Pondering ‘Ghostbusters’: A film as fun — and as essential — as anything else in 2016

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“Ghostbusters” is as deliriously pleasurable as any film I’ve seen in 2016. And I say that with no hesitation. It is, in fact, as good as the flawed but ever-watchable originals, and in some ways even superior.

Yes, the world-building can be a bit much, the villain is lame and poorly conceived, the cameos are fun but almost overwhelming, the adherence to the original film, especially, is a bit too snug. (Thrown out of the college/PO’ing the mayor/etc.)

But it’s FUN. And FUNNY. And so much smarter than its trailers, and its prerelease buzz, might have you believe.

The greatness of Kate McKinnon has been well-documented (and very well, by the likes of Wired and Vulture), but let me join the chorus: her Holtzmann is one of the most utterly delightful creations in recent cinema. You can’t take your eyes off her, and that’s due to McKinnon’s charisma. I have not been a “Saturday Night Live” watcher for some time now, so this was my first KM experience. My goodness. (I’ve been scouring YouTube for the clip of her lip-syncing DeBarge, but no such luck.)

All four leads are quite good, especially Leslie Jones, and it would be hard not to relish Chris Hemsworth’s performance as the wonderfully idiotic Kevin. Interestingly, it is the interplay of the four leads that I’ll most remember. The same is true of 1984’s “Ghostbusters,” a film that works so well mainly because of the charms of its cast and the novelty of its concept. The effects and the story were adequate, at best; the same is true of “Ghostbusters” 2016. And that’s fine. (Several reviews criticized the effects-laden finale. Um, it’s “Ghostbusters.” That’s pretty much how things are going to end.)

It pains me that many will remember the 2016 “Ghostbusters” mainly for the absurd, inane culture-war horseshit that’s swirled around the film for months. I feel sorry for the haters, those whose misogyny or backwards sense of nostalgia keeps them from seeing and appreciating something so joyful. It’s their loss.

Driving home after the film, I realized what makes “Ghostbusters,” for me, such a profound success: It’s something that 5 or 10 or 15 years from now I can imagine watching with both my daughter and my son, and finding as enjoyable as I do now. But more than that, I can see my daughter loving the fact that onscreen are four women who are presented as something beyond The Girlfriend/The Wife/The Secretary. They are the heroes, and they are science nerds, and they are hilarious. It’s probably clichéd to say that I’m more cognizant of such things after having a daughter. But it’s true. Today, I see more clearly than I may have before exactly why these representations are downright essential. And above all other reasons, that’s why “Ghostbusters” is a landmark summer blockbuster. Regardless of how much money it earns or what the final critic consensus may be, this is important. This means something.

Other random thoughts:

  • Loved the “Bababooey” shout near the end, surely wedged in by Stern Show super-fan Paul Feig.
  • The blink-and-you-miss-it tribute to Harold Ramis felt more resonant than any of the cameos, actually.
  • I truly hope the film’s box office is strong enough to earn a sequel. Similar to the upcoming follow-up to “The Force Awakens,” the set-up is complete. Now Feig and company can go in whatever direction they’d like.
  • Kate McKinnon. Kate McKinnon. Kate McKinnon.

July Coming Attractions: The dog days of summer are perfect for screenings

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July is not over! Only half over. I neglected to post my June Buffalo Spree Coming Attractions column, but July is updated the web and ready for your enjoyment.

The summer film series lineup is now in full swing, and there’s no better place for us to start our look at what’s on tap this month than Canalside.

Tuesday Night Flix at Canalside

It’s hard to think of a lovelier spot to watch a film than at Canalside, so the return of the Catholic Health-sponsored free outdoor film series is cause for celebration. The series started on June 14 and continues into September, and July’s lineup is relatively varied, and generally family friendly: The animated mouse immigration saga (!) An American Tail on July 5, the first Pirates of the Caribbean entry on July 12, Pixar’sFinding Nemo on July 19, and last summer’s dino sequel Jurassic World on July 26. The fine folks from Young Audiences Western New York (YAWNY) will offer up a special craft for the kids on select nights. In July, these are set for 7 to 8:30 p.m. (pre-movie) on July 5, 19, and 26. Note that Adirondack chairs are available for the first hundred guests. So, yeah. It pays to arrive early. (8:30 p.m. on July 5, 12, 19, and 26 on Pierce Lawn at Canalside; canalsidebuffalo.com)

A Twist of Lemmon, starring Chris Lemmon

The Fredonia Opera House offers an intimate opportunity to learn about the late Jack Lemmon on July 15. TheSome Like It Hot star’s son Chris presents a live performance called A Twist of Lemmon that features stories about his father’s work, his relationships with the likes of Marilyn Monroe and Walter Matthau, and songs from Hollywood’s golden age. It’s a unique presentation that also includes a Q-and-A. (7:30 p.m. on July 15 at the Fredonia Opera House, 9 Church St., Fredonia; fredopera.org)

Free Outdoor Movie at Chestnut Ridge Park

Chestnut Ridge played an important role in my young life, as a place to sled, run around, and play. I love that the Park continues to find new ways to draw in families, year-round. The latest example is a July 24 screening of Pixar’s The Incredibles. The witty superhero romp is as strong now as it was in 2004, and best of all? The screening is free. (9:15-11:30 p.m. on July 24 at Chestnut Ridge Park, Orchard Park; chestnutridgeconservancy.org)

Films at the Library

The Buffalo & Erie County Public Library system offers up two unique series this summer. The first, appropriately titled “The Dog Days of Summer,” will feature only films about canines. I’m down with that, especially if this list does not include Jim Belushi’s K-9. (The lineup has not yet been announced.) Meanwhile, the Town of Collins Public Library has mounted a Shakespeare Film Fest, and has scheduled three diverse picks for July. First is Julie Taymor’s The Tempest, starring Helen Mirren, on July 12. The Twelfth Night-inspired teen romp She’s the Man, starring the now-MIA Amanda Bynes, screens on July 19. And Peter Weir’s Dead Poets Society remains a fine film about the impact of the Bard’s work, as well as a showcase for the dramatic talents of the late Robin Williams. It screens on July 26. (“Dog Days of Summer”: 5 p.m. on July 7, 14, 21, and 28 at the Central Library, 1 Lafayette Sq.; Shakespeare Film Fest: 6 p.m. on July 12, 19, and 26 at Town of Collins Public Library, 2341 Main St., Collins; buffalolib.org)

Free Outdoor Family Movie Night and Kids PajamaParty at Green Acres Ice Cream

Every Tuesday from July 5 to August 23, Depew’s Green Acres Ice Cream features a free family film. The schedule includes some of the biggest animated hits of the last year-plus: Minions on July 5, The Peanuts Movie on July 12, Zootopia on July 19, and The Good Dinosaur on July 26. (Movies start at dusk at 4357 Broadway, Depew; greenacresicecream.com)

Grand Island Movies in the Park

How does a free outdoor film series stand out in the busy WNY marketplace? The Grand Island Movies in the Park series pulls it off by pairing one for the kids and one for the teens. Pixar’s classic Finding Nemo screens at 9 p.m. on July 30, followed by Independence Day at 11 p.m. This is a clever double-bill, since sequels to both films were released on June 17 and June 24, respectively. (The series started on June 25 with Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland and Marvel blockbuster Captain America: Winter Soldier.) (coreymcgowan.com)

