Tag Archives: 366 Movies in 366 Days

Don’t Think Twice

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I knew something would get me out of the blogosphere—or lack thereof for KatyLovesMovies—this  year, if only temporarily.

I stopped writing posts as part of my movie challenge because I thought I could spend that critical time watching other films (not to mention I was struggling to find the creative words to reflect my thoughts  on so many titles before moving on to watch the next one.)

I will get back into blogging in 2017 when I feel like don’t have  to do it and at times I feel inspired to write. Outside of that, this movie challenge has been really fun and I have seen a lot of great films there is a chance I wouldn’t have made it through in my lifetime.

That said I do have some source material I want to reflect on after the delight of being able to listen to Mike Birbiglia talk about his new film, Don’t Think Twice, on Monday at the Lagoon Cinema.

We sat in the front row on the end and Mr. Birbiglia walked right by me on his way to talk with the crowd of hipster Minnesotans, improv artists, movie lovers and the like.

I had the same experience when he talked after a screening of Sleepwalk with Me at the Uptown Theater and then sat in awe pondering whether I could work up the courage to ask a question.

I didn’t even really think about that too much this time, plus I am pretty sure there would be crickets chirping if I asked what I really wanted to know (other than learning the insights into his creative genius.)

Me: “Um, Mr. Birbiglia who would you pick to spend the night with if you were locked in a Target store –similar to the plot of the smash hit Career Opportunities –and why?” (It may come as a shock, but that movie does not hold up now.)

Birbigs: What is Career Opportunities? Could someone please get security?

I did think of one actual serious question during the talk, moderated by Star Tribune critic Colin Colvert.

Luckily for me a bold fellow who asked “What would you have done differently?” led Birbiglia to answer my question –that is after only a brief period of obvious hurt feelings about the question focusing on the film we just watched.  I also wanted to know what he learned about film-making between Sleepwalk With Me and Don’t Think Twice, which he determined the audience member was really asking – just in a passive-aggressive way.

It’s at this point I really wish I brought a notebook, or stolen the one Birbiglia had in is hand during the talk, but I do remember he said he wished he had captured more film and unscripted moments on set of Sleepwalk With Me.

All in all, I loved Don’t Think Twice. (No surprise there.)  I thought it was really well written and something any human at any point in their life could relate to –improv comedian or not. There were some dark moments I did not expect based on the trailer, but I think that’s what actually completed the movie—which also has a good share of humor and is in fact about a group of friends pursuing careers in comedy.

Birbiglia stars as one of the comedians, Miles, alongside Gillian Jacobs, Kate Micucci, Chris Gethard, Tami Sagher and Keegan-Michael Key.

They all work on an improv team together at a theater that is closing down while trying to pursue other comedy aspirations; creating tension in the group. However, they are also brought closer together when dealing with other life struggles from relationships, loss and the like.

During his introduction to the Q&A Monday, Birbiglia said he couldn’t watch the film anymore because “he likes crying, just not every day.”

I kept it together during the film even though a lot of the moments hit home and I was dealing with all the emotions from Birbiglia’s impending appearance after the credits rolled. (In case you missed it, I love comedy and idolize comedians, A LOT.)

I just keep going back to what a delight it was to hear Birbiglia talk and go off on eloquent tangents from the audience’s questions that led to personal stories about his career.

I also don’t remember the first question for Birbiglia, I think it was from Colin Colvert, but his response was how he likes films that are about life and mirror people’s lives and that he sought out to make a film like that with Don’t Think Twice.

He also said, I think stemming from a question about what’s next in his career, that he feels directors and writers in Hollywood often get into a pattern of sorts and do the same thing over and over. He said they often make formulaic films and don’t try anything new, often because they don’t have to in order to get audiences to their films.

Birbiglia said he doesn’t want to do that in his career going forward. He wants to keep his films personal, or as he described in the one direct quote I do remember:  “I want to continue to give you my soul.” It was really heartfelt and shows how much he must love making people laugh and cry through his work. He reflects on that more in a director’s note about Don’t Think Twice.

That’s pretty admirable for an artist and comedian to just put it all out there in a creative work for everyone to see. For me, after much studying of their work and listening to podcasts, I know that’s what comedians do.

They take their personal ups and downs and craft them into what the rest of us can relate to and laugh at, not in a mean way, but because we’ve all been there.

I am grateful to Mike Birbiglia for sharing his work and thoughts behind it and hope people see this film. It is opening at the Lagoon Cinema in Minneapolis and August and other Landmark Theatres throughout the U.S.

“That is all.”

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Movie Week in Review: From The Fog to Love

There were some flops last week as part of my movie challenge.

fog_poster_06It started out strong with John Carpenter’s The Fog, a film I knew little about but enjoyed both for its visual effects and solid scares. The film, based on a fable about shipwrecked—possibly murdered—men who attack the village of Antonio Bay on the 100-year anniversary of their death, builds slowly but it was an effective style choice.

