Tonight's Selection
The Swell Season

it’s a think piece about a mid-level band struggling with their own limitations in the harsh face of stardom.

- lester bangs

it’s such a pleasure to watch these two create music together.  they have a phenomenal connection and the music just pours out of them effortlessly.  it makes it all the more melancholy when the pressures of their post-oscar-win tour starts to tear them apart.  glen and marketa both lay themselves bare, both for the cameras and for their audiences, with the silver lining that their struggles don’t stop the music.

  • i remember that when they won their oscar for best song, glen gave a speech and the band played the two off before marketa could talk.  jon stewart was hosting, and he brought her back out after a commercial, which is the kind of thing that jon would do but no other oscars host would.  it was a nice moment, which this movie edited out, an especially odd choice since one of the fans made reference to it in the movie.
  • i really don’t like it when movies are shot in greyscale without clear purpose.  we wouldn’t tolerate a movie shot in muddled redscale or greenscale, or with cross dissolves between every shot.  the more distracting the post-production choice, the more justification it needs.
Milk

this movie is one long show-off for sean penn.  it’s mind blowing how he transforms into harvey milk, not because the character is hugely different from his natural self, but because of how convincing the change is.  the way he adopts more feminine mannerisms to to appear gay without sliding into cartoonish stereotypes, and takes on the constant internal conflict between determined resolve and defeated exhaustion that roils within political activists is amazing.

  • the framing device of harvey dictating his memories to audio tape, like so many framing devices, is thoroughly unnecessary.
Mission: Impossible

the outsider supporting roles keep this movie interesting for me.  vanessa redgrave infuses her character with a delightful flirtiness and playfulness without losing any of the powerful presence that’s necessary for the part.  henry czerny takes his character to a hilariously cartoony place that seems inspired by snidely whiplash and boris and natasha.  they both add injections of fun that keep the movie afloat rather than sinking into a mindless string of stunt sequences.

  • you have to be willing to go along with de palma on his over the top visual style.  a lot of the stunts just don’t make sense, but i like his use of first person pov.
  • it was convenient that the inside of the ducting was lit so well.  what are the odds?
  • i suppose you can’t make a studio action movie without some big crazy exploding stunt.  i liked that the stunts were relatively small until the final 12 minutes.
  • jon voight looks truly ridiculous in his climbing gear.  the helmet was especially absurd.
Jules and Jim

there’s a moment in this movie when one of the three main characters mentions that the people of the nearby village refer to them as the three lunatics.  that about sums it up.  i don’t think i’ve ever seen characters so detached from normal human existence other than in a soap opera.  the titular characters are best friends that both live in orbit around a woman who has the sweeping whims of a borderline personality combined with a psychopathic disregard for others’ emotions.  it’s a love triangle in which you root for both to stop wanting to get the girl.

Envy

i was struck by how none of the environments in this movie seem even slightly authentic.  they all have the kind of cartoonish, staged look that you see in old musicals from the 50s.  it’s a weird hodge-podge of poorly done sets and cgi that never feel real.  it looks a bit like tim burton’s earlier movies, but with those it serves a purpose and thusly comes off as intentional, whereas here it just looks cheap.

  • envy isn’t the protagonist’s problem.  his wife and kids are envious as well, but it doesn’t make them so unhappy.  this movie should be called bitter.
  • i really dig the recurring folksy, baritone soundtrack.
  • a high-speed carousel seems far more enjoyable to me than the usual kind.
Garden State

early in this movie, the protagonist (who is back in his hometown for his mother’s funeral) watches his high school friend (who is now a gravedigger) remove the jewelry from his mother’s casket before filling her grave with dirt.  the friend feels guilty about this in the moment, but doesn’t stop or address it.  the third act of the movie involves the same friend leading the protagonist on a strange, meandering adventure to acquire a gift for him.  in the end, this quest yields the necklace his mother was buried with.

neither this betrayal nor redemption play in my mind as i’d guess they do in most people’s minds.  what is the difference between a loved one’s jewelry being buried in the ground or moving through the antique jewelry market?  from the bereft’s point of view, they’re identically gone either way.  from the gravedigger’s perspective, there’s a big difference, and if someone in a hard, low-paying job gets a little extra cash from something that doesn’t affect anyone, i see that as a good thing.  likewise, if i cared enough about a piece of my mother’s jewelry to want to keep it, why would i watch her get buried with it?  everything going into that hole is stuff i don’t plan on seeing ever again.

