Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Hiatus time

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Me too. Off to go live it.

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

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Something something Christmas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And now you have it.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Dr. Bop Tweedie, set medic

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

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

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

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

This is only the context for today's post.

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

Not Bop Tweedie. This post will see to that.

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

What kind of name is that?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, December 17, 2016

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

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

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

Sometimes, though, I save the best for last.

And sometimes, it's both.

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

I'll address those in that order.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Comedies that get lost in the shuffle

Why now?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That's probably enough.

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Another midnight in December

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

But I almost left this one to chance.

Let me explain.

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

The difference between the two options is $32.20.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

I whinged, they listened

If I'm going to slam a business, however mildly and humorously, it's only right that I recognize the ways they've made good.

And it's always nice to be reminded that when I write things on this blog, I'm not just shouting into a void.

So as you may recall, in this post, I discussed how the Hoyts kiosk had failed to hold my reservation for the movie Nerve. I wrote the post not to give Hoyts a hard time, because it was really only a mild annoyance to me that could have been caused by any number of technical or other factors, one of which it actually was caused by (which I'll get to in a minute). The experience was even less of an annoyance to me in retrospect, given that the movie I rented in its place (The Purge: Election Year) ended up being a huge hit with me. In fact, I wrote the post only to tell a boring story about a meaningless transaction -- a story I probably only considered newsworthy because I thought of the irresistible title "The Nerve of them." (God, are my standards for posting to this blog really this low?) That title was probably my most critical thought directed at Hoyts in the whole piece.

Well, Hoyts took that post very seriously.

You can imagine my surprise when I received an email from them last Friday entitled "Hoyts Kiosk Experience." It went on to mention that they had heard about my recent experience (they didn't say which) and would like to discuss it with me.

I hadn't, of course, actually reported the problem to Hoyts. It could only mean that they had read my blog. But I didn't quite think that was possible. It just seemed too unlikely.

I forgot to contact them over the weekend (I think I had to wait until business hours anyway) so a second email came on Monday. Intrigued (and seeing that the call would close in three business days if I did not respond), I took some time to step away from my desk and call them.

Indeed, they had read my blog. I laughed out loud.

It's not that I'm such small potatoes, but, well ... I'm such small potatoes. Or at least, I tend to forget that my blog does actually get seen by people, especially people who are seeking out references to themselves. It wouldn't be the first time. I half suspect that Kevin Smith has read everything I've ever written about him, though the only evidence I have is that Smith is known for that type of thing. (Fortunately, most of it has been good.)

So yeah, they came across my blog, and I later discovered that it wasn't even that far down in the search results when you google "Hoyts kiosk Nerve." They doubtless were not googling those particular key words, so they came across it in some other way.

The nice woman I spoke to advised that the issue had to do with using the same credit card you've reserved the movie with when you go to pick it up. I did, and that should be obvious, but I didn't consider the fact that I've recently gotten a new version of this card. Maybe the Hoyts system should be smart enough to figure out this is what happened, but I can't really blame it. I mean, that kiosk was trying to save my movie for me, and considered this other guy trying to rent it to be an interloper.

The end result of the conversation was that they sent me codes for two free movie rentals. Good on them. Or maybe I should say "Good on you," since they/you will probably be reading this.

What I find funniest about this is that this is the second time a movie kiosk company has interacted with me through my blog. Years ago I wrote a post about an illogical interface on Redbox, and one of my readers brought the post to the attention of the company. A Redbox representative actually commented on my post that they appreciated my feedback and were going to change the problematic user interface.

Now if only movie studios would start contacting me and giving me my money back for movies I didn't like ...

Anyway, kudos to Hoyts for being proactive. I hope everything you read about yourself on the internet is nice from here on out.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Men of a certain size

How's this for a funny coincidence? Totally unplanned, too.

On Sunday I watched movies called Little Men (Ira Sachs' film about a friendship between two boys whose parents are quarreling) and An Insignificant Man (an Indian documentary about an upstart political party in Delhi and its charismatic candidate).

I notice (and tell you about) coincidences in my viewing schedule all the time -- they call it "coincidence spotting" on Filmspotting, and I'm not sure whether or not to contract those two words -- but rarely have I noticed two consecutive titles being so similar, chosen for entirely unrelated reasons.

So now is not the time to stop telling you about them.

Little Men felt like just a bit of a disappointment, in part because I loved Sachs' last movie, Love is Strange, my #6 movie of 2014. Even as it covers some of the same subject matter. It's just inevitably not going to be up to the standards of his previous film. Filmmakers rarely make two top ten-worthy movies in a row.

An Insignificant Man, on the other hand, was better than it started out seeming. It felt instructive to watch a corrupt election in which voters are bought off with alcohol and taxi rides to the polling place, and one political opponent is actually killed when someone rams her with a car while she's on her motorbike.

Maybe this year's U.S. election was not so bad after all.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Hateful Eight hectoring

If you're a cinephile, sometimes you make the mistake of thinking that everyone else wants to be a cinephile.

Or at the very least, those close to you.

My wife is close to being a cinephile. She's a screenwriter, which means her love for movies is lifelong and self-evident. But especially since we've had children, she just doesn't have the energy for the hard yards required to keep your membership in Club Cinephilia. She'll watch movies with me, sometimes of her own free will and sometimes due to an application of pressure on my part, but watching something independently of me is pretty rare. TV is better equipped to relax her brain after a day of screaming children, and she barely ever gets out to the movies anymore.

But I delude myself that deep down inside her, there's a repressed cinephile just fighting to get out.

Hence my months-long campaign to get her to see The Hateful Eight in the theater.

"But Vance," you say, "how can you mount a months-long campaign to get someone to watch a movie in the theater? By the third month it's available on video."

Ah, but this is a special kind of movie.

One theater near us -- the Sun Theatre in Yarraville -- was so enamored with the unique experience of screening Quentin Tarantino's latest film in 70 mm with an intermission that it continued to do so throughout 2016.