As the Antonio Bay residents anticipate the anniversary, a green, thick fog approaches the village. By the time the fog is in full force, and night falls, the victims are only able to see glimpses of the disfigured monsters as they seek revenge for what happened 100 years ago.

Carpenter’s score, much like in Halloween, completes the fear factor in the film.

A test of a good horror film, in my opinion, is how often you think of it after the fact or feel the need to check if the door is locked or, even worse, if there is a mangled monster hiding in your closet. In other words, if a film has the power to send you back to age 10 and to thinking checking the closet or under your bed at nightfall is going to help you survive – it passes the test for me. Films are all about imagination and The Fog—again with its fable influence—is a creative story with just the right amount of fright that holds up today.

The Fog and Alfred Hitchcock’s To Catch a Thief (now streaming on Netflix) are loosely connected in the strength of their visual styles. In fact, a rarity for Hitchcock, I think the visuals of To Catch a Thief are one of its stronger points over the script and acting. Hitchcock, at least the films I’ve seen so far, usually presents a triple threat but some components of To Catch a Thief faltered a bit. Cary Grant, as a retired jewel thief bumbling away at his French villa, and Grace Kelly as a tourist who takes to him (and wants to solve a mystery behind missing diamonds) shine together on screen. It’s hard to top that but, given that the film won an Oscar for best cinematography, its stylistic points to depict the mystery burglar and capture the beautiful French countryside were more memorable components of this Hitchcock picture.

Other than the wonderful Ali: Fear Eats the Soul,  which I found by happenstance at the library, the memorable moments from the films I watched last week dwindled a bit after To Catch a Thief.

I’ll save Ali: Fear Eats the Soul for last so as to end a high note, but Margaret and Urban Cowboy presented some dark times for me last week in cinematic history. Maybe I’m being a little over dramatic but not as much as Anna Paquin in her role as entitled teenager Lisa after she witnesses, or possibly causes, a horrific bus accident in New York City in Margaret.

I am still kind of baffled about how a strong cast of Paquin, Mark Ruffalo and Matt Damon (although his role is small and he can be blamed for nothing wrong in this world) can deliver such forced performances that lack any depiction of real emotion. The film is nearly three hours long and I stuck with it hoping their character depictions would improve, with no such luck. Paquin and Ruffalo, as the bus driver, have the biggest roles and lack any real tension even as they are at odds with each other about what happened on the day of the accident.  At one point in the film it seemed like some of the actors with smaller roles knew how bad it was and just flubbed through their lines on purpose. It was almost like watching one take of the movie being made live and they had to release whatever they made it through. I hope to find other people who saw Margaret, and made it beyond the violent bus accident scene, to know if I am just imagining how bad it was or if there is a different take on the film that I am missing.

The same is the case for Urban Cowboy, starring John Travolta, because I didn’t even watch the last 20 minutes. I tried, but the last hour of the film really went downhill, in my opinion. The first hour delivered what I expected as far as a 1980s story of a rural man moving to the big city to ultimately do the same things he did before with the addition of falling in love and getting married. It was like a less-serious Saturday Night Fever with nowhere near the depth and strength in it’s story but, at least at first, entertaining nonetheless. Someday I’ll have to watch those 20 minutes to technically count it in my challenge, but for now I don’t feel like I missed much.

Ali: Fear Eats the Soul, however, redeemed my week of ups and downs as a perfect, unexpected love story between a Moroccan migrant worker and a German woman 20-years his senior after they meet at a bar. The description on the library DVD sounded interesting, but I had no idea the film is so well regarded or that it is so wonderful.

It’s a simple story made deeper with its commentary on culture and society shown through the responses of Emmi and Ali’s friends and family to their unlikely relationship. Stylistically, not counting teh dialogue and music, it was beautiful to watch the camera angles that provided a voyeuristic view into the characters’ lives. Of all the movies I watched last week, I definitely recommend Ali: Fear Eats the Soul. We could all use something unexpected in our lives now and then.

“Is all that we see or seem

But a dream within a dream?”

Edgar Allan Poe

Movie Week in Review: Spies and Romance

audreyhepburn-carygrant-charadeBig news from last week, I made it to movie 100! The film I watched wasn’t exactly what I intended to for such a milestone in this challenge; but after yet another stressful day at the office I wanted to see something at the theater I also work at (a place that is oddly calming for me) and unwind a bit.

The First Monday in May, a documentary about the celebrity-filled Met Gala organized to raise money for exhibitions at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, is for the most part an entertaining glimpse at art, fashion and film while presenting a small argument that they are one in the same. The curator for the exhibit at the center of the documentary and Met Gala hubbub, Andrew Bolton, said fashion especially should be considered as art and wanted to reflect that in his display of outfits and costumes inspired by Chinese culture.

