December 31, 2015

2015: Year In Review

I only saw 15 new movies in 2015. That's not a record low, but I don't have much to talk about! My top five movies of the year:
  • Ex Machina: Creepy, provocative, and thought-provoking. This one lingered with me for a long time.
  • Spy: I saw three quality comedies this year. Trainwreck and Sisters were both excellent, but Spy was wonderful all around.
  • Star Wars: The Force Awakens: A perfectly executed reboot of a franchise that met the highest expectations.
  • Mad Max: Fury Road: A perfectly executed reboot of a franchise that exceeded all expectations.
  • Spotlight: A fascinating (and infuriating) journalism drama, maybe better than All The President's Men, and also a indictment of Boston's culture of entropy and indifference.

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 endured chatty, entitled crowds at the West Newton Cinema, so I attend movies there with some trepidation, but I have to try to remember the good crowds too: the crowd did not talk during Trumbo, 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 [with spoilers]

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 Goldfish 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? I never thought about it before, but I would presume when Vader cut off Luke's hand, the blue lightsaber fell out the bottom of the Cloud City and was lost in the gas giant of Bespin thirty-six years earlier? Does the Cloud City have some kind of colander built into the bottom to catch tools that get dropped over the side?

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 was the first Star Wars movie where no characters lost a hand, arm, or leg to a lightsaber! See my post Simply Disarming for the complete limb count.
  • Episodes 1-6 begin with the Twentieth Century-Fox logo and Lucasfilm logo, with the Fox fanfare playing, followed by the title card "A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away..." This is a Disney/Lucasfilm joint,  so obviously the Fox logo and fanfare is omitted, but the new normal is odd to me: silence over the Lucasfilm logo, silence over the "long time ago" card, then the Star Wars theme crashes in over the Star Wars logo. It's too bad there's no majestic-enough Disney fanfare they could have used over their Enchanted Castle logo to replace the Fox logo.
  • 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.

December 11, 2015

In The Heart of the Sea

Good movie, but not what I was expecting. A movie of survival, not a "we're going to catch and kill this white whale" movie. It was pretty spectacular seeing the white whale that inspired Moby-Dick created with 21st century special effects.
Chris Hemsworth's accent is all over the place. At times it verged into a Mark Wahlberg Southie Boston accent! I couldn't place where I'd seen Benjamin Walker before- I kept reminding myself 'he's NOT Eric Bana, he just looks like him' - so it turns out I haven't seen him before, but he played the title role in Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter!
Ben Whishaw plays Herman Melville - it must be a great feeling to star in two big movies playing in adjacent theaters: Whishaw plays "Q" in SPECTRE without the beard. Speaking of beards, my favorite part of the whole film might be Brendan Gleeson's performance, especially his thick, lustrous beard.
AMC Burlington with Emily, instead of going to my company holiday party!

December 9, 2015

A Christmas Carol [1951]

I'm watching a wretched colorized Scrooge from 1951, and it couldn't be more different in heart, soul, and tone than the 1938 version. Where the '38 Carol is brisk and lively, the '51 Carol is ponderous, cold, and lethargic. Alastair Sim is a hideous, bug-eyed Scrooge who never seems to have any enthusiasm for his bitterness and hate.
Marley's Ghost is especially scary this time around, although the "ghost" special effects have no progressed in 13 years.
I didn't make past the Ghost of Christmas Past; I've fast-forwarded to Christmas morning to be done with it already. Scrooge is hyperventilating, he sounds completely bonkers.

A Christmas Carol [1938]

I've TiVo'd three or four adaptations of A Christmas Carol this December. This 1938 version is a pleasant and brisk 69 minutes:
  • The boy playing Tiny Tim looked exactly like a young Angelina Jolie;
  • The nephew Fred had a more prominent role than most adaptations and was very pleasant;
  • The Ghost Of Christmas Past went on to play one of the O'Hara sisters in Gone With The Wind and a Bennett sister in Pride & Prejudice;
  • The Ghost of Christmas Present looks like Will Forte from The Last Man On Earth (sorry I didn't take a screen shot!)
Strangely, in this version Bob Crachit gets fired by Scrooge at the end of the day - Crachit joins some street rats and throws a snowball at Scrooge by mistake - and then goes on a joyous shopping spree, and tries to bluff his way past his wife at home.
The rest of the Crachit kids are quite heartwarming with their joyous excitement over their feast and the goose Bob's brought home for them. I appreciated their deprivation more in this adaptation than I had before.

