Saturday, April 11th, 2015

Wisconsin Film Festival 2015The Keeping Room is a story of survival: Three women are the only people left of what was once a rather grand farm that is standing in the path of Sherman’s army as it marches to the sea.

Two of the women have had to learn to live off the land. They stalk game in the wooded hills, or hoe rows of beans, potatoes and carrots wearing dresses made for entertaining, not work. The third woman was a slave, who has known nothing but work. Now they work and eat and sleep together, because they have nothing else but each other. All the men are gone off to war.

The film opens with a quote from Sherman: “War is cruelty. There is no use trying to reform it. The crueler it is, the sooner it will be over.” As harsh and heartbreaking as this sentiment may be, it is no less true. The first scenes are of a pair of soldiers sent ahead of the army who have taken Sherman’s words as their license to be as cruel as human beings can be.

When the soldiers and the women inevitably cross paths, the women must figure out how to outwit men whose humanity has been demolished by battle. “Why do you come to us as if you want war?” one of the women asks one of the men, who answers, almost helplessly, “Don’t know how to stop.”

There is never a dull moment in this movie, never a scene when I didn’t feel these women were in peril, but also never a moment that I didn’t believe they would figure out how to save themselves from every newly-developing danger. I should’ve given this film a five. You should see it.

The Keeping Room | 11:19 am CST
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Wisconsin Film Festival 2015Geon-soo is having A Hard Day: His mother died, his sister’s mad at him because he’s late for the funeral, and he just hit someone with his car. So, as you do, he shoves the body in the trunk and, while he’s nailing the lid on his mother’s coffin, cooks up a plan to dispose of the body. And he would’ve gotten away with it, too, if it weren’t for that meddling (and apparently indestructible) cop, Park.

I think I may be slowly coming around to liking Korean movies. Maybe I was unlucky enough to start out with the craptastic ones. I was sure I wasn’t going to like this one, going into it, and I was on the verge of walking out at the beginning until the nickel dropped and I realized it was a comedy. A really dark comedy, but a well-played dark comedy. Then I enjoyed it, although I didn’t think it was as laugh-out-loud funny as the rest of the audience did. My Darling B was nearly in tears after a few of the gags. So maybe I only need to warm up to a few more good ones like this and I won’t be so apprehensive going in.

A Hard Day | 10:48 am CST
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Wisconsin Film Festival 2015Love At First Fight started with what I guess was meant to be a meet cute: Amaud’s friends rope him into participating in a demonstration of hand-to-hand combat with Madeleine, a characteristically nutty survivalist who trains herself to join the toughest regiment in the Army by swimming with a backpack full of rocks and drinking smoothies she makes from raw sardines. The story quickly loses steam when they go to a summer Army boot camp, and falls apart after they ditch the Army and go camping in the forest where they do pretty much nothing at all.

Love At First Fight | 8:52 am CST
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Wisconsin Film Festival 2015Spartans is a documentary about Yvan, a mixed-martial arts champion who grew up in the projects of Marseilles, France, coaches boys and girls from his neighborhood with the hope of teaching them enough discipline to keep them in school and out of trouble. It starts out promising, but by the middle of the film I’d already had enough of Yvan’s lectures and tough-guy talk. I guess I have to accept that “If you don’t stay in school and respect your mother, I’ll tear your head off!” can be effectively motivating to somebody, because it seemed to be working on these kids, but it got old pretty fast. Way too much of Yvan talking, not enough of Yvan getting results.

Spartans | 8:11 am CST
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Friday, April 10th, 2015

Wisconsin Film Festival 2015I feel pretty lucky that My Darling B talked me into going to see Uncle John, the second film we saw at the Wisconsin Film Festival this year. Uncle John is a heartwarming story about death and murder and the grim determination to hide your dark secrets no matter how many people you have to kill. And family. Togetherness. New love.

Really a well-made movie, it was shot mostly in farm country just north of Madison and looked it. The cinematography was top-notch, the casting was superb, the story was intriguing and suspenseful and the writing was engaging. Rarely does a movie as dark as this one hold my attention any more.

Uncle John | 7:49 am CST
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Wisconsin Film Festival 2015I feel really awkward about not liking Results, the first film of the Wisconsin Film Festival. I was so bored with it that I came close to walking out on it two or three times. Then the audience would laugh at something they thought was pretty funny but went right by me, and I’d sit there wondering, Now why didn’t I get that?

And they did that a lot. It didn’t all go over my head. There were a few moments where somebody did something that made me smile. For the most part, though, it was like watching a crowd. People came in, they did stuff, some of it was interesting, occasionally it was funny, and then they left. I like people watching. I do it all the time. And I have to say that it’s more interesting than this movie was. I think that’s because people-watching is supposed to be random, but I think this movie was trying to tell a story. Or maybe not. I could be wrong about that.

Whatever. Not my cup of tea.

Results | 7:40 am CST
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Thursday, April 9th, 2015

image of Kevin SpaceyI had just finished re-reading Raymond Chandler’s Farewell, My Lovely and was four chapters into The Lady In The Lake when the answer to a long-standing problem finally hit me. For years, I’ve wondered who could believably play Phillip Marlowe. So far, just about everybody who has played him in movies and television, with maybe one exception*, has fallen short. But then the other night I was reading a passage and saw it: Kevin Spacey. Kevin Spacey would make a great Phillip Marlowe.

Bogart is usually the guy everybody pictures as the greatest detective. And he wasn’t bad at all in The Big Sleep, but as good as Bogart looks wearing a trench coat and a fedora, he’ll always be Bogart first, and whoever he’s playing will be just some guy he played. That’s not his fault. He was a fine actor, but at this point he’s ascended to the level of a Hollywood legend so grand that he is and always will be Bogart, no matter whose name he’s using on screen.

Which is not to say that Kevin Spacey is not a Hollywood legend, far from it. Marlowe is such an icon of detective novels that he would have to be played by an actor with Spacey’s celebrity as well as ability. Maybe that’s why they went with Bogey, back in the day.

Read through a few paragraphs of Lady in the Lake and tell me you wouldn’t watch the hell out of a movie with Spacey gumshoeing his way through those scenes.

*The one exception I found was a guy named Phil Carey, who played Marlowe in a television series that ran from 1959 to 1960. I’ve never seen it, or seen Carey play Marlowe, but take a look at his face and tell me he doesn’t look like a hard-boiled Los Angeles detective.

marlowe | 3:59 pm CST
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Sunday, February 8th, 2015

We watched Snowpiercer last night. It got good reviews – a lot of good reviews – and it features a lot of good actors. Turned out to be a muddled mess of a movie, though.

Set in the not-too-distant future after an attempt to control global warming goes wrong and plunges the planet into a deep-freeze, Snowpiercer zooms in on what are presumably the only survivors of the climatic catastrophe, a couple hundred people locked inside a train that’s been careening along unmaintained tracks at hundreds of miles per hour for eighteen years.

Still interested?

The most pure-hearted of the survivors live in the cars at the back of the train. You can tell they’re the nicest people because they wear raggedy clothes, live in squalor and eat greasy-looking “protein bars” that the evil people in the front of the train, who wear fine clothes and lock the door as they go, deliver to the ruffians every so often under armed guard. Pretty subtle imagery, eh?

The people at the back of the train naturally resent being kept out of the front, being fed slimy goo, and having jackbooted thugs wave guns at them, so they revolt. They’ve done this before and they’ve been cut down in their tracks before, but this time they’ve apparently got a fool-proof plan that will get them all the way to the front of the train so they can take over and make everything better.

I’m guessing that the people up front, as evil as they may be, know how to keep the lights lit, the heat on and the train moving, and I’m also guessing that nobody in the back end knows how to do that, so taking over the front of the train really doesn’t do the rebels much good, but never mind. Minor plot hole. Pay it no heed.

Tangential thought: Why is the train moving at all? Seems to me that if you’ve got one of the few shelters on earth that’s impervious to the cold and has an apparently limitless source of energy, you’d just park that thing so you won’t have to fret about running off the tracks or getting buried in a snowdrift. But that’s probably a stupid idea. For some reason. Minor plot hole. Pay it no heed.

The rest of the movie is a video game: In each new scene, the rebels open the door to the next car where they have to solve a mystery or meet and overcome a foe that’s seemingly impossible to beat. One car is a single open room where row after row of six-foot-tall axe-wielding jackbooted thugs wearing kevlar vests wait for the ruffians. Hmmm. Wonder who wins, the evil thugs or the pure-hearted ruffians? Tough call.

I experienced a brief flash of hope in the first ten or fifteen minutes, about midway through a stern talking-to Tilda Swinton gave that I couldn’t help smirking over, that maybe, instead of a gloomily serious movie about a dystopian future, this was going to be a whacky comedy. The scene continued with comedic touches but, alas, the movie soon slipped back into gloom and dystopia, so I’m pretty sure it wasn’t a comedy. Everybody in the movie, with the exception of Alison Pill and maybe Ed Harris, was pretty damned earnest, especially Chris Evans. Wow, can that man furrow his brow. So I’m going to have to go with gloomily serious movie about a dystopian future, and I’m going to have to stay with muddled mess. See it at your peril.

