Mitch O'Connell's colorful, crazed pop-art illustrations have appeared everywhere from the cover of Newsweek (four times) to a recent full-page story in The Wall Street Journal, but you'll have to forgive him for hoping for a good-sized turnout at his appearance at Nice Price Books in Raleigh on April 27.
"I’ll be in North Carolina meeting my fiancé’s father," says O'Connell, on the phone from his home in Chicago. "My only goal is that hopefully a respectable line is in place to impress him.
"So I impose this responsibility on the people of Raleigh—hopefully it’s a burden they’re willing to shoulder."
O'Connell's on tour to promote Mitch O'Connell: The World's Best Artist, a new hardcover collection from Last Gasp Publishing that offers an extensive retrospective of his pop culture-infused career in art, providing colorful, chaotic pics that draw from decades of American iconography.
"I’m lucky that my grandparents and my parents saved a lot of my stuff, so there were still books available from childhood and adolescence," O'Connell says. "It let us give the book an actual narrative, and hopefully a humorous one."
The period L.A. crime drama Gangster Squad — starring Josh Brolin, Ryan Gosling, Sean Penn and Emma Stone — is best known for its poor timing. Following the movie theater mass shootings in Aurora, Colorado in July 2012, the release date for Gangster Squad was bumped. The film's centerpiece action sequence depicted, yes, a mass shooting in a movie theater.
The cast reassembled in August for additional shooting and the scene was replaced for the film's rescheduled opening in January, 2013. But critics didn't like it, audiences didn't notice it, the marketing was halfhearted and picture quickly sank from view.
New to DVD, Blu-ray and digital this week. Gangster Squad is hoping for a second chance on home video. It's not a great film, but it's not bad and it has a nice feel for the genre delights of tough guys and Tommy guns.
The premise — kinda-sorta based on a true story — is made-for-Hollywood material: After World War II, vicious gangster Mickey Cohen (Penn) is king of the Los Angeles criminal underworld. Cohen has so terrified the citizenry that one will inform or testify against him. And he's bought off all the important cops and judges, so no one will prosecute him in the first place.
L.A. police chief Bill Parker (Nick Nolte) decides there's only one way to beat Cohen. He assembles an off-the-books team of hardcase cops — the Gangster Squad — to wage guerrilla war against Cohen's syndicate. Their mission, should they choose to accept it: Smash Cohen's rackets, burn down his operations and dispose of his goons by any means necessary. The team accepts, with enthusiasm.
Opens Friday (see times below)
It's the year 2077. Pilot and technician Jack Harper (Tom Cruise) is one of the last remaining humans on Earth, which has been decimated by nuclear war with the alien invaders known as the Scavs.
Harper and his communications officer Victoria (Andrea Riseborough) live a on floating platform in the sky, complete with high-tech weaponry, satellite uplinks and a heated swimming pool, so that's nice. On the horizon, massive levitating hydrogen processors suck water from the oceans, which is converted into energy for the rest of humanity, holed up on one of Saturn's moons.
Jack's mission is to patrol his designated sector in a dragonfly-shaped spaceship, repairing the automated defensive drones that guard the hydrogen processors against the remaining Scavs on the planet's surface. In the sky, shattered fragments of the moon — blown up by the Scavs — curve over the horizon in an eerie ellipse.
Such is the set-up for the visually dazzling science fiction film Oblivion, starring Tom Cruise and directed by Jospeh Kosinski (Tron: Legacy). Oblivion is the first of the season's sci-fi popcorn movies, and it delivers the merchandise: bold images, big sound and a generous assortment of eye candy action scenes. It's the kind of movie you want to see on the big screen, if you're going to see it at all.
I crunched the numbers and by my estimation Oblivion is around 75 percent inspired sci-fi fun and 25 percent ridiculous Tom Cruise preening. That's a ratio I can live with. For every scene of Cruise on a futuristic motorcycle or shirtless in the shower (there are several), you get three crackling chase sequences or grand dystopian displays.
