March 26, 2016

The Money Pit Is Well Shot

Unwinding and watching The Money Pit this weekend, I appreciated how well it is shot, especially compared to other Tom Hanks comedies of the 80s, like The Burbs.
For example, there's one clever shot in The Money Pit where Anna and Max are haggling over a painting Anna wants to sell to Max. They walk down a Manhattan sidewalk, cross Park Avenue and East 56th Street, and enter a Mercedes dealership. The whole shot is done in one take from inside the showroom picture window (see screenshots). I exclaimed to Emily "this is shot like a Woody Allen movie!" and I was more right than I knew:
The Money Pit was shot by legendary cinematographer Gordon Willis, who shot that extremely long take of Alvy (aka "Max") Singer and his friend Rob as they walk down a long stretch of East 66th Street in Annie Hall (12 blocks north and 9 years earlier).
Willis also shot a bunch more Woody Allen films, and some other famous movies, such as Klute, The Parallax View, Presumed Innocent, and The Godfather trilogy!
Meanwhile, I love The Burbs, but it's shot on Universal's "Wisteria Lane" back lot (of Desperate Housewives fame) and it looks like a overlit television show. Sure enough, it was shot by Robert M. Stevens, who has shot a handful of feature films, and a lot of television.

When the shot begins you can barely seen Anna and Max in the distance. Here they're crossing Park Avenue...

Stepping onto the sidewalk...

Entering the showroom...

...and into the Mercedes, all in one shot.

February 20, 2016


I was on the fence about seeing Deadpool. I like Ryan Reynolds- his comedy Best Friends with Amy Smart and Anna Faris is an underrated gem - but I didn't really know or care about this character, beyond his appearance in the mediocre X-Men Origins: Wolverine movie.
Then, the Monday after it came out, two friends recommended the movie. Two female friends. They both said it was funny, and super-violent, and there's lots of nudity. Word-of-mouth counts for a lot: if someone goes out of their way to say how good a movie is, go see that movie!
So I went to see it and really enjoyed it. The action sequences are exciting, inventive, and funny too. In two parts I laughed harder than I have laughed in the movies for a long time:

  • When Deadpool breaks both hands trying to punch Colossus
  • When the cab driver Dopinder reveals he's abducted his romantic rival and Deadpool secretly congratulates him.

I really enjoyed the Colossus character. He's a total goody-goody in the body of an unstoppable giant. His seemingly endless supply of patience with Deadpool, and his old-fashioned gentlemanliness when Angel Dust pops out of her top, are both charming.

My Issues:
The pacing felt weird - I am not sure the flashback-flashforward format helped make the movie better, except as a vehicle for adding more funny Deadpool voiceover. I appreciate that his true love for Vanessa is the engine that drives Deadpool's quest for vengeance, but their courtship scenes bogged down the momentum.

The villain Ajax, aka Francis, (Ed Skrein) was a real jerk, but he was completely anonymous-looking, and his only mutant powers seemed to be strength and regeneration, the most boring of all.

His hench-woman Angel Dust (Gina Carano) was authentically tough-looking, but again, her mutant powers seem to be "stronger than Colossus" and I don't know what else.

I enjoyed the indifferent grouchiness of Negasonic Teenage Warhead (newcomer Brianna Hildebrand), but I am not sure what her powers actually do? I agree with Deadpool when he hears her name "Negasonic Teenage... what the shit? That's the coolest name ever!"

My grade: A-minus
February 20, with Adam at Woburn

January 13, 2016

Introducing the Star Wars Movies

My six-year-old boy is a budding Star Wars fan. Star Wars had little effect on his pop culture worldview before this year, until his favorite animated show featured a spaceship nearly swallowed by a space worm in a cave. I took this opportunity to introduce my boy to the first 20 minutes of The Empire Strikes Back -minus Darth Vader and the Wampa. Over the last few months, we've shown him the Sail Barge / Sarlacc Pit battle and the Endor speeder chase scenes from Return of the Jedi too. In December one of his kindergarten friends (Cole the Mole) spoiled the whole plot of The Force Awakens to anyone who would listen, and this Christmas the Star Wars toys started pouring into our house. It turns out a six-year-old with a pile of Force Awakens sticker books learns the names of all the characters pretty quick!
So here's my conundrum: Episode Eight comes out in May 2017, 16 months from now. When my boy enters second grade in September 2017, he'll be almost eight. Practically speaking, it's only fair that he get to see at least The Force Awakens and Episode Eight by then. I don't want my son to be exposed to scary scenes, peril, and violence before he's ready, but I also don't want him to be the weirdo second grader who hasn't seen the Star Wars movies!
SO I have 16 months: do I show my son all the Star Wars movies? Do I skip the prequel trilogy, at least for now, and show him the original 4-5-6 this year? Here's my tentative plan:

