Sunday, January 22, 2017

Ten films that embody Obama


I probably should have posted this yesterday, for inauguration day, or better yet, the day before, when Barack Obama was still president of the United States.

But the truth of the matter is, I didn't think of the idea until yesterday, so today it is.

And that also allowed me to watch the Obama first date movie Southside With You last night, a lovely little movie that was the perfect antidote to a day that began with Donald Trump becoming president.

In trying to think of a way to honor the Obama era -- an important time for me, which saw the purchase of my first house, the birth of both my children, and my actual (temporary) departure from the U.S. -- I knew there were a couple ways to go about it. I could scour the internet to talk about movies Obama liked, though the internet has already done that story and I'd likely just be stealing. I could tell you about my own favorite movies from that era, though that's material I've already covered elsewhere in year-end posts. I could even just post a couple dozen awesome photos of the guy, though this site gives you a hundred great ones -- and I really enjoyed flipping through them on Friday at work, to honor his last day in office.

So instead, I thought I'd talk about the movies that came out during Obama's administration that most honored his philosophies as a human being and a president. The following ten films are films I've seen that were released between 2009 and 2016 (haven't seen any 2017 releases yet, sorry), and together, they give a portrait of a great man whose greatness will likely only be further unveiled to us the farther away he gets from the Oval Office ... especially in contrast to the man succeeding him.

They didn't come as easily as I thought they might. The characteristics that make a great man don't necessarily make a great movie. There's an earnestness about Obama that would feel like a burden to a film if applied to that film. This is not to say Obama is unfailingly earnest -- I love his sense of humor. But he's earnest enough that if you're trying to replicate the qualities that make him great in a movie, you might fail spectacularly.

So while many of these are probably not perfect fits, they're the best I could come up with in the amount of time I allotted myself. I hope you'll at least see why I chose the movies I chose, even if only because I plan to explain that logic as well.

Alphabetically:

Agora (2009, Alejandro Amenabar) - Amenabar's film about a female mathematician and philosopher (Rachel Weisz) in fourth century Roman-controlled Egypt, who becomes persecuted for her unwillingness to convert to Christianity, does not have literal applications to Obama. What made me think of it was the trailblazing spirit she shares with Obama, a man who claims more of a kinship with Christianity than he probably actually feels for the purposes of political expediency. (In Southside With You when he talks about his religious associations, he says he's still discovering himself.) Hyapatia would never compromise those principles in the way that you might argue Obama has, but then again, she was killed rather than living on to change the system from within. I think of Obama as a pragmatic iconoclast, one whose belief in his principles causes him to devise methods of implementing them that are so subtle, it's almost like he's made the person he's trying to convince think that they came up with the idea themselves. You could call that sneaky; I call it brilliant. (Because I agree with the things he's trying to do, I suppose.) So he takes inspiration from a character like Hyapatia but then deviates from her in ways that are more useful for the world he's trying to change.

The Armor of Light (2015, Abigail Disney) - One of the most sadly recurring images of Obama's administration was him wiping away tears (real tears) as a he struggled with the aftermath of an incident like the Sandy Hook shooting. These were eight years when America's failure to adopt common-sense gun laws were repeatedly in the spotlight, a number of times that would be comical if it weren't so tragic. Abigail Disney's documentary (my favorite contribution to the 2016 Human Rights Arts & Film Festival) looks at an evangelical minister who decides his pro-life beliefs are inconsistent with a support of gun rights, and works tirelessly to change the minds of fellow conservatives on the topic. (It splits its time with the mother of a teenager who was shot for playing his music too loud, whose tear-soaked testimony is gutting.) The kind of campaign mounted by the Rev. Rob Schenck is reminiscent of one of Obama's impossible causes, which he works steadfastly toward despite the lack of likelihood of its success. And with the right drive, sometimes it does actually work, like the Affordable Care Act. Obama won't have to wipe away any more tears as a president commenting on an unnecessary loss of life, but let's hope battles like gun control continue on despite the improbability of their success.

A Better Life (2011, Chris Weitz) - The DREAM act was not a piece of legislation that originated with Obama -- it was first introduced in 2001 -- but it was something he championed wholeheartedly. It's also one of the ideas most likely to go down in flames under Trump, who still wants to build that wall along our southern border. The need for a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants is documented wonderfully in Weitz' 2011 film, which is a bit like an American companion piece to The Bicycle Thief. An undocumented gardener (Demian Bichir) and his son search Los Angeles for his stolen pickup truck, the key to his ongoing livelihood, with destitution and deportation both looming as consequences of not succeeding. There have been other lesser films made on this topic during this time, and some that I like quite well, but I chose this one because it contains the type of optimism that describes Obama, avoiding the excessive earnestness that I discussed in the opening. Its protagonist is a dogged pursuer of the dream Obama wanted to bring all illegal immigrants, and the movie's title is what Obama wanted to give them.

42 (2013, Brian Helgeland) - The reasons for including this pick are so on-the-nose that it almost makes me hesitate to include it. Obama broke the color barrier in the U.S. presidency just as Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball. But Helgeland's film beautifully captures other things Obama shares in common with one of baseball's all-time greats, namely, a consistently successful tendency to greet every insult thrown his way with an impassive form of stolidity. This is not to say either man was without a temper. 42 shows scenes where Robinson (Chadwick Boseman) privately agonizes and unleashes impotent anger at the society he lives in and the threats to his family. But both Obama and Robinson believed that you could not show your frustration to those attacking you, because then they win. Also both believed in their roles as representatives of something bigger, both a race of people and a dignity that all people of any color should aspire to.

Good Hair (2009, Jeff Stilson) - A documentary in which Chris Rock interviews various African-American women about their hair -- proudly natural, proudly artificial, or not-so-proudly of either -- might seem like a strange choice here. But one of the things I've always loved about Obama is his occasional frankness about race, particularly as it applies to himself and his family. Upon adopting a mixed breed dog, for example, he said the dog was a mutt, just like him. More specifically related to hair, though, is the fact that Obama lives in a family of three beautiful women, whom he loves and encourages in equal measure. Although Good Hair is meant to be funny and often is, underlying it is a serious topic that is also covered in the children's book Nappy Hair -- that society has taught women of color to be ashamed of the way their hair behaves, and to take measures to make it better resemble the hair they see in fashion magazines. Good Hair grapples with that issue and ultimately comes out in a very women-positive and black-positive manner. Obama teaches his children (and doesn't need to teach his wife, but would if he needed to) to love themselves, and not to aspire to some unrealistic ideal that's an illusion and fundamentally hurtful.