You had exactly one opportunity to see it each month -- on the 8th, at 8 p.m.


I can't remember who first noticed this, my wife or me, but she expressed an immediate interest in the idea of going to one of these screenings. This was ages ago, like in June.

Because my brain is funny this way, each month I would remember the approach of the 8th, and remind my wife that her next opportunity to see it was fast approaching.

Soon, I was reminding her of her last opportunity.

And much sooner than that, I was beginning to annoy her.

At first I detected it only in small ways, like a slight shortness to her answer. Eventually, audible sighs became involved. However, she continued to insist that she did intend to watch it. So I gave what I told her was my final reminder this past weekend, promising never to mention it again. Which, now that I think about it, was basically only guaranteeing I would not mention it again on the day it was actually happening. So, not much of a promise really. (Like any of us, my wife can forget the dates even of things she more clearly wants to do, and since I've got this unfailing reminder mechanism that fires in my head, I figured I should put it to use.)

Her most direct comment on this topic came not related to Hateful Eight itself, but to a hypothetical Movie X, which I recommended she see on Tuesday night. She was meeting a friend for drinks at 6:30. The way I typically think of an evening like that, I'm probably free in time to see a 9:30 show. Since Tuesday is cheap movie night at Hoyts and she'd be right near there, I mentioned the possibility to her.

"That's not something I like to do," she said. "That's something you like to do."

She was right. Most people don't like to start watching a movie at 9:30 after they've had two to three drinks. That's a recipe for disaster, for most people. Hell, it's a recipe for disaster for me, too, but I fight through it using caffeine and chocolate, and because I have an all-powerful need not to waste an opportunity to get to the movies.

The reason my wife doesn't want to start a 90-minute movie at 9:30 is the same reason she doesn't want to start a 180-minute movie at 8. They both get out at the same time, and they both involve a huge amount of potential exhaustion near the end. I myself have no idea how I would have done in an 8 p.m. showing of The Hateful Eight. When I saw it in January, I saw it at 10 a.m.

Nonetheless, my wife did tell me at the start of the week that she would pencil in The Hateful Eight for Thursday. I considered it likely enough that I envisioned watching the four-hour silent movie Greed that night for my No Audio Audient series.

Ever the optimist.

By the time Thursday rolled around, the week had worn us both out enough that I knew there was pretty much no way it was going to happen. Which it didn't.

And why do I care so much about this?

That's the question. I don't, really. Or at least I shouldn't. But I know if I were in her shoes, it's an opportunity I would regret missing.

But I'm not in her shoes. She likes her own shoes fine, thank you very much. She doesn't need mine, and she doesn't need me to be in hers.

And for a lot of reasons, it's probably just as well. Maybe she's not in the mood for three hours' worth of Tarantino's racial slurs, blood and guts, and violence against women. Maybe that would be just the wrong thing for her right now, only a month removed from the election. And maybe if she associated seeing it with my urging her to see it, it would blow up in my face.

And this morning, she restored my faith in her own dwindling cinephilia.

My wife isn't working on Fridays at the moment, and she doesn't have any children with her that day either. So this morning she asked my opinion on which of two films to see when she had a rare open window in the early afternoon.

If there's anything a cinephile likes more than being asked their opinion on something, I don't know what that might be.

And what options! She was choosing between Hell or High Water and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, both of which I greatly enjoyed.

I told her that Hell was definitely the better film, but it depended on her mood. If she wanted something grittier -- something more in the Tarantino vein -- then Hell was definitely the better bet. But if she just wanted some escapism, then she'd best choose Beasts.

Yeah, her reason for going was that she had a free pass that's set to expire in a few weeks. But beggars (me, in this case) can't be choosers.

It just warms my heart that my wife, a cinephile who's just out of practice, is getting out to the movies at all.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

A golden age of production design, and other Founder thoughts

A good writer should always analyze his/her writing habits to make sure not to slip into any bad ones, like repeating the same thoughts/sentiments/ adjectives over and over again.

In the pursuit of that goal myself, I've noticed that I tend to use the word "immaculate" when talking about a film's period production design. I couldn't speculate on how many times I've used that over the years, as that kind of thing tends to be difficult to search, but I know I've used it more than once in the past year. Enough times so that the last time an instance came up that called for it, I made a special point to go in another direction.

But you know why I've been using it so much lately? Because production design is immaculate these days.

I'm not sure we ever went through a stretch when period movies were full of anachronisms, but let's just say that nowadays that kind of thing is unheard of. Movies make a special effort to get the details right these days, one that goes beyond what would seem to be the ordinary call of duty.

The Founder, which I saw last night, was just the latest example. It didn't go out of its way to do anything difficult, but the setting just felt genuine and lived in. "Lived in" is not to suggest it was grubby or grimy, and in fact, the whole thing is pretty shiny, in keeping with the theme of the endless possibilities of capitalism and the American dream. (A theme the film eventually looks askance at, I should say.)

In particular, oh those 1950s era McDonald's. How gorgeous they look. They made my mouth water for burgers that I know are not that good. Those damned, beautiful golden arches in their original conception.

But it doesn't even have to be a good movie to have good production design, though The Founder certainly is. Even movies that don't do much for me seem to really knock it out of the park with getting the details right.

Which is no easy task. Every time you are filming outdoors, for example, you have to remove every trace of something that gives away the year in which you're actually making the movie. But you also can't just leave an empty set, so you need to get x number of era-appropriate cars, etc.

If I were worth my salt I'd have done some research and listed a bunch of other films where this is also done well, but my point is kind of that they all do it well, so specific examples are kind of superfluous.

Fortunately, I have a couple other thoughts on The Founder so I might as well move on from my unconvincing case about the golden age of production design.

Remember when Michael Keaton disappeared?

Given the last couple years he's had, it's kind of hard to believe that we were without Michael Keaton for so long.

