Ten and a Half More Movies: March 2014 to May 2014

So here's the last 10 movies I watched …

  1. Tim's Vermeer at the Little, March 16: This is a documentary about a man named Tim Jenison who was interested in the photo-realistic paintings by Johannes Vermeer, and tried to devise a technique to replicate his technique. As a documentary, it's adequate and entertaining, but it's the subject that is most intriguing. I knew virtually nothing of the works of Vermeer coming in to this film, so I took it as fact what they said. Afterward I did a bit of research and found that Vermeer was neither as mysterious as the film implies, nor was his work — save for a couple specific examples — anomalously photo-realistic for the time period. In any case, The Music Lesson had certain qualities that Jenison found intriguing: how had Vermeer created such photo-realism 200 years before the invention of photography? He suspected a device, and set to building one. What he made (although I don't recall the film mentioning it) is a unique form of camera lucida (thanks to Jenn for knowing that!) which uses lenses and mirrors rather than a prism. With that, he succeeded in recreating The Music Lesson, and in doing so, reproduced a tiny flaw (the pattern on the virginal curves ever so slightly while its edges are drawn by straight-edge) that strongly implied the use of optics beyond the traditional camera lucida. I think this discovery is something that would be of interest to art historians and inventors alike.
  2. Les parapluies de Cherbourg (The Umbrellas of Cherbourg) at the Dryden, March 18: A young woman is in love with a man who gets enlisted in the Algerian war … loves are lost … loves are found. In all it's a well-worn story told in brilliant color.
  3. Here One Day in Hoyt Auditorium on the University of Rochester Campus, March 27: It's a documentary where Kathy Leichter revisits her mother Nina's suicide 16 years prior. The catalyst was the rediscovery of audio cassettes Nina recorded for many years; Kathy found them shortly after the suicide, but couldn't bear to listen to them at the time. As such, the use of the cassettes makes the event seem extraordinarily current in the lives of Kathy, her brother, and her father. It's a beautiful, moving, and insightful film that begins to bridge the gap between the thought process of a mentally-healthy person and one suffering from depression (or in this case, manic-depression a.k.a. bipolar disorder.) After the film, there was a panel discussion and one woman spoke about her daughter's depression. What resonated with me was how she saw suicide as a loss, but her daughter saw it as freedom — a concept that made me realize how much my culture mistakenly assumes everyone thinks alike in some way, and how that may be a central reason for the challenges of addressing mental illness.
  4. The Grand Budapest Hotel at the Little, March 28: Jenn, Chris, and I went to see this together — Jenn and Chris being very excited about the new film by Wes Anderson; I didn't have strong expectations. The short is I thoroughly enjoyed it. It reminded me of the ensemble screwball comedies of the past (e.g. It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World) in which expected stars appear in a silly comedy. And this one is definitely silly and absurd.
  5. Pink Flamingos at the Dryden, April 2: I finally got around to seeing this after having been recommended many times over the years by different people. It's definitely a rough-around-the-edges kind of independent film, and also definitely delivers on being "an exercise in poor taste". I'm glad I finally saw it, in part to get the many references to it in a variety of media, but also because it's genuinely an entertaining movie. This version (from a re-release in 1997) included some (rather hilarious) outtakes and some commentary by filmmaker John Waters.
