Tuesday, September 29, 2015

My highest ranked movie I'd seen only once

Given how much Alfred Hitchcock has been in my life lately -- seeing two of his movies for the first time this year, and also rewatching Vertigo for a recent podcast discussion -- it seemed like even more of an oversight than it usually does that I'd seen my favorite Hitchcock only once.

So I took steps to correct that about a month ago, renting Rear Window for an overnight at a hotel that was a Father's Day present for me. I didn't watch it at the time, but got to throw it on with my wife this past Sunday night, when the rental was within five days of expiring.

Not only was this my favorite Hitchock movie I'd seen only once, it was also my favorite movie, period, that I'd seen only once. Rear Window currently slots in at #29 on my all-time list on Flickchart, eight slots ahead of Schindler's List, my next highest single viewing.

Now that I've corrected that, I suppose I have to figure out when I'm going to sit down a second time with Steven Spielberg's 1993 best picture winner, a consummate one-timer if ever there was one.

And now that I've corrected that, I may need to do some more correcting. I feel like the very foundation of my feelings about Hitchcock and his movies has been shaken.

It pains me greatly to say this, dear readers, but my second viewing of Rear Window was a slog.

The first sign of trouble occurred when I checked out the film's running time. An exhausting weekend in which I'd stayed up way too late on both nights had left me excited for Rear Window to be about 90 minutes, which is what I fully expected it would be. As it takes place exclusively inside L.B. "Jeff" Jeffries' apartment, I have always thought of this as a lean and tight movie. In fact, its apparent leanness and tightness are two of its attributes I have celebrated most chiefly when discussing the works of Hitchcock.

Nope. Rear Window is 113 minutes. I felt myself start to worry a little bit.

Now before I go any further, let me remind you that I was very tired on Sunday night. Not only had I had two late nights, but also two days out that were various degrees of trying, due largely to my kids being shitheads. Add to that the inevitable biological impact of a stark change in the weather. Just in the past few days it's gotten a whole lot hotter, a possible early promise that this summer will make up for the wimpy one we had last year.

So it will be impossible to purely judge the basis for me liking Rear Window less than I thought I did. Viewing circumstances always factor in to these things, and the circumstances for watching Rear Window were unfavorable to me, to say the least.

But boy, was our viewing of Rear Window a slog.

My wife felt it too. She had not stayed up as late as I did on either Friday or Saturday night, but we did have a whole discussion earlier in the day about how exhausted we both were. This is something you discuss regularly when you are a parent. So she was not at her freshest either, but she wasn't nodding off like I was. Still, she also found that it seemed like a bit of a chore.

"I mean, it's an old movie," she said, acknowledging both the likelihood of a different pace and the need to come in with different expectations.

But Rear Window didn't feel like an old movie when I watched it the first time. It grabbed me by the lapels and demanded my attention. And according to my memory of it, it had me on the edge of my seat. It seemed fast and momentous and bursting with a kind of nervous tension that became the tonal building blocks for the modern thriller.

Where was all of that on Sunday night?

I don't know, but I'm not prepared to say it's lost for good. All I'll say is that I've got to rethink this whole Rear Window adulation. At the very least, it now seems a tad ill-informed. I'd say that I will quickly prioritize a third viewing, to be held at a time when I'm fully awake or at least effectively caffeinated. But another conclusion of that discussion with my wife about our exhaustion was that it was part of our human condition. I posited to her that even if she spent a month alone on an island, sleeping whenever she felt like it and putting only good things into her body, she'd still feel exhausted. This depressed her, but she also realized the potential validity of my theory.

So in short, I may never be significantly more rested and alert to watch Rear Window than I was on Sunday night. Not enough to make the difference, anyway.

As I discussed here, though, a movie that you love should break through your corporeal weaknesses. It should be the very antidote to your exhaustion. So now I must consider the possibility that I don't love Rear Window.

Well, if Rear Window is not my favorite Hitchcock movie, then what is?

Flickchart tells me the answer is North by Northwest. And fortunately, this one stands up to recent scrutiny. I saw North by Northwest for the second time just two years ago, in 2013, and I was enthralled by it. The way I felt about North by Northwest after that viewing was the way I expected to feel about Rear Window after this one.

But am I ready to be the guy whose favorite Hitchcock movie is North by Northwest? I was comfortable with it being my #2, but #1? I don't know, it seems too mainstream or something. As though Rear Window were not already a mainstream answer to that question.

Perhaps the real answer is that I need to rewatch my #3 and #4, which are Rope and Rebecca. I remember loving both of these without hesitation. Then again, that's what I felt about Rear Window as well. What I thought I felt, anyway.

Second viewings can be dangerous. Sometimes, they don't have the effect on you that you think they will, that you hope they will. Might make a person wonder if they're better off just seeing the movie once and living contentedly in the memory of how enjoyable it was to watch that one time -- even if that could be a false memory, or a memory that doesn't stand up to scrutiny.

But that's a pretty poor solution. If you suspect a movie might drop significantly on a second viewing, it likely means you know there's something wrong with it. Probably always better to find that out than to go on worshipping false idols. You can't really be sure you love a movie until it has had the same effect on you at least twice. And with movies you love, you should always want to deepen your appreciation of them by experiencing them again and again.

And besides, I never would have suspected Rear Window would be anything other than magnificent on its second viewing. That it wasn't magnificent for me was a total shock, a shock I'm still trying to grapple with.

Before I leave you today, I want to reassure you of something. I still like Rear Window. I still like Rear Window quite a bit. I especially still like the final 20 minutes. I just never expected it to be so hard to wade through the rest of it to get to those final 20 minutes. I never expected there to be so much Window dressing, so to speak.

Lesson learned? Maybe I'll just rest comfortably with my recollections of the brilliance of Schindler's List, after all.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Strike two on live action

Another Sunday, another movie my son couldn't watch to its completion.

What do you do when thematic material forces your five-year-old son out of the theater because it's too scary? You double down in the opposite direction, taking him to a movie about a dog and a penguin.

Unfortunately, this time we had to leave not because he was too scared, but because he was too bored. And then, later, because he was too scared.

Fortunately, this time "we" did not include me.

My wife got free passes to the Australian children's film Oddball through her work, and planned to take my son sometime this weekend. That sometime ended up being a 10:30 a.m. Sunday morning show. This was a nice change for me, as it allowed me to stay home while my younger son napped. I'm usually the one that takes my older son to the movies, a responsibility I obviously don't mind, but this one didn't pique my interests. And since it would serve my wife to be familiar with Oddball for her work, she was the logical candidate to take him anyway.

Once they were in their seats, she texted me that her fingers were crossed, a reference to the previous week's failed Pan screening that I somehow am now mentioning for the fourth time on this blog.

I thought all was going well, but it turned out I missed a text from my wife about 40 minutes in stating "We're out - hope to lure him back in with a treat." Boredom at too many adults talking for too long of a time, it seems.

She did this successfully, apparently -- but then they had to leave before the movie ended anyway, because my son was agitated about some part involving a girl going to the pound, where her dog was set to be destroyed. Obviously the dog emerged fine, but my son wasn't to know that, which I guess makes him kind of the ideal audience member in terms of creating narrative tension. My wife tried to convince him that the movie was likely to have a happy ending, but he wasn't going for it. The second departure was permanent.

Unfortunately, now it seems that a new factor has been introduced into my son's moviegoing experiences -- video games. He appears to have remembered that I let him play some games when he forced us to leave Paddington early last December, and he tried to pull off the same thing after Pan last week, only I was too annoyed to indulge him. When the Oddball cinema didn't have any games, he whined and grumbled about it to my wife for the next hour.

One problem at a time.

The problem of getting him to sit for a whole movie can be resolved in one of two ways:

1) Just stop going to the movies for a while, until he has clearly passed a new milestone in his maturation that would give us the confidence to try again.

2) Just stop going to live action movies.

It's the live action movies that have consistently been a failure. Starting with Paddington and now the last two, he hasn't made it through one yet. So I guess maybe that's really strike three rather than strike two. Even the ones we've watched at home, like Hop and The Smurfs 2, were movies he gave up on. These tend to lodge in my memory less because in those cases, I ended up finishing the movie even when he didn't.

Conversely, even though a couple animated movies have gotten dodgy for him -- like, he really wanted to leave Big Hero 6, but I coaxed him back from the edge -- we have yet to actually make an early departure. And in a movie like Inside Out, which definitely has a couple scary moments, leaving early was not even put forward as an option by him.

So to try to get us back on track, it looks like our next attempt will be ... Hotel Transylvania 2. We saw a trailer for this in the lobby while waiting for Pan to start, and he was really into it. He likes things that are "spooky," but also if they are more funny than they are spooky. Which pretty much exactly describes the tone of this series ... especially if you consider "funny" to mean "attempting to be funny."

We found the original at the library yesterday, and plan to watch it on Wednesday when we're home and the younger one is napping. If that's a hit, I'll have good confidence that the sequel will be too.