But it's true -- even though he never stopped working, he didn't really do anything prominent for a good first 15 years of the 21st century. A few low-profile indies (Game 6, The Merry Gentleman) and voice gigs (Cars, Toy Story 3) aside, he was largely absent from movies that anybody saw. (And even in presenting the exceptions to the rule, I'm still listing movies that nobody saw: Game 6 and The Merry Gentleman). He'd show up with bit parts in comedies (The Other Guys) or lead parts in horror movies (White Noise), but overall, he just wasn't the Michael Keaton whose every movie got our attention.

Birdman changed all that.

Keaton then appeared in two best picture winners in a row, and though I don't think The Founder will make it three for three, it's a really good role that Keaton plays really well, in a serious movie with lofty ambitions. You need look no further than his opening monologue to the camera to be reminded just how subtle he can be, and just how well he does what he does.

I'm so glad I don't have to miss him anymore, something I didn't even realize I was doing until he returned.

More than just the supportive wife

Speaking of doing subtle work, I loved Laura Dern's performance as Ray Kroc's first wife in this movie. In a role that might not have been anything but thankless.

The most consistently derided role for an actress -- nowadays, but probably always -- is the wife of the great man. Supportive or otherwise, she frequently lacks personality or distinction, functioning as little more than one of his appendages.

Dern's case is a bit different. On the surface, that's exactly what she looks like, as she keeps house while Kroc goes out and tries to sell people. But she yearns to break out of that mold, to be a full partner to her husband, something that Kroc will never let her do because she doesn't share his exact vision for the way he sees his life as an ever-greater scheme. She does wonder when enough will be enough for him, but when she learns that his honest answer is "probably never," she does change her ways to accommodate his. She supports him in a very proactive manner at the golf club in front of skeptical investors, and later, she scouts and brings some new franchisees to him.

As we have already said she was Kroc's first wife, it's probably obvious that things did not work out the way she hoped they would, as she was not able to support him in the way Ray wanted, even if it was totally genuine. The small ways she absorbs every new defeat, never having to call him out through shouting matches but allowing the way events play out to minutely crush her, speaks to the quality of both John Lee Hancock's direction and Dern's performance.

Powdered milkshakes

Among the things I never knew about McDonald's was that they stopped using ice cream in their milkshakes for a long time, to save costs on refrigeration.

What I'm wondering now, though, is what ever happened to those packages of powdered insta-shake, which Kroc honestly believes tastes just like a "regular delicious vanilla milkshake."

If you really could just pour it into water and have a yummy milkshake after 30 seconds of stirring, where the hell are those things now?

I want one.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Love trumps hate

The second time I got choked up during a movie this past weekend, this time to a far less demonstrative extent than the first, was during Kubo and the Two Strings, a more likely candidate for such behavior than The Purge: Election Year.

But it wasn't a moment you'd think might choke me up, or perhaps what the filmmakers wanted to choke me up. (Though it did occur very near the end, so it was probably part of their nefarious plan after all.)

Warning! Kubo spoilers ahead.

It wasn't anything related to the loss of either of Kubo's parents, or the deceased relatives of any of the other characters, who "come to life" for a moment in a pretty magical sequence involving floating lanterns that transform into the spirits of lost loved ones. In fact, many of the story's narrative beats kept me a bit at arm's length.

No, it was how the townspeople in Kubo's village treated his grandfather, who, in the film's climax, awakens without any memory of his years upon decades of evil scheming and ruining of lives.

And it was probably only because I had to give voice to the theme by explaining it to my son that a hitch caught my words.

My son had agreed to watch the movie (despite not being excited by many movies I'd offered him lately) and had survived a number of fairly intense/scary moments -- I myself even got the chills at the first appearance of the evil sisters -- so here we found ourselves, somewhat miraculously, at the end of the movie.

And my son was understandably curious as to why the townspeople, instead of casting out this man who had brought them only pain, misery and death, tried to fill his wiped memory with false stories of all the many ways he'd demonstrated his generosity to them.

I said, "Instead of telling him he was mean, they told him he was good."

I'm glad there were no more words in that sentence because I wouldn't have gotten them out clearly.

A purer act of kindness I could not imagine.

Monday, December 5, 2016

A Nasty surprise

Warning: I'm going to spoil the hell out of Sebastian Silva's Nasty Baby

There was a poster for Nasty Baby I could have chosen that features just the three leads on it, looking jovial. 

But the one with the tongue sticking out is far, far more appropriate for the post I'm about to write.

I had wanted to direct my wife toward a 2016 release for Saturday night's viewing, because it's "that time of the year." However, the fact that it's "that time of the year" has recently taken on its annual status as a joke about my obsessive-compulsive year-end tendencies, which my wife only partly thinks are funny. Part of her thinks she loses me to the movies around this time of the year, my mind assuming only a single track toward the goal of seeing everything I "need" to see. (Just wait until I'm in the U.S. and want to get to the theater anywhere from three to a half-dozen times.)

So I showed how reasonable I can be by allowing her to choose the movie, irrespective of release year. I mean, I still had veto power, as the other person always does, but I agreed to open myself up to the great unwashed masses of all the movies available on our three streaming services. Twenty sixteen would need to wait for another night.

Kristen Wiig is enough of a common favorite that I imagine we are going to eventually see all of her movies, and at this point, there are only a scarce few we haven't seen. In fact, there are few enough that I can list them: Despicable Me 2, Masterminds, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (one of my great regrets that I clearly should have gotten to before now) and a couple back from her early days on SNL, like Unaccompanied Minors and Meet Bill. 

So Nasty Baby was easy enough for me to agree to. And it was easy enough for me to watch after a slow start in which I complained, after less than five minutes, that it was oddly hard to pay attention to. The movie is nothing if not low key as it charts the very mumblecore concerns of a gay New York couple (played by the director and TV on the Radio's Tunde Adebimpe) as they try to get Wiig's character pregnant, planning to share custody of the child. Since Silva's character is firing blanks, it falls to Adebimpe's to do the deed, though he is reluctant for reasons the film tries to explore.

