Wednesday, April 15th, 2015

Wisconsin Film Festival 2015Everybody I heard talking about In Order of Disappearance kept comparing it to Fargo. I can’t see what the two films have in common, other than they’re both comedies with a lot of snow, and a lot of people get killed. The film’s revenge plot, worthy of a Chuck Norris flick, revolves around Nils, a snowplow driver whose son gets killed by drug dealers. Nils spends the rest of the movie hunting them down and killing them one by one. That’s pretty much the whole movie. Plus jokes.

In Order of Disappearance | 7:42 am CST
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Wisconsin Film Festival 2015In The Farewell Party, Yehezkel’s friend Max, suffering from terminal illness, asks Yehezkel to help him “get it over with.” Yehezkel, a tinkerer, builds a Kevorkianish euthanasia machine in his workshop, then with the help of Max’s wife and some friends, he slips it into Max’s hospital room on the QT, or so he thinks until other people start to approach him and ask for him to lend them the machine. A surprisingly light-hearted and touching film.

The Farewell Party | 7:29 am CST
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Wisconsin Film Festival 2015Jack is about a German boy, maybe eight or ten years old, who takes care of his younger brother, Manuel, because his mother is too busy partying and having a good time. After Manuel is hurt in an accident, because there’s always an accident, Social Services takes Jack into custody for a while. When Jack decides that’s enough of that, he makes his way home, but his mother’s not there, so he spends the better part of the movie searching for Manuel, then his mother. When he finally finds her, he has to make a decision, both for himself and for Manuel: Does he stay?

Jack | 7:22 am CST
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Tuesday, April 14th, 2015

Wisconsin Film Festival 2015Nobody does films that underline the utter futility of life the way the former Soviet-bloc countries do. The Lesson opens on a scene in a classroom where the teacher, Nade, is trying to expose a thief who she discovers only in the last scene by accident, after trying every principled argument she can think of to expose him all through the film. In the meantime, she struggles to prevent the bank from foreclosing on her house after her shiftless husband blows all their money on a broken-down motor home. In the end, what Nade discovers is that anyone, even she herself, will throw their most dearly-held principles in the gutter when things get desperate.

The Lesson | 9:10 am CST
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Wisconsin Film Festival 2015Last Seder? is director Mark Kornblatt’s documentary of a visit to see his parents to celebrate passover seder for what he fears will be the last time, now that his elderly father is losing mobility and his mother’s memory is lost to Alzheimer’s.

Last Seder? | 7:48 am CST
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Wisconsin Film Festival 2015The first movie we saw yesterday, Off The Menu: Asian America, was a surprisingly heartwarming documentary about Asian-American food. Director Grace Lee starts by asking the question, What is Asian-American food, anyway? and while seeking answers (and eating lots of good-looking food!), she introduces us to the people she put her question to: Glen Gondo, a third-generation Japanese who has achieved such success in marketing Asian-American food that he’s known as the Sushi King of Texas; Jonathan Wu and Wilson Tang, chefs from New York city who have opened the Asian fusion restaurant Fung Tu on the lower east side of Manhattan; the the men and women of the Sikh temple in Milwaukee as they prepare and share langar, a community dinner; and the farmers at the M’ao Organic Farm in Hawaii. The answer Lee found? Asian-American food is whatever Asian chefs make that is inspired by their heritage, and that can be as ordinary as packaged sushi from the grocery store, or as original as the recipes that come out of the kitchen of Wu and Tang. But far from being a one-note documentary that’s trying to answer a riddle, Lee brings a sense of humor to her project, and presents a film about people who build a sense of community through the food they prepare for a meal or produce for a kitchen. Well worth seeing.

Off The Menu: Asian America | 7:35 am CST
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Monday, April 13th, 2015

Wisconsin Film Festival 2015Wisconsin native Holly L. De Ruyter was living in Chicago when she made Old Fashioned: The Story of the Wisconsin Supper Club by driving into Wisconsin on weekends. Over a period of six years, she collected archival footage, post cards and advertisements, and interviewed the owners of a dozen or so supper clubs across the state, then pieced together a documentary so fresh and fun that I wanted to go visit every supper club myself.

Old Fashioned: The Story of the Wisconsin Supper Club | 9:07 am CST
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Wisconsin Film Festival 2015Tale Of The Spotted Cow is just what it says on the tin: The Great American Success Story of Deb and Dan Carey, founder and brewer of the New Glarus Brewery, one of the most successful craft breweries in Wisconsin and makers of Spotted Cow, a beer so sought-after that people from other states literally cross state lines to get some because New Glarus sells its beer only in Wisconsin.

Worth seeing if only for the scene where Deb tells the story of showing the guys from Anheuser-Busch out the door after they attempted to buy a minority interest in the brewery. (But the rest of the film is awfully good, too.)

Tale of the Spotted Cow | 9:00 am CST
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Wisconsin Film Festival 2015Little America is a fun behind-the-scenes look at Little A-Merrick-A, a kiddie fun park in Marshall, Wisconsin. Only six minutes long, you’re unlikely to see this outside a film festival, but a visit to Little A-Merrick-A to ride the steam train, ferris wheel and roller coaster might be a pretty good substitute.