  6. Tectonics in Hubbell Auditorium at UofR, April 10: I saw this as part of OnFilm's "Earths" program (and stayed after for only four of 13 Lakes, mostly due to simple exhaustion/tiredness.) Tectonics was quite brilliant. In it, Peter Bo Rappmund filmed various locations along both sides of the U.S.-Mexico Border in-order from the Gulf of Mexico to the Pacific. I went into it with a bit of trepidation as my prejudices of borders — and this one in particular — are that they are useless, harmful relics of xenophobic nationalism. As such, I began the film with negative feelings of frustration and anger. Rappmund's anti-temporal filmmaking techniques (where he looped sequences-of-images and time-lapse photography which created a timelessness, and used overlapped field-recordings to carry the chronological narrative) led me to experience the border as something intensely futile, intensely irrational, and intensely beautiful. It was disconcerting to me to see all this technology and effort dedicated to creating suffering. But by the end, I found myself at peace with all of it. One thing that helped was the timeless quality of the film which implied a longer-term view — that this silliness is all temporary. Rappmund was present at the screening to answer questions, but I was just glad to thank him personally for making the film.
  7. The Kentucky Fried Movie at the Dryden, April 16: I remember seeing this as a kid and finding its irreverent and ribald humor to be unequivocally hilarious. It's a movie consisting of short sketches which is still funny, although it's almost more interesting to watch it as a historical relic owing to the extremely dated scenarios. And I imagine anyone raised with access to YouTube will find the humor at best, ho-hum. Well, the Kung-Fu parody, "A Fistful of Yen" is still very funny and extremely clever.
  8. The Kodak Employee Variety Show (U.S. 1960, 90 min., 16mm) at the Dryden, April 22: Jenn and I went to the "Made in Rochester" series "Kodak" show at the Dryden to check out some of the rarities. We felt a bit slighted that it was a 90-minute film followed by 3 shorts: a far cry from "a number of test films and company home movies" as we were promised. Nonetheless, the first film was a recording of the 1960 Kodak Employee Variety Show — a presentation that appeared to be largely for the sales staff of the company. As a film, it was the worst musical I ever saw (har har); in large part, it was an insufferable company party like I remember from my corporate days. The productions were high-quality and weirdly yet unsurprisingly Kodak-centric. There seemed to be a lot of tongue-in-cheek jabs at the Russians and Communism, not long after the worst of Senator Joseph McCarthy's state-sponsored murders. But perhaps the best moment was a look in to the "distant future" of 1970 when, rather than a log book, salesmen (and yes, they were all men) would carry a device as small as a pack of matches to dictate expenses and take photos of where they were — an ironic premonition of digital photography. In all, I'm glad to have had a chance to have seen it, but didn't enjoy the process. (Although I did offer Jenn $50 if she could spot a black person, and we jokingly pointed out white people on-stage in shadow.) We snuck out during intermission and skipped the shorts.
  9. Richard Pryor: Live in Concert at the Dryden, April 23: I was glad to be able to finally see this — a ribald performance made legendary by tales told by high-school friends in the 1980's, right at the dawn of home-video. In general the comedy holds up today, particularly his insightful jabs at white culture. Pryor's artistry lets him talk about embarrassing personal situations without the shadow of making it into a therapy session that so often plagues other performers' anecdotes. It's wonderful to be able to remember Pryor at the top of his game like this.
  10. Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe at the Dryden, May 6: The first of two short films by Les Blank, this one deals with, well, Werner Herzog eating his shoe. He made a bet with Erol Morris to complete his film, Gates of Heaven, which, obviously he did. The film gives Herzog the chance to talk about following through with commitments and about following your own passion. I've always enjoyed listening to him as he's got a unique articulate way of explaining his view of the world.
  11. (and ½) Garlic Is as Good as Ten Mothers also at the Dryden, May 6: The second half of the double-shorts program is Blank's film on the wonders of garlic. It's a fascinating sampler of off-center views in the late 1970's, and Blank's style (like the previous film) paces the documentaries exceedingly well, making them both a joy to watch.

