Thursday, August 27, 2009
Sometimes you fall in love with a theatre the moment you see it and you keep on loving it even though you never or rarely see a film there. The Lensic is such a theatre for me. I missed its days as a movie theatre and have only seen a couple of films there while passing through Santa Fe, New Mexico. I've seen two films at the Lensic but it will be hard to forget either of those screenings.
Located very near Santa Fe's plaza and opened in 1931, the 834 seat Spanish Colonial theatre is now doing what so many old theatres do--musicals and theatre take up its days and nights. This always makes me a little sad for the projection booth and the movie screen. I like to see films in these places, not singing and dancing. The flickering arc of light is what these buildings were built for. The Lensic also has a balcony although I haven't gotten to sit in it as it was closed both times I've watched movies there. I'd love to watch something from the front row and middle in the balcony.
In the early 1990s I saw Silence of the Lambs at the Lensic. I'd seen the film once already but it's very good and worth watching a second time--especially in the walls of a theatre like this. My brother Luke, cousin Kenny and I somehow talked my mom into watching it despite the fact it isn't her kind of film at all. She didn't make it to the halfway mark before she took off for the exits, the sunlight and the lure of the plaza shops close by.
A few months ago I was in Santa Fe again and got to see my second feature at The Lensic: Jaws. Film print! It was screened as part of a summer series (American Graffiti was the other film) and the place was packed. The crowd was a mix of two types of people--those that knew and cherished Jaws and those who hadn't seen it. I was with SJ and she had her doubts to its greatness but left the theatre singing its praises after being jolted a few times in her seat by on screen bolts of fear. I left the theatre happy, I love Jaws but no doubt part of the appeal on this night was seeing it in downtown Santa Fe in a historic, beautiful theatre like the Lensic.
Posted by Joshua Blevins Peck at 1:53 PM
Monday, August 24, 2009
One of my favorite things about watching movies is the fact if you like a particular genre you can watch wildly different films in a row and enjoy them both. A few nights ago I did just such a thing. I saw a 7.15 screening of the science fiction thriller District 9 with Tim and when it ended, I went across the street to see the romantic comedy (500) Days of Summer with Sarah. These two films would seem to be at opposite ends of the movie spectrum and while that is true on the surface--they have one major element in common that make them a great double feature: they are both good movies. If the movie is going to be good, it doesn't matter if you watch it with one or two other films. Good movies are always a rewarding experience, no matter when or where.
I had high hopes for District 9 and it did not disappoint. The film's early portions uses the technique of faux documentary to set up the back story--1.5 million aliens from another planet live in the shanty ghettoes of Johannesburg, South Africa after their ship comes to a stop above the city. They've been there for twenty years and the locals are sick of them so a forced relocation is about to begin. The documentary follows this relocation until the story flips into a more traditional narrative with a South African and a couple of the aliens. I was pretty happy when the documentary portion ended as it is difficult for me to get emotionally attached to characters when that tactic is employed.
There's so many good things about District 9--the infection story, the crazed Nigerian gang in the slums, the apartheid connection, the science fiction aspect of aliens + space ship + technology, the story of human becoming alien and aliens wanting to get home. All of it good. The film is blessed with some amazing editing that allows it to piece together multiple stories in a lot of formats. District 9 gets better as the film goes along and when films pick up steam to deliver wonderful, powerful endings, that's a good movie. District 9 delivered a great ending.
What better way to follow up a dark, futuristic and violent science fiction film than going to see an indie romantic comedy? (500) Days of Summer is a sweet, smart, romantic ode to love, the loss of love and just being with another person. The story jumps all over the place in the relationship between Summer (Zooey Deschanel) and Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) as we see their good, their bad and in between from the very start. The narrator warns us--this might not be the happy ending kind of love story that is a pre-requisite in most Hollywood romantic comedies and the narrator is largely right.
I loved the non-linear aspects of the script. The film is well-written, witty and Gordon-Levitt and Deschanel have a great chemistry and deliver nice performances as the star crossed couple. I loved the use of split screen a few times and the musical number was one of the most joyous scenes I've seen in a film all year. This scene filled me with happiness as I watched it. I was envious of Gordon-Levitt's endless supply of cool ties too.
