April 9, 2017

What We Do In The Shadows

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

April 8, 2017

Ghost In The Shell

This movie owes everything to The Matrix, Blade Runner, and Akira. What does it contribute to this genre besides terrific special effects and Scarlett Johansson?
There are some germs of good ideas here, but they don't go anywhere. I'd sum this up as a workmanlike leveraging of a well-known property, with a bankable movie star attached, financed through half a dozen global sources (I think I saw five production company or studio logos at the opening) with the ultimate goal to sell the feature to world audience.
Indeed, this does not resemble an American movie in any way and any success in the American market feels like a secondary concern to the producers. I don't have a problem with this - another action movie filled with white male Americans is tedious! Shell only includes two or three white men in speaking roles!
Based on all the TV commercials I only planned to see this on home video, but on this particular weekend I needed to get out of the house...and I couldn't find a showtime for Kong: Skull Island. My Stub Hubby grade: C-minus.

March 17, 2017

Logan

Really impressive finale to Hugh Jackman's Wolverine. Equal parts twilight Western and "government baddies chasing mutants to steal their powers", Jackman is lucky to be able to say farewell on his own terms.
My Stub Hubby Grade: A-minus.
Logan answers the hard, uncomfortable questions about mutants: when there are no battles left to fight, isn't it a curse to be an indestructible superman? What happens to the most dangerous brain on Earth when Professor Xavier loses control of his mind? Isn't the priceless power of mutants too tempting for exploitation of children? The previous X-Men movies touched on these ideas but this film dwells on these ideas. The R-rating allows us to see simply chilling footage of child mutants being exploited (much more explicitly than in X-Men: The Last Stand).
Thanks to the R rating we get to see what Wolverine can really do with his claws. Also, there's lots of cursing!
Jackman, Patrick Stewart, and young actress Dafne Keen were all great. I was pleasantly surprised to find Richard E. Grant as the lead mutant researcher/exploiter, and Stephen Merchant is an interesting choice as an albino mutant helping Xavier and Logan in the Mexico desert. The lead hunter for the government baddies is played by Boyd Holbrook: he's got plenty of charisma, and he's smart enough to not underestimate Logan, but we know next to nothing about him except he respects the X-Men.
Showcase Cinemas Woburn with Adam on St. Patrick's Day

February 28, 2017

How To Prevent Oscar Envelope Screwups

I've been watching the Academy Awards for over 25 years. Every year they make a show of ensuring us that the results are carefully tabulated and protected by some very boring-looking accountants in tuxedos with briefcases.
I've always understood that these accountants are like the Secret Service of the Oscars: if the wrong person is presented with an award, they'll leap onstage to catch the bullet like Clint Eastwood in In The Line of Fire and correct the error.

The worst-case scenario happened this year, but the accountants acted too slowly.

Price Waterhouse Coopers has been counting votes and handing out award envelopes for over 80 years, and Sunday night's "biggest screwup in Oscars history" (The Hollywood Reporter) shows that PWC has gotten lazy, and made too many concessions to convenience at the expense of security.
Giving the Oscar to the wrong Best Picture is the biggest mistake they could commit. Letting the mistake happen, then not correcting it for a few minutes is cruel to the actual winners and the mistakenly announced winners too.
In the wake of this catastrophe, I am sure PWC and the Academy will make corrections to their processes. Here are my ideas to better secure their system:

One briefcase only: whether they print two sets of envelopes for redundancy or stage convenience, two sets of envelopes made this error possible.
This comprehensive WaPo story details how PWC goes to great lengths to ensure the envelopes make it to the theater on time. If one accountant's car gets stuck in traffic or hit by a meteor, they're covered, but do two accountants on each side of the stage make the results more secure? It may be less convenient to have only one set of envelopes, but it would prevent this error from occurring.

If you must have two briefcases: Warren Beatty was supposed to present the Best Picture award, but he was given the duplicate Best Actress envelope (Emma Stone had just received the award a few minutes earlier.) Why did the PWC accountant still have that duplicate envelope? While each award is presented onstage, the PWC accountant could:
  • Open the duplicate envelope offstage,
  • Confirm the onstage presentation and the duplicate envelope match,
  • Then shred the duplicate envelope to guarantee it doesn't get given to Warren Beatty in error.

Note the category Best Picture
in small text at the bottom.
Layout of the award card: Award winners traditionally keep the card (and their statuette) and the design of the card seems to make concessions to aesthetics over clarity. To help prevent errors, they should redesign the card:
  • The category "Best Picture", or "Best Actress in a Leading Role", and so on should be in large type at the top, not in attractive small italics at the bottom (see photo).
  • Awards for acting should not include the name of the movie. I have not seen a photo of her card, but apparently the Best Actress card said
    EMMA STONE "LA LA LAND"
    This may seem excessive, but if the card had just said
    BEST ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE EMMA STONE,
    perhaps Faye Dunaway would not have blurted out "La La Land!" off the card.
Pick award presenters under 75 years old (or at least make them wear their reading glasses!)
This might sound harsh and ageist, but Best Picture presenters Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway are 79 and 76 years old. Beatty was clearly confused by reading the wrong card and did not ask for help, he simply passed the buck to Dunaway, who thought he was playing the moment for fun and did not seem to know anything was wrong.

