Thu Dec 01 2016 22:37 November Film Roundup:
A few movies seen in a miserable month. Really high success rate
though! Plus, this is the first month since the beginning of Film Roundup where every feature I saw is a
new release. Maybe that counts for something in this messed-up world. Naw, who am I kidding? Update: turns out that's not even true, I forgot about Avanti! when I was writing this. When I was writing this I knew there was probably a movie I'd forgotten and I'd have to write an update like this one, and now it's happened.
- I saw a long series of Kieslowski shorts and the standout was Hospital
(1977), a slice-of-life documentary shot in a Warsaw trauma center where everything is super Communist and falling apart. Even the hammers don't work properly!
Unglamorous gore and unsexy nudity abound. For half these people it's
the worst day of their lives; for the other half it's just a normal
day of improvising.
- The Target Shoots First (2000): Watch it on Vimeo! A thought-provoking documentary about managing creative people in an anticreative environment/being creative with the disappointing materials on hand/being uncertain about the moral valence of your creative work. This film has a fun Office Space vibe, I think because of the editing. It was filmed at the last moment your boss might think "it's just home video, not like this could end up in a movie or anything."
I loved the Aerosmith cameo. Steven Tyler saying "such a deal!" has become a catchphrase in our household. I'm pretty sure it's Steven Tyler who says that, but I admit I would fail any "Aerosmith member or random old dude of equivalent age?" test.
- The Age of Shadows (2016): Man, Korean movies, huh? This was
much more violent than the corresponding American R movie would have
been. You think you're out for a classy espionage movie and it's just
people getting murdered from the first scene to the last. In between
the murders there were some cool fights, some good espionage, lots of
nice looking period sets and costumes. I do not recommend overall
because the amount of gore takes it past Robocop territory, but
Sumana liked it.
There's a suspenseful scene where you don't know whodunit, but the
real question is, whocares? There are maybe six characters here, we're
near the end of their movie, and I'm not so attached to any one of
them that I'm going to be shocked by a revelation that this one
is the Cylon. And... I was right not to get attached to any of these
- Avanti! (1972): Pulling out a new Billy Wilder DVD is like uncorking a vintage bottle of wine--an unrepeatable experience. At least I assume that's what it's like, from the way wine snobs talk about wine. We opened Avanti! uncertain as to the precise mixture of dark and funny in its bouquet, and... it's about 70-30. Laughs and callbacks all the way through, but it's a rom-com about a guy having an affair, handled with the attitude you'd expect from the director of The Apartment and Double Indemity.
Caution: includes fat jokes. They don't even land anymore because Juliet Mills is not fat by 2016 standards, and probably not even by 1972 non-movie-star standards.
- Arrival (2016):
Sometimes I'll tear up during a movie and I
resent it. It feels cheap, like I'm just having a physiological
reaction to the soundtrack. This happens a lot during
trailers. Sometimes it's a good movie and the content legitimately
makes me tear up. This happens pretty reliably when someone's spouse
or kid dies and you have to see the effect of that death on the
surviving spouse or parent. (Parent death, not so much, maybe because
that's actually happened to me.) Three Colors: Blue and
Waiting both did this to me.
Because of its narrative structure, Arrival made me not just
'tear up' but full-on cry in the theater. There are things about this
adaptation that I am iffy on, but the one thing at the core of
"Story of Your Life" is done incredibly well, it
perfectly hits my pain points, and kablooie.
I think this is not most peoples' reaction to Arrival, so here's a review for normal people. I'd
have cut some stuff at the beginning but it's a good movie overall. It
does a good job showing big-idea space opera on a small budget.
Pictured to right: the Heptapod B sentence I wrote by accident
while baking Thanksgiving cheesecake.
- Moana (2016): In Albany for Thanksgiving, the family
divided into two
warring camps: the camp that was
seeing Doctor Strange and the camp that was seeing
Moana. I was in the Moana camp and even though the
theater was filled with noisy children,
I don't regret it. Great movie. Good songs, silly and heartwarming in
the right ways. Tons of sea life, no central villain... could this be
the Star Trek IV of Disney animation? There was a moment during
one of the songs where I thought "Cool, they're combining animation
with live action like in Mary Poppins WAIT A MINUTE THIS IS ALL
Sumana braved the 2.5-hour running time of Doctor Strange
and came back with a tale of... distracted driving? Doesn't sound very
'strange' to me. I thought these Marvel movies were supposed to have Iron Man punching things. Anyway, later that week Sumana saw Moana and also loved
it. I'm not wild in general about Disney animated features but I must admit
they've been on a roll lately.
Sat Dec 03 2016 16:54 November Book Roundup :
Please join me in writing a long-overdue Crummy feature, Book Roundup. Hmm, I'm being informed I have to write this myself. Please join other NYCB readers in reading a long over-due Crummy feature, Book Roundup. This is part of my up-ramping effort to post to NYCB more often and to control more of the information I put on the Internet.
It works like Film Roundup, but with less detail. At one point I pledged less detail on Film Roundup and it hasn't really worked, but here I'm serious. I'm just going to mention the books I read that I liked or that I need to remember I read. I'm reading most of these books on NYPL's SimplyE reader, and since libraries don't keep track of which books you read, this is a great way of remembering what I've read.
- Carnegie by Peter Krass. Read for work research. The true story of a poor radical who became a rich reactionary who convinced himself he was still a radical.
- The Idea Factory by Jon Gertner. A history of Bell Labs that does a good job explaining the relationship between the Labs and the AT&T monopoly. It's always awkward to see UNIX called a programming language. I don't think this impeaches the overall accuracy of the book, but there are probably similar technical errors I couldn't catch.
