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, 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, half "this isn't so weird" in 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 desparately 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.

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 scene where the head of the giant robot program - the robots are called Jagers (YAY-grrs) - is briefed by a video conference of UN diplomats, the plot is completely contained in the war zone. 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

July 6, 2013

143 If Anyone Falls

  1. "Gator's Groove" Willis Jackson
  2. "Someday Baby" Bob Dylan
  3. "China Girl" David Bowie featuring Stevie Ray Vaughan
  4. "Come A Little Bit Closer" Fleetwood Mac; a terrific Christine McVie tune, from Heroes Are Hard to Find (1974)
  5. "Stupidly Happy" (demo) XTC
  6. "Everything You Know Is Wrong" - "Weird Al" Yankovic; from the title on down, a They Might Be Giants parody.
  7. "Letterbox" They Might Be Giants
  8. "10-9-8" Face To Face, a Boston band I had nearly forgotten about. A real treat to hear this blast from 1984 again.
  9. "Somewhere Down The Line" Pat Dinizio
  10. "Athena" from one of The Who's last "last" albums, It's Hard (1982)
  11. "New Blue Moon" Traveling Wilburys; heard as the crowd warm-up music before the Wilco concert at Solid Sound in June.
  12. "State Lines" Matt Hires
  13. "If Anyone Falls" Stevie Nicks
  14. "Bad Is Bad" Dave Edmunds; a cover of the Huey Lewis song.
  15. "Clubland" Elvis Costello & The Attractions; from Trust (1981)
  16. "One Sunday Morning (Song For Jane Smiley's Boyfriend)" Wilco
  17. "The Ghost In You" The Psychedelic Furs
  18. "Smoke" (Live at KCRW July 17, 1997) Ben Folds Five
  19. "I Can't Help It If I'm Still In Love With You" Willie Nelson
  20. "Strange" R.E.M.

Return of the Jedi

Transcript of my Return of the Jedi live-tweet session. Just like on Twitter, the latest post is on top...
  • I remember the first time, when Vader asks Luke to take his mask off, I thought "OMG this is happening!"
  • Vader lifts up the Emperor - with only ONE hand - and tosses him over the side!
  • "Everything that has transpired has done so according to my design." The Emperor is powerful, or is a control freak, or both?
  • Luke tells Leia "Vader's here, on this moon, now" but Vader actually arrives from the Death Star in the next scene. Some Jedi!
  • Of course the Ewoks agree to support the landing party. THEIR GOD ASKED THEM TO
  • Isn't this Alliance landing party breaking the Prime Directive?
  • I think the Ewok King just told Threepio "sorry, we're gonna cook your friends anyway. We've got the fire built already..."
  • ...and then the Ewoks speared them all to death, and there was a great feast. END OF MOVIE
  • What exactly is the point of the Stormtroopers' armor if Leia can hit a guy in the arm with a big stick, and he's done for?
  • Luke's a real back seat driver.
  • When I hit the Powerball, I'm buying one of those ginormous Millennium Falcon #lego kits on #ebay
  • Where do you put the camera to get Leia and Chewbacca's faces in frame at the same time? It's nearly impossible!
  • I love the hologram briefing scene. It's the only scene in the movie where everyone looks fresh from a shower + change of clothes.
  • Ugh, General Madine has a really phony-looking blonde beard. Looks like crumbled-up graham crackers?
  • Alec Guinness looks really old (for a dead guy), and seems to wish he was anywhere but Dagobah
  • Ghost Kenobi just outlined Anakin's prequel trilogy character arc. Sometimes it's hard to believe those prequels really happened
  • Yoda's falling asleep fast, like Final Jeopardy just ended.
  • Look, Yoda, before you die, I have a few questions...
  • He doesn't look a day over 850!
  • That big establishing shot of the Emperor's arrival at the Death Star? A matte painting. A very good matte painting!
  • The only time Artoo can communicate directly with any human is when he's plugged into the X-wing sending Luke texts in the cockpit
  • The sail barge model blowing up still looks great
  • When Leia climbs on the big gun on the sail barge...you pretty much see EVERYTHING
  • Boba Fett's pathetic wail, and tumble into the Sarlacc pit is the least cool thing ever.
  • "Threepio, you tell that slimy piece of worm-ridden...filth he'll get no such pleasure from us!...right?"
  • I love the aftermarket cocktail rig Artoo's wearing on the sail barge
  • I really like the herds of wooly mammoths Lucas added to the Tattoine desertscape for the Special Edition.
  • "A Jedi Knight? I'm out of it for a little while, everybody gets delusions of grandeur!"
  • Just Leia's luck that the only things Jabba has in common with humans are lust for power, money, and petite young women #blerg
  • Make sure you stir Solo while defrosting, or he's going to reheat unevenly!
  • The slow nod Boba Fett gives Leia-as-bounty-hunter is the coolest thing anyone's ever done
  • If George Lucas had a sense of humor, there'd be a DVD subtitle track for R2D2's dialog. Chewbacca too.
  • "Oooh, a free movie. And in 3-D too!" Jabba upon seeing Artoo's holovideo
  • "No Jabba no badda."...Albino Rat Tail Head
    • ‏@GeekyNerdChick: Bib Fortuna! Poor guy. Just trying to do his job in that crazypants place. What's a Twilek gotta do to earn some scratch?
    • @GeekyNerdChick, there are SO MANY #StarWars characters whose names are never mentioned in the movies...only on the toy packages! #ewok
    • ‏@GeekyNerdChick: And in novels & BTS docs that I may or may not have read/watched so many times I got banned from SW Trivial Pursuit in college...
    • @GeekyNerdChick, that sounds familiar. I have several #StarWars novels, and two Lando adventures too!
  • Threepio really is a world class coward. Galaxy-class!
  • The sad, resigned Commander after Vader walks away: "I'm gonna get Force-strangled, I just *know* it."
  • "I hope so Commander, for your sake. The Emperor is not as forgiving as I am." Vader humor live tweet!
  • I thought I was over it, but the Star Wars fanfare still gives me chills.