Because they tend not to care too much about Halloween in Australia, Transylvania 2 is not actually coming out until November 26th.

That'll give him a couple months to let the "traumas" of the past week subside in his memory, as well.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

That part when Greg didn't pass "It" on, and other It Follows plot holes

By now we've all seen It Follows, right? So I don't have to give you a spoiler warning, right?

Well, here's one anyway: It Follows spoilers ahead.

Actually, it's unsafe to assume the universal patronage of It Follows because my wife was only seeing it for the first time on Saturday, hence the occasion for me to revisit it.

And though certain parts of what I liked about the movie were reinforced -- the atmosphere, the cinematography, the score -- the second viewing showed me that the movie holds up to scrutiny even less than I initially thought it did.

What follows, so to speak, is a series of goofy things about this movie, whose surprising quantity does not actually make me think this is a bad movie. It's just a seriously flawed one, a sin that is compensated for by it also being chilling and original.

A good place to start is what I teased in the subject line: The part where Greg didn't pass "It" on.

Greg, you may recall, is the neighbor who lives across the street from Jay, the film's main character. We later find out that Greg and Jay had been sexual partners previously, which is why it's not such a big deal when Greg offers to rid Jay of her STD (sexually transmitted demon) and, presumably, pass it on to somebody else.

The "presumably" is the confusing part.

The very next shot after we see Greg mounting Jay in a hospital bed is Greg sitting in that same hospital's cafeteria, chatting up a table of three other women, who by all appearances are strangers to him. The score switches up to what passes for whimsical in this collection of ominous synth. It's a visual joke, and we're meant to kind of laugh at the fact that Greg, a real Casanova, is already working up a plan to move the STD right along. Wham, bam, thank you ma'am. He was figuratively a ladykiller before, and now he's sort of actually becoming one.

Except he doesn't pass it on.

See, the next scene is him visiting Jay in the hospital again, telling her it's been three days and nothing has happened.

This is problematic for two reasons, which helps bridge us to our next topic.

1) It means the scene of him chatting to the other women in the hospital is just a red herring. Either he never intended to give the demon to any of them, or he intended to but lost his nerve. If it's the latter, it's worth showing us the scene where he loses his nerve. If it's the former, it's not even worth showing us the shot of him chatting up the women. Since it has no purpose, it just becomes narrative static. And it's not the only time Mitchell is guilty of misleading us like this with no ultimate purpose to it.

2) It's been three days, and nothing has happened.

Let's think about that for a second. Last time we saw "It," it had attacked Jay at the lakefront, and she'd sped off in Greg's car to escape it. However, she didn't get far before she spun out of control into a cornfield, enough of an accident to land her in the hospital. And not some far away hospital, you would assume. Typically when someone's in a car accident, they go to the nearest hospital. When that person is being followed by an "It," the "It" keeps following to that hospital.

Except Jay wakes up some number of hours later, and "It" has not arrived yet, nor does "It" appear to be anywhere nearby. Only then does Greg sleep with Jay to receive the sexually transmitted demon. After which he goes back home, reports back to her three days later to tell her nothing has happened, and then they both go home again to their separate houses.

Some untold amount of time later, even a day or two more, "It" finally makes a play for Greg -- a successful play, as you recall. I mean, that's what happens to you if you're the kind of non-believer Greg is.

What was "It" doing for nearly a week's time, then?

I'd buy the argument that when the person being stalked by "It" changes, a short period of confusion could ensue. Maybe "It" needs to get recallibrated or something. Maybe "It" needs to change its destination on its internal GPS. But if that's the case, why did "It" recallibrate so quickly when Jay was first infected? Jeff, then known has Hugh, knew that if he knocked her out and waited a half-hour or so, "It" would show up -- pursuing her, not him. The explanation for why "It" takes so long to reach Greg is unsatisfactory at best.

And let's talk a little bit about what I want to call "The Chain of It Infection."

Pretty early on we're told about "It"s MO, which is that it stalks you until it kills you, and then it goes back to the person who infected you. Let's forget for a minute how Jeff, then known as Hugh, knows this.

Actually, let's not. Jeff, then known as Hugh, presumably only knows what he knows because the girl before him told him how it all works. Except she didn't, or does not seem to have, because he says he doesn't even know her name. I guess that could be a lie, but we're never given any reason to doubt anything else Hugh, now known as Jeff, says once he comes clean to Jay about passing on the STD, so why should we disbelieve him here?

Yet it's total bullshit that he would not know what her name was, because if this woman had half a brain, she'd want to give him her cell phone number. If she wanted to survive, if anyone in The Chain of It Infection wanted to survive, they'd need to develop a support network of checking in with each other that's so regular, it would put Desmond typing in the numbers on that computer in Lost to shame.

See, as much as you want to cut and run on the person you've infected -- just put miles and miles between yourself and him or her, and between yourself and his or her police precinct -- you can't do that because you depend on that person. You depend on that person answering that phone when you call, because if they don't answer it, they could be dead. And then "It" could be coming for you again.

In fact, the longer The Chain of It Infection gets, the more important it is that everyone in the chain stays in regular contact with each other. Your first instinct is, of course, not only to pass on the sexually transmitted demon, but to have the person you infected also pass it on as soon as possible, and then tell their victim to do the same, and so on. Right? The more layers of removal from you, the greater your sense of comfort. The more your life returns to normal.

But the object of that greater comfort is to steadily give yourself peace of mind, something that's sorely lacking when you know that not only is sleep your enemy -- you're most likely to buy it while succumbing to exhaustion -- but your loved ones could also be your enemy, because "It" could disguise itself as one of them. (A loved one with a vacant look and shambling gait, but I digress.) The thing is, the more peace of mind you get, the lower your defenses. If you passed on the STD a year ago and haven't seen any sign of it, you definitely won't be prepared one day when it waltzes up -- waltzes up in a shambling sort of way -- and bites you on the neck.

The solution? Don't only tell your victim how it works, but get your victim's phone number, and give your victim the phone numbers of everyone else you already have in your phone who have done the same thing before you. At least once a day -- more often as needed -- you need to call the person you infected to make sure they still have a pulse. Because if you don't call them, and they don't have a pulse, your mother knocking on your bedroom door could be there to rape and murder you.

But here's the thing: That's not the only solution. Not nearly.

What other solution is there? Distance.

One infected person could choose to put a stop to all this by simply going bicoastal.

For this one sacrificial soul, who would have to alter their life but would save everybody else, all you have to do is figure out how long it would take a person to walk across the United States, and you'll know how long you can expect to be safe. Since "It" is always walking -- never grabbing the bus, never hopping a plane, never even coming into possession of a pair of rollerskates -- you can figure out mathematically the least amount of time you could possibly have. And then you just start moving back and forth between New York and California, being sure to leave each new location before the amount of time it takes for a human being to walk 3,000 miles expires.

Let's say that's three months. I'm thinking it's probably more than that, but for the sake of argument, let's say three months. Three months is plenty long enough to convince somebody in some small town that you're harmless and that they should hire you to be a busboy at a local restaurant. Yeah, you don't have any resume and you're fairly vague about the experience you have, but you seem nice enough and anyway, they need somebody who doesn't mind working the overnight shift. Oh, it won't be paradise, and you'll probably just be scraping by. But you can do it -- this is your lot in life now. You can probably even have a bit of fun -- just don't sleep with anybody, because it ruins the plan.

When it gets to two months and three weeks, you know you need to get your affairs in order. And then like David Banner on the old Hulk TV show, you just move on to the next town -- or, the town 3,000 miles away, anyway. You can drive, you can fly if you've got the money, you can even hitchhike. Just get back to that other coast and let the process start all over again.

Then of course the question is: What route do you take? I think we can accept it as a given that "It" considers the closest distance between two points to be a straight line. Therefore, if you just retrace your steps back across country using the route you used last time, you will meet up with "It" somewhere along the way. Boy, that would be a humdinger. You think you've taken all the necessary precautions, then you end up meeting "It" at a truck stop in Elko, Nevada, which looks surprisingly familiar because you stopped at this truck stop your last time coming across country. Wait a minute ...

So you don't take the same route. If you're flying, it doesn't matter anyway, because you know it's against the rules for "It" to be on that plane, and anyway, you'd have had to really procrastinate to let "It" get close enough to meet you at the airport and board your plane at the same time. But if you're driving or hitchhiking or even taking the bus, watch out. Go north first before starting back across country. Or go south. If you came across on Interstate 10, go back on Interstate 90. If you came across on Interstate 90, go back on Interstate 10. You get the idea.

But don't leave too soon. That's the other trick. As soon as "It" senses you are on the move, "It" changes direction. You want to make sure that "It" is less than a week away before you jump back to the other coast. If "It" has only made its way to within 1500 miles of you, that's only 1500 miles it has to go back when you fly 27,000 feet over "It"s head. (And I'd like to see that moment when "It" senses you up in the clouds in a 747, cranes its head upward, mutters some kind of profanity and makes a half-hearted leap in your general direction.)