Snowpiercer | 1:21 pm CST
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Monday, January 19th, 2015

When rating movies on a scale of one to five, I figure that a three is an average movie that doesn’t feel like a waste of my time, and a four would be a movie that I would recommend.

A five, though, is a rare movie that I would not only recommend to you, I would urge you to see it. No, I would argue that you should see it. I would happily pay for your ticket, and I would show up at your doorstep to chauffeur you to the theater if you couldn’t get there any other way.

Selma is a five. There’s nothing about this movie I didn’t like.

selma | 10:50 am CST
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Saturday, December 13th, 2014

Edge of Tomorrow, the Tom Cruise-Emily Blunt team-up movie in which Cruise time-travels back to the same day over and over again a la Bill Murray in Groundhog Day to kill invading aliens, was a lot more fun than I ever suspected it would be. I don’t like time-travel movies much any more; they’ve pretty much been done to death. Edge of Tomorrow is an enjoyably surprising exception.

Unlike Bill Murray, who wakes up every morning on Groundhog Day, Tom Cruise jumps back in time only when he gets killed. This happens to him a lot, the first time after an alien bleeds acid on him, and after that by being shot, immolated, exploded, crashed upon by a transport aircraft and run over by a truck, which, by the way, is something you don’t want to miss even if you’re the half of the world who thinks you can’t stand Tom Cruise in big or small doses.

Each time Cruise dies, he wakes up on the tarmac at Heathrow Airport where Bill Paxton flashes his smarmiest grin at Cruise and gives him a lecture about the virtues of battle that would make R. Lee Ermey weep with joy. Paxton gets blown out the sky the next morning but, thanks to the wonder of time travel, we get to see him over and over and over (repeatedly tormenting Cruise, by the way. Really, Cruise-haters, it wouldn’t kill you to watch this!).

Shanghaied by the general commanding the last-ditch invasion to crush the advancing alien scourge, Cruise realizes that he can not only remember what killed him last time, he can avoid it. Of course, then he gets killed by something else, but he remembers that, too, and avoids the first two things, then gets killed by the third thing. And the fourth thing. And so on, and on, and on.

This would all be too much if, in the middle of the invasion, he hadn’t met Emily Blunt, a woman so badass that she doesn’t shoot aliens with the ray guns everyone else is using because she’s got a machete. A BIG machete. She agrees to show Cruise how to kill aliens with the help of her killer robot alien droids that can, and often do kick Cruise’s ass, or at the very least break his arms and legs, forcing Blunt to shoot him in the head so they can start over. Yeah. She knows he can time travel. She used to do it, too.

Together, Blunt and Cruise set out to redo the invasion as many times as it takes to figure out how to defeat them, and I’ve got to say that Blunt is every bit the kick-ass action star that Cruise is. I can’t think of a single movie off the top of my head that I’ve seen her in outside this one, but I hope she can find more movies where she gets to match the strong male lead the way she did here, because she’s terrific at it.

And of course they beat the aliens. No spoiler there, I think. It’s only a matter of figuring out how, right?

Edge of Tomorrow | 3:49 pm CST
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Tuesday, December 2nd, 2014

Thank you, Dave Addey, and your Typeset in the Future blog! I haven’t been served up so delicious a serving of Alien minutia in a long time!

I swear, I thought all that crap about the “Weyland-Yutani” corporation was just jibber-jabber made up to fill the pages of tech-spec books, that it wasn’t even thought of until the third or fourth movie in the series, but there it is, plain as day on one of the ship displays in the Act One, Scene One of Alien:

(Credit for all images to David Addey,

If you ever wondered why Ripley wasn’t able to shut off the self-destruct mechanism in the first Alien movie:

Ripley follows the French instructions with her finger, not the English ones from before … And this is where it all goes horribly wrong.

Let’s take a look at those French instructions in more detail:

Exécutez INSERTION/BOULON No 1 a la cale No 1

Hmm … something something “NUCLEAR BOLT” … something something “SÉCURITÉ” … it certainly sounds plausible. But how do these compare to the English instructions we verified the efficacy of earlier?

For the first three steps, all is bon. But from instruction four onwards, things take a definite turn for the worse.

Thanks to this truly awful piece of translation, Ripley fails to abort the detonation process in time, and the five-minute countdown to total detonation continues …

all is bon | 7:48 pm CST
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Monday, November 3rd, 2014

I checked out Gravity from the library while we were visiting yesterday morning. When My Darling B saw what I had in my hands, she said something like, “Don’t say I didn’t try to warn you,” or she sing-songed, “You’ll be sorr-eee!” or something like that. She thought it was a stinker after the first teaser.

And oh my, was she right. This movie had exactly one thing going for it, and that was the pretty pictures of my home planet. Except for that, it was one long snoozefest. I didn’t see one moment of the nerve-wracking tension that the critics raved about. (I can’t believe this got a 97% on the Tomatometer! I think I may never believe Rotten Tomatoes again!) Every scene was entirely predictable. Good example: There’s a third crewman in the background of the very first scene with George Clooney and Sandra Bullock. Third Crewman speaks with what sounds to me like an Asian accent. As soon as I heard that, I thought, Well, he’s a dead man. They didn’t even bother to show his face until after it got bashed in by space junk.

Also, the dialogue was idiotic. Not awkward, not “could’ve been better,” just flat-out stupid. After Bullock drifts away from the space shuttle, Clooney calls to her on the radio: “Where are you? What’s your location?” Duh. She’s in orbit over the planet. There aren’t any reference points up there! What the hell’s she supposed to say to that? “I’m over North America! Right over Ohio! Cincinnati, to be exact! Wait, no, now I’m over Columbus. Hurry it up, will ya? I’m gonna be in Philadelphia soon.”

There was a whole bunch of stuff wrong with the way people and spaceships moved in orbit, and what the hell is it with movie astronauts that they can’t keep their helmets on? I may be wrong, but don’t you think Lesson One in Astronaut School is, When the spaceship is getting hit by space junk, keep your goddamn helmet on! (Amended for movie astronaut school: …unless you’re in a movie, then take it off so the audience can see your terrified expression.)

Finally, and I know this is a minor thing and I’m just piling on now, but goddammit, the 3-D gimmicks, like making the actors jump at the camera in every scene, just look like gimmicks when the movie’s not in 3-D.

Should’ve listened to B. One star, but only for the pretty pictures of my home planet.

Gravity | 5:54 am CST
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Sunday, August 17th, 2014

If you don’t see any other movie this summer, you’ve got to see Guardians Of The Galaxy.

Why? Talking raccoon, that’s why. Talking tree, that’s why. Soundtrack that includes Hooked On A Feeling, the oogah-chagah version by Blue Swede. That’s why.

Full disclosure: The soundtrack also includes Escape (The Pina Colada Song) by Rupert Holmes, so you’ve got to weigh any revulsion you feel toward that one song, and I can only hope you are as nauseated by it as you should be, against your desire to see a fun summer movie. I can offer the consolation that a prick of a prison guard gets cold-cocked while he’s listening to the song I cannot mention a second time. So there’s that.

Okay. Back to Guardians Of The Galaxy. I don’t know where this came from. I used to read comic books (well duh) and back in the 80s there was a special edition comic book called Star-Lord, featuring a guy named Peter Quill, same as in this movie, but this movie and that comic book look nothing alike. I asked the Google if it could explain, but it could not; it could only show me comic book panels of a guy who was called Star Lord but didn’t look like the Star-Lord that I knew, or like the Star Lord in the movie.

I’m happy to forget about trying to figure it out. The movie, as it exists on its own, is a lot of fun. Star Lord is some kind of Han Solo/Indiana Jones hybrid who gets a bunch of space pirates (the talking raccoon, the talking tree, a walking five-hundred pound tattoo and a green-painted Zoe Saldana) to help him steal an orb from Ronin, a guy who can hit you so hard your unborn children will say “ouch.”  That’s all you need to know. You don’t need to know why the space pirates would help Star Lord, you don’t need to know what the orb is — it’s all just  background. Watching these guys chase Ronin across the galaxy for the fun of it is all you need. That, and you need to buy the soundtrack. They really want you to. I did. It’s good.

Guardians Of The Galaxy | 6:04 pm CST
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Tuesday, July 8th, 2014

We checked out the Superman reboot Man Of Steel and watched it the other day.

What can I say about Superman that hasn’t been said a million times already?

For starters, I peed more than I’ve ever peed during a movie before, so thank goodness I waited to see it on DVD because I would have missed at least thirty minutes of it if I’d seen it in the movie theater. Not that I’m implying that the movie made me pee. It didn’t. At least, I don’t think it did. No, I’m pretty sure it was the beer. That stuff usually makes me pee and I’ve heard it affects just about everybody else that way, too.

It was a very dark movie, literally dark. Every scene seemed to be shot through a lens that made everybody and everything look like cold steel. Cold, green steel.  Maybe copper would be a better simile here. Cold, green copper doesn’t quite have the same punch as steel, though, does it? I think I’m gonna stick with steel.