- Speer: Hitler's Architect by Martin Kitchen. A well-deserved hit job on a man who successfully cultivated an image as The Guy Who Didn't Know. It's petty of me but I really liked the architectural criticism aspect of the hit job, which always ended with Kitchen mentioning that the site of Speer's Eternal Palace of the Volk (or whatever) now holds a parking garage (or whatever).
- Exploding the Phone by Phil Lapsley. The Idea Factory reminded me that I'd checked out this book a long time ago and wasn't able to finish it before my DRM license expired. It's the same story as The Idea Factory, where the phone system is a big time-share computer, but from the perspective of the computer's unauthorized users.
- Comic trade paperbacks! Sumana and Leonard agree: Unbeatable Squirrel Girl Vol. 3 is the best! Leonard agrees: Gwenpool Vol. 1 is fourth wall fun. It got a little gory but not as bad as your average Deadpool. I'm assuming there's a connection between the two? But it didn't actually happen in the book. I don't think I'm ever going to like low fantasy but Rat Queens volumes 2 and 3 are pretty nice.
Tue Dec 06 2016 09:49 At work, in the morning, when it's quiet:
Thu Dec 15 2016 10:46 little of my collections have enabled in contemplation:
I created a blackout story as a present for Allison and decided to retroactively make it my 2016 NaNoGenMo project. I call it "Amazon Prime". Enjoy!
Sat Dec 31 2016 19:08 December Film Roundup:
Looks like December 2016 has escaped its holding pen! As you flee, please consult this Film Roundup for next steps and valuable offers from our partners.
- Blue Collar (1977): Solid work/heist movie with Richard Pryor doing a Peter Falk-like job of putting comedy and drama into a single role. In fact, the movie poster shows Pryor twice, once doing a "drama" face and once doing a "comedy" face. Like those old Greek masks, I guess. Not pictured: Pryor's co-stars. A good thriller with authentic 70s grime. Cool factory footage means this was probably Krzysztof Kieslowski's favorite Richard Pryor movie.
- Plunder Road (1957): Some films noirs claim to be LA-centric, but only Plunder Road has the guts to focus entirely on the logistics of highway transportation. High quality popcorn noir. The smog inspection scene made me laugh.
- La La Land (2016): The movie that picks up where Plunder Road left off. It's a pretty musical, a genre you don't often see in modern American films, and I was enjoying the settings and the low-tech accomplishments of craft and the fact that it's more emotionally realistic than most pretty musicals, and then the ending happened. Such a great ending! It recontextualizes the entire movie in a way that only works because you spent 90 minutes in a pretty musical with above average emotional realism. I'd go into more detail but for once I think I don't want to spoil you.
The whole movie I was thinking "I know Ryan Gosling is a different Ryan than the guy from Deadpool, but they look exactly the same and I can't remember the other guy's name so I'm going to pretend this is a Deadpool prequel." This did not enhance the movie as much as I thought it would.
- Ghatashraddha (1977): "Such a good movie!" - Sumana's mom. A Kannada New Wave weepie in the style of the Apu trilogy. It was pretty good, but I didn't like it as much as Sumana's mom does.
The print I saw included a hilarious subtitle. Two teenagers from the village school are arguing, the younger one runs off in a huff. The older one: "Tut! Poor fellow!" I kind of felt it didn't mesh with the tone of the rest of the film.
- Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016): This year's Christmas movie with Susanna. Finally, the superb junkyard art direction of the Star Wars universe is matched by an appropriate storyline: "we got the job done but everybody died." I know they only did it to avoid answering the question of why these people weren't in Episode IV (possible alternate answer: "they were somewhere else"), but it was so good to watch some characters in this universe unconstrained by the burdens of myth. A surprisingly high recommendation.
- The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964): Clearly an inspiration for La La Land, but the new film is more to my taste in a couple ways. First, Cherbourg isn't really a "musical" in the [HB]ollywood sense, it's more like an opera or a very long cantata. Second, this film has the same ending as La La Land, but because it's an understated French film and not a noisy American musical the really cool thing doesn't happen on screen.
Unlike my Deadpool fantasy, this film really is kind of a sequel to Lola, a film I saw in 2014. I didn't notice this until IMDB trivia time afterwards. I would definitely pick this movie over Lola.
As the year draws to a close (actually, afterwards; I'm writing this addendum on Monday) let's turn the Television Spotlight on the beloved classic, Mister Rogers' Neighborhood (1968-2001). I don't think I've said this explicitly on NYCB, but when I was growing up my family did not own a television. You might think this was snobbish behavior, but I don't think Mom and Dad went around bragging about this at parties, and looking back on 1980s TV I have to say it was a solid choice.
This means that I didn't see any Mister Rogers' Neighborhood until I was thirty-seven, but no harm done. MRN is really good for kids who have serious problems in their lives, who need an oasis of ritual and calm, and the problems in my life started right around the time I grew out of the MRN age group. Now that I'm an adult I see MRN as a good model for talking to children without condescending to them or ignoring their concerns. The thing that stood out to me is that when he shows you a potentially unfamiliar place like an art gallery or an airplane, he always takes the time to verify that there are bathrooms there. He goes into the airplane bathroom and shows you how everything works. So you don't pee your pants on the plane flight because you're afraid to use the toilet.
Of course, some of these techniques only work on television. Mister Rogers will frequently ask you a question that sounds rhetorical, and then proceed as though you had answered it. I believe is the source of the common "can you say X?" parody construct. The semi-rhetorical question is incredibly condescending when someone does it to you in person. But Mister Rogers never acts like he heard your answer. You both know it's television and he can't hear you. Instead, he'll answer the question himself. "Is this the right shape? No, certainly not." He waits for you to give your opinion and then he weighs in with his own. If you don't say anything, that also works.
In general, this show is not my thing and never would have been, but I really admire the dedication to the target audience, and the field trip segments are always cool.
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