Tokyo!

Two birds, one movie. Got this week’s Alamo on Demad rental and crossed a Bong Joon-ho movie off the list. Although I’m not sure to what extent this one counts. It’s an anthology film, with submissions from three directors (including Bong), so his work is basically a short, but the full thing is a feature. Either way, it’s a Bong movie I was able to get my paws on, so I’m there.

Bong is joined by Michel Gondry and Leos Carax in this collection of three kinda weird stories set in Tokyo. It’s a great team up. You can feel each of the director’s styles, but the stories still vibe together. Although I do find it curious that two Frenchmen and a Korean are making a film about a Japanese town, but maybe that outsider perspective is helpful in adding to the feeling that something’s a little off about these stories.

First up, Michel Gondry with Interior Design. This was my favorite out of the three. A young couple moves to Tokyo. He’s an aspiring filmmaker. She’s the faithful and supportive girlfriend. But she starts feeling like she’s less and less needed or wanted, and then things happen that I darenot say. I’ll just say that it’s quite possibly the last thing I would have ever expected, unique enough that this is gonna stick with me for a long time. I would have gladly watched this entry as a full length feature, especially with an extended and more playful third act. Still this made the perfect little teaser appetizer for this collection.

Next up, Leos Carax with Merde. You may know him as the man who would later do Holy Motors. I’d tried watching it once and just did not get it at all. But I threw it back into my watch pile because I immediately recognized the Mr Merde character who stars here. He’s an underground dwelling creature of chaos, unleashing havoc on the city. Minimal on the plot (which is fine, it’s a short) but big on the WTF. Easily the strangest of the three, but also the one I cared for the least.

Then we had the main event (for me at least). Bong Joon-ho’s Shaking Tokyo. Quiet and meticulous in its storytelling, not unlike some parts of Parasite, there was no denying this was his entry. We follow a recluse (or hikikomori) who has lived in solitary isolation for a decade (I really hope this isn’t a glimpse into our quarantine future). A chance encounter with a delivery woman, bringing him his weekly pizza, changes everything. I do feel like this story had more to tell, but I like the mystery of keeping it as a short. Not as impactful for me as Gondry’s film, but still worth having watched.

I, Robot

I’d finally hopped onto the Kindle train. It took me years. I just love books so much, I didn’t want the experience to be diminished by losing the physical media. Plus I still had so much on my bookshelf. Would i never want to touch any of them again? But after the convenience of the first couple, especially how easily it fit into my purse, I was sold. I’d found a great deal on Stephen King’s full bibliography, and was mostly working thru those. My one consistent reading time was over my lunch break at work. I’d sit either in a cushy chair out in the courtyard or at the top of our seating structure in the break room and read for half an hour while eating. In what I didn’t know then would be my last few days in the office for the foreseeable future, I was starting on a Michael Crichton detour, halfway thru A Case of Need which I was really into.

And then the world turned upside down. I don’t typically read at home, especially when I’ve got movies and other entertainment at my disposal. But there was one thing I needed: bathroom reading material. For years the latest issue of Entertainment Weekly would suffice, but I’ve written it off since they went to a far inferior monthly format. Besides, I was gonna be using my home bathroom a lot more than I had in a while. This would require more robust reading material.

I didn’t wanna use the Kindle because I don’t think that bathroom and shower moisture is a good idea to have around it. So I raided my bookshelf. I knew I had to have a couple of things I hadn’t read (or was keen to re-read). I found a tiny pile of only a handful of unread books, most impusively purchased for cheap from a used book store a couple years back, and they had sat there since. I grabbed I, Robot from the pile (how had I gone this long as a science nerd without reading it?!) and moved it to the bathroom. Two months into quarentine, I finished it (bathroom reading is very slow, usually no more than a couple of pages at a time).

I loved it. Less a thru story than several related incidents strung together, it was a great read. Funny and insightful and engaging and posing lots of ethical and moral questions. So of course, logic would dictate that after I finished reading it, I’d have to revisit the movie. And yes, I know that the primary criticism of this tepidly received film was that it had almost nothing to do with the book. It’s true. It didn’t.