July 5, 2013

Movie 43

...on Amazon Instant Video
Lots of people say "all the best parts of that movie are in the trailer" but with Movie 43, it's true. The trailer was hilarious and exciting, but the 94 minute movie contributed nothing more.
It's nice to see that all these A-list actors can cut loose and have fun- Oscar-winner Halle Berry is especially uninhibited - but the script feels equally casual and indifferent. The movie feels half-baked, and that's not surprising for a project that everyone involved seemed to squeeze in inbetween projects on their days off. The highlights: Griffin Dunne directs "Veronica": Emma Stone and Kieran Culkin's bizarre flirtation at the checkout counter; and  Elizabeth Banks directs "Middleschool Date", where Chloë Grace Moretz gets her first period while on a date...and everyone FREAKS OUT. I recommend watching the trailer again, and leaving it at that.

July 4, 2013

No Way Out

The goons follow Costner

Stub Hubby Amazon Streaming presents: No Way Out

Set within the corridors of the Pentagon, when a love triangle, an accidental murder, and a spy hunt collide, Kevin Costner is stuck in the middle as he's tasked with solving a murder, where he's the #1 suspect.
A fascinating and gripping thriller. Always rewatchable. My Stub Hubby Grade: A-minus (for old 1980s technology)

Costner is an up-and-coming Navy Commander Farrell, who falls in love with a D.C. socialite Susan Atwell (Sean Young)...who's also the mistress of the Secretary Of Defense David Brice (Gene Hackman)...who's also Farrell's boss. Except for a hot sex scene in the back of a limo (later parodied in Hot Shots!) and a daring sea rescue (inserted to build Farrell's character, and add some action), the 45 minutes calmly puts all the chess pieces on the board at a leisurely pace. Then Brice accidentally kills Susan in their love nest...and we're off to the races.
Think, damnit, think!

Much like 1990's Presumed Innocent, No Way Out is a thriller with a twist ending, that still works when you've seen it before and know how it's going to turn out. Now that I think about it, there's more than one similarity:
  • Plot revolves around a woman who was having an affair with both the protagonist and the protagonist's boss
  • Protagonist is tasked with solving murder, but his boss doesn't know about his affair with the deceased
  • Murder investigation is complicated by political motivations
  • Friend of the protagonist helps protect his friend by concealing evidence
Costner rolls over the hood of a car,
much to the chagrin of the
insurance company
Action: Has Hollywood lost the art of a good foot chase? Costner is chased across town and across the Pentagon (up stairwells, down alleys, along canals, down escalators, and over the hoods of cars) and it all looks terrific. I've read that Costner did many of his own stunts, and it feels like it.

Production Value: The Washington-area locations are priceless. The breakfast meeting on the roof of the Hay Adams Hotel was even a little show-offy. The interior photography of the Pentagon (actually shot at the Department of the Interior) looks amazing. The sea rescue (where Costner rescues a sailor from falling overboard a destroyer during a storm at night) looks pretty fake.

Super-80s animated titles!

