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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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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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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Ten More Movies: May 2014 to June 2014

So here's the last 10 movies I watched …

  1. Godzilla at Zurich Cinemas Pittsford 9 on May 16: Jenn wanted to go see this and I figured, "what the heck?" We haven't been to a mainstream movie-house in a while, so why not jump right in on a Friday night with the masses? The monsters that appear first—the MUTAs—represent the U.S. and its insatiable military-industrial complex. They have squared beaks much like stylized eagles and literally feed on the U.S. weaponry. Godzilla, the monster representing the natural world, appears in order to stop the MUTAs: a thinly-veiled allegory for the climate change that will disrupt the food and water supply, revealing the solely profit-centric Americans to be wholly unable to care for themselves. As far as the movie for entertainment sake, if you can get past the un-enumerable technical flaws and errors, and avoid thinking about September 11, it's pretty cool to see the monsters rip up major cities.
  2. Yoidore tenshi (Drunken Angel) at the Dryden on May 22: Jenn and I went to see this film by Akira Kurosawa. It's about a Japanese guy who, after World War II, clings to his bravado by siding with the gangs that formed. It would be easy to make an argument that it's an allegory for Japan itself clinging to bravado in the face of the devastation after the war. The film is heartbreaking to watch—whether through Matsunaga's descent, Japan's allegorical descent, or actual footage of bombed-out Japan.
  3. Fargo at the Dryden on May 31: Jenn and I revisited this favorite of ours. It's been a while since I've seen it on the big screen, and doing so was a rewarding experience. Curiously, I don't feel like it loses much watching at home, but sitting with a group of strangers in a darkened room is rewarding enough. The story (for those who don't know) is a crime of extortion gone wrong. The unique twist is it involves very human-like characters getting in deeper than they can handle, making reasonable mistakes, and having reasonable twists of luck. The other unique aspect is it's set in North Dakota and Minnesota in winter, and nearly all the characters speak with a strong regional Minnesota accent. Anyway, it still holds up: its biggest flaw may be that it was shot in a far milder winter than it was set, so characters appear overdressed to one who has a keen sense of what a cold winter looks like. Also, I still like my favorite short scene: when Jerry Lundegaard has a setback, his frustration is revealed as he tries to scrape impenetrable ice off a windshield. Perhaps it's because I've both experienced that particular challenge and have never seen it utilized in a film to such great effect.
  4. Cold in July at the Little, June 1: Jenn and I got a chance to see this as it was the most promising in the Little's line-up. The gist is a guy kills an intruder in his house and the father of the murdered man returns for revenge. Up to this point, it's about a man's internal conflict about life, death, and killing, and whether redemption and forgiveness can be found. But then the the second-act conflict hits and it felt more like the screenwriter was out of his depth than a legitimate course of events (and, since based on a novel, it may very well have been the novelist was out of his depth, but I hadn't read it so I can't say for sure.) There's a few loose ends that go unexplained, but I was more disappointed that the interesting psychological exploration trail goes dead.
  5. Chef at the Little, June 4: Jenn, Chris, and I went to see this and it was better than I expected. I also expected a standard 3-act structure, but it's a feel-good movie and lacks any conflict throughout. Nonetheless, it's a great movie to watch if you like fine food, and it's just a nice movie. I wonder if the Twitter elements will seem absurd or dated (and it was bordering on a big advertisement for Twitter—at least as much as The Internship was an ad for Google.)
