Archive for the ‘Film’ Category


Thursday, May 14th, 2009

I finally got a chance to watch Milk on DVD, and thought it was terrific.  I knew that he was a gay politician and that he had been killed, and that was about it.  Having learned a little about him, I now want to know more — after watching the movie, I added The Times of Harvey Milk (which is a documentary about him) to my queue.

If the movie is portraying him fairly, Harvey Milk was a natural-born politician, able to talk to almost anyone, able to bring people together, able to make people have hope in spite of themselves.  Watching the scenes of him leading crowds, knowing what was coming, was almost unbearable.

One of my favorite professors in college used to talk about "Dante's influence on Virgil" meaning that after the Inferno, no one ever looked at the Aeneid the same way.  In the same way, Milk's story resonates differently today, in the age of Obama, with half a dozen states recognizing same-sex marriages, than it could possibly have resonated in 1984, when the documentary was made.

In the movie, Milk insists that all of his friends have to start coming out to their families and straight friends, because once your image of "the gays" is replaced by the face of someone you know, it's hard to hate.  It made me wonder how the equality movement would be different if AIDS hadn't hit the gay community so hard during the 1980s.  HIV/AIDS forced people out of the closet who would have stayed quiet otherwise.  And it's certainly hard to imagine that the right to marry would have become such a central focus of the gay and lesbian movement if the bathhouse culture of the 1970s had continued on.

I highly recommend the movie if you haven't seen it yet.

a night at the movies

Monday, March 30th, 2009

I'm trying to think what movies I have seen in a theater in the last 12 months.  It's possible I'm missing one, but I think the complete list is:

  • Wall-E
  • Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull
  • Waltz with Bashir
  • Coraline
  • Monsters v. Aliens

The key point here is that four of these are primarily kids movies, and the most recent two are both 3-D.  (As it happens, the adult movie was also animated, but that's another story.)  I've just about given up on going to the movies as a way to spend an evening out.  The theater experience just isn't enough better than watching it at home on Netflix to justify the cost of a movie ticket.  (Let alone the cost of a babysitter.)  On the not-terribly-frequent occasions when T. and I go out in the evening, we'd rather spend the time talking or doing something rather than sitting next to each other in a theater.

The 3-D movies are, I think, the theaters' current best hope at answering the question of what they can offer in terms of an experience that a Blu-Ray player and a widescreen TV doesn't.  The new technology really is impressive.  If I'm going to see a movie that's available in the 3-D, it's worth the couple of extra bucks for the experience.  But, at some point pretty soon, the novelty of it is going to wear off, and the question will be whether the movies stand on their own.  Coraline passed that test for me.  Monsters vs Aliens, not so much, although the boys loved it.

The other thing that theaters offer is the experience of seeing a movie early, when your friends are still talking about it.  Almost none of my friends see first run movies either, so that's not a real factor for me.  (Interestingly, I got a pitch today from a service that rents recent hardcover books, in a Netflix-like manner.  Their argument for why you should pay $20 a month for something that you can get for free from your public library is that you'll get the popular books faster.  Again, there's certainly no short of older books that I haven't read, but I can see the appeal in the right circumstances.)

The sales data suggests that movie attendance is up in spite of the bad economy, or maybe because of it.  Including popcorn, it cost the four of us $60 to go to the movies, which certainly isn't something that fits in my budget terribly often.  But if you're giving up your family vacation, going to the movies can seem like a cheap way to splurge.

What I’m watching, listening to, reading

Tuesday, July 29th, 2008

I gave blood this afternoon and am feeling logy, so you get another bulleted post.

Landismom posted recently about giving up cable.  It made me realize that I haven’t watched TV in months, not since the end of The Amazing Race and Heroes.  Here’s some of what I am watching, etc:

  • Right now, we’ve got Spiderman 3 playing.  Boy is it lousy.
  • This weekend, I finally got a chance to see 4 Months 3 Weeks and 2 Days.   It’s painful, austere, brilliant, horrifying.  Watching it wasn’t exactly enjoyable, but it’s worth watching. 
  • I’ve been listening to the podcasts of This American Life.  This week’s episode, Switched at Birth, is truly haunting.  The women in question didn’t find out about the switch until they were in their 40s.  But what makes the story absolutely bizarre is that one of the mothers realized the switch right away, but didn’t do anything about it.  This could have been just a freakshow, but the interviewer has such empathy for everyone involved that it works.
  • I started reading Nixonland by Rick Perlstein, and got about 200 pages into it (it’s 600 pages long) when it needed to go back to the library.  One of the problems is that’s just too heavy to haul back and forth on the metro every day.  So I bought it in eReader format — I figure this will be a good test of whether reading books on the Touch is really something I’d do.

