the fake 'gangsta' rappers of the hip-hop era likely would be no match for the real-life 1950s convicts of The Prisonaires  

Arguably the most ambitious of this very busy Memphis weekend's many events is the 15th annual On Location: Memphis International Film & Music Fest, which begins at 7:30 tonight (Aug. 24) with "In Between Engagements" -- a Chicago "relationship comedy" -- at the Malco Paradiso and continues Friday through Sunday (Aug. 25-27) with 36 screenings on three screens at the Studio on the Square. (Tonight's post-screening party at Newby's includes a performance by legendary Memphis power pop band, The Scruffs.)

What to watch? Here are some suggestions. (This story will appear in Friday's print edition of The Commercial Appeal, in the Go Memphis section.)

at least Drew was smart to downplay Jar Jar Binks: a classic Drew Struzan painting, the basis for a 'Phantom Menace' poster

I haven't seen these films, but based on the subject matter, they sound promising. "The Prisonaires," for example, deals with one of the more fascinating incidental stories in R&B and Memphis music history, while "Drew: The Man Behind the Poster" looks at an artist -- movie poster illustrator Drew Struzan -- whose designs for "Raiders of the Lost Ark," "Blade Runner" and so on will be instantly recognizable to film fans.

The festival program can be downloaded here.


Soulful Cinema: The 'Time Warp Drive-In' Returns!


sweet poster for the Soulful Cinema edition of Time Warp Drive-In, designed by Lauren Rae Holtermann

Is Memphis ready for regular dusk-to-dawn drive-in marathons devoted to cult and classic cinema?

Will the Bluff City support an outdoor answer to the retro programming that is a staple of Austin's Alamo Drafthouse Cinema chain and Nashville's Belcourt Theatre?

'The Old Forest' Blooms Anew at On Location: Memphis Film Fest


Beverly Moore is Lee Ann Deehart, a woman of the Memphis 'demimonde,' in 'The Old Forest'  

A modestly budgeted but ambitious and elaborate 1930s period piece, "The Old Forest" remains unique in the annals of local filmmaking. "It's kind of a Memphis version of a 'Masterpiece Theatre' production," said director and University of Memphis film professor Steve Ross, 64. "It's a very faithful literary adaptation."

Based on a short story by Peter Taylor, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel "A Summons to Memphis," and shot in Overton Park (the "old forest" of the title) and other locations in the Mid-South, "The Old Forest" debuted in 1984 as one of the first significant local independent productions. The hourlong movie was once a staple of the A&E cable channel (back when the network emphasized the "Arts" portion of its name) and was a success on the library and college conference  circuit, but it had been more or less out of circulation for several years prior to this weekend, when it will return in a digitally remastered high-definition transfer for a special 30th anniversary screening at 5 p.m. Saturday (April 26) at the Malco Studio on the Square.

The screening will function as a reunion for the cast and crew (many of whom are coming from out of town for the event), and is likely to be a highlight of this year's 15th annual On Location: Memphis International Film & Music Fest.

My full story about the return of "The Old Forest," which appeared in print in the April 24 edition of The Commercial Appeal, can be found here.


'Under the Skin' - A Review: Scarlett Fever


E.T. as P.Y.T.

The Scottish accents are impenetrable and the narrative obscure, but Scarlett Johansson speaks the universal language in "Under the Skin," a movie that counts on the prurient connection the viewer makes between its title noun and its fleshy top-billed actress, who appears in every scene, sometimes in not much more than the puffy black wig that obscured her identity during location shooting on crowded streets in Glasgow and in misty highlands that are otherwordly in their fairy-tale beauty.

the skin of Scarlett

tough enough: Tye Sheridan and Nicolas Cage

"Southern Gothic" may be too genteel or literary a term for "Joe," even if the new film from director David Gordon Green is adapted from an acclaimed work of Southern literature, a 1991 novel of rural crime and violence by the late great Oxford, Miss., firefighter turned author Larry Brown.

