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

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

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Movies in 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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