December 31, 2017

2017 Year In Review

In 2017 I went to the movies 23 times, my highest total since 2012. I haven't hotlinked to my reviews here, please scroll through to read more. My Top Ten in alphabetical order:
  • The Big Sick - "A highly recommended little treasure of a movie."
  • Blade Runner 2049 - "From beginning to end, the art of moviemaking has been advanced. Every other movie set in the future, every movie that aims for beauty or meaning, has a new elevation to reach. A+"
  • Dunkirk - "Chris Nolan dazzles with his complete mastery of film craft with this stunning chapter of World War II history.  A"
  • 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. B-plus."
  • John Wick 2 "truly f**king DELIVERED."
  • The Last Jedi - "Episode 8 is fun and funny, and sheds some of the classical "space opera" tone for a looser, more contemporary feel. B-plus."
  • The Lego Batman Movie "is funny, silly, with legit action sequences, amazing pop culture cameos, and it's about something too! A-minus"
  • Logan - "Really impressive finale to Hugh Jackman's Wolverine. A-minus"
  • Sing - "Very nice movie about a singing competition. Who knew Matthew McConaguhey could be so charming?"
  • Wonder Woman - "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."

Let's break down the complete list:

Oldies But Goldies

  • Close Encounters of the Third Kind (The last good Spielberg movie I'd never seen in a theater before)
  • Real Genius (VHS many times; DVD a few times; on TV sure; but never seen in a theater before)
  • The Untouchables in 70mm (haven't seen in a theater since its original release or maybe ever)

Reboots, Prequels or Sequels

  • Blade Runner 2049
  • Cars 3
  • Guardians Of The Galaxy, Vol 2
  • John Wick 2
  • The Lego Batman Movie
  • Rogue One (for the second time)
  • Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi (twice)

Based on Comic Books

  • Atomic Blonde
  • Ghost In The Shell
  • Logan
  • Wonder Woman

Based on a TV Show - The Lego Ninjago Movie

Based on a Book - Hidden Figures

Original Screenplays

  • Baby Driver
  • The Big Sick
  • Dunkirk
  • The Secret Life of Pets (at a birthday party)
  • Sing (twice)

Honorable Mentions

I swear I am going to see GET OUT and IT as soon as I can!

December 26, 2017

The Last Jedi (again)

Last week's screening with Emily happened because we could not make it to our play on time; this was my previously-booked screening with Adam and George; Tom was supposed to come but he got sick :-P
Still a B+; this time I noticed the kid at the end of the movie uses a little Force pull to pick up his broom; it's very subtle, but it's there!

December 21, 2017

The Last Jedi

Non Spoiler Review

Episode 8 is fun and funny, and sheds some of the classical "space opera" tone for a looser, more contemporary feel. But the screenplay also has too many storylines going at once and as a result the film feels unfocused, imprecise, and too long. Stub Hubby Grade: B-plus
(Emily and I were supposed to go to A Christmas Carol but our sitter was late; this was a perfectly acceptable substitute...at the Belmont Studio Cinema)

December 16, 2017

On Her Majesty's Secret Service

 A truly confounding James Bond movie. It's hard to put my finger on what's wrong with it.
My guts tell me the screenplay is dull, but I'm reluctant to completely blame the limp, passive plot because they've cast a random guy as James Bond, so it's difficult to assess the quality of the whole project when the lead role is played by someone not Sean Connery. Watching George Lazenby stroll through this movie my inner monologue went "Wow this guy is fit! And handsome too! Is this what Sean Connery would be like in this scene? Are all Bond movies this boring and we're just used to it?"
I hadn't seen OHMSS in maybe 20 years when I tried it out in 2017. Forty-five minutes later I had to concede I didn't understand a lot of the dialog, and I had no idea what was going on. The next day I finished it with the subtitles on.
This movie was released in 1969, and I could see the counterculture creeping in around the edges of the stodgy Bond franchise. All the girls in Blofeld's mountaintop retreat are boldly contemporary. Bond spends half the movie in a formal Scottish kilt disguise - but otherwise his clothes are mostly classic Bond. There's one very Mod outfit, in mustard and orange, with a big pull-ring zipper on the tunic!
I enjoyed the exciting, dynamic editing, taut fight scenes, and generally lively direction throughout. Makes the first five movies seem stiff by comparison.
The cold open/Lazenby introduction is a lot of fun: after he is spurned by the mysterious woman whose life he's just saved, I appreciated the "This never happened to the other fella" comment...followed by the worst Maurice Binder title sequence ever. I liked that they showed iconic images from the previous Bond films, to try and build some continuity with the previous Bond films, but beyond that: just random swirls of color and silhouettes of naked ladies.
I always enjoy Bond movies for their IRL driving scenes, and there was a plethora of rear-wheel-drive cars of all types spinning and sliding through sand and snow throughout.

Diana Rigg as Countess Tracy has vaulted to the top of my list of all Bond Girls. She's gorgeous, grown up, Bond treats her as an equal, she saves Bond's bacon in a truly surprising reveal late in the movie. She's a gorgeous adult. This is what happens when you cast an actress as a Bond girl. It also helps that all her dialog wasn't replaced by another actor, which happens in the Bond films all too often. Rigg is also 13 months older than George Lazenby (his Bond, BTW, is the youngest Bond ever: Lazenby and Rigg were 30 and 31 when the movie came out.)
Telly Savalas is fine as Blofeld. Could have been much worse.
I was truly moved by Moneypenny's tears at the wedding, especially when Bond tosses her his hat for one last time.

November 11, 2017

Ant-Man

There was no way I was going to pay $11 to see this in a movie theater, but I was eager to rent it on Amazon Prime. For months it has been only been available to buy? This weekend I spotted it on TBS, so I TiVo'd it and saved a $4 rental fee.
A perfectly pleasant and diverting, but completely inessential Marvel superhero origin story.
Paul Rudd is Scott Lang, an electrical engineer who becomes a Edward Snowden-style leaker to expose his greedy employer (I can believe this), but I had a harder time believing he emerged from prison an experienced cat burglar? Rudd is charming, and his love for his daughter is heartfelt (even if the little actress playing her looks nothing like either of her onscreen parents), but I just don't feel the grit necessary for an ex-con with a social justice streak.
Michael Douglas is Hank Pym, the retired Ant-Man, who recruits Lang for a mission to prevent his ambitious protegé Darren Cross (Corey Stoll) from duplicating his Ant-Man magic serum and selling it to Hydra.
Like many origin stories, Ant-Man takes forever to get moving, but add onto that the tedium of knitting together this story with the Marvel Cinematic Universe! (I admit it was cool seeing a very convincing Wall Street-era Douglas visit S.H.I.E.L.D. in a flashback - thanks computers!) In order to justify Lang's return to crime, we wade through Lang's boring custody-battle featuring slumming indie stars Judy Greer (the ex-wife) and Bobby Cannavale (the stepfather). Also, do we need another movie where the desperate villain goes to the hero's house to abduct the hero's kid? This has been done too many times, especially at the end of The Incredibles, so it feels hacky in 2017.
Corey Stoll was terrific as the amoral scientist with weaponized daddy issues. Michael Peña was hilarious as Lang's criminal buddy. David Dastmalchian has been in everything, but I remembered him specifically as one of the Joker's insane henchmen in The Dark Knight. His Russian accent was fun! The best thing about Evangeline Lilly's one-note performance was her comic book wig.
The Ant-Man effects are cool, his ant army was somehow charming, and the novelty of a tiny action figure was fun. Comic book movies are leaning towards light and funny these days, so Ant-Man is on trend, but in the bigger world of Marvel movies, this one is eminently skippable.

