Squeaky Wheel to screen “A Field in England”

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One of the most mesmerizing, scary, truly unsettling moments onscreen in 2013 occurs in Ben Wheatley’s A Field in England. Taking place during the English Civil War, it centers around a not-so-merry group of deserters — including O’Neill (Michael Smiley) and the alchemist Whitehead (Reece Shearsmith) — on a strange quest. The scene I refer to is summarized by reviewer Patrick Townsend like so:

The film uses this basis of a plot to create an atmosphere full of dread and uncertainty that is made with individual moments such as tableaus which are often used at the start of a scene, not as an introduction but to create a sense of unease. Another example is a scene in which O’Neill brings Whitehead into his tent and we then hear Whitehead’s horrifying screams (Shearsmith’s time in The League of Gentlemen serves him well here as he can pull off a really good scream).  Then once the screaming stops, Whitehead leaves the tent, attached to a rope, in a very long slow motion shot that was, for me, one of the most unnerving shots I have seen in a very long time. The most amazing thing about this is that while many modern horrors try to use gore and jump shots to try to scare their audience, Wheatley achieves this great sense of unease simply showing somebody grinning and letting the audience use their imaginations to work out how he came to such a state.

It is no exaggeration to say it is quite unlike anything you’ve seen before. Bravo to Squeaky Wheel for presenting the film to Buffalo audiences at 7 p.m. on February 20. (I saw it at TIFF 2013.)

The Squeaky lineup also includes Maidentrip tonight (February 12), Jack Smith and the Destruction of Atlantis on February 26, Unknown Passage: The Dead Moon Story on March 26, and Tropicalia on April 30.

Playing “Chess” at Squeaky Wheel

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I’ve been intrigued by Andrew Bujalski’s “Computer Chess” for months. The “mumblecore” maestro’s latest won raves (and an award) at Sundance, and he has long been a fascinating filmmaker. The Sundance website offers a nice breakdown of the film and an interview with Bujalski. Here is a description of the film:

“‘Computer Chess’ follows a group of savvy young programmers in their attempt to build a computer chess program with the ability to defeat a human player. Shot on cameras true to the era the characters in the film inhabit an environment almost indistinguishable from the year it aims to imitate — 1980. And for good measure, the director’s trademark knack for achieving an uncanny vérité style — so well-documented in his debut feature ‘Funny Ha Ha’ — ultimately exposes his tech pioneer subjects in all of their social incompetence.”

Squeaky Wheel is screening “Computer Chess” this Tuesday, September 24, at 7 p.m. It is another fine booking for the media arts center, who recently screened “Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me” and will show the acclaimed “Leviathan” in October. I love that Squeaky is bringing these idiosyncratic movies to town ahead of their home release.

For more Squeaky info, click here, and for some fun on the “Computer Chess” website, click here.

Photo Courtesy Computer Chess LLC

The Ballad of Big Star: Squeaky Wheel Screens “Nothing Can Hurt Me”

big star

It has been a killer summer of Squeaky Wheel events, and here is one more: a screening of the Big Star documentary “Nothing Can Hurt Me,” at 7 p.m. on Tuesday night (August 20) at 712 Main.

I’m not going to lie and say I was a Big Star die-hard for years and years, or that I held a tattered copy of “#1 Record” close to my heart as the band rose to mythical prominence. I did not truly listen to them until I was in college, and by then, Alex Chilton’s power pop gods were already beloved. On some level, I think I avoided listening to Big Star for a long time, since I found the “best band you’ve never heard” talk a bit ponderous.

But once I actually did listen, I quickly fell for songs like “Thirteen” and “September Gurls,” and the band’s shoulda-been-a-contender backstory suddenly seemed endearing, even downright moving. Meeting and chatting with Buffalo Spree contributor Bruce Eaton, the author of a 33 1/3 series book on the band’s second album, “Radio City,” only furthered my appreciation. (See Bruce’s great Big Star blog for more info on the book, and his contribution to the film.)

My interest culminated in a jaunt to the Seneca Niagara Casino’s Bear’s Den Showroom on November 27, 2009, to see Chilton lead his original band, the Box Tops, for an intimate performance of old favorites like “The Letter.” It was a slightly strange, wholly unforgettable performance; I’ll never forget arriving with my father and spotting Alex at the bar, relaxing with a cigarette.