That image of the splintered moon, for instance, is the kind of thing that works really well in a movie like this. It's apocalypse porn writ large. The image evokes a feeling of queasy wonder that comes from some sub-rational place. As a species, we've been gazing up at the moon for a long time. To see it broken and drifting apart is unsettling.
The cracked moon also serves as an important plot device. We learn that during the Scav invasion, the aliens made their first shock-and-awe assault not by bombardment or armada. Instead, they just blew up our moon. The resulting gravitation effects triggered earthquakes and floods, which softened up resistance rather nicely. I'm actually a little worried about this. If an alien army really does attack us someday, we don't want to give them ideas.
Too bad the rest of the movie's story doesn't maintain this level of inventive thinking. As Oblivion speeds along, several dubious plot twists flip the script to introduce new mysteries. Jack keeps getting flashbacks of pre-invasion Earth that don't add up. The alien Scavs on the planet's surface aren't behaving like menacing monsters. Earth's orbital HQ, a floating monolith called The Tet, begins issuing some puzzling directives.
Oblivion attempts to bring these elements together in its final scenes, but by then the story is terminally confused. The film's gutless coda affirms that the focus group still rules at this echelon of Hollywood movie making.
One interesting thematic thread running through the film is a pulsing anxiety about unmanned military drones. Jack's job is to fix and maintain these lethal beasties, each of which look like mini Death Star, but a profound mutual distrust hangs in the air. By the time Morgan Freeman's character shows up, the allegory is made overt. "Drones are unreliable," he says as a mass of terrorized refugees crowds the frame. "Sometimes things go wrong."
Tom Cruise anchors the movie just fine, I suppose, deploying his standard array of action star maneuvers. The Rakish Grin. The Steely Gaze. I'll say this for Cruise: He's not afraid of the grand and unironic movie star gesture. We need guys like that for movies like this. Director Kosinski indulges in a little playfulness, too. Watch for several Top Gun in-jokes.
Oblivion borrows from many movies that have come before: Star Wars, Alien, Mad Max. Even The English Patient, if I'm not mistaken. But that's unavoidable. It's almost impossible to make a truly original sci-fi movie anymore. Oblivion does all right. It presents some new sights, sounds and ideas, then delivers them with maximum movie technology.
The indie romantic dramedy Save the Date — new to DVD, Blu-ray and digital this week — starts in awfully familiar territory.
Twenty-something Sarah (Lizzy Caplan) is a bookstore clerk and aspiring artist who's about to have her sketches premiere in a small gallery. Her boyfriend Kevin (Geoffrey Arend, Body of Proof) is the lead singer of an appropriately hip indie band. They've just moved in together.
Meanwhile, Sarah's older sister Beth (Alison Brie, Mad Men) is planning her own wedding to fiance Andrew (Martin Starr, Adventureland), drummer for said indie band. Both couples are on the verge of making major life commitments. They process their feelings by way of late-night conversations in studio lofts with hardwood floors and stacks of vinyl in plastic crates. There's a lot of hand-wringing about The Future and several variations on the phrase: "I'm about to spend the rest of my life with this person!"
I've developed a low pain threshold, over the years, for indie films about attractive big city creative types and their romantic problems. I understand that you're supposed to write about what you know, but c'mon emerging Los Angeles screenwriters. Can't you stretch just a little?
All that said, Save the Date does what it does about as well as it can be done. The film's greatest strength is the lead performance from Lizzy Caplan, the future movie star whose past credits include Cloverfield, Hot Tub Time Machine and the late, lamented Freaks and Geeks.
Duke Theater Studies
Sheafer Lab Theater
closed April 14
Young Jean Lee’s LEAR has a similar feel to it, with one marked exception: In this case, the parents are never coming home—not after King Lear and Gloucester, the fathers of the quintet we ultimately see on stage, have both been stripped of all power and banished to the storm, presumably to their deaths in this interpretation.
In the absence of such gods, the children in this bizarre redraft have already turned quite feral. The varying mixtures of mania, malice—and panic—in their eyes suggest kids who’ve gotten permanently lost while playing hide and seek in grownup’s bodies. Their impulsivity and increasingly radical swings in mood and focus speak to characters who’ve only just discovered that their games now have no frontiers, no exit—and no end.