Documentaries can be hit or miss and I will say this one perhaps could have went deeper into its subject matter and the development of the exhibit vs. the seating arrangement of famous people at the Met Gala and Anna Wintour wearing her sunglasses indoors. Those topics were a bit superficial to cover, while the portions of the film that provided a peek into her work on the Met board while leading Vogue and Bolton’s lifelong dream to be a museum curator were worth the coverage and left me wanting more. My favorite part (yes other than Rihanna’s appearance and the awkward moment with Larry David on the red carpet), was also a brief mention of how fashion was part of film in Chinese history and cinema’s influence in Bolton’s exhibit. If you want to check out more work by director Andrew Rossi, I (although I’m little bit biased here because of my former career as a journalist) prefer Page One: Inside the New York Times. The First Monday in May is a visual accomplishment in documentary film making, but lacks a little bit on the storytelling side.

Moving on, Charade, mixed with Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, started a theme of movies about spies and romance during the week also including An Affair to Remember and Badlands (minus the spies and plus a very dark and unsettling “love story.”)

MCDCOOF EC032Charade is one of the top films I’ve watched this year now and I really loved the build to the true dynamic between Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant’s characters as well as the secrets behind her husband’s death, his identity and the money at the center of everyone’s trust issues. Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, from George Clooney and Charlie Kaufman, takes the memoir of game show host Chuck Barris to explore his rumored time as a CIA operative and how he balanced that with career and his love with Penny (Drew Barrymore.) In addition to being funny and mysterious, the film is visually on par using angles, close-ups on its characters and artistic technique to further tell the story. I’ve always liked Sam Rockwell, and this could be his best work that I’ve seen. He embodies Barris’ persona, yet makes it look effortless.

Badlands has the visual appeal carried by Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, but the more I think about it, the harder it is to say I like the film. I think that’s because the characters, primarily Martin Sheen as a murderous wayward soul from the wrong side of the tracks, are so dark and nonchalant about their actions that I found it very hard to relate to them on any level. I often associate films with how they make me feel and memories of when or where I watched them in addition to their cinematic quality, so Badlands is hard to fit into that complete picture. That said, Sheen and Sissy Spacek are dynamic together on screen as forbidden lovers whose characters are loosely based on a real-life couple on a crime spree that ends in the badlands of South Dakota. I think the film must have also inspired True Romance (definitely one of my favorite films of all time), if nothing else through the use of this song as Clarence and Alabama embark on their own crime spree.

I switched from romance and crime in the beginning of the week to a healthy balance of comedy, space, science and a little horror to make it to movie 106 on Saturday. Christopher Nolan’s space epic Interstellar is worth the three hours of time and will keep you guessing as to what will happen; especially in the last hour. I think, while I haven’t seen every space-themed movie, it’s one of the most (pardon the overuse) visually-appealing while being scientific, emotional and plus Matt Damon is in it. MATT DAMON!

I feel as though I am rambling at this point, but I do want to cover my last two entries of the week spanning the comedy-horror-parody genres: Best in Show and The Final Girls.

Christopher Guest’s look at the world of dog shows, in a “mockumentary” style, is pretty flawless and I could watch Parker Posey’s meltdowns over her dog and issues with her husband all day. I know nothing about the dog show world, but Guest seems to be spot on in his depiction while adding just the right amount of drama and quirk to his characters while they fight to be Best in Show.

Finally (bad segue) The Final Girls … one of many horror movie parody/tributes (think The Cabin in the Woods or even Scream) out there takes it to another level with a movie-in-a-movie format where the characters are challenged to find their way out by following the classic plot points used in the genre. Thomas Middleditch’s performance was my favorite in the film and it overall delivers a unique addition to what can be an overly-formulaic genre of movies.

Up next this week I am going to explore more Cary Grant films and want to collect enough titles to go on a binge of sports movies. There are a lot in 1,001 Movies You Must See Before You Die (sadly Major League isn’t one of them) so it’s time I expand my horizons in that regard. I welcome any recommendations.

“When you are young, your potential is infinite. You might do anything, really. You might be Einstein. You might be DiMaggio. Then you get to an age where what you might be gives way to what you have been. You weren’t Einstein. You weren’t anything. That’s a bad moment.”

Chuck Barris – Confessions of a Dangerous Mind

Movie Week in Review: Music Royalty

Hey hey.

I’ve decided to take a new approach to this challenge and not blog about every movie right after I see it. I obsess too much about my blog posts, to the point where it may be detrimental to my writing and sanity, so instead I will attempt to write weekly recaps about my movie adventures.

