Tommy

“I’ve been equal parts dying and dreading to see this movie for about ten years now. It was then that I signed on to be a co-producer on my theater group’s production of Tommy. That production has lived on in infamy for a variety of reasons. It wasn’t just the put in (moving all our set pieces into space) that happened in the middle of one of the largest blizzards in the area in years, or the general shenanigans involved with having children in the cast, or sleeping in the theater after working late into the night to help set up the fiber optic body outline on the stage. No, most of it came from our insane director, and I mean really insane. I could go on and on about the various “”artistic”” decisions he made, for example the time he asked if he could have a live cat, if not a live rat, if not a tumbleweed. Basically, anytime he opened his mouth, our response (at least in our heads if not out loud) was said to be “”What? Why? \m/ you.”” Long story short, it resulted in one of the cast members (who we at that fateful point found out was actually his on again off again ex) taking out a restraining order against him, and a lengthy list of specific questions added to future director interviews.

The sad thing was, I didn’t even get to see our strange little show, at least not in the audience. Scared as I was, I eventually watched the DVD. I was the official kid wrangler, which meant I stayed backstage with 4 year old Tommy and 10 year old Tommy (who were actually 6 and 12, and did share the same name, which was not Tommy), keeping them quietly entertained until it was time to usher them onto the stage. Much fun was had, even if I had one of my first “”I’m old”” moments when the littler Tommy referred to my Sega Game Gear as “”the oldest video game ever””.

And now, ten years later, with a new re-release special steelbook edition BluRay in the player, I’m sitting down to watch the movie. As a general rule, watching movie versions is typically discouraged when working on a show. Since then, I’ve really wanted to see it, but was too haunted by the production to put effort into acquiring the film. I’d also heard that it was really different and more trippy than good.

So far, it is sorta different. Some of the same songs, some different ones.

Wait whoa what? The lover killed Captain Walker instead of hte other way around? Huh? THat’s different from the album too. Um, why?

Also, some of the imagery is just as trippy as what our director tried to do on stage. Not quite what I’m used to, either on film or stage, but okay.

I don’t like this version of the Hawker’s song. It’s not bad, but it’s not as rocking or sexy. It also went on too long, and I miss the harmonica.

Oh hai there Tina Turner….oh that took a turn. What’s with the robot thing? Um okay not a robot? I’m so confused. Whaaaaaaa? Ew snakes! OMG look away!!

In case you haven’t noticed, I’m taking more of a live blog reaction approach this time. Carry on.

Well at least some of the stuff that’s getting switched up means that questoinable things are happening to older Tommy and not the kid version.

Oh man, cousin Kevin is way more vicious on film than I’d imagined. That was just tough to watch. Aaaand there’s Uncle Ernie. I was wondering when he’d show if his intro was reworded for Kevin. Oh there’s his intro. This can’t be good.

Elton John, save me please! You’re my only hope. I do like his set up with the stilts and the piano on the pinball machine. Now this is taking me back to our pinball set up. It was rigged to light up when the flippers were hit, and if you hit both flippers at the same time, the machine lit up a big happy face in the lights. This is what happens when you have MIT kids building things. It’s also what happens when the director pisses off the set designer. That wasn’t the only hidden smiley on set…

Jack Nicholson whaaa? Singing? Oh that creepy Shining gaze is so appropriate though. And now the contraption in the doctor’s office is bringing up Clockwork Orange associations.

And now Mommy dearest is now smacking him in the face with her hair, after having the most spastic dance session in front of the mirror. I gotta say, I don’t like distant and uncaring Mommy. I like her better more sympathetic and exhausted than inconvenienced.

Tommy has been able to see for like ten minutes now, and I somehow lost interest along the way. Then again, I never really cared for the whole house party cult bit. I get the Messianic figure symbolism, but not the best songs. Though we did just get “”Sensation”” which is one I love.

what? I turn my attentino away for five minutes and now everyone’s wearing some sensory deprivation contraptions? I don’t know why I’m even trying anymore….oh the crowd turned on him bad. Again, another scene far worse on screen than I’d even thought to expect. And *spoiler* bye bye Mommy and step Daddy. That’s new. Although we had Tommy kill his parents, and then Uncle Ernie was forced to dispose of the bodies before slitting his own wrists. Another example of the director’s “”artistic vision””.

Well that was special. The music’s still great though. Don’t do drugs, kids!”

Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

“Black Friday is possibly my favorite day of the year, or at least it’s in contention for the top spot. Christmas, my birthday, and free Slurpee day are also vying for the spot. As per tradition, I made the wee hours of the morning pilgrimage to the holy land of Best Buy. Grabbed a stack of 20+ DVDs and BluRays, most priced under 5 bucks, and waiting in line for 90 minutes to check out. Add in the early sale movies I got online a few days before and the couple I got at my other traditional shopping location, Target, and I’ve got a stack (actually it’s split into two stacks) of 35+ movies to watch now. I’d better get on that.

After a morning of playing WoW (I still haven’t brought myself to pay for the Draenor upgrade though) and cooking this week’s Blue Apron meals, it was time for yoga and then attacking the pile. While I was lying in shavasana, it occurred to me that Planes, Trains, and Automobiles would be a fun one to watch. Usually the majority of my Black Friday movies are crap that they really just want gone from their shelves, but this year I found a lot of low priced classics that I’d never seen. This included.

Having never seen it, I didn’t know just how apropos a choice it was for this Turkey Day weekend. Steve Martin (are character names really necessary with such iconic actors) is struggling to get home for Thanksgiving. He continues to cross paths with John Candy, and the two try to make the journey together any way they can. As you could imagine from that pair, things don’t always work out quite right. Martin takes on the straight role, fairly uptight with stubborn determination, while Candy is the free spirited spazz, mucking everything up.

Some of the jokes are a bit dated, but even without the aid of present day technologies, it still had a timeless feel to it. As is worryingly often the case with these types of opposite characters, I found myself over sympathizing and relating to Martin. True, some of my frustration was the lack of planning or foresight on his part, but I couldn’t help but be calculating logistics or totaling up the ridiculous amount of money he spent. Candy had an endearing quality beneath that often annoying (on purpose acting wise) exterior.

Either way, I’m just happy to cross another beloved classic off my list. And it only cost me five bucks!”

Foxcatcher

“I wanted to love this movie so bad. Winning cast and plot combo, I’d first heard whispers of it a year ago, when one of my reliable sources for early Oscar buzz was lamenting that this was pushed back to this year. I’ve been championing it as a serious contender, and would get a little sad and indignant every time it seemed to have fallen a little more out of favor. The release date was finally announced, only to find out that was the NY/LA release and I had to wait an extra two weeks. Using Turkey Day traffic as an excuse, I ducked out of work a little early and ran down to Coolidge Corner to the first possible screening I could make. My reaction when it was all over: um, okay.

Foxcatcher is the true story of Mark and Dave Schultz, brothers training for the 1988 Seoul Olympics, and the questionable relationship they had with their sponsor and sorta trainer John du Pont. Something is clearly not right in du Pont’s head, but the situation turns tragic before the brothers are fully able to realize it and get away. Okay, I’m trying to give a cryptic synopsis without giving away the ending. I knew all along what was going to eventually happen (I’d done my Wikipedia homework when buzz was first making the rounds), but it unfolded a lot differently from what I expected.

I’m still not sure that I liked it. I think I did. Our leading men, Channing Tatum, Mark Ruffalo, and an unrecognizable Steve Carrell turned in absolutely outstanding performances (elaboration forthcoming). I knew it’d be somewhat disturbing, but I was expecting a delicously dark David Fincher lite kinda vibe. Instead, it was ridiculously uncomfortable. The pacing was a little slow, both for the story as a whole and for individual scenes. It certainly helped set the stage and tell you that something wasn’t right, but it didn’t make for a very pleasant watching experience.

Those boys though, absolutely pleasant watching experience, and I’m not just saying that because there was lots of minimally clothed Channing Tatum in Adonis-esque shape. This is one of the meatiest roles of his career, even if his character was reserved and his performance restrained. He had the intensity in his eyes that would burst forth in bigger manifestations when he couldn’t contain it anymore. He’s found his niche as the not smart but very determined type of character (Step Up, 21 Jump Street) and he expanded on it greatly here. I loved the brotherly relationship he portrayed with Ruffalo. You could see the love and respect they had between them, and Ruffalo possessed such great understanding. His may not have been as showy of a role has his costars, but his subtlety and emotional depth were crucial.

The ultimate performance in the film though was Steve Carrell as John du Pont. With the help of some prosthetics and a different speech pattern, he absolutely disappeared into the role. I love love love seeing comedians take on serious roles, and transformations and unexpected performances like this are why. The real meat of the story was in trying to understand du Pont. He was a man who felt inferior his whole life and constantly sought validation that he’d usually try to buy from unlikely sources. THat’s what ultimately drove all his actions. Its so difficult to take such an unlikeable character and make him so fascinating, but Carrell did that so well. He may be haunting my nightmares for a while, but it was worth it to see that performance.

