August 13, 2017

Real Genius

The best movie about science nerds still holds up 30 years later. I have the DVD and have seen this movie many times over the years, but it was fun to watch in Cambridge, where I must have been surrounded by MIT students?
I like this movie way more than Revenge of the Nerds. Revenge of the Nerds makes fun of the nerds while also letting them use their brains to defeat the jocks. Also, Revenge of the Nerds is a sex comedy, where the protagonist essentially rapes a jock's girlfriend while disguised as Darth Vader.
Unlike Revenge of the Nerds, there's no nerds vs. jocks rivalry in Real Genius- the antagonism comes from the nice students vs the jackass student Kent and their professor. There's no jocks to be seen anywhere. The nerds don't wear pocket protectors and thick glasses and laugh weird.
It feels like the writers and director of Real Genius wanted to keep sex out of their movie. There's only a brief kiss between Mitch and Jordan, and a weird sub-subplot where a random blonde woman tries to have sex with Mitch - apparently she's turned on by brainy men- but ends up with Lazlo instead.
I appreciate that Mitch, the 15-year-old protagonist, is a unattractive kid who actually looks 15. I was also glad to see a bunch of nonwhite students, and Jordan, the "hyperkinetic" female engineer who builds stuff constantly, never sleeps, and refinishes the hardwood floors of her dorm room with an industrial sander in the middle of the night.
THEATER NOTES: I saw Real Genius at the Brattle Theatre, part of their Women Directing 80s Comedy series. I used to go to movies at the Brattle a lot from 2002-2005, but not anymore: I just searched this blog and confirmed that before Real Genius, I have only been to the Brattle once in ten years, and that was to see Snowpiercer in 2014, which was a Brattle-exclusive screening. I guess the Brattle fell out of favor with me because they changed to a totally impractical scheduling system - instead of scheduling a "James Bond" series, or a "Woody Allen" series every Thursday for 4 weeks, they show all the films in several days in a row. If I want to see 2 or 3 or 4 "Women direct 80s comedies" for example, I have to spend a whole weekend at the theater, instead of once a week.

August 5, 2017

Guys Movie Night: Atomic Blonde

Charlize Theron kicks ass! Great innovative fight scenes - at one point she fights a guy for so long, they're both so tired they can barely hold their arms up anymore. Great costumes, and James McAvoy is a total degenerate!
It delivered on the intention to match John Wick for serious action, but I found Theron a little one-note with her stoic performance. A little too much staring unblinking in the mirror.
The plot was far too familiar - hunting for a microfilm list of all covert agents in Europe? The framing device is also hackneyed: Theron is being debriefed on her failed mission by her handlers in an interrogation room.
The soundtrack was almost all English and German New Wave music - Til Tuesday's "Voices Carry" was the only American song I remember - including "The Politics of Dancing" by Re-Flex. "The Politics of Dancing" is playing in the nightclub where Theron meets up with French spy Lasalle (Sofia Boutella) and they start to kiss in the toilet when I think "please don't cut away before my favorite part of the song comes on" and BANG as soon as the kickass synth solo come on, they smash-cut to their hot-and-heavy sex scene! WOW
CASTING NOTE: Turns out I have seen Sofia Boutella in two movies recently- she was the henchman with razor-sharp blades for feet in Kingsman: The Secret Service, and she was excellent as the white-faced alien in Star Trek Beyond.
TRAILER NOTES: Suburbicon looks like a Coen Brothers movie they decided to hand off to George Clooney because they can't be bothered; The Snowman looks far too scary and cliche'd for me; I am sure they have screwed up this adaptation of IT; Thor: Ragnarok looks like it could be funny.
AMC Burlington Theater 4 with Adam and Tom.

