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.

632 total views, no views today

Movies in August, 2015 including The Weather Underground, Christo's Valley Curtain, Spy, The Devil-Doll, and The End of the Tour

  1. The Weather Underground at the Flying Squirrel, August 3: Born in 1970, I was barely aware of the Weather Underground when they were active from the tail end of the U.S.–Vietnam War through the early 1980s. They were a radical group most notorious for bombing U.S. targets in retaliation for injustices, starting with the "Days of Rage" designed to "bring the [Vietnam] war home". The film gives voice to the core members alive today. In general, their tone was remorseful about their actions but unashamed of their ideology. Watching it, I observed a couple things. First, when one's country's military is constantly murdering people for political and ideological reasons, it stands to reason that that rationale will steep in the minds of the citizenry—and that is just what happened with the Weather Underground. They felt that the only option was to murder their enemies as that had become the law of the land (much like it is in today's state of constant warfare.) Second, it underscored the absolute lack of a political "far left" (or even a "left" for that matter) today. I could at least look at the actions of the Weather Underground and say, "whoa—those people are way too radical for me." Instead, I am the radical in the room when I say things like, "maybe we should share our wealth instead of hoarding it"—and, call me crazy, but that is not "radical" or "far left" at all.
  2. Christo's Valley Curtain at the Dryden, August 5: I had have been curious about conceptual artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude for some time—especially since visiting The Gates in NYC in 2005. This film is the Maysles' first in of many collaborations with Christo and Jeanne-Claude and I thought it quite exemplary. Its design is an inspiration to many modern documentarians today, splitting between a design timeline, and the days of the installation. The project itself was fascinating, and there are two standout people—both construction workers. One is flabbergasted that someone could conceive of such a project and is amazed by its immense beauty. Another, an iron worker operating the rigging to unfurl the curtain from its suspension cabling, is giddily nervous and waxes poetic, "I'm as nervous as a whore in a field of peckers."
  3. Running Fence at the Dryden, August 5: In some ways I thought this was not as good as "Valley Curtain" but the topic is much more complex. This time the central conflict is getting the legal approval to install a 18-foot-high, 25-mile-long fabric fence across two counties in California and display it for two weeks. I thought the film took some liberties with the timeline to make for a better story as Christo and Jeanne-Claude are initially rebuffed only to convince the effected ranchers individually in a montage, then be approved. However, I think the film is an excellent document of the collaborative and community nature of the duo's work.
  4. Spy at the Cinema, August 9: I read a positive review and convinced Jenn to go too. Indeed, Melissa McCarthy's performance was perfect and the whole film quite hilarious. The story goes that after the identities of their active agents are compromised, a "behind the earpiece" CIA agent Susan (McCarthy) volunteers to go into active duty to thwart an (admittedly ludicrous) plot. I also appreciated that the supporting characters were generally strong, particularly Allison Janney as Susan's wry boss Elaine, and Jason Statham as the ridiculously inappropriate agent Rick Ford. And while there were a few gags that played off McCarthy's average appearance, there were many more that made use of her quick wit and comedic timing.
  5. Terminator: Genisys at the Cinema, August 9: I figured I'd give this a shot although Jenn left after just a few minutes. I've seen the "Terminator" films so this one seemed like a kind of boring rehash … and it's full of flaws … but it was entertaining enough that I stayed to the end. I thought it rather funny that, with The Terminator being released in 1984, I remember thinking Linda Hamilton's Sarah Connor was an adult woman, while in this 2015 film, Emilia Clarke's Sarah Connor was just a girl even though both actors were 28 years old as of each film's release date. (And funny enough, Clarke was born exactly 2 years after the release of the earlier film.) It also kind of bugged me that Hamilton's feathered 1980s hairdo wasn't replicated, but I guess it would have been kind of distracting. Umm, yeah, anyway, the film is kind of meh. Stuff happens … there's inexplicable time travel … there's an inexplicable countdown … there's an inexplicably powerful enemy … a whole lot of inexplicable stuff, actually.
  6. The Devil-Doll at the Dryden, August 18: Jenn had already seen this, although not on the big screen in a long time. I admired the commitment to special effects of dogs and people shrunk to doll-size, and to be honest, the plot was rather tense (if flawed and absurd—science fiction aside.) Although characters and goals get dumped along the way, the central plot is that of Paul (played perfectly by Lionel Barrymore) who escapes from prison to exact revenge on his former partners who set him up 17 years prior.
  7. Islands at the Dryden, August 19: Jenn and I went to see these further collaborations between filmmaking brothers Albert Maysles and David Maysles, and artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude. Islands documents the "Surrounded Islands" project around six islands in the Biscayne Bay near Miami, Florida in 1983. With nearly the same structure as Running Fence, the artists are met with resistance, then acceptance following a montage of community outreach. I thought the resulting project was the least interesting I had seen, and long shots of its completion were made less appealing by a banal soundtrack.
  8. Christo in Paris at the Dryden, August 19: Although tired, Jenn stayed through this—partly because of better music. It documents the intertwined lives of Christo and Jeanne-Claude, and "The Pont Neuf Wrapped" project, surrounding the oldest and most famous bridge in Paris. This later film recycles a fair amount of footage from Islands as it had meandered into this concurrent project as well. Perhaps most fascinating was the opinionated French debates of artistic merit on the pedestrian ways across the bridge at the completion of the project. And the politicking of then-mayor Jacques Chirac.
  9. The End of the Tour at the Little, August 23: Neither Jenn nor I knew much about author David Foster Wallace aside from an excerpt from a commencement speech on BrainPickings. Jason Segel admirably plays the part of Wallace (or at least makes for a character that embodies every letter of the script) and comes off as a likable misfit, too beautiful for this world. Jesse Eisenberg, meanwhile, fills the role of Rolling Stone interviewer as an everyman, clumsily hiding his jealousy.
  10. Umbrellas at the Dryden, August 26: I convinced Jenn to see this Maysles brothers film again showing the work of Christo and Jean-Claude. The artists installed thousands of large umbrellas—yellow ones in California and blue ones in Japan—for a temporary exhibition. I guess I continue to be fascinated by these artists as their work stands in such contrast to nearly any other artist I've heard of—both in scale and in its temporary nature.
  11. People Places Things at the Cinema, August 28: Jenn and I skipped the first feature and caught this film we had a passing interest in seeing. It's about a man who is shocked by the breakup with his longtime girlfriend and how he deals with it. Unfortunately he's a bit of a Mary Sue as he's got a consistently well-meaning, kind, and naïve perspective throughout, played against a half-dozen comparatively undeveloped characters—mostly women, although "Gary" is the biggest milquetoast pushover of them all. In all it's got a fair number of amusing moments, so it was mildly entertaining to watch.

887 total views, no views today

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.

1,196 total views, no views today