Friday, May 1, 2015

Review: Avengers: Age of Ultron

Posted By on Fri, May 1, 2015 at 11:00 AM

Ultron is one very unhappy robot
  • Ultron is one very unhappy robot

Writer/director Joss Whedon’s 2012 The Avengers wasn’t the first film in what has become a cinematic juggernaut called the Marvel Universe, but it set a very high bar for the movies that followed. The Avengers was smart and funny and sacrificed none of the quirky individualism for which Whedon is celebrated, and it is the third highest-grossing movie of all time and Disney’s biggest box office smash. The secret to the film’s success was the way Whedon’s screenplay integrated essential traits and backstories of all six Avengers into both the action and the banter during the film’s first hour, making the story sensible even to those unfamiliar with the sprawling Marvel Universe. That is no small achievement.

But a lot has happened in the Marvel Universe since that time, including seven more feature films focusing on individual superheroes counted among the Avengers. That may be one reason why Avengers: Age of Ultron struggles for the delicate balance of the earlier film and appears overstuffed with characters, plot points and repartee that mostly seems a bit forced. There’s no question the visual effects and action sequences are state of the art, and those seeking a roller coaster ride at the movies will scarcely find disappointment. But The Avengers’ seemingly effortless charm is nowhere in sight.

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Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Louisiana International Film Festival announces 2015 lineup

Posted By on Wed, Apr 29, 2015 at 9:05 AM

Me & Earl & the Dying Girl
  • Me & Earl & the Dying Girl

Each year the Louisiana International Film Festival and Mentorship Program brings regional premieres of upcoming releases to the Cinemark Perkins Rowe Theatre in Baton Rouge, and this year's lineup is especially strong. Highlights include Manglehorn, a romantic comedy starring Al Pacino and Holly Hunter and directed by Austin,Texas-based filmmaker David Gordon Green (Joe); Jean-Luc Godard's Goodbye to Language, in which the legendary 85-year-old French New Wave filmmaker re-imagines use of the 3-D format with an experimental narrative essay; and Alfonso Gomez-Rejon's Me & Earl & the Dying Girl, which earned a standing ovation at this year's Sundance Film Festival before winning the Grand Jury Prize.

The festival takes place May 7-10. Tickets for individual films are $10 and an all-access pass to more than 60 films is $100. See the full schedule here.

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Monday, April 27, 2015

James Booker documentary Bayou Maharajah screens tonight at One Eyed Jacks

Posted By on Mon, Apr 27, 2015 at 1:18 PM

James Booker
  • James Booker

Local filmmaker Lily Keber's documentary Bayou Maharajah tells the story of New Orleans Piano Prince James Booker, but it also captures something about life in New Orleans that we seldom see on the big screen. The film screens tonight only, Monday, April 27, at 8 p.m. at One Eyed Jacks (615 Toulouse St.) in the French Quarter. Tickets are $10 and are available here. Read our review of the film here.

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Sync Up Cinema conference starts today

Posted By on Mon, Apr 27, 2015 at 9:17 AM

George and Joyce Wein Jazz and Heritage Center
  • George and Joyce Wein Jazz and Heritage Center

The three-day Sync Up Cinema conference starts today, April 27, at the George and Joyce Wein Jazz and Heritage Center, 1225 N. Rampart Street. Produced by the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival and Foundation, New Orleans Video Access Center and the New Orleans Film Society, Sync Up Cinema presents screenings, panels and events focused on filmmaking in Louisiana. Admission is free but registration for individual events is required. A full schedule is available here and registration for events not yet sold out is here.

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Friday, April 24, 2015

Review: Ex Machina

Posted By on Fri, Apr 24, 2015 at 11:14 AM


There’s an entire subgenre in science fiction devoted to the potential dangers of artificial intelligence (A.I.). The finest A.I.-themed films — such as Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey and Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner — easily move beyond the idea of robots-gone-wrong to address ethical and philosophical quandaries that spring from any story involving self-aware machines. What exactly constitutes consciousness? If an A.I. possesses the desire for its own continued existence, are its creators obligated to honor that wish? Issues like these typically lead to an examination of what it means to be human, which is where sci-fi transcends genre limitations to reach its highest expression.

This is the fertile ground in which British novelist, screenwriter and first-time director Alex Garland sows Ex Machina, a challenging and timely take on the long-term potential of A.I. Garland has developed a specialty in science-induced catastrophe as the screenwriter for films like 28 Days Later (synthetic virus causes zombie apocalypse) and Never Let Me Go (the horrors of human cloning). But Ex Machina’s story of a uniquely sentient robot is not especially concerned with looming threats to humanity. It’s a potent psychological thriller and an oddly ambivalent cautionary tale that’s more focused on posing provocative questions than providing easy answers

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Thursday, April 23, 2015

Jazz Fest means music films, too

Posted By on Thu, Apr 23, 2015 at 10:40 AM

Mahalia Jackson at the 1970 Jazz Fest
  • Mahalia Jackson at the 1970 Jazz Fest

If the rainy forecast for the first weekend of this year's Jazz Fest holds true, a little time spent indoors watching films programmed to complement the festival might not seem like a bad idea.

