Tag Archives: cinema

Movie Reviews: Different Drum

I picked this movie because it looked lonely and unrated on Amazon Instant Watch. Well, and because the description mentions Indiana. As a dude from Indiana, I can totally speak to that bit.

The nutshell summary is that this is a travelogue movie that’s shot in a very informal and random manner. You feel like you were there but all in all nothing of great consequence happens. A couple travels from point A to point B and have pretty realistic adventures that result in a pregnant woman with a bedazzled eyepatch, urinating on the train tracks and changing a flat tire.

In the end…. yeah, it’s not a picture that’s ABOUT something. There’s no grand crescendo but it’s a story that really, we’ve all lived. As the picture wraps you don’t say to yourself “wow!” so much as you do, “yeah, I remember when…” We have all lived some vague insubstantial version of this story but unlike this filmmaker, we didn’t bother to record it.

This is a movie that doesn’t make you remember IT so much as it makes it remember your analogous version of what you just saw. This is a movie for when you’re in a contemplative and reminiscent mood.

Notes from my viewing…

The style is that clumsy but endearing one in which everything is shot in a very informal way. Shots get cut off at times, don’t quite work out, sometimes out of focus, but very lifelike. It makes you feel like you’re there but it’s not got that over-processed look that most of the Hollywood junk does. I love this aspect of the film.

The credits are exceptionally high tech and come in about 11 minutes into the film. They add a distinctly charming air to the whole thing. They also act as chapter markers.

The whole thing feels VERY midwestern. I would swear that I’ve been in some of these places. There are some great shots photographically; very similar to what I’d take when I’m traveling.

The dialog in this film is so… pedestrian… there’s a bit talking about uncles and great uncles and how that works and it’s just so… real. It’s very much like a real life conversation that’s really ABOUT nothing but it’s the sort of thing that makes up our entire lives.

Movie is filled with lifelike little contradictions… like the pregnant protagonist who smokes and drinks at times but then acts terribly guilty about it. And her identical coats in yellow and green.

My god; some of these painfully nondescript settings are completely and utterly realistic. Case in point, visiting the protagonist’s cousin. The situation is rather bizarre but the setting is completely natural.

This movie….. this movie has the MOST polite armed robbery in the history of … well, of history. Holy CRAP that was nonchalant. That is the Midwestern way. “Give me all your money but, you know, whenever you want.” OK, not quite a quote, but that’s the general idea.

Eight minutes from the end, it’s time for Indiana!!!!!

Yeah, that’s Indiana. Northern Indiana at least. Lots of Amish.

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Movie Reviews: The Grand Budapest Hotel (****)

Laura and I marched off to see this movie after seeing previews for several weeks. Are we glad we did? Oooh, mostly, though it put Laura to sleep and I was very yawnful at various points.

I won’t summarize the plot for you because that’s what the description is for but the feel of the movie was very French to me with a bit of 70s criminal comedic espionage movie. Imagine the Pink Panther movies, I guess. The movie is a first person narrative in which the characters speak to you directly throughout the action much like Amélie, one of my own personal favorites.

To the positive the movie was delightfully photographed. The scenes are artistic and well-composed and, as I said, felt very European. The plot is wacky and madcap and isn’t laugh-aloud funny but instead cute and whimsical. That said, it’s not really a comedy as it has a deep undercurrent of tragedy that overtakes the whole thing in the end.

On the negative side, when asked closely if she was glad we picked it, she was mildly non-committal since, as I noted above, she did fall asleep during the movie. It is visually stimulating but doesn’t really grab the viewer’s interest. Other reviewers hold differing opinions as aficionados of the cinema but as a plebe it just didn’t quite get my complete attention.

In summary, we were the youngest people in the theatre at 45 with the majority of the other viewers ranging into their 50s and 60s. They seemed at least moderately amused and there wasn’t a great deal of snoring (not even from Laura) but I didn’t hear any applauding after the movie either.