  6. Urgh! A Music War at the Dryden, June 7: I really had no idea what to expect of this film; it is entirely footage of 1980's punk and (truly) alternative acts performing in front of audiences. It's not bad for a concert-footage film, and the acts are very varied and some almost never filmed. Toward the end of the film—about midway through the performance by "X"—I realized I was having an emotional reaction to a recording and got kind of irritated about that. I was experiencing a false nostalgia for events I never witnessed. And then I had the experience of the projection being seen as a series of flashing images in a darkened room: a painfully Allegory-of-the-Cave moment.
  7. The Big Lebowski at the Dryden, June 8: Maybe I've seen this too much and maybe I was just tired, but I was not nearly as amused by this quirky comedic noir this time around. It's still a lot of fun, but I may have seen it too much.
  8. Le Week-End at the Cinema, June 10: I was curious to check this one out. In the film, a couple revisits Paris for their anniversary and it shakes the very existence of their relationship. I thought it was rather astute in observing how we grow so much yet change so little at the same time. I found it unfortunate that the filmmakers chose to have some scenes' dialog so quiet as to be inaudible (especially, dare I say, a film about older people—and therefore viewed by people with less-than-cat-like hearing.)
  9. The Other Woman at the Cinema, June 10: I figured with the double-feature, I'd at least give this a shot. The gist is a guy cheats on his wife with another woman, but they get together and find out he's cheating on them both, and then the trio gets together and gives him his comeuppance. I expected an awful romantic comedy that I'd walk out of in a few minutes. But I actually laughed out loud at Leslie Mann's genius portrayal of ditzy wife Kate as she delivered a line that could have so easily fallen flat: when it's revealed to her that her husband is having sex without her, she somehow grand-slams the line, "you mean he's not training for a marathon?" Mann's performance saves it, and Cameron Diaz pulls off the high-power lawyer in as much as the script allows, but Kate Upton can't quite manage to make funny the beaten-to-death "pretty girl is dumb" routine (who could pull off the "pretend to look the wrong way through the binoculars" bit?), and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau likewise can't wring much out of the dirt-bag spoiled-rich husband routine. And tread very lightly with the suspension of disbelief: the story is held together with a tenuously thin veneer.
  10. Desperately Seeking Susan at the Dryden, June 11: After having seen a modern romantic comedy, I thought I'd check one out from 30 years ago. (Well, it's kind of an unfair comparison as it's a movie that was remembered.) It's about a woman bored in her marriage who is intrigued by a woman being sought by her boyfriend (desperately, apparently) via personal ads. It's a clever and funny movie with Rosanna Arquette as Roberta (the wife) and Madonna as Susan, a self-empowered petty thief with a wild and nomadic lifestyle that is the polar opposite of Roberta's. I did have to simply accept the huge contrived cliché (amnesia through a blow to the head with no other ill effects) as it was central to the plot. Per the introduction to the film, I hadn't realized it was not only starring two women, but the director (Susan Seidelman), writer (Leora Barish), and two of three producers (Sarah Pillsbury, and Midge Sanford) were women. In fact, I believe it wouldn't pass a reverse-gender Bechdel/Wallace test: although there is more than one male character, when two men speak, they only talk about women. But rather than expend any effort defending a feminist viewpoint, it simply presents a wholly entertaining vision of a female-friendly reality.