Henry Cavill, the guy who played Supes (he lets me call him Supes), was just dark and brooding enough to fit in with the rest of the cold, dark rebootedness, but he was not so brooding as to be unwatchably emo. Also, I could easily believe he could hold up falling oil rigs with his bare hands. That man is ripped. I’m pretty sure he has muscles in his turds.

And thank you, Kevin Costner, for a wonderful Jonathan Kent. I still think that Glen Ford’s performance is the one to beat, but you made a great showing. Bravo.

Well, that’s about it. I didn’t get all torqued off about Supes killing General Zod in the finale, the way the fanboys did, because I figure after their big fight knocked down half the buildings in Metropolis the two of them must have killed, easy, five thousand innocent bystanders. So he killed Zod. It’s a movie. An action movie. This isn’t an Ingmar Bergman flick. Get over it.

Man Of Steel | 9:38 pm CST
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Sunday, June 29th, 2014

After a dinner conversation that revolved around movies featuring Robert Downey Jr., we shifted to the living room to scan the movies with Downey in them that were available for streaming and settled on Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang because we were in the mood for a comedy.

I think My Darling B was the first to say, “Well, that was weird,” after we finished watching it. We all said it, but she was the first out of the gate. I think I just agreed with her. Tim’s version was a little more specific: “The weirdest thing about it was how much I liked Val Kilmer’s part.”

Val Kilmer played the detective; Robert Downey Jr. was Kilmer’s bumbling sidekick. Sort of. To be honest, I’m not entirely sure what Downey’s part in the film was. He started off narrating the film, which always forces me to wonder about every narrated scene: Would this scene be okay without the narration? Ninety-nine percent of the time, the answer’s yes, and that held true here, I think. There were a couple of throwaway visual jokes that depended on the narration, but I got the impression that they had Downey narrate mostly because Kilmer was a detective and Downey pretended to be a detective.

So, narration, because detectives. But a snarky kind of narration, so not a run of the mill detective film. And the film ended with Downey doing a quick recap of events from his desk in the style of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off that I really can’t explain.

In summary, a couple of fairly good chuckles, Val Kilmer was surprisingly good but mostly it was confusing. If you can come up with a more coherent summary of the film than that, please let me know, thanks.

Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang | 3:16 pm CST
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Tuesday, June 3rd, 2014

Last night’s movie here at Our Humble O’Bode was the romantic comedy-slash-not quite time travel movie About Time (I know there aren’t enough dashes. I ran out. Sue me).

It was quite definitely a romantic comedy. It was not quite a time travel movie because, although Tim Lake, the guy narrating the story in the manner of Hugh Grant, could travel back in time, the way he did at one or two crucial moments of the film did not make sense to me – and before you make the very salient point that just about every time travel movie ever made did not, upon further reflection, make any sense at all, I have to point out that other time travelers did not move through time by climbing into a wardrobe (or, in a pinch, any dark, closet-like cubbyhole), clenching their fists and making the face other people make when they’re about to get slapped by a woman they’ve just made a drunken pass at. This is not, in other words, time travel as we have seen it in other movies. There is no flashing, whirlygig of a time machine and nothing especially remarkable happens except that Tim finds himself wearing the clothes he wore on the day he imagined himself going back to, and then he tries to act nonchalant as he climbs out of the wardrobe.

Tim uses his awesome time-traveling powers to do what any teenaged boy would do: Go after the girls. If he muffs the New Year’s Eve Party Kiss, or if he sploots a bottle of suntan lotion all over a pretty girl, no problem – he just clenches his fists, makes the funny face, and gets a do-over. It doesn’t help him get any girls, by the way. Oops, spoiler alert. But he does get a lot of practice.

When Mary finally enters the picture, they have one of the most charming first dates ever filmed (and possibly one of the oddest, because you can’t see it) and Tim doesn’t resort to time travel even when he does muff his lines or stick a spoon full of chocolate mousse in her eye. They have a delightfully lovely first date, she gives him her phone number and he wanders back to his apartment in a haze while an acoustic guitar plays an appropriately romantic number.

Back home, he learns that his landlord, a playwright, has just endured one of the most terrible opening nights of his career. This is the part of the movie where Tim learns the consequences of changing one thing with his awesome powers. He goes back to the beginning of the evening, goes to the play with his landlord and fixes everything that went wrong so the play is a huge success. BUT – if he spent the evening at the play, he couldn’t have met Mary, so her phone number vanishes from his possession and she has no memory of him.

For some reason, and this is the part that doesn’t work for me, Tim doesn’t ditch the playright, run off to the first dark closet he can find and do the clenchy-fist thing so he can have the most romantic first date ever filmed instead of helping his landlord. He just lives with the heartache of having to grope around the city blindly trying to find Mary again. And against all odds they meet again, but in the clumsiest, most contrived way conceivable, and again a third time (clench, grimace) in a not so clumsy way, but it still wasn’t the most romantic first date ever filmed.

And it doubly didn’t work for me when later he figures out how to use time travel to fix his sister’s awful relationship with her dirtbag boyfriend, then returns to his own time to find that his year-old daughter is not the daughter he had before. It’s still his daughter, but now she’s a brunette instead of a blonde. Rather than just accept that this is the consequence of using his awesome powers for good, as he did with his landlord, a guy he barely knows, he rewinds his life, effectively killing off the brunette daughter he just created, and lets her sister have her ruinous relationship with her dirtbag boyfriend so he can have his blonde girl back. Kind of a douche move, if you ask me.

But it’s not an awful movie. It’s actually kind of cute, if you don’t think about it too much and just enjoy the bits where Bill Nighy does what Bill Nighy does.

About Time | 6:02 am CST
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Saturday, May 24th, 2014

You know those smarty-pants movie reviews that go, “I watched Mars Attacks! so you won’t have to”? Well, I’m not gonna do that. You’re on your own with Mars Attacks! I watched the first forty minutes, and that was all I could stand. I nodded off in a few places, if that tells you anything. So if you want to know whether it’s worth watching, you’ll have to watch it and decide for yourself. Good luck.

Mars Attacks! | 4:38 pm CST
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Monday, May 19th, 2014

When a pair of giant cockroaches invade your city (and when I said giant, I mean taller than the tallest buildings), dig a hole that’s  as wide as five city blocks and lay their eggs in it, who you gonna call? Godzilla, right?

There was a scene, just before the final battle between the mighty kaiju began, where the admiral, weighing all the options he had before him to defend of San Francisco, most of them really, really bad options, turned to the wise old Japanese scientist who’d been tagging along and asked for his assessment of the situation.

“Godzilla is here to restore balance,” the scientist said. “Let them fight.”

Tim and I looked at each other and said, “YES!”

Naval destroyers swamped! Skyscrapers smashed to dust! Fighter planes swatted from the sky! The Golden Gate Bridge, school buses laden with children waiting bumper-to-bumper all along its main deck, torn asunder!

The King Of The Monsters, defeated?

NO! He rises from beneath the dust! He attacks! What! Will! Happen! NEXT!

Sorry. No spoilers.

Godzilla | 6:29 pm CST
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Tuesday, April 29th, 2014

If I had to recommend a classic Western to someone who’d never seen one before, I think I’d tell them to rent a copy of Billy Wilder’s The Big Country. From the opening sequence of a stage coach coming to town, Wilder framed every scene so his subject would look tiny and lost in the panoramic vistas of the American west, and he backed the film with a sountrack nearly as big as the west, too. Then he got arguably one of the most handsome leading men in Hollywood, Gregory Peck, to play “the dude,” a sailor from back east who’s come out west to marry the woman he loves, find a piece of land for his own and settle down to live the quiet life.

Of course it won’t be that easy. Oh, it all seems to start off just fine. The woman he loves, Pat Terrill, is waiting for him at the depot, throws her arms around him and they have a little lovey-dovey right there, but soon enough they have a run-in with The Hannassey Boys. They muss him up a little but it’s nothing an experienced sailor can’t handle and he’d just as soon let it go. The Hannassey’s, though, are the sworn enemies of the Terrills (well of course they are) so Peck’s future father-in-law’s got to ride over to their ranch with his ranch hands to shoot the place up and scare the women and children.

And the Terrills’ ranch boss, Charlton Heston, has had his eye on Pat for years and gives Gregory Peck the old stink eye right away, so of course they eventually have it out. It’s my favorite scene in any Western: the two guys who can’t stand each other at first eventually come to a mutual respect, but only after one of them calmly invites the other to step outside for a moment. They punch each other in the face for what seems like way longer than two guys would ever be able to punch each other in the face (Wilder made it look like hours) until, barely able to stand, they weakly shake hands and after that they’re friends forever.

It ends about the way you’d expect: “the dude’s” Yankee ways are kind of weird to these Western yokels, but he wins them over with his quiet ways, saves the girl and rides off across the prairie as the music swells. By the time it’s all over and you’ve soaked up just about every Western cliche Hollywood could trot out of the closet, you’ll know whether or not you like Westerns.

The Big Country | 5:46 am CST
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Monday, April 21st, 2014

We went to see The Grand Budapest Hotel last Friday and I liked it so much that now I’m going to have to watch every Wes Anderson movie every made, dammit.

