August 29, 2014

Ghostbusters 30th Anniversary

I have seen Ghostbusters dozens of times on television over the last 30 years, and at least once in a movie theater in 1984- we were on summer vacation in the Lakes region of Maine and I immediately fell in love with the movie (my mom not so much- she walked out around the time the roof blew off the firehouse.)
I have watched it on a taped-off-broadcast-television tape many times, then I bought the two-disc Criterion Collection Laser Disc (with a badass cover image) around 1994, then on DVD (bundled with Ghostbusters 2) in the last decade.
So, what's the difference? Why spend $13 to see a movie I can watch for free at home? I have already bought this movie twice, why keep paying for it?
Seeing Ghostbusters on a very big screen again was a special treat for two reasons:

Details, Details, Details

One of the advantages of seeing a good movie over and over, you can enjoy the little background details because you don't have to focus on the plot and dialog. The massive movie screen makes it possible to see so much detail that's really impossible to discern even on a LCD television with a DVD player. I can't imagine now, how blurry and incomplete my old pan-and-scan VHS taped off the TV copy was. I really appreciated all the little touches, the production design, and the background action.
The special effects look amazing. Ghostbusters was one of the first comedies of its era to actually spend money on effects- go watch Caddyshack or Animal House and you can see how cheap they were to produce, but Ghostbusters features terrific state-of-the-art effects. Thirty years later, only a few shots of the Terror Dog chasing Rick Moranis look phony.

The Audience

Watching a favorite movie, a movie you've only really seen at home is totally different and rewarding when seen with an audience. Where do the laughs come? This crowd was terrific, and they laughed in places I never noticed were funny, or even places that I didn't notice were jokes- When the mayor is considering believing the Ghostbusters story, Venkman reminds him that he has an opportunity to save the lives of "millions of registered voters." The movie cuts to the Archbishop who smiles and nods. This got a big laugh where I had never thought of it as more than a nice aside.

Theater Notes

AMC Boston Common, with George, Angus, and, sitting in a different row, Erin, Willy, et al. I go to the big movie chains so rarely I forget how nice it is to go to the Somerville Theater. AMC showed 20 minutes of trailers and commercials before the movie. The movie was scheduled for 9:05pm, but the movie didn't actually start until 9:25pm thanks to all this filler. I dislike this more and more the later and later the screening.
I wasn't sure whether the Friday of Labor Day weekend in Boston would be overrun with college kids and families, it turns out the town was very quiet. I drove from work in Lexington, and into a free parking space on Charles Street in 30 minutes. It was also easy to get a table for dinner at Fajitas & Ritas, and the AMC multiplex was very quiet at 8:45pm.

August 12, 2014

Robin Williams

Robin Williams is famous for his silly, nonstop, stream-of consciousness comedy, his wonderful voices, his loudness, but the dark edge has always been there. I had heard that Williams had been sober for decades when he relapsed a few years back, but I didn't really appreciate how low his life had gotten until I heard this interview with Marc Maron on the WTF podcast in 2010. (I haven't re-listened to it yet, but I will shortly.)
Comics are not happy or normal people. Anyone who is compelled to get onstage and tell stories is working some shit out. I think it was Jim Gaffigan who said "what people don't appreciate is, if we weren't paid, we'd still have to get up onstage every night and talk. We have to do it."
I am deeply saddened that Williams is gone. When I was a kid, Robin Williams was the definition of funny. The Garry Marshall TV empire ruled the airwaves. Happy Days, Laverne & Shirley, and Mork & Mindy defined and dominated TV comedy, and Williams' Mork from Ork character was on all of them. His brand of childlike, yet edgy zaniness was everywhere.
Stand-up comedians have been trying to act in feature films since they were invented, but Williams was the TV and standup superstar who made that move when I was a kid. My five favorite Williams performances:

  • Williams starred in The World According To Garp during the Mork & Mindy years, and it could not be more different. It's a quirky drama, or an especially dark comedy, or a little of both. It's a challenging story (based on the John Irving novel) but Williams is terrific, especially when seen in the context of the pure silliness of his day job on television.
  • Good Morning Vietnam is remembered for Williams' on-air monologues - I bought the soundtrack album for the monologues AND the 1960s pop music - but also I remember how Adrian Cronauer grows restless with the sanitized "news" he's required to broadcast as he comes to know the country and it's people, mirroring America's disillusionment with the war.
  • Williams won over a whole new generation of fans who never heard of Mork with a perfectly distilled dose of his comic genius as the Genie in Aladdin, the first Disney animated movie where a movie star voiced a character. Williams paved the way for many comic actors animated alter egos, most directly Mike Myers' Shrek.
  • The following year Williams starred in and co-produced Mrs Doubtfire- a perfectly executed high-concept family comedy by Chris Columbus.
  • Robin Williams is amazing in The Birdcage, mainly because he's playing the straight man to the equally brilliant Nathan Lane as his comedic spouse. It's a testament to his acting chops that he lets Nathan Lane (and everyone else in the cast) get most of the laughs while his Armand underplays the comedy.

August 9, 2014

Guardians Of The Galaxy

A colorful and funny space adventure, GotG delivers an inventive and slightly oddball take on very familiar plot and characters.
The plot and characters could not be more familiar: five outlaws are bound together by circumstance to save the world by retrieving a powerful object from an evil overlord. The five Guardians are (from left):

  • A smooth-talking Butch Cassidy leader type
  • A gentle giant
  • An amoral thief
  • A man avenging the murder of his wife and child (think Inigo Montoya or Mason Storm)
  • A heartless assassin
[UPDATE: I've been thinking about GotG for a few days, and I suddenly realized that the Rocket & Groot pair are just like Han Solo & Chewbacca- the fast-talking amoral thief and the gentle giant whom only Rocket (Solo) understands. Except, here's the wild part- Rocket & Groot do it better! Groot is a more interesting and better partner than Chewbacca. Chewbacca is less expressive and contributes less to their adventures! Am I crazy or does Groot make Chewbacca really look like a "walking carpet"? PS: Please save the "Rocket & Groot in the comics predate Star Wars" emails- it doesn't matter which duo was invented first, it's just two variations on the same partnership. We could compare them both to Inigo Montoya & Fezzik from The Princess Bride if we wanted to...]

These five bouncing off each other creates lots of fun sparks. The dialog is sharp, five completely different body types leads to dynamic and inventive fight scenes, and their five different motivations are all illustrated and leveraged for interesting plot twists.
The production design also made the movie worth watching. Normally I prefer "hard science fiction" where the filmmakers attempt to be faithful to the way the universe really works. But GotG is more of a "soft sci fi" movie in the vein of the Star Wars prequels, where characters are blue, green, and magenta skinned, where the humanoids are weird looking for its own sake. The second act takes place at a mining colony inside the massive head of some space giant that died centuries ago, now the skull is floating in space, completely encrusted inside and out with an lawless scavenging mining encampment, kind of like Deadwood but with more alien goo. All this color is wonderful, but I was especially reminded of Star Wars (in a bad way) on the aseptic capital home world, that's all white and futuristic plainness and fountains and skyways for no reason. For a movie that's otherwise so inventive, this one planet was too underdesigned.

Fun Moments: Earthling Peter Quill uses the 'finger across the neck' motion as the symbol for 'kill', but the alien he's talking to doesn't know what that means "Why would I put my finger on his neck?"
The soundtrack is great - not my favorite 1970s music, but still, the silly glam and bubblegum pop is emblematic of the whole movie's lack of pretense in the sci-fi genre. Besides, who doesn't want to see spaceships flying set to the Runaways "Cherry Bomb"?
Theater Notes: My audience was completely dialed in- all the best punchlines were followed by that brand of laughter that drowns out the next few lines of dialog. The crowd included a cadre of comic book fans who were especially tuned into the parts that connected to the comic book the most closely.
(Arlington Capitol Theater, Screen 1, with Shiner Bock on draft!)