November 8, 2017

Star Wars Minute and Lucas' Retcon Exposed

Luke and Leia look nothing like their characters
in the movie: did the artist draw his generic hero
and heroine forms and add hairbuns
and a lightsaber?
I've been listening to the Star Wars Minute podcast, where three or four fellow Star Wars nerds dissect and criticize the Star Wars movies one minute at a time. I've listened to them talk about Episodes 4, 5, and 6 for months now, and they've opened my eyes to what's great about the movies, and the bad parts that I hadn't appreciated before.

History: 1977-1983

George Lucas made three movies set in the middle of a epic history of a distant galaxy. These three movies sketch out some broad strokes and some specific details of what came before: the fall of a republic, the defeat of an order of knights, the family trees of the principal characters. He does a terrific job of setting the current events in a larger historical landscape without going into too much detail.

The Dark Times: 1983-1997

Lucas was famously controlling over his intellectual property: after that trilogy of movies was completed, he allowed no more movies to be produced despite terrific demand. Except for some Ewok stories on TV, and a galaxy of books and games, we all reasonably expected to never see another story set in this world again.

The Special Editions: 1997

The sleeping giant first began to stir in the mid-1990s, when the first three movies were re-released with "special" changes: mostly minor tweaks, some major changes, and some inexplicable revisions. I've reviewed the Special Editions elsewhere in this blog, but I can sum them up like this: when you release a piece of art into the world, it no longer belongs to you; it belongs to the audience. George Lucas does not believe this.

The Prequels: 1999-2005

Lucas decided to make three more movies, telling the story of the previous generation. Legend has it Lucas had imagined all these characters' histories in complete detail back in the 1970s when he wrote the original movies. We all expected that the history of this galaxy, briefly cited in the original movies, that these were glimpses of the story Lucas had outlined in the 1970s.
This myth was so calcified in the pop culture zeitgeist, in retrospect it's difficult to integrate how poorly these "prequels" reconcile with what we already knew about the history of these characters. We were expecting Episodes 1, 2, and 3 to tell the story of the rise of the Empire, the fall of the Jedi, the Clone Wars, and the life of Anakin Skywalker.
However, the prequels fit so poorly with what we expected, you'd almost expect Lucas had nothing to do with their creation, instead of everything.
I wasn't going to go into details, but I can't help myself:
  • In Star Wars, Obi-Wan Kenobi says of Anakin Skywalker "When I first knew him, your father was already a great pilot." Everyone expected Kenobi was talking about an adult spaceship pilot. In Episode 1, the "great pilot" is a child in a podrace, not a spaceship fighter pilot. I've often said Episode 1 should never have been made, and the events of The Phantom Menace could easily have been described in a few sentences. Then the prequels could begin with Anakin as an adult in Attack Of The Clones. ,That would fit more closely with the history we were expecting.
  • In Return of the Jedi, Leia says she remembers her birth mother, but her birth mother died when Leia was a newborn;
  • In Return of the Jedi, Kenobi reports that Luke and Leia "were hidden from your father when you were born", and we learn later Leia was adopted by the Organa family, she took their family name, and was sent to live on Alderaan. This is a reasonable plan for secreting away a child. But Luke is adopted by his family on his father's home world? What kind of half-assed hiding is this?
  • For a long time I assumed when we met Luke as a teenager, he had been living on Tatooine as "Luke Skywalker" - unless "Skywalker" is as common as "Smith" why would he keep his father's name while in "hiding"? If Anakin Skywalker was a famous Jedi, wouldn't it be dangerous to keep that name after the Jedis were wiped out?
    A Star Wars Minute podcast guest wisely pointed out that there's no evidence he was living as "Luke Skywalker" on Tatooine. No one says "Luke Skywalker" until Luke introduces himself to Leia like that in her jail cell on the Death Star. Therefore you could reasonably assume that he was living under his aunt and uncle's name "Luke Lars", and only introduced himself as Luke Skywalker after hearing the story of his father Anakin Skywalker from Kenobi earlier in the movie.
  • In Star Wars, Kenobi reports that Luke's father "wanted you to have his lightsaber when you were old enough, but your uncle wouldn't allow it" - this is all wrong: Anakin didn't know he had kids, didn't want his son to have his lightsaber, and Uncle Owen had nothing to say about it.
It's odd that Lucas' prequels tell such a different history from what we had expected. Obviously it's difficult to make three prequels 15 years later and have every statement from the original movies ring true, but it's bizarre that so many of the statements of fact made in Episodes 4, 5, and 6 are proven in the prequels to be only technically true, or only true by the largest leaps of logic.

October 28, 2017

Close Encounters of the Third Kind

I've seen Close Encounters of the Third Kind many times, but it was the last Steven Spielberg film I loved that I had never seen on the big screen. Especially over the last ten years, I've become a big believer in re-watching my favorite movies on the silver screen, so I made a point of catching it at the late show, as part of the Brattle Theatre's celebration of Stranger Things, the Strange Inspirations series.

Parental Perspective

The movie is very different for me as an adult. Spielberg has gone on the record that he would not make the movie the same way today, because he could not let his protagonist abandon his family as Roy Neary does, and I have to say the manic, neurotic household scenes were hard to watch.
I also found it very tough to watch Barry get sucked out the doggie door. I have a two year old right now, and watching those little legs fly out the door was hard work.
I really appreciated the post-Watergate coverup conspiracy that the government stages: The secret base, the "Piggly Wiggly" trucks full of scientific equipment, the phony poisonous gas leak, the unmarked green vans full of faceless men in hazmat suits. Contrast this with the movie Contact, where the aliens also send messages to Earth, but in that story, the whole world finds out about it. There's no attempt to cover it up or keep it secret. That story could easily have been written where the NSA keeps the Alpha Centauri radio signal a secret, they build the giant Machine at Area 51 instead of Cape Canaveral, and no one but the Men In Black ever know it happened.