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OnFilm's Layers Program

I was excited to see the short-film program "Layers" by the University of Rochester OnFilm group. It was an impressive collection that centered around the "layers" theme and all the ramifications it can entail.

Starting out was 45 7 Broadway (Tomonari Nishikawa, 2013, 5 min., 16mm) in which Nishikawa shot scenes in Times Square successively with black-and-white film filtered with red, green, and blue filters, then made a color composite by merging the three resulting films to form a pseudo-color image. The effect was marvelous, often presenting rippling true-colors in stationary objects and overlaid colors in those that moved. At one point, I felt like I could smell the city.

Volcano Saga (Joan Jonas, 1989, 28 min., video) was an interesting interpretation of the Icelandic Laxdeala Saga — a tale of dream analysis — given an experimental-video spin. Capitalism: Child Labor (Ken Jacobs, 2006, 14 min., video) was a disorienting interpretation of a stereo-view of child workers in a factory. Jacobs quickly alternated between the images creating the illusion of continuously spinning, and added detail views that seemed to rotate on their own.

In Her + Him Van Leo (Akram Zaatari, 2001, 32 min., video), Zaatari visits the photographer who created a scantily-clad image of his grandmother which he discovered in his mother's closet. I found the repetitive technique a bit annoying at times, but the film was rather humorous and overall interesting. Of note to me was that Van Leo had a large-format camera which looked nearly identical to Jenn's camera in her new studio — particularly the heavy wheeled tripod.

I was a bit lost with Castro Street (Bruce Baillie, 1966, 10 min., 16mm). It was an experimental view of trains and industrialization … I guess. I'm not good at guessing, though. Likewise, Lot in Sodom (James Sibley Watson and Melville Webber, 1933, 28 min., 16mm), being a Biblical tale I didn't know (like most of them), I was kind of lost as to what was going on. Nonetheless, it was interesting to see their experimental filming techniques that rivaled what people were doing 30 years later.

Waves of Betrayal (Jae Matthews, 2007, 5 min., 16 mm B&W reversal transferred to video) was an interesting bit of film: according to the OnFilm description, it "is a home processed short where the ocean documented in the film was also used as the mixing material for the developer, stop, and fix baths". This resulted in a unique tonality to the film and scratches from sediment. Let me just say that it is the knowledge of the process that makes this film interesting.

Concluding the night was O'er the Land (Deborah Stratman, 2009, 52 min., 16mm), a view of modern American patriotism in many forms. I personally found it upsetting to have the idea of America's jingoistic militarism echoed back to me so strongly. Contrasting it with the waning natural wonders we have, the effect was even more profound.

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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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A Trip to Columbus

Jenn and I headed toward Columbus with her dog Maia on Friday morning. We first went to The Wayne & Geraldine Kuhn Fine Arts Gallery at the Marion Campus of Ohio State University to take pictures of Jenn's show Rec•ord, which has been on display since the beginning of the year. The gallery is small, and the satellite campus is not nearly as well attended as the main campus in Columbus, but the guestbook revealed quite a few visitors.

The show itself was of Jenn's ambrotype photograms of small objects. She uses a wet-plate collodion process to create the one-of-a-kind ambrotype positives on anodized aluminum. Her level of mastery of that technique is on par with a fairly small set of experts in the field. Her work speaks to the distortion of the photographic process as a way to reliably represent objects and people.

Afterward we went to Columbus to visit her friend Heather Wetzel. We walked near Heather's house and stopped by Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams (4247 N. High St., Columbus, OH). On this visit, I found it too busy and rushed to make a proper assessment, but the ice cream was indeed good. I didn't find it substantially better than Hedonist Artisan Ice Cream, though, and actually found the huge array of flavors to be more daunting than appealing.

On Saturday morning, Ted and Ali arrived to join us for the weekend. We headed to Whole World Natural Restaurant (3269 N. High St., Columbus, OH) for lunch. As vegan food goes, it's hit-and-miss, but I went with the safe bet of avocado on a croissant. Afterward we went to the excellent Pattycake Bakery (3009 N. High St., Columbus, OH) and had some great vegan treats.

Heather wanted to stop by the opening of a The Mirage and the Rainbow: 2014 Department of Art Master of Fine Arts Thesis Exhibition at OSU's Urban Arts Space (50 W. Town Street, Suite 130 in the Historic Lazarus Building, Columbus, Ohio 43215) so she could see some of her students' work. Overall it was a good show. Ali, Jenn, and Heather took part in this "Dr. Armbruster's Laboratories" "experiment" where they were measured then drew with a paint drip test. It was a lot of fun.

The "Armbruster" name was fictitious, but I had to look up the list of MFA candidates to remember the ones I wanted, and didn't discern who did that work. The complete list from the website included: Jacci Delaney (Glass), Jonathan Fitz (Ceramics), Leah Frankel (Sculpture), Andrew Frueh (Art and Technology), Keith Garubba (Printmaking), Nick George (Photography), Anne Keener (Painting & Drawing), Gun Young Kim (Ceramics), Amanda Kline (Photography), David Knox (Printmaking), Sage Lewis (Painting and Drawing), Peter Luckner (Art and Technology), Jessica Naples (Photography), Ashley Neukamm (Ceramics), Amy Ritter (Glass), Philip Spangler (Sculpture), and Jennifer Watson (Printmaking). Anyway, I also liked Gun Young Kim's distorted self-sculptures and I was drawn to Amy Ritter's cardboard cutout nudes (digitally manipulated to remove any sexuality).

