FLICKS: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 1 &The Grand Budapest

Posted on 18 December 2014 by L.Moore

By Dave Montalbano


Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games literary trilogy has been stretched out to four separate stories on the cinematic big screen. This practice of stretching out the final book began with the Harry Potter series (worthy) and continued with the Twilight series (unworthy). Mockingjay is a 400 page young adult novel, which means that The Hunger Games: Mockingjay –Part 1 is full of exposition that should lead to an epic big screen grand finale.

In the previous motion picture, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) challenged the federal status quo with an act of public defiance. Mockingjay opens with Katniss adjusting to her new role as a rebellious public symbol – the Mockingjay. Her new title is a creation of rebel leader Alma Coin (Julianne Moore) and her agent Plutarch (the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman). Katniss, Alma and Plutarch are in direct conflict with ongoing villain President Snow (Donald Sutherland).

In her previous act of defiance, Katniss lost track of her beloved Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), her ally (and possible love interest?) from the government sanctioned Hunger Games. Now, President Snow uses Peeta as a government propaganda pawn to confront the growing rebellion. Katniss is put in an emotional vice as she tries to separate her public obligations with her personal needs.

Director Francis Lawrence does an excellent job presenting this conflict for Katniss. It helps that Jennifer Lawrence is the perfect conduit for audience empathy, for much of this story is told through her eyes. We have watched young Katniss age in the past two years; the stress and betrayals are revealed on her face. With this type of emotional connection, the well-directed action scenes take on more depth and one eagerly awaits the grand finale with part two next year.

As we wrap up 2014, mainstream critics are presenting their top films of the year, with The Grand Budapest Hotel being consistently nominated. By the end of the month, this film will be on cable. Much like his previous motion pictures Rushmore, Moonrise Kingdom and The Royal Tennenbaums, The Grand Budapest Hotel is another peak into the vision of Wes Anderson. With high brow cinematography and low brow comedy, this film tells the tale of M.Gustave (Ralph Fiennes), a legendary concierge with contacts everywhere. Art theft, international intrigue and the onset of a world war … this film has something for everyone.

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FLICKS: The Homesman

Posted on 11 December 2014 by L.Moore

By Dave Montalbano


The writings of Glendon Swarthout ages like a fine wine. While best known for penning John Wayne’s last movie, The Shootist, Swarthout also inspired the South Florida Spring Break cultural phenomenon with his book Where the Boys Are. His best-selling novel featured the subject of veterinarians, with a title that became a pop hit song in the early 1970s, Bless the Beasts and Children. Swarthout has been gone for 21 years, but his writing is about to enjoy a renaissance with the new movie, The Homesman.

Written and directed by, and starring, Tommy Lee Jones, The Homesman tells the tale of Mary Bee Cuddy (Hilary Swank), a spinster who is a wealthy land owner in the rural frontier. When three mentally unbalanced wives disrupt domestic life in this small community, a preacher (John Lithgow) approaches Miss Cuddy. The two determine that the three wives must be transported east toward civilization. After recruiting the scoundrel named George Briggs (Tommy Lee Jones) to be “the homesman,” the five disparate characters travel east to Iowa.

Along the way through the barren wilderness, the five encounter rain, snow, sleet, hail, bandits, Apaches and their own existential loneliness. As they draw closer to their goal, one strong member of this party encounters their personal heart of darkness.

With such a simple narrative and unique characters with conflicting motivations, The Homesman keeps the audience guessing until the final credits roll. This film unfolds like a John Ford epic western, but tainted by modern day sensibilities. There are many shots of wide open places and the cinematography is beautiful. There is a darkness to this film, much like No Country for Old Men, but there is no denying that Tommy Lee Jones has directed his best film yet.

While Jones’ acting is not much of a stretch from the curmudgeon characters that he usually plays, he has managed to surround himself with first rate talent. Meryl Streep is given a maternal cameo, while her daughter, Grace Gummer, portrays one of the mentally ill wives. Both are convincing and help bring some heart to the film’s climax.