December 8, 2015

154 Birthday or A Pretty View

  1. "Green Grow The Rushes" A deep cut from R.E.M.'s Fables of the Reconstruction
  2. "Accidents Will Happen" Elvis Costello & The Attractions live [solo acoustic] at Hollywood High School
  3. "Empty" I heard a song lately with a couplet that reminded me of this lovely Cranberries song,
  4. "Song for Someone" This U2 song made me weepy at their concert in July.
  5. "Rio" Duran Duran
  6. "King Of You" Wilco from their new LP ironically titled Star Wars?
  7. "She Said She Said" I found these amazing "drum covers" on YouTube recently where drumming prodigies play along with Beatles songs. I've always thought Ringo was a revelation on "Rain" but the cover of "She Said She Said" was an anazing surprise.
  8. "Too Much Passion" The Smithereens
  9. "Talk To Me" The arragement of this Stevie Nicks song almost has a Wall of Sound feel?
  10. "Born Fighter" Nick Lowe
  11. "The Stake" Steve Miller Band
  12. "U Get Me High" Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers
  13. "You Can Call Me Late" Paul Simon; I very cleverly mashed together "You Can Call Me Al" with "Late In The Evening" for an extended dance party!
  14. "Caravan" A recent re-release of Van Morrison's Moondance included many unused takes and studio chatter. Very illuminating!
  15. "All Mixed Up" The Cars
  16. "If I Can't Change Your Mind" Sugar
  17. "Why Does it Always Rain on Me?" Back in the late 1990s I knew I was supposed to love Travis but this album just didn't click for me...but I love this song now!
  18. "Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again" Bob Dylan
  19. "I Don't Like It, I Love It" (feat. Robin Thicke & Verdine White) Flo Rida
  20. "Valentine Day" This undercooked, lo-fi, self-made project is very in style today, but Beatles fans must have felt short sold- from Abbey Road and Let It Be, to McCartney? Half the 13 tracks are either instrumental, half-written, or both.

November 25, 2015

The Rocketeer

I've been listening to a fun new podcast lately. WHAM BAM POW is a loosey goosey conversation about sci-fi and action movies, with a segment at the end dedicated to a discussion of a classic or contemporary sci-fi or action film. Much like the James Bonding podcast refreshed my appreciation for Bond movies, WHAM BAM POW has repeatedly inspired me to rewatch my favorite sci-fi and action movies.
I saw The Rocketeer back in the day - I don't recall if I actually went to the theater in 1991 or what - but I probably haven't seen it all the way through since. The Rocketeer is a very pleasant family action movie. Disney carefully groomed this picture in the hopes of starting a franchise, and as a result, it has a very professional studio sheen. The action is more fun than exciting, the humor is easy, and the peril and sex are gentle.
Billy Campbell is all-American handsome and innately moral to the point of boredom. Jennifer Connelly looks great as an aspiring actress in the 1930s, she underplays her role, exudes intelligence - if anything, she seems too smart to be an actress - and barely plays the victim. I'm pretty sure The Rocketeer is the rare film set in the 1930s that passes the Bechdel Test as Jenny and her girlfriend complain about a rival actress and discuss their aspirations.
Alan Arkin and Timothy Dalton do their best to give their roles personality, and Jon Polito and Paul Sorvino are both top notch: the previous year they had appeared in Miller's Crossing and GoodFellas respectively. The rest of the cast is filled with quality character actors: Eddie Jones, William Sanderson, Ed Lauter, and Margo Martindale.
TRIVIA: Strangely, Joe Johnston has directed another comic book movie set during WWII where undercover Nazis are plotting to steal American technology in order to create super-soldiers: Captain America: The First Avenger. Compounding the strangeness, both movies feature wealthy industrial tycoons with a penchant for bold inventions and awesome moustaches: Howard Hughes invented the rocket in The Rocketeer; The real-life Hughes is the inspiration for the Howard Stark character in The First Avenger.

November 24, 2015

For Your Eyes Only


When all the Bond films were available for free on Amazon Prime in 2014, I watched nearly all of them.
I tried watching For Your Eyes Only but the pre-titles opening sequence was so awful and self-indulgent I turned off the TV and read a book or something.
I won't describe why the first ten minutes is so bad - it just makes me depressed - but I will say the helicopter stunts are impressive. I recommend muting your TV and enjoying the stunts, then turn the sound back on in time for Sheena Easton's theme song. Except for this pre-titles sequence, and the last 5 minutes of the movie (featuring a then-famous Margaret Thatcher impersonator),
For Your Eyes Only is the best Roger Moore Bond movie after Live & Let Die.
A solid plot that makes sense, absolutely zero Bond gadgets, good Bond girls, great car chases and ski chases, and great allies and villains.
Bond must recover a decoding device that sunk on a British surveillance vessel before the Russians get it. Bond relies on no gadgets this time around- perhaps a course-correction after previous gadget-heavy adventures? His Lotus sports car only makes a brief appearance. There is a cool submarine, and an extended SCUBA sequence inside the sunken ship, but the fanciest gadget Bond uses is his carabiners and lines when scaling a sheer cliff face during the gripping (pun intended) third act assault on the villain's mountaintop lair.