Already Crazy

I'm not happy with Roy Neary abandoning his family, but my primary complaint about Close Encounters of the Third Kind is casting Richard Dreyfuss to play him. On paper, Neary is an Indiana Water & Power lineman, a perfectly ordinary guy who becomes obsessed with the alien rendezvous after his close encounter. He becomes increasingly distracted and manic as the visions of Devil's Tower dominate his thoughts.
As played by Richard Dreyfuss, Neary seems pretty manic and neurotic before he even meets the aliens. By the third act, when he finally has a chance to vent at the government authorities, he says
"Is that it? Is that all you're gonna ask me? Well I got a couple of thousand goddamn questions, you know. I want to speak to someone in charge. I want to lodge a complaint. You have no right to make people crazy! You think I investigate every Walter Cronkite story there is? Huh? If this is just nerve gas, how come I know everything in such detail? I've never been here before. How come I know so much? What the hell is going on around here? Who the hell are you people?"
Neary's transformation and obsession would feel more powerful if he started out as a mild-mannered, Midwest gentleman, instead of Dreyfuss' brand of New York ball of nerves. Imagine Jon Voight or Steve McQueen in the role and it's easy to appreciate how an ordinary guy could become a seemingly paranoid conspiracy theorist- except in this movie they're right.

Latitude and Longitude

One plot element stuck out for me this time around- the UFOs are buzzing around America zapping ordinary people with the vision of Devil's Tower. Presumably their goal is to gather people to that spot for a visit, right? In addition, the government also receives a radio signal with the latitude and longitude coordinates of the meeting. WHY? It's lame that the aliens teach us to communicate beginning with the five musical tones, but they also send us numbers that correspond with our completely arbitrary map coordinate system. Why is this in the movie? Because the government has no way of knowing where to roll out their high-tech welcome mat because none of them have a close encounter or get the Devil's Tower mental implant. The only people who know where the meetup will happen are the civilians getting zapped by the UFOs. In order for the screenplay to work, they had to add this latitude-longitude nonsense so the government got invited too.
IF the government had not received that radio signal, only the civilians who made the connection with Devil's Tower would have been there when the aliens arrived, returned all their abductees, and picked Neary to go on the trip. Maybe the Air Force would have spotted the Mothership on radar, but it would have been all over before the government had a chance to arrive.

Clouds

The UFO effects and the cloud effects are underrated. I think we take for granted how perfect and seamless the UFO visuals look. Spielberg is the master at hiding the seams- the kitchen scene in Jurassic Park is a master class in hiding the limitations of CGI and puppets, but the UFO scenes in Close Encounters cleverly demonstrate the strengths of the effects while camouflaging the weaknesses. The moving, growing, travelling clouds were also spectacular. I could not tell how the effect is done- even better- even knowing how they did it, I could not reconcile the reality with the visuals. Most impressive.

Ha Ha

I laughed out loud twice: the Brattle showed a brief making-of featurette, including behind-the-scenes footage of the alien POV shot descending down Gillian's chimney. It's a tense moment, as Gillian paws around inside the chimney to close the flue- can she find the handle before the aliens grab her? I was so excited to see how they did it- they mounted bright lights directly next to the camera, built an enormous chimney prop (oversized to fit the camera) then lowered the camera + lights down the chimney while dropping ash/leaves/debris around the camera. At the appropriate moment, Spielberg calls out to Melinda Dillon "find it!" and she grabs the flue handle just in time to close it.
The second time I laughed is when little Barry finds his way to the bend in the roadway in the middle of the night. Veteran character actor Roberts Blossom (Christine, Home Alone) is sitting by the side of the road, waiting, whistling "She'll Be Coming Round The Mountain" in anticipation.
Another minor gripe is that hillside turn-in-the-road set. So much of this movie is beautifully shot on location, it's a shame this key scene is shot on a bad-looking set. The fake shrubbery looks especially bad.

Close Encounters of the Television Kind

I've seen Close Encounters of the Third Kind many times since I was a kid - I remember watching it on TV, watching all the scenes on the "dark side of the moon" broken up by many commercial breaks. I think that was when I learned how movies on TV work- they insert few commercials at the beginning of the movie, to entice you to engage with the film, but once you're committed, they slather on the advertising. From the moment Roy and Gillian climb around the side of Devil's Tower, until Roy goes on his trip to the stars, it felt like there were breaks for ads every five minutes.

October 26, 2017

166 During The Deluge


  1. "I'm Ready" - The Commodores. An instrumental I heard in the movie Ant-Man.
  2. "Through & Through & Through" - Joel Plaskett
  3. "Hi Hi Hi" - Wings. Only in the last five years or so have I noticed Paul McCartney was happy to detour his group Wings into glam-rock. In retrospect this feels like a ploy to capitalize on a trend, and the "Hi Hi Hi" is the worst offender.
  4. "Her Strut" Bob Seger. I've made over 160 mix tapes, CD-Rs, and playlists over 25 years and I have literally never included a Seger song on any of them. I used to play his music on the radio every night as a DJ on WMGX "Classics of Yesterday, the Best of Today", and I won't deny "Night Moves" and "Turn The Page" are as good as anything Springsteen or Tom Petty ever did, but something about his stuff never clicked with me. Maybe too many of his singles were midtempo or ballads? Maybe I put "Her Strut" on this playlist because I never played it on the radio, and it's the least emblematic Seger song released as a single?
  5. "All She Wants To Do Is Dance" Don Henley. Another song about a woman's moves.
  6. "Set Me Free (Rosa Lee)" I keep stumbling across great Los Lobos songs that I never heard when they came out. This one's terrific.
  7. "Lightning Bolt" [live at Wrigley Field] - The Pearl Jam concert documentary/Cubs documentary Let's Play Two is a unique and special project I recommend to rock fans and  baseball fans.
  8. "Only A Memory" - The Smithereens.
  9. "Don't Ask Me Why" - I've had the Glass Houses LP for thirty years, and today I noticed for the first time: the third time Billy Joel sings the chorus, he sings "don't aks me why" like a true Long Islander...
  10. "Change" - The Lightning Seeds. Heard this one in the movie Clueless.
  11. "Time (Clock of the Heart)" Culture Club. Decades removed, it's easier to enjoy this blue-eyed soul without the distraction of Boy George's oddball makeup and costumes.
  12. "The Beat" - Elvis Costello & The Attractions. A cool track from This Year's Model I've never placed on a playlist before.
  13. "Man Of War" - Just heard this Radiohead outtake yesterday on WERS. Submitted as a candidate for the theme song to James Bond's SPECTRE! All the drama, but the words are too weird.
  14. "Co-Pilot" From Letters to Cleo's third album, an old favorite of my wife.
  15. "Lady Madonna" - Paul McCartney wrote this song in the style of Fats Domino, and here he is doing it justice. Amazingly, he also covered The Beatles with "Lovely Rita" and "Everybody's Got Something to Hide Except for Me and My Monkey"!
  16. "Overnight Sensation" - The Raspberries, and 
  17. "Come A Little Bit Closer" - Fleetwood Mac are piano-based epic cousins.
  18. "Don't Let The Sun Catch You Crying" - I heard a different Ray Charles ballad ("Old Man River") in the movie Joe Versus The Volcano recently, but it's not on Spotify, but I enjoy this standard too.