Basically all the two have in common are the three laws of robotics:
First Law – A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
Second Law – A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
Third Law – A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

From there, completely different story with a completely different tone and purpose. I could almost forgive it. As I said, the book had a series of incidents that while related didn’t necessarily follow thru as a plot. I could stretch and twist to believe that maybe the film is just one more story in the string. But the deviations are too much to buy that. It kinda tries to stir up some thoughts about robots and humanity, but more as a plot device than an attempt to provoke meaningful debate. And the type of questions its posing aren’t quite in the same spirit as the book. So you really just need to think of them as two separate entitities.

And that’s fine. It makes for a serviceable action film. Not among Will Smith’s most memorable, but a great opportunity for Alan Tudyk to do some voice work. I’m also ashamed to admit that back in ’04, I did buy the black leather Chucks. I don’t have them anymore. The leather started to separate from the sole at the bottom seam. Chucks really aren’t made to last long, but I still keep buying them. I bought quite a stash in the couple months before the world shut down, and now I mostly just wear the same old pair on my walks. Anyways we’re talking about robots. Actually no, I think we’re done talking about robots. The movie really doesn’t have much more worth commenting on.

My new bathroom reading is gonna be to try to work thru Harry Potter for the third time.

Fantastic Four

In my fantasies, I’m quarantining with Chris Evans (yes we’re talking about the old F4). In reality, I’m perfectly content (dare I say borderline ecstatic) to be by myself and not having to deal with social interactions, but right now, Chris is the one person I’d allow into my isolation bubble. His pup Dodger is absolutely welcome as well (even though I’m sure Lestat would have something to say about that).

So it shouldn’t be too hard to follow my thinking in choosing this movie to watch the other day. I know him so well as Captain America, but it’s been a very long time since I’d seen him as Johnny Storm (fun Dawn fact: the first wallpaper I ever had on my phone way back in the day was Chris as the Human Torch). And I wondered how that film would hold up in a post-MCU world.

It does still work in its way. Keep in mind, this movie isn’t only pre-MCU, it’s also pre-Dark Knight, which was really the first franchise that changed the superhero genre. Fantastic Four has all the hallmarks of superhero movies before the game was changed, and the ones that a lot of people can’t seem to register don’t apply anymore.

The movie is fun and light. It moves quickly with silly moments and big action. There’s no deep philosophical meaning or dark and gritty weight of the world bearing down on their shoulders. It’s just a good time, and I enjoyed it. Sure, it doesn’t tonally fit with what’s going on in the cinematic superhero world, but it doesn’t matter. It fits the time it was released in, and it provided that burst of positivity that I’ve been chasing during these tougher times.

I enjoyed it enough to add Silver Surfer to my watch pile, but I’m less optimistic about that one.

Burning

I have a new laptop! First blog post on it, as I try to get it done before my Zoom yoga class with my Boston studio. So let’s cut right to it.

My second foray into Alamo at Home didn’t go as well for me, but it’s entirely my fault. Curse my short attention span! I was still torn between several high priority movies I’d added to my list, but I felt drawn to Burning. It’s 2.5 hour run time was a little daunting, but I’d been getting in a bunch of longer movies this weekend anyways, so I figured why not. This movie really made me miss theaters, not that I hadn’t been already. Although a small victory was that I was able to successfully broadcast it over my network onto my tv without internet issues, so I’ll take that win.

This Korean film is a very slow burn (no pun intended) about a loner who gets fascinated with a girl he used to know from school and her new rich guy friend. I feel like I can’t really explain too much more without just giving the whole story, but discovering it as it plays out is the excitement of the film.

Unfortunately, because of said short attention span at home, especially when dealing with subtitles and a slower paced film, I just couldn’t stick with it. I recognize that I should have felt a slowly growing tension throughout, but for me it was more a frustration that things weren’t moving. Then there’s the problem that to keep my brain focused, I have to keep my hands busy, so I could only spare my eyes from my crochet for long enough to read the subtitles. That meant I couldn’t fully appreciate the cinematography, but the gorgeous colors did permeate my living room.

