The Last 10 Movies

A while back I started a blog post, figuring I'd do brief reviews and summaries of the last 10 movies I saw. At the time, I had seen 10 movies in 2013. Well, now that list has grown to 25(ish) films which seems like a nice round number too. I decided to just link to IMDb this time in case you want to find out more information rather than copying-and-pasting the pertinent details. Anyway, here goes:

Rust and Bone at the Cinema, February 14: I don't remember too much about this, except that it had a couple very well-realized, dysfunctional characters trying to maintain a relationship.
Side Effects at the Little Theatre, February 18: I seem to only remember the setup — that a new drug has unexpected side effects — but that there's some kind of twist, and that those side-effects have very little to do with the film. After reading some spoilers I was like, "oh yeah." Eh … it was pretty good.
2013 Oscar Nominated Animated Shorts at the Little Theatre, February 19: Jenn and I went to this one. I have come to refer to the "curse of the Little" that any time something important is happening, something inevitably goes wrong. We were running a little late, but the screening didn't start at the scheduled time. Ten minutes later, they started the originally scheduled movie (Silver Linings Playbook) instead. We all thought it was a trailer, but as the minutes ticked by, we came to realize it was the film. I told the clerk at the concession stand and they stopped it and started the shorts. But it wasn't over: during one of the subtler films, the soundtrack for the movie inexplicably started again. Once again, we had to go tell them. Anyway, the shorts were mostly mediocre. Jenn and I bet on what would win the Oscar — I correctly picked the Disney short (the typical Disney male-skewed story where "anonymous schlub likes skinny doe-eyed girl who naturally likes him back").
Django Unchained at the Cinema, March 17: An entertaining popcorn movie that was fun to watch. It could have been a bit shorter, I think: it's not like there was some kind of historical accuracy that needed to be maintained.
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly at the Dryden Theatre, March 22: Really the title says it all. But the cinematography was awesome, the music was wild, and the acting was brilliant.
The Wild World of Looney Tunes at the Dryden, March 23: An astonishingly poor selection of shorts. Did we really need to see two Tasmanian Devil cartoons with nearly the same plot?
The Suitor at the Dryden Theatre, April 2: An entertaining film by Pierre Étaix, although the shorts that preceded his films in this series were often more palatable. The Suitor gets a little tiring after a while, but stays funny and clever.
The Vanishing at the Dryden Theatre, April 4: A really excellent creepy thriller. The abductor is particularly memorable since he's made out to be pretty much a normal guy with a screw loose (albeit a massively important one).
Yoyo at the Dryden Theatre, April 9: A film by Pierre Étaix that acts as a bittersweet postscript to entertainment gone-by. In this case, it's the circus and clowning that is being forgotten, replaced by more modern entertainment like cinema, radio, and television.
The Place Beyond the Pines at the Little Theatre, April 15: I had to see this. I'm from Schenectady where the film was made, and I found out it was filmed in the neighborhood where I was born (Stanford Heights; I was born on Stanford Avenue in Niskayuna). Plus, one of the characters is named Jason. Anyway, the film is excellent: an elegant, long-term story that is brilliantly paced and engaging to watch.
Room 237 at the Dryden Theatre, April 18: I'm a sucker for documentaries about obsession. I assume everyone else can at least comprehend it, but I find it an alluring option in life that I can't quite bring myself to actually engage in. The film is about a small group of people obsessed with The Shining. Some have mapped out the rooms per the camera angles, finding impossible rooms; others perceive themes that may or may not be either intended or even present. Interpreting art is fickle anyway; this film was an enjoyable romp around paths less-travelled.
The Most Fun I've Ever Had With My Pants On at the Cinema, April 19: I got to see this as part of the High Falls Film Festival. I'm glad I did. It's a nice road-trip story with some great cinematography and a nice, gentle character arc.
The Girls in the Band at the Little Theatre, April 21: I shortcut the festival this year and hit up this (the Best of the Fest Documentary) along with the next film at the end. The Girls in the Band documents women in 20th century big bands — often added as a novelty, but all with a musical voice and talent separate from and on the same level as the men who so often shunned them.
Margarita at the Little Theatre, April 21: This was the festival's Best of the Fest Narrative — an enjoyable tale about family and immigration. The wit of the film makes it funny, but the humor seems to work unrelated to the seriousness of the issues. Anyway, since it's from a Canadian perspective, the tone is a bit different from what an American film would be about an immigrant nanny losing her job.
Reds at the Dryden, May 1: Oh man, this was awesome. It's so well-paced that the length is no bother at all. It's based on the true story of an American journalist who becomes enamored with Communism, and accurately portrays the multiple facets of it all. Best of all, it came out in 1981, during a resurgence of "Communist threat" and the era of Ronald Reagan and unrestricted greed.
Badlands at the Dryden, May 2: Having been recently introduced to Terrence Malick by Jenn, I was thoroughly impressed by his tale of young infatuation and foolishness. Just a beautiful film about the human condition.
The Fallen Idol at the Dryden, May 8: A brilliantly told tale of marital strife told subtly from the perspective of a child.
Days of Heaven at the Dryden, May 9: Another Malick film about the complexities of relationships. Also very good, but I think I liked Badlands more.
The Rules of the Game at the Dryden, May 29: A cleverly bleak view of the French bourgeoise — especially that they are fraught with a distinct absence of compassion.
The Tree of Life at the Dryden, May 30: A more recent Malick film that takes a nonlinear approach to try to tell the tale of every American upbringing. I think it mostly succeeds — the episodic nature that floats across a whole life gives it a dreamlike quality that let me fit my life into the story, even though almost none of what happens actually applies to me.
Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid at the Dryden, May 31: A technical achievement to place old film clips into a modern film seamlessly, but, like any such attempt, it grows tiring quickly. The biggest problem is that only the simplest, non-specific dialog from another film can be used, so the whole thing comes off pretty flat.
Kon-Tiki at the Little Theatre, June 3: This is the story of the attempt to sail a raft from ancient materials from South American to Polynesia. It felt like the movie tried to include a sample of every conflict, problem, surprise, and reward in the actual journey. As such, I felt it came off very bland.
The Reluctant Fundamentalist at the Cinema, June 16: I thought this was an excellent character-driven tale of a man who can't help but go where he's pushed. I also liked the aspect that it showed the "reverse-angle" view of the "infallible lawman" entertainment popular today where a team of well-funded experts use their technology to find and kill the bad guys. The film is kind of the long way of saying, "things are more complicated than that."
Starbuck at the Cinema, June 16: This one was about the lovable loser who turns his life around. The trouble is, I found the loser to be insufferable. It's one of the few times I left the theater in the middle of the film.
Bury My Heart with Tonawanda at the MAG, June 27: Somewhat well-known local film-goer and filmmaker Adrian Esposito wrote this film about a man with Downs Syndrome in the 1800's who finds help from the local Indians. It's ostensibly a true story and shot around Rochester. The trouble is, the acting and directing were pretty weak, making it feel like a made-for-TV movie. And it was shot on video and either has an overexposed look, or the MAG's projector was not configured properly. The story is pretty solid, if a bit simplistic, and overall it's pretty good.
Iron Man 3 at the Cinema, June 29: Jenn and I went to this ultimate popcorn movie. In all, I had a good time watching it … it was a fun, fluffy story. What I found especially fascinating was to see movie clichés and genre staples played unabashedly straight: with all my cinema nerdery I often see those things dismantled and betrayed, so it's kind of refreshing to see them in their natural environment.