Wild genre jumping won't work every time like it did with District 9 and (500) Days of Summer--you have to make sure you are in the mood and the films are both worth seeing. This time doubling up worked for me. One night, two great movies that made me feel a diverse stream of emotions. As we drove home I just felt so love with cinema and that is a magical feeling.
Posted by Joshua Blevins Peck at 9:36 AM
Friday, August 21, 2009
It was a different world in 1982. This was a pre-Internet universe where films that offered a hint of nudity or debauchery were latched onto by teenage boys everywhere due to the difficulty of getting to see such things. There were no Google searches for us, as we had to work hard to see nude women on a movie screen. My friends and I knew about Porky's through word of mouth but we hadn't seen it. The more we heard it discussed, the more legendary it sounded to us. Porky's promised lots of skin and lots of filthy jokes--just the sort of thing any regular 13 year old wants to see. I was one of those 13 year olds.
The first time I got a chance to see Porky's was late at night at my friend Scott's house. His family had HBO and we'd mentally circled the late night screening the moment we saw it in the monthly guide. I got permission to stay over and hoped the rest of his family would be asleep by the time the movie started so we could watch it in the middle of the night. As it grew later Scott's dad went off to work the graveyard shift, his mom went to bed after the news and finally his sisters did too. It was exciting and an adrenaline rush. Could it be? Would we soon be watching Porky's?
This being 1982, Scott didn't have a remote control for their TV (this detail of the story makes me feel old!), so we had to come up with a plan to watch a film that we weren't allowed to see but were watching anyway. During an earlier super-late screening of Lady Chatterley's Lover (lots of flesh on display but a bit on the dull side for teenagers) we figured out we needed one person by the TV and one person to serve as lookout. I positioned myself at the edge of the living room so I could see anyone walking down the hall toward where we were; Scott took the spot right in front of the TV. A code word was agreed upon that would signal a quick channel change so we wouldn't be busted watching the infamous shower scene or during some other naughty shenanigans. We test ran it a few times and decided we had about five seconds to spot someone, say the code word and then flip the channel to avoid being caught.
It took seemingly forever for the last few minutes to go by and for Porky's to start. When it began Scott and I had giddy grins plastered on our faces and we gave each other an enthusiastic high five and took our assigned spots. Porky's delivered everything we'd heard about and more. Here's my synopsis: nudity, teenage pranks, near nudity, drunken antics and oh, yeah, nudity. When the movie ended around three in the morning we went to bed, thankful we'd pulled it off and that no one came down the hall to interrupt the film. Our plan had worked like a charm and we got to brag that we'd seen Porky's to our friends who still hadn't seen it. We were kings.
Tuesday, August 18, 2009
Saturday, August 15, 2009
Kathryn Bigelow has done something no one seemed to be able to do until now--make a film set in the Iraq conflict that is entertaining and worth watching. Other films based in or around this subject--Stop-Loss, In the Valley of Elah, Grace is Gone, etc--have mostly been a collection of mediocre, dour message films trying to hammer home a particular point from the writer/director. Bigelow dispenses with all the extraneous in The Hurt Locker and has made not only the best film about combat in Iraq but the best war film I've seen in years. The Hurt Locker is a non-stop adrenaline rush and is so expertly made I left the theatre in kind of a punch-drunk state of appreciation for what I'd just experienced.
The film is set among a small group of soldiers in an Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) unit as they go out and attempt to defuse a variety of complicated bombs on the streets of Baghdad. Some of the bombs are very tricky and involve people, cars, garbage, bags and just anything that can go unseen or is able to draw out American targets for attack. Watching people defuse bombs is a built in tension generator so seeing this happen again and again in varying ways only aided the film's suspense level.
Written by Mark Boal, the film smartly doesn't try to address all the preconceptions or messages about war, either the Iraq War or war in general. In fact, Boal and Bigelow not only avoid those things, they embrace the entire nature of war and what it is to be a soldier by focusing on this small group and what they do everyday. War is dangerous, it is terrifying, it is exciting, it is destructive, it is a bonding experience and it is completely life changing for the people who have to go through it. Some people, as crazy as it might sound, are soldiers for a reason--they are good at doing something the vast majority of us could never do. The Hurt Locker puts all of these emotions on the screen in two hours without even trying to say "war is bad" and you know what--that's more effective, gripping and powerful when done with the absolute unbridled confidence that is on display here from Bigelow. The film tells its story and lets the viewer's intelligence make up its own mind. How refreshing!
