Wednesday, April 1, 2015

March Movies

Here's my list of movies I watched this month. Slow month thanks to March Madness. #26 of this month was #89 for the year. Tonight I officially dipped below the "one movie per day" quota.
  1. Cronos - Del Toro's first is a beautiful take on a classic. Aurora is the standout.
  2. Honeymoon - Atrocious acting, silly plot and not a single boo!
  3. Finding Vivian Maier - Uneven, but wonderful doc on the secret life of brilliant photographer.
  4. Foxcatcher - 90% fictional tale, ruins a fascinating true story. Awful acting or negligible?
  5. Ravenous - Silly horror flick, but elevated by the incredible Robert Carlyle.
  6. The Judge - Predictable and filled with Hollywood cliche, but stellar cast make it enjoyable.
  7. The House of the Devil - homage to 70's/80's is typical Ti West yawn fest. Nothing happens!
  8. The Grand Budapest Hotel - Wonderfully quirky Wes Anderson does it again. Stellar Fiennes.
  9. Nightcrawler - Brilliant idea falls flat with unlikable characters and implausible second half.
  10. Dracula Untold - Solid, fun start, derails into CGI mess with awful ending. Gadon - yowza!
  11. Confession of Murder - Scattered mess of a film ends up destroying great start and concept.
  12. The Station Agent - Dinklage, Cannavale, Clarkson and Williams deliver an A+ story.
  13. Clerks 2 - Re-watched. So much of it is better than the first, but in the end, nowhere near.
  14. Rosewater - Stewart's let down and he gives in to his own detractor's stereotypes and snubs.
  15. Kumare - Powerful documentary about fake guru, who helps, despite his deceitful premise. 
  16. The Scribbler - Typical graphic novel come to life. Starts great, unravels into a true mess.
  17. Session 9 - Incredible for 85 minutes. Unfortunately it has a 95 minute running time. 
  18. Sushi Girl - Awful B-Movie studded Reservoir Dogs knock off. Cortney Palm though, wow!
  19. Fury - Solid cast, especially LaBoeuf, make up for poor script. Much better than expected.
  20. Fading Gigolo - Turturro stars and directs Allen and Paradis brilliantly in NYC. Paradis(e)!
  21. Berberian Sound Studio - I'm still not sure if this is just one big in-joke. Brilliant or Mess?
  22. Birdman - Near nauseating visuals and sound, add nothing to boring take of hurt egos.
  23. Her - Brilliant! 10/10 Spike Jonze just puts perfect scene after perfect scene. Johannson's voice!
  24. The Equalizer - Fuqua proves again he's not a very talented director and worse story teller.
  25. The Theory of Everything - Marsh's inability to gravitate towards TV movie a good cast.
  26. V/H/S Viral - My new selection for worst film ever made. Four shaky vignettes - not a movie.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Quickie Review - The Theory Of Everything

James Marsh manages to take one of the few living enigmas and turns his story into a scandalous TV movie. What worked for Man on Wire, doesn't work in the traditional film medium, because we want to be dazzled. Spending 30-40 minutes showing us Hawking's brilliance and human side, all literally and figuratively comes crashing to a halt and the movie then becomes nothing more than an episode of Mad Men without the drinking. There is no doubt Eddie Redmayne has joined a long list of method actors who transformed himself into a character, but it can't hide the fact that he doesn't add much to the last hour of the film, other than to show that he's a man. The final few scenes are filled with every gimmick possible to hide the fact this based on a book that calls him out for his indiscretions, while showing the real power and why we have his mind today, was and always will be Jane's doing.