Foxcatcher – \m/ \m/ \m/”

The Hunger Games: Mocking Jay Part 1

“I’ll be honest, as much as I love this franchise (books and movies) I really wasn’t that excited for this one. Three reasons. 1-It was my least favorite of the books. I barely even retained any of it. B-The last movie felt like it lacked a little punch or something. III-Did they really need to split this into two? Except maybe a little for Harry Potter, did it ever work well? As fate would have it, I was actually quite into this one.

In retrospect, yes, it does feel like it was a little stretched, and I’m worried as all hell about part 2 being all action and not plot, but in the moment, I really did enjoy this one. I think a big part of why the first installment (book and movie) is my favorite is the games themselves. 2 dropped off since there was less games, and now there are no games. I’m always more interested in the status quo of these futuristic dystopian societies than I am in their rebellion and downfall (see also: Divergent). But something felt different. Maybe it’s because I didn’t remember the details and the story unfolded like new. Maybe it’s the ridiculously strong cast. Maybe it’s that Katniss is one hell of a character.

I was actually reflecting on her as a literary character while I was watching, and she’s incredible. Someone I would want my one day future daughter to look up to. She’s a strong leader, an independent thinker, fiercely protective, compassionate, and possessing so many other great traits. What I love about her is that she doesn’t seek out the role that she has in the games and the rebellion, but bravely accepts her place out of love for those she cares about. That’s ultimately what drives her, and it’s beautiful. Within the past year of blogging I seem to have started caring much more about how women are portrayed in film, and I’m happy to report that this one passes the Bechdel test with flying colors. Katniss, Coin, Prim, Effie, all fully realized and strong characters.

Of course Katniss wouldn’t be Katniss without Jennifer Lawrence behind her. She gets under her skin showing her strength and vulnerability with such grace. For me, though, as far as performance, the one I couldn’t take my eyes off of was Phillip Seymour Hoffman as Plutarch Heavensbee. What stood out for me with this role is that for once he allowed himself to just let loose a bit. He’s not digging into his emotional depths for a masterful but intense performance. He was clearly just having fun, and I loved watching it, and I wish he would have been around longer to see more of those kind of roles for him. There’s some other examples early in his career, but he had such an air of freedom around him. *tear*

I’m still a little leery about our final installment next year, but I think this one got the job done quite well.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 -\m/ \m/ \m/ \n”

Friday Night Lights

“For all intents and purposes, I was watching this for the first time. I’ve never seen the tv show either (although I’ve got it in my Netflix queue) but I’m starting to understand why it was so loved.

I grew up in Texas, and I can honestly say that yes it really is a big deal. And that’s that I’m from south Texas, not the real football country up north. My private high school was too small to sustain a football team, but my Daddy taught at a local high school, so we often went to their games. The experience in the film is not exaggerated.

I hadn’t realized this was based on a real team until we got the “”where are they now”” blurbs at the end. It follows a small football town, where the game is the entire population’s livelihood. For me, it’s tough to watch because I can’t see having my life revolve around something like that. Sure, I enjoy football (basketball more though), but it’s something that’s so fleeting. Outcomes can change on the turn of a dime. But for these small towners, that’s all they had.

THe other thing that made it a little difficult to watch was their star running back Boobie Mile’s knee injury. He tears his ACL in the first game we see, and that injury is something I do know what a bit about, having done that myself a decade ago (wow I feel old now). I don’t understand how he was walking, let alone trying to play. I always took my doctor’s directions very seriously, understanding that the added inconveniences at the moment would result in a better recovery and less problems down the line. I would not have been able to bring myself to take the risks that he did, and it was so tough watching all that play out.

Led by the force that is Billy Bob Thorton, we have a pretty awesome cast here. A lot of up and coming young guys who went on to bigger and better. Okay so maybe Garret Hedlund was the only one on to bigger, but guys like Lucas Black, Lee Thompson Young (*tear*), Jay Hernandez all showed up here and there for a while. I was most impressed with country music star Tim McGraw in his big screen debut. I remember thinking it seemed a lil strange that he would try acting, but watching him now, his character is so far from his real persona. I’m impressed.

Another thing I loved was the music, particularly during the final game. Such great classic rock hits electrifying the air and ramping up the energy. I tell ya, it had me on the edge of my seat.

This one plays out a little slower than most sports movies tend to, but it’s also more substantial than they usually are. I’m thinking maybe I need to hurry up catching up on my current shows so I can get around to watching the one that this spawned.”

