Thursday, July 18, 2019

A useful, under-utilized service

One of the worst things about running late for a movie is that you don’t know how late you actually are. You can tell the number of minutes you’re late on your watch (or really, your phone), but you don’t know how those number of minutes translate to a countdown to the movie’s starting time. Oh, if you’ve been to this theater before, you usually have a good idea how many trailers they play, how much buffer you have between the listed start time of the movie and its actual start. In fact, if the theater is really consistent, you can time it down to the minute.

But what if they aren’t, and what if you can’t?

You never know when some zealous theater employee might start the ads and trailers a few minutes early, or if this is the time when not all the advertisers paid their monthly fees, leading to fewer ads. There are always going to be uncertainties.

Well, my local arthouse theater has removed the uncertainties.

Cinema Nova in Carlton has installed a feature next to the snack bar line – which is also where they sell most of the tickets these days – that shows you a running feed of the upcoming movies and their start times, with a countdown in minutes to when the ads start, and to when the feature itself starts. As in the picture I’ve included above.

It's the perfect way to calm the nerves of a prospective audient, to let them know they do, in fact, have time to buy that popcorn and that drink. That makes it a particularly shrewd movie by the theater, one that benefits both parties. The prospective audient can stay in that line without missing the start of the movie, and the theater can get the money the prospective audient might not have spent on that popcorn and that drink if they thought they were going to be late.

The part that didn’t maybe seem necessary, and therefore is just a mensch move on the part of the theater, is the countdown to when the ads start. (Or, “session,” in the language of this particular screen.) If you happen to be a theatergoer who does not believe your experience is complete if you’ve missed the ads, now you don’t have to. If you’d rather see an ad for a cell phone company and a car commercial than get a bag of M&M’s, Cinema Nova respects that choice.

It came in especially handy on Wednesday night when I went to see Hail Satan?, one of my favorite movies of the year so far, which I may write about at length on another day (and will certainly be reviewing, so check to the right to see if that link is already up). I got to the top of the escalator and was frankly shocked to see about 15 people in line in front of me, with my session time only one minute from starting. Usually there are two or three people at most.

For the health of the theater, I rejoiced, but for my own prospects of getting in to Hail Satan? on time, I fretted. For about three seconds, until I remembered this screen, which tells you exactly how long you have to get that popcorn or drink – or, in my case, my actual ticket. By the time I got to the front of the line, there were still at least five minutes left before the feature started.

I probably should have rewarded them by buying a popcorn and a drink.

I’m now wondering why more theaters don’t do this – or, in fact, any other theaters. I believe this is the first time I’ve seen this type of thing, but it’s so simple that any theater should consider it as a way to improve its customer service. And if there is not one single focal point like there is at Cinema Nova, they could easily post it on a big board somewhere in the lobby, almost like one of those old train schedules at Grand Central Station, apprising you of where you stand vis-a-vis the train's departure.

We’re all late sometimes. Cinema Nova allows us not to suffer the consequences by converting the hypothetical to the actual.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Is context everything?

Five years ago on a trip to the U.S., my wife and I watched the Lake Bell film In a World … while sitting in a cabana next to the heated pool in the place we were staying. It wasn’t a resort or anything; it was a small room in an Air BNB with a really big backyard. It was November, but November is actually usually pretty nice in LA, and the pool was heated anyway. Next to the heated pool there was an even more heated hot tub. It was like being at a resort without paying for being at a resort.

I loved the movie and gave it five stars on Letterboxd. That’s a ridiculously high rating for a small and unassuming independent comedy, but such was my enthusiasm for In a World (ellipses omitted).

When I watched it for the second time last night, I thought 3.5 stars was a more appropriate rating, and might have gone as low as three. It’s a nice little movie and a nice accomplishment for its neophyte director, who is also the star, but it’s pretty disjointed.

How could I have had such a different impression of the core merits of this film now than I did then?

Sure, you experience small fluctuations in how you feel about a movie between viewings. But I’d venture that it’s usually up or down a half-star. Not a jump of a full two stars in either direction.

My conclusion? It was the cabana. It was the hot tub. It was the heated pool.

Our viewing of In a World (ellipses omitted) was in such an idyllic context that I believe I fell in love with the viewing experience as much as the movie. I was in such the right place at such the right time that I overlooked the fact that this is not a great, but merely a good, movie. I was giving that moment five stars, not that movie.

Of course, the evidence of this theory is not as plentiful as the counterarguments against it. In the very same trip, we also watched 22 Jump Street, the sequel to the very satisfying 21 Jump Street. 22 Jump Street is not as satisfying, and accordingly, I gave it the three stars on Letterboxd that I said I’d give In a World (ellipses omitted) if rating it today.

