April 26, 2017

Jonathan Demme 1944-2017

Sad to hear of the passing of director Jonathan Demme today. Here's a quick look at his films. I was surprised to find I'd seen six feature films and two concert documentaries:

  • Swing Shift [1984] - I have a fond memory of watching this movie with my mom at home when I was a kid.
  • Stop Making Sense [also 1984] - The best concert film I've ever seen, I didn't actually see it in full until the 2000s.
  • Something Wild [1986] - I saw this at the Brattle Theater once (I have no record of when, and no blog post for it) and I remember it was a oddball ride from silly to screwball to terrifying!
  • Married To The Mob [1988] - I love this screwball romantic comedy. Very shaggy and eccentric, it's bursting with personality. A good-natured jab at Italian-American Long Island gangsters and their wives. (I suspect I saw this at the Brattle too but I'm really unsure.)
  • Silence of the Lambs [1991] - The best and scariest horror movie, period. I didn't see it in the theater; I must have seen it for the first time circa 1993-94?
  • Philadelphia [1993] - powerful stuff. Haven't seen it since I saw it at the long-gone Janus theater in Harvard Square.
  • The Manchurian Candidate [2004] - at the time I called it a "A dark and creepy thriller, with quality performances from top to bottom, a good script and intense direction from Jonathan Demme." but 12 years later I don't remember anything about it.
  • Neil Young: Heart of Gold [2006] - great concert doc. Click the link for my wife's review!
  • Ricki & The Flash [2015] - I didn't see this, but my wife did and she loved it. She couldn't stop talking about it!

April 11, 2017

161 Impossible Marquee

Created in February & March 2017, completed April 11.
  1. Television "MARQUEE MOON" I had heard about this band for many years but never actually heard their songs until 2013, when Wilco put on an amazing "all covers all by request" live show at their Solid Sound festival. Their cover of "Moon" was amazing...and four years later, Television the band is playing that same festival!
  2. Wilco "IMPOSSIBLE GERMANY" The song "Marquee Moon" sounds like it was written for Wilco, as if the current version of Wilco was based on it. This Wilco original embodies that feeling.
  3. Passenger "ANYWHERE"
  4. Chuck Berry "PROMISED LAND" RIP Chuck! Here's the song I first heard covered by Elvis in the movie Men In Black!
  5. The Wild Feathers "THE CEILING"
  6. Level 42 "LESSONS IN LOVE" Back in the late 80s I loved "Something About You" by Level 42, and the singles from their subsequent LP. I bought the "Lessons In Love" cassette single which also featured "Freedom Someday" - these two songs remind me of listening to music on my beloved cassette Walkman in the car while road tripping to Alabama to pick up my brother as he completed Army Basic Training.
  7. The Jam "TOWN CALLED MALICE"
  8. Paul McCartney "MY BRAVE FACE" Paul's Flowers In The Dirt LP is getting a critical reappraisal as it's just been reissued. It's his first album that came out after I became a Beatles fan, and I have some loyalty and nostalgia for it.
  9. Elvis Costello "VERONICA"
  10. ABC "WHEN SMOKEY SINGS" I've been learning to play bits of this song on the piano lately. I love this song!
  11. Martha Reeves & The Vandellas "NOWHERE TO RUN"
  12. Nick Lowe "SO IT GOES" Somehow I have never placed this classic on a playlist before?
  13. Bob Dylan "LIKE A ROLLING STONE" Take 5, Rehearsal (Short Version) I've been learning this song on the piano lately. Very rewarding.
  14. Fleetwood Mac "RHIANNON" I picked out the riff of this song on the piano lately.
  15. Johnny Cash "THE MAN COMES AROUND" The final Wolverine movie LOGAN used Cash's cover of "Hurt" in the trailer, but this is the song that features in the closing credits.
  16. Willie Nelson "THE MAKER"
  17. Nirvana "ALL APOLOGIES" Original Steve Albini 1993 mix; One of the advantages of Spotify is the ability to listen to bonus tracks of special edition reissues...of albums I already own and don't want to buy again just to hear some bonus tracks! The differences between Albini's mixes and Scott Litt's remixes may seem minor today, but Albini was seen as a radio unfriendly producer when "grunge" was a musically political label.

April 9, 2017

What We Do In The Shadows

Goofy, shaggy vampire comedy, in the same vein as Flight of the Conchords (pun def intended). Presented as a documentary, three out-of-step vampires (led by Jemaine Clement) and their Nosferatu-like roommate try and catch up and get by in 21st century New Zealand. Essential viewing for FOTC fans.
On Amazon Instant Video. I don't remember the exact date we watched it!