Rosewater

“Just getting around to writing up last week’s movie because I’ve been lazy and/or busy. Actually last weekend really was kinda busy. I lucked out in that I’d caught advance screenings of most of the new releases, leaving only my obligatory minimum of one movie thus maintaining my 26+ week streak on foursquare of going to the same theater. Reason for the craziness is that I was in a dance show! Kind of a low key deal, but last minute rehearsals and performances left lil time for cinematic adventures.

Rosewater is the true story of an Iranian born journalist, Maziar Bahari, who was working in the UK for Newsweek. He’s sent back to his home country to report on their elections and ends up imprisoned and falsely accused of being a spy. What I find most interesting about this is that one of the pieces of supposed evidence against him was an interview he’d filmed for The Daily Show. Clearly meant as a comedic piece, the Iranian officials holding him instead used it against him. Because of the friendship they formed as a result of his role in these terrible events, Jon Steward adapted Bahari’s book about the ordeal, and makes his feature film debut as a director.

There are a lot of current events and political issues around the world that I know nothing about. To be honest, I’m just not that interested. You can make any dumb American accusations at me, but I’m just not likely going to pick up a Time magazine and start being an activist for these myriad of causes. However, sometimes I feel that it is right for me to at least make some effort to educate myself, and this film felt like that kind of opportunity.

I saw a review that said this film felt split in half. The stronger half being the opening where Bahari was covering the elections and trying to expose the government corruption. The second half deals with his imprisonment. I do agree with those observations. Much more happened early on, and that’s where I felt I learned so much. The second half had less action and plot advancement, but it was certainly the more emotional piece. Neither part would have amounted to anything without the other.

Gael Garcia Bernal plays Bahari and gives an incredible and weighty performance. He’s such a good actor and does not get the type of attention he deserves, and he deserves to be noticed by Oscar some day soon. He plays the role with such sympathy and conviction, this is the guy you want to play you in your biopic.

I also think Stewart was an interesting choice in director, not just because of his connection to our protagonist, but because of his media savvy and general knowledge of world events. There were of course lots of newscasts thrown in, as well as a glimpse into the infamous Daily Show bit, but I also liked how he’d overlay headlines. Or would display news on the walls. I’m not describing it correctly, but you’ll know what I mean when you see it. And you should. It’s not as flashy as some of the awards bait that’s out there now, but it’s just as important and affecting.

Rosewater – \m/ \m/ \m/ \n”

Hours

“Tonight’s (or last night’s since I’m future dating this) post brought to you by Netflix. Because it was “”new movie”” kinda night. Said new movie is Hours, one of the last films of Paul Walker’s career, released just two weeks after his death. Sad face.

The film begins with Walker’s Nolan rushing to the hospital with his pregnant wife in duress. He loses her, but not before she is able to deliver their daughter. Since the baby is premature, she’s dependent on a ventilator for the next 48 hours or so. Oh and also, we’re in New Orleans and Hurricane Katrina is about to hit. Nolan is trapped in the hospital, unable to move his premie baby and her equipment. When the power goes out, he has to manually crank the back up battery on her machinery every couple of minutes to keep her alive. Meanwhile, he needs to try and find help.

This movie was intense, even if the action was limited. It just starts off on such a tough note, and then the impact of Katrina is almost too much to handle. It lightens up a bit with flashback sequences as Nolan is telling his daughter about her mother, but every time he thinks he has his situation under control, there’s another obstacle or crisis. Add onto that the fatigue that he’s feeling as the hour stretch on. I’ll admit to getting a little emotional at the ending (even though I knew how it had to conclude), but that’s simply because I am a total sucker for a good father/daughter story.

So sad that this was about where Walker’s career ended, because this may just be his career best performance. He had made a niche for himself with the Fast franchise, and often took on similar roles, but this one is so different. Nolan still has that good guy core that is essential for Walker, but there’s a range of emotion we don’t see from him often. Also, it was incredibly demanding physically as Nolan’s strength wore out. All that, AND for a good majority of the film, Walker is the only person on screen. That takes talent and guts, and it’s such a bummer that we never got to see more of this side of him.”

The United States of Leland

“Grabbed this one from the wall the other day. Way back in the day, there used to be a used DVD store near where I used to go to church up here. As incentive, if I could drag my butt over to church, I allowed myself to shop for cheap movies. Besides the presumably low price, I’d chosen Leland for two reasons: Ryan Gosling and the unique title.

Gosling plays the titular Leland, a shy and quiet boy, who seems like the nicest kid in the world, except that he’s accused of a pretty terrible crime. He’s currently in a juvenile prison for some of the more disturbed cases, and forms a friendship with his teacher Pearl (Don Cheadle). Leland recounts his events for Pearl, who like the rest of the world, is baffled by what happened.