The Homesman is held together by Swank’s tough performance. This actress has won two Oscars for portraying vulnerable women who exude strength under duress. Her Mary Lee Cuddy is no exception and her performance is earning critical buzz just in time for award’s season.

Like the Glen Campbell documentary I’ll Be Me, The Homesman is a good movie, but with underlying sadness.

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FLICKS: I’ll Be Me

Posted on 04 December 2014 by L.Moore

By Dave Montalbano


Glen Campbell is one of those artists that we often take for granted, mostly because of longevity.

I was introduced to him as John Wayne’s costar in the original True Grit. Campbell’s music recalls some great memories about my father and I driving around Long Island. Campbell’s song “Wichita Lineman” became a staple of AM Radio.

While most honored as a country singer, Campbell’s career was more prolific as a studio session musician. He performed guitar licks with The Champs, the Beach Boys, and Frank and Nancy Sinatra. Much like musician Steve Hunter, Campbell performed the soundtrack of my generation and most of us never knew it. Now stricken with Alzheimer’s Disease, Campbell himself does not know the impact his music has had upon the world.

The documentary I’ll Be Me is Campbell’s swan song and it opens this weekend. Upon completion of his album with tour dates contracted, the Campbell family learns of their patriarch’s malady. The family decides to continue the tour as a farewell tour to the fans.

From Carnegie Hall to the Hollywood Bowl, for 151 performances in 425 days, the tour becomes a rollercoaster ride of emotions. At first, Campbell is able to hide behind his humor, with jokes and his impression of Donald Duck. When he gets confused onstage, he relies on his banjo -picking daughter Ashley to get through the musical numbers. These are sweet and humorous moments.

Yet, as the disease progresses, one witnesses the deconstruction of a celebrity. It is hard to watch the paranoia of a 76-year-old strong man. It is even harder to watch Campbell exit a tour bus with a knife in his teeth, as he tries to extract a delusional cavity.

Yet in an operetta sense, I’ll Be Me is a life-affirming movie. As Campbell’s musicianship fails, his ticket-buying fans provide an outpouring of love. Bruce Springsteen, Blake Shelton, Brad Paisley and Sheryl Crow discuss how Glen Campbell inspired their vocation.

Go see I’ll Be Me on the big screen, with a full blown sound system. It is a full concert experience. You will laugh and maybe shed a tear. However, there is no denying that you will leave the theater wanting to listen to more Glen Campbell music.

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FLICKS: Interstellar

Posted on 27 November 2014 by L.Moore

By Dave Montalbano


It has taken me three weeks to wrap my head around Interstellar. I attended the screening at the newly-refurbished Ft. Lauderdale Museum of Discovery and Science IMAX Theater (MODS) and I was overwhelmed with the visualization. Interstellar is a science fiction epic that is enhanced by the five-storey IMAX screen and clear concise aural elements.

There has been mainstream criticism about the audio problems plaguing screenings of Interstellar. Many of these problems are actually caused at the local level by projectionists who do not know to listen to movies in their own movie theaters. That was not the case

at MODS. Interstellar simulates the immediate silence one hears when travelling into outer space, like IMAX documentaries such as Space Station 3-D.

Besides directing the last Batman/Dark Knight trilogy, Christopher Nolan has created motion pictures with big themes and a tricky narrative structure: Memento, Insomnia and Inception. Interstellar is actually a simple story about family; but the narrative becomes convoluted when including Einstein’s Theory of Relativity to move the action along.

Farmer Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) is a widower with two teenaged children: a teenaged boy who prefers farm life and Murph, a preteen who is interested in deeper themes about science. Like her old man, Murph has a bit of a rebellious streak.

Cooper is contacted by Professor Brand (Michael Caine), who believes that the world is ending. Brand believes that there are inhabitable planets that can sustain earth’s population. With tears and regret, Cooper leaves planet earth in an effort to save the world.