  1. Spring 2016: A New Hope
  2. Summer 2016: The Empire Strikes Back
  3. Fall 2016: Return of the Jedi
  4. Winter 2017: The Force Awakens
  5. May 2017: Episode Eight

December 30, 2015


A raucous, profane, and hilarious house party movie, with a shot of family heart and soul. I hope that the title "SISTERS" and the lack of any bros on the movie posters doesn't keep guys from seeing this movie, because it has just as many dick jokes, drug jokes, and slapstick comedy gags as any guy-centric party movie: At one point, Bobby Moynihan's pun-spouting doofus gets super-high on drugs and tackles John Cena. Ike Barinholtz gets a ballerina music box jammed up his rectum. A swimming pool collapses into a sinkhole. What more do you want?!? And yes, it is about sisters, and the sister relationship is awesome, and Fey and Poehler have all the chemistry. I LOVE watching them say "fuck" so much. They're really good at it, and they never got to say it on 30 Rock or Parks & Recreation!
Originally titled The Nest - an even worse title than Sisters! If I had been the exec in charge, I would have pandered more to guy audiences and emphasized the house party more. Is the name House Party taken?
Just as the trailers were starting, seven 50-something women sat in two rows directly next to me. Uh-oh, I thought, but they turned out to be great- they laughed at all the jokes and made the movie so much funnier! Showcase Cinemas Legacy Place, Dedham

December 29, 2015

The Hateful Eight Roadshow

The Hateful Eight is a three-hour snowbound whodunit, like an Agatha Christie story, but with more "N-bombs" and heavy blood loss. Shot in Panavision Super 70, the film looks amazing. There are some spectacular landscapes, two stunning tracking shots (or perhaps the camera is on a truck) following stagecoaches through the woods, but almost the whole movie takes place in one big room during a blizzard, and the high grain film stock offers us lovely textured images of the cast's faces, and panoramic views of the room.
The plot begins to bore in a few places, and QT cannot help but take the violence to the extreme, but on the whole this was an interesting mystery and a unique moviegoing experience.
The Somerville Theater's 70mm projectors, ready to go.
Three hours of 70mm film weigh over 200 pounds!
The Hateful Eight was presented at the Somerville Theater as part of a nationwide Roadshow presentation. Every date on the roadshow is exhibiting the feature on 70mm film, with full-color souvenir programs, a 5-minute overture of Ennio Morricone's score preceded the opening titles, and a 15 minute intermission 100 minutes into the film. The sold out crowd was engaged, entertained, and attentive! Thanks to my sister Kate and Tim for organizing, buying the tickets, and providing welcome company and analysis of QT movies in general and Hateful Eight in particular!


Written & Directed by Quentin Tarantino

Oscar winner Patricia Arquette in True Romance
After tonight I will have seen six QT features in the theater, plus two movies he's written. (I skipped Jackie Brown and Inglourious Basterds in the theater.) Do I get extra credit for seeing Pulp Fiction six times in five months? Read my Stub Hubby reviews below...


December 28, 2015

Playing Louis B Mayer in the Movies

Richard Portnow
Trumbo is the fourth time I've seen MGM head Louis B. Mayer featured in a supporting role in a Hollywood biopic, but there's a bunch more, including:
Note: Besides Mayer, Dysart has played several other American icons, including Harry S Truman, J. Edgar Hoover, Secretary Of State Henry L. Stimson, and Dwight D. Eisenhower (twice)!


