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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Ten More Movies: January 2014 to March 2014

So here's the last 10 movies I watched …

  1. Inside Llewyn Davis at the Little, January 29: Jenn and I got a chance to see this with her mom. Jenn was looking forward to the latest Coen Brothers' movie and I thought it looked good enough. It's another great film if you like live music. And if you are an artist or know artists—musicians particularly—you'll certainly recognize the duality of their lives: to others, they seem to be ego maniacal jerks, and within themselves, they suffer the (socially acceptable) indignity of having their creative vision treated like some kind of worthless communal property.
  2. Bettie Page Reveals All at the Dryden, January 31: Jenn and I saw this together as we were both interested in Page's life, but as a documentary, I found it lacking. Perhaps it was because, while I think Bettie Page is pretty and I think she's unique in being the canonical example of a pin-up girl, I don't think of her as some sort of magical being outside the realm of humanity. Unfortunately, the filmmakers were dazzled by her. So I guess if you're dazzled by Page, you might adore the film more. Anyway, both Jenn and I were fascinated by Page's central interview. I couldn't help but think there was something she was omitting. It wasn't until much later that I realized it was her: she never spoke of her own aspirations or motivations, only about what happened to her, as if she were simply a passive party to her own life. In some ways, that's the most interesting thing about her as a person, and something the documentary makers seem to have ignored.
  3. Is the Man Who Is Tall Happy? at the Dryden, February 11: Ted, Jenn, and I went to see this animated feature by Michel Gondry as he interviews Noam Chomsky. Although I admire Chomsky, I often find his densely intellectual sentences daunting. Gondry plays against this—plays the fool if you will—to great effect, slowing the flow of Chomsky's wisdom into digestible pieces.
  4. The Straight Story at the Dryden, February 20: Overall I enjoyed this (true) tale of a man who travels by riding lawnmower to visit his estranged brother. I'm not sure if it was solely perception, but I noticed David Lynch's cinematic affectations very much at the beginning of the film (e.g. slowly tracking to a window on the side of a house) but by the end, I didn't notice them at all (e.g. frighteningly aggressive-seeming vehicular traffic).
  5. Trouble Every Day at the Wexner Center for the Arts, Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio, February 22: Jenn, her friend Heather Wetzel, Ali, Ted, and I saw this on a group trip to Columbus. As I was watching, I was acutely aware of the feeling I was going insane. Jenn compared it to Possession which I found to be a similarly impenetrable film, somewhat about an abusive relationship. It's got the methodical, deliberate pacing of a French (or Italian—see La grande bellezza, below) film as it outlines a bizarre condition or illness that causes people to behave, ostensibly, like vampires.
  6. Jack Goes Boating at the Little, February 28: This was the only one of the films in the Little's Philip Seymour Hoffman Tribute series that I went to see, and lo, I had seen it before—when it was released, actually. Nonetheless, it was interesting to watch it one more time. It's the story of a couple middle-aged people mired in each of jeir own neuroses who try to date, mirrored against the seemingly "normal" relationship between Jack's friend John and Connie's friend Lucy.
  7. Her at the Cinema, March 1: Jenn and I went to see this together and since the double-feature totaled well over 4 hours, we opted to watch this as a matinée. In case you haven't heard the rough plot outline, it's about a writer who falls in love with his computer's new, artificially-intelligent operating system. There are so many ways this could have gone terribly badly—as a movie, I mean—but Spike Jonze managed to avoid all the many possible pitfalls in both his writing and directing. The operating system, named Samantha, is amiable and its relationship with Theodore is downright believable. Even the conclusion is as reasonably satisfying as can be expected.
  8. La grande bellezza (The Great Beauty) at the Cinema, March 4: I had been looking forward to seeing this since before I missed it at the Dryden. I've been trying to describe it for some time now. What seems most satisfying is that it is a methodical meditation on what it is to look back on one's life. It's about a man named Jep Gambardella who looks back on his life where he became the epicenter of nightlife in Rome. It's punctuated with numerous expansive, loving shots of the city.
  9. A Foreign Affair at the Dryden, March 13: Jenn and I headed out to see this together on faith that Billy Wilder would deliver an entertaining movie. While it was truly entertaining, it's more evocative as a time capsule, as it's one of the only films I know of that is shot in Berlin shortly after the end of World War II, and it deliberately uses the bombed-out backdrop and opportunistic American GIs to move the plot forward.
  10. Dead Man, March 14: Jenn and I had both seen this before—she's far better versed in the other works of Jim Jarmusch than I (and has introduced me to Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai and Broken Flowers, both of which I liked.) I wrote about this a while back and my comments still hold, but I'll add the film holds up well after repeated viewings. I think I made a stronger point to notice the respectful and un-romanticized view of Native Americans, and of the un-glorious view of killing and of life on the Western frontier.

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Doubt at the Little

Ali and I went to The Little (240 East Ave.) to see Doubt. It's a fascinating film which, although obviously different from the play (which neither of us saw), is extremely strong. I suppose it could only help that the film was written and directed by the original playwright, John Patrick Shanley. The story primarily follows Father Flynn (Philip Seymour Hoffman), the minister of St. Nicholas in the Bronx in 1964, and Sister Aloysius (Meryl Streep), the principal of the affiliated school. Flynn takes an interest in one of the students: Donald Muller — a black boy in an otherwise all-white school. Sister Aloysius fully believes Flynn molested Donald and intends to ensure he [Flynn — duh] is punished.

The audience is left to their own beliefs to ascertain whether Flynn molested Donald. I found this fascinating, as I maintained his innocence throughout the film but realized afterward that I could experience the film again completely differently by believing he was guilty.

Sister Aloysius is someone who would act to destroy based on their beliefs. I think it's a particular kind of logic that permits this: believing that one's belief alone is more true than having no factual basis — perhaps a manifestation of the nature of faith (although in the case of religious faith, it's more about filling a gap in that which is knowable). The trouble is, there is an element of circular justification: if she succeeds in destroying Flynn's reputation, she feels justified, but by putting her own reputation on the line in making such an accusation, she has no choice but to fight to destroy Flynn's reputation no matter whether he was guilty or not.

Sister James, meanwhile, acts as a foil to Sister Aloysius by believing in the kindness of others. Sister Aloysius' long-time experience as disciplinarian provides her only with evidence of sin and wrongdoing. So is it Sister James' naiveté or Sister Aloysius' limited perspective that is at fault?

For myself, I find that when factual evidence is not available, belief in kindness is the more fruitful path. As is the case with Sister Aloysius, believing more in evil makes you a destructive force in the world whereas believing more in good opens up the possibility of being constructive.

But equally important is that it makes you happier to believe that people are generally kind.

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