'Heaven Is for Real' - A Review: He Sees Dead People


heaven may be real, but we bet the bill is gonna be *unreal*

With a title that is at once a spoiler and an enticement, "Heaven Is for Real" is a would-be mainstream-skewing "faith" film produced with more integrity than a cynic like myself would have expected. The movie's visions of a greenscreen afterlife of shiny angels, digital clouds and a Jesus who resembles Dan Fogelberg on the cover of the "Greatest Hits" album is more trite than inspiring, yet the film is smart enough to recognize the weirdness of its premise. With a few tweaks, it could be a horror movie; usually, when a kid onscreen makes the "I see dead people" claim, events don't turn out this well.

the happy couple: Duncan and Broadbent  

The fourth collaboration between director Roger Michell and writer Hanif Kureishi (earlier films include "The Mother" and Peter O'Toole's final starring vehicle, "Venus"), "Le Week-End" is a showcase for 64-year-old Jim Broadbent and 63-year-old Lindsay Duncan, cast as an academic couple from the English working-class city of Birmingham ("Not by birth!" the husband insists) who celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary by returning to the site of their honeymoon, Paris.

'The Lunchbox' - A Review: The Way to a Man's Heart...


food for thought: Irrfan Khan

hail to the chef: Nimrat Kaur

The themes are universal, even trite, but the details are authentic and specific in writer-director Ritesh Batra's "The Lunchbox," a not-quite-romance in the tradition of the classic "Brief Encounter," set in teeming Mumbai.

'13 Sins' - A Review: Pulp Fiction


i don't usually run images of posters with new movie reviews, but this is about the only cool art available for '13 Sins'

A remake of a 2006 Thai thriller known in America as "13: Game of Death," "13 Sins" is an implausible but agreeably pulpy (and occasionally bloody) B movie about a financially stressed young man (Mark Webber) in New Orleans who is recruited by a mysterious voice on his cellphone to participate in a secret "game" of "13 challenges" that will enable him to win millions of dollars.

'Ms. 45' Makes Its Blu-ray Debut; or, If the Nun Has a Gun - Run!


web of violence

O sister: Zoe Tamerlis

the nun has a gun...

"Violation is a synonym for intercourse," Andrea Dworkin wrote in her influential and controversial 1987 book, "Intercourse."

Did Dworkin mean to suggest that all actively heterosexual men are by definition rapists? She denied that interpretation, but such an extreme notion hardly would surprise the habitués of the drive-ins and grindhouse cinemas of the 1970s and '80s, who may not have been familiar with "radical feminism" but certainly were aware of "The Last House on the Left," "I Spit on Your Grave" and -- on a more prestigious level -- "Straw Dogs."

Zoe Tamerlis and one of the dirty/trashy locations of 'Ms. 45'

In maverick auteur Abel Ferrara's pitiless yet also acidly satiric "Ms. 45" (1981), a young, mute woman -- played by knockout movie neophyte Zoë Tamerlis -- is raped twice within the opening 20 minutes, first by a masked psycho in an alley, then by the burglar already lurking insider her apartment when the dazed woman returns home. (The first rapist is played by Ferrara, who also cast himself in the title role of his 1979 thriller, "The Driller Killer.")

innocent no more

The woman, Thana (derived from "Thanatos," the Greek god of death), fights back against her second assailant, crowning the intruder with a clothes iron (a significantly "feminine" weapon). She drags the corpse to the bathtub, dismembers it, and distributes the pieces in various scuzzy New York neighborhoods; Ferrara's evocative and economical location shooting -- the budget was less than $70,000 -- presents a thematically apt annd now historically invaluable portrait of the Big Apple at its wormiest. (The dialogue also has a time-capsule element, as when one of Thana's co-workers reacts with disgust to the sight of a couple making out in a diner booth: "This is a restaurant. It's not Plato's Retreat.")