Ten More Movies: December 2013 to January 2014

So here's the last 10 movies I watched …

  1. Death Race 2000 at the Dryden, December 11: Cheesy, schlocky, violent, and sexually exploitative: yes. And it's still got some teeth as social commentary. Usually films about the "distant" future 25 years away miss their mark, but this one gets a lot of things right like that the U.S. President will be revered as some kind of exceptional being (at least substantially different from a normal mortal), and our affinity for witnessing death on the highways. Of course it never saw anything like YouTube or the "car fail" meme therein, but who could have known that?
  2. Camille Claudel, 1915 at the Dryden, December 14: Jenn and I went to see this together—neither of us knew much about Camille Claudel except that she was a sculptor at the turn of the 20th Century. The film is a fictional account of 3 days of her life while she was confined to a mental asylum in the South of France, culminating in a visit from her brother Paul. It's a saddening document of a woman who showed such creative promise, but failed to embrace the demands of what was expected of her in civilized society. She recognized her persecution but mischaracterized its purpose or meaning. As such, her family thought they were helping her by locking her away from the art that brought her her only true joy.
  3. Bill Cosby, Himself at the Dryden, December 20: My brother Adam was visiting for a few days and I convinced him to see this with Jenn and I. We all enjoyed it quite a bit. It's still funny and relevant, and Bill Cosby steadily meanders between intertwined stories and ideas to create a well-crafted whole.
  4. Nebraska at the Little, December 21: Jenn and I went to see this together and we both liked it a lot. It's the tale of an aging father (Bruce Dern) visiting his hometown on his way to (futilely) try to claim a million dollar prize. I recognized Will Forte and Bob Odenkirk as primarily comic actors, but here they adeptly play Dern's sons as just regular folk. Alexander Payne had the film shot in black-and-white which was a somewhat unusual choice. Jenn felt it was to lend an air of timelessness by removing the bright color cues of present-day advertising. I was a bit more cynical, I guess, and thought it was because it was set in Montana and Nebraska in winter, and it should have had a blanket of snow to elicit the same effect (see also, Fargo) but the absence of snow forced the hand of the artists and they shot it in black-and-white. One thing I take issue with is the "villain" of the story, played by Stacy Keach, was a bit too vengeful for his age and demeanor.
  5. Phase IV at the Dryden, January 7: I was drawn to this film as it's Saul Bass's only feature film (being far better known for amazing title-sequences on hundreds of famous films.) The story is pretty weird: ants gain collective intelligence and go about taking over the world. The weakest part of the whole film is the dialog, and the ham-fisted allegorical nature of the script. But the cinematography is incredible and includes yet another favorite scene in cinema: a telephoto shot across a hot surface where something starts to appear and we're left wondering what it is for the better part of 20 seconds. Oh, and the extended Saul Bass ending is many minutes of stylized, artistic structures in the style of a Saul Bass title sequence; hence: spectacular.
  6. Prince Avalanche at the Dryden, January 10: Jenn and I went to see this together as she's a David Gordon Green fan. I guess I am too, at least after this film. I'd put it in the bunglingly-named "mumblecore" genre as it's really just a slice of life about two men on a remote road painting lines over a few days. The brilliance lies in the complex, natural characters that are gradually revealed—both just so simply, uniquely flawed.
  7. Du zhan (Drug War) at the Dryden, January 11: Paolo Cherchi Usai selected this as his Curator's Choice for the month, citing the ambiguous morality layered upon what could otherwise be dismissed as a popcorn action flick. I'm not so sure I agree. While I do understand the moral ambiguity—that there are no well-defined "good guys" and "bad guys", nor is the story itself a simplified morality tale—it lays out such broad strokes as an action movie that I couldn't help but see it as primarily that. In some ways I see it as a superior form of action movie since it delivers an interesting plot and sophisticated sequences by genre-decree, but it fails to let the audience root for any team, and thus there is no moral payoff at the end, as I think there is something socially dangerous about celebrating such inhuman behavior.
  8. Évocateur: The Morton Downey Jr. Movie at the Dryden, January 18: Back in the late 1980's, I could swear I remember the Morton Downey Jr. Show in some form of on-air syndication. It was actually something I avoided: even then I did not enjoy witnessing people in conflict, and I especially despised prideful ignorance and anti-rational thinking. So I cringed my way through clips of the show where Downey would essentially deliver a non-stop barrage of ad hominem arguments to the show's guests to the delight of the mob-worthy studio audience. The documentary steadily and artfully paints the background portrait of a man living in the shadow of a famous father, desperately trying to find his own voice. Filmmaker Seth Kramer was on hand to answer questions, but for the most part, everything he wanted to say about Downey is in the film.
  9. Tôkyô monogatari (Tokyo Story) at the Dryden, January 22: I was sold on the Roger Ebert quote, "With no other director do I feel affection for every single shot." And the film delivers. It's a stunningly well-crafted piece of cinema that tells the tale of aging parents visiting their adult children in Tokyo. The kids don't appreciate the significance of the visit, snubbing their parents as an annoyance in their busy lives. But I think it was respectful of both parties, merely showing the melancholic truth that children grow up and drift away from their parents.
  10. Shtikat Haarchion (A Film Unfinished) at the Dryden, January 28: As I was watching I realized this seemed familiar, and indeed, I saw it in October, 2010 when it was released. I think I forgot because it is such an impossible concept to believe: German footage inside the Warsaw Jewish ghetto just months before nearly everyone there was annihilated. The documentary suggests the Nazi footage was to demonize the Jews—propaganda to allow average citizens to justify the Holocaust. It's all quite horrifying, and it actually happened. All I can say is: beware of media generalizations of the character of a people.