Inside Out (2015, Pete Docter) - I might have the most trouble explaining why I picked Inside Out. It's my favorite movie on the list, having topped my year-end rankings last year, and that counts for something in a list that is also about me and the movies I love. (For example, there may be some films that fit the criteria a bit better but I haven't included them just because I don't like them as much.) But if trying to mount a defense for the pick, I might tell you that Obama's optimism and his ability to use grief productively are the things that made me see Inside Out as a movie that represents him. One of Obama's strongest moments as president was when he gave us an example of how to deal with the news that Trump had beaten Hillary Clinton. It might not have seemed like a standout moment because we were only concentrating on our own sadness, but Obama helped many of us immeasurably with his ability to give perspective and remain presidential despite his own evident grief. Obama is defined by his ability to keep the non-happy emotions in the spectrum in balance, and to use them productively in pursuit of a more perfect self. It's an ability worth celebrating.

Life Itself (2014, Steve James) - Another possibly unusual choice that I picked for a number of very specific reasons. For one, it seemed good to get a Chicago movie in there (and I strongly considered another Chicago-set Steve James film from this period, The Interrupters). But the reason I went with Life Itself -- a biography of another man -- was because of the way Roger Ebert describes the function of movies in his life, a function he believes it has for all of us. "We are all born with a certain package," says Roger in a bit of audio recorded from earlier in his life. "We are who we are. Where we were born, who we were born as, how we were raised. We're kind of stuck in that person. And the purpose of civilization and growth is to be able to reach out and empathize a little bit with other people. And for me, the movies are like a machine that generates empathy. It lets you understand a little bit more about different hopes, aspirations, dreams and fears. It helps us to identify with the people who are sharing this journey with us." Barack Obama was, and still is, a machine that generates empathy, in human form.

Lincoln (2012, Steven Spielberg) - Perhaps the most slam dunk pick I had here. One of the first things Barack Obama did after winning a tough Democratic primary from Hillary Clinton was to name her his secretary of state, one of the most important positions in his cabinet. It surprised some, as it was assumed that Obama and Clinton hated each other -- and maybe they did. But Obama took his lead from Abraham Lincoln, who surrounded himself with trusted advisors who saw things differently than he did, in order to challenge his perceptions and bring about a more thoroughly reasoned ultimate outcome. Doris Kearns Goodwin called it a "team of rivals," and Spielberg's film, starring an astonishingly good Daniel Day-Lewis, dramatizes Lincoln's philosophy expertly. Other presidents have given lip service to reaching across the aisle -- Obama actually practiced it. And of course, Clinton is on the same side of the aisle as he is. But (as just one example) Obama also appointed James Comey, a Republican, as the head of the FBI. It's a decision that may have cost Clinton her own bid to be president, but that's not the lesson we should take from that. The lesson we should take is that there are risks involved with doing what you think is the best thing for the country, but that doesn't mean you should ever stop doing it.

Magic Mike XXL (2015, Gregory Jacobs) - This could be the most unusual pick on this list for a number of reasons. For one, it's my least favorite of the films I've chosen. Secondly, it's about male strippers. But what made me persist in thinking about it was the way others who talked about it at the time, before I even saw it, made me think about what it was doing. Among other things, Magic Mike XXL was praised for being casually post-racial. The film featured a true cross-section of people of different races without making a fuss about that fact. It just existed in a world in which race, at least theoretically, didn't matter, or was not even worth discussing. The fact that we noticed it, and are discussing it, means we're not really there yet. But the movie existed as a kind of utopia for those purposes, and even though there are other things about it that I don't totally love, this is one I do. Barack Obama sought to give us a world that was post race. He didn't succeed, of course -- and one could argue, pretty effectively, that racial tensions became increasingly worse during his administration, creating the possible conditions for the election of Donald Trump. But Obama has always been an advocate of gradual change -- as a perfect encapsulation of his political philosophy, in Southside With You he discusses the "building blocks" for change in his capacity as a community organizer. Obama has put in the building blocks for us to be post racial, and I hope we'll get there in his lifetime.

The Martian (2015, Ridley Scott) - At the start of this piece, I talked about the difficulty of finding a film that expresses Obama's earnest optimism without being hokey. The Martian is probably as close to that as you can get. It's a film about a solo man up against unthinkable odds, who must devise solution after solution to stay alive while a team works doggedly and selflessly to help him attain that outcome. The Martian is pure fantasy, of course -- it has plenty of good science underpinning it, but it's an optimism even greater than what Obama brings to the table to think that Mark Watney (Matt Damon) would actually survive his marooning on Mars. But it's that kind of insane positivity that achieves impossible outcomes, and Barack Obama made that kind of insane positivity his calling card. He wanted to achieve the impossible, and sometimes, he actually did. More often than not he didn't, but that's because he's a human being who lives in our real world. But he sought an America in which people would work together selflessly to achieve the greater good, and his vision for that type of America remains untarnished, even in the wake of its inevitable and frequent failure. "The greater good" may be an unusual ideal to be invoking here, as The Martian, on the surface of it, seems to advocate the opposite -- that sometimes, unimaginable resources should be committed to the saving of just one life. But it's that commitment and moral determination that is the greater good. In the messy world of politics, social policy and economic initiative, we can never lose sight of the fact that ultimately, it's about saving each individual person, one at a time.

I don't have high hopes for the Trump administration. Every time he gives us a little something to be encouraged about, he snatches it right back. In four or (my God, I hope not) eight years, I don't expect to be sitting here writing an ode to a successful presidency embodied by ten hopeful films.

But Barack Obama is the type of person who consistently reminds us to stay positive, to believe we have the power to change the world, and to give even sinister characters the benefit of the doubt.

Barack Obama hoped for great things for this country, and will continue to do so.

As not only a tribute to him, but a symbol of the way he changed me, I will do so as well.

Thank you, my great president. You are a hero to me, and a shining example of the way we want the world to perceive America.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Faulty Tower


There were two different times I was going to be able to see Keith Maitland's Tower for free, but I ultimately paid for it, realizing only moments later that I didn't need to.

And so it was that four nights before my list closes, I finally struggled to the ground one of 2016's most elusive movies, a rotoscoped recreation of the killing spree by sniper Charles Whitman at the University of Texas in 1966.

Rotoscoping is right up my alley -- I still count Richard Linklater's Waking Life among my top 100 films of all time -- so I got Tower on my MIFF schedule when it became clear that I'd have one more ticket to use on the last day of the festival.

A few days after that, once I'd already grown accustomed to the idea that I'd be giving MIFF a proper sendoff on its final day, I learned that we did not in fact have one more ticket, though I remain convinced we must have lost it somewhere. (Most of my tickets were free anyway, so I couldn't complain about one lost one.) So I reluctantly released my grasp on Tower, feeling like I'd really missed an opportunity. (It was pure greed, though -- the 11 movies I saw at MIFF were already my personal record by a margin of a half-dozen films.)

My next opportunity to see Tower came when it appeared among the candidates for this year's HRAFF (Human Rights & Arts Film Festival), which I'm helping curate. It wasn't assigned to me personally to vet, but the screener passwords are shared to all of us in the weekly emails, and all I had to do was follow the link and pop the password in there.