August 8, 2014

Stub Hubby On Demand Reviews Divergent

A novel variation on the oppressive tyrannical dystopia, spliced with a Harry Potter-style private school coming-of-age story, and custom-tailored for teen audiences, Divergent offers enough novelty to keep the project from feeling entirely derivative, with only the occasional pander to teen drama.
My grade: B
Teenager grade: A
Shailene Woodley offers plenty of organic empathy, passion, and courage. She's occasionally a little one-note with the constant worry line between her eyebrows, but there's plenty of raw talent there, and I am sure the kids just love her.
Her hair was distracting. Her long, thick, glowing, lustrous hair looks so beautiful throughout the movie- she's so busy being indoctrinated into a facist army, when does she find time to brush her hair 100 times before bedtime?
I liked the production design for the future society that has walled off what's left of Chicago. I appreciated how they don't really use the buildings that remain, but huddle in between them and below them, as if the past civilization's leftovers should be shunned. At the same time that the Divergent world seems to be a subsistence society, they have a working elevated train system, and someone's manufacturing brand new cars, weapons, computers, and chemical weapons.
I also didn't understand the tyrannical aspect of the society. Isn't there supposed to be a class of people who benefit from oppressing the other classes? It's obvious that some of the classes in this community are living a deprived life, but are the others benefiting from their status? It wasn't obvious what the bad guys are gaining in this world.
Also, as far as I can tell, this is one city with a couple thousand inhabitants, max. The stakes seem a little small. The powers that be say the city must remain walled off because "the rest of the world did not recover from the war" but what's really going on out there? Maybe the sequels will answer these questions. (On Demand with Emily and Sara)

July 28, 2014

Guys Movie Night: JAWS

What a treat to see JAWS on the big screen again (for only the second time ever- the first was at the Wang Center in 1995), and this time we saw it while on summer vacation in Chatham, MA, on the same Nantucket Sound that the movie was filmed on.
Hardings Beach, Chatham, looks just like the beach
Chrissy runs across nude in the opening scenes of the movie.
It was surreal to spend the day on the beach, then step into a movie theater and watch a nearly identical beach get savaged by a killer shark.
I've read some new reviews of JAWS lately on The Dissolve, and I really noticed the Altmanesque overlapping dialog, but mostly the style seems dictated by his restrictions of time, budget, and creative control (he didn't have much).
The movie still scares audiences- I love the moment when Ben Gardener's severed head floats out of the hole in the boat - I knew it was coming and I savored the audience reaction. I honestly could not tell if there was a shriek on the movie's score, or if someone screamed when the head floated into frame. The audience was relief-laughing and murmuring about it halfway through the following scene (the billboard vandalism, see below).
Love the nautical sports coat!
I keep all my ticket stubs, but I
don't usually take photos of them!
Theater Notes: The newly-restored Orpheum Theater in Chatham is very pleasant. The picture and sound were fine, the seats and theater were comfortable, and the audience was totally locked in. My only complaint? The bathroom only had two urinals and a toilet, so there was a line after the movie.
(with George, Adam, and three 1975 throwback 'Gansetts- it was fun crushing my can in stereo with Quint in the movie!)
ALSO on Stub Hubby: See JAWS as one of the Top 20 finalists in my Best Picture Deathmatch

July 11, 2014

Caddyshack

The guys all have lots of hair in 1980!
It was a treat to see Caddyshack in a theater, all the way through. I really appreciated how great Ted Knight is: his unique flavor of asshole WASP is impossible to describe and perhaps hasn't been equaled until Jessica Walter as Lucille Bluth on Arrested Development.
Chevy Chase is only his average charming self, and Bill Murray delivers a tiny gem of a weirdo, thankfully never repeated or exploited beyond these few little scenes.
Rodney Dangerfield never holds still long enough for the camera to focus on him- he bounces around like those wind sock guys at used car dealerships.
Let's not forget the lead character- we root for Danny the caddy (Michael O'Keefe), but why? He's a completely directionless loser who openly cheats on his girlfriend! In 1980, I think this was seen as a preferable alternative to all the motivated "winners" in this movie: not to get too intellectual, but all the country club members - the ones with jobs and ambition - are portrayed as corrupt, out-of-touch boors. A slacker with no prospects doesn't seem so bad by comparison.
Stub Hubby Grade: B-plus
Gen X Note: The distance between Caddyshack (1980) and Ghostbusters (1984) is huge for a mid-Generation Xer like me. I was only 8 when Caddyshack came out, but 12 for Ghostbusters, so I have seen Caddyshack on VHS, but never all the way through in one sitting, whereas I saw Ghostbusters in the theater during the best summer of my life, and 30 years later every frame is encoded in my DNA.
Part of the "Bill Murr-a-thon" at the Arlington Capitol, with George

July 10, 2014

Snowpiercer

A terrific dystopian class warfare action movie. If Terry Gilliam had directed Total Recall, it might have looked something like this. Or, take Gilliam's Brazil, remove most of the black comedy, and replace it with grim cruelty and hatchet fights, and you're close. Chris Evans is good, and Tilda Swinton, again, is hilarious. Jamie Bell adds some lightness. Civilization has been condensed down to a few hundred souls, stratified into two classes and packed into a train. The 99% are unwashed and subsisting in the tail section, while the one percenters enjoy a life of decadence at their expense. Curtis (Chris Evans, bearded) is the reluctant working-class hero who leads the revolt, advancing forward, literally and figuratively, towards the engine where the unseen dictator rules.
The metaphor is a little too on-the-nose, and Snowpiercer is a little too brutal for my taste, but it was still a exciting, inventive, and thought-provoking ride. The ending is a little thematically sloppy. Reminiscent of Total Recall's ending, and Neo's scenes with The Architect in The Matrix, the ending raises as many questions as it answers, and leaves us with plenty to think about. Maybe I'm thinking too "American" when I want Curtis to deliver a snappy one-liner and vanquish his enemy at the end, but this movie is too enigmatic for that. The whole film has a "world cinema" flair to it, another great movie with an international cast, not set in America: the past few years I've enjoyed Pacific Rim, Grand Budapest Hotel, and The Wolverine too, with barely one foot in the U. S. of A.
I can see why Harvey Weinstein didn't want to spend millions to promote this movie- sure it stars Captain America, but the movie does not spare the brutality, and it's not exactly fun, but it's leagues better than the latest Transformers movie.
Stub Hubby Grade: A-minus (for excessive hatchet brutality and children in peril)
Sold-out show at the Brattle Theater, with Adam

June 21, 2014

Edge Of Tomorrow

I love time travel movies, and this time travel movie takes the tested-and-true Groundhog Day blueprint and applies it, beat-for-beat, to an alien battle movie. Starship Troopers-meets-Groundhog Day would be the shortest and most accurate description.
In Edge of Tomorrow, the goal is not to become a better person and win the love of Andie McDowell (thank God, that's happened in enough movies) but to kill the queen bee of an alien invasion force, and do it in one "life", first-person-shooter style. If Cruise were a decorated and respected war hero, he could probably muster enough troops, weapons, and support to blow up the moon on the first try, so to make it interesting, Lt. Col. William Cage is a coward and a deserter who has been stripped of his rank and kicked down to the lowest of the grunts.
Once Cage gets his bearings, he allies himself with Rita Vrataski, an English soldier who has lived this time loop before, and has been catapulted to heroic supersolider status as a result of her success on the battlefield. What's fascinating about the middle third of the movie, is that Cage and Vrataski attempt their near-impossible mission possibly dozens of times...but it's always the first time for Vrataski.
Doug Liman's direction, and an airtight screenplay by Christopher McQuarrie, Jez Butterworth, and John-Henry Butterworth exploits every interesting angle of time travel, and living the same day over and over again, even going farther than Groundhog Day. Andie McDowell never really realizes that Bill Murray has spent weeks and weeks with her, falling in love with her- she only mostly believes his story once the movie is nearly complete.
On the other hand, Liman gives the movie a soft touch too, there's plenty of humor (and a priceless Bill Paxton as a DI) to make the grim action go down easier. My Stub Hubby grade: A-minus for derivative aliens and yet another movie with soliders in exo-skeleton suits.
Writer Notes: Christopher McQuarrie most famously wrote The Usual Suspects, but he's also more recently written two Tom Cruise movies, Valkyie (reteaming with director Bryan Singer) and Jack Reacher (which McQuarrie also directed).