  • this movie has what i call the indie R rating; one that could easily be dropped to pg-13 with a few tiny cuts, but the director and producers only care about the movie, not the rating.
  • there is a surprisingly good collection of one-liners in this movie.
  • going off psychotropic drugs without medical supervision or controlled dosing-down is really dangerous.  i was a bit aghast at how flippantly the neurologist addressed that situation.
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

saying that this movie is overproduced would be an enormous understatement.  saying that it’s an example of style over substance is patently obvious and also sugar-coating it, because it’s emphasis on style doesn’t yield a good style, or even a discernible one.

there’s the video game aesthetic, which i enjoyed.  but there’s also the comic book aesthetic.  this is too much; it’s visual clutter.  they sometimes fit together well enough, but other times they’re fighting over which can be the most distracting.  just to make sure we achieve complete visual cacophony, it doesn’t stop there.  when they threw in a sketchy hand-drawn animation scene, then a bollywood style dance number, which prompted anna kendrick’s character to exclaim with aghast confusion, “what?” i shared her sentiments and never really got into the movie again.

  • it didn’t help that scott pilgrim is a thoroughly unlikeable character, despite the conveniently instant “learning” that didn’t seem to last the five minutes of the movie still remaining afterward.
  • anna kendrick and brie larson are criminally underutilized.
  • i did like the use of smash cuts.
Need for Speed

this movie does a really good job of capturing the spirit of the video game series it’s adapted from.  the storyline is nonsensical, borderline incoherent, and plainly annoying when it starts to take up a lot of the runtime.  character development is nonexistent, but we’re expected to just buy in to their absurd motivations and rivalries.  the relative performance of the cars is so elastic that any sports car on the road can both fail to outrun an ordinary police cruiser and keep up with the most exotic, state of the industry machinery in the world.  most importantly, though, like the video game series, it has race and chase sequences that are manic, audacious, spectacular, and fun.

  • directors would hate it, but all car racing movies should have a blu-ray special feature that shows just all the race/chase sequences in a row.
  • the blu-ray logo on the disc was about four times the size of the movie’s logo.  weird.
  • using an arriving train’s whistle as a race starter is a fun idea.
  • michael keaton is in beetlejuice mode in this movie.
  • seriously, people, wear your seatbelt.
Night Moves

this movie does a good job of turning the restrictions of a small budget into positives.  the plot revolves around the demolition of a dam by a group of eco-terrorists.  if this was a big-budget studio picture, this would be saved for the end and would feature tons of slo-mo cgi shots of fireballs, concrete clouds, surging floodwaters, and floating debris.  there’s no way a mid-level indie movie could afford that, so the director needs to justify not showing it.

she lays the groundwork for the camera not leaving the protagonists earlier in the scene.  as they’re paddling back to shore, their explosive-laden boat in place and the time ticking down, they’re forced to hold position because a tow truck is coincidentally picking up a vehicle right next to the shoreline. rather than intercut between the two locations, she holds on the canoe.  this has the benefit of ratcheting up the tension because we don’t know how close the towers are to being done; only that the timer is getting ever lower.  when they finally make their escape, we only hear the explosion, and it feels perfectly appropriate that the camera stays fixed on the characters’ reactions rather than depicting the destruction.

  • jesse eisenberg seems incapable of portraying the emotional spectrum implicit in the role.  we get the same expressionless, neurotically meek character throughout except for some unconvincing crying at the end.
  • the idea that people will care more about the environment after someone blows up a dam is the kind of “there’s a step missing” plan that would make the underpants gnomes proud.
Trust Me

clark gregg filled this movie with actors from his category; really good actors that have made successful careers out of putting far more depth and authenticity than you’d think possible into small supporting roles.  the cast is loaded with people that would rank high on a list of under-appreciated and under-utilized hollywood actors.  gregg also created an ideal vehicle to put himself in a lead role; one in which the lead is supposed to be a small personality that’s disregarded by his peers.

  • i was glad that the story didn’t devolve into miserabilism when it seemed to be heading in that direction.
  • trying to use a broken bluetooth headset was funny once and just stupid the rest of the time, when he could have just held the phone to his face.
  • the secure courier was a great piece of comic relief.  can’t play that role too big.
  • i could have done without the very final plot turn.  a bit too cute of a bow to tie on it for my taste.