July 7, 2017

Baby Driver

I hoped and expected to love this movie.
I am a big fan of Edgar Wright, and I enjoy fast driving heist movies, so Baby Driver should have been a slam dunk.
Something about the movie just didn't click with me.
Maybe the movie is too self-indulgent? Wright has always tightly integrated pop and rock music into his movies, in a deeply thoughtful Scorsese method, but this obsession with music-as-soundtrack is foregrounded here. Baby listens to music on his earbuds all day long, and literally choreographs his getaways to specific songs.
The title walk-dance-lip sync sequence (perhaps an homage to Shaun's walk to the shop for a Cornetto in Shaun of the Dead?) isn't as charming as Wright hopes it will be.
My other problem with Baby Driver is Baby- he's an essentially passive protagonist, entangled with a Mob boss who won't let him quit driving.
Ironically the guy who specializes in escaping from crime scenes cannot escape from his career as a getaway driver. It was hard to emotionally engage with such a lame hero who's escape plan includes saying "no" a couple of times, glowering, and sneaking away in the middle of the night.
Maybe I would have liked it better if it were funnier- it was easily the least comic project I've seen from Edgar Wright yet, and I did not find the gun battles, fight scenes, or car chases as innovative as I hoped for.
(Somerville Theater Screen 1, by myself because the sitter fell through)

July 4, 2017

Cars 3

Thanks to my son Hawkeye's obsession with vehicles, I may have seen Cars 1 more than any other Pixar movie. He likes Ratatouille, Nemo, Toy Story 1, and Bug's Life too, but there was a time when Cars 1 was his favorite. He doesn't watch it much anymore- thankfully that phase has passed - but I learned to hate Cars 1 a few years ago, which wasn't hard because it was my lowest-ranked Pixar movie from the first time I saw it. (I truly despised Cars 2, but thankfully I only saw it once.)
So I was not thrilled to see Cars 3 on Independence Day, but taking my son to the movies is a sweet Dad Job so I was still happy to do it.
Cars 3 surprised me. It's got a great heart, some surprises at the end, and it's visually gorgeous, easily the best-looking Pixar movie yet. It's not great moviemaking like Ratatouille, Nemo, The Incredibles, or Toy Story 2, but Cars 3 is better than Cars 1, and can stand on its own too. You could see it without seeing Cars 1 with no problems - they pretend Cars 2 never happened and you should too!
My Stub Hubby Grade: B-plus.
Moviegoing Notes: My son Hawkeye is seven and a half, so he's old enough that I take him to the movies regularly now. This is skewing my movie-going history, not in a bad way per se.
I've been to the movies about 800 times in the last quarter century, but this is only the fifth time I've seen a sequel in a movie theater unless I saw the original in the theater too. This is only the second time I've seen a Part 3 in the theater without seeing Part 1 or 2 in the theater first.