June 1, 2014

X-Men: Days of Future Past

Spoilers Ahead...
In the not-too-distant future, the war between humans and mutants escalates beyond human control until the whole world is enslaved by mutant-hunting robots. The mutants are all but wiped out, so in a desperate ploy, the X-Men send Wolverine back in time to the tipping point where the course of history, and civilization's demise, can be changed.
It makes little sense for Mystique to revert to her pretty blonde image
in this scene. It felt like over-explaining her character to me.
This apocalyptic future serves as a framing device for the post-Vietnam storyline- imagine if Morpheus and Trinity sent Neo to 1973 instead of 1999, and that's the structure of the movie, including the idea that Wolverine must complete his mission in the past before the bad robots kill him in the present.
The mutant-killing robots - the Sentinels - are truly intimidating and unstoppable. It's pretty grim watching the X-Men, whose strengths are teamwork and versatility of attack, overcome by ruthless robots that adapt and counter their attacks using their same powers.
Meanwhile, the other X-Men story picks up in 1973, 11 years after X-Men: First Class [2011]. Wolverine must recruit the young Xavier and Magneto to intervene in the course of world events and prevent the Sentinels from being invented, but changing the course of human history is harder than they realize. Xavier believes that one assassination triggers the development of the Sentinels, and therefore, the destruction of the mutant and human races, but preventing one assassination cannot alter mankind's latent fear of mutants.
The idea that altering the past with good intentions can produce unexpected, and catastrophic results, is artfully shown when Wolverine, Beast, Xavier, and Magneto successfully prevent the assassination...and then proceed to accidentally scare the hell out of humanity with the fallout. Instead of pulling the Sentinel program back from the tipping point, they shove it forward, and must clean up their own mess.
The massive finale doesn't completely work for me. It was unclear what Magneto and Mystique's intentions were, and it was not clear how the unfolding events of the third act were affecting the fate of the planet: why did the events in the third act cause the Sentinel program to be shelved?
The new, better future Wolverine returns to included some nice touches, including one moment that literally made me gasp, and tear up a little.
On the whole, Future Past was an ambitious epic endeavor, and director Bryan mostly succeeds, even if the resolution was a little muddy. Stub Hubby's Grade: B-plus
Sequel Notes
What's that? You don't remember how First Class ended, and you're confused over what's happened between that movie and the events of 1974? You're not alone. Singer does not orient us to our new surroundings very well. Why is the X-Men school closed? Was it open in the last movie? Why is Dr Xavier walking? I thought he was paralyzed by a bullet in the last movie? Have Wolverine and Xavier met? Where's Magneto? Behind me in the theater, some truly boring and dumb moviegoers were totally lost by these questions, and I can't blame them. I saw First Class three years ago, I've seen all the X-Men movies, but I was also confused.

Stub Hubby Sees The X-Men Movies


May 26, 2014

Godzilla [2014]

What a weird Godzilla movie. First of all, Godzilla does not even appear until 60 minutes into the film. The lead characters are two MUTOs, flying monster mosquitoes, basically, that get a lot more screen time than Godzilla himself.
Some critics have complained that the humans are totally sidelined and secondary to the monsters. I don't have a problem with that, but I do have a problem with the wooden acting from the "lead" Aaron Taylor-Johnson (worst action leading man since Sam Worthington; pairing him with Emmy and Tony winner Bryan Cranston as his dad seems like a cruel prank) and the illogical and foolish choices the humans make.
I am happy to ignore the impossibility of a 600' tall animal - it's bones would break under their own weight - and I expect action movies to stretch and break the bounds of the real world you and I live in, but Godzilla ignores, flouts, and breaks the laws of physics, geography, reality, and time so frequently I was actively distracted.
When Godzilla finally arrived, his action scenes battling the other monsters were good, but why was I subjected to these MUTOs for the first 45 minutes?
Sorry my review is not more interestingly critical; I saw this movie a month ago and all my fresh criticisms have evaporated. C-plus. (Arlington Capitol, in glorious 2D)

Also On Memorial Day, Through The Years

I have been to the movies on Memorial Day Monday 13 times in 24 years, but it's not a great track record. 

May 23, 2014

Captain America: The Winter Solider

I wasn't expecting much from Captain America: The Winter Soldier. I gave Cap's "wholesome and workmanlike" origin story a B grade in 2011, but the runaway success of the epic-scale Avengers movie in 2012 sets audience's expectations higher for the films that follow it, while also making a bigger budget Captain America movie a safer bet.
So instead of another modestly budgeted film with a limited horizon, Steve Rogers' second leading adventure looks and feels like a huge budget summer movie, and the plot is an essential-viewing game-changer for the whole Marvel Cinematic Universe.
The plot bones are similar to the first Mission Impossible movie (and the Ghost Protocol movie too) - SHIELD operatives Steve Rogers and Natasha Romanoff are branded traitors, then become hunted by their own people. Also like MI, there's a MacGuffin data thumbdrive (with an adorable SHIELD logo on it).

This movie convincingly answers the question "how do you make a boring do-gooder like Captain America interesting in 2014?" (Maybe the Man Of Steel writers could learn from this movie.) Good and evil aren't as black-and-white as they were in Nazi Germany, or when you're fighting evil aliens in midtown Manhattan either. There's tons of "gray area" in the modern world, and watching Rogers grapple with it is incredibly relevant.
Thoroughly entertaining, relevant, action-packed, and bold in its scope, Winter Soldier is very different, but at least as good as its predecessor. If you enjoy the Marvel family of superhero movies, you don't have to see all of them (I barely saw the first Thor movie and skipped the second one) but this one is more essential than you might think, and certainly better than Iron Man 3. My Grade: B-plus
Alamo Drafthouse Village, Austin TX, while on Daddy Spring Getaway


March 23, 2014

The Grand Budapest Hotel

I've had a mixed relationship with director Wes Anderson. My wife is a big fan of all his movies, so I saw (and mostly liked) Rushmore and The Royal Tenembaums, but I hated The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. Zissou felt like the "Apocalypse Now" school play at the end of Rushmore: A nerd invites all his best friends to dress up in silly costumes, in front of fake cardboard sets, and deliver ridiculous dialog badly. Zissou completely failed to create characters, interactions, or events that simulated real life.
I skipped The Darjeeling Limited (2007).
In January 2010, we went to see The Fantastic Mr. Fox at a Mom-Friendly Matinee screening - we had a newborn baby and I would have agreed to go to any movie after three months of newborn parenting. What a pleasant surprise Mr Fox turned out to be! The stop-motion animation, little handcrafted characters, sets,
costumes, and props turned out to be ideal for Anderson's sensibilities. Would Zissou be better produced in this fashion? I think so.
I skipped Moonrise Kingdom (2012) but my wife talked me into seeing The Grand Budapest Hotel, and again, what a treat. Based on the poster and the TV commercials jam-packed with A-list acting talent, I assumed this would be a "hotel full of misadventures/every room holds a new wacky adventure" type movie, but that's not the case at all- it's a wrongly-accused chase caper, and everyone in the commercials has only a few lines, and only Ralph Fiennes has a lead role. I love Ralph Fiennes, ever since the one-two-three punch of Quiz Show, Strange Days, and The English Patient twenty years ago.
The whole endeavor is charming, Ralph Fiennes is splendid as a legendary concierge for a fading hotel, whose affair with a wealthy matron leads to a classic missing will inheritance adventure. Fiennes is ideally suited for Anderson's rapid-fire baroquely-crafted dialog. Newcomer Tony Revolori is perfect as his young apprentice.