Little America | 8:52 am CST
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Wisconsin Film Festival 2015We suffered through twenty excruciating minutes of The Iron Ministry before sneaking out the door. New buzzword to watch for: any movie described as “experiential.”

The hour-long hole in our schedule gave us enough time to slip on down to Vintage Brewing on University Ave and gobble up a pile of nachos with salsa and cheese curds, and wash it all down with some tasty beer. Much better than watching eighty-three minutes of people sleeping on trains.

The Iron Ministry | 8:46 am CST
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Wisconsin Film Festival 2015Justin Peck is a choreographer for the New York City Ballet. Ballet 422 is the story of how he staged a new ballet for the company from start to finish: Selecting the musical score, dreaming up dance steps to express it, collaborating with the rest of the company to refine it through rehearsals, and that’s to say nothing of designing the costumes, figuring out the lighting, and the million other details that go into the finished project.

I’ve never been especially interested in ballet before, but I felt my heart rise into my throat each time the dancers leapt through their steps. How they make it look so effortless is nothing less than awe-inspiring.

Ballet 422 | 8:45 am CST
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Wisconsin Film Festival 2015We had originally chosen to see Crack In The Mirror on Sunday afternoon, another Orson Welles film, but after suffering through Chimes At Midnight the day before, we reconsidered and saw Capturing Grace instead.

So glad we did. This documentary (we watched nothing but documentaries today!) follows a group of people afflicted with Parkinson’s disease who have made an amazing discovery: Dance focuses their attention on movement in such a way that they seem to regain control over their bodies while they’re doing it. Filmed over the course of a year, the group prepares for their first public dance performance with the help of professional choreographers at the Mark Morris Dance Group. This is easily one of the best films of the festival.

Capturing Grace | 8:32 am CST
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Wisconsin Film Festival 2015Director Kara Mulrooney spent An Evening At Angelo’s to record this slice of life about a piano lounge where the regulars and, occasionally, Angelo, the owner, takes the mike to belt out a few tunes.

An Evening At Angelo’s | 8:30 am CST
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Wisconsin Film Festival 2015Our second documentary of the day, In The Shadow of Ebola follows Emmanuel Urey, a UW-Madison student gone home to Liberia to visit his family when the Ebola outbreak reaches Monrovia. He manages to take one of his sons with him when he goes back to the United States, but is forced by the bureaucracy to leave the other behind until he can sort out the paperwork as the outbreak escalates. Scary stuff.

In The Shadow of Ebola | 8:23 am CST
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Wisconsin Film Festival 2015The makers of Blood, a documentary about Russians who are so poor they literally beg to sell their blood to state blood collectors at the bargain-basement price of three and a half dollars, were apparently sitting around wondering: This movie isn’t bleak enough. How could it be even bleaker?

And then the nickel dropped: Of course! We’ll film it in black & white!

Perfectly bleak.

Blood | 8:15 am CST
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Sunday, April 12th, 2015

Wisconsin Film Festival 2015Society is riddled with people who take advantage of their position, but sexual predators are dealt with more harshly than any of them. The documentary Pervert Park does an engaging job of telling the stories of sex offenders coming to grips with their crimes and learning to reintegrate themselves with society. Set in the tiny community of Florida Justice Transitions, a trailer park founded by the mother of a sex offender, men and women speak honestly about the horrors they’ve perpetrated, and the film frankly shows their struggle to deal with their crimes and get on with their lives. Although I appreciated how the film focused on the stories of the offenders, I would have liked to learn more about the community itself, how members joined it and how they eventually moved on. In spite of that, this is a good, and an important documentary.

Pervert Park | 7:27 am CST
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Wisconsin Film Festival 2015Set during the 70s when heroin was epidemic in Marseille, The Connection is a reboot of The French Connection with Jean Dujardin in the starring role. The police are after a drug kingpin. A new magistrate of police is brought in to get him. He does.

I guess I’m jaded: It’s every police versus drug dealers movie or television show I’ve seen already. Nothing new here.

The Connection | 7:13 am CST
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Wisconsin Film Festival 2015Chimes At Midnight is all the collected scenes from Shakespeare showing what a wit, what a wooer, what a lover of life John Falstaff was. I’ve never understood this. Falstaff has always been a drunken loser as far as I’m concerned who gets what’s coming to him in the end, and no more than Prince Hal promised him. Not even Orson Welles can convince me otherwise, and especially not with this film, which is probably as bad a staging of any Shakespeare as I’ve ever seen. Every time Falstaff speaks, crowds of people gather round him to laugh and applaud his every word. Anyone else who questions or contradicts him only jabbers and jumps like a caged monkey (except John Gielgud; Welles spared him). Now that I think of it, maybe this double-time fever dream was how the world looked to the perpetually drunken Falstaff, and Welles was genius enough to see it and put it on film. Hmmm.

Chimes at Midnight | 7:08 am CST
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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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