TCM Big Screen Classics—Planet of the Apes

There have been seven—seven!—Planet of the Apes films since the iconic 1968 original, and the quality is spotty at best. But there is no denying the pleasures of that first film starring Charlton Heston. The ongoing Turner Classic Movies Big Screen Classics series presents the film this month, and twenty bucks says it’s as entertaining as any new film released in the month of July. (2 and 7 p.m. on July 24 and 27 at the Regal Elmwood Center, 2001 Elmwood Ave., and Regal Transit Center, 6707 Transit Rd., Williamsville; fathomevents.com)

Silo City Blockbuster—Rocky III and Creed

queaky Wheel brings two films in the ongoing Rocky Balboa saga to Silo City for a very special (and free) double bill on the weekend preceding the Fourth of July. While the quality of Rocky III is debatable, the third chapter in the battle between Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky Balboa and Carl Weathers’ Apollo Creed is certainly fun. (Mr. T!) Last year’s Creed, however, is undoubtedly great. The film about Creed’s son Adonis (the great Michael B. Jordan) and an aged Balboa is heartfelt and utterly crowd-pleasing. (Rocky III at 9 p.m., Creed at 11 p.m., at Silo City, 87 Childs St.; squeaky.org)

Roycroft Film Society—Phoenix

The Roycroft has scheduled one of the finest foreign films of recent years for its July screening. Director Christian Petzold’s post-World War II drama is the story of a concentration camp survivor’s attempt to reconnect with the (non-Jewish) husband who believes she is dead, and to learn whether he betrayed her to the Nazis. The performances from stars Nina Hoss and Ronald Zehrfeld are stunners, and the final scene will leave you breathless. (4 p.m. on July 10 at Parkdale Elementary School, 141 Girard Ave., East Aurora;roycroftcampuscorp.com)

Bacchus Summer Film Series

The truly unique summer film series held on the back patio at downtown favorite Bacchus offers a typically varied July lineup—some Dude, some Amy Schumer, some Kung-Fu, some Pixar: The Jerk (July 6),Trainwreck (July 7), The Big Lebowski (July 13), Ghost (July 14), The Incredibles (July 17), Dazed and Confused (July 20), The Princess Bride (July 21), Drunken Master (July 22), The Breakfast Club (July 27), andKnocked Up (July 28). (Dusk at 56 W. Chippewa St.; bacchusbuffalo.com.)

Cultivate Cinema Circle

CCC’s summer season runs into September, and July features two fascinating documentaries. First, however, is one of the greatest and most important films of the 1960s: Jean-Luc Godard’s Band of Outsiders. Featuring Godard’s then-wife Anna Karina, this French New Wave highlight is almost as influential as the filmmaker’s 1960 classic Breathless. Next is Doug Block’s The Kids Grow Up (July 21), an intimate portrait of his daughter featuring footage filmed throughout her adolescence. The month concludes with Do Not Resist, a sobering look at American police culture. (Outsiders: 7 p.m. July 7 at the Dipson Amherst Theatre, 3500 Main St.; Kids: 7 p.m. on July 21 at the North Park Theatre, 1428 Hertel Ave.; Resist: 8 p.m. on July 27 at Burning Books, 420 Connecticut St.; cultivatecinemacircle.com)

Amherst Youth and Recreation Department 2016 Summer Movie Series

Little yellow things, feelings, glass slippers, and a very likable sheep make up the July Amherst Youth and Recreation list. The outdoor series features Minions on July 8, Inside Out on July 15, Cinderella on July 22, and Shaun the Sheep on July 29. (9 p.m. on July 8, 15, 22, and 29 at Clearfield Community Center, 730 Hopkins Rd., Williamsville; amherstyouthandrec.org)

The Screening Room

As usual, Amherst’s Screening Room is full of more treats than I can mention, so visit screeningroom.net for the full listing. Highlights include the Marilyn Monroe-starring, Niagara Falls-filmed (and set) thriller Niagara and the acclaimed Anthony Weiner-centered documentary Weiner on July 1 and 2. (Both films began their Screening Room runs in June.) Being AP, a documentary about horse-racing legend AP McCoy, screens on July 7. And July also features the Gene Wilder/Richard Pryor comedy Silver Streak, Hitchcock’s Rear Window, and a film noir double bill. The latter includes Edgar G. Ulmer’s deliciously nasty 1945 Tom Neal-starrer,Detour. It was notoriously shot in six days, and has more imagination than most blockbusters. (3131 Sheridan Dr., Amherst; screeningroom.net)

 

Also screening this month …

Fathom Events has a number of screenings on tap at the at the Regal Elmwood Center and the Regal Transit Center. In addition to the aforementioned ApesThe Met: Live in HD presents La Bohème on July 13 and Così fan tutte on July 20, both at 7 p.m. And audiences can explore history, spirituality, architecture and art in St. Peter’s and the Papal Basilicas of Rome at 7 p.m. on July 14. Visit fathomevents.com for details.

The Dipson Amherst Theatre presents Rigoletto from the Opera de Paris at 11 a.m. on July 24 at the Dipson Amherst Theatre (3500 Main St.; dipsontheatres.com).

Artist/filmmaker Marshall Arisman presents his documentary A Postcard from Lily Dale at 7:30 p.m. on July 29 at the Fredonia Opera House (fredopera.org).

The Seneca Niagara Casino in Niagara Falls offers five free outdoor screenings on Fridays in July: Ferris Bueller’s Day Off on July 1, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory on July 8, The Breakfast Club on July 15,Grease on July 22, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show on July 29. All films are shown in Seneca Square. (senecaniagaracasino.com)

25 from 2016! Favorites from the first six months

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We’ve reached the midpoint of 2016, and while the world itself is (seemingly) in shambles, things are lovely on the film front. That’s a terrible observation, but it’s true. For the most part, I think 2016 has been strong. Here, in no particular order, are 25 films I’ve enjoyed so far this year. There is some cheating, with a TV miniseries and a Studio Ghibli reissue on the list. But it’s my list, so I’ll allow it. (See more on Letterboxd, including my star ratings for each.)

High-Rise
The Lobster
The Witch
Sleeping Giant
London Road
Hail, Caesar!
Only Yesterday
Hello, My Name Is Doris
The Jungle Book
The Club
Mountains May Depart
Darling
The Family Fang
April and the Extraordinary World
Captain America: Civil War
Green Room
Midnight Special
Sing Street
The Night Manager
Dheepan
10 Cloverfield Lane
O.J.: Made in America
Weiner
De Palma
The Neon Demon

2016 releases of note that I still need to see:
A Bigger Splash, Eye in the Sky, Love and Friendship, A Hologram for the King, Everybody Wants Some!, The Meddler, Genius, Swiss Army Man, Maggie’s Plan, Finding Dory, Money Monster, The Nice Guys, Keanu, The Shallows, Triple 9, Free State of Jones, Demolition, I Saw the Light, The Invitation, My Golden Days, Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising, The BFG, Independence Day: Resurgence

New to DVD: Sally Field shines in ‘Hello, My Name Is Doris’

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New to DVD is one of the most charming films I’ve seen so far this year, “Hello, My Name Is Doris.” Audiences seemed to adore the Field and the film in theaters, and I expect it will win over even more viewers at home. Here’s my 3 1/2-star Buffalo News review.

“Hello, My Name Is Doris” is a rarity: a genuinely funny, sincere and believable film for adults, centered on an older woman. It’s the most purely enjoyable of a number of recent films focusing on women in their 60s navigating love and family issues — more entertaining than Blythe Danner’s “I’ll See You In My Dreams,” less predictable than Lily Tomlin’s “Grandma.”

And it offers star Sally Field her finest comedic role since (believe it or not) the underrated 1991 film “Soapdish.” Field gives an award-worthy performance as a character that could have been a one-note embarrassment.

