Movies in November, 2015 featuring Nine to Five, Lime Kiln Club Field Day, The Bad News Bears, The Lennon Report, Far From Vietnam, Bridge of Spies, and more

I saw quite a few movies this month, partly because I added in some of the movies watched at home. In any case, here we go!:

  1. Nine to Five on DVD at home, November 3: Although I saw this at the Dryden a few years ago, I never reviewed it, so here's that review of when Jenn and I settled in to watch it. In short, it's a hilarious comedy that brilliantly lays out the benefits of workplace equality and workers rights. Lily Tomlin plays Violet, a secretary at Consolidated Companies who's assigned a new hire, Judy (Jane Fonda). Most of the women in the office despise their boss, Franklin—brilliantly played by Dabney Coleman to be a humorous, cartoonish exaggeration of a "sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot". And they sneer at the apparent affair he's having with his busty secretary Doralee (Dolly Parton). When Violet is passed up for a long-deserved promotion, she, Judy, and Doralee half-hatch, half-stumble into a bizarre plot to turn the office around. It's all a wild and fun ride that has all the comeuppance one could want.
  2. Wait Until Dark on DVD at home, November 6: Jenn and I revisited this popular old film. It's still tense and interesting, but neither of us could quite get over the extraordinarily convoluted plot by the bad guys. It's almost plausible that Alan Arkin's bizarre sadist Roat would have been amused by it, but even he was too practical.
  3. Lime Kiln Club Field Day at the Dryden, November 10: I was quite amazed and impressed by this presentation of 1913 footage of "the earliest known surviving feature with a cast of black actors" (according to the Dryden calendar). Since it was incomplete, the story had some gaps, but the gist was there and it was rather amusing. I'd like to draw attention to Bert Williams—the star of the film (in black-face among his unadulterated costars, ostensibly to make the film amenable to white audiences of the time)—who was as much a multidisciplinary virtuoso as the more well-known Duke Ellington. (And I can't omit a mention of the dazzling beauty Odessa Warren Grey, capably playing his love interest.) The film was reconstructed by MoMA Associate Curator Ron Magliozzi, and Preservation Officer Peter Williamson from seven untitled reels of unassembled negative footage from a 1939 acquisition from the Biograph studio upon its closure. Although a print was struck in 1976, it wasn't until 2014 that the footage was analyzed and assembled into a sort-of working print.
  4. The Bad News Bears on DVD at home, November 12: I didn't sell the film well enough, but Jenn agreed to watch. We both enjoyed it a lot—both of us under the mistaken belief that it's film for kids. It's actually more of a tale of redemption for the drunk, washed up, ex-baseball-player coach Butterworth, played perfectly by Walter Matthau. And it's funny. And the kids are all great—a rare treat in a movie with a lot of them.
  5. Tea & Cake (Kirsty Robinson, U.K. 2015, 92 min.) at the Little, November 13: Jenn and I stopped by this film at the High Falls Film Festival. I thought it was overall good, but quite uneven. Some of the color correction and cinematography were lacking, and the film was full of way too many ideas at once. Generations, friends, coming-of-age, growing up, moving out, the reality of one's dream job, one's visible life versus their internal life, tragedies, aging parents, and self-image all crammed into one movie.
  6. Odd Brodsky at the Little, November 14: Jenn liked this selection from the High Falls Film Festival more than I did. While I couldn't fault it for having a good heart—the story of trying, failing, and flailing in L.A.'s entertainment mecca—I didn't care for the bland characters and underwhelming story. On the technical side, while production values were generally quite high (especially in cinematography), much of the audio was ADR with the distracting artificiality of a studio recording.
  7. Bob Roberts at home on DVD, November 15: It was hard for me to watch this as its a little to close to reality … in it, a slick politician wins the hearts of voters through a campaign that celebrates greed and disparity. Written, directed by, and starting Tim Robbins, his political leanings antithetical to his character were glaringly obvious.
  8. The Lennon Report at the Little, November 16: Select as the winning narrative of the High Falls Film Festival, I decided to check it out. Its a great film that documents in near-real-time the sad and solitary events as John Lennon died from the gunshot wounds that cut his life short. When I heard about it at the festival, I thought it was a documentary as the filmmakers did extensive research into the events, interviewing everyone involved. As such, it's got a procedural feel to it, but somehow the lives of everyone involved make for compelling, rich characters.
  9. Underground at the Dryden, November 18: Having seen the recent documentary about the Weather Underground, I was curious to see what the members had to say at (what was to be) toward the end of their active period. The five interviewees formed what was the bulk of the most radical arm of a progressive organization, active in the early 1970s. After three of their friends were killed making bombs, they rethought their actions and decided to destroy property while (successfully) not injuring or killing anyone. Their ideas—that human beings have right to their lives, that the imperialist stance of America was wrong, and that the capitalist system that forced people to wallow in poverty was wrong—still ring true today. And that's when I realized I had lost hope. Here were these young people, fully believing in the possibility of revolution in America, had no idea that the election of Ronald Regan just five years out would result in inequalities and injustices for the next 35 years and counting. All they had worked for was for naught as it would be swept away in the coming decades.