A terrific cast, fine performances, and a fascinating and relevant chapter in American history are let down by - oh the irony! - a weak screenplay.
Bryan Cranston is terrific as the successful Hollywood screenwriter who is willing to go to jail - and put his family through the wringer - rather than forfeit his First Amendment right to belong to the Communist Party during the Cold War. He's a royal pain in the ass and a terrible father and husband, but he's witty and he has his principles, so his charm carries us along with him. It's truly amazing that he went on two win two Oscars while blacklisted and writing under pseudonyms.
Diane Lane is given mostly nothing to do as his wife except look concerned when she espies Trumbo mixing whisky and barbiturates - while smoking in the tub no less! She finally gets a good speech when Trumbo hollers at his kid (Elle Fanning) while shunning her 16th birthday party.
Cranston gets to deliver some sharp jabs, especially when confronting John Wayne at a political event (former JAG television star David James Elliott does a fine job in the thankless role) but too many pivotal scenes feel cliche'd - the old "protagonist learns his old friend died unexpectedly" scene - or wooden (Trumbo finally reveals how proud he is of his activist daughter).
Playing Edward G. Robinson - a unique Hollywood face if there ever was one - is a tall order, and Michael Stuhlbarg nails that odd upside-down mouth just right. He plays an interesting conflict in the movie star's life- Robinson is an ally of the blacklisted Hollywood 10, even to the point of selling a Van Gogh to pay for their legal defense, but Robinson is blacklisted himself when his association with the Ten goes public. Unlike Trumbo, who finds his way back into screenwriting via surrogates and pseudonyms, Robinson only has one face for the movies, and chooses to betray the Hollywood 10 to Congress in order to restore his film career.
Dean O'Gorman is perfectly cast as Spartacus star Kirk Douglas. Is that chin dimple a special effect? Playing an actor who's playing a gladiator should be easy for him- he played a warrior dwarf in three Hobbit movies, plus countless episodes of Hercules and Xena on TV. German actor Christian Berkel is hilarious as demanding director Otto Preminger.

Theater Notes

West Newton Cinema, Screen 6. West Newton specializes in independent films, foreign films, movies for seniors, and Jewish Cinema. I am amazed at the trailers they show. First, a genocide movie- it was hard to tell which genocide because trailers for foreign-language movies try to hide the fact that you'll be reading subtitles for two hours by not including any dialog in the trailer. A really depressing-looking marriage movie 45 Years starring Charlotte Rampling, who is gorgeous at any age; and a trailer for a sequel to My Big Fat Greek Wedding, which was greeted with absolute, complete silence from the two dozen patrons watching it. If the screen had been blank the reaction would have been the same. All the jokes in the trailer were met with nothing. It was GRIM. Everyone in America saw the first movie 13 years ago, but no one has been asking for more.
I have endured chatty, entitled crowds at the West Newton Cinema, so I attend movies there with some trepidation, but I have to try to remember the good crowds too: the crowd did not talk during Trumbo, but one developmentally disabled adult in the front row let out a series of long groaning sounds at random intervals. It did not affect my engagement with the movie and it was impossible to get upset about it.

December 24, 2015

A Christmas Carol [1984]

Edward Woodward [no relation] as The Ghost of Christmas Past is the standout in this made-for-television adaptation. He's jovial at times, but as Scrooge shows some sympathy for the poor souls of London, the ghost really lays into Scrooge for his hypocrisy. His lustrous blanket of chest hair was distracting at times! George C. Scott is the star, and he does a fine job, but he's not cold and mean enough; he seems too easily persuaded by the spirits. Also, his Scrooge does not use the word "humbug" properly; Scott throws the word around as a general expletive.
The remainder of the role are filled by a stellar supporting cast: Roger Rees [you may remember him as Kirstie Alley's rich boyfriend on Cheers] is charming as nephew Fred. David Warner, whom I'm used to seeing as a villain - he plays Ultimate Evil in Time Bandits, for example - is touching as the tender, emotional Bob Crachit. Susannah York (Kal-El's mom in Superman I and II) is fine as Mrs Crachit; Mark Strickson (Dr Who companion Turlough) is young Scrooge, and Strickson plays opposite Lucy Gutteridge, who played the romantic lead in the comedy Top Secret! that same year opposite Val Kilmer. Kilmer's future wife Joanne Whalley appears briefly as Scrooge's sister.

The special effects are kept to a minimum. Jacob Marley's chains and bank boxes are especially effective, with great clanking noises. Once Marley materializes in Scrooge's bedroom, his ghostly appearance is maintained by lighting and all-monochrome makeup only. Scrooge's travels with the spirits are not fussy.

December 22, 2015

Star Wars: The Force Awakens [with spoilers]

I saw The Force Awakens again, this time at the Arlington Capitol Theatre with Tom and Adam. I am now updating my December post in February 2016, well outside the Spoiler Exclusion Zone:
I don't mind that the plot is very similar to the original trilogy. I feel that the writers are acknowledging that the prequel trilogy introduced a fundamentally different, complicated, and boring plot, so at worst, this is an overcorrection towards simplicity. Anyone who complains that this plot was a repeat of the original trilogy doesn't appreciate that the original trilogy plots were very simple, and the Return of the Jedi included tons of repeated elements from Star Wars!

