Ten More Movies: May 2014 to June 2014

So here's the last 10 movies I watched …

  1. Godzilla at Zurich Cinemas Pittsford 9 on May 16: Jenn wanted to go see this and I figured, "what the heck?" We haven't been to a mainstream movie-house in a while, so why not jump right in on a Friday night with the masses? The monsters that appear first—the MUTAs—represent the U.S. and its insatiable military-industrial complex. They have squared beaks much like stylized eagles and literally feed on the U.S. weaponry. Godzilla, the monster representing the natural world, appears in order to stop the MUTAs: a thinly-veiled allegory for the climate change that will disrupt the food and water supply, revealing the solely profit-centric Americans to be wholly unable to care for themselves. As far as the movie for entertainment sake, if you can get past the un-enumerable technical flaws and errors, and avoid thinking about September 11, it's pretty cool to see the monsters rip up major cities.
  2. Yoidore tenshi (Drunken Angel) at the Dryden on May 22: Jenn and I went to see this film by Akira Kurosawa. It's about a Japanese guy who, after World War II, clings to his bravado by siding with the gangs that formed. It would be easy to make an argument that it's an allegory for Japan itself clinging to bravado in the face of the devastation after the war. The film is heartbreaking to watch—whether through Matsunaga's descent, Japan's allegorical descent, or actual footage of bombed-out Japan.
  3. Fargo at the Dryden on May 31: Jenn and I revisited this favorite of ours. It's been a while since I've seen it on the big screen, and doing so was a rewarding experience. Curiously, I don't feel like it loses much watching at home, but sitting with a group of strangers in a darkened room is rewarding enough. The story (for those who don't know) is a crime of extortion gone wrong. The unique twist is it involves very human-like characters getting in deeper than they can handle, making reasonable mistakes, and having reasonable twists of luck. The other unique aspect is it's set in North Dakota and Minnesota in winter, and nearly all the characters speak with a strong regional Minnesota accent. Anyway, it still holds up: its biggest flaw may be that it was shot in a far milder winter than it was set, so characters appear overdressed to one who has a keen sense of what a cold winter looks like. Also, I still like my favorite short scene: when Jerry Lundegaard has a setback, his frustration is revealed as he tries to scrape impenetrable ice off a windshield. Perhaps it's because I've both experienced that particular challenge and have never seen it utilized in a film to such great effect.
  4. Cold in July at the Little, June 1: Jenn and I got a chance to see this as it was the most promising in the Little's line-up. The gist is a guy kills an intruder in his house and the father of the murdered man returns for revenge. Up to this point, it's about a man's internal conflict about life, death, and killing, and whether redemption and forgiveness can be found. But then the the second-act conflict hits and it felt more like the screenwriter was out of his depth than a legitimate course of events (and, since based on a novel, it may very well have been the novelist was out of his depth, but I hadn't read it so I can't say for sure.) There's a few loose ends that go unexplained, but I was more disappointed that the interesting psychological exploration trail goes dead.
  5. Chef at the Little, June 4: Jenn, Chris, and I went to see this and it was better than I expected. I also expected a standard 3-act structure, but it's a feel-good movie and lacks any conflict throughout. Nonetheless, it's a great movie to watch if you like fine food, and it's just a nice movie. I wonder if the Twitter elements will seem absurd or dated (and it was bordering on a big advertisement for Twitter—at least as much as The Internship was an ad for Google.)
  6. Urgh! A Music War at the Dryden, June 7: I really had no idea what to expect of this film; it is entirely footage of 1980's punk and (truly) alternative acts performing in front of audiences. It's not bad for a concert-footage film, and the acts are very varied and some almost never filmed. Toward the end of the film—about midway through the performance by "X"—I realized I was having an emotional reaction to a recording and got kind of irritated about that. I was experiencing a false nostalgia for events I never witnessed. And then I had the experience of the projection being seen as a series of flashing images in a darkened room: a painfully Allegory-of-the-Cave moment.
  7. The Big Lebowski at the Dryden, June 8: Maybe I've seen this too much and maybe I was just tired, but I was not nearly as amused by this quirky comedic noir this time around. It's still a lot of fun, but I may have seen it too much.
  8. Le Week-End at the Cinema, June 10: I was curious to check this one out. In the film, a couple revisits Paris for their anniversary and it shakes the very existence of their relationship. I thought it was rather astute in observing how we grow so much yet change so little at the same time. I found it unfortunate that the filmmakers chose to have some scenes' dialog so quiet as to be inaudible (especially, dare I say, a film about older people—and therefore viewed by people with less-than-cat-like hearing.)
  9. The Other Woman at the Cinema, June 10: I figured with the double-feature, I'd at least give this a shot. The gist is a guy cheats on his wife with another woman, but they get together and find out he's cheating on them both, and then the trio gets together and gives him his comeuppance. I expected an awful romantic comedy that I'd walk out of in a few minutes. But I actually laughed out loud at Leslie Mann's genius portrayal of ditzy wife Kate as she delivered a line that could have so easily fallen flat: when it's revealed to her that her husband is having sex without her, she somehow grand-slams the line, "you mean he's not training for a marathon?" Mann's performance saves it, and Cameron Diaz pulls off the high-power lawyer in as much as the script allows, but Kate Upton can't quite manage to make funny the beaten-to-death "pretty girl is dumb" routine (who could pull off the "pretend to look the wrong way through the binoculars" bit?), and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau likewise can't wring much out of the dirt-bag spoiled-rich husband routine. And tread very lightly with the suspension of disbelief: the story is held together with a tenuously thin veneer.
  10. Desperately Seeking Susan at the Dryden, June 11: After having seen a modern romantic comedy, I thought I'd check one out from 30 years ago. (Well, it's kind of an unfair comparison as it's a movie that was remembered.) It's about a woman bored in her marriage who is intrigued by a woman being sought by her boyfriend (desperately, apparently) via personal ads. It's a clever and funny movie with Rosanna Arquette as Roberta (the wife) and Madonna as Susan, a self-empowered petty thief with a wild and nomadic lifestyle that is the polar opposite of Roberta's. I did have to simply accept the huge contrived cliché (amnesia through a blow to the head with no other ill effects) as it was central to the plot. Per the introduction to the film, I hadn't realized it was not only starring two women, but the director (Susan Seidelman), writer (Leora Barish), and two of three producers (Sarah Pillsbury, and Midge Sanford) were women. In fact, I believe it wouldn't pass a reverse-gender Bechdel/Wallace test: although there is more than one male character, when two men speak, they only talk about women. But rather than expend any effort defending a feminist viewpoint, it simply presents a wholly entertaining vision of a female-friendly reality.

