Friday, November 28, 2014

Jason watches THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY - Part 1

This is not the climactic battle, not yet. It's the setup, which means a lot of politics, strategy, propaganda, hiding, double-crossing, and inspiration (both in speeches and actions.) But the big fight is clearly set up for the next movie. This movie is about recruitment, and everyone does a find job at that. And now I'll just wait for the fourth part of the trilogy to see the big fight.

Running Time: 123 minutes
My Total Minutes: 374,679

Jason watches ROSEWATER

It's pretty hard to make a compelling story where the hero is trapped in a cell the whole time. I don't know why you would compound that by making the title a reference to an odor. Since Odorama never really took off, scent is one thing movies don't do well. So I have to give Jon Stewart an A+ for difficulty, and a gentlemen's B for execution. He relies heavily on a number of cliches, especially the prisoner talking to hallucinations of his father and sister. And emphasizing the hashtags in the green revolution protests is a little too slick (although it's interesting to think about this as the first historical event where I can say, "I remember when that was a trending topic!") But then there are moments that are beautiful. Like early on when Maziar Bahari (Gael Garcia Bernal) is walking along shop windows and seeing movies or people he remembers and loves from his youth. Or my favorite moment, when a guard slips up and reveals that his imprisonment is a global cause. That explosion of joy (yes, complete with hashtags) is the turning point of the movie. Jon Stewart clearly made this out of a sense of guilt over The Daily Show's role in Bahari's imprisonment (which is pretty silly) but he wisely de-emphasizes this without ignoring it entirely. In fact, Jon Stewart never appears on screen (which probably would've been annoying,) only Jason Jones, recreating the original field piece.

Ultimately, the earnestness of the movie is appropriate given the subject matter, but I don't know many people who would argue against the thesis that imprisoning journalists is wrong. Still, this movie makes it a compelling story, and reminds us that there are actually enough people who disagree with the thesis that it's still an important story to tell.

Running Time: 103 minutes
My Total Minutes: 374,555

Jason enter the Cinema Zone for some cheap blockbuster rip-offs

THE MAN WHO SAVES THE WORLD (aka TURKISH STAR WARS, 1982): I had always heard about the crazily permissive Turkish copyright laws, and how it results in bizarre movies that take a famous character and very little else (like the Turkish SPIDER-MAN, where Spider-Man is the villain.) Well, now I've finally seen one of them, and I can't unsee it. It steals a lot of actual footage from Star Wars, just spliced together out of order and without any of the main characters. Instead, you've got two guys running around in the desert fighting against some evil monsters...with the Indiana Jones theme playing the whole time. There were no subtitles, but I don't think it would have made any difference.

MAC AND ME (1988): By this time I was the only customer left, so it was a private screening for me, Mike Keegan (holy cow! It was Mike and Me!) and our lovely bartender Kae (thank you for the world tour of hot chocolate and liquor!) I knew about this movie only through Paul Rudd's running gag on Conan O'brien. After seeing the movie, I can tell you that Paul Rudd's running gag is the best thing about it. An E.T. ripoff financed by McDonald's and featuring the creepy alien hidden in a teddy bear dancing in a McDonald's. It also ends with the whole alien family becoming U.S. citizens, and I just can't believe that. Americans welcoming immigrants, that would never happen!

Total Running Time: 190 minutes
My Total Minutes: 374,452

Jason watches BIRDMAN: OR (THE UNEXPECTED VIRTUE OF IGNORANCE)

Michael Keaton is an aging actor who decades ago played a famous superhero in a blockbuster movie that ushered in a new era of big-budget blockbuster superhero movies that have just gotten bigger and more expensive since.

Excuse me, I meant Michael Keaton plays an aging actor...

And that's just the start of how the movie plays with the boundaries between reality and fantasy. Keaton plays Riggan, who is trying to make the move from Hollywood to Broadway by directing and starring in "What We Talk About When We Talk About Love." His Birdman character talks to him and he can move things with his mind. Or at least he's convinced he can. Edward Norton co-stars as Mike, a darling of the critics who can only "be real" (or, for that matter, tumescent) on stage. Zach Galifianakis stars as Riggan's best friend/producer and Emma Stone as his semi-estranged daughter. As the production is barely holding together, and previews are one disaster after another (including a streak around the block in his tighty-whities) reality and fantasy blur. Not just in Riggan's mind, but in the movie. The percussion soundtrack beating in his head will occasionally becomes a drummer jamming in the background. And the closing scene. Well, no spoilers but I'm still thinking about that scene. And what the jellyfish mean, for that matter. This movie might end up being navel-gazing pop psychology that thinks it's more clever than it really is, but for now it's a movie that deserves to be thought about, and maybe rewatched.

Running Time: 119 minutes
My Total Minutes: 374,262

Jason watches THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING

First things first. This is not really a movie about Stephen Hawking's work. There is a movie out about a lot of the physics he worked on, and it's called INTERSTELLAR.

Now, in the postscript of my INTERSTELLAR review I made a cheeky little comment about Prof. Hawking and Penthouse Magazine, and pondered if THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING might answer my question. I had no idea, but yes it does! (Spoiler Alert: his nurse helps him.)

Now the fact that the physics he worked on is something of an afterthought is probably good for the movie. It's about his disease, his wife, his family, and his survival. This story doesn't have to be about a physicist. It could be about...a writer, and it could still be great. Or it could be about a rock star, and be amazing. This one is about a physicist, and it's also great. In many moments it's pure melodrama, in the best sense of the word. But I think what I appreciated most is that it highlighted Hawking's sense of humor. Something that (despite his cameos on The Simpsons and Big Bang Theory) I've never really thought about. But I'm convinced that his sense of humor helped him survive. I love the moments where when he first gets his robot voice his first words are "Daisy, Daisy, Give me your answer, do." Or when he's rolling around chasing his kids with the robot voice saying "Exterminate! Exterminate!" Or the whole Penthouse Magazine story with Kip Thorne. That stuffs hilarious.

