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.

May 24, 2017

Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2

More of the same, maybe not as good. I know the original was very entertaining and ripe for a series of movies, but I personally didn't really feel the NEED to see more of this group.
Perhaps it's unfair to complain that this movie was more of the same- almost three years ago I called GOTG a "colorful and funny space adventure" and this is equally colorful, funny, and adventurous, but not different. I imagine if they'd released these movies in reverse order, I'd like this movie as much as I liked the original film in 2014. Does that make any sense?
Unfortunately for the movie, I bet it would have been funnier in a full theater, instead of the mostly-empty weeknight at the Belmont Studio Cinema with Adam.

April 26, 2017

Jonathan Demme 1944-2017

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

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

April 11, 2017

161 Impossible Marquee

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

April 9, 2017

What We Do In The Shadows

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