What caused me to pause was when I saw that this version of Tower just 82 minutes. I wouldn't have known there was anything wrong with that had it not been for Adam Kempenaar, the co-host of Filmspotting, who observed that the film (which he would later name his favorite the year) lasted exactly 96 minutes, which was also the length of Whitman's spree. HRAFF sometimes sees festival or other earlier versions of films, so I assumed we had access only to a truncated version of the one Kempenaar praised so highly. I'm uncomfortable enough as it is by movies that exist in several distinct versions, and I figured, one that Adam loved so much should be seen in its pure and unadulterated form.

But time was passing and it was becoming almost a certainty that I'd miss Tower before my ranking deadline. Then, just yesterday in a Facebook chat, a friend advised me that it was finally now available on iTunes. I'd checked only recently and found no sign of it, but here it was, now available. I moved a few things around and planned a viewing for Friday night.

Of course, in my haste to begin downloading it I neglected the one most important piece of information: its running time. Three dollars and ninety-nine cents are not a king's ransom, but after we spent so much money in the U.S., I'm trying to limit my luxuries. A quick and cursory check at the running time was not only possible, it was something I should have done.

Well, I didn't. And I found out that the version that had just cost me four bucks was also 82 minutes, meaning I had access to this very version for free.

So where did this 96-minute version come from, the one Adam talked about and the one advertised on IMDB?

I'm guessing not many people, including Adam, have seen it. In his attempt to make a clever extra-textual observation, Adam probably noted the running time listed on IMDB, couldn't specifically remember it being shorter than that, and took the opportunity to attribute it to the director as an intentional choice, in some way mirroring the experience witnesses had that August day in Austin. A check of the movie's Wikipedia page lists a longer 92-minute version that originally showed at festivals -- possibly including MIFF -- but this was cut back by ten minutes and never made it out to the likes of us common folk, which in this case also includes Adam.

Well I'm glad I got it on my viewing schedule because Tower did not disappoint. It uses the medium terrifically and generates good tension from that extended period of chaos and uncertainty on that university campus. The only thing actually "faulty" about it for me is that instability regarding its running time, which may just be one dude -- albeit an influential dude on a popular movie podcast -- making a simple mistake.

As I am posting this, Donald Trump is becoming the next president of the United States.

Where are those snipers in towers when you need them?

Thursday, January 19, 2017

The year I lump all Asians together














Did I choose my 2017 monthly viewing series simply to continue the alliterative naming conventions of the past few series (Audient Auscars, Australian Audient, etc.)?

Or did I do it just so I could prove I have no ability to distinguish between different Asian people?

Okay, better stop this line of humor now before somebody thinks I'm serious.

In 2017 I will indeed be watching movies from different Asian directors, and I will be calling the series Asian Audient.

As I have already indicated in perhaps questionable taste, Asians are frequently and unfairly thrown together in the same category, despite amply deserving to be recognized for their own unique identities. A Korean wouldn't likely acknowledge much similarity with a Japanese, who wouldn't acknowledge much similarity with a Filipino, except geographically, and, to some extent, appearance-wise. I don't want to contribute to that any more than I need to.

But what led me to group them all together was one of the principles on which I founded this annual viewing series: to watch movies that had fallen by the wayside among my ordinary viewing priorities. And "fallen by the wayside" is the appropriate descriptor here, since I used to watch plenty of films from this part of the world. I'll try to explore why I no longer do a few paragraphs from now.

Sure, I could have devoted an entire year to South Korea, or Japan, or the Philippines (do they have a film industry?). But none of my viewing series have been that specific, except for the one devoted to Australia, for the obvious reason of me living here. If I lived in South Korea, maybe I'd do a series on that.

Devoting a viewing series to an entire continent will allow me more flexibility, to go on a binge of movies from Hong Kong if I want but not be committed to an entire year's worth of them. So don't expect any consistency from me, any kind of premeditated alternating between countries from one month to the next. All I'm guaranteeing is that each of the 12 films I choose will have originated on Asian shores.

I used to love the cinema of Asia, probably watching one a month of my own volition, without a blog series to hold my feet to the fire. Something changed over time, and now I just don't see as many such movies anymore.

And I think that change was: more Asian movies.

Back when I first really became a cinephile, in the late 1990s, we were fed a steady diet of films from China, Japan, etc. -- but "steady" did not necessarily mean "plentiful." In fact, the five or six per year that would break out into enough prominence that they were on my radar were kind of easy to prioritize. I felt like I was really in tune with what was getting made in that part of the world.

Over time, though, and as more distribution channels became available, the lines became blurred about what rose to the level of a film of consequence, and what did not. Now, you might reasonably argue that a "film of consequence" shouldn't be a term used at all, or if so, it should have a personal definition along the lines of "a movie that has subject matter that you personally find interesting."

But especially with these year-end lists that have come to dominate my attentions the last, oh, 20 years, I've wanted to compare apples with apples more than ever before. If I see a movie, I want it to be a movie that other people are also watching so we may compare and contrast our impressions. Participating in a Facebook group devoted to this kind of thing has only increased that proclivity in me.

So over time, I've lost the ability to determine which movies pass this litmus test and which don't. Sure, there are the obvious cases like when someone like Park Chan-Wook or Zhang Yimou releases a new film (though, sadly, I don't think I've seen either of their last films -- it's actually been more than ten years for Zhang, though I'll probably see The Great Wall). But when I haven't heard of the director and I don't know any of the stars? Is it worth watching a movie that might never have "crossed over" in the past, just because it has the distribution channels to become available to me now?

It's all about choices. Now we have too many of them. And so I've been choosing not to watch some of these movies that I might have once watched without a second thought.

I suppose a certain saturation point had also been reached with the kind of wire-walking effects that we first saw in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. The first few features that contained that were magical. Over time, it became sort of old hat.

But not all Asian movies involve martial arts. In fact, not all Asian movies are anything. They are glorious, multi-faceted products, just like any pocket of any cinema from anywhere in the world.

And I need to start seeing more of them again.

I won't limit myself by time periods, just as I won't limit myself by countries. In fact, I may go all the way back to the silent era. When I saw the Yasujiro Ozu silent film I Was Born, But ... for last year's series, part of me almost wished I were saving it for this year's. But then, I don't need to be saving anything for anything when it comes to the movies from a whole continent. I've got plenty of options. And yes, you better bet there will be at least one Ozu film in this series, as will there be from Akira Kurosawa, pictured above because of how much I love his work.

I won't make any explicit attempt to distribute my choices fairly between countries, but I will try to go to some unexpected places -- like the (possibly non-existent) cinema of the Philippines, or more likely, exposing myself to one of the older works of Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul, whose last few were the first few I've seen.

The sky's the limit. As long as it's an Asian sky.

And I'll be getting started this very month. I've got to focus on 2016 films until the 24th, but I'll commit to watching my first Asian Audient movie sometime before the 31st.

What will that be?

No idea.