  10. Smokey and the Bandit at home on DVD, November 19: I've been curious to revisit this odd film from the 1970s that was one of a couple of films at the center of the CB craze. Burt Reynolds plays The Bandit alongside his buddy Snowman played by country music star Jerry Reed, and against Jackie Gleason's hilariously over-the-top racist sheriff. The story is ridiculously simple—written by stuntman friend of Reynolds Hal Needham—The Bandit is bet he can't bootleg 800 cases of beer across state lines in under 28 hours. He and Snowman barrel through the highway and meet a young woman on the run from her planned marriage (Sally Field). As simple as it is, it's actually a goofy fun little movie.
  11. Sliding Doors on DVD at home, November 20: I saw this many years ago and remembered it was fairly good (according to IMDb's oddly detailed ratings, I gave it a 5/10 on May 22, 1999), but I have a "policy" that all reviews older than 10 years are invalid and this is no exception. The premise is fascinating: imagine if we could see what happens when some inconsequential event causes a major change in one's life? The execution, however, is severely lacking. Gwyneth Paltrow plays Helen who, after getting fired from her job, just misses a subway train / just catches a subway train home. As such, she is unaware / finds out about an affair her boyfriend is having (a discount Hugh Grant) and her life is suddenly changed. The rest of the film follows both lives until eventually reverting back to one story. The problem is the story is rather inane. Her boyfriend has no redeeming qualities yet inexplicably earns the undying love of two very attractive women; and although the other woman's story is unexplored, Helen is at least also successful. And both Helen and her boyfriend each have best friends whose functions are as sounding boards for their lives. So unfortunately most of the movie both Jenn and I were left wondering, "who cares?" and "why wasn't Paltrow's character just made an American so she could avoid that embarrassing fake accent?"
  12. A Manly Man and My Best Girl at the Dryden, November 24: The short "A Manly Man" was terrible, albeit only shown as an example of Mary Pickford's earliest work. My Best Girl was much better. Pickford was introduced by her carrying pots from a stockroom. As she walked, she dropped some and kept bending and picking them up—all the while a don't see her face … a clever and amusing way to introduce the star. The story was refreshingly mature and Pickford's love interest was well defined. I really did understand her appeal … at one point I found myself reading her lips and suddenly confronted by the reality of her having been alive and vibrant. It was kind of a weird, brief moment of pseudo connection.
  13. Loin du Vietnam (Far From Vietnam) at the Dryden, November 25: A very difficult movie for me to watch, it's a film showing the tumultuous opinions about the Vietnam War at its height. Although there were a few disturbing images, the most challenging parts had to do with the absolute futility of changing the minds of people who support war. One segment was basically a frustrated monologue, centering on the duality of living a privileged life that is predicated on the spills of past war that rang painfully true.
  14. Me and the Boys and Bachelor's Affairs at the Dryden, November 27: Jenn and I checked out this second installment in the UCLA Film Preservation program. The short was quite entertaining—just a couple songs performed by a jazz band (that apparently included an uncredited 20-year-old Benny Goodman on clarinet). Bachelor's Affairs was also rather entertaining. It's about a "middle-aged playboy" who is tricked into "marrying a beautiful but vacuous young blonde, after her older sister has expertly set the bait". It was fun, witty, and ribald, just as promised.
  15. Pulp Fiction at the Dryden, November 28: What a treat for Jenn and I to see a nice clean 35mm print of this defining Quentin Tarantino classic. I remember when I saw this (I think when it came out) and I had a hard time with the then-new-to-me non-linear, interrelated storylines involving a couple hitmen, their boss, a boxer, and a couple petty thieves. It really deserves its praise as all facets of the viewing experience are top notch, making the 2½ hour run-time paced perfectly.
  16. Bridge of Spies at the Cinema, November 30: I headed out to see the biopic double-feature starting with one about a New York lawyer who's selected to defend an unpopular, captured Soviet spy during the heart of the Cold War. With affable Tom Hanks as the lawyer, our affection for him is automatically assured (although I'm sure there are some Hanks haters out there who'd disagree). And Steven Spielberg gives a light touch to his trademark style, allowing the story to speak for itself with only a few heavy-handed metaphors. It turns out this real-life lawyer has a knack for negotiations and diplomacy and is invited to negotiate a spy-for-spy trade which he tries to leverage into a 2-for-1 deal. Overall it's an enjoyable movie to watch and offers a view of someone I never knew existed.
  17. Steve Jobs at the Cinema, November 30: In the second film, Michael Fassbender does his best to emulate Steve Jobs—the founder of Apple Computers who was infamously difficult to work with—but doesn't manage to convey the depth and totality of thought that I've come to understand Jobs had. Unfortunately, the meticulous reconstruction of Apple product releases overshadows the flimsy three-act story. In other words, if you had no idea of the cultural significance of Apple, Macintosh, and NeXT, the film would seem like a flat "so what?" Yeah, Jobs is an incessant jerk to the talented people all around him. So what? He had a challenging relationship with his oldest ally Steve Wozniak (underwhelmingly played by Seth Rogen). So what? Product launches are stressful. So what? And he was a lousy family man, treating his daughter and her mother like nuisances. So what? The whole thing really failed to come together.