If you want a more extreme example of the potential impact of setting on viewing, and a more extreme example of that setting we had in LA, last year my wife and I went to Bali to celebrate our ten-year anniversary. We watched a movie nearly every night, sitting in a much bigger cabana, next to a private pool. No heat was needed as it was Bali, but I think it may have been slightly heated anyway. We didn’t have our kids with us, and it was probably a week we were looking forward to more than any other in the entire ten years of our marriage.

Yet on that trip, of the three new movies we watched together, we didn’t like I, Tonya, we hated Game Over, Man! and the best of the bunch, Murder on the Orient Express, was meh at best. I watched one movie by myself in bed, which was also meh, and we saw a couple movies I’d already seen, which means they don’t qualify for a discussion of first impressions. Instead of our private villa artificially inflating our perception of the quality of these films, perhaps it actually hurt that perception, as anything that wasn’t up to snuff was a bit of a waste of this precious time away from children and responsibilities. As a matter of fact, I ended up ranking Game Over, Man! as the worst film I saw in 2018.

And then there are all the examples of films I loved despite being in no condition to watch them. The examples likely abound, but the one I’m thinking of is Hirokazu Kore-eda’s Like Father, Like Son, which I watched in bed while convalescing from having a tooth pulled. There was no way I should have watched a drama, a foreign language drama at that, in those circumstances. Yet I teared up on multiple occasions, and not because of any physical pain I was in. I ranked it as my #2 movie of that year.

Seeing and enjoying Aladdin on a mountaintop, as we did over the weekend, and then seeing In a World (ellipses omitted) on my couch on an ordinary Tuesday night, and not enjoying it as much, got me thinking about this. But I don’t think I have any definitive conclusions to draw about the influence of context on one’s perception of a film’s quality, except that there is obviously some correlation, except when there isn’t. The context can never make you hate a movie you would have loved or love a movie you would have hated, but it can push a mildly negative or mildly positive impression toward either extreme.

Which is probably about the conclusion you would have guessed even before I went and wrote a thousand words on the subject.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Cut it out

I noticed that another version of Apocalypse Now is releasing in theaters next month.

And rolled my eyes.

Oh, I'd be okay with a big screen re-release of the original Apocalypse Now. I probably wouldn't grouse about it, either, if they released the director's cut, even though I am not a fan of multiple cuts of the same movie being in existence, in general. It's existed for quite a long time so at least I wouldn't have anything new to grouse about.

But do we have to get another new cut, a third cut, of this classic movie?

This uncertainty about what movie you're talking about when you're talking about the movie is a thing that has plagued Blade Runner. I must say that I have lost a little of my love for Blade Runner just because there are so many damn versions of this movie floating around out there.

Will I have to do the same with Apocalypse Now?

Yeah, it'll be available on IMAX. That's cool. But really, it could have been the original version and still been on IMAX. When I watched Titanic on IMAX in conjunction with its 15th anniversary in 2012, that was cool and I enjoyed the experience. But at least it wasn't with 20 minutes' worth of new scenes that weren't good enough to be in the original movie.

To directors and studios who keep toying with the "ultimate, final, be-all-and-end-all" versions of their movies, I say:

Enough.

Cut it out.

Please. For all our sakes.

Monday, July 15, 2019

My first mountaintop movie

As I've told you on a number of occasions, I love seeing movies when I'm out of town. I love the experience of seeing familiar movies -- familiar in the sense that I've seen ads for them and been anticipating them -- in unfamiliar locations. I prefer tucked away little single-screen theaters, but multiplexes will do in a pinch. My mere lack of acquaintance with them makes them exotic.

You might say that I like these movies in these cinemas to "show me the world," so to speak.

Aladdin may have done that in a way more exotic than all the others.

It's not because Aladdin, set in Arabia, is exotic in and of itself. It's because I saw it on top of a mountain.

See, this past weekend my sons and I went to Mt. Buller, about a three-hour drive from our home in Melbourne. Most people ski there, but my kids have never done that before and I'm still recovering from my dislocated shoulder, so we just frolicked. It's what Melburnians call "going to the snow." It doesn't snow in Melbourne of course, but during the winter months -- June, July and August -- it snows close enough by that you could actually make a day trip of it if you wanted. We made a three-day trip of it, starting Thursday night and returning Sunday afternoon.

At first I thought "going to the snow" would be the name of a hypothetical activity only, and not an actual description of what we were doing. See, Mt. Buller has not gotten much snow this winter. A co-worker who pays more attention to these things than I do told me, as I was departing on Thursday, that I'd be lucky to see much at all. So that's kind of what I prepared for.

Boy was she wrong.

