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

Also on Stub Hubby
 To Boldly Go To The Theater To See Star Trek...Twelve Movies and Counting (1979-Present)

May 11, 2013

Oblivion

Snap judgement in a text to my wife:
"Movie was suprisingly thoughtful, but too long. Amazing music, sound effects, and cinematography." 
Based on the trailers, thought I had the movie figured out before I set foot in the theater, and I was half right. By the end of the movie, the twists turned into knots. I am all in favor of fantastical science fiction concepts which bend the rules of our reality for an exciting story, but I found myself frustrated by inconsistencies, plot holes, and structural problems...some of which were explained in the last 30 minutes of the movie.
Total Recall, The Matrix, and Mad Max have all covered this wasteland turf before. OBLIVION takes these ideas and adds...atmosphere. Tons of atmosphere. When a critic describes a movie as "atmospheric" the movie is usually beautiful but too long, with long dialog-free passages. Bingo!
To its credit, I would have no problem with OBLIVION winning awards for cinematography and production design. Tom Cruise and Andrea Riseborough live and work out of a glass box perched high above the clouds. The scenes shot in this glass box at dusk, with the "magic hour" lighting, are completely realistic. I've read this was all accomplished "in camera" with a 500-foot muslin screen staged outside the set windows. Footage of Hawaiian clouds were projected outside the glass cube set, and the effect is complete verisimilitude.

I have a terribly conflicted relationship with Tom Cruise. On one hand, he has a terrific track record for choosing projects. He's starred in 20 films in the last 20 years, and I've seen 16 of them (13 in the theater.)
On the other hand, I find him less emotionally convincing with every passing film. In the Mission Impossible movies, that doesn't matter so much. In a action-comedy like Knight & Day, who cares? But I think Cruise is supposed to be in love in this movie.

NOTE: Cruise is a well-preserved fifty years old in this movie; his two lady costars (Olga Kurylenko and Riseborough) are 17 and 19 years younger than him, respectively.

DISTRACTING: We don't know why, but Andrea Riseborough's Victoria character has watery and dilated pupils throughout the film. I Googled "Victoria's eyes dilated oblivion" and it turns out lots of other bloggers noticed too. The effect was to make me continually suspicious, wary, and uncertain of her character.
Somerville Theater, Upstairs, with Adam and George.

May 4, 2013

Iron Man 3

Iron Man 3 has some quality moments, a few memorable characters, and a new dimension for Tony Stark. None of that helped sustain me through a long, boring, soggy middle act.

I am truly tired of Gwyneth Paltrow. Yes, she and Downey have wonderful chemistry, but this movie suffers from the bane of threequels - Paltrow insisted that Pepper Potts be given more to do! Why does she have to have more to do? Someday I dream of a sequel that only offers more of the same. Why can't I just have more of what I liked in the first place. Gwyneth Paltrow kicking ass is not on my list. While I like watching Paltrow suffer (I almost paid to see CONTAGION because her character dies horribly), in Iron Man 3 she is tortured...while wearing a belly-baring sports bra. Is her flat and toned belly a perverse product placement for her personal trainer?

Jon Favreau appears again as Stark's comic relief/bodyguard Happy, but he has recused himself from directing #3 in favor of Shane Black. Black is famous for writing the first Lethal Weapon, Last Action Hero, Long Kiss Goodnight...then a nine-year career gap before he wrote and directed the underseen old-fashioned buddy action comedy Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang (starring Downey with Val Kilmer.) Some Iron Man 3 details are reminiscent of Black's late 1980s heyday (and Lethal Weapon in particular):
  • Action movie set at Christmastime
  • Hero runs through a lot full of Christmas trees for sale
  • Heroes in oceanside mansion, ambushed by surprise helicopter attack
  • Final standoff aboard a transport tanker ship
  • ...the President and Vice President are played by legendary character actors William Sadler (Hard to Kill, Die Hard 2) and Miguel Ferrer (Robocop, Miami Vice)!
Looks like the suit needs some Bondo and Armor-All...
In the end, there were some good ideas, and a couple of exciting action sequences, but watching Iron Man battle nearly indestructible villains is not very satisfying. I also find it tiresome that the Iron Man suit has a set of arbitrary rules for when the Jarvis OS will work properly, and more arbitrary rules for the power supply. The suit works or doesn't work when it's convenient to the plot.

My Grade: B minus
THEATER NOTES: Emily and I have already lamented that the extremely violent Iron Man movies are shamelessly marketed to children- the childrens' toys are everywhere - so I should not be surprised that this rated PG-13 movie (for sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence throughout, and brief suggestive content) screening was full of young children. At least three sets of parents brought their 8-11-year-old kids to see Iron Man 3, which features many evil demonic villains who burn from the inside like demons, and sometimes explode- early in the movie, one bad guy blows up on the street kind of like a suicide bomber...or a certain pair of terrorist brothers.

(With Emily, Arlington Capitol (big screen), in glorious 2D, between our third annual Yard Sale and my 10th annual Walk for Hunger.)