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Vacation to Acadia National Park

In case you hadn't already noticed, there was no blog activity last week, and the events list might have been a little more erroneous than usual. The reason was that Ali and I left on July 18 and headed to my parents' house in Schenectady, my friends Jan and Shannon in New Hampshire, Acadia National Park (State Highway 3 and Paradise Hill Rd., Bar Harbor, ME) for 3 days, Ali's friend in Boston, a brief stop at my parents' again, and back home on the 25th.

Naturally, when we got to Schenectady, we got a late lunch/early dinner at Jumpin' Jack's Drive-In (5 Schonowee Ave., Scotia) for their highly prized fast food. Afterward, we took a drive out to Frosty Acres (150 Skyline Dr., Schenectady) which is a local campground that I've seen signs for since I was a kid. By the time we left, we dubbed it "Shady Acres" — not only was the site that was recommended for us to check out a mud pile (and $25 per night), the clientèle was a mix of people residing there and/or passing through with no other living options. In essence: a bit of a rough crowd. Topping it off was the strict, literal enforcement of the 51⁄2 mile-per-hour speed limit. We ended up staying on the land in back of my parents' house, giving us a chance to fully test the tent and its set-up and take-down.

On Sunday we left for New Hampshire; this time taking the Turnpike through Massachusetts and forgoing the scenic, slower, and shorter trip through Vermont and New Hampshire. We hung out with Jan and Shannon, and my friends John and Michelle visited from Boston as well. We stayed through Tuesday before heading out to Maine.