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Alternative Movie Posters: Film Art from the Underground – A handsome and artistic volume (5/5)

As usual I received this book for free in exchange for a review. This time it was from NetGalley. Despite that kindness I give my scrupulously candid thoughts below.

In general I’m not a fan of coffee-table books because I hate nothing more than dusting coffee-table books. This one caught my eye, however, because it has a delightful artistic feel to it and I was, for the most part, not disappointed. This book contains about 200 “alternative” movie posters from classic movies ranging from Pee Wee’s Big Adventure to Hitchcock classics.

On the positive side, the art is wonderfully varied and in most cases I wanted to see some of these movies based solely on the poster they inspired. These designs are clever, artful, well-executed and encapsulate the themes of their topic movies wonderfully. They’ve also included a good blend of genres in the movies represented from outright horror to comedy.

The only negative I would point out is that there is some amount of repetition. Several movies had 2-3 posters included so this pads the numbers a bit.

In summary, a wonderful and handsome coffee-table volume for the movie buff. Many of these I’d have a hard time resisting the temptation to cut them out and frame them to hang on the wall. I’d proudly display it on my coffee table despite the sad truth that I would have to dust it once in a while.


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Movie Reviews: Girlfriend 19 – Not really any plot to speak of but instead detailed emotional forensics on what it’s like to break up with someone

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I watched this movie because it looked lonely and unreviewed on Amazon Instant Watch and I’m reasonably glad I did but it’s important to know what you’re getting into.

First and foremost, this movie is not broken. It starts out with about 60 seconds of complete blackness and almost no audio and very slowly brightens to reveal a woman’s hand. We scrambled around a bit wondering why the movie wasn’t starting only to realize that the movie was starting but very slowly. So be aware of that oddity.

So, the plot is really not much of a plot so it’s impossible to “spoiler” much of anything. The slowly-appearing opening scene features a couple in bed yet also in the process of breaking up. About 5 minutes into it he’s finally out the door and the rest of the movie covers the next 2-3 days as she deals with the emotional aftermath of the situation. It’s a deep and (I’m told) accurate view of breaking up from the woman’s perspective but it’s not a movie driven by events. She talks to her friends, she flashes back to before the relationship, she talks to her ex, she flashes back to events with her ex, around and around for 90 minutes.

In summary, it wasn’t a movie that took our breath away but it was reasonably thought provoking. Guys will have a bit more trouble with this movie since it’s not really their perspective on things but it’s a pretty accurate and it will spur some potential conversation if you’re open-minded about the whole topic. Most definitely not a first-date movie though.

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The Week in Movies

The Hobbit – The Desolation of Smaug

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To begin, I really wanted to like this movie. I’ve read the book about 10 times in my life and consider myself a solid fan of the work. Unfortunately, this movie diverts so far from the book and into the realm of vapid uber-action flick that it’s really got nothing to do with its predecessor at this point.

On the positive side, as usual the visuals are incredible. The depiction of Smaug is everything you could hope for and the scenery and backdrops are amazing. Technology continues to make it hard to go to a movie and not see something interesting. Any collection of dwarves as varied as this one is always a treat and the guest appearances by the 7th Doctor (Sylvester McCoy) and Jeeves (Stephen Fry) were a wonderful mid-movie wake up. These and the other characters were crafted very satisfactorily.

Unfortunately, the negative begins when you look at what these well-drawn characters actually did. Even forgetting a moment that there ever was a book, the action sequences were appalling in their defiance of any reasonable logic about how the world actually works. At one point I thought for certain I was watching a clip from Super Mario Brothers as Mario jumped about stomping on the heads of his enemies. I wouldn’t have been surprised to see someone grow to twice their size after eating a colorful mushroom. Lastly, as artfully as these characters were portrayed it would have been nice if they’d picked a single personality and stuck with it throughout the film.