I slowly got up to speed with the movie, an effort that is not usually required for me with mumblecore because that's a form I naturally enjoy. But I got there eventually with this one, and can say I was pretty much enjoying it when BAM! They kill someone.


That's what we said too.

I mean, it wasn't like it wasn't foreshadowed. The gay couple, particularly Silva's Freddy, has several run-ins with a crazy neighbor (The Wire's Reg E. Cathey) who insists on using his leafblower at 7 a.m. and harassing Wiig's Polly in a way that's going beyond the level of "harmless," as another gay neighbor (Mark Margolis) initially interprets it to be. The movie wouldn't keep including these interactions with the neighbor if it weren't going to go somewhere with that subplot.

But killing him? I don't think so.

The last 15 minutes of the movie, then, are about covering up the fact that Freddy initially knocked over this man (known as The Bishop), causing him to develop a head wound, before stabbing him in the neck as a defensive measure when The Bishop attacks him in his house. Freddy was being a good samaritan by bringing him upstairs, you see.

When it's clear the man is probably going to die, Freddy and his husband (Mo by name) smother him with a bag, ending his struggle.

They then carry him down to the car, drive him out to the country and bury him, while three other characters who get ensnared in the situation clean up after them.


Oh but you haven't heard the weirdest part yet. The weirdest part is that after the movie ends on a fittingly somber note, the credits begin with an up-tempo song and the strangest sight of the whole movie: the three main characters having the time of their life at a roller disco.


Speechless was what we were too. Not only did the movie do this incredibly awkward tonal shift to something it had never been about, thus entirely short-circuiting all the narrative drive of the pregnancy plot, but then it does another tonal shift that seems to say: "And then they forgot about it and moved on with their lives." That's assuming this joyous roller disco credits sequence is meant to occur after these other events, chronologically, but even if it isn't, the effect is the same for the viewer so the difference is meaningless. 

Yeah, this movie feels like Sebastian Silva sticking his tongue out at us indeed.

I get that this guy is not just a total idiot. He did this intentionally. He had a reason for screeching on the brakes once, then doing it a second time. The reason was that he wanted to provoke something in us. The reason was that he wanted us to question our genre assumptions and explode our expectations of where this movie would go.

Well, mission accomplished, Sebastian. Bravo.

The reason I don't give him any credit for such narrative anarchy is that it's cheap. Any person can make a movie that starts one way and then ends completely differently. It does not require a particular talent. It only requires a mischievous disregard for conventional viewer satisfaction, which he judged that a certain percentage of us would appreciate -- enough of a percentage for it to be worth doing. And I suppose he calculated correctly, as the film holds a frankly baffling 64 on Metacritic.

Look, sometimes this works. I can think of examples. I won't name them here. But just know, I'm not entirely opposed to the idea of it.

But this execution ... it's just head-scratching. When you are heading a film in an interesting direction -- how will a gay couple impregnate a woman when one of them can't and the other doesn't want to -- it's downright obnoxious to just stop that dead in its tracks, especially with something as anathema to the type of movie you're making as a murder. It's a complete middle finger at the notion that some of his viewers would have wanted to know how the compelling issues he was exploring would play themselves out.

And let's also talk about this murder -- it's of an older black character who is crazy. He's initially described to us as "harmless crazy," but he does indeed grab Wiig from behind at one point, making him actually dangerous. Is that what the movie really wants us to take away from it, that you should be afraid of crazy old black men on the street? I suppose it thought it had its political correctness perfectly in order by Freddy being a Latino and Mo being black and them both being gay, but something about the way that character is treated is just not right.

So at the end -- before the tasteless roller disco -- you are left trying to grapple with what this movie wants you to take away from it. It's singularly unsatisfying when a narrative thrust does not lead to logical conclusions about what you've spent the previous hour-plus watching. Yeah, that's like life -- three characters trying to make a baby together sometimes unwittingly kill a person, I'm sure. It's happened at least once, somewhere.

But there are plenty of other random sequences of incompatible events that have happened in the world, that do happen every day, and we don't see movies about those. We don't see movies about them because there is nothing useful we can glean from them. They are just shit that happened.

Nasty Baby is similar -- it happened, and it sure is shit. 

Sunday, December 4, 2016

The exploitation horror that made me cry

They say timing is everything.

Those who watched The Purge: Election Year before November 8th, including everyone who saw it in the theater, would have seen quite a different movie from those of us who watched it since then.

Like me.

And I am still trying to grapple with the experience I had on Friday night, but mostly Saturday morning, watching this movie.

It was mostly Saturday morning because I had indeed been too ambitious trying to rent this to watch it on Friday night. As you may remember from yestereday's post, I picked up this movie as a substitute for Nerve, which had not been successfully reserved for me, in order to watch after I got home from drinks with work friends. I for some reason anticipated getting home by 10 and having plenty of time to watch it, expecting not to fall asleep even though I'd be tipsy if not out-and-out drunk. Instead, I walked in the door at 12:30 and still started watching the movie, as it would be due back at 9 p.m. the next night, and a dad with two kids doesn't have a lot of time to be watching Purge movies on a Saturday afternoon in early December.

Predictably, I made it through only 20 minutes, leaving another 70-some for the next morning. Which I managed to carve out, as I do usually have some time to myself after the kids wake up but before our day really gets going.

A more fortuitous turn of events could not have happened.

Simply put, I needed my mind engaged to have the profound experience with The Purge: Election Year that I ended up having, which is unlike any I can remember.

(And I just crossed 4,700 movies, so that's really saying something.)

Simply put, I cried.

Not once, but twice.

If you're wondering why the hell this movie would make me cry, I'll try to give you a little bit of an idea what it's about.

