Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Scarfs for Scafaria


I have two longer posts I'm working on right now, but as I don't seem to be getting much time to work on them, I thought I'd give you something short to tide you over.

Something, in fact, that barely crosses the threshold of being worth writing about, if it crosses it at all.

Then again, I've probably posted for lesser reasons than a little bit of wordplay.

Last night I went to see The Meddler, directed by Lorene Scafaria, and I wore a scarf. It's only a week away from winter here in the Southern Hemisphere (they switch seasons on the first of the month), and my wife -- who had been outside more recently than I had -- advised me to wear a scarf when I went to the movies last night. I was glad I did, though when I ran into a friend from my hometown at the grocery store after the movie, he chastised me about losing my New England weather-related toughness.

As for the actual movie, I think I've reached that point with Lorene Scafaria where I think she just doesn't work for me. I hated Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist, which she wrote, but I wasn't holding that against in her in summoning a huge amount of anticipation for her directorial debut, Seeking a Friend for the End of the World. When that too disappointed, I still was not overly discouraged, as I was definitely looking forward to her second directorial feature, The Meddler. At least in those other two movies, she was really going for something that didn't quite work. The Meddler I just found generic and uninteresting, aside from an enjoyable lead performance by Susan Sarandon. This despite the movie getting a ton of praise. It's probably her best movie, but that's not saying a lot, unfortunately.

Maybe the scarf would have been better to cover my eyes than my neck.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Pretty indeed


Remember when I used to sometimes write a blog post just to sing the praises of a particular poster?

No?

Go back a ways, or follow the "movie posters" label. You'll find them.

Someone in my Flickcharters Facebook group posted this poster today with a single word that perfectly encapsulates it:

"Pretty."

I agreed, so I decided this might make some nice artwork to adorn my blog on a day when I actually have nothing to say for once.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

A Bad finish to HRAFF


In name/title only.

The closing night film was The Bad Kids, which I watched back in January not two weeks after it debuted at Sundance. I gave it four stars on Letterboxd and became one of its staunch supporters, though that did not distinguish me from anyone else. We were all only too eager to jump on the enthusiasm train toward its inevitable inclusion in the program. Our program coordinator had actually flown to Utah for Sundance, the last major festival before our program had to be finalized, and that kind of financial expenditure needed to be justified by at least one selection from that festival, and probably more than one. (In fact, three were chosen, and a fourth was offered a slot but passed for an undisclosed reason.)

In fact, it was anything but a bad way to finish the festival. And again, I almost didn't go. Will explain that quickly without dwelling on it.

Given all the nights I had been out and that I was going out Friday night as well, my wife decided to claim Thursday night as a night to go to opening night of another film festival, the St. Kilda Film Festival, which shows short films. Some of her co-workers were going to go, and she had had fun when she went last year. So I advised the ticket coordinator that I wouldn't be going to closing night after all, in kind of a deja vu email conversation to when I'd given up my ticket to opening night. In another bit of deja vu, I then recanted that stance -- just like I'd done with opening night -- when my wife found out that most of her co-workers weren't going to St. Kilda and she'd just as soon pass. So in the end I did go, feeling like the ticketing coordinator must think I'm the biggest idiot in the world. (I actually met her at the closing party and we got along famously.)

I liked the film just a smidge better the second time around, as its merits had quickly faded in my memory -- or more likely, just become part of the big blur that characterized the end of five intense months of vetting films. It's directed by Keith Fulton and Lou Pepe, the directors of the great documentary Lost in La Mancha, about Terry Gilliam's failed attempt to make a Don Quixote movie. Fulton and Pepe got an intimate level of access to a high school in the Joshua Tree area that enrolls at-risk 11th and 12th graders who are otherwise likely to drop out. They shot the film beautifully and got a startling level of emotional honesty from their subjects. You should see it arriving at a cinema near you later in the year, I would think.

Fulton and Pepe were there for a Q&A, and were a delight to listen to. They were also available at the after party, and I thought of approaching them to tell them how much I'd enjoyed La Mancha -- except that I saw that film a good ten years ago, and I'd be utterly unprepared for any follow-up conversation on the topic that might transpire. It's not like an awareness of their previous credits made me a particularly keen observer, since La Mancha was referenced in the festival booklet. So I decided to just let them be.

The after party. Well. If I thought I drank a lot at opening night, I hadn't yet fully tested my limits, it appears. In fact, I stayed so long that I missed the last tram at 12:15, and ended up walking home from downtown. I could have gotten a cab, but let's just say the state I was in made the walk plenty easy, and I had music on my iPod to provide additional accompaniment.

And though only three of the eight members of our featuring programming team were there -- kind of a surprise -- one was my viewing partner, who had been through the whole experience with me in that she and I had seen almost all the same films. We snapped some pictures and chatted up some others, some whom I sort of knew, others I was just meeting. And one wine glass led to another, and before I knew it, yeah, I'd missed that tram.

