Movies in October, 2015 featuring Trainwreck, The Walk, Only Lovers Left Alive, Phoenix, Keisatsukan (Policeman), Strange Brew, and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari

  1. Mission Impossible – Rogue Nation at the Cinema, October 6: Jenn opted out on this excursion, so I went to the double-feature myself. This first film was … okay. It's a very long commercial for BMW … er … I mean, a by-the-book action movie. Who's on whose side? Meh … who cares. The impossible passes for merely implausible, and it's entertainment.
  2. Trainwreck at the Cinema, October 6: I didn't know if I'd like this, as I couldn't avoid noticing comic Amy Schumer's name tossed around the Internet. The writing, while not great from a story perspective, is full of funny lines. And not just from Schumer's on-screen doppelganger. (Although she inserted herself as a bit of a Mary Sue, her weightlifter boyfriend is a bit of a dud with a hilariously executed scene where she tries to get him to talk more during sex.) The humor lands more on crude than sophisticated, but there's good on both sides, and even the homosexual jokes are not as much homophobic as they are validly humorous observations. So the story is about Amy, a charmingly likable party-girl who stumbles into her first true love only to screw it up by stubbornly holding onto her commitment-averse beliefs. In the end it's one of the funniest comedies I've seen in a while, and one I'd like to revisit.
  3. The Walk at the Little, October 9: I had a passing curiosity about this fictional film documenting Philippe Petit's 1974 high-wire walk between the newly completed towers of the World Trade Center. Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Petit as both narrator and character, and right from the outset, the film's computer-effects-heavy visuals set the fairy-tale tone. It's mostly a procedural film, showing Petit's early life as a street-performing wire-walker that led to his unquenchable desire to perform his most famous feat. Levitt instills so much charm and drive into the fictional Petit that I found him very likable. Of course, having a palpable fear of heights, most of the very lengthy finale was cringeworthy. But I also realized that, in a way, this is Robert Zemeckis' love story to the towers that once were, and to the America they once inhabited.
  4. Only Lovers Left Alive on DVD at Jenn's house, October 10: Well I finally decided to include non-cinematic movies on this list: solely because of this movie. Jenn and I noted this flick open at the Little on May 9, 2014. Confident that indie-cinema darling Jim Jarmusch's name alone would keep it in Rochester's indie-cinema showcase, we traveled over the weekend and managed to skip the screenings all week only to discover that it's run ended on the 15th. If it weren't for other plans, we would have gone to Cornell to see it in September 2014, but there haven't been any other screenings in 150 miles since then. So DVD it was from the library. Aaaanyway … the film centers on two vampires named *sigh* Adam (Tom Hiddleston) and Eve (Tilda Swinton) who are living on opposite sides of the world. They are reunited in person when Eve's immature sister Ava arrives and destroys their temporarily stable niche in the world. I enjoyed the valiant attempt to make the duo appear wise beyond their years, playing off how the few human adults they interact with are so comparatively childish. It's a steadily paced study of the two characters and one I was very glad to have finally seen.
  5. Guidance at the Little, October 15: I picked this comedy to see as part of the ImageOut Film Festival this year. Written, directed, and starring Pat Mills, it's a "satirical spin on his own history as a child actor" since he last worked 10 years prior on the TV show, "You Can't Do That on Television." Clearly exaggerating his own experiences, the film's quick wit can't quite hide the terrible decisions David makes by taking a job as a high-school guidance counselor under astonishingly false pretenses. It's definitely an entertaining movie while simultaneously being quite odd as real-world repercussions of his actions just slide off him with no impact whatsoever.
  6. Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films at the Little, October 17: I knew a little bit about Cannon Films as I was a fan of the cheesy, often direct-to-video action films of the 1980s and 1990s. But I found this documentary lacking. The biggest sin is the failure to secure interviews with the Israeli cousins Menahem Golan, and Yoram Globus who bought the struggling studio in 1979. The problem, revealed in a tongue-in-cheek note at the end of the movie, is that the cousins had cranked out their own documentary of the studio titled The Go-Go Boys: The Inside Story of Cannon Films. Despite a few witty talking heads, the documentary slogs through the critically ill-received output of the studio, save for the occasional gem like Breakin', and never manages to make it particularly entertaining. All it really wanted me to do was to seek out Go-Go Boys.
  7. Nightcrawler on Netflix at home, October 18: I somewhat wanted to see this when it was at the Little but passed it up. It's the story of Louis Bloom who breaks out of his impoverished thievery by becoming a Los Angeles stringer—filming graphic scenes and selling them to television news organizations. Jake Gyllenhaal captures Bloom's dangerously sociopathic and methodical ability to aggressively win—a combination of skills well-suited to the coldly profiteering nature of the job. He quickly proves himself and breaks a huge story for a last-place news station, only to insert himself into the action without remorse. I found it to be a perfect encapsulation of free-market Capitalism where the most ruthless sociopaths are the most successful as they are unencumbered by the morality and ethics that prevent everyday people from criminal profiteering.
  8. 99 Homes at the Little, October 21: Jenn and I decided to catch this before it left the Little. Dennis (Andrew Garfield), after losing the family home he shared with his mother Lynn (Laura Dern) and son, takes a job with Rick (Michael Shannon) the man who evicted him on behalf of the bank. The movie strives to be the Wall Street of the 2010s but fails to make the conflicts relatable. Dennis ends up an impotent pawn in a systemic game much larger than he, making the resolution largely unsatisfying. I could feel the seething rage in Ramin Bahrani's script and direction, but he was unable to bring the story to anything but a realistic conclusion in which wealth, power, and exploitation are indistinguishable.
  9. Phoenix at the Cinema, October 24: Although I watched Mr. Holmes with Jenn, I already reviewed it and don't have anything to add, so I'll just skip right to the second feature. In it, a concentration-camp survivor tries to piece together a life in post-war Berlin—albeit with a surgically-reconstructed face that makes her former self unrecognizable (although fortunately without any scars or physical deformities.) She eventually finds her husband but he doesn't recognize her and has become something between a numbly desperate opportunist and a traitor. Perhaps both. The film has quite a bit of depth, and writing now—several weeks later—I'm still realizing new ways these individuals were so cruelly damaged.
  10. Keisatsukan (Policeman) at the Dryden, October 27: I went with Jenn and her friends Lindsay and Whitney. It's the story of a policeman getting reacquainted with a childhood friend who is revealed to be involved with the criminal underworld. Although methodically paced, the audience is way ahead of the characters, so it seems rather slow. That aside, it's a very watchable piece of cinematic history.
  11. Strange Brew on DVD at home, October 28: I picked this up along with a couple dozen other flicks at the Record Archive's sale over the weekend—a few years ago I was under the delusion that online movie distribution would make every movie available, but between pathetically small selections and lousy video quality, I'm trying to buy up as many movies I like so I'll at least have access to them. In any case, Jenn didn't show any interest in this oddly popular Canadian film from the 1980s that centered on the fictional MacKenzie brothers played by SCTV alums Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas. The film starts with a quite clever film-within-a-film structure where the disastrous presentation finds the brothers desperate for cash for beer. It's basically a "stoner comedy" but with beer substituted for marijuana in which the two brothers discover a plot at the brewery to drug the world for profit. Despite absurd developments like a ghost-haunted computer, musically-controlled hockey players, and a heroic flying dog, the movie manages to keep perfect balance to maintain its humorous plausibility.
  12. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari at the Little, October 31: Although Jenn had seen it before, I hadn't. This particular screening was with the Andrew Alden Ensemble who did an okay job of scoring the film—sometimes their music was too far from the mood of the film, and other times the music drew too much attention to the performance, but mostly it worked well. The movie unfortunately started with an image quality that rivaled a badly done animated GIF with digital artifacts and brutal contrast. Although it improved, I was critical of the oversaturation of the film's tinting, the slapdash feel of the video transfer, and the digitally-added English intertitles that mimicked the peculiar style of the originals but whose slow scroll terribly interrupted the pacing. The film itself is about a street-festival attraction of a psychic somnambulist and his sinister handler, Dr. Caligari. The sets and visual design are uniquely brilliant, and I only wish I had seen a worthy rendition.

