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.

Girlfight

When is an underdog sports movie not an underdog sports movie? If it doesn’t have that Hollywood sheen to it, does it count? What if it’s a scrappy little indie? That’s Girlfight. Sure, on the surface it’s about a girl who learns boxing, but it doesn’t hit on any of the cliches that would make it your classic Rocky-esque flick.

Michelle Rodriguez (in what I believe was her debut, but I’m too lazy to confirm) is a high school girl in Brooklyn. Prospects are low, self esteem is low, attitude is high. She begins training as a boxer, which ends up being more of a fight than the fights themselves. Girls don’t box. Girls don’t get trained as boxers. Girls don’t get fights. It doesn’t matter. This is the one thing she has and she’ll fight for it.

There’s no training montage, no dire need to win because a plot device depends on it, no inspirational coach, none of that crap. It’s simply a film about a girl fighting for her place in the world. Boxing happens to be the way she does that, and may hopefully be her ticket out. The film is more about her internal journey, and it’s strong in the way that a well done indie film can be.

Rodriguez is perfect. Yes, her acting ability and career choices may be questionable (which Billy Eichner hilariously illustrated in his “What does Michelle Rodriguez bring to the table” game that I can’t find a YouTube clip of), but this role is what she was born to play. It’s no wonder that she quickly moved up into higher profile roles. She’s got the attitude and determination and strength to carry this film and make us care about her character’s journey. Nothing else she’s ever done has ever compared.

The Station Agent

Remember some time back when I found that video store closing in Boston? And I dropped a couple hundred bucks over the course of a month or so and ended up with the sweetest stack of movies I’ve ever had? This was one of the movies I bought. I knew nothing about it, but saw Peter Dinklage on the cover. Peter Dinklage as a leading man for 2 bucks? Yes please. I watched it back then during my frenzied marathon, and I enjoyed it very much. And then I forgot everything about it. It grabbed my eye a couple times when glimpsing my movie wall for quarantine films, so I finally gave in. Excellent choice.

Dinklage plays a man who lives a solitary, quiet life. He has one friend in the world, whom he works with in a model train store. Trains are his one passion. When that friend dies, he leaves Dinklage some property alongside an old train station outside a tiny town. Dinklage moves in, hoping to continue his uneventful and existence, far from anyone and anything who would bother him. But as hard as he tries to be alone, he keeps bumping into Bobby Cannavale, Patricia Arquette, and other townsfolk who want nothing more than to make a connection and be his friend.

It’s a sweet and positive film, exactly what we need right now. I may not have the positivity rule in full force anymore, but it was a nice follow up to Prisoners earlier that day (yup the rule is out the window). The film is simple, but it’s just different enough to work and work really well. The cast is delightful (Cannavale in particular), and by the end I was wanting to hang out with them too. Especially love seeing Peter Dinklage as a leading man. If I remember right, the role was specifically written for him by a friend. It’s not a particularly showy role, but it’s endearing.

Besides filling the positivity void, it was an interesting one to watch during lockdown. I’ve always thought that I could never survive in a small town. Not the one where I grew up (which isn’t really that small but feels and acts like it) and certainly not the one in this film. I want to have options and things to do. But I’m thriving right now (again, existential dread aside) and may never leave my apartment again. I was happy when work said we’d be remote until tentatively July. I’m enjoying revisiting movies and doing crochet and reconnecting with my old yoga studio. I don’t need people as a whole. I’ve got a small core of friends I’m regularly connecting with weekly, and that’s enough. It’s not that different from the situation here in the film. Limited world that indulges his passion (trains for him, movies for me) and just the right friends to share it with. I never thought that would sound so pleasant.

A Bug’s Life

Cars went so well, I figured I’d dive into some of the other Pixar movies I haven’t seen in a bit. I couldn’t even remember the last time I saw A Bug’s Life, because frankly, I hadn’t cared to. It’s a good kiddie movie, but it’s nowhere near the level we come to expect from Pixar. Granted, it was an early entrant, but there’s a reason it’s not really remembered as fondly as the others.