My decision is also based on the fact that I need to spend more time watching movies and get caught up in this race. It hasn’t worked so far, but I think it will help on the weekends when I am watching four or five movies and won’t need to pause to express my critical non-genius on the Internet.

This week in watching ended up being largely focused on films with a connection to music, including Presenting Princess Shaw, Saturday Night Fever, Born to Be Blue and the most classic of them all Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story.

I missed the opportunity to see the director’s cut of Walk Hard Sunday when my manager screened it at the theater, the trouble being it was at midnight and I was movied-out that day (I wish that wasn’t a thing.) I just rented it on Netflix, the non-director’s cut, but definitely could deal with another hour or so of Dewey Cox this year when I have the time. I did fulfill my original plan for Sunday to watch Born to Be Blue and Walk Hard as a double feature and, while one is a strict biopic drama and the other is a complete farce, they are both brilliant and a perfect pairing.

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Ethan Hawke as Chet Baker

I thought Born to Be Blue might be my new Whiplash (which I saw three times in the theater) this year and it did have the same effect of completely taking me into the story of the characters and the music. If I had the time, I know could watch Born to Be Blue over and over.

Born to Be Blue is a true story, depicting Chet Baker in his 40s and later in his career, with Ethan Hawke completely transforming into his character and persona. I didn’t even know I was watching him on screen most of the time, that’s how good he is in this film. Born to Be Blue is clearly a passion project for Hawke and director and writer Robert Budreau. Hawke even wanted to play Baker in a movie by Richard Linklater 20 years ago, but the project didn’t get off the ground. Hawke, in a Village Voice interview, said he’s felt like he’s been thinking about playing Baker in a movie for 20 years. That explains, perhaps, how he completely embodies Baker on screen. I didn’t even know much about Baker in real life but felt the opposite immediately upon seeing Hawke with trumpet in hand and crooning at Birdland in New York City. Hawke performs with a stylistically beautiful film in his background, juggling between color and black and white and different moments in Baker’s later life after he loses his front teeth and has to find a way to play the trumpet again. It seems he was happy in the end, but there was always a looming tone of sadness and heartbreak throughout the film — fitting with the final line by Hawke “Born to Be Blue.” (It doesn’t have spoilers, really, but after you see this film I definitely recommend listening to Hawke’s interview with Marc Maron on WTF.)

Whether you need some cheering up after Born to Be Blue or not, a good follow up is Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story. It presents the perfect parody of music biopics without being too silly and the comedic writing (Judd Apatow and Jake Kasdan- also the director) was top-notch in my book. It mostly follows a similar story to that of Johnny Cash in Walk the Line but crosses over with applicable themes that are in most biopics: tragedy , addiction, death, career ups-and-downs, love and of course rising above challenges. Dewey Cox (John C. Reilly), the oldest looking 14-year-old ever, has a quick rise in his career even though he has no sense of smell and goes on spiral that every young pop star with a hit like “Take My Hand” is expected to have. Walk Hard hits all the right notes (sorry had to say it) and has so many good cameos, the scene with The Beatles has to be my favorite, and shows Reilly’s continued comedic genius alongside a cast of Jenna Fischer, Kristen Wiig, Tim Meadows, Matt Besser, Chris Parnell and so many other Saturday Night Live and improv comedy stars.

To conclude, okay I am nowhere near being done, I also watched Saturday Night Fever (a 1,001 Movies You Must See Before You Die recommendation) with John Travolta. I was mostly surprised about how dark the film is. It’s more a coming-of-age story about family and friendship with the 1970s Brooklyn disco scene in the background than an exploration of that era and dancing than I thought it was.

Travolta (Tony) spends his days at a paint store and nights at the disco club breaking in his platforms and bell bottoms until he realizes he really wants to dance all the time. He switches his days to the studio practicing with an older woman, Stephanie, to enter a disco competition. Tony smokes while dancing and is always in his skin tight silk shirt and bell bottoms while Stephanie is ready to work in the most uncomfortable-looking leotard. Those moments focus on the dance and bring you into the 1970s, but the film really is more about the characters at transitional moments in their lives they release through breaking out their boogie shoes until it all becomes too much. Gosh that does sound really dark, but it just is that type of film.All-in-all Saturday Night Fever somehow successfully bridges the gap between exploring a significant era in pop culture history and delivering a character-driven drama.

While it’s a documentary that may never have the fame of Saturday Night Fever, Presenting Princess Shaw could be known in that way years from now. I saw the film during the Minneapolis St. Paul Film Festival this week followed by a  Q&A and after party with Princess Shaw herself.