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Movies in September, 2015 featuring The Hand that Feeds, Irrational Man, The Look of Silence, The Diary of a Teenage Girl, and Cyrano de Bergerac

  1. Mr. Holmes at the Little, September 3: I was going to see A Walk in the Woods which was actually at the theaters in the back, so since I was already at Little 1, I saw Mr. Holmes instead. It's about Sherlock Holmes, now in retirement, piecing together the circumstances of his last case—which he can't quite remember. It's a pretty good story and a pretty good mystery, and Ian McKellen was excellent. I liked that although thematically different, it was still a Sherlock-Holmes-style mystery at its core. (And the Little once again tried its best to ruin the filmgoing experience: the second fifth of the screen from the left had a darkened band running vertically—thank goodness they saved all that money getting rid of their real projectionists—grrrr!)
  2. The Hand that Feeds at the Dryden, September 4: Kicking off this year's Labor Film Series is a documentary about the workers at a popular (profitable) bagel shop in New York's Upper East Side. The majority of them are "undocumented"—having entered the United States without acquiring citizenship or work visas. As such, their employers abuse them: not only through a lack of human respect, but also by shortchanging them on their pay and threatening deportation if they even attempt to do something as radical as taking a sick day. The workers organize under the reluctant and soft-spoken Mahoma López. They are assisted by the Laundry Workers Center to bring their desire to unionize to a vote, to organize a strike, and to demand to be paid minimum wage while the Occupy Wall Street protesters also assist by occupying the store. The investment group that owns the store decides to shut it down to bust the union, so they must scramble to eek out their meager existence without any chance of employment. In all it's a solid documentary and tells a moving and inspiring story.
  3. Irrational Man at the Cinema, September 5: Woody Allen's films have always been hit-or-miss with me. Thankfully this one hit … although I wasn't sure at first as the characters are introduced through inner monologue. Abe (Joaquin Phoenix) is a despondent, alcoholic philosophy professor who's taking up teaching at a new college. His rogue reputation precedes him and the school is abuzz, particularly with his student Jill (Emma Stone), and Abe's adult fling Rita (Parker Posey). Abe protests Emma's advances, citing her long-term relationship with Roy (Jamie Blackley). In Woody Allen fashion, Abe's depression stems from his relationship with philosophy offering only more questions about life. But a chance overheard conversation leads Abe to find purpose and put those philosophical musings to practical use. What I thought worked very well was the way Abe's deep expertise and mental maturity play against Jill's respectable but comparatively shallow and immature view of the world, yet how neither can find an adequate answer. Also, the movie is Cinema—the characters live in a fantastic perfection of our own world. When they dine at a fancy restaurant, it's an amazing fancy restaurant—perfect exactly because it's stripped to its essentials and wholly fake. Even the weather is commanded by the moment, although you'd never even bother to notice. It was a "real" movie.
  4. Infinitely Polar Bear at the Cinema, September 5: I figured I'd catch the second feature in which Cameron (Mark Ruffalo) is a man whose bipolar disorder complicates the life of his daughters and their mother (who I never quite knew if they were formally married so I phrased that awkwardly.) The slice-of-life was somewhat interesting but since it takes place over several years, I was disappointed that there wasn't more of a character arc for Cameron. I guess it was okay enough—the daughters adapted to their fathers quirks living in Boston while their mother had a tougher time trying to keep things together while she worked on a masters degree in New York.
  5. The Look of Silence at the Little, September 7: I don't know where to begin with this one … it's a documentary that follows Adi, an optometrist in Indonesia who lives in the same small village as the people who brutally murdered his brother two years before he was born. This situation is not uncommon in Indonesia where over half a million people were killed from 1965 to 1966 in the name of ridding the country of communists, and where the killers are now the leading party in the country. The American-supported genocide was orchestrated with copious propaganda to convince the citizens to rise up against their neighbors. In all it added another underscore to my firm belief that all murder is done for false reasons. (As a comparatively inconsequential side note, the Little once again marred the screening by running the projector on the wrong aspect ratio so the subtitles were cropped off screen until another patron and myself complained.)
  6. A Walk in the Woods at the Little, September 7: To follow up, I decided to take on a poorly-rated, but hopefully fluffy comedy. Despite Robert Redford and Nick Nolte only half-phoning in their performances, the movie is just banal. Redford plays real-life author Bill Bryson whose book is the basis for the movie, but what works well in literature fails horribly in cinema. First is that in a movie, there needs to be a setup—you can't just show up at the first day of a hike (or, see Prince Avalanche) and the story leading to the first day of hiking is painfully amateurish. Second—by example—an early character is an annoying know-it-all who's humorously portrayed way over-the-top which works fine as a vignette in quasi-non-fiction literary humor, but seems suddenly unrealistic in film. Third—by the same example—when you introduce a character that interacts with your protagonists for a while, there either needs to be a conclusive divergence from that character or else the audience expects her to appear later—yet in this case, she just goes away. Which is basically the final problem with the film overall: whenever there's a hint of conflict, it's immediately dropped, and I gather from the film as a whole and a few reviews of the book I read that this is a reflection of Bill Bryson's modus operandi.
  7. Cops at the Dryden, September 8: The Dryden screened three Buster Keaton films on the night Jenn returned home. In this first one, I was kind of annoyed by the lack of a plot—it's basically a bunch of implausibly stitched-together vignettes to highlight a bunch of quite funny gags.
  8. The Balloonatic at the Dryden, September 8: Next up is more of the same, this time with the addition of a hot-air balloon and some high-wire stunts.
  9. Sherlock Jr. at the Dryden, September 8: This final early Keaton classic has more of a plot, although the ambiguity between real, dream, and film would be an inspiration for animated comedies like Looney Tunes. It's essentially about a projectionist who tries to figure out who framed him for the theft of a pocket watch. But as he dozes off at one point, he jumps into the on-screen action only to be confounded by cuts to different scenes—executed absolutely perfectly by this master of physical comedy. And perhaps the cleverest of all the gags involves doing a quick-change jumping through a window that you can't help believing is real … at least on first viewing.
  10. The Diary of a Teenage Girl at the Cinema, September 14: Jenn and I were both wanting to see this and were disappointed that it left the Little after just a week … I even flaked on seeing it on Saturday evening when we were looking for something to do. Anyway, it's a movie that focuses on a 15-year-old girl in San Francisco losing her virginity—with her mother's 35-year-old boyfriend. It focuses on Minnie's understanding of the situation (her character is wise beyond her years helping us see what a teen likely wouldn't know) and how she leaps into casual sex, alcohol, and drug use in a misguided attempt at adulthood. The adults are refreshingly painted from a teen's limited perspective with just enough background for the viewer to fill in the obvious-from-an-adult-perspective situation. And the film doesn't shy away from Minnie's nudity, resulting an intimate and personal—but ultimately more clinical than titillating experience. (And for any busybodies clucking their tongues, Bel Powley, playing Minnie, actually turned 23 in 2015.)
  11. The Man from U.N.C.L.E. at the Cinema, September 19: Jenn and I saw the trailer for this and it seemed like fun. And, well, it was. It was clever, entertaining, and action-filled … just what you'd expect. Oddly, though, it was a remarkably similar plot to the superior Spy we saw last month.
  12. Cyrano de Bergerac at the Dryden, September 22: Jenn and I went to this screening of the unique stencil-colored print of an entertaining tale. The charming hero has a huge nose and this, he feels, repels any woman he'd desire. So when his crush is smitten by another, he helps the fellow with his eloquent words only—but will she fall for his dashing looks or our hero's words? The film's appearance is unique because of its coloration that gives it a dappled watercolor look. Some scenes are rendered startlingly realistic while others take on an impressionistic aura as the colors dance around their borders.
  13. Pawn Sacrifice at the Little, September 25: I was curious about this biopic about chess wizard Bobby Fischer played by Tobey Maguire. I only knew fleeting bits about Fischer's chess skills as he ostensibly fought the cold war by being America's (and the world's) only significant threat against Russia's domination in chess. While Maguire captured the "genius on the brink of madness", the film overall was a bit flat. Its linear narrative dragged it down, starting with Fischer as a child in Brooklyn. The bizarre relationship triangle between Fischer, his trusted Father Bill Lombardy, and xenophobic, jingoistic lawyer Paul Marshall seems too fake to be true. And compared to two other recent biopics whose subjects I knew little about, it's a bit more interesting than Big Eyes but not as engaging as Love & Mercy.
  14. and ½ Jurassic World at the Cinema, September 29: After having watched the entertaining reenactment-filled Nostalgia Critic review, I figured we should shoot for seeing the last half of the film. So Jenn and I meandered in to the theater about an hour in. Even then, my rule for improving not-so-good movies didn't work this time: even though we skipped what was likely banal introductions of each one-note character, we had them figured out instantly. It was basically like an inferior version of Jurassic Park, only with more boring characters who have no on-screen chemistry so you really don't care about anyone or anything going on. I'm guessing you'd be better off watching the last 35 minutes or so (although you might miss the Jimmy Buffet cameo, but you can just go back and see that on the Internet.)
  15. The Gift at the Cinema, September 29: I was lukewarm on seeing this, but Jenn saw all the critical praise and we checked it out. Simon and Robyn are just moving from Chicago into a new home in Simon's hometown of Los Angeles. No sooner do they move in that they're visited by Simon's former high-school classmate Gordo. An outcast in school, Gordo's behavior doesn't seem to have changed much as he persistently injects himself in to Simon and Robyn's life. From here, it's essentially about Robyn trying to uncover the truth about Gordo and Simon's past. I found it a bit inexplicable that Robyn never knew that Simon was sociopathically manipulative despite, well, everything about him. Overall it's an entertaining movie and kept me guessing to the very end. Plus Simon is perfectly played by Jason Bateman. But if you'd prefer to take your individuals-remorseless-about-a-brutal-past without being watered down, go see The Look of Silence (reviewed above) instead.

