Row House Cinema Increases Sex Appeal With HUMP! Film Festival

Guys this is happening at MY THEATRE.

STEEL CINEMA

hump-row-house

Local Dan Savage fans were happy to hear that the HUMP! Film Festival, an annual showcase of short films curated by the famed Savage Love columnist, would stop in Pittsburgh during its 2014 tour. Unfortunately, the Hollywood Theater had to cancel the event under pressure from Dormont borough officials, who took issue with the festival’s sexually explicit material. Just when it seemed as though HUMP! would pass over the Steel City, Row House Cinema swooped in to host, guaranteeing that no one would miss out on all the steamy fun.

Since 2005, the HUMP! Film Festival has challenged ordinary, “sex-positive” people from all over the Pacific Northwest to make their own amateur erotic movies for a chance to win big cash prizes. After eight years on the West Coast, the “most creative dirty movie fest in the world” decided to pull up stakes in 2013 and take the show on the…

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Chef: More Than Just Food Porn

In an age glorifying food porn and status updates Chef (directed, written and starring Jon Favreau)serves an upset victory for May movie releases.

If you’ve ever taken a picture of dinner before tearing into it, if you’ve ever Snap Chatted a picture of a massive vegetarian hamburger to your girlfriend, if there are sepia filtered Instagrams of Kyoto Cherry Rose green tea stowed in the depths of your SD card, or if you’ve ever unfollowed somebody on Twitter for doing these things and thinking it was worth a micro-second of your time to see it while scrolling through your timeline— then you happen to know exactly what was going through Jon Favreau’s head when he conceived the movie Chef.

The film marks Favreau’s turn away from high budget action films, this time choosing instead to use his talents to film ultra-high definition images of sizziling meats and mouthwatering grilled cheese that would make any blogger’s tongue spin. However what is truly astonishing about the film is how expertly Favreau uses social networking and media to drive the film’s plot without coming across as campy or forced.

The plot focuses on LA beach chef Carl Casper who is creatively suppressed by the owner of the restaurant (Dustin Hoffman) where he is head chef. When a high regarded food blogger, one who launched Casper’s career when he was still young, announces that he is to dine at Casper’s restaurant, Carl pulls out all the stops in order to impress his old ally. Carl bashes heads with the owner over his menu selection, but eventually loses the battle. As a result he is bashed all over the internet for his unimaginative cuisine.

Carl’s son shows him the horrible things being said about him over Twitter and arms him with the handle @ChefCarlCasper. Carl spends the rest of his night reading mean things about himself on the internet and eventually sends an inflammatory tweet to his new nemesis believing it to be a private message. As a result he falls into a cut throat internet flame war that receives huge attention and leaves him a running joke for the entire web to enjoy.

Carl decides that he is done being suppressed and (through the advice of his ex-wife played by Sofia Vergara) buys a food truck so that he can finally cook for himself rather than for somebody he hates.

The script would be absurd if not for the fact that Favreau tastefully emphasizes the niche field that his enemy dominates and the sway over the internet foodies that he wields. By this merit the film is able to usher in a clever depiction of social media as a currently evolving vehicle that information uses to travel. In a matter of seconds a well-placed picture of a chocolate lava cake can ruin a man’s career, and in the same amount of time a dusty food truck can wrangle in a thousand followers before the keys exchange hands.  It is a new form of marketing that Favreau has proven to comprehend.

The script plays, not as a drawn out commercial for Twitter, but as if it is the only way the story can be told, and is told well.

Godzilla

After a sixteen year hiatus the scaly goliath franchise known as Godzilla claws its way from the depths of the Pacific Ocean dripping with hype and ready to prove that it will always be god of all monsters.

Production was announced in 2010, spearheaded by fresh faced British film-maker Gareth Edwards, and was received with gentle apprehension. Not one among us could possibly forget the mammoth let down that was the 1998 Godzilla reboot and countless other goofy low budget manifestations, but nor could we pretend that any chance to see Godzilla destroy metropolitan cities and murder millions would go unviewed by audiences across the globe. Our anticipation begs the question, why do we still hold onto the idea of Godzilla as an unstoppable film franchise?

In an interview with Rolling Stone Edwards said, “Godzilla is ultimately a disaster film.” When a hurricane touches shores, when a tornado sucks up family barns, and when earthquakes cause tidal waves that flood entire cities; humans look to the sky and they ask, “Whose fault is this?” The sad answer is that these things are nobody’s fault, these things simply ‘just happen’.  This is the heart of what makes Godzilla so insanely popular through numerous reboots and incarnations, it has been the same since 1954 and it is the reason monster movies will always hold their niche in cinema. When movie directors put a face to unstoppable disaster it becomes tangible, and we like it, and we like Godzilla because of it.