I wish I would have said hello, since a few months later, Chilton was dead. (Here is an obit written by Bruce for salon.com.)

Knowing that Chilton is gone, just like Big Star bandmates Chris Bell and Andy Hummel, coupled with the band’s story of never quite achieving success (commercially, at least), makes “Nothing Can Hurt Me” a somewhat somber experience. But it’s also a thrilling one.

Drew Denicola’s documentary is certainly not perfect — Chilton remains a typically obscure figure; I found this article on his last days a more insightful portrait — but it is probably the finest demonstration yet of what makes the band so beloved, and its legacy so undeniably important. (The article mentions the Niagara Falls show.)

In fact, the most interesting figure in the film turns out to be Chris Bell, not Alex Chilton. The sequence detailing the recording of his great song “I am the Cosmos” is a stunner, and his brother and sister have much to add about Bell’s short, difficult life.

There is also the abundance of archival footage, oodles of band photography, and interviews with some of the many characters who were part of the band’s Memphis universe. In short, it’s a very good documentary (I’d go 3 1/2 stars), one that works as both an introduction to the group as well as a nifty bit of nostalgia for those already in the know.

I love that Squeaky is bringing the film to town, and in a superb bonus, the aforementioned Bruce Eaton, whose voice can be heard and name seen in the movie, will be doing Q&A session.

I’m listening to “The Ballad of El Goodo” as I write this, and the song seems like the finest distillation of the Big Star story in the band’s catalog:

I’ve been built up and trusted

Broke down and busted

But they’ll get theirs and we’ll get ours

Just if we can

Just, ah, hold on

Hold on

Hold on

Hold on

 

Photo: Alex Chilton, Jody Stephens, Chris Bell, and Andy Hummel in “BIG STAR: NOTHING CAN HURT ME,” a Magnolia Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.

Squeaky Wheel Opens “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” at Silo City

the-cabinet-of-dr-caligari

I recently told you about two great events being out on by Squeaky Wheel, Buffalo’s great media resource center: the Wheel-to-Reel Film Series (which wrapped up in July) and the annual Outdoor Animation Festival in Days Park, a free event that returns with an encore presentation at Canalside on August 21.

I missed a very cool Squeaky event last weekend – a screening of “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari,” with live musical accompaniment, at the Burchfield Penney Art Center’s lovely terrace. But it is not too late to see the film in an even more unique environment.

As part of City of Night, a free art event at the Silo City grain elevators this Saturday (August 17), Squeaky will once again screen “Caligari” with a sound performance by Kevin Cain. (It was created as part of the Wheel’s annual Silent/Sound series.) From the Squeaky site:

“The selected film, chosen by the artist, is one of the most influential of German Expressionist films and is often considered one of the greatest horror movies of the silent era. The film used stylized sets, with abstract, jagged buildings painted on canvas backdrops and flats. To add to this strange style, the actors used an unrealistic technique that exhibited jerky and dance-like movements. Amongst a handmade, dramatic, shadow-lit set based off of the film, Kevin Cain use guitar, vibraphone, loop pedals, melodica, contact mics, and clarinet to create an atmospheric sound sculpture for Robert Wiene’s eerie German Expressionist horror masterpiece.”

Very cool. City of Night is a stunning confluence of art, history, and culture, and I love the eerie “Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” being a part of it. I have not seen the film in years, but it’s an essential, truly.

Squeaky has another very cool event coming up next week, on August 20: a screening of the acclaimed documentary “Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me.” I’ll be back with more on this one next week.

Visit here for more information about City of Night, including a list of artists and performances.

Weekend Preview: Neil Jordan Discusses His Reinvention of the Vampire Genre, and Almodovar’s Latest Opens

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In terms of summer blockbusters, this might be the most boring weekend of the summer. When it comes to indies, on the other hand, it could be one of the most interesting. Go figure.