There was a base of snow there already, and the rain on Friday made it wet and easily packable for snowballs and snowmen. That would have been enough to say we'd really had the experience. But then on Saturday the experienced kicked into high gear. Fluffy snow fell all day long, necessitating the chains for our tires we had rented ("hired," as they say here), never expecting to actually need them. There's plenty of drama I could tell you about the installation of the chains, whether they were on the right wheels or not, and my removal of them at 10:30 at night by the side of the road, but I'll spare you the horror. Let's just say that all's well that ended well.

We were still up on the mountain, and not back to our Air BNB about 20 minutes from its base, because we decided to take in Aladdin at the little Mt. Buller theater on Saturday night, starting at 6. Given what I've told you, how could we not?

Here's a picture:


I'd like to tell you the building resembled a small Swiss ski chalet, but as you can probably tell from the picture, it did not. It was actually in a six-story building set into the side of the hill that also includes the post office, a place with a bunch of trampolines and climbing equipment, and even the Mt. Buller campus of the local primary school. The auditorium where the movies are shown functions as a lecture hall and meeting location in addition to Mt. Buller's ticket to the silver screen.

But what the theater lacked in quaintness it made up for in remoteness. This is a theater that cannot even be reached by ordinary car. The village that surrounds Mt. Buller has as many as 50 different restaurants, according to the promotional materials, as well as accommodations, a little grocery store and a bunch of places you can buy and rent ski-related necessities. What it does not have, though, is parking for more than the most essential vehicles, those being the ones used to make and clear snow, and ferry guests up and down the mountain. The rest of the vehicles park five minutes' drive further down the mountain, accessing the peak via free shuttle.

The theater plays two movies per night, and Aladdin fit the bill perfectly, since none of us have seen it and it started at 6. Given how people had cleared out of the village square after it got out, having returned to their rooms or down the mountain already, I realized how much it was really intended for the people who are actually staying on the mountain, and can just walk back to their rooms. Given the events that delayed our return home until almost 11, I'm really glad we didn't see the 8:30 Godzilla: King of the Monsters. But I already said I was not going to horrify you with that.

Anyway, it was a really fun experience. The popcorn wasn't very warm and all up I spent about $70, which is a far cry from the zero money I usually pay to see movies. But we all liked the movie -- I was surprised at how much it overcame the initial shortcomings I perceived it to have -- and my older son declared it "either his second or third favorite movie." Then again, he's said that about each of the past five movies we've seen together.

I'd like to think watching it on the top of a mountain, as an escape from a cold but beautiful winter wonderland, had something to do with it.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Excess exposition or faulty translation?

I consider Hirokazu Kore-eda to be the greatest Japanese filmmaker working today, the modern Ozu. I say this on the basis of seeing only four of his films, but they are four really good films. (And yes, this poster lists his name with the family name first, Kore-eda Hirokazu. I blame Akira Kurosawa for making me unwilling to invert the order of Japanese names when I will gladly do so for Korean and Chinese names.)

But that doesn't mean Kore-eda sometimes doesn't have the golden touch. Or does he?

Today I'm trying to puzzle out whether foreign language films -- specifically Kore-eda's -- don't sometimes contain translations of dialogue that are more expository than they would be in their native tongue.

The film that prompted this question is Our Little Sister, a film he made in a typically prolific period between Like Father, Like Son (2013) and After the Storm (2015), which seems all the more prolific because I actually saw and ranked LFLS with my 2014 films. (Ranked it #2 of the year at that.) I'd always wanted to see Little Sister but it eluded me until this weekend.

Now I should say, Kore-eda's films are expository by nature. By that I mean there is no attempt to be elliptical with the audience. His films, which usually focus on the dynamics of family in modern Japanese society, are straightforward and easy to follow. As it can be difficult to keep track of everyone's relationship to everyone else where extended families are concerned, Kore-eda will go out of his way to remind us of this in the dialogue, and the effort is appreciated.

Even by his standards, though, the dialogue in Our Little Sister seemed unusually expository. I noticed a frequent substitution of a relationship title ("my sister," "your mother") for a character name, even when I thought who was related to who, and how, had been firmly established. For the first time in watching a Kore-eda film, I almost felt like my intelligence was being insulted, ever so marginally. Almost. I respect this filmmaker so much that I can't go any further than "almost."

But what's prompting this post is not moments like that, but moments like this:

"I am in pediatrics, and we try to save lives."

That's a line of dialogue from one doctor to another doctor, and it so happens that these doctors know each other well -- they're dating. I should say, it's my best memory of the line of dialogue, though I'm sure about the first four words, and they are the only ones that matter for the purpose of my argument.

Kore-eda wants to inform us of the medical specialty of the speaker, and that's a fair goal when you are trying to keep the audience up to speed on multiple characters and what they do for a living. But wouldn't this have been much better?

"In pediatrics we try to save lives."

It accomplishes the expository goal but it also doesn't make it seem as though the first character needs to explain to the second character what he does for a living. She knows. She's his love interest. We don't know, which is why you need the line, but my phrasing accomplishes it without the awkwardness.