Immediately when it ended I texted a film buff friend of mine and asked if he’d seen it. I needed to untangle what it was all about. Unfortunately he hadn’t, so I spent the next half hour until Best Buy’s weekly sales switched over and I could go shopping scouring the internet to find explanations of what I just watched. It all came down to one thing: I completely missed the point. And again, that’s on me. So I’ll still mostly be sticking to rewatches, with one new Alamo rental every week cause it’s literally the least I can do to support them

Bodied

I bricked my laptop. Empowered by how I was able to take apart and reassemble my tower fan to stop it from making noise, I took apart my laptop to replace the super loud fans that were annoying me. Apparently I shorted something. So a new laptop is on it’s way. Two months after the warranty on the old one expired. I do have my work laptop, but I decided to try and take as much of a computer break as I can over the weekend. My eyes could sure use it. But old habits die hard, so I wanted to get in at least one post. After all, there’s a newly launched Alamo On Demand platform to talk about!

I’d mentioned a couple weeks ago that they had a few movies to rent on their site. That whole platform has been revamped to one that they’ve got better control over and more options to present. As it states on the site, any film that’s available is one that Alamo wants you to watch. There’s a whole selection of Terror Tuesdays and Weird Wednesdays, along with some Fantastic Fest selections and other content that is 100% on brand for them. The technology is a bit basic (for now) but absolutely worth it for the opportunity to support my favorite theater. And a great excuse for watching some new films while I’m mostly just revisiting things on my own movie wall.

I quickly made a long wish list of stuff I wanted to see (it does let you save your wish list for easy access later). I narrowed it down to 5 high priority films to choose from for week 1. Bodied is what I was most drawn to. I’ve heard various friends in the Stardust community rave about it, but I knew almost zero else about it otherwise. But I trust Stardust friends, and I trust Alamo.

Bodied is about a nerdy white guy who gets really into the rap battle scene. His interest starts off from a purely academic standpoint. He’s studying it for his thesis, fascinated by the scene and how it compares to the slam poetry he’s loved. Soon he stumbles into a few battles himself, and the whole thing shoots of from there.

The writing on this movie is incredible. It’s everything you want. It’s funny, it’s tense, it’s dramatic, it’s woke, it’s thought provoking. It will leave you questioning so much about the society we’re living in, and why things work the way they do, and do things even need to be that way. But the humor is what hooks you in to begin with, especially with the sharp rhymes being dropped in the battles. I dare not say too much more because this is certainly a movie to experience and let your jaw drop. I will say it was a great start to my new weekly Alamo at Home tradition!

Moulin Rouge

I was supposed to be in NYC this weekend (as of writing). But you know. ‘Rona. It was just gonna be a quick weekend trip. Hang with the BFFF. Catch a couple shows. Come right back. The main attraction was to see Moulin Rouge on Broadway. I’d wanted to see it last July, but I was priced out. Oh it was still expensive now, but I had birthday money and flight vouchers. Was also gonna catch Jagged Little Pill, but that was just icing. Moulin Rouge was what I was really there for. But alas, that didn’t happen (although I’m still waiting on my refund from them). So I did the logical thing. I watched the movie at home instead.

Confession. I saw this movie in theaters in 2001. And I hated it. Absolutely hated it. I just did not get it. It was so weird and frenetic and I didn’t understand why people loved this movie. Keep in mind, I was in high school, had not yet gotten into musical theatre, and was far less cultured than I may claim to be now (case in point, I thought the “Heroes” sample was from The Wallflowers). If the film hadn’t been so beloved, I woulda left it at that. But it was beloved. And it persisted. And the music kept crossing my path. I couldn’t get away from it. The music is what pulled me back in.

Eventually I watched it again in college, after the theatre obsession began. I still didn’t love it, but I appreciated it more. And the music kept me going. Over the years, the music would get me to watch it again, and I’d enjoy it even more. I don’t know when the flip happened, but eventually I was converted and I absolutely adored this film. All the flourishes and quirks that I once thought were strange were now beautiful. I love the artistry and that frenetic pace and that passionate explosion of love and beauty.

This rewatch was bittersweet. I’m not sure how long it’s been since I’ve watched it, so a lot of it felt like it was brand new. And it did look absolutely stunning on a giant 4K screen (even on an old DVD). My eyes took some time to adjust to all the bright and flashing lights, but I loved it. I sang along with every song. I soaked in every detail. And I imagined what the stage version must have looked like. What it must have sounded like. I’m so in love with Ewan McGregor in this film, but Broadway star Aaron Tveit is another love of mine, so I tried picturing what he’d bring to it.

