Films join work of three great Kates

Three of cinema’s most acclaimed Kates are coming together for one epic series.

Films starring Katharine Hepburn, Kate Winslet and Cate Blanchett will headline the “Kiss Me Kate: Three Great Actresses, Seven Classic Films” series beginning Sunday at Gateway Film Center.

The “Kiss Me Kate” series is designed “to talk about great women, great female actresses, in movies that kind of could appeal to anyone,” said Kelly Gingery, series programmer.

The series is presented by the newly-formed Ohio State University Theatre and Friends Film Discussion Group. The group was founded by Gingery, film critic for MIX 107.9 FM, and Clay Lowe, an associate professor emeritus in OSU’s Department of Theatre.

“Kiss Me Kate” kicks off Sunday at Gateway Film Center with its first film, “The Philadelphia Story,” starring Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant. Melissa Starker, sales and marketing manager for Gateway Film Center, and Carolyna Bradford, an actress and producer, will be guest speakers for the screening of “The Philadelphia Story.”

Hepburn, winner of a record four Academy Awards for Best Actress, was chosen because of her iconic status as one of cinema’s great actresses, Gingery said.

“We chose (Hepburn) because she was greatly popular,” she said. “She made comedies, drama. She’s kind of an icon obviously that everyone knows.”

The other two featured actresses – Winslet and Blanchett – were chosen because of their award-winning versatility.

“Kate Winslet and Cate Blanchett are two current day women that are very well-regarded Oscar nominees who make comedies, drama, biopics, whatever,” Gingery said. “They can do it all so nobody has really pigeonholed them.”

Along with “The Philadelphia Story,” the series will screen “Pat and Mike,” “The African Queen,” “Heavenly Creatures,” “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” “Elizabeth: The Virgin Queen” and “I’m Not There.”

Each screening will feature a discussion afterward led by two guest speakers chosen by OSU Theatre and Friends Discussion Group.

“We wanted to pick people that kind of have their finger on the pulse of the arts here in Columbus, not necessarily just film,” Gingery said. “We tried to match them up and talk with them and find out maybe if there are movies that they have an affinity for more than others.”

One of the goals of the series is to strike down the notion that a female lead correlates to a “chick flick,” Gingery said.

“Women today have such a hard time being the sole lead of the film because Hollywood thinks if you have a woman in the lead, it’s not going to do great (in the) box office,” she said.

The series will run every Sunday for the next six weeks at Gateway Film Center, though a special screening will be held at 7:30 p.m. June 1 for a restored presentation of “The African Queen.” All other screenings begin at 2 p.m. and admission is $5.

[This story ran in The Lantern on May 6, 2010. Click here.]

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‘Toy Story 3’ sneak peek at Gateway tonight

Woody, Buzz and the “Toy Story” gang are coming back to theaters next month, and Ohio State students will have the chance to preview their newest adventure ahead of its release.

The “Toy Story 3” Cliffhanger Screening will be at Gateway Film Center tonight.

“Disney basically wanted to reach out to the college audience for this one,” said Melissa Starker, sales and marketing manager for Gateway Film Center. “I think that’s really smart of them. All of the Pixar films just play so well for all ages.”

The screening will be of the first 65 minutes of the film and is “unfinished,” Starker said.

The “Cliffhanger Screenings” will be taking place on college campuses across the country. According to The New York Times, Disney is bringing the screenings to 84 colleges in 18 of the top 20 markets in the United States and college towns.

Though the film deals with the fate of the toys as their owner, Andy, goes off to college, the goal of the screenings is to appeal to “the Andyites,” Disney’s term for the age 18-24 demographic that grew up with the “Toy Story” films, according to The New York Times.

Viral fliers have been appearing across campus saying, “Now hiring drivers!” in reference to the Pizza Planet restaurant in the films. The ads have rip-off tabs linking to buzzcampusOSU.com, which redirects to Pixar’s Facebook page for the Gateway Film Center screening.

The 65-minute screening will cover all but the ending to the film, something new to sneak peeks. The latest big sneak preview was for “Avatar,” when a free 15-minute preview of the film was offered in August at select theaters.

The screening begins at 7:30 p.m. and is open to college students with a valid student ID.

[This story ran in The Lantern on May 6, 2010. Click here.]

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‘Iron Man 2’ a disappointing course in mediocrity

When it comes to silver screen mediocrity, nobody does it on a more consistent basis than Marvel. “Iron Man 2,” the brand’s latest film venture, is more of the same.