Still don't know if I'm in for another year of HRAFF, as there'll be a hell of a lot of more viewings between me and another closing night. But the satisfaction of experiencing the festival has been worth the work. And oh yeah, there'll probably be wine at next year's after party as well.

For now, a return to a more everyday viewing schedule ... and maybe some sleep.

Friday, May 20, 2016

You can't spell HRAFF without two F's


The most unusual double feature I have ever unwittingly planned was the one where both of the movies contain a euphemism for the word "fuck" in their titles.

That happened on Tuesday night, when I went to see the HRAFF screening of the movie GTFO, followed by a regular old cinematic screening of Whiskey Tango Foxtrot.

Be it the word "Foxtrot" or just the plain old letter F, both movies were trying to tell me about the word "fuck" without actually saying it.

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot is, of course, the acronym WTF as spoken in the military alphabet. I would probably know that anyway, but I know it even more because I've memorized the military alphabet as part of my job. I regularly read out serial numbers to users and vendors, and the military alphabet lets a person do that without any confusion or fears of being misheard ("Did you say C or B or D?"). Here, I'll show you: alpha bravo charlie delta echo foxtrot golf hotel india juliet kilo lima mike november oscar papa quebec romeo sierra tango uniform victor whiskey x-ray yankee zulu. (You have no idea how quickly I typed that, but it was pretty quickly.)

Then GTFO stands for Get the Fuck Out, an acronym male gamers regularly hurl at female gamers who are trying to share their testosterone-laden gaming space. (The documentary is about the unsafe and abusive environment for female gamers and what to do about it.)

Unfortunately, I kind of wanted both of these movies to get the fuck out. I gave both of them 2.5 stars, and I think I may have been even a bit generous to Whiskey Tango Foxtrot. (It's just hard to be mean to Tina Fey.) GTFO is on an important subject, but it's a poorly made film -- badly lit and using some interview footage filmed over Skype. It just doesn't look very nice, it's edited poorly, and the information is conveyed haphazardly. Then Whiskey is kind of a big collection of "so what?" Fey tries her hardest to be chipper and appealing, but she doesn't come across all that well, and the characters are difficult to care a thing about.

Because I was worried that I might be told to get the fuck out, I told a funny little lie before my screening of Whiskey.

I was well within my rights to be using my critics card, as the movie had only been out for five days and it was an approved night of the week to use the card. Yet I stumbled when confronted by an innocent question from the person printing me my ticket:

"Are you going be reviewing this film?"

Now, to be clear, she was not asking me this because she wanted to determine the validity of me using my critics card. If anything, she was starstruck. "Here is this great person before me, who has the power to tell other people to see movies or not see them." If anything, she couldn't believe that she was in some way involved in the process of a movie review coming into existence.

But I acted on instinct and saw a threat. "Yes," I said.

Well, I'm not reviewing this movie. My editor reviewed it like two weeks ago. And disliked it even more than I did.

But she wasn't done. She asked where my review would be appearing. Still starstruck, mind you. Still not checking up on me.

"ReelGood," I said, continuing the lie. I mean, that is the site I write for. But I did not venture a "dot com" or any other indication of what type of media organization ReelGood actually was. If she really wanted to follow up on our conversation, she could do the digging.

Not that it will ever come back to me, but if it did, I could always say I thought I was reviewing it and hadn't realized that we'd already reviewed it.

When I got inside, I jokingly texted my editor that he needed to repost his Whiskey review tomorrow and put my name on it.

To quote Curtis Armstrong, sometimes you just have to say WTF.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

HRAFF - My baby


When you sign up to help program a film festival, you never know exactly how much your own imprint will appear on the final selections.

Sure, films you liked are going to get selected. You'd be quite the useless programmer if you ended up being at odds with everyone on all the selections.

But I didn't know how many films I personally championed would make the final cut.

The best example of that was The Armor of Light, the third film I've made it to as part of this year's HRAFF (Human Rights Arts & Film Festival). I've been calling it "my baby," and I got my "proud papa" moment on Monday night, with my wife sitting next to me.

Abigail Disney's documentary is about an evangelical minister and the mother of a black teenager who was shot to death over a dispute involving the volume of his rap music. The two come together to make unlikely crusaders for gun control -- unlikely because his constituency is comprised of massive defenders of the second amendment, and because as she states so movingly, she never expected she would ever personally be in the position of mourning a slain child. It's a truly profound consideration full of twists, turns and defied expectations. Your average liberal viewers will be naturally unsettled to meet the Reverend Rob Schenck, a one-time anti-abortion activist who used intense rhetoric in pro-life rallies and who currently ministers to Republican politicians in Washington D.C., instinctively believing that he could never adopt a viewpoint that's close to their hearts. Yet his personal examination of the conflict between being pro-life and pro-gun is engaging and poignant. And Lucy McBath's testimony about the loss of her son and her campaign to prevent other parents from being in her position ... well, it's hard to choke back the tears. Not only is the film challenging and invigorating, it also has some of the best cinematography I've ever seen in a documentary.