1,845 total views, 3 views today

Visiting Adam in Arlington, Virginia

I got back today off the Amtrak (320 Central Ave.) after visiting with my brother Adam in Arlington, VA. For the most part, our visit was more to see where he lives — in fact, he sent me a link to a humorous video about Arlington. We visited only one landmark: The Pentagon Memorial which is very tasteful and pleasant.

We stopped at a number of restaurants and bars. I particularly liked the salami/Gorgonzola pizza at Piola Restaurant (1550 Wilson Blvd., Arlington, VA); their drinks and desserts were also excellent. We also visited Galaxy Hut (2711 Wilson Blvd., Arlington, VA) which is a really cool bar — much like Lux LoungeMySpace link (666 South Ave.) in its casual atmosphere, outdoor patio, interesting clientele, and absence of advertising and televisions (well, except for one).

On both sides of the trip, the train stops in Manhattan and it's an hour and a half before the Rochester train leaves, so I had a chance to get lunch. I stopped at New Pizza Town II (360 7th Ave., New York) which was pretty good — nothing like a slice of ziti-topped pizza with big glops of ricotta. On the way home, I learned that Amtrak's Business Class is not worth much: the seats are a little bigger with curtains on the windows, free soft drinks, and most importantly, the car is located at one end of the train so foot traffic is minimal.

8,664 total views, no views today

Traveling through 7 states and one district

On Saturday the 5th, Ali and I got the station wagon packed up and we hit the road toward Pennsylvania. We stopped for a breakfast snack along the way and got a couple of the breakfast wraps from Subway. They were entirely awful and expensive relative to the modest amount of food and low quality. The bacon was chewy like a dog treat, the egg was flavorless, the cheese tasted fake, and the tomato pieces I got on mine had so much dye to make them red that a few drops stained my shirt. What a way to start the vacation, eh?

Fortunately we stopped for lunch at Selin's Grove Brewing Co. (121 North Market St., Selinsgrove, PA) for lunch. It was excellent. We had a buffet of assorted appetizers — all of which were coincidentally vegetarian. Next stop was American Vintage Bed and Breakfast (5740 Thompson Rd., Stewartstown, PA) where we were staying for the night. We planned to relax in the hot tub but ended up talking with the proprietor for a few hours instead on all sorts of things. It was great fun. We were in the area for Ali's niece's and nephew's Baptism and we went to her brother's house later on. We got back to the B&B late but got into the hot tub anyway and had a relaxing soak. I guess technically it's a "spa" which is different from a "hot tub" and different from a "Jacuzzi" — it had water jets and a pump but the water temperature could only go up to 104°F which was fine by me.