A combination of some or all of these remedies would have prevented this screwup. Let's hope the Oscars can be presented without another hitch for another 89 years.

February 21, 2017

The Best Batman Movie?

Reading this Tweet yesterday I had a revelation:
I realized The Lego Batman Movie might be the best Batman movie, period.

Before I saw this hilarious brick movie, my #1 Batman movie was The Dark Knight. TDK is a great superhero movie, but it seems impossible to compare The Dark Knight to The Lego Batman Movie. How can you compare a movie that "explores the psychological motivation of the heroes and villains of the Batman comic books with an exciting postmodern, 21st century perspective" to a "funny, silly, heartwarming" movie where Robin fights bad guys with Gymkata?

That's when I realized that your answer to "what's the best Batman movie" depends on what kind of superhero movie is en vogue at the moment. The gritty superhero movie trend, begun with Batman Begins 12 years ago, was a necessary course correction after the campy Batman movies of the 90s. However, the trend has gone on long enough. The latest gritty superhero movie, Batman v Superman, "bombastic and glacially paced", was the last nail in the coffin.

How do I know gritty superhero movies are dead? My favorite superhero movies of the last few years are light and funny: Guardians of the Galaxy and DeadpoolThe Lego Batman Movie makes three funny and light superhero movies in a row.

So my new answer to the question "What's the best Batman movie is The Lego Batman Movie,  because my favorite kind of superhero movie right now are the light and fun superhero movies.

February 18, 2017

John Wick Chapter 2

John Wick 2 truly f**king DELIVERED. They broke new ground, saw stuff I've never seen before:
  • Killing two guys with a pencil 
  • Reloading a shotgun while pressing the barrel against a guy's chest, then shooting him with it 
The sold out crowd loved it and was also amazed at the stunts. It's hard to describe their reactions.
Hard to believe it's been two years since I rented the original?
Moviegoing Notes
So many movies ignore all the times a gunman would need
to reload: Wick turns reloading into an integral part of
the action!
This is only the third time I've ever seen a sequel in the theater without seeing the original in the theater too. That's often the hallmark of a home video success:
  • For example, Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery did not sell a lot of tickets but became a smash hit on VHS and DVD. I first saw that film on home video (I did see it at the Brattle Theater in 1999 after its sequel came out.)
  • Twice I've seen sequels in the theater because friends wanted to go out; I've never seen Legally Blonde, but I saw Legally Blonde 2: Red, White, and Blonde with my friend Michelle in 2003.
  • When I was 19 I saw The Godfather Part III with a bunch of high school friends...even though I hadn't seen the first two movies yet.
There are other cases besides Godfather III where the original came out when I was too young to see it in the theater (e.g., The Terminator, Alien, Beverly Hills Cop). I'm not counting those because I didn't have the opportunity to see them in the theater.

February 16, 2017

Talked a Little While About The Year

Oftentimes the bulk of a playlist will be composed all at once and little revisions trail off for weeks. This playlist was created for the end of 2016, but I kept adding and dropping songs through the winter.
  1. "January Hymm" The Decemberists
  2. "Goose Snow Cone" Aimee Mann
  3. "Can't Hardly Wait" Justin Townes Earle
  4. "Pack Up" Eliza Doolittle
  5. "My Baby Blue" John Hiatt & The Goners
  6. "The Ballad of Jesse James" Bruce Springsteen Band
  7. "Barrel of a Gun" [live] Guster
  8. "Behind the Wall of Sleep" The Smithereens
  9. "Quiet Corners & Empty Spaces" The Jayhawks
  10. "A Long December" Counting Crows
  11. "I Can't Turn You Loose" Otis Redding
  12. "I Need Never Get Old" Nathaniel Ratecliff & The Night Sweats
  13. "Pain" De La Soul feat/Snoop Dogg
  14. "Electric Feel" MGMT
  15. "Where Is My Mind?" The Pixies
  16. "Dr Heckyll & Mr Jive" Men At Work
  17. "Dearly Departed" Shakey Graves feat/Esme Patterson
  18. "Sleepwalk" The Brian Setzer Orchestra