The movie is really about Jane Hawking and that isn't a bad thing. While I doubt that the real Mrs. H was as strikingly beautiful and unflinching in her devotion, Felicity Jones turns in a career changing performance. Is it Oscar worthy? Probably, but only because her transformation is actually more challenging and quite more painful to watch. The reason is, it's selfless to start, but the realization she was wrong, which probably wasn't present in the book, is the power of the movie. Jones handles it with such care, you're never not impressed. We all know the story, but her humble attitude and her desire for credit will hit home for anyone who has administered care without praise or reward. In the end, the movie fails in telling the story we want to hear, but maybe the human side, warts and all, is what sells tickets. Like the world in Hawking's mind, it's foreign to me.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Free Writing - Take 79

When things dawn on you, they are usually positive things. A glimmer of light in a dark day or maybe a minor epiphany. Recently a lot has dawned on me and I am not sure if they are positive things. I used to laugh at how everyone I've ever had a relationship with, was still a friend. As recently as a year ago, I used to talk to everyone I'd ever dated after the age of 21. Today, it dawned on me that I speak to one and the reality is, it's been years since we've actually spoken. It's also dawned on my that when I moved, I spoke or texted weekly to about 20 people. Within a month or two that had dwindled to eight. Now it's about three. This past month, I made 35 minutes worth of calls and had 200 texts. I used to make 1500-2000 per month. Sure I use other means of social media, but there's still that feeling that I don't belong in the place I called home for almost 30 years, which at times become hard to take, for no other reason than I don't feel at home where I am. I feel like I left a place where everyone's life revolved around comparing themselves to others, to a place where nobody gives a shit about anyone else, but themselves. Ithaca, for all it's liberal glory, is the most self centered place in the universe. Nobody cares what your favorite place to eat is, because they want what they want. The sad part is I'm basing this only on people that have already been deemed good people. The reality is, aside from two people I've known my entire life and a hippie next door neighbor (who isn't only the salt of the earth, he has the salt of the earth stuck in his bare feet), I don't like anyone I've met. Sure, I can get along with fucking Manson, because that's who I am. I can pretend to be anyone's best friend, but it's a town of spoiled brat hipsters, trying so hard to fit in with the entitled-for-no-reason grey hairs, that I can't even successfully google search a sports bar, without it taking me 30 miles away. Maybe 30 miles away is grand, but I'm not spending the time or energy to visit a town known for it's NASCAR track, just to have a beer and a plate of nachos that isn't served by a barista whose father could buy and sell my old town, but wants me to listen to their short story about their struggle to be seen. It's dawned on me that as cynical I get, I miss the two or three people who talk no shit, take no shit and who will call me out on my shit. There are four people in the world that do this and I miss them. Sadly, ones in Florida, one is married with problems of her own and the last is enjoying a rebirth of sorts. The last one, is the last one. The one I can't lean on, because they were my crutch, but they are also the one who makes me dawn on things I don't want to. Like my mother and the toast that didn't happen on election day, Hanukkah, her birthday and I'm sure on Mother's Day. These were never afterthoughts back "home" and yet they are now. Which makes me wonder where the hell have I landed?

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Review - Birdman or (Why is this so difficult for everyone?)

As I make my way through the best film nominees on DVD, I came to Birdman, the actual winner. I went into this with mixed emotions, as I love Stone and Watts, fine Galifinakis incredibly likable, miss Norton's power and have always felt rather negatively about Keaton. Ironically, the tone of the film plays into Keaton's every man demeanor. As I would find out, the actors chosen for each role, in many ways mirrored their fictional counterparts. This works and it doesn't.

As I repeat always, I don't read or watch reviews before seeing a movie, but afterwards, I try to pour over as many as I can. I also like to read about what might have inspired the director, which in this case was a Raymond Carver short story. The movie plays out, much like the story, which is somewhat confusing, because an adaptation of the play is what the movie centers on. The first thing I noticed when reading reviews and especially interviews, is that the director, the highly talented Alejandro Inarritu, has an ego that is second to none. He hates superheroes, he seems to pity plays and has some disdain for just how hard it is to stay relevant in today's world. If he wasn't in Hollywood, we'd all let out a loud "Awwww." He is though and Keaton is Beetlejuice and he tried so hard in Burton's nightmare attempt at Batman. Inarritu claims Birdman's disappearance in 1992 had nothing to do with Keaton's last big role as the "Caped Crusader" in 1992, but we all know better.