I gave The Armor of Light five stars on Letterboxd after I watched it in September, and ultimately ranked it 14th out of all the movies I saw in 2015. (I now wish I'd had the courage to rank it in my top ten.) Immediately after my viewing I began talking off the ears of all the other programmers. My viewing partner also liked it a lot, but stopped short of giving it the rating of "Lock" I had confidently bestowed it. So while we jointly loved some films that didn't end up making it, The Armor of Light was really all on me. My enthusiasm put The Armor of Light on a shortlist of highly rated films for other programmers to watch, and soon I had a couple other passionate supporters on my side, including the program coordinator. It ended up being one of the first films offered a slot in the program.

So while I saw other films I was interested in go down to defeat -- in some instances because I knew the festival director didn't particularly care for it -- I always had The Armor of Light in my back pocket as one certain programming victory for me. I wrote the blurb that appeared next to it in the program, and couldn't wait to watch it with an audience.

Which almost didn't happen.

Although I'd told my wife I wanted to take her to this showing not long after the schedule was released, it wasn't until a couple days before that she actually asked my sister-in-law about babysitting on Monday night. I could kind of understand her hesitation. The movie didn't start until 8:45, so it would be a somewhat late night for my sister-in-law. While in some respects it would be an easier night than some of the times she babysits for us, as the kids would already be in pajamas by the time she came over, the fact of the matter was that she wouldn't be getting home until 11:30 or so -- on a school night. I suspect this weighed on my wife's mind as she procrastinated asking her sister.

My sister-in-law was all too happy to oblige -- she's good like that -- but then came the sickness that hit our family, in different ways for each of us. My older son has been sniffling for a couple weeks, and the younger one got sent home early on Thursday when one of his carers informally diagnosed him with hand foot and mouth disease. Whether he really had it or not I'm not sure of, since he seemed perky as hell. But we kept him home on Friday and weren't sure we'd be sending him Monday until Monday morning. Then my wife had been sneezing incessantly since early Sunday morning, and I had a tickle in my throat that I was sure would turn into something more. Needless to say, an 8:45 screening on Monday night was looking doubtful -- especially for my wife, but really, for both of us.

By Monday morning, though, everyone was fine, and we haven't looked back since.

Well, it turned into a lovely evening. My wife and I got down there early enough to have a nice dinner at an Asian fusion restaurant near the cinema, and even each dared to have a drink with dinner, despite the possibility it would cause our eyelids to droop during the movie. I didn't worry so much about myself -- I knew it was engaging enough that I wouldn't doze off, or if I did, it would be okay since I'd already seen it anyway. I worried about my wife, who's slightly less likely than I am to fight off sleep at the movies (in part because she goes a lot less than I do), but falls asleep on the couch at home all the time.

Fortunately, these fears were also unfounded. I could tell my wife was pretty gripped right from the start. There's some very emotional testimony by Lucy McBath not ten minutes into the movie, and I could hear my wife fighting back tears. She also laughed at a few of the film's lighter or more ridiculous moments (Sarah Palin makes an appearance), and scoffed when she was supposed to scoff.

Hers was the only reaction I could really gauge, unfortunately. There were maybe 40 others in the theater -- not the sell-out I was hoping for -- and they too reacted audibly at various junctures. I might have also caught a little weeping here and there too, I don't know. But really extrapolating much from their behavior was impossible.

I don't know exactly what I was expecting. I knew a standing ovation was probably out of the question, since this doesn't really seem to be that kind of festival -- the audience didn't even stand and applaud on opening night, even though that was a really good film and they knew the filmmaker was present.

But I decided it didn't really matter. This was my moment of glory, and nothing was going to sully it for me. I didn't feel inclined to look for a specific response. I already had all the validation I needed, that a little movie I'd unwittingly watched in three different sittings on my laptop at home, in part while putting away laundry, had made it to the big screen as part of a festival on human rights. It felt that in whatever small way, this was my contribution to making the world a better place.

And it was a joy to do something I wished I'd have done in the first place, if I'd had any reason to suspect it would be so great -- watch the whole thing in one uninterrupted sitting.

And yeah, it was pretty obvious that the evening's main draw was the film playing in the other screening room, the third showing of the opening night film, Chasing Asylum. That one looked pretty much sold out.

But I'd like to think that it was our 40 in my screening room who were really having their perspectives, their very minds, expanded.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Ernest, not Angry


On Sunday my son chose Ernest & Celestine over The Angry Birds Movie.

He didn't know he was choosing Ernest & Celestine, because he didn't know what it was, and we didn't end up seeing either movie anyway. But he knew enough about The Angry Birds Movie to reject it, which was the most interesting takeaway. Essentially, he preferred whatever was behind Door #2 to The Angry Birds Movie.

I'll explain.

Ernest & Celestine, a 2013 Academy award nominee for best animated feature, was supposed to be the third movie I watched for this year's Human Rights Arts & Film Festival (HRAFF), which I helped curate. It was part of the festival's children's program called Cineseeds, which is just two features -- one aimed at younger children, one at older -- on the festival's second Sunday.