February 11, 2017

The Lego Batman Movie

The Lego Batman Movie is funny, silly, with legit action sequences, amazing pop culture cameos, and it's about something too!
Just as much fun as The Lego Movie, nearly as heartwarming, with plenty of adult jokes to keep us parents entertained too. Michael Cera is a standout as Robin, Zach Galifinakis is great as the needy, petulant Joker, and Ralph Fiennes is perfectly dry as Alfred the butler.
Stub Hubby Grade: A minus; if only I could buy the DVD while walking out of the theater to watch it again at home!
Belmont Studio Cinema with Hawkeye and Bella and her dad

January 28, 2017

Hidden Figures

A wonderful untold story of three ambitious black lady nerds who perservere through cultural and workplace racism and sexism to advance and contribute to America's space program of the early 60s.
While all businesses hold profit, success, and results over all other considerations, engineering and mathematics are special in that quantifying success is, erm, black and white. If you can deliver the right numbers the fastest, you are valued.
Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer), and Mary Jackson (Janelle MonĂ¡e) all defeat the low expectations of their white peers and bosses, and transcend totally unfair double standards to follow their professional goals in a workplace where only white men in skinny ties have achieved before.
These three leads have tons of charm and chemistry on offer as their characters boost each other up, while maintaining their dignity in the face of deep seated racism and sexism, mostly served with a dumb smile or a cold shoulder. The supporting cast was solid too:
  • Kirsten Dunst was terrific as the ladies' supervisor and blonde ceiling to advancement. This is the first grown-up role I've seen her in, and she's made the jump well in a thankless role.
  • Speaking of thankless, Jim Parsons made a small leap to play a closed-off math nerd who heaps work on Katherine, and serves as the inflexible face of white guy privilege. Not much different than his role on Big Bang Theory, he get a few laughs here and there, and his character only warms to Katherine in the last moments of the movie.
  • Kevin Costner was solid as the exasperated head of the nerds, continually focused on results above all other considerations, also, looking great at 61 (he turned 62 two weeks ago, the day after my birthday. Funny he played a washed-up ballplayer...28 years ago!)
  • Polish actor Olek Krupa brings plenty of color as Mary's engineering colleague, although their arc feels like it was mostly left on the cutting room floor.
Overall a charming and earnest film, essential if only to demonstrate to white folk that they've been taking their privilege for granted for too long; everyone else has to work wayy harder for even a chance at the same opportunities.
My Stub Hubby Grade: B-plus. Bonus points for Taraji P. Henson, so broad and loud as Cookie on Empire, completely transformed in this role, she deserved an Oscar nomination way more than Octavia Spencer. I loved Henson's trot/walk as she hurried across campus from her desk to the toilets and back. Her gait alone deserves a nomination.
We'll be back next month for The Lego Batman Movie!

Theater Notes: Emily went to see Hidden Figures January 9 with the ladies and came home with a strong recommendation, so when I had some free babysitting lined up three weeks (and three Oscar nominations) later, I headed to the Capitol Theater to catch the 7:15pm show...but it was sold out. I quickly discovered it was playing at the Belmont Studio Cinema an hour later, so I headed back there, bought a ticket 45 minutes in advance, then retreated to my car across the street to listen to Bruce Springsteen on the WTF podcast. Around 7:45pm I entered the overflowing scrum in the theater's tiny lobby. Turns out the 5:45 show hadn't let out yet. The crowd was excited and energized- a bunch of people around me had never been to the Studio Cinema before! The theater seating was recently upgraded, with a whole row of upholstered sofa-style seating, and small tables interspersed through some rows. I hope the sleeper success of Hidden Figures boosts the reputation and attendance of the Studio Cinema in the future!
ALSO At the Studio Cinema
The crowd waiting for the previous show to let out
spilled onto the sidewalk
Turns out I have been to the Studio Cinema nine times in nine years, but five of those visits were in the last year, so it's likely the pace will continue to rise. The cinema was closed for five months in 2015 for safety reasons, putting a dent in my opportunities and interest in attending!



January 19, 2017

She's All That

Searching for some pre-Inauguration escapist entertainment, we scrolled through the Amazon Prime Comedy Movies and stopped on She's All That. I'd never seen it before but Emily said it was surprisingly good - she described it as "like a poor man's Clueless".
It was pretty funny - a 1999 teenage rewrite of Pygmalion, or a reboot of Pretty In Pink without the love triangle - I had a pleasant time watching it. The script was good, the performances were fine. Sometimes the camera would linger on Freddie Prinze Jr or Rachael Leigh Cook and I wouldn't be exactly sure what their characters were supposed to be thinking? Does that mean the acting is bad or the directing...or both? Emily explained that one of the reasons the movie is successful is because - like the Twilight books and movies - the protagonist girl is a blank slate that girls can project themselves onto?
I'm going to pin the blame on the director- the film was full of clunky, pedestrian, or cliche camera moves. When the guys are making their bet and looking for a dorky enough girl to wager on, I thought to myself "when they spot Laney she's going to drop all her art supplies in the hallway, or stumble through a doorway and BINGO I guess I win the bet.
Matthew Lillard was great as the vain douchbag star of The Real World. It's kind of bizarre that Prinze's second-fiddle wingman is Paul Walker? Prinze is supposed to be the dreamboat jock prom king, but he's a skinny pencilneck geek compared to the broad-shouldered, tan and handsome Walker. It would have made a lot more sense if they'd switched roles? As for the adults, Kevin Pollak brings some life to his scenes- he clearly made up all his jokes, but you don't hire Kevin Pollak to just read his lines, right? There's barely two other adult speaking roles- Tim Matheson is playing his character from Animal House 20 years later, and there's exactly ONE schoolteacher in the whole movie, and zero scenes inside classrooms (except Laney's art studio).
It reminded me of watching Pulp Fiction in 1994 and wondering if any police were ever going to show up (they never do) - just because the characters are high schoolers at school, doesn't mean anything important happens in class.
NOTE: Anna Paquin is terrific casting as Prinze's sister, but I wonder if she whispers through all her roles? Do they have to use extra-sensitive microphones to capture her dialog?

