January 13, 2016

Introducing the Star Wars Movies

My six-year-old boy is a budding Star Wars fan. Star Wars had little effect on his pop culture worldview before this year, until his favorite animated show featured a spaceship nearly swallowed by a space worm in a cave. I took this opportunity to introduce my boy to the first 20 minutes of The Empire Strikes Back -minus Darth Vader and the Wampa. Over the last few months, we've shown him the Sail Barge / Sarlacc Pit battle and the Endor speeder chase scenes from Return of the Jedi too. In December one of his kindergarten friends (Cole the Mole) spoiled the whole plot of The Force Awakens to anyone who would listen, and this Christmas the Star Wars toys started pouring into our house. It turns out a six-year-old with a pile of Force Awakens sticker books learns the names of all the characters pretty quick!
So here's my conundrum: Episode Eight comes out in May 2017, 16 months from now. When my boy enters second grade in September 2017, he'll be almost eight. Practically speaking, it's only fair that he get to see at least The Force Awakens and Episode Eight by then. I don't want my son to be exposed to scary scenes, peril, and violence before he's ready, but I also don't want him to be the weirdo second grader who hasn't seen the Star Wars movies!
SO I have 16 months: do I show my son all the Star Wars movies? Do I skip the prequel trilogy, at least for now, and show him the original 4-5-6 this year? Here's my tentative plan:

  1. Spring 2016: A New Hope
  2. Summer 2016: The Empire Strikes Back
  3. Fall 2016: Return of the Jedi
  4. Winter 2017: The Force Awakens
  5. May 2017: Episode Eight






December 30, 2015

Sisters

A raucous, profane, and hilarious house party movie, with a shot of family heart and soul. I hope that the title "SISTERS" and the lack of any bros on the movie posters doesn't keep guys from seeing this movie, because it has just as many dick jokes, drug jokes, and slapstick comedy gags as any guy-centric party movie: At one point, Bobby Moynihan's pun-spouting doofus gets super-high on drugs and tackles John Cena. Ike Barinholtz gets a ballerina music box jammed up his rectum. A swimming pool collapses into a sinkhole. What more do you want?!? And yes, it is about sisters, and the sister relationship is awesome, and Fey and Poehler have all the chemistry. I LOVE watching them say "fuck" so much. They're really good at it, and they never got to say it on 30 Rock or Parks & Recreation!
Originally titled The Nest - an even worse title than Sisters! If I had been the exec in charge, I would have pandered more to guy audiences and emphasized the house party more. Is the name House Party taken?
Just as the trailers were starting, seven 50-something women sat in two rows directly next to me. Uh-oh, I thought, but they turned out to be great- they laughed at all the jokes and made the movie so much funnier! Showcase Cinemas Legacy Place, Dedham

December 29, 2015

The Hateful Eight Roadshow

The Hateful Eight is a three-hour snowbound whodunit, like an Agatha Christie story, but with more "N-bombs" and heavy blood loss. Shot in Panavision Super 70, the film looks amazing. There are some spectacular landscapes, two stunning tracking shots (or perhaps the camera is on a truck) following stagecoaches through the woods, but almost the whole movie takes place in one big room during a blizzard, and the high grain film stock offers us lovely textured images of the cast's faces, and panoramic views of the room.
The plot begins to bore in a few places, and QT cannot help but take the violence to the extreme, but on the whole this was an interesting mystery and a unique moviegoing experience.
The Somerville Theater's 70mm projectors, ready to go.
Three hours of 70mm film weigh over 200 pounds!
The Hateful Eight was presented at the Somerville Theater as part of a nationwide Roadshow presentation. Every date on the roadshow is exhibiting the feature on 70mm film, with full-color souvenir programs, a 5-minute overture of Ennio Morricone's score preceded the opening titles, and a 15 minute intermission 100 minutes into the film. The sold out crowd was engaged, entertained, and attentive! Thanks to my sister Kate and Tim for organizing, buying the tickets, and providing welcome company and analysis of QT movies in general and Hateful Eight in particular!

Related


Written & Directed by Quentin Tarantino

Oscar winner Patricia Arquette in True Romance
After tonight I will have seen six QT features in the theater, plus two movies he's written. (I skipped Jackie Brown and Inglourious Basterds in the theater.) Do I get extra credit for seeing Pulp Fiction six times in five months? Read my Stub Hubby reviews below...