I was going to take my five-year-old to see it, in part just for an activity on a Sunday afternoon, but in part also to show him the kinds of things that daddy has been up to. In fact, daddy had not seen Ernest & Celestine either, but oddly enough, was directly responsible for it being part of the festival.

The committee that approves selections for Cineseeds is notoriously selective, and there had been about 15 choices we'd vetted as a group that they had ultimately ruled out, despite enthusiastic recommendations on our part in some cases. Desperate, the festival coordinator contacted me and asked if I could provide another list of options, based on my wealth of general cinematic knowledge. They didn't have to be new releases, so that was supposed to make it easier. I did my best to come up with some on my own, but also asked my Flickcharters Facebook discussion group for recommendations of (loosely) human rights-themed choices that would be appropriate for kids. Ernest & Celestine was one of their recommendations, and I passed it on to the coordinator, having no idea if it was a useful suggestion or not, and even less assumption that it would actually be selected.

It was selected, so that gave me a little bit of extra pride that made me think I should take my son -- even though he's a lot more into Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Power Rangers these days than hand-drawn movies about a bear and a mouse. Just to be on the safe side, I didn't show him any images from it.

As he's been somewhat difficult to please at the movies, I expected he'd need more of a buy-in, but he was willing to go. In fact, he seemed cautiously excited about it.

Unfortunately, we've all been a bit sick the last few days, and the movie was starting at 2:45, kind of a problematic start time for a number of reasons. That meant we needed a full other activity to start the day, and ended up going to the home of one of my wife's friends, who has a son just a few months older than my oldest. Three hours over there took enough out of me that a nap seemed more appealing to me around 1 o'clock than being dropped off at the theater early and having to kill 90 minutes until the movie started.

Waking from my nap way too late at just before 2, I randomly decided to check the HRAFF website to make sure I'd gotten the start time right. I had -- but I also hadn't anticipated the demand. The movie was sold out. A ticket had already been reserved for me, so that wasn't a problem, but I'd never bothered to buy one for my son, not wanting to commit the money if we didn't end up going. I had been monitoring the website, though, and it hadn't even been listed as "selling fast" in the days leading up to it.

As my wife was sicker than I was and needed her own nap even more (while the younger one was having his), there was no doubt that my son and I were still going to try to make the movie. So I texted the festival coordinator, wondering if she might have some idea what to do. She wasn't actually there, but sent me the phone number of the festival director, who would be and might have an idea. I couldn't actually read the contact card she sent through, adding a further level of complication.

While this was all transpiring, though, we needed to actually be leaving. So we went and jumped in the car, which was probably the thing that ultimately sealed our fate. We'd been meaning to go by public transportation, since parking is hard near that theater, but the unexpected delays of the later nap and lack of available tickets made the car seem like a faster choice. When traffic was also bad, the writing was on the wall that we would miss Ernest & Celestine.

Before breaking the news to my son, I quickly came up with what I thought was an air-tight backup plan. Checking the Hoyts app on my phone for any child-appropriate new releases, I struck gold -- The Angry Birds Movie. I didn't expect it to be good, mind you, but I expected it to have a lot more natural interest for my son's current tastes than Ernest & Celestine.

What was so lucky about that particular choice was that my son was fresh off a moment of Angry Birds-related triumph on Mother's Day, just a week before. That morning I took my kids out for pancakes and some errands at the mall, one of which was going to the video game place my older son loves. There he played an Angry Birds game that involves shooting an actual "angry bird" with an actual sling shot at a video game screen of pigs balanced on precarious wooden towers. Wherever the ball hits the screen, some amount of corresponding damage occurs to the towers. If you can create a domino effect of destruction with a particularly well-placed shot, and knock off all four pigs with one bird, you can win the grand prize of 500 tickets.

I assumed that no one ever does this. But my son did it, probably without even trying to. As he watched the tickets getting digitally applied to our game card, and all the game's pomp and circumstance involved with the perfect shot, he had a silly grin of victory on his face. Since he can often get down on himself when he isn't immediately good at things, it was great for him to have a win like this. It also was a nice early financial lesson, as having all these tickets meant he could afford to buy something in the store -- something that was actually kind of cool, not just plastic hair clips or a little hard candy. With his winnings he bought a little gun that shoots potato pellets, and he was happy as pie.

Seizing on that experience, I promoted The Angry Birds Movie as a backup plan. He barely stopped to consider it. "Nah," he said. "Not interested."

I had almost no time to revel in his good taste before he hit me with a big dollop of emotional manipulation. The idea of missing Ernest & Celestine -- whose title he did not even know -- was now suddenly going to crush him. He kept asking if we could drive faster and whether we could honk the horn to make everyone get out of our way. Eventually I had to tell him that not only would we not get there on time, there would be no tickets waiting for us, and only if I could get in touch with the festival director would we even have any hope of getting in. I had the festival director's number by now, but closing the space in the amount of remaining time was quickly becoming a physical impossibility.