It’s a real winner, certainly one of the sweetest adult releases this year. While it never quite breaks the mold or truly surprises, “Doris” succeeds as a character study with real heart and warmth.

Michael Showalter’s film begins just after the death of the title character’s mother. Doris (Field) has lived in the home she grew up in with her mother her entire life. The home is mess of accumulated bric-a-brac. Doris is accused of being a hoarder, and it’s difficult to argue with the designation.

A telling moment occurs early in the film, as Doris makes her way to work. Spotting a grungy lamp on the street, she seems struck with inspiration. She happily picks it up and lugs it to her office job.

On this day, she’s lodged in a crowded elevator with a handsome young man who compliments her offbeat glasses. He is John (“New Girl” star Max Greenfield), a newly hired co-worker, and he is utterly charming. Doris — an almost invisible figure in the office to most — is instantly smitten.

Smitten might be putting it mildly. Perhaps lust is more accurate. And why wouldn’t she be? John treats her with kindness and respect, unlike so many others. When he calls Doris “a true original,” it is not said with mockery or disdain.

With some confidence from a self-help seminar and a friend’s teenage daughter, Doris learns the art of Facebook stalking, buys the CD of John’s favorite band, and attempts to win over this much younger man.

She is successful to some degree, but things soon take a sad turn, although not an unexpected one. The film’s second half is a bit more somber, yet Field, Greenfield and an ace supporting cast (Tyne Daly, Peter Gallagher, Stephen Root) ensure even the darker moments are not overwhelmingly sad.

Occasionally the jokes are too easy. (Older woman at a rave! Older woman doesn’t understand social media! Older woman doesn’t know what “digits” means!) But “Doris” has some substantial thoughts on aging and romance, and unexpectedly becomes a paean to the joys of real friendship.

Above all else, it’s funny. Especially droll is Daly, as Doris’s longtime best friend, Roz. Some of her lines are truly memorable — yelling “FASCIST!” at a jogger who angrily passes her and Doris, or confronting Doris after she declines a Thanksgiving invitation with, “I can’t believe you’re doing this. I have two kinds of stuffing.”

One of the most memorable moments is a brutally honest argument involving Doris’s inclusion in John’s circle of young friends — Roz says they see Doris as “the weird little old lady in the funny clothes,” Doris tells Roz that it’s time she moved on from her late husband. This exchange is the film’s best:

Roz: “You’re telling me to move on? You have packets of duck sauce in your refrigerator from the 1970s.” Doris: “IT KEEPS.”

Director Showalter is something of a comic genius. A cast member of cult-classic sketch comedy “The State,” he is best known as an actor. But “Doris,” his second directorial effort, demonstrates that the “Wet Hot American Summer” star is the real deal.

For Field, “Doris” may just herald a career rebirth. She has had some successes over the past few decades — an Oscar nominated turn in “Lincoln,” a leading role on TV’s “Brothers and Sisters” — but it’s been some time since she had a plum role like this. Her Doris is a true original indeed.

From the May Spree: ‘One of WNY’s longest-running film fests returns, along with a twelve-hour (!) epic’

Out 1; courtesy of TIFF

Out 1; courtesy of TIFF

My Coming Attractions column in the May issue of Buffalo Spree promoted a Toronto showing of Jacques Rivette’s Out 1, but if you did not make it to TO, the 12-hour epic is now streaming on Netflix. On to the column …

If April was the prologue to the summer movie season, May is most certainly chapter one. While a number of winter and spring series are finishing up their runs, there are plenty of treats locally and north of the border. 

Buffalo International Jewish Film Festival: For more than three decades, the Buffalo International Jewish Film Festival has brought unique, conversation-worthy cinema to Western New York. There are always gems to be found in the lineup of films, and 2016 is no exception. Opening film A La Vie tells the fascinating story of three women, all survivors of Auschwitz, reuniting fifteen years later, while the Montreal-set Felix and Meira earned director Maxime Giroux the award for Best Canadian Feature Film at the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival. Times vary, so check bijff.com for the full schedule. (May 6-12 at the Dipson Amherst Theatre, 3500 Main. St.; bijff.com)

Buffalo Film Seminars/Wim Wenders: Portraits Along the Road at the Dipson Amherst Theatre: The final selection for the spring 2016 installment of the Buffalo Film Seminars, The Fisher King features one of Robin Williams’s finest performances, and is certainly one of director Terry Gilliam’s most audience-friendly efforts. It also stars a pre-Lebowski Jeff Bridges and, you may recall, earned actress Mercedes Ruehl an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. And as I mentioned last month, Dipson’s recent Wim Wenders retrospective concludes with the five-hour director’s cut of 1991’s Until the End of the World. That, friends, is the month’s must-see. (The Fisher King: 7 p.m. on May 3; Until the End of the World: 12:30 p.m. on May 1; at the Dipson Amherst Theatre, 3500 Main. St.; dipsontheatres.com)

The History of Terrorism—No Country for Old Men: The Burchfield Penney Art Center’s “History of Terrorism” series has been a real treat, and it ends with one of the more satisfying Best Picture Oscar winners of the last decade: Joel and Ethan Coen’s No Country for Old Men. The brothers’ Cormac McCarthy adaptation is the brutal and uncompromising story of a drug deal gone awry in 1980s Texas. There have been few movie villains as legitimately fear-inducing as Javier Bardem’s Anton Chigurh, but watching No Country again will remind you that the entire cast was strong, especially Josh Brolin and Tommy Lee Jones. (6:30 p.m. on May 5; 1300 Elmwood Ave.; burchfieldpenney.org)

Cultivate Cinema Circle: CCC offers up two unique treats this month. The Royal Road, a 2015 Sundance Film festival selection, is a documentary intriguingly described as a “cinematic essay in defense of remembering [that] offers up a primer on Junipero Serra’s Spanish colonization of California and the Mexican American War alongside intimate reflections on nostalgia, the pursuit of unavailable women, butch identity, and Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo—all against a contemplative backdrop of 16mm urban California landscapes, and featuring a voiceover cameo by Tony Kushner.” Wow. Director Jenni Olson’s film sounds utterly fascinating, and ideal for the fab Cultivate Cinema Circle screening series. It’s set for May 26. Plus, Dziga Vertov’s experimental silent essential Man With a Movie Camera screens earlier in the month, on May 21. (Camera: 1 p.m. on May 21 at the Mason O. Damon Auditorium at Buffalo Central Library, 1 Lafayette Sq.; Road: 7 p.m. on May 26 at Dreamland Studio & Gallery, 387 Franklin St.; cultivatecinemacircle.com)

TCM Big Screen Classics—Ferris Bueller’s Day Off: Is John Hughes’s Ferris Bueller’s Day Off truly a classic? Hard to say; it’s undoubtedly a cult classic, and celebrates its thirtieth anniversary this year. It’s certainly a fun pick for TCM’s ongoing series, and will feature specially produced commentary from Turner Classic Movies host Ben Mankiewicz. (2 and 7 p.m. on May 15 and 17 at Regal Transit Center, 6707 Transit Rd., Williamsville; fathomevents.com)

Old Chestnut Film Society—The Rainmaker: Running strong since 1983, the Old Chestnut Film Society continues to program some of the greats of the twentieth century. Its current series featuring films starring Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn comes to a close on May 13 with The Rainmaker. Hepburn received an Oscar nomination for the 1956 drama costarring Burt Lancaster. (7:30 p.m. in the Community Room of the Phillip Sheridan School, 3200 Elmwood Ave., Kenmore; oldchestnut.com)