April 8, 2017

Ghost In The Shell

This movie owes everything to The Matrix, Blade Runner, and Akira. What does it contribute to this genre besides terrific special effects and Scarlett Johansson?
There are some germs of good ideas here, but they don't go anywhere. I'd sum this up as a workmanlike leveraging of a well-known property, with a bankable movie star attached, financed through half a dozen global sources (I think I saw five production company or studio logos at the opening) with the ultimate goal to sell the feature to world audience.
Indeed, this does not resemble an American movie in any way and any success in the American market feels like a secondary concern to the producers. I don't have a problem with this - another action movie filled with white male Americans is tedious! Shell only includes two or three white men in speaking roles!
Based on all the TV commercials I only planned to see this on home video, but on this particular weekend I needed to get out of the house...and I couldn't find a showtime for Kong: Skull Island. My Stub Hubby grade: C-minus.

See Also on Stub Hubby \ The Dytopian Action Heroine Collection:

  • Aeon Flux [2005] "The secret history of the last city on Earth is a cool premise which offers limitless possibilities for a cerebral sci-fi examination of self and the human condition, but this potential is squandered on lots and lots of gunfire."
  • Ultraviolet [2006] "A fairly intriguing if cliched two-hour sci-fi shoot-em-up, where half an hour of interesting detail has been edited out"
  • Lucy [2016] "A thinking-person's superhero origin story...without the heroics"


March 17, 2017

Logan

Really impressive finale to Hugh Jackman's Wolverine. Equal parts twilight Western and "government baddies chasing mutants to steal their powers", Jackman is lucky to be able to say farewell on his own terms.
My Stub Hubby Grade: A-minus.
Logan answers the hard, uncomfortable questions about mutants: when there are no battles left to fight, isn't it a curse to be an indestructible superman? What happens to the most dangerous brain on Earth when Professor Xavier loses control of his mind? Isn't the priceless power of mutants too tempting for exploitation of children? The previous X-Men movies touched on these ideas but this film dwells on these ideas. The R-rating allows us to see simply chilling footage of child mutants being exploited (much more explicitly than in X-Men: The Last Stand).
Thanks to the R rating we get to see what Wolverine can really do with his claws. Also, there's lots of cursing!
Jackman, Patrick Stewart, and young actress Dafne Keen were all great. I was pleasantly surprised to find Richard E. Grant as the lead mutant researcher/exploiter, and Stephen Merchant is an interesting choice as an albino mutant helping Xavier and Logan in the Mexico desert. The lead hunter for the government baddies is played by Boyd Holbrook: he's got plenty of charisma, and he's smart enough to not underestimate Logan, but we know next to nothing about him except he respects the X-Men.
Showcase Cinemas Woburn with Adam on St. Patrick's Day

February 28, 2017

How To Prevent Oscar Envelope Screwups

I've been watching the Academy Awards for over 25 years. Every year they make a show of ensuring us that the results are carefully tabulated and protected by some very boring-looking accountants in tuxedos with briefcases.
I've always understood that these accountants are like the Secret Service of the Oscars: if the wrong person is presented with an award, they'll leap onstage to catch the bullet like Clint Eastwood in In The Line of Fire and correct the error.

The worst-case scenario happened this year, but the accountants acted too slowly.

Price Waterhouse Coopers has been counting votes and handing out award envelopes for over 80 years, and Sunday night's "biggest screwup in Oscars history" (The Hollywood Reporter) shows that PWC has gotten lazy, and made too many concessions to convenience at the expense of security.
Giving the Oscar to the wrong Best Picture is the biggest mistake they could commit. Letting the mistake happen, then not correcting it for a few minutes is cruel to the actual winners and the mistakenly announced winners too.
In the wake of this catastrophe, I am sure PWC and the Academy will make corrections to their processes. Here are my ideas to better secure their system:

One briefcase only: whether they print two sets of envelopes for redundancy or stage convenience, two sets of envelopes made this error possible.
This comprehensive WaPo story details how PWC goes to great lengths to ensure the envelopes make it to the theater on time. If one accountant's car gets stuck in traffic or hit by a meteor, they're covered, but do two accountants on each side of the stage make the results more secure? It may be less convenient to have only one set of envelopes, but it would prevent this error from occurring.

If you must have two briefcases: Warren Beatty was supposed to present the Best Picture award, but he was given the duplicate Best Actress envelope (Emma Stone had just received the award a few minutes earlier.) Why did the PWC accountant still have that duplicate envelope? While each award is presented onstage, the PWC accountant could:
  • Open the duplicate envelope offstage,
  • Confirm the onstage presentation and the duplicate envelope match,
  • Then shred the duplicate envelope to guarantee it doesn't get given to Warren Beatty in error.

Note the category Best Picture
in small text at the bottom.
Layout of the award card: Award winners traditionally keep the card (and their statuette) and the design of the card seems to make concessions to aesthetics over clarity. To help prevent errors, they should redesign the card:
  • The category "Best Picture", or "Best Actress in a Leading Role", and so on should be in large type at the top, not in attractive small italics at the bottom (see photo).
  • Awards for acting should not include the name of the movie. I have not seen a photo of her card, but apparently the Best Actress card said
    EMMA STONE "LA LA LAND"
    This may seem excessive, but if the card had just said
    BEST ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE EMMA STONE,
    perhaps Faye Dunaway would not have blurted out "La La Land!" off the card.
Pick award presenters under 75 years old (or at least make them wear their reading glasses!)
This might sound harsh and ageist, but Best Picture presenters Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway are 79 and 76 years old. Beatty was clearly confused by reading the wrong card and did not ask for help, he simply passed the buck to Dunaway, who thought he was playing the moment for fun and did not seem to know anything was wrong.