June 6, 2017

Wonder Woman

Only two complaints- I wish her gauntlets were gold instead of silver; and
I wish her headband pointed up. I feel like they turned it upside-down
only to make it different from the Linda Carter-era design.
Finally, a Wonder Woman movie.
After a dozen Batman and Superman movies, five or six Spider-Men, and far too many movies for superheroes no one's ever heard of (let's face it, before the movies, no one cared about Green Lantern, Iron Man, Ant Man, or the Guardians of the Galaxy), Diana Prince is kicking ass on the big screen.
Gal Godot is perfect. She's strong, confident, uncompromising; she takes orders from no man, she doesn't care what anyone thinks, while also being naive and emotional about the existence of pain, evil, and corruption in the world.
She's also stunning, and I appreciate that all the men in the world turn their heads at her beauty.
The fighting sequences are very good, even if some of the slo-mo moments with Diana in mid-air are kind of passe these days.
Gadot and Chris Pine have good chemistry too. I don't know if Pine is ever going to be a great actor, but he reminds me of Robert Redford or Pierce Brosnan - a journeyman whose good looks have elevated his career.
The story is no great shakes - it's very reminiscent of Captain America's origin story movie The First Avenger. Maybe this should have been called Wonder Woman: The First Justice Leaguer?
At one point early in the film, Diana is in midair, sword and shield in hand, determined look on her face, I thought to myself: I want more movies like this. Movies where women are in charge, where they're not thinking about men, where they are certain and unafraid. I was sad that we get so few of them.
A few years ago Entertainment Weekly published a feature about why there was no Wonder Woman movie yet, and the story theorized and quoted various sources to try to explain the challenges behind bringing Diana to the big screen. This 2017 movie makes all those excuses seem pathetic. It's almost too easy to make the Wonder Woman origin movie just like any contemporary superhero movie. In a more recent EW story, they credit the success of the Hunger Games franchise - led by a headstrong, independent woman, Katniss Everdeen - for demolishing the myth that "young men won't go see a movie with a female hero". Perhaps we can blame simple sluggishness from the DC Comics empire: DC has iconic the Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, and Green Lantern characters, but they have been outpaced by a well-executed plan by Marvel to turn the Avengers cadre into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. DC is playing catchup and trying to duplicate their success, so Wonder Woman has been waiting around, just like the Flash and Aquaman. Maybe Green Lantern will get another chance too?
Thanks to the Embassy Waltham
for this sign on the theater door!
Theater Notes: I went to see WW alone (Emily's ladies night is Thursday), and I sat next to two women in the last seat in a row. The woman next to me immediately said "way to go, guy, seeing Wonder Woman by himself!" Yes ladies, I am a paragon of enlightened masculinity. Just put me in a leather flight jacket and I can be YOUR Steve Trevor.

June 4, 2017

George McFly: Harmless Poindexter or Stalker with a Secret?

I am a big fan of Back to the Future. I was 13 years old when I saw it in the theater in downtown Chicago with my grandmother while visiting her on vacation. I think it was a theater in a fancy mall downtown? Anyone?
I have seen and loved BTTF many times over the last 30 years, but the way you ingest a movie the first time affects how you understand it for the rest of your life- or maybe most of your life?

When Marty McFly arrives in 1955, he catches his future dad George "peeping" on a woman getting dressed through her upstairs bedroom window.
As far as we know, George is peeping on a random woman in a random house.
Marty sees his dad in a tree, sees the woman through her open window, and connects the dots. "He's a Peeping Tom!" he says to himself.
Thirty years in the future (ha ha) my wife pointed out that it's Lorraine Baines, George's future wife that he's peeping on...but for three decades of fandom I never made that connection on my own, and here's why:

In the following scene, one of the major revelations of the movie is Marty meeting his future mother Lorraine for the "first" time.
In order for that scene to work, we must preserve Marty's surprise at meeting her, and the audience's surprise too, but how do we preserve that surprise if we see George peeping on her in the previous scene?
To preserve the surprise, the two shots of the woman through the bedroom window are from the neck down. We don't see Lorraine's face, and neither does Marty.
After Marty connects the dots, he's hit by a car (driven by his future grandfather). The grandfather exits the car, hollers to his wife offscreen, and the movie fades out.

In order to preserve the surprise (and because it's boring), we don't see that Marty is carried into the same house where the mystery woman lives.
We don't see Marty plunked down into Lorraine's bed.
We don't see that this is the same bedroom George was peeping into earlier.

When the movie fades back in, it's nine hours later, and nighttime, and Marty meets his future mother for the "first" time.

In retrospect, it makes logical sense that the woman George is peeping on is Lorraine, but the movie deliberately obscures this fact to save the big reveal later.

If you assume that the woman George was peeping on was Lorraine, that raises some questions. I gotta watch the movie again assuming George is infatuated with Lorraine and deliberately stalked her to peep on her getting dressed.
If you think too hard about it, it takes some creepy planning and effort for George to schedule his Saturday morning to catch a teenage girl dressing with the shades open. How often had he climbed that tree to be on that branch at the right time?
Lorraine reveals in 1985 that she doesn't know why George was up in that tree that day. She's been married to a man who she thought was a random classmate...before her father hit him with the car. In reality George was peeping on her when he fell out of that tree, got hit by Lorraine's dad, and woke up in the bed of the teenager he's obsessed with!

