’s scheduled for October 12, and should draw a mix of 1990s enthusiasts and newbies. Meanwhile, October 26 offers a double feature: Halloween III: Season of the Witch and Creepshow. Michael Myers and George Romero, six days before Halloween? Bloody perfect. (The Craft: 7:30 p.m. on October 12; Halloween III and Creepshow: 7:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m., respectively, on October 26; at the Dipson Amherst Theatre, 3500 Main St.; facebook.com/thursdaynightterrors)

Buffalo Film Seminars: The heavy hitters are coming out for the BFS this month. First up is Robert Altman’s still-innovative M*A*S*H on October 3. Next, on October 10, is Alan J. Pakula’s timely (ahem) Watergate classic All the President’s Men. Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1983 drama Nostalghia screens on October 24, followed by Wim Wenders’s soaring Wings of Desire on October 24. And on October 31, BFS presents Mike Nichols’s Postcards from the Edge. The latter was written by the late Carrie Fisher, and based on her own novel. It’s a gem, and Meryl Streep and Shirley Maclaine have rarely been better. (7 p.m. on October 3, 10, 17, 24, and 31 at the Dipson Amherst Theatre, 3500 Main St.; csac.buffalo.edu/bfs.html)

Noir EssentialsIn a Lonely Place: The new film noir series at the Dipson Eastern Hills offers another great: Nicholas Ray’s In a Lonely Place. There’s an argument to be made that Humphrey Bogart gives his best performance, as a screenwriter accused of murder. (7:30 p.m. on October 18 at the Dipson Eastern Hills Cinema, 4545 Transit Rd., Williamsville; dipsontheatres.com)

Roycroft Film Society—Autism in AmericaMany critics consider this 2015 documentary to be the strongest film yet about autism. It’s another unique Roycroft pick. (4 p.m. on October 8 at Parkdale Elementary School, 141 Girard Ave., East Aurora; roycroftcampuscorp.com)

TCM Big Screen Classics—The Princess BrideFans of Rob Reiner’s adventure-filled love story don’t just like it. They love it. I suspect many of them will be in attendance to commemorate the thirtieth anniversary of the film, which stars Cary Elwes, Robin Wright, Mandy Patinkin, Christopher Guest, and, of course, Andre the Giant. (2 and 7 p.m. on October 15 and 18 at the Regal Elmwood Center, 2001 Elmwood Ave., and Regal Transit Center, 6707 Transit Rd., Williamsville; fathomevents.com)

GKIDS Presents Studio Ghibli Fest 2017—Spirited AwayThis ongoing Fathom Events series has now arrived at one of Hayao Miyazaki’s most acclaimed and important films. Spirited Away is a whimsical delight that still enchants viewers of any age. (Dubbed version: 12:55 p.m. on October 29; subtitled version: 7 p.m. on October 30; at the Regal Elmwood Center, 2001 Elmwood Ave., and Regal Transit Center, 6707 Transit Rd., Williamsville;fathomevents.com)

Free films courtesy of the Buffalo & Erie County Public Library: The Town of Collins Public Library has scheduled a free screening of Tyler Perry’s Boo! A Madea Halloween on October 6, while the Central Library’s free family film screening is again set for the first Saturday of the month. (1 p.m. on October 6 at the Town of Collins Public Library, 2341 Main St., Collins; and 1 p.m. on October 7 at the Central Branch, 1 Lafayette Square;buffalolib.org)

Norma and The Magic Flute at the Fredonia Opera House: The latest “Live at the Met” broadcast at the Opera House is a new production of Vincenzo Bellini’s Norma on October 7, while Julie Taymor’s production of Die Zauberflote (The Magic Flute) screens on October 14. (Norma: 1 p.m. on October 7; The Magic Flute: 1 p.m. on October 14; at the Fredonia Opera House, 9 Church St., Fredonia; fredopera.org)

TCM Presents The Natural at the North Park: It’s a month of unique and exciting film screenings, but the October 21 presentation of The Natural at the North Park Theatre might top the list. Presented by Turner Classic Movies, this special “TCM Backlot” screening  of the Buffalo-shot baseball favorite will be hosted by TCM’s Ben Mankiewicz and feature a live appearance from the film’s director, Barry Levinson. Tickets are required for this free screening, but prepare to arrive early; a ticket does not guarantee a seat. (7 p.m. on October 21 at the North Park Theatre, 1428 Hertel Ave.; northparktheatre.org)

Beloved and Cameraperson, presented by Cultivate Cinema Circle: One of the late Jonathan Demme’s most unjustly ignored films is Beloved, the 1998 Toni Morrison adaptation starring Oprah Winfrey. On October 24, Cultivate Cinema Circle presents the film in conjunction with Morrison’s Babel series visit to Buffalo on November 9. Also this month, CCC presents a screening of Kirsten Johnson’s stunning documentary, Cameraperson(Cameraperson: 7 p.m. on October 4 at Squeaky Wheel Film & Media Arts Center, 617 Main St.; Beloved: 7:30 p.m. on October 24 at Hallwalls Contemporary Arts Center, 341 Delaware Ave.;cultivatecinemacircle.com)

Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde and Nosferatu at the North Park: This double feature of silent horror classics on October 11 will feature live musical accompaniment from Austin band the Invincible Czars. (Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde: 7 p.m.; Nosferatu: 9:30 p.m.; both at the North Park Theatre, 1428 Hertel Ave.; northparktheatre.org)

Old Chestnut Film Series: China Seas: The long-running classic film series presents a season of Clark Gable and Greta Garbo. First up is Gable, in the 1935 drama China Seas(7:30 p.m. on October 13 in the Community Room of the Phillip Sheridan School, 3200 Elmwood Ave., Kenmore; oldchestnut.com)

October at the Screening Room: It is possible that this month is one of the busiest in the history of Amherst’s Screening Room Cinema. There are documentaries, like Swim Team, which opens September 29 and also screens on September 30, October 1, and October 3. There are classics, like John Ford’s The Grapes of Wrath, which screens on October 7, 8 and 10. (The October 7 screening will also feature a live performance titled The Movin’ Dress: A Dust Bowl Story.) There’s a local fare from Buffalo State College, at the Studio 716 Film Festival on October 6. And there is a lengthy list of scary (and scary-funny) favorites, as the Halloween Horrorfest features films like Carnival of SoulsNight of the Living Dead, Plan 9 From Outer Space, and Young Frankenstein. Remember to check screeningroom.net for times and a full schedule of films and events. (The Screening Room, 880 Alberta Dr., Amherst; screeningroom.net)

Previews, reviews, rundowns and more: My TIFF17 coverage

The 2017 Toronto International Film Festival feels like it happened three months ago. In actuality, it was just a few weeks ago. My time spent at the festival is tightly-packed, however, and that leads to a massive post-TIFF hangover. Hence, the feeling that it was far longer ago than it actually was.

More TIFF writing from me is coming soon, including a feature in the November issue of Buffalo Spree. But here is the majority of my festival coverage.

 

From Buffalo Spree magazine:

Make 2017 the year you finally hit the Toronto International Film Festival

 

From BuffaloSpree.com:

Ten to remember from TIFF17

7 days until TIFF17: The fest adds Gaga, Dunkirk, and Denzel

TIFF 2017 Update: Brie Larson, Saoirse Ronan, and Mélanie Laurent lead some under-the-radar selections

Seven weeks to go: The TIFF countdown is on

 

From Forever Young:

Must-See Films of Fall 2017: The Toronto International Film Festival

 

From The Playlist:

Barbara Albert’s ‘Mademoiselle Paradis’ Is A Haunting Period Tale [TIFF Review]

‘Porcupine Lake’: A Worthy, Wise Tale Of Teenage Longing [TIFF Review]

 

From The Film Stage:

TIFF Review: ‘Mary Shelley’ Doesn’t Breath Life into the ‘Frankenstein’ Author’s Story

TIFF Review: ‘Roman J. Israel, Esq.’ Defies Expectations at Every Turn

TIFF Review: ‘Molly’s Game’ is Undeniably Enjoyable and Hugely Forgettable        

TIFF Review: ‘Lady Bird’ is Wise, Funny, Remarkably Assured, and One of the Year’s Great Joys     

TIFF Review: ‘Euphoria’ Provides a Complex Role for Alicia Vikander Amidst Deflating Drama

The road to TIFF17: Brie Larson, Saoirse Ronan, and Mélanie Laurent lead some under-the-radar selections

Unicorn Store, starring and directed by Brie Larson, makes its world premiere at TIFF17.
PHOTO COURTESY OF TIFF

As the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival draws closer, it’s time to look at some less high-profile selections. I took a closer look at ten of these for BuffaloSpree.com.

Three weeks from now, the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival will be in full swing. If you love cinema, that’s thrilling news. TIFF, of course, is a giant, a festival that (along with festivals in Venice and Telluride) helps set the direction for the rest of the cinematic year thanks to biggies like Suburbicon and Molly’s Game. However, part of the fun is discovering small-scale gems. Here are ten under-the-radar films to consider seeing at TIFF17, or to make note of for future viewing.

 

Unicorn Store: The ascent of the utterly delightful Brie Larson has been a joy to behold. Key to her rise was the reception that greeted Room at the 2015 festival, and months later she was Larson was clutching an Oscar. Now, the star of The Glass Castle and Kong: Skull Island makes her directorial debut. Larson plays a young artist in this whimsical film co-starring Samuel L. Jackson.

On Chesil Beach: A highlight of the 2015 festival was the performance of Saoirse Ronan in Brooklyn. The actress returns in this adaptation of Ian McEwan’s 60s-set novella that costars young actor Billy Howle.

Plonger: French actress Mélanie Laurent has given wondrous performances for years now, in films like Inglourious Basterds and Beginners. But her work behind the camera has been even more impressive. She follows up 2014’s Breathe with this drama about a photographer who takes up deep-sea diving.

Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood: One of the spiciest Hollywood tell-alls in recent memory was Scotty Bowers’s memoir of his years as a pimp (and sometimes more) to the stars. Director Matt Tyrnauer’s long-awaited documentary adaptation should be fascinating.