May 3, 2013

Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid

Stub Hubby on VHS presents: Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid

So we're purging our house.
We're holding our third annual Yard Sale this weekend, and this time, we mean business. We're feeling zero nostalgia for the junk that's filling up our basement, and bookshelves, and...video collection.
Amongst the DVDs I haven't watched in years (Boogie Nights), or only needed to watch one more time (Kiss Of Death) I found a VHS copy of Butch Cassidy with the shrink wrap still on. I bought it at a yard sale (I think I paid 25¢) So I peeled off the cellophane, stuck the tape into my still-connected VCR and hit PLAY.
The movie is very clever, with great dialog, wonderful chemistry, and lots of surprises, but wow is it boring.
Burt Bachrach's music is used in two overlong montages (the trip to New York & Bolivia montage, and the life in Bolivia/becoming notorious bankrobber montage) which I literally could not sit through. The bicycling montage set to "Raindrops Keep Fallin On My Head" is bizarre. The second montage is set to a Swingle Sisters-style chorus (The Ron Hicklin Singers) singing jazzy, uptempo harmony scatting "la-de-la-di-da" which instantly dates the movie as a flower-power relic. Any contemporary audience would laugh.
Ninety minutes in, I finally turned it off and went to bed.

Released in 1969, it feels like a counter-cultural reactionary response to conservative-values cowboy movies.
I've read William Goldman's Adventures in the Screen Trade cover-to-cover, and his authorial intent is all well and good, but, as Bruce Springsteen once said "what do YOU think this song is about?"
For me, Butch is all about two men who don't know how to conform to society's expectations of them. They can't play by the Establishment's rules. They're just trying to get along, and yet they're persecuted.
The authority that wants to stop them has no face or personality. The "super-posse" chases them from a great distance. Butch and Sundance seem like reasonable guys- they treat the railroad employee Woodcock with respect, they're genuinely concerned for his welfare.
The disaffection for authority continues in a very humourous scene where the local sheriff (Kenneth Mars) tries ro rouse a posse - a common Western trope - but none of the townsfolk are interested in chasing Butch and Sundance. Their sympathy for the Hole In The Wall Gang (or at least indifference) is a deliberate reflection of contemporary suspicion of the police.
It's telling that Butch and Sundance are completely out of touch with the Spanish-American war - Vietnam parallel, anyone? Butch jokes about enlisting in the Army to avoid prosecution for their bankrobbing.
When they finally shoot *at* someone, it's after they're hired as payroll guards. They're forced to gun down a whole passel of Bolivian bandits in a sobering moment where their good times finally grind to a halt. They've become the Establishment machine they rebelled against for so long.
The movie feels more contemporary, and less timeless than I remember. In 1970 it was nominated for seven Oscars including Best Director and Best Picture. It won for Cinematography, William Goldman's original screenplay, Burt Bachrach's score, and "Raindrops" won Best Song.

NOTES:

  • The picture quality was surprisingly good! A mint VHS tape, in a VCR I bought in 2001, on a 32-inch LCD television wasn't half bad.
  • Paul Newman is a very handsome man. Robert Redford has amazing hair. Amazing. But Newman is 1,000 times better-looking.

May 1, 2013

142 Hazy Shade Of Spring

I love her eye makeup
in this photo!
  1. "Is That Love" • Squeeze Singles 45s And Under is one of the first and most important greatest hits CDs I've ever owned.
  2. "Righteously" • Lucinda Williams
  3. "Beyond Belief" I must have bought The Best of Elvis Costello & The Attractions the same year I bought that Squeeze CD.
  4. "Shake Some Action" • I only recently discovered that this Cracker performance is a cover of a power-pop classic from the Flamin Groovies. From the Clueless movie soundtrack.
  5. "Two Fingers" • Jake Bugg is so young he can be forgiven for so shamelessly aping John Lennon.
  6. "Hey Julie" • Fountains Of Wayne tons of fun to play on guitar or ukulele.
  7. "Mrs. Vanderbilt" [live] • Always happy to hear Paul McCartney dig up deep album cuts (this one is from Band on the Run) for his concert albums.
  8. "The Valley Road" • I borrowed the Bruce Hornsby box set from the library and ripped this live-in-the-studio performance (with The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band). I always liked this song, this performance is so exciting!
  9. "Birds of a Feather" • The Civil Wars
  10. "Jealous Again" • The Black Crowes [acoustic]
  11. "Deep Red Bells" [live] • Neko Case
  12. "Someone To Love" • In 1991, Roger McGuinn enjoyed a minor comeback with his LP Back from Rio that reached #44 on the album chart. With his trademark 12-string guitar riffs, and support from Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, "Someone to Love" felt like an audition to join the Traveling Wilburys!
  13. "Queen Of Hearts" • I loves me some uptempo power pop from Dave Edmunds and Rockpile. The song was written by Hank DeVito (Edmunds was the first to release a recording of the song); Juice Newton's cover later peaked at #2 on the Hot 100 in 1981.
  14. "A Hazy Shade of Winter" • Simon & Garfunkel
  15. "Teddy Bear" • The Music Class
  16. "Moondance" • Van Morrison
  17. "She Moves in Her Own Way" • The Kooks
  18. "Thirty One Today" • A tuneful and melancholy recording from Aimee Mann's Fucking Smilers
  19. "Ashes to Ashes" • David Bowie
I love her tee shirt!