Updated: Meant to ask — what am I missing by not watching TV?  Anything I should be adding to the TiVO?  (I assume I’ll watch at least some of the Olympics.)

TVR: 51 Birch Street

Tuesday, May 13th, 2008

This week I’ve got a video review instead of a book review.  This is actually one that a PR company sent me as a review copy, but then I didn’t get around to watching it for over 6 months.  Oops.  51 Birch Street is an autobiographical documentary about the filmmaker’s parents, and how after his mother’s death and his father’s swift remarriage, Doug Block discovered that their relationship was a lot more complicated than he had believed.

The inevitable comparison is to Capturing the Friedmans, because of the use of extensive home video footage.  But unlike the Friedmans, the Blocks don’t have a deep dark secret.  The surprise for Doug Block is that, as he reads his mother’s diaries, he discovers that she was deeply unhappy in her marriage, and that during the 70s she had an affair.  Not exactly earthshattering.  But what makes the movie compelling, although deeply sad, is that as Block shows more and more of the family footage, it becomes increasingly obvious that his mother wasn’t exactly hiding her unhappiness.  And yet, although Block opens the movie by saying that he and his mother always had a special connection, he was clearly blind to it.

My take-away from the film is that when Block says that he was close to his mother, he means that he was able to talk with her about himself (as contrasted with his father, whom he had difficulty talking with).  It doesn’t mean that he was able to listen to her, or to see her as a person separate from her role as a mother.  That’s probably pretty common, but I found it sad.

The Golden Compass

Sunday, December 2nd, 2007

T and I got a babysitter last night and went out to a preview showing of The Golden Compass last night. I’m a huge fan of the books — I’ve been lending out my copies for years to try to get more people to read them — and have been looking forward to the movie with a combination of excitement and nervousness.  The books are big, complicated, and challenging, and I was afraid that they just wouldn’t survive the translation to the big screen.  But the gorgeously designed website and previews gave me hope that the makers "got" the book.

So, what’s my verdict?  Mixed.  The movie is gorgeous.  They got the vision right — the subtle differences between Lyra’s world and ours, the ways that the children’s daemons flicker from shape to shape, the fierceness of the bears.  Nicole Kidman is close to perfect as Mrs. Coulter, and young Dakota Blue Richards gives a respectable performance as Lyra.  And they avoid the potential trap of making the daemons overly cute.

But the movie is less than two hours long, and this forces a condensation of the story that loses much of its heart.  New characters are introduced so thickly that it’s hard to care much about any of them.  But more importantly, everything seems to fall into place for Lyra, without her doing much.  When she tells Pan that it’s been far harder than they expected, I didn’t really believe her. 

[I also have another complaint about the movie that’s something of a spoiler, so I’ll post it in the comments.]

Much of the attention the movie has gotten has been about the claim that the movie is an attempt to recruit kids to atheism, which Snopes classifies as essentially true.  I think that’s not quite fair — the producers are clearly mostly interested in selling tickets, and the philosophical issues in the book (which are pretty abstract in the first one) are pretty much erased from the movie.  Based on interviews that Pullman has given, it’s clear that he held his tongue about the changes they made to his story, in the hope that a successful movie would attract readers to the books.

The books have been generally labeled young adult fantasy, but I’d say they’re really meant for adults and fairly sophisticated teenagers.  The movie is rated PG-13 for "fantasy violence" and I’d say that it’s probably best for 10-13 year olds.  The violence is actually handled quite subtly — early on, it’s established that when people die, their daemons disappear in a swirl of golden dust, so in the battle scenes you know that each dazzling swirl is a death.  What I think makes it unsuitable for young children is the absolute unreliability of many adults, including parents.

The mutating genre meme

Monday, October 15th, 2007

I saw this meme at Kaethe’s blog.  She decided not to play, but I was intrigued enough to pick it up (especially since I’m beat from N’s birthday celebrations).  It’s a little more complicated than your basic meme, but not as much work as writing a real post.

The Pharyngula Mutating Genre Meme 

A blogging and scientific experiment.