The Nitrate Picture Show: While year two of the George Eastman House’s festival of film conservation actually starts in April—April 29, to be exact—I think we can get away with including it here. What makes the fest so noteworthy is that it features vintage nitrate prints from the Eastman’s world-renowned collection. The three days also feature lectures and workshops. (April 29-May 1 at the at the George Eastman Museum, 900 East Ave., Rochester; eastman.org/nps)

May at the TIFF Bell Lightbox: The month features the usual roster of classics (Fargo on May 12, Double Indemnity on May 15), unique events (the Next Wave Jump Cuts Young Filmmakers Showcase on May 9), and special appearances (author Cheryl Strayed reflects on the 2012 adaptation of her memoir, Wild, on May 9). But the highlight of May is, without question, two nights of the late Jacques Rivette’s 1971 epic Out 1. Now, this is going to take some stamina, since the full runtime is more than … twelve hours long. But spread out over May 21 and 22—episodes one through four the first night, five through eight the second—makes things seem a bit more manageable. Originally planned as a television miniseries, Out 1 was unavailable for much of the last forty years. But the unwieldy, multi-character, Balzac-inspired film underwent a digital restoration in 2015, and now ranks among cinema’s most fascinating rediscovered works. (All films at TIFF Bell Lightbox, 350 King St. W., Toronto; tiff.net)

Fredonia Opera House: The Opera House’s ongoing cinema series takes a lighter turn this month. First up isEddie the Eagle, the uplifting (if sappy) story of British Olympic sensation Michael “Eddie” Edwards. The Taron Egerton-Hugh Jackman starrer screens on May 14 and 17. On May 21 and 24, catch the long-awaited My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2. I’ve not seen it yet, but if you liked the first one … etc. Note that the latter film will also screen at Lockport’s Historic Palace Theatre on May 1 and 2. Check lockportpalacetheatre.org for showtimes.(7:30 p.m. at 9 Church St., Fredonia; fredopera.org)

North Park Theatre: One of the greatest films of all time screens at the North Park on May 8: Yasujiro Ozu’sLate Spring. Note that this is a restored version of the Japanese director’s 1949 stunner. Also scheduled this month is the recent anime film Harmony. It screens on May 17 and 18. As always, check northparktheatre.org for an updated schedule. (Spring: 11:30 a.m. on May 8; Harmony: 9:30 p.m. on May 17-18; 1428 Hertel Ave.; northparktheatre.org)

The Screening Room: It’s nearly impossible to succinctly run down the May schedule at Amherst’s Screening Room, so visit screeningroom.net for the full listing. Highlights? The low-budget horror film Darling belongs at the top. This black-and-white homage to Polanski’s Repulsion first screened on April 29 and 30, and remains at the Screening Room for showings on May 3, 5, and 7. Ridley Scott’s iconic classic Alien is set for 7:30 p.m. on May 6, 7, 10, and 14. Local film The Butcher screens at 7 p.m. on May 15, while The Light Beneath Their Feet, starring Taryn Manning, makes its Buffalo premiere on May 20. It continues on May 21, 24, and 26. (Visit website for times for Darling and The Light.) (3131 Sheridan Dr., Amherst; screeningroom.net)

Roycroft Film Society: One of last year’s most surprising Oscar nominations came in the Best Makeup and Hairstyling category. The Swedish hit The Hundred Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared deserved the nom, but seeing the obscure film in the Oscar mix was still unexpected. The East Aurora-based Roycroft Film Society has chosen this adaptation of  Jonas Jonasson’s bestseller as its May presentation. (4 p.m. on March 13 at Parkdale Elementary School, 141 Girard Ave., East Aurora; roycroftcampuscorp.com)

Also screening this month …

The Dipson Amherst Theatre presents the Paris Opera’s production of Berlioz’s La Damnation de Faust on the big screen. (11 a.m. on May 22; at the Dipson Amherst Theatre, 3500 Main. St.; dipsontheatres.com)

Also screening at the Amherst Theatre is the National Theatre’s production of Shakespeare’s comedy As You Like It(noon on May 15; at the Dipson Amherst Theatre, 3500 Main. St.; dipsontheatres.com)

Note that Toronto’s Hot Docs, North America’s largest documentary festival, continues through May 8. The popular festival started on April 28. One of the highlights is Off the Rails, a documentary directed by Adam Irving. The film introduces us to Darius McCollum, “a man with Asperger’s syndrome whose overwhelming love of transit has landed him in jail some thirty times for impersonating New York City bus drivers and subway conductors and driving their routes.” That’s a fascinating description. Rails makes its international premiere at Hot Docs on May 4. Learn more about the film at  offtherailsmovie.com(schedule TBA; hotdocs.ca)

The twenty-sixth annual Toronto LGBT Film Festival is an eleven-day fest featuring more than 200 films and videos. That’s an impressive number. (May 26-June 5; details TBA; insideout.ca/initiatives/Toronto)

After the Buffalo International Jewish Film Festival comes to an end, hit the QEW for the final days of the Toronto Jewish Film Festival. (May 5-15; tjff.com)

Ron Howard’s In the Heart of the Sea came and went without much enthusiasm last December, and while it’s nothing special, this tale of the 1820 sinking that inspired Moby Dick is worth a viewing. The Town of Collins Public Library will show the film at 1 p.m. on May 6. (2341 Main St., Collins; buffalolib.org)

Interview: Ben Wheatley, director of High-Rise (for The Film Stage)

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I was honored to have the chance to interview High-Rise director Ben Wheatley for The Film Stage. One of my favorite films so far this year, the J.G. Ballard adaptation is finally opening nationwide following a VOD release.

It’s no exaggeration to say that after Ben Wheatley’s exhilarating High-Rise made its long-awaited debut at the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival, audiences staggered out of the theater in a daze. While some may have found the experience overwhelming, just as many emerged with a feeling of real exhilaration. Yes, Wheatley’s adaptation of J.G. Ballard’s 1975 novel is that kind of film. This story of life becoming unhinged in an imposing, endlessly fascinating tower block is violent, oozing with sex and littered with chaos. And while clearly not for all tastes, it’s almost impossible not to be impressed with Wheatley’s filmmaking prowess.

With a starry-cast — a never-better Tom Hiddleston, Jeremy Irons, Sienna Miller, Luke Evans, Elisabeth Moss — music from Clint Mansell and Portishead (the band contributes a stunning cover of Abba’s “S.O.S.”), High-Rise is the latest uncompromising visual and sonic explosion from Wheatley. The English director’s Down TerraceKill ListSightseers, and A Field in England have earned him a dedicated following. He is also known for his television work, including two episodes from the eighth season of Doctor Who.

Like his other big-screen efforts, High-Rise was written by and co-edited with his partner, Amy Jump. While promoting the film in Vancouver, Wheatley discussed how he and Jump approached Ballard’s text, why the transition from his earlier features to the world of High-Rise was not as massive a leap as it might seem, and also provided an update on his next film, the Boston-set crime drama Free Fire. Recently picked up by A24, Free Fire is executive produced by Martin Scorsese and stars recent Room Oscar winner Brie Larson, Sharlto Copley, Armie Hammer, Cillian Murphy, and Jack Reynor. In the meantime, the sensual menace of High-Rise is finally coming to theaters this Friday after a VOD release.

 

The Film Stage: High-Rise has always been categorized as an “unfilmable” book. Did that label have any impact on your approach to the film?