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Dogtown, Oh My God

After Ali and I had lunch at Dogtown Hots (691 Monroe Ave.), I headed to The Rochester Contemporary Art Gallery (137 East Ave.) to check out the installation there: Sam van Aken's Audition. Ali and I went to the opening reception last week, but both Thumper and Oh My God were works based on sound, and it was pretty much impossible to fully experience them with all the crowd noise.

I have to admit I was enamored of the idea of Oh My God: a 60-foot-long, 10-foot-high wall of mismatched speakers, impossibly arranged to form a perfect rectangle. I knew from the opening that it sporadically played voices and sounds. I sat in front of it for (what turned out to be) nearly the entirety of its 7-minute loop. The phrase "oh my God" — versions thereof collected from famous and not-so-famous media sources — emanates sporadically from one randomly-selected speaker. And then from another, and another, and so on — gradually playing more and more frequently until building to a cacophonous and overwhelming climax.

As I was letting myself get lost in the experience, I recognized a few of the voices and their sources from popular movies and television. Sometimes I'd recognize a voice that was played earlier being played in a new location. I was also aware of the digital distortion from the variety of low sampling rates and MPEG-styled compression artifacts — a specific kind of harmonic whine that tended to distract me. But certain voices I didn't recognize (save for their intonation), and they brought me specifically to the events of September 11.

In reading the information binder for Oh My God, it turns out that was, in fact, Aken's inspiration. In unavoidably viewing the terrible footage that day over-and-over until he became numb to it, the one thing that rang out was a woman's voice saying, "oh my God" in one of the clips. [In case you don't recall, the World Trade Center was destroyed by terrorists piloting hijacked commercial airplanes on September 11, 2001.]

I was kind-of saddened that the point was so … simple: that this impressive-scaled work, reminiscent of the ideally-packed order of Manhattan's maps and its skylines, was just a reflection of the numbness achieved by repetitive playback of an event by the media by creating numbness to a phrase by parroting its own frequent use in media.

I still want to like it so bad, but I'm at a loss to find any more depth in it. But hey: maybe that's the point too.

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