Since it doesn't seem like Kore-eda to be quite so on-the-nose and to fail to appreciate the dynamics that already exist between these characters, I'm wondering if it is a faulty translation.

I've discussed faulty translations before, but in that instance it was the person in charge of the translation not having a proper grasp of English spelling or grammar. This is different. This is based on an assumption only, and I have no way to prove it.

I'm wondering if the line of dialogue, as written/spoken in Japanese, is more along the lines of my version, but that the person who's translating it failed to grasp the nuance of how to translate it. Oh all the information is there, that's not the problem, but perhaps the sequence of the words makes it seem like the one doctor is telling the other something she already knows, when maybe that isn't what's really happening.

It could also be, I suppose, that this is a literal translation of how it's spoken, but that in the original Japanese, it doesn't come across as repeating information already known. It could be that linguistic custom states you present the information in this order, and the other person doesn't think "Duh, I already know this." Maybe then it requires someone to translate it somewhat less than literally so that the English translation flows as smoothly as the Japanese original.

Look, I really don't know. But I do think that a screenplay can be hurt by a faulty translation, and we would have no idea that it had happened. We would just ding the screenplay.

Our Little Sister is a really nice movie, one that continued to deepen my appreciation of its director, but it's the least essential of his four films I've seen. I note that I've given those four films very positive reviews, but a different star rating in each instance: 5 stars for Like Father, Like Son, 4.5 stars for Shoplifters, 4 stars for After the Storm and now 3.5 for Our Little Sister. I sure hope the trend of giving a different star rating to each film doesn't continue, because that means I will really dislike the rest of Kore-eda's filmography.

The one I should really see, especially as I am considering my favorite films of the decade in time to post my list in January, is I Wish, which I started to watch years and years ago on a night when I didn't have a two-hour movie in me. Realizing that, I stopped it after about one minute. If what I've heard about it is correct, that'll be another 4.5 star or 5 star movie for me.

The success or failure of the nuances of its translation? TBD.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Audient Audit: The Magnificent Seven

This is the sixth in my series Audient Audit, in which I’m checking my personal engraved-in-stone viewing records and seeing if they are truly accurate.

I suspect the reason I thought I saw The Magnificent Seven is because I love Seven Samurai, the movie it acknowledges being based on in the opening credits, so I would of course have prioritized such a viewing back in the day. (In a sign of how they did things differently in 1960 than they would now, they say it’s based on “the Japanese film The Seven Samurai.” Today the filmmakers would be more likely to credit the director or writer and not get hung up on the geographical origins of the film, which seems just a tad xenophobic, though I can’t really pinpoint why.)

Having watched it for this series, I don’t believe I did see it, because I think I would have remembered how shoddy I found it.

I’m not going to say John Sturges’ film is bad, as I gave it 2.5 stars on Letterboxd, which is almost a positive review. But it sure does feel slapdash. It has none of the grandeur of Akira Kurosawa’s original, feeling small and confined to a set, and the acting is as poor as poor can get. Sturges has made a heck of a lot of films, and in the only other one I’ve seen – The Great Escape, which I only just saw for the first time earlier this year – I didn’t notice that being a problem. (And yes, I am ashamed that I didn’t see my first Sturges film until 2019, although to be fair, up until this week I thought I might have seen The Magnificent Seven.)

So do we blame the actors or Sturges? The opening scene, in which we meet the village of Mexican farmers being terrorized by Eli Wallach’s Calvera, is particularly emblematic of their deficiencies. I was reminded of a hacky musical, where characters take turns shouting out (poorly written) lines so that everyone has something to say. I think it’s also just Hollywood at the time, which didn’t know/didn’t care about doing justice to non-white characters. That may be an oversimplification, but The Magnificent Seven gives evidence that it may be the case.

But it’s not just the supporting characters I thought were bad. I really didn’t like Yul Brynner in the central role. This is an Oscar-winning actor (The King and I), but I just didn’t get the ability, or the appeal. And here’s another guy to whom my exposure is minimal. Actually, if you can believe this, I may never have seen Brynner on screen before. His most famous roles (The King and I, The Ten Commandments, Westworld) had all eluded me so far, and I haven’t happened to see any of his more minor ones.

I should say that part of my concern with Brynner is the disconnect of having a guy whose native language is not English playing an American cowboy (named Chris Adams of all things, which is about as American as it gets). But I feel like I can get behind that more now than I would have been able to back then, as we make efforts to discount race or ethnic origin when casting roles nowadays, an initiative I fully support. So maybe the problem was more logistical. Because he uses a stoical clipped delivery in keeping with the character, rather than enunciating, I found it especially hard to understand what he was saying. That inevitably saps some of the profundity from the ending, particularly his line of dialogue that closes the film, which is so powerful in Kurosawa’s original.