The original Purge, as you would likely know, is about a version of American society in the not-too-distant future in which there's a single night each year where all bets are off. Any crime is legal that night, including (and especially) murder. Me, I might try to steal a bunch of money instead, but most people are out to sink an axe into somebody's head.

The original Purge was shit, I thought. I gave it a star-and-a-half and did not come back for The Purge: Anarchy. I thought it was a dumb way to explore a smart concept.

The smart way to explore this concept apparently came in the third movie, according to me. In this third installment, it's an election year (duh), and the candidates for president are a demagogue minister representing the right (played by Homicide's Kyle Secor), whose party is responsible for the existence of Purge Night and has been in control for 25 years, and the liberal senator who wants to abolish it, who also happens to be a woman (Lost's Elizabeth Mitchell). Usually certain political officials and others are exempt from the lawlessness of Purge Night, but in a desperate attempt to hold onto power, the NFFA (New Founding Fathers of America) do away with this exemption pretty much expressly so they can make a play at the upstart liberal senator and try to end her presidental bid via assassination.

It's hard to say for sure whether the makers of The Purge: Election Year knew who exactly would be running for president in our real election year, but the similarities between Mitchell's Charlotte Roan and Hillary Clinton are not likely to be coincidental. Although Clinton has been referred to as Secretary Clinton because she held that office more recently, she too served as a senator, and shares a hair color with Mitchell. Secor's minister is different from Donald Trump in many ways, as even Trump would not stoop to the blatant falsehoods necessary to convince us he's been a saint. But something about the minister's dismissive manner is very Trumpian.

What struck me so much about the movie was not simply that it represented something like a real look at the combatants in the 2016 election, but it made them into almost literal combatants. There were times in the race when we imagined what Trump and Clinton might do to each other if they were trapped in a Thunderdome together, and Election Year almost literally gives us that scenario. There was an undercurrent of violence in this election like none I can remember, and it was carried out between supporters of the candidates if not the candidates themselves.

But what brought me to tears was a moment that showed us what Senator Roan was fighting for, and a knowledge that the real world "Senator Roan" had already lost that fight.

Midway through the movie, Roan and her fiercely loyal bodyguard (Frank Grillo's Leo Barnes) make their way down to an underground bunker where a contingent of the opposition are caring for Purge victims and providing a safehouse for those dregs of society considered most likely to be targets. Around this room are a selection of tired, poor, huddled masses yearning to breathe free -- the kind America once welcomed with open arms, but now seems to want to shut out.

Someone observes, and I'm paraphrasing, "These are the people the NFFA want to purge because they don't want to have to care for them any longer."

Up to this point, I'd felt emotions welling up in me on a couple occasions, prompted by the visceral sense of outrage and the intensity of the violence. But something about this moment opened the floodgates.

And I wept.

I'm not just talking about a tear trickling down my cheek. I'm talking about heaving, convulsing tears, for somewhere on the order of 30 to 45 seconds. I wept openly, and possibly only silently because my kids were watching cartoons in the other room and I didn't want to give them anything to worry about. (Having already cried in front of them once on election night.)

I sunk my face into my palm and released a torrent of tears for more than a half a minute.

I purged myself of some rotten emotions that had been stuck inside me, I guess you could say.

This movie is called American Nightmare 3: Elections in some foreign countries, I just discovered today, and indeed, this election was a nightmare. Somehow, in some way, the wrong candidate, the candidate who should have been disqualified from contention dozens of times, won. Somehow, a happy ending that seemed like it was beyond question was lost into the void.

And in that moment, the moment when my tear ducts were overcome, I realized that we had voted in a man who wants to eliminate his enemies, not by actually killing them perhaps, but by depriving themselves of the services they need to live, which is effectively the same thing. All because he thinks he pulled himself up by his bootstraps, and believes others should do the same.

And because those people most in need might vote for his enemy.

I don't know if I really believe a person has been elected who will bring about a new dark age of fascism in America. In fact, I think it's pretty unlikely. But I do know that the bad guy won, and that was something I had mourned in tears only once before.

Suddenly, surprisingly, I was compelled to do it again. In part because I knew this movie was going to give us the happy ending that real life had not given us, and what a goddamn shame that was.

And that's why I hold this movie in what seems like a ridiculous level of regard right now. I can't remember the last time a movie made me sob. I mean, movies force a trickling tear down my cheek with some regularity, probably more so now that I'm a parent. But this movie wracked me with sobs, sobs I could not recover from for what seemed like an eternity.

The second time I cried was over the death of one of the characters we'd come to know and love in this movie. Know, yes, and love, yes. It's not easy for movies to do that, since they have so little time at their disposal. TV shows have a much easier task in that regard.

But what this movie also did was to give us a cross-section of heroes, representing multiple races and genders, all banding together to fight an oppressive right-wing force that believes in purging its enemies out of existence. This resistance felt like a metaphor for the coalition that voted for Hillary Clinton, unifying despite or perhaps because of their differences, ready to win this fight. It's a fight they should have won. It's a fight they must win, one day.

But I don't know if the obvious logic that Donald Trump will lose his 2020 reelection bid is something we can bank on. We've witnessed corruption in this election, from voter intimidation at home to the interference of foreign hackers abroad, which may yet entail the hacking of voting machines. The leader of the NFFA in this movie, played by Raymond J. Barry, snaps an order at an underling to do "whatever it fucking takes" to remain in power. I wouldn't be surprised if there's a real person with that real attitude in the American right, be it Steve Bannon or the Koch brothers or someone else.

And with that kind of murderously intense dedication, maybe the multi-racial coalition really does never have a shot.

The Purge: Election Year was undoubtedly made to earn a tidy profit on a small budget and give genre fans sleazy thrills. It does do that, too. In fact, some of the most gonzo shit plays a major contributing factor in why I liked the movie as much as I did.