Like Inception, Interstellar takes a scientific theory and attempts to simplify it. If one does not pay attention to the dialogue scenes between Mc- Conaughey, Caine and Anne Hathaway, one will be totally lost in space. Understanding Einstein’s theories about time travel will determine one’s enjoyment tolerance for Interstellar.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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FLICKS: George Hamilton at FliFF29

Posted on 20 November 2014 by L.Moore

By Dave Montalbano


While it is later this year, it is hard to believe that the 29th Annual Ft. Lauderdale International Film Festival concludes this weekend. One of Robin Williams last films, A Merry Friggin’ Christmas will be screened this Sunday night at Cinema Paradiso. The two screenings will also present a special tribute to the fallen idol.

This weekend also features multiple tributes to Palm Beach resident George Hamilton. While best known as a sun-tanned icon from 1960s beach blanket movies, Hamilton’s resume is far more diverse and concrete. In the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, Hamilton produced and starred in Love at First Bite (as a disco dancing Dracula) and Zorro: The Gay Blade. Both were lightweight comedies, conservatively produced, and provided Hamilton a nice nest egg for his later years.

Born in Memphis, Tennessee, Hamilton revealed performance potential at an early age when he attended Palm Beach High School. His first film Crime & Punishment, U.S.A was a modern adaptation of Russian author Fyodor Dostoyevsky Crime & Punishment. His persona as a “sun burned lothario” became evident in color motion pictures, most notably Where the Boys Are and Light in the Piazza, starring Yvette Mimieux and Olivia de Havilland.

When Robert Duvall turned down his appearance in The Godfather: Part III, Hamilton became Al Pacino’s lawyer. In contrast to portraying a smooth professional in Brooks Brothers suits, Hamilton gave a sincere performance as singer Hank Williams in Your Cheatin’ Heart.

While Hamilton will be acknowledged at the Awards Gala Friday night, this Saturday evening he will be hosting, At Home, On Stage at Cinema Paradiso- FTL.This program is a 90 minute presentation that features film clips and montages. Hamilton will be the Master of Ceremonies of this one-man performance and will be taking questions from the audience. Info: www.fliff.com

With FLiFF29 wrapping up this weekend, it is now time to consolidate my top 10 list for the end of 2014. At the moment, there are not enough films for a Top 10. Therefore, I am reviewing DVDs from highly recommended word of mouth considerations.

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FLICKS: Local influence at the Ft. Lauderdale International Film Festival

Posted on 13 November 2014 by L.Moore

By Dave Montalbano


Having actors Jason Alexander and Pamela Shaw screen their movie Lucky Stiff at the Amaturo Theater in Downtown Ft. Lauderdale was cool Friday night under the glowing moon, but it was the locals who really shined at the 29th Annual Ft. Lauderdale International Film Festival. Given that we have another two weeks of screenings and parties, the FLiFF29 juggernaut is just gaining momentum.

Evolving from an Off Broadway musical, director Christopher Ashley filled Lucky Stiff with many cinematic touches. While most of the narrative takes place in Monte Carlo, most of the film was shot in a California studio with special effects technology. Throughout the movie, there is cartoon animation that enhances the corny themes that are found in American musicals. While this film is not a great movie, it is a goofy time passer.

Friday night set the stage for a fun weekend at Cinema Paradiso. Florida local Peter Wein, the radio host of Peter’s Living Room, set up his studio in the patio and interviewed the talent who were screening their movies. Along with co-host Audrey Lynn, Peter interviewed the cast and crew of Human Capital, Pie Lady of Pie Town and Traitors. Do a Google search for Peter’s Living Room and The Wei Network and one can hear these far-ranging interviews.