As I was tired on Wednesday night when I watched it, I appreciated it wasn’t three hours and 27 minutes long like the original. But I can definitely see what is gained from the extra roughly hour and 25 minutes of running time. Kurosawa really allowed himself the time to develop those characters, such that they achieved distinct personalities, and that you mourned them when they died. Sturges does okay on the distinct personalities, but since you don’t spend much time with these characters, either individually or collectively, their deaths cause almost no impact. Of course, Sturges also just doesn’t have Toshiro Mifune. I tried to figure out who was supposed to be playing the Mifune role, and the closest is this actor who gets the “introducing” credit at the start, Horst Buchholz, who’s the guy, like Mifune, who desperately wants to be part of the team but is not considered up to snuff. Not only is his acting not up to snuff – he was considered the German James Dean but never really took off in the U.S. – but the character itself has a very different outcome. This film desperately needed a character with the arc Mifune’s Kikuchiyo has.

As I did in The Great Escape, I enjoyed watching the collection of charismatic stars, which include guys I got to know when they were much older: James Coburn, Robert Vaughn, Charles Bronson and Steve McQueen. But they don’t seem to have much of a rapport with one another, just another reason this whole thing felt really flat to me. (Plus, where’s the action? There really isn’t any until the final shootout.)

I’m almost done dumping on The Magnificent Seven. But just one final thought. I didn’t think it was a great choice for us to get to know the lead bandito, played here by Eli Wallach. Perhaps it was an attempt to be progressive and give us a complex villain, but in a morality play like this, I think you need clear heroes and clear villains. If I remember correctly we don’t know much at all about the leader of the marauders in Seven Samurai, as they really are essentially faceless villains. Wallach’s character is given several scenes in which his motivations are revealed, and he’s allowed to show mercy, which he does most crucially toward the central seven near the end, just sending them away and giving them their guns back when they are presumed to be out of range of coming back to defend the village. Oops. I needed a more one-dimensional villain I guess. Also Wallach in particular does not strike me as very threatening, as I came to know him during his older years when he was always playing comic relief and always had a big smile on his face. In fact, it was a surprise to me that he would have been considered the right choice to play “the ugly” in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, another film I watched for this series. This predates that by six years, but I saw that one first. 

I don’t have my movie for August picked out yet. Care to make a suggestion? (Kidding; you have no idea what I’m selecting from.)

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

The eccentric geniality of Rip Torn

Rip Torn made his name as a dramatic actor. I didn’t know many, or possibly any, of those roles.

No, I knew Rip Torn as a genial and eccentric afterlife attorney in Albert Brooks’ 1991 comedy Defending Your Life, one of my top 30 films of all time.

Whether that was his typical role or not, it became my model for the charismatic actor who left us at age 88 on Tuesday.

There’s something so adorably odd in the way Torn first greets Brooks’ Daniel Miller, who’s fresh off the boat, as it were, in the afterlife after dying in a car accident. Because of the way Bob Diamond (Torn) has progressed past his earthly incarnation to use 52% of his brain (most humans use only three), he has no way to interact with Daniel that isn’t grinningly condescending. But he doesn’t mean it to be; he just thinks that life (or, afterlife) is a hoot.

Daniel has a series of incredulous questions, but Bob answers them through frustrating non-answers, sometimes looking at him too long, sometimes pausing. It would be unnerving if you were Daniel. If you’re the audience, it’s hilarious, and it’s inimitable. I don’t think I’ve ever seen another actor pull off quite the sort of affect that Torn gives us in this terrific first interview, and then throughout the rest of the movie. He’s just a blissful glad-hander who can’t really relate to a regular human, but he doesn’t mean any offense by it.

Torn brought a similar set of traits to his other most iconic role, at least as far as I am concerned, in Men in Black. As Zed, he treats Will Smith’s J with the same kind of back-clapping, condescending, paternalistic enthusiasm, which Smith finds so exasperating. There’s a whole running bit where he’s always calling J “champ” or “sport” or something of that nature. He might have used the same terms of endearment toward Daniel Miller.

Scanning his filmography, I noticed I happen to have been in Torn’s presence on screen a fair bit recently. Two of my last ten rewatches were Hercules and Marie Antoinette, in which he plays supporting roles. They’re actually similar roles as he plays King Louis XV and Zeus. Both paternalistic, both given to a fair bit of grinning and infectious enthusiasm.

In 2010 Torn took a public turn for the crazier when he was arrested after breaking into a bank after hours while carrying a gun and while extremely intoxicated. This saddened me, because it’s not what Bob Diamond or Zed would have done. I could see both guys enjoying a good drink, but they’d make merry with it. They’d wrap their arm around your shoulder and drop some kind of odd duck comment that made you laugh out loud.