August 2, 2017

L.A. Story

Parker wearing the most 1991
costume imaginable.
I am very fond of this movie so I popped it into the DVD player last night. It's an affectionate, absurd, silly satire of Los Angeles. Steve Martin wrote the movie and it's a treat to watch a feature that feels like it has his indelible stamp on it. I really noticed Steve Martin veering into neurotic Woody Allen territory at times, especially during his arguments with Sara (his IRL wife Victoria Tennant), but this is supposed to be a left-coast Manhattan, so that makes some sense. I also noticed again that the end of the movie is especially wifty: I can't tell if there's two Enya songs or the same one twice, but I guess it's appropriate for a movie about L.A. to become indulgent and self-important at the end.
This re-view also reaffirmed my feeling that -- much like rom-com masterpiece Four Weddings and a Funeral -- L.A. Story also succeeds despite the miscast lead actress. I said to my wife "Victoria Tennant is not very attractive and she doesn't jump off the screen...BUT maybe this movie wouldn't be so good with a better-looking actress?" and she shot back "no, she's got Resting Bitch Face and she can't act" so I felt a lot better about finding her contribution lacking.
It's rarely a good idea to cast your spouse to work opposite you in a movie, but it's especially grim when you are supposed to be falling in love, yet IRL you're divorced three years later.

July 22, 2017

Dunkirk

Chris Nolan dazzles with his complete mastery of film craft with this stunning chapter of World War II history.  Some viewers feel Dunkirk is not a complete success because it's a war movie that's not "about" anything. I admit I left the theater thinking "yes it's masterful moviemaking but what for?" The theme of the movie is "war is stupid and pointless and inhuman" full stop. Nolan felt this history needed to be shown on the big screen, and in 2017 he has the clout and tools to do it. Perhaps he feels that justifies its existence alone, and perhaps "war is hell" is enough of a theme. My Stub Hubby Grade: A (Somerville Theater, screen 1, in dazzling 70mm, with Adam)

Also By Chris Nolan on Stub Hubby

July 7, 2017

Baby Driver

I hoped and expected to love this movie.
I am a big fan of Edgar Wright, and I enjoy fast driving heist movies, so Baby Driver should have been a slam dunk.
Something about the movie just didn't click with me.
Maybe the movie is too self-indulgent? Wright has always tightly integrated pop and rock music into his movies, in a deeply thoughtful Scorsese method, but this obsession with music-as-soundtrack is foregrounded here. Baby listens to music on his earbuds all day long, and literally choreographs his getaways to specific songs.
The title walk-dance-lip sync sequence (perhaps an homage to Shaun's walk to the shop for a Cornetto in Shaun of the Dead?) isn't as charming as Wright hopes it will be.
My other problem with Baby Driver is Baby- he's an essentially passive protagonist, entangled with a Mob boss who won't let him quit driving.
Ironically the guy who specializes in escaping from crime scenes cannot escape from his career as a getaway driver. It was hard to emotionally engage with such a lame hero who's escape plan includes saying "no" a couple of times, glowering, and sneaking away in the middle of the night.
Maybe I would have liked it better if it were funnier- it was easily the least comic project I've seen from Edgar Wright yet, and I did not find the gun battles, fight scenes, or car chases as innovative as I hoped for.
(Somerville Theater Screen 1, by myself because the sitter fell through)

July 4, 2017

Cars 3

Thanks to my son Hawkeye's obsession with vehicles, I may have seen Cars 1 more than any other Pixar movie. He likes Ratatouille, Nemo, Toy Story 1, and Bug's Life too, but there was a time when Cars 1 was his favorite. He doesn't watch it much anymore- thankfully that phase has passed - but I learned to hate Cars 1 a few years ago, which wasn't hard because it was my lowest-ranked Pixar movie from the first time I saw it. (I truly despised Cars 2, but thankfully I only saw it once.)
So I was not thrilled to see Cars 3 on Independence Day, but taking my son to the movies is a sweet Dad Job so I was still happy to do it.
Cars 3 surprised me. It's got a great heart, some surprises at the end, and it's visually gorgeous, easily the best-looking Pixar movie yet. It's not great moviemaking like Ratatouille, Nemo, The Incredibles, or Toy Story 2, but Cars 3 is better than Cars 1, and can stand on its own too. You could see it without seeing Cars 1 with no problems - they pretend Cars 2 never happened and you should too!
My Stub Hubby Grade: B-plus.
Moviegoing Notes: My son Hawkeye is seven and a half, so he's old enough that I take him to the movies regularly now. This is skewing my movie-going history, not in a bad way per se.
I've been to the movies about 800 times in the last quarter century, but this is only the fifth time I've seen a sequel in a movie theater unless I saw the original in the theater too. This is only the second time I've seen a Part 3 in the theater without seeing Part 1 or 2 in the theater first.