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Movies in August, 2015 including The Weather Underground, Christo's Valley Curtain, Spy, The Devil-Doll, and The End of the Tour

  1. The Weather Underground at the Flying Squirrel, August 3: Born in 1970, I was barely aware of the Weather Underground when they were active from the tail end of the U.S.–Vietnam War through the early 1980s. They were a radical group most notorious for bombing U.S. targets in retaliation for injustices, starting with the "Days of Rage" designed to "bring the [Vietnam] war home". The film gives voice to the core members alive today. In general, their tone was remorseful about their actions but unashamed of their ideology. Watching it, I observed a couple things. First, when one's country's military is constantly murdering people for political and ideological reasons, it stands to reason that that rationale will steep in the minds of the citizenry—and that is just what happened with the Weather Underground. They felt that the only option was to murder their enemies as that had become the law of the land (much like it is in today's state of constant warfare.) Second, it underscored the absolute lack of a political "far left" (or even a "left" for that matter) today. I could at least look at the actions of the Weather Underground and say, "whoa—those people are way too radical for me." Instead, I am the radical in the room when I say things like, "maybe we should share our wealth instead of hoarding it"—and, call me crazy, but that is not "radical" or "far left" at all.
  2. Christo's Valley Curtain at the Dryden, August 5: I had have been curious about conceptual artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude for some time—especially since visiting The Gates in NYC in 2005. This film is the Maysles' first in of many collaborations with Christo and Jeanne-Claude and I thought it quite exemplary. Its design is an inspiration to many modern documentarians today, splitting between a design timeline, and the days of the installation. The project itself was fascinating, and there are two standout people—both construction workers. One is flabbergasted that someone could conceive of such a project and is amazed by its immense beauty. Another, an iron worker operating the rigging to unfurl the curtain from its suspension cabling, is giddily nervous and waxes poetic, "I'm as nervous as a whore in a field of peckers."
  3. Running Fence at the Dryden, August 5: In some ways I thought this was not as good as "Valley Curtain" but the topic is much more complex. This time the central conflict is getting the legal approval to install a 18-foot-high, 25-mile-long fabric fence across two counties in California and display it for two weeks. I thought the film took some liberties with the timeline to make for a better story as Christo and Jeanne-Claude are initially rebuffed only to convince the effected ranchers individually in a montage, then be approved. However, I think the film is an excellent document of the collaborative and community nature of the duo's work.
  4. Spy at the Cinema, August 9: I read a positive review and convinced Jenn to go too. Indeed, Melissa McCarthy's performance was perfect and the whole film quite hilarious. The story goes that after the identities of their active agents are compromised, a "behind the earpiece" CIA agent Susan (McCarthy) volunteers to go into active duty to thwart an (admittedly ludicrous) plot. I also appreciated that the supporting characters were generally strong, particularly Allison Janney as Susan's wry boss Elaine, and Jason Statham as the ridiculously inappropriate agent Rick Ford. And while there were a few gags that played off McCarthy's average appearance, there were many more that made use of her quick wit and comedic timing.
  5. Terminator: Genisys at the Cinema, August 9: I figured I'd give this a shot although Jenn left after just a few minutes. I've seen the "Terminator" films so this one seemed like a kind of boring rehash … and it's full of flaws … but it was entertaining enough that I stayed to the end. I thought it rather funny that, with The Terminator being released in 1984, I remember thinking Linda Hamilton's Sarah Connor was an adult woman, while in this 2015 film, Emilia Clarke's Sarah Connor was just a girl even though both actors were 28 years old as of each film's release date. (And funny enough, Clarke was born exactly 2 years after the release of the earlier film.) It also kind of bugged me that Hamilton's feathered 1980s hairdo wasn't replicated, but I guess it would have been kind of distracting. Umm, yeah, anyway, the film is kind of meh. Stuff happens … there's inexplicable time travel … there's an inexplicable countdown … there's an inexplicably powerful enemy … a whole lot of inexplicable stuff, actually.
  6. The Devil-Doll at the Dryden, August 18: Jenn had already seen this, although not on the big screen in a long time. I admired the commitment to special effects of dogs and people shrunk to doll-size, and to be honest, the plot was rather tense (if flawed and absurd—science fiction aside.) Although characters and goals get dumped along the way, the central plot is that of Paul (played perfectly by Lionel Barrymore) who escapes from prison to exact revenge on his former partners who set him up 17 years prior.
  7. Islands at the Dryden, August 19: Jenn and I went to see these further collaborations between filmmaking brothers Albert Maysles and David Maysles, and artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude. Islands documents the "Surrounded Islands" project around six islands in the Biscayne Bay near Miami, Florida in 1983. With nearly the same structure as Running Fence, the artists are met with resistance, then acceptance following a montage of community outreach. I thought the resulting project was the least interesting I had seen, and long shots of its completion were made less appealing by a banal soundtrack.
  8. Christo in Paris at the Dryden, August 19: Although tired, Jenn stayed through this—partly because of better music. It documents the intertwined lives of Christo and Jeanne-Claude, and "The Pont Neuf Wrapped" project, surrounding the oldest and most famous bridge in Paris. This later film recycles a fair amount of footage from Islands as it had meandered into this concurrent project as well. Perhaps most fascinating was the opinionated French debates of artistic merit on the pedestrian ways across the bridge at the completion of the project. And the politicking of then-mayor Jacques Chirac.
  9. The End of the Tour at the Little, August 23: Neither Jenn nor I knew much about author David Foster Wallace aside from an excerpt from a commencement speech on BrainPickings. Jason Segel admirably plays the part of Wallace (or at least makes for a character that embodies every letter of the script) and comes off as a likable misfit, too beautiful for this world. Jesse Eisenberg, meanwhile, fills the role of Rolling Stone interviewer as an everyman, clumsily hiding his jealousy.
  10. Umbrellas at the Dryden, August 26: I convinced Jenn to see this Maysles brothers film again showing the work of Christo and Jean-Claude. The artists installed thousands of large umbrellas—yellow ones in California and blue ones in Japan—for a temporary exhibition. I guess I continue to be fascinated by these artists as their work stands in such contrast to nearly any other artist I've heard of—both in scale and in its temporary nature.
  11. People Places Things at the Cinema, August 28: Jenn and I skipped the first feature and caught this film we had a passing interest in seeing. It's about a man who is shocked by the breakup with his longtime girlfriend and how he deals with it. Unfortunately he's a bit of a Mary Sue as he's got a consistently well-meaning, kind, and naïve perspective throughout, played against a half-dozen comparatively undeveloped characters—mostly women, although "Gary" is the biggest milquetoast pushover of them all. In all it's got a fair number of amusing moments, so it was mildly entertaining to watch.