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Princess Shaw

Princess Shaw, aka Samantha, grew up in Chicago with a rough childhood and moved to New Orleans as an adult. There she works with patients in nursing home, often singing to them, and at home makes YouTube videos of her songs. Across the world in Israel, Kutiman explores YouTube for musician’s work to make “mashups” between instrumentation and vocals. He comes across Princess Shaw’s work, including one video where she says she is looking for a beat to go with it, and the rest is history. It’s not so much about a “YouTuber” being discovered as it is a connection between two kindred spirits across the world and how success can come in unexpected ways to the most deserving people like Samantha. She graciously answered the audience’s questions after the film and it is evident she just wants to make her music, live her life and doesn’t expect any fame from it. I learned more about that listening to her talk at the after party. My friend and I sat at a big open table only to be bombarded by board members from MSPIFF and I was one seat away from Samantha. She is humble and again gracious in answering the board member’s questions, mostly about what YouTube is and if the story about how she and Kutiman found each other was authentic or “reenacted.” It was a little uncomfortable for me (mostly because of my self-diagnosed mid-30s social anxiety and awkwardness) as more and more board members crowded our table and I couldn’t get a word in edge-wise when I wanted to ask Samantha a question. BUT when they calmed down a bit and took a break to complain about the deejay being too loud I did ask her what her favorite movie is. The answer: Zombieland because of Bill Murray’s cameo role.

I like that. A lot.

It was a honor to be in the presence of Princess Shaw’s music royalty this week, even though she probably wouldn’t describe it that way, she is really a star in life and I admire her. The film will be out soon on Amazon, iTunes and the like and you must see it.

Okay folks, that is all. I did obsess about this blog quite a bit but once a week should be manageable.

“I think a healthy dose of doubt makes you better.”

Gary Oldman on Nerdist.

 

 

 

 

 

 

92 and 93 of 366: Five Easy Pieces and Carol

I AM SO BEHIND ON THIS CHALLENGE!

I feel better now after venting just a little, but if anyone has the power to stop time so I can catch up on my movies, please please please let me know.

I did watch two movies over the weekend; please hold your applause, Carol and Five Easy Pieces.

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I still can’t get the visual and audible elements from Carol, including the costumes, music and exterior scenery of 1950s New York, out of my mind.

Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara carry the film with a strong supporting cast of Kyle Chandler and Sarah Paulson but, even with its elements of conflict, romance and drama, the pace was a little slow.

Those elements make for dynamic story but I am still left with the feeling that not a lot happened in the film, and I’m not sure why.

Blanchett plays Carol Aird, who is married to Harge (Chandler), and they have a daughter together. It’s not long into the film when Carol meets Therese (Mara) while Christmas shopping at the store she works at and they develop a relationship. Carol has dated women before and her new relationship further angers her husband and shows how society reacted to same-sex relationships in that era. It is also an impetus for Harge to keep their daughter away from Carol and he goes to all lengths to prove her infidelity.

Therese, an aspiring photographer, is less tied down than Carol, but she does have a boyfriend Richard (Jake Lacy), who she knows she doesn’t want to be with forever. It’s either her sexuality or lack of love for him specifically, or both that causes their relationship to end, especially when she meets Carol.

Carol presents the themes of not only sexuality and the acceptance of it decades ago but also those of love and passion and what people will do when those feelings come into play.

The film, directed by Todd Haynes and based on The Price of Salt by Patricia Highsmith, is overall told in a flashback after one glimpse of Carol and Therese together. That style of the film, in my opinion, resulted in an ending that felt a little flat and predictable as far as how relationships that are considered forbidden are portrayed in cinema.

Carol is worth seeing for the visual elements and acting but, although I haven’t read it, perhaps Highsmith’s book is the more complete of the two versions of the story.

five

I also felt Five Easy Pieces, while Jack Nicholson is amazing in it and I could watch him act all day long was a little slow-paced despite the performances, visuals and music.

Music is a key part of the film given that Nicholson plays a classical pianist-turned oil rigger, Robert Eroica Dupea,  who returns to his hometown to visit his ailing father and other family.

It’s known as a standout performance for Nicholson in his career after his supporting role in Easy Rider, which I still need to see, but that was the primary high point of the film for me.

It could be the time that has passed since it was released that took away from the film for me, but I did somehow still feel connected to the depiction of the 1970s middle-America despite not having been born yet

Five Easy Pieces maybe didn’t make Nicholson’s career in its entirety, I’ll decide on that after I see as many of his movies that I can this year, but it is a part of the puzzle that makes him one of my heroes and best actors today. Even if there were other people in the scenes, Nicholson’s character was always the focus in the film — from when he plays a piano on a truck stuck in traffic to the more intimate, and heartbreaking, moments when he sees his Dad after many years.

The ending was similar to that of Carol in that there was some uncertainty about the future of the characters and their relationships, but I think it was a more effective choice in Five Easy Pieces given Robert’s establishment as a loner and independent spirit.