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Ten and a Half More Movies: March 2014 to May 2014

So here's the last 10 movies I watched …

  1. Tim's Vermeer at the Little, March 16: This is a documentary about a man named Tim Jenison who was interested in the photo-realistic paintings by Johannes Vermeer, and tried to devise a technique to replicate his technique. As a documentary, it's adequate and entertaining, but it's the subject that is most intriguing. I knew virtually nothing of the works of Vermeer coming in to this film, so I took it as fact what they said. Afterward I did a bit of research and found that Vermeer was neither as mysterious as the film implies, nor was his work — save for a couple specific examples — anomalously photo-realistic for the time period. In any case, The Music Lesson had certain qualities that Jenison found intriguing: how had Vermeer created such photo-realism 200 years before the invention of photography? He suspected a device, and set to building one. What he made (although I don't recall the film mentioning it) is a unique form of camera lucida (thanks to Jenn for knowing that!) which uses lenses and mirrors rather than a prism. With that, he succeeded in recreating The Music Lesson, and in doing so, reproduced a tiny flaw (the pattern on the virginal curves ever so slightly while its edges are drawn by straight-edge) that strongly implied the use of optics beyond the traditional camera lucida. I think this discovery is something that would be of interest to art historians and inventors alike.
  2. Les parapluies de Cherbourg (The Umbrellas of Cherbourg) at the Dryden, March 18: A young woman is in love with a man who gets enlisted in the Algerian war … loves are lost … loves are found. In all it's a well-worn story told in brilliant color.
  3. Here One Day in Hoyt Auditorium on the University of Rochester Campus, March 27: It's a documentary where Kathy Leichter revisits her mother Nina's suicide 16 years prior. The catalyst was the rediscovery of audio cassettes Nina recorded for many years; Kathy found them shortly after the suicide, but couldn't bear to listen to them at the time. As such, the use of the cassettes makes the event seem extraordinarily current in the lives of Kathy, her brother, and her father. It's a beautiful, moving, and insightful film that begins to bridge the gap between the thought process of a mentally-healthy person and one suffering from depression (or in this case, manic-depression a.k.a. bipolar disorder.) After the film, there was a panel discussion and one woman spoke about her daughter's depression. What resonated with me was how she saw suicide as a loss, but her daughter saw it as freedom — a concept that made me realize how much my culture mistakenly assumes everyone thinks alike in some way, and how that may be a central reason for the challenges of addressing mental illness.
  4. The Grand Budapest Hotel at the Little, March 28: Jenn, Chris, and I went to see this together — Jenn and Chris being very excited about the new film by Wes Anderson; I didn't have strong expectations. The short is I thoroughly enjoyed it. It reminded me of the ensemble screwball comedies of the past (e.g. It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World) in which expected stars appear in a silly comedy. And this one is definitely silly and absurd.
  5. Pink Flamingos at the Dryden, April 2: I finally got around to seeing this after having been recommended many times over the years by different people. It's definitely a rough-around-the-edges kind of independent film, and also definitely delivers on being "an exercise in poor taste". I'm glad I finally saw it, in part to get the many references to it in a variety of media, but also because it's genuinely an entertaining movie. This version (from a re-release in 1997) included some (rather hilarious) outtakes and some commentary by filmmaker John Waters.