It’s certainly a downer of a film. Interesting and unique, but the tone makes you shy away from subsequent viewings, which is why I suppressed most of the memory of the film from the time before that I’d seen it. I’d totally forgotten that the cast also includes Kevin Spacey, Michelle Williams, Chris Klein, and Jena Malone. There’s also a pre-Scandal Kerry Washington. It really is a bold movie, and one that won’t leave you unaffected. You just gotta be in the mood for being affected, because whoa.”

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

“Holy delayed blog post, Batman! So it was just over a week ago now that the Brattle had a special screening of The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. Why would I pay to go see a movie that I already own on DVD? Because Casey Affleck was gonna be there. Yeah huh.

First there was an intro from the guy who’d put this screening together. About a year ago, he decided he wanted to do something about how underappreciated this movie is. So he started organizing screenings for what he described as “”the greatest movie of the 21st century””. Um, okay, that’s a pretty big statement to make.

I’d seen this once before, when I purchased said DVD. I found it kinda dry, but I was happy to have an excuse to give it a second try. I was with it for the first hour and change. Such strong and incredible performances from a remarkable cast: the aforementioned Affleck, Brad Pitt, Sam Rockwell, a pre-Hurt Locker Jeremy Renner, a criminally underused Mary-Louise Parker, and even more underused Zooey Deschanel. According to Affleck in his post viewing Q&A (more on that shortly), writer/director Andrew Dominik’s goal was to portray a story about the relationships between these outlaws. It was not meant to be about action and gunslinging. I certainly got that point, and I agree it was the right move. However, Dominik really needs to learn how to kill his darlings and trim the movie down. 160 minutes of a heavy handed talky film is A LOT. The film didn’t need western action, but it needed something to happen to move the plot.

Still, it was worth the second look, and I do appreciate the film more. But let’s be real, I was really there to be in the presence of a real live Affleck. He had some fun stories, such as how Sam Rockwell, in the adjacent hotel room, would scream out his lines every morning with different impersonations. In response to a question about whether the sometimes perceived homoerotic subtext, he took a jab at his costar “”No, it wasn’t intended. I mean, Brad Pitt’s not that good looking, no one would believe it””. He had a later laugh at his expense, when lamenting that the low reception has prevented Dominik from garnering more work “”When a Brad Pitt movie doesn’t do well at the box office, people get worried””.

He continued on about how he approached the character, and how he reconciled Ford’s actions with his own mentality. There was talk about his heroes, about how certain scenes were filmed, just all over the place. When it was over, I followed the lead of a girl in the front row and I rushed towards the stage. I got him to sign my DVD of Gone Baby Gone (although I really should have taken Assassination as well) and take a pic. He may have unintentionally stolen my sharpie, destroying the clippy part as he absentmindedly twirled it in his hands as I debated whether or not to wait for it, but it was a worthwhile sacrifice. Twas quite a fun evening indeed!”

Big Hero 6

“I don’t know what I was really expecting from Big Hero 6 other than a really cute robot, Baymax. I certainly wasn’t expecting the level of tech nerdy goodness we got, nor did I realize that it was going to be a team superhero thing. I knew that Baymax (who I keep wanting to call Betamax) would be outfitted as a hero, but I guess in my mind Big Hero 6 may have just been like a version 6.0 type of naming thing.

Young robotics genius Hiro is taken under the care of Baymax, a healthcare robot built by Hiro’s brother, Tadashi. Baymax becomes Hiro’s companion as he tries to move on from his brother’s death. He gets himself into some trouble chasing down an evil genius who has reappropriated one of Hiro’s robotic inventions, so he reprograms Baymax as a superhero and enlists the help of some other grad student friends of Tadashi, forming their own group of superheroes.

First off, Baymax, cutest robot ever! He has a childlike wonder and a fierce loyalty that make him such an endearing creature. Throw in his inflatable make up and some slight technological challenges, and he further captures your heart. I don’t think it’s possible for a person to leave the theater not wanting their own Baymax to pal around with.

The film may have lost a lil momentum once we got into the more super-centric half of the film, leaving most of the emotional core behind in favor of action, but it was such a sweet and exciting film. I still think Lego Movie should wear this year’s animation crown, but Big Hero 6 gave it a good run for a while there. Besides the fun with Baymax, TJ Miller’s Fred had a few scene stealing moments. In any other movie, he wouuld have been the best one to watch. Oh and if you do like Fred, be sure to stick around thru the end credits for an after scene. Might be a little bit early to start the holiday movie season, but we certainly have a good pick for family fare

Big Hero 6 -\m/ \m/ \m/ \m/”