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.

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Approximately Ten Movies: August 2014 to October 2014

So here's the last 11 movies I watched …

  1. A Most Wanted Man at the Little, August 3: Jenn and I went to see this last film starring Philip Seymour Hoffman. I found it fascinating how, despite Hoffman's central character, the social and political views of all parties involved was respectfully maintained. It's basically the story of a man who methodically hunts down terrorists. And, of course, the bleakly lonely existence he has because of it.
  2. 25th Hour at the Dryden, August 6: Neither Jenn nor I had so much as heard of this film by Spike Lee. Per the introduction, it's because it was released about a year after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001—and (unlike other films of that era) the World Trade Center site is centrally and prominently displayed. Jenn didn't like it as much as I did right away, and I'm finding I like the film more after I let it sit. In some ways it felt like a cobbled-together plot, but in retrospect, it really did exude raw emotion. It's about a man's last days before beginning a long prison sentence, so it's understandably a mishmash of dissonant emotions. Plus, with 9/11 as a lightning rod, it's kind of about the raw emotion felt in those years shortly after the attacks. And in the end, I theorize that it kind of gives a big hug to all that is the positives and negatives of New York City—kind of Spike Lee's answer to Woody Allen's Manhattan.
  3. Oldeuboi (Oldboy) at the Dryden, August 8: I had heard about this film for a while and finally got a chance to see it. The plot is relatively simple: a drunk is imprisoned for no apparent reason, only to be released 15 years later with equally no reason, giving him the fuel for an undying wish for vengeance. It's a violent and bizarre film about trust and perception. Overall I think it's quite excellent, if equally disturbing.
  4. Ivory Tower at the Little, August 12: I was curious about this film about how the cost of college has inordinately increased since about 1978. Although it seems to paint a complete picture of college—visiting everything from Harvard to the tiny Deep Springs all-male college in California—it misses two huge points. First is that the mantra of the film—whether college is any longer a "good investment" in dollar-terms—is solely the work of Reagan-era free-market capitalism since that was the watershed moment when everything began to have a dollar value, including former-intangibles like a good education. While it does make a hint at the influence of Reagan (who considered education a "private improvement" which therefore should not be provided through public funds) it fails to address the sweeping changes to socioeconomic conditions ushered in by that administration. The second, and more egregious, is that it never looks outside the United States for guidance or suggestions. Rather, it essentially concludes that nothing can be done. The discussion group was extraordinarily not insightful, consisting of D&C higher-education staff-writer James Goodman (who had apparently never used a microphone before), UofR Assistant Dean of Diversity and Outreach Joe Latimer (who spent most of his time defending UofR's exorbitant spending habits), and a young man named Jerome who is personally struggling with how to pay back over $50,000 in debt working a social-service job (who was as helpful as any of the other audience members.)
  5. The Day the Earth Stood Still at the Dryden, August 14: Jenn and I went to see this classic. Boy what a great film. Despite its 1951 vintage, the effects and alien design don't seem stupid. Plus, the frankness of Klaatu's message—be peaceful … or else—was so brilliantly and realistically played against humanity's resistance to that idea that I can't help but think of this as one of the best movies ever. Perhaps telling of its vintage, though, was the lack of interaction with anybody but white people (which one could contrive as a strength, given the subject matter). But there is also a hilarious interaction of doctors sharing a smoke …
  6. Boyhood at the Little, September 1: Jenn and I went to see this Richard Linklater film that's basically about a boy growing up with his sister through divorced parents, following him as he begins college. The unique aspect is Linklater used the same actors over a 12-year period, so they actually really age. It's such an incredible piece of cinema that I liken it to Jacques Tati's Playtime as a film so perfect that there's really no need to watch any more movies … even though I will.
  7. Surf Nazis Must Die at the Little, September 12: For Strange Disc Records' premiere album, they released the soundtrack of this long-forgotten film—as a record no-less. The film itself is really quite bad. I kept nodding off at the incredibly slow and rambling pace. I can't really say much redeeming about it … well, except the soundtrack which is really good.
  8. David Bowie Is Happening Now at the Little, September 23: Jenn, Sarah, Karen, and I went to see this together. The film is basically a document of a traveling art show with works by David Bowie, collected and created throughout his life. It's also, in a way, a commercial for that show, so it has a bit of a tarnished luster. That said, it's also a rather complete biography of David Bowie and leads the viewer to understand that a superstar like him was born and lived like any of us—except that he ended up exceptional through hard work, an internal drive, and seizing opportunity as it came.
  9. The Zero Theorem at the Little, September 25: Jenn backed out at the last minute, haunted by the specter of a low Rotten Tomatoes rating. Terry Gilliam created this film and, like one could expect from his work, it's about a dystopian future with one man who makes a difference. I don't know … it was okay, I guess. It succeeds in being a more described world that Brazil, but it fails in that more explanation is not what Brazil needed. Knowing what exactly the toil, or how advertising works just makes it look cheesy and fake. Leaving the detail to our imagination really is the only way to go.
  10. Walking the Camino: Six Ways to Santiago at the Dryden, September 27: I went mostly because my friend Jeff Stanin was to speak about his own experience with it. I was surprised that he is now married and took the journey with his soon-to-be wife Elizabeth to determine if the relationship would work. Anyway, the film is about the Camino de Santiago which starts just over the border in France and runs some 800 kilometers (500 miles) to Santiago, then through to the Atlantic Ocean. It originated as a religious pilgrimage—often as penance—but has grown to be a modern challenge. As a documentary, it was pretty good … letting us watch a half-dozen or so people try to make it, interspersed with the stupefyingly beautiful vistas along the way.
  11. This Last Lonely Place at the Little, October 1: Steve Anderson created this low-budget narrative in Los Angeles. He's a former Rochesterarian who came back a few years ago to screen The Big Empty, a film I also liked (although this time we were spared the Curse of the Little and the film ran fine.) Anyway, the film is about a guy who tries to do good but gets mixed up in a complicated caper. I was surprised at one character's motives since I had expectations built up by the film until then, but aside from that, it's a clever story and an interesting film to seek out.

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