Clueless

Watched Clueless again last night on Amazon Prime- there's so many Paramount movies on there it must be some blanket streaming contract?
New Observations:
  • The satire is solidly written. The dialog and voiceover are great.
  • The soundtrack is really good, especially "Shake Some Action", a power pop cover by Cracker, and Counting Crows' cover of "The Ghost In You"
  • The Mighty Mighty Bosstones play two whole songs at a dance party.
  • All of Alicia Silverstone's jokes land, and her face is so expressive, she's fun to watch.
  • Cher is so funny when she shoves that boy off of her at the beginning. A solid shove!
  • Cher mentions that her teacher Mr. Hall (Wallace Shawn) is "47 years old" which nearly gave me a heart attack: I am 45 right now! Is that what I have to look forward to in a few short, bald years? I immediately looked up Wallace Shawn's date of birth...and thank God he was actually 53 when he made this movie.
  • After Tai gets dangled off the Galleria railing and is suddenly smugly popular, I noticed that Travis is well-groomed and well-dressed when the newly snobby Tai rebuffs him at lunch. Did he get sober and clean up his act just for her?
  • Having visited Los Angeles a few times, two ideas make sense to me now: The Valley at night IS creepy, and freeways ARE terrifying.
  • Stacey Dash was 28 when she was playing 16-year-old Dionne (Silverstone and Brittany Murphy were 19 and 18 playing sophomores)
  • It's still creepy that Paul Rudd's character kisses her at the end!

October 10, 2017

Blade Runner 2049

All I want when I go to the movies is to see something I've never seen before.
I've reviewed plenty of films where I've noted one scene, or one idea, or one action sequence that innovates. These are always a pleasure to see.
In Blade Runner 2049, every scene has a moment like this. From beginning to end, the art of moviemaking has been advanced. Every other movie set in the future, every movie that aims for beauty or meaning, has a new elevation to reach.
My Stub Hubby grade: A+
OK, maybe I'm laying on the praise too thick. Maybe I'm making 2049 sound too Important and Momentous. I want you to go see this movie, so let's bring it back down to earth:

Blade Runner 2049 is also a fine detective story: on a routine assignment hunting rogue replicants, Blade Runner 'K' (Ryan Gosling) uncovers a mystery. His investigation is caught in a triangle between his lieutenant (tough as nails Robin Wright), powerful businessman Wallace (Jared Leto, Zen slavemonger) and his own secret personal connection to the case. Gosling plays the classic L.A. detective well- I love the Philip Marlowe/Sam Spade detective type- dogged and determined, weary, sometimes caught off guard, always bruised but never bowed.

Also On Stub Hubby:

How does 2049 compare to the original 2019?

This is a bold statement, because it happens so rarely in movies, but this sequel expands and improves on the themes of the original. 2019 is a "bounty hunter tracks down his targets" story, soaking in existential yearning and amazing atmosphere. 2049 is asking the same timeless questions about our meaning in the world, in the context of an existential detective story that goes deeper and resonates more strongly.

The sequel's style (imagery, color palette, sound, score, corporate logos) fit perfectly with the original. The cinematography by the Genius Roger Deakins is breathtaking. The original movie featured a unique synthesizer score by Vangelis; 2049 features a strong score that echoes Vangelis while remaining contemporary. The landscapes seem completely real; the special effects that must have been required to create the future tech are completely seamless.
The performances overall, a blend of deadpan noir with a helping of ultraviolence, also align with the original.

I especially appreciated the light touch with which 2049 pays tribute to the original. Yes, it's a sequel set in the same city 30 years later, but there were also a bunch of moments that reflect moments from the first film: K's girlfriend puts her arms around his neck just like Pris did to J.F.; K plays a single note on a piano like Deckard did; several replicants break through walls; incidental sound effects recur.
It's no secret that Harrison Ford's Deckard returns in this movie, but the events of the original film are referenced only distantly, obliquely. When I see 2049 again I'll have to try and imagine "What if you'd never seen 2019? Would this movie make sense?" I think the answer is yes. As detective mystery stories go, it doesn't explain the clues too much- there are a couple of moments where the director may have been worried about losing the audience, so there is some hand-holding, but not too much.

I love movies by European directors when they cast a ton of foreign actors in all the supporting roles- it's great to see new faces in all the small parts. Dutch actress Sylvia Hoeks is terrific as Wallace's henchman, and Ana de Armas is a Cuban actress with an amazing role as K's girlfriend.

I am a superfan of 2019. I was skeptical of a sequel. I was encouraged when I saw director Denis Villeneuve's previous film Arrival. I wasn't certain I'd go see 2049 in the theater until the rave reviews came pouring in- I didn't read the reviews, but thanks to some headlines (and Rotten Tomatoes), I decided to drop the cash on 2049, and I am glad I did.

THEATER NOTES: A friend suggested the IMAX screen at Jordan's in Reading, which was great too. It's kind of lame that this special theater is General Admission- we lined up 45 minutes in advance to get good seats, I don't remember the last time I waited in line for a movie! The theater bills itself as some kind of super 4K resolution screen with the best sound, and the sound was great. I love a loud theater! The picture was also very impressive, but it's embarrassing that the LED lighting on the stairs was so bright the bottom corners of the movie were glowing blue the whole time. The stairs definitely need the lighting- the descent is irregular to make exiting each row of seats safe, but I almost fell down them even with the lighting. There must be a way to illuminate the steps and not the screen?
The audience was mostly fine- a senior couple were narrating the action to each other for the first few minutes until the wife left and did not return, thank God! There were some other talkers, but they were relatively quiet and did not bother me.