Actually, I've got some idea -- I've been keeping a list -- but I can't figure that out now. At this point, I'm still stuck in the present and (mostly) in the western hemisphere.

But soon, I will be returning to Asian shores once again.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

But before we silence silent movies ...


January is usually the month where I wrap up my previous year's monthly viewing series and tell you which one is coming next.

January 2017, however, is the month where I feel like I may be recovering from jet lag until February 2017.

But I still wanted to give you some kind of closure on No Audio Audient, perhaps the series I was most personally worried about before starting. Even if it won't be as lucid or as thorough as a post like this may have been in the past.

Twenty sixteen was my sixth year doing a monthly viewing series, although the first two years featured the same series. In 2011 and 2012 I did Getting Acquainted, in which I watched three films per month by a cinematic luminary with whom I was previously unfamiliar. Deciding that three movies per month was more than I could handle -- what a wimp -- I downshifted to just a single movie per in 2013, offering up what turned out to be my least-inspired series: Famous Flops. The series itself was a bit of a flop, at least as far as I was concerned, though not because the movies were difficult to watch. (I enjoy a good flop as much as the next guy, I just didn't think my picks were all that great.) I upped my game in 2014 with Australian Audient and in 2015 with Audient Auscars, which helped me catch up with unseen Australian movies and best picture winners, respectively. But outside of a stray undeserving best picture winner here and there, these didn't feel "difficult" either.

Silent movies were a bit different. There's a certain barrier to entry with silent movies that can be difficult to overcome -- even when some of them are only 45 minutes long. It wasn't the 45-minute ones that had me worried. It was the ones that ran over three hours. One even hit the four-hour mark.

But guess what? The four-hour film was one of two I awarded a five-star rating. (The other being the 45-minute one, ha ha.) And in fact, this may be the only series that has yielded two different films I gave my highest possible star rating. It never happened in Famous Flops, that I can tell you for certain.

Have I grown as a viewer? I don't know. I'm probably still seeing most silent movies as medicine, and not particular eager to get back to them right away. I'll need an excuse, I think.

But I sure am glad I did it. I saw four films that I consider masterpieces, the two that didn't get five stars coming in with a very respectable 4.5. And I didn't hate any of them.

How did I rate them? Well, here, I'll rank them from best to worst, making a fairly arbitrary choice between my #1 and #2:

1. Sherlock Jr. (February)
2. Greed (December)
3. The Kid (June)
4. The Big Parade (September)
5. The Lodger (May)
6. The Phantom Carriage (October)
7. I Was Born, But ... (November)
8. The Freshman (January)
9. Regeneration (March)
10. The Sheik (July)
11. Intolerance (April)
12. Broken Blossoms (August)

And the two Griffith movies pull up the rear. In 2016, I wasn't willing to rake Nate Parker over the coals for the personal baggage he brought to his version of The Birth of a Nation, but the director of the original got no love from me.

Want to know what's coming up in 2017?

Well, let's save that for tomorrow, so it doesn't get lost in the shuffle. I'm guessing there are some of you who view silent movies as medicine as well, and stopped reading this post after the words "But before."

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

La La lag


The unlikeliest movie for me not yet to have seen is La La Land, one of the most acclaimed films of the year, the winner of the Golden Globe for best musical or comedy, and the likely frontrunner for best picture at the Oscars.

I'm hoping to finally address that tonight, but at this point, I still can't be sure.

The reason it's unlikely I wouldn't have seen it is that it wasn't one of those movies with an interminable delay before its Australian release. It came out here December 26th, more than three weeks ago.

Of course, I haven't been in Australia during those three weeks. And in the U.S., I had other priorities.

But it's been so long since it came out that I'm now limited to seeing it in certain theaters, as its initial two-week window, where I can see it at any theater, has already elapsed. This isn't a fatal problem -- there are still at least four different convenient theaters where I can see it, and it's certainly not leaving them anytime soon -- but it does represent a funny circumstance for a film that has been one of my most anticipated ever since I learned of its existence early last year.

There was actually discussion of seeing it in the U.S., even though I'd have access to it back here once I returned. My wife actually did see it, as a special afternoon outing on our second-to-last day of the trip. But on the night we would have seen it together, New Year's Eve, we couldn't find a workable screening time, so we opted for Passengers instead.

There's no doubt I will see it in the next week before my year-end list is due. But there are a couple doubts as to how much I will be in a position to appreciate it.

1) After more than six weeks of hype following its earliest release dates in the U.S., is there any hope it can live up to my expectations?

2) Is there any chance that jet lag won't overwhelm my experience of viewing it?

The first problem is one that cannot be helped. You have only limited control of how quickly you can see a film, unless you're willing to pirate it from the internet, which I am not. I could have seen La La Land three weeks ago, but even then it was still burdened by three weeks of intense hype, as well as the festival hype that preceded it.

It's number two that I am trying to control, that has already caused me to delay my viewing twice.

Eager to start seeing the possibly as many as five movies I still want to see in the theater before my list closes a week from today, I considered a La La Land screening for Sunday night. I did have a good night's sleep on Saturday night, almost inevitably after less than three hours of sleep in the previous 36. But by Sunday night I was incredibly groggy and out of sorts again, and besides, I felt that asking to go out to a movie on our first full day back would strain my wife's already fraying patience regarding my obsessive pursuit of movies at the end of the year.

Then Sunday night happened.

Sunday night I lost the sleep battle at about 9:30, which should have been fine. That was 15 minutes later than I'd lasted on Saturday night. But I was awake again around two, and I can't tell you how much I actually slept between two and five. Some, to be sure. But the sleep was light and feverish, beset by indecipherable stress dreams (I was probably a tad nervous about returning to work after three weeks off -- would I even remember how to do my job?). I did finally steal some sleep at the end of the night/beginning of the morning, but I knew I'd be wrecked yesterday at work.

I did okay, actually -- I even had a new starter sit and train with me for half the day, which was all the more difficult when the phone wasn't ringing and we had to make small talk. But I acquitted myself rather well. Still, by late afternoon I knew any Monday night La La Land screening would be compromised. In my mind I was already postponing it again.

Then Monday night happened.

I intentionally stayed up past midnight, to force myself to have a good night's sleep out of sheer exhaustion. I not only watched Kate Plays Christine, which was nearly two hours long, but I even updated a number of my movie lists that had fallen behind during my trip to America. This took me to nearly 12:45.

But did I sleep well?

I did not.

More stress dreams, actually -- this time a weird mix of fears that I had not fully taken advantage of Disneyland and fears that I had not fully taken advantage of my time with my family. The dreams had something to do with meeting my kids' grandparents at Disneyland but no one being interested in doing anything, and why had we wasted so much money. Anyway, the end result was that I slept fitfully, and the sleep pretty much ended when my older son joined us in bed between five and six, ultimately forcing him and me to get up just after six. (Which may pay dividends at his bedtime tonight, though that doesn't feel like much consolation at the moment.)

It's going to be another rough day.

So do I postpone my viewing again tonight?