He's allied with Melina, the daughter of the marine archaeologist who was assassinated before he could search for the ship. She's out for revenge, and deadly accurate with a bow and arrow.
The crossbow-wielding, underwater archaeologist is competent, can defend herself, and Bond doesn't even treat her as a sexual object until the mission is over- this is progress! The bad news is she's 30 years younger than Bond - 24 vs 54 flunks the half your age plus 7 rule of dating young women.

Bond also beds Lisl, who is also smart, competent, and only 21 years younger than Bond, which is relatively appropriate?  Trivia: Lisl is played by Pierce Brosnan's first wife Cassandra Harris, who sadly passed away in 1991 after battling cancer. Brosnan first met Bond producer Cubby Broccoli while visiting the set of this film.

Lynn Holly-Johnson plays a boy-crazy aspiring Olympic skater who tries to bed Bond. I think she's supposed to be a teenager- Holly-Johnson was 22 when they filmed the movie but she acts younger "my trainer thinks I'm still a virgin!" and her voice is dubbed to make her sound like a kid. Her character is named "Bibi" - a little too close to "baby" for comfort! The good news is, that despite slipping naked into Bond's bed - a callback to From Russia With Love - Bond treats her (gently) like a kid and (gently) throws her out.

The main ally is played by Topol, the charming "European" character actor famous for Fiddler on the Roof, and the main villain is played by Julian Glover, currently appearing with a long white beard as Maester Pycelle on Game Of Thrones, but in the Eighties he landed a string a blockbuster villain roles, including Imperial General Veers in The Empire Strikes Back and a Nazi archaeologist in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. I fondly remember him as a Dr Who villain! Fun Fact: four years after For Your Eyes Only, Glover appeared on two episodes of Pierce Brosnan's TV show Remington Steele (remember, he's the husband of Glover's Bond costar Cassandra Harris).


Two great chases- one car chase (in a tiny Citroen no less!) down a narrow, winding, switchbacked hillside road through olive groves, and an extended ski chase to end all ski chases- perhaps this (and the opening to View To A Kill) is why Bond doesn't ski anymore?

BOND & BOURNE MOVIES on Stub Hubby



November 7, 2015

SPECTRE

 Weakest of the four Daniel Craig Bond films, SPECTRE takes a terrific premise and goes nowhere with it.

Spoilers Ahead

SPECTRE opens with the classic James Bond "gunbarrel" sequence, then proceeds with a spectacular opening sequence as Bond follows a SPECTRE agent through a Mexico City Day of the Dead parade, then into a hotel, up an elevator, out the window, and across rooftops...and it's all one continuous shot. In a series of films that must top themselves with stunts and spectacle, nothing like this has ever been attempted. A jaw-dropping cinematic feat.
Thanks to some reverse engineering, the mysterious and sinister organization QUANTUM (see all the bad guys in the first three Craig adventures) is revealed to actually be SPECTRE, the classic cadre of bad guys from the Ian Fleming novels (and introduced in the early Connery Bond films), led by the iconic, mysterious Ernst Stravro Blofeld. Made silly by Mike Myers parody as Dr Evil, Blofeld wears the grey tunic, strokes his kitten, and seeks to extort, corrupt, and control the whole world.
Christoph Waltz's bad guy is certainly mad and evil, but he's not that mysterious; his introduction in a shadowy and gothic SPECTRE conference tingles with mystery and suspense, but in the third act he's completely revealed, and even a little silly as he tortures Bond. It's annoying that the writers masked Waltz' identity as Blofeld until the third act. The plot makes excuses why Waltz' character is known as "Oberhauser" through most of the movie until the "Blofeld" reveal near the end, but this is pure "fan service" - the writers are trying to surprise the audience with a twist, but there's no reason why Blofeld could not be called Blofeld throughout the film. By calling him by an fake name, and constructing an excuse for why he changes his name, the screenplay simply makes the story less clear when it's already mysterious. This petty trick was also pointless because Waltz appears in the trailers as Bond's antagonist, wearing the same tunic as the classic Blofeld, in a movie named SPECTRE? Even a casual Bond fan could put together that Waltz is Blofeld, so what's the point of the misdirection? Star Trek Into Darkness [2013] pulled this same annoying trick, calling Khan "John Harrison" for no good reason until late in the movie.
Once again the Bond film is all about Bond- how did he end up like this? Why does everyone around him die? Why is he alone? What is his purpose? I feel like this ground has all been covered in Craig's first three Bond films. I was ready to move on, but SPECTRE continues to ponder these eternal questions, going to great lengths to tie Bond's childhood history (previously unexplored in the entire Bond film series) together with the genesis of SPECTRE...but it's strangely not explored with much depth or meaning. Either the filmmakers weren't sure what point they wanted to make, or the movie was botched between the page and the screen. I don't think tying Bond and Blofeld together is necessary, but if you're going to do it, really make it resonate!