Do you even remember the plot? A colony of ants have to provide food for some grasshopper bullies in addition to preparing their own store for the winter. It goes wrong, thanks to a well intentioned but clumsy ant named Flick, and now the ants are on the hook for a double quota in a short amount of time. In an attempt to round up some bigger bugs to help fight, he instead ends up with a troop of circus bugs. Maybe they can work together to fight off the grasshoppers?

It’s cute, it’s fun, it’s got a good message. But why doesn’t it live up to Pixar standards? There’s a joke about Pixar films and the ideas that inspire them: What if toys had feelings? What if cars had feelings? What if feelings had feelings?! These bugs have feelings, sure, but they don’t have FEELINGS like you typically get from this studio. The emotional aspect just isn’t that strong. It doesn’t bombard you with nostalgia or higher level truths about humanity. It’s just a nice and pleasant moral. Perfectly fine (and welcome!) in a kids film, but it was quickly surpassed by the bigger and better that would come from this beloved studio.

Oh and remember how Cars made me nostalgic for Disneyland and Carsland? A Bug’s Land recently closed. I don’t really miss it. Heimlech’s Chew Chew train was cute, but I only liked it for the cookie smell. I’d ride the Francis spinny mini teacup thing fairly often if I’d get over there too early for my Guardians of the Galaxy fast pass next door. I’ve ridden every single kiddie ride at Disneyland, and the only time I ever got any judgement from the ride attendant (ahem, cast member) was when I went on Flick’s Flyers (which has now been reskinned and moved to Pixar Pier as the Inside Out Emotional Whirlwind).

Anyways, my point being, I didn’t feel as nostalgic for that part of the park. Totally the right call that they’ve squished it so they can build up Avengers Campus instead.

3:10 to Yuma

I don’t like Westerns. I know I usually make the sweeping generalization that romances are the only genre I don’t like, but I also don’t care for Westerns. War movies are usually misses for me too. But as far as Westerns go, I’ve seen a varied sample of them and just couldn’t get into most of them. Genre mashup westerns, fine, but straight up cowboys and gunmen and tumbleweeds don’t do it for me. 3:10 to Yuma is the exception that proves the rule.

I’ve always held it in my head as the one western I liked. I’d only bothered with it in theaters because I was a HUGE Christian Bale fan (I still am, but it waned post Batman when he lost some of his obscure indie roots). Also a huge fan of Ben Foster. Enough love for both of them to balance out how much I didn’t like Russell Crowe at the time (I’m okay on him now, but he’s not a favorite).

I put it in the lockdown watch pile because it’s easily been over a decade since I last saw it, and I wanted to find out if this was still the one western I like. And why was it that this was it?

It took me a little while to get into it. I felt the familiar waning attention that these type of films typically bring on. But slowly I got pulled in. Bale is a rancher falling on hard times, made harder by his injury acquired in the war. He takes up an opportunity to provide for his family by agreeing to escort the baddest criminal in the west (Crowe) to the train that would transport him to prison. Foster and the rest of the posse of baddies are on their trail.

Bale’s character is one of those rare genuinely good people that you truly believe in and root for. He’s one part of why I care about this movie. He’s so steadfast in his morality, you want him to succeed. You want to see such conviction pay off. On the flip side, the other standout was Ben Foster. This is one of his best performances, up there with The Messenger and Hell or High Water. His Charlie Prince should be remembered among the greatest villains on film. A complete opposite and perfect foil to Bale, no moral code, no mercy, just a fierce loyalty and sense of his own justice.

The ending blew me away. No spoilers, but it was edge of your seat and tied up the competing ideals perfectly. One of the most powerful conclusions I’ve experienced among the myriad of films I’ve watched in this past month of lockdown.

So yes, this still stands as the one Western that not only do I like, I absolutely love