From there, we went to the Wexner Center for the Arts where we saw Trouble Every Day (Claire Denis, 2002). (I added it to my mini-reviews for the last few months if you're curious.) For dinner we went to Dirty Franks (248 S. 4th St., Columbus, OH) which I thought was quite excellent. They specialize in hot dogs, so it seems natural to compare them to Dogtown, but in this case, I liked Dirty Franks better. In all fairness, the quality is about the same, but Dirty Franks has a few extra unusual toppings, and adding cream cheese to a vegan dog is just great (rendering it vegetarian, at best). The macaroni-and-cheese was considerably sub-par for my taste. (Along with the other meals we ate-out, it made me think Columbus had a preference for blander food.) Later we made another visit to Jeni's and I was more satisfied with my selections and the experience.

On Sunday we took a little detour and stopped at Delaware State Park (5202 U.S. Highway 23 N., Delaware, OH) to let Maia run around before stopping by the Kuhn Fine Arts Gallery to take down Jenn's show. From there, we headed back home.

We stopped in Erie for a bit. We tried to find Whole Foods Co-Op (1341 W. 26th St., Erie, PA) as they have something called "cashew cheese". However, we made a mistake somewhere along the way and found the co-op had just closed. So, quite hungry, we decided to go to Wegmans (6143 Peach St., Erie, PA). I get grumpy when I'm hungry and Erie is, as best I could tell, the most miserable place on Earth and I will never go back there. (Time may moderate that opinion.)

Upon leaving Erie, our collective plans, so Jenn and I in one car, and Ted and Ali in another headed toward home at our respective paces. We forgot to stop for gas in Erie as we had planned, and we started running low so we got off and stopped at the Flying J Travel Plaza (8484 Allegheny Rd., Pembroke). To our surprise, Ted and Ali were there too in the same predicament despite having last crossed paths somewhere around Buffalo.

We arrived home late that night, exhausted.

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Rochester Movie Makers' "Mind2Movie Challenge" Screening at the Cinema

Ali, Ted, and I met with Jenn, and Jenn's mom at the Gatehouse restaurant for dinner. After that, we all headed to the Rochester Movie Makers' Mind2Movie Challenge screening at the Cinema. They screened last year's winner and the 19 entries then had an awards ceremony.

If you recall from the post introducing the Mind2Movie challenge this year, the gist was to try and include three elements in our story: a character, an object, and a scenario. We were scored based on how well we used our character, our prop, and our situation, the storytelling, and the film technique.

This year's winner was team "Claydogh" with its sole member, Ben Doran. (2014-Feb-18 update: You can view "Ed" on Vimeo now.) His film received a score substantially higher than any other team. They said the next 5 teams were differentiated by only 6 points (out of a possible 200). I seem to remember them being in the 140-range; we got 135, and a few people said they really liked ours (including the MC, Mike McFadden.) We're all very … umm … curious about the surly judge who seemed to like nothing about what we made, but three of the four judges thought it was quite good in all categories.

Ted uploaded our film to YouTube and you can watch it there, or you might be able to watch it below. The film is called "The Singer" and was to include an entertainer, a communicator, and a scenario in which the communicator is stolen. Ted plays The Singer, Jenn plays The Photographer, I'm The Conjurer, Lucy is The Singer's Dog, and Maia is The Photographer's Dog. (That's right: we decided to make a movie with two dogs!)
Continue reading

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The 2014 Rochester Movie Makers' 72 Hour Mind 2 Movie Challenge

I read about the Rochester Movie Makers' 72 Hour Mind 2 Movie Challenge on their website and really wanted to give it a try. So when I mentioned it to Jenn, Ali, and Ted, they jumped at the chance. Ali and I went to the RCTV Studio on Thursday evening to get our packets. We had to make up a team name and after a few minutes, we settled on the pun "For Fools". (And, if there are any judges reading this, well, you should probably stop now to keep our team's entry as anonymous as it can be.) Continue reading

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Let the Fire Burn

I got to see Let the Fire Burn at the Little on November 12. It's been a while, but I did want to give it a bit of a review.

It's an impressive document of the misguided actions of the Philadelphia government and police against the MOVE organization that led to them bombing and burning a house in 1985 containing 13 members, eleven of whom perished. In a way, it's a microcosm of war: both are avoidable, expensive, and deadly acts.

