Summer is fully engaged! Multiple 90-plus-degree days in a row coupled with a broken air-conditioning unit on the editorial floor at CityBeat World Headquarters (karmic justice via the mind beams of Steve Chabot's scornful minions, or complete coincidence?) have visions of an ultra-cooled movie house dancing in my overheated head.
Ah, but what to see? —-As I've stated previously, it's been a mixed-bag summer at the multiplex, each week offering us another creatively challenged piece of big-budget product after another. I'm all for the occasional mindless mayhem and goofiness, but what's one to do when two-thirds of the releases are geared to tickle the mind of the average 14-year-old suburban male?
Cue Terrence Malick's recently released anti-summer-blockbuster The Tree of Life, a wildly ambitious head-scratcher that transcends the typical filmgoing experience in nearly every way imaginable. With that in mind, CityBeat contributing writer and editor Steven Rosen wants to help foster a dialogue about the intent of Malick's gorgeously rendered, Palme d'Or-winning movie. Or at least that's what he said when he emailed me the other day about a conversation he's hosting after the film's 1 p.m. matinee screening Sunday at the Esquire Theatre in Clifton.
“Yes, on one level it tells of a family in Texas during the 1950s, but what's with the dinosaurs?” he wrote. “Or the flickering flame (called the Great Whats-It by some critics) at the beginning? Or the non-chronological, impressionistic storytelling? Is the structure supposed to elucidate the film's message or obscure it? And what is that message? Some say it's the first great spiritual film since 2001 to take on the meaning of life, cosmic consciousness and the existence of God. Others are just confused.”
Get answers or put forth your take on the film's meaning during Sunday's conversation, an endeavor that brings me back to the old Cincinnati Film Society days, wherein longtime UC English/film professor Hector Currie would go on and on about the various sexual metaphors in the films of Alfred Hitchcock.
Looking for another unique option this weekend? Then head over to the Carnegie in Covington for Cincinnati World Cinema's latest offering, “Summer Shorts: Nine Nation Animation,” which features, yes, nine adult-oriented animated shorts from different countries across the globe. The shorts range greatly in terms of style and content — from Average 40 Matches, a brief stop-motion piece about wooden matches yearning to satisfy their cigarette craving, to Never Like the First Time, a documentary about four Swedes who describe the first time they had sex, experiences that range from the horrific (“I was somehow naked when I woke up”) to the transcendent (“The air was like champagne”). There's also a 10-minute bonus short called Transit, which looks at the perils of adultery.
As usual, CWC offers a post-screening discussion, this time hosted by David Hartz, art director and associate professor in UC's Electronic Media Department. “Summer Shorts: Nine Nation Animation” screens 6 p.m. Saturday and 4 p.m. Sunday at the Carnegie. Tickets are $8 in advance, $10 at the door. For more information, call 859-491-2030.
CAPTAIN AMERICA — Joe Johnson, the guy behind a bevy of effects-driven adventures over the years (Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, Jumanji and Jurassic Park III, to name a few) guides this big-budget, 3-D adaptation of the Marvel Comics staple. The period story centers on Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), a slight guy deemed unfit for military service whose fortunes change when he volunteers for a top-secret research project that turns him into a buff superhero dedicated to defending America's ideals. (Read review here.) (Opens wide today.) — Jason Gargano (Rated PG-13.) Grade: C
FRIENDS WITH BENEFITS — Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis star as acquaintances who try to keep their budding relationship purely sexual. But, of course, things don't turn out as planned. While this frank comedy comes on the heels of the like-minded (and mostly lame) No Strings Attached, it does have the distinction of being directed by Will Gluck, whose Easy A was an uncommonly witty entry in the teen comedy genre. And the supporting cast is impressive: Patricia Clarkson, Woody Harrelson, Richard Jenkins and Rashida Jones. (Opens wide today.) — JG (Rated R.) Review coming soon.
A LITTLE HELP — This family drama could have taken place at any time, but it belongs to this moment in our history because it offers balance by presenting this period without the tragedy writ large and the self-righteousness of the myth of the America people boldly facing a crisis. (Read full review here.) (Opens today at Esquire Theatre.) — tt stern-enzi (Rated R.) Grade: B
QUEEN TO PLAY — Superlative performances and a restrained directorial touch elevate this French drama from a schematic outline into a compelling story about a woman who gradually discovers horizons where previously she had seen none. (Read full review here.) (Opens today at Mariemont Theatre.) — Marjorie Baumgarten (Not Rated.) Grade: B