June 6, 2017

Wonder Woman

Only two complaints- I wish her gauntlets were gold instead of silver; and
I wish her headband pointed up. I feel like they turned it upside-down
only to make it different from the Linda Carter-era design.
Finally, a Wonder Woman movie.
After a dozen Batman and Superman movies, five or six Spider-Men, and far too many movies for superheroes no one's ever heard of (let's face it, before the movies, no one cared about Green Lantern, Iron Man, Ant Man, or the Guardians of the Galaxy), Diana Prince is kicking ass on the big screen.
Gal Godot is perfect. She's strong, confident, uncompromising; she takes orders from no man, she doesn't care what anyone thinks, while also being naive and emotional about the existence of pain, evil, and corruption in the world.
She's also stunning, and I appreciate that all the men in the world turn their heads at her beauty.
The fighting sequences are very good, even if some of the slo-mo moments with Diana in mid-air are kind of passe these days.
Gadot and Chris Pine have good chemistry too. I don't know if Pine is ever going to be a great actor, but he reminds me of Robert Redford or Pierce Brosnan - a journeyman whose good looks have elevated his career.
The story is no great shakes - it's very reminiscent of Captain America's origin story movie The First Avenger. Maybe this should have been called Wonder Woman: The First Justice Leaguer?
At one point early in the film, Diana is in midair, sword and shield in hand, determined look on her face, I thought to myself: I want more movies like this. Movies where women are in charge, where they're not thinking about men, where they are certain and unafraid. I was sad that we get so few of them.
A few years ago Entertainment Weekly published a feature about why there was no Wonder Woman movie yet, and the story theorized and quoted various sources to try to explain the challenges behind bringing Diana to the big screen. This 2017 movie makes all those excuses seem pathetic. It's almost too easy to make the Wonder Woman origin movie just like any contemporary superhero movie. In a more recent EW story, they credit the success of the Hunger Games franchise - led by a headstrong, independent woman, Katniss Everdeen - for demolishing the myth that "young men won't go see a movie with a female hero". Perhaps we can blame simple sluggishness from the DC Comics empire: DC has iconic the Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, and Green Lantern characters, but they have been outpaced by a well-executed plan by Marvel to turn the Avengers cadre into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. DC is playing catchup and trying to duplicate their success, so Wonder Woman has been waiting around, just like the Flash and Aquaman. Maybe Green Lantern will get another chance too?
Thanks to the Embassy Waltham
for this sign on the theater door!
Theater Notes: I went to see WW alone (Emily's ladies night is Thursday), and I sat next to two women in the last seat in a row. The woman next to me immediately said "way to go, guy, seeing Wonder Woman by himself!" Yes ladies, I am a paragon of enlightened masculinity. Just put me in a leather flight jacket and I can be YOUR Steve Trevor.

June 4, 2017

George McFly: Harmless Poindexter or Stalker with a Secret?

I am a big fan of Back to the Future. I was 13 years old when I saw it in the theater in downtown Chicago with my grandmother while visiting her on vacation. I think it was a theater in a fancy mall downtown? Anyone?
I have seen and loved BTTF many times over the last 30 years, but the way you ingest a movie the first time affects how you understand it for the rest of your life- or maybe most of your life?