Okay, if you've come this far with me down this rabbit hole, why not stick around for a few basic WTF moments in the film?

1) Remember how I said Mitchell gives us a bunch of red herrings? One of those times is when Jay gets her closest to what is a really good idea. Having slept the night on the hood of her car -- a nice image, but not very realistic -- she goes down to the nearby waterfront to take a quick dip. She sees a couple guys out in a boat, and the logical message we're supposed to take from that is that she realizes that a boat might be her salvation. I mean, "It" can't walk on water. "It" ain't no Jesus Christ.

But she doesn't go on a boat, nor does she even share this idea with any of her friends. If anything, it leads indirectly to the cockamamie scheme to electrocute "It" at a local swimming pool with a series of kitchen and household appliances.

2) And let's ponder that scene for a second. It's okay that we didn't witness the brainstorming session that led to this idiotic idea, but just what did these kids think they were going to accomplish with electrical appliances near a swimming pool except electrocute their own damn friend who's swimming in the pool? That should have won somebody a Darwin Award right then and there.

3) That scene is one of the film's weakest also because it represents one of those times when "It" deviates from its MO. From what we've seen, "It" simply follows you until it gets close enough to pounce, and then it basically destroys you almost immediately. What it doesn't seem like "It" should do is pull your hair, or blow a hole in a door and then wait outside dramatically for 15 seconds before coming in, or angrily throw TVs at you. "It" doesn't even really seem like it should throw a rock to break your living room window. "It" is at its most fully realized when "It" simply lurches forward like a zombie. If there's a door in the way, it seems as though "It" should just keep walking into that door like a windup toy continuing to walk into a wall until its unwound. Wouldn't that kind of make "It" even more chilling?

4) And anyway, when has standing on the roof of a house ever been part of "the closest distance between any two points is a straight line"?

5) And anyway, are hospitals some kind of immunity zone for this thing? Jay is in the hospital like three times in this movie and is never once visited by an orderly wearing only one tube sock and pissing herself. Especially on that first night, when it would stand to reason that she and Jeff (then known as Hugh) were on a date in a town near where she lived. The hospital must have really confused "It" because quite a period of time elapses before "It" finally shows up as that old woman approaching Jay in the quadrangle outside her poetry class.

6) And anyway, what are the rules for when "It" changes appearance? Why is "It" a girl wearing one tube sock and pissing herself when it's downstairs, and a tall man with eyes gouged out when it's upstairs?

7) And anyway, why is "It" sometimes a loved one and sometimes a stranger?

8) And anyway, forget going on a boat, because that's only a temporary solution, assuming the boat has to eventually dock again. What about moving to another continent entirely, one separated from your continent by water? What about moving to Australia? Would "It" be within its rights to wait for one of those big ships carrying shipping containers to pull up to the dock so "It" could walk on and eventually walk off once that ship docked in Australia? Would "It" have to continue walking into the front railing for the entire duration of the voyage, because that's the direction you'd be in? Would "It" be allowed to sit down for a while with a cup of coffee and a newspaper? Does "It" have any podcasts that "It" needs to catch up on?

9) And anyway, what if you went to outer space? What if you somehow bought your way aboard the Russian space station? Would "It" just spend the rest of its days down on Earth, making those same futile jumps at the sky? How long would it do this before it exploded? Or just got sick of it all and skipped you in the chain? Or would it too somehow find its way on board the Russian space station?

10) And anyway, where does that girl who was killed at the beginning fit into The Chain of It Infection? She wasn't given the sexually transmitted demon by Jeff, possibly known to her as Hugh or possibly as some other pseudonym, because Jeff would have told us about his previous attempt to pass on the STD that boomeranged back on him. Remember, we're believing everything Jeff tells us. So the only conclusion, then, is that once this girl was killed, "It" came back to kill the guy who proceeded Jeff in The Chain of It Infection. That guy then gave it to the woman who ultimately gave it to Jeff. That's pretty damn convoluted.

11) And anyway, if Jeff, then known as Hugh, knew that "It" had closed to within only a few hours of him, why would he choose to go on a date to the movies, where his attention would clearly be diverted? Why would he carelessly pass the time in line by indulging in a nice relaxed game of "trade places with someone"?

12) And anyway, that's probably just about enough "and anyways."

If you're still reading, congratulations -- you are one determined SOB.

You know, despite all this, I still think it's a really good movie.

Amazing what some atmosphere and a killer score can do for you.

Remember that part waaaaaay at the beginning of this piece, that part where Greg didn't pass "It" on? I just thought of a third possible explanation. Maybe Greg did pass it on to one of those girls at the hospital, only he didn't tell Jay out of a warped sense of trying not to hurt her feelings. (It wouldn't be warped except under these sexually forthright circumstances.) Also, he didn't properly notify the girl and explain to her how to stave "It" off. That would explain the delay in "It" coming back to him ... and it could also explain the girl who dies at the beginning of the movie. Maybe if I watched It Follows again, I'd recognize that girl as one of the three girls sitting at this table.

Then again, if I watched It Follows again, maybe I'd find enough more plot holes to write an addendum to this post that's even longer than the original post.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Really putting my AFCA card to the test

Like Tangerine earlier this week, Sicario is too good a movie to "waste" on talking about a phenomenon completely tangential to it, which has only to do with me and my own viewing anecdotes.

Fortunately, I wrote a review of it that should be linked on the right within a couple days, so please, check back.

Now, on with today's anecdote.

It's been a steady process of training Melbourne's cinema box office staffers to recognize my Australian Film Critics Association card without looking at it quizzically, or at first thinking it entitled me only to a $3 discount. I've never been denied entry into a film I've tried to see with it, but a couple managers have been called, and sometimes with reluctance.

I've been a dozen times now, though, and the last five or six times, it's been a breeze. And sometimes I don't even need to sign the little free ticket voucher, which they probably just stick in a drawer and never look at again anyway.

Like Friday night. Friday night, I decided I was really going to push the bounds of the ticket sellers' good humor.

It was my night to make my second attempt at Pan, the movie I had to leave early (very early) on Sunday when my son found it too scary. I was still expected to review it -- by myself, if not my editor, who would have gladly let it pass without a review -- and I wanted to get to it soon after its Thursday opening, so it wouldn't become too stale. (And more later on further discoveries of why he thought it was scary.)

But I thought it would be a waste of a night out only to see the 6:50 showing. I had been expecting to wait until Tuesday night to watch Sicario, which I was also reviewing (as I told you above). But Sicario also opened on Thursday, and the same logic of trying to get it up on the site as soon as possible applied here. So the perfectly timed 9:15 screening at the same cinema was a great option for me.

The trick was that I had never tried to see two movies in the same cinema in the same night using my AFCA card. I'd watched Trainwreck on the back of One Floor Below at this very cinema about six weeks ago, but One Floor Below was a MIFF movie, for which I'd paid my full $19.50. I thought the wrong kind of ticket seller could become grumpy over such an apparent abuse of the system, and there was no option of waiting until after Pan to buy the second ticket, because I didn't want to risk Sicario selling out on its second night open.

Then there was another complicating factor, which was that the 6:50 showing of Pan was in 3D. Some of the cinema chains participating in AFCA strictly forbid the use of the card for 3D, while others just charge you just the additional fee. Palace Cinemas, of which Cinema Kino on Collins is a member, did not seem to specifically forbid 3D, but it could certainly be a source of confusion or calling of managers if I got a squeamish ticket taker who sensed I was trying to get away with something. And given that I was on a pace to arrive only five minutes before the show started, there wasn't particularly time to wade through red tape.

Fortunately, the woman I got couldn't have had a friendlier smile on her face when she rung up both tickets. I didn't need to tell her what the card was, and we didn't have to wrangle over whether it was free or just a discount. I was just handed two tickets and told to enjoy my night.

There was a bit of confusion, I guess, in that somehow the woman thought I had asked to see consecutive showings of Sicario. I couldn't see any logical reason why a person would need to do this -- and that really would be an abuse of the spirit of the system -- but she was only too happy to produce me two tickets for the same movie. "That'll be in the same theater," she told me.

"Really?" I said, unable to imagine why Pan and Sicario would be sharing the same screening space, but only too happy myself to shrug and go along with it. It was then, of course, that I noticed that both tickets said Sicario on them. "Is that okay?" I asked, thinking she was circumventing best practices even more than she was.

The confusion was quickly sorted out, and she produced me two distinct tickets for two different movies.

And once Pan started, I finally learned why my son thought that a pirate was going to kill everyone, as discussed both here and here. It turns out that in the movie's actual foreword, so to speak -- a short bit of female narration that never repeats itself during the movie -- it says as much. In trying to explain to us that we're seeing a prequel to the events in the Peter Pan timeline that we're familiar with, it talks gently and poetically about "the boy who could fly and the pirate who wanted to kill him" starting out as friends. The tone is so gentle, and the images are a bunch of stars in constellations twinkling and taking on shapes, that the word "kill" went in one of my ears and right out the other. Not my son, I guess. It lodged right in there and colored those crucial ten minutes of the movie that made him want to leave.