Bond Girls

I have a movie crush on Monica Belluci, and her seduction scene was very exciting and powerful. Hubba hubba! Ironically her character was completely extraneous in the longest Bond film of all time. She shares information with Bond that moves the plot along, but there's no reason why her character would know what she told him. As much as I love Bellucci, and their seduction scene is very steamy, I might not have included it in the film. (This may be a Bond first - Bellucci is 6 months older than Craig!)
Léa Seydoux is beautiful and competent, but she falls in love with Bond for no reason and so quickly it's just bad writing. She actually successfully defends herself from the bad guys twice, so on the spectrum of capable Bond girls, she's up near the top with Michelle Leoh and Honor Blackman. Her silky grey dress on the train in Morocco is spectacular. (She's only 17 years younger than Bond)
I was sad to see the new Moneypenny squandered. In Skyfall she shoots Bond off the top of that train in the opening sequence, and later assists Bond in the field (remember the shaving scene?) but all she does in SPECTRE is deliver a package and Google some bad guys for him. I was hoping she'd participate in his adventures again - what was the point in developing her character in Skyfall if she isn't used well in SPECTRE?

Bond References

SPECTRE has a bunch of overt reference to the history of Bond movies...
  • Hat on a Bed - it's bad luck to put your hat on a bed, and a Bond girl is spooked by a hat on his hotel bed in Live and Let Die. During the opening shot, Bond tosses his hat on the hotel bed- this cannot be a coincidence. Bond also tosses his hat onto his hotel bed in From Russia With Love.
  • Foot Pursuit In A Parade - Bond chases a guy through the Day Of The Dead parade, just like he was chased through a parade in Thunderball.
  • Snowy Mountaintop Spa - Just like in On Her Majesty's Secret Service. Bond is also admitted to a spa in Thunderball. But when chasing the bad guys down the mountain, he steals a plane - did they feel that skiing sequences were too played out for a Bond film? Bond has such a rich history with winter chase scenes, it seemed odd to eschew skiing or sledding...although it was neat to watch Bond try and steer an airplane sliding on its belly down a snowy hill.
  • Ridiculous Mountaintop Airport - It is impossible to build a runway atop a mountain! This reminded me of the opening sequence in Goldeneye.
  • Daughter Of A Villain - Bond romances, and allies himself with the daughter of one of the villains. Bond has made an uneasy alliance like this before, most notably in Thunderball (although technically Largo is not Domino's father). 
  • Gadgets - The Craig-era Bond films have been light on the gadgetry, and SPECTRE is no different. A classic Bond trope is the gadget Q gives him at the beginning of the movie that is precisely what he needs by the end of the movie- the screenwriters underplay the moment when Q gives it to him; in the old days, Q used to explain in complete detail how each gadget works, but in this film Q only says "it tells time...and the alarm is quite loud, if you catch my meaning."
  • Goldfinger - When Oberhauser says to Bond "I thought you came here to die" I was reminded of Auric Goldfinger's famous line, "No Mister Bond, I expect you to die."
  • Silly Foreigners Are Poor Drivers - I could hardly believe this sequence was even shot: Bond is racing across Rome in his Aston Martin when a Fiat 500 driven by an elderly Italian blocks his progress. Bond tailgates and honks while the Italian slowly creeps along, fussing and gesturing, until eventually Bond rams the Fiat out of the way. The Fiat taps its bumper on a railing and the airbags activate. The airbag joke has been hackneyed for ten years? Twenty? The scene felt like it was lifted whole from a Roger Moore Bond film.