Though the original “Iron Man” wasn’t anything particularly fresh – especially in the new, bold climate of the gritty superhero films led by “The Dark Knight” and “Watchmen” – it provided solid entertainment value and a killer, back-from-the-dead performance by Robert Downey, Jr.

“Iron Man 2,” on the other hand, is just a barely-passing collection of paper-thin storylines, action pieces just a few frames away from legitimate greatness and gratuitous close-ups of Scarlett Johansson’s lady regions.

“Iron Man 2” picks up with Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) being pressured by the United States Government to turn over the technology behind the Iron Man suit for military use.

Now enter the villains: the corporate wuss Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell) and mean Russian guy, Ivan Vanko/Whiplash (Mickey Rourke). Hammer wants the technology behind the Iron Man suit to create his own suits for his company and sell them to the military. Vanko just wants Stark dead.

On the allied side, Pepper Potts (Gwenyth Paltrow) returns, but here, Potts is given quite a substantial boost in her role. Also appearing are Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) of S.H.I.E.L.D., Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Stark’s old buddy, Lt. Colonel James Rhodes (Don Cheadle), who’s trying to coax Stark into handing the Iron Man technology over to the government.

Despairingly, “Iron Man 2” feels like a rushed project. Side stories, such as the incorporation of Nick Fury and S.H.I.E.L.D., are so fleeting that they hinge on contrived, though S.H.I.E.L.D. in particular certainly served as a nod to fans of the source material. Action pieces wither and die quickly — too quickly for a budding franchise that hangs its hat on action.

That’s not to say “Iron Man 2” doesn’t satisfy on some counts, as it certainly does. Downey is back in top form as the narcissistic and sarcastic Tony Stark, carrying the film on his shoulders with another bravado performance. CGI in the action scenes are satisfactory, despite the fact that the pieces quickly dissolve into their punch lines.

Oh, and Scarlet Johansson provides plenty of eye candy. Front-to-back.

“Iron Man 2” has no qualms being a shallow, harmless piece of summer popcorn fun, but even so, the flick is bogged down by supplanting characters, boring development of story and character arcs and exposition that has no business anywhere near Marvel movie.

In the end, while “Iron Man 2” misses its marks, it provides enough one-liners and explosions to satisfy. “The Dark Knight” it ain’t, but for a summer tentpole flick, “Iron Man 2” gets by – barely.

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James Cameron sits down with The Lantern

James Cameron is a busy man.

The hit director behind “The Terminator,” “Titanic” and “Avatar” said his flight into Columbus marked airport No. 114 that he has traveled through in the last three months.

“I’m due for a day off any month now,” he said.

Before Cameron delivered his lecture to students at Ohio State on April 28, he made rounds across the globe to raise awareness on the themes he presented in his last film, “Avatar.”

“I’ve been contacted by so many groups from around the world dealing with environmental issues, indigenous rights issues and so on that I’ve been busier than ever,” Cameron said.

Cameron decided to take a break from activism to give his first-ever college lecture in the Ohio Union’s Archie M. Griffin Grand Ballroom.

“It seemed like an opportunity to share my life experience and the journey that I’ve had and see if people can find some way of mapping it to their individual journeys,” he said.

Now, with “Avatar” in his rear-view mirror, Cameron is taking some time away from filmmaking, but is currently talking with 20th Century Fox about an “Avatar” follow-up.

“If we make it right away, it won’t even be out for three-and-a-half years,” he said. “But it will be a continuation of the story and deal with some of the same themes, but in surprising ways.”

Attention to Cameron’s every move will be heightened thanks to the record-breaking box office of “Avatar.” Apart from earning more than $2.7 billion in worldwide box office, Cameron’s epic also took home three Oscars at this year’s Academy Awards.

All eyes at this year’s Oscar ceremony were on a juicy battle between Cameron’s “Avatar” and his ex-wife Kathryn Bigelow’s “The Hurt Locker” in the Best Picture and Best Director categories.

Both trophies went to Bigelow.

“I’ve worked with Kathryn a couple of times as producer and I know her artistic integrity is extremely high and we both value that,” Cameron said.

With Bigelow’s “The Hurt Locker,” which had a $15 million budget, taking home top honors at the Oscars over “Avatar,” which reportedly cost between $300 million and $500 million, Cameron said the Academy’s recent preference for smaller, independent films gives directors no incentive to make big-budget movies.

