20 May 2010

Dragons, Centipedes, and Mothers - Oh My!

by guest columnist Michael Wendt.  Follow him on Twitter.

During the past few months, I have been part of a Kickstarter campaign to raise the funds to put the documentary I made, The End of the World As We Knew It, on DVD and pay for the music rights to copyrighted music.  While we made a good effort we fell short, and while part of me felt I should quickly start another campaign, I decided to take a little break and recharge the batteries by indulging in several films at the local art houses in town, and I have to say that now is a great time if you are seeking out those small gems in an otherwise crowded Summer movie market place.

My two “must go” art house places here in Cleveland are the Cedar Lee Theatre and The Cleveland Cinematheque. The Cedar Lee, which is locally owned and operated through Cleveland Cinemas, plays a wide variety of art house fare from low budget indies, specialty films from studios (ie Focus, Fox Searchlight), documentaries, and foreign films. They also have a great Midnight program held on the weekends called The Late Shift. The Late Shift series has given me opportunity to see such favorites as Ghostbusters, Harold and Maude, and Friday The 13th Part 3-D on their original 35mm format!

The Cinematheque is for the hard core movie buff.  There you can see the latest from various international directors and also see a restored print of a cherished classic. Housed in the Cleveland Institute of Art, this one screen auditorium boasts a 606 seat capacity and features a staff of very friendly and knowledgeable staff, headed by Director John Ewing.  The Cinematheque is only open on weekends in the summer and during the school year on occasions Thursday-Monday. The great thing about them is they truly bring the films that might not other wise play at even the Cedar Lee theatre. For example after Fox Searchlight decided to dump Jared Hess's Gentelmen Broncos in only a handful of the big cities after terrible reviews, Ewing felt that Clevelanders should have a chance to decide for themselves. Other favorite moments there include seeing Raider of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation, a shot for shot remake of Raiders made in the 1980s by a group of friends over the course of 7 years. The fact that viewers were treated to a special 35mm print showing of Spielberg's Raiders made it a great night. I have also been treated to several other great films there, a restored print of Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove, Cult Japanese film Hausu aka House, and most recently The Red Riding Trilogy.

Here are some films you should look out for now...

If you are looking for a crime thriller, I highly suggest the Swedish film The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, directed by Niels Arden Oplev. This film is the first in a trilogy of films based on popular, best selling books. It tells the story of a disgraced journalist and a brilliant yet emotionally complex computer hacker who team up to help solve a missing persons case for a former CEO of a wealthy company in Sweden. What follows is two and a half hours of solid entertainment and twists and turns you don’t see coming. I am definitely looking forward to the other films in the series. David Fincher is prepping to make the American remake as we speak (there are rumors that every young actress in town is courting to play the titular role), and while I think Fincher is a very talented director, something tells me the American version won’t be as nearly as good as this but one could hope.

Now while the decidedly inferior remake of A Nightmare on Elm Street is playing everywhere, horror fans might be better suited to give Tom Six’s The Human Centipede (First Sequence) a try. This is a wildly bizarre and twisted movie about a formerly well respected doctor who has grown tiresome of people and has now decided to make art out of them.  Two American women and a German speaking Japanese man end up in his game as he attempts to make the first “human centipede”, or if you will one solid gastric system through three people. Ok yes it sounds ridiculous, but it really has a strong bite to it and generates some good laughs. Its not nearly as graphic as it sounds, unlike Nightmare or even the Hostel movies and it doesn’t take itself too seriously. This is also the first in a planned trilogy with rumors that in the next film it may be a 12 person centipede, yikes. Right now it is currently being played in theatre’s as a midnight movie only, but if it is coming to your town, I say get a group of your friends have a beer or two and enjoy.

Another enjoyable film making the art house rounds now is Joon-ho Bong’s Mother. This is a film about a young man who is mentally challenged and is accused of murdering a young woman in the town, his mother is determined by what ever means necessary (and I do mean determined) to prove his innocence. This is another example of great films that are coming from Korea in the past few years such as  Oldboy, Thirst, and The Host. The film features great cinematography and a brilliant performance from Hye-ja Kim as the mother, its not just her lines that stick with you but her facial expressions as she just impresses with every scene.

Finally, another film I caught was the low budget indie Breaking Upwards. This is the first feature film from Daryl Wein and his co-writer and co-star Zoe Lister Jones. For a film made for a reported $15,000, this film impressed me so much. It had great zippy and realistic dialog, well done cinematography, and good performances. Its about a young 20’s couple who decided to take a bit of a break, as in they are a couple for only a few days a week, the other days they are free to try new things or try to see new people. It felt like I was watching a Woody Allen movie but featuring much younger people. It made me inspired because it shows that even the smallest movie can get released nationally, and you can understand why because first and foremost the script is good.

So anyway those are just a few examples of great films out there, its always good to recharge the batteries after putting a lot of effort into a campaign if you succeeded or failed. So I will keep plugging away with hope for a better results in the near future. 

Michael Wendt is a Cleveland-based Actor, Producer, and Director.  His recent works include the documentary The End of the World As We Knew It which has played at several Film Festivals, as well as acting in the romantic comedy The Bride & The Grooms which had a limited release around the country last year. When not working on film projects, you can probably find him frequenting the movie theater or hitting a karaoke bar!


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