587 total views, no views today

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.

744 total views, no views today

Movies in July, 2015 including The Wicker Man, Me & Earl & the Dying Girl, and Amy

  1. Me & Earl & the Dying Girl at the Little, July 1: Jenn, Ali, and I thought this would be an okay film to check out. It's a smart teen movie (that is, quite enjoyable by adults too) about Greg, whose mother forces him to visit a dying classmate, Rachel, but all he really wants to do is to make short films with his friend Earl. The thing I think was most pleasing is that Greg is a clumsy teen who makes painful-to-watch mistakes. The relationships between the three seem pretty organic and natural and the story is interesting enough. Oh yeah, the beginning … with its Greg-centered exposition, is not so hot … but it gets much better after that.
  2. Shorts Made for the Theaters at the Dryden, July 15: Jenn and I both enjoy short films. This program was treasures from the Eastman House archives which were designed for a cinema audience. Kicking off, Popeye Makes a Movie was quite hilarious. Then Paramount News Review 1938: A Year of Contrast was a laden with U.S. nationalism as WWII began. This Theatre and You, the later Let's Go to the Movies, and History Brought to Life were each slightly boring essays on how movies work and are made—the latter being borderline offensive in its claim to historical realism in fictional films.  The History and Development of the 35mm Projector was an interesting history lesson on early 35mm projector development.  The Film That Was Lost was an interesting early film promoting motion picture preservation—I'm still not clear on the 20-year lifespan of cellulose-based film and how we have originals from way more than 20 years ago. Finally, Dancing in the Street was a production made by Kodak that was a cringe-worthy 1980s music video for the version of that song done by Mick Jagger and David Bowie for the Live Aid benefit concert.
  3. Trudno byt bogom (Hard to Be a God) at the Dryden, July 14: Jenn and I were both interested in this film touted as being made by "legendary Russian auteur Aleksej German". It's ostensibly about an Earthling scientist who lives on the planet Arkanar, stuck in a parallel to Earth's middle ages except without the benefit of a Renaissance on the horizon. As Jurij Meden noted in his introduction, the film is a parable for life under communism in the Soviet Union, and, lacking a linear story, it is more of an experience. Once Jenn and I had enough of the experience—a mere hour into its 170 minute runtime—we left. It was indeed an impressive work but we didn't feel the need to stay for the whole thing.
  4. Mad Max: Fury Road at the Cinema, July 20: I kept hearing good things about this so I figured I'd hit up the double feature. It's an entertaining action movie with lots and lots of driving going on. What I found most impressive was its ability to handily pass the Bechdel/Wallace Test as even the somewhat minor "damsels in distress" characters are well thought-out and not simply interchangeable trophies as is too often the case.
  5. Lambert and Stamp at the Cinema, July 20: Following that, I stayed for the documentary about the managers for The Who, Kit Lambert and Christopher Stamp. As I'm not a huge Who fan, the documentary seemed to ramble a lot, especially toward the end. And it probably could have been better called "Kit Lambert and the Who" as it was largely about Lambert (who died in 1981). Unfortunately, the archival footage seemed to be rather sparse, so lots of reminiscing filled the bloated 117 minute running time.
  6. The Wicker Man—Final Cut at the Dryden, July 25: Jenn went to revisit, and I to see for the first time this genre-improving horror film. It's about a devoutly Christian police officer investigating the reported disappearance of a 12-year-old girl on a remote island inhabited exclusively by Pagans. The officer tries to retain his composure but is horrified by the nudity and sexuality of the islanders, and especially their willingness to allow children to witness their natural lives. The film's conclusion is a potent capstone to an amazingly interesting story. I got the impression that we were to strongly empathize (er … empathise as this is a British film) with the Christian morals of the cop. The 1973 original date could be rooted in conservatism or in hippie liberation, and a bit of searching the Internet didn't reveal any original critics' reactions so I'm not sure.
  7. Amy at the Little, July 28: Jenn and I went to see this because it looked kind of interesting. I knew very little of Amy Winehouse save for the mocking she received from comedians in the early 2000s for her drug and alcohol abuse. The film offers a heaping of empathy through the spectral glimpse we can see in archival and personal footage. Her singing style was unique, and her commitment to music was unparalleled, making her seem like one of those people who are just ablaze with talent. I got the impression she tried to show a composed, controlled demeanor, but the veneer was particularly thin and her opinions easily punched through it. She was also not quite ready to be in the spotlight; the hounding by paparazzi was disheartening, especially the glimpses of the worst of a thousand photoflashes rendering the night a stroboscopic minefield. In the end, I guess the film reminded me to never make fun of people you know nothing about.
  8. Grey Gardens at the Dryden, July 29. Jenn had already seen this so I went by myself … it's about aging Edie Bouvier Beale, and her elderly mother Edith Bouvier Beale who live in a mansion in East Hampton. Albert Maysles, and David Maysles were to make a documentary about their wealthy relatives, but when they found the two during research, they changed plans. The most common and roughly-fitting adjective is "eccentric" as the mansion is in a decades-long state of disrepair and the two appear to solely live on the property along with numerous cats. Despite outward appearances, they seem to be content with their lifestyle. As documentary subjects, they didn't have much to say—but that didn't stop their domestic banter, making for a virtually surreal viewing experience.

898 total views, 1 views today

Movies in June, 2015 featuring The Wolfpack, Pack Up Your Sorrows, and Love & Mercy

Better late than never … I finally finished up June's movies halfway through July. Yeesh! Here we go:

  1. Pack Up Your Sorrows at the Cinema, June 2: I saw this as part of the Reel Reel Mind Film Festival this year. It's an essay film about depression and bipolar disorder centering on the personal journey of folk singer Meg Hutchinson. I found Hutchinson to be an engaging subject, and her interviews with friends, family, and medical professionals were well-executed and often filled with beautifully poignant honesty. As a film I thought it was rather lackluster: I tired of voice-overs and musical interludes as Hutchinson walked alone on woodsy paths, and I found the use of no fewer than three cameras—each with different frame-rates and lenses—to be highly distracting (particularly the judder introduced either by a frame-rate mismatch or just low-quality equipment.) Thankfully the audio synchronization was only occasionally an issue, unlike the painful-to-watch/hear trailer on Vimeo.
  2. Lies I Told My Little Sister at the Little, June 4: This was part of the "Best of the Fests" series and I figured I'd give it a shot. I paid little heed to anything about it, pretty much knowing only that it was one of the top two films in one of the three festivals in town (so they're showing 6 films total.) It's about two adult sisters (including the family of one) and their mother after the death of their eldest sister. The film attempted to tell a story of growth and forgiveness and of the randomness of living and of dying. Unfortunately the script—while far better than average—wasn't adequately honed. From little things like a new puppy that just disappears for the rest of the film to bigger things like dialog between characters being obviously written from one writer's perspective (where dialog is basically just two people expressing the solitary viewpoint of the author.) As for the rest of the cinematic experience, everything else was professionally done with just a few exceptions. In all it was a pretty good film.
  3. Love & Mercy at the Little, June 9: Neither Jenn nor I knew much of the life of Brian Wilson save for the fact that The Beach Boys seemed to be a popular 1960s group that vanished, and the Barenaked Ladies' name-titled song that mentions Wilson's breakdown. Wilson suffered from mental illness that both assisted his musical genius, but ultimately overwhelmed his ability to deal with reality. Paul Dano did an outstanding job as the younger Wilson, demonstrating a range from subtle social awkwardness to fits of creative mania, but Paul Giamatti nearly steals the show as an oppressive therapist. And the story is just fascinating—although both of us are fully aware that it's just a story that took numerous liberties with the real-life of Brian Wilson to fit into a 2-hour movie.
  4. I'll See You in My Dreams at the Little, June 12: Jenn and I picked this one on a whim as it looked fairly good out of the Little's line-up. It's about an older, retired woman whose life gets shaken after her aging dog passes away, and two new men enter her life. I found the writing to be outstanding as the themes of the randomness of life and death permeated throughout.
  5. Angst vor der Angst (Fear of Fear) at the Dryden, June 18: I don't think I ever saw a Rainer Werner Fassbinder film, so I figured I'd give this one a shot. It was very good—about a woman who suffers from anxiety with no obvious source. Margit Carstensen's portrayal of Margot was spot-on: neither too subdued nor too overt, but clearly the character had deep-seated issues. The only visual clue was her point-of-view shots with a watery distortion, but the unusual camerawork put the audience at unease with bizarre motions between characters, split faces, and copious mirrors on set.
  6. The Wolfpack at the Little, June 26: Jenn and I didn't even realize this was a documentary, although it's so incredible that we have our doubts afterward. It's about 6 brothers (and one sister who's not really included in the film) who were secluded by their parents (but mostly their father) in a Manhattan apartment for their entire lives, save for up to several days each year for very limited excursions. As the film's descriptions often mention, the kids design elaborate costumes and make their own video versions of their favorite movies. Apparently the seclusion was dictated by their father, Oscar Angulo, a Peruvian immigrant, who had a fiercely humanist lifestyle that was the antithesis of the work-centric ethics of his adopted country. I found it very fascinating for a couple reasons. First is how Oscar Angulo built what is effectively a small cult and managed to keep it intact for over ten years—perhaps his secret lies in its inherently family-based size, and in the anonymity of New York City apartment buildings. The other thing was how some elements of his philosophy—for instance that people aren't meant to toil frivolously to survive—are really quite true. And I think through the truths imbedded in his astonishingly strange lifestyle, he managed to create an environment for his children that made them all rather well-adjusted and reasonably prepared to deal with life in the world around them. All that said, he was not shown as a positive figure—rather, he was a quietly domineering father whose alcohol abuse and deep-seated laziness resulted in his wife, Susanne Angulo, carrying the burden of all the home-schooling and household maintenance (although the kids seemed eager and able to prepare their own meals.) The whole thing seemed like a real version of the fictional Kynodontas (Dogtooth).