Because he had such a paternalistic nature to him, and because he was already 60 years old when I first met him in Defending Your Life, I never really knew Torn as a young man. Yet I was still surprised to learn he was 88 when he died. Of course that age would make sense for him, but I think it speaks more to the fact that I hadn’t mentally prepared myself to be done with Rip Torn. Even though it had been a decade since I’d made note of any new film appearances from him, I think there was always a part of me that expected one more Bob Diamond or one more Zed to come forth from him before he left us.

R.I.P. Rip.

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Oh the whimsical ways of movie searches

I'm not saying that when you search for a movie on some kind of movie website, you should always get results that are fully relevant. There's an algorithm at work there, and algorithms work in mysterious ways.

But I do think the results you get should be better than this.

When I recently searched Netflix in order to find He Never Died, which I watched last weekend, I got the following first page of search results, in this order. Following each title will be a word or two on what I think they could possibly have been thinking:

Fyre - Huh? Blatant hawking of their own film? "It never happened," I can see, but not "he never died." (Ah, "never" is in the alternative title.)

Dracula - Yes. Why this list is not full of vampire movies, I'll never know.

The Incredibles - Whoops, no. Superheroes don't die, usually, but ... no.

Blazing Saddles – Nothing about Mel Brooks’ 1975 western spoof has anything to do with the words “he” or “never” or “died.” I mean, the film has men in it, but that’s it.

Stoker – Okay, there’s murdering and stuff in this. There could be a tone match at least.

The Apartment – Melancholy film where someone does not commit suicide even though they were contemplating it? So they “never died”?

Pride and Prejudice (2005) – Search me. No seriously.

Videodrome – Another possible tone match, though beyond that, not sure. I mean, this is not “if you liked this, you might like this,” it’s an attempt to return an actual result from the search terms “he never died.”

Network – I can see the relationship to Videodrome.

Get Out – The people whose brains are transplanted don’t actually die … I suppose.

The Polar Express – And this is where my jaw hits the floor.

Good Will Hunting – No connection that I can see. How do you like them apples?

The Jungle Book (2016) – Stop fucking with me. Really.

Edge of Tomorrow – Okay, at last we’re getting somewhere. Tom Cruise plays a character who dies repeatedly and repeatedly starts his day over again. Always dying is the same as never dying when you come right down to it. But this should have been the first result, not the 14th.

Men in Black 3 – Okay you lost me again. Oh wait! Isn’t there some kind of time travel aspect in this movie? Josh Brolin plays a young Tommy Lee Jones? That’s something.

Interstellar – Third best option so far. Matthew McConaughey comes back at the end despite presumed death. I’m clutching at straws here, but at least I don’t have to clutch quite as far on this one.

The Fault in Our Stars – Not so good, because like, um, he does die. Spoiler alert.

Spirited Away – He never died, but he was turned into a pig.

Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me – Yeah sure. Why not.

There were many other pages of results, but I think you get the idea.

Monday, July 8, 2019

Zenyatta Mondatta

... is the name of a 1980 studio album by The Police. It's the one that contains the songs "Don't Stand So Close to Me" and "De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da."

It's also all I can think of when I see the name of the actress who plays Peter Parker's love interest in the Spider-Man movies.

Her actual name is Zendaya, but you can appreciate why it would remind me of the album.

I'm also here to say that I'm not sure I understand why they are trying to make Zendaya happen.

I'll say it: She has no charisma.

Does she look the part? Yeah. She's cute and I could see that a person with her looks should be a star. Bonus points for the ethnic diversity she brings to a major tentpole franchise (her father is African-American and her mother is of German-Scottish ancestry).

But can she act? Not really. And does she have charisma? No, she does not have charisma.

It pains me to say it because I really like what Zendaya represents. But the actual Zendaya? She has all the presence of a dead flounder. She has no pizzazz.

I think there are expectations placed on her of a certain type of personality transcendence based on the fact that she uses only a single-name moniker. You feel like that kind of thing should be reserved only for people who are truly rising above and beyond, like Cher, Prince, Madonna and ... McG.

Of course, you have to choose your name before you know whether you will attain that type of success. You have to put the cart before the horse a bit. Sometimes you don't become Prince. Sometimes you become ... McG.

Zendaya is no McG, at least not yet. And I suppose the admittedly exotic Zendaya, her given birth name, comes back to earth a bit if she decides to go by her full birth name: Zendaya Coleman. Or her really full birth name: Zendaya Maree Stoermer Coleman.

But she's come nowhere near justifying the single-name moniker, and one wonders whether it was ever a logical way to go with her. She is not naturally an effusive performer, not naturally a big personality. She might be as a singer -- she does that too, which is probably in part why she chose the name. But it's not her acting style. And I really doubt it is her singing style either.