The movie pokes fun at so many Hollywood cliches and reeks of Altman's Short Cuts and The Player and this is where I don't get the confusion. The film is nothing, but in-joke after in-joke about the life. In backgrounds we see posters for Superman, a billboard with Tom Hanks on Broadway and quotes from Shakespeare by a bum, right after a critic displays her power. There are heated exchanges where both parties are right and in being correct, both prove wrong. This is life, nothing complex about it. The movie uses a film gimmick, which I must admit, I didn't even notice after the first 25 minutes. Those 25 were headache inducing. Then of course, there is the drumbeat soundtrack which is so out of place and so noticeable you almost have to smile when you see the drummer casually performing in the middle of a janitor's closet or stage prop room. Yes, the movie is that tacky. I refrain from using the term cliche, because I've been told I'm overusing it.

What amazes me in reading all the reviews, interviews and press clippings is that nobody has mention Death of a Salesman, which this film resembles in that it is a tragedy. Sure, it's dark comedy, but it's also a tragedy in the Greek sense. Another omission by these experts is the most obvious symbolism and that is the Phoenix, rising from the ashes. If you've seen it, it might make one scene in particular make a whole lot of sense. 

The new standard is ambiguous endings, which allow the viewer to draw their own conclusion, but what the director fails to acknowledge in his disdain for action movies and social media popularity, is that the average person isn't capable. In an era of people telling everyone who doesn't like something they simply don't understand it, Inarritu has played into that same thing he hates, promoting it all the way to an Oscar win. The irony is that the virtue of ignorance is the very thing which made this film a success, because those who see through it's "complexities," realize it's all been done before and better, but not with the obvious clues pointing us to what we as a culture embrace...familiarity. 

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Quickie Review - Berberian Sound Studio (Is this the greatest in-joke ever?)

Berberian Sound Studio is being lauded by critics as a masterpiece. An homage to the horror thrillers of the 70's and 80's known as Giallo. It has quietly become the one film you're not allowed to say anything negative about, because it was inspired by the genre, you're not allowed to dislike and keep your credibility in good standing. Sounds a little too Williamsburg/coffee shop/college radio for you? Well it is.

Here's the great thing. It's not gaillo or anything even close. It's also not really a good movie, in any way. The acting is shoddy, the script is poor and the lighting is abysmal. Here's the main problem with these factors...this might simply be what the writer/director Peter Strickland thinks are the main components of giallo. Here is where I differ from all the glowing reviews and high praise; I think he knew exactly what he was doing.  I think he was poking fun at the whole ridiculous praise of the giallo genre. What we know as giallo is simply Harlequin whodunits, with beautiful women, often naked, being chased, tortured and killed. They are the quintessential b-movies we all love. Argento, Fulci, Bava, etc all play into this genre and the results are almost always the same. Very boring, poorly lit and even more poorly acted films with absolutely incredible atmospheric sound, which makes for a good romp. Somewhere along the line the Gen-X gang decided that these movies were pure art. I guess it makes sense that the same people who hem and haw over a soup can, would think Tenebre is high art.

So where does Berberian Sound Studio go wrong? Giallo, for all it's silliness and admitted charm, was simple and there was a beginning, middle and end. You left feeling satisfied that pretty much everyone was disposed of or revealed and you walked away happy. This film leaves you with such an ambiguous ending, it makes the viewer feel as if the director's personal tug of war between homage and mockery finally came to a standstill. Reviewers will cite numerous similar films, but none of them attempted to distract us from a lack of plot, which this was one does. What I find so interesting in professional reviews is each writer's ability to draw from films that in no way hold a connection to this film. Classics like Psycho, Peeping Tom and Blow Out are so precise in their vision, whereas this one is purposely and from the director's own admission, more surreal.  Surreal only works, when we have something mentally tangible to draw from, but this fails in that. Gimmicks galore might be an homage to some, but I kept getting this creeping suspicion that everyone involved in this film truly enjoyed knowing that this film would be taken literally. I guess my disdain proves that I simply didn't get it, which in today's world of Internet trolls, is as successful as actually being a good movie.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Free Writing - Take 78