  6. Tectonics in Hubbell Auditorium at UofR, April 10: I saw this as part of OnFilm's "Earths" program (and stayed after for only four of 13 Lakes, mostly due to simple exhaustion/tiredness.) Tectonics was quite brilliant. In it, Peter Bo Rappmund filmed various locations along both sides of the U.S.-Mexico Border in-order from the Gulf of Mexico to the Pacific. I went into it with a bit of trepidation as my prejudices of borders — and this one in particular — are that they are useless, harmful relics of xenophobic nationalism. As such, I began the film with negative feelings of frustration and anger. Rappmund's anti-temporal filmmaking techniques (where he looped sequences-of-images and time-lapse photography which created a timelessness, and used overlapped field-recordings to carry the chronological narrative) led me to experience the border as something intensely futile, intensely irrational, and intensely beautiful. It was disconcerting to me to see all this technology and effort dedicated to creating suffering. But by the end, I found myself at peace with all of it. One thing that helped was the timeless quality of the film which implied a longer-term view — that this silliness is all temporary. Rappmund was present at the screening to answer questions, but I was just glad to thank him personally for making the film.
  7. The Kentucky Fried Movie at the Dryden, April 16: I remember seeing this as a kid and finding its irreverent and ribald humor to be unequivocally hilarious. It's a movie consisting of short sketches which is still funny, although it's almost more interesting to watch it as a historical relic owing to the extremely dated scenarios. And I imagine anyone raised with access to YouTube will find the humor at best, ho-hum. Well, the Kung-Fu parody, "A Fistful of Yen" is still very funny and extremely clever.
  8. The Kodak Employee Variety Show (U.S. 1960, 90 min., 16mm) at the Dryden, April 22: Jenn and I went to the "Made in Rochester" series "Kodak" show at the Dryden to check out some of the rarities. We felt a bit slighted that it was a 90-minute film followed by 3 shorts: a far cry from "a number of test films and company home movies" as we were promised. Nonetheless, the first film was a recording of the 1960 Kodak Employee Variety Show — a presentation that appeared to be largely for the sales staff of the company. As a film, it was the worst musical I ever saw (har har); in large part, it was an insufferable company party like I remember from my corporate days. The productions were high-quality and weirdly yet unsurprisingly Kodak-centric. There seemed to be a lot of tongue-in-cheek jabs at the Russians and Communism, not long after the worst of Senator Joseph McCarthy's state-sponsored murders. But perhaps the best moment was a look in to the "distant future" of 1970 when, rather than a log book, salesmen (and yes, they were all men) would carry a device as small as a pack of matches to dictate expenses and take photos of where they were — an ironic premonition of digital photography. In all, I'm glad to have had a chance to have seen it, but didn't enjoy the process. (Although I did offer Jenn $50 if she could spot a black person, and we jokingly pointed out white people on-stage in shadow.) We snuck out during intermission and skipped the shorts.
  9. Richard Pryor: Live in Concert at the Dryden, April 23: I was glad to be able to finally see this — a ribald performance made legendary by tales told by high-school friends in the 1980's, right at the dawn of home-video. In general the comedy holds up today, particularly his insightful jabs at white culture. Pryor's artistry lets him talk about embarrassing personal situations without the shadow of making it into a therapy session that so often plagues other performers' anecdotes. It's wonderful to be able to remember Pryor at the top of his game like this.
  10. Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe at the Dryden, May 6: The first of two short films by Les Blank, this one deals with, well, Werner Herzog eating his shoe. He made a bet with Erol Morris to complete his film, Gates of Heaven, which, obviously he did. The film gives Herzog the chance to talk about following through with commitments and about following your own passion. I've always enjoyed listening to him as he's got a unique articulate way of explaining his view of the world.
  11. (and ½) Garlic Is as Good as Ten Mothers also at the Dryden, May 6: The second half of the double-shorts program is Blank's film on the wonders of garlic. It's a fascinating sampler of off-center views in the late 1970's, and Blank's style (like the previous film) paces the documentaries exceedingly well, making them both a joy to watch.