But what's also there, whether it needed to be or not, is a real look at our real America, exaggerating real feelings and emotions only slightly for the purposes of satire. It's incredibly smart in some of the ways it captures the anger, the determination, and the naked corruption of both the politicians (of both parties) and the people they represent. And lest you think this movie is just a liberal polemic, think again. Groups traditionally protected by a purely liberal Hollywood are portrayed negatively (a group of young black girls, for example, are some of this movie's most despicable characters), and tellingly, the same "whatever it takes" slogan is also repeated by the left. When Senator Roan hears of a plot to kill her rival, she doesn't offer any hippie dippy "all human life is precious" argument as a reason to abort the assassination. She says, simply, "If you kill him, he becomes a martyr. I lose."

This movie, with apparent ambitions so modest, reminded me that both political parties take shady paths to get where they want to go, and do tend to believe that the ends justify those icky means.

Only one party, though, wants to save those same people the NFFA seeks to eliminate on Purge night.

And that party will not be in office for at least the next four years, maybe longer.

That's what made me cry.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

The Nerve of them

Might as well go for a second straight day of rental-dispensing mechanisms not working properly.

I was planning to go out drinking with three work friends on Friday night, only one of whom still works with me. I'm 43, so nowadays that's more likely to mean getting home around 10, rather than after midnight as it might once have meant. After 10 with anywhere from a few to a half-dozen drinks in me ... that might leave me in shape to watch a movie when I get home, but it couldn't be anything too demanding. And as the year is drawing to its close, I probably need to be filling these available time slots with movies whether I'm in shape for them or not.

Nerve has recently arrived on video here, and that seemed to fit the bill perfectly. Under 100 minutes, probably best viewed late at night, and kinetic enough that I won't fall asleep.

So I planned it out on Friday morning. I was going to go out on my bike at lunch to run a couple errands, once of which would be stopping by the IGA in East Melbourne to pick up the movie. In order to give myself the greatest chance of my errands being completed successfully, I went on the Hoyts Kiosk website and reserved Nerve. A few minutes later I got the email confirming that they had checked the inventory of the machine in question and confirmed that the title would be waiting for me for the next six hours.

Well, it wasn't. However many copies they had of that movie, they were checked out when I got there.

This might not have been quite as annoying except that the first errand I had attempted, buying new sunglasses at a nearby 7-11, was also a failure, due to their total lack of sunglasses.

Refusing to come home empty-handed, I did my best to find a suitable substitute and ended up with The Purge: Election Year. I hated the original Purge and did not even see the second one, so I was never planning to see this for a number of reasons. You might say there's an additional reason not to watch it in that our real election year has gone so badly. But it did fit the bill for the type of content I could handle at that hour and in that state, and the minutes in my allotted lunch hour were rapidly ticking away, so I snatched it up and went on my way.

Back in the office and checking out my emailed receipt, I've discovered another annoying surprise: They've increased the rental price. Whereas rentals have previously been $3.50, now they are up to $3.99. Still a savings from an iTunes new release, I suppose, but creeping further and further away from the dollar and change I used to enjoy spending at Redbox kiosks in the U.S. Then again, with the rate set at $3.50 for the entire time I've been in Australia, they were due for a price hike.

Trying to figure out why they told me I had a movie reserved and then didn't have it for me is probably not worth the effort, though it does inspire me to quote Jerry Seinfeld: "You know how to take the reservation. You just don't know how to hold the reservation. And that's really the most important part of the reservation: the holding."

What very likely happened was that someone was standing in front of that kiosk, renting the final Nerve, at the exact moment the system was trying to confirm that a copy was available. Due to a lag in updating cached information, I imagine, the system was not aware of the movie's sudden lack of availability, nor could a prior claim by me deny an ongoing transaction in which someone already had the movie in their shopping cart but had not officially rented it yet. Anyway, doesn't matter.

I do have a joke explanation. The last time I used the Hoyts Kiosk website was to reserve a copy of Bad Moms last Saturday night. We were over at a friend's house for dinner, and stayed a lot later than we expected to. Having a car full of kids who were a good 90 minutes past their bedtimes, we skipped renting Bad Moms, so the reservation went unclaimed. Which also meant that it could not be rented to anyone else during those six hours I had it reserved -- a possible loss in revenue of $3.99. I figure this is Hoyts' way of giving me a dose of my own medicine.

By the time I post this, I will already know whether I liked The Purge: Election Year or not. But since I'm writing this a day ahead of time, I'll save any thoughts I may have on it for a subsequent post.

Friday, December 2, 2016

A plan to amass free movies

I've had a number of customer service needs from iTunes over the years, with downloads acting screwy and whatnot. And I'm pleased to say that their customer support has always reinforced the good name of Apple, making good in ways that always left me satisfied.

But before the past week I've never had a customer service case quite this complicated ... nor have I been left quite this satisfied with the way they've (ultmately) resolved it. (Or so I assume, as I am writing this before the final solution has been proven, nor the make good been realized.)

Let me rewind to last week. Actually, let me rewind to November 12th.

On the 12th of November, I rented the documentary Life, Animated as that week's 99-cent movie of the week. (Or perhaps it was the 99-cent independent movie. I can't remember.) Are you with me so far?

A week later on the 19th, I rented Maggie's Plan, which was definitely that week's 99-cent indie movie. This was where I first noticed something unusual. Life, Animated should have had 23 days left on the rental window, but its clock had been mysteriously reset to 30 days with Maggie's arrival. I thought it was peculiar, but the error was in my favor so I didn't think anything more of it.

As I told you in this post, I downloaded and watched Krisha on Thanksgiving, last Thursday. When I started watching it, another unexpected synchronization occurred -- this one not in my favor. When I started Krisha and launched its 24-hour viewing window before expiration, the clock started ticking on the other two movies as well. I closed and reopened iTunes, and same result. I checked again the next day and indeed the hours continued to dindle -- first 12, then 6, then expired. I had no intention of watching either movie before that 24 hours was up, nor should I have needed to. So I knew it would mean reporting the problem to iTunes.