I thought about writing an in depth entry about this, but might need a little more research or at the very least have a handful more examples to point to, but it seems to me there is a trend among the people I know. The people who exude happiness publicly are all into some sort of fitness craze. Whether it be the fad of the month of the older varieties, all of these people are nothing but smiles and sunshine. What I've also noticed about this group is their one common trait. Money. Whether through hard work, inheritance or sheer dumb luck, they all have disposable income. This also means they are granted time. Free time. What I have gathered, mostly from direct interactions is that all of these people were at one time financially strapped or at the very least, struggling to have what they personally needed to feel "one" with the world. But here's where it gets tricky. When they stop talking about their exercise routine, their jobs or whatever it is they do to pass the time, they change. When they speak of their families and relationships, it's not what they say, it's the body language. Their taught postures seem to disappear like a punctured balloon and while the words stay positive, the message is clearly the opposite of what they are saying. I've also noticed that these people tend to have children and family members who are suffering, in some way, constantly. Which leads me to the basis for this little babble. Why is it that the parents I know, who are without a doubt (not simply my opinion, but lauded by friends), out of shape? Not fat or obese necessarily, but toned would not be used to describe them. Now, I fully admit, I'm making a huge generalization, because one of the best parents I've ever know in a workout fiend, but I'd say 80-90% of the best parents and by far the ones with the happiest children, are soft. Maybe well rounded isn't just a term for someone's interests, but an exemplary picture of the complete package. The one trait that almost all of these people have is meals and quiet connections. While others are attending a class for meditation, these parents seem to find this quiet time while with their children. It may be reading together, while snuggled on the couch or bed. It may be a movie together, sharing a bowl of popcorn. It may simply be a walk and a chat, where as it's very hard to connect to your five year old while spinning or doing yoga. The people I've known over the years, who have the healthiest mental and physical (not getting illnesses, chronic problems) makeup, are the ones who don't appear to the eye to be fit. I know what people will say, but I am broken physically, but I refuse to let myself get sick. I haven't had a cold in almost three years and what do I do when I feel something coming on? Math or history or science. I read whatever I can about something I don't know about. Then I try and share it with someone else. I try and communicate and then I eat something, not healthy, but something that makes me happy to eat. Sweets don't make me happy, because I understand the mental aspect of the ups and downs of sugar. Here's the funny thing. This blog which many find to be a waste of time, might be an elixir of sorts, because since, I got back to writing almost every day, I've not had so much as a sniffle. In the end, what is health. Being loved for your aura and your abs might make you feel good, but I don't see how it can compare to a family dinner, followed by some serious couch time. Why are we alive anyway? To look good or to make others feel good? I know that in forty-four years, making someone else laugh even once made me feel better than any single physical accomplishment I've attained. I've won many games, races, events in my day, but none compare to a dinner where someone says "thanks for being here." Sorry if aesthetically that doesn't please you.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Snowy Sunday Morning In Late March

The sun must have risen somewhere. I can see out the window, but despite being the third official day of Spring, it is snowing; very hard.  I don't mind the snow, but it seems like the entire world does and that has a horrible effect on me in many ways. Why are summer people so open to suggestion, whether it be a place to go for a drink or a meal, but in the winter, these people stick to such a rigid routine? They gaze out the window, seeing the pinkish grey sky atop the white ground and their minds become numb. Even when given the opportunity of making a choice, their minds shrivel up, like a frightened armadillo and they go with what is safe. Obviously, I'm being cryptic, because I don't want to offend. How many times can the same friend write about the weather? How often can I read about the cold? Why do they think we care, if they don't even care? Why is it I see pictures of the journey to work from some in the winter, every single day, but never in the summer when the sights are much more worthy of a photo? Why is it, that my summer was filled with glorious meals, great conversation and smiling faces, but this winter is breaded meat or the same fish, repeatedly ruining my appreciation for it's very existence. Conversations, each night, starting and ending with the same subjects, but I don't think anyone notices but me. I'm different, I get it, but I don't understand why my life has to be ruined, because others don't appreciate this season of cold. The same way I enjoy old films, I view winter. The best memories are with cold in the air and snow on the ground and the longer it sticks around, the longer I get to savior those memories. Meanwhile, others look forward to some mystical weather, where they stare blankly skyward, while soaking up the rays and nobody realizes how boring they've become.