Tag Archives: dallas

Review: ‘5 Flights Up’

'5 Flights Up' (Focus World)
‘5 Flights Up’ (Focus World)
In Richard Loncraine’s 5 Flights Up (originally titled Ruth and Alex when it played at the Toronto Film Festival in the fall of last year), the story of a couple aging gracefully is far from its main objective, especially since the couple in question are played by spunky pros like Diane Keaton and Morgan Freeman.

Instead of choosing to focus on the troubling or venerable aspects of the autumn years (i.e. Alzheimer’s or a debilitating sickness), the film navigates the simple but highly displeasurable vagaries of selling and buying within the modern day real estate market. In New York City no less. From that streamlined idea, 5 Flights Up manages to spin a warm, lived-in narrative supported by the effortless performances of Keaton and Freeman.

And since Freeman is in the film, we understand that means his majestic, stony voice will serve as the omniscient narrator. Out for a sunny morning walk with his dog, Dorothy, ageing painter Alex (Freeman) explains the shifting dynamics of his Brooklyn neighborhood. Replete with “hipsters” and Wall Street hotshots now, it’s a place that feels as if it’s passing him and his wife Ruth (Keaton) by the wayside. Sadly, what older neighborhood doesn’t seem to be self-imploding and restructuring itself lately, partly out of economic boom or bust but mostly due to any city’s inherent lack of self preservation? Just look at my own downtown Dallas for veritable proof.

And even more demanding on Alex is the flight of steps he traverses every day to reach his apartment. From that humble (but oh so true) set of obstacles, the couple have decided to place their home on the market, led by niece and go-getter real estate agent Lilly (Cynthia Nixon).

From there, 5 Flights Up devotes itself to presenting the ebb and flow of potential buyers, bidding wars, urgent cell phone conversations and Ruth and Alex’s own desire to acquire their own new home. It becomes a head-spinning charade, never losing sight of the sheer vapidity of most real estate surfers and agents.

Interspersed among this hectic 24 hours, Alex begins to think back on his relationship to Ruth, including their first day in the apartment, her own family’s outright hesitancy about the possible mixed-race marriage, and their first meeting as students when she arrived to be his portrait model. As the younger version of themselves, Korey Jackson and Alanna Blair emit wonderful chemistry together, which only serves to strengthen our attachment to them in the present tense.

Despite its at times cloy characterizations of other people around Ruth and Alex, and one subplot that feels a bit forced in its attempt to serve as a dramatic counterpoint, 5 Flights Up never loses its amiable charm or grace about this couple we care about. There are no great emotional upheavals (unless you’re a dog lover) and it underlines the basic tenants of feel-good older adult cinema with ease. It also proves that watching great actors like Keaton and Freeman still producing terrific work means Hollywood hasn’t quite bought into their own version of self-implosion just yet.

The film opens in Dallas at LOOK Cinemas on Friday, May 8.

Review: ‘The Ladies of the House’

'The Ladies of the House'
‘The Ladies of the House’
A sincere, bloody effort to color outside the horror lines, The Ladies of the House creates a good, creepy situation for bad, wretched things to happen.

It starts with two men watching an exotic dancer gyrating from the dark safety of an upstairs lounge. The straight-laced Jacob (Gabriel Horn) is treating his full-figured brother Kai (Rj Hanson) to a birthday celebration at the club. Kai is reluctant to partake fully of the fleshly delights on view, and Jacob hesitates to push him, so it’s up to their boisterous friend Derek (Samrat Chakrabarti) to get the party started.

The trio manages to freak out one of the dancers, Ginger (Michelle Sinclair), but that doesn’t stop Derek from talking his buddies into following her home. Derek then talks his way inside, which is, frankly, more a reflection on Ginger’s utter loneliness than on any charm he displays.

Once the group is inside the house, we know something horrible will happen. With three horny men surrounding one sad-eyed woman, plus the presence of alcohol, it’s inevitable. The twist is that Ginger doesn’t live alone; she lives with three other women in a house owned by one of the other exotic dancers, and they’re on their way home.

Director John Stuart Wildman, who also wrote the script with Justina Walford, establishes a deliberate pace from the outset, so there’s no mistaking the film for a thriller. But neither is it a suspense piece, even though the three male friends are supposedly trapped inside the house. (Somehow, one of them walks out without any trouble, but is then talked back inside by one of the ladies because he’s “not all there” mentally; let’s just call that a loose end.)

Really, The Ladies of the House falls into the increasingly rare territory of a horror drama. It’s ‘old school’ to a certain degree, closer to the type of horror movies that were more prevalent out of Britain in the late 1960s and early 1970s, where thematic concerns took precedence over explicit shocks. While Ladies has its fair share of blood and guts, and even a tiny flash or two of naked flesh, it is primarily focused on the relationship between three women.

Lin (Farah White) owns the house and is a natural born leader. She’s in a loving relationship with Getty (Melodie Sisk), which proves to be somewhat distracting when they arrive home to find things disheveled. Lin is more interested in sex than in surveying the mess in the living room or checking in with Ginger, so she guides Getty into their bedroom, not realizing that someone is hiding underneath it. Eventually, Lin asserts her leadership role, leading to dire consequences for the men, and a strengthening of her ties with her housemates.