So far, so interesting. In Young’s vision, the refinements of a ruling class have gradually crossed over into opulence and psychosis, if not mutation. Those dynamics are fully realized in a trio of performances director Jody McAuliffe has crafted with actors Jazmine Noble as Goneril, Madeleine Roberts as Regan, and particularly Faye Goodwin as Cordelia. In Sonya Drum’s costumes and the equally skillful (but uncredited) wigs and makeup, the daughters’ almost—but not quite—flawless skin and hair recalls the exquisite porcelain horrors of painter Ray Caesar, and more than hints at the madness and corruption underneath.
I love it when a theater review heralds the arrival of a new artist or a new work of art.
Sorry, but this isn’t one of those. Instead, we have more of a report from the road that director / adaptor / designer Chip Rodgers is currently exploring. His certainly audacious—and, at times, extremely frustrating—new adaptation of the ancient Greek drama ELEKTRA, whose workshop production runs through Sunday at Meredith College’s studio theater, is a work that can only be said to be in process. Still, presently, it’s headed in a most interesting direction.
We find in its torturous discourse an examination and critique of a psychologically land-locked age that should look hauntingly familiar to present-day audiences. Its inhabitants remain preoccupied with a search for true meaning and emotional and ethical authenticity, while being perpetually distracted by contingency and plagued by indecision and self-doubt. At several points, the modern language the work is housed in recalls the conversationalisms novelist Don DeLillo uses to indict the glib, reductive and facile grasp his modern characters have when it comes to contemporary dilemmas.
But, as also happens with DeLillo, Rodgers’ characters wind up talking past each other an awful lot—so much so, in fact, that the trait veers from the merely irritating, well into the theatrically problematic.
It's clear that this young, alternative-theater triple-threat, who impressed in last spring’s atmospheric staging of Hungry at Meredith, is on the trail of big, generational issues. Unfortunately, it’s just as clear that a number of fundamental script, character and performance-oriented questions haven’t yet been solved in this still-developing work.
And now for something completely different.
A loopy Buddhist fable in the shape of a blockbuster action pic, The Sorcerer and the White Snake features several big-name Hong Kong stars battling snakes, demons and one another in ancient China. The movie was a big hit overseas in 2011 and has finally rolled around to home video release in the U.S.
Based on a famous Chinese folk tale, the story concerns Abbot Fahai (Jet Li) — a battle-tested monk who leads his disciples in a perpetual war against the demons of the land. Fahai doesn't kill the demons he defeats. Instead, he traps them in the mystical Lei Feng Pagoda, to reflect upon their sins. The demons are an interesting lot — bat creatures, ice harpies, white foxes and the occasional door mouse.
Meanwhile, a curious snake demon named Susu (the celestially beautiful Eva Huang) assumes human form and rescues a young man from drowning in a mountain lake. The two fall in love and the stage is set for a showdown between the good-hearted demon and the literal-minded demon hunter. Fahai, it seems, does not approve of human/demon mixed marriage.
Sorcerer has some of the most gonzo visual effects you'll see all year, big screen or small. Between the martial arts action and the film's wild assortment of otherworldy beings, you get a real eyeful.
Gonzo does not necessary mean good, however, as evidenced by the second half of Hunter Thompson's career. The film's over-the-top fighting scenes feature the usual impossible swordplay, but also 400-foot snake demons and flying bat warriors that look like cutscenes out of a 2003 PlayStation 2 game.
Derek Cianfrance’s The Place Beyond the Pines is a tattered melodrama that reaches fevered pitches out of nowhere and ambles with confidence through its baggy plot. It’s a sweaty ride, shifting in and out of rapid speeds that come in spurts, a lot like Ryan Gosling on his getaway motorbike, zipping through Schenectady, N.Y., against oncoming traffic to suddenly curve off onto a damp side street.
Gosling, as Luke, rocks patterned pants, bleached-blond hair and corny tattoos, synthesizing a goofy demeanor with blunt intensity (his voice cracks when he robs banks) that fits perfectly into Cianfrance’s brand of opera in Dullsville.
