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 February, 2015

  1. The Babadook at the Little, February 4: While it's not my usual style, I was inspired by the positive review by charming (and apparently relatively private—what is this guy's name?) YouTuber Horrible Reviews. It's a film about a woman, Amelia, and her son Samuel—he was born the night his father was killed in a car accident. Clearly this thoroughly disturbed Amelia, and her sudden role as a single mother didn't allow her to take necessary time-off to properly mourn, so those feelings festered within her psyche. As such, she's generally quite unhinged throughout the film and only manages to muster glimmers of normalcy. The Babadook begins in the form of a children's book that horrifies Samuel. The first half of the film is quite tense and terrifying, but the gradual physical and supernatural appearance of the Babadook character tends to seem unbelievable, and as such, tends to spoil the tension. Worst, though, is the incredibly absurd resolution. In the end, the Horrible Reviews' review mirrored my own experience pretty much perfectly—although he favors horror, I was finding the things he liked and disliked about movies seemed agreeable to me, and this first test of that impression appears to confirm that belief.
  2. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night at the Little, February 20: Jenn was excited to see this film once it was described as a "feminist Iranian vampire Western film". It's about a woman who's a vampire trying to keep some semblance of a code-of-ethics for herself. After a little post-film discussion, I guess I could call it a "feminist Iranian vampire Western film," but only if I must shoe-horn it into categories. But I think a better way to look at it is to take your expectations of a film called "A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night"—with all its cautionary-tale baggage of helpless women—and gender-flip it so you have a powerful and complex female vampire who preys upon weak-willed men until she's surprised to find herself attracted to one of them. To me, her hesitant capitulation to that situation (and her overall resigned demeanor) seemed to show a deep understanding of the likely outcome from a long-line of past experiences that belie her youthful appearance. It's a very-well made film all around—directing, plot, acting, cinematography, sound-design, and music are all excellent. And I guess it's about a group of people who are, for the most part neither saints nor sinners, but who tend to boldly live on the sinner side of the line. And of them all, the vampire almost seems the most saintly. (And one final note: the Little's projection marred the film with terrible judder, so boo to the Little and boo to digital.)
  3. Red Hollywood at the Dryden, February 21: Having heard of Senator Joseph McCarthy's state-sponsored murders in the 1950's, I was curious to hear the "other" side. Basically this is Thom Andersen's essay highlighting the horrors and failures of the push to rid America of members of the Communist Party. It is a dense and thick film, and I was lacking two important pieces of information: what exactly is communism in that era—and in terms of "members of the Communist Party"—and how did the example film clips act as subversive messages. As such, I spent much of the film trying to articulate my questions, and then to answer them. For instance, I thought "helping people when they were out-of-luck" was a genuinely good trait, so to see it framed as communist propaganda was thoroughly puzzling. Nonetheless, I guess it ended up making me pretty sad as—my beliefs aside—it is well-known that the fleecing of the worker for the benefit of the business owner is celebrated dogma in America, and more prevalent than ever.
  4. Wild at the Cinema, February 28: Sneaking a double-feature in before the wire, there were these two films I thought looked interesting. I heard mixed but overall good things about Wild, but I was immediately put off. As soon as it started, I came up with this synopsis: "a moron tries to walk the Pacific Crest Trail." We're introduced to Cheryl (Reese Witherspoon) who shows up to a hotel with a giant backpack and begins to prepare for a 1,100 mile journey. I'm admittedly an extreme planner, so when I see someone attempt something new without so much as asking a single human being for advice, or consulting a book, I'm already not with them. Thankfully, the PCT in the film is the easiest hike in the world. We're told through flashback that despite having the most caring mother in the world (Laura Dern as Bobbi), she was blindsided by some terrible personal events. So this journey is one of personal discovery that, by sheer luck, does not end in the death of the main character. Now to be frank, this is not a terrible movie, it's just that it's, well, mediocre. And since it's supposed to be realistic, the non-realistic moments are glaring. Like how can a Minnesotan not know how to deal with snow?, how are lodges along the way full of people despite an absolutely desolate trail?, or why would a trail guide fail to mention the lack of water up ahead? If you can get into the personal story and don't tend to worry about realism in a realistic movie, then yeah, this would be a very good film for you. I'm betting the book is better.
  5. Cake at the Cinema, February 28: I'm like, "okay, Jennifer Aniston as Claire, a woman in a chronic-pain support group who becomes obsessed with the suicide of a fellow member … yeah, I can get into that". Only again, the non-realisim in the realistic movie gets to me right away. Claire has some unspecified chronic pain, but it's so unspecified that the pain apparently shifts around so she can only lay down when in a car, but can easily sit for in chairs just fine, and she aches and groans in bed, but can get out of bed with only the apparent achiness of an average 45-year-old. And, like Wild, this is a personal journey story, but I will say this and spoil the movie a little: she doesn't go from a quasi-crippled curmudgeon to a happy, healthy hero, so there's that bit of realism. She does grow a bit … I guess … but it's so slow and subtle that I wonder if I wasn't simply mistaken.

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