Fun (and sad) Connections: You might not think much about that guy Tanner at MI6 who works with "M" and Moneypenny. Tanner is played by Rory Kinnear, whose dad was also in some iconic British movies - Roy Kinnear played a bumbling scientist in The Beatles' HELP! and Veruca Salt's dad in Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory. Kinnear Sr. died in a tragic horse riding accident while filming a Three Musketeers movie when Rory was just a kid.
(AMC Burlington with Adam)

BOND & BOURNE MOVIES on Stub Hubby

November 1, 2015

Hollow Man (2000)

Feels very similar to The Fly, but Hollow Man is only successful for its effects. The following synopsis describes both movies:
"Lone wolf scientist develops breakthrough invention, but tests it on himself to disastrous results. The experiment drives him mad. A love triangle acts as a catalyst for his anger, and he goes on a murderous rampage."
The special effects in Hollow Man still look great, after 15 years of technology improvements. The effects of shapes draped over the invisible form, but also the effects of the human (and gorilla) bodies appearing and disappearing one layer at a time look incredible. By the end of the movie, they've shown off the invisibility effects in every way possible- the invisible man has been draped in cloth, covered in liquid latex, walked though steam, drenched in sprinkler water, drenched in blood, immersed in a swimming pool, walked through smoke - he's done everything except become smothered in chocolate sauce.
The rest of the movie is not so great. Sebastian Caine (Kevin Bacon) is a real prick from the very beginning of the movie, so the audience is not rooting for him, and when he evolves from a jerk to a creep to a rapist to a murderer, he doesn't change that much. Whether he's the antagonist or the protagonist, the movie cannot succeed when we can't see the guy's face for most of the film.
Directed by regressive libertine Paul Verhoeven, the movie presents a workplace where the scientists continually bicker, argue, and compete with each other, and scientist Linda McKay (Elisabeth Shue) ended an affair with Caine, but now she's taken up with their colleague Matthew Kensington (Josh Brolin). Caine continually harasses McKay, who never says "no" to Caine, sending definite mixed messages to his former lover. It's a real mess from a modern feminist standpoint. It technically passes the Bechdel Test, but when the two women who talk to each other have both been groped by their boss in the previous 24 hours, it hardly feels like a victory for women in film.
Nineties Test: Hollow Man flunks the timelessness test immediately. Not only does it have a long opening title sequence, which were already passe in 2000, the title sequence uses all lower-case letters, which were very trendy, combined with letters floating through space - it was supposed to look like molecules fusing together, but I was reminded of alphabet soup. Some of the costumes are okay, but the late 90s affection for tan, brown, taupe, and grey is everywhere. Joey Slotnick wears an all-brown costume at one point. There are plenty of computers and phony user interfaces, but the invisibility is the star of the movie, so the computers are kept in the background. (On Demand)

The Fly (1986)

Still creepy and disgusting. The Fly feels almost like a three-person play, or a Twilight Zone episode. The Fly is a brisk 96 minutes, and could have been even shorter without the love-triangle machinations which aren't totally necessary.
The cast list includes only 10 speaking parts: Seth Brundle (Jeff Goldblum), Ronnie (Geena Davis), the "other man" Stathis Borans (John Getz), a bar tramp that Brundle tries to trick into teleporting (Joy Boushel), and six bit parts.
Real life couple Geena Davis and Jeff Goldblum have terrific chemistry, and they both exude an egghead intellect that powers the movie.
Of course the science behind the telepods is nonsense, but The Fly stands as a cautionary tale for what can go wrong when a single person designs software and conducts experiments with no oversight or testing. If only he'd programmed his computer to NOT fuse two organisms together! The makeup effects are mostly solid, it's the idea of the fly emerging from Brundle that makes this movie a success.
I laughed out loud when I saw this outfit, even though Davis was delivering
the trademark line "Be Afraid. Be Very Afraid."
Note: Where did they get these bizarre character names? Seth Brundle, Veronica Quaife, and Stathis Borans?
Eighties Test: The Fly mostly passes the timelessness test- the telepods still look great; the computer is housed in a giant casing like a supercomputer, and the UI looks terrific. One of Ronnie's costumes - the one she's wearing when she says "Be afraid. Be very afraid" is so Eighties I almost laughed out loud. Besides her hilarious lapels, the festive scarf does not fit the occasion. (On Demand)

Bridge Of Spies

There's a lot to admire in Bridge of Spies. Spielberg is a master craftsman, and Hanks delivers a strong, distinctive performance, but this isn't really a thriller,  and I was never worried about the outcome of the story. It's more interesting and moving and less exciting and thrilling.

