Show People at the Dryden, December 1: Jenn and I wanted to check out this playful comedy from 1928. It was definitely a fun film, and had some clever slapstick comedy as well.
Blood Simple. at home on DVD, December 4: I had never seen this first picture by Coen brothers Joel and Ethan. It's a brilliant, dark tale of infidelity and murder. I liked it quite a lot, and it was interesting to see some of the Coens' favorites so young (I didn't even recognize 27-year-old Frances McDormand at first.)
Top Secret! at home on DVD, December 6: A long time ago I saw this Abrahams, Zucker, and Zucker comedy about a rock star sent on to perform a diplomatic show in East Germany only to become embroiled in the French resistance. It's a shredded, paper-thin plot that's only function is to introduce the next gag. But the gags are indeed very clever and funny. A young Val Kilmer holds his deadpan together, and even (bizarrely) actually sings many of his character's songs. Overall I'd say it's a good film only if you'd like to understand how to execute on-screen comedy.
The Armor Of Light at the Little, December 8: I was curious about this documentary that follows pro-life evangelical minister Reverend Rob Schenck's path exploring the hypocrisy of his pro-gun stance. Schenck is rather amiable on screen—to me, a "non-threatening" religious person who really thinks about his faith (contrasted with the culture of fear that pervades his religious-right brethren, driving them to see the world in terms solely of "innocent" and "evil".) But I was kind of confused about the documentary as it often seemed like a clever reenactment: that Schenck was approached after he "came out" as a purely pro-life Christian but was asked to recreate pivotal events. Likewise, the documentary follows Lucy McBath whose son was killed in Florida—yet so presciently selects her that she eventually meets Schenck. Also, late in the film, there was a scene where he met in a bar room (a room literally labeled "Bar Room" on the glass of the door) with three other religious leaders and started what turned into a heated argument about gun control. During that scene, Schenck opens up the discussion, and the view switches to a camera between the two people in front of him, to a camera over his shoulder, and a camera off to the side. All this happens without audio transition nor cuts to hide missing video, yet none of the other camera operators are visible, so either special effects were use to hide the other cameras, or the scene was shot in multiple takes and spliced together, defying the implied objectivity. Overall I found the story a little saddening since Reverend Schenck will likely be ousted from his prominence (accused of "going liberal"), thereby losing any sway he might have had to bring respectability to Christianity. And that whole weirdness with how the film was made makes me suspect it's not very honest in a journalistic sense—and hence not really a documentary so much as a kind of essay-film/biopic/reenactment using the real parties involved. Interestingly, in an interview in Vanity Fair, Abigail Disney says she thought "someone 'over there,' where we don’t talk to each other, had to be feeling funky about the connection between [guns and Christianity]." As she talked with people, most agreed that guns and Christianity don't mix but to say so would end their religious careers, but said with Shenck, she "sort of set him in motion in the sense that [she] made him itch in a way that he couldn’t resist scratching." While I support the message of the film—to question the hypocrisy—I'm compelled to mention there's a bit of bias going on as well.
Spring Night, Summer Night at the Dryden, December 10: Jenn and I wanted to see this UCLA Festival of Preservation entry: the first of only two films made by J.L. Anderson. The story follows a family in a rural, former mining town in southeastern Ohio, now descending into poverty. The central plot revolves around the brother and sister having a relationship that develops sexually. By that description you might think it's an exploitative tale of incestuous hillbillies, it actually deeply respects its characters. One would expect a screenwriter to make one of the kids secretly brilliant, but they are all simple folk—only the eldest son wants to leave for a better life, but like his siblings, he has no particularly unique skills or education. And one might expect the parents drinking to make them belligerent and abusive, but they want what's best for their family without having any idea how to accomplish that. The cinematography is just as honest, following the kids playing in the fields, crossing through the woods, and playing in streams—all the while taking for granted the beautiful natural world they're inhabiting. And while the sound quality was sometimes lacking, the use of field recordings of day and night lent an organic music to the soundtrack. Finally, the place feels completely out-of-time, and the film gives no indications it was made in 1967.
Snow White at the Dryden, December 15: Jenn and I saw this very early film version of the classic fairy-tale. It's fun and amusing, and Marguerite Clark's endearing portrayal of the titular princess makes it a joy to watch.
Une Danse des Bouffons (A Jester's Dance) at the Memorial Art Gallery, December 20: This short, basically silent, modern Dadaist tale that dabbles in birth and death along with the internal turmoil of Marcel Duchamp. It's engaging enough through an illusory plot that even those with only a curious interest in surrealism could find it worthwhile.