My second backup plan, one that was sure to satisfy him, still seemed only barely able to do so. My second backup was to take him back to that same video arcade where he'd won at Angry Birds. He reluctantly agreed that this was an acceptable plan. Though even after that, even after he knew we were no longer going to Ernest & Celestine, he asked how close we were to getting to the theater.

It's about a bear and a mouse, kid! It's got no guns or mutated reptiles! And it's not even drawn very well! 

An apple juice, a chocolate bar and a handful of video games later, he was fully happy and seemed to have forgotten the aborted plan. He played the Angry Birds game once again, did not win the 500 tickets, shrugged, and walked away.

I too was a little disappointed not to get to see Ernest & Celestine. Not only is it of presumably high quality, as a recent Oscar nominee, but it taught the important lesson of tolerance. My son's expressed some fears about people who are different from him, so this could have done the valuable work of helping assuage some of those fears. Theoretically.

Or he could have been bored to tears and made us leave after 20 minutes. There's that.

He didn't get that dose of tolerance, but at least he didn't replace it with a movie where enraged birds shoot themselves at pigs.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

No Audio Audient: The Lodger


This is the fifth in my 2016 series No Audio Audient, in which I'm catching up with classic silents I haven't seen.

If you watched Charlie Chaplin's The Kid expecting to come here and compare your thoughts with my thoughts on it -- because that's totally something you're doing -- you have been the victim of a programming change.

As part of one of my recent weekly trips to the library, I picked up Alfred Hitchcock's The Lodger, recognizing it only as a Hitchcock movie I hadn't seen. A little closer look at the cover revealed that indeed, it was one of his silents -- none of which I had seen yet. Seemed like a great choice for May, especially given that two of my four choices thus far have already been comedies from silent greats (Harold Lloyd, Buster Keaton).

I was a tad wary, though. The oldest Hitchcock film I'd seen previously was the original 1934 version of The Man Who Knew Too Much, which I found decidedly disappointing -- even without having yet seen Hitchcock's 1956 remake. I found Hitchcock's trademark faculties severely diminished in this earlier work, and part of me worried the same about a film made seven years earlier -- without even the benefit of sound.

How little did I realize how little Hitchcock needs sound.

The Lodger -- or as it sometimes goes by, The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog -- had me in the palm of its hand from its first shot. Which is this:


That's the Hitchcock I know and love.

And what an arresting way to start a movie about a serial killer murdering a new blonde woman every Tuesday night. Hitchcock spends about the first five minutes of the film just establishing a sense of paranoia through images alone, with barely any title cards. Detectives encircling the latest body. Panicked bystanders descending deeper into fear. The flashing lights of a theater marquee, as the victim was one of the girls in a revue. Hitchcock does communicate some exposition during these five minutes, but it's largely through newspaper headlines and stories being dictated via teletype, the circumstances of the crime marching out ominously one letter at a time. Score is also instrumental in establishing this mood, though that would have been something Hitchcock had less (if any) control over, and may not have even been the score that was used at the time. I try to set aside score in my analysis of silent films, even though it can undeniably contribute to my experience, as it did here.

The story comes to be about a mysterious lodger staying in an extra room in the home of his kindly old landlords and their daughter -- who just so happens to fit the profile of the women this serial killer has been killing. Upon his first arrival on screen, the lodger (the creepy Ivor Lovello) fits the description witnesses have reported of the murderer -- the lower half of his face is shrouded by a scarf. He's also got a queer way about him and seems to recoil at the images of young blonde women on the walls of his room. Thinking him just eccentric, they don't make the connection with the story filling all the newspapers ... until a few strange occurrences makes it impossible to overlook.

If The Man Who Knew Too Much seemed flat by Hitchcock standards, The Lodger seems to embody what we think of as a Hitchcock movie almost perfectly. I wouldn't have guessed that he was already devising unconventional filming techniques and props by 1927, but clearly, he was. One of these is a see-through plexiglass floor, which takes the place of the natural floor for a couple shots. This allows the lodger's male landlord to "visualize" him pacing back and forth a floor above, a seeming indicator of his guilt (or at least an unsteady mind). What he's actually seeing is the chandelier shaking, but the plexiglass floor shows us what he's imagining. This type of trick with sets and props would come to be a Hitchcock trademark.

Another was just a shot that floored me. As the lodger is going out secretly late at night, we see him descend the spiral staircase from above. But we don't see his whole body. We only see his gloved hand gliding along the bannister, making all the turns in the stairs as it gets lower and lower toward the first floor. The effect was profound.

I was also surprised by how little this seemed to feature what I will call "silent film acting." By 1927 I suppose directors knew that actions didn't have to be broad and over-the-top to communicate meaning, but Hitchcock shows an even greater sense of subtlety than would come from the natural refining of filmmaking techniques over time. He's already a master of this craft, even in the film that would come later to be thought of as "the first Hitchcock film." (It was his eighth overall, though that also includes shorts and lost films.)