The story takes place in and around The Grand Budapest Hotel, a hotel that never existed but looks, in its original incarnation, like every Beaux Arts European hotel you’ve ever seen photos of. In its more modern-day incarnation it looks like just about any hotel that was renovated in the mid-70s when interior colors were dominated by oranges, browns and burnt umbers and used for everything: carpet, wallpaper, interior paint, bathroom fixtures. This version of the hotel is visited by a travel writer who, much later in his life, writes the story of The Grand Budapest Hotel as he heard it from the owner one night over dinner.

The hotel itself is in the country of Zubrowka, a country that never existed but looks very much like every photo of the Czech Republic you might have seen. And the story takes place at a time just before all the countries of Europe, even the fictional ones, erupted in war, a time that did actually exist but did not look quite like the candy-colored version portrayed in this movie. It has the storybook quality of a Buster Keaton film where events that are amazing, at times outrageously so, unfold so matter-of-factly that you have almost no choice but to accept them even while Buster’s deadpan poker face tells you that something here is not quite right.

Gustave H. is the concierge at the hotel, because the concierge in a story like this one would have to have a name like a really colorful character from an Edgar Allen Poe story. Gustav is something of a ladies’ man, romancing every dowager countess who takes rooms at The Grand Budapest Hotel, the most consequential of whom is Madame Céline Villeneuve Desgoffe-und-Taxis, a name that has got to be an inside joke, if only I knew how. Madame C. dies under mysterious circumstances, leaving her most prized possession, a panting of a boy holding an apple, to Gustav in her will, the reasons for which become clear only after her remaining heirs frame Gustav for her murder, and it’s off to prison for Gustav H.

This movie is not only his story but also the story of Zero Moustafah, the lobby boy taken under Gustave’s wing to learn the art of how a concierge runs a place like The Grand Budapest Hotel. Zero gets Gustav out of jail with the help of his girlfriend Agatha, who works in a bakery and has a birthmark across her cheek that looks so much like the country of Mexico that today everybody would mistake it for a tattoo.

I’m not sure what else to say about The Grand Budapest Hotel except that, being a Wes Anderson movie, it has to be seen to be believed. Oh, and Bill Murray’s in it. Just because. Well, of course he is.

The Grand Budapest Hotel | 6:40 am CST
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Sunday, April 20th, 2014

Bill Murray. Just because.

I could be wrong, but I think that’s a mascara brush he’s got clamped in his teeth like a cigarette holder.

mascara | 12:59 pm CST
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Saturday, April 19th, 2014

Just last night we saw a trailer for le week-end, one of the movies we watched at the film festival. The trailer made it look like a feel-good rom-com about a couple on an impulsive weekend in Paris where they reignite the flame of passion for their long marriage. I have rarely seen a more misleading movie trailer.

In the actual movie, the husband scurries after the wife, pathetically begging her for sex while she points out at every opportunity just how pathetic he is and occasionally cussing him out for no really good reason other than, I think, they’ve been married so long that she can get away with it.

If there was a high note in the film it was Jeff Goldblum, who seems to be more and more Jeff Goldblumian in every new picture I see him in. Here he packed a full-length feature film performance into only fifteen or twenty minutes of screen time, quite a feat even at the frenetic pace only he can manage.

le week-end | 11:42 am CST
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Thursday, April 17th, 2014

Mother, I Love You was our wildcard pick of the film festival offerings. It could have been bad, it could have been good, we had no idea. It was from Latvia. What does anybody, besides Latvians, know about Latvia? Definitely European, kind of Soviet, maybe bleak, maybe not. We went in not knowing what we were getting into.

The film was about a kid who appears to be spoiled rotten. His mother has a good job at a hospital, they have a nice apartment but it doesn’t seem to register on the kid that he’s got it good even though his best friend is a kid from the wrong side of the tracks.

Eventually the kid does something really bad and lies to his mother about it, and I have to tell you that in the last half-hour of the movie I really didn’t care what happened to this spoiled little brat. I was half-hoping to see him run over by a truck in the last fifteen minutes of the film. But he wasn’t. And what he did turned my ideas all the way around about whether or not I cared about him or this film. I gave it three out of five stars when I left the theater and almost immediately regretted not giving it more. By the time we’d finished dinner I was sorry I hadn’t given it five out of five. I’m still bugged that I didn’t. Really, this was a film I couldn’t stop thinking about. Nicely done.

Mother, I Love You | 8:46 pm CST
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Monday, April 14th, 2014

This may be hard to believe, but I’d never seen Psycho from beginning to end until just last night. I’d seen all the most significant scenes, of course, same as everyone else who’s watched television from time to time. I must’ve watched the shower scene dozens of times by now. But until last night I’d never seen the whole thing.

“Were there any surprises?” My Darling B asked, as we were leaving the theater.

Just about all of it, as it turns out. I didn’t know it started with Janet Leigh having an affair, stealing a truckload of money and then skipping town. I didn’t know Vera Miles, playing her sister, hired a private detective to find Janet after she disappeared, or that the detective was Martin Balsam, or that Martin Balsam got whacked.

Oh, sorry. Spoilers.

What can I say? It was great. Even better than great, because the first time I saw it was on the silver screen, instead of video.

Psycho | 9:02 pm CST
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Saturday, April 12th, 2014

We walked out of just one film at the film festival, and it was called Macaroni And Cheese, although we would’ve walked out of The Congress if we’d stopped saying to ourselves, “It can’t get any worse, it can’t get any worse…”

Macaroni And Cheese was three young women reminiscing about the time they went to a film festival. They apparently went not to watch films but to hook up with young men, and not just any young men but instead the young men they had no chance of hooking up with. One of the women wanted to hook up with a hot young celebrity actor whom she told everyone who would listen she met accidentally not long ago when he gave her his phone number. One of the women keeps throwing herself at a young man who obviously has no interest at all in her but will probably sleep with her because it doesn’t require much effort. And the third woman wants a man, any man, to suck her face but – and I never did believe this – no one wanted to except the skeevy-looking guys.

We walked out because we had already seen this movie – not in a theater, but in grade school, then in junior high, and again in high school, and it wasn’t that interesting back then.

Macaroni And Cheese | 4:42 pm CST
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The Obvious Child is a Rom-com, but it is not what you’re thinking of right now, if in fact you’re thinking of the Hollywood template for a rom-com with its whacky characters, meet-cute situations, misunderstandings and happy resolutions. This movie has all that, but it does all those things on its own terms, unconventionally, true to itself. It’s one of the most original romantic comedies I’ve seen in so many years that I wonder how it’s taken this long.

It also salvos the audience with f-bombs and is pretty frank when it comes to the way some people talk about sex: the movie opens with Donna in her stand-up routine describing the way a woman’s vagina looks through her panties, then segues into how panties look after they’ve been worn. The audience I was in cracked up big time for it, but I could see another audience going stone-cold silent.

Jenny Slate plays the role of comedian Donna Stern as if she was born for it. Ditto her best friend and roommate Nellie, played by Gaby Hoffmann, whose face tickled at my memory for the longest time until I finally remembered her as Jessica, the girl who helps Jonah get to New York city in Sleepless In Seattle. I wonder if she’s sick of being identified with that role yet.

Donna’s boyfriend dumps her at the opening of the movie, right after she has a killer night doing her stand-up routine in a neighborhood comedy club. I have to confess that what I liked most about this scene was that I not only understood the comedy, it also made me laugh, two things that normally don’t happen when I try out modern comedians. I don’t know what it is about modern comedy that doesn’t connect with me. The last modern comic whose routine didn’t go right over my head was Louis C.K. No, wait, it was Jim Gaffigan. Whoever. Diana’s routine was funny, but although I could appreciate her snark about her sex life as much as the rest of the audience did, her boyfriend very definitely didn’t. Exit boyfriend.

After the near-obligatory scenes of Donna drunk-dialing her ex-boyfriend and bombing with a “my life sucks” stand-up routine, Donna meets Max, an IT guy who’s not at all the guy you’re thinking of right now. He has a sense of humor just sharp enough to parry Donna’s jokes, yet he’s just gallant enough to let her land a few jabs, and even to pretend that he didn’t just see her crash and burn on stage. After trading jokes curled up in a heap on a bench, followed by what might possibly be one of the funniest scenes of public urination ever filmed, they go back to Max’s place where they dance the rest of the night away.

Donna sneaks out in the morning while Max is asleep and apparently neither one of them tries to call the other for several weeks, which seemed a little odd to me. Do people really just leave each other hanging like that? When Max finally does drop in again at the bookstore where Donna works, she can’t bring herself to tell him she’s pregnant, and Max interprets her reluctance to talk to him as standoffishness, so he backs out graciously.  This scene and the one where they meet at the comedy club felt so fresh and natural that they gave me hope that the rom-com is not a genre with no hope of ever recovering. I liked them both, I cared that things might work out for them, I cringed when it looked like things might not work out and I cheered when they did work out. And not once did the characters seem unbelievable. A little bit too quippy at times, maybe, but some people are really like that.

I just loved Donna’s circle of friends, a great support network, from her roomie Nellie to her father, a perfectly-cast Richard Kind, and even to her mother, who starts out rather shrewish before revealing her warm, cuddly and, inevitably I suppose, supportive side. I’ll be scouring YouTube for recordings of Gabe Liedman, who plays the comedian introducing Donna in the movie and absolutely kills with the one-liners he uses to warm up the audience.