Also:

December 28, 2015

Playing Louis B Mayer in the Movies

Richard Portnow
Trumbo is the fourth time I've seen MGM head Louis B. Mayer featured in a supporting role in a Hollywood biopic, but there's a bunch more, including:
Note: Besides Mayer, Dysart has played several other American icons, including Harry S Truman, J. Edgar Hoover, Secretary Of State Henry L. Stimson, and Dwight D. Eisenhower (twice)!

Trumbo

A terrific cast, fine performances, and a fascinating and relevant chapter in American history are let down by - oh the irony! - a weak screenplay.
Bryan Cranston is terrific as the successful Hollywood screenwriter who is willing to go to jail - and put his family through the wringer - rather than forfeit his First Amendment right to belong to the Communist Party during the Cold War. He's a royal pain in the ass and a terrible father and husband, but he's witty and he has his principles, so his charm carries us along with him. It's truly amazing that he went on two win two Oscars while blacklisted and writing under pseudonyms.
Diane Lane is given mostly nothing to do as his wife except look concerned when she espies Trumbo mixing whisky and barbiturates - while smoking in the tub no less! She finally gets a good speech when Trumbo hollers at his kid (Elle Fanning) while shunning her 16th birthday party.
Cranston gets to deliver some sharp jabs, especially when confronting John Wayne at a political event (former JAG television star David James Elliott does a fine job in the thankless role) but too many pivotal scenes feel cliche'd - the old "protagonist learns his old friend died unexpectedly" scene - or wooden (Trumbo finally reveals how proud he is of his activist daughter).
Playing Edward G. Robinson - a unique Hollywood face if there ever was one - is a tall order, and Michael Stuhlbarg nails that odd upside-down mouth just right. He plays an interesting conflict in the movie star's life- Robinson is an ally of the blacklisted Hollywood 10, even to the point of selling a Van Gogh to pay for their legal defense, but Robinson is blacklisted himself when his association with the Ten goes public. Unlike Trumbo, who finds his way back into screenwriting via surrogates and pseudonyms, Robinson only has one face for the movies, and chooses to betray the Hollywood 10 to Congress in order to restore his film career.
Dean O'Gorman is perfectly cast as Spartacus star Kirk Douglas. Is that chin dimple a special effect? Playing an actor who's playing a gladiator should be easy for him- he played a warrior dwarf in three Hobbit movies, plus countless episodes of Hercules and Xena on TV. German actor Christian Berkel is hilarious as demanding director Otto Preminger.

Theater Notes

West Newton Cinema, Screen 6. West Newton specializes in independent films, foreign films, movies for seniors, and Jewish Cinema. I am amazed at the trailers they show. First, a genocide movie- it was hard to tell which genocide because trailers for foreign-language movies try to hide the fact that you'll be reading subtitles for two hours by not including any dialog in the trailer. A really depressing-looking marriage movie 45 Years starring Charlotte Rampling, who is gorgeous at any age; and a trailer for a sequel to My Big Fat Greek Wedding, which was greeted with absolute, complete silence from the two dozen patrons watching it. If the screen had been blank the reaction would have been the same. All the jokes in the trailer were met with nothing. It was GRIM. Everyone in America saw the first movie 13 years ago, but no one has been asking for more.
I have had some chatty, entitled crowds at West Newton, so I attend movies there with some trepidation, but I have to try to remember the good crowds too: during the feature, the crowd did not talk during the movie, but one developmentally disabled adult in the front row let out a series of long groaning sounds at random intervals. It did not affect my engagement with the movie and it was impossible to get upset about it.

December 24, 2015

A Christmas Carol [1984]


Edward Woodward [no relation] as The Ghost of Christmas Past is the standout in this made-for-television adaptation. He's jovial at times, but as Scrooge shows some sympathy for the poor souls of London, the ghost really lays into Scrooge for his hypocrisy. His lustrous blanket of chest hair was distracting at times! George C. Scott is the star, and he does a fine job, but he's not cold and mean enough; he seems too easily persuaded by the spirits. Also, his Scrooge does not use the word "humbug" properly; Scott throws the word around as a general expletive.
The remainder of the role are filled by a stellar supporting cast: Roger Rees [you may remember him as Kirstie Alley's rich boyfriend on Cheers] is charming as nephew Fred. David Warner, whom I'm used to seeing as a villain - he plays Ultimate Evil in Time Bandits, for example - is touching as the tender, emotional Bob Crachit. Susannah York (Kal-El's mom in Superman I and II) is fine as Mrs Crachit; Mark Strickson (Dr Who companion Turlough) is young Scrooge, and Strickson plays opposite Lucy Gutteridge, who played the romantic lead in the comedy Top Secret! that same year opposite Val Kilmer. Kilmer's future wife Joanne Whalley appears briefly as Scrooge's sister.