White Zombie at the Dryden, December 18: Jenn very much wanted to see this strange film with Bela Lugosi as a Haitian witch-doctor who turns people into zombies. He's employed by a man who wants to find a way to lure a the woman he loves away from her fiancée, but the sinister doctor has other plans … It's not a great film, but it's interesting enough.
The Crime of Doctor Crespi at the Dryden, December 18: Staying for the second short feature, it wasn't nearly as good. It's a schlocky tale of a doctor who invents a sleep serum that he uses to bury his victims alive. Like White Zombie, his target is a woman in love with another man.
The Manchurian Candidate at home on LaserDisc, December 20: I'm no fan of Frank Sinatra—particularly his smarmy playboy-thug persona—but I found him tolerable, if a bit out-classed in this. It's about a group of soldiers in Korea who are captured and cleverly brainwashed by The Communists. When they finally return to the U.S., they are unknowingly part of a tense plot. Laurence Harvey as Ray shines here as the centerpiece of the plot, but the knockout performance comes from Angela Lansbury as Ray's devious mother, Eleanor. Overall the movie kept me guessing—at least as far as the particulars—but I was a bit distracted by the absurd implausibility of it all.
The Unholy Three at the Dryden, December 22: Jenn and I went to see this film with Lon Chaney as a ventriloquist, joining forces with a midget and a strongman to commit crimes. The plot was interesting and at least passingly plausible, if a bit convoluted. I did find it very funny that Chaney plays a ventriloquist in a silent film—how easy to seem so incredibly talented! There is, however, also bit of pitch-dark humor spread throughout in what is ultimately a morality tale.
Burn After Reading at home on DVD, December 25: Relaxing after Christmas, Jenn and I decided to watch one of the movies she bought me at my request since I hadn't seen it. I thought it should be subtitled "Scenery Chewing" since that's what the myriad of powerhouse stars did: ham it up. The central plot is about a couple workers at a gym who bumble into trying to sell government secrets for money. The secondary plots revolve largely around a polygon of infidelity that further confounds the main story. The storyline ends up pretty flavorless, dosed in spices by the actors.
Slapstick of Another Kind at home on Laserdisc, December 27: The cover of this disc made the movie look terrible and, well, it was. It's ostensibly based on a novel called Slapstick: or, Lonesome No More!: A Novel by Kurt Vonnegut. While I've only read a couple summaries of the source material, it's clear the best parts of the film are from it. It's about a pair of twins who, while born to well-off American parents, are actually beings from a hyper-intelligent race somewhere else in the universe. Presumably through that race's needs, they are also hyper-intelligent when in close physical contact, but become astonishingly stupid when separated. As I'd expect from Vonnegut, the twins are separated because of ignorant cultural reasons, and the boy is sent to military academy and the girl left at home, each wallowing alone in stupidity. Ordinarily I'd care about spoilers, but as spoilt as it already is, let me just say they are eventually reunited and escape to live with their otherworldly kin. Jerry Lewis and Madeline Kahn play dual-roles as the parents and as the children, and numerous comics make appearances as well in the cast. The humor is as broad and lifeless as possible, and the plot is terribly boring. But I came to conclude it may be a perfect telling of a story about humankind being unable and incapable of anything but mediocre intelligence: while the book comes from one of the most highly regarded authors of all time, the movie is the product of average people who couldn't help but drag the quality to one of lackluster banality.
Lies & Alibis at home on DVD, December 31: Jenn and I spent New Year's Eve watching this passably entertaining movie (which I think was released as "The Alibi" if I remember correctly). Steve Coogan plays a guy who runs a company that specializes in plausible stories to cover for people's infidelities. The pace was quick and kept our attention, but the screenwriting was a bit lackluster … why are people in movies so cavalier about killing a pretty woman? Why do all rich people drive fast cars? Why is romantic chemistry defined only by the fact that two characters' names appear next to one another on the poster? Every bit of the film cannot weather the most minor inquisition, but if you can refrain, it's rather entertaining.
I saw quite a few movies this month, partly because I added in some of the movies watched at home. In any case, here we go!:
Nine to Five on DVD at home, November 3: Although I saw this at the Dryden a few years ago, I never reviewed it, so here's that review of when Jenn and I settled in to watch it. In short, it's a hilarious comedy that brilliantly lays out the benefits of workplace equality and workers rights. Lily Tomlin plays Violet, a secretary at Consolidated Companies who's assigned a new hire, Judy (Jane Fonda). Most of the women in the office despise their boss, Franklin—brilliantly played by Dabney Coleman to be a humorous, cartoonish exaggeration of a "sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot". And they sneer at the apparent affair he's having with his busty secretary Doralee (Dolly Parton). When Violet is passed up for a long-deserved promotion, she, Judy, and Doralee half-hatch, half-stumble into a bizarre plot to turn the office around. It's all a wild and fun ride that has all the comeuppance one could want.