There are a set of questions below that are all of the form, "The best [subgenre] [medium] in [genre] is …".

the questions, and before answering them, you may modify them in a
limited way, carrying out no more than two of these operations:

  • You can leave them exactly as is.
  • You can delete any one question.
  • You can mutate either the genre, medium, or subgenre of any one
    question. For instance, you could change "The best time travel novel in
    SF/Fantasy is…" to "The best time travel novel in Westerns is…", or
    "The best time travel movie in SF/Fantasy is…:, or "The best romance
    novel in SF/Fantasy is…".
  • You can add a completely new
    question of your choice to the end of the list, as long as it is still
    in the form "The best [subgenre] [medium] in [genre] is…”.

must have at least one question in your set, or you’ve gone extinct,
and you must be able to answer it yourself, or you’re not viable.  Then
answer your possibly mutant set of questions. Please do include a link
back to the "parent" blog you got them from to
simplify tracing the ancestry, and include these instructions.

Finally, pass it along to any number of your fellow bloggers. Remember,
though, your success as a Darwinian replicator is going to be measured
by the propagation of your variants, which is going to be a function of
both the interest your well-honed questions generate and the number of
successful attempts at reproducing them.

My great-great-grandparent is Pharyngula.
My great-grandparent is Metamagician and the Hellfire Club.
My grandparent is The Flying Trilobite.
My parent is Pro-Science (by adoption).

The best time travel short story in SF/Fantasy is:
The Lincoln Train, by Maureen McHugh
The best feminist movie in scientific dystopias is:

The best sad song in rock is:
Hallelujah (as sung by Rufus Wainwright in the Shrek soundtrack)
The best cult novel in Canadian fiction is:
Not Wanted On the Voyage, by Timothy Findley
I’m not going to tag anyone, but anyone who wants to play is invited to do so.  Comment or trackback here if you do.

Little Children

Wednesday, August 8th, 2007

A short post, since Logan airport was fogged in last night, and I wound up taking the overnight train home and not getting much sleep.

While I was sitting around Logan waiting to see if my flight was going to be canceled, I finally got to watch Little Children, which I had out from Netflix.  I’m not sure it quite came together as a movie, but some of the individual scenes — the pool scene with the sex offender, the book club — are so perfect that they were almost painful to watch.  (The sex scenes are also sufficiently graphic that I was more than a little uncomfortable watching them in the middle of a crowded airport.)

I read the book of Little Children shortly after it was released* and I spent much of the movie comparing it with the book.  Sarah and Brad are both more convincing characters in the book, and their relationship is far less about the sex.  (In the movie, they’re struggling to keep their hands off of each other from the beginning; as I read the book, they’re lonely souls looking for companionship, and are themselves surprised when it turns into something else.**)

I think that the narration in the movie, which I hated, is an attempt to include some of their internal monologues.  But the balance between the Sarah-Brad plot and the Larry-Ronnie plot works better in the movie.  Watching the movie made me want to re-read the book to figure out exactly what they moved around.

* I had to read the book — a) one of the main characters is a SAHD, and b) I took a writing class with Tom Perrotta in college.

** I still hate the plot contrivance of having Brad always use a double stroller even though he only has the one kid.  No one would use a double jog stroller if he didn’t have to.  They corner like a constipated elephant.


Thursday, December 7th, 2006

This weekend, I watched 49-UP, the most recent in Michael Apted’s series of movies about the lives of a group of people who were first interviewed as 7 year old schoolchildren in Britain and have been reinterviewed every 7 years since.

Interestingly, Tony, who grew up in working class poverty and now appears to be solidly middle class (with a second home in Spain), expresses what I would consider the most "conservative" views about the appropriate role of government in society, saying essentially "I made it, why can’t they?"  Upper-class John, who always seemed quite the snob and is now a Queen’s Counsel, describes Tony Blair as a "conservative" and says that his concerns about the government are about the attacks on due process.  And upper class Andrew points out, as I did previously, that you can’t imagine any 7 year old today being able to confidently (and accurately) predict where he was going to go to university, the way they did now.

But overall, the whole question of class seems to have faded in importance.  The time-lapse aspect of the show — watching the same people at 7 and 21 and 49 — is just overwhelming.  (Among other things, it makes me want to grab the video camera and ask my kids what they want to be when they grow up and if they want to marry and where they want to live.)  It helps me imagine the next decades of my life far more vividly than anything else I’ve seen or read.

It’s also far more of a positive picture of middle age than is generally provided.  Those who are married (either still married or remarried) seem genuinely happy with their spouses, not just partnering off because it’s expected.  And those who are single mostly seem to have made their peace with that.  Suzy, who was so awkward as a teen and then seemed to disappear into the role of mother, finally seems to be comfortable in her own skin.  Nick’s research has hit a dead end, but he clearly loves teaching.  Bruce has compromised his ideals somewhat, but also thrives on teaching.  Lynn starts crying at the prospect of being pushed out from her job as children’s librarian.  Andrew has made a late-in-life career change.  Jackie challenges the picture of her from 42-Up as being overwhelmed by her physical limitations.