The special effects are kept to a minimum. Jacob Marley's chains and bank boxes are especially effective, with great clanking noises. Once Marley materializes in Scrooge's bedroom, his ghostly appearance is maintained by lighting and all-monochrome makeup only. Scrooge's travels with the spirits are not fussy.

December 22, 2015

Star Wars: The Force Awakens [again]

I saw The Force Awakens again, this time at the Arlington Capitol Theatre with Tom and Adam. I am now updating my December post in February 2016, well outside the Spoiler Exclusion Zone:
I don't mind that the plot is very similar to the original trilogy. I feel that the writers are acknowledging that the prequel trilogy introduced a fundamentally different, complicated, and boring plot, so at worst, this is an overcorrection towards simplicity. Anyone who complains that this plot was a repeat of the original trilogy doesn't appreciate that the original trilogy plots were very simple, and the Return of the Jedi included tons of repeated elements from Star Wars!

I was pleased and glad that the new cast was so good, and that the filmmakers trusted their story with them for the entire first act of the movie.

I was amazed how cute and charismatic BB-8 could be. I laughed out loud repeatedly at his double-takes.

Oscar Isaac is hella handsome. If I can sense it, the ladies must be going gaga over Poe Dameron.

Baby Daddy?

Daisy Ridley is great as Rey, and it's obvious to me she's Luke's daughter. One of my favorite music cues from A New Hope is the theme playing when Luke leaves the Owen & Beru's dinner table and gazes out at the binary sunset. This same theme music plays twice when Rey is girding her Force power in pivotal moments, especially during the lightsaber duel with Kylo Ren. Fans seem to think this is "too obvious", but there's no other established characters that make sense, and all other possible answers are too random to be dramatically useful- there's no way her parents are new characters unrelated to any established characters. Fans also wonder how Luke could abandon his daughter on a desert planet just as he was as a baby (see the last 30 seconds of Revenge of the Sith), but that's what's so poignant about it!

Theory A: Luke's the baby daddy. He didn't know Rey existed until she showed up on Rock Island Planet with his old lightsaber. Perhaps she was kept a secret from him because the baby mama feared The Force?
Theory B: Luke knew about Rey, but kept her away from him for her protection or some other motivation we don't know about yet - just as Luke was secreted away from Darth Vader. Luke would never let his daughter rot on Jakku, so her abandonment may have occurred after he entered seclusion on the Rock Island Planet.

The Lightsaber

Where the heck did Goldish Lady erm, Maz Kanata - get the old blue Skywalker lightsaber? Kenobi gave Luke Anakin Skywalker's old blue lightsaber in A New Hope, and Luke used it until he lost it (along with his hand) on Bespin in The Empire Strikes Back. While most casual fans can speculate that the lightsaber is calling to Rey because she's at least "strong with the Force" and more likely a Skywalker too, but I bet most viewers forgot that Luke lost the blue lightsaber and built a new green lightsaber before Return of the Jedi. So how did the blue lightsaber end up in Kanata's basement, when we last saw it, presumably lost in the gas giant of Bespin, thirty-six years earlier?

Just when you think every elderly English actor has been used up, Max Von Sydow shows up! He's done sci-fi/fantasy before, but Flash Gordon and Dune were a long time ago. Coincidentally, Dune (1984) and Flash Gordon (1980) were produced during the sci-fi/fantasy movie fad made possible by Star Wars' success.

I struggled to see elderly movie star Harrison Ford as Han Solo. He's been a movie star for so long, and he's over 30 years older, that I struggled to see him as the same character. I had similar trouble with Carrie Fisher, but in her case, her voice is so different, and her mood was so restrained and melancholy, she didn't seem like the same person I remember from the 1980s.
Obviously we haven't seen Mark Hamill do much acting yet, but I bet he's going to be must easier for me to digest than Ford and Fisher, maybe because I haven't seen him act in anything for 30 years. His bearded, enrobed look reminds me of Oliver Reed's character in Gladiator.