It was light and inconsequential, only 100 minutes long, and I quite enjoyed it. My Grade: B (Landmark Embassy Waltham; very well-behaved senior crowd)

February 9, 2014

The Lego Movie

Legos are meant to be assembled according to their instructions but also assembled according to your imagination. It's this conformity/freedom dynamic that powers the story "the people of Legoland must be liberated - is our everyman The One destined to set them free?"
The LEGO Movie was simply wonderful. Inventive, hysterically funny, energetic, and a real treat for LEGO fans. I laughed, I cried. It is so perfectly executed, it's a lock for a Best Picture nomination and will win Best Animated Feature for sure. My Grade: A-plus.

February 5, 2014

American Hustle

Wonderful performances from the whole cast, in this shaggy, super 70s long con gone wrong.
If you toss out any interest in snappy dialog, sound plotting, and practical casting, David O. Russell's repertory cast has a great time working their improv muscles.
Everyone plays against type, and several of these award-worthy performances are from actors who should have never been cast in their roles:
  • It makes no sense to cast Christian Bale as a over-the-hill, fat, bald, Jewish con man from Long Island. To his credit, he lives and breathes the part. Every moment is genuine. It just makes no sense coming from this actor!
  • I have a ton of respect for Amy Adams, who looks like a quintessential America's Sweetheart. She's so frickin' adorable, she looks like a cheerleader or librarian, but she has no interest in playing those roles. OK, yes, she did make Leap Year and Enchanted, but she'll be remembered for powerful roles in The Master, The Fighter, Doubt, and Sunshine Cleaning.
  • Bradley Cooper is So. Funny. He looks half ridiculous with his pin curls, full beard, and G-man suits.
  • Jennifer Lawrence is supremely talented, very funny, but 15 or 20 years too young to play a faded beauty desperately clinging to Bale's character as her last chance to maintain her way of life. She turned 23 last summer, she's one of the best-looking women on Earth- why is she so desperate to hang onto this dissolute con man when there are scores of men who'd love to marry her and support her? My wife pointed out that another Jennifer would be much better cast in this role - Jennifer Aniston turns 45 this week and she'd bring a great combination of faded beauty and comic timing to the part.
  • My wife and I owe an apology to Jeremy Renner. We had him pegged as a humorless loner. He plays such intense, violent characters - sometimes sociopathic - in The Hurt Locker, The Town, Mission: Impossible, The Avengers, and The Bourne Legacy, that his performance as a sweet, earnest family man is a wonderful surprise.
Didn't even recognize Elisabeth Rohm (Law & Order) as Renner's wife!
I wish I'd seen American Hustle in a crowded theater- the funny scenes would have landed better. As it is, I saw it shortly after a 12-inch snowstorm with a dozen other people, but it was still good. My Stub Hubby Grade: A. (Somerville Theater downstairs)

January 31, 2014

Blue Jasmine

Cate Blanchett is spectacular, as a woman desperately clinging to sanity and order as her world collapses around her ears. When her Bernie Madoff-type husband's Ponzi scheme finally evaporates, Jasmine's carefully constructed personality crumbles, and we discover that her life was a well-dressed shambles even before the money was gone. It's a work of art to make us feel sorrow and pity for a woman so repellent and complicit in her own demise.
The makeup crew did a great job with Blanchett's anxious sweat
and deteriorating eye makeup throughout the movie.
I found the structure and screenplay surprisingly flimsy- a key moment brings Jasmine together with her sister's ex-husband (Andrew Dice Clay) on a streetcorner by completely unbelievable coincidence- I could almost see Woody Allen pushing Clay into the shot to deliver his monologue.
A real pleasure to watch Blanchett at work. She gets an A grade, the rest of the movie, a B-minus. (Amazon Instant Video)

January 13, 2014

146 All Is Quiet

  1. "Meet Me On The Equinox" Somehow this Death Cab For Cutie song appeared on The Twilight Saga: New Moon Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
  2. "Dance Hall Days" back in the 1980s a humorless New Wave band like Wang Chung could name their LP Points On The Curve and be taken seriously.
  3. "Shake" The Head And The Heart
  4. "I Can't Wait" [single remix] Nu Shooz
  5. "I Just Can't Wait" J. Geils Band
  6. "In the Morning" The Coral
  7. "The Love Cats" The Cure
  8. "Can't Buy Me Love" Paul McCartney; this free-spirited, casual countryfied acoustic performance is from a live TV recording at the Ed Sullivan Theater December 10, 1992.
  9. "Head Full Of Doubt/Road Full Of Promise" The Avett Brothers
  10. "Smoke" Ben Folds Five; Live on KCRW radio July 17, 1997.
  11. "Honesty" A Billy Joel ballad I never listened to much because it wasn't on his Greatest Hits album. For the record, it appeared on his 1978 album 52nd Street, and the single went to #24 on the Hot 100.
  12. "Abracadabra" Steve Miller Band
  13. "And Your Bird Can Sing" Wilco; from their all-request, all-cover songs show at the Solid Sound festival June 21, 2013... 
  14. ...but their first performance wasn't quite "solid", so Jeff suggested they do it again. It's barely two minutes, after all!
  15. "Half A Boy & Half A Man" Nick Lowe and His Cowboy Outfit 1989
  16. "Rock And Roll Girls" John Fogerty
  17. "Toys In The Attic Aerosmith
  18. "Geek Stink Breath" Green Day
  19. "Round And Round" Ratt
  20. "Sweetness Follows" R.E.M.
  21. "River Flows In You" Yiruma; what the hell is this, exactly? In a work meeting this month, we left the speakerphone on for over half an hour waiting for our colleagues overseas to dial in; a 30-second excerpt from "River Flows In You" was the "hold" music. How did I figure this out. It must have been a boring meeting, because I wondered "do you suppose SoundHound will know what this hold music is?" Yes, yes it will.

January 8, 2014

Timecop

Somehow I've never seen a Jean-Claude Van Damme movie before. Schwarzenegger, obviously. Jackie Chan, many. Steven Seagal & Sylvester Stallone, several, but Jean-Claude Van Damme never made the cut. Last night I watched TIMECOP on Amazon Prime, and it was a mediocre and badly dated relic from the early 1990s...but it was fun to watch anyway, if only for historical reasons.
TIMECOP combines your standard "crusading cop uncovers a ambitious dirty politician whose rise to power must be stopped" with Back To The Future: protagonist must go back in time to fix a mistake, and ends up vastly improving his own family's life in the process.
Needed more kicking!