Wish I could say that this was Pan's only misstep, but I surely cannot tell you that in good conscience. In fact, this was one of my least favorite movies of the year, as the review (which will also be posted in the next few days) on the right will tell you.

How glad I am that my son didn't end up seeing this junk, I can't even tell you.

Next up in testing my AFCA card: three consecutive movies.


Friday, September 25, 2015

Establishing a pace

In my (so far) least enjoyable series of 2015, I'm checking back in with you on my progress through the Fast & Furious movies, this time with the one actually called Fast & Furious.

Way back when the latest, #7, was first released in March or April, I committed to catching up with the series by the end of the year in order to rank that movie with my 2015 movies. It was a glum proposition, though. It took me forever to finally throw on The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, and that lackluster viewing experience made me really wary about episode # 4, Fast & Furious.

Fortunately, this even more lackluster viewing experience won't daunt me to watch Fast Five, which is when I understand this series finally gets good. Or better, anyway. (I'm guessing The Rock has something to do with that.)

In fact, it's allowing me to establish a pace.

Now that I've dragged my heels so much on doing this, I know I must watch an average of one of these movies a month if I want to reach my goal. That's doable. I can watch Fast Five in October, The Fast and the Furious 6 in November and Furious 7 in December/January -- before my ranking deadline in mid-January, anyway. It's doable.

The fact that these movies start clocking in at more than two hours gives me some pause, but I'll manage.

As dull as I found Fast & Furious to be -- and I found it pretty dull -- it also has the much-anticipated function of establishing a narrative pace within this series. Now all the main character elements that are in place for the rest of the series are actually back on board, and presumably, everything that happens from here on out has a direct relationship to everything else. This could not be said of the last two movies, only the first of which had Paul Walker and only the second of which had Vin Diesel -- and only in a one-minute cameo at the end. (If he were willing to do a cameo, I wondered at the time I saw it a couple months ago, why didn't he just do the whole damn movie? Wasn't his willingness always the issue? Wasn't it that he thought these movies were beneath him?)

In fact, Tokyo Drift was so different from this series' timeline that it makes me wonder why they bothered to have any connective tissue between the third and fourth installments whatsoever. But indeed, the character of Han (Sung Kang) from Tokyo Drift shows up for the opening heist in Fast & Furious, definitely its best set piece and probably its best section overall. After he hands off the baton, they send him on his way.

What follows is a very ho-hum revenge tale set in the world of drag racing, as Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) is killed (off-screen) and it's up to Dom (Diesel) to avenge her. For the longest time, though, I had difficulty being sure that she was actually the character who died, so little emotion does Diesel show over her death. Maybe Diesel didn't want to repeat his grieving excesses in A Man Apart, but he shows little more than a scowl upon learning that she died and upon dispassionately watching her funeral from afar. Justin Lin's directing is terrible in this way throughout, as Walker's line deliveries felt particularly stilted as well. And Walker is (or was) a pretty good actor, probably better than Diesel, who isn't offering much of an effort these days.

But let's get back to Letty's death for a minute. Having been privy to the advertising campaigns for the subsequent installments of this series, I happen to know that Rodriguez appears in them, so I was expecting her death to be revealed as a hoax by the end of the movie. Nope. So now I'm wondering how this series brings her back, whether it's ultimately revealed that she faked her death, or whether they're going the soap opera route by giving her a twin sister.

For the first time in this series -- both the series of movies, and in my 2015 viewing series -- I actually look forward to finding out.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Audient Auscars: West Side Story

This is the ninth in my 2015 series in which I try to catch up with the remaining best picture winners I haven't seen, one per month.

Of the two musicals I've seen so far in this series -- I don't count The Broadway Melody as a musical, though I guess it probably is -- West Side Story was the one with which I already had some familiarity.

The first one, Gigi, was new to me. The songs were one of the only things I appreciated about that movie, and I didn't appreciate them all that much. West Side Story, on the other hand, I've "known" for ages, in the sense that I saw it performed at the high school in my town when I was still in junior high. I was so enthralled by that production, by the melodrama of those songs and the earnestness of their performance, that I think watching West Side Story at the age of 12 or 13 was a big contributing factor in my decision to participate in musicals once I got to high school. An important show in my maturation, to be sure -- especially if you extrapolate from that a love for musicals as a movie genre, which causes me to seek out most new musicals even if I'm not completely versed in the classics.

Classics like West Side Story. It seems logical that I should have picked up the 1961 best picture winner somewhere along the way, but I never did. If either of my parents had been into musicals, they might have exposed me to it, but neither of my parents exposed me to much of anything cinematically, even though they would both probably describe themselves as movie fans. (My mom much more so than my dad.)

Anyway, fast forward to September of 2015 and I am only just now seeing it. But because of my history with the show, it's easily the previously neglected best picture winner I've been looking forward to the most.

And it didn't disappoint. I don't know that I consider West Side Story a masterpiece, but it's almost definitely the best movie I've watched so far in this series ... even if it has not aged particularly well. However, in considering the issue of how it has aged, one has to be mindful of the fact that this was never considered a "realistic" depiction of gang behavior on the upper west side of Manhattan. It was always highly stylized, even at the time it was created -- which may be a rather obvious comment to make about a movie where people "dance fight." It seems worth stating, though, because it would be easy to imagine someone raised on either modern gang movies or modern musicals just to laugh this one off from the start.

If you did that, you'd be missing some really enthusiastic performances of some truly terrific songs. West Side Story is one of those musicals with so many hit songs, each one you hear you say, "Wait, I didn't realize that was from West Side Story." In fact, the only song I retained from my early teen viewing was "Maria," which stuck in my brain because of the impassioned performance of the high school actor who sung it. If pressed, I might have also told you that "America" was from the show. But would I have ever provided "Tonight," "I Feel Pretty," "One Hand, One Heart" or "Somewhere"? Definitely not. I probably would have told you that "I Feel Pretty" was from My Fair Lady (which I'll be watching in November) and that the others were from ... I don't know, other shows I guess. It would have seemed unlikely that a single show could be so overloaded with memorable songs, but West Side Story is that show. Leonard Bernstein, Stephen Sondheim and Arthur Laurents were just that talented. In fact, so good are the hits in this show that it tends to draw extra attention to the weaknesses of the "filler" songs. "Cool" struck me as particularly lame, a way to beef up the second half running time.

The stylized dancing and choreography put me a bit in mind of my favorite musical, both in its cinematic form and otherwise, which is Jesus Christ Superstar. Although that movie winks very openly at its audience, this movie kind of does that too, more covertly. In both movies there is the specific notion that we are taking a big, dense text (the Bible and Romeo & Juliet) and treating it in a way that is knowingly modernized, in the hopes of better communicating its core themes to today's audiences. That certainly explains the more stagy aspects of West Side Story, like the fact that few of the extras that would typically clog the New York City streets appear here. Some of the sets are starker and more basic than they would otherwise be, as this is not one of those shows that seeks to paint on a much larger canvas just because it's going up on the big screen. The fire escape set represented so minimally in the poster above is indeed just about that minimal here, which seems to further underscore the epic, timeless love story that is being explored. That it should bear such a resemblance to the stage version is probably no surprise, given that the main visionary behind the stage show (Jerome Robbins) is credited as co-director here -- even though he feuded extensively with fellow co-director Robert Wise, and was actually kicked off the set near the start of filming.

Some of the ways it hasn't aged particularly well, though, are worth commenting on. One of those is that whitebread Natalie Wood was cast as the film's Puerto Rican female lead, Maria. Even though she gives a very committed performance and is as darling as ever (I unashamedly crush on Wood), the mere fact of her playing a role outside her race leaves a person a tad uncomfortable, and makes her reasonably attempted Puerto Rican accent seem racially insensitive. That would not have been how the audience at the time perceived it, but I can't help perceive it that way. Of course, merely the idea of having gangs of two different races fighting it out would make West Side Story a political correctness hot potato if anyone were considering a remake today. Which may be one of the reasons nobody is. (Actually, IMDB does have a West Side Story entry that's listed as "in development," but as it has not a single creative person attached to it, we should be pretty skeptical of its status as anything more than an idea at this point.)

Of the many Oscars that this movie won, a whopping ten, one of the second-tier ones that seems most deserving is Thomas Stanford's win for editing. I don't always notice editing in movies -- in fact, it's usually better if you don't -- but here I specifically noted how tight the transitions were, how expertly the dance scenes were cut together. I was a bit more surprised by the supporting acting wins for Rita Moreno and George Chakiris, both of whom seemed fine but unremarkable.