In summary, as a fan of the book this movie is a tragedy. The story line is mangled and wouldn’t really be recognizable as having anything to do with The Hobbit if not for the names. Sadly this is probably unavoidable when you turn a book that takes about 6 hours to read (including a break for elevensies) and turn it into three movies that take 8+ hours to watch. If you disregard the book entirely you still end up with a hollow and rather silly movie. All that said though it still earns 3 stars because it was nice to look at. As long as you don’t accidentally think about it too much you’ll be fine.

American Hustle

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I saw this movie, as I usually do, by just showing up at the theatre and watching whatever movie is playing next knowing not a single thing about it.

On the positive side, the setting is 1978 and the clothes, music, cars all were done wonderfully. I love a historical piece and this one didn’t fail to show us some of the best and some of the worst from fashion in this era. The soundtrack is diverse and appropriate and doesn’t just stick to the same 20 songs we tend to hear from the late 70’s. Also, as story lines go this one was reasonably well executed and held my own interest for most of the 2+ hours. I saw this one in a VERY crowded theatre and the audience seemed attentive and responsive to the 15-20 comedic bits. In fact one woman in the front row very nearly choked to death on a piece of popcorn that happened to hit the wrong spot just as something funny was going on.

To the negative, the movie did have some continuity problems and the middle hour or so was a bit of a yawn-filled drag. It seemed like a movie that was cobbled down from about 5 hours to 2 as characters made unexplained transitions between emotional states; I suspect an extended version might make slightly more sense but likely end up being fairly unbearable.

In summary, not the best movie I’ve seen in the past few months but it was amusing enough to justify the time spent. Any movie featuring a comb-over as complex as the one in the opening scenes of the movie deserves at least 4 stars.

The Hunger Games – Catching Fire
Seldom have I watched a movie based on a book that so accurately translates what was on the printed page. At several points I thought I must have seen the movie before because the image was so familiar but later realized that the movie just got it so right that I only imagined it.

It’s also worth remembering that the movie is a children’s movie based on a children’s book and despite the fact that it deals with some fairly violent subject matter, it does it in a very child-friendly way. Adults who are accustomed to the usual gore Hollywood likes to spew out will notice a much tamer take on the subject.

Additionally, I’ve read the books but I can’t imagine this movie would suffer terribly for those who hadn’t. The whole thing is fairly straightforward with no great complexity so it would be difficult to get lost even without previous experience in the texts.

Lastly, the thing that makes me like this series most is its strong underlying social commentary on the plutocracy in which we live in this country. For kids reading the book today, they’re probably not seeing the parallels but once they get older it’s just possible they’ll see echoes of this in their own government and the social stratification that we live with every day.

Saving Mr. Banks
As always, no spoilers whatsoever in this review because that’s just plain inconsiderate.

Saving Mr. Banks is a dual narrative portrait of the author of Mary Poppins and the creative team at Walt Disney that worked to bring it to the big screen. In one thread (1961) we have the curmudgeonly author behaving like a stark raving… well, curmudgeon as she tries to exert control over the creative process. In the other thread (1906, Australia) we unwind the story of her grim childhood that makes her a curmudgeon in the first place.

This movie has a lot of things to say not the least of which is to cast an entirely different light that beloved American classic of childhood. Mary Poppins ain’t quite what you think it’s about as a kid (but then what good movie IS what you think it’s about when you’re a kid). It’s also a powerful demonstration of how our childhood influences us as adults sometimes in ways that we don’t quite grasp until we look back on them from a great distance.

It’s also interesting to see behind the curtain of the creative process. Avoiding spoilers, the author’s primary objection is that Mary Poppins and the Banks family have become, in truth, her family over the years and sharing that vision and letting someone else have a piece of them is frightfully difficult. It does make a person wonder if all authors have this same struggle when crossing mediums.

Lastly, I’m a sucker for sentiment but this movie had the audience blowing its nose and audibly sniffing for a good hour. It’s an incredibly intimate portrait. However, the kids won’t think much of it and the group in the theatre with me was 50+ for the most part. All that said, highly recommended for anyone with a sentimental streak. Best movie I’ve seen in a month or more.