Jean-Claude Van Damme's acting is as good as Arnold, Chan, Seagal, or Sly. The film was directed by Peter Hyams who directed many quality thrillers in the 1980s: Outland (aka High Noon in space, starring Sean Connery), 2010: The Year We Make Contact, Running Scared, The Presidio, and Narrow Margin. Hyams also acts as director of photography on his directing jobs, a rare feat. The movie looks great, with the exception of some fight scenes apparently shot in complete darkness.
TIMECOP even attempts to address time travel and alternate timelines, and it mostly succeeds, with relatively few plot holes.
The area where TIMECOP falls down, and this is no one's fault, is the very contemporary 1990s costumes, technology, and visual effects. The movie was made in 1994 and set in 2004, but here in 2014, their concept for 2004 was right on (electric cars with computer navigation, for example) but the execution (costumes and props) are laughably dated. When Jean-Claude Van Damme's wife appears at the end of the movie (in 2004) in "mom jeans" and his son's wearing a baggy plaid shirt, I had to laugh.
The "2004" computers included lots of splashy 1990s-style graphics and "interactive" screens. Remember when DVD players were introduced and the DVD features included "interactive menus" -"interactive" was the buzzword of the 1990s?
The visual effects are pure "post-Terminator 2 CGI" crap. The moment when 1994 Ron Silver and 2004 Ron Silver morph/melt into each other, and end up as a red/pink blob on the floor is hilarious.
Stub Hubby Grade: c-minus.

January 5, 2014

Wolf of Wall Street

I'm not sure what the point of this movie was, but I felt like I got the point, bluntly and in no uncertain terms, after an hour or two. Unfortunately the movie kept making its point for three hours, so I was surprised to find myself wondering when it was all going to end. DiCaprio (Jordan Belfort) was good, but he's been good in all his Scorsese movies. Jonah Hill is terrific as Donnie Azoff, a depraved drug addict who happens to be a stockbroker too. Margot Robbie (Jaime Pressly's doppelganger) is his second wife, the perfect blonde who is craven enough to make all the dumb choices that dumped her into Belfort's life. The depraved bacchanalian excess displayed onscreen is more extreme than I've ever seen anywhere before, and yes, many many women are used as sex objects throughout the movie, but I don't think it's fair to criticize Scorsese for denigrating women, when it's Belfort and his scores of amoral followers who denigrate them in every way possible. It is fair to point out that Belfourt conned hundreds of hardworking families out of their life savings, essentially bankrupting strangers for fun and profit, but he barely seems to understand where this money comes from. And then he squanders it all. I don't expect Belfort's character to be redeemed, or ever to acknowledge his monstrosity, but all we hear is the voices of a few suckers on the other end of a telephone.

If this movie is a portrait of pure capitalism at work, then There Will Be Blood did a better job. I'd pay to see Jordan Belfort go bowling with Daniel Plainview. Stub Hubby Grade: C-plus.
(Landmark Embassy Waltham, in the freezing cold Polar Vortex)

Jack Reacher

A truly odd hybrid of thoughtful and clever with obvious and dumb, with giant head-scratching plot holes.
Tom Cruise is Jack Reacher, a vigilante fascist: a genius detective in the Army MPs, gifted and unbeatable in hand-to-hand combat, and an ace sniper too. He quits the Army, disposes of all his possessions, and lives simply, wandering the world, with only the clothes on his back. Kind of like David Banner on The Incredible Hulk TV show, he strolls into town when he's needed, the loner and epitome of self-reliance.
Reacher gets drawn into a horrible sniper shooting, where there's more to this seemingly random violence than it appears. Rosamund Pike (whom I love) is solid as the crusading defense lawyer who prods Reacher's humanity; David Oyelowo is great as a suspicious homicide detective; Jai Courtney is creepy as a wholesome, middle-America murderer.
"Is that a Blackberry?"
The clues and puzzles that Reacher solves are interesting, so the mystery-solving is satisfying, and the car chases are terrific; I read that Cruise did his own driving, and it sure looks like it. Also, the cars look, feel, and sound like real cars in real chase conditions- a real treat.
While solving the mystery is very satisfying, the solution is a conspiracy that doesn't make any damn sense, and the motivation of the villains is such small potatoes to make the whole movie seem, well, pointless.
The movie begins with an intimate perspective on a sniper killing five innocent civilians. This was very disturbing, and it would take a lot to win back the trust of a shocked audience. In the end, I found the whole enterprise a little disjointed. My grade: C-plus (Amazon Prime Instant Video)

December 20, 2013

Guys Movie Night: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Another flabby, overstuffed Hobbit movie, with more plot and action than the previous, but still groaning with extra weight.
After three brilliant, near-perfect Lord of the Rings movies, my Hobbit boredom, seeping into my movie brain around two hours in, surprised me. When was this movie going to be over? I thought to myself for the first time in over a dozen hours of Middle Earth adventures.
I am a fan of the extended versions of the Lord of the Rings films, where director Peter Jackson restores scenes to the films that were only deleted for reasons of total running time. These restorations extend the three feature films to epic "miniseries" length, but don't feel bloated, slow, or unnecessary.
These first two Hobbit films are just plain too long.
Martin Freeman is terrific, with many wonderfully subtle moments.
When was I pulled out of the drama by my boredom? Was it when Legolas and Tauriel were musing over the fate of Middle Earth with no purpose? Perhaps it was the gripping scene where the dwarves and Bilbo are smuggled into the lake town past a corrupt and evil bureaucrat. Why do we need to sit through this? How does this advance the plot or characterization?
I last read The Hobbit about a decade ago. In my mind's eye, the dwarves gold hoard was a big pile of gold, not mountains of gold receding to the horizon as far as the eye can see. I also don't remember the dragon Smaug talking so much?
Truly sad was the addition of a female elf, Tauriel. Sure she kicks Orc ass effectively, but she also falls googly-eyes in love with the one hot, young dwarf. They literally have a moony scene at the jail cell door. Why does this new elf, added as a token female role in a movie with no other female speaking parts, have to have a romantic storyline? So pathetic.
If these Hobbit movies had been made just like this but The Lord of the Rings films never existed, I'd give them A grades, easy...but Jackson's LOTR films are so terrific these entries pale in comparison. Stub Hubby's Grade = B-minus. (Guys Movie Night at Regal Fenway with Marc, Angus, George, and ...?)

October 13, 2013

145 Turn! Turn! Motherfucker, Turn!

  1. "Black Mud" The Black Keys
  2. "The Cutter" Echo & The Bunnymen; from a Rhino CD box set I picked up at a friend's yard sale Left Of The Dial: Dispatches From The '80s Underground
  3. "Why I Am" Dave Matthews Band; a powerful track from Big Whiskey And The GrooGrux King
  4. "Bad Motor Scooter" Montrose (aka Sammy Hagar's old band); from the other CD box set I bought that day The Heavy Metal Box Set
  5. "Time Flies" from the Weezer album Hurley; co-written with legendary songwriter Mac Davis.  
  6. "Mystery Achievement" Pretenders
  7. "There Is A Light That Never Goes Out" The Smiths
  8. "Amanda" from Boston's underwhelming and much belated Third Stage
  9. "I'd Have You Anytime" George Harrison
  10. "I Will Run To You" Stevie Nicks w/Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers; I think we all assume that Stevie Nicks and Tom Petty did it at least once (ditto for Don Henley). I can imagine Stevie and Don, but Tom Petty seems too skinny and bony to have sex with. What does this have to do with the music? I forget.
  11. "Not The Only One" Bonnie Raitt
  12. "Border Song" Elton John; this is one of those songs I never knew the title. Why not always name a song after the words in the chorus you sing over and over? ANSWER ME!
  13. "This Tornado Loves You" Neko Case; hey Elton! Neko named this song after the chorus, she sings it, like, a hundred times! Get with the program!
  14. "Ballad Of A Thin Man" Bob Dylan; Someday I will create a playlist of songs where the title is not a lyric in the song. Clearly "Border Song" and "Ballad of a Thin Man" will make the list.
  15. "She Bangs The Drums" The Stone Roses
  16. "O Valencia!" The Decemberists
  17. "Cruel To Be Kind" Letters To Cleo has also very successfully covered the Cars song "Dangerous Type". This Nick Lowe cover is on the soundtrack to Ten Things I Hate About You.
  18. "The Violet Hour" The Civil Wars

October 9, 2013

Twelve Inch Single Jackets: 1979-1989

Fifteenth birthday: Boombox, turntable, and
the Peter Gabriel "So" LP.