The most unique feature of the documentary is the exclusive use of found-footage which was limited to video (with a little 16mm film from an older documentary about MOVE.) Because of this limited perspective, there is very little information available about either MOVE and its purpose and actions, or about the police department and administration. Each side taken in isolation—MOVE changing from a radical urban alternative group to an antagonistic aggressor, and the government of the city of Philadelphia playing by-the-book as a racist regime—provides inadequate information to predict why things happened, but taken as interacting entities, it is more clear. Another way of saying that mouthful of marbles is that neither side was at fault as much as pitting them against one another was.

Director Jason Osder was available through SKYPE to discuss the film and revealed that the decision to go with found footage was partly pragmatic: our eye becomes accustomed to the poor quality of NTSC video unless we get a chance to compare it to modern high definition video. As a result, there are no talking heads to guide our reaction or provide possible answers. Ordinarily, we turn to some kind of expert to offer a possible explanation, but Let the Fire Burn gives no answers. It is the raw autopsy of a terrible moment in history left for us to examine.

And I think because of the lack of opinions, we gravitate toward our own biases. I was kind of surprised that one questioner presupposed it was centrally about racism. I thought it had more to do with the nature of a radical ideology that its ideas could not be articulated in a consumerist vocabulary. Neither interpretation is wrong, but it's interesting how our biases creep in.

Let me go back, now, and ruin the beauty of the movie by giving my own talking-head "expert" explanation.

I found the MOVE organization to be strictly following what we'd call urban gardening, veganism, anarchism, and acquiring goods locally. Rather than struggle in the capitalist/consumerist system that is rigged against both poor people and non-white people, MOVE opted instead to define their own rules. But the capitalist system—well, any social or economic (or socio-economic) system—is poorly suited to accommodating a sub-community whose internal rules are in defiance of the system's fundamental tenets.

This happens all the time with anarchist groups within the industrialized capitalism: anarchism defies the very nature of hierarchical, authoritative rule. The trouble is, most people do not like to admit that hierarchical, authoritative rules is a fundamental requirement of industrialized capitalism, so it's not codified in any laws: no law says you must pay for your own life. But for industrialized capitalism to work, it needs workers who are replaceable so they are valued low enough so the end product's price has a built-in profit—it needs for people to have to pay to exist.

If you think that's unfair, and maybe you could make a better go of it just living off the land and taking your changes, well, you're out of luck. The system goes a little nuts. The police will arrest you for no reason, but because no crime is committed, nobody gets charged with anything. But if you continue with that out-of-bounds behavior, you'll eventually be framed for a real crime. And then if you continue, you'll eventually be killed.

And that's what happened with MOVE. When they were harassed for non-crimes, they persisted. Then they were framed for a crime (specifically: nine people are still in prison, for the murder of one police officer—an impossibility since only one person can murder one other person.) And they persisted, and then were eventually killed. What they were "supposed to do" was to give up on the radical philosophies and get jobs like normal people.

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Ten More Movies: October through December, 2013