One thing I did find strange as I was watching it, that probably contributed to a slightly diminished appreciation of the film, is that it barreled past its projected running time. The movie was supposed to last 71 minutes, according to the DVD case, but as it ticked up into that range I could tell it was nowhere near resolution. I found a different running time of 80 minutes on the web, but that minute mark came and went as well without a resolution. It finally wrapped up around 94 minutes -- which was not a running time I could find listed anywhere on the web. (And in yet a fourth different running time, IMDB lists it as 68 minutes.) I didn't get the sense of there being any filler footage, and I couldn't imagine what might be missing from shorter versions of the film. The only reason this bothered me was because I was trying to watch the movie during a set window of time, and the more it ran over the budgeted time, the more it threatened other things I had to do that day. Which made me wish I just hadn't known the running time at all, so I wouldn't have spent the last 20 minutes feeling impatient.

So The Lodger didn't only jump easily into the upper half of the Hitchcock films I've seen, but it also had clear influences on some of the other greats from this time period. The movie it reminded me of most was Fritz Lang's M, which wouldn't come along until 1931 and was clearly inspired by The Lodger. That's not to say The Lodger is better than M, because I don't think it is. But M might not exist, or exist exactly as we know it, without it.

Okay! Barring another unforeseen library rental, The Kid will indeed make its way onto the docket for June.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Selective animal harming


I stayed until the end of the credits of Green Room Thursday night, long enough to see this message:

"The American Humane Society monitored the treatment of animals in some scenes. No animals were harmed during those scenes."

I then expected a follow-up message:

"But in the scenes where the Human Society was not present, a horse was strangled, a frog was stepped on, a llama was kicked in the balls and a daddy long legs was electrocuted."

I imagine the precise parsing of the legalese is important in the credits of a film. I think what the above message is really saying is "Since the American Humane Society was present for only some of the filming, they can only certify that animals were not harmed during the scenes for which they were present." But it's certainly easy (and funny) to imagine the inverse.

It's hard to believe that no human beings were harmed during the making of Green Room. It's a pretty intense movie.

Friday, May 13, 2016

HRAFF: Flocking


When choosing which sessions of the 2016 HRAFF festival -- which I helped curate -- I would like to actually attend, I focused mostly on films I hadn't already seen.

Oddly, especially for a festival in which I was one of the programmers, I haven't seen more than a third of the 30 films ultimately chosen. In fact, a better way to describe it would be that I've only seen just over half. Thirteen of the 30 films were unseen by me, which gives you some indication of exactly how many contenders we had.

So that left me no shortage of choices. And having become a bit warn out by all the documentaries I watched, I naturally gravitated toward one of the two narrative films I hadn't seen.

That was Beata Garleder's Flocking, which I watched on Wednesday night in what felt like ages after I attended opening night. In reality, it was six nights later. My HRAFF schedule gets a bit more packed from here on out, as I will see four more films between Sunday and closing night next Thursday.

I wish I could say it was a movie I would recommend that others should flock to.

It's not the subject matter that ended up turning me off. I knew it was about a town who turns against a high school girl after she accuses one of her classmates of raping her. No, it was the total lack of charisma of the actors that did it. And the total lack of surprises in the way the movie investigates victim blaming. I knew the people would be assholes, but I thought at least they would be assholes in interesting ways.

I think I was probably also comparing it to a similar film that I had championed that we didn't end up programming. I'm probably not supposed to say the title, but I will because it could help other people eventually get to watch it. (As opposed to me mentioning a rejected title in a catty light, which would have no positive byproducts for that film.) That film was/is called Three Windows a Hanging, and instead of being Scandinavian, it takes place in Kosovo. In that case, a woman is shunned by the others in her village, especially the men, when she tells an international journalist that she and other women in their village were raped during the Serbian conflict back in the late 1990s. Not only did that film have acting that was far superior to the performances in Flocking, but it's also shot and framed beautifully. If I'm going to struggle with the darkness of sexual violence, I at least want it to be aesthetically and dramatically pleasing.

So while Flocking wasn't a hit for me, it was nice to return to the festival after nearly a week without screenings.

And it was also nice that I was able to avoid making eye contact with the festival director on the way out, so I wouldn't have to give him my thoughts on the movie.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

A great reason to pay full price


Something unusual happened at Cinema Nova on Tuesday night:

I walked up to the counter and paid $19.50 to see a movie.

As you probably know, I never have to do this anymore. My AFCA card gets me into movies for free most nights of the week, and if it's not one of those nights, I just wait until it is one of those nights.

Tuesday night was, in fact, one of those nights at Cinema Nova. My card entitled me to free entry. But I paid anyway.

Why?

Well, the director of A Month of Sundays is one Matthew Saville, and he's a friend of mine. His wife and mine grew up together, and they live just down the street from us. In fact, she composed the film's score, as she does with most of Matt's projects. (Her name is Bryony Marks, by the way.)

In short, I want to give his movie as much help at the box office as I can. Not only for Matt's sake, but for the sake of small comic dramas (dramatic comedies?) like A Month of Sundays.