Cocaine Prison: Another noteworthy TIFF documentary, Cocaine Prison is a sure-to-be involving look at the international drug trade focusing on a drug mule, his sister, and a cocaine worker.

My Days of Mercy: Can a TIFF Gala Presentation qualify as “under the radar”? Perhaps, when the film in question is a death row drama. Ellen Page and Kate Mara star in the latest from Israeli director Tali Shalom-Ezer.

Kodachrome: Jason Sudeikis and Ed Harris play father and son in a road movie that also stars Elizabeth Olsen. Little is known about this one, but the IMDB description intrigues: “Set during the final days of the admired photo development system known as Kodachrome, a father and son hit the road in order to reach the Kansas photo lab before it closes its doors for good.”

Porcupine Lake: This intimate coming-of-age drama is a quieter cousin of TIFF15 standout Sleeping Giant. Both are Canadian dramas about aimless summers that forever change the lives of the teens involved. Ingrid Veninger directs.

The Crescent: TIFF’s Midnight Madness program can always be counted on for some off-kilter treats. Hopefully, this horror film set at a remote coastal estate will be another killer Madness entry.

Miami: The Finnish estranged sister drama Miami may turn out to be one of the festival’s word of mouth hits, and stars Krista and Sonja Kuittinen could be two of TIFF17’s breakouts.

The TIFF17 countdown is on (for BuffaloSpree.com)

Yes, TIFF17 is fast approaching … I pondered the first batch of announcements for BuffaloSpree.com.

A tell-tale sign that summer is preparing for closure is the first batch of Toronto International Film Festival (running from September 7 to 17) announcements. Those came on July 25, as head honchos Piers Handling and Cameron Bailey ran through a group of TIFF17 gala and special presentation selections. It was a strong group, to be sure, and featured many titles announced days later for the Venice Film Festival.

But questions still remain. Such as…

What’s going to be the opening night film? This was indeed a surprise, as the opening night selection is always newsworthy. Some have been good (Dead Ringers, The Sweet Hereafter), some have been meh (Demolition, The Judge), some have been bad (The Fifth Estate), and some have been crimes against humanity (Score! The Hockey Musical). The assembled press at the July 25 press conference certainly seemed surprised. [UPDATE: It’s tennis drama Borg/McEnroe.]

Does this mean the opening night film will be Canadian? Most likely. Bailey said the announcement would come in mid-August, and the Canadian press conference is set for August 9. That could mean Montreal native Xavier Dolan’s The Death and Life of John F. Donovan. Its starry cast — Jessica Chastain, Kit Harrington, Natalie Portman — seems perfect for an opener.

Is there ANY chance Blade Runner 2049 still makes the lineup? Probably not. For weeks, there had been (possibly unfounded) Twitter buzz that the long-awaited sequel to Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner could be the festival opener. After all, director Denis Villeneuve is Canadian and a TIFF veteran. (Last year he came with the well-received Arrival.) Star Ryan Gosling is Canadian and a TIFF veteran. (Last year he came with the super-duper-well-received La La Land.) Plus, the timing seemed to make sense; the film opens on October 4. But it wasn’t announced for TIFF or Venice. The New York Film Festival is possible, but perhaps Warner Bros. decided to keep this one secret until right before its release date.

Is there a La La Land or Moonlight in the mix? Really, that question is asking if there is a soon-to-be cross-cultural smash, a critical success that also enchants audiences worldwide. There’s no way of knowing, of course. But a few titles that could fit the bill are Battle of the Sexes, about the legendary tennis match between Bobby Riggs and Billie Jean King; Andy Serkis’s Breathe, about a couple facing a devastating disease; and Stronger, in which Jake Gyllenhaal plays Boston Marathon bombing survivor Jeff Bauman.

Is it worth seeing Darren Aronofsky’s mother! when the film is set to open just days later? Maybe! Aronofsky’s annoyingly titled Jennifer Lawrence-starrer is one of the most mysterious majors debuting at the fall festivals. But it opens on September 15 … before the end of TIFF. Personally, I’m not sure I can pass up the chance to see mother! a few days early … even if it’s a waste of TIFF time.

Will there be a dry eye in the Lightbox at the end of Tragically Hip documentary Long Time Running? That’s unlikely. The gala debut of the film chronicling the Hip’s farewell 2016 tour will be one the festival’s hottest tickets.

Answers to these questions will arrive very soon. Watch buffalospree.com for more updates, and follow me on Twitter at @FilmSwoon.com.

 

Still from Long Time Running courtesy of TIFF.

You Should Be Watching: ‘Okja’ (for The Buffalo News)

For my latest Buffalo News “You should be watching” column,” I looked at “Okja.” This Netflix release is one of 2017’s best films.

Head over to Netflix where you’ll find the listing for “Okja,” a new Netflix original film. Pictured is the title creature, a large, cuddly animal resembling a cross between a walrus, a hippo and an obese dog. Make no mistake, though, Bong Joon-ho’s “Okja” is not a film for children. Instead it’s a brilliant, harsh, emotionally overwhelming story of corporate greed, animal abuse, and, to a lesser extent, the bonds of friendship. It’s one of the finest films of 2017.