“What they’ve done historically is create a disincentive for filmmakers to make high quality, big movies,” he said. “And then all the critics whine that big movies are just these hollow, clanking commerce machines when in fact, there’s not a huge incentive for filmmakers to go that extra distance because they’re not honored for it in any way.”

Though Cameron didn’t walk away with either the Best Picture or Best Director Oscars for “Avatar,” he did end up taking it to the No. 1 spot in all-time box office.

Cameron’s quest for success has led his actors and crew members to speak out against the director’s demanding nature. On the set of “Avatar,” actor Sam Worthington said a frustrated Cameron confiscated the crew’s cell phones and stapled them to a wall.

“Go find a quote, a quote, which you won’t be able to, of an actor saying that I was demanding, at least in a negative way,” he said. “They may say that I challenge them to do their best work, but in actor speak, that’s a compliment.”

Cameron said the actors he works with love the challenge he presents.

“I tell them going in, ‘We’re going to the Super Bowl, so be ready,’” he said. “But they love that. Are you kidding? An actor wants to be challenged.”

It must be working.

Cameron’s last two films, “Titanic” and “Avatar,” have grossed $1.8 billion and $2.7 billion worldwide, respectively.

“I’m a big movie fan and I just make movies for what I would want to see,” he said. “What I would want to see in a movie theater is a film that takes me out of myself, takes me on a journey, immerses me in the characters, gives me a powerful emotional reaction to the story and then spits me back out onto the street kind of dazed and wanting to go see it again.”

Part of Cameron’s box office success with “Avatar” stemmed from the urcharge added to 3-D ticket sales. Despite the tough economy, cinema-goers still forked over the extra cash to watch “Avatar” in 3-D.

“It’s completely immersive,” Cameron said about 3-D. “It’s an enhanced experience. It’s a premium experience. You enter the world. It seems more palpable, more real to you as you’re watching it. People are transported; they lose track of time, they lose track of space, where they are. They’re fully immersed in the story.”

With “Avatar” serving as the catalyst in making 3-D popular in cinemas, Cameron went on the defensive against those saying 3-D is still just a gimmick.

“That’s a very, very tiny minority. The audience has spoken,” he said. “I think the jury’s in. It’s not a gimmick. It’s the way people want to see their movies.”

And when “Avatar” hit store shelves April 22 on DVD and Blu-ray, it achieved more success, already topping “The Dark Knight” as the No. 1 best-selling Blu-ray in the format’s history.

“I love Blu-ray. Great format,” Cameron said. “You get all the quality and resolution in the image that you would have in a movie theater.”

And now, with an “Avatar” sequel confirmed to be in development, Cameron is keeping his lips sealed on where the next film in the franchise will go.

“I don’t want to spill the beans before the fact,” he said.

And what about the sequel dealing with the themes of “Avatar” in “surprising ways?”

“The key word there is ‘surprise,’” he said. “And if I tell you what it is, it won’t be a surprise.”

[This story ran in The Lantern on May 3, 2010. Click here.]

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Cameron doesn’t have time to mull record haul

For some, a body of work garnering more than $5.7 billion in worldwide box office and 21 Academy Awards is enough for an impressive résumé.

Not for blockbuster director James Cameron.

Cameron — the director behind “Avatar,” “Titanic” and “The Terminator” — delivered his first college lecture Wednesday in front of a capacity crowd in the Ohio Union’s Archie Griffin Grand Ballroom.

After a 55-minute lecture and 25 minutes of question-and-answer, Cameron gave away the night’s most popular tidbit of information: a 3-D re-release of “Titanic” is in the works.

“We’ve done tests and it looks really cool,” Cameron said. “You gotta spend your time, and you’ve gotta spend the money to make it equal to what it would have looked like had you shot it in 3-D, and if I had 3-D cameras back in ’96, I would’ve done ‘Titanic’ in 3-D. That’s a no-brainer.”

Meanwhile, Cameron’s visit to OSU comes on the heels of his latest smash-hit, “Avatar.”

Not only did “Avatar” bag three Oscars at the 82nd Academy Awards, it sank Cameron’s own “Titanic” as the No. 1 film of all-time at the box office, earning more than $2.7 billion worldwide in total receipts.

“’Avatar’ was by far the riskiest project that I’d done yet, and I’d done some pretty risky projects,” he said.

Cameron said that the first two years in development of “Avatar” were devoted to developing new technology, including a “virtual camera” which allowed Cameron to direct the actors in real-time while viewing their animated characters on a monitor.