This Is 1987: The movie begins with a 3 minute title sequence, with terribly "modern" animated title cards. The opening titles music is bad, and the theme song "No Way Out" performed by Julia Migenes and Paul Anka during the limo sex scene, is worse. The technology used in the investigation is hilariously antique, but it's not super-distracting:
  • To track Susan's movements before she was murdered, they have to gather credit card receipts from hotels and gas stations within a 50-mile radius...but these are carbon copy receipts, so "it takes a few days for them all to come in"
  • Farrell can pin the murder on Brice, if he can find a record on a computer database. His techie friend Sam (George Dzundza) says "we can interface" with a straight face..."but they're closed for the day." Eventually the records start printing on a commercial-grade carriage-feed printer, that prints a line of text every few seconds.
  • This next one will sound like complete gibberish to anyone under age 35: the only hard evidence that Susan and Farrell were having an affair is the emulsion backing of a Polaroid photo Susan took of Farrell, found in Susan's bedroom. The positive photo is long gone, but Sam can reproduce a positive photo from the silver emulsion...with some help from an image processing "computer program."
If this crime took place anytime in the last 15 years, the credit card records would be instantly accessed, the record on the database, ditto, and Susan wouldn't have a Polaroid camera in 2013, cuz they don't exist anymore!

Cast: Stocked with talent: Kevin Costner is the calm and conflicted man-in-the-middle. He has to make the Farrell character's motivations and thought processes work before and after you've seen the twist ending. Gene Hackman is ideal as the ruthless politician who turns weak and cowardly when attempting to save his career. Will Patton (currently costarring on Falling Skies) is magnetic as the Brice's top aide and architect of the coverup. Sean Young brings her blend of sexy, needy, and naked. Dead-eyed and intimidating Marshall Bell is an ideal goon/assassin (I saw him again on Sunday in The Bling Ring).

Credits: Directed by journeyman Roger Donaldson (Species, Dante's Peak, Cadillac Man...and Cocktail!) Last movie for cinematographer John Alcott (The Shining, Barry Lyndon, Clockwork Orange); penultimate movie for screenwriter Robert Garland (The Electric Horseman). Debut of future Senator Fred Dalton Thompson (as CIA Director Marshall).

Fun Fact: Released in August 1987, a week after another movie I watched this week, Stakeout. Stakeout and No Way Out ranked #1 and #2 that weekend in the box office. The Top Five, according to the NYT:
  1. Stakeout $4.7 million
  2. No Way Out $3.8 million
  3. Dirty Dancing $3.61 million
  4. The Fourth Protocol $3.6 million
  5. Hamburger Hill $3.3 million

July 3, 2013

The Great Gatsby

My favorite novel, a book I read once a year, adapted by a visionary director. Is this a bad idea or a terrific idea? While I am not a huge fan of Baz Luhrmann's movies- I enjoyed Moulin Rouge and Australia quite a bit - I have a lot of respect for him. Gatsby has been adapted so many times, there's no pressure to make a definitive movie adaptation. Which is good, because Luhrmann's Gatsby is a oversized, impressionist epic.
If it were 10 minutes shorter, I'd give it an A. My Stub Hubby Grade: B-plus.
Weird seeing DiCaprio with no moustache or goatee.
The Cast is uniformly great. DiCaprio does not get enough credit for being the only actor of his generation to avoid action and adventure movies. Carey Mulligan is a pathetic and doomed Daisy Buchanan. I always picture Tom Buchanan as a bigger, beefier jock, but Joel Edgerton embodies the man as a vessel of pure confidence. Tobey Maguire was born to play Peter Parker, and Nick Carroway. He's not a very convincing alcoholic in the narrator's framing device, but he's ideal as the non-threatening passive observer.
Music: The score and songs were all great. I didn't mind the modern music in the movie at all. The whole film is so fantastical, that a strictly contemporaneous score would have been distracting.
Production design: What I find most distracting is the sheer scale of Gatsby's mansion, and the massive underground speakeasy where Jay and Nick have lunch with Meyer Wolfsheim - both locations bear zero resemblance to actual places that real people have been. There's never been a mansion the size of Gatsby's on Long Island. The biggest mansions of Newport would fit nicely in his grand hall. And there's never been a subterranean speakeasy that holds hundreds of people with 20-foot ceilings. It's just preposterous. All these points make me want to re-read the book for these details.
Other Differences: In my mind's eye, Nick's cottage is on the other side of the Gatsby mansion. If you're looking at the water from Nick's cottage, I always pictured Gatsby's house on the left. In both this movie, and the 1974 Redford Gatsby, Nick's cottage is on the other side. This is more distracting than you might think.
In the book, Nick goes with Tom to his apartment party with Myrtle, then, in the morning, Nick goes to the near-empty Grand Central Terminal to catch a train home. In the movie, Nick wakes up on his front porch "I don't remember how I got home" he narrates. Very odd change.
Three-D: I didn't see Gatsby in 3-D, I saw it in 2-D, but it's sad the influence of 3-D has not changed from the original red-and-blue lens fad of the 50s and 60s. The camera flies at warp speed through this movie, diving between skyscrapers, swooping through the girders of the Queensboro bridge, surfing across the bay between East Egg and West Egg. It's embarassing. I would not be surprised if, years after this 3D fad dies out, this Gatsby is re-edited to remove all this stunt cinematography.

