October 31, 2010

Catching Up On DVD

We're paying for the luxury of Netflix. DVDs sit on our TV for weeks and weeks, unwatched, while we rack up the monthly fees. I am not complaining, but it's very satisfying to check off some "we missed it in the theater" titles. We finally watched three DVDs in a week, and all three provoked strong feelings. This blog is dedicated to meticulously documenting every movie I see in the theater. I usually don't review movies I see at home, but this trio of features are worth a few comments.

(500) Days of Summer Summer the movie (and the woman) flouted all my expectations, and left me confused, angry, and bewildered by the end of the movie. The premise is simple, it's your standard romantic comedy... except Summer (Zooey Deschanel) approaches relationships the way men do with impunity, and her would-be boyfriend Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is the overly romantic antagonist who lets himself get hurt by asking for more than Summer wants to give. I don't know if I was more upset as a man, or as a fan of romantic comedies! The way Summer treats Tom seems cruel, but men act exactly like her in rom-coms all the time. Fair's fair, I guess. I also have to credit the movie for it's clever structure. Plenty of films jump around in time, but (500) Days of Summer uses the 500 days as an odometer of the relationship, and each vignette is prefaced with the appropriate day value. A couple of notes about the music- I have been annoyed by the overly "we're too cool for ourselves" soundtracks on young-adult comedies lately (Juno and Adventureland spring to mind), but (500) does not have that problem- there's some drunken kareoke to "Here Comes Your Man", a nice Bruce Springsteen joke, and a joyous dream-dance sequence set to "You Make My Dreams" by the #1 rock duo of all time, Hall & Oates.

 Shutter Island This is the movie I most wanted to see in the theater, and never made it. Scorsese has made a 1960s style gothic thriller, but the explicit violence towards children, and the many many loose threads of the storytelling spoil any chance of satisfaction for me. I don't insist that mystery movies be solvable before the truth is revealed, but Shutter Island goes in 5 directions at once.

 Paranormal Activity I like scary movies, but I am not interested in explicit gore and torture, which is so popular among the "torture porn" of the Saw/Hostel crew. So when I heard that there was a new creepy horror movie in the mold of The Blair Witch Project, I was eager to check it out. I watched it by myself, alone in the house, with all the lights out. This movie scared the shit out of me. It's a haunted condo horror movie- the couple never leaves their 3BR two-level home for the entire movie. this may be my new standard for claustrophobia. Besides being totally fucking scary without one ounce of blood or one inch of ghosts, it's also a metaphor for bad relationships- Katie is haunted by a demon, and her douche boyfriend of three years Micah never takes her seriously. He actually makes things worse over and over- he felt like a very familiar character; the man whose juvenile ego doesn't know how to manage threats to his authority. When a psychic tells them that negative energy feeds the demon and makes things worse, all she would need to do to be free of the demon is kick her dickish boyfriend out. I have only two complaints; the scary bits are still haunting me, and I wish Katie had shown more confidence instead of pleading for help and resigning herself to her doom for the entire movie.

The next movie on the way from Netflix is sure not to anger or scare me: Hot Tub Time Machine. Let the healing begin!

October 29, 2010

Nowhere Boy

I'm a big Beatles fan, and I have always known that John Lennon had an emotionally turbulent adolescence, but I didn't realize the depth of the emotional stress, and the potential as a heartwrenching drama, until I saw Nowhere Boy. After seeing this movie, you'll have a new-found understanding of why Lennon was such an angry asshole for the whole of the 1960s, and his belated emotional rehabilitation (and image reinvention as a peaceful hippie) from 1969 forwards will make a lot more sense.
Aaron Johnson is terrific as Lennon. He looks enough like him not to be distracting, the accent is authentic, not a Yellow Submarine-style "Liverpool" copycat, and when he wields a classic Lennon cutting remark, the wit feels all too familiar. It's funny in A Hard Day's Night when Lennon is playing himself for laughs, but when he does it in order to make his mother cry, it's heartbreaking.
Only a Beatlemaniac would care about the performances of Lennon's family, so I'll just say that Kristin Scott-Thomas is just how I pictured Lennon's sourpuss-but-loving Aunt Mimi. Anne-Marie Duff plays his mother Julia as a bipolar damaged woman who develops an unhealthy attachment to her estranged teenage son.
As for the rest of the Fab Four, we get to see The Day John Met Paul reenacted (July 6, 1957), which gave me chills, and the day George auditioned for the band, just like I pictured.
Thomas Sangster (last seen as the 11-year-old drummer in Love Actually) looks nothing like Paul McCartney, but he's perfect anyways, with his pink cheeks and skinny fifteen-year-old body. When he auditions for John on "Twenty-Flight Rock", I was convinced. (The kid playing George only has two lines.)
October 23, West Newton Cinema, Screen 4 again, just like Howl ten days earlier.

October 13, 2010


A wild ride through Allen Ginsberg's epic poem, and the obscenity trial which followed. The movie's dialogue is taken completely from three real world sources: the poem itself, read by Ginsberg in a coffeehouse and set to psychedelic animation, James Franco plays Ginsberg as he's interviewed in his apartment, where he tells some of his life story mixed with the making of the poem, and court transcripts brought to life by an all-star cast. I strongly recommend this movie to those who don't know the poem. The surreal animated imagery which accompanies the poem is mostly faithful to the imagery of the poem- it doesn't become too abstract. Another way of saying it is the animated imagery serves the words of the poem rather than serving itself, which is a good thing.
James Franco is terrific as the garrulous poet. He nails the intellectual stoner visionary vibe perfectly. The court scenes feel a bit like a wax museum; because we know that the dialog is taken exactly from the record, the performances feel a little wooden, but there's also a trippy time-travel "real people actually said these things" vibe too.
THEATER NOTES: The wife and I caught Howl at the West Newton Cinema, home of some of the most self-involved, overly entitled, obnoxious moviegoers ever. I've had some bad experiences there, but this was not one of them- we saw Howl on Screen 4 (capacity 96) on a midweek evening. We almost had the theater to ourselves, a rare occurrence indeed, but alas, one other couple joined us. Seeing a movie in an empty theater always makes me fantasize about being a millionaire with my own screening room- I want a little hand-held intercom, where I can phone up to the booth and have Murray spool up the flick for us, and ask Skip to send down some popcorn while you're at it?