I generally avoid buying Broadway soundtracks until after I’ve seen the show, but I downloaded it that night. I’m just now pushing play on it, but I’ll have it to look forward to for this evening’s walk around the block. I know I’ll get to see the show in some form one day. I still intend to make it out to NYC at some point once it’s safe (still gotta hang with the bestie after all) and I know it’ll be on tour. Maybe I won’t get to see it with Aaron, but I will see it. But for now, I have the original movie and the new soundtrack. And that’ll be enough. I know in the grand scheme of things I’m still coming out of this thing pretty unscathed. I’ve been so blessed to see so many shows, that if giving up one (well two, but I wasn’t as attached to the other) means that me and others get to stay healthy and safe, then it’s a small price I’ll gladly pay.

Ordinary World

I don’t talk much about music on here, it is a movie blog after all, but I’m fairly confident that by now I’ve at least established that Green Day is my favorite band. Right? I’ve established that? Okay cool. Just in case, Green Day is my favorite band. Has been since college. Lead singer Billie Joe Armstrong has had a smattering of small acting roles here and there (a guest stint on Nurse Jackie is the one that’s most memorable to me, and of course stepping in as St Jimmy in American Idiot on Broadway), but to date he’s only had one lead role: Ordinary World.

I’ll admit, I haven’t really prioritized this film. I’d had it on my Best Buy wish list for a while, but hadn’t brought myself to shell out the fifteen bucks for it. I felt I could tell pretty easily from the surface what the film would be like (light and cute indie, not that refined, but enjoyable enough) so I kept putting it off. Plus the song Ordinary World is nice, but for me it’s not one of the highlights of its album, Revolution Radio. Then a couple weeks ago Billie Joe posted on his socials that Ordinary World dropped on Netflix. My excuses dwindled. Even though I’m trying to focus on revisiting things in the movie wall, I did make a point to check this out. And it was basically what I expected.

Billie Joe is a dad. A normal, ordinary dad, who used to be a minor rock star back in the day. But now, on his 40th birthday, his life revolves around his wife and two kids and boring job at his brother’s hardware store. Unsatisfied and dreaming of what used to be, he throws an impromptu bash at a fancy hotel and invites his old band mates who invite a slew of strangers. You can guess where this goes.

And yup, what I expected. Cute and light, very predictable, but full of enough heart to keep me interested. It is kinda tough to watch a movie where your protagonist makes one bad decision after another after another (especially when you know where it’s all heading) but it was a pleasant journey. I was mostly just amused at seeing Billie Joe as an ordinary dad. I know IRL he’s father to two boys with his wife of many many years, but it’s not a side of him we get too much insight into. I really liked that. I don’t know that there’s much here for you if you’re not much of a Green Day fan, but it was lovely for me.

The Birds

Hitchcock really was a freaking genius wasn’t he? I need to know his movies better than I do, so I figured The Birds was a good place to start. Maybe I didn’t need something else freaking me out in the middle of a global pandemic and economic depression, but coming from such a masterful filmmaker, I’ll allow it.

There’s a few things The Birds highlighted for me about some of Hitchcock’s style, things that I’ve noticed in his other films, but really drove home how good he was at what he did. The first is that his films start off being about something else. Something mundane. Something not at all scary. Psycho is the prime example, famously killing off its leading lady less than halfway in. The Birds is similar.

The first half of the film, our leading lady is tracking down our leading man. They shared a connection at a bird store. She follows him to a small coastal town, where he’ll be celebrating his little sister’s birthday, and as a present she’s brought a pair of lovebirds. If you didn’t know what film you were watching, you’d think that’s about as far as the title went. Should be your typical meet cute rom com, yeah? Okay sure, a bird attacks her out in the water, but that’s all a part of how they come together.

It isn’t until about halfway that the birds really do start going ape and attacking all of the townsfolk, and there’s where the other part of his genius comes in. Again going back to the idea of mundane, he can make the simplest things so scary. Showers. Ladders. Windows. Birds. How many people do you know who are scared of birds not as a result of seeing this film? Not a whole lot. As a result of seeing this film? Quite a few more.

There’s a bit where Tippi Hedron is waiting outside the school for class to let out. And the black birds start quietly gathering on the jungle gym. They’re not doing anything. Just sitting there. I thought that was the most terrifying sequence in the film. Not the following one where they’re attacking and the town’s in chaos, but that quiet build. Nothing’s happening at the moment, but you know there’s a storm coming, and you have no idea what that storm will look like because the likes of it hasn’t been seen before. That right there is the mark of the true master of suspense.

