Monday, June 25, 2012

Los Angeles

Downtown Los Angeles is a dreamland for movie palace lovers. There's the Million Dollar Theatre, the Palace, the Orpheum, the Los Angeles and the United Artists just to name a few. Rarely are films shown at them, but every summer the Los Angeles Conservancy schedules screenings. Thanks to the screenings, the theatres can be experienced for the reason they were created: watching movies. I'd been inside the Million Dollar Theatre and the Orpheum, but the Los Angeles I'd only admired from the street as I looked up lovingly at its bright red marquee.

Recently, SJ and I got to go inside the theatre [with over a thousand others] to see the 1973 film Paper Moon. What a jewell! I was kind of awestruck by this ornate, painfully beautiful structure. If you even attempt to tell me we've progressed as a culture regarding the way we watch movies since the Los Angeles was built in 1931, I might be tempted to slap you across the face and tell you never to talk to me again! Now we have multiplexes or boxed rooms that are indistinguishable from one another, then they had places like the Los Angeles. The Los Angeles has all the bells and whistles for the era, including an actual ball room below the theatre! Check out the images below and make yourself sad that you are forced to watch movies in the sterile confines movie theatres have devolved into.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Seattle International Film Festival

A few weeks ago I flew up to Seattle to spend four days watching movies, seeing friends, eating at favorite restaurants and getting away from Los Angeles. I hadn't left Los Angeles county since moving here last October and I was more than ready for that dreary Pacific Northwest weather. I am already a bit sick of the uninterrupted bright sunlight that penetrates the hazy Los Angeles cityscape day after day. Seattle was a perfect four day respite for that. Don't believe the photo on the left with blue skies and clouds, that was an brief patch of blue during my visit. Here's a rundown of the films I saw--eight of them.

Day One. I started off with a dud in the 2011 Romanian drama Best Intentions. I love seeing films from this part of the world and there's been kind of a surge in great films from young directors coming out of Romania, but this confused movie isn't one of them. Shot with a gimmicky P.O.V. style that comes and goes throughout the film which I loathed, Best Intentions had little to it that makes it worth recommending. My second and third films, while kind of flawed and not world beaters, were at least pleasantly entertaining compared to Best Intentions. Coteau Rouge, a Canadian film set in a Montreal suburb, is uneven but has enough festival styled charm to warrant a viewing. These kinds of low-reaching comedy/dramas from another country seem all over the schedule every time I've gone to SIFF over the years. Last on the schedule was Earthbound, an Irish sci-fi romantic comedy that veered close to being too cute for its own good. The nice ensemble cast, led by an adorable Jenn Murray, saves the day for this one.

Day Two. I love anything to do with computer hackers, so when I saw We Are Legion on the schedule, I snapped up a ticket as fast as my fingers could type on the keyboard. Telling the story of the mostly leaderless Anonymous hacker community, We Are Legion is an entertaining documentary romp through the world of hackers fighting for good and evil [some might say illegal]. Or, they are just getting their lulz. I love reading or watching this kind of techno-mayhem, so this one was right in the sweet-spot. Kryptonite!, an Italian comedy/drama, had an absolutely knock-it-out-of-the-park first 15 minutes, but it couldn't maintain that level. It's still a fun look at Naples in the 1970s as a young boy comes of age surrounded by a family of eccentrics. I ended the day with another documentary, The Mexican Suitcase is about the Spanish Civil War and the discovery of a lost suitcase in Mexico City that contained thousands of negatives from the war by famed photographers Robert Capa, Gerda Taro and David "Chim" Seymour. I actually saw an exhibit with these images at International Center of Photography when I was last in New York, so I found this documentary fascinating. It's not only about the civil war, but the dangerous war photography that these three photographers helped break ground regarding the art form.

Day Three. Johnny To is a veteran Hong Kong filmmaker who specializes in tightly plotted crime films and shoot-em-ups, Romancing in Thin Air is a sort of spotty departure for him that has him taking on the romantic drama genre. Full of all the usual emotional over-the-top shenanigans you expect in a Hong Kong film, there's no way you'd ever guess the man behind the lens of this one is bad-ass Johnny To. Glad to see him branch out, but I prefer To's crime films to this one. My last film of the festival was also my favorite, the oddball and wonderfully titled Rent-A-Cat. This Japanese film is a cat lover's dream movie that had the audience eliciting multiple "ahs" of cuteness on the screen when there was some sort of cute feline action. Sleepy cats in baskets? I'm more of a dog person, but even I had multiple goofy grins on my face at some of the cat-related shots. The story involves a lonely single woman who has a lot of cats. She rents them out to emotionally needy people to help them in various ways and then we follow her relationship with these cat-renters. Rent-A-Cat is a quirky charmer, written and directed by Naoki Ogigami, and I'm hoping to catch some of her other films.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Safety Not Guaranteed

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

May movies

Saw more films this month, although there were a bunch of films I'm not listing due to Slumber Party 4 secrecy issues. I'm sure there was a CineRobot first in May--three scores of five in a row when I saw The Lady Eve, West Side Story [in 70mm!] and The Straight Story [also on film in a theatre] back-to-back-to-back. I also got to see Paper Moon at the ornate and beautiful Los Angeles in downtown [there's a ballroom below the theatre!] and was charmed and entertained by the raconteur Peter Bogdanovich for a blissful thirty minutes.