803 total views, no views today

Movies in May, 2015

  1. Portrait of Jennie at the Dryden, May 2: Jenn and I went to see this as part of the Eastman House's Nitrate Picture Show. It's an well-written tale of star-crossed lovers—or perhaps just an artist's delusion.
  2. Salad Days: A Decade of Punk in Washington, DC (1980-90) at the Cinema, May 4: I got to see this very good documentary about—well, just look at the title. I found it quite inspiring because it defies the American experience that making art/things/a difference is only for exceptional people—punk lets people know that creativity is natural and available to anyone. Plus, it reminded me of my days seeing bands at the Bug Jar.
  3. The Clouds of Sils Maria at the Little, May 6: Jenn and I weren't sure about this one based on what we saw about the reviews. Fortunately, we both found it to be an engaging and interesting movie. realistic characters, good depth. It follows an actress, Maria Enders (Juliette Binoche) and her young assistant Valentine (Kristen Stewart) as they travel to an awards ceremony, and then how Maria gets involved with a remake of a film that launched her career except she would now be playing the older woman who's driven to suicide by he younger peer. The methodical pacing and fair treatment of all characters was well executed and worthwhile. And I'm sufficiently out of touch to have not noticed numerous pop-culture references and jokes that seem to have annoyed other reviewers.
  4. Wall Street at the Dryden, May 7: Apparently, when the film opened in 1987, audiences were drawn to the charismatic Gordon Gekko played by Michael Douglas even though it was clear we were supposed to sympathize with Martin Sheen's level-headed salt-of-the-earth Carl Fox (father of Charlie Sheen and character Bud Fox, respectively.) Today's sociopolitical climate is a bit different, though, and Gekko seemed more like the arrogant sociopath hedonist he was intended to be. In all it was an interesting movie of the 1980s that encapsulates the mood of the era quite well.
  5. Avengers: The Age of Ultron at Regal Cinema Culver Ridge, May 9: Jenn wanted to go see this and I figured I'd give it a shot. It was my first modern 3D movie and the effect was as good as I think is possible, but I still didn't feel like if I had seen the movie in 2D that I would have regretted it. Probably because I'm not a Marvel aficionado, I found a lot of the film to be quite boring. I felt like I was being lackadaisically and mechanically dragged through a story solely to get to the next dazzling special effects showcase. The effects were kind of cool, I guess, but they're still there as demonstration rather than by necessity.
  6. An Honest Liar at the Little, May 12: James "The Amazing" Randi is a magician and an evangelist against charlatanism. His fundamental belief is that magic and trickery are wonderful for entertainment, but vile when used to trick people into falsehoods. The documentary, interestingly, revealed more about Randi's life than I knew before, but then again, all I knew him as was a master debunker. During the videoconference question-and-answer, I asked Randi if there was danger in relying too much on science, intending to key in on the notion of "true believers" who reflexively shut out all opposing viewpoints. He certainly missed that point and unfortunately responded as a true-believer in science. Then again, he's well into his 80s and it was rather late, so I can imagine he might not have been at his sharpest.
  7. The Trespasser at the Dryden, May 15: Jenn and I got a chance to see this very early "talkie". I found the camera work—particularly its sweeping camera moves—to be excellent and with a modern feel. The characters were deep and their relationships were very natural and honest-seeming. An early scene had two waking lovers lounging together in the most natural way—and a way that would soon be banned by the Hays censorship codes just a year later.
  8. Félix and Meira at the Little, May 16: Jenn and I saw the preview for this and thought it looked pretty good. I appreciated the gentle, metered pacing more than Jenn although both of us liked the movie overall. Félix is a man adrift at life, dealing with the impending death of his father; Meira is a married woman in a devout Jewish household who longs to express herself. They meet serendipitously and are immediately intrigued by one another. I think the thing I appreciated most was, as the story unfolds, each of the main characters is revealed to be not as simple as they first appear. And I was able to let the overarching story rise above my disdain for the religious misogyny—I'm sure if it concerned me I could equally forgive Félix's slacker lifestyle, or Meira's childlike naïveté.
  9. Rocks in my Pockets at the Cinema, May 19: I got a chance to see this animated feature from the charming Latvian/American filmmaker Signe Baumane. It is nearly a documentary about Baumane's family's history of mental illness—particularly suicidal depression, but told in a remarkably frank and surprisingly humorous way. Her accounts of her own depression and the personal, details of the experiences of her family are very honest and interesting. The remainder of the film, though, is somewhat uneven, spending a lot of time on seemingly inconsequential family history and on her eldest kin's stonewalling that haunts more recent generations. Nonetheless, in totality, it paints a remarkable picture. Plus, Baumane herself was vivacious and engaged the audience with a few of her paper mâche rocks and a movie-quiz contest for several of the 30,000 hand-drawn frames.
  10. Night Nurse at the Dryden, May 22: Jenn and I got to see this early Barbara Stanwyck film made before the Hays censorship codes were enforced. Karen Noske introduced the film and mentioned how shocking some of the the scenes were (even to modern audiences), and how many double entendres they used. Unfortunately, I missed all the double entendres and didn't really find it "shocking". Nonetheless, it's kind of an odd movie and worth checking out. Stanwyck plays a newly hired night-nurse at a hospital where she sees disturbing injuries and is under constant scrutiny by the head nurse. She gets an assignment taking care of a couple sick children but discovers something amiss. I say the film is kind of odd because the whole central plot about the children felt like it was added on in the middle; as if the writers suddenly learned that a story works better if there's some kind of conflict. In any case, there's a scene where Stanwyck shows her power, ferociously standing up to a man (an early role by Clark Gable of all people). The thing that I thought special was she never flinched and it seemed like Gable was genuinely afraid, having a hard time not backing down—most actors I've seen tend to flinch in deference, if only for a split second.
  11. Iris at the Little, May 27: Jenn mentioned this film and wanted to see it so I went along with virtually no information beforehand. It's an expertly shot documentary by Albert Maysles about octogenarian fashion designer Iris Apfel—the "rare bird of fashion" and self-described "geriatric starlet." As would be obvious to anyone who's seen me, fashion is not something I aspire towards, so it takes a lot for me to notice. While I found Apfel's designs interesting, I'm not grabbed by them; her personal style, though, would certainly draw my attention and earns my respect. Overall it's nice to find someone whose vibrancy and grace is a model for drinking deeply from life.
  12. Occupy the Farm at the Little, May 28: I wanted to see this documentary about people in a fairly poor neighborhood in San Francisco who attempt to claim designated agricultural land before it was ruined and turned into commercial development. I think I was the only one in the audience who was not inspired. Rather than see hope in the "regular people valiantly take on the aristocracy" story, I could see clearly the fact that three old, rich white guys were equal to a community of 10,000 people, and that industry, police, the government, places of higher learning—every pillar of hierarchical authority—have been gleefully conquered by the ideology of greed. So aside from that kind of cynical diatribe, I prefer to wallow in my pit of gloom and quietly offer whatever support I can from the sidelines, hoping to not derail the optimism and strength that is the only possibility for a better world.
  13. Furious Seven at the Cinema, May 30: I was looking for something to do and thought I'd be as amused by this car-chase installment as I was the last one. I was a bit bored at times between car chases, but overall entertained—I will freely admit my standards are extremely low for this kind of film, so I forgive a whole lot of inanity. When I wasn't watching the ridiculously contrived scenes of automotive trickery, I amused myself trying to imagine how this could be written as satire. Unable to improve upon the mind-numbing dialog, I wondered if the Furious films are actually self-contained satire: I laughed out loud at least twice at the absurd events that transpired in the form of a "plot", and at one point out-loud asked for more car chases when I was bored with the dragging interpersonal developments. And aside from the comically sexist presentation of women (although admittedly some of the men are exceptional physical specimens), this film would pass the Bechdel/Wallace Test.
  14. Insurgent at the Cinema, May 30: I knew nothing of this film until I started watching and swear I saw a parody trailer or scathing review but just can't find it. It didn't bother me that this is the sequel to Divergent since the simple storyline was pretty easy to pick up. What did bother me was the "young adult" writing style which is basically "this makes no sense but instead of fixing it we'll call it 'young adult'". I gather in the film you get a personality test that fits you into one of five kinds of people unless, you know, you're human and actually are not a perfect fit into any one group—but that makes you "divergent" which means that you are special and a hunted underdog. Oooh! Just like, you know, everybody watching the film. Seriously: young adult does not need to mean "garbage"—please! After I ran out of popcorn, I decided that anything else was better to do so I left. Not even Shailene Woodley's short haircut I adore so much could keep me in that theater.