So here's the last 10 movies I watched …

  1. Escape from Tomorrow at the Little, October 26: Jenn and I went to see this because the description sounded interesting enough: it's about a man who goes with his family to Disney World and his life is thrown into turmoil; the kicker being it was filmed at Disney without permission. Well, it would have been an okay movie if it hadn't had arbitrary plot twists and red herrings all over it. It starts out pretty strong but quickly degrades into an incomprehensible mess.
  2. Inequality for All at the Little, October 30: Jenn and I saw this essay film about inequality in American finances. Not just "some people earn more" kind of inequality, but "400 people earn as much as everybody else combined" kind of inequality (really.) It's ostensibly a documentary that gives former United States Secretary of Labor Robert Reich the ability to explain things from an economists perspective. On the one hand, it's an eye-opening and engaging film, but on the other, it preaches the "business-as-usual" mindset where a strong middle class buys like crazy to keep the economy chugging along to everyone's supposed benefit. But do we really need all that stuff? Maybe the economy can work if a robust middle class was socially conditioned to buy quality, durable products made by workers earning a living with their wages rather than to buy as much of the cheapest slave-labor-produced products one can get jeir hands on.
  3. The Intruder at the Dryden, November 1: This is a brilliant film on the dangers of mob mentality and how easy it is to coerce a mob during a revolution: a rabble-rouser heads to a small town in the south to start a counter-revolution to school desegregation. And it was created by Roger Corman and his brother, Gene at peril to the cast and crew: it was filmed in the south during desegregation (and perhaps, as mentioned by Lori Donnelly at the Eastman House, the only film about the Civil Rights Movement shot during the Civil Rights Movement.) It's a film well-worth checking out.
  4. Let the Fire Burn at the Little, November 12: An impressive document of the misguided actions of the Philadelphia government and police against the MOVE organization that led to them bombing and burning a house in 1985 containing 13 members, eleven of whom perished. Read more in my blog post about it.
  5. Crystal Fairy & the Magical Cactus at the Little, November 13: This one is about a guy who's a kind-of unlikeable drug thrill-seeker who meets girl who's a kind-of unlikeable modern hippie and they go with three Chilean guys (whose personalities are not nearly as well defined) to partake of a cactus-based mind-altering concoction. Jenn and I went together and, when prompted what I thought of it, I said "it was okay." I stand by that: it's an okay movie. There is some redeeming quality to it, but it's not perfect … you know: "okay".
  6. The Light in the Dark at the Dryden, November 19: Philip Carli spent a significant portion of his introduction trying to set our expectations low enough for this film. It was indeed historically interesting: the fourth and last film made with a not-so-talented actress-as-producer, with not one director signing on for a second film. It's about a fairly pretty (maybe very pretty in 1922, I'd hope) down-on-her-luck woman whose luck turns when a rich woman hits her with her car then takes her in. (Way to go pronouns!) As Carli mentioned, the cinematography is particularly good — and I'm inclined to agree. Also, this restores more than half the footage cut for (apparently) a tale of the Holy Grail. And it's got Lon Chaney, so there's him to watch too. Overall, it's not very good, but historically interesting.
  7. The Internet Cat Video Film Festival 2012 at the Dryden, November 22: I begged Jenn to go see this with the promise we could leave if it wasn't very good. My intention was nefarious: I wanted to see if it was as worthy of the derision I wished to inflict on it. And, well, kind of. It is, indeed, a curated set of clips of funny cat videos from the Internet (see the article at Know Your Meme for a little more information). The selection standards fortunately excluded clips that were extraordinarily low quality, and the clips were, generally, amusing. But really? Clips from the Internet? And comments like that squarely make me one of the fuddy-duddies who deride a new form of entertainment solely because it's new. This is, in essence, a wholly new form of creating short films, although the "new" aspect has to do with sheer quantity: a huge percentage of people now have access to a video camera, and many like to take video of their pets, so it's just a matter of waiting before someone captures something clever. Does that warrant a film festival? (Eh, maybe too soon.) How about two screenings at Dryden Theatre of the world-renowned George Eastman House? And two more for the 2013 festival? I don't know — I don't think so. It all seems like a way to make money since it's amateur, accessible, and popular. (Oh, and we did leave early, so technically this one should count as half.)
  8. Kill Your Darlings at the Little, November 26: Jenn and I decided to see this before we realized "Enough Said" closed that night. The film is quite good — probably more so because I know little of the life of Allen Ginsberg as it's often the mistake made and liberties taken about a familiar subject that distract us from a story. So to go back a sentence: it's about the early life of Allen Ginsberg as he went to Columbia University and met Jack Kerouac and William Burroughs. And how his homosexuality blossomed, and how a seldom-mentioned murder surrounded that group of friends. In all it's a captivating story and worth checking out perhaps because you also know little of Ginsberg's life. Or you want to try to unequivocally destroy a connection between Daniel Radcliffe and Harry Potter.
  9. Philomena at the Little, November 27: Jenn and I wanted to see another film, but decided to check this out as an alternative. As it turns out, it was an interesting story and an enjoyable film. Judy Dench is fantastic and Steve Coogan holds his own pretty well at her side. It may help that it's based on a true story, so frequently that lends a bit of realistic serendipity to what can so rarely be written in fiction.
  10. Piranha at the Dryden, December 7: I saw this a long time ago on TV and, perhaps rightfully, didn't give it much respect. But in deliberately watching it on equal footing with any other film, it's really quite passable. The pace is brisk, the plot was interesting in its own cautionary alarmist way, and the acting was adequate to the task. It's not high-art, but a perfectly adequate example of a Jaws-era terror flick.

