Saturday, February 14, 2015

Movies of 2014

So, this is one of those posts where I started with an entirely different premise and in the midst of building that premise I realized I was simply incorrect.

I was going to say this was a meh year for movies, and it kinda was. (Here Time tries to avoid that conclusion, included because it spurred this post.)
But in reviewing this abbreviated list of the top 100 movies by box office (complete list here), there was some darn good stuff this year - movies that will have legs, in that someone who didn't see them yet will at some point in the future.  I've highlighted the ones I've heard general consensus around their being good. Of those I've seen, I found something in most of them to like or love a little.

22 Jumpstreet was a pretty cool sequel, with one of the best closing title sequences ever.  Interstellar was on a grand scale and I enjoyed it, but like the Disney movie The Black Hole, the fact that it glossed over the fact you would simply be crushed if you entered a black hole scotched my complete enjoyment of it.  The "auto destruct sequence initiated" joke almost made up for that, though. How to Train Your Dragon 2 was moving and epic, though Spoiler Alert: it's the Lion King/Bambi plot yet again.  Gone Girl was a nearly perfect adaptation of that wonderful novel; see it if you  decide to see anything on the list. Boyhood was of course great.  Still looking forward to Birdman and Wild

TLD:  [correction - Wild is not about the same woman who was the subject of Alice to Ocean.  My bad.]
Haven't had one of these in a while! I consigned Wild to a DVD because I know the story too well as it was the subject of one of the first multimedia CDs ever, Alice to Ocean, and given out by Apple with new Macs back in the 90s, which I devoured. It was supposed to be the next big thing, and everyone did them for a bit, but then the web came along it all moved to a server not near you. I even found a nude picture of the woman as they had not bothered to clean up some of the scratch files.  Someone had painted a dress on her, which was the one used in the presentation, but they forgot to remove the source photo from a buried folder. I guess they felt it would be too controversial to use, which was sorta too bad because the woman explains that she was often nude when not around anyone else, which to me is an interesting part of the story.
 The centerpiece scene in "X-Men" where Quicksilver saves everyone by zipping around the room more or less outside of time and prevents the cops from airing them out.  The use of Jim Croce's "Time in a Bottle" is inspired.  Spoiler Alert: Am I the only one to notice this had the exact same plot as J.J. Abrams' Star Trek reboot?

For some reason The LEGO Movie just didn't connect with me, which is odd because it's right in my wheelhouse, but I could barely force myself to finish it and only did because the younger daughter was watching it, too.  Her summary: "Kinda boring." 

My favorite of the year - Calvary - is not even on this list (though it's in the top 200), and I think it would have been widely embraced had it been given a larger release.  I suspect the reason it wasn't is twofold: 1) it's very Irish, which I bet some short-sighted Americans who determine distribution domestically thought might confound some, 2) it's a thoughtful exploration of belief and the sins and grace of the Roman Catholic Church. I've noticed a certain squeamishness in Hollywood about actual religion.  As proof I offer Noah and Exodus, both which deviated greatly from their biblical source material and did their best to remove or paganize God.  Sorta like starting out with a great story of a boxer, but hey let's change him to a skateboarder because that's what all the kids like, right? And none of us like boxing anyway. Kinda bloody. Ew. 

I watched Calvary with an atheist friend who particularly hates the Catholic Church and he was so livid after an hour, we had to stop watching. He ranted for about 20 minutes about how the church represents most of the evil done to mankind in the recent centuries.  I tried to make the case that his opinion was a bit of hyperbole, but he wasn't hearing it, so we moved on with some action flick with grim men and big explosions. 

I was glad we hadn't finished it together because it's one of the few movies ever that took me entirely by surprise and I actually shed some manly tears at the end.  (The other in memory being the scene in Terms of Endearment when the mom is saying goodbye to her sons and the little one tries to be brave - can't even watch that one now.)