I'll pause to note that one of the reasons the "Zendaya is Meechee" meme caught on so fully is that it was a secret takedown of Zendaya and her moniker. The guy who made it would scarcely admit this, but Zendaya the name of an actress is just as silly as Meechee the name of a Smallfoot character. Put them together and bam! Comedy gold. You can and certainly should appreciate it on the level of surface silliness, but I think deep down there's a criticism of Zendaya's lack of a last name, like she hadn't earned it.

Maybe she could have gone the route of Beyonce. Everyone knows Beyonce only by a single name now, but everyone also knows Beyonce's last name (Knowles) because that's how she was credited for a good decade of her career. Once she transcended, she was ready for single-moniker status.

Zendaya's been pretty much a zero for me in both Spider-Man movies, though I will admit to a fondness for how she plays the best scene in The Greatest Showman, the one where she and Zac Efron swing around and serenade each other. It may not exactly be charisma she demonstrates in that scene, and the success of the scene may have more to do with the song and the choreography. But she certainly has more chemistry with Efron than she does with Tom Holland, wonderful though he is. It's enough to get swept up in that moment.

Other than that? Not so much.

I mean, she's only 22, and there are plenty of eventual good actresses/charismatic stars who have learned on the job. But if you are someone with a vaguely self-aggrandizing stage moniker who crosses over to the screen, better to really show us some spark, like Lady Gaga did in A Star is Born.

Either that or I'll never be able to distinguish you from a Police album.

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Bullshit scenes that were actually real

Most people were fans of Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation, but not me. I mean, I thought it was fine. I didn't get what all the fuss was about.

If you asked me to think of one thing to exemplify the problems I had with it, it was that scene where Ethan Hunt has to stick some doohickey in some slot while submerged underwater for what seemed like ten minutes. The scene went on for so long, with so few breaths taken by Hunt (i.e. none), that I remember myself thinking "Oh come on. It's a movie so you can strain credibility, but why would you strain it so far that you leave me no choice but to call bullshit?"

But here's the thing. It wasn't bullshit.

I read today that in the filming of that scene, Tom Cruise actually held his breath for six minutes.

My estimation of this guy's physical capabilities is already sky high after seeing all the stunts he's done in these movies. Now I learn he can also hold his breath for an ungodly amount of time?

(You probably knew this already, but what can I say. People learn things at different times. If I haven't learned it, it's new to me.)

Have you ever submerged yourself in a pool and tried holding your breath? I max out at about 90 seconds. And that's with turning purple in the face and forcing myself to the brink of unconsciousness. Granted, I think part of that is not knowing how long it's been, and maybe thinking you've been down there longer than you actually have. But I'm saying it takes superhuman abilities even to get to two minutes ... or maybe I just have weak lungs.

Cruise can hold his breath for three times that long.

I've read up online and and it is possible. It has something to do with a couple big inhales and a couple big exhales, and ultimately putting yourself into some kind of meditative state.

That's all well and good. But when I think "meditative state," I think of a person sitting in a yoga position, you know, with their palms facing the sky and their thumb touching their fingers. I don't think of a man thrashing around and trying to stick a doohickey into a slot.

The thing is, I don't really know why he had to hold his breath for six minutes. Unless I'm remembering it incorrectly, the action in that scene was way too complex to be captured in a single take. In fact, I'd guess there isn't a single take that lasts longer than 30 seconds. It wasn't Cruise I believed couldn't do it, because I understand how making movies works and I know he didn't need to. It was the character.

I might be able to read up more and find my answer, but I'm guessing it was the positioning necessary to do the 30-second take that required the held breath. He probably had to get down to his mark, do the shot, then swim back up for breath, all without passing out. And presumably with a flotilla of the world's best divers and medics standing by.

And though I probably should read more before posting a post like this, the point is not what the logistics were. The point is that he could actually do the thing I thought was such bullshit that it took me out of the movie.

Anyway, the legend of Tom Cruise grows.

Saturday, July 6, 2019

Bautista blowing up, Stewart selling out

If you were writing a movie featuring a movie star whose career was taking off, you’d likely show his or her face on a billboard, and then the side of a bus, and then a TV ad. The protagonist, assuming he or she was jealous of this particular character, would become increasingly frustrated with each new appearance of his or her rival's beautiful mug.

I got kind of that impression Thursday night when going to the movies to see Spider-Man. Everywhere I looked, there was Dave Bautista.

Fortunately, I love Dave Bautista so it was a good thing.

It was only two instances, but the fact that it was two different movies made me sit up and take notice.

When I first summited the escalator at the Village Crown Casino, and looked up to the big screen above the snack bar, they were playing the familiar trailer for Stuber, Bautista’s upcoming mismatched cop buddy comedy that co-stars Kumail Nanjiani. I say it’s familiar only because I’ve seen it once before. I like both guys so this looks like something worth seeing.