Jake Lacey, the guy playing Max, looked awfully familiar to me, but now that I’ve had a chance to google him I’m pretty sure I’ve never seen him before. I sure hope I do in the future; he was great. Jenny Slate has been in all kinds of things; we looked up an episode of Parks and Recreation to see what she was like in that but couldn’t watch more than ten minutes. It’s that thing with modern comedy going over my head again. Went over B’s, too.

Anyway, five out of five for The Obvious Child. It was a great movie to end the festival on.

The Obvious Child | 9:19 am CST
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Thursday, April 10th, 2014

It’s official: Singing every word of dialogue is stupid.

The characters in the Jacques Demy film A Room In Town sing all their lines, and it just doesn’t work for me. They’re not singing songs, they’re just singing ordinary conversation. It’s distracting and it seems inane to hear people sing lines like “Give me a cigarette.” “Sorry, I’m out.”

My Darling B thought it was “operatic.” I don’t think it came close to the majestic vocal power of opera, so it didn’t work for me from that perspective, either.

As far as the story behind A Room In Town, that was stupid, too. Guilbaud, a striking pipe fitter, lives in a room he rents from Margot Langlois, a former baroness trying to keep up her hoity-toity lifestyle on the pension of her dead husband, a colonel. In the opening scene, Guilbaud and Mme Langlois sing about the riot in the street that Guilbaud just took part in, then Guilbaud establishes that he’s a douchebag by telling Mme Langlois that he can’t pay the rent he owes her but he’s not moving out and what’s she gonna do about it, huh? Later, Guilbaud meet his girlfriend Violette who’s an absolute sweetie and they have a nice time, but then Guilbaud tells his friend Dambiel that he’s thinking of dumping her because it’s not a good time to marry her, what with the strike and all, and besides, he just doesn’t feel any passion for her. Suddenly he remembers he forgot his hat at the Baroness’ house (the line is something like, “Shit, I forgot my hat!” which naturally he sings. Just try to tell me that’s not inane. Lah-lah-lah I can’t hear you!) and while he’s on his way back to get it, he runs into Edith, who sashays through all but the last scene in the movie wearing nothing but a fur coat. She flashes him some skin and says something like, “Do I shock you?” He gives her A Smoldering Look, they exchange two or maybe three more lines in song and then get a room where they go at it like rabbits. This is love! This is passion! They were meant to be together! And other such nonsense that’s supposed to make sense when you sing about it in a movie. (Doesn’t work. Have I mentioned? Oh, I have. Sorry.) Guilbaud cements his cred as a douchebag by dumping Violette in the next act right after she tells him she’s expecting his child. Then he gets clubbed to death in the next riot and, because Edith cannot live a moment without his love, his passion, his embrace and his kisses, she shoots herself right through the heart. Give me a break. What a stupid mess.

A Room In Town | 10:28 am CST
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Wednesday, April 9th, 2014

The other Jacques Demy film we saw at the festival was Lola, a prelude of sorts to The Umbrellas of Cherbourg in that it provides the backstory to a character who appears in both films, Roland Cassard. Beautifully shot in black and white, this was Demy’s first feature-length film and, like Umbrellas, another story of star-crossed lovers, but thank goodness none of them sang. Well, Lola did, but just one song and then only because she was a dancer in a cabaret show.

I just loved it. B didn’t. She thought it was hokey the way Cassard fell in love with his childhood sweetheart at the drop of a hat. I thought that was an odd thing for her to say because he did the same thing when he fell in love with a shopgirl in Umbrellas. I love hokiness in old movies, especially black and white films, so that’s probably why I enjoyed Lola. 

Later this week we’re going to see The Young Girls of Rouchefort, Demy’s follow-up to Umbrellas. I’ll be very interested to see how each of us feels about that one!

Lola | 10:23 am CST
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The film festival is featuring several films by the French director Jacques Demy and there was quite a lot of buzz going around about them, so we got tickets for two: The Umbrellas of Cherbourg and Lola. Umbrellas was the first one we saw and is apparently considered to be Demy’s best film; Jim Healy, the director of programming at the film fest, went so far as to say it was one of the best films ever made. We were really looking forward to watching these films.

One quirky thing about Umbrellas is that all the dialogue is sung by the cast. It’s not a musical; they’re not singing songs. They have lines of dialogue, just as in any other movie, but while the movie’s playing there’s a soundtrack of pop songs that never stops, and the cast members sing their lines as if they can hear the soundtrack. It would be as if you were having a conversation while the radio was playing in the background, and instead of merely saying what was on your mind, you sang each and every sentence you uttered to the tune of whatever song was on the radio at the time. I’ve never seen that done in any movie before.

Umbrellas has the look of a musical; everything is not only very colorful, but exaggeratedly so, as if a teenager who has just discovered a love of decorating was given free reign and a bottomless purse to redo every room in the house. All the cast members move quickly in and out of each scene as quickly and precisely as choreographed dancers, rushing in to hit their marks, delivering their lines with pep, then rushing away. Even the opening credits – well, especially the opening credits have the glitz and glamour normally reserved for a musical. It was a gorgeous-looking movie.

Unfortunately, it turns out that what I thought might be a quirky yet engaging way for the actors to deliver their lines felt more like an inane gimmick to me. Actually, by the end of the film it felt a lot like torture. So when My Darling B asked me, “Well, what did you think?” I had to tell her, “That is probably the dumbest movie I’ve ever seen.”  (Two hours later, as we were exiting the theater where we saw The Congress, I had to repeat myself.) B was astonished. She just adored it. She can’t wait to see it again. So it was apparently quirky yet engaging for some people, just not for me.

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg | 8:39 am CST
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Monday, April 7th, 2014

On a scale from one to five, a three-star movie would be an okay movie, meaning I would feel okay recommending it. I would not feel okay recommending a two-star movie. And a one-star movie is a movie that’s so bad I would lay in the road in front of your car to try to stop you from seeing it.

The Congress is a one-star movie. I hope you’re not thinking about seeing it. Please don’t make me lay in front of your car.

Based on a Stanislaw Lem story that must’ve had something to do with the consequences of taking psychoactive drugs (I haven’t read it yet, I’m just taking a wild guess based on all the drugs they snorted in the film), the writers of The Congress mixed up the original idea with a story about how Hollywood celebrities are commodities to be bought and sold. Then the film makers filmed half the movie as live-action and animated the other half and tried to tie them together. Unfortunately, I wasn’t taking the same recreational drugs they seem to have been on, so it didn’t come together for me the way it would’ve for them.

The Congress | 11:00 pm CST
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A school where the students are given control over everything: they make up and enforce the rules, the curriculum, the teaching, everything. That’s the situation documented in Approaching The Elephant. If you imagine it would turn into Lord Of The Flies, you’re not far off. It had a bit less violence but made up for it with a lot more screaming. So if you’re interested in watching 90 minutes of kids screaming at each other, to say nothing of coming perilously close to sawing their own fingers off (several times), this would be a great film for you.

The thing with the saws was actually a pretty good example of what I thought was wrong with what sounds at first blush like a great idea. What’s wrong with giving kids the tools to learn? Why should we impose rules on how they should use those tools?

Well, here’s a few things to think about: During what they very broadly referred to as wood shop, the kids seemed to prefer using a coping saw, no matter what they were cutting or why. Nobody explained to them how to use one, which would apparently have been too preachy. A coping saw is a C-shaped bow with a very thin, very sharp blade strung so tightly between the arms that it’s notorious for breaking easily. If you use one without wearing safety glasses, you’re just begging to lose an eye, but if you let 8-year-old kids use one without wearing safety glasses, that’s criminally irresponsible. Or am I just too old-fashioned?

Approaching The Elephant | 10:51 am CST
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So, let’s say you’re Josef Mengele. Just hypothetically speaking. And you’re hiding out somewhere in South America because there are quite a lot of people who want to put your head in a noose. Which would you do:

a) Use the Nazi gold you smuggled out of Germany to buy a villa high in the mountains of Argentina and pass the rest of your days fly fishing.

b) Take a suspiciously unhealthy interest in the 10-year-old daughter of your traveling companion, then suggest you be allowed to inject her with animal growth hormones.

c) Check into the most well-known hotel in Cartegena where you can swan about in the saloon every evening, introducing yourself with businesses cards printed with “Josef Mengele” in gothic German script and steering conversations toward the subjects of racial purity and human vivisection.

If you picked b), congratulations! You could be the main character of the film The German Doctor. No surprises here. It’s just what it says on the tin: Creepy Nazi Does Creepy Stuff.

If you chose c I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t make a movie about it, so don’t bother.

The German Doctor | 9:45 am CST
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Saturday, April 5th, 2014

I’ve got to hand it to the guys who made The Immortalists:  I wouldn’t know where to begin making a documentary about a couple of guys who sincerely believe they can live forever by not only stopping the aging process, but even reversing it. How do you talk to people who talk like that without rolling your eyes?