June 3, 2017

The Running Man

I recently enjoyed an interview with screenwriter Steven DeSouza (Die Hard) who told a hundred great stories and totally illuminated that The Running Man is actually a Solid action screenplay and black satire spoiled by four directors and rock-bottom production value.
The Running Man feels like a cheap "B" movie next to Schwarzenegger's contemporary films with a better director and a bigger budget (like Predator), and cheesy compared to other contemporary movies DeSouza wrote (like Die Hard).
Watching it for the screenplay alone, it's surprisingly biting satire of television. If I were to recommend watching Arnold's 1980s movies, this would rank very low, but it was a pleasant surprise to watch it again and discover dark humor lurking under a cheap exterior.
If you HAVE seen The Running Man, check out this hilarious dissection on the podcast How Did This Get Made?

Passengers

Last August, the first trailers for PASSENGERS had me really excited. I love sci-fi movies about colonizing distant worlds, space arks, hibernation capsules. I enjoy the acting of Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt; they seem to be a good pairing. Michael Sheen as a robot bartender clearly meant to allude to The Shining was an exciting possibility.
Then the reviews, the negative, angry reviews rolled in. Viewers seemed to feel betrayed by the movie, but reluctant to reveal their reasons.
Some kind of reverse lock fell into place. One weekend when I had a night to myself I rented it: I knew that this would not be a boring bad movie.
Even forearmed, I was surprised how much I hated the movie. To be more precise, Lawrence, Pratt, and Sheen deliver terrific performances, but the screenplay is deeply flawed right to the bones. I literally would not have agreed to bankroll any film with this premise. 
It's been decades since I watched a movie so misbegotten I wanted to turn it off and walk away in the middle. I was so mad at the events unfolding that I did turn it off for a moment. If I had been in a theater I may have walked out. After a few fuming moments I turned it back on and watched it through to the end.
Not only was the movie fundamentally flawed, the third act was badly patched and reshot to try and salvage it. I have never "seen the seams" of a repaired screenplay so plainly.
I don't want to spoil the movie, but I wouldn't recommend it either: in all honesty the movie's only value is academic. "Here's an example of a hugely expensive movie with two huge movie stars that was too big to fail, but too bad to succeed." There's also some remarkable performance moments, especially Lawrence, and Sheen's perfectly modulated AI bartender.
Stub Hubby Grade: F.

May 24, 2017

Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2

More of the same, maybe not as good. I know the original was very entertaining and ripe for a series of movies, but I personally didn't really feel the NEED to see more of this group.
Perhaps it's unfair to complain that this movie was more of the same- almost three years ago I called GOTG a "colorful and funny space adventure" and this is equally colorful, funny, and adventurous, but not different. I imagine if they'd released these movies in reverse order, I'd like this movie as much as I liked the original film in 2014. Does that make any sense?
Unfortunately for the movie, I bet it would have been funnier in a full theater, instead of the mostly-empty weeknight at the Belmont Studio Cinema with Adam.

April 26, 2017

Jonathan Demme 1944-2017

Sad to hear of the passing of director Jonathan Demme today. Here's a quick look at his films. I was surprised to find I'd seen six feature films and two concert documentaries:

  • Swing Shift [1984] - I have a fond memory of watching this movie with my mom at home when I was a kid.
  • Stop Making Sense [also 1984] - The best concert film I've ever seen, I didn't actually see it in full until the 2000s.
  • Something Wild [1986] - I saw this at the Brattle Theater once (I have no record of when, and no blog post for it) and I remember it was a oddball ride from silly to screwball to terrifying!
  • Married To The Mob [1988] - I love this screwball romantic comedy. Very shaggy and eccentric, it's bursting with personality. A good-natured jab at Italian-American Long Island gangsters and their wives. (I suspect I saw this at the Brattle too but I'm really unsure.)
  • Silence of the Lambs [1991] - The best and scariest horror movie, period. I didn't see it in the theater; I must have seen it for the first time circa 1993-94?
  • Philadelphia [1993] - powerful stuff. Haven't seen it since I saw it at the long-gone Janus theater in Harvard Square.
  • The Manchurian Candidate [2004] - at the time I called it a "A dark and creepy thriller, with quality performances from top to bottom, a good script and intense direction from Jonathan Demme." but 12 years later I don't remember anything about it.
  • Neil Young: Heart of Gold [2006] - great concert doc. Click the link for my wife's review!
  • Ricki & The Flash [2015] - I didn't see this, but my wife did and she loved it. She couldn't stop talking about it!

April 11, 2017

161 Impossible Marquee

Created in February & March 2017, completed April 11.
  1. Television "MARQUEE MOON" I had heard about this band for many years but never actually heard their songs until 2013, when Wilco put on an amazing "all covers all by request" live show at their Solid Sound festival. Their cover of "Moon" was amazing...and four years later, Television the band is playing that same festival!
  2. Wilco "IMPOSSIBLE GERMANY" The song "Marquee Moon" sounds like it was written for Wilco, as if the current version of Wilco was based on it. This Wilco original embodies that feeling.
  3. Passenger "ANYWHERE"
  4. Chuck Berry "PROMISED LAND" RIP Chuck! Here's the song I first heard covered by Elvis in the movie Men In Black!
  5. The Wild Feathers "THE CEILING"
  6. Level 42 "LESSONS IN LOVE" Back in the late 80s I loved "Something About You" by Level 42, and the singles from their subsequent LP. I bought the "Lessons In Love" cassette single which also featured "Freedom Someday" - these two songs remind me of listening to music on my beloved cassette Walkman in the car while road tripping to Alabama to pick up my brother as he completed Army Basic Training.
  7. The Jam "TOWN CALLED MALICE"
  8. Paul McCartney "MY BRAVE FACE" Paul's Flowers In The Dirt LP is getting a critical reappraisal as it's just been reissued. It's his first album that came out after I became a Beatles fan, and I have some loyalty and nostalgia for it.
  9. Elvis Costello "VERONICA"
  10. ABC "WHEN SMOKEY SINGS" I've been learning to play bits of this song on the piano lately. I love this song!
  11. Martha Reeves & The Vandellas "NOWHERE TO RUN"
  12. Nick Lowe "SO IT GOES" Somehow I have never placed this classic on a playlist before?
  13. Bob Dylan "LIKE A ROLLING STONE" Take 5, Rehearsal (Short Version) I've been learning this song on the piano lately. Very rewarding.
  14. Fleetwood Mac "RHIANNON" I picked out the riff of this song on the piano lately.
  15. Johnny Cash "THE MAN COMES AROUND" The final Wolverine movie LOGAN used Cash's cover of "Hurt" in the trailer, but this is the song that features in the closing credits.
  16. Willie Nelson "THE MAKER"
  17. Nirvana "ALL APOLOGIES" Original Steve Albini 1993 mix; One of the advantages of Spotify is the ability to listen to bonus tracks of special edition reissues...of albums I already own and don't want to buy again just to hear some bonus tracks! The differences between Albini's mixes and Scott Litt's remixes may seem minor today, but Albini was seen as a radio unfriendly producer when "grunge" was a musically political label.

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.

See Also on Stub Hubby \ The Dytopian Action Heroine Collection:

  • Aeon Flux [2005] "The secret history of the last city on Earth is a cool premise which offers limitless possibilities for a cerebral sci-fi examination of self and the human condition, but this potential is squandered on lots and lots of gunfire."
  • Ultraviolet [2006] "A fairly intriguing if cliched two-hour sci-fi shoot-em-up, where half an hour of interesting detail has been edited out"
  • Lucy [2016] "A thinking-person's superhero origin story...without the heroics"


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

160 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.