I got off on the wrong foot in reporting the problem in two ways. First of all, it was Thanksgiving day in the U.S. when I reported it. If there's ever a time for something to slip through the cracks, it's when coming in on the first day of a four-day weekend. (I use the U.S. version of iTunes, after all.) But then I also reported it as a problem with Krisha rather than a problem with either Life, Animated or Maggie's Plan, in part because I could find the Report a Problem button with Krisha but couldn't figure out how to locate it for the other two. (Krisha was listed at the top, being my most recent purchase -- I had to drill down one level deeper for the other two, but did not immediately realize that.)

I was promised a response within 24 to 48 hours, but the entire four-day weekend elapsed in the U.S. without hearing anything. So on Tuesday (or was it Wednesday?) resubmitted the request for help. This time I submitted requests on both of the other two movies, referring back to the original case number I'd been given in the automated response to my Krisha request.

This time an agent did respond, apologetic for the delay, and to make up for it, credited my account with two $4.99 rental credits, in addition to restoring the two lost movies to my available downloads folder. Good deal.

Except when I went to check for available downloads, only Life, Animated started to download. This was in the morning before work yesterday. So I decided to let that movie download, then check back after I got home to see if Maggie's Plan would show up then.

It did not. But something else did happen: A second copy of Life, Animated began to download. Another email back to Apple.

This morning I've gotten another response from Apple that the issue should finally be cleared up now (only read it at work so I have yet to check) and that another two $4.99 credits have been assigned to my account as another apology for the inconvenience.

So now I should have $20 in iTunes credits in addition to the two movies I originally planned to watch, with fresh 30-day viewing windows, which I otherwise might have been pressing to get to before they expired.

At this point I can't assume that the issue is resolved once and for all, that there won't be another synchronization of viewing windows when I go to watch one of the movies, or even that Maggie's Plan will be available for download when I get home.

However, more errors by Apple will only mean more free movies for me.

And it couldn't come at a better time. This is the time of year when I'm trying to catch up with movies before my year-end list gets published six weeks from now, and iTunes is especially useful as it gives me access to movies that came out in the U.S. a while ago but may only just be getting released in Australia (like The Family Fang, which I talked about in this post.) I'd allocate the money for them anyway, but this year I can't really afford it as we're trying to watch our costs ahead of the trip to the U.S. three weeks from now.

So now I'll have $20 to spend on my next x number of movies, and won't have to be stingy and limit myself to the 99-cent rentals.

And perhaps more if my downloaded rentals keep going on the fritz.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

No Audio Audient: I Was Born, But ...

This is the penultimate installment of my 2016 series in which I am catching up with previously unseen silent movies.

For those of you coming here expecting Erich von Stroheim's Greed -- all none of you -- you're going to have to wait until December. There's a whole story that goes with why I didn't see Greed in November, full of twists and turns and developments that are interesting only to me, and maybe not even then. I'll save that for next month.

This month, it's all about my 11th hour substitute: I Was Born, But ... 

And it was literally almost an 11th hour substitute, as I began watching it at 10 p.m. on the last night in November my schedule would allow me to watch it.

The movie was on my Letterboxd list of potential candidates for this series, but I didn't imagine I'd get to it because I planned to watch Greed in November and then some silent Christmas movie (there must be some out there) in December. Well, the Greed debacle (I'm calling it a debacle now?) opened up an opportunity to go abroad for a silent movie for the second straight month after Sweden's The Phantom Carriage in October.

What surprised me most about I Was Born, But ... is how dissimilar it was to what I've come to think of as the style of the Japanese master Yasujiro Ozu. I've only seen one of his films, sadly -- that's Tokyo Story -- but I saw it twice back in college and actually wrote an academic paper about it, so I feel like I know it well despite not having seen it in more than 20 years. On first viewing I was kind of bored to tears, but something compelled me to revisit it -- I don't know what came over me as I surely could have chosen an "easier" film to write the paper about. I'm glad I did, because I loved it on the second viewing when I started truly dissecting its themes. In fact, given that experience, it's kind of amazing I've never gotten back to Ozu, and it was something I had already intended to rectify when I got the chance to kick off that effort with this movie.

So yes, Ozu's style tends to be slow and deliberate, with many long takes and the camera almost never moving. No evidence of that style is present in I Was Born, But ..., which he directed in 1932, 21 years before Tokyo Story. (In fact, well into the sound era -- not sure why he was still making silent films.) This film is almost frenetic with its editing, and his camera has none of its future sedentary ways.

Probably time to tell you a bit about the movie. It's essentially a series of episodes involving children in suburban Tokyo of the time, which would look a bit more like the rural outskirts of Tokyo except for the single train cars passing in the background almost constantly, suggesting a higher population density than there would seem. Two of the children, who dress like twins but don't look exactly alike, are brothers who have just moved there due to the job requirements of their father, a lower-level executive type in a big firm. Many of the episodes are comical in nature, relating to such things as tussles with local bullies, contracting the help of other kids to assist with their integration into the community, and the tall tale that the consumption of a sparrow's egg gives you additional strength. As the twins (let's call them twins) have a habit of doing everything in unison, a real charming element to the performance of the two young boys, even events that might not ordinarily be comical have a comedic overtone. Simply put, this movie is breezy and fun.

What little plot it does have comes to relate to the shame the kids feel toward the way their father must prostrate himself in front of one of his superiors, who is also the father of one of their new school acquaintances. The last 20 minutes or so relate to the kids grappling with this and coming to accept it, as their father imparts lessons about social dynamics in the workplace and in the world. Here we see the real roots of Ozu's future concerns, as Tokyo Story (I know for a fact) and many of his other films (I'm led to believe) deal with the type of low-level, non-catastrophic family issues we see here, specifically failures to communicate between the generations.