On the strength of this movie, I looked for other movies by this team, and was freaking thrilled to discover this is the 2nd movie in a planned trilogy. I'm in the midst of the first one - The Guard - about an Irish detective (they call them "Guards") helping American Don Cheadle (!!!) sort out a mystery. So far it's as good. (Spoiler alert: if you've not seen these movies, don't do much research because the name of the trilogy gives a lot away.)

While researching stuff for this post, I found some intredasting trivia about This is the End - the end of the world movie with Seth Rogan and his Hollywood buddies playing "themselves":
- With its North American final gross of $101,470,202, This Is the End became the 33rd film of 2013 to pass the $100,000,000 milestone at the US box office, a record.
- A DVD copy was the last film rented by a Blockbuster Video in Hawaii before the video chain ceased rentals on November 9, 2013.
Oh, and I just looked over the Grammy winners - I haven't watched in years, but this year was the first year I found out after the fact they'd already occurred.  Of all the winners, I've heard only one of the albums (Jack White's Lazaretto) and one of the hits (the ubiquitous to those with kids "Happy"). Sad that the petulance of Kanye West is again the top story from the festivities; though Shirley Manson's open letter bitch-slap is a hoot.

Back to flicks for a sec, posted this, the Editor's Guild top 75 best edited films.  Usually most lists of best films ever include a lot of ones with historical significance that bore the everloving shite out of anyone who's not a film aficionado, with a couple spinach movies sprinkled in for fiber.  This one manages to have an interesting cross-section of movie history, and one that will I think have more footing with the younger set, probably because editing goes directly to the heart of a film's pace and presentation, which at point in time is crucial, given all the media kids these days consume.   Here's the expanded list with some fun backstories.


Monday, February 02, 2015

Finding Stephanie and fearing uncanny Lammily

After the passing of the late great Mr. Ebert, I was left with only Peter Travers of Rolling Stone as one of the film critics I can turn to for guidance on films when I'm looking for one to watch.  (FWIW, I've always used critics to talk me into watching/reading/listening to something, but almost never to talk me out of it.  Only when most of the critic planet is aligned against something as a terrible entertainment do I let them persuade me to change my mind, and even then in might be worth a visit to see if it's so bad it's good.)

But, glory be, I happily rediscovered where Stephanie Zacharek now writes this week (Village Voice), as she was one of the only other critics I like.  She used to write for Entertainment Weekly, which was snarky fun when it started out (I think they even invented the word "snakry" as I had not seen it before then), but became just another version of People or Us, so when she no longer worked for them, I only bothered to hunt them up for Stephen King's article, which he no longer writes.

It was like catching up with an old friend, especially since the series of articles I found (on were a running conversation between her and several other movie critics and aficionados.  And then I came across this (emphasis mine, though the whole quote is good):
And in answer to your question to me about Under the Skin, as to how the film’s having been directed by a man complicates my take on it: It doesn’t. Like all of us, I’d like to see more films directed by women, because widening the pool of voices will get us better movies overall. And I’m thrilled to be able to praise the work of Prince-Bythewood or Selma’s Ava DuVernay, because it’s terrific work. I’ll also note that women do look at things differently: Beyond the Lights’ director of photography is a woman, Tami Reiker, and I couldn’t help noticing something a little different about the way the movie’s sex scenes are shot and composed—chiefly that Reiker and Prince-Bythewood revel in the beauty of Mbatha-Raw’s and co-star Nate Parker’s bodies equally. There’s an exuberant sensual audacity to those scenes.

All that said: I can only look at movies with my eyes, and they glaze over when I see terms like “gender roles” and “female sexuality as a construct.” I find it so restrictive to look at movies through that lens. I know some people write their dissertations on these sorts of things or base their whole lives’ work on them, but it’s just not for me. I remain silent, sometimes conspicuously so, in most conversations about the need for “more women’s stories,” because I’m more interested in the gloriously wide spectrum of human experience, which of course women are a part of.