When I took my seat in screening room 6, the trailer playing also featured Bautista, so at first I thought it was Stuber again. It was not. Bautista is apparently following in the footsteps of big action lugs before him – Arnold Shwarzenegger in Kindergarten Cop, Vin Diesel in The Pacifier and Dwayne Johnson in The Tooth Fairy – by starring in a movie with a kid. This one is called My Spy.

Although I welcome the ascendance of Bautista, I do wonder if he’ll be able to sustain what we love about him in a leading role. So far he has excelled as side characters, most notably Drax in Guardians of the Galaxy and the replicant in Blade Runner 2049. He may have played the lead in a straight-to-video movie of some kind, but Hollywood hasn’t come knocking for the big budget wide releases until now.

I guess part of me suspects that as much as I love the former wrestler, he may not actually be a “movie star,” like the guys I mentioned above. He’s probably closest to Diesel, who doesn’t cross over to the same extent as Schwarzenegger or Johnson. Of course, I’m sure he’d be plenty happy if he ended up with Vin Diesel’s career.

Another funny thing about him is that he is already 50 years old. I suppose that makes sense, but if you asked me to guess I likely would have put him at 45. Fifty is indeed a strange age to finally become a leading man.

The next trailer was the first I had seen for Charlie’s Angels, and I was surprised to note something I would have already known if I followed film/social media gossip more closely: It stars Kristen Stewart.

I’d suggest that in signing on to play Batman, Robert Pattinson had made it safe for Twilight stars turned serious actors to go mainstream again. Except that if anything it would be the other way around, as Stewart obviously signed on first.

Both former Twilight stars have worked overtime in the past five to ten years to put that phase of their careers behind them. If one of the two of them were more dedicated to shunning the spotlight, I’d say it was probably Stewart. After finally sloughing off the yoke of the Twilight series in 2012, Stewart has worked for name directors like Ang Lee and Woody Allen, but none of the projects she’s taken could be confused as attempts to earn a paycheck. Pattinson has been more obscure in his choices, with David Cronenberg being about the only household name he’s worked with, but he was never as vociferous as Stewart in how much he hated the trappings of fame.

Yet Stewart has made the choice to earn money again through a movie that seems a bit less likely to be good than The Batman. I wonder if she liked the opportunity to work with a female director, Elizabeth Banks, who also stars as Bosley. It certainly doesn’t seem like we need another Charlie’s Angels, though we haven’t needed any more Batman movies for a while now.

So while I don’t take lightly accusations of people selling out, and appreciate actors who work in both big and small fare, I do think that it seems like Stewart might be doing this, sort of.

Plus I couldn't resist the chance for the alliteration in the title of this post.

Friday, July 5, 2019

Blockbusters far from home

Who knew that National Lampoon’s European Vacation would be a trendsetter 34 years after its release?

Whether it’s something in the air in 2019, or just a variation on the whole Deep Impact/Armageddon phenomenon we’ve been seeing for decades, blockbuster movies are getting out of the U.S. this summer. Which is certainly an instinct I understand, with Donald Trump in office. But it’s enough of a pattern that I finally had to make mention of it.

They aren’t all going to Europe, but two out of my three examples are. And in all instances, they’re series typically set in New York that are fleeing for foreign shores.

Most recently it’s Spider-Man: Far From Home, which released this week and which I saw last night. The rejuvenated Peter Parker and his Brooklyn classmates, having weathered “the blip,” are now on their way for a trip to Europe, chaperoned by the hi-larious comedy duo of Martin Starr and JB Smoove. They seemingly arbitrarily ping pong around the continent just so the action can have a number of different European backdrops. Is this what’s meant to be injecting new life into the MCU? (As you can see, I’m skeptical about the value of the film on the whole.)

Then before that it was the not-just-middling but legitimately bad Men in Black: International, which has basically the same goal. As the guys in a podcast I was listening to yesterday pointed out, is the thing that’s supposed to blow our minds about this movie that the previously Manhattan-set MIB has offices in London and Paris? Really?

The first in the series was John Wick – Chapter 3: Parabellum, which I also consider legitimately bad, but far better than Men in Black: International. Although I don’t remember all the details of Chapter 2, all the shootouts in this series have heretofore taken place in Manhattan, if I’m not mistaken, with a possible trip to the outer burroughs on occasion. This time, some of them took place in Casablanca.

The weird thing is that none of these movies are taking Asian vacations. Isn’t this the age when we are supposed to be blatantly pandering to the Chinese?

The problem is that these movies cannot take vacations from themselves. You can change the scenery, but wherever you go, there you are.

And after seeing all three, I believe they are all arguing for their franchises to take permanent vacations from our viewing schedules.