Roadie---2011---usa   **1/2
The Sound of My Voice---2012---usa   **1/2
Monsieur Lazhar---2012---canada   ***1/2
Vigilante---1983---usa   ***
Submarine---2011---england   ***1/2
Urbanized---2011---usa   ***1/2
Bernie---2012---usa   ***1/2
Identity Card---2011---czech republic   ***1/2
Matchmaking Mayor---2011---czech republic   ***1/2
Long Live the Family---2011---czech republic   ***
Moonrise Kingdom---2012---usa    ****
The Lady Eve---1941---usa    *****!
West Side Story---1961---usa   *****!
The Straight Story---1999---usa    *****!
Friday Foster---1975---usa   ***
Damn! Is the Price of Fame too Damn High?---2011---usa   **1/2
The Dictator---2012---usa   ***
Paper Moon---1973---usa   ****

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Moonrise on Wes Anderson by Stephanie Huettner

Believe it or not, it’s been sixteen years since Wes Anderson released his first theatrical film. Bottle Rocket announced him to a limited indie audience as a new voice in cinema and won him the Best New Filmmaker award at the MTV Movie Awards. As silly as a distinction from the network that is currently airing “Jersey Shore” may sound now, MTV used to be pretty good at predicting new filmmaking talent. Fellow winners of this award include Christopher Nolan, Spike Jonze, and Sofia Coppola. His most recent film, Moonrise Kingdom recently premiered as the Opening Night Film at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival.

The main criticism I hear of Anderson’s work is that it is repetitive, mostly in style. This critique is, to me, actually a compliment of sorts. A young writer/director who has his own self-possessed style immediately out of the gate is the something that makes every wannabe director in film school seethe with envy. The lingering static shots, the almost universal asocial behavior of characters, the picture-perfect set pieces; it just wouldn’t be a Wes Anderson movie without these things. In truth, the actual content of the films differs wildly from one to the next; a buddy road movie, a tale of teen angst, a family drama, a deep sea diving adventure, an international travelog with estranged brothers, a groundbreaking animated children’s film, and now, a coming-of-age story about first love. Throughout all of these can be found a menagerie of strange but endearing social misfits.

Moonrise Kingdom, for whatever reason, has thus far been universally successful with both critics and audiences, receiving rave reviews and breaking box office records for limited release films. The reasons for this upsurge in popularity for Anderson are a mystery to me. Perhaps there’s a successful Twitter campaign that I’ve been missing. In any case, it’s possible that Anderson will have his most financially successful film since his third effort, The Royal Tenenbaums. This isn’t to say that I didn’t like Moonrise Kingdom, which I most definitely did. However, I’ve liked all of his films and that hasn’t made everyone go see them. Perhaps it’s the sheer cuteness of Moonrise Kingdom’s plot that has theater-goers flocking to it. Two young kids in love, surrounded by a troupe of wilderness scouts, and Edward Norton uttering lines like “Jiminy Crickets.” Yes, cute it most certainly is. Don’t think old Wes has gone soft, though. There’s still the same dry wit and pregnant comedic pauses which fall flat with some and send others into torrents of giggles. I experienced this firsthand when my mom, brother, cousin, aunt, and I went to see The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. My brother, cousin, and I were in fits of laughter the whole time, while our parents insisted that it had some mildly amusing moments at best. Their lackluster response didn’t faze us one bit. We got it, and that’s all that mattered.

One thing none of Anderson’s films has failed to is delight me upon repeated viewings. Zissou has gotten better and better in my personal esteem, I once watched Rushmore several times on a loop in one day, and The Royal Tenenbaums went from my favorite movie of that year to one of my favorite movies of the decade. “His movies are so full. They aren’t just made with two turnarounds to get us to act 2 and act 3. He gives us fully rewatchable stories where no matter how many times you watch them you can still be surprised.” This came from my I Luv Video coworker, Steve Quinlan, while we watched our third Anderson film in a row at work. Steve and I see pretty much eye-to-eye where comedies are concerned, and the above reasoning is why. Most comedies are compiled of Big Funny Moments, often built around otherwise pedestrian dialogue and halfway developed characters. Even comedies that I enjoy immensely upon first or second viewing rarely pull many satisfying laughs from me after that. Anderson’s comedies, I think of them all as comedies among other things, are built instead upon hundreds of Little Funny Moments with no dead space in between.

What truly sets all of Anderson’s work apart from the hordes of people trying to master the art of twee is an unshakable emotional core. There are many who think the opposite is true, finding his work to be all about the surface image. While the visuals certainly play a huge role in all of the movies, as mentioned before, I’ve never left one without feeling moved in some way. For all of his bastardly behavior, Royal Tenenbaum loves the hell out of his family. In spite of his aloofness, Steve Zissou is deeply affected by everything going on around him. And, if nothing else, I find the drowning scene in The Darjeeling Limited unfailingly stirring every time. Really, folks, if you can sit through the end of Life Aquatic with the sweet strains of Sigur Ros playing over visions of a jaguar shark swimming over a miniature yellow  Zissou submersible without feeling the slightest swelling of emotion, well then we are just wired differently.

I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to change anyone’s mind about Anderson who doesn’t like him, but I suppose that’s never really mattered to me. I get it, and that’s all that matters.

Sunday, June 03, 2012


Friday, June 01, 2012

Moonrise Kingdom