I could. I still have eight more nights to see it, as next Tuesday night will also be a final option before the Oscar nominations are announced just after midnight my time that night.

But I also want to see Jackie, Lion and The Edge of Seventeen before then, and I don't want to be going out to the movies every damn night. Better start early so I can space them out. Remember what I told you about my wife's fraying patience?

I could see one of the other movies tonight, worried less about my impression of those films than my impression of La La Land. Well, not Lion, as it doesn't come out until Thursday. But I could see Jackie or Seventeen.

But if something weird or unanticipated happens, and I can't get out to the theater again before next Tuesday at midnight, I want La La Land to be the one film I'll have seen.

I should probably just go tonight, lining my pockets with Cokes and an indecent amount of sugary snacks. But I remember the last time I went to the movies on next to no sleep, which was when I saw Arrival after a sleepless night following the election. I still can't say whether I would have felt more positively about that movie had I been rested, and not burdened by the despair of a loss of faith in humanity.

But that La La Land itch ... it's strong, and it's just getting stronger.

If I don't do a face plant in my soup at dinner, I think I'll go.

At the very least I've got kind of a cool setting arranged. I'll be seeing it at the Sun Theatre in Yarraville, which is a classic movie house from the early 20th century with art deco stylings. It seems like an appropriate environment to be watching a movie that gives classic Hollywood musicals a modern-day update.

I'll wipe the encrusted soup out of my eyes, drink plenty of Coke and hopefully get so lost in the experience that my sleeplessness will feel like a kind of reverie.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Where to start?


I'm back.

My longest ever vacation and my longest ever hiatus from The Audient are now complete.

Now: how to summarize three weeks of surprisingly fertile movie-watching activity.

At this time of year, as I finalize my year-end rankings, it wasn't surprising to me that I kept busy on the movie-watching front. But maybe it was a little bit of a surprise that I ended up watching almost a movie for every day I was gone. (At that rate, you'd figure I might have gotten in a single blog post, but no.)

Twenty-two movies in 23 days. Not bad. Of course, it wouldn't have been anywhere near that except for the 13 movies I watched on my four plane rides: Four on the first, two on the second, two on the third, and five on the last. Those five on the last give you some indication of why I'm still suffering from horrible jet lag, which left me awake for most of the time between 2 a.m. and 5 a.m. this morning. What are you going to do. (Hey, I tried. But with children sleeping on me at various angles at various junctures, my own sleep was limited to about two to three hours' worth of extended head droops.)

I did get to see the two awards contenders I was most fixed on catching, those being Manchester by the Sea and Moonlight. Neither will release theatrically in Australia until after my January 24th deadline for posting my list. But they weren't accomplished without some agony. I snuck out to Manchester on the evening of Boxing Day in Maine, slip-sliding through icy streets somewhat against my wife's wishes. Yes, my eyes were sometimes on the wrong prize on this trip. The Moonlight viewing was a bit easier in terms of wife approval, as I matched it up with a chance to see a friend in Los Angeles, but it was on a Sunday afternoon and I did feel a bit like I was bailing on my parental responsibilities.

The other two theatrical viewings were comprised of one other film that won't open until after January 24th (Hidden Figures, which I've also just reviewed) and another that's already open here, but figured to get lost in the shuffle of my higher priorities (Passengers). What higher priorities? Well, I still need to catch La La Land, Jackie and Lion in the next week-plus. Hidden Figures was a final night 11 p.m. viewing at a new dine-in theater that's opened just down the street from where we were staying in Marina del Rey, and almost didn't make it on the schedule. Fortunately, my wife gave me her blessing to see it even though it was the night before we were leaving, and good thing too, because it was only a five-minute walk from the Air BNB, and missing such an opportunity would have felt particularly wasteful. (And who plays a movie starting at 11 p.m. on a Wednesday night? This theater, apparently.) Passengers was our New Year's Eve date, and it was somewhat against our better judgment as our children were not 100% settled at my mother's house before we left. It's a good thing we didn't know they would be up until after midnight, terrorizing my mother in the cutest way possible, else we never would have gone. (And for the record, this is the first time I've ever been sitting in a movie theater when the clock struck midnight, making it the first time in as long as I can remember that I've not acknowledged the actual passing of 12 o'clock on January 1st.)

Several of my other viewings were accomplished with the help of the Netflix app on my phone, which now enables you to download a number of films for offline viewing. This is how I saw both Other People and Too Late. I also took advantage of access to the American version of Netflix, as both High-Rise and Dheepan remain unavailable in Australia (at last check, anyway).

I even watched exactly one movie that was not from 2016: the Donald Glover vehicle Mystery Team, from 2009. You won't be surprised to learn that this was my wife's choice on the Saturday night in our place in Marina del Rey. But I was kind of glad to take a break from the mad 2016 stretch run, and the movie was surprisingly funny. I had thought it was kind of a Nickelodeon-style movie about a trio of teenage detectives, but instead it was a hard R parody of such movies, and a good one at that.

I'm tempted to reveal my favorite and least favorite movies from the trip, but it's just a little more than a week until I tell all about the wild and woolly 2016 in films.

For now, I've got my work cut out for me for the next week, and I hope to keep you updated on it through a series of more focused posts.

If I can catch up on my sleep first.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Hiatus time












Get ready for possibly the longest hiatus in the history of The Audient.

In a few hours I'll be heading to the U.S. for three weeks. Three weeks, incidentally, will be my longest trip ever, anywhere. Some of my trips to Australia from the U.S., before I lived here, were almost that long, but they stopped around the two-and-a-half-week mark.

Now, this is not to say I will write zero blog posts while I'm gone. But it's possible I will write zero. We don't expect a lot of downtime, and I don't know if I'll use the downtime I do have to update The Audient. Not with so many movies I need to catch in time to rank them for my 2016 list, as they won't release in Australian theaters until after that.

But it'll be interesting, because a lack of writing time does not mean a lack of ideas. In fact, it's very possible that the ideas will be plentiful. All sorts of wondrous new viewing scenarios will arise over the next few weeks, from the marathons on each of my 14-hour flights, to viewings I plan to squeeze in on my iPod, to times I'll feel guilty about opting to see Moonlight instead of a friend I haven't seen in two years. Who knows what will happen when I have all these ideas and nowhere to put them.

Of course, the reality of the situation is that I probably will write two to three posts while I'm gone. I'll find the time. Lord knows I'll find the inclination.

But in case I don't ... enjoy the crunch time of your awards viewing season, since I know you, too, are preparing to finalize your lists in time for the January 24th reveal of the Oscar nominees.

Or maybe you're not. You have a life, I hear.

Me too. Off to go live it.

Merry Christmas, Happy New Year and I'll speak to you in 2017, if not sooner.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Something something Christmas


It occurred to me, almost too late, that I might not write a single post related to Christmas this year.

Which, of course, is appropriate in 2016, when shell-shocked American liberals like me (even when they don't live in America) are still feeling the opposite of jolly.