And can I praise Eddie Redmayne enough? Probably not, but I'll try. He's amazing. You don't really think about the physicality of being motionless, but his physicality reminds me--and I'm not exaggerating--of Lon Chaney Sr. in some of his best non-monster roles. Like when he played a legless criminal in THE PENALTY. That's right, I'm comparing Eddie Redmayne to the original Man of 1,000 faces and I still don't think I've praised him enough. Of course, that's based on one role, so I'll be looking for great performances from here on out.

Running Time: 123 minutes
My Total Minutes: 374,143

Jason goes to Jewfest South--Closing Night

And the festival ended with a bang, with WHEN COMEDY WENT TO SCHOOL. A labor of love about the Catskills, the famous mountain resort area with luxury hotels and especially stand-up comedy. And especially especially, Jewish comedians. The documentary spends as little time as required to tell the history of the Catskills and tell a little bit about the environment, and leaves as much room as possible for the comedians. Jerry Lewis, Larry King, Sid Caesar, Jackie Mason, Jerry Stiller, Mel Brooks, Buddy Hackett (and his son Sandy, also a stand-up comedian, who was there for the film and warmed up the audience before and continued entertaining the audience after.) And, of course, with so many comedians doing their best work (or at least, the best that was caught on video back in the day) you have a pretty amazingly funny movie, that fills packed despite it's rather crisp (75 minutes) running time.

After the show, Larry King appeared via Skype. It might seem he's an odd choice to represent a film about comedians, but he interviewed most of the comedians at some time in their lives and he's a very funny man himself (I still remember his story about getting an "honorary police chief" certificate and then getting stopped by a cop. After the cop told him what he could do with it the punchline was "I'm glad they didn't give me a plaque!")

And, as I already mentioned, Sandy Hackett was there and was hilarious. Director Ron Frank was there as well, and they all had a great conversation and Q&A session (I won't get into the story of the woman who had a long-standing crush on Larry King, but that was a hilarious and kinda awkward part of the evening.)

What a great way to end another fantastic festival.

Running Time: 75 minutes
My Total Minutes; 374,020

Jason goes to the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum for an all made-in-Niles show

To celebrate our 500th Saturday night show ever, we showed nothing but movies made in Niles. Which was a lot of fun, and also means I've seen a lot of these before, so I can reuse my reviews!

BRONCHO BILLY'S WILD RIDE (1914): Well, we might as well start with our patron saint at Niles. As is often the case in Broncho Billy films, he starts off as an outlaw but redeems himself. He makes a daring escape from the courthouse, jumping from the stand out the window onto a horse and away with the townsfolk chasing him. He could get away, but when he sees the judge's daughter on a runaway horse, he makes a daring move to rescue her. Well, in doing that he is caught once again, submits to the will of justice. But since he's a hero now, justice is pretty kind to him.

THE PROSPECTOR (1912): Arthur Mackley directed and starred in this, and to be honest I had trouble following what was going on. A mining claim, an attempted robbery, some gunplay. But I couldn't tell who was the good guy or the bad guy, or what anyone's motivation is.

THE CHAMPION (1915): One of five films Charlie Chaplin made in Niles. And while I've seen it in bits and pieces many, many times from playing it on the little TV in the museum gift shop, I'd never seen it on the big screen before and hence never reviewed it. Chaplin plays a boxer, first just looking for a gig as a sparring partner for a professional boxer. But when he sees everyone getting clobbered, he decides to go for the old horseshoe in the glove trick. And it works...so well that soon he's facing the champ. Gilbert M. Anderson, out of his usual Broncho Billy role, has a featured cameo as a spectator at the fight (a favor Chaplin returned with a cameo in Anderson's HIS REGENERATION the same year.)

VERSUS SLEDGE HAMMERS (1915): Finally, one I have reviewed before. Most recently about a year ago. And in that one I quoted not one, but two previous reviews I wrote:

Here's what I said when I first saw it back in 2008:
Snakeville comedy also shot in Niles. Sophie has inherited a million dollars. The Count hears of it, and decides to seduce her and marry her for her money. But her sweetheart Pete, the local blacksmith, won't give her up without a fight. Who do you think will win, in this battle of pompous aristocracy versus sledge hammers?
And here's what I said when I saw it again in 2010:
A Niles Essanay production, and one of the few surviving Snakeville comedies. Margeret Joslin is Sophie Clutts, the only eligible woman in Snakeville, AZ, and sweetheart of Mustang Pete (real-life husband Harry Todd). Tall, svelte Victor Potel is a count visiting from out of town who has his eye on Sophie, and so the battle begins. Googly-eyed Ben Turpin plays the Count's valet, who does helpful stuff like light his hat on fire (I guess you had to be there).
Ha! I have nothing to add, other than to notice how my writing evolved over time.

Ha ha! I still have nothing to add!

BRONCHO BILLY AND THE BANDIT'S SECRET (2014): I have, of course, seen this many, many times in various stages of being finished-but-not-quite-finished. This is the second time I've seen it as a truly finished movie (in that the credits are complete enough to include my name as an online backer.) It's still fun. I know the movie by heart and I always enjoy it. Feel free to peruse for yourself all the previous times I wrote about it.

Total Running Time: 101 minutes
My Total Minutes: 373,945