Despite the rain, we decided to continue with the plan of following scenic Route 1. We got off Route 95 (which I guess now is 295 as 95 is now the toll road once known as 495 … thanks, Maine) at Freeport. We stopped at Classic Custard (150 Lower Main St., Freeport, ME) and had a hearty snack before continuing into town to visit L. L. Bean (10 Depot St., Freeport, ME) … I mean, how can you not, especially on a camping trip? I can only assume that L. L. Bean was there first and the shopping nightmare of "outlet" stores cropped up sometime later, but at least their store was competent … in my opinion, not worth a trip out of your way, but if you're a fan, it's worth it to at least stop.

Anyway, travel was excruciatingly slow and Route 1 is not nearly as scenic as it implies. That said, it's far more interesting a drive than Rt. 95, but the time cost is pretty high. We arrived at Acadia National Park (State Highway 3 and Paradise Hill Rd., Bar Harbor, ME) around 8 p.m. in steady rain. We decided to sleep in the Roadmaster after putting the coolers outside. Ali also wanted to get some dinner more substantial than the snacks we had; she settled for cheese and wine. We also got a chance to check out a Ranger lecture on the geology of the area at the park's outdoor amphitheater, giving us a taste of just how engaging the park really is. The rain kept the crowd light and most of us joined the Ranger on the covered stage. The rain got heavier as we left and we were confined to the car for the night.

Wednesday proved to be much better. We got the tent set up and had breakfast at camp. We took the "free" [paid for by our $20 car fee and L. L. Bean; once again] shuttle from the campground to nearby Bar Harbor. We signed up to go to Baker Island on Friday through The Bar Harbor Whale Watch Co. (1 West St., Bar Harbor, ME) — apparently a family of 12 lived on the remote island some considerable distance from shore during the 1800's. We stopped by Alone Moose (78 West St., Bar Harbor, ME) and chatted with the owner Sherry, stopping at the gallery upstairs, The Gallery Upstairs (78 West St., Bar Harbor, ME) to check out works by J. Stan Mason that greatly appealed to me.

Sherry recommended The West Street Cafe (76 West St., Bar Harbor, ME) which was excellent — and refreshingly inexpensive. I had the Cafe Special which was lobster and shrimp tossed with mushrooms over linguine; Ali had the lobster special which included a 1 pound lobster, clam chowder, and a slice of blueberry pie which we shared á la mode. Everything was excellent, and with 2 local beers, we barely cracked $50.

We headed back to our campsite then walked to Sand Beach — pretty much the only substantial traditional beach in Acadia, and a place where you can go swimming. The water temperature is claimed to be around 50°F, and I believe most adults (like Ali and I) experience pain from cold by letting the water wash over our feet. However, I couldn't resist playing in the ocean as it's so rare that we get there, so I used the technique the Ranger from last night suggested: run at full speed into the water. It turned out to be not as bad as first expected, and I stayed in for the better part of an hour; my body apparently adjusted much better to total immersion.

We used the park shuttle once more to get back to camp. I couldn't get much of a fire started, but neither could anybody as everything was so damp. We ended up eating what we could cook on the camp stove instead. I stayed up for a while trying, but I never could get the wood to stop boiling off water enough to ignite.

Thursday was also a nice day. We hiked up Beehive: one of the small mountains in the area, although much of the climb is quite steep. So much so, in fact, that iron rungs were installed to assist along the trail when it went vertical. The climb isn't all that high — only 500 feet or so — but it does yield a dramatic view of the coastline. There's also an easier trail that leads through the woods past Bowl Lake which was startlingly serene.

The park shuttles transfer at Bar Harbor's town square, so we spent some time once again there. We had another good meal at The Thirsty Whale Tavern (40 Cottage St., Bar Harbor, ME): I with a fish fry club sandwich (fried haddock, bacon, lettuce, tomato), and Ali with a lobster roll (big pieces of lobster held together with a bit of mayonnaise). We shopped for souvenirs and provisions: particularly, fire-starting sticks such that I might be able to get a fire going that would be capable of cooking something.

We decided to get ice cream and Ali joked that was going to get lobster ice cream so I said if they had it, she'd have to get it. As it turned out, Ben and Bills Chocolate Emporium (66 Main St., Bar Harbor, ME) had lobster ice cream and it wasn't all bad, although I let her off the hook and just forced her to taste it. We also stopped by The Bar Harbor Brewing Company (8 Mount Desert St., Bar Harbor, ME) which we'd had at the West Street Cafe and picked up a sampling of brews.