January 17, 2017

Rogue One (IMAX 3D)

I enjoyed seeing it a second time. I picked up some details, including Mon Mothma obliquely asking Bail Organa (aka Space Jimmy Smits) about Obi Wan Kenobi; and an implausible Wampa appearance in Jedha City. (the name Jedha City is too close to Jetta City for me; I wanted them to travel to the Passat System to see Senator Touraeg next.)
My eyes were not watering from the 3D viewing experience, but I still maintain that 3D is an overpriced boondoggle that does not add much value.
(AMC Assembly Row, with Jon & Bobbi for my birthday!)

January 15, 2017

Sing

Very nice movie about a singing competition. Who knew Matthew McConaguhey could be so charming? He was great in Kubo & The Two Strings (which Hawkeye and I saw in this same theater in September) and he's charming again here.
Arlington Capitol Theater, Screen 5

January 7, 2017

The Secret Life of Pets

My boy + the birthday girl!
At a seven year old's birthday party we were supposed to see SING but the projector was broken, so they showed The Secret Life of Pets instead, and all was well in the land. The kids also really enjoyed the 50-year-old Tom & Jerry short before the movie began.
(with my boy and many other first graders, while a snowstorm began outside the Studio Cinema Belmont)

January 1, 2017

159 Pre-Holiday Hangover

  1. "Unused Piano: Quadrophenia" Pete Townshend
  2. "All Across This Land" Blitzen Trapper
  3. "My Kinda Lover" Billy Squier
  4. "Cynical Girl" Marshall Crenshaw
  5. "Whisper Softly" Myracle Brah
  6. "Secret Separation" The Fixx
  7. "The Fitted Shirt" Spoon
  8. "I Can Dream About You" Daryl Hall & John Oates
  9. "80s Mercedes" Maren Morris
  10. "Everyday Is A Winding Road" Sheryl Crow
  11. "Lover Come Back" City & Colour
  12. "Nobody's Fault But Mine" Led Zeppelin
  13. "Busy Earnin'" Jungle
  14. "Man on the Corner" Genesis
  15. "Now It's On" Grandaddy
  16. "Alone" Pretenders
  17. "Queen of Hearts" Juice Newton
  18. "Telephone Road" Steve Earle
  19. "She Goes Out with Everybody" The Spongetones
  20. "Shakin'" Eddie Money
  21. "Regret" New Order

Year in Review 2016

Going to a classic movie on a first date, just like me and my wife!
I went to the movies 17 times in 2016, not a bad total for my parenting years! A nice batch of great movies too- here's my Top Ten, in order:
  1. Deadpool is laugh-out-loud funny and a welcome relief after too many grim comic book movies (like Civil War and Dawn of Justice)
  2. Kubo & The Two Strings: stunning, thoughtful, and mysterious not-quite-for-kids movie. 
  3. Manchester By The Sea is heartwrenching and moving, and perfectly captures the personality and landscape of the North Shore.
  4. La La Land: a very bouncy yet melancholy music romance. Ryan and Emma have ALL THE CHEMISTRY
  5. Moana has good music, and the young woman takes charge and saves the world despite the help from the demigod.
  6. Arrival is my favorite kind of Alien-First-Contact movie. Mind-bending conclusion that will leave you thinking.
  7. Fantastic Beasts & Where to Find Them: more magical world-building from the mind of JK Rowling!
  8. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is a perfectly crafted espionage/war film that clicks in nicely just before A New Hope.
  9. The Secret Life Of Pets: I've seen it three times this year and it's still funny and charming. I love Jenny Slate's Gidget!
  10. The BEATLES Eight Days A Week: The Touring Years may be the best of many Beatles documentaries I've seen, maybe because Ron Howard devotes all his energy (and budget) on just the touring life of the Fab Four. Indispensable for any rock fan.