“Instead of seeing Zoe Saldana or Sam Worthington, I would actually see their 10-foot-tall blue characters in the rainforest of Pandora,” he said.

Weta Digital, one of the digital effects companies working on “Avatar,” also developed a new form of technology for the film which helped to capture the actors’ facial movements. After taking a year to shoot the actors, it took an additional year for Weta to return fully-animated shots.

“We were three years into a 4-and-a-half year multi-hundred-million-dollar project before we saw a single finished shot, and it was a pretty spooky time,” he said. “What an amazing day that was.”

“Avatar” was so advanced, in fact, that Cameron was asked how humans linked to their avatars in the film.

“It uses the PFM principle,” he said. “Pure f—ing magic.”

Now, after completion of “Avatar,” Cameron is campaigning for environmentalism.

“In ‘Avatar,’ Earth is referred to as the ‘dying world,’ and that’s not meant to be a big downer or a criticism, it’s meant to be a call to action,” he said. “Especially to people your age because this is the world you’re going to inhabit.”

Before Cameron took the podium, a six-minute highlight reel from Cameron’s films played on two projection screens, featuring clips from “Titanic,” “Avatar,” his “Terminator” films, “The Abyss” and “True Lies,” as well as footage from his deep-sea documentaries.

Then, Cameron took the stage, and after rousing the audience with an “O-H … I-O,” Cameron talked about his unforeseen rise to success in film.

“When I was a kid, it was just an unfathomable dream,” he said. “It didn’t even seem possible.”

Cameron, originally fascinated by physics, developed a love for English and science-fiction after realizing he was poor at math.

“I figured if I couldn’t do science, I could write science-fiction,” he said. “That pretty much started to define my career path.”

In 1979, Cameron landed his first paying job in film as a production assistant for “Rock ‘n’ Roll High School” before bagging his first directorial dig on a major feature film in the 1984 film, “The Terminator.”

“I found out that directing a movie consists of knowing all the answers, even if you didn’t really know all the answers,” he said. “It was that the attitude of leadership was more important than the specifics.”

Cameron went to work on “Avatar” in 1995, but the technology of the time was not sufficient to get the film into production.

“It became pretty quickly apparent when we broke it down and analyzed it that no single movie would have the time or the resources to solve this very, very complex problem,” he said. “I actually created too big a challenge.”

In the meantime, Cameron went on to develop “Titanic.”

“Titanic,” now the No. 2 highest-grossing film of all-time at the worldwide box office, as well as winner of 11 Academy Awards, worried studio executives during production that the film would lose the studio money.

“It was a chick flick where everybody’s wearing corsets and funny hats and everybody dies at the end,” he said. “This is not intuitively obvious that it’s going to beat ‘Star Wars,’ and frankly, nobody involved believed that it was going to make a lot of money.”

Mounting pressure on the success of “Titanic” weighed on Cameron so much that he taped razors to the monitors in his editing rooms with a message saying, “Use in case movie sucks.”

Now, with “Avatar” and “Titanic” resting No. 1 and No. 2 on the worldwide box office charts respectively, Cameron is sharing his experiences and speaking to adoring college students.

“I came because I am a very large fan of Mr. Cameron’s work and I knew it was his very first college lecture,” said Alex Stigler, a first-year in English. “I was interested in what he would have to say in regards to the filmmaking process and what insights he would give us.”

Grady Cobb, a second-year in landscape architecture, appreciated Cameron’s insight.

“The lecture was kind of informational and an insight into what [Cameron] was thinking,” he said. “It was interesting how he came up with all these different things.”

After success with “Titanic” and “Avatar,” Cameron said that his best advice to young people is to take risks.

“Take risks, don’t do what everyone else is doing,” he said. “You need to intentionally go as an artist where it’s uncomfortable, where you’re going to challenge yourself.”

[This story ran online for The Lantern on April 30, 2010. Click here.]

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‘Adult Swim’ hosting zany ‘Block Party’

Local fans of Adult Swim programming will have the chance to check out their favorite shows re-imagined as carnival games – and bag free stuff, too.

“The Adult Swim Block Party and Ragbag of Jollification” tour will be at The Lodge Bar Saturday from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. Admission is free and guests must be 21 and over.

The event will feature carnival games inspired by Adult Swim original series, raffles, prizes, free swag and musical performances by People Under The Stairs and Motion Potion.