Also By Baz Luhrmann

Australia and Moulin Rouge!

Theater Notes

Can I pull of four movies in five days? While my wife and son are visiting family in NJ, I am going to try! Gatsby is movie #2 on my list. I saw Gatsby on the last night of its run at West Newton Cinema. The people who go to the movies in West Newton are truly the worst. I want to shame them for their thoughtless behavior, but they're already shameless. Kinda hard to enjoy a movie when I'm composing my big speech which will perfectly illuminate their boorishness. RANT OVER
Two days later, I've calmed down and reviewed my blog: I have seen nineteen movies at the West Newton Cinema, and I've only had terrible audiences...four times? So it's about 21% terrible, 79% neutral.

Also At West Newton

2010-2013:
2003-2005:

July 2, 2013

The Heat

The Heat is terrific. Very very funny, and only some minor minor notes that they can fix for the home video release! My grade: A
An ideal blend of humor and action - director Paul Feig cites 48 HRS as a direct influence - I was also reminded of one of my favorite action buddy comedies Running Scared with Billy Crystal and Gregory Hines.

Sandra Bullock tries a little too hard to be stiff and pedantic.It takes awhile, but her humanity emerges eventually. Melissa McCarthy is a force of nature. So funny, great in the dramatic moments as well, and a world-class swearer. The two of them together have terrific chemistry. A real treat to watch them work. My only gripes?
  • Lazy, old-fashioned plot mechanics: Right after Bullock's boss orders her to go to Boston, we see her in her car driving. We cut to one of those totally phony roadside signs which never exist in the real world: PROVIDENCE 33 BOSTON 81. These fake signs- which never look like real road signs, and always look like the crew stuck them in the ground five minutes before filming - are the laziest form of plot craftsmanship. Why is this shot included, when her boss just told her to go to Boston, and, the very next shot is aerial footage of Boston? This kind of "point the camera at a sign" storytelling mechanics happens at least one other time.
  • New In Town: In order for Melissa McCarthy to see Bullock's high school yearbook, and therefore, learn about her pathetic childhood, we're told the FBI shipped up all her belongings from NYC to Boston and rented a furnished apartment for her.  Without that unbelievable plot tool, there's no way McCarthy has a chance to see any of her stuff and begin to learn about her background. I guess making Bullock a stranger to the city was more important than a believable way of getting that yearbook in McCarthy's hands? Couldn't they have made Bullock's agent newly transferred to Boston, instead of just visiting town to crack one case?
  • The Old Car Bomb Twist: I've seen the old "car bomb twist" trick in a dozen movies since Apollonia blew up in The Godfather forty years ago. The format is simple. In a seemingly innocuous scene, a character climbs into a parked car. Often the person about to start the car is not the expected driver of the car. The character dialog is unrelated to the action, to distract from the real focus of the scene- the car that's about to blow up. The problem with scenes like this, it's hard to surprise the viewer, because the scene usually has no purpose besides blowing up a car, usually with a minor character in it. As the scene begins, I begin thinking, "Why is this shot of our lead characters walking to the car in the movie? Nothing is happening? Oh, I see, that guy is going to start their car and it's going to blow up." five seconds later, I am proven right.
The best job of subverting this I've seen is in the first Mission: Impossible movie, where Tom Cruise is sprinting towards a parked car when it blows up, rocking him back on his heels. In the Lethal Weapon parody National Lampoon's Loaded Weapon 1, Estevez and Jackson's car blows up outside a restaurant. "Good thing I used valet service," says Estevez. Jackson hails a taxicab, which also blows up. That's a twist I can believe in.
Theater Notes: Can I pull of four movies in five days? While my wife and son are visiting family in NJ, I am going to try! I saw The Heat, along with 10 other people, at the 10pm show on a Tuesday night at the Somerville Theater, on the big screen.