Ben Wheatley: It just depends how you define unfilmable. There are books that are structurally and formally difficult; something like Naked Lunch is formally difficult because it jumps all over the place. I don’t think that was ever the issue with High-Rise. When you actually look at the book, it has quite a linear storyline to it, and it’s quite strong visually. The difficulty comes in the way the characters act. It doesn’t have a traditional happy ending, and the characters don’t act like traditional Hollywood movie characters do. But I think High-Rise has unfairly had this unfilmable tag just because it’s been in development for a long time. It doesn’t necessarily always mean the same thing. With High-Rise, it just means there’s not been an appetite for it up until now, not that it’s been impossible to film.

 

You’ve said part of what you found appealing about Ballard as a young reader was that his work felt dangerous. Was that part of the appeal in bringing High-Rise to life — tackling something that inspired those feelings?

Yes, but when I was a kid and I read High-Rise, it was basically predictive fiction. Unfortunately, now it’s kind of come true. We’ve come to meet Ballard’s predictions rather than [see them] become less relevant. They’re actually more relevant over time. And the idea of being kind of Ballard-ian characters trapped in this modern world seems to feel more like documentary than like fantasy.

 

Do you think the story’s parallels to the present day were always there? Was that another element of your attraction to adapting High-Rise?

Yes, I think so. That’s just part of what happens when you are engaged in writing predictive fiction — your story is always [looking] into the future a little bit, so it’s got stronger legs than most novels might have. Ballard’s peers were writing about their experiences of being professors at universities and their love affairs or whatever, but those books date a lot faster than something that’s already looking to the future.

I think the main attraction for me to Ballard and for readers to Ballard is that he could look at the modern world and dissect it, and he had a very unique vision of what the modern world was. He saw beyond the bubble of reality that we exist in, the thing that makes everything seem to make sense in the modern world. I think maybe his own experiences of being a child — where he saw the world he was living in completely destroyed and reassembled again — gave him an insight into the way that the world works. [You don’t have that insight] without having that violent wrench from one reality to another reality. The modern person just feels that what’s happening to them at this moment is something that’s immutable. This is a problem with the western world, that most people don’t even think they’re going to die, let alone can see beyond their own immediate moment.

 

In terms of mounting the film, what was it like to make the transition from your earlier films to something with the size and scale of High-Rise?

I think if you look at the films I’ve made and you go from Sightseers to High-Rise, it looks like a massive leap. But the reality is that during that time I also made a lot of television and directed lots of adverts. In my films, we never had enough budget to even move the camera — everything had to be handheld because of budget restraints. I love handheld camera, but this is the first time I’ve had the opportunity to have a large set built and even to have extras, really. I feel like I’ve been working with a full deck of cards for the first time. Not that I mean there is anything wrong with the other films, but they were very specifically designed to be done for the budgets that we had.

 

Talk a little about the editing style? There are moments when you jump to different parts of the buildings in the same sequence, and sometimes even mid-sentence. How much of this was pre-planned, and how much was developed in post-production?

Amy tends to write the scripts with the editing in, and because she is the editor with me, she knows that she can have that control. Accepted wisdom is that the script should be as vanilla as possible going forward to the director, but because I’m going to direct it and she’s going to edit it with me, we know that anything that’s written in the script at the beginning can be executed at the end, and not in a way that will irritate the people making the movie. There’s this idea that screenwriters should know their place, and not interfere with the work the director does. But because those jobs are so blurred between our different roles, it’s absolutely fine. So quite a lot of the structure of the film was already in place before we started shooting. Obviously, some of the montage stuff was created on the fly as we made the movie. On High-Rise and on [upcoming film]Free-Fire, and even on A Field in England, we edited as we went along. That means I can [identify] shots I need as I’m in production that I can fire off to the second unit to go and get to make those sequences work.

 

In order to finance a film as bold and ambitious as High-Rise, was it essential to have a cast of established names?

Totally. It’s important in getting any film made, but at a certain budget level, you just don’t financing unless you’re swimming in that pool. And that’s the way it’s always been. But then the other side of it is that people don’t rise up to become those names unless they’re really, really brilliant as well. So it’s absolutely fine.

 

Your next film, Free Fire, is another large-scale production. Can we expect to see it make the fall festival circuit? And how fun was it to see your star Brie Larson’s success?

It’s finished, so I think it’s looking at a release in September. We’re really looking forward to unleashing it. [As for Brie Larson], we were filming well before Room was nominated; none of it had happened really. All that was happening at the time was that Room was being talked about as being really good. But it’s been an incredible ride for her. It’s quite something, really.

My latest books piece for The Film Stage: New books from A.O. Scott and Owen Gleiberman, Welles, ‘Star Wars’ and more

Orson-Welles-620x415

It’s time for another roundup of new books on filmmaking for The Film Stage, and this one features a typically diverse bunch.

Part of the fun in rounding up recent books about (or connected to) cinema is the sheer diversity of releases. This latest collection features a dive into this history of Hollywood legends, lots more Force Awakens, compelling reads from two fascinating critics, texts highlighting the art of Batman v. Superman and The Little Prince, and more. Plus, if you’ve been coveting Constable Zuvio mentions, you’re finally in luck.

Movie Freak: My Life Watching Movies by Owen Gleiberman (Hachette Books)

Movie Freak

My favorite book of 2016 thus far has arrived, and it’s Movie Freak by former Entertainment Weekly critic Owen Gleiberman. For many a nineties teen, EW was something of a pop culture bible, and Gleiberman’s incisive writing was a key reason. In Movie Freak, his unguardedly personal memoir, he talks of films loved (Blue Velvet, Manhunter), friendships dashed (with the likes of Oliver Stone and Pauline Kael), and the clashes that inevitably accompany life as a critic. His last days at EW say much about how print journalism has changed in the last decade, and why magazines such as Entertainment Weekly have been forced into service asPeople-lite just to stay afloat. As a critic and parent myself, it’s hard not to swoon over Gleiberman’s closing account of his young daughter’s plunge into the world of cinema: “Whether or not she turns out to be a movie freak, she is every inch the daughter of a critic.”

Better Living Through Criticism by A.O. Scott (Penguin Press)

Better Living Through Criticism

“What’s the point of criticism? What are critics good for?” So opens New York Times critic A.O. Scott’s Better Living Through Criticism, a witty, self-effacing exploration of what criticism means, and what it means to be a critic, Scott pogos from his online “battle” with Samuel L. Jackson over The Avengers to a walk through the Louvre and the idea that there “are so many ways to be wrong.” Part of the fun — and it is very, very fun — is letting the great Scott bring so many unexpected diversions into his analysis. It all ends, as it should, with Ratatouille’s snobbish Anton Ego. As Scott puts it, and as a great many critics would be afraid to admit, “Anton Ego, c’est moi!”
Orson Welles Volume 3: One-Man Band by Simon Callow (Viking)

One Man Band

When actor-author Simon Callow’s third book on the life and art of Orson Welles was announced, I assumed it would bring the outsized icon’s story to a close. That is not the case, as Callow instead covers only 1947 to 1964, a time period in which Welles was exiled from America. This is a very good thing, as we’ll have another weighty stunner at some point to come. Callow brilliantly examines an era in which Welles mounted some of his most ambitious projects, including Othello, Touch of Evil, The Trial, andChimes at Midnight. The section recounting the making of Touch of Evil, in particular, is riveting. (The most memorable moment is likely a post-production face-off with star Charlton Heston. Welles authored a letter with a “merciless portrait of Heston as a goody-goody — ‘cooperative Chuck … In a word,’ says Welles, ‘he’s the Eagle Scout of the Screen Actor’s Guild.”) While the overall tone is rather somber, Callow rightfully argues for the vitality of Welles’s work during this stretch. One can hardly wait to read his account of the master’s final years.
The Essential Humphrey Bogart by Constantine Santas (Rowman & Littlefield)