Also: Men are fascinating to me, chiefly because I’m not one. They are the extraordinary and often maddening Other. I do love it when movies illuminate an angle of “women’s experience”—whatever that is—in a fresh or vital way. But, God help me, I’m already damnably familiar with the experience of being a woman, whereas I’m nothing like J.M.W. Turner. (At least, I hope not.) And so to see him in Mike Leigh’s quietly sensational Mr. Turner waving away his impossibly cherubic baby granddaughter (only to succumb to her charms, in his grouchy way, a few minutes later), or to watch him add that one necessary daub of red to a painting that already seems perfect—I love that beyond words. As for Scarlett Johansson, I see her, to some degree I am her, I am a man looking at her: When I watch Under the Skin, the No. 1 movie on my top 10 list, I can do and be all of those things at once. For me, the greatest experience is to look at the screen and say not “That’s me,” but “That’s us.” It’s all I ask of movies—I guess it’s a lot!
I love this quiet, almost shy, rebuff of Identity Politics (henceforth acronymed as eIP, the little "e" standing for "evil").

eIP has been on my mind a lot lately because my eldest daughter is headed to college in the fall, and as I have feared for these many years, the curriculum is laced with it.  I've gone through it with her and highlighted them so she can avoid them (and it appears she can, none appear to be mandatory).  She, herself, is already allergic to the eIP concepts as I have worked to inoculate both her and her sister for years (as has their mother, who had her own nearly disastrous, GPA-crushing encounter with it in her college days). 

Alas, my favorite liberal rag,, is beginning to drink waaaay too much of the eIP koolaid, though "koolaid" is too sweet a term for the hydrochloric acid cocktail that is eIP.  I'm down to about one article a day that intrigues, and half the time it's some entertainment thing and not politics or society. Here, as example, are the titles of just two recent articles: 
1. The “Manspreading” scourge isn’t just for subways -- a screed about men taking up too much space in public transportation, which one wonders why it's one gender's fault.
2. “Listen when I talk to you!”: How white entitlement marred my trip to a Ferguson teach-in -- a screech-fest about how offended the author (an eIP PhD. who is black) was when a (white) man moved her bags off the seat next to her on the bus after she didn't see or hear him when he asked her to move them because she was on her iPod looking out the window, and her subsequent attempt to bitch him out went ignored, because he's a racist honky cis of course. (If you're not aware, "cis" is the eIP pejorative for someone who's heterosexual. And we can be reasonably sure the dude was not gay because the article wouldn't exist if he were.)

Now, I'm not entirely against modern criticism of actual bad behavior; I'm opposed only when it's based on the assumptions and bent reasoning of eIP rather than generally accepted principles of common courtesy. 

When I started reading the article "The Problem With Ed Sheeran And 'Nice Guys' Like Him", I thought it was a product of eIP, but after hanging with it, I realized it not only didn't come from an eIP perspective, I found myself whole-heartedly agreeing with it.  Like the author, I went through a period as a young man where I thought I was a "nice guy" until I got to know myself a bit better and realized I am as much of a schmuck as anyone else (though in my case, I did not blame that self-misperception for any difficulties I had with dating, I (rightly) blamed just being a general clod in my dating techniques, and/or lack thereof).

So, I will keep up the good fight in my fight against eIP, rejoice in reading Ms. Zacharek, and do my best to prepare my daughters for the big, bad world.

Which reminds me, we had a fun Christmas moment.  My eldest asked for the new Lammily doll, as she collects dolls and believes (as I do) that the first editions at least will be collector's items in the future.  I knew that if I got a doll for her and not my nine-year-old, the young one would protest her grown sister getting a doll, but not her, so I got her one, too. 

When she opened it, my youngest looked at me with alarm and asked, "She's not going to come to life, is she?" because, as advertised, Lammily looks very real because she's shaped like a real girl. The goal of the doll is to make young girls feel comfortable with themselves, and her realistic appearance is the very thing that unnerved my daughter.  Much laughter.

She still hasn't played with it.