Weird Facts

When they announced The Force Awakens, fans noticed (but could not believe) that Hamill is older than Alec Guiness was when he played Kenobi; Hamill is also a few years older than Reed was when he died in 1999 before Gladiator was done shooting.

Funny Quibbles


  • When Finn's comrade dies and smears a bloody handprint on his Stormtrooper helmet, that was the first example of blood in the Star Wars saga since Ben Kenobi cut off that guy's arm in the cantina! I suspect Lucas decided early on to keep his movies bloodless, so this moment stood out.
  • This is a Disney/Lucasfilm joint, but I missed the 20th Century Fox fanfare before the Star Wars theme begins.
  • I love the crashed Star Destroyer buried on Jakku, but it doesn't look quite big enough to me. Is the scale off? Especially when the Millennium Falcon flies through it, it didn't seem mammoth enough.

I'm A Sucker

Maybe some moviegoers saw this coming, but I was completely shocked that Ren killed his father on the gangway. Harrison Ford famously lamented that Solo did not die in Return of the Jedi, and I have to admit his death on Endor, or perhaps in the assault on the Death Star, would have added some much-needed gravitas to that otherwise lightweight feel-good finale. In 2016 it's easy to imagine that Ford agreed board the Millennium Falcon one more time- as long as they killed him off this time!

December 17, 2015

Star Wars: The Force Awakens [No Spoilers Here]

Thursday Evening 10:20pm
I'm sitting in the movie theater parking lot right now. The Force Awakens starts in 25 minutes. I bought this ticket (Auditorium 6, Row G, Seat 1, in glorious 2D) two months ago, but I only began to get really excited to see it this morning. It's been a weird two months: I was very happy to see the first trailer a few months ago, and I saw that moment with Han and Chewie on the Falcon, but since then, I have tried to shut out the ever-increasing din of marketing, and spoilers, and television commercials, but that almost smothered all of my excitement to see the movie? My mindset was almost "I am really excited to see this movie...but I don't want to think too much about it until I see it". The Disney-pop-culture-media juggernaut feels the opposite- they want me thinking about Star Wars all day every day for months. I feel like the only person who wants to see this movie with any amount of surprise. Frankly, that's why I was willing to go see this movie so late at night by myself on opening night: I just want to get the first screening over with so I can then soak up all of the fun promotion and magazine articles and so on.
This fever pitch got a bit ridiculous at the end. This evening I sat down on my sofa: on my left was a Boston Globe feature about Star Wars, on my right a C-3PO/R2-D2 Christmas stocking: I literally could not turn my head without seeing Star Wars stuff everywhere. Did I mention the Chewbacca Chicken Soup in the pantry?
I felt a bit silly covering my eyes and fast-forwarding my TV every time a commercial came on, and turning Entertainment Weekly face down so I would not read the headlines about the movie, but I guess I am only being silly if I end up not liking the movie after all this trouble I went through. Stay tuned: I'll post my initial reaction as soon as it's over. See you in 2 hours!
Friday Morning 1am
Good news gang, the movie is terrific. The plot (no spoilers) is very straightforward, so there's no Trade Federation and Republic and Senate and planetary embargoes like Episode 1. Are you sleepy yet?
It reminded me a lot of JJ Abrams' Star Trek reboot in the following ways:
  • The Force Awakens honors all the conventions of the existing Star Wars movie universe, but with 21st-century style and production values (Don't worry: I did not notice any lens flares like in his Star Trek reboot).
  • It's as loose and funny as the best parts of the original films.
  • There's lots of touches that acknowledge the original three films without becoming a Fan Club Greatest Hits. You do not need to remember the original trilogy well to appreciate this film.
My Stub Hubby Grade: A. (I am seeing the movie again on Tuesday; I reserve the right to revise this review after I rewatch the movie)

Okay For Kids? Without giving anything away, I would describe content of The Force Awakens as very similar to the original trilogy. There's some scares, some monsters, lots of gunfire, a couple of deaths onscreen (not just Stormtroopers falling over, which hardly counts). If your kids have watched The Empire Strikes Back, they can handle this too.