Humphrey Bogart

Humphrey Bogart’s personal life has always been of interest to film obsessives, but what makes Constantine Santas’s The Essential Humphrey Bogart a noteworthy read is its deep plunge into the actor’s work. Each chapter, in fact, looks closely at a different film. By the time we reach Bogart’s final film, The Harder They Fall, we have a clear understanding of why each one of his nearly 40 pictures is so important. My favorite detail comes from the chapter on Sabrina. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Bogart was not Billy Wilder’s first choice to play Linus Larrabee. But Santas says he made the role once pegged for Cary Grant his own: “Bogart had been born into privilege, and his instincts could tell him what to do when a role demanded that he play a mannered gentleman. Bogart thrives on transformation when the role demands it.”
Star Wars: The Force Awakens — A Junior Novel by Michael Kogge (LucasFilm Press)

The Force Awakens Junior Novel

Why should someone who already owns the previously released Force Awakens novelization consider picking up the “junior novel” by Michael Kogge? That’s an easy one: because it’s perfect for the kiddos. This is a short (a little over 180 pages), easily digestible breakdown of the story that is ideal for younglings. It’s also smart and well-written. (One poignant addition is Leia’s final words to Rey as she departs to find Luke Skywalker: “You won’t share the fate of our son.”)
Star Wars: The Force Awakens — Rey’s Story by Elizabeth Schaefer (LucasFilm Press)

Reys Story

Like the junior novel, Rey’s Story is another tight (around 140 pages) distillation of The Force Awakens for young readers. What makes Elizabeth Schaefer’s text such a treat, however, is the focus on Rey. This is her story, from start to finish, It’s a unique way to approach the film’s plot, and it makes for an enjoyably personal read. (My son has already worn out our copy, which is a very good sign.)
Star Wars: Before the Awakening by Greg Rucka (LucasFilm Press)

Before the Awakening

Before the Awakening might be the most essential The Force Awakens spinoff, since it details the backstories of Finn, Rey, and Poe. It is divided into three parts, and while the Finn and Rey sections intrigue, Poe Dameron’s is the best. Author Greg Rucka nicely captures the character Oscar Isaac brought to life, and the info about his pilot mother — a Battle of Endor veteran — adds much to the Poe mystique.
Star Wars: Tales From a Galaxy Far, Far Away — Aliens Volume 1 by Landry Q. Walker (LucasFilm Press)

Aliens Volume 1

You wanted the Zuvio, you got the Zuvio. Yes, Constable Zuvio, that oddly-helmeted figure of pre-release intrigue for Force Awakens fans due to his invisibility in the film (yet prominence on toy shelves) is front and center inTales From a Galaxy Far, Far Away. This collection of short stories is delightful, and while I don’t want to diss the Constable, it is the final tale here, “The Crimson Corsair and the Lost Treasure of Count Dooku,” that is most memorable.
Star Wars: Rey’s Survival Guide by Jason Fry (Fun Studio)

Reys Survival Guide

Perhaps the most clever Force Awakens-themed release is Rey’s Survival Guide, a clever, nicely designed journal of Rey’s pre-Finn adventures. Curious where exactly Rey lives on Jakku, and how she first encountered some of the planet’s surly denizens? The answers are here, along with plenty of wonderful illustrations. You’ll even learn whose pilot’s helmet Rey wears while chowing down early in the film. Jason Fry’s book ends as Rey, Finn, Han, and Chewie arrive on Takodana — and you know what came next.
Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice — The Art of the Film by Peter E. Aperlo (Titan Books)

BvS The Art of the Film

Now that the dust has settled, it is perhaps easier to take a more measured look at what exactly Zack Snyder was hoping to accomplish with Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. Whether you find those accomplishments successful or not (and I do not), The Art of the Film is an insightful read. It does not make for a better film, but having a clearer look at the late Robin’s graffiti-covered suit, Wonder Woman’s armor, and vehicles like the Batwing is certainly appreciated. In quotes throughout, Snyder and his team make the case for their dark vision.
Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice — Tech Manual by Adam Newell and Sharon Gosling (Titan Books)

BvS Tech Manual

The Dawn of Justice Tech Manual is the more gleefully geeky of the twoBatman v. Superman texts, and should be of interest should only to design junkies and effects-heads. The photography — of Batarangs, the interior of the Batmobile, Wonder Woman’s lasso, and the like — is gorgeous, and the book itself serves as a sterling tribute to the production design of the film.
Ian Fleming’s James Bond: SPECTRE — The Complete Comic Strip Collection (Titan Books)

Ian Fleming

Last year’s deeply flawed James Bond entry Spectre offered a number of pleasures, but the performance from Christoph Waltz as Ernst Stavro Blofeld was not among them. A far more compelling Blofeld can be found inIan Fleming’s James Bond: SPECTRE — The Complete Comic Strip Collection. This wildly entertaining book brings together the 1960s comic strip adaptations of Fleming’s Thunderball, The Spy Who Loved Me, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, and You Only Live Twice. Sure, it’s a product of its time (Bond is referred to as “Limey” throughout the Spy Who Loved Me strips), but these comics are ridiculously fun and delightfully nasty.
The Little Prince: The Art of the Film by Ramin Zahed (Titan Books)

The Little Prince

The Little Prince hit a major bump just a few days before its American release, as Paramount dropped the film from its schedule. Netflix swooped in to acquire this animated adaptation of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s 1943 novel, and until we can stream it, we can enjoy The Art of the Movie. As the book makes clear, the landscapes conjured by director Mark Osborne and his team are imaginative delights. One can hardly wait to see such visual treats as “The Grown-Up Planet” on the big… well, small screen.
Bonus: Novel Round-Up

Shaker

There are several noteworthy recent novels with links to the world of cinema. One of these is Jane Two (Center Street), the debut novel byYoung Indiana Jones Chronicles and Boondock Saints star Sean Patrick Flanery. It’s an acutely observed coming-of-age tale about a young man finding his way through life and love in 1970s Texas. A strong first effort, its lead character, Mickey, is a smart, likable creation. Jean Stein takes a stunning look at old Hollywood in West of Eden: An American Place (Random House), an ambitious tapestry that weaves together real-life figures like actress Jennifer Jones and mogul Jack Warner. And in Shaker(Alfred A. Knopf), screenwriter-turned-novelist Scott Frank has written a novel that fits nicely with some of his big-screen efforts (Get Shorty, Out of Sight, The Lookout). It’s a razor-sharp Los Angeles crime drama with a cinematic flair.

Book review: ‘Real subject of Tate biography is Charles Manson’s twisted family’

SharonTate

My first book review in a few months recently ran in the Sunday Buffalo News.

It is nearly impossible to look at the image of Sharon Tate and not think about the slaughter that ended her life. That undeniable truth presents a major obstacle for any biographer. Everything that comes before her encounter with Charles Manson’s doe-eyed acolytes – her early days as a model and actress, her marriage to filmmaker Roman Polanski, her glamorous life in the public eye – feels like a grim coming attraction to the sad feature presentation.

Clearly, the public narrative of Sharon Tate’s life, sadly, is focused solely on her ending. And in many ways, the latest Tate biography is more of the same. However, “Sharon Tate: A Life” by Ed Sanders is not really about the life of Sharon Tate – despite its title. The doomed icon is instead an entry point for a chilling dive into a fantasia of violence, sex, drugs, and celebrity.