But that’s only the first layer of craziness. The second guy, a marathon runner, at least explains his theory for halting the deterioration of DNA in a way that’s simple, direct, and makes some kind of sense. He might have been selling snake oil, but he sounded like a genuine medical doctor while doing it. The first guy, a Rasputin look-alike who gave every indication of being pretty much hammered throughout movie, spoke the kind of technobabble they use in Star Trek when they have to explain how the captain mutated into a lemur. Perversely, the marathon runner couldn’t convince his investors to keep giving him money and went bankrupt, while the drunken Rasputin made enough to set up a laboratory in Silicon Valley, buy a big house in the mountains and collect a harem of mistresses.

The Immortalists | 11:50 pm CST
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People who don’t know George Takei as Mister Sulu from Star Trek might know him from his popular Facebook posts, or from his work to promote marriage equality, or from his role in Allegiance, a musical about the internment camps where Japanese-Americans were held during the second world war. There are many ways To Be Takei, and this documentary puts them all together very handily.

But what made me enjoy this film enough to give it five out of five was George Takei himself. For an actor primary known for his work on a pretty hammy TV show, he is surprisingly good at delivering his message. He’s always on, but he’s not in your face, and even though his ever-present smile is very obviously a carefully-crafted part of his always-on personality, it’s never false; he genuinely seems to be enjoying the hell out of whatever he’s doing.

A very enjoyable film.

To Be Takei | 10:49 am CST
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Intruders is probably the best thriller I’ve seen in years. A young screen writer retreats to a secluded cabin in the mountains to finish the script he’s working on.  Ironic, right? If anyone should know what will go wrong in that scenario, it should be a screen writer. This tightly-made movie doesn’t take one wrong step building up to the conclusion that had me eagerly anticipating each successive scene. Five stars.

Intruders | 10:36 am CST
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Eka and Natia are 14-year-old girls in Soviet Georgia during the 1990s rebellion there. That’s it. That’s what the film In Bloom is about, and it’s as drab and awful as it sounds. Old women fight with the girls over a loaf of bread. The girls find a moment of happiness in an afternoon get-together around a piano with their friends, and the song they sing goes something like, “Life is hard, life is bitter, it will crush you like a miserable little bug…” This is a coming of age film you’re not going to walk away from feeling good. Just saying.

In Bloom | 10:29 am CST
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Saturday, March 29th, 2014

I finally caved in and watched The Hunger Games last night, and even after sleeping on it I have to wonder what all the fuss was about. Was it satisfying for fans of the book? I kind of doubt it. Fans of the book are usually all ate up about details that screenwriters thoughtlessly cut from the first draft. But I could be light-years from right about their reaction; I don’t know squat about YA book readers.

My first reaction was to keep checking the time, starting about thirty minutes into the movie and again every ten or twenty minutes after that. BO-ring! But I really wanted to find out what made it such a popular movie when it was released, so I stuck with it to the very end, way past my bed time. Now I’m kinda sorry I didn’t watch another episode of Dexter instead.

The Hunger Games | 9:13 am CST
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Wednesday, March 19th, 2014

Not that you asked, but I lied before when I said we weren’t going to do a damn thing on Sunday.

I’m going to pause here in order to note that my Kindle asked me if I wanted to add the world “damn” to it’s vocabulary. First, yes. Second, I’m shocked, just shocked to find out that Kindles are sold to the general public without the word “damn” already loaded into their memories. What will the kids think?

Now, back to Sunday:

I went downtown Sunday afternoon with My Darling B to see Rear Window at a free showing sponsored by the university because it’s free and it’s Hitchcock but mostly because it’s Rear Window, one of my favorite suspense films ever. Jimmy Stewart plays the part of a photographer stuck in his apartment for six weeks with a leg so broken they put him in a plaster cast that’s bigger than the Queen Mary. He lives in a studio apartment with a big window that overlooks a courtyard in the middle of his block and he can see into the windows of the apartments all around the courtyard. With all that spare time on his hands, he spends a lot of it watching his neighbors, and that’s how he sees the murder.

Except that Hitchcock never shows us the murder. In all the scenes of the apartment in question, he never even suggests it. Only the photographer does, and whenever he tries to convince somebody that something heinous is going on over there, he sounds like a stir-crazy lunatic, which Stewart plays with just the right touch of conspiracy-theorist zealotry.

In the end, the photographer draws his fiance and his nurse into his weird little voyeuristic fantasy and when they go ga-ga for it, they end up digging up flower beds and breaking into the apartment across the way. How could that go wrong? Meanwhile the photographer’s stuck in his apartment, powerless to do anything whenever there’s a close call.

What I most admire about the way this story’s plotted is that the whole murder mystery is entirely notional, living inside the photographer’s head, right up to the very end. There’s nothing to suggest it might have happened; we’re all just assuming he’s right and his neighbor’s a killer, until everything is rather brutally revealed.

Maybe the best detail in Rear Window is Thelma Ritter as the nurse. She all but steals the supporting actress role from Grace Kelly.

Rear Window | 5:59 am CST
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Wednesday, February 26th, 2014

The Seanster and I were exchanging giddy text messages about the latest movie teaser for the upcoming Godzilla movie. Turns out my phone not only knows how to spell “Godzilla” already, it autofills “Godzilla” after I type the first three letters, because obviously who would ever stop after typing just “God?”

godzilla bless autofill | 6:10 am CST
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Saturday, February 22nd, 2014

It’s been kind of a long week, so it wasn’t surprising that last night after we got home, we kicked off our shoes, found a couple of cocktails and settled in to the most comfortable furniture in our Little Red House to watch Rio Bravo.

I’m sure something’s wrong with the commas in that sentence, but I can’t figure it out right now and anyway, My Darling B will drop me a note with all the necessary corrections after she reads this.

The work last week wasn’t particularly grueling, but there was a lot of it, so knowing that we wouldn’t have to go back for a couple days was a special kind of relief, and we celebrated it with something like cosmopolitan. I have no idea what a cosmopolitan is other than a cocktail that was apparently made famous by its association with the television series Sex And The City, or maybe it was Sex In The City. That particularly crucial cultural touchstone didn’t get touched by me, so all I know about it is that it has something to do with sex and cities and maybe cocktails.

The cocktail My Darling B mixed wasn’t quite a cosmopolitan because she was missing one or more of the ingredients, so she improvised and christened it a Mononapolitan. It was tart and it had a lot of vodka in it. I had just one. One was enough. Two or more of those and I probably would’ve ended up sleeping on the bathroom floor. I’m too old for that shit.

But I did pop open a beer just before we started watching Rio Bravo, because we rustled up some grub from the chuck wagon just before we hit the trail. If that sounded really corny, it’s probably because it’s a really corny movie. Wikipedia says Rio Bravo is considered Howard Hawks’ best film. I haven’t seen a lot of the films Howard Hawks made, but I would guess there weren’t any cornier than this one, so I’d change “best” to “corniest.” And I mean that in a good way.

It’s also the longest western I think I’ve ever seen. No, wait, The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly was way longer, by about forty-two hours. That’s got to be the longest movie ever made. But Rio Bravo is plenty long for a cheeseball western. They could have easily shortened it to two hours if they’d cut the musical numbers – Dean Martin sings a duet with Ricky Nelson, then Ricky sings a duet with Walter Brennan; I told you it was corny – but then you would’ve had a movie starring Dean Martin without a Dean Martin song, and what sense would that make? Or they could’ve cut the many scenes where Angie Dickinson sashays around the room in her underwear, but same thing about not making sense.

Altogether after the long week, the Mononapolitan, the long, cheesy western and the beer, I was ready to hit the hay. And I’m here now to tell you that hay was well and truly hit.

cheeseball | 7:58 am CST
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Sunday, February 9th, 2014

Last night’s movie was the The Train, maybe my favorite Burt Lancaster film ever because it has two of the most awesome subjects you could ever put in a movie, Burt Lancaster and steam locomotives. The film is based on the true World War Two story of the Nazis stealing paintings from the museums of Paris.

That’s about as far as the “based on” part of the movie goes. The rest of it is completely made up. Lancaster plays the role of a fighter in the French resistance who gets the job of trying to stop the Nazis from running off with a trainload of paintings before the Allies can liberate Paris. I’m pretty sure they told him to just show up every day and be Burt Lancaster, because that’s what he did. Even though he’s playing a French guy, he makes absolutely no attempt whatsoever to sound French, yet he still turns in a rock-solid performance.

I’d forgotten what a physical actor Lancaster was, too. In one scene he descends a ladder by locking his feet outside the uprights and sliding down, then runs to meet a moving steam engine, stops dead in his tracks and doubles back to match speed with it, finally jumping aboard by hooking a handrail and hoisting himself up. As an action hero, he could’ve given just about anybody I can think of a run for their money.

It took me forever to remember where I’d seen Paul Scofield, who played the megalomaniacal Nazi colonel: He was the French king Charles VI in Kenneth Brannagh’s film version of Henry V, quite a different part. In The Train he mostly gets to line up resistance fighters against a wall to have them shot, and yell a lot.