Title: “Okja”

Year it debuted: 2017

Where it can be seen: Netflix

Who’s in it: Ahn Seo-hyun, Tilda Swinton, Paul Dano, Jake Gyllenhaal, Lily Collins

Running time: 120 minutes

Brief plot description: The powerful Mirando Corporation led by CEO Nancy Mirando (Tilda Swinton) announces a worldwide contest in which hand-picked farmers will raise a newly bred superpig. One of these farmers lives in South Korea with his granddaughter, Mija (Ahn Seo-hyun). She has formed a special bond with their superpig, Okja. However, it is now time for Mirando and TV zoologist Johnny Wilcox (Jake Gyllenhaal) to bring the animal to New York City. With the help of the animal rights group Animal Liberation Front (ALF), Mija attempts to save Okja from a grim fate.

Why it’s worth watching: “Okja” is an important release for Netflix. It is directed by a major-league filmmaker, the man behind cult classics “The Host” and “Snowpiercer.” It features a heavyweight cast. It premiered at the Cannes Film Festival. And finally, “Okja” is the first Netflix narrative feature that could garner some Oscar interest, particularly for its effects work. The film is a deliriously inventive swing for the fences that uses CGI to bring to life a believable, lovable beast.

While the friendship angle is moving, “Okja” is even more effective as a sharp critique of multinational big-business cruelty. There are a number of brutal, difficult-to-watch moments, mainly a scene in which a wild and wacky Gyllenhaal tortures Okja. At times, the actor seems to be channeling Charles Nelson Reilly – and that’s as strange as it sounds. While certainly over the top, it works, and so do the stunning action set pieces. One, an attempted rescue of Okja by ALF leaders (including Paul Dano and Lily Collins), ranks among Bong Joon-ho’s most memorable. “Okja” might be his most original film. Plus, it’s a Netflix must-watch. But be prepared for some heartbreaking moments. And keep the kiddos away.

June Coming Attractions: Summer series begin (from Buffalo Spree)

Well, I was negligent in posting my June Buffalo Spree “Coming Attractions” column until today … the last day of June. But hey, you’ve still got tonight!

June is when the WNY screening world gets very busy—both indoors and outdoors. So enjoy this roundup of films, and remember to watch for outdoor film series calendars in Spree’s July and August issues.

Niagara and Spaceballs at the Screening Room: One of the films featured in Spree’s April 2015 “film issue” was 1953’s Niagara, the Marilyn Monroe vehicle that was shot entirely in Niagara Falls, Ontario. It’s a strange, fascinating melodrama, especially for Western New Yorkers. This combination of the Falls and Marilyn still intrigues, and this makes the film a perennial pick at Amherst’s Screening Room. Niagara, co-starring Joseph Cotten, screens at 7:30 p.m. on June 1 and 2. Note that June 1 would’ve been Monroe’s ninety-first birthday. Also on tap in June is Mel Brooks’s Spaceballs. The comic master’s Star Wars parody is not as revered as his Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein, but it’s still hugely enjoyable, and has a special place in the hearts of 1980s kids. It screens on June 23, 24, and 29; the latter screening will also feature trivia. (Niagara: 7:30 p.m. on June 1 and 2; Spaceballs: 7:30 p.m. on June 23 and 24, 7 p.m. on June 29; at the Screening Room, 880 Alberta Dr., Amherst;screeningroom.net)

Fredonia Opera House—Michelangelo: Love and Death and America Rising: The Arts of the Gilded AgeOn June 15, the Opera House presents Michelangelo: Love and Death, a high-definition production exploring the life and work of the Renaissance master. Then, on June 29, filmmaker Michael Maglaras will discuss and present America Rising: The Arts of the Gilded Age. His film takes a close look at the American art, music, and literature created between Lincoln’s death in 1865 and Mark Twain’s death in 1910.  (Michelangelo: 7:30 p.m. on June 15; America Rising: 7:30 p.m. on June 29; both at the Fredonia Opera House, 9 Church St., Fredonia; fredopera.org)

Cultivate Cinema Circle—American Promise: Since its start in 2015, CCC has provided Buffalonians with the opportunity to see insightful, groundbreaking documentaries like The Look of Science and Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World. This month, Cultivate offers Joe Brewster and Michele Stephenson’s acclaimed 2013 documentary American Promise. Originally airing as part of the award-winning PBS series POV and shot over the course of twelve years, the film sharing the experiences of two African-Americans attending a historically white Manhattan private school. (7 p.m. on June 28 at Burning Books, 420 Connecticut St.; cultivatecinemacircle.com)

TCM Big Screen Classics—The Godfather and Some Like It HotThere’s never a bad time to see The Godfatheron the big screen, but 2017 is especially noteworthy. It’s been forty-five years since Francis Ford Coppola’s epic story of the Corleone crime family was released, and the film’s hold on pop culture remains strong. Meanwhile, the second TCM film for the month is Billy Wilder’s Some Like It Hot. Yes, the comedy starring Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon, and Marilyn Monroe is still uproarious. (The Godfather: 2 and 7 p.m. on June 4 and 7; Some Like It Hot: 2 and 7 p.m. on June 11 and 14; both at the Regal Elmwood Center, 2001 Elmwood Ave., and Regal Transit Center, 6707 Transit Rd., Williamsville; fathomevents.com)