When dark skies began to absorb the Sunday skyline, It seemed as if luck was running out on FLiFF29. However, this miserable weather set the perfect stage for An Honest Liar, the documentary about Plantation resident, James Randi. While the first 2/3 of the movie features The Amazing Randi’s public career as a magician, the final portion of the film focuses on Randi’s private revelation. Randi also provides a lesson on class and dignity as he confronts a public storm that threatens his happiness. Always the consummate showman, at age 86, the Amazing Randi concluded his Q& A with a magic trick, much to the delight of the audience.

Week Two presents the FLiFF29 Centerpiece film, Frank vs. God at the Sunrise Civic Center Nov. 14 at 7:30 p.m. David Frank (Henry Ian Cusick) suffers travails similar to that of the Old Testament’s long-suffering Job. When his insurance company refuses to pay a claim, due to “an act of God,” Frank decides to sue God.

Given his work on the long-running television show Lost, Cusick appears to be the perfect casting choice as Frank. Cusick will be attending the party following the film; it’s co-sponsored by locals Diane Sobo and Cyndi Boyar.

As to why she decided to sponsor this film, Boyar responded, “I have a friend who is a big fan of Lost and Henry Ian Cusick.

I love the Sunrise Civic Center and this seemed like a natural fit.”

After this weekend, FLiFF29 will be 2/3 complete with many films selling out. For tickets and information, visit www.fliff.com or call 954-525-FILM.

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Posted on 06 November 2014 by L.Moore

By Dave Montalbano

http://cinemadave.livejournal.com The place for movie lovers to be this weekend will be downtown Ft. Lauderdale. The Ft. Lauderdale Museum of Discovery and Science (MODS) opens Writer/Director Christopher Nolan’s eagerly awaited Interstellar on the recently remodeled 5-storey IMAX screen with new 56 sound speakers. Interstellar is expected to docked at MODS until the final episode of The Hobbit trilogy burrows in for Christmas.

The red carpet for the 29th Annual Ft. Lauderdale International Film Festival (FLiFF29) will be unfurled Friday night at the Amaturo Theater with a screening of Lucky Stiff. Lucky Stiff is a farcical comedy about a British nephew who must fulfill his late uncle’s wishes, or lose $6 million inheritance. While the film features one of the last performances of FLiFF favorite Dennis Farina, the film will showcase FLiFF honoree Jason Alexander.


Jason Alexander and Pamela Shaw in “Lucky Stiff.”

While best known for playing George Costanza in Seinfeld, Alexander started his career in theater. When he landed his first job on Broadway, he dropped out of his theater studies in Boston.

Working with Liza Minnelli, Chita Rivera, Neil Simon, Hal Prince and Stephen Sondheim proved to be enough education for Alexander. He has worked steadily as an actor. It is refreshing to see Alexander pop up in movies like Pretty Woman, Shallow Hal and Star Trek Voyager. He is scheduled to walk the Amaturo Theater red carpet Friday night (be there by 7:10 p.m.).

Also expected to walk the red carpet Friday night is local celebrity The Amazing Randi. With the help of Kickstarter, The Amazing Randi, aka James Randi, has been working with Directors Justin Weinstein & Tyler Measom to create An Honest Liar. This is a documentary about Randi’s unique career as an illusionist. While he gained fame on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, Randi built Alice Cooper’s guillotine and used his “free time” to debunk phony psychics. The South Florida premier of An Honest Liar is this weekend.

The Amazing Randi and the Head of Alice Cooper

James “The Amazing” Randi with “the head of Alice Cooper.”

FLiFF29 features a unique movie from Denmark, The Salvation. Best known for his work as television’s Hannibal Lechter, Mads Mikkelsen stars in this Danish western about a settler who kills, his violence breeds violence and the fine line between cowardice and bravery is revealed. This film will be screening Veteran’s Day at Cinema Paradiso-Ft. Lauderdale and is sponsored by Rob Davis.

FLiFF29 will be an intense, but fluid event for the next three weeks. To keep in touch with the latest schedules and times, please visit the website www.fliff.com.