This photo does not show how BRIGHT the outside glow was!
There's a surprising amount of skepticism and paranoia of our secretive government in the films of Steven Spielberg. As a child of the Cold War and as a post-Watergate filmmaker, Close Encounters is not just a wondrous Watch The Skies effects showcase, it's also a government coverup conspiracy thriller. E.T. is full of children and wonder, but also the unnamed spooks who chase E.T. through the woods, then surveil and invade the family home. The warehouse at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark (and the beginning of Crystal Skull) in Area 51! And of course Minority Report's view of government oversight into our lives reaches nightmare levels.
Bridge of Spies is a Cold War movie and a Red Scare movie. It would have been easy to wander around the era. That movie would have become a panoramic History of The Cold War, but instead we learn about this complicated chapter of American patriotism, politics, and diplomacy while keeping a tight focus on one story in that era.
It's not novel to say Tom Hanks is a good actor, but he's really terrific in this movie. From the opening scene where we learn what a strong negotiator and persuasive speaker he is, to his saavy assessment of his counterparts, to his relentless stubborness, this is Hanks' most distinctive character in a long time.
Spielberg is a master filmmaker, but three items distacted me. Three items which are clearly intended by Spielberg:

  • Heavenly Glow: many scenes include Janusz Kaminski's trademark overpowering sunlight "blowing out" the windows. The gazy, heavenly style has pervaded Spielberg films since Minority Report - I feel he verged into self-parody in Catch Me If You Can - but it's simply distracting now. The prison interview scenes between Donovan and Abel look like a humidifier is running full blast, misting the characters every minute.
  • Wide Screen Lenses - I am not a camera expert, but when camera lenses are especially "wide", you can view an entire room from wall to wall without turning the camera. In Bridge Of Spies, I repeatedly noticed the lenses were so wide, the entire room was in frame, AND the vertical lines at the edges of the screen were curved with a "fisheye" effect. I should not be thinking about the cinematography!
  • Telling Not Showing - this one is minor, but Spielberg communicates so well with images, I get annoyed when he drives points home with words. Francis Gary Powers and his fellow airmen are briefed by a CIA spook in a motel room. When the spook leaves, the camera pans past the motel's neon sign which fills the whole screen MOTEL. We saw the MOTEL sign through the window earlier, why are you rubbing our faces in it now?
Several times Spielberg uses title cards: BROOKLYN, BERLIN, and so on, that are marginally necessary. If the audience can't tell where we are without a title card, AND they have to know where they are to understand the movie, you're not doing your job!
My Stub Hubby grade: B minus.
(Somerville Theater)

October 30, 2015

House On Haunted Hill (1959)

Randomly watched the 1959 William Castle screamer House on Haunted Hill with Vincent Price for Halloween. There are some legitimate scares in this movie, but I bet it's much better on a movie screen, the medium it was designed for. It was also a brisk 75 minutes! Worth checking out if watched in the dark with friends, or on a movie theater screen.
(Amazon Instant Video)

October 10, 2015

Guys Movie Night: The Martian

I thoroughly enjoyed The Martian. A great "hard" science fiction movie with an extremely light touch. Also the first funny Ridley Scott movie? I am a big fan of Scott- Alien, Blade Runner, and Gladiator are among my favorite movies - but his movies tend to the epic length, and solemn tone. I would never have guessed he helmed this breezy, brisk, and fun movie.
This XKCD comic made the observation that The Martian is the "fix the air filter" puzzle from Apollo 13 expanded into a whole movie, and that's true, but what's also true is that Ridley Scott has managed to make a easy breezy movie that makes Apollo 13 look like a grim, terrifying Holocaust film by comparison.

Matt Damon deserves at least equal credit for setting the tone of the film- he is alone for 99% of the film, so Damon the actor is the key to the tone of the film. His video diary entries charmed the whole audience. (The trailers imply he talks to NASA via video-conference call, but that never happens.)
My Stub Hubby Grade: A!
(Landmark Embassy Cinemas Waltham, with Adam, George, and Jon Moran)
Stub Hubby Reviews Ridley Scott

September 23, 2015

Black Mass

Solid crime drama, the Boston locations were top-notch, and Depp was scary and compelling as the sociopath / serial murderer Whitey Bulger. All the Boston accents were good, but Benedict Cumberbatch delivered an amazing Boston accent. Depp is very talented, but that doesn't make him a pale Irish-American with blue eyes and white hair: Depp's heavy makeup and contact lenses were distracting and weird. (AMC Burlington with Adam; I never got the new deluxe seat adjusted quite right this time.)