I was just glad it wasn't one of the clerks I recognized who took my $19.50. It would seem weird to be paying for a movie when I could get in for free, and that might make them wonder if there was something fraudulent about the other times I'd used the card. Was it a fake card? Did they need to check me out more thoroughly the next time I tried to use it? If asked, of course, I'd give the reason. But they wouldn't ask. And even though my AFCA card is legit, it's such a good deal that I worry about anything coming along and messing it up.

Fortunately, it was a woman I'd never seen before.

Well, I was glad to pay for this movie, and not just because I'm supporting my friend and the types of movies he makes. It was my favorite of the three films of his I've seen, which is saying something, since I gave both of the others four stars. This one also got four stars from me ... but it was a higher four stars. Like maybe 4.2 stars. Almost high enough to be rounded up to four-and-a-half.

A Month of Sundays -- which may never get released outside of Australia, but I'll tell you about it anyway -- stars Anthony LaPaglia as a real estate agent going through bit of a mid-life crisis. His mother has just died the year before, and he's wading through a recent breakup with his wife, the mother of his teenage son. And although he instinctively paces out the size of rooms even in houses that are not for sale, he's lost his lust for his chosen career, and is seeing the ugly side of an industry that frequently leaves hopeful buyers without any hope. A wrong number dialed by a woman about his mother's age, who sounds enough like his mother and thinks she's talking to her son, unexpectedly thrusts him into a new relationship with a perfect stranger, and steadily changes his perspective on what life may still have in store for him.

Not The Avengers, right?

It's true that movies like this have less and less of a claim on the available spots at the multiplex. But A Month of Sundays is a great reminder of how valid they can still be to the experience of moviegoers just looking for a human-scale story that helps give them a new view on the very real issues they deal with on a day-to-day basis. Yeah, sometimes we go to the movies to escape those issues. But it's probably even more useful to gain some kind of wisdom about them, an actionable kind of wisdom, and A Month of Sundays gives us just that.

A free critics screening card is designed to lessen the financial burden of paying for a bunch of sub-par movies that we are duty bound to review as part of our role as critics. I'm not formally reviewing A Month of Sundays, because I think it would constitute a conflict of interest. But I can tell you without a doubt that paying for this movie felt like no financial burden at all.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Three weeks late for Blah Blah Blay Day


There was something on the calendar on April 17th called "Blah Blah Blah Day."

I know this because my DC Comics calendar told me so.

But I care about it because of Hotel Transylvania 2.

Let me explain.

For Christmas 2014, my wife gave me or my son -- can't remember which -- a 2015 calendar comprised of covers of classic DC comic books. It was entertaining enough, but we didn't really need my sister-in-law to buy us the 2016 edition as well. I'm concerned it may become an annual thing, so that we may never have anyone other than Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman or the Flash looking down at us from the calendar spot on our kitchen wall.

But I digress.

The calendar recognizes a bunch of holidays beyond the traditional ones, though "holidays" may be a strong word for what some of these things are. Case in point: Blah Blah Blah Day, which landed on Sunday, April 17th.

This caught my eye because the words "blah blah blah" are part of a quote from Hotel Transylvania 2 that my younger son loves, even though he had never actually seen the movie. It's also an apocryphal quote, but more on that in a minute.

So my older son and I saw this back at the end of November when it hit theaters here. When we came home, I shared one of the quotes from it that both kids originally loved, but my younger one has held on to much longer. It comes from Adam Sandler's Count Dracula, most often referred to as "Drac." There is a running joke throughout both Hotel Transylvanias in which characters find it an astute impersonation of the most famous of all vampires to speak in a stereotypical Transylvanian accent and say "Blah blah blah." Or really, "Blah blahblah," if you want to get the meter of the line down.

So in the second one, which centers on Dracula's grandchild, the grandchild's first words are "Blah blahblah." When Drac hears this, he can only assume it's because someone has been impersonating him so regularly that the kid has gotten it engraved into his consciousness. He then of course defends himself against such a narrow and by definition inaccurate impression of him. (Inaccurate because no one actually says "blah blah blah.")

So my version of the line was "I don't say 'blah blah blah!' The only time I say 'blah blah blah' is when I'm talking about how I don't say 'blah blah blah!'" My kids are their father's children, so they loved the little bit of linguistic wordplay in this quote. I think they also liked the Transylvanian accent.

So I'd bust out this quote now and again when the situation seemed to call for it. And because my older son is his mother's son, he eventually got tired of the repetition. But the younger one didn't. Maybe he's more my son than hers.

I was eventually reminded of the fact that the younger one hadn't seen the movie yet -- which makes sense, as he's not even two-and-a-half yet -- and I found the perfect occasion to show it to him. My wife and I had spent the night of Saturday April 16th away in a hotel room to celebrate our anniversary, while the aforementioned sister-in-law stayed overnight at our house with our kids. My wife was going to also spend the day on Sunday working on a script she's writing, leaving me home with them. And I noticed it was Blah Blah Blah Day.

At this point it would probably be good to tell you what Blah Blah Blah Day actually is.