PS: The patient who sit through the credits will be treated to some photos from the movie’s production and a section of the recorded conversations between the author and the production cast.

Anchorman 2 – The Legend Continues
Firstly: No spoilers here. That would be pretty inconsiderate.

I don’t think there is any single moment in this movie that people will completely lose it over but for two hours the movie quietly pounds away in absurdity. I watched this in a fairly full theatre of college kids and there was a consistent level of positive reaction. About 80% of the attempted humor got a laugh and that’s not a bad based on recent experience.

Part of the joy of this movie is that it has so many threads of story to appeal to so many. The older set will enjoy the wonderfully archaic fashion (it made me want to find some of those delightful polyester pattern shirts) and numerous period references, though some of these seem anachronistic given the movie is set in 1980.

At times the film echos Zoolander as macho professional archetypes square off in hopelessly absurd duels for dominance of the stage. The film’s closing melee is star-studded and from a story perspective, somewhat of a letdown, but I was too busy trying to figure out all the cameos to realize that until much later. My primary observation from that scene is to note that a lot of famous people are starting to look really old. Yow.

Lastly, the thing that really sticks out for me about this movie is that like all comedies, it goes through that mandatory dramatic shift about 2/3 of the way through but Anchorman 2 somehow survives and continues to be funny. Perhaps that’s because the movie’s poignant moments aren’t all that poignant but nevertheless, the movie manages to deliver laughs even after the usual serious interludes.

PS: If you do happen to sit through the movie’s massive credits, there is a brief additional scene. It’s not worth missing your dinner reservations for but it is there for the intrepid and the absurdly patient.

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Movie reviews: Frozen

(I never quite know what anyone cares about or doesn’t, but just to shake things up, here’s a movie review)

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To begin, I went to this movie because my 8-year-old daughter decided she wanted to go 12 minutes before showtime so we dashed in a huge hurry to the movie theatre 11 minutes away and got the Sunday matinee. Since this movie isn’t really targeted to my demographic, I won’t really try to make a value judgment so much as state a few random observations. (Also: No spoilers whatsoever)

OK, so the most important reaction is that of my daughter. Everything I say in paragraphs after this is merely silly adult-talk that matters not one iota. My 8-year-old was absolutely transfixed. She bounced in her seat. She bit her nails. She gasped audibly. She raised her hands in triumph. She was thoroughly and completely sucked in to this. When asked at the end what she thought she went on at length about the music and one particular character. As she says after every movie, “This was the best movie ever!!!!” Also, she’s fairly sensitive to violent situations for her age but she was fine in this case. On the edge of her seat but certainly not under it.

Alright, silly adult talk commences.

At a plot level this one is a mix of a lot of other Disney movies. A bit of Beauty and the Beast, some Shrek plus some X-men to mix things up. There’s some grand variety to be sure. The music in this one wasn’t bad but in the first hour or so it seemed we had a 4-minute song about every 5 minutes. Song quality was wonderful but I thought at points that I was watching a cartoon opera. In the second half of the movie the vocals settle down to a more reasonable level and we get on with an actual plot. No single song stands out for me (they were all fairly pop-ish) with the exception of one sung by a group of trolls. That one is assured to be lodged firmly in my head for a while. It’s musically entertaining and so very, very, very true all at once. As always, the graphics were jaw-dropping. Some scenes drew audible gasps and whispers from the audience just from the standpoint of quality of the artwork. Human characters have become so natural that they’re often difficult to distinguish from real actors.

My only complaint is the standard one that I make about all such movies. At the risk of a mild spoiler I will merely say that it bothers me when movies are all wonderful fireworks and bubblegum at the end. Eventually kids should learn that there is a price to success so it bugs me when absolutely EVERYTHING turns out just wonderfully for EVERYONE involved who’s not a terrible villain.

In summary, Izzy loved it, I was entertained though very slightly grumpy in exactly the way I’m grumpy about all Hollywood movies. Take that for what it’s worth. Which is probably everything and nothing in exactly that order.

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