958 total views, no views today

Movies in October 2014

So here's the movies I watched in October:

  1. The Dog at the Little, October 11: This was the first of two movies I was able to see at this year's ImageOut Film Festival. It's a documentary about John Wojtowicz who became famous for robbing a bank to pay for his lover's sex-change operation in 1975—the basis for the film Dog Day Afternoon. Wojtowicz was an affable and funny guy, although with a fierce and gender-ambivalent sex drive. I tend to believe what he says as true (embellishments aside), and through that I learned he was quite the ally of the gay movement in the 1970's. It's a documentary deserving of a look.
  2. A Trip to Italy at the Cinema, October 16: Jenn and I caught this just before it closed at the Cinema. I didn't have high expectations as I had heard it described as "Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon have fancy meals in Italy together." Their chemistry and apparent improvisation that begins the film lulled me in to believing it as an ostensibly true document (although, to be completely honest, I was a bit surprised by some fancy camera work while they were driving.) But as the plot thickens, so-to-speak, a heartfelt pathos is revealed and it becomes a bit of a document of "playboys past their prime". I found it especially poignant as they observed some pretty young women and one quips that "now they just look through us […] we are no longer a threat"—I had observed how I can become a ghost at bars these days, floating through without being so much as looked at.
  3. The Drop at the Cinema, October 11: We both stayed for the second feature about a bartender lured in to the illegal side of the bar where he works. Given the fluidity and chemistry displayed in A Trip to Italy, the wordsmithy script was readily apparent. The barely likeable Bob was matched to even less likeable characters. I found myself way too ahead of the film, or at least clued-in to the key points long before they were revealed as a surprise. Contrived situations aside, the wordsmithiness makes for a perfectly acceptable story and an interesting movie to watch. It just has its weaknesses. Jenn had further noticed that Tom Hardy played Bob and Coogan and Brydon relentlessly and hilariously mocked Hardy's mumbling speaking style.
  4. Appropriate Behavior at the Little, October 17: Jenn and I went to the other ImageOut Film Festival film festival tonight. It's the tale of falling in and out of love too fast and maintains a cunning and funny wit all throughout. Our only complaint is that the lead character Shirin's love interest Maxine seemed kind of cruel and unlikeable, so it was hard to believe in any severity to the breakup, and although real love is strange, movie love needs to be believable.
  5. Little Accidents at the Little, October 25: Jenn and I went to see this as part of the High Falls Film Festival. It's about the people in a mining town where one man survives a major mining accident. Jenn thought it was quite good but I found it contrived. It was as if I could feel the writer's backspace key: "… his younger brother saw [backspace][backspace][backspace] who had Down's syndrome saw …" (at least the actor really did have Down's, so kudos to that.) Unlikely people pair up solely because it's convenient to the plot. The pedant in me had some fits as well, like when talking to the police about a child gone missing, the mother doesn't bother mentioning a substantial event until she's about to leave, again solely for the sake of the writing but wholly incongruous with reality.
  6. The Shining in Hoyt Auditorium on the UofR Campus, October 31: Despite an astonishingly bad digital projection (did Kubrick really intend for a lot of saturated fuchsia, muddy contrast, and a clunky judder on every panning shot?), this film sure stands the test of time. It's about a couple with a young boy who act as caretakers of a huge, desolate resort through the winter. Most people already know the basic plot, but I'm giving the benefit of the doubt since this is the first time I ever saw it—despite being quite a film buff. I was stunned at how gripping the tension was, and how amazing all the performances were. And despite the lousy projection and sound (making it seem like the videotape of a community theater production), the story was thoroughly disturbing. I also appreciated the brilliant methodical pacing which was spot-on perfect—a lesser film would have seemed draining and insufferably long by comparison.