Which also explains the use of my poster art: a Christmas movie that was one of the worst movies I've seen this year.

I do think most of us just want to lay down our heads on the bar and nap for four years until this nightmare is over. A nightmare that is only just officially beginning today, the day the electoral college officially elected Trump. A nightmare that could, under some foreseeable circumstances, last eight years instead of four.

This has also been a weird one in terms of Christmas at our house. Usually the Christmas spirit starts to kick in in earnest when we get and decorate our tree. But since we're going to America (tomorrow), we didn't get a tree this year. Christmas has crept up on me like it doesn't usually have the chance to.

But you know what? That's okay. You don't need Christmas advice from me.

You know what holiday movies are good, and what holiday movies are probably not very good. You already have your own favorites that you like to watch. You don't need some rambling, pontificating piece about the spirit of Christmas in these dark times. Or even one that ignores these dark times and just tries to concentrate on the positive.

What you need is a picture of Billy Bob Thornton in a Santa suit with his face pressed against some cold wood, a pretzel probably wedged between his cheek and the flat surface, which would stick to the side of his face if he sat up suddenly.

And now you have it.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Dr. Bop Tweedie, set medic


My wife thinks many of my jokes are dumb. I must reluctantly admit something that's hard for me to accept: Many of my jokes probably qualify as dad jokes.

But certain joke memes do catch on, and never seem to wear out their welcome. Possibly because we have sense enough to go to that well infrequently, not on every movie we see.

The game is to see a name in the credits of a film and pretend that the person's influence over the final product was unmistakable. It's a riff on how you might talk about obvious similarities in the work of a writer, director or cinematographer. In our game, the contributions of a particular key grip are recognizable as part of his or her signature style.

It's an easy game. All you do is latch on to a particular name in the credits and say "Oh, that lighting design was very clearly Todd Markiewicz." Or "I thought that looked like Cheryl Jones' work as second assistant director." Or even "The craft services totally seemed like they were provided by Evelyn's Kitchen." It even works without listing the job title, and with a little nod to Spike Lee. "Aha, I knew this must be a Tom Hardin joint." Tom Hardin being among a list of 500 digital animators.

This is only the context for today's post.

In poring over the credits -- something we only do every seventh or eighth movie we see, and only if we're not falling asleep or if the movie didn't make us particularly angry -- we often find funny names. The discovery of these names is ephemeral, though, as we move on to the next name down and forget about it.

Not Bop Tweedie. This post will see to that.

Bop Tweedie was the set medic on Don't Think Twice, which we watched (and really liked) last night. We weren't even playing the game, actually -- or if so, I was only just belatedly starting it, late enough that it was the set medic's turn to be credited. But it came to an immediate halt when I got fixated on Bop Tweedie.

What kind of name is that?

The answer is, a stage name, obviously. But what kind of set medic needs a stage name?

I suppose he could also just be the offspring of hippies, but that's a bit much even for a hippie name.

Anyway, I immediately started riffing on Bop Tweedie, who of course does not actually have to be an M.D. to be a set medic (and probably isn't). But it was more fun to pretend that he is. "Dr. Bop Tweedie, damn glad to meetcha!" (thrusts hand outward for a shake). "I'm Bop Tweedie, M.D. Can I take your temperature?" "Bop Tweedie here. We've got an outbreak of diarrhea on the set. I need toilet paper, stat!" (I should say that it helped in my riffing that I'd just seen a movie about improv, and was feeling both inspired and wistful about my own brief improv troupe career at a summer job back in the '90s.)

I looked up Bop Tweedie on IMDB afterward, and it was fun to note the traditional "Known for" section of the site, as if a set medic's contributions really could translate into a signature style that conveys itself to a viewer when they see his name in the credits. For the record, he has also served as set medic on Douglas Brown, The Preppie Connection, Stealing Cars, Subconscious, Two Night Stand, Days and Nights and Pretty Bird. So he's not even a set medic on good movies, or at least movies that anyone has ever heard of. Maybe Don't Think Twice is his big breakout.

Hilariously, he does have a more prominent film on his resume -- God's Pocket, the 2014 Philip Seymour Hoffman film. I say "hilariously" because IMDB actually lists him as "set medic - uncredited." How the hell does an uncredited set medic job make its way onto IMDB? It's not like with an uncredited cameo, where anybody can look at the film and see that Johnny Depp appears in it and add it to his IMDB. No, Mr. Tweedie had to do some work to petition IMDB to have his contributions on God's Pocket recognized.

I'm not "having a go" (to use the Australian phrase) at Bop Tweedie. I'm really not. Or maybe I am, but I fully recognize it's not deserved. Bop Tweedie is doing a lot more in the film industry than I am. Good on him. He probably lives quite a nice and successful life.

Really, it's just that I love his name. And yes, I'm making fun of it. But I wouldn't even be making fun of it if I didn't absolutely fucking love it.

And maybe it really is a stage name. Bop Tweedie also has four acting credits: Subconscious (in which he was also the medic), Swimming on the Moon, Brothers (1995) and Vampire Vixens for Venus.

So I just hope for the sake of Mr. Tweedie's personal equanimity that he wasn't really trying to make it as an actor. He's a lot closer to breaking out as a set medic than in front of the camera.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

No Audio Audient: Greed, or how to watch a four-hour movie in 24 hours


This is the final installment of my 2016 series No Audio Audient, and now I will be taking a short/long break from silent movies. (No judgment, though; I quite enjoyed it.)

Sometimes, when finishing one of these year-long series on my blog, I metaphorically collapse in a heap from exhaustion.

Sometimes, though, I save the best for last.

And sometimes, it's both.

I'm not going to say Erich von Stroheim's Greed was the best film I watched for this series -- I also gave a full five stars to Sherlock Jr., and I can't say who would win in a face-off -- but it certainly ended things on a strong, if long, note. Especially given the baggage I brought into it, the difficulty I had getting a hold of it, and the difficulty I had carving out the significant time investment to watch it -- in the thick of the holiday season at that.

I'll address those in that order.

First, the baggage. Even without knowing much about Greed, I always associated it in my mind with Griffith's Intolerance, which I also watched for this series. Both are silent movies, both have abstract nouns as their titles, both figured to take an epic and multi-faceted approach to examining their chosen abstract nouns, and both are incredibly long. Because I didn't like Intolerance very much -- respected it somewhat, but didn't like it -- I worried that Greed would be another yucky spoonful of medicine. As it turns out, Greed is a far more focused effort than Intolerance, in spite of its epic running time, and that's just the first of myriad differences between the two.