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Movies in Janaury, 2015

  1. Horrible Bosses 2 at the Cinema, January 3: Jenn and I headed out to see the double feature at the Cinema although we weren't too sure about this film. I had very very low expectations and it thankfully exceeded those expectations—funny but not amazingly funny. It's about three guys who invent a silly device, and when they can't be bosses themselves, they resort to crime. One of my rules about mediocre movies is to skip the first half-hour or so which generally just contains the character introductions. In this case, skipping the entire first movie was fruitful in that respect and let us figure out who the players were and what their motivations are (not that it was anything but very very obvious.) In fairness, the writing is exceedingly clever with a lot of silly jokes, but none that are really really big. In fact, I laughed hardest at the last out-take over the credits where Jason Bateman and Jason Sudeikis share a scene and Bateman says, "it smells like dog shit in here" and Sudeikis plainly replies, "maybe it's your acting" followed by a one-second pause before both actors start laughing.
  2. Art and Craft at the Cinema, January 3: I had much higher expectations for this positively-reviewed documentary about an art forger. As documentaries go, I think it was quite a success … if a little rough around the edges. It's about Mark Landis who To has been copying art for decades, but set his sights on "philanthropy" and began donating forgeries to art museums. His undoing was curator Matthew Leininger who became obsessed with outing Landis' fraud to all other art museums. Landis is a frail, soft-spoken Mississippian whose mental health is not so hot, particularly after the recent loss of his beloved mother. If the documentary is to be believed, he would be a shut-in if not for his visits to a mental hospital and his escapades to art museums. Leininger, meanwhile, seemed more like a police officer than an art curator (again if the documentary is to be believed) with his matter-of-fact demeanor and the pride he takes in his daughter's ability to identify images of Landis. His pursuit of Landis was a catalyst for him losing is curatorial job, leading him to take on the task as a hobby while being a stay-at-home dad. I say it's a successful documentary because it lets us say, "how strange" (to both principals) without mockery or hostility, and it honestly asks, "what's the problem, exactly?" in an equally neutral way.
  3. To Have and Have Not at the Dryden, January 6: Jenn and I went out to see this earliest of pairings between Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. Indeed, the relationship that builds between them is easily believable—even though their snarky dialog could so easily have derailed the whole thing with anything but this perfect pairing of actors. The film is about an expatriated American boat captain (Bogart) in Martinique during World War II who tries to make a living in uncertain times. He meets a young American (Bacall) trying to make her way back to the States. It's a suspenseful and interesting tale well worth checking out.
  4. Don't Look Now at the Dryden, January 10: I asked Jenn what Donald Sutherland is doing now and laughed since I've not been privy to his role in the Hunger Games. (Julie Christie, meanwhile seems to have kept steadily busy with 52 titles over the past 57 years.) Anyway, the film is an adeptly stylized supernatural thriller about a couple reeling from the death of their daughter. I was really quite impressed by all elements of it. The story is excellent, and the way it is presented as film is as perfect as I could imagine: the relationship seems strained but loving (the sex scene is astonishingly believable in spite of the now-cheesy music), the supernatural elements are as otherworldly as they are explainable, and the final chapter of the film is pitch-perfect disorienting.
  5. The Interview at the Cinema, January 12: I didn't have much of any interest in seeing this, and my expectations were fairly low. It's a comedy about an assassination attempt on Kim Jong Un, but it doesn't take either facet serious enough. Too much of the comedy is lazy writing, like how the film can't seem to come out and say that James Franco's Dave Skylark is bisexual, so he's gay when that would make for a lazy gay joke and he's straight when that would make for a lazy straight joke. And the mechanics of the assassination attempt are moronic. A better writer would make both a cunning comedy and a clever caper. Instead, it's a comedy ruined by a muddled caper and a caper ruined by forced comedy. A superior film is Ishtar (really: despite its continuity and editing issues, it's both funnier and caperier.)
  6. Dear White People at the Cinema, January 12: This second part of the double-feature was what I was hoping to see, and my expectations were much higher. Alas, while The Interview barely exceeded my moderately low expectations, Dear White People failed to meet my moderately high expectations. My biggest complaint is that the central promise of the movie—that of a witty radio show called "Dear White People"—failed to materialize. There was nothing more than the few lines presented in the trailer, so I never got the impression it was anything of a "show" as much as some pithy remarks between songs, yet it is a lightning rod for white backlash. I mean, come on … I can rattle off a few more kernels off the cuff (e.g. "Dear white people, why do you feel the need to 'come out' to realizing you are talking with a black person halfway through a conversation", "DWP, apologizing for a racist's behavior implicates you as a racist," "DWP, there is no moment in your daily life that is 'just like' my experience") Second, it borrows heavily from the Spike Lee school of characterizations (in which every character has one dominant personality trait that drives jeir behavior) but misses the mark because the mix of characters is unbalanced and incomplete. OK, I spent some time complaining, but I did, for the most part, enjoy the film. I thought all the characters were reasonable, realistic, and charismatic. The story is plausible and full of realistic examples of modern relations between blacks and whites. And, between the lines, it pointed out a fascinating idea: for most college students this is the first taste of independence they have seen, so their behavior exposes their upbringing—especially in their first year or two. It reminded me of the changes I went through, learning the error of my intolerance in a number of ways. But then when I visited some students 10 years later, I discovered their prejudices were exactly like mine were. And now this film, 10 years after that, reveal that those same prejudices are alive and well. It all made me kind of sad.
  7. Stella Dallas at the Dryden, January 15: Jenn and I headed out to see this great picture with another knockout performance by the great Barbara Stanwyck. Stanwyck plays Stella, the daughter of a working family in 1919. She wishes to mingle among the rich and famous, and wrangles her way there through Stephen Dallas. Unfortunately, her working-class roots are unforgivingly obvious, but Stanwyck draws out empathy for her pathetic, sad-sack character.
  8. Top Five at the Cinema, January 17: Jenn and I skipped a second viewing of Big Eyes and showed up for this Chris Rock film. It was, well, okay. It appears to be a semi-autobiographical account of the life of Chris Rock in the form of comedic film star Andre Allen, played by Rock. Allen is about to release his personal project film—a fictionalized account of the 18th century Haitian Revolution—but all eyes are on his reality-TV marriage to Erica Long (Gabrielle Union) and whether he'll do another "Hammy" movie (Allen's comedic, sass-talking cop-in-a-bear-suit). The plot is lazily driven by an ongoing interview with New York Times writer Chelsea Brown (Rosario Dawson) and the relationship that builds between Allen and Brown. Unfortunately, it's not particularly funny nor is it particularly interesting, although I must admit that a lot of the references are lost on me—the "Top Five", for instance, is a list of favorite rappers as both a kind of point-of-comparison and test of knowledge, yet my knowledge of rappers is only a tiny fraction of my practically nonexistent knowledge of pop culture, so I felt a little left out. And although I knew all three, I barely recognized cameos of Whoopi Goldberg, Adam Sandler, and Jerry Seinfeld as they all appeared considerably aged (although I swear I saw comic Bobby Slater as the bouncer to a small New York comedy club where Allen visits.) But its unfunnyness may also stem from lackluster homosexuality jokes and a healthy dose of misogyny (sparing only Dawson's writer, Brown). Thankfully for all its faults, I'd still go to the next Chris Rock film.
  9. Designing Woman at the Dryden, January 20: Jenn, Mo, and I went to see this Cary Grant / Lauren Bacall comedy about a couple who get married but realize they have virtually nothing in common. I had high hopes for a screwball comedy, but it was much more subdued and realistic, so I was disappointed to only chuckle quite a few times. The chemistry is pretty good between the two leads, but the story was a bit rambling at times. The climactic brawl was quite hilarious, though.
  10. The Imitation Game at the Little, January 29: I was already aware of Alan Turing (from that pesky degree in Computer Science) and I had heard of his code-breaking contributions in World War II through a Numberphile video blog with Dr. James Grimes (my top boy-crush with his adorable smile and mild British lisp) titled 158,962,555,217,826,360,000, the number of combinations of rotors and plugs possible in Germany's Enigma machine. I'll omit the history lesson—however fascinating—and just say that the movie was quite good although I think it was a little to simplistic when it tied early childhood events to Turing's later life. To give away the ending title card, Turing (and the other 9,000 or so people—in reality—who did the code-breaking) was estimated by historians to shorten World War II by about 2 years and saved over 13,000,000 lives, but instead of being celebrated as the world's greatest peace hero—more spoilers ahead—the full breadth of his contributions were classified until the mid-1990's and he committed suicide in 1954 after serving part of a sentence of "chemical castration"—a psychologically-devastating oestrogen treatment—for the crime of "gross indecency"—1950's British speak for "being a homosexual". I'm sure his 42-year-old corpse was relieved that Queen Elizabeth II granted him a posthumous pardon in 2013.