There’s some other good performances and some really exceptionally good cinematography, but really, when you’ve got steam engines, multiple daylight bombing raids, steam engines crashing spectacularly into other steam engines, and oh did I mention steam engines – what more do you need to say? Maybe I’ll get into that in another, more long-winded drivel, but for now it’s enough to say Burt Lancaster fights Nazis with steam engines. There. That’s all you really need to know.

I think this was the first time I’d seen The Train since the days when I used to watch it in reruns on the late-late show. My Darling B picked it out from the action movies at Four Star Video after she enjoyed Monuments Men so much that she went looking for movies about Nazis stealing start.

The Train | 1:54 pm CST
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Sunday, February 2nd, 2014

The movie Elysium begins with a flashback. You can tell because it has the slightly out-of-focus, off-color look of an Instagram shot and the dialog sounds like you’re hearing it from the far end of a tunnel. The flashback introduces you to Max and Frey and shows you that they were childhood sweethearts. It also introduces you to Elysium, a classic bicycle-wheel space habitat so large that Max can see it from the roof of the orphanage where he was raised. Elysium is where all the rich people went to live when the Earth became so overpopulated it was nothing but a great big slum.

Max wants to go to Elysium, but a nun from the orphanage says he can’t because it costs too much. The “costs too much” reason gets repeated several times, even though, later in the movie, forty or fifty refugees pile into a space shuttle no bigger or more impressive-looking than a school bus that can fly straight up to Elysium in about ten minutes, so why it would be so expensive to get there was kind of lost on me. But Max promises Frey that someday they’ll live on Elysium together.

Flash-forward to Max’s present day, when he lives in a cinder-block hovel in Los Angeles. It turns out he’s been a bad boy while he was growing up. A couple of police droids single him out for questioning while he’s waiting in line for the bus to his factory job, and they beat him up badly enough that he has to go to a hospital where he finds out Frey works as a nurse, a coincidence that O. Henry would have been proud to have thought of. Max sweet-talks Frey until she agrees to meet him for coffee later.

Just as an aside, I wonder if Matt Damon (who plays Max) is as charming with women in real life as he is in movies? I can’t recall a scene in any of his movies where he wasn’t at least as charming when meeting women as Cary Grant. Now that I think of it, I’d love to see him play the Cary Grant part in a remake of North By Northwest. How awesome would that be?

Well, they never have that coffee, because Max works in the factory making the same kind of droids that kicked the shit out of him that morning. Wow, ironic, no? (No.) Not that getting beaten up by steel robots keeps him from working. He’s Matt Damon, after all. Kick the shit out of him, slap a couple band-aids on the cuts and he’s good for some heavy lifting in the next scene.

Shower him with a lethal dose of radiation, though, and he’s not so good to go anymore. He’s not playing Bruce Banner, he’s playing Max, who is a Jason Bourne-like badass but, still. His foreman orders him into a giant microwave oven where the droids are zapped. “Either you go in there, or I find someone who will and you can go clean out your locker.” Sure, I’ll bet there’s all kinds of competition for the job of going into the room full of deadly radiation. When Max hesitates, the foreman gets pissed because, Hey, he’s holding up production. So Max finally caves under pressure, squeezes past the jammed door and starts yanking on a pallet that it’s hung up on.

You know what’s coming, right? As soon as the pallet comes loose, the door slams shut and the microwave oven automatically starts baking everything inside, even though a warning on the computer monitor just outside the door flashes “ORGANIC MATERIAL DETECTED.” Why does it keeps on zapping everything inside when it knows there’s something in there that shouldn’t be? I dunno.

The whole factory has to shut down while a droid comes to drag Max out of the microwave oven.

Two things:

In a previous scene, Max pushes a bunch of droids into the oven, shuts the door, bakes the droids. The oven is safe enough to walk into when it isn’t baking droids. After Max’s accident, though, it’s so dangerously radioactive that the whole factory has to be shut down and evacuated, then a droid has to drag Max out of it. Sure. Makes perfect sense.

Second, if the foreman is so concerned about keeping production moving on the assembly line, why does he order Max to go into the oven to yank the pallet out of the jammed door when it’s a fifty-fifty bet that the door will slam shut with Max in there, requiring the foreman to shut down the whole freakin’ factory?

The CEO of the company, who steps in to see what’s going on, never asks these or any other questions. He’s supposed to be the brains of the operation, yet all he’s worried about is that Max will soil the paper towel on the bed in the company’s sick bay. Max is given some radiation-sickness pills, told by the medical droid he will die in five days, given a heartfelt thank-you for his service by the droid and discharged.

Meanwhile, back at the hospital, Frey’s daughter is dying of leukemia. All this terminal disease is relevant because on Elysium there are these “medical bays” that look exactly like tanning beds, but the bright lights scan you for illness, then “reatomize” your body which, I guess, means it rebuilds every atom in you except for the ones that are part of your illness, because anyone who steps into a medical bay steps out perfectly healthy. You learn this in a scene where that school bus/shuttle full of refugees lands on Elysium. The refugees pour out and run for the houses. Police droids catch all but two, a crippled girl and her mother who gets her to a medical bay, where the girl’s legs are healed. Happy happy, joy joy. Until the police droids catch them.

Although medical bays are such common appliances on Elysium that every house has one, nobody on Earth has one. Literally nobody. That’s why people are desperate enough to get on a school bus shuttle and risk getting shot out of space by the evil defense minister for a million-to-one chance of using a medical bay before the police droids catch them. Even more weirdly, several space shuttles as big as brick-and-mortal hospitals, each one filled with rows of medical bays, are sent to Earth later in the movie to heal the sick people, because of course you’d have those just sitting around in your shuttle hangar for years if you didn’t want to share technology like that with Earth.

So now that Max has been zapped with deadly radiation, and now that Frey’s daughter is dying of leukemia, they both have compelling reasons to get to Elysium. I guess realizing a childhood dream of going there to live together wasn’t compelling enough. But what the hell, radiation sickness gives the film makers an excuse to trick out Matt Damon with a super-soldier powered exoskeleton so he can beat the snot out of every droid and the hit man sent after him. Which he does. A lot. He has to after he agrees to go on a very dangerous mission in order to earn his ticket to Elysium from the bad guy he used to work for. And the dying daughter is the excuse that makes Frey go with Max even though he’s doing bad stuff again that makes bad people come after her, too.

What a mess, eh? I mean, it started out good enough. I would have loved to watch the movie where Max and Frey figured out how to get to the big bicycle wheel in the sky using their smarts or even just some good luck. Or, I would have enjoyed the movie about Max the car thief who tried to turn to the straight and narrow but had to become an ass-kicking Robin Hood, sticking it to the evil defense minister (deliciously played by Jody Foster). Or I would have even watched the movie about the dystopian society that wouldn’t let the poors have medical bays, which, if it was handled right, could have been relevant and even a little bit snarky. But the movie I watched turned out like the grey mess I make whenever I try to cook. The ingredients are fine, each on their own but, just like this movie, they don’t go together so they turn into a delicious dish.

Elysium | 3:00 pm CST
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Sunday, January 19th, 2014

Side Effects was an oddly unsatisfying movie. Oddly, because it should have been, and I can’t pin down what exactly didn’t work for me. The plot seems sound. The acting was good. The movie looked great. But in the end it was just meh. Odd.

OBLIGATORY SPOILER ALERT: I’m going to give away everything. I mean it. If this movie is in your Netflix queue and you’re looking forward to watching it, EJECT EJECT EJECT!

Emily Taylor’s husband has just been released from prison where he was serving time for insider trading. On the day after his release, she leaves work, gets into her car and, staring at the EXIT sign on the wall of the underground parking lot, she floors the gas pedal and drives her BMW straight into it.

Jonathan Banks is the psychiatrist who sees her at the hospital. He’s worried that she’s going to try to hurt herself again even though she says she’s fine. He agrees to release her if she makes an appointment to see her at his office. She does, and by the end of her visit he determines that she’s depressed and prescribes medication.

It’s a new medication, part of a clinical study to determine effectiveness, and it has one notable side effect: People who use it tend to sleep walk. After Emily starts to use it, she starts to sleep walk. And then, weirdly, she stabs her husband with a kitchen knife. Three times. Leaving him in a pool of blood, she goes to her room, curls up in bed and covers herself with her quilts, just like she did the last time she was sleep walking.

Emily’s depression is played very effectively by Rooney Mara. I thought she really was depressed, that she really was sleepwalking, and that she really did stab her husband without knowing what she was doing. That right there should have given me a deep interest in seeing how the movie played out. Jonathan Banks, played equally well by Jude Law, figured out she was really a homicidal sociopath who conspired with her lover, another psychiatrist played by Catherine Zeta-Jones (and if Catherine Zeta-Jones slithering into the picture isn’t a red flag that something bad’s gonna happen, I don’t know what is). Wowzers. That should’ve grabbed my interest and held it in a death grip, too. And although Banks was initially duped by Emily, he not only gets the upper hand in the end and expose the conspiracy, he also manages to outfox Emily and exile her to a psych ward where she wanders the halls, tranked on thorazine.

And I just didn’t care. Neither did My Darling B, so I know it wasn’t just me. It’s weird, but there’s everything to like about this movie, and yet there was nothing I really cared about. I didn’t care about the people, I didn’t care about the story. Nothing.