Crystal (Brina Palencia) is the one whose true motives are more obscure. She is taken with
Jacob, and in other circumstances her interest might be construed as romantic or sexual attraction. In this bizarre setting, however, it’s not clear if she is acting on hormonal or homicidal impulses, which adds a delicious layer of mystery to the proceedings.

Once everything is set up, The Ladies of the House stalls out to a large degree, confined by its own self-imposed limitations. It leans toward torture porn, but then pulls back. It gestures toward a feminist view of certain horror tropes, but grinds down in conversation.

Still, as a veteran horror-movie viewer, I appreciated the movie’s resistance of cliches and appetite for more thoughtful, if no less disturbing, depravity. The film’s greatest achievement may be in recognizing that the most terrifying people on Earth are those who don’t think they’re all that scary.

The film will be available to watch on a variety of Video On Demand platforms starting on Friday, May 1. Visit the official Facebook page for more information.

Coming Soon: ‘Wild Tales,’ ‘Kidnapping Mr. Heineken,’ ‘Buzzard,’ and More

'Wild Tales' (Sony Pictures Classics)
‘Wild Tales’ (Sony Pictures Classics)

Opening Friday, March 6

    • Chappie (d. Neill Blomkamp) A robot gains intelligence and inspires violent opposition from Hugh Jackman. Wide release.
    • Unfinished Business (d. Ken Scott) Vince Vaughn and Dave Franco in a comedy about, er, men in suits. In Europe. Wide release.
    • Buzzard. A young man has “issues.” Texas Theatre.
    • Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem. “In Israel there is neither civil marriage nor civil divorce.” A documentary about a woman who wants one of those. Angelika Dallas.
    • Kidnapping Mr. Heineken. Anthony Hopkins as a beer baron with brains that may get blown out. TBA.
    • Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. A sequel adds Richard Gere. Wide release.
    • These Final Hours. The end of the world. AMC Grapevine Mills.
    • Wild Tales. A superb collection of stories that paint a funny, disturbing, and dazzling view of modern life. Angelika Dallas, Angelika Plano.

Opening Friday, March 13

  • Cinderella. A poor girl is transformed for one night. Wide release.
  • Run All Night. Retired hitman Liam Neeson must protect his son (Joel Edgerton) from an angry mob boss (Ed Harris). Wide release.

Opening Friday, March 20

  • The Divergent Series: Insurgent. Shailene Woodley leads a revolution against one-word movie titles. Wide release.
  • Do You Believe? A religious drama. Wide release.
  • The Gunman. An angry Sean Penn, on the run in Europe. Wide release.

Opening Friday, March 27

  • Get Hard. Will Ferrell and Kevin Hart train to go to prison. Wide release.
  • Home. An animated adventure. Wide release.

Opening: ‘The Lazarus Effect,’ ‘Focus,’ Plus 8 Indies

Olivia Wilde in 'The Lazarus Effect'
Olivia Wilde in ‘The Lazarus Effect’

Opening Friday, February 27

    • The Lazarus Effect. Olivia Wilde dies and is then resurrected, to the misery of her fellow scientific experimenters. With Mark Duplass and Evan Peters. Wide release.
    • Focus. Will Smith and Margot Robbie in con-man adventure. Wide release.
    • A La Mala. A comedy from Mexico about a woman who helps her best friend test out her fiancee’s fidelity. Hmm, this sounds familiar. Wide release.
    • Human Capital A drama from Italy about two families and a tragic accident. Angelika Dallas.
    • Maps to the Stars. David Cronenberg looks at Hollywood. With Julianne Moore, Mia Wasikowska, John Cusack, and Robert Pattinson. Look Cinemas.
    • Out of the Dark. Newly-arrived in Colombia, a married couple (Julia Stiles and Scott Speedman) discover their daughter is in mortal danger due to … ghosts? The movie is better than it may sound. with Stephen Rea. Studio Grill Spring Valley.
    • Red Army. An acclaimed documentary about the famed and fearsome Soviet Union national hockey team. Angelika Dallas, Cinemark West Plano.
    • Snow Girl and the Dark Crystal. A Chinese New Year’s confection from director Peter Pau. Cinemark Legacy.
    • Timbuktu. Academy Award-nominated drama about a cattle herder and his family. Landmark Magnolia, Angelika Plano.
    • What We Do in the Shadows. A horror-comedy mockumentary from the very funny and talented duo behind Flight of the Conchords. Advance word is positive. Angelika Dallas, Angelika Plano.

Review: ‘Da Sweet Blood of Jesus’

'Da Sweet Blood of Jesus'
‘Da Sweet Blood of Jesus’

Filmmaker Spike Lee is a singular presence in the world of film. Stubbornly independent (to a fault sometimes), outwardly vocal about his ideas on race, sex and basketball, and certainly attuned to the fissures of the modern zeitgeist, his 24th film, Da Sweet Blood of Jesus, encompasses pretty much all of that in its 123 minute running time. 