October 6, 2017

165 Same Boy I Used To Be

  1. BUZZCOCKS: Everybody's Happy Nowadays. If I had to say "what kind of rock music do you like best?" I would say "Power Pop". Obviously I love The Beatles above all others, but the Fab Four is a too-easy answer, and it isn't really a "kind" of music anyway. I recently read a great list of Power Pop bands, full of artists I'd never heard of or didn't know played power pop. I think the name "Buzzcocks" had scared me away, or I assumed they were just anti-melodic punk music, which holds zero interest for me. What a pleasant surprise their album Singles Going Steady was! I lot of hard jangly punky power-pop on there.
  2. RA RA RIOT: Valerie. Totally randomly fell across this energetic cover of the Steve Winwood song. No idea who Ra Ra Riot is!
  3. ERIC CLAPTON & STEVE WINWOOD: Forever Man [live at MSG]. Speaking of Winwood, he duets with Clapton here. "Forever Man" is a pretty good song, but the original studio recording is from Clapton's mid-80s period when Phil Collins was overproducing his records with his muscular but contemporary sound. Sometimes when a good song is tainted by contemporary production, or a poor arrangement, a live recording can help salvage the composition. This performance of "Forever Man" is hardly spare, but it's an improvement, and it's fun to hear Winwood trade verses with Clapton.
  4. WEEZER: Feels Like Summer.
  5. BARENAKED LADIES: Too Little Too Late. Two nerdly pop-rock bands with a novelty flair!
  6. TOMMY KEENE: Places That Are Gone. Keene opened for Matthew Sweet last month at
    Brighton Music Hall. It was fun seeing this middle-aged suburban Dad-looking guy sing these terrific early 80s alt-rock songs that would fit right in between R.E.M. and Husker Du on college radio. Turns out this song appears on the Rhino Records Poptopia! three-CD collection I bought twenty years ago!
  7. THE EXPLODING HEARTS: Sleeping Aides and Razorblades. Another newly discovered power pop gem.
  8. MATTHEW SWEET: Time Capsule was the opening song from his Brighton Music Hall. It was never one of my favorite songs, but it stuck in my head for the whole week afterwards.
  9. PATTY GRIFFIN: Stolen Car. A haunting cover of the Springsteen song.
  10. PETE TOWNSHEND: Eminence Front. Townshend has released three "Scoop" albums, full of outtakes and demos of his solo work and Who songs. Here is another great example of a good song liberated from its original arrangement.
  11. PETER GABRIEL & YOUSSOU N'DOUR: In Your Eyes [live]. The LP version, from Gabriel's 1986 album So is legendary, but I always preferred the extended arrangement available on the b-side of one of his 12-inch singles. That's the arrangement I heard in the summer of 1987 when Gabriel and N'Dour toured together, the same year this recording was made.
  12. THE SMITHS: Bigmouth Strikes Again. Morrissey sings his own backing vocals on this.
  13. GUIDED BY VOICES: Little Whirl. I love the unfussy lo-fi recordings of unfinished songs!
  14. DWIGHT TWILLEY: Girls. Twilley and Tommy Keene are kissing cousins of the early-80s power pop scene.
  15. SLOAN: Everything You've Done Wrong. A band I'd heard of but knew nothing about.
  16. STEELY DAN: My Old School. We've lost Walter Becker and Tom Petty this year.
  17. THE NEW PORNOGRAPHERS: Dancehall Domine. Very proud of myself for hearing this song on the TV show Speechless and thinking "this sounds like The New Pornographers" and Soundhound proved me right.
  18. TOM PETTY & THE HEARTBREAKERS: Listen To Her Heart. Never a big fan of this song, but after Petty died, I saw a live video of Wilco covering it.

October 4, 2017

The Best Pictures: 100 Minutes Or Less

I just saw Life of Brian for the first time in ages. Besides being even funnier than I remembered (and a truly black comedy), I was struck with how short it was. Not in a bad way- Life of Brian is a brisk and unfussy 97 minutes. The night before, my wife and I attempted to watch Harry Potter & The Chamber Of Secrets - we knew it was maybe the worst Potter movie, but we wanted to see if it was appropriate for our eight-year-old to watch. Not only is Hogwarts Year Two too scary for our son, it's too long and boring: Mrs. Norris doesn't get petrified until 30 minutes in! At 161 minutes, it's over an hour longer than Life of Brian and half as good. I was inspired-
What are the best short* movies?
*It's sad that 100 minutes counts as short, but I think we can all agree running times have bloated over the decades: only 3 of my top 25 are from this century.

Genre parodies from Mel Brooks, Zucker/Abrhams/Zucker, and the Pythons all made the list: Blazing Saddles, Airplane, Top Secret, and The Naked Gun [1974, 1980, 84, and 88] See my Blazing Saddles review here.

Monty Python & The Holy Grail; and Life of Brian [1975 and 1979] Sketch comedy has a reputation for going on too long- maybe part of the success of Grail and Brian is that they're so episodic and yet the films are so brisk.

Annie Hall [1977] A cursory search reveals every Woody Allen film is less than 100 minutes; his best movie made my list.

The Muppet Movie [1979] I excluded animated movies from consideration because half the list would be Pixar films otherwise. I feel okay leaving The Muppet Movie in; if you've seen it as an adult, you can see it's definitely for kids and grownups.

The Road Warrior [1981] The sole action movie that fit under the time limit. Contemporary action directors should learn from this 95 minute gem. I won't embarrass Michael Bay by posting the lengths of the Transformers movies in this space!


A Christmas Story [1983] Again, a very episodic movie that is also brisk.

This Is Spinal Tap, Stand By Me, The Princess Bride, and When Harry Met Sally... [1984, 86, 87, and 89] Rob Reiner's first five brilliant movies are all 100 minutes or less; these four made my list. See my Harry/Sally review here. (Reiner's debut, The Sure Thing, an underappreciated romantic road comedy, is exactly 100m but only receives an Honorable Mention.)


The Fly [1986] I re-watched The Fly recently and was impressed with the economy of storytelling- it felt like an episode of an anthology show like The Twilight Zone but with more body horror. See my review here.

The Breakfast Club [1985], Reservoir Dogs [1992] , and Clerks [1994] have a lot in common besides their short length: all take place over one day, the main characters wait around in one room for a long time, and I own all three movies' soundtrack albums.

Fargo [1996] Economy in storytelling from the Coen Brothers. Imagine how short this movie would be if they took out that awkward meal Marge shares with her old school chum!


Dark City [1998] The big losers with this time limitation are sci-fi, action, and fantasy epics. The Road Warrior is the sole action entry, and this criminally underseen gem is the sole "sci-fi" entry, although it's more fair to call it a sci-noir?

Run Lola Run [1998] This is the film I've seen the least over the years. It's the film that benefits most from its blistering pace.

Office Space [1999] The endlessly quotable, totally relatable, cube hell black comedy.

Shaun Of The Dead [2004] The king of economical storytelling, Edgar Wright, makes the list with his feature debut, which I'm sorry to have missed in the theater. I'd happily include his follow-up Hot Fuzz but it's one minute too long.

Gravity [2013] The spectacular feat of storytelling blew audiences away with its amazing effects, drama, and all in 90 minutes. See my review here.

The Grand Budapest Hotel [2014] I liked this Wes Anderson movie way more than I expected. If I were to pick one, I might have gone with The Fantastic Mr Fox, but that's animated so it had to go.

Honorable Mention

When I told my wife about this project, she immediately proposed two films. "Say Anything... is just perfect" she reported (at 100 minutes it fits just barely), and "There has to be room for The 'Burbs on there too, right?" but sadly that cul-de-sac comedy is one minute too long.