Opening at Eastern Hills is Neil Jordan’s “Byzantium,” an icy, atmospheric vampire film I reviewed at TIFF 2012 for The Film Stage. (I gave it a B+; I will be posting that review here soon, but check it out at the link.) Also available on VOD, it is a fine bookend to Jordan’s “Interview With the Vampire,” and, I think, already a tad underrated.

I had the opportunity to interview Jordan for The Playlist, and while it was not a stellar interview — it was moved to the phone after a scheduling snafu two days earlier — it was humbling to chat with the man behind “The Crying Game.”

Written by Moira Buffini, “Byzantium” stars Gemma Arterton and Saoirse Ronan as a vampires in a British seaside town. For Jordan, it was a chance to revisit a genre he had dabbled in previously:

“Moira sent me the script. I read it, and thought it was very interesting. On the one hand, it’s kind of a story about a mother and daughter, on the other hand about a teenager growing up in this wonderful kind of mythological context of the period and I thought it was gorgeous. It was a chance to return to the territory of ‘Interview With the Vampire’ and ‘The Company of Wolves’… I think the whole thing was a great opportunity to really reinvent the vampire legend really. It’s become a bit tired of late, you know?”

It also offered him the chance to direct “Disappearance of Alice Creed” star Arterton:

“Gemma’s a wonderful actress. She’s physically beautiful but she’s also just so bloody good, you know? And I think when I saw her in ‘Alice Creed,’ I thought, ‘Okay, this is a woman who’s very professional and very brave, in a way that most actresses aren’t.’ If you want a vengeful, terrifying vamp, to be in a movie, that also brings all the protective instincts of a mother, I can’t think of a better actress to cast than Gemma Arterton.”

And Ronan, the star of “The Lovely Bones” and “The Host,” was another draw:

“I didn’t know her, but I’ve watched her work for the last six years and I’ve always wanted to work with her — she’s incredible. She brings everything, doesn’t she? She’s amazing, very extraordinary. She’s so young and so kind of tough and accomplished at the same time. … [Arterton and Ronan] don’t actually look like mother and daughter, but the strange thing is that they seem like it. They ended up being very good together.”

He also spoke briefly of influences on the film:

“I kept thinking of ‘Don’t Look Now.’ It’s not a vampire movie at all, it’s not really horror film, except maybe for that little red coat! And I kept thinking of those great English films like ‘Séance on a Wet Afternoon.’”

Check out the rest of the interview at the link above.

I am a longtime Pedro Almodovar fan — I reviewed, and adored, his last two films, “Broken Embraces” and “The Skin I Live In” — but I have not been able to get too excited about “I’m So Excited.” There has been a curious lack of buzz regarding the airplane romp, but it is Pedro, so it won’t be dull. It, too, is opening at Amherst and Eastern Hills.

In VOD-land, the already controversial, mostly panned Paul Schrader-Bret Easton Ellis team-up “The Canyons” drops today. I’m sorry, but even with these reviews, I’m fascinated by this one …

Meanwhile, the Sundance 2013 selection “This is Martin Bonner” is playing The Screening Room. I do not know too much about this one; I reached out to the film’s PR folks and received no reply. But it drew solid press at Sundance, and it is worth a look. (Next Thursday, August 8, The Screening Room features a sci-fi double-bill, with the underrated “Gattaca” and the classic “The Day the Earth Stood Still.”)

Now, prepare for boredom: This week’s two big openings are “2 Guns” and “Smurfs 2,” and I’m doubly disinterested. Mark Wahlberg and Denzel Washington are the reason to see “Guns,” which looks awfully rote. As for “Smurfs,” I did not see the first installment, but if the kids enjoyed it, they’ll likely dig No. 2. I would expect Smurfette and friends to lead the weekend box office; “2 Guns” should slightly disappoint, and come in at No. 2 or 3.

It will be interesting to see how “Wolverine” fares in week two — it was a slight disappointment in week one — and whether or not “Fruitvale Station” and “The Way, Way Back” continue to surprise.

BREAKING: “Sharknado” is on Regal screens at midnight tonight. Catch it now, before the joke is stale. (Or is it too late?)

Squeaky Wheel has a cool “Film Fiesta” planned for tomorrow (Saturday) at 1 p.m. as part of the Infringement Festival; see Squeaky’s website for details.