Sunday started with an excellent homemade breakfast at the B&B. Then it was off to the Baptism so we went to church for the morning service. It was a "progressive" church so they had a rock band that wasn't bad, although like every other Christian rock band I've ever seen, subtlety and metaphor apparently do not concern the songwriters. The service itself was pretty good although a bit light-handed when it came to encouraging people to be more like Jesus. We were all quite amused at the suggestion to embrace the Holy Spirit by "sucking face with Jesus". I guess it's not just Barack Obama's preacher who says some peculiar things.

Monday morning I managed to squeeze in a barefoot run around the neighborhood. It was hillier than where I usually run and I think that running down a hill is how I ended up with a blood blister on the ball of my right foot. Thankfully it didn't hurt much at all. Later that day we explored an antiques store in the nearby town and went to Brown's Orchards and Farm Market (8892 Susquehanna Trail South, Seven Valleys, PA) which is a neat, sizable farm market.

Tuesday we headed out from there and went to Washington D.C. to visit with my brother, Adam. He was still at work but set us up with parking at his apartment building. He suggested we check out Lindy's Red Lion (2040 I St. NW, Washington, DC) for lunch. We took the metro — the stop is a block away from Adam's apartment — to the Foggy Bottom stop near George Washington University Hospital (2300 I St. NW, Washington, DC). Lindy's had great food at cheap prices. I had their hamburger topped with with fried onions and ranch dressing … so good. From there we started walking.

We passed The White House (1600 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Washington, DC) which I found to be a bit creepy because of the security — I had the feeling that everyone was treated like an enemy of the state. Maybe if it was guarded more like a national treasure than like a military compound then I'd think differently. In any case, we headed around the corner and got to the National Mall. Even though it was only an hour before closing, we decided to visit National Air and Space Museum (Independence Ave. SW at 6th St. SW, Washington, DC). There's a lot of cool stuff there — often with descriptions that are just as cheesily written as at any other museum — but the items are things like real moon rocks and actual airplanes.

We headed out from there and went to a few bars with Adam once he got out of work. First was The Big Hunt (1345 Connecticut Ave. NW, Washington, DC) which was having a chicken wing special. For some reason, D.C. chicken wings seem to be boiled or roasted and then covered in Red Hot … at least they weren't terrible, just unusual. I was amused at the menu because — along with all the other domestic beers — a Pabst Blue Ribbon was $4. Anyway, we stayed out late and headed back to Adam's to sleep.

We left around noon or so and decided to head back through Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania to I-88 to get to my parents' house. The idea was to avoid rush-hour in New York and instead we got to Binghamton around 5 and as such, saw no appreciable increase in traffic. Ali finally got to eat at Jumpin' Jack's Drive-In (5 Schonowee Ave., Scotia) — a locally-run fast food joint that's a de facto Capital District landmark.

Thursday we got going around noon again and headed through Vermont and New Hampshire for a scenic tour to get to see Jan and Shannon in Dover, New Hampshire — right by the little bit of coastline that separates Maine from Massachusetts. Visiting them was the highlight of the trip — it really has been too long. We headed out to a fantastic dinner at The Dunaway Restaurant (66 Marcy St., Portsmouth, NH) that night before returning to go to bed.

Friday we got up and Jan gave us a tour of downtown Dover. A charming little town … although the New Hampshire political climate of "spend nothing, ever" showed. We went to Newick's Lobster House (431 Dover Point Rd., Dover, NH) for lunch. They serve some great seafood: they're right on the bay where it comes from. The place is also huge and looked like it could seat 500 people — and it apparently does quite often.

We left early on Saturday (well, around 9:30 anyway) and headed back through Massachusetts. We stopped by my parents' place one last time before finishing up the long haul back to Rochester. In all it was about 1,500 miles of driving (for the whole trip, silly).

1,148 total views, no views today