Psycho is still and forever will be my favorite Hitchcock film, but I think this watch puts The Birds firmly in number two, with Rear Window just behind. Hmm, maybe I should add that to the pile. Brb.

The Invitation

A couple months ago, someone on Stardust asked me who my favorite female filmmaker was. And I had no answer. Sure, I could name ladies who made one or two movies I enjoyed, but I wanted to be able to name someone with a fairly long resume. The obvious answers are Sophia Coppola (respect, but not always my style), Kathryn Bigelow (too obvious and do I really know much about her work?), and Greta Gerwig (too green, also not my style). It killed me that I didn’t have a real answer and I’ve been trying to find one ever since.

A new challenger enters the ring: Karyn Kusama. I first heard her name a few weeks ago when she’d been tapped to direct a new Dracula movie. The main credit being listed in all the news was Jennifer’s Body. Okay, I can get behind this. Within a day or two of this news breaking, I sat mere feet away from her at Alamo Drafthouse when she introduced Near Dark. I even passed her in the hall after, but didn’t really have enough of an opinion on her to poke her for a selfie or pay her a compliment, and the event soon left my mind.

I posted about watching Girlfight the other day, which I really enjoyed. I’d remembered it was the directorial debut of a female director, so I looked her up. Karyn Kusama. Alrighty now, time to audition her as a potential favorite female filmmaker. I looked thru her credits. Destroyer. Also really good, and incidentally another time I stood merely feet away from her (because of that special screening my buddy and I stumbled into). She also made Aeonflux, which I hadn’t cared for at first, but I ordered the DVD to give it a second chance. If nothing else respect for the genre switch. And then there was this film that I saw was available on Netflix: The Invitation.

I don’t typically watch a lot of movies on Netflix, and even now I’m trying to focus on revisiting things on my movie wall. This warranted an exception, and when I saw that Logan Marshall-Green led the cast, it was a done deal.

Marshall-Green and his girlfriend are invited to the home of his ex-wife and her new boyfriend for a dinner party. No one has seen the couple in two years and this invitation is shrouded in mystery and intrigue. Something just doesn’t feel right about it, and no one can put their finger on why.

That’s about all I daresay about the plot. It unfolds in a way that makes you question your own sanity. Is there something sinister going on? Is it all in Logan’s head? Surely, everything is okay right? No this can’t possibly be okay? But has anything bad actually happened yet? Is something bad going to happen? It’s a very slow burn, and a mostly satisfying one at that. I didn’t like how the actual story and motives of it played out, but I loved how it did.

Kusama proves herself as a filmmaker and a master of suspense. She uses very subtle foreshadowing to build the tension. Subtle enough to make you question if things mean what you think they mean or if you’re imagining things, and she prolongs it until the last possible moment. It’s unsettling and it’s masterful. I only wish the writing and the why’s behind it all were more satisfying. I will say the final thirty seconds were absolutely delicious (although I saw a few Stardust posts that disagreed with me on that point). So yes, I think we do have a legit contender for my favorite female filmmaker. At least I have someone I can answer now.

Winter’s Bone

This movie is pretty well known for being Jennifer Lawrence’s big break and first Oscar nomination, but I hadn’t realized it was up for a couple others including Best Picture. I’d barely remembered watching it the first time around.

J-Law is a teenager in the Ozarks who is left to take care of her family, including two small children and an ill mother. Without much money to their name, she scrapes by to provide for the household as best as she can. Her criminal father goes missing, and it’s up to her to locate him before his upcoming court date or they can lose their house.

It feels insensitive to refer to this film as fascinating, but it really is eye opening seeing the real struggle some people live through in this very country. Especially watching it during lockdown, where I’m doing relatively okay, seeing what it’s like for those who weren’t even okay to begin with, it’s heartbreaking. It’s a very real side of our society that I had no clue about (even having sorta watched the film before).

It’s no wonder that Jennifer Lawrence caught Hollywood’s attention because she really is fantastic here. Such strength and determination and she carried the film just like her character carries her family. Basically everything you saw in her Katniss, but much more raw and stoic. Yup, her career trajectory makes so much sense now.