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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.

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The Next Last 10 Movies

This time I got a head start and got more diligent about this. Well, I did at the start anyway. So here's the last 10 movies I watched:

  1. The Internship at the Cinema, July 10: A very peculiar movie that takes the topic of job obsolescence, overlays it on a "plucky-underdogs" story, and sets it almost exclusively on the Google campus, and ends up making a reasonably believable argument for diversity in the workplace (not without flaws) that is actually rather funny.
  2. Fast & Furious 6 at the Cinema, July 10: The second half of the double feature was also a surprisingly adequate film. It's what you'd expect: incredibly elaborate car chases loosely stitched together with an absurd plot. Although I give it points for ethnic diversity, I take some away for failing the Bechdel/Wallace test (The Internship, too) since never do two women speak with one another about anything but men. Also, I thought it dumb that the women never fight the men in hand-to-hand combat; rather the few female characters are always paired up. Oh, and I also caught a couple references to Raiders of the Lost Ark of all things: a jeep plummeting into a ravine, and someone getting killed by airplane engine.
  3. Go West at the Dryden, July 17: A very funny silent film by Buster Keaton about a hapless guy who goes west to try and make a life for himself — and to earn the love of a cow. I was really impressed at the ingenuity and comedy that is still interesting and fresh after almost 90 years.
  4. The Magnificent Ambersons at the Dryden, July 31: Orson Welles wrote and directed this after Citizen Kane, although it was dramatically shortened by the studio. Nonetheless, it is a potent tale of greed overshadowing the love of life. Welles camera work and the complex set design left me exhausted at the end of it — there is so much information being shown that it's quite exhausting … but worth it.
  5. Bert Stern: Original Mad Man at the Dryden, August 1: A so-so documentary about an interesting guy. Self-deferential Bert Stern is one of the pioneers of advertising photography as we know it today: a vehicle for directed creativity tapping into dreams and fabricating desire. The documentary is uneven with a lot of rough edges, but the dynamic subject largely makes up for it. Museum director Bruce Barnes introduced the film: filmmaker Shannon Laumeister and her husband Bert Stern were scheduled to appear, but Stern passed away about a month ago.
  6. 20 Feet From Stardom at the Little, August 5: An intriguing documentary about the voices behind our favorite music — specifically, the girl-groups of the 1960's. It's a look at how talent is not what drives stardom, but, perhaps the ability to tolerate stardom.
  7. Forty Guns at the Dryden, August 13: An amazing film about a powerful woman who uses all her strengths — including her sexuality — to run a western town. But more than that, it's a condemnation of guns and killing. Barbara Stanwyck knocks it out of the park with her performance. I don't recall a more fully-formed powerful female lead in any other film. This is one I'll be talking about for years to come.
  8. Fruitvale Station at the Little, August 14: An incredibly powerful and moving portrait of the events leading up to the early morning of January 1, 2009 in Fruitvale Station, San Francisco, California. It reaffirmed my belief that all people are more complex than anyone can imagine. And it reaffirmed my belief that no good comes from the end of a gun.
  9. Mystery Science Theater 3000: Bride of the Monster at the Dryden, August 17: It was a little odd watching a DVD of a TV show that pokes fun at movies at the Dryden Theatre at the George Eastman House, but there you go. I remember watching these back when they were on cable and had the same uncanny experience: I had a great time for about the first 50 minutes, then felt as though I was trudging to the end for the remainder. Jenn said something similar. In any case, the episode was one of the better ones, highlighting a weird Chevrolet short called Hired before the infamous Ed Wood's film (which, in turn, was the centerpiece of the Ed Wood movie which, in turn, caused me pause when they innocuously quipped of a character on screen, "it's Johnny Depp" — the episode aired in early 1993 and the movie, starring Depp, was released in late 1994.) In any case, the musical reenactment of the entirety of "Hired" was a charming and funny sketch.
  10. 3.14… at the Cinema, August 19: Ok, this really should count as a half since it's not actually a released movie. It's the second edit of a film by some Rochester locals and an odd and ambitious one at that: exploring repetition, infinity, coincidences, and magic donkeys. This cut had its share of good and bad, but overall I liked it and look forward to its eventual release.

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