Side Effects | 5:02 pm CST
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Saturday, December 21st, 2013

Armaments, Chapter Two, Verses 9 to 21: Then did he raise on high the Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch, saying, “Bless this, O Lord, that with it thou mayst blow thine enemies to tiny bits, in thy mercy.”

15: First thou pullest the Holy Pin.

16-17: Then thou must count to three. Three shall be the number of the counting and the number of the counting shall be three.

18: Four shalt thou not count, neither shalt thou count two, excepting that thou then proceedeth to three.

19: Five is right out.

20-21: Once the number three, being the number of the counting, be reached, then lobbest thou the Holy Hand Grenade in the direction of thine foe, who, being naughty in my sight, shall snuff it.

snuff it | 9:38 am CST
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Friday, December 13th, 2013

Hypothetical question for you: Pretend for a moment that you have somehow been sucked backward through time. Like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day, you find yourself experiencing events that have already happened to you. As a general rule, what’s the one thing you should never, ever do? Anybody? Anybody?

Okay, I’ll just tell you: You should never try to tell anybody you’re a time traveler. This should be Rule Number One For Time Travelers, even before the old classic, “Be careful not to meet yourself, or kill your parents, or step on the mouse that’s going to evolve into humankind.” Because if you make the mistake of trying to tell someone you’re a time traveler, they’re going to think you’re crazy, even if you start the conversation, as so many time travelers do, with, “What I’m about to say is going to sound crazy, but….” The next scene will open with you tied to a bed in a padded room as a nurse walks in and begins to feed you a bowl of soft food with a rubberized spoon. Every time traveler who has ever been sucked backwards through the space-time continuum thinks that if he explains calmly and rationally that he’s from the future, or that he can prove it by telling someone what’s about to happen, then naturally everyone will believe him, but they never do, do they? Just forget about telling anyone, no matter how desperate you think you are. There’s no way that’s going to end well for you.

This public service message is brought to you courtesy of yours truly after I ran across a movie teaser on the web the other day that opened with that very scene. Tom Cruise plays the time traveler in a movie called Edge of Tomorrow that appears to be a mash-up of Groundhog Day, Starship Troopers and Band Of Brothers. Although I’m pretty sick of time travel movies and I’m not a fan of Tom Cruise, I’m looking forward to seeing this movie when it comes out on video because that powered armor suit he’s wearing is badass!

can’t wait for the video | 7:03 pm CST
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Tuesday, October 22nd, 2013

We watched The Cloud Atlas last weekend. I didn’t like it. And the more I think about it, the less I like it.

The point of the movie, and I won’t be giving anything away by starting with this, is that everything we do connects us with everything everybody else does. To bring you this message, the directors pared their movie down to a running time just eight minutes short of three hours. Three hours of “everything is connected … everything is connected … everything is connected.” Think you can handle that? If you can, you’re a much more patient viewer than I am.

The movie starts with Tom Hanks speaking a futuristic slang that we had to turn the subtitles on to understand. The movie is a hash of six different stories in different time periods and a pretty big chunk of the movie was spent in this distant future where everybody spoke like a drunken Jar Jar Binks. That right there made me want to strangle all the script writers.

Excuse me, the movie isn’t a “hash,” it’s an “interweaving” according to several descriptions I found on teh intarwebs. Each story takes place during a different era: The first story is about a young lawyer on a sea voyage to New Zealand in 1849; the second story is about a young composer in 1936; and so on. The thirteen characters in each of the six stories are supposed to be “souls” who are influenced by, and may even be aware of the presence of all the other souls in their time as well as in every other era.

Although this idea intrigues me, it never seems to amount to anything as far as the people in the movie are concerned. For instance, the composer writes to his friend that he has been reading a book written by the lawyer on a sea voyage. If the composer’s actions were influenced at all by the lawyer’s story, though, I missed it. Same goes for the intrepid journalist who reads the letters written by the composer to his friend. The journalist is obviously touched by their correspondence, but when she takes action in her own life it’s because her father was a strong influence on her, not because of the composer.

Then there are the thirteen souls. I’m not sure, but I think I’m supposed to believe that they’re the same thirteen souls from one era to the next, or at least that’s what seems to be implied by having the same actors play them in each of the six stories. But what I don’t get is, why? If the movie answered this question, I missed it again. Why does a soul move from time to time, acting a new part in each new life? They don’t seem to be any better for it. In the sea voyage segment, Tom Hanks is a murderous asshole. In the musical segment, he’s an extortionate asshole. In the nuclear power segment he’s a whistle-blowing nice guy. In the Cavendish segment, he’s a murderous asshole again. And no matter what time Hugo Weaving appears in, he’s an asshole. By the way, if you want to see something that’ll put you off your dessert for the rest of the week, Hugo Weaving in drag. Nuff said.

Those are two pretty intriguing ideas, but their execution, and this whole movie, totally baffled me. I may be a little clumsy when it comes to catching all the intricacies of a story’s plot, but in three hours I think I should have been handed at least one gimmie. I just didn’t get any of it. On my one to five scale, I give it a two. Not saying you shouldn’t see it, just saying I wouldn’t recommend it.

The Cloud Atlas | 5:17 am CST
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Thursday, September 5th, 2013

Sundance Cinema had a one-night showing of The French Connection, one of those classic American movies I’ve seen bits and pieces of for more than thirty years but have never watched from beginning to end, and especially not in a movie theater, so we motored across town after supper, plopped ourselves in a couple of the best seats in the theater and settled back for a night of high entertainment.

First off, good movie. If I ever knew Roy Scheider was in this movie, I forgot until I saw his name in the opening credits. This must have been before his Chief Brody days in Jaws, right? Because he looked like a kid. Then again, so did Gene Hackman. There, that’s out of the way.

Second: Man, Detroit built some big cars back in the day, didn’t they? A status snot driving a Hummer might think he’s behind the wheel of the biggest American car ever, but that’s nothing compared to the production model Ford Galaxie of the 1970s. Those monsters were forty feet long and had a bench seat big enough to field a game of beach volleyball.

Also: The stuff movie makers used for fake blood when this movie was shot looked like the bright, thick paint I used in elementary school. They splashed it on the way a fourth-grader would, too.

And then: The camerawork was so 70’s that it made my eyes hurt: jerky pans across city skylines, grainy low-light film for scenes of seedy bars and nightclubs, hand-held close-ups of perps trotting through crowds that were definitely not Steadicam. It looked like the late-night television shows I used to watch when I should have been doing my homework.

The French Connection | 6:00 am CST
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Monday, August 19th, 2013

We went to see 2 Guns last night because My Darling B wanted to see a flick with lots of action that didn’t require a lot of thought. We certainly got what we were after. And I don’t mean that like it’s a bad thing. In almost all of the right ways, it was a wonderful popcorn movie.

Speaking of popcorn, a trip to the snack bar for two buckets of popcorn and two bottles of water ran up a grand total of $22.75. The tickets cost $20.00. They’re not even pretending that this is about the entertainment any more, are they?

priceless | 6:45 pm CST
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Thursday, June 27th, 2013

Strange thing about World War Z: I was all geared up for some brain-eating mayhem but, even though there were zombies galore, there was not one single brain-eater among them. And now that I think about it, I can’t remember a turbo-zombie movie where the zombies ate brains. Turbo-zombies are too busy running around biting people to stop for a snack, apparently.

Another strange thing about World War Z: The zombies in the book were shambling zombies. They were defeated using methods that would only work on shambling zombies. I know, I know, the movie is never the same as the book it was based on. No big deal. Still, one little change, whole different story.

We went to see World War Z with Becky and John. John liked the movie. Becky, not so much. After it was over, Becky told John, “You so owe me for this!” I see at least a half-dozen rom-coms in John’s future.

World War Z | 6:15 am CST
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Sunday, June 16th, 2013

We were watching the movie John Carter of Mars about a week ago and there are two scenes – two! – where the princess of Helium, Dejah Thoris, falls from an airship, or some dizzingly high precipice, and John Carter prevents her from from going splat on the ground by jumping to an amazing height and catching her in mid-air.

He’s from Earth, you see, and there’s less gravity on Mars, so he can jump hundreds of feet into the air. Yeah. I guess everybody’s already forgotten that moonwalking astronauts could only jump about three feet into the air, and that Mars has a lot more gravity than the moon, but whatever.

If it were somehow possible for him to jump hundreds of feet and land without breaking every bone in his body, here’s my question: He can’t fly. He’s only jumping: Traveling in an arc from point A to point B. If he were to jump a little too high, or a little too low, or he jumped just a tenth of a degree too far to the left or right, he would go sailing past the princess and really all he could do is wave and say, Sorry! Catch you next time! He’d have to have the brain of a ballistics computer to make that catch.

But let’s say for the sake of argument that he got lucky (not once but twice!) and managed to scoop her up into his arms. How is it that Dejah Thoris isn’t killed by the blunt-force trauma of a 165-pound man crashing into her like a cannonball as she falls? If she hit a stationary object on the way down the impact would almost certainly kill her. Come to that, the impact would probably kill them both.

I’m probably overthinking this, aren’t I?

the catch | 8:18 am CST
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