To suggest that this film is heavy in any way, though, is to misunderstand its main reasons for existence. It is sweet through and through, frequently funny and always amusing. The packs of kids interacting with each other, daring each other to do things and establishing power dynamics, reminded me a bit of the Little Rascals or something. The film also establishes a real sense of place in the neighborhood where most of it takes place, as Ozu builds up a community of familiar faces over the course of the narrative. The regular appearance of the train going back and forth in the background seems to both suggest a sense of transience, and to more firmly establish the stability and specificity of this particular locale, if that makes any sense.

Okay! Just one month left to go in this series. And I've got Greed downloaded from iTunes now -- all four hours of it -- so at some point over the next month I'm going to figure out how to cram that in to the 24-hour viewing window allotted by iTunes.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

May-December release

You've heard of a May-December romance. How about a May-December movie release?

There is indeed a considerable age difference between the release of Jason Bateman's The Family Fang in the U.S. and in Australia.

The movie came out on May 6th in the U.S. It came out on April 29th in New York, actually, but that ruins my title for this post.

In Australia, it comes out on Thursday, which is the first of December.

The Australian release date of The Family Fang is something I've been tracking for a while, because I needed to remind myself to send the review I wrote of it to my editor at ReelGood.

Why had I already reviewed this movie if it hasn't even come out in Australia? Well that's the other funny way to measure the delay between its U.S. and Australian release dates.

The Family Fang had been out for so long in the U.S. that it had already popped up as the 99-cent rental on the U.S. iTunes store, where I still have access to pick up rentals. That means that it had already been available for rent at the normal $5.99, and then probably $3.99, before dropping down to 99 cents (though just for that one week). I may be wrong about this, but I think of Apple as using its 99-centals as a last ditch effort to capture some of the remaining buzz about a movie and move a few more units of it before it becomes just an old release like everything else in their library.

We watched it a month ago, and The Family Fang was actually on the verge of its 30-day window expiring when we got to it.

So I wrote a review, and even then had to wait a month before it could post on the site in order to be timely for the release. Which it has just done last night.

Now you get some sense of the agony of seeing movies like Moonlight released in October in the U.S. and having to wait until Februrary for them here.

Monday, November 28, 2016

All my reviews, all together!

Have you ever thought "I'd really like to see all of Vance's reviews together, rather than just the most recent three that he links to down to the right?" Vance being the name I used to go by before I lifted my veil of anonymity, and still a way to casually refer to myself on this blog.

Well, it's happened. I'm searchable.

And I don't just mean if you google me and the name of my website you'll find a bunch of individual reviews scattered across the search results. I mean there's now an easy place to come find all my review work packaged together in one convenient location. (All my work for ReelGood, anyway, which means the past two years' worth.)

That's right, part of the recent redesign of ReelGood (, come and check it out!) was to give each writer a warehouse for his or her own work. You can find my particular warehouse here, topped by my most recent review of Morgan. (Or some other movie, depending on when you read this post.)

It's pretty cool for me as this was never possible for the approximately 11 years I wrote for my previous website, In fact, I would sometimes send people a list of all the reviews I'd ever written as a way to allow them to decide which ones they wanted to look up individually on the site. (Bet they were sorry they asked.)

Now, it's much easier.

I mightn't have otherwise devoted a whole post to this, but I've been lacking inspiration the last few days and was kind of tired of the stern face of Krisha Fairchild staring out confrontingly at my readers every time you come to my site.

Anyway, come give it a squizz, if you want. (Translation: Come take a look.)

Back soon with new content, both here and there.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Everybody's worst Thanksgiving

And now for a little tonal shift from yesterday's message of hope ...

If you just can't get into a head space to give thanks this year, and just want to tear it all down, just want to watch a movie that languishes in the apocalyptic misery of everybody's worst family Thanksgiving, you could do far worse than Krisha, the film I watched last night as a Thanksgiving-themed viewing. ("Thanksgiving"  was yesterday in Australia -- meaning it was Thursday, November 24th, otherwise known as one of the last days of spring. We did eat turkey, but it was a turkey dish I invented that features ground turkey, grilled onions, grilled peppers, Tabasco, chilli powder, canned tomatoes, tomato paste and a layer of broiled cheese over the top.)

Any number of Thanksgiving films look into the disasters that result from long-estranged family members reuniting, possibly against their will, for a late November feast, and maybe also an olive branch. But Krisha has a special caustic edge to it, an unwillingness to compromise its vision of the most pessimistic possible incarnation of that Thanksgiving gathering. And it doesn't accomplish this with ridiculous, over-the-top set pieces, like you might see in National Lampoon's Thanksgiving Vacation. No, this is just straight up human misery.

A lot of liberals are probably calling this their worst Thanksgiving ever. But at least it's not as bad as the one Krisha has in this movie.

I won't go too much into what happens, but I will warn you: Watch out. This is not some happy Thanksgiving viewing for the family. As the poster would probably suggest to you anyway.

One thing I did want to point out: The filmmaker, Trey Edward Shults, has cast almost entirely members of his family to play ... well, members of his family. He plays a central figure in the movie, and Krisha is played by his real aunt, named Krisha Fairchild. Strikingly, none of them really comes off as an amateur, and there's some real heavy lifting in the acting department, especially by Fairchild. I don't want to contemplate how closely this may have been inspired by something that really happened in his family, and whether any of these people are actually playing a version of themselves that's similar to the real version. More likely, he just wanted/needed to make the movie on the cheap, so he cast actors he could get to work for almost nothing. Whatever the case, their status as actual family members works in a number of ways, from the less important (they actually look like each other) to the more important (they have a preexisting relationship that informs their performances).

Don't think there's much chance you'll feel more hopeful about the world after watching this movie, but maybe that's the Thanksgiving you want to have -- despairing, and reveling in it.

If that's the case, boy have I got a movie for you.