2,040 total views, no views today

Ten More Movies: January 2014 to March 2014

So here's the last 10 movies I watched …

  1. Inside Llewyn Davis at the Little, January 29: Jenn and I got a chance to see this with her mom. Jenn was looking forward to the latest Coen Brothers' movie and I thought it looked good enough. It's another great film if you like live music. And if you are an artist or know artists—musicians particularly—you'll certainly recognize the duality of their lives: to others, they seem to be ego maniacal jerks, and within themselves, they suffer the (socially acceptable) indignity of having their creative vision treated like some kind of worthless communal property.
  2. Bettie Page Reveals All at the Dryden, January 31: Jenn and I saw this together as we were both interested in Page's life, but as a documentary, I found it lacking. Perhaps it was because, while I think Bettie Page is pretty and I think she's unique in being the canonical example of a pin-up girl, I don't think of her as some sort of magical being outside the realm of humanity. Unfortunately, the filmmakers were dazzled by her. So I guess if you're dazzled by Page, you might adore the film more. Anyway, both Jenn and I were fascinated by Page's central interview. I couldn't help but think there was something she was omitting. It wasn't until much later that I realized it was her: she never spoke of her own aspirations or motivations, only about what happened to her, as if she were simply a passive party to her own life. In some ways, that's the most interesting thing about her as a person, and something the documentary makers seem to have ignored.
  3. Is the Man Who Is Tall Happy? at the Dryden, February 11: Ted, Jenn, and I went to see this animated feature by Michel Gondry as he interviews Noam Chomsky. Although I admire Chomsky, I often find his densely intellectual sentences daunting. Gondry plays against this—plays the fool if you will—to great effect, slowing the flow of Chomsky's wisdom into digestible pieces.
  4. The Straight Story at the Dryden, February 20: Overall I enjoyed this (true) tale of a man who travels by riding lawnmower to visit his estranged brother. I'm not sure if it was solely perception, but I noticed David Lynch's cinematic affectations very much at the beginning of the film (e.g. slowly tracking to a window on the side of a house) but by the end, I didn't notice them at all (e.g. frighteningly aggressive-seeming vehicular traffic).
  5. Trouble Every Day at the Wexner Center for the Arts, Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio, February 22: Jenn, her friend Heather Wetzel, Ali, Ted, and I saw this on a group trip to Columbus. As I was watching, I was acutely aware of the feeling I was going insane. Jenn compared it to Possession which I found to be a similarly impenetrable film, somewhat about an abusive relationship. It's got the methodical, deliberate pacing of a French (or Italian—see La grande bellezza, below) film as it outlines a bizarre condition or illness that causes people to behave, ostensibly, like vampires.
  6. Jack Goes Boating at the Little, February 28: This was the only one of the films in the Little's Philip Seymour Hoffman Tribute series that I went to see, and lo, I had seen it before—when it was released, actually. Nonetheless, it was interesting to watch it one more time. It's the story of a couple middle-aged people mired in each of jeir own neuroses who try to date, mirrored against the seemingly "normal" relationship between Jack's friend John and Connie's friend Lucy.
  7. Her at the Cinema, March 1: Jenn and I went to see this together and since the double-feature totaled well over 4 hours, we opted to watch this as a matinée. In case you haven't heard the rough plot outline, it's about a writer who falls in love with his computer's new, artificially-intelligent operating system. There are so many ways this could have gone terribly badly—as a movie, I mean—but Spike Jonze managed to avoid all the many possible pitfalls in both his writing and directing. The operating system, named Samantha, is amiable and its relationship with Theodore is downright believable. Even the conclusion is as reasonably satisfying as can be expected.
  8. La grande bellezza (The Great Beauty) at the Cinema, March 4: I had been looking forward to seeing this since before I missed it at the Dryden. I've been trying to describe it for some time now. What seems most satisfying is that it is a methodical meditation on what it is to look back on one's life. It's about a man named Jep Gambardella who looks back on his life where he became the epicenter of nightlife in Rome. It's punctuated with numerous expansive, loving shots of the city.
  9. A Foreign Affair at the Dryden, March 13: Jenn and I headed out to see this together on faith that Billy Wilder would deliver an entertaining movie. While it was truly entertaining, it's more evocative as a time capsule, as it's one of the only films I know of that is shot in Berlin shortly after the end of World War II, and it deliberately uses the bombed-out backdrop and opportunistic American GIs to move the plot forward.
  10. Dead Man, March 14: Jenn and I had both seen this before—she's far better versed in the other works of Jim Jarmusch than I (and has introduced me to Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai and Broken Flowers, both of which I liked.) I wrote about this a while back and my comments still hold, but I'll add the film holds up well after repeated viewings. I think I made a stronger point to notice the respectful and un-romanticized view of Native Americans, and of the un-glorious view of killing and of life on the Western frontier.

3,401 total views, 1 views today

Star Trek and The Brothers Bloom at the Cinema

Ali, Amber, and I went to The Cinema TheatreMySpace link (957 South Clinton Ave.) to see Star Trek. As you might expect, it's a decent movie and an innovative way to kick-start the franchise once again. Ali and I enjoyed it and I think Amber did too although she had some complaints. Anyway, they left and I stayed for the second feature: a movie I'd heard nothing about called The Brothers Bloom.

Apparently it came-and-went from The Little (240 East Ave.) and possibly corporate screens as well, all with little fanfare. Reviews have been lukewarm at best. My mood was to give it a try at the beginning, and my alternative was to meet Ali out at Lux LoungeMySpace link (666 South Ave.): a not unattractive option.

Well, I figured I'd hang through the "early days" introduction: two brothers, Stephen and Bloom, had been in-and-out of foster families for quite some time when they stumbled into the notion of playing cons. I didn't know if I was in for a kids movie but I figured I'd linger to the credits. Once the relationship was established, the film heads for 25 years in the future when the brothers are adults, and still con-men.

Ok, so it's hooked me for 10 minutes.

Bloom doesn't want to stick with the game after their last job, but his brother ropes him in it for one more: woo a naive heiress — Penelope — living alone in her parents' estate. She's a handful, though, as she has a surprisingly fierce appetite for adventure (especially considering her apparently self-imposed exile) and she's extremely smart in a myriad of practical and philosophical fields.

Anyway, the movie runs along in a whimsical fairy-tale style. The simple surface conceals a more interesting philosophical bent: is it valuable to plan ahead? As such, the story — largely led by the plan crafted by Stephen — leads Bloom and Penelope on what should be a romantic and bond-forming adventure. But it's only in the fringe deviations from said plan that those things actually occur. I've found it's pretty much the same in life: it's no the planned trip to Chimney Bluffs State Park (7700 Garner Rd., Wolcott) that I remember as much as it is when Lucy ran her hysterical orbits through the muddy waters along the trail. It's the unplanned moments that make things worthwhile.

So … why plan?

And I think that's what The Brothers Bloom is getting at. To speak in music reviewer parlance, it's sort of Hudson Hawk meets Adaptation. meets The Adventures of Baron Munchausen: the lighthearted comedy and uneven production of the first, with the film-as-life-as-film metaphor of the second, and the attention to detail and understanding of fantasy of the third. It's not the best movie ever, but definitely worth a visit … hang in there the few times it really lags, and just have a good time with it.

605 total views, no views today

Atonement 'fore Penelope at the Cinema

Ali and I headed to The Cinema TheatreMySpace link (957 South Clinton Ave.) to see the double-feature: Atonement, and Penelope. This time, we didn't get a chance to hang out with the cat — I guess it's done with us.

So Atonement took me a while to get into. I had thoughts of the day swimming around and couldn't get into it fully. I noticed that the foleying was performed louder and more stylistically than in other movies — obviously for artistic effect but, to my ear, deliberate to the point of distraction.