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Movies in December 2014 including Twenties, The Homesman, Big Eyes, Gone Girl, and more.

  1. Twenties at the Little, December 2: I didn't really know what to expect in the Rochester premiere of this locally-produced comedy—and I'm pleased to say that overall I was rather impressed. Initially I was distracted by the low-budget quality of the cinematography, what with looking like it was shot on a cell phone. But once James Battaglia's Jake and Zac Hobert Thompson's Luke got to interact, I started to understand better. The gist of the story is that these two mid-twenty-somethings are listlessly adrift in their post-college years until they get a windfall of a bag full of $20 bills … which turns out to be counterfeit. The film is entirely carried by the very funny interactions between Jake and Luke. But more importantly, I think the filmmakers have successfully and comprehensively captured the zeitgeist of their generation: from the defeatist apathy toward employment, to the powerful platonic love they have for one another, to the way their emotional range is invisibly bounded to prevent any real harm. And up until now, cinema has based its visual style on the 35mm film camera with a 50mm lens and careful composition to not waste expensive film, but this generation was raised on smart phones with wide-angle lenses and zero-cost images, and Boris Sapozhnikov's camera work exactly captures that aesthetic.
  2. The Homesman at the Little, December 13: I didn't know exactly what to expect of this, only knowing it was a modern western by Tommy Lee Jones (who I know more as an actor, but has directed a few films as well), and Jenn joined me. I was rather surprised at how coldly brutal it started out, and how that brutality merely ebbs and flows throughout the story. It's bracketed by incredible beauty, lending a bit of rationale for why anyone would bother to stay—aside, perhaps, from a desperation to find a place to be in the then-modern world. Finally, it's a fascinating tale of a woman who does her best to keep her strength and sanity viable through a long and (you guessed it) brutal journey. Jones acts in the picture as a bumbling outlaw with a coldly self-serving streak. In all it's a rather potent film that I may not seek out for a long while to revisit.
  3. Side by Side at the Dryden, December 16: Keanu Reeves is a surprisingly amiable host (given his typically … umm … stoic acting performances) as he interviews the titans of modern cinema to discuss the recent birth of digital filmmaking, its incredibly rapid adoption, and how it compares to film filmmaking. I was personally saddened that film has been ousted by the most advanced digital cameras today since they are capable of more dynamic range and resolution than any chemical film (even though digital projection is still lacking in that same digital range.) (And, oddly, even though the film was a special 35mm transfer made specifically for exhibition at the George Eastman House, most of the dark areas of the recording were completely obliterated black, lacking any shadow-detail that film could very well have provided.) But I lament the (largely) collective ignorance of "what is lost"—a common issue I have when new ideas oust old. For film specifically, it is the fact that film has proven itself a worthy archival candidate whereas there continues to be no way to archive digital data. Even the first films ever made have usable visual data today after 120 years or more with a carefully-controlled environment extending that by many more decades, but digital recordings made on now-outdated technology are lost after as short as 10 years (e.g. DV tape). And worse, the only way to retain digital data is with regularly-operated and regularly-replaced hard drives, making for an expensive, labor-intensive process that depends on continuous plentiful funding of such an archive—a very necessary feature that has proven to be impossible in the long-term.
  4. The Searchers at the Dryden, December 17: I returned to the Dryden for a taste of Western's roots with one of the best-known and highly-rated such films in history. Like the much more recent Homesman earlier this month, I was struck by the beauty of the vistas and the interesting story. But I was also shocked by the presumption that Native Americans were the brutal enemy. The whole idea that the white man went into a populated country, overran the existing economy, trampled the ecosystem, slaughtered the people who lived there, and then had the stunning audacity to consider the brutal retaliation "wrong" is preposterous to me. In the end I found it quite hard to separate myself from that mindset and just enjoy the damn movie.
  5. The 78 Movie Project at the Little, December 19: As an aficionado of 78s, Jenn encouraged me to go see this documentary of a project to recording artists around the country using an antique record cutting machine. As a documentary it's not that great—lacking in a lot of areas including sound quality (at least at the beginning few artists). But the subject is interesting on a number of levels. First, it was fascinating to see the surprised reactions of musicians listen to the freshly-cut recording, even though they had presumably been recorded before and heard their own voices immediately … there was something apparently quite special about this device. Second, the interludes at the Library of Congress' collection of prior incarnations of this project were fascinating, if a little disappointing in the lack of any playback. And third, the idea of recording sound for the longest-term storage (much like I said about film in Side by Side, above) is best done with records.
  6. Big Eyes at the Little, December 27: Having both been aware of the "big-eyed" pictures of children painted in the 1960's and 1970's, Jenn and I were curious to see this fictionalized account of the lives of the artist Margaret Keane and her husband Walter Keane. And although we were also interested in Tim Burton's take on it (along with music by his long-time collaborator Danny Elfman), I was somewhat relieved that it was not a typical Burton & Elfman partnership but a traditional narrative with a straightforward plot and characterization. The story goes that Margaret met Walter after she had established her "big-eyed child" style, they married and he took credit for her work after which the paintings skyrocketed in popularity. She eventually left him and abandoned the charade, winning a court case to prove herself the rightful artist. The movie does little more than tell this story, and since it's basically a 1960's gregarious white male versus a 1960's desperate and reserved single mother, the emotional notes are pretty narrow in range and what you expect. Despite this, somehow the movie works, though, if in its own subdued way. One thing I thought I noticed that I imagine nobody else did was the way the digital effects—to make outdoor scenes look like the 1960s—were a little off and kind of intrusive. Faraway scenes of San Francisco looked to have some digital jittery edges, scenes on the open road (presumably to remove cell towers and add old-style telephone poles) made the road look sort-of flat and animated, and the teal 1950's car (a Mercury Montclair, maybe?) sometimes looked like its color was out-of-gamut—an unnatural teal that would have been impossible for the camera to capture (but that a computer could generate).
  7. Mujeres al borde de un ataque de nervios (Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown) at the Dryden, December 30: Jenn was especially interested in this Pedro Almodóvar film from 1988 and I was merely curious about it. It's about … well, it's a tangled tale of a woman whose boyfriend is leaving her and she is subletting their apartment, coincidentally, to his son (played by a young Antonio Banderas) and his son's fiancée; meanwhile her friend thinks the police are after her because she met some terrorists, and the lot of them end up in the apartment. I couldn't tell if there were aspirations for the film to be a social or political commentary—perhaps from my lack of knowledge of Spain and 1988 Spain—but the film is engaging and entertaining for certain.
  8. Gone Girl at the Cinema, December 31: Having seen the second feature (St. Vincent) already, Jenn and I spent our New Year's Eve at the South Wedge Diner and with this film. It's ostensibly about a woman who goes missing and her husband trying to figure out what happened, but it delves into a much more complex story and a commentary on the sensationalist media's portrayal of people in crisis. It's definitely a good thriller—if not a great one—although I do want to check out Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl: a novel to fill in the details that seemed to be missing from the film.