My Intro To Vinyl, 1987

When I was a teenager I became a music fanatic. I got my first "Boombox" (a Sears model) for Christmas 1985, featuring AM/FM radio, single cassette deck, five-band graphic equalizer and detachable speakers! I dived into the Record and Tape Club, but soon cassettes weren't enough for me. Thirteen months later I asked for another boom box -- this time with a dual-cassette deck -- and a record turntable for my birthday. My dad bought a Radio Shack pre-amplifier so I could plug the turntable (which was "phono level") into the boombox at line level.
After I plugged in that turntable in 1987, I became a collector of 12-inch remix singles. Why? I never played music for dancing at parties; I can't really explain it other than I loved music, and I was fascinated with alternate versions, extended versions, and remixes of my favorite songs. The same way I am always interested in career-spanning box sets that include outtakes and remakes, I liked hearing my favorite music in a different way.
"Self Control", Laura Branigan; bought at the Flea @ MIT in 2013.
Post-Warhol collage Pop art was very big in the 1980s.

Industry History and Context

When a single was remixed and extended for playing in a disco, it was released on a 12-inch record. A twelve inch platter is a better thickness of vinyl, allows for more room for the grooves, longer songs will fit, and better sound mastering, especially thumping bass lines to dance to.
Many 12 inch singles simply reuse the five inch 45 rpm single sleeve art "blown up" for the 12 inch single, but if the record label did not want to pay to manufacture jackets for the 12 inch single, the disc was released in a plain black or white jacket (with a hole cut for the label to show through), or, the record label had a generic jacket design for any and all 12 inch singles. This gallery features nine examples of label-generic jackets from my vinyl collection. Most of these I bought when the record was new; the Seventies "Disco" singles I found here in the 21st century at tag sales and used record shops. Click on any photo to view a higher-resolution gallery.

A one-hit Canadian wonder;
a teenage pop singer named "Bryan Adams"
Saved from a curbside crate, Inman Square, circa 2011.
This A&M Disco jacket's charcoal-on-black design is SO Seventies!

Vinyl Was On Its Way Out

My hunger for music in every format came at a great moment in industry, or terrible, depending on how you look at it. Vinyl was on its way out in 1987. Within a few years Compact Discs would not only outsell vinyl, but CDs made vinyl look obsolete and worse, uncool. The industry positioned CDs as the awesome wave of the future, and hardly anyone noticed or cared that they weren't perfect. We all noticed that CDs were super-expensive, but we nearly had no choice but to upgrade or get left behind. Even into the early Nineties, I specifically remember the adult album alternative station WBOS offering a "upgrade" promotion, where lucky callers would win a CD upgrade: "Congratulations! we're going to replace your dusty copy of Sweet Baby James with a brand new Compact Disc!" Now we all agree that a early Nineties CD is not a huge upgrade in audio quality over a 1970s vinyl record.
A disco cover of the "CHiPs" theme song;
I bought it mostly for the jacket, although
It's a pretty bitchin' theme song

Culture Shock

When CDs first came around, it was completely novel to listen to your favorite album without a side flip in the middle. It seemed unnatural to have a band's music presented from beginning to end without an intermission. The new packaging included track numbers next to the song names for the first time. You could skip from song to song with a press of a button! The mid-80s CD players were dreadfully slow to skip from track to track, but we didn't know how much faster the hardware would get. The CD tray open-close mechanism was so slow, it was like the giant stone slab closing in on Indiana Jones and Marion getting shut into the Well of Souls...

"Sussudio", Phil Collins; although this jacket always reminds me of
a 12-inch Nu Shooz "I Can't Wait" single I used to own that went...missing?
Simply spectacular Eighties pop art jacket. Day-Glo stripes
criss-crossing in random directions were very big.
Thanks Warner Brothers!
Bought at the Mt Vernon VFD Auction, 2013,
This "disco" remix of the Grammy-winning
"What A Fool Believes" is deadly boring.
"Big Love" Fleetwood Mac;
Sometime between 1979 (Doobies) and 1987 (Fleetwood Mac)
Warner Bros stopped calling them "Disco" singles
and renamed them "Maxi Singles"... and redesigned
the jacket with this bizarre cuneiform clay design
"What You Need" INXS; An alternate Atlantic Records jacket.
Saxophones were big in the 1980s, especially for INXS.
"Obsession", Animotion.
Am I the only one who loved "Something About You" by Level 42?
Note the custom-cut non-round hole for the record label to show through.
Apparently Animotion (Mercury) and Level 42 (Polydor)
are both in the same conglomerate. Exciting!
On several of these singles you can see I wrote the RPM (33⅓, 45) and the song duration in Sharpie on the label. When you're a DJ, you have to be able to put the record down and cue it up quickly, and not always in the best lighting conditions. I wrote the RPM down because it's sometimes hard to spot whether a disc is 33⅓ RPM or 45 RPM, and it's pretty embarrassing to play it the wrong speed. I wrote the duration of the track nice and big because I didn't always know the remix well enough to be certain when it was going to end, and because it's hard to read the fine print on a disc when it's spinning! Back in the day there was a big LED timer that counted up from zero every time you clicked a Start button on the console- so if the timer read 5:30 and the remix of "Point of No Return" is marked "5:50" I know I have 20 seconds remaining.
"Point of No Return", Nu Shooz;
Alternate Atlantic jacket, very Fifties retro!


October 4, 2013

Gravity


An outstanding cinematic achievement and a gripping thriller, and a powerful feminist hero to boot! There have been movies with stranded astronauts, the perils of weightlessness, and the vacuum of space (2001 and Apollo 13 spring to mind) but none have dared, or attempted, to address the certain death of NASA astronauts and catastrophic disaster in orbit for a premise. One critic compared it to a Jack London story, and I agree- Alfonso Cuarón could have directed an adaptation of To Build A Fire with the same emotional whallop, but he chose to also rewrite the moviemaking playbook while Sandra Bullock's rookie astronaut faces near-certain death.  I strongly recommend Gravity in the theater. 3D is not necessary, but I felt it worked well. My Grade: A (A-plus movies have less cliche'd dialog.) This movie is gonna win Best Picture and/or Best Director; Bullock will be nominated and could easily win; Gravity will win all the technical awards, and they should invent some new awards to give them too.

Theater Notes

Is this a plush modern hotel, or a movie theater? There used to be a movie theater at Chestnut Hill; I hadn't been there in 25 years when my wife took me on a date night to the new Showcase SuperLux. We sat in cushy leather seats with (basically) unlimited legroom while a waitress brought us drinks and popcorn. In the back of the theater the high-rollers sit in recliners. The sound and picture were excellent. The lights were left on very dimly; Emily complained that they interfered with the 3-D experience for her (I was wearing my Sox cap, so I was shielded from the overheads. PS: The Sox finished off Game 1 of the ALDS over the Rays 12-2 while we enjoyed our movie) The audience was mostly very quiet, the food noises were minimal, and the waitstaff barely blocked my view.

