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 showroom, all in one shot.

March 19, 2016

Thunderball Re-Evaluated

I have always liked Sean Connery's underwater classic Thunderball. I suspect it's one of the Bond films that ABC used to show as their Movie of the Week on Sunday evenings? Last year I discovered it's not universally loved, while listening to the James Bonding podcast. So when a slew of Bond films became available for free (again) on Amazon Prime Video, I put my critical hat on and tried it again.
I have seen the movie many times but the plot is confusing when you pay attention to it, especially the first act:
In the cold open (before Tom Jones sings the terrific theme song), Bond attends the funeral of SPECTRE's Number 6, Jacque Bolvar, who has faked his death and then attends his own funeral in drag as his own grieving widow. Why does he risk this? Bond susses out the ruse, follows him home, and after a furniture-wrecking melee, murders Number Six. Bond recovers from his injuries (getting whacked by Number 6 with a fireplace poker) at a health clinic.
Hard to be intimidated by a supervillain
who drives a white Ford T-Bird convertible?
Meanwhile SPECTRE's Number 2, Emilio Largo, has hatched a scheme to steal an RAF bomber for its two atomic bombs, then extort millions from the world's governments. SPECTRE has recruited a pilot "Mr. Angelo" to undergo reconstructive surgery to mimic NATO pilot Major Francois Derval. Derval has been invited to fly on a RAF nuclear bomber. Mr. Angelo, face wrapped in bandages to conceal his "Derval" face, is at the same health clinic pretending to be recovering from a terrible car crash.
The actor who plays SPECTRE #5
also played Delbert Grady in The Shining.

Mr. Angelo visits Major Derval - where SPECTRE agent Fiona has been seducing him - kills the pilot, and replaces him. They bring Derval's corpse to the spa to complete the swap. It's just bad luck for SPECTRE (and clunky screenwriting for the movie) that James Bond is recuperating at the same clinic as your NATO impostor, but it's sloppy espionage to "sneak" a dead body into the clinic in an ambulance, under a red blanket?
Thunderball features Bond at his most predatory. The filmmaker's sexual philosophy seems to be "women don't want to have sex with Bond, but intercourse with Bond is so pleasurable to the woman, by forcing himself on them, he's doing the women a favor - 'you might not think you want to screw me, but you'll be thanking me later.'"
While recuperating at the spa, a SPECTRE agent attempts to kill Bond, but he's saved at the last moment by Pat the masseuse. Pat takes responsibility for the "accident", and Bond exploits this misunderstanding to extort sex from her in exchange for his silence. Thanks to the filmmakers' sexual philosophy, in the aftermath of this sexual bargain, Pat seems to have enjoyed this sex-for-silence deal.
The band (in the red vests) are "playing" their instruments
but the filmmakers forgot to add any music for this slow dance scene?

Some scattered thoughts and ideas while rewatching Thunderball:
  • I love that the front for SPECTRE's headquarters in Paris is the charitable "International Brotherhood for the Assistance of Stateless Persons" - an especially relevant cause during the Syrian migrant crisis of 2016!
  • Everybody in SPECTRE wears octopus signet rings, which seems to give away their membership in this secret cadre, so why do they wear them?
  • Every new car in the movie is a Ford or a Lincoln. Largo drives a white T-Bird convertible - in Paris no less - the redhead Fiona drives a sky-blue Mustang convertible, and Bond drives an enormous Continental while visting the Bahamas.
  • Great score, and good theme song sung enthusiastically by Tom Jones.
Love love Q's pineapple-print tropical shirt!