There isn’t much audio in the end of the film, leaving me to imagine Robert saying (to quote Mr. Dana Gould in his latest podcast episode, Look Back in Langour) “All I … want is solitude and Fritos.”

 

89 of 366: What a Way to Go!

What_a_Way_to_Go_0Shirley MacLaine is fierce in What a Way to Go! This is a term I can’t really get away with saying in real life while wearing my cardigans and jeans and, while it certainly wasn’t in the common vernacular circa 1964, it fits MacLaine’s portrayal of Louisa May Foster and her extensive costumes in the film.

Foster is a woman seeking a simple life and a husband who wants the same, but each time she tries said husband lets a quest for money and riches get the better of him and she ends up a widow — four times.

There is the, at first, humble shop owner Edgar (Dick Van Dyke); the eccentric artist Larry (Paul Newman); the millionaire tycoon Rod (Robert Mitchum); and finally the showstopping Pinky Benson (Gene Kelly.)

Yes some of those characters have money, but they didn’t let it get to their head until Foster entered the picture, making her think she is cursed.

Foster recalls her failed marriages – by death and riches – to her psychiatrist over the course of the film and each story is played out throughout the world and different lifestyles. Foster even imagines how each of her marriages would be portrayed in Hollywood, such as a silent film, French romance or lavish musical.

The film is funny and delivers through the on-screen chemistry between MacLaine and each leading man. That said, she is definitely the star of the show while rocking and all pink gown with a Chinchilla fur coat one minute and overalls and big hair the next.

It was a long path for Foster to get there, but she does find happiness in the end — just in the most unexpected place and with the most unexpected person.

Money isn’t everything and love conquers all, at least in the world of Louisa May Foster Hopper Flint Anderson Benson and …

 

85-88 of 366: Edge of Tomorrow; Brief Encounter; Paris, Texas; Frankenstein

This is hard. Like Bob Harris singing More Than This in Lost in Translation while trying to process his feelings for Charlotte-hard.

For the sake of catching up on my movies today I decided to (try to) not spend so much time writing/obsessing about each one in individual blog posts.

I watched four movies today and challenged myself to only write short paragraphs about each one so I can get back on track to watching one per day. Soon I will be back to my regularly scheduled programming of pouring over each blog I write, (although this format is pretty tempting to continue), but for now here’s a summary of today’s cinematic adventures:

85 of 366: Edge of Tomorrow (2014)

edgeThink of Edge of Tomorrow as an action version of Groundhog Day where the  characters have the ability to relive moments in time and therefore predict the future. The film is another display of Emily Blunt’s versatility as an actress as she completely owns a role as an action hero one minute and the next can star in a dramatic or comedic film (Your Sister’s Sister or The Five Year Engagement.) I enjoyed Tom Cruise’s performance as Major William Cage, who transforms from a man of power to kind of a bumbling idiot and back again as the world faces a devastating attack by aliens. Blunt plays Rita, (aka the Angel of Verdun), a soldier trained to end the war who was formerly afflicted by the same “power” Cage has to relive each day in order to ultimately outsmart the alien enemy. As Cage and Rita’s characters, and their relationship, build throughout the film and there is an equal combination of wit, solid special effects with a unique time travel/science fiction story at its core.

86 of 366: Brief Encounter (1945)

briefI thought Brief Encounter, based on what happens when characters meet for a moment in time only to never connect again and a one-act play by Noel Coward, was a good follow up to Edge of Tomorrow. In that film there is always uncertainty whether Rita and William will live or die and continue to save the world together, while in Brief Encounter director David Lean explores the romantic connection between Laura Jesson (Celia Johnson) and Dr. Alec Harvey (Trevor Howard) after they meet at a restaurant in New York outside the train station. Both are married but also quickly fall in love and meet in the city for a few weeks, having lunch and going to the movies. Lean had to expand upon Coward’s one-act play, Still Life, but the film still felt very much like a stage production with Laura’s narration and the classical score. It’s also known to have inspired many similar stories or the style of similar films and I did notice common themes and dialogue between it and one of my guilty-pleasure favorites, You’ve Got Mail. It is never to the point of imitating what Lean and Coward created, but rather is surely one of many tributes to a classic romantic film and accomplishment in cinematic history.

“It all started on an ordinary day at the most ordinary place in the world,” Laura Jesson. 

87 of 366: Paris, Texas (1984)

parisParis, Texas, is a telling road movie in three parts that defines the relationship between two brothers, a father and son and husband and wife. After disappearing for four years, Travis (Harry Dean Stanton) resurfaces wandering in the desert in Texas. His brother Walt (Dean Stockwell) picks him up and they drive to Los Angeles together to reunite Travis with his son, Hunter. Starting with Walt and Travis’s trip, the characters learn about each other as a result of the missing presence of Travis in their lives the last four years.