Wait Until Dark on DVD at home, November 6: Jenn and I revisited this popular old film. It's still tense and interesting, but neither of us could quite get over the extraordinarily convoluted plot by the bad guys. It's almost plausible that Alan Arkin's bizarre sadist Roat would have been amused by it, but even he was too practical.
Lime Kiln Club Field Day at the Dryden, November 10: I was quite amazed and impressed by this presentation of 1913 footage of "the earliest known surviving feature with a cast of black actors" (according to the Dryden calendar). Since it was incomplete, the story had some gaps, but the gist was there and it was rather amusing. I'd like to draw attention to Bert Williams—the star of the film (in black-face among his unadulterated costars, ostensibly to make the film amenable to white audiences of the time)—who was as much a multidisciplinary virtuoso as the more well-known Duke Ellington. (And I can't omit a mention of the dazzling beauty Odessa Warren Grey, capably playing his love interest.) The film was reconstructed by MoMA Associate Curator Ron Magliozzi, and Preservation Officer Peter Williamson from seven untitled reels of unassembled negative footage from a 1939 acquisition from the Biograph studio upon its closure. Although a print was struck in 1976, it wasn't until 2014 that the footage was analyzed and assembled into a sort-of working print.
The Bad News Bears on DVD at home, November 12: I didn't sell the film well enough, but Jenn agreed to watch. We both enjoyed it a lot—both of us under the mistaken belief that it's film for kids. It's actually more of a tale of redemption for the drunk, washed up, ex-baseball-player coach Butterworth, played perfectly by Walter Matthau. And it's funny. And the kids are all great—a rare treat in a movie with a lot of them.
Tea & Cake (Kirsty Robinson, U.K. 2015, 92 min.) at the Little, November 13: Jenn and I stopped by this film at the High Falls Film Festival. I thought it was overall good, but quite uneven. Some of the color correction and cinematography were lacking, and the film was full of way too many ideas at once. Generations, friends, coming-of-age, growing up, moving out, the reality of one's dream job, one's visible life versus their internal life, tragedies, aging parents, and self-image all crammed into one movie.
Odd Brodsky at the Little, November 14: Jenn liked this selection from the High Falls Film Festival more than I did. While I couldn't fault it for having a good heart—the story of trying, failing, and flailing in L.A.'s entertainment mecca—I didn't care for the bland characters and underwhelming story. On the technical side, while production values were generally quite high (especially in cinematography), much of the audio was ADR with the distracting artificiality of a studio recording.
Bob Roberts at home on DVD, November 15: It was hard for me to watch this as its a little to close to reality … in it, a slick politician wins the hearts of voters through a campaign that celebrates greed and disparity. Written, directed by, and starting Tim Robbins, his political leanings antithetical to his character were glaringly obvious.
The Lennon Report at the Little, November 16: Select as the winning narrative of the High Falls Film Festival, I decided to check it out. Its a great film that documents in near-real-time the sad and solitary events as John Lennon died from the gunshot wounds that cut his life short. When I heard about it at the festival, I thought it was a documentary as the filmmakers did extensive research into the events, interviewing everyone involved. As such, it's got a procedural feel to it, but somehow the lives of everyone involved make for compelling, rich characters.
Underground at the Dryden, November 18: Having seen the recent documentary about the Weather Underground, I was curious to see what the members had to say at (what was to be) toward the end of their active period. The five interviewees formed what was the bulk of the most radical arm of a progressive organization, active in the early 1970s. After three of their friends were killed making bombs, they rethought their actions and decided to destroy property while (successfully) not injuring or killing anyone. Their ideas—that human beings have right to their lives, that the imperialist stance of America was wrong, and that the capitalist system that forced people to wallow in poverty was wrong—still ring true today. And that's when I realized I had lost hope. Here were these young people, fully believing in the possibility of revolution in America, had no idea that the election of Ronald Regan just five years out would result in inequalities and injustices for the next 35 years and counting. All they had worked for was for naught as it would be swept away in the coming decades.
