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.

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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.

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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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The 360|365 Film Festival

I thought I'd take a minute and review The 360|365 Film Festival (formerly the Rochester High Falls International Film Festival). I already wrote about some of the films I'd enjoyed; I also had a chance to meet some filmmakers — albeit at a non-sanctioned event, which made it more personal and greatly enjoyable. I wanted to address the festival itself.

My short summary: no element of this year's festival is any better than it was in past years.

In 2001, a film festival started called the High Falls Film Festival. Its charter was to highlight women in filmmaking, and host it in Rochester as (nitpicking aside) the home of both motion picture film and of the women's rights movement. I don't recall which year, but the "women in filmmaking" was thrown by the wayside. [I almost forgot to add this:] Adding insult-to-injury, the festival further slaps women in the face by overlapping Mother's Day, forcing to people to choose whether to spend time with Mom or go watch movies. And (although the official full name is the 360|365 George Eastman House Film Festival) the attachment to Rochester has been removed (although thankfully the arguably worse "Rochester High Falls International Film Festival" moniker was dropped). Not to belabor the point, but "360|365" is merely a bad pun on "all year round", it's not memorable, and it doesn't lend itself to Internet connectivity (partly because it starts with a digit, and partly because it contains the vertical bar / "pipe" character). I would guess that with its accompanying logo, it would be an acceptable "B"-graded student project in graphic design.

Once again this year, the schedule was set up so films would overlap by minutes — a simple fix would have allowed patrons to view a film at one theater and have time to travel to another for the next picture. I realize that some prints are not available on certain days, but I'm talking about adjustments of 15 or 20 minutes. Many people rejoiced that there were multiple screenings (and I did take advantage of a second screening at one point). But this means there are fewer films in the festival. And by my gut instinct, I feel that there are more films this year that will either screen at the Dryden, the Little, or attain mainstream theatrical release than in any other year. As such, this film festival has become like thousands of others: acting as previews of coming attractions more than as a venue for that which would otherwise go unseen.

[Added]And then, of course there's Fifth Year Productions (130 E. Main St.) — as major sponsors, they produced the introductory video for each screening. Rather than (as in years past) an inspiring highlight reel of the festival's crop of movies, it was a commercial for Fifth Year Productions. I can only hope that the Fuscillo's become sponsors for an improvement in quality — this one was unentertaining, uninteresting, and just terrible all-around. Following the commercial was one of a series of short films with eggs portraying famous movie scenes. The humor came from the fact that it was eggs portraying famous movie scenes. They were groan-inducing (well, except for a few audience members who, apparently, live humorless lives.) The tie-in was that the egg was supposed to recall Rochester as the "birthplace of film". Perhaps the "birthplace of mixed metaphors", or more properly, "Rochester is where film lays an egg".

I had a discussion with another film-goer and regular attendee who complained that there are fewer "big stars" to draw crowds. While I think it's fun to contemplate hob-knobing with celebrities, it's an empty exercise. I think because of that past, hold-out events from past years have become intolerable: I used to enjoy the "Coffee With …" discussions, but they have become so over-attended that it's nearly impossible to make a connection with anyone there — I didn't even bother going this year. I liked the idea of celebrating Rochester as a big city / small city; when filmmakers come here, they might meet someone in industry to promote their career, but they should be prepared to make real human contact as well. I think this important facet is being drained from the festival.

The only thing solid is the films themselves and the people who make them — an element that has nothing to do with the festival itself. As much as I liked the films I saw, I think I liked even more meeting the new faces that came with them.

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