I'll get a one-month break from musicals next month when I watch Tom Jones, the 1963 winner, thanks to the efforts of my Flickcharter friend Jandy, who has sourced this difficult-to-find movie and is sharing it with me. Then back to musicals with My Fair Lady in November, before finishing off the series in December with -- well, I'll keep that as a surprise for now.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Small movies, small theaters

I saw Tangerine last night, and due to the miracle of the internet (and having written my review between 12 and 1 a.m. last night), I don't have to tell you what I thought about one of my favorite movies of the year, because my thoughts already appear online. You can read my review here.

So instead, I'll spare a few words on watching a movie in perhaps the smallest commercial screening room I've ever sat in. Which is appropriate for a film shot entirely on the iPhone 5.

Back in its early days -- I won't say "its heyday" because the cinema is still going strong -- Cinema Nova in Carlton was a much more typical arthouse multiplex. It had probably six to eight screens (the interwebs would probably tell me if I did a cursory check), and presumably did quite nicely for itself. However, at some point in the last 15 years, the economics shifted in such a way that it seemed prudent to double the number of screens -- without increasing the footprint. As I understand it, the cinema was shut down for some lengthy period of renovation and emerged with a full 15 screens, the number it still has today.

What I didn't know until yesterday was that the higher the screen number, the smaller the screening room.

I sat for I believe the first time in "Cinema 15" last night, and I'm lucky I didn't bring a few friends because there wouldn't have been enough room for all of us.

In actual fact, I could have brought 21 friends with me, but that's it.

On the occasions I've ever been prompted to count the number of seats in a theater, it has always exceeded 22. That's four rows of four on one side of the aisle, and three rows of two on the other. That's it.

As you can imagine, the screen itself was not a whole lot bigger than an iPhone 5, either.

In order to duplicate the effect of opening and closing the curtains, a little old-fashioned bit of flair this cinema still engages in, the two curtains actually had to be lowered inward like a drawbridge closing. That's how little room there was here.

At first I thought I might be the only audient present for this show, but at the tail end of the trailers, another three people joined me. Which meant that the room was now almost one-fifth full.

At least the seats were really comfy.

For most people, this would still cost them the premium price of $19.50. For me, it was merely a flash of my Australian Film Critics Association membership card, and I was in.

Still, Tangerine was so good that I probably would have spent $39 for a theater with only 11 seats just to see it.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Why Pan scared my son so much

As parents, we make certain assumptions about our children that sometimes prove to be faulty.

One recent assumption I made about my five-year-old was that he knew the difference between a movie and reality.

Not so much.

Other than Pan, the movie that has been of most interest in my son's life lately is Everest. This is because my son has early aspirations of becoming a mountain climber. These aspirations express themselves in a little routine he does every day when I pick him up from school. He has to run down this raised dirt area next to the walkway, climb out on a few feet of railing at the end, climb back, then reverse his steps back around the bend. He then walks as though on a balance beam on a brick wall next to the walkway. For the second, inclined portion of this wall, he gets down on his hands and knees and inches up that way. The fall on the outside is only about a foot or two, but on the inside, it's more than six feet. He's done it so many times and he's so careful that I don't really worry about him falling -- but I hover in the area below just in case.

I recently pointed out that his climbing -- not only here, but also on structures at parks -- indicated to me that he might one day want to become a mountain climber. He latched on to that idea right quick. I guess that's probably about the dumbest thing that a parent could suggest to their child, short of recommending they become a shark trainer, motorcycle daredevil or chainsaw juggler. But I want my son to follow his bliss. I'll cross that bridge of him falling off Everest if we come to it.

At another, unrelated time, he saw me looking at the review I'd written of Everest online. Yes, that's me, spending countless hours just sitting there, adoring my own writing. Anyway, this particular instance gave me the opportunity to tell him a little bit about what I do. I told him that I'd seen this movie and that I'd written these words to tell people what I thought about it. It seems that he thought that was pretty cool.

Then Sunday, when we were at Pan, we saw the trailer for Everest playing in the lobby, and he saw some of the things that actually happen in it. A sanitized version of those things, of course -- fortunately, kids are a bit less susceptible to a sustained sense of dread than they are to the physical violence/gore. Anyway, he saw people scrambling around on the snow-covered slopes and fighting for their lives. Although he didn't say anything more about it at the time, those images nestled themselves in his little brain. (Little only compared to an adult brain, of course.)

Then yesterday, when he was involved in his usual routine along the daycare center walkway wall, he asked me, "Daddy, is that movie you saw about the mountain climbers--"

"Everest," I offered.

"Evist. Is that movie real?"

I suddenly understood something about my son that I hadn't understood before.

If he had had the language to express himself this way, what he would have said was, "Daddy, is Everest a documentary or a fiction film?"

Suddenly I found myself in a discussion of terms I was sure he understood, like "actors" and "entertainment." I had always just assumed he knew what an actor was, but it turns out he does not. Or did not. Or may still not.

I tried to explain it in terms that I thought he would understand. I decided he was hung up on the idea that real people might be, you know, real people. It was part of my faulty explanation of the difference between Pan and an animated movie. You know, Pan featured real people. As in, people who were walking around in the daily world, like him.

So what I tried to tell him about was when we went to see The Wizard of Oz performed by the year six through year 12 students at the school next door to our house. "You know that those were just girls at the school playing those parts, right?" He doesn't know what a "part" is. "Playing those characters?" Did he even know what a character was?

"I don't know that," he said. Which sounded a bit like a lawyer using his oratory skills to parse semantics, I noted with a little mental chuckle.

So I guess my son thought he was actually watching a lion, a tin man and a bunch of flying monkeys. In a gymnasium at a school next door to our house.

Hey, stranger things have happ -- no they haven't.

To extend that logic to Pan, when I told him the movie contained "real people," he thought he was about to watch a snuff film in which a murderous pirate would start killing everyone on screen. I would be scared to watch that, too.

The part I can't reconcile is that he thinks we live in a world where this is okay. Where a parent would willingly -- nay, eagerly -- take his child to watch a pirate actually shooting and actually stabbing people. That this would pass for entertainment -- a concept with which he was not familiar, as such, anyway.

So I ended up explaining that Everest featured "actors" who were "reenacting" (yeah, that word was too big) a story (he got that one) for our "entertainment" (think we got that one squared away). I explained it was their job and that they went home to their families each night, just like his mummy and daddy did. I explained that the "actors" were not in any danger as they were filming the movie -- that although the mountain-climbing was "real," in a certain sense, the "actors" couldn't get hurt while doing it. I didn't explain that it was not really Mt. Everest or get into any kind of technical details like that -- I already felt a bit like I was telling him there was no Easter Bunny.

Then I tried to explain that although the stuff that happens in that movie was not anything that was actually happening to those people, it was based on things that had happened to other people at a different time. I don't know if he completely grasped that one, but he didn't ask any follow-up questions.

I told him that almost all movies are this way, but then I said that there were some movies where the people were real, but they were boring grown up movies that he wouldn't watch for a long, long time.

Fifteen minutes after arriving home, he developed a fever and promptly went to sleep. I discovered this only after going to his bedroom to notify him that his fish sticks and carrots were ready. Maybe these revelations were all too much for him after all.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Damned if I did, damned when I didn't

When I'm at a movie with my son, my duties as a parent come in direct conflict with my first instinct as a cinephile. That instinct is: to watch the whole movie at all costs. That means I'll try to keep him in the movie, even when he's scared, through some combination of soothing, cajoling, bargaining and pleading. If he wants to leave, I must convince him that he shouldn't -- or die trying.

It worked in Big Hero 6. It didn't work in Paddington, and we left the movie with less than 15 minutes to go.

The pleading to leave started much earlier in Pan, a family-themed advanced screening of which played Sunday at Jam Factory in South Yarra. In fact, it started less than two minutes into the movie. So even though I was supposed to be reviewing it, I did my reluctant parental duty and escorted my son out of the theater ... and paid for it in a way I never would have expected.

But let's back up a bit to the beginning of the day.

Remembering how a charity run had screwed us over the last time we tried to get to this cinema via tram on a Sunday morning, as described here, we got a nice and early start, allowing ourselves nearly two hours to make what should have been an hour trip max. In fact, we needed less than hour to get there, and arrived 45 minutes before seating was even set to begin. Even better, the digital passes that we might have needed to get in, though probably not, finally arrived at the last minute on my phone while we were in transit. Things were going so swimmingly, in fact, that I allowed us the indulgence of having pancakes and a milkshake at a classic American 50s diner that was down the street from the cinema. (And yeah, that's an indulgence -- that's not what I feed my son every day.)

Although I had explained on the tram ride over that this would be a movie starring "real people," trying to distinguish it from animation, and he seemed okay with that, I was nonetheless worried that this might be too advanced for him. Then we saw the tall pirate ship set into the side of the staircase going up to the cinema, that kind where one strip of the picture appears on each step, creating one complete image if you stand back and look at it. "I want to see that movie!" my son, a renowned pirate fan, said. Imagine my pleasure in getting to tell him that this, indeed, was the movie we were seeing.