Then there was the difficulty in getting my hands on it. I mistakenly believed that Greed, like most silent movies, is in the public domain, meaning that a multitude of versions would be available to watch on Youtube. I actually can't say for sure that it's not in the public domain, but I will tell you that a number of the Youtube links that apparently go to this movie end up saying that the content is not available for copyright reasons, providing pretty good circumstantial evidence. I did, however, find one available at about an hour and 47 minutes, a severely truncated version of the movie, though I thought I didn't care at that point. (See: previous comment about the holidays and exhaustion). Only after about five minutes did I realize that the title cards were in Italian. This was what stopped me in the midst of the November viewing I had planned, and forced me to rent it from iTunes instead. In retrospect, I realized I might have been able to turn on English subtitles (a funny option for a silent movie), but I'm glad I didn't recognize that at the time, because von Stroheim's full (or close to full) vision was what I ended up loving.

Which leads directly to my difficulty watching the movie. That difficulty arose from something I didn't notice until after I'd already started my iTunes download: that the version I was downloading was four hours long. I've never downloaded anything close to that long from iTunes -- I don't think I've even crossed the three-hour mark. It's not a problem of hard drive space, but a problem of time. No matter how long the movie is, you have to watch it during a 24-hour window before your rental expires. (It's the one time I wish I were linked up to the Australian iTunes instead of the U.S. one, because Australia gives you two days.) So I planned out how I would manage it very carefully. Having identified Tuesday as a viewing date because my wife was going to a Christmas party that night -- she didn't go, but that's neither here nor there -- I brought my computer in to work at lunch just so I could get an early start. I watched 20 minutes during lunch, then another 40 here and there before I finally got time to myself at night to tackle the remaining three hours. Figuring I'd watch the final few minutes the next morning if I just got too tired, I managed to avoid that fate by pulling in to the fish line around 12:30. And managed to write 40 Christmas cards (well, addressed 40 envelopes and stuffed in the cards) as I was doing it. So really, I watched it in just about exactly half of the 24 hours promised in the title of this post. Given that most of the remaining 12 hours would have been comprised of sleeping and working, it was still pretty tight.

How could I give a movie five stars if I were also addressing 40 Christmas cards?

A movie like Greed exceeds the status of a movie -- it becomes more like an experience, one you don't have to be closely watching every single second. At this point I should probably tell you more about it.

Even this four-hour version is a severely truncated version of von Stroheim's original vision. The film he originally made was more than eight hours long, and it was seen by only a dozen people. Needless to say, this version was hacked up by the studio, since even back in 1924 people were not watching eight-hour movies. The extra footage has subsequently been lost. The version that emerged was between two and three hours, as I understand it, and was a source of intense sadness and frustration to its director -- especially after the dozen who watched his original cut praised it as the greatest film ever made. (Not the same type of claim back then as it would be today, with nearly a century more movies to choose from, but still.)

The version I watched from iTunes was a 1999 attempted restoration of the director's original vision. This was managed with still photographs of the scenes that were cut and subsequently lost, inserted into the narrative at relevant junctures. Most of the cuts came from two subplots involving four other characters that are truly tangential to the main narrative -- one understands why the studios cut their material. But since the stills still existed, the restoration team placed them according to von Stroheim's original specifications. Realizing that still photographs don't play particularly well in an art form that relies on movement, the stills are given a sense of movement by the panning of the camera, the focusing in on certain parts of it, etc. And the content and composition of these photos is so rich that you really do feel like you're seeing the parts that were lost. As a technique, it reminded me a bit of that part of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid where they show the passage of time in these guys' lives from still photos pored over lovingly by the camera. I almost feel like I preferred the Greed still photo approach to if I'd actually been able to see the moving images, as it made the movie feel like a historical relic of something that really happened -- like one would review old photos to get a window into the way the world once was. I found the effect captivating, and that it played an essential role in building this world.

What world? I should probably tell you a little bit about the story, which is remarkably simple. It's the story of a California miner named McTeague, who has a rotten streak he inherited from his no-good drunkard father, who dies early on. His mother begs a traveling dentist to take her son on as an apprentice, to get him out of this life, and indeed, McTeague picks up a new career. He falls in love with a patient, the cousin and intended fiancee of one of his best friends, who reluctantly agrees to let the more smitten McTeague step in and court her. She's initially resistant to a romantic involvement but is eventually convinced to marry McTeague. Just before they are able to get married, a lottery ticket wins her the very large sum of $5,000, leading to resentment from her cousin, who now regrets having allowed McTeague to step in. As they get married, she has a strange reluctance to ever spend any of the $5,000, which leads to ... well, not good things.

If this movie were directed by D.W. Griffith, this would be just one of six stories meant to illustrate the concept of greed. Von Stroheim restricted himself to three, two of which are the aforementioned subplots that were cut out of the movie, and indeed, I do believe they had significantly less screen time than his main narrative thrust. This leaner decision did wonders for me. I wasn't constantly left wondering which plot was progressing in which way, the feeling that overtook me as I steadily began paying only half my attention to Intolerance. Even while addressing Christmas cards, though, I could easily keep abreast of what was happening in Greed, a pace partly managed by the captivating use of the still photographs. I did seek clarification on a couple things in Wikipedia afterward, but they were minor.

And something about this story just blew me away. We burrow down deep into it. I mean, deep. In a weird way I was comparing it to the French storybooks about Babar the elephant, which I actually tease for their formidable length and their odd mixture of sweeping epic and minor detail. One we have, for example, tries to do everything from capture the entire building of a village, to talking about a single math lesson where someone thought that 4+4 = 9. I don't have time to explain it much better than that as this piece is already reaching a daunting length, but just know that that doesn't work in a children's story. But it works like gangbusters in a movie made for adults -- or at least, when the vision behind that movie is von Stroheim's. The depth of the development of these characters resembled something it might take a TV series a couple seasons to capture, as you bunkered down with them and really lived their lives with them. Greed is renowned for being shot on location, and I think that plays a big role here -- you get San Francisco of the era, as well as Death Valley, and dozens of other locations somewhere in between. The difference between location and a studio set is profound.

The performances here are also amazing. Von Stroheim gets real subtlety from his actors, as we watch emotions creep over their faces -- he didn't feel like had to have them play to the back of the theater at all. So Greed also feels more modern in its approach in this respect. I'll name the primary three in case their relatives are reading: Gibson Gowland as McTeague, Zasu Pitts as his wife Trina and Jean Hersholt as his friend-cum-rival, Marcus Schouler.

I'm quite sure I could go on about this movie for another hour or two of typing time. I'll just close by saying that the movie's cumulative effect is profound and immersive, and where it goes is uncompromising and bleak, worthy of the blackest crime thrillers -- and feeling years ahead of its time in that respect as well. The Death Valley climax is a real show stopper. The weight of everything that's happened and how it's all resolved just leaves you speechless.

I do have one final thought, though. At the very beginning of Greed, when von Stroheim's credit is on the screen, it says "Personally directed by Erich von Stroheim." Never seen the word "personally" inserted in there, and initially I thought it was kind of funny. The more I watched, and the more I realized the type of epic vision (I need a synonym for that word) that was compromised by what the studio did to his film, I felt the tragedy of that extra adverb. He did put his whole personal self into the movie, but it was just too large, too ungainly, and too brilliant for its time. His contemporaries didn't know what to do with it. Maybe we would today.