“This is the third time we’ve had a carnival out in the world … and this one combines the music component, the off-campus component and the night-time [component],” said Stacy Moscatelli, director of marketing for Adult Swim. “It’s kind of a little bit more fun.”

Adult Swim is putting on the tour to connect with its fans, Moscatelli said.

“Since Adult Swim started, it’s been really important for us to get out and hang out with our fans,” she said. “It’s just sort of this connection that a lot of TV networks don’t have.”

The tour has 10 stops, all in college towns. Columbus was chosen because of Ohio State’s presence, Moscatelli said.

“[OSU] is just a good school and it’s got a good vibe,” she said. “We all kind of felt like the event could be really successful there.”

Columbus’ stop will be hosted by The Lodge Bar, located at 165 Vine St.

“It sounded like a good event, and it’s not going to cost us anything, so it sounded like a good event to do,” said Patrick West, general manager for The Lodge Bar.

West said that potentially poor weather and the Ohio State Spring Game may deter people from attending, but the fact that the event is free should lead to good turnout.

“They’re putting on a free event,” he said. “It’ll bring out the people.”

Each stop on the tour features live music from a different band. Los Angeles-based hip-hop group People Under The Stairs is playing in Columbus.

“[Adult Swim] asked us [to play], and we’re honored, because People Under The Stairs is all about … crazy stuff, and [Adult Swim] is too,” said Thes One, member of People Under The Stairs.

The tour is sponsored by Capcom and T-Mobile, both of whom will have stations at the event.

Capcom will be offering previews of their upcoming video games “Street Fighter IV,” “Lost Planet 2” and “Dead Rising 2,” while T-Mobile will be showing off its new HTC HD2 phone.

[This story ran online for The Lantern on April 23, 2010. Click here.]

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An English course on…Kubrick?

After teaching students the works of esteemed literary and film giants such as James Joyce and Orson Welles, English professor Morris Beja is now sharing the filmography of another esteemed film legend with students: director Stanley Kubrick.

Beja’s English 578 class, “Special Topics in Cinema: Stanley Kubrick,” meets at 12:30 p.m. Mondays and Wednesdays at Gateway Film Center.

“In recent years, the filmmaker that I’ve been most fascinated with has been Stanley Kubrick,” Beja said. “I just find myself so intrigued by his work that I want to now expose myself to it as much as possible and teach it.”

Most weeks, one day of class is devoted to a screening while the other day is for discussion. The films screened in the class are “Dr. Strangelove,” “Lolita,” “2001: A Space Odyssey,” “A Clockwork Orange,” “The Shining,” “Full Metal Jacket” and “Eyes Wide Shut.”

“Every one of his major movies has an element of mystery about them, intrigue, controversy, down to his last one, ‘Eyes Wide Shut,’ which was very controversial,” Beja said.

Presenting the films of Kubrick to a college class works because the films are “teachable,” Beja said.

“There are things to ponder,” he said. “There are great movies out there, fabulous movies that are almost a little hard to teach except to talk about how nice they are.”

Though Kubrick films like “2001: A Space Odyssey” are noted for ambiguity in their themes, Beja said he tries to teach students other aspects of the film as well.

“I like to stress the technique,” he said. “I don’t want to ignore those technical aspects for the sake of just talking about themes, but obviously you also have to do that to ponder just what is being suggested.”

Because of the complex nature of Kubrick’s films, Beja does not expect students to fully unpack Kubrick’s ideas in the course of a class.

“I don’t expect them in just one session to know all about [a film], any more if I were teaching a Shakespeare course, I would expect them to know everything there is to know about ‘Hamlet,’” he said.

Some of Beja’s students, including Brice Patterson-Blight, a fourth-year in English, said they enjoy the class’s learning environment.

“I think Professor Beja is definitely a very studied man and he knows the material he’s working with very well,” he said. “I really like that it’s held in the theater. I think that’s the perfect environment for a specific course study on a director.”

Kubrick died in 1999 shortly after filming “Eyes Wide Shut,” leaving Marie Chirico, a fourth-year in psychology, longing for more.

“He seems like he’s very good at what he does, but kind of someone that was taken a little too early,” she said. “I think he could have done a lot more good work.”

Meanwhile, Beja said he wants students to walk away from his course with an understanding that cinema is a multifaceted medium.

“Cinema is worth studying and not just watching,” he said. “It’s worth thinking about, and Kubrick is a prime example of how that can be true.”

[This story ran in The Lantern on April 27, 2010. Click here.]

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