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FLICKS: Sinister Simon, Annabelle & Automatonophobia

Posted on 30 October 2014 by L.Moore

Sinister Simon Grindhouse Picture

Photo by Sid Graves from Cemetery Prints. (Sinister Simon compares himself to Bela Lugosi’s Dracula)

By Dave Montalbano


It was Thanksgiving break 31 years ago when Simon “walked into” Palm Aire at Coral Key. This ventriloquist dummy was a gift from my brother and Simon was a “hint” that the first grandchildren were on the way for my parents. Immediately, I saw Simon’s potential as a Sinister horror movie star.

When I was a communications major at Florida State, I had scripted a short subject silent movie about Simon stalking a sorority sister. The film was never shot. Simon laid dormant for many years until I decided to clean out my apartment. In the current digital age, Simon came alive and created his own YouTube Channel. His most watched episode features local Scream Queen Linnea Quigley, which fulfilled Sinister Simon’s dreams of becoming a horror icon.

Automatonophobia is a morbid fear of ventriloquist dummies, animatronic creatures, wax statues and any inanimate object that simulates a sentient being. Besides having a similar sounding name, the most profitable movie of October, Annabelle shares this morbid fear of inanimate objects coming alive.

Annabelle, the doll, was introduced as a peripheral prop in last year’s sleeper hit, The Conjuring. Both movies rely on stillness and routine domestic situations, similar to successful motion pictures like What Lies Beneath, The Exorcist and The Sixth Sense. Yet, one thing all five of these movies have in common is the audience recognition that the characters on the big screen are living in a dangerous situation.

Before Hannibal Lechter became his public alter ego, Sir Anthony Hopkins starred in Magic, costarring Burgess Meredith and Ann Margaret. Hopkins portrayed a night club ventriloquist who has a fear of success. As Hopkins loses his nerve, his alter ego – “Fats the Dummy” – decides to aggressively pursue success. This 107 minute movie feels like an extension of three Twilight Zone episodes that starred Telly Savalas, Cliff Robertson and pesky dolls that seek to dominate the protagonist’s soul.

Eight years ago, vampires were in the forefront of popular horror culture, only to be replaced by zombies. After zombies, what is next? Perhaps, it will be puppets and dolls that will spread automatonophobia to the masses. The Curse of Chucky returned to the serial-killer possessed doll to big screen box office success, after a two decade hiatus.

Tomorrow night, Fright Asylum converts Cinema Paradiso into Cinema Inferno. Sinister Simon will NOT be in attendance, because Fright Asylum hosts Woody & Manny find Simon too frightening. BOO! HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

Info: www.fliff.com.


Cinema Dave rescues actress Linnea Quigley from the clutches of Sinister Simon.

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FLICKS: Vincent Price Returns

Posted on 23 October 2014 by L.Moore

FrightAsylum FrankieBust (2)By Dave Montalbano


Though he has been gone 21 years ago this Halloween Season, Vincent Price makes a return to the big screen in The Last Man on Earth Halloween night at Cinema Paradiso.

While the film begins at 9 p.m., “Happy Hour” begins at 8 p.m. when Michelle Fresita’s signature “Vampire Wine,” “Bloody Marys” and succulent chocolates will be served. The evening will also feature a costume contest and prizes include: annual memberships for Cinema Paradiso, Fright Asylum coffee mugs, autographed copies of Davy Jones & the Heart of Darkness and The Querulous Nights of Athena Minerva.

A Vincent Price horror film is an appropriate way to kick off is what we hope will be an ongoing partnership between Fright Asylum and Cinema Paradiso, home of the Ft. Lauderdale International Film Festival (FliFF).

FLiFF honored Vincent Price in 1991 with a Lifetime Achievement Award, one year after the actor’s last screen appearance in Edward Scissorhands, starring Johnny Depp. Price also narrated the documentary The Devil’s Triangle, which explored the mysteries involving the missing ships and airplanes off the coast of Ft. Lauderdale. Like many a conspiracy, this documentary seems to have disappeared from public consumption, but has resurfaced in four parts on YouTube.