According to the internet, it's a day when you are supposed to get done all the boring things you've been putting off. All the tedious tasks that might be denoted by the phrase "blah blah blah." Jerry Seinfeld might have called it Yada Yada Yada Day instead.

For my family, though, it would be the day we'd watch Hotel Transylvania 2, which I rented from iTunes just for the occasion.

But it was my older son -- the one who has moved on just enough from things like Hotel Transylvania 2, even though he's still big into Scooby Doo -- who put the kibosh on the viewing. I slumped my shoulders in disappointment, but unless I have his buy-in on a particular movie, we're not going to sit there for 90 minutes and watch it.

Accepting his preference not to watch it on one particular occasion is one thing. Letting the 30-day rental window elapse without watching it is quite another.

So Mother's Day became the next best occasion to watch it. My wife was going out to treat herself to a 4 p.m. showing of Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, and since I'd already taken the kids out for about four hours in the morning, unwinding with a movie in the afternoon seemed like the perfect thing to do. With a little prodding, the older one acquiesced.

As we were watching, I sat there, excited, anticipating that moment when my younger son would have his mind blown by finally hearing "I don't say 'blah blah blah!' The only time I say 'blah blah blah' is when I'm talking about how I don't say 'blah blah blah!'"

So here is what the line actually is:

Mavis (baby's mother): Come on honey, say it again.
Baby: Blah blah blah.
Dracula: I don't say 'blah blah blah.'
Mavis: We didn't say you did.
Dracula: Then where did he get that?
Baby: Blah blah blah.
Mavis: Well, maybe sometimes you say it.
Dracula: I only say it when I say I don't say it!
Baby: Blah blah blah.

And ... scene.

So I slumped my shoulders in disappointment a second time.

It's too early to tell whether the misquote will continue to live on among our family's private jokes. An appropriate situation hasn't arisen in the three days since Sunday, but even if it had, I suspect I would have been too deflated to try it out again. However, when my younger son next needs perking up, I know I can go to that well and very likely get a smile, as well as his own hilariously broken version of trying to imitate the misquoted line.

I liked Hotel Transylvania 2 pretty well when I saw it, ranking it comfortably in the top half of films I saw in 2015, but realizing I'd been quoting the line wrong was kind of a microcosm of a general sense of deflation I felt on my second viewing. I suppose you just can't replicate the unique circumstances of watching a movie you know your son's been looking forward to in a classic old theater (the Sun in Yarraville), knowing that he's really enjoying it, and feeling pleasantly surprised by it yourself.

I guess maybe we've all moved on from "blah blah blah."

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Still working out the kinks


The lesser of two Australian streaming services we subscribe to is called Presto, and it's a bit of an odd duck.

Oh, it walks like a streaming service and it quacks like a streaming service, but around the edges that duck is a bit ... daffy.

One example: When you are done watching a particular piece of content, it doesn't offer you up any additional suggestions, or as in the case of Netflix, actually start playing you the next thing it thinks you're most interested in watching.

Instead, it offers the following option:


In case you can't read what that says, it's "Replay."

We thought it was weird enough when we were watching episodes of Mr. Robot, the availability of which was the reason we subscribed to Presto in the first place. (Too bad we didn't end up liking the show very much.) I mean, who would come to the end of a television program and then decide they're just going to watch the same program all over again, immediately?

But it's even weirder with feature length content, such as Black Dynamite, which I watched last night. I could see watching the same TV show twice in a row if you think you missed a nuance or something. The time commitment would be comparatively minimal. But the same movie twice in a row? I can only think of two times in my whole life that I've done that, and they were unusual circumstances.

Still, I suppose Black Dynamite is fun enough that I might have watched it twice in a row. Unlike most parodies, it doesn't wink. This is a loving lampoon of blaxploitation films that doesn't only look like a genuine film from the 1970s, but its absurdities are all within the realm of what a cheap blaxploitation film might actually contain. There are no Zucker-Abrahams style cutaways or instances of breaking the fourth wall. It's just an awesomely bad and incredibly fun movie with bad acting and bad dialogue that are intentional, but so subtly intentional that you really could mistake it for the genuine article. Knowing that it isn't just makes you admire the skill that went into it all the more.

I plucked Black Dynamite out of a kind of mind-boggling array of films that Presto has on offer. It's a lot more films than Netflix has these days, and possibly even more than the generous quantity on Stan. So I kind of hope Presto does work out the kinks in its presentation in time to really compete with those services, because right now, it's running a very distant third in Australia. And services that run a distant third either reimagine themselves as a niche product with lower overhead, or just cease to exist altogether.

It may not matter whether Presto gets its act together or not because my wife and I have already decided to cancel it. In fact, only because of Mr. Robot and one or two other shows my wife has now almost finished watching did we even add a third streaming service in the first place. Two is more than enough, and we don't want to just be throwing money away. In fact, the experience of subscribing to Presto has really been little more than a very expensive way to slowly wade through Mr. Robot. It took us like two months to finally watch the finale.

Suffice it to say that we definitely didn't care to replay any of those episodes.