As a biography of Sharon Tate, then, Sanders’ book is a failure. As a gripping, comprehensive, relentlessly involving revisiting of the Manson murders, however, it is a stunner. Once Sanders turns his attention from Tate’s life and career to the story of her death, “Sharon Tate: A Life” becomes the most engrossing read I’ve encountered in 2016.

Before then, we have the standard chronicle of Tate’s life: Success in beauty pageants during her youth, discovery by producer Martin Ransohoff, stardom in “Valley of the Dolls,” falling in love with Polanski during the filming of “The Fearless Vampire Killers.”

Sanders – who wrote of Manson in the bestseller “The Family” – does unearth some unique, very personal details I’ve not come across before. For example, the first meeting between Polanski and Tate’s father Paul, aka “The Colonel,” was a telling view into the couple’s unconventional relationship:

“She’s too nice,” Polanski told Tate’s father. “I’ve been trying to toughen her up.”

“I wouldn’t try too hard,” he replied. “She doesn’t get mad too often, but when she does, oh, son, you better watch out. And when she’s done with you, then you’ve got me to reckon with.”

The author certainly captures the slightly menacing vibe of the time, especially as we draw closer to “that fatal night.” Anyone who has read “Helter Skelter” or watched any of the dramatic recreations of the Manson story knows the broad strokes of what comes next. But the skilled Sanders brings the era to vivid life. It all starts on page 115, in a chapter titled, with chilling blankness, “1969: Cielo Drive and Pregnancy.”

Sanders recounts the murders with fascinating detail, including the killers’ strange life at the Spahn ranch and the backstory of the small gathering at the Polanski household that night. It all culminates, of course, in a nightmare:

“Sharon Tate and Jay Sebring were chatting in Sharon’s bedroom when the knife stabbed into the gray screen, slicing an entrance into the empty nursery at the far end of the house.”

The remainder of the book is a chronicle of real-life horror and its aftermath. And it’s enormously effective.

There are significant issues with “Sharon Tate: A Life,” and they start with the title. This is a book about death, not life. And as stated previously, Tate feels like a secondary character in her own story. At times the focus is so removed from Tate herself that things feel slightly disrespectful.

The illustrations by Rick Veitch don’t help matters. The work of the underground comic artist is generally fascinating, but here feels overly cartoony. A final illustration depicting Tate clutching her unborn baby in the clouds (called “Sharon in the Sky”) is particularly silly.

Interestingly, there was a very strong book about Sharon Tate released last year, one that focused on her life, rather than her death. “Sharon Tate: Recollection” is a lush, gorgeously composed visual appreciation by her sister, Debra, that restores Tate to her rightful place as the vibrant style icon of her era. This bold, bracing approach divorces her from the too-often-used classification of “Manson victim.” Debra Tate rescues her sister from being known by many as simply a casualty.

One image in particular – a shot of pregnant Tate in 1969, wearing a black headband – carries more emotional weight than any moment in “Sharon Tate: A Life.” She appears breathtakingly alive, a stunning force of power and beauty.

Comparatively, the Tate that appears in Sanders’ book is constantly surrounded by danger. She is emotionally scarred and threatened at all counts by a system that saw her only as a sex symbol. She is quite simply, doomed, and her collision with the Manson family feels almost predestined.

Was her murder, in fact, predestined? Was it a wrong-place, wrong-time scenario? Was Tate chosen? These questions haunt us, and Sanders. The author saves his final flourish for the afterword, nine pages of mind-detonating theories, rumors, and could-bes. It sent me racing to google “English Satanists,” and, typically, more dead-ends.

The book ends with Sanders reaching out to Charles Manson himself via letters. Sanders asks several key questions, but of course, these pleas go unanswered. This hammers home a sad truth. We’ll never really know why Sharon Tate was massacred. As Sanders puts it, “So far, no answer, no phone call.”

Interestingly, the finale successfully turns the focus back to Tate. The sad miasma of conspiracy theories that make up the afterword are, in a way, the author’s attempt at understanding and rationalizing something that can never be understood or rationalized. Whatever led to the murders, Sanders believes, is secondary to the result. In the end, it’s the deaths of Sharon Tate and her friends that truly matter:

“[E]ven though the world moves on, decade after decade, that does not prevent loose ends flapping in the multi-decade breeze, and no loose ends can prevent our sense of outrage and anger for the horrible injustice perpetrated upon Sharon Tate and her friends.”

In “Sharon Tate: A Life,” Ed Sanders brings that horrible injustice to life once more. Even if he fails to capture the life force that made Tate one of the 20th century’s most tragic icons, he succeeds in shedding new light on the horrors of 1969. This is true crime lit at its most grimly compelling.

From the April Spree: BNFF, Brando, Brazil, Holzman, and Hot Docs

TIFF Kids International Film Festival; PHOTO COURTESY OF TIFF

TIFF Kids International Film Festival; PHOTO COURTESY OF TIFF

I just realized my Coming Attractions column in the May Buffalo Spree will be posted on BuffaloSpree.com in a few days, and I’ve not posted my April column. There are still a few days left this month to enjoy these screenings, so take a look.

April was once considered a quiet time before the summer movie season, but it’s now the launch pad for dull fare like Fast Five and Captain America: Winter Solider. This year is no exception, with Disney’s live-action Jungle Book and a ho-hum quasi-sequel to Snow White and the Huntsman set to drop. Happily, it’s also busy with cinema series, screenings, and even film festivals, in WNY and beyond.

Buffalo Niagara International Film Festival (BNFF): 

Local festivals come and go, but Bill Cowell’s Buffalo Niagara International Film Festival—along with its eclectic approach—is a survivor. This year, there are over 100 features, documentaries, and shorts from Western New York and around the world, as well as workshops, a comic-con day, and a fallen soldier commemoration featuring portraits by Kaziah Hancock. Special premieres include Stanley Isaacs’ new documentary, It’s Always About the Story: Conversations With Alan Ladd Jr. (producer of BraveheartThe Man in the Iron Mask, and Gone Baby Gone) and a twenty-year reunion premiere of Larry Bishop’s Mad Dog Time(starring Diane Lane, Burt Reynolds, Richard Dreyfuss, Ellen Barkin, Jeff Goldblum, Gabriel Byrne, Billy Idol, Rob Reiner, among others).

April 1–2 at Barton Hill Hotel & Spa, Lewiston; April 13–17 at the Tonawanda Castle (check thebnff.com or call 693-0912 for times and information)

Kid-Friendly Classic Film Series: Dipson Theatres began its family film series in February with a heavyweight (E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial), and starts April with two underrated gems, A Little Princess (Apr. 2) and The Iron Giant (Apr. 9). Two more high-profile affairs follow in Shrek (Apr. 16) and School of Rock (Apr. 23), and the month finishes with Wes Anderson’s delightful Roald Dahl adaptation, Fantastic Mr. Fox (Apr. 30). While some might quibble with the “classic” label on a few of these (Rango and The Lorax are classics?), it’s an affordable—just $4—Saturday morning option.

10 a.m. at the Dipson Eastern Hills Cinema, 4545 Transit Rd., Williamsville; dipsontheatres.com 

Kaleidotropes—David Holzman’s Diary: My days as a media study major at the University at Buffalo opened up to me an entire world of film (and video) art, and few of these made a greater impact on me than David Holzman’s Diary. Jim McBride’s 1967 satirical mockumentary still packs a dark comic punch. Diary is a perfect pick for Squeaky Wheel’s fab Kaleidotropes series.