It gets better. At the top of the stairs, my son was immediately handed a red balloon in the shape of a pirate sword by a man in full pirate regalia. Moments later he was having a blackbeard moustache and beard and red bandanna painted on to this face. He was ready to watch Pan if ever a kid was ready.

The first sign of possible trouble occurred when we were going in to the theater, and I realized something that had escaped my notice during the cursory scan of our invitation: this screening was in 3D. My son had never been to a 3D movie before. How to properly prepare a child for 3D?

He seemed to enjoy wearing the glasses, though, and I recalled that at the Lego Museum in Boston, we'd watched a short 3D Lego adventure. So the experience would not be entirely unprecedented. I again relaxed into my luxury seat -- the screening was playing in one of the so-called "Gold Class" theaters -- and enjoyed the first kernels of the complimentary popcorn that had been there waiting for us.

The first test was the single trailer that played before the movie, for the Jack Black vehicle Goosebumps, another movie pitched at about the same aged child, with about the same potential scare factor. This trailer featured an abominable snowman, a werewolf, a large bug, and any number of other creepy crawlies. My son didn't bat an eyelash at the content, but as the ad was in 2D, the 3D had yet to be tested.

Then Hugh Jackman came on, introducing us to the movie in a 60-second promotional segment. The seeds of what would end up happening may have been planted here, though I'll get to that in a minute.

The movie started, and I could tell right away that my son was ill at ease. It's one of those movies with a drab color scheme that starts out with London being bombed during World War II. (I say "one of those movies" because The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe starts out almost the exact same way.) He immediately started asking questions about what was going on -- not the kind of questions you ask as a genuine attempt to understand the narrative, but the type of questions you ask to abate a mounting panic. It wasn't two minutes in when a small voice escaped him that said, "I don't want to watch this movie. I want to go home."

I swallowed hard and asked him to stick it out for another few minutes.

The next time this voice escaped him, it was a little bigger and a little more insistent. And this time he added that the movie was scary, which was implied but not previously stated aloud. I advised him to look away or to sit on my lap. He wasn't going for either.

I asked him to give it two more minutes again. He might have given it one more minute.

I soon reconciled myself to the fact that this was a losing battle. In reality, my son was one of the youngest children there, so this may never have been a good bet. And it became clear to me that he'd begin ruining the movie for the other kids if he couldn't get into its groove. At this point, there was little chance of that happening.

So with a big sigh of resignation, I gathered our stuff and directed us toward the exit.

In another sign of what was to come, though, as we had made it down to the front row, he looked up at the screen and asked me about something that was happening. Sensing that he might be getting a second wind on his potential to handle the movie, I asked him again if he wanted to stay. He assured me he did not. This did not prevent him from pulling the same routine as we were actually reached the exit. Again, I asked him if he wanted to stay. Again, he said no.

He had the gall to ask as we were leaving if he could play one of the video games in the lobby. Even if I hadn't already shoved three wasted dollars into a pinball game at the 50s diner, back when everything seemed so promising, I would have said no. I was in no mood. We descended those lovely stairs, the ones with the image of the ship set into them, the ship that had once seemed so hopeful, and he ran over to one of those cars that you sit in and put two dollars in, that move and shake for about 45 seconds before stopping. I denied him this as well. I was officially sulking.

When we left the shopping complex a few minutes later, I asked my son why he had been so scared. The content we'd seen wasn't inherently scary, though it did feature some wicked nuns, who seemed a bit grotesque in the eyes of our protagonists. And yeah, the city was getting bombed, but that kind of thing doesn't usually bother my son. He likes guns and stuff. He's scared of monsters, not violence per se.

He told me that he was scared because there was a pirate who wanted to kill everyone. We had met no such pirate. The only thing I can conclude is that Hugh Jackman, who had made some reference to his character of Blackbeard in the promotional video, had given my son the impression of being a pirate who wanted to kill everyone. As you can see in the poster above, Jackman appears with a gun and a sword -- both things my son likes. How he made the leap that this pirate wanted to kill everyone is beyond me.

And then it happened: My son said he wanted to go back in.

Goddamn you, kid. 

I'm not sure if we had missed ten minutes or 15 minutes at this point. It might have even been less than ten minutes. But it was enough that I had been entirely thrown out of the movie, a movie I was meant to be reviewing. In the minutes since we'd left, I'd already mentally decided to go to a nighttime screening later this week (it opens on Thursday here, October 9th in the U.S.), just so I could write the review. I wasn't about to go back in now, which would take another five minutes of getting back up to the screening room, plus a possible explanation of why we had left the building entirely and then come back.

But more than anything, I just didn't want to do it.

There are times when you need to teach your kids about consequences. If you make certain choices in life, you have to live with them. That's okay if you're scared -- I get that. Even if nothing particularly scary has happened yet. But once you've decided to leave -- once your dad has asked you six times if you're sure you want to leave, and you still say you want to leave -- then we leave. And we don't go back.

I thought I was sound in my logic, but in case I wasn't, I also told him that they don't let you back in once you leave. I said that if you have to go to the bathroom, that's okay, but if you leave the building you can't come back in. In reality, of course they'd let us back in, especially in Australia, where people tend to be pretty lackadaisical about strictly adhering to rules in general.

But more than anything, I just didn't want to do it.

Well, either my kid saw through my logic or didn't consider it to be as insurmountable as I did, because he spent the next 20 minutes crying. That's right, 20 minutes. Fifteen of which were on a tram riding back to the city, as I did my best to soothe him while imagining the combination of sympathetic and annoyed looks people were probably directing at us. He was so distraught about the perceived injustice of the situation -- a situation he was solely responsible for, mind you -- that the only way he could think to express it in words other than crying and wailing "Mama" was to tell me that Santa wasn't going to bring me any presents this year.

And yeah, my heart sort of went out to this poor kid, hurting to the core of his being, his tears causing his pirate makeup to run down his face in rivulets. But dang it, we protect our kids too often from the consequences of their actions. The next time we go to the movies -- and I'll be pretty hesitant about that, given the outcome of this experience -- I want him to remember how sad he was this time before he asks us to leave next time.

Fortunately, this story has a happy ending.

Now that we were done a good two hours earlier than we expected to be -- and than my wife, getting some time at home to herself with my other son napping, expected us to be -- I had to figure out another way to spend some of this beautiful spring day. It was only 11:30, and indeed, it was about the nicest day we've had since winter officially ended at the end of August. (The seasons change on the first of the month here. Let's not get into it.)

So we went to the botanical gardens, a place that seems like a hardship to get to on normal days (but isn't really), but which was much more convenient to us now that we'd gone all the way down to South Yarra. They have a beautiful fenced-in spot called the children's garden, which has some grassy areas, some woodsy areas, some sandy areas and some climbing areas, all bisected and trisected by tributaries of man-made water. My son immediately perked up upon entry. Not only was he eager to play, but he was eager for me to come along with him on his adventures. He still had the balloon sword and he still had the pirate makeup, so he was still going to have some kind of pirate adventure, gosh darn it.

So we went traversing through the various areas of this children's garden, the forest of bamboo shoots and the tree with its hollowed out center, the spot where you can take off your shoes and stomp in the water and the part where you can watch the water trickle out from a fountain, the sandy part with its bridges across little moats of water and the tower in the trees that you reach by a spiral staircase. He was having a grand old time, and my God, was it a beautiful day.

And we stopped for two picnics as well. My son was touched to learn that I'd saved his popcorn from the movie theater and loaded it into my backpack on the way out, as we weren't even there long enough for him to eat any of it. So we had popcorn, "crunchy bars" (granola bars, which are called muesli bars here), apples and drinks -- he a juice box, me a diet lemonade soda. We just enjoyed the surroundings and the weather -- and each other's company, I suppose. That's right, all the previous enmity he had shown toward me, he had now sublimated into love and affection. He probably knew, on some level, that mine was the righteous case and his was the faulty one. But we're men -- we don't admit to things like that. 

I took a bunch of good pictures of him, including the one above. A couple of them seem like candidates for this year's Christmas card. And all of this would never have happened if we'd just seen the movie and gone home, as was supposed to happen. Maybe this was nature's way of telling us to get out and enjoy the beautiful day. We also spent time in and around a war memorial, by a fountain, and in a play area outside a shopping center where we needed to pick up some groceries later on. In the end, we were out until 4:15. 

But I'm jumping ahead again. By the time his balloon sword popped -- something I had warned him would happen sooner or later, especially if he weren't careful, and especially if he were swinging it in and around tree branches -- it was kind of like the trauma from the morning had all been forgotten. He didn't even get too glum about the loss of his trusty weapon, though he did ask me if I could blow it back up for him. I explained to him for probably the half dozenth time the essentially ephemeral existence of balloons. 

Proving he was still a kid, and that the movie hadn't entirely left his thoughts, he did ask, "Daddy, can we go back to the movie and get another balloon?"

