Movies in November, 2014

  1. The Phantom of the Opera in Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre on November 1: Jenn and I went to see this presentation with live accompaniment by the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra. During the introduction, guest conductor Donald Hunsberger mentioned that the Kodak Hall theater was originally designed to project movies, and that the cheapest seats were 20¢ (which, according to this US Inflation Calculator is $2.72 in 2014 dollars—a far cry from the $25 cheap seats at tonight's performance, and even farther from the more expensive ones we bought). Also, rather than projecting the film from film, it was a digital projection with a lot of issues (the numerous digital compression artifacts were probably due to a cheap DVD, but the lack of image contrast was as much the fault of the projection as it was the orchestral lighting.) The only thing that was exemplary was the music, although, admittedly, I've been spoiled by the overarching perfectionism demonstrated at  Eastman School of Music student performances. Anyway, the film was still quite good and disturbing.
  2. The Skeleton Twins at the Cinema on November 4: Ever since I saw the trailer at the Little, I had a lukewarm interest in seeing this. Jenn and I finally got to go and it was generally quite good. There's a lot of humor and camaraderie interspersed with incredibly dark imagery. Brother and sister Maggie and Milo, estranged for ten years, are reunited as both their lives are not going as well as they had hoped. Plagued with depression and thoughts of suicide, the two do their best to reconnect. For those who have seen it, I argue that the ending is false since it's so inconceivable, but Jenn felt it was true—and depending on who you believe, it really changes the film.
  3. Guardians of the Galaxy at the Cinema on November 8: Jenn and I caught the matinee and, well, it's a good, entertaining film. I'm having a hard time with recent audience reaction sending it into many "top-100 films of all time" as it's not really "better" than, say, Taxi Driver. Sure it's competently made, rather amusing, and no more unbelievable than any other comic-book film, but it's not that good. The basic plot is that a modern-day human becomes a space pirate and teams up with an unlikely group to stop a Big Bad.
  4. Rebecca at the Dryden on November 8: Jenn and I went to see this film by Alfred Hitchcock in his American debut. I was suitably impressed—it's a tense, cruel story of a woman who marries an older widower only to live in the shadow of his former wife.
  5. St. Vincent at the Little on November 9: Knowing only that Bill Murray plays the lead, I headed to this with Jenn to finish up our trifecta of local movie houses for the weekend. The story is warm and engaging and Murray does a fine job as an aged curmudgeon shut-in who's coerced to take care of a young boy next door. I was a bit annoyed at the unrealistic cinematic construct that the boy was consistently perfect, spouting pithy wisdom beyond his years and never acting like a child. Although I was impressed that the script called for Vincent to only be a more-or-less average guy to earn his premortem canonization.
  6. Sorcerer at the Dryden on November 22: I was curious about this film solely for the dramatic poster shot, and thankfully not distracted by the digital projection (except the very first scene—of all things). The film is based on the book The Wages of Fear which is the source material for Henri-Georges Clouzot's Le salaire de la peur (The Wages of Fear) from 1953. Anyway, it's about a group of expatriates from various countries who, desperate for a way out of their inhospitable work conditions, take on the task of transporting unstable explosives through rough terrain. While the dehumanizing nature of capitalism is used only as a setup, the actual journey is incredibly tense. And indeed the dramatic poster shot is the pinnacle of tension and certainly worth seeing.

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Dr. Strangelove and Bridge on the River Kwai at the Dryden

I rushed to get to the Dryden Theater at George Eastman House (900 East Ave.) to see Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. It turned out to be quite the popular movie and it wouldn't have mattered if I hurried or not for I just ended up at the end of a long line. I also ran into Rebecca and her boyfriend, so the three of us got together for the film.

I've long enjoyed it as the blackest of the black comedies — I mean, it really doesn't get funnier than "mutually assured destruction" [perhaps save for "mutually assured self-destruction"]. The very idea that one erroneous step in the arms race and kaboom: life would be far different now than it turned out to be.