Continuing on his streak of remakes after the 2013 Oldboy with Josh Brolin, this time Lee tackles Bill Gunn’s marginally groundbreaking 1973 vampire film Ganja and Hess. And I use the term “vampire” loosely. Originally crafted during the era of ‘blaxploitation’ films, Ganja and Hess daringly dismantles the traditional gothic trappings of the Dracula tale and frames it inside a universe remote from the typical baroque setting, that being the early 1970’s status of an African-American art collector in New York City. The original film also broke the confines of the Dracula narrative by its re-writing of the rules. Gone are the coffins, fangs, the bat metaphor and the general allusion of vampires being a nocturnal entity. Ganja and Hess has its blood-stricken vampires walk freely in daylight. The afflicted look and act like the rest of us. There’s even an aversion, initially, to the act of murder by having one of his vampires rob a local blood bank for its supply. It’s such a great film because it subverts the idea of addiction and loneliness and creates a post-modern treatise that can be read on many levels.

In Da Sweet Blood of Jesus, Dr. Hess Green (Stephen Tyrone Williams) is a wealthy collector of African art. One look at his secluded Martha’s Vineyard retreat yields a museum of sorts. His assistant, Lafayette Hightower (Elvis Nolasco), turns him onto an ancient dagger suspected to be used by the Ashanti tribe in various rituals. Later, while staying with Hess, Hightower becomes deranged and suicidal. He’s talked out of hanging himself from a tree in Hess’s estate by the comedic reasoning of Hess that any murder within the neighborhood will surely attract unwanted attention by the police on its lone African-American resident. Later that night, Hightower attempts to kill Hess with the dagger, but its mythical powers instead provide Hess with eternal life. 

Soon afterwards, not only does Hess have to come to terms with his new-found thirst for blood, but deal with the curious wife of Mr. Hightower, Ganja (Zaraah Abrahams) who comes looking for him. Ganja’s own fate will be intertwined with Hess as he falls in love with her.

As Hess, Williams is a bit of a blank slate, embodying his entitled character with little emotion, which gives some of his vicious outbreaks on his unsuspecting victims an added sense of disorientation.  The flashier and more accentuated performance is given by Abrahams as Ganja. Immediately unlikable in her spoiled tone of voice and statuesque poise, Ganja’s passage into the vampire realm is more visceral and passionate. The way in which she interacts and seduces visitor Tangier (a striking actress named Nate Bova in her film debut) is a marvel to behold. Playing an ex-girlfriend of Hess and lured to the house for drinks, Abrahams toys with her, imparting wary glances and subtly using every inch of her beautiful body to entice. It’s one of the more sensual set pieces in Lee’s illustrious career, managed through patient long takes and incisively timed editing.

Slowly, Da Sweet Blood of Jesus narrows its focus on the divisive ways in which both Ganja and Hess deal with the prospect of cold veins forever. Essentially, this is the natural crux of both the ’73 original and Bram Stoker’s monumental piece of fiction. The theory of eternal life and endless youth sounds magnificent, but at what cost?

Though Lee has softened the experimental edges of BIll Gunn’s original effort, Da Sweet Blood of Jesus remains a well intentioned homage with some updated references, such as Hess’s trip to a local doctor to be tested for HIV after his first killing. I imagine its the first vampire film to rectify the ravages of AIDS on the undead. 

Even more odd are the wry touches of humor infused against the bloodletting. The first victim of Hess, a prostitute named Lucky (Felicia Pearson), evokes what’s probably the line of the year upon awakening and observing the state brought upon her by the Hess. Strange, yes, but at least its a vampire film that gives us something completely fresh and unexpected.

With all that said, its easy to see what attracted Spike Lee to the project. Funded and supported through a Kickstarter campaign, his self-described re-imagining of Ganja and Hess doesn’t quite pack the overwhelming social critique of the original, but Da Sweet Blood of Jesus remains a unique and wholly watchable experiment.

Da Sweet Blood of Jesus opens Friday February 20th at the Texas Theater.

Indie Spotlight: ‘Gangs of Wasseypur’ at Texas Theatre

'Gangs of Wasseypur'
‘Gangs of Wasseypur’

The highly-touted Indian gangster epic Gangs of Wasseypur will enjoy its local theatrical premiere this weekend, courtesy of The Texas Theatre, in partnership with Cinelicious Pics.

The film will be presented in two parts:

PART 1: Sunday, January 25 at 7:15 p.m.
PART 2: Thursday, January 29 at 7:00 p.m.

Here’s the description by The Texas Theatre:

Gangs of Wasseypur mirrors the tumultuous and explosive growth of modern India with ferocious cinematic intensity. As with Al Pacino’s Michael Corleone in The Godfather, it’s the least likely of Sardar’s children – the perpetually stoned Faizal (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) – who rises to the top ranks of the Khan crime family, vowing brutal revenge on their longtime nemesis, the wily and seemingly unstoppable Ramadhir Singh (Tigmanshu Dhulia). Composer Sneha Khanwalkar’s stunning soundtrack ranks with legends like R.D. Burman, but don’t expect Bollywood-style dance numbers: this is a movie that up-ends every expectation of what great Indian cinema should look (and sound) like.”

View more information — and buy tickets! — at the official Texas Theatre site.