Roycroft Film Society—Wild Tales: The list of nominees for Best Foreign Language Film at the eighty-seventh Academy Awards (held on February 22, 2015) is pretty staggering: Poland’s Ida (the deserving winner), Russia’s Leviathan, Estonia’s Tangerines, Mauritania’s Timbuktu, and Argentina’s Wild Tales. The most purely enjoyable film on the list is Wild Tales, and it’s June’s Roycroft Film Society selection. The pitch-black but very funny anthology film from writer-director Damián Szifron was produced by the great Pedro Almodovar. (4 p.m. on June 11 at Parkdale Elementary School, 141 Girard Ave., East Aurora; roycroftcampuscorp.com)

Fathom Events—RiffTrax Live and Resident EvilIn addition to The Godfather and Some Like It Hot, the Fathom Events June lineup features RiffTrax Live: Summer Shorts Beach Party:, in which comedians goof on some old-school educational shorts, and video game adaptation Resident EvilVendetta. The latter is the latest in a series of animated efforts based on the hit horror games, all unrelated to the long-running live action series. (RiffTrax Live: Summer Shorts Beach Party: times TBA on June 15 and 20; Resident Evil: Vendetta: 7 and 10 p.m. on June 19; both at the Regal Elmwood Center, 2001 Elmwood Ave., and Regal Transit Center, 6707 Transit Rd., Williamsville;fathomevents.com)

Family-Friendly Film Series: As usual, the second Saturday of each month features a free family film at the Buffalo & Erie County Public Library Crane Branch; call 883-6651 with questions or for more information about the movie selections. (11 a.m. on June 10 at the Buffalo & Erie County Public Library Crane Branch, 633 Elmwood Ave.; buffalolib.org)

Toronto LGBT Film Festival: The twenty-seventh annual festival started on May 25 and runs through June 4. (Check insideout.ca/initiatives/Toronto lineup, schedules, and locations)

Lawrence of Arabia at the Dryden Theatre: The George Eastman Museum’s Dryden Theatre screens David Lean’s widescreen epic twice, on June 1 and 3. It’s one of several noteworthy screenings at the Dryden in June; check eastman.org for the full list. (7:30 p.m. on June 1 and 3 at the Dryden Theatre, 900 East Ave., Rochester;eastman.org)

“Books on Film” at TIFF Bell Lightbox: In June, this insightful series features director Mira Nair, who will discuss her sadly underseen chess drama Queen of Katwe, and Brooklyn author Colm Toibin, who talks about the film based on his story of a young Irish immigrant in the 1950s. (Katwe: 7 p.m. on June 5; Brooklyn: 7 p.m. on June 19; both at TIFF Bell Lightbox, 350 King St. W., Toronto; tiff.net)

La Cenerentola Live at the Dipson Amherst: This month’s simulcast is the first opera staged by Guillaume Gallienne. (2 p.m. on June 26 at the Dipson Amherst Theatre, 3500 Main. St.; dipsontheatres.com)

Flicks On Old Falls Free Outdoor Movie Series: The Secret Life of PetsThe annual free summer movie series on Old Falls Street in Niagara Falls kicks off with one of last summer’s animated hits. The series runs on Thursdays through August 31. Bring blankets; Adirondack chairs are also available. (Movie at 9 p.m.; pre-show begins at 7:30 p.m.; Old Falls St., Niagara Falls; fallsstreet.com)

Cultivate Cinema Circle: JerichowCCC’s Christian Petzold series concludes with the Phoenix director’s 2008 entry, a film loosely inspired by The Postman Always Rings Twice. (7 p.m. on June 7 at Squeaky Wheel Film & Media Art Center, 617 Main St.; cultivatecinemacircle.com)

Fathom Events: My Neighbor TotoroAnimator Hayao Miyazaki’s Totoro is one of his sweetest, finest films. It screens as part of Fathom’s Studio Ghibli Fest. (dubbed version: 12:55 p.m. on June 25; subtitled version: 7 p.m. on June 26; at the Regal Elmwood Center, 2001 Elmwood Ave., and Regal Transit Center, 6707 Transit Rd., Williamsville;fathomevents.com)

5-25-77 and Raising Arizona at the Screening Room: In addition to the Screening Room showings mentioned above, the theater has a few other treats planned for June. 5-25-77 is a 1970s-set coming-of-age entry about a teenager excitedly waiting for the premiere of a little sci-fi flick called Star Wars. Meanwhile, the Coen Brothers’ Raising Arizona remains one of the duo’s funniest creations. It begins its Screening Room run on June 30; watch screeningroom.net for additional showings. (5-25-77: 9:30 p.m. on June 2; Raising Arizona: 7:30 p.m. on June 30; at the Screening Room, 880 Alberta Dr., Amherst; screeningroom.net)

Concert and Silent Film at the Riviera Theatre: Donna Parker plays the Mighty WurliTzer as Laurel and Hardy’s silent film Brats unspools onscreen. (7:30 p.m. on June 7 at the Riviera Theatre and Performing Arts Center, 67 Webster St., N. Tonawanda; rivieratheatre.org)