The cast in The Hurt Locker is remarkable. Jeremy Renner, an actor I've honestly never even noticed before this, delivers a stunning, blistering performance as the leader of the team. Renner is riveting and dominates every scene that he's in and deserves talk of Oscars for this role. Very good support in the other two main roles is given by Anthony Mackie and Brian Geraghty. I love that the three leads are not well known actors that might distract us--choosing more anonymous performers to base the story around gives a tone of reality to the film. Three well known heavy hitters show up for small roles--Guy Pearce, Ralph Fiennes and David Morse--but I almost wish that their parts would have been done by unknowns. Although, seeing Morse chew up dialogue in one scene was one of my favorite things in the film as I am a big fan of his.
Bigelow, who is the only female director I can think of who has made a career of making tough, ramped up and interesting action films (Near Dark, Point Break, Strange Days) has unleashed the best, most thought out, and frankly, the most bad-ass film of her career. There are moments in The Hurt Locker when I was so entranced in what I was witnessing that I couldn't believe it when the scene was over. There's no better feeling when you watch a lot of films over the year to be blown away by a film from the start all the way to the finish. Bigelow does not let up on the throttle the entire movie and I'm incredibly impressed by her directing in this.
The Hurt Locker will be in the running for my best of in 2009. It's thrilling, honest, gripping, exhausting, tender, intelligent and aggressive. The film grabs you by the shoulders and throws you back in your seat from the moment it starts, never lets go and when its over, it stays with you. I can't stop thinking about it. That's great filmmaking. The Hurt Locker is a stunning piece of work and highly, highly recommended.
Posted by Joshua Blevins Peck at 9:01 AM
Wednesday, August 12, 2009
I became a teenager in the early 1980s and the teen comedy/drama may have hit its apex in that decade thanks to John Hughes. Teen marketed films released now pale mightily from what he did in terms of wit, charm, humor, romance and idealized realism. If you were alive and young in the 1980s, you were taken into the world of Hughes no matter your cultural leanings. His impact on what my friends and I watched was unavoidable as he unleashed film after film that made us laugh, made us feel connected to other teens, made us have serious crushes and entertained us. It's with great sadness that I write this as Hughes recently died of a heart attack.
Hughes' fingerprints are all over numerous classic films from 1983 to 1990 as a writer or director (sometimes both): Mr. Mom, Vacation, Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, European Vacation, Weird Science, Pretty In Pink, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Some Kind of Wonderful, Planes Trains & Automobiles, She's Having A Baby, The Great Outdoors, Uncle Buck, Christmas Vacation and Home Alone. All of those films in only eight years. Eight years!
Go over that list of films again and let it sink in. Hughes started to lose me toward the end of the list but nine out of the first ten are undeniable comedic benchmarks for the time (European Vacation is the lone exception). That's nine out of ten films (some might say ten out of ten) where Hughes just nailed it. Nine. Try doing anything nine times out of ten, it's a hard percentage to maintain with something small, now imagine nine out of ten when involved in massive creative endeavors. And to think this is the fickle, unpredictable world of Hollywood that Hughes accomplished this in? That makes it all the more amazing.
Even a couple of his later decade films I've always loved simply because Hughes put one of my favorites, John Candy, in a lead role. While Planes, Trains & Automobiles is worth watching repeatedly, lesser films like The Great Outdoors and Uncle Buck aren't considered "classic" like some of the earlier films, yet I think they are worth seeing as part of the Hughes/Candy trilogy of the period. Actually, I really like Uncle Buck a lot now that I think about it. Hughes also helped create the brat pack group in the '80s by casting a revolving group of young actors for his films. Most of their careers hit the skids the second he stopped writing material for them as they got older.
The John Hughes of my youth has long since gone as once the 1990s came he stopped writing/ directing films that entertained me or got to me. But, in the 1980s, particularly the early to mid 1980s--John Hughes owned me as much as any mainstream filmmaker could.
Thursday, August 06, 2009
I'm a big fan of the acting philosophy known as "method." Some of my favorite performers have embraced this strategy, from in his prime Robert De Niro to Jennifer Jason Leigh to Daniel Day Lewis. These kinds of actors try to literally inhabit the character they are portraying--from gaining/losing crazy amounts of weight or learning strange skills for the role or getting into a similar psychological frame of mind just for this specific role. I love it.