Bacchus brings us the great Kristen Wiig in “Bridesmaids” on Thursday (August 7), while the UB North Campus has the great “Place Beyond the Pines” tonight and the so-so “Iron Man 3” on Tuesday (August 6), both at 9:15. “Iron Man 3” is also showing at the UB South Campus at 8:45 on Wednesday (August 7).

“Elysium” is coming next week — probably the last interesting biggie of the summer.

Photo courtesy of IFC Films

Weekend Preview: Squeaky Wheel’s Fab Outdoor Animation Fest Turns 10

squeaky poster

Yes, one of the summer’s last blockbusters opens this weekend, as well as one of the year’s most acclaimed films, but I want to start with a Buffalo treasure: Squeaky Wheel.

This Saturday, July 27, is Squeaky Wheel’s 10th annual Outdoor Animation Festival in Days Park, and it is a perennial summer treat. The free event is a perfect opportunity to watch some great films under the stars; attendees can bring lawn chairs or blankets, and should arrive around 8:30 p.m. to grab a good seat, and have some fun with the Stop Motion Animation Station.

Among others, the festival will showcase two recent animations by local youth artist, Maria Ziaja; you can watch one of her videos here.

And afterwards, an after-party will be held at Allen Street Hardware featuring “exclusive screening that features animations too lewd, too wild and too crazy for the main screen!”

As I put it in a “Hot 5” entry for Buffalo Spree last year, “it is an outdoor event that is visually thrilling and thematically varied … and once again it highlights the work of internationally renowned experimental and underground filmmakers.” Of course, I explained, the animation fest is the tip of the Squeaky iceberg: There are workshops, kids camps, regular screenings, the acclaimed Buffalo Youth Media Institute, and much more. I had the honor of serving as Squeaky board member for several years, and I can say with confidence that every SW event is a blast — especially this one.

Note also that Squeaky will hold an encore presentation of the fest at Canalside on August 21.

After these cool films, this week’s major blockbuster offering, “The Wolverine,” seems a bit ho-hum … But perhaps I’m still wounded from the horrible “X-Men Origins: Wolverine.” Reviews have been mixed for this one, but I think X-Men fans are hopeful. Hugh Jackman is hard not to like, and his Wolverine is one of the most indelible onscreen comic book characters of recent years. Plus, setting the film in Japan seems very wise.

But who knows? It is difficult to predict how much the film will snag this weekend, but the buzz seems stronger for this one than, say, “Pacific Rim.” (I haven’t seen “PR” yet, but I’d bet money that it’s a more ambitious, interesting film than “Wolverine.” But buzz is buzz.) Let’s say $60 mill, which I’d call a great success.

Quite frankly, I’m more excited for the weekend’s other two main releases: “Fruitvale Station” and “The To-Do List.”

“Fruitvale Station” was one of the hits of this year’s Sundance Film Festival, and lead Michael B. Jordan is being pegged as a breakout star. It’s a film that has drawn praise — and tears — from many, many major critics, and it is expected to be part of the Oscar conversation. I can’t wait to see it, and interestingly, it is opening wide in Buffalo, at the Dipson Amherst Theater, and also at every local Regal (Elmwood, Transit, Walden, Quaker Crossing, and Niagara Falls).

The trailer for “The To-Do List” looks devilishly hilarious, and with the great AubreyPlaza in the lead (“Safety Not Guaranteed,” “Parks and Recreation”), this could be a solid word-of-mouth earner.

“The Godfather” is still showing at The Screening Room — 7:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday — while Tuesday (July 30) sees 1948’s “Pitfall” and Thursday (August 1) sees the WNY premiere of the acclaimed Sundance 2013 selection “This is Martin Bonner.”

This week’s Bacchus  pick is a slightly odd: the Bradley Cooper-starrer “Limitless.” Meanwhile, the UB North Campus features two wildly different films: “X-Men: First Class” on Friday (July 26), and, thrillingly, “The Place Beyond the Pines” on Tuesday (July 30). The latter is one of my favorite films of 2013. (Big Bradley Cooper week in the Buffalo outdoor film world.) UB South Campus is also showing “Pines,” on Wednesday (July 31). The film is coming to DVD and Blu-ray on August 6, but these are cool opportunities to see it on the big screen.