Scanners and Olivier Assayas at TIFF Bell Lightbox: The “Books on Film” series mentioned above is a TIFF summer highlight, but it’s one of many unique screenings at the Toronto jewel. David Cronenberg’s Scanners screens on June 17. Most thrilling? Clouds of Sils Maria and Personal Shopper director Olivier Assayas is the focus of a series titled Something in the Air: The Cinema of Olivier Assayas. It features his own works, as well as hand-picked favorites from other filmmakers. It all starts on June 22 with Robert Bresson’s 1977 drama The Devil Probably. For the full series schedule, visit tiff.net(Scanners: 9 p.m. on June 17; The Devil Probably: 9 p.m. on June 22; both at TIFF Bell Lightbox, 350 King St. W., Toronto; tiff.net

Transit Drive-In Retro Movie Tuesday: A retro double feature is held every Tuesday (except July 4) all summer long at the Transit Drive-In. The lineup includes The Breakfast Club and St. Elmo’s Fire on June 6; Rocky IV and The Hunt for Red October on June 13; The Monster Squad and The Lost Boys on June 20; and The NeverEnding Story and Labyrinth on June 27. (First movie starts at 9:15 p.m. at Transit Drive In, 6655 S. Transit Rd, Lockport.;transitdrivein.com)

Recommended New Books on Filmmaking: ‘Twin Peaks,’ Steve McQueen, and More (for The Film Stage)

My latest post on new books on filmmaking for The Film Stage ran in early May, just a few weeks before Showtime’s Twin Peaks debuted.

We’re knocking on the door of summer, and that means lots of big properties are ready to be unleashed. But it’s not too late to read books exploring some recent films, as well as some new works about Sherry Lansing, film noir, and Steve McQueen. Let’s start with a unique look at David Lynch’s Twin Peaks.

The Essential Wrapped In Plastic: Pathways to Twin Peaks by John Thorne

When Twin Peaks debuted on ABC in 1990, there were no message boards in which fans could argue and dissect the latest episodes. Starting in 1992, however, there was Wrapped In Plastic, the immortal Peaks’ fanzine. Just in time for the series return on Showtime is The Essential Wrapped In Plastic: Pathways to Twin Peaks. Here, WIP co-editor John Thorne brings together some of the publication’s most vital, important essays. Every episode is included, but what makes the book a must-read is the analysis of Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me. Featuring everything from a probing look at the film’s strange critical response upon release to a convincing argument that the Chet Desmond section is actually “the dream of FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper,” The Essential Wrapped In Plastic mesmerizes the reader with vivid, startling discoveries.

Marvel Year by Year: A Visual History, Updated and Expanded (DK)

The updated and expanded edition of Marvel Year by Year is heavy — literally — and absolutely packed with details. Starting in the 1940s and running through 2016, this stunning text is big, bold, and deliriously dense. For a casual comic book fan like me, it’s full of new info. (The wedding of Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson was “recreated with actors at New York’s Shea Stadium on June 5, 1987”?) Even die-hards are likely to stumble upon new details. 1950s Marvel character Marvin Mouse himself would be impressed.

Film Noir Light and Shadow edited by Alain Silver and James Ursini (Applause)

The visual style of film noir is instantly recognizable, but that does not make it simple. Film Noir Light and Shadow explores just how complex and meaningful this style was. Films like Kiss Me Deadly and Double Indemnity are explored in detail, while a series of noteworthy authors also break down less-known films like Violent Saturday and Crossfire. It’s the kind of book that sends one racing to Turner Classic Movies.

The Great Wall: The Art of the Film by Abbie Bernstein (Titan Books)

There is no other way to put it: Zhang Yimou’s The Great Wall was a flop, at least stateside But it was a fascinating flop, a strange spectacle that swung for the fences (or walls) and came up short. Still, the size and scope of the project makes The Great Wall: The Art of the Film a beautiful publication. It’s a sturdy account of how the Matt Damon-starrer came to be, and it’s a reminder that whatever the film’s failings, the cinematography and production design is never less than breathtaking. It’s a film made for the glossy coffee table treatment.

World Film Locations: Cleveland edited by Alberto Zambenedetti (Intellect)

The city of Cleveland has quietly made a major dent in cinema, a fact confirmed by World Film Locations: Cleveland. With maps, stills, and photos, the book explores locations from films like American Splendor, The Deer Hunter, and Stranger Than Paradise. It also spotlights some times when the city doubled as someplace else, including Spider-Man 3 and The Avengers. (I’m volunteering myself to write the Buffalo, New York, version of World Locations.)

Leading Lady: Sherry Lansing and the Making of a Hollywood Groundbreaker by Stephen Galloway (Crown Archetype)

There is no overestimating Sherry Lansing’s impact on Hollywood history. As the first woman to be name president of a major studio (Paramount), she helped pave the way for countless female execs to come. As Stephen Galloway’s new biography Leading Lady demonstrates, she did so with poise, charm, and humility. The book includes colorful backstories of troubled films that eventually worked (Fatal Attraction, Titanic) and some that didn’t (Sliver). It’s compulsively readable, and full of juicy tidbits on her dealings with the likes of Harvey Weinstein and Scott Rudin.