A combination of some or all of these remedies would have prevented this screwup. Let's hope the Oscars can be presented without another hitch for another 89 years.

February 21, 2017

The Best Batman Movie?

Reading this Tweet yesterday I had a revelation:
I realized The Lego Batman Movie might be the best Batman movie, period.

Before I saw this hilarious brick movie, my #1 Batman movie was The Dark Knight. TDK is a great superhero movie, but it seems impossible to compare The Dark Knight to The Lego Batman Movie. How can you compare a movie that "explores the psychological motivation of the heroes and villains of the Batman comic books with an exciting postmodern, 21st century perspective" to a "funny, silly, heartwarming" movie where Robin fights bad guys with Gymkata?

That's when I realized that your answer to "what's the best Batman movie" depends on what kind of superhero movie is en vogue at the moment. The gritty superhero movie trend, begun with Batman Begins 12 years ago, was a necessary course correction after the campy Batman movies of the 90s. However, the trend has gone on long enough. The latest gritty superhero movie, Batman v Superman, "bombastic and glacially paced", was the last nail in the coffin.

How do I know gritty superhero movies are dead? My favorite superhero movies of the last few years are light and funny: Guardians of the Galaxy and DeadpoolThe Lego Batman Movie makes three funny and light superhero movies in a row.

So my new answer to the question "What's the best Batman movie is The Lego Batman Movie,  because my favorite kind of superhero movie right now are the light and fun superhero movies.

February 18, 2017

John Wick Chapter 2

John Wick 2 truly f**king DELIVERED. They broke new ground, saw stuff I've never seen before:
  • Killing two guys with a pencil 
  • Reloading a shotgun while pressing the barrel against a guy's chest, then shooting him with it 
The sold out crowd loved it and was also amazed at the stunts. It's hard to describe their reactions.
Hard to believe it's been two years since I rented the original?
Moviegoing Notes
So many movies ignore all the times a gunman would need
to reload: Wick turns reloading into an integral part of
the action!
This is only the third time I've ever seen a sequel in the theater without seeing the original in the theater too. That's often the hallmark of a home video success:
  • For example, Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery did not sell a lot of tickets but became a smash hit on VHS and DVD. I first saw that film on home video (I did see it at the Brattle Theater in 1999 after its sequel came out.)
  • Twice I've seen sequels in the theater because friends wanted to go out; I've never seen Legally Blonde, but I saw Legally Blonde 2: Red, White, and Blonde with my friend Michelle in 2003.
  • When I was 19 I saw The Godfather Part III with a bunch of high school friends...even though I hadn't seen the first two movies yet.
There are other cases besides Godfather III where the original came out when I was too young to see it in the theater (e.g., The Terminator, Alien, Beverly Hills Cop). I'm not counting those because I didn't have the opportunity to see them in the theater.

February 16, 2017

160 Talked a Little While About The Year

Oftentimes the bulk of a playlist will be composed all at once and little revisions trail off for weeks. This playlist was created for the end of 2016, but I kept adding and dropping songs through the winter.
  1. "January Hymm" The Decemberists
  2. "Goose Snow Cone" Aimee Mann
  3. "Can't Hardly Wait" Justin Townes Earle
  4. "Pack Up" Eliza Doolittle
  5. "My Baby Blue" John Hiatt & The Goners
  6. "The Ballad of Jesse James" Bruce Springsteen Band
  7. "Barrel of a Gun" [live] Guster
  8. "Behind the Wall of Sleep" The Smithereens
  9. "Quiet Corners & Empty Spaces" The Jayhawks
  10. "A Long December" Counting Crows
  11. "I Can't Turn You Loose" Otis Redding
  12. "I Need Never Get Old" Nathaniel Ratecliff & The Night Sweats
  13. "Pain" De La Soul feat/Snoop Dogg
  14. "Electric Feel" MGMT
  15. "Where Is My Mind?" The Pixies
  16. "Dr Heckyll & Mr Jive" Men At Work
  17. "Dearly Departed" Shakey Graves feat/Esme Patterson
  18. "Sleepwalk" The Brian Setzer Orchestra

February 11, 2017

The Lego Batman Movie

The Lego Batman Movie is funny, silly, with legit action sequences, amazing pop culture cameos, and it's about something too!
Just as much fun as The Lego Movie, nearly as heartwarming, with plenty of adult jokes to keep us parents entertained too. Michael Cera is a standout as Robin, Zach Galifinakis is great as the needy, petulant Joker, and Ralph Fiennes is perfectly dry as Alfred the butler.
Stub Hubby Grade: A minus; if only I could buy the DVD while walking out of the theater to watch it again at home!
Belmont Studio Cinema with Hawkeye and Bella and her dad