Coming soon: Woody Allen’s fantastic “Blue Jasmine” should be opening here soon, while August 2 sees two films with the number “2” in the title — the similarities end there: “2 Guns” and “The Smurfs 2.”

Ugh. But do not despair, as the summer still has some offerings that COULD prove wonderful: “Elysium,” “The World’s End,” “The Spectacular Now,” “The Grandmaster,” and “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints.”

Poster art courtesy of Squeaky Wheel

Ride, Watch, Then Ride Home: Squeaky Wheel’s Wheel-to-Reel Film Series

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Here’s a novel idea, and one that stands out among the happily busy outdoor-summer-films schedule: Squeaky Wheel’s Wheel-to-Reel Film Series. (I initially typed “Wheel-to-Rail,” which would be quite different.)

Presented in conjunction with Go Bike Buffalo and Merge (Squeaky also thanks Buffalo Place and the Erie Harbor Development Corporation), the free screenings will be held at Canalside, meaning you may want to arrive early to grab a chair, or, you pack your blanket. It’s another inventive offering from Squeaky Wheel, which also has its annual Outdoor Festival coming up on July 27 and August 21.

Before every screening, attendees can interact with Squeaky’s Stop Motion Animation Station from 8 to 9 p.m., while the films always start at 9.

The line-up of films is nicely diverse, with some early John Cusack and Tom Hanks, a dash of Paul Rudd, and a burst of Joseph Gordon-Levitt. (I would NOT have thought of “This is 40” — very clever.) Here’s the schedule:

  • July 10: “Better Off Dead”
  • July 17: “The Man with One Red Shoe”
  • July 24: “This is 40”
  • July 31: “Premium Rush”

(Note that the series kicked off on July 3 with “The Goonies.” For a Sloth fix, you can head to Orchard Park on July 21, as the film will screen at 9 p.m. at Chestnut Ridge Park, part of the village’s annual Quaker Days.)

Photo: Robert Smigel and Paul Rudd in Universal Pictures’ “This is 40.” Credit: Suzanne Hanover © 2012 Universal Studios. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

48 Hours of Short Films in the Queen City

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One of the reasons I wanted to start a film site for my own writing was to occasionally spotlight some local projects, screenings, etc., that I think are worthy of some attention. (Buffalo Spree continues to be a great source for calendar events like this, of course, and so is the Buffalo News Gusto section, which I have the pleasure of occasionally contributing to.) See: Hallwalls’ recent Jazz Noir series (returning in the fall), Squeaky Wheel’s annual Outdoor Animation Film Festival (July 27 and August 21), and, a very cool project happening from June 21 to 23, the Buffalo 48 Hour Film Project.

I must admit I was unfamiliar with the 48 Hour Film Project concept until I saw some Facebook posts; for its Buffalo incarnation, “filmmakers from all over the Buffalo area will compete to see who can make the best short film in only 48 hours. The winning film will go up against films from around the world.”

This is a perfect event for college kids and others with a passion for film- and video-making, and I would expect some great work will come out of it.

You can find all of the details here, but note some key dates, all taken from the website:

 

Open Audition Casting:

Saturday, June 15

Noon–4 p.m.

Pierce-ArrowFilmArtsCenter, 1635 Elmwood Ave., Buffalo

 

Kickoff

Friday, June 21

6–7 p.m.

Pierce-ArrowFilmArtsCenter

 

Dropoff

Sunday, June 23

5:30–8:30 p.m.  

Pierce-ArrowFilmArtsCenter

 

Premiere Screenings

Wednesday, June 26–Thursday, June 27

7 p.m.

Market Arcade Film & Arts Centre, 639 Main Street, Buffalo

Tickets for the screening will be $10 and can be purchased at the Market Arcade.

 

Wrap Party

Wednesday, June 26

Directly following the screening

Cabaret Restaurant, 490 Pearl Street, Buffalo

 

Best of Screening

Wednesday, July 17

7 p.m.

Helium Comedy Club, 30 Mississippi St, Buffalo

Tickets will be $10, and available to purchase online directly through Helium’s website or at the door.