Stub Hubby Reviews The Depressing Boston Film Festival

August 31, 2015

153 Froghorn

"What's tall and green and loud and hops?"
  1. "The Electric Co." I finally saw U2 for the first time in July (see photo) and this was their opening song. I subsequently listened to Boy all the way through. I appreciate their early mix of punk energy and New Wave romanticism.
  2. "A-Punk" Vampire Weekend more fast-paced guitar rock.
  3. "Lovers Jamboree" Nick Lowe I'm going to put a Nick Lowe or Dave Edmunds song on every playlist until my head explodes.
  4. "Hey Hey" [unplugged] Eric Clapton I think I listened to this CD every day in 1993.
  5. "Budapest" George Ezra I am fascinated by this song- it's half folk/blues mellowness, but also the singing has a Roy Orbison/Elvis Presley vibe. I carefully picked the songs before and after "Budapest" in order to best frame that dichotomy.
  6. "(Marie's The Name Of) His Latest Flame" Elvis Presley this Top Ten hit single, with its strident acoustic guitar riff, seemed a good fit.
  7. "My Love Will Not Let You Down" This Bruce Springsteen tune from the Born In The U.S.A. sessions is prominently featured in the film Rikki & The Flash. (From the 1972-1992 Tracks box set, )
  8. "There Goes Another Love Song" The Outlaws I've been going heavy on the 1970s rock lately, especially focusing on bands who I have overlooked in the past.
  9. "Abracadabra (Have You Seen Her?)" Blue Ash: a one-hit Power Pop wonder.
  10. "Ruby" Kaiser Chiefs yes I am being too clever with these three songs...
  11. "Ruby Baby" The Drifters (I almost picked the Donald Fagen cover for track 11)
  12. "Baby" Brandy ...but it isn't too clever if it still works!
  13. "I Love You" Climax Blues Band another 70s band I never noticed when I was becoming a rock and roll fan.
  14. "Find Your Way Back" Jefferson Starship a tremendously uncool song. Another song from this LP was played at a Sox game this summer, which inspired me to track this one down.
  15. "Feeling That Way" A good Journey song that didn't make it onto the Greatest Hits CD.
  16. "Bargain" The Who I think I listened to the Who's Next cassette (that I stole from a stranger's house party) every day in 1990.
  17. "Impossible Germany" I just bought the Wilco tour documentary DVD Ashes of American Flags; with my purchase I was granted a license to download the MP3s of the concert performances. A sweet bonus!
  18. "Here Comes My Girl" [Live] Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers from the Tom Petty Live Anthology
  19. "How Does It Feel To Be Back" I am getting into the Daryl Hall & John Oates deep album cuts, including this track with John Oates on lead vocals.
  20. "Don't Dream It's Over" Crowded House I love this song, but I didn't quite stick the landing on this playlist.
  21. "Jamaican Rock" Monty Norman; one of the Jamaican songs from the soundtrack album to the James Bond movie Dr. No.

August 13, 2015

The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies

Truly awful. Peter Jackson has lost sight of what made his Lord of the Rings movies so magical, and has become bogged down in battles for their own sake with no emotional dimension...and no connection with the Tolkien stories.
Smaug the dragon dies 12 minutes into this three-hour beast.  The remainder of the movie is devoted to the five armies of the title crashing into each other in a CGI mishmash. Jackson has invented all of the villains and monster characters in this movie, and scores of Laketown humans, and the Tauriel love triangle. The 'return of Sauron' arc which stretches across all three Hobbit movies has also been invented in an attempt to more fully prequel-ize these films. Yes, the novel has a battle for the elf mountain at the end of the book, but this is like taking a child's tee shirt, ripping open the seams, and sewing in massive panels of new fabric to fit a 300 pound man. The tag may still say "3T" but it's not for a toddler anymore. Much more than Hobbit 1 and Hobbit 2, Battle of the Five Armies has been bloated to justify a third feature film, when a very pleasant family adventure could have been produced for the entire novel in three hours or less.
As a devout fan of the Lord of the Rings movies - I own all three theatrical and extended editions on DVD - I was shocked to find myself fingering the Stop button halfway through this movie. There's only so many ways you can battle Orcs before I've seen it all. On this blog I called An Unexpected Journey "Very good but flabby" and when reviewing Desolation of Smaug, conceded I was ready for the movie to be over after two hours, but this third installment never had me in the first place.