Vincent Price has remained a cultural figure in popular culture. His voice can be heard on Michael Jackson’s Thriller, the best selling album of all time. Seven years before Thriller, Price lent his voice to Alice Cooper’s first solo album, Welcome to My Nightmare. Price’s vocal tones have inspired many actors and actresses. At the recent Spooky Empire Convention, Pat Carroll discussed how Vincent Price influenced her reading of Madame Leota in The Haunted Mansion ride in Disneyworld.

By the time he did The Last Man on Earth, Vincent Price had been cementing his image as the new “King of Horror” for his work in William Castle movies (The Tingler, House on Haunted Hill) and his Edgar Allen Poe/Roger Corman series (The Masque of Red Death, The House of Usher, The Tomb of Ligeia). The Last Man on Earth will be celebrating its 50th anniversary screening Halloween night.

The Last Man on Earth is based on Richard Matheson’s horror fiction novel I Am Legend. His book was adapted for film twice more as The Omega Man (1971) with Charlton Heston in the Vincent Price role and, most recently, as I Am Legend (2007) with Will Smith. Of the three films, the Vincent Price version has been the most influential.

While attending Carnegie Mellon University, George Romero talked with two of his Pittsburgh friends, John Russo and Gary Streiner about directing a movie that “… had a taste for the bizarre.” The film was Night of the Living Dead, which begat the current zombie-craze currently fueled by AMC Television series The Walking Dead. Romero has long admitted that The Last Man on Earth was a direct influence on his work.

Despite portraying despicable villains and cultural maniacs, the real Vincent Price was a dedicated professional and likeable movie star who always had time for his fans. One month before his passing in 1993, I received a letter that just might be Vincent Price’s last autograph. Fright Asylum and I are honored to return Vincent Price to the Big Screen this Halloween night at Cinema Paradiso. (For more information, visit www.fliff.com/Film/1798/Fright_Asylum_Halloween_Special

Vincent Price's last autograph (2)

Cinema Dave had a response from Vincent Price himself!

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FLICKS: Rudderless

Posted on 16 October 2014 by L.Moore

By Dave Montalbano


As advertised, Rudderless looks like a film along the lines of Coal Miner’s Daughter, Walk the Line and Almost Famous. With Billy Crudup’s participation, this film feels like a spiritual sequel to Almost Famous, as if we are meeting Crudup’s character 14 years later.

Crudup portrays Sam, an advertising rep who closes a big deal. He calls his college- aged son in an effort to celebrate his success, but the phone only takes messages. While watching television at a bar, Sam sees that his son’s college has become the location of work-place violence.

A few years later, Sam has become a recluse, living alone on a sailboat and estranged from his wife, Emily (Felicity Huffman), who openly grieves for the loss of their son. Negligent from domestic responsibilities, Sam will have nothing to do with cleaning out their son’s room. One day, Emily brings their son’s stuff to Sam’s garbage bin. Ignoring it at first, Sam finds his son’s guitar and music tracks for songs that he has written.

While attending an open mic contest, Sam meets Quentin (Anton Yelchin). The two form a band and start playing the dead son’s music. Things seem redemptive until the son’s girlfriend (Selena Gomez) shows up, disgusted by Sam’s playlist. Thus Rudderless becomes a film with much more depth than advertised.

Making his directorial debut, character actor William H. Macy directs with a confident ebb and flow. The drama is real, but not over the top. The comedy is laugh out loud funny with echoes from previous movies.

Despite the sunny cinematography, there is a darkness beyond the theme of grief; Sam and Emily’s son was the shooter who killed the university students. Thus, the beautiful music takes on sinister attributes.

Rudderless is a film that makes one look beyond the obvious.

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