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 battle in Sydney Australia, there's 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.

Live-Tweeting 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 ChloĆ« 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 number one 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 first 45 minutes places 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 an 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.