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Movies in November, 2014

  1. The Phantom of the Opera in Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre on November 1: Jenn and I went to see this presentation with live accompaniment by the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra. During the introduction, guest conductor Donald Hunsberger mentioned that the Kodak Hall theater was originally designed to project movies, and that the cheapest seats were 20¢ (which, according to this US Inflation Calculator is $2.72 in 2014 dollars—a far cry from the $25 cheap seats at tonight's performance, and even farther from the more expensive ones we bought). Also, rather than projecting the film from film, it was a digital projection with a lot of issues (the numerous digital compression artifacts were probably due to a cheap DVD, but the lack of image contrast was as much the fault of the projection as it was the orchestral lighting.) The only thing that was exemplary was the music, although, admittedly, I've been spoiled by the overarching perfectionism demonstrated at  Eastman School of Music student performances. Anyway, the film was still quite good and disturbing.
  2. The Skeleton Twins at the Cinema on November 4: Ever since I saw the trailer at the Little, I had a lukewarm interest in seeing this. Jenn and I finally got to go and it was generally quite good. There's a lot of humor and camaraderie interspersed with incredibly dark imagery. Brother and sister Maggie and Milo, estranged for ten years, are reunited as both their lives are not going as well as they had hoped. Plagued with depression and thoughts of suicide, the two do their best to reconnect. For those who have seen it, I argue that the ending is false since it's so inconceivable, but Jenn felt it was true—and depending on who you believe, it really changes the film.
  3. Guardians of the Galaxy at the Cinema on November 8: Jenn and I caught the matinee and, well, it's a good, entertaining film. I'm having a hard time with recent audience reaction sending it into many "top-100 films of all time" as it's not really "better" than, say, Taxi Driver. Sure it's competently made, rather amusing, and no more unbelievable than any other comic-book film, but it's not that good. The basic plot is that a modern-day human becomes a space pirate and teams up with an unlikely group to stop a Big Bad.
  4. Rebecca at the Dryden on November 8: Jenn and I went to see this film by Alfred Hitchcock in his American debut. I was suitably impressed—it's a tense, cruel story of a woman who marries an older widower only to live in the shadow of his former wife.
  5. St. Vincent at the Little on November 9: Knowing only that Bill Murray plays the lead, I headed to this with Jenn to finish up our trifecta of local movie houses for the weekend. The story is warm and engaging and Murray does a fine job as an aged curmudgeon shut-in who's coerced to take care of a young boy next door. I was a bit annoyed at the unrealistic cinematic construct that the boy was consistently perfect, spouting pithy wisdom beyond his years and never acting like a child. Although I was impressed that the script called for Vincent to only be a more-or-less average guy to earn his premortem canonization.
  6. Sorcerer at the Dryden on November 22: I was curious about this film solely for the dramatic poster shot, and thankfully not distracted by the digital projection (except the very first scene—of all things). The film is based on the book The Wages of Fear which is the source material for Henri-Georges Clouzot's Le salaire de la peur (The Wages of Fear) from 1953. Anyway, it's about a group of expatriates from various countries who, desperate for a way out of their inhospitable work conditions, take on the task of transporting unstable explosives through rough terrain. While the dehumanizing nature of capitalism is used only as a setup, the actual journey is incredibly tense. And indeed the dramatic poster shot is the pinnacle of tension and certainly worth seeing.

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Another Ten More Movies: June 2014 to July 2014