In the frame of the film humanity believes they had destroyed Godzilla decades earlier, but as it turns out he had just grown bored with them; they never presented a real threat to him, so why bother? A lion sees no need to kill a mouse, but when the MUTO’s (giant mantis monsters) hatch from bellow earth’s surface after years of feeding off of the radiation spilling from a Japanese quarantine zone, Godzilla reemerges in his undying drive to be the ‘alpha-predator’. Humanity drops every bomb, missile, and bullet they have, but the MUTO’s hardly blink until Godzilla enters the scene. In the end the film asserts that after millions and billions of years and innovation we will never flex the control over nature that we seek.

On May 16, entertainment writer Christopher Orr for The Atlantic wrote that “The only thing that can cut him [Godzilla] down to size is being relegated to a supporting role in his very own movie.” Orr is correct in his observation that the audience spends the majority of the film waiting anxiously for a glimpse of the lizard lord, and even after he releases his classic nostalgia ridden roar Godzilla remains obtusely in the periphery of the script that focuses more on the lame attempts of humanity to combat the MUTO’s that are rampaging across the Pacific. Clumsy narratives have, of course, become a staple to monster movie magic, but at times it felt as if Godzilla writers were too obviously introducing plot elements merely so they could go horribly wrong quickly following their inception.

These short comings in narrative can generally be relied on to be made up for in thrill action, but when Godzilla finally confronts the MUTO’s the audience is left with eye level shots of monster shins battling back and forth, or shrunk to scale hand-to-hand combat on at home television sets safely distanced from the actual battles. The climax of the film occurs about one hundred minutes into the film and concludes shortly thereafter, but eventually follows through on some impressive final kill shots between Godzilla and the MUTO’s that will make audiences cheer out of a fond obligation.

Ultimately Godzilla is carried by the undeniable appeal of Godzilla as an icon for earthly disaster and despite the campy flaws in narrative and action, the poignant theme in the face of human arrogance definitely secures the monster film a spot with its brothers as timeless cautionary tale.

The Monuments Men

Inflated from real life events, The Monuments Men follows the operation of a World War II task force and their mission to steal back stolen art from Nazi Germany. The film boasts numerous big names and faces such as George Clooney, Matt Damon, John Goodman, Bill Murray, and Cate Blanchet who combine to form the elite group of artists, architects, and historians that are the Monuments Men.

Though the number of stars in this film makes for a grade “A” movie poster, the overall result of a cast is a childish attention contest that leaves every actor with less face time than they deserve, and the audience with more expectations that can be filled. Another detrimental issue behind this cluttered cast is that, in an attempt to share the wealth of face time, the narrative behind the story is absolutely bound and gagged. The film is restricted to the point that the undeniably cool premise of the film is left uncaptivating, and the performers are left spending two and a half hours getting in each other’s way at the cost of audience entertainment.

Almost unsurprisingly the film is directed by the leading man, George Clooney himself, and the screen really shows it. There is not a single opportunity for fat headed monologue and pontification wasted in this film and they are all sported by Clooney’s character. It is all too easy to imagine Georgie walking on to the set for the first day of filming, cracking his knuckles, stretching his hamstrings, and proclaiming, “Stand back kids. Daddy’s got this.” It’s this kind of arrogant showmanship that has been flourishing Clooney’s career and simultaneously mutilating his notoriety.

Matt Damon plays the part of Clooney’s sidekick as they strut pretentiously around fallen cities and war swept battle fields talking about the importance of art and heritage as they clean dirt from underneath their fingernails. Bill Murray plays the Bill Murray character and although this normally means that he should have knocked the ball out of the park, Clooney only let him have a cumulative five minutes of screen time and two Murray worthy comments; overall accounting for a complete waste of the Bill. John Goodman played a fat guy named Walter, and I couldn’t stop thinking about the Big Lebowski so I was completely satisfied in that department, but I could not have been more disappointed in Cate Blanchett who, after her show stopping performance in Blue Jasmine, played another Indiana Jones role and completely squandered her potential on a paper thin French accent.

Long story short, do not see this movie unless you want to spend the next month and a half of your life hating all of your once favorite big screen performers.

Labor Day

Without reservation I can say that Jason Reitman has rewritten comedy standards for 2014 with the January release of Labor Day. A film of unsurmountable comedy and richness, I could tell you that I intend to watch this movie on loop indefinitely and anyone who has seen it would not question my sanity for a moment.

The tragic flaw of the film stems from the fact that it was never marketed as a comedy, it was not intended to be a comedy, and it is not a comedy.

The saving grace of the movie is that it is the greatest comedy of all time.

Frame of play aside, Labor Day is a film based off of the novel by Joyce Maynard, detailing the life of a single mother, her son, and a convicted convict. The son, voice acted by Tobey Maguire and acted by a child actor who will never amount to anything thanks to this movie, wants nothing but the best for his mother who is played by Kate Winslet. Unfortunately the only thing the boy can think to fix his mother with is a a little bit of man love’n. Luckily an opportunity readily presents itself in the shape of a convicted murderer recently escaped from prison, played by Josh Brolin. A CONVICTED MURDERER ESCAPED FROM PRISON becomes the love interest and vehicle for the remainder of the film.