August 28, 2013

The World's End

Another great puzzle-box from Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg, and Nick Frost. When compared with Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, I might note that this installment is slightly more downbeat...or maybe "grown-up" is the right phrase? Rosamund Pike is outstanding again (reunited, briefly, with her Die Another Day Bond, Pierce Brosnan)...
I saw it twice, and the second time was nearly as funny as the first, and maybe more rewarding, in classic Edgar Wright fashion. It's one thing for a movie to be viewed and re-viewed and beloved and scrutinized; it's another level altogether to direct a film with the cult in mind, to honor their love of the movies with a film that rewards viewing, re-viewing, love, and scrutiny. Wright is a director who loves cult films and he directs films for cult viewing.
Somerville Theater, Main Screen, with Emily
ALSO: Hot Fuzz,

August 26, 2013

Guys Movie Night: Elysium

A brutal, relentless downer. The Third World/First World allegory is too broad and obvious to be satisfying, and the ending is a trite cop out.
The premise of the movie was well-outlined in the commercials and trailers; unfortunately, it takes about 10 minutes too long to establish the same information in the movie. "Okay, we know he gets irradiated and is forced to become a blue-collar hero; just get on with it already!"
Despite his performance as Will Hunting back in the 1990s, Matt Damon is unconvincing as a street rat gangster ex-con, reformed onto the straight-and-narrow.
The cars on Earth 2154 look very 2013, even upside-down.
The year is 2154. The 99% are scraping by in the smoking shell of civilization on Earth, while the 1% are living the clean and sparkly life on a really spiffy-looking Ringworld "Elysium" in orbit. This makes 2019 rainy Los Angeles in Blade Runner look like a paradise. Besides in-ground pools, cold cocktails, and well-manicured landscaping, the 1% also enjoy magical healing beds, which cure/repair any illness or injury in mere moments. I guess 140 years from now, not only can computers fix all human frailties, but they can do it quickly too!
Meanwhile, back on Earth, Damon's reward for his struggles is to get stuck in a giant microwave oven (plot hole #1). He's irradiated, and has 5 days to live before his insides turn to yogurt. Besides trying to save his own life - what he has to live for is a mystery to me- his character is given two convenient plot devices to live for:
  • Frey, an old girlfriend from his childhood: Alice Braga, who's already seen the world end in I Am Legend and Blindness;
  • Frey's daughter who has late-stage leukemia! Are you kidding? Could you make her more pathetic and sympathetic?
The corporate medi-robot gives him some pills, which apparently give you super-stamina (plot hole #2), because Damon spends the next few days testing the limits of human physical endurance, instead of, ya know, dying quickly in bed.
His old gangster boss wants to cyber-steal billions of dollars from a corporate weasel visiting Earth from orbit (Plot hole #3- this plan sounds impossible), so Damon volunteers for the suicide mission, so he can borrow a spaceship to visit one of those medi-beds (plot holes #4 & #5- there's no way Elysium would even allow a rogue ship to slip through their defenses, and there's no way they haven't solved the "forged ID" loophole to make the medi-beds work.)
Damon has a exo-skeleton bolted to his arms and torso, plus a USB port screwed into his skull. The exo-skeleton makes the patently impossible (a man dying of radiation poisoning in hand-to-hand combat) only extremely dubious instead.
The mission to steal the data and conquer Elysium is tied up with an unrelated coup d'etat plan between Elysium's Secretary of Defense (Jodie Foster) and her primary defense contractor, Mr Raytheon (William Fichtner, Foster's old blind astronomer friend from Contact- Fichtner has seen dystopian futures before, in Equilibrium, Ultraviolet, and Strange Days).
If Damon were just another prole who stepped out of line, he'd be squashed like a bug by the scary police robots that punish every rule infraction with a (literal) iron fist, but because of this coup plot device (the device is literally in his head) Foster needs him alive and delivered to Elysium, so she enlists Kruger, her personal ruthless assassin on retainer. Sharlto Copley's Kruger is sadly one-dimensional and boring. Simply bloodthirsty and driven (and mean to Frey and her daughter too), I wonder if director Neill Blomkamp let his old buddy off the leash and allowed Copley too much scene-chewing latitude than ideal.
The gun battles are jaw-dropping (there's lovingly detailed slo-mo weapon fetishization throughout) and hand-to-hand combat simply too brutal to be enjoyable. I had to turn away from the screen a few times. It's an odd blend of ultra-warfare and class-warfare; both waged without subtlety.
I only went to see Elysium because I was eager to visit with friends. The movie delivered exactly as promised from its commercials, which left me with a touch of dystopian PTSD. My grade: C-plus.
Regal Fenway 13 with Marc and Jeff

August 8, 2013

144 Cut Your Hair

  1. "Cool For Cats" After I decided to include "Carried Away" on this playlist, I decided to pair it
    with another disco song...that I could stomach listening to. Thanks Squeeze!
  2. "Carried Away" As I began to like this Passion Pit song, I realized that it's a fine ABBA tribute!
  3. "What Comes Around" Beastie Boys; "Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair..."
  4. "Polythene Pam" It's only a little awkward to extract this Beatles song from the Abbey Road medley. Come to think of it, The Beastie Boys would sound great covering this song.
  5. "Cut Your Hair" Pavement; covered by Wilco at Solid Sound in June.
  6. "Chemistry" [live and acoustic] Semisonic; Live at The World Cafe
  7. "Hey Hey What Can I Do?" Led Zeppelin; one of the best songs only released as a B-side in rock history (Beatles excluded)
  8. "You're On Fire" They Might Be Giants; from the new album Nanobots.
  9. "Don't Shed A Tear" Paul Carrack; I stole this 12 inch single from WECB. (Note: this is not an extended remix.)
  10. "Long Way Down" Pete Yorn is terrific, if a little mopey sometimes.
  11. "Modern Man" I finally listened to Arcade Fire's Grammy award-winning album The Suburbs [2010] all the way through. Arcade Fire are the first Canadian artists to win Album Of The Year since Alanis Morrisette and Celine Dion went back-to-back in 1996 and 1997.
  12. "Allison Road" Gin Blossoms
  13. "She Don't Use Jelly" Ben Folds Five covers The Flaming Lips. Another great B-side.
  14. "Make Believe Mambo" David Byrne
  15. "Don't Play That Song (You Lied)" Ben E. King's version [1962] is good, but Aretha Franklin's recording (with the Dixie Flyers) sold over a million copies! Written by Ahmet Ertegün and Betty Nelson.
  16. "Marquee Moon" [live] I have never listened to the band Television, but I fell in love with Wilco's cover from Solid Sound 2013
  17. "Lazy" Deep Purple, from Machine Head [1972]. My rediscovery/re-appreciation of heavy metal begins now!

August 1, 2013

Guys Movie Night: The Wolverine

A thoughtful, soulful, vulnerable Wolverine is the highlight of this nonsensically plotted adventure. A vast improvement on the listless and forgettable X-Men Origins: Wolverine [2009].
The theme of the movie is strong and moving: what's the point of living if you have no purpose? Immortality is a curse when you have nothing to live for. Wolverine is in purgatory, having given up the X-Men after killing his one true love Jean Grey at the end of X-Men: The Last Stand [2006]. A mysterious man from Wolverine's past offers to take his healing powers from him. Granting him his mortality is a gift...right? The subsequent plot and its character motivations are muddled and nonsensical, but necessary to keep the characters moving across the map. Taking away Wolverine's healing powers was a bold move that pays off- he's even more powerful and threatening when he fearlessly enters battle while bleeding and limping.
This is my second movie in a row set almost entirely outside America, how refreshing! The Japanese setting was well integrated into the movie, although if I was Japanese, I might be offended by the cultural depiction: the heroine mostly speaks quietly, brews tea, and doesn't make eye contact. She has one gripping monologue where she calms a manic Wolverine with a compelling anecdote, but otherwise it's mostly following and cowering. Everyone else is corrupt, a criminal, a megalomaniac, or a combination of the three.