Other Fine Movies That Drag On for 60 Seconds Too Long:

As I said above, Hot Fuzz is 60 seconds too long, also The Sandlot (101m), The Others (101m), Little Miss Sunshine (101m), and Groundhog Day (101m) - that last one stings so bad, it nearly makes me want to bend my own rule to include it!

Notes

Thankfully IMDb lets you do an Advanced Search on many many of their data points, so I used their tools as a starting point. I searched for
  • All feature films
  • Between 75-100 minutes long
  • Released in the last 50 years
  • In English.
  • That appear in the IMDb "Top 1,000" (I figured all my favorite movies are likely on that list anyway)
The result included 159 movies. From that jumping-off point, it wasn't too hard to whittle that down to a Top 25.




October 3, 2017

Joe Versus The Volcano

A shaggy workingman's fable starts out promising, charming, and hilarious, but completely fizzles in Act 2 and never recovers. The middle half hour is surprisingly boring, and the finale is silly and casually racist. Tom Hanks gets one fun scene tearing into his entropic boss (Dan Hedaya) and his grimy, florescent workplace. Meg Ryan plays three roles, only one of which is interesting. An amazing supporting cast keeps things varied (Robert Stack, Lloyd Bridges, Ossie Davis, Carol Kane, Amanda Plummer, and finally, Nathan Lane and Abe Vigoda as Pacific Islanders - I warned you Act 3 was racist!)
The lighting in Joe's workplace scenes is pretty amazing.

October 2, 2017

Splash

Splash falls in the overlap of several my movie-loving circles. See my literal Venn diagram below:
  • Tom Hanks comedy
  • Ron Howard film
  • Nostalgia for movies I saw as an adolescent (it's possible the Woodwards saw it in the theater when I was 12?)
  • Screenplay by schticky 80s icons Lowell Ganz & Babaloo Mandel
  • Movies shot on location in NYC
    So I bought a used copy of the DVD for two bucks at the New Vernon (NJ) Volunteer Fire Department Auction (and tag sale). How does the movie hold up 30 years later?
    It was fun trying to fill out this diagram.
    I was surprised to find movies that fit
    8 of the 14 segments!
    Tom Hanks is charming and clever in a star-making turn as Allen Bauer, the object of Madison the mermaid's affection, but the screenplay is a piece of sexist wish-fulfillment garbage: Daryl Hannah plays the "noble savage", all innocent and kind, but all she does is walk around naked and want to make love to Allen.
     A beautiful, compassionate, and horny mermaid is not a character.
    Ye Olde Manhattan of the 1980s- in the scene where newly-named Madison wanders around Times Square, it was fun to see movie marquees advertising Raiders Of The Lost Ark and Evil Dead II next to porn movies. Emily remarked "this is back when Manhattan was...grimy! And NO ONE went to Times Square!"

    September 25, 2017

    The Lego Ninjago Movie

    Me and my boy dressed as Lloyd and Lord Garmadon
    for Halloween 2017!
    A disjointed, scattered screenplay undercuts the trademark humor and silliness of The Lego Movie series.
    The theme of the movie - estranged father and son learn to reconcile - has been done already in The Lego Movie, and, to a lesser extent, in The Lego Batman Movie. Justin Theroux does fine work as Lord Garmadon, the absent dad/Lord Business-style supervillain. Dave Franco nails the whiny teen angst as his estranged son Lloyd Garmadon. Only Kumail Nanjiani brings any personality to the other ninjas - he picks apart Lord Garmadon's "four arms" story like one of his stand-up routines (my son has been quoting this joke to anyone who will listen all weekend.) Besides Lloyd and Jay, the other three ninjas do nothing of any consequence?
    The movie sustains the level of inventive animation, hilarious use of Lego parts, and pop culture references we've come to love from the Lego movies, although I did miss the hilarious Taylor Swift "Bad Blood" music cue from the trailer.
    I didn't find the movie to be too long, although that seems to be a shared sentiment this weekend.
    THEATER NOTES: The Fresh Pond "Apple" Cinema has thrown out their crummy old chairs and installed the 'new normal' motorized recliner chairs. Screen 6 was perfectly adequate...except for some minor damage to the screen which caused a smudge in one spot. Over the last two decades I have had some weird and bad experiences there, but I may be willing to take a small gamble on this location again. (with Hawkeye, his BFF, and her parents!)

    Movies I Saw At Fresh Pond, and some Gaps

    September 24, 2017

    The Untouchables

    I wanted our selfie to capture the gorgeous Somerville Theater
    ceiling, DePalma-style, but I couldn't make the
    low angle work.
    Every time I see a favorite classic on the big screen for the first time, certainly for the first time after many viewings on a television screen, I discover new wonders. The Somerville Theater offered me and Em a chance to revisit one of our personal favorites in a 70mm print. I had only seen four films projected in 70mm in the last 20 years, so I was unsure if I would be able to appreciate the difference between 70mm and 35mm, but WOW it was worth it. The curator of the theater's 70mm Film Festival promised the 6-track sound would "knock our socks off" and he was right- the gunfire was punchy, Capone's baseball bat to the skull of his lieutenant was deafening, and we noticed tons of background city noises - babies crying, train noises - that we never heard before.
    The simple fact that a movie screen offers a million times more detail than my TV makes a huge difference: I could see the shoulder-holster strap under the tight suit jacket of Capone's thug as he opened Capone's bedroom door. In the wide shots of his hotel, I noticed hookers fooling around with the fellas in every corner of the lobby.
    Thirdly, watching in a movie theater focuses your attention on a movie that's easy to ignore on home video. I noticed lots of little bits and pieces here and there that made the movie better and better.
    Emily and I got into a great conversation about the movie thematically: Elliot Ness (Kevin Costner) as the naive, honest youth who must learn the way the practical way the world works. Ness learns this both explicitly from Malone (Sean Connery) as a teacher, and Capone (Robert De Niro) schools him in the hotel lobby: "You got nothin, and if you were a real man, you woulda done it already."
    Emily bristled at not exactly at the absence of women, but how they were present. We acknowledge that director Brian DePalma hates women, and look at their roles in this movie:
    • Ten-year-old gets blown up
    • Her mother tearfully thanks Ness
    • Ness's wife, bearing his child, and glowing at him
    • Background hookers at Capone's hotel
    • Mysterious moll who exits the service elevator
    • Neighbor alerts Ness and Stone about the gunshots at Malone's apartment (barely more than an extra)
    • Helpless mother with baby carriage at midnight (listen to the I Was There Too podcast to hear an interview with actress Melody Rae)
    Prohibition was a terrible law: Only Capone's use of violence to control the market for liquor made him a morally bad guy. The alderman (Del Close) sent to bribe Ness points out Capone is "a very large and popular business" and this truth is glossed over in the script. Ness orders the police to stop drinking: "it may well be a harmless drink but it is the law of the land" which sounds pretty fascist to me. Was the director using symbolism when Malone pours himself a glass of whisky just before he's executed by Nitti?
    The influence De Niro's hothead bully Capone has on popular culture over the last 30 years cannot be overstated.
    "I'm gonna tell you something. Somebody messes with me, I'm gonna mess with with him. Somebody steals from me, I'm gonna say you stole. Not talk to him for spitting on the sidewalk. Understand? Now, I have done nothing to harm these people but they are angered with me, so what do they do, doctor up some 'income tax', for which they have no case. To speak to me like me, no, to harass a peaceful man. I pray to God if I ever had a grievance I'd have a little more self respect. One more thing, you have an all-out prize fight, you wait until the fight is over, one guy is left standing. And that's how you know who won."
    That defense (on the steps of the opera house near the end of the movie) sounds eerily like a Trump tweet.