So here's the last 10 movies I watched …

  1. For No Good Reason at the Little, June 13: I went to see this documentary on Ralph Steadman, perhaps best known as Hunter S. Thompson's illustrator. In fact, the film centers on Steadman and Thompson's relationship most of all. While it's interesting to get to better understand what went on between those two at the time Thompson was so prolific, I found the most poignant moment was Steadman's realization that his lifelong goal to change the world had a substantially smaller effect than he (and his contemporaries) had hoped. I'm beginning to soften my own goals to save the world—from pollution, corruption, unfairness, and climate change—and hopefully save myself from later-years regrets. Nonetheless, although Steadman didn't stop war altogether, he helped redefine it. Consider that the images Steadman created and the words Thompson wrote were once relegated to a tiny niche, but are now virtually accepted as mainstream. As well, the ideas they conveyed are permeating the collective consciousness and are affecting change. Alas, slower than we'd like.
  2. The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer at the Dryden, June 17: I don't have a particularly strong opinion of Shirley Temple either way, but I figured I'd see what she did as she entered adulthood. Playing against Cary Grant's unscrupulous and charming womanizer, it's a rather good screwball comedy.
  3. My Name is Alan and I Paint Pictures at the Cinema, June 24: Alan "streets" Russell-Cowan is a painter who worked for a decade on the streets of New York City. He has been diagnosed with schizophrenia and is attempting to deal with it without medication—doctor-prescribed nor self-applied. As a documentary it's a bit unfocused. It goes scatter-shot trying to explain how challenging it is to be an artist in the modern world, and spends a fair amount of time letting doctors and fringe-art collectors opine on the art of people living without neurological normalcy. It also had some cheesy bits playing Alan's spartan, art-centered lifestyle against his conservative parents' wealth-driven ideology. In the end, I thought Alan's style was pretty interesting, and the film survives largely because of its interesting subject.
  4. Groundhog Day at the Dryden, June 28: It's been a long time since I saw this (dare I say) classic. For those who don't know, it's the story of a self-absorbed man who is mysteriously stuck reliving Groundhog Day over and over again. I find it very fascinating how the film can be so engaging and (largely) funny while at the same time being very bizarre and dark. Thankfully there are people as crazy as I am, and they estimated Phil is actually stuck in the same day for almost 34 years.
  5. Ida at the Little, June 30: It's about a woman who grew up as an orphan in a convent, and who is now about to take her vows to become a nun, when her family history throws a spanner in her faith [what's that about mixing metaphors before they hatch?] Although the story is bleak, the film is gently and elegantly paced.
  6. Obvious Child at the Little, June 30: Jenn and I stuck around for our own improvised double-feature and caught this pretty clever comedy. It's about a stand-up comic whose boyfriend leaves her, her workplace goes out of business, and then she's confronted with an unplanned pregnancy—hilarious, right? It actually is pretty engaging and funny.
  7. Snowpiercer at the Little, July 2: I had double-checked Rotten Tomatoes and confirmed a high rating before Jenn and I went to see this. Well, what the fuck? Decades after a failed overly successful attempt to reverse global warming plunges Earth into a global ice age, what remains of humanity is contained within a magic locomotive traversing the European and Asian land mass ever since. Numerous rearward passengers are tempted by the comparatively clean and content forward passengers and stage a revolt, fighting a videogame-like progression forward in the train. The unsurprising result is a parallel to our modern world's socioeconomic class stratification. Overall, I give it a "meh."
  8. Synth Britannia at the Memorial Art Gallery, July 18: Do you like synth-pop of the 1970's and 1980's? I sure do. So regardless, I enjoyed seeing bands I liked and 2009-era interviews with members thereof. As a documentary, it did a pretty good job explaining the evolution of all-electronic music. But the big notable hole is the lack of a music theory expert. While Simon Reynolds, an expert music critic, filled in the details of the social relevance and derivative interaction between bands, the film would have been helped by a music theory expert to help define "pop" as a musical style and where synthesizers fit in the history of musical instruments.
  9. July '64 at the Little, July 20: It's been a few years since I last saw it so I figured it was about time again—what with being four days shy of 50 years since Rochester's poorest neighborhood exploded in rebellion. I'll leave it to my prior review to explain the film. I'll add, though, that I think audiences are dumber because of Internet comments—the question-and-answer was more of a forum to ramble incoherently. The national guardsman who was personally involved offered some insight, but simply living in (or near) the city at that time is not interesting to anybody. And the guy who wanted to know about how Song of the South has been blocked from screening for 30 years—I would bet he is just a Disney shill drumming up interest. In all of it, though, the lack of coherency from the audience proves that no progress has been made to improve the poorest neighborhoods in Rochester.
  10. A Field in England at the Dryden, July 22: Jenn and I went to see this because it looked pretty interesting. I feel like I missed out on a lot because I didn't know enough about English folklore (although clued in to fairy rings and crossing a hedge row into another world during the introduction) and because I often couldn't decipher the thick, mumbled antiqued-English accents. Nonetheless, the style of storytelling, the cinematography, and the sound design were brilliant. The story is, when taken literally, rather bizarre and difficult to follow, but the allegorical tale makes a bit more sense—even with my handicaps.

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The 2014 Rochester Movie Makers' 72 Hour Mind 2 Movie Challenge

I read about the Rochester Movie Makers' 72 Hour Mind 2 Movie Challenge on their website and really wanted to give it a try. So when I mentioned it to Jenn, Ali, and Ted, they jumped at the chance. Ali and I went to the RCTV Studio on Thursday evening to get our packets. We had to make up a team name and after a few minutes, we settled on the pun "For Fools". (And, if there are any judges reading this, well, you should probably stop now to keep our team's entry as anonymous as it can be.) Continue reading

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The Next Last 10 Movies

This time I got a head start and got more diligent about this. Well, I did at the start anyway. So here's the last 10 movies I watched:

  1. The Internship at the Cinema, July 10: A very peculiar movie that takes the topic of job obsolescence, overlays it on a "plucky-underdogs" story, and sets it almost exclusively on the Google campus, and ends up making a reasonably believable argument for diversity in the workplace (not without flaws) that is actually rather funny.
  2. Fast & Furious 6 at the Cinema, July 10: The second half of the double feature was also a surprisingly adequate film. It's what you'd expect: incredibly elaborate car chases loosely stitched together with an absurd plot. Although I give it points for ethnic diversity, I take some away for failing the Bechdel/Wallace test (The Internship, too) since never do two women speak with one another about anything but men. Also, I thought it dumb that the women never fight the men in hand-to-hand combat; rather the few female characters are always paired up. Oh, and I also caught a couple references to Raiders of the Lost Ark of all things: a jeep plummeting into a ravine, and someone getting killed by airplane engine.
  3. Go West at the Dryden, July 17: A very funny silent film by Buster Keaton about a hapless guy who goes west to try and make a life for himself — and to earn the love of a cow. I was really impressed at the ingenuity and comedy that is still interesting and fresh after almost 90 years.
  4. The Magnificent Ambersons at the Dryden, July 31: Orson Welles wrote and directed this after Citizen Kane, although it was dramatically shortened by the studio. Nonetheless, it is a potent tale of greed overshadowing the love of life. Welles camera work and the complex set design left me exhausted at the end of it — there is so much information being shown that it's quite exhausting … but worth it.
  5. Bert Stern: Original Mad Man at the Dryden, August 1: A so-so documentary about an interesting guy. Self-deferential Bert Stern is one of the pioneers of advertising photography as we know it today: a vehicle for directed creativity tapping into dreams and fabricating desire. The documentary is uneven with a lot of rough edges, but the dynamic subject largely makes up for it. Museum director Bruce Barnes introduced the film: filmmaker Shannon Laumeister and her husband Bert Stern were scheduled to appear, but Stern passed away about a month ago.
  6. 20 Feet From Stardom at the Little, August 5: An intriguing documentary about the voices behind our favorite music — specifically, the girl-groups of the 1960's. It's a look at how talent is not what drives stardom, but, perhaps the ability to tolerate stardom.
  7. Forty Guns at the Dryden, August 13: An amazing film about a powerful woman who uses all her strengths — including her sexuality — to run a western town. But more than that, it's a condemnation of guns and killing. Barbara Stanwyck knocks it out of the park with her performance. I don't recall a more fully-formed powerful female lead in any other film. This is one I'll be talking about for years to come.
  8. Fruitvale Station at the Little, August 14: An incredibly powerful and moving portrait of the events leading up to the early morning of January 1, 2009 in Fruitvale Station, San Francisco, California. It reaffirmed my belief that all people are more complex than anyone can imagine. And it reaffirmed my belief that no good comes from the end of a gun.
  9. Mystery Science Theater 3000: Bride of the Monster at the Dryden, August 17: It was a little odd watching a DVD of a TV show that pokes fun at movies at the Dryden Theatre at the George Eastman House, but there you go. I remember watching these back when they were on cable and had the same uncanny experience: I had a great time for about the first 50 minutes, then felt as though I was trudging to the end for the remainder. Jenn said something similar. In any case, the episode was one of the better ones, highlighting a weird Chevrolet short called Hired before the infamous Ed Wood's film (which, in turn, was the centerpiece of the Ed Wood movie which, in turn, caused me pause when they innocuously quipped of a character on screen, "it's Johnny Depp" — the episode aired in early 1993 and the movie, starring Depp, was released in late 1994.) In any case, the musical reenactment of the entirety of "Hired" was a charming and funny sketch.
  10. 3.14… at the Cinema, August 19: Ok, this really should count as a half since it's not actually a released movie. It's the second edit of a film by some Rochester locals and an odd and ambitious one at that: exploring repetition, infinity, coincidences, and magic donkeys. This cut had its share of good and bad, but overall I liked it and look forward to its eventual release.