And Neil.  Neil, who was so bright and lively as a child, who wound up homeless and questioning his own sanity, has found a niche as a small town politician.  I can’t help but thinking that he’s a walking advertisement for the welfare state, since I have little doubt that he’d be homeless and addicted in the United States, if not dead.

If you’ve got the time, I recommend watching the whole series from the start. But if you don’t, there’s enough clips from the earlier shows to provide some context.  It’s worth watching.

Various reviews

Thursday, November 9th, 2006

Stepping away from the politics for a little while, I thought I’d do some reviews. 

  • First, Curious George, the movie.  (Disclosure: I was sent a free review copy.  While I don’t necessarily praise the things that I get sent, I do feel guilty if I don’t get around to posting about them.  Should I?  Is it unethical to accept the offers if I don’t review the item?)  This is a cute, inoffensive kids movie.  Unlike most G-rated movies these days, there are no hidden pop references that are designed to go over the kids heads.  The plot is not directly based on any of the Curious George Books, although they inspire various scenes (George painting the walls, George hanging from a balloon).   The writers figured out how to avoid the most cringe-worthy elements of the book (e.g. that the man in the yellow hat kidnaps George) and also answer such pressing questions as what he’s doing in that stupid yellow suit in the first place.  My kids loved it.
  • Street Fight.  I netflixed this, and asked T. if he wanted to see it.  What’s it about, he wanted to know.  It’s a documentary about a mayoral race, I said (the 2002 Newark mayoral race between Sharpe James and Cory Booker).  Not interested, he said.  But 15 minutes later, he was watching it just as intently as I was.  It has the hypnotic qualities of a car crash — you can’t believe that James’ goons didn’t realize how bad they were going to look on video.
  • I’m an Amazon Associate on this blog (last quarter I earned $2.42), so they occasionally send me emails pitching products I might want to feature.  Most of the toys they’re promoting for this holiday season made me yawn, but both T and I are sorely tempted by the new Lego Mindstorms robots.  We’re resisting the temptation, because we know our boys are really too young for them, but boy do they look impressive.
  • I’ll admit that I’m also quite tempted by the Nintendo Wii.  If that controller is as cool as it’s being described, I suspect we’ll be getting one, although maybe not this holiday season.  The idea is that the controller is motion sensitive, so instead of pushing a combination of buttons, you can use it as a tennis racket or steering wheel or whatever the game requires.
  • In browsing through the toys r us catalog, I had to laugh at the Lifestyle Dream Kitchen, which is described as "realistic and upscale."  A quick comparison with the regular play kitchen reveals that what makes this "upscale" is the fake stainless steel on the stove and the refrigerator.  But this has to be an aspirational pitch, because my guess is that the mommies and daddies who have stainless steel appliances in their ktichen wouldn’t buy their little darlings anything with so much plastic — they’d go for something like this wooden version.

What’s on your wish list?

Movie meme

Saturday, April 22nd, 2006

Since I’m still utterly wiped, here’s an easy post, a movie meme via The Republic of Heaven.

The list is Ebert’s 101 Movies You Must See Before You Die. Bold the ones you’ve seen. 
[Edited to add: italics for the ones that T insists that I’ve seen with him but I don’t have any memory of seeing.]