When Marty McFly arrives in 1955, he catches his future dad George "peeping" on a woman getting dressed through her upstairs bedroom window.
As far as we know, George is peeping on a random woman in a random house.
Marty sees his dad in a tree, sees the woman through her open window, and connects the dots. "He's a Peeping Tom!" he says to himself.
Thirty years in the future (ha ha) my wife pointed out that it's Lorraine Baines, George's future wife that he's peeping on...but for three decades of fandom I never made that connection on my own, and here's why:

In the following scene, one of the major revelations of the movie is Marty meeting his future mother Lorraine for the "first" time.
In order for that scene to work, we must preserve Marty's surprise at meeting her, and the audience's surprise too, but how do we preserve that surprise if we see George peeping on her in the previous scene?
To preserve the surprise, the two shots of the woman through the bedroom window are from the neck down. We don't see Lorraine's face, and neither does Marty.
After Marty connects the dots, he's hit by a car (driven by his future grandfather). The grandfather exits the car, hollers to his wife offscreen, and the movie fades out.

In order to preserve the surprise (and because it's boring), we don't see that Marty is carried into the same house where the mystery woman lives.
We don't see Marty plunked down into Lorraine's bed.
We don't see that this is the same bedroom George was peeping into earlier.

When the movie fades back in, it's nine hours later, and nighttime, and Marty meets his future mother for the "first" time.

In retrospect, it makes logical sense that the woman George is peeping on is Lorraine, but the movie deliberately obscures this fact to save the big reveal later.

If you assume that the woman George was peeping on was Lorraine, that raises some questions. I gotta watch the movie again assuming George is infatuated with Lorraine and deliberately stalked her to peep on her getting dressed.
If you think too hard about it, it takes some creepy planning and effort for George to schedule his Saturday morning to catch a teenage girl dressing with the shades open. How often had he climbed that tree to be on that branch at the right time?
Lorraine reveals in 1985 that she doesn't know why George was up in that tree that day. She's been married to a man who she thought was a random classmate...before her father hit him with the car. In reality George was peeping on her when he fell out of that tree, got hit by Lorraine's dad, and woke up in the bed of the teenager he's obsessed with!

June 3, 2017

The Running Man

I recently enjoyed an interview with screenwriter Steven DeSouza (Die Hard) who told a hundred great stories and totally illuminated that The Running Man is actually a Solid action screenplay and black satire spoiled by four directors and rock-bottom production value.
The Running Man feels like a cheap "B" movie next to Schwarzenegger's contemporary films with a better director and a bigger budget (like Predator), and cheesy compared to other contemporary movies DeSouza wrote (like Die Hard).
Watching it for the screenplay alone, it's surprisingly biting satire of television. If I were to recommend watching Arnold's 1980s movies, this would rank very low, but it was a pleasant surprise to watch it again and discover dark humor lurking under a cheap exterior.
If you HAVE seen The Running Man, check out this hilarious dissection on the podcast How Did This Get Made?

Passengers

Last August, the first trailers for PASSENGERS had me really excited. I love sci-fi movies about colonizing distant worlds, space arks, hibernation capsules. I enjoy the acting of Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt; they seem to be a good pairing. Michael Sheen as a robot bartender clearly meant to allude to The Shining was an exciting possibility.
Then the reviews, the negative, angry reviews rolled in. Viewers seemed to feel betrayed by the movie, but reluctant to reveal their reasons.
Some kind of reverse lock fell into place. One weekend when I had a night to myself I rented it: I knew that this would not be a boring bad movie.
Even forearmed, I was surprised how much I hated the movie. To be more precise, Lawrence, Pratt, and Sheen deliver terrific performances, but the screenplay is deeply flawed right to the bones. I literally would not have agreed to bankroll any film with this premise. 
It's been decades since I watched a movie so misbegotten I wanted to turn it off and walk away in the middle. I was so mad at the events unfolding that I did turn it off for a moment. If I had been in a theater I may have walked out. After a few fuming moments I turned it back on and watched it through to the end.
Not only was the movie fundamentally flawed, the third act was badly patched and reshot to try and salvage it. I have never "seen the seams" of a repaired screenplay so plainly.
I don't want to spoil the movie, but I wouldn't recommend it either: in all honesty the movie's only value is academic. "Here's an example of a hugely expensive movie with two huge movie stars that was too big to fail, but too bad to succeed." There's also some remarkable performance moments, especially Lawrence, and Sheen's perfectly modulated AI bartender.
Stub Hubby Grade: F.