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Finding Ivy

Last night, Jenn and I had quite a little adventure. We had gone with Ted to see Is the Man Who Is Tall Happy? at the Dryden and drove him back home. On the way back to Jenn's I spotted a dog standing in the snow off 490 near the Averill underpass.

Going back a few days, while Jenn was working at her studio, a woman came by and handed her a poster about a lost dog named Ivy [corrected1]. We see notices for lost pets and pay them little mind other than to hope the animal gets home okay. But Ivy was a rescued black Labrador retriever mix from a shelter in Kentucky. The reason we paid attention is sheer coincidence: Jenn's dog is also a black lab, and was also a rescue from—of all places—Kentucky. Ivy had just arrived and escaped from an Another Chance Pet Rescue foster family near Meigs and Monroe just a day after she arrived (they didn't know the dog's name so they named her Ivy … for all of a day, so obviously the dog wouldn't respond to that name.) The poster said that she was so timid that we should not try to approach her as she'd just run away.

Anyway, when we saw this black dog, we immediately thought it might be Ivy. So we got off at Goodman and went to go back to see off an overpass. But then I figured our best bet would be to get back on the highway, so after trying to remember the existence of the Byron Street entrance, we passed the poster on Alexander. I snapped a picture so we could have the phone numbers. We got back on but we saw neither the dog nor her prints. So we looped around again. This time, we found the tracks in the snow just behind the Spring Steel place on S. Clinton.

We called the people on the poster and they said they'd send their friends out. I had my headlamp from biking so I put that on and went up the embankment cautiously. I had noticed in the past I could see animal eyes in the darkness using the headlamp. After searching a bit, I found a pair of eyes looking back at me from under a tree near the building.

I went back and called again and really set things in motion. They called Animal Control to try and catch the dog, and sent a half-dozen people our way to help find her. One of the women affiliated with Operation Greece Pug Rescue and the officer from Animal Control arrived nearly simultaneously. We went up the embankment and found the dog—this time positively identified as Ivy. Unfortunately, she did manage to get away.

But she had been in the elements for about 7 days already, so she wasn't moving too fast. I watched her cross under Averill then continue to past Alexander before I lost sight of her, all the while fortunately staying in the snow and out of traffic. Jenn and I got back in the car and looped around again. We found Ivy just about on the entrance ramp. We stopped the car to call that we saw her, but she started running back. We followed her and tried to keep some distance, but she doubled back again and we lost her.