Paris, Texas is a beautiful visual display of Texas and Los Angeles and Winders and cinematographer Robby Muller also tell the story using the camera to show each character’s point of view. The film brings to mind the theme of nostalgia as Winders and writers Sam Shepard and L.M. Kit Carson explore the family dynamic of the Hendersons and a man trying to rebuild his life.

“The dust has come to stay … you may stay or pass on through, or whatever.”

88 of 366: Frankenstein (1931)

frankensteinI really wanted to make it through five movies today, but there can be too much of a good thing — even my favorite thing. It was a rare nice day in Minneapolis so I wanted to fit in a walk outside and of course I spent more time than I planned for on my blog. Frankenstein, however, did make for a perfect conclusion to my catch-up day because it’s only a little longer than an hour and known as one of the classic horror films of all time that’s been on my list to watch. I would say it is more unsettling and suspenseful that scary but, taking into account its release in 1931, Frankenstein is certainly a cinematic accomplishment of the era and all time.

One of the most unsettling scenes was the father carrying his daughter’s lifeless body, at the hands of the monster (Boris Karloff), through the village streets toward the end the film; while the first sight of him close up and his dead eyes also carries a bit of fear factor.

I wonder what audiences originally thought of the film in the 1930s; but I do think it holds up in the horror genre and as an adaptation of a novel — something that is done perhaps too much in current times.

I wish there was a quote from the monster himself to end this with, instead I will resort to my standby from John Hodgman.

“That is all.”

 

 

84 of 366: Witness

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Harrison Ford and Kelly McGillis in Witness

“I didn’t kill my wife!” Oops, wrong Harrison Ford movie. I actually haven’t seen a lot of Dr. Kimble’s work now that a I did a deep-dive on his filmography, but I can at least cross Witness off the list for movie No. 84 of my challenge.

Witness probably would have been better to watch within a decade of its 1985 release, but it has some components that hold up and others that border on it being like a made-for-TV movie.

It does have a certain level of cheesiness in its attempt to mix a good cop vs. bad cop drama with a tale about life in Pennsylvania’s Amish country; but I’m willing to push that all aside for the forbidden will-they-or-won’t-they romance plot line between Ford (John Book) and Rachel (a pre-Top Gun Kelly McGillis.)

Rachel and Book meet after her son Samuel (Lukas Haas) witnesses the murder of a police officer and they are taken under his wing as he investigates the crime.

Spoiler alert for anyone who actually hasn’t seen it: This wasn’t a random crime and in fact Book’s boss Schaeffer (Josef Sommer) and narcotics officer McFee (Danny Glover) were behind the whole thing.

Book figures the safest place for them to go is back to their Amish farm so he can work on the case in hiding and recover from gunshot wounds at the hands McFee. Also, it’s clearly so he can fall in love with Rachel, only to learn that they cannot be together.

Book is not welcome on the farm at first, but n as he wakes up at 4:30 a.m. to milk cows and takes it upon himself to fix a birdhouse on the property, Rachel’s family decides he’s not all that bad.

The investigation part of the story falls by the wayside a bit at this point because how is a cop supposed to do any work without a phone and a smoke-filled police station with the coffee flowing at all hours of the day?

The setting of the film in Amish country takes away the opportunity for most common cop movie themes to be in place, but director Peter Weir managed to sneak in a few.

For example, Rachel insists he keeps his gun hidden and unloaded so Samuel can’t find it and they have to mention it several times in the film. Of course that decision was destined to come back to hurt Book later when McFee shows up to try to finish what he started.

Luckily it wasn’t enough to prevent Book from being the hero and saving the day, at which point he is seen smoking a cigarette on the farm and leaning against a car with his other cop buddies.

The final scene concludes what I assume was also everyone’s favorite part of the story circa 1985, Book and Rachel’s future. Of course all you see is an extended stare between the characters before he heads back to the city and have to assume she wasn’t going to be able to follow him in the next buggy.

All in all I imagine Witness holds up for people who saw it before and I found it to be an entertaining flashback to 1980s cop dramas that also piqued my interest in watching more of Ford’s films from that era.

And now for a non-related quote my girl Brie Larson posted on Instagram. From poet David Whyte:

“Rest is the conversation between what we love to do and how we love to be. Rest is not stasis but the essence of giving and receiving. Rest is an act of remembering, imaginatively and intellectually, but also physiologically and physically. To rest is to become present in a different way than through action, and especially to give up on the will as the prime motivator of endeavor, with its endless outward need to reward itself through established goals. To rest is to give up on worrying and fretting and the sense that there is something wrong with the world unless we put it right; to rest is to fall back, literally or figuratively from outer targets, not even to a sense of inner accomplishment or an imagined state of attained stillness, but to a different kind of meeting place, a living, breathing state of natural exchange…”

 

 

 

 

 

83 of 366: The Black Cat

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imdb.com

There is an owl hooting outside my window right now, which is fitting with my mood after watching the horror classic The Black Cat (and pretty creepy.)