Fortunately, he took the gentle rebuffing of this request in stride as well. 

Sunday, September 20, 2015

The spoiler beginning to Interstellar

There are some movies you expect to see a second time, and there are some you don't, even if you generally liked watching them. Interstellar fell into that latter category for me.

Yet I ended up rewatching it because my wife had never seen it, and it was the 99 cent rental on iTunes a couple weeks back. If I'm going to rewatch a movie about which I was lukewarm to positive, better that it be for 99 cents than for the price that was once envisioned for it, when there was talk of getting out to the rooftop cinema to watch it. That starts at $25 a ticket, then you have to factor in all the other costs of an evening out, including, potentially, a babysitter.

But I was certainly happy enough to watch it again at home, even though I didn't necessarily think it would contain enough on a second viewing to make me like it significantly more. Significantly less was a possibility, but significantly more didn't seem like one.

In fact, I did like it a little bit less, but my reason for writing today is a positive one. And it has everything to do with the ways Christopher Nolan has continued to be kind of a magician as a filmmaker.

We know that the magic of the movies is one of the things that specifically interests Nolan, as he has actually made a movie about magicians (The Prestige, one of my favorites of his). The Prestige in fact deals with the idea of showing you how the trick is done and then distracting you, though I'm sure that's a bit of a paraphrase. However, it's a method Nolan uses in Interstellar.

The key to the tension of the movie is that it leaves us in doubt about whether Earth -- or more specifically, human beings -- will survive, right? We don't know until the very end whether Dr. Brand's Plan A or Dr. Brand's Plan B will be the method of saving humanity that gets enacted, right? Or possibly, "none of the above."

Except that Nolan tells us with the first line of dialogue in the movie that humanity gets saved. Or if not that, definitively, then at least that Coop's daughter Murph ages into an elderly woman and appears in a video looking back upon the harder times of the past.

"My dad was a farmer," come the first words of the movie, spoken by Ellen Burstyn with extra aging makeup. "Like everybody else back then. Of course he didn't start out that way." And then a smash cut to our hero, Coop (Matthew McConaughey), in some kind of high-speed aircraft.

Of course, we don't actually know the characters at this point, the movie having just started. But if you had chosen to retain the movie's first words, you would have then remembered that McConaughey's daughter (who we meet as a young girl only moments later) has enough of a future ahead of her to age a good 80 years and then be telling her story to a documentary crew. You could then surmise that this would mean the Earth, or wherever they lived, would be in good enough shape to enjoy the luxury of a crew of filmmakers reflecting on humanity's history.

It's a credit to Nolan, then, that you almost immediately forget about this. You wouldn't ordinarily think that any information a filmmaker provides you should just be discarded, yet you do kind of discard the documentary bookends of this movie as soon as the story gets started. You really do feel like humanity could perish from the Earth, and from space as well. You really do wonder if it will all get sorted, or if human beings do indeed die in a cloud of dust on the Earth's surface.

I guess I don't entirely understand the point of Nolan's little trick, but I can vouch for its efficacy.

I don't really have many other thoughts from a second viewing of Interstellar, except to note that the score is indeed quite overbearing (I focused on it this time, having heard the criticisms of the score after I got out of my viewing last November), and to grimace at just how on-the-nose much of the dialogue really is. That said, the relativity stuff still cooked my noodle a little bit, which is ultimately why my feelings about this movie remain positive.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Persona is having a moment

The fact that a number of films set in San Francisco should come out the same year, as discussed yesterday, does not seem quite as unusual as the fact that there are a number of concurrent films that are duplicating the essential relationship dynamics of Ingmar Bergman's Persona.

If anything, that should come next year, when the movie celebrates its 50th anniversary. But I guess there's no accounting for when a certain movie starts to really express itself in the artistic collective unconsciousness.

For those who don't know -- and that might have included me before I actually saw Persona last year -- Bergman's film deals, very elliptically (would there be any other way with this subject matter?), with the blending of personalities of two women who are holed up together for a period of time in a seaside bungalow. They are an actress who's lost her voice, and her nurse. It's considered by some to be one of the greatest films ever made. I don't consider it that, but I can't deny that it has a certain elemental power that you just have to see to understand -- to try to understand, anyway.

The same feeling, more or less, struck me when I was watching The Duke of Burgundy on Tuesday night -- only I think I like Burgundy even more than I like Persona. Peter Strickland's follow-up to Berberian Sound Studio (which was my #5 film of 2013) also features two women in a confined space, a comparatively confined space (it's a mansion), though they do also spend time apart and with other women. (No other men, though.) They have some kind of dominant-submissive sexual relationship, though it's not always clear who's the dominant and who's the submissive, and to even get caught up in the fact that their relationship is kinky tends to belittle just how much profound other stuff is going on here. In any case, comparisons to Persona seem obvious, though apparently Strickland was surprised to hear them as that was not what he was thinking of when he made the movie.

The Duke of Burgundy may have been the first of these movies in 2015 -- it was released cinematically in the U.S. way back in January, though not until last week here in Australia -- though it was not the last. Next came Clouds of Sils Maria, in which a fortysomething actress and her twentysomething assistant have some personality overlap as they run lines for a play, which also features two characters about their same ages. Making matters more complicated, the actress actually played the younger role when she was an ingenue, but is taking on the older role now that the play is being revived. Though I didn't particularly care for this movie, and have decided I'm fairly cold on Olivier Assayas in general, it's sat with me enough that I probably need to revisit it. Again, the comparisons to Persona seem fairly obvious, as the film's key moments take place while they are staying together in a remote cabin.

Lastly -- or at least, I think it's lastly -- there is Queen of Earth, which has yet to open in Australia and which is the latest film from Listen Up Phillip's Alex Ross Perry. This film apparently features another two women, this time both young (as is the case, more or less, in Persona), staying by themselves at a lake house. As I understand it, they were once close but have discovered they have grown apart, and the movie becomes a full-on psychological thriller. It's the poster as much as anything that probably makes a person think of the emotional dissolution of a movie like Persona:

So why are all these filmmakers trotting out their influences -- acknowledged or otherwise -- at the same time? And why don't we ever seen any movies where men exchange personalities? Is the female mind considered more malleable, more subject to destabilization? And if so, isn't that kind of sexist? Or is it just that women are more mysterious, which is less sexist but still sort of sexist? Would men blending personalities be "too gay" for us?

It may be no coincidence that these are all males directing females. Could a woman directing men get away with the same thing? If Sofia Coppola wanted to make a movie about two men blurring identities, would we question her authority to do so? Or her motivation behind doing so?

It's just an extreme continuation of what male directors have always done to their female stars, molding them and shaping them and turning them into inscrutable figures. And though I certainly don't want to get on my high horse about gender politics -- especially considering how much I like both Burgundy and Persona -- I do have to wonder.

But wait, there's more! One of the movies I'm most looking forward to later this year is Carol, directed by Todd Haynes, about a relationship (with psychologically bizarre overtones?) between a young department store clerk and an older, married woman. Can this be just a lesbian love story, or will it have to make us question what is reality and what isn't?

Well, I look forward to finding out, anyway.

One side note about The Duke of Burgundy, which I'll throw in here so I don't have to devote a whole post to it: There's a particularly unusual type of service credited in the opening credits. No, I'm not talking about who provided the lingerie, though that's unusual enough. I'm talking about who provided the perfume. That's right, a production element that you could not possibly detect if you tried, and in fact is completely unnecessary even for the performers, was credited. "Perfume by" and then whoever it was. I love the idea that they considered perfume such an atmospheric, essential part of filmmaking that they went so far as to let us know who provided it. I hope that gives you some sense of the type of experience you're getting involved with here.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

San Francisco is having a moment

Logically, Los Angeles would be the center of the cinematic universe.

In 2015, however, it's San Francisco.

After my viewing of The Diary of a Teenage Girl on Tuesday, I decided it was finally time to write about it.

My awareness that every movie released in 2015 takes place in San Francisco began when one of my friends posted that the big summer movies needed to blow up something other than the Golden Gate Bridge. But it's not just the destruction of that iconic landmark that has featured into 2015 feature films. Some of them, like The Diary of a Teenage Girl, are just set there.

How many? Well, let's find out.

1) The Age of Adaline is set in and around San Francisco. In fact, in this story of a modern-day woman who hasn't aged since early in the 20th century, the character's husband died while building the Golden Gate Bridge.

2) San Andreas is the first on this list in which the Golden Gate Bridge is destroyed. Possibly the only. But "destroying the Golden Gate Bridge" is something that has been done in films for ages, so no points for originality.

3) In Inside Out, Riley's family moves to San Francisco, famously sending Riley on a spiral into sadness, disgust, fear and anger. Her new hockey team in San Francisco is called the Fog Horns.

4) In Terminator Genisys, Sarah and Kyle materialize in the middle of a busy San Francisco highway when they time travel to 2017. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I think the requisite opening footage of post-apocalyptic destruction also includes a shot of the charred skeleton of the Golden Gate.