"2001: A Space Odyssey" (1968) Stanley Kubrick
"The 400 Blows" (1959) Francois Truffaut
"8 1/2" (1963) Federico Fellini
"Aguirre, the Wrath of God" (1972) Werner Herzog
"Alien" (1979) Ridley Scott.
"All About Eve" (1950) Joseph L. Mankiewicz
"Annie Hall" (1977) Woody Allen
"Bambi" (1942) Disney
"Battleship Potemkin" (1925) Sergei Eisenstein
"The Best Years of Our Lives" (1946) William Wyler
"The Big Red One" (1980) Samuel Fuller
"The Bicycle Thief" (1949) Vittorio De Sica
"The Big Sleep" (1946) Howard Hawks
"Blade Runner" (1982) Ridley Scott
"Blowup" (1966) Michelangelo Antonioni
"Blue Velvet" (1986) David Lynch
"Bonnie and Clyde"(1967) Arthur Penn
"Breathless" (1959) Jean-Luc Godard
"Bringing Up Baby" (1938) Howard Hawks
"Carrie" (1975) Brian DePalma
"Casablanca"(1942) Michael Curtiz
"Un Chien Andalou" (1928) Luis Bunuel & Salvador Dali
"Children of Paradise"/ "Les Enfants du Paradis" (1945) Marcel Carne
"Chinatown"(1974) Roman Polanski
"Citizen Kane" (1941) Orson Welles
"A Clockwork Orange"(1971) Stanley Kubrick
"The Crying Game" (1992) Neil Jordan
"The Day the Earth Stood Still" (1951) Robert Wise
"Days of Heaven" (1978) Terence Malick
"Dirty Harry" (1971) Don Siegel
"The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie" (1972) Luis Bunuel
"Do the Right Thing" (1989) Spike Lee
"La Dolce Vita" (1960) Federico Fellini
"Double Indemnity" (1944) Billy Wilder
"Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying andLove the Bomb" (1964) Stanley Kubrick
"Duck Soup" (1933) Leo McCarey
"E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial" (1982) StevenSpielberg
"Easy Rider" (1969) Dennis Hopper
"The Empire Strikes Back" (1980) Irvin Kershner
"The Exorcist" (1973) William Friedkin
"Fargo"(1995) Joel & Ethan Coen
"Fight Club" (1999) David Fincher
"Frankenstein" (1931) James Whale
"The General" (1927) Buster Keaton & Clyde Bruckman
"The Godfather," "The Godfather, PartII" (1972, 1974) Francis Ford Coppola
"Gone With the Wind" (1939) Victor Fleming
"GoodFellas" (1990) Martin Scorsese
"The Graduate" (1967) Mike Nichols
"Halloween" (1978) John Carpenter
"A Hard Day’s Night" (1964) Richard Lester
"Intolerance" (1916) D.W. Griffith
"It’s A Gift" (1934) Norman Z. McLeod
"It’s a Wonderful Life" (1946) Frank Capra
"Jaws" (1975) Steven Spielberg
"The Lady Eve" (1941) PrestonSturges
"Lawrence of Arabia" (1962) David Lean
"M" (1931) Fritz Lang
"Mad Max 2" / "The Road Warrior" (1981) George Miller
"The Maltese Falcon" (1941) John Huston
"The Manchurian Candidate" (1962) JohnFrankenheimer
"Metropolis" (1926) Fritz Lang

"Modern Times" (1936) Charles Chaplin
"Monty Python and the Holy Grail" (1975) Terry Jones & Terry Gilliam
"Nashville"(1975) Robert Altman
"The Night of the Hunter" (1955) Charles Laughton
"Night of the Living Dead" (1968) George Romero
"North by Northwest" (1959) Alfred Hitchcock
"Nosferatu" (1922) F.W. Murnau
"On the Waterfront" (1954) Elia Kazan
"Once Upon a Time in the West" (1968) Sergio Leone
"Out of the Past" (1947) Jacques Tournier
"Persona" (1966) Ingmar Bergman
"Pink Flamingos" (1972) John Waters
"Psycho" (1960) Alfred Hitchcock
"Pulp Fiction" (1994) Quentin Tarantino
"Rashomon" (1950) Akira Kurosawa
"Rear Window" (1954) Alfred Hitchcock
"Rebel Without a Cause" (1955) Nicholas Ray

"Red River" (1948) Howard Hawks
"Repulsion" (1965) Roman Polanski
"Rules of the Game" (1939) Jean Renoir
"Scarface" (1932) Howard Hawks
"The Scarlet Empress" (1934) Josef von Sternberg
"Schindler’s List" (1993) Steven Spielberg
"The Searchers" (1956) John Ford
"The Seven Samurai" (1954) Akira Kurosawa
"Singin’ in the Rain" (1952) Stanley Donen &Gene Kelly
"Some Like It Hot" (1959) Billy Wilder

"A Star Is Born" (1954) George Cukor
"A Streetcar Named Desire" (1951) Elia Kazan
"Sunset Boulevard" (1950) Billy Wilder
"Taxi Driver" (1976) Martin Scorsese
"The Third Man" (1949) Carol Reed

"Tokyo Story" (1953) Yasujiro Ozu
"Touch of Evil" (1958) Orson Welles
"The Treasure of the Sierra Madre" (1948) John Huston
"Trouble in Paradise" (1932) Ernst Lubitsch
"Vertigo" (1958) Alfred Hitchcock
"West Side Story" (1961) Jerome Robbins/Robert Wise
"The Wild Bunch" (1969) Sam Peckinpah
"The Wizard of Oz" (1939) Victor Fleming

Lots of things to add to my already overflowing Netflix list.  The category that’s most obviously missing for me is non-English language movies.  I’ll have to tell T that Ebert agrees with him in our longstanding argument of which is a better movie, Star Wars or Empire Strikes Back.