For No Good Reason at the Little, June 13: I went to see this documentary on Ralph Steadman, perhaps best known as Hunter S. Thompson's illustrator. In fact, the film centers on Steadman and Thompson's relationship most of all. While it's interesting to get to better understand what went on between those two at the time Thompson was so prolific, I found the most poignant moment was Steadman's realization that his lifelong goal to change the world had a substantially smaller effect than he (and his contemporaries) had hoped. I'm beginning to soften my own goals to save the world—from pollution, corruption, unfairness, and climate change—and hopefully save myself from later-years regrets. Nonetheless, although Steadman didn't stop war altogether, he helped redefine it. Consider that the images Steadman created and the words Thompson wrote were once relegated to a tiny niche, but are now virtually accepted as mainstream. As well, the ideas they conveyed are permeating the collective consciousness and are affecting change. Alas, slower than we'd like.
The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer at the Dryden, June 17: I don't have a particularly strong opinion of Shirley Temple either way, but I figured I'd see what she did as she entered adulthood. Playing against Cary Grant's unscrupulous and charming womanizer, it's a rather good screwball comedy.
My Name is Alan and I Paint Pictures at the Cinema, June 24: Alan "streets" Russell-Cowan is a painter who worked for a decade on the streets of New York City. He has been diagnosed with schizophrenia and is attempting to deal with it without medication—doctor-prescribed nor self-applied. As a documentary it's a bit unfocused. It goes scatter-shot trying to explain how challenging it is to be an artist in the modern world, and spends a fair amount of time letting doctors and fringe-art collectors opine on the art of people living without neurological normalcy. It also had some cheesy bits playing Alan's spartan, art-centered lifestyle against his conservative parents' wealth-driven ideology. In the end, I thought Alan's style was pretty interesting, and the film survives largely because of its interesting subject.
Groundhog Day at the Dryden, June 28: It's been a long time since I saw this (dare I say) classic. For those who don't know, it's the story of a self-absorbed man who is mysteriously stuck reliving Groundhog Day over and over again. I find it very fascinating how the film can be so engaging and (largely) funny while at the same time being very bizarre and dark. Thankfully there are people as crazy as I am, and they estimated Phil is actually stuck in the same day for almost 34 years.
Ida at the Little, June 30: It's about a woman who grew up as an orphan in a convent, and who is now about to take her vows to become a nun, when her family history throws a spanner in her faith [what's that about mixing metaphors before they hatch?] Although the story is bleak, the film is gently and elegantly paced.
Obvious Child at the Little, June 30: Jenn and I stuck around for our own improvised double-feature and caught this pretty clever comedy. It's about a stand-up comic whose boyfriend leaves her, her workplace goes out of business, and then she's confronted with an unplanned pregnancy—hilarious, right? It actually is pretty engaging and funny.
Snowpiercer at the Little, July 2: I had double-checked Rotten Tomatoes and confirmed a high rating before Jenn and I went to see this. Well, what the fuck? Decades after a failed overly successful attempt to reverse global warming plunges Earth into a global ice age, what remains of humanity is contained within a magic locomotive traversing the European and Asian land mass ever since. Numerous rearward passengers are tempted by the comparatively clean and content forward passengers and stage a revolt, fighting a videogame-like progression forward in the train. The unsurprising result is a parallel to our modern world's socioeconomic class stratification. Overall, I give it a "meh."
Synth Britannia at the Memorial Art Gallery, July 18: Do you like synth-pop of the 1970's and 1980's? I sure do. So regardless, I enjoyed seeing bands I liked and 2009-era interviews with members thereof. As a documentary, it did a pretty good job explaining the evolution of all-electronic music. But the big notable hole is the lack of a music theory expert. While Simon Reynolds, an expert music critic, filled in the details of the social relevance and derivative interaction between bands, the film would have been helped by a music theory expert to help define "pop" as a musical style and where synthesizers fit in the history of musical instruments.
July '64 at the Little, July 20: It's been a few years since I last saw it so I figured it was about time again—what with being four days shy of 50 years since Rochester's poorest neighborhood exploded in rebellion. I'll leave it to my prior review to explain the film. I'll add, though, that I think audiences are dumber because of Internet comments—the question-and-answer was more of a forum to ramble incoherently. The national guardsman who was personally involved offered some insight, but simply living in (or near) the city at that time is not interesting to anybody. And the guy who wanted to know about how Song of the South has been blocked from screening for 30 years—I would bet he is just a Disney shill drumming up interest. In all of it, though, the lack of coherency from the audience proves that no progress has been made to improve the poorest neighborhoods in Rochester.
A Field in England at the Dryden, July 22: Jenn and I went to see this because it looked pretty interesting. I feel like I missed out on a lot because I didn't know enough about English folklore (although clued in to fairy rings and crossing a hedge row into another world during the introduction) and because I often couldn't decipher the thick, mumbled antiqued-English accents. Nonetheless, the style of storytelling, the cinematography, and the sound design were brilliant. The story is, when taken literally, rather bizarre and difficult to follow, but the allegorical tale makes a bit more sense—even with my handicaps.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.