As Luke’s partner in crime, Ben Mendelsohn limps through his scenes like an outsider artist with homicidal tendencies. Every time he shows up, the jagged tone crackles anew. If his character ever intersected with Ray Liotta’s electric bad cop, you get the feeling the screen would crack in half.
Cianfrance also does great work with Eva Mendes, but she’s always good, and—feat of feats—makes smug jock Bradley Cooper momentarily sympathetic as a skittish cop.
“You’re medicine, Jack!” growls Harrison Ford as Branch Rickey, owner of the Brooklyn Dodgers, in writer-director Brian Helgeland’s 42. He’s talking, of course, to Jackie Robinson (Chadwick Boseman), the Negro League player whom he’s hired to play in the big leagues, breaking baseball’s color barrier.
In this version of the story, Rickey never doubted himself, knew exactly how to make it happen and picked a ballplayer tough enough to deal with the nasty stuff he’d have to put up with, but smart enough not to fight back. Thank you, Jackie Robinson, for swinging the bat at the ball and not at anyone’s head.
Helgeland’s movie jumps back and forth from Robinson’s preparation in the minor leagues to the Brooklyn Dodgers preparation for his arrival: “He is coming!” bellows manager Leo Durocher (Christopher Meloni), like John the Baptist prophesying about the messiah.
Combined with Rickey’s mentions of God as the ultimate baseball fan, and the way Robinson is picked almost randomly from a stack of files by Rickey and said to be blessed with “superhuman” talent, Robinson is made an incidental part of this scheme. It’s fate. There is no other way this could have happened. Of course, thinking Robinson is superhuman instead of smart and devoted enough to play the game well is its own more nuanced brand of racism. But that’s beyond the grasp of 42.
Now playing (see times below)
Movies like 6 Souls, which creeps into theaters and VOD sites, remind me how psychological thrillers or supernatural thrillers or thrillers period are always tricky to pull off. These flicks always must walk a tightrope of staying intensely, viscerally plausible without falling off and descending into complete ridiculousness.
For the first hour or so, 6 Souls, which was made three years ago as Shelter and has been retitled upon this domestic re-release, makes audiences believe that it will keep its balance and stay on the rope. Julianne Moore, who seems to star in movies like this every five years, plays a God-fearing, widowed psychiatrist/single mom who debunks the claims of murderers that claim multiple personality disorder. She butts heads on this matter with her less skeptical father (Jeffrey DeMunn), also a shrink. He challenges her to debunk David (Jonathan Rhys-Meyers), his wheelchair-bound, backwoods-accented patient who can also turn into Adam, an aggressive guy from the streets who can walk just fine.
Swedish directors Mans Marlind and Bjorn Stein (who went on to direct last year’s Underworld: Awakening) create a moody, stylishly minimal atmosphere, complete with suspenseful music cues that verge on self-parody. They also pull off attention-grabbing camera moves (fluid overhead shots, steady long takes) that would make Brian De Palma shed a proud tear.
Everything goes downhill in the second hour. Whereas the first hour had an unrushed leanness to it, as Moore’s doctor slowly-but-surely discovers more about who David/Adam is, the second hour is anxiously crammed with a bunch of stuff. As you’ve probably guessed from the title, more personalities show up to inhabit Rhys-Meyers’ character, which the movie speedily doles out one after the other. Rhys-Meyers seems so game to show off his range, playing different characters in the same body.
Unfortunately, the filmmakers are far too busy throwing in everything, from obvious exposition to a detour into white-trash voodoo land to a showdown complete with a gotcha ending.
6 Souls is an attempt to address the religion-vs.-science debate. With the plot (scripted by Michael Cooney, who’s responsible for the straight-to-cable Jack Frost movies) hammering the message that there are some things out there you can’t explain—not to mention that the movie offs most of the non-believing characters—the film literally appears to be on the side of the angels.
But even though God is actually mentioned in the closing, special-thanks credits, dude couldn’t unfortunately work His/Her magic and prevent this film from being the uneven, preposterously out-of-control wreck that it is.
Can the church say “Amen”?