The story is not particularly unusual: Briony — a young girl — misinterprets the passionate love between her sister, Cecilia, and her beau Robbie as some bad thing in her sexually-budding mind. Through a lie of serendipitously important placement, she gets them separated. The World War II intensifies, and Robbie leaves to fight, able to see Cecilia only briefly.

As the emotions intensified — from the sterile complacency of the aristocratic life to the ragged edges of human existence — I became much more engaged in the film. And then was absolutely surprised to find it has a bit of a twist ending — one that looks squarely at what is real and what is not, unraveling the tapestry laid before me.

Penelope, on the other hand, was brutally terrible.

The story is that Penelope was affected by a curse of her father's lineage such that she was born with the appearance of a pig. To break the curse, she must wed one of her own — another "blue-blood" aristocrat. Unfortunately, her appearance is so hideous that all suitors literally run away from her at first sight, never getting to know the kind person she is inside. So does she finally find her prince? Will the curse actually be broken?

Let me save you 102 minutes of your life: yes, but it's the down-to-earth guy who actually likes her and he's not really a blue-blood, and yes, but the curse is edited partway into the film so that it's when she finds the one who loves her truly — and it is she that finally loves herself that breaks the curse, turning her back into regular-old Christina Ricci.

The fundamental flaw of the film is that it attempts to hit the exact middle-ground of all aspects. It's a cartoonish fairy-tale set in realistic modern-day England. Penelope is so hideous that she drives suitors away, but she's not bad looking at all. The chemistry between the designated couple is vaguely lukewarm — more like cooked pasta than a roaring fire. The resolution is absolutely insipid — that the curse forged in vengeance against a whole bloodline is really just a way for a girl to get through her issues and the evil witch was a big-hearted softie after all.

And then there's the script — oy. The fundamental message is that superficially loving mothers end up smothering their children's sense of self and must be shut the hell up. Or at least that may be on the mind of the scriptwriter. Then again, I guess if you love Everybody Loves Raymond, then — as this is the same writer — you'll probably love this script too. And apparently so do hundreds of commentators on Internet Movie Database.  And I find that to be more disturbing than the fact that this movie got made at all.

511 total views, no views today

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly and Untraceable at the Cinema

Ali and I decided to check out the double-feature at The Cinema TheatreMySpace link (957 South Clinton Ave.) The two films were Le scaphandre et le papillon(The Diving Bell and the Butterfly) and Untraceable but I'll talk about them in reverse order. Oh, and this time Ali's lap was graced by Princess, the Cinema's resident cat — forcing her to be paralyzed for 3 full hours.

So Untraceable is a film about how the Patriot Act is good and how brainy people in universities are the source of all truly evil enemies. See, the FBI, NSA, and law-enforcement in general are all infallible organizations: when they go after someone, that person is guilty; otherwise, they wouldn't go after them, would they?

This is proven in the introductory sequence of the film where FBI Agent Jennifer Marsh finds someone using stolen credit cards on the Interwebs. She uses credit-card fraud techniques learned from a television commercial and deduces that it isn't the little old lady in the house whose IP address is the source of the transactions, but rather the next-door neighbor using her wireless access point. After all, the guy has guns which means he's a criminal.

Then a tip comes in about a website where someone's letting a kitten die on live-fed video. But the site is [wait for it …] untraceable. The film uses mumbo-techno speak to explain how the site is being redirected from foreign countries and stuff so it can't be traced. Then the guy starts killing people and the mystery is on.

Well, not the real mystery, but the attempt to find who the guy is who's doing all these mean things and why. The real mystery is how this evil, university-educated genius can transport and set up elaborate killing techniques that would make James Bond scriptwriters blush. He has access to all sorts of equipment, drugs, and chemicals that — to the average person — would be all but impossible to get, requiring lots of signatures, picture ID's, and money. It must be that pesky university! But even if we write that off, he is also able to transport his computer rig to anywhere in the city without anyone so much as blinking. Whatever explains these magical powers is probably the same one that lets him move around victims with equal ease and invisibility.

In stark contrast, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly was excellent. It's about a guy who was perfectly healthy until a stroke rendered him completely paralyzed except for being able to move and blink his left eye. He starts out feeling trapped, depressed, and annoyed. Once a speech therapist helps him to speak by reading letters to him and blinking when she gets the right one, his imagination and memories come to the forefront and he eventually decides to complete a book contract he had. It's an interesting movie exploring the will to live and the human need to find contentment and happiness in any situation.

I have heard reviews where people talk about it being "amazing" what this man went through, but in a way, it was more a demonstration of necessity than anything. Because of his condition, there was no way for him to kill himself — in fact, it was because of the quality of health care he received that kept him alive at all, so in a way, it wasn't that he was unable to kill himself, but that he was unable to prevent others from keeping him alive.

See, there appears to be a level of personal happiness that is unrelated to one's life condition. If happiness truly were tied to one's life condition, then extremely well-off people would be constantly overjoyed and poor people would beg for brevity in their miserable existences. Clearly, though, this is not true.

But remarkably, it seems to have no limits. It's challenging to imagine a worse fate than being completely paralyzed and kept alive irrelevant to your consent. Yet here was Jean-Dominique Bauby (the character was based on a real person) who lived that very nightmare. His personal disposition — once the trauma of the sudden, dramatic change in his life wore off — seemed to return to a level not dissimilar to himself in his past, fully ambulatory life.

Anyway, there's sort-of a game to see how the Cinema's double-features are related. This one is a tough one. Judging by how I personally felt, I think Untraceable was supposed to be as bad as The Diving Bell and the Butterfly was good — that the latter was to cancel out the former, and you were supposed to leave the theater feeling exactly the same as when you went in. In 10 years, I invite you to recall this combination and see which still has relevance.

802 total views, no views today