    September 9, 2017

    The Big Sick

    An impressive romantic drama.
    They say "the personal is universal" and this movie proves it. Kumail Nanjiani and his IRL wife Emily Gordon based this movie on their real life, and the specificity gives it an authentic, organic honesty. It seems impossible that Nanjiani could become close to his ex-girlfriend's parents, but they grow together in a completely believable way. During the third act, there's some clunky plot machinations in order to wrap up the story, but maybe they just feel clunky because the first two-thirds of the movie feel so natural?
    I am not a particular fan of Kumail Nanjiani: his cranky sense of humor, where he picks apart every statement like he's president of the Pedantry Club is not my speed. However, this movie is about a guy falling victim to his character flaws, and learning to grow beyond them. Nanjiani is terrific in the scene where he finally confronts his parents with his true feelings.
    Pairing up Holly Hunter and Ray Romano is a left-field masterstroke - the shortest and tallest actors in Hollywood, Oscar-winning actress and sitcom standup, the alpha dog and beta dog, sharp angles and shaggy dad. It's brilliant to show the parallels between Emily's dad's personality and Nanjiani's personality. Most movies don't bother drawing those characters so carefully.
    Speaking of other movies, The Big Sick also handles the 'arranged marriage' plotline with care. Nanjiani's mother attempts to set up her son with Pakistani women over and over again, but these women are not used as punchlines. In other movies, getting set up by your mom is only a joke- the guy blanches at the prospect of the unattractive or weird woman he's paired with. In The Big Sick, they're all beautiful and normal. It's Nanjiani who's the weird one for not coming clean to his parents while allowing his mother to string these ladies along.
    A highly recommended little treasure of a movie.
    Belmont Studio Cinema

    August 13, 2017

    Real Genius

    The best movie about science nerds still holds up 30 years later. I have the DVD and have seen this movie many times over the years, but it was fun to watch in Cambridge, where I must have been surrounded by MIT students?
    I like this movie way more than Revenge of the Nerds. Revenge of the Nerds makes fun of the nerds while also letting them use their brains to defeat the jocks. Also, Revenge of the Nerds is a sex comedy, where the protagonist essentially rapes a jock's girlfriend while disguised as Darth Vader.
    Unlike Revenge of the Nerds, there's no nerds vs. jocks rivalry in Real Genius- the antagonism comes from the nice students vs the jackass student Kent and their professor. There's no jocks to be seen anywhere. The nerds don't wear pocket protectors and thick glasses and laugh weird.
    It feels like the writers and director of Real Genius wanted to keep sex out of their movie. There's only a brief kiss between Mitch and Jordan, and a weird sub-subplot where a random blonde woman tries to have sex with Mitch - apparently she's turned on by brainy men- but ends up with Lazlo instead.
    I appreciate that Mitch, the 15-year-old protagonist, is a unattractive kid who actually looks 15. Real Genius might make a good double feature with Almost Famous, another movie about a teen prodigy who ends up in over his head and struggles to cope with life in the real world?
    I was glad to see a bunch of nonwhite students, and Jordan, the "hyperkinetic" female engineer who builds stuff constantly, never sleeps, and refinishes the hardwood floors of her dorm room with an industrial sander in the middle of the night.
    THEATER NOTES: I saw Real Genius at the Brattle Theatre, part of their Women Directing 80s Comedy series. I used to go to movies at the Brattle a lot from 2002-2005, but not anymore: I just searched this blog and confirmed that before Real Genius, I have only been to the Brattle once in ten years, and that was to see Snowpiercer in 2014, which was a Brattle-exclusive screening. I guess the Brattle fell out of favor with me because they changed to a totally impractical scheduling system - instead of scheduling a "James Bond" series, or a "Woody Allen" series every Thursday for 4 weeks, they show all the films in several days in a row. If I want to see 2 or 3 or 4 "Women direct 80s comedies" for example, I have to spend a whole weekend at the theater, instead of once a week.

    August 5, 2017

    Guys Movie Night: Atomic Blonde

    Charlize Theron kicks ass! Great innovative fight scenes - at one point she fights a guy for so long, they're both so tired they can barely hold their arms up anymore. Great costumes, and James McAvoy is a total degenerate!
    It delivered on the intention to match John Wick for serious action, but I found Theron a little one-note with her stoic performance. A little too much staring unblinking in the mirror.
    The plot was far too familiar - hunting for a microfilm list of all covert agents in Europe? The framing device is also hackneyed: Theron is being debriefed on her failed mission by her handlers in an interrogation room.
    The soundtrack was almost all English and German New Wave music - Til Tuesday's "Voices Carry" was the only American song I remember - including "The Politics of Dancing" by Re-Flex. "The Politics of Dancing" is playing in the nightclub where Theron meets up with French spy Lasalle (Sofia Boutella). When they start to kiss in the toilet I think "please don't cut away before my favorite part of the song comes on" and BANG as soon as the kickass synth solo comes on, they smash-cut to their hot-and-heavy sex scene!
    CASTING NOTE: Turns out I have seen Sofia Boutella in two movies recently- she was the henchman with razor-sharp blades for feet in Kingsman: The Secret Service, and she was excellent as the white-faced alien in Star Trek Beyond.
    TRAILER NOTES: Suburbicon looks like a Coen Brothers movie they decided to hand off to George Clooney because they can't be bothered; The Snowman looks far too scary and cliche'd for me; I am sure they have screwed up this adaptation of IT; Thor: Ragnarok looks like it could be funny.
    AMC Burlington Theater 4 with Adam and Tom.