The secondary villain, Viper, is a unfocused mishmash of a superpowered mutant. She has a forked tongue, spits acid, and molts her skin and hair. She's also smug, wears ridiculous outfits, and explains her entire character and plot after Wolverine is captured, aka "monologue-ing". Somehow her entire character and costume fell through the cracks of the production and never got the necessary attention.
If you can survive the pointless plotting and the silly ending, The Wolverine is worth watching for the Wolverine. Hugh Jackman deserves an award for respecting this character so well through five-plus movies and counting. My grade: B-minus

Goof (minor spoiler)

In The Wolverine, we watch the Bockscar and its support craft approaching Nagasaki from a relatively low altitude. We see the bomb drop for a few seconds then detonate on impact.
In reality, the B-29 dropped the Fat Man bomb from over 31,000 feet above Nagasaki. The bomb took 43 seconds to fall from the aircraft before it detonated about about 1,500 feet above the city. It's a shame to see such an expensive movie recreate such an historic moment and fudge the facts so badly.

Stub Hubby Sees The X-Men Movies

July 13, 2013

Pacific Rim

Pacific Rim is outstanding.
The premise is a slam-dunk. Why this movie didn't get made sooner is a mystery to me. Robots Vs Godzillas. That's all there is to it. The robots are hundreds of feet high, thousands of tons of metal (picture Transformers/Voltron/Starvengers), and operated, Avatar/Matrix-style, by human pilots via brain upload.

The robots and Godzillas are not amazingly innovative in their design, but they're perfectly executed. No one has successfully produced a giant robot movie before (I find the Transformers movies to be a incomprehensible mess). There have been only a handful of giant monster movies, and none have achieved so much, on such a limitless scale and scope, as Pacific Rim.

Of course they're not technically Godzillas, but they don't have to be official to be awesome. Why hasn't an unofficial Godzilla movie like this been done before? I don't love watching major cities getting destroyed, but I'd much prefer watching skyscrapers crumble in a massive monster battle than watch General Zod and Superman work out their daddy issues on the human race.

Unlike other "end of the world" blockbusters where only the Americans are trying to save the Earth (Armageddon, Deep Impact, Independence Day), in the world of Pacific Rim, the nations of the world have banded together to defeat these massive monsters rampaging across the globe. The movie is in English, but only the hero and the comic relief are from America. The entire remainder of the cast is international. After the Golden Gate Bridge is demolished in the first scene, the remainder of the film doesn't include any sort of Americana.
"Nations of the world" make it sound like a United Nations meeting. Far from it. Besides one battle in Sydney Australia, there's no jumping around the globe for reactions from world leaders, no monsters crushing Parliament or leaping over the Great Wall of China.

Highly recommended. If you missed it on the big screen I pity you. My grade: A!
(At the Somerville Theater with my wife and a very engaged and enthusiastic crowd.)

July 10, 2013

Much Ado About Nothing

Joss Whedon's Much Ado adaptation is delightful. Whedon makes the most of his self-imposed limitations; only in the police station scenes does the production value let down the quality of the material. The photography is adequate, and the music is a mixed bag of great and underbaked. The performances are great. Alexis Denisof is terrific as Benedick.
NOTE: for the life of me I could not remember where I knew him from. Turns out he's Sandy Weathers, the New York 1 anchorman and former colleague of Robin Scherbatsky (Cobie Smulders), from nine episodes of How I Met Your Mother! Denisof has worked with Whedon on Buffy, Angel, Dollhouse, and the Avengers movie too- that must be how Smulders ended up playing Nick Fury's aide in The Avengers?
Beatrice eavesdrops
on Hero and Margaret
Produced and filmed as a lark with all his buddies, it's kinda uncanny how the casting of Whedon's Much Ado is ranked by number of TV episodes + movies made with Whedon.
The only exception is Clark Gregg, who has a major role in Much Ado, but has only made one movie with Whedon (so far)...
  • Alexis Denisof (Benedick): 114 episodes of Buffy, Angel, and Dollhouse + 1 movie
  • Amy Acker (Beatrice): 84 episodes of Angel and Dollhouse + 1 movie
  • Fran Kranz (Claudio): 27 episodes Dollhouse + 1 movie
  • Nathan Fillion (Dogberry): 19 episodes of Firefly and Buffy + 1 movie
  • Sean Maher (Don John): 14 episodes of Firefly + Serenity
  • Reed Diamond (Don Pedro): 13 episodes of Dollhouse
  • Ashley Johnson (Margaret): 2 episodes of Dollhouse + The Avengers
  • Clark Gregg (Leonato): The Avengers movie only
  • Romy Rosemont (The Sexton): The Avengers movie only
  • Riki Lindhome (Conrade): 1 episode of Buffy
Theater Notes: The crowd at the dreaded West Newton Cinema were plenty quiet enough, although they could have been drowned out by the "hissiest" audio soundtrack of any first-run movie I've ever seen. Also, the film's condition was poorer than any first-run film I've ever seen. I have watched decades-old vintage 35mm prints at the Brattle Theater that were this bad, but this movie only came out in June! And for this I paid $11?

July 7, 2013

The Bling Ring

A compelling perspective on the modern obsession with celebrity, vanity, and narcissism, as told via the true-life story of The Bling Ring, a pack of nearly feral teenagers who cross the line between coveting fame and felonious residential burglary.
My Stub Hubby grade: A. Sofia Coppola is a gifted storyteller. The Bling Ring moves along with a beautiful economy and deft grace. In Stub Hubby history, I don't remember ever saying a movie isn't too long, but Bling Ring's 90 minute runtime is just right. It feels like a short film compared to most 120 minute features these days. I was amazed at how perfect the songs and original music were. Outstanding.
I found the movie to be a damning condemnation of celebrity culture and narcissism. These un-parented teenagers break into Paris Hilton's home, take the grand tour, and help themselves to all her material possessions. I saw this as a natural extension of celebrity culture. After all, Paris Hilton and her kind have no privacy, their life is an open book (or open web page)...so why should their homes be closed to the public? It was easy to understand why these teens felt so welcome strolling shamelessly into celebrity's houses, when they literally knew Hilton's house: "oooh, here's her party room" as if they'd been there before. As they strolled through each room, repeatedly exclaiming "she has so much stuff!" I was reminded of Graceland - all that was missing was the velvet ropes and DO NOT TOUCH signs. Indeed, paid tours are the natural extension of celebrity after death.These teenagers have no inner life, they have no feelings for each other, or for anything of substance. They never talk to each other about anything; when they relax at a nightclub, all they do is take cameraphone selfies with each other, over and over again. Normal human beings will take selfies to commemorate a special moment or event; in The Bling Ring, the photos themselves are the event. When they're not robbing or partying, all they do is repeatedly try on clothes and accessories, gazing upon themselves in the mirror, reinforcing the Narcissus theme.
Emily pointed out Coppola's non-judgmental "authorial distance". It's true that Coppola seems to be conflicted about a love of fashion and celebrity culture. However, except for getting caught and punished for their crimes, the film does not depict any negative consequences of their actions. I am sure these teenagers, if they ever thought about it, would conclude that they were stealing pennies from millionaires, who, in Paris Hilton's case at least, hardly missed any of the property that was stolen, and the property itself was often given to Hilton as gifts anyways. Coppola's choice to never show how home invasions and theft are personally terrorizing to families is a authorial choice. Perhaps Coppola chose to preserve the perfect Narcissistic perspective. After all, Narcissus gazed on his reflection so long he became forever a flower. Does Coppola feel that this generation will never learn to love anyone but themselves?
Somerville Theater, with Emily and Karen. I think the audience was expecting a movie more funny and less thought-provoking?

Also From Sofia Coppola