February 29, 2016

155 May Be February?

  1. "Policy of Truth" ∴ Depeche Mode
  2. "Making Time" ∴ The Creation, best known for its use in the movie Rushmore.
  3. "Kids" ∴ MGMT. Maybe I am fed up with this mode of soulless disaffected alt-rockers, as if they're too cool to care about what they're singing about. Also, this song is 5 minutes long? This song goes on way too long to be worth five whole minutes. I am cutting a radio edit in my mind right now...
  4. "I Don't Sleep, I Dream" ∴ From R.E.M.'s "rock guitars" record, the post-grunge Monster, the lyrics sound vaguely sexual but are unsexily performed half-spoken, half-falsetto.
  5. "Twentieth Century Boy" ∴ Great riff, and fine female backing chorus on this T.Rex glam gem.
  6. "Let's Dance" ∴ RIP David Bowie! My first reaction to his death was disbelief. I could hardly believe Bowie could do something as boring as die. Then I discovered his farewell album Blackstar made his death almost meaningful, and on his own terms. Looking back at "Let's Dance"- Terrific production from Nile Rodgers - I love the reverb on Bowie's voice, the woodblock percussion, and the horn-guitar riff. Of course, don't forget Stevie Ray Vaughn on lead guitar. A kickass party band played this song at our company kickoff party in January 2016.
  7. "Back On Top" ∴ Nice baritone harmonica riff on this Van Morrison song sounds almost like a saxophone.
  8. "Chains" ∴ The Beatles cover a Goffin/King song for their debut LP Please Please Me- I recently heard this song on the American Masters: Carole King PBS special.
  9. "Good Feeling" ∴ Flo Rida featuring Etta James. I did some research and the chorus of this Flo Rida hit single (#3 Hot 100 hit in 2011) samples the Etta James song "Something's Gotta Hold On Me", but Avicii's song "Levels", also samples the James song and is itself sampled, so does that make the Flo Rida a double-nested sample-sample?
  10. "Sour Girl" ∴ Stone Temple Pilots. Scott Weiland was so troubled I don't think anyone was surprised he finally succumbed to his drug demons.
  11. "Walk The Wire" ∴ A terrific guitar riff from Boy & Bear
  12. "The Last of the Famous International Playboys" ∴ Morrissey
  13. "Passionate Kisses" ∴ Mary Chapin Carpenter
  14. "Let 'em Say" ∴ Lizzo.  I heard this song in the pre-titles cold open of Season 3, Episode 1 of Broad City.
  15. "Random Name Generator" ∴ I am still bitter that my wife and I paid big bucks to go see Wilco  at the Solid Sound festival in 2015, but they played nothing from their upcoming "surprise" album Star Wars. I consider that festival, with its premium three-day weekend pricing, to be a special event for superfans, so it hurt my feelings that we were not treated to their new material.
  16. "The One Thing" ∴ I became a fan of INXS with the album Listen Like Thieves, and a superfan of their CD Kick, but now I'm trying to appreciate their earlier material.
  17. "Back to Black" ∴ I've been told the Amy Winehouse documentary AMY is really good, I gotta check it out.
  18. "Opening Up" ∴ Sara Bareilles. From the wonderful bound-for-Broadway musical Waitress, this opening number has a stomping 4-4 beat that reminds me of ELO's "Mr Blue Sky"...
  19. I followed Bareilles with Jeff Lynne's "Lift Me Up" with a similar 4/4 beat.
  20. "Stoney End" ∴ I never would have imagined I'd include a Barbra Streisand song on a playlist. I am a rock and roller, and Streisand is a square Broadway singer - a middle-of-the-road pop singer at best! But then I fell down the rabbit hole a few months ago and discovered Streisand dabbled in pop-rock in the early 1970s. "Stoney End", her note-for-note cover of a Laura Nyro song, was produced by Richard Perry and hit #6 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1971. (The song had previously been recorded by Rashida Jones's mother Peggy Lipton but failed to make the Hot 100 in 1968.) The subsequent eponymous LP went platinum.
  21. "Where You Lead" ∴ Carole King, from Tapestry

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 31, 2015

2015: Year In Review

I only saw 15 new movies in 2015. That's not a record low, but I don't have much to talk about! My top five movies of the year:
  • Ex Machina: Creepy, provocative, and thought-provoking. This one lingered with me for a long time.
  • Spy: I saw three quality comedies this year. Trainwreck and Sisters were both excellent, but Spy was wonderful all around.
  • Star Wars: The Force Awakens: A perfectly executed reboot of a franchise that met the highest expectations.
  • Mad Max: Fury Road: A perfectly executed reboot of a franchise that exceeded all expectations.
  • Spotlight: A fascinating (and infuriating) journalism drama, maybe better than All The President's Men, and also a indictment of Boston's culture of entropy and indifference.

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)!