7 p.m. on Apr. 27 at Squeaky Wheel Film & Media Arts Center, 617 Main St.; squeaky.org

Buffalo Film Seminars: Is this the best month in Buffalo Film Seminars history? It’s possible. The opportunity to see Spike Lee’s epic Malcolm X (Apr. 5), the stunning Waltz With Bashir (Apr. 19), and Michael Haneke’s devastating Amour (Apr. 26) in the company of Bruce Jackson and Diane Christian is hard to pass up. But the real treat is Beau Travail (Apr. 12), an adaptation of Melville’s Billy Budd from the great Claire Denis (35 Shots of Rum, Bastards). A tale of sexual repression among soldiers in the French Foreign Legion, Beau Travail features one of the great endings in cinema history, actor Denis Lavant’s solo dance to Eurodance thumper “Rhythm of the Night.” The discussion after this one should be fascinating.

7 p.m. at the Dipson Amherst Theatre, 3500 Main. St.; csac.buffalo.edu/bfs.html

Burchfield Penney Art Center: BPAC’s ambitious (and free) “History of Terrorism” banner begins April with one of the best of 2002, Fernando Meirelles’s City of God (Apr. 7). It’s a brutal, unforgettable film that interweaves several stories involving organized crime among young gangs in 1970s Brazil. Netflix drama Narcos and 2010 Mexican drama El Infierno follow on Apr. 21 and 28, respectively. Plus, this month the Beyond Boundaries: Dare to be Diverse Film Series features Up Heartbreak Hill (Apr. 14), a documentary about one year in the lives of three Native American teens.

6:30 p.m.; 1300 Elmwood Ave.; burchfieldpenney.org

TCM Big Screen Classics—On the Waterfront: The Marlon Brando documentary Listen to Me Marlon was one of 2015’s most acclaimed. Watch it, and then experience his still-stunning performance as dockworker Terry Malloy as Turner Classic Movies presents Elia Kazan’s On the Waterfront.

2 and 7 p.m. on Apr. 24 and 27 at the Regal Elmwood Center, 2001 Elmwood Ave., and Regal Transit Center, 6707 Transit Rd., Williamsville; fathomevents.com

TIFF Kids International Film Festival: The annual Toronto International Film Festival is a cinephile must each September, and the TIFF Kids International Film Festival is a fun offshoot. Last year, the fest featured greats like When Marnie Was There and Shaun the Sheep; check tiff.net for upcoming news on the nineteenth annual installment.

Apr. 8-24; details TBA; tiff.net

Wim Wenders: Portraits Along the Road: While April sees a number of real gems gracing WNY screens, I don’t think anything tops the Wim Wenders retrospective hitting the Dipson Amherst Theatre. The prolific German filmmaker has been creating fascinating films since the seventies, and this four-film series features several of his most important works. Starting with 1976’s Kings of the Road (7 p.m., Apr. 7), the series continues with the great Harry Dean Stanton-starrer Paris, Texas (7 p.m., Apr. 14) and the gorgeous Wings of Desire (7 p.m., Apr. 21). The final screening is downright newsworthy. The five-hour director’s cut of 1991’s Until the End of the World (12:30 p.m., May 1) has been rarely seen, and is considered a drastic improvement over the 158-version released to theaters. In any form, World is one of his most ambitious efforts, but the director’s cut of this a globe-trotting tale set in 1999 is a cinephile must-see.

Dipson Amherst Theatre, 3500 Main. St.; dipsontheatres.com

Cultivate Cinema Circle: The spring season for the Cultivate Cinema Circle series features some real gems, including Jacques Demy’s perfect 1967 musical The Young Girls of Rochefort and Werner Herzog’s latest documentary. On April 16, the series features director Brandon Loper’s “love letter to, and meditation on, specialty coffee,” A Film About Coffee. The free screening is scheduled for 1 p.m. at the Mason O. Damon Auditorium at the Buffalo Central Library. It’s the first film of CCC’s Public Espresso-themed trilogy about coffee and Constructivism. Next up is I Am Belfast, at 9:30 p.m. on April 28 at the North Park Theatre. Tickets for Mark Cousins’ film about Northern Ireland’s capital are $9.50. Note that the film was shot by frequent Wong Kar-wai cinematographer Christopher Doyle. That means Belfast is most certainly a visual stunner.

cultivatecinemacircle.com

North Park Theatre: Leave it to the North Park to find new ways to top itself. One of the theater’s delights is its ongoing Family Matinee Series, and the films of Hayao Miyazaki (director of animated classics My Neighbor Totoro and Spirited Away) have been highlights. One of the Studio Ghibli legend’s strangest and most fascinating efforts, Porco Rosso, screens at 11:30 a.m. on April 2 and 3. Yes, the film is centered on an anthropomorphic pig. But this is Miyazaki, so the results are unimaginably glorious. And at 7 p.m. on April 22 the North Park hosts the world premiere of The American Side, the Buffalo- and Niagara Falls-shot film directed by Jenna Ricker. (She co-wrote Side with Greg Stuhr.) It stars Matthew Broderick, Janeane Garofalo, and Robert Forster.

1428 Hertel Ave.; northparktheatre.org

The Screening Room: It’s a month of pleasures at Amherst’s Screening Room, and it all starts with The Fly—the original, from 1958—at 7:30 p.m. on April 1, 2, 3, and 5. Hitchcock’s Dial M for Murder is set for 7:30 p.m. on April 8, 9, 12, 14, 15, and 16. Back to the Future recently celebrated its thirtieth anniversary, and screens at 7:30 p.m. on April 13 and 17. Also this month is some horror, featuring the local film Johnny Revolting vs. the Undead, at 5 p.m. on April 3; some zaniness, with Don Knotts and Tim Conway in The Private Eyes on April 23, 26, and 29; and director from Stratford, some Shakespeare, with Hamlet screening on April 28 and 30.

3131 Sheridan Dr., Amherst; screeningroom.net

Riviera Theatre: There’s something for everyone—literally—at the Riviera in April. First is the wonderful seventh film in the Skywalker saga, Star Wars: The Force Awakens at 8 p.m. on April 1. The beloved (by some) Bette Midler tearjerker Beaches is next, at 7:30 p.m. on April 14. The Riviera’s Family Film Series presents The Land Before Time on April 17 and Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs on April 24. Both films screen at 2 p.m. Lastly, Lee Daniels’ The Butler is set for 7:30 p.m. on April 28.

67 Webster St., N.Tonawanda; rivieratheatre.org

Also screening this month …

  • The Shea’s Free Family Film Series presents 2003’s handsome, unjustly forgotten Peter Pan, starring Jason Isaacs as Captain Hook. (2 p.m. at Shea’s Performing Arts Center, 646 Main St.; sheas.org)
  • The Roycroft Film Society screens Bong Joon-ho’s dark South Korean drama Mother. (4 p.m. on Apr. 10 at Parkdale Elementary School, 141 Girard Ave., East Aurora; roycroftcampuscorp.com)
  • The Dipson Amherst Theatre presents the Bolshoi Ballet’s production of Don Quixote and the Royal Opera House’s production of Puccini’s Tosca on the big screen. (Quixote: 12:55 p.m. on Apr. 10; Tosca: 11 a.m. on Apr. 24; at the Dipson Amherst Theatre, 3500 Main. St.; dipsontheatres.com)
  • Toronto’s Hot Docs is North America’s largest documentary festival. (Apr. 28-May 8; details TBA;hotdocs.ca)
  • The Rochester International Film Festival features short films from around the world. (Apr. 14-16 at the Dryden Theatre, George Eastman House International Museum of Film and Photography, Rochester;rochesterfilmfest.org)