A bushel of LEGO Batman books (DK)

The LEGO Batman Movie was one of 2017’s undeniable pleasures, a fast, fun film that simultaneously worked for LEGO-crazy kids and Bat-moms and dads. DK released a plethora of books to accompany the film’s release, and they run the gamut from a neat-o sticker book and texts for wee readers (Rise of the Rogues and Team Batman) to The Essential Guide (by Julia Marsh) and The Making of the Movie (by Tracey Miller-Zarneke). The latter shows how the character design progressed, and also lets us admire some of the elements that flew by so quickly on the big screen.

Star Wars: The Visual Encyclopedia by Tricia Barr, Adam Bray, and Cole Horton (DK)

The Star Wars encyclopedia and dictionary bookshelf is ever-growing. When the texts are as painstakingly designed and wonderfully structured as Star Wars: The Visual Encyclopedia, why shouldn’t it? This latest effort is broken into five sections — geography, nature, history, culture, and science and technology — and is almost absurdly detailed. Looking for an up-close look at Mace Windu’s Jedi Council chair? It’s here, on the furniture spread.

Steve McQueen: Le Mans in the Rearview Mirror by Don Nunley with Marshall Terrill (Dalton Watson Fine Books)

While the Steve McQueen auto racing film Le Mans was a box office disappointment in 1971, it’s now considered one of the most important and greatest racing flicks of all time. Steve McQueen: Le Mans in the Rearview Mirror is a fascinatingly deep dive into the making of the film, and also serves as a fine bio of the complex McQueen. Packed with gorgeous on-set photos, it’s an essential account of how a film the authors call “a crashing bore” can eventually be seen as “the most historically realistic representation in the history of race.”

Recommended early summer reads

Chuck Wendig’s gripping Aftermath trilogy of post-Return of the Jedi Star Wars novels comes to a fine end with Empire’s End (Del Rey). There are numerous treats here, including cameos from Lando Calrissian and … well, you’ll see. Another recently released Star Wars novel, Join the Resistance (Disney Lucasfilm Press) is for younger readers. However, older fans may find this story of a trio of young Resistance recruits to be of interest. (It’s written by Ben Acker and Ben Blacker.) Irvine Welsh’s 2002 Trainspotting sequel, Porno, has been re-released as T2: Trainspotting to tie in with the film. While the story underwent drastic changes, a number of elements (including Renton living in Amsterdam and Sick Boy’s pub) stayed intact. It’s a worthy followup, if a bit time-intensive due to Welsh’s frequent use of Scottish dialect. Lastly, Leonardo DiCaprio recently bought the rights to Stephen Talty’s nonfiction work The Black Hand (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), and this story of an early-20th century detective attempting to stop a crime wave is riveting.

 

Review: ‘David Lynch: The Art Life’ explores the creation of ‘Eraserhead’

This Buffalo News review of the documentary “David Lynch: The Art Life” ran just a few days before the return of “Twin Peaks.”

For the first time in roughly a decade, David Lynch fans have reason to be breathless with anticipation. On May 21, Showtime debuts the 25-years-in-the-making return of Lynch’s television masterpiece, “Twin Peaks.” All 18 new episodes are directed by the man himself.

Therefore, the release of “David Lynch: The Art Life,” a feature-length documentary exploring the filmmaker’s work, is a case of very good timing. Director Jon Nguyen’s 90-minute interview with Lynch (and only Lynch) is a rather extraordinary opportunity to hear one of culture’s most unique artists discuss his life, his work, and where it came from.

The documentary is the highlight of the North Park Theatre’s “Lynchfest,” a week celebrating one of cinema’s most unique, unyielding artists.

One of the reasons the film is so successful is its narrow focus: “The Art Life” looks only at Lynch’s childhood, his wild-at-heart teenage years, his time in college as a young artist, and, finally, the creation of “Eraserhead.”

That means no “Elephant Man,” no “Blue Velvet,” no “Twin Peaks,” no “Mulholland Drive,” no Transcendental Meditation. (And no “Dune”!) Still, the DNA of Lynch’s later works can be traced directly to the events and individuals he references in “The Art Life.”

This should come as no surprise. For Lynch, there is no divide between life and art. This makes his work distinctly personal — and utterly inimitable.

“I was always drawing,” Lynch says while pondering his childhood. His mother refused to allow him to have coloring books. “Those would be restrictive, and kill some kind of creativity,” she believed. He calls this decision “a beautiful thing.”

Drawing (and, later, painting) allowed his imagination to flourish. But so, too, did strange occurrences like the sudden appearance in his neighborhood of a completely nude woman, her mouth bloodied. (Shades of Dorothy Vallens from “Blue Velvet.”)

The latter memory is particularly shocking, especially since Lynch’s childhood “was no larger than two blocks.” There were “huge worlds in those two blocks,” he says. (This seems an allusion to the small-town horrors that lurk in “Velvet” and “Twin Peaks.”)