Last Wednesday I headed there (the Dryden, not nuclear apocalypse) to see The Bridge on the River Kwai. I hadn't seen it before, but Stanley Kubrick blurs the line even further between black comedy, satire, and drama. I mean, can you really do a serious movie about war — or more particularly, the logic of war? It just doesn't make any sense outside its absurd context, as if the rules of life were completely dumped topsy-turvy.

But both films really dismantle the idea of the romantic view of war as some kind of beautiful peak experience. The reality is it's bat-shit fucking crazy. It really gives me, well, strange feelings toward our troops in Iraq.

On the one hand, I genuinely dish out gratitude for their actions. I get confused as to why, exactly. I mean, I'm not glad that they're killing people. And I don't believe that what we're doing is making anything better — short-term unquestionably worse, and long-term unlikely better — at least from my broad, detached, ill-informed [thanks media, government!] view. But then for what? Perhaps that they believe — they believe so much in America that they're willing to go to a far away place where people want to kill them and stand up and say "I'm an American" and shoot anyone who tries to shoot them.

I kind of envy that kind of thinking, for it's not so simple for me. I think the Constitution was a fantastic architecture for a government, and the Bill of Rights is a stupefyingly excellent invention. But the constant attempts to leverage power — oy!, enough already! Maybe it's inevitable human behavior to abuse power, but if so, then why permit authority in the first place?

So then the jingoist asks, "so are you for America or against it?" Let me answer this way: "I am all for my version of America." The one that puts the individual at the head of the pack — not the judge or the President, but the individual. I mean, imagine the difference it would make to hear, "I'm your representative: how can I help you?" rather than "I'm your leader: do what I tell you."

I'm kind of an idealist about the whole thing. I mean, I believe that, given freedom, that people will behave well toward one another. Unfortunately, I'm up against people who believe so strongly otherwise that they will demonstrate behavior counter to my ideal for the purpose of proving it false.

But hey, that's the nature of war.

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Thanksgiving 2007

I got up at 7 a.m. and put the turkey in the oven (after having prepared it all last night) and I got the rolls thawing. I got the kitchen cleaned up and then finished up cleaning up the house. I intended to go back to bed but it never actually happened. Ali came by around 10 and I got the coffee going. The flurry of activity around the house crescendoed around noon when I took the turkey out and Ali and I worked on potatoes, broccoli, gravy, cheese sauce, cooking the rolls, and getting the pies warmed up.

My parents arrived around 1 and Ali's parents and kid sister arrived shortly after. Ali had brought her artichoke casserole, my parents brought stuffing and another pie, and Ali's family brought pumpkin bread, wine, and squash. While moms and dads spent some time getting to know one another, Ali and I buzzed around, getting an excellent meal set up that basically went off without a hitch. I thought it wasn't as organized as last year, but then I had no standard upon which to base things and everything I tried was pretty much for the first time. Our guests disagreed and felt it was even better (well it was just my parents and Ali last year so her family was without a point of comparison.)

It all went well and even the pies were well received (I had made pumpkin and apple — apple for the first time). Afterward it was off to Ali's new house so my parents could see it and then everyone went home. All that work for a really great 4-hour period. It's disproportionately skewed toward planning, but that's the name of the game.

So Ali and I got things cleaned up a bit then took a nap. Thank goodness. We slept for 2 hours or so then got up and headed to my friend Rebecca's party. It was once an annual thing, but last year she apparently broke her foot, bought a house, and disappeared. Well the hugely amazing party was back this year — with dozens of desserts that followed an astounding buffet that Ali and I had skipped for our own.

The friends and family there were all very good people. Ali had a great time and was glad she didn't skip it — after all, she planned to get up early to do some seasonal work for our friends business at 5 a.m. the next day. She didn't even leave until 11 or so — although both of us thankfully live just around the corner. I ended up consuming a steady stream of alcohol until quite late — I got home around 4:30 a.m. and considered calling Ali to see if she was up. [In fact she was.]

So it was an excellent holiday overall.

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