And on that note, we bring No Audio Audient to a close. Well, not quite. I imagine I'll have a post to wrap it up in January, but that's a consideration for another day. I'll also be giving you a little taste of the movies I'll be watching each month in 2017, since I've already got my idea for next year (as well as 2018, come to think of it, though I'll wait a year before telling you about that). But 2017's monthly series will wait for another day as well.

For today, back to getting ready to get on an airplane in five days, and all the things I still have to do before then.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Comedies that get lost in the shuffle


Why now?

That's the question I usually ask about comedies that arrive right around Christmas, because for a person like me, that means almost zero chance of actually seeing them in the theater.

Why Him? is the latest example in that trend, but there are one or two every year. Another example, last year's Sisters, is a movie we are only just now watching. (I say "watching" because we started it last Saturday night, got too tired, and have yet to finish it.)

Christmas is the time of year to watch awards contenders and Star Wars movies, not dumb comedies.

But they keep releasing one or two per year in one of these comedy-unfavorable slots, I suppose because they think people need to laugh, even at Christmas.

And of course, not everyone is like me, devoting my available viewing hours to whatever the Golden Globes have already told me might get nominated for an Oscar. But dammit, I'm the only one that matters. Release Why Him? in April and I'll watch it on DVD in September. (Ah, so there's the rub, Vance -- you don't really care about whether you see it in the theater or not, you just want to see it in time to rank it with that year, and if it comes out in December you can't.)

So I thought I'd scan back through the last few years and see which other movies have come out in the Why Him? release window, and when or whether I've ended up seeing them.

2015 
Daddy's Home and Sisters
Watched: September 2, 2016 and current
Comment: Will get them both in within a year, assuming some progress on Sisters before we leave on our trip next week.

2014
The Interview and Horrible Bosses 2
Watched: December 25, 2014 and June 11, 2016
Comment: Horrible Bosses 2 came out in November, but close enough. Took me 18 months. The Interview we watched immediately, but remember, it was available to watch at home because of the unusual circumstances of that movie's release. Plus there was kind of a patriotic duty to watch it, to thumb your nose at North Korea.

2013 
Um ... Anchorman 2 was released on November 24th?
Watched: December 23, 2013 in the theater
Comment: I guess this doesn't work for every year. But three in 2012 will more than make up for it ...

2012
The Guilt Trip, This is 40, Parental Guidance
Watched: January 18, 2014; March 24, 2015; haven't seen it
Comment: Delays of a year to more than two years. And I was never going to see Parental Guidance anyway, probably.

2011
The Sitter
Watched: December 31, 2011
Comment: Well, this one I ended up seeing because it was playing at the drive-in when my wife and I spent our New Year's Eve there, our one-year-old sleeping in the back seat.

That's probably enough.

I guess not as convincing of a trend as I thought ... a smattering of different movies with a smattering of results, and all but one watched eventually. Which is more a testament to the fact that I try to see most studio comedies of a sufficient level of quality, sooner or later.

One interesting exception to this rule, in a number of respects, is the Christmas comedy. The timing of the release of those movies is, of course, pretty much set in stone -- late November or early December at the latest. But also, I've been tending to see them in the theater, even if they're usually not that great. I was tasked with reviewing both last year's The Night Before and this year's Office Christmas Party, and I went to Bad Santa 2 last night -- not because I was particularly excited to see it, but because it was the only movie playing in the 9:30 time slot before Star Wars that I had even a modicum of interest in seeing. Because I was going anyway, I have now also reviewed that as well.

Fortunately, I don't think I'll view Why Him? as a gaping hole in my 2016 rankings when I publish them in about five weeks' time. I'll be much more concerned about whether I can get in Moonlight and Manchester by the Sea and Loving and La La Land and

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Another midnight in December


Tonight I will again be seeing a new Star Wars movie a good 24 to 36 hours before anyone in the U.S., reminding me of one of the rare times it is a cinematic benefit to live in Australia.

But I almost left this one to chance.

Let me explain.

I'm plenty excited to see Rogue One: A Star Wars Story -- I've steadfastly avoided all of the trailers -- but I might not have prioritized it within its first 48 hours except that I'll be discussing it on a podcast Friday night. As "Friday night" in this case actually means "Friday around dinnertime," that left me exactly two time slots in which to potentially see it: Thursday at midnight (i.e. "Wednesday night"), and Thursday after work.

The difference between the two options is $32.20.

Which is not insignificant, considering that we're planning a trip to the U.S. (only a week from now!) and every penny counts.

If I waited to watch it on Thursday after work, I could get in free with my critics card. I'd have to choose one of the theaters by my work, and also hope that they weren't sold out, rather than one of the Hoyts theaters with the bigger screens. (Hoyts only honors the critic card on Mondays and Wednesdays, and I don't think I can convince them that tonight's 12:01 a.m. showing counts as a Wednesday.) But it would probably be doable.

But what if it weren't? What if all showings are sold out? If I left it to chance, there was at least some possibility that I'd miss my reasonable opportunities to view it before the podcast. And with only a few days before my trip and holidays being a busy time anyway, it wouldn't work to reschedule the podcast. I'd have to do something like take Friday off work in order to see it in time. (Another extreme no-no at one of my job's busiest times of the year.)

So why not commit $32.20 for the IMAX 3D screening tonight ($31 with a $1.20 booking fee), both guaranteeing myself a viewing time and allowing me to immerse myself in the most confronting version of the movie possible?

So that's what I'm going to do.

It was my wife who ultimately convinced me. She reasoned that by never spending more than my $75 annual membership fee for the Australian Film Critics Association, which allows me to see all of my movies in the theater for free, I've earned a splurge on Rogue One. That was pretty big of her, because she's really conscious of how we're spending our money right now with the trip coming up. But she knows it's important to me, and that you can only see a new Star Wars movie for the first time once. (Though I will be getting a chance to do that like once a year, from now until, I don't know, 2032.)

Now that that's done, my primary concern is staying awake.

I've been up past midnight watching movies each of the past two nights, a bit foolishly on Monday but out of necessity last night, when I completed my four-hour viewing of Erich von Stroheim's Greed. (Separate post forthcoming.) A pretty bad schedule leading in to a night when I will be up until 3 a.m.

Thursday at work will be rough, but I'll manage. I always do.

And don't worry, The Audient will remain a safe space for Star Wars spoilers until you get to see the movie yourself. Though I had a discussion online yesterday with friends about whether spoilers will even be a thing with this movie. It's a prequel, and we don't know anything about the characters, so casual mentions of what may or may not happen to them will a) probably not be something we have to try very hard to avoid exposing ourselves to, in part because b) people probably won't be making these casual mentions anyway.

Plus, I take seriously the spoiler avoidance responsibilities bestowed on me by my occasionally advantageous time zone.