August 12, 2015

Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation

I watched a five-quel and a six-quel this week:
Rogue Nation is another quality thriller from the Tom Cruise Consistency Machine. Jack Reacher was a little bit fascist, Oblivion was derivative, and Knight & Day didn't make a lick of sense, but the word I'd use to describe his average action thriller is dependable. The action scenes are airtight, if sometimes too unbelievable (no one can hold their breath that long.) The riverside cafe confrontation, and the final chase/battle across the streets of London were the cleverest part of the movie.
  • Rebecca Ferguson is terrific as a double agent...or is she a triple agent? She's practically the co-lead of the movie - she has much more to do than Jeremy Renner - and thankfully, her romance with Tom Cruise is kept to a minimum.
  • Simon Pegg has been promoted to third banana, and his character has a dramatic arc!
  • Jeremy Renner has nothing to do in this movie except let the plot points pivot around him. He has no action scenes, he's turned into a boring boss!
  • Ving Rhames is also only in half the movie, but he looks damn fine in his caramel brown jacket + hat...
  • Alec Baldwin is the director of the CIA, which is a nice touch for the original Jack Ryan. I wish his character were slightly more clever and slightly less a political animal. It would be possible to make his character as clever as Ethan Hunt, but always two steps behind. As it is, I was disappointed watching his character slowly connect the dots.
My two major gripes- the villain was creepy looking but his plans were boring, and Ethan Hunt's motivations for his impossible plans seem more reckless and illogical than ever. I have to agree with the Senate panel at the beginning of the movie that believes most of the IMFs success is due more to luck than talent.


August 8, 2015

Shaun The Sheep Movie

A big surprising disappointment. The animated children's show is easily the best and most enjoyable kids show I watch with my son: from the Aardman team that created Wallace & Gromit and Chicken Run, each Shaun The Sheep story is 6-8 minutes long, with no dialog, featuring the adventures of a flock of misbehaving sheep and their clueless owner on his little farm in the English countryside. How did they go wrong? They strayed from the formula that made Shaun The Sheep so endearing- the farmer gets amnesia and moves to London, and the flock goes to the big city to find him and rescue him. As a result, all the characters are removed from the farm for most of the movie, and the sheep are separated from the farmer for almost the whole thing. Don't mess with success, I say. I am amazed that a show that my son and I have enjoyed for many years was adapted into a movie that my son didn't like all that much and he hasn't asked to see it again. Oh well. Stub Hubby grade: C

July 27, 2015

How To Train Your Dragon

Our five-year-old son is now catching up with the best PG movies from recent years, so we're finally seeing this 2010 movie in 2015. Terrific fun movie, my five-year-old son is now obsessed with it. Pixar gets all the cachet, but Dreamworks deserves a lot of credit for making a terrific kids movie with spectacular imagery, that parents can stomach too. I liked this movie a thousand times better than Brave, for example. (Amazon Instant Video, then I bought the DVD/Blu-Ray combo)
Dad Goggles: I've now watched most of this movie, mostly paying attention, during three different screenings in our living room.

July 26, 2015

Trainwreck

A terrific comedy and unflinching look at a woman coming to grips with her trainwreck life, Amy Schumer pulls no punches in this funny yet heartfelt film. Easily Judd Apatow's best movie...perhaps tied with The Forty-Year-Old Virgin. I truly enjoyed it but the women in the theater loved loved loved it. (Somerville Theater Screen 1)

July 25, 2015

Kingsman: The Secret Service

A fun, light, but action-packed and occasionally overly violent spy thriller, and intensely English all at the same time. A refreshing change from the current mode of dark and humorless spy movies (Bourne & Bond) this movie deliberately sets a different course. I appreciated that this movie makes no concessions to please American audiences, its Englishness adds tons of character where a more "generic" feel would have been boring.
The plot structure is similar to the first Men In Black movie- seasoned veteran recruits a untested rookie to possibly join a secret spy group, except in Kingsman: The Secret Service, the rookie testing/training is a full "A" plotline that spans the first two acts of the film. The other "A" plot is another billionaire Internet genius (Samuel L. Jackson) attempting to pull off a very Bond-ian eugenics scheme.
I was very happy to see Colin Firth having a good time in a movie like this; newcomer Taron Egerton is slyly charming as the low-class rookie; and Jackson is refreshingly light as a villain, he doesn't show any menace even when he's plotting genocide. If you'd like to see the Bond films return to the humor and lightness of the Roger Moore years, but retain a modern sleekness, check it out. (Amazon Instant Video)

July 24, 2015

Ex Machina

A provocative and thrilling mind game that will crush all your hope for humanity in general, and men in particular. A brilliant Internet billionaire (Oscar Isaac) is attempting to perfect a sentient robot that also fulfills his womb envy urges. He summons one of his programmers to interview her, but no one can be trusted, and nothing is as it seems.
This movie stuck with me for days afterwards. Ex Machina is a variant of the movie A.I. if Kubrick had made it without Spielberg- full of unsettling imagery and completely without sentiment. You can also see it as a sexualized Frankenstein movie, or an even bleaker Pinocchio. Strongly recommended, but be prepared to have all your feminist buttons pushed. PS: No one has sex with the robots in the movie. (Amazon Instant Video)