Daniel Day Lewis is hands down at the top of the method ladder. From living in the woods and using muskets, learning butchering techniques from two hundred years ago, refusing to get up from a wheel chair, hiring street thugs to harass him all night to get that certain unhinged quality--he's done these things and a lot more (way more!) just to further understand his character. If you see Day Lewis in a film one of the things he brings is 100% commitment and authenticity to the role via method.
It's time to add a fresh term to film that is completely new: method viewing! Method viewing is a way of applying the method strategy of acting to the movie watching experience. It's a way for film fanatics to take their zeal for movies to a completely new level.
I've had two method viewing experiences in the past couple of weeks. After staying up all night for Slumber Party I went home and got a few hours sleep. In the afternoon I decided to go see Moon to test out my new theory. Moon is about a astronaut on the moon who might be losing his mind (see most recent post for full review). My sleepless daze was the perfect foggy mental accompaniment for a film like Moon. Method viewing helped the film go over like gangbusters.
My second method viewing happened unexpectedly but sometimes these things need to happen organically. While at the Circle about to watch Tyson, a documentary about pugilist Mike Tyson, I dropped a twenty-five pound cast iron kettle on my foot. I broke one of my toes and damaged several others. I hobbled into the theatre with a bag of ice, removed my sock/shoe and watched Tyson with ice on my foot/toes. I was in pain as I watched Tyson talk about painful events, beat up people in the ring and even bite off a chunk of Evander Holyfield's ear. Method viewing my friends.
There's a whole world of opportunity for future method viewings. It can be as simple as watching a movie where it was shot--recently Rumblefish was projected against a building in downtown Tulsa and that's method viewing. The Rolling Roadhouse by Alamo Draft House a few years ago offered up things like Close Encounters of the Third Kind at the Devil's Tower in Wyoming or The Goonies in Astoria, Oregon. Also method viewing.
Any experiences worth sharing? Any ideas for future screenings? I'm thinking of locking a couple of friends in my hot, dark, cobwebbed garage; starving them for a few days and then making them watch Rescue Dawn in the middle of the night. Any volunteers?
Posted by Joshua Blevins Peck at 9:24 AM
Monday, August 03, 2009
I like my science fiction when the "less is more" philosophy is embraced. Bloated budgets, rampant use of CGI and over the top action sequences aren't really my thing. Unfortunately, those elements grace the majority of the science fiction centered films now so I don't get to see a lot of them I truly enjoy despite my love for the genre. My favorite sci-fi is more connected to ideas, the future and the emptiness of space. Moon is such a sci-fi film.
Set in the future on a base on the moon operated by one man, Sam (Sam Rockwell) is nearing the end of his three year hitch on the energy farm. He lives alone, sleeps alone, eats food out of plastic pouches alone, checks outlying equipment on the moon's surface alone, wastes time on his various hobbies alone--all of which is starting to make him crack up. Sure, he has a mechanized robot helper to talk to (voiced by Kevin Spacey), his incoming video messages from earth and his TV to keep him company but it's a lonely life.
The best thing Moon has going for it is Rockwell. Always a solid actor, Rockwell may deliver the finest performance he's ever given and he's been good in a lot of movies. One thing that makes this a challenge for an actor is he has to carry the film. Other than the video sections, where has cuts back to Rockwell watching the screen so he's still in the scene, and a few flashbacks, Rockwell is in every second of Moon. At times he's even double good as he has to create multiple levels and personalities to the same character. It's an impressive performance.
Moon kind of gets lost in its own loneliness and I liked it all the more for that. It's spare, simple, gets the feeling of isolation down and is slow--all good things in a science fiction movie! Directed by Duncan Jones, he smartly dwells on the little things that make this interesting--the character, the workmanlike setting and the bleak but beautiful moonscape. The moon is the next frontier space and Jones' exteriors look as desolate as any dusty western. There's something about seeing a man in a spacesuit walking around on a planet's surface that gets me right in the heart.
Moon is a smart little film with a terrific acting performance by Sam Rockwell. It's complex yet restrained. It's futuristic with a retro edge. It's emotional yet still icy. It's a well done genre picture that knows its a genre picture but isn't afraid embrace what it is. Instead of trying to do too much--it looks inward and gives us a very rewarding look at life on the moon.
Posted by Joshua Blevins Peck at 12:24 PM