The Black Cat (1934) has nothing to do with owls, rather an actual cat that causes episodes for Dr. Vitus Werdegast (Bela Lugosi) while staying at the house of his nemesis Hjalmar Poelzig (Boris Karloff.) The film’s plot is based on the concept from a story by Edgar Allen Poe.

Of course there is more to fear at Poelzig’s house than cats lurking in the shadows.

As fate would have it, Dr. Werdegast ends up there after a bus accident on the road just below the house along with a young couple who just got married.

Thinking they will all just be there for one night, it becomes clear for Dr. Werdegast and the couple, Peter and Joan Allison, that Poelzig has other plans in mind.

For one, he needs to settle a feud with Dr. Werdegast, or the other way around, going back at least 15 years when the doctor was in jail for a crime  he didn’t commit and meanwhile Poelzig was after his wife and daughter.

I won’t reveal their fate, but from the beginning it’s clear Dr. Werdegast is the good guy here and Poelzig is pure evil.

Lugosi, having played Dracula, and Karloff, known for his performance as Frankenstein, kept those personas in this film through their mannerisms and dialogue, even if it wasn’t intentional.

As far as horror films go, The Black Cat clearly paved the way for styles and plot points used in the genre today yet I don’t think anything like it has been made since then — at least that I’ve seen.

It could be inspiration on some level for any horror film starting with the premise that its characters are stranded in a remote cabin and forced to contend with evil spirits, a serial killer or one of their own. More often than not recent films have the characters willingly traveling to a locale that breeds bad things, The Cabin in the Woods, The Strangers, Creep; whereas The Black Cat truly places unsuspecting characters, at least at first, in a dangerous situation they don’t know is unfolding.

The film builds to be about the feud between Dr. Werdegast and Poelzig and then translates their issues with each other to the fate of the Allisons, who do slowly start to see something is amiss.

Stylistically, the film uses music in almost every scene that borders between light-hearted and a tone more fitting for a horror plot. It also captures the odd architecture and secret passageways in Poelzig’s home to show there is more than meets the eye throughout the whole story.

I will watch for characteristics of The Black Cat in horror films that I see from now on, but for now it’s clear the film set a precedent in the genre while keeping its own unique reputation after all these years.

 

82 of 366: City of Gold

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variety.com

It’s my dream, or one of them, to go to Los Angeles one day and see all the famous comedy venues, Largo, UCB, Comedy Store, Nerdist; and now, thanks to the documentary City of Gold, I know where to eat while I am there.

The documentary focuses on food critic and Pulitzer Prize winner Jonathan Gold as he navigates his way through the different culinary neighborhoods of Los Angeles for the purpose of honoring good food from many regions while showing there is more to offer beyond Hollywood Boulevard; if you’re willing to search for it.

As food trucks become more and more popular, all you would have to do in LA is follow the owners and popular chefs like Roy Choi on Twitter to find their location and the hot menu item of the day.

Gold, writing for the Los Angeles Times and formerly LA Weekly, is known in the culinary world as a fair critic. Chefs want him to come to their restaurant, but deep down hope he doesn’t strictly to avoid the angst of knowing someone is judging their work. We’ve all been there, right?

At least the chefs, from all parts of the world and culinary influences, can rest assured Gold will visit a restaurant four to five times before writing a review; often why he misses his deadlines at the newspaper.

Gold discovers mom-and-pop restaurants, gourmet food trucks hidden on a corner downtown and world-class shops throughout the city. The documentary only skims the surface of the restaurateurs’ stories; perhaps that could be the sequel.

One year early in Gold’s career he “ate Pico Boulevard,” meaning he tried every restaurant along the 15 mile roadway.

I could try to hit a few of those hot spots when I go to LA, in hopes they are near a comedy club.

I would say City of Gold is more of a literary and storytelling achievement rather than one of high cinematic caliber because of how many threads of Gold’s life and work, as well as the city, filmmaker Laura Gabbert managed to fit into 90 minutes.

Gabbert, though interviews with Gold, his family, many other journalists and chefs, covered the definition of food criticism, how restaurant owners find their way to Los Angeles and the underlying character beneath Gold’s writing.

I recommend the film for its glimpse into the hidden treasures of the city of Los Angeles and people making their life there; and as I said for some tips about restaurants to try if you’re planning a comedic tour like me anytime soon.

Another plus of the film and Gold’s favorite eateries: it seems most of the restaurants and food trucks he tries are affordable. Just don’t leave your wallet in El Segundo.