Trailers: I was expecting a lot of trailers, but wow, we saw every trailer, including previews for the Independence Day sequel, Captain America: Civil War, and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, all of which look grim, joyless, and workmanlike. These trailers all rolled off the backs of the Star Wars-hungry crowd. The only reaction was from a hilarious mini preview for an animated movie Zootopia featuring a DMV office run entirely by sloths. Go Google it, it's adorable and funny.

Audience: At least a third of the audience was wearing Star Wars tee shirts, and one cadre of friends did some nice cosplay:
  • Luke with Yoda backpack - the easiest and most comfortable costume
  • Darth Vader with the helmet off- wearing a baldcap all night is dedication!
  • Classic Han Solo
  • Slave Leia - gotta have some self-confidence for this.
  • Padme (Natalie Portman) in her white leggings and belly-baring crop top - I thnk that's from Attack of the Clones? This tight & white costume left little to the imagination.
Theater: AMC Burlington is very nice, It's come a long way from the first time I ever saw a movie here, the Star Wars Episode 4 Special Edition re-release 17 years ago. Last night I was sitting in a good row but all the way over to the right, yet my viewing angle was just fine. When I saw A New Hope here in 1997 - it might have been the same auditorium? I was also sitting all the way over to the side but the viewing angle was poorer and the audio sounded all lopsided. One weird drawback - they forget to turn off the house lights until after the movie started?

Star Wars On Stub Hubby:

December 14, 2015

A Christmas Carol [1999]

Patrick Stewart is terrific as Scrooge. The most famous scene, where Scrooge harangues his nephew Fred (Dominic West!) might be the best interpretation I've ever seen, and quite faithful to the book. I watched it twice! Stewart manages the emotional arc well, and by the end of the book, comes across as just the right level of crazy, but then reins it in when he nervously visits Fred's Christmas meal and asks to be welcomed in. Gently handled!
Dominic West is a treat as the irrepressible Fred. Richard E. Grant leans a little too heavy on the pathos and loses some of the Christmas joy; Mrs Cratchit is played by Saskia Reeves, whom my wife has seen in every UK movie and TV show of the last 15 years; As Scrooge's fiancee, Laura Fraser nails her big scene, breaking up with Scrooge on a park bench in the snow. My wife pointed out the scene felt torn from a Jane Austen novel. Two years after this Fraser would appear opposite Heath Ledger in A Knight's Tale. The Ghost Of Christmas Present was a little less jolly and a little more dour and judging than I'm used to.
Joel Grey is simply weird as The Ghost Of Christmas Past; the character is usually portrayed as a fairy or a young girl, not a 67-year-old man in chalky whiteface. Then I checked the source material and Dickens spends 326 words describing the ghost:
It was a strange figure -- like a child: yet not so like a child as like an old man, viewed through some supernatural medium, which gave him the appearance of having receded from the view, and being diminished to a child's proportions. Its hair, which hung about its neck and down its back, was white as if with age; and yet the face had not a wrinkle in it, and the tenderest bloom was on the skin. The arms were very long and muscular; the hands the same, as if its hold were of uncommon strength. Its legs and feet, most delicately formed, were, like those upper members, bare. It wore a tunic of the purest white, and round its waist was bound a lustrous belt, the sheen of which was beautiful. It held a branch of fresh green holly in its hand; and, in singular contradiction of that wintry emblem, had its dress trimmed with summer flowers. But the strangest thing about it was, that from the crown of its head there sprung a bright clear jet of light, by which all this was visible; and which was doubtless the occasion of its using, in its duller moments, a great extinguisher for a cap, which it now held under its arm.
Even this, though, when Scrooge looked at it with increasing steadiness, was not its strangest quality. For as its belt sparkled and glittered now in one part and now in another, and what was light one instant, at another time was dark, so the figure itself fluctuated in its distinctness: being now a thing with one arm, now with one leg, now with twenty legs, now a pair of legs without a head, now a head without a body: of which dissolving parts, no outline would be visible in the dense gloom wherein they melted away. And in the very wonder of this, it would be itself again; distinct and clear as ever.
I definitely recommend this adaptation! Stewart was strong, the supporting cast was mostly solid; the script included scenes from the book which rarely or never appear in adaptations. Besides Grey's distracting presence, the only other major drawback is the occasional overuse of 1990s computer effects.