5) In Ant-Man, Pym Technologies is located on Treasure Island in San Francisco, and much of the shooting took place there. The Golden Gate also factors prominently into the promotional materials for this film.

6) On the Pixels poster, the giant Pac-Man is seen ready to scoop up the San Francisco metropolitan area in his digital jaws, with the Golden Gate in the foreground (undestroyed at the moment). This is the first film on this list I have not actually seen.

7) There's a scene in San Francisco in Vacation. I haven't seen this either.

8) The Perfect Guy features a trip to San Francisco. (I think I may be starting to grasp for straws here.)

9) And then of course The Diary of a Teenage Girl.

Is it statistically significant? Not sure about that. Could you do the same thing in any given calendar year for New York City? Probably. Maybe.

But the one thing you can't ignore is the number of big summer movies that featured San Francisco in peril, specifically the Golden Gate Bridge. There were at least three of those this year, and four if you count Ant-Man, which involved some kind of cataclysmic plot that I've already forgotten, but was certainly cataclysmic enough to have taken out the GGB since the movie takes place in SF.

Hollywood may be out of ideas, but it shouldn't be out of locations. You wouldn't think so, anyway. I suppose now that it's verboten to set any kind of disaster in New York City, San Francisco has the next most iconic skyline.

Well, I hope the San Franciscans I know still have roofs over their heads and are sleeping well tonight.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Tuesday Morning Movie Club

Going to a critics screening at night is nice. But you don't really feel like a critic until you go to one in the morning.

I got a chance to do that yesterday for the first time here in Australia, but I hope not the last.

The film was the excellent The Diary of a Teenage Girl, and I have a septuagenerian man to thank for being able to do it.

See, Tuesdays are my day when I have just my 21-month-old to watch after. It's usually a lovely day around the house of cleaning and playing together. He can be a tyrant when his brother is around, but when he's the only one vying for your attention, he's a peach.

My son naps in the mid-morning, starting as early as 9:30 but usually more like 10:30 these days. Nine thirty was also the start time of The Diary of a Teenager Girl at Cinema Nova, which is just a stone's throw from my father-in-law's house.

Put two and two together ...

Anyway, he agreed. He'd never watched just the younger one by himself, so there was a little trepidation on my behalf when asking. But his rule is basically that he can handle one of them at a time, but not both. The younger one's probably easier right now anyway, as long as you don't have to change him, and fortunately, he went #2 just before we left the house. Besides, I knew that even if things got hairy, his nap could start pretty much at any time after I dropped him off. Fortunately, my son's cute wave bye bye when I left told me that hairiness was not in the forecast.

It was funny to arrive over at Nova well in advance of any of the other showtimes, when the box office was still closed. I wondered for a moment if I'd even be able to get in, which was ridiculous, because this was the time of the screening. But the escalator up to the screening rooms was running, and sure enough, there was a woman waiting at the entrance who got a big smile on her face when I arrived, as if she'd been waiting just for me. As it turns out, she'd been waiting for me and about five other people. This was a true media screening, not the preview screening they send media along to in the evenings. Of course, I don't know who could attend a preview screening on a weekday morning other than members of the full-time, paying media ... and dads who have a father-in-law who can watch their toddler.

And the movie was, well, fantastic.

Better yet, there were no problems with my son and it seems as though my father-in-law really liked spending time with him. He's not very effusive in sharing his feelings -- few Australian men are -- but there was a telltale twinkle in his eye when he talked about the things they'd done before my son took his nap. He was still sleeping when I got back, so I had lunch with my father-in-law, which timed out perfectly to end when my son woke up.

Now that this has been an unqualified success, I'm hoping other Tuesday morning screenings may be in my future. I've got possibly as many as nine months more on this part-time schedule, and it seems that Tuesday morning screenings are a somewhat regular occurrence, as my contact at ReelGood has since invited me to two others, both of which I turned down because I wanted to see how the first one went. Now that it's gone well, I'm hoping to repeat the experience sometime soon -- in fact, I'm hoping that my father-in-law will even volunteer his availability.

If not, well, I felt like a really real critic for one morning anyway.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Into thin Everest

I'm going to a media screening of Everest tonight, so instead of writing a reaction piece after seeing it, I thought I'd write this piece leading in to it. (That's also partly because I have the free time today, but do not expect to have it tomorrow.) If you want to know my thoughts on the film, I'll have a link to my review up as soon as it posts.

You see, for the purposes of my blog, I'm less interested in how good it will be (and the director, Baltasar Kormakur, gives me certain doubts) than the process that went into naming it. It wouldn't be The Audient, after all, if I didn't devote time to the semantics.

See, I've read the book the movie is based on, called Into Thin Air. (And by "read" I mean "listened to the unabridged audio book while on a drive across country back in 1998.") If that title looks somewhat familiar, it's because the author, John Krakauer, also wrote Into the Wild, which Sean Penn adapted into a movie back in 2007.

So why not use the catchy Into Thin Air as the title for this movie?

My thoughts:

1) Although Into Thin Air is a good, nay, a great title, the title does not in and of itself tell you what the movie is about. Nor did Into the Wild encapsulate precisely what that movie was about, per se, but it mattered less there as that was an independent film with a small budget. This movie has a gargantuan budget, and it needs a title that is going to leap off of the marquee. Everest does that.

2) They aren't going for the crowd who read Into Thin Air. They are going for Everybody Else.

3) The title Everest had, miraculously, never before been used for a feature-length film. It had been used for TV series (not one but two), a 44-minute documentary about the events depicted in this movie back in 1998, and as part of the title of the quickie 1997 adaptation of this book, which was called Into Thin Air: Death on Everest. But never by itself.

4) There's some evidence that this is a dramatization of the events that happened rather than an adaptation of the book itself, but since Krakauer himself is a character in the events, those lines are a bit blurred.

Anyway, this is a movie I've been looking forward to for 17 years, ever since listening to that audio book with two of my friends while driving around the U.S. visiting baseball parks. I can only hope it lives up to at least some of my expectations.

And while I took a pot shot at Kormakur, I did like the look of both Contraband and 2 Guns, if the movies themselves were sub-par. Maybe he just needs better material. And the cast here is about as good as you could ask for, including some of the most watchable actors on screen today.

Plus, this may be my first media screening in 3D, so there's that. I say "may be" because the invitation is ambiguous. The preview screening on Wednesday night is 3D, but tonight's may not be. It's an interesting debate, whether to screen your movie for critics in 2D or 3D. I guess it's a function of how good your think your 3D is, really.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Star subterfuge

The marketing team behind Tom Hardy's new movie has brought deceit to a new level. You might almost call it legendary.

This ad for Legend contains what appears to be an overwhelming onslaught of four- and five-star reviews praising the film. And in most respects, it legitimately is just that.

But the marketing team got greedy. I guess they couldn't find exactly 12 reviews that were at least four stars, so they added a two-star review in there.

Can't see it? It's the one between Tom Hardy's left ear and Tom Hardy's right ear.

Oh, you're meant to think it's just another 4+ review. But Benjamin Lee, critic for The Guardian, tweeted otherwise:

"Incredible way of making my two-star review seem like I didn't hate the film."

What's brilliant about this is that this ad is completely not lying. There are only two stars above the words The Guardian, and that's exactly the number of stars Lee gave the film. It's misleading, for sure, but all is fair in love, war and advertising, right?

What's not brilliant about this is that someone should have anticipated that the subterfuge would be uncovered. And if they knew Lee, who sounds a bit cheeky, then they should have guessed that he might do something like this. (I don't know Lee from a hole in the ground, but anyone who maintains an active Twitter profile is liable to say anything, as we have repeatedly learned.) Either they didn't consider that, or they did a cost-benefit analysis and decided that whatever negative publicity might be generated over a calling out of such manipulation would pale in comparison to the positivity of seeing that impressive fleet of stars.

The one real design flaw is leaving "only" four stars above the head of the Hardy on the left, which is the only place on the ad that calls attention to the fact that less than the full number of stars was given. Of course, that gets us into the whole problem that not everyone uses a five-star scale anyway. Sometimes, four is the maximum number of stars, which is why you'll sometime see (out of 4) appear after the star rating. Since maximalism is the principle at play in such advertising, you'd only do to indicate that the film had received the full number of available stars. That's why you never see (out of 5), because a) 4.5 stars assumes the existence of a five-star scale, b) it's not needed with five stars because there's no commonly used scale that includes more than five stars, and c) if it's only four stars, you don't want to be honest about it only getting 80% of the way there; you want the user to retain the belief that this could be the maximum number of stars.

Of course, beyond any star-related shenanigans, this ad also commits a cardinal sin that I've written about before, using the word "unmissable," which is barely even a word. Unless we're talking about asteroids with a mathematical certainty of hitting Earth, nothing is "unmissable."

In this case in particular, Benjamin Lee would be inclined to agree.