I was pleased and glad that the new cast was so good, and that the filmmakers trusted their story with them for the entire first act of the movie.

I was amazed how cute and charismatic BB-8 could be. I laughed out loud repeatedly at his double-takes.

Oscar Isaac is hella handsome. If I can sense it, the ladies must be going gaga over Poe Dameron.

Baby Daddy?

Daisy Ridley is great as Rey, and it's obvious to me she's Luke's daughter. One of my favorite music cues from A New Hope is the theme playing when Luke leaves the Owen & Beru's dinner table and gazes out at the binary sunset. This same theme music plays twice when Rey is girding her Force power in pivotal moments, especially during the lightsaber duel with Kylo Ren. Fans seem to think this is "too obvious", but there's no other established characters that make sense, and all other possible answers are too random to be dramatically useful- there's no way her parents are new characters unrelated to any established characters. Fans also wonder how Luke could abandon his daughter on a desert planet just as he was as a baby (see the last 30 seconds of Revenge of the Sith), but that's what's so poignant about it!

Theory A: Luke's the baby daddy. He didn't know Rey existed until she showed up on Rock Island Planet with his old lightsaber. Perhaps she was kept a secret from him because the baby mama feared The Force?
Theory B: Luke knew about Rey, but kept her away from him for her protection or some other motivation we don't know about yet - just as Luke was secreted away from Darth Vader. Luke would never let his daughter rot on Jakku, so her abandonment may have occurred after he entered seclusion on the Rock Island Planet.

The Lightsaber

Where the heck did Goldfish Lady erm, Maz Kanata - get the old blue Skywalker lightsaber? Kenobi gave Luke Anakin Skywalker's old blue lightsaber in A New Hope, and Luke used it until he lost it (along with his hand) on Bespin in The Empire Strikes Back. While most casual fans can speculate that the lightsaber is calling to Rey because she's at least "strong with the Force" and more likely a Skywalker too, but I bet most viewers forgot that Luke lost the blue lightsaber and built a new green lightsaber before Return of the Jedi. So how did the blue lightsaber end up in Kanata's basement? , I never thought about it before, but I would presume when Vader cut off Luke's hand, the blue lightsaber fell out the bottom of the Cloud City and was lost in the gas giant of Bespin thirty-six years earlier? Does the Cloud City have some kind of colander built into the bottom to catch tools that get dropped over the side?

Just when you think every elderly English actor has been used up, Max Von Sydow shows up! He's done sci-fi/fantasy before, but Flash Gordon and Dune were a long time ago. Coincidentally, Dune (1984) and Flash Gordon (1980) were produced during the sci-fi/fantasy movie fad made possible by Star Wars' success.

I struggled to see elderly movie star Harrison Ford as Han Solo. He's been a movie star for so long, and he's over 30 years older, that I struggled to see him as the same character. I had similar trouble with Carrie Fisher, but in her case, her voice is so different, and her mood was so restrained and melancholy, she didn't seem like the same person I remember from the 1980s.
Obviously we haven't seen Mark Hamill do much acting yet, but I bet he's going to be must easier for me to digest than Ford and Fisher, maybe because I haven't seen him act in anything for 30 years. His bearded, enrobed look reminds me of Oliver Reed's character in Gladiator.

Weird Facts

When they announced The Force Awakens, fans noticed (but could not believe) that Hamill is older than Alec Guiness was when he played Kenobi; Hamill is also a few years older than Reed was when he died in 1999 before Gladiator was done shooting.

Funny Quibbles

  • When Finn's comrade dies and smears a bloody handprint on his Stormtrooper helmet, that was the first example of blood in the Star Wars saga since Ben Kenobi cut off that guy's arm in the cantina! I suspect Lucas decided early on to keep his movies bloodless, so this moment stood out.
  • This is a Disney/Lucasfilm joint, but I missed the 20th Century Fox fanfare before the Star Wars theme begins.
  • I love the crashed Star Destroyer buried on Jakku, but it doesn't look quite big enough to me. Is the scale off? Especially when the Millennium Falcon flies through it, it didn't seem mammoth enough.

I'm A Sucker

Maybe some moviegoers saw this coming, but I was completely shocked that Ren killed his father on the gangway. Harrison Ford famously lamented that Solo did not die in Return of the Jedi, and I have to admit his death on Endor, or perhaps in the assault on the Death Star, would have added some much-needed gravitas to that otherwise lightweight feel-good finale. In 2016 it's easy to imagine that Ford agreed board the Millennium Falcon one more time- as long as they killed him off this time!