Discovering that a friend’s father made a living as an artist led Lynch to learn of “the art life,” which he defines as “You drink coffee, you smoke cigarettes, and that’s it. Maybe girls come into a little bit. But basically it’s the incredible happiness of working and living that life.”

This was an appealing concept, and it led Lynch and his friend and future production designer, Jack Fisk, to Boston, Europe (“We were going to go for three years, but we came back in 15 days”), and, eventually Philadelphia. It was this “weird town” and its “art spirit” that put Lynch on the path to “Eraserhead.”

It has always been a joy to hear the voice of Lynch, whether as part of interviews or in his shout-y role as “Twin Peaks”’ Gordon Cole. The Lynch onscreen in “The Art Life” is older (he’s now 71), a bit weathered, and perhaps a tad slower. But his voice, his hair and his mind are as glorious as ever. It’s a joy to watch Lynch at work in his stunning home studio, especially when his infant daughter wanders into the room.

“The Art Life” is a must-see for Lynch obsessives, but it’s also worth watching for anyone with an interest in the creation process. It’s hard to watch the film and not feel inspired to create … and to immerse yourself in the filmography of cinema’s darkest poet.

INTERVIEW: Billy Dee Williams discusses his life, career and Lando

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I was truly honored to have the chance recently to interview one of my childhood favorites, actor Billy Dee Williams, for the Buffalo News.

We’re only five months into 2017, but it’s already been a memorable year for Billy Dee Williams. He recently turned 80, provided a voice in the hit “Lego Batman Movie,” and joined the likes of Mark Hamill and Harrison Ford at the “Star Wars” Celebration fan festival in Orlando.

The actor best known for his role as ultra-suave “Star Wars” hero Lando Calrissian in “The Empire Strikes Back” and “Return of the Jedi” is set to appear at Nickel City Con  from May 19 to 21 in the Buffalo Niagara Convention Center. The actor, who recently took time for a telephone interview, said he’s not in the next film, “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” and has no knowledge of plans for Lando in “Episode IX” (“Nobody has talked to me about it,” he said). But he still often often voices the beloved character in TV series like “Star Wars Rebels” and video games like “Star Wars: Battlefront.”

Beyond being a part of iconic franchises like “Star Wars” and “Batman,” he has starred in such well-remembered favorites as “Brian’s Song,” the 1971 movie-of-of-the-week with Williams as Gayle Sayers and James Caan as the late Brian Piccolo, and cult classics like “Nighthawks” with Sylvester Stallone. When asked what he’s most proud of, he points to a few favorites. “I’ve done a lot of films over a lot of years, but certainly ‘Brian’s Song’ – I was nominated for an Emmy for that. ‘Lady Sings the Blues’ [the 1972 Billie Holliday biopic starring Diana Ross] started a whole new kind of career for me. There’s ‘Mahogany.’ One of my favorite experiences was the Negro League baseball movie, ‘The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars & Motor Kings.’ I’ve had a pretty good career.”

Here’s more from our interview. 

Question: You’ve had a very busy 2017. What’s been the high point of the year so far?

Answer: Turning 80 years old is certainly a highlight (laughs). That’s a big one. And it’s ironic that I ended up doing Two-Face in “The Lego Batman Movie” after having played Harvey Dent in Tim Burton’s “Batman” (1989). I thought that was interesting. I was a little surprised, but I got a big chuckle out of it. They called me up and I was very happy to do it.

Q: “Star Wars” Celebration was just a few weeks ago. What was it like to see everyone? And did it feel strange to be there without Carrie Fisher?

A: We certainly all missed Carrie. It’s a tragedy — such an early point in her life — but we celebrated her. It was very nice to see everyone. I hadn’t seen any of them in quite some time. Every now and then I run into them, but it was nice to see everyone together.

Q: Does the ongoing growth of “Star Wars” surprise you?

A: It’s amazing. The “Star Wars” experience is a phenomenal experience, and it just picks up more fans with every generation. I think it’ll probably go on for another 40 years.

Q: You were the first African-American actor with a major role in the “Star Wars” saga, and you blazed a trail for actors like John Boyega in “The Force Awakens,” not to mention the diverse roster of stars in “Rogue One.” Is it accurate to consider you a pioneer?

A: I don’t really look at it that way. I just think of myself as an actor who is always looking for interesting things to do. That’s pretty much how I’ve conducted my life and my career.

Q: You’re also known for your painting. How did that passion develop?

A: It’s something I’ve been doing all my life. I spent three years at the National Academy of Design on a scholarship painting, and was nominated for a Guggenheim when I was 18 years old. I won a Hallgarten Prize, which is comparable to a Guggenheim. The Smithsonian National Gallery in Washington, D.C., owns one of my paintings, as does the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in New York and the American Jazz Museum in Kansas City. I’ve exhibited for a number of years, so it’s very much a part of my life.

Q: I hear you met recently with Donald Glover, who is playing young Lando Calrissian in the Han Solo spin-off film. What are your thoughts on him?

A: I hope he does well with it. For me, Lando is me. I can’t see anybody else as Lando. But he’s a very good actor, a very talented musician and writer, and a very nice young man. So I wish him the best.