Friends of the Cabildo will screen a historic collection of seven rare 16mm film reels shot at the first Jazz Fest in 1970 tonight, April 23, at 6:00 p.m & 7:30 p.m at the Old U.S. Mint 3rd Floor Performance Space, 400 Esplanade Avenue in the French Quarter. The films feature artists including Duke Ellington, Mahalia Jackson and Danny Barker, and Band-In-A-Pocket Jazz Trio will provide live accompaniment to sequences lacking sound. Tickets constitute a donation to Friends of the Cabildo at a cost of $20 and $15 for Friends of the Cabildo/Louisiana Museum Foundation/New Orleans Film Society Members. Reservatinos are recommended and can be made by calling 504-523-3939 or emailing More info here.

In addition. WWOZ and the Indywood Theater will present a strong selection of music-themed films in honor of this year's festival. On Friday, April 24 at 9 p.m. it's Perry Henzell's 1972 reggae classic The Harder They Come starring JImmy Cliff, who performs at Jazz Fest earlier that day. Director D. A Pennebaker's Monterrey Pop — which features artists like JImi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and another performer at this year's Jazz Fest, The Who — screens on Saturday, April 25 at 9 p.m. On Sunday, April 26 at 9 p.m. it's Miles Electric: A Different Kind of Blue, which includes the jazz legend's full 45-minute set at 1970's Isle of Wight festival. Davis' band includes Herbie Hancock, Keith Jarrett, Chick Corea and others in the throes of inventing jazz fusion.

Indywood will offer additional music-themed films during jazz Fest this year, including high school brass-band documentary The Whole Gritty City, Mardi Gras indian documentary We Won't Bow Down, Faubourg Treme: The Untold Story of Black New Orleans and The Who's Tommy. See the full Indywood schedule here.

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Friday, April 17, 2015

Review: Leviathan

Posted By on Fri, Apr 17, 2015 at 12:13 PM


The century-plus history of Russian and Soviet cinema is one of intermittent brilliance (Sergei Eisenstein and Andrei Tarkovsky are prime examples) followed by long periods of bureaucratic interference and censorship. So it came as no surprise when the worldwide acclaim accorded Andrey Zvyagintsev’s Leviathan was met with scorn by a Russian government that actually helped finance the film.

Leviathan (not to be confused with the 2012 maritime documentary of the same name) delivers a scathing social critique of Vladimir Putin’s Russia. It won Best Screenplay at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival (and later, many other awards in Europe, India and the U.S.), which only caused Russian Culture Minister Vladimir Medinsky to denounce the film’s depiction of official corruption and a hard-drinking working class as not representative of “real Russians.”

That disapproval didn’t stop Leviathan from becoming Russia’s official entry to this year’s Oscars, where it became one of five nominees for Best Foreign Language Film. Medinsky — who claims he had nothing to do with his government’s significant financial support for the film — inspired mirth on an international scale when he went on to complain that Leviathan promotes “existential hopelessness,” which some might reasonably describe as the country’s primary cultural export.

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New Star Wars trailer released

Posted By on Fri, Apr 17, 2015 at 9:33 AM


A second and more substantial teaser trailer (below) for J.J. Abrams' Star Wars: The Force Awakens was released yesterday, and it actually includes a shot of Harrison Ford (and sidekick Chewbacca), who is back as Han Solo 38 years after the release of the original Star Wars. The film is scheduled for release on December 18, 2015.

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Thursday, April 16, 2015

Timecode:NOLA's four-day FF|3 Independent Film Festival starts tonight

Posted By on Thu, Apr 16, 2015 at 9:41 AM


FF|3, Timecode:NOLA's third annual Independent Film Fest, starts tonight, April 16, and runs through Sunday at multiple venues in the French Quarter and Marigny. Festivities begin with a kickoff party featuring music by Egg Yolk Jubilee and screenings of short films by New Orleans filmmakers tonight at 8 p.m. at Den of Muses, 42 Architect Street. The festival continues with filmmaking workshops, multiple screenings (some of which are free and open to the public) and the world premiere of this year's Joint Picture Project, which combines five-minute shorts made by local directors over the last few weeks into a feature-length film.

More Information is here and the full schedule of events is here.

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Friday, April 10, 2015

Review: While We're Young

Posted By on Fri, Apr 10, 2015 at 5:01 PM

Naomi Watts and Ben Stiller in While We’re Young
  • Naomi Watts and Ben Stiller in While We’re Young

Indie filmmaker and prototypical New Yorker Noah Baumbach found mainstream success in 2005 with his semi-autobiographical The Squid and the Whale, which was inspired by his adolescent years and his parents’ messy divorce in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Park Slope (in its pre-gentrification days). In recent years, the now 45-year-old Baumbach appears to have found much inspiration in the classic films of Woody Allen.

Baumbach’s little-seen 2012 gem Frances Ha, combines elements familiar from Allen’s 1970s masterworks. It stars Baumbach’s real-life girlfriend Greta Gerwig (who also co-wrote the film) in the title role of an endearingly daft New Yorker, which could also describe Woody Allen and Diane Keaton in Annie Hall. (As if to complete the circle, Gerwig appeared in Allen’s 2012 To Rome With Love.) As a black-and-white love letter to New York City and its endlessly soul-searching denizens, Frances Ha also can’t help but recall Allen’s Manhattan.

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