    August 4, 2017

    164 Second Half of Summer

    1. ‘Bad Blood’ ⊗ Ryan Adams
    2. ‘Ghosts of American Astronauts’ ⊕ The Mekons
    3. ‘Electrolite’ (live) ⊗ R.E.M.
    4. ‘J-Boy’ ⊕ Phoenix
    5. ‘Glass Onion’ ⊗ The Beatles
    6. ‘Skin Trade’ ⊕ Duran Duran
    7. ‘The Man’ ⊗ The Killers
    8. ‘Hang Fire’ ⊗ The Rolling Stones ∅ One of the Rolling Stones singles that I never paid any attention to.
    9. ‘Rebirth of Slick (Cool Like Dat)’ ⊕ Digable Planets
    10. ‘Wash Your Face In My Sink’ ⊗ Dream Warriors
    11. ‘Damn It Feels Good To Be A Gangsta’ ⊗ Geto Boys
    12. ‘One Step Up’ ⊕ Bruce Springsteen ∅ Even as a dumb 15-year-old, I knew listening to the Tunnel Of Love album that Bruce's marriage was in bad shape. Dave Marsh described this song as "as miserable a cheating song as even Nashville ever knew" and I couldn't agree more. It's eerie how the vocal line "me, baby I'm pretending" is echoed by his future mistress, and future second wife Patti!
    13. ‘Isle Dans la Mer’ ⊗ Sweet Crude ∅ we saw this fun group live in the MFA courtyard this summer. This song feels like a New Pornographers tune!
    14. ‘Brill Bruisers’ ⊕ The New Pornographers
    15. ‘Patient Zero’ ⊗ Aimee Mann
    16. ‘Run To You’ (live) ⊕ Bryan Adams
    17. ‘Pot kettle black’ ⊗ Wilco
    18. ‘Tougher Than The Rest’ ⊕ Shawn Colvin ∅ Another melancholy song from Tunnel Of Love, this time covered by Shawn Colvin
    19. ‘Shop Vac’ ⊗ Jonathan Coulton
    20. ‘I Can't Hold Back’ ⊕ Survivor
    21. ‘You're The Best’ ⊗ Joe "Bean" Esposito ∅ The line "You're the best around" cracks me up. So there are better people, but not nearby?




    August 2, 2017

    L.A. Story

    Sarah Jessica Parker
    wearing the most 1991
    costume imaginable.
    An affectionate, absurd, silly satire of Los Angeles. Steve Martin wrote the movie and it's a treat to watch a feature that feels like it has his indelible stamp on it. Steve Martin veers into neurotic Woody Allen territory at times, especially during his arguments with Sara (his IRL wife Victoria Tennant), but this is supposed to be a left-coast Manhattan, so that makes some sense. The end of the movie is especially wifty: I can't tell if there's two Enya songs or the same one twice, but I guess it's appropriate for a movie about L.A. to become indulgent and self-important at the end.
    This re-view also reaffirmed my feeling that -- much like rom-com masterpiece Four Weddings and a Funeral -- L.A. Story also succeeds despite the miscast lead actress. I said to my wife "Victoria Tennant is not very attractive and she doesn't jump off the screen...BUT maybe this movie wouldn't be so good with a better-looking actress?" and she shot back "no, she's got Resting Bitch Face and she can't act" so I felt a lot better about finding her contribution lacking.
    It's rarely a good idea to cast your spouse to work opposite you in a movie, but it's especially grim when you are supposed to be falling in love, yet IRL you're divorced three years later.

    July 22, 2017

    Dunkirk

    Chris Nolan dazzles with his complete mastery of film craft in this stunning chapter of World War II history.  Some viewers feel Dunkirk is not a complete success because it's a war movie that's not "about" anything. I admit I left the theater thinking "yes it's masterful moviemaking but what for?" The theme of the movie is "war is stupid and pointless and inhuman" full stop. Nolan felt this history needed to be shown on the big screen, and in 2017 he has the clout and tools to do it. Perhaps he feels that justifies its existence alone, and perhaps "war is hell" is enough of a theme. My Stub Hubby Grade: A (Somerville Theater, screen 1, in dazzling 70mm, with Adam)

    Also By Chris Nolan on Stub Hubby

    July 15, 2017

    Sing (again)

    Took my boy to see Sing (again) at the DCR Sylvester Baxter Riverfront Park in Somerville at sunset; with Bobbi and Roo.

    July 7, 2017

    163 She Dances

    1. "Ride", ZZ Ward, featuring Gary Clark Jr. from CARS 3
    2. "Linus & Lucy" (live), Los Straightjackets
    3. "I Got You (At The End of the Century)", Wilco
    4. "Time Spent In Los Angeles", The singer from Dawes still sounds like Daryl Hall...
    5. "Fall In Philadelphia", Hall & Oates ...so I found this smooth early soul track that pairs well!
    6. "Say Goodbye To Hollywood", Ronnie Spector & The E Street Band: Billy Joel wrote this song, and recorded a fine performance of it, but it clearly belongs to Ronnie Spector.
    7. "You & Me", Dave Matthews Band
    8. "Helena Beat", Foster The People
    9. "Favorite Waste of Time", I am very fond of this Marshall Crenshaw song, and Bette Midler's cover is very nice.
    10. "Right By Your Side", Until this summer I don't think I had ever head this Eurythmics song! It's so silly and frivolous, it seems out of character for this otherwise serious duo.
    11. "Alive Again", Trey Anastasio
    12. "Adventure of a Lifetime", Coldplay
    13. "Green Light", Lorde: when this song came out I complained to my wife that it didn't belong on rock stations because it was a pure pop song. I complained that rock radio was playing it because she was too popular to ignore. My wife replied that I was being sexist and I would feel differently about the same song from a male group. I gave it some thought, and she's right. I can easily imagine Coldplay releasing "Green Light" and I would not have made the same complaint.
    14. "People Got a Lotta Nerve", Neko Case
    15. "Bad Boy", The Beatles
    16. "Shine On Me", Dan Auerbach
    17. "Sail On, Sailor", The Beach Boys
    18. "Kings Highway", James Bay, from CARS 3
    19. "Burden In My Hand", Soundgarden: RIP Chris Cornell!
    20. "Going Under", Devo
    21. "One Of These Days", Pink Floyd: this song is not terrible, but Pink Floyd is on my list of Bands I Don't Like But Everyone Else Does, along with Bob Marley and the Allman Brothers.

    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 12, 2017

    162 Short Skirt, Fitted Shirt


    This became a "theme" playlist by accident! Can you name all the songs by the items of clothing? Some are easy, some not so much.
    1. "Cobra snake for a necktie"
    2. "Clean shirt, new shoes"
    3. "Short skirt and a long jacket"
    4. "Fitted shirt"
    5. "Summer Clothes"
    6. "In Black"
    7. "Black dress"
    8. "What they're wearing this year"
    9. "Black jeans"
    10. "Spandex jackets"
    11. "Pineapple grass bracelets"
    12. "Leopard-skin pillbox hat"
    13. "Big diamond ring and silk suits"
    14. "High-heeled shoes and a low-necked sweater"

    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 confident and 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 passé these days.
    Gadot and Chris Pine have good chemistry. 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?
    Early in the film, Diana is in midair, sword and shield in hand, determined look on her face, when I thought: 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'm 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!