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The Last 10 Movies

A while back I started a blog post, figuring I'd do brief reviews and summaries of the last 10 movies I saw. At the time, I had seen 10 movies in 2013. Well, now that list has grown to 25(ish) films which seems like a nice round number too. I decided to just link to IMDb this time in case you want to find out more information rather than copying-and-pasting the pertinent details. Anyway, here goes:

Rust and Bone at the Cinema, February 14: I don't remember too much about this, except that it had a couple very well-realized, dysfunctional characters trying to maintain a relationship.
Side Effects at the Little Theatre, February 18: I seem to only remember the setup — that a new drug has unexpected side effects — but that there's some kind of twist, and that those side-effects have very little to do with the film. After reading some spoilers I was like, "oh yeah." Eh … it was pretty good.
2013 Oscar Nominated Animated Shorts at the Little Theatre, February 19: Jenn and I went to this one. I have come to refer to the "curse of the Little" that any time something important is happening, something inevitably goes wrong. We were running a little late, but the screening didn't start at the scheduled time. Ten minutes later, they started the originally scheduled movie (Silver Linings Playbook) instead. We all thought it was a trailer, but as the minutes ticked by, we came to realize it was the film. I told the clerk at the concession stand and they stopped it and started the shorts. But it wasn't over: during one of the subtler films, the soundtrack for the movie inexplicably started again. Once again, we had to go tell them. Anyway, the shorts were mostly mediocre. Jenn and I bet on what would win the Oscar — I correctly picked the Disney short (the typical Disney male-skewed story where "anonymous schlub likes skinny doe-eyed girl who naturally likes him back").
Django Unchained at the Cinema, March 17: An entertaining popcorn movie that was fun to watch. It could have been a bit shorter, I think: it's not like there was some kind of historical accuracy that needed to be maintained.
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly at the Dryden Theatre, March 22: Really the title says it all. But the cinematography was awesome, the music was wild, and the acting was brilliant.
The Wild World of Looney Tunes at the Dryden, March 23: An astonishingly poor selection of shorts. Did we really need to see two Tasmanian Devil cartoons with nearly the same plot?
The Suitor at the Dryden Theatre, April 2: An entertaining film by Pierre Étaix, although the shorts that preceded his films in this series were often more palatable. The Suitor gets a little tiring after a while, but stays funny and clever.
The Vanishing at the Dryden Theatre, April 4: A really excellent creepy thriller. The abductor is particularly memorable since he's made out to be pretty much a normal guy with a screw loose (albeit a massively important one).
Yoyo at the Dryden Theatre, April 9: A film by Pierre Étaix that acts as a bittersweet postscript to entertainment gone-by. In this case, it's the circus and clowning that is being forgotten, replaced by more modern entertainment like cinema, radio, and television.
The Place Beyond the Pines at the Little Theatre, April 15: I had to see this. I'm from Schenectady where the film was made, and I found out it was filmed in the neighborhood where I was born (Stanford Heights; I was born on Stanford Avenue in Niskayuna). Plus, one of the characters is named Jason. Anyway, the film is excellent: an elegant, long-term story that is brilliantly paced and engaging to watch.
Room 237 at the Dryden Theatre, April 18: I'm a sucker for documentaries about obsession. I assume everyone else can at least comprehend it, but I find it an alluring option in life that I can't quite bring myself to actually engage in. The film is about a small group of people obsessed with The Shining. Some have mapped out the rooms per the camera angles, finding impossible rooms; others perceive themes that may or may not be either intended or even present. Interpreting art is fickle anyway; this film was an enjoyable romp around paths less-travelled.
The Most Fun I've Ever Had With My Pants On at the Cinema, April 19: I got to see this as part of the High Falls Film Festival. I'm glad I did. It's a nice road-trip story with some great cinematography and a nice, gentle character arc.
The Girls in the Band at the Little Theatre, April 21: I shortcut the festival this year and hit up this (the Best of the Fest Documentary) along with the next film at the end. The Girls in the Band documents women in 20th century big bands — often added as a novelty, but all with a musical voice and talent separate from and on the same level as the men who so often shunned them.
Margarita at the Little Theatre, April 21: This was the festival's Best of the Fest Narrative — an enjoyable tale about family and immigration. The wit of the film makes it funny, but the humor seems to work unrelated to the seriousness of the issues. Anyway, since it's from a Canadian perspective, the tone is a bit different from what an American film would be about an immigrant nanny losing her job.
Reds at the Dryden, May 1: Oh man, this was awesome. It's so well-paced that the length is no bother at all. It's based on the true story of an American journalist who becomes enamored with Communism, and accurately portrays the multiple facets of it all. Best of all, it came out in 1981, during a resurgence of "Communist threat" and the era of Ronald Reagan and unrestricted greed.
Badlands at the Dryden, May 2: Having been recently introduced to Terrence Malick by Jenn, I was thoroughly impressed by his tale of young infatuation and foolishness. Just a beautiful film about the human condition.
The Fallen Idol at the Dryden, May 8: A brilliantly told tale of marital strife told subtly from the perspective of a child.
Days of Heaven at the Dryden, May 9: Another Malick film about the complexities of relationships. Also very good, but I think I liked Badlands more.
The Rules of the Game at the Dryden, May 29: A cleverly bleak view of the French bourgeoise — especially that they are fraught with a distinct absence of compassion.
The Tree of Life at the Dryden, May 30: A more recent Malick film that takes a nonlinear approach to try to tell the tale of every American upbringing. I think it mostly succeeds — the episodic nature that floats across a whole life gives it a dreamlike quality that let me fit my life into the story, even though almost none of what happens actually applies to me.
Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid at the Dryden, May 31: A technical achievement to place old film clips into a modern film seamlessly, but, like any such attempt, it grows tiring quickly. The biggest problem is that only the simplest, non-specific dialog from another film can be used, so the whole thing comes off pretty flat.
Kon-Tiki at the Little Theatre, June 3: This is the story of the attempt to sail a raft from ancient materials from South American to Polynesia. It felt like the movie tried to include a sample of every conflict, problem, surprise, and reward in the actual journey. As such, I felt it came off very bland.
The Reluctant Fundamentalist at the Cinema, June 16: I thought this was an excellent character-driven tale of a man who can't help but go where he's pushed. I also liked the aspect that it showed the "reverse-angle" view of the "infallible lawman" entertainment popular today where a team of well-funded experts use their technology to find and kill the bad guys. The film is kind of the long way of saying, "things are more complicated than that."
Starbuck at the Cinema, June 16: This one was about the lovable loser who turns his life around. The trouble is, I found the loser to be insufferable. It's one of the few times I left the theater in the middle of the film.
Bury My Heart with Tonawanda at the MAG, June 27: Somewhat well-known local film-goer and filmmaker Adrian Esposito wrote this film about a man with Downs Syndrome in the 1800's who finds help from the local Indians. It's ostensibly a true story and shot around Rochester. The trouble is, the acting and directing were pretty weak, making it feel like a made-for-TV movie. And it was shot on video and either has an overexposed look, or the MAG's projector was not configured properly. The story is pretty solid, if a bit simplistic, and overall it's pretty good.
Iron Man 3 at the Cinema, June 29: Jenn and I went to this ultimate popcorn movie. In all, I had a good time watching it … it was a fun, fluffy story. What I found especially fascinating was to see movie clichés and genre staples played unabashedly straight: with all my cinema nerdery I often see those things dismantled and betrayed, so it's kind of refreshing to see them in their natural environment.

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