We got in touch with the Animal Control officer and one of the women involved. The officer provided a can of food for the dog and they were planning to set a live trap over night. We left and decided to see if we could find her again. We stopped in the Goodwill parking lot to look for tracks on Byron Street and found some, but no dog.

We got back to the car and called the woman from the Pug Rescue to say we were going home. She said that they had her—they actually caught Ivy. She was badly dehydrated, had hypothermia, and was on her way to the pet emergency center! It turns out she also had a laceration on her leg and a possible fracture.

A sickly black lab being carried by a volunteer.

Ivy gets rescued by a volunteer.

By today she was out of emergency care and it looks like she's going to survive. She'll need some more veterinary care in the coming weeks. If you want, you can donate through the PayPal link on the lower-right of the Another Chance Pet Rescue website.


1 2014-Feb-13: Correction: it wasn't her mom who gave her the poster, but her mom was present.

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Ten More Movies: December 2013 to January 2014

So here's the last 10 movies I watched …

  1. Death Race 2000 at the Dryden, December 11: Cheesy, schlocky, violent, and sexually exploitative: yes. And it's still got some teeth as social commentary. Usually films about the "distant" future 25 years away miss their mark, but this one gets a lot of things right like that the U.S. President will be revered as some kind of exceptional being (at least substantially different from a normal mortal), and our affinity for witnessing death on the highways. Of course it never saw anything like YouTube or the "car fail" meme therein, but who could have known that?
  2. Camille Claudel, 1915 at the Dryden, December 14: Jenn and I went to see this together—neither of us knew much about Camille Claudel except that she was a sculptor at the turn of the 20th Century. The film is a fictional account of 3 days of her life while she was confined to a mental asylum in the South of France, culminating in a visit from her brother Paul. It's a saddening document of a woman who showed such creative promise, but failed to embrace the demands of what was expected of her in civilized society. She recognized her persecution but mischaracterized its purpose or meaning. As such, her family thought they were helping her by locking her away from the art that brought her her only true joy.
  3. Bill Cosby, Himself at the Dryden, December 20: My brother Adam was visiting for a few days and I convinced him to see this with Jenn and I. We all enjoyed it quite a bit. It's still funny and relevant, and Bill Cosby steadily meanders between intertwined stories and ideas to create a well-crafted whole.
  4. Nebraska at the Little, December 21: Jenn and I went to see this together and we both liked it a lot. It's the tale of an aging father (Bruce Dern) visiting his hometown on his way to (futilely) try to claim a million dollar prize. I recognized Will Forte and Bob Odenkirk as primarily comic actors, but here they adeptly play Dern's sons as just regular folk. Alexander Payne had the film shot in black-and-white which was a somewhat unusual choice. Jenn felt it was to lend an air of timelessness by removing the bright color cues of present-day advertising. I was a bit more cynical, I guess, and thought it was because it was set in Montana and Nebraska in winter, and it should have had a blanket of snow to elicit the same effect (see also, Fargo) but the absence of snow forced the hand of the artists and they shot it in black-and-white. One thing I take issue with is the "villain" of the story, played by Stacy Keach, was a bit too vengeful for his age and demeanor.
  5. Phase IV at the Dryden, January 7: I was drawn to this film as it's Saul Bass's only feature film (being far better known for amazing title-sequences on hundreds of famous films.) The story is pretty weird: ants gain collective intelligence and go about taking over the world. The weakest part of the whole film is the dialog, and the ham-fisted allegorical nature of the script. But the cinematography is incredible and includes yet another favorite scene in cinema: a telephoto shot across a hot surface where something starts to appear and we're left wondering what it is for the better part of 20 seconds. Oh, and the extended Saul Bass ending is many minutes of stylized, artistic structures in the style of a Saul Bass title sequence; hence: spectacular.
  6. Prince Avalanche at the Dryden, January 10: Jenn and I went to see this together as she's a David Gordon Green fan. I guess I am too, at least after this film. I'd put it in the bunglingly-named "mumblecore" genre as it's really just a slice of life about two men on a remote road painting lines over a few days. The brilliance lies in the complex, natural characters that are gradually revealed—both just so simply, uniquely flawed.
  7. Du zhan (Drug War) at the Dryden, January 11: Paolo Cherchi Usai selected this as his Curator's Choice for the month, citing the ambiguous morality layered upon what could otherwise be dismissed as a popcorn action flick. I'm not so sure I agree. While I do understand the moral ambiguity—that there are no well-defined "good guys" and "bad guys", nor is the story itself a simplified morality tale—it lays out such broad strokes as an action movie that I couldn't help but see it as primarily that. In some ways I see it as a superior form of action movie since it delivers an interesting plot and sophisticated sequences by genre-decree, but it fails to let the audience root for any team, and thus there is no moral payoff at the end, as I think there is something socially dangerous about celebrating such inhuman behavior.
  8. Évocateur: The Morton Downey Jr. Movie at the Dryden, January 18: Back in the late 1980's, I could swear I remember the Morton Downey Jr. Show in some form of on-air syndication. It was actually something I avoided: even then I did not enjoy witnessing people in conflict, and I especially despised prideful ignorance and anti-rational thinking. So I cringed my way through clips of the show where Downey would essentially deliver a non-stop barrage of ad hominem arguments to the show's guests to the delight of the mob-worthy studio audience. The documentary steadily and artfully paints the background portrait of a man living in the shadow of a famous father, desperately trying to find his own voice. Filmmaker Seth Kramer was on hand to answer questions, but for the most part, everything he wanted to say about Downey is in the film.
  9. Tôkyô monogatari (Tokyo Story) at the Dryden, January 22: I was sold on the Roger Ebert quote, "With no other director do I feel affection for every single shot." And the film delivers. It's a stunningly well-crafted piece of cinema that tells the tale of aging parents visiting their adult children in Tokyo. The kids don't appreciate the significance of the visit, snubbing their parents as an annoyance in their busy lives. But I think it was respectful of both parties, merely showing the melancholic truth that children grow up and drift away from their parents.
  10. Shtikat Haarchion (A Film Unfinished) at the Dryden, January 28: As I was watching I realized this seemed familiar, and indeed, I saw it in October, 2010 when it was released. I think I forgot because it is such an impossible concept to believe: German footage inside the Warsaw Jewish ghetto just months before nearly everyone there was annihilated. The documentary suggests the Nazi footage was to demonize the Jews—propaganda to allow average citizens to justify the Holocaust. It's all quite horrifying, and it actually happened. All I can say is: beware of media generalizations of the character of a people.