June 16, 2013

This Is The End

What happens when six hapless man-child actors are trapped in a post-apocalyptic hellscape (literally) left to their own pathetic devices to survive?
A ridiculous, hilarious, and probably realistic post-Rapture disaster comedy.
Emma Watson's extended cameo is terrific.
This Is The End is full of shocking and funny explicit violence, funny and disgusting sexual conversations, and three giant penises: The first one is artsy home decor (three feet long), the second is tar-black, crusty, and demonic (18 inches long), the final penis belongs to The Devil himself, it's on fire and maybe 100 yards long. (I'm not expert on estimating penis length.)
I had a wonderful time, and once again, I have to thank the audience at the Somerville Theater for their complete attention and engagement. Consistently the best audiences of any theater. It's true that the boneheads behind us at Oblivion were the worst kind of self-absorbed useless morons, but no one cared about Oblivion. An "anticipated" movie like This Is The End, or the last movie I saw on this same screen - Star Trek Into Darkness, the audience is locked-in and enthusiastic. I am perfectly content to laugh my ass off when no one else is interested in a movie - just ask my wife for her impression of me laughing in a movie theater - but it certainly enhances a movie, especially a comedy, if the audience cares.
My Stub Hubby Grade: A

May 27, 2013

Pitch Perfect

Stub Hubby On Demand Presents: Pitch Perfect

A fun and brisk "teenagers win a championship" movie, set in the very silly and melodramatic world of collegiate competitive a capella.
The music was terrific, the cast was colorful and fun. Anna Kendrick is solid in the Winona Ryder role, Rebel Wilson steals the movie with her moments of brilliance. Skylar Astin, Kendrick's love interest in the rival a capella group, distracted me with his similarity to Dane Cook. He looked like a teenage Dane Clone, seriously.
Anna Camp (The Mindy Project) is stuck in a thankless role as the antagonist- the new leader of the group who is obsessed with repairing the mistakes of the past. She has nice skin and she's a terrific actress, but Camp does not look like a 21-year-old college senior. Indeed, Camp was born in 1982, not 1992.
My wife co-founded the coed a capella group "SQ" at Tufts University (as an alternative to the single-sex groups on campus) so I was eager to hear her perspective. She felt the movie really captured the unique personalities and overblown melodrama of the a capella world.
I enjoyed the movie very much, but I also felt that it was pitched to a teenage audience. This is NOT a criticism, but I am certain that the evolution of Kendrick and Camp's characters resonates much more strongly with teenagers. I also appreciated that the movie acknowledged collegiate drinking and marijuana use without glamorizing it, or showing drug abuse or binge drinking.
At times Anna Kendrick's Beca talks like a young Liz Lemon (she even dresses like Lemon.) While watching I had forgotten that the movie was written by veteran 30 Rock writer Kay Cannon. Kudos for her tight screenplay with a fresh, youthful perspective.

May 18, 2013

Star Trek Into Darkness

Another exciting, dramatic, and funny Star Trek movie that plays it safe.
Is it ironic that the first new Trek movie in 2009 took a big chance by hitting the reset button on the history of Trek, and now its sequel is playing it safe by doing more of the same?
At the end of Star Trek 2009, I was expecting the Enterprise to embark on a new five-year mission: now that the characters were reestablished, they could then tell new stories in subsequent movies.
Instead, Star Trek Into Darkness is essentially a remake of the Khan stories from the original TV series episode The Space Seed, and the Wrath Of Khan feature film.
He maybe ruthless and determined, but Benedict Cumberbatch is also
stored fresh in his Starfleet Tupperware!
I am not sure what the reasoning is behind reusing old Trek stories in the new franchise. I enjoyed the 2009 movie so much I don't feel that the franchise needs to lean on proven commodities. Do the producers feel that first-gen Trek fans like me won't remain loyal to this millennial crew without a connection to our sense of nostalgia?

Two Trek movies, two totally
gratuitous bra-and-panty scenes?
Do I have a totally warped perspective on the Khan character? The Wrath of Khan was released 31 years ago next month, but it feels fresh as a daisy on the Genesis planet. Unlike most of the other Trek films, Khan has remained in the public consciousness ever since.
The only other Trek movie that everyone and their mother knows is "the one with the whales", aka Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986). Maybe the Millennials only know Khan from animated GIFs on Reddit and Khan jokes on The Big Bang Theory?

Regardless, this Khan movie is good, the characterizations are solid, the relationships feel real and organic, but it's lacking the searing power of Khan's vengeance on Kirk. In this movie, Khan and Kirk are only linked incidentally, where some trivial plot machinations place them at odds. Somerville Theater (Main Screen), with Vinnie Pucci

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