The movie is rich with Oedipus style undertones and plain old erotic subtext that is the cause for every scene to be absolutely saturated with innuendo, and there is also many instances of overwhelming pseudo-drama that create the perfect backdrop to the premise of FALLING IN LOVE WITH A CONVICTED MURDERER.

I do not jest when I say that Jason Reitman could not have made this film accidentally. Many of the scenes where shot beautifully and the sets where designed meticulously and with conviction, but the characters that populate the film are pointedly one dimensional. These things just do not mesh.

Directed by the spawn of the creator of the cinematic master piece that was Ghost Busters, Jason Reitman like his father, is a very stellar film maker. You may be familiar with his work on Juno, Up in the Air, Thank You for Smoking, and various episodes of The Office (U.S). And you may notice that these movies are all critically acclaimed and possess a very unique caliper of humor. Due to his success and legacy it seems unlikely that Reitman would ever NEED to make a movie ever again, but of course he cannot resist this primal urge and natural comedic tendencies. The result of this mad scientist concoction is a film maker who couldn’t possibly give a fuck.

When I say that Reitman rewrote the comedy standard for 2014 onward, what I am actually saying is that Reitman wrote the comedy for himself and in turn trolled his entire fan following for the lols.

American Hustle

After the 2012 masterpiece that was Silver Linings Playbook, David O. Russell needs no introduction. But fuck it why not, David O. Russell has been writing and directing arguably successful feature length films since 1990 with his launch film Spanking the Monkey. In the last 24 years Russell has become infamous for his tendency to go on hiatus for long stretches of time only to poke his nose out from around the corner with an onslaught of cinematic creativity and singularity. A talent that, until Silver Linings Playbook, had left audiences wondering, “Who the heck is this guy?”

American Hustle perpetually walks the line between stupid slap stick bullshit and cult level genius. If I were talking to a film buff (or wanted to pretend to more about film than I do) I would say that it is a cross between The Big Lebowski (Coen) and Boogie Nights (PTA). Russell perfectly maintained the mission statement of being silly as all hell without the sacrifice of an incredibly complex plot that, if this were any other director, would have come across as campy.

That being said, this film is nowhere near Best Picture status. The plot was sound and entertaining but overall was admittedly shallow and void of honest theme, going no deeper than an unfinished ice fishing story.

Always the bridesmaid never the bride, David O. Russell has the unique talent of making a little more than ok script that is absolutely perfect to showcase the talent of every single actor or actress he has cast. In his career Russell has single handedly secured Academy Awards (not to mention countless nominations) for Christian Bale, Melissa Leo, and Jennifer Lawrence for her role in Silver Linings Playbook. And I would not be at all surprised if Jennifer Lawrence snagged the tinny golden man for Best Supporting Actress this Oscar Season as her competition this year is yawn worthy due to its lack of notoriety (which let’s be honest, is a huge deal for the academy).

On the whole I would agree that this movie is worth seeing and is, to say the least, a wild ride. In the end, however, it is nothing more than a very real hustle, leaving you exactly the same as you were before the opening scene except now with a few less dollars in your pocket.

12 Years a Slave

Twelve Years tells the story of Solomon Northup a born free black man who was kidnapped and sold into slavery and do to the color of his skin and the general disposition of the nation was unable to escape for (drum roll) 12 years. The film is based on a book by the same named which was written by Northup himself before his death.

As this is  another Oscar worthy film based on an autobiography, it raises the possibility that the individual common place joe-shmo on the streets might have a story worth telling after all. Although this is idea is heart warming, Steve McQueen’s newest film leans much harder towards wrenching than warming.

The director of Shame and Hunger has proven two things in his career. The first is that he has an absolute man crush on Michael Fassbender and the second is the he is an incredibly powerful emotional director.

Twelve Years make use of long stationary shots of a single image sometimes lasting over five seconds (a length the feels much longer in the context). These shots are interesting because they encourage the viewer to be just as introspective as they feel comfortable being. This style is perfect for armature and experienced film viewers alike because the shots allow the audience to move at their own pace or skill level while still being emotionally impacting for everyone seeing them.

In addition to the directing superiority of the film, Twelve Years also sports an all-star line up; with Brad Pitt, Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Dano, and of course Fassbender the Great playing supporting roles. However the true shining performance of the film comes in the form of Lupita Nyong’o for her role as Patsey the needlessly hard working slave that is the apple of Fassbender’s eye. Days after seeing the film, Patsey was the only character that I couldn’t help but think about.

Twelve Years a Slave will almost undoubtedly take the award for Best Picture, and Lupita Nyong’o should be uncontested for Supporting Actress. But my confidence in the movie’s success is not solidified by the directing skill of McQueen, nor by the impeccable performances by nearly the entire cast, its not even because I liked the movie because frankly I hated it quite a lot.

No, my confidence stems from the fact that America loves to feel reassured in our own imaginary compassion. Its much easier to look at our past mistakes and pretend that they ended there then it is to look at our present and admit that they didn’t. The premise and resources of this film created the perfect venue for covert political misdirection and though the film was great and the themes were honest the message audiences will use it to perpetuate is actually quite ludicrous.