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Ten More Movies: September–October 2013

So here's the last 10 movies I watched …

  1. Blue Jasmine at the Little, September 11: I'm no sycophant for Woody Allen, and I find his films distinctly big-hit and big-miss, but damn, Blue Jasmine is genius. It broaches an incredibly challenging subject: humans are ill-equipped to deal with the infinite possibilities of choice we have in the world today. It centers on Jasmine who is a hot mess after she loses everything her life once was — a nearly absurd life of incredible wealth and jet-setting with her husband — to move in with her step-sister living in near-poverty we call "middle class". Jasmine is an unlikeable nutcase for whom Allen carefully sketches so (while staying wholly unlikeable) we learn enough about to at least be sympathetic.
  2. City Girl at the Dryden, September 24: I greatly enjoyed this tale of city girl/country boy romance that revolved around some incredibly well-formed characters. What with being among the last silent films ever made, it is certainly a testament to the advanced story-telling possible with the movie camera.
  3. Corman's World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel at the Dryden, October 3: A rather gushing documentary about Roger Corman (arguably, deservedly so.) He seemed like a nice enough guy who got into making inexpensive, successful movies and launching the careers of numerous now-famous actors and directors.
  4. A Bucket of Blood at the Dryden, October 3: A really quote good film from the 1950's about a lousy artist who gains admiration when he presents a clay cat. The film is a condemnation of bottom-tier, classist art-culture where an undefined thing called "art"—and recognition of said art—is revered at the expense of all else.
  5. 16 Photographs At Ohrdruf at the Little, October 6: Despite the Little's complete apathy (grrr … not even mentioned on the website), I found out about this film through Jenn who knew the filmmaker. Matthew Nash's grandfather took 16 photographs when the U.S. Army discovered the Nazi concentration camp at Ohrdruf. It was the first camp discovered by the U.S., following legends of camps after the Russians found Auschwitz earlier the same year, and the only camp visited by President Eisenhower. Yet it's not a name well-known. Anyway, Nash interviews some former GI's who were in the same division as his grandfather and paints a personal picture of what it was like to witness the Nazi atrocities. I have a very hard time emotionally connecting to the true horror of the Holocaust (since she sheer scale is impossible for me to comprehend) but these personal tales made it that much more real to me.
  6. The Way, Way Back at the Cinema, October 8: I was skeptical but saw good reviews, and Jenn moderately wanted to see it as well. In all, it's a really nice coming-of-age story. At first I found some of the characters a bit grating, or played too broadly, but in the end it all seemed adequately realistic and touching.
  7. In A World… at the Cinema, October 8: Ok, this one counts as half. I persevered for the second film in the double-feature and actually wanted to see it … pretty much only because of watching too many "Honest Trailers" by ScreenJunkies on YouTube. The gist is that Don LaFontaine was the guy who popularized the phrase "in a world…" as the way to begin nearly every movie trailer for decades. He's a real guy who really did die in 2008. So the film is a fictional account of Carol—the daughter of a voiceover artist gifted similarly to LaFontaine—who wants to break into the world of voiceovers, particularly for film trailers, and become the next LaFontaine. It's written and directed by Lake Bell who also stars as Carol. I found that every single character was written as a shrill fast-talker no matter their age, gender, or background. It was insufferable, and the cheap writing continued: pivotal plot points hinged on unrealistically stupid coincidences. For instance, Carol can't get a date with the guy who has a crush on her ("Mary Sue" much?) because someone interrupts her cell phone call and he's confused about who she's talking to. Just dumb, lazy writing. I left when her sister's boyfriend finds the [telegraphed] evidence he didn't want to know. That's when my refills of popcorn and "Arnold Palmer" ran out and I left. (And I should point out that the film is doing very very well in reviewer circles like RottenTomatoes: is everyone blinded by Bell's "brave" choice to consider women for voiceover work? Her point is certainly valid, but just because she's among a mostly-male group of writer/director/stars doesn't mean I'm going to grade her writing quality any less stringently.)
  8. Elmer Gantry at the Dryden, October 9: I kind of love the tale of a charismatic sociopath. I couldn't help make a comparison to A Face in the Crowd which I saw last year since I enjoyed that story a lot. This one was a little more subtle, but its steady pace revealed a desperate man. A slimy salesman becomes a preacher for a traveling evangelical group, firstly for his own gains. Glimpses of compassion in him may be genuine and may be calculated, but nonetheless allowed me to empathize with him.
  9. X: The Man With the X-Ray Eyes at the Dryden, October 10: Roger Corman directed this tale of a man who gives himself the ability to see through solid matter: a change that gradually increases in strength. It starts as scientific curiosity, and he exploits it largely for good, but by the time all of the world is invisible to him, it essentially drives him mad. The story is solid, and overall worth watching, but by no means a masterpiece.
  10. The Vampire at the Dryden, October 22: This was the first of a pair of related silent films shown. The titular "vampire" is not a bloodsucker, but a woman who preys on men who are attracted to her. It tells the tale of a small-town farmer trying his hand at big-city life, only to fall for the lure of one such woman. It has a steady pacing and tells an interesting story. Among the interesting notes is the use of title cards to introduce action and events — apparently early filmmakers were not ready to rely on narrative structure alone at this time. Another interesting element is that the production company saved money by building sets outdoors and using natural light, yielding some bizarrely breezy interiors.
  11. As in a Looking Glass at the Dryden, October 22: This one should count as half as well since tiredness got the best of me and I wasn't able to stick with the film for its short duration. What I can say is the story is not unlike "The Vampire", but told from the perspective of a woman who falls into the trap of living off men who are attracted to her. I recall it had some unusual structures that weren't clear: cuts to what may have been a second storyline, or an abstract alternative.

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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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