Smokey and the Bandit at home on DVD, November 19: I've been curious to revisit this odd film from the 1970s that was one of a couple of films at the center of the CB craze. Burt Reynolds plays The Bandit alongside his buddy Snowman played by country music star Jerry Reed, and against Jackie Gleason's hilariously over-the-top racist sheriff. The story is ridiculously simple—written by stuntman friend of Reynolds Hal Needham—The Bandit is bet he can't bootleg 800 cases of beer across state lines in under 28 hours. He and Snowman barrel through the highway and meet a young woman on the run from her planned marriage (Sally Field). As simple as it is, it's actually a goofy fun little movie.
Sliding Doors on DVD at home, November 20: I saw this many years ago and remembered it was fairly good (according to IMDb's oddly detailed ratings, I gave it a 5/10 on May 22, 1999), but I have a "policy" that all reviews older than 10 years are invalid and this is no exception. The premise is fascinating: imagine if we could see what happens when some inconsequential event causes a major change in one's life? The execution, however, is severely lacking. Gwyneth Paltrow plays Helen who, after getting fired from her job, just misses a subway train / just catches a subway train home. As such, she is unaware / finds out about an affair her boyfriend is having (a discount Hugh Grant) and her life is suddenly changed. The rest of the film follows both lives until eventually reverting back to one story. The problem is the story is rather inane. Her boyfriend has no redeeming qualities yet inexplicably earns the undying love of two very attractive women; and although the other woman's story is unexplored, Helen is at least also successful. And both Helen and her boyfriend each have best friends whose functions are as sounding boards for their lives. So unfortunately most of the movie both Jenn and I were left wondering, "who cares?" and "why wasn't Paltrow's character just made an American so she could avoid that embarrassing fake accent?"
A Manly Man and My Best Girl at the Dryden, November 24: The short "A Manly Man" was terrible, albeit only shown as an example of Mary Pickford's earliest work. My Best Girl was much better. Pickford was introduced by her carrying pots from a stockroom. As she walked, she dropped some and kept bending and picking them up—all the while a don't see her face … a clever and amusing way to introduce the star. The story was refreshingly mature and Pickford's love interest was well defined. I really did understand her appeal … at one point I found myself reading her lips and suddenly confronted by the reality of her having been alive and vibrant. It was kind of a weird, brief moment of pseudo connection.
Loin du Vietnam (Far From Vietnam) at the Dryden, November 25: A very difficult movie for me to watch, it's a film showing the tumultuous opinions about the Vietnam War at its height. Although there were a few disturbing images, the most challenging parts had to do with the absolute futility of changing the minds of people who support war. One segment was basically a frustrated monologue, centering on the duality of living a privileged life that is predicated on the spills of past war that rang painfully true.
Pulp Fiction at the Dryden, November 28: What a treat for Jenn and I to see a nice clean 35mm print of this defining Quentin Tarantino classic. I remember when I saw this (I think when it came out) and I had a hard time with the then-new-to-me non-linear, interrelated storylines involving a couple hitmen, their boss, a boxer, and a couple petty thieves. It really deserves its praise as all facets of the viewing experience are top notch, making the 2½ hour run-time paced perfectly.
Bridge of Spies at the Cinema, November 30: I headed out to see the biopic double-feature starting with one about a New York lawyer who's selected to defend an unpopular, captured Soviet spy during the heart of the Cold War. With affable Tom Hanks as the lawyer, our affection for him is automatically assured (although I'm sure there are some Hanks haters out there who'd disagree). And Steven Spielberg gives a light touch to his trademark style, allowing the story to speak for itself with only a few heavy-handed metaphors. It turns out this real-life lawyer has a knack for negotiations and diplomacy and is invited to negotiate a spy-for-spy trade which he tries to leverage into a 2-for-1 deal. Overall it's an enjoyable movie to watch and offers a view of someone I never knew existed.
Steve Jobs at the Cinema, November 30: In the second film, Michael Fassbender does his best to emulate Steve Jobs—the founder of Apple Computers who was infamously difficult to work with—but doesn't manage to convey the depth and totality of thought that I've come to understand Jobs had. Unfortunately, the meticulous reconstruction of Apple product releases overshadows the flimsy three-act story. In other words, if you had no idea of the cultural significance of Apple, Macintosh, and NeXT, the film would seem like a flat "so what?" Yeah, Jobs is an incessant jerk to the talented people all around him. So what? He had a challenging relationship with his oldest ally Steve Wozniak (underwhelmingly played by Seth Rogen). So what? Product launches are stressful. So what? And he was a lousy family man, treating his daughter and her mother like nuisances. So what? The whole thing really failed to come together.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.