We got back later than we wanted, but still with plenty of daylight. I set to getting the fire started which went much better with the fire-starting sticks, but the wood was still too wet to yield good coals to cook over. We used it anyway, and had steak tips and corn for dinner along with some beer. We decided also to take down the tent as it was supposed to rain that night into Friday. And it did: starting around 2 a.m., waking us with its drumming on the roof of the car.

Friday was the day of the cruise to Baker Island, and we had set alarms to get up on time. No shuttles run that early, so we drove to Bar Harbor around 7 a.m., leaving the waterproof items behind for the time-being. We had a mediocre breakfast at Jordan's Restaurant (80 Cottage St., Bar Harbor, ME), forgetting that in most areas, diners are a "theme" restaurant and as such, expensive. Ali couldn't get over the fact that an unassuming vegetable-and-cheese omelette ran $11 … I almost had to take away her placemat menu! Further, the ship to the island was cancelled due to dangerously rough seas.

Instead, we decided to drive around the park loop. We drove up Cadillac Mountain — the highest peak on the Atlantic Coast north of Brazil — although it was essentially a steep grade in a blanket of fog and rain yielding a view of the sides, tops, and bottoms of clouds. We got back to camp and the rain had subsided as much as it was that day so we packed up and headed out.

We had our eyes out for those famous Maine blueberries. We stopped at a farm stand but the berries in the area were still too tart. Nonetheless, the guy also baked pies and had a blueberry one in the oven right then. Ali wanted it but I didn't want to wait for it to cool. After much disagreement, we finally decided to get it: as it turned out, it would cool fine in the car even if it wasn't perfectly level (it wasn't going to slop out as I thought). We made our way through Maine on I-95 (the new one, including the toll part) and hit Boston right at 5 p.m. The remaining 10 miles to Ali's friend's place took another hour and a half, but we ended up having a really nice time.

Saturday we got up and hit the road, stopping one last time to visit the ocean. We got to Schenectady by 4 p.m. and arrived at Ali's parent's at 8 p.m. to pick up our dog, Lucy. By 10 p.m. or so, we were all done and ready to take some time off to recuperate.

I was kind of expecting Acadia National Park to be like Stony Brook State Park (10820 State Route 36, Dansville), but alas, it's more like Yellowstone National Park (Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho) — only smaller in size. It would probably take a month to hike all the trails, attend all the Ranger discussions, and otherwise sample the whole place; much longer to savor it; and much longer than that to know it. I greatly enjoyed the "fractal effect" — that you could look at a grand-scaled wonder, then at the lay of the land and its geological history, then at the vegetation and stones nearby, then at the individual plants and the details in the individual pieces of stone, then at the lichens and mosses and their diversity — each time, there is something interesting to catch your eye.

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Taking the train to Schenectady and back for Easter

Ali and I decided to take the train to my parents' house for Easter. We boarded at the Amtrak Station (320 Central Ave.) around 9:45 a.m. and made our way east. It was amusing to see all the familiar places and try to figure out what's next: the Public Market, the train yard, 590, Linden Avenue, East Rochester, the middle of Fairport … and then it got more sparse: Baird Road … Macedon … and the last marker was in Palmyra when we passed my friend Sondra's old house. It was a beautiful sunny day although the scenery was that dreary brown-and-gray post-winter blah.

Around 1:30 we were in Schenectady and got to spend some time with my parents.

The return train was the same run I took to Denver in 2005 — we boarded around 7:30 p.m. and … well … waited. Apparently we were waiting for the tracks to clear ahead for the late-arriving eastbound train. And then it was to allow passengers to transfer from the Saratoga Springs train. So we finally left around 8.

Then in Syracuse, the U.S. Customs agents boarded (they did on the way east as well but it was uneventful) and they had some discussion with some people who happened to be sitting near us. One guy got all his luggage and left with them, and the other — well, I think it was just a language barrier and he got to stay. In any case, the time we made up with extra speed on the way was lost again and we arrived in Rochester around 11:45 — 45 minutes late.

Now the funny thing is that on the train it's kind of unique experience to be delayed. As long as you are on the train and it's on the main tracks, it will start going again. It may take a while but it'll go.

On a plane, ship, or bus, there's a sense that you might get stuck somewhere and have to figure out what to do. But on the train it's missing that element and I find myself having faith in the inertia of the voyage. Like the sheer mass of the train itself while it's moving, it requires very unusual circumstances to cancel a run. It may be slow-going, and there may be delays, but never a cancellation.

And that makes it that much more relaxing.

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